Posts Tagged ‘ walking dead ’

The Walking Dead: Season 7

I think the first episode of season 7 of The Walking Dead is a key turning point for the series. For a show that has already defied boundaries of violence and brutality, the introduction of Negan and Lucille marks a new extreme. Characters are pushed further than before and it’s very clear that none of them will ever be the same as they were before. For me, sadly, it marked the point that I fell out of love with the series.

I read spoilers of The Walking Dead, it’s not about a lack of patience for the few hours I’d have to wait to watch the episode, but it’s more about making the tension bearable. I find that if I’m stressed and uncertain about what’s going to happen in a show I care so much about, I just can’t concentrate on the nuances of the acting, writing and directing that make The Walking Dead what it is. So, I knew not only who met Lucille, but how and how the rest of the episode was drawn out. When it came to sitting to watch the episode that evening, I realised I didn’t want to see it. So I didn’t. After a couple of weeks, I still didn’t want to watch it, so I figured I’d wait until the whole half season backed up and I could box-set my way through it. But I still didn’t want to. Eventually the whole seventh season was waiting for me, and I still couldn’t face watching the first episode. So I didn’t. I skipped it. I watched the rest of the season and just missed the brutality of the first episode.

With or without the first episode, binge watching the season in a few days worked well, because if I had tried watching it an episode each week I’d probably have died of boredom. The entire synopsis of events can be written in a not terribly long paragraph (I checked), and thanks to the fact that most episodes follow just one plot line, only a few characters, all the stories are stop start, and you might get stuck for an hour with someone you just don’t care about. Slow and subtle character and plot development is one thing, but this is just glacial. We know most of the characters well enough that we know exactly what they’re thinking and watching them go very slowly through the motions is mind-numbingly dull. The majority of the stories were predictable, only the shock violence and the specifics of who died, when, were surprising.

Half of me wants to go back and watch another season to see if it’s the series or me that’s changed, the other half doesn’t want to risk that I’ll realise I was wrong all along. The writing this season felt ham-fisted and clumsy at times. Too many of the new characters felt cliche or over-the-top, and I was bothered by the logistics and realism in a way that I hadn’t been before – how far apart are these groups, how have they never tripped over each other, is that a realistic number of guns, how inept are they to not just shoot Negan, where is the petrol coming from? I’m struggling to engage with the newer characters and too many of the old characters are getting bogged down (not unreasonably I guess) in their traumas. When characters or groups reunite, the emotional impact was intense, but it felt more obviously manipulative than I remember it being in the past.

I think the problem is that Negan just feels like a hyped up version of The Governor, who was already close to a pantomime villain at times. Now that the walking dead themselves are not so much of a threat, human villains are having to get more extreme to make it comparable, but I think that’s the wrong direction to go. I was more interested in the politics between the different factions, the different styles of governance and how they interacted. The super-villain just felt unnecessary and stupid for a show that I always thought was more intelligent than that. I’m not angry. I’m just incredibly disappointed.

Advertisements

15-16 Season

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

Things I’ve watched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Walking Dead: Season 6, part 1

The Walking DeadI promised myself this year I’d review each half of the walking dead season separately as they increasingly seem to be telling an almost complete block of story in each half, rather than continuing over to the next. For the most part that’s true of the first half of season six, it seems to be set all within just a couple of days, focussing each episode on just a small sub-section of the every growing cast of characters.

As per usual with Walking Dead that structure can be frustrating. It’s interesting to see characters either by themselves or in unusual groups, but it’s very limited and frustrating for the characters and combinations not involved. New characters just aren’t making the impact that the old ones did, increasingly with the people from Alexandria it’s hard to keep them distinct and care about them when you know most of them are fodder. The always wonderful Merritt Wever about the only exception and the whiny teenagers were particularly tiresome.

I would normally avoid spoilers in reviews, but I decided that Glenn’s storyline was so important to the quality of the season that I couldn’t review without commenting. I think the show made a huge mistake playing with the audience by dragging out the question of whether Glenn was dead or not. Using such a manipulative cliffhanger, and then drawing out the resolution for so many episodes just felt like a cheap trick, betraying loyal audience members. Once people are talking about whether a character is dead based on whether the actor got a goodbye tour and montage real on the spin-off discussion show, something has gone wrong with your writing. Then, to eventually clumsily save his life undermined the brave work the show has previously done in making sure no one is safe.

