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.


Community: Season 1

CommunityWay back in 2009, I hadn’t yet given up on watching pilots of comedy series, so did actually review the Community pilot and liked it. However despite the critics absolutely adoring it, I didn’t watch it, not least because it was buried on some obscure channels in the UK.

Jump forward three years and a couple of friends forced the first season dvd upon me and nagged until I watched it.

It was good.

It’s the kind of show that could relatively easily be dismissed, but the more attention you pay, the more it rewards you with a lot of exquisitely crafted writing that takes a sideways look at everything and crafts spoofs of just about every subject under the sun.
The episodes which are built around referencing genres or specific films/shows are the high point of the series. Each one is entirely respectful, as if the writers genuinely love whatever they are pulling apart, poking fun without being mean or snide. The other clever thing is that you don’t necessarily need to be a fan of the target, or even know anything at all about it, because the story, characters and jokes are all well enough done that the show is still entertaining.

The show doesn’t always manage to hit the right balance for me, the characters walk a very fine line between being quirky and ridiculous. It’s often not really believable that Chevy Chase’s Pierce hasn’t been lynched by his fellow students, or that anyone tolerates Shirley’s simpering for more than one class. Mind you I can forgive most of those problems because while not all the characters work, the writers did introduce us to Abed, who sort of floats through the series like a media obsessed soothsayer. Rather than have the biggest geek be completely disassociated from reality, in many ways he’s actually the member of the group most in touch with the real world, quietly manipulating everything around him. He isn’t the star of the show, but he is the heart and soul of it.

With each episode lasting just 20 minutes or so once you strip out the adverts the episodes never outstay their welcome, each carefully constructed to build up towards a satisfying ending – be it a sweet one or a cynical one. It does exactly what a comedy should do, makes you laugh and realise how daft real life is.

Also – any show that generates a gag reel almost as long as an episode has to be worth a look.

Friday Night Lights: Season 4 & 5

I took an unconventional approach to watching the last two seasons of Friday Night Lights. I watched the first half of the fourth season and then stopped. Then I watched the second half of season 4 and most of season 5 in a week. Then it took me a month or so to bring myself to watch the last two episodes. This reluctance to watch isn’t because it’s bad, but completely the opposite. I had to stop watching season 4 because I read a spoiler of what happened to one of my favourite characters and I just couldn’t bring myself to watch that happen on screen. Then within sight of the ending, I realised that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and if I didn’t watch the finale, maybe it didn’t happen.

Eventually I just had to suck it up and watch though, driven predominantly by the fact that if I didn’t see it, I couldn’t include it on my end of year awards and I didn’t want to deprive it the opportunity. Suffice to say that not only will it be certain to appear on that list, but it maintains its second place on my TV of the decade list and would place similarly highly in a best show of all time list.

It’s hard to find anything to add to reviews of previous seasons, to find anything new to say about how a show that on paper is about football and small towns in Texas can be such a spectacular look at the lives of a group of fantastic characters. How boundaries were pushed on network television for what issues will be addressed. How beautiful direction combined loose and open documentary styles with breathtaking sports sequences. How actors like Kyle Chandler, Taylor Kitsch and Zach Gilford did so much while saying so little, while actors like Connie Britton and Adrianne Palicki were so subtle while shouting out loud.

There was a relatively smooth transition from the original Panther team to the Lions team of the last couple of seasons but unfortunately I never really bonded with the new kids as much as I loved Saracen, Riggins, Street, Smash and Landry. Seeing the other side of Dillon, the massively underprivileged Lions fighting for every penny and every bit of respect highlighted how easy the original team had it in many ways. Watching characters like Vince, Jess and Becky fight for every opportunity, particularly in the last few episodes was inspiring and heartbreaking.

I felt some of the plots of the final season floundered a bit. I never really liked Julie Taylor much and was a bit frustrated that while other people left high school and left the series, she lingered around making her usual poor choices. I also found the storyline that saw the Taylors’ fighting over their future very troublesome. It didn’t feel realistic to me that they’d be so unable to communicate, that they would come so close to letting themselves be pulled apart. But I find myself unable to make an accurate, unemotional assessment; I want so much to say that this was bad writing, engineering a crisis that the characters wouldn’t really have allowed happen, but is that purely my love of the characters speaking? Just like I was so mad at the show for having Tim Riggins screw up his life so badly, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t entirely consistent in how the character would behave in that situation.

