Category Archives: TV


Like “Longmire” meets Wind River meets Lonesome Dove? Could be something. The music here — a bit more pressing than your usual Western fare — piques my interest the most. I’m in for at least the first episode.

Unplug the Clock

“The most defeatist thing I hear is, ‘I’m going to give it a couple of years.’ You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.”

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner

All You Got Is Your Rep

“It’s better to not have a reputation than a bad one.”

Nic Pizzolatto

James Garner (1928–2014)

James Garner11

James Garner played cowboys, soldiers, detectives, astronauts, and race car drivers. He was, as Brandon David Wilson said on Twitter, “American manhood personified,” “a kind of ideal midpoint,” as Ned Raggett tweeted, “between laconic cool and comic vulnerability – like Steve McQueen plus Cary Grant.”

In a great piece for the Atlantic on the dearth of charm among American men, Benjamin Schwarz basically designates Garner – with his “casual wit,” “good-natured ease,” “liking for and appreciation of women,” and “quizzical detachment” – America’s last charming man. He writes, “Garner had a magical ability to convey his offscreen persona of red-blooded, hardworking, plain, and thorough decency, even as his charming onscreen persona didn’t fully jibe with it. He thereby made a light touch and an ironic stance qualities that men found not just appealing but worthy.”

Of the three mid-20th century male TV stars who made the jump to movies – Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and James Garner – Clive James likes Garner the best, mainly because, unlike the more taciturn McQueen and Eastwood, Garner had a facility with words, a crucial component of charm. It doesn’t hurt that Garner was also, by all accounts, a pretty nice guy: married to the same woman since 1956, civil rights advocate, lifelong marijuana smoker.

Garner’s oft-remarked-upon charm is present from the beginning of his career in the late 1950s. Unlike Cary Grant, who didn’t hit his stride charm-wise until well into his career, Garner’s charm appeared more or less fully formed. This, I hypothesize, is partly due to the fact that he did stuff before becoming an actor. He lived life. The New York Times explains:

Mr. Garner came to acting late, and by accident. On his own after the age of 14 and a bit of a drifter, he had been working an endless series of jobs: telephone installer, oilfield roughneck, chauffeur, dishwasher, janitor, lifeguard, grocery clerk, salesman and, fatefully, gas station attendant. While pumping gas in Los Angeles, he met a young man named Paul Gregory, who was working nearby as a soda jerk but wanted to be an agent.

Years later, after Mr. Garner had served in the Army during the Korean War – he was wounded in action twice, earning two Purple Hearts – he was working as a carpet layer in Los Angeles for a business run by his father. One afternoon he was driving on La Cienega Boulevard and saw a sign: Paul Gregory & Associates. Just then a car pulled out of a space in front of the building, and Mr. Garner, on a whim, pulled in. He was 25.

The rest, as they say, is history, but Garner never really shed his “regular guy who works odd jobs” persona. I think this accounted for, insofar as it gave him a certain world-weariness, a fair chunk of his charm. World-weariness is, in fact, a key ingredient of charm according to Schwarz, who writes that “Only the self-aware can have charm: It’s bound up with a sensibility that at best approaches wisdom, or at least worldliness, and at worst goes well beyond cynicism.” “I was never enamored of the business, never even wanted to be an actor, really,” Garner told the New York Times in 1984 in a quote reproduced at the end of their obituary for him yesterday. “It’s always been a means to an end, which is to make a living.” Now, some of this may be false modesty on Garner’s part, but at a time when it seems like everyone and their mother wants desperately to be famous, Garner’s “take it or leave it” attitude, and the life experience that led to it, strikes me not just as indicative of charm, but of virtue. It’s usually stupid to try to emulate actors, but James Garner might be the exception to the rule.


True Detective (2014)



Offbeat yet pitch-perfect promo video for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad: Bryan Cranston (as Walter White?) recites Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”

I  think I still prefer Vincent Price’s recitation, but Cranston’s version, set over images of the arid New Mexico landscape and certain emblematic objects, resonates with me as a fan of the show.

