Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The 2014-2015 TV Season

Same as last year, but updated.

The Affair: Surprisingly fascinating show. I wasn't sure what the big deal was, and for the first half-hour of the first episode, I sort wondered why it was so critically acclaimed... It was such a self-serving, male version of a struggling writer on vacation with his family who begins an affair with a local waitress. But then, halfway through that first episode, the whole thing flips and it becomes the same story from her point of view, and it became fascinating. The differences between their versions of the story range from small (her hairstyle is different than he remembers) to key (in his story, he's a hapless family man taken in by a free spirit; in her story, he's pretty aggressive and goes out of his way to run into her). There's a crime element, too, that the story doesn't necessarily need, but as TV drama go, this was one of the most interesting and engrossing from last year. A+

Agent Carter: This show is fantastic for a number of reasons: Hayley Atwell is wonderful; the short number of episodes left no time for filler; the show was always purposeful and gripping; it commented on sexism and the lack of female superheroes in a thoughtful way; and since this is the tone I've always wanted, I don't have to worry about DC getting the Wonder Woman movie right anymore. This was way better than that was ever going to be. Can't wait for more. A+

Agents of SHIELD: A little more of a mixed bag for me this season. On the good side, there were the additions of Kyle MacLachlan and Adrianne Palicki to the show, and I thought opening up the world of the Inhumans years before they're set to make their MCU movie debut was a great idea that paid off. (Also, loved the return of Sif.) But on the downside, I thought some of the characters decayed a little bit (Gemma suddenly wants to kill everyone with superpowers?), some of the casting hurt what characters were supposed to be, and Grant Ward continues to exist. Also: never letting the show off the hook for killing Trip. I think part of the problem for me was that there were so many plot threads in the air at one point that were moving slowly, which can be a problem for serialized shows. I bet it'll play better on Netflix. I think another part of the problem was that Agent Carter aired in the middle of the season and was so great that it highlighted some of the deficiencies of SHIELD. Going to be interesting seeing how the show deals with some of its more apparent moral ambiguities. (Also, I see this show is going to be like other genre shows, where people complain about it moving too slowly and then suddenly love it when the last five to seven episodes are paying off all the setup.) B

American Horror Story: Freak Show: Well, I liked it better than Coven, but I still got burned out really quickly by it. I think I really only liked it better than Coven because I have a deep fascination for freak shows and circuses. It started off strong, but it kept going and going and adding more and more characters until I was just tired of the whole thing. I liked some of the individual performances, but it just got too be too much with not enough focus. I'm honestly not sure if I want to sit through another one of these things. C-

American Odyssey: I tried, but I couldn't get into it.

The Americans: A riveting season, and I can't wait to see more, because I know, historically, some of the things that are right around the corner, and I'm really curious about the ramifications they'll have on the whole "the Center wants to make Paige a spy" plot. A-

Benched: Overall a pretty strong comedy with a great central performance by Eliza Coupe. I really dug it, but as it went on it got less inspired, and I wasn't surprised to see it get canceled. Oh, well. You know, if we're just going to keep casting the leads on shows that get canceled after a brief season, can we just bring back Happy Endings instead? B+

Better Call Saul: I fell into the trap of thinking this was just going to be some kind of funny cash-in on Breaking Bad, only to discover one of the best character pieces on TV this year. I've always liked Bob Odenkirk, but when did he turn into an actor? A+

The Big Bang Theory: I finally dropped it this year and I don't feel like I missed anything. In fact, most of the rest of the series is fading away for me.

Black-ish: I talked at length about this show back when it started airing. I think it got into a nice little sitcom groove for itself, and became one of those shows that I usually enjoy but can kind of take or leave. I always enjoy it more when Jenifer Lewis and/or Laurence Fishburne are on. B-

Bloodline: Netflix's soapy thriller about family secrets among a Florida family was a little hard to get through. Overwrought, sure, but the way everyone was such a dick to the most abused of the now-adult children was a little sickening, especially considering how the season ended. But I liked some of the actors and I might watch a second one. It had a weirdly compelling quality that couples nicely with my desire to see all of these people punished. C

(Aside: as I mentioned on Facebook, there was a minor character with my name, Aaron Davis, and hearing Linda Cardellini say it gave me a little charge. I still love you, Lindsay Weir.)

