More than just Leftovers

More than just Leftovers

The Leftovers starts with the premise that 140 million people have vanished from Earth. Going into the show, knowing this, one wonders why such a rapture event has taken place. It soon becomes evident that the people left behind are the focus, not the event itself. The stage switches to one small area, the fictional Mapletown, New York. Their loss creates our philosophical gain. It’s not a case of why the souls were taken, but how those that remain cope.

It should be pointed out that The Leftovers may dangle the mystery of the missing people, and furthers the unknowns by various presumed supernatural elements, however, the show doesn’t exist to answer these things. The missing 140 million is a plot device, a side issue that requires no further explanation. To do so would undermine the journey the characters take. There have been criticisms levelled at the lack of resolution, these viewers have missed the heart of the tale.

Some of these disenchanted voices have probably readied the Damon Lindelof put downs. These are the ones that hated the Lost finale and how questions remained throughout that show’s six season run. Other than his input to both shows they bear no comparison. Lost required closure on the great unknowns, The Leftoversnever promises this. This show is about examining the human condition. Any show that is dealing with existentialism doesn’t need to feed the mainstream gimmick of dropping clues and offering weak replies. It can leave that to Under the Dome (great book, bad show).

Mentioning another popular show from a literary source, it should be noted that the author of the original novel (also entitled The Leftovers) Tom Perrotta, worked alongside Lindelof to create the show. The first season covers the entire novel so season two will be new material, and again, he is heavily influencing this. It’s refreshing to see the source material being used extensively.

The depth in the writing is brought about by an excellent cast. Christopher Eccleston once again proves his vast range as the town’s man of faith who attempts to prove the people taken in the sudden departure were sinners. Watching him wrestle with faith compliments the show’s main centrepiece, the cult named the Guilty Remnant. They are silent watchers, heavy smokers, and easy to despise pests. In forming this opinion it makes one wonder about the real world situation the metaphor represents. Why do we hate the unknown element? Some of their actions appear unforgivable but nobody is coping with the loss the world has suffered.

Leftovers

Justin Theroux plays the shows lead, and town Chief of Police. His wife has left to join the cult and his son is running errands for the Peep Show’s Johnson, who is a spiritual leader of sorts. His already full plate is further filled by a rebellious daughter and a father, the former Chief of Police, that has been committed for mental illness. This in turn makes him fear his mind is also on the slide. He starts to date Carrie Coon’s character, Nora Durst, a mother of two whose whole family was taken in the disappearance. Her character centric episode reveals the great depth she has as an actress and the writers’ efforts to layer her.

These are just several standouts of a stellar cast. Each keeps the show rolling forward with grit, pain, and precision. They aren’t used to answer the question of why the rapture event took place, we just accept the Pope and J-Lo were taken as easily as the select members of the town, they do make us examine where the world is heading. Hopefully season two will continue to explore these leftovers rather than explain the ones that departed. There are some mysteries that should remain beyond man. All we can do is look internally to see what we find there.

White Knight of Gotham

White Knight of Gotham

It’s still superhero season. Marvel continues to flood the cinemas whilst slowly expanding their cinematic universe to the small-screen. DC have been playing catch-up in the big flicks but have slowly churned out TV shows. The Flash joined Arrow, both bearing resemblance to Smallville. Now the most popular hero from the DC stable gets his own show. Well, kind of. Gotham hits our television sets portraying the city before the Dark Knight emerges.

Not for the first time we see the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents on film. This is the show’s starting point. So we know that we’ll see no Batman for a long time, just a younger Master Bruce coming to terms with the killings. Perhaps it is this repetition that makes the scene so underwhelming. Compared to previous versions there is no desperation in the murderer, no panic in the Waynes, and we know they’ll be no swift rise and resolution in this format of storytelling. We get a clean and clinical, shot because they had to show it, scene.

Herein the many problems with the new show are revealed. The setting actually works quite well. The city has a dark edge to it, bordering on the Gothic New York that Gotham deserves to be. However, it is wasted with the way it’s used. Many lines of dialogue and set-up are lifted fresh from a teen-TV show. In the areas where a sprinkling of Tim Burton would have made the show edgy we are given plastic and safe scenes.

It fails further when it tries to be a serious crime show. If this was the aim then it needs to be on a par with the BBC’s Sherlock. This would be the only way we could excuse the absence of Batman, the world’s greatest detective. At least Smallville teased Superman’s power and his alien origins, admittedly they teased for five years longer than they should have, but it started with promise.

If the makers see the inclusion of characters we know to become major players, like Penguin and The Riddler, as a bridge way to this, then they are failing further than feared. Not only does this destroy or rewrite well known origin stories, it also reminds us that we are supposed to be in a Batman universe. And characters that are supposed to be larger than life, vibrant, intimidating, are soulless shadows of their former (future) selves.

