Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The 2013-2014 TV Season

I haven't been doing a ton of TV Reports this season, so I thought I'd do a sort of TV Report Card for the now-finished season of American TV. Here are all the shows I watched this season, in alphabetical order, how I'd grade them, and all other manner of useless subjectivity. (A couple of these programs have not completed airing, but I'm confident of the grades I'm giving here.)

About a Boy: I stuck with this series for about four episodes before I felt the premise had been completely worn out. Guy is an unmotivated jerk, learns to let people in, goes back to being an unmotivated jerk, the end. Every time. I don't need to see any more. C-

Agents of SHIELD: Wow, lots of people complained about this show this year. Based on the fan whining, people seemed to want wall-to-wall superheroes, but I liked that it was more interested in the idea of what it was like to be a human being who wanted to protect people in a world suddenly filled with Captain America and Thor and Iron Man. I tend to get impatient these days with case-of-the-week type programs, but I found this one breezy and enjoyable, and those last seven or so were a little epic. And Clark Gregg is just so damn likable. A-

American Horror Story: Coven: The previous series, Asylum, was so great because it embraced its craziness and really went for it. This season suffered from an identity crisis and too much fan-pandering. It also went on too long. When that final episode happened and the little witches were competing in their whole Xavier school about who was going to be the new Supreme Witch, I realized how much I didn't care about that entire aspect of the series. They'd already killed off all of the interesting characters in the previous episode. That whole witch race war thing was far more compelling, and it had the good actors in it. The rest of the series was trying too hard to throw in too much, and the characters who were meant to be its main characters faded into the background. So when the finale came back to them, I didn't really care. The strength of the season was its style and its actors (Jessica Lange, Angela Basset, Kathy Bates and Danny Huston were all great), and it carried them through a series that just didn't completely come together. B-

The Americans: The second season was a little rough at first, but adding a villain to it really amped up the tension and got us back to the cat-and-mouse games of the great first season. A-

Bad Teacher: Cute, and with a good cast, but even the show itself seems to understand that it's not really going anywhere and is just running out the clock. It suffers from the same "learning the same lesson repeatedly" problem as About a Boy. C

Barry'd Treasure: Cute show on A&E starring Barry from Storage Wars. Kind of a loose format where Barry picks up a weirdo before haggling over collectibles, but it's enjoyable and there's always something neat. Also, Barry's cars are pretty amazing. I'd like to see more about the collectibles, but hey, it's not bad. B

Bates Motel: Dropped it.

The Big Bang Theory: This show's always on the bubble with me. I don't love it, but I like enough of it to not hate it. Sometimes it just seems like everyone on that show just sort of barely tolerates each other, and I find that very annoying. They're always digging at each other like a group of jerks. It makes for a frustrating watch, because you wonder why these people would even all hang out anymore if they weren't all on the same sitcom. I'm not invested in it. Frankly, I'd rather watch a show about Stuart taking care of Howard's mother with occasional appearances by Melissa Rauch. I always feel like I'm about to drop this show, and then I don't, so who's the real jerk here? C

Boardwalk Empire: This show remains so fascinating that I was really, really sorry to hear that next season is supposed to be the last one. A

Bob's Burgers: I still dig it, but I didn't really love this season. It missed more than it hit. I think part of the problem is that the show never knows when it's going to get preempted for sports, and there are a few too many episodes where the situation gets a little too big and breaks the show. It's not bad at all, but it feels a little off. Not as strong as it was. It'll probably play better on Netflix or Adult Swim without the many breaks. B

Breaking Bad: My only complaint about the second half of the impeccable final season of this impeccable series is that it turned into another one of those weird cultural referendums meant to designate whether you were hip or whether you were bizarrely proud of never watching it. All of that stuff annoys the shit out of me. Either watch a show or don't, like it or don't, just don't turn being a viewer or a non-viewer of a series into yet another thing that's supposed to define you as a person in some way. My opinion is that it's one of the greatest shows to ever air on television. But I don't need to fight over it. A+

Bring It!: Like Dance Moms, I just find the dancing fascinating. I was unfamiliar with hip-hop majorette dancing, but it's really exciting to watch. I like dance, mime, acrobatics, stuff to do with movement, which is a big part of my fascination with creatures, special effects and animation. I thought this was going to be another Dance Moms, with a strong personality riding over everyone else's, but it surprised me. Like Kim of Queens, it has a lot to say about being supportive while pushing kids to work harder, rather than tearing them down or telling them they're special and wonderful just because. B+

