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December 11, 2019
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Review of Czech Television's serial "Lynch": The road to hell is paved with good intentions

21.12.2018 6:58
Marsell Bendig, Janek Gregor and Zuzana Stivínová in the Czech public television drama series
Marsell Bendig, Janek Gregor and Zuzana Stivínová in the Czech public television drama series "Lynch", about the murder of a young Romani man. (PHOTO: Czech Television, 2018)

Last week the public station Czech Television (ČT1) broadcast the final episode of its new, eight-episode miniseries "Lynch", and according to the tabloid Blesk, viewers have been disappointed by the project, which is unique in many respects. Let's leave aside for now the fact that the level of the production did slightly increase when it was time for the denouement, and that the producers did almost manage to fulfill the requirements of the crime-solving genre in the end, which is what the miniseries claimed to be.

What were the failings and successes of "Lynch"? The central pitfall of the drama, which unfolds in a small town in northern Bohemia and revolves around the racially-motivated murder of a local Romani man, Denis (played by Jan Cina), consists of the genre chosen for it: The effort to forcibly combine a high-quality detective story with a social drama featuring psychological elements ended up creating a strange hybrid, despite the fact that the entire project was produced under the auspices of the seasoned American screenwriter Harold Apter.

A screenplay full of holes and unconvincing performances are the biggest weaknesses of the enterprise, and they cannot be primarily blamed on the students and recent graduates of the film schools in Brno, Prague and Zlín who are making their debut hre under Apter's leadership. In the first place, all the actors alternate between being robotic automatons without any emotions who suddenly burst into exalted hysterics.

The authors of the story told us before the series was broadcast that none of the characters would be black-and-white and that all of them would be a bit to blame for something, but the character of the detective Lukáš (played by Matěj Anděl) is psychologically absolutely flat - despite his use of the occasional cigarette. The character of Líba Joklová (played by Tereza Vilišová), the wife of the jaded, racist Vice-Mayor Jokl, speaks in literary Czech even during tense situations, which reduces her sympathetic character role to that of an uptight snob.

The main antagonist, the murderer Pavel (played by Janek Gregor) is so evil through and through as to be a caricature. The worst characters, though, are Klaus and Franz (Ladislav Hampl and Ondřej Nosálek), the engineers of this evil - who are from neighboring Germany.

Those characters feed off of homophobic stereotypes, and their unnecessary cruelty lacks any rational basis. Be that as it may, the crime-solving genre does win out in the end and manages to hold up fairly well, dramaturgically speaking.

We might even dare say that the last two episodes of the miniseries are relatively exciting. The unconvincing efforts at psychologizing, and the begrudging performances by tried-and true stars such as Zuzana Stivínová (playing Stránská), Jiří Dvořák (playing Jokl) and Pavel Kříž (playing Svoboda) are made up for by the performance of the Romani actor Jan Cina (just in episode eight) and primarily by the untrained Marsell Bendig, who plays the brother of Denis and who manages to impart a kind of authenticity and credibility to the series all on his own.

We should also welcome Czech Television taking the brave step of going against the grain of the consensus racism that prevails here by offering a program about such armchair intolerance and mockery. The problem is in how the subject is raised.

We might suspect that fans of "Code Blue" (on commercial station TV Prima) and "The Specialists" (on commercial station TV Nova), which earned much higher ratings during the same broadcasting slot, would probably never have changed the channel to watch a series "about Gypsies", but for the public broadcaster's usual target audience, the bar of "Lynch" was set too low. It is exactly this underestimation of the audience that probably worked against the producers the most.

Public television viewers do not want to be educated and mentored, they do not want to hear time-worn phrases like "I'm not a racist, but..." - rather, they were hoping for a full-fledged drama that would have shed light on the motivations of the average Czech racist and xenophobe, and they longed for a confrontation in which that racist would be forced to reassess what ostensibly are his firm beliefs. Paradoxically, each episode of "Lynch" on ČT1's Monday programming was followed by a re-run of the satirical series "The Gnome" (Trpaslík) from 2017, produced by the duo of Petr Kolečko and Jan Prušinovský.

That vulgar, 100 % politically incorrect fairytale farce, in which the weak know-it-alls of a small town fulfill their selfish dreams with the aid of a magical plaster statue, tells us more about the Czech national character than managed to be forced into the deadly serious "Lynch". When, in the opening episode of "The Dwarf", a lover of hip-hop, the teenage son of the Staňkový family, is turned into a black man, it initiates a series of gags in which his father laments the transformation by saying "But we're all racists here!", while at school the boy is put on the basketball team (although he is absolutely no good at it) and his hip-hop gestures suddenly are seen as the best in the entire school.

This kind of crazy hyperbole works, in the final result, much better than the racist banalities of the character of Jokl, Sr in "Lynch". Who knows what viewers will have to look forward to in January 2019, when the same creative duo who made "The Dwarf" launches their new series, "Most!", which dedicates itself to racism and xenophobia in an absolutely programmatic way.

Harold Apter and Czech Television wanted to lance that painful ulcer and bring a social subject matter to the table that people are anxious to avoid, but what they have demonstrated is that good intentions in such an effort are not enough. In the dramatic arts a too-ostentatious attempt to "do good" makes us smile, or in the worst-case scenario, laugh.

Viewers need to be offered either a strong human story they are able to identify with or an intelligent, refined entertainment that forces them to think. The road to hell in this case has been paved by description and didactics.

Karolina Ryvolová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Česká televize, Recenze, Seriály, Severní



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