Tuesday Timeshift: #8 Kings

ian_mcshane-king-gilboaA few months ago I had the good luck to see a screener for a new series called Kings. It was so early that the pilot had yet to be colour graded. Well, finally, it is on air in the US.

Kings is allegorical, it tells the biblical David and Goliath story. But don’t let that put you off. It’s set in a current day alternate-universe New York, now called Gilboa. A world which is eerily clean in a post-apocolyptic sort of way and where neighbouring cities/countries (it’s hard to tell) are at war. A small town boy with a heart of gold finds himself enmeshed in the political intrigue and skullduggery of the Kings court.

It’s a bit like watching an opera, it’s over the top but it’s quite beautiful and the journey is entertaining.  I certainly wanted more when the episode finished. 

Ratings in the US have been poor and I suspect the same will occur here if it ever gets to Australia at all.  I do know that a certain free-to-air channel has the rights however with ratings in the US the way they are, well… we’ll see.   What with 10’s digital channel being sport and Nine’s being for ‘entertainment’ (whatever that means!) and Seven still yet to announce anything… perhaps we’ll start seeing a vehicle for some of these rating’s weaklings through multi-channelling?  

Who knows?!  Anyway, keep an eye out for it.  Kings is worth a watch!

Tuesday Timeshift: #5 In Treatment (TV)

Another HBO offering and just as good as you’d expect.  In Treatment is set in the narrow confines of a psychologist’s office, with all the intimacy that entails.  Our counsellor is Paul (Gabriel Byrne).  Paul is conflicted about his feelings for one of his patients, Laura played by Melissa George (Home & Away, Alias).  His marriage is falling apart and he’s struggling to adequately care for his patients.  In a short 30 minute format, each episode captures one session with a patient, of which there are 4.  Day 5  is Paul’s session with his own therapist, Gina (Dianne Wiest). 

This sounds like a dreadful premise for a show.  However.  There’s nothing soppy or manipulative in the script or the acting.  It feels… curious.  And engrossing.  At the end of each half hour the viewer is left feeling unsatisfied, like you’ve been allowed to peek under the cover for a moment only to find another layer.  There’s a compulsive need to know more.

It helps that each patients story is inherently intriguing.  Alex (Blair Underwood) is a fighter pilot responsible for a disastrous bombing in Iraq.  Sophie (Mia Wasikowska) an olympic hopeful struggling with suicidal tendencies.  Jake (Josh Charles) & Amy (Embeth Davidtz) a couple trying to decide whether to abort their unborn child.  Nothing about the untangling stories is obvious or even black & white. 

It is this that makes In Treatment an outstanding program.  Smart, honest and multi-layered.  Byrne is at times powerful, unwielding and wise and at others so vulnerable and almost naive.  It’s a consistently outstanding performance.  So much so that both Byrne and Wiest have been, quite rightfully, nominated for Emmy’s. 

Director and writer, Rodrigo Garcia, does a fine job.  The intimacy he creates with his tight shots makes it hard to breathe at times but it suits the events and draws you into it.  At other time he opens up the shot  to show distance, particularly between Paul and his wife Kate (Michelle Forbes).  Never is anything done without impact.  Each shot serves the story.

This is not light viewing.  No doubt about it.  It is however compelling.  My husband, who would never choose to watch a show about psychology, found himself being drawn in against his better judgement.  Ok so he’s not going to make a date to watch it like I will but when I switch it on, he just can’t help himself but watch!

Tuesday Timeshift: #4 Breaking Bad (TV)

Imagine your Dad secretly built a meth lab and started selling a-grade ice for fun and some extra cash? Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle) is Walter, one of those middle-America types who really should have been something more – who needs a Nobel prize when you can teach for a living instead? Walter doesn’t have the whiff of failure so much as he’s wading around knee-deep in shit – he’s working part-time in a car wash while maintaining his day job as a high-school chemistry teacher. For his birthday, his wife gives him a little happy hand-job… one hand on the task, the other, her mouse hand, free so she can continue to check out eBay.  This is not a guy who’s sucking the marrow out of life!

