Posts Tagged ‘ orphan black ’

Orphan Black: Season 5

I’ve written a lot of superlatives about Orphan Black over the years and it’s been one of the first things I mention whenever asked for recommendations of what to watch. Now that it’s finally (belatedly) found a home on Netflix, that recommendation is easier than ever. My only concern with the show was whether it could stick the landing or not. While the final season is far from the series’ best, and a way off a 10/10, it’s certainly a solid 8 and certainly enough to keep the show right up there in the medals.

I actually went back and re-watched the series from the start in preparation for the final season. I was trying to time it so that I would be able to watch straight through without having to wait for a weekly episode release. I got it wrong because I was completely unable to stop watching and got through all four season in about 10 days. That meant that I had to wait for each new episode like some kind of historical relic and that did hurt the pacing a bit, so I heartily advise putting aside a bunch of time to binge watch through it.

Part of the reason I wanted to re-watch was because I’d lost track of the story the twists and turns of the various plots, missions, conspiracies and… frankly what any of the ‘bad guys’ were actually trying to accomplish. To be honest I’m not sure that a second watch really helped much and I was a bit vague about things when season 5 started and by the end of the season I’d lost a lot of the strands altogether.

That should be a bad sign, possibly even a deal breaker. But the reason to watch Orphan Black isn’t the stories; it’s the characters. The final season has some wonderful character moments that build beautifully from all that has gone before. The problem I had with the season was that it was made up of moments, rather than sustained satisfaction. I don’t understand why some characters were sent away for multiple episodes – Helena, Felix and Alison were all completely absent for several episodes and they were missed PAINFULLY. Each got their big moment eventually, but I missed their presence in the background and the smaller moments of casual character and relationship development.

The production values of the show remain outstanding, there are more locations I think than ever and they all feel so deeply real. Of course the performances are all that we’ve come to expect. Tatiana Maslany’s performance still boggles me, I completely forget that it’s the same actress; Cosima, Alison, Helena and Sarah (not to mention all the other passing clones) are such distinct characters I have to remind myself it’s the same actress. The flawless editing that brings them together on screen is a phenomena. The supporting characters who surround the sisters help ground them enormously, having different relationships with each of them but embracing everyone as family.

Season 5 is not the best of the series and there were times early on that I was incredibly frustrated at the writers’ choices. But it rallied when it brought all its chickens home to roost and the last few episodes were perfect. I can understand that some might criticise that it was all wrapped up a bit too neatly in the end, and from a critical point of view I can sympathise with that. But from an emotional point of view, the ending was all I’d hoped for. I will miss this series and I’m sure it’s one I’ll come back to again and again in the future.

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Orphan Black: Season 4

orphanblackThis was the penultimate season of Orphan Black and I need to make a mental note to re-watch the series from the beginning as it’s increasingly evident that I’ve no idea what on earth the plot is on about. Given that condition, it’s quite impressive how much I still enjoyed the season!

There is a huge amount of plot going on, conspiracies within conspiracies, groups within groups and double crossings going around in circles. I’m not absolutely certain that the audience is actually meant to follow it at all. I think it just about manages to not be repetitive or too frustratingly going down repeated dead ends, but given that I’d very little recollection of what happened in previous seasons, and rapidly lost track of what was going on in the current episodes (despite watching them all over just three days) I can’t really guarantee that the whole thing wasn’t just a giant nest of incoherence.

But where the plot does succeed is in generating scenarios for playing with the characters. Each of the clones and the surrounding characters gets a chance to shine with their strengths and struggle outside their comfort zones. Serious characters get to let lose a little, those that are more often the light relief get to show some emotional depth and those that are usually in control get their turn at being out of the loop.

There are lots of connections between the characters that continue to delight. The relationships between the sisters themselves is lovely. These women who share a complete genetic identity, yet are so different and got thrown together. They bicker away, but they truly care for each other, worrying for Cosima, taking care of Helena even when she scares them, the flashbacks showing Beth as part of the original family, even the exasperated response to Krystal. There are some equally lovely relationships in the extended family too – straight laced Alison’s unlikely friendship with Felix, Scott’s partnership with Cosima, Art’s with Sarah, Donnie’s nervous connection with Helena, the clone’s odd relationships with Kendall, and Mrs S’s contrasting relationships with each clone. But I did think a couple of balls were dropped. There was an interesting set up for conflict between Sarah and Felix, with him looking for something for himself, but that challenge just sort of fizzled out.

I’ve said before that I watch television for the characters not so much for the plots and Orphan Black is basically the key proof of that. The fact that I can’t or don’t follow the plot doesn’t really matter as I just want to see all that extended ensemble play together (while remembering of course the incredible acting achievement of half of the ensemble being played by the same actress). The plot is of course necessary as a catalyst for those characters and relationships, but I do wish a bit that it wasn’t so convoluted and could give a bit more time for more character exploration. I’m not saying that I want it to just be a soap opera style show about the average day-to-day lives of a group of people who happen to be clones, but a bit simpler might not hurt.

