WHAT TO WATCH: MAY 2014

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Well kids, here we are back again for another month of TV (this year is kind of going by incredibly fast, right?). May is an interesting month. Not nearly as busy as September, January or April, but significantly more interesting than used to be May. Traditionally, May would be the time when your network shows would be wrapping up their seasons, and the networks would be moving into summer reruns or limited run summer series. That’s not as much the case in today’s changed TV landscape.

May through August will likely not be as stacked as some months, but they will likely be very top heavy, with some cable networks premiering some truly excellent works (mainly HBO and FX, but AMC also has some interesting things coming up this summer).

So let’s get to the list:

10. The Americans: Season 2 finale (FX, May 21) — I’m starting with three shows that I absolutely adore at the bottom of this list. Shows that will almost definitely be in my top 10 (if not top 5) for the year. I do this just because they are finales, and the main purpose of this list is to make our readers aware of premiering shows. If you want to know about The Americans, you can refer back to our February list, where it was the number 2 entry for the month. Its inclusion here hopefully will be taken by our readers to mean that the season has lived up to any and all incredibly high expectations, and has been an excellent, likely improved, follow up to the sensational season 1.

9. Hannibal: Season 2 finale (NBC, May 23) — And, the number 1 entry on our February list was Hannibal. This is a show that surprised the hell out of me in its debut season. I had incredibly low expectations, was surprised to hear early reviews of its greatness, and loved the season overall. Season 2 did not have such benefit. I went into this season expecting, if not demanding, brilliance out of Fuller, Mikkelsen, Dancy and co. The season has turned what we know of this world on its head, and has been one of the fullest and richest experiences on TV in recent memory.

8. Mad Men: Season 7A finale (AMC, May 25) — Speaking of full and rich experiences…We just posted my review of the early season within the last week, so I won’t go on too much about Mad Men. But one thing that was not mentioned in that post was continued excellent guest casting for season 7A, with the additions of Not-Dog Travis (Dan Byrd), 90’s crush Neve Campbell, and Veronica Mars’s own Jessy Schram (who I just adore).

7. Rosemary’s Baby (NBC, May 11) — The networks are starting to figure out, the best way to get an audience is with miniseries and limited run series. This modern day telling of the Ira Levin novel is only 4 hours, and stars Zoe Saldana and Jason Isaacs. If we are going to continue to be lazy and refuse to come up with new and novel ideas, your best chance at getting me to watch is keeping it short (4 hours) and casting actors I’m interested in seeing (Saldana and the always excellent Isaacs). I’m making no long-term commitment NBC, but I’ll at least watch Night One.

6. Crossbones (NBC, May 30) — So, it seems like NBC is in the summer show business, doesn’t it? A pirates show starring John Malkovich. Oh, and brought to you by Michael Bay, did I forget to mention that part? Everything about this tells us it is going to be hideously awful, yet, I can’t help but be oddly intrigued. Let me also add, as I was doing my research, I noticed a strange name with the writing credits, Neil Cross. This is the man that brought us Idris Elba’s Luther, one of the finest shows of the last 5 years. Also, David Slade is credited as a director for the series (it appears he directed the pilot, as he did for Awake and Hannibal, which set amazing tones). With these guys involved, there has to be something there, right?

5. The Normal Heart (HBO, May 25) — I’m not going to pretend to know a great deal about this HBO movie, other than the fact that I’ve heard people talk about the fact that it’s an HBO movie. And, by just knowing that fact, I know that it’s going to win all the Emmy’s. Plus, with a cast including Julia Roberts, Taylor Kitsch, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Mark Ruffalo, Denis O’Hare, and Joe Zaso, even the fact that it is directed by Ryan Murphy can’t necessarily deter me. Based on a 2011 Broadway play, and dealing with HIV/AIDS activism in the 1980s…Again…All the Emmy’s.

4. Gang Related (FOX, May 20) — Our first look at FOX’s summer programming. I’m not sure I know why I’m interested in Gang Related, other than maybe to just say I love Terry O’Quinn (obviously), and the guy that plays Alvarez on Sons of Anarchy is also in this show. I guess it could be good, or it could be absolutely dreadful. Only time will tell I suppose.