I always had to struggle to watch this show, I was so emotionally invested in every game, every relationship, every character, every choice… every single scene… it was exhausting. I worked my way steadily through half a box of tissues in the final episode alone, but alternated every tissue with laughing out loud. As a critic, I felt the finale was a bit willowy as it showed all the characters getting happy endings and lacking the grittiness of previous storylines – but as a fan, I would have been devastated if it had finished any differently.

Clear eyes, full hearts…

Luther: Season 1

There’s nothing particularly original about a police drama built around a lead character who gives his name to the show. But this isn’t Morse, or Bergerac. Luther the show is more a psychological thriller than a cop show, there’s far more emphasis on outwitting people than on chasing them in cars and shooting them. Luther the character is a Chief Inspector in a serious crime team, he’s an extremely good investigator, using intelligence to keep a step ahead of the criminals. Unfortunately he’s not exactly what you’d describe as entirely on the up-and-up. He’s one of those characters with a ‘strong sense of justice’ which is slightly troublesome for a police officer, because sometimes his methods for finding information and evidence won’t exactly hold up in court.

The really interesting part of the set-up created for the first season is that although Luther starts off in a mental institution, he’s not nearly as crazy as those around him think he is. He does have a temper, but for the most part he controls it, what others may think is craziness is actually him rationally deciding on a course of action. He has a strange set of cheerleaders on his side however, his new partner who wants to learn from him and believes in him for no particular reason that I can see, his estranged wife, and a murderer that he couldn’t catch.

The relationship with his estranged wife is the best developed of the series, possibly even the only relationship that makes any sense. Although there are excellent reasons why they are no longer together, they have a long history and both remember that their relationship used to be good. Even when she is angry with him, she understands him and is firm in her beliefs of what he would and wouldn’t do. Likewise through it all, he wants her to be safe and happy, and he can understand and accept that those two conditions may not be possible with him. To counterpoint that complicated but generally positive relationship is the altogether less healthy connection that develops between Luther and a murderer that he couldn’t catch. Luther seems to respect her ability to elude prosecution and gradually uses her more and more to gain insight from a mind just as sharp as his, but wired an entirely different way. How and why this relationship develops is as much a mystery to Luther as it is the audience, but it really works somehow.

The first season is only six episodes long and I wish it had been a couple of episodes longer to give the writers more time to develop the characters and situations more naturally. I would have preferred a couple of episodes where Luther beats the criminals in a fair competition, too often he gives up and declares that there’s no way to catch criminals without stretching the law, the fact that he always feels the need to cheat undermines his supposed intelligence and abilities. More time would have also given more time for the surrounding characters to develop, to really get a feel for the relationships they have with Luther, so that when things get complicated at the end, there’s a firmer starting point. As it was, the acts of betrayal and loyalty didn’t feel as dramatic to the audience as they did to Luther, they just didn’t feel earned.

This is far from a perfect series, most of the cases are ridiculously over the top, the writing lays things on a bit thick and many of the characters under-developed. However at its core there’s a very interesting character, played beautifully by Idris Elba (The Wire), he takes the hammy dialogue and does fascinating things with it just in the tone of his voice and the tilt of his head. The show Luther really is all about the character of Luther, and with Idris Elba’s inspired performance, that is more than enough to make me recommend it.

Luther will apparently be returning later this year, although maybe only as two longer standalones. Season 1 is available on dvd for £7.50 on Amazon

Other Reviews
The Guardian: Gradually, as the weeks have passed, the audience’s persistence has been rewarded and it has developed into something approaching appointment TV. Yes, Luther’s still an unconventional cop who doesn’t play by the rules and, yes, his personal life is a mess – but that’s not the only substance the programme has to it. In fact Luther is barely even a cop show at all: it’s a slightly sillier version of Silence of the Lambs.

TV Squad: ‘Luther’s’ increasing density and darkness becomes addictive, and it almost does the impossible — it takes that old TV cliche about the detective who may think too much like a criminal and makes it feel fresh again.

2010: Some thoughts

I didn’t want to (or couldn’t be bothered) to do a “top shows/episodes/quotes/characters/props of 2010 post. I’ve seen a number of other people’s lists and was finding that I’d actually seen very little of what they were saying was the best of the year – either because I don’t watch the shows at al or because I haven’t caught up on the latest season yet. While I’m usually quite happy to compile slightly pointless lists, this year I decided to go a bit more freeform.

