When’s the last time you watched something that surprised you? In a good or a bad way? For movies it would be The Skin I Live In. Deadwood was the last TV show, and that débuted nearly fifteen years ago. Never before had the English language been utilised with such eloquence, and interspersed with relentlessly profane scorn. It brilliantly represented Deadwood’s bleak setting and perfectly disseminated the pathos of its subjects.
So, what does this have to do with Amazon Prime’s Too Old To Die Young? Life’s enriched by art, and it’s even more rewarding when it’s unexpectedly good. Fashion and peer pressure often impedes artistic interpretation, it prevents you from trusting your taste, taste being the most innate of qualities. I remember buying Orbus Terrarum by the Orb, solely on the recommendation of a mate, partly to impress him and to feel sophisticated. I hated it, but I kept listening to it hoping I would get it. It can’t be that it was just rubbish. No, my taste was defective, unrefined, juvenile. I was like one of those try hard art students who think it’s cool to wax lyrical about how special something is, because they think it makes them look cool, even though they secretly detest it and you can tell that they do.
Too Old To Die Young genuinely confounded me in the same way the “genius” of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive did, yet I kept watching. I kept waiting to ‘get it’. Fifteen minutes in to the first episode I was wavering, and I should’ve trusted my instincts and bailed. It was agony; the slow panning shots, those elongated utterly absurd pauses in dialogue, nobody interacts in this way, not even when they’re baked. The scene was of two cops shaking down your generic wannabee actress for speeding when she hadn’t. She had a choice, either she blew one of them, or paid them to go away. The neon tinge and piercing synths attempted to create a disquieting ambiance and tension, perhaps dread. But it only made me question what was I watching, a post-modernist take on the porn industry? Everything looked pristine, glamorous, no litter on the streets, with perfect looking people taken straight from a Vogue cover shoot. Little did I know that this preposterous and pointless opening sequence perfectly encapsulated the show – inexplicable, boring, trite, grotesque, peculiar, nihilistic with graphic violence, sadism, displaced incest, elements of the occult and slapstick comedy entering the fray later.
We’re introduced to Martin Jones in this opening sequence. It’s fitting that, as a charisma vacuum, he’s analogous with the show’s marmite qualities; all surface, brooding, he barely speaks, spits a lot (as a tell for when he’s faced with someone or something he despises), and wears a blank expression throughout, except when he’s acting ‘normal’ to ensnare a pair of pornographers. These facets may make Jones sound mysterious (as does the cocktail I listed above make the show sound interesting), but he’s not (and it’s not). Within Too Old To Die Young’s matrix he’s normalised, just your average introverted, sociopathic hedonist who enjoys killing paedophiles and other assorted underworld degenerates. This should’ve made him a sympathetic figure, an anti-hero, but with no incision or depth to his or any character, his eventual revelation that he can no longer reconcile his job as a homicide detective with the necessity of his vigilantism appears hollow.
Jones dates the seventeen year old daughter of an entertainment mogul, played by William Baldwin, who steals every scene, and is the only highlight in this load of absolute bollocks. Baldwin’s absurdist caricature of an eccentric Hollywood producer type is a stark juxtaposition amongst all the angst of teens, twenty and thirty somethings. His creepy behaviour, however, is not, just overt; he masturbates in front of Jones, adopts a visual metaphor for Jones’ sexual prowess that’s both congratulatory and envious and made me laugh out loud, and describes Jones as pretty ‘like Elvis’. In this context, Baldwin’s character seems comparatively normal, somehow.
The second episode focuses on the other main protagonist, and plot strand, Jesus, and his fleeing from LA to Mexico in the aftermath of a revenge killing. It’s one of the most self-indulgent episodes of television ever curated, consisting of people sitting silently in rooms and an old man shitting into a colostomy bag retelling the same story multiple times. It could’ve been cut in half and still been too long.
If you can last beyond the first two episodes, and it’s a big if, the plot stands converge and things become more interesting, relatively speaking. Jesus returns to LA aiming to re-establish the cartel’s ascendancy. Jones is coerced into moonlighting for a Jamaican gangster who’s having a turf dispute with the Mexicans, and befriends isn’t the right term here, more happens upon and then appropriates a paedophile killing operation ran by an ex FBI agent and spiritually guided therapist for abused kids.
At no point do you empathise with any of the characters, because they give us no reason to. I suspect that’s Refn’s and Brubaker’s intended coda: we’re apathetic and heading towards being completely devoid of empathy. By presenting behaviour this violent and cuntishly self-absorbed through a dystopian extreme they can claim they’re altruistic, in helping create an aversion to it. Problem is, nobody remotely sane feels that way to begin with.
The jarring ultra-violence amongst the show’s sea of stodge gave it a Banshee on ketamine sensibility. However, that isn’t fair to the pulpy Banshee, which didn’t pretend to be anything else, and doesn’t deserve to be compared to this. It wasn’t cynical, Too Old To Die Young’s use of violence amongst its array of trite oddities is. This ‘throw some cool shit together and people will watch anything’ construct panders to wanky art-school voyeurs and luvvie fashionistas looking for a conversation starter. It’s the Patrick Bateman of TV shows. I suspect that’s why I’m being so hostile here. It made me feel like a sucker. I watched eleven plus hours of something wanting to believe it would deliver something interesting, but never did, you fucking dreamer, you poseur. Don’t make the same mistake.
If you say that you liked Too Old To Die Young, maybe my ability to be diplomatic about that and you would surprise me, but that aside, the worst thing I can accuse it of is robbing my capacity to be surprised by anything anymore. How on earth did this get greenlit?