Tag Archives: Spring 2015 TV Season

End of Season Report: Game of Thrones – Season 5, Part 2

17 Jun

Cersei Lannister

This is Part 2 of my thoughts following the ending of the fifth season of Game of Thrones. Part 1 can be found here.

We start today with Dorne. Dorne was an utter and total mess, the worst running storyline of this season both from a book reader’s perspective and I believe, from a viewer’s perspective. It introduced several new characters, but without the chance to get to really know them. Doran Martell, Dorne’s leader, the three Sand Snakes, bastard children of the Red Viper and Ellaria Sand, and Aero Hotah, Doran’s chief guard. In the books Doran is smart, calculating, even-tempered and patient. In the show, I believe they tried to somewhat portray that as well, but any positive character development is undone by the stupefying last scene where Ellaria is allowed to kiss Myrcella, delivering some sort of poison. Why would Ellaria, who tried to assassinate Myrcella earlier, be allowed to touch Myrcella? From that scene, Doran’s clearly a total moron, defeating any other work the show put in to that character. Even beyond this bizarre and logic-defying ending, nothing else in Dorne worked. Jaime being there never quite made sense, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes’ plan never quite made sense, and the Sand Snakes scene with Bronn felt like some of the pointless nudity that critics like to understandably occasionally call Game of Thrones out on. While I’m thrilled to find ways to keep Bronn around, this whole adventure did not work.

Cersei’s downfall was a long time coming and well-deserved, and the show, with a huge help from Lena Headey did an admirable job of depicting a depth to Cersei that could easily have been missing giving the underlying story. Cersei is an antagonist and a villain, and her negative qualities outnumber her positive. She’s paranoid, delusional, and while smart, is not as smart as she thinks she is, which makes all the difference. Her comeuppance was earned and sweet, but there’s also another side to Cersei, that while she’s certainly not qualified to rule the seven kingdoms, makes one feel for her. She’s utterly devoted to her kids, she really believes in her paranoia, and while it’s often wrong, there’s enough intrigue and lies in Westeros to believe that some of it is correct. She carries herself with dignity at all times, even during her walk of shame. Because of the ability to showcase the levels of Cersei’s character in ways that aren’t there for other antagonists like Ramsay Bolton, Cersei’s arc was one of the more complete and successful in the fifth season of the show from beginning to end, .

Sansa and Theon. Game of Thrones is definitely partly an exercise in suffering. When I read comments complaining about the constant suffering and misery faced by nearly every character, especially the beloved ones (and oppositely how evil characters like Ramsay continue to triumph), I have contrasting thoughts. On one hand, I think, well, who says characters are supposed to end up doing all right, or that there’s supposed to be a balance between how good and evil characters are treated. On the other hand, I understand that you watch television shows largely for some measure of enjoyment, and it’s just not enjoyable to see your favorite characters get raped, tortured and killed one by one, and over and over again. To try to decipher the space between those two lines, the question is always does it work in the show, does it make sense in this world, and even if it does theoretically work, does showing it add something. I don’t think the answers to these questions are always obvious.

Ramsay raping Sansa was a difficult and painful scene to watch, and was for many a bridge too far. This one, as awful as it was, worked for me in context; it would have been unfathomable in this world for Ramsay not to expect to have sex with Sansa after their wedding to consummate the marriage, Showing it may have been unnecessary, but I don’t think it was a mere unnecessary torture. Rather, it continued to hammer home the realities of this world and difficult choices for Sansa. A legitimate concern was whether that rape would then be used in terms of its effect on Theon, and not on Sansa, but I don’t think that’s what’s happened. Sansa and Theon are rather bonded by Ramsay’s cruelty, and share something that they didn’t when Sansa arrived. Like the world of Hobbes’ Leviation, Westeros can be a truly nasty place. I’m a big Sansa fan and I have a strange amount of likely misplaced confidence, considering Martin’s world, that she’ll use this adversity to her advantage and become stronger.

Meryn Trant’s pedophilia on the other hand, seemed completely unnecessary to me; we already know he’s a terrible dude, and Arya already has plenty of reason to hate him. When you look at every instance of terribleness through this lens, everyone will still come out on different sides, but it’s an instructive and helpful way to think about it.

Going forward, where does Game of Thrones stand? It moves into uncharted territory for book readers like myself, which is both exciting and scary, and I’m still not sure how much I trust showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss without George R. R. Martin’s words to work from. My faith in them has gone up and down over the course of the series, and while they’ve earned enough trust to build on their ideas going forward, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat wary. Their touch has been too heavy and on the nose on occasion, subtlety not their strong suit. Still, they’ve done a great job overall in the very challenging task of fitting thousands of pages and dozens of characters into 10 hour-long episodes each year and the show must go on. There are worse things than simply two separate versions of the story, one televised, one read; the books, as long as they take, will still exist, no matter what the show says.  On and at them, crossing my fingers that not all of my favorite characters die next season.

