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End of Season Report: Game of Thrones – Season 5, Part 1

15 Jun

Game of Thrones

There was a lot to chew on in this season of Game of Thrones, as bad things continued to happen to good people and bad people alike, and there was more and more divergence from the books, even as the show got ahead of the book in certain storylines leading to some new dynamics for book readers.

A few overall comments and then we’ll work through the primary plots one by one. I have a book reader’s perspective which is hard to completely shed, but I try my best to consider the non-book reader, even though I can never completely understand.

First, Game of Thrones tries to pack an extraordinary amount of material in a mere ten hour-long episodes and that leads the show to take some shortcuts, some of which work, and some of which don’t. Frequently relatively minor characters are replaced by more important characters who were off somewhere else in the books; this is probably the most successful recurring technique the show uses, as the show simply doesn’t have enough time to introduce all these minor characters and have them be meaningful or three dimensional in any way. For example, Arya kills someone based on personal reasons but not Meryn Trant, Loras’s sexuality isn’t what gets Margaery thrown in the Sparrows’ cell, but rather the doings of some other minor character, and a character marries Ramsay Bolton and escapes at the end, but not Sansa. A handful of characters travel with Tyrion towards Meereen, but not Varys. Sometimes these substitutions work better than other times, but it’s a logical policy due to the time constraints.

Second, the show, which gives us plenty of interesting material to chew one and manages to display many levels of depth, sometimes uses obvious and unsubtle shortcuts when it needs to display something quickly and clearly without the mind-of-the-character perspective that writing offers. The most obvious example this season may have been making Meryn Trant, the Kingsguard member who Arya kills, a pedophile. He was already despicable, and was already on Arya’s list; the reason for making him additionally extra terrible eludes me.

Third, sometimes the show just greatly condenses a plotline from the book, trying to shrink it to its essence. Sometimes it works; the Cersei downfall skipped a lot of extraneous detail, which was enjoyable in the context of a thousand page book, but still managed to mostly get across her hubris and paranoia and her final humiliation. This was helped of course by the fact that we’ve at least known Cersei for seasons. The worst example of this was this season’s Dorne plot which was a failure on all levels. They wanted to have their cake and eat it to, include enough to appease the fans and show a new part of the kingdom, but didn’t want to devote enough time to learn and develop a new cast of characters.

We’ll get to Dorne in more detail, but some of the good first. Well, good, for the show. Rarely good for the characters.

First, Stannis. I said most of what I felt about his season’s arc here, but what happened in the last episode contained elements which made me both more and less accepting of the events of the penultimate episode. First, his troops abandoned him after Shireen’s ritual burning, as I and many others predicted they would, and it was certainly vindicating to see that prediction be correct. On the other hand, Stannis is a smart guy, and the result makes it seem even more shocking that he couldn’t have anticipated that outcome beforehand.

Jon Snow’s death is heartbreaking, possibly the most yet in the series, which is really saying something. Will he be back in any form? Book readers have suspected he’ll either come back as a warg or be revived by Melisandre, but the show’s creators are for some reason really pushing the fact that he’s dead and that Kit Harrington’s never coming back, though I’m not sure why they’re trying to spoil the story. His death is absolutely brutal, but I don’t think an example of death for shock value like so many accuse Game of Thrones of (which Game of Thrones may do occasionally, but nowhere near as much as, say, AMC’s The Walking Dead, the current king of the manuver).  There are certainly questions that need to be addressed in a meaningful way regarding Jon, whether with him alive or not; mostly importantly, the question of his parentage, which even the show has taken on this season. To make such a deal out of Jon’s mysterious parentage without that mattering in some way would seem wasteful and feel pointless. That said, Jon accomplished a lot this season and while I felt the battle season at Hardhome was unnecessarily long, he was a legitimately inspiring character who saw the long view when very few others did, and his death sadly makes sense in that context. He was a visionary, but he was simply too radical, moved too fast for the rest of the Night’s Watch, who were unable to see the wildlings as allies against a greater threat, and their increasing disillusionment with Jon was a long time coming.

Dany’s plot had ups and downs. It certainly hurts her to be so far away from everyone else in Westeros, although at least by now we know she’s not getting there anytime soon, and thus can at least stop anticipating her immediately leaving and make peace with the fact we’ll be in Meereen for a while yet. The metaphor of occupier and occupied generally works, and while Dany makes some bad choices along the way, most of her decisions are legitimately difficult, and it’s easy to sympathize with her frustrations when she’s being asked to kowtow to some sinister slaveholders to provide any sort of peace. The Sons of the Harpy were legitimately terrifying in the show and their masks are my favorite prop of the season. The fighting pits scene really took off at their appearance. Tyrion’s arrival greatly raised the interest level and it was gratifying to see the two of them finally meet, even if they were only together for a couple of episodes before Dany dragoned on out of there. Dany clearly has some serious positive credentials for being an inspiring ruler, not the least of which are three awe-inducing dragons, but she also clearly has a lot to learn. It will be fun to see if Tyrion can show her how it’s done in Meereen. Competent rulers in the world of Game of Thrones are few and far between, and Tyrion and his dad may have been the two most competent we’ve seen, though with very different approaches.

Arya’s plot was, like Dany’s, but even moreso, difficult, because of its lack of connection to any other major characters. The choices to replace unfamiliar and far more minor book characters with Jaqen H’ghar and Meryn Trant made a lot of sense, and the show did as well as it could for the most part with one of the stranger and more out there plots, getting at a decent amount of the essence from bits and pieces of storyline, working through Arya’s issues of identity and personal vengeance.

Now, more notes to follow in part 2.

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End of Season Report: iZombie, Season 1

12 Jun

iZombie

iZombie has an almost laughably gimmicky high concept premise. Protagonist Liv has her life together; great fiancé, about to start on a promising medical career. Then, all of a sudden, she becomes a zombie, which in this universe is a cross between zombie and vampire. She breaks it off with the fiancé for fear of infecting him (sex as well as blood infects), and gets herself moved over the medical examiner’s office for convenient access to free brains. She needs to eat brains to keep herself alive and mentally together, but these brains also have side effects. They give her both the personality traits, positive and negative, of the people whose brains they were, and visions into those people’s lives. She then uses these visions to help solve their murders.

Rob Thomas is an experienced professional showrunner and it shows. Unlike many shows that take some time to find their feet, iZombie seems to know what it is and what it’s doing from the get go. . This is no epic conspiracy supernatural show that intrigues but threatens to go quickly out of control and has no idea where it’s going. The pacing is smart – there aren’t alternating episodes where tons happen followed by boring episodes as the creators need to slow down to avoid getting too far ahead of itself. The season starts with case-of-the-week murders, with the serial plot sneaking in and taking up more and more screen time as the season progressed, just as the two shows which iZombie is most like did, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. I don’t normally watch most shows that are largely procedural but those two are amongst my favorite shows of all, because although they start with a procedural base they elevate it over time through depth of character and top notch dialogue.

iZombie is tone consistent as well, which is something CW’s other very good freshman hit Jane the Virgin could learn from. Jane the Virgin is loaded with lots of good stuff, but suffers from tone issues, as one episode is serious, and one is light, and the contract often feels confusing and unnatural. iZombie knows exactly what it is from day one, and keeps that tone level balanced, right between brooding and irreverent, light and dark, sarcastic and earnest. Rob Thomas is, with Joss Whedon (and of course I don’t want to short Diane Ruggiero-wright who is the co-creator along with Thomas of iZombie and longtime Thomas consigliere) of mixing comedy and drama and finding strength in the contrast, rather than incongruity. Rather than seem out of place, the mixture uses the humor to build the drama, and vice versa.

iZombie’s gimmick; not the visions, but the personality transfer is a brilliant way to have Liv face off against her personal issues under a different guise every week; a dose of pep from some cheerleader’s brains have her girlily reconnecting with her roommate and best friend. A young mother’s brains have her overprotective, reengaging with her mother and younger brother. It’s a smart technique and keeps every episode slightly different, and Rose McIver, who is the key to the whole kit and caboodle sells it and embodies these different personalities effectively.

