Monday, August 27, 2012

What I Am Watching: The Newsroom, Longmire and Wallander

A new segment where I blather on about three TV shows I am most likely downloading.

I was sitting in a hotel room in NYC when HBO was advertising the forthcoming show The Newsroom every ten minutes.  Even then, they were going on about the rant.  That rant, that opened the show, set the tone of the show, a wakeup call for not only television viewers but also for television news folk.  The setting is simple -- an evening news show. But due to an attack of brutal honesty, a popular and populist anchor is forced to face his beliefs and is given almost an entire new crew to do it with.  And thus we are given possibly the most idealistic TV show I have ever seen.

This is the new machine by Aaaron Sorkin and love him or hate him, the Internet currently does hate him, liberal or conservative, Sorkin is an intelligent and thoughtful writer.  Think Moneyball, think The Social Network and think what most people remember him for, The West Wing.  He isn't writing credible situations, he is writing like a novel on the screen, where words and actions and meant to make you think.  And laugh.

In The Newsroom, and we have some background here, we are not given a realistic TV news production.  People are far too intelligent, far too willing to stand up for each other and very very quick on their feet.  Oh, there are explosions of personality and conflicts of interest, but everything is presented way way too thoughtfully to be real.  But I don't care !!  It is just so fucking incredibly entertaining !!  This is how news should be done, how news should be told. And, well, that is sort of the point of the whole series.

Jeff Daniels plays something I didn't think he was capable of, a well rounded incredibly intelligent anchor who claims to be Republican, wants to be unbiased and about truth but is unabashedly idealistic.  His arrogance and real power has told him he can be the one to bring back intelligence to America, bring back accountability and bring back truth.  Emily Mortimer is his ex-girlfriend and the source of his greatest failing.  She is also his new Executive Producer, and the heart of the news show that is created.  She is neurotic, forceful of personality and very very good at manipulating a situation to her advantage.  Did I mention a bit neurotic?  And supporting these two, we have the crew: Jim the Producer who backs every play Mackenzie MacHale (Mortimer) makes, Maggie (Allison Pill) the intern *poof* executive assistant *poof* associate producer who Jim is falling for, Dev Patel as the not-the-IT-guy journalist who writes Wil's (Jeff Daniel) blog and is passionate for the new technology, there is Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith, a 3 Phd awarded economist who yes-she-is-gorgeous-and-that-helps has astounded me with her acting range.  And finally there is Sam Waterson playing the delightfully light hearted shark of a news division president.

The show started in the past, with their first big news story being the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and is quickly catching up. I thought the show might falter in having to portray a big news story each episode but it has so quickly surpassed that judgement that I am staggered.  Sure, the news of the day happens on the show as it tackles the Tea Party question, Fukushima and the political changes in Egypt, but it also so sweetly dances around the personal stories and makes you care for each character.  The dialogue is very very Sorkin, which can take some getting used to, but I sort of like listening to people say well thought out sentences in an articulate manner.

On the lighter side of things is a new crime show from A&E, set in the rural Wyoming landscape -- Longmire.  Sheriff Walt Longmire and his new deputy Vic Moretti (Katee Sackoff) set the bar for law enforcement amidst rednecks, indian tribal issues and old school cowboying.  Longmire is typically the grizzled cop with something dark in his past, his recent past actually, dealing with the competition (who also happens to be his other deputy, running against him in the next sheriff election) and a strong willed daughter (who also happens to be sleeping with said deputy; no not Sackoff).

I like my cop shows simple, with novel settings, likeable characters and a strong, capable lead.  Longmire gives me the beauty of rural America in cowboy land, wide open vistas below mountains where you just know it takes them a long time to drive anywhere from A to B.

Sheriff Longmire is obviously veteran, the man of few words and strength of character who would be just as comfortable in a noir movie, if noir movies had lots of cowboy hats.  His best friend Henry Standing Bear, played by Lou Diamond Philips, is as strong of character but in an incredible articulate and outspoken manner, tempering his opinions on native politics against Longmire's sense of right and wrong.  Listening to the two of them talk is a joy.

And Vic (Sackoff), well Vic is just fun.  She is from Phily, a detective now deputy, all flirty and strong in a way not all the guys here get.  She followed her husband to Wyoming, but you get the idea she is also running from her husband, who is rarely in the picture.  She challenges Longmire, whose knowledge she acknowledges, with some skills only a big city could have taught her.

The crime tales are typical of the genre, twisting and turning, with more and more locals (it's a big county) getting mixed up in things they shouldn't.  But even Longmire notices his county is changing as more murders happen. But he is not ready to retire yet, he has a lot of responsibility to his county.  Well, at least until  the dark past catches up, as the cliche goes.

And then you have Wallander, which I am re-watching because I found out they did a season three.  BBC that is, as the original Swedish TV series ran only two much longer seasons.  Based on a very popular series of books about the depressive, morose police detective at odds with his own personal failings (divorce, ill father, angry daughter) as well as his place in the police world.  The key to his character is his faith in whether he is doing anything useful, as horrible event after horrible event happens in the small Swedish town of Ystad and its surroundings.  Is he making an impact, does his work matter.

Kenneth Branagh comes to us a little older than I remember, a lot heavier than I remember but as full of wisdom and a kind smile as I ever remembered.  Surrounded by a bevy of familiar British faces, one more so since he became Loki, but the actual Swedish countryside, we get a quiet composed crime show with beautiful panoramas and tight closeups of grizzled tired faces experiencing loss and horror.  But really, its all about Branagh as Wallander.

What gets me about this show is the underlying current of what the man is going through.  Sure, he may have screwed up his marriage and is struggling even to keep a basic relationship with his daughter, but he seems like a decent sort of cop respected by his peers and is definitely the go-to guy in the small Ystad station.  We are presented with three stories about large arcing crimes, crimes that have an impact on all of Swedish society: a dark society of child abusers, a cyber-crime that could destroy the European economy and the seemingly random acts of a serial killer.  Wallander breaks each plot but we see how the collateral damage take its toll on him.  The suicide of one of the victims of the abuse plot, the murder of a young girl mixed up in the cyber-crime and the horrible death of a girl at the hand of the serial killer, immediately after Wallander connects with her and promises to protect her.  Each is a victim that reflects his own daughter, whom he almost lost to a suicide attempt.  Each death weighs on him till we see a strong man broken by his own grief and failure, surprising the people around him with the depth of his feeling.

As I get older, there is something about seeing crime shows starring men older than me that connects indelibly with me.  I get to see that no matter how much I kick myself for a lack of life experience, a lack of wisdom and a lack of hard earned accomplishment, even the skilled and full of wisdom can be damaged by life.  You never stop absorbing that information, never stop learning those lessons and you really, never stop making mistakes.