US TV

Review: The Outsiders 1×1 (US: WGN America)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm ET, WGN America
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When it comes to America, I’m an outsider. I’m not from America, I’ve not lived in America and I have no American relatives. Sure, I’ve been to many parts of America, watched stupid amounts of American TV and movies, worked for an American company, got married in America, done American studies at (secondary) school and even had an I-visa that allowed me to stay and work in the US for up to five years if I’d wanted.

But none of that makes me American and it certainly doesn’t qualify me to understand why The Outsiders exists. 

In a way, I imagine liking The Outsiders is the US equivalent of someone English train-spotting or Morris dancing. These are quintessentially English things that even a lot of English people have trouble understanding, but which the rest of the world looks at as though the devotee in question should have an entire chapter of the DSM dedicated to them, and maybe the entire country itself should be sown with salt. Why on Earth would anyone do these things?

The Outsiders isn’t without antecedents, either. An everyday tale of an inbred family of Southeners, sticking by their own kind, obeying a stern family figure, living by their own rules, drinking moonshine, racing all over the place, breaking whatever laws they want while the cops try and fail to catch them? The Dukes of Hazzard was there first, obviously.

Even if you didn’t get any of the subtext about Southerners or know anything much about the US, the The Dukes of Hazzard‘s popularity wasn’t a real mystery, since you could still enjoy the car chases or whichever one of the Duke family you fancied the most.

But the existence of The Outsiders is as mystifying to me as the thematically similar Sons of Anarchy. I don’t get why you’d want to watch a show about a bunch of dirty, unattractive mountain men who go round stealing, poisoning, shooting people, lopping each others’ fingers off and suffocating their mothers in the name of family law. If this was The Dukes of Hazzard, I’d be on Boss Hogg’s side, and here I’m on the side of the sheriff (Thomas M Wright) and the FBI guys who want to evict the Family Chromosomeless from their mountain home in favour of the evil mining company who’ve just bought the land.

I can theorise it’s all about some nostalgia for the Wild West, for small government, for constitutional rights governing property, the need for a strong family, et al. Maybe it’s because the Duck Dynasty guys are better fictionalised than in reality. But if to get a strong family you need to stick one of your members in a cage for a few weeks for the crime of having ‘gone travelling’, maybe a strong family isn’t worth it, and things like medicine, proper plumbing and shaving are much better ideas?

To be fair to the show, The Outsiders is about as smart a drama as you can make about a family of 200 or so cousins, only one of whose members can read. Compared to the bigots you might have been imagining, the ‘Ferrells’ are actually something rather different, accepting of black and trans women alike. Their strange family society, which has evolved over 200 years to shun money and has its own royal family, complete with codes of etiquette, is intriguing, too.

But The Outsiders is still about a bunch of people who’ll ride quad bikes into a supermarket and steal what they want with impunity, because they know no one’s coming after them. Are they the equivalent of The Krays? Are they Kentucky ‘legends’? Or are they the equivalent of ‘travellers‘ in the UK? Is, as one of the cast describes it, ‘Mad Max meets Little House On The Prairie‘ a good thing in US terms or a bad thing?

I just don’t know. And maybe you have to be American to truly know if The Outsiders is a good or a bad programme. But given how many Australians there are in the cast, maybe not. So I’ll go with bad.

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What TV’s on at the BFI in March? Including Doctor Thorne, The A Word and the Frank Cvitanovich season

Time to look at what TV the BFI is showing in March. With the LGBT Film Festival taking over the South Bank between 17 and 27 March, there’s slim pickings, to be honest, but as well as a short season of Frank Cvitanovich documentaries, you can also look forward to previews of Julian Fellowes’ adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne and the six-part drama The A-Word, the word in question being autism.

Who’s Frank Cvitanovich? He was a Canadian documentary maker who did lots of work for Thames TV, that’s who. In particular, he made this one about Barry Sheene. You can’t watch it at the BFI, though. Soz.

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in March? Including Doctor Thorne, The A Word and the Frank Cvitanovich season”

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Review: Baskets 1×1 (US: FX)

In the US: Thursdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell not only if something is funny but if it’s actually trying to be funny. Consider the clown. The very name ‘clown’ evinces the ides that humour is his raison d’être. Yet all he does all day is dress up very weirdly, squirt others with water from a flower and have big shoes.

Do you know anyone who finds clowns funny? I don’t. Do kids, the alleged target audience, find clowns funny? Most seem to get nightmares about them and their horrifying nature is supported in all manner of movies.

Yet clowns continue to exist.

Consider then the irony of Baskets. It’s written and created by Zach Galifianakis and Louis CK, both noted names in comedy. It stars Galifianakis not once but twice as twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets, which again suggests the show is a comedy. And Chip Baskets is himself a clown, having gone to a prestigious clown school in Paris and who styles himself as ‘Renoir’.

All indicators, surely, of comedy?

Yet sitting through it, I had to ask myself many many times: “Am I missing something or is this just not funny? At all.” Is it supposed to be funny that Baskets has enrolled in a Paris clown school but doesn’t speak French? Or that the first five minutes of everyone else’s dialogue are in unsubtitled French? I didn’t laugh. Maybe it was because I could understand what everyone was saying and you’re not supposed to be able to, I thought.

So is it funny that when he has to return home to the US because he’s run out of money, the Frenchwoman he loves agrees to marry him but with the proviso that “I don’t love you. It’s only because I want a Green Card. I do not find you attractive, so if I find someone who is attractive, is it okay if I go off with him?” It’s dark. Very dark. It could be funny, if a little xenophobic. Maybe I’m supposed to laugh. I don’t know.

Is it funny when Baskets has to get a job as a rodeo clown? Or when he has a crash on his moped and he meets a very low key, underplayed, monotone insurance agent (Martha Kelly) and asks to borrow $40 from her so he can pay for his fiancée’s HBO connection? Is Louie Anderson in drag playing Galifianakis’ mum funny? Is Galifianakis being pronged by a rodeo bull funny?

I. Just. Don’t. Know.

It might well be that this is hilariously funny stuff for some people. The kind of people whom Aaron Sorkin thought would lap up commedia dell’arte sketches in a primetime Saturday night sketch show.

But not me. Is that funny?