A Post In the Machine.
"The Last Of Us" slides; why you should watch "Giri/Haji," the tyranny of the after-show, the glory of "unendurable English," the joy of vomit & shit, the next great dramatic TV series.
Well, that’s a full docket.
See, if you came here just for television, how boring would that be? You can get that lots of places, although, not to be snotty about it, but there’s a great deal of dull television coverage that basically says, “This is on at this point, this happened on that episode and this show is something you should watch (when you shouldn’t)” so, choose wisely, you legends.
Let’s start with how “The Last Of Us” went from “It” show to “this is just a TV show now.” For you newbies, and there’s a ton of you, my vow since the end of 2019 is to curtail the cruelness and just celebrate what’s great, or at the very least, what’s good. There’s nothing wrong with “good.” We’ve ruined the word. Anyway, a little bite of criticism might creep into the discussion of “The Last Of Us” because of what it could have been vs. what it plainly is right now.
Remember “Long, Long Time,” episode three of “The Last Of Us” and how exceptional it was? If not, here’s a reminder from a previous post where I slobber love all over the episode/show, believe it will continue to excel but let out what was then my first big worry:
Ah, Ep. 3 — brilliant. But that’s now seeming like a “Long, Long Time” ago. In fact, the episode is now looking like an outlier (just as the episode itself, free to explore new ground, was an outlier in the story; and that distinctly outlier status was sealed in last week’s episode “Left Behind,” which tried to drink from the look-back-in-fondness greatness of “Long, Long Time” but choked on saccharine and softness in the process).
Through seven episodes, “The Last Of Us” is a good show, which, as noted above, is not such a bad thing. But it’s not a great show and the odds of it turning around seemed mixed, for some of these reasons:
Hate on “The Walking Dead” all you want, but getting out of its shadow is proving very difficult for “The Last Of Us,” especially when it gives us mini-detours like the two-episode foray into Kansas City (Ep. 4, “Please Hold To My Hand,” Ep. 5, “Endure and Survive”) which restated what “The Walking Dead” once told viewers — be careful of other humans, they might be bad — and then added a gratuitously misguided casting error on top (Melanie Lynskey as the decidedly not believable Kathleen).
Maybe we’ll get back to life in the safe “Kin” neighborhood (Ep. 6) where Joel (Pedro Pascal) finally finds his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), only to foolishly run off and, not very believably, get stabbed. OK, so now we have familiar squared in comparison to “The Walking Dead” because we had A) An eerily calm, safe fortress of a community and B) A really dumb decision to leave it, which ends in a knifing that — oh, dear — asks the audience to believe a thing that it won’t — that Pedro Pascal might actually die (over the course of two episodes no less!), which rolls into bigger issues:
Last week’s Ep. 7, “Left Behind,” was troublesome because it essentially shows you a world where Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is the series’ solo lead. A lot of people seem to have issues with Ramsey in this role and, until this episode, I felt their doubts but wasn’t aligned with them. Now? Oh, yeah. The episode delved more deeply into Bella’s backstory and was essentially an hour long young-love story between Ellie and one of her best friends, Riley (Storm Reid), wherein there was nary a spark of believability, it was cringey, boring and (I am honestly not trying to be cruel here) had more dubious casting issues. It left me wondering if I wanted to watch Ramsey if and when Joel dies (definitely not this season) lead the show (and whether Anna Torv could maybe come back from the dead for some gravitas?).
The easy fix — and the one I’ve taken, or was forced on me — is to regard “The Last Of Us” as a good show, nothing more. Isn’t that enough? It surely takes the pressure off of wanting it to be something greater, which it can’t be consistently.
Warning: Pretty soon the pay wall will be up a lot more often. Consider becoming a paid subscriber.
I’ve now gone through six of the eight “Giri/Haji” episodes on Netflix and, for the life of me, can’t imagine why this BBC series was not renewed for a second season. I mean, I can — I know how this business works, obviously. But also: Why? This series is gold. Writer Joe Barton does an excellent job of crafting dialog for a number of well-drawn characters, many of them peripheral but they pop, and that’s no easy feat. The series, which is about a Japanese detective named Kenzo (Takehiro Hira) and his younger brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozaka) who has always made bad decisions and has fallen into the gangster life, starts in Tokyo and then diverts to London and back, unveiling a compelling and nuanced story with wonderful, entertaining and complex characters.
Kenzo’s rebellious 16-year-old daughter, Taki (Aoi Okuyama) complicates matters, especially after the series shifts to London and she meets Rodney (Will Sharpe), a half-Japanese, half-British prostitute and drug addict (who, by the way, is such a fantastic character and is brought to life brilliantly by Sharpe). In London Kenzo needs the help of a maligned detective (Kelly Macdonald), since Yuto is now involved with a London gangster named Connor (the revelatory Charlie Creed-Miles) and Yuto’s bad decisions in London create a Yakuza war in Japan.
And yes, it’s as much fun as it sounds, simultaneously dark and funny and thoughtful. I’m savoring every episode knowing that the end is coming. But also, “Giri/Haji” is the perfect example of when casting — and I mean all of it — truly works. I wouldn’t say that casting is overlooked because I’m assuming you’re all too savvy to believe that, but its importance on the overall success of the show is profound, with “The Last Of Us” being a solid example, in the negative, of why.
