Tag Archives: Siberia

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: 40-37

1 Jan

Okay, we’re full on into shows I actually like. There’s a lot of good tv out there these days, eh? Being in the 30s doesn’t mean a show is bad, it simply means I watch too much television.

40. The Bridge

Not about Chris Christie

The Bridge is the last show on this list that I have genuinely mixed feelings about; everything above it is pretty safely in the like camp for now. A new 2013 entrant with an up and down, up and down first season, I liked a lot and I didn’t like a lot about The Bridge. The show was strangely paced, sometimes greatly to its benefit, sometimes to its detriment. There are loads of good ideas but the writers sometimes didn’t know which plots to focus on and which characters were the most interesting. Matthew Lillard was one of the better returning characters and I hope he’ll be sticking around. The primary two actors are very good and they’re at their best when they transcend the standard police murder mystery stuff and dig deeper which they do, well, sometimes. I left the season not having any idea how confident to be about the second season but I’ll at least watch.

39. House of Cards

Ace of Spaces

This is not a great show, but it is a good pot boiler that keeps you watching through the end – the all-at-once netflix format serves it well. The show is a bit nutty and goes a little off the rails, but while the plot doesn’t totally make sense, it makes enough sense that you can follows the convoluted steps in your head if you don’t think too hard about. Not every angle truly works and a tad more restraint may have pushed it a little higher. It’s an absolutely credit that the plot, which could have fallen apart easily and is pretty pivotal to the show, actually worked enough to make it a success, and credit the Netflix system and the guarantee of 13 episodes for giving it any chance at all to pace itself the way the writers wanted it. Does it all make sense? Well, enough, and that’s exactly enough. Kevin Spacey’s southern accent is equal parts grating and delightful and while I’m not on the edge of my seat awaiting the second season, I’m going to watch it. Corey Stoll’s role as a troubled Pennsylvania congressman was one of the season’s highlights.

38. Siberia

Siberia

As I mentioned above, I genuinely enjoyed Siberia and the fact it’s #38 simply says more about the amount of good tv out there than about Siberia itself. I’m fairly sure I know the only three people who watched this show. It’s based on a strange, brilliant, high-concept idea of making a scripted reality competition show, and the creators actually kind of delivered on the idea. It was trippy, weird, campy, and it didn’t always work but it was surprisingly fun. I honestly think this is the type of show that really deserved a little cult that simply never developed around it. It did a much better job of mimicking reality show types and the bad acting that accompanies them than any comedy I’ve seen. One day, I’ll make a shirt with the revealer on it and walk around with it and absolutely no one in New York City will ever recognize it. If you have a day when you’re snowed in and doing nothing, marathon this guy. It’s not an all time series by any measure and there are no brilliant deeper layers but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, it’s an awful lot of fun.

37. Family Tree

Family Tree

Light and delightful and fun. I’m not the biggest cult fan of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries but I do generally enjoy them and I felt the same way about this show. If you like those movies you’ll love it, if you hate those movies, you’ll hate it, and if you’re somewhere in the middle I think you’ll be like me. Chris O’Dowd is an eminently liekable star and it’s just a cute and generally feel good piece of media about a man trying to discover his ancestry to learn more about himself after a break up. It’s awkward and weird but unlike British Ricky Gervais awkward it’s the kind of awkward that more often than not (albeit not always) works out all right in the end. It’s generally innocent and weird and well-meaning rather than vicious. There aren’t a ton of laugh out loud moments, but there are a few, and there’s more moments that just make you smile.

Summer 2013 Review: Siberia

15 Jul

It's always cold in Siberia

The basic idea behind Siberia is a fairly obvious one which makes me wonder why no one has ever done it before (or if they have and I just missed it).  Siberia is a scripted show, played as a straight reality show, in this case for horror.  Scripted takes on reality shows have existed before, but as far as I can recall, only for ludicrous not-even-close-to-even-the-level-of-reality-on-reality-shows comedy (for example Comedy Central’s Drawn Together and Halfway Home).  Considering just how much of a cultural institution reality television has become in the last decade and a half, it’s absolutely stunning that there’s never been a scripted reality show played straight.

