I recently went and saw Glee Live on stage. Yes I put down cold, hard cash to watch a bunch of actors re-enact their roles from a television show that captivates millions of teens and young adults worldwide on a stage. The concert was fun and the young actors can sing, but I had no interest in writing an article about the concert itself. In the interest of full disclosure, I am what would be considered a “Gleek,” or hardcore fan of the series and am not ashamed of it. Glee is solid, entertaining television that gets a bad rap from those who find it cool to hate on it and those who feel it’s “too controversial.” This article doesn’t seek to soapbox too much, but from a fan of the show who admits it’s not perfect, I hope to emphasize why it’s far more teen-friendly than other shows aimed at the demographic.
Upon returning home from the aforementioned Glee Live I wanted to read my local newspapers review of the concert. The review was favorable but I was surprised to read a comment from someone decrying the writer for writing a favorable review for a show that promotes “underage sex, child porn, bigotry, and hatred.” I was even more disheartened to see that anyone who opposed said commenter’s opinion was labeled “a fan of the show,” and therefore their points weren’t valid. I guess my points won’t be considered valid as I’ve mentioned I’m a fan, but I attempted to take this person’s comments as a writer and fan of quality television, and not just a fan of the series itself. So what is it that makes Glee so dangerous to America’s youth?
Let me refute each of the above points one by one. In terms of the series promoting underage sex, it’s done in a tasteful and true manner. The series dealt mostly with sex in season one focusing on the teen pregnancy of cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron), as well as imagined and realized sexual encounters between the shows star-crossed lovers Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith). In terms of the teen pregnancy, no show in the current crop of television on mainstream channels has gone truly controversial; the two main routes are keeping it and/or adoption with no show truly dealing with the big “A.” But Quinn was a character who complained about her situation, mentioning what it was doing to her life and actually discussing the consequences of raising the child. Glee was also a show that had the father taking an active role in the decision making. I don’t know about you, but I think having two teenagers talk like adults about what to do in their situation is more positive than something like MTV’s spate of “it’s cool to be pregnant and in high school” series’ like Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I refuse to watch MTV’s glorification of teen pregnancy, but based on how many times I’ve heard about these “mothers” being involved in domestic disputes, losing their parental rights and continuing to get pregnant while making obscene amounts of money, I have to say Glee has the edge here.
The other “underage” sexual pairings had Rachel debating whether to lose her virginity before saying no and Finn actually losing his virginity before realizing it had no meaning without being in love. Both characters went through the two main routes of sexual activity and came to realize waiting is the best option, so how is that promoting teen sex? The actual sex has greatly diminished in season two; I don’t recall any couples actually having sex this season. A particular episode though did focus on gay teen Kurt (Chris Colfer) actually struggling to understand the birds and the bees as a gay teen and needing parental help, again messages I would hope parents would want their children to see. With “abstinence only” education being de rigueur in schools now and many kids looking at anyplace but their parents for information on sex, it’s surprising that Glee gets such a punch when it comes to sex. All teen shows deal with sex in high school from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Gossip Girl. In fact the CW is a great offender in detailing teens in high school hopping from bed to bed with no consequences; again see Gossip Girl and 90210, yet Glee is the one that gets picked on.
Well if it’s not about the underage sex, maybe it’s about promoting child porn. This is a true head-scratcher because unless I’ve learned differently child pornography is forcing those under 18 to commit sexual acts. This was a topic that was brought up after Lea Michele, Dianna Agron and Cory Monteith were in a “sexy” photo spread for GQ magazine. The term also cropped up after Michele did a cover shoot for Cosmopolitan magazine. The pictures in the two magazines were risqué but nothing that you can’t see in any other magazine and certainly safer than anything Lindsay Lohan or Disney starlets Vanessa Hudgens and Miley Cyrus have put out. Cyrus and Hudgens are probably worse offenders than the Glee kids, considering they’ve both had nude photos of them come out while they were under-18 that they willingly posed for and were more than happy to fall back on the child porn bandwagon when they were posted on websites. And while both are over 18 now, they were openly seen engaging in drinking and relationships with men over 21 - to little controversy. The cast of Glee take a few pictures in short shorts and bras, all of them well over 21, and they’re accused of taking part in child pornography? They were not taken unwillingly and to say its child porn is offensive to poor children who are exploited everyday and harmed through true child porn industries. It’s easy to say they’re role models sending out a negative image, but that can be said of any celebrity in the entertainment industry, they’ve all done things that would make them horrible role models for children, and so what makes Glee so rife for scorn?
