Grey’s Anatomy: Season 14

I stopped watching last season because of the Alex storyline. I’ve always had a soft spot for Alex as one of the less perfect characters who has actually had impressive character development over the years. But the final moments of season ???? set up a storyline that ran through the following season that I just didn’t want to watch. Fundamentally he seriously assaulted a colleague and then he, his colleagues and the writers seemed to look for excuses for why it happened. I could follow the logic that he lost his temper (his anger being a central character element) but not the machinations everyone went through to excuse it. He should have gone to jail. I didn’t want to watch that happen, and I can’t quite forgive the other characters and writers for forgiving him. So I’m pretending that whole season didn’t happen, that they characters didn’t take sides against each other. The writers seem to have done the same, which is equally offensive really, but I guess we all just pretend the season didn’t happen.

So I returned nervously but soon settled in to the same drama of both a medical and a personal fronts, inducing the usual array of emotions from laughing out loud to sobbing incoherently, occasionally at the same time. What I love about the show (and hence why last season drove me away) is the depth of the characters. The relationships between all the characters all make sense, those that have known and worked together for decades, those that are brand new and trying to find their places, and those in the middle who know some of the stories but not all of them. The friendships and respect are inspiring, but everyone still gets on each others nerves occasionally, knowing exactly how to push people’s buttons. Watching makes me feel like part of the family.

I can’t really remember much about the stories themselves to be honest. Poor April had a miserable season, and although she’s never been my favourite character she’s always been interesting, her evolution has been wonderful to watch and Sarah Drew’s performance was never anything other than breathtaking and I’ll miss her on the show. I’m less bothered by the departure of Arizona who I always felt was one of the less well written characters with less consistency and less of her own agency. The ‘fix’ for Amelia was a bit tacky but served a purpose as it turned her back from the caricature she’d become and re-embedded her into the same level of ridiculousness that the others were in. The stories that tried to get a little more current (me too, immigration) were a little bit clumsy, but I can’t fault them for their intent.

I’m glad I could come back to Grey’s, it’s been with me so long that I did feel like I’d lost a friend for a while. While I can understand why it doesn’t get to compete for awards in the current TV landscape full of ground breaking shows, I think many underestimate the skill it takes to bring it to the screen. The usually spot on mixture of drama and comedy the writers script and the subtle but powerful delivery of the actors is unparalleled. Few things on TV bring me such joy.


Grey’s Anatomy: Season 12

Grey's AnatomyI not only had to look up what number season this was, but I had to look up what on earth happened as i’d forgotten most of the details. Broadly speaking I still love Grey’s Anatomy. It’s my first pick for comfort viewing and I don’t even think about watching it without snuggling up on the sofa with a blanket, unhealthy food and a soothing drink. That said, this is the twelfth of these reviews that I’ve had to write, some I’m gonna break out the bullet points. It’s a bit spoilery, but I don’t think anyone really cares.

Things I didn’t like

  • What’s her face, Penny – she never really landed as her own character, as evidenced by the fact that I had to look up her name. She was just there to drive stories in other characters, Meredith, Cally and even the other young characters when it came to the bloody Preminger Grant. It just didn’t feel like she had the same depth of character that the others had
  • Callie and Arizona’s custody battle – where did that come from?! Cally wanting to take Sophia away without even considering it a big thing? Then the court hearing was so utterly artificial and inept. AND THEN Arizona deciding to let Sophia go anyway?!
  • Jo – good grief the girl is awful. She’s whiny and annoying at the best of times, but then it turns out that she’s supposedly kept this massive secret from Alex all this time. Some more poor writing.
  • Owen and Nathan’s antagonistic relationship and drawn out secret history that then turned out to not be that exciting. The only good moment of the whole thing was when they suddenly snapped into sync in a surgery.
  • DeLuca – Winning the prize for most under-used character this year. There just didn’t seem any point to him. His relationship with Maggie never seemed to go anywhere and her over-reaction to dating an intern was rather jolting given the rest of the relationships on the show!
  • Childcare – there’s a LOT of children and some incredibly flexible childcare arrangements going on

Things I’m not sure about

  • Amelia – she can be massively annoying at times, but at least it feels deliberate. She is just a pain in the arse sometimes, that’s not bad writing, it’s just how she is. Doesn’t mean I don’t wanna slap her sometimes though.
  • Stephanie – likewise I’m on the fence about her. I guess she’s a bit like Christina, restrained, ambitious and confident, but she just doesn’t have a Meredith to bring out the emotional elements. The weird whistle-stop romance with the musician felt like a cheap attempt to give her a more emotional storyline and soften the character and it just didn’t work.
  • I can’t remember any of the actual patients. It’s not exactly the point of the show, but usually there are a couple that stand out, even if only for being notable guest stars, but I can’t remember a single one this time.

