February 2017 TV

Current: 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Broadchurch, Catastrophe, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Girls, Imposters, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Jane the Virgin, Legion, Only Connect, Powerless, Riverdale, Taboo, The 100, The Graham Norton Show

Non-current: Being Human, Only Connect, The Aliens

Pilots tried: Drifters, Insert Name Here, Nathan Barley, When Things Were Rotten

Other: The Fake News Show

Things of note:

february2017tv

Riverdale

Oh man, I love this show so much–it’s probably been the show I look forward to the most every week since it started airing. I totally didn’t expect to; I wasn’t into Archie comics as a kid, and I never really got what the deal was with that universe. And as much as I am, at this point, a true believer in the CW Renaissance, the concept of doing an Archie show in 2017 was very much just like…why? (Although it is, I guess, surprisingly still relevant–or newly relevant–in the comics world, with Mark Waid writing the main title and Chip Zdarsky writing Jughead.) And the initial previews for Riverdale made it seem like it would just be the Archie comics universe reframed as a generically ~sexy~ and ~edgy~ teen drama series, à la Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, etc.–the type of show that the unfaithful still consider to be The CW’s standard fare, even in this post-Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and iZombie era.

Anyway, what Riverdale’s actually doing is somehow taking all of this comics world absurdity and playing it straight? Sort of? But also adding in all of these other teen drama and small-town murder mystery influences. And also just doing its own highly stylized and super fucking weird thing. It maybe achieved peak campy glory with the latest episode (“Chapter Nine: La Grande Illusion”), which featured a Dramatic Maple Tapping scene. Like, this is a show in which the maple syrup business is treated like the oil business, with all of the generations old family grudges and intense scheming and ludicrous displays of wealth that implies, which is RIDICULOUS and PERFECT and emblematic of this show’s tone.

And the dialogue–again, so stylized in such a specific and weird way. The pilot episode has high school students dropping references to Blue Jasmine and “Season 5 Betty Draper,” which–semi-reminiscent of Gilmore Girls (especially with all of the inevitable “the dialogue is so unrealistic/what teenagers talk like that/such bad writing” comments that followed from, well, dumbasses). Cheryl Blossom in particular is such a unique character–at first you think she’s just meant to be the bitchy head cheerleader/requisite Mean Girl, and she is, but there’s also the general over-the-topness, the implied twincest, the ridiculous dialogue (moreso than any other character), the lipstick and hair and wardrobe that are just…too much for a high schooler in such a way that it seems like v intentional character design as opposed to the standard level of TV show glamorization.

There was some criticism early on about the Ms. Grundy storyline (the pilot reveals that Archie has secretly been sleeping with his music teacher, which…yep), and while I wouldn’t have wanted to see it go on for much longer–there didn’t seem to be much more dramatic tension to mine from the situation and it wasn’t super compelling–I don’t think it was handled offensively badly. I think it was one of those cases where people denounce the plotline as Problematic just for happening, even though it’s not like it’s portrayed in a positive or even very neutral light in the show. The AV Club reviews were particularly dumb in being like “this character did a Bad Thing therefore this show is Bad” or, if we want to give them credit for being slightly more nuanced, perhaps “this character did a Bad Thing and the show doesn’t have every single other character explicitly remarking on how Bad a Thing it was therefore this show is Bad.” Especially dumb, when a) some of the characters definitely did make comments to the effect of “yep, that teacher is a predator” and b) the characters’ reactions seemed to be in-character? This isn’t the genre of show to do Very Special Episodes and I don’t think any of the characters–except maybe Betty, who did react “properly”–are meant to be seen as paragons of virtue and/or role models, so it would be worse writing to explicitly reassure the viewers (by using the characters as mouthpieces) that, yes, that was statutory rape, and yes, it is totally fucked up for adults in positions of power to sleep with the teenagers they have authority over, and yes, it doesn’t matter that both characters are actor-level sexy and the teenager doesn’t see himself as a victim and blah blah blah, it’s still Wrong. I mean, it is, but I don’t think the viewers need to be condescended to, morally.

Also dumb: all of the people freaking out about queer-baiting after the first 2-3 episodes–in this post-Hannibal world, why not actually just wait and see if the subtext leads somewhere rather than automatically assuming it never will and then denouncing the show based on that assumption? I mean, who knows what the show’s endgame is? The iconic Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle that the comics are seemingly built on is effectively shelved by episode 2, and now Betty and Jughead are officially a couple (and an unexpectedly cute one at that–I def did a shipping 180 at episode 4, which: good job, Riverdale writers), so, like, who even knows? (The AO3 stats as of 4/9/17 had Betty/Veronica in the lead with 27.6% of the Riverdale works, followed by Betty/Jughead with 25.3%, and Archie/Jughead with 24.0%. In contrast, only 2.8% of the works are tagged Archie/Betty and 2.3% are Archie/Veronica.)

