Sweet TV


Thinking a lot about writing a sitcom – I have a lot of notes and ideas that might work in that format. I have no illusions that it would yield anything, but why not just write and see where it goes?

Meanwhile, since 2010 ended and I wrote about the TV I had been gorging on in recent (and not so recent) days, I have continued to indulge in… too much television. I don’t actually have a television or cable subscription. I rely on streaming media and my PC for all of it (or DVDs of departed shows).

Reviewing is subjective … better to express my own opinion than to be a cheerleader or mouthpiece for someone else.

Random notes: In Treatment, one of my favorites, was canceled (sad). On a very bright note, the tired, pathetic Brothers & Sisters is finally gone – no more high-pitched Sally Field whine, no more low-pitched Rachel Griffiths whine! (At least not on this sorry excuse for entertainment!) There were some surprises to which I came a bit late to the party (Party Down, anyone?) and Louie (still running, so I’m not that late!). Some things have ended up being rather disappointing in their trajectory (The Big C, Nurse Jackie). And some, just as they were taking a turn for the more interesting (United States of Tara) were axed. Then there are the consistently entertaining television mainstays, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Here’s the run down (an * next to the title means I recommend it):

**Update: Boardwalk Empire
Michael K. Williams will probably never be mentioned in print without his signature role, Omar, from The Wire also being mentioned. His turn as Chalky White, though, is another scene-stealing, fascinating role, which is quite different from the ex-con biology teacher he portrays this season on the ever-clever Community. Having seen the first episode, I am looking forward to the rest of the second season, despite many critics complaining about the slow pace. Even if the whole thing does not come together, a handful of characters make the whole thing feel more worthwhile, such as Williams’s Chalky and Michael Shannon‘s ambivalent, frightening and strange Agent Nelson Van Alden.

**Update: A Gifted Man
This show is probably not my normal style, but I might watch it anyway. I watched the first episode at least. A brilliant, impatient and mostly cold neurosurgeon, Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson, who is hard to separate from his various and memorable roles in Angels in America, Little Children and most especially Hard Candy) is visited in life by his dead ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle). He has not seen or spoken to her in years when she appears; he finds out only after they share a dinner together that she is dead. She prods him to help her close unfinished business, which ultimately ends up (seemingly) making him do a lot of uncharacteristically nice and charitable things (these traits were in her nature, not his). Where this goes, who knows? But for now, it is an interesting enough premise.

It is funny what an incestuous (in the loosest sense of the word) world TV is. You would think that with all the actors out there trying to get roles, you might see new and different faces more often. But instead, A Gifted Man is a mixture of Dexter alums and TV mainstays who pop up all over the place. Playing Wilson’s assistant is Margo Martindale (memorable as the records clerk on Dexter whom Dexter helped to commit suicide and of course for her recent turn as Mags Bennett on Justified); Wilson’s sister is Dexter’s dearly departed wife, Rita (Julie Benz) — but don’t be confused — Martindale’s character’s name is Rita. Haha. Similarly, Pablo Schreiber (Lights Out, The Wire, Weeds) turns up here as some kind of medium who exorcises the spirits of the dead to get them to peacefully leave the lives of the living. And also from the Lights Out world (and, I believe, an episode of The Good Wife from last season, playing a mediator), Bill Irwin (not a household name, but his face pops up everywhere — of course, his character dies in this premiere episode, so don’t expect to see him again).

I will keep watching and see where it goes.

The Borgias
Despite being a talented actor, Jeremy Irons seems only to excel in roles of disgusting, twisted, corrupt or perverted characters: M Butterfly, Lolita, Damage, Dead Ringers. And now as Pope Alexander VI, the corruption continues! (On a completely unrelated note, I actually saw a picture of a young Irons and thought he bore a passing resemblance to the Swedish-American star of The Killing, Joel Kinnaman.) Of value only in that it brings fictionalized historical events to life with enough lust and nudity to prompt people (perhaps) to take an interest in history, I watched the whole first season but often forgot to watch it/forgot it was on. It didn’t capture my interest. An overwrought melodrama.

