Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ranking New Fall 2012-Spring 2013 Network TV Shows

(Presented without comment)

Televised atrocities that are an embarrassment to the entire medium:

33. Do No Harm (NBC) Canceled
32. Beauty and the Beast (The CW)
31. 666 Park Avenue (ABC) Canceled

Very bad-to-bad shows:

30. The Mob Doctor (Fox) Canceled
29. Partners (CBS) Canceled
28. Malibu Country (ABC) Canceled
27. Family Tools (ABC) Canceled
26. Made In Jersey (CBS) Canceled
25. Zero Hour (ABC) Canceled
24. Cult (The CW) Canceled
23. Guys With Kids (NBC) Canceled
22. Animal Practice (NBC) Canceled
21. Red Widow (ABC) Canceled

Middling shows that inspire no emotion:

20. How to Live With Your Parents For the Rest of Your Life (ABC) Canceled
19. Emily Owens, M.D. (The CW) Canceled
18. 1600 Penn (NBC) Canceled
17. Deception (NBC) Canceled
16. Golden Boy (CBS) Canceled
15. The Neighbors (ABC)
14. The New Normal (NBC) Canceled
13. Vegas (CBS) Canceled
12. The Following (Fox)
11. Chicago Fire (NBC)
10. The Carrie Diaries (The CW)

Shows not worth seeking out, but watchable if they happen to be on:

9. Elementary (CBS)
8. Ben and Kate (Fox) Canceled
7. Go On (NBC) Canceled
6. Last Resort (ABC) Canceled
5. Revolution (NBC)
4. The Mindy Project (Fox)

Shows I actually kinda like:

3. Nashville (ABC)

Shows I like very much:

2. Arrow (The CW)

Bona fide great television:

1. Hannibal (NBC)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Tim's TV Talk Podcast, Episode 7: Hannibal Supreme

We've braved mushroom people, immolation, corpse totems, throat violins, mental breakdowns and many disturbingly delicious-looking cannibalistic dishes, and the first season of NBC's Hannibal has come to a triumphant close. Now let's make like those relatively anonymous lab techs and have us a post-mortem. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers galore, so watch before you listen, lest you spoil your supper. Bon appétit.

Tim's TV Talk Podcast, Episode 7: Hannibal Supreme

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Late to the Party: Veronica Mars, Season 1 Disc 2

(I've never seen Veronica Mars. Though I watched a few episodes out of context during its initial 2004-2007 run, the vast majority of the series remains unseen by me and I have little to no knowledge of where any of the major mysteries or character arcs are going. With the film continuation coming next year, I figure now is the perfect time to watch the show, and I'm going to chronicle my journey with mini-reviews written immediately after watching each episode.)

Season 1 Episode 5 - "You Think You Know Somebody"

First things first: Apologies for not posting one of these for, like, two fucking months. Chalk it up to one part being busy watching May season finales and Arrested Development, one part just being a standard-issue lazy ass, and one part a lack of being especially impressed with episode 4. But at least as for that last one it turns out I just needed to push a little further, because "You Think You Know Somebody" is my favorite episode of the series so far and the first to make me really see a hint of what Veronica Mars fans won't shut up about.

The case of the week here, involving Troy's stolen car and Luke's missing steroids, is both the first with stakes that feel immediate and personal to Veronica herself and the first to twist and turn in directions and end in a place I genuinely didn't predict. Benefits of knowing almost nothing about this show, I really thought Troy was just a nice kid! Him turning out to be the villain? Awesome, as was Veronica's owning of him by figuring out the truth, flushing his steroids and replacing them with piñata candy. In fact, Veronica dominated the bad guys satisfyingly every which way in this episode, with her also getting the roided out gym guy busted by border patrol with a simple fax.

All around fun, quick, twisty stuff that gives the Troy character the feel of a nice arc; a sort of tiny "big bad" for the first run of Veronica Mars. As for Veronica's relationships, she and her dad, while not really unlike many parent/kid bonds I've seen on TV before, are sweet enough in this episode. And Logan (who, as I mentioned in my last post, is one of the few parts of this show I did know about before starting, as ten years of internet love for a character is hard to avoid) and Veronica's relationship already seems noticeably softened from its toxic status in the show's pilot. Unless I'm mistaken, Duncan Kane was absent, which is also a plus.

