Friday, June 08, 2012

TV Report: Hatfields, McCoys, Others

I was one of apparently a great many people who watched the entire Hatfields & McCoys miniseries on History. That thing made basic cable history, becoming one of the highest-rated basic cable scripted shows ever. And it wasn't even really that good.

I liked parts of it, but six hours is a lot of time to let Kevin Reynolds cover the same ground over and over and over. The first part set up the whole feud between the two families, rooted mostly in the murder of a McCoy (who fought on the Union side in the Civil War) by a Hatfield relative (played by an almost unrecognizable--but still very scary--Tom Berenger, buried under beard and tobacco spit). The animosity between the two families builds and builds until there's an outpouring of anger over a pig theft and a court case where there's a Hatfield judge (Powers Boothe) and the entire jury is evenly split between Hatfields and McCoys. The way this movie plays out, there is no one in the Tug River Valley that isn't a Hatfield or McCoy, so it just makes it that much more irritating when, in the second part, a backwater Romeo and Juliet situation plays out that, well, come on... who was the boy going to go for? Apparently he's related to half of the courting pool. A great deal of what happens seems to happen because that boy--played by the same dreamy-eyed irritant who played Dan Patch on my much-missed Hellcats--won't stand up to anyone and just does whatever the loudest person tells him. And then the third part just kind of drags on and on in a cycle of escalating violence until I just wanted every single member of both families to wipe each other out from history.

It's too much. They've got either too much running time or the wrong episode format. I could see this playing out as, say, 10 lean one-hour episodes of an HBO series. But three feature-length episodes is a lot to take in, and there's a lot of drag to it. It just gets so repetitive, and though many of the performances are serviceable (only Jena Malone, Boothe, and Berenger really stand out), nothing here really grabbed and held on to my interest. Every tragedy just piles on and piles on and piles on at an increasingly lugubrious pace, while Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton look grim and tired, as though Anse Hatfield and Randolph McCoy have just accepted what fate has in store and watch the proceedings from a distance. (Of the two, Costner comes off better, if only because he has more emotions to play, while the very religious McCoy just gives Paxton different degrees of intensity to latch onto. Also, because I'm a film geek, it's more fun to imagine that the feud is over whose version of the Wyatt Earp story is better--Kevin Costner's terrible 1994 faux-epic Wyatt Earp, or the superior 1993 film Tombstone, which co-starred Paxton.)

Also, I thought it would be a cold day in hell before Kevin Reynolds worked with Kevin Costner again (famously saying, after Waterworld, that Costner should only work in films he directs and stars in, so he'll always be working with his favorite actor and favorite director). I'm much more interested in how that came about than anything going on in the miniseries.

Some other things:

:: I've been catching up watching Showtime's The Borgias. Much like The Tudors, it's fitfully good but never quite the show I hope it will be. The directors seem to have a serious problem reigning in Jeremy Irons, who is just having the time of his life acting to the rafters. It's a pretty show to look at, and most of the cast is decent (I particularly like Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia Borgia, who is very lovely but has some very boring plotlines), but it takes a particularly premium cable-ready period in history and doesn't know what to go for: dramatic, salacious, or political. Usually it tries for all three but can't find the balance. So it's one of those shows I watch, knowing it won't get better, but still interested enough to keep up with, all the while wishing it was a better show. At least some of it works, but it's not one of those shows I'll remember fondly for years.

:: Starz announced that the next season of Spartacus will be the last one. That's probably for the best. This most recent season killed off a lot of the most interesting characters, anyway, and started to get far too earnest for the cartoon version of history they'd been playing with. I loved the over-the-top silliness, the no-idea-too-stupid approach of the show, but this last season suffered from a fatal recasting (Cynthia Addai-Robinson was just not believable as Naevia) and dull, plodding sincerity about freedom and self-determination. Guys, it's a comic book. It's a soap opera. Don't tell me we're supposed to take this stuff seriously now. Because of that approach, Spartacus quickly became the most boring character on the show (though thank the gods Gannicus came back, because he's just awesome... maybe more awesome than Crixus).

:: Speaking of being caught up in your own bullshit, we're just two episodes into this season's MasterChef and... wow. What? They act like a show that's been on for a decade and become an American institution. Also, the overdramatic music, the melodramatic editing, the cliffhanger commercials, the self-reverential tones...all of that bullshit is ramped up to 11 this season. Did you see the moment when Gordon Ramsey opened the wooden box and pulled out the MasterChef trophy, with the silence and the light reflecting off of its majesty and people in the audition audience actually crying? This is like Iron Chef for people who need to be told what to feel.

:: I'm going to try really hard not to talk about Hell's Kitchen this year. It still suffers from all of the same problems it always has (though the audio sweetening is worse than ever). And it's already pissing me off. But since I don't want yet another contestant finding me and using a fake name to bitch me out (hi, Sabrina), I'm just going to not bother. Because, really, who cares? You know how this show goes now.

:: Also, the wife's got me watching Storage Wars. I feel old.

:: Oh, and Pretty Little Liars came back... Are we past last season's lame, histrionic finale and back into the mystery yet? Because having the girls decide to ignore the mountains of evidence they kept turning up over two seasons and the people following them and the NAT Club and Ali's mysterious older man just because some crazy little girl who couldn't lift 10 pounds said she was A, makes them all look incredibly stupid. And I can't root for stupid people. Because it was obvious Mona wasn't the real A, and if they had just bothered to ask themselves a single critical question about how Mona could have pulled off her seeming omnipotence all by herself, they'd realize they were maybe letting themselves off too easy. Yeah, it's supposed to be that there's been no A messages for a few months and they've been lulled into a sense of safety, but it's just handled so artlessly for the sake of plot devices.

That said, Lucy Hale looks fantastic this season.


Kelly Sedinger said...

Whoa, what? You had a HK contestant contact you under a fake name? Really? How did I miss that?!

Tallulah Morehead said...

I skipped The Hatfields and the McCoys. 6 minutes is too much time to spend watching Kevin Costner, let alone 6 hours. And then right after it finishes airing, Richard Dawson, the original host of Family Feud, dies! Co-incidence? Well, they'd like you to think so!