Tag Archives: Girls

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 34-31

25 Apr

Three comedies, two of which are only occasionally funny, on purpose, and a Netflix drama.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here and 46-43 here and 42-39 here and 38-35 here.

34. Louie – 2014: 27


Evert year, feel like I rank Louie too low. Louie has the misfortune of appearing towards the bottom of a dozen or so shows that form a tier, and while I could definitely justify ranking it a bit higher, I’d then have to think about which shows it passes, and since if I thought more about this I’d never write it out, it’ll have to just put it right here. While it took me a while to get on board, I eventually came around to the genius of Louie, and though season 4, in 2014, had some serious missteps, season 5 is largely free of them. Louie is only ranked lower this year because there were simply so many more exemplary shows. Louie is always thought provoking, and like I wrote about the previous show on this list, Orange is the New Black, Louie is unique; Louie is the direct-to-our-screens vision of one man and is definitively unlike any show on TV. Louie has definitely suffered a little bit of the new ideas drain that these types of shows can face, and there weren’t so many mind-blowing conversation-starting episodes as there have been in earlier seasons. But when you start any new episode of Louie, you know there’s a chance for greatness, and that’s enough to keep watching Louie as long as he keeps making it.

33. Parks and Recreation – 2014: 13

Parks & Recreation

If I dislike putting Louie this low, I absolutely hate putting Parks and Recreation this low, an absolute first ballot hall-of-famer of a comedy that simply did everything right. It’s not, like Louie, a particularly different or unique series, but boy was it so much better at doing what it did than almost any other similar show. In fact, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, its fine but inferior descendant, shows just how difficult it is to create the all-around magic that was Parks and Recreation. The final season was actually pretty solid, better than the previous season, and could easily have moved higher in this tier. This particular rank is mostly an indictment of its fantastical finale, which, while probably exactly what I should have expected from the world of Parks and Recreation, contained more emotional manipulation than well-earned wins for our favorite characters. Parks and Recreation momentarily forgot that what make its emotional moments so powerful was the hard work, time, and struggle it took for the characters to achieve them, and tried to overdose us on feels by having all the characters get exactly what they want for all of the rest of their lives in the span of an hour.

32. Girls – 2014: 23


Girls trudges on year after year, and like a veteran athlete quietly putting up solid numbers years after being a rookie sensation, it remains a force amongst those who watch it if not the polarizing zeitgeisty culture magnet it was in its first couple of seasons. Girls hasn’t blunted its ambition due to whatever criticism came it’s way and that’s a good thing. While the characters can drive me, and each other, crazy, and their arcs often find them walking two steps forward and one step back, the characters are well developed and their adventures make for compelling television, along with the welcome growing roles for the expanded cast, the boys of the show. Season four also contained the gleefully terrible Desi, who was as fun to hate as any character on television in recent years.

31. Narcos – 2014: Not Eligible


There’s probably a couple of other shows on this list that meet the following description, at least in some way, and it sounds like a backhand compliment but it doesn’t have to be. Narcos is a high floor, low ceiling show, and while I have a hard time imagining it ever making it to the top 15, it’s floor is pretty damn decent, and it’s a nifty little show that is a lot better than it could be (which also sounds like a backhand compliment, but really isn’t). It’s compulsively watchable and that’s not a quality to be sold short. When 24 was at its best, there were always lapses with the show, and it lacked a lot of the depth and development that some of the shows higher up on this list are awash with. But when you finished an episode, dammit, you wanted to watch another. Narcos has that same feeling, and being on binge-friendly Netflix, it’s ideal for said binging. I watched one and then paused, but when I eventually got back to the show I knocked it down in just a couple of days.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 23-20

25 Feb

Four more on the docket – a first year show, a second year show, a third year show, and an eight year going on 35th year show.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here.

23. Girls – 2013: 26


As Girls moves firmly into its fourth season, the great hype and controversy that accompanied its start have mostly fallen away in favor of the meat-and-potatoes business of making television, one season at a time. Here, Girls has a mixed record. Girls remains constantly interesting TV even when it struggles. Almost every Girls episode contains bits of strong material, and every season contains a couple of really strong episodes where the show forgets its shortcomings for a half hour and puts it all together. “Beach House,” the seemingly annual episode that really brings the four titular girls together for 30 minutes was one, and “Flo” which featured Hannah saying goodbye to her dying grandmother was another. Girls always seems to have a hard time giving its four primary characters the screen time and arcs they need to really dig in to their characters in depth and propel their storylines forward. Hannah is consistently the most fleshed out, and though the character can drive me crazy sometimes, she’s generally well-built. As for Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa, well, not as much; Girls’ boys Ray and Adam are often more interesting. Sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense why they’re all friends, although I vacillate on how much of a problem that actually is. As frustrating as Girls can be though, I’ve never considered stopping watching, and while some of that is because it’s so easy (a mere 12 half hour episodes a season) some is because no matter what I at least count on Girls to offer up something interesting which in and of itself raises it above many other shows.

