Friday, January 28, 2011

Evaluating TV's Fall 2010 Semester (...Finally)

I'm back with another breakdown of recently ended television shows, this time delayed roughly a month more than I had originally planned, and I apologize for that if you were waiting.
This slew of shows from the fall is almost exclusively comprised from AMC, HBO and FX, which are easily my favorite three networks. However, this is a bit of a mirage, as the big four networks broadcast their programming differently, and most of their shows will wrap up in the the late spring.
This edition covers shows having ended after September 16th, when my last recap was published, through December 31st, 2010.
Boardwalk Empire
(Season 1, HBO)
When you hear Marty Scorsese directs the pilot of a new gangster show on HBO, you expect it to be good. And, unlike Treme, the other highly anticipated HBO show that debuted this year, Boardwalk didn't disappoint. That pilot was extraordinary, featuring great performances, writing and direction, as well as superb set and costume design. It looked more impressive than most big-screen period pieces do. That says a lot about how far television programming has come, as I doubt anyone would've been able to say that even five years ago. As fantastic as that Scorsese-directed episode was, the rest of the series never slowed down a bit in subsequent weeks. More often than not, blood, bullets and fisticuffs exploded onscreen with Great Depression-era culture and dilemmas. I felt the "slow" sections of Boardwalk were included more as a chance to let the audience catch their breath as oppossed to there being a lack of ideas in the writing room. Season 1 ended with a bit of a wimper in comparrison to the other events the series displayed thus far, but also showed promise of grander plots to come next year during the final minutes.  A-

Bored To Death
(Season 2, HBO)
This show is simply a lot of fun. Jason Schartzman is a good straight man in all the hijinx his cases get him into. Ted Danson's aging, rich playboy facing cancer and Zach Galifianakis' brokenhearted comic artist trying to find happiness were infinitely more interesting this time around than they were in season 1. As a trio, they kill almost every situation they're in together.  B

(Season 1.5, SyFy)
The second half of the first season of Caprica was a welcome surprise. After underwhelming me and much of the Battlestar Galactica fanbase with the first wave of episodes, the new batch accomplished much of what I had expected early on. Season 1.5 no longer feared to associate itself with the BSG brand, exemplified by diving deeper into Tauron culture and making direct (albeit sometimes misleading) links to its predecessor. Wallowing in sorrow took up too much time in early episodes and turned off too many people, and unfortunately, the spinoff never recovered from it. At this point, it may not be worth it for disgruntled BSG fans to take a second look, but I was very impressed on where they took the show in those final few episodes.  B+

(Season 5, Showtime)
I am not a big Dexter fan, which I've discussed previously on the site. However, this may have been its strongest season yet. After an excruciatingly slow start, season 5 finished in explosive fashion. Each season the show finds a way to come up with a more interesting villain than the year before, and Johnny Lee Miller rose to the occasion this time. However, Julia Styles was the great strength this time out, as her portrayal of victim-turned-vindicator Lumin gave the show a spark it had never seen before. And I was happy to find that I didn't miss Julie Benz much at all. There's really no telling what's in store for the next season of Dexter, but I won't be surprised if it wins me over a little more than previous seasons have.  B
After the jump, I'll recap nine more shows that finished up their most reason season by the end of 2010, including Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

Eastbound & Down
(Season 2, HBO)
Have to give Eastbound credit -- I didn't see the show dropping virtually all we came to love in season 1 save for Kenny Powers and his overeager sidekick Stevie and start from scratch in season 2. Now set in Mexico, the verbally abusive and wholly ignorant Powers fired his fastballs almost as often as his mouth as he tried to reclaim his former glory on the pitching mound. There is nothing redeeming about this show. It's crude, racist, sexist, misogynistic and inappropriate. Which is also why I enjoy it. For all his bravado as Kenny Powers, Danny McBride plays him as a fool who rarely wins. And if he does get a glimpse of success, it's always short-lived. It looks like season 3 will be a return to the States, but I suspect little else will be different.  B

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
(Season 6, FX)
At this point, all of you who have seen Always Sunny know what to expect. This show is about five of the worst people imaginable -- void of ethics, common sense and shame -- and the bizarre corner of Philadelphia they inhabit. On the one hand, nothing new was offered to us. Since Danny DeVito joined the cast at the outset of season 2, precious little on the show has significantly evolved whatsoever. However, the formula works, and few other comedies are in its class or better right now.  B-

