Archive for the ‘ TV 16-17 Season ’ Category

Dark Matter: Seasons 1-3

I’m in a bit of a TV funk at the moment (well, an all-round funk really but let’s keep on subject) and all I’m really in the mood for is easy to watch stuff. I don’t really want to be overly challenged, or have it pointed out how awful the world can be. Friends recommended Dark Matter to me on those criteria and it did a pretty good job of filling the need.

What you don’t have here is anything revelatory. It’s not science fiction that’s pushing boundaries at all, it takes every single trope and basic idea ever seen in Star Trek or Stargate and applies them without a huge amount of creativity. And to be honest, often without a huge amount of talent or quality either. It’s resoundingly second rate in budget, set, cast and innovation. It’s also notably lacking in visual style beyond “how can we redecorate this warehouse this week?”.

So, how come I watched all three seasons (39 episodes) in just a couple of weeks? Well it has two things going for it, the first is a simple and easy trick which is that the last 2 minutes of each episode form a teaser for the next episode. So every episode has a cliffhanger and sucks you into the next. Cheap, but effective.

The second reason is that it always manages to do just enough to keep you engaged, getting itself microscopically across the boundary where any lower and you’d give up on it. The ideas it plays with are interesting enough, and could have been very interesting if they’d been better developed. The cast mostly lacks in experience and depth, but The Android and Three manage to standout and develop interesting and complex characters beyond what the script is offering them. And every now and then there’s a flash of real charm or the beginnings of a great little idea that sucks you in again before gradually decaying away.

This series worked for me because I went in with low expectations and low requirements. It’s a shame because with a couple of bigger actors to headline it, a bigger budget to play with and a bit more polish to the script it could have been a real gem.


Glow: Season 1

I was looking for something easy to watch and Netflix was enthusiastically advertising Glow and… well to be honest I’m not sure what about it made me want to watch. A half hour comedy (rarely my thing), about women’s wrestling (what?) set in the 1980s (ugh). About the only thing it had going for it was Alison Brie who I’ve loved in everything she’s done, not least Community.

I did end up watching the whole series. Not with a huge amount of enthusiasm I confess, it just sort of kept going and I felt it was more effort to chose to not watch the next episode than it was to just finish the season.

The tone of it is rather muddled. I don’t think it was ever quite clear to anyone involved whether they were making a comedy, a drama with black comedy in it, or an out-and-out parody of something ridiculous. There is something inherently ridiculous now about the ’80s – the fashion and the styles, and those are exacerbated by the subject matter. But some of the characters seem to be aware of the extremeness of their costumes etc, while others approach them as completely natural. Similarly plots around sexual harassment, miscarriage and abortion are inconsistently handled with either great tact and care, or completely inappropriate humour that left me close to turning off a couple of times.

There are some threads in there that worked really well and Alison Brie in particular managed to hold things together so she at least felt like she was consistently performing in the same show. But everything else was just too much of a mess to really work.

The Crown: Seasons 1 and 2

Apparently I never got round to writing a review of The Crown Season 1 when I watched it last year, but that’s ok, because I re-watched it immediately before watching Season 2 so I’ll do them as a combo. Given that I’ve just told you I re-watched a season (something I rarely do) before pouncing on the second season when it was released probably tells you this isn’t going to be a bad review. If I add that I watched both seasons in about 5 days, that probably tells you it’s going to be a very good review.

So yes, I love this series. In fact I may go so far as to say this is one of the best things on television at the moment. Possibly this decade. That it isn’t actually on ‘television’ but is on Netflix is maybe an indicator of the shifts that the television landscape are going through. The amount of money that this series needed and the quality that Netflix’s money can buy is a different league to what television, even American cable television, can compete with.

I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder for a series to be based on true events. In the case of The Crown they certainly have enough phenomenal material to work with, even just in terms of what is in the public access already, let alone what can be extrapolated and guessed at. When you start looking at historical figures as real human beings and thinking about what their nature and nurture would be, it’s an amazing story to tell. The writers have then found a compelling way to tell that story, picking and choosing events, structuring into episodes and seasons and then filling in and adjusting with dramatic licence just enough to make it really shine without losing the reality.

