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.

Emmy Awards 2015

Emmy AwardEmmy time is here again. Ordinarily I talk on and on about all the categories, but this year I can’t be bothered. So rather than waffle on and on about series that I haven’t seen, I’m just going to cover the drama categories, and then just a couple of other random comments

Mad MenOutstanding Drama Series

  • Better Call Saul: Haven’t seen
  • Downton Abbey: Downton Abbey is at least entertaining, but there are more entertaining shows out there that would never dream of being on the Emmy ballot.
  • Game of Thrones: I only made it a few episodes into the season before acknowledging that I was neither entertained nor challenged, the story was just too poor and meandering.
  • Homeland: Homeland had a great first season and then got disappointing fast, but I’ve heard it had a bit of a turnaround.
  • House of Cards: I haven’t seen the latest season and found season 2 a bit disappointing
  • Mad Men: Splitting Mad Men’s final season in two was manipulative and rude and to me just reinforced how poor the whole thing turned out to be.
  • Orange is the New Black: I’m only half way through season 2 at the moment, but it is absolutely brilliant. I’m also happy to see it in the drama list rather than the comedy where it has been nominated for other awards. I’ve no idea how anyone can consider it to be a comedy. I mean what was the funny bit, the suicide, the violence, the harassment or the rape?

By dropping Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey there’s easily enough space to add in Justified and The Americans, both are series chronically overlooked by the Emmys but ignoring Justified’s final masterclass of a season was particularly cruel. I’d also put in The Walking Dead and The Good Wife, both had seasons which were not their best (particularly The Good Wife which was downright disappointing) but are still a long way better than a lot out there. I didn’t see the seasons of Orphan Black or Sons of Anarchy but they’ve been consistently worthy of nomination in the past. I didn’t watch, but it’s a bit surprising Empire isn’t on the list.

americansLead Actor, Drama

  • Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) – not seen, no idea
  • Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) – I’ve not seen the show, but I will always love Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights
  • Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) – Not seen this season but he’s usually great
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – I really don’t know. I can’t stand the character, the show was pretty poor and the writing mediocre, so how can I really tell what the acting was like?
  • Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) – no, sorry, but his performance was mostly just shouting Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, the acting required was minimal.
  • Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) – I watched the first episode and wasn’t inspired, but Live Schreiber was pretty good.

I haven’t seen this season’s Sons of Anarchy, but Charlie Hunnam is usually incredible and given the material I know the story was made up of, I’m sure he should be here. Dominic West in The Affair gave a very nuanced performance of the same character from two different points of view. Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead continues to do amazing work with material that other actors can only dream of, while Timothy Olyphant had dialogue to die for delivered with such originality that every second was enthralling. Matthew Rhys continues to be shamefully ignored for his performance on The Americans where he plays someone who’s playing so many different roles to different people that they’re all blurring. I didn’t watch much of the season but James Spader is never anything other than excellent in The Blacklist.

orphanblackLead Actress, Drama

  • Taraji P. Henson (Empire) – Haven’t seen
  • Claire Danes (Homeland) – a talented actress, but her character can rely too much on whining and mania rather than subtlety and talent
  • Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder) – weirdly, I haven’t seen this Shonda Rhimes series
  • Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) – The fact that Tatiana Maslany finally made it onto this list is about the only thing that The Emmy’s actually did right this year. I haven’t seen the eligible season of Orphan Black, but unless she had some kind of stroke in the time since last season, she surely played all her many characters with depth and charisma.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) – a strong season on Mad Men, and while I’m not sure she got enough material to justify a Lead actress credit, her talent is in no doubt.
  • Robin Wright (House of Cards) – probably pretty good on House of Cards, although I have in the past found her character a bit flat, so it depends on the material she got.

This is a phenomenally good year for women on television because I can think of loads of other people who deserve nominations. Ellen Pompeo had an absolutely superb year on Grey’s Anatomy as Meredith found herself and lost her love. It’s a cheesy show, but Pompeo excels. Kerry Washington from Scandal could easily make the cut too. I was utterly blindsided by Hayley Atwell as the titular Agent Carter. The series could have been Agents of SHIELD-lite (even liter), instead it had this amazing woman at its heart, with strength, vulnerability, wit, and uncertainty. She totally blew me away. Similarly in a show that’s notionally about the relationship between two men, the lawman and the criminal, it turned out to be the woman in the middle that was the true heart of the series and Joelle Carter played that power and terror to perfection, while also delivering a lot of the laughs.

Then there’s Ruth Wilson from The Affair who played a conflicted and complicated woman and then played her from two points of view. Eva Green on Penny Dreadful threw herself so much into the role I was genuinely scared she’d hurt herself. Oh and the always superb Julianna Margulies from The Good Wife, not the best writing they’ve ever had, but she was amazing as usual. Oh, oh and I can’t imagine Katey Sagel in Sons of Anarchy suddenly became rubbish either. Oh and Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black

Game of ThronesSupporting Actor, Drama

  • Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul) – no idea
  • Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) – no idea
  • Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) – actually this may be the first nomination for Downton that I actually agree with, his storyline with Mrs Hughes was absolutely spot on.
  • Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones) – I only made it half way through Game of Thrones, but compared to last year Dinklage’s material wasn’t that incredible, it probably got better after I gave up.
  • Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) – I didn’t hink Alan Cumming had any particularly outstanding material this year, he was great as always, but there didn’t seem anything outstanding, in fact I think Matt Czuchry as Cary had a far more interesting and should’ve had this spot.
  • Michael Kelly (House Of Cards) – interesting. I’m not sure what he was like this year, but I’ve generally found his role focussed too much on creepiness and lacked any real subtelty.

People that are missing, Joshua Jackson was pretty good in the Affair, like the other cast getting to play two different takes on the same character, which is even more interesting when he isn’t one of the ‘narrators’ and hence both versions are in fact opinion and the self-view is never shown. Walton Goggins for Justified (although he could make an argument for joint lead). I heard good things about Mandy Patinkin finally getting some decent material to work with on Homeland

goodwifeSupporting Actress, Drama

  • Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) – her storyline wasn’t as good this year as it was last and she was just too irrititaing.
  • Lena Headey (Game Of Thrones) – I didn’t get far enough into the season of Game of Thrones to see Lena Headey’s big storyline develop, but by all accounts she was phenonmenal,
  • Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones) – she’s always good, but I don’t think she’s especially outstanding and I think of the two Headey’s got the edge.
  • Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) – excellent as always, but she was a bit in the background this year
  • Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) – great as always, a good case could be made that it’s her and Elizabeth Olson that are the only redeeming things in Mad Men’s final years.
  • Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black) – I’m not sure that playing crazy like this is necessarily the most impressive achievement. There are so many great performances in that cast I think I’d probably go for Kate Mulgrew but I haven’t quite seen the full season.

I’m a bit less overloaded with other candidates for this list. Bellamy Young on Scandal continues to play every facet of the ridiculous Mellie with originality. . Melissa McBride on The Walking Dead had a great year with some wide ranging material.

transparentComedy

  • Outstanding Comedy Series. The only comedy I actually watched was Jane the Virgin and that was absolutely ridiculously ovrerlooked in the nominations, although even if it was nominated the winner should still be the beautiful and surprisingly funny Transparent.
  • Lead Actress: Seriously Gina Rodriguez was incredible, she won the Golden Globe and she’s not even nominated? This year’s evidence that the Emmy nominators are dumb.
  • Lead Actor: Jeffrey Tambor is surely a safe bet for this. I wasn’t expecting how hilarious he was going to be, both with dialogue and the physical comedy.

