Thursday, November 19, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Art of More' - Graham's Life at the Auction House is Threatened When an Old Friend Returns in 'Heavy Lies the Head'

Crackle's The Art of More - Episode 1.01 "Heavy Lies the Head"

Auction house Parke-Mason sells the Davenport collection, launching the career of new account executive Graham Connor. Real estate mogul Sam Brukner's collection sparks fierce competition between Parke-Mason and rival auction house DeGraaf's. Hassan, a smuggler from Graham's days in Iraq, makes trouble.

Crackle is the latest online streaming platform to start offering original scripted programming. It has some fierce rivals to go up against - especially this weekend with new shows dropping on both Netflix (Jessica Jones) and Amazon (The Man in the High Castle). The Art of More is the first dramatic series on Crackle. All ten episodes dropped today. This show should signal the kind of brand Crackle wants to establish for its original content. Streaming services have the ability to change the TV mold. It doesn't have to follow a set of strict rules - which often makes the series a bit more experimental in form. The Art of More doesn't really embrace that quality in this first episode. It actually builds towards act breaks. It doesn't have any nudity or violence. Only the occasion curse word comes up - but it's never the f word. This show could work on the broadcast networks or basic cable. That doesn't really help establish this show as the face of Crackle's brand.

But putting aside the establishment of a brand for an entire service, The Art of More needs to be entertaining in this first episode. It needs to be able to lure in the audience's interest. This is a world that hasn't really been explored on TV before. It's the world of high stakes auction houses where the executives are very competitive to land impressive collections from the billionaires who currently own them. It's a setting that can be lavish. The clients have all the money in the world and thus don't have to obey all the rules of society. That's an interesting place to establish the darkness of characters. Everyone introduced in this first episode is very morally complicated. But most of that just plays as plot and story. It never feels like the hour has a strong grasp on the characters and why they should be important to watch.

All of this is being told from the perspective of new account executive Graham Connor. The opening minutes of "Heavy Lies the Head" show that he isn't a good guy at all. He was a part of a team that used to steal highly collectable pieces of art in the Middle East. That's the kind of background he comes from. As the rest of the hour plays out, it's clear that that isn't the life he wants to be living though. He has greater aspirations to be a prominent fixture in this auction house world. He loves art. He has a respect for it. All he needs is a chance to be taken seriously in this business. He remains a shifty character. He always appears overly confident and cocky even though he doesn't always have a great plan. His strategy works when it comes to convincing Arthur Davenport to let him manage his account for Parke-Mason. In that moment, he does have a plan. He was able to get this precious crown for him. It's an object that sells very well at auction. It's because of that artifact that he has enough leverage to get Davenport to take a chance on him.

And yet, that action also makes Graham a little too confident even though he hasn't really earned that. He wants to land real estate mogul Sam Brukner's collection for the auction house. Brukner is a man who isn't afraid to tell it like it is. He is willing to listen to Graham after seeing how much effort he has put in to meet him. But the actual meeting is very short because Graham hasn't done enough of his homework to understand why Brukner is doing what he is doing. Dennis Quaid does seem to be having a lot of fun in this role. Hopefully that will be showcased better in the future. In this opening episode, that largely amounts to flirting with girls, telling Graham off and vaguely describing his plans for the future to his actual account executive Roxanna. Most of those things are just alluding to the future. It's not as if Graham is going to stop pursuing his account. But next time, Graham will need to be much more impressive if he is going to take it away from the person that Brukner trusts more than anyone else in this world.

In fact, Graham seems out of his depth in a lot of ways in this opening episode. Outside of that first interaction with Davenport, he's no where close to actually earning the confidence he exudes. He fails to get the Brukner account. He strikes out with a couple of ladies. He's not as impressive as he thinks he is. He'll have to do more than just want this life in order to maintain it. That is suppose to make him endearing. He has done these questionable things in his past. But he's also fighting for the life he wants to be living. He has gotten out of that lifestyle in the pursuit of something better. But that old life is threatening to destroy what he has just built for himself. A former member of his crew shows up in New York City with a proposition for Graham that could unravel everything he has worked so hard for. It basically boils down to Graham missing the big auction of the episode just in order to help his former friend retrieve the artifact that has just arrived in the country. Unfortunately, that leads to a man's death. That's the moment where it's proven that Graham isn't that bad of a guy. He wants to do the right thing and get the man a doctor. But he is in the middle of doing a crime which could send him to jail and ruin his new life. So he doesn't stop his friend from murdering the security guard. But he's still horrified by it. That action will have major ramifications for Graham in the future though because a security camera likely caught the two walking into the building. That's an enticing prospect for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Heavy Lies the Head" was written by Chuck Rose and directed by Gary Fleder.
  • Graham's rival at the auction house who doesn't like how Graham carries himself with the clients is already too nerdy and annoying. He likes complaining about Graham and that's it. That character isn't going to work moving forward.
  • Graham also flirts with his boss' granddaughter - who feels adrift in life and doesn't know what she wants to do. He takes her away from the party for a little bit to give her some perspective. But even all of that flirtation doesn't do much to win her over. It's still a little annoying that she is seen as an interesting character simply because she isn't fooled by Graham's charms.
  • Graham had to exchange a favor with Brukner's assistant in order to get some face-to-face time with him. That didn't lead to much but now he's on the hook for a favor.
  • The sexual tension between Graham and Davenport is just way too weird to work. In fact, the show is very aggressive when it comes to making suggestion's about Davenport's sexual identity. That didn't make his character interesting in the slightest.
  • Brukner definitely has some political aspirations that are much bigger than just being a Governor or a Senator. That's why he insists jobs be an important part of his collection presentation.

As noted from previous series released all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.