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.


2014/15 – New Series

Another year of television drifts to a close, at least my rather arbitrary definition of ‘year’ which starts in September for my collation of American television. Based on an EXTREMELY haphazard count via wikipedia of things that look like ‘proper’ shows (seriously, that’s as specific as it gets) I’d say there were about 60 new shows lasts year. I watched 24 pilots which isn’t too shabby a ratio, particularly given I actively avoid comedies for the most part.

Jane_the_Virgin_logo (1)It didn’t feel like an exemplary year for television in general, or for new shows in particular. I guess the only notable thing was the rapid growth of the online channels and even that’s more of a continuation of a trend than a huge new development. The impressive calibre of serious dramas on both cable and online either overwhelmed or just wasn’t challenged by much in the way of fun simplicity on the main broadcast networks. In fact the only channel that really stood out was The CW where Jane the Virgin gained critical praise and awards previously unseen by the tiny little ‘teen’ network. So well done The CW for doing something different and well, while the other broadcast networks just seemed to do the same old stuff, and not really doing that great a job with it either.

Things I Watched/am watching
Agent_Carter_Series_LogoI picked up 6 new series this year, most of which I’m quite enthusiastic about and intend to stick with. The only one that I was in two minds about was cancelled anyway.

  • The Affair – the he said/she said structure of this, and the self-obsessed characters could have got tedious, but the actors carried it off. The murder-mystery flashforward story was a bit manipulative and contrived though, so hopefully the writers will go a bit easier on that in the second season.
  • Aquarius – I’m halfway through this 1960’s set detective drama based loosely around Charlie Manson. It’s David Duchovny’s dry detective who really sells this show though.
  • Jane the Virgin – quirky, fresh, charming, moving, laugh out loud funny, and utterly embracing it’s own ridiculousness. I loved this series.
  • Marvel’s Agent Carter – An absolute gem of a show that went largely unnoticed. It had great writing, a fantastic central performance and some really interesting things to say about women in the years post WW2. Absolutely brilliant.
  • Stalker – Another generic entry into the procedural pool. I watched the whole season, mostly while ironing or cooking and was utterly unbothered by the fact it was not renewed for a second season. The best thing about it was probably the quirky covers of famous songs that made even sweet ballads sound creepy as anything
  • Transparent – I was endlessly irritated by most of the characters, but Jeffrey Tambor makes the whole thing not only bearable, but funny and touching. If only season 2 could bring some redeeming features to the two younger children, I’d be even happier.

Things I watched a bit of

  • Forever – A guy who can’t die solves crimes using his centuries of knowledge and experience while hiding his immortality from almost everyone around him. I watched about half this series, mostly because Ioan Gruffudd And Judd Hirsch had a really lovely chemistry and backstory, but I just kind of faded away from watching it as the case of the week got less and less interesting. Given it was cancelled after the first season, I wasn’t the only one that lost interest it seems.
  • Madam Secretary – despite my rather apathetic review of the pilot I stuck with this for a dozen episodes or so, but it just never got better. Tea Leone was great, but the fact that every complicated international story got resolved in 44 minutes and we all slapped ourselves on the back just got too tedious. It did get renewed though.
  • Twelve Monkeys – I lasted a few episodes of this and found it quite entertaining, but after a while I got rather bored and increasingly concerned that it was just going to turn into a giant net of conspiracy theory that could just add more layers of complexity in the middle if/when the series was renewed. I just wasn’t that engaged so drifted away.

Things I might watch
wayward_pinesAll series that I just reviewed the other day and enjoyed, or found intriguing enough that I might catch-up with them.

  • Bloodlines – it has Kyle Chandler.
  • Empire – does a good job with familiar tropes
  • iZombie – entertaining and fresh, but it’s not got a UK broadcaster yet.
  • Wayward Pines – a bit slow and lacking in originality but probably sufficiently intriguing to get through the short run

Things I didn’t bother with

  • Constantine – it was… fine, but no more. It felt too close to other shows to make it really worth watching and as it wasn’t picked up for another season, I won’t bother catching up.
  • The Flash – I did watch the pilot for this, and while it wasn’t anywhere near as dire as the pilot of its sibling show Arrow, it just didn’t grab me.
  • How to Get Away with Murder – this just didn’t charm me as much as I wanted it to, it seemed to fastforward straight to the conclusion I eventually reached with Scandal in season 4 – utterly unlikable, irredeemable characters heading towards inevitable destruction.

