15-16 Season

Wow, I haven’t watched nearly as much television as I thought I had. There’s 22 series this year, whereas last year I watched 27 American series, without even counting the British ones. I really thought that living by myself would increase the amount of TV I watched, but I guess I’ve been focusing rather more on films and reading this year. But, I don’t think that’s the only reason, either the series themselves are just not grabbing me or possibly (shudder) I’m just going off TV a bit.

Things I’ve watched

American Gothic: S1 (review pending)
The Americans: S4
Braindead: S1 (review pending)
The Bridge: S3
Code Black: S1*
Criminal Minds: S11*
Downton Abbey: S6*
Doctor Who: Swhatever*
Fargo: S2 (no review? Oops. It was great)
Grey’s Anatomy: S12
Happy Valley: S2
Jessica Jones: S1
Lucifer: S1
Marvel’s Agent Carter: S2
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: S3
The Muppets: S1
The Musketeers: S3
NCIS: LA: S6 (in progress)
Penny Dreadful: S3
Preacher: S1
River: S1
Stranger Things: S1 (review pending)
Trapped: S1
Unforgotten: S1
Walking Dead: S6

* Failed to review the season. I’ve been really slack this year! I promise to make an effort to do better!

goodwifeI know people describe this as a golden time for television, and there are still some real gems out there, but there’s a huge amount that I just find unexciting. I repeatedly found myself realising that I was only watching something because I thought I should, a kind of inertia. So I waved goodbye to the increasingly rubbish Scandal, couldn’t face the endless misery of The Affair and opted out of the abundance of awful people on Transparent. A tougher cut was one of my previously favourite shows, The Good Wife. I may go back to finish off the final season at some point, but I just found myself too frustrated by the big storylines endlessly pulling characters in frustrating directions.

ncislaShows like Criminal Minds, and NCIS LA remain on my Sky box only for their use as background noise while ironing or playing Candy Crush. But there’s only so much time for that (I really don’t iron that much) and most of the networks’ offerings this year would only have bulked out that list rather than add any particularly quality. I just about made it through the year with Code Black despite it being almost entirely ridiculous, and The Muppets only really lasted the year because at 20 minutes per episode, it was useful filler. I didn’t make it beyond the pilot for any other Network shows this year.

Agent_Carter_Series_LogoThere were a couple of returning shows that I actually looked forward to, The Americans goes from strength to strength as the characters and stories continue to evolve. Fargo had another great season, maintaining the offbeat tone but brought to life by an ensemble of familiar actors really showing their talents. The two Marvel series (SHIELD and Carter) remained entertaining, and while The Walking Dead writers made some big, annoying miss-steps its still probably the show I await most eagerly each week.

Jessica_Jones_NetflixSo, thank heavens for Netflix and Amazon. The ease of watching, combined with some actual originality has made Amazon and Netflix my TV source of choice recently. Things as diverse as the dark Jessica Jones and the cheesy American Gothic; the throwback Stranger Things, and then the downright un-classifiable Preacher and Braindead. These are the shows that I actually remember more than 5 minutes after I finished watching them, ones that I have something to say when I come to write their reviews, and the ones that I talk about with friends. Even shows that I didn’t get on with (Mr Robot for example), I still respect them and talk about them.

happy_valleyNon-American TV faired a little better at the start of the year with Happy Valley and Unforgotten both absolutely superb dramas with incredible performances by Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker. Trapped and The Bridge were both excellent entries in the Scandi-noir genres. Downton Abbey closed as it lived in cheesy ridiculous fashion, but for all that it really wasn’t very good, I will miss it as a pretty much perfect piece of Sunday evening rubbish telly. Things went a bit downhill after Christmas, with many dramas sounding too depressing for me to even start watching, and several leaving me apathetic and giving up on before too many episodes in (War and Peace, Victoria). The theoretically more light hearted, entertaining shows have also rather suffered, another season of Doctor Who that failed to grab me, a final season of The Musketeers even the writers couldn’t be bothered with and an array of uninspiring shows that never got off the ground.

I don’t really have a massive amount of enthusiasm for the coming year. There are only a couple of returning shows that I can summon any real enthusiasm about, and a couple of the new shows look like they might have potential; but at the same time I’m feeling rather cynical that things will turn out to be rubbish and I’ll be disappointed. I miss science fiction, I miss shows with a sense of wonder about them, imagination and the ability to surprise me. Is everything feeling a bit formulaic because it’s getting worse, or is it just that I’ve watched so much that I’m only now detecting the patterns. Fingers crossed something will manage to re-inspire me soon.

