Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
|Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the new Holmes and Watson.|
Every once in a while, a television series comes along and surprises you. Sometimes it’s because a show is so stunningly original that no precedent could have prepared you for it (e.g. HBO’s Carnivale and Fox’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). But other times, it’s because a road has been so well-trodden that you go along for the ride, but honestly don’t expect to see anything new there. This past Sunday, BBC One broadcast “A Study in Pink” the first episode of Sherlock, a 21st century re-imagining of the celebrated Arthur Conan Doyle character. Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s The Last Enemy, Creation, The Other Boleyn Girl) stars as the titular Holmes and Watson is played by the more recognizable Martin Freeman (Tim in BBC’s The Office, and Arthur Dent in the 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The series is the brainchild of Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Jekyll, Coupling) and actor/writer Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, Doctor Who). Moffat has a long history of critical and popular success on the BBC, and it is possible his career has recently reached a new height. In addition to this new series, this past year he took on the helm of BBC’s flagship series, Doctor Who. Given the numerous imaginings of Holmes available on television and film, one might be forgiven for thinking we need a new Sherlock Holmes series as urgently as we need a new brand of vanilla ice cream. Fortunately, this is one instance when that persistent gap between what we believe we need and what we get works decidedly in our favour!
This first run of Sherlock consists of three feature-length episodes, each running 90-minutes. (This coming fall, the series will air in the U.S. on PBS, under the Masterpiece Mystery! banner. It will also air, beginning September 10, on Showcase in Canada.) Set in contemporary London, the show succeeds in bringing familiar and beloved characters firmly into the new century while preserving the magic of the source material. The final result is a show that is funny, suspenseful, and eminently entertaining. Sherlock has something to offer both to those pre-inclined to love it, and those with no familiarity with Sherlock Holmes or the BBC.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
As usual, the problem is probably control-freak, series-creator Matthew Weiner. He really has trouble writing coherent scripts (he had solo credit on this first episode), so I'm hoping he at least uses co-writers for the rest of the season or we're in big trouble. Anyway, I'll launch my defence, or not, depending on how good episode two is, next week. Instead, I'm going to talk briefly about the "sneak preview" of AMC's new conspiracy-plot series Rubicon (it debuts Sunday, August 1st) that came on after Mad Men.
Monday, July 26, 2010
“Tin Can Trust” is the lament of a poor man with nothing but a “tin can” with a few coins. He’s not able to buy his lady anything like diamonds and pearls, but he does have hope and the offer of love is his currency. By the time we reach track 10, “The Lady and The Rose,” Los Lobos has painted as strong a picture of spiritual torment as something out of Robert Johnson. This song tells the story of a man from the “barren slopes of a thousand hopes” suddenly finding divine intervention striking him cold in the face. It’s a powerful song and one that perfectly suits the theme of the record.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Mad Men is set in the 1960s and examines the lives of the advertising men who work on Madison Avenue in New York City at the firm Sterling Cooper. Created by former Sopranos’ writer Matthew Weiner in 2007, Mad Men does have a clever premise; creative ad men selling us dreams of an American life they themselves can’t possibly live. The main character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director at the firm, isn’t even who he claims to be. He’s a con artist living out his own fantasy while selling products to others. Placing a con artist at the center of a story of self-made men is definitely appetizing. It draws significantly on the corruption of the American ideal where you can make of yourself anything you wish. In doing so, Mad Men tries to examine the changing mores of American middle-class culture from the post-War comforts of suburbia to the social upheavals of the sixties. But I’m afraid that the show ultimately fails to live up to its promise. Rather than capture an era in turmoil, or characters at crossroads between what they sell and who they are, Mad Men fixates itself on the details of the period, the minutiae of sixties kitsch, to compensate for its lack of dramatic coherence. Rather than go deeply into the characters behind the facade, the show chooses to illuminate the facade. In short, I think Mad Men is itself a slick bit of advertising.