Monday, 21 November 2011

Shows I'm Most Thankful For

AOL TV did a list of shows they're most thankful for this year (spoiler: their choices are awesome), and it got me thinking about my favorite shows still on air. I've spilled much ink (figuratively speaking -- it's a blog, right) on my sadness about the departure of three of my three favorite shows in the last year and a half (in death march order: LOST, Big Love, and Friday Night Lights).

Even though two out of three of those weren't surprises, it still stings to lose a favorite. One of the things I love about a good show is the way you're allowed to get invested in characters for several years, as opposed to just a couple of hours in a movie. Friday Night Lights, in particular, told lots of stories, but held true to whom these people were throughout. I feel privy to a large chunk of Coach and Tami's story, not just an event in their "lives".

Anyway, with the departure of those favorites, I've begun to revel in the new stories to be told, compiling a new list of favorites. So here's a list of the shows I'm most thankful for this year.

1. Parks and Recreation. I chose this one over the dramatic and consequential Homeland because I've just fallen head over heels for Leslie and the gang over the last two and a half seasons. The show's innate optimism makes the characters easy to care about, which is, believe it or not, not always easy to do on a comedy show, where it's easy for characters to turn into cartoon characters. Usually I'm a fan of serialized drama shows and episodic sitcoms, but Parks and Rec works in both cases. The six-episode build up to the Harvest Festival at the beginning of last season was note-for-note perfect, combining the best elements of stand alone and continuing storylines. I can't imagine liking a comedy show much more than I like this sweet little show.

2. Homeland. Man, oh man. This show knows what it's doing! When a show commands, no, demands your undivided attention throughout, you're either stuck with a complicated plot-driven show, where anything you missed while you were surfing the internet, cooking dinner, or writing a paper (my life) could turn into a confusing hour for you, or you're blessed with a show that has actors who know how to make you question them, and think about what they might possibly be thinking. This is what I love about this show: the layers. So. Many. Layers. The episode "The Weekend" is the first A+ episode of any show this season because of the web it wove in all three storylines. TV doesn't get much better than that episode, folks.

3. Southland. Southland's long hiatuses kill me, yo! Don't get me wrong: I'm grateful that when NBC gave this show the old premature farewell, TNT rode in on a white horse to rescue it from cancellation obscurity. But, man, these six-episode seasons are not enough. In all fairness, I'm being a little dramatic: season three had ten episodes. My point, however, is that shows like this get relegated to shortened seasons on cable, while shows like Law and Order: SVU make 24 episodes a year of the same, predictable formula. It's sad. Southland stands on its own feet, though, even without many episodes in which to do so. "Code 4" from last season was another perfect episode of TV. [SPOILER!] Nate's death was one of the most disturbing TV deaths in a long time, in part because it was based on a real incident, but also because of the way it was so beautifully written. Southland is consistently shockingly good, and I would take it to the mat for this show being one of the most quality dramas on TV.

4. Happy Endings. This was another comedy that came out of left field, but has delivered hilarious stuff every week. There's no question about the talent-level of the cast. The most surprising thing about it, though, is how funny it was from the beginning because of how well the cast managed to build a believable chemistry. Ensemble comedies rise and fall on the chemistry of the cast, since comedy relies so much on timing, and this cast figured out pretty early how to work well off of each other. The result is that it's only a few episodes into its second season (coming off of a short first season), and it's already sharp. I'm glad ABC has stuck by it this season (where the H is Cougar Town, ABC??), and I really hope it's able to build and maintain an audience.

5. Fringe. There's some stank talk of season four being Fringe's final season, but I don't wanna talk about it. As it now stands, Fringe has solidified itself as one of the most compelling serial dramas on TV, combining excellent characterization with an X-Files-worthy mythology and philosophical depth (don't believe me on the last point? I dare you to read NT Wright's Surprised By Hope without thinking of Fringe. Chills). To add to all the goodness, it's such a treat to watch Anna Torv and John Noble act every week. It's truly a Lauren Graham on Gilmore Girls-sized tragedy that Torv hasn't been recognized for her work on this show because of its genre. Oh well, though, while I do find it discouraging that this show hasn't managed to build the mammoth-sized audience that The X-Files once had, I have to admit that if it was too populous, I probably wouldn't root for it as hard. For now, I'm thankful to be one of the devoted few that adores it.

