Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Post-Olympics TV Report

Almost everything I watch came back strong last week, so I thought I'd put up some more of my subjective thoughts on what I'm enjoying right now.

:: In earlier days, when I posted even more than I do now, I would've been talking a LOT about how great True Detective is. We're just a few days away from the finale now, and I can't believe it will have ended up being only 8 episodes. This is a full, fantastic show; each episode feels like it must be feature length, only because so much happens in each episode. That's one of the main things about it that impresses me: how well it uses its time to build character, weave a mystery, and parcel information. A lesser series might have built 13 episodes around just what happens in True Detective's first four, and fretted about keeping a mystery going for years. Since True Detective is apparently going to be an anthology series, they're unraveling this byzantine conspiracy in just eight episodes, and it's the best thing I'm going to see on TV in 2014.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are excellent on this show. This is miles away from when they were both in EdTV. Apparently we're having a "McCaughnaissance" right now, according to some thing on my TiVo. I've always liked the guy, and I always felt he was wasting his talent in romantic comedies and attempted franchises, and I'm glad that feeling is being rewarded now. It's like he had to destroy his acting career with total shit in order to save it and rise again with a healthy bank account. I can respect that.

The one thing I think of the most about True Detective is its dreamlike quality. I can't quite figure out how it happens. I don't know if it's because the show holds these soft conversations that become enthralling, but in some passages, it becomes so soft and dreamlike that I just start drifting. I don't really like that word, because it implies that my attention is drifting because of boredom, but that's not it. There's some quality that comes out that makes me feel like I'm having some kind of dream, and so I don't always catch the subtle clues. I don't always catch which pieces of information are important right away. I like that, though, because then when something that was seemingly a throwaway becomes important later, you realize you--and the characters--were looking in the wrong place.

That's my favorite aspect of the show: the viewer is an active viewer. You don't have any information before the characters themselves have it. You're not smarter than they are and waiting for them to figure it out. My favorite shows are like that, where you can actively engage them because you're trying to figure it out at the same time the characters are. That's what Broadchurch did last year, and that was a magnificent series.

I love True Detective. I can't wait to see how it ends. I hope it really pulls something off.

:: Girls is at its best this season. I've been thinking about Girls and what it is about it that makes people hate it so much (other than misogyny, though there's certainly a lot of that in the criticism of the show). I could write a long, rambling explanation of what I've been thinking of here, but what it really just comes down to is this: the show itself accepts that flaws, failings, obnoxiousness, hypocrisy, selfishness, and bad judgment are part of human nature, and it accepts that about people and observes them instead of making narrative judgments about them. And I think there are people who respond badly to that, because they see people they don't like and are angered that they're being asked to watch them do anything. They want Lena Dunham to stop accepting her body for what it is and being comfortable with it and walking around naked; how can this woman who isn't model-skinny not feel bad about it? It's a show about acceptance, a lot of the time, and I think there are viewers who don't understand why the show isn't taking their side and laughing at these assholes and making them feel shame so they become better people. Life isn't like that, but a lot of TV is.

Girls is an exceptional show, but it's not for everyone. I just think this show--still! in it's third season!--has a far-too-high proportion of vocal critics who don't watch it, but are always angry about it.

:: The best thing all season happened on How I Met Your Mother last night: there was a promo reminding us that there's only 3 episodes left. Thank Christ! Oh, and Lucy Hale was on, which is nice, because she's such a cutie. One of the weird things this season is watching the show remember all of the things it's never revisited, like the fact that Robin had a little sister that showed up for one episode and then disappeared forever. That's the kind of thing I sort of hate about long-running sitcoms, especially ones that become continuity-dependent like this one, and especially in a season that has become dependent on two joyless elements: the Mother being oh-so-magical-and-perfect rather than organically introduced (which may have been more painful, given all the chemistry she and Ted don't have) and endless fan service callbacks to gags and bits in much funnier episodes.

Ashley Benson played Barney's half-sister a while back. They should get her on with Lucy Hale. Which reminds me, Pretty Little Liars is on tonight. That makes me happy.

