Shows I kept current with: Banana, Broad City, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Elementary, Fresh Off the Boat, Girls, Ground Floor, How to Get Away with Murder, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Jane the Virgin, Kroll Show, Man Seeking Woman, Marry Me, Marvel’s Agent Carter, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, Sirens, Sleepy Hollow, The Americans, The Flash, The Mindy Project, The Musketeers
Non-current shows watched: Never Mind the Buzzcocks (season 27), Shameless (US version, seasons 2, 3, 4, and caught up to 5)
Pilots watched and then abandoned: Babylon, Big Bad World (although we may come back to this at some point), Dancing on the Edge, Girlfriends, Seinfeld, Wolf Hall
Things of note but not necessarily recommendations:
- Shameless (US)
- Man, how do I even begin to talk about this show? I started watching this when it first aired, but gave up a few episodes into the second season; at that point in the show, the good parts were not quite good enough to make up for all of the gross parts (i.e. pretty much any plot-line involving Frank, Sheila, and/or Karen). And Shameless is always going to have these cringe-worthy parts, because that’s sort of the show’s M.O., but it does eventually find a slightly better balance between genuinely compelling drama and gross-out humor. Season 4 is fucking spectacular—like, one of those seasons where you leave every episode absolutely needing to know what happens next—and Season 5 seems like it’s heading that way as well. It’s weird1 that most of the nominations the show has gotten have been for William H. Macy and Joan Cusack’s performances, because Frank2 and Sheila are definitely the worst parts of the show to me. Macy and Cusack are both probably doing a good job with the material they’ve been given, but I feel like focusing the critical attention on them just gives the wrong impression of the show’s merits, as does the classification of the show as a comedy rather than drama3. For me, the biggest selling points of the show are probably: Emmy Rossum’s face, Jeremy Allen White’s face, the entire evolution of the Ian/Mickey romance, Kevin and Veronica being awesome and supportive, and all of the creative Gallagher schemes that don’t involve Frank.
- Fresh Off the Boat
- I want to like this because it’s Culturally Significant™, but it’s mostly not working for me. To be fair, family sitcoms in general are not really my thing; I’ve realized that I’m now too old to identify with the children, too young to identify with the parents, and too much of an asshole to find the children’s antics cute. Not that TV characters have to be relatable to be worth watching, but half-hour family sitcoms tend to aim for generic likability and universal messages about being a parent/spouse/child, so I think it’s more fair to discount them on that basis. So, okay, if we accept that this is a genre that we don’t love, how well does Fresh Off the Boat work within that genre? A lot of the timing and/or editing of the jokes still feels off, even six episodes in. And in general, unless you get really lucky with your child actors, you’re going to end up with a lot of unnatural/overly cute/try-hard line readings from child actors, and I don’t think this show got lucky (Eddie’s classmates are particularly not great). But Constance Wu is pretty amazing, which has been pointed out in probably every comment about the show but must be said here too, and there are some solid jokes. So overall: not for me, but not any worse than like Modern Family4.
- Dancing on the Edge
- I also wanted to like this, because it would mean a few hours of staring at Matthew Goode, but man it was not worth it. Which is fucked up because the whole cast is so solid and the subject matter is almost inherently interesting—even if nothing else works, you can always cut to exciting musical numbers. But the writing was just…not there. It suffers from the same sort of utilitarian dialogue problems as Downton Abbey where everyone just says what they need to say to move along the plot and do the bare minimum of characterization, without any of the “padding” that would reflect how real people talk to each other. And it has that patronizing “ha ha look how backwards people were back in [insert time period here] about [race/technology/music/etc.]! Sure glad we’re not like that anymore!” tone where we can tell who’s supposed to be a “good guy” or a “bad guy” by who has the most modern views regardless of whether that would be realistic for those characters, which is just such a lazy way to write period dramas (also looking at you, Downton Abbey). Sorry, Matthew Goode, I’m just not quite that dedicated.
- Wolf Hall
- I haven’t read the book, although that shouldn’t be necessary to have an opinion on the show. It might be a “good” show, but I couldn’t get into the pilot, probably for the same reasons that I’ve never been able to get past the pilots for Rome, The Wire, and House of Cards, even though those are all “good” shows that one “should” watch if one wants to be considered a television connoisseur. But I’m just not that interested in watching Serious Men discuss Serious Political Intrigue, and while I don’t necessarily want any of these shows to dumb down their pilots, it’s hard to be immediately invested in either the success of these Serious Men or the details of the Serious Political Intrigue. Also most of my knowledge of Tudor history still comes from reading the not super historically accurate Carolyn Meyer YA books focused on female royalty and like half of a non-fiction book about the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots (because Reign) so I pretty much spent the whole episode wondering why we weren’t just hanging out with Anne Boleyn instead of these boring old dudes.
1. I mean, not that weird, because they’re established film actors ~bravely~ playing unlikable characters on a cable show. ^
2. Although I am starting to appreciate the need for Frank from a narrative perspective as the sort of grim future that he represents to the rest of the Gallaghers. But man, his scenes are so unpleasant to watch. ^
3. There’s been a lot of discussion of this lately with the new rules for Emmy categories, but yeah, there basically needs to be a separate category for shows like Shameless, Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, etc. that are neither straight-up sitcoms nor serious dramas. Although Shameless is still more on the drama side of the spectrum than either OITNB or Jane the Virgin, so who knows. ^
4. I assume, having never actually watched a single episode of Modern Family. ^