We Have Opinions: TV Edition #4

Preacher s01e02, “See”

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There’s A LOT to react to and try to make sense of in this episode, but what I was left thinking about is its treatment of personal ethics. Now, I know next to nothing about the original comics, so I don’t know how it dealt with moral issues or what type of philosophical questions it did or didn’t raise. The show seems to focus on Jesse as a “bad man” (which Tulip keeps calling him) trying to be good. He’s constantly being confronted with the darkness of others and his own, and doesn’t know how to deal with it. It’s a simple enough concept, and a good foundation for some human and moral complexity on screen, even in the middle of all the other crazy shit going down.

The problem is that (so far) the questions of ethics being brought up through the situations and interactions on the show haven’t been dealt with in a very sophisticated manner.
When Jesse and Eugene both come to the conclusion that no matter how hard you try you are still the same person on the inside, it’s an idea that makes sense for these characters based on their experiences - even if it isn’t exactly true. But to draw the conclusion that there’s no point in fighting the impulse to hurt people? The inability here to to differentiate between feelings and actions is frustrating, and if this is something the writers are aware of, an intentional part of the character and his skewed perspective, then that could surely have been hinted at in some way. Instead we get a pedophile plot which misses all the exits where it could have headed towards an interesting conversation and goes straight for the daydream-fulfillment of hurting a man so he’ll never hurt a anyone else - even though he may never have done that anyway. And the question of whether the important thing is to be a good person or to do good things, which is very relevant to the plot, isn’t brought up at all.

Of course, we’re only two episodes in and the deep philosophical conversations may simply have been saved for a later date. It’s a possibility.

Tova Crossler Ernström

UnREAL s02e01, “War”

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The rules of life: Get money, be a dick, abuse power. That’s what this means, right?

Money, dick, power - that’s quite a mantra! Opening and ending the episode with the tattoos is a clever way to tie the whole thing together. Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, it reminds us that the show’s center (what one would call “heart” when talking about a less cynical show) is located somewhere between Rachel and Quinn, but also that the dynamic between the two women has changed significantly since the show started. Where there used to be constant conflict, there’s collaboration (...and conflict). Where we’ve seen Quinn exerting power over Rachel, and Rachel alternating between abiding and pushing back, they’re now a joined duo alternating between the role of cold-hearted bosses and underdogs in a world of mostly-male assholes. This new friendship is by no means a sure thing, and I assume the camaraderie will go to hell, along with any other positive relationships the characters experience, before the season is over. But it is definitely a change.

What has not changed is that most of the characters on UnREAL are horrible people who do awful things to each other, or that every scene with Rachel doing her job makes me think “Why are you taking part in this? Why don’t you just quit and start your whole life over???”.

Perhaps the answer is simply: Money, dick, power.

Tova Crossler Ernström

House of Lies s05e09, “Violent Agreement”

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On last week’s House of Lies, the answer to “Why are the main characters being such awful people?” was explicitly stated as being money. No mention of dicks or power, though there were plenty of powerful dicks present - some of whom return this week.

Here we’re reminded that Skip is the worst (everyone on the show is the worst, but he is the worst), Doug is painfully embarrassing, Clyde is alternately sad and glib and Marty gets angry in a theatrical but also a little nonchalant manner which is satisfying and entertaining to watch. It’s a lot of the same - I even feel like we’ve seen Marty trash someone’s office before - and mostly seems like a pre-game distraction until we get to the Mexico trip the plot started working towards last episode.

The exception may be Jeannie, who is hilariously bored and unstable while spending the day with Phoebe (“How does Rocky Road make me a wet noodle???”) and then gets sad watching an old man with fancy clothes feed the pigeons in the park. Though this doesn’t move the story forwards much, it feels fresh and is the kind of detour the show could have used more of in its last years.

Using Kristen Bell for comedy and heart is actually a general principle people working in TV and cinema should keep in a mind. Kind of like "If you can put Don Cheadle in your movie, put Don Cheadle in your movie" (a supposed Soderbergh quote).

Huh, this show had a lot going for it, didn’t it? Let’s hope it goes out with a bang next week!

Tova Crossler Ernström