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Daily Reads: The Year in Tarantino Controversies, What ‘Peak TV’ Really Means, and More

Daily Reads: The Year in Tarantino Controversies, What 'Peak TV' Really Means, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. 2015: The Year in Tarantino Controversies.
Quentin Tarantino’s bloody, profane new film “The Hateful Eight” opens in 70mm tomorrow, and then wide release come the new year, so settle in for the inevitable host of thinkpieces that will arise. In fact, the entire year has been filled with Tarantino controversies, from his run-ins with the police and harsh words against Disney. Rolling Stone’s Scott Tobias explores the Tarantino controversies and the resulting fallouts in 2015.

On “It Follows”: “It was the best premise I’ve seen in a horror film in a long, long, long time. It’s one of those movies that’s so good you get mad at it for not being great… [Director David Robert Mitchell] could have kept his mythology straight. He broke his mythology left, right, and center.” —Vulture, Aug. 23

Fallout:
 Mitchell responded by throwing some good-natured shade in Tarantino’s direction, but Vulture’s Buchanan gave the horror-movie director the opportunity to address specific criticisms of the film’s ending at length. And now there are two good sources for “It Follows” viewers to have all their “WTF?” questions about the third act answered.

On “
True Detective”: “I tried to watch the first episode of Season One, and I didn’t get into it at all. I thought it was really boring. And Season Two just looks awful. Just the trailer — all these handsome actors trying to not be handsome and walking around looking like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. It’s so serious, and they’re so tortured, trying to look miserable with their mustaches and grungy clothes.” —Vulture, Aug. 23

Fallout
: None. The second season of “True Detective” wrapped up a little over a week before the Tarantino interview ran and most critics hated it, which makes this perhaps the least controversial statement he made all year. But with his praise of another critically reviled HBO show, “The Newsroom,” in the same interview, the filmmaker quickly lost his allies in the TV criticism business. “Who the fuck reads TV reviews,” he said. “Jesus fucking Christ. TV critics review the pilot. Pilots of shows suck.” He also claimed to have watched every episode of “The Newsroom” three times, which may be the craziest statement he made all year.

2. What Does “Peak TV” Mean?
In an effort to distinguish this current era of television from the previous post-“Sopranos” Golden Age, many TV critics have embraced the term “Peak TV,” which captures both the glut of television on the air and on streaming services as well as the perceived collective quality. For Slate’s annual TV Club, Willa Paskin writes about what “Peak TV” really means in this day and age.

In 2015 there were great sitcoms, dramas, musicals, telenovelas, cartoons, melodramas, dramedies, period pieces, procedurals, prequels, reality shows, superhero shows, late-night shows, sketch comedies, romantic comedies, stoner comedies, and comedies about depression. Among the most memorable protagonists of the year were not tortured white guys, but two transgender women in later middle age, a bevy of women in prison, another recently sprung, an indefatigable 23-year-old Hispanic mother, a singing neurotic, two wig-wearing Communists, a rape-survivor superhero, a rape-survivor Scotsman, an unknowable and bisexual super lawyer, a hip-hop loving first generation tweenager, a food-loving first-generation textaholic, a stoned copywriter, stoned besties, a depressive, and a depressed horse, to name just a few of the year’s most fascinating characters. The intriguing white guys, meanwhile, seemed to have osmotically sensed their slip from the center of the things because they — the former death-row inmate, the mentally disturbed hacker, the hallucinating survivor, the Coke-loving ad-man, the serial killer, and the burping monster, to name a few — were all deeply, deeply lost. For obvious reasons, most attempts to come up with a term to describe all this diversity — in format and subject matter, race and gender — failed. And then John Landgraf, the philosopher king of FX, took to the stage at an industry event for TV critics and uttered the phrase “peak TV.” Like the best neologisms, this one has swiftly taken on a life of its own. When Landgraf said “peak TV,” he was trying to name a problem. Nearly 400 original series aired in 2015, and that number will get higher in 2016. From Landgraf’s perspective, this volume is keeping audiences from finding good series they would enjoy, and this is unsustainable on the network end of things. He went so far as to predict a future contraction in original programming. But peak TV has caught on as a description more than as a warning and that’s because it’s perfectly expressive. There is an insane amount of good television out there, and like Everest (and far lesser climbs), it can be genuinely overwhelming.

3. The King of “Star Wars” Leaks Talks Scoops and Spoilers.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: So, there’s a guy on the Internet who’s trying to find out everything he can about the new highly anticipated “Star Wars” movie… Oh, so you have heard this one before? Well, now that “Star Wars: Force Awakens” has opened in the theaters, Wired’s Brian Raftery sits down with Jason Ward, creator of scoop site Making “Star Wars,” about getting scoops, and what he got right and wrong.

WIRED: How did your “Star Wars” reporting career begin?

