When did concepts become so elaborate? What was the success of “Friends” based on? A great cast and funny zingers. “Mad Men” became a phenomenon because of its stylish storytelling, not because it had a labyrinthine plot. To see how well simplicity plays, look at CBS’ lineup. With the exception of “The Good Wife,” there’s not a complication in sight that can’t be solved in an hour with the use of acronyms.
So it is perplexing that new series gingerly pick their way past the rotting carcasses of “The Event,” “The Nine,” and “Revenge” to create their own overly elaborate series. Which brings us to Crackle’s time-to-throw-our-hat-into-the-original-content-ring offering “The Art of More.” What the series is about depends on whom you ask. Some would say that it’s a drama about the behind-the-scenes machinations of New York’s major auction houses. Others would say it’s a thriller about a former soldier in Iraq who parlayed a life of looting antiquities into a career at a prestigious auction house. Ask another person, and she’d say the series is about Kate Bosworth‘s icy Roxanna, perpetually diminished by the mediocre men surrounding her at prestigious auction houses. Or maybe it’s an attempt at a piercing look at the class structure that still invisibly governs New York City?
Unfortunately the series is all of those, with a few other bits tossed in — like Cary Elwes and Dennis Quaid‘s wealthy collectors, mostly there to pit the auctioneers against one another and to chew up some scenery. As a result the episodes all have a dizzying, kaleidoscopic feel to them. You’re happily (or perhaps unhappily) watching what you believe to be the series, and the ground shifts abruptly with a flashback or a sudden cut to another character and you’re watching not only a different show but a different genre. Christian Cooke’s former soldier, Graham Connor, is ostensibly our guide into this rarefied world, but he’s more of a smartass writer’s concept of a character than a real person. He has an unerringly correct way of reading minutiae and doing copious amounts of research that allows him almost preternatural powers of persuasion. Just how exactly he came to be this precise (yet with a just right amount of sexy scruff and a rough-around-the-edges New Yawk accent that belies his Windsor knots) is left hazy; glimpses of his home life and ne’er-do-well brother just emphasize the chasm that he has crossed in terms of social strata.
That leap does not go unnoticed in his new career, where Elwes’ Arthur Davenport takes Connor under his wing to coach him in the ways of the upper classes. Why he doesn’t go the full Henry Higgins route and sand off Connor’s accent is another question; perhaps the accent is meant to convey to the audience that, hey, we may all be sitting around watching these rich people argue about art on Crackle, but Connor’s just one of us.
Except no one is one of us on “The Art of More.” Connor doesn’t just work hard to get where he is; he uses his knowledge of looted treasures to blackmail Arthur into aiding him–and then is forced back into his former ring of looters, thus putting at risk his entire new life and his genuine love of art! Meanwhile, there’s Bosworth, throwing glacial glares and selling her soul to impress her father and compete with upstart Connor, giving a beautifully restrained, imminently watchable performance that conveys depths with very little. Too bad there’s not more of her and less of everything else.
“The Art of More” premieres Thursday, No. 19 on Crackle.