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.

 

 

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TV: Did you think I had stopped watching? You’re the Worst, One Mississippi, Better Things, Masters of Sex, the Last Ship and Jane the Virgin

As readers of this blog know, I am the queen of the one hour scripted dramas and not a big fan of comedy. However, in the past couple of years, a new genre of comedy has arrived and for lack of a better word, these shows are often referred to as “dramadies”. They are mostly one-half hour shows that fall into the comedy category but have very serious plotlines and complex characters. The best of them include You’re the Worst, Casual and Catastrophe. Transparent also falls into this genre. What these shows deliver are stories addressing difficult topics including depression, unplanned pregnancies, disintegrating relationships, gay/transgender cast and drug/alcohol dependencies with a comedic twist. The half hour format allows for crisp writing, succinct storytelling and no time to prolong the often-difficult subject matter. Most are only 6-8 episodes per season so they are easy to binge or catch up on. No shows are wasted or “fillers”.

Some argue that this format has replaced the one-hour scripted drama as the best work being done on television. While I agree there is some fine work being done here and certainly the Network scripted dramas have become very weak, my favorite shows on television are still The Americans, Rectify and Game of Thrones. I haven’t abandoned my one-hour dramas yet but I’m really liking some of these shows! Four new dramadies are premiering over the next two weeks and are getting rave reviews. They are Amazon’s “One Mississippi” and “Fleabag”, HBO’s “Insecure” and FX’s Better Things. Two are covered below along with You’re the Worst.

Premiers:

You’re the Worst (FXX) ( first two seasons available on Hulu, Amazon, Itunes)

I love this show. It is about 4 completely dysfunctional people who are in relationships that they shouldn’t be but you come to love them and at least cheer for the lead couple, Jimmy and Gretchen, played by Chris Geere and Aya Cash. These are two seemingly despicable people who are in a relationship filled with hedonistic activities. Jimmy is a writer who is a total narcissist and Gretchen suffers from debilitating depression. Due to the brilliant, edgy writing, you actually come to hope that they will be together forever.

Season 3 premiered last week and the first two episodes were good but not quite as great as Season 2, which knocked it out of the park. It has raked in its share of Critic’s Choice Award nominations and I hope it gets back to the level of last year. Even if it doesn’t, I’m just happy to have Jimmy and Gretchen back in my life again.

One Mississippi (Amazon)

One Mississippi is one of the “dramadies” discussed above and was dropped on Amazon September 9th. It grabbed me from the fist few minutes of the show and I watched straight through the six, thirty-minute episodes. It was great. The show is based on the life of comedian Tig Notaro who apparently endured cancer, the death of her mother and a relationship breakup in the same year all of which happen on the show. There are comedic moments (both this show and Better Things (below) are produced by Louis C.K.) but it is a story of family, grief, memories, and how to cope with life when it deals you a series of sucker punches. I can’t believe I have to wait at least another year for Season 2. Again, it is just great and I love that there is a Lesbian lead character.

Better Things (FX)

Better Things premiered this week and while it is difficult to make a determination about it after one 30-minute show, there was definitely enough to keep me coming back. It is the story of Sam Fox who is a single mother of three girls trying to make it as an actress while holding it all together. There are moments of hilarity along with the day-to-day struggle of making a living and being a parent. Not only does Sam have to deal with Hollywood attitudes towards middle age womem, she also has feelings of failures as a parent. There are moments every parent can relate to (particularly working and/or single parents) around which battles are worth fighting with your kids in order to survive. Several stars popped up with cameos in this first episode including Julie Bowen, Constance Zimmer and Bradley Whit ford which were all fun. I think this show has a ton of potential.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)

Masters of Sex was one of the best shows on television its first two seasons and then it went off the rails in season three. Horrible writing and plotlines overshadowed the great acting by Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen. This is a common thread, unfortunately, for Showtime dramas. However, Homeland was able to turn around after a couple of very poor years so what the heck, maybe this show might as well. I was not encouraged by the fact I could find NO reviews for this season the day before the premier. If critics aren’t talking about your show, it is not a good sign.

I tuned in to the premier on Sunday night and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t perfect but it looks like the showrunners are trying to fix the mistakes of last year.  It was important to get Masters and Johnson back together again but Johnson’s slip decent into darkness was a bit overkill and the reconciliation happened pretty quickly.  Whether to continue with this show will be a week by week decision.  On to next week.

Finales:

The Last Ship (TNT)

I don’t know why I actually watch this show. I guess because it came on a few years ago during summer and there wasn’t much else to watch. It was never bad enough to abandon it but never quite good enough to really recommend it. This summer, TNT announced that it is renewing it for the next two seasons so I’m thinking that there are a lot of people out there watching this show.  The initial premise was that a disease had destroyed the world and the crew of the Navy ship Nathan James was left to float around the world until a cure could be found and they could safely land somewhere. The cure was conveniently discovered by a doctor on their boat and they came back to deliver it to everyone left on earth.

I wasn’t sure where the show would go once the disease was cured but the show runners managed to figure out a plausible plot based on the disintegration of the world’s governments. The Nathan James and her Captain (played by Eric Dane) helped solidify a centralized democracy and military in the USA. This season was interesting with the dissolution of the government and the Nathan James once again being “homeless” and set adrift in Southeast Asia to fend for itself. It wasn’t bad, there was plenty of action and intrigue. The finale had the ship returning with yet another exiled President in an attempt to take the country back from the bad guys. A handful of good guys took the entire government down with only one major character death.  We’ll see what lies in store for the Captain and the ship next year. For sure, poor Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) will not be Captain for long (again) as Tom Chandler’s retirement will be short-lived.  If you are looking for something a little lightweight but offering some suspense, it is an ok show for summer. McSteamy isn’t bad either.

Binging:

Jane the Virgin Season 1 and 2 (Netflix)

I did it. I actually got through the first two seasons of Jane the Virgin and I’m hooked. This didn’t come easily. When the show premiered two years ago, I watched a couple of episodes based on great reviews. I didn’t care for it at all. A comedy with shades of a Telenovela was so outside my wheelhouse that I didn’t connect to anything. I quickly gave it up. However, the critics that I have the most respect for didn’t leave it alone. For two years, they keep coming back to it as one of their favorite shows so I had a couple of weeks that were slow this August and tried it again. I must admit it took probably 5-6 episodes for me to really appreciate this show but after that, I was hooked.

Jane the Virgin is packed with great writing, acting and storylines. The characters are complex and continually evolving. The Telenovela aspect becomes just plain fun as the show’s narrator takes you through the similarities between Jane’s family and a real Telenovela. While all this is amusing, it is Jane who is the heart and soul of this show and how she deals with being mistakenly artificially impregnated, in love with both her fiancee  and the baby daddy and her struggles to establish a writing career tug at your heart and soul. The most important aspect of the show is the relationship between Jane, her mother and grandmother, which forms the basis of an amazing female family unit. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be totally in love with these characters and best of all, you’ll just feel happy when you watch it.