TIME movies

REVIEW: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood Is a Thrilling Epic of Ordinary Life

Boyhood
A scene from 'Boyhood' IFC Films

The movie that took a dozen years to make — a few days each year — portrays the growth of a Texas kid from grade school to college, and provides an indelible family album of American life

Richard Linklater has said that “not much” happens in Boyhood, his new movie about a dozen years in the life of a Texas family. The biggest shock, though not unexpected, is when the leading man’s voice changes. Leading boy, really. We’ve been watching Mason (Ellar Coltrane) since he was an adorable six, and the onslaught of puberty strikes us as forcefully as it does him. Our little boy is becoming a young man.

Linklater’s gimmick — actually, his genius — was to visit the same core cast of fictional characters, played by the same actors, for a few days each year. Rounding up Lorelei Linklater (his own daughter) as Mason’s elder sister Samantha, Patricia Arquette as their mom Olivia and Ethan Hawke their dad, Mason Sr., the writer-director began in the summer of 2002, when its star actor was turning six, and concluded last autumn, when Mason is shown going off to college. Linklater eventually distilled these dozen years into a 160-minute movie that spends 10 or 15 minutes on each year. You might wonder if he made a 12-hour director’s cut for DVD release; he didn’t. But the seasons pass so fluidly, with Mason and Samantha maturing before our eyes as if through gentle time-lapse photography, that the movie could be much longer to afford the audience the pleasure of spending more time with people worth caring for.

(READ: Katy Steinmetz reports on the making of Boyhood)

That’s the seductive magic of Boyhood. Watching it gives viewers a protective, possessive feeling about Mason. We have the intense rooting interest of surrogate parents, or doting aunts and uncles on an annual family reunion. We hope that Mason will survive his mother’s broken marriage and later involvement with other men. We want him to grow out of that bad haircut, overcome his siege of acne, emerge intact from the heartbreak of first love. A home movie of a fictional home life, an epic assembled from vignettes, Boyhood shimmers with unforced reality. It shows how an ordinary life can be reflected in an extraordinary movie.

Films marking the development over the years of a single young character usually employ different actors at different ages, as Maleficent does for the child and teen gestations of Angelina Jolie. Among the very few notable exceptions is François Truffaut’s 1959 The 400 Blows, which focused on the restless 14-year-old Antoine Doinel, and grew into a five-film series spanning 20 years, all starring Jean-Pierre Léaud; it’s available in the Criterion DVD set The Adventures of Antoine Doinel. One unique documentary project, Michael Apted’s Up series, has traced the separate lives of about a dozen English people every seven years, from school kids in 1964 (Seven Up!) to late middle age in the most recent installment (56 Up).

(READ: Corliss on Michael Apted’s Up documentaries)

In fiction films, though, directors can’t wait years for their young actors to grow up; most pictures need to be finished yesterday. Who would gamble on a first-grader’s star quality, his sheer screen watchability, that can be sustained and enriched until he’s a college freshman? Linklater — who also hatched the same-time-next-decade romantic trilogy, with Hawke and Julie Delpy, that was capped last summer by Before Midnight — took that risk with the young Coltrane. And no, he didn’t sign the six-year-old to a 12-year movie contract; reenlistment was voluntary. “My hope,” the filmmaker told The New York Times, “was that his parents and him would see this as a positive thing in his life and a fun thing to be involved in every year.”

(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight)

A beautiful child who goes on to endure a naturally gawky phase and grows up to resemble a slimmer, much taller Peter Dinklage, Coltrane has the gift of visible introspection; the subtle play of his face provides a window into Mason’s mind. As his sister, Lorelei Linklater is a natural showboater with preternatural poise; her closest pop-culture sibling would be Mad Men’s Sally Draper (always played by Kiernan Shipka), who in the show’s seven years has sprouted from a lovely six-year old into a willful teenager. Arquette ages as well, puts on a few pounds and persuasively inhabits a woman fighting for her own identity and finally locating it as a child psychologist. And Hawke, who has appeared in nine of Linklater’s 16 fiction features, plays fair with Mason Sr. — a man who creates a new family while trying to keep unbreakable ties with the one he left.

