Lunchtable TV Talk: American Gothic & The Family

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Watching Rupert Graves seem to struggle a bit with an American accent and even seem to fit into an American ensemble felt strange. He never really embodied this role, and maybe it’s just my brain used to his Englishness. Or maybe, The Family suffered from a complete lack of cohesion that devolved into decentralized and sloppy storytelling over the course of its one and only season.

American Gothic and The Family are remarkably similar in many ways – they have a similar tone. American Gothic does not so much rely on the use of flashback, but the story draws from past events to build suspense in the present (unlike The Family’s more frequent and ham-handed attempts to use flashbacks). We have a member of the main family running for public office with a lot at stake if the family’s secrets are unveiled (in AG, one of the adult siblings is running for mayor of Boston; in The Family, the mother runs for governor of Maine). We have a law enforcement tie-in (one of the siblings in the main family in AG is married to a detective; in The Family, detectives investigate the disappearance of the main family’s young son, and one detective has an affair with the aforementioned misplaced Graves). We have the screw-up drug addict sibling in both stories; the Justin Chatwin character in AG better embodies the realities of addiction, much more convincingly than the brother (whom I can never see as anyone other than Matt Saracen in Friday Night Lights) in The Family. We get cops in AG who feel more like real cops/detectives rather than some kind of half-sketched out idea of cops (as we got in The Family). We get with AG a sense that the story knows its plot points and knows where it plans to go (unlike The Family, where the only compelling thing was Andrew McCarthy playing well against type). We get in AG a mystery that we care about finding a solution to (unlike The Family, which started strong with its first episode or two but fizzled out quickly. I am caught up to the most current American Gothic, and I am still hooked).

We have a mystery at the core of both stories and a thread of ruthlessness that runs through both in the protective siblings and family members who safeguard their secrets at all costs.

Although both were stacked with what should have been really all-star casts, The Family’s cast never really felt much like a family (the cast really did not gel for me. On paper, it looks great – acclaimed, good actors; chemistry though is a strange and rare thing that cannot be created just by having a great cast list). Despite – or perhaps because of – the dysfunction in American Gothic, you do get the idea that these people could be family. I don’t have feelings one way or the other about Virginia Madsen (for the most part), but I am thrilled to see Juliet Rylance, Justin Chatwin and Antony Starr (all of whom were co-stars in some of my favorites: The Knick, Shameless and Banshee, respectively; if you have Banshee withdrawals, Starr’s character here is a lot like Lucas Hood – mysterious, shady, reticent, volatile and with lots of secrets).

American Gothic could easily stray into the terrible territory of the now-departed soap/drama Revenge, which shared some of the same themes (but often handled them so clumsily and squandered all the suspense and goodwill built in season one, letting it trickle away in several misdirected, increasingly boring seasons). But American Gothic retains all the things that excited people about Revenge when it first began. (Virginia Madsen somehow pulls off the “trailer trash-turned-wealthy family matriarch” more effectively and believably than Madeleine Stowe ever did.)

I could be prematurely declaring success for American Gothic – but for now, I’ll cautiously say that it is definitely a better contender than The Family in terms of holding interest but… can it outlast something like Revenge and not degenerate into heightening levels nonsensical soapy dramatics. I realize that all shows of this nature rely on some soapy dramatics, and that’s not what I mean. Some shows manage to pull this off without appearing to be completely stupid and desperate. It remains to be seen whether American Gothic will be one of these.

Lunchtable TV Talk: How to Get Away with Murder is Damages

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As I tuned in for the much-anticipated start to the sophomore season of How to Get Away with Murder, hot on the heels of a deserved Viola Davis Emmy win, I was struck by how a lot of TV is about placement and timing. See, How to Get Away with Murder is basically Damages with much more diverse cast and much better promotion.

Damages had a worthy rival to HtGAwM’s Annalise Keating in a strong, ruthless and tightly wound Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. Both women are conniving, bright, cutthroat and lethal in their own often twisted pursuit of their own definitions of justice. Both have done insane and questionable things. And most of all, both women have very little control over – and are practically unhinged in – their personal lives. It’s in their personal lives that things come apart. The story comes from those cracks in the power-hungry, driven veneer they project. And both stories are compelling and revealed key pieces of information in fragments, so you might think you knew – sort of – what was going to happen later in the season based on glimpses of things you had seen earlier – but not until the final episode would the entire story have unfolded.

