TV Round Up 2012-2013, A to Z

With cable eschewing the traditional Fall to Spring TV season, it is hard to find a lull that allows me to reflect upon what I have been watching and why. Granted, I have too many shows that I try to keep up with and at times it can feel like a chore. This spring, I had so many shows stock piled on my PVRs that it took months to catch up with all the finales. Some shows, I didn’t even bother with, when I realised I just stopped caring. We just grew apart; a long hiatus can help me gain perspective or provide an opportunity for something better to come along.

I watch different shows for different reasons. Some shows are episodic, some heavily serialized. I like richly drawn characters. Witty dialogue with an injection of humour will go a long way towards goodwill on my part. So will tense plotting that is unpredictable (Breaking Bad, Spartacus). What I take delight in is getting to know an interesting character and understanding why they do what they do or find themselves in one scrape or another. I need consistency in the narrative. If the characters are fun to drop in on, I can forgive gaping plot holes or even completely confusing storylines that continue beyond my understanding. Let’s face it, I loved The X-files, but couldn’t begin to explain the mythology of it to save my life. The characters don’t have to be likeable but they should at least be interesting and their actions cogent. However, I have begun to gravitate to shows that know where they are going and know how they are going to get there. That is why earlier seasons seem more enjoyable. When a series gets long in the tooth, there is often a change in the writing staff. I then struggle through repetitive storylines, unjustified right angle turns in a character’s behaviour without enough attention devoted to helping me understand why he/she would do such an uncharacteristic thing and then it becomes harder to hold any interest. When it starts to pile up on the PVR, it is often time for a cull.

I guess that is why I can be pretty brutal when a show seems to be heading to an end point and then seems to be spinning its wheels with repetitive plots or implausible leaps in logic that the writers didn’t earn. I refuse to be a bitter ender. If it feels like a chore, then, bye, bye.

So bye, bye, Dexter, Arrow, Revenge, Merlin, Downton Abbey, Once Upon a Time, True Blood and Being Human (US). I also said goodbye to beloved shows that ended their run Spartacus, Mi-5 and Being Human (UK). Soon I will be shedding tears over the end of Breaking Bad.

I thought I would take this relative lull in programming to do a quick capsule review of the last few months (cough cough more than a year) of TV/Netflix/DVD watching. Each show that I continue to watch has its own visceral pull on my heartstrings. I will try to start with those that pull strongest and work my way down to those that have been abandoned. So here it is, the A list, the B list and the Z list.

The A List

Breaking Bad

20130820-090937.jpgThe final 8 episodes of this remarkable series has been a long time coming to air. Even if they are utter drivel it won’t matter. It has been simply the most amazing, darkly humorous, dramatically tragic TV show that I have ever watched. The first of the final 8 is all that I have seen so far and it blew me away. This show raised the bar and has spoiled me to the degree that I can no longer watch the stuff that I used to. If you like dark, this is the best. I am looking forward to watching it through, a second time soon, because my husband has never watched it due to lack of time. He is waiting for it to conclude so that he can binge watch it. I look forward to joining him.

Spartacus

20130820-091402.jpgI love, love, loved this show and was haunted by the series finale. If you can handle the extreme violence and sexuality, it is worth a look. Great tight story telling with innumerable twists, it was an epic underdog hero’s journey.

Mad Men

20130820-091533.jpgAn advertizing agency and its ensemble of troubled talent provides an intriguing backdrop to observe social change of the 1960’s (before my time). I don’t know where it is going and I don’t really care. I just know that I am enjoying the ride and I love the way the female characters are depicted as strong, despite the period.

Girls

20130820-091850.jpgI enjoyed season 2 as much as season 1, which I wrote about a while ago. It is well worth the 5 hour time commitment. A worthy dramatic, often comedic reflection on the perils of youth.

The Legend of Korra

20130820-092050.jpgI am still eagerly anticipating Season 2 of this excellent animated series aimed at kids but thoroughly entertaining for the entire family. If you haven’t watched it or its prequel series Avatar, the Last Airbender, you are missing a treat.

Vampire Diaries

20130820-092413.jpg My daughters and I continue to enjoy this show, although the best may well be behind it. The broad mythology remains solid; I enjoy the secondary characters more than the lead characters and their (yawn) love triangle which dominated this past season. This show isn’t afraid to kill off characters, so I try not to get too attached. This show maintains a fine balance of character and plot that remains compelling, even at the close of season 4. A late season episode served as a back door pilot for a spin-off series called The Originals. I may give it a try if the docket isn’t too backlogged.