The supporting cast, while limited is strong. Ravi is Liv’s boss at the M.E.’s office. He’s the only person who knows that she’s a zombie, which makes him an invaluable ally in her cause, and he attempts to use his knowledge and lab to find a cure. Major, her ex-fiance, feels like he’s being forced into the show at the beginning, as there’s no logical place for him. However, in the second half of the season, his investigation into the existence of zombies, and his involvement throws a wrench in the plans of the primary antagonist, Blaine. David Anders is fantastic as Blaine, who serves as kind of a black market (not that there’s any other kind) brains dealer to zombies, creating the zombies himself to serve both as minions and as customers. His wisecracks and sarcastic one-liners are frequent episode highlights.

The single most serial episode, the finale, delivered in a big way. There was a massive action scene featuring Major escaping from captivity and mowing through his kidnappers and torturers to the tune of After the Fire’s Der Kommissar; much of the time in this show such a scene might feel out of place, but here it worked perfectly and the song choice was a perfect example of the balance between the dramatic and the comedic. (How Major so expertly fired weapons he had just purchased is a reasonable question, but one I’m willing to move past.) At several points in the episode, scenes were unpredictable because at any given point, you could take a reasonable stab at what was going to happen, but you could also guess a couple of equally plausible alternatives, which essentially meant you didn’t know which was going to happen. The events both entertained and satisfied some major first season arcs, while leaving a lot out on the table for next season.

iZombie’s first season wasn’t revolutionary or breakthrough or entirely original television, like recent breakthroughs Transparent, Hannibal, and Rectify, but the show delivered consistently week to week an excellently written product that always left me wanting more, and I’m more glad that I realized I’d be even a few weeks into the season that the show is coming back for a second season.

 

 

 

Game of Thrones’ Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decision

8 Jun

Stannis Baratheon

I’ve read the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and as a book reader, I often find myself comparing and contrasting choices made in the show with those in the book, sometimes agreeing with the decisions of the show runners, sometimes disagreeing, and sometimes understanding their decisions in the context of the show even when I preferred the book’s decisions in the context on the book. There are many shades of grey while comparing the two entities, and though there can be a negative in constantly thinking through every decision the show makes because the books are always in the back of your head, I still prefer having the knowledge, and enjoy considering the different paths of the show vs. the book.

As I mentioned, I’ve disagreed with show choices before. However, I’ve never hated and absolutely despised a choice the show made. Well, until Sunday night. In “The Dance of Dragons,” Stannis decides his only option to press forward to take Winterfell is to sacrifice his one and only child, his only daughter Shireen, to the Lord of Light, by burning her alive. This could still happen in the books, and I’d hate it there as well, though the circumstances would have to at least be somewhat different as the relevant characters are not all the in same place. This turn of events so angered me that I had to pause the show and take 20 minutes to calm down before moving forward because I would have been unable to concentrate on the remaining scenes.

Before I rant further, I’ll explain the case on paper supporting the logic behind Stannis’s sacrifice. Stannis believes it’s his duty to become king, both because it’s his right, as next in line to Robert, because he’s been chosen by the Lord of Light, and because he’s the only man who can protect the seven kingdoms from the coming white walker menace. He’s at a crossroads. He has to go forward and take Winterfell, and hunker down there through winter. He can’t stay where he is, and since Ramsay and his henchmen burned down half their camp and all their food, they either have to go back to Castle Black, where they’d have to remain for winter, or move. They’re at some pretty dire straits, and Stannis believe he’s out of options. He turns to the only option he believes he has left. The Lord of Light’s magic is real; it works. He gets unintentional authorization from Shireen who is desperate to help in any way. Thus, kill his daughter.

