March 2016 TV

Current TV: 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Broad City, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Daredevil, Faking It, Fresh Meat, Girls, Grandfathered, Grantchester, Happy Valley (season 2), How to Get Away with Murder, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, iZombie, Jane the Virgin, Shameless, The 100, The Americans, The Flash, The Good Wife, The Night Manager, The Path 

Non-current TV: Happy Valley (season 1), Monogatari Second Season (episodes 5-7)

Pilots tried: Damien

Shows dropped: Elementary (will revisit if Moriarty ever comes back), Sleepy Hollow (will revisit if Ichabod and Abbie make out), Vinyl (will probably not revisit)

Rewatched TV: Daredevil (season 1, episode 10)

march2016tv

Things of note:

Daredevil (season 2)

Okay, so this was not quite as engaging as season 1, although I think it probably helped that I went into season 1 with zero expectations and watched it over the course of a week. I’d been fucking stoked for season 2 for weeks leading up to the release and was worried about being put off by the hype if I didn’t watch it all as soon as possible, which resulted in my watching five episodes in a row the Friday it was released and the remaining eight episodes on Saturday, which—as much as it pains me to say this—was just slightly too much Daredevil. The binging just didn’t feel organic, I guess? Because I wasn’t watching an episode and thinking “holy shit, I need to find out what happens next immediately” but rather “holy shit, there are n episodes left and I need to get through them by the end of the day.” Which is more a problem with the Netflix release format and the surrounding culture than the show itself.

The season probably peaked around episodes 5-8, though. All of the Matt/Elektra stuff was glorious—“you can’t mask that ass” was the fucking best, although Elektra using Matt’s abs as a cutting board for fancy cheese in the flashback to their college years comes a close second, and I would watch a whole series of their undercover team-ups. Plus, I like it when Daredevil does courtroom episodes, because, oh right, these people are lawyers.

The first 4 episodes and last 5 episodes still had good moments, but felt more like a chore to watch—the last few especially. Part of what made season 1 great was that despite having this masked vigilante with super senses it still felt somewhat grounded in reality. That kind of goes away when we get deep into the mystical ninja bullshit, and boy, did we get deep into the mystical ninja bullshit in the last few episodes. Plus, season 1 maybe established the villain personalities better, so that you were more emotionally invested in the fight scenes? Like, certainly the Daredevil/Punisher fight scenes have some character to them, but there are also just so many fight scenes with faceless goons/henchmen that, while very true to the spirit of the comics, get a little tiresome after a while, no matter how well choreographed they may be.

Also, Matt becomes more isolated over the course of the season, which makes sense as a character arc and isn’t, like, bad writing, but it’s not really as fun to watch. The season opened with some really great Matt/Foggy chemistry and I was hoping that would be the new normal, because that is really pleasant to watch, but I suppose that is not what this show wants to do. Instead, by the middle of the season, Matt isn’t on speaking terms with Foggy or Karen or Elektra; he’s no longer seeing Claire; he’s not even having really on-the-nose confessionals with his priest. So it’s a lot of fighting and grunting and not much dialogue, because we’re not in a comic book with internal monologue boxes.

But what are the people shipping?

daredevil

I think Frank/Karen has also become a pretty big one, which…makes sense. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Matt/Karen romance. I think it works from a storytelling perspective, in terms of Matt seeing Karen and Elektra as embodiments of two very distinct life paths and not actually being super correct in his assumptions about either of them, but something about the Matt/Karen scenes was just kind of cringeworthy to watch? That said, holy shit, Karen’s hair is so good.


Happy Valley

So the whole British small town crime miniseries is a Thing and its appeal to American audiences makes a lot of sense. The crime procedural has become a pretty derided genre in American TV, because we just have so many and they’re like 22 episodes per season, which means that they tend to have a certain amount of forgettable filler, so they all eventually just sort of blend together, no matter what twists (she talks to ghosts! he’s the devil! she’s an amnesiac! he’s mildly autistic! etc etc) you try to put on them to freshen them up. And British television has a bunch of its own long-running and probably shitty police procedurals, so it’s not just a US vs UK thing.  No, what makes the British small town crime miniseries different is:

  • The shorter season length (generally, 4-8 episodes per season) means that there’s probably going to be one main crime at the focus. This gives the show more breathing room to really focus on the characters and the procedural details, rather than having to introduce and resolve a new crime per episode while maybe progressing a little bit on the character development front. (And this is the case for shows like True Detective—at least, season 1—as well.)
  • The setting, which feels, you know, exotic simply for not being Los Angeles or New York or even London. It generally sets up a nice juxtaposition between pastoral vistas and violent crime, but also, like, weird regional accents yessss. And also there tends to be more of a realism in casting—the actors aren’t going to be as glamorously styled and made up as any given actor in an American network procedural.

