Saturday, November 6, 2021

Noirvember TV Suggestions From Tom Pitts

I was trying to find a common denominator for this list, and—aside from the fact they’re all series— they’re really on the periphery of the noir genre. Is this because I’m widening my horizons with viewing beyond my comfort zone? No. It’s because I'm not the only one who holds the remote in my family. In truth, I'm rarely the one who holds it. The family gets a little worn on my noir flavors, my ‘crime in prime-time’, so I have to sneak it in there, let ’em think they’re watching what they want while I’m still able to satisfy my noir-ish needs. I was also shooting for unsung series. I didn’t hear much about these gems from the collective culture so I figure they’re ones you may have missed during the deluge of content that drowned the streaming sites during the pandemic.

I see a lot of these lists peppered with golden oldies, favorites from years, even decades gone by, I figured I’d switch it up with something current. Very current. Still rolling out new episodes in season one, that’s how current. 

Guilty Party (Paramount) stars Kate Beckinsale as a disgraced reporter trying to revive her career on the back of a woman serving time for murdering her hubby. It’s funny and dark as shit. Think The Mick meets Get Shorty. Ten minutes in and you’ll know it’s a good fit. Definitely one I look forward to each Thursday. 

Second up: Fosse/Verdon (HULU). Didn’t think this was in my wheelhouse, but Bob Fosse has always intrigued me as the guy who stepped outside his career path to direct Lenny—which was apparently not in his wheelhouse either. Also, Fosse is played by Sam Rockwell, and he always tips the scales. You may think I’m pushing the envelope with one, but I present the aforementioned Lenny as Exhibit A. Fosse’s B&W vison of Lenny’s tragic career is nothing but noir. The best part of Fosse/Verdon for me was the time-bending strategy the writers used to tell the tale of Fosse’s troubled, bitter life and the turbulent love affair and marriage to the under-appreciated Gwen Verdon. How’s that noir you might ask? Fosse’s fate hangs over his head like the sword of Damocles and the writers never let you forget it. They give you different measurements of time before and after the darkest moments in Fosse’s life. Hard to describe the technique without gettin’ too spoilery, but the script skips back and forth with seeming randomness, until you can get ahold of the rhythm and dance along with it. Try it. It may take a few episodes, but you’ll be glad you stayed.  

And speaking of being patient, my next rec is for Goliath (PRIME), season four. Maybe you loved the first season. Lord knows I did. Billy Bob Thornton as a drunken washed-up lawyer pulled from the brink to battle the giant law firm that pushed him into the gutter? A delight. Maybe season two kinda wilted a little, but was still okay. And maybe by season three it meandered and flatlined with unbelievable story arcs. But, like me, you may still want a little of that season one magic back from ol’ Billy Bob. You’re in luck … maybe. Look, I’ll be honest, season four isn’t what I hoped it would be. My hopes were high, especially since it’s set in San Francisco, a setting that always gets my attention. This round almost lost me on the first few episodes. There’s a definite Lynch-ian feel overshadowing the show, lots of dream sequences and oddities that feel gratuitous and, well, annoying. Until—like Fosse/Verdon—you get the rhythm. By the end of the stretch, they settle into an eau de noir that fits San Francisco nicely and gives it a Dashiell Hammett groove. I mean, even the courtroom scenes toward the end are in black and white. Lots of rain, bourbon, and some great shots of my fair city (even though their postcard choices for locations were a little obvious. Chinatown, cable cars, etc. To be fair, they set season one on the Santa Monica pier and pretty much stayed there. And I was perfectly all right with that. So maybe it’s just my local guy snobbery getting in the way.) Just letting you know it’s safe to go back to Billy Bob. 

Bonus round? Raised by Wolves (HBO). Two androids tasked with raising human babies in a dystopian future. The premise didn’t grab me. But the show did. Its small cast and almost minimalist twilight zone setting pulled me in. And kept me there, escalating steady, big twists and crescendos. Twilight Zone on steroids is more like it. Wholly original with a slow burn that turned into a forest fire. Hoping for a second helping. And I think the universe has granted that wish, if IMDB is to be believed. Oh, and it’s produced by Ridley Scott, if that holds any weight in your world.

Tom Pitts received his education firsthand on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, writing, working, and trying to survive. Keep up with him on Twitter or on his website.

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