Tuesday, October 27, 2015

FARGO 2.03 - "THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS"

fargo

This week featured some solid material around the Gerhardts and Peggy, but overall it was Patrick Wilson’s opportunity to shine.  As he stared down the entire Gerhardt mob with ice in his baby blues, it occurred to me that he would’ve made a damn fine Captain America, and is as good a choice as I can think of to play Roland Deschain, should that whole misbegotten Dark Tower project ever get off the ground.  He manages to make Lou haunted, decent, strong, sensitive and relatively simple without any of it feeling like a contradiction in terms.  That is no mean feat, particularly the last part; Lou’s nature is not complicated, but he’s seen a lot of messy things, and while he carries that with him it hasn’t changed his fundamental bedrock.  That is deceptively difficult to play, I think, and while any halfway decent actor could make the confrontation with the Gerhardts crack because it’s so well-written, not many could make him feel like a real, consistent person across the board.  It would be all too easy to give him some tough-guy swagger when he’s on the job, or to succumb to angst whenever dealing with his dying wife, or to get bogged down in a mere impression of Keith Carradine – which, on top of everything else, Wilson is doing a phenomenal, subtle job of channeling him (see his reaction to the UFO guy for a particularly fine example).

It’s a little strange that it took until the 3rd hour-plus episode for the main detective and presumed hero of this crime story to get such a spotlight.  His wife is the one making all the investigative breakthroughs, even at a layer of remove, and he would almost seem not to be the man of his own household, if the constantly interloping father-in-law wasn’t the sweetest and most unassuming sheriff in the universe.  But we see that Lou is, if not an intuitive genius, then at least dogged as an investigator, and unflappable under pressure.  Which is befitting a role originated by the least flappable actor in the history of American cinema.

If you think you see that moustache flap, it's an optical illusion
If you think you see that moustache flap, it’s an optical illusion
But while we have our hero in Lou, the villain picture is more complicated.  The film and first season both featured a mixture of murderous professional crooks and hapless schmucks trying and failing to punch above their criminal weight.  Ed and Peggy fall pretty squarely into the latter category along with Jerry Lundegard and Lester Nygard, although poor, stupid Skip has also completed a warp-speed microcosm of this arc.  His “master plan” only gets as far as suggesting that a wannabe-thug could talk a judge into releasing funds so he can buy typewriters (typewriters!), and then he’s in a shallow grave before he even figures out what the various parties want with him. Between the sadistic offing of Skip, abusing his daughter and threatening Lou, Dodd and his right hand Hanzee have moved the Gerhardts into the villainous pole position in the early going.

But there is still the Kansas City faction lurking about, represented by thus-far collegial Mike Milligan.  The group has been set up in dialogue as the even more soulless, corporate alternative to the Gerhardts’ mom n’ pop crime syndicate, though so far they’ve done nothing but bark, while the “Lil Guys” are busy murdering judges and burying small business owners alive until only their totems of the American Dream stick out of the asphalt.  It’s a mixed message, at least this early in the going, but you don’t have to be psychic to predict that Milligan is going to get up to some heinous shit once The Markets dictate that he be let off the leash.

Sidenote: because of Futurama, I am now disappointed whenever any Nixon impersonation does not end with an "AROOO!!!"
Sidenote: because of Futurama, I am now disappointed whenever 
any Nixon impersonation does not end with an “ARRRROOO!!!
I’m assuming that Mike and his ilk will eventually prove to be the most dangerous pieces on this board, because they fit a particular Coen mold.  As I mentioned last week, part of the reasons the Coens’ work is so unusual and distinctive is that they draw less from Western dramatic conventions than more ancient folklore and mythology.  And this is perhaps most pronounced in how they handle their “villains” less as traditional antagonists to contrast and confound the protagonists than as avatars of judgment and retribution.  Coen protagonists don’t necessarily have nemeses, but Coen movies almost always feature a form of Nemesis.

biker
“That night, I had a dream. I drifted off thinking about happiness, birth and new life, But now I was haunted by a vision of… He was horrible. The lone biker of apocalypse. A man with all the powers of Hell at his command. He could turn turn the day into night and lay to waste everything in his path.  He was especially hard on little things-the helpless and the gentle creatures. He left a scorched earth in his wake befouling even the sweet desert breeze that whipped across his brow. I didn’t know where he came from or why. I didn’t know if he was dream or vision. But I feared that I myself had unleashed him. For he was the fury that would be as soon as Florence Arizona found her little Nathan gone.”

