Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Winter Premieres

Now that the holidays are officially behind us (and by "officially" I mean that you have finally taken down your Christmas tree and/or Hanukkah bush after a month of watching it slowly die in your peripheral vision from your permanent spot on the couch... honestly, who has the time...) we can finally get back to what's important: the upgraded television season!

Upgraded how, you might ask? Three words. Justified, Spartacus, Smash. See how that worked?

We'll also Touch on some other new shows. See how that worked? ...Bueller? Bueller?

My genius wit not withstanding, let's try to get to business.

Top 3 Returning Shows:

Downton Abbey - This isn't exactly a surprise. Since the second season has already run in the UK, those of us across the pond have already been showered with reactions and reviews of the new season. The general feeling going in was that the second season was something to be excited about and that it followed well in first season's footsteps. For once, our "feelings" didn't steer us wrong. Despite the fact that in it's first season this show somehow made early 20th century Yorkshire the most exciting place on earth (cleaning the estate's fireplace is QUITE the job, let me tell you), second season has decided to add even more excitement, in the form of the first World War. And yet, somehow, even the trials of war cannot compete to the battle fought in and around Downton. I am constantly awed by how this show pushes and pulls my emotional state, most times by the mere lift of a tea cup.

If you haven't tried it yet, get on the ball (yes, even you males)! First season is available for free on Netflix or you can buy the season on iTunes. You can also catch up on Season 2 here.

My favorite recaps are here.

Justified - This show never ceases to amaze. Unlike most shows on television nowadays, it just keeps getting better with age. It's third season is off and running and there's not a bit of slack left in second season's wake. It's a good thing too. With the cop procedural churning right under it's surface, a show like Justified could seriously wander into tedious, murder-of-the-week territory if not handled carefully. Fortunately, it is handled with the utmost care by it's writers, producers and outstanding cast. I admit, I was a little biased going into this show. I'm a bit of a Olyphant fan-girl, but in the end, it was the show's beautiful writing and its flowing, exciting stories and deep, complex characters that held my interest.

Seriously though, this doesn't hurt much:

- At this point, we've only seen the premiere episode of the second season. Let me be honest. I was a little underwhelmed by the first episode. However, I think I'll chalk that up to it being a "set-up" episode for the new season. Spartacus and his loincloth gang of miscreants are about to start their journey south, gathering even more lioncloth'ed miscreants as they go. That should make for one terrifying army, don't you think? I can already see the Romans turning tail from the sight of hundreds of battle-ready ex-slaves in dirty diapers. Hey, I'm not complaining, just pointing out the obvious. Diapers aside, the idea of Spartacus on the move is preferable to the idea of his gang skulking in the sewers under the streets of Capua. Honestly, with how dirty those upper streets are, can you imagine what the underground must be like? *shutter*

As for our "new" Spartacus, he will take some getting used to, I believe. He's much younger than Andy Whitfield, which makes his take on the character seem less experienced and less hard-edged than Whitfield's portrayal. He did a great job in the premiere episode, balancing the tough, unyielding nature of the character with a slightly soft, empathetic tinge. Spartacus would not be the hero we love and want if he did not protect and lead those around him. McIntyre did a good job of showing that aspect of the character, but I couldn't help but miss the greater show of it that Whitfield gave us. It was still a great hour of television and I am sure that McIntyre will eventually grow into the role and make it even more his own as time goes by. Until that time, and contrary to the critique above, there is little to dislike about the show in general. There is not a whole lot that raw, bloody battle scenes and a whorehouse massacre can't cure.

Honorable Mention:

White Collar - I just love this show. To me, it can do no wrong and neither can it's two leads, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay. They play off each other so beautifully, there is never a boring episode, no matter the plot-line. I could watch these two silently playing a game of chess for an hour and never once look away or feel bored in the least. All the supporting cast are key and perfect as well. Simply put: this show makes for a light, fun television adventure every week. I just wish it aired year-round.

The Lesser:

Californication - I adore the character of Hank Moody (David Duchovny) but after 5 seasons, this show doesn't have much of a story to tell. At this point, the only redeeming quality is Hank himself. It used to be that he was the crudest, most offending character on the screen - and that worked since he was also the most enigmatic and delightful as well. Unfortunately, in recent seasons he has been overshadowed by the ever-increasing offensiveness of his supporting characters. I enjoy a little naughty in my television programming as much as the next sad, single gal but this show, much too often, leaps far over the line of "naughty" and crosses into something much different. This fact is beautifully represented by a scene from Sunday's episode, where Hank and his gang are sitting down for a lovely house dinner and the conversation strays so far into the nude and crude that Hank, of all people and who is practically hiding his face in his hands, is the one to point out the boorish turn in the dinner conversation. Considering Hank as a character, that's saying something.

