The Upfronts 2018 – CBS

Bye bye
I have barely heard of any of the shows cancelled by CBS this year, let alone watched them. There may be people that these shows mean the world to, but there obviously weren’t very many of them – 9JKL; Kevin Can Wait; Living Biblically; Me, Myself and I; Scorpion; Superior Donuts and Wisdom of the Crowd. Scorpion made it to 4 seasons, none of the others made it beyond 2.

See you agains soon
There are lots of shows here that I used to watch, but none of them that I still watch. I liked and enjoyed NCIS: Original and Los Angeles, but petered out a while ago, and I never bothered with New Orleans – at over 650 episodes between them, they just all got too samey. Similarly with Hawaii Five-0; all these show have really great characters and casts, but the plots themselves are utterly forgettable so it’s hard to stay engaged. Blue Bloods I gave up on after a couple of years and I don’t think I made it to the end of the first season of Madam Secretary. Bull was just too formulaic. Criminal Minds I was watching until very recently when I suddenly realised that it was rubbish – really unimaginative, awful dialogue and actors who seemed to be phoning it in; I don’t know whether that was me seeing the light, or a sudden deterioration in quality from them. The Big Bang Theory continues ever onward and I watch it occasionally but not with any level of commitment, the Young Sheldon spin off seems just as popular.

There are a few new shows that I meant to give a try, mostly due to their casts – Instinct starring Alan Cumming, SWAT with Shemar Moore and Seal Team with David Boreanaz. Now they’ve been picked up for second seasons I might actually watch them.

Hello there

Magnum PI – utterly ridiculous. There’s some charm I guess, but by the end of the trailer when he jumped onto the helicopter I just couldn’t face any more.


The neighborhood – so many many problems. The first one of which being the insane laugh track on the trailer.


Happy Together – a rockstar moves in with his accountant and his partner, who are (apparently) incredibly dull. Another awful laugh track, but at least someone was laughing.


FBI – warning – the trailer spoils the whole of the pilot episode, why do they do that? It looks as generic as its name, but it’s a good cast and Dick Wolf (Law and Order) knows how to make generic compelling.


God Friended Me – so God friends an atheist on Facebook and sends him after random people who need help. It sounds like Quantum Leap with less cross-dressing, but Brandon Micheal Hall is rather charming and maybe a bit of sappiness can work.

Also:
The Code – for which there is zero information beyond that the two lead roles were recast after the pilot. That all bodes well.
Fam – some sort of comedy about a woman’s perfect life being spoilt by a teenager half sister turning up. Diddums.
The Red Line – the story of three families’ intersecting lives following a white police man mistakenly shooting a black doctor.

Things I didn’t bother with this year

So one of the big things I clearly didn’t bother with this year was to keep on top of my reviews and actually post me review of the television year before the new seasons all began. I was trying to finish some things off before posting the summaries because otherwise it was a surprisingly short list of shows. There were however a few shows that I just didn’t bother with this year, and thought it would be a good idea to bundle them all together so they didn’t pollute the others.

Criminal Minds: Season 12 – when did this show get so poor? I realise that after a couple of hundred episodes the writers may start to struggle and the actors may get a bit bored, but this season feels like some kind of step change in quality. I mean it’s just bad. The dialogue from the writers and delivery from the actors are just amateur, like everyone is phoning it in, it’s full of cliché’s utterly lacking in subtlety and painful to listen to. I know they’ve had a lot of change in the cast, but I don’t think it’s because Morgan and Hotch left, or Alvez joined. Tara has never really come out as a character, and Prentis isn’t working in her new role as leader, she’s just too wooden (I think Paget Brewster is better suited to comedy and struggles to carry the weight of the drama necessary for the leader of the team). Reid is more of a caricature than ever and the only point of life is Garcia who just cannot do it all by herself. Time to retire this one I think.

Fargo: Season 3– I really enjoyed the first two seasons, but I didn’t even last half hour of this one before I lost interest. Having the same actor playing brothers just feels like a completely unnecessary gimmick. It’s not the Ewan McGregor couldn’t play either role, but I just didn’t want to spend my time trying to suspend my brain from continually working out how they edited scenes together. Nothing else jumped out as interesting, so I gave up.

Code Black and The Night Shift – both haave the same problem. The first seasons were enjoyable tosh, but I just couldn’t be bothered to continue watching. A few characters I liked disappeared, the melodrama ramped up and it just felt too artificial for any real engagement. Life’s too short.

Bull: Season 1– I managed about three quarters of the season and I kept thinking that as I was so close to the end I should just stick with it. But I once again realised that life’s too short to watch mediocre television. Particularly when it’s just making me sad to see a talented cast wasted on utterly mediocre ideas and writing. It was so formulaic and derivative that I can’t believe anyone involved was really putting any effort in or cared about the output. The idea of the show was just too narrow to really support a full 20 odd episode season, particularly given they decided to have almost no arc stories at all, each episode was completely standalone with no plots or character development spanning multiple episodes. A waste.

