How To Say Goodbye to John Wilson
Plus, 'What We Do in the Shadows,' 'Lower Decks,' 'The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon,' and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I see Lou Diamond Phillips everywhere I go...
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How To make a great finale
As promised in last week’s newsletter, I had a lot to say about the series finale of HBO’s How To with John Wilson, a miracle of a documentary/comedy that managed to find both absurdity and pathos where you least expected either, and that always took the most circuitous route possible to each and every moment.
The day after the finale aired, I joked on The Social Media Platform Formerly Known As Twitter that How To should be considered part of an entirely different How Did This Get Made? podcast, because I cannot entirely fathom how such a niche, idiosyncratic show wound up anywhere on television.
Obviously, HBO is not “anywhere,” and the pay cable giant has a long history of greenlighting oddities that seem designed to be the favorite series of three dozen people and only those three dozen. The same could be said for FX, yet there is a part of me that still cannot accept that anyone approved the making of something as specific and as hard to describe as Reservation Dogs. Obviously, it’s wonderful that there remain places in this increasingly corporate business that are willing to nurture talents like Wilson or Sterlin Harjo, and are willing to gamble that shows as strange and inexplicable as these will find enough of an audience to be worth their while. Yet I think about the vacuum cleaner sequence from this season of How To, or John’s final interview, and I am flabbergasted and grateful that this exists at all, much less on a platform big enough to justify me writing about it.
To vamp or not to vamp?
As alluded to previously, this has been a summer (a year and a half, really) of health stuff, and there where several lengthy periods where it literally hurt to laugh. So I wound up watching the latest season of What We Do in the Shadows in a few bursts, with long gaps in between. As a result, I don’t feel like I can offer thoughts on the season as a whole that will feel as cohesive as, say, what Noel Murray has been writing over at Episodic Medium. So instead I will offer two thoughts, one small and one big, with spoiler warnings for both.
The small: when, late in the roast of Laszlo episode, Guillermo opened the door of the house and inadvertently lit the Baron on fire again, I laughed as long and as loud as I have at anything in a very long time. As spectacularly set-up and executed a callback as you will find.
The big: even though I’m generally someone who gets annoyed when long-running shows hit the reset button on changes to the status quo, I really liked what the finale did with Guillermo’s quest to become a vampire.
Why didn’t I mind Guillermo reverting back to humanity, especially given how much I’d enjoyed the way the season allowed him to be not a
girl human, not yet a woman vampire? Mainly because it came from character, and enhanced our understanding of the characters — Nandor in particular. While Shadows for the most part revels in the stupidity of the vampires, it very smartly picks its spots in showing each of them having more savvy and depth than we usually give them credit for. So Nandor immediately understanding that Guillermo’s Van Helsing blood was holding back his transformation — a connection that the allegedly smarter Laszlo never once made — was good. But even better was the revelation at the heart of the master/familiar relationship: Nandor hasn’t been refusing to transform Guillermo because he’s an oblivious, selfish jerk, but because he has long understood that Guillermo’s fundamental sweetness wouldn’t make him comfortable with feasting on human blood.
I don’t think the series needs to give the vampires these occasional moments of depth, because it’s such an incredible joke delivery system no matter what. But the experience of watching Shadows is richer for these opportunities to see that they’re not blinkered, imbecilic assholes all day, every day, for centuries.
Plus, I don’t imagine that Guillermo going back to humanity will be 100% a reset. He’s not only tasted life as a vampire and rejected it, but been forced to confront his discomfort with a crucial part of the vampire lifestyle — and one he enables by finding food for Nandor and the others. And on top of that, Nandor and the others will be keenly aware of his choice. So it’s not like we’ll just be back to the same jokes from Season One.
Regardless, now that I’m allowed to laugh again, I will dearly miss this show until it’s able to return.
Daryl Dixon rides again
I wound up not reviewing The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, but I did watch the first episode after hearing from a few other critics that 1)I could jump in despite not having watched anything from the franchise since the first appearance of Negan and his stupid bat, and 2)That the new show was perhaps the best TWD they’d seen since the first few seasons of the original show. The former absolutely proved to be true. While I’m sure there are some useful details about what Daryl’s been up to since I last saw him, what happened with him and Carol, etc., the new show is basically a clean slate where he washes up on a beach in the south of France and interacts with a whole new set of characters.
As for the latter? Again, I’ve only seen one episode, a tiny sample size. I did think it was pretty good, though, which is perhaps not a surprise given how often Norman Reedus was the best part of the main series. It wasn’t enough to encourage me to keep going, though, in part because the premise — Daryl has to escort a kid with a Chosen One narrative across hostile territory — is hilariously the same as The Last of Us, a show that could feel like a Walking Dead rip-off and instead has creatively eaten its lunch. It’s going to be quite some time before Last of Us returns, especially as the AMPTP keeps letting the strikes drag on and on, but I’m fine waiting for the real thing rather than a decent approximation. If you’re hungrier for that kind of material, or if you have more affection for Daryl, The Walking Dead, or both, than I do, by all means.
Odds and/or ends
This week's Reservation Dogs focused on a haunting that was at first ridiculous, then sad, then beautiful. In other words, Reservation Dogs! I had a lot more to say in my review.
I was very pleased with the new season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and used my review as a way to look back on how unimpressed I was with the show way back when it debuted on CBS All Access. (Remember CBS All Access?)
Another show I watched — in this case, the full season — but wound up not reviewing was Showtime’s Dreaming Whilst Black. A British half-hour comedy (A24 and the BBC, among others, were involved in making it), it stars and was co-written by Adjani Salmon. He plays a Jamaican-British man who dreams of being a filmmaker, but keeps slamming into a mix of institutional racism and his own bad choices. I think the show is really sharp when it comes to race and culture (the hero’s best friend is Nigerian, so there’s a mix of both Caribbean and African influences on what happens). But it also has a lot of desperation to break into the business, awkward self-sabotage, etc., which fits the material but was well above my threshold for the comedy of discomfort. (More than once, I lunged for the 15-second skip button on the screeners, just to get past the fiasco I knew was coming.) Again, that is a me thing rather than a show thing, and I’d definitely like to see what Salmon does next.
It got lost in the shuffle of other things in recent newsletters, but The Great has been canceled after three seasons. Hulu did the show zero favors by dropping Season Three as a binge release in early May, aka at the tail end of the busiest time of the TV year. It was an attempt to get Emmy nominations for Elle Fanning and/or Nicholas Hoult, which obviously didn’t work, and the season got completely swallowed up by everything else that was running at that time. I’m sad about this, because the show lived up to its title. An argument can be made that the significant death that happened late in the season suggests this should have been the ending, and the last sequence with Catherine dancing is a fine note to close things on, and one of the best moments Fanning has ever had on screen. But I also really wanted to see Catherine operate without that character looming over her, and now we won’t get that. Oh, well. It’s at least a great binge for anyone who has yet to watch.
I thought this week’s Ahsoka was a substantial improvement over previous episodes, between the lightsaber duels being thrilling, Sabine making a tough and probably terrible choice that fit her character, and the nuance with Baylan. (The ending is also promising, but that’s more about what’s going to come next week than what happened here.) That said, I really wish that... every... exchange... of dialogue... didn't require... long... pauses... between each sentence... and sometimes... in the middle... of each line. There is making certain moments feel weightier, and then there is this, which instead makes the whole thing feel ponderous.
Finally, the 30th anniversary of the premiere of The X-Files is on Sunday night. This is already a long newsletter, so this paragraph is mainly me reminding myself to write something longer next week regarding everyone’s favorite pair of oppositely-matched FBI agents, bees, black oil, and the works of Jose Chung.
Wait, no. I remembered there’s one more thing I keep forgetting to mention. I wrote a book! It’s an oral history of The O.C. and it’s available for pre-order right now! I’ll actually have some more news about this soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this picture of some of the cast and crew reuniting on the picket line this week:
That’s it for this week? What did everybody else think?