Castle: Dropped it.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey: A worthy successor to Carl Sagan's original series, enhanced with great special effects. I like that the show has served as four things: a history of discovery; an overview (and in some cases more) of important scientific concepts; a warning as to where we might be going; and a surprisingly specific (but not mean-spirited) refutation of every go-to fundamentalist argument and climate change denial. That it's airing on Fox is just icing on the cake. And it's all held together by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the most engaging man, able to communicate both his enthusiasm and his sense of wonder along with hard scientific fact. It's been a long time since I've seen someone on television who not only made science interesting, but accessible, and exciting. A+

Dance Moms: It was on pretty much all year last year, why is it taking a huge break now? Especially when they've got the drama all ramped up like they do? Either way, at least Kelly's gone. That's a major third of the toxic elements right there. I'm much more interested in the dance company and the competition than in the political backstage drama, but it's just enough reality soap to pull me in. B

Doctor Who: Some day I'll go into why all of this Matt Smith/Steven Moffat stuff just doesn't work for me at all. Not today, but some day. D

The Eric Andre Show: Great deconstruction of the increasingly irrelevant chat show format, and incredibly funny. A

Fargo: I didn't know what to make of this show at first, but it quickly became engaging and then sort of transcendent. It's like the Coen Brothers doing Twin Peaks. Barring some sort of disaster in its final episodes, A+

Game of Thrones: Also still going on, but I give it an A. I think it's improved over a not-always-amazing third season, and is taking its time a little more. This is an exemplary show for how to handle having so many characters at once. I also give Oberyn Martell an A, because, damn.

Girls: Much better than the somewhat-meandering second season. I don't know why this show gets the flack it does except oh yeah it's about women. A

The Goldbergs: It's cute sometimes. I love Wendy McLendon-Covey's hair. I always think I want to see an 80s version of The Wonder Years, but it's too sitcommy for me, with it's silly narration and it's "sometime in the 80s" mash-up feel. It bugs me that on one episode they're going to the opening of Return of the Jedi (1983) and the next they're listening to "Livin' on a Prayer" (1986). It just does. That's not how I remember it. The spirit is there, but I just don't love the execution. I always think Jeff Garlin is funny, though. But it's not the show for me. C

Hannibal: Masterful. Like a dark fairy tale. I really appreciate that the show doesn't try to be realistic at all, actually. It doesn't have to be, and imposing any reality on it now would break the show. This is an opera. It's all heightened. A+

Hello Ladies: I didn't like this at all. You know, for all the shit Ricky Gervais gets about his cringe humor, Stephen Merchant is the one whose humor has always come across as needlessly mean-spirited to me. I think the differences between Hello Ladies and the sentimental Derek illustrate that. D-

Homeland: Boy, that major character death this season was the right call. For me the whole show has been Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, anyway. I thought the second season was rough, but last fall's third season was gripping. A-

House of Cards: I caught up with the first season just before the second season was released in February. I found it very compelling. I'm not sure where they can go from here, and sometimes it can be a mess, but I can't deny it's compelling television. B+

House of Lies: This show's never really been a great show, but I've generally found it compelling. After the way last season blew everything up, I thought this season had a better balance than the show had had previously. They gave everyone higher stakes, and it worked. I hope this has been a transition into a finally great fourth season. B+

How I Met Your Mother: You're all familiar with my feelings for this by now. The final season: D-

Kim of Queens: Surprisingly engrossing and fun. I like that it's about building kids up instead of tearing kids down. B+

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge: Wonderful! Yeah, I'm biased because I'm a Henson fan and a creature fan, but it was engrossing watching people build creatures every week. The art and craftsmanship that went into the creatures blew me away, and it didn't ratchet up any kind of fake drama. I love that it was hosted by Gigi Edgley; on Farscape, she was a fascinating creature on her own, and she only had makeup. Her movements were incredible. Loved this show, need more. A

Kitchen Nightmares: Well, it is what it is. More of the same. It's in a comfortable rut and it's not moving out of it. I still like the non-histrionic British version better. C+

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: I'm not a Daily Show viewer (I haven't been for a long time, and when I once pointed out why, someone got really, really, really pissed off about it). I've been really liking this show, though. I think I just needed something political and smart with a sense of humor to replace Real Time since that show got so hard to watch. (It's smug! It does puff pieces with actors pushing a movie! It defends psuedoscience! And it seemed so smart in the beginning before it started pandering! It's the Huffington Post of TV shows!) A

