AMC ups the correctional ante

Significantly more justifiable than my premature ejaculation last week over vague reports of Christopher McQuarrie’s new series for Fox, is my still more recent curiosity about a forthcoming AMC project, which (coincidentally?) touches on a similar theme.  My capricious refractory period notwithstanding, it will be a struggle to contain myself until the November premiere of The prisoner, a remake of a 17-episode British series from the 1960s.

Viral marketing, ca. 1960s
Viral marketing, ca. 1960s

Here’s what Reuters had to say about Persons unknown: “The project revolves around seven strangers who wake up in a deserted town with no recollection of how they got there, and then realize that they are watched by omnipresent security cameras and that there is no escape. To survive, they must come together to solve the puzzle of their lives.”

And here’s how AMC describes The prisoner: “A man, known as “Six,” finds himself inexplicably trapped in “The Village” with no memory of how he arrived. As he explores his environment, he discovers that his fellow inhabitants are identified by number instead of name, have no memory of any prior existence, and are under constant surveillance. Not knowing whom to trust, Six is driven by the need to discover the truth behind The Village, the reason for his being there, and most importantly — how he can escape.”

Since AMC is generally pretty awesome and Fox is nigh unilaterally awful, I’ll go ahead and flip my own script: McQuarrie’ll need more than just an Ajusco Mountain backdrop and a deal with Televisa if he’s going to compete with AMC’s stellar production values.

Anyone else wanna chime in with early guesses as to Six’s identity?  I’m going with none other than Dick Whitman/Don Draper.

— J.C. Freñán

Music on Television: Grizzly Bear

Heads up: Tomorrow night’s guest on Jimmy Fallon is none other than Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear, whose latest record Veckatimest is so good, even the hip hop heads are all about it. Let’s hope they don’t get bumped the way they were on Letterman.

And for the record, like the rest of us, Ed Droste feels the pain too.
Twitter mourns

The Big Coney Dog: HBO’s ‘Hung’

Goodbye, Lafayette.
Having made my way back to Michigan a few weeks ago, I can say, for certain, things are a whole lot worse than you might’ve imagined. The Lafayette building is about to eat some wrecking ball (like the old Tiger Stadium just did); a couple thousand just lost their jobs at Detroit Public Schools; GM, whose specter rises high above the city skyline, just went bankrupt; and last week, a report showed Michigan leading the nation in unemployment. Reading about it is one thing; seeing it, another. Driving home (to the burbs) for Father’s day, I noticed that even the big, mirrored corporate boxes that dot either side of I-75, Telegraph, Crooks were emptied out, rusting.

Amidst all the job losses, the destroyed buildings and destroyed economies the past few years, has been the surreal presence of Hollywood in our backyards, thanks to a tax break for filmmakers. First, Gran Turino was shot in Detroit, then Whip It! in Ann Arbor (a set I accidentally stumbled onto), and now, HBO’s latest series, Hung, shot in Commerce Township, near Southfield. Rumor has it DeNiro’s been chilling in Ypsi, too, being accosted by drunk women, and inviting locals to the titty bar.

Hung (which debuts this Sunday) is about your average down-and-out metro Detroiter with an above average kielbasa. (And by ‘kielbasa,’ I mean, weiner.) When his house burns down, and he’s strapped for cash, he decides to play the field. (And by ‘play the field,’ I mean become a gigolo.)

Here’s a trailer. More poorly-conceived dick jokes to come.

— Thumbu Sammy

Running for the border, in reverse

It’s the height of foolishness to get excited about a new Fox series, but can you really blame me this time?  Christopher McQuarrie — best known for writing The usual suspects — has co-created Persons unknown, and is currently executive producing a 13-episode run, which I expect to begin airing this fall. Truth be told, McQuarrie’s involvement alone would have been enough to get me to watch: if he can manage to give Ryan Philippe a certain dirty, macho appeal, I’m willing to give any McQuarrie project a fair shot, even if it’s going to be relegated to the network with the worst track history in TubaTV’s collective memory.

Sweetening the deal, though, is the curious fact that Persons unknown has been filming less than an hour away from TubaTV’s Latin American office, in the Ajusco Mountain region south of Mexico City.  I’m not thrilled that the show is being co-produced with Televisa — the Mexican analog of Fox, only ickier, if you can imagine — but in all honesty the partnership can only help the otherwise desolate Mexican airwaves.  [I recently spoke with the main stylist on Mexico’s other notable (read:failed) attempt at moving beyond the telenovela format, and she confirmed my suspicions: the second season of Capadocia is going to be much, much shoddier than the first.  Apparently — and understandably — the series’s budget has been slashed, and to make matters worse, its writers have abandoned the entire groundwork they laid in the first season, offering us instead a weak, watery prequel: the life and times of Bambi, prior to her incarceration.  Do they not realize that by the end of the first season, the show’s appeal was resting entirely on Dolores Paradis’s impressive underage décolletage?]

