Sunday, 5 July 2015

Spring TV Recap

I was thinking on it and thought that as a matter of public service I just simply had to give you my thoughts on the television shows I'd been watching in the spring of this year. So any show that wrapped in April or later gets a mention here. There were a bunch of good shows, one really outstanding one and one chin-restingly terrible. My overall thoughts off the bat are that I've probably watched too much TV because I can see too much of this stuff coming before it happens. The difference is in how fun the thing is to watch.

Reviews on concluded seasons with possible spoilers after the jump.

GAME OF THRONES


It's difficult to know what to say at this point regarding this show because as much as you try and understand that the showrunners have gone rogue with their product and what you see on screen no longer bears any significant relation to the source material, they are so indelibly intertwined that you cannot help but judge one against the other and the show, for the literate at least, will always come out the loser.

The fact that there are too many main characters to all fit comfortably on screen has long been a problem for this show but it seemed to stand out more prominently than ever this past season. Most of the focus rested on Jon Snow and Cersei and I felt that this was a pretty successful season for, well maybe not their characters but certainly their actors!

As much as they tried to showcase Stannis however, the transition from page to screen left a lot to be desired. I don't fault Stephen Dillane for that, I would rather say whoever broke his arc for the season butchered it and his moral event horizon did not feel at all like a natural progression for his story. Perhaps that was wilful - as motivated as Stannis is by religious convictions, it's well known that most Hollywood types are staunchly atheist. In any case, it was disappointing to see a character I appreciate so much becoming irredeemable.

I am unhappy with the overwhelming likelihood that the show will outpace the books. An outside hope is that it'll progress a lot like Trigun the animated series versus the Trigun Maximum manga. While the series deviated from source at the half-way point and reached its own conclusions for several characters, the manga slowly resolved over the next ten years adding great depth and a very different, more bittersweet ending. The difference is stark in the fate of Wolfwood who in the series was dispatched like a punk in a moment of weakness and died scared. In Trigun Maximum, his final duel is epic in nature and his eventual death poetic.

I'm not sure where the show is headed and I have a feeling I won't enjoy it as much as a result because this season really did seem to show up the limitations of the writers. While they may be tied to the structure of the books, their path to reach those points and hit those beats will likely be very different and condensed which I cannot say based on evidence is a good thing. The reworking of the Dorne and Sansa plotlines were particularly ham-fisted. Needless to say, I don't see this settling in as one of my top ten favorite shows of all time.



MAD MEN


This show on the other hand thanks to the outstanding fourth, fifth and back-half of the third seasons does sit in my top ten of all time. I can't sit here and claim that the final season was stellar though. The flow was absolutely obliterated by the braindead decision by AMC to split the final season in two. Seven episodes was just too few for a slow-burning detailed series like Mad Men to really build to the point it needed to by the time of the finale.

The finale itself was perfectly satisfactory. I was never one of the conspiracy-theorist lunatics who thought that Don would hurl himself off a building and thought his story did feel like a somewhat natural progression of his character, somewhat like the rise and fall of a tide although it is disappointing that he was so disconnected from every other character. Ultimately it is probably right that he did not have a big influence in the fates of characters like Peggy or Pete. Without his domineering, toxic presence perhaps it allowed them to find their own peace more easily.

So in broad terms I would call the final season a disappointment but I still enjoyed the chance to spend some final time with these richly defined characters and will always remember the show as a great one



BETTER CALL SAUL


Meanwhile at times this show did feel like Mad Men With Hucksters which I'm sure was a bludgeoning disappointment to all of the Breaking Bad nerds who walk around in public dressed in their Heisenberg t-shirts. I appreciated the slow burn of it and the magnetic performance of Bob Odenkirk as the put-upon Jimmy McGill. While there are disadvantages to knowing where a story is going ahead of time, if done right it can be very compelling and I trust Vince Gilligan and co to do it right as they work on the second season.

That being said, not every episode was great and the finale was a veritable dud. After events had risen to a head in previous episodes it felt like too drastic of a detour for Jimmy to return to Chicago and his former grifting partner that we cared nothing about and frankly, didn't particularly enjoy looking at. Flashbacks are a tricky narrative device and in this instance, they did not feel well used or deserved.



