What is Television for the most part but serialized cinema? Well…at its worst, a vehicle for shallow capitalism, in that most shows are simply extended commercials. The only reference needed for that is to look back at our experiences with Saturday morning cartoons and the endless figures and childhood ephemera we goaded our weary parents into purchasing. They must have got something right, because the cycle is still at hand today. Television is a cyclical medium, yes, but as of late more and more shows are breaking away from precedent. I know I’ve heard a lot of jokes lately that all white people are obsessed with The Wire and Breaking Bad, but they still seem beyond their contemporaries. A few years back it was The Sopranos…maybe making waves is itself a cycle, but those that revolve within are few and far between. The koolest thing about T.V. is that it does have a tendency to bring people a little closer together.
At its best, we get epic mini-movies set for the prime past-time of mental and emotional expansion, and further connectivity as a species. It can be a pretty powerful medium.
I don’t watch much television these days besides Adventure Time, Regular Show, and South Park. The Walking Dead is pretty wicked, but, y’know, ZOMBIES. I’d be a straight up liar if I couldn’t admit I would watch on that point alone. That it’s awesome is bonus points.
So a while back I was alerted to a show that was produced and filmed no more than 30 miles from my outpost on the backroads of this world, and it was going to air as a webseries. I haven’t much experience with web T.V., so I was naturally curious as to how it was going to pan out. The few times I’d bothered with it in the past, the shows usually turned out to be produced in conjunction with some kind of snack food or soda, just another commercial created in a semi-underground way, not unlike Microsoft or Coca-Cola trying to co-op street art. I wasn’t cynical tuning in this time, I just didn’t know what to expect. Right off the bat, I was more than elated to find out the show wasn’t selling anything. There were commercials, but they were skippable. Immediately, I figured they were onto something, because they gave the show room to breathe. And a breath of fresh air it is.
The series we’re discussing is called The Book of Dallas. It’s a good book, filled with the good Word, and lots more four-letter ones. By the end of the first episode it was easy to tell, with its positively charged message and penchant for a few sophomoric bro-jinks here and there, we were most definitely not in TV Land anymore. Viacom, eat your heart out.
Official Plot Synopsis, Cast, and other IMPORTANT STUFF are as follows:
Dallas McKay is your average 20-something newspaper reporter: Single, liberal, and unabashedly atheist. When a truck smacks into him in a bar parking lot, he wakes up in Heaven and – after uttering a few choice profanities – finds himself face-to-face with the God he doesn’t believe exists. But God isn’t out for vengeance; He’s concerned that His message has been lost in a swarm of religious zealotry, and sends Dallas back to Earth to write and sell a new, improved religious text.
Starring: Benjamin Crockett, Clay Evans, Jeanne Whitney, Kevin Roach, Rusty James, Kristine Renee Farley, David Ross, and Julie Hernandez Seaton
Directed by: Joe Atkinson, Jakob Bilinski, Marx H. Pyle
Written by: Joe Atkinson
Dallas gets splatterhoused, wakes up in a coffee shop, and comes face to face with one swarthy God. In fact if I get atomized and come face-to-face with the all-knowing, in between chewing the scenery, she better save a plate. I refuse to come back from the other side waffle-less. That’s right, God is a woman, and if you’ve ever listened to Modest Mouse, God is a woman, and the woman is pissed. She gives Dallas an offer he can’t refuse, return to the land of the living and perform the new good word, or, and I sincerely wish we’d had time for a glimpse of it, eternal damnation. Hitchcock and co. were right in saying some things are better left to the imagination, thus helping make the message more utilitarian on that front. It’s all about relatability.