Oh, hilariously there’s a nomination for Jane the Virgin under Narration, which is wonderful because Anthony Mendez absolutely makes the show with his sarcastic voiceover.

honourablewomanLimited Series or Movie:
I bet Olive Kitteridge wins I couldn’t make it through the first ten minutes it was so painful. The only thing worse would be American Horror Story winning for its entertaining, but far from incredible Freak Show season. I’d be pretty happy with the great Honourable Woman winning, or with Wolf Hall winning even though I didn’t make it more than 10 minutes into that either.
Maggie Gyllenhaal played such an interesting character in The Honourable Woman, completely selling the cold, calm exterior being just a presentation to the world. Extraordinarily good acting. I guess the point of American Horror is for over the top performances and Jessica Lange (lead) and Kathy Bates (supporting) chewed their way through some terrible material with some terrible accents. Sarah Paulson (supportin) however was really rather good playing the conjoined twins.
Television Movie: I’m sorry but Grace of Monaco is nominated here? How bad was the rest of the list because Grace of Monaco is a terrible terrible film!

2012-13 Season – the best and the worst

2012_2013As the new season has officially started, it’s time for my wrap up of the 2012-2013 season! From the list below it really looks like I’ve watched 46 television series this year, which frankly even I find amazing, given that last year I was astonished that I’d gone from 28 to 39 series. Admittedly 10 of those series are still in progress and a couple might not get finished, but even without those, it’s still probably somewhere in the order of 700 episodes.

The Americans: S1
Blue Bloods: S3
The Big Bang Theory: S6
Bones: S8
Borgen: S2
Broadchurch: S1
The Cafe: S2 (in progress)
Castle: S5
Chicago Fire: S1
Criminal Minds: S8
CSI: S13
CSI: NY: S10 (in progress)
Defiance: S1
Doctor Who: S7
Downton Abbey: S3
The Fall: S1
The Following: S1
Forbrydelsen (The Killing): S3
Fringe: S5
Game of Thrones: S3
The Good Wife: S4
Grey’s Anatomy: S9
Hannibal: S1
Homeland: S2
House of Cards: S1
House of Lies: S2 (in progress)
Hunted: S1
Last Tango in Halifax: S1
Luther: S3
Mad Men: S6
Merlin: S5
Nashville: S1
NCIS: LA: S4 (in progress)
The Newsroom: S2 (in progress)
Once Upon a Time: S2 (in progress)
Orphan Black: S1 (in progress)
Les Revenenants (The Returned): S1
Scandal: S2 (Review to come)
Smash: S2 (in progress)
Supernatural: S8 (in progress)
The Thick of It: S4
Utopia: S1
Vegas: S1
The Walking Dead: S3
Warehouse 13: S4 (in progress)
Young Doctor’s Notebook: S1

There are also a few miniseries I watched (mostly British) – Dancing on the Edge, In the Flesh, What Remains (to be reviewed), The Secret of Crickley Hall and Southcliffe.

Best Shows
The Walking Dead title screenThe Walking Dead – I think this may be the show I obsessed most about this year (although see Scandal later on). I pounced on every episode as soon as I could, read analysis, studied trailers, frankly it’s a bit embarrassing. But what makes me really happy is that the show warrants its place in the best list, not just the favourite. The quality of this show is outstanding, from the breathtaking direction to the elegant writing and heartbreaking acting. There were a few miss-steps with the plot, but overall, this show is right up there with the likes of Battlestar Galactica for raising genre to a new level.

GoodWifeThe Good Wife – It’s hard to think of new superlatives to describe The Good Wife, from the very first episode of season 1 this show has been consistently good, interesting and entertaining. Sadly that consistency also applies to the ongoing poor usage of Kalinda, but if that’s the only problem with the show, then it’s still leaps and bounds above most of its companions on the schedules.

House of CardsHouse of Cards – It’s notable that of the three best shows I’ve selected one is on Cable, one is on Network and the final one is on neither! Thanks to Netflix it’s now possible to get exceptional television series completely independent of the television channels. House of Cards was smart, challenging and exceptionally well made and throws a real challenge at the traditional broadcasters.

Honourable mentions – I’m only 2 episodes in, but Orphan Black is rather amazing and reminiscent of the also stunning Utopia. Broadchurch was outstanding, blending believable responses to horrific events with a British humour and A Young Doctor’s Notebook was surprisingly weird and engaging.

Favourite Shows
scandalScandal – I haven’t written my review of this yet, because it would mean admitting that rather than waiting for the weekly episodes on the television, I was so addicted to the show, I saught out an alternate source and watched the whole season pretty much back to back over the space of a weekend. The story is utterly ridiculous, but I found it incredibly addictive. Shonda Rhimes has recreated the Grey’s Anatomy magic, it doesn’t matter how bad it is, I can’t let it go.

americansThe Americans – It’s almost impossible to talk about this show without comparing it to Homeland, which appeared on my best shows list last year, but is significantly absent this year. The Americans gets right everything that Homeland got wrong in season 2, it never took itself too seriously, never sacrificed consistent character development for cheap cliffhangers and remembered that spies (even in the 80s) are cool!

BorgenBorgen – Last year Borgen was in the ‘Best shows’ category, this year I move it to ‘Favourite’ because although I still adore it, I just didn’t think it was as good. I had a lot of trouble with the storylines and characters this season, many set off down unfortunate paths which ultimately led to dead ends and frustrations. But despite that, it’s still hugely entertaining, with sparkling dialogue, beautiful direction and an unfailing ability to draw me in.

Honourable Mentions – hmm, the fact I’m struggling to find ones of note is a bit of an indicator that this years shows have really gone to the extremes of “great” and “meh”. Nashville was reliable ridiculous fun (far far more successful than the increasingly awful Smash) and Last Tango in Halifax was endearingly easy watching. Oh, and there have been great moments in the first few episodes of The Newsroom, but those moments of brilliance are unfortunately surrounded with some real mediocrity (and that’s being charitable).

Actors
bBroadchurchI think there should be some kind of awareness that there is great acting going on in the oddest of places. Awards are generally given for great acting in great shows. That really is a bit chicken and egg, is the acting great because of the writing, or is the writing great because of the acting? For shows like The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Broadchurch, The Americans and The Good Wife, the quality just feeds back and forth elevating both to wonderful heights.

The Thick of ItThe more impressive achievement I think is great acting taking place in mediocre or even awful shows. The cast of Homeland did an admirable job with truly terrible writing as did some of the cast of Hannibal. The Thick of It had serious structural problems from a watch-ability point of view, but it did mean everything built up to the stunning inquiry which offered each of the actors an opportunity to give a masterclass in characters. Peter Capaldi was of course the star (and the only problem I have with him being Doctor Who is that he’ll have less time to do work like this), but everyone in the cast was incredible in that episode.

lutherThen you’ve got the type of performances that complete transcend and transform the shows they are in. Performances from Idris Elba (Luther) and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) seem like they’re in entirely different leagues to everyone around them, bouncing off the screen with originality and charisma and really are the only reason I watch the shows. I came to Nashville because I love Connie Britton, but was surprised that I stayed with it in equal parts for was wonderful performance from Hayden Panettier. Between the two of them they made the ridiculous soap opera watchable.

Grey's Anatomy CastWhen it comes to relying on her actors to sell ridiculous storylines however, Shonda Rhimes is queen, I forgive Grey’s Anatomy its many sins because of actors like Chandra Wilson, Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh. I forgive Scandal for being demented because of actors like Kerry Washington who portrays Olivia Pope with such hardness and such softness, Jeff Perry who makes Cyrus the kind of manipulative bastard you want to share popcorn with and Guillermo Diaz who makes you want to give Huck a cuddle even if he is a terrifying psychopath.

Disappointments
Mad MenMad Men – If not for the fact that the next season will be the last, Mad Men season 6 would have been the nail in the coffin for me. I’ve just got no interest in watching a show increasingly dedicated to the unpleasant and repetitive character that is Don Draper. He goes round and round in destructive circles, holding back the other characters and the show itself from really developing.

