Archive | January, 2013

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: The Outcasts, Part 4

30 Jan

This is my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – for the rules, see the intro;  so far we’re discussing shows that made my last list but not this one.

Here are the last shows that made last year’s list that didn’t make the cut this year.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David

2011 ranking:  16

One of few shows on TV that can disappear temporarily and return at any time at the whim of the creator and star (see: Louie), Curb declined to air episodes in 2012 and may be over or may not be.  It’s a very funny show, and I’d certainly welcome it back for more.  In fact, I’d vastly prefer it if there were more episodes.  Still, there’s been eight seasons and there’s no serial plotlines that need to be wrapped up anymore, and it’s pretty much Larry David’s decision on whether to go on or not, so it’s hard to say I would be devastated if the show was over for good.  It’s a great show to just throw on an episode or leave in the background, and although it’s really awkward and somewhat uncomfortable to watch, the situations are usually ridiculously enough to avoid truly painful British The Office levels of discomfort.  It’s just Larry David and co. talking a lot, and it’s not exactly the most unpredictable or nuanced show, but it’s frequently laugh out loud funny.

Bored to Death

Watching this did not make me bored to death

2011 ranking: 11

Bored to Death is probably the show whose cancellation most frustrated me in recent years.  This is due to some combination of factors.  First, I really liked the show, thought it was as good as ever, and that it had a lot more to give.  Second, because the show had made it to its third season, it already had had some legs, and because it wasn’t past its fifth season, it didn’t seem like it was logically time to come to an ending. Third, because the show was on HBO, ratings weren’t quite as important as they would be on a network, especially because the show continued to get positive critical notice.  That basically sums up to the points that I really liked it and thought it actually had a good chance of returning, so I didn’t just accept losing it right away as I have other ill-fated shows.  Not to mention, the show ended with main character, Jonathan Ames, sleeping with someone who unbeknownst to him is probably his sister.  That has to be the strangest way a show has ever had an unplanned ending.

Terriers

Where are the Terriers?

2011 ranking:  10

Terriers aired in fall of 2010, which was covered in my last rankings, though it seems like longer ago.  Because the show wasn’t a BIG show the way Game of Thrones is or the way one year failure Terra Nova was, I think it’s been easy to forget.  There hasn’t been a big bring-back-Terriers crowd, or constant references to Terriers as a show that died before its time.  However, that’s not to say it wasn’t acclaimed; nearly everyone who saw Terriers liked it.  Of course, the problem was largely than nobody watched it.  Part of the reason for that is the name – a terrible one, which not only revealed nothing about the show, but also doesn’t intrigue the type of audience who the show is geared towards.  Part was also the fact that well, it doesn’t sound that great, if you just describe the show in brief.   There was an ongoing plot but Terriers was basically the story of two characters played by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James who were PI partners constantly finding themselves in over their heads on cases.  Of course there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basic idea; there’s no huge hook or complicated premise.  Anyway, since I can’t imagine you’ll be reading more about Terriers anytime soon, let’s give the show one last fond goodbye.

The Venture Bros.

Hank and Dean

20111 ranking: 8

The Venture Bros. has come to resemble late season Sopranos, in which a season only airs every two years.  A special Halloween episode actually aired this year, but I declined to allow that special to qualify the show for entry in this year’s rankings.  It’ll finally be back in 2013 though, so it can look forward to a spot in next year’s rankings, and hopefully a high one if the quality is what I hope.   No show handles a complicated continuity better than Venture Bros, and the mixture of sophisticated comic storylines with pop culture references and wise-cracking punchlines keeps Venture great.  Not every episode is amazing, but they’re mostly solid and when they hit, they hit. Season 4 alone created some instant classics including film noir-style episode Everybody Comes to Hank’s, and Season 4 premiere, Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel, told out of chronological order, with the only marking of time being the value of a rare comic book which slowly gets destroyed over the course of the episode.  Frustratingly, wikipedia decided to remove the individual episode pages, which were incredible and useful resources about the show.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 Edition: The Outcasts, Part 3

28 Jan

This is my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – for the rules, see the intro;  so far we’re discussing shows that made my last list but not this one.

