Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Television that Keeps Me Watching TV

I’ve been very impressed by the new season of Doctor Who, especially Matt Smith, who embodies the role of the Doctor in a way that implies gravitas, joy, and strangeness, sometimes all at once. I find him much less self-consciously pop than David Tennant, which endears him to me, though perhaps not to all the casual fans of the show. Steven Moffatt’s ability to craft such an involved and complex story arc is quite a selling point as well. For all I admire what Russell T Davies was able to do resurrecting the show in the first place, his season arcs were usually a little too simple, amounting to little more than teasers for the finale. This year, the Doctor is discovering clue after clue about the nature of the mysterious cracks and silences in the universe that seem centred around new companion Amy Pond and the oddly insular town of Leadworth.

Treme has been remarkably engaging television for me too. I particularly like the show’s favourite asshole, Steve Zahn’s Davis. Davis is a pompous musician and radio DJ whose uncompromising exuberance and total inability to tell how people will react to his actions before he does them combine, little by little, to ruin his life. In the second episode, he got fired from his radio job after letting a local musician sacrifice a chicken live in studio. By the end of that episode, he got his second job as a desk jockey at a hotel on Bourbon street, but lost it after directing a group of twentysomethings in New Orleans with a church group cleanup crew to a bar outside the hotel’s designated comfort zone. It didn’t help Davis that they didn’t make it back to the hotel for two days.

As a Spaced fan, one of the happiest things we experienced was that the US remake of the beloved show was never picked up. However, I realized this week that there is an American Spaced, and it’s called Community. It’s not just because of the inter-generational unlikely friendships in an eccentric environment, though the nuanced and self-aware characterizations of the protagonists and Greendale College residents is key to its charm. Edgar Wright is a rare director, in that he knows how a camera movement can tell a joke. And the creators of Community understand this as well. One recent episode saw the campus collapse into a paintball war zone, and the climactic last battle of Jeff and Britta with their deranged Spanish teacher Señor Chang would have just looked kind of silly and lame if it had been filmed with an ordinary series of camera shots. But the slow motion of Chang’s entrace, the low angles at which the diminutive teacher was shot, and the kinetic flow of Britta’s attacks and Jeff’s escape heightened the surreality of the moment. It’s still a very revolutionary, and very difficult technique for a camera to be made so pivotal to the humour of a scene. But Spaced and Community have successfully achieved that.

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