The League
(Season 2, FX)
The League improved upon a strong, although inconsistent first season to offer a nice compliment to Always Sunny. The show follows a group of high school friends, now in their late 20s or early 30s, who base too much of their lives together within a fantasy football league. It helps if you follow the NFL even causally, but it's certainly not necessary. The highlights of the show come not from football, but from classic guy humor, particularly the kind only the best of friends attack each other with. I'm not sure if they were made up specifically for the show, but memorable scenarios such as Eskimo brothers and fear boners have made it into my lexicon. However, the show isn't enjoyable just for guys. I actually know more women who watch it than I do men.  B

Lone Star
(Season 1, Fox)
It only got the chance to air two episodes before being axed, but the long-con drama showed promise in that short time. Plot: a young conman leading a double life, complete with two relationships and two separate swindles, begins to come to terms with his regrets and struggles regarding both situations, and develops an intricate plan to legitimize both cons. Implausible? Sure, but I was willing to stick around to see if he got there for a few more weeks before moving on to better shows. Why a show like this fails to catch on out of the gate and drivel like The Event gets picked up, I will never understand.  C+

Mad Men
(Season 4, AMC)
Another stellar season from the always excellent Mad Men. In it's fourth year, the show examined lowest points of multiple characters, none moreso than Don Draper, as our favorite ad agency struck out on it's own in a new business endeavor following the series-altering events of season 3. Don't worry, there's still plenty of drinking, smoking, bad-mothering, racism, sexism and skinny ties to go around. We're introduced to a litany of ladies vying for the heart of Mr. Draper (a great guessing game over the course of the season as to who he'll end up with), Lane's father, Peggy's lesbian friend, suave Glen, new bitch-faces from Pete, Roger begging, and Joan riding a bus. Not to mention an astronaut. Season 5 can't arrive soon enough.  A

(Season 1, AMC)
I admit, this is not a show for everyone, which is why ratings were low and it was subsequently put to pasture by AMC after only one season. Rubicon is a story of a team of data analysts working for a government think-tank, who make recommendations on what threats may be coming the way of the United States. It's a mystery that took it's time unraveling (answers do come eventually, I promise), and never apologized for it. If you like clandestine tales in the vein of Three Days of the Condor and The Conversation more than the Bond movies, Rubicon is well worth taking a look at, even in light of its cancellation.  A-

Sons of Anarchy
(Season 3, FX)
While it failed to equal the excellence of season 2, this biker gang action/drama is still a great watch each week. The trouble with this year stemmed from the super-depressing and long-drawn-out Abel plotline. The trip to Ireland was a nice change-of-pace situation for the motorcycle club, however. And despite my complaints over the Abel story as a whole, their misleading initial resolution had me fooled entirely, which pleased me greatly. The show might be about dudes on bikes shooting other dudes on bikes between engaging in various illegal activities, but it also has a lot of heart and allows almost all of the characters to be people. Its dysfunctional, but SAMCRO is undoubtedly a family I love watching.  A-

(Season 1, FX)
This scrappy PI duo was the very definition of television bliss. Rarely does a show steadily improve over the course of 13 episodes the way Terriers did. The first three or so installments were nice, well-constructed hour-longs. You'd chuckle at the banter between Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, and be pleasantly surprised that the plotlines weren't too obvious as they proceeded to solve that week's case. But there was a little something bubbling up underneath these two men and their predicaments. Then around the end of end of that fourth episode, you realized these mofos just Veronica Mars-ed your ass. You had NO idea that was going down, and from then on out, they never stopped hittin' the pleasure buttons as you fell harder for every character on the show with each passing week.
But I'm one of the few who watched it, and now it's gone. I haven't been this disappointed in a show's cancellation since... well, Veronica Mars. Have no fear, however, new viewers. While Terriers only lasted one season, it at least ends in a way you can still go on with your life, as there is no insane cliffhanger and the majority of the key storylines are resolved in a satisfactory way during that last hour.  A+

The Walking Dead
(Season 1, AMC)
In just six episodes, The Walking Dead proved to be worth all the hype surrounding it. The zombie-apocalypse thriller broke cable TV ratings records (which have quickly been broken by recent airings of MTV's Jersey Shore, but I digress), and has been greenlit for a second season. The strength of this zombie tales lies in it's exploration of the survivors and how they deal with each other as much as their new surroundings, rather than just splattering brains all over the place. Fortunately, they still make some time for that too. Mike C. has long been a vocal supporter of the comic series, and it is still publishing monthly with no end in sight. Based on that, we have a long, engrossing trip ahead of us with this one.  A-
I'll be checking back with another column like this in a few months with what will probably be some more great television, including the return of Justified, the conclusion of Friday Night Lights and the departure of Steve Carell from The Office.

No comments: