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.

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

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

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

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

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

NCIS: Los Angeles – Season 4

ncislaNCIS: LA this season has continued to strengthen its strengths and weaken its weaknesses.

The great strength of NCIS: LA is the characters and their relationships. The characters are consistent, they grow and mature, their relationships evolve, the dynamics of the group as a whole change and it actually feels like a realistic group of people.

Every single episode finds time to cash in on that strength. The banter between characters is laugh out loud funny. I frequently end up rewinding to watch again and try to catch the little looks and body language that make the scenes a living thing. The conversation between the characters feel like real people talking, with pop-culture references, sarcasm, recurrent jokes, flashes of anger, touches of fondness. Not only are they people who I’d want on my side if I needed saving from bad guys, they’re also the kind I wouldn’t mind having a drink with after everything is sorted out.

Its a good job the series has that going for it, because the rest of the show around them meanders between mediocre and miserable. Both the NCISes have the issue of trying to shoehorn the Navy into straightforward cases, NCIS:LA seems to focus on various complicated terrorist groups which means that while the stakes are higher (the whole future of the world!) the emotional engagement is actually less because there are rarely tangible victims. There was some sort of continuing plot going on through the year about weapons dealers, but I have utterly no clue and no interest in it.

I can’t even say whether the stories fit together coherently, because I never pay attention. It’s not that I forget about them after I’ve watched (as with Criminal Minds or CSI), it’s that I don’t even know when I’m watching. They’re just the filler between bantering sessions, a means to get our characters somewhere new, in some new undercover situation or in some new pickle just for them to banter their way out.

It’s enough. But just. When NCIS lost sight of the characters, it lost me as a viewer, the same risk applies to NCIS:LA. But for now, I’m happy enough to just spend time with these characters that I’ll forgive the boring plots. But is it really so hard for writers to deliver both?

PS – The embedded pilot for NCIS: Red was actually a lot of fun. I loved the concept of a team travelling the country and world together, acting as a fast response team. It had a lot of potential I thought, and the cast, particularly Kim Raver (Grey’s Anatomy) as the lead was charismatic and interesting. For some reason, it didn’t get picked up to series (which given the phenomenal ratings the other NCIS series get, seems very strange) which I think is a real shame. Maybe they’ll be able to appear as guest stars sometime.

NCIS Season 9 and NCIS LA Season 3

It seems a bit of a cheat to review these two together, but to be honest each review would so heavily referencing the other series anyway they might as well be combined. The thing is that NCIS LA is great and was one of my goto shows for reliable entertainment this year, while NCIS Original is rubbish and I struggled to bother watching most of the season.

It’s not like NCIS LA is going to be winning any Emmys or anything, but it hits what it aims for – a fast paced and entertaining action movie boiled down to 45 minutes each week. The plots are unspectacular but definitely get the job done in providing opportunities for running around, shooting people, interrogating bad guys, driving fast cars, blowing stuff up, using cool gadgets, playing over the top undercover roles and generally being loud.

NCIS original flavour on the other hand just doesn’t seem to be having as much fun. There’s more politics, the forensics that used to be cool are now just a bit tired and dull and the explosions seem to be limited to the occasional splashy two-parter. It’s now categorised as a show I’d shove on in the background while cooking or ironing and once something’s relegated to background noise it’s very hard to come back.

The biggest difference between the shows though is in the characters. We’ve spent 9 years with the original characters and I’m just plain fed up of complaining about the inconsistent way they’re written. It’s like they take turns being the competent one and all the others are forced into idiot roles. One week Tony is a hugely experienced and talented (if quirky) investigator, the next he’s a frat boy clown. One week Ziva is a highly trained operative, the next she’s losing her temper and over-reacting. One week McGee is still the inexperienced probie he was when introduced but other weeks he actually remembers he’s got nearly a decade of field experience and really isn’t a child any more. There’s no sense of continuity or growth and it’s insulting to those of us that pay attention. The only positive is that the talented actors each actually manage to pull off all those personalities convincingly.

