Thursday, November 6, 2014

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show, The Overnighters

The Overnighters
Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show

Thumbs-down votes for two new documentaries, and a quick note on some upgraded star ratings:

Des Doyle's "Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show" doesn't lack for interviews, from J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon through most of the prime-time broadcast and cable TV schedule. But they offer more in the way of humblebragging and attestations of the job's all-encompassing demands than of the nuts and bolts of their daily work or the kind of juicy anecdotes that all industry docs should provide. Doyle uses graphics well (e.g., to show the hierarchy within the writers' room), but doesn't show his subjects in action in a way that would make a kid say, "That's what I want to be." 

The more I think about Jesse Moss' "The Overnighters," the less respect I have for it. It tells the story of the oil boom in the small town of Williston, North Dakota, through the eyes of Pastor Jay Reinke, who opens his Concordia Lutheran Church and its parking lot to men from across the country who have come in search of employment and have failed to secure it or cannot find or afford housing (by some measure the most expensive in the country). The pastor and his wife extend the "Overnighters" program to their own home, allowing a registered sex offender to live in their basement even though they have three minor children. The town reluctantly adopted the program as an act of Christian hospitality, but as it has expanded to fire-code-violating proportions, some townspeople fear for their safety or the permanent loss of their former sense of community. 

There's material here for an interesting mosaic of stories, but Moss errs, I think, in ceding pride of place to Reinke, a Ned Flanders type by public persona in whom his more astute parishioners detect egotism, stubbornness, and selfishness, if not (as I did) a certain sociopathic quality. At the very end, Reinke drops a bomb worthy of "The Jerry Springer Show" that, if fully explored, might explain his true motives and cast a new light on all that has come before. I was reminded of last year's documentary "Pelotero," about young Dominican baseball players with MLB dreams; the directors were served up audiotape tending to prove a pay-for-play system within the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, but didn't know what they had; here, Moss simply allows Reinke to read for the camera his apologetic letter of resignation. That's way too easy for a man who is at a minimum culpable of child endangerment, and an appalling mistreatment of his wife. 

In looking over my 247 star ratings so far this year, I found that several films to which I had awarded three stars are every bit as meritorious as some films to which I awarded 3.5 stars last year. Accordingly, I have, for now, upgraded three feature films and three documentaries from 3 to 3.5 stars: features "The German Doctor," "Night Moves," and "The Drop," and docs "Jodorowsky's Dune," "Finding Vivian Maier," and "Dinosaur 13."

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