And now my watch has ended: Game of Thrones

I have 10 years invested in reading the books and watching the TV show so it is with mixed emotions I bid farewell to the Weiss and Benioff  (W&B) version of a Song of Ice and Fire.  My overall assessment is that the show was at its best when it had the source material to rely on.  Once the show surpassed the books, it suffered.  For the most part, I don’t want to lay all the blame on W&B as they were left with a few bullet points to build a show around.  That was never the deal they signed on for.  When they first broached HBO and Martin with the idea to make GOT a series, no one anticipated that the last two books wouldn’t be written well before the corresponding show seasons.

Once it became clear that the books would not be finished, the show runners decided to send it on a more action oriented, less character driven path which culminated in a disappointing final season.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been some brilliant moments along the way.  Battle episodes like Hardhome, and Battle of the Bastards, both directed by Miguel Sapochnik were amazing.  The Long Night might have been if it had’t been too dark to see but there were some wonderful sequences including the Dothraki riding into the White Walkers as their torches are extinguished and the way the most violent periods of action were interspersed with quiet moments.  What suffered the most, however, was the storytelling.  We were shocked by Dany’s personality change and Tyrion’s claim that Bran was the most qualified to be King seemingly coming out of nowhere.  The storytelling (which Tyrion determined to be so important) fell apart in this final season.

I was so disappointed in the show this season (and particularly “The Bells”) that by the finale, I was emotionally enough removed to appreciate what happened as opposed to why it happened.  I had accepted this strange turn of events and waited to see how it played out.  It gave homage to both the Lord of the Rings as well as previous scenes in the HBO series.  I think they pretty much did well with Arya, Brienne, Sam, Yara, and Ghost.  Jon was destined to have an ending like Froto – he was forever damaged and thus had to leave his home, family and friends.  Tyrion was made Hand of the King again despite having screwed up every major decision for a couple of years – why was he rewarded for that?  Then there is Bran.  Nothing that W&B did with this character over the past 8 seasons suggested that he could ever take a position of responsibility in Westeros.  There were any number of other characters who were more deserving.  This decision fell with a thud.

I can only assume that George RR Martin will rectify all of this if he ever finishes his last two 1500 page books.   He will have plenty of time to take all of our characters to their rightful conclusion.  In the meantime, we are left with a good, not great (although there were GREAT individual episodes e.g. Winds of War and a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms along with the aforementioned Battle episodes ) series that engaged millions of viewers, writers, podcasters etc in endless discussions. The show which premiered in a different era of television will likely be the end of this type of viewing experience.  We now have so many shows on so many platforms that it is improbable one will ever garner the audience that this one did.  So now my watch is ended and I await patiently for the books and for HBO’s adaptation of the Golden Compass.

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TV: Games of Thrones is back and that is all that matters but a couple of other shows popped up on the watch list as well: Killing Eve, A Discovery of Witches, Fosse/Verdon, Les Mis and Abby’s

I have watched a few other shows but isn’t this the most important one?  As I wait for the big battle episodes (3 and 5) and all the heart wrenching deaths that I assume will come with them, I hoped that the first episode of Season 8 would be happier and full of important reunions as all the characters reunite to fight the Army of the Dead.  I was rewarded.

Game of Thrones (Season 8, HBO) ♦♦♦♦♦

So the first episode was spent getting people situated for the major battles to come as well as giving us some great reunions – Arya and Jon, Arya and Gendry, Arya and the Hound, Tyrion and Sansa and Bran and Jamie.  Sansa delivers some good lines (Joffrey’s marriage to Marjorie “had its moments”) as does Tyrion and Jon rides a dragon.  It was all good.  No one dies (well Lord Umber didn’t have a good end but he was clearly a Red Shirt that we weren’t invested in).  We have one more episode before the big Winterfell battle so I expect the Northerners will figure out that Cersei is not sending troops and won’t be too happy to hear of Jon’s Southern parentage.  Meanwhile, Jon isn’t to happy with the truth about his parents.  Will he embrace the Targaryen history of incest or walk away from Dany?

I really want to see the final result of what I expect is a kick-ass weapon that Gendry is making for Arya.  Is she the one who will kill the Night King?  Will this be the weapon that does the job or might it be for the Ice Dragon.  The Bran/Jamie reunion should be very enlightening and Jamie’s acceptance by Dany after killing her father can’t be without issues.   Little Miss Mormont was a fantastic addition last season but she is getting to be a bit of a whiney pain in the arse that I can do without.   Sansa is justifiably skeptical of Dany and the Lannisters and speaking of Lannisters, is Cersei drinking her way through a pregnancy or is the baby gone?  I loved the Theon/Yara reunion but fear, that it won’t go well for either of them in the episodes coming up.  Clearly we have more questions than answers with only 5 shows remaining.

I was happy with this first episode despite some complaining that it was just setting the chess pieces in place for the game to come.  This was a character driven episode that was in the spirit of the book and harkens to a time before everything was battles and special effects.  It was the calm before the storm, and probably the last time we will see many of these characters alive.  I savored the moment.  I loved the new Opening Credits and all the call-outs to the Episode 1 of Season 1.

Killing Eve (BBC America/AMC)♦♦♦♦♦

Killing Eve is back and if the first two episodes are any indication, the show will not suffer from the 2nd season doldrums that affect so many TV dramas.  We left Eve (Sandra Oh) off last season after she shoves a knife into Villanelle (the fantastic and under rated Jodie Comer) and running away from the scene before we found out what happened.  Eve doesn’t know if she killed her or not as we find out when she finally reaches safety and contacts her former MI6 boss but she certainly realizes that she has slipped closer to the world of an international assassin than that of an MI6 agent.

Whatever Eve’s relationship with Villanelle is, she attempts to go back to a “normal life” with her husband and fails miserably.  Her former boss tries to get her to come back and Eve refuses at first but you know she can’t ultimately resist the calling.  Meanwhile Villanelle is back killing people as she recuperates and sets out on a path (we assume to find Eve).  However their relationship evolves, the cat and mouse game is superb.  Love this show!