Things I’d actively avoid

  • CSI: Cyber (imbedded pilot) – I don’t really remember much about the imbedded pilot beyond the questionable logic of the storyline so I won’t be bothering.
  • Daredevil – In a crowded genre, this was just unremarkable.
  • Gotham – the following words appeared in my review of the pilot: trite, obvious, hammy, unsettled
  • The Knick – same old hospital plots just with period costumes and a very unengaging lead actor.
  • Murder in the First – so by-the-numbers that I barely made it through the first episode.
  • NCIS: New Orleans – yeah yeah we get it New Orleans has great food, great music, great accents and… enough navy related crime to keep a series going? Really?
  • Sense8 – so very dull
  • State of Affairs – pretending to be smart while in fact being stunningly stupid.

Upfronts 2015: The CW

cwThe CW – home of young, pretty people with problems. Superheroes, monsters, vampires, survivors of the apocalypse, Mary Queen of Scots, zombies and a woman accidentally impregnated with her boss’s baby. You know, the usual day to day issues that life throws at you. The CW only has about a dozen shows on its schedules and many are very long running, so there’s only a couple of cancellations and a couple of new shows.

Cancelled of finished
Hart of Dixie ran for four seasons, The Messengers was cancelled after only three episodes with spectacularly low ratings even for The CW.

What’s returning
Supernatural - Season 5Supernatural continues into its eleventh season. I gave up on the show several years ago, not because it wasn’t good but because the relentless misery inflicted on the main characters just depressed me too much. Skimming the summary of recent episodes, that really doesn’t seem to have changed any!

Ranked up behind it are various super hero and supernatural-lower-case offerings. Arrow and The Flash share a universe and go into seasons 4 and 2. The Vampire Diaries will enter season 7 without its leading lady, which should be interesting, while its spinoff The Originals goes into season 3. The vampires are followed up with zombies with the unfortunately named, but apparently not bad iZombie getting a second season and Beauty and the Beast, a series I never hear anything at all about, getting renewed for season 4. A couple more teen focussed series, The 100 set in the future and Reign set in the past are both renewed for third seasons.

Jane_the_Virgin_logo (1)The real star of the network though would be Jane the Virgin, which is not only good, but so good that it won the CW its first ever Peabody and Golden Globe (for leading actress Gina Rodriguez) awards. Unsurprisingly it will return for season 2.

New series

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: joining the Arrow and Flash universe are a misfit bunch of superheroes who travel through time to battle a supervillain. It’s got a huge challenge ahead of it to overcome the obvious “budget Avengers” label. It’s a shame that so many of the characters seem to overlap with Marvel universe and the dialogue in the trailer didn’t quite land. Still, nice idea.

Containment: There’s a virus, it’s fatal and while the authorities try to contain it, those inside the containment are trying to survive. This looks like it’s on some kind of exchange trip with Supergirl on CBS as each show seems lost on the network that’s showing it, and I think that’s a real shame for both shows’ survival chances.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: OK. There just aren’t really words to describe this one. Just watch the trailer and marvel at the weirdness.

Jane the Virgin: Pilot Review

Jane_the_Virgin_logo (1)Jane is saving herself for marriage for various reasons including god, a terrifying grandmother, a mother who got pregnant at 16, and a heartfelt belief in romance. But then she is accidentally artificially inseminated with her boss’s sperm. Obviously.

To be honest, the accidental artificial insemination is one of the least far-fetched things in the whole of the first two episodes. The ludicrous network that’s built up between a relatively small pool of characters is truly stupendous. It is immediately clear that it’s based on a telenovela (like the one that actually appears in the show), with tenuous plots, shock reveals and manipulative cliff hangers. But those tricks keep soaps on the air for decades, and they work just as well here.

While the plots and several of the characters are ridiculous the show is completely grounded by the utterly charming Gina Rodriguez as Jane. In the face of all the insanity, she behaves exactly as you’d expect a normal person to behave. With tears, inappropriate jokes, embarrassment and a huge amount of heart. She’s the eye of the storm from which all the craziness emanates and focusses back, but she remains a point of normalcy.

