Posts Tagged ‘ lie to me ’

The 2010-2011 Season

As always my definitions of what counts for a season are a bit variable, pretty much anything that aired somewhere between the beginning of September 2010 and the end of August 2011 are fair game for this.

Blue Bloods: S1
Bones: S6
Brothers & Sisters: S5
Castle: S3
Criminal Minds: S6
CSI: S11
CSI:NY S7
Doctor Who 2011
Downton Abbey: S1
Friday Night Lights: S5
Fringe: S3
Game of Thrones – S1
Glee: S2
The Good Wife: S2
Grey’s Anatomy: S7
House: S7
Leverage: S3
Lie to Me: S3
Mad Men: S4
Merlin: S3
NCIS: S8
NCIS: Los Angeles – S2
Sons of Anarchy: S3
Stargate Universe: S2
Supernatural: S6
Terriers: S1
The Big C: S1
The Walking Dead: S1

There’s a few bits and bobs that don’t make the list – Outcasts (meh), Mad Dogs (ok), Warehouse 13 (fun but poor), Bedlam (awful), Falling Skies (still haven’t got round to finishing) more documentaries than I might expect (I remember being impressed by a lot of them but the only one I really remember is the superb Inside Nature’s Giants).

Between everything listed above and the pilots I reviewed that’s getting on for 600 episodes of television, probably about 500 hours, which given the national average is somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week, actually is still way below ‘average’. Of course most normal people don’t watch television in the ridiculous concentrated way that I do, so I guess I shouldn’t jump up and down and declare myself well adjusted just yet.

All in all, I’ve not been massively impressed with this year. Although I found it hard to narrow down most of the categories below there were relatively few things that I’d label as outstanding. I don’t know whether this is because I’m getting increasingly hard to please in my old age or because television writers and networks are getting more willing to settle for mediocre in the tough financial times. Either way, given that several of the shows I mention below have come to an end or are looking at likely final seasons, it doesn’t bode particularly well.

Best Shows
These are the shows that are superb – with amazing writing, beautiful direction, compelling acting and thought provoking stories. The ones that the Emmy’s and Golden Globes *should* be nominating.

  • Friday Night Lights – I don’t think season 5 was the best season of the show, I never fell in love with the Lions as much as I did the original Panthers, but even with that in mind it was still one of the absolute highlights of the year and I will miss it.
    Mad Men – this show can appear very slow and dull to a casual viewer, but if you invest in it and pay attention there is such incredible depth that with a little bit of analysis and discussion you have a real sense of satisfaction fitting everything together.
  • Fringe – I rewatched a few episodes of the first season recently and who knew that the ok but unspectacular X-Files wannabe would turn out to be such a fascinating and creative story about alternate worlds literally colliding.
  • The Big C – A comedy about terminal illness, really? But it manages to combine being hilariously funny with being beautifully moving without becoming cloying or preachy. It’s one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen in a long time.
  • Stargate Universe – as far as I’m concerned season 2 was as near to my idea of perfect science fiction as is likely to be seen for a long time. It had interesting stories and ideas, but more importantly was all done with a fascinating group of characters and a lot of humour.

Favourite Shows
These are the shows that I adore. They’re the ones that I desperately wait for new episodes of, the ones that I follow on blogs, the shows that make me smile, cry, and forget that the characters aren’t actually real. Comparing these to Mad Men is like comparing apples and oil rigs, but they still deserve recognition.

  • Glee – this is far and away my favourite show of the year. It has massive consistency problems when it comes to writing and storylines, but every single episode makes me laugh, and simply hearing one of the songs on my ipod can make me forget all about my troubles and grin like a fool.
  • Grey’s Anatomy – with the exception of a questionable couple of storylines towards the end of the season Grey’s has been right back on the sort of form that got me addicted to the early seasons of the show. Even my frustrations with what I describe as poor writing choices are only because I’m so unhealthily emotionally tied to these characters.
  • Doctor Who – I’m not sure whether I’m referring to the previous season that ended at Christmas or the one that’s currently half way through (which is likely why I’m missing the season review), but it really doesn’t matter because each has been superb, somehow managing to be hugely entertaining Saturday evening family viewing, but also superb quality drama with delicate and beautiful writing. This one really could have gone in either category.
  • Terriers – This may be a partial pity vote, if it hadn’t been cancelled would I have been so passionate about it? Don’t know and never will, so it’s on this list because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Downton Abbey – I’d been looking forward to the remake of Upstairs Downstairs and probably to the BBC’s consternation, this ITV almost-rip-off blew it out of the water. A great cast, hilarious writing and a lovely Sunday evening vibe to the whole thing made this a lovely piece of television to watch with friends and family.

