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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WHAT TO WATCH: FEBRUARY 2014

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February on TV is not necessarily all that different from February at the movie theater. It is traditionally known as a dumping ground, but there’s always some good, if not great, stuff mixed in. This February is an interesting month. Thrown off by the Winter Olympics (which 100%, completely and totally will NOT be anywhere near this list–as boring as I find the Summer Olympics, the Winter Games are far, far worse), but still a testament to the changing face of television. The traditional television season, with pilots, show orders, September/January premieres, is all becoming a thing of the past. Cable networks set their own schedules, which allows them to nurture a show in ways not afforded to the Big 4 networks. Most importantly, they are not tied down to the structure of pilot season, giving them access to more and bigger named actors for their projects.

Now on to the list for February:

10. Growing Up Fisher (NBC–Feb. 23): This is a show that I know virtually nothing about, and in most months, would never make this list. But like I mentioned above, February is just a weird month. What puts this show on this list is the top line: JK Simmons, Jenna Elfman, and Jason Bateman. A JK Simmons project is always going to at least get a view from me.

 9. Questioning Darwin (HBO–Feb. 10): Again, a project I know very little about, but what I do know, tells me I’ll at least watch it. I generally enjoy the HBO documentary series (which this is a part of), and I’m always interested in a story about great scientific minds that have shaped the world, of which, Charles Darwin is certainly one.

 8. Legit (FXX–Feb. 26): One of the old FX comedies that got pushed over to the new network, Legit is the story of a standup comedian, Jim Jeffries, his best friend and his best friend’s quadriplegic brother. It’s not the finest of the FX/FXX comedies, but it has funny moments. Jim Jeffries is a talented comedian and that shows at many points in this comedy. Although, perhaps what I should be pointing out here is a show that I missed in January, Archer: Vice on FX. The new season of Archer throws the entire premise on its head, and is probably as good as or better than the show has been in its 5 seasons.

7. Mixology (ABC–Feb. 26): Another new network sitcom premiering at the end of February. Can’t be a good thing, right? I don’t know. This show has kind of an interesting premise, with 10 people spending one night in a bar. How can a premise like that go on, I’m not sure. But I’m at least interested in seeing what happens on this one, presumably crazy night. Although I don’t think I’ll get too attached, because I’m not expecting this to be a long term show on ABC–who has been struggling like crazy to find a comedy block to surround The Middle and Modern Family.

6. About a Boy (NBC–Feb. 21): Finally a show I actually do have some high expectations for. Not that I expect it to be a commercial success (although, I do expect it to be a critical success), but it is a show that I am greatly anticipating. Brought to us by Jason Katims, the man behind Friday Night Lights (TV), and starring David Walton (NBC’s short lived, but brilliant “Bent”) and Minnie Driver, the pedigree behind this show has all the makings of a great sitcom. The only thing that I can think of that would make this better is if NBC went all in on the “Bent” reunion and had Amanda Peet in the Minnie Driver role. But hey, I’m about as big a fan of “Good Will Hunting” as there is out there, so I won’t complain with the role being played by the namesake for my dog.

5. The Walking Dead (AMC–Feb. 9): Part 2 of season 4 premieres this weekend. LJ has posted a review of Part 1 of season 4 to get everyone ready for Sunday night, so I’ll direct you to her comments. She’s also a much bigger fan of TWD than I am, so I think it’s best to let her convince you to watch. Let me just say, I am NOT excited about the return of The Governor. Come on Scott Gimple. You killed him. Let him just be dead. No more Rick hallucinations, no more flash backs. Just let David Morrissey go on to his next AMC show.

 4. The Red Road (Sundance–Feb. 27): So this is one of those interesting situations where I’m going to say I know NOTHING about this show, but I couldn’t be more excited for it. First of all, just look at the cast: Khol Drogo himself, Jason Momoa, Julianne Nicholson (one of my favorite gingers), and Tom Sizemore–that is great stuff. Then, it’s on Sundance, who so far has given us Top of the Lake, Rectify and The Returned. I hope that this show will be just as brilliant as those 3, and I fully suspect that it will be.

3. House of Cards (Netflix–Feb. 13): House of Cards reminds me a lot of “Oz” from the early days of HBO. A great show, but it is most important because it paved the way for what came next. Like Oz, House of Cards was not technically the first Netflix original, but it is the first one of note. And like Oz, House of Cards is overshadowed in many people’s minds by what came after it. For Oz, it was obviously the greatest TV show of all time, The Sopranos, and for House of Cards, it was arguably the best show of 2013, Orange is the New Black. Nonetheless, more House of Cards is something to be excited about, including the news of a season 3 in 2015.