Anyway, Happy Valley: a solid entry in this genre, with the added appeal of [blah blah blah insert feminist thinkpiece here]. The protagonist, Catherine, is a police sergeant with, like, the shittiest life. In the very first episode, Catherine introduces herself to a guy she’s trying to talk down from setting himself on fire with the following:

I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m 47, I’m divorced, I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroin addict. I have two grown-up children. One dead, one who doesn’t speak to me, and a grandson.

Right, so eight years prior to the events of the show, her daughter was raped by this dude, Tommy Lee Royce, and committed suicide shortly after giving birth to his son. Catherine decided to raise the child, because “none of it was his fault, was it?” and so her husband divorced her, because he couldn’t deal with the living reminder of his daughter’s rapist. In the meantime, Royce was never convicted for the rape, but was sent to prison on completely unrelated drug charges sometime afterwards and is just being released at the beginning of the series. So that sets the super depressing scene for the rest of the show.

The casting of James Norton as the irredeemably shitty Tommy Lee Royce is distressing, because nooooo Sidney Chambers why are you being so awful, but it’s also handled super deftly within the context of the show. Society has a lot of issues with the correlation (or lack thereof) between beauty and morality that we could probably write a whole other post on, but essentially, how do you cast this sort of criminal in a TV show? It’s implied that Royce had a shitty childhood, but we’re also definitely not supposed to excuse his behavior on that basis; based on his actions and dialogue, he definitely isn’t meant to be a sympathetic villain. And if you cast some ugly fuck in the role, then yeah, the audience will immediately accept that he’s a bad dude. But because he looks like James Norton, we expect there to be some reveal that he has hidden depths, you know? Ideally, we want him to be falsely accused, but if he is a criminal, at least have him be, like, a hyper-intelligent one with an interesting motivation, right?

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So awful. So hot. Truly a conundrum.

The Fall sort of addressed this with the serial killer played by Jamie Dornan (now of 50 Shades of Grey fame), but—maybe just by virtue of giving him so much screentime—still managed to make him somewhat sympathetic. There’s something about the artistry and skill behind his criminality that makes it more likable or admirable or whatever than just raping or murdering by force; it’s totally fucked up, but there it is. Happy Valley doesn’t let us off that easily and in fact addresses the disconnect between Royce’s looks and deeds pretty directly in season 2. We have a character making a comment about not believing Tommy Lee Royce could be responsible for the crimes he’s accused of because he has such a “kind face”—and a few episodes later, a completely thorough and effective takedown of that character’s beliefs. I don’t know, when we hear about murderers getting groupies in real life (see: James Holmes or Dzokhar Tsarnaev, for semi-recent examples), we tend to be pretty unforgiving of the “deluded fangirls” or whatever, but Happy Valley handles this scene with more nuance than that. Or at least demonstrates some understanding as to the why of these delusions, rather than outright dismissing them as crazy. Although also Catherine kind of exudes empathy all the time, so that’s part of it; in a separate incident in the same episode, she makes maybe the gentlest arrest of all time, like, tenderly embracing a woman while doing the British version of Mirandizing.

I mean, it would be reductive to call this THE thesis statement of the show, but this quote from the season 2 finale is certainly one of them:

People are weird. People are mad. And they don’t always have it tattooed across their forehead.

And a final observation: wow, Happy Valley had some of the most vitriolic uses of the word “bitch” that I’ve ever heard.


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s crazy that this show is still so good in its eleventh season; my usual rule for sitcoms is that they should probably end after five seasons, since it’s so rare to make it past three, let alone five, without a noticeable decline in quality. But not so for IASIP. It definitely benefits from the shorter seasons, and (perhaps related) the showrunners’ willingness to ditch the conventional sitcom structure of, like, A, B, and C plots founded on comical misunderstandings?

