Saturday, June 11, 2016

The 2015-2016 TV Season

The Affair: This show deepened its mystery in the second season, adding some new players to the situation. It's almost weird, after all of the hubbub between the two main characters, who each ditched their marriages to be together, how much time they spend alone in their own worlds. It's nice that they're taking some of the romantic bullshit out of a couple that comes together in an affair; it's not always True Love Forever for Real This Time. Sometimes it was just born out of selfishness or self-destruction or running from something that you can't escape. I was glad to see Maura Tierney get more screen time this season as the ex-wife. Her story is really interesting, and told with a sympathy that the ex-wife doesn't always get in this kind of drama. It's kind of funny how this show really made me not like the guy we were supposed to sympathize with, because it's so obvious how his selfishness makes him dissatisfied with everything, and you can see the lives he's destroying with it. Oh, and the crime element finally fits in. A

Agent Carter: I saw a lot of people who thought there was a decline in the second season, but I don't know what they're talking about. I thought this second (and I guess final, unless Netflix steps in) season was a great build on the first, deepening Peggy's world and commenting this time not only on sexism but on potential and the dangerous nature of what Peggy does vs. comic book excitement. Fantastic show that I'm sorry no one dug. A+

Agents of SHIELD: Now here's a show that had a steep decline. All of the characterizations were just so off this season; all of the characters got derailed in some way or another, and any momentum the show had just died. The way the show ended was okay, but it took forever to get there. I don't give even a tenth of shit about Fitz/Simmons--this show just doesn't know what to do without all of the Buffy tropes that were sort of groundbreaking in the mid-nineties, but which are old and played out now. Probably the worst thing the show did all season long was to try to build an interesting character up, but only by considering her in relation to how she made Coulson feel, finally killing her off without ceremony simply to give Coulson motivating manpain. Really? On a network in 2016? There was all of one truly good episode this year. Otherwise, it's all a wash. That emotional goodbye everyone loved with Bobbi Morse and Hunter the Walking Cliche of What a 12 Year-Old Guy Thinks Is Cool and Angsty was completely unearned. Next season I'm just going to wait for it to hit Netflix if I watch it at all. I hate being behind on an MCU component, but it's not like it has an effect on anything else. D

American Horor Story: Hotel: I made it through the first two episodes and just could not watch any more. I liked Lady Gaga fine, but Ryan Murphy's "find out who will be in it, then make up characters to fit the actors and who cares if it's incoherent?" approach just stopped working for me even a little.

The Americans: This show has settled in to what it is; this season was another really good one, and they don't have to overwork the excitement button, as Steven Spielberg put it once, to grab your attention. A

Ash vs. Evil Dead: In the beginning was the word, and the word was groovy. A+

Baskets: I liked the pilot, but was going through that first-quarter depression I go through every winter and just didn't feel like getting caught up in it. Maybe I'll catch it on Hulu or whatever.

The Bastard Executioner: A mess. I stopped watching after two episodes.

Better Call Saul: The same kind of tense slow build as Breaking Bad, without being an empty copy. This season upped the problem-riddled relationship between Jimmy (and again, Bob Odenkirk is incredibly good on this show in a way I just didn't anticipate) and his brother in a way that I can relate to. This series has transformed Jimmy from a jokey side character on the parent show to a tragic figure who is ultimately a good guy, but can't always stop himself from taking shortcuts. I can't believe how invested I've become in the characters. A+

Black-ish: Again, a nice little sitcom groove that balances episodes about racial issues with episodes about being a parent or fitting in or having trouble at work. Pretty classic sitcom stuff, but with a modern twist to it, which is the kind of thing I like; it reconstitutes sitcom tropes and updates them, instead of just hackily repeating them. This is the kind of series that built up enough goodwill with me that it could pull a sitcom trope I really, truly hate--when someone falls asleep watching TV and imagines the show but with themselves and the rest of the cast in the roles (in this case, Good Times)--without making me lose my patience. And the episode they did this season directly addressing police brutality against black people was not only important, but entertaining, thoughtful, and handled perfectly. B+

Bob's Burgers: The same problem for me as last season: alright stuff, with the occasional great episode, but too many high concept episodes tailored for the internet fandom. Last year, I would record episodes and just let them sit on my TiVo. This year, I just caught them eventually On Demand. C+

Childhood's End: One of my favorite books in high school, but this miniseries just didn't do it for me. I think what bothered me the most is that they took my favorite character in the novel, the character who speaks with the alien Overlords--UN Secretary-General Rikki Stormgren--and turned him into just some young dude out in the small town American heartland. It just felt false to me, the kind of modern bullshit where the unassuming country guy is untouched by cynicism and the purest representation of Earth. It felt almost... propagandist. I didn't watch the second or third part.