It must be the “bigotry” and “hatred.” This is actually where Glee’s most positive message comes out, as they openly preach tolerance and acceptance. The most prominent members of this message are the homosexual characters Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss). This is where Glee gets hit the most, with many religious organizations decrying the show as promoting homosexuality to America’s youth with a particular spokesperson saying the fictional high school, McKinley High, was the “gayest school on Earth.” There are actually four gay characters, the aforementioned Kurt and Blaine, as well as two characters who aren’t out and struggling to understand their sexuality, Santana (Naya Rivera) and Karofsky (Max Adler). I don’t know about you, but only four known homosexual kids in a large high school seem like a minority instead of a majority. The show preaches the acceptance of these characters and their struggles to accept themselves and others. The consequences of which were frighteningly seen in the bullying of Kurt by Karofsky culminating with Karofsky threatening to kill Kurt. All of this was done in response to the string of suicides being committed by gay teens who had been bullied and Glee has always been a proponent of promoting tolerance of all ethnicities, genders and sexual orientation. The bullying storyline was done in a serious manner with teachers and parents responding positively and by this season’s end Karofsky was still uncomfortable announcing he was gay, but genuinely felt hurt by his comments and gave a heartfelt apology to Kurt. The show does not promote hatred, by the ability to rise above it and take responsibility for one’s actions. The characters who are struggling with their sexuality genuinely struggle, specifically in Santana’s case as she not only struggles with being a lesbian but having an unrequited crush on her best friend Brittany. It’s easy to see why this makes more conservative parents uncomfortable, but in today’s high schools, where gay, lesbian, and transgender teens are more prominent faces in the crowd, Glee is topical and adult in how it handles the characters. A source of comparison is how the teens on 90210 handle homosexuality. School drama queen Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) was a lesbian for about three episodes before discarding the concept as weird. Glee is a show that promotes acceptance and love for everyone. They are a family who love each other for who they are, and the message of making a family with those who care about you is much needed in the cutthroat world of high school.
Aside from sexual orientation Glee is a series that embraces all outcasts compared to other series where the teens look like runway models with no diversity. It’s one of the few shows I’ve watched on mainstream television that openly embraces disabled characters, and utilizes them as people and not just objects of pity. The most recognizable character in this genre is Artie (Kevin McHale), the rapper in the wheelchair. Artie holds a special place in my heart as I, too, live life in a wheelchair and while I know McHale isn’t truly disabled he knows his stuff in how to present himself in a wheelchair. I wish I could describe specifics but it’s only really noticeable if you’re in the situation. Aside from that, and to give my point more credence, he’s actually written as a person and not just a person in a wheelchair. Writers Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk write Artie as a person capable of finding love as he’s dated by Asian-American Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and the dimwitted Brittany (Heather Morris). In other shows that utilized a wheelchair character, and I’m having trouble coming up with them, believe me, the character is either an object of hilarity or someone who is loved out of pity. With Artie he’s a strong character who can have a stable relationship where his disability isn’t brought up 85 times in an episode and is a strong symbol for those in wheelchairs. Growing up I didn’t have any idols that were like me and I have to believe Glee has given kids in wheelchairs someone to look up to.
