TV Minus the TV: Ballers is bigger than its problems and Hannibal gets audacious
Welcome to TV Minus the TV, a column full of thoughts about TV shows watched on laptops published on the internet for you to read on your phone.
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Ballers #104, “Heads Will Roll” by Bryce Rudow
Hannibal #306, “Dolce” by Charles Bramesco
Ballers #104, “Heads Will Roll”
Bigger Than Your Problems
BY BRYCE RUDOW (@brycetrudow)
Rob Corddry would like to remind you that contrary to popular belief, I don’t get paid per hateful word:
You don't get paid per hateful word. https://t.co/2HhqSfDHzH
— rob corddry (@robcorddry) July 7, 2015
It’s just that last week I, as a fan of narrative coherency, got a little offended when Rob Corddry’s character Joe dropped a very out of character N-bomb at the end of the third episode (not to mention the unbelievability of the partygoers’ reaction).
Fortunately, Ballers has my back. Not only did they have Spencer promise that he would kill Joe if Joe ever said that again#, they had Vernon remind me that I was looking at this show all wrong. I was focusing on the plot holes and the two-dimensional characters and wondering where this was all heading, when really, I just gotta think positive.
Let’s jump to the Inside the Episode for this week:
Though Rob Weiss gets the writing credit for this episode, Evan Reilly explains to us how this show really works. It wanted to have some exposure on “the concussion issue” without, as they say, “having to go too dark on it,” so they made sure Tracy got Spencer to “put that demon to rest.” As they blatantly lay out (after citing a fairly dubious number about the percentage of linebackers with ‘concussive sydnrome’), we don’t have to worry about all that because Spencerock is in the other 50%, the happy 50%.
When you have an anonymous girl trying to re-enact Soulja Boy’s “Kiss Me Through The Phone” with Charles and it seems a little misogynist, you have to remember it’s only in there because Evan Reilly had “conversations” about how the stream of willing sexual partners for NFL players is “constant and endless.” This is just an aspect of their lives that Ballers is trying to portray. As Reilly even admits, “It’s hard to tell that story without coming off as sexist or unfriendly to females, but it’s a huge part of that world.”
Besides, the reality is that Ballers is bigger than its problems.
This show still has The Rock on it, and it can still lure on Victor Cruz and LaMarr Woodley, and it still knows how to make its target demographic salivate by dangling the thought of a hypothetical bareknuckle match between Richard Sherman and Floyd Mayweather in front of us. Plus they figured out Rob Corddry is at his best when he’s talking fast and seizing boats, not when he’s the awkward, clueless white guy (If nothing else, Hot Tub Time Machine taught us he’s one of the few people that can be a scheming weasel, yet still win our hearts as the underdog). And we haven’t even mentioned Dulé Hill yet…
Despite the odds, the facial hair, stoic look, and vague southern accent are totally working for him. He’s one of the few voices of reason on the show, and I keep wondering if in a different world Charlie from West Wing would have moved on to the world of sports after getting disillusioned by gridlock politics (and that first divorce). I’d like to think so.
So anyways, I’m sorry I got so flustered last week, but do you want me to grab a pair of pom poms and a skirt or do you want me to speak the truth?
Ballers, you’ve been called slow and small and weak, and that’s why you got slammed in the early reviews, isn’t it? All those writers and bloggers and critics… But it must suck balls having all those experts pick you apart on your pilot. Judging your summer’s work on one scene, one line, the fucking Nielsen ratings! Here’s what they don’t get: There’s no test for the heart, for your passion, for your desire. You proved to major outlets they were dead fucking wrong about you, and you have earned every cent you’ve made since.
You’re a fun dude, and a lot more.
Well, a little more…
Now let’s go ball, let’s eat, let’s get it.
Hannibal #306, “Dolce”
The Boy Who Cried Game-Changing Plot Twist
BY CHARLES BRAMESCO (@intothecrevasse)
“Tell me about entanglement. Einstein’s spooky action at a distance. Is it related to quantum theory?”
“Hm. No, I mean, it’s not a theory. It’s proven.”
“How’s it go again?”
“When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.”
“Spooky. Even at opposite ends of the universe?”