Cutthroat Kitchen: Pretty much the best cooking show ever. This is becoming one of my go-to comfort shows, but I'm a little bummed that the show is entering its 14th season, and Netflix only has the first four. (That said, the seasons range from short to very short, and Food Network shows several a year; the fourth season, for example, is from 2014.) A+

Dance Moms: This show really drowned in its toxicity this year, bringing on a new mom who clashed with everyone right away and helped not only tear the team apart, but also hastened the departure of Maddie Ziegler, the best dancer of her generation, from both the team and the show itself. I still like most of my team, and Maddie is moving on into a wealth of opportunities to become a star, but the team without Maddie (or her sister, Mackenzie, who also left) isn't a prospect I love... Especially with that toxic mom still looming over everything. How many people are going to leave this team? Damn, they had a couple of episodes with Debbie Allen and she was so encouraging. Can't she just be the new coach? There's nothing wrong with this show that getting rid of frigging Abbey Lee Miller wouldn't go a long way towards fixing. C

Daredevil: The second season built on the first, but not always in ways that were satisfying. All the stuff with the Punisher was fantastic, really challenging head-on whether vigilantes like Daredevil really help or if harsher tactics do more. (Or if they just create power vacuums.) I liked a lot of the Elektra stuff (and was glad to see Stick again) but a lot of the stuff with the Hand and their mysterious war was more vague and dull than mysterious and compelling. B+

Doctor Who: I decided not to watch this season. I'll catch up later, once Moffat's gone.

Downton Abbey: A nice final season that was part goodbye lap and part love story for Mary. Mary was my least favorite character on this show, so it was pretty refreshing for me to see people finally confront her about what a cruel snob she can be. I liked where everyone ended up, and I was really glad Barrow had a good ending. A

Empire: I got halfway through the season, then forgot to record it when it came back on and didn't bother to go back.

Fargo: After the general awfulness of the second season of True Detective, I was worried this would be another case of an impeccable show with a mediocre second season. If anything, the second season was even better than the first. Great soundtrack and setting, with some excellent performances, particularly Bokeem Woodbine, Kirsten Dunst, and Ted Danson. A+

Flesh and Bone: I forgot about this, which probably isn't a great sign. It was on Starz, a drama about a ballet company putting on a new show, and all of the horror and nightmare that comes with their lives. When we finally got to the dancing, I enjoyed that. Otherwise, you can skip it. D+

Fresh Off the Boat: Another show I got a little tired of and then stopped watching. Maybe I'll catch it on Hulu. It's a cute show, but it's not appointment TV for me. That said, Constance Wu is amazing.

Galavant: A satisfying extension of the first season, although the premise wore a little thinner, simply because Alan Menken's deconstruction of musical tropes was less of a surprise this time around. I'm sorry it got canceled, but at the same time, I'm alright with that. Once again, Timothy Omundson was the best thing about it. A-

Gay for Play Game Show Starring RuPaul: Cute game show, something of a modern twist on Match Game and Hollywood Squares. Not appointment TV, but fun. It'll be nice when there's enough episodes for Logo to run marathons. B-

Gaycation: A documentary series starring Ellen Page and her friend Ian Daniel as they explore how LGBTQ people live in various countries. I thought it was very sensitive and emotional; mostly it's just interviews with people who are either in shitty situations or making situations actively shittier, or observing social gatherings. Very affecting. A

The Girlfriend Experience: I didn't really think much of the movie (I thought it was alright, but cold), but I got caught up watching this Starz series. (They put the whole thing up on On Demand when it started airing.) I like how the show is observational; we're not on Christine's side, exactly, but we're not invited to judge her, either. It's a fascinating and multilayered series. A

Girls: I really enjoyed the fifth season; it was interesting and more realistic that the girls spent so much time apart from one another, growing in their own directions, which is what people tend to do unless they're on a shitty sitcom. A

Grantchester: For a cozy mystery series, this one really packed a punch to the gut this season. Maybe it's the presence of Robson Green; I keep expecting Wire in the Blood to suddenly happen. B+

Guardians of the Galaxy: Animated series based on (but divergent from) the movie. I'm not always down with the Marvel cartoons for whatever reason, but this was pretty good. Not much to say about it, but it is neat seeing so many of Marvel's cosmic characters. C+

Halloween Wars: Fun as always. B

Hellevator: Fun game show with people surviving haunted house challenges and basically panicked the whole time. From Blumhouse. I'd watch a second season. B

House of Cards: Easily the best season so far, cutting down on its usual messiness. This show really fires when Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are working against each other. A-

