Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015 Television Shows (a handful)


To Watch or Not to Watch…

The best storytelling informs us and acknowledges some of life's harder truths in an entertaining way - it tells a tale with urgency and sincerity clothed in colors and hues that dazzle us and make us want to experience more.    
As I learned the past year about the subtle and not so subtle differences between television writing and feature film writing...I was assigned to catch up and get to know today’s often ‘binge’ serials of modern TV viewing (this includes Primetime, European/International Television, Netflix, Amazon and Cable channels).
Right now we are, supposedly, in the midst of the new Golden-Age of Television and now there is a lot of work (and good work) coming out of this medium. At UCLA, I  began to tackle television's story programming and methodology in order to better understand certain ideas and approaches to this medium.

With that said…
Here are, primarily, shows that I have watched or am watching. 
There is no ‘best of’ here…just mild spanking.

RATINGS:
5Watch it right now. Drop the assets investigation, your booty call, or your job app. It’s worth it because the writing, casting, directing and all above and below the line aspects are on spot. 
4Definitely check it out. Put it on your list...it's good...with only a couple of glitches.
3Intrigued but not spell bound. It's worth checking out but...There is something off about the show...could be a miscast role that takes away from the series, or a faulty or rushed storyline arc, or when character motivations are turned into plot devices because the story isn't coming together as planned. 
2Not for everyone…or I should say, not for me. You can watch it. Or not watch it. The Universe doesn’t care either way.
1You’re in a coma and the RN thinks that putting anything on in front of you is worthwhile… 
an
asterisk only "*" means I am currently watching the series.

Shows currently ‘on the air’ and with future seasons likely:
(Note: Because Fargo and True Detective feature a different cast and premise every season I will be looking at each season separately.)

Transparent
Amazon
4
Family Drama (I could say comedy-drama but isn't family that anyhow?)
Two Seasons
The writing for this show is on par with the best out there. Like The Wire it feels like you are listening in, invisible-like, to a world that is both familiar and foreign. This family’s attempt to find their identity is sparked by their father's admission of his/her gender truth and this truth leads all of them into a world of confusion in different ways.

Ash vs Evil Dead
Starz
4
Comedy Horror
One Season
Blood gore vomit and the genius stupidity of Bruce Campbell’s character, Ash, has provided what I can easily say is the most FUN I’ve had watching a series in forever. The casting is good...(with the exception of one actor I go back and forth on)...but the verve of the show is ecstatic. The ‘bro’ humor is smart and the characters are bad-ass. The season finale is this Sunday and I’m SO excited to see how it ends. *PostScript...I watched the finale...and I look forward to the 2nd Season.

With Bob & David
Netflix
*
Absurdist Surreal Dark Comedy
One Season
As a fan of their earlier monster called Mr. Show (HBO) I've been excited to watch this new series by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. As per usual there are better sketches/episodes than others but overall it’s a sharp and mental comedy program that is fun to watch.

Top of the Lake
BBC
*
Mystery / Crime Drama**
One Season
Slow burn but fascinating landscape and characters create a spin on the detective series by allowing us to examine “real” personalities as they clash through the investigation of a young girls pregnancy and possible violations. Holly Hunter is illuminating and Elisabeth Moss is solid alongside a menacing Peter Mullan.

Better Call Saul
AMC
4
Crime Drama / Black Comedy
One Season
I'm a fan. It's a different vibe, different pace than Breaking Bad...it's slower and focuses on the life of one character versus an ensemble...but that one is the fantastic Bob Odenkirk who gleefully carries the morphing soul of "Jimmy" McGill toward a new identity and a fiery future.  


Fargo
FX
3 season 1
* season 2
Crime Drama / Black Comedy 
Two Seasons
Season 1 was interesting but had some missteps in it’s storytelling that annoyed me. But Season 2, the first 5 episodes I’ve seen, is REALLY GOOD. Ted Danson is absolutely fantastic as he shows ability to play the humor and the drama without missing a step and the costume/set design is the tops alongside great casting, great characters and a fun story. They paid attention to detail in Season 2 and it shows.