Doctor Who

20130820-092824.jpgThis is a show that my husband watches nostalgically with my enthusiastic daughters. I catch it sporadically. When I do, it is entertaining but I have a hard time getting emotionally invested. I think that is more my problem than anything specifically wrong with the show. I am curious to see how the girls respond to the newest incarnation of their beloved Doctor, when he regenerates (recast) on the Christmas episode.

Banshee

20130820-093105.jpgI like this show more than I should. I don’t want to elevate it beyond what it is but the riveting plot and interesting back stories nudge it up to this list. It is great B level noirish pulp fiction set in Amish country. It kept me on the treadmill with its suspenseful plot twists and character development. The online webisodes and comic book prequel helped flesh out an intriguing tale. I am looking forward to season 2 with cautious optimism about how long this implausible story can be maintained. I hope there is an end point in the minds of the creators. I won’t be surprised if there isn’t but I am guardedly optimistic.

Being Human (UK).

20130820-093309.jpgI was surprised at how much I enjoyed the final 2 series (4 and 5) despite the introduction of new main characters. This show was a good blend of gothic horror, modern humour with vampires, werewolves and ghosts trying to hold on to the last shreds of their humanity. I really loved these short series; they packed a punch. There was a good balance between series arc and episodic storytelling. The show ended on an ambiguous yet satisfying note. The ambiguity was clarified by a DVD extra video, which has since been uploaded to YouTube here.

MI-5 (renamed for North American audience)/Spooks (UK title)

20130820-093531.jpgI mainlined this series on Netflix (how I love the economical short seasons of British TV). I mostly watched because I was on a Richard Armitage kick, in anticipation of the cinematic release of The Hobbit and he is featured in the latter series. This was an extremely well made UK spy series. I loved the moral ambiguity of the characters, the dry humour and the high stakes. With a rotating cast of lead characters, many of whom get killed off, this was some intense TV. It started off episodic and then the latter series moved toward season long arcs. Either way, if you like spy stuff, this is definitely worth a look.

Rectify

20130820-093748.jpg
I wrote about this new discovery earlier in the year. This is an intriguing story of reclaiming a life thought lost when a death row inmate is granted release after 2 decades of incarceration. It is only 6 episodes, so far, and definitely worth a look if you enjoy small town gothic story telling where the skeletons in closets are slowly revealed.

Orphan Black

20130820-093905.jpg
A troubled young lady witnesses her doppelgänger commit suicide on a subway platform and decides to adopt her identity. Big mistake, she thought her own life sucked, now it sucks and blows. Before you know it, she meets a few more look-alikes and discovers she’s a clone targeted for assassination. The lead actor (Tatiana Maslany) is phenomenal in this mysterious new show. I have watched 7 of the 10 episodes of the first season and I am wowed. It is definitely worth a look, especially now that the pilot episode is available as a free iTunes download. It has a great blend of mysterious dramatic tension and witty dialogue, usually delivered by the main character’s foster-brother, Felix, brilliantly portrayed by Jordan Gavaris. Made by BBC America and filmed in Canada, call me gob smacked at how impressed I was by this.

The B List

Castle

20130820-094315.jpg
I have written about this show before. It is still a lot of fun even after “the will they or won’t they” romantic tension was resolved at the end of last season. Not a lot of new ground was covered with regard to the episodic whodunit plots, but there was some nice development of secondary characters Esposito and Ryan. This is not a show that I feel compelled to watch from week to week. When I am busy, it piles up on the recorder. Truth be told, I finally finished the last dozen episodes over the last few weeks with no regrets. It is episodic and I only watch it while I exercise. It is enjoyable enough for that purpose but not riveting enough to get me to exercise as much as I should.

Game of Thrones

20130820-105922.jpg I still haven’t watched season 3. I recorded it, but just haven’t watched it. I blame my husband, the story is so tense and the production is so rich that it is not for casual viewing and we haven’t had the time to devote to this yet. Spoilers are not an issue in our house as my husband has been reading the books since they were available and had told me about major plot points. I cannot get too emotionally invested in the plight of leaders of wars fought for the right to rule an imaginary land, so I cn patiently wait. I like stories involving underdogs, so I really only care about the fates of Tyrion and Arya. If the rest of them died, I wouldn’t really care.

Shameless (US)

20130820-110119.jpg I am getting a bit bored of the endless misery and periodic idiocy of the Gallagher clan. Then this show surprises me with some outrageously funny scenes with dialogue quips that I wish I could come up with. With a cliff hanger season finale, I will probably reluctantly watch this when it returns for season 4.

Strike Back

20130820-110322.jpg
I am enjoying the return of this guilty pleasure. It remains a good B level blend of action, buddy cop humour and political commentary, with just a hint of character development.

