Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Wet Hot American Summer (First Day of Camp) is better than The Brink

Note: This was written before I saw last Sunday's episode of The Brink. I think that, while this argument still holds true for earlier episodes of the show, starting two weeks ago it finally began to hit its stride and find a place where it was comfortable with itself. This past week's episode was actually directed quite well and the transformation of the show from a sitcom romp into something more, which has been underway for several episodes, is finally complete with the tension surrounding Alex Talbot and Zaman.

Essentially, the Brink is manifesting into the thing I knew it could be. I can only hope it continues to improve from here.

I love everything that The Brink wants to be. It's a smart, well-written show with well-developed characters that spool out over a very tightly plotted arc. It's doing everything right... right?

Contrast Netflix's new Wet Hot American Summer (First Day of Camp). The writing is tight in terms of plot, but the show plays for low gags, basic humor, and sequences that occur completely outside of narrative time (just like its successor, the Movie). Character development is ridiculous.

Yet Wet Hot American Summer is a better television show. It's more affective than The Brink. Where I wonder why I'm supposed to care about the characters in The Brink, outside of the excellent manner in which they're written, I wonder why I do care so much about the characters in WHAS.

The answer, I think, has to do less with the writing and more with the cinematography, acting, and direction. That's right. David Wain, the voice of Superjail's the Warden, is a better director than... The Brink's showrunner and writer, Benabib? Well, whoever is responsible for its style. Because it has none.

WHAS is oozing with style. Cinematography is great, imparting monumental importance to the most mundane activities. That's the real difference: the Brink is filmed like a modern comedy. Everything is irreverent, and very little has any weight. The comic timing is thin, even from Jack Black. Tim Robbins is carrying that show, and that's a shame because there is golden writing lurking in there. The American head-of-mission? He's written like one of Salman Rushdie's darkest lunatics, but he's portrayed (through no fault of John Larroquette, who is great) like a complete ham.

Where is the sense of gravity that makes this work? Where is the comic timing of Dr. Strangelove? It can be seen in flashes and flits, but even when Jack Black turns on his friend and refuses to allow him to leave the embassy, it still "feels" like a comedy.

I have very high hopes for this show. Even if it never matures into what I want it to be, its writing is great. But I want it to live up to the potential of its scripts.

ADDENDUM: I watched the end of True Detective Season 2. Episode 7 surpassed it by far. With all the endings accounted for, its just a failed film noire. Very interesting in that they made the femme fatale a man, but all in all? A failure for Pizzolatto.

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