22. Doctor Who – 2013: Not eligible

Doctor Who

I completed a years-long catch up of the new Doctor Who (meaning starting with the 2005 ninth doctor Russell T. Davies edition) last year, and while I’ll never be a true obsessive, I grew to really enjoy the show. Relative expectations were key to enjoyment. Breaking Bad or Mad Men Doctor Who isn’t. Doctor Who is pure fun at its best, all about the journey rather than destination. There’s always a deus ex machine coming in the nick of time to solve whatever convoluted crisis the doctor has got himself into and there are no long-held rules that can’t be broken on a whim because the Doctor says so. While technically a science fiction show, it’s as soft as science fiction can get, sometimes, at its best, sharing a sensibility with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Doctor Who has done an excellent job casting Doctors, which has been essential to really making the show work, and the 12th doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, is no exception. A crankier, older, slightly more cynical doctor is an excellent contrast to the past few Doctors to keep the show interesting. Doctor Who is definitely not for everyone, and the lack of serial-ness makes it stand out in an increasingly serial world television world, making it feel less like essential viewing. Still, during its best episodes Doctor Who cleverly blends a combination of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and horror tropes with witty banter, a silly irreverent tone, and memorable antagonists, and can be a whole lot of fun.

21. True Detective – 2013: Not eligible

True Detective

True Detective absolutely took over the internet for eight weeks last winter, and was hailed as the second coming, before a slow, slight backlash put the promising HBO debut back where it belonged to be all along, as a very good, very solid debut season, but one that was not truly transcendent. The appeals of True Detective are obvious and plentiful. The direction is brilliant, as is the cinematography; the one-take ending the fourth episode may not entirely all come together from a plot perspective, but it’s a startling and visually stunning technical achievement. The acting is excellent. The story, well, it’s definitely good, and I found the mystery satisfying all the way through, though some did not – anyone who expected a major victory rather than a minor one wanted a different show. True Detective was definitely a bit exploitative, on top of merely the lack of strong female characters, which plagues many television shows, including many good television shows, the depiction of female nudity often felt gratuitous and added little to nothing to the show. The layers of myth and aura and the general Rust Cohle-ness which provided the show with much of its tone could be ham-handed sometimes and a bit much, but at the same time was essential to the very core of the show. On the whole, I don’t want to be down on the show; I merely want to tamper down the initial euphoria, though time has probably done that. True Detective, despite dealing in the most trod over profession in all of TV, was interesting because of its direction and because of its tone, and I look forward to the second season.

20. Nathan for You – 2013: Not eligible

Nathan for You

A show unlike any other show on this list, Nathan for You involves enough unscripted interaction with real people that I almost deemed it ineligible for this list. But I didn’t, so here it is. Nathan for You’s high-concept is that comedian Nathan Fielder is a business expert who is looking to help struggling small businesses with new innovative strategies. Of course, these strategies are silly, absurd, and sometimes downright asinine, and watching the process is frequently hilarious. There are several different types of stories within this range on the show. Sometimes the idea is out there but oddly clever, sometimes it’s too stupid for words. Sometimes Nathan gets along well with the business owner and other characters and they seem to be on the same page, sometimes he has antagonistic relationships, and sometimes the awkwardness borders on the most awkward that British comedy has to offer. Some segments are short and sweet, some spin out of control and take up a entire episodes. Nathan for You can be hit and miss, but when it hits, it is laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes even offers oddly poignant social commentary to boot. The defining episodes of last season were “”Souvenir Shop / E.L.A.I.F.F.” and “Dumb Starbucks,” both full episode tour de forces that saw Nathan taking his ideas to extremes in order to comply with contract and parody law.

End of Season Report: Girls, Season 3

26 Mar

The Girls

Thankfully, the controversy that overwhelmed Girls has mostly (albeit certainly not entirely) died down by the third season, meaning viewers can concentrate on its merits as a show rather than as a stand in for any larger piece of our culture. For the most part, people who like it watch it and people who don’t stopped bothering to criticize it at every turn and moved on to something else. There’s still more talk about Girls than all but a handful of shows on TV, but compared to the first season, it’s nothing.