NCIS LA on the other hand actually focuses on the characters and their relationships, and rewards the loyal viewers with continuous (all be it very gradual) character development. Characters behave consistently but not woodenly, and have entertaining personality traits without becoming caricatures. They manage to have fun, make mistakes and have emotions without ever putting the audience in doubt that they are still extremely competent professionals. The building of the relationships and partnerships is particularly charming, I’m far more interested in Deeks and Kensi’s relationship than I ever have been in Tony and Ziva’s.

The only worry I really have is that the decline of NCIS is inevitable, that by keeping a series going for that long without occasionally shaking things up, it ends up becoming either dull, or a parody of itself. CSI original flavour has stayed reasonably fresh for 12 years by continually shuffling characters in and out and bringing new people in. The main team on NCIS hasn’t changed since Ziva joined in season 3, the only other cast changes have been the swapping of the director from Jenny Shepard to Leon Vance in season 6 and frankly neither really felt like a central character. They need new characters to make things interesting again, the introduction of Jamie Lee Curtis’ recurring character was a start, but she only really had an impact on Gibbs so her impact was extremely limited.

With all those complaints, I’m finally calling time on NCIS and dropping it from my watch list. The good thing about the series’ lack of consistency is that I can always drop in for occasional episodes that the grapevine says are worth watching. As my enjoyment of NCIS:LA grew, it just showed how old and out of touch its older sibling was. NCIS LA is fun, lively, entertaining and exciting, NCIS original just plain isn’t.

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.

NCIS: Los Angeles – Season 2

A screenshot from the truly terrible opening titles.
NCIS Los Angeles is a show of fairly modest ambitions which means never in a million years will it win an Emmy, but it’s ability to consistently deliver on its promises clearly resonate with the viewers who place it as the 2nd most highly rated non-reality show of the year (behind NCIS original). For me it’s one of a relatively few number of shows (particularly procedurals) that never fails to entertain me. For season two it’s almost as if the writers read my review of the previous season and went out of their way to fix the things I criticised – most notably the relative weakness of the supporting cast who were being overwhelmed by the superb central partnership.

The writers somewhat ruthlessly shuffled a couple of the weaker characters out of the way and brought in more interesting ones to replace them. This season has been about partnerships – new and old, easy and hard. Callen and Hanna’s well established relationship continued to grow, and contrasted nicely with the newer relationships that were being introduced. Most of the season was spent with Kensi and Deeks working at gradually becoming partners, poking and prodding at each other until they could really cover and rely on each other. Even Eric got a partner in the rather adorable Nell, and the two cheerfully work together in the background. By the end of the season those pairs fit together perfectly, and the three pairings form a team around the centre point of Hetty and god help anyone that goes up against them.

On paper this is an action based procedural with utterly unmemorable plots, frankly I never have much of an idea about the plot while it’s actually going on, let alone after the episode ends. Every week there are the requisite number of twists, set pieces and cliff-hangers to match the advert breaks and keep everything moving along. None of it matters, I wouldn’t care if an entire episode was about trying to buy milk, because the writers would make sure that the banter was entertaining, the emotions subtle and over all that it was a bunch of people working together to achieve something – even if that something was just a chocolate milkshake.

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.)

What I’m watching at the moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of year report card

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

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

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

Top of the Class – Best Drama

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

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

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

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

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

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

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

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

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

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

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

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

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

Must Try Harder

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

2009-2010 – New Shows

Not including the comedies, I’ve watched 27 pilots this year, I’m discounting the sitcoms, ‘cos I’ve finally come to the realisation that I just don’t like them. Of those 27 I ended up watching the whole season of eight of those shows and partially watching another two of them before giving up. There are seven shows that I might pick up at some point and that leaves eleven that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Twelve of the shows have been cancelled, most of the ones I wasn’t going to bother with and a few of the ones I did.

Watched Might Watch Not Gonna Watch
Defying Gravity The Gates The Beautiful Life: TBL
Glee The Good Guys The Deep End
FlashForward Justified Eastwick
The Good Wife Life Unexpected The Forgotten
NCIS: Los Angeles Parenthood Happy Town
Stargate Universe The Vampire Diaries Human Target
Trauma Mercy
White Collar Miami Medical
Past Life
Caprica Three Rivers
V Treme

The Good
The successes this year have been quite spectacular, Glee and The Good Wife have both been critical and popular success. Both are refreshing and enjoyable, the difference being that The Good Wife is really rather good, and Glee is really rather terrible. NCIS: LA meanwhile has been a big hit ratings-wise and is pretty entertaining. It delivered exactly what it promised as a cash in on a successful franchise and, for me, outshone its older sibling.