Once Upon a TimeOnce Upon a Time – I’m struggling to find the enthusiasm to watch the whole season of this I have backed up on my Sky+ box. I think there are just too many characters (particularly given almost every character has a fairy tale alter-ego), too many worlds and too many storylines. I don’t care enough to watch every week, and without that regular viewing I lose track and therefore care even less.

fringeFringe – I’m sorry, but the final season of Fringe just wasn’t as good as the previous seasons. Jumping to the future threw everything off for me, it wasn’t as much fun, I wasn’t as engaged and it felt less original. It did however at least offer a solid ending to the show, so I am still grateful for that.

Things I Didn’t Watch
SonsOfAnarchyIn many ways the 2012-13 season was notable for the things I didn’t watch. Several shows that I’ve previously loved, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch. Glee and NCIS both got dropped because I was fed up with the inconsistent writing. I tried out Hawaii Five-0 to fit the NCIS spaced gap, but though I love the dynamic between the two leads, it wasn’t enough to keep my attention through the mind numbing plots. I also dropped Veep because I just didn’t find it funny enough to overcome the frustrations with stupid characters.

My reasons for stopping watching Girls are rather more profound. Like Veep, I didn’t think it was funny and I found the characters frustrating, but I had an extra level of repulsion to the series because it seemed to be claiming some greater reality than something like Veep. Lena Dunham, either through her own claims or those of the media appears to think this is what young women in New York are really like. Given that I think the characters are pretty hateful people, if that’s truly what this section of humanity is like, then I want nothing to do with them, even through the abstract medium of television.

This year’s high profile casualty is actually more about the fact that the writing is too good. Sons of Anarchy is a superb television show, but by making me care so much about the characters, the relentless misery heaped upon them has just become a bit much. As their situations become increasingly hopeless I found myself dreading each episode until eventually my anxiety overcame the quality and I remembered that I didn’t have to watch if I didn’t want to. It’s the same reason that I’m unlikely to watch Breaking Bad beyond the first season, that was enough for me to understand how good it was, and enough to for me to know I just didn’t want to watch something that hard.

To end this section on a positive note however, even though I didn’t get along with this season of American Horror Story (I just didn’t feel any connection to any of the characters) the clever thing about the way the series is structured means that I can try it again next year when it moves on again to a new set of characters and stories.

Local Talent
utopiaEvery year I pledge to watch more British television, and this year I actually managed it! A lot of it suffers from, what Sky’s director of entertainment eloquently described as “po-faced stick up your backside morose drama”. When done well that sort of thing is hard but fascinating to watch, but when done badly it’s just dull. Southcliffe fell into the latter category unfortunately, The Fall was doing well until it failed to reach a conclusion that just left a bad taste in the mouth. On the plus side Utopia was quirky, brutal, intriguing and beautiful to watch, and Broadchurch was utterly engrossing and entertaining from start to finish. It’s a good job David Tennant was so good in that though, because The Politician’s Husband was horrific and I know at least one person who’s Tennant crush has been permanently damaged by the dialogue he was forced.

Downton AbbeyA lot of dross was also put out claiming to be ‘pure entertainment’ with Mr Selfridge and The Paradise both trying to capture the ongoing magic of Downton Abbey and failing catastrophically. Hunted was entertaining, but nowhere near interesting enough to make me want to watch a second season. Sky’s offerings of The Cafe and Young Doctor’s Notebook are far from what I’d expect from the juggernaut, both understated and unusual.

Emmy Awards 2012-13

Emmy AwardAh the Emmys. Every year the nominations come out and television fans and critics alike look at the list and go “you what now?”. It’s full of the same old stuff, some of it deserving, but a lot of it just old, tired and not as great as people remember it was. The nominators seem to have massive blind spots for certain shows, often it’s a straightforward “genre shows aren’t good” (The Walking Dead), or “police procedurals may be popular but we shouldn’t reward that” (Southland), or “motorcycle gangs are bad” (Sons of Anarchy) or even just a blanket “there’s nothing good on network, quality is only on cable” (The Good Wife). But this year for some reason the Emmys have also taken against The Americans and when you start wondering if that’s because they still don’t like Russians, you have to wonder what the hell is going on over there.

So here are my thoughts on who I would give awards to and who I think will win the Emmys. I’ve only really covered the major drama categories. I don’t watch enough comedy, reality or factual to comment on those, I don’t have enough technical knowledge to comment on sound design or camera work and I can’t be bothered to look at the directing and writing categories because those frankly seem like they’re just used as an extension of the outstanding drama/comedy/whatever award and not looking at whether the direction or writing is actually creative or innovative.

OUTSTANDING DRAMA
Breaking Bad – I’ve only watched the first season which was brilliant, and I can’t imagine the final season is anything else, although stretching it out for nearly 2 years does feel a little like an awards show grab.
Downton Abbey – Ah, the Americans’ love of Downton Abbey. It’s a fun series, with a very specific genre. Does it deserve to be here? Hell no.
Game of Thrones – Another very specific type of show that just does not belong on this list.
Homeland (2012 winner) – I think the second season is probably best described as ‘troubled’. Season 1 was very good, I think season 3 could be very good, but season 2 was not.
House of Cards – It’s already a huge deal that a Netflix original programme is on this list at all. The fact that it’s also absolutely superb should terrify the other channels.
Mad Men – Far from the best season of the show. I’ve lost interest completely.

The Walking DeadWith the exception of Breaking Bad and House of Cards I think this is a really very poor selection from the vast number of outstanding shows that are out there. The Walking Dead is far more deserving than Game of Thrones (if we’re going to allow one spot for genre). The Americans is better than Homeland, Nashville is a better cheesy soap than Downton Abbey (not that this category is necessarily the place for a cheesy soap) and The Good Wife (while not such a tidy genre comparison) is so far beyond Mad Men it’s not funny. I would also not be appalled to see Scandal, or Sons of Anarchy (even though I haven’t seen it) on the list, and I know a lot of people would grumble at the absence of Southland and Justified.

My outstanding drama – The Walking Dead
My Emmy Choice – from that list, I think House of Cards (Breaking Bad can have it next year)
What will win – I recon House of Cards might just do it

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Connie Britton, Nashville – Excellent choice, she’s wonderful. And lovely.
Claire Danes, Homeland (2012 winner) – manages to ride the roller coaster the writers put her character on, always knocking it out of the park
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey – she’s doing the best with some pretty miserable writing, but no way she deserves to be on this list (not least because it’s an ensemble, she is not the star)
Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel – Haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know, but I’ve heard good things.
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men – She’s a great actress, but I don’t think she’s a lead in Mad Men, she just didn’t get enough material.
Kerry Washington, Scandal – Another excellent choice, she’s incredible on the show.
Robin Wright, House of Cards – A difficult character, but played very well to make her both unsettling and sympathetic.

scandalThere are some amazing roles out there for women at the moment, and some amazing actresses filling them. The presence of Connie Britton brings into notice the absence of her co-star Hayden Pannetier. She submitted in the supporting actress instead, I guess for fear of splitting votes, but then didn’t get nominated). I would say she was as much a lead as Britton and did just as good a job and actually with a greater range of material. Keri Russell of The Americans is overlooked, Ellen Pompeo continues to quietly do good work on Grey’s Anatomy, Anna Torv for Fringe didn’t even bother submitting herself apparently, Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff of Sons of Anarchy might as well not have bothered because the Emmy’s fails to acknowledge their shows existence. I’m also only a couple of episodes in but Tatiana Maslany is incredible in Orphan Black and pretty much cleared up at any award show voted for by critics. But that all pails into insignificance with the absence of Julianna Margulies for The Good Wife which is just beyond belief.

My Outstanding Actress – Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (although I might change that to Tatiana Maslany when I finish Orphan Black)
My Emmy Choice – I think Kerry Washington, she makes the show work, which is a true mark of a leading role.
Who will win – Robin Wright, and it would be well deserved.

