iZombie: Seasons 1-3

This had been on my list of things to watch for a while, but it didn’t have a UK distributor. I’m not sure when it appeared on Netflix but I only recently noticed it. On the plus side that meant I could pretty much binge watch straight through seasons 1, 2 and 3 over the course of a fairly short period of time.

The premise is fairly so-so. A doctor is turned into a zombie, but provided she gets a regular supply of brains to eat she’s pretty much normal. So she starts working in the morgue and dodging questions from her family and ex-fiance and just whines about here un-life a bit. Then it turns out that she gets visions from the brains she’s eaten, and if it’s a murder victim, that turns out to be very useful. She teams up with a cop who thinks she’s psychic, finds a purpose and we’re off and running with a fairly episodic “brain of the week” structure.

The first season or so plays to that pattern. The brains tend to have some over-the-top gimmick to them that is occasionally laugh out loud hilarious, and occasionally cringingly painful. That structure gets a bit trying when you’re binge watching, so it’s a good job that the background plots gather traction – seeking a cure and dealing with the various zombie groups that start to appear. There’s also a fair amount of relationship wrangling going on, which is again a bit tedious at times, but the characters are all likeable and self-aware enough that I didn’t get too bored of various makeup/breakup cycles.

Season 3 is where things really start to move pretty fast on the plot front. Throughout the season there’s a real sense of escalation building towards a satisfying game changer in the final episode that sets up for a very different 4th season. Some of the partnerships go through a couple more cycles that get a bit a tedious, but the development of the friendships are more nuanced and satisfying. Importantly for me, the humour is not lost with the increased stakes of the drama and there are plenty of hilarious set ups throughout the season that make this a show that I’m sure I will be happy to watch over again.

The reason that I’d wanted to watch iZombie (despite it’s frankly pretty awful name) was that it’s from the creator of Veronica Mars – one of my all time favourite shows. They share the same achingly smart dialogue, and take-no-crap characters but the sci-fi storyline of iZombie opens up even more opportunity for quirky situations and playing with genres and styles. The zombie cast wholeheartedly throw themselves into the different personalities, while the rest of the cast do a solid job as supporting straight men and women that the others can dance around. I don’t think iZombie will overtake Veronica Mars in my affections, but it’s certainly making a really good challenge.


Mr Robot: Pilot Review

MrRobotIt’s easy for shows to just pass by on Amazon or Netflix; there’s no time pressure to actually watch them. Also, when they’re released in a block for binge watching you don’t get the repeated press and commentary each week for an extended period of time maintaining the buzz and reminding you that you’re missing out.

Mr Robot was a show that for a long time failed to make it onto my radar. Then it started getting nominated for and then winning awards. Proper awards that people actually care about (as much as anyone cares about awards). Do you know what the Golden Globes and Critics Choice thought was the best drama of the year? Not Game of Thrones, Mad Men, House of Cards or any of those… it was Mr Robot. So I figured I should give it a try. It still took me another few months to get round to watching it mind you, but I got there eventually.

Sadly I didn’t make it beyond the second episode. In fact I really struggled to not give up in the middle of the second episode. It’s one of those occasions where me not liking a show is probably more about me than the actual show to be honest. I just couldn’t get into it.

Most of the problem for me was the lead character and particularly the narration that allows us to really know what he’s thinking and feeling all the time. When you’re not getting on with a character, the last thig you really want is to get an even deeper insight into their head, particularly when the head in question is so deeply confused. Whether because of mental disorder(s), self-medication or just being a bit of an asshole, he’s dissociated, sanctimonious and paranoid. Rami Malek’s performance is great, but it just wasn’t much fun to spend time with the character.

Mr Robot is also one of those shows where you can see it all unravelling for the characters. Or maybe actually a better way of describing itself is it all getting tied up in a big knot. Do you do the wrong thing to do the right thing? What’s right anymore? Etc etc. I just found myself bored by it before it even got started.

It’s a good show, and I wish I liked it. It’s talking about some interesting and really current stuff, and has some great performances in it. But I just plain didn’t like watching it. I gave it two episodes, and by half way through the second I really just wanted it to stop. So I stopped it. Sometimes listening to the voice in your head *is* a good thing.

The Americans: Season 3

americansThis continues to be one of the best series on television, almost entirely due to the incredible performances by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell. As the seasons go on their characters get more and more complex and nuanced in their relationship to each other, their family, their adopted country and their ‘home’ country. Nothing is simple or straightforward, there is no easy answer to “who’s side are you on?” or whether they are acting as spies because they want to, because they are used to it, or because they’re scared. The reason changes each moment.