Naturally, Walter reaches implosion point and takes things into his own hands. What better way to shake things up than a life of crime? It may seem far-fetched on paper (ok, so of course it is, it’s called suspension of disbelief people!) but the plotting is capable and it all seems perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. And he’s not just gonna be any old drug-manufacturer, Walter is determined to be an “artist”. When only the best will do.

Cranston is at his comedic best without slipping into that irritating schmuck of his Malcolm alter-ego. This guy you actually like! Which is quite a remarkable piece of writing and acting when you think about it. The rest of the cast are relative unknowns but all do an excellent job.

The opening scene of the first episode is perfect in every way and the ending delivers a nice little punch to kick things along so you just want more. Breaking Bad has been nominated for a gazillion Emmy’s so clearly it’s in the “Not to be Missed” ouvre. Meaningless awards aside, it is a great little addition to TV and I’m quite surprised to see it’s been bought by Showtime in Australia which means those with the money (the free-to-air channels) didn’t pick it up. Ok it’s a difficult topic, the guy is running a meth lab after all, but does it matter? It’s good and that should be enough. Well done Showtime for, yet again, taking some risks.

Breaking Bad is airing on Showcase (Foxtel).

Tuesday Timeshift: #3 Tell Me You Love Me (TV)

Well, if I didn’t know any better, I would almost swear that these couples are actually screwing!  Tell Me You Love Me is all about ‘The Sex’ – who’s getting it, who’s not, who’s using it, who’s abusing it.  It’s from HBO, so you know it’s gotta be good, but interestingly it’s Creator, Cynthia Mort, was also Producer on Will & Grace and Roseanne.  Unusual mix!

There are four core stories. Dave (Tim De Kay, Carnivale)  & Katie (Ally Walker, Profiler) – daily life, kids and exhaustion has left them sexless; Carolyn (Sonya Walger, Lost)  & Palek are desparately trying and failing to fall pregnant;  May & Arthur are older, more stable yet still the past looms over them;  and finally Jaime (Michelle Borth) & Hugo and Jaime & Nick (Ian Sommerhalder, Lost), who struggle with the issues of the young, identity, self-worth and commitment. 

In Michelle Borth, Mort has found quite a good talent.  She’s gorgeous but she also has a wry charm and an intelligence that brings warmth to the screen without turning Jaime into a saccharine sweet victim of her own beauty.  Perhaps this is the finest thing about Tell Me You Love Me, the writing.  It’s unflinchingly honest, brutal and true.  Each character, even some of the small bit parts, are plump and layered.  Mort clearly knew each character intimately. 

To be frank, this material is completely removed from the comedy of Mort’s past  – it’s angry.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have light moments, it does.  But these are the stories of couples in pain.  Although, that said, there is at least one wacky sidekick, in baby-hungry Carolyn’s sister Mason,  to lighten the tone from time to time!  My only complaint, if you can call it that, is that it suffers from classic American casting, everyone is so damn gorgeous… it would be nice if just once, someone who was just “pretty” could pick up a role or two!

The sex plays such a powerful role in Tell Me You Love Me.  When it aired in the US there was controversy about the graphic nature.  But it doesn’t feel gratuitous most of the time.  It’s truthful.  It hasn’t been shot to look like perfect sex, or hooker sex for that matter.  There are squelches and awkardness and squashed boobs and hanging balls.  But it is still sexy for all that.  Maybe because of that.  Perhaps it’s a voyeuristic thing?  Either way it’s powerful and quite beautiful.

Tell Me You Love Me aired on HBO last year (2007) and has not been picked up for a 2nd season.  No matter, it’s still worth watching.  It is addictive and engrossing and it’s a shame not to continue their stories but time invested in season 1 is not time wasted.  I imagine, due to the very confronting sex scenes, that it will be buried in Australia in  a fairly tragic timeslot.  So crank up TiVo and put it on the case! 

Is it well-written?  Yes it is.  Is it beautifully shot?  Yes it is.  Is the sex hot?  Yes and is.  But if you don’t want to question you’re own relationship, probably best if you steer clear of this one!