Monday, January 26, 2015

Netflixing ~ Pitfalls for Actors and Viewers. Top of the Lake; The Fall.

There's a newish pitfall for actors, and for audiences, in these days of unlimited viewing, easy access to just about everything ever created for the TV or silver screen, binge-watching over a short period, series which had taken years to unfold when served in weekly helpings and yearly seasons. The pitfall: an updated version of typecasting. I'll try to outline these tangled thoughts, which apply mainly to actors and audiences of long-running weekly TV drama series, rather than "one-off" movies.

Typecasting, of course, isn't new, actors male and female have been prey to it since early days of the entertainment industry. Back then, though, consumption of entertainment and drama was limited. Access has increased step by step: from theatre to cinema, to TV, to computers with YouTube and various streaming possibilities, and on to Netflix and all similar outlets, extending our easy reach much further and faster. We have opportunity, now, to see some of our favourite actors in a much wider variety of parts, and in quicker succession, than was possible in the past via cable TV packages, DVDs, and occasional trips to the cinema. A side effect of all this will be the occasional accidental "bleed-over" between very different characters portrayed by the same actor.

Two series we've been watching recently have underlined the above ponderings for me. Top of the Lake and The Fall. Both series feature one or more actors better-known for their roles in long-running weekly TV series. Top of the Lake has Elizabeth Moss in the leading part, she also plays "Peggy" an audience favourite in Mad Men. The Fall stars Gillian Anderson, who, as "Dana Scully", shared the lead in The X-Files with David Duchovny for several years.
The Fall also has has Archie Panjabi, well known to us from The Good Wife, where she plays "Kalinda" (see left), in-house investigator assisting a firm of lawyers. In The Fall she plays Dr Reed Smith, pathologist. I read, just the other day, that Archie has resigned from her role in The Good Wife for the very reason I'm mentioning here: characterisitics of "Kalinda" were bleeding through into her acting in the new role, where they were out of place - she realised this herself.

Had we never seen these three actors (all female as it happens) in any other roles, we'd have accepted them in these parts with no qualms whatsoever. As it is, we found it tricky not to continue attributing to them some characteristics well-remembered from their famous, long-running TV roles. I don't see this as a consequence of poor acting on their part - not at all - but it's the kind of hiccup we'll likely to come across more and more.

I had intended simply to write brief reviews of the two series Top of the Lake and The Fall, before wading into that little lot, I'll do that now:

Top of the Lake
Cross Twin Peaks and Justified, set it in the wilds of New Zealand with a female lead, and you'd get a near-relative of Top of the Lake. We watched the mini-series via Netflix, two or three episodes at a sitting. I didn't not like it, but wasn't over-enthusiastic either, husband felt much the same.

The scenery and photography were super, no argument on that. Acting was good to average. Elizabeth Moss, of Mad Men fame in the leading part was good in many ways, though I never quite believed her; the main "baddie" played by Scottish actor Peter Mullan (new to me) stood out as the better characterisation.

 Elizabeth Moss as Detective  Robin Griffin  & Peter Mullan as Matt Mitcham

The drama's theme revolves around a small community living in New Zealand's middle-of-nowhere, with a mini-drug lord and lazy, lackadaisical police department running things. The mini-drug lord has a family of ne'er do well sons. A 12-year old girl in the opening shot appears to be about to commit suicide by drowning in a freezing cold lake. Thereby hang several tales, which meander around various dark alleys for several episodes. The 12-year old, who we discover is pregnant, eventually disappears into the wilderness. A visiting police detective, once a local gal, becomes involved in helping to locate the pregnant child, Tui.

There's a trailer campsite in the area, occupied by a group of abused or mentally damaged females, presided over by a rather odd character known as "GJ" (left, played by Holly Hunter). GJ irritated me no end! Characterisation of the women, though well acted, was overdone almost to the point of comedy - which in these circumstances, ought not to have been the case. I'd blame the writing rather than the acting.