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 12 – Season 12 finished in a place that I was incredibly unhappy with. I’ve always like the character that Alex grew into, starting out as an obnoxious arsehole and gradually showing where he came from and allowing the other characters to influence him into a better person. Then the writers had him beat the crap out of someone because he was jealous. I thought I’d let a few episodes of the new season build up to see where they went with that, and reading the spoilers I liked the direction even less, as it seemed to be verging dangerously into victim blaming. So I decided not to watch. I kept reading spoilers, and there really wasn’t anything in there that made me want to watch again. It wasn’t just Alex, other characters were frustrating too (ugh – Amelia) and I just didn’t want to watch. So I didn’t bother. That makes me sad, because I adore this show. I’ve read similar frustrations from reviewers online, but they seem to be a bit more positive about the new season, so maybe I’ll just pretend this season never happened.

The Good Fight: Season 1 – I adored the early seasons of The Good Wife, but I lost interest to the extent that I didn’t even get through the final season. I felt the writers rushed things a bit and characters went in directions I either didn’t believe or didn’t want to believe they’d go. I tried The Good Fight because, well, Christine Baranski. But I never really felt like watching more. It sat on my Sky box for months waiting for me to get to it before I finally gave up and deleted it. It may have been great, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

The Defenders: Season 1: I loved Jessica Jones, liked Luke Cage and even sat through Iron Fist just so that I could be more up to speed for The Defenders, but I haven’t yet made it beyond episode 2. I was bored. Even though I’d watched 3 out of 4 of the components, I didn’t remember enough of the plots to really pull everything together and there was absolutely zero help from the writers to elegantly remind you. I’d even have been happy with an inelegant “previously on…” few minutes at the start. I didn’t engage at all, but I will give it another try.

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.

The Upfronts 2015: CBS

cbsCBS continues to have an impressively stable, although increasingly aged line up, not leaving much space for new shows. They do seem to be trying to go in a different direction with their new series, but they feel very out of place when surrounded by so many established procedurals.

Cancelled or finished
csiAfter 15 series, 335 episodes, CSI is finally being put out to pasture. The mothership that spawned dozens of wannabes and spent 10 years in the top 10 watched shows has seen its ratings decline steadily in the last few years and now it can’t compete with its own descendants. I’ve been a loyal watcher throughout and while it’s rarely been a favourite show, it’s always been a reassuring presence and I will actually miss it. There’ll be a final two hour TV movie, featuring the return of Grissom and Catherine.

mentalistI stuck with Stalker the whole season and I’m not entirely sure why, the setup wasn’t exactly ground-breaking, the stories weren’t particularly original and the characters weren’t that charismatic. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t outstanding. I’m not sure I’d’ve bothered with season 2 even if it had been picked up and I’m not really mourning its passing. Likewise I’m not that disappointed The Mentalist wound up after seven seasons. I made it through the first two seasons but found it frustratingly inconsistent in tone. Two and a Half Men finally completely and utterly died after 12 seasons. I’m guessing Jon Cryer mourned that and wished his cast mates hadn’t screwed everything up for him.
Also cancelled: Battle Creek and The McCarthys were new series, The Millers was cancelled after its second season. None of which I have any memory of hearing about.

Renewed
NCISCBS remains the home of the procedurals and even without Grand-pa CSI there’s a bevy of relations: CSI: Navy (NCIS – Season 13), CSI: Navy + Sunshine (NCIS: Los Angeles – season 7), CSI: Navy + Jazz (NCIS: New Orleans – season 2), CSI: Surfs Up (Hawaii Five-O – season 6), CSI: Serial Killers (Criminal Minds – season 11), CSI: Sherlock (Elementary – season 4), CSI: Pre-Crime (Person of Interest – season 5), CSI: Online (Scorpion – season 2) oh and CSI: Cyber (an actual proper CSI spin off going into season 2). Blue Bloods is more NYPD Blue 2010 than a CSI spin off and Tom Selleck’s moustache only held my attention for 3 seasons, but apparently other people have more commitment to it because it will be back for season 6 next year.

goodwifeOther dramas that are renewed are the critically acclaimed but ratings challenged The Good Wife, although season 6 hasn’t been as good as previously. Madam Secretary has some potential, but is disappointingly light when I was hoping for something more politically hefty. I watched a few episodes of Extant but got bored with the conspiracy stuff, I thought it was a one off so am a bit surprised to see it renewed for season 2. Under the Dome returns for season 3 but lost me with the utterly ridiculous bisected cow in the first episode.

The Big Bang TheoryThe unlikely juggernaut that is The Big Bang Theory continues with huge ratings and last year was given a three-year renewal which carries it through to next season. Mike and Molly and 2 Broke Girls return for seasons 6 and 5 respectively, Mom will be back for season 3 and Matthew Perry has finally broken his curse of first season cancellations as his remake of The Odd Couple is renewed!