So that’s the case. But I’m entirely unconvinced. Stannis has done a lot of terrible things. A lot. He’s burned people alive. A lot. He’s killed his own brother. Still, killing his daughter is much much much worse and crazier than any of those. He’s followed the red god, but he’s wary. He’s not his wife, a total zealot who believes anything Melisandre tells her. He believes it in as much as it works, and he has gotten benefit out of her practices, but he expresses occasional skepticism and doesn’t seem completely under her sway.

I want to concentrate on in-story reasons that this was a terrible move, so let’s even move past the point, while mentioning it, that this makes Stannis a character who is completely impossible to root for in any way. Now, not everyone liked Stannis, though I probably did more than most. But I can’t anymore. He’s now as low as any character, only above the likes of total psychos Ramsay and Joffrey. I’m not sure he’s any better than Roose Bolton.

But moving past that, I just don’t buy it from the character and the environment of the show. Now, I admit, as always, it’s hard for me to separate a character from the book and the show, and sometimes I take qualities that are established in the book and bring them into the show. Still, though. First, as far as Stannis is willing to go, I still don’t believe he would sacrifice his daughter. Stannis is many things, he’s severe, he’s cold, he’s dutiful, and he’s unafraid of making hard choices. But his daughter is his only child. Not only does he very obviously love his child, she is his only heir. Were he to actually become king, she would be the only natural successor, or the seven kingdoms would again descend into chaos. I just don’t believe Stannis would sacrifice his only child, both out of love and because of the value of an heir (Even if a victorious Stannis was unable to change the rules to put a woman on the throne, her value would still be immense as a kingmaker via marriage).

Also, simply, who is going to follow a man who sacrifices his own daughter?

Let’s go with the premise that killing Shireen does have power. I’m not sure how powerful the sacrifice is, but let’s say it’s very powerful and enables the crew to take Winterfell. That’s still not an endgame. Not close. It’s an important win, a very important win, and the biggest yet for Stannis. But there’s a long, long way to go. The book makes the point, which I believe is somewhat made in the show, though less clearly or thoroughly that, if Stannis is going to win the Iron Throne, he needs the support of the people; not all of the people, but enough people to fight for him and prevent him from being overthrown. Sure, some will do it out of duty and some out of fear. In the book, Stannis frees some other villages and forts from the Ironborn, showing the North that he’s there to repel their invaders and thus earning their trust and support. Again, who is going to fight for a man who sacrifices his own daughter? Kinslaying is as as serious a sin as any in Westeros, and Stannis has already done that by killing his brother. Still, that was complicated. This isn’t. Northerners and most Westerosi are already suspicious of the red god. They have their own ways and religions which have been established for a very long time. The show of force may well be enough for them to fear the red god, but enough to rally behind this man and fight for the throne? I’m just not buying it.

I’m not going to stop watching Game of Thrones because of any one decision; there’s too much good stuff, too many compelling characters and plotlines that any one thing can’t damage it. Still, it’s going to take some time to not have this bother me in the back of my mind during each upcoming episode, especially during any scene Stannis is a part of.

Reviewing My 2014-15 Predictions: NBC

1 Jun

NBC

Well, there’s no point in making predictions if you’re not willing to revisit them later and see just how wrong you were. Now that the final decisions are in, let’s review how I did.

We’ll start with NBC. My fall predictions are here and my spring predictions are here, and in short, every show gets one of three predictions: that it will air 12 episodes or fewer, 13 episodes or more, or be renewed.

The Mysteries of Laura

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewed

Sometimes I’m wrong, and sometimes reality is wrong. That’s one of these times. I watched this show and I understand I’m not the arbiter of taste for network television but I still don’t really understand how this became popular. Admittedly, this isn’t quite as shocking as the fact that Undateable will have three seasons under its belt on NBC (which is legitimately incredibly shocking) but I still am surprised this happened.

