Archive | March, 2016

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 50-47

28 Mar

Two comedies, one action, and one drama/thriller. Moving forward…

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here.

50. Workaholics – 2014: 36

Workaholics

I will always have much affection for Anders, Blake, and Adam, but it badly feels like the boys of Rancho Cucamonga are running out of ideas, no matter what occasional breaks between seasons they take. This is particularly obvious since the show Workaholics is paired up with in its time slot, Broad City, has risen as Workaholics has fallen, and on the whole I love Broad City more than I’ve ever liked Workaholics, which is more a compliment to Broad City than an insult to Workaholics. Workaholics still has the funny joke here and there, and again, I still love the three of them, but it’s not the buzzy, quotable show of the first couple of seasons, and I almost feel like I want to spend more time in this review going to pay tribute to some of the great episodes (“Real Time,” “To Friend a Predator” for example) than talking about this past season which was largely unmemorable. Alas. Nothing gold can stay.

49. The Affair – 2014: 33

The Affair

Oh, to be a Showtime show. A mildly ambitious premise, generally a little less glassy or bold than an HBO show (generally; HBO made Ballers). They’re often just good enough to be intriguing and keep me watching for a few episodes or a couple seasons, only to eventually let me down, quickly, or slowly. The Affair drew me in with a fascinating premise; a modern day Rashomon – a story slowly drawn out, told in two perspectives, both of which contained shades of the truth. The first season left more or less how it started; still maintaining that same level of intrigue and possibility for more without having actually accomplished that much. The second delivered a little bit less than the first, even while including some worthwhile moments and adding two more perspectives to the melange. Dominic West’s Noah became increasingly despicable over the course of the season which made it difficult to watch and times, and the show continued to feel like it didn’t exactly know where it was going or what it was doing. I’m about at a coin flip over whether I’ll give the third season a shot.

48. Archer – 2014: 39

Archer

Archer is long-veteran show at this point, and like Workaholics, just above, it often feels at this point like it’s running out of ideas. However, unlike with Workaholics, this past season was a step up over the previous season, the ambitious but ultimately lacking Archer Vice. It certainly wasn’t golden era Archer (seasons 2 and 3) but it was clearly, if not way past the solid enough to keep watching point. At this point it often feels like the veteran that it is; it’s not exciting or flashy but it comes to work and does the job at least well enough to earn its paycheck. Archer marks the first clear tier break on this list so far. Everything Archer and above I plan on coming back to for sure in their next seasons; everything below is a big question mark.

47. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – 2014: 32

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I doubt Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is ever going to rise too high in these rankings. It’s probably never going to be a great show; it’s been on long enough that I feel pretty comfortable I know what it is and it’s unlikely to take a leap. That said, it’s settled into a comfortable place in my viewing lineup, never much higher than the cut off, but safely above. After a really rough first 15 episodes that had me ready to give up the show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has improved to a level of competence putting together enough smart dialogue and occasionally unpredictable plotting to take advantage of my natural inclination to like things comic book and superhero. Like Flash and Arrow, this show isn’t for everyone, and those who have zero interest in superheroes have absolutely no reason to give it a look. But it is a step up above those DC shows, slightly better written, one level deeper, which is not saying a lot, that stay just a little bit farther away from obvious and cringeworthy tropes enough of the time to make it worth watching.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 54-51

21 Mar

Our first comedy of the rankings shows up along with three cable dramas that only have the potential of conspiracy in common.

Intro here and 58-55 here.

54. True Detective – 2014: 21

True Detective

Thousands of words have been spilled over the disappointing second season of True Detective, some by me, and I’m not sure I have more to add; one-dimensional characters, frustrating plot choices, and misguided casting, let to a somewhat sad season of television. It’s not lower than this because it was strangely ambitious in a way other bad shows aren’t; Flash and Arrow failed on a lower percentage of what they tried, but True Detective tried way more. There was something interesting enough in the failure of True Detective to probably ensure I’d watch another season, but that doesn’t make it a success. Recently, this past season of True Detective made me think of the Star Wars prequels; unquestionably failures, but, especially compared to The Force Awakens, surprisingly ambitious failures which actually really went for it.