New this autumn

Angel From Hell: Jane Lynch is either a stalker or a guardian angel. Jane Lynch is kind of fantastic and with a slightly more subtle character and better writing (in the trailer at least) than she got lumbered with on Glee, this could be great.


Code Black: It’s ER moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. I’m a sucker for this stuff and this looked pretty well done.


Life in Pieces: Hey, dating is tricky, precocious children are hilarious, parenting is hard and old people are whacky but look how uplifting it can all be when we come together as a family. Sod off. Colin Hanks deserves better.


Limitless: Based on the film, one pill makes you super smart and effectively a superhero. It inevitably gets complicated. The film was ok and I guess it’s a good set up but the supreme close up of Bradley Cooper asking if I can remember what it’s like to be in my mother’s womb is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen.


Supergirl: Basically… Superman’s cousin. The trailer is pretty much the whole pilot boiled down so you may want to skip it. It doesn’t look bad, but it’s an extremely strange choice for CBS. This would infinitely more at home on The CW and I think it’s going to struggle to get the ratings that CBS want.

New later in the year
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders – another attempt to land a Criminal Minds spin off, this time starring Gary Sinise and taking the show on an international tour. The planted pilot wasn’t bad (although Anna Gunn has apparently departed the series) and the added complexity of dealing with international law has some potential. Sinise needs to make sure he’s not just recreating his character from CSI New York though.

Rush Hour – Buddy Cop drama based on the films.

Same old, same old: Castle, NCIS LA, Criminal Minds

There are two reasons for the style of this group of reviews.
1) Between them, the three shows have clocked up 20 seasons. Once they settled in, they’ve been pretty consistent in their strengths and weaknesses. I’m running out of original things to say about them.
2)I’m pretty far behind on my reviewing, and powering through three reviews was likely the only way I was going to catch up.

ncislaNCIS: LA: Season 5
Yay, still the same – the characters and the relationships between them are great, and the banter between them just about perfect. From season 4: “The banter between characters is laugh out loud funny. [It] feels like real people talking, with pop-culture references, sarcasm, recurrent jokes, flashes of anger, touches of fondness.”
Boo, still the same – the plots. They’re getting more and more disposable and I rarely pay them the slightest bit of attention. You can generally be solved by the audience in the first few minutes through the power of looking for the random witness who actually got speaking lines, and I’m not sure the writers even care about that.
Anything new? – the development of the characters and relationship between Deeks and Kensi was interestingly done. The story about Kensi in Afghanistan was another example of me not caring about the actual details of the plot, but enjoying where it took the character. It was also a particularly elegant way of dealing with an actress on maternity leave.
Optimism for the future – pretty high actually, they don’t seem to be breaking the characters or letting them get stale like original NCIS did, and given that the plots are utterly irrelevant, it’s hard to make them worse.

CriminalMindsCriminal Minds: season 9
Yay, still the same – the individual storylines are still original and interesting even after hundreds of episodes. The regular and guest casts never fail to show the emotional impact of crimes. So even if the crimes are extreme, Criminal Minds still feels more realistic than most other crime procedurals.
Boo, still the same – From season 2, “My biggest complaint about season 2 is that they try to make it too personal in places”. Every season since I’ve made the same complaint and that the big storylines just haven’t worked. This one was no different, the cryptic references to something in JJs past didn’t intrigue me in the slightest and the violent resolution felt like it crossed a line into gratuitous.
Anything new? – Back last season I actually predicted a problem the show was about to have. “I think the writers made a mistake this season with the introduction of Blake. She arrived during the unseen summer months, so was pretty much integrated with the team by the time the audience met her and just blended in as if she’d always been there. The writers missed an opportunity to have a new take on the other characters, and a shift in the dynamics of the team.” That carried through, I never engaged with her character, and so her leaving meant nothing. Hopefully the writers will learn from this and do a better job introducing her replacement.
Optimism for the future – middling. My interest levels are starting to wain a bit and I’m not sure how much longer this show can keep going. A new character might inject some energy, but I thought that with Blake and they mucked it up.

castleCastle: Season 6
Yay, still the same – Nathan Fillion is still charm on a stick, Stana Katic gives him a run for his money and there are plenty of moments of sweetness and humour held together with serviceable plots.
Boo, still the same – Will someone please do something with the supporting characters? They’re gradually being reduced to little more than cameos and they can do better. Mind you, if the only thing the writers can offer is of the quality of plot and boyfriend that Alexis got landed with, maybe Esposito, Ryan, Martha and Lanie (remember Lanie?) are better off without stories.
Anything new? God do I ever not give a crap about Castle and Becket’s wedding! The endless debates about venues and dresses and spending a fortune on everything seemed extremely out of touch with reality. I’m not really a wedding person, so maybe this worked for other people, but to me, Castle and Becket are together and happy, everything else is just unnecessary fussing.
Optimism for the future – not great. After a year of building up to it, they didn’t even manage to walk down the aisle and I’m not sure I can face another year discussing caterers.