Orphan Black: Season 3

orphanblackI wasn’t quite sure how I felt about season 3 of Orphan Black, I just didn’t feel the same sense of overwhelming positivity that I had for previous seasons. I’ve generally been embarrassingly gushy about the show, wanting to shout about it from the rooftops and force people to sit and watch. Re-reading the previous reviews did help me narrow things down. On the second season review I highlighted some of the things that the show had avoided doing

I think this show is going to be one of those like Buffy, Battlestar or Twin Peaks that lives on and on and certain people talk about in hallowed tones. It’s got that kind of depth and complexity to it, without getting lost in convolution that can easily leave you disengaged (X-Files, I’m looking at you)… With the final moments of season 2 we’re all set up for the story to keep growing in season 3. I hope it doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole that shows like X-Files or Twin Peaks did, but even if it did, I’m sure I’ll still be blown away by Maslany’s acting master class

I think they fell down the rabbit hole.

The story DOES get a bit lost in convolution, with the conspiracies and shifting loyalties of the Diad group and, well, frankly I’m not sure who or what is going on there to be honest, because I lost track. The back-story of the history of the clones, and the present day with the introduction of the male clones left me confused, then a bit bored, then disengaged. They did their best to keep the story relevant and character driven, but I lost track of why anyone was doing anything and it all just fell apart.

The clones are emotionally closer than ever and their relationships are absolutely wonderful to watch, as are their connections with “niece” Kira and “brother” Felix. It’s those extended relationships that really help to reinforce that this is a family of complicated individuals. That also helps to reinforce the differences with the male clones, although that in turn shows up just how uninteresting they are in comparison. As the male clones were all raised together they’re just not distinct enough to make you really consider them as separate people. It’s psychologically interesting, but makes the characters a bit dull.

The tone of the series is also a bit disjointed. Most of the comedy was focussed on Alison’s storyline, but she was isolated from the others most of the time. Likewise the relocation to other countries felt like it broke the clone club up too much, as if the physical distance between them stretched the nerves of the show somehow.

However, even when it’s a bit disappointing, the show is still better than most of the stuff on telly at the moment. The ambition and elegance of the script and storytelling and the calibre of the actors carries the show along and had me finishing the whole season in just a few days. I’m hopeful that things will settle down again next season and this was just a bit of a miss-step.

Emmy Awards 2015

Emmy AwardEmmy time is here again. Ordinarily I talk on and on about all the categories, but this year I can’t be bothered. So rather than waffle on and on about series that I haven’t seen, I’m just going to cover the drama categories, and then just a couple of other random comments

Mad MenOutstanding Drama Series

  • Better Call Saul: Haven’t seen
  • Downton Abbey: Downton Abbey is at least entertaining, but there are more entertaining shows out there that would never dream of being on the Emmy ballot.
  • Game of Thrones: I only made it a few episodes into the season before acknowledging that I was neither entertained nor challenged, the story was just too poor and meandering.
  • Homeland: Homeland had a great first season and then got disappointing fast, but I’ve heard it had a bit of a turnaround.
  • House of Cards: I haven’t seen the latest season and found season 2 a bit disappointing
  • Mad Men: Splitting Mad Men’s final season in two was manipulative and rude and to me just reinforced how poor the whole thing turned out to be.
  • Orange is the New Black: I’m only half way through season 2 at the moment, but it is absolutely brilliant. I’m also happy to see it in the drama list rather than the comedy where it has been nominated for other awards. I’ve no idea how anyone can consider it to be a comedy. I mean what was the funny bit, the suicide, the violence, the harassment or the rape?

By dropping Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey there’s easily enough space to add in Justified and The Americans, both are series chronically overlooked by the Emmys but ignoring Justified’s final masterclass of a season was particularly cruel. I’d also put in The Walking Dead and The Good Wife, both had seasons which were not their best (particularly The Good Wife which was downright disappointing) but are still a long way better than a lot out there. I didn’t see the seasons of Orphan Black or Sons of Anarchy but they’ve been consistently worthy of nomination in the past. I didn’t watch, but it’s a bit surprising Empire isn’t on the list.

americansLead Actor, Drama

  • Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) – not seen, no idea
  • Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) – I’ve not seen the show, but I will always love Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights
  • Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) – Not seen this season but he’s usually great
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – I really don’t know. I can’t stand the character, the show was pretty poor and the writing mediocre, so how can I really tell what the acting was like?
  • Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) – no, sorry, but his performance was mostly just shouting Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, the acting required was minimal.
  • Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) – I watched the first episode and wasn’t inspired, but Live Schreiber was pretty good.

I haven’t seen this season’s Sons of Anarchy, but Charlie Hunnam is usually incredible and given the material I know the story was made up of, I’m sure he should be here. Dominic West in The Affair gave a very nuanced performance of the same character from two different points of view. Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead continues to do amazing work with material that other actors can only dream of, while Timothy Olyphant had dialogue to die for delivered with such originality that every second was enthralling. Matthew Rhys continues to be shamefully ignored for his performance on The Americans where he plays someone who’s playing so many different roles to different people that they’re all blurring. I didn’t watch much of the season but James Spader is never anything other than excellent in The Blacklist.

orphanblackLead Actress, Drama

  • Taraji P. Henson (Empire) – Haven’t seen
  • Claire Danes (Homeland) – a talented actress, but her character can rely too much on whining and mania rather than subtlety and talent
  • Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder) – weirdly, I haven’t seen this Shonda Rhimes series
  • Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) – The fact that Tatiana Maslany finally made it onto this list is about the only thing that The Emmy’s actually did right this year. I haven’t seen the eligible season of Orphan Black, but unless she had some kind of stroke in the time since last season, she surely played all her many characters with depth and charisma.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) – a strong season on Mad Men, and while I’m not sure she got enough material to justify a Lead actress credit, her talent is in no doubt.
  • Robin Wright (House of Cards) – probably pretty good on House of Cards, although I have in the past found her character a bit flat, so it depends on the material she got.

