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Cable Television Rundown: Oh Alan Ball, You Dog

This is gonna be kinda short since studying for a big certain professional certification exam is temporarily overtaking my life this week in every way (except for watching TV and having a little bit of time to blog, of course). Buuuuuuut...if there is one overarching theme related to pop culture for myself this weekend, it starts and ends with Alan Ball. Oh, Alan Ball, how conflicted my relationship with your artistic output is. And yet, you alllllllllllways end up pulling me in. Always.
Friday night, late at night after studying (natch) I decided to wrap myself up with my lovely wife Brigitte, the dogs, and Alan Ball's first foray into writer/director status in feature films, 2008's barely-in-theaters-even-indie-theaters-at-all-(for-a-reason) Towelhead. As Chris eloquently pointed out in his Nerdflix review of the film, Towelhead pretty much covers the same territory as American Beauty, of course the film of which he wrote the screenplay and got on the map for. And, it's also a terrible nap movie, because every time I woke up whilst napping, I would find Aaron Eckhart doing something sexual to 20-year-old-actress-playing-a-13-year-old Summer Bishil. And that was just disturbing. And for all the fine performances and somewhat intriguing characters (Peter Macdissi's character comes to mind), the overall product was muddled by typical Alan Ball hamfistedness: American flags draped in the background of a perfect-looking suburbia, the first Iraq war, hypocrites, etc.

And yet, for all his faults, he still is able to harness something that makes anything he gets involved in eminently watchable. Take, for example, last night's episode of True Blood, the first of the season for which he receives a writing credit. Overall the show has had a pretty remarkable transformation, from bad-bad, to bad-good, to kinda-sorta-good, to what might have been the turning point of the series, last night's truly good episode. What made it truly good? Perhaps a confidence in tone. Instead of trying to make the show a serious drama with some really bad jokes thrown in awkwardly, the show has embraced its outrageousness. Bill jumping out of his airplane coffin to save Sookie at the Dallas airport was awesome in the way stuff from early seasons of 24 was awesome, while Lafayette humping the couches and the floor after drinking from Vampire Eric's blood was surprisingly hilarious. Oh and Maryann is one creepy human/non-human. When Alan Ball gets things right, he really gets things right, and it's easy to overlook clunky lines like "religion has done a lot of horrible things over the years" said by Bill (why would Bill randomly get preachy about things?)

All in all, despite Ball's flaws as a writer, he does get me to watch his stuff. And despite his flaws, the things I do remember more about Ball's writing involve the good parts of American Beauty (I still get kind of misty-eyed at the end when dead Kevin Spacey remembers all the good things about his family), the comforting scenes in the Ball-written episodes of Six Feet Under (the final scene of the season four finale, with David and his pops looking at the rain comes to mind), and, hey, the Lost-like killer endings to episodes (last night's "Barry?!" is an instant classic), which I can now add to my "hey he's not that bad after all" repoitoire of Ball-written television in my head. Oh, Alan Ball, you dog.

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  1. Blogger chris | 2:49 AM |  

    OMGBBQ LOVED LAFAYETTE'S DANCING.

    I know that was prolly tweeted like a million times since it aired (minus the BBQ, possibly) but it bears repeating. It was THAT magnificent.

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