Then you add a cast. And what a cast. There are huge names in there and relative unknowns and they are all, every single one, stunning. Of course the key roles of Elizabeth and Philip draw a lot of attention, and so they should. I’d not heard of Claire Foy, but she is perfect; just enough of an impression to make it connect, but not so much to be cheesy. The mannerisms and voice feel natural (despite being odd) and the restraint of the held in emotions is palpable. By contrast I was of course familiar with Matt Smith from Doctor Who but never imagined he would work in this role, but he really does. I thought Phillip was going to be a comic figure, but I came away feeling so much sympathy for him.

The surrounding actors are just as incredible, they may be “minor” in the royal household, but they shine in this series. John Lithgow has rightly got a lot of praise for his portrayal of the ageing Churchill, but I think the standout for me was Vanessa Kirby, bringing such complexity to Princess Margaret, in some ways getting the best story across the two seasons. I also want to mention Victoria Hamilton and Jared Harris as their parents, who show the previous generation and really bring alive the nurture element to Elizabeth and Margaret’s personalities.

Once you’ve got that script and the cast, then you add the money. A lot of money. It would have been hard to make this series work without the incredible richness of the sets, locations and costumes that are integral to the lives of the characters. The scale of the endeavour is amazing, it’s hard to remember at times that you’re not looking at the real Buckingham palace.

I enjoyed this series immensely, and with so much detail and character development the first season easily stood up to a second viewing. I do think the second season had some miss-steps in it. Some of the focus got a little bogged down, and the episode towards the end of the season with the flashbacks to Phillip’s schooling didn’t really help the momentum towards the end of the season leaving me a bit frustrated that I’d rather be spending time on other things. However, I can’t wait to see how the series continues to develop, particularly given the entirely new cast next season to mark the passing of time. If they sustain this quality, I think this could be one of the landmark television series of all time.

Casual: Seasons 1-3

I powered through three seasons of this in just a couple of weeks. It’s only about 40 episodes in total, and they’re only 1/2 hour, so it’s no big commitment of time. However, it does do a slightly odd thing to your brain to spend that amount of time with the characters and leaves you with a rather more foul-mouthed and cynical view of humanity. Which should probably be considered a bad thing, but I found it mildly empowering.

I was gripped from the first episode because the tone of the three central characters – teenage Laura, mum Valerie and uncle Alex was so brutally frank and open that I practically gave myself hiccups laughing and gasping simultaneously at them. I could recognise the distant echoes of my close circle of friends and family in the scorching lines, a lot of “I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I can with you”.

The ‘casual’ relationships that the title refers to is less familiar, and a look into a terrifying world at the extremes (at least I hope they’re extremes) of the dating world. It’s a very clever set up of three characters – Alex is the ‘expert’, the insider in the world having written a dating app; Valerie is the newbie, getting divorced and not sure what she wants or how it works; Laura is the naïve cynic, thinking that she knows exactly what she’s doing, but really just being a confused teenager. None of them really know what they’re doing and screw up in truly spectacular ways that, frankly, anyone could see is going to end in disaster.

The relationships between them are alternately lovely and horrific, each knowing exactly how to support and how to hurt the others. The cast of supporting characters alternately ground the series (the utterly superb Leon, charmingly fun Leia and some of the transitory relationships) or just push it to new absurdity (the parents really do explain how Alex and Valerie became this messed up) and for the most part balance everything out.

Mostly the series is played for laughs. Real people wouldn’t screw up (quite) this badly or (quite) this often, and would climb out of holes rather than just digging deeper and deeper (I hope). There are moments that it all gets a bit much, the situations just get a bit too depressing and too far from the comedy that it mostly purports to be. It’s best to watch in big chunks as most of the stories span multiple episodes, and you can then power through the blips. Taken at a run like that, it’s a lot of fun, and when I ran out of episodes, I felt slightly lonely. They’re horrible, terrible, insane people, but they’re a lot of fun to spend time with.

Seasons 1-3 are available on Amazon video, season 4 will be the final one and will probably be on Amazon next year sometime.

