Monday, June 30, 2014

This why I stopped listening to critics...TV critics.

Ramblings Post #265
I got a lot on my mind, a lot left to do and little time to do it in. I got a lot of things coming at from a lot of different directions, less resources than I would like but still there is a lot I want to accomplish. And while I'm doing all that, I will occasionally take an hour out of my day to watch some TV. Or rather, read about some TV. This is about me reading about TV. 

In a free moment, well it was already one in the morning, I wasn't going to retain anything useful anyway, I watched the first episode of Tyrant, a new show on FX. This was a bad move because if the show was interesting I wasn't going to have time to watch more episodes. But I found the show interesting, at least worth an episode or three, and then for some reason went and looked up the reviews. And it reading those reviews two things became quickly evident: a) If a reviewer doesn't like the show, every little thing irritates them and b) reviewers don't really watch shows they don't like. There are other problems with the reviews as well, but I'll get to those.

The overall story is an upper middle class doctor from California, Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed, who left behind is former life as the second in line to the throne of a fictional Middle Eastern country, and upon returning at his wife's urging for his nephew's wedding for the first time in 20 years things get dramatic really, really fast. As he actively tries to minimize their immersion in his past life, events beyond his control start to drag him back to a life he never intended to leave. Pretty snazzy description, eh?

Our protagonist seems to be hiding a lot about his old family from his new family, and we're treated to motivations and justifications through flashbacks and brooding looks. Plus, just as the lead character is based on Syria's Assad, the character of his brother, first in line, seems to based another real figure in recent history, Uday Hussein. Cold and brooding vs. hot headed crazy! Properly told, I think the story has legs, but we'll need a few more episodes to see if it can build upon this foundation. I'd rate it a watch and see.

Now the reviewers. Ugh.

Several of the reviews likened the premise to a cheap Middle Eastern knockoff of the Godfather, which I thought was unfair. Matching The Godfather is a pretty high bar for excellence for any media offering, most programs and movies don't measure up, but apparently the critics that drew upon that as a basis didn't realize it's based on more current events, see Syria. So, this is actually a little closer to Law & Order's ripped from the headlines than classic Oscar worth cinema. Or maybe even the cliched Black Sheep. But if your whole frame of reference immediately sends you to a forty year old classic film...what are you gonna do?

One of my biggest irks was the idea one critic (and I can't find the article at this point) had of the family unbelievably treating the entire trip as though it was a VIP ride instead of a trip into dangerous territory, thus revealing to me that particular reviewer as someone who viewed the entire Middle East as just plain dangerous. First, there are countries that one can safely visit in the Middle East. And second, since the family is actual royalty - AND they were met by a private 747, picked up in luxury autos, had traffic stopped for their ride through the city and noticed the ten story propaganda photo of the head of the family on the way to the Palace where they were attending a ten million dollar wedding, I would imagine that feeling like a VIP wasn't too far off the mark. When the story added an element of tension, a possible terrorist attack on the ceremony, it was between the father and older son in private, and appeared to have been kept out of the public eye. The country seemed peaceful, they were treated like royalty, so why should the family have been worried? Just because it was the Middle East? Ugh. Update: (7/2) This is why its important to catch the first five minutes of a show. I missed the news article about strife scene completely, but only saw it on a re-watch. So, I kinda halfway got that wrong. 

And, some complained that the first episode didn't really flesh out the protagonist's children, to which I wonder exactly how long the reviewer thought the show had? It was the first episode, establishing the characters, full of exposition and setting the stage for later occurances. I can imagine there will be later episodes that give the younger actors more screen time, but for now we just need to establish them. I got the impression that the reviewers, having already decided that they didn't like the show were now just looking for reasons to trash it.

The reviews I read seemed to expect something different than what was presented, apparently  expecting Oscar worthy performances of a completely original story that fleshed out all the speaking characters in detail and fully explored the nuances of Middle Eastern tensions and culture without getting too bogged down...all in fifty two minutes.  And once they realized what they were watching was a television show and not an impossible dream they turned on it.

Am I saying Tyrant is the next Wire, Sopranos or Breaking Bad? Let me be clear here, NO. What I am saying is that the show needs to be spared the welts of failure because it is not what was expected as it drew first breath. The clips indicate that although our fictional Middle Eastern state is quiet now, it's not going to stay that way, and it looks like Barry will be right in the middle of it.

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