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey – He did have some amazing moments this season, but they were only moments. I think he belongs in the supporting actor category.
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad – I’m sure he’s amazing
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom – Interesting. The writing for the character was all over the place, but he did convincingly sell it all.
Jon Hamm, Mad Men – I hate the character and think the continual yo-yoing is beyond a joke, but even when I try to ignore that and just look at Hamm’s performance, I find it a bit… flat.
Damian Lewis, Homeland (2012 winner) – As with his co-star, ropey writing salvaged by superb performances.
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards – It’s Kevin Spacey, of course he’s amazing.

House of CardsTo my mind, Matthew Rhys in The Americans gave just as good a performance as Damian Lewis and the show around him was immeasurably better material. The fact that Andrew Lincoln’s breathtaking work on The Walking Dead was ignored isn’t surprising but is endlessly frustrating. I think the show is rubbish, but Hugh Dancy gives an amazing performance in Hannibal. I wouldn’t have been displeased to see Matt Smith for Doctor Who, or even Kevin Bacon for The Following on that list either. The surprise absence is Michael C. Hall for Dexter who must have really pissed someone off to not get his sixth consecutive nomination.

My Outstanding Actor and Emmy Choice – Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Who will win – Bryan Cranston.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad – probably excellent
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (2012 winner) – I was initially frustrated at this nomination, but then I remembered the scenes after Sybil’s death and actually, I think she deserves this nomination far more than her win last year.
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones – She’s one of the best things in the disappointing series, but I’m just not sure there was that much complexity to her character.
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife – yay!
Morena Baccarin, Homeland – Also yay!
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men – I love her, but I’m not sure her character got enough to do to warrant this nomination. I’d almost rather see January Jones in this space. (Oh, but two actresses from Firefly in the list, how cool is that?!)

NashvilleGiven I think Hayden Pannetier could have been nominated for lead, the fact she didn’t make the cut here is surprising and sad. I’d happily see Chandra Wilson or Sandra Oh for Grey’s Anatomy on the list. Kate Mara gives just as good as she gets from Kevin Spacey on House of Cards (and could be argued is more the lead than Robin Wright is).

My Outstanding Supporting Actress – Hayden Pannetier for Nashville, and I’m as surprised as anyone by that.
My Emmy Choice – Christine Baranski (Maggie Smith can just consider she won a year early and it averages out).
Who Will Win – Maggie Smith

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire – Don’t watch, dunno.
Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad – Dunno, haven’t seen any episodes with him in.
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (2012 winner) – I’m sure he’s great.
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey – Sigh. No. Just no.
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones – The best thing in the show and almost the only reason I keep watching. Absolutely wonderful.
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland – A worthy nominee.

Game of ThronesI’m pretty unexcited by this list, but then can’t really comment on three out of the six. John Nobel for Fringe is unsurprisingly overlooked. Josh Charles is always wonderful in The Good Wife, Sam Waterstone is powerful and hilarious as Charlie in The Newsroom, Guillermo Diaz and Jeff Perry were both superb on Scandal, and for all Smash’s woes I rather adore Jack Davenport.

My Outstanding Supporting Actor and Emmy Choice – Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. Every scene he’s not in is just counting the minutes until he returns.
Who Will Win – I recon Peter Dinklage might win again, but the Breaking Bad people could snatch it.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Margo Martindale, The Americans – oh apparently the nominators *are* watching The Americans, or is it just that they loved Margo Martindale in Justified so much they keep nominating her. She’s good, but not spectacular.
Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones – I think this is more about the name than the performance, which while good, I’m not sure was one of the best of teh year out of the thousands available.
Carrie Preston, The Good Wife – Yay Elsbeth! I adore her, she’s so quirky and offbeat, but somehow incredibly real.
Linda Cardellini, Mad Men – I had to look up who this was. Unenthused.
Jane Fonda, The Newsroom – I just remember her shouting a lot, not really anything phenomenal
Joan Cusack, Shameless – No idea.

goodwifeThis list could easily be made up with just The Good Wife – Maura Tierney, Martha Plimpton, Mamie Gummer, Stockard Channing, Amanda Peet… all wonderful. Shirley McLain was hilarious in Downton Abbey. I’m sure Grey’s Anatomy had some good guests too, but the one I remember most was Sarah Chalke.

My choice and the Emmy’s choice, was Carrie Preston for The Good Wife (awarded at the Creative Arts Emmys last week)

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Nathan Lane, The Good Wife – it’s always odd to see Nathan Lane doing something low key and he was heartbreaking as a drab little accountant in a suit inspired by Steve Jobs’ biography
Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife – gloriously manipulative, skirts the edges of comedy villain beautifully
Rupert Friend, Homeland – I had to look him up, but as soon as the photo loaded I recognised him as the creepy and mysterious Quinn, an excellent addition to the amazing Homeland cast, but he was in 9 out of 12 episodes… doesn’t sound like a ‘guest’ role.
Robert Morse, Mad Men – Bert Cooper (I had to look him up and check) just doesn’t really do that much, more a reliable piece of furniture than anything outstanding imho.
Harry Hamlin, Mad Men – I have no memory of him in the series. Not a great indicator.
Dan Bucatinsky, Scandal – I was surprised to see this name here, he was a little umm… melodramatic I thought, but I don’t begrudge him this space on the list.

Another list that could just be made up of guests on The Good Wife – Matthew Perry, Gary Cole, Dallas Roberts, T.R. Knight – all my favourite actors show up here sooner or later. Guest stars are always the hardest to remember though and I’m struggling for other shows.

My choice – I can’t bring myself to pick between Nathan Lane and Michael J. Fox.
Emmy’s choice – Dan Bucatinsky, which really surprises me.

OUTSTANDING TV MINISERIES OR MOVIE
behindthecandelabraAmerican Horror Story: Asylum – I just didn’t get on with the series this year. I found it much harder to engage with the characters and stories
Behind the Candelabra – not being in the idiotic US, I was able to see this in its true home on the big screen and it will probably feature as one of my top films of the year. Telling a fascintating story about complex characters in a hugely enjoyable way – a joy to watch.
Top of the Lake – I made it through 2 and a half episodes before calling it quits due to extreme boredom and disbelief at every single one of the characters.
The Bible, Phil Spector, Political Animals – haven’t seen ’em

My outstanding miniseries/movie – Behind the Candelabra and I think the Emmy voters will agree. I think Michael Douglas will also win the lead actor award, although Matt Damon is equally worthy.

The 2011-2012 Season

I’ve been dragging my feet on my season round-up post as I’ve been trying to polish off a few more series. But all the new stuff is starting, so the time has come to just get on with it! I’ve watched 39 series this year, last year was 28 so that’s a pretty terrifying increase! A fair number of the series are only a handful of episodes though (for better or worse) so I figure the number of episodes is about the same, somewhere around the 600 mark.

American Horror Story – S1
Awake – S1 (In progress)
The Big Bang Theory – S5
The Big C – S2
Blue Bloods – S2
Bones – S7
Borgen – S1
The Bridge – S1
The Cafe – S1
Castle – S4
Criminal Minds – S7
CSI – S12
CSI:NY – S8
Downton Abbey – S2
Forbrydelsen (The Killing): S2
Fringe – S4 (in progress)
Game of Thrones – S2
Glee – S3 (in progress)
The Good Wife – S3
Grey’s Anatomy – S8
Homeland – S1
House – S8
The Jury
Luck – S1
Luther – S2
Mad Men – S5 (In progress)
Merlin – S4
NCIS – S9
NCIS: LA – S3
The Newsroom – S1
Once Upon a Time – S1 (in progress)
Outnumbered – S4
Sherlock – S2
Smash – S1
Sons of Anarchy – S4
Supernatural – S7
Terra Nova – S1
Veep – S1
The Walking Dead – S2
Warehouse 13 – S3

There are a few other bits and pieces that didn’t make the list, mostly documentaries, many of them really rather excellent – Inside Nature’s Giants, David Attenborough’s Kingdom of Plants filmed at Kew Gardens, Frozen Planet, Wonders of the Universe to name a few.