3. In the Flesh (BBC America, May 10) — So this is a show that sat on my DVR from last summer until early this year. I believe it is even a show I pointed out in my top TV of last year as a show I had missed which may have been included. Having watched the first season, yeah, it probably would have been. In the Flesh, not unlike The Returned, is a zombie show without a lot of “zombies.” Set in the UK after a zombie outbreak, a cure of sorts has been found, and those that have been infected are attempting to re-integrate into society. It is clear that they are infected, but their symptoms are kept in check. Many people in the small town which the show is set in are unsurprisingly uncomfortable with these people being allowed back home. It’s a slow, thoughtful show. Season 1 was only 3 episodes, but they’ve upped it to 6 for season 2.

2. Penny Dreadful (Showtime, May 11) — The next Showtime show has probably the most impressive pedigree yet. Created by John Logan and being exec produced by Sam Mendes, and starring names such as Josh Hartnett, Helen McCrory, Timothy Dalton and the perfect Eva Green, it has all the makings of a great one. The show appears to be a mix and match horror anthology type show set in Victorian London and involving the likes Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Dracula. I love it when shows take big swings, and with the brain trust of Skyfall on board, I will be too.

 1. Louie (FX, May 5) — It’s so good to have this show back.

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Alright, that’s it for this month.  We will see you again in June.

-CJ

 

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MAD MEN THOUGHTS: THE BEGINNING OF THE END

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I know many people out there who have given up on Mad Men. The show is too sad, or too dark, or it’s just Don Draper repeating his same mistakes over and over again. Whatever the reason may be, a lot of people just kind of can’t take any more. And, I suppose, on some level, I understand that, but I’ll never agree with it. There were lots of people who think season 6 showed that Mad Men had “lost its fastball,” so to speak. But, I think if those people went back and looked at season 6 again, they would see that it was not the case. When I looked back on my favorite moments to do research for a post we put up a couple weeks ago (about Mad Men moments), I found myself gravitating to several key moments from last year. The show is just as rich as ever, and I’ll argue, it’s only getting better.

To that end, I am of the opinion that an episode such as episode 702, A Day’s Work, only proves that Matt Weiner and crew remain at the top of their game, and, that when they are, the product is truly the most outstanding thing on television. Again, I understand that Mad Men has lost its luster for many people, but I don’t think that is on the show, I think that’s on us as viewers. We no longer have the patience for a show such as Mad Men. What, no zombies head’s getting lopped off? No vampire on human sex scenes? No garage door opener/machine gun massacres? or DRAGONS?! Mad Men always has been, and always will be a show about people. Just people. No super powers. No vigilante justice. No whatever it is Olivia Pope does (only LJ watches that show). Just a group of people trying to get through the next day. And, unfortunately, many of us no longer have the patience for this kind of show.

When I see an episode like A Day’s Work, I find it to be a real shame that we have lost our patience for television this outstanding. I’ll readily admit that I’m a sucker for an episode like this one, because I’m such a sucker for the Don/Sally relationship. If someone were to ask me to pick a single relationship on this show as my favorite, it would be Don and Sally. And, this past week’s episode gave us multiple scenes of outstanding work between these two, culminating in probably the greatest scene shared between the two over a cold burger and a tuna melt in a roadside diner, and a life changing declaration by Sally to close the episode.

The diner scene starts out as painful and awkward as many scenes between Don and Sally lately, but Don breaks the tension by continuing his trend of late: being honest with Sally. She learns earlier in the episode that Don is not working, and instead of trying to live one more lie, he gives Sally the truth about what is going on. One of the most fascinating things about the conversation is the way Don talks to Sally. He is clearly talking to her as if she is an adult at that table. He doesn’t talk down to her, he doesn’t say that she’s too young to understand. And even when he does try to side step the truth regarding moving out to California, Sally immediately calls him out on it. This conversation is a real break through for these two, and the ramifications are seen immediately.

When Don drops Sally at school, she says something that no one, especially Don, expected. Simple words, but so full of meaning to Don: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.” The million emotions running through Don’s head at that point are beautifully apparent on the face and in the eyes of Jon Hamm (seriously — no Emmys for his work on this show, it’s insane). My thoughts went immediately to the fact that, to my best recollection, Sally has never spoken these words to her father (at least not on screen). I can imagine Don saw that car ride ending in several ways. Having his daughter tell him she loves him, was not one of them.

