Thursday, January 17, 2013

Serious Series Addiction Part 4: The West Wing, The X-Files, Girls, Life’s Too Short, & Enlightened

This is the continuation of a series of posts that started at Film Babble Blog (Read parts 1, 2, and 3).

Since I babble about TV shows here now, this will be its new home. When not seeing and writing about movies, I, like many others, am plowing through many TV series at a time. I use the time watching these shows to exercise on our (my wife and I’s) good ole stationary bike which is aimed at the television in our living room.

Recently, all 7 seasons of the presidential drama The West Wing showed up on Netflix Instant. I missed a lot of them in its 1999-2006 run so I jumped right into it. With its ‘walks and talks,’ snappy dialogue, and idealistic energy it’s a great one to pedal to, even if it can get very cheesy, preachy, and downright Aaron Sorkiny.

When I look back to the political landscape of a decade ago, I prefer thinking that Jed Barlet, as embodied by the mighty Martin Sheen, was really our president as well he seemed more plausible and definitely more presidential than who he actually had in the Oval Office. The liberal democrat fantasyland version of the early to mid aughts, in which wit flows through the hallways via the arguing of vaulted staff members like Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), and C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) over every issue imaginable, is insanely more preferable.

I’m up to season 5 now so the characters of Matt Santos and Arnold Vinick, who will run against each other for President in the 7th season have yet to be introduced, but I’m trying not to rush through the series, by watching only 2 at a time. That usually makes for a good West Wing Workout.

The other major older show I’ve been peddling through is The X-Files. Or as I call it to annoy my wife: X-Files-ercising.

I was not a regular watcher of The X-Files during its 9 season run (1993-2002), but I saw it here and there and got the gist of its arc and ongoing themes. This is another show that I’m happy is available on Netflix Instant. I would hate having to deal with all the individual discs in the mail – when I was addicted to The Wire, a few years back, I was driving discs to the post office so I wouldn’t have to wait as long to get more.

Anyway, Chris Carter’s The X-Files is about FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating paranormal activity that the government denies knowledge of, but they know that the truth is out there. You can get all of this from the opening credits which has the words “paranormal activity,” “government denies knowledge,” and “the truth is out there” in big white lettering appearing through all the dark imagery serenaded by Mark Snow’s eerie theme music.

The show consists of two types of episodes: “Monster of the Week” episodes and government conspiracy episodes. In other words sometimes the show is like an ‘80s horror movie with a supernatural entity, other times it’s like a sleek ‘90s thriller with Oliver Stone-overtones. It can be the most interesting at the beginnings and endings of seasons. I just finished season 5 which led up to the movie, “The X-Files: Fight the Future” (annoyingly not available on Instant), which I had to re-watch – not too bad a task though as the film is pretty good (not so the 2008 sequel “I Want To Believe). So that I can move on to season 6. This has been post-poned because of the West Wing Workout sessions of late however.

Two HBO shows about flawed female protagonists that just began their second seasons have also been on my viewing lists lately: Lena Dunham’s breakthrough Girls, and Laura Dern and Mike White’s Enlightened. Both the program’s 1st seasons are available on Blu ray/DVD as well, which is how I caught up. 

I didn’t know what to make of Girls at first but it and its characters grew on me. Dunham stars as Hannah, an aspiring writer living in New York, who can’t quite get her life together. Her friends, (Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet) are in the same boat, her boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) “treats her heart like money meat” (her words), and her parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari) have decided that they will no longer support her financially.

It can seem like a lowbrow, way less fashionable version of Sex and the City, but Girls has its own groove that makes it a lot hipper. Dunham’s Hannah, who we often see nude, is a self absorbed, neurotic, pile of insecurities that can irk people, particularly her friends, but she feels real and fully realized in a way that many TV personas could only wish to be. Compare her to Zooey Deschanel’s Jess on the empty sitcom New Girl, or Mindy Kaling’s character on The Mindy Project for that matter. Hannah’s damaged but endearing multi-dimensions certainly win out.

Same goes for Laura Dern in her highly amusing half hour comedy Enlightened. Dern, plays a once successful career woman who had a mental breakdown and had to go a treatment facility. Now back at work, but demoted to a basement office position, she dreams of ways to truly change her life – exposing the corruption and corporate abuse of her workplace seems to be what she’s counting on. Mike White, who co-created the show with Dern and wrote many of the episodes, plays one of her co-workers who appears to have a crush on Dern, but is also aware that she’s a bit looney. Enlightened also features Dern’s mother Diane Ladd, and Luke Wilson as her ex-husband in juicy supporting roles.

Finally, the least engaging show I’ve seen lately is an HBO comedy that doesn’t look like it will be granted a second season: Life’s Too Short. Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Warwick Davis, the little person who played an Ewok in “Return of the Jedi” and starred in the Ron Howard fantasy film “Willow,” all take the blame for this show that posits Davis as an exaggerated full-of-himself celebrity star of his own reality show.

The process of watching Davis set himself up as the butt of every lame joke, especially when it comes to shots of him standing in a toilet or in a cheap bear costume, is painful through every episode.

This kind of humor is supposed to be cringe-inducing but it would help if it induced a few more laughs along the way. The only things that comes close to laugh getting here are cameos by the likes of Johnny Depp, Sting, and Liam Neeson, otherwise this is a drag. I hear they’ll wrap up the show with a one-hour special sometime this year. Oh, good. 

More later…

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