53. Community – 2014: 10

Community

The Yahoo! Screen (and points if you remember that Yahoo!’s short-lived video service was called Yahoo! Screen) season of Community really made me sad. It’s fair to say I had no right to be disappointed by the season, consider how up-and-down Community has been over the years, and considering the turmoil behind-the-scenes including the cast changes and the new network. Still, it was one of the more disappointing seasons of TV I can remember considering what a special place Community has held in my heart at times, and considering this was going to be its likely last impression (unless they actually get around to that movie). There were fleeting glimpses of what made Community great; but they were gobbled up by so much mediocrity, poor choices, reused plots, unbalanced character usage, overdone jokes and just a seeming running out of ideas. The fifth season, upon reflection, I found to be better than I had believed initially; with the sixth, it’s sadly the opposite. There’s way too much Dean, a side character elevated to a larger role than his character could handle, and again just rehashing and overusing what worked well when done subtly and in moderation. Quite simply, the magic was gone.

52. Orphan Black – 2014: 25

Orphan Black

Orphan Black post-Season 1 is a bit of a mess rendered worth viewing simply due to the powers of Tatiana Maslany. The plot was clearly put together with only one season in mind and since then there have had to be incomprehensible secret organization on top of incomprehensible secret organization on top of incomprehensible secret organization to prevent the Clone Club from finding all the answers, past the point where it makes all that much sense. Fortunately through for Orphan Black, the show has a sense of humor, which many shows in this tier (see: House of Cards, AMC’s The Walking Dead) lack, especially in regards to the generally enjoyable Alison plotlines. Orphan Black is hardly appointment television; but I don’t think I’ll be giving it up just yet because I like the clones enough to eventually catch up, even if that means on a lazy Saturday weeks after the episodes have aired.

51. AMC’s The Walking Dead – 2014: 34

The Walking Dead

I’m in a strange place with AMC’s The Walking Dead. Objectively, this has been one of, if not the single strongest year in the show’s existence. It’s hardly spectacular; but the year is notable more for the absence of the bigger problems that plagued swaths of AMC’s The Walking Dead past; glacial pacing, bringing the Governor back well past his due date, focus on the wrong characters, young Carl. AMC’s The Walking Dead has never been a great show but it’s had spurts of promise that have always, until now, kept me watching, and on paper, this past year would certainly appear to be composed largely of such spurts. Subjectively though, while I recognize the show is actually in a fairly solid place, for whatever it’s worth, I simply seem to have a case of AMC’s The Walking Dead fatigue. I’m just tired of the show. The novelty and the fun have worn on me, and while the plot changes, I’ve felt some sense of sameness that has been grating on me over the seasons. Several times in the past couple of months I planned to put on an episode, just to realize I really didn’t want to watch one. Will I ever get back to it, or will I simply fade away from the show? Tune into next year’s rankings to find out.

Ranking the Show That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 58-55

14 Mar

Four hour longs start us off, two CW, one Netflix, and one Amazon.

Intro here.

58. House of Cards – 2014: 42

House of Cards

I probably wouldn’t have watched this past season of House of Cards if I didn’t traditionally marathon it with friends. No show benefits from that binge watching more than House of Cards. It’s a fun activity as a group, but the more you think about the show, the more it all falls apart, and the dumber it is. The show makes so little sense that the best way to watch it is to finish it because you can think. The ridiculousness can be fun, and it legitimately was in the first season; the binge-watching advice was as much backhanded compliment as insult. Now it’s just, well, very bad. On top of the mess that the show is, there’s a sense that the show believe it’s more meaningful than it is which eats away at whatever fun the show has left. Whether I watch again this season will depend on whether my friends and I put aside a rainy day and beers for it; otherwise it’s probably not going to happen.

