Posts Tagged ‘HBO’

Flying High for Flight of the Conchords

December 4, 2008

fotcI just saw a commercial last night for the upcoming season of HBO‘s Flight of the Conchords, and I was filled with a glee that has been, sadly, almost entirely absent this television season. This show is a big part of why I still have an HBO subscription, truth be told. It’s that good.

Flight of the Conchords follows New Zealand’s (self-billed) 4th most popular digi-folk parody duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as they try to find success in New York City. Aided by their manager and New Zealand cultural attache Murray (Rhys Darby), adviser Dave (Arj Barker), and single obsessed fan Mel (Kristen Schaal), they achieve what New Zealanders might consider success (one of the running gags of the series addresses the lowered expectations of Kiwis).

I’d first heard Flight of the Conchords on the radio, where I had to pull over while driving because I was laughing so hard at their song “Business Time,” which deals with the nuances of the scheduled Wednesday night intimacies:

Conditions are perfect for making love.
You turn to me and say something sexy like, “I might go to bed. I’ve got work in
the morning.”
I know what you’re trying to say, baby.
You’re trying to say “Aww, yeah. It’s business time.”

What the HBO show managed miraculously to do was to take that same sense of low-key absurdity and translate it into a half-hour comedy. Since the show isn’t overpopulated with characters, it can exploit them by letting them play out silly situations extremely seriously, so that the dialogue sounds as if it could come out in one of their songs:

Murray: Be careful with it. Don’t stand next to any big magnets.
Jemaine: Why would I stand next to a big magnet?
Murray: I don’t know what you do in your personal life.

See what I mean? Brilliant.

The new season of Flight of the Conchords starts January 18, 2009 on HBO. If the second season is even half as good as the first season, it’ll be the best show on television.

THE WIRE Series Finale: Bowing Out Gracefully

March 11, 2008

McNultyMASSIVE SPOILER ALERT!!! If you have not watched the finale of The Wire and plan to, or if you are currently still watching earlier seasons and don’t want to know what happens to all your favorite characters, READ NO FURTHER. I do not want to spoil your fun.

For the rest of us, that was just a lovely way to complete the series. No “this was just a dream,” no fading to sudden black, just a bittersweet tying up of all the story threads hanging loose. The episode, entitled “-30-“, was written by David Simon, with its story by David Simon and Ed Burns, the true powerforces behind the series. While the episode was all about endings, like most episodes of The Wire, it took its time getting there, with all the humor and pathos we’ve come to expect out of those characters.

What I personally loved about the finale was that it wasn’t a pure happy ending, but wasn’t a pure downer either. Certain resolutions were unsurprising: Gus getting demoted to copy editor while that putz Scott Templeton wins a Pulitzer; Marlo getting off for his drug crimes; Carcetti succeeding to the Governor’s mansion. Certain ends were heartbreaking: Dukie shooting up, having lied to his former teacher and mentor Prez about going back to school (random note – how awesome was it to see Prez, my favorite character, show up again and be self-confident!!); the fall of Daniels as a direct result of being an honorable man. And certain ends had a transformative redemptive quality to them. I loved seeing McNulty leaving the alcohol orgy of his wake to go sit on the stoop with Beadie, although you could see the worry in her eyes, asking “How long can this last?” I loved seeing Bubbles, having allowed himself to be portrayed as a “good guy” in The Sun, put on his celebrity sunglasses as he sold papers, and be allowed into the main floor of his sister’s house, the basement door finally unlocked. And I especially loved the montage of Baltimore’s faces, which seemed to say to me, “There are a million stories here; we have touched upon only a few.”

My favorite lines from the finale:

At Jimmy’s “wake”:

Landsman: If I was laying there dead on some Baltimore street corner, I’d want it to be you standing over me catching the case. Because, brother, when you were good, you were the best we had.
Bunk: Shit, if you was layin’ there dead on some corner, it was probably Jimmy that done ya.

And Daniels, talking with his ex-wife councilwoman, after she tells him, “The tree that doesn’t bend, breaks, Cedric.” Daniels replies, “Bend it too far, you’re already broken.”

The Wire never deviated from its vision. It never broke.

THE WIRE: Rest in Peace, Omar

February 27, 2008

Omar Little The WireWell, by now it shouldn’t be a spoiler anymore. One of the best anti-heroes ever — the gangster with a code, Omar Little — met his end Sunday night on HBO’s The Wire. His life ended with both a bang and a whimper: the bang of a pistol held by an 11-year-old Omar wannabe, and a whimper because it was unexpected, without fanfare, and because Omar looked so tired before it all went down. He lived by a code, and while he may have been a murderous thief, he was also a man of honor. “I ain’t never put my gun on nobody who wasn’t in the game.” And it is a credit to the writing of the character (by such amazing writers as David Simon, Dennis Lehane, Ed Burns, Richard Price, David Mills, and more) and the fine acting of Michael Kenneth Williams, who portrayed him, that so many viewers are left so sad.