Underneath that mostly lack of controversy lays yet another promising but somewhat uneven season. Girls has a shot at being a great show, but it generally continues to come up a little short and merely be a good show. That may sound like an insult, but I don’t mean it to be.  Good shows are still relatively rare and Girls does indeed have a unique voice all its own. It doesn’t feel like every other or really any other show on TV in particular, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a show.

That said, the little things Girls struggles with are particularly frustrating, because with those problems eliminated, Girls could be be a truly great show. This is still absolutely possible; Girls’ flaws are not at all fundamental to its premise. It’s certainly worth highlighting both sides, which parts of this season went right and which went wrong, and I’ll navigate that character by character.

Overall, Hannah has and continues to receive the best, deepest, funniest, most complex, and most interesting arcs on the show. This is not particularly surprising as Dunham is the show’s creator and primary creative force, but it continues to be true to an overwhelming extent, which says in equal parts both how generally strong her stories are and how much they outrank everyone else’s. Hannah had lots of great, funny, and awkward moments. While the writers seem intent on making sure you don’t like the characters too much with moments like Hannah’s painfully awkward conversation with her editor’s wife at his funeral, there were also plenty of moments when Hannah was, by Girls standards, relatable. Her quitting GQ, or rather causing herself to get fired, irked me, especially since she seemed to have made her peace with her current position in an earlier episode, only to then come around again to how she was feeling just a couple of episodes before that (if that’s confusing, fine – I was confused watching it). However, most of her season long plot worked, particularly her relationship with Adam which I’ll get to next. I really enjoyed “Flo,” the episode in which Hannah went home to deal with her grandmother’s illness. “Flo” felt less exaggerated and more real and down to earth than most of Girls, which typically marks its ground as being one degree away from greater relatability.

Next, Adam. Adam and Hannah’s relationship was a very important part of season three, and Adam was the second most developed character of the season, moving past any of the other Girls. I liked Adam much more this season than I had in the previous two, both in terms of sheer likability, and as a character. I think that’s because we got to know him a lot better and he was significantly deepened and filled out. In previous seasons, we had either seen his dark sides or his overbearing obsessiveness, for good and for not so good, and here we finally got to see him just be. In addition, his career success made Adam feel like less of a weirdo – he found some people he actually seems to genuinely get along with and something he’s passionate about, both attractive qualities. Earlier, it had always bothered the hell out of me that not only could he not seem to stand Hannah’s friends to the point where he couldn’t even tolerate them in small doses, but he didn’t have any of his own. Adam and Hannah’s relationship overall was a highlight of the season, and it produced plenty of moments that showcase Girls, and TV relationships generally at their best, by putting characters in situations of conflict without either side being obviously right or wrong. Both Adam and Hannah consistently had valid points in their arguments, even when one or the other was self-serving. When Hannah’s mother confronted Hannah endearingly but overbearingly about Adam, both she and Hannah were right. He’s an exceptionally caring person with serious issues who offers a great deal of both positives and negatives.

Now, everyone else.  Marnie’s plot changed completely when the actor who played the on again off again sad sack boyfriend Charlie with whom she had finally reunited in season two’s finale, Christopher Abbott, announced he wouldn’t be returning. I was glad upon hearing the news, because Abbott’s Charlie was one of my least favorite characters on the show. Unfortunately, his departure led to Marnie’s continual decline. She was inconsolable for the first half of the season, and was just starting to have a couple of things go her way by the time the season ended. Marnie’s faults were also in full display all season; full of herself, controlling, haughty, and judgmental. Although we peeked through that occasionally to see someone struggling and hurt who was used to life going her way and unsure what to do when it wasn’t, we just didn’t get enough of Marnie on the whole to go any deeper than that. More time with Marnie would have highlighted this struggle, and while some of her constant judging of everyone else in her life is pretty indefensible, other of her more negative qualities would have come out as symptoms of her current situation in life making them more palatable and understandable.

Of all the characters short on screen time this season (everybody but Adam and Hannah), I probably enjoyed Jessa’s plots the most, which surprised me, because Jessa’s been my least favorite character through the first two seasons of the show. What made them work in this season is that, given the lack of screen time for Jessa, Girls didn’t even seem to attempt a coherent arc for Jessa. Instead there were little vignettes that were entertaining and instructive individually. In terms of the big picture, I’m not sure I really buy it; Jessa’s a drug fiend, and then she kind of just isn’t because well, it’s not really clear. But in terms of single episode stories, Jessa’s are compelling, particularly her discovery of an old party buddy who had faked her death to get away from Jessa’s negative influence. While Jessa’s very different negative qualities are as evident as Marnie’s, at least Girls has done a much better job digging in to the root causes and the pain behind Jessa’s fuck-the-world facade.

