End of season round up: 13 shows reviewed
There are a bunch of shows I watch but don't write about. I thought I would provide some quick thoughts on how they have been faring this Fall season.
I have written the blog as one long article but as I know you won't have seen all of these shows I have put little sub headings so that you can skip ahead.
The best of these shows is clearly Boardwalk Empire (HBO) and so I have written up thoughts on the whole of season two here. The other cable drama that I did write about for a few blogs was Boss and the season one finale aired last Friday.
As Boss is a show about corrupt politics I often compared it to Boardwalk as the show went along. However a more interesting comparison could be made to STARZ stablemate Spartacus. Both shows have sex, violence, betrayal, greed and ambition. Both shows had dramatic twists which had an impact on the plot. Both shows also have a stylised visual style that makes them stand out. I enjoyed the endless focus on eyeballs in Boss but the close-ups on individual ticks didn't always feel like it was adding to the story.
Boss is no Spartacus either. At the centre of Spartacus is a good man who was wronged. There was no one to root for on Boss. I suppose we could cheer on Sam Miller at the Sentinel but it's tough to imagine him getting to the truth because Boss is fuelled by secrets and lies.
Boss did suffer because of a lack of sympathetic characters. It also suffered from a shocking lack of restraint. In Ancient Rome it's easier to imagine the streets running with blood. In modern Chicago it's much harder. By season's end we were expected to believe that maintaining political power was enough of a justification for humiliating people, bribery, murder, beatings, forced relocation, whoring out your wife, sending your daughter to jail and tampering with an election.
Even if you believe that democracy is this corrupt (or at least that it could all remain hidden) I found it impossible to imagine what Tom Kane is clinging to. The symptoms of lewy-body were already making life quite difficult for him. He seemed irrational for thinking he could go on serving as Mayor while hallucinating his way through important conversations. If you ignore the lewy-body it's still an outrageous list of crimes and they began to lose both plausibility and dramatic impact the more they piled on top of one another.
As silly as the show was though I still though episode seven "Stasis" was very good. The horrible situation that Kitty found herself in was exquisite and Kane's decision to throw his daughter under the bus to distract the press was ruthless. Kelsey Grammar's performance remains very strong but I can't imagine the show doing much second season. I imagine things can only get more outrageous from here and the ratings have been tiny so a third season seems unlikely.
HELL ON WHEELS (AMC)
Nothing much has changed since the pilot when I felt that the show was a Deadwood knockoff. It is still early in its run so I will keep watching.
The contrast between those dark and gritty cable shows and the light hearted fare offered by the broadcast networks has been as stark as ever. For the last few seasons the only network drama that I have been watching and not writing about is Chuck. I still have nothing much to add as Chuck, Casey, Sarah and Morgan head for the end of the show. I enjoyed the show for the first season and a half until I realised that nothing of consequence would ever happen. Since then it has been a case of enjoying the performances and guest stars and giving the show little thought.
PAN AM (ABC)
That looks set to be the same pattern I adopt with all of the network dramas. I would say that Pan Am was the show with the most potential but it has largely dismissed any sense of gravity for cheeriness. As with Chuck it is difficult to do spy stories in a light hearted way. I'm so used to the detail work on cable shows now that a stewardess being asked to turn Communist agents seems very silly. The 1960s world of bigotry, racism and sexism is also handled with too light a touch to really touch the emotions.
On the positive side I did enjoy the brewing romance between Dean and Colette (until they actually got together that is). Karine Vanasse has definitely been the acting star and did a fine job during her emotional trip to Germany (103). I think Kelli Garner (Kate) might have something too.
ONCE UPON A TIME (ABC)
Once Upon a Time has been the most interesting (of the network shows) to watch even though there is zero chance of anything unexpected happening. The Lost formula really is working well though because each week I am intrigued to see which of the residents of Storybrooke will step forward to have their back-story explored.
The interesting part is seeing how the fairytales are woven together and which actors will appear in which role. Alan Dale's uncanny ability to follow me from show to show continues and Giancarlo Esposito was a real surprise. Robert Carlyle chews the scenery nicely (what other cliché could I use?) though it is odd that Rumpelstiltskin is so intimately involved in pretty much every scheme in the Kingdom. I still can't see a way to make this show interesting in a second season but for now I continue to be amused by the novelty of it all.
TERRA NOVA (FOX)
If Once Upon a Time is lifting the Lost formula then you might be surprised to hear that Terra Nova seems to have gone for the Star Trek: Voyager formula. I mean, at least Lost was a big success. I sat through seven seasons of Captain Janeway never doubting herself and the ship never running out of food or fuel so I know how dull it could be.
It's a lot less surprising when you hear that Brannon Braga is one of the show runners. No one is likelier to fill me with contempt than Braga who not only helped create some dull Star Trek but also worked on later season 24 and drum roll please...FlashForward. Braga is remarkably consistent and Terra Nova is a terrible waste of a good premise.
Even if you ignore the logic holes and lack of exciting dinosaur scenes the show is just old fashioned. It feels just like bad Star Trek with deeply conservative social attitudes, bland characters and a sense that nothing even a hundred miles from edgy will ever appear on screen. In some ways I find it comforting to be transported to a show that I would have enjoyed when I was ten years old. But in most ways it is just annoying.
Grimm remains oddly, well, grim. The show is a bit like Angel without any sense of humour. The pursuit of bad guys just feels like any old procedural police show and the attempts at comedy feel grafted on. There is no sense of character development or even much disruption to Nick's life either. It's all pretty bland.
MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
The best comedy that I don't write about regularly remains Modern Family. The show has kept its strong ratings this season and provided ABC with a really solid block of comedy on Wednesday's. I remain of the opinion that the show could be so much more than it is. I still think there are too many plots based on misunderstandings which is a really old formula. Some characters handle those situations better than others. I think Phil, Jay and the children tend to come across more realistically than the others. Cameron remains a great waste. Since the end of season one it feels like he had been asked to play the same note every week. Seeing him be an egotist who then either fails or falls apart is really irritating considering that both the actor and character are clearly capable of so much more. I remain convinced that the ensemble doesn't have to appear in every episode either. Some focus on one or two characters would be a nice change of pace.
Now that I have got all that off my chest though I should pay the show some compliments. Some recent episodes have been either funny or warm hearted. The Thanksgiving episode where the logical members of the family had to give in and support the dreamers was pretty sweet (309). As was the scene where Jay finally told Phil that he was proud of him (after a massage in 308). The acting remains very strong with the ensemble able to carry off even dumb storylines with a smile. Haley has been the character that has shined the most this fall. Seeing her lie to Claire can be convincing and funny.
THE MIDDLE (ABC)
The Middle continues to chug along at the start of the Wednesday block and I don't see much of a change in the winning formula. The kids remain strong performers with Sue still able to make me care about her struggles even as I get increasingly used to the formula.
Suburgatory (ABC) is the third of the four Wednesday shows and I'm pretty disappointed with it. The biggest flaw in the show remains that Tessa isn't miserable enough about being in suburbia. She seems to breeze through most situations and the plots never get close to eliciting an emotional reaction. The same is true for George who equally smiles his way through any new situation. Without that conflict the show has just become a dull comedy about a wealthy town and their silly way of doing things.
The only moment on the show that felt like it was going in an interesting direction was when Tessa danced like a freak to her favourite indie band. That really captured something funny about how teenagers respond to the music they are passionate about. However the reality disappeared when the other kids all backed away at once.
HAPPY ENDINGS (ABC)
Happy Endings is the fourth and final member of ABC's lineup and the comedy that irritates me most on TV right now. I admit that part of what angers me is the critical acclaim or at least support being heaped on it.
I think the show has actually gotten worse since season one. There is almost no attempt to make the characters or their stories seem real. In fact the writers have increased the pace of dialogue and plot to the point where the show is just running banter between characters I don't know or care about.
So Penny buys a new home which is instantly a disaster. Max starts working in the food truck and is a complete disaster. Dave makes a commercial about the food truck which is a disaster. Jane and Brad decide to have work spouses but naturally get the wrong end of the stick leading to disastrous misunderstandings. You get the gist.
The problem is that these disasters happen so often and have no consequences so there is no emotion in seeing things go wrong.
Worse than that everything on the show is signposted. Not signposted as in obvious, I mean literally told to you before it happens. The gang tell Jane that she shouldn't flirt because she does this weird thing where she puts her hand in her mouth. Then she does it. That's it! Where's the comedy in that? Penny feels jealous of Max's high school girlfriend, says she will end up making ridiculous attempts to bond with her and then does. Ridiculously so. Again, why tell me what is going to happen? Why destroy any sense that anything is happening organically?
I don't believe in any of the characters either. In season one Max had something of an authentic arrogance to him but in season two he is just an endless stream of laziness and greediness. Dave is far too attractive a guy to work in a food truck. Seriously. He is also far too well adjusted to spend an episode acting as if he really is Native American after learning that he had some Navajo ancestry. Alex's naivety isn't well defined and neither is Brad (Damon Wayans Jr) who could be a real star on another show.
NEW GIRL (FOX)
New Girl is in a similar situation over on Tuesday's. Again there is no definition to the characters. The writers foolishly just made Jess 'quirky' and put nothing more down on the list of her characteristics. So she jumps from bold to shy with no apparent explanation. I also think the way she sings to herself fails to draw real sympathy from the audience because it's difficult to tell when she is in real distress or just being silly.
Nick is the worst character on TV right now and I mean that. He is clearly meant to be the most down to earth and reasonable of the guys but instead he comes off as bitter, angry and unhelpful. He is also positioned to be Jess' long term love interest but he is such a negative, awkward person that it's hard to see why she would ever like him. Winston has no definition beyond his time in Estonia. Schmidt has had several different personalities and you can sense the writers serving him more and more as they struggle to make the rest of the show funny.
I really dislike much of the group dialogue on the show. The discussion of sex and pornography (108) was such a pathetic mish mash of modern comedy ideas. The four of them sat around making sex sound like nuclear physics and being awkward regardless of whether it fit their personalities or not. There is no sense of where each person is at in their friendships with one another. The writers just choose when to have two of them fall out when it serves the plot.
2 BROKE GIRLS (CBS)
I have already written a lot about 2 Broke Girls on the blog. Sadly it doesn't seem to be improving. The show just isn't funny despite so many easy punch lines going missing. There is also so much emotion being left on the table. The recent episode (111) where the girls need to find a stable for Caroline's horse was a real waste. This last and biggest connection between Caroline and her former life should have been an easy emotional episode to write but instead we just got the usual collection of annoying puns.
So that's it for now. Thank you so much for checking out the blogs this year. I plan on making changes to the site which may include more shows getting their own pages. However there will always be a need for the blog format where I can just throw out thoughts on shows I'm not covering full time. I'm always grateful for any and all comments as it really helps me understand how different shows are coming across outside of my house.
I will be putting up a post with the 2011 TV Critic awards soon. So do let me know what you liked this year.
The TV Critic