Tag Archives: Homeland

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2014 Edition: The Outcasts

14 Jan

Breaking Bad

It’s time for an annual beginning-of-the-year tradition over here at Drug of the Nation, the ranking of the shows I’ve watched during the previous year. This is my fourth 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 three episode mini-British seasons but not shows with one-off specials (Black Mirror’s Christmas special is the most notable example this year) . 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.

The rankings this year were incredibly difficult, and a generally weak fall slate of TV shows had me forgetting just what an utterly strong year on the whole 2014 had been for television. I was forced to put shows I liked a lot towards the bottom of these rankings, and unlike previous years, there are just about no shows on this list that I’m one bad episode away from stopping, or that I’m just stringing out due to past loyalty until they finish. It’s absolutely brutal, and although I was forced to make tough choices, that doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely enjoy just about every show on this list. TV is that good, folks.

We start, as last year, with the shows that made last year’s list but didn’t make this year’s for one reason of another. This year these are almost entirely because they ended or didn’t air in the calendar year, so I’ll just run through them quickly, with some additional notes about the few that didn’t fall off due to simply not airing last year. This year I’m going to additionally throw in where a show ranked last year for context.

Here’s a quick link to last year’s final ranking as well. Now, on to the outcasts…

Breaking Bad – 2013: 1

Treme – 2013: 4

Eagleheart – Last year: 6

30 Rock – Last year: 10

Venture Bros. – 2013: 12

Top of the Lake – 2013: 15

Arrested Development – 2013: 17

Childrens Hospital – 2013: 21

Broadchurch – 2013: 23

Happy Endings – 2013: 24

NTSF: SD: SUV – 2013: 31

Black Mirror – 2013: 36

Family Tree  2013: 37

Siberia – 2013: 38

Luther – 2013: 45

The Office – 2013: 46

Dexter – 2013: 48

Enlightened – 2013: 6.5 (Initially, an embarrassingly mistaken omission)

Ben and Kate – 2013: 23.5 (Initially, an embarrassingly mistaken omission)

Take a deep breath. All of these shows did not air in 2014, so that’s the simple explanation why they’re not on the list. Many of these shows ended, Top of the Lake was a miniseries, several have extended offseasons and will be back in 2015 or later, and a couple are in extended hiatus, waiting to see whether they will return or not (looking at you, NTSF: SD: SUV). Easy enough.

Homeland – 2013: 41

Homeland

After a season and a half of utter frustration with the show’s inconsistency at best, and downright lousy and lazy writing at worst, I cut the cord, deciding not to watch the fourth season after a third season that really was not a very good season of television. People have told me the fourth season is better, and if a critical consensus emerges I’ll consider coming back, but I’m not that close to it. I got so sick of the show and Carrie and Brody in particular; if I had cut out earlier, I might have been more easily convinced to come back. It’ll always have an absolutely all-time first season, and is worthy fo remembering just for that, reminiscent of an athlete like Mark Fidrych who blows away the league in his first season only to never do anywhere close to the same again.

Under the Dome – 2013: 47

 

Under the Dome

Oof. Under the Dome’s first season makes the third season of Homeland look like the fourth season of Breaking Bad. It’s still stunning to me that I made it almost to the end of the first season (I never actually watched the season finale; either with only one left, I couldn’t bring myself to). The plot was incredibly stupid, the acting was generally pretty bad, and the characters were horrible. It’s hard to imagine a time when it could have been decent, but alas, a sneakily bad show is bound to end up getting watched sometimes when you watch so many shows.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 44-41

30 Dec

Next four up – we inch towards shows that I actually like! A note that I may have forgotten to make early – differences between one show and the next are often slight; sometimes it’s the difference of which side of the bed I got up in the morning; if two shows are next to each other, which one I like more may switch on the day; if one show is 15 higher, I probably like it more. Moving on.

44. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.-1

You know that feeling, when you really just want a show to be better? I mean, of course you want every show you watch to be better, but some feel like they’re worse for a reason, or it would be more difficult to make them better, or they’re just tired out and honestly, although you want some new ideas, you don’t really have any either. And then there are those shows that just well, should be better, and it honestly shouldn’t be that hard to make them better, and that’s what makes them so frustrating. Marvel’s Agents of Shield is a new show with definite promise from the Whedon empire. There are seeds of interesting characters, but a disappointing lack of characterization and wit which have marked all TV shows Whedon has previously been associated with. It’s delivered on juuuust enough promise that I’m going to continue to watch because I decided I would at least until the end of the first season. After that, well, I’d rather just hope and say I’m glad I don’t have to make that call now. Be better, Marvel’s Angets of Shield. I know you can be.

43. Community

Season 4 Never Happened

If you read the internet, you know the basic deal surrounding Community this past season (and this upcoming one). Creator and genius Dan Harmon fired, but show kept on the air, taken over by new show-runners. Opinions of the fourth season range from mediocre to unspeakably make-you-want-to-kill-yourself bad, and Dan Harmon isn’t the only one to share that latter end of the spectrum. It’s not a good season and it’s worse because it’s Community, because it’s the characters and the universe we fanboys and fangirls (so few people actually watch Community that you’re a fanboy or fangirl by definition if you do) care so much about and are so deeply invested in. Still, I lean towards the season being mediocre. It’s not good; and it’s vastly disappointing but it’s not like it’s actually awful by regular TV standards, just by the high standards we’ve grown accustomed to as Community fans. More than bad, it’s just off; the tone felt different and not in a good way. The great cast made it watchable even when they could have used better material to work with. Still, let’s get excited for this year. Three years ago, I never thought Community would see a fifth season.

42. Downton Abbey

Residents of Downton Abbey

This has become one of those shows that I think I might stop watching, start watching a couple months after the season started, get just engulfed enough to finish the episodes pretty quickly, and then promptly forget pretty quickly after finishing. That sums up where Downton Abbey is at this point. It’s a soap that doesn’t have a huge amount of long-term thought-provoking value, but it does have redeeming qualities, and though I won’t think about it for a while and probably won’t watch any of the episodes remotely around when they air, I will actually watch them before the next season comes around. We Americans may mock the UK left and right for its aristocracy and royalty, and with good reason, but we can also admit to being mildly enchanted by it, and honestly, more than anything by the amazing buildings in which they seem to live and their endless sheer amount of rooms. As long as Maggie Smith remains, I’m probably not going anywhere.

41. Homeland

Carrie and Brody

I’ve expounded on this in great depth so I’ll spare you the grisly details. But suffice to say, I viewed this season as something of a make or break. I gave the show a partial mulligan for Season 2’s disappointment. They had stuck themselves in a tough place and I wanted to give them a chance to start something new with a clean slate. The writers chose not to go in that direction and instead retread old ground in not particularly interesting and more so not particularly convincing ways. They had a chance to start anew, to be different, to accept the successes of the first season but move on, realizing they couldn’t reach those highs the same way again. If they had gone in that direction, it might not have worked, but it would have been a real attempt. Instead, Homeland moved another step towards 24, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t want so badly to be more than that and I didn’t know that it once was. It’s still above some other shows because the acting is very good and even in the disappointing season there are isolated strong moments and plotlines. But it’s little solace from a show with one of the best debut seasons out there.

End of Season Report: Homeland, Season 3 – Part 2

18 Dec

HomelandSeason3-2Phew. I just disposed of my central infuriating point from season three. Let’s now get down to some odds and ends.

Homeland’s showrunners  clearly think Carrie and Brody’s romance is the center of the show. If they didn’t, I’m not sure what Javadi’s monologue in the finale, which seemed directed to viewers at least as much as to Carrie was about, where he convinced her that it was, as it fairly obviously was to viewers as well, always about him that she did everything she did. I think this was a central misreading of what made the first season work that explains some of the missteps of the past two seasons. Carrie and Brody’s relationship is important undoubtedly, and their chemistry in the first season was one major asset. Getting chemistry confused for romance is a dangerous thing though; there was something there, but once Gansa and Gordon put their finger on what it was, love, the relationship lost what made it so intriguing. This sounds like more of the type of complaint you see in a comedy – the sexual tension is more interesting than the relationship itself, and it’s related but that’s not exactly it. The issue is that the fucked up chemistry worked for those two characters, where the idea of love never really did. The breakfast in bed scene at the end of the second season was one of the most excruciating in the series because it didn’t really make sense for either of the characters, and placing that love at the center of Carrie’s motivations was misguided at best.