Things I like

  • Family. Over the years the theme of family has been about the family you chose, not just romantically but about the brothers and sisters you chose. This year there was a bit more focus on actual family as Meredith, Amelia (her sister in law) and Maggie (her half sister) shared a house and kids. Watching Maggie’s sudden acquisition of a family, and Meredith and Amelia’s strained relationship introduced some new ideas.
  • Carpooling – there were a lot of laughs to be had about the recurring carpooling that went on throughout the series.
  • The music – the soundtrack of the series continues to be superb, and I liked that they were using some classic songs completely re-imagined. I wish they’d release more albums, the ones I have from the first few seasons are still my top playlist.
  • Alex and Meredith – I adore that Alex has stepped into Christina’s shoes and is completely Meredith’s person now and she is his. I would rewind their scenes together because I so loved the familiarity and complete lack of bullshit between them.
  • Referencing – the show generally remembers where it came from and where its characters have been. Most obviously of course is that Meredith wasn’t suddenly over Derek, but it was the little mentions of long past events and characters that made me smile. With 12 years of history, there’s a lot of shorthand that can be used with the audience to evoke emotions, a snippet of a song, characters lying on the grass, events and characters long gone; calling back on them gives me a little warm glow. Long may that continue.

Code Black: Pilot Review

Code Black Title ScreenIt’s ER. That’s it. That’s the summary. If you’ve seen ER, it’s just that again. With less George Clooney.

I’m not saying that trying to do a new version of ER is a bad thing. I mean ER was great (at least at first) and emergency medicine is intrinsically well suited to episodic television; it’s easy to get a mix of high intensity action, emotional melodrama and the occasional comedy from your rotating cast of victims and families, while your main cast of doctors provide the steady background of character development and relationships. It practically writes itself.

To be honest, I think Code Black’s biggest mistake is that it desperately chases a gimmick to give it a unique selling pointl that. Their ‘thing’ is that there’s a colour code system to how busy the emergency room is, and at code black the demand of patients basically outstrips the supply of medics. Code Black is set in the busiest emergency room in the country and they basically end up at code black all the time (or roughly once per episode I’d imagine). This is pretty much an excuse for all the characters to cram into a ludicrously small area and take creative, risky, and oh so very dramatic new ways to treat gory injuries. Except that the whole thing felt so monumentally artificial that even the actors struggled to deliver the lines. “Ok people, we’re at code black. God help us.” Really?!

The pilot structure here is “first day at work”, four new residents arrive for their first day as proper doctors. They too are monumentally artificial, there’s the smart one, the eager one, the sleazy one and the hopeless one. (respectively Christina, Izzy, Alex and George for Grey’s Anatomy fans). I know they have to introduce characters fast, but it didn’t really inspire me.

The ‘proper’ doctors are a little more interesting, largely thanks to some pretty solid actors in the roles. The script and character biographies are still mediocre, but the actors are doing a good job adding some depth and charm through little moments. Plus they actually felt like a believable team, a group that didn’t necessarily always agree with each other but respected each other and had shorthands and shared experiences.

The nuts and bolts of this are solid enough and I think most of the issues are symptoms of pilot-pressure, rather than necessarily being a sign of doom. It doesn’t have the instant appeal and style of ER, or Grey’s Anatomy, or the short lived Trauma which I really loved, but it’s got some potential if the writers just relax a bit and write their own show rather than trying to blend everybody else’s.

Critical: Season 1

criticalSky have pretty much built their business on buying in shows from other countries, but gradually they’re starting to do their own productions and commissions and Critical is an interesting, although not necessarily completely successful, entry into that list. It sits well alongside The Smoke and like that series brings an originality to the approach to a fairly standard television setting.