A Discovery of Witches (BBC America/AMC) Rating TBD

Premiering after “Killing Eve” on Sunday nights is a new show that has been referred to by many as  “Twilight” meets “Outlander” starring Mathew Goode of Downton Abbey fame.  I’ve seen two episodes but if it plays out like I think it will, there is going to be quite the relationship between Goode’s Vampire character and his mortal enemy, a witch.  The TV show is considered better than the book it is based on by many critics and is rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for what that is worth.  While vampires and witches might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think this has some potential so I’m in it for now.

Fosse/Verdon (FX – rating TBD)

I have just watched one episode of Fosse/Verdon, the FX biopic miniseries covering about 50 years of Bob Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon.  Sam Rockwell plays Fosse and Michelle  Williams is Verdon, perhaps the greatest Broadway dancer of all time.  The reviews are mixed except for the unanimous praise for the two leads.  In the end, this is a show that may only appeal to true theater geeks (I’m sure I am missing the meaning of many of the lines) but Michelle Williams is so impressive that I’ll watch it for a bit longer.

Les Mis (PBS – rating TBD)

PBS’s Masterpiece Theater started a 6 part mini-series adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables starring just about everyone you could possible want to be in this BBC non-musical adaptation.  Dominic West is Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo is Javert, Lily Collins is Fantine, and to top it all off, is a performance by Olivia Coleman (is she in everything these days?).  Episode 1 suggests that this version of the classic will follow the book much more than the musical does.  So far the sets are rich and the cinematography fantastic in  a depressing story that reflects a much more realistic view of this period in French history than the musical.  I’m in for this one.

Abby’s (NBC) ♦♦ 1/2

As readers of this blog know, I’m not a big fan of traditional comedies nor of network TV but I thought I’d try this one as it has one of my favorite TV Actors (Neil Flynn from the Middle and Scrubbs) and reasonably decent reviews.  I got through 2 episodes and bagged it.  Abby has a bar in her back yard which of course has no permit, is not to code etc but does have a group of neighborhood regulars including Flynn’s character who could just as well be named Mike Heck.  I couldn’t get into any of the characters  or anything about this show.  I suppose, as traditional network comedies go, it could be worse but there is nothing new here and I have better ways of spending my time.

 

 

TV This Week: Watching Billions, Better Things, The Case Against Adnan Syed, Jane the Virgin, You’re the Worst, This is Us

The Case Against Adnan Syed (HBO)♦♦♦

This 4 episode documentary just finished airing on HBO.  For anyone who listened to Sarah Koenig’s brilliant 2014 “Serial” podcast which covered the same case, it is impossible not to make a comparison. The question of whether Adnan Syed was given a fair trial in his conviction for murdering his ex-girl friend, Hae Min Lee twenty years ago became very murky after the podcast and remain so after the documentary.  So, if you listened to the podcast, should you still watch the documentary? If you don’t have HBO, don’t bother – you can read the analysis of the documentary to get the salient details.  If you do have a subscription, there are some new and updated facts that are in the documentary that have nothing to do with cell phone towers.  You will also get more insights into the victim and her family as well as those  fighting for a new trial for Syed.

Included in the new information were several revelations in the final episode.   New DNA tests show that Syed’s DNA is nowhere to be found on the samples taken from Lee’s body and car.  In addition, questions were newly raised about the lack of Adnan’s fingerprints, the autopsy results and the location of the car.  Adnan did not agree to a plea deal last fall and the day the documentary aired, he was refused a new trial on an appeal by the State.  What this documentary does, as does the podcast, is raise questions about how this case was prosecuted and Syed’s innocence.  There are no definitive answers but it is clear, from both of these series that there should be a new trial.  If you were a fan of “Serial” and are an HBO subscriber, the series is worth checking out as it takes us to the present day and continues the story.

Better Things (FX S3) ♦♦♦♦

Better Things is back for Season 3.  This “Dramedy” almost collapsed under the co-creater Louis C K’s firing between Season 1 and 2 due to his sexual misconduct accusations  He was also the co-writer which left his partner, Pamela Adlon (also the star of the show) in a difficult situation in terms of how to continue on without such an important influence.  She got through Season 2 and this season while heavy, is also very strong.  In the end, Better Things is about family, aging, mother daughter relationships, and just how someone gets through every day with all the pressures of working and life.

Adlon plays Sam, a single mother of three and daughter of a woman who may be struggling with the early stages of dementia and lives next door.  Sam’s oldest daughter is dropped off at college in the first episode of Season 3, only to drop out and be back by Episode 3.  Her middle daughter appears to have some sexual identity issues along with a difficult relationship with her younger sister.  The youngest wants to be treated like the oldest and all of this happens while Sam, an aging actress, has to fight for roles that are going to younger, prettier women.  In addition, there are the other elements of aging that factor into the day by day struggle to get by.

Life for Sam continually  gets crazier and seemingly heading toward a disaster when just in time something happens that brings this family together in a loving and often very funny series of events.  Sam is an unconventional yet loving mother and you know that even though her life is a constant battle with brinksmanship, somehow things will be ok. In the meantime, there are a lot of very funny lines and situations we can all relate to!

Jane the Virgin (CW) ♦♦♦♦♦

Jane is back for her final season and I’m so going to miss this little ray of sunshine in my life each and every week.  If you haven’t ever seen this “Telenovela” run, don’t walk to Neflix to watch the first few seasons as you won’t find another show on TV with as much heart and soul as this one.  If you are unfamiliar with the Telenovela format (and I certainly was) it is like a soap opera on steroids with totally absurd events mixed with rich characters full of heart and Jane has this in spades.

Jane returns this season having to deal with her dead husband’s return to the life just as she is about to marry her long -term off and on again love who is also her baby daddy.  This is nothing compared to all the other crazy things that initially started with Jane (a virgin) being accidentally impregnated at her annual gynecological exam.  We have been promised that we’ll learn the identity of the narrator telling Jane’s story by the last show although I am pretty sure I know who it is.  This individual is such an integral part of the show and knows the innermost thoughts and emotions of all the main characters and breathes life into them.   In the meantime, I will savor each and every one of these final few episodes.