Things I didn’t bother with this year

So one of the big things I clearly didn’t bother with this year was to keep on top of my reviews and actually post me review of the television year before the new seasons all began. I was trying to finish some things off before posting the summaries because otherwise it was a surprisingly short list of shows. There were however a few shows that I just didn’t bother with this year, and thought it would be a good idea to bundle them all together so they didn’t pollute the others.

Criminal Minds: Season 12 – when did this show get so poor? I realise that after a couple of hundred episodes the writers may start to struggle and the actors may get a bit bored, but this season feels like some kind of step change in quality. I mean it’s just bad. The dialogue from the writers and delivery from the actors are just amateur, like everyone is phoning it in, it’s full of cliché’s utterly lacking in subtlety and painful to listen to. I know they’ve had a lot of change in the cast, but I don’t think it’s because Morgan and Hotch left, or Alvez joined. Tara has never really come out as a character, and Prentis isn’t working in her new role as leader, she’s just too wooden (I think Paget Brewster is better suited to comedy and struggles to carry the weight of the drama necessary for the leader of the team). Reid is more of a caricature than ever and the only point of life is Garcia who just cannot do it all by herself. Time to retire this one I think.

Fargo: Season 3– I really enjoyed the first two seasons, but I didn’t even last half hour of this one before I lost interest. Having the same actor playing brothers just feels like a completely unnecessary gimmick. It’s not the Ewan McGregor couldn’t play either role, but I just didn’t want to spend my time trying to suspend my brain from continually working out how they edited scenes together. Nothing else jumped out as interesting, so I gave up.

Code Black and The Night Shift – both haave the same problem. The first seasons were enjoyable tosh, but I just couldn’t be bothered to continue watching. A few characters I liked disappeared, the melodrama ramped up and it just felt too artificial for any real engagement. Life’s too short.

Bull: Season 1– I managed about three quarters of the season and I kept thinking that as I was so close to the end I should just stick with it. But I once again realised that life’s too short to watch mediocre television. Particularly when it’s just making me sad to see a talented cast wasted on utterly mediocre ideas and writing. It was so formulaic and derivative that I can’t believe anyone involved was really putting any effort in or cared about the output. The idea of the show was just too narrow to really support a full 20 odd episode season, particularly given they decided to have almost no arc stories at all, each episode was completely standalone with no plots or character development spanning multiple episodes. A waste.

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 12 – Season 12 finished in a place that I was incredibly unhappy with. I’ve always like the character that Alex grew into, starting out as an obnoxious arsehole and gradually showing where he came from and allowing the other characters to influence him into a better person. Then the writers had him beat the crap out of someone because he was jealous. I thought I’d let a few episodes of the new season build up to see where they went with that, and reading the spoilers I liked the direction even less, as it seemed to be verging dangerously into victim blaming. So I decided not to watch. I kept reading spoilers, and there really wasn’t anything in there that made me want to watch again. It wasn’t just Alex, other characters were frustrating too (ugh – Amelia) and I just didn’t want to watch. So I didn’t bother. That makes me sad, because I adore this show. I’ve read similar frustrations from reviewers online, but they seem to be a bit more positive about the new season, so maybe I’ll just pretend this season never happened.

The Good Fight: Season 1 – I adored the early seasons of The Good Wife, but I lost interest to the extent that I didn’t even get through the final season. I felt the writers rushed things a bit and characters went in directions I either didn’t believe or didn’t want to believe they’d go. I tried The Good Fight because, well, Christine Baranski. But I never really felt like watching more. It sat on my Sky box for months waiting for me to get to it before I finally gave up and deleted it. It may have been great, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

The Defenders: Season 1: I loved Jessica Jones, liked Luke Cage and even sat through Iron Fist just so that I could be more up to speed for The Defenders, but I haven’t yet made it beyond episode 2. I was bored. Even though I’d watched 3 out of 4 of the components, I didn’t remember enough of the plots to really pull everything together and there was absolutely zero help from the writers to elegantly remind you. I’d even have been happy with an inelegant “previously on…” few minutes at the start. I didn’t engage at all, but I will give it another try.

