Notes on TV shows in 2016

The Good (in no particular order)

The Americans –This does belong at the top, the show got even quieter this season with devastating effect, earnestly following the implications of the main couple’s situation to its logical conclusion and fully embracing the family dynamic at the center of the show.

The Good Place — Well cast and if you can ignore the show’s construct of heaven and hell (fun sure, but still, much like shows that depict the devil, angels and in the case of Supernatural, God (a dude named Chuck, who also has a troublesome sister known as The Darkness), it embraces a particular biblical view of existence that is troubling), funny and sometimes even touches upon a philosophical depth.

OJ: Made in America — Thrilling documentary that manages to be about race in a way the TV movie depiction never quite reached, it’s worth watching all 10 hours.

Bojack Horseman — The weakest of the three seasons but still, consistently inventive and dark.

You’re the Worst – This show did something last season that is tough, embracing Gretchen’s clinical depression and fully exploring it without ever becoming maudlin.  This season wasn’t quite as good, but still managed to be watchable, dark and often quite funny.

High Maintenance – The show that best captures a psychological/emotional sense of being a New Yorker, it also casually embraces the complexity and edginess of that city in a way that few shows even attempt.

John Oliver – His Trump eviscerations were just what we (but apparently not the nation as a whole) needed, but more impressive was the way he would embrace complex political issues and explore them.  Sure, his comedy asides were sometimes painful, but they never detracted from what he was telling us.

Better Things — Female oriented in a way that could be programmatic (all those women with boy names) but somehow wasn’t, it was instead mostly moving and sometimes thrilling.

Game of Thrones — Sure, Jon Snow came back from the dead, an ambivalent and fully expected turn for many of us, and we really bogged down in Arya’s journey but watching her feed Walder Frey his sons in a pie then slit his throat made it all worth it.  Oh and that ending.  Too bad the High Sparrow never saw earlier seasons of the show and realized it’s best not to fuck with Cersei.

The not good exactly but entertaining

Braindead — The ant in the brain metaphor never was as compelling as it was meant to be, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a revelation here, a TV star in the making, that rare woman character on TV who feels like an adult, has a complicated sexual past (without that past being fetishized), and is attractive without seeming like a supermodel dressed down.

Arrow — This show has always been pretty hit and miss, but it seems to be taking a cue from entertainments like the recent Batman vs Superman movie and is dedicated to realistically exploring the impact of Oliver Queen’s past, including fully embracing him as a killer (seriously, the dude has offed like a couple hundred people) and the result has been Arrow’s most involving and least half-assed season.

Lucifer — The devil is all over TV these days; here he’s a smarmy piano playing (his specialty is piano versions of grunge songs) English dude who likes threesomes (would be nice to see the show embrace a boy/boy/girl threesome but no…), is in therapy, has mommy and daddy issues, and some sort of obsession/flirtation with an uptight dullish female detective, all of which makes it sound less entertaining than it is.

The Blacklist — Spader scenes only.  The show is populated by a cast of some of the dullest actors around, all of which makes Spader’s turn as an international, ruthless criminal all the more entertaining.

Elementary — In so many ways, a typical CBS show and it often has a troublesome and self-righteously rigid tone towards criminality that seems to fit in with a Republican/older folks POV, but it also has Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes, whose take on the character has become my favorite modern Holmes depiction, edging out Cumberbatch and obliterating Robert Downey Jr’s tiresome ass-kicking Holmes.

Grimm – Has improbably over five or six seasons created a complex world of Grimm Fairy Tale type characters, the depiction of which are the highlight of the show.

The Magicians – Sure, Lev Grossman’s books were better, but this manages to embrace the more adult side of those books (sex, drugs, language) without ever seeming to strain for it and the magic scenes were often thrilling and scary at the same time.


The well reviewed but not by me

Better Call Saul — I tried to finish it, simply could not.  Season 1 was a slog as well.

People vs OJ Simpson — A bit like the Michael Mann movie Ali, which came out about the same time as “When We Were Kings.”  Ali the movie was good and smart but not a pimple on the ass of the documentary.  Same dynamic here.  I admired Cuba Gooding Jr’s attempt at Simpson but he was all wrong for the part and become a huge hole in the center of the show.

Stranger Things – Winona Ryder gives one of the most graceless, one-tone, screeching performances in recent memory, the kid stars were only a little better.  Only Millie Brown rose above the material.

Search Party – Alia Shawkat was the revelation here, but almost none of the rest of this worked.  Never came close to feeling like a NYC show, see High Maintenance for a show that gets NYC right.

Luke Cage — I admire everything about its approach, especially the idea of a black superhero for a black community.  But episodes had a monotony to them that reminded me of the old George Reeves Superman.  Villain confronts Superman/Cage, empties his pistol at him to no effect, throws his gun, gets his ass kicked.

Westworld — Too many holes and questions to make up for the fact that the producers had no interest in doing anything interesting with the re-creation of the west (I mean seriously? People are paying out thousands, maybe millions, of dollars to be thrust into America’s west of 1880.  This might make sense in 1975, less so today), which is fine I guess, but the intellectual/philosophical meanings had so many holes and dead ends (can you say William/The Man in Black?) and raised so many thorny questions, it was impossible to fully embrace the show.

Mr. Robot — Still love the feel and vibe of the show, but when you spend the first six weeks, roughly half the show, on a narrative that turns out to not actually exist, I am within my rights as a viewer to feel thoroughly fucked over.  The show often mistakes obtuseness for depth, which was never so obvious.

The Walking Dead — We get it, the zombie apocalypse sucks and the real monsters are the other humans.  Got that in the first season, but that doesn’t keep the showrunners from pushing this idea again and again (and again and again).  Enough already.  Oh, and someone please waste Carl on the way out.  Sooner rather than later.

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