Things I want to watch but haven’t yet: Orange is the New Black S4 (half way through), Orphan Black S4 (argh! British scheduling), and I still want to catch up on iZombie and Empire

I was tempted to not bother with the “Best of” lists, but decided to do it just of the sake of tradition.

americansBest Shows:
The Americans – still one of the best shows out there and just getting better and better
Jessica Jones – there are so many levels to this show and it’s excellent on every one of them
Happy Valley – I didn’t think a second season of this could work, I was beyond delighted that I was wrong.

The Walking DeadFavourite shows:
Braindead – a total surprise of a show, totally fresh and incredibly current, I alternated between laughing hysterically and dropping my jaw in astonishment.
Walking Dead – really the only show that I pounced on new episodes each week, so it makes the list despite the fact that it wasn’t actually very good this year.
Trapped – I ummed and erred about the 3rd slot in this list, but then I remembered just how obsessed I got with the show, counting down until the new episodes aired each week.

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The Muppets: Season 1

The_Muppets_(TV)_title_cardThe Muppets mean something to me. I think the world is a much better place because Jim Henson shared his dream with it. I’m far from the only person to feel this way and I’m sure I was not alone when I was simultaneously excited and nervous about this latest incarnation of the Muppet Show being brought to prime-time television. 16 episodes later, my overwhelming emotion is relief that the show stayed true to the fundamentals of Jim Henson’s vision and didn’t trample over that nostalgia. That relief though is tinged with some disappointment and regret that the show just wasn’t… well… better.

I liked the concept; it seems natural to bring the theatre variety show up to date and make it a late night chat show with sketches and guests. It also seems natural to age the target demographic of the show, targeting a more adult market who are nostalgic for the old show, but don’t really want to watch a kid’s show. So the Muppets now not only have to deal with the day-to-day running of a show, but also have lives and relationships of their own. It’s aiming to be less zany and slapstick, and more witty and satirical.

When that worked, it worked really well. Some of the characters moved very easily into that new context, Kermit in particular with his dry wit felt like a perfect fit. The use of the documentary style pieces to camera worked well, giving a window into a bit more of the characters’ personalities. I liked the moments that addressed the fact the characters are all sorts of different animals living in a human world, it was never really dwelled on, but made some amusing asides. Mostly though I liked the nostalgia, I liked the little references back to the original series and that the characters all felt like old friends.

But when it didn’t work, it was really awkward and uncomfortable. Some of the more frat boy antics of the ‘writers’ (Gonzo, Rizo and Pepe) were just painful. Also after the novelty of it being the Muppets wore off, elements such as Piggy and Kermit’s complicated relationship just became the usual tedious, contrived back and forth, except with furry puppets. Many of the guests were quite awkward, not really seeming to know whether to play it straight or play a role. And just like other series with “shows within shows”, (Studio 60, I’m looking at you) the sketches that were supposed to be part of a successful late night show just weren’t funny.

I enjoyed the show, but predominantly, only as filler. At less than 30 minutes, it became an easy choice when I didn’t want to commit to a full length show that might require concentration. I’m not sure that I would have stuck with the series the whole way through if it had required more time or mental energy. That doesn’t sound like a particularly enthusiastic thing to say, but in recent years I haven’t found a half hour sitcom that I could actually stand for as long as I did The Muppets. For all that there were moments that made me cringe every episode, there were also moments that made me smile and it had almost as much heart as the original series. For that, if nothing else, I will miss the show.

The Upfronts 2015: ABC

ABC network logoOf all the American Broadcast Networks, it seems ABC is my natural match. I watch, or have watched more shows on this channel than any other, although even I would be hard pressed to describe some of them as ‘good’. I don’t know whether it’s just my good luck, or if I’m just synced up with what Americans want to watch, but ABC is also having a particularly successful run of things, with renewals far outnumbering the cancellations and some impressively long running series.

