When A Show Is Renewed But The Storyline You Care About Most is Cancelled

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Many—not all but many—movies have two genres. The first tells the story of the main plot line: the heist, the hunt for the spy, the fight to save the farm, the escape from the haunted house. Those are all the high-stress moments of the story, building tension to the finale. When the marketers cut a trailer, this is the genre they focus on.

The second genre tells a story in the down moments of the plot, when the tension of the main plot is allowed to ease and reset so it can be ramped up again. Traditionally, these would be romantic plots, but sometimes it’s a coming of age story.

TV does something similar. For example, Elementary was a mystery show that had, for its second, much smaller secondary plot, a little drama that played out within the main cast. Most focused on the growing friendship between Sherlock and Joan, but some were about Joan’s family, or Sherlock’s, or their circle of friends.

And since it’s an episodic show, the main-plot mysteries were one and done but the little dramas stacked one on top of the other, building over the long term to something wonderful.

Honestly, in TV it’s those tiny dramas, building one upon the other, that keep me coming back episode after episode. The Mystery of the Week keeps me entertained. The slowly changing relationships between the main characters makes me binge a whole season to Find Out What Happened.

Another example: for years, I was faithfully picking up Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels, one after another, because a) the private eye plots for each book were solid as hell, and b), the main character, Kinsey Milhone, discovered that she had a huge extended family that she knew nothing about, and the subplots of each book showed her inching closer to the family she never knew she had and wasn’t sure she wanted.

I really wanted to know what happened between Kinsey and her estranged family. I could find a solid mystery in any number of books, but the family drama is what kept me coming back.

Then the subplot suddenly shifted into a romantic plot featuring a good-looking homicide detective who used to be a hairdresser(!) which meant he could fix Kinsey’s famously terrible self-inflicted haircuts. I was so annoyed that I dropped the series immediately. I’d been coming back for the reconciliation with her family. The sexy hairdresser/homicide detective left me clammy.

One of the reasons I never watched House was that, while the main plots were interesting enough, I didn’t like watching the character dramas play out. It just felt so squicky. In fact, there are a lot of shows that I ditch after a few seasons because I feel absolutely done with the kind of subplot dramas the show puts its characters through.

Anyway, the reason all this has bubbled to the surface is the British show Miss Scarlet and the Duke. Brief description: Eliza Scarlet is a Victorian-era daughter of a police inspector and private investigator who is obsessed with being a private investigator herself, and of course she’s brilliant. “The Duke” is the nickname of a Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, William Wellington. They’re childhood friends who love each other. The dynamic on the show is that he helps support her struggling business while she solves his most difficult cases.

Did I mention that they love each other? In season one they’re friends trying to accept their mutual attraction. Season two has them in a romantic relationship while Eliza’s dedication to her work keeps causing problems for William. Season three has them trying to be friends post-breakup, even though William begins dating Eliza’s childhood bully.

Then season four hit the library on disc and I was 100 percent ready for it. Three ended with the (now more adult and sensible bully) dumping William because he can’t admit that he’s still in love with Eliza. So four ought to be the season where they try again and actually make it work, right?

Well, no. Instead, William takes a posting in New York City. He tells Eliza that he loves her but that they need time apart.

And the next thing I discover is that season five will be called simply “Miss Scarlet” because Stuart Martin, the actor who played “the Duke”, is leaving the show.

Which I get. It can’t be fun to be the cop who scolds the main character for all the cool and fun ways they break the rules. Taraji P. Henson pulled the ripcord on Person of Interest because her role had changed and she’d become bored. I’m sure Martin believes there are better ways to spend the sexy leading man years of his life.

But I’m not sure I’m interested in a show without that subplot. The structure of each episode was such that each multi-season-long subplot was woven tightly into the execution of the mystery of the week. What, exactly, is supposed to fit into that space?

I have no idea, but it’s like imagining a Twenty Palace novel without Annalise. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I mean, I’ll give season five a try, but I have to admit that I’m feeling a little cheated. If he’s leaving the show, I’m glad they didn’t kill off the character, because that would have sucked. I’m still disappointed in the unresolved ending of this four-year storyline, though.