In Greek mythology, Nemesis, or Adrasteia (“the inescapable”), is the embodiment of divine retribution.  She is at once vengeful and just, an Olympus-sent Terminator for ancients who didn’t have the patience for the East's less personal conceptualizations of karma.  If you offended the gods, Nemesis was coming, and that was that.  No deals, no reprieves, just a violent and inevitable reckoning.  Now, the Coens aren’t operating in a literal shared cinematic universe, so I’m not saying that Mad Man Mundt and the Lone Biker Of the Apocalypse and Sheriff Cooley from O Brother Where Art Thou? are all actually manifestations of the same character, the way Stephen King periodically hints that all the supernatural villains across his works are different forms of his Flagg character.  But no matter how disparate the settings or genres of the films in which they appear, they are all incarnations of a similar concept.


This concept unifies the Coens’ work, even if it sometimes finds expression in ways that are incomprehensible or silly, like the dybbuk, or nihilists from The Big Lebowski.  Or it can be vicious but recognizably human, like Carl Grimsmud in Fargo or the PI in Blood Simple (the first Bros. movie strikes arguably the most elegant balance between the supernatural and mundane aspects of the archetype – we recognize that Visser is just a man pursuing very earthly aims, but events transpire to make Abby perceive him as a vengeful revenant).  More often they are ostensibly mortal, but with strong wafts of a supernatural malevolence, like the Biker or Cooley or Anton Chigurh.  Chigurgh specifically, despite not being their original creation, represents an apotheosis of this motif, and I have to think that must was a factor in drawing them to No Country as their first adaptation.  It can be largely or completely disembodied, as with the conclusions of Inside Llewyn Davis and A Serious Man.   One of the biggest successes of the first season, the reason why it was able to ape “that Barton Fink feeling” so well, was because of how well it was able to fit the Lorne Malvo squarely within this tradition.  Sometimes it can be killed or beat back, more often it can’t, but the fact remains: if you’re in a Coen movie, you are likely being stalked by an unfriendly and quasi-supernatural force.

cloon
Unless you’re in Intolerable Cruelty, in which case congrats! 
You’re in the safest (and most underrated) corner of the 
filmography you can be.

Anyway, this is quite a digression from the actual show I’m supposed to be talking about, but I couldn’t find an organic place to fit it in the last two recaps, so I just dropped it here.  For now, the hunters have been successfully misdirected by the intervention of the Blomquists, but fairly soon everyone is going to realize that Rye isn’t going to turn up, and then I expect them to show their true colors.  And if the show stays true to its Coen roots*, then they will be pretty fearsome when Mike decides he’s had it with all this hostile politeness. And it will be more than one stalwart state cop, and possibly his father-in-law, can handle. But I can’t wait to see how bad it gets.

Okay then, on to Coen Bingo and other Random Shit.


COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT

– Hank quotes Marge Gunderson directly with “To kill all those people, and for what? A little money?” This veers close to too-cute territory, as it’s fairly prominent dialogue to repeat verbatim, but Danson puts just enough of his own spin on the thought that it doesn’t stand out.

– Skip the typewriter salesman again channels Macy with his freak out in the car and flopsweat-y response to police questioning.

– The salesman is buried alive in a horrifying scene that recalls a somehow even worse one in Blood Simple.

– I don’t know what to make of Hanzee’s flashback with the magician pulling the rabbit from the hat, but eating a raw rabbit liver(?) was pretty hardcore.

– The stuff with Mike and Brad Garrett griping about water pressure and touching hair may not have been specific to anything I can think of (Clooney’s obsession with Dapper Dan pomade in O Brother is in the ballpark, but it’s hardly a specific reference), but it certainly had the feel of a Coen dialogue scene down pat.
 
– Lou finds the locks busted straight out of the doorframe at the typewriter shop, in a copy of Anton Chigurgh’s trademark.

– I have found the split-screen and other ostentatious editing techniques to be tip-toeing right up to the edge of distracting, but for whatever reason I really liked the exchange between Ed and Peggy being done in VO over them quietly riding the bus.

