Friday, January 16, 2015

2014: The Year in Television!

The "television" year in review is always interesting to write. I usually feel like I have not watched that much, but then when I start compiling my list, I realize that there is almost always something in my queue. TV (a term that is increasingly inaccurately applied), like music, is almost always there as a subtext, but it is only occasionally that it emerges as something more intentional or significant, and only every few years that it really shifts. Last year was a major shift for me as several programs I had followed for years ended, and what's interesting is that I did not really replace them this year. In fact, I only added three shows to my "repertoire" (the shows that I watch and or follow): Veep, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and True Detective. I still haven't picked up a new intense drama series to replace Dexter and Breaking Bad (and soon to be Justified), although I have candidates (The AmericansFargo) that I just haven't watched yet. Other than Veep, I'm mostly revisiting comedies from the past, such as previous seasons of Community or Arrested Development. And True Detective was a zeitgeist-fueled binge-watch that I probably won't need to return to, though I am intrigued by the upcoming second season.

Like I have found across the board (ie. music and movies), my pop culture consumption rate is slowing down, and I'm okay with that; I tend to be more interested in investing in existing relationships than in developing new ones, and that's a good thing. In 2013, I had 15 shows that I watched, along with 5-10 other shows that I wanted to see but just did not get to. In 2014, that list is significantly shorter, and shortening even further, at about ten shows in my current repertoire. It does seem ironic, perhaps, that as the TV scope gets wider and more diverse that my tastes seem to be becoming more focused and narrowed. (For a more detailed and nuanced analysis of this overall diffusion of TV, read Andy Greenwald's analysis of the post-Breaking Bad TV universe.)

At any rate, I have recalled and remembered and reminisced about the TV I watched over the past year, and these are the resulting (overly comprehensive) conclusions I have reached. I'm not trying to identify a "best of" list or to even say that all of these shows were worth watching (though I think they mostly were), but just as a description of what my small screen habits were over the past twelve months. As usual, I've divided into four sections according to genre: comedy; variety/reality; fantasy/sci-fi; and drama. For each genre, I have included comments on the shows I watched, what I missed, if anything has dropped off the radar, what I'm looking forward to in 2015, my current short-term priorities and long-term possibilities, and one "wild card" pick for the year for each genre that could be of interest.

Comedy


What I watched:
Community (Season 5) - I wrote at length about Season 5's uneven run in its immediate aftermath before the plucky show was inexplicably renewed at the last moment for Season 6 on Yahoo! Screen. I think I would have to watch it through again to re-evaluate it, but suffice to say that although I would have been okay with the series concluding there that I do think there is still enough life in it to carry it through another season, especially if the new format allows the show to continue to flex its creativity.

Veep (Seasons 1-3) - This was easily my best discovery of the year, and the only new comedy I really added this year. I watched all three seasons in a manner of weeks, and I found myself consistently chuckling at the brilliance of the characters, wordplay, and situations that find their way in this sharp snarky satire about politics. It's easily one of - if not the - best comedy on TV right now, and it's a perfect example of what satire can be, especially with the freedom of language that comes with HBO.

Silicon Valley (1/2 season) - I started on HBO's Silicon Valley, and somehow I got sidetracked from finishing it. I'm not sure if I will make it back or not; there were some great moments in the first few episodes, but I'm not sure if it really is in that top echelon for me. Guess I'll have to watch it and see for myself.

Key and Peele - I only discovered Key & Peele in the past few weeks on YouTube, but there is a lot more gold to mine here.

Too Many Cooks - It's a surreal, disturbing, hilarious, and unforgettable piece of performance art/satire/comedy/social commentary/horror/homage/"what was that?" video that works its way into your brain both as a result of the catchiness of the titular theme song and because of the indelibility of its images. It truly is a singular piece of work, and if anything in the past paragraph has caught your attention, you should watch it. Note: there are some disturbing images, so viewer beware.

What I missed:
Louie (Season 4) - TV's favourite melancholy sad-sack returns.

