Shows I kept current with: 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Atlanta, Berlin Station, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Hibike! Euphonium, High Maintenance, Jane the Virgin, Luke Cage, Mock the Week, No Tomorrow, Shameless, The Fall, The Good Place, The Graham Norton Show, The Great British Bake Off, The Young Pope, Victoria, You’re the Worst
Non-current shows watched: Only Connect, Taskmaster
Pilots tried: Outsiders, The Trip, Was It Something I Said?, Westworld
Things of note:
Wow, this feels like so long ago now; in part, that’s because I did watch it at the very beginning of October, but also the discussion lifecycle for individual TV shows–in terms of thinkpieces, GIFs, etc.–seems to have become more and more abbreviated as we achieve “Peak TV” (ugh, that phrase1). Except when it comes to Game of Thrones, unfortunately.
Anyway, this was not as compelling to me as the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, although I think that’s also a symptom of “Peak TV.” The Netflix + MCU formula doesn’t feel as fresh anymore; we now sort of know what to expect from these shows in terms of:
- The pacing–a slow start, full investment by episode 5, at which point we shuck all other responsibilities and commit to The Binge, but then by episode 9 or 10 it’s like…huh, why is this a 13 episode season, rather than 10 episodes?
- The use of flashbacks
- The street-level scope–more personal stakes, not so much apocalypse talk or explosions.
- And tied in to that, the attempts at realism in language and relationships–as opposed to the squeaky clean Marvel movies–and in the exploration of the consequences of the events of the Marvel movies.
- Claire Temple! Not by any means a bad thing.
That’s fine, in that comic book-based TV shows are becoming a genre in and of themselves with their own genre conventions2 and once you have genre conventions, you have some level of predictability, but also the opportunity to subvert those conventions, which Luke Cage does; the use of the musical acts in the nightclub comes to mind, but I’m sure there are other and more significant examples that I’m forgetting about.
Unfortunately, Luke Cage himself is just not that interesting–he spends most of this in the stoic mode, with occasional forays into corny flirting mode and barbershop shit-talking mode. And obviously, the barbershop shit-talking mode appeals the most, because I want to watch characters bantering and expressing super specific opinions about pop culture or whatever. But I suppose since this is technically a superhero show, we can’t spend all of it discussing the pros and cons of various thriller authors and basketball players (but why not, though?) So we mostly get Generically Heroic with a side of Burdened By A Tragic Backstory That Will Only Gradually Be Revealed To The Audience: which, ugh, whatever.
Misty Knight is super great, though, as is Claire Temple, although not sure how to feel about that romance. And the hoodie scene later in the season was very effective–that sort of “I am Spartacus” thing is always going to be super affecting, and obviously there’s the whole symbolism/relevance to semi-recent events there as well.
And blah blah blah we could do some nerd shit about how disappointing Marvel’s villains are, but, like, man who cares? The whole half-brother thing was super cheesy, and, like Daredevil season 2’s magic ninjas, the sort of plot point that betrays the series’ comic book origins in the worst way. Still, I liked Shades and how basically his most important character trait was his affinity for sunglasses. Dude was just so chill.
Cute! The CW continues to kill it.
The leads are just very pleasant to watch together, and it’s an interesting concept–what if you meet a super hot and fun guy, but the reason he’s super adventurous/spontaneous/etc. is because he genuinely believes the world is going to end in eight months? How much can you overlook that, as long as he remains hot and fun and also helps you be more assertive and risk-taking? Anyway, would it even be possible to truly embrace the carpe diem spirit without majorly breaking social norms, since social norms are geared towards the long-term stable survival of a society in which the majority of the population just sort of docilely works and behaves appropriately?
It’s weird to see people calling Evie and Xavier’s relationship “unhealthy” because of his beliefs, because isn’t that basically what people in interfaith relationships do–believe in fundamentally different Truths from each other and yet somehow…deal? Some belief systems are more “crazy” than others, I guess (but are they?) Anyway, like the other brightly colored CW shows (e.g. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin), there does seem to be some underlying edge here, and I don’t think the writing is trying to portray Xavier as a harmlessly ~quirky~ guy in the long-term, but because it’s not outright stating “RED FLAG!” every time Xavier does something sort of shitty/selfish/preachy, some reviewers seem to think of that as a flaw in the writing rather than just a depiction of a less than “perfect” character? Maybe because it’s on the CW, we expect the show to deliver a more unambiguous moral judgment of its characters?
Let’s see: the Seattle setting is refreshing, specifically with Evie and her friends working in an Amazon-like company and the Pacific Northwest hipster/nerd style of Evie’s ex-boyfriend and all of the people he’s starting to interact with. I mean, I assume “Seattle” is actually Vancouver or something, but still: it’s not New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, so that’s relatively rare–iZombie and Grey’s Anatomy3 are the only others that immediately come to mind.
The premise of this series is basically: get comedians to do dumb shit. Which maybe doesn’t sound super appealing. The thing is, it’s (mostly) not scatological, gross-out, Fear Factor dumb shit–the closest it comes to that is maybe “eat as much watermelon as possible in one minute” or “fill an egg cup with sweat.” I think you could classify the tasks as either genuinely weird (e.g. “conceal a pineapple on your person” or “make a Swedish person blush”) or genuinely mundane with the added pressure of time and competition (e.g. “empty a bathtub” or “eat an egg”)?