Since no title cards establish each new year, viewers must infer the period from references to Fallujah (2003) or the publication of the sixth Harry Potter book (2005) or the 2008 Presidential campaign, when Olivia recklessly has her kids plant Obama material on neighbors’ lawns. Gradually you learn to go with the flow, and to enjoy the privileged moments as they unfold: a bowling date or a camping trip or an Astros game (Roger Clemens manhandles the Brewers) with Dad; a conference with a sympathetic high-school teacher that points Mason toward pursuing his love of photography. The brief scene of Mason in class pledging allegiance to the Texas flag underlines the 53-year-old filmmaker’s affinity to his home state, where he shot his first two features, Slacker and Dazed and Confused, before following the elaborate itinerary of his later films.

(READ: Richard Linklater on his Dazed and Confused pal, Matthew McConaughey)

Olivia is no globetrotter. Though she moves her family from one Texas town to another, she feels cramped by having gone directly from being “somebody’s daughter” to being “somebody else’s f–king mother.” This woman needs a man, usually the wrong one. After her break with the kids’ dad she marries Professor Bill (Marco Perella), whose geniality masks an alcoholic belief that his new wife and stepchildren are his students, and his home a classroom that becomes a prison. He’s a horror — providing the film’s one potent flourish of domestic melodrama — but Mason would probably prefer his real dad to any pretender his mom hooks up with. “Why’d you even marry him?” the young Mason asks his mom about Professor Bill. Later, as a teenager, he tells Mason Sr. that he wishes the parents, whatever their abrasions, had stayed together. “It would’ve saved us from a parade of drunken assholes.”

Mason’s life has its difficulties but few extremities; it unfolds rather than exploding in reality-TV’s manufactured traumas. To sit through Boyhood is to page through a family album of folks you just met, yet feel you’ve known forever. Each picture tells a poignant story. In the first year, Samantha tries to entertain or annoy her kid brother with her grinding rendition of “Oops!… I Did It Again.” Before leaving the home he grew up in, Mason applies paint to cover the pencil marks measuring the heights of him and his sister. After Professor Bill insists that Mason get a buzz cut, the boy is humiliated — until he reads a note passed from a pretty girl in his class: “I think your new hair looks kewl.” Poor, wistful Mason: he might be any of the Texas boys raised by a tough dad (Brad Pitt) in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

(READ: The cinematic vision of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life)

At one family gathering we’re startled by the presence of a mother and daughter we last saw seven or eight years earlier (about an hour in screen time), befriending Olivia at a critical moment. For being there when Olivia when she most needed them, and for staying in her life, these two women deserve a big hug of gratitude. For his 17th birthday, Mason receives plenty of hugs and several presents: a 12-gauge shotgun and a red-letter Bible from his mom’s folks, and from Mason Sr. a personally mixed “Black Album” of songs by Beatles members after they left the group. Dad’s mighty proud of that gift, but what Mason really hoped for was the battered old GTO his father had offhandedly promised to give him when the kid was old enough to drive. Dad forgot about that.

Parents forget; kids remember. Or is it the other way around? We all recall what is or was important to us, and are astonished when it slips other people’s minds. Perhaps we dismiss as irrelevant matters of crucial concern to those we love. That’s life as most of us experience it, and which few movies document with such understated acuity as Boyhood does. Embrace each moment, Linklater tells us, because it won’t come again — unless he is there to record it, shape it and turn it into an indelible movie.

TIME Television

Netflix Shows Were Nominated for 31 Emmys This Year

The web-only network has more nominations than either Fox or Comedy Central

After making television history in 2013 for earning the first ever Primetime Emmy Award nominations for online-only television, Netflix has followed it up in 2014 with 31 nominations. Take a look at a selection of the Emmys that they’re up for.