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The positives come by the way casting. It’s easy to buy into Ben McKenzie as a young, ambitious James Gordon, it’s a shame he’s hampered by bad screenwriting. Regardless, it’s clear he’s the show’s hero – Gotham’s White Knight. Sean Pertwee has a glint in his eye, which lends belief to the idea he’s the sort of Alfred that could facilitate the broken boyhood Bruce’s rise to Batman. John Doman plays crime boss Carmine Falcone to such perfection that his character alone could be the main antagonist of the show for seasons to come, without the need for half-formed super-villains.

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Over time the show may find its stride. It needs to find a darker edge, better dialogue, deeper crimes with better police procedural elements. We also need to watch Bruce Wayne slowly transform. Gotham can only work if it plays to its strengths, and that has always been the Dark Knight. Unless this has just been a massive long game from Warner Bros., the parent company and producers behind the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. They took a lot of abuse for hiring Ben Affleck as Batman. After a season of Gotham without a sighting of our hero, we’ll be accepting “Batfleck” with open arms.

Batfleck

Batman’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it has right now.

Cannibalizing the remake

Cannibalizing the remake

It seems that we’re in the age of the remake, or more correctly, the reimagining era. This goes hand-in-hand with a time where television is the new silver screen. The ‘80s idea of the movie star is all but dead (someone please tell Tom Cruise). The safe bet for financial returns lies in the small screen. So inevitably characters that experienced former glories with cinema goers are finding new places to breathe once again. We’ll look at two that are best known for stopping breath.

Two characters that transcend their appearances on film and permeate into popular culture are Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector. Hitchcock’s original Psycho is still as effective today as it ever was. There are no scenes of graphic violence or gore, but it chills and scares better than most horrors ever placed on celluloid. Anthony Perkins was engaging and complex and key moments that could have descended into a parody were perfectly disturbing.

The Silence of the Lambs played for shocks at times whilst allowing us to engage with the fascinating Lector. Another Anthony, this time Hopkins, played the role with a malevolent menace. Beneath the intelligence in his eyes was a primitive warning. Before the Hopkins version Brian Cox played him deliberately void of outward evil, itself proving effective. But it is the Hopkins version that became the public’s Lector, and the benchmark subsequent versions are faced against.

This brings us to the newest incarnations of these two popular icons, and the very different paths they have taken. Lector’s small screen reboot came first, in the form of Hannibal. We find him in a pre-Red Dragon era. He’s still a practising psychiatrist working alongside the man from the novel that we know eventually catches him. However, the original timeline of events won’t unfold on this show as they have elsewhere. This will help with its longevity and prevents it becoming too predictable.

And it does defy predictions and assumptions. It would have been easier to cheapen the source material and exploit the obvious areas that lean to excess. There are moments that make you want to turn away from the screen, but even they have a fitting place in a show that is shot in a contemporary fashion. Mads Mikkelsen doesn’t redo Hannibal Lector with his portrayal – he makes him feel alive for the first time. We know the evil that lurks beneath, we never know when we’ll see it, but it’s brooding and bubbling whilst he plays people like pawns. He’s understated with the horror, delivering it with a fear of anticipation. Going back to Psycho, remember that shower scene, remember that you don’t actually see that much, but it works better than anything plainly laid out before you. The Mikkelsen Lector is just like that.

So the reboot of Norman Bates surely follows a similar path, right? Played and shot with subtle expertise? Well, it did have this particular line: “You’re like a beautiful, deep, still lake in the middle of a concrete world,” delivered to Norman Bates from a love interest, and that’s where its excursion into anything remotely poetic ends.

Where Hannibal had subtle suggestion that blurred lines (I got peckish watching Lector’s dinner parties), Bates Motel has no such restraint. It unashamedly over does the Oedipus complex; if there’s a gun going off there’s oodles of blood to view; if there’s a bad guy we need to meet we almost get some pantomime booing.

At times, with certain camera angles and colours, it feels like it’s paying homage to horror’s successful era. Then it plays out like an average thriller. If the success of Hannibal was down to its strong lead and excellent supporting cast then Bates Motel could be in trouble. It’d be unfair to say any principal players are poor but it would be a lie to say they engage in the manner they should. Freddie Highmore, the new Norman Bates, obviously believes imitation is the best form of plagiarism. At times he is Anthony Perkins, and with it we lose any sense of fear. We’ve seen the shock of Bates in this form before. The makers should have taken note of the 1998 film version of Psycho, it was pretty much shot-for-shot a replica of the original, and it was panned.

If it’s new it has to be different, otherwise the original will always be best.

Another poignant line from Bates Motel was delivered by Norma, she asked, “Who is gonna book a room in the rape-slash-murder motel?” For now we’ll keep returning in the hope it’ll meet its potential, but as soon as Hannibal is cooking again our attentions will return to a much classier killer.