Criminal Minds: Season 8

CriminalMindsWith up to 24 episodes in a standard season in the US, series tend to develop a kind of two tier system. Most of the episodes are standardised, they follow a similar structure, mostly unremarkable plots and fairly minimal character development. Optimistically the episodes will have enough in them to reward fans and regular viewers, but won’t overly penalise casual viewers if they don’t watch every week. The second type of episode are the bigger ones, designed to draw in higher ratings and get people talking. They’ll usually be at the start and end of the season and during sweeps week where advertisers pay particular notice. They’ll have bigger budgets, bigger guest stars, bigger stories, bigger peril and generally speaking – just bigger.

My feeling with Criminal Minds is that it excels at the small.

Criminal Minds is one of the stronger procedural shows on air at the moment. It embraces the seriousness of the cases it deals with, the reality of the destruction that crime causes to victims, perpetrators, investigators and all their friends and families. I can easily see how some might find the brutality to be exploitative, even labelling it as torture porn, but I don’t personally find it objectionable. I think the series uses an interesting variety of points of view and even after nearly 200 cases, episodes still feel fresh and innovative.

That said, the arc storyline this season was a bit of a mess. The “Replicator” (the BSU don’t give names to serial killers unless they’re the ones being targeted?) wound his way through the season with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references bolted on to the end of episodes like some weird sponsorship deal. I never did quite work out how they all fit together and the eventual revelation of the unsub felt considerably less well thought out than most of the ‘villain of the week’ cases. It all came across too much like some kind of comic-book super villain, which just didn’t fit in with the rest of the series. It all felt hammy and over done.

On the other hand though, the writers completely under-played the arrival of a new team member. Criminal Minds seems to have a higher turnover than many series, by my estimate, over the past 8 seasons the team has seen 5 people leave and 5 people join, which sounds like a lot (compare to just 2 new people and 1 departure from the main team in 10 seasons of NCIS), but if you consider that JJ left and came back and Prentiss joined the team, left, returned and then left again, it becomes a little less remarkable. I think the writers made a mistake this season with the introduction of Blake. She arrived during the unseen summer months, so was pretty much integrated with the team by the time the audience met her and just blended in as if she’d always been there. The writers missed an opportunity to have a new take on the other characters, and a shift in the dynamics of the team.

Beyond that, I guess the biggest character storyline was Reid’s ridiculous relationship with a woman he had never met. It always frustrates me when characters’ private lives become tied up into cases and this was yet another example. I like learning more about characters and seeing them grow in the personal lives, but it just cheapens it somehow when it feels like that’s only done in order to drive sweeps week plots. Reid is a character at the very edges of reality at the best of times, there would have been more than enough fun to be had with him having a normal relationship, it didn’t need to be turned into a big drama. Mind you, he still gets a better deal than Rossi, who is revealed to have been in a relationship for a year just minutes before his partner is murdered.

My biggest frustration with Criminal Minds is that they get all the little things right and then mess up the big ones. The ‘filler’ episodes have some of the strongest and most interesting cases and the nicest and most satisfying little character moments. Several of the characters have perfectly normal relationships – they have their problems, but they’re all realistic considering at least half of each pairing has a very demanding job. Then at the end of each season I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth because they try to go big and it all feels forced and unlikely. It’s a shame that writers (or more likely network executives) don’t fully appreciate that less is more.

Criminal Minds: Season 7

Criminal Minds has had a couple of seasons of cast shake-ups, but season 7 was all about getting the band back together and returning both Prentiss and JJ to the fold. On the plus side it’s like very little ever changed. On the downside… it’s like very little ever changed. This isn’t going to be a particularly long review!

My resounding feeling at the end of the season was that it was… fine. The characters are now well established and generally pretty consistent. JJ was the only one that bucked the trend, she seems to have come back from her year with the Pentagon something of a super agent, not just now as good a profiler as everyone else, but also a bit of a kick ass action hero. Prentiss on the other hand came back from the grave pretty much unchanged which meant her sudden decision at the end of the season to leave the team again came a bit out of left field.

As per usual with Criminal Minds the attempts to do larger stories around the characters’ personal lives feel somewhat out of place. We’re introduced to Rossi’s ex-wife only to have her die of a terminal illness a couple of episodes later. It feels rather like cheating to introduce a never before seen character just to kill them off to see the effect on a central character. There was a similar problem with bringing JJ’s boyfriend in for the final episodes just so he could be held hostage and upset JJ. The more gradually introduced character of Hotch’s new girlfriend was handled a lot more smoothly and therefore had more long term impact.

The weekly cases were all variously bleak, depressing, gory, creepy and occasionally downright disturbing. I didn’t really remember any of them as particularly outstanding, and there didn’t seem to be as many high profile guest stars as previous seasons. I might have liked a little bit more in the way of long term storylines, but I did enjoy watching each episode so maybe I shouldn’t push my luck.

I genuinely can’t think of anything else to write about the season. Criminal Minds is an absolutely reliable series, always entertaining and interesting, but rarely particularly innovative. However compared to some of the other shows out there, reliable and competent is apparently more challenging than it may seem.