Season 3 adds yet more pressure to their situation as their daughter Paige finally realises that everything is not normal and they eventually tell her the truth. Paige hasn’t always been the most endearing of characters, her developed obsession with a “happy-clappy” church was particularly grating for characters and audience alike, but all that was worth it to see how it played out when she finds out her parents have been lying all this time. On top of that Philip has to deal with second-wife Martha finally figuring out that he’s not what he pretends to be. Basically the lies are being revealed and it feels like the walls are closing in from all sides.

I was less enamoured with the ongoing story of Nina back in Russia. I thought her imprisonment for treason at the end of last season was a brave and dramatic conclusion to her storyline and was a bit sad that it instead continued to dribble on, completely removed from the rest of the characters in America. I guess it does show a bit more what it’s like in Russia, but it felt like a distraction.

I love this show. It has so many layers to it. You can just get by watching each episode as an action/thriller. There are plenty of car chases, disguises and scams. But if you pay attention there is a tremendous amount of political and personal drama going on that really make me count down the days until the next episode each time.

Aquarius: Season 1

Sorry for the gap in postings, between Christmas and moving into a new house, i didn’t have much time for writing! Hopefully a bit more back to usual now.

aquariusThe concept is that this is “inspired by” the story of Charlie Manson. It’s a setup that immediately grabs attention because it’s the kind of story that tv series and films are made of, and this one is true to boot. I thought the whole thing was going to be told though from the police point of view, so focusing on the investigation of his crimes. But the series in fact starts in the early days of Charlie’s group and the narrative is divided roughly evenly between Charlie and the police who will eventually investigate him, but for now have relatively little contact. Apparently the full plot will take 6 seasons, which seems optimistically ambitious.

The bad news is that I didn’t actually get along with the Charlie Manson chunks of the series. It was sort of conceptually interesting, but watching it play out was a bit tedious. It’s one thing to read accounts of his belief system, philosophy and musical leanings, but it’s quite another to have to sit through his witterings and his dopey, mostly interchangeable followers.

On the other hand, the police procedural bits work quite well, the 1960s Hollywood setting brings a hefty noir tone and has all the contrasts of glamour and success alongside civil rights issues and poverty. The local politics factor in quite heavily, as do the attitudes towards race and sex. The problem is that the cases sort of meander around, some spanning multiple episodes and others seemingly incomplete. I know I wasn’t paying the greatest attention which wasn’t helping, but I often lost track of characters and investigations.

What made me stick through the thirteen episodes was David Duchovny as the lead detective. He is having a great time with this role, blending humour and depth just as he managed in the X-Files. The character is a bit of a mess admittedly, a mix of “of his time” police brutality and racism, but also open minded when it comes to supporting his female colleague for example. Objectively, it’s a fudge, trying to make a character of that age a realistic period character, while also making him likeable, but each individual scene with him works in isolation and is interesting and fun to watch.

Overall this series is a bit of a muddle. Some bits work really well, others not so much. David Duchovny just about holds it all together and makes it watchable, but it’s a close run thing. I think they’d have been better off being less ambitious in scope, either dropping the Manson angle altogether or coming in much later in the story and telling it solely from the investigators’ point of view. David Duchovney leading a procedural set in 60s Hollywood would have been a good enough set up for most people and would have been easier and ultimately more successful I think.

House of Cards: Season 3

House of CardsI thought for a long time that the third season of House of Cards wasn’t very good. I looked back over my old reviews and saw the early warning signs and was feeling smug that I’d basically spotted the problems early on. I praised the first season for the writing, acting, originality and the subtlety. The second season I emphasised that while all the good was still there, niggles were appearing – rushed storylines and characters losing their depth. With the third season I thought those niggles had grown into full blown problems.

The first victim of bad writing is always the intelligence of characters. Rather than make sensible, well thought out calm choices , characters are forced to do what the plot requires of them, what will make good television rather than a believable character. A well written character, by the time you get to season 3, should be unsurprising. If you’ve spent 20-40 episodes with someone, you should be able to predict what they will do.