57. Arrow – 2014: Not Eligible

Arrow

Arrow is the darker and more dour companion to the happier-go-luckier The Flash, which we’ll see in a minute, and I have fairly similar thoughts on both shows.  The Flash’s first season was better than Arrow’s downer of a third season, but Arrow’s fourth season so far has been better than Flash’s second, half of the episodes of which seem like back door pilots for new series (mostly CW’s upcoming Legends of Tomorrow.) These shows aren’t necessarily and are only enjoyable on and off. They lean in super hard to obvious tropes and are incredibly predictable, and because there are 22 of them a year, have some of the worst pacing and are incredibly repetitive. More than almost any other show, I’ve watched I feel like I can read or fade in and out and not really miss much from these shows, and while that’s been useful when binging to catch up with these shows, that’s not a compliment. There are charms; the actors are generally competent, and there are good fight sequences and moments of clever snappy dialogue. Still, it’s not quite enough; I’d watch a couple of hour season recap of each if someone made it, but I’m not sure I can justify devoting the amount of time required to watch this show and the following one moving forward.

56. Flash – 2014: Not Eligible

Flash

I’d rather not write separate pieces for this and Arrow, but here we go. The Flash can be fun, and relative to Arrow, it’s lighter, and it’s best when it stays that way. There’s a lot of emo, a lot of angst, a season long big bad, but and it stays fun when it’s just on the right side of mediocre. The Flash and Arrow don’t crossover a lot but they almost crossover just enough and there’s not enough difference in quality that I want to watch one without the other, and that means that it’s 44 or so episodes a year, or zero, which is a big commitment for a pair of shows that would be somewhat more compelling with a small one. Great shows are for everyone; Flash (and Arrow) are only for relative comic fans.

55. The Man in the High Castle – 2014: Not Eligible

The Man in the High Castle

I really wanted to like The Man in the High Castle. It’s an alternate history, which is a genre unseen on TV; as a history buff, I was definitely interested and it’s based on a Philip K. Dick book which I have shamefully not read but is well-regarded by my friends who have. It’s one of the classic alternate history premises; what if the Nazis had won World War II? In this world, the Germans control the eastern half of the US and the Japanese the West, but there are resistance groups working deep underground, which our unknowing protagonists are introduced to within the run of the show. There’s so much I want to explore within this premise, and so many interesting questions which could be asked and presented. The problem, however, is that the characters aren’t great or really even good. It’s hard to feel anything for the protagonists and the world building and plot doesn’t come fast enough to make up for the lousy characters. I’d be interested in coming back to it if the next season got glowing notices, but I’m saddened by how hesitant I am to return.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: The Outcasts

7 Mar

The Americans

It’s time for an annual beginning-of-the-year tradition (beginning-ish this year, granted, my bad on the lateness) over here at Drug of the Nation, the ranking of the shows I’ve watched during the previous year. This is my fifth annual ranking, and I’ll repeat the caveat I placed atop last year’s ranking introduction:

Because the TV season is no longer the fall-to-spring trajectory that it used to be, I arbitrarily rank things on a calendar basis, and that leads to strange situations where I’m occasionally ranking the end of one season and the beginning of the next season in the same ranking. It’s strange, and not ideal, but I have to pick some point in the year to do the rankings, so I’ll roll with the punches and mention within the article if there was a significant change in quality one way or the other between the end and beginning of seasons covered in the same year.

I’m only ranking shows I watched all of or just about all of the episodes that aired last year; if I’m just two or three behind I’ll rank it, but if I’ve only seen two or three, I won’t. I’m ranking a few miniseries and but not shows with one-off specials. These rules are arbitrary, admittedly, but any rules would be. No daily variety programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are eligible either.

This year, as I said last year, ranking these show was incredibly difficult and often arbitrary, generally running in tiers; I probably liked the tenth ranked show clearly more than the 20th ranked show, but not necessarily clearly more than the 11th show. It’s a snapshot of how I felt the second I finalized the rankings, and they could have changed if I had finalized them the next day or hour or minute. The top tier was probably the hardest it’s ever been, particularly in regard to the strongest overall group of great half hour shows I’ve seen in my five years ranking shows.

Many of the shows no longer on the list are simply because they ended in 2014 or took a break in 2015, but I’ll put in a couple of notes for shows that I didn’t watch even though they did air in 2015.

The Outcasts:

The Honourable Woman – 2014: 7

Olive Kitteridge – 2014: 9

Doctor Who – 2014: 22

Sherlock – 2014: 24

Sons of Anarchy – 2014: 26

The Bridge – 2014: 28

Boardwalk Empire – 2014: 37

24: Live Another Day – 2014: 38

Wilfred – 2014: 40

Okay. Three of these were miniseries. Sherlook, as it is wont to do, took a year off, and the rest are done for good. Now, a few words about the couple that aired last year that I declined to watch anyway.