BEST SHOWS
Borgen. “The Danish West Wing” is an overused label, but it’s so accurate it’s hard to resist. It’s not just the subject matter that draws the comparison, but the quality of writing and production and, sadly, the ability for it to break your heart as characters realistically, but depressingly make the wrong decisions.

Fringe. For complicated housemate related reasons I still haven’t seen the final two episodes of this series, but I can’t see how they would do anything that would mean the series drops from this list. Fringe continues to evolve into a spectacularly complex, yet completely followable series while never forgeting to actually entertain its audience with self-aware nods to the ridiculousness of the situations.

The Good Wife. A brilliant cast, fascinating storylines, sure and steady character development all polished off with sparkling dialogue makes a package that’s just a complete and utter joy to watch. In a world of mediocre network procedurals, this one is so far ahead it’s clearly in a different league.

Homeland. Another show that’s complex yet accessible. The gradual reveal and development of characters is fascinating and I was on the edge of my seat all season not knowing which way anything was going to go.

Mad Men and Awake could potentially be added to this list, but I am less than half way through each.

FAVOURITE SHOWS
The Newsroom. This show was the one I’d been most looking forward to, and I’m slightly devastated that I can’t include it in the ‘best’ category. But despite massive flaws with the characters and a preachiness that even I find rather troublesome, it’s still one of my favourite shows of the year. That may be blind Aaron Sorkin obsession, but I don’t care.

American Horror Story. A huge collection of characters and stories intricately interwoven and elegantly revealed over the span of a carefully structured series. It felt both innovative and yet thoroughly grounded in the history of the genre. I’m especially happy that each season is completely self contained, so nothing is dragged out or has the chance to get dull.

Smash. It’s original and fun, balancing cheesiness and melodrama with engaging characters and a surprisingly real feeling storyline. I’m really looking forward to next season, particularly given they’re getting rid of all the annoying characters.

Once Upon a Time. Another new show that’s original and fun. The storyline is incredibly complex yet revealed so elegantly that there’s never any difficulty keeping up. It’s beautifully designed and just a lovely series to watch.

ACTORS
I sort of covered my thoughts on actors in my Emmy post, so here are some broader thoughts.

House . Hugh Laurie gets the most praise publicly, but the whole cast of the series are absolutely superb. Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson completely and utterly broke my heart, Peter Jacobson (Taub) cracked me up, Olivia Wilde (Thirteen) stole the very few scenes she was in, and Jesse Spencer (Chase) produced one of the most satisfying character developments I’ve seen in a long time.

Homeland . One of the few things that myself and those that vote for awards actually agree on, the superbness that are Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. I however would go a lot further and also heap praise on the supporting performances by Morena Baccarin and Mandy Patinkin.

Sons of Anarchy. Award voters clearly have some kind of blind spot when it comes to Sons of Anarchy, because year after year they completely fail to register the incredible performances throughout the cast, but in particular from the female leads Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff

Katharine McPhee (Karen) and Megan Hilty (Ivy), Smash – I loved the dance the characters went on, competing with each other but respecting each other’s talents; sometimes gracious, sometimes bitchy. And boy can they belt out tunes! Also Jack Davenport (Derek) had some of the funniest lines of the year!

Fringe . The cast are good as their primary characters, but what’s impressive is that most of them then go on to play the same person in the alternate universe, each of them the same person but with slight variations. It’s astonishing, they are the same person yet completely different, it’s mind twisting and fascinating. I can’t imagine a greater challenge as an actor. While Anna Torv and John Noble rightly get a lot of praise, the performances of Jasika Nicole (Astrid) and Seth Gabel (Lincoln Lee) are just as subtle. Poor Joshua Jackson must feel rather hard-done-by without an alternate version to play with. He is pretty though.

The Good Wife – so many great performances and characters that I love from both stars, supporting characters (I could watch Josh Charles and Christine Baranski do the Will and Diane show all day long) and a dream list of guest stars (Michael J. Fox, Martha Plimpton, Matthew Perry – all playing deliciously slimy characters).

GOOD THINGS
Booth and Bones getting together on Bones. I was completely against it, but cheerfully admit I was wrong. Having them jump from no relationship at all to living together and having a baby brought a breath of fresh air to the series. It was handled with such lightness and charm, with both characters bending to accommodate the other, but not making any fundamental changes… beautifully written and acted. Here’s hoping Castle can do the same.

The end of House. A series going out gracefully and winding everything up with a collection of satisfying resolutions for all the characters. House has never been about the medicine, but about the puzzles and about the people, while I may personally wish that Wilson had a different conclusion, it all fed in so perfectly and everyone ended up where they were supposed to be.

Creativity! It felt like there was some variation with what’s on TV, not just an endless stream of interchangeable procedurals. Shows like American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and Walking Dead (finally) are investigating what it’s like to bring non-traditional genres to television, and shows like Smash, Luck and The Newsroom brought different subjects to the screen.

Female Characters! There are plenty of people out there who have and will write far more eloquently on the plight of women in television, but this year has felt like a relatively good year. Shows are full of strong women doing their jobs, raising their families and doing so as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Shows like The Good Wife, Smash, Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy have dominantly female casts, and almost everything else has a nice balance. Even something like Downton Abbey with its period constraints provides some wonderful roles for female actors.

BAD THINGS
Lighten up! Supernatural is superb, but it really really needs to lighten up a bit! It’s turned into something I have to force myself to watch, rather than something I really look forward to. The same argument could be made for Sons of Anarchy. Relentless depression is just not entertaining to watch, I’m not saying they suddenly need to be all sunshine and puppies, but just every now and then, let them catch a break.

NCIS . After 9 seasons, I realised there’s no point in watching this any more. The plots are utterly disposable and the characters are disastrously erratic. The last two seasons I’ve relegated it to ‘ironing watching’, but I’m even giving up on that (the show, not the ironing sadly).

Glee. I still haven’t managed to get to the end of the season having realised that I’m increasingly just fast-fowarding episodes. I just got sick to death with the terrible writing which completely undermined the charm of the characters and the talents of the actors. It just stopped being fun.

Still no spaceships. Can no one make this work?

Too short! Sherlock and Luther both had only 3 episodes, each ‘double’ length. It’s not enough. There’s the obvious problem that like a small child if I like something I want more of it, but it also really hampers the ability to get invested in characters and stories, just as you’re settling in, it’s all over and the voice over man is saying “will return in 2014”.

PS
In preparing this article, I went back and looked at my summaries of last years shows and I have to highlight the following phrase in my summary of 2010-2011’s new shows:

Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

I rejoice in my ability to predict the future and can’t wait to see what Joss does with S.H.I.E.L.D.

2011-2012 – New Shows

36 pilots this year. As usual the vast majority of them are American series, but there’s a couple of British ones in there and almost as many Scandinavian ones!

Things I watched
American Horror Story – something very different for television, not always brilliant quality, but addictive
Awake (cancelled) – (not yet finished), clever and challenging.
Borgen – superb. The plots and characters didn’t go the way I wanted them to, but it was extremely well written, acted and produced.
The Bridge – great premise, not particularly well realised. Some fun and interesting characters let down by a disappointing plot.
The Cafe – utterly charming, although maybe only because it’s set in the town that I spent all my summer holidays and it re-creates it to a tea.
Homeland – fascinating (although occasionally frustrating) twisty plot and superb acting.
The Jury – properly awful ITV drama, but my excuse for actually watching it is that it was only 5 episodes and I had a cold.
Luck (cancelled) – incredible footage of horse racing surrounded by a too complicated plot and utterly incomprehensible characters.
The Newsroom – (not finished yet), swerving wildly from breathtakingly good, to really rather rubbish.
Once Upon a Time (not finished yet) – a nice idea, charmingly done. It’s not going to set the world alight, but it’s really rather lovely for Sunday evening relaxed viewing.
Smash – something different! Hugely entertaining with the exception of a couple of terrible characters who have sensibly been cut for next season.
Terra Nova (cancelled) – it had problems, but as Saturday evening ‘fun for all the family’ it was pretty good.
Veep – Some good dialogue, but I don’t like comedies about stupid people. I only really watched it because it was a short season.

