The Shadow Line and other TV

June 30th, 2011

A few other pieces of televisual entertainment I’ve consumed over the last few months:

The Shadow Line.  In the onslaught of quality US Drama it’s been quite a while since I watched any hailing from these shores, but I thought The Shadow Line was a really decent effort.  A tough, bleak, labyrinthine thriller that wisely avoided the hyper-real approach cornered by American heavyweights like The Wire, The Shield, and Southland and went for something much more psychological, theatrical, even at times slightly surreal.  Some really great performances and writing, some stark and stylised photography, some neat twists, and an unflinching lack of sentiment.   Good music too.  All in all it put me slightly in mind of that 80s masterpiece of paranoid thrillers, Edge of Darkness, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Breaking Bad, Season 2.  An arresting portrait of a harassed but basically decent guy’s descent into, well, evil, basically.  The violence is unsettling, the treachery and manipulation scarcely less so, the humour ultra-black, the portrait of modern society way more banal but every bit as damning as The Wire.  Stone me, it can be grim watching, though, and one really does have trouble finding anyone particularly sympathetic to cling to.  The chances are high when you do start feeling sympathy for someone, they’re about to do something unforgivable.

Damages, Season 3. Still watchable, and Glenn Close is still great as ultra-ruthless lawyer Patty Hewes, but overall Damages seems to have got less good with each season.  Admittedly, season 1 really was good, but this time around the central case was a lot less compelling, the cast was a lot less strong, the basic approach of flashbacks within a framing story seemed a bit tired, and although they still have a knack for misdirection and surprise, overall it seemed to lack edge, and WAY too much time was spent on loose ends left dangling from previous seasons, unconvincingly resolved.  I’ll probably give the next one a go, but they need to get their mojo back.

The Good Wife, Season 2.  In some ways this legal drama, pitched into the gulf between Damages and Ali McBeal, is very straight-ahead, commercial stuff, but sometimes it can show a nice, morally ambiguous edge.  Julianna Margulies convinces as the moral centre but you’re never quite sure who else you can trust.  Politics, law, and even private life are dirty games, cases are rarely right or wrong, good(ish) people are called on to do sleazy things and rarely say no.  There are some weak performances but mostly strong, occasionally a little twee but it shows its teeth often enough to keep you guessing.  I enjoyed it.  A good indication of how far the middle ground of TV has come on over the last few years…

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on June 30th, 2011.

19 comments so far

  • Melmoth says:

    “An arresting portrait of a harassed but basically decent guy’s descent into, well, evil, basically. The violence is unsettling, the treachery and manipulation scarcely less so, the humour ultra-black,[…] Stone me, it can be grim […] though, and one really does have trouble finding anyone particularly sympathetic to cling to. The chances are high when you do start feeling sympathy for someone, they’re about to do something unforgivable.”

    Reminds me of this excellent series of fantasy books that I’ve read recently…

  • David says:

    I wasn’t as keen on ‘The Shadow Line’ as you were. Apart from Kierston Waring’s ‘hard bitten cop’ who I slightly believed in (probably because it’s such a stock character type) I found the police unconvincing and the criminals similarly so (Rafe Spall in particular). It seemed to be trying too hard with everything really. The visuals (too many scenes shot in silhouette), the costumes (the main cop in his black and white outfit), the dialog (too many cryptic speeches and over-extended metaphors) seemed to be bludgening me into thinking it was all so stylish and clever.

    I do like Breaking Bad and there is that moment towards the end when Walt crosses the line he’d pretty much avoided so far in the show that was heartbreaking to watch on so many levels. No easy answers in that show, which I really like. Can’t wait for season 3 to be released or shown over here.

    Did you try ‘In Treatment’? That’s a great show, not much happening (shrink and client in a room – shot in more or less real time over 30 minutes) but beautifully acted and written.

    How about going back to the 70’s for the ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ TV series. I watched that recently and it’s just wonderful stuff. Moody, eccentric, complicated and utterly uninterested in making it easy for the view. You have to work to stay with it and it’s much the better for it. And Alec Guiness conveys so much whilst barely moving. I think it was probably a big influence on the guy who wrote ‘The Shadow Line’.

  • Graham says:

    I am loving the new season of Dexter, if you like to hear a character’s darkly (and I mean REALLY dark) humorous internal monologues then it can’t be beaten on tele – and possibly won’t be beaten until Glotka gets his own show.

  • Jacob says:

    We Americans are tremendously guilty of mediocrity trends when it comes to the “dramas”. Hence why I avoid television altogether these days…and drown myself in fantasy worlds…

    If only we had the power of the 1990’s back. Even the kids shows were better back then.

  • Harvey Quinn says:

    No Game of Thrones Joe?

    I lack Sky but I had to see it so I’ve been watching it online. I must admit, it’s unbefuckinglievable.

  • Dan says:

    More updates on your forthcoming book plz!

  • Melvin says:

    try Game of Thrones!

  • Guy Sciancalepore says:

    Joe, if you enjoy good fantasy drama you should really check out Game of Thrones. The series is great but as you probably know, the book is much better ;).

  • @Melmouth — hah! Exactly.

    Sadly, for that reason, I’ve had a tough time getting my gf to finish Best Served Cold — she doesn’t really like any of the characters … too dark for her. (Yeah, she’s a wuss.)

    Ah, well, we all have our tastes. (It’s too bad that more people don’t have better ones, though!)

  • Chad says:

    It does’t get better than Breaking Bad. Best show on television!

  • Gary says:

    Like some of the other guys here I’m interested to hear what you think of Game of Thrones tv series. A lot of people are saying it’s close to the source material, which is certainly in part to George R.R. Martin being heavily involved in the series. If they ever make a tv or film series based on any of your books, make sure you are on set to hound and harress them and at times hurt them if they stray too far away from your vision.

    Speaking of which, how would you feel about your stuff making the big screen or the small screen? Would you be reluctant for someone else to take away and televise your babies (books not your actual children) or would you be like, ‘Hell yeah! Show me what you can do’ and be really excited about it?

  • Joseph Goebbels says:

    Try watching Suits.

  • chris upton says:

    Loved The Shadow Line in all its Noirish sillyness. A favourite scene was the face off between Anthony Shers Glickman and Stephen Rea’s Gatehouse. “I’ll think you’ll find in my own understated and middle aged way I’m considerably more sinister than you.” Completely over the top at times but great fun.

  • Eddwigg says:

    I too really enjoyed Shadowline but the reason behind it all had me howling ( not in a good way ).

  • Adam says:

    Breaking Bad is excellent. The third season continues that slow, inevitable row up the proverbial creek, but starts to lay the foundation for the redemption or consequences or both. New season starts in a couple of weeks. I’ve already decided that if it starts to look like there’s no end in sight (blatant money grab), I might not care too much about a fifth season, but I have to admit I’m excited by it.

  • Damian says:

    In the middle of the second season of Breaking Bad. Really brutal, but so far I think everyone is actually pretty sympathetic. I guess I can get my head around people wanting to be good and doing terrible things despite it.
    No one is let off easy and every time you think someone is acting according to their TV trope, the character surprises you.
    So yeah, really enjoying that one.

    (Joining the chorus, I also thought GoT was fantastic.)

  • RathHood says:

    You GOTTA see Game Of Thrones man! I agree that Breaking Bad is good and all but c’mon – GOT!!!

  • Adam says:

    I really like the Good Wife – I think Julianna Margulies’ character often shows a selfish edge to which I can really relate. I don’t think there are many female characters on TV that are simultaneously iron-willed and cool-headed (usually goes with self-righteous), and self-interested (usually goes with crazy or shallow).

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