2012-13 Season – the best and the worst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hawaii Five-0: Season 1

Coinciding with my decision to give up on NCIS, an email* arrived informing me that Sky was re-running the first season of Hawaii Five-O. Well, I had some spare time on my hands and recalled that I rather enjoyed the pilot so figured I’d give it a shot.

Sometimes pilots end up not being representative of the rest of the series, sometimes a weak first episode turns into a solid series, or an impressive start ends up in a disappointing series; it’s not always just about quality either, sometimes tones and subjects change as series progress. Hawaii Five-0 was not one of these shows, for better or worse, the pilot was an exact miniature of the rest of the series.

For the most part, that was good. I enjoyed the pilot, particularly the central relationship between the two reluctant partners – Danny the wise ass detective from New Jersey who at heart is a softy and would rather talk things through, and Steve the local boy turned special forces commander who goes in all guns blazing. It’s a perfect ‘buddy cop’ pairing, a great mixture of frustration and friendship, they challenge and support each other with laugh-out-loud funny bickering and manfully emotional sentiment.

The second star of the show is definitely the setting. Hawaii is gorgeous and the show may as well be sponsored by the tourist board. They also make a point of exploring the culture and history of the islands though which adds an extra dimension to the cases which otherwise are solid but disposable. The ongoing storylines are woven through the series to give a little more depth to things, but for the most part everything is neatly tied up with a little moral bow at the end of each episode. That doesn’t give much scope for anything outstanding, but each episode’s formulaic structure trundles along nicely and makes for comfortable watching.

Unfortunately however the show failed to improve on some of the weaknesses in the pilot. The supporting characters remain woefully under-developed. Grace Park, who did amazing work on Battlestar Galactica is reduced to a rookie agent, being patronised with exposition and constantly being sent to talk to children and/or wearing a bikini. Daniel Dae Kim continues to spend most of his time pouting and mysterious about his past which got dull very quickly.

Hawaii Five-0 is a solid, entertaining series, that bounces along with action sequences interspersed with beautiful scenery and laugh-out-loud funny bantering. I’ll probably add to my viewing as a direct replacement for NCIS. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is just plain entertaining.

* The Sky Never Miss site is an excellent resource for tracking shows, and I think you can create an account even if you don’t actually have Sky. You can select from hundreds of past, present and future shows and about a week before the show is on you get an email letting you know. Incidentally, back when I was doing some work for Sky via an agency about 5 years ago my company suggested to them that this was the kind of service that television fans really wanted, not endless emails about competitions. Took them a while…

2010-2011 – New Shows

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

Things I watched:

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

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

Might watch

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

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

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

Not my thing

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

Just not very good

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilot Review: Hawaii Five-O

It’s Hawaii 5-0. Just modern.

I never saw the original series, it never really seemed to make it to the UK, even the random cult cable channels. I’m aware enough of the clichés of the show to see a few of them lingered over in the pilot, but I’m judging the new show purely on its own merit.

Luckily for the people who have clearly spent a massive amount of money on it, the merit stands pretty well. It’s cheesy, over the top, gratuitous and contrived, but it was also bloody entertaining.

At its heart, this is a buddy cop show in a beautiful location. The location can be solved by filming in Hawaii and spending lots on helicopter shots, the harder part is getting good chemistry between the two stars. Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin, Moonlight) is the gung-ho military hero who’s returned home to Hawaii to avenge his father’s death. Danny Williams (Scott Caan, Ocean’s 11, son of James) is a recent immigrant to the island, following his daughter and ex-wife. He looks like he should be playing an emotionally retarded bully, but is in fact a soft hearted father, who would far rather wait for back up and think things through than run headlong into danger.

I really liked both of their characters, immediately wanting to find out more about them. But more so, I liked them together, the way they complement each other, and infuriate each other. Steve is the driving force, Danny the sarcastic voice of calm. Danny won’t stand for Steve’s crap and doesn’t want to follow him in to danger and get shot at, but Steve is in charge and seems to enjoy winding Danny up.

