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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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Autumn 2016

Posted by The TV Critic on 10 December 2016 | 4 Comments

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I'm struggling to think of another TV show like Westworld. And by that I mean I can't remember another major TV show which tried to function with no main character.

Delores is not a main character. She is still a robot. A robot that needed both her creators to instruct her to murder them in order for her to achieve sentience. Ignore all the philosophy and the memory games. Delores is not yet a character in the real sense of the word. We can't root her on, emotionally, because we don't really know who she is.

Maeve may appear to have a more defined sense of self. But then in the finale we discover that most of that was programmed into her. By who? Ford? Maeve herself? A new character?

The producers have fallen into the same trap that ruins the majority of television dramas: believing that twists are what audiences crave. They don't. They want characters they care about. Dr Ford's character was crippled by the need for us to never know his true intentions. Was it worth it? Did you jump for joy when he revealed he really did want the robots to achieve consciousness? Of course not. You thought "that's weird, because he acted like an a-hole most of the season and made several speeches disparaging both the robots and the value of consciousness itself."

I'm not optimistic that Season Two will suddenly flower into something emotive. The producers have shown us their bag of tricks and I have no doubt that 2018 will bring more mysteries, misdirections and meaningless reveals. Also, in an interview with IGN Jonathan Nolan said "Stubbs and Elsie are some of our favorite characters and so we deserve to know what happened to them, and we will." Uh huh. If Stubbs and Elsie, two woefully undeveloped, minor characters rank as his favourites I'd like to know who he didn't care enough about to bother with.

Speaking of shows that binged on pointless misdirection Mr Robot's second season was deeply disappointing. The tampering with our perspective reached such silly levels that it became impossible to care about Elliot anymore. The only crumb of comfort was the thought that he really had killed Tyrell and his mind just couldn't cope with the consequences. But silly me, Tyrell was actually fine all along and being hidden by a ruthlessly, amazingly resourced, Chinese conspiracy which Elliot had coordinated for him in one evening.  

It's a worrying thought when you have to turn to The Walking Dead for a straightforward narrative. I write this before the mid-season finale but so far the show has been remarkably consistent. As in despite Neegan's ultra-violent and depressing arrival the show is just as mediocre as it has been for the past three seasons. The characterisation remains amusingly poor and AMC give off a penny pinching vibe when they give us a Tara standalone hour. But The Walking Dead remains a huge success and that's because in between the missteps you get real consequences. People suffer and die. If the Westworld's and Robot's would stop trying to surprise us maybe some reality would seep in.

I haven't written about Transparent before but I have watched all of it and enjoyed it more with each season. It's a rich, character piece which eschews soap opera in favour of just letting peoples flaws shine in everyday situations. And I'd add that one of the reasons it never needs to resort to drama for its own sake is that each episode is only 30 minutes long. All of the shows mentioned above would improve if they forced themselves to stick to 45-50 minute episodes rather than dragging things out.  

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  • Great to see your writings!

    The only vehicle that comes to mind is Screamers that had characters however the main character ends up being a robot:

    Speaking of robots: What I found refreshing about Mr. Robot was the blurriness between Elliot's mind and reality. I also haven't seen a show use inner monologue as effectively as the show does and to the extent. So many shows struggle to give us the inner thoughts of characters as they are speaking. This one has that part down cold. For me, Elliot's journey started very righteous and I liked the explorations of his inner self. However that now has gone top heavy with a twisted power grab between greedy corporate wall street types and faceless organized crime groups and of course the FBI do gooder (slightly damaged) trying to grab headlines for high profile take down. Those parts have been done so many times already by so many shows.

    Posted by Fluids, 09/01/2017 11:50am (3 years ago)

  • It took me a long while to finish "Westworld", hence how long it took me to write about it. I only just finished the finale, and I have to say that Westworld is a very well-crafted and unique show, but unfortunately it doesn't do anything else remarkable.

    I heard about "Westworld" from a friend, who told me it was far and above the best show this year. I gave it a watch and I just couldn't get into it because it was a show purely about story and revealing pieces of the story. The story was interesting, but it wasn't interesting enough to make me want to come back to the next episode. I could only watch one episode at a time, and then it would take me a couple days to Will myself through the next episode. The problem? It was the characters. There were no memorable characters and absolutely nobody I cared about in the entire series.

    As you said above, Dolores, Maeve and Ford weren't great characters, they were just set pieces that weren't relatable. Dolores and Maeve were simply robots, and while that provided am interesting layer to the show, it isn't enough to carry an entire show. We need three dimensional living characters.

    As a whole, I was very impressed with the writing of the story though. It was structured excellently and I felt very satisfied after watching the finale. I think Westworld has been solid, but due to the problems above it will never be an above average tv show to me.

    I haven't yet watched Mr Robot, surprisingly enough. I just haven't gotten around to it yet, but I anticipate that I will be caught up in time for season 3.

    I have written enough about "The Walking Dead" on the forum. In short, I think it was a poor season without anything interesting enough that would make me want to continue watching. But I will continue anyways because for me it's too late to jump ship. At least for now.

    Posted by Aaronic, 30/12/2016 9:12pm (3 years ago)

  • :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 18/12/2016 4:18am (3 years ago)

  • I bailed in the Walking Dead, finally. Too many stupid character decisions and sociopaths.
    I enjoyed West World - first for the nostalgia for the source material, but am drawn now to the "Android" Genre (i love "Humans") and what this sci-fi trope tells us about the state of humanity.
    I sorely miss your tv podcasts, wish you all the best.

    Posted by Yogabon, 15/12/2016 11:05pm (3 years ago)

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