Shoshanna is the least well serviced character this season. She has been for the entire series, but this season even more than ever before. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do, and she seems dafter than ever. Even school, the one area in which it seemed Shosh was ahead of the curve, betrayed her. Her role in this season, rather to be a character, so often seemed to be to point out what the viewer was thinking about a situation, particularly in the first episode and “Beach House”. I’m not sure we’re ever going to get more from Shoshanna, and unlike Marnie and Jessa, instead of having a story that wasn’t really fleshed out, there just wasn’t much of a storyline for Shoshanna at all this season.

Ray is my favorite character and the favorite character of just about all my friends. He’s the only person on the show who seems to be able to figure out what issues everybody on the show is dealing with, himself included (outside of Shoshanna’s occasional savant-ish moments). He doesn’t always have the most to do but I enjoy just about every moment he’s on screen, even when he’s being kind of an asshole.

Two standout episodes this year were the aforementioned “Flo” and “Beach House.” It was great to see the four girls interacting after they really hadn’t all season in “Beach House”, and though it showcased all of their worst qualities, there was a lot to like about the episode. It helped take stock of where everyone was at that moment; everybody progressing in some ways and unchanging in others. The dance scene at the end was well done and a well-deserved warm moment after the constant fighting that came before, showing that their friendships are stronger than one fight, no matter how vicious. “Beach House” also reintroduced Elijah, who was quickly brought back into the fold for the rest of the season. I greatly enjoy the humor his character brings especially when the other characters are tense and stressed out. He’s welcome back into the world of Girls anytime.

Here’s where Girls stands after three seasons. It’s a good show, which is absolutely worth discussing and talking about in significantly more positive than negative ways. It’s a flawed show as well, but one that has a potentially perfect season in it. Girls, even not at its best, is noteworthy enough to remain canonical television, and while its flaws prevent it from being great to this point, it’s not so far away.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 28-25

17 Jan

Here we go – first, a drama, that like Sons of Anarchy, has been consistently good but not great and had a comeback season this year. Next a couple of comedies that aired back to back but don’t have too much else in common, and finally a show that was impossible to figure out where to place because it debuted with three episodes. Here we go.

28. Boardwalk Empire

Nuckie and Omar

I spoke about this most recent season of Boardwalk Empire at length, which you can read here and then here if so interested. Basically, I think the fourth season was a big step up from the rather one-dimensional third season. Boardwalk still sometimes struggles with figuring out what makes it stand out from the other major dramatic anti-hero shows that have dominated the TV landscape in the past decade and in bringing more of its side characters into more fully realized form, and sometimes it spreads its wings too wide in terms of including more characters and locations rather than focusing more time on fewer great ones. Still, this paragraph should be more about praise than condemnation; this was the second best season of the series, and very close to the second season, the other contender. I didn’t love the Chicago plots, but other non-Nuckie characters stepped in a big way, as the writers created situations more interesting than everyone-against-Nuckie. As always, the filming technique and direction in Boardwalk is gorgeous. Scenes are lovingly rendered and fantastic angles and shots and drama and pathos no matter the characters, plot, or dialogue.

27. Veep

Selena and Staff

Veep’s second season was a noticeable if not revolutionary improvement over the first. It went from a show I watched but was hesitant to recommend after the first season to one I proudly throw out as ideal for relatively quick viewing after the second. Everything is tighter, the characters are surer in who they are, and because of that, the actors know how to better play each of their roles. The first season was defined by one large scale joke – that life for the Vice President, the second highest office in America, was as boring, mundane, and pointless as the lives of so many other cubicle-inhabiting Americans. The second season let the show breathe and allowed that one joke to merge more fully for the show’s love of Curb Your Enthusiasm-like situational awkwardness and miscommunication. Every one of the characters gets a couple of chances to shine, along with recurring guests Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, and Dan Bakkedahl.


Four Girls

Girls second season was by and large a huge improvement over its first. Toned down was the fervor, both the extremely positive and negative levels that accompanied the first season, which may have been in the show’s best interest. In its place emerged a more fully formed show, that dealt with the characters in more mature and interesting ways. All four primary characters are caricatures to some extent; but they’re not that far from real people and their battles and conflicts often feel authentic (which I complimented in my article about Treme as a place that’s surprisingly hard to reach). I didn’t like the last episode which featured a couple of sappy, forced happy endings which felt like a flash-forward from what the show dissected so powerfully in the second season’s middle episodes, but I still remain quite hopeful for the third season.

