Friday, 13 November 2015

Autumn 2015 TV - Part Two

Friday, 13 November 2015
It's the second half of my feature, alphabetically listing all the TV shows I've been watching this autumn, with thoughts on how they're developing...

'The Knick' (season 2) - Cinemax.
It's another great year for this period medical drama, so far, which too many people are overlooking. I'm not sure why that is. The subject matter? Its wintry 1900s setting? The stigma of Cinemax? It's their loss. The Knick is amazing. Boardwalk Empire with stethoscopes. Gruesome surgeries. Genuinely insightful stuff about turn-of-the-19th-century medicine and social norms. Clive Owen as a coke-addict genius surgeon. Andre Holland stealing the show with a raised eyebrow. And it's all directed with surgical precision by Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies & Videotape, Ocean's Eleven), every single week. I feel blessed it exists.

'The Last Man on Earth' (season 2) - Fox.
It fills a half-hour ever week, that's about all now. I was intrigued to see where the writers would take this show in season 2, and the answer appears to be "nowhere in particular." I liked the earlier episodes with Phil and Carole living in the White House, and that episode where they were separated and had to find each other cross-country without the aide of modern technology. But then they reunited with their fellow survivors in Malibu and it's basically back to how things were last year. Will Forte can be funny, but his character is very repetitive. He's starting to annoy more than amuse. And what about 'Space Phil' (Jason Sudeikis), who made a surprise appearance at the end of season 1 and in this year's premiere? The show seems to have forgotten about him for way too long.

'The Leftovers' (season 2) - HBO.
Currently the best thing on television, no question about it. An amazing improvement on an already very good first season. You can read my weekly reviews here. It would just get embarrassing to gush about it here.

'Peep Show' (series 9) - Channel 4.
It only returned this week, so I can't really say much about the consistency of this sitcom's final series, but episode 1 was amusing. You can always rely on Peep Show for amazing one-liners and weirdly comical situations, but I think the show ran out of worthwhile story four series ago. It should have ended after Mark's disastrous wedding, because seeing the show constantly resetting itself (ignoring things like Mark being a father, or the fact his continued friendship with Jez isn't plausible) is what stopped it becoming an all-time classic. It just went on too long. But it continues to be funny, for the most part, because the jokes are still there and the performances always good. I just wish more care had been taken with its overall storylines and character arcs.

'Scream Queens' (season 1) - Fox.
I would have stopped watching Scream Queens three weeks ago, were it not for one thing: knowing this is an anthology show, so my pain will end very soon. And when you've come this far, it seems pointless to stop watching halfway. I'll soldier on, slowly. I'm now two-weeks behind the latest episode, because there isn't much incentive to keep up. It's not scary or funny enough; just irritating and has quickly become a stream of horror references.

'River' (series 1) - BBC1.
This is a new crime drama created by Abi Morgan (The Hour, Suffragette) about a grizzled, middle-aged detective called John River (Stellan Skarsgård)—is there any other kind?—who's haunted by the murder of a colleague, D.S Jackie 'Stevie' Stevenson (Nicola Walker). Almost literally, it turns out, as he likes to imagine she's still around. Naturally, this causes a lot of awkward moments when River's caught talking to himself or smiling at empty space, so he's asked to see a police psychologist to help get over his bereavement.

I thought it was a Nordic Noir-ish update to Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) part way through the first episode, but Stevie's clearly imaginary not supernatural—so River is actually a British remake of Raines. You don't remember Raines? I don't blame you. It was a short-lived NBC detective series from 2007, about a middle-aged LAPD detective (Jeff Goldblum) who solved cases by interacting with imaginary manifestations of crime victims. I have to wonder if Abi Morgan saw Raines (I believe it aired on late-night ITV here), because the similarities are clearly there. I mean, both shows even have one-word 'R' titles with watery connotations. Abi's been found out.