At its core, Critical is just another medical drama. Patients come in with varyingly horrific injuries and the dedicated team of experts fight to save them, with the familiar televisual mix of strict procedures and maverick creativeness to save a life. Meanwhile they have their own personal issues to deal with, their own insecurities, fears and egos not to mention a convoluted network of relationships for them to agonise over.

What really sets Critical apart is the absolutely incredible level of detail for the medical procedures. Firstly the process details are rigorous, and will the formality and structure will be familiar to anyone who’s watched something like 24 Hours in A&E (e.g. introductions, specific roles, precise language and cross-checking dosages etc). The most impressive however is the breath-taking graphic detail of every medical procedure. It’s really not a show for the squeamish, there’s blood and organs everywhere, and the brutality required to save lives often seems worse than the actual injury. I really have no idea how they’ve made these scenes so realistic, but the sounds and visuals are horrifically compelling.

Most episodes focus on just one patient. The patient rarely speaks and has minimal background, they are practically a prop at times. The episode is real time, the first hour of their treatment in hospital. The adrenalin the characters run on is contagious and I found it utterly engrossing and frequently more edge-of-seat than most action films. There are also some nice character choices, the lead consultant is an army veteran, and his military approach to processes, team management and improvisation is fascinating.

But then it lets itself down in the most obvious and stupid of ways. You know what’s exciting? Literally heart stopping medical action. What’s not exciting? Bureaucracy. I want to see the processes and the techniques and the passion that goes into saving people’s lives. I do not want to see bickering over schedules, ego driven arguing or micromanaging budgetary concerns. The ‘evil’ bureaucrat was a pantomime villain, his sole reason for being apparently to complain and bully the team as they try to save lives and I just don’t want to believe that it’s realistic a doctor would behave that way, or that a hospital would allow it.

Likewise, I could have done without most of the personal elements. The relationship woes just didn’t add anything to the series for me and took time away from more interesting subjects. They often inserted those moments right into the middle of emergencies and completely killed the pace.

I wasn’t expecting much from this series, so was really impressed at the areas of originality. I’m hoping that they’ve got some of the wrinkles out in the first season and I really look forward to next season.

The Knick: Pilot Review

Set in 1900 at The Knickerbocker Hospital in New York, medicine is pretty brutal on both the patients and the doctors. It’s a long way from ER, and yet, fundamentally still the same.

The Knick sets out its position pretty quickly, opening with a surgery on a pregnant woman, conducted in the middle of an amphitheatre full of bearded, suited men. There are the very beginnings of the sorts of things that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched modern medical shows, but the sterile environment and surgical tools leave a lot to be desired. The surgery is short but intense, the doctors’ reactions likewise.

After the incredibly tense start, the pilot settles down, and for the most part, we’re back in familiar territory for medical dramas, certainly American ones. There’s a conflict between the guardians of the money and the guardians of the medicine, a new doctor with an undesired ‘background’ arrives, a new nurse struggles to get things right, a risky and innovative new treatment is needed to save a patient and a doctor fights an addiction that he’s fallen into because he was so dedicated to his patients he neglected himself. Yes, they’re all dressed up in stunningly realised period detail, but it’s the same series we watch over and over again.

The biggest problem for me however was that I’d watched A Young Doctor’s Notebook a couple of years ago and just couldn’t shake that I’d found that show so much more engaging. In comparison to John Hamm, Clive Owen was completely flat and completely uninteresting to watch. Meanwhile none of the supporting characters quite brought the energy that Daniel Radcliff did, although the new doctor may well manage it if he doesn’t get bogged down in his main story (staying vague to avoid spoilers). The other supporting characters just kind of blended into one droning background.

The series just didn’t grab me. I didn’t find myself wanting to watch another episode. It may have worked better if the hospital was more remote, or less well funded. Yes, they’re having money issues, but they also have a generous benefactor and a lot of ‘cutting edge’ stuff going on. It all just felt a bit unremarkable.

Nurse Jackie: Seasons 1-5

Nurse JackieMy brother has been nagging me for years to watch Nurse Jackie, but I have very firm rules about not starting a series mid-way through and I never quite got round to hunting out the first season either on television or on dvd. Finally though I spotted the first four seasons on LoveFilm instant and I made pretty swift work of powering through all the episodes and then finding season 5 to bring me bang up to date within just a couple of weeks. That in itself pretty much tells you how right my brother was.