Criminal Minds: Season 6

Generally when I’m writing a review of a season, I look back through my archive to see what I said about previous seasons. To be honest I should probably stop doing that because it often leaves me struggling to find anything new to write. That’s equal parts my fault for writing such good reviews (pardon my boasting) and the shows’ faults because generally very little changes from season to season. Re-reading my season 5 review of Criminal Minds, I think I was actually spot on with my descriptions of the series, the characters and how it all fits together. Thankfully for this review the producers of the show decided to shake things up a bit. Good for having something to talk about, not so good for the show unfortunately.

As I mentioned, the very same day I posted a review praising the “for finally settling into a great team dynamic and for how strong the [three] female characters are”, the producers decided to get rid of two of them. A.J. Cook (JJ) was stolen away in the second episode, and although Paget Brewster (Prentiss) lasted most of the season, and was given a juicy storyline, she too was sent on her way. No one was thrilled with this – the fans, the cast, or seemingly the writers who delivered some pointed lines of dialogue about how unfair it was that JJ be stolen away from the team. But, the money people had apparently spoken and off they went.

While the writers may not have wanted to lose the characters, they dealt with it admirably, making sure that their absences were addressed by characters. Personally the characters vocally and visibly missed their friends, each character having a different but entirely appropriate reaction and correspondingly adjusting the relationships with other members of the teams. Professionally, the team had to deal with redistributing resources, leading to some very interesting material for Garcia as she stepped outside her comfort zone into JJ’s shoes.

Unfortunately the addition of new agent Seaver (Rachel Nichols) didn’t work so well. I just think she was written too much of a miracle agent – straight out of the academy and just about perfect. Her background as the daughter of a serial killer was an interesting idea, but nothing really seemed to come of it. I just wanted her to be a little bit more unstable or something, she simply wasn’t interesting to watch and didn’t seem to form any kind of relationships with the rest of the team. She felt lifeless.

Plot wise, most of the stuff from my season 5 review still stands – diverse concepts and settings make most episodes interesting and even the most unremarkable stories are elevated by good casting and dialogue. I continue to find these seemingly unimportant episodes more interesting than the larger stories that the team get personally involved in, although Prentiss’ storyline was better than Hotch’s last season. There did seem to be a few faltering character plotlines that didn’t seem to go anywhere – Reid’s headaches and Strauss’ background for example seemed to disappear, maybe they’re set ups for next season.

Overall, while I think everyone can agree that getting rid of not one, but two of your foundation characters in a season, is asking for trouble (particularly two female characters which draws its own criticisms), I was impressed at how well it was integrated to the series. Thankfully however, both actresses will be back again next season and I’m looking forward even more to seeing how their returns will be dealt with by the team. It’s certainly one way of keeping things fresh as you enter season 7.

What I’m watching at the moment

I’m pretty much in the depths of scheduling desperation at the moment. Keeping on top of all the stuff coming in each week is about all I can manage, taking an evening out to watch a film can cause catastrophic backlog on the sky+ box. Unfortunately while I’m watching a lot of TV, there’s not much for me to talk about, no new pilots, no season end reviews, I’m just trudging through the middles. So with a lack of anything else to write about, here’s a snapshot of what I’m watching at the moment.

Bedlam (Sky Living, Mondays) –Sky’s attempt to offer an alternative to Being Human, with a supernatural ghosty drama type thing. It’s awful. Particularly hateful is the lead female character, Kate, who is an absolute bitch of a blond trendy 20something who the rest of the cast don’t slap about the head for some reason that escapes me. Will Young is kind of adorable, but the rest of the cast is completely bland and the plots simultaneously over the top and boring. I gave it two episodes, but I don’t think I’ll be watching the third.

Glee (E4, Mondays) – I’m also enjoying Glee recently, although I have no idea why. The characterisation is all over the place, just about every relationship is lacking in chemistry, plots are painfully ‘issue of the week’ and I want to gaffer tape Rachel’s mouth shut every time she appears. However, there’s been some really fun music choices, the Rocky Horror Picture Show episode was kind of inspired, Kurt breaks my heart every week and for all the fact that most of it is rubbish, it really makes me smile.

Blue Bloods (Tuesdays, Sky Atlantic) – There are two remarkable things about this otherwise mediocre show. The first is that the writing is often utterly terrible, plot is delivered in scenery chewing monologues with all the subtlety of breeze blocks, “it’s a shame mom is dead and my brother was killed on duty, I’d really like to talk to them about my conflicted feelings” isn’t far off the quality of dialogue here. The other remarkable thing however is Tom Selleck. Every time he is on screen he brightens the place up, managing to somehow have credible relationships with his concrete inspired offspring and navigate his way through the awfulness in a way that makes me come back for more each week.