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

15 Jun

Game of Thrones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, more notes to follow in part 2.

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

8 Jun

Stannis Baratheon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Really Get David Letterman

22 May

David Letterman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring 2015 TV Review: Powers

1 May


Powers is the first ever series to “air” on the PlayStation Network, and no, I’m not exactly sure what that actually means either, but it’s now producing original scripted content, and that’s what counts. Powers is based on a comic series co-written by comic superstar Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. Powers supposes a world where some people have, well, Powers. The limits and types of powers are unclear from the pilot, but basically the type of powers that superheroes have – flight, super strength, teleportation, and more in that vein. As one would imagine, in a world with powers, some of the people with powers, or as their simply called in this universe, Powers, act as heroes, saving people, while some of them act as evil-doers, stealing and robbing and committing other nefarious deeds.

The protagonist of Powers is Christian Walker, a former Power, who lost his powers (there’s no getting out of using that word many times in this review), and now works as a detective in a Los Angeles Police Department division which focuses on dealing with criminals with powers. Walker was known as Diamond and has and had close relationships with a number of prominent Powers, which gives him added insight into their activities. Other characters include his brand new partner, Deena, a Power named Johnny Royalle who seems like the primary antagonist, and a Power named Wolfe who was once Walker’s mentor, went nuts, somehow took Walker’s powers, and is now locked up deep underground in a very special prison cell.

I like comics, and I like superheroes, and while superheroes sometimes ensure a number of practices that lower the ceiling of a show or movie, I’m always at the least interested. The production values are not great, particularly the visual effects, which I rarely complain about but are notably inferior enough to merit mention. It wouldn’t really matter if Powers was a cheap comedy, but for an action-oriented superhero procedural, it looks kind of cheap, and it does have a negative impact on the overall effect.

The acting isn’t wonderful either. Everything about the pilot feels a little bit clichéd, and a little bit stylized in a bad way. The dialogue doesn’t help the acting and the acting doesn’t help the dialogue. The characters in their current form need work to become more than easy types, and while that’s true of any pilot, there’s not the little hints of depth that a good pilot shows off.

These deficits are actually in opposition to the concept, which while being incredibly similar to so many other concepts still feels slightly different enough, where if you saw it in the best light possible, there’s a lot of potential. The lack of name-brand superheroes means there is more room to maneuver and more shades of gray and mystery for the characters to enjoy. The concept is most similar to Heroes but it feels slightly darker and less infused with the fate-obsessiveness that, along with several other factors, helped bring the promise of Heroes to a quick close. Powers exists in a powers are endemic, rather than fresh or new, and are envied and resented in equal measure. The nature of people who want so badly to have powers they would jump off a building to try to activate them doesn’t come up nearly as much in the Heroes-verse.

If the other aspects of the show could live up to this concept, and if the concept could continue to move in the darker more interesting directions, that subvert and separate from more traditional Marvel and DC superhero products, there could be something here. There’s not quite enough to think that from the pilot though.

Will I watch it again? I’m not going to right now. Powers is yet another entry into the tier of shows that could really go either way, and since, with as much TV as I watch, there’s some limit on the amount of shows I can continue to follow, sometimes I have to make arbitrary judgments.

Spring 2015 Review: The Comedians

29 Apr

The Comedians

The Comedians tries every tack in the modern sitcom toolbox to get laughs, but along the way proves that it while it uses all these tools, it imitates but doesn’t really quite pick up on what makes any of these techniques work. Though the show ended up not being nearly as bad by any means as I anticipated from its endless barrage of commercials (a backhanded compliment if there ever was one), ultimately it’s still unsuccessful at getting laughs. There are a number of ideas that have worked in other’s hands and will again, but not here.

The Comedians is extremely meta, which of course screams its connection with the type of modern comedy young, hip people (myself included) revere. Billy Crystal, within the show, playing a version of himself, pitches FX on a sketch show starring himself; the network is interested, but only if he’ll co-star with Josh Gad as two equal partners. The two meet and find they don’t particularly care for each other, but eventually agree to do the show when they realize the network won’t move forward any other way. The pilot is shown as a making-of documentary style affair taking us from their discussions with FX and first meetings with one another to the taping of the first episode.