2. The Americans (FX–Feb. 26): As I reflect on my top 10 list from 2013, I am really upset at myself for not putting this show higher. The Americans suffered from what many shows do, it simply appeared too early on in the year, leaving me too much time to forget how great it was, and how much I enjoyed it. My vow is to not let that happen this year, and to let it sit up there with the other great FX shows including Justified, The Bridge, Archer: Vice, Louie, Sons of Anarchy, The Strain, and Fargo. Good night alive, it looks like it’s going to be a GREAT year for John Landgraf and FX.

1. Hannibal (NBC–Feb. 28): I will put Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikklesen’s performances in Hannibal up against any 2 performances on any show, including Olyphant and Goggins, Cranston and Paul, McConauhey and Harrelson, or Hamm and Kartheiser. The difference is that no one pays any attention to Hannibal for some reason. And, adding Michael Pitt to the cast for the upcoming season is only going to make this rich cast even richer. It’s the most beautiful show on TV and telling one of the most thoughtful crime stories ever put to film. Getting a second season is a gift we could have never expected. But hopefully, with the foreign financing, making this show brutally cheap for NBC, we will get as many seasons as Fuller and the gang want to do.

-CJ

2013 TERRIERS MEMORIAL LIST: PART I

First, an explanation for the title of this post. Back in 2010, FX premiered a little show called Terriers, starring Donal Logue, Michael Raymond James, and Rockmond Dunbar, amongst other amazing character actors. For a show run by Shawn Ryan (The Shield and The Chicago Code) and created by Ted Griffin (Ocean’s trilogy), it was embarrassingly under watched and cancelled after only a single, nearly perfect season. Terriers was my top show of 2010, and I made a promise to myself that from that point on my year-end list for TV would be called the “Terriers Memorial List.” Just my little way of keeping Terriers in the mind of the 6 people who read this blog.

For 2013, the Terriers Memorial List will run in three parts. Today, Part I, will be honorable mentions and my shows 20-11. Part II, running in the coming days, will be my shows 10-6, and Part III, running days after that, will be my shows 5-1. So let’s get started with the 2013 Terriers Memorial List, shall we?

Starting with shows that would likely have been considered for this list that I have not been able to get to yet (but I will, I promise):

  • The Fall
  • The Returned
  • Orphan Black
  • Top of the Lake (I’m through the first few hours, and it’s amazing)
  • Black Mirror

Next, a few shows that demonstrate just how hard it is to come up with a list like this. My honorable mentions for 2013 are shows that I greatly enjoy, and in some cases love. But, because of the time we are in, with so much amazing TV, it’s simply not possible to fit everything in, even with a list of 20 shows.

  • Girls – A slight let down from season 1 perhaps, but still a solid season with great moments of humor, sadness, and lots and lots of awkwardness.
  • Sons of Anarchy – Season 6 was the best season of Sons since the high of season 2.  The show is finally being honest with itself about the characters that have outlived their useful life, which is setting up a fascinating seventh and final season.
  • Cougar Town – PENNY CAN!
  • The Americans – As seems to be a trend on FX shows, The Americans had a first season that did nothing but get stronger as it went along. This is a show that I fully expect will make my main list as the seasons progress.
  • The Walking Dead – I’m a little bit surprised TWD didn’t make the full list, but as I sat down and thought through my list, part one of season 4 was destroyed by the return of The Governor. The year (season 3 part two and season 4 part one) included many great episodes, but as an overarching story, was at times disappointing.

I’m sure there are a dozen other shows I’m leaving off, but I have to draw a line somewhere, right? It’s now time to move on to the full list, and as I mentioned above, Part I will discuss shows 20-11. Along with each show listed below, I’ll include what I believe is the strongest episode of the show that appeared in 2013.

20. The Bridge (Episode 111: Take the Ride, Pay the Toll)

Just as I was surprised that The Walking Dead didn’t make the full list, I was surprised The Bridge did actually make the full Top 20 list. But the thing is, The Bridge was a show that just got stronger as the season went along, and by the end of the season, it became a show I couldn’t wait to watch each Wednesday night. The performances by Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir are among the best on TV, with a partnership/friendship that is unlike most of the cop relationships seen on TV. With a change in show runners (Meredith Stiehm heading back to Homeland), I expect the show to take a creative leap forward, focusing more on the gritty, real world drama taking place on the US/Mexico border, and I can’t wait for season 2 next summer.

