The Past Month on TV #7

Oh sure, some people can run and jump and swim and stuff really, really well — but can they sit on the sofa and watch TV as well as me, hm?

The Americans (Season 4)
The AmericansAs much as I love Game of Thrones, and think season six’s final two instalments were some of the best TV episodes of this or any other year, I think the people who say The Americans is currently the best drama on TV may well be right. Even the Emmys have got on board, giving it some long-overdue nods in big categories.

I’m not sure season four contains a single hour I can point at to say “here is where it beats Thrones”, but then that exemplifies The Americans: it’s all about how things build over time; the eventual consequences of long-term events, and the consequences of those consequences, and the consequences of… you get the idea. That was how I first got into the show: watching the first season, I thought it was good, an entertaining spy thriller, watchable enough. It was only after the finale that I realised how great it had all been and that I actually loved it. Season two is even more of a case of this: at times it feels like the show has lost its way, and then the finale comes along and shows you the endgame and suddenly the whole year makes sense. And seasons three and four have only upped the ante from there.

This season really nails all the things the show does best. The central espionage storyline about chemical weapons could be a painfully obvious metaphor for the whole premise of the show, but that element isn’t overplayed. Themes of home and family, and the ever-present issues of loyalty, are examined from every angle and in every storyline. There are huge (huge) twists and changes to the series’ status quo, which is a bold move in a fourth season when there are two still to go — to leave behind characters and storylines that have helped fuel the series for so long, when there’s an endgame in sight (and it’s not that close) is kinda bold. And the season finale is a real kicker, with powerful performances and drama, and an ending which is strikingly unresolved… though, at the same time, if the show had been cancelled it’d be pretty resolved (that’s a bizarre, Schrödinger-y thing unto itself).

With the end now in sight, I don’t have the foggiest how the creators are going to choose to wrap things up (in two years and 23 episodes’ time), which is exciting in itself — how many shows genuinely feel like they could go for any option from a number of different endings, assuming they even get to end on their own terms in the first place?

Speaking of which…

Person of Interest (Season 5 Episodes 5-13)
Person of InterestWatching this, it’s difficult to imagine anyone involved really believed they would get a sixth season — which is good, because (a) they stood very little chance, and (b) that means it wraps everything up to a nice, proper ending. My feelings on Jonah “brother of Christopher” Nolan’s cyber-thriller have oscillated over the years, and I’m a long way from agreeing with those who assert it’s actually one of the best sci-fi series ever; but for a show that started out as a fairly standard CBS procedural thriller, it did ultimately manage to play with and work around the network’s expectations to produce something superior. It’s a shame they clearly had to rush the final arc (marred further by having to hit a quota of ‘case of the week’ episodes, for some reason), but it still got to a good place. If you’ve not watched it but are interested, consider finding one of those “episodes you should definitely watch” guides (like this one) rather than committing to all 103 filler-riddled instalments.

Preacher (Season 1 Episodes 6-10)
PreacherIn the end, this turned out to be less of a TV prequel to the comic book series than an expanded and rejigged adaptation of the comic’s opening four-issue story arc (with some stuff from later thrown in for added fuel). As Seth Rogen explained on the post-finale chat show Talking Preacher, the books throw an awful lot of quite comic-book-y ideas at you very quickly, and TV viewers maybe needed a little longer to digest all of that. Plus extra space to develop and examine the characters, of course. It’ll be interesting to see how future seasons handle the issue of adaptation. By the end of season one, the characters are in a place to launch into something closer to the rest of the comic; but, at the same time, budget issues have already forced some reimagining, so what else will it be forced to compromise or reinvent? I think the bold, fearless barminess of the TV series has earned it the right to our attention, whether it goes further off piste or hews closer still to its roots.

Also watched…
  • Cowboy Bebop Episodes 19-20 — slowly slowly reachy movie
  • Friday Night Dinner Series 4 Episodes 1-3 — an underrated gem of British comedy. Each episode is a perfectly-crafted little farce performed by a stellar cast.
  • Gilmore Girls Season 7 Episodes 21-22 — after a mostly lacklustre season, it wasn’t a bad finale all told. Still, November’s revival will hopefully be even better.
  • Miranda Series 1 Episode 1-Series 3 Episode 2 — starting (and almost finishing) a completeroni what I call re-watch. Such fun!
  • The Musketeers Series 2 Episodes 1-3 — if you like swashbuckling drama (and I do), this is a real gem. Shame on me for being so tardy about keeping up with it.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Max WhitlockThis month, I have mostly been missing… not that much, really. With the Olympics dominating the good TV channels and much of US drama on its summer hols, there doesn’t seem to have been much on. I haven’t gone crazy for Rio 2016 like I did for London 2012 (much to my surprise at the time, that was), though we’ve caught bits and pieces, not least Max Whitlock’s double gold (along with 10.4 million other people) and Andy Murray’s gruelling final. The drama of the next few days, when we’ll see if Britain can become the first host country ever to increase its tally at the next summer games, is sure to hold my attention.

