Oh, geez! It's 'Fargo' time again
Plus, a 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off' post-mortem, 'The Curse,' 'For All Mankind,' and 'Welcome to The O.C.' is almost here!
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I discuss matters of state in moist repose…
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Welcome to the yogalates
Happy Black Friday, everyone! We are now FOUR — count ‘em! — days away from the release of Welcome to The O.C. It’s not too late to preorder — and, thus, to get the free bonus chapter — but I’d of course also be happy with anyone who wanted to buy it on or after November 28. I hear it makes a fine Chrismukkah gift.
Last week, I did the hard sell, with my argument that while this is the specific story of The O.C., it also functions as a symbolic lesson in how TV shows in general function, particularly in the pre-streaming era. So this week, let’s take it easy, with a clip from one of my favorite scenes of the whole show.
Among the fascinating things about The O.C. is that it functioned as both a straightforward soap and as a self-aware comedy, without the two tones getting in each other’s way. There were some actors who were better at the melodrama, like Mischa Barton. There were some whose specialty was comedy, like Adam Brody. And some, like Peter Gallagher or Rachel Bilson, could do both equally well. And there were fans of the show who preferred one mode, at times wishing the other one didn’t exist. The final season was almost pure comedy, and the people who were into the soap version were not happy at all about that.
This scene, though, is all humor, all the way, and it’s a delight. So enjoy that, and perhaps we can talk more about the book next week after it’s available to all.
What’s Alan writing?
As promised last week, I did a long post-mortem interview with Scott Pilgrim Takes Off creators Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski about the many, many, MANY deviations the new Netflix anime series took from both O’Malley’s original comic books and Edgar Wright’s 2010 film adaptation. I really enjoyed the new show, but I’m curious what both the Scott Pilgrim die-hards and casuals thought of it.
A new episode of The Curse is live, which means my latest recap is, too. A few weeks in, how are people feeling about it? (For that matter, is anyone here watching it?)
For All Mankind recaplet: “The Bear Hug”
Last week, I noted that For All Mankind’s true heart tends to be in space. For this week, at least, the more exciting doings are back on Terra Firma.
Up in Happy Valley, Miles begins to apprentice with black marketeer Ilya, and in turn opens up a whole new line of business for Ilya with the North Koreans. (Side note to this: even by FAM standards, the wig they have poor C.S. Lee wearing is embarrassing.) And we also find out that Ed Baldwin — square-jawed, straight-laced, All-American poster boy hero — has started a pot farm on Mars to help mitigate the condition that’s causing his hand to shake.
But the big emotional events happen on Earth. Aleida and Kelly finally find an interested investor in Dev, but that’s partially because he needs Kelly’s Helios shares to help him retake control of the company. Dev is deliberately an enigma, which can be intriguing at some times, frustrating at others. Since this is his first appearance of the season, I’ll let the arrow point more towards intriguing. The real meat of that story, though, is Aleida’s visit to see Bill and get him to use his shares to help with the takeover bid. Bill has his own scars from the terrorist bombing at the end of last season. Because he now uses a wheelchair, his scars are just more obvious to the world than Kelly’s PTSD. But it’s powerful to see the two of them finally get together to talk about what they went through that day, and about how hard it’s been to move past it. It’s an effective payoff to a relationship the show built up over the previous two seasons(*).
(*) One small complaint: Bill says that Aleida has been at Mission Control for 15 years, when we saw the two of them working together there in Season Two, which was set 20 years before the events of this episode.
Mostly, though, this one is all about Poor Martha… I mean, Poor Margo, being caught up in the middle of a violent coup of Gorbachev, being passed from faction to faction, her situation seemingly growing more precarious each time. On the one hand, this feels slightly off topic, in the same way that a lot of the White House material last season did. But things do end up with Margo now a significant part of the new order at Star City, working under new Roscosmos boss Irina. Mostly, though, Wrenn Schmidt’s performance is so visceral that it almost doesn’t matter how much this has to do with the space program. (Also, Margo’s wrists being chained to a ceiling pipe evokes what happened to her character back on The Americans Season Two, when she was playing a Russian being targeted by an American, instead of vice versa.)
And as was the cast last week, I am a soft touch: if you put a New Pornographers song on your soundtrack (in this case, “Mass Romantic,” which is playing in an early scene at Ilya’s speakeasy), I automatically bump you up half a grade.
Fargo back in familiar form
Finally, we have the first new Fargo season in three years. As I say in my Rolling Stone review, Noah Hawley seems to have responded to the audience’s rejection of Season Four by deciding to retreat to safe territory. We’re not only back in Minnesota, but in a story that feels closer in tone and content to the first three seasons than the Kansas City arc did in 2020.
Because it’s a short week, and because there are two new episodes to deal with, I’m not going to attempt to do any kind of straight recap. Instead, here are some random thoughts (with some spoilers) I had watching these:
Which is the stranger place to put an extended Home Alone homage: a season of Fargo, or a James Bond movie? Probably the latter (which happened at the end of Skyfall), but you can tell Hawley and company are clearly having fun showing Dot improvising weapons to deal with her various attackers.
Juno Temple seems to be playing Dot closer to Minnesota Nice caricature than any of the leads in previous seasons. But then the second episode reveals that it’s meant to be a put-on, when she drops the accent and the plastered-on smile to warn her mother-in-law Lorraine, “If you wanna tussle with me, you better sleep with both eyes open. Because nobody takes what's mine and lives."
When I first saw The Hudsucker Proxy almost 30 years ago, I was very turned off to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance, which felt like she was trying way too hard to sound like a Rosalind Russell-type Forties movie dame. In hindsight, she was maybe the person in that movie’s cast who best understood the assignment. Here, she’s not giving the exact same performance, but it’s in the ballpark enough that you can imagine Lorraine being Amy Archer’s granddaughter.
Minor Coen homages: Ole Munch, the kilt-wearing lead home invader, declares that he believes in nothing, much like the members of a certain German techno-pop group who once threatened to cut off The Dude’s johnson. Also, when we see Dot’s husband Wayne at work at his Kia dealership, a voice on the PA is promoting the True Coat sealant, which was one of the scams Jerry Lundegaard kept trying to pull with his customers in the Fargo movie.
Jon Hamm, in a hot tub, with nipple piercings. That’s it. That’s the bullet point.
That’s it for this week! What does everybody else think?