Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: the tv season thus far

This is going to be a little odd, but this review was inspired by... well, the fact that we have such bloody good television on right now. And I mean surprisingly good, with strong writing, tight plots, deep universes, and intelligent character moments that jump up and bite you.

Walk with me through my television viewing.

Arrow: Where can I start with this show? The writing is great on the character level, the episode level, the season level and the series level (they obviously have a plan here, and it shows).  I started out thinking that this was going to be incredibly weak.  I mean, Oliver Queen? The comic book version was the uber-Leftist twin of Batman who dressed like he was rejected from a Robin Hood remake. The television show, on the other hand ... yikes, what don't they do? This season (#2) has, so far, given every supporting character and guest star some great moments, from flashes of intellect, deductive reasoning and sheer bad-assery (that's a word, really); we've also had appearances by Solomon Grundy, the rise of Deathstroke and Barry Allen, and Ra's al-Ghul has managed to deeply effect the show just by the mention of his name. There is very much a DC universe out there, and it's all out to get Oliver Queen.

And then there's....[more below the break]

Agents of SHIELD: The only weak link in the chain.  You can read my longer review of this show, but it boiled down to "cautiously optimistic." Almost nothing has changed since my initial review, except for some character story lines that are a little strange, and one really strong story that "tied in" to Thor: The Dark World by cleaning up the film's aftermath, then coincidentally handling an Asgardian threat that pops up at the exact same time while also having nothing whatsoever to do with the events of the actual film.

And then, because apparently someone decided that this needed sexing up, someone wrote a love affair between the young hotshot spy (played by Brett Dalton) and the Veteran operative (Ming-Na Wen). It wouldn't bother me as much if it was more like a May-October romance instead of a March-November one (he is 28, she is 50). Now, I don't necessarily have a problem with dating someone older. I'm currrently seeing someone who's 11 years older than I am. A 22 year age difference, though, is when I have issues. (When the actress was first on ER in 1993, he was 7 years old).

As for the rest of the deep, character-rich Marvelverse .... actually, it's starting to piss me off with how little there is of the Marvel universe. I want to know how much this has to do with Jeph Loeb being the same silly screw up he was on Heroes, and how much this is Marvel studios insisting on holding back comic characters for ... wait for it ... NetFlix! After the awesomeness that is Arrow, AoS is pissing me off with it's cliche` characters, its weak overall story arc, the cheap and obvious attempt to insert romantic tension, and its inability to incorporate the Marvelverse. Joss Whedon's name has been slapped on this as a selling point, but it's obvious he's not involved in any of the writing, the characters, or anything about AoS, really.

Note to Marvel: Agent Coulson does NOT hold a tv show together all by himself.

Almost Human. This was a straight-up surprise.  The "cop with cyborg partner" has been done on tv before, but this one is surprisingly well thought-out.  There may be an overall plot, but they're not pushing it, and they've managed to make some interesting "new" crimes with science fiction spins to them. Selling organs on the black market? How about mechanical hearts that have been taken from corpses, resold, and rigged to shut off if extortion payments aren't met? It has been a delightful surprise, with a lot of innovative little things that are constantly scattered through the entire series. The little things impress me, mainly because it shows that they're putting an effort in making the details.

As Michelangelo once said, trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.

I'm also waiting for Karl Urban to say, "Damnit Jim, I'm a cop, not a physician," but that may never happen.

The Black List: This boils down to James Spader playing Hannibal Lecter.  Seriously, it's James Spader as a master criminal middle man who has decided, for reasons of his own, to start helping the FBI go after the bad guys who are so good at their jobs that no one has ever heard of them. And, let's face it, James Spader has never needed to act in his life.  As for the Lecter part... come on, Spader comes with his own glass box here.  It's fun watching James Spader now that he's no longer working with David E. Kelley. The overarching plot is a essentially a sort of mystery that the audience gets to work through as we go along.

Blue Bloods.  This one strikes my fancy because it's a very New York show.  Centered around three generations of a cop family, you have a good strong New York vibe here.  Granted, some of the issues addressed are ripped from the headlines, and they're addressed in some interesting and inventive ways. It's a police procedural, but it's centered around family.  And, strangely, this has gotten to be a better show as the series stops using season-long story arcs, which I find surprising.

Castle: A New York cop show with witty banter, smart writing and even a romance subplot that continues even into the engagement stage?  Oh, hell yes. I can't remember the last time I saw a tv show even try to follow a relationship this deeply. Nathan Fillion is playing (mostly) Nathan Fillion ... though there are times when he or his are threatened, and he becomes dark and angry, and channeling his inner Mal Renolds.  Then there's his co-star, Stana Katic, who is the only woman I've ever seen act with micro-expressions.  It's one of the few shows I've watched in reruns, and I'm still catching things I've missed.

At the end of the day, I think the romance story arc is one of the more impressive things about this show. While most shows decide it's time to end the series when the main characters get together, Castle has decided to just keep going with it into the engagement stage, including getting drama out of relationship problems that frequently come up.  And the secondary cast has been loaded with strong character moments, sometimes devoting whole episodes to the "sidekicks," allowing characters to show different sides of themselves.

Dracula: If AoS is the weak link in this chain, this show was almost dead on arrival.  Too much gratuitous sex, way too much soap opera, almost no action to speak of, this show had three or four episodes before I fully gave up on it. If you look at the show Revenge, which is The Count of Monte Cristo in the Hamptons of the 21st century, you can see everything that Dracula has ripped off: a revenge plotline, the take-down of the week, odd interpersonal relationships, a snarky sidekick.  However, unlike Revenge, Dracula has no charm, an angsty, broody character with no sense of humor, and no one is having fun here.

