'Random Acts of Flyness:' Learning a New Visual Language - Creative Planet Network
The HBO series "incorporates and commingles animation, documentary, confession, satire, music video, and magic-realist fantasia."

HBO's Random Acts of Flyness is described by creator Terence Nance as "a show about the beauty and ugliness of contemporary American life."

The show, writes Troy Patterson, "is an ineffably wonderful late-night variety show—an urgent collage of short films and sketches that incorporates and commingles animation, documentary, confession, satire, music video, and magic-realist fantasia." To read the full article, click here.

"Nance and his collaborators flutter through disparate visual forms and tones—stop-motion animation, colorful cartoons, glossy faux infomercials starring Jon Hamm, Afro-surrealism, trippy absurdism, and achingly humane realism—in order to interrogate modern blackness," says Angelica Jade Bastién.

"Each of the first season's six, half-hour episodes explores an array of modern social and political fault lines—gender nonconformity, sexual harassment and assault, police violence—in short segments that are brought to life using an even broader medley of cinematic techniques," says Reggie Ugwu.

"Over and over, a segment shifts tone abruptly, or a performer breaks character, as if the effort to maintain a persona is too great," adds James Poniewozik. "The effect is to keep the viewer off-balance, in a tenuous reality, where you—like the victims of violence the show references—could blink from ordinary slice-of-life existence into a horror story."

"Random Acts plays out in dreamlike sequences, cutting from segment to segment, from documentary to claymation to bilingual musical, oscillating between dark farce and fantasia," says Jason Parham. "The ever-shifting tropes destabilize the viewer; there’s no enlightenment to be mined from comfort alone. 

"The series is not so much a dive into the mind of black identity as much as it is an exodus out of the mind, dissonant and connected vignettes rendering the internal external, and in the process deciphering what Nance describes in the show's introduction as the 'beauty and ugliness of contemporary American life.' They are experiences and encounters granted the same deft elasticity we face in our daily lives—and to see them on screen can at times feel like a revelation, even if the poetry is not instantly clear."  To read the full article, click here.

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"Mr. Nance developed it with the help of a large group of collaborators, many of them fellow black writer-directors in New York," explains Ugwu. "In the writers room in Bedford-Stuyvesant, they identified shared points of interest—the absence of bisexual black men on television, backlogs of 'rape kits' at police departments, gun ownership among African-Americans—and ideas were organized into stories. 

"But Mr. Nance soon found that he was as interested in the dynamics within the group as he was in the issues being discussed."

"I think the show is a portrait of how we communicate with each other, how random it is but connected at the same time,' Nance tells Ugwu. "We're not journalists, we're not approaching this from a fair-minded or comprehensive perspective. But if the entry point instead is feelings and tonality and rhythm, then it can be about the lives of the people who are making it as opposed to, 'I want to talk about patriarchy.'" To read the full article, click here.

Doreen Garner, Terence Nance in 'Random Acts of Flyness'

Doreen Garner, Terence Nance in 'Random Acts of Flyness'

"Nance uses the textures of media technology—evocations of analog glitches and antiquated playback devices—to convey the processes of developing thoughts and to disturb conventional flows of information," Patterson explains. "He uses test-card color bars, sizzles of radio static, and laugh tracks that jeer like mobs to gain texture.

"There's a black-and-white multi-speed short film, documentary footage of police brutality, some terrifying cable-access fuzz, an impressively metatextual pharmaceutical commercial that meets abstract animation head-on, and stop-motion dating experiences grown out of a talk show," writes Jacob Oller. "If you think that sounds like a lot, I didn't even get to everything in the first half-hour episode."

"I kind of configured the show as not having a format," Nance tells Lauren Sarner. "It has episodes, but there isn't a goal from our perspective in terms of how the experience should be structured — so it's kind of post-form.

"As we were making the show, we just tried to embrace the most fully realized articulation of any idea that came up," Nance says. "It meant we had to engage all the ways you could articulate something. That's why there are so many different types of media." To read the full interview, click here.

The ways the show delivers its messages, Oller concludes, "are as varied as a boxer looking for weaknesses in his opponent's defenses. If this doesn't hit you, does this? If this doesn't fully connect—you still think this is only a joke—let's move to a different approach. And if [it] doesn't, Nance has something else up his sleeve that will." To read the full article, click here.

'Random Acts of Flyness'

'Random Acts of Flyness'

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