Lindsay: Wow. This documentary series was surprising. I don't know exactly what it set out to be, other than another of Oprah's fake concern exploitation enterprises, but it was a shockingly honest portrait of a relapse. It was so uncomfortable. The show humanized Lindsay Lohan, tabloid punching bag, turned her into someone genuinely seeking redemption and stability, then followed her as she fell back into every one of her negative habits. I could identify a lot with what she talked about, just based on my being in therapy for so long. But being more aware of myself and my habituation, I could see the exact moment when she started lying to people and, more tragically, herself. Gee, who could have guessed that taking a person out of rehab and then letting them go back to work right away would turn out badly? It's easy to make jokes about Lindsay Lohan, but now that I've seen the tragic repetition of behavior based on addiction and what seems like a lot of deep-rooted traumas, it just seems mean-spirited. She's not a tragic figure, but she really needs a lot of help. But she needs to be willing to take that help, too. It's fascinating that the show was more honest about recovery by showcasing someone who is so incredibly dishonest with herself and with everyone else. A-

Louie: So far, this season has been sublime. A+

Low Winter Sun: Very interesting pilot, but that got dull very quickly. D

Mad Men: I really dislike this new trend of splitting final seasons across two years. The first seven episodes were very, very good. I'm kind of glad I came into this show all at once rather than watching it live for years. For me, it's been sort of building and building in intensity. The basic theme of the show as I see it--remaking the world to be what you want, the futility of that, and the unhappiness that comes from being unable to reconcile life as it is with life as you think it should be--is endlessly compelling to me. (I also just need to mention here how excellent the sets and costumes are. And the great music.) A

MasterChef Junior: I'm surprised it worked, but it sure did. This was a charming show. Turns out the judges can be quite warm and supportive when they want to be, and I'm glad for that, because I don't think (as much as we joked about it) that America wanted to see a show where kids were ripped apart and screamed at for not already being at professional cooking standards. And it was nice how the kids could compete with one another and not be jerks. When those kids always hugged the kid who was being sent home... that was sweet. I would watch another of these in a heartbeat. "Whip like a man!!" A

Masters of Sex: Genuinely engrossing, well-acted show. It took a while for it to get into its groove, but I really appreciate that this is more about the characters and the social importance of Masters & Johnson's sex study than about being naughty and prurient. Some of the best drama I saw on TV this season. A-

The Michael J. Fox Show: I so wanted this to be good. I was so glad to see Michael J. Fox back on TV. But it was just so mediocre. It wasn't even bad, really, it just felt like it didn't try very hard and didn't know what it wanted to be. Also, like a lot of sitcoms, the pacing really killed it. Too much at once, no room to breathe. C-

Modern Family: I still enjoy it. They did some things in the last few episodes that were especially good. It's not breaking new ground anymore, and I'm surprised at how often it still falls back on easy (hackneyed) gay jokes or cultural stereotypes. It's being rerun everywhere right now, and it doesn't hold up as well as it seemed like it might. You really do get a sense of just how hit or miss this show can be. Still, some great episodes this year, a few of them showing just how well a modern show can translate the kind of farce Lucy used to do. The rest tends to be somewhat pleasant noise. B

Mom: This one's a mixed bag, and I wish it had been a little more streamlined. I appreciate that it's an attempt to talk about class and about recovery, but because it deals with big topics like that, it desperately wants to reassure the audience that it's a sitcom by going over-the-top and hacky so often that its attempts to deal realistically with issues like putting your child up for adoption or your absentee father coming back into your life don't seem very genuine. I like some of what it does, but there are so many characters running around that it gets lost in the canned laughter. I'm not sure if I'll watch a second season. I'm not sure if I even liked this one. The potential's there, but... Everyone wants to go back and do Roseanne but without the emotional sincerity and the sense of reality, and especially without giving Roseanne any of the credit. C+

Nashville: This season spent so much time going over it, I wonder if it even knows where the top is anymore. It's a silly soap that's getting a little too silly and a lot too soapy. I'm still enjoying it, and I'm not as bizarrely angry with it as some critics got, but it's never going to transcend what it is. C+

Parenthood: This season sprawled a bit, but to be fair, it was the first season I watched live instead of on Netflix. It had some problems, particularly in terms of finding believable motivators for some of its plot threads, but I really liked most of it. And I'm glad they didn't get rid of Ray Romano and kept him around. (Anyone else think Zeek is going to die next season? I'm totally calling that now.) A-