– More business with the UFO, which suggests that maybe it wasn’t just Rye having a coke/blood loss/bug-spray-in-the-eyes hallucination of light reflecting off the balloon when he wandered into the road. Or maybe it was. And maybe I’ll have to watch The Man Who Wasn’t There again before the season is over to see if any more connections crop up (not this week though – I put Miller’s Crossing next on the Netflix queue, since it felt like their take on a gang war would be more relevant to upcoming storylines).

– Apropos of nothing, how great is this shot composition:

salon

* Which is not really the test for whether it’s good, but I’m focusing on it a lot because a) it’s a really, really tricky tightrope the show has managed to walk swimmingly so far, and b) in case it isn’t obvious, I really, really wuv the Coens

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

FARGO 2.02 - "BEFORE THE LAW"

fargo

I said last week I’d try to sort out what this season of Fargo is all about, and with “Before The Law”, I think certain elements are coming into focus, while others remain opaque and seemingly arbitrary.  Which is precisely what makes this show as true to the Coen Bros’ spirit as anyone who didn’t slide out of the fair Mrs. Coen themselves is likely to get, more so than the specific references or setting.  But it’s hard to nail these things down too specifically, because the overarching theme is bafflement.
It’s what Lou tells his father-in-law haunts him most about his experience in Vietnam (sidebar: the brief pause between Lou responding that he doesn’t want to talk about it, then launching in anyway, is so, so great).  The look of shock and incomprehension on the face of a kid who was shot through the cigar.  Hank’s anecdote in response indicates a different kind of trauma from a different kind of war: coming upon the body of an enemy already defeated, and tactful enough to have taken his own life in advance of capture.  He also muses that maybe veterans like Lou brought their messier, more confusing war home with them.

lou

He’s not the only one feeling out of sorts, or that America has taken a turn for the unfocused worse.  The season kicked off with Jimmy Carter trying to snap the public out of it, while Kansas City enforcer Mike Milligan poses the question directly to a higher power in General Electric as to why “our once great nation is going down the crapper?”  And this is before his threat/philosophical aside about the minor miracle it took for he and Hank to both show restraint at a roadside stop, “while all around men are losing their minds.”  Even the ladies at the beauty shop, naturally appalled and befuddled at the Waffle House Massacre, waste no time in connecting the local news to the national tenor.  “First Watergate and now this? What’s the world coming to?”

It’s coming, if not to ruin, then at least unmoored, as the Waffle House Massacre is reaffirmed to no longer be a “local matter”, but a quagmire that will quickly suck in county, state, and perhaps federal law enforcement, the Gerhardt syndicate, the looming Kansas City conglomerate, a hapless butcher, his wife, plus I’m going to guess her amorous boss and a few other collateral victims.  This much is clear: there’s a war coming, and it will be (as they all are in this brave new world) a world war, with none of the participants understanding the full contours or ramifications of it.

bros

Which suits Dodd just fine.  He wants a war to fight in, like his grandfather the WWI vet, practically beaming as he says the word.  And if it has to be a civil war, as he concludes after apparently downing an entire, enormous rye loaf, then that’s okay too.  He tells his little brother “I’m the oldest, I’m the boss. End of story.”  But his mother, like Hawley and the Coens, sees things in more complex, interconnected terms.  Where Dodd sees only his own rightful ascension to the family throne, she sees a single chapter of a larger familial saga, which still fails to take into account all the parties listed in the last paragraph.

So to recap this recap: everyone’s confused and scared and making bad choices because of it, and there’s some sort of vague Vietnam metaphor embedded in this 70s crime story, because of course there is, how could there not be?  The subtext of every piece of media from 1969-2001 was about Vietnam*, after which everything became about 9/11, or how 9/11 was faked by Hasbro and The Elders Of Zion.  This stuff is mostly just common sense.  Let’s get to something more confounding: what’s up with the seafood references in this episode?

hog

Specifically, people keep rejecting seafood.  Whether of the metaphorical variety, as Brad Garrett does with the lobster claw comparison, or young Betsy stopping Hank from eating a freshly caught oyster, or the fictitious “clams, from a can” (the third best band to come out of the 1980’s Cleveland punk scene) which supposedly put Ed out of commission.  “Never trust anything that came from the sea,” his butcher boss opines, with a dash of self-serving/promotion, though his employee notes “we came from the sea.”  That line there is the key, I think.

