Posts Tagged ‘ battlestar galactica ’

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

The Revolution Was TelevisedConsidering the amount I write about television shows, I read relatively little on the subject. I follow plenty of blogs scanning through dozens, if not hundreds of news stories and interviews via the marvellous productivity aid of RSS, but the number of books I’ve actually read can be counted on the fingers of one hand and is entirely limited to books dedicated to specific shows.

The Revolution was Televised had come up in passing from several television pundits I respect, most notably Maureen Ryan, currently of Huffington Post, who always adds depth not just to reviews of individual shows and episodes, but of the television landscape as a whole. I popped it on a Christmas list and had finished it by 3rd Jan.

The concept of the book is that there was a revolution in the way television was produced starting in the late 90s and those changes can be tracked back to a dozen key shows, that were not necessarily ratings hits (or even critical hits, although most of them are), but marked a step change in the way that television shows are created, run, marketed and watched . Alan Sepinwall takes us through each of these shows telling their stories and explaining their importance.

DeadwoodYour enjoyment and empathy with the book is going to be somewhat dependent on how many of those shows you’ve seen and what you thought of them. But, I was actually surprised at how engaged I was even in chapters on shows I’d never seen a single episode of. Out of the dozen shows, I would consider myself a fan of about half of them (Deadwood, Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, and Mad Men), five others I’ve seen a few episodes or couple of seasons of and have some respect for even if they weren’t to my taste (The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Lost, 24) and two I’ve never seen at all (Oz, Breaking Bad). But Sepinwall does a great job introducing each show and making you see what was groundbreaking and even magical about each show whether you were already on his side or not.

The dozen chapters telling the story of the shows are built up from interviews with a range of people involved with each show – the creators, producers, network executives that bought them, even the people who didn’t support them at the time. The comments are very open and honest, pride in successes, acceptance of mistakes and Sepinwall weaves them all together to form a detailed picture of the world of television production. Throughout the book there are also plenty of references to both older shows that lay the foundations and the newer ones which built upon them, charting the whole thing in a giant network of giants’ shoulders. Thanks to it going all the way up to the Summer of 2012 and talking about shows that are still on the air, it feels extremely current, although I guess the flip side of that is that it may not age so well.

LostMy only frustration with the book was that as it went on, it felt like it lost sight of its premise a little. Each chapter focussed more and more on the show itself and less on what was revolutionary. The reader is left to draw a lot of conclusions themselves, which is slightly frustrating. Also, for a book which is so current, there was surprisingly little said about how television distribution is changing both with the internet (pirated or otherwise) and even the rise of dvd sales over the period. Although it’s touched on a little in the section on Lost, there’s also very little coverage of the other effects the internet drives including marketing and fandom. Mind you, those subjects could easily fill whole books just by themselves.

This is an absolutely brilliant book for anyone interested in how television really works, not just gushing about shows that people love, but about how the industry develops and innovators can succeed in a massively competitive and generally risk averse environment. Alan Sepinwall is clearly a television fan, but he is not blind to the fact that it’s a commercial endeavour – he doesn’t vilify the networks who cancel low rated series and he doesn’t sanctify show runners whose poor working practices overwhelm their brilliant creative ideas.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerI found this book fascinating, entertaining and completely un-put-downable. Sepinwall has reminded me of just what a complex and fascinating medium television can be. He’s given me a fresh look at shows that I adore, brought to my attention shows I knew nothing about, and encouraged me to give second chances to ones that I’ve struggled with in the past. If you’ve read any of the dribble I’ve written, go read this and see what a professional can do.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall (2010) is available in paperback from Amazon. It amuses me that if you search amazon for the book title you get a number of suggestions including The Revolution Wasn’t Televised (1997), The Revolution Will Not be Televised (2008), The Revolution Will be Televised (2010), Will the Revolution Be Televised (2012) – so it would seem the jury is still out on the question.

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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

Top 25 Characters

Four years ago I came up with a list of my top 25 characters. I couldn’t resist updating the list.

1Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica)
A fascinating character, weaving from hero to villain and back again often within the space of a sentence. The religious stuff was laid on a little heavy towards the end, but the character managed to pull it off.