The difference… Damages got short shrift, at least from viewers. Damages was intense and critically praised, but never found an audience. It was technically cancelled, in fact, after FX decided to get rid of it after three poorly performing seasons. It was given a two-season reprieve via a deal with DirecTV (which also revived the loved and lauded Friday Night Lights after NBC wanted to cut it short). With the way it moved around, it certainly never found its footing, and was gone too soon despite stellar casting and tight stories for all five of its seasons. In addition to the formidable Glenn Close, Damages featured Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant (the one and only from both Deadwood and Justified), David Costabile (increasingly visible all the time in all manner of shows, from Flight of the Conchords to Breaking Bad, from Suits to the rather irritating and cancelled Dig, from Ripper Street to Low Winter Sun), Janet McTeer (love her and sad her recent show, Battle Creek, was cancelled so soon), Ted Danson, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman, William Hurt, the ubiquitous
Željko Ivanek, Ryan Phillippe and the leader of the John Hannah School of English Elocution, John Hannah.

When I binge-watched the compelling first seasons of HtGAwM, it felt familiar in many ways because it covered a lot of the ground Damages had already tread. It was still fresh because it has its own story and feel, but it made me feel regret that Damages was so little seen during its original broadcast (hopefully people are picking it up on Netflix). None of this takes anything away from the magnetic nature of How to Get Away with Murder, but instead, it’s worth stating that if you like it, maybe you will also like Damages.

Lunchtable TV Talk: The West Wing

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I force-fed myself seven annoying seasons of The Gilmore Girls recently, thinking it could play unassumingly in the background while I did other things. But it was so annoying with too many fast-talking, high-pitched, histrionic characters that I could neither concentrate on and absorb it nor concentrate on everything else I was meant to be doing.

The West Wing, also seven seasons long, 22 episodes per season, is the opposite. (Hard to believe that it has been almost ten years since it ended!) It’s equally fast-talking and sometimes a bit preachy, but it is designed in a way that I can pay attention to it and do whatever else I need to do and get the most from both. I even heard Rob Lowe exclaim in exasperation, “Good night, nurse!” – an expression I had only ever heard my grandmother (and the character Mike Sloan in the long-gone but much-loved show Homefront) use (most people don’t believe me when I tell them that yes, in fact, this is a real expression).

I had seen isolated episodes of The West Wing during its original run, but most of it happened during a period when I did not watch much telly, much less ingest it like a pig at the trough as I do now. I was always impressed with The West Wing – its stories, its cast, its pace – but only now, thanks to Netflix, am I watching it from end to end. And it’s providing sheer contentment. I haven’t reached the point yet where Rob Lowe leaves or where John Spencer dies, depriving the show of one of its greatest assets.

Can you argue with a show that at its worst seems a little like a “very special episode” on some issue – but never overdoes it, really? And at its best, weaves words like “ensorcelled” into the script? Or with a show that during its run had a stellar leading cast and unparalleled caliber of guest stars (Oliver Platt, Edward James Olmos – he’s Admiral Adama now and forever for me, or Jaime Escalante!, Mary Louise Parker, John Larroquette, – great in his recent role in The Brink, Marlee Matlin, Gerald McRaney – who turns up everywhere, usually as a former or current military guy – and an insane, bursting list of others) but many others who were virtually unknown at the time but went on to other, big things (Ty Burrell of Modern Family, Evan Handler of Sex and the City and Californication, Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation, Clark Gregg of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Danny Pudi of Community, Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives and American Crime, Lisa Edelstein of House and the mercilessly shitty Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, Jorja Fox of CSI, Lance Reddick of The Wire and Fringe and Connie Britton, looking teenager-young, of Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story and Nashville…). And more… so many more.

This show encapsulates Aaron Sorkin‘s golden age. America wasn’t ready for him or his style in the too-clever but too-soon Sports Night, and he went too far with the overblown The Newsroom. But The West Wing was the pinnacle.

