01-16-12 - Some TV Reviews

Recommended :

"The Hour" - period TV is getting a bit old already; this one is sort of lumpy, it lurches around between almost being really good and getting itself stuck in plot deadends and thin characters. It also sort of builds up a lot of promise that doesn't really pay off, but overall I enjoyed it.

"State of Play" - this is old, but I just finally saw it. Yeah it's good, worth watching. I like Bill Nighy a lot. You can tell that the writer Paul Abbott uses that horrible lazy style of writing where he doesn't actually have a plan, he just sort of keeps stringing together one scene at a time to keep it exciting; the writing is not so much logical as it is crafted to create a pacing, to create a cliff-hanger, etc. It can be very effective (just ask JJ Abrams), but in the end if you stop and look back you see that the whole thing has no substance, and the work has no long term impact.

(aside / general rant : I feel like most TV writers these days have got the formula down pretty well for building up a complex story, generating tension, stroking the right emotional peaks at the right time; they keep adding little plot twists, get you more and more excited, and then it all just sort of peters out because they never really had a plan for where to go with it all, and the ending feels forced and rushed; it's kind of like going on a date and having really exciting flirting and foreplay, and then the sex is over in a few seconds and you're like WTF, maybe you could like actually plan out the overall arc a bit more)

"Boss" - pretty great; rich atmosphere, lots of scheming; the long term cross-episode plot is a bit weak, but Kelsey Grammer is fantastic.

"Workaholics" - something is a little off about this show (like none of the stars are actually very good comic actors (the way eg. Charlie Kelly is) and I sort of get the impression that they are like the douchebags that they're making fun of, which creates a weird vibe); nevertheless it's just about the only actually funny show on all of TV at the moment (I hate 30 Rock and Parks & Rec). Every once in a while it really gets it right and is absolutely hillarious.

"Human Planet" - like Planet Earth but with people. Obvious must see.

Adam Curtis Documentaries : google for "adam curtis collection" and get the torrent. These are some of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Incredible archival footage, nice music, good taste and something exciting, something inspiring. These make me feel like there are other human beings out there who are going about their lives with some intelligence and some creativity, and that gives me great solace. The actual substance of his narration is a bit questionable at times, but I forgive that, and in any case it will make you think about the world. Probably start with "Machines of Loving Grace".

Meh-commended :

"The Take" - well made (all BBC stuff now seems to be incredibly well made; as opposed to 10 years ago when it was way behind American TV; it used to all look like it was shot on handicam, now it all looks as good as the best HBO stuff) ... but crap. The story just has no point to it other than "criminals are bad". The guy who plays Freddie is quite good and carries it for a while, but even his act gets repetitive and I just wound up bored by the end. "Whitechapel" is roughly the same, very generic crime junk, nothing exciting or new or fun about it ("Collision" is even worse; there are an awful lot of BBC police procedurals and most of them are nothing special). Watch "The Shadow Line" and "Red Riding" again instead.

"Downton Abbey" - mmm I dunno; it's beautiful and all, but pretty vapid. Most of the drama is created by the fact that the despicable characters are kept around when they should just be told to bloody well fuck off. It's a pretty common TV method, and I just never enjoy it. It's also written very much like a serial soap opera; the evil characters are almost Susan Luchis of absurd scheming, and you have your naifs and your star crossed lovers. And the overall message is very scummy conservative nonsense.

"Billy Connolly - Journey To The Edge Of The World" : one of the better travel shows I've seen in a while (Riku and Tunna, come back!). His good spirit is infectious, though it does get tiresome; you have to watch in small doses. Didn't like his Route 66 very much though.

Crap :

"Doctor Who" (the new series) - I was pretty sure this would be terrible so put off watching it for a long time; yep, it's terrible. So cheesy, and the pseudo-science is painful. I guess it appeals to the Babylon 5 / Buffy crowd, which is a surprisingly large segment of the scifi viewers (personally I've never seen the appeal of the campy/cheesy in scifi). I watched S01E01 and hated it, so I tried S02E01 to see if it got better in the next year; nope, if any thing Tennant is worse than Ecclestone, he makes it even cheesier; IMO Ecclestone had the right attributes for The Doctor, which is a bit befuddled but also a bit menacing, whereas Tennant has no creepiness.

"Southland" - junk, generic cop crap, all the characters are unpleasant, the stories are super generic, I just don't see anything appealing in this show and am baffled at its high ratings.

"Stephen Fry in America" - meh, he doesn't actually do much driving and seeing America; instead it's these formulaic set up events where he talks to someone who is doing something stereotypically American and thus "learns something" (you never learn anything when you have constructed a pantomime that is just supposed to portray the stereotype you already had (just ask GWB's CIA)). I quite like Stephen Fry but this was not very entertaining.

Michael Wood Documentaries : terrible. Too bad cuz there are lots of them. Similar thing for Brian Cox science shows. I was shocked to read that Cox is actually a professor; from watching his shows I did not get the impression that he understands physics at all.

"Sons of Anarchy" : sort of cartoony silly unpleasant people doing unpleasant things. I have no idea why this show is rated so highly by critics. I dunno, I guess a lot of people like reality TV, which is basically dumb unpleasant people being dumb and unpleasant with no point to it.

"Community" : the protagonist is so profoundly unlikeable that I found nothing funny in this. John Oliver is the best part, and that's not a good thing (because John Oliver is not very funny). Also highly rated and not sure why.

"Homeland" : extremely unpleasant to watch, and also mentally dangerous right wing propaganda (and yes I know the "twists" and no that doesn't change the overall message). If you enjoy this or "24" there is something seriously wrong with you.

New shows that look promising :

"Luck" , "On Freddie Roach" , "Key & Peele"

I've also tried a few shows like "Cougar Town" and "Happy Endings" because they get very high metacritic or IMDB ratings, even though my spidey senses knew they were going to be awful. Wow, it kind of blows my mind that people are still making this super-sitcomy crap. Like, the characters all stand side-by-side last-supper style while they talk to each other so you can get everyone in frame. One of them is always the "wacky" one who starts doing the robot dance randomly and everybody just thinks it's funny, not incredibly strange. And there's some big drama and confusion and everyone cries then makes a big gesture like professing their love over the speakers at Karoake night and then Urkel stumbles in and the gang all says "that's Urkel!". WTF TV, WTF.


ryg said...

Adam Curtis: I immensely enjoy his stuff, but his fact-checking is dubious in places and he tends to reduce a lot of topics he briefly covers to caricatures of the real thing.

As far as I can tell, that is fully intentional. He chronicles ideas and world views, not historic events; it's not about what happened, but about what people at the time thought it meant. That's a perspective that's hard to get elsewhere.

Good place to get started is probably his 7-minute piece on "Oh Dearism": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOq1vQIt4UU

"you never learn anything when you have constructed a pantomime that is just supposed to portray the stereotype you already had (just ask GWB's CIA)"
All things considered, this was still one of the better periods for the CIA. If you want some really depressing fare, try "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner.

trixter said...

I think you screwed up re: Doctor Who. You never watch the first episode of a series, or season; go to the third or fourth of both Eccleson and Tennant where the stories are better and they've gotten into their groove.

MH said...

You're crazypants.

Dr Who takes a while to get into, but its rock solid. The campyness actually plays into who the Dr is.

There's sci-fi gold in many of the stories, especially since they don't do silly things like require nice effects.

MH said...

Admittedly, there's a lot of camp.

MH said...

I feel a lot of this stuff comes down to a sense of buy-in.

And buy-in is more an opinion than an objective thing.

This probably also leads to the 'just give it time' feeling.

old rants