TIME Television

Why Orange Is the New Black Stars Were Nominated for “Guest” Actress Emmys

Laverne Cox on OITNB
Laverne Cox in a scene from Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” Season 2. Jojo Whilden—Netflix

Why several of the nominees in "guest" categories don't seem to fit the description

The nominations for this year’s Emmy awards — which were announced this morning — may surprise some viewers, and not just because Orphan Black got snubbed. In the guest actor/actress categories, there are a few people who seem pretty much the opposite of “guests” on their shows. For example: Orange Is the New Black‘s crucial Laverne Cox (as Sophia Burset), Natasha Lyonne (as Nicky Nichols) and Uzo Aduba (as Crazy Eyes), and Masters of Sex‘s Allison Janney and Beau Bridges (as Margaret and Barton Scully).

How are those actors in the same category as guests who show up in one or two episodes (like Paul Giamatti, who briefly appeared as Harold Levinson on Downton Abbey) or stop by to host for a night (like SNL‘s Jimmy Fallon, Louis C.K., Tina Fey and Melissa McCarthy)? After all, unlike those more obvious guests, the actors in question appear throughout the show’s run and interact regularly with the main characters, determining the way the plot will play out. Shouldn’t they be in the “supporting” category instead?

The reasons are invisible to many TV viewers.

First, there’s a contractual issue. According to the Emmy rules and procedures, the distinction between “supporting” and “lead” is one of character and the distinction between “guest” and “supporting” is one of contract. When signing on for a show, one of the questions an actor must consider is whether the role is officially regular or recurring, which can determine things like whether your name is mentioned in the credits. A guest or recurring role might be just as important as a regular role, but there are differences behind the scenes. In other words, the producers get to decide based on an actor’s role whether a regular character is supporting, but a guest is a guest is a guest. The rules specify that if the performer’s contract is a guest-star contract, he or she must enter the guest category “without regard to the number of episodes he/she appeared in.” No matter how much of a star someone may seem within the show’s context, “star” has a legal definition too and they don’t fit in.

And then there the Emmy eligibility dates. This year’s Emmys are looking at June 1, 2013 – May 21, 2014. In the case of Orange, that means we’re talking about the long-ago first season, during which a mere half dozen of the actors and actresses from the show were series regulars.

So there you go. Calling Crazy Eyes a guest on Orange Is the New Black isn’t an insult to her importance to the show, but rather a necessity that was set in motion as soon as Aduba signed her contract with Netflix. However, in the case of Orange, that also means next year’s nominations might look a bit different: Uzo Aduba and Natasha Lyonne were both already promoted to series regulars for season two, and this summer has seen several more actresses promoted in advance of season three.

TIME Television

As TV Keeps Changing, the Emmys Stay a Few Steps Behind

Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany BBC America

There were some pleasant surprises in this year's nominations, but it looks like Emmy voters still have a big DVR backlog to get through.

Thursday morning’s live announcement of the Emmy nominations began with a statement about how dramatically the business of TV is changing. And it’s true–Emmy nominees can come from broadcast TV, premium cable, basic cable, streaming and public TV. I watched the announcements on Yahoo TV, which next year could be a (theoretical) contender with the sixth season of Community. In December, a live-action drama, Powers, will premiere on a video game platform, the Sony Playstation Network. It was almost quaint that the major awards nominations were announced by Mindy Kaling and Carson Daly, two broadcast TV personalities.

But have the Emmys kept up with it? The awards opened the books to some deserving new shows and performers this year–Fargo, Orange Is the New Black, Silicon Valley–but overall the inclusions and omissions in the major categories suggested that Emmy voters have a two- or three-year DVR backlog they’re still catching up on.

So the doors were open, happily, for some new faces (yay, Lizzy Caplan! alright alright alright, Matthew McConaughey!). But there are also a number of series and actors returning seemingly on the forces of momentum. House of Cards had an absolutely zooey second season, but Emmy still regards it as a top-quality drama because it has all the outward trimmings of one. Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom is up for best actor against McConaughey and the departing Bryan Cranston–and if history is a guide, he could actually win. It’s been a year of fresh comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Broad City and Review, yet Modern Family will have a permanent home in the comedy category long after it’s become Antique Family (speaking of which, Downton Abbey apparently has the same sinecure in Best Drama).