25. Rick and Morty

Morty and Rick

Many times during this list I had no idea where I wanted to place shows; this basically refers to numbers maybe 6 through 39. Still, this may have been the trickiest, primarily because it’s hard to figure out how high to rate a show that has aired only three episodes not only in the year, but ever, and not three hour and a half Sherlock episodes, but three 20 minute episodes. So here it is; I probably have liked what I’ve seen enough to have it higher, but I was hesitant on how high to put a show with three episodes. Now on to why you should watch this show if you’ve never heard of it before. Rick and Morty is an animated Adult Swim show about the science fiction adventures of grandfather Rick and grandson Morty, who have a perverse Doc Brown and Marty McFly-esque relationship. Rick is an alcoholic mad genius, and Morty is a loving kid who is a awkward and not the smartest chip on the block. Rick drags Morty throughout space time on all sorts of wacky adventures, while their family, Morty’s parents and sister, occupy often equally hilarious b stories.  It’s funny and it’s short and you don’t have to watch the episodes in order, but you might as well because there aren’t that many of them and they’re good. If you start with just one of the first three though, make it Anatomy Park which combines Jurassic Park, Fantastic Voyage, and John Oliver. Oh, on top of that it’s co-created by Community once-and-future head honcho Dan Harmon.

End of Season Report: Season 2 of Girls

27 Mar

Girls, one by one

Season 2 of Girls was largely more confident and sure of itself, compared to the first, especially in the early episodes, where it picked up a lot faster and didn’t have to waste time setting up the characters into place. The weakest episode of the season, unfortunately, was the final episode in which a show which prides itself on being a little bit different (this is HBO, after all), solved a couple of major issues with simple solutions that didn’t really hold up after thinking them through.  Still, there was more good than bad on the whole.  Let’s break it down Girl by Girl.

Jessa is my least favorite character in the show by a long shot, but I do think Girls went some way to make her more sympathetic with a showcase episode about her visiting her dad; we get to see part of what made Jessa Jessa and it was handled well.  I do think both her disintegrating marriage and her time spent with her family humanized he and fleshed out her character much more than in the first season.  I’m just not sure it’s not too little at this point for me.  Jessa just happens to be the type of character I’m most likely to find irritating; she’s extremely flaky, impetuous  and makes critical life decisions on a whim without thinking about it.  While I think the marriage to Chris O’Dowd led to some interesting episodes, the decision to get married just like that is exactly the kind of bad decision Jessa continues to make over and over again.  Forget bad decisions though; everyone makes those.  She’s not there for her friends when they need her and floats in and out of their lives with no notice.  She did the least of the four girls this season, partly due to Jemima Kirke’s pregnancy. I did like her featured parts a lot more than her segments in the first season, but she has a long way to go.

In contrast to the much heavier personalities of the other characters, Shoshanna is largely bubbly and inoffensive, even when she’s struggling. I enjoyed both the Ray and Shosh romance through the season and the fact that they broke up in the season finale.  I don’t think they ultimately make a ton of sense together and I think it’s probably best for both of them to break up, but I think the relationship spurred some serious movement in both characters for the better.  Both kind of fell into the romance and were doubling down merely because the relationship spurred its own momentum.  Ray needed an impetus to break out of his life rut, and he got it with his promotion, even if the relationship ended anyway.  The relationship also gave Shoshanna a clearer view at what she really wanted, or at least what she didn’t want.  Ray might be my favorite character on the show, and I think these plots were handled really well throughout the season.  My favorite Ray plotline may have been when him and Adam teamed up to return a dog Adam stole to its owner on Staten Island, and while they frequently fought, while Ray was wrong, possibly as often as Adam, I generally sided with Ray.

Marnie next.  In some respects I have sympathy for Marnie’s second season troubles; her dreams for her life in the art world is falling apart, one she’s sought out for years.  Still, she’s so arrogant, condescending, and cruel to Charlie that it makes it difficult to feel bad for her as I would towards most people in her position.  She goes through a lot of shitty situations, but she never quite changes her attitude through them. I was hoping that as a result of all her struggles, she’s realize some of these negative qualities at stop them, or at least work on stopping them.  She loses her job, and that’s understandably frustrating, but she constantly teases her old boyfriend Charlie, wanting him back when she’s down, and then when anything else comes along, putting him aside, only to get easily jealous and cruelly tease him when he seems to be doing better than her.  Her past behavior towards Charlie renders the should-be heartwarming re-getting together of Charlie and Marnie at the end frustrating; he deserves better, or at least for Marnie to have changed one iota from when they first broke up.  He was a super irritating emo whiner sad sack at the beginning of the series but he’s seemingly matured, while she hasn’t at all.  I’m not sure whether we’re actually supposed to be annoyed, or whether we’re supposed to think that Marnie has grown, due solely to the events in the last episode, but it didn’t quite work for me.  It was only in the second to last episode when she belts out her super inappropriate Stronger rendition at Charlie’s company party.