Bad Judge

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

This prediction game isn’t rocket science. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s easy. Bad Judge was one of the easier calls of the year.

A to Z

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 12-

A to Z was an okay show that I still think could have succeeded on the right network in the right timeslot, but it’s getting harder and harder for comedies on networks, particularly on NBC, which will be down to a record low number this fall. There just wasn’t enough support or appeal to make this happen.

Marry Me

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 13+

A series by the creator of Happy Endings starring one of the stars of Happy Endings and my beloved Ken Marino! I may have been too optimistic, about both the success and quality of the show. NBC gave it a shot, but no go. It’s a bad time to be a network sitcom.

Constantine

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 13+

Everything about this series, including when it was airing, led me to believe it was in for a short run. NBC surprisingly gave it a little more support than I anticipated, and it made it to 13 where the lack of ratings finally did it in.

State of Affairs

Prediction: 13+

Reality: 13+

 

Hey, I got something else right. I didn’t see an early cancellation with the amount of stock NBC put into this series, but I didn’t see it as a success either, and for once, I was right.

Spring:

Allegiance:

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

Another easy one. Midseason shows mostly fail, which makes them generally easier to predict than fall shows, though the few breakouts that happen often come out of nowhere. This was so obviously a poor man’s The Americans rip-off that was destined to fail and did.

The Slap

Prediction: No renewal

Reality: No renewal

This was a limited series, so odds are it was never returning unless it was such a huge hit that it forced NBC’s hand to develop some sort of sequel. Still, The Slap, from just the name alone, was destined to fail, despite an impressive amount of star power in the cast.

One Big Happy

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

This show looked terrible, was pretty bad, and as previously discussed, it’s hard out there being a sitcom these days. Not a difficult call, and now that Elisha Cuthbert’s back out of work, along with Marry Me’s Casey Wilson, we’re two actors closer to the Happy Endings reunion.

A.D.: The Bible Continues

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 12-

People love the Bible, and people loved The Bible, so I suppose I overestimated that love; what counts as a hit for History Channel registers as something less on NBC. I underestimate religious fervor too often that I overestimated it this time in an attempt to compensate.

American Odyssey:

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 13+

I have absolutely no justification for predicting this as a renewal, other than I was trying to balance out my spring forecast with another renewal or two, in spite of the fact that’s just not how spring works. While I don’t regret this pick too strongly, this is one I’d be most likely to change if I made these predictions again.

I Don’t Really Get David Letterman

22 May

David Letterman

In the wake of David Letterman’s last few shows, the winding down of the career on Late Night television that lasted an incredible 33 years, writer after writer, celebrity after celebrity, fan after fan, have come down on blogs, social media, television, and, well, everywhere really to praise and write tributes to Letterman, his influence, his brand of comedy, and his general brilliants. Well, in light of that outpouring, despite my minor terror at admitting it, I need to make it known: I never really understood the appeal of David Letterman.

I don’t necessarily relish being the contrarian and I’m much more unabashed about my other primary contrarian television stance, which is that Saturday Night Live is the most overrated cultural institution of the past 40 years. With that, I’m confident I’m right and everything else is wrong. With my feelings on David Letterman, I feel like I have to be missing something.

I have great respect for many of the people who love and idolize Letterman and who have penned all of these tributes to him in the past few weeks. I love anti-humor, caustic anti-sentimentality, self-deprecation, silly absurdism, and genre send-ups, all among the many types of humor that Letterman seems to be known for, and I still don’t really get anything out of what Late Show with David Letterman I’ve seen.

To be completely fair, I haven’t watched very many episodes over the course of Letterman’s run, but I’ve seen episodes here and there and I made a point to watch the final episode. Sure, there were some funny moments over the totality of the clips shown on the finale, but for a series of clips which seemed geared towards picking out the funniest, most memorable, and most definitive moments, the ratio wasn’t particularly high. The Top Ten lists in particular have never worked for me, and I’ve never been able to figure out if they’re anti-humor that I’m just not enjoying, or they’re supposed to be genuinely funny and they’re just not.

