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: Orphan Black, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and World of Dance

TV premiers and finales have wound down but we still have a few.

Seasons Premiers: 

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black premiered this past week for its fifth and final season and the fate of all our favorites clones is up in the air.  Sarah is wounded and crawling around an island trying to find Cosima.  There is some sort of weird monster lurking on said island in addition to the crazy cult which is holding Cosima hostage. The potential cure for her resperatory disease needs to be injected in her uterine wall so she escapes her cabin to go find it.   Alison and Helena are still camping although Art, with his super dangerous new partner,  captures Alison while Donnie escapes without helping her.  Despite the fact they didn’t get Donnie or Helena, the latter is speared by a piece of wood into her uterus as she tries to escape.  We can’t lose Helena’s babies!  Rachel is now apparently second in command in the bizarre group that runs the commune and offers to inject Cosima saying they need to stay on the island and find a cure for all the clones.

Orphan Black has certainly had its ups and downs over the past 5 seasons and I totally lost the ability to understand what was going on during the season that had the male clone army but now that we are winding down, I hope we get some answers and happy resolutions for the best of the clones.  Tatiana Maslany is so amazing and what she has done with these many characters is groundbreaking.  This show is probably a good summer binge if you haven’t seen it.  I think being able to watch it all at once will make for a better understanding of the crazier plotlines. 

House of Cards (Netflix)

I don’t watch every season of House of Cards all the way through but I thought last years was good so I tuned in this season.  As usual, I didn’t remember what happened 12 months ago but one doesn’t have to in order to get the basic gist of what is going on.  I’m about one-half way through this season and with a crazy sequence of events, Claire is Interim President and she and her husband are manipulating everything in sight in order to make that permanent.  Joel Kinnaman is an effective “villain” trying to prevent that from happening .  Doug Stamper is back with unclear motives – is he the newest bad guy?  If he is, that could make for a most interesting plot-line.

I can see that although the Showrunners of House of Cards wrote and filmed this season well before the 2016 US Presidential election, the stories are eerily similar.  House of Cards is so out there and our real White House is like a dystopian novel.  These two together create an environment where reality and fiction are indistinct from each other.   I’m not sure how long viewers will stay tuned in when entertainment inadvertently becomes a reality show.  The show, with all its fine acting, just isn’t strong enough, in my opinion, to transcend this issue.  Perhaps if it was the best series on TV, people might find this exaggerated dose of reality intriguing but that’s just not the case.  I’ll do a final report when I get through the entire season and hoping for stronger episodes in the second half. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Ouch, the reviews are in for this season and they are not good.  The entire season takes place over the course of a 3-day prison riot and apparently, nothing works well with this new format. I have watched the first episode and I’m not sure I buy into any of the reactions of the various inmates to their circumstances.  The character development so carefully crafted over the last several years seems to have been abandoned for many of them during this time of crisis at the prison.  Samira Wiley’s Poussey is sorely missed as a character both within the show and for the viewer.  I have always enjoyed OITNB so I will give it at least half of a season but if it is as bad as the reviewers have said, I’m not sure even I can get through that.  More to come on this one. 

World of Dance

I’m not a big reality show person.  I watch the Voice from time to time and I watched So You Think You Can Dance for years until it deteriorated to the point where I just couldn’t watch a couple of summers ago.  I will try it again this summer to see if has gone back to its roots but in the meantime, a new dance show premiered that I thought might have some potential.  World of Dance has Derek Hough, Jay Lo and Ne-Yo as the judges along with Channing Tatum’s wife Jenna as some sort of backstage cheerleader.  I’m not sure what her role is.  At any rate, the show brings dance acts from across the world doing all kinds of dances and divides them into age groups.

