“When I look around, you know what I see? Losers. I mean like, folks who have lost stuff.” – Guardians of the Galaxy
One of my favorite stories are of people who aren’t the perfect tool for the job, perhaps being physically damaged/brought low by life/or not even from the best stock to begin with, but who offer their services anyway. Because they see a job that needs to be done and their mistakes and imperfections aren’t going to stop them from doing it.
I recently consumed everything Netflix had of Hell on Wheels and felt there was a kinship there to two of my other favorite shows Justified and Person of Interest. The “I may be imperfect as a person but I can do the hell out of what needs to be done” -ness of them shone through. It doesn’t hurt that Anson Mount and Jim Caviezel could practically be the same person. Like, have we seen them in a room together?
Hell on Wheels
Cullen Bohannon is among thousands of ex-soldiers after the Civil War looking to start fresh, outrun some demons, and put a few demons in the ground along the way. While tracking down men who harmed his family while he was away at war he becomes involved in western railroad expansion. The work and constant movement suits him, but tugging at his mind is the horrifying realization that he might have a purpose beyond the narrow focused vengeance he had gotten used to after the war.
US Marshall Raylan Givens returns to his rural coal-mining Eastern Kentucky stomping grounds after a stint in Miami and is face to face with people from his old life that contributed to him going into law enforcement and leaving Harlan County in the first place. Now that he’s back he gets confronted with his choices in life, how he fits into his old community, and what justice is in a place like no other.
Person of Interest
Former military/CIA officer John Reese hits an all time low in life before he meets a wealthy programmer Harold Finch who has created an AI that can identify people involved in impending crimes. It isn’t brains conscripting brawn but rather two people with a similar need for purpose filling those roles for each other. Both Reese and Finch have lost a lot in life but they are similarly determined to use their skills for good even if they are individually imperfect tools for the job.
If you are like me and most of America who subscribe to Netflix you have binged watched House of Cards by now. Life after ‘Cards is the new reality. So what’s next for you? Two other shows that came to mind while watching House of Cards was the critically acclaimed yet under the radar show Damages and the scifi/political drama Battlestar Galactica.
House of Cards (Netflix Streaming / DVD)
Ambitious congressman Francis Underwood is skipped for an appointment he feels he earned and takes matters into his own hands. He makes his ruthless climb up the political ladder while popping off rivals and bystanders along the way. Stars Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara among other notable actors.
Damages (Netflix Streaming / DVD)
Patty Hewes, a morally ambiguous lawyer and head of Hewes & Associates, takes protégé Ellen Parsons under her wing as she builds a case in a class-action lawsuit. The time shuffling style of storytelling as well as the superb acting makes this show particularly submersive. Hewes is a lion to Parsons’ cub, but soon Parsons learns the game. Stars Glen Close and Rose Byrne as the lead roles along with Tate Donovan, Ted Danson, and a dream team of supporting actors.
Battlestar Galactica (Netflix Streaming / DVD)
At first glance it appears to be a scifi military show, but it is actually more like The West Wing in space. Human society is nearly wiped out by their own creation. Cybernetic robots called Cylons and skin-job versions that are indistinguishable from humans return after decades banished to deep space. Humans lose the war and most of human infrastructure in the blink of an eye and go on the run in a convoy of ships. In the meanwhile the Secretary of Education, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) is the next in the chain of command to become president and hold society together. She must negotiate with the military and civilians while being threatened by political parties that spring up and the ever present threat of enemy pursuit, infiltration, and risk of extinction. Stars a long list of quality actors including Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfir, Grace Park, and Katee Sackoff.
It’s that time of year when two things happened. It gets cold out (or coldish in the case of Texas) and there isn’t anything to watch on tv. The dreaded winter network television hiatus. What better way to combat the doldrums than with with cold, dreary, Scandinavian television?
Lilyhammer (Amazon/Netflix Streaming)
It’s like the Ballykissangel of mobster shows. An American gangster testifies against a Mob boss and goes into witness protection. A random memory of a winter Olympics leads him to pick Norway as his refuge. Snowy, isolated Lillehammer welcomes in a mysterious immigrant who quickly has to adapt his mob ways to Norway’s liberal culture while avoiding attracting the curiosity of the local police or the mobsters out looking for him. The show is a mix of English and Norwegian (Norweglish at times too) with subtitles scattered around. Two seasons are out on Netflix Streaming.
Forbrydelsen/The Killing: Series 1 (Amazon)
Forbrydelsen is a near claustrophobic 20 episode account of the days following the murder of a teenager, the family’s downward spiral, the maze of suspects that reaches the highest levels of Copenhagen society, and the Alice in Wonderland like hole the lead investigator falls down in her search for justice. It’s an interesting look at society, personal responsibility, and the illusive and sometimes inconvenient thing which is justice. There was an American version of this show which aired on AMC. This is the original Danish. The real gem with the award winning performance by Sofie Grabol, the cold Scandinavian scenery which becomes almost a character itself, and a runaway train pace that doesn’t end until the climax at the last episode. Yes, the original series resolves the mystery at the end of each season. None of this pace killing wait til next season to find out who the killer was garbage.
Vikings has every bit as much character goodness and grittiness as Game of Thrones without the bloated mess that a book translated to television unfortunately has. Instead of having a cast of thousands it has a small cast but very clear story goals. All I ask of my shows is that they do what they set out to do and Vikings succeeds at the scope it was targeting. It is an explorers narrative. It is a family story. Brother against brother. It’s a story about a bamf shield maiden. It’s a power struggle between houses. It manages to pull off making two religions feel like living religions. That last doesn’t always translate on tv well. I think the only other show I’ve seen do similar is HBOs Rome. The scope of the show is both micro and macro in that it revolves around one family, but the context is within the framework of viking expansion and growing influence as explorers. It also does a great job at showing early egalitarianism in Viking culture that shows the early seeds of a superior egalitarian society in the region today.