I found the two British main characters to be obnoxious as all hell but at the same time found some sympathy for them, in this new, plastic world they stumbled into once they got to LA. The cluelessness and vapid, vacuous quality of the mostly insincere/two-faced American industry folk they encountered was enough to make me want to turn this off. However, there were occasional lines that cracked me up – something about Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc-as-asshole was rather funny. Hit on a few too many clichés to be considered good, but I still managed to muddle my way through the whole first season.

I never saw the UK original (or at least had never seen any of it before I started watching the American version; I have since seen a few episodes). I watched the American version through to the end of the first season. I found it more entertaining than I expected even if the subject matter was less than charming. What grated on me at first did eventually pique my interest; it was a lot like my opinions on The Office, though. I saw the original British version first so found it hard to make the jump to the American version (especially because the first season of the American Office seemed to be just a pale almost word-for-word, scene-for-scene imitation of the brilliant original. I think the American Office took off eventually the way it did because it started to rely on original material). For Shameless this worked in the opposite way for me; I watched the American version and had no spectacular love for it, but the situations and characters were well-entrenched for me before I saw any of the originals. Maybe one day I will get around to watching the original version (the episodes I did catch were funny indeed).

(End of) Friday Night Lights*
One of my favorite things about Friday Night Lights now that it’s over is that there are still so many people in the world who are just discovering it. (Also pleased with the Emmy upset pulled off by longtime favorite Kyle Chandler for his heartfelt, heart-filled performance as Coach Taylor.) It seems to me like such a slice of small-town American life that it’s hard to imagine anyone outside America being drawn in by it. But the people I meet who find it addictive turn out to be from all over the world. I remember when I heard that this was going to be a TV show in the first place. I asked myself who would ever watch a TV show about high school football? (I reluctantly watched because I watch everything Kyle Chandler does; yes, I even briefly subjected myself to the pulling-teeth-without-anesthesia-inducing pain of the terrible sitcom What About Joan? In which Chandler somehow managed to play Joan Cusack’s devoted boyfriend?!) How could I have predicted that it would be one of the best shows I had seen? It is, after all, about so much more than high school football. While it was not always completely even (characters would show up and sort of disappear, some storylines would fall by the wayside), it still provided a pretty honest picture.

(End of) Big Love*
Okay, Big Love tackled strange topics and tried to fit a bit too much into some seasons, going over the top more than once. In its final season, things seem to start to spiral out of control as new dynamics and problems arise in the unity of the plural marriage that has been at the heart of the show throughout its run. Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn, who is an actress I never liked until this show) seemed to come into her own in this final season, even if it meant that she had to assert her voice and independence at the expense of the group dynamic of their marriage. A lot of different scenarios were playing out, from drama/violence on the compound, Bill’s Senate drama, Cara Lynn’s illicit affair with a much-older teacher, Lois’s descent into dementia and, of course, the fallout from the family coming out publicly as polygamists. It was, then, given Bill’s propensity for making enemies, a surprise to see from where his demise ultimately came. I am not sure that I loved the ending, but I felt that the final season at least put things more on track than they had been in the previous season.

Better Off Ted
I watched the two existing seasons of this some time ago and had forgotten. I found it funny in an outrageous sort of way but did not ever really decide whether I liked it.

Mostly funny, making fun of stuff, very Portland. Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen don’t disappoint. I did not know what to expect, but I was charmed. I particularly enjoyed Kyle MacLachlan’s portrayal of the down-on-Seattle Portland mayor.

The Daily Show*
A must watch. Daily. I mean it.

The Colbert Report*
A laugh out loud every day. Don’t miss.

30 Rock
I don’t really know what I can say about 30 Rock. It’s hard to watch sometimes because Liz Lemon is someone who never seems to grow or learn, and it’s hard to invest in a character like that unless you can just let go of your hopes for them getting their act together. Most of the time I feel like the show has gone on too long now, but occasional episodes offer up some funny lines and scenarios. But ultimately this is not something I look forward to watching anymore.

