Thursday, April 27, 2006

Criminal Escapism - My Opiate (Thief)

Well, since the mood around here might need some lightening, let's talk about some gritty television-verite!

It's no secret that major studio films by-and-large suck these days. I've come around to the belief that it's the writing, stupid. And the reason that movie screen-writing has gotten worse is that the best are all doing episodic television. It's rather obvious, but in terms of creating and developing compelling characters and stories, would you rather have 120 minutes of movie time wherein you must fit 3 fights, a car chase and a sex-scene to ensure 'marketability' or would you rather have 20+ 42 minute+commercial installments?

And with the HBO-led rise of shows on cable, you aren't even impinged by the stultifying content regulation of the FCC. 7 years on, it's clear that the Sopranos has ushered in a new era. Of the ten best hour-long original shows on TV over that time, at most 3 would be network (Lost, West Wing and perhaps 24), whereas with HBO leading the way (Sopranos, 6 Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome, Oz) cable makes up the lions share, with FX in particular getting in on the act (The Shield, Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck.)

It strikes me that even cable's failures are more ambitious than anything the focus-group drenched hacks at a network would try. (Would a network have even made the effort with Playmakers, Tilt or Over There?)

All this is a roundabout way of bringing me around to talking about FX's latest effort, Thief, and why it is disappointing to me. My expecatations are simply too high.

I mean, a gritty crime drama from the network that is 3.5 for 4 in my book (The Shield, Resue Me, and Nip/Tuck, which I don't watch for squeemishness reasons, but sister Pooh says is excellent. And Over There was at worst, certainly watchable.) Starring Andre Braugher, who'd I'd find compelling in a toothpaste commercial. What's not to like?

Well, it tries to do too much, that's what. The strongest part of the show, Braugher's relationship with his white step-daughter, is the most peripheral to the Thievary. The other members of his merry band are not really given much of a chance to develop beyond broad strokes- there's the family man, the playboy, and the nervously religious guy. They're all played by quality actors, but they don't get a chance to do much. Similarly, the involvement a corrupt local cop and Chinese gangsters on the rampage only serve to add further underdeveloped story points.

Did I mention that the show is based in post-Katrina New Orleans? Talk about an elephant in the room going unmentioned.

And the "big score" itself, which occured in this week's episode seemed rushed and poorly exposited. I strongly feel that the show would have been far superior had FX given it perhaps two more episodes to develop at a more leisurely pace.

All that said, a decent show, based largely on the strength of Braugher and Mae Whitman as the step-daughter. Probably worth netflixing when it is released, but certainly not essential.


Ahistoricality said...

Definitely needed more backstory and development. But sometimes they just don't have the budget. Maybe it doesn't fit your timeline, but Homicide ought to be on the short list (possibly ahead of West Wing, and I love West Wing; I'm not a Lost watcher, though, so I'd lose that one.)

The networks keep producing low-risk versions: Take "The Unit"; is that an attempt to do a safe version of "Over There" (Plus a male version of Alias)?

Pooh said...

Re: Homicide - absolutely! Though a little bit before my timeline, especially in terms of 'the good years,' which largely coincide with the time up until Pembleton's stroke.

And good point re: The Unit and such.

Otto Man said...

I had the same high expectations for Thief, and I agree that they're trying to do too much. I know they always feel the need to show the home life, but I find the stepdaughter stuff a little distracting. I want more on the crew, which as you note, is staffed with great actors.

I've already missed half the episodes, including the big score, so I may just start over on Netflix.

In the meantime, Braugher's in this summer's remake of the Poseidon Adventure, so we'll always have that.

DJ Ninja said...

If we're talking about top-10 hour-longs over the last seven years, I have to insist on including Charmed. That show has only gotten better and better.

Speaking of F/X, Pooh, did you ever watch the spunky Vegas gambling show, Lucky? It was a pre-curser to My Name is Earl, I think, but with less redneck.

Ahistoricality said...

I'm sorry, but Pembleton's stroke and recovery was one of the gutsiest bits of television before or since. But then I'm particularly interested in the incredibly bad portrayal of disability on most television (wasn't there a blind detective show a year or two ago? What crap!), and this was so far above anything I'd really seen. I liked Braugher's character before that, but that's what made me love Braugher as an actor.