Where’s my rocket pack?
It’s tough being a science fiction fan these days and it was a particularly cold Christmas following the announcement of the cancellation of Stargate Universe. I’m not going to start shouting about the unfairness of it, SyFy channel has been quite vocal recently (e.g. @syfy on Twitter) that they don’t want to cancel shows, but they can’t carry a show that’s not covering its expenses and simply put the ratings for Universe just weren’t good enough. The problem is that while the ‘ratings’ don’t give an accurate representation of how many people are watching via delayed dvr, or download (legal or otherwise), at the end of the day they are what dictates the advertising revenue and that’s all the network has to go on. There’s a similar story for Caprica and Defying Gravity (which admittedly had some poor marketing to help it along).

There’s a fair bit of the softer sci-fi out there, Fringe is having a very impressive 3rd season with its alternate reality storyline really coming together. But concept shows like The Event and Flashforward are still floundering trying to find the Lost magic. Comic book/superheroes are well represented with Smallville, No Ordinary Family and the upcoming The Cape. There’s vampires and monsters in abundance on True Blood, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, and of course The Walking Dead, but if you’re looking for the proper hard-core aliens and spaceships stuff, you’re pretty much limited to V these days (which I hated).

Is it really not possible to make sci-fi profitable these days? Is it just that the sort of audience who watch sf are exactly the sort that watch in ways that don’t generate revenue? When Universe finishes its final 10 episodes next summer it will be the first time in 24 years there has been neither a Star Trek or a Stargate on the air. That’s depressing.

Best of British
I generally watch two types of things on British television – Saturday evening family stuff (Doctor Who and Merlin) and documentaries (Universe, Inside Nature’s Giants, um… Top Gear). I still don’t watch a great deal of home-grown drama, but whenever I do I’m really surprised at how good it is. I don’t know why I’m surprised every time, I’m sure that’s a definition of stupidity, but for some reason UK TV to me means Strictly Come X-Factor and Eastenders Street. Then I’ll happen to catch something like Sherlock, or Upstairs and it’s absolutely superb. Maybe I should actually start getting the Radio Times, but I definitely want to watch more British produced stuff this year… don’t let me down!

Should old acquaintance be forgot
For someone who watches so much television and still holds a grudge against cancellations from years ago, I find myself relatively unemotional when I look over the list of cancelled shows. Most of the headline cancellations, or planned endings were actually for shows I had no emotional investment in. I never watched 24 or Scrubs, gave up on Lost and Heroes and although I enjoyed the couple of seasons of Law & Order, Numb3rs and Ugly Betty I saw… I never got round to watching more of them.

Even Dollhouse, from the god that is Joss Whedon, got a pretty good run at it. For whatever reason the show wasn’t really working and I’m grateful it got the chance to wrap the story up, but I’m not angry about it. My anger at Flashforward’s cancellation is mostly directed at the show-runners who ballsed it up, rather than the network that pulled the plug on the embarrassment. The only shows that upsets me on the list are the previously mentioned Stargate and Trauma – the little watched paramedic drama set in San Francisco which had an amazing cast of characters, was thoroughly entertaining and failed to find an audience for some reason.

The Walking Dead title screenIn with the new
I’m not massively excited by the 2010-2011 freshman shows so far and from the number of cancellations, neither are other people. Of the ones cancelled, the only frustration is Terriers which is another Tim Minear series that failed to find an audience thanks to mis-marketing but had a lot of charm to it. There’s a couple of shows I’ll pick up when they make it the UK (Hellcats, Blue Bloods, maybe Detroit 1-8-7) but even those aren’t exactly remarkable. The Event is slowly building up on my Sky+ box and I’m just not sure I can be bothered at all.

The Walking Dead was supposed to be one of the big events of the television year, and it appeared on a few people’s Top 10s, but I found it didn’t live up to the hype. Too short, too slow, too familiar. We’ll see how it does when it returns with a longer season, but there’s going to be a long wait for that.

I think the networks have all decided to pace themselves a bit more this year, give things time to breath. So some of the biggest, most highly anticipated shows are actually premiering in January. There’s new series from some of the biggest, most reliable names in television – Shonda Rhimes (Off the Map), David E. Kelley (Harry’s Law) and Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear (The Chicago Code). Hopefully these shows will have the spark that’s been missing from a lot of the other offerings. Maybe not powerhouse names, but I’m also looking forward to Matthew Perry and Allison Janney’s new series (Mr Sunshine).
Coming back for more..

If I’m not grabbed by the new shows so far, I’ve still been finding plenty to fill my viewing hours. All my usual procedurals (CSI, Criminal Minds, Lie to Me, Bones, House) are trundling along quite merrily although a little unremarkably thus far, cable shows like Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy grab my attention for their short runs before fading away for another few months. Fringe and Supernatural both had big changes this year, but are maturing beautifully and entertainingly. And about to start on UK channels are all the guilty pleasures – Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters and Glee. It’s going to be a pretty cheesy January, and I’m looking forward to it!

