Year In Review – Television (Part Two)
Part One (With Introduction) can be found HERE. Part Two can be found below the jump, Spoiler Free.
Boardwalk Empire – Under God’s Power She Flourishes
Boardwalk Empire has, for me, always been a show that I respect much, much more than I love; to the point that it had almost become the definitive example of such art. So if I were writing a list of the ‘Best’ shows then I would have had to list it and highly too, however I honestly couldn’t see it even slipping in to my top ten ‘Favourite’ shows, as it is that subjective response that I most favour. The sets are stunning, despite only half existing, the cast is culled from a crop of my favourite alternate film actors, the show tells a period-set gangster story, each episode of which is excellently shot… but I’ve never much cared about any of it. Not, at least, until now.
So many tightly scripted, highly stylised works of art get gelded as ‘cold’ or ‘uncaring’, the Coen brothers for example, but it is not an issue of temperature or authorial empathy that kept me alienated from this show, I actually prefer my dramas with a little bit of contrivance. No, my problem was that the show was just too good: there were too many great actors playing too many great characters, each with too many great story threads to ever follow in any one hour. So we were given chunks here and there, two thirty-odd second scenes for each character, each week (if they were lucky enough to get in at all) and that is not the way to engross your audience, for how could they ever invest at such a rate?
Then came She Flourishes, an episode that serves as an exception to the shows strict rule of structure: it doesn’t leap from city to city searching for its cavalcade of characters, instead it focuses on only the one and does so in a surprisingly non-linear fashion, following not his physical journey through the bureaucracy of plots on the Boardwalk but the emotional one that got him to where it is he must go by episodes end. She Flourishes is not necessarily a nice experience but it is an experience nevertheless; for fifty odd minutes you are Jimmy and you live through some of the most extreme moments of his rather memorable life and come out the other side utterly shaken. You can plausibly sit through the entire first season and a half of this show without ever batting an eye, but the last fifteen minutes of this single episode will have an impact on you that you won’t soon forget, no matter how much you may want to.
Louie – Duckling
It seems only fitting that I follow up the sordid affair of She Flourishes with something of a palette cleanser, and what sweeter an opposite was there this year than this stunning single episode of Louie? C.K’s show has always had a certain dishevelled charm to it and a cuteness that more than offsets the crudeness of the sections displaying the man’s stand-up material, but with Duckling Louis definitely outdid himself, creating the cuddliest hour of television that the year was to see. Now to do that he would obviously have to leave the version of New York that he has created for his self-titled character to stomp around in each week, and where better to go for a break from all that pain and suffering but to the middle of a ten-year war, in an Afghan air-base?
Louis show is a surprise each week; you never quite know just what he is going to say or where he is going to take you, but no-one (who hadn’t read a plot summary in advance) could have expected the slight seeming story of his daughters adopting ducklings for the night to end up where it did, if only for the fact that these episodes normally run in two ten minute vignette blocks whereas this surprised by running for fourty minutes straight (So in a way it is the cheap choice for this list).What is perhaps most surprising about the episode though is just how casual it all is, in many ways the scenes with the most tension are those that take place back in the other world of his apartment: getting his daughters to school, dealing with the social strictures there, trying to care for the new pets and eventually having to tear them out from the girls arms as he himself leaves.
Over in Afghanistan things are comparatively laid back: Louis flies around, he shakes some soldiers hands, he hits on some cheerleaders and he performs a bit of comedy, that’s it. This episode isn’t a war movie, it’s a road trip tale told via helicopter. Unlike all other ‘Very Special Episodes’ there is really no message to be taken home from Duckling, none at least that you shouldn’t know already. Louis isn’t there to broadcast some cynical anti-war message, in fact he makes no reference whatsoever to what is behind the war, for him it’s all about the soldiers and the focus stays on them; he’s the everyman that they are fighting for and he wants to say thanks. So he does and it’s ever so charming to watch.
The Second Half of the List, Coming Soon…