Parks and Recreation
Another one to which I was late. I caught up on the first season as the second season was going on. This show seemed to develop slowly; Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope started off as abrasively annoying, not unlike fingernails being raked down a chalkboard. However, she was toned down a bit, given a couple of interesting love interests (one being Louis C.K. as a dense policeman who eventually moves away, making way for Adam Scott’s character), a kind of softness that can make you see why the other characters eventually pull together for and support her (because she is compassionate, is there for and supportive of them and does not let people down). Ultimately she is guided by a kind of conscience and simplicity and has been moved out of “caricature” territory, where she firmly resided in the first season. It was also good to see the Rashida Jones character get a job at City Hall with Leslie because it was starting to seem ridiculous that she, supposedly a full-time nurse at a hospital, was hanging around at the office with Leslie so much. Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson character is always comical. April and Andy are rather sweet in their own way. The addition of Adam Scott (I seem to like him in everything he does) and Rob Lowe (who knew he could be so hilarious?) also upped the game for this show.

I am a bit disappointed that V was canceled. I don’t think it was great by any stretch, but it improved a lot in the last season – and we got to see Jane Badler and Marc Singer (both from the original V) appear. I think, given some time, it might have improved (and it was certainly a step beyond the original V, even though the original gets nostalgia points – it certainly terrified us at the time).

I did not get around to watching Louie’s two seasons until the second one was well underway. I had seen Louis C.K. on Parks and Recreation as a love interest for the Leslie Knope character, and found his character funny, and then I saw him as a guest on The Daily Show and decided I might as well, being the addict I am, give the show a shot. Not always riotously funny, and sometimes even depressing as it takes on some of the uglier aspects of middle age, it is quite relatable. I really like Pamela Adlon as Pamela in the show; it’s nice to see her somewhere other than in Californication.

As someone pointed out, it conveys some of the awkwardness we came to expect from Curb Your Enthusiasm (which has departed CYE for something more farcical and ridiculous). Louie manages to show the absurd side of very human issues, big and small.

Harry’s Law
Pretty much a bunch of drivel, on TV because David E. Kelley and Kathy Bates have clout. Why it continued beyond season one, I don’t know. Perhaps its retooling for the second season is some kind of reprieve to make up for the ridiculousness perpetrated by season one.

Body of Proof
A fairly straightforward medical examiner procedural with Dana Delany at the helm. Her character was a hotshot surgeon who ends her career with a car accident and becomes a medical examiner and is often clever enough to help solve crimes… nothing new here. She wears unlikely outfits to crime scenes, impossibly expensive and high, impractical heels… is trying to atone for all the years she was too busy to be a mother. Her boss, played by Jeri Ryan, starts dating her ex-husband. So internal office politics become, as one character says, like a telenovela. And ultimately this is kind of what that show is. A telenovela with crime scenes and medical jargon thrown in. Mindless entertainment.

A kind of fantasy scifi show… I watched a few seasons, have not finished… it was recently cancelled. Maybe I will get around to watching the rest. It is not necessarily something I would recommend, as I am not even going to bother describing it. It’s that silly and that much of a waste of time.

Mildred Pierce
HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce… who wouldn’t watch? It was a well-done period piece and heartbreaking how Mildred worked like a slave to try to provide everything for her daughter, who eventually just shatters Mildred’s heart with her selfishness and cruelty. I have never read the book or seen the original film, but I was impressed with this treatment.

The latest season just started – I can’t really put into words how much I love this show. Yeah, I know, I gush. It’s not very diplomatic or even-handed, but it can’t be helped. I like all the inside references as well as the big episodes that go completely outside what you would expect from a half-hour sitcom. Last season, we saw a claymation Christmas episode, a take on Pulp Fiction, a stylized The Good, the Bad and the Ugly-inspired sequel to season one’s paintball war, a crazy Halloween episode with bizarre George Takei voiceover and a truly inspired guest appearance from LeVar Burton (“More fish for Kunta!”)

Only trouble is (gee whiz!) — how do they top it?

Another season of Hank Moody’s self-destruction and self-sabotage. In the time since I watched this last season, I have encountered some people who are not unlike Hank (in real life). Sure, they are not public figures with the fame and notoriety Hank had achieved, but this does not matter. It has given me more insight into how and why Hank behaves as he does. There are clearly people, especially those who are gifted and talented but just don’t channel it well, who live completely in the moment, never think of the consequences, suffer the consequences and claim they will change, but they never do. In the moment when temptation arises (whether that is sex, drug or drink), their response is almost never tempered by a second thought. It’s just “Fuck it! Let’s do it!”… and having seen this firsthand, I understand more about the way these people think, even if I will never understand how they live this way.

