Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Arcade Fire doesn't care about Black people Donnellys

Over the last couple years, a trend has developed which I have been wary of supporting. It's the practice by television shows of turning portions of their episodes (usually the final scenes each week) into music videos for bands looking to strike it big via TV soundtracks. When used correctly, it can turn out excellent. More often than not though, the practice inspires laziness among writers and strips away creativity when you can just order up another "montage of slow-dissolves featuring characters looking pensive while a Coldplay or Joseph Arthur song plays" sequence for three minutes. "The OC," which seemed to kick this practice into high gear, airs its final episode tonight. Presumably the finale will not contain a Death Cab for Cutie reference, but who can be sure?

Several months ago, one of my East Coast associates (who used to write for this blog before deciding he was too big to be a team player) showed me a DVD of NBC pilots. One of the pilots I watched was "The Black Donnellys," written and directed by Paul Haggis, the man behind "Crash" (a movie I absolutely hated, but clearly it got him some clout.) The pilot itself is quite good, providing all the exposition and subplot necessary to set up a series, and it's directed and shot better than any other show on network TV. The climax of the pilot has rattled in my head ever since - not so much for the content, but the manner in which the on-air vision worked perfectly with the song playing in the background, "Rebellion (Lies)" by The Arcade Fire. It's one of the best songs on one of the best albums I've heard in the past 10 years, and the way it worked within the scene was just magic. Again, usually I despise this practice, but this was the exception. It just worked here. From the time I watched the pilot, I had been anxiously awaiting the day that NBC finally pulled the debacle that was "Studio 60" in favor of "The Black Donnellys."

And now that day is upon is (or at least will be on Monday night) and yet my excitement has been severely tempered. The show is available to watch online, but when I checked out the final scene, the propulsive strings and driving percussion of "Rebellion (Lies)" was nowhere to be found.

The Arcade Fire had been replaced by Snow Patrol. Unbelievable. Is there any show on TV that hasn't used a Snow Patrol song? When the nuclear holocaust hits and the only things that survive are cockroaches, I have a sneaking suspicion those cockroaches will be singing "Chasing Cars." Apparently The Arcade Fire wouldn't clear the song, which is understandable based on the content of the scene, but it makes what was a truly epic sequence look much more ordinary by comparison.

I would still recommend "The Black Donnellys" as a show that (based on the pilot) has a lot going for it: The Irish mob in NYC, tremendous use of shadows and lighting, and "Smalls" from "The Sandlot" in a starring role, but its moment of magic has been left on the cutting room floor. Hopefully there will be another down the road.

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