Carnivàle: Season 2

My review of season 1 said that I wasn’t sure whether I liked the show or not and that how good the first season was would depend on whether the pay off of all the set up was worth it. With the series being cancelled season 2 is all the payoff we’re going to get and sadly I think it desperately needed a third season. 1 was the background for a battle, 2 was putting the troops on the relevant sides and the opening salvos, 3 would have been the battle itself (I suspect). Without getting to where it was going, I’m not sure that the rest of the journey was anything more than an interesting diversion – compare with if Babylon 5 had been axed after season 2. This is probably a bit harsh and stemming from my bitterness at the cancellation. I did find the episodes fascinating to watch – you can never really predict what most of the ‘supporting troops’ are going to do and which side they’ll pick, right up to the final moments of the last episode.

The style of the series is amazing and being HBO they can push things much further than ‘regular’ tv can get past the censors giving it a much grittier realistic feel. I think this may have had the potential to be great, but without it’s conclusion, I’m not sure where it ends up.


Desperate Housewives: Season 1

Pure trashy fun, something of a guilty pleasure and the first thing for a very long time I’ve actually watched weekly on TV. The ‘average’ suburban street of Wysteria Lane is anything but average with murder, fires, drugs and mystery merged in with adultery, bitchiness and hilarity. The housewives and their lives are all very different, but they unite together to try and find out why their friend Mary-Alice committed suicide. While that mystery runs throughout (and is actually ‘resolved’ by the end of the season) it’s the little stories of their every day lives that create the most fun and hilarity. The set up for the next season looks intriguing and so long as the bitchiness and the one liners continue I’ll even put up with adverts to watch it.

DVD Special Features
A nice box set with a good selection of special features. The commentaries by creator Mark Cherry are funny and interesting, drifting from on-set anecdotes to details about production effortlessly. The making of features are also very well put together with input from a range of cast and crew. The cheesy “Oprah is the new housewife” is kinda funny but kinda horrific at the same time. The out-takes are unsurprisingly hilarious. The only irritation is the menu system – there are deleted scenes which are in the bonus features menu, then there’s extended episodes which have different deleted scenes put back in but are separate. Why make them different? Why not either re-edit all the deleted scenes back in? And why not just put the extended episodes into the play all function? I ended up having to go in and out of multiple menus to make sure I watched everything. But overall a great box set only slightly marred by a daft menu system.

Lost: Season 1

Telling the story of the 40 days after a plane crash leaves 40 odd people stranded on an island it touches upon many genres but is best described as a character drama. Each episode focuses on one of the character’s backstory told in flashbacks but for every piece of information revealed, two more questions are presented. The lives of these characters are linked before they ever get on a plane, and the shifting alliances on the island keep everyone moving. Life on the island covers everything from the mundane of water and censuses to the bizarre of polar bears and mysterious transmissions. Nothing is as it seems and no answer is simple. Once you’ve watched the whole season, you’ll want to watch it all again to pick up all the hints of things to come.

Veronica Mars: Season 1

I’d had numerous people gushing at me about this series and despite a few flaws, it mostly lived up to its promise. It’s not going to be everyone’s taste, but it’s smart and funny and different.

The concept of the show is fun, Veronica Mars used to be one of the In girls until her best friend was murdered, her boyfriend (the friend’s brother) dumped her and her father (the sheriff) was sacked for the way the case was handled. Now she’s on the outside of all the groups, bitter and picked upon. She works with her father who’s now a private investigator and tries to solve the murder of her friend while picking up some side work from fellow pupils.

Conceptually it’s nothing spectacular, but the gradual development of the murder case makes the show fascinating to watch week to week. The tempo is nicely handled so there’s something new each week building up to the end of the season reveal, which may have been a bit rushed, but that may just be my feeling as I watched the last 5 episodes in a row. It’s a great mystery story with plenty of twists and turns in it. The mini-mystery each week is usually less complex, less memorable and occasionally excessively cheesy but give the opportunity to see into a variety of different lives at the high-school.