The Underwoods in Season 3 are surprising this season, but after a bit of consideration (and at least half a dozen false starts on this review) I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not actually because of bad writing, but is in fact good writing of people that you don’t want to be real. The Underwoods are fully revealed to be not just power-hungry and selfish like we already knew, but also stupid and short-sighted. For 2 seasons they’ve been fighting for power, and I naively assumed that when they got it, they’d want to do something with it. Not necessarily something I’d approve of, but SOMETHING. But they don’t seem to have any actual agenda beyond obtaining and keeping that power.

It’s depressing.

And just to add insult to injury, they’re not very good at it.

The early years, the Underwoods manipulated and manoeuvred and they won every war, maybe not every battle, but they always retreated before being forced to surrender and eventually turned it into a victory. Now however they’re scrabbling and they’re screwing it up and screwing each other in the process. Most of the supporting characters are just as bad and other than some really interesting character development for Doug (finally) all pretty unrewarding to watch.

The whole series turned into something that, while still technically superb, is just unpleasant to watch. I found it a real slog to force myself to watch it, and only really got through because I wanted to drop my Netflix subscription. I don’t think I’ll be back for season 4 and think the series would have been better served to play out the story arc in a classic three act structure.

Orphan Black: Season 3

orphanblackI wasn’t quite sure how I felt about season 3 of Orphan Black, I just didn’t feel the same sense of overwhelming positivity that I had for previous seasons. I’ve generally been embarrassingly gushy about the show, wanting to shout about it from the rooftops and force people to sit and watch. Re-reading the previous reviews did help me narrow things down. On the second season review I highlighted some of the things that the show had avoided doing

I think this show is going to be one of those like Buffy, Battlestar or Twin Peaks that lives on and on and certain people talk about in hallowed tones. It’s got that kind of depth and complexity to it, without getting lost in convolution that can easily leave you disengaged (X-Files, I’m looking at you)… With the final moments of season 2 we’re all set up for the story to keep growing in season 3. I hope it doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole that shows like X-Files or Twin Peaks did, but even if it did, I’m sure I’ll still be blown away by Maslany’s acting master class

I think they fell down the rabbit hole.

The story DOES get a bit lost in convolution, with the conspiracies and shifting loyalties of the Diad group and, well, frankly I’m not sure who or what is going on there to be honest, because I lost track. The back-story of the history of the clones, and the present day with the introduction of the male clones left me confused, then a bit bored, then disengaged. They did their best to keep the story relevant and character driven, but I lost track of why anyone was doing anything and it all just fell apart.

The clones are emotionally closer than ever and their relationships are absolutely wonderful to watch, as are their connections with “niece” Kira and “brother” Felix. It’s those extended relationships that really help to reinforce that this is a family of complicated individuals. That also helps to reinforce the differences with the male clones, although that in turn shows up just how uninteresting they are in comparison. As the male clones were all raised together they’re just not distinct enough to make you really consider them as separate people. It’s psychologically interesting, but makes the characters a bit dull.

The tone of the series is also a bit disjointed. Most of the comedy was focussed on Alison’s storyline, but she was isolated from the others most of the time. Likewise the relocation to other countries felt like it broke the clone club up too much, as if the physical distance between them stretched the nerves of the show somehow.

However, even when it’s a bit disappointing, the show is still better than most of the stuff on telly at the moment. The ambition and elegance of the script and storytelling and the calibre of the actors carries the show along and had me finishing the whole season in just a few days. I’m hopeful that things will settle down again next season and this was just a bit of a miss-step.

Orange is the New Black: Seasons 1-3

Orange_Is_the_New_Black_Title_CardI’m really, really late to the party on Orange is the New Black. I actually did watch the first season a few months ago but didn’t review it at the time because I was intending to subscribe to Netflix almost immediately and watch the second season. But life got in the way so I didn’t actually manage to get round to signing up until very recently. At which point (aided by a nasty cold and a couple of days off work) I powered through seasons 2 and 3 in the space of about a week.

Orange is the New Black is perfectly suited to this kind of box set binging. The series as a whole has an overall story playing out, with each season having a couple of undulating plots and themes and then each episode having its own story and focus. These all combine, sometimes uniting to synchronised crescendos and sometimes all dropping away to see the development that happens in the quietest moments. You might struggle to remember specifics of what has happened in the last few episodes, but you’ve actually learnt huge amounts about characters and seen shifts in relationships and power dynamics throughout everyone involved. The way each episode also focusses flashbacks on a particularly character and reveals more (but never all) of their journey to today is a brilliant structure.

