Wednesday, September 02, 2015

'Mr. Robot' and 'Enlightened': Alienation and Changing the World

After a one-week postponement, "Mr. Robot" concludes its first season on Wednesday (September 2) night.

Created by TV newbie Sam Esmail, "Mr. Robot" is the first USA show that I've stuck with for a full season since "Political Animals," if you count that as a series. If you take "Political Animals" as a miniseries, I haven't completed a season of a USA show since the penultimate season of "Burn Notice."

But merely being interested in and sometimes appreciative of "Mr. Robot" apparently isn't enough. I like "Mr. Robot" and can't speak highly enough of Rami Malek's lead performance, but I remain distanced from the show and unable to be as impressed with the show as it often seems to be with itself. But I'm in the minority here and friends, colleagues and loved ones have been impressed enough for two of me, filling the summer months with waves of adulation for "Mr. Robot," celebrating the things it does that are apparently innovative and paradigm shifting. This Slate story -- the headline, actually and not the story itself -- raves that in Malek's Elliot, "Mr. Robot" has created "the new TV archetype of the alienated hero." That's clickbait-y headline-writing hyperbole and not the perfectly well-reasoned argument of the article itself.

The "alienated hero" isn't a new archetype on TV or in any other form of storytelling and separating the alienated hero from the anti-hero is a false differentiation. Tony Soprano is a Golden Age Anti-Hero. He's also entirely an alienated hero, battling depression and insecurities that put him at odds with the masculine ideals perpetuated by the men involved in That Thing of Ours. "The Sopranos" is an entire series about Tony trying to get well enough to reassimilate into a subculture in which assimilation often means death. If you think that the ending of "The Sopranos" is the death of Tony Soprano, it can be read that Tony's "death" comes after an episode devoid of Dr. Melfi, an episode in which he stands in his backyard in quiet repose, free from the ducks that were quacking in his head. Alienated heroes can be anti-heroes and vice versa and the Venn Diagram of the two contains all the overlap you'd ever want.

In praising "Mr. Robot," there's been much talk of its uniqueness, accompanied by many lengthy lists of comparisons. But nobody's comparing it to the one show I want people to compare it to, so I have to get this on the record, even if I don't have time to finish or revise this blog post in the way I'd like to.

Because when I think of stories about an alienated hero battling mental illness and joining with a group of computer-using misfits to bring down a monolithic industrial conglomerate using stolen documentation and the power of cyber-connectivity...

Well, I'm still thinking of Mike White's HBO classic "Enlightened," which was canceled in 2013 after two low-rated seasons.

If this post does nothing else, it should just get you thinking about how great a conversation would be between Rami Malek's Elliot and Laura Dern's Amy Jellicoe or, better yet, a conversation composed of dueling unreliable voiceover narrators, one plagued by daddy issues and the other by mommy problems.

Read on...