I mean, it has to be.  But I don’t have any idea what it’s actually getting at.  Beyond 1970s Minnesota residents’ understandable skepticism for shipped seafood, it seems an odd motif in a noir-ish crime story.  But then, landfood doesn’t come off much better in the episode.  Betsy can’t stomach the smell of eggs cooking, Mike and the nattily-dressed Kitchen Bros can’t get their waffles, and the glimpse we get of Ed making sausage just underlines why there’s a saying about not wanting to see that.  Fargo is on the verge of becoming the reverse Twin Peaks, where everything is gross, everyone hates eating, and even the coffee is bad enough to provoke a letter to the editor. The only one to take any satisfaction from their repast is the dog that helps himself to the bucket Dodd and his pal drop their victim’s severed ears into.

Wait, what were we talking about?
Wait, what were we talking about?
But I digress. Let’s talk a bit about poor Jesse Plemons, forever consigned to be disposing of hastily murdered corpses in the South/Midwest, and usually at the behest of a cute blonde.  It’s a very specific circle of small screen hell he is doomed to inhabit, but at least the shows he does it on are top notch.  Ed is constitutionally unsuited for such work, but has the technical proficiency to carry him through.  Which is the inverse of his wife, who thrills at breaking the rules, but lacks the snowing skills (or just self-preservation instinct) to hide either the busted up car/scene of the murder or stolen box of TP from her boss during a visit that lasts maybe 4 minutes.


But that’s what makes them such perfect Midwestern Macbeths.  That connection was alluded to rather heavily in the promos of Peggy washing red hair dye off her hands and having a literal “out, damned spot” moment in the mirror. The Scottish play endures (and I can’t wait for the Fassbender/Cotillard version coming down the pike) because of its simple but compelling dramatic arc; she urges him to abandon his conscience in pursuit of power, only to grow one of her own once he’s become the monster she pushed him to be.  It’s dually, inversely tragic, and achieves that without the need to overcomplicate the narrative.  It’s magnificent, and I’m happy to watch Dunst and Plemons put a quirky spin on it, but it’s also an unusual choice for a show trying to ape the Coens.  Those boys are erudite types for sure, but their literary touchstones tend to go back past the Bard, to Talmudic parables or Greek mythology.  There’s a particular figure from the latter that recurs constantly throughout their work, but I’ll get to that next week.  And maybe have some more about the parallels between the women’s lib seminar Peggy is encouraged to attend, or Betsy’s promised visit to see her at the salon.

blom

Man, I’m excited to see more of this show, and unlike FX’s other offerings, I’ll gladly take 90+ minute episodes as long as they’re giving them out.  So, okay then.  On to Coen Bingo, and other random Shit.


COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT

– From last week, but I realized that No Country also features a murderer being randomly hit by a car leaving the scene of a crime. It also sounds like the Judge’s name was Mundt, which I didn’t catch before.

– The typewriter salesman’s wheedling on the phone sounds very reminiscent of William H. Macy in the film.

– Danson’s roadside interrogation threatens to mirror the unfortunate stop of Buscemi and Stormare at the beginning of the film, and thankfully goes better than Gus pulling over Malvo at the beginning of last year.

– The sausage machine is not quite as gruesome as the wood chipper, but the way the body parts are presented and…processed is even more gross than the chromatic spray on the snow.

– Bear sharpens and carries an axe around the grounds, like the one that ends Buscemi in the film. The Coens may not go in entirely for Chekov’s theories on gun control, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if someone doesn’t get the chop with that thing by season’s end.

– Probably a stretch, but Dodd giving a speech to his victim’s (already earless) corpse called to mind the police chief lecturing a catatonic Dude in The Big Lebowski.

– Lou and Danson’s exchange of war stories and his musings about how things used to be are very reminiscent of Ed Tom Bell’s musings about in No Country.