2President Bartlet (The West Wing)
Martin Sheen was so amazing, and the character so inspiring it’s hard to believe that he never won an Emmy. These days we may have Obama, but for a long time President Bartlet was the best hope we had.

3Sam Beckett (Quantum Leap)
Bumbling through history playing a variety of parts, but always being Sam. The only connection he had to his old life was his weird friend Al, but despite not remembering it, he desperately wanted to go home.

4Chandler Bing (Friends)
The only character in the series that managed to feel like a real person all the time (well, almost all) probably because it’s basically Matthew Perry playing himself.

John Crichton (Farscape)
Hilarious and heart-breaking, just your average astronaut (!) having a weird life.
“I try to save a life a day. Usually it’s my own…”

6The Doctor (David Tennant’s Dr Who)
Tennant’s Doctor was such a wonderful character covering the full spectrum from depression through anger to pure childish joy, that I decided he was eligible all by himself without needing his other versions.

7Michael Garibaldi (Babylon 5)
Garibaldi was always my favourite character on Babylon 5. He was the human element, he fought, he drank, he mocked everyone and the universe seemed to have some kind of grudge against him.

8Jethro Gibbs (NCIS)
I love Mark Harmon and his ex-marine is brilliant. Outwardly gruff and hard, but not so inhuman that he doesn’t show his affection to his team with a kiss on the cheek for Abby or a slap on the head for DiNozzo.

9Harper (Andromeda)
Andromeda had some epic problems with plots and writing, but it had some amazing characters and Harper was my favourite. He’s a scrounger, desperately trying to get through life as unscathed as possible while his friends seem weirdly obsessed with dragging him on suicide missions to save the universe.
Abel: You must be the engineer.
Harper: Why? Because I’m the short guy with the sense of humour, the wry wit? Huh? Because I’m so freakin’ amiable with the careless demeanor? Is that it?
Abel: Well, that – and the tools.

10Gregory House (House M.D.)
Most of the time he’s a complete and utter bastard, and yet he’s also generally right. Every now and then he shows that he might, just about care about his colleagues.

11Susan Ivanova (Babylon 5)
No one from B5 made the first list and now I’ve got two. I had decided on Garibaldi over Ivanova, but then when I started reading through quotes I remembered just how many brilliant lines she had and managed to squeeze her in.
“No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There’s always a boom tomorrow. What? Look, somebody’s got to have some damn perspective around here. Boom, sooner or later. BOOM!”

12Josh Lyman (The West Wing)
He’s a political genius who can’t keep track of time zones or find his luggage without his assistant. Sometimes he’s brilliant, sometimes he’s embarrassingly poor, but he always tries so hard.

13Rodney McKay (Stargate Atlantis)
Another character that says all the things normal people never would (I’m spotting a theme). He’s arrogant, obnoxious and rude… he’s also a geek, a genius and occasionally very sweet.

14George O’Malley (Grey’s Anatomy)
Poor George. He always means so well, and tries so hard and yet his colleagues are always the ones getting the glory. Except, just possibly, the last thing he does on the show, makes him the greatest success of all of them. His absence almost made me stop watching the show and there’s not much higher compliment can be paid a character.

15Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars)
Teenager with attitude. She’s the kid that’s so amazingly cool, the cool kids at school don’t even realise that she’s light years ahead of them. So she tells them. Except that occasionally she also has a bit of a cry, falls in love with the wrong people and needs her dad.

16Peggy Olson (Mad Men)
From a historical point of view her character is fascinating, a woman making the leap from being an object, to being an individual. As a character though she’s so compelling because she’s not making a statement about women at work in the sixties, she’s just doing what she wants to do.

17Hawkeye Pierce (M*A*S*H)
“I will not carry a gun…. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even hari-kari if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!”

18Mal Reynolds (Firefly)
The hero who doesn’t want to be a hero, it never goes smooth for poor Mal. Some people are at their best when they’re having yet another bad day.

19Doug Ross (ER)
There are reasons why George Clooney is a star and they’re all demonstrated in Doug Ross. Mark Greene may have been the soul of ER but Ross brought some character to it. He drank too much, womanised, looked great in a tux, looked great in scrubs, said what he thought and even rescued drowning children!

