Sunday, September 13, 2015


Phillip Maciak at LA Review of Books on Mr Robot, season 1:

".... I see Rubicon when I watch Mr. Robot, but that’s not a bad thing, nor is it the only thing that’s true about my relationship to the show as a spectator. That’s just how it works: networks of inference and allusion. It’s not downgrading Mr. Robot’s originality or Esmail’s creative achievement to suggest that, in an era of influential TV series, Mr. Robot is maybe the most visibly and precociously influenced series on the air.

"Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that he lived in a “retrospective age,” that “the foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we through their eyes.” And he demanded that a new art, a new vision of God and nature, be forged in the nineteenth century. But Ralph knew as well as anybody that “new” is a relative concept. Everything that is is a recombination of what’s old, what’s known. The impossibility of newness is not a failure so much as the definition of existence. We — along with our loved ones and our objects and our art — are a reassemblage of what once was. We can’t behold anything new, but we can hope to see through new eyes that which is newly arranged and that which has been here for a long time.

"So a TV series identified by its influences is not just okay, it’s natural. In other words, Mr. Robot’s pastiche quality may be its defining trait, but that doesn’t mean it’s negatively defined by indebtedness. Just because a work owes something to another work doesn’t mean that it’s plagiarism or hackery. Nor does it mean that a pastiche with this kind of dynamic associative energy and annotative sophistication isn’t, in and of itself, somewhat unique to cable television. You can see the Kubrick and the Scorsese and, once someone points it out, even the Dunham, but it’s neither all you see nor the limit of what you might be able to see if you look hard enough.

"But given what Ralph said earlier, given that anything we watch likely consists of a series of revisions, variations, sometimes even outright thefts, and given that nobody seems to mind the show’s nods to other media, why are we so concerned with Mr. Robot’s influences? Why ask Sam Esmail what he’s watching when we only come upon that kind of information by accident talking to Vince Gilligan or Jenji Kohan? Television is built on this kind of recycling. The Sopranos and Deadwood are both genre pieces as derivative as they are innovative, every procedural borrows from every other procedural, most of the bread-and-butter series surrounding Mr. Robot on USA are cut from the same sunwashed linen cloth. What’s so shocking about Mr. Robot all of a sudden?"....

Well I had not noticed all these plagiarisms, borrowings, reworkings in Mr. Robot ... except for the big one - Fight Club - which seemed glaring to me, but not quite enough to put me off enjoying the show a lot

enjoyed this show a lot, despite a queasy feeling - increasingly common with the new breed of digi-maximalist TV series -  of being led up the narrative garden path (see True Detective as prime offender, but a dozen others could also spring to mind)

the curse of Plot-itis, aka Lost-itis, - after that classic "worra loada cobblers" make-it-up-as-we-go-along series

narrative maximalism: engendered by the new structures of watching (binge watching, watching-on-demand)

there's two kinds of narrative maximalism - synchronic and diachronic, vertical and horizontal:

1/ Synchronic / Vertical : scrofulous proliferation of subplots, characters, etc  - a cake with too many layers, too much icing and sprinkles ... exhausting the brain's capacity to keep up with and contain so many strata of characterisation and subnarrative

2/ Diachronic / Horizontal : too many twists, too many turns  - an unnatural elongation of storyline, way beyond being convincing.... straining  one's credulity, exhausting one's patience.... one's memory capacity even (how did this story start? where's it been?)

Some series have both going on - Game of Thrones

Alan Kirby pointed towards this in Digimodernism, the "onwardness and endlessness" of digital cultural products, their relentlessness and propulsiveness -  the infinite extendability of narrative - a quality discernible equally in videogames and in series fiction (Potter, Thrones, etc)  (and movie sequels, prequels, etc)

where the consumer sacrifices plausibility, sense, etc for the satisfactions of continuation, of neverendingness

I miss the temporally-limited, characterologically focused TV series -  the confined study of a relatively small number of humans interacting within a fairly restricted framework and duration ... series that allowed themselves  to culminate after perhaps a dozen episodes (maybe less).... maybe at most, two seasons of the series.... then, the work done, the point made... the parties involved disperse to other projects

hooray for Show Me A Hero, which kept it to just six episodes, divided into three meaty portions.... focused on a manageable set of characters ....  and, importantly, accepted the historical facts

(unlikely the increasingly fictional and liberty-taking Masters of Sex - which i suspect for digimodernist/digimaximalst reasons is forced to make stuff up, adulterate the truth, which otherwise would be  just too plain, too uneventful for the viewer demands, the narrative strictures, of contemporary television-making )

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