End of year report card

The start and end points for the television year is pretty fuzzy. Given that I watch mostly US shows, I tend to go by their year which runs roughly from September rather than the calendar year. So I decided that I’d count the start of the year as 1st September (and I go by American air dates, not the UK). BUT life isn’t that simple, because what do I do with shows that start in one year but end in another. For example Mad Men season 3 ran August-November 2009, running one year to the next. Then I looked at what the Emmys do and it turns out they run June 1st 2009-May 31st 2010. BUT they don’t strictly speaking pay attention to show seasons, it’s just whichever episodes ran in that time frame, which means from what I can tell – the last two episodes of the season of Glee weren’t eligible for entry as they aired in June 2010.

So after all that, I decided to hell with it and I’d count what I felt fit within 2009-2010 and be pretty much arbitrary about it.

Bones – Season 5
Brothers & Sisters – S4
Caprica – S1
Criminal Minds – S5
CSI – S10
Defying Gravity – S1
Dollhouse – S1
Doctor Who – 2010
FlashForward – S1
Friday Night Lights – S4
Fringe – S2
The Good Wife – S1
Glee – S1
Grey’s Anatomy – S6
House – S6
Leverage – S2
Lie to Me – S2
Mad Men – S3
The Mentalist – S2
Merlin – S2
NCIS: Los Angeles – S1
Outnumbered – S3
Sons of Anarchy – S2
Stargate Universe – S1
Supernatural – S5
Trauma – S1
Warehouse 13 – S1
White Collar – S1
V – S1

Top of the Class – Best Drama

  • Mad Men: For once, I’m in absolute agreement with the Emmys. Season 3 (season 4 has just started on BBC4) was a work of near perfection. The pacing, the way everything had been so carefully and subtly built up until the final episode which was one of the most satisfying hours of television I’ve ever seen. The detail of this show is incredible, it’s a slow burn, but it’s really worth it.
  • Friday Night Lights – I have a guilty relationship with this show, because despite the fact I have it ‘available’, I haven’t managed to bring myself to watch the second half of the season. This season has felt like really hard going, everybody’s’ lives really seem to suck and it’s just hard to watch. But that doesn’t make it any less superb or any less worthy of its position in the number 2 slot in the drama category.
  • Sons of Anarchy – There’s just something about this bunch of gun running, murdering, hells angels that just makes you forgive them everything they do. The closest thing I can think of to this show is Brothers & Sisters, it’s got the same sense of families fighting amongst themselves, but ultimately doing anything for each other – just with more Nazis.
  • Trauma – Maybe this show wouldn’t have made the cut if I didn’t feel bad for it being cancelled, but I really do think it was one of the better shows of the year. It’s not perfectly refined like Mad Men, but the heart and soul of it are true, the characters and relationships are interesting and different and I enjoyed every episode.
  • The Good Wife – Proving that ‘legal procedural’ doesn’t have to mean Law and Order or wanting to kill all the characters. The ensemble cast is amazing and contains some of my favourite actors, and seeing them together creating such complex characters is immensely satisfying.

Head Boy – Best Male Actor/Character (you don’t get to be a great actor without a well crafted/written character and great characters don’t survive great actors)

  • Tim Roth (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) – I don’t understand why Tim Roth and Lie to Me don’t get more attention. In a world of dark, sober, troubled and angsty television detectives, Tim Roth lights up the room. He’s manipulative and arrogant, but he’s also a brilliant father, a caring friend and of all the investigators on television, he’s the one I’d want in my corner the most.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – I had my doubts, not because he was young or unknown or anything like that, but just because I thought David Tennant had created an un-equalable character. Matt Smith blew me away with his charm, his goofiness, his terrifying speeches and his ability to make a fez look cool.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – This man seems to do less acting than anyone else on television, he hardly says anything, sometimes he barely moves, but somehow you understand every single thing the character is thinking.
  • Jenson Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) – I was a bit disappointed by the season of Supernatural, but I was never disappointed with either of the lead performances. Part of what frustrated me about the season was that it was all over the range from slapstick to suicidal angst, via homicidal range and utter psychosis. Jenson Ackles nailed each of the emotions and how stubborn, but over-his-head Dean would approach each one.
  • Hugh Laurie (Dr House, House) – I didn’t like this series of House much, as per usual I think it spent too long coasting through the middle of the season and then made some dubious relationship choices. But Hugh Laurie was consistently great throughout, except for the bookending episodes, where he was absolutely amazing.