19. House of Cards (Episode 112: Chapter 12)

There is a great line from David O. Russell’s American Hustle in which Christian Bale says that you should always take a favor over money. That’s a great way to summarize the theme of House of Cards. Favors are the ultimate power. Money is short-sighted and ego driven. Having someone owe you is the ability to control them. That’s all Frank Underwood wants. Control. Amazing performances by Corey Stoll, Kristen Connolly, Robin Wright, and Kevin Spacey are what make this show well worth the $7.99 Netflix subscription.

18. Raising Hope (Episode 407: Murder, She Hoped)

As charming and beautiful as Shannon Woodward is, and as good as Lucas Neff often is on Raising Hope, this is a show that is dominated by Martha Plimpton and Garrett Dillahunt. Up until last weekend, I had a different episode (Burt Mitzvah) as my favorite of the year, but the hilarious Rear Window episode was too good to pass up. The wacky hijinks of this group always make for great laughs, but the show, like most Greg Garcia shows (My Name is Earl), give you so much heart and family warmth. This is a show that always makes you feel good about watching.  So, while this is a show likely on its last legs, let’s enjoy it while we’ve got it.

17. Game of Thrones (Episode 309: The Rains of Castemere)

Season 3 of Game of Thrones was such a strong step up from season 2 and probably even an improvement on the great, great season 1. The fact that this show is this low on the list is so surprising to me, and again, shows just how great a year of TV 2013 was. This is one of the shows I look forward to most each year, and the Sunday night combination of Mad Men and Game of Thrones is my favorite night of TV. Though I’m disappointed that we aren’t going to get the spin-off on the travels of Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, I couldn’t have been happier with how that, and all of the other stories (save for stupid Theon of course) played out over season 3.  I can’t wait for its return in the spring.

16. Veep (Episode 204: The Vic Allen Dinner)

There are not many comedies on my list this year (the lack of Community is a great sadness for me), but amongst the few that are on the list, Veep is without a doubt the funniest. Veep doesn’t go for the heart of Raising Hope, Cougar Town or Parks and Rec. It is just a 100% profanity laced, mean-spirited laugh riot. Julia Louis-Dreyfus had a great year on both TV and film, and is there a better/more annoying character on TV than Jonah (aka “Jolly Green Jizz-Face”)?

15. Broadchurch (Episode 107)

I wrote earlier this summer about all the police shows involving the death of young children, but despite the high volume of shows, some clearly stood above the others. Broadchurch was one such show. Broadchurch focused so much less on the crime itself, than on the effects of such a terrible tragedy (here, the death of an 8-year-old boy in a small British beach town). How would such a death impact a mother, a father, a sister, friends, family friends, and the town as a whole when it appears that there are no answers to this awfulness? And making it worse, there is a realization that no matter who killed young Danny, it’s someone close, it’s someone we all know…How does that change the landscape of a town forever, knowing a murderer is right next door?

14. Hannibal (Episode 113: Savoureux)

Even more so than Breaking Bad, Mad Men or Game of Thrones, Hannibal is without a doubt the best looking show on TV. It’s also masterfully written by Bryan Fuller and expertly acted by Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen. Hannibal is a dark and disturbing look into the world of the human mind and the evil that lurks inside. It looks at the beauty and art that an expert serial killer (and in this case, cannibal) brings to his crimes. For a show that is on network TV (NBC), it is disturbingly violent and beautifully graphic. But, unlike so many violent shows on TV today, there is a purpose and a vision behind every scene of violence portrayed. I couldn’t be happier to spend more time in this world, with NBC renewing it for a second season, despite it’s very NBC-like ratings.

13. Bob’s Burgers (Episode 315: OT: The Outside Toilet)

I feel like I don’t really need to say anything about Bob’s Burgers other than the fact that the show did an ET episode that had Jon Hamm as a talking toilet…I mean, what could I really say that would be more of an incentive to watch than that?

12. Masters of Sex (Episode 105: Catherine)

Without a doubt the highlight of the fall season, Masters of Sex is a new show that feels like it’s been around forever. It started with so much confidence and with so much assuredness of what it was and what it wanted to be. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Kaplan are the obvious stand outs here, but it is the smaller turns by Allison Janney and Caitlin Fitzgerald that are my personal favorite here. Maybe that’s unfair because Allison Janney is one of the very best at what she does, but I don’t care. It is always such a treat to see her appear on-screen, and she never, ever disappoints. The comparisons to Mad Men are not only unfair, but also unnecessary. Masters of Sex may be set in a period near Mad Men (50s as opposed to Mad Men’s 60s setting), but the fact that it handles the “look” of its time is where the comparisons need to stop. Masters of Sex stands just fine on its own two feet and was definitely the best new show this fall.