The worst part is how they drag other people down into their misery and abyss — they drag the people they love the most into the consequences part of their actions. Always expecting those who unconditionally love them to bail them out of jail, pay for their mistakes (financially or otherwise), accept all the missteps (some giant!) that they have made. But when does the currency of charm stop paying for it all? We have seen Californication’s Karen leave Hank and come back to him, and even when she leaves and gets involved with others, she is still somehow a part of Hank’s support system. (Sure, things are different when you have a kid with someone; it’s much harder to run… but isn’t that just an excuse? Look at how f-ed up Karen and Hank’s kid is becoming…).

While this show continues to make me laugh, it is starting to feel a bit like a slap in the face.

Happy Endings
I won’t say Happy Endings was an outstanding comedy, but I did manage to get through the first season and found a few things very funny, even if, on the whole, I found the group to be too much of a Friends replay and all the individuals too annoying to care about. Still I might continue to watch for a second season to see if this shapes up just a bit more and makes its characters less caricature.

Weeds has gone beyond… well, anything. It was outlandish, ridiculous and unbelievable (all stirred up with the growing dislikability of Nancy Botwin) — but now it has just jumped into some entirely different and unpleasant territory. Viewers had to suspend all disbelief long ago, so now it is more or less an exercise in watching Nancy try to wriggle, wiggle and weasel her way out of trouble and back into business (no mean feat given that she was just being released from prison as the latest season began). Andy and Shane are still somewhat interesting to watch; Andy can always be counted on to say something hilarious – but this show is just dragging on for me, and Nancy’s selfishness seems to grow every single week.

**Update: As written, good old Uncle Andy always turns out a few words of wisdom woven with comedy. In the final episode of this season, attending the funeral of Charles, the terminally ill half of a polyamorous couple with whom Andy had been entangled earlier in the season, Silas asks Andy (about the wife in the couple, Maxine), “Is she the one who got away?”

Andy: “No. Charles was. He had it figured out. The only thing that was important to him was the happiness of the people he loved. And he had a mini fridge right by the bed. The man was a visionary. Or possible diabetic.”

I am still not sure about the directions this show is going (and Pablo Schreiber‘s character apparently has gone to the brig — only to turn up on the first episode of A Gifted Man as some kind of medium who drives the spirit of dead people out of the living…) but it ended on a cliffhanger that will ultimately force me to come back to it when the show starts airing again next season.

Men of a Certain Age*
Cancelled far too soon, Men of a Certain Age managed to deal with the pains and weirdness of becoming a middle-aged man in a delicate way. No hammering viewers over the head with clichés, even though of course there were some clichés (the middle-aged guy still dating 20-somethings, treating them disposably). The interesting thing was that even clichés were handled with some dexterity, in ways that showed personal growth and the effects of slip ups (these guys are not perfect, and they did slip into old habits and routines often). It was a perfect picture of imperfect guys trying to live their best lives but facing all kinds of life’s challenges on the way… from generational/family dynamics to the pitfalls of aging, the show managed to be sensitive and funny throughout. Sorry to see this one cut short.

The first season of Treme moved very slowly but still felt satisfying. The pace picked up slightly in the second season and definitely drew me in in a more deliberate way. There is a scattered feel to the characters, portrayed by an outstanding cast, many of whom are loosely connected to one another… a couple of them live in New York and their paths cross at some point, some have connections to each other in New Orleans. The show does an excellent job building up very human characters, giving them moral dilemmas, pain, grief, horror, hardship, redemption — the full range of human experience — to cope with. Within the context of post-Katrina (and it does seem no one can ever talk about NOLA without calling it post-Katrina) New Orleans, the characters go on living their lives but cannot help but be affected by events during Katrina and the mishandling of all kinds of issues after the hurricane. Likewise, many characters fall victim to the fallout of the hurricane (the rampant, unchecked crime and violence).