This is Us (NBC) ♦♦♦

This is Us finished up its third season this week with a twist (of course) that sends us well into the future of the Pearson clan.  I’m not sure why I’m still watching this show which consistently pulls at your emotions through the use of various gimmicks.  I’m so tired of Randall and Beth fighting (I”m totally with you on this one Deja!); I’m tired of Kevin’s substance abuse, I’m tired of nothing good happening to any of these people although in last night’s finale, one happy thing did occur and it was incredulous that it did.  It was just ridiculous and I’m sure it will be controversial as it minimizes a life and death situation that many people experience.   I won’t go into any more detail in case you haven’t seen it.

As I said, I’m not really sure why I still watch this and I may not return to it next season.  It may be just that I didn’t have anything else to watch on Tuesday nights as I continually leave Network TV behind.

Billions (Showtime) ♦♦♦ 1/2

Another show that seems to be running its course with me is Billions.  I thought the first two seasons were absolutely brilliant as Chuck (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby (Damien Lewis) played a complex and riveting cat and mouse game.  4 seasons in, however, this, like so many other Showtime series as slowed down.  Once Bobby and and Chuck made up in Season 3,  much of the tension went away.  The introduction last year of Asia Kate Dillion, TV’s first gender non-conforming lead character,  has helped provide a fresh storyline that has held my interest.  In general, though, there are so many sub- plots that are complex and if you don’t pay attention, you could miss something important – or not.  I’ll finish up this season and make a determination as to whether I go forward with it – if it goes forward.

A Fond Farewell to You’re the Worst (FX)

It ended the only way it could have (Spoiler Alert)  without a wedding.  Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) make up perhaps the most dysfunctional couple on TV and we have spent the entire fifth and final season hurtling toward a wedding between the two of them which seems doomed to disaster.  Helping us prepare for that outcome are a number of flash forwards which not only suggest that Jimmy and Gretchen are not together but that their lives have taken a very dark turn.  Thankfully, the writers of the show left us in a good place with this couple and have given us as sweet of an ending as is possible while remaining true to the characters.  How could any of us ask for more of a finale?  I loved the ending and will miss this show.

 

 

 

3 TV dramedies that I am really going to miss – final seasons for Catastrophe, Casual and You’re the Worst

Three of my favorite “dramedies” have concluded, or are in the process of concluding their  final seasons.  All three are fairly raunchy with a lot of sex, bad language and dysfunctional people but I am sad to see them go and have no replacements for them (please bring back Fleabag for a second season so I’ll have at least one).  If you haven’t seen them, take a look as these 30 minute combination comedy/dramas which don’t take much time to binge.

Catastrophe (Amazon Prime) S4 ♦♦♦♦♦

Catastrophe dropped its final 6 episodes (30 minutes each) this past weekend and while this last season isn’t quite as good as the first, it is a satisfying conclusion to a really great series.  Take a moment to watch the entire 4 seasons if you haven’t seen them.  It is less than 12 hours of your life.  Not a bad investment!

This “dramedy” began when Rob, an advertising guy, meets Sharon, an Irish schoolteacher, in London and they have a lot of sex.  Sharon gets pregnant and Rob decides to stay in England to parent the child and they are thrown together raising kids, moving from one catastrophe to the another along the way. Throw in another kid, Rob’s alcoholism, the death of parents and the result is a show that delves deeply into the nature of love and just how tough marriage can be. Along the way, we get many classic and brutally funny lines and situations.   Sharon Hogan and Rob Delaney wrote and starred in the series and they are a force to be reckoned with.  I really hope they do another series.

The three-hour final season leaves Rob and Sharon in a relatively good place which is as good as it gets for this couple.   I really want and need more episodes though.  There certainly is enough meat to these characters to warrant at least 8!  Catastrophe first premiered at a time when several other similar shows appeared like You’re the Worst (also currently airing its final season), Casual and Togetherness but Catastrophe is arguably the best of the bunch.  It has a fine supporting cast that comes together well over the four seasons.  As an aside, Carrie Fisher played Sharon’s mother and was on her way home from filming S4 when she passed away.  There was a very nice call-out to her in the final episode.

A sampling of some of my favorite lines from the finale:“Having kids is like strapping yourself to a Formula One race car: Boom, your life is over. But not in a bad way!”;  “If I met you right now, I’d still want to fuck you for a week, and get you pregnant, and marry you, and fuck things up from there”; “Here’s how I feel about sex with you these days: On paper, it sounds amazing. But if you were to initiate it, like tonight, I’d just be angry,” and the final line of the final episode when Sharon jumps nude into the ocean and Rob at first can’t decide whether to follow her or not but ultimately does and says: “I just didn’t like seeing you adrift out there on your own”. Close the curtain on a really terrific show.

Casual (Hulu) ♦♦♦♦ 1/2

I subscribe briefly to Hulu a couple of times a year to catch up on shows that aren’t available other places.  My Hulu go-to for the past few years has been Casual which concluded its four-year run this past September but I just got to it this week.  Casual is an excellent show – in my opinion its crown jewel – that follows a dysfunctional brother/sister relationship (and her daughter) through some pretty strange life situations as they search for happiness and meaning.  The final season is a perfect conclusion to a show that started out focusing on on-line dating disasters and waffle making and concludes by exploring the deepest dimensions of family and relationships.

Alex, the brother, isn’t able to commit to a relationship but in the season 4 time-jump, has a daughter by a former Air B&B renter (Rae) with whom he is “sexually incompatible”.  He decides he is in love with Rae but she has moved on with someone else and has decided to move to another state with her boyfriend.  In what is the most mature, selfless decision that Alex has ever made, he decides to give up his California home and family to move to Austin in order to be there for his daughter.  The final scenes where he leaves his sister and home are heart wrenching while at the same time providing some hope that this charming guy might find happiness.