Bones (Sky Living, Wednesdays) – Bones herself seems to have regressed this season, becoming even less aware of how normal people behave, more annoying than ever. But despite the best efforts of the central character, I still enjoy the show a lot. It comes up with an interesting gimmick each week (the body in chocolate was particularly grim) and Booth and the supporting cast (including the entertaining, rotating interns) are extremely watch-able.

Grey’s Anatomy (Sky Living, Wednesdays) – I’m loving this season. I pounce on every episode as soon as it arrives and I can find a safe time to watch it – there cannot be any possibility of interruption or distraction, it just has to be me and my show. Everything just seems to be working, there’s not too much whining, there’s no duds in the character collection, the relationships are all interesting and going somewhere and the dialogue is as sharp as it’s ever been. Love it.

Mad Dogs (Sky1, Thursdays) – the first episode was definitely the high point with the careful pacing and gradual creepiness now replaced with a random chaotic collection of violence and shouting. The actors make it enjoyable, but I’m glad it’s only four episodes long and finishes this week.

The Good Wife (More4, Thursdays) – I am SOOOOOO over Kalinda. I mean seriously? Are we supposed to be sympathetic, because frankly I’m beginning to think she’s had some kind of psychotic break. I also don’t really understand why Diane and Will have suddenly taken against each other, I loved them in the first season, friendly and constructive while still keeping a few cards to themselves, now they’re acting like paranoid conspiracy nuts, did I miss something? I’m also pretty bored of the political campaigning – has there even been mention of the actual political issues at all it seems to be all about threats and manipulation? So overall, I’m struggling a bit with The Good Wife at the moment.

CSI (Thursdays, Five USA) – There have been a few interesting bits this season, but nothing spectacular. The emotional and personal stuff has been laid on a bit thick, issues coming and going like sledgehammers. The show could really use some younger characters to come in and challenge the status quo a bit, it’s at risk of turning into Midsummer Murders.

Brothers & Sisters (Thursdays, More4) –This isn’t an amazing show, but it continues to be comfortable. It’s full of melodrama, cheese and sappiness. The cast has thinned down a bit having lost Robert, Holly and Rebecca which I think actually improves the show and I don’t miss any of them. The small time shift also makes things a bit more interesting, but at its heart this is a hot chocolate and duvet show.

The Big C (Thursdays, More4) – It’s billed as a comedy, and it *is* funny, but all the humour comes from the “you’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry” school of thought. It’s not an easy show to watch, but it is extremely good with a spectacular performance from Laura Linney.

NCIS (FX, Fridays) – only just returned so the only episode I’ve seen is the resolution to the big mid-season cliff-hanger which I really didn’t care about in the slightest. Despite the fact that the ratings are through the roof on this in the US, I’m losing interest as characters continue to behave erratically and the plots get less and less engaging.

Criminal Minds (Sky1, Fridays) – I always enjoy Criminal Minds, it’s not spectacular, but each week the mysteries are interesting, the action suitably dramatic and the characters and their relationships rewarding for the long term viewer. I do miss JJ horribly, but am enjoying Garcia’s increased role and appreciate that the new agent brings a bit of energy to the show. A solid performer.

CSI:New York (Saturdays, Channel 5) – The disappearance of Stella and her replacement by Sela Ward was a bit spontaneous, but gave the show a bit of excitement. But it didn’t really last and it’s settled back into a bit of rut. It’s ok to watch while cooking or ironing, but that’s not exactly high praise.

Outcasts – (BBC1 Sundays) – it’s a bit n&*f really, I have some really very serious doubts the writers have any idea about the timelines, the history of the colony or where they’re going with the mystery. BUT if treated as mindless entertainment, it’s actually moderately enjoyable.

NCIS: LA (Sky1, Sundays) – the sister series however I’m enjoying more and more. The plots are still pretty dull, but the characters and dialogue have a spark to them that the original series seems to have lost. The ensemble is working well together having lost Nate and what’s-his-face who were pretty dull and replaced them with quirkier and more interesting Nell and Deeks.

Top Gear (BBC2, Sundays) – Falling to the bottom of my watch list, I find myself fast forwarding more and more of each episode. When they’re spontaneous, I still love them, but too much is scripted and obviously faked.

Supernatural (“spring/summer”, Sky Living) – when a show takes on the apocalypse and the devil, it’s a big question where to go next, but the tighter focus on the more personal issues was a good choice. There’s still a great mix of angst, action, drama and a bucket load of humour (it’s been a long time since I laughed at anything as hard as I laughed at Dean and the fairy).

End of year report card

The start and end points for the television year is pretty fuzzy. Given that I watch mostly US shows, I tend to go by their year which runs roughly from September rather than the calendar year. So I decided that I’d count the start of the year as 1st September (and I go by American air dates, not the UK). BUT life isn’t that simple, because what do I do with shows that start in one year but end in another. For example Mad Men season 3 ran August-November 2009, running one year to the next. Then I looked at what the Emmys do and it turns out they run June 1st 2009-May 31st 2010. BUT they don’t strictly speaking pay attention to show seasons, it’s just whichever episodes ran in that time frame, which means from what I can tell – the last two episodes of the season of Glee weren’t eligible for entry as they aired in June 2010.