The disabilities aren’t just limited to physical, but they are mental as well. The character Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter) is a character with Downs Syndrome who melts the heart of the cold Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). I thought Becky would be that gimmicky character that arrives on campus and is used for sympathy. When she tried out to be on the cutthroat Cheerios cheerleading squad, kind-hearted teacher Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison) was afraid Sue would be horrible to her and was appalled when Sue treated her like every other cheerleader. Sue responded by calling Will equally wrong for assuming Becky wanted special treatment. That right there said it all, because Becky is a character just like every other student at the school, she wants to feel normal and not have people treat her like a disabled person. Since that first episode Becky has become a core part of the cast, even taking a position of power as Sue’s right hand. A recent episode had Sue losing her sister, who also had Downs Syndrome, and firing Becky to not feel grief. By episode’s end Sue realized how much she needed Becky, not just as a reminder of her sister but as a friend and person she loves.
Therein is Glee’s most powerful message: the power of love. These kids aren’t runway models like the CW’s crop of kids who all look like Abercrombie models who resemble each other. The group includes a mix of all ethnicities and body types, including two plus-sized characters in Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fisk). High school is the worst time to be growing up, coping with body and sexual issues and Glee has a character that anyone in the high school sector can embrace and relate to. It shouldn’t matter what the actors do in their private lives, whether it’s posing for photos and the like. It should be the message and themes of acceptance, tolerance, family and love that prevail.
In reading this people may say “obviously she’s a fan,” “she has no idea what she’s talking about,” and other more mean-spirited things but I know as a young woman, who has gone through the high school experience and sees the new generation that Glee is a positive show. The series isn’t infallible and does Mickey Mouse-ize popular songs, but the characters are people, they’re human. They aren’t stick-figures, supermodels, or gimmicks for an Emmy award, they’re characters that teens can look up to and hopefully feel they belong. Glee itself is a series about a group of outcasts finding a family and a place of belonging, and I’m proud to list it as one of the few positive shows for teens out there! Feel free to bash me as you will!
In my podcast last week I discussed the penultimate episode of Season 6 of Bones, “The Hole in the Heart”, and complained that it wasn’t daring enough to kill Vincent Nigel-Murray and advertise it as “a major character death”. I felt that once again the show had missed its shot at greatness, which really was just the latest entry on a long list of complaints I have going against the show. But before you reprimand me for being too critical, let me hasten to add that Bones is also one of the shows I am most loyal to, one of the very last shows I would ever abandon, no matter where it takes me. We are often strictest with the people we love most, especially when we see they have potential they are not tapping in to, so this is the approach I have with Bones.
I demanded a brave move by the show, a “creative leap of faith”, and that is precisely what I got in the Season 6 finale, "The Change in the Game", so I am not complaining anymore. In fact, I think attacking one of the central issues the show has grappled with for years – how do we couple up our two central characters without falling victim to the Moonlighting curse? – head on the way the show did with Bones’ pregnancy reveal was one of the best moves I have seen on television since House fired the original ducklings! I say Bones jumped the shark before the shark came up from behind and bit the show's ass and now Bones has to prove it can ride the waves standing on the sharks’ back!
The world of TV is aflutter right now, with (pre-)finale buzz, upfronts by all the major networks, the official announcements of cancelations and pick-ups and the decade-long in-the-making of Smallville’s conclusion.
So this is the perfect week to take a step back from the weekly TV antics, right?
Alright, so maybe it isn’t. Maybe you want to read more thoughts on the finale of The Vampire Diaries (I refer you to the podcast below), or on the victim of Bones’ sniper (again, listen to the podcast) or why NBC passed on the Wonder Woman pilot. But really, I wasn’t inspired to write about any of this and rather than faking my way through a column, I’d rather write about something I do care about. Which these days is little more than Sean Bean.
I hope it is accurate when I say you all know pop-culture binges, you’ve indulged in them and you’ve enjoyed them. Those times in your lives when one movie, one TV show, one comic book (series), one book (series) is all you can think about, talk about and go hunting for more info about. These binges don’t last forever, eventually you run out of fodder, but they instill in you a long-lasting fondness for the object of your binge and if it wasn’t a teenage hoax, chances are your passion can be reignited years later, when there’s new news to be had about your object of infatuation.
