Sunday, April 05, 2015

[TV] Latest Toobage

Justified is doing fine in its final go 'round. I'll should write a retrospective once it's over. It had its uneven streaks over the years but it was a cut above. Not eternal art, but top quality TV and it will be forever iconic in pop culture, I strongly suspect. Assuming Raylan Givens survives the finale, I can easily see a follow-up movie or mini-series. Once again, TV outdoes movies -- this time at interpreting Elmore Leonard.

Mad Men is coming, and going, in the next couple of months. I've pretty much written its eulogy before. It is the last gasp of TVs heroic age. Little more needs to be said than that. It was not high-concept like the holy trinity (Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire) it was simply the finest sustained character study in the history of film and video arts.

I am cheered by Better Call Saul. Vince Gilligan is proving himself to be awfully talented once again. And frankly, from what I've seen Better Call Saul has potential to join The Pantheon. (The Pantheon is the holy trinity mentioned above + Mad Men and Breaking Bad.)

There are a number of TV critics who think The Americans is the best show on TV now. One in particular, Andy Greenwald at Grantland, declared season 2 the best TV show of 2014. I had to check it out to see what I was missing. Short summary: I disagree. It's a very good, well made show, but there are too many holes in its game. I really struggled with tone. On the one hand there is realistic Cold War intrigue, but on the other hand they will end up with action scenes where a 90-pound Keri Russell is kung-fuing two-hundred pound men into unconciousness. That pulls them from being a tense, semi-realistic thriller into Buffy-style fantasy. There was also the suggestion that the show was fascinating in the way it made you root for Russian spies over your own country. It didn't do that for me. I found myself hoping the protagonists got caught and strung up by their jubblies. For a while that's OK, but it's remarkable how exhausting it is to watch a show where the bad guys always seem to get away. I tried to binge season 2 and got about eight episodes in before I gave up. Good show, top quality production, you'll probably enjoy it, but not as great as you may have heard. Still, I may finish it one day.

My other binge, Silicon Valley, is turning out nicely. Terrific performances and pitch perfect satire. One of my get-off-my-lawns is how inane dorks like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have conditioned the public to think that satire is just half-witted snark that confirms your views and massages your ego. It's not. Silicon Valley is satire of the highest order. In all the years I have been blogging I have never mentioned the company I work for but it's a big progressive multinational in the information industry and you can bet your gold Apple Watch that I see a lot of the sorts of things being satirized in Silicon Valley every day. Great, sharp-eyed stuff. There are weak moments of broad farce, and a fair amount of empty raunch, but at its best it approaches a level of comedy unseen since Archer in its heydey.

I have been one of the dozen or so people who have been watching Episodes on Showtime. Since you probably never heard of it, it's a lightweight comedy about a married pair of English TV writers who try to recreate their hit show in America and have all sorts of misadventures with a zany cast of characters. The writing is standard fare, but there was usually a good guffaw in each episode, mostly due to the fine comic chops of the actors, including Matt LeBlanc playing a douchebag version of Matt LeBlanc. They only did 8 episodes a season and first couple of seasons were fine; the third not so much; and the just-finished fourth one was pretty sad. A good case study on what happens to a show when you run out of ideas. Time to let it go.

Lastly, the big rumor is that one of my favorite shows in history, X-Files, looks to be getting re-start order as a short stack (6-8 eps). David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are on board, which is good, Chris Carter is going to be the showrunner again, which is OK, and he'll also do all the writing, which is not so ok. He was responsible for every boring episode of the original series and the lame movies as well. Unless he can lure back Vince Gilligan, Glen Morgan, James Wong, and the divine Darin Morgan to do the heavy lifting, I do not have high hopes.

Can't return soon enough: Second seasons of Fargo, True Detective, and Silicon Valley, and the 5th of Game of Thrones, of course.