Once again, I’m also disappointed that they’ve accelerated through a storyline. I felt short-changed previously when we got to spend so little time in the Prison once it was running as an established community, similarly here we’ve barely arrived at Alexandria and started having hope and showers before the streets are filled with bodies and screaming again. I really wanted to see whether Rick’s group of hardy survivors could change the way they lived and settle into this environment. Instead they set up that conflict and then proved that Rick was right and they should not change, rather than the more interesting question of whether they could change.

Overall, I guess I was disappointed by this half season. It’s still an excellent show, with entertaining and interesting storylines and characters, but it just doesn’t quite seem to be working for me as well as it has in the past. I wish I had the patience to avoid spoilers for long enough to group the episodes for longer binges as I think then the pacing wouldn’t be so frustrating.

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.

The Walking Dead: Season 5

The Walking DeadI’ve made exactly the same mistake as I did last year in failing to review the two halves of the season separately. The writers seem to have fully committed to pretty much telling a complete story/scenario each half season, with just a cliffhanger to carry over in between. There will be spoilers in this review for the series so far, it’s just too hard to talk about without giving away key story directions.

It’s hard to remember that this season actually started out with most of our heroes locked in a train car. A huge amount happens in just 16 episodes with the group swinging back and forth between the far extremes of hope and despair. At varying points this season they thought they were going to be eaten by cannibals, thought they were on their way to Washington to deliver a cure, thought they were going to starve in a storm swept barn and found themselves in a seeming paradise of a community with walls, showers and children playing in the streets. In overall numbers they’ve grown, but the loses of Tyrese, Bob and Beth don’t feel like a fair exchange for the likes of Gabriel and residents of Alexandria.

With all that going on, and getting on for twenty characters to cover, it’s not really surprising that depth and subtlety went out the window a bit. I just wish it hadn’t. Characters and audience all desperately needed more time to really appreciate what was happening. The relentless mood swings made it very hard to fully comprehend either the hope or the despair and left me rather more removed from the characters than I’ve felt in past seasons.

Thankfully the writers and actors are actually pretty good at creating fully developed characters even though each one gets relatively little screen time. Compared to something like Game of Thrones with its cast of dozens of disparate one-note characters, The Walking Dead has a powerful ensemble of complex and evolving characters and relationships. Not all the new characters have been a complete success (Gabriel, yes I know he’s traumatised, but what a waste of oxygen), but it’s sometimes hard to remember how little time we’ve really spent with Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Tara and Bob. Even Sasha and Tyrese are relatively new additions, and Michonne’s only been around since season 3!

Of those that have been there since (nearly) the beginning, it’s hard not to get worried that one day Daryl, Carol or Glenn are not going to be so lucky. With the exception of Beth, I just wasn’t as moved by the deaths this season as I have been in the past. It felt like we barely met Noah before he was going through the great revolving door of death, and with the exception of the particularly gruesome details, it was a bit hard to care. I’m certainly not wishing for the deaths of favourite characters, but without them it risks the series becoming too safe.

I’m really happy about the group’s arrival at Alexandria, I think it could be a really interesting new chapter for the series and a welcome relief. It doesn’t have to be easy settling in to Alexandria (and it really hasn’t been so far) but I need the characters to have hope. We’ve spent a long time dealing with them fighting day-to-day on the road, or against somewhat ridiculous super-villains. I want to see them approach a new challenge, building a community and really starting to live rather than just surviving. They had a tentative look at this while they were in the prison but under constant threat of the Governor it just didn’t work. That said, I wasn’t overly enthused with the introduction of The Wolves, a gang of survivors who seem to have given up on their humanity. It just felt a little too close to the cannibals we started the season with.

I really don’t think this was the strongest season of the series and there were certainly times me attention wandered. But with the ratings still through the roof and clearly plenty of scope for stories, I don’t think it’s going anywhere for a while. Even with this season’s dip it’s still one of the most creative and original series on television at the moment and I can’t wait to see where they bounce to next season.