Sean Bean has long been an object of my infatuation (and I feel very wrong calling him an object, even though it might be oddly fitting). Obviously his inspired turn on Game of Thrones is more than enough to reignite my binge-behavior and inspire a few others to take it up as well. Luckily, Sean Bean is a very industrious man, so a binge circling him can last much longer than a binge involving, for example, Alex Pettyfer (I shudder at mentioning him in the same sentence as Sean Bean and vouch on my life I have never binged on Alex Pettyfer, he’s simply a point of reference). I have to admit though that even though a Bean-binge can last a long time, it’s not always intensely pleasurable.
As industrious as he is, his choices haven’t always been the best and I don’t even need to bring up his four failed marriages to prove that point. Let’s keep it professional here and simply pose the question: what on earth made Sean Bean think starring in The Hitcher, Silent Hill or Death Race 2 was a good idea? Those were tough to sit through, even for Sean Bean’s sake, and it didn’t help that two out of those three had him trying on an American accent, which – bless his heart – he’s not very good at.
But isn’t it because of the flaws and not in spite of them that we love? Exactly. So I don’t fault Sean Bean for some of the atrocious movies he’s made, because I won’t hold it against him that he just wanted to have some fun every once in a while. His resume reads like the resumes of three other actors smashed into one and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon and I give him credit for that. For over a decade he has carried one of Britain’s most popular TV movie series, Sharpe, he has given us unforgettable characters such as Boromir in Lord of the Rings and Partridge in Equilibrium and starred alongside pretty much any big name you can spit out, it’s very hard to argue with all of that. Even just on paper Sean Bean is impressive.
However, there is one major gripe I have: Sean Bean doesn’t survive in approximately 70% of the fare he stars in. It’s gotten to a point so tragic that I have to laugh every time he dies on screen, because I wouldn’t be able to stand it otherwise, there’s only so many times your heart can be broken. What is with everyone that they always have to kill him off? And even when they don’t kill him off on screen, they have him running out naked into the winter of the arctic tundra, what are the chances of him surviving that?
So in the face of all these fatalities, I have developed a theory: they kill him off because he is just that good.
(It’ll make sense in a minute, bear with me.)
Sean Bean is memorable. Even though he is not the prettiest man to ever grace a screen (in the classic sense of beauty; plenty of women still swoon over him), you remember him, he leaves an impression. Whether it’s his piercing green eyes, his thick Yorkshire accent (when he’s not trying to mask it) or simply his talent radiating off him, you’re likely going to remember his presence on screen. As you should, he didn’t get a scholarship for the most highly respected school of acting in, dare I say, the world, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, for nothing. It is precisely this craft and artistry derived from his training and honed through years and years of working in the industry that gives the characters Sean Bean portrays so much weight.
More often than not, Sean Bean finds himself with a sword in his hand, or at least in history-inspired clothing and armor when he takes on a part (see Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Black Death, Troy, Sharpe etc.). He seems perfect for embodying a spirit of honor and duty that has long died out. He can play the charismatic leader everyone follows into battle with ease, even in modern fare like Outlaw. And this precisely is his doom. So often the best stories involve a beloved character, one who inspired people and who will be remembered for a long time no matter what, dying to heighten the dramatic impact and lend an air of poetry and larger than life meaning to the story. Sean Bean is destined to be cast as this beloved character, who will be sacrificed to elevate the story.
Precisely because he has such an aura of gravity, because he looks so firmly rooted in the earth even when he just stands in a doorway, because he has a thunderous voice (when he wants to, that is, in real life he is a very soft-spoken man most of the time), he can create a character no one is likely to forget or overlook in a matter of a few small scenes. Give him more to play with and he can flesh out epicness for you (see the extended versions of Lord of the Rings). And when you need a character whose spirit will resonate with the other characters for a long time – be it the remaining runtime of a movie, two more movies of a trilogy, or uncounted seasons of a TV show – you cast an actor like Sean Bean, to make sure the character stays with the audience as well.