(I should write shorter posts)

The new book, health, and a few other updates

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It’s past time that I wrote an update about… Well, about everything. I’ve really only been waiting for my situation to be somewhat changed. It’s hard to motivate myself to pop up online and say Everything is good and bad in the same way as it has been for months. Here are some fun TV shows I watched recently. I hate to be dull.

First things first: Every spring, a number of SPFBO winners and finalists go on sale at 99 cents. This year, from April 13-16, there will be more than a hundred books—all having received positive reviews from the reviewers picking the contest winners—available at fire sale prices on Amazon. 

I’m posting this a day early, but most of these books should probably already be on sale right now. 

SPFBO Finalist Sale 2024

If you’re a fantasy reader, check it out. There are a lot of treats to be had (and a few of them are mine).

Progress on my new horror novel is ongoing. In fact, things have picked up a bit and I’m making better progress. In part that’s because some (but not all by any means) of the stressors in my life are letting up (more on that later) and some because I stopped throwing out the beginnings of the book and are just letting the story happen. 

I mean, I’m still going to have to throw out the beginning of this book and redo it, hopefully with ten thousand fewer words, but it’s nice to keep on keeping on. 

Recently, I read Catriona Ward’s Little Eve and reread Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. Both are amazing in very different ways. King’s novel feels like it’s all right there on the page. Everything is laid out for you and the story grabs hold of you and never stops pulling. I’ve said this before, but it reads like a thriller, which sounds like it should be a natural match for the horror genre, but my long history of discarded mass market paperbacks suggests that it’s a trick that’s actually hard to pull off. 

Ward’s novel is wonderful in a different way. It feels deeper and more upsetting, and also that more is being implied than I’m seeing. I may need to read it again to pick up all the clues to the mysteries at the center of it. Recommended if you like psychological gothic historical horror.

And I realize that I mentioned that I was in the middle of ‘Salem’s Lot two months ago when I posted my last update, so I’m publicly confessing to my ongoing reading slump. It started during the pandemic, and I’m feeling like the Ward novel is helping me break it. 

Then again, my son asked me to let him know when I finished my latest book because he wants me to try out a video game he likes. I can’t remember the name of it except that it has “Disco” in the title. Personally, my preference for video games leans toward monkeys throwing darts at balloons (in easy mode) but we’ll see. I do have Sundial and the most recent Robert Crais thriller on the shelf behind me, along with a few other options, just in case. 

A few weeks back, a number of people were pushing Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai, and I bounced off it in my first attempt. It starts in the most boring way possible, with Our Mysterious Badass showing up in a restaurant and is then forced to deal with a violent narcissist and blah blah blah. It’s supposed to make us like the main character, but it feels like the usual bullshit. 

Still, the praise was steep enough that I sat down to try again with my wife. She loved the animation. I’ve said before that she really wants to see beautiful imagery in the shows she watches, and BES is honestly a step above. The story is goes to interesting places, too. Also recommended. (Trailer)

Finally, in a personal note, twelve years ago I started getting full body hives every time I did anything that raised my body temp. Cooking a meal, a hot shower, a tense conversation with my wife. Anything could trigger it. Over the counter allergy meds helped but not all the way. It became impossible to exercise or to even consider a job that was physical in any way. I went online to look into it and saw that there was no cure. The only relief I could hope for was that it might go away on its own, which could happen in 3-30 years(!)

As a result, I became more sedentary and more unhealthy over that time. 

Last fall, my new doctor arranged for me to see a specialist. At that visit, the specialist told me that there was an effective new treatment. His wife had the same issue that I do, and since starting this medication, her quality of life has completely turned around. 

He also told me that these reactions are an immune system problem and were not caused by environmental exposure like I’d thought. It feels weird that I find relief in that, but I do. 

Anyway, I need to get the first few doses of this injectable medication at the doctor’s office and, with luck, I will soon be active again. It’s been a lot of years of wearing long sleeves to hide the awful red blotches, or to sit in a cafe with my eyes closed waiting for the itches to subside. Things really could be looking up. 

It’s hard to express how excited I am about it. 

That’s all. I’ll try not to take so long for my next update. Thanks for reading. 