I’ll keep the main review pretty spoiler free and generic to the series as a whole, then at the bottom I’ll go into each season in a little more detail, but it’s hard to do that without spoilers, so beware!

The show is (unsurprisingly) about a nurse called Jackie. She’s an excellent nurse who does what she has to do for the good of her patients, but she’s also a drug addict who lies and deceives everyone around her. mostly-functional drug addict. The show is notionally a comedy (and a 1/2 hour one at that), but it’s more a “snorting quietly under your breath at the humour that’s inherent in life” kind of comedy rather than a laughing and jokes kind of one. Really though it’s a pure character study of Jackie, of her interactions with the people around her – family, friends, colleagues and patients. It’s funny because people are generally pretty funny. But it’s also dramatic, tragic, farcical, sweet and sad, because people are all those things too.

The series really is like nothing else I can think of. On occasions I was frustrated at the half hour format, wanting to spend more time with the particular cases of the week, or wanting to see more of the fallout of events, but generally I think the show was far better for its brevity. It has an elegance to it, not a second is wasted explaining something that the audience can easily work out for themselves. Not only does it obey the rule to “show don’t tell” but it excels in the secondary rule of “imply don’t show”.

For a show built entirely around one character it’s a credit to the writers that I love the show even though I don’t actually particularly like the central character. She’s a stunningly complex and fascinating character, and one that I would very much want to be my nurse, but I don’t think I’d want her as a friend, and I’d be very nervous of getting on her bad side if I were a colleague. The writers make brave choices to not soften the character or have her make the ‘right’ decisions and Edie Falco is phenomenal at playing her.

In this kind of character study though, the supporting cast hold equal power, bringing out different sides of the character and highlighting the complexity in the way she interacts with each individual. Her friendship with O’Hara (Eve Best) is probably the most honest you see the character with others (although it’s not entirely honest still), and that acceptance of who Jackie is provides a lot of the humour and lightness. Her friendship with Akalitus (the always wonderful Anna Deavere Smith) is more complicated, but as the person with probably the longest history with Jackie, she too is one of the more accepting of who Jackie really is. With Akalitus and O’Hara sitting on either side of her, Jackie is both balanced and challenged constantly. And following in her footsteps is Zoe, as a reflection of who Jackie might once have been, allowing the audience to see which paths can be followed.

I’m less blown away by the male characters sadly. I never found Coop anything other than epically irritating, he remained like a small child with a desperate need to be liked by everyone but an endless ability to destroy relationships through ignorance and thoughtlessness. Kevin and Eddie are both likeable enough, but both struggle to have any character outside their relationships with Jackie, leaving them as appearing rather weak and uninteresting.

It’s an utterly addictive series to watch, I found myself watching half a dozen episodes in a row multiple times, both impressed and entertained and occasionally devastated. It’s also a show that keeps moving, with each season doing something slightly differently. So below are slightly spoilery bits on each of the seasons.

Season 1
1I knew very few of the details of the show going in and that works well. Knowing that Jackie is a drug taking nurse doesn’t really prepare you for the reality of her actions. Likewise the surprises of the relationships she has are delightful and difficult to see. It never pulls punches on the character, never excusing her choices or making her lies and actions easy or without consequences. There were several avoidable plot contrivances which left me frustrated (cutting off a ring and then breaking a finger as an excuse rather than just wrapping the finger in a bandage with the ring still on being a key example), but overall a surprising and excellent first season.

Season 2
2I did miss the character of Mo-Mo, I liked the way he was sort of in between Zoe and Jackie, Thor grew on me though once he started answering back a bit more. I also wasn’t a massive fan of Eddie going all stalkery and desperate, as I mentioned above he just came across as entirely defined by his relationship with Jackie and therefore rather bland and weak. It was however interesting to see Jackie losing control, entertaining when it came to Eddie befriending Kevin, but tougher when it was watching her struggle to understand her daughter’s problems.

Season 3
3There was a deeply frustrating Coop storyline where he once again acted like a child the whole season, upset about his parents’ divorce and desperately engineering a wedding for himself. Jackie meanwhile is rapidly losing control of her lies and her addiction which is hard to watch, but also satisfying. I didn’t really feel sorry for her, she had after all brought all this onto herself, but I also didn’t feel any real satisfaction seeing her gradually lose the trust of her friends and family.