Parks and Recreation (Season 6) - Yes, I know.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 1-2) - The bits I've seen make me think I'll really love this show.

Off the radar:
New Girl - Nothing against it, I just lost track at the beginning of season 3 and never got back into it. From the sounds of what I hear about Season 4, I'm missing out.

Modern Family - It's so very the same, every time. There are great moments in many episodes, but I tend to think I'll leave this one in the past.

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
Better Call Saul (February 8) - From the promos, it really seems like this comedy based on Saul from Breaking Bad will actually work.

The Last Man on Earth (March 1) - Will Forte is maybe the only person left on the planet. Hilarity ensues.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (March 6) - Tina Fey producing a comedy; I'm in.

Community (Season 6) (March 17) - Six seasons and a movie!

Veep (Season 4) - What happens to Selina Meyer in the White House? We'll see!

Short-term priorities: Louie (Season 4); Parks and Recreation (Seasons 5 and 6); Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Seasons 1 and 2)

Long-term possibilities: Curb Your Enthusiasm (Seasons 2-8); Bored To Death (24); Clone High (13); Police Squad! (6); Slings and Arrows (18); Andy Richter Saves the Universe (19); The Thick of It (24); Monty Python's Flying Circus (45); Fawlty Towers (12); Black Adder (24)

Wild card: Amazon has a pilot for the return of a live-action version of The Tick. SPOOOOOON!

Reality/Variety TV


What I watched:
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver - Oliver proved his promise when he subbed in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last summer, but there were many questions about whether he could sustain his schtick on a weekly basis on his new HBO show. It turns out that there were no need for questions, as Oliver has quickly supplanted his predecessors Colbert and Stewart as the pre-eminent force in journalistic satire. Oliver's rants were must-see YouTube videos every Monday throughout the summer and fall, and even hearing the topic of a new rant (Scottish independence! Miss America! Sugar!) was enough to make me palpitate with anticipation. It was hilarious, insightful, and most importantly of all, really good, cutting-edge journalism. I only wish I could use the segments in a classroom...

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon - I don't think I watched a whole episode of Fallon, but I spent a lot of YouTube time on Fallon's antics in his first year; he gets social media more than (almost) anyone else on TV right now. I'm still waiting for the Emma Stone - Joseph Gordon-Levitt Lip Sync Face-off, though.

King of the Nerds (Season 2) - Nerds was even better in its second season, pocket protector in place and tongue firmly in cheek. I'd say it's a guilty pleasure, but it's just so much fun to watch and I don't feel ashamed about it.

Survivor (Seasons 28 and 29) - I wrote about Season 28 (Caguyan) at length after its conclusion in May, but suffice to say that it was the most entertaining season of entirely new competitors in a long time. Season 29 - San Juan del Sur - featured the return of Blood vs. Water with all new competitors this time, and although it seemed to get off to a good start, it ultimately kind of flopped after almost all players with any strategic sense were voted off shortly after the merge. Granted, it was the first "dud" season in several years (the last real such dud since One World in season 24), so I'm still on board with the show.

The Joe Schmo Show: The Full Bounty - This 2013 comeback of the original reality spoof series was sublime, and I enjoyed watching through each action-packed episode. 

What I missed:
The end of The Colbert Report in December - I'll get around to watching it, don't worry.

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
King of the Nerds (Season 3) (January 23) - Bring on Nerdvana and the unrepentant product placement!

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Season 2) (February 8) - More of the same. Can't wait.
Survivor: Worlds Apart (premieres February 25) - Season 30 - The initial tribe division (white collar vs. blue collar vs. "no collar") is intriguing, and Jeff Probst has said that this is one of his favourite casts yet. Count me in!

The end of The Late Show with David Letterman (finale May 20) - I still have fond memories of Letterman's 90s heyday (particularly Manny the Hippie's movie rating system of "diggity dank" and "schwiggety schwag"), so I'll probably be nostalgic and tune in for a few of his final episodes.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (September 8) - And he's back! It will be interesting to see the real Colbert come through and how he will bring his social media savvy to an entirely new non-satirical environment.

