Breaking Glass on Series Mania

09 mai 2017 - 1062 vues
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BREAKING GLASS hosted by Dennis Broe. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2:15am CET (24 hours+2 hours) - Tuesday and Thursday at 12:15pm (CET). This week, Dennis talks about Series Mania Festival.

This week’s episode: Euro Noir in the Era of Peak TV

The new buzz phrase in serial series is “Peak TV”, the idea that since last year in the US on cable, network and streaming services there were 455 original series, a figure that has almost tripled since the beginning of the era in 2002, viewers may be saturated by this hyperinflation in what might be described as a series “bubble.” If that might be true in the US, European and Global TV is countering with its own explosion and is attempting to at least challenge the US output on its own terms. Europe’s major TV festival, “Series Mania,” just wrapped up in Paris and the festival opened with French journalists debating the question, “Are there too many series?” Their publications are fueled by this attraction so it was not surprising they concluded that there weren’t and applauded US and global production for its diversity. But, the Peak TV question lingers as a look at the Festival’s Top 5 Euro and Global Noir and Crime Series, a popular serial genre, demonstrates. Scandi Crime (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland) has its foundation in crime fiction propelled by the continent’s most acerbic voice who employs crime fiction for socially critical purposes Arnaldur Indridason. The genre, which continues to dominate the scene boasts bleak landscapes and sometimes solitary destitute characters Yet, even the best of these, Norway’s Monster for example, struggles to escape and make different what are becoming global tropes consisting of in this case: the missing child or teen (Broadchurch); the female police detective returned to her home in the desolate countryside for some unfinished personal business (Top of the Lake); and the pairing of two unlikely male and female cops (The Killing) in pursuit of a potential serial killer embedded in the community (Red Riding). In fact Monster distinguishes itself not for its originality but for the way it combines so many of these elements in its mix. The answer to the Peak TV question then is, yes, we are at a saturation point where the proliferation of series conceals what is becoming an ordinariness in which the commercial popularity and the high bar the founding series have set acts to confine and regulate less adventurous new series. Nevertheless, there was much to like at the festival and here are five series which will be coming your way in the next (Peak) TV season.

Fatale Station trailer:

  1. Fatale-Station

French language (English subtitled) Canadian production that is a winning combination of the Julia Roberts’ vehicle Sleeping With The Enemy and the quirky arctic small town atmosphere of Northern Exposure. This series just does it better than those two. Opening has the lead Sarah terrorized by an unknown attacker in the city and then fleeing to a small out of the way settlement whose salient feature is its almost deserted train depot which gives the town its name, Fatale-Station. Sarah is hiding out but unwanted in the French town, controlled by Anglo proprietress Mrs. O’Gallagher whose ruthlessness is revealed early on. The town is also beset by antipathy between its white nativist stalwarts who oppose a Native American barrage or blockade protesting the elimination of the tribe’s wildlife. Nothing out of the ordinary but a beguiling mix of local quirkery and a likeable lead which marks the series as more than just killing time while we wait inevitably for that assailant to show up.

  1. The K2

Korean policier with a global reach with an opening segment shot in Barcelona featuring a genuinely creepy recounting of a young Korean girl’s finding of her dead mother and her eventual escape from the convent in which she is then consigned,. The big budget pilot has three lavish action sequences, the centerpiece of which, the storming of a corporate structure by unrevealed assassins thwarted by the lead, an ex-special forces fighter who happens to be in the area, suggests the Indonesian thriller The Raid by way of Die Hard. The series really gets going though when in the second episode it is forced, most likely by budget constraints, to emphasize more strongly the melodramatic and political thriller aspects and to downplay the action. Here,  the Lady Macbeth-like daughter of the country’s leading corporation head, masquerading behind an unassuming “little woman” veneer, reveals herself to be the driving force behind a corrupt plan to install her husband as the country’s leader. Torn from the pages of contemporary South Korea and its ousting of a similar female power broker president, the series highlights that country’s corporate conniving while its action hero betrays a constant winning attraction to the downtrodden (the elderly cleaning woman in the shimmering corporate structure and a farmer couple mourning their son) which also includes the distraught daughter he is compelled to protect.

  1. Monster

Yes, the series does combine a host of recognizable elements, but in a way that against all odds appears original. The use of the constant bleak shots of a deserted and frozen Northern Norway, on the Russian border far from Oslo, complete with mournful Russian roadhouse singer ala Julia Cruz in Twin Peaks, sets the stage for an above average tale of the disappearance of a 14-year old girl amid a religious community which equally boasts its meth lab matriarch (recalling Megs Bennett in the spectacular second season of Justified). The female lead cop is dealing with the mysterious disappearance of her mother and her dying father while her companion from the city battles his own drug demons. What distinguishes the series also is the surreal visual images, most strikingly exemplified in an adder present at the finding of the missing girl, in a series whose look not only dominates but also distinguishes it from those that came before.

  1. Wasteland

Czech series from HBO Europe again set in a desolate border area where the nearby Polish mining company is attempting to buy up the community’s land in what the farsighted female mayor sees as an eventual devastating blow to the countryside but which its citizens, deprived of income, are ready to accept. The series is well aware of Poland’s place as lead coal miner and European polluter and its Trumpian staunch defense of these practices. Against this background, the mayor’s daughter disappears in this TV season’s most popular (and overused) trope but the continual visual reminder of the pollution spewing coal plant and the brokenness of the townspeople in a landscape already contaminated with the mental disease arising from this left-for-dead region seen in the mayor’s hermit ex-husband and the sex workers who inhabit the local truck stop mark this series as one which, in typical HBO fashion, struggles to convey a social message at the center of the carnage.