So after all that, I decided to hell with it and I’d count what I felt fit within 2009-2010 and be pretty much arbitrary about it.

Bones – Season 5
Brothers & Sisters – S4
Caprica – S1
Criminal Minds – S5
CSI – S10
CSI:NY – S6
Defying Gravity – S1
Dollhouse – S1
Doctor Who – 2010
FlashForward – S1
Friday Night Lights – S4
Fringe – S2
The Good Wife – S1
Glee – S1
Grey’s Anatomy – S6
House – S6
Leverage – S2
Lie to Me – S2
Mad Men – S3
The Mentalist – S2
Merlin – S2
NCIS: Los Angeles – S1
NCIS – S7
Outnumbered – S3
Sons of Anarchy – S2
Stargate Universe – S1
Supernatural – S5
Trauma – S1
Warehouse 13 – S1
White Collar – S1
V – S1

Top of the Class – Best Drama

  • Mad Men: For once, I’m in absolute agreement with the Emmys. Season 3 (season 4 has just started on BBC4) was a work of near perfection. The pacing, the way everything had been so carefully and subtly built up until the final episode which was one of the most satisfying hours of television I’ve ever seen. The detail of this show is incredible, it’s a slow burn, but it’s really worth it.
  • Friday Night Lights – I have a guilty relationship with this show, because despite the fact I have it ‘available’, I haven’t managed to bring myself to watch the second half of the season. This season has felt like really hard going, everybody’s’ lives really seem to suck and it’s just hard to watch. But that doesn’t make it any less superb or any less worthy of its position in the number 2 slot in the drama category.
  • Sons of Anarchy – There’s just something about this bunch of gun running, murdering, hells angels that just makes you forgive them everything they do. The closest thing I can think of to this show is Brothers & Sisters, it’s got the same sense of families fighting amongst themselves, but ultimately doing anything for each other – just with more Nazis.
  • Trauma – Maybe this show wouldn’t have made the cut if I didn’t feel bad for it being cancelled, but I really do think it was one of the better shows of the year. It’s not perfectly refined like Mad Men, but the heart and soul of it are true, the characters and relationships are interesting and different and I enjoyed every episode.
  • The Good Wife – Proving that ‘legal procedural’ doesn’t have to mean Law and Order or wanting to kill all the characters. The ensemble cast is amazing and contains some of my favourite actors, and seeing them together creating such complex characters is immensely satisfying.

Head Boy – Best Male Actor/Character (you don’t get to be a great actor without a well crafted/written character and great characters don’t survive great actors)

  • Tim Roth (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) – I don’t understand why Tim Roth and Lie to Me don’t get more attention. In a world of dark, sober, troubled and angsty television detectives, Tim Roth lights up the room. He’s manipulative and arrogant, but he’s also a brilliant father, a caring friend and of all the investigators on television, he’s the one I’d want in my corner the most.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – I had my doubts, not because he was young or unknown or anything like that, but just because I thought David Tennant had created an un-equalable character. Matt Smith blew me away with his charm, his goofiness, his terrifying speeches and his ability to make a fez look cool.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – This man seems to do less acting than anyone else on television, he hardly says anything, sometimes he barely moves, but somehow you understand every single thing the character is thinking.
  • Jenson Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) – I was a bit disappointed by the season of Supernatural, but I was never disappointed with either of the lead performances. Part of what frustrated me about the season was that it was all over the range from slapstick to suicidal angst, via homicidal range and utter psychosis. Jenson Ackles nailed each of the emotions and how stubborn, but over-his-head Dean would approach each one.
  • Hugh Laurie (Dr House, House) – I didn’t like this series of House much, as per usual I think it spent too long coasting through the middle of the season and then made some dubious relationship choices. But Hugh Laurie was consistently great throughout, except for the bookending episodes, where he was absolutely amazing.

Head Girl – Best Female Actor/Character (is actress politically incorrect?)

  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick,The Good Wife) – A breath of fresh air on network television, a woman with kids, a career, issues and most importantly a personality of her own. I loved when she got drunk with Kalinda, or acted as a big sister to Cary, or didn’t quite know how to interact with Diane. But mostly I loved the way she fell back to being a college student falling for her friend and not knowing what to do about it.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Taylor-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – Gemma had the epitome of a bad year on Sons of Anarchy, but through it all she was their Queen, she loves all the members of her family and fights to protect them, whether with a gun, her fists, or just by keeping a secret. Katey Segal was amazing.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – The other half of the best couple on television, Tammy’s not had a great year either. But like her husband, she doesn’t have to say anything for you to understand the multiple faces the character presents to everyone, including herself. When she steals her little victories wherever she can, and fights for her kids (the whole school load of them) it makes me want to hug her.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – Meredith grew up and got happy and made me love her. Last year I put her on this list partially out of pity, this year she’s there on merit, actually taking her position as ‘lead’ actress more than just being a ‘prominent female member of the ensemble’. She’s completely settled into her position as the mother of the group – her reaction to her marriage and the loss of her friends was really mature. Whiny Meredith is hopefully gone for good.
  • Sally Field (Nora Walker, Brothers and Sisters) – When Sally Field cries, I cry. When she screams, I hid under a cushion. Whether herding her unruly brood, or causing chaos all by herself, I love her to pieces.

