Thursday, 12 November 2015

Autumn 2015 TV - Part One

Thursday, 12 November 2015
We're a few months into the 2015/16 television season, so I just wanted to run down all the shows I'm watching, how I think they're getting on, and my degrees of continued interest in them.

'Agents of SHIELD' (season 3) - ABC.
Season 1 became good halfway through. Season 2 turned bad halfway through. Season 3's proving to be a real bore from the start. It seems someone decided what we really want from AoS is lots of people with superpowers, so they're going big on the whole Inhumans angle. I just wish the show didn't feel like a live-action X-Men more than a spy-fi show that could tackle a lot of different subjects and ideas. Unsurprisingly, the best episode (so far) concerned an hourlong flashback to Simmons stranded on an alien planet, having to survive until rescue arrived. While it was probably inspired by The Martian novel, or knowledge of the film adaptation, it was something you don't see TV do very often.

'American Horror Story: Hotel' - FX.
The same old story, really. I love how this show establishes its new setting and a fresh array of bizarre characters, then you spend two-thirds of the season with mediocre or outright appalling episodes where it doesn't feel like the writers have any kind of real plan. So I just enjoy it for the occasional moments that work, or performance that really clicks. I've been very surprised by Lady Gaga as the immortal Countess this season, too. I'd love to see her in a horror film directed by someone who really knows how to utilise her acting talent.

'Arrow' (season 4) - The CW.
Already a big improvement on the messy third season, with a lighter tone which feels like it's learned a few lessons from sibling show The Flash. I like the new high-tech 'Arrow Cave' and Damian Dhark's proving to be a great new villain with a supernatural edge (played nicely be Neal McDonough, practically reprising his Justified baddie with added telekinesis). On the downsides: there are times when the setting up for next year's Legends of Tomorrow spin-off can be a bit too much, the Constantine crossover wasn't that great, and I hate Diggle's stupid helmet.

'Ash vs. Evil Dead' (season 1) - Starz.
It's too early to give a fair assessment of this comedy-horror series yet, following up on the cult Evil Dead movies, but I loved the premiere and enjoyed the second hour. I'm reviewing it weekly, for now.

'Doctor Who' (series 9) - BBC1
This has been a weird series for me. I can see the quality, but the decision to do a lot of two-part stories has resulted in Series 9 feeling very... brief. We're already eight weeks in, but only four stories have been told. It wouldn't matter if they were four amazing stories that benefitted from unfolding over a fortnight, but I'm not sure that's been true of a couple. Peter Capaldi is definitely settling in as The Doctor now, but a part of me hopes the BBC rest Doctor Who in 2017. A year without the show on-air would help recharge my interest, now we're a decade into the revival. Read my weekly reviews here.

'Downton Abbey' (series 6) - ITV.
It's finished now... well, until the feature-length Christmas special closes the door on Downton Abbey. I still think this period drama is grossly overrated (especially in the U.S where it's an Emmy fixture), but it's nevertheless perfect Sunday evening fare. This last series was pretty good compared to most, but Downton never really topped its excellent first series. I liked how the final stories were about this era beginning to wind down, with servants seeking other employment, or finding the world can offer them better opportunities, and Lord Grantham having to downsize.

'Fear the Walking Dead' (season 1) - AMC.
Nobody gave a shit about where the zombies in The Walking Dead came from, or how civilisation crumbled, but AMC needed a prequel so there can be wildly popular zombies on for even longer each year. They've gone z-word crazy. They've even commissioned an adaptation of Empire of the Dead, a vampire/zombie comic-book co-created by George Romero. Fear the Walking Dead had its moments, but not nearly enough to justify its existence. FtWD wasn't very good. I enjoyed it less than the mother show, although I was impressed by how they made Vancouver look like L.A.

'The Flash' (season 2) - The CW.
I was worried the new supervillain, Zoom—another speedster, only this time from a parallel universe—would feel like too much of a retread of the Reverse-Flash, but that hasn't happened. Instead, the show's threats are coming from meta-humans Zoom is sending through portals to assassinate our universe's 'fastest man alive', and Zoom's agenda is pure evil and pride. Added to that, Harrison Wells is back in the form of a parallel universe's doppelgänger—but he's a complete asshole everyone hates, and not without good reason half the time.

'Fargo' (season 2) - FX.
Another superb season of dark comedy-drama, doing something very different from the first year—but with a bit of thematic crossover in terms of an ordinary Minnesotan couple getting caught up in the affairs of dangerous gangsters. The 1979 period setting gives it a cool throwback vibe, and the cast are just amazing without fault. It's a pleasure to watch the likes of Ted Danson, Jean Smart, Jesse Plemons, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst and Jeffrey Donovan chew this material, but I must confess that Bokeem Woodbine's proving the unexpected star of the show as a scarily relaxed gangster.

'Gotham' (season 2) - Fox.
I keep meaning to stop watching, but something keeps drawing me back. I think it's a perverse delight in seeing how bad Gotham can get. The tone doesn't work for me, because one minute it's camper than a row of tents and the next it's astonishingly graphic and violent. I can't imagine many parents being okay about their kids watching this show, despite its association to Batman. It skews at an older crowd in many ways (certainly over-12s), but the content and how things play out are rarely as interesting and complex as they need to be to appeal to over-18s. I'm also beginning to feel like casting Ben McKenzie was a huge mistake, because he could theoretically be so good to keep you watching, but I find most of his performance very dull. He has about eight expressions (mostly clenched teeth and jutting his jaw out in pride), and it's beginning to really bug me now. James Frain's been entertaining as this season's new villain, although watching yet another mayoral campaign in a comic-book series hasn't been fun.

'Heroes Reborn' - NBC.
A lot of people are being very negative about this 'event series', but what's the problem? It's Heroes, on above-average form. If you think small-screen superheroes have moved on and there are better things to watch in this genre, like Arrow and The Flash, then fine. I can't really argue with that. But if you loved the first season of Heroes, then Reborn is basically a semi-remake doing a more consistent job with its storyline—even if it lacks any feeling of freshness. But did you expect a top-to-bottom rethink of the entire show, in all honesty? I'm enjoying it. Weekly recaps available here.

'Homeland' (season 5) - Showtime.
I don't think I care about Homeland now it's taking place in Germany, with the Russians as villains and Edward Snowden as part inspiration. I appreciate it's doing something new and it makes a nice change to the usual Middle Eastern concerns, but it just feels like the show is straying further and further from what I liked about it to begin with. Homeland should really have ended after season 1, we all know this. Now, it's a well-made drama full of good actors, that still manages to be surprising at times, but I don't really care about anything. I could happily stop watching and just binge this season later, which is why I haven't been reviewing it this year.

'Jekyll and Hyde' (series 1) - ITV.
Some great special effects and gorgeous production detailing, but we're a few weeks into the show and it's still about Dr Jekyll unearthing his weird ancestry. The audience know what the deal is, so just get on with it! Richard E. Grant and his MIO team also don't seem to actually do very much, either. The show shot itself in the foot when Mr Hyde had a fight with a man with a giant lobster's pincer for an arm... and it wasn't cool, exciting, or great fun. It was dull and laughable. That was your big chance to make us buy into the show as a crazy 1930s superhero show, if not a very effective J&H update, and the scene where the anti-hero fights a monster just fizzled. Colin Teague directed that hour; the man Doctor Who haven't asked back since 2008.

This post is in danger of become far too long and unwieldy, so check back tomorrow for Part Two!