Conviction is key. Sean Bean often plays characters with convictions that run so deep, they will die for them, in fantasy, historic and modern fare alike. His characters don’t waver (much), his characters don’t compromise, his characters stand and fight until someone cuts them down, or shoots them down, or has them quartered (seriously, Black Death scarred me for life on that front). Maybe that is also part of what draws us in, because unwavering conviction is not easily found anymore today and if it is, we call it fanaticism and wipe it off the table.
Hence, since we are intrigued by conviction in and of itself, Sean Bean playing conviction with conviction is then just pleasure squared.
Given how rare it is, or at least how rare it feels when watching his body of work, I rejoice at every movie Sean Bean survives and which doesn’t end on a tragic (if sometimes hopeful despite the death) note. The Sharpe series is fairly perfect for this, because after all Sean Bean is the eponymous hero, he can’t die or there’d be no series (although the setting of the Napoleonic Wars makes for little gentleness and lots of fighting yet again). I also hold a soft spot for When Saturday Comes, which is flawed in its execution, cinematography, direction and progression of story, but has lots and lots of Sean speaking in his Yorkshire accent and a very sweet scene with him naked in bed.
I wish nothing more than to see Sean Bean in a happy movie one of these days. A sweet movie, about friendship and family and love and happiness, in which he can showcase his awesome laugh, his gentle mannerisms and the crooning softness of his regular speaking voice (my favorite scenes in Game of Thrones have to be the ones between Ned and Arya Stark, when Sean Bean gets to be the loving father, it melts my heart). And judging by recent interviews, Sean himself would love nothing more than a movie like that himself, only no one thinks he fits the part. This may be a misjudged notion by casting directors, who look at what he has done previously and hence conclude the audience wouldn’t accept Sean Bean as the romantic lead or the smiling, happy character in a movie and so his own body of work condemns him to repeat his doomed fate over and over. I believe audiences (especially the female viewers) would very much appreciate a sweet Sean Bean vehicle, but what audiences want seldom ever plays a role in what audiences get.
So I prepare myself for more action/war movies starring Sean Bean coming our way soon (Soldiers of Fortune, Age of Heroes, Cleanskin and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D) and rewatch the BBC miniseries Lady Chatterley for my fix of a more gentle Sean, because there is no end in sight to my Binge of All Things Bean.
To clarify, I am not saying Sean Bean is the best actor ever. He’s not. I’m not saying he’s the best actor of his generation. He’s not. I’m not saying he’s the best actor in Britain. He’s not. I’m saying he’s the best actor for some of the roles that were given to him, because he gave them the weight they needed and deserved, he made them come to life. He is Boromir. He is Eddard Stark. He is Sharpe. He is Ulric. He is Odysseus. He is Partridge. He is Jimmy Muir.
And if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, with Sean Bean inhabiting so firmly so many characters I remember vividly in my head, Sean Bean is also Sean Bean. And sometimes, that’s the biggest challenge to any binger. The fact that once you go outside of the pop-culture product that may have inspired your binge, you also come along “real” facts, about the actors, the creators, the background, the story. And sometimes these “real” facts are hard to reconcile with the notion in your head, because maybe you violently disagree with something the creator has said, or you find out your favorite actor is a smoker, which usually is a deal breaker for you. Luckily, you don’t have to negotiate a truce, because chances are you will never interact with any of these individuals, so you can blank out the factoids you don’t like and keep your inner peace. You can also just give up on your binge, but that wouldn’t be very geeky now, would it?
In some cases though, what you discover is that you like what’s behind the scene even more than what’s in it, and this in turn can cloud your judgment, tinge it more towards the positive and veil your eyes to some of the flaws others can still see. This may be the case with me and Sean Bean, I won’t deny it. Maybe I give him too much credit and overlook slights others will notice, for the sake of his accent alone (he could read me the phone book any day) or for the archetype he represents (the strong, confident man with a sensitive side), which plays right into my daddy issues. Maybe I am too easily impressed by his dedication to re-forest England, his undying love for his football (we lay claim to the term, we used it first, “soccer” be damned!) club Sheffield United (where he sat on the Board of Directors for a while), his spokesmanship for his native Sheffield, its Children’s Hospital, its youth and sport centers and culture in general.
