The big TV news this week was a breathtaking episode of "Breaking Bad" (AMC) that delivered huge surprises that were, at the same time, perfectly plausible. This is a mark of great storytelling, the ability to jolt us with startling developments we couldn't have anticipated that now seem inevitable. We thought we had a pretty good sense of the possible denouements the show could be aiming for. But now, once again, just a few hours from the finale, all bets seem to be off again.
Astonishing that Sunday night's premise-gutting episode of "The Newsroom" (HBO) is being embraced in some quarters (for example here and here) as one of the series' best. After promising all season that this would be a chronicle of "institutional failure," the show let its hero journalists mostly off the hook and hung the blame for a horribly botched major story on a couple of unambiguous bad guys. No serious journalistic self-criticism required.
The show has been good this year for several of its performers, in particular for Hamish Linklater, who played the interview-doctoring scapegoat producer, and Olivia Munn, who had a terrific stand-alone crisis episode about the circulation of some private nude photos of her character Sloan Sabbith. Munn is so good at playing this on-the-spectrum brainiac that I'm starting to think of her as a sexy female Jeff Goldblum.
"Low Winter Sun" (AMC) is already being written off by business observers, but it's been getting better, more ambiguous and convincing, with each passing episode. It's beginning to look as if the supposedly corrupt cop who was executed in Ep. 1 by a couple of his colleagues was working an end run, making a deal with an ambitious young gangster in order to the get the goods on the older Skelos, the sleek Greektown crime boss. If the awful Brendan was pressing selfish ends in a way that turns out to have collateral good effects, that would be a cool way of extending the theme of mixed motives that are now conventional on American cop shows; edging toward the territory of the series' LWS was initially compared with, "The Wire" and "The Shield."
We also enjoyed a scene in the second episode in which the tightly wound Arab-American cop Dani Khalil (Athena Karkanis) told off a chauvinistic Middle Eastern convenience store owner in fluent Arabic. Dani is shaping up as the watchful cop most likely to see through what Agnew and Geddes are up to.
Meanwhile, in a Los Angeles Times interview, LWS star Mark Strong was asked a question that has occupied many observers of the current renaissance of TV drama.
LAT: There are so many British actors on TV right now, and most of them are playing Americans, like your co-star Lennie James, Damian Lewis on "Homeland," Hugh Dancy on "Hannibal" and Andrew Lincoln on "The Walking Dead." What's that all about?
Mark Strong: My theory is twofold. There’s what TV has become, which is different from what it was 10 years ago. There’s this theory that the studios are just doing these big tentpole movies for hundreds of millions of dollars and all the interesting little indie movies now don’t exist, so all those writers have gone to TV. TV has changed, and it’s changed for the better. In the past, all the cable channels were trying to find shows like the network shows, and now it’s the exact opposite. All the networks are trying to find shows like cable. That’s why I think British actors are happy to do it, because the quality of the writing is so good and the potential for character development is so great.
The other thing is, I asked someone this, why are you casting British people? Because I’ve always thought that it’s we have training, which means we know our lines, we hit our marks in an environment where you have to work fast and you can’t muck about. American actors are just as good, but the perception of the training of British actors lends itself to this process. And she said, "Well, that’s partly true, but we also don’t know who you are. You’re fresh, you’re new, you haven’t been doing TV for ages." James [Purefoy, of "The Following"] hasn’t been in other shows. Andy Lincoln hadn’t done any U.S. TV. The thing is, we’re unknown over here.