Direct Beam Comms #38
Halt and Catch Fire – Grade: A
The highly underrated AMC series Halt and Catch Fire returned last Tuesday with two new episodes. This third season finds the characters in a very different place than in the second. Donna, Cameron and Gordon (Kerry Bishé, Makenzie Davis and Scoot McNairy respectively) have moved their families and company Mutiny from Texas to San Francisco to be closer to computer technology and capital. While Joe MacMillion (Lee Pace), a serial incubator/stealer/taker of good ideas has created a company of his own that sells antivirus software, their motto is “Are You Safe?”, and has become the focus of attention he always aspired to.
I don’t know there’s ever been a TV series quite like Halt and Catch Fire that depicts what it’s like to create something from scratch. For Donna and Cameron who created their company Mutiny which started with online games but transitioned to a message board, there’s no roadmap for what they’re doing. Everything they do is brand new and they’re creating new and exciting places for people to begin meeting up online.
For Joe things are a bit different. He stole the core technology of his company from Gordon and has turned this nugget of an idea into a multimillion dollar empire. Joe’s real strength is of seeing the value of other’s ideas. Be it IBM with their PC that he set out to clone in the first season or Mutiny which he wanted take over in the second. Joe can see the future but he doesn’t have the skills necessary to create something himself of value. And instead of wanting to work with people to create that thing Joe will try and buy/steal whatever this is.
In Halt and Catch Fire, both Mutiny and MacMillion Utilities realize that once you have a company in a highly competitive market there’s no stopping. Everyday you have to think of new and different ways to engage with your users. If it’s Mutiny they’re creating new spaces and ways for people to connect. If you’re MacMillion you start creating software for home PCs when before your main customers were corporate users.
I think that’s interesting. For the people of Mutiny, especially, they think that what they do next will take them to a higher level of success and make life easier. And while they do become more and more successful their lives become harder and harder because there’s always someone else looking to do what they do or other, larger companies looking to take them out.
For Joe, though, success is different. He’s much more comfortable in the role as a powerful businessman. He’s been a guru in search of worshipers since the first season and with MacMillion Utilities and his role as a Steve Jobs-ish frontman he’s finally found his calling.
The Tick – Grade: B-
Last week, during their “pilot season,” Amazon debuted the first episode of several series, one of which is The Tick based on the comic series of the same name by Ben Edlund. I feel bad that I’m not more familiar with The Tick than I am. I never read the comic book — issues of which were quite popular and therefor pricy when I was collecting and out of my reach — and was exactly the wrong age to watch the 1990s cartoon series too.
I did watch the short-lived nine episode live-action Fox TV series, though, and enjoyed that a great deal. So I come to the new Amazon Tick pilot at a different angle than most who I suppose are either super-fans of the cult-character or totally unaware of him.
In the Amazon series, a superhero arrived on the Earth in 1908 and ever since the world has been populated by them some of which are pastiches of popular DC and Marvel characters. But instead of being heroic and serious like the Marvel and DC movies, The Tick is more slightly goofy. Which is one problem I had with the show; its tone.
The Tick is a series where one moment a character can accidentally trip over their own feet and almost do a prat fall but the next a super villain is literally executing the members of rival team on the street of a city. The show was all over the place at times from silly to horrific. And it’s not like some new creative team here has swooped in and changed around the tone of the series either. The Tick was created by writer/artist Ben Edlund who also wrote the pilot to the Amazon version too.
This is Edlund’s version from start to finish but feels unbalanced.
This first episode establishes all the characters from the Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) to Arthur (Griffin Newman) and sets up their relationship of becoming superhero/sidekick. Much of the plot is of Arthur trying to prove that a long dead super villain named “The Terror” (Jackie Earle Haley) is still alive and the Tick being the only person who wants to help him in his quest.
There’s also a bit here where Arthur’s sanity is questioned with him having issues as a kid where his blue nightlight voiced by Serafinowicz used to talk to him and Arthur now being on medication because of certain issues. So is the Tick real, or in his head? Except he’s obviously real since the Tick does battle with some baddies in the episode and leave a smoking crater in his wake.
I’m honestly interested in seeing where The Tick goes from here and hope that the issues I had with its tone get worked out if the series does get picked up for a full season run. Which we won’t know for a while and even if it does get picked up we won’t see the next episode for another year or so.
The Tunnel – Grade: B-
The UK import TV series The Tunnel ended its 10 episode run on PBS last week. The first season of The Tunnel was interesting enough but I think it was just too long for what story it had to tell.
The Tunnel follows to detectives, one from the UK Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) and one from France Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy) who are investigating a double murder committed in the Chunnel exactly half way between the UK and France. But the case quickly spirals out of control as this double murder is actually the first “lesson” given by the “Truth Terrorist” (TT) who’s mission is to bring enlightenment to the masses on all the problems of the world by doing things like killing all the residents of a nursing home, kidnapping a bus full of schoolchildren and locking a war hero inside a meat locker to freeze to death. All of which is broadcast live on the internet.