What this does for the show going forward, only time will tell. But I have no doubt that it will have major implications for Don. The fact is that this is hands down the finest written show on television with some of the best performances ever put to screen. And in all this, we haven’t even commented on the California woes of Pete and his small office; the best spin off idea ever of Shirley and Dawn; the Joffrey like villain forming in Lou Avery; the battle for power between Jim Cutler and Roger Sterling; Joan taking charge; and most importantly, masturbating gloomily with Peggy Olson.

I’ve always thought Mad Men was among the best things in the history of TV, and so far, this “final” season has only confirmed that. I wish more people would watch Mad Men…But honestly, at this point, there is nothing that could make this show feel any less special to me. Two episodes in to the beginning of the end, and I’m on the edge of my seat to see where the rest of 1969 takes these characters we’ve spent so much time with over the last 6+ seasons.

-CJ

 

MAD MEN SUNDAY: A LOOK BACK AT SOME GREAT MOMENTS

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Mad Men Sunday is finally here! As we look forward to the return of one of the best shows to ever air on TV, for part one of its final season, we thought it might be a good time to look back at some of the best moments from seasons 4 through 6 of Mad Men. The goal here was to count down the top 5 scenes of the last three seasons, but, as usual, that proved harder than expected. Here’s what we think:

5. Don’s Hershey’s pitch (Episode 613: In Care of)

The moment that Don Draper and Dick Whitman become the same man. Watching Don break down and tell a real story from his childhood is one of the most heartbreaking things we’ve seen on Mad Men. And, Mad Men is full of heartbreak, so that’s saying something. All of the pre-season press material made it clear that season 6 was going to be all about the duality of self, and that’s exactly what was delivered in season 6—especially as it relates to Don. This was the season where we could see the crumbling of Don’s two worlds into one.

4. Sally catches Don and Sylvia (Episode 611: Favors)

The “holy crap” moment of season 6. I’m probably the biggest proponent out there of the theory that Don Draper only cares about 3 people in the entire world, Peggy Olson, the late Anna Draper, and his daughter, Sally. Sally has always known that her father was a bit of a skeeze, but, at times, she had almost idolized that because of her total disdain for her mother. However, it is in this episode that Sally sees Don for who and what he really is and it the point that changed everything for Sally and Don. Sally can no longer pretend her that her father is the good guy. This realization, along with the scene mentioned above, lead to another scene that could have very easily been on this list—Don taking his children to see where he really grew up. Anyone who thinks that scene had anything to do with Bobby or baby Gene are fooling themselves. That scene was about Don letting the last bit of pretense go.

3. Roger takes LSD (Episode 506: Far Away Places)

Let’s lighten it up a bit, shall we? My name is Roger Sterling  and I have taken LSD. Though this scene ends in a fairly dark, sad place, with Roger telling Jane he wants a divorce, the lead up is hilarious. The Russian symphony playing when Roger opens the bottle of vodka never gets old to me. I watch it over and over again, and never stop laughing. This moment is also of note as it is in the middle of probably the greatest run of episodes Mad Men gave us, and it also is likely the most experimental episode of Mad Men to date. If you don’t remember or haven’t seen it in a while, go back and watch this episode. It’s well worth it.

2. Megan does Zou Bisou Bisou (Episode 501-502: A Little Kiss)

The moment of complete and total confusion on Don’s face. I feel like I don’t really need to comment on this one, right?

1a. Peggy says goodbye (Episode 511: The Other Woman)

The moment that Don couldn’t let go. You’ll see that I have a 1a and a 1. I wanted to keep this list to 5, but I just couldn’t. And, frankly, these two scenes actually fit together very well. Peggy and Don share something very special. Ironically, Peggy, like Sally, doesn’t know that Don Draper is actually Dick Whitman. And yet, I would say that Peggy, again, like Sally, know the real man behind the suit better than anyone (save for Anna). While Betty, Pete, Burt Cooper, and Megan know Don’s secret, they don’t necessarily know the man as he is. Peggy does. Watching Peggy say goodbye to Don (though, unbeknownst to them at the time, it would be a short goodbye) and seeing Don’s inability to let go of that hand was a symbol of Don’s affection and respect for this very important person in his life.