Male actors

  • Tim Roth, (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) –Roth’s performance was so entertaining and unpredictable that it took me three seasons to notice that the rest of the show around him was actually not very good at all.
  • Jared Padelecki (Sam Winchester, Supernatural) – I’m a Dean girl through and through, but even I have to acknowledge this season that Sam got the better material and Padelecki acted his way through Sam’s splintering personalities impressively.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – who knew that I’d start forgetting David Tennant. The energy and charm of Smith’s doctor is just infectious.
  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Noble made it on to my list last for playing the wonderfully bonkers character of Walter – sometimes brilliant scientist, sometimes emotionally unstable child. Given that in addition to that performance he adds on the character of Walternate, an alternate universe version where he’s a terrifying politician, there was no way he wouldn’t make the list this year too.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – poor coach had a miserable couple of years struggling with having to chose between the lesser of two evils over and over, nothing ever seemed to quite go his way. Chandler’s understated performances just broke my heart.

Female actors
I still find myself struggling to find 5 decent nominees for this category, I hope that it’s just a coincidence of the shows I watch, but I fear that it’s representative and that’s very troubling.

  • Laura Linney (Cathy Jamison, The Big C) – I imagine this is the kind of role that actors dream of. Linney is simply phenomenal.
  • Julianna Marguiles (Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife) – I think this season of The Good Wife lost its way a little, but that doesn’t change that this continues to be a wonderfully rounded character and a lovely performance.
  • Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham, Fringe) – I’ve found her character a bit bland in previous seasons, but this season thanks to playing multiple different characters, Torv proved that it’s the character that’s bland, not the performance. The subtle differences with her alternate universe version were fascinating, and as for her performance of being possessed by Leonard Nimmoy…
  • Connie Britton (Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – like her husband, nothing ever seems to go Tami’s way, every piece of good news is balanced with a difficult decision. She’s got more stoic and resigned to this as the years have gone by, but watching her wrestle with the potential break up of her family at the end of the season felt like the world was ending.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Teller-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – I very nearly put her into the group category alongside Maggie Siff’s Tara because these two women at the heart of the male oriented motorcycle club are incredible. But Segal’s performance is the more nuanced one, the balance between confidence and insecurity, cold blooded scariness and utter devotion to her family.

Casts
In cases like Tom Sellek there’s one actor holding together an otherwise mediocre group, in cases like Laura Linney, she’s clearly carrying the weight of the series and standing out from an already very good supporting team. But for these guys and gals it’s the pairings and groupings that are the standout, if I commented on one of them, I’d have to comment on them all or I’d have the guilt.

  • Grey’s Anatomy – this show has always been the gold standard of ensemble acting and character development and this season has been no different. Everyone has interesting relationships that grow and mature (if you overlook some terrible backwards steps) and all are equally capable whether dealing with melodramatic emotions, intense medical scenes or hilarious comedy.
  • NCIS LA – the season has been an exploration of what it means to be partners and each of the pairings has delivered fascinating and entertaining performances, ably supported by the centre point of Hetty, NCIS could learn a lot from its offspring.
  • Glee – although Chris Colfer is clearly my (and the writers) favourite this is a spectacularly talented bunch of kids. The movie proves that they can perform just as well live in front of thousands of people, while the tv series shows that they can also deliver even the most ridiculous of storylines compellingly. All this on a ridiculously intensive schedule, imagine what they could do with decent material and a bit of sleep.
  • Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James (Terriers) – My new favourite partnership sadly gone too soon, but I loved the easy camaraderie and open friendship of two people who came from entirely different backgrounds and ended up exactly the same.
  • Stargate Universe – it took a while, but eventually I came to love these characters and performances, right from the flamboyant ones at the front, through to the ‘supporting’ array of scientists and soldiers who could steal an entire scene with a throw away reference to Star Wars or a perfectly timed eye-roll. A dysfunctional family, just like lies at the heart of every great science fiction show.

Notable absences
Not listing Supernatural as one of my favourite shows of the year actually hurt, but it came down to a choice between it and Terriers and Supernatural was edged out just because my abiding memory of the season is one of sadness. It all just got a bit much this season for the show to be as enjoyable as before, but while it was all done really well it doesn’t quite make it into the other category of top shows because it wasn’t quite even enough to stand alongside the other shows.