Maybe I am imagining things when I sense that familiar melancholy in his words when he is asked about the many swords he has wielded, his image as a rough-and-tumble Northerner and what he would still like to achieve in his vagabond life that brought him three daughters and four failed marriages. Maybe I got wrapped up in the poetic sentiment of the idea that Sean Bean is "very good at moving but not so great at standing still", which I can relate to in more ways than one. Maybe my head is off in the clouds when I declare “Some people just have more soul than others” and include him in that group.
Or maybe Sean Bean just is that good.
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 6 below.
Topics include Game of Thrones (I couldn't shut up about it even if I tried), The Vampire Diaries, Bones and Parks and Recreation.
Tony Lazlo gives his post-mortem on the show's series finale – and looks back fondly on its long run.
SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!
The CW’s Smallville wrapped up a surprisingly strong 10th season with a finale that put a lousy season-long storyline out of its misery while still delivering the goods that the show’s fans would expect after 10 years – meaning, the costume.
For the record, I watched Smallville in fits and bursts over the years. There are a full four seasons’-worth of content I’ve missed, but I watched almost all of the final three seasons, and I watched all of the 10th-season episodes as soon as they aired. So here are some random thoughts about the finale, as well as the show’s final season.
With talk of a possible ninth season of CBS's How I Met Your Mother currently swirling on the interwebs, it is time to revisit all the reasons why this is a terrible idea, because the show stopped being relevant or witty two seasons ago already.
I am a fairly loyal viewer. More loyal than ratings systems and scheming studio heads sometimes give audiences credit for. Once a show has me hooked, I keep hanging on, even when somewhere in my head I am thinking I might be better off letting go. And by "hanging on" I don’t even just mean "keep watching". As a TV columnist, I watch a lot of shows to keep in the loop, not because I particularly care (though I care about most shows). But I have never stopped caring about such shows as House, which has been tumbling down for a long while now, nor have I given up on Bones, which played fast and loose with likability and character continuity at times. Generally, I am very forgiving of shows once they have managed to pull me onto their side and make me care.
After a week in Beth Woodward’s basement, being tortured by endless reruns of The Vampire Diaries and Off the Map, our CC2K Book Editor was kind enough to release me just in time for a global event: The Royal Wedding. I can feel the wave of your sympathy rolling my way now as you might think I would have been better off buried in that basement for another week than having to endure that, right? As I understand it, by now many of you may be sick and tired of hearing about the wedding of one Kate Middleton and one Prince William of Windsor. If this is the case, I tell you this: I have long been sick of the hype around Harry Potter, Robert Pattinson, Justin Bieber and every new comic book movie that is coming out, but that doesn’t make any of you shut up about it, so I am gonna write about the Royal Wedding, even if it kills me.
And kill me it might, because I hate admitting that I actually got sucked into this romance against my will and what I thought would be cultural torture turned into a cultural please the more I thought about it. But let me start at the beginning:
Greetings, TV lovers. I’m afraid that your TV Editor, Phoebe Raven, has been kidnapped by me unavoidably detained. Luckily for you, I have hijacked graciously agreed to write the column this week. I have been really looking forward to this opportunity. You see, I had been hoping to talk about this quirky little Canadian show that I love, Being Erica. Meanwhile, I am hoping that I will be able to persuade Phoebe by keeping her locked in my closet, being forced to watch episodes of The Vampire Diaries and Off the Map making such a compelling argument that she will watch herself.
I grappled a bit with how to start this article, which is essentially supposed to be a review of the premiere of the new HBO series Game of Thrones, which I am certain a lot of you have at least heard about, even if you haven’t watched it (yet).
Thankfully, CC2K Book Editor Beth Woodward gave me the perfect entry point with her column yesterday, which took issue with a review of Game of Thrones published in the New York Times – of all places. This review decried fantasy as “boy fiction” and stipulated that women only enjoy fantasy when it is “sexed up”.