So atheist Dallas becomes an instant convert, writes a new and improved religious text, and goes about attempting to spread his message to the world with his best friend and his new love, which, “Mouthpiece of the Lord” angle non-standing, is pretty relatable. It’s not as fantastic as something like Dogma, no Golgothan shit demons or crotchless angels, but it’s no Ten Commandments, by any means. Charlton Heston was away fighting those damned, dirty apes, so the O.T. was unavailable. Either way, that’s refreshing. Aside from the premise, and a few “Heaven is a Waffle House Away” sequences, there’s little fantasy to the mix whatsoever. What is there is poignant, honest, and funny. The writing is sharp and the tale unfolds fairly realistically. There are a lot of different shades to its thearical flair popping up in any given episode, keeping the pace brisk and interests piqued. The more humorous beginnings move seamlessly into a somewhat edgier middle and a very thought provoking, emotive climax. It’s a good mix, and there are quite a few smooth transitions. The spirit of collaboration is high with this one, as each director’s episodes compliment the others well. Teamwork pays off.
At any rate, with the series’ message, that makes perfect sense. Dallas’ new word sparks the Unitist movement, and it simply states that the word of God is not to be used for personal gain, intolerance, or violence of any kind towards other people. We need to learn to love and understand each other – and hey, what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? Well, more than Elvis Costello would’ve originally owned up to. It’s not to say the series is devoid of conflict – Dallas has to deal with a world full of nonbelievers, and not all of them are the Ivy league type – there’s debate, and then there’s a fun moment that offers a very sinister contrast for the good natured hijinks and light-charging of the status quo.
I shouldn’t highlight the violence, but it’s fictional violence. Cinemaglob usually profiles movies where at least one person leaves with a non-functional cranium. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.
So there’s the story – a modern pilgrimage to help set the world right and teach us heathens to stop being assholes to each other. In this day and age, there are few more noble messages. World, stop being a dick.
Then there are the nuts and bolts of this thing.
I’m usually indie bandwagonning here, so I’m not going into the same spiel as always. If you’ve read more than one of my reviews, you know where I stand. The show looks good, the actors, for the vast majority, brought their A-Game, there are some fun, catchy soundtrack cues and some good ambient bits that ratchet up the tension later in the series, if you’re local, you’ll recognize some of the sets, which is pretty kool, but it’s all a very professional affair here. There is no “for an indie” this or that – the show’s done well and it’s as entertaining as it is engaging. There are a few standouts – of course our main ensemble of Benjamin Crockett as Dallas, Clay Evans as his right hand man Hank Jackson and Jeanne Whitney as Lindsey Dupree, Dallas’ well-intentioned skeptic love get front and center praise because they carry the bulk of the series, but Kristine Renee Farley’s God really caught me off guard. Though. I always suspected God had a sense of humor, there’s some snark there that’s refreshing. Kevin Roach as Benjamin Dolerman was a sight to behold, bringing some gut level pathos to the precedings; His role in the show brings a mix of complexity and surprise that push it away from standard “We’re on a mission from God” fare. Then there was David Ross as St. Peter. He was just fun as hell to watch. I can’t put my finger on it, but St. Peter as straight man made me smile.
For those at home, there’s also a quick cameo by weatherman Ron Rhodes. Lulz happened, for reasons I can not explain.
So that’s our cycle for this review – The Book of Dallas is a fun show with a lot of heart and a solid message, and it exists as an example to other shows that you can create something kinda kool, kinda edgy with a good sentiment and a lot to say and not have to be shilling anything but what it is. No subliminal messages, no fifteen cuts to the same taco bell ad at 3 a.m. well after the store is closed so the first thing on your mind when you wake up is a burrito and all the day-long nausea you can stand.
The Book of Dallas is satire done right, for an age when the very concept is incomprehensible. You need to watch it, because it’s a heartfelt kind of show – it doesn’t serve to insult your beliefs or your intelligence, there is no imaginary villain on the other end of the spectrum that the series’ core tenants are aimed at, it just asks you to keep an open mind and be entertained. The Book of Dallas is good, honest filmmaking, and that makes it a rarity for any era. You need to give this one a watch, because you’ll have fun, feel something, and it just might make you think.
And for the permanently askew, tempestuous and disturbed, there are guns and blood occasionally, so there’s that. This is Cinemaglob, after all, and what’s a bit of fun without watching someone’s head explode? (To clarify, no one’s head explodes in this show – I know someone out there is only going to skim this and take that out of context, and cry foul. These are jokes.)
Insinuant sophomoric gruesomeness aside – watch it. It’s free on Koldcast.tv, and it’s time well spent.