Lena is my favorite character by a longshot, and I think her plots throughout most of the season are by far the best.  I really enjoyed the bottle-y episode that was basically her and Patrick Wilson having a two night affair, and I’ve always enjoyed her relationship with her parents, where I often feel sympathy for both parties.  I love the minor character of her editor, and I sympathize with her inability to write on the spot. She’s absolutely more ridiculous than a normal person. As a neurotic myself, I have sympathy with the general way she acts, even if the show magnifies it to an over the top level.  In fact, probably more because she’s so over the top, I don’t treat her as a normal person, which makes some of her insanity easier to swallow.  She’s wrong a lot; she’s unnecessarily mean to Eli and Marnie and several other characters and she does a lot of stupid things for stupid reasons, but I still like her best.  I just hate that simple ending in the last episode, in which Adam picks her up and shows the ultimate romance that prevails in that final moment, even after all the shit that had happened between the two of them over the course of the season.

I’m not sure where Girls will take us next season.  I’m looking forward to it; I think overall, it’s a better show, and I appreciated the opportunity to watch Girls without the massive lovefest and hatefest that accompanied the first season.  Girls is neither as good as its biggest fans say not as bad as its detractors say, but it’s interesting television, and definitively worth watching, which I think is a fairly good place to be for a tv show.  I just wished the last episode had been a little bit different; I know I was supposed to feel super heartwarmed by the reunions of Marnie and Charlie and Adam and Hannah but neither really worked for me.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: 27-25

6 Feb

Ranking the shows, check out the intro page here for what qualifies for the list – 27, 26, and 25 follow.

27.  Sons of Anarchy

Redwood Original

I had never watched this show at all until I powered through it in the spring of 2012, getting really into it through season three, and then beginning to already tire of it in season four, when Clay’s position in the show became too outlandish even by the show’s own standards.  After finally making it through all four seasons, even though I enjoyed the overall experience and am glad I watched it all, I found myself hardly excited when the fifth season began.  I ended up storing episodes on my DV-R and not catching up until a couple weeks after the entire season had finished.  But, catch up eventually I did, and though I think I’m glad I watched it, my interest levels were a lot lower than when I was marathonning it.  The disappointing, and moreover, materially different fourth season, had caused me to check out a little bit from the show.  It’s still worth watching in its slightly lesser form, but I don’t think I’ll ever care as much as I did during a two week period where I was watching an episode or two a night.  At its best, it’s still a joy to watch, and the characters are generally fairly well drawn, particularly main character Jax.  Sons of Anarchy aspires to be a big show like The Sopranos and it doesn’t quite reach those heights for many reasons, but often you can see around the edges where they’re trying.  I’m not sure if this makes me admire the show more for trying or frustrated more because it’s not getting there, but I imagine I’ll keep watching future seasons like I watched this one.

26.  Revenge

A dish best served cold

I frequently vouched for Revenge during its first season, and I wasn’t the only one; within the bounds of a twisted primetime soap – conspiracy drama, it handled itself just about as well as it could be done.  The main character was likeable and the show had just the right amount of intrigue and trashiness which left the viewer waiting to see the next episode.  Unfortunately, Revenge is suffering from a classic second season (and sometimes later) problem with televisions shows that have an explicit or implicit goal bound up in their premise – where do you go from here?  Emily ne Amanda managed to solve her primary initial question of getting to the bottom of what happened to her dad in the first season, and more or less had her finger on the button to deal with the people responsible.  Kudos to the creators for pacing the show in a way that meaningful events actually happened in the first season, but as a reward for their smart pacing, they get to deal with the problem of why and how to keep the show going.  Revenge’s solution was a classic – increase the scope of the show, and in particular, to level up; the people she thought was behind the act were mere pawns working at the hands of a more powerful force which she can currently barely comprehend.  Unfortunately, in Revenge’s case, that takes the show from a fairly tight conspiracy organized around a number of rich socialites, and the drama that involves, to dealing with giant and complex para-governmental organizations with names like “the initiative” which seem to belong in Alias and feel completely out of place in Revenge.  It must make show creators jealous of the Mad Mens and Six Feet Unders and Parenthoods of the world, where  writers can pretty much set up their seasons however they want without a big final mystery to solve or put off.  It’s possible Revenge will get back on it’s game, but I think it’s less likely than not.