20Nick Stokes (CSI)
Nick is a straight swap for his boss Gil. This is partly because Gil is gone and got a little irritating towards the end. But Nick deserves this place because he’s the little engine that could, never the smartest or most heroic of theCSIs, he’s just been quietly plugging along with his Texas twang and concerned looks until someone finally realised the department couldn’t run without him.

21Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Almost all the characters in this show are great, and it’s rare for me to chose a hero over a witty sidekick, but I had to go for Buffy over the others. She does occasionally wallow, but then if your teenage years were commandeered by destiny, wouldn’t you whine?

22Malcolm Tucker (The Thick of It)
He’s loud and obnoxious and rude beyond words. But he’s also generally the only one talking sense. Also I will forgive absolutely everything he’s ever done wrong, because while he was having the worst day of his career, he ran to his secretary’s defence because people were badgering her.

23Nora Walker (Brothers and Sisters)
The very definition of matriarch. Always ready with several bottles of wine, a shoulder to cry on, a rallying call, or even just a perfectly delivered cake. Nora not only rules her dysfuntional family, but is also trying to work out what a sixty year old woman does when her kids have all left home and her husband dies leaving her alone for the first time ever.

24Dean Winchester (Supernatural)
Amongst Supernatural fans there are Dean-girls and Sam-girls, I’m a (only slightly ashamed) Dean girl. He’s a simple guy wanting to kill monsters, drink, eat pie, sleep around, drive his car and above all keep his family safe. He pretty much never gets what he wants, but always has a witty comeback.

25Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Buffy and Angel)
In terms of character development you don’t get much more extensive than Wesley, turning from the annoying twit in Buffy to the scary hero in Angel. He does what needs to be done, regardless of the costs.

Television of the Decade

Way back in December various websites, magazines and newspapers started compiling ‘lists of the decade’ and I watched with interest how different those lists were. For a start the lists did different things – “best of the decade”, “most important”, “most influential”, “our favourite” – each allowed a slightly different take on it. But even taking that into account there was a huge range. I decided what I would do was amalgamate those lists into one summary list, so in January I gathered twenty of them up and started doing some statistics.

As it turned out it was pretty hard to merge them together, some had ordered their lists, but others hadn’t, so how did I compare the two. I decided to go out, get some fresh air and post a letter and have a think about it. That’s when I broke my arm and everything went to pieces for a bit.

Two months later I came back and figured I should finish it, but by then I’d changed my tune a bit. Who cares what other people think the lists should be, they’re idiots and only my opinion is right. So while I consider whether to bother writing the original article, here’s my top twenty shows of the last decade. Chosen because they’re important, good, enjoyable or just because I love them.

1The West Wing (reviews, quotes)
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and again and again – The West Wing is the best piece of television ever produced. Yes, yes it went downhill after Sorkin left, but it eventually sorted itself out and the final couple of seasons were very close to its original glories. No other show has this cast, this dialogue, this power, this humour and this passion, it’s about as perfect as seven seasons of television can get.

2Friday Night Lights (reviews, quotes)
A show about high school football in a small town in Texas has no right to be as good as this does. The show is very intimate, filmed handheld getting right into the nitty gritty of everyone’s lives – players, supporters, teachers and all their families. You will not find a more real feeling group of characters and a better chemistry, particularly between Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as the coach and his wife. The show grows and develops each season as kids actually age and have to decide who to be and what to do with their lives and makes you care about every single screw-up and success.

3Firefly (review, quotes)
Cruely limited to just a handful of episodes, this may go down as one of the biggest ‘could have beens’ in television history. An interesting and unusual concept partnered with a great ensemble cast and perfect writing. It’s possible that it wasn’t sustainable, that the reason that the show appears on so many lists is that it never had the chance to go downhill (I’m not the biggest fan of the movie) but the world will never know and this will live in the hearts of bitter fans forever more.

