Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Television Happens when the Cameras are On

I've always loved airports. For much the same reason I love shopping malls; I love microcosms. I like the feeling that things occurring at one end of the mall or airport are in some sense occurring in the same place as things occurring at the other end. So I was happy to find that the university I attend, San Diego State University, has a 24/7 study area in the library that feels very like an airport. It's indoor, it's crowded, it has plush seats, bad coffee, even a metal detector. I've been sitting here to-day for an hour already reading an article about airport surveillance for a class I've gotten a job tutoring in. I've scheduled meetings with students here for throughout the month. The class focuses on the rhetoric surrounding surveillance and that's certainly a subject that's been present in television I've watched lately. I've seen a few people refer to the new episode of The X-Files this week as a failure but I thought it was good.

Sure, it was a bit morally heavy handed. The scene showing the woman eating yoghurt and making coffee as though to show how insulated she was from the homeless she's supposed to be helping made me wonder how much yoghurt and coffee the makers of The X-Files consume. But I thought the avenging band-aid man was suitably creepy and his one man drawing-and-quartering jobs were pretty impressive.

I liked the little "Back in the day" exchange between Mulder and Scully where Scully refers to how she'd walk down scary staircases in heels "back in the day" and Mulder asserts, "'Back in the day' is now!" followed by a shot of their two flashlight beams forming an X. It's a hopeful little trumpet call I want to root for, especially reading interviews with David Duchovney and Chris Carter where they hint at wanting to do further seasons in the future.

I've also been watching Touch of Frost lately. I say "lately" when I mean, "Over the past three years." I've been watching it very slowly. I feel no compulsion at the end of one episode to watch the next yet I do find myself gradually acquiring the urge to and so, a month or two later, I do. It's an oddly relaxing show. Its leisurely yet focused stories wandering through some stock plots about drugs or tolerance coupled with the police bureaucracy with the exasperated, long suffering Frost at the centre. Something also about the 4:3 aspect ratio and the distinctly mid-90s lighting takes me back to sitting in my room watching television when I was in high school, even though I never heard of Touch of Frost at the time.

A couple nights ago, I watched the première of the fourth season, from 1996, called "Paying the Price", which feels slightly like a new direction for the series. Instead of an unknown villain at the end of a mystery Frost solves, "Paying the Price" reveals the villain right off, an angry young man named McArdy (Marc Warren) who kidnaps a woman named Pauline (Camille Corduri, Rose Tyler's mother from Doctor Who). As a result, the story becomes much more emotionally engaged as Frost grows increasingly angry and frustrated and Marc Warren delivers a pretty effectively psychotic performance. You really want Jack to nail this smug little shit.

There's sort of a competition of performances with David Jason as Jack Frost having someone he goes toe to toe with for once. It's sort of a Shatner/Montalbhan chemistry as I found myself wondering which actor's scenery chewing was going to be the more spectacular and therefore which actor would "win". Though both of them were much subtler about it than the Star Trek II leads. David Jason, I've read, originally worked in comedy and like many comedic actors--Bill Murray, Sarah Silverman--has turned those instincts rather effectively to drama.

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