.
*there are but 2 exceptions: the hip hop single “Baby Got Back”, which is about large butts and large men’s large enthusiasm for same, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a popular SNES platformer/veiled allegory for the Six Day War.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

FARGO 2.01 - "WAITING FOR DUTCH"

fargo

Noah Hawley and FX’s televised adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece of deadpan, frozen noir was the best surprise of 2014.  I called it, among other things, the 2nd best show of the year (my obsession with Game Of Thrones being too entrenched to overcome entirely), “True Detective with a sense of humor” and “one of the year’s most purely pleasurable viewing experiences.”  So unlike last year, the second season had expectations set sky high out of the gate.  So then I started worrying that there was no way it could live up to them, plus the usual sequel issues of diminishing returns, plus the usual prequel issues of generally sucking pointlessly, plus some added skepticism from the mixed-to-poisonous reception recent attempts to anthologize True Detective and The Walking Dead, and I almost convinced myself that Fargo 2.0 was bound to disappoint. But if the season 2 premiere is any indication, I was a gosh darn idjit for worrying, as “Waiting For Dutch” finds the show as stylish, clever, violent and, for lack of a better term, as Fargo as ever.
.
I don’t trust prequels.  And for every Godfather Part 2, there is every other prequel ever made, so I think this is a rational stance.  I tend to think that the original story started where it did for a reason, and if it was good enough that people want more from it, maybe that sort of storytelling decision was the right one?  But this is largely irrelevant, since Fargo S2 is much more anthology than secret origin story.  Yes, we met an elder Lou Solverson last year, but he was not a central figure then, and the rest of these characters are new to us. What’s impressive, though, is how they all fit the Fargo mold without feeling like retreads of prior characters.

 pat

Lou obviously fills the primary detective role that his daughter, and Marge Gunderson before her, have fulfilled in years past.  But he is less chatty and (thus far) less pregnant, which along with his gender and military background, makes him less likely to be underestimated as a cop and investigator.  It will be a different sort of case with him at the helm, even if a lot of the details taste familiar.  His relationship with his wife creates a less idyllic but more interesting home life than the pointedly humdrum domestic circumstances of his predecessors.  And Cristin Milioti’s portrayal brings an instant and appealing strength to a role that could so easily be a mute exercise in angelic suffering. She’s a wife and mother, but the episode and Milioti quickly establish that she is more than homemaker stereotypes without falling over itself trying to make her shatter them.  To the extent that Fargo is now a “brand”, part of that identity includes women who are strong and simple but smart.  But I’m glad that they found a way to give Betsy an immediate personality that is strong but distinct from Marge and Molly, who were not exactly bra-burning types themselves.  Nothing against burning bras, it’s just that stridency is not a tone that fits the rural, chilly milieu; this is as subdued as a show where “waffle house massacre” qualifies as a predictable plot development can be.

dunst

Speaking of strong female characters, the most interesting spin season 2 puts on a “Fargo type” is casting Kristen Dunst as the hapless square digging their own grave with their criminal dalliances.  There’s a certain novelty to the comparatively rare chance to see the Breaking Bad arc play out from a gender-swapped angle, sure, and it’s encouraging to see Dunst, who has talent to spare but is not above sleep-walking through material that doesn’t interest her, actually acting.  But the main reason this thread feels like the most promising tweak to the formula is that it has given her a sidekick in Jesse Plemons’ goon of a husband.  The prior incarnations, while superbly played by notable nebbishes Martin Freeman and William H. Macy, pretty much sweated through their unraveling schemes on their lonesomes.  Having a foil for the conniving character to work off (particularly one so adept at comedic understatement) doesn’t alter the familiar situation enough to make you worried whether they can pull it off, but puts enough of a new spin on it to keep it from feeling stale.  Which is pretty much the sweet spot for sequels of all stripes, now that I think about it.  I’m looking forward to seeing these two dopes, who both seem utterly ill-suited for criminal conspiracy for completely different reasons, bumble their way through the bloodbath that is sure to come over the next several weeks.