1. “That’s what the money is for!” (Episode 407: The Suitcase)

The moment where Mad Men became the greatest of all time. This is not an argument for this day, but certainly, at the time the episode aired, The Suitcase felt like the greatest episode of a TV drama ever (there is now an argument for not only other Mad Men episodes from season 5, but also a couple episodes from the final season of Breaking Bad, and at least a couple episodes from The Wire and The Sopranos). The episode focused largely on the relationship between Don and Peggy, which is the relationship that makes this show so special, and an all time great. The episode culminates with two magical moments, including a shared moment of sorrow, between Peggy and Don after Don learns of the death of Anna (from her niece Stephanie, played by Caity Lotz—currently starring on Arrow). The other moment being the argument between Peggy and Don, as seen here.

There are a dozen other scenes that could have made this list: Pete falling down the stairs, Don telling Ginsberg he doesn’t think about him at all, “Not great Bob!,” the Jaguar pitch, Lane’s suicide, the bubble gum in the pubis… the list goes on and on. But, the moments listed here are the ones that stand above the rest in our eyes. This evening cannot come soon enough!

-CJ & LJ

WHAT TO WATCH: APRIL 2014

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Sorry kids, all the fun and games are over. April is not messing around. I hope you’re not behind on anything, because April is not going to leave you any opportunity to catch up on things. Premieres, finales, specials, reality shows, comedies, dramas…April’s got it all. And, it’s got it all in spades. January to March has been nice and relaxing, and I hope you’ve taken advantage. There are a couple of Sunday nights that I look forward to each year (or have in the past): Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire was an amazing Sunday of TV for the last several years, but my favorite Sunday for the last 3 years has been and will remain Game of Thrones and Mad Men (topped off this year with Veep and Silicon Valley). This is what April brings us. And, while last month, I couldn’t even come up with 10 items, this month, there are far more than 10, so let’s get to it:

10. Turn (AMC, April 6) — With Breaking Bad gone, and Mad Men on it’s way out, it’s time for AMC to start restocking on high quality, prestige dramas (I was really looking forward to Low Winter Sun, but that didn’t work out so well). AMC tries it again here with an American Revolutionary War drama about a group of spies lead by Jamie Bell. Most importantly though, the recurring cast includes the one and only Stephen Root (Office Space, Justified, King of the Hill, No Country for Old Men, Boardwalk Empire). Early reviews seem to be mixed, but AMC has bought enough good will with me to at least give it a look.

9. Orphan Black (BBC America, April 19) — So, here’s the thing. I’m just going to be honest with you. I’ve still not watched the first season. I have every intention of doing so, and hope to before the beginning of season 2. But, regardless of whether I’m able to do so or not, the fact remains that Orphan Black belongs on this list. More people (in this case, including myself) need to watch shows like this, and less people need to watch shows like The Following.  Sorry Kevin Bacon.

8. The Writer’s Room (Sundance, April 14) — Hosted by Community’s (and award-winning screenwriter) Jim Rash, The Writer’s Room is an hour long show discussing the writing process for several of your favorite shows on TV. Season 1 saw the writers from Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Parks and Rec, and New Girl come by. Season 2 brings more interesting personalities to the show, including Robert Kirkman (TWD), Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and Beau Willimon (House of Cards). The conversations are usually funny, often insightful and always worth your time.

7. Silicon Valley (HBO, April 6) —  Brought to us by Mike Judge and starring (among others) Martin Starr, TJ Miller (Denver, yeah!) and Kumail Nanjiani. If I need to say anything else to make you want to watch this show, I don’t even want to know you.

6. Fargo (FX, April 15) — So, here’s the thing, FX might be the best thing going right now for dramas. Justified, The Bridge, The Americans, Sons of Anarchy, and now Fargo (and soon to come The Strain). FX continues to deliver excellent shows from bright people. The reason they are able to do that is probably directly related to FX’s President, John Landgraf. He sees talent, and he doesn’t try to contain it, or think he knows better. So here we have Fargo, set in the same universe as the classic Coen Brothers film (and they also serve as exec producers), starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dr. Watson himself, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Key and Peele. Oh, and it’s been run by Adam Bernstein, who has been studying at the school of Vince Gilligan for the last 5 years while working on Breaking Bad. So, yeah…I’m looking forward to this.