While the idea seems obvious, it’s still a good one, and Siberia gets some credit as the first.  Siberia is displayed as a reality show, and someone not knowing better could watch large parts of the first episode without realizing that the show wasn’t real. The premise of the faux reality show“Siberia” is that sixteen strangers are flown out to a remote location in Siberia and told to survive a winter without any assistance aside from what they’re given to start and what they find and create from the wilderness around them.  Those that make it to spring share a pot of half a million dollars.  They’re given cabins, a handful of items, and occasionally instructions, hints, and supplies.  There are no rules; players can work together or apart, and whatever goes, goes, including theft or any other activities that would be considered anywhere from immoral to criminal in civilization.  There’s a red button located near their cabins that any contestant can push at anytime if he or she wants out for any reason; she or he will be escorted back to civilization, but gets nothing.  Presiding over the show is a slightly sleazy seeming Australian host who lays down the rules for the contestants.

The sixteen contestants are from multiple countries and from all stereotypical walks of life that reality shows seek so desperately to cater to; there’s the nerdy kid, the tough bald Brooklyn bouncer, the self-reliant antisocial southern farm boy, the crunchy environmental activist do-gooder among others.  The contestants, as they would in a reality show, constantly speak to the camera, giving their thoughts about other contestants, the setting, and the competition in general.

Two of the sixteen are eliminated quickly in a race to the initial cabins.  Having sixteen equally anonymous contestants allows Siberia to successfully have the easiest form of unpredictability (I call it anonymity unpredictability and hope to have a larger article on unpredictability out with more on this at some point).  Because you don’t know who anyone is, and their roles are all equal, anyone can go at anytime; there’s no story-line or meta reasons (such as one actor is more famous) to believe that certain characters stand better chances of making it to the end.

I knew that Siberia was going to veer towards supernatural horror going in, but if you didn’t, there’s no reason that you would know or even suspect that until the very end of the episode.  The group is gathered around, wondering where one of the contestants, who was off looking for mushrooms, was at, when the host informs them that in a tragic accident the contestant died.  It’s up to them, he says, to decide whether they want to end the competition and go home or keep on.  The last scene is a shaky cam shot of the character who died seeing something terrifying and running away, only to be killed.

It’s at this point that it deviates from what a believable actual reality show would do.  This is way too dangerous even for reality TV, and while the premise is hardly ludicrous by reality show standards, the events and rules definitively drag it over the line of believably, not to mention the probable existence of a supernatural creature. At first, I was a little disappoined it was a horror series, because I think a good drama could come out of a reality show told straight without supernatural or horror elements, but the more I thought about, the more I realized it’s a great venue for this kind of genre.  There’s an actual justifiable reason to have a whole bunch of people, all equal, in a remote location, with no technology.  Even more than that, it’s an absolutely perfect vehicle for anonymity unpredictability. There are no predetermined heroes and villains. Everyone’s a contestant, and in a reality show, any heroes or villains that emerge have equal chance of winning; there’s no one personality trope that always wins at reality shows.

Of course, horror has it own sets of tropes which could easily triumph and as someone who’s not a huge horror fan I’d rather Siberia at least partly stray from them rather than embrace them full on.  If Siberia can merely stick to the reality show tropes with a horror story, it could do okay.

The show reminds me of The River, ABC’s short-lived and mostly forgotten faux documentaryseries about a family looking for a missing nature host on the amazon.  Both employ shaky cam, horror elements, and the supernatural.

There are no overarching themes or deep characterization or pithy dialogue or musings about civilization or society or human nature.  But that’s okay.  TV has a lot of channels and a lot of shows.  There’s room for some action, and there’s room for some horror.   Sibera’s actually kind of fun.  It doesn’t ever claim to be more than it is, and by its format as a faux reality show it really can’t.  It’s fun to riff on the tropes of reality show characters, and it’s okay if they’re not the best actors, because what are reality show contestants other than bad actors.  It’s not going to win any awards or top any best show of the year lists, nor should it, but summer is the perfect time for a diversionary show that could be an enjoyable ride without having to be anything more.

Will I watch it again?  I ended the episode thinking I wouldn’t but the more I think about it, I might.  It’s definitely partly due to the slow pace of summer programming compared to the rest of the year, but as much as they’re often not my bag, cheap, fun thrills deserve a place on television somewhere next to their high-minded brethren and Siberia seems like a show that might do an adequate job of delivering them.