Alex’s sister Valerie gives up her therapist career to open a wine store and her estranged daughter Laura returns from Europe with a girl friend who promptly dumps her.  In the meantime, Laura and Valerie reestablish their relationship and ultimately Laura finds herself and love.  The supporting characters also go through pain and suffering but in the end, all of them are in a better place and the possibility of this strange array of misfits finding happiness seems almost possible.  I’m really going to miss this one!

You’re the Worst (FX – rating TBD)

You’re the Worst is in the home stretch of  its fifth and final season.  This is a darker dramedy then either Casual or Catastrophe and has been a little less consistent than either of those shows.  I particularly enjoyed S1/2 and struggled with S4.  The jury is still out on this season but there have been some great moments.  Gretchen  (played brilliantly by Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are moving quickly toward a marriage uniting two of the most dysfunctional adults to have ever been on the small screen.  Gretchen struggles with a serious depression disorder and can’t keep a job.  Jimmy is a complete narcissist who has had some success as a writer but it is rather fleeting.  This final season focuses on the last few weeks before the wedding while providing some flash forwards (we assume) that suggest there won’t be a happy ending for these two.

I have some issues with this show, particularly around the fact that of the four main characters, the two guys are presented as the smart, more together characters and the two women portrayed as ditzy, crazy and not particularly intelligent.  Overall, however, these aren’t large concerns.  You’re the Worst has only two more episodes so I’ll put a post script on this romantic comedy when it is done.  In addition to the flash forwards, there have been some unusual plot surprises this season which make for some crazy goings on. For now, I’m relishing the fact that I have two more episodes left before all of my “dramedies” disappear forever from peak TV.

 

Its been awhile but I still have some things to say about 2017!

I haven’t been posting on this blog much in the last 6 months due to having been involved in a couple of very time-consuming activities that take up most of my days. As a result, my TV and movie viewing has been curtailed and my reading diminished during this period.  I resolve to change this in 2018 beginning in March but I did want to weigh in with a few posts about the best books I read and the movies and TV shows I thought were the greatest of 2017.  This first post will cover TV.

The 5 Best TV Shows of 2015 (that I watched)

  1. The Leftovers

The Leftovers had the perfect final season and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to this controversial show.  If you haven’t seen it, Season 1 is very dark, bleak and hard to get through but it becomes so worthwhile to have done so in order to watch Seasons 2 and 3.  This show about grief, loss and craziness also delivered pure joy in Season 3 with a Tasmanian sex boat and numerous other gripping episodes.  Carrie Coon was magnificent and you should watch it for just her performance.

  1. Halt and Catch Fire

This is another show that struggled a bit in its first season but just blossomed over the course of the next three seasons and its final one this fall, delivered perfectly.  While many may question whether they want to watch a show about the history of technology and the beginnings of Silicon Valley, rest assured that at its heart, this show is about the characters and particularly two women who form one of the most compelling relationships in television.  Watch this show on Netflix.  Feel free to only see the first 4 episodes and the finale of Season 1 and then savor every episode after that.

  1. The Good Place

I’m watching fewer and fewer network TV shows but this one is great.  A show that is about heaven, hell, ethics and morality delivers those messages in such a comedic way that it makes it impossible not to care deeply for a group of very flawed characters. The Season 1 finale twist and how the show runners picked it up this fall were unpredictable and executed flawlessly.  The cast is terrific and it is just a fun show with lots of meat.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent and it was worth having to pay for Hulu for a couple of months to watch it unfold each week.  It did drag occasionally but the acting chops of Elizabeth Moss and Ann Dowd made it all worthwhile and I should note the surprisingly excellent work of Alexis Bledel – who knew?  The parallels between this dystopian world and this past year, unfortunately were a little too close.

  1. Better Things

This smaller 30-minute dramedy is excellent and the second season was even better than the first.  Unfortunately, the show is linked so closely to Louis C.K. which makes for a tough decision on whether to support it or not but I don’t think it is fair to Pamela Adlon to boycott it.  Better Things is based loosely on her life and her Directing and Acting in it are very good.  This show hits to the heart of what it is like to be a single mother, struggling to keep things going at home while trying to keep a career going at the same time making many mistakes with both.  There is so much honesty and emotion in this dramedy that it is hard not to love it.

The Best of the Rest:

Jane the Virgin, Alias Grace, The Americans, Big Little Lies, Mary Kills People, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Last Week with John Oliver, Stranger Things, Catastrophe, Casual, You’re the Worst, The Young Pope, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Keepers, Billions, The Vietnam War, the Middle

Shows that I didn’t get to but I really want to see:

One Mississippi (S2), One Day at a Time, Top of the Lake China Girl, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sneaky Pete, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (last 2 seasons) 

Shows I’m still watching despite them not being that great:

Homeland, Fargo, the Affair, Scandal, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Magicians and few that I’m too embarrassed to mention (and no, they aren’t reality shows!

One final thought:  There are some shows that are nearly perfect in their premier season and should end that way.  Unfortunately, good ratings, lots of buzz and some award nominations and all of a sudden, we have Season 2 of Stranger Things, Big Little Lies and worst of all, 13 Reasons Why despite the storylines being completely wrapped up in what should have been the only season.  Let them stand alone and go on to other innovative projects.

 

 

 

 

 

TV: Summer’s Last Hurrah – Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, You’re the Worst and Top of the Lake China

 

It has been a completely crazy last month or so and I know I am way behind on my blog so while I have a few days before the onslaught of fall TV, I just wanted to make some comments about the shows that I have been watching during the twilight of summer.

Season’s Finales:

Game of Thrones:

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones gave us a scant 7 episodes but several were packed with amazing special effects and some great battles.  I think the show has struggled since it went beyond the books.  The world that George R.R. Martin created is so complex and intricate with deep history and substantive characters/dialogue that it gave the HBO creators a writer’s feast from which to create the show.  Once that was gone and the showrunners had to create the storylines with little guidance, I have found the character development lacking and the focus on huge battles and dragons.  Not that I mind battles and dragons (this season the latter were spectacular) but there is so much more that could have been done.