Bits and Bobs

I think I’m going to start a new type of blog post (although I also reserve the right for this to be the only time I use this structure). Often I’ll find myself watching things during the week that aren’t quite worthy of a whole post by themselves, but that it seems a shame to ignore completely. This will also give me the opportunity to point things out on iplayer or various other catch-up services in time for you to watch them. I may even occasionally link to bits of news that interest me. Basically, it’s a random collection of bits and pieces!

The Driver
driverI’ve watched two out of the three episodes of BBC’s drama The Driver, starring David Morrisey. It’s a good story and David Morrisey is always a very watchable actor. It’s the sort of thing that’s perfectly suited to this sort of very short burst, I don’t think I could take the intensity or sense of doom that fills it for any longer. I’m not expecting a happy ending!
Available until 6th November on iplayer

The Detectorists
detectoristsAbout as far from the Driver as you can imagine is this nice little easy going half hour show on BBC4. It stars the wonderful pairing of Toby Jones (Marvellous, The Girl, Infamous, Harry Potter…) and Mackenzie Crook (Almost Human, Pirates of the Carribean) as some very ordinary metal detectors who may be on the verge of a huge find. It’s somewhere between comedy and drama and is just wonderfully easy to watch.
Episodes 1 and 2 are on iplayer and new episodes air on Thursdays.

The Code
An Australian drama sucked me straight in with its first episode blending together politics, journalism, hacking and a small town mystery about two missing teenagers. It reminded me a lot of State of Play with the interweaving of small and large plots linked together by a journalist. I’ve no idea how it’s all going to come together, but it’s a great set up.
Episodes 1 and 2 are on iplayer and new episodes air on BBC4 on Saturdays.

Downton Abbey
Downton_AbbeyThree episodes in and Downton seems a little more energetic this series. I can actually think of things that have happened, which is a lot more than I could say of previous years. Mary is irritating me less, she seems to have started moving with the times a bit more and her occasional flashes of feeling and connection to the people around her (I liked the bit with Tom last week) makes her more interesting. I hope they move Edith’s character on and give her something positive soon though.
Episodes are available on itv player

Great British Bake Off
8077683536_38efd98443_mI can’t really not mention what seems to be the television event of the year, particularly given that I’m a bit of a baker and am a big fan of the show. It’s clearly more popular than ever, with ratings of the final topping those of the World Cup Final but for me, I don’t think it was the best series. I found the recipes far less inspiring than usual, particularly the technical challenges, and I got increasingly frustrated with the artificial time pressures (you can’t ice a hot cake!). The contestants, hosts and judges however were all lovely as usual, and in the end I think the right person won. (Ps, that’s a picture of my own version of the GBBO title cake)
Most of the episodes are still on iplayer but they’re disappearing soonish.

Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment
5347376050_4707fb35ac_zI’m slowly catching up on this three part update to last year’s amazing cat-stalking documentary and it’s every bit as interesting, original and cute as the previous show. It’s a good job my housemate is allergic to cats because frankly within just 10 minutes of gorgeous close ups and slow motion shots I was overwhelmed with a desire to fill the house with moggies. (That’s my dad’s cat in the photo).
All three episodes are available on iplayer until 9th October.

Coming up next week
I’m incredibly excited about the start of season 5 of The Walking Dead, 9pm Monday night on FX. There are three interesting looking new shows starting this week. On Monday at 9pm on Channel 5 is Gotham, following young detective James Gordon as he investigates the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. It’s one of the top picks for the year’s crop of new shows in the US and my expectations are pretty high. The Knick starts on Sky Atlantic on Thursday at 9pm, set in a New York hospital in 1900 which sounds like a fascinating idea and as it stars Clive Owen and is directed by Steven Soderbergh I’m quite optimistic for the delivery. I’m less optimistic about The Great Fire on ITV, 9pm Thursday. I’ve also spotted that Justified is available on Sky Box Sets on Demand, a series that I’ve wanted to catch up on for a while.

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.