This World Can’t Tear Me Down Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
“This World Can’t Tear Me Down” faces the kind of uphill battle of most semi-autobiographical stories: the challenge to make something specific enough to justify its own existence, but not so self-centered that it becomes overly indulgent. It’s a fine line to walk, but one that writer/cartoonist Zerocalcare has done before in his career.
Two years ago, his Netflix series “Tear Along the Dotted Line” combined angst, melancholy, and empathy in its main character Zero, dealing with the pain of a recent tragedy along with the rest of his closeknit friend group. “This World Can’t Tear Me Down” is another Zero-centered tale, this time dealing with the kind of widespread disaffectedness bubbling up through an entire generation. Told with a near-impossible amount of energy, along with a healthy dose of self-doubt, this latest six-episode Netflix series keeps those same ideas of friendship and transposes it onto a dilemma of fighting a local battle against an ever-growing reactionary wave.
Like the last Zerocalcare series, “This World Can’t Tear Me Down” starts in media res before going back to provide context for its season-long concerns. Zero (along with nearly all the other characters, voiced by Zerocalcare himself) starts the opening episode in a police van before being dropped off at a local precinct for questioning. His statement to the authorities becomes the looping, tangent-filled narration for the series itself. It introduces old friends Secco and Sarah, situates the viewer in the particular area of Rome they all call home, and presents the Armadillo (Valerio Mastandrea), Zero’s motor-mouthed conscience. It all lays the groundwork for the self-aware Zerocalcare house style, where anything can be a reference point and the anxieties about the creative process all bubble to the surface within the project itself.
The giant Zerocalcare casserole of cultural references isn’t the only thing that makes these series accessible, but “This World Can’t Tear Me Down” certainly isn’t lacking for tethers amidst an emotional and psyhcological storm. Zero hops between “Star Wars” and Greek mythology and Bertolucci and Renaissance paintings and “The Truman Show” with dizzying, breakneck speed, capturing a particular kind of mind at work that looks for the familiar in order to make sense of the uncomfortable. The fuse for the season, one that leads to philosophical questions and Zero’s eventual detainment, is a series of posters in the neighborhood promoting a rally to protest public housing for immigrants. Disgusted by the wave of fascist sympathizing among the people in his community, Zero and Secco rip down the signs. Those posters soon reappear, underlying the physical and metaphorical problem the rest of the season revolves around.
Taken as a whole, “This World Can’t Tear Me Down” is a three-hour spiritual sibling to a one-person stage show. Not only is Zerocalcare writing, directing, and tackling most of the voice work (there’s a very Nick Kroll-ish register change for any of Zero’s elders), there’s a modulating of issues from small to large scale. The pitfalls of a random trip to the grocery store intermingle with the larger worries about the xenophobic tendencies of past acquaintances. The regret about not keeping up with an old friend morphs into big-picture ideas about the vulnerability of lonely people.
Where “Tear Along the Dotted Line” was a personal story that dealt directly with mental health, Zerocalcare (the pen name of Italian artist Michele Rech) lets through some extra devil’s advocate/counterargument segments here. Zero explains why he uses the word “Nazi” to describe the organizers of the protest rally, citing the idea that collective Italian sentiment toward “fascist” has become too slippery. There’s an outline of how tricky it is to talk about the labels of progressives and conservatives, especially when a particular issue rests not on some abstract policy idea but a fundamental acknowledgment of human rights. Zero, like Zerocalcare, is a renowned artist. At multiple points throughout the season, there’s an examination of an obligation that people with fandoms have to denounce bigotry and hatred, even if that cuts into the size of their followers.
Do these explainers come close to being too cute to derail Zero’s ethos? At times, yes. (Pulling a red card on a brownshirt while they’re attacking someone in a black-and-white newsreel is a tongue-in-cheek idea in theory. When wedged in between a steady stream of disparate ideas, it does add a little dissonance into the arguments the show is wrestling with.) There are also some glossy soundtrack choices that seem at odds with the tenor of what Zero is agitating for. For the most part, though, this is a pretty effective way to distill down some heady ideas while still keeping the overall, accessible Zerocalcare anarchic spirit.
And, for as much as Zero is being put forth as a kind of case study in combating regressive ideas on a person-to-person level, this is not an exercise in showing the character (or his creator) as infallible. The Armadillo (Mastandrea’s playful needling comes through strong regardless of what language you speak) is the great leveling force that keeps this from being one person putting their own creation on a pedestal. In conversations with fictional entertainment executives, local government officials, and friends from decades past, Zero is constantly being challenged on his own assumptions. As the modes of animation change throughout the season, they reflect a personal experience shaped by seeing people not being able to live to their potential.
So it becomes a look at different points along that “disaffected” spectrum. Zero is no more an authority on the future than he is on the present. In admitting some insecurities and uncertainties, there’s the idea that progress does not come about through complacency. And if that progress is going to happen — like convincing government officials that selling out constituents for some vague twelve-dimensional chess strategy is a betrayal — who gets put at the center of those stories becomes a key choice. By the end of “This World Can’t Tear Me Down,” Zero gets a big lesson in what fighting for and defending your community entails. If this ends up being Season 1, with more to come, it’ll be interesting to see how much of that new insight the show is able to use on itself.