Saturday, April 30, 2011

Treme: The Big Uneasy

Nobody can accuse HBO of not doing its part to shed light on the plight of New Orleans. They got behind Spike Lee and his mammoth documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and have since financed a follow-up doc from Lee entitled If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise. The former painstakingly covered the days and months in New Orleans after Katrina, while the latter traced the rebuilding of the city, the Saints winning the Superbowl, and the BP oil spill. Now, for most networks, this would have been enough. Some suit, when pitched the idea of an Orleans-based TV series, would've said, "We already devoted hours on the subject to Spike Lee. We did our part." Thankfully, HBO isn't that kind of network. If it were, we wouldn't have the chance to bask in David Simon's and Eric Overmyer's post-Katrina slice-of-life series, Treme.

Treme just kicked off its second season on HBO, and being HBO, there are still opportunities to catch the first episode, "Accentuate the Positive," in case you missed it. The show has now moved its characters fourteen months away from the storm that devastated their city, and instead of things looking up, it sees the storyline going into darker areas than it dared to in its freshman year. Dave Walker, TV critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, has lived in the city since 2000, so he not only knows a thing or two about Treme, but also what life's been like for residents since Katrina, and how the increasing level of violence in the second season isn't a TV gimmick, but a true case of art imitating life. Bullz-Eye spoke at length to Walker, who's got a great deal to say about the show's new season. "It's dark because those were very dark days in the city."

"The headlines got pretty grim in the time that they're depicting," Walker continues. "The recovery just seemed to be dragging. Violent crime had returned to the city, after basically being non-existent for a long time. In a perverse way, it may be better television, because it has events and activity that people are more used to seeing in television drama. We didn't exactly hail those elements as something that would improve narrative inertia at the time we were living through them, but I think for people who are just trying to watch TV, it may be stickier, it may be more compelling, because it's got stuff they see in other shows. I don't know. It's a weird show to handicap for viewers who are watching outside of New Orleans."

Lucia Micarelli, who plays up and coming violinist Annie Tee, talks of the sometimes unsettling nature of the manner in which the show is put together. "Annie's not so far away from me. So much that it's creepy. I was talking to Steve Earle a couple weeks ago, and he was saying how the show is so much art imitates life imitates art. It's really strange." She continues on, almost aghast, with a reminiscence revolving around a scene from an upcoming episode – one which is rooted in a real life tragedy. "A couple months ago we were shooting the funeral of a young musician who had been shot. And they got his actual family to be in that scene, and recreate the funeral, and say their eulogies. I remember when I found that out, I was like 'This is fucked up!'" Her personal feelings aside, Micarelli recalls the sequence as being almost cathartic for the family members involved.

Read the rest of this article by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doctor Who: Kinda / Snakedance

Search far and wide through the back catalogue of classic Doctor Who and you’ll be hard pressed to come up with a double bill that’s as rewarding as “Kinda” and “Snakedance.” The former is not just one of the greatest Who stories of the 80s, but one of the best in the entire canon of the series. The latter is… well, it’s a damn fine sequel. Both tales were penned by a guy named Christopher Bailey, who not only never wrote any other entries for the series, but after working on Who, never wrote for television again! This seems quite a travesty in light of how well this material has aged. Both tales are from the Peter Davison era, and both revolve heavily around the Fifth Doctor’s companion, Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding, who really delivers in both installments).

“Kinda” begins with the TARDIS having landed on the lush planet Deva Loka. The crew doesn’t appear to be in much of a hurry to do anything but relax, and soon enough, during a leisurely stroll through the forest, they encounter a mysterious display of enchanting chimes. Tegan, seemingly hypnotized by their spell, falls asleep beneath them while the Doctor and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) wander off, deeper in the forest. (Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa is written out at the top of this story, and doesn’t reappear until the close.) Also on Deva Loka is an expedition from another planet – colonialists searching for a new home. Their team is quickly losing members, however, and only three remain: the militant Sanders (Richard Todd), his subordinate Hindle (Simon Rouse), and the scientist Todd (Nerys Hughes).

Standing in the way of any potential colonization are the inhabitants of Deva Loka, known as the Kinda, a telepathic tribe of mutes who may or may not be more dangerous than they appear. But the real danger lurks in the dark corners of the mind, where Tegan meets an entity known as the Mara in a bizarre, hallucinatory dream state, and it’s able to emerge into the waking world through her, and then later through one of the Kinda, giving a mute figure voice for the first time in his life. And with voice, comes power.

Read the rest of the DVD reviews for “Kinda” and “Snakedance” by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Friday Night Lights: The Fifth and Final Season

Here’s a box set that’s a bit of a TV on DVD anomaly: Most fans of the series haven’t yet had the opportunity to view these episodes. If you watch Friday Night Lights on NBC, and you’re thinking, “Hey, did I somehow manage to miss the fifth season?,” the answer is no, you didn’t. This block of 13 episodes won’t begin airing until later this month on network TV. They did, however, play on DirecTV late last year and early this year, and now somebody, somewhere, has decided to go ahead and release this season on DVD before it plays on NBC. Given that this is the final season of this great series, that must make this set mighty tempting to the people who haven’t seen this material.

The big question, no doubt, is, “Does it deliver?” From this fan’s point of view the answer is “Most definitely.” But that’s a loaded answer that requires detailed – yet spoiler-free – explanation. If you didn’t care for the manner in which the show rebooted for Season Four, then there’s a good chance you’re not going to care for most of this season, either. Last season introduced four new major characters along with a slew of peripheral figures surrounding them, and this season continues on with those storylines. In many ways it feels less like a new season, and more like a continuation of last season’s stories; as if Seasons Four and Five combine to make one mammoth 26-episode story. It would be utterly useless to watch this block without having seen the year that preceded it, as that setup is imperative to appreciating what’s served up here.

Now, taking the above equation into consideration, the first three or four episodes of Season Five have a pretty unexpected “noodling” vibe, as if they’re the vaguely weak middle of this long story, and they’re biding their time until it begins ramping up for the big finish. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible the writers, led by Jason Katims, knew the ending they wanted, but weren’t sure of how to get there. I dub this the Hastings Ruckle Conundrum.

Read the rest of the DVD review - and find out more about the Hastings Ruckle Conundrum - by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.