Television Man | by Aidan Morgan | Dec. 16, 2021
Happy Yulething to everyone who celebrates! I hope you’re gathered around your tree/shrub/sacred mannequin enjoying the blessings of invisible beings who favour you and yours for no particular reason. Me, I’ll be watching television.
BYE BYE BEBOP
In 2001, Shinichiro Watanabe’s anime Cowboy Bebop aired in the U.S., effectively changing the face of anime for North American audiences. Bleak but breezy, ultra-stylish and graced with one of the coolest soundtracks of all time, Bebop was a wild fusion of genre and pop culture elements. It tossed neo-noir in a blender with science fiction, Westerns and pulp thrillers, following the crew of the spaceship Bebop as they chased down bounties, obsessed over food and more or less failed to make a dime on any of their capers. Underneath the genre trappings and shenanigans ran a thread of genuine despair and nihilism, giving a philosophical weight to the adventures of bounty hunters in space.
In the years since its release, Bebop has gone from a great show to a sacred object. As we all know, the worst thing you can do to a sacred object is make a live-action adaptation.
Mind you, that didn’t stop Netflix from giving it a shot.
Cowboy Bebop aired its first season to mixed and muddled reviews. Anime fans were particularly harsh, faulting it for nearly every choice it made. Those takes can easily be found on YouTube videos of patchily bearded men surrounded by action figures serving as their bona fides.
Despite the Internet noise, the live-action adaptation of the classic was a fascinating and stylish season of television that grows steadily more confident and interesting as it sorts out its own identity apart from its namesake. The back half of the season lands hard on a combination of neo-noir and hangout comedy, anchored by solid performances from John Cho, Mustafa Shakir and Daniela Pineda. Pineda’s angry and vulnerable Faye Valentine ranges farther from the anime than Cho’s ultra-cool Spike Spiegel and Shakir’s long-suffering Jet Black, but it’s easily the funniest and liveliest take on the original material. The expanded roles given to Vicious (Alex Hassel) and Julia (Elena Satine) aren’t as compelling at the start, but an extended flashback late in the season does a decent job of fleshing out their characters.
In the end, Bebop drew 74 million hours of viewing time in its first three weeks, but that wasn’t enough for Netflix’s cost-benefit algorithms, which called in a bounty on the show after one short season. It’s a shame the series didn’t air on streaming services like Apple TV or HBO Max that typically give costly science fiction series more room to develop. See you, Space Cowboy.
TWO STRINGS AND A STICK
Speaking of shows that will never be cancelled, Hawkeye is currently heading into the last half of its six-episode run on Disney+. Starring Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye/Clint Barton and Hailee Steinfeld as Hawkeye/Kate Bishop, the series loosely and serviceably retrofits Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on the comic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s an entertaining and acrobatically directed bit of fun, with Renner channelling the spirit of Bob Newhart as the straight man in a superhero vaudeville. The standout here is Alaqua Cox, the deaf Indigenous actor playing Maya Lopez, a frighteningly intense antagonist with a score to settle. The series will finish airing Wednesday Dec. 22, making it a perfect Boxing Day binger.