COMMUNITY


As much as I will always love this show, it might be time to do away with it - at least until we have a movie of course. I might go back and rewatch the whole thing at some point but I don't feel as though the new characters, Elroy and Paget Brewster as Frankie Dart integrated well into the fabric of the show and after six seasons, I'm kinda over Abed and the Dean. That said, while the very high standards are no longer being met it is still better than a lot of the other shows out there...



MODERN FAMILY


This show is basically the exact same thing every season and I don't see that changing next year. Invariably every week, the Dunphy family storylines are the best, the gay couple's storyline is the weakest and Manny is as annoying af. I will say that the iPad episode was very good and not something I had seen before though I'm sure they ripped it off from somewhere else themselves. It's just a fun, solid watch.



PARKS AND RECREATION


Technically this show wrapped while it was still winter but it was still in my files so I guess I'll do a quick write-up for it. As the final season I felt it reached a good conclusion with consistently funny heartwarming episodes. I don't always agree with the politics of it but it is always a pleasant watch. My one complaint would be that they spent too much time on minor characters like Donna and Craig (Who??) but it's not a big deal. I think my beloved Ann Perkins got sold a bit short too but those are certainly different circumstances involved there.



FRESH OFF THE BOAT


Oh, this show. Well I will say that of course it's always good to see Asians on TV since there are so few otherwise. On the other hand, it's a bit of a cop-out to make all the adults immigrants with only the kids being an on-screen representation of the ABC/BBC experience and really, who cares about kids on TV? Kudos to Randall Park though who basically can't be bothered with the accent and steals every scene he is in. I want to believe he can parlay this into the lead roles in some summer blockbuster comedies but the Internet at large would rather talk about Constance Wu who plays the very stereotypical Tiger Mom on the show. While I've heard and observed a few things about her, I'll reserve my judgement for now while we see how willing she is to use her success to support her 'brothers'.



PERSON OF INTEREST


I tend not to watch this show as closely as I should given how complex it is but it can be tough to tell from week to week if it is a core story episode or just filler. What's for sure is that this show just keeps getting darker, something I thought was impossible this time last year.

The show was hurt by the loss of Sarah Shahi (Shaw) to pregnancy, a character I loved thanks to her love of violence and blithe disregard for others but Cara Buono as villain Martine Rousseau stepped in and performed admirably. Dominic was less impressive as a villain firstly because I didn't really get a feel for what his role in the city was and secondly because it was utterly ridiculous that Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) was his subordinate. Those roles should definitely have been swapped.

Jim Caviezel as Reese continues to be awesome  and my go to cosplay character despite the fact he has remained more or less static for the entire duration of the series. With the next and fifth season possibly being its last, it will be interesting to see his fate. I envision something similar to Jack in Lost where he does so everyone else may live. Much like Ben Linus, I think Harold's genius demands he live, as does Fusco's Fusconess. Dare we hope for a RootxShaw endgame? I'm not so sure about that one, it might be a tad exploitative.

Anyhow, the show remains a good watch maintaining its status as cut a above the average procedural both in execution and purpose.



THE FLASH


My mission question coming into this article was, how fun is x show to watch? In the case of The Flash, I would have to say it's an incredible amount of fun to watch! Listen, it's not the most sophisticated TV show out there. It won't be nominated for any Emmys, no one will be deifying the showrunner and the actors will not be future Oscar winners (except maybe Tom Cavanagh) but it is just fun to watch.

The action is really good. The FX hold up well. It's a bright and colorful with a positive attitude. The main characters are by in large all friends in an easy, believable way with The Flash himself Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) sparking particularly well with (future villain?) Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). Tom Cavanagh is excellent as key manipulator Harrison Wells and I'm very happy to hear that he will remain a regular, his status having been up in the air as of the season finale.

As someone who knew next to nothing about The Flash before watching this series, I have felt as though when breaking the stories and writing the darn thing, the production team hasn't held anything back and just thrown every idea they have against the wall. I don't know how sustainable it is but I'm happy to sit back and enjoy the ride as far as it will take me.



