On Showcase (Foxtel), HBO’s Sharp Objects has one episode to go of its eight episodes, and I highly recommend catching up on the first seven, which are in rotation or available on demand. If it feels very much like the unholy child of Gone Girl and Big Little Lies, that’s because that’s precisely what it is. Novelist Gillian Flynn wrote Gone Girl and Sharp Objects (and is one of the primary screenwriters on the series) and Jean-Marc Vallée directed all eight episodes, as he directed all six episodes of Big Little Lies. It is perhaps this intense directorial authorship – very few series are entirely directed by a single person – that is most distinctive about Sharp Objects, and Vallée’s style will be recognisable from Big Little Lies. Again, he uses many short, sharp flash-backs, many of which are deliberately opaque, mysterious and occasionally creepy; however, he never leaves the current timeline’s aural environment (in other words, only flashbacks visually) and the resulting, disorienting sensation has become a signature of his style. Likewise, he continues in only utilising natural lighting, multiple (steady) hand-held cameras, existing locations and long takes to achieve a strong sense of grounded realism and, vitally, place. Just as Big Little Lies was so much abou that coastal community, Sharp Objects lives, breaths and sweats in its highly specific (though fictional) small Missouri town.
Amy Adams plays Camille, a reporter sent from the big smoke – the St. Louis Dispatch – back to her hometown of Wind Gap to report on the murder of two pre-teen girls. This doesn’t do her serious alcohol problem any favours, given that her mother, the town’s presiding landed gentry matriarchal figure (based on hog-farming old money), played by Patricia Clarkson, is domineering, manipulative, cold, untrustworthy and potentially evil. There are a raft of suitably baroque, “southern Gothic” characters including a genteel lush played by Elizabeth Perkins, the family members of both girls, two cops – one local, one from the big city – and, most importantly, Camille’s teenage step sister Amma, played with extraordinary lucidity by Australian Eliza Scanlen.
The mystery is good – I’m very eager to find out who done it next week! – but the tone, sense of mood and general style is even better. None of these characters are the kind of people you should have in your house but they’re all fascinating. Amy Adams is doing career-best work with a very troubled character; watch her and Clarkson win a lot of Awards when the time comes. For me, this is superior to Big Little Lies and Gone Girl the book, matched only by David Fincher’s film adaptation of the latter. It’s evocative and enthralling, suspenseful and sumptuous. Catch up on it before the big reveal next week!
On September 30th, The Simpsons will begin airing its thirtieth season. This means that all those bright young things around you with thumbs that can text fifty words a minute, who have only ever known a world of Google, online dating and smartphones, have also never lived in a non-Simpsons world. And in all likelihood they live in a world that doesn’t appreciate the seismic impact The Simpsons had on popular culture, politics, the world.
Oh well. Seismic influence never lasts. Matt Groening’s next animated show, Futurama (1999-2013) didn’t change the world, and nor will Disenchantment, his first since then. Which is not to say it’s not a load of fun. Set in a medieval world that includes elves, demons and, well, whatever Groening wants, it follows a dissatisfied and often drunk Princess (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) dealing with her dad the king, palace intrigue, and the like.
The animation is cute and retro, the music is superb, and I laughed at least twice in the pilot. Above all, this feels like Groening, particularly the gags that deconstruct conventions, tropes and motifs, so it’s got a warm and fuzzy vibe for those of us who are old enough to remember The Simpsons knocking our socks off. For anyone else, it’s entirely possible it’ll feel old hat. You can’t completely revolutionize comedy twice.
Meanwhile, New Zealand pop-cultural commentator David Farrier leverages his suburb documentary Tickled into the Netflix original travel show Dark Tourist, which sees him partaking of ‘dark tourism’ around the globe. Thus, in ep 1, he takes part in a paid tour Mexican tour that simulates illegally crossing the border into the US; in ep 2 he heads off on a jolly tour bus into the radioactive wasteland of Fukushima. Each ep he’s in a new country and presents four ‘tours’; based on the first two eps, the tours are indeed fascinating, but the direction of the series is unfocused; Farrier’s persona is very fuzzy, he seems uncomfortable with how to present himself (is he cynical? humorous? thoughtful?) and the biggest question of all – why anyone would pay to do these things – goes unanswered. Both Farrier, and the tours, need more context.