  1. Salaam Moscou!

By far the most unusual series in the festival in terms of tone, social concerns and mapping of the inner conflicts of contemporary Russia. This series which follows an “elite” unit (set in an old run-down convent with computers that barely work) charged with patrolling immigrants in the Russian capital accomplishes the near impossible in putting on the screen in the context of a crime series that form of Russian humor that relishes the absurdity of impossible situations. The lead detective, Roustam, is a racist, especially where the Muslim populations from the former Russian territories are concerned, who must overcome his prejudice in working with his Tadjiki partner Sania, an experienced undercover cop who Roustam keeps insulting by calling him an “intern.” Tone in the series varies wildly with episode two languishing in a humor that sees Rostram fixated on a woman he has met in tracking a fugitive while outside as the fugitive escapes Sania accepts a dare to wrestle the suspect, loses, and lets him go. The trials, struggles, aspirations and modes of survival of what is a multi-cultural capital despite itself make for a series that treats these struggles with resigned humor and which counters the constant air of menace hanging over supposedly more enlightened or complex, but actually more prejudiced, American series such as Homeland or the about-to-be released German-American co-production Berlin Station, both essentially preoccupied with the terrorist threat of ‘the other.’

Elsewhere around the festival, Damon Lindelof, co-creator with J.J.Abrams of Lost told us that he and Abrams had decided they were going to kill off the lead character, the surgeon Jack Shepard, at the end of the first episode making the series at its debut even more daring, but ABC quickly put the kibosh on that adventure, deciding they had invested too much money in the pilot to have the showrunners pull as Psycho and eliminate one of the audience’ main identification figures just as the series was getting off the ground.

A French documentary titled End of Series recounted Lindelhof’s surprise that fans were disappointed in the finale of Lost which I have always regarded as not so much about solving mysteries as about the gap between televisions’ promise of eternal happiness in the place the survivors end up and what Jacques Lacan calls “the real,” the desolation in the wake of a failed economy of the world surrounding the abundance of serial TV in evidence in the actual ending of the series which has Jack dying alone on the island. The documentary ends by recapping the most renowned serial ending, that of The Sopranos which series creator David Chase promotes as shaded in ambiguity but which I have always seen as only making sense if the cut to black is the moment of the mobster Tony deservedly getting in the show’s terms “wacked.”

The nature of the festival, which generally shows the first two episodes of the series, calls attention not to the much celebrated series endings but to series beginnings. There were three stunning beginnings, which unfortunately, were followed by series that could not quite maintain the momentum. Here is a clip from one of those series.

Legion trailer:

Best, and one of the most stunning openings of any series, was the FX/Marvel production Legion which goes out of its way to not be simply an X-Men retread. The opening montage over the Who’s Happy Jack recaps a thirty year history of the telekentic Jack Haller from precocious but destructive child to rebellious teen and young adult setting stores ablaze. The pilot’s fractured time scheme and multiple imaginings and delusions of its lead continue the anti-hero framework which with its 60s soundtrack (with a terrific second montage to the Rolling Stones “She’s Like A Rainbow”) and its mental and virtual paranoia signal it as a cross between the cyberconspiratorial Mr. Robot and 70s music industry expose Vinyl. Unfortunately, this is a Marvel production and by the end of the pilot, the absurdity of the opening had coalesced into a more standard superhero and X-Men-for-television framework.

Another fascinating opening was that of the Spanish series Se Quien Eres (I Know Who You Are) which has a middle-aged man wandering dazed along a deserted country road and was a reminder of the Spanish noir La Isla Minima which firmly established Spain’s claim to be able to inhabit that genre. Unfortunately, the series that follows the opening is locked into an amnesia story where either the lawyer from the opening, whose niece last seen with him is missing and presumed dead, is faking the amnesia to cover his crime or has amnesia and is innocent. It’s a bit like the ABC series Secrets and Lies where the whole series hangs on did he or didn’t he in that case kill his the boy who turns out to be his son. There is a great scene in I Know Who You Are where the lawyer is “introduced” to his wife and children who he no longer remembers but a scene later where the family is attacked by those who presume the lawyer is guilty which if he is not is excessive and a comment on a prejudiced society but if he is if not warranted at least understandable illustrates the limitation of the format, since all motivations and any social criticism is cancelled by the amnesia or no-amnesia quandary. So the series cannot become about anything else or have any wider implications.

Finally there is the Israeli series Your Honor with an extremely promising opening showing a progressive judge who in the Israeli Bedouin territories rules in favor of those nomadic peoples and explains, in terms that could equally cover the right-wing settlements on the West Bank, that the Bedouins have been systematically dispossessed of their land long enough and it is time to stop. Unfortunately, that is the end of the social commentary in the series and it then becomes about the illegal actions the judge takes to cover for his son who, driving without a license, has hit and then run from a motorcyclist who happens to be a gang member. The series goes from socially exciting recounting of a judge on the hot seat to a bourgeois and boring examination of how far a father will go to protect his son or how far the series will go to regurgitate stereotypical family drama plots in fleeing what could have been provocative content.

This is Dennis Broe on the Global Television Beat winding up my coverage of Series Mania, 2017.


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