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead – being a genre fan I also find it sad that I can’t comment on these more favourably, but just being about a different subject doesn’t give you a free pass, you still need to be good. Game of Thrones was good, it only narrowly missed out in the favourite category, but The Walking Dead just wasn’t good enough, yes it’s great to see zombies on television but it still needed to just be better – better writing, better characters, better acting – just better. My feelings on BBC’s Outcasts meanwhile were so confused that apparently I never even got round to writing a review of it… it tried hard, but it really wasn’t very good.

British TV – there are a few British series that I watched all the way through this year, and a few that were so short they didn’t make it to proper reviews, but generally I find that I really have to force myself to watch them. Partly it’s self-fulfilling, I watch mostly US stuff, so I mostly read US blogs etc and therefore mostly find out about US stuff. I often find out about British stuff a couple of episodes in and then never get round to catching up. iPlayer et al help, but it’s one of the areas that I’d like to watch more of this year.

Lie to Me: Season 3

When I wrote about bubble shows in March there were only a handful that I actually really cared about – Fringe and Supernatural were successfully picked up while Stargate Universe, Brothers & Sisters and Lie to Me were not. After a few more episodes and a couple of months of further consideration I find that I’m only really still upset about Stargate, somewhat sad about Brothers & Sisters and that Lie to Me may actually have deserved its cancellation.

In many ways everything was stacked against Lie to Me, it had the familiar problems of extremely erratic behind the scenes shenanigans – constantly changing show runners, time slot safari and huge gaps between episodes. But what I realised as I watched what Sky described as ‘Season 4’ (but was really only the last few episodes of season 3, separated from its first half by several months) was that the show as a whole actually wasn’t very good.

What managed to carry the show for the 40 odd episodes and three seasons it lasted (two half seasons, one full length) was Tim Roth’s central performance of Cal Lightman, a walking, talking, shouting, fighting lie detector. He is basically an obnoxious know-it-all with a dubious moral code and minimal social graces. The writers soften Lightman’s edges by providing him a smart and sassy teenage daughter who loves him and a compassionate partner in Gillian – if those two stick with him, then he can’t be a complete dick.

Like the best characters out there he appears complicated and unpredictable, but it really doesn’t actually take a genius to work out what makes him tick – he enjoys puzzles, he protects those he loves and if people tell him the truth he will move heaven and earth to help them. He’s like a slightly more human House, it’s not about healing the sick or punishing the guilty, it’s about solving the puzzle, and he’s not going to waste his energy and intelligence pandering to people’s feelings.

The character is fascinating and Tim Roth’s performance is unpredictable and unique. Unfortunately what I eventually realised was that that was all the show actually had going for it. The stories and the other characters were all pretty flimsy. Despite being a very small cast, even for a procedural, the other four series regulars get hardly any character development at all – relationships appear and disappear at random, realisations are made one week and seemingly forgotten the next and hints are made and never developed on.

Likewise the way the plots are bound together is pretty weak. In previous seasons there were concepts that tied things together such as the FBI contracting the organisation and a liaison officer to bounce off of. This season however there was no real reason for Cal to get involved in half the cases he did, everything was extraordinarily tenuous. For a seemingly financially successful organisation they never seemed to do much actual paying work.

Many of these issues you don’t tend to notice as you’re watching, it’s only when you look back that you realise that it didn’t really hang together. Episode by episode you just enjoy Tim Roth’s performance and his (and the character’s) ability to surprise you. I had originally been quite cross that the show was cancelled, blaming Fox for not promoting it and messing it about, but actually when I sit and look at it the writers did very little to actually encourage people to watch regularly and ultimately I think that lack of consistency and growth led to a disappointingly flawed whole.

The Upfronts: Fox

Another year, another set of upfronts. Fox is a channel I approach with considerable nervousness, I’ve never forgiven them for cancelling some of my favourite shows (Wonderfalls and Firefly for example). But on the flipside, they’re also the channel that actually commissioned those series, and recently they’ve actually given shows like Dollhouse and Fringe more chances than maybe their ratings deserve.