Lunchtable TV Talk – Bloodline

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“I don’t want to fuck with your case, Clay. Go have a sunshiny day.” -John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) in Bloodline

Sometimes you start watching a show or a movie and immediately know you are going to love it. Bloodline is not one of these shows. I knew that I would see it through, though, no matter what. Mostly, I knew I would watch because of star Kyle Chandler. I have been an enthusiastic Kyle Chandler cheerleader and champion since the early years – back when Chandler played Jeff Metcalf in the critically acclaimed but little-seen, little-remembered Homefront* back in the early 1990s. Chandler has appeared in many more shows over the years – most notably Early Edition and Friday Night Lights (the latter of which is an exceptional show). Chandler embodies Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights to the extent that it is almost impossible to imagine him in any other role. In most roles he has been a just but cranky and lovable but curmudgeonly man. In Bloodline it becomes clear he is still the moral compass of his difficult family, working in law enforcement, but he is troubled, and his performance in the final episode is like nothing I have ever seen Chandler do. (Also, the fact that Chandler’s character uses the word “fuck” or some variation of it almost every other word he says is a bit disarming. He’s Coach Taylor, and he doesn’t talk like that! Haha.)

Having already determined that I would follow through with the entire series (which was made available in full on Netflix), I do admit that the first five episodes didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence about the show in its entirety. It moved slowly, moved around in time so that it was not clear when things were happening and thus was not clear what things were happening. It focuses on the dysfunctional Rayburn family; they own an inn in the Florida Keys. It is a somewhat complicated tale that weaves together past grievances with current problems and strained family relationships that all come to a head when Danny (played to menacing, psychopathic perfection by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn), the black sheep of the family, returns.

Things pick up around the fifth episode. The story starts to tighten and the excellent cast helps the story to crystallize and brings it to life – even those in the smallest roles. By the end, I was riveted and very impressed by how the story unfolded. After the pieces of the story start to gel, all of the story’s mystery and pacing feel necessary and masterful. Luckily, the show will be back for a second season. I can’t wait – both because the storytelling preserves suspense – and there’s got to be more of that coming – and because I can always use another Kyle Chandler fix.

*Want to see Chandler before Coach Taylor, John Slattery before Roger Sterling (Mad Men), Ken Jenkins before Dr Kelso (Scrubs) or Chick (Cougar Town) or Mimi Kennedy before Abby (Dharma & Greg) or Marjorie (Mom)? Homefront is where you can see them all circa 1992-93.

Television is the new TV – The great disconnect

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A few years ago when I worked in the tech industry, there was a lot of noise about “cord cutting” and how internet technologies could enable consumers to bypass expensive and inflexible cable companies. The vision at the time was just that – a vision that had not quite caught up to reality. But now we’re living in a slightly-different-than-imagined version of that reality. I know a lot of people who don’t have relationships with a cable company, and all their entertainment comes in some form of streaming and they can pick and choose, smörgåsbord style, what they want to buy into (or not). Of course there are still some constraints in terms of internet connectivity – with many people held hostage by the lack of choice in ISPs. But there has never been quite as much freedom to choose content and content source as there is today.

This got me to thinking, though, that even if we are essentially looking at content that we’d traditionally refer to as “television” – the sudden lack of “programming”, the ability to watch whenever and wherever, the ability to avoid advertising (or succumb to more targeted ads), the shift toward creating truly amazing stories and the elevation of “TV” shows to high art or at least something that surpasses two-hour film format storytelling by adding richness, depth, character building and production value – all of this means that we are witnessing the birth of something quite new. (One writer calls it “complex TV” but I would go so far as to argue that it is not TV at all.)

Can we call what we are watching “TV” just because it vaguely follows the same format? When streaming and binge-watching are becoming de facto – and shows are not necessarily created with traditional advertising streams in mind, tethers to certain templates are broken. Creativity is unleashed in new ways and places. We see small-scale, independent online production and exclusively online productions to complement traditional programming. We see “networks” creating original content, which was novel enough when it was no longer the big three American networks – Fox had been in the game for some time. But when paid cable got into the game, quality and diversity (and risk taking) became important. Ratings and audience share became less important. And when ratings still posed a challenge for some shows in one channel, it has grown likelier for another outlet to pick up the production in one way or another (some examples of this include Netflix running with long-dead Arrested Development to produce new episodes and a collaboration between different, non-traditional partners to continue producing critically lauded but ratings-challenged Friday Night Lights and Damages.) Online outlets got involved to become their own kind of networks – with Netflix leading the way and disrupting the whole model of keeping viewers on the hook for months as a story played out week after week on television. Where home entertainment, like DVD boxsets, unleashed the “binge watching”/marathon phenomenon, Netflix and later Amazon Prime were able to produce and release full seasons of high quality content whenever they wanted to (not beholden to any traditional “TV season”). Kicking that up a notch more recently has been Yahoo!’s step into the ring – reviving former NBC, perpetually on-the-bubble comedy weirdness Community.

