I don’t even know that I would refer to what I feel for James Wolk and Kyle Chandler as “crushes”. They each have a certain quality that makes me want to see almost everything they are in. Even the stupid stuff. It is the charming, disarming smile. It is the guy-next-door relatability … but the kind of guy you really want to have next door. Still, it’s not a crush in the sense that I would really be interested in either guy. But I like to watch them. A lot. Anyone have a word for this? I don’t have a crush. I am not exactly a “fan”. I admire, I follow, but there are lines I won’t cross. For example, when The Crazy Ones, in which James Wolk had a starring role, became too stupid, I stopped watching. And the entire premise of the dull, forgettable What About Joan? was too maddening to accept, I did not watch it at all, despite Chandler’s role as Joan’s boyfriend.
Someone shoot me – there is a handful of TV shows that are just too stupid to keep watching, and they keep getting dumber and worse… but I cannot stop watching them.
The worst of the bunch is The Following. I cannot even describe how this descends into ever-greater stupidity. I never liked Kevin Bacon much, and this does not help. The FBI in the show is made up of bumbling idiots who are always about ten steps behind the criminal mastermind of the show. But the criminal mastermind/cult leader is actually just as stupid. Everyone is stupid. And totally unlikeable. And the only remotely interesting part (but not enough to keep watching) is questioning how it is that all these people are brainwashed (or something?) enough to follow along with this cult leader. The words that signal stupidity, more than anything else, are some variation of, “Let’s not do anything stupid.” Or “We need to be smart here.” This always signals that they are already knee-deep in the boiling shit of stupidity. No show is better at sending this signal than The Following.
But right up there on the list – Helix. I wanted to like it and kept trying to – but I hate the show. Nothing changes that.
Likewise, I am none too impressed with the repetitive crap inflicted by shows like Grimm but I keep watching.
I did at least finally cross The Crazy Ones off my list of weekly viewing, but I need to force myself to mark these other crappy shows off the list, too. I need to refer to the “Fuck, yes” rule when watching tv as much as I do about every other aspect of life. Lukewarm reception – don’t waste any more damn time!
Meanwhile I have been enjoying the crass and mullet-filled nonsense that is Eastbound & Down. It is rather funny in this politically incorrect, some other section of society way. But then I realize I have actually known people who are not too terribly different from Kenny Powers, the dubious anti-hero of the show. The show has a varied and quite stunning soundtrack.
Not including or to be confused with the Jerry Reed song that shares the same name as the show.
Loads of other TV viewing but don’t really feel like chronicling the stuff that was actually decent.
Funny thing about going on TV and movie-viewing binges – there are so many threads that connect so many things together. This past two weeks, for example, I have not seen a single TV show that did not use a reference to someone being another person’s “wing man”. It started when I went on a Suits-watching marathon, and there was an entire episode in which the characters were excessively quoting Top Gun (which is not even a film with dialogue – just a long series of annoying one-liners). After that, every show has referenced the ubiquitous “wing man” and in some other show (unfortunately I have half-watched so much TV that I don’t remember which show), the characters argued about who was Maverick and who was Goose.
Smaller connections can be seen if paying attention – binge watching allows for sewing together disconnected threads in specific series – but it also allows for small connections and thematic linking between things where there really is no reason to believe there are connection. For example, the obsession with Quaaludes in The Wolf of Wall Street pops up again in HBO’s True Detective, where Matthew McConaughey’s character wants to get some Quaaludes. Not to mention that McConaughey turns up briefly in The Wolf as a drug-obsessed Wall Street guy schooling Leonardo DiCaprio in how to behave (that is, take drugs, more drugs and only care about making money for yourself). And frankly, how often do you hear about Quaaludes in everyday life? Never. Now it’s twice in one day – thanks to entertainment.