What’s out
The Chicago Code – This never really got enough viewers for it to survive and another Shaun Ryan show bites the dust. I liked the pilot well enough, but am not sure if I’ll bother picking up the rest of the series now. I was more upset about the loss of his other show, the superb Terriers.
The Good Guys – Despite the dream pairing of Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, this wasn’t my kind of show, and the ratings would seem to indicate it wasn’t other people’s either.
Lie to Me – Now this one I am cross about. I feel this show never really got a fair shot with mucked about scheduling and minimal promotion. Tim Roth was superb in this, raising it up above other similar procedurals like The Mentalist. It could have been improved with more development of the supporting characters, but this is one of only very few cancellations that I have any kind of strong feelings about.
Also off are Human Target (not awful, but just a bit crappy), Breaking In (Christian Slater thing), Running Wilde and Traffic Light (comedies) and Lone Star which is probably the winner of this year’s “critics’ hero”to “ratings zero” award.

What’s back
There are no surprises that Bones and Glee are back, nor the animations that I have no real idea about but see people talking about a lot (American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, The Cleveland Show, Family Guy and The Simpsons). Also Raising Hope is back which I hear good things about.

Fringe’s renewal came a bit of a surprise to everyone, and I actually really appreciate Fox’s commitment to this show despite it’s not great ratings. I wouldn’t have thought there’ll be another chance next year, so I hope the writers take the opportunity to produce an amazing season that concludes the story.

House will also be back, but due to massive budget cuts it will be without Cuddy (news story) – which as far as I’m concerned may actually improve the show. It will almost certainly be the last season of the show and I’m not overly devastated about that, hopefully the writers will make the most of the opportunity to go out on a high.

What’s new
Terra Nova – The long anticipated and rather spectacular looking Stephen Spielberg action adventure thing. Looks like an extended Jurassic Park. I can’t wait.

Alcatraz – JJ Abrahms’ new mysteryish show. It’s starring Lost’s Jorge Garcia and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill and the trailer efficiently hooked me in. Don’t get overly excited, it’s not on until mid-season.

The Finder – the Bones spinoff which was backdoor piloted got an official pickup. It’s got some potential, but also some really irritating tropes (bloody awful accents, know it all characters, intellectual tough guy) that will need toning down. Another midseason.

Plus a couple more animations (Napoleon Dynamite and Allen Gregory) and two utterly hideous looking comedies (The New Girl and I Hate My Teenage Daughter). And… The X Factor. Lucky Americans, no reason we should suffer alone I guess.

LinksThe TV Addict (thanks for the youtube links), TV Squad, and The Futon Critic

Bubble Shows

Posts at Narrative Devices have been pretty few and far between recently. As I mentioned a couple of posts back I’m basically just trudging through the mid season of most of the shows, and there’s nothing particularly remarkable or blog worthy occurring in the TV world. It won’t be long though until I’m drowning in ends of seasons and the drama, cliffhangers and end-of-year report cards they bring. May will also bring the excitement of the upfronts, where networks announce what terrible sounding pilots they’ve replaced all your favourite shows with.

The biggest news as far as I’m concerned that has arrived in the last few weeks is the surprising, yet utterly wonderful news that Fringe has been picked up for a 4th season. It took me a little while to get into the show, but at some point it evolved from being an X-Files wannabe into a fascinating, complex and yet still entertaining look at alternate realities. Its renewal is all the more surprising given that it was moved into the ‘Friday Night Death Slot’ on Fox that has been held accountable for the death of shows such as Firefly, Wonderfalls, and even the Original Star Trek if wikipedia is to be believed.

So I was happy to see Fringe saved from the uncertainty of ‘the bubble list’ – the list of shows that are in danger of not being picked up for next year. Being on this list almost always comes down to a simple matter of money – how much the show costs to make/buy and how much revenue it generates from advertisers. That’s where the ratings come in – more viewers means more advertising revenue, but it’s not quite that simple. Advertisers love ‘the demo’, the 18-49 age bracket who apparently spend all the money. So you might have millions of viewers, but if you’re Murder She Wrote and they’re all over 60, no one cares.

The only other factor, besides income and expense is the age of the show. There’s a magic point at 100 episodes where the show becomes viable for syndication – the holy grail which means that it can be run over and over again by the myriad of local channels available in the US (according to wikipedia it’s 100 because this allows the show to be run daily for 20 weeks). There’s big money in there, so if you’re a bubble show in your 4th season with about 80 episodes in the bank, you’ve got a better chance of renewal than a show with comparable ratings and costs, but only 40 episodes.

Of course while all that is happening behind the scenes, the very fact that your show is on the list effects its chances of renewal. Marketing spends less money on a show and people can stop watching it – why spend time getting invested in a show that not be around next season, after all if it DOES get picked up, you can always just catch up with summer re-runs or dvds.