Season 4
4Jackie goes to rehab. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, to see that she’d been playing a game all along and deceiving everyone, but as the season went on, it just became more and more real. It was a brave choice for the writers to make, to redefine the show from being about a drug addicted nurse to being about a recovering addict, but it really worked. Less brave was the fact that they followed the unwritten rule that sooner or later every American medical show seems to do a storyline about becoming more like a business, all suits and targets and efficiencies. At least Nurse Jackie brought in Bobby Cannavale to add weight to the story, and it had the unexpected delight of bringing the very best out of Akalitus and her relationships with Jackie and O’Hara. The three women supporting each other through the change of management, rehab and a pregnancy was possibly the high point of the entire series.

Season 5
5Jackie’s now clean, sober and divorced, but more alarmingly – she’s without O’Hara. While I love Jackie’s stronger relationships with Akalitus and Zoe, I really really missed O’Hara and the show really missed her humour. I felt particularly robbed of the opportunity to see O’Hara with baby! Watching Jackie and Kevin try to work out their new relationship was interesting (although sometimes heartbreaking) and I liked the new love interest of Frank and the new honesty Jackie brought to a relationship. Coop continues to be a frustrating character though and the other new doctors didn’t make a very favourable impression either. All my responses and reactions to the season pale into insignificance at the intensity of my emotions during the final few moments. I can’t think of anything else I’ve felt so devastated and overwhelmed by in response to a calm and understated action by a character. I’m both looking forward to, and dreading, season 6.

Pilot Reviews: Do No Harm and Emily Owens, MD

I’m bundling together a couple of pilot reviews because the two shows have three things in common – they’re both set in hospitals, they were both cancelled within the first few episodes and neither is worth spending an entire review on.

Do No Harm is the more serious of the two, but that’s not saying much. It’s a high-concept show (i.e. you can sum it up in a sentence) – take the story of Jeckyll and Hyde and set it in a modern hospital. So Jeckyll is now Dr Jason Cole, a top flight neurosurgeon, but at 8.25 each night, for 12 hours, he turns into Ian Price a modern-day-monster. Thus far he’s been keeping his evil alter-ego sedated an explaining away his absences as a ‘blood sugar problem’. But now the sedation isn’t working and his alter-ego is really mad at him and out to cause chaos.

I can’t decide whether the concept itself is too stupid to make a workable show, or if it would have worked in more capable hands. Either way, what we have here is just resoundingly ‘meh’. The biggest issue is that it felt cheap. The sets, the types of actor and the setups all felt like they should be located on one of the cheaper cable channels, but even those channels manage to find charismatic actors and have some fun. Here the lead actor never quite felt at home as Jeckyl, and while he was more charismatic as Hyde, that character didn’t felt a bit too much like a comic book villain, there was a lot of talk about how awful he was, but the evidence was all a bit tame.

Tonally I think the show was a bit confused, not sure whether to take the Supernatural kind of route and be a bit tongue in cheek, or take a more gritty look at the devastation that this schizophrenia-esque condition causes. I can’t understand how this ever made it to air, and the audiences apparently agreed – not only was it the “lowest-rated in-season premiere of any any 4-network scripted program EVER” (TV By the Numbers) it then lost 30% of those viewers by the second episode. It never made it to a third.

Emily Owens, MD has almost the opposite problem, tonally and conceptually it knew exactly what it wanted to do and committed to it wholeheartedly; it doesn’t even take a full sentence to describe the concept of this show, just three words – Remake Grey’s Anatomy. It’s so shallow a reconstruction the producers of Grey’s Anatomy could probably form a pretty solid case for copyright infringement.

The titular character narrates the show, she’s fresh out of medical school and just starting as a surgical intern. She and her peers are back to being bottom of the pile, they’re confident but inept, their teachers are all knowing, fast talking, impatient and frustrated with the youngsters. There’s the usual mix of characters, plenty of scope for relationships and misunderstandings but under all the fumbling ineptitude and attitude, everyone is committed to saving lives and playing god. It’s all moved along with a familiar array of cases-of-the-week who deliver nice little metaphors and messages for characters and audience. How utterly tiresome.