Writing Update, Personal Update, Pop Culture Update

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It’s been too long since I dropped an update and talked about some random news, so let’s see if I can squeeze some time in for that right now.

Progress on the new novel has been glacial. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but I’m tackling a big story with a lot of POV characters, so I’m doing a lot of research and rewriting.

Also, I haven’t been 100% well. I don’t want to get into details here, but my daily wordcount goals are somewhat reduced. I’m still writing, but it’s a struggle and I’m getting pretty frustrated with myself. Not only does it suck for you, the reader, that it’s taking too long to get this next book solved and finished, it sucks for me. In a huge way.

It’s hard to overstate how unhappy I am about this, actually.

But this is the state of things at the moment and there’s no choice but to persevere. On the plus side, I have a new doctor who recognizes that I am more than just my BMI, so there’s hope in that.

To be clear, I’m not talking about Twenty One Palaces. This is the book I’m writing before that book which doesn’t have a title yet.

What else?

I’m pretty much walked away from social media. I unfriended everyone on Facebook and stopped looking at it years ago, although I still post whenever I have a new blog post to announce. I check notifications there every two or three months, so please don’t try to contact me there. I probably won’t see messages or comments for weeks, at minimum.

Also, they’ve changed the format so much that I’m not sure how to navigate it anymore. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for me to learn.

I left Twitter, too, although I still occasionally check the Stranger Things account for news about the show. But now that the final season is in production, I’ve pretty much stopped that, too.

BlueSky is the only space where I hang out online nowadays. I’m byharryconnolly over there, if you’re curious. My follows over there make the site pretty political, which is fine and all but before Twitter became a collapsed outhouse, it was a great place to talk about pop culture and pop culture art. That’s harder to find on BlueSky. Not that it matters much, since I’m not there very much.

Speaking of pop culture art, here’s a quick rundown of random stuff:

I’m rereading Salem’s Lot. It’s just as fun as I remember and has the pacing of an avalanche. There are just a few snowballs at the start but the end is overwhelming.

Next up for me are a pair of novels by Catriona Ward. I heard good things and I’m hoping she can help me overcome my ongoing reading slump.

Musically, I’ve been listening to a bunch of The Breeders and Belly. Yeah, it’s old music. See Salem’s Lot reference above. I’ve always been like this. I could never take part in Hugo voting or whatever because I never read books as they’re released. The songs are still great, though, esp the most recent Breeders album.

In movies/tv, The Holdovers was moving but not lovely, which is a solid recommendation from me. However my wife likes a little eye candy in her films. Landscapes. Architectures. Gardens. That sort of thing. She she admired it but wished for more.

We definitely got our fair share of lovely images in the fifth season of Fargo, and the story was fantastic. I love it when stories that don’t seem much like SF/F throw a few sfnal tropes in there.

I enjoyed Echo quite a bit, in large part because I like street-level heroes. I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, though.

Yes, this is a story about a woman who’s disconnected from her community and her culture, so the way she levels up at the end made thematic sense. Also, Maya’s relationship with Wilson Fisk was complex, ominous and poignant, too. Still, it’s a show about a hero that kicks ass but the final confrontation had more than a bit of woowoo. It felt weak. Intellectually, I appreciated it. Viscerally, I felt vaguely disappointed.

And The Marvels just landed on Disney+. I’d seen it in the theaters and watched it with my wife Wednesday night. Honestly, I have no idea what people were complaining about. It was breezy fun with lots of color and light-hearted humor.

Also, while it’s a sequel to the movie Captain Marvel (and it helps to have seen that film) having seen the other parts of the MCU that it pulled story elements from seemed entirely optional to me. Everything that needed explaining was explained in The Marvels itself.

That’s all. I’ll try not to be absent for so long in the future, and when I come back, I hope to have better news.

Annual Repost: Beautiful and Terrifying. Thanks Richard Williams et al

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Here’s the best ever adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Delightfully short, too.

If you can’t see the embed, here’s the link.

There’s a version of this on Tubi now, which is free with commercials. Unfortunately, I’m not going to link to it because it’s a really terrible print. Like, really terrible. But if you don’t want to see this on YouTube, you have another option.

Happy Holidays.