Here are even more shows that made last year’s list that didn’t make the cut this year.

Entourage

Entourage and Ari

2011 Rank:  25

Never a great show, at times not really a good show, I still never really seriously considered stopping watching Entourage.  Maybe it’s because for the most part it was so light.  I don’t like when shows that should be heavier are needlessly light, but a show like Entourage never made any serious pretensions to reality or big issues and themes.  Of course, Entourage had two dark seasons which I still can’t decide if I liked or didn’t like, but either way, even when the show was kind of bad I never really minded spending half an hour with the gang.  I don’t think the show will be remembered particularly well, but I don’t think it will be remembered poorly either; I think it’s just likely to not be remembered much at all.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a huge shame, but I think then I’d like to get my two cents in and say, on the whole, I’m glad I watched the whole series of Entourage and I would do it again.

The Killing

Who killed this show?

2011 Rank:  23

Now here’s a show that makes me angry.  I was far too kind to it last year.  Unlike AMC failure Rubicon, which just slowly drifted apart after a promising start, The Killing spectacularly imploded at the end of its first season delivering an impressively terrible 1-2 punch of maybe having the worst final and penultimate episodes of a season of all time.  Yes, it was that bad, and the show jerked every viewer who watched around, leading to an end of season that hopefully will live on as a name of what not to do.  This on top of the fact that the main character had started violating police common sense, even by television standards, and basically after being fairly invested through most of the first season, I had basically no interest in watching the second season.  I watched the second season finale, just because, and it unsurprisingly didn’t make a ton of sense to me, but that’s fine.  I’m glad my chapter, and hopefully everyone’s, of The Killing is finished now.  I want to say it was a good run, but it wasn’t.  The best The Killing can do at this point is be responsible for launching Joel Kinnaman’s career.

White Collar

White Collar, Blue Tie

2011 Rank:  21

The last USA show!  Finally!  White Collar was a tad more serious than any of the other USA shows on this list.  It’s a nice show, and I think the two main actors do a fine job individually and together, but it’s held back, as everything is at USA, by the limitations of what dramas mean there; it’s going to follow a formula, and though there’s room in that formula for entertainment, there’s also a fairly low ceiling.  White Collar hits the ceiling sometimes but doesn’t break out of it.  I’ve also just kind of tailed off watching it as I have with my other USA shows; it’s not bad, it’s just not super compelling either.

Friday Night Lights

The early cast

2011 Ranking: 19

This is a show that I think has a chance to really grow in viewers’ appreciation after it’s already over.  A critical favorite from day 1, the show lagged in ratings, and shockingly was picked up in an unique arrangement by Direct TV for seasons four and five.  Even as the show was coming to a close it seemed like the internet was more and more excited about it.  I like the show; I think it’s a very good one, though I wasn’t nearly as upset as many that the show was leaving.  Stick this is the category of shows I like and admit are good but that I probably just don’t see eye to eye on as far as exactly how good.  The show dealt with interpersonal relationships very well, but it always felt forced and sometimes over the top; there was a lacking of subtlety of plot and dialogue it could have used.  Still, good show, always sad to see a good show go.

Ranking the Shows That I watch: 2012 edition: The Outcasts, Part 2

25 Jan

This is my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – for the rules, see the intro;  so far we’re discussing shows that made my last list but not this one.

Here are some more shows that made last year’s list that didn’t make the cut this year.

Royal Pains

What a royal pain

2011 Rank:  30

And so the USA exodus continues.  Royal Pains isn’t bad.  It just isn’t particularly good either.  It’s probably not a show one would expect me to watch, unless they knew about my aforementioned USA mini-obsession.  I really have so little new information about the show; I watched with my friend, and when we lost our momentum, we both kind of stopped, and neither of us were too bent out of shape about it.  Every episode, main character doctor Hank Lawson solves a patient’s case, while other gradual progress is made on serial plotlines.  Henry Winkler plays his and his brother’s dad which is kind of cool.  Royal Pains is right out of the USA playbook, better than Fairly Legal, and probably better than several more USA shows, but worse than a couple others.  I bear it no ill will, but don’t watch it.