Boardwalk Empire: Sadly, this show limped to the finish line with a final season that turned out to be pretty forgettable. D+

Bob's Burgers: I didn't love this season, honestly. Didn't hate it, but I think the show goes with too many high concept episodes now that seem specifically tailored for their internet fans. I liked a few episodes this year--mainly the ones that were on a smaller scale, although "The Oeder Games" was a finale that did higher concept well--but there were times when I put off watching the newly recorded episode for days. C+

Bring It!: Stayed steady from last season, but does the end of this season mean no more Kayla or Sunjai next year? All due respect to the other girls, but no Kayla or Sunai? ... I don't know. B+

Broadchurch: Honestly, after seeing the first season--which was excellent--I didn't think there was anywhere else for this story to go. This season proved me wrong. As with the first season, I TiVo'd the whole thing and watched it all in one day. A+

The Comeback: It's just not my tone. I'm not sure why I bothered, as I didn't like the first season a decade ago, either. C-

The Comedians: I like the premise (Billy Crystal and Josh Gad get pushed together by FX to make a comedy series, which sounds like a cynical summation but is actually the premise of the show), I like the actors, and I like the way the two generations of comedy don't mesh very well, but I don't think it ever really catches fire the way it wishes it did. The episode "Billy's Birthday" is as fine an episode of television as I've seen so far this year, but the series itself never reaches the level of that one episode. B-

Constantine: I only saw the pilot. I thought it was okay. It's not a character I've got much experience with, and the whole supernatural premise is not really my bag. I was willing to keep watching it if Becca wanted to, but she seemed not to want to.

Cutthroat Kitchen: So, cooking competitions aren't always my jam, but this thing is just delightfully evil. I have fun with it every time. A

Dance Moms: Every time a toxic mom leaves this show, another of the moms becomes toxic. It's dragging me down, man. I just want to worry about the team and watch the dancing, not deal with the drama of whose "turn" it is and the personality clash of the adults. Every time I see one of them confronting the coach, Abby Lee Miller, I always joke "This is like the time that Jim McMahon's mom confronted Mike Ditka about whether Iron Mike was playing him enough and OH WAIT." Newsflash, Moms: you're not actually on the team. B-

Daredevil: I forgot to mention this originally, which is insane, because it's one of the best things I saw this year. I know I talked about it earlier, but it was a really exciting take on the underside of the MCU. This is exactly the Daredevil I wanted (I swear this is the first time in history that I ever found Foggy Nelson interesting), and layered with Vincent D'onofrio's surprising, intense, nuanced performance as Wilson Fisk. A+

Doctor Who: I already talked about this, and I won't recap it here. Either way, I'm really not enjoying this show anymore, and I'm seriously thinking of giving it up. I hate to miss episodes, but I hate what Stephen Moffat is doing with the show so much that I don't know if I can watch it again while he's still there. D

Empire: I really got into this soapy drama this year, and I really hope Fox doesn't ruin it next year. I felt it had just the right number of episodes for what it was, and they're adding more, of course, and I just don't know. I'll be back because I love the music and Taraji P. Henson's Cookie Lyon is magic, but I'll probably stick to just watching it On Demand all at once like I did this year. A

The Eric Andre Show: This show really went nuts this season; its final episode was such a deconstruction of the way most shows are cheap filler that I'm not sure it ever needs to come back. They kind of proved their point beautifully. A+

Fresh Off the Boat: The parents are funny; the rest of the show I wouldn't miss if it were gone. I would probably drop this show, but next year they're putting it on between The Muppets and Agents of SHIELD. C+

Galavant: I'm surprised that I didn't hear much about this show when it was airing, especially from Tumblr. It was basically Every Modern Disney Musical: The Series, which is the kind of thing Tumblr usually eats up. Anyway, I loved it. I don't think the wife liked it as much as me, so I thank her for putting up with it while I watched it, but I loved the way Alan Menken came in and basically deconstructed and celebrated the silliness of the Broadway-style fairy tale musical, since he was right there at its inception with The Little Mermaid. All of the performances were good, but special mention has to go to Timothy Omundson, who was funnier than I ever would have imagined he would be as King Richard. Can't wait for more. A+

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Loved Lisa Edelstein on it, but I got a little sick of it. It's not really aimed at me. B overall--I recognize its quality--but just not the show for me.