Or maybe better put, tasks achieving a divine mixture of the weird and the mundane, being performed by a really well-selected panel of comedians. Each season has a new set of five comedians, and at least for the three seasons that have aired so far, they’ve achieved a really nice mix of comedic styles and personalities? Even comedians who I usually find annoying on panel shows–Katherine Ryan and Joe Wilkinson–have been, if not fully vindicated, then at least not as annoying as expected here. And Greg Davies is always great and plays the host role v nicely.
In all, a very comforting show to watch during some high anxiety times4 and I supposed I’ll need to find yet another British panel show to replace it.
(Also, British people–specifically Jon Richardson–calling inanimate objects “bastards” never gets old.)
The Young Pope
So this show might represent either the pinnacle or the death throes of a certain type of “Golden Age of Television” show. On the White Male Antihero spectrum you have the one end that’s take a “bad guy” and make him sympathetic and the other end that’s take a “good guy” and make him surprisingly shitty. You have Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, all those guys somewhere in the middle. Then you have shows like Lucifer and Damien being like, fuck that middle ground, what if we go all the way to the left and literally make the Devil our antihero protagonist? And now we have The Young Pope, similarly, going almost all the way to the right and making the fucking Pope an antihero protagonist.
(Is this analysis reductive of me? I mean, yeah, I don’t super love the whole concept of antihero protagonists because it’s assuming a sort of inherent and rigid moral system that I probably don’t subscribe to and a not super nuanced view of either humanity or fictional characters, to even have broken things into Good Guys and Bad Guys in the first place.)
It’s also, like, the ultimate ~edgy~ HBO move, to make a sexy Pope show with tits out within the first 5 minutes of the pilot.
But wow, I am in love with this show. It is somewhat filling the surreal dreamy what-the-fuckery and Christian imagery void left behind by Hannibal and Penny Dreadful (RIP ;_;). I mean, say what you will about Catholicism, but it has always been killing it on the aesthetic front. The sets are gorgeous–I assume at least some of it is on location in Italy, if not in the Vatican itself? The cinematography is v well done–lots of nice symmetrical shots, and I think some interesting effects of making the papal robes seem to emanate light at certain times? Although I’ll have to rewatch when it comes to HBO Go to make sure that wasn’t just an effect of the lower quality streams I was watching.
Architecture, gardens, gilded shit: great great great.
And of course, Jude Law’s face: great great great. It does not go unacknowledged within the show itself, which is hilarious and also refreshing, since it’s often just taken as a given that movies and TV shows take place in alternate universes where the entire population is either actor beautiful or hideously deformed, with nothing in between. But no, basically everyone meeting the Pope is like “whoa, you are…not what we expected” and Lenny is just like, “yes, I know, I’m super handsome.”
(In one of the episodes, there’s a scene of Lenny donning his Papal vestments scored to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” and I was only like 75% sure that that was actually part of the show and not a cough syrup induced hallucination on my part. I had to Google “the young pope sexy and i know it” and sift through some Italian news sites just to make sure.)
Certainly the show has a sense of humor–there’s a fair amount of comedy mined from the incongruity of the sort of Old World aspect of the whole Vatican setting in the 21st century–it’s automatically surprising and funny to see priests in their robes using smartphones or nuns in habits playing soccer. And Sister Mary’s slogan T-shirt (“I’m a virgin, but this is an old shirt”) that just never gets commented on. And then there’s the whole surreal kangaroo shit. And those opening credits (fanning myself over Jude Law winking to the audience and then turning back with a smirk).
And yet: 8 episodes in5 it’s still not totally clear where this is all going? The audience is still basically in the dark wrt Lanny’s motives and plans (as are the characters in the show, so…I guess that is a valid storytelling choice). We know he’s an orphan and has a lot of feelings about that, because probably like 50% of his lines are “I’m an orphan.”
(Every conversation in this show that isn’t about how handsome Jude Law is basically goes “Holy Father, why are you being such a dick?” “Because I’m an orphan, and all orphans are dicks.” The dialogue is…not the show’s greatest strength, to be sure.)
But there has to be more going on? He wants to bring mystery back into the Church by making himself an unknowable and unapproachable figure, and that is maybe what the show is doing as well, but…okay, so what?
There is def something interesting about the marketing for this being like sexy smoking rebel Pope when his thing is that he’s actually super conservative (or is it??? What is your deal Lenny?)
1. Okay, so I hate the phrase Peak TV and also think it’s inaccurate—if we’re thinking about the number of airing/streaming TV shows as a function of all time, then Peak TV should occur at the point with a first derivative of 0 and a second derivative of -1, yeah? Not just at the time that happens to be the maximum because you’re only considering time so far as the domain; do we really expect the number of airing/streaming TV shows to decrease any time soon? That said, there’s maybe not a shorter and more evocative phrase to describe “the current deluge of quality television shows across network, cable, and streaming platforms that only recently began to feel overwhelming,” so I guess I will keep calling it (shudder) “Peak TV.” ^
2. And subgenres, maybe based on the network or streaming service on which they air? Certainly CW superhero shows are very stylistically distinct from the Netflix superhero shows. ^
3. Although Grey’s hardly counts, since it’s almost all inside a hospital. It might as well be set in Brazil)^
4. Not actually alluding to the election here! More anxiety arising from isolation/detachment/rejection/oh god have I lost the ability to connect with people and is this just it for me while everyone I used to know is now a Real Person living a Real Life etc. etc.^
5. Okay, I finished and it became slightly more clear what the show was doing with the reveal that Lenny’s biological parents were hippies, but I’m too lazy to even attempt to get into that now, so let’s pretend we’re still where I was when I wrote the initial draft of this post.^