It’s not the fault of the cast, or really even the writers, it’s just a doomed prospect. If you’re going to so blatantly try to remake a successful show, you need to be not just better, but in a different league to make people forgive you for the lack of originality. Slapping us around the face with a drawn out and shallow high school metaphor isn’t enough for us to get over the craving to just go back and watch Grey’s again. It’s a shame, because the cast deserve better – Mamie Gummer has great potential and deserves far more than having to stare into space vacantly while her voice-over fills us in on the unfairness of life or about how “carressable” the jaw is of someone who’s no McDreamy.

Emily Owens, MD was cancelled after 6 episodes after only generating an audience too low for even The CW. I guess it had slightly more potential that Do No Harm, there was a possibility of finding an audience of teenagers/early twenty-somethings who (shudder) are too young to have seen Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning, but it still seemed a bit of a lost cause. Neither The CW, nor NBC had great years last year, far more cancellations than pickups, and it’s these kind of embarrassingly fast cancellations that not only pile on the pressure for the new season, but actually scare viewers off watching anything until it’s well established. Why bother giving pilots a chance if they’re going to be this bad?

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 9

Grey's AnatomyGood grief. Where to start.

It’s not like I really expect Grey’s Anatomy to be a paragon of subtle storytelling, but this season has been pushing against the season five “sex with ghosts” storyline in terms of credibility. Weirdly, it’s not one of the multitude of life threatening disasters that fell off the cliff of credibility, but a divergence into the world of business and economy.

To summarise – the gaggle of series regulars who’s plane crashed at the end of last season are rescued variously missing their marbles, their willingness to fly, a functioning hand, a leg and their lives. But a few episodes later the dead are buried and only referenced passingly, the injured get better, the crazy wears off and the only lasting impact is that Arizona’s got a prosthetic leg hidden under her scrubs and the fact that each of them gets fifteen million dollars compensation. Except it turns out that the crash was the hospital’s fault, the insurance is void by the fact they put so many series regulars, sorry, senior staff on one plane and the payments bankrupt the hospital. Have no fear though for our valiant plane survivors can use their money to buy the hospital for themselves. See, shopping really does make everything better. Oh and Jackson’s mother chips in and puts him in charge. It’s the American dream!

There are so many levels of stupid in that storyline it’s hard to know where to begin. What I found particularly amusing was the fact that no one had chosen to sue the hospital previously when they were shot, blown up, or had an icicle fall on them. Then there’s the fact that everyone got the same money, so compensating the death of one of the country’s top plastic surgeons is exactly the same as compensating someone who after a couple of surgeries is completely cured. Or that the hospital is responsible because the plane company had a dubious safety record, the fact that the company was still legally allowed to fly had nothing to do with it.

Grey’s Anatomy is really at its heart all about the characters. It’s not about the medicine, or the disasters, they’re just there to give the characters something to do, when the ridiculousness of the plots overwhelms the characters, the series starts having problems. If the initial impetus for character development is ridiculous, the characters in turn suffer. Arizona was the principle victim, her inability to get over the fact that her leg was amputated to save her life just got frustrating beyond all measure. By the end of the season it wasn’t coming across as PTSD, it was just a convenient excuse for her to sleep around and it didn’t seem like something Arizona would do. And don’t even get me started on the tedious circling of Owen and Christina.

I really did miss Mark and Lexie this season, not least because their absences was replaced with yet another gaggle of unremarkable interns, who’s only real interest came in Christina’s increasingly hilarious dwarf names for them all. I also remain frustrated with April and Jackson, who I still think of as “new” 4 seasons in. They’re another example of a relationship that’s endlessly pushed on the audience despite them making far better friends and April in particular has degenerated from quirky to unbearable. Fortunately Meredith and Bailey continue going from strength to strength, always reliably having appropriate emotional responses, be that extreme sarcasm, calm, anger, or in Bailey’s case some of the most heartbreaking tears you’ll ever see on television.

Yet again, I’ve spent my review moaning about a show and then in the final paragraph I say that despite all the problems, it’s still one of my favourite programmes and I can’t wait for the new episode each week. Much of my enjoyment comes from the ‘water cooler’ nature of the show, the fact that I can chat about it with a couple of fellow fans, and find a quote for every occasion. It’s also though that it’s a show built on emotions; by making you laugh and cry along with the characters every week, it’s one of the strongest connections that you can have. And for that reason alone, I’ll tune in every week until these characters are old and grey.