In her reading of the poem, Camille Paglia calls “Ozymandias” “Shelley’s most accessible poem, employing effects that are prophetically cinematic.” She writes:

Modern readers may find the clarity of conception and execution of “Ozymandias” especially compelling because Shelley’s technique resembles that of the motion picture camera. The poem begins in medium range with a chance encounter between two men, probably in Europe. Then the scene dissolves to a North African desert where the truncated legs of a statue, brutal and totemic, loom up at center screen. Now our gaze is drawn down to small details in close-up, such as the “wrinkled lip” of the fallen head and the pedestal’s ambiguous inscription. At the phrase “Look on my works,” we nearly feel the spectral king gesturing, as the camera obediently pulls back and up to make a 360-degree pan of the “boundless and bare” landscape.

Paglia’s comparison to cinema here, and her ultimate argument that the poem is about “nature’s total victory over culture,” help explain why “Ozymandias” is both fitting promo narration and an apt metaphor for what happens to Walter White and his empire over the course of the show.

Zoe’s Desk

Netflix’s first second original series House of Cards appeared online earlier this month. Set in a parallel universe Washington D.C. circa the present, House of Cards follows the rib-eating, Southern American English-speaking Representative Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as he maneuvers for position after being passed over for Secretary of State. David Fincher is one of the show’s producers and directed the first two episodes. The whole thing is based on a BBC miniseries by the same name that was based on a novel by Michael Dobbs. I found it addictive but ridiculous.

Perhaps most of all I was struck by the shots of Zoe Barnes, the intrepid female reporter character played by Kate Mara, working in her apartment in show’s first episode.


Shots like this are consistent with Fincher’s habit of documenting — in films like Zodiac, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — work. Or rather, his habit of conveying the feeling of massive amounts of what is often referred to as knowledge work taking place. In a number of Fincher’s films we’re given glimpses of characters doing things like researching, writing, or coding. At some level, the bulk of his films are about characters trying to make sense of information. But such glimpses are by definition fleeting. Fincher does not so much film work as cleverly give the impression of its occurrence.

Another good example of this from House of Cards is the education bill Underwood — whose name recalls a brand of typewriter — commissions. (Minor spoilers ahead.) We see Underwood hire a bunch of young speechwriter, K Street types, we see him charge them with writing a bill, we see them with their laptops open, we see them batting around ideas, we see them with their ties undone and their no-iron khakis wrinkled, we see them struggling to stay awake, and finally we see the 300+ page document they produce, but we never actually see them working. It’s a neat trick on Fincher’s part. It’s difficult to render knowledge work cinematically (quick, what’s the last great movie about writing you remember seeing?), as opposed to physical work which more readily lends itself to Rocky-style montages, but Fincher has figured out a way to short circuit the process. Like all good filmmakers, he knows that if he gives us the signs, we will fill in the rest.


On a more basic level, I just love images like this. I am a workspace voyeur — especially writer’s workspaces. My bible here is Jill Krementz’s The Writer’s Desk, a collection of wonderfully evocative photographs of, well, writer’s desks. In the introduction, John Updike writes, “I look at these photographs with a prurient interest, the way that I might look at the beds of notorious courtesans. Except that the beds would tell me less than these desks do. Here the intimacy of the literary act is caught in flagrante delicto: at these desks characters are spawned, plots are spun, imaginative distances are spanned.”

Now, Zoe Barnes isn’t really a famous writer, and her workspace has been meticulously constructed by a production designer right down to the garbage, but there’s still something thrilling about getting a peek at it. Sadly, it’s the only peek we get. It’s as if Fincher knows this one look-see can legitimize all the work Zoe does throughout the rest of the series that we never see.

Finally, I know her apartment is supposed to be junky — in a later episode Spacey’s character essentially asks her whether her parents know her place is a dump — but I sort of like it. With its stacks of paper, piles of books, and conspicuous coffee pot, it reminds me of a prototypical grad student’s apartment. Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that Zoe seems to be halfway living with Lucas by the end of the thirteen episodes. Living like a grad student is no way to live.