The mini-series was co-written by Jane Campion and Gerald Lee for the BBC and Sundance channel. I found it all a wee bit...I dunno....affected, unnatural...too much trying to be something it wasn't.

We were interested to discover the answers to many questions thrown up in the plotlines, yet disappointed that these answers came, eventually, in rapid succession in a series of almost throw-away lines during the last few minutes of the finale. Some questions remain unanswered or murky - possibly a deliberate ploy by the writers, again, to my mind an affectation.

I'm in the minority in my opinion, most reviews I've seen praise the series highly, and those reviewers might be correct, I simply report it as I found it.

The Fall
This is one of those "cop" stories about efforts to catch a serial killer - we've all seen 'em before. This one was written by Allan Cubitt for the BBC. The Fall attempts to look at its storyline from a quirkily dark and oblique angle (this has also been done before), and uses a fairly unfamiliar setting for its story: Belfast, Northern Ireland. Gillian Anderson of The X-Files fame is cast as leading character: Detective Superintendent (DSI) Stella Gibson, seconded from London's Metropolitan Police Service to head a task force to investigate a series of "set piece" murders of young professional women in the city.

For viewers there's no who-done-it game to play, the answer arrives very early on. The game for viewers is to discover and wonder at the two-sided personalities of the two leading characters: DSI Gibson and Paul Spector the murderer (played by Jamie Dornan), and to perhaps ponder upon that old saying : "it takes one to know one."

 Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), family man,  grief counsellor & serial killer

DSI Gibson's personality did keep mixing itself with Dana Scully's for us, not a comfortable mix! Gibson should have more in common with Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) than Dana Scully.

 DSI Stella Gibson & Dr Reed Smith (Gillian Anderson & Archie Panjabi)

I worried, initially, about the Belfast setting. Were we were going to be regaled with yet another Catholic versus Protestant theme with sad echoes of 1970s' Troubles? If this had been the case I'd have switched off at once. Those old wounds were well hidden for the most part, other than a distinct air of menace pervading the Shankill district, and a few clunky hints that thugs, presumably of both stripes, do still exist in that once-benighted city.

As with Top of the Lake we were not over-enthusiastic about The Fall, but remained interested enough to keep watching. During the 5 episodes of the first season husband tended to fall asleep after around 20 minutes of each episode. There were truly some turgid stretches and plenty of padding, likely to tax even the keenest viewer's eyelids. Season 2 picked up pace but became more predictable, even more formulaic and clichéd with its introduction of a pedophile priest; a left-over from the Troubles loyalist thug wife-beater; psychology-for-dummies type mumbo-jumbo; a troubled and unbelievably twisted teenager...and so on... throw 'em all in, mix well, then spread to the limits of the mix.

The series ending was, in similar vein to the ending of Top of the Lake, rushed, sudden, not at all satisfactorily tied up. This must be the fashionable thing for writers to do these days - leave things hanging, in the hope that viewers will mentally write their own endings.

The Fall simply wasn't different enough. Our problem could be that we've seen too many episodes of Law and Order SVU, too many cop movies and series during our long lives to be excited by something like this series. We've grown used to seeing women in charge now, once that was a novelty in itself. Such characterisations don't get much better than Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson in "SVU". Gillian Anderson's expressionless face and monotone voice, while a tad quirky and stylish at first, soon became boringly phoney. Other members of the cast turned in good enough performances, from material available.

For something police based and different from the usual formula, we both found True Detective, in its 8-part first season, far superior in every way to The Fall. But that's just us.


mike said...

I've been cautious about viewing series, if there are more than ten episodes...LOL. "Black Mirror" was perfect...six episodes, each independent of the other episodes. However, I'm contemplating the "Weeds" series, but 96 episodes, which is a big commitment for me.

