Fall 2013 Television Review

Few things in life are so easy and pleasurable as television. In particular, arc-oriented dramatic television. Where a movie can offer a transient two and a half hours at most experience, and generally by two hours has hit the boredom button, dramatic television with an arc-orientation can provide up to 15 and a half hours of entertainment over a typical 22 episode, 42 minute (less commercials) season.

And because a TV show can cost “only” $3-4 million to produce per episode, or “only” $66-88 million, with significant amounts (generally about $2 million or so per episode) paid by networks to production houses in licensing fees, which amounts to a net cost of $22-44 million), production teams can take risks that movies just can’t.

Oh not risks in special effects, gorgeous scenery, great cinematography, “brand name” actors, and the like. You won’t see Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., or Brad Pitt on series TV as a regular any time soon. Nor the special effects of Thor, the Avengers, or the Lone Ranger remake. No, I’m talking story content and character, together. Over 22 episodes and 15 and a half hours. That is where TV shines. And beats movies every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

The Great

The best new series in recent memory is NBC’s “the Blacklist.” With a masterful performance by James Spader, in full deep voiced villain and hero mode. The premise is silly, simple, but pretty compelling nevertheless. A famous criminal fixer and go-between and arranger, the Spader character (“Reddington”) was a former Naval Intelligence officer and proto-Jack-Ryan/Tom Clancy figure tapped for being promoted Admiral until he mysteriously disappeared 25 years ago. And turned up as a criminal fixer.

Now he shows up at the FBI HQ and offers his services to find and arrest his “Blacklist,” criminals so secret the FBI does not even know they exist. His only demand is to be fitted with a tracking chip, and to work with rookie FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, who may or may not be his daughter and whom Reddington will kill and even be prepared to be tortured and killed to protect. Agent Keen’s husband may be a neutered beta male to the max, or may be a stone cold hit man posing as a beta male elementary school teacher. Yes, soap opera elements, but well done ones. And the series rises with its villains of the week.

The major theme of the show is corruption. In the “Fall Finale” (the last show before the New Year) it is revealed that the top of the US government is incredibly corrupt, in the person of Alan Alda, who plays the villain like Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H* with about fifty years of extra cynicism and world weariness. One of the better episodes had Reddington revealing a hit on a campaigner against Child Prostitution. The kicker? It was Reddington who hired the hitman, and the campaigner was a cynical master-trafficker herself (guest star Isabella Rosselini) who used the campaign to get rid of her rivals.

No show I can think of has shown how utterly corrupt and cynical the world is, not just foreign governments, but do-good NGOs and the very top of the US government. And how utterly clueless and at sea the ordinary bureaucrats of the FBI are at even thinking like the top criminals, let alone being aware enough to spot their existence and catch them.

Spader is masterful as a guy who has seen entirely too much, and whose only baseline is simple humanity and protection of his friends and family. Will he semi-mercy kill an old friend dying of cancer to prevent him from spilling secrets? Yes. He’ll be crying about it, but he’ll do it. He’s capable of dragging a wounded FBI agent to safety and performing heroic measures to save him. And credibly threaten to kill him to save his possible-daughter Keen.

Its definitely worth your while.

Also up there is the third season of “Person of Interest,” which got more interesting with the addition of Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker, and the subtraction of Taraji P. Henson, who underperformed in the role of Detective Carter and was recently killed off. Privacy activists, shadowy government agents, a Hillary Clinton-like government villain who demands to be called “Ma’am?” You got it. Plus MASTERFUL acting by veteran character Michael Emerson. A voice like a gift from God, his performance is quiet, a direct contrast to Spader in the “Blacklist” but nevertheless mesmerizing.

Unexpected twists and turns, the omnipresent surveillance cameras and distinctive cinematography, the “character” of the all-watching AI “Machine” and decent acting chops by Jim Caveziel, make this a good candidate for live viewing or certainly taping/recording. The musical score is good too. Chris Nolan’s brother Jonathon is the creator and Executive Producer. At this point it would be fair to say he’s the more talented Nolan brother, and that’s because this show is so great. Shot on location in and around NYC, the show looks different and more “real” than any other show out there. If corruption in all its forms making the bureaucracy incapable of dealing with crime is the theme of “the Blacklist,” then technology erasing privacy for both good and bad is the theme of “Person of Interest.” Given Ed Snowden’s revelations of the NSA global wiretap scheme, to collect data on everyone on the planet, the theme is timely.