In my opinion, Season 7 was very rushed.  People moved between far locations with lightning speed.  Key actions happened without the careful construction of the plot leading up to them.  I’m not sure why Weiss and Benioff decided to do only 7 shows this season and 6 in the final season but even with some extended episodes, there was so much missing in terms of background explanations as to why characters acted the way they did.  A prime example of this was in the finale when Sansa and Aria executed Littefinger for no obvious reason.  Apparently in a discarded scene, Bran informed them of the nefarious things Littlefinger did but the finale didn’t explain it at all.  I just feel the showrunners are tired of writing from  George R.R. Martin notes and just want it all to be over.  It doesn’t give me great hope for next season other than I’m sure there will be some great dragon/battle scenes but the long, wonderful dialog sequences will be something we will need to go back to the first few seasons for.

I love Game of Thrones but I wish we had the books finished so that the showrunners could give us the story we deserve.  I hope the novels will someday be completed (although I may not live long enough to see it given Martin’s history) to get the full measure of this amazing world.

Season’s Premiers:

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Halt and Catch Fire commenced its fourth and final season last month and so far, it is great.  This is a terrific under-the-radar show about the beginnings of Silicon Valley and the computer and internet revolution.  It addresses some of the issues women in technology have faced as well as the exciting world of start-up tech companies.  This season is focused on the development of internet search engines and is fascinating.  The acting is great, the characters terrific and the history pretty accurate from what I can tell.

If you haven’t seen Halt and Catch Fire, the first three seasons are on Netflix.  The second and third are fantastic.  The first season is somewhat inconsistent (as many first seasons are) as the show tries to find its footing.  One critic who I highly respect suggested that if you want to see the show and have limited time, watch the pilot and the last four episodes of Season 1 along with all of Seasons 2&3.  Enjoy!

You’re the Worst (FXX)

In last season’s finale, Jimmy asked Gretchen to marry him, she said “yes” and then he panicked and drove off into the sunset.  This season begins with Jimmy living in a trailer park with no access to the internet or phone and Gretchen trying to move on.  They don’t see each other until the end of the third episode which just aired.  I’m not sure where we are going from there but I’m in for the ride.  I love this show about four of the most dysfunctional and damaged (along with mentally ill) people you will ever come across.  Chris Geere and Aya Cash as Jimmy and Gretchen are so good in their roles and Desmin Borges (Edgar) and Kether Donohue (Lindsay) are equally up to the task as their sidekicks.

The show went to a dark place with Gretchen’s bi-polar disorder and I’m hoping it lightens up a bit this year,  as it is supposed to be a comedy.  The first three episodes seem to be headed back toward its comedic roots and I like that Edgar and Kether are getting more screen time.  The four leads are the soul of the show and Jimmy and Gretchen is just too intense without some comedic relief by other characters.  I’m so glad this show is back!

Top of the Lake China Girl (Sundance)

I watched the first Top of the Lake miniseries in 2013 and thought it to be one of the finest shows of the year so I was excited that Jane Campion has brought it back.  Unfortunately, four years later, I remember very little about the first series and when I launched into this new season, it became clear very quickly that I needed to recall what happened to make Elisabeth Moss’s character (Robin Griffin) so damaged.  I know she was raped but some of the other psychological issues need reading up on.  One thing that is clear from the two episodes I have seen is that the misogyny is non-stop and after the last two years of listening to it spewing from the Republican candidate now President, it is pretty hard to take for my entertainment.

This season adds Nicole Kidman who has had such a banner year in both film and TV and who I think is one of our finest actresses out there.  However, her introduction in Episode 1 resulted in a performance I found to be stiff and unbelievable – it was slightly improved in the second Episode.  Gwendoline Christie  is another new character although I think she is better in Game of Thrones.   I am going to stick with this as I think that any show created by Jane Campion and starring Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Moss deserves my attention but I do have concerns that this may turn out to be more like Season 2 of True Detective than Season 2 of the Americans.

 

 

TV: The Last of the Spring TV Finales: Broadchurch, Orphan Black and Nashville

As the summer winds down the last few shows the I watch ended and as I wait for fall TV to start up later this month, here are some thoughts.

Series Finales:

Broadchurch (BBC America)

Broadchurch had a brilliant first year, a not so great Season 2 and a good third and final season which just finished.  I wasn’t totally thrilled with the finale given that the rapist in this season’s crime turned out not to be one of the several suspects the show had been focused on all season.  After all the red herrings in practically every episode, to introduce basically a new suspect as the perpetrator at the end was cheap even though one of the suspects was involved.  Nonetheless, the finale overall was satisfying and wrapped up many of the plotlines that had developed over all three seasons.

Alec and “Milla” successfully solved their latest case; The Latimer family had some cause for hope although Mark is still very broken.  Alec’s relationship with his daughter got stronger but he passed on a more personal relationship with Ellie.  The Reverend is moving on as is Trish (the rape victim) and her family; The local town newspaper woman who was fired for being ethical is going to be a blogger in a closure that I loved.  I’m going to miss this small town but more than anything, the activing of David Tennant as Alec Hardy, Olivia Colman as Ellie Miller (“Milla”) and this year’s victim Julie Hesmondhalgh who played Trish Winterman so well.  Jodi Whittaker is very good and I was happy the writers found an interesting way to keep her involved in the plot this season.  I may just try Dr. Who to see her as the first female Doctor in that series. The final words of the show (“See you tomorrow Milla”) were perfect as were the fading pictures of the cliffs which so defined the town and its story.

Despite the dip in Season 2, Broadchurch is a very good show which should delight anyone who enjoys British murder mysteries.  It will be missed by many.

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black ended its five-year run with a satisfying finale in which our clone “Sestas” got their happy endings.  I loved the first two years of this show and then I spent the next two having no idea what was going on.  Tatiana Maslany’s acting was so fantastic, however, that I couldn’t stop watching.  Each character she portrayed was as if an entirely different actress was playing the role.  She is just riveting on screen no matter what kind of crazy wig was worn.  In addition, the primary clones (Allison, Sarah, Cosima and Helena) completely engaged the viewer in their respective stories.  The supporting cast while small was quite good including Jordan Gavaris as Felix, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Siobhan, Kristian Bruun as Donnie and Kevin Hanchart as Art.