4Battlestar Galactica (reviews, quotes)
Just as Babylon 5 would have appeared on my top of the 90s list, so does Battlestar Galactica for raising the bar of what a science fiction show can do. The vision for this show was impressively epic and depressingly dark. It wasn’t always perfect but the ambition was admirable and it succeeded far more often than it failed. It’s the only show on this list that I will probably never re-watch because part of the brilliance is in creating a likeable bunch of characters and making their lives increasingly miserable. Thankfully there’s enough beautifully crafted space battles and action sequences to prevent your brain exploding from the complicated debates of religion, politics and what it means to be ‘human’.

5Buffy the Vampire Slayer (reviews, quotes)
I haven’t re-watched this show in years, and I very nearly selected Angel for the list instead, but in the end I selected Buffy just for what I remember it meaning to me when I watched it. I was amongst those who mocked it when I first heard about it and then fell in love with the show when I finally caught up with it. It was a show that I had my family tape for me, and when I came home from university my mum and I would camp out in front of the tv and catch up. Angel may well be a ‘better’ show, more grown up and learning from some of Buffy’s mistakes, but Buffy earns it’s place by not so much breaking the mold as completely refusing to believe in the existence of a mold. Joss Whedon has two shows on this list, because he creates unique concepts, gathers talented actors and writes the best dialogue in the world.

6Supernatural (reviews, quotes)
I became addicted to Supernatural just last year and watched 4 seasons in roughly two weeks. Then I went back and re-watched them all again. It’s entirely fitting it ends up in this list just after Buffy, because it’s clearly an entry in the chain of successors of shows that on paper are aimed at teenagers, but are actually so much more. “Two brothers road trip across the US fighting ghosts and monsters” and yet it actually has the most carefully and satisfyingly crafted plot and character arcs of any show on this list. As it approaches the conclusion of the planned five year story arc the way everything falls together becomes more impressive with each episode. Yet while dealing with all this depth, it’s hugely entertaining and self-aware and fun. I love these characters and am utterly, hopelessly obsessed and not ashamed to admit it.

7Veronica Mars (reviews, quotes)
Another show that owes a bundle to Buffy. There may not be any monsters, but the spunky blonde at the heart of this show could easily take on a vampire in her spare time. There was a great cast of supporting characters but the heart of the story was the brilliant father-daughter relationship and the will-they-won’t-they relationships between good girl Veronica and bad boy Logan. Sadly the show peaked with its first season, the two subsequent seasons trying and failing to recapture the perfect mix of characters, episodic cases and the slow investigation and reveal of the season mystery. But even when those elements decayed, the dialogue and central relationships, along with the superbness of the first season, earn this show a place on mine, and many other people’s lists.

8Farscape (reviews, quotes)
I was sure this was a 90s show, and that was why not one single other list mentioned it, but actually it premiered in 1999 so with 4 seasons, thoroughly qualifies and people have just left it off because they’re stupid. There are few shows that have caused me to drop my jaw in disbelief so many times – this show was just WEIRD. Setting Jim Henson’s Creature Shop loose on science fiction show in another galaxy brought a creative craziness to the screen that hasn’t been seen before or since. But it wasn’t just weird, it was good. It’s like Blake’s 7 with puppets and budget. It was fun and heartbreaking but never ever dull.

9Deadwood (reviews)
Deadwood is the very epitome of what can be done on cable television in the US where they don’t have to deal with censors or advertisers and can do almost whatever the hell they want in terms of swearing, sex and violence. Deadwood is what Shakespeare would have produced if he’d written about an American frontier town in the wild west and been able to say f*** 1.5 times a minute. It does get a little overwhelmed with storylines by the third season, but by then you’ve fallen in love with the poetry, the period and the characters, even those that raise the label ‘dubious moral character’ to new levels.