The Good Wife*
The Good Wife, mistitled as it knows it is (see the ad campaign for the latest season, i.e. “Don’t Let the Name Fool You”), is a good show. Excellent cast (I personally love Christine Baranski and Josh Charles, even if it’s always going to be hard to separate Charles from his classic performance as lovesick fool Knox Overstreet in Dead Poet’s Society) and a lot of intriguing stories, from the personal lives of the characters to some of the legal cases the firm handles. The political story is also intriguing, giving a showcase to the talents of Alan Cumming. This is an adult, nuanced, layered show where things from long ago come back to haunt, or at least come into play, later – and this is deftly handled and mature. The adversarial relationships in the show and shifting dynamics of different relationships are one of the things that keep me salivating for more. Last season’s masterful duping of Derrick Bond (Michael Ealy, who is popping up everywhere, including Californication, where he was a big thorn in Hank’s side as “Black Jesus” Ben) was a great way for the firm to get back onto solid ground and to solidify the newly strong partnership between Diane and Will. That might have been my favorite bit except that there were so many scenes, relationships and storylines to love.

The most recent season of Justified gave us some stellar performances, particularly from Margo Martindale as Mags and again from Walton Goggins as Boyd. There were several storylines weaved into the most recent season, but never so much action that it felt inflated or complicated. If anything the show just got stronger in its second season.

I am a big fan of the way dialogue played out in virtually every episode – a lot of seemingly unrelated scenes with random conversations that felt real, such as Timothy Olyphant‘s Raylan Givens and his boss, Nick Searcy‘s Art Mullen, meeting and talking at a baseball batting cage and being lectured by the cage manager about the batting-helmet-wearing rules, steal the show. Dialogue and actor’s reactions always seem to be what makes or breaks a drama series for me, and I find this one very believable.

Modern Family*
Perhaps an overpraised family sitcom, there are genuine moments of hilarity in this show. The latest season just started, and it feels like it has settled in in some way; that is not to say that they were one-dimensional or unsettled before. It just feels like the pieces have fallen into place. Now that the third season is underway, it is possible that a little of the tentative awkwardness that crept into a couple of episodes in the sophomore season will be shed, and the Dunphy households can move forward with the confidence they have displayed in numerous memorable and laugh-out-loud episodes in the first two seasons.

Sometimes I find that the characters are frustratingly annoying, particularly on their own, but there is something about the dynamics created when they are together that works very well and overrides the individual quirks. I suppose this is why Modern Family works and keeps winning all the awards.

Party Down*
I came late to this party; so late, it was already over. I caught up with this show on Netflix, and while I almost never found anything to be laugh-out-loud funny, I was impressed with the cast and found myself smiling, smirking or having a little chuckle at the foibles and humiliations of the characters here. Adam Scott is sort of the heart of the show, as the lone would-be actor who had given up the game and stopped chasing the dream while the rest of the catering staff in the titular Party Down catering agency, seemed to be waiting for the next big role (except their annoying boss, another key character).

The Killing
This started out as such a promising show – superb cast, Seattle backdrop, based on a popular Danish crime series – billed as a Twin Peaks/Who Killed Laura Palmer?-style mystery that … never got solved. The show dragged on, the characters were undeveloped and flailing around. The clues in the murder mystery seemed to go uninvestigated. The lead detectives seemed almost incompetent. Of course, I should not be quite so critical. What most critics of the show are guilty of is forgetting that the show, though it went on for weeks, was only showing the viewer the situation over the course of a few days. It was frustratingly slow as we gave up 13 weeks to watch something like one week or maybe two weeks unfold. The show’s detectives seemed to become too fixated on one suspect without looking at anyone or anything else… and maybe, in hindsight, this was because they were distracted or purposely doing so. (The main detective, Sarah Linden, was days from quitting her job and moving to California, so even though she stayed behind to close the case, her mind was not totally in the game; with her being distracted, her new partner, who was highly likable in his own street-cred kind of way, was free to wheel and deal on the side, which – at the very last minute of the final episode – seems to become clear. He had seemed like such a good guy, and then suddenly, the tables turned.) The show has been renewed, so we will see some outcome, maybe get some answers, but I wonder if anyone will be watching by then.

The Chicago Code
Another Shawn Ryan cop show… but it was more intricate and intriguing than the standard cop show. I enjoyed it so was disappointed to see it go. I liked the behind-the-scenes unraveling of dirty business/corruption, the half-cocked craziness of Jason Clarke’s Wysocki, tempered by the evenness of his new rookie partner’s (Matt Lauria, Luke of Friday Night Lights fame) demeanor. There was a complexity here that could easily have carried over into several seasons. Unfortunately it did not get the chance.

