Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Summer 2015 TV Season

I didn't get caught up in a ton of shows this summer, but this will still somehow manage to be an overlong post, I'm sure.

Another Period: I'll have to get myself in a position to binge this show at some point, because it had an amusing premise (a reality show about snobby rich girls, only it takes place a hundred years ago) and a strong cast (I adore Riki Lindhome, and Natasha Leggero is one of my favorite comics working today), but it was hard to get enthusiastic about watching it every week. I feel like it's the kind of thing that works better in large helpings, and I didn't finish the whole season. What I saw is a B.

The Astronaut Wives Club: Never as strong as it could have been, but certainly never as weak as the critics felt. It had a truly stupid advertising campaign (never stop trying to insist that each and every show about women be Desperate Housewives, ABC) that was a real turn-off, but the show itself ended up being more or less what I hoped for: a somewhat serious but breezy historical drama about the wives of America's astronauts. It was perhaps too breezy and too pat sometimes, but there were interesting stories to tell, especially in an episode about how the space program was very nearly opened up to women pilots (who actually seemed better-suited to being astronauts, seeing how they outperformed men in nearly every category). I can never explore the space program enough through pop culture, and there were some very good performances that highlighted some under-represented events in space history. B-

Ballers: I stopped watching it after two or three episodes. Entourage, but with the Rock. Which is exactly as disappointing as it sounds.

The Brink: Very smart, very funny political comedy about narrowly avoiding World War III. I don't know if I want to see more seasons of it, but political satire is a balancing act and the fact that this show pulled it off so deftly for multiple episodes is something of a minor miracle. A-

Cutthroat Kitchen: I particularly enjoyed this summer's "Camp Cutthroat" tournament. Wow, a fun cooking competition. Remember when Gordon Ramsey used to do those? Been a long time, right? A

Dance Moms: Sometimes it can just be so goddamn frustrating. The personality clashes are getting in the way here, and it really affected the team itself this year, and it became pretty damn hard to watch. Pull it together. C

Defiance: Really interesting year for this show; the season started with two main cast members getting killed off, introduced an intriguing new species, ramped all of the interpersonal family squabbles up to 11, made the surrounding dangers larger than ever, and decided, what the hell, if we really need to blow things up, let's just kill characters without warning. And then it had a beautiful ending... I haven't heard if this got renewed. I'm fascinated to see how they could come back, but if it ends here, what a way to go out. B+

Devious Maids: Still stupid-fun, and I'm amazed how well they pulled together all of the disparate plotlines this season in the finale, but I cannot believe they're going full soap opera with an amnesia ending. Come on, man. Hasn't Spence suffered enough? B-

Game of Thrones: Quite a season, and not knowing where everything is going has made it very exciting. A

Hannibal: Well... I'm sorry it got canceled, but also not. After the first two episodes, I found the first half of the season tedious and over-indulgent. Everything that had been a strength about the show's style somehow dragged it down into a real slog. And all the focus on Mason Verger broke the show for me, taking the show's pitched operatic quality and turning it into something really, truly dumb. Recasting the role didn't help. Michael Pitt was alive in the role; Joe Anderson was playing Mason Verger as Jim Carrey as the Grinch with practically the same makeup. Some of the stuff in Europe was very good, I just wish it had been shortened down. The second half of the season was much better for me, because it was mostly Red Dragon and I thought Richard Armitage and Rutina Wesley were quite good, and it felt more like the show had a purpose and plot line again. Great final moments; I'm sorry they won't get to go on and do more, but if it means there's not a half-season of dreamy board-resetting that's fitfully interesting and then basically becomes watching Bryan Fuller masturbate for six episodes, I can make the sacrifice. C+

Humans: Started it, but didn't stick with it very long.