More on Brody – I’ve said this before, but Gordon and Gansa killed Brody at least a year too late. Brody was a great character, but a character with a necessary expiration date. The longer they kept him around, the less it really worked, and the more they had to concoct hard-to-fathom explanations for why he’s still out there. He ran out of reasons to be interesting. Damian Lewis does his best with Brody throughout but the character was out of life and paralyzed the show, keeping the show in stasis when it needed to be moving beyond Brody. There’s a natural desire to keep around interesting characters for as long as possible, but usually in hindsight it’s better to kill them or remove them while they were at their most charismatic rather than after they lost the luster they had and felt used up.

The second season ended with a bang, and the third with a whimper, and as confused as I was with where Homeland was going to start the third season, I have even less idea for the fourth season. The showrunners have a clean slate more or less to work with, but I have less confidence than ever that they will do something interesting. If I was in their shoes, I would consider the ballsier moves of either moving on at the CIA without Carrie and Saul, or moving on with Carrie and Saul in their different respective roles, but I can’t imagine there’s any chance of that happening. The only part I feel confident in, and massive respect if I’m wrong, is that something will happen that forces the gang to get back together in Washington.

Senator Lockhart, I believe, is supposed to be the villain, and while I started out viewing him as the antagonist because Saul is the best, the longer the season went the more I thought that he’s totally right, and this CIA is totally dysfunctional. It’s not so much that I felt like his approach was better as much as I felt his critique of the competence of the old school CIA people doing it the way they wanted to wasn’t working. I think this conflict could have been much better served by portrayed it more deeply as a battle between two valid points of view rather than with Saul as our hero and Lockhart as our villain. Shows are usually better when there are merely two different plausible ways of seeing things, rather than a clear right and wrong.

Plausibility was a major issue for me throughout the season, largely on Carrie’s end (as mentioned exhaustively in my previous Homeland post) but really greater than that. The insanity and audaciousness of Saul’s plans boggled the mind and just seemed way too far-fetched, and though Homeland did do a lot of lampshade hanging throughout this season, I still wanted more reality, and frankly, at least one of their plans to fail, to appreciate just how risky they were. The plan was too big, the CIA carrying it out consistently seems too small. It has always bugged me that the CIA on Homeland feels like it employs six people at any one time. There was no greater example of the plausibility problem than the cheap trick fake out that basically turned the first few episodes of the season inside out. Beside the within show unlikeliness of the plan’s success, many scenes of Carrie by herself didn’t really make sense if she knew she was on part of a plan rather than actually trapped in a mental hospital.

I was actually intrigued by the direction of the first few episodes of the third season. Homeland seemed to be dealing with the notion of consequences, something I think very few television shows do, and something I thought provided an intriguing direction. The potential of a near-permanent falling out between Saul and Carrie, well, it was sad, but damn if it wasn’t interesting, and it was a powerful way of saying the show may be good and it may not be, but it’s moving forward and away from the status quo. The CIA made a whole lot of dumb 24-ish mistakes the first two seasons, and it’s time to pay the piper. Instead, with the twist, the show went disappointingly in the exact opposite direction.

I almost forgot to write anything about Brody’s family, largely because they basically disappeared from existence halfway through the season. I don’t think that was a bad thing, and the fact I entirely forgot about them probably says a lot, but I didn’t hate them by nature as much as most people I knew. I did think the way they were used was poor, but I also thought there was something there in exploring the relationships of a family broken so completely between getting their husband/father back and then discovering he’s not who he once was, going from loss to ecstasy to tragedy so quickly. The family’s done, and since I don’t trust Homeland’s writers, I think that’s the right decision, but I think this was an opportunity lost.

This has been a largely negative write up, and as happens after I type for a while, I feel even stronger than before about what a disappointing season of Homeland this was after the show had a real chance to get away from the problems of the second season. However,  to leave on a positive note, I’ll briefly talk about the one aspect of this season I liked most.