:: Hey, guess what I don't care about? Whether Caroline sleeps with the married guy on 2 Broke Girls! Did we FINALLY resolve that stupid plotline last night? Ugh. No more, please. I literally can not care about that. In fact, let's get rid of the married guy. Also, let's get rid of Caroline. Is she that likable or integral to the whole thing? The whole thing is really just Kat Dennings. I could watch her do anything. In my show, she opens up her cupcake shop and ditches the diner and that whole setting. And Caroline. And then Eric Andre is on every episode. And Garret Morris works there and makes wisecracks. And everything else on the show? Gone. Caroline's only going to interest me if Ryan Hansen comes back, because I really liked him. How about Ryan Hansen comes back and he gets with Kat Dennings? They had far better chemistry, anyway. Kat and Ryan and Eric Andre get married in a three way ceremony, open a cupcake and candy store, and Garret Morris sits around reading the paper, drinking coffee, and cracking wise. I would actually watch that. Yes. Yes, I would. I need to stop talking about this, because I just started envisioning what kind of soul music would be on the soundtrack, and it's time to move on.

:: Speaking of Ryan Hansen, dug his cameo on House of Lies. One step closer to my real Veronica Mars OTP: Veronica and Dick.

:: Still interested in Mom but not sure if I'm enjoying it. It's just more recognizably about being poor than I expected, so I find it easy to relate to, but it's inevitably getting cartoonier. (It was nice seeing Brian Stepanek on this week's episode, though, because it's always great seeing Brian Stepanek.)

:: Yay, RuPaul's Drag Race is back! Boo, two-episode premiere that splits the queens in half and cuts down on the excellent chaos you expect in the premiere! Still, Drag Race is back and I couldn't be happier! So far, BenDeLaCreme is my early favorite, but almost everyone impressed me last night. I'm particularly interested to see how Milk does, since her thing seems to be artistic creepiness rather than out and out camp. (Also, Milk is hella hot out of drag.) (Also: make Khloe Kardashian a permanent judge, please.)

:: So glad that Kelly is gone on Dance Moms. Christi next, please. So sick of the mean bitching.

:: Pretty Little Liars started off this segment of its season with some of the weakest episodes, but it suddenly snapped back and now it's riveting. This is one of those riveting trash shows that I guess you'd call a guilty pleasure, except I don't feel ashamed of liking it. Take your joy in life where you can, folks.

:: I find Lifetime's Kim of Queens lovely, actually. It's on after Dance Moms. Isn't it kind of horrible that it seems fresh to me because it's about building people up, being supportive, and giving them opportunities to succeed rather than screaming at them and watching them fail? Sad that that reads as unusual today.

:: Can't wait for the return of Agents of SHIELD.

:: Boy, that About a Boy pilot got it all wrong. I'm not sure this is a show that should be a sitcom. Is Will going to have to learn to be a better person every single week? Because if they're resetting him after every half-hour, that's going to get tedious. Also: the guy's too young, it makes him seem more motivated than he should be if he wrote the popular Christmas song and not his dead dad, and taking him from selfish loafer to charming cad undercuts the change, anyway. Oh, and changing the kid's mother from suicidal to just kind of sad and frustrated sometimes undercuts her, too. It's like NBC demanded all of the edge be sanded down, so what's the point? I want to give this show a chance because it was developed by Jason Katims, but it's got to be a lot better than that pilot was.

Nice to see Leslie Bibb, though. I was a Popular fan. Screw Glee.

:: Modern Family... I don't know, when it's good it's really good, when it's coasting on cuteness it's easy to ignore, and it's never really worth talking about. That sounds like I don't like it, but I do. I just don't find it remarkable 9 times out of 10. Sometimes there's a truly great episode, but usually only three or so times a season now. It's gotten it's routine down.

:: Vikings is back. I'm doing what I did last time and saving it all up for a binge watch. I love the show, but find it most compelling in one long stretch.