GOTHAM


I don't know to tell you. This show is simply awful. I gave it the benefit of the doubt at the outset just because of the license but apart from feeling sorry for some of the actors I like such as Morena Baccarin, there is nothing redeemable about it. The setting of the show itself is not the problem, looking in on Jim Gordon's Gotham before the Batman is the Batman is a decent idea. That's not what they're doing though. They're looking in on Batman's Gotham before Batman is Batman. Follow? I literally can't even.

It's true what people say about the Penguin being the best thing about the show but what you absolutely cannot do is build the show around him going forward. I would say you have to limit him lest he become overexposed because I don't trust the writers to rein it in and balance the tone. Shows like How I Met Your Mother crumbled when Barney became the focal point. Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon improved as the season went along but he still feels like he belongs on a different type of show. Whoever is making Gotham still hasn't figured out what it is meant to be.



ORPHAN BLACK


I have definitely lost my fire for this show the longer it has gone on. While I'm still all in on Tatiana Maslany and her multiple personas, the plotting has gotten far too complex and technical to follow casually, much like Person of Interest.

The biggest problem is definitely the Castor storyline which I just give zero shits about. Ari Millen who plays all of the Castors is so dry and devoid of personality it becomes very hard to watch. The proletheans didn't make very good villains in season two thanks to the overwhelming sense that they were invented for the sole purpose of being used as a punching bag for the writers to exorcise all their religious frustrations. Following in that not so grand tradition, Kyra Harper as Dr. Coady, Chief of all the Castors is a frustrating adversary, not the most terrible addition to the show but far from compelling in the meantime.

I'm all for stacking shows with strong, cool female characters but sometimes you can overdo it, especially if you end up eliminating every single cool guy from the cast with Dylan Bruce as Paul first being criminally underused and then killed off altogether, albeit in the coolest scene of the season in the second best episode of the season - the best of course being the episode where Alison and Cosima swap places. The show is always at its best with one clone impersonating another, such is the strength of Maslany's performances.

I meandered off from my point which was that Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) and Mrs S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) went veering off the reservation this season. Both became victims of an expanded in-show universe where characters have to take on far more in their roles than what they were originally conceived to do and are not in any way believable while shootin' up folks and snarking like an overwritten overindulged wannabe. The writer manipulation is just too obvious here.

The high point of the show remains the Hendrix family. As the show swerves harshly away from hard sci-fi into pure spec-fic, the absurdly humorous misadventures of Alison, Donnie and their new extended family continues to entertain and counterbalance the increasingly unlikeable Sarah. I think I don't really care about the genetics/science storyline anymore. Let's just drill down on whatever is going on in their little town, please.



JUSTIFIED


Season 5 of Justified was not outstanding but that was the outlier. Every single other season of this show including the latest, final one has been excellent and I will keep going back to for a long, long time. The quality shines through everywhere, in the acting, the writing all of it. The tension builds so high and every episode flies by leaving you desperate for more. Even though you kinda know how things are gonna end up going just because it's TV and you've seen it all before, you're still left guessing and constantly fearful for the lives of your favorites.

If I looked good in a hat, I would definitely cosplay Raylan Givens at every convention I ever went to. Definitely one the coolest television characters ever. The deemphasis of Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) was disappointing but the supporting cast and rented villains managed to pick up the slack and raise the stakes as the season went along. Particular props go to Garret Dillahunt as bearded ex-Marine Ty Walker and Jonathan Tucker as dead-eyed creeper cowboy Boon bringing the unsettling menace.

Series finales are a very tricky thing to pull off. The main problem they always encounter is that the ultimate fates of characters either tend not to match up with what the audience wishes or, match up just a little too neat and perfectly. I feel like Justified absolutely nailed it. The resolution was final and yet also open and I was thoroughly satisfied by it. I often say that Fire in the Hole, the pilot of this show is one of if not the best pilot episode of anything I've ever watched. The Promise goes down as one the finest finales I've ever seen and Justified is definitely one of my top ten most beloved series of all time.

If you haven't seen it yet, what the hell are you waiting for?


That's it for now. I'll do a season in review at some point for UnREAL and ABC's The Bachelorette but not sure if I will review anything week-to-week beyond that.

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