The best possible spin on the situation is that, in a strange way, it’s a side effect of how much TV has grown and how much quality TV there is to judge today. If Emmy voters were too overwhelmed to consider everything back when they gave David Hyde Pierce a permanent trophy in the 1990s, it’s that much harder now to expect them to keep completely current. So the Emmys will probably keep advancing in fits and starts, having the occasional breakthrough year for new talent, who then become the new guard of usual suspects for a few years. The more things change in TV, the more likely that one is to stay the same.

That’s the big picture. Here, in no particular order, are some of my biggest grievances, joys, and general observations:

* Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany was robbed. Every one of her.

* The Americans had arguably–that is to say, I’m arguing it–the best season of TV so far this year, but except for Margo Martindale, the spies were left out in the cold. (Give Matthew Rhys Daniels’ slot and Keri Russell Michelle Dockery’s.)

* As for Masters of Sex, I’m half-happy because of Caplan’s well-deserved honor, but I had actually talked myself into believing its publicity blitz might have gotten it a best drama nod. (Sub out House of Cards or Downton, easy.) Maybe saddest, though, is Michael Sheen not being acknowledged for best actor as the achingly repressed William Masters, because apparently male performers have to bellow and blow a dramatic gasket to get Emmy’s attention.

* Of course, as usual, many of my grievances are not really surprises. One that genuinely was a surprise was The Good Wife, after its best season, since it had actually been nominated as Best Drama before.

* OK, let’s say something nice! I’m happy for Fargo, for Julianna Margulies (up for best actress despite The Good Wife‘s snub), and for even the flawed seasons of Game of Thrones and Louie. And here’s a usual suspect that actually deserved it: it would have been easy to ignore Mad Men this time out, since it aired a half-season and will get another shot next year for its finale. But it packed a lot of emotion and resonance into its seven episodes–especially the last two–and I have my fingers crossed for Christina Hendricks. (Jon Hamm? Nominated, but history shows that we could learn that he was also secretly playing Sally and Joan, and he still wouldn’t win the category.)

* I’m happy that Silicon Valley–by no means perfect but one of the season’s pleasant surprises–got a best comedy nomination. I’m perplexed, though, that Christopher Evan Welch didn’t get a posthumous nomination for the last performance of his life; if anything, I thought he’d get named and the show itself overlooked.

* In general, HBO shows again that it knows how to get Emmy nominations–not just for True Detective and Game of Thrones (which had the most of any series) but even for the final season of the underrated Treme, which snuck in with a nomination because HBO put up its shortened season in the miniseries category.

* Maybe the best-deserved Emmy nomination that Orange Is the New Black is up for is casting; the show put together a murderer’s row (so to speak) ensemble full of lesser-known actresses. It’s only too bad that TV’s best platform for actresses of color saw none of them nominated in the big categories, though Taylor Schilling and Kate Mulgrew were. (Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox–as well as Natasha Lyonne–were nominated as “guest actresses,” because of the intricacies of the crediting and submissions process. Better than nothing.)

* But is OITNB really a comedy? I can’t say I really care. A lot of TV’s best shows are both dramatic and hilarious, and it’s just one of those things that doesn’t fit the dualistic comedy/drama model we’re stuck with. If I’d rather see Andy Daly as comedy actor than Ricky Gervais, for instance, it’s because he gave a better performance, not because Derek was maudlin.

* And I’ll stop here, though I’ve barely scratched the surface–the full Word document of Emmy nominations runs 43 pages, making it amazing that it’s even possible to snub anyone. But there is plenty more to parse–and a little over a month to do it before the unusually early Emmy ceremony in August. Maybe I’ll have finished reading the nominations list by then.

TIME celebrity

Kelsey Grammer Is Correcting Everyone’s Grammar On Twitter

Better proofread your tweets, or Frasier is gonna come after you

Many celebrities shoot for humor when they first join Twitter. But not Kelsey Grammer. On June 30, the actor signed up for Twitter with a very different goal in mind: to correct everybody’s grammar.

You’re probably thinking, Oh, he’s only doing this because his last name is Grammer or whatever. But the actor, best known for playing Dr. Frasier Crane on both Cheers and Frasier, is actually a rather convincing and aggressive pedant. He’s still going strong, correcting individual tweets as well as offering more general grammar lessons. He keeps things organized using the hashtag #KelseyGrammerGrammar.

