“The First Day of School”
August 1st, 2010
Back in June, I wrote my initial response to AMC’s Rubicon, which wasn’t particularly positive. In fact, let’s quote my review for the sake of posterity:
If a show’s pilot is supposed to be a teaser trailer, an aesthetic exercise designed to build hype, then I would consider this to be moderately successful: there was absolutely nothing here which would keep me from tuning into the series in August. However, a pilot needs to be something more than a teaser trailer, and the series’ shortcuts in establishing both its central character and its central conspiracy show a lack of elegance which does little to convince me that this belongs in the same breath as AMC’s other original series.
This is, very clearly, not quite a ringing endorsement of the series, and so I went into “The First Day of School” with a bit of apprehension, apprehension which remains despite the fact that I think the series’ second episode is a vast improvement on its first. Not all of the problems have been wrinkled out, and there’s a big gaping hole where the series’ plot should be, but this episode captured some of the types of ideas which the series is interested in and which I find quite interesting as well. While the premiere relied heavily on mystery, “The First Day of School” shifts its focus from confusing the audience to confusing its characters, capturing how they respond to the puzzles placed before them.
The result is a successful glimpse into how paranoia takes hold of those in delicate situations or particularly challenging workplaces – sure, there isn’t quite a series for it to really relate to yet, but I think there might finally be a television show here if they can build on this momentum of sorts.
“Gone in the Teeth”
June 13th, 2010
AMC has officially dubbed their airing of Rubicon’s pilot a month and a half ahead of its premiere as a “sneak preview,” but I think a “teaser trailer” may be a more accurate description of the episode in question. A good teaser trailer shows you atmospheric scenes which give you a sense of the mood a particular movie or television series is going for, but really doesn’t tell you much about the plot in question: for example, HBO’s teaser trailer for Game of Thrones, the much-anticipated adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, shows a few key images and establishes the series’ tagline.
Considering this, it’s fair to say that my use of the designation for “Gone in the Teeth” is symptomatic of my frustration with the enigmatic lack of clarity which pervades this series. If a show’s pilot is supposed to be a teaser trailer, an aesthetic exercise designed to build hype, then I would consider this to be moderately successful: there was absolutely nothing here which would keep me from tuning into the series in August. However, a pilot needs to be something more than a teaser trailer, and the series’ shortcuts in establishing both its central character and its central conspiracy show a lack of elegance which does little to convince me that this belongs in the same breath as AMC’s other original series.
May 9th, 2010
Serialized television is more or less defined by consequences: while all television series feature actions and reactions, what defines a series as serialized is when those actions have consequences which extend into the following episodes. We’re meant to remember what happened in the past because it will affect what happens in the future, and the show revels in the ironies or tragedies which result from these remembrances.
The Pacific is effectively a meditation on the serialization of life, or the ways in which war erases one’s memory of anything but the drudgery these soldiers experienced in battles like Iwo Jima or Okinawa; we remember that Eugene Sledge started out as an innocent child because we’ve seen his story in a serialized form, but Sledge himself has forgotten his former self in ways that human beings are not supposed to. At the same time, though, “Part Nine” plays out like a terrifying series of actions and consequences, trapping these characters within an environment where one small mistake leads to a chain reaction of events that leaves men dead and dying.
The only way you can cope, perhaps, is to forget about what came before, to ignore the decisions that brought you to this point and focus solely on the nature of survival. However, as much as you might want to shut off the man you were before as you fight your way through a battlefield more terrible than you can imagine, you can’t help but remain haunted by who you used to be, and “Part Nine” presents a horrifying image of that futility which stands as a series highlight.
April 4th, 2010
For the second straight week, the real-life events of the Pacific war have made for an interesting interlude of sorts for The Pacific. Last week’s episode used their extended shore level in Melbourne, Australia in order to demonstrate the home front without traveling back to the United States, and “Part Four” is very much designed to analyze the psychological challenges that soldiers face in these kinds of conditions. Cape Gloucester, we learn, was only very briefly a war between the Americans and the Japanese, and soon became a war of the Americans against the torrential rainfall and the psychological toll that that experience would have on them.
If “Part Two” was a fairly concentrated glimpse into the heroism of John Basilone, “Part Four” is a frank portrait of a man (Bob Leckie) who feels entirely disconnected from those notions of heroism, and struggles to maintain any sense of humanity (and masculinity) in the face of both the turmoil of war and an embarrassing medical condition.
March 21st, 2010
The Pacific is a show designed to tell the story of a war through the story of three men, but sometimes this isn’t a particularly easy task. Sometimes war is about the inhumane, the loss of identity and humanity amidst absolute chaos, at which point following characters seems almost counterintuitive. In other moments, meanwhile, conflicts become entirely personal, becoming disconnected from the “why” of the war and the big picture and becoming about one man battling against the enemy, or one company struggling to hold the line against an invading force.
“Part Two” is all about how these two perspectives start to speak to one another, how a large-scale offensive can become a personal tragedy and how the personal struggles of these soldiers are not being done for nothing. It’s not a substantially different story than “Part One,” but it uses the sameness to its advantage by avoiding desensitization and delivering some intense dramatic action.
March 14th, 2010
As an “amateur” television critic, I don’t receive screeners in advance, which means that I was not amongst those who received the entirety of HBO’s The Pacific, the followup to the channel’s Band of Brothers, a month ago. This would normally be a bit annoying, in that it means that Sepinwall’s review is up as soon as the first part finished while I’m putting this together two hours later, but I think with The Pacific that it’s probably for the best.
In some ways, I don’t want “Part One” of this miniseries to have time to sink in, time for me to really pull together my thoughts. With material of this nature, material that is meant to capture tense moments in the midst of an uncertain conflict, there is some value to just responding to what you witnessed, considering how and why the show goes about creating those responses. A masterpiece in dramatic pacing, “Part One” depicts the silence in chaos, the inhumanity of survival, and reminds us that many of the young men who went to war knew as little about war as they know about what they plan on doing with the rest of their lives.
In other words, it’s just like Band of Brothers except for all the ways in which it is quite dramatically different; in short, it’s fantastically engaging television.