Last year I only picked up eight new series, this year it’s thirteen so it’s been a better year on numbers, and actually the more I think about it, the more positively I think about the new season. It doesn’t feel like a spectacular year, but it’s got a few quiet stars, but once again they’re all on cable channels in the US (Homeland, American Horror Story, even The Newsroom), network channels are really struggling to find anything remarkable.

Things I might watch
House of Lies – quirky and entertaining pilot, with some charismatic performances and no problems with being unlikeable.
Scandal – show about legal ‘fixers’ working in Washington DC from the people that brought you Grey’s Anatomy. For some reason I failed to review the pilot, but it had potential. Yes, it was cheesy and predictable but the fast paced dialogue was entertaining and the characters and storyline had potential. Doesn’t seem to be airing in the UK though.

Things I might have watched if they weren’t cancelled
Alcatraz (cancelled) – a sparkles pilot just didn’t inspire me but I could see some potential, I was going to give it a chance, but then it was cancelled
Prime Suspect (cancelled) – fascinating central character and good line up of actors, with an interesting directorial style to it all.
The Playboy Club (cancelled) – Surprisingly entertaining and interesting, but pretty much doomed
The Secret Circle (cancelled) – Teenage witches in a small town with plenty of mysteries. It was pretty cheesy but I found myself somewhat charmed (pun intended!).

Things that weren’t bad, but I just didn’t like
GCB (cancelled) – I did laugh and enjoy pilot, but I hated myself for it a bit so didn’t really want to watch any more, then it was cancelled so I didn’t have to decide.
A Gifted Man (cancelled) – a well put together pilot, interesting concept, well written directed and acted. But I couldn’t see any way the story wouldn’t end badly for the characters and I just didn’t want to watch that happen.
Grimm – it reminded me of lots of other things, all of which had been done better than this. It felt small and boring.
New Girl – As comedies go, I didn’t hate it, but I just didn’t really feel like watching any more.
Touch – too manufactured and artificial and not very well written.

Things that were rubbish
The Body Farm – badly written, badly acted and less scientifically sound than CSI Miami.
Charlie’s Angels (cancelled) – awful. Just awful.
The Finder (cancelled) – I only watched the backdoor pilot in Bones, but it was packed with irritating tropes (bloody awful accents, know it all characters, intellectual tough guy)
Hart of Dixie – cliché ridden awfulness.
Hell on Wheels – utterly un-engaging.
Pan Am (cancelled) – a bit boring and too plastic and artificial feeling
Person of Interest – charisma vacuum characters making ridiculous decisions and delivering cliché ridden dialogue
Revenge – utterly unsympathetic, hateful characters
Ringer (cancelled) – Terrible pilot with crappy production and a daft premise.
The River (cancelled) – Fun concept, delivery was painfully awful. The pilot was a double episode and it was so bad I couldn’t bring myself to watch the second half and never got round to reviewing it.
Titanic – I was rooting for the iceberg.
Unforgettable – An ironic title given it was pretty unremarkable, it’s a good cast but cheesy dialogue and cliché premise and plot left it not making any impression.

Finally some creativity!
I was critical last year that it didn’t feel like there was any creativity in the line up, everything was either a thinly veiled recreation of another successful show, or at best a ‘bog standard’ example of a genre that wasn’t represented on TV (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones). Someone seems to have listened to me, because this year did offer up some refreshing originality.

Shows like Smash, Once Upon a Time and Awake all had novel ideas or settings at their hearts and even though they weren’t always successful, I did at least want to cheer them on for giving it a try! American Horror Story set about bringing the horror genre to TV in the same way Walking Dead brought the zombie genre, but did a lot better job of merging the genre and the platform and made something really fascinating. Mind you, there were still some unremarkable procedurals and ‘rehash’ shows out there, Pan Am (and to a lesser extent The Playboy Club) tried to capture the period appeal of Mad Men and fell on their faces.

I’m right, everyone else is wrong
One thing that I find interesting is looking at the shows that I liked that got cancelled (annoyingly) and the shows I hated that stuck around (unfathomably). One show I was disappointed to see cancelled was Terra Nova which I suspect was rather miss-pitched as a primetime weekday evening show, when really it fits best in the early Saturday evening family slot (which the American’s don’t really seem to get like the UK does with Doctor Who and Merlin and the like). The other was Awake, which was an intriguing concept well played by Jason Isaacs (hello!) but was maybe a little slow for mass audiences. Mind you, I can’t really judge that harshly those that didn’t watch it, as I haven’t actually finished the series yet.

On the flip side I guess I’m saddened, but not surprised that some of the horrifically cheesy, cliché ridden shows found an audience (Hart of Dixie, Revenge). Why anyone wanted to watch Jim Caviezel suck all the life out of the room in Person of Interest is a mystery to me though.

Don’t believe the hype
Looking back at the upfront coverage, it seems that the big shows had the odds stacked against them. “Eagerly anticipated” programmes with big budgets and big names attached struggled to find the ratings to match their budgets – Steven Spielberg’s Terra Nova, JJ Abrahms’ Alcatraz, DeNiro’s NYC 22 (such a failure I didn’t even notice it go by), Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return in Ringer, the spin off for Bones, all fell flat. Only slightly more successful were the new Shonda Rhimes show Scandal and while Smash lived out the season it was far from the eponymous hit that was expected, and I’ve never seen a show create a more confused critical reaction of loving and loathing it than Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Meanwhile, the darlings of season are based on an Israeli show and from the critically hounded creator of Glee. Homeland dared to be smart and used extraordinary actors to keep audiences on the edge of the seat, while American Horror Story did exactly what it said on the tin and wrapped its story up miniseries style.

Oh UK
I’ve really tried to find more UK shows to watch this year, but there’s been precious little of interest on UK channels. In addition to the stuff I’ve mentioned above which was at least bad enough to bother reviewing (Titanic – why and how are you so rubbish?!) I tried out probably half a dozen others and didn’t even get as far reviewing, often not even as far as the end of the first episode. Recent examples include ITV’s Last Weekend which was so full of foreboding it was laughable, and BBC’s Parade’s End which was mumbly and dull. As a rule I found the UK shows I watched either too impenetrably complicated for my little brain or killed by terrible production values.

It’s quite telling that I watch more Scandinavian shows than I do British ones. Well done to BBC for airing them at least, but I’m not sure what it is that’s stopping the UK channels making stuff this good. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. If anyone has any recommendations I’d be very grateful!

Battle of the Shows: Semifinals, and Final

Previously on Battle of the Shows: Rerunning Vulture.com’s battle of the “Best shows of the last 25 years”, led to two of their semi-finalists being knocked out in Round 1 (Breaking Bad and The Sopranos) and the other two being knocked out in Round 2 (Mad Men and The Wire. To save building the tension any further, here are the semis and the final all in one post!

Friday Night Lights v. Six Feet Under
Considering this is the semi-final this choice really wasn’t very difficult, which I think shows up the problems of this structure, but never mind, thems the rules. While this is an easy win for Friday Night Lights there is an interesting point of comparison because I took a break from watching both of these shows, not because I wasn’t enjoying them, but because I was too invested. For both shows I was spoilered on what was coming up (Season 5 for Six Feet Under, Season 4 for Friday Night Lights) and I found it incredibly difficult to bring myself to watch the events actually playing out on screen. I had formed such an attachment to the characters that I didn’t want to see bad things happen to them. The difference however is that I eventually went back to Friday Night Lights because I just couldn’t stay away, while for Six Feet Under I still haven’t quite got round to it.

The West Wing vs Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This is also not a massively hard choice for me, but one that I feel slightly sadder about. I’ve obsessed over both of these series, but my Buffy obsession came before my West Wing obsession and is fading into memory. I can no longer easily quote chunks of dialogue or identify episodes, my love of all things Whedon has been expanded, but also diluted with Angel, Firefly, and even Dollhouse on occasion. My friends of the period that shared my obsession have dispersed and although my box set is in pride of place, I haven’t re-watched it in years.