The Good Place: Season 1

As a quick browse through this site will show, I don’t really watch many sitcoms. I seem to have a very specific type of humour which doesn’t seem to match mainstream television. I can’t abide stupid people, particularly characters who have to act stupid just to drive a plot or get a laugh. That feels cheap and I’m more likely to cringe at their poor choices than I am to laugh at the punchline. If I’m looking for comedy I’ll usually head towards one of the middle-of-the-road dramas which tend to have humour embedded around the serious stories. I’m more likely to laugh at The West Wing, Grey’s Anatomy or Agents of SHIELD than I am at most sitcoms.

So I approached The Good Place tentatively. I was approaching it at all because it has Kirsten Bell (who delivered the perfect mix of comedy and drama in Veronica Mars) and Ted Danson (who I’ve loved since Cheers), plus I had got incredibly bored of dismissing everything on Netflix as “not quite what I felt like” and this at least was only 1/2 hour. A few hours later I’d watched the whole of the first season, pretty much back to back.

That’s not actually as impressive, or as big an endorsement as it sounds. Each episode is in fact only 22minutes long and there are only 13 episodes, so it’s less than 5 hours long, about two films worth. Even taking a few breaks to putter and do some chores it was easy to watch it over the span of a day. The episodes are so short, and the episodic elements so minor, that I would imagine watching one episode per week would be incredibly unsatisfying and dull. But there’s a well paced arc playing out over the season as a whole, with some satisfying twists and developments towards the end, which makes it very well suited to box set viewing.

I wouldn’t say it’s a show that will go down in the annals of history as one of the greats. It’s got some funny moments, some clever observations, and a couple of chuckle-worthy recurring gags, but nothing that’s really going to be replayed over and over as comic genius. The characters are built from stereotypes, but most of them add a level of richness that elevates them into the realms of interesting and natural feeling. The world that’s created is a fun one, although if anything it’s slightly underused in the middle episodes. It’s a series that was nice to spend a weekend with, but probably nothing more. I won’t be rushing to watch each episode of season 2 as they arrive, but I will quite look forward to the weekend when I eventually have all of them available.

Iron Fist: Season 1

I wasn’t going to bother watching this entry into the Netflix Defenders franchise. Nothing about the concept appealed to me – kung fu movies leave me utterly bored at the action and chuckling at the cheesily delivered philosophy. But I decided to at least watch the pilot so I’d been introduced to the character before moving on to The Defenders. No one is more surprised than me that I made it through all 13 episodes in just two days.

I will say that I think this says more about me than it does the series. I had very little enthusiasm this weekend for doing anything more challenging than slumping on the sofa and doing a jigsaw and it was more by luck than planning that the first thing I picked to watch was Iron Fist and I was just too lazy to stop Netflix auto-playing the next episode.

The show isn’t anything special in the slightest. It has all the things about kung fu movies that I don’t like. There are lots of action sequences, which I’m sure took a lot of skill and talent to do, but almost always left me reaching for my phone to play with, or focusing on a particularly boring bit of sky in the jigsaw. I glazed over an equal amount whenever a character started talking about Chi and K’un L’un, The Hand, and the mystical destiny of whatever. Maybe I’m being incredibly disrespectful, but it just sounded silly. I did the same thing with any of the inhumans philosophy on Agents of SHIELD and a huge amount of Doctor Strange. Once you’ve taken all that out, you’re left with a fairly run of the mill story, missing heir comes back, tries to reclaim his father’s business and runs into scheming former friends/relations and an overly convoluted investigation into what the mystical Hand are doing in New York.

The more I write, the more I’m not sure why I watched the whole thing. Finn Jones is likeable enough as Danny Rand, but I’m not sure the character makes any sense. He’s sometimes completely at home in New York (where did he learn to drive a sports car in K’un L’un?) and other times completely out of touch with the reality of running a business or understanding people. Similarly his temper and zen flip flop depending on what the mood of the episode needs rather than necessarily with any relation to the circumstances he’s in. Other characters are pretty one dimensional until they too flip flop because everything needs to be dragged out to 13 episodes so it should appear that the bad guy has a heart after all, or the childhood friend may be a bit of a bitch. The plot relied on far too many cases of characters not being what they seemed so that after a while I just became immune to it all.

This is definitely the weakest of the series in the franchise I’ve seen. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were both much more carefully built series, both made me actually care about the characters and challenged me to think about the issues. Iron Fist was just pure background noise. Still, I did finish my jigsaw.