I really kind of love Kevin Bacon. I think, for instance, that it’s cool that he seems to be aging at a relatively real-human rate and has been married to the same woman for over 25 years. I love the 6 degrees game that seems to never take more than 3 degrees to connect him to another Hollywood star. And, despite myself sometimes, I have loved watching him in Fox’s The Following.
Season one was a tour-de-force by Bacon as vulnerable, dogged, detached Agent Ryan Hardy in a chilling pas de deux with a serial killer and his cult of followers. They struck with flash-mob-like randomness and with all the queasiness-inducing vigor (remember that ice pick in the first episode?) of a John Carpenter film. As though they were reading my mind (or at least my blog) the series shed its Poe quoting pretensions by season two (an affectation of Hardy’s lit prof nemesis Dr. Joe Carroll) and even through the season’s weaker moments (like that other murder cult Joe co-opted. Really?), The Following proved its plot twists hard to predict and its dishing out of slasher-film-like gore unflinchingly reliable. If you dig horror, it has been hard not to follow along.
This season faces a steep challenge, however: swapping out the bad guy from Poe-obsessed professor cum psychopathic cult leader Joe Carroll (a truly creepy and compelling–even when his character stretched credulity–James Purefoy).
I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies when I watch TV lately. And that’s new.
I’m pretty savvy to how TV treats gender and sex, mind you, but I’m also a believer in the suspension of disbelief. So I guess you could say it’s been my viewing posture to generally “go with the flow” of the American TV aesthetic—its genres, its (sometimes pretty bad) special effects, and how “normal” looks—at least while I’m watching. Later, when I’m reflecting and critiquing, I’m happy to deconstruct or otherwise call out the ideologies at work in just about anything.
This has been my bargain with myself for maintaining some pleasure in front of the boob tube while still working as a cultural historian and critic: Think later and while the TV is on, try not to be distracted by the seams that show in how stories are put together.
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