Jessica Jones: Excellent Marvel series. I talked about this on my Pop Culture 50 list back in December; it was one of my favorite shows of 2015, a powerful drama that deals with powerful themes of abuse trauma and survivor's guilt with the MCU as a backdrop. And it sets up Luke Cage, which I can't wait for. David Tennant is so damn good in everything. A+

The Last Man on Earth: I was worried this show would get run into the ground this season, but while it didn't transcend the great first season, it was really an interesting season. I think they found a way to use Will Forte in this group of characters; it gets a bit cringey how desperate he is to be liked, but they had a way this season of dropping him into everyone else's life and being the chaotic element that exposes just how imperfect and selfish everyone else is, too. This was one of the few serialized shows this season that took a big break over the winter and didn't kill its momentum. A-

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: A+

The Librarians: Fun, silly fantasy. I enjoyed it just as much as last year, but was glad to see Noah Wylie could appear more often this year as Flynn Carsen, the character who started all of this with TNT's The Librarian movies. This season saw Professor Moriarty and Prospero as the villains, with a scheme that involved time travel, Shakespeare, and Excalibur. It's that kind of show and I dig it. B

Luther: The fourth season was a mere two episodes (it aired as a three-hour special in America), but I found it pretty gripping. I just love the character, and I like that we just drop in on him from time to time. Good stuff, but I missed Alice. (I know Ruth Wilson is on The Affair, which I also love, I'm just saying.) B

Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown: The other cooking show I really enjoyed this past spring, with a team of very talented child chefs competing against professionals. It's on FYI, and it's the kind of show that you can spend an afternoon watching. A-

Master of None: Another of my favorite series of 2015, which I also talked about on my Pop Culture 50. A+

MasterChef Junior: Still a much, much better show than MasterChef. And a local girl won on the most recent season! A

Masters of Sex: And I thought relations got strained in the second season, damn. Continues to be a fascinating show about sexual dysfunction and all the ways we are and aren't honest about what we feel. B+

Modern Family: I just couldn't do it anymore. After over six seasons, somehow this was the season where I finally couldn't take the sitcomminess. Two episodes in a row I found myself, just before the big, cringey embarrassing thing happened, literally yelling "Fuck you, show!" So, I'm done with it.

The Muppets: I've talked a bit about this already. Short answer, it's imperfect but I enjoyed it, and I'm sorry it was canceled just as it was really finding its feet. (Side note: thank you for giving me my precious June Diane Raphael alongside the Muppets.) B+

The People vs. OJ Simpson: I was really surprised how much I remembered about the OJ trial. This was a riveting drama, examining the multiple viewpoints and motivations of the people involved in a way that wasn't as sensationalist as I assumed it was going to be. That all happened as I was graduating high school and attempting to start my adult life, and it was such an unending circus that I really had to ignore it after a while... but still, I remembered so damn much. Most of the performances were great, but I especially thought Courtney B. Vance (as Johnnie Cochran) and Sarah Paulson (as Marcia Clark) were excellent. A+

Pretty Little Liars: The show did a time jump, but I think they kind of wasted it a bit, doing what too many serialized shows do with time jumps and simply shocking the audience with who broke up and when ended up where and who is still friends or not, and then trying to twist everything so that it goes back the way it was. At this point, maybe it's time to just end this whole trip. C+

Rick and Morty: My review of the first season was one word: "brilliant." That still works here. A+

RuPaul's Drag Race: The strongest season in a while; almost everyone was incredibly talented (most notably one person who was more of a celebrity impersonator than an actual draq queen hung on for far too long), so even though the season was shorter and had fewer drag queens, they was so much talent that it more than made up for it. It was nice to see the show pull back, frankly, after the last few seasons went on for too long. And this season the top three were so damn good that I would have been fine with any of them winning. A+

Saturday Night Live: One of the weakest seasons of this show in a while. There was a good sketch or video here or there, but I thought it was overall toothless and arbitrary. (Colin Jost is pointless enough, but this year's sad attempts at political satire were just embarrassing.) This show really needs to trim some cast members, also. D

Scream Queens: Twisted and fun horror series that made me laugh a lot. Got mixed reviews, but I thought it was hysterically funny, particularly Jamie Lee Curtis as the sex-crazed dean of a college that experiences a wave of killings. A-

Shark Tank: Nothing to say about it, but it's a staple for me. I enjoy it. B

The Simpsons: I watched most of this season. It wasn't very good, but "Halloween of Horror" was fantastic. It's like one great episode per season for me. C-

