The Ballad of Sheriff Punch is a simple show, but a damn enjoyable one. It follows the titular sheriff as he successfully enforces the law by breaking it, mostly with his fists. The story isn’t terribly important; it’s just the skeleton on which hangs an awful lot of gratuitous sex and violence. That may not sound like your thing, but trust me: it’s the best sex and violence on television.
In the first five minutes of the show- and before we get even a line of dialogue- our hero bangs a stranger, has a gunfight in broad daylight that eventually escalates to the point there’s a double-decker bus careening sideways through the street- and steals both a car and a motorcycle. Before too much longer he’s killed a man with an A-1 bottle. It’s that kind of show.
It really picks up, though, in the third episode. The first two exist mostly to get us to that point, getting the plot in place and making sure we understand that in pretty much any situation involving a bad guy, Sheriff Punch would prefer to resolve it by punching that bad guy until they stop doing bad things. By the time the third episode shows up, we get it.
A famous Floyd Mayweather-esque MMA fighter comes to town. He meets Sheriff Punch early on, and it’s very clear that Sheriff Punch could not be less concerned that our new friend is a world-class professional fighter, and would very much like to punch him. But he can’t, ‘cause he hasn’t committed any crimes yet. Then he commits some crimes. Sheriff Punch shows up to arrest him, along with Deputy Nightstick (more on her in a bit).
Sheriff Punch does not arrest him. Sherrif Punch punches him. He punches Sheriff Punch. They go on like that for some time in one of the most brutal, visceral, and just plain long fight scenes you’ll see on the small screen. It’s spectacular, and it’s a show that knows exactly what it is, and how to be the best version of what it is.
The show kicks into an even higher gear as it goes, eventually allowing most of the Sheriff’s supporting cast- or as I like to call them, the Punchin’ Bunch- in on the fun. The Punchin’ Bunch is mostly made up of the following:
*Lady Punch- The Sheriff’s old (and sometimes current) partner, she’s slower to resort to punching, but seems to relish it even more than the Sheriff does when she gets in on the act.
*Deputy Nightstick- The lone female deputy working for our sheriff, she’s a pretty willing puncher, though she prefers to use guns, nightsticks, or in one memorable case, a Bible.
*Deputy Linebacker- A former football star turned ass-kicking cop, Deputy Linebacker is a hulking gentle giant who becomes much less gentle when the time comes for punching and/or blasting jerks with a shotgun.
* Deputy Cranky- He thought he was going to be the new sheriff before Punch stole his job, but he’s still game for a big dumb strip-club shootout at least once a season or so. Also, he’s hilarious.
* spoiler redacted awesome hacker character I’m really not doing justice with that description
* Ex-con Barkeep- Once, he punched professionally. Now, he punches socially. He also pours drinks for the various other punchers in the bunch.
The rest of the town is similarly badass- a local Amish girl successfully knife-fights a Hell’s Angel in an early episode- and the show exists mostly as an excuse for all these incredibly talented violent people to perform incredibly talented violence upon one another, or failing that, to fuck each others’ brains out. Fortunately, that violence is the most well-choreographed on television (even above Daredevil) and that fuckin’ is sexy enough without devolving into pornographic detail.
Ultimately, The Ballad of Sheriff Punch is all style, but it’s style that’s 100% worth your time. If you like action, nudity, and next-level fight choreography, you can’t do any better.
Identity is one of the most psychologically exhausting shows out there, but I mean that as a compliment. Obsessed with its title premise, the past, and the human capacity- or lack thereof- for change, Identity is as character and theme-driven an experience as you’ll ever have on television.
The story starts with a reunion between two people who used to mean a lot to each other, but haven’t seen one another in a long time. Are they still who they were? Could they be again? What are they to each other now if not what they used to be? The first question has a fairly easy answer that one of them doesn’t want to hear, but they’ll spend a long time pondering the others.