This show is highly recommended.

The Good But Not Great

In this category we have the Fox show “Almost Human,” which stars “Dredd” and “Star Trek” and “Lord of the Rings” veteran Karl Urban. As Detective Kennex, partnered with a “crazy” robot/AI in Los Angeles, 2048. Sci-fi elements abound, artificial organs with programmed to fail chips (unless the recipients pay up), sex bots, hacking, old technology (lasers to communicate when radio waves are jammed), and more.

What makes this show merely good and not great is the lack of a great actor and good writing. Urban carried along with Olivia Thirlby, “Dredd.” With only his jaw visible. He was outstanding. But his character here is blah, one more angsty TV detective in over 80 years of angsty detectives. His partner is competent and plays ironically, “warmer” than the angsty/flinty Kennex, but the chemistry is not really there. The show lacks the hook and emotional set up of “the Blacklist” (wounded idealist plays back the corrupt nature of criminals to extract vengeance and carry some complex scheme using the corruption against them) and Person of Interest (guilty computer genius and secret agents find meaning to stop murders from happening).

Watch for the Sci-Fi elements, it is one of the few true sci-fi shows in recent memory. But it may not hold you for long.

Also in this category is NBC’s “Grimm,” which thankfully dropped the stupid love-triangle storyline from last season and has returned to Monster of the Week, with decent action scenes and various monsters. Its completely stupid and kills brain cells, but sometimes that’s what the doctor ordered on Fridays. The lead, David Giuntoli, is notable for being both charismatic and one of the few reality show stars who worked at becoming a real actor (MTV’s Road Rules and Real World). Giuntoli and Silas Weir Mitchell as the vegetarian, clock-fixing werewolf, are the heart of the show and provide the most fun. TV is a character-based medium and these two when given a halfway decent script provide fun.

Its silly sure. Stupid? No doubt. But fun as a big wad of bubble gum. Which is all it is.

The Truly Dreadful

There are some truly dreadful shows out there this fall. You’ll want to avoid these at all costs.

First up, is Fox’s awful “Sleepy Hollow.” A major disappointment (the Tim Burton movie from the 1990′s was actually good AND scary and fit in his wheelhouse). Filled with a Black female police detective who “axes” questions and is the romantic lead, and pompous British version of Ichabod Crane as a poor man’s 18th Century Sherlock Holmes. Filled with gore, and pc-gone-amok (who knew Ichabod Crane was an avid abolitionist and endorser of Black Presidents?) the show is filled with inconsistent magic mumbo-jumbo, demons, and the like. But no God.

I find it passing strange that Liberals in Hollywood have no problem depicting demons, evil black magic, and the like. Including in this turkey, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But never, well God. Nothing of Jesus. It seems like the only thing Hollywood believes in regarding the Bible is the Devil. Not the protagonist. Funny, that.

Next up is “Mork and Buffy.” Aka “the Crazy Ones.” You’d think a half hour sitcom would be a laugh riot, with Robin William’s proven ability to be absolutely hilarious when improv-mode. Someone must have dosed him with un-funny pills, however. Because here he’s in full, maudlin, “Patch Adams” era lack of funny. Gellar is pretty but has nothing to do but act as a straight woman to the ghost of Williams comedy. Watch any old episode of “WKRP In Cinncinati” on Hulu to see how funny is done. Or “Cheers,” or “Taxi,” or “Night Court,” or even “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

This show is about as funny as “King of Queens.” Enough said.

And that sums up this TV season. As always, there are innumerable acceptable reality shows: Pawn Stars, Flipping Vegas, Counting Cars, Futurescape with James Woods, Mythbusters, etc. to fill any boredom gap. There are even more stupid singing and dancing contest shows, night time soap operas, and the like. But you have two great shows, two good ones, and the rest horrid or blah. [I have not seen "Breaking Bad" or "Orange is the New Black" so can't comment on them.]

Which is disappointing. You’d expect more risks given the lower costs and thus, executive pressure with TV. Particularly given that more and more, tv revenue even that of broadcast networks depend on carriage fees from cable and satellite companies not ratings and ad revenues.

