Author Archives: Scott Bowles

This is a True Story.

 

Let’s get this out of the way now: Complaining about Fargo is a little like complaining about a Ferrari that stalls. Ultimately, you’re just bitching about wealth. At some point, you need to get over yourself and realize you’re lucky to have a kickass set of wheels.

As it is was with Fargo, one of the best television series in the lore of television series. When the show misses a piston, it still laps most competitors.

But let’s not mince words: Fargo misfired in its finale, which ended its season last night (and possibly for good, as creator Noah Hawley admits he has no plans — or ideas — for a season 4). And while no one could reasonably claim that the Coen brothers homage went out with a whimper, it did conclude with a muffled bang, like an execution beneath a pillow.

This is a long way of saying spoilers abound.

Unlike the previous two seasons, this iteration of the series ended on an intentionally (as Hawley told USA Today’s Bill Keveney) on a cloudy fade-to-black: with hero Gloria Burgle and villain V.M. Varga staring at each other in a police station, vowing to defeat one another.

The scene is, to a small degree, a violation of the Coen brothers ethos: That virtue defeats vice — even when it doesn’t win. Such was the case in the movie Fargo. And The Big Lebowski. And Raising Arizona. And every one of their films with a religious undercurrent. Which is every one of their films.

Including No Country for Old Men, the movie most critics cite as the influence on season 3. But that’s incorrect. While Anton Chigurh, who played Death in the flick, did indeed walk away from the chaos to haunt another day, he did claim the soul of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. That Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) survived came thanks to him screwing up his courage and facing Death (which fled), another consistent through-line of the brothers Coen.

Here, however, bravery was not rewarded. I wonder that Joel and Ethan thought of that. And this:

  • The exposition Fargo 3 had lots of talking. Burgle does a lot of audible thinking: Was this a robbery gone wrong? Is she the character she’s reading about in her latest book, The Planet Wyh? Is life a morass of random collisions? These are all questions the Coen brothers love to ask. Just not aloud.
  • The beauty For the first time in the series, major characters were beautiful. Carrie Coon and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are model-pretty. That should never work against a TV show, but it’s standard practice in network television to add beauty to a show that’s desperate for ratings, like Homicide and The Office in their waning years. In the Coen universe (and the first two seasons of the show), beauty equals vanity.
  • The money Joel and Ethan Coen once told me that they don’t care where the money winds up in their movies. In fact, they prefer that it goes missing (perhaps because it’s symbolically the root of evil?). But in the season 3 finale, not only are the millions found. They’re given to Mr. Wrench. It’s a wonderful touch, but not necessarily Fargoesque.

And finally, the show was decidedly detached from the first two iterations, which were blended so seamlessly they could play as one, 20-hour movie. The millions thrown to Hawley and FX for a third installment may have been too enticing. Who turns that down?

And there were still moments of unmitigated brilliance. The ethereal bowling alley conversations between Ray Wise (who played a version of Peter at the pearly) and the series’ most heroic and villainous characters may constitute the best scenes of the entire show. The animated story of the droid Minsky is a short film within itself.

Alas, time likely spells the end of Fargo. If so, it puts the series in the pantheon of great-but-brief shows: Rome, Twin Peaks, The Office (British version), True Detective (and that was good for only the first season). All accomplished brevity, soul of wit, yaddy yaddy.

So it may be for Fargo, where the names have been changed out of respect for the dead and request of the living. But the rest was told exactly as it occurred. Brilliantly.

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A Father’s Day Letter to a Child I Never Had

 

These are the olden days
These are the golden days
These are the days that we get
For time is a con
Yesterday’s gone
And tomorrow is simply a bet

 

Why is life such a leadfoot?

We speed the plows of our world until the only thing we are maintaining is velocity. The momentum of Things eclipses the meaning of them. We mock Sisyfus in the great boulder shoulder. 

We know to watch for this, of course. We know the lines by heart, the part by rote drumbeat: Smell the roses, live the moment, be thankful for receiving more todays than yesterdays. Or tomorrows.

Yet we press the gas. And blur the background. And grind in the gnash.

How do we stop it? Maybe the first step is recognizing it.

Ask yourself this: What was the highlight of today? Every day has one, if only that it gave us another.

But the question, when asked honestly, can be tricky. And if it’s tough coming up with an answer you believe, you may want to check your speed.

When that question is no longer difficult, you’ll know you’re maintaining a healthy distance.

Which is this:

On the bumper and in the mirror, where today is closer than it appears.

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Dear Mr. or Ms. Amazon

Dear Mr. or Ms. Amazon,

First off, this is not a complaint letter. I imagine you get a lot of those. No, this is more a question and a couple suggestions. And don’t worry, I’m not a kook. I’m an Amazon Prime Member!

Anyhoo, I recently purchased an Amazon Tap, the digital home assistant that goes by the name Alexa.

She’s great! Much better than my Google Home that I also purchased (I have a gadget problem). I like that Google Home can tell me what a whale sounds like and has the correct definition for the word “irony” (the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect). But the base unit HAS TO BE PLUGGED IN!! Why not also require that you connect through a rotary telephone? Am I right or what?!

Back to Alexa. As the Tap is portable, I often bring it to my backyard spa to enjoy the dusk sunset. Have you ever though of teaching Alexa bird calls? Just an idea.

The day hadn’t been going great, so I wasn’t in the most groovy mood. In fact, I was pissed. So I wasn’t in the mood to hear John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Road (Not Alexa’s fault. That was just the last playlist on Pandora.).

Anyhoo, I asked Alexa to play to play one of the baddest-assed songs I know, Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold. (Side note, I interviewed Nugent once on gun control. The Motor City Madman nicknamed me Scottily Wottily.).

In the spa, I told Alexa simply: “Play Stranglehold.” I’ve done it so often, I know that’s all the instruction she needs.

Except this time, as I made the request, a plane buzzed nearby overhead. (I live near the Van Nuys Airport, one of the busiest general aviation hubs in the world, handling 217,000 plane movements in 2015.

The plane and my words must have co-mingled, because Alexa heard something that made her reply: “That’s kind of you to say. Thank you.”

So now I’m wondering: ‘What did she hear?’ Worse: “Was that just a polite thank you, an uncomfortable response to a creepy come-on?” When I told her “Sorry,” she said “No worries.” But, honestly, it sounded a little rote, like she was saying it just because she had to.

So, two-part question: Have you considered programming Alexa to answer this question: “Alexa, what do you think I just asked you.”

I’m dying of curiosity. I’ve tried to replicate the incident. Even tried to come up with a similar phrase that might evoke another electronic blush. The closest I could come to “Play Stranglehold” was “Stay dangle gold.” But she didn’t know what that meant.

So, part II: Would be to please have your tech people let Alexa know I really am sorry? I may have been naked when I said it. Do I have to register with some sort of electronic predator list?

Anyhoo, that’s it. Keep up the good work. I hear you’re making Alexa sweep now. One  tip: Do NOT let her watch those Terminator movies.

Spank my behind…er, Thanks for your time. (Siri can be a real smartass).

Sincerely,

Scott Bowles

p.s. Ever notice your logo (especially for your Amazon Video service) looks like an erect penis approaching the vaaginal ‘O?’ Was that on purpose, or the work of a disgruntled graphic designer?

 

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