Head Girl – Best Female Actor/Character (is actress politically incorrect?)

  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick,The Good Wife) – A breath of fresh air on network television, a woman with kids, a career, issues and most importantly a personality of her own. I loved when she got drunk with Kalinda, or acted as a big sister to Cary, or didn’t quite know how to interact with Diane. But mostly I loved the way she fell back to being a college student falling for her friend and not knowing what to do about it.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Taylor-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – Gemma had the epitome of a bad year on Sons of Anarchy, but through it all she was their Queen, she loves all the members of her family and fights to protect them, whether with a gun, her fists, or just by keeping a secret. Katey Segal was amazing.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – The other half of the best couple on television, Tammy’s not had a great year either. But like her husband, she doesn’t have to say anything for you to understand the multiple faces the character presents to everyone, including herself. When she steals her little victories wherever she can, and fights for her kids (the whole school load of them) it makes me want to hug her.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – Meredith grew up and got happy and made me love her. Last year I put her on this list partially out of pity, this year she’s there on merit, actually taking her position as ‘lead’ actress more than just being a ‘prominent female member of the ensemble’. She’s completely settled into her position as the mother of the group – her reaction to her marriage and the loss of her friends was really mature. Whiny Meredith is hopefully gone for good.
  • Sally Field (Nora Walker, Brothers and Sisters) – When Sally Field cries, I cry. When she screams, I hid under a cushion. Whether herding her unruly brood, or causing chaos all by herself, I love her to pieces.

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Walter is crazy. Utterly and completely, self-medicatingly, one-too-many-magic-mushrooms, bucket loads of crazy. But then in alternate world Walter is utterly sane and calm and scary and slimy. Noble bounces around between Walters multiple personalities and bodies with amazing talent.
  • Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel, Glee) – The best thing in Glee. He’s completely over the top and ridiculous to the point you almost want to throw him in a dumpster yourself, but then he does something heartbreaking. Also, he can belt out a tune like the best divas out there.
  • David Blue (Eli Wallace, Stargate Universe) – He’s exactly what the stereotypical Stargate fan would be like if they found themselves inside a Stargate series. He’s got no clue about the military, or really people at all. He’s a massive geek who breaks tension by making Star Wars jokes. He brings a bit of reality to the otherwise slightly highly strung Stargate team.
  • Cliff Curtis (Rabbit Palchuk, Trauma) – Cliff Curtis became one of my favourite actors this year playing the deeply troubled, but utterly charming Rabbit. A really fascinating character and a slightly unlikely leading man, but he was the heart of this show.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Victor, Dollhouse) – I ummed and erred between Victor and Fran Kranz’s Topher, but eventually the Doll edged out the geek because he got to play a different role (and accent) every week and nailed them all, even managing to play Topher to perfection.

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – She wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy this year, which I was so astonished by I had to check multiple times. Bailey follows the Sally Field rules – she cries I cry, she shouts, I actually cheer out loud. Her final scene of the final episode just destroyed me.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson, Mad Men) – “I’m Peggy Olson. And I want to smoke some marijuana” and “Beg me? You didn’t even ASK me”. Nuff said.
  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockheart, The Good Wife) – Although her colleague Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) got the Emmy, I think Christine Baranski was far superior if for no other reason than she seemed to be having so much FUN with the role. Not afraid to flirt with a colleague or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a situation.
  • Allison Scagliotti (Claudia, Warehouse 13) – like Eli in Stargate, Claudia is the voice of the fan. She’s a geek who loves a gadget and points out the idiocy of all the plans. She, and her ever changing hair colours, brings life to the show.
  • Linda Hunt (Hetty Lange, NCIS:LA) – A breath of fresh air, a bizarre mix of motherly and drill sergent that manages to make even LL Cool J quake in his boots.

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

  • Callen and Hanna (NCIS:Los Angeles) – A perfect yin and yang thing of hot headedness and cool, all bundled up in a caring (but not out loud!) partnership. Who’d’ve thought it.
  • Team Free Will, Supernatural
    “This is it… Team Free Will. One ex-blood-junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name and Mr Comatose over there. Awesome.”
    “It’s not funny”
    “I’m not laughing”
  • Christina and Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy) – When Meredith revealed the plans for her and Derek’s dream house and pointed out Christina’s Room I burst into tears yet again. I love these two sisters.
  • The Walker Clan (Brothers and Sisters) – You can’t really break this group up. They squabble and occasionally even fight, but the group of them together and the complex relationships between all of them are amazing.

