I’m in two minds about Tin Star. Ironic really, given the nature of the show, but I feel obliged to give you fair warning as my internal dialogue is likely to influence this review heavily.
The TV watcher in me intends to spend the next 800 odd words extolling the virtues of this intensely dramatic, beautifully shot drama. I want vivid descriptors to tumble from my mind, through my fingers and onto your screen so you too can experience the intense joy of seeing exceptional writing, acting and production to collide in an explosion of blood, glass and Tim Roth’s contorted face.
But there’s a human being living inside me too. One who was initially thrilled to see female actors given proper roles to play, with thoughts and opinions, carrying out actions entirely independently of blokes. But by the time the final shot was fading, boy was she pissed off. She was heckling throughout the series, and is equally likely to do the same through this review.
So… fair warning.
Tin Star begins with what is now industry standard for most binge-watch ready shows. A virtually impenetrable set up episode during which relationships and the mundanities of every day life are established while unfamiliar faces appear and disappear with no reference to whether they might be important. All this punctuated with outbursts of disorientating aggression that mean nothing without context but insist you hang around to find out what? where? how? who? and in this case, why?
Firstly, it’s important to note that Tin Star is carrying no one. Tim Roth, a man whose eclectic CV implies he’s never knowingly turned down a role, is immediately captivating as newly-arrived-in- town-cop Jim Worth, whose biggest problem in Little Big Bear appears to be… well, bears. Local law enforcement spend their days playing combat shooters on their desktop computers while the other 1575 residents are either drinking, moose wrangling or driving about in their nice pickups. Probably all three.
Jim’s wife Angela is strong, seemingly independent, and eager to work through the troubles the story implies the family have left behind. His daughter is equally empowered and unimpressed. Christina Hendricks is, well, Christina Hendricks. The screen catches fire whenever that woman strolls onto it and there’s nothing here to dispute her acting chops. Joan Holloway was merely the beginning.
In fact, in the early salvos of Tin Star, the only incongruity is the fact that purportedly reasonable people should inflict such a savage haircut on an unsuspecting five year old. This, I realise now, was a warning.
The non-linear narrative, also something of a convention now, is employed effectively throughout the ten episodes, revealing snippets of information at will and allowing the viewer to piece the story together themselves. Not overly complex, it’s nonetheless tight, austere and as cold and unforgiving as the mountain backdrop.
While I intend for your sake to keep this piece spoiler free, I cannot allow this magnificent television show to wander off down the Emmy’s red carpet unchallenged. The storytelling, acting and production I keep banging on about should be lauded but those elements also imply a level of awareness at odds with what’s unfolding.
I’ll keep it short and to the point. Empowerment and equality is not limited to the amount of screen time or narrative a character receives or an actor has to work with. Like Mad Men before it, there’s an argument that while the focus was/is on the men, the real character development and growth was/is experienced by the female protagonists, the aforementioned Joan and Elisabeth Moss’s equally outstanding Peggy Olson.
That series (if for some baffling reason you’ve yet to see it) was set in the advertising profession, New York, 1960s. A significant degree of overt sexism was not only required but obliged.
Tin Star is at pains to point out it’s set right now. So why is it presenting female empowerment as ‘masculine’ traits dressed in a frock and a bit of lippy? I’ll concede that being able to handle a gun as effectively as Angela Worth looks fantastic, but gun waving and shooting people in the face, repeated, tacit, endorsements of violence and aggression and fetishisation of drinking strike me as a bloke’s idea of equality vs. anything meaningfully ‘woman’.
Indeed, the only thing remotely female about her is her irritating capacity for forgiveness, which again, to me, is not in line with the message the show is keen to convey. And don’t get me started on how Hendrick’s character celebrates a professional victory.
These may sound like minor gripes, especially in the context of what is a fairly gushing review, but if writers are going to set the bar so high, I expect them to give more than a tacit nod to an idea of femininity that really should have been left in the late 80s.
You’ve got a second series, Rowan Joffe. Hopefully you’ve secured the services of your female actors once again. Give them something to do that doesn’t feel like an uneducated misogynist’s idea of strength, would you? It’ll be better, I promise.