As mentioned above, The Comedians mimes a panoply of relatively recent sticoms. Curb Your Enthusiasm is probably the single greatest influence. The pilot of The Comedians resembles the movie that began Curb, which purported to be a behind-the-scenes look Larry David trying to get a stand up special on HBO (replace HBO with FX, and stand up special with sketch show, and you’ve got The Comedians). There are several other similarities to Curb. There’s the portrayal of real celebrities as unlikeable, arrogant, stupid, and eccentric; well-exaggerated versions of themselves. It’s Always Sunny and Curb were masters of the unlikeable people do horrible things comedy The Comedians reaches for. There’s an attempt at awkward humor of shows like Curb, The Office, and Peep Show. Billy and Josh’s first dinner was incredibly awkward as they both acted like weirdos and Billy callously apologized to fictional-and-real-life director Larry Charles (more meta), after he fired him within the show, leading Charles to think he was rehired, while Crystal merely wanted apologize for the manner of his firing.

The Comedians is filled with cutaways to documentary-style interviews conducted later that have become de rigueur starting with The Office (also prominent in Parks and Recreation and Modern Family). It also takes the 30 Rock approach to sketches; the sketches within the fake sketch show are obviously terrible, and the show attempts to highlights that by just showing some ridiculous short bits.

So, you get it. The creators have clearly been watching TV for the past decade. That’s not a bad thing, and I love most of the shows they crib from, and some of my favorite shows have been great but largely unoriginal. Unfortunately, while they get some of the methods and gimmicks that were used in many great shows during that time period, that forget that these gimmicks are just methods of delivery for well-written jokes; if the jokes stink, the most clever methods of telling those jokes in the worl, won’t help make them funny.  The Comedian, is just filled largely with jokes that are not good, and the show is not funny. The Comedians is not offensive, it’s not cringeworthy, it’s not full of the type of Chuck Lorre-delivered lazy tropes or attempts at troublingly out-of-date easy laughs. It’s just not funny either.

Will I watch it again? No. It was not funny. Unlike some not very good comedies, The Comedians clearly has some ideas of what is good, but they’re nowhere close to be being fully formed, or realized.

Spring 2015 Review: A.D.: The Bible Continues

27 Apr

A.D.: The Bible Continues

I’m a non-believing Jew, so A.D.: The Bible Continues is obviously not geared towards me. Still, this is on NBC, rather than some niche cable channel, so with that disclaimer I’ll dive into attempting to analyze this show about the bible like any other TV show.

I’m about as far away from a Bible expert as you can get, but from my limited knowledge even someone as completely uninterested in religion as myself believe the Bible contains plenty of compelling stories, regardless of its literal truth. These stories, at their best, and the Bible is long enough to have some winners and some snoozers, are interesting both as stand-alone narratives and in terms of the historical context of how they came about. A.D.: The Bible Continues, sadly, is not a particularly riveting or enlightening portrayal of those tales.

More than that, it’s, well, cheesy. The production values, dialogue, and story combine to make A.D. more like a cheaply produced instructional special shown in Sunday schools to keep children mildly entertained while relaying to them the story of Jesus and his followers than a network program airing in 2015. This just doesn’t cut it. The effects look corny, the dialogue and acting is stilted and just everything about rings of a B-level piece of work.

A.D. starts just before the crucifixion of Jesus, and the pilot ends as he’s about to be resurrected. In between, Judas hangs himself out of guilt from his betrayal, his followers fret about whether to quickly escape, or wait for his alleged resurrection, and Pontius Pilate, his wife, and some others struggle with whether or not they made the right and sensible decision to have Jesus executed.

As a series, A.D. purports to tell Bible stories as a continuation of the hugely successful “The Bible” miniseries, which aired on the History Channel, which aside from this not actually being history, is at least the type of network on which these low budget reenactment type stories belong. These days, even most of the second tier summer shows on network channels that will get cancelled after four episodes of virtually on one watching, if not looking like something on AMC, Showtime, or HBO, at least look pretty decent; the general standard of production has been ratcheted up by the success of premium cable, even if networks don’t quite aspire that high. A.D., on the other hand, is suitable for some simplistic religious history for kids, but not as entertainment or serious programming for anyone older.

Will I watch it again? No. I’m done with Hebrew school forever, which I could not be happier about. No need to watch Saturday afternoon bible specials here.

Spring 2015 Review: Bloodline

24 Apr


Bloodline is a new Netflix show from creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelamn, the people behind the underrated FX show Damages. Damages came right before FX really hit the big time with Justified and Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story, but it’s was generally well reviewed by those who watched, and while I stopped watching in the third season, even though I don’t really remember specifically why, the first season in particularly was a well told and well -acted taut legal thriller that doesn’t get enough credit.

