Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crash Is Only a Fender Bender
Nothing is random in the universe. Molecules collide and interact constantly, shaping events in a dance that’s anything but haphazard in retrospect. The film Crash personified that motif as it detailed how seemingly unrelated lives intersect in utterly unexpected ways. In the process, it examined the prejudices that quietly shape us as individuals. It was a quiet film, unsettling in its pedestrian pacing. It went on to win the 2005 Best Picture Oscar. While a case could be made that Crash won by default, cancelling out the achievements of its competition, which included Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck and Capote, the fact remains that Crash took a fresh, if sometimes heavy-handed look at the subtleties of the prejudices that divide us.

With its ensemble cast and intersecting storylines, Crash often played like a TV episode. In fact, it was originally envisioned as a TV series before it became a movie. As cable network Starz’s first foray into original programming, Crash has come full circle.


Starz touts Crash the TV series as a groundbreaking entry exploring similar themes as the original movie, but nothing in the first two episodes quite connects. In fact, there’s little that compels the viewer to care overmuch as to how the various plotlines might eventually connect. The characters here, by and large, are unsympathetic, propelled by cliché devices that hardly lend any credence to the notion we’re all connected. Dennis Hopper, as wacked out, over the hill and over the top record producer Ben Cendars, appears to be the centerpiece character of this hodgepodge. The first episode opens with him exposing himself to his female driver, while muttering Greecian-inspired, albeit incoherent, poetry. It then cuts to a soft focus sex scene—you know, the kind that shows nothing, but places the curves where the imagination fills in the blanks—which introduces us to the obligatory tainted cops in the series. From there, we cut to the Brentwood home of a real estate developer for whom things are not going well. His wife is going through a midlife crisis, while still trying to maintain their lifestyle. To top it all, her father has a choking problem in the middle of dinner. The EMT in the ambulance happens to be a Korean who has a Korean gang past.

It’s not so much that these characters don’t have the potential to be compelling. But they’re drawn so broadly, and their situations so irrelevant to Reality As We Know it, it’s hard to sympathize with any of the principals. Admittedly, Crash the movie had only about two hours to make its point. As a TV series committed to thirteen episode, it can move at a more leisurely pace. That being said, the fact remains that it’s essential to grab the viewer within the first ten minutes of the pilot. With the first ten minutes of Crash, we got bad poetry and masturbation. By the end of the second episode, we got requisite bad cops and A Streetcar Named Desire pleas to illicit lovers. If Starz wants to be a player in premium cable original programming, it’s going to have to pick up the pace.

You can see the first two episodes of Crash here. It’s also playing throughout the month on both Starz and its sister network, Encore.