This is a phenomenally good year for women on television because I can think of loads of other people who deserve nominations. Ellen Pompeo had an absolutely superb year on Grey’s Anatomy as Meredith found herself and lost her love. It’s a cheesy show, but Pompeo excels. Kerry Washington from Scandal could easily make the cut too. I was utterly blindsided by Hayley Atwell as the titular Agent Carter. The series could have been Agents of SHIELD-lite (even liter), instead it had this amazing woman at its heart, with strength, vulnerability, wit, and uncertainty. She totally blew me away. Similarly in a show that’s notionally about the relationship between two men, the lawman and the criminal, it turned out to be the woman in the middle that was the true heart of the series and Joelle Carter played that power and terror to perfection, while also delivering a lot of the laughs.

Then there’s Ruth Wilson from The Affair who played a conflicted and complicated woman and then played her from two points of view. Eva Green on Penny Dreadful threw herself so much into the role I was genuinely scared she’d hurt herself. Oh and the always superb Julianna Margulies from The Good Wife, not the best writing they’ve ever had, but she was amazing as usual. Oh, oh and I can’t imagine Katey Sagel in Sons of Anarchy suddenly became rubbish either. Oh and Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black

Game of ThronesSupporting Actor, Drama

  • Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul) – no idea
  • Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) – no idea
  • Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) – actually this may be the first nomination for Downton that I actually agree with, his storyline with Mrs Hughes was absolutely spot on.
  • Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones) – I only made it half way through Game of Thrones, but compared to last year Dinklage’s material wasn’t that incredible, it probably got better after I gave up.
  • Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) – I didn’t hink Alan Cumming had any particularly outstanding material this year, he was great as always, but there didn’t seem anything outstanding, in fact I think Matt Czuchry as Cary had a far more interesting and should’ve had this spot.
  • Michael Kelly (House Of Cards) – interesting. I’m not sure what he was like this year, but I’ve generally found his role focussed too much on creepiness and lacked any real subtelty.

People that are missing, Joshua Jackson was pretty good in the Affair, like the other cast getting to play two different takes on the same character, which is even more interesting when he isn’t one of the ‘narrators’ and hence both versions are in fact opinion and the self-view is never shown. Walton Goggins for Justified (although he could make an argument for joint lead). I heard good things about Mandy Patinkin finally getting some decent material to work with on Homeland

goodwifeSupporting Actress, Drama

  • Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) – her storyline wasn’t as good this year as it was last and she was just too irrititaing.
  • Lena Headey (Game Of Thrones) – I didn’t get far enough into the season of Game of Thrones to see Lena Headey’s big storyline develop, but by all accounts she was phenonmenal,
  • Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones) – she’s always good, but I don’t think she’s especially outstanding and I think of the two Headey’s got the edge.
  • Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) – excellent as always, but she was a bit in the background this year
  • Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) – great as always, a good case could be made that it’s her and Elizabeth Olson that are the only redeeming things in Mad Men’s final years.
  • Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black) – I’m not sure that playing crazy like this is necessarily the most impressive achievement. There are so many great performances in that cast I think I’d probably go for Kate Mulgrew but I haven’t quite seen the full season.

I’m a bit less overloaded with other candidates for this list. Bellamy Young on Scandal continues to play every facet of the ridiculous Mellie with originality. . Melissa McBride on The Walking Dead had a great year with some wide ranging material.

transparentComedy

  • Outstanding Comedy Series. The only comedy I actually watched was Jane the Virgin and that was absolutely ridiculously ovrerlooked in the nominations, although even if it was nominated the winner should still be the beautiful and surprisingly funny Transparent.
  • Lead Actress: Seriously Gina Rodriguez was incredible, she won the Golden Globe and she’s not even nominated? This year’s evidence that the Emmy nominators are dumb.
  • Lead Actor: Jeffrey Tambor is surely a safe bet for this. I wasn’t expecting how hilarious he was going to be, both with dialogue and the physical comedy.

Oh, hilariously there’s a nomination for Jane the Virgin under Narration, which is wonderful because Anthony Mendez absolutely makes the show with his sarcastic voiceover.

honourablewomanLimited Series or Movie:
I bet Olive Kitteridge wins I couldn’t make it through the first ten minutes it was so painful. The only thing worse would be American Horror Story winning for its entertaining, but far from incredible Freak Show season. I’d be pretty happy with the great Honourable Woman winning, or with Wolf Hall winning even though I didn’t make it more than 10 minutes into that either.
Maggie Gyllenhaal played such an interesting character in The Honourable Woman, completely selling the cold, calm exterior being just a presentation to the world. Extraordinarily good acting. I guess the point of American Horror is for over the top performances and Jessica Lange (lead) and Kathy Bates (supporting) chewed their way through some terrible material with some terrible accents. Sarah Paulson (supportin) however was really rather good playing the conjoined twins.
Television Movie: I’m sorry but Grace of Monaco is nominated here? How bad was the rest of the list because Grace of Monaco is a terrible terrible film!

