Daredevil’s battered body

I really like Netflix’s take on Daredevil and have been waiting–maybe too long–to write anything about my binge view that first week.  The series is gruesome in the unflinchingly dark psychology of its murderous Kingpin (bone-chillingly brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio)–and probably too explicit for some–though in my view, it stops short of glorying in his violence.  It is pretty darn smart in its pacing, maybe one of the better uses of the all-at-once-available season I’ve seen.

It is also doing something interesting with how it depicts its hero’s body.  Continue reading Daredevil’s battered body

Paige and the Peril of Coming of Age American

On The Americans‘ season finale,  Paige breaking her parents’ confidence was one of the series’ most damning depictions of the American project in series so far.  And yes, I do remember the episodes on CIA in Central America, but this time the series  opened up space for critically reflecting on what American culture–not just its military industrial complex–yields and what we found is not heartening.

As Paige dialed that phone to call Pastor Tim, the show again played on one of its most interesting features: the tension for viewers about who, after all, we are rooting for.  Initially the show took hits from critics who felt that by making the Jennings our protagonists producers encouraged viewers to root against America in the Cold War.  Fans of the program are likely to find things far more complicated than that, however.  There’s no doubt that we come to care about Philip and Elizabeth, that we root for their marriage and cringe during shoot-outs in hopes of their survival.  But we’re likely to prefer Philip–at least in season one–as it becomes clear that he has come to enjoy and internalize certain parts of America far more than his wife.

Paige’s indiscretion about her parents true vocation is a step toward American victory in the silent war being fought with KGB “Illegals” on American soil.  It is also the sympathetic, literal cry for help of an average teenage girl–perhaps a better than average one–faced with too much adult responsibility, too much moral quandary, and too many lies to handle on her own.  We get it, Paige.  We do.

And yet we don’t.  Or at least I don’t.  Watching Paige pick up that receiver, I felt something in me recoil from her (and a tinge of disappointment that the writers went this slightly more predictable path with her character).  My disgust with Paige wasn’t triggered by any pinko leanings; no amount of Putin Olympic agitprop nor episodes in the confidence of the Jennings has produced sympathy for the Communist cause.   It was activated by the sense that Paige, the born-and-bred American, ultimately operated in a world of thinner choices, of too clean edges, of too much desire for simplicity to handle herself in the high-risk, consequence-laden world her parents brought her into.

Continue reading Paige and the Peril of Coming of Age American

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