— Only Lovers Left Alive
At last, like a pair of swans that have mated for life but also kinda want to kill each other, Will Graham and Hannibal have reunited.
That’s the Big Thing that happens in “Dolce”, perhaps the strongest episode of the season thus far. Though, really, it had to be; the previous five episodes have been fine pieces of work, definitely in league with the seasons that have preceded them. But everything up until “Dolce” has been preamble. Showrunner Bryan Fuller sent Hannibal and Will to far-flung corners of the world for the beginning of the third season, and then sat back as these two self-destructive men inexorably magnetized one another. When Will plops down next to Hannibal as he practices his sketchwork in an art museum, it’s the culmination of all the simmering action that’s taken place thus far. It’s been a long time coming, but we made it. Will and Hannibal are back in the same room.
Naturally, something has to happen. With the mounting tensions of the previous five episodes, along with the constant opining about the inevitability of Will and Hannibal’s showdown,# Fuller has all but promised the audience that some real shit’s gonna go down. The man delivers on his promise, too. “Dolce” is a talky episode, but Fuller and returning director Vincenzo Natali ratchet the action up to eleven in the final minutes.
The climax of the episode harkens back to the show’s finest moment, the gory dinner party at the close of season 2’s “Mizumono”. Hannibal has a couple of old friends for dinner — cue spooky pipe organ music — but, of course, the evening’s entertainment won’t be limited to Pictionary and charades. A not-quite-there Will awakens tied to a chair with the growing suspicion that he’s the main course. Jack makes a valiant ploy to rescue his one remaining ally, but he becomes a reluctant guest as well after crafty Hannibal slices his Achille’s tendon from under the table.# Then, Fuller drops his A-bomb. The shot of Hannibal slicing open Will’s head is the high-water mark of season 3, a grand display of gory artistry from Natali, who pulls back and back and back to reveal that the whole grim tableau has been reflected in a flying drop of blood. It’s yet another gorgeous, insanely audacious visual gambit, rivaled only by the ravishingly psychedelic sex scene in which Alana and Margot appear to go to town on one another inside of a kaleidoscope.
It announces itself as a major turn for the show. And yet, it’s not. Not really, anyway.
Hannibal doesn’t eat Will’s brain. Despite having been cut into like a Christmas ham, Will doesn’t die. Jack’s not going to be doing the old soft-shoe any time soon, but he’s not dying, either. The shot that directly follows Hannibal’s flourish with the bone-saw nearly undoes the massive leap forward that took place seconds earlier. Hannibal’s attack on Will should radically alter the show’s status quo. Instead, it just suspends Hannibal and Will in a meat locker at Mason’s headquarters of Muskrat Farms. He greets them with characteristic lecherous theatricality, and we cut to black. Neat?
The final minutes manage to feel like a game-changer, but I suspect that their import will be revealed as largely illusory in the coming episodes. In the seven remaining episodes of the season,# the likelihood of Mason fucking up Will and Hannibal in any meaningful way remains slim. The characters are too valuable to the fabric of the show. Their relationship can shift and evolve and mutate, but these men cannot kill each other. The show simply won’t allow for it.
Which illustrates a peril that Hannibal has skillfully avoided heretofore. Bear with me for a second: there are character-driven shows and there are plot-driven shows. The best programs successfully marry these two concepts, developing psychological interiority while piecing together a gripping storyline that keeps viewers coming back week after week. The Sopranos, for instance, balanced these two objectives masterfully. And for the most part, Hannibal does too. But as of late, Fuller has gotten mired in what could be fairly called “The Heroes deathtrap”.# Put simply, exciting things happen, appear to signal a major change, and are then undone before they can tamper with the fundamental building blocks of the show.
The core problem here is that Fuller wants it both ways; to tap into the shock and emotional response to a serious attempt on Will’s life, but then to also keep him around for future episodes. It’s a cheapo ploy, stringing viewers along with dazzling twists that end up being hollow on the inside. Perhaps this concern is misplaced, and the macabre fun to come at Muskrat Farms will prove me wrong. In “Dolce”, however, Fuller cries game-changing plot twist one time too many. We can’t come running back forever.
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