Javadi is the best new character the show has introduced in ages and was exactly the type of character the show could use more of, and I hope the show doesn’t fuck him up. He’s a cagey character who gives with one hand and takes with the other, a perverse parallel of Saul who made different choices and who is willing to do what it takes to get away, but not without an occasionally magnanimous side when it suits him. He’s in many ways a villain but he’s a pragmatic nontraditional villain who serves the heroes when it suits him.

End of Season Report: Homeland, Season 3 – Part 1

16 Dec

Carrie swears in

There’s plenty to talk about, and my various complaints about Homeland have changed over the course of the season. There’s really one that’s been slowly building and peaked in the last couple of episodes and has just been driving me so crazy that I’m going to devote a full post of this report to it, and then come back with a second post about everything else. Homeland has a major plausibility problem all around, but there’s one aspect of that issue that gets even deeper to Homeland’s core.

Carrie Matheson is a brilliant, brave, and daring operative. She’s undertaken dangerous missions on behalf of the CIA, made intelligence breakthroughs, and had correct instincts on a deep cover American traitor when no one else did.

She’s also an absolutely terrible, unreliable and untrustworthy employee, who was fired supposedly irrevocably at the end of the first season after it was discovered she had an unreported serious mental condition she’s only part of the time willing to seek treatment for. She should really never be working for the CIA again.

In the third season, Saul, and thus the entire CIA (for some reason, the CIA in Homeland seems to employ six people, but that’s something else entirely) have placed their most important mission in the hands of someone who is far too completely compromised to be an agent they can place any reasonable trust in, someone so in love with the agent she’s monitoring that she can’t possibly react like an agent needs to.

At the end of the first season of Homeland, Carrie was fired because it was determined she had hidden her only occasionally treated bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a serious condition, and it’s easy to feel for Carrie, but it’s also easy to understand why the CIA wouldn’t want a loose cannon walking around with access to extremely classified information. I wondered what her firing would mean for the show because I believed it would feel cheap to have her rehired after a huge deal was made about her never working for the CIA again after her breach. There were no loopholes left in that scene, no two ways about it, she was out, for good.

Sadly, my concerns were well-founded. The writers didn’t have an ingenious plan to either find another line of work for Carrie or focus on new characters. Somehow, of course, the CIA found a way to her come back, first, through a cheap loophole as not a member, but as an outside consultant to help with Brody because of their bond. The bother to even hang the lampshade felt half-assed. Soon, however, Carrie was just back for good and the fact she was fired just a season was sort of forgotten about and relegated to the past.

After being rehired, Carrie went on to constantly disobey orders over the course of the second season. Her superiors would constantly tell her not to do something, she’d do it, they’d reprimand her, and then eventually they’d simply let her back out there for some reason, even in situations when there wasn’t even some stretch of an imperative that she was the only person who could do the job.

In the beginning of the third season, events were repeated with Carrie being apparently fired for sleeping with Brody after Saul rats her out to the Senate. I applauded this direction. I didn’t know what they’d do with Carrie, and sure, it was a personally mean thing to do for Saul, but Carrie really had this coming through her repeated patterns of behavior. Saul never lied or framed her; he made her take the hit, sure, but all of his accusations were entirely correct. This extremely satisfying discovery that actions have consequences was undone by the revelation that everything that transpired in the first couple of episodes was part of an extremely elaborate long con between Saul and Carrie, one that really made less sense the more you thought about it. I didn’t think Carrie deserved to be an asylum, certainly, but there was some middle ground between being locked in an asylum with the key thrown away or being part of a million to one insanely intricate plot.

Back in the fold, yet again, throughout season three, Carrie continued to disobey orders. This would be problematic in almost any field, but as an intelligence agent for the CIA, she’s putting lives and missions at risk. Just because she thinks her orders are wrong is not an excuse to disobey. Honestly, if it really felt like she was getting unjust orders all the time, then I’d still feel for her even if she was technically doing a bad job by disobeying them, but that was not the case at all. The orders Saul gave may not always have worked out, but they’re always well thought out and carefully considered, and made it extremely hard to feel sympathetic for her. She disobeyed an order halfway through the season that required her own organization to shoot her to prevent her from moving further, and she nearly ruined a vital CIA operation in the last couple of seconds only to be bailed out by an extremely, extremely unlikely outcome when Brody kills his target rather than giving up Javadi. Even if Carrie made the right call, it wasn’t her call to make, and Saul’s call was as equally well thought out and valid as hers.