Think a flashier and longer version of Se7en and you’re close to what The Tunnel is. All of which makes for some interesting TV, but as TT’s crimes get more complex and larger in scale the series also becomes less and less believable.
Like if TT is really terrorizing two countries, wouldn’t the UK and France assign more than two detectives to the case? And if TT really is constantly traveling between the two countries, wouldn’t this eventually lead him to being caught since surly there are records kept somewhere of who’s traveling where on what day? And, much like the crimes of Animal Kingdom, TT’s crimes become so complex and convoluted that just one slip-up along the way of 1,000 little details that need to be completed perfectly to not get caught stretch the bounds of believability and break off into some fantastical realm.
It doesn’t help matters that the big “twist” that’s comes at the end of the season, series like The Tunnel always have a twist, is apparent right from the first episode. Like, not to spoil things, but in a TV series the only reason time is dedicated to anything is because that thing is important. And once you realize this there’s something that one character does that’s obvious that they’ve been communicating with TT the whole time.
Honestly, I think that if The Tunnel had been four episodes rather than 10 I would have enjoyed it much more. Instead, it seems like much of the latter half of The Tunnel series is filler and could have easily been axed.
I did greatly enjoy the first half of The Tunnel and loved the Wassermann and Roebuck characters a lot. They have a unique chemistry I’ve never seen before — he’s a dedicated husband and father of a handful of kids yet is a womanizer and Wassermann is a woman who’s so dedicated to policing that she’s almost robotic in her manner yet wants to act more “normal.”
It’s because of those two characters I stuck with the show until the end, not because of what wild and wacky thing that TT was going to do on this weeks’ episode.
Triple 9 – Grade: B+
I’d been meaning to check out the movie Triple 9 ever since I’d heard of it earlier this year but waited a while to check it out on digital even though it’s been out a few weeks. This movie is about a group of crooks made up partly of cops and partly of ex-special forces soldiers who take on high risk robberies in Atlanta. But when they’re faced with their toughest challenge yet of stealing something from the Department of Homeland Security they figure the only way they’ll have enough time to pull off the job is by killing a fellow officer so that a “999,” or “officer down” code goes out therefor tying up the rest of the police giving them enough time to escape. But things get a bit complicated as the Russian mob who’re calling the shots on this criminal crew gets antsy and while killing a fellow officer is theoretically doable, in practice it’s much more difficult.
I’d been a fan of Triple 9 director John Hillcoat ever since I saw his movie The Proposition. To me, Hillcoat’s films are marked with an overt kind of brutalism not seen in mainstream Hollywood — see his movie based on the book The Road to see what I mean. So him doing Triple 9 had me interested since I wondered if that same kind of aesthetic would be present here or not? And honestly, it’s not. But I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. Triple 9 is much more of a mainstream action movie, sort’a Heat mixed with Training Day and I’m not sure things like people being stomped to death, something that happens in The Proposition, would’ve flown in Triple 9.
Still, Triple 9 is an intense movie with a bit of heightened realism of street cops operating on the bad streets of Atlanta where the bad guys are as likely to shoot back when they feel threatened no matter what the consequences than they are to stand by and be disrespected.
And the story of Triple 9 flows very well. The crew, including Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul) and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus) are in a bad place with the Russians since at any time matriarch leader Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) can turn on them sending the crew to jail forever. So they end up placing themselves into precarious positions trying for just one more job in order to be let go of their obligations. Of which this high risk Homeland Security job seems to be their ticket out.
Enter Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) a veteran cop assigned as Belmont’s partner and the one they select as their prime 999 candidate. But when Allen saves Belmont’s life during a drug raid things get complicated.
The more I think of it, Triple 9 really is the spiritual successor to Heat except that whereas the criminals of Heat lead by Robert De Niro are suave Armani suit wearing crooks, the ones of Triple 9 are more street-thug is who won’t hesitate to maim or kill innocent bystanders if they get in their way or are needed to prove a point.
However, Triple 9 falls apart in a big way at the end. It’s not so much that the story’s no good, but it’s almost like the filmmakers ran out of time. For 110 minutes the story flows perfectly, but in the last 10 it’s a race to close out a story that had been going so well at that point. Literally the movie ends with one character in the backseat of a car where there’s an exchange of gunfire to close out the movie where I’m not sure that character would have ever been able to get to that car in the first place. Why do things happen this way? I can only imagine it was because that’s the only way it could have happened in the short time left the filmmakers had to tell it.
I wonder how much better of a movie Triple 9 could have been, one of the great crime films perhaps right up there with the likes of The Way of the Gun if it would have had more time to develop the ending.
This week in pop-culture history
- 1968: Kristen Cloke, Shane Vansen of Space: Above and Beyond is born
- 1985: The TV series The Twilight Zone premiers
- 1987: The TV series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future premiers