Thursday, August 25, 2011

Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 2)

As promised, here's Part 2. Missed Part 1? No problemo.
Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 1)

This edition covers shows having ended after January 1st, when my last recap took us up until, through early June 2011.

(Season 2, FX)
Damn. As much as I loved the first season, Justified took itself to another level in 2011. Raylan Givens is still an uber bad-ass, and continues to take unconventional approaches in administering the law. This year's big bad was played by longtime character actress Margo Martindale who was simply brilliant as the ruthless matriarch of the backwoods Bennett clan. (Normally I'm not an advocate for such things, but if she doesn't win the Supporting Actress Emmy she's been nominated for, I'd be impressed to see who outdid her onscreen.) And thankfully last year's lead villain didn't leave us either, as Boyd is still causing problems in Harlan County through his good intentions and old habits. In addition to all the great tough-guy moments that are never in short supply on the show, this year the emotional tones took a giant leap forward, as Raylan had a seemingly constant barrage of tough decisions and intense hardships presented before him throughout the season. In my mind, Justified is one of the elite shows on television today and has the potential to get even better in subsequent seasons.

The Killing
(Season 1, AMC)
The most disappointing series of the year? Pretty much; I can't think of another. Which is such a shame because although the first three episodes failed to explain much more of what happened to Rosie Larson than the rest of season ended up revealing, there was a delicious mystery teased in such a fascinating manner that I was completely drawn in then. And given AMC's track record, I was guilty of assuming that we'd get answers by the end like Rubicon gave us. Not so. Which is why it's so curious that The Killing will actually be back for season 2. As lame as the first season ended up being, there was enough groundwork laid that another 13 episodes could fix the those missteps. I plan on giving it a chance to right the ship. I don't know if many more of the original audience be joining me though.

Lights Out
(Season 1, FX)
A modern boxing drama that initially played into many of the genre's tropes we've seen in various movies over the years, but later revealed some well-plotted storylines that were expertly executed onscreen. At times, this was a freaking great show. Unfortunately, it never gathered up much of an audience and had some missteps as the season went along before FX finally KO'd it. (This just in: I'm hilarious.) The season has an amazing ending, one of the boldest of the year. Amazingly it was written and shot before they knew if they were renewed or not. How they would have gone forward after that would really have been something to see unfold. It worked wonderfully as a series finale, but probably would have been my favorite season finale had a second season been ordered. Lights Out joins both Terriers and Rubicon as the new shows I wish had made it this year; it belongs in third place on that list. Even though it was cancelled and had some consistency problems, I still feel it's worth watching down the road.

Modern Family
(Season 2, ABC)
A good first season was followed up by a good second season. I'm a little disappointed it wasn't better than the first season, but I guess not everything can be Community. The achievement this year was rounding out young Luke into an actual character instead of the dumb kid who ran into the sliding glass door. Now he's basically a mini version of his dad. Everyone else was pretty much the same as they were the year before with some slight tweaks. I think the level where the show is at now is where we can expect it to remain for awhile -- good laughs each week, but nothing that's gonna blow your mind.

Mr. Sunshine
(Season 1, ABC)
This mid-season replacement comedy was cancelled after its only season, which wasn't much of a surprise. Matthew Perry ran the Sunshine Center, an arena that housed sporting events, concerts and other special events that are brought in to arenas. He's the least quirky employee in the place. Allison Janney (The West Wing) was surprisingly funny as his crazy boss, but otherwise there wasn't much interesting going on.
Sigh. I can't even make this show sound interesting when I'm trying. Whatever. Next review...

The Office
(Season 7, NBC)
So. No more Steve Carell. He was great as Michael Scott, but his departure is probably a good thing for the show's chances at continued longevity, as the recent seasons have been treading water at best. To its credit, the show bounced back a little this season, especially with Michael's own action movie, Threat Level Midnight; it reminded me how good this show was at one time. Hopefully James Spader can give the show a much-needed shot in the arm. But I don't think anyone can blame him if The Office finally closes next spring.

(Season 2, NBC)
Hmm. I'm having trouble remembering what actually happened during this season. I think the show coasts on the likeability of the actors from their previous projects as opposed to the audience being drawn in by the current quality of the show. It's starting to tip ever-so-slightly to the heavy drama plots with each additional episode, as I feared it would. Still highly watchable, but it has proven that it's not essential viewing at this stage, and isn't particularly memorable either.