2013-14 – Season Review

2013_2014Another television year is over. Or at least it is if you take the American-centric view of things which I tend to fall into, whereby the new season starts in mid September with the big pilot presentations. In the UK it’s a bit less marked, but there seems to be at least an element of September being a starting point for some new series, so I’m bundling everything together.

American Series
Almost Human S1
American Horror Story: Coven (S3)
Castle S6
Criminal Minds S9
CSI S14 (in progress)
Extant S1 (in progress)
Fargo S1
Game of Thrones S4
Grey’s Anatomy S10
House of Cards S2
Mad Men S7 Part 1
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD S1
NCIS Los Angeles S5
Orphan Black S2
Penny Dreadful S1
Scandal S3 (in progress)
The Americans S2
The Big Bang Theory S7
The Blacklist S1
The Following S2
The Good Wife S5
The Lost Ship S1 (in progress)
The Night Shift S1 (review coming soon)
The Walking Dead S4
British Series
Downton Abbey S4
Happy Valley S1
Last Tango in Halifax S2
Outnumbered S5
The Crimson Field (not reviewed)
The Honourable Woman
The Musketeers S1
The Smoke S1

Short series
Death Comes to Pemberley
Dr Who
Sherlock S3
Suspects (seems to air a couple of episodes every now and then, which is my excuse for not having reviewed it)
The 7:39

International Series
The Bridge S2
Borgen S3

Intended to watch but not got to/aired yet – Utopia S2, Chicago Fire S2 and Defiance S2. I’m also a bit behind on Perception and Nurse Jackie.

Purely by the numbers, I have watched a lot less television this year. By my count I’ve watched 20 full series of American shows (with four others in progress), 8 UK shows, 2 Scandinavian ones and about half a dozen micro-series (shows of 3 or 4 episodes – e.g. Dr Who this year, Sherlock). This year’s list looks very different to last year’s. For a start it’s considerably shorter, last year I watched 46 series (31 American, 10 UK, 3 international and 2 short series). But there’s also been a big turnover in what I watched.

I added 13 brand new shows, and three others which hadn’t aired or I didn’t watch in 2012-13. But then there were 13 series from last year which didn’t return this year, and another 9 that did air, but I chose not to watch The rest of the difference is made up of a few shows that I haven’t got to yet, or didn’t air significant numbers of episodes I that timeframe.

Best shows
orphanblackThe Good Wife – The consistently outstanding quality puts It a step above any other series on network television, and the fact that it makes more than 20 episodes per year marks its achievement as superior to anything on cable television. For the incredible writers and amazing cast to ‘churn’ out such entertaining and interesting stories and characters, it really shows up the rest of the television community. The series keeps growing and changing, never getting lazy or cheap and it is easily my favourite show of the year.

Happy Valley – a near perfect piece of television that blended serious and difficult stories with just enough humanity and humour to make it bearable. I’m not sure how I feel about there being a second series mind you, this one will be hard to top without losing the sense of reality.

Orphan Black is a fascinating series, that really should have been on my ist last year as well, but I was just slightly too slow watching it. Season 2 just got better and better, with a complex plot that never got too bogged down. The way the completely different personalities of the clones and their friends and families all came together was fascinating and it never lost sight of the ridiculousness of the idea, with plenty of humour along the way.

Honourable mentions: House of Cards was a harder watch in many ways this year, but was completely gripping from start to finish. The Honourable Woman was equally gripping, although I don’t think it quite lived up to its early potential. The Americans changed its tack a little, getting rather more serious and rather less wiggy and handled it very well; although I do miss the fun spy stuff.

Favourite shows
SherlockI’m going to put Sherlock on this list, although I hesitate to describe 3 TV movies as a ‘series’. But still, my pure delight while watching Cumberbatch and Freeman deliver Moffat’s dialogue in the beautifully directed style is unsurpassed. The series isn’t in the Best category because I did think it was a little flabby in places, and playing to the fans a little too much on a purely technical level, but as a fan, I couldn’t have loved it more.

The Walking Dead tends to swap back and forth between the ‘best’ and ‘favourite’ slots, and I’ll be honest that’s because I use it to create space in whichever category needs it. There’s a huge amount happening in this season, and yet there’s also masses of time given to the characters, and the second half the season when they’re split up into often unusual groups was particularly interesting. It never ceases to impress and thrill me that a zombie apocalypse show can be one of the most fascinating and beautiful shows on television.

I’m going to put Fargo in the ‘favourite’ category too. I think most of the quality of it actually came from the Coen brother’s film, but what the television series did was flesh it out with a really charming and engaging cast and some additional twists and turns that ultimately felt like a large diversion (the whole Oliver Platt storyline) but were entertaining enough on the way.

There are other shows that I enjoyed watching (obviously, I’m not such a masochist as to watch all of them just for the sake of completing a review), but to be honest, nothing else reached the level of “must watch” that I got from those series. If I were going to list a few honourable mentions – Downton Abbey, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, NCIS LA and The Blacklist would appear somewhere. Oh, and Game of Thrones actually felt much improved to me and (with the exception of the last couple of episodes) I rather enjoyed the season.

