So…we watched all three seasons of Granite Flats.
For those of you who don’t know, Granite Flats is a three-season television drama originally produced by BYUTV, yes LDS. A few months ago, Netflix added it to the queue, I read about it on some blogs and thought, “Huh. Why not?”
And so, the two boys were introduced to the joys and agonies of binge-watching.
Let me say, that if had been up to me, I would have watched a couple of episodes from the first season, checked in with the second season to see matters had improved, then jumped to season 3 to check in with some episodes featuring Christopher Lloyd and/or Parker Posey and then called it a day. (or night.) It wasn’t great.
But as it turned out, the boys got hooked, went berserk at the end of every cliff-hanger episode (which was…every episode), and so I’ve watched the whole durn thing.
More specifically: Granite Flats has been described by some as a cross between Mad Men (because it’s set in the early 1960’s) and The X-Files (because it involves espionage and a bit of the paranormal). Perhaps “they” have a point, but I’m going to say very quickly and firmly right here and now that Granite Flats doesn’t have the quality of either. It’s not horrible, but it doesn’t have the subtlety of great television drama, either. On my scale, Breaking Bad is a 10, Mad Men is a 7, and Granite Flats comes out, therefore, as maybe a 2.5.
YMMV, but in my opinion, while the boys were intrigued (and this is the first show like this they’ve ever watched, btw) and enjoyed it, it didn’t live up to the promise of the premise, the theme, the literary allusions (Shakespeare and Whitman, mostly) or the retro gestalt.
Um, forget that. It’s too complicated to give a gist.
There are 3 young teens. One is the son of a widowed single mother VA nurse – widowed because her military husband died. (And you know what that means…..) The other is the son of the Granite Flats police chief. The girl is the native Korean adopted daughter of a physician and a chemist, both of whom work for the VA hospital.
These teens are drawn together by weird circumstances and are then inspired to investigate said weird circumstances. The weird circumstances lead to Bigger Things, which involve the CIA, the FBI, the KGB and a bit of the paranormal.
It can be fairly confusing at times. I think my 14 year old could probably draw you a map of it all, but some parts of it left me befuddled.
As I am wont to do these days…bullet points:
- If you are looking for a show to hook your kids on that’s pretty much absolutely “clean” – this would be a good candidate. There’s some tense stuff about marriage here and there, but that’s real.
- It’s a show produced by an LDS network, so I was watching it with an eye to that. Religion of the generic Christian kind plays a role in the show, but I have to say, it’s a refreshingly natural role. There’s a young non-denominational Protestant pastor involved, so that give the script opportunities to quote Scripture. The general tone (and I will get back to this in a second) is oriented towards an understanding of life as being *for* something rather than for anything or nothing. But beyond that, there’s some interesting conversations between the kids about faith. Madeleine (the adopted girl) is being raised in an atheist home, and so the kids actually talk about that the first season in honest ways. The only almosts-explicitly LDS-type thing I noted was in one of the lasts episodes when a wife said to a husband something like “I’m going to be happy with you the rest of my life here in this world – and the next.”
- One of the primary writers on the show (who is also the father of one of the child actors and husbands of one of the adult actors) is a very serious Buddhist. Here’s an interview with him.
- Speaking of which…the writing is okay. It’s strongest in the the third season, when Plummer (from the previous bullet point) takes over most of the scripts. Before that, it’s mostly fairly pedestrian and lacking in subtlety. (I watched episode 4 of Rectify last night after we finished up Granite Flats, and oh, the difference was so, so clear.). As is often the case, the climactic episodes contain the strongest writing. I confess that the last episode of season 3 of Granite Flats, even though it contained some weirdness, was very strong .
- Pulling together my last two bullet points, the last episode of the show was well-written and quite affecting, bringing out issues of truth, love and the mystery and worth of each human person in a rather moving way. It made some of the previous lameness worth it.
- I was impressed, though, by the nuance given to the theme of patriotism – this was probably the strongest thematic element, and dealt with very well. While the KGB and Soviet Communism are certainly treated as inimical to American values, the question of how America has actually lived up to American values is bandied about with a bit more honesty than I expected. A major character – an FBI operative – is African-American, and the racism he encounters in and out of the agency is a plot point. Even the issue of Americans belonging to the Communist party in an American context isn’t dealt with simplistically – the characters who are are given credible reasons for their membership, including skepticism about the American project from a character whose beloved was a Japanese-American interred in her own country during World War II.
- The acting varies in quality. I do wonder why it’s such a challenge to find really excellent natural American child actors. That said, the strongest actors included a young person – Charlie Plummer (son of aforementioned writer), who played Tim. There are some sort-of well known names in the cast, including Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride, Christopher Lloyd and most winningly, Parker Posey, who blasts into the third season and grabs all the best lines. It was fascinating to watch because it shows how a crazy, eccentric character can inspire strong writing.
- Also…and this amused the boys when I finally put all this together – featured through all three seasons is David Naughton. I knew that I should know the name and the face was vaguely familiar. Today, I finally looked him up, and yes..it’s that David Naughton, and hey people, let’s all FEEL SUPER OLD.
- Finally: There’s a bit of controversy about the show right now – BYUTV had produced three seasons – the first two shown, with the third scheduled to be broadcast this fall. Netflix picked up all three seasons this past spring and has them all streaming. Not long after Netflix picked it up, BYUTV announced that it was cancelling the program. There’s a bit of a campaign going on to encourage BYUTV to produce at least a few more episodes to wrap up some lose threads (and the last episode of season three did end with a huge hanging plot point), and some of the actors are on board…so we’ll see….