Wild card: The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore replaces Colbert starting in a few days, and while there's no way for Wilmore to replace Colbert, it will be interesting to see how he can address race issues as a black satirical news broadcaster. I just wish they had been able to use the initial name of "The Minority Report."

Fantasy/Sci-Fi


What I watched:
Doctor Who (Series 5, 6, and 7) - I spent much of the summer with the 11th Doctor, Rory and Amy, who were by far my favourite gang on Doctor Who. The show stumbled a bit at times in Series 7, but it got better in the second half, and I'm looking forward to getting back into it with the 12th Doctor.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (Seasons 4 and 5) - TNG is my perfect "in the background while I'm planning classes or grading papers" show, so we have been watching a lot lately. Like "two seasons in a month" a lot. I'm looking forward to watching the last two seasons, but then I'll have to find a replacement to distract me in the background. Maybe I'll rewatch Doctor Who (unless it leaves Netflix after all...)

What I missed:
Doctor Who (Series 8) - I finished Series 7 in time to watch Series 8 as it aired, and then I moved and started a new job and missed out on it so far.

Orphan Black (Seasons 1 and 2) - I really want to watch it - maybe in time for Season 3?

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
12 Monkeys (January 16) - This new version of one of my favourite cult sci-fi films has been getting good early reviews, so it'll be worth a look.

Daredevil (April 10) - Maybe Marvel's Netflix gamble will work, maybe it will go the way of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and not quite work, but I'm interested to see what happens either way.

Westworld (TBA) - A western sci-fi survival horror based on a 1973 cult sci-fi film (seems to be a trend here) that could be really interesting.

Short-term priorities: Doctor Who (Series 8), Orphan Black (Seasons 1 and 2), Star Trek: The Next Generation (Seasons 6 and 7)

Long-term possibilities: Star Trek (Seasons 2 and 3)

Wild card: Heroes: Reborn. Sure, it became really convoluted and confusing near the end, but a Heroes mini-series could work.

Drama


What I watched:
Sherlock (Series 3) - Sherlock's third series was a little uneven, and though it did not reach the heights of the meteoric second series, it was still a great addition to the series. I'm looking forward to Series 4 in 2016.

Justified (Season 5) - As with every season so far, this season of Justified began a little unevenly, started to get really interesting around episode 5, and then raced to an incredible finish by the end.

True Detective (Season 1) - I binge-watched the entire season in less than three days and really enjoyed much of it: the mystery of the Yellow King and Carcosa; McConaughey's erstwhile existential philosophizing; that shot!; the rumination on male sexuality; and the deconstruction of police shows. There were parts of the show that I didn't really appreciate (particularly the treatment of women), but it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable TV experiences of the past year.

What I Missed:
Fargo (Season 1); The Americans (Season 2); Gotham (First half of Season 1); House of Cards (Season 2); The Newsroom (Season 3)

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
Justified (Season 6) (January 20) - The final showdown between Raylan and Boyd is coming. I can't wait.

Battle Creek (March 1) - Vince Gilligan has earned an automatic interest after Breaking Bad, even if this does seem like a more straightforward police procedural on CBS.

True Detective (Season 2) - The cast alone is reason to be interested - Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch?! - but the plot also promises to be intriguing, as it is reported to look at the occult history of the U.S. Transportation system in California. I'm not sure if they can capture the neo-gothic feel and zeitgeist of season 1, but I'm not sure they have to. Either way, I'll be watching.

Short term priorities: Fargo (Season 1); Broadchurch; The Newsroom (Seasons 2 and 3); The Hour; The Americans (Seasons 1 and 2)

Long-term possibilities: The Wire; House of Cards (Season 2); Mad Men, The West Wing

Wild card: Backstrom, an intense police procedural starring Rainn Wilson. That sentence alone makes it a wild card.

There you have it: my year in TV for 2014. I think 2015 might be a year of some new TV relationships, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it holds for me and you, since TV should be a social Enterprise. (And yes, that was an intentional Star Trek: The Next Generation pun. Make it so.)

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