December 4, 2007 Jill

I meant to write about Across the River to Motor City much closer to its release, however a little rally and something suspiciously like paying work got in the way. So please forgive the lack of timeliness of this post.

I was particularly interested in breaking down the first episode of this six-pack because Denis McGrath and his co-writer Robert Wertheimer, were juggling a lot of different storylines — plus time and space.

The first episode introduces something like ten storylines, some set in 1963, others in the present. It’s an incredibly ambitious undertaking and extremely demanding of the audience. Like the best of the series we’ve seen this year, ARMC does not pander to the audience or predigest the story for you. This is television that demands all of your attention.

While the episode introduces many threads, its main focus is to tell us the story of Katie’s disappearance on the same day that JFK was killed and Ben’s reaction to it. The story emerges in more or less chronological order. The B-story, if you can call it that, follows the discovery of her remains in the present, the beginning of the police investigation into her death and ends with her burial. Much more weight is given to the A.

Surrounding these two storylines, we have sequences that introduce us to a number of storylines that will run through the series and the characters that populate them.

The episode starts with present day Ben alone in his apartment intercut with his memories of the incident in the past that the series will explore. The memories cover a little more territory that we’ll definitively get to in this episode. They establish young Ben, Katie and an attack on Katie by men in overcoats. Present day Ben suffers what looks to be a heart attack.

This teaser helps establish for viewers the two primary threads of the tale: Ben in the past and his lost love and Ben in the present still grappling with the past.

After the credits, five sequences introduce us to four new story threads. The first three keep us in the present.

In the first, we meet Ben’s daughter Kathleen and her husband. She’s on a mission to talk to a Cuban, which she does. Presumably this story will dovetail into the others eventually, but this is all we see of it for this episode.

In the next sequence, we see two skeletons pulled out of the river.

In the third, we meet back up with old Ben, going through medical tests with Kathleen watching.

Then we are catapulted back in time to the beginning of the main story of this episode. Young Ben shows his pal, stand-up comic Del the ring he bought for Katie. He’s going to ask her to marry him.

In the fifth sequence, Frank Calusso is rewarded for killing his cousin by cappo Giovanni Rizanno. Frank has bought himself a life in the US.

Now we get to the business of the A-story in earnest. We follow track young Ben and Katie through the day Kennedy was killed. Katie, a flight attendant, ends up on a turn-around to Dallas, while Ben deals with co-workers in the insurance investigation business.

Occasionally we dip back to the present where older Ben is thrown together with estranged daughter Kathleen thanks to his ill health, Katie’s body is discovered and the cops want to talk to him.

The show stays in the past for long periods as Katie’s disappearance emerges. Five or six sequences play out between flashes to the present which last only a single sequence. But slowly as we creep toward the end of the hour, the present starts to rival the past for our attention. One sequence in the past, one in the present, two in the past, two in the present.

The movement between past and present and the balance of scenes in each helps to establish theme: Ben’s past is overwhelming his present.

As with the true events surrounding the JFK assassination, the viewer is left with the feeling that they aren’t getting all the details. We don’t have an ideal point of view on the scenes and sequences. We have a sense we’re being left out of something, information is being held back. The story telling invokes a paranoia in you as you watch it, which is pretty clever considering that the death of JFK probably gave birth to mass paranoia. It also propels us forward, keeps us questioning and wanting more story.

There’s lots more to come. Two episodes have aired and we are far from understanding what happened to Katie.

Comment (1)

  1. phil EArnshaw

    Hey Jill. I found your blog! Great article. I love ACMC too. Just finishing up Degrassi for the year. Hope you’re well.

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