WHAT TO WATCH: JULY 2014

<p>The Bridge</p>

I suppose we have to start out with a bit of an apology. There was no June post. Partly because of laziness, Partly because my wife and I are forced to have real jobs. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of good stuff in June, some of which, I will touch on briefly at the top of this list.

July is a summer month, with not necessarily a ton going on. However, many of the things that are coming, are among some of the shows I’ve been looking forward to most this year. That said, let’s go ahead and get on to the list:

10. True Blood (HBO, June 22) — Here we have one of the shows that kicked off in June that I missed. And look, here’s the thing, I’m not here to argue that True Blood is, or necessarily ever was, great television. But it’s the final season. And I’ve held on this long, so I might as well finish it out. If the show was all about Jessica, Eric and Pam, throwing in some occasional Jason Stackhouse, it would be one of the greatest of all time. Alas, it does not do so. Instead, it is one of the most ridiculously confusing and overly large casts and over plotted shows in the history of the world. But we do still have some Jessica, Eric and Pam. And that makes it all worth it.

9. The Leftovers (HBO, June 29) — Having seen the premiere of The Leftovers, my excitement has been totally confirmed. It has all the best of Lindelof, and hopefully, far fewer idiot fans than LOST had. This show is set around a central mystery, but with a twist. From the start, it is made clear that there will never be an answer to the mystery. Maybe that’s what LOST should have done. Maybe that’s what it would have taken to convince people it was a show about character, not mystery.

8. Rectify (Sundance, June 19) — One of YBTV’s top shows from last year returns this summer. We’ve not watched either of the episodes that have aired yet. This feels to us generally like a show that is best taken in chunks (also, we were on vacation when it started, so that didn’t help). The continuation of the story of Daniel Holden and his view of freedom is something I’ve been looking forward to all year long, and I’m so happy to have it back.

7. Penn & Teller: Fool Us (The CW, July 30) — Everyone’s favorite magicians have a reality show or two, and this is one of them. The duo sets out to have people amaze and confound them, and since the show has already aired in other parts of the world, we have the buzz that the show winds up doing just that to the viewer. I’m a big fan of this duo, and can’t wait to look in on the surprises they have in store.

6. Manhattan (WGN, July 27) — WGN’s second attempt at original programming. The first one came and went with little fanfare. Honestly, I can’t even remember what it was about. I want to say there were vampires involved? That could be wrong. Witches maybe? This one, centered around the development of the nuclear bomb in 1950s New Mexico, I’ve actually heard positive feedback about. Also, the trailer does it’s job of making the show at least seem worth giving a shot. So, it being the summer and all, why not, right? Maybe…

5. The Honorable Woman (Sundance, July 31) — Maggie Gyllenhaal does TV for the network that has given us Rectify, Top of the Lake and The Returned. I don’t really know what the show is about, but the description I just provided is more than enough for me to give it a look.

4. Married (FX, July 27) — Again, a show I don’t necessarily know a ton about, other than the fact that I’ve seen endless promotion for it on other FX programs. But this one stars two of my personal favorites, Academy Award Winner Nat Faxon and Judy Greer as a married couple. I’m guessing hijinks ensue…Let’s do it!

3. The Strain (FX, July 13) — Finally…We get to see the Carlton Cuse project based on the novels by Guillermo del Toro. Any dork such as myself needs no more information than that. Just none. It’s another post apocalyptic show of sorts. But with the talent involved here, there’s no reason not to think it will rise above much of the other similar fare on TV and in film.

2. The Bridge (FX, July 9) — Seriously, FX is just crushing it this summer. The return for season 2 of a show that made the end of year list for YBTV last year, starring Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir, The Bridge started out promising, but with flaws, but by the close of the season, had found a great groove. Like many people who enjoyed season 1, my hope is that season 2 gets stronger by accepting that it is a “weird” show, and moving beyond typical police storylines. There’s a great story to be told here about the US/Mexico border, and The Bridge is just that show to do it.

1. Master’s of Sex (Showtime, July 13) — Sunday nights this summer are going to be as good as almost any Sunday nights in recent memory. You would hope that during the summer, you would get a break from the stressful Sunday nights which include Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk, Game of Thrones, Veep, Girls, etc, etc…But not this summer. We have Master’s of Sex, The Leftovers and The Strain. That sounds pretty great to me. Master’s returns for its second season with as much confidence as any show on TV, both in front of and behind the camera. Sheen and Caplan are dynamic and the supporting cast is as good as almost any on TV. We are truly being spoiled on Sunday nights this summer.

-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

What to Watch: October 2013

Each month here on YBTV, I will attempt to provide our faithful readers and overview of what to look forward to in the coming TV month. Last month was a busy one with the beginning of the fall TV season making it almost impossible to include everything in one list. I will attempt to rectify that in some small ways in October, pointing out shows that maybe barely missed the cut back in September.

10. American Horror Story: Coven (FX, Wednesday, October 9 at 9 PM) — Every year I get moderately excited about this show, and every year, after a few episodes, I stop watching and never feel sorry for doing so. I suspect this will be another year of the same, but none-the-less, I’ll be watching for the first few episodes. There’s a lot to like here, great performers (Sarah Paulson, Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga, Jessica Lange, etc, etc), a creepy, fun premise. But for whatever reason, within a few episodes, I’m always just kind of bored with it. I find that Ryan Murphy is kind of like Kurt Sutter, but worse. He does things purely for effect, without thinking about their place in the story and whether they offer any intellectual payoff. Or, who knows, maybe this will be the year I finally stick with a season of AHS.

