I’m slacking on my duties. All of the above shows had crucial episodes over the past couple of days, and in the past, I’d have four different posts. But I’m getting old, so here’s a wrap-up of all of them.
The Walking Dead finished its half-season (or whatever they call it). This show has really picked up this season. It had begun getting bogged down in “character studies” that were boring, slow, and not even illuminating. This season, they amped up the action (i.e. violence). There’s a lot of hackin’ and choppin’ (Jay Brown’s Price Slasher would fit right in), all of it quite gruesome in that odd way American TV allows. Hardly anyone has sex on The Walking Dead (granted, when you’re fighting off zombies, there isn’t a lot of time for hanky-panky). But the gore is remarkable for basic cable … you’re guaranteed to see plenty of zombie killing before the opening credits, and since they can’t be killed without getting to their brains, you get heads chopped off, knives thrust through eye sockets, and the ever-popular hatchet to the head. Since we get the East Coast feed, that means from 6:00 to 7:00 on Sunday evenings you can see more yuck and blood and violence than you can believe. Paradoxically, by limiting the amount of time the characters sit around and talk about their lives, we learn more about them. At least, that’s how it seems to me, who always likes the adage that by your actions you are known. If The Walking Dead has pretensions, I haven’t seen them. It’s AMC’s True Blood, a guilty pleasure if you believe in them. Grade for half-season: B+.
Boardwalk Empire (which just ended Season Three) seems to have brought most of the critical community together. Everyone admires the production values, there is some fine acting, and the series offers a nice blend of period recreation and fictionalized drama. Yet somehow, it falls short of greatness. Every critic has their own explanation for this … a popular one is that the secondary characters are more interesting than the character at the center of the show, Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson. Buscemi is fine, by the way, but his character isn’t as enticing as, say, Richard Harrow, played by John Huston’s grandson, Jack Huston. The show is engrossing, it never sits too long on the DVR, and yet the best grade I can find it in myself to give is an A-. And that’s probably inflated … I just know it’s better than The Walking Dead, but I’m not really sure why.
Homeland has a couple of episodes to go this season, but this show has also garnered some agreement among critics. It was acclaimed the best new show of last season, and much of what made that season great is still here (take another bow, Claire Danes). But the plot is getting stupider by the moment, which means right now, Homeland isn’t a great series, but rather something that grabs you the way The Walking Dead does. Which is pretty good, really, but last season gave us such high hopes.
Sons of Anarchy just finished its fifth season, and it went out with a bang. (Spoilers will follow.) They never should have let Clay live through last season, but what’s done is done, and they handled his current presence quite well during the season. An ongoing plot is how Jax and Tara gradually become Clay and Gemma. By the end of Season Five, Tara is finally ready to escape that future, while Jax has become more Clay-like than ever. (That’s an interesting move in its own right, taking the central character, for whom we’ve always held out hope, and made him more detestable.) Of course, something trips up Tara’s plans, and in the last shot of the season, we see that Gemma has become a personification of the Devil himself. What is also always notable about Sons of Anarchy is the way creator Kurt Sutter works out some of the most deranged ideas imaginable. Sutter became famous as the go-to writer for gruesome stuff when he worked on The Shield, and now that’s got his own show, he can further indulge his fantasies. What adds to the craziness is that most of the awfulest happenings involve Otto, a jailed club member who, over the course of five seasons, has a mop handle jammed into his only good eye, gets revenge by twisting a screw driver into the neck of his assailant, kills a mobster with a scalpel, murders a nurse by stabbing her with a crucifix … you get the picture. What I haven’t mentioned is that Otto is played by … yep, Kurt Sutter. The season finale featured Sutter/Otto’s greatest moment. He had promised the club he wouldn’t talk to the authorities about some nefarious activities, and he keeps his promise … when the deposition is about to begin, he bites off his own tongue and spits it out. He won’t be talking anytime soon. Grade for season finale: A-. Grade for Season Five: A-.