Sunday, April 30, 2017

American Gods Makes Compelling Debut

Perhaps taking advantage of the programming void caused by HBO's new Game of Thrones production schedule, Starz may have chosen the perfect show to draw from HBO's flagship audience. A show that is also centered around the old gods and the new, American Gods is primed to be the next great series on premium cable. 

The first episode of American Gods follows African-American convict Shadow Moon as he is released from prison to travel to his wife's funeral. Along the way, Shadow Moon encounters odd and intriguing characters who are in fact the first of a multi-cultural host of gods that are about to enter into his life. Shadow does not know it yet, but he is about to witness the intersection of different worlds. The gods originate from an array of different civilizations, but have all taken form as different characters throughout America.  

The critical attribute that American Gods reveals from the outset is the boundless writing and acting potential that can come from each god. McShane dazzles as he connives to be upgraded to first class on a flight and vaguely enlists Shadow Moon as an employee. Shadow also engages in a fantastic bar brawl with a leprechaun who fulfills and defies stereotypes. The identity of the final god was not revealed, but Shadow goes for a ride with a mysterious character who exudes an unmistakable Bieberness that has great future potential. He does not meet Bilquis, but her scene is certainly atypical.

The roster of actors for the first season of American Gods is impressive. Without spoiling casting choices, it is hard not to nod your head in approval of several of the selections. If the first episode is an accurate preview, we may be witnessing the beginning of a show that gives an ensemble cast the opportunity to shine. 

HBO's Big Little Lies Needs A Season Two

HBO's Big Little Lies finished airing earlier this month and the possibility of a second season has already been dangled out there by the show's creators. As much as I enjoy a great one-off miniseries, the temptation of at least one more season gives HBO an opportunity to explore something different on television: a well-produced suspense drama where an ensemble cast of women dominate the small screen. 

Big Little Lies does not waste time in teasing its most important moment: a murder. Interrogation scenes begin in the first episode, but the audience is given no hint as to who the victim is or who perpetrated the crime. It is the start of a seven episode-long breadcrumb trail, but the murder is not what ultimately defines the series. 

The show perfectly intertwines the lives of several different characters in posh Monterey, California. A uniquely female-heavy lineup features impeccable acting from Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, and Laura Dern. The cast and director Jean-Marc Vallee immerse their audience in each character's life, with even the most important scenes revolving around something as simple as picking children up from school or sitting in a coffee shop. 

Sometimes even the milquetoast normalcy of their daily lives serves a simple reminder: we all have stories. Big Little Lies takes a look at a handful of women who are trying to exist in suburbia despite very dark stories.

The slow-build format of the show allows for a frighteningly visceral look at domestic abuse and the PTSD following sexual violence. Unlike a movie or broadcast network show, the length and style of an HBO production allows for an opportunity to explore those issues very deeply. Alexander Skarsgard plays Perry Wright, an absolute monster who has managed to foster the illusion of a too-perfect marriage. He routinely turns his wife, Celeste, into a battered victim who is terrified of a husband whom she still tries to believe in. Not only does Big Little Lies portray the bruises, scars, and brutality, but also her emotional trials as she struggles to just exist as Mrs. Wright. 

Shailene Woodley also plays a complicated character, Jane, that undergoes important daily struggles. Jane is trying to cope with the trauma of surviving a rape while also raising a child as a single mom in an uptight community that is not particularly welcoming to the less-economically elite. She attempts to find herself while interacting with a cause-seeking divorcee whose own marriage is less-than-perfect, an executive whose child is being bullied, and a stepmom trying to be a mother and friend to her teenage stepdaughter. The occasional creepiness and temperament of the men in their lives do not prove to be helpful. Each of these women go through at least some isolation from their male counterparts that allows greater focus on their characters. 

All of these stories are real parts of everyday life, even in Monterrey. Big Little Lies may be an important moment in television because the show tells stories that are not depicted often or well enough on television. Hopefully, HBO will give these characters one more opportunity to provide a voice. 

Welcome To The Flat Circle

Three years ago I retired my blog Long After Dark. I have no regrets from putting my music blog aside. During that time author Sarah Vowell underscored how I felt at an author event. The author, who was discussing her book, Lafayette In the Somewhat United States, said that she had been a music critic earlier in her career but that she had run out of adjectives to describe the music being reviewed. I totally understand how she felt. 

During that time there were certainly enough nights where half-posts were written. Different blogs were considered. Thoughts happened that needed a voice, but were just ruminating inside me and that is not as fun. 

I decided to create something different. The Flat Circle (yes, a True Detective reference) will focus on different sections of popular culture. I still plan to post on music, but I will augment that by blogging about topics such as Netflix, last night's SNL episode (probably not the same night's SNL episode, I am over 30 now), Game of Thrones, VEEP, podcasts, shows, the Internet, and some Philadelphia-area happenings.

I plan to bring some guest bloggers into the fold. I will always hope to read your thoughts on my thoughts. Feel free to disagree. Especially feel free to agree. This could be a whole new adventure that I hope will be as fun for you as it will be for me. 

       - John