So, viva NAFTA?

In related news, burnout Fox alum Paul Sheuring might be competing with McQuarrie on the big screen, as both appear to be working on remakes of the German film Das experiment.  Personally, I’d favor a McQuarrie effort by a mile, since Sheuring spent a good two and a half seasons beating his own Prison break horse after it had expired.

— J.C. Freñán

Music on Television: I Got Two Tympanies and a Microphone

Week after dreadful week of bands on late night made me stop and reconsider the point of writing all those TubaTV “Music on Television” posts. But sure enough, as soon as I stopped, I missed not one but two brilliant performances by this year’s comeback kid – the (occasionally) Mighty Mos Def – who dropped his latest, The Ecstatic, earlier this week. On Fallon, Mos teamed up with The Roots on his Banda Black Rio-inspired closer, “Casa Bey.”

And on Letterman, Mos lugged out his two tympanies for a tight performance of “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” (with some blessings from Fela).

Gotdamn.

Oh, and in case the links above expire, try these: “Casa Bey” (on Fallon); “Quiet Dog” (on Letterman)

— Thumbu Sammy

Aristotle in Albuquerque

Ending well.
In full, satisfying color!

My one complaint with the otherwise spectacular second season of Breaking bad has been its insistence on prefacing each episode with cryptic, desaturated images of the Whites’ suburban residence, littered with the wreckage of some unforeseeable disaster and crawling with figures in haz-mat suits: i.e., the much-maligned Gratuitous Flash Forward.  Last night we finally learned that — unlike with, say, the overwrought chronological acrobatics of Damages — the mystery behind the pre-title sequences plays an almost co(s)mically accidental part in what will surely be Walter White’s main logistical hurdle for the first part of the recently greenlit third season.

What would have made the flash-forward device (in its usual, “x hours/days/months earlier” formula) particularly unsuited to Breaking bad is also what constitutes the show’s greatest narrative strength.  Its principal appeal, that is, lies in creator Vince Gilligan’s use of the techniques of classical, Aristotelian tragedy.  The structure of great tragedies, in ancient Greece as well as Shakespeare, is such that their protagonists’ fate is always a product of their own free will.  White and Pinkman have each had opportunities to change their ways, but they have both repeatedly chosen to plod unceasingly toward their own unhappy endings.

Misdirection 101.
Misdirection 101.

So, deliberately misleading images of a pair of body bags from some undetermined time in the future were never necessary for us to suspect that White and Pinkman were already well along their dual roads to Hell.  Had the outcome of last night’s season closer not genuinely surprised me, I would be using this space to bemoan the superfluousness of that particular image.  But, I should have had a little more faith in Gilligan’s vision: he has been an exceptionally savvy storyteller for a full two seasons now.

A couple details from last night’s finale merit special mention.  First is the climactic collapse of Walter’s fragile economy of lies, prompted by the innocent, anesthetized slur of two simple words.  Before Walt goes into surgery, he responds to a question from Skylar with another question — “Which one?” — and suddenly all the scaffolding he has erected around his secret labors finally falls out from beneath him.  The second detail is the truly inspired monologue that closes out the episode’s final minutes: “Life Guard 4-6, cleared direct Albuquerque.  Climb and maintain 1-7000.  Juliet Mike 2-1, turn left heading 1-1-5.  Way Fair 5-1-5, traffic 3 o’clock.  King Air, turn left heading 0-8-5.  Sierra Alpha, Alpha contact Albuquerque Center 1-3-4.6…”  If there is an opposite of expository dialogue, this is it.

Breaking bad‘s casting has also been visionary: the cameos this season have rivaled Tim and Eric‘s, which is no easy feat for a dramatic serial.  We’ve been treated to appearances by Dr. Schweiber from Freaks and geeks (reprising his justifiably typecast bedside manner) and Giancarlo Esposito (most notably from the final season of Homicide) as the American Southwest’s unassuming meth mastermind.  And of course, who could forget Bob Odenkirk as TV lawyer Saul Goodman?  A stroke of pure, unqualified casting genius.  Season three can’t get here soon enough.

— J.C. Freñán