Mr. Robot: Domo arigato, USA Network

I saw a commercial for Mr. Robot last week.  Okay, I saw it over and over again  on a loop in the background of Xfinity on demand. In it a young man darts his eyes around  nervously in a subway car, expressing his feeling of paranoia in demeanor as well as voiceover.  Then the tension breaks as a voice inside the car interrupts his inner monologue.  The voice of a decade’s worth of Panasonic commercials and before that the voice of 90s teen misanthropy: the voice of Christian Slater.

I like Christian Slater.  I love Pump Up the Volume.  I even like Kuffs–which was kinda terrible.  I’ve rooted for his previous attempts to jump back onto the A-list with a primetime TV vehicle but here, in this commercial, his presence dashed my hopes for something fresh from USA’s new series Mr. Robot.  Here, decked out in something like a modified 90s grunge look, Slater seemed mostly like an intertextual reference to his former self, a self who would have been cast as the young, paranoid rather than the knowing stranger on the subway car.  

Feeling semi-harangued by this Xfinity commercial, however, I finally gave in and streamed the series pilot.

And it was Really Good. Continue reading Mr. Robot: Domo arigato, USA Network

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Belgian Salamander’s Appealingly Untrendy Approach to Suspense

Salamander is one of those programs you find only because (unlike lots of the mainstream stuff you logged on hoping to find) Netflix is offering it on their streaming service. I clicked through to this Belgian suspense tale I’d never heard of on the promise of its nearly five-star user rating. As I approach the end of the series’ one season’s worth of episodes thus far consumed in a rapid one-week binge, I have started to reflect on what about it is special.

From the start that program participates in that admirable European tradition of actually casting normal-looking, middle-aged humans and treating them like they can believably represent interesting, complicated, and, yes, sexy people.

My now several hours with the series is also certainly the longest time I ever spent listening to people speak Flemish—to my ear a fascinating aural mash-up of French and German phonemes but hardly the reason I’ve been compulsively returning to my laptop. When I consider Salamander and what I am enjoying about it, these foreign distinctives are not at the top of the list.

I’ve realized that escaping into this Brussels-based mystery is less like watching good television from another country than it is like watching good television from another time. Let me be clear: the series is by no means outdated in its look, its brisk pace, or its long-format approach to storytelling. But it manages to spin its yarn without a lot of the latest concerns that define paranoia culture and without any of the narrative crutches that have become fashionable on American primetime. Continue reading Belgian Salamander’s Appealingly Untrendy Approach to Suspense