I’ve been in thrall of television for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I loved ‘Sesame Street’, ‘Our Gang’ reruns, game shows, ‘Donahue’, reruns of ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Gilligans’s Island’, ‘Bewitched’, and ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. Saturday mornings were spent on the carpet directly in front of the idiot box – the boob tube – with a bowl of Alpha Bits cereal in front of me while I was taken to ‘The Land of the Lost’, ‘Johnny Quest’, and ‘Hong Kong Phooey’. During primetime, it was ‘Emergency!’, ‘CHiPs’, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Sanford and Son’. Hell, I even loved the commercials: Hai Karate aftershave, C & H Pure Cane Sugar, and Mr. Whipple always admonishing his customers to stop squeezing his Charmin toilet paper. My tastes have always been pretty eclectic.
Television had and still has the ability to transport me to different times and places. It’s hyper-reality. In the right hands, it’s the ideal delivery vessel for mass media. Certainly narrative storytelling benefits from serialized installments. We get to know the characters so much better than those we root for in a 90- or 120-minute movie.
The purpose of this column is to share my thoughts and opinions on current television shows. There will be lots of spoilers, so if you’re averse to them, beware. There are a lot of opinions… mine is only one. I’m sure that I’ll like a lot of stuff you don’t, and that I’ll hate a lot of stuff you like. I can be a bit of a blowhard and have a tendency to be hyperbolic. I change my mind frequently, as well. On rare occasions, I’m wrong, so allow me to proffer a mea culpa in advance.
To start things out, I’d like to mention some of the new shows coming out this fall that I’m most looking forward to. I’ll at least give them a test run to see how they turn out.
- ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’
- ‘The Blacklist’
- ‘The Goldbergs’
- ‘Lucky 7’
- ‘Masters of Sex’
- ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’
- ‘The Crazy Ones’
- ‘Hello Ladies’
There are others, but these are the new shows that I look forward to most.
Returning shows that I love include:
- ‘Sons of Anarchy’
- ‘Boardwalk Empire’
- ‘South Park’
- ‘Parks and Recreation’
- ‘Bob’s Burgers’
- ‘The Good Wife’
- ‘Eastbound & Down’
- ‘American Horror Story’
- ‘The Walking Dead’
- ‘Doctor Who’
You’ll notice that I don’t mention any so-called “Reality” TV. I find almost all of it to be unbearably tedious and insipid. The only Reality show I watch is ‘Top Chef’ (and some of its spin-offs).
I’ll give my two cents worth of opinion about each of these and more in a brief, pithy and hopefully entertaining way in future columns.
To ease into things, I’d like to briefly call attention to some of my favorite and least favorite shows of the year.
‘Hannibal‘ was simply fantastic. The story’s been told repeatedly, but it never fails to fascinate. This version has been updated for our times. It’s disturbing, gruesome fare told in a way that’s unusually violent and grim for network television. Mads Mikkelsen’s take on Hannibal Lecter is perfection, and Hugh Dancy nailed it as his nemesis Will Graham. ‘Hannibal’ had the misfortune of airing on NBC, a fate I wouldn’t wish upon any program that I like. It seems that nobody watches the network any longer, and ‘Hannibal’ struggled to find an audience. Happily, NBC renewed the low-rated series, which will return next spring.
If you haven’t seen ‘Top of the Lake‘, you should. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. Directed by Jane Campion, it’s a disturbing detective story set in rural New Zealand with a truly excellent performance by Elisabeth Moss (‘Mad Men’).
The third and final season of AMC’s ‘The Killing‘ was extraordinary. I know the show wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it certainly struggled to find an audience, but I was thrilled when AMC greenlit a third season. It went even darker than the first two years, somehow, and the stakes were extraordinarily high. I just loved the dynamic between detectives Linden and Holder, and I’ll miss this show.
I really looked forward to ‘Under the Dome‘. (I enjoyed the book.) Alas, I thought it was an absolute stinker from the first episode. It was originally supposed to be a standalone series that reached conclusion by the end of summer, but it was such a ratings smash that CBS is stretching it out and changing the story for multiple seasons. Not for the better, either. On the contrary. I wondered how Dean Norris (“Big Jim”) felt taking on such a terrible role after his superlative Hank in ‘Breaking Bad’. I suppose he got a much larger paycheck, so question asked and answered. I found the dialogue to be the worst I’ve heard since I can’t remember when. “Pink stars are falling in lines.” “The Dome wants…” It was laughably awful. I confess that I watched the whole season, but mainly just because I wanted to see if the show could possibly get worse. On that front, it never disappointed. It’s unintentionally and unflatteringly hilarious.
Another show I found to be completely overrated was ‘The Following‘. I looked forward to this series as well. Sure, Kevin Bacon does a fine job as troubled FBI agent Ryan Hardy, but the story became so absurd and ridiculous that I found myself constantly rolling my eyes at how the storylines managed to out-dumb themselves as the season progressed.
Three shows that had excellent beginnings but that quickly lost momentum were ‘The Bridge‘, ‘Low Winter Sun‘ and ‘The Americans‘. I haven’t given up on any of them. Their stories are interesting and the acting superlative (especially ‘The Bridge’), but the narratives of each slowed way down in the middle. It became rare and rarer to find myself truly in their thrall.
I know most of the shows bullet-pointed above have already begun. I like to give most shows at least 2 or 3 episodes before deciding whether or not to continue with them. In next week’s column, I’ll have some thoughts on each (and more). There are a very few absolute winners and losers, and a whole lot of middling shows that I haven’t made up my mind about yet.
To finish up my first column, I’d like to thank you for your patience as I find my voice. This is a new thing for me, and my writing may appear awkward, pretentious and/or wishy-washy at times. Hopefully, I’ll improve with time. Unlike, say, ‘Under the Dome’ and ‘The Following’.
[Editor’s Note: I think the Comments section of this column will make a good place to discuss both the content of the column as well as general TV topics. Tell us there about what show’s you’re currently watching. However, be aware that Spike will have a dedicated recap post for the ‘Breaking Bad’ finale very soon, so let’s hold off on discussing spoilers for that until then. Thanks. –JZ]