TV: GOT hits a new high; OITNB hitting its stride and a pretty good new show

Premiers:

Thirteen (BBC America)

Thirteen, a British mystery mini-series, premiered in the Orphan Black timeslot this week. The first episode finds a young woman named Ivy, escaping from a house. She says she was kidnapped 13 years age at age 13 (hence the title). In the interim, apparently there had been several imposters so at first the police are skeptical that she is who she says she is. After all the DNA swipes have taken place, the police interrogate her as if she is a criminal rather than the victim.

To the show’s credit, the DNA test is quickly analyzed and she is who she says she is. That leaves her and her family to deal with the fallout. Ivy’s childhood boyfriend comes to visit and hides the fact he is married even though she clearly thinks he has waited for her. Ivy’s sister struggles with having her older sister back functioning as a young girl. Ivy’s parents have long since split but her father moves back into the house to hide it from her.  Her kidnapper is on the loose and there is a connection between him and the headmaster of her elementary school.  The police are desperately trying to find the man who did this to her.

Thirteen at first glance succeeds at what the recent ABC show “The Family” tried to do but failed.   Many of the plot lines are the same (the separated parents reuniting, the sibling difficulties etc.) but Thirteen makes them more realistic and has better, subtler mysteries. I’m only one episode in but I think this is going to be the solid mystery that “The Family” couldn’t pull off.

Finales:

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Season 6 of Game of Thrones has been a bit uneven. There have been great episodes (Hodor and the Door) as well as some rather bizarre plot lines. I guess that is to be expected given that George R.R. Martin has not completed the book that the season is based on. The action episodes (which Martin has clearly conveyed to the show runners) are fine but the dialogue and character development seem to be off in several episodes. I have to believe it is because the show runners don’t have the written material to work with. I must admit, however, that not having the book knowledge this year made the season more enjoyable.

This was the year of the women with strong performances by Dany, Sansa (although her character does some very bizarre things), Yara Greyjoy, Cersei and Arya. There were certainly episodes that seemed to have an inordinate amount of filler but again, I think that it is because there wasn’t a book to provide the detail.  We also had the consummate episode 9 battle. This year’s was “Battle of the Bastards” and was fought between Jon Snow’s forces and those of Ramsey Bolton for control of Winterfell. The battle scenes themselves were a technical masterpiece – one of the best battles we have ever seen on television- but the plot around the action was very suspect. Lots of reviewers have written about this in depth so I’m not going to spend time on it other than to say only the writers understand why Sansa withheld  critical information from Jon and what the implications are for her character. Either Sansa is stupid or she is developing into a darker more power-hungry character than we are comfortable with given her history. For most of us, it just seems like an error on the part of the show runners but we’ll have to wait for next season to see how Sansa develops.

The finale was fantastic on all fronts – one of the best episodes in the history of the show (Spoiler Alert Ahead). We receive confirmation as to Jon’s parentage, which had been figured out by most fans. Our favorite ten-year-old ever, Lyanna Mormont, killed it as she shamed the rest of the Northern Houses into supporting Jon who is elected Warden of the North. Let’s get a spin-off with her as the lead character a.s.a.p. It is still unclear as to whether Sansa has her sights set on power nor how her bizarre relationship with Littlefinger is going to unfold.  We have to be very worried about Arya’s dark side after killing Walter Frye and for the remaining Stark, Bran. Is he going to go inside the tree? How will he get to Winterfell and will he tell John what he saw in his vision.   We understand more about the Wall based on Uncle Benji’s explanation, which hints at a major plot line with the White Walkers. Dany and Tyrion are a force to be reckoned with as she brings her fleet, dragons and Dothraki forces towards King’s Landing where Cersei is the new Queen on the Iron Throne – a job that doesn’t come with a long lifeline. The music, cinematography and pacing were all great in this episode and the many GOT fans are sinking into depression as we speak knowing it will likely be close to a year before we have new episodes and when we do, there will only be seven.

Summer Binging:

Orange is the New Black (Netflix) – Season 4

I binged through all 13 episodes of OITNB this week and although it was a bit uneven, the last few shows were extremely powerful. Season 1 was excellent and fairly comedic (even entered the Emmys in the Comedy category). Seasons 2 and 3 were all over the place and Season 3 in particular was not very good. Finally in Season 4, we have a show that seems to understand its place in the world and it is drama, not comedy. Prison isn’t a happy place and this season focuses on the darker side of the experience including the new and abusive guards, overcrowding and the many downsides of a privatized prison. The psychological impacts of abuse, rape and the constant struggle for survival within the prison walls are explored and as a result, we have the drama that this show was always meant to be.

This season also has freshness to it with perhaps the biggest cast in television. The Latinos have gained power and many characters we weren’t familiar have larger parts with intriguing backstories. We watch Pennsatucky struggle with her rape by a prison guard by continuing to have some sort of relationship with him. Although we cringe when we see her kiss him, we actually have some sympathy for a character that was season one’s most despised inmate. We get a lot of Lollie, her backstory and what impact Prison can have on the mentally ill.  By the time we get to the last few episodes, the tragedies are mounting until we have one of the saddest and most compelling deaths in TV this year. The aftermath of the death is devastating for all involved and finale cliffhanger may well take the show to a new place.

If you gave up on Orange last year, go back for Season 4. It is good.

 

SUMMER BINGING SCORE:

Great: 1 (UnREAL S1; Pride and Prejudice)

Good: 1 (OITNB S4)

OK: 0

Not Good: 1 (Bloodline S2)

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