Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More TV Show Gushing

I'm going nuts trying to keep up with the Golden Age of Television (probably healthier than my efforts keeping up with the Golden Age of Food In The 90's).

Here's the top of the latest crop (Note: I hesitate to describe gimmick/set-up/genre, because shows this good transcend all that; you don't need to be a fantasy buff to dig Game of Thrones, a horror buff to love Hannibal, or a sci-fi fan to watch Orphan Black; these programs aren't time wasters for niche aficionados, they're bona fide art):

Rectify, on Sundance Channel. You can catch up with season one on Netflix.
This one's actually in its second year, but ratings indicate I may be the only one watching it. Thoughtful, introspective Daniel Holden has been sprung after decades on death row, returning to his lush and louche home town in rural Georgia, where he struggles to readjust to society. Incredibly subtle; the meditative pace bugs the bejesus out of viewers craving lots of action and plot (here's lead actor Aden Young ranting - e.g. "What coke-fuelled moron came up with the idea to criticise the concept of time while watching a show about the concept of time?" - at viewers who are "hate watching" it). Don't listen to the haters. This is a beautiful work of art. And remember that I was recommending Breaking Bad (among other things) to you before hardly anyone was touting it!

Manhattan on WGN, back episodes available only via Hulu Plus (which conveniently offers a free trial week...and you can also find a number of Criterion Collection films there).
A highly fictionalized story of the Manhattan Project, this one's been drawing me in in spite of initial reservations. Such beautiful cinematography, and excellent acting.

The Knick on Cinemax but also on HBO on a slight delay.
In this one, Steven Soderbergh directs/writes/edits Clive Owen in the tale of a cutting edge surgeon in 1900. It's the first depiction of the past where the characters appear to be living in a "now" rather than a mouldered "then". 1900 felt every bit as futuristic at the time as 2014 does now; maybe more so, because the acceleration of progress had just begun to superheat. It's one of the "now"-iest period pieces ever, and the choice of an electronic music score highlights this quite cleverly (that last observation was hoisted from critic Alan Sepinwall).

The Leftovers, on HBO, is another slow, meditative, and particularly bleak dystopian show about the near-future effects of 10% of the Earth's population having suddenly disappeared. It's not an old-school high-concept sci-fi thing making heavy-handed points about our society; it's a thoughtfully worked out feat of world building, and, like Rectify (see above), it will draw you in if given a chance...even if it's not quite the work of art that, say, Rectify is.

Outlander on Starz
Based on Diana Gabaldon's series about a tough but sensitive WW I nurse transported to 18th century Scotland, this one's produced by Battlestar Galactica's Ronald Moore. Yes, everyone's going historical - aka "period" - this year, but such flocking randomly happens, and, again, greatness transcends genre. Only...I'm not sure this one's truly great. We'll see, though. We're only one episode in at this point, and while I'm not seeing the meticulous attention to detail I'd prefer, there's a lot to like, so I'll be giving it a chance.

I'll list, below, ongoing series previously mentioned here on the Slog (if you do a search, note that most have been mentioned more than once). Every one of these is worth going out of your way to catch up with, but I've sorted them in descending order of oh-my-godness:

The Americans
Rick and Morty
Masters of Sex
Game of Thrones
Orphan Black
Orange is the New Black
Key and Peele
Good Wife

Using my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating things from 1 to 10, I'd say that Hannibal's a "10", the next six are "9"s, and everything from Orphan Black down is a solid "8" (compared not to previous TV series, but to movies and other well-respected art forms). For those catching up, bear in mind that the first three, while great in their first seasons, vastly improved in their second seasons (all completed as of now), and Louie trailed off just slightly in its most recent season (but was still great). Masters of Sex, currently in its second season, is also much improved.

Of the new crop listed above, Rectify's close to "10"ing, and the others are too new to say for sure, but all have a shot at "9"hood...or at least solid "8"ishness.

As always, you'd be smart to follow up your viewing (or catch-up binge viewing) by reading Alan Sepinwall's excellent recaps and reviews....and the often high-quality comments posted beneath his articles.

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