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television, catching up

It’s probably a combination of the lessening of my obsession to post as this blog approaches its 15th birthday, and the different ways television is consumed now, but I don’t post on TV as often as I used to. My pattern was generally to write about a show at the beginning of a season and at the end, but now, we’re all in different places with various shows. There are still shows with regular weekly schedules, but even there, I sense that some people prefer to wait for a season to end so they can binge-watch. And there are the streaming series that are usually released as an entire season, so a show might be released on a Friday and by Monday, people have already watched the entire season. So I don’t know when to start writing. I have no problem writing about old movies, but TV seems more immediate somehow.

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been watching, in alphabetical order:

Agents of SHIELD (not the exact title, but tough ... Season 4, ABC). I’m neither here nor there with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I preferred the now-cancelled Agent Carter to this one. But I like the cast, especially Clark Gregg, and if it often feels like a poor step-sibling to the big Marvel movies, perhaps that’s a point in its favor.

Ash vs Evil Dead (Season 2, Starz). Perhaps the easiest TV series in history to evaluate. If you like the Evil Dead movies, you will like this show. If not, you won’t. And I suppose if you’ve never even heard of the Evil Dead movies, you won’t like this either. This is possibly the goriest show we’ve ever seen on TV, which is right in line with the movies (if for some reason you aren’t up to date, this show is part of the Evil Dead universe, taking place after the events of Army of Darkness). The entire show is over the top, including the gore, which can’t be taken on a serious level ... the inspiration for all of this is the Three Stooges. No one tries to make a case for the Evil Dead universe as meaningful ... it’s just a silly gorefest that has the honesty to know what it is about. Plus, Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless. One of my favorite shows, but if ever the cliché “Your Mileage May Vary” was appropriate, it’s here.

Atlanta (One season, FX). Might be the best new show in recent times, although it’s erratic. Donald Glover created and stars in it, and he offers a small world that feels real (whether or not it actually is), with characters (and actors) to fill their roles perfectly. This show might get so good in future seasons that we’ll look back on Season One as a mere warm-up, but it stands on its own.

Better Things, Fleabag, Insecure, Lady Dynamite (you can find them if you’re interested). I’m sticking these all together because they are all half-hour comedy/dramas with women at the center. Beyond that, they aren’t really alike, but they do run together in my mind. Fleabag is the only one I’ve finished ... Phoebe Waller-Bridge should be a star ... but I wouldn’t say it’s better than the others, at least not yet. I recommend all of them.

Black Mirror (Season 3, Netflix). Not sure this makes sense, but I like this show enough that I don’t feel the need to binge. Each episode is a stand-alone, which is probably the main reason ... I can sit down for an hour, and feel I’ve gotten enough for one day. So I am not caught up with this season, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen.

Designated Survivor (Season 1, ABC). Kiefer Sutherland’s new show, as a man who becomes president after everyone else in the federal government is killed. Obviously, we’re reminded of 24, even though in fairness the show doesn’t play that game too much. More detrimental to its potential is that it reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, which also begins with a minor governmental official falling into the presidency. BSG was one of the best shows ever; Designated Survivor isn’t really trying to be that good. So I may not make it much longer with this one, when I could just watch BSG again.

The Fall (Season 3, Netflix). This is a British series starring Gillian Anderson as a British police detective and Jamie Dornan as the “Belfast Strangler”. If you are interested in binging, there are a total of 17 episodes. The two leads do great jobs, and the show does well at showing the strangler’s humanity as well as his crimes. The relationship between the two gets more complicated over time. Overall, it’s nothing too special, perhaps a bit like SVU if Mariska Hargitay was the lead figure from the start. Especially good for fans of Gillian Anderson.

Jane the Virgin (Season 3, CW). Remains one of the most inventive, enjoyable shows on the air. Gina Rodriguez, Jaime Camil, and Anthony Mendez are all great, the entire cast is good, and the meta approach to the telenovela is well-done. Plus, they have managed to deal with the “Virgin” aspect of the show with intelligence and believability.

Rectify (4th and final season, Sundance). The best show currently on TV (The Americans is between seasons). Its glacial pace turns away most viewers ... it’s a gift that creator Ray McKinnon has been given the chance to tell the story in full, given the poor ratings. Recently, I decided the show reminded me of soap operas, where it takes months to resolve anything. Except I don’t expect things to be resolved on Rectify. I can only hope that sometime in the future, people catch up with it on streaming, and kick themselves for missing out in the first place. Aden Young, the unknown-to-me star, is as good as anyone, week after week. And this is what Abigail Spencer did before Timeless. If you actually want to take my advice, this is the show to start with.

Shameless (Season 7, Showtime). Showtime always lets their shows run for too long. That would seem to be a problem here, but somehow, Shameless is still very good. The changes in the characters over the years are believable (at least within the cockeyed world of the show), Emmy Rossum deserved more than one of those awards named after her, and I’m glad it’s still on. Oddly, the least-interesting character is the one played by William H. Macy, the de facto star. Macy is excellent, his character is not.

The Strain (Three seasons, with one more to go, FX). Another zombie show, this one doesn’t try for overarching significance, which for me means it’s better than The Walking Dead. I care about the characters, and there’s some good acting here, but this isn’t a classic.

Supergirl (Season 2, CW). Mostly harmless, with a fresh performance by Melissa Benoist in the title role. I think it’s mostly froth, although some find more depth. The kind of show where, if I get behind, I’ll probably forget to watch it any more, but so far, I’ve kept up.

Timeless (Season 1, NBC). The first few episodes show a decent time-travel drama with a decent cast and decent recreations of the past. Co-showrunner Shawn Ryan’s work is always worth a look, and if you like time-travel stories, this will be right up your alley. Plus, it’s nice to see Abigail Spencer getting work after Rectify. Nothing special, but I’m still watching.

Transparent (Season 3, Amazon). I mention this because most people have at least heard of it. I like it, yet I don’t binge-gobble ... Season 3 was released in September, and I’m still 6 episodes behind. Which must say something, no matter how much I like the show.

The Walking Dead (Season 7, AMC). As of this writing, I’m only one episode behind, but I’m not sure I’ll continue watching. Six seasons is enough, I guess. I always thought this was a good zombie show that was tarted up with character stories, but it’s true, a few of those characters grew on me over time. But starting last season, the creators starting fucking with the audience, and I don’t feel like being fucked with anymore. Plus, at some point, it’s just ridiculous that this show gets away with so much killing (because the victims are already dead). I’m all for TV violence, but don’t be coy (see Ash vs Evil Dead, above).

Westworld (Season 1, HBO). Gorgeous to look at, with a stellar cast, a bit like Timeless with a budget. The producers are trying for something big, but they are also big fans of keeping viewers in the dark about the ultimate scenario for the show. This is trickier than it used to be, since the Internet allows for hive-mind break downs of every detail. I have a feeling this is a less-than-meets-the-eye show, but it definitely pleases the eye.

I’m leaving out some shows that will be returning, hopefully soon. The Americans (FX) is the best show on TV ... I highly recommend catching up with it during its off-season. The 100 (CW) became quite problematic in its third season, yet I may be looking forward to next season more than any other show on this list, and it’s another I recommend you catch up on (be aware it takes a few episodes before it reaches its potential). There are the usuals: Broad City, The Leftovers, Orphan Black, Outlander, Sense8. A special shout out to Outlander, because it is a special show. As usual, I haven’t said much about plots or concepts here ... if you’re interested in any of these but can’t quite figure out what they are about, well, that’s why we have the Internet. And apologies for all the shows I’ve forgotten here ... the pitfalls of Peak TV.

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