This is still called “TV content”. But is it? When Netflix or Yahoo! bring an actual TV show from a network back to life through their own channels, is it still TV just because the show came from there? This week’s episode of Black-ish has the four kids talking in horror about how, in the old days, you had to watch content when it was scheduled or miss it forever. No pause button! No choices!

Are the methods by which we watch influencing how these shows are made, when they are released? And if this is not TV any longer, what is it? It’s not programming in the traditional television sense. And when a content provider releases entire seasons at one time, they have changed the entire production process. The content is not consumed, perceived or even built in the same way.

I recently read about how “television writers” are forced to evolve and create an end-to-end story when dealing with a full-season streaming show that is released all at once, while traditional network shows can alter the trajectory of a storyline that does not perform well or is unpopular with viewers (e.g. the storyline in which Kalinda’s husband shows up on The Good Wife. It was not well-received, so the writers scrapped it at their first opportunity). But there are no U-turns or detours when Amazon gives us an entire season of Transparent. In that way, full-season, binge-bait “content dumping” is like the release of a film, only a film is maybe two hours, and a show is 12 or 13 hours (or half that, in the case of half-hour shows) – assuming that any of these content creators decide in the long run to stick with the semi-traditional “duration” lengths. This could change, too. It already has changed to some degree.

As we disconnect from traditional methods of content consumption, we are consuming new things in new ways – we are not watching television any longer, even if we are watching our content ON an actual television.

Why I Changed My Mind: Carla Gugino

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Back in the late 1990s I watched and enjoyed the show Spin City – preferred the Michael J. Fox era to the Charlie Sheen era, but reflecting on the show, I realize that I really did not like the female characters in the show. Regardless of how much I love Connie Britton today, I was not the biggest fan of her character, Nikki (she was the best of the female bunch, in any case). Most of the female characters just felt pushy and very one-dimensional. It’s been a while since I watched the show; my memories of the female characters aren’t particularly positive.

One of these characters was “Ashley” – played by Carla Gugino. I may have mixed up my dislike for the character with a dislike for the actress. That’s the best I can come up with in reference to Carla Gugino. In looking back over her roles, I found that so many of them in her early career were as annoying as the Spin City role. Once again, it seems to have been a matter of the roles she was in rather than the actress herself. I remember seeing ads, for example, for the TV show Karen Sisco, and I just rolled my eyes. It was based on the character of the same name in the film Out of Sight (the even more annoying Jennifer Lopez played Karen Sisco in the film), and I can very rarely get behind a TV version of something that was a decent film. (Friday Night Lights, film and TV version starring the aforementioned Connie Britton, is the rare exception.)

I also disliked the show Chicago Hope – and Gugino was in it for a while. Not her fault – just didn’t like anything that was associated with the show.

Somewhere along the line, Gugino ended up in a few roles that made me fall in love with her. She comes across as smart and sexy – without overdoing either. It happens that she also showed up in shows I love (or have loved), which helped. I also saw her in the film Women in Trouble, which was not a good film, but it is really what turned me. There is a smart sarcasm and world-weariness (without cynicism) that comes across in her role as porn star Elektra Luxx. These same traits turn up in her other roles, and I am a fan.

Gugino showed up Hank’s attorney in Californication (once a favorite that has overstayed its time on TV). She turned up in an episode of one of my favorites, Justified. Perhaps my favorite role in which I have seen Gugino is the miniseries Political Animals. It was a smart show, with a great cast including Sigourney Weaver, James Wolk, Sebastian Stan, Ellen Burstyn and Ciaran Hinds, but sadly the show was more or less left on the table as a miniseries rather than a full show.

More recently Gugino appeared on New Girl (a funny but not favorite show), but by that time, I realized that I like her. Considered, reconsidered – Gugino has changed my mind.

I am starting to see a pattern. Younger women, in their 20s, are just not that interesting. They become multilayered and fascinating the more experienced they become. It’s almost like you can see the experience and depth come through in their performances. Youth is overrated.

 

 

Why I Changed My Mind: Kim Dickens

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Every day some random thing pops into my mind – a person, a tv show, a movie, a flavor. And I realize that I have changed my mind about it, one way or the other.

Watching the bittersweet ending of Treme, I was hit again by the revelation that I have gone from hating to loving the performances of Kim Dickens.

