Somebody's always watching. That's the simple hook of "LOOK" -- both the Showtime series in question and the 2007 film that inspired it, which are comprised solely of footage from "existing" cameras (security and surveillance cameras, dash cams, cell phone cameras, camcorders). From these perspectives, director/writer Adam Rifkin catches his characters at their worst, and a general sense of the way technology has turned life into the 21st century voyeuristic; it's an imperfect but entertaining alternative to reality television.
The easiest criticism to direct at "LOOK" is that it simply doesn't have much to say about its twist on the "found footage" format. It's a fair complaint: Rifkin doesn't have much interest in making a statement or offer any opinion about the omnipresence of recording devices (or if he does, it's been diluted and lost). More than a few elements of "cheating" are also necessary for the series to exist: most surveillance cameras don't record sound (or even record at all), and many characters here allow personal devices (like webcams) to remain on for no reason in order for scenes to play out in front of some sort of camera. One character even carries a camcorder around, a minor leap of faith that Rifkin managed to avoid relying on in the feature but can't get around here. Some viewers may even be upset that the show is fictional -- these are actors playing characters from a script written by Rifkin, not actual surveillance footage.
Nonetheless, the combination of the show's style and subject matter are still a perfect match, deftly combining the appeal of "people-watching" with the psychological effect the show's cinematography has on the viewer. Reality television and the internet have turned "hidden camera" footage into an everyday occurrence, and "LOOK" plays off the viewer's comfort with the format to create a more compelling illusion of reality. Although the occasional dramatic beat is accompanied by an awkward, unnecessary zoom or freeze-frame, directorial intrusion is kept to a minimum, relieving the show of some of the suspension of disbelief that would come with a standard drama. Even with the knowledge that the show is fiction or even recognizing the actors, it's still easy to think of it as real.
Rifkin's strongest suit is character, and he provides plenty. Although characters like coked-out, cheating, upper-class housewife Stella (Claudia Christian) and teenage terror Hannah (Sharon Hinnendael) are awful on an almost cartoonish level, the nature of the show grounds them to the point where watching them behave badly is addicting, if only to see what terrible thing they'll do next. They're balanced out by more sympathetic characters like Dan the Weatherman (Robert Curtis Brown) and Lenny, Stella's put-upon, frustrated lawyer husband. Rifkin also brings back Willie Gaines (Giuseppe Andrews) and his dim-bulb friend Carl (Miles Dougal), the best characters from the film, for more amusing musical hijinks in the convenience store where they both work. A crack-addicted homeless man (Trevor Torseth) and a mysterious cab driver (Richard Speight, Jr.) pop up as complete wild cards.
Over the course of eleven episodes, Rifkin and editor Martin Apelbaum do a good job of juggling their plotlines. It's rare that a scene will drag on past the peak of interest before switching to something else (the rare times this occurs are usually musical montages), and although the show has at least a couple of threads that could probably have been excised completely (an infrequent one with a card shark jumps to mind, as well as extraneous but fun material with a bunch of mall security guards), none of them end up being a weight or a burden. The one complaint I'd lodge regarding the writing is the near lack of sympathetic roles for women (Rifkin's nicest female character is Molly, who still takes part in a chunk of cruelty and rudeness), but then again, bad behavior is all part of the appeal.
"Exploitative" is the word that comes to mind looking at the art: there's not nearly as much dressing room/toilet footage in the show as there is plastered on the DVD case (even if there is a whole slew of nudity). The case is an ECO-case (the kind with holes in it), the discs sit on each side of the case as opposed to using a flap tray, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Sticking to the motif of the show, this 1.78:1 transfer and 2.0 English audio are strictly no frills. The show is meant to look like security cam footage, and so there's not really much one can do to assess the frequently staticky, low-res, blurry, burned-out, and even wobbly images presented on the disc, other than to say it all appears to be faithful to the intended look of the show. The only moments that stood out to me as potentially unusual are the few shots captured from the convenience store's ATM camera, which are ridiculously blown out, with wildly extreme tinting of yellows and reds. Given that it's one camera in the whole show, though, I'm leaning towards it being a purposeful "quirk." Music is present but often kept to a minimum other than the title and credit sequences, dialogue is clear and audible with basically no "surround" activity to speak of. English subtitles are provided.
I was engrossed by LOOK as a film, but I think the television format fits the show even better. It's an intriguing, entertaining little experiment that sets itself apart visually from other dramas, and Rifkin's unusual sense of humor shines through. It may not turn its style into some sort of overarching social or technological commentary, but it still effectively uses its technique to keep the viewer interested in its cast of oddball characters. Recommended.
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