Before starting this post, I was torn at the title but at the end figured may as well leave the snark for the reviews. I don’t write here much and indeed haven’t intended on making more than a cursory appearance (usually as parenthesized italics in Shazia’s columns), but here I am. Leave your disagreements, agreements and plain ol’ ambivalence in the comments.
These three shows have no common thread going through them other than being recommended by this TDitR columnist. Isn’t that reason enough to plunge forward? :-)
Much has been said of casting Australian actor Robert Taylor as the lead in an all American Western, but in all honesty I had no idea he was anything but American when I saw the show, so no complaints. On first glance, viewers might be quick to judge Longmire on the long shadow cast by fellow Western Justified (Timothy Olyphant in a career defining role, based on the Elmore Leonard series of novels). Longmire too is based on a series of books; I have no knowledge of the writing of either of them so I’ll keep the book/show comparisons to a minimum.
Longmire is a show about characters and close ups. Walt Longmire’s a county sheriff who lost his wife a year ago and has only just begun picking up the pieces. Based on the first three episodes, there won’t be any mindbending twists or overarching plot which plays to the advantage of this charmer. Its slightly irrelevant five second musical twang announcing the show’s title aside, the show brings strong performances by Taylor and Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Gallactica) as Deputy Vic. Lou Diamond Philips plays Longmire’s long time pal, a Cheyenne which brings a nice dynamic given the tensions between the sheriff’s department and the Reservation’s police.
I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who doesn’t like an ambling character-driven show with its heart in the hands of its hero. Taylor plays Longmire as a man in pain, unwilling to let anyone in and reluctant to change but between those moments of terse words, Taylor’s performance lends his character a softness which, when it’s allowed to show through, gives viewers someone to root for.
Sackoff in particular shines as the smart mouthed but nonetheless smart young deputy with her own past (she pole dances well and left a job with the Philadelphia PD before arriving in Wyoming). The only characters I don’t give a shit about are the two other deputies, one of whom is a bumbling, doddering idiot and the other a brash idiot with an axe to grind against his boss (I smell daddy issues; that he’s *SPOILER ALERT* dating Longmire’s daughter clandestinely doesn’t help his case) by running against him as Sheriff. Good luck with that.
The first season of TNT’s sci-fi show had the “special” draw as being a Steven Spielberg production and who knows extraterrestrials better than Spielberg? But the show was clunky, thin on mythology, slow paced but did, at the very end, give the viewers a kick in the balls finale. I’d argue that only the very dedicated must’ve tuned in for the second season (S1 premiered to 5.9 million while S2 premiered to 4.5; I stand corrected), but they’d be glad they did.
Usually a change in showrunners isn’t the best move, but in the case of Falling Skies it’s made all the difference. The first three episodes are tighter, leaner and more mythologically driven thanks to Tom the History Teacher’s brush with the ETs aboard their ship. Yes, the citizens of 2nd Mass are torn between happiness and suspicion but it’s an undercurrent speedily handled and dismissed (we lose Pope in the third episode but he’s too much of a dick to not be seen again). In the first season I’d begun to lose hope for the little ragtag army but we’ve already been introduced to a possible city of rebels stashed somewhere in the roads ahead which will bring with it more dynamics and a lot more story.
Also, what’s up with Ben? Is he secretly working with the “Skitters”? I’m not really sure I care; I’d like to know why the ETs are here which is a question that arguably should’ve been asked in the first season. At least they’re asking it now.
Aaron Sorkin, you sonofagun I love you. I’ll admit, I only really got into The West Wing in the UK when I should’ve been working on my dissertation but whatever. It really only did take one episode and I was sold. Wing‘s dialog was crisp, smart, delivered well, people would talk while they walked as they decidedly went somewhere and each episode was about something solid. It made working in the White House an intellectual affair, sometimes messy, not the glitz and glamor other productions aim for. The characters made tough, sometimes unpopular decisions but they stood by them; characters went forward not backward. When Sorkin was elbowed out at the end of the fourth season the show lost its voice — that decisiveness and clarity I’ll always associate with Sorkin’s work. For a long time it was an echo of its past self, trying to reclaim its former glory until, in the seventh season it found it again. A different one, perhaps, but one that worked. Or maybe after all that flailing, it was just “better” than past attempts.
It may not be possible to find a more hateable character on television than Newsroom‘s lead Will McAvoy (portrayed admirably by Bill Pullman), but leave it to Sorkin to make it work. McAvoy is brash, mean to his employees, and has lost the drive to report the news, pandering instead to the popular opinion; the “Jay Leno of broadcast news”. Not the best line, but definitely the one that I still remember. In a nutshell: he’s a masochist who’s lost his passion.
Enter Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer portraying a tongue twisted named character; I expect better from Sorkin), a past love and one he hallucinates in the stands of a talk being given to Georgetown University students where the dude goes ballistic. If you haven’t seen the tirade, and it’s worth seeing, watch the promo and it’ll give you all the information you need. That McAvoy redeems himself by the heartening monologue that succeeds it isn’t enough to undo the damage. He’s falling apart at the seams apparently, and he’s lost half his staff (they all return, the bloodsuckers when they realize their one-time boss is making a comeback).
I wasn’t sure how well Mortimer would do here (the last thing I remember seeing of hers is either her stint as Emily in Friends or Punch Drunk Love), but she pulls it off. As do the supporting cast members. But this is Pullman’s show; everybody else is interesting enough to make you go “hmm…” but that’s about it for now. In the office department, you’ve got the obligatory mix: an Indian (manages McAvoy’s blog), an assistant dating McAvoy’s former executive producer who’s a dick and it won’t end well but I’m jumping ahead of myself, the senior producer who was told to make eyes at the assistant but who just might like her for himself after all (who knew? Only just about everyone). Mac wants to groom this young assistant who she labels as being “me before I was Me” to her young senior producer; she makes her an assistant producer much to the chagrin of her dicky bf and encourages her to not be such a doormat (advice not taken sadly; but if it were where would all that delicious character development be?).
Mortimer and Pullman’s chemistry shines; there’s a story here and it didn’t end well but we’ll see where that goes. There’s a little moment at the end which had me torn.
I’ve learned not to get too attached to the shows I like; understood that the writers will tell stories and take their characters on a journey I wouldn’t agree with. I stopped watching House in the seventh season, dismayed at the lack of character development but that was the story Shore & Co set out to tell. I just didn’t have to stick around and watch.
The Newsroom is a polarizing show — at its center is a polarizing character. There may be too much “smart” dialog; dialog that is aware that it’s intelligent and not intended for mid-level intellects, which is a criticism that’s been aimed at the show. But fortunately, viewers have a choice. You can choose not to watch.
For now, I’m hooked and I’ll be watching until Sorkin tells me not to.
Maryam Piracha is the Editor-in-Chief of The Missing Slate. She tweets @maryampiracha.