True Blood

Delicious

2011 Rank:  29

Here’s my long view take on True Blood.  I enjoyed the first season more than I thought I would.  I really liked the second season, which I thought was really focused and well plotted; there were two major storylines, and they were both resolved in the last few episodes, one before the other, allowing the characters from the second storyline to join the first just in time for the climax.  The third season then went away from that, giving nearly every character their own plotline, some severely weaker than others and completely unnecessary, and strangely had its climax less than 2/3 through the season, after which the villain, the Vampire King of Mississippi, one of the season’s strong points, sort of collapsed.  I barely started the fourth season, before I was done with it. True Blood has several problems, but scope is the biggest; it expanded too far and basically there was no reining it back in.  I enjoy hearing people tell me the plots because they sound so ridiculous, but I’m done watching it.  There’s a careful line between stupid trashy fun, and stupid trashy, well, trash, and this gradually shifted from the former to the latter.

How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother

2011 Rank: 27

Here’s a show that a lot of people like better than me, because it pushes a lot of my particular buttons.  I hate the narration, I hate the incredibly on the nose messaging and oddly old school moralism that I think is wisely absent from most modern comedies.  I do think the actors work very well together as a group, and I think that the funny parts, particularly provided by Barney and Marshall have been very solid, and that kept me watching for years, even as there were parts of the show that seriously bothered me.  So, I kept on, after I finished all my other shows, watching How I Met Your Mother dutifully, though ambivalently, until Season 7 episode “Symphony of Illumination,” in which the gimmick is that instead of regular narrator Ted telling the story to his kids, this time it’s Robin telling the story to her kids.  Only, it turns out that she can’t have kids, and instead she’s telling it to her fictional kids in her mind.  How I Met Your Mother has done gimmicks well in the past, but I just hated, hated this episode and it gave me the impetus to put down the show altogether.

Psych

Shawn and Gus

2011:  26

Almost out of USA shows, I swear.  Psych is actually the one I currently like the best, and still have plans on watching more of it.  Unlike most of the other USA shows, which are light hearted dramadies, Psych is much more explicitly a comedy.  Because it’s focus is on being funny and lighter, it’s much less of a issue to have generic procedural murders every episode without almost any serial element.  However, the lack of serial element is also what causes me to keep putting it behind watching other shows with longer arcs.  Still, Psych is an easy show to watch; it’s refreshing and enjoyable which makes it a great show to watch when tired, and I mean that as a compliment.  It’s like bathroom magazine reading; it’s hardly essential viewing, but it’s a great way to fill in some time, and I would rank this the highest of the USA shows if I actually watched it regularly.  Still I don’t, which I suppose says something about the show as well.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: The Outcasts, Part 1

23 Jan

I’m currently out of the country, which is causing me to unfortunately to temporarily fall behind on current television.  What better time, then, to finally issue my slightly belated ranking of TV shows that I watched in 2012.  I last put together a ranking in the summer of 2011, and it will be interesting to see what went up, went down, and stayed the same.  Here are the rules:  to be ranked, the show has to have aired episodes in the 2012 calendar year.  Secondly, I’m not ranking any shows that debuted in Fall 2012 and haven’t finished full seasons, because those shows haven’t put in enough time yet to judge.  Third, I’m trimming the fat from my 2011 rankings; I’m only ranking shows that I’ve seen several of this past year; for most shows that I rank, I’ve seen all of, and for just a couple I’ve seen most of.  So for the most part, I at least like every show on the list, and it’s something of an accomplishment just to make it on.  Fourth, while I’m considering body of work as far as the whole year goes, if a show was much better in fall 2012 than the end of a previous season in the spring, I’ll tend to lean towards accounting for the uptick in performance.  Lastly, primetime shows only; which mainly means no Daily Show or Colbert Report.

With that in mind, we’re almost ready to start, but first we’ll spend a couple posts going over shows that made the last list but didn’t make this one, and why that was the case.  Also, quick apologies to British shows Peep Show and The Thick of It, both of which aired episodes in 2012, but which I’m one season behind on and thus won’t rank; I look forward to catching up with both of them.