Inside Amy Schumer: Brilliant. A+

Key & Peele: The best sketch show on TV finished airing its final season this summer. It was a great ride while it lasted, and hopefully we'll get some specials in the future. A+

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Continues to be essential viewing. A+

MasterChef: This show really needs to drop 3 or 4 episodes. It goes on forever, and the judges become more and more insufferable every year, just as the mechanics of the show and the producer interference become more obvious. (New judge Christina Tosi somehow came in pre-insufferable, as though she'd already been on the show the last five years.) I'll give them this: as obvious as the executive meddling was this year (who got cut each episode was never a surprise), this is the first time since season 2 when I didn't predict the winner. The insufferably smug Derek seemed to be getting the winner's edit this year, but he lost in the finale. I really hated this show last year, and I still have a lot of problems with it, but I do think it's funny that when they did the returning winner's episode this year, they brought back the last several winners instead of just Courtney. That's because no one has even thought of Courtney since last year's phony baloney finale, but people still love Luca and Christine, so let's bring them back, too, and have them do most of the talking, since Courtney has less than nothing interesting to say about food. An interminable, insufferable slog, and with Cutthroat Kitchen being so fun, it just highlights all of the ludicrousness. D+

Orange Is the New Black: It was a slow starter this year, but ultimately I liked it very much. They got rid of some of the extraneous cast members (won't miss you, Larry) and had some interesting things to say about corporate prison structure, and I particularly loved the ending. Now if we could just get rid of the single most boring aspect of the show: Alex and Piper... A-

Pretty Little Liars: After fucking the continuity so bad last year, it was refreshing to get an end to the entire A plotline this season. (I thought they walked the tightrope in a non-offensive way, though I see others disagree.) It did end, as I always thought it would, with the characters basically standing there while A filled in all of the plot holes. Boy, now someone needs to make me a chart showing all of the incidents that occurred and who actually was behind each one. Which was Melissa, which was Mona, which was Ezra, which was Jessica, which was actually A, etc. etc. etc. etc. I'm ready for the time jump (those girls are not convincing high schoolers anymore). B+

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: Inessential, but amusing. Not much to say about it. C+

Storage Wars: There is nothing wrong in the world that wouldn't seem a little better if Dave Hester were no longer on TV. B-

True Detective: I'm one of the people who didn't like it. A tremendous slog; eight episodes never felt so goddamn long. Tedious and needlessly intricate with no pay-off, high on its own convoluted nothingness while every actor tries to be the McConaughey of season two. (And no one even came close; in fact, Vince Vaughn may have proved definitively that while he has a persona that can be pleasing, he's not an actor.) Morning After captured the feeling of watching the show perfectly: "Each time a new scene begins, you think to yourself: If I miss a word, am I going to be OK? Is this one of the plot-driving conversations that will leave me behind like a tenth-grader in calculus class if I start daydreaming? Or is it more fluff about Ani’s one-dimensional relationship with her father or Ray’s one-dimensional relationship with his son? Can I safely ignore it?" The characters literally limped to its incredibly unsatisfying conclusion. You can usually expect a dip in quality in a second season, but this was a plunge, and only the quality of the first season kept me here for the whole thing. D-

UnREAL: I didn't honestly expect a behind-the-scenes-of-a-reality-dating-competition to go full psychological thriller, but it sure did. This was an excellent show. I saved the whole thing up and watched it all in a day, which really kept the momentum tight, and the way the show would just go for it with its amplified producer machinations... Constance Zimmer was excellent, especially. A+

Wayward Pines: I watched the first episode and thought it was compelling, and I heard it kept getting better, but when I heard it was renewed for another season, I decided to wait and check it out when I can binge it. With a plot like that, I always feel like giving it more seasons just invites filler, and with the mystery aspect... I don't know, it's like they have enough interesting stuff, but you know they have to drag it out, and I'm not interested in that. Everyone wants another Lost, but I'm just gonna wait it out.

Why? with Hannibal Buress: Cute show, and I like Buress, but it didn't keep my attention.

And that was summer.


Kelly Sedinger said...

