The Mystery of Dr Muhahaha (and other matters)
|Above, left to right: Dr Muhahaha, played by the mysterious Colin McFarlane, and Rufus Hound, in Hounded (2010).|
I think it was January 2018 when myself and Elliot (who you probably don't know from our podcast The Ood, the Bad and the Ugly) went to see The Commuter. It was a pretty generic thriller, but then January isn't particularly known for its high content of memorable films. Its star-studded cast included Liam Neeson (of course), Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill. But there was one casting choice which really perplexed me. One of the characters, "Conductor Sam", was recognisable as being played by a certain Mr Colin McFarlane.
Now Colin McFarlane is most well-known to me for two utterly different roles: that of Commissioner Gilliam B. Loeb in Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), who is notably murdered by the Joker in the latter; and Dr Muhahaha, the antagonist of Hounded (2010).
Hounded was a children's television programme here in the United Kingdom when I was growing up, starring Rufus Hound (a kind of budget Simon Pegg). Each episode would revolve around Rufus trying to frustrate the schemes of the evil supervillain Dr Muhahaha; but every time he succeeded, Muhahaha would just reverse time so the day would happen all over again with a new evil scheme - a sort of Groundhog Day plot.
What had always confused me (and subsequently Elliot too) was how on earth it came to be that this actor, Colin McFarlane, balanced significant roles in big international movies like The Dark Knight and The Commuter, with roles on cheap kids' TV programmes. Surely you're either famous, semi-famous or not famous at all? But Mr McFarlane appeared to occupy this weird paradoxical space of being both famous and unknown simultaneously. It was mindboggling.
Ironically, an answer to my confusion came from the next instalment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), when I read that Aidan Gillen, who played a CIA agent in the film, said that he preferred low-budget lead roles to blockbuster bit-parts. So I think this somewhat sheds a little light on the situation. The world of celebrity acting obviously isn't as black-and-white as at first it might seem. An actor may be playing the Police Commissioner of Gotham City one week and the primary antagonist of a minor British TV show the next, depending on such things as their preferences and their schedules.
McFarlane really is one of those actors that turn up everywhere, though, in the most unexpected of places. You can also find him in The Fast Show and Doctor Who. So next time you're watching television or a film, look out for him.
In December 2018 I decided to make the most of my six-month free Amazon Prime student membership by watching a Prime Video programme. I had heard, of course, that Amazon Prime was Netflix's main contender in this "great age of streaming" we are apparently inhabiting. American Gods, based on the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, seemed like the perfect option; I do, after all, have a great interest in ancient mythology, especially Germanic mythology - so a programme featuring the gods Woden and Ostara should be right up my alley. However, I only got to episode five when I had to call it quits.
Neil Gaiman has a wonderful imagination to be sure, and American Gods is perfectly well-made as television programmes go. But I get the unshakeable impression that everything it does it does for the shock factor, in order to seem "edgy" and "cool", and compete with Netflix. The show is full of gore, and it's very visceral, violent, vulgar, dark, and frightening. "Just like other great shows of the boxset era, such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones", I hear you say. Well, allow me to let you in on a little secret.
Much is made of the gore and violence in Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, the two shows which started off this entire television boon. But the truth is, the gore and the violence aren't why people like them. It's not what makes them good. The fascinating characters and their well-executed story arcs, the exciting and well-built-up plots - these are the things, so much easier to explore through boxsets and streaming services than two-hour films, which make these shows great. The violence, the sex, the gore - this is but the icing on the cake to allure the unwashed masses into dedicating their time to seven long seasons of a TV programme.
American Gods is all icing and no cake. It's style without substance. Season 1* feels like an eight-hour advertisement of itself.
Actually, no - it's not even just that. There is cake in the show no doubt - interesting themes, characters, and ideas. But there's so much sickly icing it becomes difficult to consume without gagging.
"Look how daring we are! Mr. World is such a COOL villain - isn't Crispin Glover (from Back to the Future!!) such a good actor??! Cue David Bowie reference (RIP)! Jesus gets shot in one scene trying to help Mexican immigrants! Ooh la la! Political statement!".
Regarding the latter, I'm pretty sure another Amazon Prime programme, Preacher, similarly whored itself for viewers by depicting Jesus engaging in gay sex. To clarify, there's nothing necessarily wrong, story-wise, with gay sex scenes or Jesus being gay. The latter indeed is an interesting concept. I just sincerely doubt the motivations of the writers and producers. In American Gods there is a complete and graphic sex scene between two men, one of whom is a genie. I'm not one of these "political correctness gone mad!!" sorts at all, and indeed if in our culture we consider heterosexual and homosexual relationships equally then it is natural for both homosexual and heterosexual sex scenes to exist. But homosexuality still has a tinge of controversy surrounding it, even today. This is undeniable, otherwise the gay rights movement would not still exist. So I simply doubt the motivations of the show's creators for including this scene, which is irrelevant plot-wise. I could, of course, be wrong. But when watching American Gods all I could see were giant "$" signs, and it became simply uncomfortable to watch.
Another notable example is a grizzly scene in which a black man is lynched by masked men. It furthered the plot, but I couldn't help but feel it was in poor taste.
I have not read the source material - I do not know how much of this stuff is in the book. It matters not regardless - either the producers added this stuff to the TV show of their own initiative, or they purposefully adapted Neil Gaiman's book at least in part because of its controversial content.
Perhaps I'm just overly cynical and contrarian. It seems many people really like American Gods, and good for them. It might inspire an interest in ancient mythology (although it shouldn't be considered totally accurate - for instance, Anansi is portrayed as a god, whereas in reality he's more of a folk legend like the Pied Piper or Jack Frost). But for me personally, it was too much.
*I've used the American term "season" rather than the British term "series" so as not to confuse my American readership.