If there’s a great mystery of why some casting doesn’t work, there shouldn’t be: mostly a creator or a producer or channel/platform simply doesn’t listen to the advice of the casting people and opts instead for their own (often ill-conceived) pick. It happens. A lot.
This seems like the perfect place to make this point: I don’t endorse the now industry-wide prevalence of “after-show” explanations from series creators/writers (and also be careful of podcasts). Why? Well, for the former it’s pretty simple: Those after-shows allow the creators/writers a forum for speaking to the audience about what they were attempting in the episode, when, more often than not, what they were hoping for wasn’t visible (or believable?) when it was on screen in the episode. Not always, of course. But having seen tons of these (including, of late, “The Last Of Us,”) it feels like a cheat. Viewers hear the creators talk about what they were going for and that subconsciously makes the viewer, in many cases, believe that the show has in fact achieved what the creators said. But did it? There’s a lot of “talking into existence” going on. I’ll break my own rule and tell you to watch these — now more closely than maybe you have in the past — and judge for yourself. Maybe you’ll find yourself, like me, saying out loud to the screen, “Yeah, that’s great, but you didn’t do that. Nooooope, didn’t happen. I wish it had, but what you wanted is not what you gave us.”
Also, it could be that I’m just mental. I talk to my dog A LOT.
I can’t pimp this book out enough:
It’s arguably one of the top five grammar reference books of all time, and I should know, because I own most of them. And I will stop you right there and say yes, I need them, that’s why I have them. (And let me add that yes, I often realize this after the fact.)
This book is tremendous. Even when Fiske shows you the improper use of a word — which is essentially and gloriously the entire book — and you already know that you would never, ever, make that mistake, it’s still so much fun to read. Also, Fiske has a repetitive feature that I adore in its simplicity: He just says, “Use X.” He shows you the wrong way, then the right way, then takes how someone has used the wrong way in print and says, “Use X.” It’s like a tiny hammer that falls on your head 10,000 times. And you’ll love it. One day I think we should all commit to taking our favorite parts from this book (I’m assuming you’re going to your local bookseller to grab it now) and putting them in the comments section. It’s so difficult to pick just one. I particularly like, on this day, “Etc. etc” As Fiske notes: “Misused for etc.” He gives three examples that use “etc. etc.” and notes, after each: “Use etc.” I have blown this many times myself, whether trying to be clever or whimsical. As Fiske so wonderfully notes: “The expression etc. etc. is always unnecessary — two (or more) etc. do not suggest anything more than one does — always a mark of callow writers and inept editors.”
I love this book. I will write about it again, no doubt.
If you read this, then you probably know about the use of vomit and shit to make a point or to be, as I think, used as humor while also making a point:
Vomit and shit have a long history of working well in scenes (“Monty Python,” Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids,” etc. (NOT etc. etc.). The fact that I could not stop myself from laughing and cringing over the 15 minute scene in “Triangle Of Sadness” is, the more I think about it, the power to move someone to do something they really don’t want to do. I mean, I don’t want to laugh at vomit and shit scenes/jokes. They seem to me too easy, base, pandering. And yet — I have laughed at many of these. (I’m hoping others will agree and point out in the comments which scenes they laughed at in which movies or TV series). As someone who is pretty far from prudish, I have a long history of not liking the dark art of jokes like, say, dick jokes, or fart jokes or masturbation jokes. It’s not a prudish thing, it’s that those jokes seem too easy, until they aren’t. After writing about “Triangle Of Sadness” and thinking about that scene — which is divisive, like a lot of scenes in that movie — I started to wonder about similar scenes that worked when maybe we thought we wouldn’t have laughed. (I am using “we” to bring us all guiltily into this conversation.)
If I say, “There’s a scene in ‘Blazing Saddles,’…” — you already know the scene I’m referencing (or most people do). There’s a brilliant dick joke in “Silicon Valley.” I laughed when I didn’t think I would. (It’s impossible to convey a joke by a comedian in print, I think, but I will tell you that Dana Gould has one that talks about being down and out in San Francisco, living on top of a pornographic bakery, and then getting asked for money by trust fund teenage bums on Haight Street — if I’m remembering the set-up correctly — that ends with Gould talking about the indignity of “living on day-old chocolate cocks.”
As I look back on the part of my life where I covered stand-up comedy for a living (true!), it’s one of the few times I can remember laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe — in public.
I’m sure the comment section, as you all recall similar impolite things you laughed at, will be an interesting place to hang out this weekend.
Simple question, difficult answer: recently I’ve wondered (yes, I do a lot of wondering — it’s like 85 percent of the job), what’s the next great drama on TV? I’m not sure I’ve seen it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen it since “Patriot” or “Utopia” (British version, duh). I say drama instead of comedy but certainly dramedies like “Fleabag” and “Catastrophe” would count, but I’m primarily thinking of hour-long dramas. I’ll wonder about comedies some other time. In the meantime, help?
How We Watch Dept.
We've made a habit of watching Poker Face and The Last of Us back to back on Sundays. Tonight was odd, since both shows took place in a snowy place with lots of trees. When The Last of Us began, we both noted how the scenery was similar. Which meant that every time someone spoke in The Last of Us, I expected Natasha Lyonne to turn up and say "Bullshit".
Katherine McCormack stoned. Oh hell yes.