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Walter is crazy. Utterly and completely, self-medicatingly, one-too-many-magic-mushrooms, bucket loads of crazy. But then in alternate world Walter is utterly sane and calm and scary and slimy. Noble bounces around between Walters multiple personalities and bodies with amazing talent.
  • Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel, Glee) – The best thing in Glee. He’s completely over the top and ridiculous to the point you almost want to throw him in a dumpster yourself, but then he does something heartbreaking. Also, he can belt out a tune like the best divas out there.
  • David Blue (Eli Wallace, Stargate Universe) – He’s exactly what the stereotypical Stargate fan would be like if they found themselves inside a Stargate series. He’s got no clue about the military, or really people at all. He’s a massive geek who breaks tension by making Star Wars jokes. He brings a bit of reality to the otherwise slightly highly strung Stargate team.
  • Cliff Curtis (Rabbit Palchuk, Trauma) – Cliff Curtis became one of my favourite actors this year playing the deeply troubled, but utterly charming Rabbit. A really fascinating character and a slightly unlikely leading man, but he was the heart of this show.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Victor, Dollhouse) – I ummed and erred between Victor and Fran Kranz’s Topher, but eventually the Doll edged out the geek because he got to play a different role (and accent) every week and nailed them all, even managing to play Topher to perfection.

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – She wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy this year, which I was so astonished by I had to check multiple times. Bailey follows the Sally Field rules – she cries I cry, she shouts, I actually cheer out loud. Her final scene of the final episode just destroyed me.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson, Mad Men) – “I’m Peggy Olson. And I want to smoke some marijuana” and “Beg me? You didn’t even ASK me”. Nuff said.
  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockheart, The Good Wife) – Although her colleague Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) got the Emmy, I think Christine Baranski was far superior if for no other reason than she seemed to be having so much FUN with the role. Not afraid to flirt with a colleague or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a situation.
  • Allison Scagliotti (Claudia, Warehouse 13) – like Eli in Stargate, Claudia is the voice of the fan. She’s a geek who loves a gadget and points out the idiocy of all the plans. She, and her ever changing hair colours, brings life to the show.
  • Linda Hunt (Hetty Lange, NCIS:LA) – A breath of fresh air, a bizarre mix of motherly and drill sergent that manages to make even LL Cool J quake in his boots.

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

  • Callen and Hanna (NCIS:Los Angeles) – A perfect yin and yang thing of hot headedness and cool, all bundled up in a caring (but not out loud!) partnership. Who’d’ve thought it.
  • Team Free Will, Supernatural
    “This is it… Team Free Will. One ex-blood-junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name and Mr Comatose over there. Awesome.”
    “It’s not funny”
    “I’m not laughing”
  • Christina and Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy) – When Meredith revealed the plans for her and Derek’s dream house and pointed out Christina’s Room I burst into tears yet again. I love these two sisters.
  • The Walker Clan (Brothers and Sisters) – You can’t really break this group up. They squabble and occasionally even fight, but the group of them together and the complex relationships between all of them are amazing.

Points for effort – The home of the things that are solidly doing their job, are entertaining, and occasionally verging into brilliant, but are generally just really solidly plugging away doing what they do.

  • CSI:Original had a really solid season, settling down after the changes of recent years and just turning in an entertaining, reliable and interesting season, there’s not many shows that can say that moving in to their 11th season they’ve still got some spark.
  • Grey’s Anatomy deserves a lot of praise for bouncing back from the previous terrible season, I nearly gave up on the show, but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • Brothers & Sisters – cheesy, melodramatic, sappy and utterly sentimental – it embraces these things with such enthusiasm and does them so well, it’s hard not to love.
  • Glee – If only the quality of the plots were more consistent, this would be worthy of considerably more praise. As it is, I enjoyed most of the episodes, but ended up frustrated that it wasn’t just slightly better.

Must Try Harder

  • The Mentalist – A nice idea, a charismatic lead character… but ultimately the character development isn’t, ‘mysteries’ aren’t, and the novelty wore off.
  • Outnumbered – It was still funny, but it just wasn’t as good as previous seasons. Not least because it seemed to spontaneously stop dead, to such an extent that I completely failed to note it had finished and never got round to writing a review.
  • Science fiction – it’s not been a good year for science fiction imho. V, Caprica and Flashforward were all disappointing.
  • NCIS – Still flipflopping all over the place with a lack of consistency and character development. Maybe it’s time for this one to retire.
  • Criminal Minds – I praised the show for finally having the team come together and having an impressive group of strong female characters… then they sacked two of them.