I have three major theories for why I don’t appreciate Letterman.

First, David Letterman is constantly talked about a s being groundbreaking; there was no one like him before, and he changed not just late-night but comedy forever in important, meaningful, and progressive ways.

I am one generation younger than the generation that truly revered David Letterman (obviously people of all ages did, but I anecdotally read the most about praise and influence from this group), and I didn’t really become cognizant of late night television until the mid to late 90s. Maybe what was once subverting tradition now feels like the tradition to me, and thus is less interesting and certainly less groundbreaking. David Letterman may well have been incredibly influential and made a huge impact on comedy, but by the time I really knew who Letterman was in any meaningful way, all the lessons he had taught had already been long absorbed into the mainstream and what was new and revolutionary was now just part of what I expected from any comic.

Second, the generation that revers Letterman most, Generation X, or more or less those who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, knew Dave first from his Late Night with David Letterman show which aired in the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s on NBC. I’ve only seen very little from that show and know a fairly limited amount about it, but from what I have seen and read it seems more radical and more interesting than the Late Show with David Letterman which followed on CBS. The time slot and the ability to be more out there and less buttoned up and mainstream for a smaller, younger audience probably does matter; I distinctly noticed the change when Conan moved to the earlier time slot (Jimmy Fallon is an exception; his show was built for the earlier time slot even when it was on at 12:30). I watched some clips of a Harmon Killebrew theme night which sounded kind of amazing. If someone only had access to modern day Simpsons episodes, he or she would have a difficult time understanding my reverence for the show, and it’s possible that my experiences watching The Late Show simply doesn’t do justice to the ‘80s Late Night.

Third, adoration of Letterman goes hand-in-hand with adoration for late night television as a genre. I’ve said many times that I think the traditional monologue, bit, guest, guest, music, hour-long late night format is hopelessly outdated and boring and drawn out as hell, and since Letterman is best known as one of the key progenitors of that genre, it’s hard for me to gain an appreciation of him even if I would have had he put his comedic stylings to use in other formats. I don’t have the attention span to watch full episodes of late night, and now that we live in an era where the only traditional late night I watch are Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel bits that spread to YouTube, I never have to (and honestly, I often start watching those bits, and am bored before the three or four minutes are up anyway). Maybe if Letterman had poured his clearly formidable talents into another form of comedy, I wouldn’t be writing this article.

To conclude, I recognize Letterman’s place in comedy, the way someone can recognize the importance of The Sex Pistols without ever necessarily wanting to listen to them. Like or not, he’s important, and that’s worth something, and people I respect like him, and that’s worth something as well. Still, I haven’t seen anything in the past month that has convinced me he’s particularly funny, and I’d love some more convincing evidence which would show me why I should care. Maybe one day.

End of Series Report: Mad Men

20 May

Mad Men

As a television viewer and fan writing a television blog, I’m more or less obliged to write at least a few words about Mad Men and the Mad Men finale.

I don’t have as strong feelings as I’d like to, but that’s not a bad thing. I liked the finale overall, and I think it remained true to everything Mad Men has been for the past seven seasons, with possibly one exception, which I’ll get to shortly.

Some people have claimed the series ended on a cynical note, others on a hopeful, redemptive note; I would argue it was neither. Everybody, more or less, grew as characters while remained true to themselves, which wasn’t always the best thing, but wasn’t the worst either. Objectively, it was a happy, positive ending for the majority of the central characters, but my first instinct, perhaps a cynical one, admittedly, was merely to see the ending as cyclic. For the most part, these characters were just on an up turn in their life’s stories, a high, followed by an inevitable low, to be followed again by an inevitable high. Some may remind up, and certainly higher than some better off than some of the lows we’ve seen them experience, but my experience through watching Mad Men has taught me that happiness, though it exists, is fleeting, a high to be chased after, but only rarely reached, and even more rarely held on to.

