New Articles for the Week of May 20th: TV's Over Forever Addition

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 ShieldWhere 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 LakeA 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.


New Articles for the Week of May 6th: Playoffs Edition


You know it’s been a while since you added an update to your blog when actually making one gets delayed further by forgetting your Wordpress login info. Here’s what I've had time for writing up in the last couple weeks, in between stuffing myself on the smorgasbord of hockey that is the first round of NHL playoffs:

-Two Arrows, no waiting. With the season wrapping up a week tomorrow, the recap load each week is about to get a lot lighter. The rest of May is barren for new show premieres, but June should pick things up, so their might be something worth covering weekly around that time. In the meantime, I might have to start popping in for check-in reviews, like the one I did for…

-…Hannibal, which, surprisingly, is turning out to be one of the best new shows of the year. You wouldn’t think a series based off a successful novel and film franchise would be an underdog, but considering it’s the umpteenth serial killer drama in recent memory (and on NBC no less), Hannibal entered the scene with bomb bunker-low expectations. Leave it to wunderkind showrunner Bryan Fuller, a strong cast, and the show's capacity to be legitimately creepy, to make this 2013’s most pleasant surprise. My review catches up with the show midway through its first season, and I’d recommend you do the same. Seriously though, despite being on network TV, this is not one for the squeamish. The jury’s still out for me on whether the show is making a commentary on senseless and gratuitous violence that you'll find in drek like The Following, or if Hannibal is just better at making said violence entertaining, but check it out for yourself, and see how it settles your stomach.

-Mad Men manages memorable moments mourning Mr. MLK, and major movements are made, as magnificently manic merger melts away morbid motifs.  I’m now realizing almost no one on this show has a name that starts with “M”, and I think that’s to prevent sentences like the last one from being even more tempting to write. 

This goes against my proven policy of improving productivity (okay, fine, I'll stop the alliteration) by not making any promises, but expect a big ol' hashout post about a number of series I just happened to finish within spitting distance of one another. Nothing super in-depth or all that analytical, mostly just a little baggage unpacking. The shows? I'll leave it a surprise, but the article's working title at this moment is Snakes, Lakes, and White-Male-Antiheroes. Now if you'll excuse, I need to get back to watching the Canucks lose. 

New Articles for the Week of April 8th

Ain't no party like a Jenkins-Whitford party, cause a Jenkins-Whitford party don't stop! Whooooooooo! Break out the champagne everybody: it's the second update in as many weeks! What'd I tell you: zero promises=unstoppable productivity. Alright, well, admittedly it doesn't look like much has changed; there are only two recaps to spotlight this week, but one's a new addition to the weekly rotation, and it's a biggie. And in between all that, the groundwork for a much bigger, rambly-er article was laid, on a topic transcending genres, mediums -the very fabric of time and space! Prepare to be dazzled, and set expectations to genuflect!

Shit. Now I've gone and promised too much...Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. On to the update!

-Old business first: the weekly Arrow recaps keep on keepin' on...except this coming week, and pretty much the rest of the month, thanks to a brief hiatus for new episodes.  That's for the best though, because I need focus every iota of critical juice I've got right now on...

-Mad Men: Yeah, this was a bit of a surprise for me as well, seeing as I thought someone at the site was already going to be covering it. But in a dramatic turn of events, the big red phone rang Sunday morning, and coach put me in! As a lover of both mixed metaphors, and drinks, I was ecstatic at the chance to review Mad Men...and then legitimately kind of terrified that most of the practice I'd had in TV recapping was from covering a CW superhero soapopera. Considering Mad Men is in the running for All-Time Best Drama of Ever and Always, this was like deciding to try your hand at cracking Saturday's New Yorker crossword after months doing the word jumbles on the back of Cap'n Crunch boxes.

Or at least that's what I was worried about, as the actual writing turned out to be less of a struggle than initially feared. It was surprisingly fun to take a run at, and I actually think my recap for the premiere turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself (and I do). We'll see how that enthusiasm holds up for the rest of the season; I mean, jumping into the Mad Men review game is basically setting a weekly reminder for yourself of how decidedly not hot your shit is compared to the dozens of amazing recaps being done elsewhere, but it feels good to be a part of the conversation.

And finally, one conversation I won't be getting in on is the passing of Roger Ebert. Don't get me wrong; the guy embodied everything about the career of "critic" that makes it legitimate, and the worlds of cinema, critical thought, and general human spirit are lesser places without him in them. But you can't look both ways crossing the street without spying another deeply heartfelt, and moving tribute to the man from critics and writers more skilled than I. I'll simply let my condolences join their's in celebrating Mr. Ebert's life, by doing my damnedest to live up to the high-bar for productivity, insight, and passionate love of shared experiences that he set for the rest of us.

Roger Ebert