Followup to the end of Netflix DVDs

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Friday was the last day Netflix was sending out discs, and that morning I found an email in my inbox saying thanks and goodbye and use this link if you want to download your queue, history, ratings, reviews, etc.

Which I did, obviously.

Some of the discs I’d planned to get from Netflix would be available at my local library, so I could keep up my plan to make Film Friday a thing. (Confession: the day before yesterday was Friday and I forgot to postpone our shows to watch one. Derp.)

Also, looking through my history shows a weird randomness that sort of baffles me now. At the beginning of 2022:

  • Morning Glory
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010)
  • Flee (2021)
  • Venom: Let There Be Carnage
  • The Lure
  • All About Eve
  • The Illusionist
  • Last Night in Soho
  • Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
  • Beauty and the Beast (1946)
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  • Stillwater
  • No Time to Die
  • Munich

That is a genuine mix of shit and shine, plus a few interesting failures and reasonably enjoyable entertainments. I mean, I used to curate (fingerquotes: “curate”) this list via online recommendation and vague ideas about stuff my wife would enjoy, and while I’ve hit more than I missed, I have definitely missed now and again.

The Venom sequel is there because she liked the first one (I didn’t). The Ghostbusters movie annoyed my son so much that he walked out of the room and refused to watch anything with us for more than a year. I got angry with my wife because she chuckled at Beauty and the Beast, as though the 1940s-era special effects made it a kind of an adorable school play. And Bad Luck Banging… was highly recommended but we just couldn’t stand to watch so much footage of a woman walking down a crowded, ugly street.

But that’s me focusing on the bad experiences, as I so often do.

According to my account summary, I rated 890 movies and shows, which put me in the top 10% of subscribers. I also wrote out eight actual reviews, which put me in the top 30%. Only eight reviews! Maybe if I’d written three more I’d be in the top five percent.

And while I’ve rated more discs than I borrowed, there’s some stuff in there that I do not remember at all. For instance, I gave one star to Karate-Robo Zaborgar, a movie that I’m absolutely certain I’ve never even heard of before today. 

But in the process of Googling about it, I’ve found a bunch of other movies by the same director that might be fun to look up. Gothic Lolita Battle Bear might cause actual brain damage, but it sounds like a laugh.

The section I keep returning to is the history, though. I stumbled onto the long section where we borrowed a couple seasons of Veronica Mars, which my son liked very much. It was the first time he ever scolded me for liking the one season more than another.

Also, there was his enthusiasm for The Middleman, and his dismay when he realized it hadn’t been renewed.

And I can still remember the sound of his laugh when The Dude said, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

And my wife, who always put a high premium on watching movies that were full of beauty, absolutely fell in love with Tarsem Singh’s The Fall the very next week, which was followed by Tampopo.

It’s not necessarily about Netflix’s dvd service itself, but glancing back through the history reminded me of our family history. At least, the part we spent in the living room, watching old movies and TV shows.

If you have an account, I recommend downloading your file.

The End of Netflix Mail-Order Discs

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Friday the 29th is the last day Netflix will be mailing out discs for their mail order movie rental company and even though I live in a city, have reasonably good internet and access to a bunch of streaming channels, I’m still going to miss those red envelopes.

Here’s the thing: When Netflix dvd service started out, it was a great resource for people who couldn’t get access to high speed internet. If you’re living out in the boonies, you might have dialup, but stream a whole and entire movie? No way. didn’t have a Blockbuster down the road.

Mail-order dvds were also a reasonable alternative to driving two hours to the nearest theater, or to see a movie that hadn’t even come to a theater in driving range.

Also, in the early days, they offered access to tons of obscure films. Before Netflix, you might be able to read about the Czech New Wave in a magazine, but you could only watch something like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders if you had an art house cinema in your city, were diligent about checking the schedule, and could get away from work or the kids to catch a showing.

Then: dvd.com came online. I could drop Valerie… into my queue and watch it at home. No worries.

Or, people might rave about Jodorowsky all over social media, prompting me to throw a disc into the queue, then turn it off and mail it back when we saw a man take a shit into a glass box.

Not for me, right? No big deal. Just mail it back.