And Veronica missing the phone call from her mom at the end? Great little capper that took me completely by surprise and grabbed my attention. Again, I have no idea what's going to happen in this story – this could be Veronica's mom's last appearance on the show, or she could be in twenty more episodes! And I don't have a clue! God, isn't being unspoiled the fucking best?

Season 1 Episode 6 - "Return of the Kane"

Aka Veronica Mars does Election. This episode's high school presidency A-plot seems like the most the series has really embraced its high-school-show roots to date, and it's pretty fun for the most part, if a touch predictable. It's the show's second instance in two episodes of revealing that the person initially cast in the role of victim is in fact the villain, which, you know, I find entertaining and don't object to on principle, though it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to space such episodes out just a little more.

But the thing that really stands out in memory is the Logan Echolls B-plot, which kicks off on the weirdest fucking note ever as Logan pays homeless people to fight each other. What the fuck?! I guess it is memorable, though, so I'll give the writers that much. His actor dad Aaron Echolls then whips him with a belt, which, I mean, I don't condone parents abusing their children or anything, but in this case can you really blame him all that much?

There's also a little stuff with Duncan and his dad (I mean, technically the election A-plot revolves around Duncan, but he's given thankfully little actual screentime in it, "thankfully" because this dude continues to seem like an extra who they've charitably given lines to), and I have to say, Mr. Kane does not seem like a killer. I know that Troy also seemed like a decent guy until episode 5, so this could be the same kind of fakeout, but my prediction as of this point is that Mr. Kane is a red herring in Lilly's murder.

Season 1 Episode 7 - "The Girl Next Door"

Ok, just like my "Holy crap it's Melissa Leo!" response from a few episodes back, allow me a moment here to go "Holy crap it's Jessica Chastain! Not looking especially different than she would ten years later when she started starring in a million fucking movies either!" She doesn't get the chance to do any especially juicy acting, spends the bulk of the episode missing and I doubt that if I was watching this in 2004 I would've pegged this minor redheaded guest star for future movie stardom, but it was a pretty fun jolt to see her nonetheless.

Beyond Chastain's presence, the case-of-the-week is alright, if a bit weirdly erratic in its pacing: Too slow when Veronica hears the thud in Jessica Chastain's apartment in the morning but doesn't bother going in there until evening, and too fast when we cut immediately from Keith telling Veronica to stay off the case to the very next scene, where Veronica tells us in one sentence of voiceover that she convinced her dad otherwise. It's also by far the darkest case of the week we've had so far, with rape and rape pregnancies and a guy attempting to murder his stepdaughter and a shooting. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with darker storytelling, but I did find it a little jarring after last episode's light-as-whipped-cream high school election shenanigans.

The highlight of the episode is unquestionably the (largely disconnected from the A-plot) Weevil/Logan B-story, which is easily Weevil's best episode of the series to date and marks yet another inch in Logan's heel face turn as he manages to rescue Weevil from expulsion. Detention poker, elaborate pranks against teachers, Logan shedding evilness – what's not to love?

Season 1 Episode 8 - "Like a Virgin"

So, unless Abel Koontz is lying out his ass or there's some other twists we don't know about yet, it seems that Veronica is genetically a Kane? Which both explains why Duncan Kane abruptly broke up with her and immediately fills this show with all kinds of bizarre incestuous overtones. Game of Thrones, eat your heart out!

Putting aside that final twist (which, by the way, is excellent, and the first ending on this show to immediately compel me to watch the next episode), "Like a Virgin" marks a quick turnaround from "The Girl Next Door," bringing the case-of-the-week immediately back to light high school shenanigans. Lighter than the election episode, even, as this one revolves around the teens of Neptune High taking online purity tests, which are then sold to the entire student body, sending everything into Mean Girls-esque disarray.

And, if not as much fun as Mean Girls, it's still actually a pretty good spot of high school drama fun. I wasn't massively impressed with where it all ended – the culprits were such minor nonentities that I hardly even remembered who they were – but all the slut-sneezing and general shellshock in the student body was pretty enjoyable stuff that actually felt a little closer to an authentic, if heightened, high school than the series has before.

The subplot with Keith Mars helping Wallace's family out with their dangerous tenant was a pretty good way to develop Keith into someone a little harder and more competent, although it was a little strange how what was seemingly starting as a Wallace story ended up having a resolution that involved Wallace basically zero. Guy just can't seem to evolve beyond Veronica's sidekick; at least not yet.