But perhaps we will see more risk if the reward is greater. We can only hope that ala carte pricing for cable/satellite channels comes quickly. My hope is that if it comes, the reward for shows people actually like and watch will become apparent, and we get less dreadful fluff designed to cater to the same 18-34 female audience like “Sleepy Hollow” and advance the pc/multicultural agenda of the tired old nepotistic creative class.

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Conservative blogger focusing on culture, business, technology, and how they intersect.
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17 Responses to Fall 2013 Television Review

  1. cecilhenry says:

    I’ve never viewed TV as a more risk taking or adventurous medium than movies.

    TV produces nothing that challenges PC dogma on race, sex, religion, class or politics.

    It likes to give the appearance sometimes, but always controls the non PC lines with straw man and the like. It disgusts me now.

    TV is so plastic in general I wonder how people don;t see through it.

    When I watch I often spend as much time looking through the screen to the motives and manipulations of the producers as I do at the purported show.

    I occasionally enjoy an adventure type show like survivor man or mantracker. Some of the reality shows are interesting for ONE show, but endless seasons of ‘cook off’ shows and the like just get tiresome and ridiculous. All I see is envy, backstabbing, ugliness in the name of some idiotic competition. NO thanks.

    I watched ‘Breaking Bad’ for the first time just after the series ended and viewed the whole series.

    It could have been a deep show in terms of showing the PC west and its ugliness and problems and the spiritual issues. It could have done that. IT didn’t even dare to try. Hell then it might have got ripped off the air!!!! Because challenging and profound will be offensive to someone.

    So the show was entertaining and suspenseful, but deep or really of long lasting impact.. NO way.

    Too bad.

    • Person of Interest has been very sneaky in PC. Sure they have the noble Black female martyred cop, but they had the HEAD, the very top guy, of the corrupt Cop group “HR” as … a Black political fixer. A guy so depraved he’d order the murder of his own Godson instead of just pulling strings to get him transferred. And the new major villain is basically Hillary Clinton. The Blacklist showed the utter corruption of the government and the direct result of the ineptness of the bureaucracy because it willingly does not see said corruption at the top and all around it. The FBI assistant director is depicted as a diversity/affirmative action guy in over his head compared to Spader’s “Raymond Reddington” character. Not overt, but sneaky undermining of the PC tropes.

      Yes it would be nice to see a direct, frontal attack on PC. But that’s expecting the Hollywood types to lead Banzai charges. Already, the Duck Dynasty, and counterparts on History Channel: Pawn Stars, Counting Cars, and American Restoration offer a direct rebuke to the empty, gay, metrosexual lifestyle embodied by 90′s shows like Friends and Seinfeld.

      You have a fat sweaty bald guy driving hard bargains, and dealing with his fat idiot son, fatter idiot son’s pal, and his elderly father who still knows a thing or two. You have a tatted out guy who knows his cars inside and out, and has some considerable creative skills in restoration. Or another tatted out guy who can work almost magic restoring old faded Americana machinery. The subtext of which is that the current stuff is all just rotten, and things and objects were better made by a better society.

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve enjoyed “Almost Human.” It’s one of the rare SF shows that actually employ SF elements other than spaceships. It actually deals with the implications of the high tech they face. But I don’t think it will last unless it goes forward. It either needs to explore the implication of keeping sentient AI as basically slaves.

    • Agreed on that. And the show also lacks, well heart. Its fine when Urban is on the screen, but the rest of the cast just doesn’t gel.

      • superdestroyer says:

        The female captain was a TVtrope that Almost Human should have skipped. The program would probalby be better with an all male casts instead of the female background characters.

  3. Oswald Spengler says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Collar_(TV_series)

    Whiskey, what’s your take on the USA series White Collar? It has some PC elements (For example, one of the FBI agent characters is both black and lesbian, but not aggressively in the audience’s face about either facet of her character). However, White Collar is also subversive of PC in its portrayal of one of the series’ two main leads, FBI Agent Peter Burke,

    Burke is a “beta” male, but is depicted as a man of integrity, very good at his job, and in a loving, committed marriage with a bright, beautiful, and successful woman. In contrast, the dashing “alpha” ex-con Neal Caffrey, who is a consultant of the Bureau, is depicted ultimately as an outsider, as more than a bit lonely, and none of his relationships with women ever work out for very long.