United States of Tara
Cancelled just when it started to get really interesting. Toni Collette can do anything. John Corbett, while perfectly likable, seems to play some variation of this same character in every show and movie he’s in. Way to make a living, I guess, but variety would be cool.

Nurse Jackie
I used to have a lot more sympathy for and interest in Jackie, but like most users – users of drugs and of people – Jackie has become extremely hard to like. Some of the antics in the hospital where she works are still interesting enough, and the cast is still a joy to watch, but it is painful to watch how people are affected by and duped by her lying (which grows worse and worse, despite a brief moment of sobriety). It’s hard to say where this will go in its next season, as last season ended with an unexpected revelation from her husband.

Cougar Town
Still churning out funny, out-of-the-blue moments… the weird Lou Diamond Phillips moments were a nice touch. Also nice to see the Cougar Town/Community cross-pollination.

Lights Out
Whose families are like these? Lights is staggeringly naive, always wanting to believe the best in people (don’t we all?). One-dimensional. Too nice, constantly walking into trouble to the point that it was unrealistic and annoying to see. I feel better about the series since its freshman season was its only season, so it could be nicely wrapped up in just a few episodes. Had it gone on any longer, it would have just been… well, more ridiculous than it already was. In fact the boxing story is really not something that could survive as a long-term premise. I hated Lights’s brother Johnny and his constant string of huge mistakes and catastrophes. Why do people keep giving him chances? Then again, he grows on you. He’s funny, and usually he means well. Presumably this, and the fact that he was family, is why Lights keeps giving Johnny enough rope to keep hanging himself. (And it is a credit to Pablo Schreiber that he makes Johnny both sleazy as hell but incredibly likable at times.)

I found the ending satisfying, though… in that even though Lights wins in his comeback, the consequences were so harsh that it was not really like winning.

Grey’s Anatomy
When will this show die? Please. The last season with its musical episode, its pregnancies and character dramas (as usual) and nefarious, unethical choices… oh, please. Kill me now.

Burn Notice
While this show (a guilty pleasure, as always) seemed to lose its way for a while because it just dragged on forever trying to find the people who burned Michael, things started to take a turn for the better when he thought he had some answers and was starting to work with the CIA again. Until, of course, his handler, Max, is killed and he realizes that some mysterious people have framed Michael to take the fall for killing Max. Most of the season (just ended) revolved around Michael and his crew (Fiona, Sam and Jesse) solving problems on the side while Michael pursued the people who framed him in order to catch them before his new CIA handler (in hot pursuit of Max’s killer) found the evidence that would definitely point to Michael as the killer. Still a fun explosion-filled show; plenty of cheesiness and long-running in jokes (Michael’s obsession with eating yogurt), but not something you will feel particularly bad about missing.

Falling Skies
Not sure still what to make of this show. Sometimes it was completely uneven, overwrought with emotion, and a soundtrack that just grated on the ears. I found it hard to care about the characters in this ten-episode intro. I am still sometimes struggling with seeing Noah Wyle as anyone other than Dr John Carter – and he was arguably the best part of this show (other than Steven Weber, who appeared in a handful of episodes. Sure, it’s hard still to think of Weber as anyone other than Brian Hackett from Wings, though). Will Patton is usually an interesting actor (although I value him more as a villain, like in the film No Way Out), but here, he is uneven and strange.

Somehow when I see a show about an alien invasion, I want to actually see the invasion and immediate aftermath. This show picks up at some point after the invasion, and even though information comes in pieces over the course of the show, there are holes that a viewer would want filled. The aliens here are creatures that look not unlike something from the film District 9, but it is not entirely clear by the end of the season, that these aliens are exactly what they seem. Human children are kidnapped by the aliens and harnessed somehow, and the human adults are often taking big risks to rescue these harnessed children, but much of this first season covers the idea that the harnesses seem to become an integral, almost organic part of the child to whom it’s attached. Some die when the harnesses are removed. Even when a removal method is devised that does not kill the child, it seems that the children are changed, always different, maybe still tapped into a “network” that is connected to these aliens. But who knows? These are suppositions based on what the first ten episodes showed.

