Thursday, January 1, 1970
Mad Men (S7, completed): Unfailingly rich in every way: production design, characterization, employment of time as catalyst for dramatic irony. Never puts a foot out of line. Cutting the final stretch into halves feels wrong, though. This season has felt a little bit cartoonish. Touching finale.
The Good Wife (S5, completed): Constant and surprising idiosyncrasy; doesn't shy away from complexity; fun cast, juicy melodrama, organic and intelligently charted growth of legal-political biomes. Breaking away from its case-of-the-week structure has done it a world of good. Unafraid of bold dramatic choices. Kind of weird about its guest characters, though.
Hannibal (S2, completed): Lushly filmed, wonderfully written, and gruesome, its existence on network television seems like an impossibility except that it's still a police procedural. Refreshing attention to character. Curious about Mikkelsen's ability to nail inevitable character shifts. Constant metaphor and subtext gets a bit exhausting. Hoping that it will take a more appealing, less rigid shape as serialization develops, although the season finale does not point to this.
Black Mirror (S2, completed): Charlie Brooker may not be the most subtle dramatist, but what else on television cuts to the diseased heart of social technology with this kind of force? Episodes vary in quality, as is common with compartmentalized British television, but all are at least engaging. 1x2, 1x3, 2x1 standouts for me.
Girls (S3, completed): Season 2 was less consistent than 1 but had some remarkable highs. 3 has been better than ever. Unafraid of examining the really dark, awful truths about these people, and then mining that for pathos and humor in equal measure. More thoughtful than most comedic television and yet chronically misunderstood for it. Show's grasp of failure and privilege seems a little shaky.
The Americans (S2, completed): Very uneasy about the show's first-episode use of rape as character backstory (see also: Bates Motel). Dialogue is cheesy more often than not, especially in the first season, but the actors work overtime to sell it. The contrast of espionage politics with sex and fidelity works surprisingly well. Annet Mahendru is a major find.
True Detective (S1, completed): Great performances; Fukunaga bringing his compositional A game. Capable of stunning evocative power. Often showboaty to diminishing returns, stranded in ceaseless monologuing and samey tone. Peaks in the middle, before you realize how reliant the series is on graceless exposition.
Louie (S4): Structural looseness and surrealist flourishes pay off handsomely. Occasionally an episode will fail to land, but these are forgotten easily enough. Has been awfully didactic lately; C.K. is at his dadly best with his daughters, not the audience.
Community (S5, completed): After a season 4 that felt his absence miserably, Harmon is back and on his game. Show feels more lived-in, complex as a result of its troubles. Postmodernism's bag of tricks is definitely wearing thin, though. Difficult to really feel passionate about these days. Bad season finale that tastes of sour grapes, as if begging NBC to cancel it.
Bates Motel (S2, completed): Picks up on all of the subtleties that so enliven Psycho (book and movie) - questions of class, Oedipal neurosis, forbidden knowledge, desperate survival, etc. Shaky S1 finale, disorganized structure, iffy use of sexual violence. Has its own sneaky brand of humor that grows on you by the halfway point, and Vera Farmiga is amazing. Season 2 has really brought it. A curious treat, though not for everyone.
Arrested Development (S4, completed): Given the wide berth of structural freedom that being on Netflix affords him, you'd think that Mitch Hurwitz could have put together something a little less frenetic for his fourth outing. Poorly edited and sort of lopsided in terms of laughs per episode. Still, quite funny, an impressive feat after such a long absence.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S9, completed): Remarkable longevity; the show is not and will never again be what it once was, and the truly memorable episodes are probably behind us, but it is at least reliably amusing. I'll be with the gang through the twenty seasons FX surely forces them to make.
Orphan Black (S2, completed): Really silly science fiction pulp, emulating Lost's scattershot style of mystery building. Tatiana Maslany is fantastic. I tend to forget that all of these radically different women are portrayed by the same actress, though I wish they'd do something with her eyebrows. Characters made more compelling through show's ideas about science and the family. Sexy, unpretentious junk food television given value by its lead performance.
Archer (S5, completed): A breath of fresh air in some ways; ISIS hijinks were definitely getting stale by the end of season 4. As in-jokey as ever, even by sitcom standards. Lana's pregnancy/birth gets a resounding "eh" from me.