6. Parenthood. I thought for a while that Parenthood was going to be FNL's successor in my affections. It hasn't turned out that way, mostly because sometimes the plots seem a little contrived sometimes, but I've got to give it up for this show nonetheless. Like with Fringe, I also find it slightly depressing that a show this good could have a difficult time finding an audience. All of these actors are so good at what they do that I'm not really bothered by its emotionally-driven storylines. It's managed to not let itself become a soap because the acting is so good, and because everyone has such excellent chemistry.

7. Cougar Town. The cul-de-sac crew has gotten lots of critical love, but, again, not a lot of viewer love (I'm sensing a theme on my list, here), which is a real shame because along with Parks and Rec and Happy Endings, Cougar Town is one of those shows that makes me laugh out loud every single week. What started as a tongue-in-cheek Courtney Cox vehicle quickly became a great ensemble comedy that works like a lady version of Scrubs, and as far as I can tell it's only detractor is a silly title that no one who watches the show cares about anymore. It's terrible that ABC hasn't announced a return date for the comedy, but I'm sure that when it finally does return for its third season, it will be just as delightful as ever.

8. Once Upon a Time. I'm still settling into this show and where it's going, but I've been loving the ride so far. A friend of mine pointed out that the show would probably be more compelling if the "mythology" wasn't so well-versed in the Disney versions of the fairy tales, but I understand the impulse to make it more accessible to a large audience at such an early stage in its "life". It would be really cool to see it go darker by doffing its Disney chains and diving into the real fairy tales, but given the fact that it's an ABC show, I'm not holding my breath. For now, I'm delighting in a fun, creative show with fantastic potential, come what may.

9. The Vampire Diaries. You guys, I LOVE The Vampire Diaries. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but it still manages to keep the stakes high every single week. Vicki's shocking death in season one was enough to keep me on my toes for that season, and it's been really fun to admit that the tension hasn't really died for me. Never a dull moment in Mystic Falls!

10. American Idol. If I'm being honest with myself, Idol is so much more than my tenth favorite show. It's definitely my favorite reality show on TV, and on top of that, the show I look forward to the most in the month leading up to its premiere. I love going along with its shenanigans, but still playing "spot the producer conspiracy" every season. It will be hard, nay, impossible for Idol to ever live up to season 7 again (the Davids + Carly Smithson + Brooke White [whose 'High Hopes and Heartbreaks' record is a gem! A real grower!] + Michael Johns + Jason Castro + the best theme nights Idol has ever managed to pull off + the introduction of contestants playing instruments on the main stage = DREAM SEASON), but as long as it producers at least one or two deserving underdogs per season (I'm lookin' at you, Haley Reinhart), I will continue to enjoy and obsess over it. Whoop!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

'Prime Suspect' Not Canceled Yet

According to AOL, NBC is shutting down production on their great freshman drama Prime Suspect. This doesn't necessarily mean it's canceled, but the writing's pretty much on the wall. It kind of looks like NBC is waiting to see if any of their midseason replacement shows (especially Smash and Awake -- which both look awesome) will stick before they officially pull the plug, but they're not giving a lot of reason to be optimistic about Prime Suspect's chances.

This news makes me cross.

Gabrielle Giffords ABC Special

Did you guys watch the Diane Sawyer special about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on ABC last night? Often "news" magazine specials on the major networks emphasize the sick and tawdry details of stories that have made the news for whatever reason. While these specials always tend to at least end on a positive note (the "hero" finding hope in his/her new lease on life, etc.), many times there's a troubling human tendency to make sure that we the viewers are aware of just how perverse the "bad guy" in the scenario might be -- a pyscho-pop probe into the mind of the people who commit the evil acts. I've got no interest in sensationalist gossip.

It's with this in mind that I found the special on Giffords delightfully optimistic. The killer's asinine smiling mugshot was flashed onscreen briefly in the expository bits, but the focus here was on Giffords and her arduous journey to recovery. The shooting last January was stunning in the worst way, and we're not going to forget it anytime soon. It would have been unnecessary to dwell on the tragedy. The special was thankfully about Giffords, a remarkable person, and the miracle of her life. I loved seeing the speech therapists working with Giffords, the way music helped her relearn how to walk, and the positive outlooks of Mark Kelly and Giffords' mother. Simply put, I love seeing amazing people overcoming difficult circumstances, and Giffords inspires me.