The Big C
The first season of The Big C felt very human. Cathy’s fears, doubts, attempts at acceptance (not seeking treatment for or telling anyone about her cancer) seemed very real and very much like one woman veering between strength and powerlessness in the face of something devastating. She embraced opportunities to live (her first Brazilian wax, a passionate affair with Lenny, played by Idris Elba, trying to build a swimming pool in her yard), while struggling with the parts that were harder to face (saying goodbye to and preparing her surly teenage son for a life without her, dealing with her husband, Paul, from whom she was separated and dealing with her mentally ill brother, Sean). Some of the reality of her situation hit her harder when her older, antisocial neighbor, Marlene, whom she had worked so hard to reach out to, admitted that she had Alzheimer’s and eventually shot herself. This jarring loss seemed to make Cathy spring into action in terms of trying to save her own life…

And that, unfortunately, is where things went downhill as the second season took off. There was a whole subplot about her manic brother getting back on his meds when he impregnates Cathy’s old friend (played by Cynthia Nixon) and planning to get married – but when she loses the baby, the brother runs off. This storyline was annoying and felt like a huge distraction. (And moments of it that were supposed to be funny or ironic just felt contrived, such as when Nixon’s character decides to throw a lavish funeral for her miscarried fetus, whom she had named Cathy. Most of the adult Cathy’s friends assumed that it was CATHY who had died and turned up at the funeral, to be surprised by Cathy’s still being very much alive). Cathy’s son begins to rebel in a big way, and some of that seemed more appropriate and interesting. Cathy’s husband, with whom she has reconciled, seems to be supportive and helpful but then loses his job (and health insurance) – and this seemed like a rather timely and interesting subject, but it took a little bit of a back seat to more side stories, like Cathy’s cancer soulmate (whom she meets in her clinical trial). Or the illegal Ukrainian Cathy’s husband works with at his new job in a Best Buy-like electronics emporium. It all turns out being entertaining enough, but none of it reaches the level of humanity I came to expect from watching the first season of The Big C.

**Update: When one person is sick (especially terminally ill), the health and well-being of everyone else around him/her is often taken for granted. We don’t watch The Big C, in which heroine Cathy Jamison battles cancer, and assume that her husband is on the brink of death. Sure, we see a pattern of bad choices on his part, but you don’t imagine that an extra cheeseburger or dabbling irresponsibly in a bit of recreational cocaine use is going to prove fatal. The end of the season delivered a cliffhanger in that we see his life hang in the balance rather than Cathy’s. There were parts of this episode that brought the story back to some of the fundamentals that gave it so much promise in the first season. It was good to see Cathy’s original doctor, Dr. Mauer, reappear. Good to see Cathy’s brother, Sean, who can sometimes be an annoying distraction, come back. And it was particularly good to see Cathy’s husband Paul going ballistic on the health-care organization that had pre-approved and then rescinded approval for one of Cathy’s many medical procedures. Ultimately, this may be the event that pushed Paul over the edge, but at the same time, gave the show a much-needed boost of reality (not that there is not reality all the time; it just failed to feel authentic lately).

True Blood
This season (the fourth) just ended. When it started, I tried to write something, but it’s not possible to say much about it in the beginning except that Alexander Skarsgård is a good reason to watch the show. Actually, Kristin Bauer is not such a bad reason to watch either. It’s just Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer that I have not been particularly interested in seeing. With the season reaching its conclusion, I can say that it was a bit more engaging than some of the previous seasons. It did not feel like it went on too long, but then some of the stories seemed to be taxing (most of Jason’s story was tiring; everything about the Sam/Luna/shifter/werewolf thing was annoying… and some things just felt out of place). Having said all this, this show was never something that I loved or felt particularly drawn to. If I wanted to watch porn, I would watch porn… not some half-baked, softcore sex-fest wrapped up as an HBO drama. If anything, Anna Paquin’s acting is growing worse season by season. The rest of the cast, I felt, was quite good, even Moyer. Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was to see Skarsgård’s acting as the Eric who had lost his memory. While some of the acting there felt slightly overbaked, there was something very believable about how different his face and facial expressions appeared after losing his memory. He managed to convey an innocence and purity with his expressions, a lightness that went beyond just the magic of lighting and make-up… and that is where the genius of the acting came into play. Some of the dialogue ruined it, but overall, I found it to be one of the more impressive aspects of the season.

