Wednesday, February 28, 2018

TV: USA tries rebuilding

TNT isn't USA and, for some, that alone might be enough.

But the cable network wants more.

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For example, being USA-like no longer interests it which is bad news for the likes of MAJOR CRIMES.

The Mary McDonnell sleep inducer was a spin-off from THE CLOSER -- as standard and derivative as THE CLOSER was groundbreaking and innovative.  Kyra Sedgwick was a pioneer while McDonnell was a washed out photo copy.

As misguided as MAJOR CRIMES was WILL -- no one was waiting for a CW version of the life of young William Shakespeare.

But slowly, TNT has been building a solid block of entertaining shows.

ANIMAL KINGDOM essays toxic masculinity (and Ellen Barkin's lead performance makes it clear that toxic masculinity can be fostered and exhibited by a woman), CLAWS is delicious and alive and GOOD BEHAVIOR continues to demonstrate that a series can serve up sexy and suspense on a weekly basis.

Now comes THE ALIENIST, their ten-episode limited series set in 1896 New York City where young teenage male prostitutes are being murdered by a serial killer  leaving police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) desperate to figure out how to catch the killer.

What's left to do but CALL THE MIDWIFE?

Wait, wrong century, wrong network.

So instead future president of the United States Teddy decides to hire an alienist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) which necessitates also teaming him with NEW YORK TIMES illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and police commissioner secretary Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning).

The twists and turns and plot devices are less interesting than the characters.

Luke Evans delivers a first rate performance and is never caught by the camera out of character.  There are times when Daniel Bruhl is seen in wide shots and not the character of Laszlo Kreizler but, for the most part, he delivers a strong performance as well.  Dakota Fanning doesn't attempt to charm you but goes full out with her performance, committing 100% to Sara.

The three have an interesting dynamic but the chemistry between John and Sara is especially strong.

So strong is the chemistry that you wish more of the book was discarded.

A great deal, especially to do with the tone, has to be discarded from the book because the latent homophobia is more obvious today than it was when the book was published in 1994.

Along with the issue of a different era for the novel's publication, there is also the author's inability to consider that his father, Lucien Carr, did in fact have a longstanding sexual relationship -- not abuse, as Caleb Carr claims -- with David Kammerer and that this affair -- and all the drama it involved -- might be why Lucien Carr killed David Kammerer.

Following the murder, Lucien Carr would portray Kammerer as a predator and himself as an untouched innocent.  He was one of the first to use the gay panic defense (a defense no longer available in either California or Illinois).

Caleb Carr clings to the notion that if there was any relationship between the two men, it was one of abuse carried out by David Kammerer.

It's an interesting blindness on the part of Carr, one you can argue he's built his entire life around: the pay it forward of abuse.

It's what he's built his analysis of terrorism around: Violence carried out by nation-states or tribes results in violence carried out against them.

While that can explain terrorism or any violent response -- a response is never a precipitating event, after all -- it's not necessarily accurate in human relations because the response to violence is not always violence.

And sometimes violence itself -- even as terrorism -- can be the initiating event.

Lucien Carr may have initiated the violence, not David Kammerer.

Considering that possibility could be highly liberating to Caleb Carr whose relationships are forever tentative as a result of his beliefs -- his father abused him, therefore he fears abusing others.

This isolationist view comes across in his fiction and is still present in THE ALIENIST limited series via Dr. Laszlo Kreizler.  But the writing for the mini-series has been fleshed out and, combined with the acting, has allowed John Moore and Sara Howard to appear as real and interconnected human beings and allowed USA to have one more series worth bragging about.

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