And then, when this is all over when it all works out against absolutely any odds, instead of getting reprimanded for almost blowing up the mission several times out of making judgments based on her love of Brody rather than her best operational judgment, or obeying extremely reasonable orders from her superiors, instead of getting fired or demoted, she gets PROMOTED. Carrie gets a huge PROMOTION for doing an absolutely terrible job. What am I missing?

Carrie is akin to the coach who makes the wrong decision at the last minute which works out and gets rewarded for the result rather than the process, leading everyone to ignore both the fact that she made the wrong decision and the fact she made so many wrong decisions before the last minute that her team should have won easily. And maybe the argument is that, well, those coaches get rewarded, for being lucky, rather than for being good, but I don’t think that’s the argument we’re getting her. I could be wrong certainly, but I really think we’re supposed to getting the notion that she deserves this promotion, it just drives me up a wall. Again, Carrie is very smart, ambitious, daring and talented, and I can imagine there are lines of work in which her skill set would be rewarded handsomely but she’s clearly a hugely irresponsible wildcard in the intelligence field

I’m basically tiring of living in this backwards world which refuses to deal with characters and consequences and plausibility. Carrie pegged Brody as a traitor, and absolute points for that, but then she went out and slept with him, multiple times, and let him escape. She may have been right about his role in the Langley bombing, sure, but she violated so many protocols it’s mindboggling.

If this was 24, where Homeland showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa used to work, the correct response would be, who gives a shit? Jack Bauer did that, and yeah, Jack Bauer was pretty awesome, but he would never get away with any of it in the real world.

The difference is that Homeland still wants us to treat it as a serious show; a show about issues in the modern surveillance state facing difficulties balancing privacy vs. danger. Homeland set itself up as a show that was going to be real about the CIA and the intelligence community more broadly, and one that was going to hew if not to the letter of reality, at least much closer than most sensationalist spy shows and movies. But it’s impossible to take it seriously when they don’t take it seriously. I’ll have more related points and other notes in part two.

TV’s Golden Age Not Necessarily Over Just Yet

8 Nov

The Four PIllars

Andy Greenwald wrote an article on Grantland which probably wasn’t intended to be trolling, but it came off that way to me, and I felt the need to refute it, particularly because people constantly make arguments like this, if not as specific as this in particular. His argument in short is that television’s “Golden Age” is over. I’m very skeptical of the concept of a “Golden Ages” in general; it reeks of nostalgia for times that weren’t necessarily any better or worse than any other, but seem that way in memory, but I’ll follow along. I willing to accept in principle that certain eras aren’t necessarily as good as others, and that all seasons of television are not equal. However, I think both that his argument in broad strokes is wrong and that the claims he makes to get there are wrong a swell. I’ll break it down in further depth below, but quickly, the biggest issue is that his judgment of the entire previous golden era is particularly rendered less valuable because he’s only judging by using the shows at the very top. He then goes out to knock the “medium-level” shows he calls them in this era, without naming the examples of medium level shows that made the Golden Age great.

He uses what I like to call, or will probably start calling after this, the Four Pillars of TV Greatness (TM). These four are in order of airing: The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad. They’re four undeniable great shows, and if you asked for the greatest dramas of all time, there’s a better than even chance they’d finish as the top four of any poll of enough critics or knowledgeable TV viewers. He talks about a Golden Age, but to be clear, he’s talking about these four shows.  He speaks as if he means to cover a greater swath, as if those four just provided cover and inspiration for a flourishing run of good-but-not-as-good shows beneath their wings, but not a single other show is named after the those four, and while there are others that could easily qualify (Deadwood and Six Feet Under, at the least), I think it’s important to mention that these are the ONLY FOUR he mentions to represent what he describes as the Golden Age.

Greenwald then goes off and reels off several current shows that don’t meet his standard for Golden Age inclusion, whether because they’re simply not as good (Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and Homeland, and outside of Homeland’s legitimately brilliant world-class first season, you’ll get no argument there from me) or much more strangely because they are great but they’re genre show, in the case of Game of Thrones (and to a lesser extent Orphan Black), which somehow don’t qualify as Golden Age-worthy because they contribute to other negative trends in television, regardless of their own quality.

The show he most associates with this gilded age of television is The Walking Dead, which he backhandedly notes that even though he’s not a fan, he acknowledges it’s the most important and influential show of the past five years. Without speaking on the quality of the show, on which I stand somewhere in the middle, I disagree strongly with his assertion. While that same statement may yet be true in five years, it really isn’t; Walking Dead’s influence is only beginning to be felt as we still wade our way out of the Age of the Antihero, which still, though waning, dominates television (three of the Four Pillars are antihero shows – The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, along with Boardwalk Empire, Justified, House of Cards, Sons of Anarchy, and plenty of lesser fare). Honestly, whether true or not, this is really off-topic from the central argument so we’ll move back in that direction.

Greenwald goes on to talk about how networks aren’t taking chances anymore, and that’s surely true, but that was also very much true five or ten years ago. None of the Four Pillars were network shows. Four shows got through the cracks and struck gold. He claims it’s systematic failure that as many quality shows aren’t coming through the pipeline, but I’d claim it’s just odds and not enough time.

Let’s not forget as well that one of the Four Pillars is still on, with two seasons to go, and one ended a mere month and a half ago. Game of Thrones is an admittedly great show, and I’m not sure why it’s a knock that it’s a genre show or that it’s based on source material, especially just because in influences other less good shows (first, something every new and interesting show does, second – is it a knock on Pearl Jam that so many lousy bands were influenced by it?). Shows come in waves, and influence of the biggest and best play a large part, for better or worse. Mad Men was very much influenced by The Sopranos. Greenwald complains about a prestige mad libs, and he’s by no means incorrect, but that’s also exactly what Mad Men was. You can give Mad Men credit for inventing that formula, but as mentioned, it stole plenty from The Sopranos.

Logical complaints aside, I’d argue that he’s not looking closely enough to find the good stuff. Last Spring alone saw the debut of four new dramas, each with the potential to be great, and although the odds are against any of them becoming an all-time great, that’s true for any show, and promise is really all you can ask for.

Rectify, the best, airs on Sundance channel, and stands in particular contradiction to Greenwald’s claims as it doesn’t fit into any of the boxes Greenwald is complaining about. Rectify is about a man exonerated from death row after twenty years imprisoned back into the small Georgia town in which he grew up. It’s a small show in the way Game of Thrones and Walking Dead are big, and it’s exceptionally, moving, human, beautiful and heartbreaking in different degrees.

The Americans admittedly kind of fits Greenwald’s prestige formula, but it transcends it, and even Greenwald acknowledging The Americans as the best new series of last year.

Orphan Black, Greenwald already acknowledged as well as an excellent show, and, though it’s a genre show, it certainly doesn’t fit into either the prestige or the bigger is better formula.

Hannibal, admittedly, it less new and interesting than the other three, and probably will end up as good and not great, but it’s especially notable for its gorgeous cinematography and its compelling psychological battling between protagonists Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter which elevate a cop show above the norm.

Remember, if we’re to match his Golden Age, we only need four. My point is not that these four shows are great and replacements for the Four Pillars, but that if even one of them can become great, than really all we need is one new great show each year. I could name lots of good but flawed shows a la Boardwalk Empire from the Golden Age – Lost, Alias, The West Wing, True Blood, 24, and more but it doesn’t matter, because there were some great ones. Now, some people may like some of the good ones better than others, but that’s always the case. Additionally, people will and have always copied successful shows. Lost spawned a thousand attempts at supernatural mystery shows, not one of which has really become successful (Heroes was the closest) and The Sopranos has directly led to Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and less directly many others.

There’s no reason to believe that the Golden Age is over because there are a lot of new bad and new mediocre shows. There are always a lot of new bad and new mediocre shows. All there have to be is a couple great ones. There are, and there’s no systematic reason that a few more won’t appear in the coming years.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: 18-16

13 Feb

Three more on my list of the best shows I watched in 2012 – the rules to be included are here, and 18, 17,  and 16 are below.

18.  Homeland

Brody and Carrie

I never thought I’d see the day when The Walking Dead would be a mere one slot below Homeland, and if we’re just using the last few weeks of 2012, Homeland would be behind.  Homeland is somewhat the victim of bad timing; the show aired too late to be considered in my first ranking the summer of 2011, and if I had conducted a ranking this time last year, I was prepared to select Homeland #4 overall.  The first season really was that good; I can remember very few first seasons which have knocked my socks off like Homeland’s did, just about stem to stern.  In fact the most serious problem with the season was just that the writers had, due to events towards the end of the first season, put themselves in a potentially very difficult place to go out and write a second season as strong.  That’s pretty much what happened; the second season had some great parts and great episodes but was seriously flawed, especially in the second half, enough so for the show to continue to be worth watching, but no longer a member of the elite.  I ranted and raved some thoughts about the second season in a longer entry, but suffice to say by the second half the show runners had dug themselves into a hole which they could never quite figure a way out of, leaving the main plot threads of the second season to end in disappointingly unsatisfying ways.  The show changed its focus and veered way too far into 24 action hero territory.  The second half of the season seriously made me question whether the first season was merely incidentally stumbled upon by everything going right, making it unrepeatable.  Homeland at least put itself in a place where the slate is much cleaner than it was starting the second season, and hopefully, at least behind the scenes, the writers realize the predicament they put themselves in last year, and plan better now to avoid it, especially now that they know they’re likely to get a fourth and a fifth season.

17.  The Walking Dead

Rick and Crew

As Homeland goes one way, The Walking Dead goes the other.  No show has improved its fortunes more in the past calendar year, or, really, in the last four months of 2012, than The Walking Dead, which moved from an incredibly problematic second season into a much-improved third season.  This was accomplished largely by much better pacing but also by adding new characters and subtracting old ones who were running out of material.  The second half of the second season which aired in the spring of 2012 featured a lot of the problems of the first half; absolutely terrible pacing and too much time spent on less interesting characters.  Even the second season had moments which made it seem like the show could be a lot better, such as a tense situation in which Rick and a couple of other characters are looting an abandoned bar and run into some other strangers who may be either friend or foe. Rick is forced to make a quick decision about how to deal with them, and these interesting situations about how to deal with issues of trust and the value of humanity in the post-zombie world are gripping.  There were a handful of these powerful scenes but they’d couldn’t obscure the wasted episodes that came in between them.  The third scenes basically scrapped this formula and moved much quicker. It also killed off characters without abandon, leading to a situation in which it feels like no one but Rick is truly safe and the same interactions amongst the same personalities were less stale.  The addition of a second location, the Governor’s town, was interesting in and of itself and likely improved the pacing because of the back and forth.  The Walking Dead hasn’t always had character compelling enough, Rick aside, to get by on mere constant personality squabbles, working much better when those squabbles are forced by external circumstances, and there were simply more of those circumstances in the third season.

16.  30 Rock


30Rock2

I’ve occupied a strange position in regards to 30 Rock over the last few years, but really ever since the show started.  Once I caught up, while the show was in its second season, I was an ardent supporter but always felt it was wrongly cited as the best comedy on TV, especially while The Office was having some of its best seasons, and then later on, when Parks and Recreation and Community emerged as gems.  Particularly, I had been down on 30 Rock more recently, calling the show out not for being terrible by any means, but for seeming to make a bit of a slip from its peak years.  I’ve had a change in attitude.  I could chalk this down to some combination of this season making a marked comeback in quality, but maybe also to the fact it’s the show’s last and I’m appreciating it in light of its impending end.  As much as I have liked 30 Rock over the years, and I have, I thought I was ready for the show to end, but only now, after really enjoying the final episodes did I realize that I’m actually going to miss it when it’s gone.  While The Office, a great show over the run of its life, bumbles its way to the finish line, 30 Rock goes out in high style, and there’s something to be said for that, but also for giving 30 Rock its due in the canon, where, while maybe never the best comedy at any given time, was always worth watching, and that’s worth a lot.