25.  Girls


The most controversial show of 2012 worms its way into the rankings at 25.  What this should tell you is that I stand squarely in between the two major Girls camps.  I find the show watchable and enjoy it, but don’t think of it as some amazing breakthrough television program that portrays life in a much realer way than most TV.  I think, and this is important to note, the show got significantly stronger as it went on, and the later episodes seemed to be sharper and tighter.  I don’t really understand the hype over the “realness” of the show; at least in a superficial way, I think the characters are fairly ridiculous, with maybe the exception being Alison Williams’ Marnie, and though I can probably understand the argument a little more as it pertains to some of the subject matter beyond the superficial level, I still don’t think that’s the main selling point of Girls.  I understand the argument against the show that the characters are unlikable, but many a great show has been built on the back of unlikable characters; it’s hard to find a character to unambiguously root for in prior HBO giants The Sopranos or Six Feet Under.  That said, I can enjoy, with the protagonist bias, removing ourselves one step (ie we root for Tony Soprano, because he’s the protagonist, even though in many ways he’s a terrible person), everyone except for Jemima Kirke’s Jessa, who I absolutely can’t stand.  I’m not sure why so many people make a big deal about having to relate to characters to enjoy a show; while it’s certainly a plus, I think there are significantly more shows I watch where I can’t relate to anyone.  Anyway, I pretty much enjoy watching it without thinking it’s the best thing under the sun.  More than anything, I don’t think it’s nearly worthy of the press it receives one way or the other.  We’ll see if Season 2 changes my opinion up or down.

Spring 2012 Review: Girls

16 Apr

Three Out Of Four Titular Girls

It’s hard to review this show because there’s been so many lines already written about it, before the show even aired, that I feel like I’ve become burdened with expectations, good and bad, though mostly good, that have far outweighed whatever the mere half hour of television that I’ve seen could possibly offer.  I don’t think I can remember the most recent show to come out of the gate with such critical buzz (I’m sure there was one, but I can’t pull it at the moment), and I feel handcuffed.  I’ll probably take another stab at this when three or four episodes are under my belt.  However, it’d be cheating if I didn’t at least try based on the first episode.

For whoever may actually not know what Girls is about, it’s about four women in their mid-20s trying to put their lives together in New York City.  Let’s specify further.  It’s about four white, fairly entitled, women, in their mid-20s, trying to put their life together.  I don’t mean anything by adding those qualifiers to my description, but it’s important, and much of the early criticism of the show has centered on either the all-white or the entitlement aspect, neither of which I think, on their face are fair.  I generally don’t agree with straight out subject matter criticism, except in terms of the difficulty of bringing something new to a ground trampled so many times before, and that’s really more of a problem for police and lawyer and doctor shows, than just about any show about women of any age or status anyway.

So here are the actually contents of the show.  Primary character Hannah, portrayed by creator, auteur, writer, director Lena Dunham, who has been interning for a year without pay while writing her memoir, finds out that she’s getting cut off, financially, from her Midwestern professor parents.  She’s despondent, having no cash, and has to figure out how to deal.  She also goes over to her boyfriend’s (maybe just a fuckbuddy (one word or two?) type) place, an actor/carpenter who doesn’t respond to her texts and appears to not really care much about her, and proceeds to have sex with him, leading to one of the most-talked about aspects of the show, the super awkward uncomfortable sex scenes.  I thought the hype here was a little overblown.  It’s unquestionably awkward, and certainly not glamorous, but hardly revolutionary or worth expending thousands of words over (maybe there’s plenty more to talk about in the next few episodes?).  Hannah’s friends include Marnie (I honestly had to look up the names of these characters, besides Hannah, I couldn’t figure them out/didn’t remember them from the episode), who is dating an oversensitive wus, who she can’t stand the touch of, but seems to be afraid of breaking up with.   The other two main characters are Hannah’s other friend, European Jessa who appears to be everything Marnie is not, flighty and pretentious, and Jessa’s roomate, Shoshanna (I really don’t remember hearing this name) who appears at least mildly airheady, who makes the obligatory lampshade hanging Sex and the City joke, acknowledging the parallel, that for good or ill, it’s impossible not to draw about a half hour show on HBO about four female friends.