I never understood the whole male clone storyline nor exactly what the evil “Neolution” organization was.  It was hard to follow the ins and outs of who was in it and who wasn’t but in the end, that didn’t matter as it was all about the “Sestas” and having them finally finding some happiness in life.  So, goodbye Orphan Black.  You brought joy to my heart for at least a couple of years and I’m going to miss Tatiana Maslany playing all of these fascinating characters.

Season Finale

Nashville (CMT)

Nashville is an evening soap opera so why do I keep watching it?  I don’t generally care for country music although the music on this show often draws me in; I don’t care for several the characters, particularly now that Connie Britton has departed and in fact, I actively dislike several of them (Scarlett, Maddie and Daphne); The plotlines are often goofy and predictable so what is left?  There are characters I do generally care about.  Charles Esten as Deacon and the frat boys (Jonathan Jackson as Avery, Sam Palladio as Gunnar and Chris Carmack as Will) are great.  Hayden Panattiere is very good despite suspect writing for her character and her relationship with Avery is compelling (unlike Gunnar and Scarlett).

Nashville completed its spring “half” season – the first without Rayna Jaymes.  With the loss of such a critical character, it struggled to find its footing.  There were new character introductions which didn’t particularly work; The increased importance of Maddie and Daphne was tough to take – particularly the storyline of Daphne and the homeless girl.  These young actors are not good enough to have such plot lines revolve around them.  Gunnar and Scarlett just need to implode so we never have to watch them break up, get together, break-up, and kind of get together again before breaking up.  Enough is enough.  Will’s storyline seemed to just float in the wind and Zach’s storyline never resonated with me.  So, again, I get back to what I liked; Deacon dealing with grief; Juliette and Avery (not Juliette and the gospel singers), Will, Avery and Gunner’s “Three Men and a Baby life” and some pretty good music here and there to keep me going.  I don’t know that when Nashville reappears again next season competing against many more TV shows that I’ll have time to watch it but it is ok summer fare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV: The Keepers, The Last Tycoon, Casual and Diana Our Mother

There isn’t much original programming on TV right now so I have mostly been streaming aside for every Sunday night when I get to watch Game of Thrones!

The Keepers (Netflix)

The Keepers isn’t the “can’t stop watching” sort of true murder mystery that say the “Jinx” is or “Making of a Murder”.  That might have to do with the lack of an arrested suspect to focus on.  It might also have to do with the fact that it is the story of two women (same high school class as myself) who are investing the murder of a beloved nun they had for a high school teacher in the late sixties.  The process of this work is slow and painstaking as is some of the TV show.  I am perfectly happy to watch women who are my peers become more effective investigators then the Baltimore police but that might not work for everyone.  Nevertheless, it is a compelling story that brings a different dimension to the Catholic Church abuse stories that we have been exposed to over the past few decades.

This seven-part series is like watching “Spotlight” only squared.  It is a deeply disturbing trip into the sexual abuse of countless girls by a priest in a Baltimore Catholic High School in the sixties. There is mystery, intrigue and even the Wire can’t compete with this true story of corruption and cover-up encompassing the Church, police, and what seems like the Who’s Who of Baltimore. The most compelling individual in this story is a woman, Jean Hargadon Wehner who suffered abuse and then blocked it from her memory for decades.  She started to recall disturbing elements of her ordeal and filed suit against the Church and the perpetrator priest in the early 90s.  “Jane Doe” as she was known as during the lawsuit is remarkably open about her experiences and every time she is on the screen, she completely owns it.

As the individuals who participated in the murder and cover-up have died, it is unclear if we will ever know for sure who committed the murder of Sister Cathy.  The dogged determination of two wonderful women, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins have opened up the case and brought the story of the abuse and murder to the forefront of many Americans.  The Keepers is a powerful TV series (although I found it dragged in parts) and it is most effective when the camera just lets the survivors tell their stories.  While other similar programs like the aforementioned “Jinx” or “Making of a Murder” might be more riveting, “The Keeper”s is well worth checking out – particularly if you are interested in the subject or just a murder mystery buff.

The Last Tycoon (Amazon)

Yes, Matt Bomer is perhaps the best-looking actor in Hollywood but he can act and he does it well in this new Amazon series based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that was unfinished at his death.  I watched the entire nine-episodes and enjoyed it.  It is a period piece that takes place in 1930s Hollywood amidst a backdrop of Nazi bankers and the Great Depression.  The strong acting and visually appealing sets will remind the viewer of Mad Men which isn’t too surprising as they share the same costume designer.  The pilot wasn’t the greatest but after that, the story of a small movie studio head (Kelsey Grammer) and his creative genius partner (Bomer) trying to keep their heads above water while attempting to make great movies was entertaining.  Bomer plays a Jewish character, Monroe Stahr, who is still in love with the ghost of his movie-star wife who perished in a fire.  Grammer’s character, Pat Brady, has several flaws, including a strong jealousy of his partner, which prove in the end that a completely immoral streak probably is required to become a great success in Hollywood.

Lily Collins plays Brady’s daughter who inexplicably is given a major movie to produce at the age of 19 with absolutely no experience.  I didn’t love this plot line nor Collin’s performance in a role which I thought required more acting ability than Collin’s is currently capable of.  Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) makes a very strong appearance in several episodes and it was great to see her back.  Grammer and Bomer were especially strong and anyone who thinks the latter is just a pretty face should watch what he does in this series.  His reaction to Brady cutting him off at the knees was magnificent as was his performance at the engagement party.  The costumes were fabulous and along with the camera work and scenery take the viewer back to a time forgotten.