Your comments about actors' character portrayals possibly spilling-over into their other concomitant roles or the viewer locking actors into their roles, reminds me of William Shatner. His "Captain James Kirk" of "Startrek" fame didn't hamper producers from casting him in later productions divergent from his original role. It took me a few years to re-assign him to his future characterizations in other series. My favorite was his role as Denny Crane, "The Practice" and "Boston Legal"...I particularly enjoyed the "Boston Legal" finale that centered on his "manly" kiss...LOL.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Since I recommended you check out "Top of the Lake", I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it more, though at least your response gives me a better idea of what *not* to recommend in the future.:)

Btw, we're about to pick up the "Return to Cranford" sequel from the library this afternoon. We also rented "Winter's Tale" but have yet to watch it ~ we're looking forward to both.

I always appreciate your reviews, especially of movies and series I might otherwise have missed. Thanks.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I adored "Boston Legal" - it's up there near the top of my "All Time Favourites" list - we enjoyed "The Practice" too. Anything by David E. Kelley will get me watching!

There are a couple of archived post mentioning Boston Legal:

As I didn't ever watch Star Trek the Shatner cross-over didn't bother me.
After seeing all of BL though and enjoying James Spader's performance, I acquired any old Spader movies I could find on tape or DVD - and had trouble relating his younger self to the more mature, and heavier version.

I enjoy getting into a really good series, especially now we can watch episodes and seasons in quick succession. "West Wing" is another at the top of my ATF list. Top of 'em all, though remain oldies "Centennial" and "Lonesome Dove".

Twilight said...

LB ~ Yes, I remembered you'd enjoyed "Top of the Lake", and I also noticed it named by several people on recommended lists at a British Ex-Pats forum - so we gave it a whirl. I did find it interesting enough to keep watching, but not a favourite.

I hope you like the "Cranford" sequel - I think you will. I'll be interested to hear what you think of "Winter's Tale". :-)

mike (again) said...

I imagine you found some humor in the White-House-attacked-by-drone headline today:

"A small drone flying low to the ground crashed onto the White House grounds before dawn Monday, triggering a major emergency response and raising fresh questions about security at the presidential mansion. A man later came forward to say he was responsible and didn't mean to fly it over the complex."

A bit like the "Black Mirror" first episode about the PM, pig, and Technology used against the politicians. I wonder how the White House will protect from future attacks?!

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ I hadn't seen that headline. HuffPo has been leading on the snow storm expected for NYC and general area.

Maybe having a drone, even a small inoffensive one, might encourage His Nibs and Mrs Nibs and the younger Nibs think on things more clearly, and realise how it feels to have death always hanging overhead! Grrrr!

Yes, echoes of "Black Mirror" Ep.#1 - except I doubt it was meant as performance art this time though. :-)

mike (again) said...

An artist with a message:

Anonymous said...

Hey dere ... Mugsy here.

I got home and dere was a Lion AND a Witch in my wardrobe ...
I said, "Hey wha-cha doin?"
They said it was "Narnia business" ...

Happy Solar!


Twilight said...

mike (again) - Had a quick look - good stuff in the first link - love it!
Will take a closer look in the morning at 2nd link

Twilight said...

Anonymous/Kidd ~ Hi there Mugsy!

LOL!!! Gotta keep a close eye on dem witches mate!

Thank you kindly! It has turned midnight, so it's here (once again).. that ol' counter and registerer of time. I shall raise my hand once again and say "Present Y'r Honour (so there!)" as he ticks his clip board. ;-)

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Thanks again for the Anthony Freda links. Excellent - it's the first time I've knowingly seen any of his work.

I wandered around a few more links to him thrown up by Google and in one comment thread he gave a link to his Facepbook page - I think anyone can access it...I did, but maybe it's because I once joined - for about 15 minutes - then deactivated my account. Try the link and see, anyway.

Wish his d.o.b. were available...that'd be interesting!

mike (again) said...

I'm sure there are other activist artists busily portraying our era, but this is the first I've seen with a large portfolio and established enough to have a blurb in Newsweek about his 9-11 statement. I visited his Facebook page last night. He has additional work here and there on the internet, too. His work is very much in tune with my peeves and he's intently focused on these grievances...LOL. Hope he doesn't end-up in Gitmo, labelled a terrorist-artist.