Dracula was so bloodless, I thought I was watching Twilight.

Grimm. The premise looks like a cross between the comic book Fables and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A "Grimm" in this case hunts down fairy tale monsters, only these creatures are called Wesen, and they have a surface appearance of standard human. Basically, imagine if Buffy had her powers kick in after she had been promoted to homicide detective. For a series that started at the same season as Once Upon A Time (which is just a rip off of Fables), I didn't expect much from this show.  However, it's only gotten better and better as the show has gone on, with strong character back stories, universe design, and great pacing.  It has romance -- with two strangely adorable couples -- and nothing is easy. Someone new trips over the universe of weird? It take at least four episodes to get completely adjusted. Couple meets and falls in love? It takes a year to move forward.  There is a deep and rich universe in here, and they have no problem with taking their time to explore it deeply.

NCIS / NCIS: LA: In the case of both shows, while their police procedural aspect has remained strong, I actually think I like what they've been doing with their characters.  NCIS as a new element that's fun to watch, and NCIS: LA has decided that their "stars" (Chris O'Donnell?  LL Cool J?) are not the primary focus, and has made it much more of an ensemble cast, introducing two series-long romantic subplots and character arcs.  They've got some interesting tricks up their sleeves, and they're having fun playing with the formulas they've used since day one.

The Mentalist: If Sherlock Holmes was raised as a carney, he would be Patrick Jane, the protagonist of this show.  Having joined the ranks of homicide solving cops in order to hunt down the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter, Patrick Jane made a living as a successful consulting detective.

This season, Jane found the killer, known as Red John, and then ran away from his life. While this would normally be the end of any show, Jane (played by Simon Baker) carries this show with wit and charm, and finesse.  He's a likeable sort, and fun to watch.And let's just say that he allowed us to sympathize with the killer as he's slowly choking the life out of someone....

No, Red John did not get a trial. And I'm fine with it.

Person of Interest:  This one in an interesting show, not just for the premise, but for the people involved. The idea is simple: every bit of intelligence gathered by the US government is filtered through an artificial intelligence that can predict acts of terror, murder, any major crime planned in advance. However, in order to protect the privacy of the population, all domestic crimes are ignored. If you ain't a terrorist, the computer isn't supposed to care. Our heroes have a back door, and they only have one clue: a social security number of either the victim or the perpetrator.  Take one computer nerd, and a SpecOps shooter who should be playing Batman, and you have one fun show. In its third season, much of the character arcs thus far have been shown in flashbacks, to show you how these people used to be.  In this case, that works, because most of the characters are in their late 30s and early 40s, so it makes sense that they were people before we met them.  Now that we've seen who they were, and how they've become who they are, now we get to see how they continue to evolve. Now, major characters are finally allowed to have character development in the present. Though they've recently killed off one of the major players, it's been used to great effect for various and sundry character moments, sometimes from the most surprising cases.

This one is actually one of John Ringo's favorite tv shows. As he put it, the characters are spot on, and he can't see some of these plots coming.

And Jim Caviezel is already playing Batman on this show, why did they get Ben Afleck?

Notice that the first word
in bold is CRAZY.
Sleepy Hollow. This one might just be considered a guilty pleasure. If Ichabod Crane was a British spy who changes sides and joined the American revolution, who "died" while beheading a Hessian mercenary, then brought back in the modern day to fight the same mercenary (still without his head) .... it's interesting. And you can tell that most of the scenes with the headless horseman (who, in this version, is Death, horseman of the apocalypse) have been inspired by the firefight in the police station from The Terminator....

You can understand why more than one review has described this show as jumping on the crazy train and refusing to let go. Despite everything I've just written, the series is surprisingly coherent. It's witty, it's stylish, and, sadly, despite the heavy fantasy elements, it has enough facts about the American revolution to make it qualify as educational. I've got some issues with our heroes being the two witnesses from the book of Revelations (Really? Didn't Dexter do that in season 6?), and let's not even go into the "good witches" concept they have floating around, but I've let it go and jumped aboard the crazy train myself.

Revenge (2011)Revenge: mentioned above, Revenge is a delightfully evil little show.

Once upon a time, a man was framed for blowing up an airplane, leaving his little girl orphaned and alone. And then she grew up, inherited a boatload of money from owning half the founding stock of Apple, and started destroying everyone involved in the frame up, one at a time.  There will be payback, and we will have fun along the way.  It's one of the more intelligent revenge plots I've seen since The Count of Monte Cristo, only these plans don't go as smoothly as Edmond Dantes' did.

This is another show where the secondary characters have development, and usually along lines that defy the cliche`. At the end of the day, this feels like a spy drama disguised as a soap opera.

There are some other great shows out there, of course. CSI (ok), Criminal Minds (still pretty good), Elementary (good, maybe not great), Hawaii 5-0 (just plan fun),  but they haven't really jumped out at me from their usual awesome performances.

It's going to be an interesting season.


  1. Some interesting reviews. I love Castle and my mom does as well so it's something we can enjoy together unlike, say, The Walking Dead. I've thought of watching Almost Human, tried Agents of SHIELD and didn't much care for it. I might have tried 'Revenge' except the network has bombarded me with so many promos for it during the course of General Hospital that it turned me off the show permanently.

  2. Jim Caviezel as Batman...I would be in heaven.

  3. Getting into Grimm now. Liking it.

    I admit to being pretty impressed with once upon a time when I binged it on Netflix. I like to call it "lost: fixed" and it really is.


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