There is plenty to take offense on in the NYT piece, but let me get one thought out of the way first: even if I did agree that traditionally boys (i.e. teenage boys) have enjoyed fantasy and sci-fi a bit more than girls (who may grow into liking these genres later in their lives), I certainly would have expected the argument to run “girls only like fantasy when it contains elements of romance and a love story”. Because after all, that was, as I understood it, the rationale behind fleshing out the Arwen/Aragorn storyline in the Lord of the Rings movies, right? In the books, Arwen appears once in The Fellowship at a banquet in Rivendell and then we don’t hear about her again until she marries Aragorn in The Return of the King, which while reading makes you go “Who the hell is this Arwen?”
Move over, network television, it’s all about the premium cable TV channels these days. The month of April definitely belongs to HBO, Showtime and AMC in the world of television, because even though finales are approaching all over the place,TV critics and fans alike cannot stop talking about Mildred Pierce (HBO), The Borgias (Showtime), The Killing (AMC) and the upcoming Game of Thrones (HBO). And this is rightly so.
Honestly, it’s a little hard to care about Thirteen returning to an already burnt-down House – be it from prison or paradise – this Monday night, when Episode 3 of AMC’s The Killing has ripped your heart out and torn it to shreds on Sunday night already, in the process showing you what “crime shows” should really be about.
No one really needs to watch the countless CSI’s and Law & Order’s, or Castle, or Hawaii Five-O or any of the other crime shows out there. But people need to watch AMC’s The Killing and remember how truly horrifying murder really is.
Every run-of-the-mill crime procedural pretends to show you the grief of a bereaved family, but mostly they get one small scene crying in a hallway and then we move on to interrogations that always run the same course until the crime fighters have enough evidence to yell at the suspect and put them away “for a really long time”.
We’ve become so incredibly insensitive to murder on television, we are actually rooting for bodies to look extra-gross (see Bones) or the killing method to be extra-ordinary (see CSI:NY etc.) or the suspects to be extra quirky (see Castle). The horror of what really goes along with a murder no longer hits us.
Every now and again these regular crime shows will attempt a shocking episode and deal with the murder of someone young, someone innocent or someone especially loved, but even this is just “going through the motions”. The emotion, the guilt, the conflict, the suspense, the heavy feeling in your stomach – those are not things you get from watching CSI or Law & Order. These are the things you get from watching The Killing though.
AMC’s new hit (and really, AMC is on a roll with Mad Men and The Walking Dead) is based on a Danish TV series called Forbrydelsen, which literally translated means “the crime” (you can decide for yourself who to blame for sensationalizing the title for America). I actually caught a few of the episodes of the Danish original on German television a few years back and already back then I was fascinated by how dark, gruesome and oppressive this story is. Leave it to the Scandinavians, who live in murky daylight half the year and pay outrageous prices for alcohol, to come up with the most haunting, horrifying and emotionally raw crime stories there are. In the literary world it is a well-established fact that Scandinavians do crime better than anybody, see Henning Mankell, Arne Dahl, Jo Nesbø, Anne Holt, Helene Tursten, Åke Edwardson, Johan Theorin, Camilla Läckberg…
The Danish Forbrydelsen is set in murky, rainy Copenhagen, AMC’s The Killing is set in murky, rainy Seattle and never once do you get a break from the dreary, gray, exhausting look and feel of it. Even the days have a shadow, every movement feels heavy and like it’s taking a lot of effort to even fulfill, it takes all you have not to break down and cry every single minute while watching. This is an extremely good thing. I am not at all implying that The Killing is boring, but it is paced much slower than what you are used to from watching as many as two cases wrapped up on any of the CSI’s in neat 40-minute-packages.
The Killing follows a more realistic speed of police investigation and by real world standards, it is still fast. The Danish original had 20 episodes, each of them covering one day of the investigations. AMC’s version is scheduled to have 13 episodes and I am fairly certain that’s already stretching the American patience to catch one single killer. But as much as I have knocked American remakes of already great shows in the past (most recently Being Human), so far I am completely convinced that AMC’s version is turning out just as stellar as the Danish original, if you keep in mind the context.
