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Bloodline: A Show That’ll Make You Hate Yourself in the Morning

9 Sep

We try not to watch the idiot box too much, but almost against our will we binge-watched Bloodline on Netflix. It’s the story of the Rayburn family, who run a prosperous inn on one of the Florida keys.  It’s the kind of show that makes you hate yourself in the morning – a high-powered drama with a lot of secrets, crime, violence, drug use, cussin’, and enough booze to float an ocean liner.

Ben_Mendelsohn_as_Danny

Crazy good actor Ben Mendelsohn as Danny

The story begins as eldest son Danny (crazy good Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn) comes home after being away for years. Danny’s arrival arouses mixed feelings in the clan, as he’s the family scapegoat.  Danny is a deeply wounded character with whom we sympathize despite his serious character flaws. (Just about every character in the show is deeply wounded and  has serious character flaws, and with a few exceptions, we sympathize with them, too.) Sissy Spacek plays Sally, the matriarch, and the late Sam Shepard is the crotchety patriarch Robert.  In addition to Danny, the Rayburn siblings consist of Kyle Chandler as Jon, a straight-laced police detective, Norbert Leo Butz as Kevin, a hot-headed, impulsive boat mechanic with really lousy judgment, and Linda Cardellini as Meg, a lawyer. The principals bring lots of acting chops to the piece, as do the supporting actors (Jamie Mc Shane, Chloë Sevigny, John Leguizamo, and Beau Bridges, to name just a few); there’s not a bad player in the bunch.  (The show has some bad actors in that they’re criminals, but even the bad actors are good actors.  By acting bad, they show how good they are and  –aw, never mind,  you get our meaning.)  The series also has some pretty talented directors, including Michael Apted, who directed an episode in the third season.

bloodline_family

Talk about your crazy, mixed-up family …

We don’t want to reveal any major plot points, but suffice it to say that Danny is in hock to some nasty folks (whom we never see but apparently, they’re out there.)  Strapped for cash, he soon takes up with old friend Eric O’Bannon (Mc Shane). They starting stealing gasoline, then move on to more lucrative pursuits.  As the story develops, Danny begins using the inn as a conduit for nefarious activity.

We like the acting, we like the directing, so what could be bad about Bloodline?  It’s the writing. OK, the writing is not really bad – sometimes it’s even excellent. Nevertheless, we sometimes got the impression that the characters were doing what the writers wanted them to do, not what they wanted to do.  Sissy Spacek’s Sally is a case in point.  At times she’s written as a loving mother who views her family through rose colored glasses.  At other times, she‘s written as a cynical, tough-as-nails woman who’ll do anything to keep from being dragged down.  Another is Marco (Enrique Murciano)  Jon’s detective partner, who pursues an investigation that may implicate Jon with a zeal that seems out of step with his character.  There are reasons he’s turned sour on the Rayburns, but to us that still did not adequately explain his Javert-like behavior.  And in the third season, John Leguizamo’s character Ozzy has an epiphany that seems to come from out of the blue.

The writers use also use dream sequences to lie to the audience; scenes beginning with shocking plot twists turn out to be dreams.  Even this is OK if used sparingly, but this trick it used enough to be annoying.  In one such sequence, Danny has a woman friend who is his alter ego or a grown-up sibling who died in childhood or something, it’s just not clear.  The series’ penultimate episode is pretty much one long dream sequence.  It’s an intriguing piece of filmmaking, but it does nothing to move the story toward closure.  Our other gripe is that one episode contains a baptism scene that’s lifted from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. (Spoiler: Coppola did it better.)

The first season packs the most punch, as it’s the one where Danny most takes center stage. Ben Mendelsohn seems to channel Shakespeare’s Richard III, and he infuses Danny with edgy charisma.  The second and third seasons have their moments though, as when Ozzy walks into a store after a fight that has left him bloody and bruised  and casually asks the shocked clerk if the frozen concoction he’s about to buy will turn his tongue blue.

Bloodline is a crime show with elements of soap opera and a dash of Greek tragedy.  During the course of the series, a prominent family is brought low by their own deceptions.  After watching the last episode, we switched to networks news and caught a story about Donald Trump, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner …

 

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The Vaudeville Circuit in 18th Century Scotland

15 May

We hate to admit it, but we’ve become hooked on a show on the idiot box. The show is ‘Outlander’ on the Starz network, and it’s based on the work of the writer Diana Gabaldon.  We’ve not read her work, but the premise is that Claire, a woman from England circa World War II falls though a time warp near a Stonehenge-like rock formation and ends up in eighteenth century Scotland.  Now, you might think that Claire’s new space-time location is going to be pastoral and slow-moving, but it just ain’t so. After she arrives, stuff gets really complicated. She meets a sociopathic Redcoat who’s the ancestor of her 1940s husband. She meets a young Scot named Jamie that she ends up marrying (much to the disgust of Jamie’s sort-of girlfriend, but not to her 20th century husband, who conveniently has not been born yet.) The Scots don’t trust her ’cause she’s English. The English don’t trust her ’cause she’s in the company of Scots. She gets accused of being a witch! (One of the show’s exteriors is the same castle where scenes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” were shot. We kept hoping that John Cleese would show up and proclaim, “She turned me into a newt!”, but no such luck.)

No such luck

No such luck

It’d take a long time to sum up everything that’s happened in the show, so we won’t try.  In fact, we’re only going to focus on something that occurred in the last episode, as the logic of the thing struck as as a bit odd. To set up the scene, Jamie’s been captured by the Redcoats (Jamie is always getting captured by the Redcoats.) Claire, is determined to find her man and free him (she’s kinda spunky that way).   She is in the company of Murtagh, an old family friend of Jamie’s clan. They learn that Jamie has escaped from the Redcoats (Jamie is always escaping from the Redcoats.)  They need to find Jamie, but how do they signal their location? They hit the vaudeville circuit!  Let’s put on a show!

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney

Let’s put on a show!

Seriously. Murtagh performs a Scottish sword dance, but his act fails to pack ’em in.  They finally hit on having Claire dress as a man and sing a traditional bawdy song, but with a twist – it’s set to the music of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” They kill with the new act! They make the rounds. Jamie is sure to hear of their act! He does! He goes to find her and … gets captured by the Redcoats.

The episode has a cliff-hanger ending, as Claire shames a group of strapping men into joining her in storming the prison where her hubby is incarcerated.  We don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we suspect that the bawdy song thing won’t help much.