Sherlock
BBC
4
Mystery / Crime Drama
This show is exciting and fun and smart and funny and sometimes a little to full of itself but gloriously entertaining.

Game of Thrones
HBO
4
Fantasy Drama
Five Seasons
What can I say…? I should give it a 5 not because it’s ‘perfect’ but because the challenge of what they are doing and the fact that they’ve handled it well - gives them a much deserved ‘how the HELL you pull this off?’ praise. But things haven't been perfect with pacing and casting. BUT overall they have deftly dealt with the writing, casting, directing pretty darn well and now starting with this upcoming season, they are on their own because they must further this story without a finished novel from GRR Martin...and I'm thrilled. 

Louie
FX
4
Dark Comedy / Satire
Five Seasons
His stand-up...hmm. But his show is fun and the satire is sharp with some heft behind it. 

Broadchurch
BBC
Mystery / Crime Drama** 
Two Seasons
David Tennant is a favorite of mine these days and his performance bleeds the conflicts that eat his character up, the lead detective, as he struggles to locate a murderer in a small coastal town with a police force who's officers want nothing to do with him. The music for the show is nicely atmospheric, it darkly aids the broken journey we take with the characters as they try and understand the chain of events that exposes their once private lives to the news hungry public. NOTE: I have only watched Season 1.
 
Bloodline
Netflix
*
Mystery / Family Drama
One Season
An amazing cast...(SISSY SPACEK!!!) in a modern murderous Shakespearean drama off the coast of Florida. I’ve only seen the first two episodes but it looks promising. Ben Mendelsohn brings the nervous fear and fatal ennui that he excels in. So good...so far.

Jessica Jones
Netflix
*
Marvel Universe – Mystery Supernatural Thriller Crime Drama
One Season
I’d like to note that I have ONLY watched the first two episodes so I’m intrigued by the characters and the theme but the pacing and plotting seem a bit…slow.

Daredevil
Netflix
*
Marvel Universe – Legal Crime Drama
Two Seasons
Another disclaimer…I’ve only watched the first 4 episodes. Well-written, smart and funny. I’m going to keep watching although their casting choice for Foggy Nelson feels off. 

Narcos
Netflix
3
Biopic
One Season
Overall i was impressed but the last few episodes felt like they weren't sure how to end the season...so it was a great run but they stumbled near the end. The casting...is good, really good but I'm not crazy about how Steve and Connie Murphy are played, it's too much and too little at times.

Ray Donovan
Showtime
3
Crime Drama / Family Drama
Three Seasons
You could probably call this show, "The West Coast Sopranos". I enjoy the characters but the showrunners seems to trip up the last three episodes of every season…rushing plot and turning the characters into plot devices just to make the story “work”.

The Man in the High Castle
Amazon
*
Alternative Reality Thriller
One Season
Only 2 episodes in but like True Detective (season 1) this show has created a mood that is catchy. The casting for the leads fail me though...They’re not bad, they’re just not good. Especially not as good as the thought and intensity that is behind this show’s morose theme: What if Hitler had won…? 
With the revelations about the NSA and our current political refugee and xenophobic attitudes led by a silver-spoon hair piece with lips…this show is a reflection of America that could have been…and worriedly can still be. 
“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”- Sinclair Lewis

True Detective
HBO
4 - season 1
1 - season 2
Crime Drama / Mystery
Two Seasons
As Rick James said on Chappelle…cocaine is a hell of a drug. The 2nd season of True Detective seemed heavily inspired by that white powder, as if the casting and the story were created and decided upon by the babbling brook of terrible thoughts that this drug can create.  
But Season 1 was inventive, challenging, engaging and darkly entertaining with the deft hand of Cary Fukunaga and McConaughey’s performance. 1st Season flirted with an inspired Lovecraftian atmosphere that was bewitching and seductive that the 2nd season was lacking. 