I will continue to watch the show, since I have been committed for the past 4 years to Hank Moody and all his lovely complexities, but the show has definitely lost it's greater appeal to me.

Alcatraz - Not bad, but not great. I would recommend trying this show if you don't have anything else to watch instead. With a dance ticket as full as mine, I am catching up on this show online when I have the time. My feeling is indifference. The mystery/mythology behind this show may eventually come to something exciting and worthy of some follow-through, but I have yet to be completely hooked by this show. The guest stars, the Alcatraz 1960's flashbacks, along with Sam Neill and Jorge Garcia, are only the highlights. Give it a try if you so desire, but don't go in with high, Lost-like expectations.

Being Human
- Let's concentrate on what's great about this show: the acting, the music and the genre. That about covers it. Unfortunately, acing those three things does not a great show make. Nothing is terrible about this show. The writing's decent and the cinematography is pretty... oftentimes too pretty for the subject matter. Maybe that is one of it's lesser flaws. The lighting, coloring and atmosphere of the show is too perfectly put-together for such a dark and morbid central idea, namely that if you fight every minute of every day to be normal, you just can't be... especially if you happen to be a vampire, werewolf or ghost. No amount of witty banter or comedic situations involving the merging of these three supernatural beings can wipe away this underlying truth: you will never have a normal life and you will always hurt those around you. A great idea to explore, certainly, and that is what makes this show enjoyable to watch and these characters so fun to root for. But such an exploration is messy and chaotic and though the story line often becomes such, I have always felt that the show should look gritter and more raw in order to portray the mind-sets of it's central characters.

Despite it's weaknesses, I do enjoy watching the show and rooting for the characters. Sam Huntington in particular does a great job making his character relatable and his problems, wolfing out once a month aside, connectable even to us "normal" humans. He also often acts as the comic relief, as much as a show like this can have a comic relief, and he is a great counter to Sam Witwer's struggling, brooding vampire.

The Trendy Two:

Recently there has emerged a new network trend, in which the network airs the pilot episode of one of their new series, one with "hit" potential, about a month or so before it actually starts airing. What do I think of this strategy? I think it's a good idea. It's basically the testing phrase, on a national scale and I can't imagine that advertisers wouldn't want a decent piece of that. It allows the viewers to get a look at the show early (and therefore the networks to get early reactions to the show) and if you get to push it off a good platform (like the Superbowl), then why ever not? I decided to partake in this new trend and hopped over to Hulu to check out the below two new shows.

Smash (NBC) - Obviously I cannot speak for the masses, but after watching the first episode, I believe that NBC might have found it's much-needed saving grace. Depending on your preference (or lack thereof) for musicals, I would strongly suggest giving this show a look-see. The cast is stellar: Katharine McPhee is gorgeous and her voice is just lovely, Debra Messing and Angelica Huston are spot-on and I just cannot look away from Jack Davenport. I can already tell that his character, who is a brilliant, very hard-edged and unbending director, is going to be my new favorite, love-to-hate character on television this winter.

Oh, and the music? So far, so wonderful.

If you're interested, and you should be, you can check out the first episode here.

(FOX) - Jack Bauer's... I mean, Kiefer Sutherland's new show left less of an impression on me than Smash did. It wasn't terrible but any stretch of the imagination, but I would not be surprised if it takes awhile to find it's footing, if it does at all. It was an interesting hour and Sutherland shines onscreen as he always does, but I'm not sure the "numbers of the week" format will keep my interest. The father-son relationship is key for this show to survive, but since the son doesn't talk, I'm not sure how much of a connection the viewer is going to be able to make with him. That will depend on the young actor and how he grows into the role and how well he communicates his characters feelings without speech. It is a great deal for a young actor to take on and I'm interested to see how he develops the character.

You can watch the pilot episode here.

That about covers it. I am watching and enjoying The Finder, as well. It's a fun little show that is covering for Bones while it's on hiatus. Geoff Stults is adorable and a pleasure to watch. You can catch up on the episodes here and read a greater account of the new show here, by one of my favorite writers, Maureen Ryan.

Til next time, TV-connoisseurs!


The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.