SouthLAnd “Community”: slow burn to inferno

One of the things that makes SouthLAnd so great is its evolving textures; the writers have their own styles within the framework of the show, as do the directors. This diverse community around the central heart of SouthLAnd makes for a show that always feels fresh, on the edge, unfolding in ways we can never predict. Much like life in L.A. Much like a typical day in the lives of our cops.

Scripted by Jason Horwitch, Community was lacerating in its compressed complexity, its compacted violence. Each scene was a one inch punch that rocked out of nowhere, on the count of one, not three, with Felix Alcala bringing a brawling, aggressive directing style to the episode, getting up in everyone’s face.

We all need to take a moment here to recognize the absolute genius of Alcala’s brilliant shot-framing. All the show’s directors are great, but Alcala went hard at this episode, making it raw and beautiful in savage ways. His camera prowled the over-saturated Los Angeles streets and skyline, framing the actors and their backgrounds with an unerring eye on the motion and composition of the shot.

The camera (and the show) was set to slow-burn throughout, until the final inferno with its magnificent, alien, sci-fi Jimmy Muro lens flares and complex visual textures. It was as breathtaking as the emotional turbulence of the scene itself. It brought to mind the devastating emotions and hypnotic lighting of the conclusion to last season’s Code 4, which Alcala also directed.

And then there was the acting. Man, the acting.

The day players in this episode were f**king amazing. Every single one brought a vivid, intense and painfully raw performance that fit the show perfectly. This was a Community full of extraordinary talent. It’s a credit to the skill and dedication of the casting team on SouthLAnd that every single person on the screen leaps off it with their performance. There was something special in this episode with those day players; maybe it was the script, or the directing, but this felt like TV drama in true 3D.

The core cast, of course, nailed it. They always do, but it should never go without saying; it takes a tremendous amount of talent and hard work to maintain that level of excellence. Ben McKenzie proved that if the actor is engaging and that much of a natural star, the writers can make the character that much more of a dick without ever losing the viewers; much like David Duchovny in Californication, McKenzie’s easy charm brings the viewers back in even as his character continutes his steady descent into darkness. Special credit this week goes to Lucy Liu for her utterly perfect, low-key, lived-in naturalism. She’s integrated seamlessly into the show thanks to the truth she brings.

But MVP this episode was Regina King. Although Dorian Missick gave her a run for her money with his eloquently poetic performance as the father nervously rehearsing his daughter’s quinceanera speech, King’s near-silent performance at the end of their final scene in the episode was beautiful and moving. Especially in the light of the promo for next week, her reactions during and after Missick’s final lines were staggeringly, subtly great. It’s like there’s nothing, no human truth, King can’t convey with her eyes. She tells the truth so profoundly without even speaking. It was pure poetry as she listened to Missick, then pulled out her phone when he left the car, and made her call.

That’s what this show is all about: praise of the extraordinary. The extraordinary work that cops and detectives do every single day on the streets of Los Angeles, and the extraordinary work everyone in the cast and crew of this show brings to it week after week.

Californication Season 4: “It’s getting dark, too dark to see…”

“My heart was beating outside my chest… It’s been almost too much to bear.”

Written by Tom Kapinos and directed by David Duchovny, Suicide Solution was abundantly soulful, transcendently raw and eerily beautiful.

It’s fair to say this episode was Duchovny’s finest moment yet in the series. From Becca’s lonely guitar playing, through Hank’s heartbreaking realization (beautifully, subtly played by Duchovny) that for now at least, he has lost her, to the extraordinary power of its conclusion, when the scuffed poetry of Hank’s words to Becca was overlaid with hypnotic, melancholy dream-imagery, as Hank’s self-medication finally took him down, the show reached a new level. “It’s getting dark, too dark to see,” Hank said in voice over as the waves crashed over him, swallowing him whole.

With this season, the show as a whole is delivering on everything it has promised in the previous three seasons, and more. It’s better at everything now. Executive producer and creator Tom Kapinos is flexing new dramatic muscles, and the show has come back as though it spent the hiatus working out: it’s leaner, stronger, tougher, and its core twin strengths (the genuine love of Hank for his family, and the don’t give a f**kness of it all) are back in full effect, but this time used more precisely and to more subtle, devastating effect.

This season is all sinew, muscles and veins, exposed and raw. It’s all about facing the music in the worst possible way. It’s about staring into the eyes of your daughter who hates you. A life in painful shards, slicing the skin. Season Four of Californication is drawing blood. It’s harsh, unforgiving. And still it’s damn funny. Whether it’s Hank getting unexpected relief from Marcy, or Rob Lowe channeling Brad Pitt’s Floyd and Gary Oldman’s Drexl from True Romance to play Eddie Nero, the crazy A-lister who wants to play Hank in the movie of his book, the show jabs humor with southpaw precision. It’s great to see the show full throttle like this. Its one liners are sharper, its gonzo situations more outrageous. It’s pulled off one of the most difficult tricks in TV: treating darkness and humor just the same, combining them into one scathing, blistering, pain-fuelled but hilarious blend that charms, horrifies, moves and makes you laugh, hard.

There were moments in season three when the show located itself – charmingly to be sure – in the quirkier areas of its world. The drama of it all was traded down in favor of priceless humor. This was a good trade, for a time, but ultimately Kapinos brought the show to the darker place it needed to be, where every seed Hank has sown is reaped.

Throughout the first three seasons, Hank played at self-loathing, played at being the one everyone hated, knowing, or at least hoping, all along that it wasn’t quite true. But now, it’s real, and Duchovny is giving a virtuosic rendering of a man realizing his life really is disintegrating, and flashing that smile or being rogueishly adorable means nothing anymore to those whose hearts he has truly broken. It’s a tough, excruciating experience and lesson: watching Hank learn it is heroically compelling.

Californication is at the top of its game, and getting better.

******

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