Ahhh! We absolutely LOVE watching Cutthroat Kitchen. It's SO much fun, with Alton Brown being this amazing blend of Anthony Bourdain and William Shatner. We only just discovered the show a few months ago and we've been barreling through it ever since. It's a great show. We especially love how there just isn't time for stupid drama, since they go from start to Winner in one episode. Plus, they make actual dishes that people eat; none of that "Make us a restaurant quality dish" bullshit.

Which brings me to MasterChef, which was just boring this year. Dull, dull, dull. Same old challenges. Everybody making twee food to appeal to the readers of Bon Appetit magazine. And the show's self-congratulatory tendencies finally crossed the line into being outright masturbatory this season, with all the "Biggest culinary competition in the world!!!" crap and making every single challenge sound like the cooking equivalent of a manned mission to Mars. "This chocolate layer cake is The! Most! Difficult! Thing! To! Make!" And I'm thinking, "Oh, f*** you, give me a Duncan-Hines box mix and I'll make you a relatively reasonable facsimile."

I didn't like Christina Tosi at all. I tried to avoid forming an opinion as long as I could, but she just seemed insufferable and shrill. Ramsay is, well, Ramsay, and the other guy (who was the "down to earth" one in the first couple of seasons) has really amped up his own personal DQ (Douche Quotient). F*** him and his bow ties...and I noticed that they didn't make nearly the big deal about Courtney that they did Luca and the blind lady...of course, you wonder what ever happened to the folks who won Seasons 1 and 2, because the show doesn't even mention them anymore.

I probably should have put this in a post of my own...oh, and I just found out that ABC didn't renew The Taste, which is way more fun than Masterchef. Oh well....

SamuraiFrog said...

And here's the one where they do a tag team challenge. And here's the one where they feed a bunch of workers. And here's the one where they feed a bunch of workers... in the country! And here's the one where they feed a bunch of tourists. And here's the one where they're on a rooftop in Vegas and some bro says "Vegas, baby." Ugh, you just get so tired of seeing the same damn challenges while Gordon Ramsay fobs on and on about finding the best amateur home cooks in America and then screams at them when they're not up to professional standards. It's mind-numbing by now.

But the worst challenge they do every year, the one I hate the most, is when they work in the kitchen of a busy restaurant and Gordon just screams at them about their standards when the whole point of this show is that these people don't have professional experience.

Just... just go to hell, show.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Agreed! I bitch about that EVERY SEASON: "I don't give a shit if these people can work in a pro kitchen! That's why I watch Hell's Kitchen, which isn't even half as fun as it used to be!" That's why Cutthroat is so refreshing: zero pretentious bullshit. Do you ever watch the "Aftershow" segments on YouTube? Those are five-minute videos in which Alton Brown explains to the judges why things went the way they did. These are as fun as the show sometimes, like when Brown revealed to Giada DeLaurentiis (who may be the single cutest living creature on the planet, IMO) that one chef had been saddled with the whole-chicken-in-a-can. One point that gets made a LOT is that the chefs need to just focus on the challenge item instead of trying to be all pretentious about it.

SamuraiFrog said...

The aftershow segments are delightful; I usually TiVo the show and then watch it the next day during breakfast, then search for the aftershow. It's such a fun damn show.

Kelly Sedinger said...

There was ONE time the aftershow irritated me. The challenge had been to make an omelet, and Antonia Lofaso decided that nobody knew how to make omelets anymore. She and Alton then demonstrated how to make omelets (which is actually a very useful thing to watch), but I was thinking, "Did you SEE the sabotage they had to deal with?" Three of the chefs had to SHARE a single pan! How on Earth would they make a "proper" omelet like that?!

Anyway...still love the show. Just one thing that bugged me! (Oh, and I hated Simon Majumdar at first but I came around quickly and now I think he's awesome. He wrote a good book about his travels through America and American food a year or so ago, worth checking's called "Fed, White, and Blue".)