Monday, January 27, 2014

TV Roundup

I don't find a lot of TV shows on my own. Some will pop up on my radar from time to time, but for whatever reason I have a hard time sitting down and just watching a TV show nowadays. Most of the time any shows I experience are ones that I have on in the background as I paint, though I pay attention if it's particularly compelling.

I grew up watching a ton of TV. If I was in the room, the TV was on, and some program or another was always playing on in the background. I was always aware that I had the TV on, but wasn't really watching it. So when I moved out I tried an experiment: don't watch TV unless something really interesting is on. No more channel surfing, no more having something on just for some background noise.

I was surprised by how well it worked. I didn't miss casual TV watching at all, and I was greatly aided by Netflix rising to prominence at around the same time. Instead of just watching whatever was on, I could choose precisely what I wanted to watch when I did decide to turn the TV on.

I think the flip side of that is that I've become a TV snob, which I know drives my wife nuts. Because I've been allowed to be so picky about what I watch, I've been very ready to easily dismiss anything that didn't measure up to what I thought would be worth watching. Even past that, once I got used to not watching TV shows it was pretty unpalatable to try to watch them again. I became much more likely to watch a movie or a miniseries; something self-contained and finite.

My wife is trying to get me to break out of that shell, and I think she's right to do it: while there is still a ton of garbage on TV, there are a number of really remarkable, good shows that are absolutely worth experiencing. Hell, I was such a curmudgeon that I didn't experience Breaking Bad until after the final season had aired, even though I was pretty sure I'd like it! It was just the idea of starting a show that really put me off; the thing that made Breaking Bad easy to get into was that I knew there was an end in sight (and it didn't hurt that I'd heard it was a pretty good end at that.)

So even though I'm still curmudgeonly about it, I'm watching new shows with my wife while I hobby away. Here are some quick capsule reviews of what we've been watching:

 - Orange Is The New Black: This one was a hard start for me. The writing and acting are both great (and get better as the show rolls on,) but a decent chunk of the characters really get under my skin. One of the biggest things I had to resolve was how the show wants you to feel about Piper: she (and pretty much all of the people directly associated with her) are the kind of pleasant but narcissistic vampires that I've grown to hate with a passion.

Watching a show with that as your main character was difficult, but the show does a very good job of playing it pretty neutral: while it's pretty clear that you're not supposed to behave like Piper does, they also don't discount the fact that she's a human being, and even though she's kind of broken so is everyone around her. She's sympathetic in a way that's genuine, while also being flawed enough to be realistic (even as we close in towards the end of the season, she's got a lot of growing left to do.)

Combine that with an overall very entertaining cast of characters, and it's a show that's really grown on me. Which is a pleasant surprise, because for the first few episodes I wanted to beat Piper and everyone around her with a hammer.

 - Justified: We just started watching this one last night, so my impressions are pretty shallow. For what its worth though, the pilot was pretty darn good. It did a good job of setting up the characters, the tone of the show, and it also does a good job of tipping you off on the depth of the characters without being too explicit about it. The ending in particular was pretty unexpected, and I think it paints the show as shooting for something more interesting than just "Wild West style sheriff in modern days" (this theme is implicit; there is sadly no time machine involved...yet.)

 - True Detective: My wife found this one on HBO, and I can't believe I didn't know it was coming. I have a bizarre affection for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, so I would have signed up just based on the premise of them acting together in a crime drama. Two episodes in, I love it even more than I thought I would. The whole show has a slow burn going on that makes everything that happens very interesting and satisfying (even if its a minor development.) It also has a dream like quality, a sense of unreality and irregularity, that is enhanced by the way the story is being told. It feels akin to a David Lynch movie, and that's probably one of the reasons I've enjoyed it so much so far.

I'm extremely interested in keeping up with this show for the rest of this season. My one concern for the show in the long term is that it sounds like the format for the show is that each season is going to use completely different characters and setting, with (I'm assuming) the underlying theme that ties them all together being the detective work. On one hand, it could be brilliant: instead of following the same characters until they become stale, you get one season for the writers and actors to really blow your mind, then you move on. On the other hand, it means that each season could be really hit or miss, though I guess that also does mean that one bad season doesn't necessarily mean the show has gone bad.

Regardless, that's all future hem-hawing. Right now I can't wait to see what the rest of this season has in store.

 - Boardwalk Empire: We kind of stalled out in the middle of the fourth season, but I've been enjoying it a good bit. The first three seasons of Boardwalk were interesting: season one felt like it was all set up, then seasons two and three used that set up to keep rocking the setting and cast with as many dramatic changes (often character deaths, but sometimes status quo shake ups) as it could get away with without unraveling everything.

Season four picks up in the rubble of season three, and does a good job of establishing the new order. Things are different in a familiar way, if that makes sense, and we're seeing old characters either in new lights, or watching them grow in new ways.

It's nothing super-nuanced, and it still relies on hitting the "what the hell?!?!" button fairly often, but I feel like the writers have done a very good job so far following up on the blissful chaos that was season three. I'm looking forward to finishing the season out, and so long as they don't pooch screw hard at the end, I'd be up for tuning back in for season five (assuming one is forthcoming.)

 - Attack on Titan: Oh yes, I watch the animes as well. I feel like I'm doing myself a huge disservice by not watching this show. Everyone I've heard that has watched it has absolutely loved it, and by all metrics I should enjoy it tremendously (I love all things Berserk, which seems to share similar "good gawd what just happened" DNA.) I just haven't sit down and watched it, though a friend did show me the first episode. I'm going to shotgun this series at some point, and I'm very excited to experience it.

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