But the single greatest improvement over the first season, and the one that I can state definitively since their part in the story is finished, is the depth and humor Kieran Culkin brings to the schmuck who gets himself killed in a random enough way that it will confuse and drive his criminal compatriots to jump to the wrong conclusions. Last year, the bullying trucker wasn’t any more than a caricature of an asshole.  But Culkin (who apparently don’t give two hot shits that James Ransome gotta eat too) packs both laughs and pathos into the 3 scenes he’s given.  The diner confrontation with the Judge is both tense and hilarious, which is straight up the Coen fairway.  I was fairly certain how things had to end, but I was still laughing out loud at his incredulous reaction to the judge’s Job parable*, and being cut off from his easy way/hard way schpiel.  Rye was a fun character; it’s just too bad he didn’t live long enough for someone to tell him Pluto isn’t even a planet.

culk

There remains one major Coen staple that has yet to be filled, but we’ll talk more about that and Bokeem Woodbine more next week, as well as some more on the family Gerhardt.  And perhaps I’ll start formulating some ideas of what this season of Fargo is all about, and how the time period reflects that.  I’m certain it does, as the show does not seem to be just making a joke of the fashions, but leaning purposefully on the political references in the trailers and premiere.   The opening speech by Jimmy Carter, pontificating about America’s losing its sense of purpose, and the Waiting For Godot mash up with the prologue on the Reagan(less) set, give me some vague sense that it’s pondering identity and meaningless and malaise, which is classic Coen material, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. Carter got ridden out of office on the wave of discontent he eloquently describes in that address, and of course Reagan is waiting in the wings.  Say what you will about Dutch's policies, but he knew how to tell America what it wanted to hear about itself.  America in the 80’s certainly had an identity, or to use Peggy’s parlance, was fully “actualized”, but what we’ve seen of her so far should make us pretty gosh darn ambivalent about that whole prospect.

Ok, then.  Thematics can wait until we have some more substance to hang them on. For now, I’ll just say this premiere was as close to perfect as I could have hoped, and leave you with a list of references to mark off your Coen Bros’ bingo cards (feel free to tell me what I missed in the comments).


COEN BINGO

– The way the judge goes out calls to mind the exit of Wade Gustaffson from the original film, and in fact he and the judge would probably get along famously. Rye also shoots the waitress in an “execution type deal” very reminiscent of Peter Stormare taking out the fleeing witness in the film.

– The Gerhardts appear to have a silent American Indian enforcer working with them, which could easily be the background of the largely silent, nebulously “connected” Shep Proudfoot character from the film.

– The UFO encounter – which I hope is never addressed again and left a weird non sequitur, but given the presence of a disconcertingly-moustacheless Ron Swanson as the resident conspiracy buff, probably will be in some fashion – is straight out of The Man Who Wasn’t There.

– Lou’s monosyllable response to the diner scene is identical to Llewellyn Moss’s when he finds the massacre site in No Country For Old Men.

– Starting the show proper with a speech from Carter is reminiscent of the Bush I address that the Dude takes in (and later appropriates) in The Big Lebowski.

– The sirens’ song from O Brother Where Art Thou? plays over the closing credits, albeit in a form that pales in comparison to the lush, floating original recording.

– The Reagan set opening (which I hope becomes a recurring thing throughout the season) doesn’t seem like a specific reference to anything, but it’s oddball, apparent non-sequitur nature recalls the dybbuk prologue to A Serious Man, as well as the Mike Yanagita scene from Fargo, or even the thematically crucial but largely plot-free bookends to No Country.


*which in Rye’s defense, really doesn’t track – even if we grant identity of subject matter on the broad basis that changing someone’s mind is equally difficult regardless of issue or circumstance, you did nothing to establish identity of parties between you and Job, and look, you’re a judge for Christ’s sake, I really shouldn’t have to explain the fallacies with this sort reasoning for you

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

REVIEW WITH FORREST MACNEIL: A MILLION STARS!!!!!!

cann

Comedy Central’s Review is the most insane and insanely funny show on TV.  It has a premise – an overcommitted nerd reviews audience-submitted life experiences, from eating a truly upsetting amount of pancakes to using a glory hole to staying in a haunted house to eating even more pancakes – that seems naturally suited for a series of sketches.   And while each episode is basically structured as a triptych of largely self-contained reviews, there is a continuity tracking the utter destruction of host Forrest MacNeil’s life, and that of his loved ones, as well as any number of unfortunate bystanders, in this pursuit. It’s this continuity that makes the show into a shockingly dark, stealthily insightful satire of the risks of disassociating ourselves from our own experiences, as these crazy modern times wut we lives in makes it easier and easier to do.