I used to hate the actress Kim Dickens to the point that when I knew she was in a movie, it would discourage me from watching it. There was something nagging and annoying about her back in the late 1990s – not sure what exactly she was in that I would have wanted to see (Truth or Consequences, N.M.? Mercury Rising? Hollow Man?). I saw these and other things and was always disappointed to see her on the screen (or her name in the opening credits).

When did this start to change? I remember when she showed up in Deadwood, feeling that sinking disappointment but then slowly coming around to her performance as Joanie Stubbs, whorehouse madame.

Next, when she showed up in Friday Night Lights, I remained skeptical but she won me over in much the same way as her character won over her estranged son, Matt Saracen.

Kim Dickens finally won me over completely as Janette Desautel in the sauntering, ever-underrated drama Treme.

The cherry on top is her performance as yet another escort-service proprietor, Colette, in Sons of Anarchy.

Somehow she has grown into herself to offer an elegant, intelligent screen presence.

Considered, reconsidered – Kim Dickens is proof that some things get much, much better with age.

TV overdoses, past and present – Random stream of consciousness

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According to HuffPost the best line uttered on tv in 2013 was, “Not great, Bob!”

““Not great, Bob!” It was only three words, spoken by an angry Pete Campbell as he joined the ever-sunny Bob Benson in an elevator on Mad Men.””

As someone who loves any line that involves “Bob” (e.g. “I used to have a pretty good pen, Bob.” Or “Scarves, Bob? His life will be filled with scarves?”), I agree. Especially because I am, like most, a Mad Men fan – and possibly an even bigger fan of the work James Wolk has done on Mad Men, the entertaining and mostly underrated Political Animals and The Crazy Ones – he and Hamish Linklater are the best parts of that show.

I get roped into a lot of television shows – not just because television is improving and offers a depth and breadth that seemed unimaginable a decade ago. I live in the middle of the Swedish woods and am a workaholic multitasker. I need some noise going on in the background all the time, and when it’s not music, it’s television shows. Mostly I carefully select the shows to which I become devoted – but in the interim, I watch a lot of stuff halfheartedly (like the aforementioned The Crazy Ones, which is not very good and only offers a funny line now and then or –puke, puke – guest appearances from – PUKE – Josh Groban. I watch, I judge, I keep watching sometimes even when a show sucks or even after it loses the plot (example, Revenge) or becomes passé (case in point – Grey’s Anatomy). Some stuff is middling all the time – entertaining but nothing extraordinary (Elementary, Grimm, Revolution – stuff that does not require careful attention, enabling my half-watching notice, mostly things I will refer to as “network stuff”. As much as the major networks are trying to be edgy, they are still just middle-ground followers. Half-baked ideas relying on shock value, soapy dramatics, riding the coattails of the deserved success of edgier, deeper, different storytelling from free and premium cable channels. (Not that all non-network tries are successful. The US version of The Killing started off with promise, dragged its feet with sloppy storytelling and carried its first-season mystery into season two without resolution – never a good idea, right David Lynch/Twin Peaks/Who killed Laura Palmer? People extended the show goodwill enough to give it a third season, which was arguably much better than the second season, but it was really too late.)

Speaking of killing, I also caught a brief article on TV characters who should be killed off. I found that I agreed with the majority. The article also brought up some other random thoughts – because that is what a multitasker does – lots of different things at once, with disconnected thoughts shooting through the brain at lightning speed. Sometimes I capture them – sometimes not (but they were not likely worth capturing).

I only recently started watching Scandal – rapidly caught up on the previous seasons over holiday break. I dislike Quinn – never had a liking for her, but it has gotten worse. I agree that she can go anytime. I have trouble with Tony Goldwyn in general – he is a good actor but for me, he is Carl the bad guy from Ghost (a film I hated). I cannot do anything except make fun of Ghost. Everything about it was so cheesy, and the villains (Willie Lopez!? Carl!). I also remember ghosts of TV’s past when Tony Goldwyn was a guest star on Designing Women, asking the women to design his funeral. He played a gay man who was going to die from AIDS, and the episode ended with his funeral. Designing Women was a preachy show and brought up a lot of issues of the day (mid/late 80s issues). Not that AIDS is not an issue today – but the issue and the illness – or approach to the illness – have changed, maybe in part because of mainstream treatment of the disease?