Body of Proof: Season 1

Body of ProofIt’s important that I explain why I was watching this series. You see, thanks to an abundance of free time at the moment I actually find myself running a little short on things to watch. I’ve also just got a new book of Killer Sodukus and need something fairly innocuous to put on while I’m working my way through that . One evening, after clearing off my Sky+ backlog, I went rummaging around on the Lovefilm Instant service to see what I can find and stumbled over Body of Proof. I went back and had a look at my pilot review and noted that although I wasn’t enthused enough to seek it out at the time, I thought it might be ok. On top of all that, the first season is only 9 episodes long, so it wasn’t exactly a huge commitment.

That’s a pretty lengthy insight into my unexciting life, but it’s important that you understand that. Because even given those low ambition reasons for watching, and the fact that my brain was half occupied with soduku… it’s impressive that Body of Proof was still so deeply unsatisfying.

The biggest problem with the whole thing is the quality of the mysteries. The most basic requirement of a procedural show is that the cases make sense. Yes, to be successful you need characters and originality etc, but if your cases are stupid, you are sunk before you even start. It’s not like I even need the cases to be memorable (god knows I watch enough CSI and NCIS), but the ones on Body of Proof are just plain shabby. Aside from the phenomenal reliance on our hero spotting a microscopic clue, or each victim or accused having some obscurely specific medical complaint, almost every episode had a gaping error in it. One case was immediately ruled a murder rather than a suicide because the victim had been shot in the head twice (admittedly tricky to do yourself) and then utterly failed to have that happen in the eventual flashback to the murder. Barely an episode went by when something wasn’t either dropped in the middle, or introduced unexpectedly.

Everything was just so frustratingly fake. The female medical examiners are always in form fitting designer dresses and ludicrously high heals, no matter where the body is. One of the flunkies is a borderline offensive parody of a self-righteous black woman (although he’s male) doing the whole “oh no you di’nt just go there!”, while the other is the usual tedious caricature geek with glasses and awkwardness. The detectives are two good actors (Sonja Sohn of The Wire and John Carroll Lynch of ‘you’ll know him when you see him’) doing their best with the clichés they’ve been given, but even their attempts to deliver subtlety and humour with body language and delivery cannot completely overcome the terrible dialogue.

I guess I should comment on Dana Delany as it’s really her show, but I don’t really know what to say, because talented though she is, she can’t fight her way through the fact that this show just isn’t very good. I came to like the stuff with her daughter and when she got a chance to play human, but the rest of the time the character she was too much of a superhero, a medical examiner who can see the tiniest details and identify fungus at just a single glance.

Even as something that I only wanted to pay attention to with half my brain, it still managed to be unsatisfying. The actors deserve better. My soduku book deserved better. It will take a special kind of boredom to make me watch season 2.

Body of Proof is available on Lovefilm Instant (give me a shout if you’d like a free trial link) and probably other on demand services too, or on dvd

House: Season 8

The final season of House passed much the same as every other season of House – chunks of absolute brilliance separated by a blocks of mediocre filler. It’s not that most of the episodes are bad, they’re just so unremarkable that they border on the boring. One day I might actually work out which of the 177 episodes are worth watching, probably something in the order of two dozen, maybe another couple of hours compiled from individual scenes from scattered episodes. That would be a pretty rubbish percentage if not for the fact that the resulting couple of dozen hours would be some of the best television of recent years. There are spoilers for the whole series in this review, right up to the final episode.

On paper the show may be a medical procedural, but as House himself hilariously points out in the final episode – “nobody cares about the medicine”. The cases of the week fade into the background more than ever this season, maybe under the pressure of trying to round out all the characters storylines before the pre-defined end date. That’s great news, because in reality the show isn’t about solving mysterious medical cases, it’s about characters (as any great show really is in my opinion).

Gregory House is one of the most fascinating and unique characters I can remember seeing on television. The writers play up the Sherlock Holmes comparisons a lot, which resonate because House is (we are told over and over again) only interested in the puzzle. The feelings of his patients, colleagues and friends are mostly irrelevant to him; he is only drawn to people and situations which are not boring and can surprise him. It’s all a giant game to him, conducting experiments to find how far can he push people? I remember a sequence from several years back where he reveals that he’s been borrowing ever increasing amounts of money from Wilson to see what value Wilson puts on their friendship.