Archie is so bland and dumb that–well, it’s almost cartoonish. He keeps trying to make the football vs music vs working for dad a legitimate dramatic conflict, only to be shut down by Veronica with the most amazing line (“Can’t we just liberate ourselves from the tired dichotomy of jock/artist. Can’t we, in this post–James Franco world, be all things at once?”) and all of the actual Dramatic conflicts going on around him (murder! secret pregnancy! homelessness! mysterious business dealing!) highlighting how tiny and normal he really is. And the TV show, luckily, spends enough time with other plotlines that when you see Archie it is mostly like, “aww, this dummy” rather than “ugh, why are we wasting time on his bland ass.” I want to group him with Scott McCall (Teen Wolf) as this lovable doofus with abs character type, but Scott McCall is so essentially Good (at least as of season 4, after which I stopped watching Teen Wolf…) and Archie is, like, mostly well-intentioned, but also selfish and shitty, all in, again, a very normal, unremarkable way.

(Also, this interview Cole Sprouse gave with the AV Club recently was solid and articulates what I’ve been trying to get at wrt the show’s tone really well.)


Powerless

The idea behind this is really solid–workplace sitcom about normal people trying to live their lives in a world with superheroes–and it’s about time. There have been rumors–or maybe just wishful thinking–circulating for a while about Marvel was putting out a Damage Control series, but I guess DC beat them to the punch.

And yet: it’s not quite living up to its potential. Powerless seems to be trying to be like a sort of Parks and Rec/Better Off Ted hybrid, but it’s still lacking some of the specificity and world-building that made those shows work. Which is a little surprising, since so much of the “world”–i.e. the DC Universe–is already built. The plots are too often storylines that we’ve seen in, like, every other sitcom before this one; the mundanity of the office plots could maybe work if the show set up more of a contrast between that and the whole superhero thing or incorporated more weird details about the company and its products, but they’re not quite there yet.

The ensemble cast is also…not quite there yet. It feels like it’s leaning too hard on the Alan Tudyk character, who would be funnier in smaller doses, but the rest aren’t as well-defined. (Especially the super one-note character Wendy who’s just there to aggressively hit on people/talk about her sex life and I guess that’s supposed to be funny because she’s a not conventionally attractive woman?) And not sure how I feel about Vanessa Hudgens’s delivery–sometimes it really works, and sometimes it feels super off in a way I can’t quite articulate, but she is very pretty and has a distinctive enough presence that it’s hard to imagine someone else in the role.

Anyway, for all its flaws, Powerless is still fun to watch for 22 minutes a week and there are occasionally some very, very strong jokes. It could be the type of show that–like Parks and Rec or Happy Endings–improves massively in its second season, as it starts to rely more on the ensemble cast’s chemistry and serialization.


Taboo

Crazy how boring this show has turned out to be given how much it had going for it–Tom Hardy, Steven Knight, a period setting that hasn’t really been done to death in TV yet–there was that quote from Knight saying the show would depict the East India Company as “the CIA, the NSA, and the biggest, baddest multinational corporation on earth,” which was, like, a super compelling soundbite–and then all of the violence, incest, assorted debauchery, etc. Especially crazy since every time I checked the Wikipedia page since the show was first announced–like 3 years ago?–I was like, man the series premiere cannot come soon enough, but now, weeks after it aired, I haven’t even been able to make myself watch the final episode of the season.

Similar to The Duelist, I like a lot of the tropes involved, clichéd as they may be, with a dude returning to his home city for mysterious (probably revenge-related) reasons after years spent mysteriously abroad learning mysterious skills. See also: Heathcliff, I guess, also played by Tom Hardy back in the day. At some point you need to actually reveal those mysteries, though; if it goes on too long, the withholding of information about the main character’s motives ends up becoming boring and you just stop caring. Maybe–probably–All Is Revealed in the season finale that I still need to watch; still, the fact that I’m not eagerly anticipating that Revelation means something was off with the pacing or writing of the show leading up to it.

Tom Hardy does get to show off a whole new set of grunts, though.


The Aliens

Let’s have Wikipedia explain the premise of this show, because it’s probably necessary and ultimately I would just be paraphrasing this anyway:

The Aliens is a British science fiction television series. It is set 40 years after aliens land in the Irish Sea and are reluctantly integrated into British society in the fictional city of Troy. Border guard Lewis Garvey, played by Michael Socha, is caught up in the criminal underbelly of Troy as he learns he is himself half-alien.

So yeah, that premise–maybe kind of dumb, but mostly well-intentioned, in its not especially subtle allegorical way. Sort of a similar vibe to what I saw of Cleverman (I should probably finish watching that at some point), but it is always a little weird when you have this fictional race/species whose struggles are used as a metaphor for an actual contemporary issue in the same setting as the members of the real group that the fictional group is meant to represent? It somehow seems to muddle the allegorical power. But what’s the alternative…?

The plotting and pacing are compelling enough to carry one through the six episode season and leave one wanting more at the end. A lot of interesting details

I guess it’s not getting a second season, though? That fucking sucks, if true. There were a lot of interesting details to the setting, like the costuming for the aliens (’80s-’90s athletic wear) and the fact–that I totally missed–that they all had French names, and I would have liked to see the world expanded on. And I did get invested in the characters: Michael Socha has such an endearing face and accent, and Michaela Coel is so cool in this, with her signature bomber jacket (sort of surprising, given what an awkward character she plays in Chewing Gum–at least from the two episodes I ‘ve seen–but I guess not actually that surprising given that Acting is a thing).

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