Girls: The fourth season had some surprising gut punches, but I appreciate that Hannah seemed to finally have some real growth because of those punches. I hope this doesn't mean Adam Driver is going to be on less next year, because his character is basically the one I relate to the most. A

Grace and Frankie: I love Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and this is a nice little character piece for the two of them. I don't have much to say about it, but I liked the characters and it was a nice little show. Also, great to see June Diane Raphael really get a chance to do something with a character. B

Grantchester: Fun, cozy mystery drama with my beloved Robson Green. Funny how these are the kind of shows I hated as a kid but just eat up now. B

Halloween Wars: I enjoy this competition show every year, and I wanted to mention that because I think Becca feels like she's forcing me to watch it every year. But I love it; it's like a creature-building show but you make the creatures out of pumpkins. B

Homeland: I didn't watch it this year. I think I'm finished.

House of Cards: Just as messy but weirdly compelling as it usually is. I don't think I'll ever really love this show, but I like it enough to spend a couple of days with it each year. Especially since it's always in the first quarter, when I'm really depressed and need distractions. B-

House of Lies: This show has a weird way of blowing everything up at the end of every season, but it works surprisingly well at getting itself back. It really works. As always, dug it. It'll never be great, but I enjoy it. B+

iZombie: I really enjoyed the first two episodes. Then it got pre-empted by baseball and was moved to "sometime eventually after 11pm or so" and I remembered why I make it point not to get involved with shows on the CW. I'm hoping it comes to Netflix like a number of other CW shows, because it'll be so much easier to get into there.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst: We can argue about the levels of how the show manipulated you, but it did it really, really well. This was a hell of a riveting show. A+

Key and Peele: Finally shotgunned this whole thing back in the winter. Hands down the funniest show on television. A+

Kim of Queens: Thanks, Lifetime, for finally showing the last three unaired episodes a freaking year later. B+

Kitchen Nightmares: The BBC brought this back with a specific focus on British expats who were running restaurants overseas, and I was really enjoying it, but there were only 5 or 6 episodes. I hope there are more eventually. B+

The Last Man on Earth: I really loved it. It really put the screws to you on the cringe humor front, and a lot of its developments felt inevitable, but they didn't feel predictable. Loved the ending, too. I worry they're going to run it into the ground in a second season, but that was one great season of television, as far as I'm concerned. A+

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Same as last year, but more essential. A+

The Librarians: I really needed a fun, dopey, silly, fantasy-oriented, Xena-style show in my life, and this was perfectly that with a side order of John Larroquette and Matt Frewer. And Bruce Campbell as Santa Claus! B

Louie: I didn't love this season the way I usually do. Louis CK seems to have made a conscious decision to break away from some of the artier flourishes and personal touches of the previous seasons, pulling back and making something... well, not more sitcommy exactly, but something a little more mundane. Plus, I'm just not invested in his frustrating relationship with Pamela. A-

Mad Men: The final half-season was a slow burn, but a very satisfying one. This show has been an interesting ride, a study in dissatisfaction and hope, and the finale really explored the gulf between the two more extremely than it had before. I really liked it. I liked it a lot. A

Marry Me: I enjoyed it, because I always enjoy Casey Wilson, but I knew this would be a limited run until its inevitable cancellation. C+

MasterChef Junior: We had two more rounds of this show over the year, and I still really enjoy it. The kiddie version just works so much better, because there's less fake drama and somewhat less producer interference. I just like watching a reality competition where people aren't trying to find new ways to be jerks to each other. Both series: A

Masters of Sex: The second season was stronger than the first, mainly because it really got into the characters and how life has damaged them, which adds a lot of background to exactly what the impetus was for the Masters & Johnson sex study. Michael Sheen is especially good on this show. A-

Modern Family: Still breezy and enjoyable, with occasional very good episodes. I seem to like this show for the same reason all the critics don't anymore: because it's just reconstituting age old sitcom plots in a modern format. But I still like to sit with I Love Lucy reruns, and I don't mind seeing those old chestnuts dusted off if it's done stylishly and with real commitment. Just make it fun, that's all I need. B

Mom: Dropped it.

Nashville: Couldn't do one more season. Dropped it.