Parks & Recreation
(Season 3, NBC)
Hard to believe a show that stumbled so greatly when it first premiered would be able to pull off the its own complex meme of Lil' Sebastian to perfection. Out of all the fake-documentary shows airing now, this is the best one. (Btw, how much footage do these assholes need? Or is it just Mr. Brainwash behind the lens?) I think it's the relationships that really glues this show together. Leslie & Ben. Andy & April. Tom & Jean-Ralphio. Ron Swanson & red meat. It took its time getting there, but Parks & Rec has become worthy of inclusion in the best-comedies-on-television discussion.

(Season 1, Showtime)
This is the American version of an apparently very successful British show (there have been 8 seasons and counting) about the Gallaghers, a low-income family in west side of Chicago. Well, maybe "low-income" is too generous; these six kids and their deadbeat dad (the great William H. Macy) are basically a no-income family, doing every oddjob and pulling as many scams as they can to get by. That probably sounds too depressing to start watching. But know that Shameless doesn't take the route of over-examining the socioeconomic struggles of these hopelessly downtrodden people. If anything, there are more moments of pure joy on display than the woe-is-me attitude they easily could've gone with (even when they are engaging in morally bankrupt acts, like stealing food out from the back of delivery truck). And that happens because these kids are smart (literally brilliant in one case) and ultimately they just want to be kids and have some fun. Meanwhile, Macy plays Frank Gallagher as more than just the drunken, deadbeat father he is -- he repeatedly has clownish moments and sometimes even Shakespearean-esque soliloquies. There's really nothing else like this on American TV right now.

(Season 10, CW)
After 10 years, there's no more weekly adventures featuring Clark Kent. Sad. I'll miss it and there doesn't seem to be a cheesy replacement of good constantly triumphing over evil these days. Too bad. (Edit: Mike tells me SyFy's Alphas is a contender.) Curiously, Smallville became a better show the more they allowed themselves to play in the sandbox of DC Comics, which is funny considering how much they avoided it in the early years. By now, if you're not a fan, you're probably not going to watch it. I don't know that the early seasons would still hold up now anyhow. But it worked wonderfully at the end. To see Clark Kent finally become It was awesome. I didn't expect it, but I actually shed a few tears during the final sequence. I guess when a show pulls off pretty much the perfect ending, it'll do that to you.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
(Season 3, Cartoon Network)
To give you a sense of how much better this show has gotten since that, well, unfortunate theatrical release in 2008, I actually look forward to watching The Clone Wars when it airs each week. Even the Padme and (amazingly) the Jar-Jar episodes are tolerable. A few years ago, I was a big fan of a couple of the expanded universe comics written by John Ostrander that Dark Horse was putting out. While the show hasn't quite gotten to the quality achieved there, it's clear the creators of this show are paying more attention to the good stuff from those expanded universe tales than they are to the drab prequel films. Quinlan Vos even showed up for an episode, albeit with a surfer-dude voice. But after my initial disappointment in that decision wore off, I realized at the end of the day this is a kids show. Basically the lesson here is Star Wars continues to be great the further away from the hands of George Lucas it gets, which is good news for the long-rumored live-action show I've been reading about for so many years.

(Season 6, CW)
For some reason I was under the impression that this would be the last year for Winchester boys to kill all sorts of evil monsters, and it actually held up as swan song season for the most part. But after getting solid ratings yet again (by CW standards), we're going to get another one. The past three seasons have built on the show's Christian mythology, which is a lot more interesting to me than chasing after vampires, ghosts and yellow-eyed deamons every week. Now their challenge is to make Sam wholly likeable again, but that shouldn't be too difficult as long as they don't suddenly abandon the show's formula.

Underbelly Files
(Made-For-TV Movies, Nine Network)
These three, mainly self-contained stories have only passing connections to the first three seasons of Underbelly. But that's all they need to have because, overall, they're still interesting little crime stories in Australia's extensive criminal past. Tell Them Lucifer Was Here details the long search for the killers of two police officers who were gunned down while in the line of duty. It's the weakest of the bunch, but has the strongest connection to the main series, featuring one of the great villains of season 1. Next was Infiltration, where one detective spent many months on a deep undercover mission trying to expose the dirty deeds of a branch of the Calabrian mafia. Next there was The Man Who Got Away, about a brilliant criminal who has a penchant for escaping prisons and eluding the police at nearly every turn. Probably because I enjoy when the bad guys win more than I should, The Man Who Got Away was my favorite of the three. The better news, however, is that season 4, this time called Underbelly: Razor just started up this past week. Look for a report on that in the end of 2011 recap.
Tell Them Lucifer Was Here:  C
Infiltration:  B
The Man Who Got Away:  B+
Since I took such a long time to write these last two entries, you'll only have to wait another few weeks until I'll be posting my reviews of the shows from Summer, which will include Falling Skies, The Hour, Louie and Game of Thrones.

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