    • I have seen a few episodes. I have a hard time with the openly gay Matthew Bomer playing the ladies man con-man Alpha, who is a charmer but as you note unable to maintain a relationship. That bit of reversal is interesting, and also a bit subversive to the female audience that demands Alpha-fantasy-husbands. [I just have a hard time doing the willing suspension of disbelief knowing Bomer is gay. That's probably just me, but before I knew it I thought he did a decent job on "Chuck."]

      But that’s USA. Willing to take small risks at least. And I’ll take small if I can’t get (yet) big risks. You eat an elephant one spoon at a time.

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  5. dsgntd_plyr says:

    You have to check out Breaking Bad. Some progressive reviewers have noticed the racial aspect.

    Disrespected white guy becomes big shot. The main character is Walter WHITE. His partner is Jesse PINKMAN. Most of the bad guys are hispanic (Gianfranci Espisito as Gus Fring is one of TV’s best villians ever). The sleazy lawyer pretends to be jewish.

    • El Gordo says:

      The racial aspect is not what BB is about, imo. It is not consciously anti-pc. It is just a fascinating show about good and evil, choices and consequences, so it ends up being sort of conservative.

      (Spoilers) Note that there are only two incorruptible major characters whose moral compass never fails. Walter’ s son Flynn, who truly loves his dad but breaks with him completely when he finds out. And Hank, who is introduced as a somewhat flawed and insecure guy but who proves damn good at his job. In the end, he becomes exactly the brave lawman he wanted to be. He is the traditional hero of the show. Oh, and he has Morris’ biography of Reagan in his house.

      Only Flynn and Hank are not “smart” enough to rationalize the evil away but strong enough to act accordingly.

      Some complained that they use a white supremacist gang as bad guys in the final season, but it is not a cliche or cheap shot. It makes perfect sense. Walter does away, little by little, with all boundaries of society because he is “doing it for his family”. Or so he tells us at first. And so we root for him. Gus is cold and rational – like Walter learns to be – but he has no attachments and seeks his personal security above all. Inside his controlled exterior he is driven by fear and revenge. But the gang is taking the principle of blood to its extreme. They have no loyality or compassion for anyone outside their clan. Their honor is primitive and tribal. Young Todd is the mirror image of Flynn. He has the outward appearence of civilization (“I am sorry for your loss”) but he is as remorseless and cruel as any barbarian in the Arab desert or Afghan mountains. Whereas for Flynn, his civilized sense of right and wrong is stronger than blood.

    • Dana says:

      I agree about the White references but overall, I think the White leitmotifs are more of a tease to a good story. Here is another.
      The lyrics to the Badfinger song at the very end of the show:
      “All the days became so long
      Did you really think, I’d do you wrong?
      Dixie, when I let you go
      Thought you’d realize that I would know
      I would show the special love I have for you, my baby blue”

      I have always thought this was a sly tease to the South, Dixie and the Bonnie Blue Flag. and ‘when I let you go…” blah blah, anyway superficially it makes sense.

  6. map says:

    Almost Human, Sleepy Hollow and Person of Interest are all “Bad Robot Productions”, JJ Abrams’ company.

    I did not know Matt Bomer was gay. White Collar is an otherwise warm and pleasant show. So, for that matter, is Psych.

  7. electricangel says:

    Whiskey, TV is such trash that I cannot be bothered to turn it on to see what’s worth viewing. I will go check out The Blacklist, though, and appreciate the tip. Now to find it on teh interwebz. I prefer to wait until series like Breaking Bad can be viewed on DVD from the public library so I don’t put any money in the Hollyweird pockets.

  8. CamelCaseRob says:

    Person of Interest was a big disappointment. I thought it was going to be about showing the internals of data collection, but all that it consists of is putting squares around random people on the street.

    My only regulars are Grimm and The Big Bang Theory, which you apparently don’t think much of as you’ve never mentioned them.

  9. NutupOrShutup rides again says:

    On Breaking Bad. it was a show that started off good but declined in the end in my opinion. In it’s first season, the show was a very subtle fish out of water dark dramedy. It was about a middle class beta super white nerd with cancer who has to make money by going into business with his loser former student. The show was funny and scary when it was Walt bumbling his way through the meth business with Jesse being an idiot. However, show declined when it got more serious.

