(My apologies for being quite late with this review. This past week I have been running around Los Angeles, flying over to Virginia, and dealing with a lot of personal and family issues. No excuses should be made for “not writing,” but sometimes life wins the battle and we must endure.)
Week five; we are almost finished with the mini-series that’s based off of one my favorite books. So, how was this week? It wasn’t the best of the bunch (which is episode two so far), yet it wasn’t the worst. This week’s episode was decent, intriguing and heartfelt in a few places. With the director position being helmed by James Franco, this episode will keep you focused on the drama spread out through the hour, but there were still a few awkward and stiff elements that stand out quite a bit.
Cinematics – 3.5
Mr. Franco taking over the reigns as director was a good choice. Was anything overly artistic done, labeling Franco as a “visionary” or “auteur?” No, Franco did a great job with sticking to the format and structure of the show while incorporating a personal touch, particularly at the beginning of the “Johnny/Sadie” sequence.
T.R. Knight returns as Johnny Clayton – Sadie’s insane husband. While a lot of the acting felt stiff and awkward during this episode, Knight’s performance is the next best thing we’ve seen since Josh Duhamel’s performance in episode two. He keeps the sequence between him, Sadie, and Jake tense, frightful and somber. Other than the excellent use of camera work during the opening of this sequence (a very long shot, which definitely took a few takes to get right), the pacing and several other elements can be praised with the highest remarks. Go watch it, that’s all I can say because it truly is the highlight of the episode.
Back to some of the acting feeling stiff and awkward – it’s very evident in this episode and applies a stiff veil that’s shrouded over the entire hour. I’ll talk about this more in the Entertainment Value section, but I believe the show’s main problem, at this point, is the emotional resonance isn’t hitting the audience the way it should be. This, I believe, is because most of the characters aren’t fleshed out quite enough. Sure, we’ve got the external layer down pretty well, knowing the main storyline and why Jake is in the past. While that works for the basics of storytelling, internal emotions, arcs and factors of characters help create an underbelly/life to the storylines – main and secondary.
Entertainment Value – 3
There have been several examples of the lack of emotional resonance throughout the show, but something in this episode made me take a heavy note in my little review notebook. Now, what I’m about to talk about is in the novel but not the show. I don’t expect you to know what I’m talking about if you haven’t read the book, but this missing emotional factor is universal when it comes to bringing life to a character and drama to a story.
During the episode, Jake gets in trouble because some very raunchy audiotapes were found in his basement. With the already looming case of Jake being found in a brothel, the principal of the school he teaches at, Deke Simmons, decides to fire him for immoral behavior. In order to defend himself, Jake declares he’s the same great person he was when he started three years ago and how he made Mike Cosla act and Jim LaDue write/read poetry. Okay, so if you’ve read the novel, then you know who Mike Cosla and Jim LaDue are, who are the subjects of two of the best scenes in the entire novel. Here in the mini-series, for those who haven’t read the novel, are most likely saying, “Mike? Jim who?” I mean, yes, you get what Jake is doing and you don’t necessarily need to SEE what he’s talking about to know he’s trying to prove he’s a good person, but wouldn’t this cry of desperation by Jake be better if we actually SAW how he made Mike Cosla and Jim LaDue perform actions no one ever thought they would ever do?
This is what I mean by lack of emotional resonance. Instead of understanding how Jake is feeling because we’ve witnessed him being a good teacher and role model, all we get is his testimony, leaving us not lost but most surely left with a minimal amount of emotion felt. I’m not saying this is “cheap storytelling” because I know that there’s a lot in this book and sacrifices needed to be made in order for it to fit in an eight-part mini-series, but it’s definitely “quick storytelling,” concentrating on the meat of the story and bulldozing through the little things. The little things count, though. We can all say Jake is a great person and role model because he has come into the past for the greater good, but most of the other characters don’t know that (which is what Jake intended). So, all Deke sees in Jake is a man who has some disturbing sexual fantasies. This would be fine if Jake didn’t say to Deke, “I thought we were friends.” There’s nothing to support Jake and Deke were friends or that Deke knows Jake is a good person deep down. If we saw Deke witness Jake making Mike Cosla act and/or Jim LaDue recite poetry, then we’d see how hard it is for Deke to fire a friend, creating a more compelling and emotional scene. All we get are the character’s unsupported words, completely missing any kind of emotional resonance we’re supposed to feel.
Expediting a story is necessary for any kind of adaptation, but with how the creators have already developed new content that still sticks to the book’s universe, there’s no excuse for the show missing an emotional core (besides Jake and Sadie’s love story, which has been great so far).
This one little instance of “Telling instead of Showing” did take something away from the episode for me, but the episode is solid either way. I enjoyed seeing the developments in each storyline, especially the Jake/Johnny/Sadie sequence as well as Billy and his relationship with the Oswalds. It’s decent to watch, and I most likely will watch it again at some point.
Re-Watchability – 2.5
Am I biting my nails in anticipation to watch this episode again like I was with episode two? No, but I’m excited to watch this episode when I re-watch the series again. With T.R. Knight’s performance and the instances of the past pushing back, there’s a lot to re-watch this episode for. I will just be doing it later down the road instead of right away.
- Entertainment Value
This week was decent to watch, especially a great sequence between Jake, Sadie and Sadie’s insane husband, Johnny. Lots of good things coming from the directorial efforts of James Franco, but the show’s lack of emotional resonance still resonates during this episode. Instances of “Telling instead of Showing” make me, and I’m sure other members of the audience, feel empty about the characters and their motivations. Stakes for these characters are there, but without the necessary support and underbelly that their internal emotions need, then those stakes can be missed very easily and misunderstood. You’ll feel that during this episode, but regardless you’ll still enjoy yourself.