Pretty good episode for guest stars, too. We got Alona Tal as Veronica's cheerleader friend, who I'm a minor fan of from Supernatural, and the debut of computer genius Mac (who, despite not having seen this show, I still know just from general internet osmosis goes on to be a prominent character). I'm getting a definite Buffy and Willow vibe from Veronica and Mac's relationship, which, hey, you won't see me complaining about. Unless Mac turns into Dark Mac and attempts to give the world a computer virus or something later on.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Best TV Episodes, May 2013

10. Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 8 – "Second Sons"

While I love Game of Thrones – and the sheer novelty of a high fantasy series on this scale on the small screen continues to delight – there's been some drag in Westeros this season, and several instances where I've found myself thinking, "Ok, feel free to step up the pacing any moment now." Thankfully, "Second Sons" did just that with a relatively tight focus on King's Landing, Dragonstone and Yunkai, capped off with a nice little Sam vs. White Walker tag. Tyrion and Sansa's wedding and especially its reception were great set pieces full of tension and humor alike, and as an added bonus this episode is the first in a long time that actually measures up to Game of Thrones' generally hyperbolic reputation for extreme nudity.

9. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 1 – "Flight of the Phoenix"

Despite initially claiming Michael's second spotlight episode, "The B. Team," to be my preferred of Arrested Development season 4's Michael episodes, I'm afraid I'll have to prove what a noncommittal coward I am by going back on that just a week later. On reexamination and a little rewatching, I've decided that the fourth season premiere is actually one of the season's better episodes, if only for the pleasure of initially catching up with everyone, seeing Sudden Valley fill in with houses (but not people), Gob force-feeding Michael a forget-me-now and of course Michael mistakenly being voted out of a four-person housing situation. It's a strong kickoff with a strong focus on Michael and George Michael's relationship, perhaps the series' bedrock.

8. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 9 – "Smashed"

I wasn't especially crazy about Tobias' first season 4 spotlight, which got way too bogged down in DeBrie and Fantastic Four spoofing, but those very same elements were turned into things going in favor of Tobias' second episode. We get a great Tobias/Michael scene, Tobias acting as a analrapist theralist onscreen at length for the first time ever, and the return of the sung "Mr. F!" stinger. By all means, read more thoughts here.

7. Hannibal, Season 1 Episode 8 – "Fromage"

Hannibal turned its sights on the musical arts in this episode about a killer who very much enjoys crafting the strings for violins and cellos from human entrails. The beheaded "Cello Man" was one of the series' more chilling instillation-artist-kills to date, we pushed Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter's twisted friendship along nicely, and this normally patient and methodical series even found time for an amazingly kick-ass fight scene at this episode's climax. As an added bonus, "Fromage" also featured Dr. Lecter preparing some truly delicious-looking bread pudding, which I venture is probably even safe for non-cannibals to enjoy.

6. The Office, Season 9 Episode 23 – "Finale"

The Office's very good series finale at the tail end of two seasons I cared very little about is like a sudden orgasm seventeen minutes after you've lost interest in the sex you're having: It'd have been better much earlier, but still, you're glad for it. I'll miss the show very much and at the same time I'm so fucking relieved it's finally over. "Finale" wasn't often laugh-out-loud hilarious – sitcom finales rarely aspire to be – but managed to leave the show's entire cast in emotionally satisfying places. It went out with the bittersweet tang I'd always imagined this show, which was once one of my favorites on television, would have and should have. And yes, a salt-and-pepper Michael Scott showed up for a cameo, extended enough to be emotionally affecting but quick enough not to steal the show from anyone else. Thumbs way up.

5. Arrow, Season 1 Episode 23 – "Sacrifice"

Keeping in mind that we haven't seen what Hannibal has up its sleeve yet, Arrow has hands-down the best season finale of any network show so far this spring. It almost had a Buffy's "The Gift"-esque hugeness in scale and sheer climactic feel to it as Starling City began literally crumbling under the influence of the season's big supervillain plot. And the show didn't just tell, but showed buildings collapsing and streets imploding and anarchy abound, and it was huge and scary and awesome. The episode had big action, big emotion, big reveals and a twist that floored me in its final minutes. This is exactly what pulpy action/adventure TV serial season finales should look like.

4. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 12 – "Señoritis"

As I mentioned in my review of "Señoritis," I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Maeby's sole season 4 spotlight, as she'd never really been one of my favorite main characters in the original series. But this messy yet extremely enjoyable episode smooshes together a whole lot of character development, misunderstandings, Hollywood satire, reveals about previous episodes and Maeby and George Michael into of one the season's most entertaining and fast-paced half-hours. It also, in its final moments with the return of "Hey, whatcha tryin' to say to me?", contains one of the season's best callbacks to the original series.

