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w/e 11 November 2018

I went to see Art Brut this week. They’re back! They were good! A couple of new band members, and one covering for another’s maternity leave. I think this was their first headline gig for a few years, and just before the release of their new album. There’s a new album! Spotify’s algorithms have done a poor job keeping me informed of their two recent singles. Here’s one, Hospital:

Anyway, it was a nice friendly little show, they rocked out, and it’s good to have them back. What with the return of Robyn, and Red Dead Redemption 2, and now Art Brut, I wonder what other things from a few years ago will come back… Hope? Optimism? The last tatters of my sense of purpose? Let’s wait and see!

I put off watching the fourth and final (and short) season of Treme — David Simon and Eric Overmeyer’s HBO drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans — for a long time because I didn’t want it to end.

When we watched the first season it didn’t grip me. It was fine but I wasn’t hooked — it’s not like there’s a tightly-wound plot — and I thought I might not bother with any more.

But I was hooked. Over the following weeks I realised I missed it. Characters that I thought hadn’t made much impression on me kept returning to my mind. They all have flaws, some are annoying in various ways, but I wanted to see more of their lives and more of the place. I missed them.

There’s a big cast with several stories running concurrently, sometimes crossing or touching. The stories might be high-stakes (police corruption or a fatal illness) or more frivolous (some of DJ Davis’s whimsical schemes). They weave together to create a deep impression of the good and bad of a struggling city, finding its way from the aftermath of a natural disaster to the inauguration of Obama, when the series ends.

Music is, as you’d expect, a huge part of Treme — the show will appeal more if you like a lot of the music. (Here’s a big Spotify playlist.) In the show all the musicians, other than the main characters, are played by local musicians as themselves, which makes Treme feel like part of the actual New Orleans, rather than the oddly fictionalised version you’d get with most city-set dramas. It’s still fictionalised of course — the police and developers and politicians are nearly all actors in fictional storylines — but with real musicians and real bands playing gigs in real venues it feels more grounded in the place than it would otherwise.

Now I’ve finished watching it and I’m already missing all those people that I originally thought hadn’t quite grabbed me. I’ve never been to the city but I miss New Orleans.

I also watched the six-part The Bisexual which I liked more than I expected, having only read a couple of luke-warm reviews. It’s billed as a “comedy drama” and at first there are moments when it feels like Desiree Akhavan, the writer, director and star, is trying to generate laughs. But either this effort tails off or I stopped noticing. Later, it felt more like any laughs came more naturally from the situations or things people say as part of the drama.

And the drama side got better. The writing/direction was prepared to give scenes and individual shots time to slowly develop. While it initially gave the impression of taking nothing seriously there were times when a silly scene would gradually drop its ironic defences and deeply affect the characters. And other sides to characters were allowed to emerge, sometimes when it was too late.

One odd thing though… there are only a couple of major male characters in the show (which is fine, obviously!) and one, Gabe, is a real cliché: a sensitive writer/lecturer approaching middle age, long past his one successful book, lusting after one of his young, female students. I chose to assume this common TV/film male caricature was a conscious decision, rather than lazy writing, given how heavily a male-dominated drama might lazily lean on female caricatures.

Anyway, I can imagine some people not liking it at all, finding characters too annoying, but I found it worth persevering with.

I’ve been continuing with Red Dead Remption 2 and enjoying it, but, but… Tom Stuart linked to this sort of review of the game by Mark Brown which is fairly critical and I agree with all of it (apart from the comparisons to other games that do open world things better, as I’ve played none of them).

I love wandering around the world of RDR2, and sometimes little missions (like collecting a debt from someone) are just an excuse for a long journey through nice scenery. But the big missions are a bit tedious so far. I’m not interested in the “gang”, I don’t see why I need to do all this stuff they need, and the missions’ narrow structures seem an odd contrast to the open-world-ness of the rest of the game. Some of their “game” elements are minimal, like “press X to do this thing”, with no other choice. That’s not a game! It’s a movie that keeps stopping to wait for you to press a button.

At other times the illusion of control over your character falls apart. I did not want to get drunk in a bar full of men with guns — it seemed unwise and I’m being (fairly) good and cautious — but there was no choice. So I had to work laboriously through a “wacky” pointless mission of being drunk and losing my friend and weeing in the street, and ending up in prison. What japes! It all felt like a waste of everyone’s time.

And yet I still like the game a lot… but I can’t help thinking any reviews granting it 100% were taken in by the amazing detail and size and overlooked other aspects.

That’s all. It’s time for another week. Another one! Already!

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