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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: Next Time, Larry David Should Play the Cop

Television
by David Chute
August 13, 2013 3:13 PM
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HBO John Hamm and Larry David in "Clear History"

The new Larry David comedy "Clear History," a feature-length one-off that he wrote and stars in, settles into an amiable groove early on and is consistently enjoyable. Which is not to say that it breaks any new ground. It's firmly in the reliable comic sub-genre of the know-it-all who is his own worst enemy, a format perfected by David over many episodes of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." That we can clearly see the moving parts clicking into place is actually part of the fun.

The jumping off point of "Clear History" is a particularly fine example of shooting oneself in the foot, as David's hermit-haired marketing guru cashes in his shares and angrily decamps from entrepreneur John Hamm's electric car company -- just before the firm's huggabley cute new model becomes the affordable e-mobile that the large American public finally embraces. "What an idiot!" says one character after another, when they they realize how many billions David's Nathan Flomm turned his back on. An elaborate plan for revenge against his former boss with characteristic dexterity.

A few obnoxious riffs here and there by David threaten to tip the scales toward improvisational chaos, buis executed with t director Greg Mottola ("Superbad") holds the reins tightly enough to prevent that from happening -- although it's hard to understand how this thoughtless noodle could ever have acquired a glowing reputation as a great guy among his fellow citizens on idyllic Martha's Vineyard, vivid cameos played by a string of major actors who all seem to be having a blast putting on fake teeth and comic opera accents.

A feature-length premium cable project like "Clear History" could be seen as the other side of the coin of the Third Golden Age of Television. The highly serialized novelistic cable dramas nab most of the ink, but the audience that has embraced them is also increasingly averse to seeing films in theaters, which are perceived as the exclusive turf of chattering, texting twenty-somethings. "Clear History" was not, as far as I know, originally developed as a theatrical feature, like Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra," which the studios spurned before it found a home at HBO. But it's a good example of a film that can wear the "straight to cable" tag as a badge of honor.

AMC Mark Strong and Lennie James in "Low Winter Sun"

"Low Winter Sun," which debuted Sunday at 10 on AMC, has an acute case of serious-itis, a condition that can lead to paralysis of the entertainment muscles. Compared to the packed and brisk new episode of "Breaking Bad" that preceded it (read Ryan Lattanzio's review here), the "Low Winter Sun" pilot, directed by Ernest Dickerson, seemed stiffened by its determination to be grim and ominous. Jaws are clenched and dark looks are glaringly exchanged.

In its premise, at least, LWS closely resembles notably lively basic cable drama "The Shield" (2002-2008): a corrupt cop is killed by two fellow officers who discover the very next morning that the victim is the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation. Topping it off with an unexpected corpse in the trunk of the death car is a nice touch, but if you are going to lay it on this thick at least allow yourself to take some pleasure in the melodramatic flourishes.

Both of the excellent actors who play the killer cops, Mark Strong and Lennie James, are Brits, with Strong playing an Americanized version of the character he created in the original 2008 British two-parter, which AMC is stretching into a series. The groundwork for future complications have already been laid: A parallel subplot centering upon an improbably glamorous husband and wife team of hipster mobsters, played by James Ransone and Sprague Grayden, also playing dangerously against the grain of their organization, promises to converge shortly with the story of the killer cops. We will be glaring at the screen with jaws firmly clenched for a few more episodes, at least, hoping for the best.

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