Don ran away. Don freaked out. Don got as far away as he could, to the other side of the country (California, which has stood in as the exact antithesis to New York before), in the absolute middle of nowhere, far away from everything he was buried in, all of his demons. California, where, with Anna Draper, he experienced his most pure human relationship, which he tried to recapture with Anna’s niece Stephanie. Then, just when it seemed that maybe he was too far gone and all hope was lost, he, like classic Don, struck gold, inspiration, and like so many times over the course of the series, he was born anew, grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat, and reinventing himself.  He took what he knew to have always been true, his gift for insight into the human soul, and packaged it for a different time. In these final couple of episodes, it seemed like Don had finally drifted too far, maybe to a place he couldn’t come back from, but then with that final smile, and the allusion to the famous Coke “Hilltop” ad, there’s an implication that Don is going to be just fine.

I don’t think Don is ever going to be a great husband or a great father. Those skills are probably just not in him and it’s hard to imagine someone who has that much trouble staying in place changing at this point. But as a peerless ad man his days are not yet numbered.

Joan is many things, but one of her defining traits is that she is a true professional. She takes her responsibilities extremely seriously and finds a way to get the jobs, difficult as they may be, done, In the chaotic culture of Sterling Cooper’s various incarnations, Joan never joins in, and does not care to put up with the hijinks and drinking that envelop most of the firm. Joan puts in her time and hard work and while she understands the unfair world she’s in, she understandably expects to be recognized for her efforts. Unfortunately, at the time, Joan is unable to find a man who respects her and is willing to treat her professional ambitions seriously. Men expect her to be the housewife. And while they may even respect her abilities, once they’re together, the men expect to be the breadwinner, and for Joan to want and to enjoy having nothing to do but sip piña coladas and look pretty. The only man who took her work life seriously was Bob Benson, who was gay and wanted to marry her for his own professional advanced. Joan ended the series entirely in control of her own life, running a new and seemingly successful business, but again, another man abandoned her due to her ambitions.

Pete’s ending is part hopeful and part sad, and I’ve changed my mind back and forth on which is more prominent. Pete came a long way over the course of the show; it’s easy to forget how he was the unquestioned villain over the first few seasons, and with good reason. He came far enough that I was actually rooting for him occasionally in the final seasons, as one of the few, along with Joan, who cared that things got done, and wouldn’t stand for the tomfoolery always going on around him. Pete looks like he’s learned some lessons, wanting to come back to his wife, taking a new job away from the temptations of New York City, talking his brother into not cheating. At the same, we know this pattern, and we know these people. How long until Pete cheats and return to his old ways? And, does Trudy even care if he does, as long as he’s discreet? Things change, things stay the same.

Pete for so long was the anti-Don; frustratingly watching as Don got away with everything he couldn’t. Don cheated for years without consequences; Pete tried it and quickly got caught. Don did half the work and skated on charm and charisma, Pete did twice as much and got hated and laughed at. And yet, Pete’s inability to get away with what Don did could have served him well in the end. When Don’s lies at home finally caught up with him, his marriage was done for good. The fact that Pete was caught and thrown out faster may have been what allowed to him and Trudy to reconcile by the end of the series. Don’s charisma and charm got him far, but allowed him to drift. Pete stayed on point, and though he was as professional at the end as he always was at the beginning, it was now behavior that was rewarded instead of punished in the new company and the new decade. Pete’s way paid off just as well as Don’s in the end if not more so.

Roger turned over somewhat of a new leaf, hitting it off romantically with someone his own age, which was a promising sign. That said, he’s still a cad, and his new paramour seems pretty mercurial herself, so I’m not particularly confident that this marriage will turn out any better than the last couple. Roger will make it through, with a wink, and a joke, and he’ll move on. For better or worse, he’s the same person he was on day one.

Betty was always smarter and more deft than the show, and because of that, often the viewers gave her credit for in the early seasons, and the last season actually gave her a chance to show that.