Without getting too sentimental here, one can't help but feel that the shooter sought to symbolically destroy democracy in action, as a congresswoman was nearly assassinated while meeting publicly with her constituents. Seeing that same politician fight against her stacked odds helps to restore faith in what her office stands for. It lets us see that sometimes we do elect outstanding people to public office, and that no matter how divisive the American political stage may seem, there are still strong, righteous individuals working for what they see as a "greater good". Congresswoman Giffords is inspiring.

Did you watch the special on Giffords? If so, what did you think of the way they told the story?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'Pan Am' Update: It's Gotten Better!

I recently gave the first handful of episodes from ABC's new series Pan Am a pessimistic "C", and while I stand by that initial assessment of the show, I'm excited to report that the show has been showing great strides lately. My problem with it early on was that it didn't seem to know where it wanted to go or what its characters were supposed to be doing. It seemed a little stuck in telling us about various scrapes the Pan Am "stewardesses" manage to get themselves into while in foreign countries, while it should have been focusing on who these women are. It's starting to do that more now, and the last two episodes have been much more fun to watch as a result!

I make no secret of the fact that my decade-old crush on ER's Dr Kovac (aka Goran Visnjic) hardly leaves me unbiased when he's onscreen, but don't you think his turn as Yugoslavian diplomat (Eek! A Communist!) Niko Lonza made Kelli Garner's Kate and her heretofore overwrought CIA job so much more interesting? While I still think the interlinear storytelling on this show is too heavy-handed, it did help display her excellent emotional range in the last episode, "Truth or Dare". I loved the final scene, which had a heart-broken Kate putting on a happy face for the arriving passengers. We've all been there, girl!

I would be remiss to talk about the things Pan Am is getting right without mentioning Gaius Charles' (FNL's Smash Williams back on my TV!) guest stint on last week's episode. 1960s civil rights stuff was bound to come into play sooner or later, especially with a protagonist matched only by Brittany Snow from American Dreams in blonde-haired-blue-eyed-ness. The problem with doing a light show like this set in the 60s is that the big issues like civil rights and gender descrimination always come off a little like your high school social studies class suggested, good versus evil, ignorant versus enlightened, with little gray area. You're supposed to get enraged by the idiot racist, sexist, heavily-accented good ole boy. I've got no problem with shows condemning racism and sexism, but it gets annoyingly heavy-handed sometimes. What I liked about Pan Am's treatment of 1960s racism is that even though it did all of those things I just mentioned, it didn't dwell on it. Charles' character was at least a real character, rather than a prototype, and Laura (Margot Robbie) was able to have a character growth episode. I'm okay with that compromise.

All things considered, I'm actually starting to enjoy this show, so I'm upgrading it to a: B-

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

TV Links of Interest

Rather than writing something longer and somewhat specific, here's a post that reflects my life right now: a little random, a little judgmental, and riding on the shoulders of others.

Mo Ryan insists that the as yet only cringeworthy CBS hit 2 Broke Girls is fixable. Step one: get rid of the racism.

! Ha! Katie Holmes' appearance on this week's HIMYM as the Slutty Pumpkin was a pleasant surprise. Remember when we liked her as Joey Potter?

Pan Am sat better with me this week. I like what's going on with Goran Visnjic's character and what's-her-face, the covert operative. I still don't care about 75% of the show, but a love affair between a Commie and a secret agent from the Company, c. 1960s, is aces. Yes, show: more of that.

American Horror Story got renewed for a second season. It's been delivering killer (heh) rating for FX, so no surprise there. Here's a humorous take on its ridiculata so far.

Name confusion or not, this guy's pretty much the best thing about Dexter this season!

I liked Grimm, didn't love it, but I think it's got potential. Here's a good pilot review.

Sarah and Mr Cyr might be my favorite couple on TV right now (especially since Coach and Tami are no more). This interview with Lauren Graham and Jason Ritter rocks my face off. Is there a campaign for Parenthood to retain Ritter as a full-time cast member? That needs to happen.