10Mad Men (reviews)
I can’t really imagine watching Mad Men one episode a week as very little plot happens in each episode, meaning you’re relying on the acting and writing to provide interest, which while superb occasionally leaves you asking “but what actually happened?”. However watching it in a chunk, or even a whole season at a time reveals a show of such breathtaking subtlety that the fact that it is so popular actually makes you feel better about the human race. Anyone that says the US can’t do period drama should look at Mad Men (and Deadwood for that matter) and apologise. The unashamed way each portrays its history is fascinating, there is no judgement in showing everyone chain smoking, or a pregnant character drinking, it’s just there in the background. The slow development of the characters and plots over the first three season all paid off in the final episode of season three with one of the most satisfying episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

11Outnumbered
Outnumbered is another show I only picked up recently, in fact Christmas 2009 when my brother brought the dvd along for family Christmas and we ALL found it hilarious. Then I shared it with a housemate who doesn’t usually watch this kind of thing and HE found it hilarious. It’s hard to explain how a show set almost entirely inside a house with 2 parents and 3 young kids can be this funny, but it is so fresh and real and “oh god, I can’t breathe” funny that I couldn’t leave it off this list.

12Six Feet Under (reviews, quotes)
This show almost didn’t make the list, Dexter was in this slot right up to the point that I started writing this paragraph, but as I started writing, I realised that actually, although Dexter is superb and has an amazing character at its core, it just didn’t have the same level of impact on me as Six Feet Under did.

Six Feet Under deals with the big philosophical questions of life and death, but balances them with the day to day dysfunctionality of the characters’ lives and the practical issues of dealing with death. The humour in the show is about as black as it comes, but it is really very funny. It is also beautiful, created and heavily influenced by Alan Ball of American Beauty, each episode has a movie level of thoughtfulness about the way it’s crafted. It’s not an easy show to watch, and I’ve never quite managed to bring myself to watch the final season, but it is superb and thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.

13Band of Brothers (review, quotes)
The only mini-series on this list and I almost excluded it for that reason, but then I figured that if Firefly can make the list with only 13 episodes, it was unfair to remove this because it had only 10. It’s a series that I wanted to re-watch almost as soon as I’d finished it, because at first I didn’t really appreciate it. I had a hard time telling the characters apart, not realising that they really did have characters beyond their ranks and positions. It’s basically Saving Private Ryan but 5 times as long and that is nothing but a complement. The same people are bringing out Pacific this year to serve as a partner to the show and I can’t wait.

14Doctor Who (reviews, quotes)
I always enjoyed Doctor Who as a kid, but wouldn’t have counted myself as a fan, it was just something that the family watched on TV. I don’t know whether it’s just the age difference or a change in quality/budget, or the structuring of the series, but I’ve connected with this new version a lot more strongly. The way it’s been brought up to date without losing sight of the past has been really impressive and the quality of it just oozes from every aspect. It earns its place on this list for achieving what I thought was impossible, taking an institution and bringing it up to date without losing the heart and soul of what it was.

15CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (reviews, quotes)
Few shows define a decade so neatly and impact upon it so much. The CSI story is a fantastic one, it was turned down by three networks before CBS picked it up to air in October 2000 and has been in the top ten rated shows ever since. It spawned not only two spin-offs but hugely influenced dozens of other popular (and not so popular) shows. It turned CBS (and Channel Five in the UK) into the CSI channels. But it also earns it’s place because I actually really like it, after over 200 episodes, I still enjoy the mysteries, the characters, the fantastic graphic style, the music and the humour.

16Grey’s Anatomy (reviews, quotes)
Grey’s Anatomy raised the game in terms of what writers must do. Shows are now aiming to be ‘the next Grey’s Anatomy’, and the majority of them are failing. Grey’s is an ensemble drama in the truest sense, not only does it have a massive collection of characters, but every character has a believable relationship with every other character, be it professional, personal, or inappropriate. The characters aren’t always likable and aren’t always smart, but they’re always themselves. It’s the kind of show that when the writers make a miss-step with their characters, the audience gets upset because it’s just not right.

I think it’s those mistakes that this show off a lot of people’s lists (it only appeared on one), but at the same time it’s the way that the show has earned that kind of passion that means it deserves to be here. I almost didn’t watch the new season, but I did and it immediately suckered me back in the way the show always does. I can’t think of another show that makes me laugh, gasp and cry almost every single episode. I hate myself a bit for it, but I adore this show.