Putting up with Don and his incessant cheating and patronizing attitude was a huge burden, and because Don was the protagonist and Mad Men often seemed to come from his point of view, Betty, who certainly had her flaws, was even more easily seen in a negative light. After getting out from under Don’s shadow though, Betty was able to flower more as an individual and as a character. The inner fortitude Betty showed displayed after learning her diagnosis was one of the saddest, strongest, and most poignant notes in the entire series and it’s unfortunate that her untimely demise was her ultimate opportunity to show off her strengths.

Last of what I’m arbitrarily calling the Big Six major characters who really make it through the entire run (Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan, Pete, and Betty), there’s Peggy. Peggy and Stan’s romance felt out of place in a way that no other storyline in the finale did. It’s not simply the pairing of Peggy and Stan; they’ve been close for a long time, and while I’m still not sure romance was the right play between the two of them, it definitely felt plausible based on what we knew about their relationship. The way it unfolded though, felt almost like something out of a romantic comedy, as it dawned on Peggy, slowly, after Stan confessed his love that she felt the same way. It’s an unambiguously happy result, and I like Peggy and Stan, and sure, I’m happy for them. But it tonally felt off. The “I hate you, I love you” phone banter was more Nora Ephron than Mad Men.

What did make sense was Peggy considering, but ultimately decide to stay within the confines of McCann. The recruiter she spoke with a few episodes earlier told her McCann was the best possibly place for her to hone her talents and resume, and she knows her goals and that this is the best way to reach them.

The Mad Men characters have come a long way over the course of seven seasons in real life and a decade within the show. They’ve dug deeply, discovered truths about themselves, and faced and overcome difficult obstacles. They change and learn but ultimately remain the same. That sounds like a sad lesson, but I don’t mean it that way, People stray true to the core of who they are, and that is just as often a positive as a negative.

Reviewing My 2014-15 Predictions: CBS

13 May

CBS

Well, there’s no point in making predictions if you’re not willing to revisit them later and see just how wrong you were. Now that the final decisions are in, let’s review how I did.

CBS now. My fall predictions are here and my spring predictions are here, and in short, every show gets one of three predictions: that it will air 12 episodes or fewer, 13 episodes or more, or be renewed.

Madam Secretary

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

CBS invested heavily in this series, and it was a sensible match for its adult Sunday night lineup. Combined with the fact that CBS was debuting fewer shows than any other network, backing Madam Secretary seemed like a smart bet.

Scorpion

Prediction: 13+

Reality: Renewal

Scorpion looked hackneyed to me (and it was) and while it’s the type of show that could (and did) succeed on CBS, I didn’t think it had what it took. I was wrong and that’s okay.

NCIS: New Orleans

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

NCIS remains, after all these years, one of the most successful shows on TV, and the Los Angeles spin off is quite successful as well. Taking the over on NCIS: New Orleans was definitely the safe bet and worked out as expected.

Stalker

Prediction: 13+

Reality: 13+

Stalker looked like the worst show in the CBS line up, and was, and also the one that made the least sense with existing CBS properties, being a little too horror-oriented; closest to Criminal Minds, but still not quite right.

Spring:

The Odd Couple

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewal

This show was terrible and it looked terrible, and I know it’s CBS, but Matthew Perry has a couple of post-Friends network failures already and this looked like an obvious continuation of that sequence. I’m still a little surprised it will be back.

Battle Creek

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 12-

Battle Creek also looked not quite right for CBS (more Fox like, being procedural but silly, like Bones), but more on brand than Stalker, and came from a CBS-ized vision from superstar creators Vince Gilligan and David Shore. I banked on the star power carrying the show to at least one more season; I was wrong.

CSI: Cyber

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

CSIs have faded in the wake of triumphal NCISs, but each of the three editions had a very successful run, and I figured that picking a CSI led by Patricia Arquette was just another smart wager. This one was almost, almost cancelled, but just held on.