It is unclear as to whether the Last Tycoon will be renewed for another season (or more) but it ended on a cliff hanger and I’m sure there is a lot more story to tell.  The novel upon which it is based was apparently only half finished so the writers could go several different directions with it.  My only fear would be that it moves toward the Lily Collin’s character running the studio, the groundwork for which has been laid.  There are several other plotlines that could be explored in more depth including the Nazi impact on the studios and the Jewish establishment in Hollywood.  The first season certainly touched on these themes but the story could get quite fascinating as WWII becomes a reality.  I don’t want to spoil the finale but I’ll just say that I need Bomer to return to the series if it goes another season.

Casual Season 3 (Hulu)

This story revolving around the completely dysfunctional members of the Meyers/Cole family spiraled into even more of a heavy drama in season 3.  The showrunners did well in physically separating the Meyers from Alex this season and it helped with the story telling.  New characters, like Judy Greer as Alex’s boss were brought in and additional plotlines established making for a more engaging season.  After all, one can only take so much of three deeply flawed characters being with each other 24×7.  Each character was strengthened and individualized as they set out on their own journey towards happiness – which of course is not ever in the cards for them.  While these were all positive changes, they created a scenario that resulted in multiple plotlines being very depressing and by the middle of the season I was ready to quit.  I did hang in there and it picked up toward the end with the finale setting the stage for Alex and Val to go back to living together in Season 4 although Laura is parked at her horrific grandmother’s house.

Casual is one of many “Dramedies” (You’re the Worst, Catastrophe etc.) that have focused on dark, topics with less and less comedic undertones.  They are tough to watch despite being excellent.  In the future, I think I may have to decrease the number of these that I follow and Casual might be the one that I ditch.   It’s nothing against Casual, it is just that I can only take so much of dysfunctional people in their 30s/40s with drug abuse, alcoholism, bi-polar disorders and other problems creating chaos in their lives.  I could use just a little more “comedy” in my dramedies.

Documentaries:

Diana Our Mother (HBO)

This documentary put together by William and Harry will appeal to anyone with an interest in Diana or the Royal family.  It is an intimate look into the woman who meant so much to so many people and it shows the deep scars her death left upon her children.  There isn’t much more in this special than has previously been made available but we do see her through her children’s eyes and are shown new family pictures. The boys discuss her sense of humor, their last call with her and the void she has left in their lives. It is worth watching for anyone interested in the Royals and as we mark the twentieth anniversary of Diana’s tragic death.

TV: Game of Thrones and S1 of Twin Peaks

TV is really slow.  There are only a couple of shows that I watch which are still running and the early fall premiers aren’t here yet so I am doing a bit of streaming.  Thank god for Game of Thrones! 

Season Premier 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

It’s back! Finally!  One would think that in the penultimate season with only 14 episodes remaining that we would start moving quickly towards the battle for Westeros.  “Dragonstone” did not do that but rather followed the traditional 10 minute per character Game of Throne’s structure.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it made me a bit crazy waiting for the Dany to set foot on Dragonstone for 50 minutes.  In the meantime, we got the major players in place:  Arya in a cold- open wipes out the Freys and seems headed to King’s Landing to continue her murderous revenge tour on Cersei; John and Sansa consolidate forces in the North and are not necessarily on the same page – but they have Lyanna Mormont so who cares; Cersei is on the throne and working with Euron Greyjoy (who has had an offseason makeover); Jaime is skeptical of Cersei’s plan; Poor Sam is having a tough time in Old Town but not as bad as Sir Jorah and Dany finally sets up shop in Dragonstone.  We also see Brienne and Little Finger at Winterfell with the latter plotting away.

That leaves Bran who goes through the wall to Castle Black.  This could be (and I think it is) huge.  When Bran was touched by the Night King, the magic that protected the Weirwood and the Children of the Forrest was destroyed.  The same type of magic protects the wall.  By Bran going through, did he break those charms?  I think he did and the White Walkers will now be able to go South from the wall as shown in Bran’s vision.  It will likely be at Eastwatch where Tormund as well as the Hound (due to an intriguing vision by Beric Dondarrion) seem to be headed.  The pieces on the chessboard appear to be positioned for the wars ahead.

I love this show and thought the premier was good (apart from the Ed Sheeran cameo which was just bizarre).  I fully expect things to move much more quickly now with only a handful of stories left to tell.  I am concerned that Arya has gone to the Darkside and won’t be able to come back.  I can’t get Voldermort out of my mind and the horcruxes that contained part of his soul that broke away every time he killed someone.  I am completely and totally Team Stark (I still consider John a Stark as Lyanna Stark is his mother!) and will be devastated if Arya goes to that place.  In the meantime, I’ll be savoring every single minute of the few episodes we’ll get this season and reporting out as appropriate.

Streaming: (I’m watching on Showtime)

Twin Peaks (the original)

The current Showtime revival of Twin Peaks is getting rave reviews so I thought I’d go back and check out the original 90’s show to see what it is all about.  I’ve never seen an episode of Twin Peaks but it has a large cult following so how bad could it be?  I binge-watched Season 1 which was only 7 or 8 episodes.  The show is bizarre.  It takes place in a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest which has several strange inhabitants like the one-armed man, the lady who walks around with a log, crazy eye-patch lady, a very quirky FBI investigator who speaks to spirits as well as lots of people involved in affairs, prostitution and the drug trade.   A lot was going on in this town of around 3,000.  I can see how unusual the show was in its time and why it must have generated a big following.  However, 25+ years later, with all the advances in technology and TV dramas that have occurred, Twin Peaks looks like a cheap soap opera.

Apparently, the showrunners (the key one of course is the brilliant David Lynch) never expected anyone to watch the show let alone get a second season so when it was renewed, they weren’t prepared to do 22 episodes of who killed Laura Palmer and keep it interesting.  The first season primarily held my interest because I knew it was short and I was engaged in who killed Laura Palmer.  So, my big dilemma now is whether I bother with the 2nd season of apparently not very good (yet numerous) episodes or just suck it up, read up on who killed Laura Palmer and skip to the new revival.  I’m kind of leaning toward the latter but will let you know.

