Saturday, November 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Art of More' - Graham Struggles With His Recent Trauma as He Tries to Sell the Statue in 'Whodunnit'

Crackle's The Art of More - Episode 1.02 "Whodunnit"

A rock memorabilia auction is jeopardized when a Pete Townshend artifact is stolen. Two more smugglers from Graham's past arrive in New York, luring him back into the smuggling business. Roxanna Whitman, Graham's rival, signs a priceless art collection, only to find out it is not what it seems.

The big twist at the end of the series premiere of The Art of More showed that Graham really isn't as bad as he initially seems. It was still a traumatic experience for him when his old smuggling colleague, Hassan, killed a security guard who interrupted their retrieval of a precious artifact. That point is still made in "Whodunnit." That death is still affecting Graham. He is having nightmares about that moment. And yet, it doesn't seem to be affecting his ability to do his job. At first, it makes him want to stay as far away from Hassan as possible. Hassan really doesn't have any clue what to do with the statue now that it is in the country. But it's also very weird that Graham isn't all that concerned about what has happened to the body of the security guard. He's still traumatized from that night. But he's still pretty calm and collected after just leaving the body there for the police to find.

All of that is allowed to happen in order to have the scene where Graham is in the police station carry more weight. He's there for completely unrelated reasons. Those reasons never complicate the story after that part too. So, Graham really only ends up at the police station for a little bit so that he can see the board that details the entire investigation into the security guard's death. That is very convenient. He promptly freaks out. He needs to help get rid of this statue now because the stakes are incredibly higher than they were before. Sure, the security camera photo isn't that damning. It's a pretty low quality picture. But it's enough to get Graham tense. That forces him into action. He returns to Hassan with a buyer for all the artifacts they currently have. Things become more complicated by the sudden and unexpected arrival of the two other men from their former art smuggling operation. Those two really don't have any personalities at all. They question why Graham wants to help them and want service he can provide. But it's really not that interesting at all.

In fact, the stolen artifacts are only relevant to the ongoing story because Graham uses them in order to get in with Sam Brukner. The tension amongst the smuggling group is an important detail for the future. But it largely falls flat in the moment because of how unremarkable those three characters are. On the other side of things, Brukner is a fascinating character. He is the target that everyone is trying to obtain. His collection is valuable to both Graham and Roxanna. It is their ticket to a better life at both of their firms. Brukner made assurances to Roxanna that his account was hers. Sure, she only had to sleep with him to do that. But she is still pretty confident that she'll win even though Brukner keeps stalling. Graham is the underdog in this situation who really hasn't impressed Brukner all that much. Brukner is a wise and capable businessman. Graham is still very naive in this world. Graham truly thinks that Brukner buying the famed statue from him also means he has landed his account for the auction house. It does not. In fact, that makes Graham look quite foolish for even thinking that. He needs to do more than bring just one statue to Brukner. And thus, Graham recommits to the smuggling operation in the hopes of it being the thing that will eventually win over Brukner. It's a complicated situation that can go wrong any number of ways. But it's really the only play that Graham sees for himself right now.

This episode also spends a bit more time on Roxanna. She is fleshed out more as a character. Graham mentioned that she was the daughter of the head of her auction house. Brukner boasted that she was confident and strong enough to stand out even without that distinction. And yet, this episode shows that she is still just fighting to be recognized in her family business. She has tension with her father and her brother-in-law. Her father has just had a heart attack but wants to know when she is finally going to hit a home run for the business. Her brother-in-law has a much stronger relationship at the firm despite Roxanna not being able to stand him. He is just smug and pompous. At times, it feels like the show is going for a story about gender discrimination. The men of the company have trust and are carefree while Roxanna has to fight and prove to them that she actually did something very impressive. She does prove herself to be a very cunning woman when it comes to signing an even more impressive client than Brukner. But even that decision is met with more questions. She used some questionable tactics just to get him to sign. And then, that action only ended up creating more problems for her. Her family and Brukner questioned her ability to land such an account and then it's revealed that the collection is no where near as impressive as all the gossip said it was. It's a crushing defeat for Roxanna which makes her a tad bit more relatable than the character that was introduced in the premiere.

The Art of More also seems to be embracing a case-of-the-week narrative. Yes, there are many ongoing plot threads that largely inform the various characters. But there is also a small story that remains largely in the background that establishes this as a show that have an auction for a big ticket item every episode. In this case, it's an envelope with famous lyrics written by Pete Townshend of The Who. It's the story that introduces this episode as it flashes back to 1969 to show just how this item got acquired in the first place. But it's also a completely lackluster story. It's the reason why Graham ends up at the police station. The item goes missing and he has to answer the detective's questions. The police never do anything about it afterwards. Graham is still the person who tracks down this item. But the person who stole it - the guest piano player who sold it in the first place for just $200 - ends up destroying it because of a really careless mistake that Graham makes. But then, Graham doesn't have to deal with any kind of consequences. He's not in trouble for retrieving this item only for it to get destroyed in the process. In fact, this story does nothing for his character. It just exists for that one moment in the police station. That's it. Though it also shows that Graham is still capable of being a violent man when he is upset enough. But that had already been made clear. So it just felt increasingly unnecessary.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Whodunnit" was written by Chuck Rose & Gardner Stern and directed by Gary Fleder.
  • Davenport doesn't do much in this episode except for telling Graham that he needs to do a much better job of handling the Hassan problem. But it's also revealed that he has macular degeneration. Though that doesn't lead to much either.
  • That moment where Brukner confronts Roxanna over her signing the other art collection was very weird. Roxanna was right to point out the hypocrisy of his reaction. But it largely just showcases that the two of them are drifting apart - which could have been said without the literal words of both being too busy to have dinner together any time soon.
  • Graham's flirtatious relationship with his boss' granddaughter is starting to become very formulaic. He says all the right things and then she just does whatever he asks. She exists solely to serve him. She doesn't even have a relationship with her grandfather at this point. It's just weird.
  • The other executive who is so angry at Graham for going off book with his handling of Brukner is still very annoying.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, 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.