We’re entered a golden age for the anthology format after a very long dry spell.
The genre got fresh blood from streaming channels, especially Netflix’s sci-fi friendly series “Black Mirror.” A new “Creepshow” series is heading our way soon. Netflix’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” finds the Coen brothers basking in a series of western tales.
Amazon Prime’s recent entry, “The Romanoffs,” is giving “Black Mirror” a run for its money as the cream of the new crop.
“The Romanoffs” is not genre fare like most great anthology shows. It’s compelling all the same, and one recent episode brings a fresh scandal to mind.
All the “Romanoffs” stories involve descendants of the Russian royal family that were infamously murdered by the Bolsheviks. These elite souls in exile have spread throughout the world living in all kinds of different situations.
So far the interconnection between the episodes (which hover around the 90 minute mark) has been minimal. And while each story has essentially been a drama they share almost nothing beyond that in terms of overt tone or theme.
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Generally its been very compelling, dealing with heavy characterization and some complex moral issues.
The latest episode feels like a commentary on the #MeToo implications for the Kavanaugh/Ford debacle. Which, if correct, seems very out of step from what most of us on the American right assume to be the near universal marching orders delivered from leftist high command.
The story revolves around a wealthy community that utilizes a quirky gay piano teacher (Andrew Rannells) to instruct their children. He’s clearly very talented, both as a musician and as a musical instructor. But he has some troubling characteristics, like a tendency to tell obvious lies. Those lies are mostly harmless and speak to deep insecurity.
For example, early on he tells the main characters (Ron Livingston and Diane Lane) that after his Julliard graduation recital Elton John told him “prepare to be misunderstood.” And that apparently this is what Paul McCartney had told Elton John at the beginning of his career.
This is a lie.
But what drives the plot are surfacing accusations that this teacher as been inappropriate with at least one of the children.
The story is told from the point of view of the stars’ characters, a married couple facing a serious dilemma. When the accusations initially surface the mother becomes very concerned. But the piano teacher hasn’t been charged with anything specific, and there’s no evidence of misconduct… yet.
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As Lane’s character delves deeper she uncovers some of the stranger things about this person that they have let into their lives.
But in the end nothing is resolved. It’s highly ambiguous as to what, if anything, this teacher has done. And just when Lane is about to fire him her husband intervenes.
He admits the teacher is suspicious, and it’s clear he’s never really liked the guy. But there’s no evidence. Sure some suspicious things have come out, but their kids are adamant that they have not been molested.
The father’s argument is essentially, given the lack of evidence, it would be indecent to fire the piano teacher. They need to teach their kids to be good people. And that means not judging others when they haven’t done anything wrong.
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It’s amazing this plot emerged given what we saw from Hollywood Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. Even if the serious allegations against Kavanaugh (Julie Swetnick and Michael Avenatti being clearly ludicrous) against him were true, it’s very hard to make the case that anyone was in danger of being sexually assaulted by the potential Supreme Court justice.
That wasn’t really even an issue seriously discussed. Almost all the arguments against Kavanaugh were related to the integrity of the court, not actual danger towards women.
But the children in this “Romanoffs” episode are potentially in danger. There isn’t any evidence of misconduct, but one would think that if any situation warranted the philosophy of better safe than sorry it would be this one.
The father takes a stand in order to be an example for his kids. He’s willing to risk their safety in order to be decent. And that probably seems ridiculous to most people especially in this age of clerical abuses and related horror stories.
In some sense we take a risk like this every time we allow anyone into our lives. By sending our kids to public school we take this risk. We take this risk (against our will) by simply being born. It may seem reckless in this case, but in lieu of real evidence were they really supposed to fire him?
FAST FACT: “The Romanoffs'” show runner Matthew Weiner has been accused of sexual harassment by a “Mad Men” scribe who lost her job a year later. He claims to not remembering saying anything of a sexual nature to his colleague.
Obviously this is a very complicated moral decision. Our society has become overprotective of children from strangers. But violence or sex crimes are almost never perpetrated by strangers. They are almost always done by someone intimate and familial. Kids are almost always abused by someone they know, often within their immediate family.
If there’s no evidence, and it turns out that this piano teacher really didn’t do anything wrong it’s a tough decision but that would probably seem like the right one to make in the end.
And that’s how the Kavanaugh hearings ultimately went. Considering that, its pretty amazing that this story also went that way. But the ambiguity extends not just to the piano teacher’s guilt. It also extends to the father’s decision. The episode ends by strongly suggesting they may have made the wrong decision.
“The Romanoffs,” created by “Mad Men” show runner Matthew Weiner, has been excellent, surprising and unpredictable. Each episode has dealt with complex characters and themes, none of which have been small. The pacing is deliberate with an almost literary quality. Some may find it boring. This isn’t “Black Mirror,” but it’s still very good and thought provoking.