Points for effort – The home of the things that are solidly doing their job, are entertaining, and occasionally verging into brilliant, but are generally just really solidly plugging away doing what they do.

  • CSI:Original had a really solid season, settling down after the changes of recent years and just turning in an entertaining, reliable and interesting season, there’s not many shows that can say that moving in to their 11th season they’ve still got some spark.
  • Grey’s Anatomy deserves a lot of praise for bouncing back from the previous terrible season, I nearly gave up on the show, but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • Brothers & Sisters – cheesy, melodramatic, sappy and utterly sentimental – it embraces these things with such enthusiasm and does them so well, it’s hard not to love.
  • Glee – If only the quality of the plots were more consistent, this would be worthy of considerably more praise. As it is, I enjoyed most of the episodes, but ended up frustrated that it wasn’t just slightly better.

Must Try Harder

  • The Mentalist – A nice idea, a charismatic lead character… but ultimately the character development isn’t, ‘mysteries’ aren’t, and the novelty wore off.
  • Outnumbered – It was still funny, but it just wasn’t as good as previous seasons. Not least because it seemed to spontaneously stop dead, to such an extent that I completely failed to note it had finished and never got round to writing a review.
  • Science fiction – it’s not been a good year for science fiction imho. V, Caprica and Flashforward were all disappointing.
  • NCIS – Still flipflopping all over the place with a lack of consistency and character development. Maybe it’s time for this one to retire.
  • Criminal Minds – I praised the show for finally having the team come together and having an impressive group of strong female characters… then they sacked two of them.

2009-2010 – New Shows

Not including the comedies, I’ve watched 27 pilots this year, I’m discounting the sitcoms, ‘cos I’ve finally come to the realisation that I just don’t like them. Of those 27 I ended up watching the whole season of eight of those shows and partially watching another two of them before giving up. There are seven shows that I might pick up at some point and that leaves eleven that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Twelve of the shows have been cancelled, most of the ones I wasn’t going to bother with and a few of the ones I did.

Watched Might Watch Not Gonna Watch
Defying Gravity The Gates The Beautiful Life: TBL
Glee The Good Guys The Deep End
FlashForward Justified Eastwick
The Good Wife Life Unexpected The Forgotten
NCIS: Los Angeles Parenthood Happy Town
Stargate Universe The Vampire Diaries Human Target
Trauma Mercy
White Collar Miami Medical
Past Life
Caprica Three Rivers
V Treme

The Good
The successes this year have been quite spectacular, Glee and The Good Wife have both been critical and popular success. Both are refreshing and enjoyable, the difference being that The Good Wife is really rather good, and Glee is really rather terrible. NCIS: LA meanwhile has been a big hit ratings-wise and is pretty entertaining. It delivered exactly what it promised as a cash in on a successful franchise and, for me, outshone its older sibling.

Stargate Universe has been a big success for sci-fi channel, managing to breathe new life into the 16 year old Stargate franchise without pissing off the old fans. I was critical of the pilot, but actually mostly impressed by the series as a whole and am looking forward to next season. White Collar was enjoyable, well written, with some great characters and has been a success for the relatively small channel it’s shown on. I enjoyed watching it, but it’s not quite remarkable enough to have spurred me to start watching the second season yet.

The Bad
I don’t really mean the bad shows here (that’s saved for the ugly section) more the things that didn’t work.

I was disappointed at the cancellations of Trauma and Defying Gravity, both of which I thought were well made, different, interesting and never really given a chance. Meanwhile V and Caprica I gave multiple chances and eventually gave up on (for reasons I explained in more detail over here).

There’s a number of other shows in my ‘might watch at some point’ list where I liked the pilots a lot, but just didn’t quite have sufficient enthusiasm to keep watching. A few didn’t quite have enough spark (Life Unexpected and Parenthood), a couple I just didn’t quite get along with (Justified and The Good Guys) and a couple were too cheesy even for me (The Gates and Vampire Diaries). Human Target is a tolerable addition to the genre of ‘cheesy, mindless, disposable action’, but I tend to satisfy my cravings for that through movies where the actors are better looking.

The other show I’m going to put in the ‘bad’ category is Treme. I just didn’t get on with it. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t know who anyone was, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t particularly like the music and generally found the whole thing a bit depressing. But the reason that I’m putting it in the ‘bad’ category, not the ‘ugly’ is because I think I’m probably missing something, I think it’s entirely probable the show is wonderful and that I just don’t get it. My loss, but life’s too short for me to watch something I didn’t like.