The really impressive thing is the sheer number of characters involved in this. There are easily two dozen prisoners who come in and out of the central stories, some of the big players in season 3 were there only in the background in season 1, just waiting their turn. Then you’ve got another half dozen or so guards and a fair number of family members outside the prison. The ensemble is absolutely incredible. I assumed it was going to be all about the central Piper character, the ‘good’ girl who finds herself in prison for a ‘youthful mistake’ long in the past, but she’s really just the audience’s way into the complex community inside the prison. In many ways, she’s actually the least interesting character there and I often felt she was a weak point of the show, particularly when being used too heavily for the comedy.

That’s the real question mark for me over the show. Orange is the New Black initially presented itself as a comedy and garnering an Emmy nomination in the best comedy category). Latter seasons though downplayed the comedy though and I think it was to the series’ advantage. To be honest even the first season seemed more a drama with occasional moments of humour than a true comedy (pitting a series that included rape and suicide against Modern Family and Veep seemed pretty bizarre). The fact that its second season won a nomination in the drama category shows just how good it is, although the re-categorisation was in fact due to the Emmys changing their rules to dictate that comedies had to be half hour long, and the show lost its appeal to return to the comedy category (ref).

I’d also make my usual “I’m not a prude, but” complaint that the nudity is particularly gratuitous and unnecessary at times. It is completely limited to the female characters (even in the flashback sequences where there are plenty of opportunities for more balanced nudity), There are plenty of times that the nudity (and the sex, violence and language) are used to extremely powerful effect, reinforcing the vulnerability and lack of privacy the prisoners have, but by also using it just for needless reason undermined that power. Particularly when that was heavily loaded in the first episode, it just comes across as crass and an attempt to draw in a certain type of audience which will really not match the true audience for the show.

Orange is the New Black is one of those shows that comes along so rarely and sort of whacks you round the head, reminding you of just what great television is. It’s revelatory more than revolutionary, because nothing it does is really that original. Lost (amongst others) did the flashback on a character trick, plenty of series have been set in prisons, lots have blended very black comedy and drama , but Orange is the New Black is that rare beast that manages to bring all that together to be entertaining, interesting and really really really good. It’s worth the price of Netflix all by itself.

Humans: Season 1

humansOnce again, I’m late watching and reviewing something because of my housemates. That’s my excuse anyway. We started watching this together but then their enthusiasm waned and other things took priority in our limited joint tv watching time. Eventually I gave up waiting for them, because I actually liked this a great deal more than they did.

It’s always nice to see an interesting series appear out of nowhere, when you least expect it. It sounds patronising, particularly given some of their recent series such as Utopia, but I didn’t expect a Channel 4 series about robots to be so well put together.

I think my housemates lack of enthusiasm was that they felt the story was a bit simplistic, that it lacked a view of the bigger picture of what was going on in the world. But I actually liked that we only saw things through a handful of limited perspectives. I liked that we were never really told how far in the future we were or if it was an alternate present; the design of technology and clothes was generic enough that it could be anytime, it wasn’t trying to distract us with shiny outfits and lots of whizzy tech, the only difference between our world and their world was the robots.

That is a bit of a simplistic approach, changes like that don’t happen in a vacuum, but from a story telling point of view I like it because it gives focus to the central issue and makes it easier to relate to. I loved all the relationships that were established amongst and between the Hawkins and Synth families. It was complicated and real, everyone having frustrations with the people they loved and moments of connection with strangers. Not all of the characters get quite as much depth as they might which is a shame, Anita is a bit of a Mary Sue and various characters’ technical abilities are pretty magical, but I was willing to forgive that for the sake of moving the plot along at a satisfying rate and focussing on the characters.

Humans may lack the epic feel that much science fiction uses, and also loses the sense of wonder when everything is just focussed so tightly. But that’s ok by me. It’s not the kind of series that will change the world, or have a particularly profound impact on its audience, but for me at least, it did have an emotional impact that has stuck with me and I hope will carry through season 2.

2014/15 Season

I’m getting worse and worse at actually writing stuff promptly. So my end of year wrap up comes after several of the 2015/16 shows have already started. Oh well, better late than never. I’m only talking about US shows here, I think I’m going to move the UK series so that I look at them at the end of the year. Frankly that’s pretty arbitrary but I watch so little UK television that adding it to the list just looked embarrassing. Also I’m focussing more on the returning shows as all the new things got their own little article last week.

