Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks

If Woody Allen had married Wes Anderson instead of Soon-Yi, and they'd given birth to a film or television show, it would be The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks, the new web series from AMC.

This three part web series, narrated in the vein of The Royal Tenenbaums, and sumptously shot in black and white, was written and directed by Peter Glanz.  It focuses on the titular character Arthur Banks (Adam Goldberg), a neurotic, self obsessed Jew in the vein of Woody Allen's classic characters, which really means ... he has women problems.

The first episode, "I pulled a Polanski", introduces us to Arthur's world.  He's just cheated on his girlfriend Annette with Chloe, and when he awakes he immediately knows she isn't 18 years old.

Jeffrey Tambor plays Arthur's therapist and sounding board, who tries to help him work through his self destructive cycle of going after women that he knows he will never end up with.

We find Arthur in the middle of staging a new play "The Romantic Egoist" which is the most personal play he's ever written.  Anette's constant pressure for him to give her a child, and the ensuing fights that result from his excuse making, become the fodder for a rewrite of his play, and the wedge that drives the two apart.

The second installment, "Silent Treatment" finds Arthur nine weeks from the opening of his play, and dating Cornelia, the lead actress.  Not only is this a terrible idea, but their constant bickering, and her ensuing ailment, lead to a surprise discovery that makes his play pop in a way it hadn't earlier.

Arthur's therapist begins the third episode stating "Someone once said that you could look at life, the same way you look at eggs.  An optimist is always going to look at the world sunny side up, and a pessimist, or a latent existentialist, is always going to look at the world as scrambled."

"The Latent Existentialist" finds Arthur in a new relationship with Sophie.  She wants to take things slow, but the lack of sex is making Arthur grouchy.  After venting to his friend Chandler at the diner they hang out at, Chandler gives him the business card of an escort he's been seeing.  He thinks Arthur would do well to give her a call.

Though the play opens to an amazing success, Arthur is left unfulfilled, especially when he has to decide between love and sex.  I won't tell you what he decides upon, but the end of the series flips back on itself like a Mobius strip.

As of late, AMC has shown themselves to be one of the more daring networks.  Their slogan "story matters here" for the most part rings true.  The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks is the first of their offerings from AMC Digital Studios, and it boasts an impressive cast, coupled with a fairly interesting script, and amazing directing.  I'd love to see something more original come from Peter Glanz.  He has a hell of an eye, beautiful lighting, and some wonderful composition.  I think big things will be coming from him in the future.

Each of the three episodes clock in around 15 minutes.  To be honest, if they were any longer, my attention would have drifted.  But it's nice to see this kind of thought and budget go towards creating something interesting and unique on the web.  I hope that the relationships built through this series will blossom into something even bigger in the future.

Watch all three episodes and behind the scenes clips here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Trip (UK television series)

I wasn't very familiar with the comedy of either Steve Coogan or Rob Brydon before watching the first episode, and I'm not really sure you need to be to enjoy the series.  Coogan and Brydon play loose versions of themselves in this six episode BBC2 series directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Coogan has been hired by The Observer to write reviews of restaurants in the north of England, but since he's somewhat split with his girlfriend Mischa, and doesn't want to do it alone, he invites Brydon.  The food takes a back story, although its presentation is gorgeously shot.  Instead the interaction, rivalry, and one-upmanship of these two take center stage.

The tension between the two flares up during their first restaurant excursion.  Brydon finds it difficult to go very long without doing any impressions, which he's amazing at, but which begins to drive Coogan crazy.  He wants to be taken seriously, and is trying unsuccessfully, to break into Hollywood.  They begin with dueling Michael Caine impressions, each trying to outdo the other.  They continually spar with famous voices, and I found myself laughing like crazy every time they dueled.

The winter country side is gorgeously shot, its spare bareness reflecting Coogans inner emptiness.  He's searching for something he doesn't have.  He's unhappy and grumbly, unfulfilled and annoyed by the successes, though domestic, of Brydon and perturbed by the comfort and happiness of his unambitious friend.  He lashes out and puts down Brydon at every opportunity he can, while Brydon sees them as contemporaries, Coogan thinks of himself as a tortured genius and his friend a clown.

The three hour series was edited down into a feature film, but I much preferred the series.  It was much richer, and many of my favorite comedic parts were left on the editing floor.

Like the best of comedy, this show is a perfect mixture of sadness and hilarity.