For the longest time TV shows just bored me. I felt that TV had become this vacuous void where art and commerce said “F*ck it, let’s take a dump on the viewing public and see how long it takes them to say anything.” Of course the only “art” involved was the art of selling. Not actually creating art. There was always a few outsider shows that actually tried telling a story and engaging with people that had half a brain. Those shows lasted one or two seasons and were dumped for more mindless fare. If you wanted solid TV you had to pay the big bucks for HBO. The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire,….those were shows that told stories, cared about how a show looked, and felt like serialized cinema. I paid the big bucks so I could enjoy TV, but then a few years back I said the hell with it and got rid of our satellite. We went rogue. It was almost two years before we bought a wireless router and started streaming Netflix, before that it was DVDs and Netflix via snail mail. I’m glad we have Netflix and and can stream, but as far as satellite/cable TV is concerned I’ve never looked back.
Where am I going with all of this you ask? Well, I’m here to say that I’m a believer in the television show again and I think we have Netflix to thank for that. Someone got the bright idea that you could create a show, film all 12 or 13 episodes, and then drop ’em all on our pretty heads on a single day. The TV binge was born. No commercials, no interruptions, and one continuous story told straight through(except for maybe bathroom breaks or the time it takes to make a sandwich.) Serialized drama, comedy, thriller, and action at your fingertips. House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Stranger Things and several other amazing shows that Netflix has given life to have re-energized what you can do with television. This has bled over into mainstream networks like AMC, USA, as well as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and even NBC(Hannibal was seriously out there mainstream TV, people.) AMC did give us Breaking Bad before any of these others, so they do get props for that. That may have been the starting point of creative folks and TV executives getting together and saying “Hey, we can really do this on TV?”, but I think Netflix opened the floodgates.
Of the network shows that has grabbed me and held tight is Mr. Robot. It’s the story of an awkward outsider named Elliot Alderson who dabbles in computer hacking and serious mental instability. The first season he falls into this hacking group called F Society who plan to take down E Corp, one of the biggest technology conglomerates in the world. “Evil Corp”, as fsociety like to call them, dabble in many things including computers, phones, and tablets. They also maintain and banking and credit division. It’s not the bogey man that goes bump in the night, its E Corp. Elliot sometimes has a hard time grasping what’s really happening and what he’s making up in his head which leads to some pretty spectacular “What the f*ck?” moments. The show is beautifully shot and incredibly acted. Rami Malek as Elliot is superb, showing both vulnerability, fear, and a strange empowerment in his eyes. He seems to be learning right along with us just how deep and dark the rabbit hole is that he’s falling in. Christian Slater as the elusive and mysterious Mr. Robot seems to have found that magic that made him a star in films like Heathers, Pump Up The Volume, and, well,…those movies for sure. I’ve always liked Slater and felt that he just couldn’t break out of the teen idol thing. When I saw him in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Volume I I was hoping he was finding a second act in middle age as a respected actor. Mr. Robot proves that to be the case. The whole cast is amazing, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallstrom, Stephanie Cornelliussen, Michael Christofer, Michel Gill, and pretty much everyone else with talk time. That’s just season one. Season two has some standout performances by Craig Robinson, Joey Bada$$, and the always amazing B.D. Wong.
I can’t recommend this series enough, folks. Probably one of my favorite TV series. Right up there with The Sopranos, Seinfeld, Friday Night Lights, and the aforementioned Hannibal.
One of the key elements that makes this show so unique is the score by Mac Quayle. When I first started watching Mr. Robot the music that stood out were the songs, not the score. Classical pieces, hip hop, pop, and an exquisite piano instrumental version of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind”. Perfect placement of a song can mean the world to film or tv show, and the music supervisor on Mr. Robot knows what they’re doing. But a few shows in I started noticing this incredible electronic score that was going on in the background. It was very reminiscent of the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scores that made Fincher’s last few movies pop. There’s a touch of Cliff Martinez in his work as well. It was minimalist synth stuff, but done tastefully and was used brilliantly to build tension when needed and underlined Elliot’s gradual slipping from reality. By the end of the first season I was a Mac Quayle fan.
I’d never heard of Mac Quayle prior to his work in Mr. Robot, but a quick glance over at his website reveal Quayle’s been far busier than I would’ve ever imagined. Besides his recent work scoring The People V. O.J. Simpson, American Horror Story : Freak Show, and the aforementioned Mr. Robot, he’s done a massive amount of film and TV scoring, including quite a bit of additional work on Cliff Martinez soundtracks, like The Lincoln Lawyer, Drive, and Only God Forgives. He’s also a pretty well-regarded music producer and has done a ton of remixes for artists as diverse as New Order, Beyonce, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, Sting, Sheryl Crow, and Mary J. Blige, just to name a few.
For my money, his strengths are definitely with scoring. He’s a very nuanced composer. His pieces lie within incidental music, but there’s an emotional depth. I recently picked up Mr. Robot Volume 1 and 2. Two double LP collections of his work on the series and they’re incredible.