An article I read felt that Girls’ closest contemporary, rather than Sex in the City was FX’s Louie, and in this short time I can see some resemblance.  Girls has funny lines, but it’s not a traditional comedy, in either having jokes, or in any kind of significantly “ha ha” moments.  It’s focus seems to be more on being poignant and “real;” far less absurdist than Louie, but probably trying to get at the same ideas.

Basically, I feel like I don’t know how I feel (that’s a ponderous sentence, no).  It was a watchable, and interesting, if not please-sir-can-I-have-some-more viewing experience, and I do feel fairly confident I’d at least come back for seconds without all the expectations hanging over the show.  As an entitled 20-something white person, albeit a male, I fit at least some of the categories the show is discussing, so I’ll grant that the show has the potential to have more resonance for me than for some others.  I’m not blown away into the sphere of what a visionary Dunham is, but hey, it’s just one episode.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, I need to know more for better or for ill.  I really do think it will be for better, though.  Can this many critics be wrong?

Spring 2012 Preview and Predictions: HBO

5 Jan

(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall (now spring!) television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13

Spring note:  It’s a lot harder to analyze midseason shows as there’s no collective marketing campaigns going on at one time, as many of the shows start dates are spread (or are even unannounced for some)  Still, we’ll take partially educated guesses.  Also, they’re a lot less likely to get partial pick ups, so maybe that trade off will make it easier)

HBO will get its own edition this season.  HBO debuted only one show in the fall, but has five coming out at different points over the spring, one drama, and four comedies, two which are co-produced with foreign networks.

Luck – 1/29


Big guns are on board for this show.  It’s created by HBO regular David Milch, who was behind the three season Deadwood, and co-created one season failure John from Cincinnati.  He also co-created NYPD Blue almost twenty years ago.  Michael Mann directed the first episode.  Luck is about the niche world of horse racing and stars Dustin Hoffman as degenerate gambler Chester“Ace” Bernstein.  Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessey and Michael Gambon also star.

Verdict:  Renewal – I really hope it’s good.  I haven’t watched all of Deadwood, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen, and while a show about such a strange insular world sounds risky it also sounds interesting.

Life’s Too Short

Life’s Too Short is a show written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and created by the two of them and famous dwarf actor Warwick Davis, star of Willow and Ewok Wicket from Return of the Jedi.  The show is a mockumentary, following an exaggerated version of Warwick Davis playing himself, as a dwarf who acts and runs a talent agency for small people.  Merchant and Gervais also appear as themselves.  A camera crew follows Davis around, promising classic Gervais and Merchant awkward comedy.

Verdict:  Renewal – cheating!  It’s a co-production with the BBC, where it aired this fall and it’s already been renewed for a second season airing in 2013.

Girls – sometime in April

I have an extremely limited amount of information about this series at my disposal.  Girls will be executively produced by Judd Apatow and is created by 25 year old Lena Durham who apparently made minor waves with film Tiny Furniture in 2010.  It’s about four girls in their twenties, and I read it billed, on one site, as the anti-Sex and the City.  Not in the constantly talking about sex way, as there’ll be lots of that.  More in the, instead of eating at fancy restaurants and buying expensive purses, they’ll be near broke.

Verdict: 12-  Honestly, I have no fucking clue.  HBO shows are far more likely to get second seasons than broadcast shows, but something’s got to get cancelled.

Angry Boys – 1/1

Co-produced by HBO and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Angry Boys is another mockumentary series, this time created by mockumentary veteran Australian Chris Lillies who has produced two mockumentary series before this one.  Lillies himself plays most of the important characters, including an American rapper (is blackface cool by now?), a champion surfer, a guard at a juvenile prison, and a Japanese mother.

Verdict:  Renewal – another cheat!  This was released in Australia nearly a year ago and is very popular there.  I can’t find anything about renewal, but unless they don’t want to continue or it’s a lot more expensive to film than it seems to be, international popularity may keep it afloat regardless of how it does in the US of A.

Veep – unscheduled

To refill their comedy stock after the comedy mass execution of ’11, HBO is throwing out a few options this spring.  In Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss plays the Vice President of the US and it turns out the job isn’t quite as glamorous as it sounds.  Louis-Dreyfuss struggles with the day to day monotony of a post without much power.  Tony Hale (Buster of Arrested Development) and Anna Chlumsky (the titular girl in My Girl) co-star.

Verdict:  Renewal – Louis-Dreyfuss is talented enough and HBO will probably give her a better vehicle here than The New Adventures of Old Christine.  Plus, HBO needs the comedies.