Things I’ve watched

The Affair: S1
American Horror Story: Freak Show (S4)
The Americans: S3 (in progress)
Aquarius (in progress)
The Blacklist: S2 (half)
Criminal Minds: S10 (failed to review)
CSI: S15
Defiance: S3 (in progress)
Downton Abbey: S5
Forever: S1 (half)
Game of Thrones: S5 (half)
The Good Wife: S6
Grey’s Anatomy: S11
Jane the Virgin: S1 (review pending)
Justified: S6
Mad Men: S7 Part 2
Madam Secretary: S1 (half)
Marvel’s Agent Carter: S1
Marvel’s Agents of Shield: S2
NCIS: Los Angeles: S6 (failed to review)
The Newsroom: S3
Orange is the New Black: S3 (review pending)
Orphan Black: S3 (just starting)
Penny Dreadful: S2
Perception: S3 (failed to review)
Scandal: S4
Stalker: S1 (failed to review)
Transparent: S1
The Walking Dead: S5

So that’s 27 series, although four of them I only watched part of the season before giving up and four are still in progress. I think that’s probably about 340 episodes? It felt like I watched less television this year, but actually it’s up on last year’s count of 20 series. I think though that a lot of what I watched was just less memorable so it doesn’t feel like I’ve watched as much. 20 episodes each of Criminal Minds, NCIS LA, CSI and Scandal all add up pretty quickly, yet take up remarkably little space in my brain.

I watched six new shows to completion this year, an additional two I made it half way through and actually Orange is the New Black and Justified were both new series for me too which I binge watched from the start and then caught up to the current season. So 10 shows that appear on this year’s list but weren’t on last year’s. In the other direction there were 9 series that I watched last year which didn’t return. Five I chose not to pick up again: Castle (I just got bored with it), The Big Bang Theory (I just missed the start and never felt like catching up), The Following (just too ridiculous), Extant (I don’t think I even got through the whole first season) and The Lost Ship (couldn’t be bothered) . Two I haven’t got round to yet: House of Cards: S3 (it’s in my new Netflix queue) and The Night Shift: S2 (still no UK distributer). Almost Human was cancelled and Fargo didn’t broadcast any new episodes.

The more I think about the list of shows I’ve watched, the more underwhelmed I am with the year. Did I miss something? Have I watched so much TV that I’ve over-dosed and its lost its appeal? I just don’t think anything this year was outstanding. Even the shows that I list below for plaudits are mostly ongoing series that have just continued doing what they do, well. Where were the paradigm shifts? The big evolutions? The watercooler moments? It just feels like a very flat year.

Best Shows
Orange_Is_the_New_Black_Title_CardOrange is the New Black was a show that I’d wanted to watch from the get-go, but couldn’t justify the Netflix cost for. I finally caught up on the first season on dvd and then binged the second and third over a week or so when I finally gave in and signed up to Netflix. The lightness of the humour and the positivity of the relationships is starkly contrasted with the bleakness of the characters’ situations. The acting and writing is wonderful, the slow reveals of characters’ pasts through flashbacks is particularly clever and the whole thing is fresh, original and utterly compelling.

Justified_2010_IntertitleJustified was a great discovery for me, which I should thank Sky Boxsets for. I caught up with the first five seasons in just a few weeks and then got to watch the final season as it broadcast. I loved the whole series, but was particularly impressed that rather than fade away, the final season was actually one of the best. It focussed back on the main trio of characters and played out the uncertainty of “good”, “bad” and “somewehre in between” to the very end. A masterclass in how to close out a series.

americansThe Americans has been slow to reach the UK so I’m only about half way through, but it continues to be absolutely fascinating. The focus is alwasys on the emotional impact of the secrets and lies all the characters have to tell, which is good for me because I often struggle to remember the details of the various conspiracies and am far more interested in watching the phenomenal Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell acting. I feel a bit of a cheat putting something on here that’s only half way through, but it seems unlikely it will take a nosedive now!

Honourable mention: Defiance got off to a surprisingly brutal but very interesting start. There’s so little science fiction on television outside the super-hero genre that it’s a huge relief that this one doesn’t suck.

Favourite Shows
greys anatomyGrey’s Anatomy – only 4 of the original cast are left by the end of season 11. Each time someone leaves I think the show will struggle without them, that their gap will be unfillable, but each time the characters and relationships mature and evolve, not to replace the missing person, but to grow around the gap and evolve the show into something new. I love how the characters have grown, how the relationships mature and how nothing in the past is forgotten, but all makes a part of the present. Yes, it’s a daft soap opera with unbelievable stuff happening, but if you accept that key premise, everything else makes perfect sense. It’s like a comfortable blanket at the end of the day.

