The Continuing Adventures of Quibble and Quant
by Mary Chino Cherry
Cable TV's continued domination of the entertainment world, represented by our national obsessions with grown-up fare such as Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, is widely viewed as an indication that, as a medium, television has (finally) grown up. Or, perhaps, it's more an indication that it is (finally) OK for serious grown ups to like television.
One need to look no further than the way that National Public Radio has shifted from talk of books and from classical music programming to earnest consideration of almost everything on HBO. Consider WHYY's Fresh Air program, which has turned over nearly all of its air time to interviewing the writers, actors, and producers of Orange is the New Black and The Wire.
If cultural critics are reading this correctly, cable TV is the new literature. There is little doubt then, that the novel, while still “a thing,” is no longer considered the pinnacle of the narrative form, and its place will certainly be relegated to that of poetry: an arcane art kept alive by those few who themselves indulge in it and by the mediocre trickles of funding from annoyed university functionaries and sentimental fools sitting stupidly on local arts councils.
Witness the success, for example, of Drama Network America's series The Continuing Adventures of Quibble and Quant, now entering its fifth season.
Based on a popular British series of the same name, DNA's Quibble and Quant (known affectionately as “2Q” to its fans—with “DoU2Q?” appearing on Facebook memes and t-shirts in recent years) stars David Gibbett as Quibble, a combative, womanizing stockbroker of deeply English tastes. Quibble is often seen washing down meals of potatoes and pot roast with porters and sherries. He is featured against backgrounds of much wainscoting talking up the Tories. Gibbett's slightly grayish tinge and occasionally quivering jowls make him the perfect Quibble: had his family not traded stocks, he would have certainly become a barrister. He wins all arguments with normal humans by delivering a font of details propelled forth by a stream of pure umbrage.
However, his quaint Tory sensibilities have little prepared him for the new world of international finance, and through a forced merger between his family's firm and an up-and-coming Wall Street outfit, Quibble finds himself improbably paired up with the bloodless Quant. As played by Vytaux Gibé, Quant is ruthless, distant, and perfectly coiffed. Outwardly fey, this brilliant analyst, nefarious and quietly Viennese, slowly reveals a libertarian streak that borders on the anarchic as the series progresses. We begin in season one believing that Quibble's main problem is going to be keeping his family firm afloat through the financial crisis, but by season four, we realize that his big problem is probably Quant.
Among the nuances the show explores is the idea that we must keep our friends close but our enemies closer. As Quibble's notion of what it means to be a broker begins to include collateralized debt obligations and the “capture” of legislators and politicians, we see his grip on all the old, cozy Britishisms begin to fail: faith and family, country and Queen dissolve into mere slogans and resolve into barriers to the only goal: getting more money by whatever means reveal themselves. A conversation between Quibble and his long-suffering wife, Maeve, (played by Kate Hillengaal) in which he begins with an attempt to confess his dalliance in Basel with an economist from Hong Kong devolves into the realization that he can never actually be honest with her about the real reason he went to Basel to begin with:
MAEVE: You said you have something to tell me.
QUIBBLE: It's about Basel. I--
MAEVE: Listen, Quibble, dear. I think I know. I've read the papers. I've seen the articles on Bloomberg. It's about the Leviathan.
QUIBBLE: The wha--?
MAEVE: The Basel Leviathan. I know all about the $600 billion in bad trades. Laundering the money of the Russian wife merchants. You don't need to tell me that Quibble and Co. wasn't neck deep in it, dear.
QUIBBLE: Maeve, dear, you wouldn't seriously think--
MAEVE: Darling, the entire EU economy is at risk!
QUIBBLE (terse, his jowls now calm): Of course not, dear. Those liberal papers are merely alarmist and against free trade. This so-called “Leviathan” was merely a consultant, and independent agent. All he did was erroneously calculate a few numbers. (Pause.) In our favour.
MAEVE: Excuse me, dear, but isn't that what Quant is for?
The scene ends with a close-up of Quibble's smart phone, which Quant has hacked, enabling him to record the entire conversation.
As popular among American reviewers, of course, and in particular among the likes of Terry Gross, have been the characters of Martin and Johnny Fuhkwitz, a father-and-son team of oilmen-turned political operatives played by real-life father-and-son Charlie and Martin Breen.
Johnny Fuhkwitz rides into the Senate with the backing of a Tea Party-like movement bankrolled by his father, Martin, and quite literally on a horse from the family's west Texas ranch, solidifying the family's outside-the-Beltway bona fides. Almost instantly, and with the backing of the Fuhkwitz family name, the Junior Senator from Texas finds himself embroiled in the business of budgets and bailouts, and into the arms of one Honi Potts (played by the inevitable and insatiable Tartlett Ho-Janzen). Potts is ostensibly an executive with Ruben Mordant's Ground News Network, but as season five opens we see her exiting Quant's Georgetown apartment, buttoning her low-cut blouse.
As is typical of 2Q's following, the Internet exploded almost the instant this scene aired. Interestingly, the plot-point was not the main controversy; online observers who are obsessed with The Continuing Adventures of Quibble and Quant were all over the leitmotif, with #whytheblueblouse trending strongly for days afterward.
Producers of the program, DNA spokespeople, and the show's creator and head writer, Ima McCoy, give few clues about the significance (or lack thereof) of this and other seemingly offhand details, happy to let the online debate rage, the conspiracy theories flourish (are the Fuhkwitz clan the driving force behind the New World Order?), and the ratings soar.
McCoy has been particularly evasive about the show's meaning, having herself been a stock analyst with the Anglo-American firm Weezix and Wine in the heady financial boom times of the 2000s. Asked point blank in an interview on Fresh Air whether or not any parts of the show are autobiographical, McCoy responded with her typical blend of flirtatiousness and indirection: “I wrote it about you Terry. I wrote it while thinking of you.”
If serious television drama such as The Continuing Adventures of Quibble and Quant, House of Cads, and The Hashtag Millionaires have done nothing else, they have brought together people for “watercooler” discussions (usually via social media these days) that have not been witnessed since the heyday of Seinfeld in the 1990s. We may speculate about what drives our obsessions with these shows: what of the zeitgeist do they channel? What of our need to see into the passions and personalities of those in power, to explain the motivations of those who move mountains and make kings do they reveal? Or do they just satisfy our need to see some decent tits and ass on the tube, wrapped in the ego-soothing packaging of quality drama? Whatever the reason, these shows dispel the idea that entertainment fragmentation may somehow lead to further national divisions. Medium aside, there's little that can stop those of us who think we ought to be engaging in a higher quality of mindlessness from coming together around narratives that make us think, but not too hard, that engage our desire to analyze and make use of our degrees in the humanities in ways that our jobs won't let us, that may tweak but not sever our comfortable moral moorings.
Quibble's slide into evil terrifies us in the same way that Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers once did: by flashing us the terrible complications and gruesome potentials of our minor iniquities, then returning us to the realities where, sure, there be monsters, but at least they're not us.