A meaty media blow for your Monday morning mainline:
Mad Men: I finally caught up on S2 this weekend. I’ve long maintained that a good show’s second or third seasons should be better than their first. Now that the writers have established all of the characters, they get to take them out of the box and really play with them. Only Betsy Draper remains a real mystery, and I think she’ll start to get her time in the sun again. I’ve also come to appreciate the show’s technical artistry more – the skillful transitions, via image and sound, from one scene to the next. Probably the best show on regular cable.
Guards, Guards: Okay, at your weary insistence I gave Terry Pratchett another go. And it was worth it. Where Color of Magic was a middling picaresque, Guards, Guards has a tightly-paced plot that snaps right along. Where Color satirized other fantasy novels, Guards satirizes the roman noir, politics, religion, markets, etc. And where Color was dull as two ditches, Guards summoned a few dry chuckles. So congratulations, Internet: you got this one right.
Burn Notice: Also up to speed on this gem again. While Mad Men may be the best show on television, Burn Notice is definitely the most fun. After a rocky start, the second season has started to purr like a well-maintained engine. Watch these with popcorn and beer.
The Wild Bunch: Seen this before, of course, but not for years, and never on the big screen. I remembered how violent it was – you never forget Ernest Borgnine using a Mexican prostitute as a human shield – but I’d forgot how artfully it was arranged. Even in the most climactic shootouts or chases you always have a sense of where every character fits in relation to the others. The pacing in the action scenes keeps the tension taut for as long as possible – until everyone busts out laughing, one of the few recurring motifs of the picture.
And the acting! Just one example out of a dozen: William Holden has to put down one of the gang after he gets too wounded to ride. He looks around the surviving members uneasily, knowing that morale couldn’t sink lower than right now. Borgnine chimes in with one of the most remembered lines from the movie: “I think the boys are right. I’d like to say a few words for the dear, dead departed. And maybe a few hymns’d be in order. Followed by a church supper. With a choir!” That line itself is great. But, immediately after saying it, Borgnine shoots Holden a look, as if to say, “I actually would prefer that we had time to bury him, you know.” Holden looks back, saying (without saying it), “So would I, but we really do need to move on.” Borgnine’s silent response: “Right; you’re holding on to your command by a thread as is.” Seriously. Rent the movie, watch that scene, and tell me: (1) that’s not what they’re implying and (2) if any screenwriter working in Hollywood today would try the same thing without writing a bunch of tin-eared dialogue and fucking it up.
Smiley’s People: The last book of le Carre’s great trilogy, though you could honestly skip from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy direct to this one and not miss anything. A more active book than most of le Carre’s, Smiley hustles from one mystery to another like a less artificial Poirot. It’s a deadly and tense chase between him and his last nemesis, the Russian spymaster Karla*. Probably the last book of le Carre’s you need to read, as after this the purple nature of his prose starts to overwhelm the tightness of his plots.
* I may be the only equally obsessive fan of both John le Carre and Burn Notice, but did anyone else spot that both Michael Westen and George Smiley’s arch-nemesis have the same name?