Jason Ward:
 I knew that to have a successful “Star Wars” site, I would need a few scoops, but I didn’t expect it going as far as it did. I started going to Facebook groups and sites where people from [London’s] Pinewood Studios congregated online, because I had bet on that being one of the studios they filmed “Force Awakens” at. I talked to people there about the movies they were working on, and I’d ask, “Do you think you’re gonna get ‘Star Wars’?” And when they finally did, they were like, “Oh, dude, I did get it,” and stayed in touch.Sometimes, people would just go through Pinewood, for whatever reason, and send me photos. People think the place was locked down like Fort Knox or some C.I.A. base in the Antarctic, and it was open. But I actually mostly had sit-downs with people, going to coffee shops and things like that.

WIRED:
 This was a super-secretive project. Why do you think they were talking to you about it?

Ward:
 I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve been writing about “Star Wars” for so long, and they know I love it. That’s a big part of it: They’re so elated and excited about everything that’s going on, they want to talk about it with someone who can geek out with them at that same level. But I don’t want to put words into their mouths. If I had a gig at Lucasfilm or Bad Robot or Disney, I wouldn’t say anything.

4. All 45 “Peanuts” Specials Ranked From Worst to Best.
As the song goes, “Christmas time is here / Happiness and cheer / Fun for all that children call / Their favorite time of year.” This time of year is not just for roasting chestnuts or unwrapping presents, but also watching television, especially Christmas specials, such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the very best Christmas special there ever was. In honor of the season, Vulture’s Simon Abrams ranks all 45 “Peanuts” specials from worst to best.

“Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” (1975): This is perhaps the most well-rounded “Peanuts” special: The only aspect of it that doesn’t deliver in a big way is the Snoopy/Woodstock subplot, and even that’s mostly okay. Linus gets hot for teacher while Sally pines for him, and Charlie Brown expectantly wishes that somebody, anybody will like him. There are so many eminently quotable lines in this episode that it’s hard to just pick a few. The candy-hearts gag — Sally turns a candy heart over and over to read the entirety of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43” while Charlie Brown’s candy heart simply reads “Forget it, Kid” — has to be the specials’ best conceptual gag. And the scene where poor Charlie Brown opens his mailbox expectantly, hoping for a last-minute Valentine from the Little Red-Haired Girl, is devastating.

“Charlie Brown’s All-Stars” (1966):
This baseball episode is the best Charlie Brown–can’t-catch-a-break narrative because it confirms that sometimes, even when everything seems to be working in Charlie Brown’s favor, he’ll conspire to mess himself up. After resolving to lead his team to a winning season, Charlie Brown finally gets a hit and starts to round the bases. He’s ultimately tagged out when he tries to steal home and winds up in the dugout, but in that brief moment where he’s stealing second, then third, you can feel the character’s infectious excitement. You also get a great sense of play during this sequence, one that’s confirmed by other scenes in the episode that show supporting characters enjoying various sports, including skateboarding.

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966):
 People often forget that one of the charms of Schulz’s dialogue is that he doesn’t just make his children talk like grown-ups, but rather, as sharp and wise as many adults wish they spoke. Case in point: Charlie Brown’s retort to Lucy when she offers him a free kick of her football, the first such gag in Peanuts specials. He says: “I don’t mind your dishonesty half as much as as I mind your opinion of me. You must think I’m stupid.” The rest of the episode, which focuses on Linus’s delusional pining for Halloween God the Great Pumpkin is cute. But this is an immortal installment because it features some of the very best dialogue, like when Charlie Brown repeatedly laments, “I got a rock,” or when Chuck amicably parts from Linus by reassuring him, “We’re obviously separated by nondenominational differences.”

5. Tarantino’s Macro Aggressions: “The Hateful Eight’s” Racial Insults.
Let’s close this Daily Reads with another piece on Tarantino, but instead of focusing on his media controversies, it tackles the controversial elements in his new film, specifically the myriad racial insults. The National Review’s Armond White takes down Tarantino’s new film as hateful and racially insensitive.

“The Hateful Eight” is not a national microcosm such as John Ford explored in the 1939 “Stagecoach,” where the classes and sexes clashed. (William Inge’s 1956 “Bus Stop” used the same premise.) Tarantino has no interest in American political or psychological history. His stand-in, SamJack, serves the same function here as when playing the pimp-emcee of Spike Lee’s cultural burlesque “Chi-Raq.” Like Lee, Tarantino is basically unserious; both filmmakers show antipathy to human suffering, evoking past or current experience simply to display personal impudence. Titled after cut-rate Italian spaghetti westerns, “The Hateful Eight” dramatizes another of QT’s references to social chaos, specifically, the 2012 movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Colo. That’s not a stretch; the two-part Kill Bill was QT’s proto–Abu Ghraib satire. (As Jean-Luc Godard corroborated in an interview, no thinking person can deny the concurrence of those QT films with that incident of nasty American GI folly.) Politically unschooled, Tarantino links movie genres to mundane catastrophe; his entire output solders unconscionable cruelty to American moviegoers’ heartless sense of entitlement. He indulges the thrill of destruction that used to be the delectation ascribed to yahoos but, after the sea-change of his “Pulp Fiction,” is now defended by “intellectuals.”

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