You hear that faint, dying buzz coming from your TV, the one that's getting fainter and fainter the nicer the weather outside gets? Yes, it's the sound of reruns, because TV is now officially over for the year. There's no more, it's all gone; it's time to unplug the cable box and start being a productive member of society again. Reruns are all that's left, which is actually worse than blizzard static, because at least randomly bouncing white and black pixels are bound to make something new appear every now and then. Might as well take the batteries out of the remote, because it's not like you'll need to turn on the TV for another four months.
And THANK GOD. I might not get summer vacations anymore, but Jesus Christ, I need a vacation from TV, or rather, new TV. There are a few stragglers hanging about (I'll keep reviewing Mad Men, of which the last two recaps can be found here, and here, and will follow up my 2nd Hannibal recap with a few more this season), and some summer series that will definitely be worth checking out, but any sort of halt to the rising tide of great TV is a godsend to someone already so far behind shows they'd normally be up to date on (I'm 5 episodes behind on Parks and Rec for crying out loud). So with so much more time these next few months available for getting caught up on what's been on and off my radar (it's time to finally see if the fuss about New Girl is justified, and the new Arrested Development season is mandatory), now's the time to do a bit of house cleaning, and wrap up a few series and season I've finished in the last few weeks. We're going have to lightning-round things this week, so let's not waste another minute.
-Arrow: This is a mini-milestone for me, as Arrow wrapping up its first season these last two weeks makes it the first show I've ever covered from pilot to finale. While I never thought my first consistent TV reviewing gig would involve writing more than 30,000 words on a show I originally had no interest in watching, you gotta start somewhere, and I'm glad Arrow was such a starting point for me. It's really, really tempting when you do freelance writing to only concern yourself with shows that align with your tastes, and tunnel-vision can develop as a side effect. Biasing your viewing habits only towards programs that are critically well-regarded will make you lose perspective on the wide range of stories available on any given night of TV. I would never argue in favour of someone watching Arrow instead of The Wire, or Louie, but it's important to give a change to shows that aren't inherently your type of jam, and to be able to recognize their strengths just as readily as their faults. Speaking of which...
-...Spartacus!!!!!!!! If ever a truly excessive number of exclamation points were warranted on this blog, this would be the case, because Spartacus, on its surface, ignores all the classically accepted hallmarks of great television. It's violent, libidinous, grimy, gory, unabashedly sex-crazed, and honest to God Great Television. There is so, so much worth celebrating about Spartacus, the most important thing being how it defies expectations at every turn; over its first season, a 300-knockoff looking like it was shot on a shoestring budget, morphed into one TV's best dramas, at once lean and spectacular. The show never looked back after that meteoric rise in quality, even after the untimely death of its star Andy Whitfield; Stephen S. DeKnight, his writing staff, the incredible production team, and a host a talented actors made every single minute of this series count, bowing out after their fourth season last month, and going out on their own terms. I've never watched another show that could dazzle the action-living, lizard part of my skull, while keeping the rest of my brain so engaged by the momentous plotting and unforgettable cast of characters. Oh, and it also happens to be one of the most sexually progressive shows of recent memory, just to round out why it is I'm so in awe of everything Spartacus has accomplished. Make no mistake; this brawny jock has more brain and heart than many of TV's most praised series.
-The Shield: Where Spartacus is bloody opera, The Shield is Shakespearean tragedy. I was sadly unable to follow up my digestion of the first two seasons with complimenting thoughts on the rest of the series, so i'll have to give the 10 cent review instead. Long story short, while I don't think I would argue The Shield is essential viewing for your average audience, for fellow TV writers, I'd consider it a must. With each season, The Shield added another act to its tragedy in six-parts (with the scattered Season 1 acting as a prologue), and the further you step back from the show, the more you have to applaud how Shawn Ryan and company managed to tell a complete story that had almost no fat to it. Rock solid consistency across 70+ episodes is a nigh impossible feat, but really, it's the finale that gave the show its legacy, as that final hour gave weight and meaning to all those that came before it. Take note, showrunners: a bad ending won't necessarily ruin your show, but a great one can change the narrative completely.
-Top of the Lake: A nice little Jane Campion mini-series breaking up all the macho stuff, Top of the Lake is not the sort of show you will devour like candy, and leave you hungry for more. It's a slow, winding, but intensely intriguing and ultimately rewarding bit of mystery fiction set in the New Zealand countryside. Elizabeth Moss is terrific in the lead role as detective Robin Griffin, kiwi accent and all, as her investigation into the seedy side of a lake-bound small town uncovers numerous oddballs and dark secrets across the seven episode series. The off-beat pacing will be off-putting to many, and there's a noticeable wonkiness to how the show's original six episode length was split into seven for Sundance Channel. I can't say I'm terribly well-versed in Campion's work other than The Piano, but her talent for spoiling gorgeous landscapes with disturbing sexual undercurrents is on full display here, making for a hypnotic, and unsettling little series that will likely find a place in my year end list of best series. I'm looking to taper off of the show's uniquely low-key high with a similarly contemplative series from Sundance, Rectify, the pilot of which I watched last night and see plenty of promise in.