TV: Broadchurch, Legion, Casual and Orange is the New Black

Season Premiers:

Broadchurch – Season 3 (BBC America) 

Broadchurch Season 1 was one of the best murder mysteries I’ve seen in years.  Olivia Colman (Mrs. Miller) and David Tennant (Alec Hardy) played detectives investigating the death of a young boy, Danny.  Everything about it was excellent.  Unfortunately, the brilliance of the first season did not extend to Season 2 where the show went off the rails.  Part of the problem was the fact that the showrunners decided to drag the trial for Danny’s murder out over an entire second season and it resulted in a very unsatisfactory outcome making the frustration with the season’s pace even more of an issue.  In the meantime, the best feature of the show, the interplay and relationship between Miller and Hardy was missing as each was bogged down in their own serious personal issues.  Finally, the new case they were involved with was not very interesting or compelling.

For some reason, after that disaster of a second season, Broadchurch was renewed for a third and final season and I, being the sucker that I am, tuned in for the premier and I’m so glad I did.  The hour flew by as Miller and Hardy set out to investigate a new case involving the rape of a middle-aged woman.  The victim, Trisha (played by Julie Hesmonhalgh) gave one of the most emotional performances of the year as the detectives slowly took her through the steps of recounting what occurred.  Miller and Hardy seemed to be mostly back to normal and Colman radiates on the screen.  I am excited about where this show is going in its final season and can’t wait for the next episode.  I am cautiously optimistic that Broadchurch has found its mojo from season 1.

Note:  For those who aren’t familiar with some of the more distinct British regional accents, I recommend you put on the closed captioning.  Also, for those who have not seen it, S1 &S2 are on Netflix and I think you could watch Season 1, skip to 3 and then decide if you want to go back and do S2. 

Clearing out the DVR

Legion Season 1 (FX)

Well the first thing I should mention is that watching 3 episodes of Legion as they aired and then letting the rest pile up on the DVR and not getting back to this trippy show until months later was not a smart idea.  I was already at a disadvantage not knowing the Marvel world which spawned the Legion story.  When I tuned in to Noah Hawley’s most bizarre tale, I found it hard to follow but kind of hung on because it was so unusual.  Returning months later, I was completely overwhelmed with confusion.  To add insult to injury, my comic book expert daughter who watched the show refused to help me understand what was going on.  She told me that I took up too much of her time with Flash which was a much simpler show to explain to a non-comic book person.

I will say that the cinematography is amazing and although I never actually took LSD, this show seems to be one long LSD trip.  Alternative “planes” or universes have never been my strength and Legion has an endless number of them so the lines between real and imagined in this universe are blurred in every episode.  All I need is time travel to totally put me over the edge.  At least there were recaps to fall back on as I attempted to unravel what happened in each episode.  Dan Stevens is great in the lead role and it’s amazing to see how far from his Downton Abby role he has come.

I am clearly not the target demo for Legion but I can tell it is well done and for the Marvel Universe lovers out there, I can understand why they love this show.  I won’t be returning next season but I’m glad I got a chance to finish off this one as it was one of the more unique TV viewing experiences of the year. 

Streaming:

Casual (Hulu)

I decided to check out this critically acclaimed show as I had reopened my HULU account to watch Handmaid’s tale.  I watched all of Seasons 1 and 2.   This is one of the an increasingly large group of 30 minute dramedies appearing everywhere and many of them are excellent. Among the best are Better Things, Catastrophe, You’re the Worst, Fleabag, Transparent and One Mississippi.  I have watched them all.  They are comedies with main characters who are often deeply flawed and always must deal with serious issues such as bi-polar condition, breast cancer, alcoholism, transgender family members, etc. Every comedic moment seems to arise out of a very depressing scene.

Casual is about a brother Alex and his sister Val.  Alex made a lot of money developing an algorithm for a dating site.  Now he pretty much sits around in an expensive home and does nothing except have casual sex with beautiful women, most of whom he altered the algorithm to show that they were compatible matches.  Val is recently divorced after her husband had an affair and she moves in with Alex along with her sixteen-year-old daughter Laura.  Everyone, including Laura has a lot of sex in this show.  Again, there is A LOT of sex on this show.  They are all looking for something deeper (well maybe not Alex) without success.  Alex and Val are messed up primarily because their parents were hippies following the free love movement around the country and didn’t care much about or for their children.  This family probably beats the Pfefferman’s for TV’s most dysfunctional family and that is tough to do.

Casual is well done.  It is very funny but I don’t see that it brings more to the table than the other shows I mentioned.  It isn’t worth getting a HULU subscription to see it but if you already have Hulu and maybe haven’t seen some of these other shows which are on Netflix, Amazon and Cable, check it out.  It is a good summer binge.  I’m sure I’ll get through the current Season 3 soon as TV is slow right now and I want to cancel HULU as soon as I can but I’m not sure I need to go back to Casual next year. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Whoever thought that an entire 13-episode season should cover only three days of a prison riot was a good idea should look for another occupation.  The emotionally devastating finale last year showing Poussey’s death by strangulation left a huge void in the show without a clear path forward so I’m sure the show runner’s decided to try something unique. It doesn’t work for me.  I’m not sure I’m even going to get through this season so thought I would note how much I disliked what was going on even though I’m only less than half way through the episodes.  The reason that I’m fairly certain I won’t make it is that I am having real difficulty even getting through one episode in a single sitting.  I generally need to break it into two viewing segments.  This can’t be good.

What are the issues?  To begin with, I can’t get past the fact that if there was a prison riot in a woman’s minimum security prison that federal troops wouldn’t move in and quash it rather than standing around outside doing nothing.  The women have only one gun and no idea what they are doing or what they should be focused on yet the authorities don’t bother to intercede. It is ridiculous.  I am also tired of the flashbacks.  By now, we have seen flashbacks for anyone we care about and I can’t even tell who they are doing them on at this point.  OITNB needs to find a new mechanism to bring the inmates stories to life.  Finally, I’m just not interested in anything any of these women are doing during this prison riot.  It is just boring.  So, assume this is my last post ever on OITNB unless by some miracle, the show makes a miraculous recovery and it gains some of its former appeal in which case, I might try it again.