I’ve seen a few shows and I’m not very impressed.  Some of the acts are good but others seem picked just because they do something different, not because they are very good.  There is nothing new or particularly innovative here and it can’t compare with the quality we used to see on SYTYCD.  If the latter is even close to its original level when it premiers later this summer, I’ll dump the former in a heartbeat. In the meantime, there are only 10 episodes and hopefully we’ll be to the next level of competition soon and the acts will become stronger.

What I’m streaming this summer:

  • I have started in on a Game of Thrones rewatch but it is slow going and I’m sure I will not have made much progress before the new season premiers on July 16th. Nevertheless, it is fun to be back in Season One amidst the many characters who have long since been killed.
  • My big watch this summer will probably be the Wire. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

TV: Summer TV -Some Great Stuff Along with a Couple of Duds

 

Premiers:

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

The fourth season of Orange is the New Black dropped Friday and I have been able to watch the first four episodes. I have read several reviews all of which say that it is a very strong season – particularly the latter episodes so I’m anxious to get to them. To be honest, Seasons 2 and 3 were very mixed and so it is good to know that this season, while expected to be much darker, is a big improvement.

This season we are getting some more of the “lesser” characters and their backstories add additional depth to the various plot lines. Taylor Shilling was barely visible in the first few episodes and that is fine – Piper is not one of the show’s strongest characters. Meanwhile, at Litchfield, it is now a “for profit prison” and extremely crowded with a Martha Stewart-like inmate played wonderfully by Blair Brown. There are lots of tensions between the old and new inmates and a murder followed by the body being cut into parts and buried in the garden makes for a humorous start. Some may think this is a comedy and it does have comedic elements but it is really a drama and I’m excited about where we are headed this season. I’ll keep you posted as I progress but I’m totally in!

The Interestings (Amazon)

I was intrigued when I saw that Meg Wolitzer’s excellent book had been made into a TV series so had to check it out. Wolitzer’s novel follows a group of creative kids who meet at an arts camp during the 1970s and takes them through adulthood with unexpected life choices and outcomes.  Entertainment Weekly gave the TV show a C- which made me nervous that yet another one of my favorite books was going to be butchered when adapted for the small screen. A show really has to be bad to get a grade like that on EW, which is notoriously generous in its grades. The first episode dropped on Amazon this week so I watched it. I try not to judge a show by just one episode but it wasn’t great and I’m thinking it could be rather confusing for non-book readers. The book flows back and forth more fluidly then the TV show and this is a tough book to bring to screen. More to come but I’m not optimistic. While viewing this episode, I kept having visions of the “Magicians” and how much it disappointed me – could the Interestings be worse?

Finales:

Orphan Black (BBC America)

On the day of Orphan Black’s season finale, it was announced that next season would be the 5th and final one. While I could watch our favorite clones for years, I always like it when show runners get to determine how to finish a story the way they want and go out on their own terms. This season has been strong. Clearly the writers heard feedback about how the show had become so complicated that no one knew what the heck was going on. Many of its fans kept viewing solely because Tatiana Maslany is so great that we can’t stop watching her. As a result, the overall story arc was simplified and the show introduced an “After the Black” show, which provides additional insight to each episode. The end result was a good season in which the story arc was easier to follow.

The finale was a bit convoluted with Donnie and his two clone “wives” camping out in the snow; Sarah venturing north to find Cosima; Rachel stealing the cure and attacking her mother and Crystal being brought into the fold. Delphine and Cosima are back together but where and with who is a mystery. They appear to be held by a mysterious man “the messenger” who is somehow aligned to Rachel and hangs out in a bunch of huts on the island. Rachel has turned villain again (at least we think so) and is about to meet the mysterious founder of Neolution who is over 100 years old….what???? Sarah is wandering around the island with a serious leg wound and we’ll just have to wait to see how all of this resolves itself next year.