17The Thick of It
Only the second comedy on this list and another one I’m a late convert to. It’s a modern day Yes Minister, but with a level of swearing that would have made perms fall out in the 80s. While Deadwood is notable for its quantity of swearing, The Thick of It is astounding for the creativity it brings to it, the pure poetry of the diatribes that spew from these characters is breathtaking. The comedy is slightly depressing when you consider that it’s quite possibly not a million miles from the real way a government department might be run, but somehow the characters always manage to come down on the “at least they mean well” side of incompetency.

18Planet Earth
This is on the list as a representative of all the output of the BBC Natural History Department. What always impresses me is the mixture of cutting edge technology such as ultra zoomable steady-shots from helicopters with the old-school requirement of a guy sitting in a hide for 3 months to capture 15 seconds of footage. The way they’ve taken to doing a ten minute of ‘making of’ at the end of each episode makes everything feel a lot more real somehow.

19Stargate SG1 (reviews, quotes)
Stargate in one form or another has been on the air since 1997 and with about 350 episodes in the franchise at times of writing it’s just been quietly soldiering along almost un-noticed. Longevity alone isn’t quite enough to get you on the list, but Stargate has managed to make all those episodes entertaining in one way or another. Even when the episode plot was nothing special, or the massive arc storylines were getting a bit bogged down in the epic mythology, they could always fall back on some really great characters and dialogue. Unlike the Star Trek characters a lot of the time, Stargate’s characters felt real, these were real scientists and grunts and officers and diplomats dealing with aliens on distant planets. They knew it was cool and scary and bizarre and pulled you right along with them.

20Top Gear (quotes)
Scraping its way onto the bottom of the list is Top Gear. For quite a while this was pretty much the only thing that I actually watched on live television rather than on dvd or.. um.. other methods. The show has become a bit of a victim of its own success, becoming something of a parody of itself, but at its best it was by far the most entertaining thing on. It’s not so much a car show, as an excuse for three blokes to just muck about a bit, make fun of each other and do really daft stuff. Challenges like the amphibious vehicles have had me laughing so hard it’s difficult to breath, while trips like riding bikes through Vietnam or driving to the pole left me craving adventure. It’s fun and often the perfect thing to watch on a Sunday night to escape the world for just a little while.

Pilot Review: Caprica

The brief: A prequel to Battlestar Galactica, set on Caprica 50 years or so before the fall. Two very different families find themselves connected and possibly, accidentally, bringing about the end of civilisation.

This pilot has been out and about for a while thanks to a DVD and iTunes premier last April, but I hadn’t watched it as I felt I needed to detox a little from Battlestar Galactica. But the full series is now starting on the US SyFy channel, so it seemed fitting to review it as the first of my mid-season reviews.

If you liked Battlestar Galactica I think there’s very little chance you won’t like this show. In all the core qualities it is very similar, it reaches the same high standards in terms of production values and demands the same attention and consideration from the viewer. This is not an easy show to watch, the characters are pretty much dumped in unpleasant situations and forced to make the best of a bad lot. As independent observers we can judge that the decisions they make are not necessarily right, but while the end point of their actions may be terrible, each step in their processes is understandable.

Where it most obviously differs from Battlestar is in the visuals. Where Battlestar was cramped interiors in gun metal grey, Caprica is open plan houses and shiny glass. It actually feels more like a science fiction show than Battlestar did; there’s more technology and it’s all more obvious and slick. While Battlestar had very good reasons for using minimal technology (even the space ships somehow felt far less technologically advanced than our own fighter jets), it is really nice to see cool stuff just treated as part of everyday life. Everything here feels right, not just the technology, but the architecture and costumes all feel like they’re not far out of our own reach. But it’s not all shiny new things, there’s still historical buildings and varied fashions making it feel like a culture and society that’s developed, not just sprung into life fully formed for a TV show.

Like Battlestar Galactica this is Good television with a capital G, but it is by no means easy to watch. The sense of doom hanging over the characters and civilisation is depressing, but also somehow freeing. With Battlestar part of what made it heartbreaking was that there was always the slight hope that things would get better. With Caprica, knowing that the end of the story has already been written means that you can just focus on appreciating the way fate unravels. With the quality of design, writing and acting on display in the pilot, I’m confident that it will be a fascinating and satisfying journey to watch.