Agent_Carter_Series_LogoMarvel’s Agent Carter – while Agents of SHIELD did improve this year it’s still got a lot of problems and the pressure of being a headline show for both ABC and Marvel isn’t helping it. Agent Carter however didn’t have any of the pressure or any of the problems and quietly came along with a phenomenal central cahracter and hugely entertaining story.

Honourable mention: Jane the Virgin was a breath of fresh, if extremely cheesy, air.

Same old, same old (in a mostly good way)
The Walking DeadThe Walking Dead – The relentless pace of The Walking Dead never stops (ironic, given the increasingly shambling nature of the zombies). In the space of twenty odd episodes an incredible amount happened and it’s only through the efficiency of the writing and the talent of the actors that all the characters manage to develop and every nuance is clear. I do wish that we could catch our breath a little, and that the characters could actually find some brief respite and happiness, but I guess that wouldn’t be The Walking Dead.

pennydreadfulPenny Dreadful continues to be an under-watched and under-appreciated gem. The period detail is stunning and the interweaving of various literary characters is fascinating. It’s definitely a show that benefits from watching in chunks though as it is quite easy to lose track of the many different threads.

Mostly honourable mention: Orphan Black has got off to a strong start to season 3 (I’m about 3 episodes in) but its storyline is becoming more convoluted and I hope it’s not going to get lost.

Same old, same old (in a middling way)
CriminalMindsCriminal Minds – I didn’t even bother to review Criminal Minds this year because I honestly have nothing to say and very little recollection of what happened. I mean, I guess it’s safe and familiar (as much as that’s weird to say about a graphically brutal series about serial killers) and it’s not that I want it to be cancelled or dramatically changed, but 10 seasons later it needs some energy.

csiCSI – the final season trundled along much as the last half dozen or so had gone. Unremarkable stories, increasingly losing touch with the actual science and credibility that the show was founded on. Mind you (spoiler alert) having just yesterday watched the final feature length episode, the last season comparatively the creative highpoint of the show.

Middlingly honourable mention: NCIS: Los Angeles continues to have fun with its characters but struggle when it comes to memorable and engaging plots.

Same old, same old (in a bad way)
scandalScandal – oh good lord. It just keeps getting stupider and stupider. The core relationships are all stunningly unhealthy and I endlessly wonder why any of them (friends, colleagues or lovers) stay together when they’re clearly all phenomenally bad for each other and in fact the rest of humanity. I think I might be done.

Game of ThronesGame of Thrones – I’ve finally given up. There’s way too many characters that I really don’t care about, too many drawn out plots that aren’t going anywhere and a complete absence of any real fantasy. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Dishonourable mention: not even James Spader was enough to make me stick with The Blacklist as its convoluted mess of a story left me completely confused and utterly uninterested in who was trustworthy or not.

What happened there?! (in a very bad way)
goodwifeThe Good Wife – I hate seeing The Good Wife down in this section, but the more I think about it, the more frustrated I was by this season. I’d been really looking forward to seeing what would happen with Cary and Alicia’s firm, particularly with Diane joining them… and I was cheated out of it by a ‘too fast’ change of direction that saw Alicia running for State’s Attorney. The ongoing ridiculous arguments with the old firm was just pantomime and Cary’s legal problems were just contrived and frustrating. There’s still a lot of good about the show, but all the major storylines were miss-steps.

2014/15 – New Series

Another year of television drifts to a close, at least my rather arbitrary definition of ‘year’ which starts in September for my collation of American television. Based on an EXTREMELY haphazard count via wikipedia of things that look like ‘proper’ shows (seriously, that’s as specific as it gets) I’d say there were about 60 new shows lasts year. I watched 24 pilots which isn’t too shabby a ratio, particularly given I actively avoid comedies for the most part.

Jane_the_Virgin_logo (1)It didn’t feel like an exemplary year for television in general, or for new shows in particular. I guess the only notable thing was the rapid growth of the online channels and even that’s more of a continuation of a trend than a huge new development. The impressive calibre of serious dramas on both cable and online either overwhelmed or just wasn’t challenged by much in the way of fun simplicity on the main broadcast networks. In fact the only channel that really stood out was The CW where Jane the Virgin gained critical praise and awards previously unseen by the tiny little ‘teen’ network. So well done The CW for doing something different and well, while the other broadcast networks just seemed to do the same old stuff, and not really doing that great a job with it either.