Glee

Fuck Glee

2011 ranking:  34

I had already stopped watching this show by the fall of 2011; it’s simply, well, bad.  I know a number of people who watched it regularly at some point and most have at one point or another just decided to quit. It’s closer to Heroes than to even a show like Lost in the ratio of how long it was good before it turned bad. There was a half season in which the show had a coherent plot arc,while  the remainder of the show has been spent trying to reach that again. Flaws include characters which have extremely inconsistent personalities, an extreme reversion to status quo sometimes (like a comic book villain, Jane Lynch can’t win enough to stop the club, but also sticks around to keep almost doing it), plot arcs that just go way over the top, and plenty of the characters that are just well, bad.  Goodbye Glee, I’m glad to see the public has largely stopped caring about you as well.

Modern Family

Three Modern Families

2011 ranking:  33

I gave myself more leeway last rankings in terms of how much I needed to watch a show before ranking it, and though I’ve seen most of Modern Family’s first season, I haven’t watched much after it.  It isn’t so much because I don’t think it’s a good show (though I certainly don’t think it’s a great show) as much as it’s not a show for me; it just isn’t really up my alley.  It does feature an all-time personal pet peeve with little narrations at the end of each half hour summing up the episode and giving it some totally unnecessary and unsubtle overarching theme, but mostly I think it’s still just a small bit old-sitcom-y for me.  I will say I think, from my previous watching, that Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen and their family are far and away the funniest of the three families on the show and I do think there are some genuinely good laughs.  Anyway, I can’t really begrudge anyone for watching it, though I’ve heard it’s gotten worse of late, but I stopped because I realized I just didn’t care enough it to watch, and that’s still how I feel.

Fairly Legal

Fairly Legal

2011 ranking:  32

We’re really in the dregs here.  Honestly, there was absolutely no reason for me to be watching Fairly Legal at any time, except that I had a bit of a possibly ironic, and possibly not ironic obsession with USA programs.  That obsession has subsided and Fairly Legal, the worst of the USA programs that I watched, was pretty quickly dropped.  It’s not awful but it’s pretty generic; charismatic lawyer-turned-mediator uses her natural charm, ability, and determination to solve problems others can’t.  You’ve seen it before.  Just in case I hadn’t stopped watching it by now, USA’s stopped it for me; cancelling it after it’s second season finished airing last summer.  I doubt many will be crying over the loss.

Rubicon

Somebody's Watching You

2011 ranking: 31

Last year’s list reached back into 2010, so it hit upon AMC’s one true failure (we can debate The Killing, but at least it went two seasons),  Rubicon.  It’s a little bit of a shame because Rubicon, unlike say Fairly Legal, had a chance to be a really interesting, good, show.  And then, well, like so many other dramas that start off with promise, it wasn’t.  It tackled a 70s neo-noir feeling in a way I don’t think recent shows have, but while the mood was right, the plots slowly fell apart and the conspiracy may have unraveled a little too far even for a conspiracy show.  I probably would have watched if there was a second season, but part of me was certainly comforted by the fact that it was cancelled and I wouldn’t have to.  I wish it was better, because I think there was something there, but it wasn’t, and it’s rightfully gone.

Homeland: End of Season Report, Part 2

20 Jan

Carrie is bloody

Part 2 of my thoughts on the second season of Homeland; part 1 can be found here.

I’ve read some interviews with Homeland co-creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon and it seemed like they didn’t exactly know where they were going with the second season until the season wore on, and it shows. Sometimes that kind of television works; Vince Gilligan famously has made seasons of Breaking Bad that way, and he’s created brilliant television that way. However, in this season of Homeland, I felt it went from brilliant episode to clumsy one, from emotionally poignant moment to out of place action season, from true-to-the-story character interaction to forced actions happening only to move the plot forward.  Consistency and the sense of a plan were both sorely lacking, when we as viewers put ourselves in the show runners hands, there’s hopefully a sense of trust that they know where they’re going, which Homeland lost as this season went on.