That relationship is one of many the show investigates, but it’s usually more concerned with the contrast within each of its characters. The devoutly religious criminal, the beaten spouse who finds empowerment in becoming a cop, the doting father robbed of his daughter, the adventurous young woman whose sexual appetite clashes with everything else about her… these people, and others, find themselves alternately running from, seeking, or trying to reconcile their past selves; there’s much discussion over how possible any of that is, and the show takes its time before really picking a side on that debate.
People can change, but they can’t change back, Identity says, and that’s a terrifying prospect for a lot of them. At the same time, every action has consequences, and as in life, your past never disappears. Identity is atypical as a drama in that every conflict, even once resolved, continues to echo and resonate through subsequent episodes and seasons. Too often in serialized television, someone will “learn” or “change” over the course of an episode, before ultimately reverting to their normal, comfortable self in time for the next week’s show; not so on Identity. No change is walked back- in fact, attempts to do so are usually the most fiercely punished by the show’s grim morality- and no development ignored. These people will live, for however long they live, with the consequences of every choice they’ve made.
This kind of storytelling enables Identity to evolve its characters and its relationships further and faster than its competition; the sort of character development that might take a season’s worth of repetition and foreshadowing on Breaking Bad or Mad Men or whatever other prestige drama you choose to compare it to can happen in an episode or two, and Identity’s characters are less likely to backslide to factory settings later on. It also empowers the show to absolutely devastate you with small moments; last week's episode broke my heart with a scene about one character deciding where to stay after his old domicile had a pest problem. Absolutely crushing, dialogue-less character work, made possible by how seriously this show takes emotions and consequences.
Interestingly, the only character that’s really comfortable with himself in the entire show is the one whose identity a crappier show would make a huge dramatic kerfuffle over. He’s a transvestite, and like everyone else, has a past. Unlike everyone else, he became exactly who he wanted to, and is wholly himself. His past, like everyone else’s, can and does threaten his status quo and the life he’s built for himself, but unlike everyone else it can’t make him doubt who he’s become. This is some pretty inspired- and even, dare I say it, important- thematic work, and it’s the sort of messaging I wish more shows would use their platforms for. Nobody makes a big deal out of his queerness,* it’s just a part of who he is, and who he is awesome.
*I use the word very loosely here; his sexuality as it pertains to anything beyond his wardrobe isn’t really touched on. A case could be made that that in itself is a problem, but he’s far from the only supporting character to go without a sexual or romantic subplot, so I’m inclined to forgive them… on the other hand, how hard is it really to throw in a scene here or there? Suffice it to say that while great overall, Identity could stand to be better about queer inclusion.
Ultimately, Identity is a show that is a show not horribly concerned with “what” so much as “what it means.” Everything has an impact, everything matters, and every character that forgets that pays for it. Identity often feels like a world run by a rigid moralistic god that plays by the agreed upon rules, but is absolutely merciless in enforcing them. And that’s good television.
Have you guessed which two shows I was actually talking about?
The Ballad of Sheriff Punch is actually Banshee.
Identity is also actually Banshee.
It’s probably my favorite show going right now, and on paper it really shouldn’t work as well as it does. At the risk of pretension, there's a Lawrence Durell quote that applies here, and might serve as a pithy explanation of why it all works so well:
"It's only with great vulgarity that you can achieve real refinement, only out of bawdy that you can get tenderness."
That's Banshee in a nutshell. It's violent, crass, and excessive at every turn, and all the more poignant, brilliant, and crushing for it.
I’ll likely have a few more posts about it as its final season winds down, but for now just know that it’s a show that somehow manages to be both an exercise in cartoonish violent excess, and a deeply personal character piece that will alternately thrill you and claw your heart out. Highest recommendation, though the violence may be a deal breaker for some.
Banshee airs Friday nights on Cinemax, and the first three seasons are available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
If you’d like to read character driven violence, that’s often Mina’s stock and trade. Click here to check her out.