Friday, 16 August 2013

My never-ending catch-up pile


I've scaled back blogging to spare my sanity in the past year, but I'm actually watching more TV than ever before. How ironic! The shows I review weekly are either long-standing favourites I can't bring myself to stop writing about after so many years, or things that are just fun to let off steam about (True Blood). There aren't that many new shows that have become regular fixtures for review this year, actually—beyond Hannibal. But I still manage to review lots of US pilots and premieres along the way, so things will get much busier in the autumn. However, I thought I'd quickly go through some of the shows I am watching but haven't blogged about much, if at all...

In Treatment
Season 3; HBO via LOVEFiLM


I loved the first season of this defunct HBO drama, enjoyed the second, but I'm surprised to find myself struggling with this final box-set. Is it just coincidence this was the only season of In Treatment not based on the Israeli original? It doesn't help that I outright dislike one of this season's patients (Frances), find another incredibly boring (Sunil), and only really look forward to Paul's own therapy sessions with Amy Ryan's character (which, sadly, wouldn't make sense if you skipped some of the patients they discuss).

I'm seriously considering giving up because my viewing's slowed to a near-standstill, but I've come this far and I do want to know how things end up for Paul in light of his health issue. Can anyone inspire me to continue?

Orange is the New Black
Season 1; Netflix


Oh Netflix; you and your 'release everything now' strategy for original programming, how I hate thee. There's nothing more disheartening than having thirteen-hours of something added to your to-do list overnight, even during the slower summer months, but I've heard so much positive buzz about OitNB that I'm trying to get through this comedy-drama about a suburban woman sent to prison for smuggling drug money.

I'm only on episode two, and it's... well, reasonable. Sort of promising, but yet to really make me laugh or care about the characters. I'm not sensing anything special about it that justifies the acclaim. It's like someone remade BBC Three's Dead Boss after hearing it discussed on a noisy train by strangers, but Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager) as a Russian cook who runs the prison's kitchen is one of the year's biggest surprises. What a transformation! Or did she just get old? Maybe both.

House of Cards
Season 1; Netflix via LOVEFiLM


I saw the first two episodes earlier this year, then simply didn't have time to watch more. Oh, and it's another Netflix original drama that dumps everything on your plate even if you're not hungry. House of Cards is now nominated for Emmy's and has been released on crystal-clear Blu-ray with lovely DTS sound (via Netflix's big European rival LOVEFiLM ironically), so it's been added to my queue and discs have started arriving.

I just watched episode three, and already suspect I have little interest in anything outside of whatever Kevin Spacey's doing. He's great, despite having made the decision to play Frances Underwood in the hammiest way possible.

Southcliffe
Channel 4


I was behind on Channel 4's broadcast by a week, but have just caught up with this excellent four-part drama about a small market town that becomes the scene of a spree shooting that kills fifteen people. It's bleak and depressing, but also fascinating and full of great performances. I especially like how writer Tony Grisoni is telling the story using a narrative that jumps back-and-forth, which avoids the problem of having the first episode feature the actual shooting and three episodes cover the repercussions for the community.

It also avoids some of the usual 'small-town murder' clichés, with Rory Kinnear's local-boy-done-good reporter returning to his childhood town to report on the killing, only to find ghosts of his own past coming back to haunt him... which pushes him to condemn Southcliffe's residents during a live TV news broadcast.

Ray Donovan
Season 1; Showtime


I'm watching this new Showtime drama every week it airs, which has surprised me considering it's part of such a busy Sunday evening Stateside (Dexter, Breaking Bad, True Blood). I don't quite know why I'm watching it, beyond the fact I just like watching Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight do things on-screen. Ray Donovan is less about helping L.A's rich and famous evade scandals than I thought it would be from the pilot, which has surprised me.

It's more about Ray's hatred of his father and in slowly explaining the cause of the bad blood between them, which is pretty entertaining and enlightening... but how can that run for longer than a season? Are they going to kill Voight and move onto something else in season 2? It's hard to get a clear grip on what Ray Donovan is, or ultimately wants to be. It just feels like a collection of ideas thrown together right now, but because most episodes feature Voight doing crazy or embarrassing things it's oddly watchable. The Boston accents alone are good for a giggle.

The Americans
Season 1; FX via ITV


Right, I have some explaining to do: I watched this FX drama every week during its US broadcast, then fell behind so much that I couldn't find my way back in. I was also, to be honest, getting a little bored because there are certain things this show can't do because it takes place in the past. Russia aren't going to nuke NYC on The Americans, thanks to intel provided by undercover agents the Jennings, and eventually win the Cold War. A part of me wishes it was taking place in a parallel universe instead, similar to how Homeland operates, but it's more of a period piece... albeit with a heightened take on how active Russian sleeper agents on US soil would have been in the 1980s.

Anyway, The Americans has been airing on ITV every Saturday and fits into my viewing schedule much better, although I'm still three weeks behind. I'm pleased the show has shifted its emphasis onto the Jennings themselves and their fake marriage, too, which has helped restore my interest somewhat. But it's still not quite as impressive as I was hoping it would be when it was first announced. Unless something game-changing happens soon, I can imagine getting bored halfway through season 2 and letting it go.

Top of the Lake
BBC2


Similar to Southcliffe, I shouldn't have any problems finishing this crime drama despite being a week behind. It's really good, even if it's another show that hasn't quite managed to maintain the quality of its dazzling first episode. Maybe this would have worked better as a movie instead? Still, I'm glad there are only six episodes, although this usually means it will end on a cliffhanger and I'll be baffled about yet another short-form story being needlessly stretched out.

The Returned
Series 1; Canal+ via Channel 4


I really liked the first episode of this French supernatural drama about the dead coming back to life, but found the second one incredibly dull. Then my TiVo didn't record episode three, so that put me off watching episode four with a gap in my knowledge... and now the series is over and they're all recorded and waiting for a binge-watch. But when you have hours of a foreign show with subtitles waiting for you (not that I'm against subtitles exactly), and knowledge from friends that the last episode doesn't answer that much... well, my enthusiasm has waned considerably. Is it worth continuing with?

Those are the main shows I'm watching but not blogging about... or trying to watch, more accurately. Are any of these on your own itinerary, or have you seen them already? Your own thoughts or more recommendations would be appreciated.
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