Links
imdb
Wikipedia
TV.com

Caprica starts on Sky1, Tuesday 2nd Feb, 9pm

2008-09 – The Glittering Awards Show

It’s been a while since I’ve had much respect for the people who have power over the likes of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. The last couple of years in particular have frustrated me with the same shows and people getting nominated over and over with very worthy candidates overlooked in a way that even critics don’t seem to understand. This year is no exception. So here’s a shamelessly long list of my favourites from the year.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Hugh Laurie (House) – the show might be mediocre, but the character and acting is superb. He’s got a fourth Emmy nomination and maybe this will be the year he actually wins
  • Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) – his character is extremely private trying to keep his emotions hidden, and yet you always know exactly what he’s thinking through subtle and careful acting
  • Edward Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) – another very strong season in Battlestar Galactica, portraying a man who is tired, and old and very close to being overcome, yet still has so much pride.
  • Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) – I doubt he’d appear on anyone else’s list, but if not for the fact he’s in a show about ghosties and it’s on The CW I think he’d get a lot of attention. His character has a hell of a lot of stuff thrown at him this season (literally) and he does everything from pratt-falls to full on emotional breakdown impressively.
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist) – I originally sniffed at his Emmy nomination, but to fill out the category he’s not a bad choice. It’s an interesting character and pulls it off with charm and grace and occasional scary darkness, but I suspect if I’d seen this season of Dexter, Michael C. Hall would have taken this place.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
It’s tough taking this down to just five people, so I cheated a bit!

  • James Callis (Baltar, Battlestar Galactica) – the character and actor steal every scene they’re in
  • Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt, Grey’s Anatomy) – a really great addition to the cast, bringing both strength and vulnerability and instantly slotting into the ensemble.
  • Zachary Quinto (Sylar, Heroes) – about the only stand out thing in Heroes at the moment, his character has developed depth this season but he’s still utterly chilling.
  • Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins) and Gaius Charles (Smash Williams) – I couldn’t just pick one of the guys from Friday Night Lights. Each had a superb season as their characters really grow up.
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – Despite the fact that the Emmy’s put him in the lead actor category, I think he actually belongs in here more. Lead actors should carry the show, Mad Men could easily continue without him. That said he is extremely good.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
I actually struggled to find 5 actresses I consider ‘leads’!

  • Sally Field (Nora, Brothers and Sisters) – a well deserved nomination. Whether she’s being the matriarch to the unruly siblings, or getting a storyline of her own about continuing to live your life at 60+, she is wonderful.
  • Mary McDonald (Laura Rosslyn, Battlestar Galactica) – she brought such dignity and passion to her final episodes as the ailing president it was heartbreaking. The relationship with Adama was perfectly played.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – a character which could so easily be swept into the background in the testosterone driven town, Tammy stands up for both her own kids and those she represents as school principal while still maintaining her relationship with the Coach.
  • Emily Deschenal (Brennan, Bones) – the character of Brennan hovers at the edge of ridiculous, but with talented acting (and great chemistry with her partner) manages to stay just on the right side.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – this is partly a pity vote to be honest, I feel bad that she’s always overlooked for awards, but actually she’s doing a really superb job. I might not like the character much, but whether she’s using her excellent comic timing or wide eyed teariness, Pompeo always nails it.

Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – I want to have “What Would Bailey Do?” embroidered on cushions! I adore her character and like Pompeo she does a great job whether shouting or crying. Hopefully with her fourth Emmy nomination she’ll finally win.
  • Katherine Heigl (Izzie Stevens, Grey’s Anatomy) – Heigl was never going to get an Emmy nomination this year thanks to some dubious outbursts to the press, but she did excellent work with a difficult (and occasionally ridiculous) storyline.
  • Tricia Helfer (Six, Battlestar Galactica) – I’m not sure it’s fair that someone so pretty is so talented, but each of the multitude of characters she played on Battlestar was amazing.
  • Adrianne Palicki (Tyra, Friday Night Lights) – the writers didn’t do her character any favours this season with some wildly flip flopping choices, but Palicki was excellent throughout.
  • Taylor Momsen (Jenny Humphrey) and Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf), Gossip Girl – Both young actresses managed to make their characters more than just bitchy little drama queens. Ok they’re mostly still drama queens, but they were funny and passionate ones.