The ugly
There’s been some pretty public and miserable showings (FlashForward, I’m looking at you). The number of cancelled shows, some of which had big names, big budgets and big promotion behind them is a bit shameful. I feel quite smug about the fact that almost all the shows that I decided not to watch have been cancelled.

The biggest genre of casualties were the procedurals, Medical shows Miami Medical and Three Rivers only made it to 13 episodes, Mercy and Trauma at least it saw out the season, but neither was renewed. Legal show The Deep End couldn’t compare to it’s much more mature sibling The Good Wife and crime procedurals The Forgotten and Past Lives were doomed from the start with a terrible title and terrible premise respectively.

The other cancellations weren’t really any big surprise to anyone I don’t think. Happy Town suffered from trying too hard to be Twin Peaks and being dumped into the unforgiving summer schedules. I didn’t mind the pilot, but it was obvious from the start it wasn’t going to see out its storyline, so why bother watching at all, and yes, I do realise that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve no idea what went wrong with Eastwick, but I wasn’t particularly enthused about the pilot, and I guess no one else was either. The Beautiful Life: TBL meanwhile had so many things wrong with it, the mystery is how it ever got on the screen to start with.

What about next year?
Everyone is looking for the next CSI, the next Grey’s Anatomy and the next Lost, and marketing departments aren’t doing the shows any favours by trying to push the similarities. After this year where everyone was trying to copy the recent smash hits, the networks seem to have just gone back to the people who created those hits in the first place and asked them “please could we have some more”. Next season has a new medical series from Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), a new police drama from Shawn Ryan (The Shield), a new legal thing from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) and spin-offs in the shape of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour and Law & Order: Los Angeles. It seems everyone’s playing it safe and sticking with what, and who, they know.

Of course the holy grail isn’t to emulate, but to innovate – to come up with the new foundation of a franchise, or something so wildly different it breaks genres. It could be that a period where TV is going through massive changes in the way it’s watched, distributed and paid for and everyone is looking at their accountants nervously isn’t the best time to take a chance, but maybe with the unbelievable success of Glee, network executives will be a little bit more willing to take a chance. The line between genius and rubbish is pretty thin and I’m looking forward to seeing things on both sides of the line when pilots start up again in just a few weeks.

Pilot Review: The Good Guys

I’d been all excited about The Good Guys, it sounded a bit like Life on Mars, but without the brain twistiness – a collision of modern and retro policing all bundled up in one partnership. The straight guy played by Colin Hanks (Roswell, son of Tom) and the not-so-straight guy played by Bradley Whitford and his moustache (West Wing, Studio 60, Revenge of the Nerds II). And I really thought to myself that I didn’t care what type of show it was, I would love it because I loved both of them.

I’ve been struggling with this review for over a month now and even watched the pilot again in an attempt to work out what I really felt about the show. After a lot of agonising the only conclusion I can be forced to draw is that it’s very good, but I didn’t like it.

The thing is, I’d vowed not to watch any more comedies, because I don’t really like them. I have to be in exactly the right mood to watch them, mostly with sitcoms that involves settling in with dinner, a crossword or a magazine and paying minimal attention. I don’t mind things that fall into the (painfully named) middle ground of dramadies – shows that manage to capture the fact that life is both funny and dramatic all at once, but even those, if the humour relies too much on silliness or cringe inducing embarrassment, I tend to switch off.
The Good Guys I guess could best be described as an ‘action comedy’, but it leaned too far into comedy for my tastes. It’s similar in philosophy to Burn Notice (probably because it’s created by the same guy), but that show comes down closer to the action side than the comedy. Burn Notice’s humour relies on sarcasm and a very dry voice over. The Good Guys’ humour too often drifted into ridiculousness and going over the top. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of humour, and The Good Guys does it with considerable style and talent – I just don’t really like it.

The Good Guys is a good show. It’s cleverly constructed with smart dialogue,, actors with a lot of charisma and chemistry and an overall lack of predictability that’s quite refreshing. I’m definitely in the minority not liking it*, the reviews have been spectacular and it will start its second season almost immediately after finishing its first. I really do recommend everyone to at least give it a try, because I’m certain that it’s my loss that I just didn’t like it.

* TV Squad, CliqueClack and The Watcher to name a few.

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 6

I have a rather epic love/hate relationship with Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t think of another show that has pissed me off so much, but that I’ve forgiven over and over again.

The problem is that 10% of the show is really terrible. Most of that is due to the characters making really really idiotic choices – getting involved in dumb relationships, screwing up the good ones and endlessly whining about how hard their poor little lives are. You just want to shout at them to grow up, get on with it and sort themselves out. The other big problem this season specifically was the sudden introduction of a mass of new characters, it felt too much like an extended casting session to replace the absent characters, except that because there were so many of them I didn’t care about any of them.

