Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Americans and TV frustrations

There’s a lot of frustration in tv: shows cancelled in their prime, producers pushing weird storylines for viewers, actors leaving before the show is done.  But what has to be the most frustrating is watching a show that really COULD be good, could be great, and just never pushes that far.  That’s me and my latest binge-watch, The Americans.

The Americans is an FX drama starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.  The premise is that they’re Russian sleeper spies in the 1980’s – posing as an all-American couple with two kids in the suburbs while doing whatever KGB spies do in the DC area.  You know what is interesting about that premise?  EVERYTHING.  You know what we’re focusing on in the middle of season 2?  The couple freaking out about their daughter attending church.

Here are super interesting themes and plot points that come in the show or are implied:

  • Elizabeth and Phillip are complete strangers when they first meet to be “married” and Elizabeth is super uncomfortable with the whole thing for about 15 years
  • Phillip is in love with his “wife” but is afraid she thinks he’s hideous or disappointing
  • Their kids are being raised with typical modern all-American values that the two hate
  • KGB!  Russia!
  • Capturing the 1980’s zeitgeist!  80’s power!
  • They become BFFs with their FBI next door neighbor
  • The Reagan administration
  • spiiiiies.  Super spies!  Lifetime trained spies!
  • the transition between being a Russian spy in Moscow and moving to America

Instead, here are things the show has spent the majority of time on:

  • Elizabeth and Phillip’s cold, loveless, and awkward marriage
  • their daughter Paige going to church and quitting volleyball
  • the cold, loveless, and awkward marriage of their next door neighbors
  • lots of slow car chases
  • lots and LOTS of boring dinner/breakfast family conversations
  • did I mention their cold and loveless marriage ALL THE TIME
  • Keri Russell wearing her hair sideways forever

Keri Russell is pretty flat and humorless in the show, I think she is not suited to the role at all.  Matthew Rhys is amazing but can only really shine when he’s spy acting as someone else.  The writing is rather atrocious in season 1 but is starting to pick up in 2.  The best part of the show is Annet Mahendru who plays a Russian double (triple????) spy and is genuinely amazing and please get her her own show.  Please stop showing me Keri Russell yelling at her kids to get ready for school because they’re going to be late like, every single episode.  I am watching a spy show please.  No backpacks.

The show is certainly gaining traction in the second season (I’m halfway through).  They’re still being weird about Elizabeth and Phillip’s marriage – everything is good, then it’s not, nobody talks about anything.  They are priming their daughter to become a more complex character but it’s going to be slow.  The missions can sometimes be interesting.  I think what is severely lacking is an actual goal/endgame.  Destroying the Americans isn’t really something that’s going to happen…just little bits and pieces along the way.  So what are we watching for?  If that ultimate goal is a fool’s errand, then emphasize that and play off it it more.  How is this going to end and why should I keep sticking around to find out?

I’m still here, so I guess they’re doing something right. I just wish the show would tighten up the weekly plots and writing a bit more and give us a clear plot pathway, at least something to root for.  And for god’s sake do some work to match your sexy and stylish marketing.

o-THE-AMERICANS-GQ-facebook

I WISH that was the show I was watching.  Only time will tell.

David Fincher has a woman problem

Vulture says Gone Girl Has a Woman Problem, and they’re not wrong.  Plenty has been written on the subject.  Trivializing domestic abuse is never good and seems to come at a particularly bad time as well.  But Gillian Flynn, the book and screenplay’s author, argues that she wants to see a pantheon of types of female characters and that “sociopath” should be among them.  I tend to agree but also acknowledge the serious problems with depictions of women in the book.

[spoilers below]

But let’s take a look at David Fincher.  When Amy slits Desi’s throat mid-coitus and straddles him, covered in blood, she becomes this terrifying woman-angel of death and she is also a monster to be feared by men.  Mid-movie the bumbling but still Ben Affleck-ed Nick states he’s “tired of being picked apart by women.”  Poor, poor Nick, hated by all the mean bitches of the world and loved by the psycho one.

Is Fincher bro-ing it up with the guys over how scary and evil women are?  Let’s take a look.

Gone Girl: The media acts as a mass of angry, judgmental women with a Nancy Grace-type at the helm.  A man can’t catch a break in this world!  A woman disappears but she turns out to be faking it out of spite, as women are wont to do.  Being a bumbling dude means you get taken advantage of by all kinds of crazy.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Well, what can you say.  The book is the ultimate middle-aged fanfiction, where the hot 90’s punk chick who’s like 19 is totally into the stuffy old dude.  It’s about how the hatred of women affects society and murderers but my own opinion is out as to whether it’s a searing take on misogyny or just reveling in it for a story.  Women are all victims in this story except for Lisbeth, another avenging angel, but one who is made to kneel and suffer terribly for her freedom.  Not into it.

The Social Network: This one maybe makes me the saddest of all.  I once had a job where I worked with students studying computer science and got to mentor a number of women starting in the field.  To know them and their struggles so well and to see them totally erased from life and history in that movie kills me and I can’t watch it anymore, even though I do love the movie.  Also, Priscilla Chan: let’s talk about being erased from history.  Maybe I’m alone here but I’d maybe rather watch a movie about a power couple of geniuses who change the world and stick together through life’s greatest changes than about a guy being butthurt about his girlfriend dumping him.

The only women in the film are Erica, the bitch who dumps him and he can’t get over, Christy who is a crazy possessive bitch who sets stuff on fire, Rashida Jones who doesn’t even do anything in the movie (???) and those 17 year olds who can’t play videogames.  This is both Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s burden to bear.

Zodiac: Women are victims or Chloe Sevigny, who is also a victim of a man’s obsession.  She and the family are an afterthought after one cool-girl date.

Fight Club: At least fight club wears its gender conversation on its sleeve.  I have a whole big theory about this one and most of the critical world realizes that this is meant to be a criticism of hyper posturing violent masculinity but that goes over some people’s heads.  Brad Pitt is never better than he is here.  But yeah: this movie is men vs. women.  Women kind of win at the end but are definitely not the focus.

I don’t know.  I just wonder: what kind of stories would directors like Fincher, Nolan, Anderson, and Scott make if they stepped out of their very male comfort zones and thought about women for once?