OJ Simpson: Made in America (ESPN)

OJ Simpson finished up it’s almost 8 hour run and it was riveting. Hopefully everyone got a chance to see it although I’m sure there will be numerous re-runs and it is available for streaming on ESPN. It is one of the best documentaries ever done by ESPN and maybe even on TV – just a fantastic series that everyone should see. Get your Millennials to watch it as well. I think it has even more of an impact on this generation who did not live though the Bronco chase or the verdict. What it teaches them about history, race relations and justice in the United States is invaluable.

The last episode was really well done as it followed OJ from the polarizing verdict through his incarceration for the Las Vegas debacle including the assertion by his business manager that OJ actually confessed to the killing. His character is exposed as he is shunned by the Brentwood crowd and looks to reconnect with the African American community. He falls in with an unsavory crowd culminating in the armed robbery of a memorabilia dealer. His final sentencing for many will seem justified based on his earlier acquittal but many others will find his sentencing extreme for the crime. As the story fades, the tragic life of Simpson from superstar to convict is laid bare for all to see. The mini series is worthy of all the accolades that I expect it will receive in the coming months.

Binging Update:

Bloodline (Season 2 Netflix)
I completed Season 2 of Bloodline. While most critics refer to Season 1 of Bloodline as “a slow burn”,  I’m afraid the match wasn’t even lit in Season 2. Although Ben Mendelsohn is technically still on the show, the second season suffers from not having him as a main character and the superb interactions with Kyle Chandler that we enjoyed last season. Season 2 is just boring as the three Rayburn siblings see their respective lives fall apart after participating in Danny’s murder. The police are closing in painfully slowly. For some inexplicable reason, John, the murderer ,decides to run for public office introducing just a stupid plot line.  The finale sets the stage for next season with numerous people finding out who murdered Danny and another murder (please make them stop) adding to the ridiculousness of it all.

I can’t image what Season 3 will bring unless the Rayburns murder everyone in town who figures out who murdered Danny. There is no way I’ll suffer through another season of this show although I might tune in for what I expect to be the series finale episode to watch them all put in jail. What was a reasonably good series in Season 1 with fine acting just fell apart in season 2 – albeit the acting was still good. Once we knew who murdered Danny, the show was pretty much over and that was totally apparent throughout Season 2. By the end of it, any empathy I had for the characters in the first season had long since disappeared – too bad – it had potential.

BINGING SCORE:

Great: 1 (UnREAL)

OK: 0

Not Good: 1 (Bloodline)

TV: Catastrophe, Orphan Black, Jackie Robinson,Togetherness, the Magicians, The Last Panthers

 

Several series are wrapping up and we got a couple of great new ones while I count down the days until the April 24th debut of Game of Thrones.

Premiers

Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)

If you missed Season 1 of Catastrophe on Amazon Prime, go watch it now. It’s only 6 one-half hour shows so it is easy to catch up with. It is about an American businessman who has a one-week fling in London with a girl he meets in a bar. She becomes pregnant and the two of them work through what they are going to do. Catastrophe is that new genre of “dramady” (like You’re the Worst, Togetherness, and Master of None), which I’m thoroughly enjoying. Several of them are about millennials moving in to adulthood but this one has more comedy and a little less drama than others. The two lead actors playing Rob and Sharon, write, direct and produce the series and they are so good. There is such a great relationship between them as they blunder their way through life with perfect dialogue.

Season 2 dropped April 8 on Amazon Prime. I watched all 6 episodes and they were terrific. This show may have a bit too much crude language and sex for some but the pluses far outweigh the negatives for me. We return to Rob and Sharon a couple of years later fully entrenched in a house in London with a toddler and newborn. Rob is still in his horrific job (although a new sexy co-worker is introduced) and Sharon is struggling with being a stay-at-home mom. Each episode is crisp with unbelievably pithy dialogue and deals with a main event that moves the plot along nicely. The trip to Paris episode turns out to be a disaster (as you can imagine) and the episode where they invite all their friends to meet the baby is equally as bad. The supporting cast, including Carrie Fisher at her best, is more prominent in this season and adds depth to the story. Unfortunately, the Season is over in less than 3 hours and we are going to have to wait a year for the next one. I’m sure I’ll go back during the summer and re-watch both season 1 and 2, as they are so great.