Parenthood: The final season went off more or less as I predicted, with a lot of milestone moments, the predicted death of a specific family member, and Joy Bryant as underutilized as ever. But I very much enjoyed it, and the show ending was like saying goodbye to people I just liked spending time around. I'm sorry this is over, even as I know it's probably for the best. A-

Parks and Recreation: A short but hilarious final season. There was one episode I really didn't care for, but the show earned some latitude from me even though I was sorry it wasted one of its final half-hours. (And the internet loved it, so whatever.) This show never got stale or overly familiar for me. It never coasted. That's a special kind of dedication. A+

Penny Dreadful: Exactly the kind of bizarre horror fantasy that I wanted The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to be back when that terrible movie came out. (And which the comic book actually was.) I love how it took so many classic Victorian horror elements and combined them into a show that was equal parts paranormal and crime drama. This is the kind of thing I'm almost always disappointed in, but done incredibly well. The kind of "no idea is too stupid" audacity the show has pulls it off. A-

Pretty Little Liars: Another frustrating season is over, and as usual, more answers just leads to more confusion. The new season starts tonight, so I can't wait to see where *that* ending goes, and I'm still in this for the long haul, but sometimes this runaround could really be solved with a few well-placed explanations. B-

Repeat After Me: Ellen DeGenres-produced celebrity hidden camera prank series/rip-off of some Howie Mandel series. It's really bad. I only watched one episode because of course Kristen Bell made an appearance, but I had actually forgotten this thing existed until I started making this list. I can't rate it as a series, but from what I saw, it was a true waste of time.

The Royals: I watched the first episode and... no.

RuPaul's Drag Race: I talked a little about this a month or so ago. I think this season was a little more muted than usual, if only because there wasn't a clear winner from the get-go, but I don't think that made it hard to enjoy. In fact, looking at what I wrote last year, having such an obvious winner last season made it hard to get caught up in some of the show. It's still the strongest, most enjoyable reality competition on television. A-

Saturday Night Live: Nothing remarkably good this year. I enjoyed a couple of episodes and a sketch here and there, but... eh. You know what you're getting. This show's not going through one of its good cycles right now. No one's running with anything or taking the comedy all the way down the field. Cecily Strong was funnier at the White House Correspondents' Dinner this year than anything she was given to do on SNL. There's no direction right now. C-

Secrets and Lies: Surprisingly involving, but I don't need to see another season. The outcome genuinely surprised me. B-

Selfie: I was one of the many who checked out during the first episode.

Shark Tank: Nothing to say about it, but I find it fascinating. B-

Silicon Valley: As predicted, I didn't watch a second season.

The Slap: I really got wrapped up in this. It had kind of a literary structure that I really enjoyed, and looked at the fallout from one act of anger in a way that was complex and multifaceted. A

Star Wars Rebels: I've talked a few times about how pleasantly surprised I was that this show tied so much into my beloved Clone Wars. I'm glad that, even after the move to Disney, the Prequel Era isn't just being ignored. A-

Storage Wars: Eh, it is what it is. Less of Dave Hester, please. I'm tired at having to be frustrated with a villain every time I watch a reality show. I'm really just interested in the finds, I promise you. C

Togetherness: I only made it through a couple of episodes before I stopped watching it.

2 Broke Girls: What used to be a reliably middle-of-the-road sitcom gave in to its worst, laziest, most cliched aspects this year, and it finally got too annoying for me to watch. I gave up about four or five episodes into the season.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Delightful (especially Tituss Burgess). B+

Veep: Dropped.

Vikings: This was the best season so far, really getting deeper into the characters and the way the Vikings truly influenced the course of European history. Once again I recorded it all and watched it all in one go, and that's really the way to go on this one. You just get so wrapped up in what the characters are trying to do and how pragmatic they're forced to be (or choose not to be). A

And that's this season.


Kelly Sedinger said...

We discovered Cutthroat Kitchen a couple months ago and are burning through it pretty quickly. I love the gameshow aspect, I love the errors the cooks make and the sabotages, and you even learn some things about cooking along the way. But we need some new stuff to watch....

Roger Owen Green said...

Totally agree re Parenthood, and Modern Family and Blackish, which are all the ones on your list I've watched regularly.

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, geez, I forgot John Oliver, maybe because I never actually watch it on TV, but at the website. THE most important show on TV right now.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Oh, by the way, I hope you're watching the "Cutthroat Aftershow" on YouTube! In these five or six minute videos, Alton Brown lets the judges in on what the sabotages were and why the food was, in some cases, very weird. The judges offer thoughts on how to get around the sabotages (such as Jet Tila saying, "Always grab eggs and flour in the kitchen").

SamuraiFrog said...

Yes, those are amazing!