In the midst of other things, I have done a lot of wasteful TV and movie viewing lately. It’s on in the background while I do a million other things. There are plenty of other things I have been watching and love (not listed here, such as Shameless, House of Lies, Episodes, Justified, etc.), but I am only listing things that I have not really written much about elsewhere – new shows or things that I have something to say about them.
Among the dumbest or most infuriating shows:
The Following: This show just makes law enforcement look like it is all bumbling idiots, always ten steps behind. But the bad guy never quite seems like he could be smart enough to pull it off. In general the show just makes no sense to me because it is just not believable.
The Fosters: This is classic-style ABC network family programming with a “clever” (or not) title (the titular Foster family are also foster parents) and lots of hot-button topics (lesbian, biracial couple with a bunch of kids – one biological and the others adopted fosters). The good part is that this backdrop is not overdone or made to seem unusual. This is just the way it is. But the storytelling is one step away from overdramatic soap opera with too much shit going on to be real. So I don’t like the show, and both the leads (Teri Polo and Sherri Saum) lack the personal warmth to make them seem like loving parents – they try to oversell it to the detriment of the end effect.
Helix: I keep waiting for it to get better and it isn’t. I felt the same way about Caprica. And is it just me or is Billy Campbell becoming a worse and more false actor as he gets older? The only good thing is the actress who was Kat in Battlestar Galactica. I did not like her that much in BSG, but here she’s tough without the immature, annoying, extreme edge she had as Kat. Oh, and Jeri Ryan is going to show up any minute now, so that’s a good thing, right?
Looking: I don’t know – a show about a group of gay friends in San Francisco. Would be fine as a premise, but it just feels so pointless every week.
The Crazy Ones: I keep trying to watch this and this is not funny. The end.
How I Met Your Mother: I started watching this only around the time that the show was in its sixth season on TV. It could be quite funny for network comedy, but this last season is dragging out in the worst way. Boring and unfunny to an unmanageable degree.
Not bad but not good:
Nashville: This gets worse all the time. I want to like it because I really like Connie Britton. But every storyline is annoying and over-the-top. While all are annoying, the worst one is Rayna’s determination to start her own record label. It belies the whole direction of the music industry – and I refuse to believe that a huge star that this character is supposed to be would be that blind to the trends of the industry. Or that she would be so naive as to not realize the intricacies of the business and getting out of her contract. There is something naive about the whole story – her former label maneuvers against her by making a couple of phone calls (as if it is as easy as that) after we have just heard from another businessman that deals are made and cemented months or years in advance for retail shelf space. And the whole thing comes down to – who the hell needs retail shelf space any more? That’s the thing – why not try to move forward with your new, innovative, fresh label using the new, innovative, fresh tools that the modern music industry is built on? Most people are downloading and streaming. Getting distribution at Wal-mart or wherever is still part of the strategy for a huge star – but a huge, veteran star starting up a label would not be so completely blind to the business end of the business. And if she were, she would have lined up a lot more industry-specific advisers (rather than her sketchy sister?!) to help her plan and get the whole thing off the ground. She would not just mouth off at her music label and leave and decide to fly by the seat of her pants and suddenly find that she is stuck.
If they stuck with the music, this would be a better show.
Trophy Wife: Surprisingly funnier than I expected but still not something I cannot live without. I find myself questioning the man in the story – how is it that he just keeps getting married – and is he so lacking in discernment or so desperate not to be alone or just so open-minded that he married these three massively different women? I can’t figure that out. I mean really – who would marry that second wife? He seems too normal and put together to marry someone like that unless it was a whimsical rebellion after the uptight, driven and mean first wife? I don’t know, I really don’t.
Almost good, but not totally sure:
Orphan Black: I never planned to watch this but recently watched the whole thing – I was entertained, surprised and impressed with Tatiana Maslany’s performance in multiple, quite different roles in the same show. I will give the second series a whirl. I am interested in the ethics of cloning and identity, and this show has started to explore some of the issues that come to light as a result of this kind of scientific experimentation.
