Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: 7 Days in Hell, Halt and Catch Fire, and Scream!
Max Robinson is watching…
7 Days In Hell
Tuesday, July 14 (On HBO Go now)
7 Days In Hell is the weirdest thing to air on HBO in recent memory, which is pretty wild considering the True Detective episode with that guy in the bird mask. Jake Szymanski’s fake HBO SPORTS doc about the longest and greatest tennis match is all rapid fire jokes, like a beautiful comedy pillbox gun narrated by Jon Hamm. Samberg, as tennis bad boy/underwear impressario Aaron Williams, plays his usual man-boy schtick beautifully against Kit Harington’s fucked-in-the-head child prodigy/adult simpleton Charles Poole. Harington’s surprising deadpan comic instincts are a fantastic slowburn over the TV movie’s 43-minute run time. 7 Days In Hell’s solid gold gags range from having actual celebrities like Serena Williams read nonsense at the camera to a hysterically baffling history of Swedish courtroom sketches. This is, essentially, one really long, really amazing SNL sketch that somehow doesn’t stumble or overstay its welcome. I seriously hope HBO drops one of these every six months.
Episode Highlight: Tie between Michael Sheen as perpetually sweating, predatory BBC sports show host Caspian Wint, and the Queen of England drunkenly calling Kit Harrington “stupid fuck slut.”
Adam Pelta-Pauls is watching…
Halt and Catch Fire
Season 2, Episode 6: “10BROAD36”
Sundays at 10/9c on AMC
The word “broadband” only entered the collective lexicon recently, and it’s already gotten to the point where we use it, but don’t really know or care what it means outside of its use in a Verizon commercial. When I watched this week’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire, I finally learned what broadband is, and why it’s called that, and that information came packaged in a brilliant 40-odd minutes of drama.
I should start off by saying that this show has improved a lot since its last season. Season One was really aimless at times, and while it got some much-deserved praise for the performances of its leads, the plot was lacking. It wanted badly to be a Mad Men replacement (period piece, hot male lead who looks good in a suit, everyone is banging everyone), which meant it sometimes felt like an athlete playing the wrong sport. Whereas Mad Men thrived on its politics, HCF does its best work when it’s teaching us about computers. We take them so much for granted, and I really enjoy walking away from each episode with a little extra knowledge.
But the real muscle of this show is the cast. Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy (yes, that’s his name) are brilliant as the blustering Joe MacMillan and cocaine-addled Gordon Clark, but this season we’ve seen the show pivot to focus more on its female leads: coder wunderkind Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and hardware specialist turned homemaker Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé). Both are incredibly strong actors, but it’s Bishé’s Donna that really shines this week. I’m probably not the best person to comment on the handling of this week’s (Highlight for spoiler: abortion) storyline, but I can say that it’s Bishé’s acting chops that make it so compelling and brilliant. Donna spans the entire emotional spectrum in this episode, and it’s incredible to watch, from the shit-fit she throws in the first fifteen minutes to the lullaby she sings as the screen fades to black. It’s a feat of acting that needs to be watched to be believed.
Episode Highlight: Joe MacMillan could actually be considered the show’s antagonist. He’s a force of nature, fucking around with everyone “for their own good,” and leaving ruined lives in his wake. In this episode, one of the characters nicknames him “Admiral Eyebrows,” which, please God, I hope they keep using. Also, Joe and Donna have a conversation in this episode on what is very probably a TRON backlot set.
Kayleigh Hearn is Watching…
Season 1, Episode 2: “Hello Emma”
Tuesdays at 10 on MTV
It’s a testament to how off-brand the television show Scream has become that the white-masked killer gutting horny teens isn’t even called Ghostface, but rather “Brandon James.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? Loosely inspired by Wes Craven’s series of meta-horror films, the re-imagined Scream doesn’t try to send up slasher flicks—and it explained why in a belabored monologue in the show’s pilot—but rather the current wave of serialized horror television. In two episodes alone, Scream namedrops The Walking Dead, Hannibal, American Horror Story, and How to Get Away with Murder, but to paraphrase Mystery Science Theater 3000, “Never mention a good show in the middle of your crappy show.”
Where the original Scream embraced its genre archetypes, the Scream TV show just looks at them and shrugs. Our probable “Final Girl” is Emma, a supposedly nice girl caught up in the machinations of a mean girl clique, but she’s too bland and passive to be interesting. There’s a brooding boyfriend, a genre-savvy kid always on the verge of breaking the fourth wall, and, replacing Courtney Cox’s newswoman, a bespectacled podcaster investigating the town’s murders in a blatant rip off of Serial. This is the kind of show where anyone could be a suspect, and everyone has a secret, so almost every character is revealed to be a sociopath. But maybe none of them are the killer. Did I mention the show’s mythology also features a Michael Myers-like mass murderer who terrified the town in the 1980s and was obsessed with a teen girl who turns out to now be Emma’s mom? And he’s the “Brandon James” whose mask is worn by the killer? Ghostface, take the knife.
The only sympathetic character to emerge is Bex Taylor-Klaus’s Audrey, Emma’s outsider friend who was the victim of homophobic cyberbullying. But the show is so misguided in its perception of its characters that it spends more time on Emma, who participated in the filming of the homophobic viral video but feels really bad about it now, you guys, than it does on Rachel, Audrey’s depressed girlfriend who was first a victim of the video and then, sigh, the victim of Not-Ghostface. (No-stface?) Hey wait, why is Rachel even targeted? Rich Bitch Nina’s murder in the pilot established that these were a type of revenge killings targeting a bunch of two-faced, spoiled cyberbullies, but Rachel never hurt anyone and was herself a victim of Nina. Why is the killer breaking his pattern already, especially by making Rachel’s death look like a suicide, whereas he flaunts the gory details of Nina’s murder? There could be two killers, a la the original Scream, or maybe this is just the show thinning out its cast early to stretch the premise out over ten episodes. The slasher movie “rules” of the Scream films were part of what made them fun—don’t have sex, don’t say “I’ll be right back,” and so on. The indiscriminate nature of the killings here are part of what makes the show such a slog. Scream feels like mockbuster of the original films, but without the fun, campiness, or celebrity cameos. It’s not funny, meta, or remotely clever—watching a show about a bunch of awful teenagers getting stabbed just left me feeling empty. I never thought I’d miss Skeet Ulrich.
Episode Highlight: Christ, I haven’t even mentioned Scream’s hamfisted jabs at social media, like the killer taking a “murder selfie” next to Nina’s body and sending to the whole school. This leads to hilarious lines of dialogue like, “After that gif went viral our hotlines lit up,” or when the genre-savvy nerd tries to comfort the popular girl of his dreams: “I saw that gif, just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”