Meanwhile although West Wing was on at the same time as Buffy, I didn’t actually watch it until several years later when my obsession led to me watching the first 2 seasons in 8 days and maintained a similar pace until I caught up with the dvd releases during season 5. I’ve watched the series end to end at least three times, unable to watch an individual episode without hitting “play all” on the dvd and running it through to the end. Current friends share my obsession and we can cheerfully lose hours trading quotes and references.

I think in many ways Buffy is the more important show, both for its themes and messages, but also for its influence on ‘genre’ and ‘teen’ television ever since, While I do have a sense of regretful rememberence of past love, when I’m asked which show I prefer, I can only really go with The West Wing, the obsession that still burns strong.

The Final: Friday Night Lights vs. The West Wing
It was always going to come down to this choice, it always does. And as I always do, I will give the award to The West Wing.

Friday Night Lights gives you a beautiful insight into a group of people’s lives and makes a seemingly small and unimportant subject fascinating, it’s very intimate both in subject and in directorial style with extensive use of documentary style footage and overlapping dialogue.

The West Wing meanwhile has a much wider scope because while it may focus on national and international politics, it is also ‘just’ about the people who are going to work every day and doing a job. The relationships and personal traumas may not be as front and centre, but they are always there, quietly bubbling and developing over the years. It’s style is completely the opposite of Friday Night Lights, polished movie quality shots and such amazing dialogue that it borders on the improbable.

I am extraordinarily grateful that I got to watch Friday Night Lights, it feels as if I was allowed a privileged insight into something beautiful. But I suspect in a few years time, it will have faded into memory, much like Buffy has done. While I suspect I shall be putting those West Wing dvds in and being unable to resist ‘play all’ when I’m old and grey.

A final note
The final outcome of the battle will be of no surprise to anyone who’s read more than a few pages of my blog. But I am self-aware enough to realise that any knock-out battle or ‘top X list’ can very easily be swayed by preconceptions. Trying to find a balance between not looking at older shows with rose-coloured glasses, while also not being skewed towards more recent memories of new shows.

I certainly think that there’s also a massive distinction between my favourite shows, the ‘best shows’ and ‘the most important’ shows. I do find myself wondering if in 10 or 20 years when I come to evaluate shows from this era I’ll role my eyes that I was so caught up in what was well written, acted and directed, and what was enjoyable to watch. Will I actually look back and realise that the shows that I should have given more consideration to were the ones like Lost, Buffy and Battlestar, shows that will stand out because even if they weren’t technically as good, they were innovative and therefore hugely more important?
Ah well, seeya in a decade to check.

Battle of the Shows: Round 2

Previously on Battle of the Shows: Vulture.com came up with a list of 16 “Best shows of the last 25 years”, set them up in a fight and then proceeded to make all the wrong choices. I re-ran the fights to show you what should have happened.

Round 1 was pretty easy, outcomes were largely based on technical quality, impact and in one moment of excitement – a coin toss. Round 2 is where things get tricky. Ish.

Six Feet Under vs. The Shield
It comes down to the simple question of which one I’d rather watch. Although I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the end of the series, I have been known to re-watch older episodes of Six Feet Under. I don’t regret for a minute watching the episodes of The Shield that I have, but I have no desire to re-watch any of them again and only ever recommend it to the toughest of television fans. Six Feet Under is just a more pleasant experience, which is saying something given that it’s a show entirely about death and the difficulty of living.

The West Wing vs. The Wire
The West Wing. Easy. I will get round to The Wire again, too many people who’s opinion I respect have recommended it. But after season 1 of The West Wing I went straight out and bought season 2 for full price in an actual shop and sat and watched it during my lunch break. After season 1 of The Wire, I never watched another episode.

Friday Night Lights vs. Battlestar Galactica
OK, that’s a lot tougher. I’m going to vote for Friday Night Lights, but I’m not 100% sure that isn’t just the easy option. It’s the show I’ve watched most recently and it’s certainly the easier show to watch. That’s not to say that Friday Night Lights is laugh a minute or anything, it’s a show about hope and dreams, and a lot of the time, those don’t work out. But Battlestar takes it a step forwards and shows you what happens when a distant hope is all you have and that really isn’t much at all. Friday Night Lights is about making the best you can and fighting for what you want; Battlestar is about desperation and fighting even once the war is lost, because what else are you going to do? Battlestar is obviously the more ambitious show covering a multitude of science fiction ideas, time and space, while Friday Night Lights is ‘just’ about teenagers playing football, but both shows take plenty of time to examine the people and relationships. While Battlestar Galactica is a superb achievement, Friday Night Lights more smoothly blends entertainment and drama, just making it a more pleasant viewing experience.

Mad Men vs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Ouch another tough choice. Buffy means so much more to me than Mad Men. I used to get my family to video it and when I came home from university for the weekend my mum and I would watch it in marathon sessions. I think Mad Men is the better show, it’s crafted like fine art to be studied, appreciated and discussed, but that makes it occasionally academic and cold. But Buffy to me is something to love, it’s far from perfect, but it’s something you have a relationship with.

Previously – Round 1, next up – the semifinals and the final

Battle of the Shows – Round 1

Vulture.com are doing a sort of battle of the best TV drama of the last 25 years. I started reading it and was really impressed at the depth of the analysis and with the unexpected outcome of the first decision. But then I read a second article and I could not have disagreed more strongly with their choice. I figured I’d run through their choices myself and explain why they are wrong.

NB – They have started out with a shortlist of 16, which was already wrong. There’s a few of my top shows of the decade missing from the get-go and of course it ignores the output of every country other than the US (oh and Canada, there’s some Canadians on the list!). But I wanted to use the same list.

So round 1 – ding ding:

Deadwood vs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This was the first category I came across (because I got the link from Whedonesque) and thought that Buffy would be in for short shrift. But I was impressed not only by the depth of the analysis, but by the fact that Buffy won. Although I’m well known as a Buffy fan, even I don’t think this was an easy competition to judge. I really love Deadwood, it’s a fascinating and unusual show that brings the poetry of Shakespeare to potty mouthed prospectors. Buffy on the surface is just an American high school show with cheerleaders who happen to fight vampires, but of course as any number of sources will tell you it’s really about life and destiny and choice. The beauty of Buffy is that it’s actually both, it’s hugely entertaining and it’s really very important. It created its own genre and dozens of shows owe Buffy their success.

The other issue to me though, and this is what really swung it – Deadwood is incomplete. Cruelly cut down in its prime, it never got to finish its story. Of course that’s not the shows fault, but when I evaluate the competition Buffy got more time and told a complete story.

The X-Files vs. The West Wing
This was where Vulture.com lost me. I’m sorry, but no way in this universe or the next is The X-Files a better show than The West Wing. My love of The West Wing is well documented all over this site, so I’ll not go over how smart the dialogue is, or how fascinating the subjects are, or how much I adore all the characters. On the flip side you won’t find any article about The X-Files because I haven’t re-watched it since I started writing reviews properly about 8 years ago. Now like every geeky teenage girl of the mid 90s I adored Fox Mulder, obsessively videoing every episode and dissecting them with my friends. But even my adoration couldn’t stick with the show when 4 seasons in it degenerated into overly complicated, drawn out conspiracy theories and endless will-they-won’t-they relationship bumblings. Then it went on another 28 seasons or something. Yes, The West Wing had some dodgy phases and although it eventually clawed its way back for a breathtaking season 7, it never really reached its original heights; but the best of The X-Files was never as good as The West Wing’s, and its worst was considerably worse and much longer.

Breaking Bad vs. Friday Night Lights
I have never seen Breaking Bad, I have sesaon 1 on dvd, but I just haven’t got round to watching it. So, I don’t really have any right to make a judgement here. However while I’ve heard stunning things of the early Breaking Bad, I’ve also heard some disappointment at the direction of later seasons. So with an acknowledgement that I’m not being fair, the only way I can vote is for the show that appealed enough for me to actually watch it. An easy win for Friday Night Lights.