Which then led me to think about the show Life Goes On (not least because one of its principal actors, Patti LuPone, is now in the ensemble cast of American Horror Story: Coven. Not a favorite in the US although it went on for seasons and seasons. It was probably the first show that put a family front and center that included a member with Down Syndrome and prominently featured that character in the storylines. While that was probably groundbreaking at the time, the show also gave one of its main characters an HIV-positive teenage boyfriend (played by Chad Lowe – probably one of the only things I remember him doing since his career has been overshadowed by his brother Rob and his ex-wife, Hilary Swank – who would have imagined that when she was in one of the many Karate Kid sequels?). I thought about how this character introduction was also its own kind of groundbreaking. While Life Goes On was never actually what I could call “entertaining”, it somehow tackled big issues without being over the top or preachy. It’s no wonder it was not popular (I am told that it was popular in Iceland for some reason – so everyone remembers “Corky” – I suspect if I were to ask a representative sample of Americans if they remember Corky or Becca Thatcher, they would not).

Where is this line in television between entertainment and education? At times Designing Women just felt like a mouthpiece for the creator’s political views and feminist diatribes. Life Goes On, without being too heavy handed or dramatic, still felt a bit too real, making it too depressing to be a gripping drama. Meanwhile, something like The Wire can do both – “edutainment”. But, it is also true that The Wire was not exactly popular during its first run. It has more of the slow-burn quality that comes from being able to buy whole seasons of tv on DVD or online for streaming/download. Some things just don’t catch on until well after the fact. Some fall into obscurity (Homefront, anyone?) while others live on and gather a loyal, vocal following (Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights – note that I cite TWO Kyle Chandler classics!). Thanks to the push for original programming from unorthodox sources (Netflix), we got another season of Arrested Development after years of waiting. Was it worth it? Hard to say – need to watch it more than once to assess. That was the beauty of Arrested Development all along – you almost had to watch it more than once to catch everything. The show was laced with multilayered jokes and references, and without a pretty well-stocked brain bar, getting the perfectly hilarious mixed cocktail it intended could be challenging. It was funny on its surface in many cases but even funnier if you could unpack all the layers. (The Simpsons is a lot like that, too – albeit more so in its earlier years.)

But then so much of pop culture – any culture or discipline – relies on shared references.

For example, everyone needs to see the 1980s classic film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High – I do not know how many times I have referenced it lately and heard it referenced. There was a con mentioned in the show White Collar called “The Phoebe Cates” (referring to the most memorable scene in the film). There was a reference in The Crazy Ones to the scene-stealing Jeff Spicoli (played by then-unknown Sean Penn). Most good pop culture – even the not so good – plays on these references and adds a richness

For the sake of posterity and trying to remember how, when, where and on what I flushed so much time down the toilet, I’m listing as much as I can remember of television I recently ingested and random thoughts on some of them. There are way too many other shows I have not listed (like Mad Men, actually – because they are not on now or soon).

Nashville – Not great, not terrible. I like Connie Britton (thanks to her work in Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story and early Spin City) – not sure I buy this show but I actually like a lot of the music in the show.

The Crazy Ones – This show is all right but I don’t go out of my way to see it. James Wolk and Hamish Linklater make the show for me (really enjoyed both of their work in other things as well). Robin Williams is too over the top as usual and Sarah Michelle Gellar, whom I keep trying to like, is just not for me. I do love Brad Garrett in his role, though. The episodes seemed to get better when he arrived.

The Good Wife – New life breathed into this (not that it needed it) when main character goes off to form her own law firm.

Justified – can’t wait for the new season, coming up soon. I love everything about this show and all its characters. Agree with the writer of article cited above – do not want ANY of these characters to die.

Once Upon a Time – I admit that I have skipped the whole current season of this show. I gave up.

Californication – Thank god we are heading into the final season of this show that should have died ages ago. Sick of this story being rehashed of some loser middle-aged dude who manages to pull his head out of his ass long enough to do something artistically rewarding only to fuck up his personal life and screw over all the people in his fucked life again and again. It’s only funny or forgivable for so long…

House of Lies – Pretty entertaining because it plays on all the stereotypical business clichés and management consultant language. Don Cheadle plays a great asshole.

House of Cards – Entertaining remake of the UK version, proof that creativity can be launched from all kinds of wombs (Netflix original programming)

Episodes – Looking forward to new season. Have been surprised by how crass but simultaneously funny this show is.