Masters of Sex – 2014: 35

Masters of Sex

The two shows that follow this I definitively decided to stop watching. Masters of Sex I just kind of fell behind on and never caught up to. I did, and kind of do, intend to catch up eventually, but the fact that I haven’t after half a year certainly says a fair amount about the show. The second season was fine, but it seemed so much less focused than the first, contained a puzzling midseason time jump, and generally just didn’t seem to have any idea what it was doing or where it was going. The actors are great, and there are moments of promise, but it was so scattershot that I definitely loss some interest. I watched the first couple of episodes from the third season, and they were also fine but not particularly compelling and I just haven’t gotten back to it since. During the first season, I was heartily recommending my friends watch it. Since then, not so much.

Downton Abbey – 2014: 41

Downton Abbey

I was stunned to read I had actually watched Downton Abbey in 2014. I thought I stopped long before that, but I guess not. It’s harder and harder to remember that Downton Abbey was actually, well, pretty damn good, in its first season, a fun, soapy, look at a time long gone, with a decidedly positive sheen, for sure, but with some pretty good characters also. And then, well, the soapiness remained, but the show got less interesting as did the characters, as often happens. I stayed on a couple seasons after I cared all that much, but eventually decided to pull the plug.

Helix – 2014: 43

Helix

Ick. Every year, I try to find at least one show to watch with my dad; not necessarily with him at the same exact time and place (though sometimes) but at least one show that I watch that he’s also watching that I can talk about when I see him or talk to him over the phone. The show at various points has ranged from 24 to AMC’s ill-fated Rubicon. Last year, the show ended up being Helix. I was intrigued by the pedigree; it was from BSG’s Ron Moore, and the first episode held promise. The show spun farther and farther out of control, revealing bigger and bigger mysteries that entirely blew up the scope of the show. Also it just wasn’t very good. It seems like half a decade ago that I watched this show, but apparently it was only two years ago, so here it is.

End of Season Report: Narcos, Season 1

3 Mar

Narcos1

Narcos, Netflix’s show about the rise (and theoretically eventual fall) of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the attempts of his rivals and multiple governments to stop him, is nothing revelatory. It’s not a prestige drama steeped in metaphor and deep symbolism, it’s not going to make any end of year best-on-tv lists, and shouldn’t. It’s not going to have friends calling on each other enthusiastically screaming out that they must watch this show. But, and this is entirely not meant as the backhanded compliment it sounds like, it’s a fun, entertaining little show if you’ve got between 9 and 10 hours to kill.

So many shows try desperately to be prestige dramas – important shows that want to put their stamp on the medium in an indelible way. When they succeed, that’s great; Mad Men is rightfully revered for a reason. But, as I was talking with a friend about recently, when they don’t succeed, even when they’re halfway decent rather than bad, they often feel not worth watching. There are simply enough superior versions of that type of show around on TV to bother with shows in the second and third tier. Narcos, thankfully, doesn’t try to do that.

Narcos is low-rent Scorsese, heavy on plot and the back-and-forth deadly chess match between Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel and the Colombian and American governments. Steve Murphy, a DEA agent new to the fight in Colombia at the beginning of the show, narrates in a Henry Hill-in-Goodfellas style, with lots of exposition, explaining what Pablo’s up to. As I said when I wrote a review of the first episode, it’s a story that’s been told before, but there’s a reason for it; it’s simply a fascinating tale, how one man could acquire so much, so relatively fast, and more than that how one man could be as powerful as an entire country.

Narcos is almost enjoyable largely because it doesn’t try to be great; it’s finds goodness where greatness would likely elude it. It’s a fun ride on a fun, genuinely interesting subject that had me doing my best to wait until the end of the season to jump on wikipedia and find out what was true and wasn’t, and what happened to all of the real characters in the show. Calling a series merely diversionary can sometimes sound like an insult; but there’s something pleasurable about watching a show that you can just marathon through, a show that brings recent history to life and makes you wonder how crazy and terrifying our world is from afar.