Supernatural

20130820-110506.jpg
I watch this out of habit more that anything else. When it is good, it can be very scary, funny, dramatic and poignant, all within a single episode. This is usually during stand alone episodes that do not concern themselves with the murky mythology of the season long arc. Yes it can be formulaic, but when everything else is working, I can overlook it. It is very similar to The X-files in that regard. I fell asleep during the season finale, which I watched 2 months after it aired. I will have to revisit it soon. I will continue to follow it next fall during its 9th season.

Walking Dead

20130820-110638.jpg
Sigh, I have watched this show from the beginning, in large part to my husband’s interest. I have ambivalence toward it. A group of survivors making their way through a zombie apocalypse is reminiscent of the Battlestar Galactica reboot (which I enjoyed) but with lower stakes and a lack of hope on the horizon. The dialogue is “meh”, the pace is highly variable (dragging to break neck) and the characterization of the ensemble cast is spotty. They are not afraid to kill off characters; kudos to the producers. If they kill off Daryl, my favorite character, it will leave little reason to watch.

Honorable mentions are Justified and Burn Notice which I am chronically 1 season behind because I watch them on DVD. I am still watching them and still enjoying them for the reasons I have mentioned before in previous posts.

The Z List

Revenge
After enjoying a solid debut season with this one, the second season left me ambivalent. With few likeable characters, make that one (Nolan) and a gaggle of stupid ones (everyone at the Stowaway bar and grill) and tired soapy plot lines (long-lost baby given up for adoption, puleez), my enthusiasm has waned. I watched this while exercising and it stopped being motivational in that regard during the mid-season break back in December. It is my impression that this is a wild goose chase crafted as it goes along and is spinning its wheels. The friend who started me on to it has abandoned it, as did my husband. Over the summer hiatus, I realised that absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. I think I am done with this, despite the latest reports that the net season won’t be as convoluted. Too little, too late.

Arrow
I walked into this pretty blind, knowing nothing of the Green Arrow comic legacy. He was a recurring character on the CW’s Smallville series, but I had long abandoned watching it when he was introduced. It was getting favorable press, was filmed in Canada, starred a Canadian (Stephen Amell) who was a top contender for the Spartacus recasting. It was a superhero story, the promos featured a buff shirtless Amell, a neighbour recommended it, it was available on demand and easy to catch up on missing episodes. The basic premise is that Oliver Queen, rich bad boy, returned to civilization after he was presumed dead after the boat he was in with his father and his girlfriend’s sister was lost at sea. He survived 5 years on an island before he was rescued and returned with a mission (rid his beloved Stirling City from corrupt elites) and awesome archery skills. I stuck with it, through 23 episodes but it was a struggle. The debut season finale was good, but not great. It was all too predictable and way too sombre for a goofy superhero premise. Which is a shame for the acting was reasonable and I enjoyed the island flashbacks. But that is not enough to sustain me through another season.

Merlin
OMG, a crap season finale to tie up a lackluster season of this show that wore out its welcome ages ago. I watched it because one of my daughters was interested; the things I do for love. To be avoided otherwise. What started out as a fun coming of age story, re-imagining Merlin and Arthur in Camelot as young men, got mired in repetitive, predictable, unimaginative plots with a complete waste of promising dragon. The finale just punctuated what a complete waste of time this series felt like.

Once Upon a Time
I bought this season 1 DVD set as a blind buy, hoping it would provide enjoyable family viewing. It didn’t. The kids enjoyed it. I found it predictable, with cheesy dialogue and a lack of focus. I really didn’t care what happened to these cursed fairy tale characters who were magically banished to the real world town of Storybrook. I won’t be checking out season 2 any time soon. The dialogue was awful and the acting dreadful.

Downton Abbey
I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but I don’t care enough to watch the next installment. I might just read the online synopses/reviews or ask a friend to give me the lowdown. The plots are far too soapy for me.

Dexter
I never finished watching season 7. I am never gonna watch season 8. I will admit to skimming the synopses on EW.com and the reviews on the http://www.avclub.com. They are dreadful. That is all I need to know.

Being Human (US)
I recorded season 3, but never watched it. I am not sure if I ever will. More compelling stuff got in the way.

True Blood
I watched the season 6 opener a couple of months ago and really didn’t care. The remaining episodes have been recorded but I can’t be bothered right now. My husband is watching them while he runs on the treadmill. His comments have not compelled me to keep up. The A.V. Club reviewers have been giving it a dreadful write-up. I think I am done with this show; good riddance.

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