Selling high is an issue television shows often have with characters, as sports teams have with players. It’s tempting to wring everything out of a character, but sometimes you need to eliminate a character, either because the character’s run dry of characterization, or because the character’s remaining in existence is simply implausible within the universe of the show and makes other plotlines more problematic. I’m still deciding whether I feel this way for sure, but I’m certainly leaning towards the position that killing Brody at some point during the second season would have been the smart move. That Homeland pulled off not killing Brody and having the bomb go off and not feeling like a total cop out in the first season is an amazing act, and it actually went off surprising well. Damien Lewis in fact has often provided the acting job that makes Brody’s internal struggles go and his role has been more difficult than the superbly talented Claire Daines’. I’m not sure where else Brody can go; he’s had his struggle, he’s no longer a terrorist (if he lied to Carrie and was somehow behind the bomb, that would be the worst decision ever, and the absolutely worst kind of twist that is just there because you couldn’t have possibly seen it coming), he’s made his peace with leaving his wife, and his love with Carrie. If this was a different type of show, there’d be more for Brody to do, because he’s a very well rendered character, but in this show I don’t think his remaining value is equal to the price of inconvenience and implausibility of keeping him around.

Another issue with the finale: It wasn’t really a finale. The second to last episode was the finale and the finale was the first episode of the third season. I’m not a big fan of that chronology. If a show doesn’t really want to play into seasons at all, then I’m absolutely fine with ending at a seemingly random point; this is kind of what Game of Thrones does. However, if a show pretty much plays by a seasonal format, I would prefer it adhere to its format; I hate cheap cliffhangers (not saying Homeland did that, but just another end of season pet peeve) and attempts to show the beginning of the next season into prior one. If you’re going to do seasons, then do a season. It’s better than a cheap True Blood-ish cliffhanger for sure, but it’s still not great.

In regards to that third season, it looks like they’re trying to push the reset button a bit. They’ve basically finished out the big arc, over the course of two seasons – the chase for Abu Nazir, and Brody and his relationship with the terrorists and his family. It’s hard to see how Brody can be relating to anyone else for a while next season without getting caught, and it would seem at least somewhat odd for Brody’s family to be hanging around without that connection outside of their initial shock and maybe a funeral scene. Dana’s definitely been built up for more and seems to have faith in Brody that the rest won’t, though I’m not sure what they could possibly do with that, and she’s a bit too young to become Carrie Jr. at the CIA. David Estes is gone, and it looks like Saul will be running the show. I think Saul’s been the most loved non-Brody or Carrie character in the show over the course of two seasons so this will give him an excuse to get an even bigger chunk of the show to himself, which we’ll see if he can handle (the James Harden of Homeland? Though I guess Durant (Daines), but not Westbrook (Lewis) could still be around? Too complicated an analogy already).

The best seasons of seasonally oriented shows get better and tighter and they go forward; while it maybe takes the first few episodes to sort things out and figure out a plan, by the last four or so episodes, things are happening and it feels like the show runners are on top of everything. Season 1 of Homeland very much felt like that; season 2 did not. It certainly wasn’t predictable, but the actions seemed haphazard and took left and right turns that were often less surprises and more strange decisions. I think partly this is because they boxed themselves into too many corners and forgot the key to positive unpredictability, which is to have many plausible outcomes possible at any time, so that there’s any number of ways the show can go and all of them feel natural. I think Homeland boxed itself in one or two too many times this season and left with unsatisfying outcomes, and I think that maybe they realize that which is why they’re trying to start the third season over by wiping the slate clean and reestablishing that anything can happen again.

Also, Homeland is falling into the difficulty that many shows have as they move on in seasons; how to keep the show relevant and interesting, and they turn to a device that many tv shows before them have turned to: raising the stakes. Whatever happened so far, whatever’s going to happen in the next season makes that look like nothing, sometimes devaluing in a way your early seasons to increase apprehension for the next. It’s a device that gets tired fast, but can work once or twice if handled well. Is Homeland up to reinventing itself? I’m not sure, but I hope so.