Lilyhammer – Funny but also like being hit over the head with stereotypes. But then no one outside of Norway knows anything about Norway – but this might be the sort of thing they imagine. UDI (immigration directorate) might take offense to its treatment, but I’ve never heard a happy story coming out of there.

Shameless – Looking forward to the new season

Grey’s Anatomy – End already. It’s getting petty (or pettier) and duller by the minute

Revenge – It was always soapy but now it’s just ridiculous and has lost any edge it had. Best part is the ease with which character Nolan Ross switches between male and female love interests and it’s just no big deal to anyone. Perfect.

Parks and Recreation – Losing its comedic edge unfortunately.

Community – interested in seeing how this is rebooted now that its controversial creator is back at the helm. Fingers crossed after dismal previous season.

Scandal – Outlandish but a guilty pleasure.

Hawaii Five-0 – another guilty pleasure. I like the chemistry among the cast. Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan together are pretty funny. I like some of the cheeky jokes, for example about Magnum PI – long ago and faraway Hawaii-based TV

Elementary – Big Jonny Lee Miller fan, like how Aidan Quinn is pretty much always a New York police captain in every show now, and Lucy Liu has grown on me in almost all the roles she has done since annoying Ally McBeal BS.

Downton Abbey – I could fully see where the popularity came from in the beginning but it is grating my nerves now

How I Met Your Mother – So glad this is coming to an end. It used to be quite funny at times but this last season feels like a stretch.

White Collar – Time filler. Sometimes quite entertaining. I like the characters but it’s a fairly straightforward show.

Veep – Caught up on this a few months ago and loved it. Laughed a lot at the awkwardness.

The Walking Dead – When it comes back, I wonder where the gang will go. I have always been happy that the show was not afraid to kill people off as they went – that’s realistic.

American Horror Story – Enjoying. I love the big ensemble cast and like that each season brings back the same people in different roles. I never used to like Jessica Lange but this has put a few points in her column. Angela Bassett is, for lack of a better word, amazing. She always is.

Treme – An abbreviated final season. Interested in seeing how it all turns out, even though things never quite “turn out” – I don’t expect finality.

Girls – Clever at first. Eventually just annoying as all fuck. The article above wants Marnie to die. I would not mind if they all did.

Top of the LakeJane Campion is a complicated filmmaker, and she is no different when introducing her storytelling to the small screen. Visually arresting backdrop to a complicated and ugly story, Elisabeth Moss takes center stage as a New Zealander/detective who goes home for the first time in years, dredging up some of the horrors of her own past. Excellent viewing.

Luther – The story is often really outlandish and unbelievable but we can’t help loving Idris Elba, can we? Or the troubled John Luther that he portrays.

Game of Thrones – I resisted. I tried to watch once but did not get far. I tried again and got sucked in this time. Much better. I am a Peter Dinklage fan anyway but came to appreciate the whole thing (even if I still acknowledge that he’s the best thing about the show)

Bron – Swedish/Danish original of the police show – great characters.

The Bridge – US version of Swedish/Danish police show. It took a while to accept Diane Kruger and her character, but I loved Demian Bichir’s character immediately. Also appreciated Ted Levine as the lieutenant – as I loved him in Monk – and Thomas M. Wright as Steven Linder – he also figured prominently into Top of the Lake.

Orange is the New Black – Binge watched. Mostly really enjoyed this – of course it’s not perfect but it was different from most of what else is out there. More accolades for Netflix taking a chance on its own programming.

Longmire – Just renewed for a third season. Can you argue with a show that has Lou Diamond Phillips in it? No.

Ray Donovan – Not sure about this show still. I like most of the characters, but all I can think of when I watch this is that the whole plot development is advanced almost entirely by people making phone calls on their mobiles – way too much time on the phone for everyone involved. Character development suffers a bit…

Homeland – Ok, this show went off the rails many times. I still enjoy it, largely because I have enjoyed the performances of Mandy Patinkin and F Murray Abraham (he will always be Salieri to me). But let’s hope that the next season takes a new direction in light of some of what transpired in the end of the latest season.

Masters of Sex – One of the best things to come along in the last round of shows. Excellent and likeable cast, a sensitive subject handled with sensitivity and a deft hand. Beautifully done. A lot of accolades have gone to star Lizzy Caplan (well-deserved), but other cast members, including virtually unrecognizable Julianne Nicholson and, as the repressed housewife discovering sexual secrets about her husband, the always great Allison Janney.