While Fringe has been saved, there are still plenty of shows bubbling away, but I find myself in the unusual position of really not caring whether most of them live or die. There’s a few on the list that I intend to watch when they make it over here (Off the Map and Chicago Code for example), but even those, if they’re cancelled I don’t think I’d really be that disappointed. CSI: New York is also bubbling apparently, and although I’ll continue to watch it if it airs, I wouldn’t miss it if it disappeared. Of all the remaining bubblers (sadly of course Stargate Universe has already been declared dead) there are only three I actually care about.

Lie to Me – The show itself can be a little predictable, the side characters are so far off to the side that it’s almost surprising when one of them actually speaks and the constantly changing show-runners have led to erratic direction… but Tim Roth’s performance is one of the most entertaining and interesting ones on television at the moment. I can’t work out why it doesn’t get more attention (both critical and from the ratings), I don’t think it’s ever really been marketed heavily, leaving people to think it’s “just” another procedural, if only they could do some promotion and get Roth some well deserved award nominations. I would have thought this show would work very well to support the increasingly elderly, but still Fox network stalwart – House. Unfortunately the Fox schedules are extremely tight (too many reality shows like American Idol) and with Fringe’s renewal, it’s not looking good for Lie to Me.

Supernatural – I don’t think this has been the strongest season ever, but the show and characters continue to develop in interesting directions and the writers and directors continue to find increasingly bizarre ways to push the boundaries of what a silly sounding show on the CW can actually do. It doesn’t do amazing ratings, but considering that it’s in the Friday Night Death slot on the smallest of the networks, they’re not too bad. Also it’s companion, Smallville, is ending this year, leaving CW without any well established shows. The fan base is absolutely rabid and I don’t think the CW will piss them off.

Brothers & Sisters – It’s cheesy and occasionally ridiculous, but I do love it like a comfortable blanket to be snuggled under. Fighting against it is the fact that it’s quite old and therefore relatively expensive to produce (pay rises and the like), but it does relatively good ratings and ABC where it airs have a reasonably open schedule.

I got my bubble list and information from (updated as things change) are available at TVLine and EW.com mostly.

Setting the scene… or not

I’ve got a request to make of executive producers, or creative directors, or whoever it is that makes these decisions for television – stop putting title sequences on your shows.

That’s not to say I don’t love a good theme song and credits, I really do. But there are a lot of shows out there at the moment that seem to at the last minute before the first episode is delivered for airing realise they never filled the 30second place holder where the titles are supposed to go. An executive producer throws out last minute instructions to pick a random piece of music with no tune, throw together a montage of explosions and characters looking moody “and make sure my name is big”.

In the great days of old title sequences were about setting the scene for your show, give the audience a helping hand picking up what you were trying to say. Remember all those great opening themes and voice-overs you got on things like Star Trek and The Outer Limits? It wasn’t until I thought about it that I realised how amazing the title sequence for M*A*S*H was, it wasn’t a bright chirpy tune to put you in the mood for a comedy, it was sombre and quiet, reinforcing the sadness of the drama behind the comedy. More recently, Firefly did a similar thing, reinforcing the western feel that might have been over-shadowed by the science fiction.

The primary inspiration for this article came from the fact I watched an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, followed by an episode of Blue Bloods and couldn’t help but see that the thing the shows had in common were two absolutely awful title sequences.

Standing alone the title sequences are both awful, loud cliché music, cheesy explosions, melodramatic posing from the actors and unimaginative text. The biggest crime though is how badly they fit with their shows. NCIS will usually jump from a dramatic reveal of a murder or crime straight into loud obnoxious music, Blue Bloods will jump from gritty and modern New York straight into a title sequence from the 80s. Knowing that each title sequence is coming leaves me anxiously hovering over the remote control so that I can fast-forward (god bless Sky+) before the opening chord intrudes on my viewing.

Most shows at the moment thankfully don’t bother with titles at all, taking five seconds for a splash screen and getting on with the show. Grey’s Anatomy used to have credits but rapidly got rid of them. Maybe it’s a bit surprising that Glee, a show all about music and presentation doesn’t have a theme song, but then how could they possibly pick just one song?