The cast is superb, limited only by two factors: the somewhat schizophrenic characters and the fact they’re 22-25 year olds playing 17. I guess it’s not unreasonable that the children who live in the spotlight are forced to mature faster and have more presence than your average 17 year old, but it is occasionally noticeable that they’re a lot older than they should be. With the varying characters it is again not unreasonable that children who have been through traumatic events would be somewhat unstable some of the characters do seem to vary wildly from sweet and caring right through to total selfish arseholes. It’s not necessarily noticeable when watching each episode, but when thinking back over the season it’s difficult to pin some of the characters down. Kristen Bell as Veronica is marvellous, Francis Capra is perfect as the leader of the biker gang bowing to no-one and Jason Dohring manages to play every one of his character’s personalities well. The stand-out I think though is Enrico Colantoni as Veronica’s father who as the token adult manages to come across as a very real person and bring humour and responsibility to the ensemble.

DVD Special Features (Region 1)
The region 1 set is rather disappointing. Given the target audience of the show and how active the show’s creator is online (he’s a regular poster on forums) I expected rather more than just a collection of deleted and extended scenes. The scenes were interesting, but to be honest I can’t actually remember any of them now. I suspect that this was a fast release to get season 1 out before season 2 started airing, so I expect there will be a special edition in the future.

Carnivàle: Season 1

The basic premise is that we’re following a travelling freak show around in 1930’s dust bowl US. We join them as they pick up a stranger who doesn’t appear to be a freak but may well actually be the most ‘different’ of all of them. One of my favourite things about the series is that the characters are all flawed and by no means the most honest people on the planet, but they really are actually freaks – be that an actual bearded lady or a fortune teller who really can see the future. They are a spectacularly dysfunctional and bizarre family, and they know and acknowledge it. Except none of it’s acknowledged out-loud. It’s just the way things are. And the audience picks up on that as the new
member of the group does so too.

The other story running throughout and almost entirely independently I’m a bit less sure about. It follows a priest who seems to have some close connection with God, through visions and strange occurrences. Without spoilering his character goes through a quite impressive journey over the course of the season and the whole thing seems to be a very large set-up for… well, I’m not sure what.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t go into such ramblings about the plot and just tell you what I think, but I honestly don’t think I know. I watched most of the 12 episodes of the season in a couple of days while off-sick and I don’t actually know whether I liked it or not, beyond that I didn’t want to stop watching. It was certainly beautifully shot and produced (as evidenced by an impressive haul of Emmys and other awards) and the scripting and acting is superb. However I can’t help feeling that the whole season is just one long scene setter for something much bigger, if it pays off then it’s challenging and daring, but if it fails, I can’t help thinking I’ll look back on the season as a disappointment.

The West Wing: Season 5

Oh. I knew that with the departure of Aaron Sorkin many said that The West Wing had just died, with some despondent fans going so far as to start Don’t Save Our Show but I hoped on. having watched the season through I understand where they’re coming from. It’s lost a great deal of what made the earlier seasons great, much of which I couldn’t even begin to describe. However, even West Wing at it’s worst, without the Sorkin shine, is still a great deal better than most of the other stuff on TV.

My primary criticisms would be that the new show-runner John Wells (he who kept causing issues with helicopters on ER) lost track of the fact that people watched and loved TWW despite there not being something to fuss about every week. We don’t need to have social security saved, or the government being shut down, or gimmicky mock-documentary episodes. Those sorts of spectacles were limited to ends of season while regular episodes comprised of nothing more exciting than filibusters, broken space probes or discussion of a census. And we *were* excited, and enthralled, and uplifted. Add to that the fact that some of the characters appear to wander off the plot and it’s just..not the same. I miss the proper West Wing, but I’ll take what I can get.

Dead Like Me: Season 2

The first season of this I found a bit hit and miss, they never quite managed to get the balance of comedy/drama right and it mostly came across as whiny. The first episode of the season was no improvement at all and I almost gave up then and there. However I was encouraged to continue watching and was glad of it. After the initial mope-fest the rest of the season actually picked up and got on with stuff, much the same way as the lead character finally did. She stopped whinging quite so much and just got on with being a reaper and ‘living’. The other characters all got some measure of development and roundedness to them and interacted well together. Although mostly still episodic the arc that develops towards the end is an intersting one. Frankly I can’t remember much about the actual stories, but I kept watching, frequently in ~4 episode chunks. It still has extreme problems with the B story following George’s still living family in that there’s no contact at all between the threads. Hopefully the 3rd season will either see that dropped or linked to the other characters somehow. Not the greatest show of all time or anything, but it’s enjoyable to watch.