11. Parks and Recreation (Episode 514: Leslie and Ben)

The clip above is the perfect personification of why Parks and Rec, even six seasons in, remains one of the very best things on TV. In a 22 minute episode, Parks and Rec can give you so much. It is a common occurrence for this show to be able, in a single episode, to have you laughing, crying, and laughing so hard that you cry. The fact that Nick Offerman has never won ANY award, let alone even been nominated, is one of the bigger crimes of the Golden Age of Television. We need to cherish our Parks while we have it, because I suspect we are approaching the end of what will go down as an all time great TV sitcom.

So there we have it. That’s it for Part I of the 2013 Terriers Memorial List. Please be sure to check back in soon for Part II, where we will count down shows 10-6 of 2013.

-CJ

The Killing Hannibal on the Bridge over Broadchurch’s Low Winter Sun

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Last night LJ and I sat down to give a look to Low Winter Sun, AMC’s new show that followed Breaking Bad Sunday night. Right as the episode started, LJ turned to me and said, “is this a cop show?” My response, “it’s a show on television, right?” My response was obviously in jest, but, was it? Think about television right now, particularly this summer. Old shows, new shows, everything is a cop show. And more specifically, cop shows that are unapologetically dark, many of which include the golden age of TV stalwart, the “anti-hero.”

Consider this list of dark, depressing, humorless cop shows that have already aired this year (an incomplete list to be sure): Top of the Lake, The Following, Hannibal, The Killing, Broadchurch, Luther, Low Winter Sun, The Bridge, The Fall, etc, etc, etc. How many fictional young girls have to fall subject to a fictional serial killer to satisfy TV audiences?

I don’t write this post to say there is no value in these shows, because I think there is great value in them (some more than others). Some of these shows I am a very big fan of. Hannibal has been one of my favorite shows of the year so far. I’m always looking forward to more episodes of Luther (I’ll take Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson any day). This season of The Killing was surprisingly strong (especially considering season 1 was so bad, I didn’t even watch season 2). But some of the others on this list were terrible (looking at you The Following).

So what separates the shows in this genre that are worth watching from the one’s that make you want to stab yourself in the eye (once again, looking at you The Following)? Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any one thing that distinguishes these shows. TV is a writers medium though, so we can start right there. Our issues with the first season of The Killing were never Mirielle Enos and Joel Kinnaman, the problem was always the writing of Veena Sud and her staff (how many red herrings and fake outs do we really have to be subjected to?). Similarly, the first season of The Following had promise for most of us, because who doesn’t love Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy and Natalie Zea? The problem comes in when you try to present your show as intellectually thoughtful and curious, when in fact, you have a script that feels like it is written by a 10th grader who just read “The Tell Tale Heart” for the first time.

What made The Following look even worse by comparison though, is that Hannibal premiered right around the same time, and was an example of what we all thought The Following was going to be. Everywhere The Following failed, Hannibal succeeded. Hannibal presented complex characters with complicated motivations. Sometimes the show was without a doubt hard to watch, but it was always worth it because of the intellectual process it took getting there (not to mention, Hannibal is the best looking show of the year, including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Justified).

While I would definitely say writing is the biggest reason some of these shows fail while others succeed, I don’t think you can ignore the talent in front of the camera either. I don’t necessarily love The Bridge, but I do love what Demian Bichir and Diane Kruger are doing. I know there are many out there who aren’t enjoying what Kruger is doing, but I honestly love it. I find enough of a difference between her performance and what Hugh Dancy is doing on Hannibal that there is enough room for both performances (Dancy is also doing amazing work, as is everyone on Hannibal).

All of this blabbing is just to say, I come to a cop show for the performers, but I think we should only stay if the writing justifies it. That leaves us with Hannibal clearly on the top of this list, and The Following far down at the bottom. And the fact of the matter is, this genre isn’t going anywhere. The only hope we have is that more people go off of the Justified template and mix in lots of humor and fun with the dark drama. The problem is, that’s really, really hard to do well, for me, the list pretty much starts and stops with Justified.

In this age of the “anti-hero” (Vic Mackey, McNulty, Walter White, Don Draper and Tony Soprano), it’s not hard to figure out why these showrunners are coming up with these dark depressing shows. Despite the fact that the golden age of TV ends next June when Mad Men ends, I suspect we are stuck with fictional serial killers torturing fictional young women for a good, long while yet.

-CJ