Some shows manage to make a surprising impact with even the most minimal splash screens, maybe Lost is the first that really got it right, showing exactly how much can be communicated with just a chord, a font and a fade. Supernatural adopts the same system, just the shows name, a sound and a special effect, but adds a variation by changing the effect and sound each season (and the occasional extra special version – see the collection). Even Brothers & Sisters with its simple sliding text and soothing couple of bars of music sets the correct tone for the show.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t however comment on a few shows that do manage to make title sequences work. For some reason channels like HBO and Showtime really make an effort and put a lot of thought into what they want their titles to say about their shows. The majority of things that would appear on my list of favourite credit sequences past (Six Feet Under, Carnivale, Deadwood, Dead Like Me) and present (Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire) aired on HBO or Showtime in the US. All absolutely beautiful title sequences that really suit their shows. There would be a clip of the Sons of Anarchy intro here… but there doesn’t seem to be a version on YouTube.

Lie to Me – I can’t help but smile every time that woman’s eyes light up

Big Bang Theory – I don’t watch the show (I know I probably should, it’s on my list, I just haven’t got to it yet) but I love the titles!

Fringe – the standard intro is nothing special after a couple of seasons, but this year they’ve done a few alternate versions to fit with their alternate themes, including this genius one for their flashback to the 80s episode.

(Thanks to Smashing Magazine and TV.com for their collection of links.)

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.

2008-2009 Television

I decided this year that rather than do a summary of my tv watching at the start of the year, it made more sense to do it in the middle, once all the ‘current’ seasons of stuff have wrapped for the year. It means almost all the US shows (which make the bulk of my watching) have completed their seasons and can be reviewed as a whole. Also, I basically failed to get round to doing this in January and after a while this excuse seemed valid.

A quick add up shows that I’ve watched approximately 400 episodes of television this year. That’s about 300 hours and it’s not including the stuff I’ve watched that wasn’t new this year or random stuff like Top Gear and documentaries, probably about half as much again. Just imagine the useful things I could have got done in that time!

So, here’s the list of this year’s shows I’ve watched:

  • Battlestar Galactica – Season 4
  • Being Human – Season 1
  • Bones – season 5
  • Brothers and Sisters – season 3
  • Castle – season 1
  • Criminal Minds – season 4
  • CSI – Season 9 (about halfway)
  • CSI:NY – season 6
  • Dollhouse – Season 1
  • Friday Night Lights – season 3
  • Gossip Girl – Season 2
  • Grey’s Anatomy – season 5
  • Heroes – Season 3 (Up to episode 14)
  • House – season 5 (Up to episode 21)
  • Lie to Me – Season 1
  • Mad Men – Season 2
  • Merlin – Season 1
  • NCIS – season 6
  • Primeval- Season 3
  • Pushing Daisies – Season 2
  • Stargate Atlantis – Season 5
  • Supernatural – Season 4
  • The Mentalist – Season 1
  • Torchwood – Children of Earth/Season 3
  • Warehouse 13 – season 1 (Up to episode 10)

This year’s new additions
This year’s new shows were either instant hits for me or instant misses, I started with ten, dropped three within a few episodes but will watch season 2 of the remaining seven. The Mentalist, Castle and Lie to Me are all fairly standard procedural type things, extremely watchable thanks to very strong leads (all male, where are the female leads?). Each of the shows has the danger of becoming too formulaic if the writers aren’t careful, but the first seasons were all very fun to watch.

Warehouse 13 (which is a midseason show, so only about 8 episodes in), Being Human and Merlin are an interesting triangle. Warehouse 13 is a fun concept that disappointingly looks and feels very cheap – the CGI is bloody awful, the writing is clumsy and dumb and the only saving grace is some enthusiastic actors who are doing more with the scripts than they deserve. Being Human meanwhile is a great concept that is charming and fun pushes the limitations of its budget and scope as far as humanly (or otherwise) possible and was much better than I expected. Merlin meanwhile was pretty much exactly as I expected, cheesy and ridiculous but an entertaining way to spend an hour on a Saturday night.

The final new show I’ve stuck with is Dollhouse, which got off to an extremely bumpy start but eventually kicked into gear and got very interesting in the second half of the season, finishing with a superb ‘finale’ that was actually never aired in the US. The blatant network interference to give more action and sex made a real dent in the interesting concepts that Whedon was trying to investigate through his customary quirky, fun and occasionally traumatising style. I’d also like to praise the casting, with Whedon extending his growing family of actors with some wonderful and non-standard additions.

Shows I gave up on this year include The Unusuals – a ‘quirky’ procedural that wasn’t nearly quirky enough. I watched the pilot of Fringe but didn’t get on with it, I might give it another try at some point though. Knight Rider gave itself away as painfully awful when about 5 minutes into the pilot they came up with the dumbest excuse ever to get their characters to strip to their underwear, and just continued to get dumber.

Tune in tomorrow for cops and robbers and medical mysteries.