This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I fantasize about being the Ray Liotta character in the final scene of Hannibal…
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Are we having fungi yet?
My review of HBO’s The Last of Us begins with this line, which Rolling Stone used to promote it on social media:
Among the many compliments I can give HBO’s The Last of Us is that it eventually made me forget that it’s based on a video game.
This being the internet, the reaction to that quote drew two wildly different responses from two different sets of people. Those who only read the blurb tended to get angry on behalf of video games, feeling I was being dismissive of an entire medium. And those who actually read the review understood the point I was making about the differences between games and film/TV, why so many previous game adaptations have been so bad, and why this one works really well as a television show.
But that is the Internet for you, on far more subjects than my little TV reviews. We’ll be talking about The Last of Us a lot over the coming weeks, for reasons I’ll get to down below. I am wary of overselling it, because for the most part it is not aiming to be High Art(*), but a really well-executed piece of pulp/genre storytelling. But it has moments of incredible artistry, and the rest of the time is so satisfying that it made me even more annoyed that I stuck with The Walking Dead for as long as I did.
(*) I remember Roger Ebert used to get yelled at by gamers for insisting that video games could not be art — not because they were bad, but because the interactive component prevented them from ultimately representing a specific vision in the way a narrative feature film does.
Ask me no questions, I’ll embargo no lies
The other thing I wrote for this week is a making-of feature about Poker Face, the new Peacock mystery series, created by Rian Johnson and starring Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale, a woman with the superhuman ability to always tell when someone is lying. The feature is, I think, one of the better things I’ve written in a while, though I was helped enormously by having so many smart and articulate people to talk to like Johnson, Lyonne, Karina Longworth, and more.
Peacock has, for reasons passing understanding, embargoed reviews of this show until January 25, the day before it premieres. So I am inexplicably barred from expressing an opinion on it. So let me just tell you the following things, and you will perhaps be able to read between the lines:
I just published a ~4000-word feature on the show, which could have easily been twice as long if it wasn’t originally being written to fit on four pages of the Rolling Stone print magazine.
I will be, over the next couple of weeks, publishing separate Q&As with Johnson and Lyonne, featuring various things they said that I did not have room for in said feature.
I’ll also be writing a review, and will be writing regularly about the season in another way, which we’ll get to in a minute.
It is a purely episodic, Mystery of the Week show, created by one of my favorite filmmakers of recent vintage (and the man who directed what I continue to believe is the single greatest episode of dramatic television ever made), starring one of my favorite actors.
If you know me at all, you can obviously tell that I [EMBARGOED] it.
So… to recap?
In the second of these newsletters, I talked about how my process for choosing what shows to recap has changed over the years. At the time, I wrote that I wasn’t sure when, or if, I’d pick a show to recap between the end of Atlanta and the Season Four premiere of Succession. Well, I think I have two.
Starting Sunday night(*), I’ll be covering each episode of The Last of Us as it airs over at Rolling Stone. (As a reminder, you can find all of my stories here.) I’ll be approaching the show as a non-gamer, in the same way I approached Game of Thrones back in the day as someone who hadn’t (and still hasn’t) read George R.R. Martin’s books. As always, my theory is that if an adaptation doesn’t work if you don’t know the source material, then it has failed creatively. Fortunately, this one has not, and I imagine there will be a lot to discuss every week.
(*) This will be the first time since the launch of the newsletter where the Friday morning release schedule seems less-than-ideal, since it will be nearly a week after a big show I’m covering has dropped an episode. But for now, I’m sticking with Fridays.
Meanwhile, starting with the newsletter on the 27th, I’ll be offering weekly analysis here in the newsletter — at a length still to be determined, but probably only a paragraph or two — of Poker Face. I cannot share my embargoed opinions of the execution of the show. But as someone who has long championed the value of episodic TV, I feel like it would be hypocritical to not in some way regularly discuss how things are going on a show built around the classic Mystery of the Week format. Because they’ll have spoilers, I will put these at the end of each newsletter.
That’s it for this week!
I really was started to think that episodic TV was mostly dead, outside of the endless array of network procedurals/doctor/lawyer shows that all feel like copies of the same show. Beyond sit coms (live action or animated), the format has either been replaced by anthologies (which I've grown fairly weary of) or faux episodic shows like The Witcher season 1, where it started episodic and then morphed into serialized TV before it's first season even ended. I'm looking forward to Poker Face just because someone needed to take a big swing at bringing the format back for mystery of the week.
Everything you lay out in this newsletter going forward is GREAT, and maybe the Friday release schedule will be a boon because we'll all have had ample opportunity to see new episodes and think on them before seeing your thoughts.
Thanks for the upcoming short recapping/reviewing of Poker Face. Listened to a Vulture podcast of an interview with Rian Johnson and was impressed with his reverence and love for the genre dating back to Rockford, et al. Though should not have been surprised given the virtuosity of Knives Out and Glass Onion. Can we just have a requirement that Graham Yost and Rian Johnson make at least a show or 2 per year?