By Petr Navovy | TV | September 7, 2022 |
By Petr Navovy | TV | September 7, 2022 |
I have a tough time watching TV shows these days. Finishing up Better Call Saul I found myself quite emotional, not only because of the arc of the story but because it felt like the severing of the last link to a time when I actually watched and appreciated TV. Saul started way back in 2015, and I remember watching quite a lot of TV back then, but bit by bit it all just fell away. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think there’s anything good out now. I know there’s an embarrassment of riches out there. I just can’t convince myself to watch any of it. It always feels like a huge time commitment, and I find myself sticking to films as a result. Good old cinema—compact stories that have a defined beginning and end (not talking about you, MCU). I’ve tried a number of shows in the last few years, and I always nope out by the end of the first episode, if not before then. (Actually, now I think about it, in terms of recent-ish shows, Barry is the exception that proves the rule, but never mind that for now, my point still stands).
You can imagine my surprise then, when—tired and aimlessly clicking through Netflix one weeknight before going to bed—I clicked on a show that I remembered a good friend recommending to me, and instead of calling it quits like I usually do I felt a feeling come over me that I thought long gone extinct: ‘Holy sh*t, what is this?! I love this! How can I get as much of this as quickly as possible?’ That show was Tear Along the Dotted Line (Strappare lungo i bordi in its original Italian), an animated, six-part story written and directed by cartoonist Zerocalcare (real name Michele Rech) which blindsided me completely with how much it spoke to me with its perspective on life, friendship, and politics, and with how impressed I was with its visual invention and use of the form. I was hooked before the first scene finished and I tore through all the episodes immediately, hoovering them up like they were set to be deleted from the internet the next day. As it happens, the show actually came out in November 2021, so this review is anything but timely, but I enjoyed it so much that I felt the need to share the love regardless.
Tear Along the Dotted Line follows Zerocalcare’s avatar, Zero, a cartoonist in his late 30s riddled with anxiety and social awkwardness, as he recounts memories from his life and gives his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects while embarking on a train trip from Rome to the smaller city of Biella with his friends Sarah and Secco. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes long and every one of them flies by at a speed that’s nearly comparable to Zero’s rapid-fire monologue. If you were to draw a pie chart to analyse the show’s content, roughly eighty percent would be taking place either in the past through Zero’s recollections or in Zero’s mind as he holds forth on subjects ranging from public toilets to the air conditioning on trains to worries over students you tutor becoming neo-Nazis. The remaining twenty percent would be the story’s present-day plot—the reason that Zero is narrating everything in the first place. If that sounds like a strange or unwelcome ratio then rest assured that it’s all either relevant to that plot or it tells us more about Zero and his friends—or it’s just damn funny. Often, it’s all three.
The show moves so incredibly quickly and is so jam-packed with ideas both conceptual and visual that there were a few times I actually had to pause and go back ten seconds just to remind myself which particular fork in the almost-stream-of-consciousness discursive torrent we’d just gone down. I emphatically mean this is as a compliment. Tear Along the Dotted Line gives you a lot to chew on. It’s also absolutely gorgeous, with a unique and identifiable visual style that clearly marks it out as the work of an individual and the result of a personal vision, which puts it in stark contrast against that anonymous Netflix house style that so many animated shows on the streaming platform seem to adopt. Where those things are flat, bereft of life, and frankly often quite ugly, Tear Along the Dotted Line explodes with colour, perspective, and personality, its visuals taking cue from and feeding into Zero’s frequently surreal and hyperbolic tirades. It’s true that I watch hardly any TV these days, but even when I did, I rarely watched animated shows. I’m not sure why. Tear Along the Dotted Line makes me want to seek out more, as the stuff that happens here is only possible in animation. I’m not sure where else I could see a monologue about the challenges of keeping a flat tidy come to life in a visual analogy that included a Game Of Thrones-style map, a demonstration of the punishment that follows the ‘middle class hubris’ (fuc*ing lol) of turning a spare room into a study, and a post-apocalyptic society recovering from the authoritarian prohibition of music via the discovery of a toy robot dog that can fart the Für Elise.
If Tear Along the Dotted Line was just a demonstration of verbal wit and visual splendour it would already be worth recommending, but it’s the heart that beats at its core that has rocketed it so high up in my estimations. There is a lot of heart here, with the script absolutely packed with regret, longing, melancholy, friendship, nostalgia, love, and humour—and it spoke to me in very intense ways. I laughed out loud a lot during these six episodes. That’s not a thing that happens often. I also felt tears coming to my eyes by the time the final credits rolled. That happens even less. I’ll probably watch it all from the start again next week. What a show.