Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: Crazy! Yes. Dumb? No!

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Carrie Matheson is unhinged. Photo / Supplied
Carrie Matheson is unhinged. Photo / Supplied

Carrie Matheson is the latest addition to the hall of fame of crazy women on TV. And make no mistake, she's unhinged.

She's the character that Claire Danes so perfectly inhabits on Homeland which started this week with the impact of an IED. (TV3, 8.30 Mondays). Carrie is the CIA officer who suspects that freed prisoner of war, Nicholas Brody, has been 'turned' by Al Qaeda.

Damien Lewis (Life, Band of Brothers) is note perfect with his tortured and tormented Brody, the reluctant hero and possible double agent. There's something about the narrative he spins in public that doesn't match with the flash backs.

Lewis is real good but Danes is something else. You may have seen her as the autistic innovator Temple Grandin in the HBO film of the same name. It was a Meryl Streep level performance.

Here, with the help of some brilliant writers of course, she somehow finds another level. Like Michael Shannon's conflicted FBI agent, Nelson Van Eldon, on Boardwalk Empire, Matheson may be hard to like but she's utterly captivating.

A human car-crash, a blond enforcer, a crazy bitch. She hides her medication from her colleagues but not from us.

The viewers always get to see the meds. On Boss (Soho Wednesday, 8.30pm) we get to see them in extreme close up, one of the stylistic traits that this show excels at.

Of course Kelsey Grammar is a different type of 'mad'. Sure, he's as angry a bully as you'd expect from the alpha-male mayor of a major American city, but he's also losing his faculties and as his marbles start to roll away he's in danger of slipping on them and losing everything. Both characters are walking a tightrope and it's proving impossible to look away.

Being 'unhinged' has been a dramatic staple since the days of Shakespeare (Macbeth etc). Not that I would know, I watched way too much TV as a kid so my touchstones are more likely to be from Lost in Space or Mr Ed (hard to tell in horses I know but he had a borderline personality disorder if you ask me, especially evident in this re-dubbed version that screened on Maori TV last year). The violent urges of Wile. E Coyote also come to mind, as does much of what went on in The Magic Roundabout.

The new millennium brought us Celebrity Rehab where drugs and crazy are whipped into a frenzy. It's hard to know where addiction and self medication begin and end but there's no doubt about the hinges on stars like Janice Dickinson and the uber-nut himself (thanks in park to a brain injury sustained from a motorbike fail), Gary Busey. I am so looking forward to this episode of Wife Swap, which screened recently in the states, in which Busey trades wives with disgraced (meth, young boys) preacher Ted Haggard.

But the characters on Boss and Homeland and their mental illnesses represent something relatively new. The conditions they have are very real, they are not simply 'mental' and more importantly they are the actual stars of the show.

It's ground that was largely broken on that most groundbreaking of all TV shows, The Sopranos. Tony spends most of the show 'losing it' and is seeing a shrink for 'panic attacks' when he's not whoring or killing people, while his mother Livia (the late great Nancy Marchand in the role of her life) was dealing with and hiding behind her oncoming dementia.

She tried to have Tony 'whacked' after he put her into a rest home. Best line: "Babies are like animals, they're no different to dogs." She really was a piece of work and an average driver.

Who are your favourite crazies?

P.S

There's an 'encore' (that's 'repeat' in olde English) screening of Homeland Saturday night (TV3 8.30) in case you missed it,.

The X Factor Australia is now brought to you by "Powerful Panadol Xtra"
If pain persists, change the channel.

7 Days returns Friday, (TV3, 9:30pm)

And on Monday one of the best comedy/food/travel shows ever continues it's run. It's called The Trip, and stars Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden.

It has also been released as a movie but here it is being shown in the original TV series format. Don't worry if you missed the first episode, it will still make sense. (8.30pm Mondays, Rialto) It's genius. The impersonations alone are worth the journey.

Missing the Daily Show? Me too. Ricky Gervais was on recently to push his new comedy of the uncomfortable Life's Too Short. Might pay to go wees before you watch this.

-nzherald.co.nz

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