Season 8 however is an exploration of what happens when House is beaten at his own game – first by the law that sends him to jail and can keep him from the medical puzzles, then by a woman who he unexpectedly falls in love with (and is a far better fit for him than Cuddy ever was), and finally he is beaten by medicine itself which tries to take Wilson from him. Each of these problems is beyond his usual tactics of bluster and scheming and each situation forces him to actually address and admit his feelings. The beauty of the writing is that even after so much time in the character’s company, I was always uncertain what he would do and not because the writing was erratic, but just because the character was so believably complex.

Sadly the same cannot be said for quite all of the characters, Park and Adams, newly introduced for just this season were fighting a losing battle from the start. Their only real purpose was to occasionally shine a new perspective on the older characters, but in their own rights they never really worked. Adams was yet another variation on a theme of Cameron and couldn’t even begin to compare to the fascinating character that Thirteen had evolved into. Park, like Masters last season, never really felt like she belonged in the same show as everyone else – just a bit too weird and quirky.

If Adams and Park were the final wave of ‘ducklings’, Taub is the last standing of the second wave. It’s weird to think that relatively speaking he’s one of the older characters and has been on the show 4 years. While I enjoyed his character and the relationships he established, I never quite cared about him as much as the original fellows. His character never really went anywhere and didn’t get much to do this season, his big revelation this year appeared to be children, but he felt a bit short changed in the character development stakes.

At the other end of the spectrum is Chase, he’s always been my favourite of the original fellows and I think he’s the one that really actually learnt from House. Once again, it’s not about the medicine, what Chase learnt was how to manipulate people and get inside their heads, but without being as unfeeling as House. Chase is maybe who House would have been without the constant pain and drugs – still not always a pleasant person, but not a complete jerk . Chase’s character arc was gradual and satisfying and had some really great moments in season 8. His resolution when he finally took control, recognised his own abilities and made his own decisions about his career was immensely satisfying, and House appeared as close to proud as he ever has. The final shot of Chase’s name on House’s office door as his natural and rightful successor was the perfect resolution for the character.

From my favourite character to my least favourites. From the first season to the sixth my reviews always commented on how annoying I found Lisa Cuddy, and my opinion was completely justified by the fact her absence only made this season stronger. Dominica, House’s green card seeking wife was an infinitely better partner for House, accepting him without question. Foreman stepped into Cuddy’s shoes as House’s boss, and although his promotion was ludicrously unlikely and I’ve never much liked the character, he finally felt like he was in the right place. He made a much better foil for House, playing the game to the amusement and challenge of both sides without getting in the way of House’s ability to treat patients or getting caught up in overblown emotions that Cuddy endlessly did.

Wilson meanwhile continued to play his own version of the game. I’ve never been able to decide how I feel about his relationship with House, he fell into many of the same self-destructive emotional holes as Cuddy, but also managed to ‘win’ against House just often enough that he didn’t come across as ridiculous. With this being the final season the writers had to answer that question – has House been taking advantage of Wilson all these years, or are they really friends. I could cheerfully murder the writers for deciding that the way to answer that was to give Wilson terminal cancer and to see if House is still selfish. Robert Sean Leonard’s performance was incredible, managing to portray a man dealing with his own issues yet still (by his nature) being worried about his friend and (by nature of the friend) having to continue playing the game.

The storyline as a whole broken my heart, but when the final episode eventually reveals that all of Wilson’s loyalty has not been in vain it was all worth it. The season (the whole series in fact) was about showing that House really did care about the people around him. Characters like Wilson, Thirteen and Chase understood him well enough to recognise the tiny signs of caring and they in turn were the people to get the most out of their relationships with House; while people like Cuddy or Cameron who couldn’t see past the outer layer of jerk and tried to change him, ultimately were unrewarded by their relationships with him

Maybe House is like Mad Men, without so many episodes going by with nothing happening, you wouldn’t actually appreciate the moments of perfection. Without the previous 130 hours, the final 10 minutes where House gives up absolutely everything in his life just to be with Wilson during his final few months wouldn’t have anywhere near the impact. Every time I’ve come close to giving up on the series, it’s pulled something out of the bag and I came back, but it was a losing battle and I think it ended at the right point. In its final episodes it performed the ultimate achievement – pulling everything together in a satisfying ending with the perfect blend of happiness and sadness. The series feels finished, the ultimate question has been answered – House really does care.