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black returned this week. Season 1 was extraordinary – there had never been a show on television quite like it. Tatiana Maslany was brilliant playing a number of clones with completely different looks and personalities. This Canadian actress came out of nowhere to deliver the best performance of the year. The next couple of seasons slipped dramatically in terms of writing and story telling. They introduced male clones, new villains etc. and it was extremely difficult to figure out what the heck was going on. Nonetheless, despite not understanding the plot, watching Maslany as Alison, Sarah, Cosima, Helena, Rachel etc. Is just magical. I can watch her all day long.

The reviews for Season 4 have been encouraging. The writers are going back to some of the elements that made it great in Season 1. The premier did not disappoint. We flashed back to Beth’s backstory (she committed suicide in the first episode of season 1) and met a new clone , MK who I’ll just refer to as “Sheepgirl” given the mask she wears. We saw what happened with the murder Beth was being investigated for and introduced new mysteries. There was also a a surprising reveal about Beth and her partner’s Art relationship. It was a great start to Season 4.

Jackie Robinson (PBS)

As a student of history, there is nothing better than a Ken Burn’s documentary and Jackie Robinson does not disappoint. I was a bit skeptical as I really dislike baseball but there is plenty of meat here that has nothing to do with the sport, which helped immensely. It is a perfect balance of Jackie Robinson’s story amidst the history of the period. The narration is great as are the historians and other commentators used by Burns who even got President Obama to participate. We all think we know the story of Jackie Robinson but Burns provides so much insight into the years after his life in baseball which is pretty much ½ of this documentary. This is an important story and the 4 hours fly by. PBS usually repeats these documentaries many times over so if you missed it, just hit that cable “On Demand” button and see it.

Finales:

Togetherness (HBO)

Togetherness ended its 2nd and last season (was not renewed) this week. This is really a great show and I’m sorry to see it end. I don’t think the creators knew they were going to be cancelled when they wrote what turned out to be the final episode but it still was a satisfying conclusion to the series. The right people got together and the interaction between each of the couples was perfect. I wasn’t a huge fan of the charter school plot line this season – it was too much like Parenthood – but even that resolved itself satisfactorily. The acting is just great in this show and hopefully we will be seeing the actors again soon.

The Magicians (SY FY)

I’ve written about the Magicians a couple of times. It is the biggest disappointment for me of this Television season. I had such high hopes but by the end of Season 1, I was just screaming at the TV and trying to gauge out my eyes. How writers (with input from the author) could butcher the books so completely is beyond my comprehension. The plots changed, the characters changed, the worlds changed and none for the better. I watched each and every week for it to start to turn around and instead, it just got worse.

The finale was no different. A fat, ugly guy with a ram’s hat? Really? I realize that the budget is limited but Ember and Reginald the Fox were major disappointments.   Ember may not be truly god-like but he certainly wasn’t that! Why is Alice not a Niffin? It’s not like the actress is so great that they need to keep her around. Much of book 2 of the magicians was incorporated into season 1 so I’m really not sure where they are going to go with this. There can’t be enough material to sustain more than one more season of the show. I guess they could go the route of the backstory of the gods but given the kindergarten-like costumes of the finale, I don’t think that would be a good idea.  Unless the showrunner, writers and producers are fired and there is a major restructure for season 2, I won’t be back.

DVR Alert:

I don’t have access to the Sundance Channel but a new show on that network is getting a lot of good buzz. The title is “The Last Panthers” and if you get this channel, it is worth checking out. It is a 6-part miniseries that traces crime across Europe (primarily London, Marseilles and Belgrade) and really explores how international crime syndicates work and the fine line between legal and illegal. For me, I’ll have to wait until it hits Netflix or one of the other services.