9. Cousins Undercover (HGTV, Sunday, October 6 at 7 PM) — John and Anthony are without a doubt two of the best personalities on all of HGTV/DIY, so whenever they have a show, it is watched in our home. Whether it’s Kitchen Cousins, Cousins on Call or this new show, it’s always entertaining and fun to watch. Plus, you get to see really great contractors doing some really cool home improvements. What’s not to like?

8. ESPN’s 30 for 30 (ESPN, Tuesday nights starting October 1 at 8 PM) — The 30 for 30 series of documentaries is back. While I don’t necessarily know what specific docs are coming up, I know that I’ll be watching them. Not every documentary is legendary, but the batting average for ESPN with these is incredibly high, so missing them is not really an option. We’ve been provided some great storytelling in this series by some great story tellers. Will any of this batch match “Catching Hell,” “June 17, 1994,” “Benji,” or “The Ghosts of Ole Miss?” I don’t know, given the track record, I would expect at least some of them to do so.

7. Eastbound and Down (HBO, Sunday nights at 9 PM) — This is the first example of a show that started right at the end of Septmeber that I didn’t get a chance to talk about last month. The return of Kenny Powers definitely deserves some attention though, so here it is. We all thought season 3 was going to be the final chapter of the Kenny Powers story, but you can’t kill Kenny Powers quite that easily. So here he is, back for one last run at making it back to the big leagues, and surely providing us with one last round of incredibly offensive humor. Welcome back Kenny Powers.

6. Strike Back season 4 finale (Cinemax, Friday, October 18 at 9 PM) — A show that has no business being as good as it is finishes out another excellent season later this month. Cinemax’s first attempt at original programming, I honestly expected it to be something suited only for Cinemax audiences. And while it does have a lot of those traits to it, it also includes excellent characters and character development. You don’t necessarily come to Strike Back for the story (you come for the guns, explosions and boobs), but you get it along with all those things. Scott and Stonebridge are often times forced to deal with the emotional fallout of their jobs (basically government sanctioned mercanaries), and it is wonderfully played by Phillip Wincester and Sullivan Stapelton. A show I never expected to watch more than 2 episodes of, I look forward to each and every summer.

5. Saturday Night Live: Bruce Willis, host (NBC, Saturday, October 12 at 10:35 PM) — The Tiny Fey season premeire came and went last week with many good things and some not so good. This weekend, we have Miley Cyrus, but that’s not what I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to an episode hosted by John Freaking McLane! I don’t think any of us can know what to expect out of Willis, who has not hosted SNL since the season premeire of 1989. That’s right. 1989. That kind of uncertainty makes me very curious to see what he will have to offer.

4. The Bridge season 1 finale (FX, Wednesday, October 2 at 9 PM) — A show that started out maybe having a little trouble finding its groove, The Bridge has settled into becoming a very solid show for me. It show remains centered around the outstanding performances from Demian Bichir, Diane Kruger and Ted Levine, each of whom have stepped their game up even further as the season progressed. The show has never really been about the case, never really been about the “big bad,” at least not for me. For me, this show is about how Marco relates to Sonya, and the growth of that relationship has kept me coming back week to week, and will have me back next season.

3. Arrow (The CW, Wednesday, October 9 at 7 PM) — Another show that I honestly expected to watch 2 or 3 episodes of last year when it premeired, but quickly morphed into one of my favorite watches each week. Stephen Amell does a great job playing both sides of the Oliver Queen/Bruce Wayne character, and can kick ass with the best of them. The reason you come to the show though is for the amazing chemistry between Amell and David Ramsey, who plays Diggle, a combination of both Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon rolled into one, as well as the third part of the crime fighting team, Emily Bett Rickards, who plays computer whiz Felicity. The addition of Felicity midway through the season was one of the things that really helped this show turn the corner from being a good CW show, to just being a good show, and one of the best action/adventure shows on TV. With the death and destruction that occurred at the end of last season, I can’t wait to see where The Hood goes from here.

2. Bob’s Burgers (FOX, Sunday nights at 730) — Again, a show that started in the last couple days of September, but just deserves some discussion. Bob’s Burgers, going into its 4th season (and renewed for a 5th by FOX), is simply the best animated show on FOX right now. It is the freshest, the funniest, and the one with the most heart. Bob’s Burgers actually shares many similarities in that way with a previous FOX animation great, King of the Hill. Many of the other FOX animated shows are all edge and offensive humor (Seth McFarland shows), but Bob’s Burgers is so much deeper than that, and, because of that, a much funnier show than any of the other Animation Domination shows.

1. The Walking Dead (AMC, Sunday, October 13 at 8 PM) — Another new season of TWD, another show runner. Moving on to season 4, and the third showrunner, Scott Gimple, TWD is coming off a season where it arguably hit its creative high point, and became the most popular show on TV (all of TV, not just cable). I would expect much of that to continue because, hey, who doesn’t like seeing zombies get stabbed through the head. But if the show wants to continue to succeed creatively, there needs to be continued character development and a story focus on the people, not just killing zombies. Questions such as, how do you raise a child in this environment? Or, how do you build a loving marriage through the zombie apocolypse? And, can we work together and build real community while living in the constant fear that someone could turn on us the way The Governor did? I’m far more interested in delving into the answers to these questions than I am seeing more zombies killed. But, maybe that’s just me.

-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