Grammer isn’t afraid to call out more high-profile offenders, too:

Keep on fighting the good fight, Frasier.

TIME Television

HBO and Game of Thrones Dominate Emmy Nominations

From left: Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon and Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Season 4, Episode 2 of HBO's Game of Thrones.
From left: Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon and Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Season 4, Episode 2 of HBO's Game of Thrones. Helen Sloan—HBO

A strong showing by the premium cable channel and its hit show

Game of Thrones received 19 Emmy nominations Thursday, fueling HBO’s 99 total nominations, including two for best drama.

FX also fared well, drawing 18 nominations for Fargo and another 17 for American Horror Story: Coven.

Netflix, with Orange Is the New Black contending for best comedy, pulled in a total of 31 Emmy nominations, more than either Fox or Comedy Central.

Here are the highlights from this year’s Emmy nominations:

Outstanding Drama Series

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Mad Men (AMC)

True Detective (HBO)

House of Cards (Netflix)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom (HBO)

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Netflix)

Jon Hamm, Mad Men (AMC)

Matthew McConaughey, True Detective (HBO)

Woody Harrelson, True Detective (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey (PBS)

Claire Danes, Homeland (Showtime)

Robin Wright, House of Cards (Netflix)

Kerry Washington, Scandal (ABC)

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (CBS)

Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex (Showtime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Jon Voight, Ray Donovan (Showtime)

Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO)

Mandy Patinkin, Homeland (Showtime)

Josh Charles, The Good Wife (CBS)

Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jim Carter, Downton Abbey (PBS)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad (AMC)

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (PBS)

Lena Headey, Game of Thrones (HBO)

Christine Baranski, The Good Wife (CBS)

Christina Hendricks, Mad Men (AMC)

Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey (PBS)

Outstanding Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Louie (FX)

Modern Family (ABC)

Veep (HBO)

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Matt LeBlanc, Episodes

Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime)

Louis C.K., Louie (FX)

William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)

Ricky Gervais, Derek (Netflix)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Lena Dunham, Girls (HBO)

Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)

Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly (CBS)

Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Adam Driver, Girls (HBO)

Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family (ABC)

Fred Armisen, Portlandia (IFC)

Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)

Tony Hale, Veep (HBO)

Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Julie Bowen, Modern Family (ABC)

Anna Chlumsky, Veep (HBO)

Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)

Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live (NBC)

Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

Outstanding Miniseries

American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

Fargo (FX)

The White Queen (Starz)

Bonnie and Clyde (A&E, Lifetime, History)

Treme (HBO)

Luther (BBC America)

Outstanding Television Movie

The Normal Heart (HBO)

The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Killing Kennedy (National Geographic)

Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)

Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge (Starz)

Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart (HBO)

Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo (FX)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)

Idris Elba, Luther (BBC America)

Martin Freeman, Fargo (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie

Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

Kristen Wiig, Spoils of Babylon (IFC)

Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor (BBC America)

Minnie Driver, Return to Zero (Lifetime)

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

Dancing With the Stars (ABC)

Project Runway (Lifetime)

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)

Top Chef (Brav0)

The Voice (NBC)

TIME film

The Sharknado 2 Trailer Looks Awesomely Bad

Here are the best quotes

+ READ ARTICLE

The movie that took the Twitterverse by Great White storm last summer has a sequel. And that sequel — appropriately titled Sharknado 2: The Second One — has a trailer. And that trailer is everything we could ever dream it would be.

This time, the Sharknado has followed the cast from Los Angeles to New York City for Tara Reid’s book tour (stop laughing) to promote: How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack. (Available for purchase).

SyFy’s epic, chainsaw-laden preview gives a hint at the cacophony of hokey dialogue we can look forward to for the film’s July 30 release. Get ready for instant classics like:

  • “Holy Shark”
  • “You know what you did, don’t you? You jumped the shark.”
  • “They’re sharks. They’re scary. No one wants to get eaten. But I’ve been eaten, and I’m here to tell ya, it takes a lot more than that to bring a good man down. It takes a lot more than that to bring a New Yorker down.” (Cue the muted cheers.)

Starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Kelly Osbourne, Judah Friedlander, Andy Dick, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mark “Sugar Ray” McGrath, and a bunch of other people who couldn’t stop themselves from being in a movie with a tagline, “Forget the umbrella. Grab a chainsaw.”, Sharknado 2 is clearly an instant classic.

TIME Television

Jimmy Fallon and Kelly Ripa Duel in Pop Culture Trivia Soak-Off

The morning talk-show host and her late-night counterpart played “Pop Quiz," and it's not your ordinary pop culture trivia challenge

+ READ ARTICLE

Kelly Ripa appeared on NBC’s Tonight Show on Wednesday and challenged Jimmy Fallon in answering questions about pop culture—while sitting under water balloons and wearing pointed hats.

The game was simple: Whoever answered the most questions wrong would get a giant water balloon popped over their heads.

“This is terrible,” Ripa said at one point during the game. “You’re supposed to ask me stuff I know!”

Watch the clip above to find out who got soaked.

TIME Television

Must-Read TV: The Bridge‘s Elwood Reid on Getting America to Watch Subtitles

THE BRIDGE - "Yankee" - Episode 1 (Airs, Wednesday, July 9, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Demian Bechir as Marco Ruiz. CR: Byron Cohen/FX Network
Demian Bechir as Marco Ruiz in the season 2 premiere of The Bridge. Byron Cohen/FX Network

"I don't ever want someone to watch my show and go, 'Why the hell are they speaking English here when it's two Mexican characters in Mexico?'"

In my print TIME column this week (subscription required), I look at how American viewers are learning to read their TV shows–through the increasing use of subtitles in shows from The Americans (Russian) to The Returned (French) to NBC’s new Greg Poehler sitcom premiering tonight, Welcome to Sweden (um, guess). Until recent years–when, for instance, Lost included lengthy flashbacks in Korean–subtitles were assumed to be a dealbreaker for U.S. viewers. (If English was good enough for the Bible, dammit, it’s good enough for our shows!)

Being able to have characters speak in their native languages–or sign, as on Switched at Birth–opens possibilities for TV writers. It’s an avenue for character and conflict, even on an amiable fish-out-of-water show like Sweden. It forces viewers to focus on a show rather than multitask. (How often do you “watch” a show while staring at your phone?) And it’s a source of authenticity–particularly on FX’s border drama, The Bridge, which returned for its second season this week. For the column, I talked to Bridge producer Elwood Reid; here’s an edited transcript of the interview:

Was the question of using Spanish and using subtitles ever an issue when you were developing the show or pitching it?

Elwood Reid: I don’t have a secret memo, but I think most networks would prefer that if it was in English. Now FX is a little bit different. They understood that we were pretty insistent on it being subtitled.

Myself, I’m from Ohio, so I think of my very Midwesterner parents sitting there going, “They’re speaking a different language on TV!” So when you say you’re going to do subtitles, it makes you think about scenes. I would try to figure out ways to get an English speaker in there so I can justify an English-speaking scene, because if I was being correct the show would be probably 60 percent in Spanish, and I think FX has an appetite for around 20 to 30 percent. So it’s this juggling act you’re always trying to do.

But in my mind nothing was ever wrong with [subtitles]. I think Netflix has shrunk the world a lot. If something is good, people don’t give a shit if it’s subtitled. Me, for example, I don’t watch American movies; I mostly watch Korean movies. So subtitles to me are just the way I take my movies in. I watch a lot of French gangster movies. I’m always watching with subtitles. If you want to find good shit you’re going to be reading subtitles, and I think that’s true in TV too–look at [the Danish political drama] Borgen and all these other series. Because of Netflix, people don’t think twice about it anymore.

Are you fluent in Spanish yourself?

No. Not at all. My name is Elwood Reid and I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. I struggle with English. Of course a lot of my cast is of Mexican descent, and then this year I hired a screenwriter in Mexico City, Mauricio Katz–he wrote Miss Bala. We write it in English because the network has to vet it in English; they have to know what we’re talking about. And then we translate it–and we translate it very specifically for that dialect of that area of Mexico.