Season 11 had a lot of visceral laugh out loud moments, which, again, is rare. It’s true that a lot of the jokes/set-ups at this point in the show rely on callbacks, but it feels intentional/experimental rather than lazy, I guess? It’s a show with mythology and continuity, which would be a given if it were a drama, but is somewhat rarer in sitcoms. For example, New Girl or The Mindy Project may have multi-episode arcs wrt characters’ relationships and major plot points, but the wacky hijinks in a given episode or the “defining” character traits assigned to characters to enable those wacky hijinks may never be referenced again. This is not quite the case for IASIP, I think, where the characters’ life situations basically never change—although there was follow-through on Mac and Dennis burning down their apartment—but the character tics that may be acknowledged in any given episode—like, say, Charlie’s fear of leaving Philadelphia—tend not to just be one-offs to enable plotting. This maybe was less true at the very beginning of the show, but we’d have to go back and look.

How I Met Your Mother may actually be more similar to IASIP in terms of its use of continuity and callback jokes, but those started to feel pretty cheap and lazy in the later seasons, and the characters all became caricatures of themselves. The IASIP characters have certainly become more extreme and depraved over the course of the show, but it somehow feels like it’s been a more organic process? If we go by the actors’ ages, these characters were in their late 20s/early 30s in season 1 and are now in their late 30s/early 40s, in the exact same place in their lives in terms of career/relationships/lifestyle. Naturally, their antics come across as weirder and sadder in season 11 than they did in season 1, and the show is fully aware of that.

(Also, crazy that IASIP  has been airing since 2005—that means I was in middle school when it premiered? What the fuckkkk? I did not actually watch it until marathoning it over Thanksgiving break junior year of college instead of going to a relative’s house, because that’s who I am.)

The weird/sad thing is particularly true for the character of Dennis—legit one of my favorite fictional sociopaths. “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” was an episode back in season 5, at which point you could buy that he would be successful at the pickup artist act, as creepy and misogynistic as it may be. And IASIP is definitely aware of the creepy misogyny there, which leads us into another tangential HIMYM comparison. Like, I think we’re supposed to, on some level, think that Barney’s playbook (for picking up women through elaborate lies and manipulation) is awesome? And HIMYM was pretty inconsistent wrt the characterization of Barney—he worked in the early seasons, when he was more or less treated as a live-action cartoon character, but once they tried to actually write him with  feelings and depth in order to turn him into a viable romantic partner for Robin, it became harder to reconcile this “fun character with super quotable catchphrases” with his treatment of women. “But it’s okay,” HIMYM seemed to be saying, “because all of those women were just bimbos with daddy issues and not actual people, unlike Ultimate Cool Girl Robin Scherbatsky.”

It’s weird to say this about IASIP, but I think it’s grounded enough in reality, in terms of how people who aren’t in the Gang react to the Gang, the character of Dennis sort of feels like the show’s way of saying, “look, if you actually behave like Barney Stinson or [insert any other exaggerated sitcom lothario here], you come across as a borderline rapist.” There’s the “implications” scene from “The Gang Buys a Boat” in season 6, and the payoff from that in the season 11 finale is fucking brilliant; it’s funny to hear season 6 Dennis give one of his eloquent speeches about “the implications” of hypothetically propositioning women at sea, but it’s kind of terrifying to see season 11 Dennis actually (attempt to) implement those tactics on a real woman on a boat. And that scene is basically played straight?  I mean, it’s still funny because it’s IASIP, but not in the “lol rape” way but rather the “holy shit this dude is so fucking creepy and so not self-aware” way?


The Night Manager

Nothing too deep to say here:

  • Tom Hiddleston wears a bunch of form-fitting shirts in various shades of green that seem specifically chosen to bring out his eyes and also really works that intense brooding man-on-the-edge vibe. Basically, if you thought the hottest Leonardo DiCaprio scenes in The Departed were the cranberry juice barfight scene—in which DiCaprio has to convince the mobsters that he’s violent and unhinged enough to not be an undercover cop—and the one-on-one confrontation between him and Nicholson after Nicholson realizes there’s a rat in the organization: well, this series has similar scenes featuring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, so.
  • Tom Hollander’s character is a delightful little shit.
  • There was a whole layer of government conspiracy —involving the Tobias Menzies character and some other dudes—that I kind of did not follow? Oops. I think what essentially came of that is that they were working with Hugh Laurie and intentionally sabotaging Olivia Colman’s operation or something. Clearly not the most important aspect of the show to this viewer.

 

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