The casting for The Killing is pretty impeccable. Mireille Enos as Lead Detective Sarah Linden brings exactly the sort of awkward, no-nonsense, offish air to the screen the part requires. Sarah Linden is a mother and she is engaged to be married and supposed to move to San Diego to be with her fiancé and yet you get the very distinct sense that those “life things” confuse her and the only thing she really knows how to do well and without doubting herself is being a police woman. Yet you’d be remiss to say Sarah Linden doesn’t know how to deal with emotions, on the contrary. Rarely have I seen a detective speak so gently and yet honestly with the family of a victim as Sarah Linden does with the Larsen family (with the exception of a white lie about how much pain Rosie was in when she died).
The eldest child of the Larsen family, daughter Rosie, is the victim of The Killing and one of the greatest strengths of the show is its unwillingness to pull away from the pain of the Larsen family as they deal (or at least try to deal) with the tragedy that has hit them. We see mother Mitch Larsen (the excellent Michelle Forbes, you know her from True Blood) slowly realizing that something terrible must have happened to her daughter, even before the detectives have even found her body. Detective Sarah Linden sits at her kitchen table and asks her simple questions about when she last spoke to her daughter Rosie, and not even Linden knows at this point that Rosie is dead, but as the conversation goes on, it dawns on both women and to see this unfold is truly suspenseful and engaging television. The kind that gives you a punch in the stomach at every turn it takes.
Brent Sexton portrays Rosie’s father Stan and if all the work Sexton has done on Deadwood, Life and Justified hasn’t convinced you of his talent, then his role in The Killing as the father who takes care of his two little boys and his wife in the aftermath of losing his only daughter will most definitely make you his fan and thank him for making you cry over and over.
Like when he finds his wife listening to the message on the answering machine Rosie recorded over and over again and all he can do is kneel down next to her and helplessly bury his nose in her hair.
The grief and how much room it rightfully gets to take up on The Killing might be my favorite part of the show, because it reminds us of what we have long forgotten: that murder does happen and it is not some fun puzzle for GQ lab technicians to piece together during a puny song-of-the-week montage. Murder is not for us to laugh at because the suspects are such “characters” that prompt endless puns and give themselves away by their tanning salon habits. Murder is gruesome, murder is devastating and someone is always left behind trying to pick up the pieces.
But if you are unwilling to tune in for the family’s suffering alone, then the actual case has enough to keep you going as well, because it quickly becomes political, when Rosie’s body is found in a campaign car of Darren Richmond, who is running for Mayor of Seattle and the election is in 24 days. Richmond has some secrets to hide, not the least of which is that he is sleeping with his female campaign manager.
He is not the only suspect though. Rosie’s best friend Sterling knows more than she lets on about the last night her friend was still alive. And spoiled brat Jasper and teenage drug dealer Kris have a lot of explaining to do about that video found on someone’s cell phone. Don’t you think for one minute that Sarah Linden’s partner/replacement Stephen Holder’s ex-narco ways are enough to get the truth out of the party-hunting, drug-testing teenagers at Rosie’s high school, where things go on our parents have nightmares about every night, yet we assure them “Everything’s fine”, when really nothing is fine at all.
When you watch The Killing, you are in for a gripping, heavy, beleaguering ride that will gut you every single week and what is the point of television if it is not being this emotionally involved in what we see on the screen?
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 2 below.
CC2K newcomer and Guest Writer Nelle Stewart introduces us to the phenomenon that is Supernatural, which has a fan-base so fiercely loyal, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about.
With the urban fantasy genre exploding all over any and every available marketing opportunity, why would one more show tacked on to the end of CW’s prime time line up be worth the watch? Supernatural, though, isn’t like the average urban fantasy show. Sure they’ve got their share of vampires (non-sparkly, thank you very much), ghosts, wendigos, demons, and even fairies, but it’s more than just a show about other worldly creatures. At the heart of Supernatural is a pair of very human brothers and essentially the show is about them, being human.