Acting
goodwifeIf I think about the most impactful performances this year, the most interesting and dynamic characters, I think my top five would all be women. Maybe even top ten. Shows like The Good Wife (Julianna Margulies), The Honourable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Happy Valley (Sarah Lancashire), Borgen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Orphan Black (Tatiana Maslany) and Scandal (Kerry Washington) have painfully real women in the lead. Even many of the ensemble shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Fargo, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Smoke) the female roles have amazing depth and complexity. Shows like Castle and House of Cards may appear on paper to be a male lead, but their female partners are just as vital and vibrant.

Comparably, I’m not sure the guys are having such a strong time at the moment (I know, cry me river). There are clearly some actors having a lot of fun (James Spader in The Blacklist jumping to mind), but really meaty roles and performances seem to be more limited when it comes to the long form. to the shorter series – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, Idris Elba in Luther to name a few.

One of the things that Emmy doesn’t award of course is ensemble. The Screen Actors Guild do (this year the nominees were Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and Homeland with Breaking Bad taking the win). The key thing to me in a strong ensemble is that it’s greater than the sum of its parts. There isn’t a single person (regular, recurring or guest) on The Good Wife that doesn’t deserve some sort of award, and yet they get even better when they’re bouncing off each other. There is no combination of characters on The Walking Dead or Grey’s Anatomy that isn’t interesting to watch with personalities subtly shifting to reflect different balances and backgrounds.

British Shows
happy_valleyAnother strong year for British shows, although I am (oddly) far more selective about the British stuff that I watch and hence have a much smaller pool for comparison. Again, the majority of these programs are driven by phenomenal female performances. They’ve also had a pretty good range, from very ‘traditional’ hard hitting dramas like Honourable Woman and Happy Valley, to more creative storytelling methods such as Suspects‘ use of documentary style, or just more fun stories such as The Musketeers and The Smoke. The miniseries model many of these shows use (or micro-series when it comes to things like Sherlock or Death Comes to Pemberley) give a high impact and very tightly constructed format that often left me wanting more.

Same old same old
castleWhile the shows I mention above have grown or refreshed themselves, there are other shows that just continue doing the same old thing, season after season. They form a sort of backbone to my television watching, they’re safe and secure and nothing alarming is going to happen. Even when Grey’s Anatomy throws giant disasters at their sweeps episodes and shuffles major cast members, it still somehow feels comfortable and familiar. Low stress. So when CSI season 14 is just like season 12, or Criminal Minds season 9 is just like season 8, I try to be content with that. It makes for boring reviewing, but comfortable watching. And at the end of the day, I’m not confident that the writers could shake things up without actually destroying the core of what I enjoyed about the show in the first place.

But those shows will always be at risk of getting bumped for something just slightly more interesting. Particularly given that many of them are deteriorating into “things to watch while I do something else” series. They’re disposable, not worth paying that much attention to. But there’s a limit to the amount of time I spend ironing and cooking and some shows run the risk of falling off into the next section of “things I just can’t be bothered with”. The Following is in the danger zone at the moment, and much as it pains me to say it, so is Castle which had an utterly tedious season of wedding planning.

Things I just couldn’t face
Supernatural - Season 5Then there were nine that I just didn’t want to watch. Nashville and Once Upon a Time were both fun, but I just didn’t feel like watching them this year. Hannibal had a short season so I stuck it out last year, but couldn’t be bothered this year. Homeland lost me and a lot of people this season, for me it was the moment that Saul, up to now the voice of calm and reason, shouted at a woman for wearing a veil because he was unable to separate extremism from religion. I dropped both Blue Bloods and Bones (after 8 seasons!) because I got fed up with the lack of growth and development, particularly frustrating in Bones where characters would just loop endlessly in circles. House of Lies I gave up on because everyone was so unremittingly nasty. Young Doctor’s Notebook and Warehouse 13 just kind of fell through the gaps. Hardest of all, I’ve stopped watching Supernatural because I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the endless misery and trauma that befell characters that I loved.

Easy access
Game of ThronesI think it’s easy to forget sometimes how lucky we are these days to be able to watch American shows so quickly. High profile shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead air within just hours of the US, and many shows air within a few weeks (often they start a long way behind but run through without interruption so by the end of the year everything’s caught up). A few years ago I had to write most of my reviews based on somewhat dodgy sources of the episodes, but now I can generally just wait a short while before being in synch with the US.

It’s also phenomenally easy to watch television however you want to watch it. Whether it’s live broadcast, via DVR, catchup service or streaming distribution on Amazon or Netflix (or, yes, various questionably legal sources too). I watched Extant on Amazon Streaming Video which I get for just a fiver a month (formally Lovefilm), I watched House of Cards on dvd, I’m catching up on Perception using Sky’s boxset service, and have Utopia stacked up on my Sky+. I can get the Sky Never Miss system to email me when new seasons of my favourite shows are starting and set them to record from my phone. It’s all SO easy!

But that does mean that when things aren’t available it feels like the end of the world. If the UK distributor decides against picking up a series you can be left in limbo. Once Upon a Time and Supernatural both lost their UK broadcasters and haven’t aired this year. Many of the new series never made it to the uk (although that wasn’t always the end of the world). Still it is hilarious when the Americans grumble about having to wait for Downton Abbey.

Overall
It’s taken me a long time to write this round-up, because quite frankly I couldn’t get very excited about it. I wasn’t overwhelmed with things I wanted to sing the praises of, or even things that I wanted to moan about (although I’d suggest going and having another look at my Mad Men review if you’re after that). The whole year just felt a bit… meh. Several of the more exciting shows (for better or worse) didn’t return this year, the established shows are just ticking along and there really didn’t seem to be anything particularly outstanding coming along to replace them. It wasn’t a terrible year by any means, but it certainly wasn’t an outstanding one.

Emmy Awards 2013-14

Emmy AwardIt’s the Emmy Awards next week and I figured in advance of my own assessment of the 2013-14 season (I’m still trying to finish a couple of shows off!) I’d quickly run through some of the Emmy categories. I’m only looking at the drama and mini-series categories as I’ve watched hardly anything that would qualify in the comedy, variety or reality categories.

goodwifeOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson), Masters of Sex – I only watched one episode and don’t remember much about her performance I’m afraid.
  • Claire Danes (Carrie Mathison), Homeland – I gave up on the series due to the terrible writing, but that was certainly no fault of Danes who always delivered impressive performances.
  • Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Downton Abbey – Sigh. No. Dockery does an ok job with what she’s given, but this is not an Emmy worthy role or performance.
  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick), The Good Wife – Another powerful but human woman again beautifully performed. Margulies was given some great material this year and she delivered accordingly.
  • Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope), Scandal – The series itself is bonkers and Washington plays the powerful but human Olivia Pope superbly.
  • Robin Wright (Claire Underwood), House of Cards – She’s superb as this very complex and unusual character. A really mesmerising performance
  • Who’s missing: Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black is such a gaping absence in this list you could almost believe that someone screwed up reading the nominations out. It’s possible that she could almost be viewed as cheating as she’s playing half a dozen characters, but that doesn’t change the fact that she should certainly be in Dockery’s slot and should quite probably have won. Keri Russell of The Americans, Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy would also be worthy nominees if more slots were available.
    Who’ll win: This is a phenomenally strong year for women on television and choosing one winner is hard. I’d be pretty happy with either Wright, Margulies or Washington winning, but the general consensus seems to be that Caplan will win.

    House of CardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Bryan Cranston (Walter White), Breaking Bad – I haven’t seen it, I’m sure he’s great, but I do get a bit frustrated when show’s drag out a minimal number of episodes to extend across multiple years.
  • Jeff Daniels (Will McAvoy), The Newsroom – a good performance through some very uneven writing, I think some of the people I mention below are more deserving of his slot, but his nomination isn’t as ridiculous as some have suggested.
  • Jon Hamm (Don Draper), Mad Men – I think Hamm is managing to deliver a strong performance of a very poorly written character. Maybe that’s even more deserving than an actor who’s given a great character from the start, but it’s a bit tricky.
  • Woody Harrelson (Martin Hart) and Matthew McConaughey (Rust Cohle) True Detective – Bundling both nominations together, I didn’t watch beyond the first episode of the series and know McConaughey has got a lot of praise for his performance, but I found Harrelson the more interesting and delicate role.
  • Kevin Spacey (Francis Underwood), House of Cards – superbly chilling, it’s a very restrained performance for the most part, but the moments of emotion that the character allows through are startling.
  • Who’s Missing: If we put the two True Detectives into the miniseries category where they belong and bump off Daniels and Hamm, that leaves plenty of space for some under-appreciated performers. Matthew Rhys in The Americans gave a stunning performance of the conflicted spy, James Spader is wonderfully unpredictable on The Blacklist, Andrew Lincoln continues to be amazing on The Walking Dead and I haven’t seen this season, but I bet you anything you like Charlie Hunnam was incredible on Sons of Anarchy. I didn’t watch them, but I know a lot of people who did are frustrated by the lack of love for Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex and Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal. I’m also a bit surprised that Damian Lewis isn’t here for Homeland.

    Who’ll win: I’m actually pretty ambivalent about this category, it’s nowhere near as strong as the Actress category. I’d like Spacey to win I think, but I don’t know enough about Cranston and the True Detective roles to really make it a particularly educated choice. I suspect McConaughey will win on the night though. I think it’s just been a little too long since Breaking Bad and I think the academy will be smitten with the idea of McConaughey winning the Emmy and Oscar in the same year.

    Downton AbbeyOutstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart), The Good Wife – Amazing. She had some of the best scenes of the series and she utterly broken my heart.
  • Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Downton Abbey – a meatier storyline, but still the roles on Downton do not give the actors enough subtlety to really deserve these nominations.
  • Anna Gunn (Skyler White), Breaking Bad – no idea
  • Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Game of Thrones – slightly surprising to see her here. Like with the Downton roles, I’m not sure this one really had the subtlety to show off Headey’s talents to the full, but it was certainly interesting. I think I may have voted for Maisie Williams (Aria), Sophie Turner (Sansa) or Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) who got more range in their characters.
  • Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris), Mad Men – I like the character and performance a great deal, Joan is such a strong period character, fully belonging in the period, but also pushing the boundaries.
  • Maggie Smith (Violet Grantham), Downton Abbey – she didn’t have anywhere near enough material to be here.
  • Who’s Missing: Sandra Oh had a great final season on Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t imagine Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff on Sons of Anarchy were anything less than incredible. I didn’t watch season 2 of Nashville, but given her performance in season 1 and the material she had, I’d guess Hayden Panettiere was pretty impressive. Belamy Young (Mellie) manages to make her character both a bitch and a hero all at once on Scandal and Annet Mahendru (Nina) from The Americans quietly turned her character into an absolute star as well.