    Walt went from being this sympathetic victim to a bitter angry white man lustful for power during the course of the series. The creator of the series even mentioned that the intent of the show was to make Walt the villain. Walt is post to represent the privileged white male who feels entitled to more success than he deserves. And that his lust for money and power corrupts him. Walt was a better human being when he was white beta male nerd and not an alpha. It is evil for white beta male nerds to what anything more than they deserve. Also the show several times points out that Walt’s descent into evil is partially due to his bitterness about life. That white beta male nerds like Walt have no right to any grievances because they will just end up evil in the end if they are addressed.

    The show has Family Ties effect to it. You are post to hate Walt for being a power mad white beta male nerd; however, even at the end of the series many fans saw him as a hero. Walt is Alex P Keaton for the Obama era. A lot of whites who have suffered over the last couple of years sympathize with Walt instead of hating him. They do not see Walt as privileged and so feel that Walt is more justified in his actions. The show was originally going to be character study on how man with a good life goes bad in times of crisis due to irrational desires for power and money. But instead tapped into the psyche of many normal white people who feel society looks down upon them for not being uber successful or uber poor.

    Most alt-right people will find my analysis of this series retarded. That is because they have been fooled by it. They really do not understand the point of the show. It is at it’s core typically anti-white beta male nerd like many shows that exist today. However, the show ways of representing Walt as being pure evil are not evil or at least purely evil in the normal white person mindset. A desire for money and power are not evil to a normal white person. A desire to have higher status in life is not evil to a normal white person. Being a nerdy white man with good job yet wanting more is not evil to a normal white person. The way Walt fulfills his desires are evil to normal white people, but Walt wanting more is not.

    Liberals however see desires and thoughts themselves as being and not just actions. Just like fundes who would also see Walt as being evil. This show is an ideological Rorschach test. The more you see Walt as an sympathetic anti-hero and less villain the more likely you are a normal white person. If you see Walt as a pure evil villain than your are a funde or a liberal.

    I think this show appealed to declining yet still big group of white people who voted Reagan and Nixon into office yet are not very religious. The group that was once the silent majority, but are now the normal minority. Which I know is an oxymoron, but they were once the majority of white people in this country. They accepted some of the social changes in the middle decades of the 20th century without becoming anti-american social justice nuts or religious fundamentalists. They were the ones who voted Nixon and Reagan to office. They are also the proles who voted for Hillary over Obama in the 2008 primaries. They are America’s middle in many ways.

    Breaking Bad, Person of Interest, Blacklist, the Nolan Batman films, Big Bang Theory, and other media Alt-Right people love are favorites of the normal minority. I think a lot of the alt-right that are not extreme anti-Semites are former members of the normal minority. This is the population group that the alt-right should go after. They have not been brainwashed by social justice or modern evangelical Christianity to be super anti-racist. Many are already hate feminism and a lot of racial politics. They just be nudge a little further, and things may start to change.

    • map says:

      Yes, Breaking Bad is an anti-white male show and a type of Rorschach test. There is a reason why the characters are named Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. See? White and Pink-man.

      The goal of the show is to portray Jesse Pinkman is the goal every white man should strive for: be a single, drug-addicted and drug-dealing loser.

  10. Robert the Wise says:

    “Filled with gore, and pc-gone-amok (who knew Ichabod Crane was an avid abolitionist and endorser of Black Presidents?) the show is filled with inconsistent magic mumbo-jumbo, demons, and the like. But no God.

    I find it passing strange that Liberals in Hollywood have no problem depicting demons, evil black magic, and the like. Including in this turkey, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But never, well God. Nothing of Jesus. It seems like the only thing Hollywood believes in regarding the Bible is the Devil. Not the protagonist. Funny, that.”

    It is a long-time trope of the fantasy adventure genre that villains may call on demonic forces for aid while the hero must rely on his own abilities as Crom/Yahweh/Jesus sit on the sidelines, e.g. “Conan the Barbarian”.

    It would simply be too much of an unsatisfying deus ex machina to call in God’s help for a smackdown. A cheat, in other words.

    As for “Grimm”, it merits watching for one reason only: Bree Turner.

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