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.

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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.

I completely forgot to review this mini-series when I saw it, hence this is written a couple of weeks afterwards. The central story is basically Taken meets X-Files and isn’t exactly anything stunningly original, but it is well crafted and brings in some interesting comment on the whole ‘post 9/11 America’ thing. For this limited run there was a very nice balance of episodic and arc story-lines. The ‘freak of the week’ was always entertaining whilst the ongoing story-lines focussing on just a few of the recurring returnees were nicely paced and interlaced. The lead characters usually avoid stumbling straight into being Mulder and Scully clones. Usually.

Definitely worth watching, although don’t expect much of an ending, huge numbers of questions go unanswered, which some might find frustrating, but there’s a full series coming next summer, when I dare-say we’ll get a couple of answers, but even more new questions.

Stargate SG1: Season 1

My flatmates have acquired many many seasons of this on dvd and I felt it was someone’s duty to watch them. That and I was bored this weekend and not in the mood for Farscape. So back I went to 1997 (!) to watch season 1. It turns out Stargate hasn’t changed *that* much over the years. I still found it at it’s most fun when the characters were interacting, although the acting occasionally left something to be desired and many of the personalities hadn’t completely settled. The stories were almost entirely stand-alone (although the majority of them ended up being touched on again in later seasons) and it worked quite well as a “sci-fi idea of the week” kinda show. The end of the season had the gradual realisation of the depth of the problems they’d unleashed on the planet with an excellent 3/4 parter across to the next season, only interrupted with an annoying clip show (even more annoying when at most it’s only been 48 hours since you saw it the first time). There’s a good balance of all the things that make SG1 good – humour, action, sf, characters. I did spend most of the season wishing that Daniel would get a haircut and wondering why Carter was much… spunkier.

DVD Special Features
The dvd box set had absolutely no special features on it beyond a rather funky animated gateroom menu system thingy. Although there were additional scenes in the pilot that I didn’t remember from before (most notably a long scene at Jack’s house with him and Daniel that I’m sure I’ve never seen before).

Farscape: Season 3

Season 3 seems to be the advent of the big plot arcs and epic stories. While other season had sorta arcs they were more character development type things and hence more slow moving and less intensive. Season 3 seems to spend about 1/5 of it’s time in “previously on Farscape”. Sadly I just didn’t really enjoy this so much, possibly because as this was re-watching I remember how these epic story-lines play out and end, while the shorter stories I’d forgotten. Also the crew spend a chunk of the middle of the season split into 2, removing a lot of the interesting character interplay. I was also slightly frustrated by the pairing of Aeryn and Crichton (I generally actually don’t like it when the unrequited loves get together on shows – what makes the characters interesting is the unrequitedness) and the use of the giant reset button of doom plot device.

The other character comings and goings are interesting too, but generally not for the best. The loss of Zhaan’s calming presence means the crew loses it’s centre with Pilot not able to replace the calming influence well enough to stop the crew (and season) becoming much more frantic and unbalanced. Stark is going to go down as one of the most annoying characters ever at this rate and Jool doesn’t quite manage to stand her ground compared to the other characters, although the bickering with Chianna is fun, particularly the others’ reactions to it. Crais and Talyn never really seemed to manage to work out what their characters were, so it’s kinda hard to miss them.

All in all a rather disappointing season. The best episodes I thought were still the singles, but with less of them, the season just drifts into one long epic “shall we kill Scorpius or is he actually a good guy” type thing, which I lose interest in the 2nd time round. Still good, but not as good as 1 or 2.

Farscape: Season 1

I had a sudden craving for Farscape the other day, so sat down with episode 1 and spent the next few days working my way through for the first time in 3 years or so. I was surprised by how much happened in the first season, I thought many of the events happened later than that with the first season being more stand alone episodes. But by the end of the season we’ve already met many of the foundation stones of the rest of the seasons – wormhole aliens, Moya’s baby, Scorpius and various other people who’ll make reappearances. I was impressed with how big the series could seem even with just 6 (7 if you count Moya) main characters, only 4 of whom are actually actors, thinking on to later seasons Moya does seem to get rather crowded with various hitch-hikers. A superb, if somewhat bizarrely disconcerting, start to a series that somehow manages to have been consistently innovative, entertaining and disconcerting throughout it’s run.

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