Tuesday, November 18, 2014

a few notes on Peaky Blinders

(I'm just assuming no one has watched this yet.)

• It feels like a more stylish Boardwalk Empire except that, instead of Nucky Thompson, the main character is Jimmy Darmody

• It was the perfect decision, whoever made it, to place the Blinder's HQ at the end of a street lined with blacksmith forges. Everything is constantly glowing orange, sparking and smoking, as if you've entered a special wing of hell. (This works especially well with the music of Nick Cave, whose "Red Right Hand" is the show's theme.)

• It was a bad decision, whoever made it, to name the show Peaky Blinders. (Yes, I know it's purportedly based on the name of a Birmingham street gang "distinguished by their sartorial style." But those of you with Netflix reading this know it's also the reason you haven't watched the show yet!) I will admit, however, that the name isn't as bad as I first thought. What I mean is, one gets used to it rather quickly. (It's hard not to when one of the characters is so fond of shouting "Peaky Blinders!!!" every time he's soaked in alcohol or blood. Which is most of the time.)

• Violence in slow motion set to music is never a good thing—unless, perhaps, the music is Beethoven. (Fortunately this obsession wanes in season 2, which prefers slow motion as a lead in to violence, the first smash of a bottle or fist triggering a return to normal speed.)

• Cillian Murphy has never looked better

• Grace (Annabelle Wallis) is miscast. Something about her face, disposition, and style doesn't work for the time period being depicted. Some people simply don't fit into other eras.

• I like that the show has no reoccurring opening sequence, no well dressed man falling out of a sky scraper or strolling towards the ocean while whisky bottles wash up by his feet. The show starts—credits and Nick Cave do the rest.

• Tom Hardy, one of the best, most interesting actor / performers around, is in season 2! Unfortunately, he's underutilized. For now.

A comment on the following:

Though it's by no means the most egregious example, I despise it when dialogue is aimed at the viewer rather than a character in the scene. Of course they both know that the IRA murdered her father! It would be obvious to her that this incident is what he is referring to when he tells her not to let her personal history "cloud her judgment." There's no reason at all for her to explain what he meant, especially when, a few lines later, he says:

Which, assuming we're capable of inferring something, conveys the exact same information and does so in a way that makes sense in the context of their conversation! This is the kind of a thing that makes me give up on shows1. If the writers don't expect me to be able to infer something, how can I expect them to be able to surprise me? Mutual respect dissolves. Luckily for the show, I noticed that the first season was only six episodes, so I continued. And luckily for me, this kind of dialogue turned out to be rare.

A common sense rule: the longer the investment, the better the show has to be in order to continue watching it. (Let's get cute and call this the Law of Diminishing Reruns. Did you cringe? OK. Never mind. Forget it.) Advice to shows: shorter, or fewer, seasons! There is so much content these days that even the unselective must be selective, so think long and hard about whether your show is really good enough to sustain fifty or sixty hours, or if you're just reluctant to let go of the money that comes with a good thing. (Personally I'd like to start seeing things that fall somewhere between mini-series and series.)

Anyway—Peaky Blinders isn't the smartest of shows (there's a scene in season two involving a grenade that serves a dramatic function that makes no sense—just go look and see if the grenade is actually there, sheesh!), but it has other redeeming qualities: cinematography (begin the show to alleviate boredom and stay for the shallow focus and lighting), mood, some good character actors and acting (I forgot about Sam Neill, who does a great job), and a few good songs (all of them contemporary—which doesn't always work). And it's fun. You can even tell yourself you're learning about post WWI Birmingham, England while you binge-watch all twelve episodes.

1 The exception to this are shows that are highly acclaimed in circles I trust, or recommended to me by someone whose taste I trust. In which case I'll watch the first season regardless.

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