    Who’ll win: Baranski would most definitely be my choice, but Anna Gunn may steal it.

    Game of ThronesOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

  • Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman), Breaking Bad – the number of times I have to write “I haven’t watched Breaking Bad” really should have motivated me to watch it by now.
  • Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Downton Abbey – Oh for pities sake. I actually thought Allen Leech as Branson gave a more interesting performance.
  • Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) Game of Thrones – yes indeed. Very much so. In fact, I’d almost say he should be in the Lead Actor category and winning that one.
  • Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson), Homeland – it was actually the shift in Patinkin’s character that made me stop watching as his character gave up the moral highground. It was a good performance though.
  • Jon Voight (Mickey Donovan), Ray Donovan – I didn’t watch more than the pilot and don’t remember the character or performance.
  • Josh Charles (Will Gardner), The Good Wife – I didn’t actually like where the character went this year, falling into old patterns in his anger and betrayal. But another great performance.
  • Who’s Missing: Guillermo Diaz as the terrifying Huck on Scandal, Matt Czuchry as Cary on The Good Wife and both Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Chandler Riggs (Carl) had great seasons on The Walking Dead.

    Who’ll win: I suspect it will be between Paul, Dinklage and Voight. Personally I’d probably have given it to Dinklage as he really does carry the show.

    Breaking BadOutstanding Drama Series

  • Breaking Bad – at just 8 episodes long, this almost feels like cheating.
  • Downton Abbey – sigh. It’s hugely entertaining, but no other series is ever allowed a drama nomination just because it’s entertaining and/or popular.
  • Game of Thrones – this season was better than previous and the series is certainly spectacularly well produced, but it’s still got problems that it inherits from the books.
  • House of Cards – Such a fascinating series, whether despite of or because of the way that it’s produced it’s a fascinating and original new tone for American television.
  • Mad Men – I’m calling time on Mad Men, it’s just going round and round in circles, foregoing linear character development in favour of dragging things out.
  • True Detective – I didn’t make it past the first episode because although I could see that it was very good, I just didn’t want to watch it and none of the characters or stories grabbed me enough to make me want to stay.
  • What’s missing: There are two big problems with this list, the first is the absence of The Good Wife which is an oversight so huge that if I had any faith in awards it would be completely destroyed. The Good Wife should not only be nominated, but should be winning this category easily, if for no other reason than it produced 22 stunning episodes this year, rather than just a dozen like most of these nominees. The second problem is the presence of True Detective which may well be superb, but should appear in the mini-series category. If it’s going to have a new cast and storyline next year, then it should be competing alongside Fargo and American Horror Story. Beyond that, I think Orphan Black and The Walking Dead should certainly be there and The Americans if we could find space.
    What will win:: Of this choice, the only one I’ve seen and think is worthy is House of Cards, I suspect True Detective will win though.

    Outstanding Miniseries
    truedetective

  • American Horror Story: Coven – it was fine, but I don’t think it was necessarily outstanding.
  • Bonnie & Clyde – didn’t see it
  • Fargo – I wasn’t sold on it at first, feeling it was just an extended version of the film, but the subtlety grew on me and eventually completely sucked me in.
  • Luther – excellent performance from Idris Elba in an otherwise very mediocre show.
  • The White Queen – didn’t see it
  • Treme – I never made it past the first episode several years ago.
  • What’s missing – I strongly believe True Detective should be in here instead of competing in the drama category. Yes, it would probably sweep the awards to the detriment of others, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. It would seem that Sherlock was submitted as a ‘Made for TV Movie’ which is a mistake because a) it’s not and b) it’s not going to beat the phenomenal Normal Heart. Penny Dreadful by the way aired after the eligibility period, so saves me thinking too hard about whether it should be here or not.
    What will win: Fargo. I don’t think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s certainly the best of this pretty poor list.

    American Horror StoryLead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Jessica Lange (Fiona Goode) and Sarah Paulson (Cordelia Goode Foxx) both of American Horror Story: Coven – good performances from both actresses, I think Paulson’s was actually the more interesting and varied character though.
  • Helena Bonham Carter (Burton and Taylor), Minnie Driver (Return to Zero), Kristen Wiig (The Spoils of Babylon), Cicely Tyson (The Trip to Bountiful). – I haven’t seen any of these, in fact the only one I’ve even heard of was Burton and Taylor.
  • Who will win – Dunno, don’t care. Clearly while women are doing well in Drama series, they’re not getting anything particularly interesting in miniseries. Incidentally, I rather think that Allison Tolman from Fargo should be in here instead of in the supporting actress category, and she should be winning.

    lutherOutstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (Louis Lester), Dancing on the Edge – solid but unremarkable performance. Ejiofor is clearly capable of far greater than this role allows him to show off.
  • Martin Freeman (Lester Nygaard), Fargo – it’s a very engaging performance, playing to Freeman’s speciality as the seeming bumbling everyman with a strong/dark core.
  • Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo), Fargo – initially this seemed the more interseting role than Freeman’s, but actually, it was all a bit monotone. Admittedly an interesting tone, but the relentless creepy coolness became a bit old..
  • Idris Elba (John Luther), Luther – a wonderful performance bringing life and originality to an otherwise unremarkable series. Like James Spader, his characters are always utterly unpredictable, while still being coherent.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes), Sherlock: His Last Vow – Always excellent and this season gave his character some depth and conflict which was delivered expertly.
  • Mark Ruffalo (Ned Weeks), The Normal Heart – A devastatingly powerful TV Movie and stunning performances from the whole cast. Ruffalo plays to type as the slightly bumbling academic with a fiery temper, but he does it exceptionally.
  • Who’s missing – I can’t actually think of anyone who’s missing, although I think I would argue that Freeman is as much a lead in Sherlock as Cumberbatch is, but I fully understand why he wouldn’t enter this category to compete against both himself and his co-star!
    Who will win – men in miniseries are fairing far better than the women are, particularly British men, it says a lot when I think that the Oscar nominated Ejiofor is the weakest of them all. I suspect Mark Ruffalo will win, not undeservingly but strongly helped by the subject matter of The Normal Heart. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Elba, Cumberbatch or Freeman was announced though.

    Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
    fargo

  • Frances Conroy (Myrtle), Kathy Bates (Delphine) and Angela Bassett (Marie), all from American Horror Story: Coven – all of these were single note performances, and frankly hammy over-the-top ones. That’s what the show demanded, but I don’t think it gave any of these wonderful actresses a chance to shine.
  • Allison Tolman (Molly Solverson), Fargo – she started off a little basic but gradually revealed more depth until she really became the star of this series.
  • Ellen Burstyn (Olivia), Flowers in the Attic – didn’t see it.
  • Julia Roberts (Dr Emma Brookner), The Normal Heart – her character was a bit of a macguffin in the movie and didn’t have the subtlest of material so I thought her performance came across a bit heavy handed.
  • Who will win: I think and hope Tolman wins, she gives a far more nuanced performance than anyone else in this category.

    SherlockSupporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Colin Hanks (Deputy Gus Grimly), Fargo – like Freeman, Hanks is playing to type here and he does it very well, but it’s not a role with a huge amount of variety in it.
  • Martin Freeman (John Watson), Sherlock: His Last Vow – Watson is almost the opposite side of the coin to Lester Nygaard, starting from strength and adding uncertainty. He’s such a restrained character opposite Sherlock’s extravagance and this episode certainly gave Freeman the opportunity to shine.
  • Matt Bomer (Felix), Jim Parsons (Tommy), Joe Mantello (Mickey) and Alfred Molina (Ben) all from The Normal Heart – Everyone in this cast deserves an award, all very different, utterly superb and devastating performances. I would definitely have put Taylor Kitsch in instead of Molina.
  • Who will win – I would like to see Freeman win, his co-star gets all the glory for Sherlock, but for me, Watson is by far the more interesting character and the straight man is the harder role. That said, anyone from The Normal Heart would also be thoroughly deserving and if I had to pick just one of them, I think the heartbreaking Matt Bomer would just edge ahead of the beautifully restrained Jim Parsons and the explosive Joe Mantello.

    Orphan Black: Season 2

    orphanblackThis show is so good! Just stop whatever you’re doing and go watch it. Actually, you’ll have to be quick because it’s only got 2 more days on iplayer and the dvd hasn’t got a release date listed on Amazon. But you can get season 1 on dvd and at least get started there.

    I think this show is going to be one of those like Buffy, Battlestar or Twin Peaks that lives on and on and certain people talk about in hallowed tones. It’s got that kind of depth and complexity to it, without getting lost in convolution that can easily leave you disengaged (X-Files, I’m looking at you). The story never loses sight of the people involved, the politics and science is always grounded in the people whose lives are irreparably impacted by events beyond their control.
    Each of the characters is caught up in different ways, some are voluntarily entwined or relish the excitement, but most of them would like nothing more than to be somewhere else and to have their normal lives back again. Their disbelief at the craziness, their moments of levity and desperate attempts at normality ground the show and make it believable.

    I did my best to go as long as possible before mentioning the incredible performance of Tatiana Maslany, because I want to reinforce that this show is about so much more than ‘just’ that. But if people only watch the show for her performance, they’re still going to be more than satisfied. The fact that most of the characters with their unique responses are played by the same actress is just remarkable. The way she manages to make each character utterly unique is an incredible achievement, if for nothing more than the technical accomplishment of her having emotionally intense conversations with herself. The moment where one clone pretends to be another, and the audience is perfectly aware that it’s one playing another… utterly breath-taking. Mosley doesn’t so much deserve every acting award out there, she deserves a whole category all to herself.

    The supporting cast though also deserves praise. Jordan Gavaris as Felix often delivers the levity, but he can turn on the drama too and his specific relationships with each clone helps sell the different characters. Young Skyler Wexler as Kira is utterly heartbreaking, and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs S keeps you guessing all the time.

    With the final moments of season 2 we’re all set up for the story to keep growing in season 3. I hope it doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole that shows like X-Files or Twin Peaks did, but even if it did, I’m sure I’ll still be blown away by Maslany’s acting master class