Star Wars Rebels: This season really outdid the first, tying in Clone Wars more directly by giving us the returns of Captain Rex, Hondo Ohnaka, Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Ahsoka Tano, and even Yoda. Besides that, an appearance by Princess Leia ties the whole universe in directly with the original trilogy. But there are more reasons to like it than just continuity nods, furthering the stories of its six main characters and showing Ezra's potential as a Jedi and just how torn he can be between the Dark Side and the Light. And it all led up to a duel between Vader and Ahsoka, the inevitable conflict set in motion by Clone Wars. Amazing Star Wars stuff. A

Storage Wars: Just bring Barry back and get rid of Dave. And Darryl. And Jarrod and Brandi. Basically, every original bidder can go. I like the newer ones. Or at least I'm not sick of them yet. C

Supergirl: Boy, I like this show. It's unapologetic optimism means a lot to me, and I think Melissa Benoist is as wonderful a Supergirl as I could have hoped for. It's been a bright spot in the week for me, and it made me start catching up on Arrow and The Flash. I don't know how to address some of the criticism, because I'm not so interested in a lot of that criticism. Any areas where the show is weak don't drag it down for me, because I enjoy what it is so damn much. A-

Superstore: I watched the first couple of episodes, but it didn't catch me. I worked in retail, and the show doesn't really do anything surprising or insightful with its humor. I worked at Target 22 years ago, and it's not much different than that. I'm just... not interested in attempted/failed satire about working in a big box store.

Telenovela: I watched the first two episodes and it was okay. I wanted to like it more than I did. Eva Longoria's still bangin', though.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Still delightful. I didn't know where a second season could go, but that whole Kimmy-sort-of-in-therapy plotline really worked. Tituss Burgess was wonderful, as always, and I think Carol Kane was used a lot better this year. A step up from an already strong first season. A-

The Venture Bros.: Part of me wishes the wait between seasons wasn't so darn long, but most of me loves that this show waits to get it right. An impeccable season of this great show. A+

Vicious: Pretty much what I said about the first series, and I can't wait for more. A-

Vikings: I think this is the first half of this year's season, but the first 10 episodes were very good. This is such a high quality show, and I'm glad that the show is just going for Saxon history and French history without having to have a Viking character to justify being there. We get it, and the show knows it. I found myself very invested in Bjorn this season, and I'm glad that Rollo is really coming into his own now and has broken onto his own path. And in case I haven't said it before, I freaking love Katheryn Winnick on this show so much. A

W/ Bob and David: A few new episodes of Mr. Show are a welcome thing indeed. A+

We Bare Bears: Fantastic show on Cartoon Network. Just three bears gettin' by in life, but always funny and sometimes touching. A

And that's that.


Paradox Al said...

This was a great post. I love reading what you thought of tv shows.

Personally, I really liked 'Supergirl', too. Absolutely loved that crossover episode with The Flash; it was better than the 'Batman v Superman' movie.

Also, if you're watching Cartoon Network shows, then I'd recommend you try catching 'Steven Universe'. It's one of the best cartoons out there.

SamuraiFrog said...

That episode with the Flash is what got me to check out that show. I watched the first season on Netflix and I adored it. The Flash is my other favorite DC character (after Superman) but I was a little wary because I didn't like Smallville and just wasn't sure.

Thanks for the recommendation re: Steven Universe. Lots of people I know seem to dig that one, and I should really check that out.

Paradox Al said...

I love The Flash as a character, too :)

Personally, I'm just glad that the show is so good because I've got ZERO faith in the upcoming film version they're gonna pump out.

I think you'd really like 'Steven Universe'; not only does it do Love and Relationships so well, it's probably the best modern cartoon when it comes to LGBT representation. (I'm straight but I know I'd have been a better person if I grew up with a show like 'Steven Universe'. Kids these days have it better, cartoon-wise)

Tallulah Morehead said...

Don't look forward to too much more Vicious. This month PBS airs a "Vicious Special" from this past Christmas that is being billed as the "Series Finale." In other words, you get 22 more minutes of Vicious and then it is gone forever. Too bad. I loved it; on the other hand, you can't expect a series for whom the two stars are in their 70s to run long. They're not Betty White.

Actually, we're lucky it ran as long as it did. A friend of mine was at the taping of the first episode, and he said it took forever to shoot it (And my friend is a pro who works at the same studio, so he knows when a shoot is abnormally overlong) because Sir Ian was having terrible trouble remembering his lines. The sad fact is, he's not in mental shape for sustained acting performances anymore, as opposed to the short shots of movies.

SamuraiFrog said...

That's sad to hear, both about Sir Ian and Vicious. Like I always say when a show has a short run, at least we never had to watch it deteriorate.