Despite these hugely frustrating issues, the other 90% of the show is absolutely brilliant. The dialogue, the characters, the relationships, the music, the drama, the comedy… it’s wonderful, I adore it. I save up a few episodes, waiting until I have the house to myself and settle in with some comfort food and a box of tissues. It’s my time. My indulgence. I can’t stand to have my watching interrupted by someone who doesn’t understand, there’s no way I can explain the show without it seeming silly, soppy and embarrassed, spoiling the whole experience. The show and I have history – I can’t explain to someone why I burst into tears when Meredith calls Christina her Person, or why I cheer and clap when Bailey silences someone with a look. If you don’t understand it, I can’t explain it.

When I disappear into the world of Grey’s I don’t notice that the plots are ludicrous, that about 80% of the doctors on the show have ended up on the operating table themselves, that Seattle Grace seems to attract the crazies like moths to a flame. It bothers me a bit when I come to write this kind of review, but it’s hardly the show’s fault that I over analyse things. if I just stuck to shamelessly enjoying it by myself, or occasionally discussing it over coffee with people who understand (“the thing with thing…”, “…sobbing everywhere…”, “…Seriously!”) then I would probably be perfectly happy.

After they killed off George last season, I wasn’t sure I could face coming back. I’m glad I did. I’ll be back next season too, and woe betide anyone who mocks me.

Sons of Anarchy: Season 2

I allowed the whole of Season two to stack up on the Sky+ box before starting it and this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. A soon as I started watching, I couldn’t stop. I would travel home from work planning the optimum arrangement of my evening’s tasks to allow me the maximum viewing time before a house-mate would come home and interrupt my viewing. The first season was great, the second season was absolutely superb.

Wikipedia has a section in the Sons of Anarchy description talking about the similarities with Hamlet and although I don’t get the detailed links (I never studied it at school and ain’t starting now), the show certainly feels Shakespearean in tone. Airing on cable in the US means that the show can take a much more long term structure, relying more on telling a story over the span of the 12 hours, than having a strong start, middle and end to each individual episode. It’s great news if you’re watching on dvd, or can store it up, but I suspect watching weekly would be frustrating and a bit too slow.

Life is a bit more black and white in season 2; the club, law enforcement and the viewers are all united in their hatred for the villains of the piece. Adam Arkin (who I’ve been a fan of since Chicago Hope) plays the leader of a white supremacist group who want to take over Charming, using calmness and intelligence in the face of the club’s more loud and obvious tactics. His calculated violence and manipulation is far worse than anything the club ever does, he knows exactly how to hurt them and how to get them to hurt themselves. It’s terrifying, creepy and fascinating.

The Club meanwhile has its own problems with the simmering issues between Clay and Jax gradually bubbling over. More and more responsibility is pushed onto other members of the extended family to try and smooth the relationship for the sake of the club. Bobby is really interesting as the peacemaker of the group, contrasting with both the hot-headed leaders, and the emotionally collapsing Opie and Tig.

I think the biggest strength of both the show and the club itself however are the female characters. Gemma (Katey Sagal – criminally overlooked for an Emmy nomination) and Tara are instrumental in holding the club together. Gemma learns she can trust Tara with her own secrets, and those of the club and her son, while Tara comes to respect Gemma’s advice and accept that she has power and responsibilities of her own. The way the two characters develop individually and together is amazing; as Jax and Clay grow apart, Tara and Gemma come together. Likewise the Sheriff and his deputy go through a similar journey, each finding a way to fulfil their responsibilities while not breaking their own moral codes – whatever they might be.

Like Mad Men this is a show of quiet beauty and subtle pacing. I really enjoyed watching it, utterly riveted from start to finish – gasping, cheering and laughing along with the characters. But it wasn’t until I came to write this review that I started to fully appreciate how carefully structured the whole season was, how many things balanced each other, how themes were delicately introduced and developed. The plots may be about guns, motorbikes, the porn industry, drug dealing and white supremacy, but the story is about a great deal more, and it’s amazing.

My Season 1 review
Official website, imdb, wikipedia, Reviews and News at TVSquad

Season 2 has just finished on Bravo, season 3 will start in the US in September. Seasons 1 & 2 are available for £27 quid or Season 2 by itself for 15. (Amazon affiliate links, sorry for the crappy formatting, WordPress doesn’t seem to want to let me do them nicely :(