    Next month… with its spin-off on the horizon, I’m finally getting round to 24: Live Another Day. Also, Bake Off’s back! Who doesn’t love Bake Off?

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  • The Past Month on TV #6

    The other half’s love of tennis preempted a fair bit of TV watching this past month — but with an incredible Game of Thrones finale, and some stuff we’ve had time for since Wimbledon ended, there’s still plenty to talk about.

    Game of Thrones (Season 6 Episodes 9-10)
    Game of Thrones - Battle of the BastardsGoT produced two of its greatest-ever episodes to conclude this season. Actually, that’s arguably an understatement: based on IMDb votes, if nothing else, Thrones produced two of the best episodes of TV ever made. But what do IMDb voters know? Well, more than some people give them credit for. Obviously everyone has different tastes, but for the genres Thrones operates in — and, in some instances, even transcending those — these are incredible hours of TV. Episode 9, Battle of the Bastards, is surely one of the most thoroughly-realised medieval-style battles ever depicted on screen: the scale is epic, the strategy is clear, the feeling of what it’s like to be in the thick of that environment is palpable. How it turns out may have been predictable, but something being predictable is not the same as it being bad — not everything needs to be a twist.

    Then that finale, The Winds of Winter, was full of long-awaited decisions and reveals, and stunning for different reasons. Perhaps the biggest star across both episodes was director Miguel Sapochnik (who also helmed last year’s remarkable Hardhome) and the variety of directorial inventiveness he displayed — not only bringing all that realism to the aforementioned battle, but the classically-scored opening sequence/montage of the finale is incredible moviemaking. Presumably the only reason he’s not one of the directors for season seven is because he’s been tapped for bigger things.

    Game of Thrones - The Winds of WinterAs for the forthcoming seventh season, it’s pretty clear we’re now entering the show’s endgame — though we’re going to have to wait even longer for it, with the next season set to have a later-than-normal premiere and the final end not coming until the season after that. It’s going to be an excruciating wait, but if they can maintain the form displayed throughout season six, it’ll be worth it.

    Person of Interest (Season 5 Episodes 1-4)
    Person of Interest season 5This is done and dusted Stateside now, but goodness knows when Channel 5 will choose to ‘officially’ air it over here, so I’m just getting on with it. I used to despise most of PoI’s arc plots and often wished it would stick to being just a pretty cool vigilante procedural; but at this point, it’s so invested in the epic Super-AI vs. Super-AI sci-fi storyline that any attempts at case-of-the-week episodes feel like a waste of time — especially when this truncated season is fast approaching the show’s final end. I really hope it comes to a proper conclusion, because there’s too much going on here to let it end forever on a cliffhanger. (Obviously that answer’s now out there, but naturally I’m avoiding spoilers.)

    Preacher (Season 1 Episodes 4-5)
    PreacherI’m a bit behind on this at the minute (the latest episode was the eighth), but, as of the halfway point, it’s definitely settled into its own skin — or maybe it was always settled there, but it’s taken time for viewers (or this viewer) to get past the expectations brought as a reader of the comic books. It’s still far from being a literally faithful adaptation, carving out its own path from some of the comic’s building blocks, which makes it an odd and hard-to-judge work if you have read any of the original. Still, it’s an entertaining series, and people involved keep talking about this season being something of a prequel to what we saw in the comic, so maybe the already-commissioned season two will feel more recognisable.

    Also watched…
  • Cowboy Bebop Episodes 17-18 — as regular readers will know, I’m unconscionably bad at getting round to watching things, and here is a case in point: I started this anime series way back in 2013 and have been slowly making my way through it ever since. It’s really good, though.
  • Gilmore Girls Season 7 Episodes 15-20 — nearly done! I guess they heard the fan complaints by this point, because things definitely pick up towards the end.
  • Poldark Series 1 Episodes 5-8 — for a Sunday night BBC One drama, this is surprisingly, consistently glum — the heroes never seem to win. Still, looking forward to series two!