Homeland: End of Season Report, Part 1

25 Dec

Brody sits pensively Season 2 of Homeland has been an interesting and somewhat unsatisfying journey that has had plenty of both up and down moments and was hurt overall by comparison to the absolutely genius first season of the show.  Here’s some random notes on the season on the whole, including the finale, and where it goes from here.  I have a whole bunch of thoughts, so I’m going to split this into two entries.

At its best season 2 was just as gripping and emotionally riveting as the first season, and the tense moments were unequaled.  The second episode of the second season was action packed but with a type of action that felt Homeland-like; it was about tracking and surveillance and deception, and double crossing, and rested on Carrie’s fragile mental state holding up. The second half of the season often turned too close to the show Homeland show-runners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon were most associated with before Homeland, 24.   There were huge action sequences with our heroine Carrie Mathison doing her best Jack Bauer, most notably when she leads a team of agents into the tunnels by herself, searching and finding major terrorist and series antagonist Abu Nazir in a maze of tunnels where all the special forces could not.  I have a lot of love for 24, but what was great about Homeland at its best is not what was great about 24.  Homeland was about Carrie and her colleagues conducting surveillance from afar, tracking down terrorists with pieces and clues, rather than making the actual apprehensions and engaging in hand to hand fighting with the terrorists.

A second 24-like similarity was Carrie’s tendency to be the best CIA agent ever of all time; like 24 hero Jack Bauer, she barely ever gets anything wrong, even when her calls are unorthodox, and when she does, she quickly corrects herself and gets it right.  If people call her out, it’s usually that they’re the wrong ones, and she just has the wrong information. Early in the season Homeland boxed themselves into a corner with Carrie and Brody; Brody either had to be arrested and locked away, killed, or had to turn and act as a double agent.  Locking him away right there would have been daring, but made less sense in the context of how much the showrunners seemed to want to get out of Brody’s character, so eventually the double agent plan went on; not necessary a terrible plot point, but a predictable one a mile away. Carrie’s coming back to work for the CIA felt like a bit of a cop out as well.  Although the fact she was ever out of the CIA was forgotten by the fourth or fifth episode of the second season when she was all the way back in, it was a pretty fucking big deal at the end of the first season that she was told she would never work for the CIA ever, ever again, and although I understand the idea that she was right the whole time was being used to justify it, I still think having her come right back relatively easily undermines the power of that scene in the first season.

The love story really got old pretty fast as well.  Brody and Carrie have an undeniable chemistry but after the intrigue and danger were lost, the relationship was not interesting to us at all, and the scene at the cabin in the last episode was painfully boring.

I hated Dana’s car crash in the middle of the season; it just felt out of nowhere and uncalled for and so far away from the central tenor of the show (what I was hoping for was the Dana spin-off where she is in a love triangle with Finn and Xander (remember Xander?)).  I do love that Everybody Talks by the Neon Trees was the song playing in the car crash scene; I can think of no song more perfect.

While we’re digging back to old decisions made earlier this season, I absolutely hated the Brody plot where he was strangely assigned to drive the tailor from Gettysburg, and ended up killing him.  I kind of understand what the writers wanted to get out of Brody from that scene, but the entire endeavor seemed ham fisted and out of character for the type of job Brody would be given on the show by his handlers.

I don’t like that it seems like the CIA is made up of four people; more characters doesn’t always equal better in a show, but to some extent it often does.  Fewer characters limits what you can do with every character, and even with fewer main characters, it’s possible to feel like a real world by at least having minor characters buzzing around, instead of just four people. I don’t expect the show to be real life believable.  It’s not The Wire; very few shows have that feeling of being absolutely real.  But I did feel the show expanded its bounds for realism in the second season beyond the barriers it had set up in the first.  Abu Nazir’s hands on treatment, of not only being in the states but kidnapping Carrie, believability aside, just felt more 24-like than Homeland-like.   It’s not that shows can never been implausible  it’s that once they set the boundaries for the relative level of implausibility in the show, they shouldn’t exceed that.