3. American Dad, Season 8 Episode 18 – "Lost in Space"

American Dad is a maddeningly inconsistent series which, in any given run of four episodes, usually averages about one mediocre-to-crappy episode, two moderately enjoyable outings and one that's among the best sitcom episodes of its month, animated or live action. Those in the lattermost category include last year's "Ricky Spanish" and "Adventures in Hayleysitting," and now "Lost in Space," which isn't just good but phenomenal and one of the best episodes of the entire series.

Detaching entirely from the titular American dad and the core Smith family, this episode follows alien prisoner Jeff Fischer back to a space station above Roger's home planet, where he tries to figure out how to escape captivity in a big, stylish intergalactic musical action-adventure comedy extravaganza that might just be the year's most purely ambitious comedy episode. It almost felt like a whole space opera compressed into 22 minutes with jokes added, complete with a lot of really impressive alien design and massive, complicated "sets" that showed a hell of a lot of visual imagination. It had emotional depth that you never really associate with Seth MacFarlane and a bittersweet, melancholy ending. If only they'd ended the season here instead of one far lesser episode later.

2. Hannibal, Season 1 Episode 7 – "Sorbet"

Aka the dinner party episode. I have a whole podcast where this episode and my thoughts on it are discussed at respectable length, but suffice to say I thought the whole thing was chilling, gorgeously rendered perfection. The show – and this food-centric episode in particular – is simply intoxicating in a way that I rarely associate with TV. Or really any fiction, for that matter. The atmosphere is so thick, the visuals so elegantly rendered with a care for framing and color and craftsmanship that puts most feature films to shame, and Mads Mikkelsen's performance so charismatic and frightening (Hugh Dancy is also great, of course, but "Sorbet" is clearly Dr. Lecter's hour) that the show simply demands respect. It's stellar fucking television.

1. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 7 – "Colony Collapse"

Will Arnett was put on this earth to play Gob Bluth and it's no surprise that I loved catching up with one of the greatest television characters of all time. It's a massively enjoyable episode, possibly the only installment of season 4 that I'd truly stack up against the show's original '03-'06 run. More thoughts here! And with that I'm announcing my retirement from writing about Arrested Development until late December when it comes time to do my yearend wrap-up, because I adore the show, but at a certain point, goddamn do you burn out typing about one show no matter what it is. But do check out my season 1-3 rankings if you haven't seen them yet.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Last week – the best TV news week ever?

About five weeks back when I discussed Parenthood's renewal for a 22-episode fifth season, I opined that one of the few pieces of TV news that could have possibly made me happier was Dan Harmon being rehired on Community. That I mentioned this directly alongside the possibility of a time traveler coming back to tell me that George R.R. Martin releases his novels fast enough for Game of Thrones to finish properly should indicate how little I actually believed this would ever happen.

Barring Friday Night Lights and ignoring its sans-Harmon fourth season (which had its high points, but a largely mediocre final arc that crashed and burned with a disastrous finale that's easily the worst episode of the series), Community is the best TV show to air episodes in the last five years. That's opinion, of course, but it's the correct opinion, and certainly no one but contrarians worthy of no thought beyond that needed to roll your eyes can deny the sheer bounty of ambition and creativity that poured forth from this amazing show under Dan Harmon. Frankly, I'll be a little surprised if we see a live-action sitcom season as singularly imaginative as Community season 2 again in my lifetime.

But more important than the formal experimentalism of Community – which season 4 tried without Harmon, and did an ok job with from time to time, but it really, really wasn't the same – this means we'll finally get these characters back on the paths of the emotional journeys their creator intended them to take. Except for Pierce, anyway, but the real Jeff and Britta and Troy and Abed and Annie and Shirley are back, baby. They're fucking back.

So yeah, I'm happy. I'm modulating here, because the sheer extent of how deliriously fucking joyful I am that I'm going to get my favorite TV show back (keeping in mind that I don't consider season 4 the same show) can't really be overstated. Just a few weeks ago I was terrified and depressed that the dreadful "Advanced Introduction to Finality" might be the series finale of Community. And now Dan Harmon is going to get to write the series finale of Community. What the fuck could be better than that?