You will be missed, Omar. Your murder might not be considered news by the folks at The Sun, but you will be remembered.

Who Needs Therapy? Watching IN TREATMENT

February 24, 2008

Gabriel Byrne - In TreatmentI’m the latest victim to HBO’s insidious viewing experiment. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? For its latest series In Treatment,” rather than introduce the series with one episode per week, HBO has taken the approach of airing Gabriel Byrne and his luscious Irish voice five nights a week. Each night highlights the therapy session of a different patient, with Fridays dedicated to the sessions between the therapist Paul (Byrne) and his own therapist, Gina.

I suppose there that some out there who have sampled the program, decided they hated a certain day’s patient, and have been able to omit that day from their schedule, thus regaining back some of their own life. Not me. I’m as enthralled by the patients I despise (Yes, I’m talking about Laura and Alex) as the one who breaks my heart on a weekly basis (Sophie, anyone?). And I can’t miss Friday, because that’s when you get to hear what Paul actually thinks about having these people lie to themselves in front of him all week.

The show is based on an Israeli series, “Be Tipul,” and the writing has been stellar throughout. Many of the episodes have been penned by the show’s executive producer and director, Rodrigo Garcia (who, in your trivia of the day, is the son of the literature Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez), although many other fine writers have contributed to the series. It must be a major challenge to present compelling drama from what is overwhelmingly dialogue only. And yet, each episode has a short story structure with development and movement. The dialogue is not static and shows us as much as it tells.

I do wonder if there might be a gender divide in viewership, however. The men I have spoken with who have sampled episodes of this show have uniformly disliked it; women seem to be much more intrigued to follow Paul and his patients on their therapeutic journeys.

Who out there is watching? What do you think? I’m listening.

The Wire: Why David Simon is No Mere Mortal

January 14, 2008

the-wire.jpgSheesh. Politics got me so worked up last week that I plumb forgot to post that HBO’s The Wire –my weekly exercise of picking my jaw up off the floor in awe — is back on. I now have a reason to go on watching tv. Whoo-hoo!

Now, I know this show is a critic’s darling, but gets sucky ratings and ignored at awards time. So maybe this post is redundant and/or irrelevant. Don’t care. I’m going to tell you, in writing terms, why The Wire is the best written show, maybe, ever:

  1. Voice: No other show that I have ever seen — and as you know, I am a couch potato priestess, so have seen many — captures the voice of a city as well as this show. This is probably where David Simon’s and Ed Burns’ backgrounds in journalism, police, and teaching play into effect the most. They — and with their guidance, the show’s other writers — can tap into absolutely credible dialogue from the inner city streets, to the police room, to the inner workings of the Mayor’s office.
  2. Characters: You’d be hard pressed to come up with a show that had a larger cast of characters. The police department alone hosts fifteen characters that we’ve seen in first two episodes of this latest season. And yet — and this is an important point for anyone considering jumping into watching The Wire and feeling intimidated — the characters are so well drawn that the show never feels bloated or overpopulated. In fact, even after watching just a few episodes, it’s so easy to claim any number of characters as your favorites, that when they get screen time, you celebrate to see them. Their language is so vivid that half the fun is finding out what these characters are going to say. Here’s a sampling of my favorite quotes:

    “Bring me a Shrek 2 slushie and some Krispy Kreme.” Squeak

    “I keeps one in the chamber, in case you pondering.” Omar

    “Ain’t none of you ever been in the military? Don’t you know how to make a 30-inch quick tie? (Silence) Draft dodging peace freaks, huh?” Lester Freamon

    It’s very easy to pick favorite characters. In my case, I love Omar, the scarred gangster who will rob and kill — but not on Sunday; Lester Freamon, a smart detective with a passion for miniatures; and Prez, the former cop turned teacher.

  3. Plot: Every season, The Wire walks the fine line between being complexly and intricately plotted, and being unwatchably confusing. They have not erred yet. Things move slowly — a seemingly throwaway reference will resurface five episodes later. But all the information is there for the viewer. Nothing is hidden. The show is as epic in scope as a Shakespearean tragedy, made all the more tragic because these events are based on what’s really happening in our towns and cities today. It makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes that I derive so much enjoyment from watching the series, but don’t get off my couch potato carcass to do anything to rectify the problem.

So if you haven’t been watching The Wire, what’s stopping you? If you don’t have HBO, rent some of the earlier seasons. If you do have HBO, then this should be appointment television. And if you are watching, then post who your favorite characters are and why. I’d love to hear from you.