Thursday, January 7, 2016

TV Update

Brief update on my ongoing relishing of The Golden Age of Television (here's my Massive TV Round-Up from a year ago, including a descending-priority list of recent shows). The following are my favorites among the most recently playing series (most recently finished their seasons).

You'll Never Be Whole Until You View

The Leftovers (HBO) - The bizarrely grim, yet somehow deeply infectious first season gave way to a stupendous second season, which included one episode ("International Assassin") that was perhaps the most remarkable hour of television I've ever seen - Kubrickian (not a term I use lightly) in its thoughtful detail, deep mood, innovative unfolding, and refined perfection.

Rectify (Sundance Channel) - Still great. The slowest-moving, most nuanced and emotionally honest show you've ever seen. You'll ask yourself how something so utterly deep, honest, and unadorned ever made it onto TV, and, indeed, only about 100,000 of us are watching (we all consider ourselves very, very lucky). If you appreciate Nano-Aesthetics as I do, it's a must-view. I previously raved here.

Fargo (FX) - Season One was too wonderful to top. Season Two topped it. Coen brothers, schmoen brothers. Noah Hawley now owns the admittedly narrow genre of slightly-surreal tragicomic north-central American crime fiction.

Excellent; Well Worth Watching

You're the Worst (FX) - Season one was a bizarrely affecting romantic comedy between two horrible central characters (supporting player Kether Donohue is a national treasure). The secret was meticulous honesty in character (both re: writing and performance), in spite of the sometimes broad comedic approach. Season two just pushed way deeply into that honesty, for a big win. One episode, "LCD Soundsystem", was an astonishing piece whose impact was so well-earned (over the course of the series) that it almost makes a few of Dostoevski's literary long games seem like easy cheats.

Mr. Robot (USA) - This show's a rabbit hole which many of us took a deep dive into. A mentally ill master hacker takes on an evil corporation, yadda yadda, but great stuff is done within the hoary framework. You've got to persevere a bit; elements that initially seem like creative cop-outs turn out to have weight. Have faith!

Deutschland 83 (Sundance Channel) - If you like "The Americans" (returning in March...I'm ecstatic....see my rave here), you shouldn't miss this gripping period tale of East German espionage.

Manhattan (WGN) - Hard to describe, because it's not like anything else. It's a highly fictionalized tale of the Los Alamos push to build the Atomic Bomb in the 1940s. Great performances, photography and evocative feeling of place. Alan Sepinwall describes it best (in a piece begging WGN overlords to renew the series.....which, btw, they did).

Homeland (Showtime) - If you need shows to always make perfect sense, you probably already know this one isn't for you. And even my substantial plot hole tolerance was severely tested by the frequent idiocy of its second, third, and fourth seasons. But this last season wasn't maddening or idiotic; it was Homeland at its best: riddled with a few plot irregularities, yes, but never not insanely entertaining. If you ever had affection for the series, this past season is worth a binge (it should work well standalone; just quickly catch up on major previous season plot points via the very brief overviews here).

The Expanse (Syfy) - A sci-fi series with lots of cliches, but its very transportive quality has sucked me (and lots of other people) in (we're currently at mid-season). If Battlestar Galactica was your thing, you'd probably enjoy this. We'll see whether they can keep up the quality; like much sci-fi, it weaves more high concept plot strands than is probably best for it.

Acquired Pleasures

Doctor Who (BBC America) - just closed one of its best-ever seasons. One episode, "Heaven Sent", was deeply affecting and memorable; certainly my favorite-ever Doctor Who show. It works as a stand-alone but it's best if you have at least some familiarity with the show, generally, and, again, the whole season was worth a binge (even if it can't really compare with the brilliant work listed above).

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW) - Weirdo out-of-nowhere musical comedy with a certain attitude. Not for everyone. I'd understand if you found it grating, and I admit there are flaws, but this is so utterly different, heartfelt, and non-calculated - plus frequently hilarious - that I forgive a lot.

Life Below Zero (National Geographic) - Tediously repetitive "reality" show that, in its fifth season is four seasons past its freshness sell-date. It's about people living rough back-to-the-land lifestyles in rural Alaska, and it unwittingly offers a glimpse at a big human truth. Most of the regulars are white guys in a state of perpetual peeved anxiety about stuff going wrong, trying to dominate and "win" against every problem that arises. Miserable bastards, every one of them, who keep trying to live up to the monumental stories they tell themselves about themselves. And then there's Agnes Hailstone, a native Alaskan, who doesn't love being alive the least bit less when circumstances fail to meet her previous expectations. Fans of the show seem not to notice this dichotomy, nor do even the producers of the show. To me, though, it feels like a brilliant advanced course in applied spirituality.

Bitter Disappointment

Masters of Sex (Showtime) went from brilliant to awful in three seasons despite consistently great performances. The nadir was a scene with a gorilla that I lack adjectives to properly condemn. I immediately deleted the series from my DVR queue and glared at my television (which I otherwise am quite fond of) for having inflicted it on me.

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