Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Flowers’ and ‘Tabula Rasa’
It might take a few episodes to get into the rhythm of “Flowers.’ That’s what I required, but once I had cracked the code, I was its prisoner.
Initially, a quirky shock-style comedy that reveled in its rudeness, “Flowers” progresses into something entirely different, taking the basic cliches it presents up front and turning them upside down, and allowing its characters to become sympathetic, broken people grasping for something beyond the atmosphere of misery that has casually taken over their lives.
Maurice Flowers (Julian Barratt) is a children’s book writer, whose dark Grubs series is floundering because of his personal struggles with his own moods. Deborah, his wife, (Olivia Colman), seems slightly batty and rattled, but really is a victim of her own lack of fulfillment, of being unable to seize the life she wanted or to make the life she had one that she had agency over.
Their son, Donald (Daniel Rigby), is a selfish lout loser who is to take advantage of the fruits his promised white male dominance, but not having the savvy to know how to achieve that. Their daughter, Amy (Sophia Di Martino), is an odd, isolated girl, consumed by dark thoughts and supernatural overtones and experimental music, without a clue how to interact with the world or to express herself in a relatable way, though desperate to figure out who she is. Amy turns out to be one of the most affecting characters in the show.
Into this dysfunctional rural British Addams Family arrives Shun (series creator, writer and director Will Sharpe), Maurice’s art assistant whose corny, awkward, entirely alien enthusiasm masks something that would be hard for most people to face. As he tries to navigate this lunatic family and nurse his own wounds, Shun grows immensely over the course of the series.
‘Flowers’ works as a meditation on how we treat other people not through hostility, but through failure, and how our own limits spiral out into the world and then bounce back at us. It’s filled with absurd, dark, hilarious humor, but some of it might cut close to some and begin to feel more like a self-deprecating embrace that acknowledges there is no hope. As an examination of the dark depths of creativity and the raw destruction of mental illness, “Flowers” is second to none.
‘TABULA RASA’ (NETFLIX)
If television has largely embraced the idea of shows as puzzles to be solved — one of the legacies of “Lost,” like it or not — it hasn’t always concocted fresh ways of presenting those puzzles, going overboard with its reliance on big reveals at strategic points that add up to one final reveal, on which your enjoyment of the show hinges. But any thinking creative person can tell you that hanging everything on a final surprise is a sure way to kill an experience. “Tabula Rasa” doesn’t cheat you with a final solution, but it makes the journey there intriguing.
Taking a cue from the film “Memento,” this Belgian series introduces the complicated neurological story of Mie (Veerle Baetens), who suffers from a form of memory loss specific to a point in time. Anything after that time fades quickly without copious reminders. What that means is the most recent turns of her life are missing to her and, in trying to piece them together, Mie is attempting to define who she is.
But there are obvious secrets going on with her family, she is confined to a mental institution for reasons she doesn’t understand and receiving regular visits from a police detective in regard to a murder of which she has no recollection. With these obstructions in place, Mie struggles to get to the bottom of what is happening to her, constantly having to compensate for the fact that she probably won’t remember any revelations the next day unless she commits them to her sketchbook in a helpful way. Her patchy investigation is portrayed with all the surrealism her mind employs in its perception, creating moments of artful strangeness, but also a chilling and foreboding tone that makes the series at times seem like its dipping into the horror genre.
With each revelation being brought into question because of Mie’s warped perception and crumbling memory, “Taula Rasa” is easily one of the best suspense imports I’ve seen on streaming TV — a slave to no genre, but skillfully using elements of many to manipulate the experience of a woman who is a stranger in her own life.
Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.