The second season of Luther picks up a while after the first ends. The first ended with a bit of a mess and some lingering questions. This second season is equally as entertaining as the first and, minus the marital drama, plus the mental instability Luther (Idris Elba) occasionally displays, is more compelling. Luther juggles a more emotionally pressing, morally ambiguous side case while handling the major case that arises in each episode (I do wonder, with the increasingly fantastic qualities of the crimes in each episode, how they might top themselves if there is another season). Likewise he continues his unusual friendship with Alice, the unstable genius he met in the first season.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
There comes a time when one should leave well enough alone. When a cow’s milk just dries up, and that’s how I feel about Curb. The season 7 plot, building up to a Seinfeld reunion, seemed like a triumphant and untoppable end. But, like people who can’t let go or want to keep going with something that has run its course, Curb came back and was rarely funny, elicited a chuckle or smile here or there but little else. It would do well not to come back for season 9.

Breaking Bad*
I am not sure that a show has ever done as convincing a job making the audience almost completely loathe the anti-hero it once pulled for. Walter White has become a whiny, self-absorbed, paranoid blowhard who has made his employers rightfully nervous, driven his wife and kid away and particularly put another nail in the coffin in terms of his relationship with reluctant partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman. That said, it is not as though Walt or Jesse appear to be long for this world. How can their descent into the meth-cooking/selling and drug underworld end well? There are still glints of humanity in Walt, but these become fewer and less frequent all the time, while we have come to invest our hope and feeling much more heavily in Jesse, who has gone through so many incarnations of himself, through the emotional wringer, so many times in the course of this show, that we still want him to somehow come out okay in the end. He gets in deeper and deeper in the criminal side of things, but, despite how much he visibly appears to have lost his humanity, we can see the basic elements of his humanity appear all the time. The subtlety of his sometimes showing a very human face, even in the middle of committing murder, and even in the midst of accepting that his fate is likely sealed (he knows better than anyone that there is no way back, no way out from the life he has chosen). Supporting characters are also showing their mettle… Gus Fring is being unfurled slowly – we are treated to bits of his past and see exactly how he has learned to be who he is today. Hank is recovering from the debilitating effects of his gunshot wounds, and what is bringing him back to life and putting him into action the fastest is his independent investigation into Gus Fring (naturally this is sending Walt into a tizzy). Walt’s wife, Skyler, is also changing. The thing about the changes in both Walt and Skyler is that the “dark side” that Walt’s foray into meth cooking has brought out seems to come so naturally to both of them that no one could really argue that this lifestyle seems like a huge stretch for either one of them. Skyler has shown time and again in this season that she is a wheeler-dealer with professional lying chops and has taken to the life of a money launderer with the kind of ease one would not have expected.

The latest season is winding down (and only one season left after this)… a slow build to what? The slow pace has been frustrating at moments but has largely been satisfying in letting the story unfold.

An only semi-related note: the soundtrack for this show is amazing.

The sad thing about SGU’s cancellation is that it really started to hit its creative stride in the latter half of the final season. It did not end in the most satisfying way – even if it sort of left the door open for the imagination. There was a lot of potential here, but I suppose people (particularly fans of the Stargate series in general) are not totally on board with the idea of darker scifi. Battlestar Galactica being one minor exception, SGU seemed to have something darker about it. And when I really started to care about the characters, they were all put into permanent stasis.

Legal thriller dramas have had their day, and the way police and legal dramas litter the airwaves, I would tend to steer clear of recommending another. Damages has always been quite different from the standard fare. I’m a fan of Glenn Close’s powerhouse style (particularly when she sinks her teeth into a barely sympathetic villain about whom you as a viewer always feel a certain ambivalence), and even though her face is becoming more and more difficult to look at, the show offers up quality stories that unveil themselves slowly (in fragmented bits and pieces interspersed with pieces of the past) over the course of the season. The viewer gets only slivers of the whole picture, leaving you guessing the whole time about what has actually happened. The most recent season just concluded, with interesting guest turns from John Goodman and Judd Hirsch (sort of makes me want to watch Taxi all over again).

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