5. The Challenge: Free Agents (MTV, April 10) — The only reality show I still watch. And, I will never stop watching. The Challenge is the fifth major sport in this country, and it is the perfect mix of embarrassing, exhilarating and horrifying moments. My man CT is going to be wheeled out there when he’s 80 years old, still starting trouble…And guess what, I’ll still be watching.

4. Veep (HBO, April 6) — Veep had a historically great second season, and all the early reviews point to season 3 even being an improvement on that ridiculously high bar. There is no better (or funnier) commentary on the current state of American politics than Vice President Selina Kyle, and her ridiculous staff. The show is occasionally sweet, sometimes thoughtful, usually hilarious, and flat out always insulting! Watching these characters berate Jonah, better known as Jolly Green Jizz-Face, will never stop being funny.

3. Justified finale (FX, April 8) — While season 5 has admittedly been an up and down season of Justified (my number 1 show of 2013), the penultimate episode which aired on April 1 was as good as almost any episode of Justified. More so than looking forward to the finale of this season, I’m looking forward to seeing what it sets up for the sixth, and final, season. I’ve been saying since before this season even started that season 5 was likely going to be tough, as it had to hold off on, and set up the stories that will play out in the final season. Specifically, the resolution of the Raylan/Boyd friendship, or whatever it is. I was thrilled with the episode this week, am looking forward to the finale next week, but can hardly contain my excitement for seeing where the story of Raylan, Boyd, Ava and Art ends next year.

2. Game of Thrones (HBO, April 6) — I sometimes think about whether or not Game of Thrones is a “great” show, on the level with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad or Mad Men…But, then I stop thinking about that, and I realize, “who cares.” I don’t actually need Game of Thrones to be those shows. What I do need out of Game of Thrones, is for it to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I have watching TV all year (like Justified). And, that is EXACTLY what Game of Thrones gives us. Game of Thrones has never been in my top 5 shows of any given year, but it’s always a show I’m looking forward to. It’s just fun to be in this world and with these characters, and I can’t wait to get back to see what hijinks the characters get into this season (side note: does anyone else want to help me Kickstart a spin off show with Arya Stark and The Hound as private detectives in Westeros? Amazing, right? #truedetectiveseason2 is all I am saying).

1. Mad Men (AMC, April 13) — So, look. Those who know me, know that I argue that Mad Men is the greatest TV drama of all time (or, if not, it’s millimeters behind The Sopranos). So, of course, this is going to be the top of my list. I know there are many out there that didn’t love season 6 of Mad Men, and I understand that. But, even if you didn’t love it, you had to love the way it finished. Season 6 was all about the multiple versions of ourselves, mainly, the 2 sides of Don Draper. This comes to a head in the haunting and heart-wrenching meeting with Hershey’s, and then with Don taking Sally to see where he grew up. His two lives are melding into one, and this final season (split into 2 parts, just as Breaking Bad was) will deal with the repercussions of that fact. Add that with the fact that Don was “fired” from his job, and the season is setting up for some truly interesting introspection by Dick Whitman.

So, there you have it. April 2014…Not messing around. Some honorable mentions: Playing House (USA, April 29) and Jim Gaffigan: Obsessed (Comedy Central, April 27).

-CJ

MAD MEN UPDATE: SEASON 7 PROMO PHOTOS RELEASED

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AMC released more season 7 promo photos yesterday.  What is clear from the photos is that the characters are definitely part of the groovy sixties.  What is less clear is whether the gang has chosen to forget all their differences and take one big vacation together.  Somehow I doubt that is actually the case.  We won’t have to wait much longer to find out though.  Season 7 of Mad Man premieres April 13th on AMC.

Here’s a link to GQ if you want to check out all of the photos:  http://www.gq.com/blogs/the-feed/2014/03/mad-men-season-7-promo-photos.html

-CJ & LJ