Damages relied on a gimmick which is incredibly overused and one of my least favorite; each episode contains some small snippets of present time and then most of the show was flashback (or most of the show in the present and small snippets of flash forward, if you will). Crazy things happened in the present, and the show would then shoot back to the past, so that viewers would wonder how the events could possibly move from point A to point B. The gimmick worked fine for the show as these things go, but it’s a lazy and cheap way to build tension and I was thus disappointed to see the exact same gimmick used in Bloodline’s first episode. I don’t remember Damages pilot exactly, but I think Damages started in the future and moved back, while Bloodline didn’t flash forward until later in the episode. Still, the use was essentially the same.

Bloodline is a family thriller. The patriarch and matriarch of the Rayburn family, played by Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, own a bungalow resort on the Florida Keys. They’re beloved around those parts, and the setting of the pilot is a family and friends weekend meant to celebrate a local pier being named after them. They have four grown children. John’s got a family and is in local law enforcement, although not the oldest, he seems like the caretaker. Kevin works with boats, Meg is an attorney. Danny, the oldest, is the black sheep of the family.  He’s nomadic, the least in touch with his family, and seems to have dabbled in drugs and at the least petty crime. He’s always getting into trouble and coming to the family for money, hanging around just long enough to break his mother’s heart when he leaves. Danny’s trouble, is the short of it, we’re led to believe. John clearly cares for him, despite his issues, as does his mother. Kevin and his father are tired of his act and Meg seems somewhere in the middle.

In the pilot, Danny, currently unemployed, is offered a presumably shady job by his crony and old running buddy. Considering the job, he instead decides to try to come back home and work with the family, which would thrill his mother, but not so much his father. After he drinks and does drugs too much and wakes up naked on the sand, any offer of family employment is rescinded and presumably that leaves him to rejoin some life of crime.

So that’s now. In the future it looks like, as John narrates, that he’s taking his brother’s dead or lifeliess body onto a boat and setting fire to it, killing him if he’s not dead already, and it’s implied, by John, that crazy things happened and that he had good reason for taking these actions.

Honestly, the episode was a little underwhelming. The primary cause of tension was the flash-forward, and as I mentioned that’s a gimmick that I don’t particularly care for. The rest of the show was fine; it wasn’t really boring per se and we were getting to know the characters but weighing the intrigue so heavily on the flash forward left the stakes in the present feel pointless. By no means was it a bad episode of television; it was even slightly above competent and the show did resonate with a certain basic standard of quality. The disappointment was only relative to my expectations from Netflix and the cast and creators. The cast is great certainly, the production values are solid, and as I’ve mentioned before I know the creators have done good work in the past, so I’m willing to cut the show a little slack personally going forwards. But as a pilot goes it really could have been better.

Will I watch it again? I think I’m going to but that’s more because of the pedigree and the Netflix connection, which has a pretty solid reputation and gives creators the ability to make slower pilots because they have a full season commitment. Also, I like all these actors. I was a little disappointed in the episode itself, and I wouldn’t have given many similar episodes another chance, but here’s hoping.

Spring 2015 Review: American Odyssey

22 Apr

American Odyssey

American Odyssey is a conspiracy thriller set in the present post-9/11 world of Middle Eastern Islamic extremist terrorism. It’s kind of a cross between Homeland and Rubicon, and since most people understandably are unfamiliar with Rubicon, AMC’s first scripted show which lasted a mere single season before Breaking Bad and Mad Men made everyone care about AMC, I’ll explain further. This is a complicated military industrial conspiracy show, so get ready for a bit of exposition. There are three primary protagonists at the heart of American Odyssey. These are their stories.

Odelle is a member of an army team which makes a surprise discovery of one of the world’s most wanted terrorists while in Mali. He’s dead and they’re assigned to turn over everything they found to a shady paramilitary unit. Odette against orders holds onto a thumb drive which shows a bizarre transaction between an American company and Middle Eastern terrorists. The army group makes their way back to safety through the desert on horses, and while Odette is over in the brush urinating, her team is surgically hit with a drone strike. From a few yards away, she then sees the paramilitary group from earlier come in and kill anyone not already dead. She’s then captured by some terrorists and held hostage by a boy, who, after his terrorist dad is killed by the paramilitary agents, agrees to help her escape. The boy also texts a photo of her out to the world; while the military tells her family at home that she’s dead and the photo is mere propaganda, we know it’s very real.

