As you can probably tell from this incarnation of a blog that began in the last century, I like good television. Some shows I latch onto from the beginning (Jericho, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Rubicon), and others I discover later, after realizing my first impression wasn’t a good one (Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Mad Men, Justified).
Recently, two more shows fell into the latter category, House of Cards and The Walking Dead. One is a show in which each episode attempts to make you throw up even more of what you ate that day, showing the blood, carnage and gore associated with the end of normal society, and its transition to a state of terminal inhumanity.
The other is a show about zombies.
I was disgusted and completely put off by both of these shows after watching approximately 20 minutes of their respective pilots. After hearing much critical acclaim, mostly from friends, I decided to give the shows second chances, and much like with Sons of Anarchy, once I got past the early minutes revulsion, I was hooked. In truth, these three shows, Sons, Dead and Cards share common roots. They are about power, politics and survival, and all have characters who are fighting the good fight, doing the right thing.
Okay, I haven’t found anybody like that in House of Cards yet, but I’m only nine episodes in. There’s nobody in that show I’d vote for, but let me tell you, both Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead have a number of characters for whom I’d go door to door. In fact, there have been several “walkers” in Dead who would get my support if they were running against any of the politicians in Cards. And Sons? Let’s just say that if you see an SUV around town sporting a “Jax/Chibs 2016” sticker, that’s me.
It’s hard to say whether The Walking Dead inspired, or simply took advantage of the recent resurrection (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the interest in zombie movies. Even the government has taken notice. The Center for Disease Control pushed Zombie Preparedness content out on their website, which was creepy in an “old guy breakdancing” way, rather than a “zombies are coming” way. A Montana EBS system was hacked and announced a zombie apocalypse on television and radio, which quite frankly was, to more than a few weary Top 40 and Adult Contemporary listeners, a relief in its assurance Adele would not be able to release any more hit records. Believe me, as a 30 year Radio veteran, I would welcome spending the rest of my life battling the undead as long as there wasn’t a followup to the theme from “Skyfall.”
The point is, right now, we’re loving zombies, a fact reflected in the success of AMC’s gorefest. But that leaves me a bit unsettled, because since the dawn of electric entertainment, and accelerated by the beginning of electronic entertainment, hit shows and movies can inspire and influence our interests and behaviors. How many kids in the early 60s became pilots because of Sky King? The delightful Nichelle Nichols (I can say this because I’ve met and interviewed her a couple times – she’s the most delightful of the Trek actors, and that’s saying a lot, because George Takei, who played Sulu is pretty goddamn delightful himself) inspired, and through a program with NASA, actually recruited a number of women and African Americans to the space agency. In my own experience in the late 70s, because of my love of the TV show Starsky and Hutch, I wanted more than anything to drive a 1976 Candy Apple red Ford Gran Torino with a white strip. I never got my Torino though, and had to settle for a belted sweater jacket and a perm, the point being, shows that grab our attention, interest and devotion will inspire us in real life.
A great example of this is legendary outlaw biker Sonny Barger, who when he took over a tiny, fledgeling group of motorcycle enthusiasts and moved them to Northern California, did so because he wanted to be like the fun-loving Lee Marvin character “Chino” from the Marlon Brando movie The Wild One. He loved the ideas of brotherhood and motorcycle riding in the movie, and was inspired to bring those things to his club, called Hells Angels (and by the way, there is no apostrophe in the name). Yea, Brando’s movie wasn’t inspired by Hells Angels, it was the other way around. Even back then, TVs and movies could have a great influence over what we do and what we love.
And that’s what scares the bejeezus out of me about House of Cards. As if we don’t already have enough criminals and sociopaths in Congress, do we really want to start attracting the kind of people who are excited by all the dirty-dealing they see in Cards? If there’s a zombie apocalypse, I’m all for a lot of people being prepared because, inspired by The Walking Dead, they learned to use a crossbow, but it’s tough enough watching the nonsense and criminality that goes on inside the Beltway and radiates outward to touch all of us, without worrying that Netflix, who produces and distributes the show, is sending up a red flare, attracting all who would hoodwink, fleece and otherwise sell down the river, good, hardworking, law-abiding Americans, to the city that already makes both Soddom and Gomorrah look like Mayberry and Hooterville.
Please, watch House of Cards. It’s a great show. Kevin Spacey is beyond awesome. But if you’re going to be inspired by a show, and let it spill over into your real life, store up some food, guns and ammo and maybe use Google Maps to find a nice, comfy prison to call home when the Zombie Apocalypse hits. It’s a better use for your creative energies.
Over the weekend, was just thinking about picking up Season 5 to review, though it will be available On Demand starting February 11th.
Definitely check out this slideshow of 4 cast photos. I love the way the actors (Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss and January Jones) are aging into the late sixties. Pete rockin’ the sideburns, Harry Crane heavying up on the frames. I was just reaching the age of reason during this period in the show’s timeline, and everywhere you look, there are things remembered.
American TV used to be good at the mini-series, the first of note being Roots, another being V. Heck, even Battlestar Galactica (the new one, not the old Star Wars ripoff version) was initially a mini-series that found an audience and became a several season series.
But, for a number of reasons, American TV moved away from the 5 or 6 episode series, to more open-ended shows that, if they proved to find an audience, could go on laying golden eggs for a long time. It’s a shame we do that, because when a show is designed to go on and on, there’s great motivation to not mess with key characters. Certain standout shows have been able to refresh by changing characters out, whether the method used is death or moving on. Law and Order (oops, sorry, I meant THIS ONE) comes to mind, as does House. More recently, Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy have killed main characters off, but in truth, both of those shows have arcs that are designed to play out in a relatively short time.
Television in the U.K. continues the tradition of the mini-series though, and do it really well with Line of Duty, available in the U.S. on Hulu+ Though Line of Duty has been picked up for a second season, the five episodes that make up the first season are a complete story with an extremely final and conclusive (if not perfectly satisfying) ending. Oh, it’s satisfying as storytelling goes, it’s just not the kind of “feel-good-balance-and-justice-is-restored” kind of ending American audiences love. If you doubt that, ask yourself why the awesome Rubicon on AMC wasn’t picked up for a second season.
Lennie James is a familiar face if you are a fan of Jericho, the aforementioned The Walking Dead or Hung. Of course, if you do know James from any of those shows, instead of from, say, Snatch, you assume from his accent (or lack thereof) he’s American. He’s not. He grew up in South London. In Line of Duty, he is fabulous as a somewhat (not very, but a little) crooked cop, who because of a couple bad decisions, ends up a very crooked cop. There are elements of The Shield present in Line of Duty, but it is a very original and interesting story. Well written and directed, it’s a thrilling 250 minutes of television.
I’m very happy Line of Duty is going to continue on to season two, and whether or not it stars Martin Compston and Vicki McClure, I’ll be watching.
Side note, also starring is the wonderful Neil Morrissey, known as the star of the British Men Behaving Badly, one of many shows American networks tried to translate from British TV but botched. The Brit MBH was awesome. He was also the British voice of Bob the Builder, and my personal choice as the actor most like to play Paul McCartney when Sir Paul’s definitive bio-pic is produced (at least that’s what I told Sir Paul when I had the honor of doing a one-on-one interview with him in 2001).