Parks and Recreation: Another great season of a great sitcom. And they even dropped their most extraneous characters! Lots of shows never do that. A

Pretty Little Liars: It continues to be the most awesomely ridiculous little thing. I mean, it's not like it's great, but it's so wonderfully, hilariously silly and engrossing. I love this stupid little show. B-

Ravenswood: Just because your audience is mainly teenage girls, that doesn't mean you can just decide to forgo plot, character, premise and drama in favor of pretty people standing in moody lighting. Like the old Dark Shadows, but without the same level of commitment and glossy production. Yes, sarcasm. F

Restaurant: Impossible: I tend to find this show more interesting than Kitchen Nightmares because it introduces the budget aspect of it. There's no magic fix-up that gets taken care of overnight. If you're going to remodel the restaurant, you're going to figure out how to do it within a certain financial boundary. That seems more realistic to me. Kitchen Nightmares is like a wish fulfillment show, Restaurant: Impossible is more like actually teaching someone how to fix their failing business. B

Restaurant Stakeout: This show's pretty weirdly watchable. Nothing to say about it, but it's watchable. C

Revenge: Dropped it.

Rick and Morty: Brilliant. A

Robot Chicken: I don't really watch it anymore, but I did watch the second DC Comics special, and it was really, really fun. More fun than anything else DC's doing with those characters. So I recommend that special. Otherwise, I'm just waiting for them to do another Star Wars special.

RuPaul's Drag Race: If this season suffered a tiny bit, it's because some of the drama was half-hearted (and some of it was downright irritating) and the clear front runner from the beginning was the drag artist who won, so there wasn't a lot of suspense. But this season had a lot of great contestants, and it's still the best reality competition series on television. I'm going to miss it until it comes back, like I always do. Also, I need more Adore Delano in my life. A

Saturday Night Live: People are being really hard on this season. I think it was only below average. It doesn't help that the Weekend Update segment got tethered to comedy black hole Colin Jost. It helps even less that Jost is co-head writer. The show has lost its teeth, seems to have no interest in what goes on outside of it, and is just embarrassing now when it tries to go political. (It seems to have ceded the political comedy ground to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.) What remains is a show that doesn't have much of an identity anymore. Still, I think some generally funny episodes came out of it. A few them were even wildly overpraised by critics. It's typical SNL: the good stuff seems better in retrospect, and the bad stuff seems worse. It's just wallowing in its average blandness. It's time to start culling cast members and get some edgier writers. B-

(Aside: did you watch The Maya Rudolph Show? Real fan love is watching a show because Kristen Bell is in it even though you find Maya Rudolph as insufferable as you find Kristen Bell adorable. It was like an SNL episode but with surprisingly edgier and funnier material. Maybe she should have a creative say over at the other show. Also Kristen should host SNL.)

Shark Tank: I couldn't even tell you why I enjoy this show, but I do. I think it's the whole business/invention part of it. Business stuff weirdly fascinates me. Not corporate stuff, but business stuff. B

Sherlock: It's always too bad when shows replace smart writing and interesting characters with contrivance and fan service. D

Silicon Valley: I probably won't watch a second season. It's not that it's bad, it's just not that engaging and doesn't have much of an identity of its own. B-

The Simpsons: I don't watch it anymore, but I just wanted to point out that I did watch the Lego episode, "Brick Like Me," and that it was fantastic. I was expecting a gimmick. Instead, I got a Philip K. Dick-inspired sci-fi mindfuck, and it was excellent.

Storage Wars: Again, it is what it is. It's bizarre that they keep trying to turn it into more of a sitcom. I don't need to see these people in their homes, that's not interesting to me. I give the show a C, but I give Brandi an A. Or a D. Haha, it's a sex joke.

Storage Wars: Texas: Surprisingly fun for what it is. C+

Suburgatory: Dropped it.