I watched the first two episodes back-to-back which I think was actually a mistake, and a good indicator that this is a show best watched in small chunks. When you watch one episode the quirky narration is charming, the rollercoaster plots exhilarating and the over-the-top characters are entertaining. But despite the fact that fundamentally nothing changed for the second episode, I found the narration just frustrating in the way it dropped hints and/or restated the obvious, the larger characters were irritating, and the bouncing plot was just too much.

In moderation I think this could be a really entertaining and diverting show. It is refreshing in its enthusiasm and vibrancy, with just the right levels of comedy and melodrama to make it a guilty pleasure or comfort watch. If it settles down a bit it may have the potential to be a bit more than that and tell some original stories about colourful characters. Like a great desert though, you just have to make sure you don’t eat too much in one sitting.

The Upfronts 2014: The CW

cwThe CW, the perpetual teenager of the television networks released its schedule on Thursday. It broadcasts less hours of prime time programming than the other networks, so has fairly limited space on the schedule and it pretty much fills it with teenage angst and monsters. It had one of the more successful years for new shows, picking up 3 out of 5 dramas.

What’s Dead?
The Carrie Diaries the prequel to Sex and the City was cancelled after two seasons. I’m a bit surprised it made it that far, it seemed flawed from the get go, why create a show aimed at teenagers based on a show whose fans are now in (at least!) their thirties. Plus it’s set in the eighties (shudder). Nikita (4) was both more interesting and longer running, but the fourth season was a much shorter one designed to finish the stories off.

Star-Crossed and The Tomorrow People were both cancelled after their first seasons. Teenage aliens and teenage superheroes just didn’t bring in enough viewers. I barely stomached sitting through the trailer for Star-Crossed and the pilot for Tomorrow People was uninspiring, so I won’t cry over either cancellation.

What’s Survived?
Supernatural - Season 5Supernatural, a series that was with a five year arc and that started when The CW was still The WB will return for a tenth season next year! I stopped watching a couple of years ago because I just found the endless trauma the Winchesters’ experienced exhausting. I almost wish they cancel the show so they can retire to a nice quiet life somewhere. The Vampire Diaries enters its sixth season demonstrating the popularity of vampires. Arrow (3) shows the popularity of superheroes, Hart of Dixie (4) the popularity of will-they-won’t-they and Beauty and the Beast (3) the popularity of pretty people with disproportionate amounts of angst.

While a proposal for a Supernatural’s spinoff next year failed to generate any buzz or pickup The Vampire Diaries’ spin-off The Originals was popular enough for a second season. Two other new shows will return – Reign and The 100. I haven’t seen either so can’t really comment, both look like the usual teenage high school show just that Reign is set in 16th Century France and The 100 in the post apocalyptic future. Different centuries, same problems with boys.

What’s New?
Flash (trailer): Barry Allen is a CSI with a tragic past and is hit by a lightning from a storm that was produced by a physics experiment. Now Barry has super-speed. So he’s a superhero, fighting other people who made the opposite decision after being hit by the lightning. It’s set in the same universe as Arrow and has crossovers, if Arrow was a budget Batman, this is a budget Spider-Man. The trailer is a bit naff, but it might be ok if it focuses on the light rather than the over the top melodrama.

Jane the Virgin (trailer): 23 year old Jane is saving herself for marriage when she is accidentally (!) artificially inseminated with her boss’s baby. Yes, that’s genuinely the plot. If the trailer is anything to go by Jane is a nice girl trapped in a terrible plot with a shrieking mother. It reminded me of Ugly Betty, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I also never made it past the first season of that because the shrieking people were a bit too much.

iZombie (no trailer, mid-season): Dr Olivia Moore was a perky go-getting resident until she went to a party and got turned into a zombie. She manages to hide that fact and takes a job in the coroner’s office where she can eat all the brains she needs. But it turns out each brain gives her memories from the dead person, so she pretends to be psychic so she can help solve their murders. The title is terrible, but I actually rather like the concept. Done right it could be a lot of fun.

The Messengers (no trailer, mid-season): Four strangers are knocked unconscious and wake up connected to each other, with new powers and a mission from a “mysterious figure known only as The Man”. The press release is littered with bible quotes which makes me a little nervous, but The CW have confronted these themes on Supernatural before and had a pretty interesting take on them.