Suits: As a kind of entertaining filler, I am enjoying Suits. It can be a laugh, but it’s not classic television or anything. I enjoy the constant movie quoting and references the characters make to other things (Top Gun, Mississippi Burning as examples), but that’s the best it gets for me.
The best shows:
True Detective: By far the best new show I have seen. Understated, great cinematography, great soundtrack, great dialogue and superb performances. The tense relationship between the two leads, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and their outstanding verbal exchanges, makes the show worth watching. I never imagined in my life that I would claim McConaughey had done something great, but in truth, he has actually built a fairly impressive resume without my paying attention. (His role in Dallas Buyers Club was pretty powerful, but I have not seen him do something as inspired as his role in True Detective.)
I watched a bunch of movies in recent weeks – but I have not really kept track of them. I saw Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, the recent Mandela movie starring Idris Elba… but there is not much to say about these films. It’s difficult to distill a film into just key points. And films like these – well, they’re kind of Oscar bait, meaning that everyone writes about them.
I saw the film The Wolf of Wall Street, and hated it. Frankly I don’t like stuff like this. Movies in which people behave stupidly, get all fucked-up on drugs and live and die by their own greed and excesses don’t do anything for me. I am only interested in the fact that Kyle Chandler is in a small role as a tenacious FBI agent. He’s just so bloody cute! Happily he will be in a new Netflix series soon.
Recently I decided to spend some time watching TV shows that did not last.
First up – Bunheads. The title alone put me off, and then the fact that the creator is one and the same guilty party responsible for The Gilmore Girls. I know Gilmore was a really popular, beloved show – but for all the chances I gave it, I could not get into it. I realized eventually that it’s just Lauren Graham I don’t like (at all), not the show. (Graham seems to play a version – without much variation – of the same kind of ditzy, neurotic, irresponsible and not-put-together person in everything she is in.) I enjoyed the first few episodes of Bunheads, but eventually it grated on my nerves. I enjoyed some of the pop-culture references (they’re everywhere! Notably, I enjoyed a nice reference to Stringer Bell from The Wire and a couple of references to the worst movie ever, Footloose, which seems to be an uncontrolled phenomenon on TV these days, most recently on Modern Family). and some of the rapid-fire dialogue, although this trademark rapid-fire talk is part of what eventually grates. No one talks this way in reality, and if they did, I would be tempted to commit some kind of assault.
Alas, Bunheads lasted for just one season, so I only needed to plow through a limited assortment… relief. On the whole, even though I was relieved when the end came, I think it was an entertaining show while it lasted. It’s hard to tell whether the show was gone too soon or was around just long enough.
Another show that had an almost criminally limited run was Lone Star. It lasted for only two episodes (yes – two episodes!), so it is not possible to assess whether it was good or not. It had promise, though, and it only started to show. I decided to watch the two existing episodes because of James Wolk since it’s hard not to love the guy after watching his roles in Mad Men, Political Animals and more recently The Crazy Ones (by far the best aspects of that mediocre show). Wolk’s role in Lone Star seems to have been training ground for his role as Bob on Mad Men. (His character’s name in Lone Star, coincidentally enough, was “Bob” also.) Wolk’s role in Lone Star as the ultimate con man was not quite believable yet, especially for a guy who had supposedly been pulling cons all his life. Actually, maybe his performance was spot-on because no matter how long his character had been living his lifelong con, he was never comfortable with it. Lone Star’s Bob fooled a lot of people – the too-cute smile and slightly awkward charm – would not have been enough to carry him through the kinds of cons he was successfully running – not slick enough to mask his reality. By the time Wolk walked into the role of Bob Benson in Mad Men, he had mastered the cool, easy veneer and milquetoast cover that made Benson seem non-threatening and ultimately outstanding. But we only got two episodes of Lone Star. I am tempted to call it a gem – but we did not get enough of it to really find out.
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…
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.
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 Lake – Jane 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.
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.
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