Saturday, February 08, 2014

Great Television: HBO True Detective, IFC Spoils of Babylon … by gimleteye

Throughout the landmark series "Cheers", I was indifferent to Woody Harrelson, in the bar section. My view changed with the 1994 electrifying "Natural Born Killers". Now, I'm a huge fan. Similarly I was indifferent to the young Matthew McConaughey about the same time as my Woody Harrelson conversion twenty years ago. I thought: there's a Woody Harrelson wannabe. And he was. Both actors carry themselves with a similar unthinking masculinity masked by the incidental drawl from the South; strong but indeterminate guys who don't yield their secrets easily. Talk about doppelgängers.

Over the years, as both these fine actors evolved, I hoped they might be cast together in the same film or television series. In "Dallas Buyers Club", McConaughey was a marvel. Now -- with HBO "True Detective" -- Harrelson is determined to catch up, in spite of his age disadvantage. It aint' easy! The two cast sparks off each other's performance in a way that is very rare on television. If you haven't watched "True Detective" yet; run to it. If you have, mourn the news that next season of "True Detective" promises an entirely different cast.

IFC "Spoils of Babylon" is a less obvious choice for the season's great television. It's vamping on a scale I've never seen on TV before, and I'd love it for that alone. Another of my favorite actors, Tim Robbins, teams with lead Toby Maguire playing opposite Kirsten Wiig, obsessed with her brother. In the background lurks the pseudo-nonymous writer/ producer / director, Will Ferrell playing an Orson Welles-to-type.

Given the massive volume of television drama over the years, give credit where it is due. "Spoils" is an original. Shot on a low budget, "Spoils" is extraordinarily elegant -- mixing low brow, high brow, and everything in between so long as the colors don't match -- , combining camp with period details from the early days of television drama. For boomers of a certain age (dating myself, again), we remember television in the late 1950's and acting styles that evolved from the hyperbolic performances of movies in the 1930's and 1940's, wordiness anchored by the strictures of silent film.

"Spoils of Babylon", from this point of view, is a critical delight. While fuss has been made of Ferrell's Welles, the obese, bloviator who was a genius in his early career before turning over to game show appearances, that's just window-dressing. I particularly like Kirsten Wiig, who hits all the comedic notes in perfect key. When I grow up, I want to be her brother.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Started watching True Detective. Quite Dark. Good acting. Matthew McConaughey has actually impressed me with his acting in this show.