One of the most striking elements of Cinemax’s The Knick—which debuts tonight at 10/9c—is its electronic score from Cliff Martinez. It’s purposefully anachronistic, and crucial to the series’ disorientation. It never wants you to feel entirely comfortable in this early 20th century world, which sits on the cusp of scientific progress without being able to fully embrace it. The score, working alongside Steven Soderbergh’s cinematography, works to disrupt the viewer’s sense of immersion while simultaneously drawing the viewer in on more complicated terms: it’s a great score, and a beautiful show, but The Knick is not something one luxuriates in.
This creates a somewhat complex set of parameters for the marketing around the series, one that has been translated into a campaign by Campfire Media, whose work for Cinemax, HBO, and A&E I’ve written about on the blog in the past. The “At The Knick” campaign mirrors elements of those previous campaigns, particularly the Game of Thrones Westeros Revealed scent box; ahead of The Knick’s premiere, Cinemax has delivered customized medical kits meant to transport the recipient back to a different era of medicine. Meticulously crafted, it’s a beautiful and compelling piece of transmedia worldbuilding, although one that works best as an introduction to rather than representation of the world in the series.
When you complete each stage of the process involved in ByzantiumTests.com, an immersive website experience for Cinemax’s new series Hunted (which debuts tomorrow night at 10/9c) that positions the user as a test subject for diegetic organization Byzantium Security International, it asks you whether you want to share your process with any number of social networks.
When I was completing the tests, however, they struck me as intensely personal. Even though the data being collected is far from the precise scientific personality test that Melissa George suggests in the video material accompanying the site, it nonetheless asks us to reflect on ourselves more than anything else, and I’m not sure that’s something I’d want to share with the world at large. One portion of the site asks you to connect the site to your Facebook account, drawing images from profiles—including your own—to probe further into your thought process. The results of the test are rigged in the sense that everyone can make it to the end, but the personalized nature of the test ensures that it’s evocation of the exclusive “1% that matters” highlights the individual nature of the accomplishment (which is part of why I wasn’t interested in sharing my results).
In the previous two campaigns—for Game of Thrones and Bag of Bones—that I’ve discussed from Campfire, who also developed the Byzantium campaign, the goal has been to engage fans and potential viewers in a shared experience of interpreting and participating in a broader activity. We can see a similar strategy in their campaign for USA’s Political Animals this summer—which I didn’t write about given my busy schedule at the time—wherein the community-forming potential for a newspaper’s audience is used to create immersive weekly experiences that nonetheless allow for different people to experience the same basic content. Whether it’s gathering Maester’s for the cause, or working with others to spot the various secrets in the dark stories being told, or sharing fictional political editorials the same way you’d share real ones, the notion of “shareable” speaks not only to the capacity for the pages to be posted to social media, but also the ability for the “experience” to be shared with others like you.
While the Byzantium campaign relies on word of mouth, which is why a wooden puzzle with a flash drive hidden inside arrived at my doorstep late last month, it also relies on potential viewers finding the time to visit the site, take part in the test, and engage with the world-building on display.
Which describes the experience of watching television, in a way. Continue reading
Offsite Learnings: Cinemax’s Strike Back
August 31st, 2012
In the midst of completing a busy summer academically, I took on the task of reviewing Cinemax’s Strike Back week-to-week at The A.V. Club, which has been a nice chance to explore a show I enjoy quite a bit. I figured I should let those of you who continue to follow the blog and not my Twitter account know about it, and offer up an exclusive clip from tonight’s fourth episode of the second season; you can find my review of that episode right after it airs at The A.V. Club.
Review: Strike Back Season 2 – “Episode One”/”Episode Two”
Review: Strike Back Season 2 – “Episode Three”
Clip: Strike Back Season 2 – Stonebridge and El Soldat Negotiate
Aired: January to March
With Shameless starting its second season next weekend, and with my parents recently gaining access to an expansive OnDemand archive featuring the series, I’ve taken the past week or so to introduce them to the “deranged” – my mother’s word –Gallagher family.
It’s not often that I rewatch dramatic series in this fashion, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I managed it. I didn’t write about Shameless more than a handful of times when the first season aired earlier this year, but rewatching the show has made me wish I had, both because I find myself really enjoying the show (more than my review of the finale would suggest) and because I think writing about it would have helped me confront my frustration with one half of the series.
Cultural Checkup: Cinemax’s Strike Back
September 24th, 2011
There are a number of logical parallels between Cinemax’s Strike Back and Starz’s Torchwood: Miracle Day. Not only did they share the same timeslot for a number of weeks this summer, and not only are they both ten-episode “series” which somewhat strangely spin off of a pre-existing franchise, but they’re also both international co-productions in which an American premium cable outlet joined forces with a British broadcaster (Sky1 for Strike Back and the BBC for Torchwood).
However, they’re parallels that most people aren’t making since no one, it seems, has been talking about Strike Back, an action drama being shepherded by a collection of British writers and Frank Spotnitz (best known for his work on The X-Files). Admittedly, this is logical so long as we are speaking comparatively: Torchwood is an established franchise with an extensive fanbase that spawns extensive discussion, whereas Strike Back has fewer generic qualities which would traditionally lend themselves to weekly critical consideration (or even online discussion, in general).
That being said, though, it’s quite likely that there are a large number of critics who have been silently keeping up with Strike Back; indeed, every time I tweet about the show I get a couple of replies from people who started to realize they really liked the show at about the same time as the run-up to the fall premiere season kicked in and their time disappeared. It’s the time of year when catching up on a show is a daunting task, a time of year where it’s easier to erase something from your memory (or your DVR’s memory, at least) than wading in for a closer look.
However, since I’ve been able to lie low (relatively speaking) during premiere week, I’m in a position where I can talk a bit about how a show that goes out of its way to create opportunities for softcore pornography managed to stealthily become one of the most enjoyable drama series of the summer by developing an intelligent mix of episodic and serialized storytelling that Russell T. Davies might want to study a bit more closely for next time around.