Finished or Cancelled
Forever is the only cancelled show that I was sort of watching. I liked the pilot and stuck with the series for the first half dozen or so episodes mostly thanks to the charismatic acting combo of Ioan Gruffudd and Judd Hirsch. But the momentum fell away and it slipped into ‘stuff to watch while cooking’ territory and then slipped off the list altogether. A bit of a shame really. It did see out the whole season though, which is more than can be said for Manhattan Love Story which won this year’s prize for fastest cancellation, airing only 4 episodes before the plug was pulled. Selfie made it 6 episodes, Cristela made it the whole season.
Revenge was a show that to me took the themes of the channel to an extreme and showed how hateful it could be. It made it four seasons though, so what do I know. Resurrection was a show that while more engaging that the French version Les Revenants still wasn’t quite compelling enough for me to watch and was cancelled after its second season.

Returning
greys anatomyShonda Rhimes continues to rule supreme, Grey’s Anatomy enters season 12 (although losing another original cast member this year may signal it’s living on borrowed time), the ever more ridiculous Scandal goes into season 5 and How to Get Away with Murder makes it to season 2 (I somehow missed it when it aired in the UK and am waiting for it come around again). Marvel’s Agent Carter gets a second season following its 8 episodes this year, to compliment Agents of SHIELD which swings widely in quality, but maybe Joss Whedon will spend some time with it now Avengers is done.
castleI actually gave up on Castle this year, I just got bored by it. It was touch and go for a while whether both Fillion and Katic would sign up for season 8 but they did, and back it comes. Once Upon a Time and Nashville are both series where I enjoyed the first season, but got lost and disinterested in the second and never bothered returning to. They’re renewed for seasons 4 and 5 respectively. Secrets and Lies is a new drama that completely passed me by but got renewed for season 2, American Crime is an anthology series (cf American Horror Story) and has been renewed for a second season with a whole new story but an overlapping cast.
ABC also has a pretty strong sitcom line up renewing six in all, upcoming season in brackets: Black-ish (2), Fresh Off the Boat (2), Galavant (2), The Goldbergs (2), Last Man Standing (5), The Middle (6) and Modern Family (6).

New in Autumn

The Muppets: The Muppets are back. Just like the original Muppet Show, it’s behind the scenes as they put on a show, this time a television late night chat show rather than a variety show. The series is set up as a behind the scenes documentary, including little interviews etc and aims to be more grown up. The trailer wasn’t as funny or as nostalgic as I might have hoped and they actually used the phrase “like you’ve never seen them before”. Honestly, what idiot writes these trailers?


Dr Ken: Ken Jeong a comedian who I find irritating in everything he does (most notably Community) now has his own show to spoil all by himself. The trailer was so painfully awful that I only made it half way through.


Quantico: A group of new recruits join the FBI training academy which is half military level special ops and half high school summer camp. But there’s a terrorist attack, one of the recruits is a traitor and another one is framed and must clear her name. I found the trailer deeply confusing, so I’m not sure whether the series told chronologically or in flashbacks. It also had a terrible narration that hopefully will not carry through the series.


OIL: Rich families, oil fields, money, poor families, American dream, yadda yadda yadda. Utterly not interested.


Of Kings and Prophets: Based on the biblical Books of Samuel, it looks like Game of Thrones with even fewer dragons. The trailer hovered on the edge of parody I felt and Ray Winstone may be the worst casting I’ve ever seen.

Coming later

The Catch: A woman who chases con-artists is herself conned by the man she spent a year with and was going to marry. I’m guessing the series will comprise her occasionally taking cases but mostly dealing with her personal stuff. It’s Shonda Rhimes again, so expect a strong female lead, a horrible male lead that we’re supposed to find dreamy and increasingly ridiculous plots that all combine into something incredibly compelling that you sort of hate yourself for.


The Family: Ten years ago Claire’s son disappeared. Now she’s the mayor and about to run for governor, and the son she thought was dead has reappeared. It’s a good idea for a film or mini-series, but I’m not sure it’s got the legs for a whole series. Still it’s actually an original idea so I’ll give it a try and see where it goes.


Wicked City: St in Los Angeles in 1982 following a serial killer and the investigation. I’m not sure how this can stretch into a series without becoming exceptionally repetitive and frustrating.


The Real O’Neals: A perfect catholic family turns out to have a few secrets. I may be desperate and mistaken, but I didn’t spot anything offensive or depressing in this trailer. I actually smiled a couple of times.


Uncle Buck: posh people get sufficiently desperate for a babysitter they call Uncle Buck who takes the kids to bars and is disreputable in a pre-watershed kind of way. Nothing horrific, nothing that exciting.