The two supporting members of the team were very much supporting as far as the pilot went. Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim, Lost) has street smarts but a chip on his shoulder and Kona Kalakaua (Grace Park, Battlestar Galactica) is his cousin who seems to be around mostly to not wear much and surf. There’s suggestions of interesting back stories with each, so I’m optimistic they’ll becom more interesting as time allows.

The plot did what it needed to do which was mostly get the characters into alternately bickering o fighting situations. Bicker – plot – gun fight – bicker – plot – gun fight – plot – bicker. The primary plot of hunting down Steve’s father’s murderer seemed a little too easy to be honest and it was a shame James Marsters (Buffy) didn’t get to do more. But the set up for investigating corruption in the police department and the governor herself getting involved was interesting.

Hawaii Five-O is more NCIS than The Shield bright, colourful, entertaining and action packed. It’s going to rely on characters to keep people interested and from what I saw here, they’ve got all the right ingredients with a superb cast and some good writing. It’s the televisual equivalent of a popcorn flick and it does that pretty damn well.

TV Squad: Yet despite the dude-tastic charisma that Caan brings to Danno, I can’t quite see a reason to watch ‘Hawaii Five-0’ again, given that each week, the stories will probably feel like something we’ve already seen on ‘NCIS,’ ‘NCIS Los Angeles’ or any number of the ‘CSIs.’ Bad guys will be caught, the team shall be triumphant. Rinse and repeat.

CliqueClack: the amount of thought placed into the show breathes utter kickassery. Everything from the opening credits to the writing to the directing to the cinematography appeared well done and well thought out.

Links: Official site, wikipedia, tv.com, imdb

The Upfronts: CBS

What’s Out
Carnage again at CBS with seven cancellations, largely amongst stuff I’ve never seen. Numb3rs, Cold Case, Ghost Whisperer, Gary Unmarried and The New Adventures of Old Christine have all been around for a few years, but never really made much of an impact on my psyche. Miami Medical and Accidentally on Purpose were new this year, neither impressed me with their pilots and neither apparently made any impact on the ratings.

What’s Back
CBS: All CSI, All the time! Lead by the original CSI (returning for season 11) are a flotilla of procedurals – CSI:NY, CSI:Miami, NCIS, NCIS: LA, Criminal Minds, The Mentalistand Medium. The Good Wife is one of the biggest critical successes amongst the 2009-10 class so is also renewed unsurprisingly. Half-hour comedies are represented by How I Met Your Monther, Rules of Engagement, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

What’s New

  • Hawaii Five-O: The ‘classic’ cop show reimagined. It’s got an impressive cast, gorgeous locations and the ever popular combination of girls and guns. From the clips though it also looks like it might have a willingness to poke fun at itself and the spark that is missing from many other trailers out there.
  • Blue Bloods: Tom Selleck and his moustache are back. The writers of the Sopranos take on the other side of the law with a family of New York law enforcers, an interesting idea but the trailer didn’t have the aforementioned spark, it felt like it was trying too hard.
  • Defenders: Yet another show about lawyers. Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell are great names, and it might be an interesting twist to have budget lawyers in crappy suits rather than the ultra polished ones that tend to be on screen and not hugely sympathetic. If the chemistry is all they play it up to be, this might be a lot of fun.
  • Mike & Molly: A couple meat at Overeaters Anonymous and fall in love. Fat jokes ensue. Melissa McCarthy and the world in general deserve better.
  • $#*! My Dad Says: This one’s going to be a headline maker. For a start it’s based on a twitter feed. For a second, no one quite knows what to do with the show’s name when you can’t say ‘shit’ on network TV. For a third it’s got possibly the most perfect piece of casting there is, with William Shatner playing the cantankerous eponymous Dad. I’ll admit, I follow the twitter account and I laughed at the trailer.
  • Criminal Minds Spinoff: I’ve made my thoughts on this one pretty clear. It’s not coming in until mid-season so maybe they’ll find someone to fill the charisma hole and convince me this is more than a completely shameless lack of creativity, but I’m not holding my breath.

Links: Watch with Kristin, TV Squad, The TV Addict