Twin Peaks
ABC
4 - season 1
3 - season 2
Mystery / Supernatural Thriller
Two Seasons
Today’s “golden age” of TV had a seed planted by Mark Frost and David Lynch’s story creation set in the Northwest revolving around the mysterious and dead Laura Palmer. A new season is in the works…which is why it's in this section.

Shows that are done...but I’d like to mention because WHY NOT?

The Wire
HBO
5
Crime Drama
Five Seasons
A contemporary Greek tragedy set in the streets of Baltimore, MA that dealt with individuals swallowed by the institutions that have been built to service our society. I will simply state this: The Wire is THE greatest show ever written and is one of the most important shows ever put together about America and it’s policies toward race, economics, politics and the Drug War, in particular. The acting, the dialogue, the motions of it all are overwhelmingly fantastic. The characters…Stringer Bell, Marlo, the Bunk, McNutty, Bubs, Kima, Bodie, Slim Charles, OMAR THE TERRIBLE (“I got the shotgun and you got the briefcase…it’s all in the game though, right?”)  are just a handful of amazing characters with strong performances and dialogue that sounds like they took put a microphone on real people and copied it verbatim (Seriously, season 4 and the kids…how they do that?) Each season had an arc that represented a different aspect of the drug trade/war with new and old characters weaving this rich tapestry.  

Curb Your Enthusiasm
HBO
5
Comedy
Eight Seasons
Seinfeld without the Network’s oversight…Larry David is amazing…His humor is based on  miscommunications and/or misreading of our emotions and desires, and these butterfly wings always fan bonfires that alight both friends and strangers. 

The Civil War 
PBS
5
History
Documentary Mini-Series
Anyone and everyone should watch this epic telling of a war that butchered the hearts of men and women and ended the practice of slavery but not the blight. 

Jazz
PBS
5
History
Documentary Mini-Series
And another Ken Burns film that explores the roots of America's glorious rhythm and blues alchemy.  

Oliver Stone’s: Untold History of the United States
Showtime
4
History
Documentary Mini-Series
A fascinating look at America narrated by the former Vietnam Vet who became a film director, Oliver Stone and co-written by the historian Peter J. Kuznick and Matt Graham. 

Cheers
NBC
4
Comedy
Nine Seasons
I am still blown away by how good this show is. S T I L L. It was a sly comedy with depth…aided by the outstanding performances of it’s cast.

The Bridge (American version)
FX
*
Crime Drama
Two Seasons
I loved it until I didn’t…they made a casting choice/story choice that RUINED IT for me later in the season. But…it's still worth watching and it’s background theme is very timely with our current state of affairs along the border. Demian Bicher is a standout and Diane Kruger takes on a very challenging role in a series where I have only watched the first season.

Homicide: Life on the Streets
NBC
3
Police Procedural
Seven Seasons
This series is a police procedural…but it is based on a book of the same name by David Simon, the creator of The Wire, who began his TV writing chops on this show. Star note: One episode from the 2nd Season, written by Simon, stars Robin Williams...and has Jake Gyllenhaal playing his 13 year old son. (I believe Gyllenhaal's dad directed that particular episode.)

Shows that are worth mentioning BUT I have not seen.
Bron/Broen (aka The Bridge-Denmark/Sweden)
Master of None
Mr. Robot
Borgen
The Fall
Steven Universe
Halt & Catch Fire
La Retourné
The Hour
Bojack Horsemen
Black Mirror
Southland
The Red Riding Trilogy


**
I noticed a splurge of shows starting in 2011 that are crime drama/mysteries that focus on the victim's family and friends...with the emphasis on how people react to violence and less about the whodunit sleuthing. Primarily from BBC and EU based broadcasting were the ones crafting these shows (although AMC picked up and remade The Killing for U.S. audiences.) and I think it's a smart choice.
. . .

A’ight.

FJP