I find dramatically we use [Spanish] a lot because when people are speaking Spanish in a scene, especially if there’s a gringo there, a white person, and they switch over to Spanish, it creates this really cool narrative tension: you’re leaning into the screen going, “Why the fuck are they speaking Spanish here? What’s going on?” We can use it as a very effective plot device, the language of exclusion, when people choose to slip in and out of their language.

Are there advantages to being able to use two languages sort of at the character level? I’m thinking for instance of characters like Marco working on both sides of the border, and maybe see him in one way when he’s in his home element and then another way when he’s in El Paso?

Oh massively, yeah, and vice versa. Marco’s a good character because he passes in both places. And the actor himself, Demian [Bichir] and I talked about this a lot, he changes his demeanor when he’s around gringos. He’s a little more careful with his words. He’s a little more, I don’t want to say dispassionate but he’s not as direct. When you see [Marco] in Spanish he’s much more direct and there’s a sort of real edge to his character there. And he realizes, like we’re trying to play on the border, that he’s a guest over here in America. He feels the Other, he feels different, so he behaves accordingly–and vice versa, when Sonya’s over in Mexico, she’s a stranger in a strange land. They know she doesn’t belong over there because she’s blonde and blue-eyed, so they use the language to either exclude her or sort of try to suck her in by insulting her in Spanish.

You talked a bit about adapting the script to this particular region of Mexico. Did you hire writers with that in mind?

Well, it’s mostly about the actors, because where you fall down is–and again this is no fault of anybody but like a lot of times in Hollywood they’ll lump all the Hispanic people together. And there’s a massive difference between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans and Cubans and Argentinians and Mexicans. So one of the changes I made this year was with my casting people. We try to cast people who are Mexican or Mexican descent, and even better if they’re from Northern Mexico because it gives you a certain dialect.

You’ll see a little bit of the difference as the season goes on. There’s a character that’s introduced at the end of episode two who’s a kind of weird, slinky business guy played by Bruno Bichir; it’s Demian’s brother. So those two guys were raised together. He speaks a very high sophisticated Spanish, and Demian’s got a very sort of Norteño sort of gruff Spanish that he speaks. So they’re differentiating themselves within Spanish. And just because someone speaks Spanish–one of my actors is Puerto Rican, and Demian is on set with him busting his ass on how it’s spoken, not just Mexico City dialect but Northern Mexico dialect. Of course I have untrained gringo ears but even I’ve learned to hear it a little bit, like the rolling of the Rs the way a Puerto Rican will do. So Demian is my policeman on that.

And the addition of Mauricio Katz this year has really – when he does he translation he’s just not doing an idiomatic translation, he’s doing a nuanced, “Here’s the meaning in English and here’s how I translate it into Spanish.” And that’s been a huge step up from last year.

Do you get much feedback from Spanish-speaking or bilingual viewers on how the show uses the language?

Well, I think people like it. Again, I don’t have any data. But with Hispanic audiences is that Spanish-speaking audiences tend to stick to Telemundo or Univision. So we’re offering this kind of premium cable experience and we’re trying to extend a hand and going look: here’s this thing that’s being made by a mainstream cable network, and it’s depicting your world in your language. That Hunt for Red October bullshit where they speak Russian for two seconds and then all of a sudden Sean Connery is speaking English–that really pulls me out. Maybe audiences 20, 30 years ago were naïve with that, but I think as evidenced by [Americans following] the World Cup and all this stuff, the world has shrunk a lot. People don’t recoil at hearing a different language. If you give them the subtitles, they’re in. I mean, I really think of it as an asset for our show.

It seems like, if you’re looking for an immersive viewing experience, this forces you to have a more immersive viewing experience.

Yeah. Exactly. We play with it a lot, but [the amount of subtitling] is always a discussion with the network. There’s a number beyond which my show could be on Telemundo. So there’s that balancing act, we’re always trying to make it authentic without seeming bullshit. I don’t ever want someone to watch my show and go, “Why the hell are they speaking English here when it’s two Mexican characters in Mexico talking about something?”

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