When Best of the West debuted on TV, the pilot episode received a wide range of critical responses, from gratifyingly positive to deflatingly not great. (My most memorable recollection of this occasion occurred the following morning. After I had finished meditating in bed, Dr. M brought me the L.A. Times review of the broadcast, but only after she had taken a scissors and cut out all the negative words and phrases, thus presenting me with a newspaper review resembling a now entirely adulatory doily.)
I know it’s not math. When it comes to critical reactions, there is no “right answer” –“Two and two equals four.” However, it is baffling to me that the a single creative undertaking can generate an array of evaluatory responses that are all over the map, shells lobbing in from every imaginable – and unimaginable – direction – “Two and two equals five”, “Two and two equals twelve”, “Two and two equals a corned beef sandwich”, “Two and two equals a 'Bed-and-Breakfast' in Pacoima.”
How can that realistically be the case? So many disparate responses to the same piece of material? This head-scratching observation led me to consider the possibility that professional reviewers, on some unconscious level, were, not reviewing…whatever it was they were reviewing,
They were, in fact, secretly, and unbeknownst to themselves, reviewing…
…is what I concluded.
And I left it at that.
Reviewing – and, arguably, observation in general – is a Rorschach Test. Your “take-away” reaction is a direct consequence of what resonates with you.
Thank you, and goodnight.
No, wait. That was actually just the setup. The following is today’s nugget:
Recently, thoughts concerning this matter returned to me, after reading an article on the rash of unpleasant and unlikable lead characters dominating both the Big Screen (Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Meryl Streep in August: Osage County) and the small screen (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards.)
(I have long wanted to write about what our popular entertainment says about our culture, and, though I know it will be interesting and provocative – which is easy to say when you haven’t written it yet, though perhaps such lofty expectations go some distance towards explaining why it hasn’t – so far, however, I have yet to find an appropriate and satisfying framework for such an offering. A “Sneak Peek” on the subject: Today’s audience seems generically dissatisfied with the times we live in.)
We now return to today’s story…
Particular critical and blogatory hostility has been accorded to the eponymous character in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. There seems to be a consensus dislike for this guy. It’s like, if you were considering a Guest List of “Fictional Characters” to invite an actual party, a proposed “What about Llewyn Davis?” would evoke an instant and vociferous ”No-o-o-o-o-o!” I mean, come on, guys! To paraphrase Roger Rabbit:
“He can’t help it. He’s just written that way.”
Here’s where this gets interesting. I am hoping.
I do not believe I am mischaracterizing the vast majority of reviewers I read when I characterize their views on Inside Llewyn Davis thusly:
“A talented folksinger sabotages his chances of success because of his prickly and irascible personality.”
I look at the same movie, and what do I come out with?
“A folksinger develops a prickly and irascible personality because, deep down, he’s aware that he is not talented enough.”
My being diametrically out of sync with the general perception suggests that, on this occasion, the lesson I am relearning is not about the critics, but is a little, joltingly illuminatingly, closer to home.