:: Yay, The Americans is back!

:: I still love Nashville. I'm really impressed with the direction they've taken Juliette. She was so lost last season, and this season she's really finding herself and finding that she can accept her life and be happy. Obviously, with the emotional situation I'm in, this is a big deal to me, to see characters find that. Yeah, it's a somewhat trashy soap opera, but it's compelling and fun, which is all I ask and more than I usually get.

:: So glad to see Parenthood back with a strong episode. I still can't quite believe that Julia's divorce is really happening--or that the show made it so organic after such a ham-handed start to that storyline--but it's hitting me where I live. Today I realized that Julia is the same age that my mother was when she started separating from my Dad, so that's... that's something I'm going to be thinking about on this show.

:: Still loving Parks and Recreation. I hear Sam Elliott is going to appear again, which is awesome. How about more Kristen Bell? Just asking.

:: Still watching The Big Bang Theory, possibly because of inertia.

:: The season premiere of Hannibal was really compelling. That's another show that has a real dreamlike quality that I like. I think a big part of the reason I love this show so much is that I was starting therapy at the same time the first season started, so I was finding out things about myself at the same time Will Graham was. Not that we're similar at all (though I think a lot of people, being diagnosed for the first time, have this fear that that's what they could become, TV exaggeration or not, in no small part because of the stigma associated with it when I was growing up), but it added a layer to how compelling I found it.

I like how over-the-top the show can be. When I say that, I mean over-the-top compared to your average TV procedural drama. In the show's self-contained world, all of the Grand Guignol works and makes sense. It's operatic in its visions and in its reach. I'm saying this because I've seen about seven people this week complaining that the show is unrealistic, with serial killers turning up around every corner and no sense of a larger media presence, etc, but that sounds like complaining that Hannibal isn't just another CSI. Maybe it's just because I'm not into shows like that. But I like the surreal, self-contained, unrealistic weirdness of Hannibal. It's one of my favorite shows right now.

:: Wow, Space Dandy is great! I'm always reluctant to start watching an anime, because I don't have a lot of great experiences with it and I've encountered too many fans who are just weirdly aggressive about it. Still, to this day. I thought that would eventually go away, but it hasn't for about two decades now.

Space Dandy is like the rockabilly and jiggle humor that my wife loves combined with the Heavy Metal skiffy weirdness and surf stuff that I love. It's kind of the perfect show for us, and not only is it funny as hell, it can have real emotional depth. The episode they did about Laika moved me to tears. They did a zombie episode that took something I've found beyond played out for a dozen years or so and not only made a real social point, but a touching one. It's an amazing series and I am so, so, so glad I took a chance on it.

:: And then there's Saturday Night Live. Coming back with the worst episode of the season so far. Well, you can't win 'em all, SNL. Or even most of them, really. But at least we now know for sure that Jim Parsons has an extremely limited range. Eh.

Oh, and Colin Jost? No thank you. Cecily Strong may not be, er, strong in the anchor's chair yet, but sticking her with the only person on this week's episode with less charisma and ability to deliver lines in an interesting way than Jim Parsons seemed rather ignoble. Is SNL just terrified of allowing a woman to do the news alone? How about we get someone in the Update chair who isn't just trying and failing to mimic Jon Stewart? If Cecily needs a partner, can it be Jay Pharaoh so he has more to do? But hey, at least SNL's track record of hiring bland, indistinguishable white guys continues unabated, so... something sarcastic here. It's a show that's remarkably out of touch, and an episode that was remarkably out of touch and missed--or, more likely, actively avoided--some real opportunities to twist the satirical knife in favor of sketches about cowboy birthdays and executive pants-shitting. That was an embarrassing episode to watch.

Next week is Lena Dunham... you know I like Lena Dunham, but I don't see this going well, either.


Roger Owen Green said...

On Parenthood, I STILL don't understand Joel's motivation UNLESS he's sleeping with his boss, and he is transferring his guilt onto Julia's flirtation. THAT I would totally believe.

H. M. Stuart said...

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