    Things to Catch Up On
    The Living and the DeadThis month, I have mostly been missing stuff I don’t even know I’m missing. By which I mean, I haven’t been paying enough attention to the TV schedules to know what I’ve missed. The BBC’s supernatural drama The Living and the Dead sounds kind of interesting; I know Mr Robot is back, not that I ever got round to season one; plus The Musketeers continues (though I hear it’s gone off the rails this season); and I keep hearing vaguely good things about Netflix’s new series, Stranger Things, like that it’s a cross between Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, or The Goonies mixed with The X Files… which just reminds me that I need to get round to seeing The Goonies someday.

    Next month… it’s about time to get started on season four of The Most Underrated Show On Television™, The Americans. So. Excited.

  • The Past Month on TV #2

    This month, another ragtag selection of programmes I’m not watching at the same speed as anybody else.

    The 88th Academy AwardsThe Oscars
    They feel so long ago already, don’t they? But no, the Oscars were just a couple of weeks back. I thought it was a pretty good show this year. Chris Rock ended up belabouring the race point a bit by the end, including a few gags that went very wrong, but his opening monologue was good, as were some of the skits on the way. That there were a few surprise winners also helped keep things ticking along nicely, though (without having seen it) I think Spotlight is already destined to be an obscure answer to “name a film that won Best Picture” within a couple of years.

    Person of Interest (Season 4 Episodes 1-3)
    Person of InterestI have very mixed feelings about Person of Interest, whose fourth season has only made it to UK TV in the past few weeks (the belated fifth starts in the US in May, they announced yesterday). When it works, it’s a good quality vigilante/procedural action show; but its array of arc plots are as unrewarding as they are never-ending, and are consequently unsatisfying to a fault (literally). However, now that I’m so deep into it, and with cancellation finally confirmed (the foreshortened and delayed fifth season will indeed be its last, as was also finally announced yesterday), I feel like I’m in ’til the bitter end. The makers just bloody better have had the notice to get a proper ending into that now-final episode…

    Ripper Street (Series 4 Episodes 5-6)
    Ripper StreetWhen Amazon picked up Ripper Street after the success of the third series, it was for a fourth and fifth season totalling 13 episodes. The show’s writers seem to have taken the double recommission to heart and crafted an arc plot to last throughout those two seasons, meaning this first half ends on a big surprise and with all sorts of things left up in the air. And now we have to wait. Still, it’ll be fascinating to see how there are six or seven more episodes left, considering the predicament they’ve put the characters in.

    Shetland (Series 3 Episodes 3-6)
    ShetlandI think I sounded a little more dismissive of Shetland than I’d intended in last month’s review. The remainder of the season stepped outside the programme’s usual wheelhouse, heading down to Glasgow and into the world of organised crime, which perhaps lost some of the series’ unique spark. However, it chose to tackle some very heavy issues in the last couple of episodes; the kind of thing that has too often been dumped into dramas as a plot twist without exploring the actual ramifications. Kudos to the writers for dealing with it intelligently and sympathetically, then, and to the cast — particularly Alison O’Donnell — for their incredible performances.

    The X Files (Season 10 Episodes 3-6)
    The X FilesThe quality of this revival has certainly been all over the place. I was wary of episode three, Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, because comedy always seems at odds with The X Files’ grand conspiracy storylines, but I thought it was hilarious and deserving of its acclaim as the best episode of the season. Home Again felt like solid standard X Files fodder, and Babylon was clearly trying to be zeitgeisty but perhaps wasn’t fully thought-through. As for the much-maligned finale, My Struggle II… well, it was a mess, and over-ambitious, and a stupid idea to end it on a cliffhanger when no one knew how well the revival would go down. Let’s hope Chris Carter is right that there’ll definitely be more.

    Also watched…
  • Dickensian Series 1 Episodes 13-20 — please BBC, can we have some more?
  • Elementary Season 4 Episodes 9-13 — you can adapt the wordplay mystery from A Study in Scarlet all you want, it still doesn’t make you actually similar to Sherlock Holmes.
  • The Flash Season 2 Episode 10 / Arrow Season 4 Episode 10 / DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 Episode 1 — I can’t be the only person who thinks of these like one show that’s on three times a week.
  • Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 11-Season 4 Episode 17 — 71 to go.
  • Grantchester Series 2 Episodes 1-2 — remember when I said I was going to watch fewer crime dramas? Because I didn’t, clearly.
  • The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story Season 1 Episode 2 — who thought this was going to be a comedy?

    Things to Catch Up On
    The Night ManagerThis month, I have mostly been missing The Night Manager. The critically-acclaimed ratings hit is, as you likely know, a spy thriller adapted from a John le Carré novel, which not only means it has pedigree, but that its star — Tumblr-beloved Marvel villain Tom Hiddleston — is now being tipped to take over as Bond. I wouldn’t know, I’ve not seen it yet.

    Next month… Daredevil season 2.