But as broadband has spread around the country and new players have jumped into the streaming service, you can watch Valerie… any time you want from any number of services. It’s three bucks on Amazon right now, no art house calendar or disc-a-week mailer required. The Holy Mountain is four bucks (just in case you want to see that glass box).

Still, I didn’t want to ditch the discs.

I think everyone has heard stories of dvd subscribers who would receive a disc in the mail, think Eh, I’m not feeling it, then drop it on a shelf where it would sit for weeks.

Like people who paid for a gym membership but never actually worked out there, these were the most desirable customers. Me, I always wanted to be Netflix’s least profitable customer. When the disc arrived, we watched it that night. It didn’t matter if we were in the middle of a great series or whatever. The disc came in and went back out the next morning.

Because even though so many of these movies are streaming now, they still don’t get watched. We’re not going to take a break from Only Murders in the Building or Ted Lasso mid-season to stream Army of Shadows. That’s the kind of film you scroll past, with the Augustinian idea that yeah, you (I) really should watch a piece of landmark cinema, but not yet.

But my self-imposed rule on the discs didn’t allow for procrastination, not if we were going to get our money’s worth. Now that’s gone. “Film Friday” is the replacement idea, but we’ll see if we can stick to that.

Anyway, for weeks now Netflix has been saying that subscribers can keep the last disc they receive, and since there isn’t time to mail this one back and have it turned around, the one that arrived yesterday will be the one I’m keeping. Shin Godzilla, if you’re curious. I was a huge fan of Godzilla when I was tiny, but this was the first Godzilla film that I have genuinely enjoyed in decades. I plan to check out the special features and will add it to my rotation of Halloween discs.

Netflix has also said they’re planning to mail extra discs to subscribers, just to give them away. Maybe  they’ll send ten. Maybe one. Maybe none. We’ll see if we get any. We’ve been subscribers for a long time, but only at the lowest one-disc-at-a-time level. I’ve dropped a few discs into our queue that I’d like to own, like the original Oldboy and the Criterion edition of the first Godzilla film, with that great commentary track. Also, my wife asked me to add Tarsem Singh’s The Fall and my son would like Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner movie.

We’ll see.

I’m surprised they’re giving those discs away to subscribers. Are they hoping to keep people signed up until the very end? Or maybe they don’t have a viable buyer for all that physical media and are just planning to write it off.

It’s just too bad, because this was something I valued, and it’s being dumped as though all that value is gone. Those discs were just about the last thing that came in the mail that I was happy to receive.

Fantasy tropes, character classes, and “The Rules”: Netflix’s Wednesday

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I’ve been meaning to write about the show Wednesday since it aired on Netflix, but it wouldn’t come together. Then I watched this video interview with the showrunners, and heard the interviewer call the show a comedy, and something clicked. 

I like the 1991 film in a middling way. The only parts I really enjoyed were Raul Julia’s face when he gets cut in the duel with Dan Hedaya and the scene where Morticia gives Fester a tour of the family ceremony. “We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.” Excellent. 

But the thing I remember most about that movie was a line from a review (yes, I know that’s weird and I wish I could find it now). In it, the reviewer asks (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) “What are the Addams family? Are they ghouls? Something else?”

And, yeah. I sort of wondered that myself while I was watching, while enjoying the feeling that I didn’t know and would never know. What exactly are the Addams family? Some seem to have weird powers. They welcome torture and death. They’re comical figures, sure, but how are they classified? What neat and tidy category do we put them in? 

Who cares? We might as well ask what the rules are. 

But this is how a great many people experience stories about the strange and unreal. If the story is going to venture beyond the realm of the actual, they need to know how far, and in what direction, and please provide neat boundaries to let us know what we can expect.

Some stories work better this way, sure. Some don’t, and it wasn’t until I heard that woman call Wednesday (the show) a comedy that I realized that I was putting the wrong assumptions onto it. There are many kinds of comedy that have no interest in The Rules.

(Confession time: I sometimes don’t recognize comedies when I’m watching them. See also: A Simple Plan.)

But Wednesday (the show) is also a mystery, and that is a genre that is very much interested in setting up rules. So it made sense that the show is so weirdly rigid where the other Addams family stuff is very much not.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Charles Addams original cartoons. They were fine. I didn’t love them. I didn’t connect with them. His famous “Downhill Skier” cartoon is unforgettable, and perfectly exemplifies the point I was making above about comedy and “the rules” but I knew his most popular creation from the black and white sitcom, and as a kid my favorite character was Cousin Itt, who was created especially for the show and not by Addams himself.

So I’m not what you’d call a purist. 

But as much as I enjoyed Netflix’s Wednesday, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed that the show took this weird family of suis generis characters and carefully nestled them into a setting full of stock tropes and character types that are as rigid as a cheap role-playing game. 

At Wednesday’s new school, there are four houses just like at Hogwarts, although they make much less of a fuss about them. The other students are (mostly) grouped by types—werewolf, vampire, siren, gorgon—along with a few psychics bearing traditional psychic powers.

Even the family themselves have been sorted. Now there are outcasts and normies. The normies are… muggles, I guess, who are fully aware that non-muggles exist? The outcasts are everything that’s not a normie, which reframes that weirdly affecting cemetery scene in a way that bothers me. It’s no longer the Addams family itself that must resist oppression by outsiders. It’s their entire group, their whole category, which is apparently defined by the fact that they’re ostracized.

Is it weird to complain this way about a show that I enjoyed, even though it felt at times—especially the climax—that they were filling out a checklist? I would probably have written this post months ago if the show had been a failure, but it’s been wildly successful.

And why not? The young actors are terrific. The jokes mostly land. The story races along. The whole thing looks great. Plus, the rules are clear. And maybe that’s why I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. 

My Father’s Favorite Team Will Play in the Super Bowl this Weekend

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Roman Gabriel.

He’s the first Eagles quarterback whose name I remember. I’m old enough to have known about Norm Snead or Pete Liske, but I didn’t have much interest in the game at that age. Besides, those names were boring. Roman Gabriel is a fantastic name, and I’m pretty sure I started sitting down with my dad and watching football with him (in part) because of that name.

Like a lot of dads in the seventies and eighties, he as a big football fan, although the Eegs (as everyone called them) were an endless source of disappointment. He wasn’t a man who cursed in front of his family, but he wasn’t above shouting “Gyot Damn Eggles!” forty or fifty times a game. And he never pronounced the name that way—Eggles—except out of frustration. Years of frustration.

Hanging out to watch the games was something we could do together, along with watching cheesy old monster movies. At least, we could until he passed, many years ago.

Me, I still like those monster movies but I have stopped watching football. Once it became clear how much damage the players were doing to their bodies by competing in this way, the fun went out of it. I don’t want to watch big hits–or even little–hits any more.

Five years ago, when the Eagles beat the Patriots for the championship, I decided to make an exception to my rule and watched the game. I didn’t know any of the players except the ones who were pop culture famous, which meant Tom Brady and Tom Brady alone. He’s a guy I root against under most circumstances.

And while I was glad the Eagles won, I wasn’t elated. It didn’t thrill me like it used to. Without my dad sitting on the couch, it didn’t seem to matter.

It’s been a long time since they died, but I’ve been thinking about my folks recently. My son turned 21 a few weeks back. He’s officially an adult now, but he never got to meet his paternal grandparents. They would have loved him, obviously, but I know they would have really really liked him, too.

(Don’t smoke, kids. And if you do smoke, keep trying to quit until it sticks.)

And now it’s Super Bowl Sunday again. The Eagles are playing, and I’ve been thinking about how much my father would have felt about this day, and how I would feel about it, too.

So I’ve decided I’m going to make a fancy onion dip, a big bowl of buffalo wings, some pizza, some beer, and I’m going to spend the day watching something else.

It turns out Gone with the Wind is about as long as a championship game. I’ve never seen it, so I’m finally going to cross that one off my list. And if the movie sucks, well, so do most Super Bowl games. It’s part of the tradition. During the pregame bullshit, I might cross a few other films off my list. HBOMax has a bunch of Kurosawa just sitting there, waiting for me to finally sit down with Rashomon and Ikiru. Maybe.

Anyway, I just discovered that we’re just about out of baking soda, so I’m going to run out and buy some for the wings. However you spend this Sunday, I hope you get to spend it with people you love, and that it’s a good day. 

Copenhagen Cowboy: A TV Series Created by a Pantser

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Back in 2001, when the deeply boring movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released, part of the story around it (as I remember it now, 20+ years later) was that director Simon West threw out the scripts he was given (apparently the producers had more than one writer working separately and simultaneously) and, with a pair of co-writers, wrote a new one in a week or two. Apparently, he said it was not that hard.

A review I read at the time (which I can’t find at the moment) seized on this quote, because of course writing is easy if you don’t care how (or whether) the sequences fit together, or even if they belong together at all.

I was thinking about this quote as I watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s Copenhagen Cowboy.

On one level, CC is a story about a woman with supernatural powers who is forced to survive in a world of ruthless mobsters. She is considered to be a “lucky coin,” someone who brings good luck/grants wishes, but no one trusts her and she gives every impression of being passive and helpless until suddenly she isn’t.

On another level, CC is an art film with long lingering shots in which nothing happens, slow circular pans in rooms where more time is spent on the wallpaper than the characters, shots full of color, and beautifully composed images.

Me, I like both of these things, and so Copenhagen Cowboy ought to have been my absolute jam. Instead, I admired it more than I liked it. I indulged it by giving it my time instead of feeling moved.

Most of the time, anyway. I certainly loved sections of it, but overall?

Nah.

There are many art films that don’t want the audience to engage with them on a literal plot and subplot level—movies where you just sit back and experience it. They don’t offer the easy engagement of narrative, because the audience response comes from something else.

Copenhagen Cowboy wants both elements, but doesn’t know how to combine them. It’s a chaotic jumble of pretty shots, images of women being degraded, rotating camera POVs, gross/grotesque imagery, and supernatural nonsense. It’s an interesting failure and little more.

Then I found this interview with him on Vulture. In it, he says that the title of the show has no relation to the show itself. He just thought it sounded cool.

Also, that he shot the series in chronological order so he could change things on the fly “based on how [he feels] in the morning”. For example, there was a scene where the protagonist talks about being abducted as a child, and he changed it at the last moment to being abducted by aliens. Why? Because he’s “always been interested in science fiction”.

In the third episode, he suddenly decided that the main character knows kung fu, so they brought in a trainer and choreographed a big fight scene.

When I read this part of the interview, it occurred to me that my experience of watching all this Dumb Pretty Art TV must have been similar to the experience of the cast and crew as they made it. What? I’m part of an intergalactic race now? Oh, we’re going to resolve this confrontation with a martial arts battle? Okay then. Let’s, um, make that happen.

And this moves the show out of the “interesting failure” category into something much dumber. I’m usually in favor of characters going all karate on each other, but it’s so commonplace that it needs a commonplace structure around it. It can’t be thrown in as a last minute change because you have no idea what should happen next.

That’s the kind of easy writing that doesn’t care how the scenes and sequences relate to each other.

But NWR can (sort of) get way with this in a way that Simon West can’t. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has a lot of beautiful people, locations, and shots, but they aren’t beautiful in an art-house style. LC:TR is beautiful in the background while other, much-plottier stuff is going on.

With Copenhagen Cowboy, the story stops for beauty. The extended rotating pans around a 360 degree set are an intentional (and condescending) choice by the director to deny the audience the kind of editing that grabs your attention. The grotesquery is designed to unsettle. The ambiguity is meant to intrigue.

And I’m pretty sure the scenes of beautiful women in degraded circumstances are supposed to titillate.

None of this is as successful as the director’s fans hope it will be. Personally, I wanted to be one of those fans, but it’s not going to happen on the strength of this show. Not when it feels so careless.

Random comments: NWR talks about this season as the start of his hero’s journey, with a second season ready to go. However, I was sure that the sequence of images at the end of the season showed the main character dying. Ambiguity, people. It’s how you recognize Real Art.

Finally, that Vulture interview I linked above is kinda hilarious. NWR is so fully committed to his Euro Art Nerd persona that he talks about his audience as though he’s “educating children.” He also says he wept with pride often when his daughter, hired to play a critical part that was added at the last minute, refused to take his direction. Amazing.