Monday, May 6, 2019

Dead To Me | Lefsetz Letter

I wouldn’t be watching this if it weren’t on Netflix.

I like the foreign series, but most of them are crime-based, and Felice has a limit on that. Me? I could watch dark and dirty all day long. And I don’t need likable characters or a happy ending, as long as it’s deep and satisfying and riveting.

I’m addicted to story.

Everybody’s addicted to story. That’s one reason Netflix is so successful. All this talk about sports rights, turns out people are sick of overpaying for ESPN, that’s one of the main causes of cord-cutting. A small segment of the public wants to watch sports, but everybody’s interested in story. And now in the era of peak TV, with over 400 shows annually, we’re inundated with story. It’d be like suddenly having tens of albums by our favorite musical acts, it’s a veritable cornucopia of riches.

We finished the new season of “Bosch.” The show keeps getting better and better. The casting is great, but Titus Welliver is superior. You wouldn’t think he would fit the role, but he’s just enough of a renegade to make it work, someone who doesn’t fit in. Why do we adore those who don’t fit in and then excoriate them? Uber’s hobbled by the lack of Travis Kalanick. A prick, but one with insight, who fought hard, because it was his idea, he brought it to fruition. But the reality is everybody takes the safe path, going to business school, getting an MBA, when the truth is managing people and working within an organization, being part of the team, is not what delivers exceptionality. You can steer the boat, but I’m more interested in those who can BUILD the boat.

I think Prime Video fails because it’s baked into Amazon Prime. As in, people are not aware they’re paying for it. Prime is about fast, free delivery, not television. Sure, a hit will help them, but the first season of “Goliath” was great television and few tuned in anyway. They’ve got to rebrand it, make people aware they’re paying for it, and jazz up the interface, and allow you to see the images when you’re fast-forwarding. Maybe just call it “Amazon TV,” so people will know it’s there and what they’re getting.

And Amazon doesn’t make as many shows as Netflix and now Netflix is so busy satiating everyone, in all genres, that there’s a dearth of great shows.

That’s why we ended up watching “Dead To Me.”

Reviews were not great. And with no time, I only have time for great.

But I couldn’t find anything else on Netflix so we dove in. And got hooked.

I’ll tell you, the twist at the end of the first episode almost made me duck out, but they keep developing it in further episodes, so watching is worthwhile.

Linda Cardellini made an impression in “Freaks and Geeks,” but that was twenty years ago. And she was in a bunch of flicks and shows, but I didn’t recognize her until “Bloodline,” a family drama with a bad final season that before that had me hooked, a modern day “Body Heat.”

But now Cardellini is 43. Whew! I mentioned Todd Rundgren to a bunch of millennials last week and they had no idea who I was talking about. You can be out of college and born in 1998. We think everybody knows history, but it’s not like when I was going to high school, when W.C. Fields was all the rage, with so much incoming, people don’t have time to comb through the past.

At least not together.

That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article, because of “all together.” Other than politics, there’s nothing we all do or see these days. It’s the NHL finals, are you watching? Probably not. Are you addicted to the Spotify Top 50? Doubtful, unless you’re on it or under the age of 16. But TV?

“Dead To Me” is up front and center on Netflix’s homepage, the best promotional real estate in the world. Hell, if they sold advertising, those products would be known by everybody. But in the twenty first century if you include advertising, you’re lost, you’re sold out to the man, despite the stock play, most viewers think Netflix is for them.

Oh, I’ll get e-mail decrying the service, just like I do saying that Spotify doesn’t have obscure tracks. Those people immediately take themselves out of the discussion, they immediately make themselves irrelevant, the twenty first century is not about judging, but partaking. That’s yet to be realized on social media. Ever notice it’s the same few punks stirring the pot? Ignore them. As for the excoriation of Facebook… Good, go for ’em, but you’re playing Whac-A-Mole, what about 8chan?

And if you’re a member of Gen-Z, “Married…with Children,” might have gone off the air before you were born, yes, that series ran from ’87 to ’97 and now Ed O’Neill is famous for “Modern Family,” already long in the tooth, and Katey Sagal is known for the already off the air “Sons of Anarchy” and David Faustino is forgotten and Christina Applegate almost too.

Kelly Bundy is 47. Older than Katey Sagal was when she played her mother on “Married…with Children.” But the funny thing is she has acting chops. She’s done something to her face, some kind of plastic surgery or something, she looks different, but she owns the character of Jen, the widow.

That’s right, Jen’s husband Ted is dead. And she meets Linda Cardellini in a grief group and…

It feels like Laguna Beach, about lifestyle as opposed to the action of L.A. The suburbs. People aren’t looking to get famous, just rich!

And every episode has a surprise. Just when you think you’ve had enough, you’re dragged back in.

And this show was originally pitched to CBS, but it could have never been on that network, because of the language and the drinking and… Networks constrain you, Netflix releases you.

And I’m a binger. I usually only watch TV one day a week, if that. Usually Saturday or Sunday afternoon. As Freddie Mercury sang, I want it all and I want it now, I haven’t got time for appointment television, I’ve got too many appointments anyway. But the Luddites are against self-driving cars and pro-HBO and they want to stay stuck in the past, even though they’re addicted to technology, most obviously their smartphones, which they keep on telling us will ruin our lives. But these are the same people who created an uproar when Netflix announced it was going to streaming anyway. The public are sheep. The great seers, almost always a single individual, are one step ahead, they’re driving not only our economy, but our leisure time.

Now I’m not exactly recommending “Dead To Me,” but chances are you might have already seen it. So we can talk about it. And we can talk about so little. And everybody’s fighting for attention, but then we come to the public square once again, the Netflix homepage. You start there, you check out the new stuff. You want to be hooked.

That’s what purveyors don’t understand. We’re LOOKING for great stuff, we’re DYING for great stuff, and we’ve got little time for anything else. So if you’re clamoring for attention, if your marketing exceeds your product, give up, you’re on the wrong path. But in this era of “Shark Tank” and entrepreneurship the truth is very few people can succeed on the bleeding edge of creativity, first and foremost because it requires you to walk into the wilderness, people don’t want to be alone, but more importantly because the creators don’t have the right stuff, they refuse to pay their dues, and the truth is our educational system does not reward uniqueness. Most of the creators never fit in, and they’ve learned to live with that. They stayed home on Saturday night, they didn’t go to the Prom. They lived alone with their brains, and the truth is so often they create to get that adulation, that connection, to be accepted. Weird, isn’t it? But when they said nerds will inherit the earth, they were right. But no one wants to be a nerd, a true nerd, not someone who wears glasses and says they like cosplay, but someone who is rejected and alone and unhappy about it. Ironically, those are the people who bring us together, those are the ones who can reflect humanity, because we’re all lost inside, we all have more questions than answers, even though we can’t admit that we feel lonely surrounded by people, but it’s those not at the party who are pushing the envelope, who are making our lives rich.

We live in interesting times.


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