The Newsroom – My opinion is tipping toward dislike. The background music playing in many scenes tells too much of the story – soaring music that somehow betrays that Jeff Daniels’s character is going to do something liberal and benevolent that no one expects. Too much of the annoying Maggie (played by Alison Pill) and a whole stupid storyline there. I know this is Aaron Sorkin and his famous fast-talking, wordy spiels for all the characters, but I don’t buy the characters here. Mac (Emily Mortimer) is especially out there – someone is unlikely to ascend to her position if this insecure and flighty. Best characters – Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda, Hamish Linklater (a few episodes in the most recent season). They kept the thing grounded.

True Blood – End already? The recent season was a bit more entertaining than the previous two but I could do without this one.

Boardwalk Empire – One of my all-time favorites. I don’t actually know many people who like it, but I love it. I think it becomes more engrossing each season and love the actors they bring in. Somehow the vast ensemble does not get muddled – each character is distinct, even if it does mean that one needs to pay close attention to every moment of the show. Definitely a show not afraid to kill off important characters and fan favorites, which is sad but perhaps necessary to keep it going at the same level. (Actresses I have never liked, such as Patricia Arquette and Julianne Nicholson, turn in fabulous performances here.)

Sons of Anarchy – Also look forward to this ending. It has just become ridiculous. More ridiculous than it already was.

Revolution – Time filler-killer

Grimm – Time filler – like that it is set in Portland, though, so we get references to Portland’s weirdness and Voodoo Doughnut.

Hell on Wheels – I watch this almost entirely to see the performance of Christopher Heyerdahl as “The Swede”. That alone is worth the time.

reaching the end of the road

Standard

As I mentioned yesterday and in an older post devoted exclusively to my obsessiveness about television, Friday Night Lights has come to an end after a five-year run.

There is something sorrowful about the end of a show that had so much humanity and human touchpoints in it. It is especially difficult when the show comes to an end after only five years, while seeming crap can remain on TV ad infinitum. I realized while watching it yesterday that it is not just full of real-life moments and the complex, changing characters we meet in our everyday lives but also that it is full of moments that we either relate to because we recognize these moments from our own lives or wish we had experienced ourselves. Me, being too much of a closed-off cynic most of my life to be open to the kinds of relationships people have on this show, I can only attest to their true-to-life feeling based on observation and conjecture. I did not fall in love with people in my high school, but just because I thought I was above that, does not mean I did not see it happen every day to people all around me. Much like many main characters in the show, some of those young loves lasted, and some did not.

At the heart of the show, we see the strength of the marriage between the two main characters, Eric and Tami Taylor. I repeat myself and every TV critic in the world when I state that I have never seen a more honest, grounded portrayal of marriage. The couple has struggles; they argue; they disagree. But they never disrespect. They eventually come together and discuss, even if they never agree. They work through challenges that real people face (for example, in one season, they want to buy a house they cannot afford, and unlike any other TV show I have seen in my lifetime, other than perhaps in the show Roseanne, where they did deal with the economics of middle-class family life, a couple chose to let go of something they dreamt of because they chose to be realistic and live within their means). The final season saw Eric and Tami face the biggest challenges to their marriage that they have possibly ever seen. The way they resolved the challenges took time, soul-searching, a sense of selflessness and of selfishness (each character having to find these attributes within himself to move forward together as a couple).

It has been a long time since I felt this broken up about the ending of a TV show.

In a couple of months, Big Love will also end after five years. I don’t feel the same kind of regret to see it go although I have found the whole show to be compelling, despite some the crazy drama that ensued (particularly last season). The crazy drama might even have been believable within the framework of Big Love if it had not tried to pack itself into one short season. I will miss the richness of the characters and how they each handle the trials of their new lives as “outed” polygamists.

Each of these shows, in their own ways, deals with different manifestations and representations of love. What could be more appropriate for Valentine’s Day? Another (holi)day I don’t celebrate. I cannot remember even being in a relationship during Valentine’s Day (since the 90s), and certainly not with anyone who cared for these artificial days for romance. I suppose I have become overly sentimental (or maudlin) now because I almost think it might be nice to have a day for that sort of sappiness.

Moving right along, as these shows reach the end of their road, and I find new shows to watch as I continue on my same road, working too much, baking too much, I wonder where the next fork will appear in my road.

Soundtrack for the frame of mind:
MGMT – “The Youth

Video.