Second, there’s a young, charming Occupy leader who kindly listens to what seems to be a nutty conspiracy theorist. When the theorist claims that the Odelle is still alive, before the picture comes out, and the picture than validates his claim, the charming Occupier decides he best start listening to conspiracy nut, but conspiracy nut is nowhere to be found. The Occupier also learns that an attractive young female journalist to whom he gave an interview doesn’t work for the publication she claimed to have.

Third and final is a lawyer, who used to work for the government but now works for an investment bank helping ensure the merger of two possibly evil sounding giant corporations. Doing his due diligence he finds out some information that his higher-ups don’t want him to know, and though they encourage him not to look too closely, he digs deeper and finds a former drone pilot who was ordered to fire on Americans, and who one of these corporations attempted to bribe in exchange for his silence. When the drone pilot is about to meet up with the lawyer to go talk to some government people about his story, he gets hit by a bus. Dun dun dun.

Wow, that was involved, and that’s about the kind of show it is. It’s high on plot, but it’s also high on material that sounds about as generically conspiratorial as it gets. Evil corporations, military, government, goes all the way to the top. Sure, any of these allegations would be a huge, massive deal in real life, but on TV and in movies, anyone has seen them again and again and again. American Odyssey was fine. It was competent enough, and these conspiracy-based shows and movies continue to propagate because there’s something inherently fascinating about corruption, power, secrets, and lies and that can be somewhat compelling even when the allegations are not particularly interesting or original.

But, there’s nothing here that makes this feel like anything more exciting that whatever minimum excitement is generated in you by a conspiracy. It’s fine, but it doesn’t feel like anything special. There’s really nothing notable about it, and while phoned in is too harsh, generic is not. That’s really all.

Will I watch it again? No. It wasn’t that bad, but when you already watch more than 40 TV shows a year, wasn’t that bad doesn’t cut it enough to make it worth viewing.

Spring 2015 Review: Daredevil

13 Apr


Marvel, which seeks to continue its world domination, and Netflix, which seeks to grow its library of hit TV shows, made a smart decision with Daredevil, a classic but underutilized Marvel character, by taking the property in a slightly different direction than the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While other superhero movies (and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) seem to be getting bigger and bigger – unbelievably powerful superheroes, alien invasions, intergalactic terror, and impending world destruction, Daredevil scales down. Daredevil localizes itself not only within one city, New York, but within one neighborhood within that city, Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil doesn’t deal with aliens or gods or robots, but with gangsters and corrupt politicians and businessmen. Daredevil battles thugs and henchmen via hand-to-hand combat.

The second way Daredevil differs from his superhero predecessors in film and television is that his day job is actually relevant to the show in a way most other superheroes’ occupations aren’t. Usually these jobs are just a convenient cover for the heroes’ nighttime pursuits. Here, however, Daredevil’s lawyering represents an integral part of his character is a way that’s simply not true for Spiderman as a photographer or Superman as a writer or Batman a wealthy playboy or C.E.O.

Daredevil is about the fight for justice and what’s right, which sounds similar to the motive of just about any other superhero, but Daredevil merges the legal and extralegal avenues toward that goal in a unique way through his work as a defense attorney. The justice he attempts to hand out during his nights is directly connected to his struggle to fight for justice as he truly believes it should be meted out, through the legal system during the day. The courts just need an occasional outside push to help them function correctly.

Daredevil fights are designed to highlight the smaller scale street level (comics term which refers to characters with no or few powers) nature of the characters – dark, martial art clashes in dark alleys under little light.

While Daredevil does take this interesting approach that stands apart in a couple of noteworthy ways from Marvel’s existing properties, it is still a relatively conventional superhero story. There’s not going to be anything groundbreaking here, and Marvel products, as I’ve said before, tend to have high floors but low ceilings. There’s something to be said for that; while I like to see programs shoot for the stars, there’s room for solid but not spectacular entertainment as well. Still, it’s worth pointing out. It’s difficult to be great with the restraints Marvel puts on its programming, but it’s also difficult to be awful. I don’t always like to reward that level of risk averseness, but to its credit, Marvel has done a good job putting enough of its properties closer to their ceiling, relatively low as that may be, that at least the calculation seems to make a lot of sense for them both commercially and creatively.

The acting is competent, the writing is adequate; the dialogue isn’t David Mamet but it doesn’t embarrass itself either. Daredevil is not for people who don’t like superheroes; there simply isn’t enough to differentiate it from what anyone who doesn’t like superheroes don’t like about them to begin with. Those who do, though, will probably find Daredevil enjoyable.

Will I watch it again? Yes. I like superhero shows well enough that I’m watching The Flash, Arrow, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD, and Daredevil seems like it could be at least as good as any of those, and maybe better.