As someone who spends much of his free time dissecting and criticizing what should by all accounts be leisure activities, Forrest’s position as a reviewer who destroys his own life by dissecting and rating it resonates with me on a rather specific level.  While having an intermittent TV blog does not put me in much danger of being stranded on an oceanic trash flotilla or shot by my father with a bow and arrow, I do sometimes worry that, for example, I may have soured myself on True Detective’s universally-beloved first season by forcing myself to put each episode under the microscope on a weekly basis.  I love Game Of Thrones to bits, which I why I’ve chosen to write extensive analyses of its last 30 episodes, despite literally no one asking me to do that.  But does forcing myself to adopt a pose of semi-objective even-handedness, to obsess over the bad parts and vivisect the good ones, actually make me enjoy it any more?

pan1
“I’m going to cover your request in butter and syrup, and dig in to try to find some important deep meaning in a giant, steaming pile of flapjacks.”
Review would suggest the opposite.  The act of reviewing life turns Forrest’s own into a parade of horrors that would make Job weep in pity – except that our guy is bringing it all directly upon himself.  It’s not the first narrative to satirize the act of criticism, but what makes Review’s take stand out is that it avoids the standard saw that critics are just bitter hacks who tear down works of true genius out of jealousy.  No matter how much truth there may be to that assessment, it is always going to feel self-serving coming from the pen of someone whose work is subject to attack by such critics.  But there is not the slightest trace of bitterness in Forrest’s disposition.  He’s full of enthusiasm for his work no matter how much it costs him, though it doesn’t take long for it to cost him so much that he has to either double down or face the reality that he gave up so much for nothing.  He’s a million miles from one the spiteful caricatures you’ll find in Birdman or Lady In The Water, or even Anton Ego.  He’s more like Lenny from Of Mice And Men, petting his beloved rabbits until they die (not, in Forrest’s case, before leaving him with a drug-resistant strain of gonnorhea).

pan4
“Take note: this is apparently one of the things that can happen 
when you are so determined to have sex on an airplane 
that you hire a prostitute to travel with you.”
And so Review’s needling of the critical mindset never betrays the defensiveness you can feel in so many of these sorts of depictions.  It feels a great deal of compassion for Forrest, and by extension all of us blogging, Yelp-ing folks who are prone to exsanguinate the things we love most, sacrificing our own enjoyment of our experiences in the name of some critical distance that no one else gives much of a shit about anyway.

pan2
“Spending time alone on a rowboat is a horrifying and desperate
 struggle for survival that cuts a man off from his life and 
love ones, and frequently makes him wish for death.”
Because the other important facet of Forrest’s character is that for all his suitability as a crash test dummy, he is an absolutely atrocious critic.  He takes great pains to paint his reviews in the pretense of objectivity, while the results could not be any more wildly subjective.  Fed a steady stream of dangerous, horrifying tasks, he consistently takes them to horrifying, destructive ends that he nonetheless treats as if they are the natural, essentially inevitable, outcome.  The pretense of randomness allows him to abdicate responsibility for his actions, and he embraces that excuse to behave transgressively with nerdy gusto.

pan3
“Arbitrary choices could lead to inspired exhilaration, or aiding
 in the escape of a violent felon. In the end, it is always better to captain 
one’s ship on gut instinct. If I crash into the rocks of life, I 
want it to be because I steered the ship there myself.”
The effect is that seemingly innocuous tasks like visiting space or spending time alone in a rowboat consistently lead to the worst results, and receive lower ratings than self-evident horrors like being buried alive or founding a cult.  If there’s a “message” from Review to its audience/critics (and in the internet age, how meaningful is such a distinction?), it’s not to worry about being objective or categorizing your experiences.  If Forrest was capable of living in the moment every now and then, his father-in-law may not have died in space, he wouldn’t be reduced to catfishing his ex-wife, or a diet that swings between hand-murdered raw seabird and really, just an ungodly amount of pancakes, or be left with weird, frequently infected genitals, and of course he would not have been shot, stabbed, institutionalized, fallen off bridges, or kicked in the balls nearly as much.

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“Life: it’s literally all we have. But is it any good?” Forrest asks at the beginning of each episode.  But the season 2 (series?) finale closes with his chipper, vaguely sociopathic co-hostess opining “Life! You’re already living it! Ain’t it great?”  It is at that, AJ.  Even when it’s horrifying, and hilarious, and random.  Kind of like your show.