Outstanding Drama

  • Friday Night Lights – hands down the best overall show on television at the moment, it’s consistently superb throughout the season with exceptional acting and stylish direction
  • Battlestar Galactica – I’ll be the first to admit I thought ‘reimagining’ the 70s series was a stupid idea, doomed to fail. While it occasionally faltered, what this show managed to do was extraordinary. I’m so glad it got to tell its whole story.
  • Mad Men – This isn’t a show that I get really passionate about, but it is one that impresses me a great deal with its consistent quality and polish
  • Torchwood – Maybe at just five episodes it’s not a proper series, but it was so good I couldn’t leave it out.
  • Supernatural – this show is my latest obsession, but after three seasons of enjoyable fun I was really impressed at the way everything was taken to the next level for the fourth season. Characters, writing, directing and plots all shift up a gear.

Best Ensemble
A good ensemble is not just about having a group of individually talented actors and a couple of good relationships between them. It’s about being able to put any two characters from the ensemble on screen together and having it work. For all the many faults of Grey’s Anatomy, it doesn’t matter which characters end up on screen together they always have a spark. Brothers and Sisters also manages an impressive ensemble with the siblings and their extended family wonderful in just about any combination.

Best Pairings
On screen chemistry is far from easy to come by, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes in the same show. One of the big mistakes of House this year was trying to push House and Cuddy together, a couple with no chemistry and no sensible reason to be together. But at the same time the show succeeds brilliantly with the relationship between House and Wilson! Likewise, Booth and Brennan on Bones make a wonderful platonic partnership and a truly awful romantic one. Tammy and Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights make a such a lovely and believable couple because they make sense both in a relationship and as friends.

WTF?
The most startling moment of “you what now?” came not onscreen, but over the internet with the news that Fox had renewed a Joss Whedon show. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the fans or Joss himself.

Shark Jumping for Beginners
Supernatural made me laugh a lot by having an episode breaking one of the cardinal rules of shark jumping and then calling the episode “Jumping the Shark”. That’s the way you do it.
The way you don’t do it is have a character have sex with a ghost (Grey’s Anatomy) or have your main characters sleep together and then declare it all to be a dream (House, Bones).

“I only get 3 lines an episode but I really nail them”
I missed T.R. Knight on Grey’s Anatomy this season! Jesse Spencer (Chase) on House hasn’t had much to do (including cut his hair) all season and then when he and Cameron finally had a storyline he completely blew me away. I’ve got a soft spot for Scotty on Brothers and Sisters, possibly the only character who always talks sense, even if it’s only one scene every three episodes.

Most anticipated returning show
There are a number of cliffhangers that I’m eagerly awaiting the resolve of –Criminal Minds, Supernatural, NCIS and CSI:NY all ended with a bang. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dollhouse, Lie to Me and The Mentalist do with their second seasons, if they go somewhere or just bumble along. It’s an important season for Friday Night Lights, with lots of the original cast graduating and a new team to introduce. And I’m really hoping that Supernatural manages to pull off it’s potentially final season and everything its been building to.

Least anticipated returning shows
I’m not sure I’m going to bother with Grey’s Anatomy, knowing what happens in the first episode back I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it. I’m still struggling towards the end of Heroes and am not sure I’ll bother with that unless someone tells me it gets a lot better. Ditto for House.

Most anticipated new shows
There’s some interesting scifi heading to the air this year, I’m really hoping V will manage to follow in Battlestar Galactica’s footsteps, Flash Forward will succeed where Lost failed and that Stargate Universe manages to walk the narrow line of fitting in with the franchise while still bringing something new. Eastwick has a good cast (including Paul Gross from Due South!) and will hopefully fall in the guilty pleasure category, while NCIS:Los Angeles has a good pedigree and line up staring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J. The wildcard of everything is Glee which could be cheesy fantastic fun, or cringe inducing awfulness.