Stargate Universe has been a big success for sci-fi channel, managing to breathe new life into the 16 year old Stargate franchise without pissing off the old fans. I was critical of the pilot, but actually mostly impressed by the series as a whole and am looking forward to next season. White Collar was enjoyable, well written, with some great characters and has been a success for the relatively small channel it’s shown on. I enjoyed watching it, but it’s not quite remarkable enough to have spurred me to start watching the second season yet.

The Bad
I don’t really mean the bad shows here (that’s saved for the ugly section) more the things that didn’t work.

I was disappointed at the cancellations of Trauma and Defying Gravity, both of which I thought were well made, different, interesting and never really given a chance. Meanwhile V and Caprica I gave multiple chances and eventually gave up on (for reasons I explained in more detail over here).

There’s a number of other shows in my ‘might watch at some point’ list where I liked the pilots a lot, but just didn’t quite have sufficient enthusiasm to keep watching. A few didn’t quite have enough spark (Life Unexpected and Parenthood), a couple I just didn’t quite get along with (Justified and The Good Guys) and a couple were too cheesy even for me (The Gates and Vampire Diaries). Human Target is a tolerable addition to the genre of ‘cheesy, mindless, disposable action’, but I tend to satisfy my cravings for that through movies where the actors are better looking.

The other show I’m going to put in the ‘bad’ category is Treme. I just didn’t get on with it. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t know who anyone was, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t particularly like the music and generally found the whole thing a bit depressing. But the reason that I’m putting it in the ‘bad’ category, not the ‘ugly’ is because I think I’m probably missing something, I think it’s entirely probable the show is wonderful and that I just don’t get it. My loss, but life’s too short for me to watch something I didn’t like.

The ugly
There’s been some pretty public and miserable showings (FlashForward, I’m looking at you). The number of cancelled shows, some of which had big names, big budgets and big promotion behind them is a bit shameful. I feel quite smug about the fact that almost all the shows that I decided not to watch have been cancelled.

The biggest genre of casualties were the procedurals, Medical shows Miami Medical and Three Rivers only made it to 13 episodes, Mercy and Trauma at least it saw out the season, but neither was renewed. Legal show The Deep End couldn’t compare to it’s much more mature sibling The Good Wife and crime procedurals The Forgotten and Past Lives were doomed from the start with a terrible title and terrible premise respectively.

The other cancellations weren’t really any big surprise to anyone I don’t think. Happy Town suffered from trying too hard to be Twin Peaks and being dumped into the unforgiving summer schedules. I didn’t mind the pilot, but it was obvious from the start it wasn’t going to see out its storyline, so why bother watching at all, and yes, I do realise that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve no idea what went wrong with Eastwick, but I wasn’t particularly enthused about the pilot, and I guess no one else was either. The Beautiful Life: TBL meanwhile had so many things wrong with it, the mystery is how it ever got on the screen to start with.

What about next year?
Everyone is looking for the next CSI, the next Grey’s Anatomy and the next Lost, and marketing departments aren’t doing the shows any favours by trying to push the similarities. After this year where everyone was trying to copy the recent smash hits, the networks seem to have just gone back to the people who created those hits in the first place and asked them “please could we have some more”. Next season has a new medical series from Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), a new police drama from Shawn Ryan (The Shield), a new legal thing from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) and spin-offs in the shape of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour and Law & Order: Los Angeles. It seems everyone’s playing it safe and sticking with what, and who, they know.

Of course the holy grail isn’t to emulate, but to innovate – to come up with the new foundation of a franchise, or something so wildly different it breaks genres. It could be that a period where TV is going through massive changes in the way it’s watched, distributed and paid for and everyone is looking at their accountants nervously isn’t the best time to take a chance, but maybe with the unbelievable success of Glee, network executives will be a little bit more willing to take a chance. The line between genius and rubbish is pretty thin and I’m looking forward to seeing things on both sides of the line when pilots start up again in just a few weeks.