The Sopranos vs. Six Feet Under
I’ve seen one season of The Sopranos and four of Six Feet Under, so I’m 5 seasons short on Sopranos and 1 season short on Six Feet Under. But the reason that I haven’t finished either season is the key to my decision. I thought season 1 of The Sopranos was ok, but I never really connected to the characters and there was nothing calling out to me to watch more. The counterpoint to that is that I haven’t seen the final season of Six Feet Under because I don’t want to say goodbye to the characters. I have had the season 5 dvds on my shelf for years, but haven’t watched them because although I know it is a superb season and often described as one of the best series finales ever, I enjoyed the show too much to watch it end. It’s stupid, but that’s why Six Feet Under wins.

The Wire vs. My So-Called Life
This is a bit like the battle of who cares less. I have friends who threaten to disown me for this, but I just didn’t get along with The Wire, I watched one season and really struggled to follow what was happening. I do have vague intentions to give it another try though. Meanwhile, I’ve got the box set of My So-Called Life and haven’t made it past episode 2 – I can’t tell you anything about it, just that I haven’t bothered to put the dvd back in. So on episode count alone, The Wire wins.

The Shield vs. NYPD Blue
This one is another unfair one as I’ve never seen an episode of NYPD Blue in my life. I suspect it’s also not fair because without NYPD Blue, would The Shield exist? I’ve seen the first few seasons of The Shield and thought it was amazing, BUT I haven’t watched the whole series because I just couldn’t take any more. It was all just too bleak, violent and depressing. So do I go for the show that is a foundation for so many great shows after it but that I’ve never bothered to watch, or the one that takes those foundations to their logical but eventually unwatchable extreme? I genuinely flipped a coin and it came down in favour of The Shield.

Twin Peaks vs. Battlestar Galactica
I’m about two thirds of the way through Twin Peaks. I watched the first half obsessively over the space of a week and have got at least 4 blog posts in my head about it. So why haven’t I finished watching it? Mostly because like most people who watched the show, I found that after they solved the initial mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, the momentum of the show just disappeared. Secondly I wasn’t actually a fan of the levels of weirdness it degenerated to, I liked the kooky and odd stuff, but the resolution to the mystery was just too much. Battlestar Galactica came pretty close to losing me a few times along the way as well with its rather extreme mythologies. But I stuck with it, because it was so well written and produced and in the end, I think it all came together, and then it dutifully stopped. Maybe if Twin Peaks had just stopped, it would have stood a chance, but as it didn’t, Battlestar wins.

Mad Men vs. Lost
I gave up on Lost somewhere in the third season, because I lost faith in the writers. I felt they were trying too hard to make a television show that could be stretched out for as many years as possible, rather than telling a well paced mystery story. By all accounts I should probably go back and watch it through because I hear it pulled it all back together in the end, but I haven’t got round to that yet. With Mad Men however, I have nothing BUT faith in the writers. It’s one of the slowest series I’ve ever watched, half a dozen episodes can go by with seemingly nothing happening except gorgeous period detail and subtle acting. But every now and then, something happens – two characters share a moment, or a single line of dialogue and you realise that all that nothingness has been building to that one perfect moment. It’s breathtaking. The only proviso I put on awarding this win to Mad Men is that it’s one of the few shows on this list still airing new episodes and it still has time to blow it.

Next up – Round 2, and the semifinals and the final

2010-2011 – New Shows

I watched 30ish pilots this year, most of which I gave full reviews of. Last year I did 27 and this year most of the extra ones come from some random British series that I watched but didn’t pick up. Even with giving up on comedy pilots for the most part it was still a bit of a slog frankly with an awful lot of mediocrity out there.

Things I watched:

  • Blue Bloods – Frankly not very good – an interesting concept, but badly written. Just saved by the wonderful Tom Selleck
  • Downton Abbey – excellent fun, perfect for Sunday evening family viewing
  • Game of Thrones – Very entertaining and an impressive production
  • Mad Dogs – A great cast in a relatively mediocre production, thankfully very short
  • Outcasts – Entertaining, but massively flawed writing and plot holes. Not massively disappointed that it was cancelled.
  • Terriers – Charming, hilarious, interesting, entertaining and criminally cancelled
  • The Big C – hilarious and moving
  • The Walking Dead – The novelty made me watch it, but it was horribly cliché and flat

Two things jump out at me from that list. The fist thing is that genre shows get a bit of a free pass from me in that they only have to be not awful to get me to watch them. The second thing is there’s only one network show on the list, and even that one wasn’t very good. Other than that everything is either British, or on cable in the US; and they’re all short seasons. That’s not good, not good at all.

Might watch

  • Harry’s Law – the worrying preachiness of the pilot put me off, but given it survived a season, Kathy Bates might lure me back again
  • Hawaii Five-O – bright and entertaining popcorn action, I meant to watch it but I failed to catch it as it went past. I do intend to catch up though
  • Falling Skies – I enjoyed the pilot, but haven’t actually got around to watching the rest of it yet
  • Bedlam – Terrible Sky drama where Will Young was the best thing about it. I still have the last two episodes on the Sky box but haven’t quite got desperate enough to watch them.

Might’ve watched if they hadn’t been cancelled, might pick them up on dvd at some point

  • Chicago Code – OK, unremarkable, and then cancelled
  • Detroit 1-8-7 – solidly entertaining police procedural in a sea of mediocrity. Cancelled anyway
  • Hellcats – The pilot at least was entertaining in an awful Glee kind of way, it aired on MTV over here which was deeply annoying. Then it was cancelled.
  • Off the Map – It wasn’t as good as it wanted to be, but I enjoyed the pilot. It never seemed to make it to the UK at all due to its early cancellation I guess.

Not my thing

  • Being Human – not as good as the UK version, and I’m already 2 years behind on that
  • Boardwalk Empire – beautifully shot and acted and all that, but too slow
  • Exile – well acted and intriguing, I meant to watch the rest of the series but it disappeared from iplayer too fast and I wasn’t devastated
  • Nikita – felt like it was trying very hard (and maybe even succeeding) at being the next Alias, but given I never got round to watching that series I didn’t feel like committing to this one.

Just not very good

Body of Proof
Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour
Law & Order: Los Angeles
Lone Star
My Generation
No Ordinary Family
Outlaw
The Cape
The Event
The Shadowline
The Whole Truth
Vera

Not a great year
I just don’t think this was a very good year for new television. Looking back at last year’s freshman there are a lot of stand-outs, both critical successes like Justified, The Good Wife and Treme and ratings hits like Glee, NCIS: LA and The Vampire Diaries. There are a few direct comparisons this year (Boardwalk Empire is this year’s Treme, Hawaii Five-O this year’s NCIS:LA), but overall there’s an awful lot of mediocre going on.

Where’s the creativity? Even things that television executives hail as new and exciting aren’t really. The Walking Dead is a remake of just about every zombie film out there, Game of Thrones is a bog standard fantasy epic – Lord of the Rings for the smaller screen with less pointy ears. Next year’s most hotly anticipated show seems set to follow the trend with Terra Nova bringing Jurassic Park to the TV.

Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

Procedurals ain’t doing so well either. I enjoy procedurals but it’s been a while since a good one came along. Maybe the market is still too saturated, because even the ones that had potential and critical praise couldn’t find enough viewers to make a go of it.

Finally, they’re still all desperately trying to find the next Lost – people keep trying, but the high concept stuff just doesn’t seem to catch. High concept is something that can be explained in a sentence (“Lost: a plane crashes on island”, “Inception: you can enter and control people’s dreams”). This year’s main attempt, The Event, was a little too high concept I think “Something happens” really is a bit too high, I gave up after about four episodes – for a show called The Event – something should bloody well happen.