Teen Titans Go!: I don't regularly keep up with this show, but every time I see it, I find it fun and enjoyable. It's nice to see something involving DC characters that's just funny and silly and not so intense and caught up in its own symbolism. A-

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: I still think the format's dead and uninteresting, but I've caught episodes here and there, and they weren't bad at all. Jimmy's pretty engaging. B+

Trophy Wife: I enjoyed it at the start, but quickly got tired of it. Every sitcom these days has 700 lead characters, and they're all as quirky as possible, and it just got old. Nice try. C+

True Detective: One of the most engaging shows I've ever seen. Layered, complex, very well-acted and directed, this thing only ran for 8 episodes but had more to it than some entire seasons of network shows. Some people are still on the fence about the finale, but I loved the note it ended on--even though my wife and I still can't agree on what tone that note had. I just think it's wonderful that there's still something to talk about with this series. A+

2 Broke Girls: It's never going to be anything more than just another sitcom, but I like it for what it is. I just wish that every season didn't involve one of the girls getting involved with someone who adds a lot to the show (Ryan Hansen, Eric Andre) only to put them on a bus if it means there's going to be too much, you know, growth and character development. But Kat Dennings is wonderful and she commits to it. I also wish the show would shake things up more instead of always resetting back to that damn diner. And let's just retire Jennifer Coolidge, okay? Her presence is generally forced and her Miss Piggy impression is grating. B

Veep: This is the kind of show that I love while I'm watching it, and tend to more or less forget about when it isn't on. It's very smart and funny, but if it were canceled tomorrow I don't think I'd have any feelings about it. B

Vikings: The second season was a significant improvement on the first. I'm glad that I watched it all at once rather than live, though. The season premiere really should have been the finale of the first season. It only tied up a lot of the loose ends. Then the second episode did a time jump and sort of started the real plot of the season. But I really, really dug this one. B+

I should have been doing this since I started talking about TV. Ah, well. I think that's all of the shows I watched over the season. I'll do this again at the end of the summer.

Anything I should be watching that I missed?


Roger Owen Green said...

Well, Michael J. Fox has been on TV, The Good Wife, and now that his show is gone, he's back there. I think, though, that'd you'd almost have to start to "get" it. (And ignore ALL references to Calinda's husband; it was so bad, he just disappeared.)

Totally right about Modern Family, and probably about Parenthood, though Zeke's wife, Camille, could also die, and they'd all have to deal with the repercussions of THAT.

SamuraiFrog said...

I keep forgetting that Fox has been on The Good Wife. I should just check that show out, I know a number of people who like it.

abc said...

haha..."the Huffington Post of tv shows". Yes. Good one.
Also: you watch a lot of TV!

Tallulah Morehead said...

If you'd stuck with About a Boy you'd have seen that it did go somewhere. By the end of the season the main character had fallen in love and committed to the point that when his doctor-girlfriend took a job back east, he moved to NY
C with her(Not "is going to move back east," he moved), leaving the show in apparent limbo. (It's almost like they expected the series not to be renewed and made an ending for it.)

But, because of the annoying boy's (I don't like the kid, at all. At least they finally cut his hair) daddy issues, which became really focused in the episode where we met his dad and saw that his son just isn't even on his radar; he's more concerened with a batch of penguins at the south pole than in his son), he has to keep a relationship with the kid, long-distance via Skype. I'm now very curious how they will continue the show.

And whatever its sins, at least they didn't try to build a romance with Minnie Driver, who was seen to be the total sexual slave of the neglectful father, and who was about as sexually exciting as a plate of cold, overcooked tapioca.

Dropping Bates Motel was wise.

So you missed Castle and Beckett's wedding? Part of what I found annoying in the Modern Family finale was that it was pretty much the same plot I'd just seen two nights earlier on Castle. Different incessant complications, of course, but one contrived obstacle after another, just like MF.

I've been liking Cosmos very much, except for the cheap Flash animation.

We're never going to agree on Moffett's Doctor Who, but at least we agree on Fargo and Hannibal.

Revenge picked up towards the end of the season. (Mid-season I was really getting sick of it and trying to follow it. At times, Lost seemed less complex.) Like About a Boy, it went to a place where it could have just ended with this season if it hadn't been renewed, which it almost wasn't. All they'd have had to do was slice out one, final scene, that introduced the Gigantic twist that the next season will hinge on.

As for Sherlock, we're on different planets on that show. I loved its season this year.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I see one of my sentences is unclear. On , it's the boy's father who is sexually unappetizing, not Minnie Driver. Minnie Driver is no one's plate of cold, overcooked tapioca.

MC said...

It's funny that I thought I'd miss Anne and Chris on Parks and Rec... and that didn't happen at all. They lifted right out and things just kept going on nicely.

And Agents of SHIELD was a slow build at the beginning for me, but I'm glad I stuck with it because it was worth the wait going into the last third of the season. The show even convinced me to go see a Marvel movie opening weekend, and I never do that.

I am glad that for the winter break, they are going to be using that time for Agent Carter. That seems like a really good strategy, especially given the overarching task next season.