Things I Watched/am watching
Agent_Carter_Series_LogoI picked up 6 new series this year, most of which I’m quite enthusiastic about and intend to stick with. The only one that I was in two minds about was cancelled anyway.

  • The Affair – the he said/she said structure of this, and the self-obsessed characters could have got tedious, but the actors carried it off. The murder-mystery flashforward story was a bit manipulative and contrived though, so hopefully the writers will go a bit easier on that in the second season.
  • Aquarius – I’m halfway through this 1960’s set detective drama based loosely around Charlie Manson. It’s David Duchovny’s dry detective who really sells this show though.
  • Jane the Virgin – quirky, fresh, charming, moving, laugh out loud funny, and utterly embracing it’s own ridiculousness. I loved this series.
  • Marvel’s Agent Carter – An absolute gem of a show that went largely unnoticed. It had great writing, a fantastic central performance and some really interesting things to say about women in the years post WW2. Absolutely brilliant.
  • Stalker – Another generic entry into the procedural pool. I watched the whole season, mostly while ironing or cooking and was utterly unbothered by the fact it was not renewed for a second season. The best thing about it was probably the quirky covers of famous songs that made even sweet ballads sound creepy as anything
  • Transparent – I was endlessly irritated by most of the characters, but Jeffrey Tambor makes the whole thing not only bearable, but funny and touching. If only season 2 could bring some redeeming features to the two younger children, I’d be even happier.

Things I watched a bit of

  • Forever – A guy who can’t die solves crimes using his centuries of knowledge and experience while hiding his immortality from almost everyone around him. I watched about half this series, mostly because Ioan Gruffudd And Judd Hirsch had a really lovely chemistry and backstory, but I just kind of faded away from watching it as the case of the week got less and less interesting. Given it was cancelled after the first season, I wasn’t the only one that lost interest it seems.
  • Madam Secretary – despite my rather apathetic review of the pilot I stuck with this for a dozen episodes or so, but it just never got better. Tea Leone was great, but the fact that every complicated international story got resolved in 44 minutes and we all slapped ourselves on the back just got too tedious. It did get renewed though.
  • Twelve Monkeys – I lasted a few episodes of this and found it quite entertaining, but after a while I got rather bored and increasingly concerned that it was just going to turn into a giant net of conspiracy theory that could just add more layers of complexity in the middle if/when the series was renewed. I just wasn’t that engaged so drifted away.

Things I might watch
wayward_pinesAll series that I just reviewed the other day and enjoyed, or found intriguing enough that I might catch-up with them.

  • Bloodlines – it has Kyle Chandler.
  • Empire – does a good job with familiar tropes
  • iZombie – entertaining and fresh, but it’s not got a UK broadcaster yet.
  • Wayward Pines – a bit slow and lacking in originality but probably sufficiently intriguing to get through the short run

Things I didn’t bother with

  • Constantine – it was… fine, but no more. It felt too close to other shows to make it really worth watching and as it wasn’t picked up for another season, I won’t bother catching up.
  • The Flash – I did watch the pilot for this, and while it wasn’t anywhere near as dire as the pilot of its sibling show Arrow, it just didn’t grab me.
  • How to Get Away with Murder – this just didn’t charm me as much as I wanted it to, it seemed to fastforward straight to the conclusion I eventually reached with Scandal in season 4 – utterly unlikable, irredeemable characters heading towards inevitable destruction.

Things I’d actively avoid

  • CSI: Cyber (imbedded pilot) – I don’t really remember much about the imbedded pilot beyond the questionable logic of the storyline so I won’t be bothering.
  • Daredevil – In a crowded genre, this was just unremarkable.
  • Gotham – the following words appeared in my review of the pilot: trite, obvious, hammy, unsettled
  • The Knick – same old hospital plots just with period costumes and a very unengaging lead actor.
  • Murder in the First – so by-the-numbers that I barely made it through the first episode.
  • NCIS: New Orleans – yeah yeah we get it New Orleans has great food, great music, great accents and… enough navy related crime to keep a series going? Really?
  • Sense8 – so very dull
  • State of Affairs – pretending to be smart while in fact being stunningly stupid.