Parks and Recreation (S6, completed): Occasionally has strong episodes, but is clearly losing steam. Staring the sitcom predictability kiss of death right in the eye. Cast changes may help to shake things up, but lessening a character pool without adequate replacements seems perilous. NBC made a good choice in calling it off after Season 7.
Orange is the New Black (S2, completed): Broad, overly permissive structure (where are the guards? why are the inmates allowed so many potentially lethal tools?) stretches credibility of many of the plotlines. It's a necessary concession for Kohan's narrative, but this smoothness does a disservice to the real-life gravitas of these issues. Visual language often quite obvious. Piper has improved, mostly thanks to Schilling.
The Legend of Korra (S2, completed): Clearly suffering from the growing pains of accommodating two vastly different demographics: out-of-place humor and oversimplified plotting clash with mature themes and interesting sociopolitical ideas. Animation and voice acting are awfully ropey. Giving the main character amnesia halfway through the second season feels like a huge "we fucked up" button press. Squandering its potential.
Helix (S1, completed): Looks great; bursting with atmosphere. So-so acting and science that seems questionable even to a layperson. Camp flourishes are funny, but never really cohere with the main thrust of the season. Questionable ending. Good to see SyFy attempting at least marginal complexity after the Shark Ages, though.
Sherlock (S3, completed): Quite exciting in starts, but stylistically shallow and unrelentingly clever. Not here for Moffatt's queer-baiting. Remains fun, usually, to work through the puzzles, and Mary is a surprisingly full addition to the cast.
Parenthood (S2): Cheesy as hell, mighty formulaic, but easy to like. One episode is a good palate cleanser if you've been watching a bunch of heavy shit. Characters are usually pretty irritating but I guess that's the point.
On the Bubble
American Horror Story: Coven (S3, completed): Hit a slump after the hiatus (and the insultingly bad episode before) that it never really recovered from. Ryan Murphy's trademark sloppiness overwhelms the now-expected visual and narrative insanity. Terrible finale. Fun moments, delicious gallery of actresses, residual style worth tuning in for.
The Walking Dead (S4, completed): Refusal to adhere to its already shaky internal logic in the name of flashy but unoriginal set pieces is really killing it. Characterization is middling as always, but episodic crisis structure sometimes yields fruit. Hard to stay invested when constant death is so integral to the show's calculus. Often dreary when it thinks it's powerful.
House of Cards (S2, completed): Flabby writing, sloppy characterization, and a scenery-chewing, unbelievable performance from Spacey. Constantly moving its huge cast like chess pieces from subplot to subplot, trying desperately to maintain dramatic rhythm. Baroque politics and grim oddity engage fitfully. Heinous product placement an ill omen for this model of content creation/distribution. All the sheen of a prestige drama, little actual insight or originality.
The Following (S1): Uh, I don't know how far I'll get in this one. It is truly as ugly and mean as the reviews claim, and the thought of sitting through nine more hours of it for light schadenfreude makes my toes curl. At least Kevin Williamson still knows how to cast cute boys.
Game of Thrones (S1, completed): Not to be that guy, but after witnessing just one season's worth of adaptation decay with double the density on the way, I don't think this will live up to any expectations I set for it. Stimulating, lavish production values, but its tendency to wallow in (and embellish on) the garish details is more easily ignored when reading.
Fringe (S2): I am having a hard time getting past the bad dialogue. Peter, in particular, is the worst. Roberto Orci truther paranoia is fun to bask in, though, and if you can get past the sledgehammer exposition written for all the FOX watchers then the stories are pretty fun sci-fi standalones.
The Newsroom (S1, 10/13): Nope.
The Bridge (S1, 5/13): Just your run-of-the-mill dark serialized drama with a hook - Aspergers, as it were, furthering the troubling trend of mental disabilities as superpowers. Nothing to see here. Diane Kruger is a lousy choice for this role; too bad for Demian Bichir, who is great.
Homeland (S3, completed): Not a single character escaped this season unscathed. Whether desperately unlikeable (Carrie, Saul), underwritten (Peter, Brody, Dar Adal), or never good to begin with (Dana, Jessica), each one wore me down enough to give up. Show has always been potboilery, but never so sloppy.
Misfits (S2, completed): Haven't watched an episode of this in four years, but apparently it only gets worse after this point, so why bother now?
True Blood (S3, completed): Way too much going on and yet way too little deviance from its fuck-marry-kill carousel. The first two seasons are definitely worth catching, though.