Of course, River's a much better show even after just two episodes. Goldblum's a fun actor to watch being eccentric and talking to "ghosts", but Raines was just another 'cop show with a gimmick' for U.S TV, and they're nothing new. Studios are just hoping one will stick with audiences, like House managed. Raines didn't appeal to many people, and creator Graham Yost wisely moved on to develop Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens character for six mostly-excellent seasons of Justified on FX.

River's a darker, grittier take on the same idea behind Raines. It's British after all. Skarsgård is the dictionary definition of world-weary and crumpled, and manages to make what's outwardly a very, very clichéd role rather compelling. You find yourself feeling a great sympathy for River, as he's obviously lost someone who meant the world to him. There's a chance his 'recollection' of Stevie is biased, or rose-tinted, but their scenes "together" make it feel like she was the ray of light that kept River from succumbing to depression and social dysfunction. The first episode portrayed that beautifully with a sequence where River listened to Stevie sing-along to the radio, trying and failing to persuade him to duet with her.

The thing about River is that I'm not particularly interested in the crime stories themselves, or the scenes between River and his psychiatrist (another thing it has in common with Raines). It's not that they're badly done, but I've just seen too many for them to have any real appeal to me now. No, I mainly like River because getting Skarsgård involved feels like a coup (and is a better use of him than running around spouting gobbledegook in Thor movies), it's handsome put together, and there's something very compelling about seeing River continue to believe his dead partner's still hanging around and getting him through the day.

'Supergirl' (season 1) - CBS.
A bit early to say if the newest comic-book drama on the block has legs, but the signs are promising. I was surprised to have enjoyed the premiere as much as I did, and episode 2 was also strong. A confident tone and great casting goes a very long way. I just wish they'd stop mentioning Superman all the time. They tackled the issue of Supergirl being in her cousin's shadow in episode 3, which raised interesting things about female superheroes playing second fiddle to 'the men', but why didn't they just erase The Man of Steel from their mythology? That would work so much better and be less messy and odd. If they continue to have moments where Superman's quickly glimpsed, but his face is never seen, or Clark Kent keeps instant-messaging Kara at work, I may scream. Besides all that, Glee's Melissa Benoist is sublime here—she makes for a wonderful, slightly tomboy Supergirl, but also a very believable 'dorky-but-sweet' office worker.

'This is England '90' - Channel 4.
Occasionally transcendent in its narrative bravery and the believability of its performances. TIE90's dinner table revelation and Combo's harrowing comeuppance were extraordinary moments of television. The only issue I have with TIE, and it's probably something that only affects me, is that I have a tough time remembering the events of the previous two miniseries. It's down to the long gaps between each series, and the fact I watch a lot of other stuff in-between. My memory seems to erase a lot of stuff it doesn't think it'll need to remember, and that tends to include TIE twists and turns.

'The Walking Dead' (season 6) - AMC.
Zombies. Grrr. Lots of zombies. A herd, no less. Aaaagh! Lennie James as a pacific warrior with a wooden staff? Excellent. More zombies, always comin' for you... but slowly. Lots of them, in woods and behind big fences. Give it all the Emmy's.

'You, Me & The Apocalypse' (series 1) - Sky 1.
Not as funny or dramatic as I'd like it to be, but the story's proving far more complex than I'd anticipated. A lot of thought has gone into constructing the plot, which is great to see. Things noticeably progress every single week and I find myself drawn deeper into its world, as the interconnectedness of the characters become more obvious. I hope it ends as strongly as I'm imagining it might, but a part of me suspects they'll leave a door open for an unnecessary return. British shows have a frustrating tendency to do that nowadays, as they want to look more appealing to overseas broadcasters—who may not think much to buying a ten-part 'miniseries', but may like the idea of buying a long-running drama starring Rob Lowe. The fact there's a literal countdown to apocalypse built into the story keeps me hopeful YMATA isn't going to wriggle out of giving us a good ending.

The TV shows I stopped watching: Blindspot, Minority Report, Limitless, The Muppets, Hand of God, Red Oaks.
The TV shows I haven't found time for yet: Narcos, all of Amazon's latest pilots.