The answer is nothing, of course. But you know what's a damn close second? The renewal of the spectacular work of horrific televised art that is Bryan Fuller's Hannibal; a vote of confidence for great storytelling in defiance of its mediocre-to-poor ratings. Hannibal isn't just good, it's utterly fantastic. As of this point in its season it's the best debut season for any TV drama since Game of Thrones in 2011 and the best debut season for a network drama since Friday Night Lights in 2006.

Barring Bunheads and The Legend of Korra, it makes me want to go back and reedit just about every positive review I gave a new series in the last two years, because it makes me realize I was faking that positivity all along. Because here is actual bona fide great fucking television worthy of true, unfettered enthusiasm.

And NBC renewed it, and we're going to get to watch this awesome show again come 2014. With Bunheads probably canceled at this point, this is the welcome renewal news I needed to keep going with this whole "being a fan of TV the medium" thing.

(Want to literally hear more on what I have to say on Hannibal? You're in luck, because I already have three podcasts on the topic, with a fourth on the way! Here, here and here. I'd advise one at a time, but if you can listen to three at once like some kind of multitasking beast, hey, rock on. Rock on.)

Dan Harmon rehired on Community, Hannibal renewed against all odds, Parenthood coming back for its fifth (and second full-length) season... What are these feelings I'm feeling towards NBC? It's not like envy, or even hungry... It's like my heart is getting hard.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4, Episodes 13-15

(I'm going to be watching and reviewing three episodes at a time of Arrested Development. I've gone out of my way to avoid reading reviews of the new season or discussing it on blogs or forums, so these reviews are untainted by outside opinion. Also, fair warning, these aren't recaps or plot synopses. I'm assuming everyone reading has seen the episodes in question and will be launching right into analysis of each.)

Season 4, Episode 13 - "It Gets Better"
Starring Character: George Michael

For a couple of years, back when I first discovered Arrested Development in college, I'm pretty sure George Michael Bluth was my favorite television character of all time. I delighted to no end in his every awkward moment, and Michael Cera's comic delivery was phenomenally great for any actor of any age, let alone a teenage kid. (His delivery of "What, yeah, that's... fine. Ok, I guess. I don't care... stop." when Michael greets him in "S.O.B.s" remains one of the funniest lines that isn't really even a line in any sitcom ever, and that's all thanks to Cera.) So it's both meant as praise but also a little disappointing to report that George Michael's first season 4 spotlight, "It Gets Better," is... pretty good.

Like Maeby's spotlight in "Señoritis," where it was revealed that her Opie Award was just the final headshot to a dead career and that her life was a mess, the most notable narrative twist this episode pulls is the revelation that George Michael's seeming accomplishments – i.e. Fakeblock – are actually bullshit. There is no privacy software. Fakeblock is just a wood block app whose reputation spins out of control. And that was all a lot of fun (and rewarding for the longtime Arrested fan in how it plays off George Michael's woodblocking way back in the season 1 episode "Best Man for the Gob").

Where the greater story falters a bit is in George Michael's romance with Rebel, which the final third or so of the episode is dedicated to. Unlike, say, Maeby's dalliance with Perfecto, the show seems to be asking for a degree of actual emotional investment from us in this story, and I'm just not sure what's there justifies that. We already kinda did George Michael and Michael liking the same woman way back with Heather Graham in season 1, and all this just kind of seems like them trotting that story back out again, only this time spread over a whole season instead of a single episode and a lot less light on its feet.

But on the other hand I did really enjoy the alternate angles this episode gave us to Michael's story in "Flight of the Phoenix" and even Maeby's one episode ago. The way snatches of seemingly privacy-software-related conversation between George Michael and P-Hound back in the season premiere were revealed to have whole new woodblock-related meanings was wonderfully clever (and, speaking of P-Hound, I loved the Eduardo Saverin spoof with him at the end). I like everything that's here... I'm just not sure I like everything about where it's headed. But we'll get back to that when I discuss the season finale in just a minute.

Lastly, I have to give Netflix or Mitch Hurwitz or whoever wrote it credit for their technically-honest-but-wildly-dishonest episode synopsis: "At UC Irvine things get steamy when George Michael finds himself in a love triangle with his best friend Ray and his girlfriend Becky." That's such a bold, cheeky misrepresentation of "It Gets Better" that I have to wonder if it's a last-minute joke added to poke fun at HBO for their "Sam and Gilly meet an older gentleman" description for the Game of Thrones episode "Second Sons."