Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I Am Watching: The Leftovers, The Strain, Witches of East End

From level of intensity, lightest to heaviest, I am watching all three of these in chunks as downloading tends to lend itself to, one episode here, another couple there.

Witches of East End is something we knew about but never even attempted to see. Who needs another CW level show, young beautiful people mixed up in magic and myth. Surprisingly its not related to the The Witches of East Wick, which I keep on forgetting and having to edit out. It actually borrows more from Practical Magic (book and movie with Sandra Bullock) than it does the movie with three witches and and roguish Devil, which became its own terrible TV show back in 2009. It is about familial magic and the bonds between people. And love triangles. And sex. And some tenuous connection to Norse mythos.

Based on a popular novel by someone more attuned to YA fiction, the first episode actually is pretty decent. Love triangles, quirky dialogue, and fun magic. The dialogue was actually charming, no not Charmed charming more Buffy charming. OK, that was a lame attempt at a segue but, BUT, there is a reason we call this show "the next boobie show". You see, in our household, we refer to TV shows that I mostly watch for ... certain features, as "boobie shows".  First there was Charmed and then there was Ghost Whisperer and now there is this one. Yes, Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Mrs. Magic Mike) has such lovely eyes; no really! They really are gorgeous. But where was I? Oh yeah, dialogue. They go for quirky, amusing quips and comments that are actually meant as dialogue between characters, not just for the audience. And I love that. So, it actually made me perk up while watching it (shaddup you) and interested enough to watch the coming episodes.

And that is where things begin to flop. Plot holes, terrible story lines, truncated time (meet someone, fall in love, watch him die, get over him -- all in three days), randomalia and emotional yoyo-s make me cringe and/or giggle almost every episode. This has become a wander-out-of-the-room type of show for me, as "plots" lose me and those eyes are not enough to keep me interested. We have had them told about their mystical powers, broken the love triangle for a new hate triangle, met new lovers, watched said lovers die, talked about long lost family members, have said family members instantly show up, etc. Basically all the attributes of a show that is dependent on a room full of writers trying to contribute something, anything. It ends up being all so random.

And let's not talk about the weird hentai tentacle porn/rape sub-plot.

Meanwhile, I knew I was going to enjoy The Strain.

Not only am I a fan of Guillermo del Toro but I have read and enjoyed the book series (show is adaptation) he wrote with Chuck Hogan. I never really get how co-writing works, but I usually assume one person has the bulk of the plot in mind and the other does the majority of the heavy lifting, the actual work of writing. Either way, it still felt like something del Toro would write. Its a vampire story but in the three novels, it goes from plague story (infection spreading) to zombie (a few survivors surrounded by the walking dead) to post-apocalypse (a world now changed for the worse) story. Its down all of my alleys. Which sounds dirtier than it is.

The show is being shot here in Toronto so I am a little ashamed with myself for not trying to be an extra. But you know, that whole lose job-looking for work-new job dominated my life this year. But it is still fun watching last winter's footage appear everywhere in the show, even when they are a bit obvious wandering into a building with ROM banners behind them. Toronto has a feel to it, that lends itself well to Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs that play heavily in the story.

I am enjoying it, but I am also a bit perturbed. It is following the book pretty damn well, but adapting to TV as well. But, it is not doing the serial story very well. Unless you intend on making a "mini series" (do they exist anymore?) you have to establish some sort of self-contained episodic story telling. This, well, it just plays one episode into the next. Each episode, for better for worse, is just leading to something big and each episode only gives us a bit more of what is going to happen. That can be a bit annoying, but for the fact that each episode is still pretty well done, with the gore and the monsters and the balance of the varied cast.

And this is how I like my vampires, horrific and monstrous.

Now, speaking of horrific, we have the deep seated pain and grief of The Leftovers. In this series, a Rapture style event has happened and 2% of the world just ... disappeared. Men, women, children and infants were there one moment and gone the next. No explanation, none ever found. It is three years later and the world is still recovering, the world still with its open wound, its loss and the ramifications of such a wide affecting event.

I found the show very heavy and difficult in the first few episodes. Everyone is living with some aspect of the event, whether they lost someone or they are involved in dealing with the messes left behind. Chief Garvey is our main character, who lost a wife to one of the cults that emerged after the event. His daughter suffers the loss of her mother, the change in the world around her and an awareness of how damaged her father has become. Everyone is just so much in pain, sometimes the show is almost unbearable. Grief, heavy and palpable as I have never seen it depicted before.

But the show expands, with intertwining stories about the cults, the infrastructure that has emerged in the aftermath (everyone can make a buck), the way everyone is dealing or not dealing and the pregnant anticipation that this cannot be the only event. What do the cults hope to accomplish? Who is the Dog Hunter? Why does Garvey black out? Can Holy Wayne actually hug the pain out of you? It is Lost comparable in often giving more mysteries then it ever hopes to answer.

But for me, its a story tellers tangible way of depicting unexplainable upset. Everyone seems to be left in this unending state of disarray, never completely understanding why they are the way they are. Some have good reasons, such as losing their entire families, while others are just absorbing the peripheral grief of the event. But everyone is affected, everyone is dealing. I often feel our entire world exhibits this now, all the time, with so much intangible stress around us, from world events, from the guilt of plenty, from family, from just living. This takes this feeling many people have and wraps it around an inexplicable event.