What I Watched On My Summer Vacation! [Or, Here's What Cadillac Jack Did While You Were At The Beach!]
Well, Labor Day has come and gone, and the kids are back in school once again. So, before the new TV season premieres in a week or so, it’s time once again for my annual report of the summer and winter shows I DVR’d, the binge watching I did off Netflix and the new DVDs I consumed while you guys were at summer camp or the beach. Kiddies, our Camp popGeezer is still in session, and our top counselor has even joined in this ride [in his Ed. Notes]! Here’s how it all went:
Orphan Black (BBCA). Actually, I should say I watched Orphan Black again because I saw it in its original run on BBC America, and loved it so much I immediately bought it when it came out on DVD and watched it again. Sometime next spring or summer after the second season premiere, I’ll do an in depth look at this wonderfully schizoid show and convert you all to the Church of (series star) Tatiana Maslany. [Ed. Note: It took us weeks, but we got this watched over the summer. Slow to start, a monster in the payoff.]
Big Bang Theory (CBS). We all know by now that I’m not one for sit-coms, but I always knew that if there were going to be one I liked, it would probably be this one. So, when our good friends at Wal-Mart reduced the first five seasons to a low limited-time price of $14.95 a season, I grabbed them all up and caught up on my BBT. The verdict, not surprisingly, is that I like the show. While it certainly reflects my life and the geek lifestyle in all its glory and is definitely funny, it’s not like Chuck Lorre and company are re-inventing the wheel or anything. It’s worth watching though, for Jim Parsons, who is clearly playing the role of his career as Dr. Sheldon Cooper and I’ll be back for Season Six to see more. [Ed. Note: Were it not for Modern Family, this "four camera" sitcom would have bagged several Emmys by now.]
Breaking Bad (AMC). Finally. Now that the show has entered its final hurrah, I have jumped on the Walter White bandwagon. Following popGeezer’s Rule of Four Theory (you have to watch at least four episodes of a show to truly know whether or not you like it), I found my groove with Breaking Bad right about the time Jesse tried to dissolve a body in hydrochloric acid in a ceramic bath tub with house-wrecking (not to mention stomach-churning) results. I still haven’t gotten very far, but I’m committed now and in it for the whole ride. [Ed. Note: State of the art. Creating TV at a level no one else approches - and they're on AMC! My viewing group is going to watch the final episode at The Franklin Theater in Franklin, TN on 9/29. The room is sold out. Over 200 devotees poised to give Vince Gilligan, et. al., a real-life standing "O". And expect Emmy domination this year! Say his name!!]
The Newsroom (HBO). Now, here’s a show worth getting addicted to. Fresh off of his Best Screenplay Oscar for The Social Network, the creator of the Emmy Award-winning The West Wing returns to television to apply his keen satirical wit and razor sharp intelligence to the world of network news. With stories taken from the actual news itself and a cast featuring a Hollywood Dream Team in Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterson, Allison Pill, Jane Fonda and Olivia Munn (just to mention the names you’ll be familiar with; the rest of the cast is top notch and definitely deserves to be here), The Newsroom continued in its second season to show us the myriad ways in which the truth gets written and re-written every day. No matter what your political leanings, The Newsroom is a master class in not only what the news could be, but what it should be as well. I also bought and re-watched Season One when it came out on DVD. [Ed. Note: Cadillac Jack's an actual playwright, okay? So it makes perfect sense he'd be a Sorkinite. But most of the two seasons of Newsroom have been like a dental visit without Novocaine. But when Sorkin connects, he hits a deep ball every time. The saving grace of season 2, and why the show got a season 3, was the decision to center the season on a fictional news story that pays off like a m***** f*****. And the moment when a briefly lost Will MacAvoy says, "I guess it's just us now".., well, as one who has lost a father, I know that line was perfection. ]
House of Cards (Netflix). And the Netflix experiment of original programming continues. While I’m not a fan of every show the netlet has trotted out this season, I do enjoy being able to gorge on every episode in one huge binge of a weekend as opposed to having to wait for new morsels to come trickling out on a weekly basis. But whatever your feelings about Netflix and its programming choices, its fairly clear that House of Cards, based on the BBC mini-series of the same name, although featuring a different cast and a different government, would not be one-tenth as good as it is without Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey as Congressman Frank Underwood. Sure, Robin Wright and Kate Mara and Michael Kelly, et al, are all great and extremely talented, but this show belongs to Spacey, especially in those moments when he breaks the fourth wall and lets the audience in on the machinations of his Machiavellian mind. [Ed. Note: Have only seen the pilot. Fincher is (still) god.]
True Blood (HBO). In its sixth season (and first without creator and showrunner Alan Ball), True Blood continues to demonstrate just how insane and off the rails it has become. I still watch the show (it may be a trainwreck, but it is a glorious trainwreck), but it has not only jumped the shark, it has saddled it up and ridden it around the yard like a Shetland pony! And somewhere actor Stephen Moyer has got to be wondering how his character Bill Compton went from being the one good guy True Blood had to being a vengeful, psychotic vampire blood god. The Fat Lady is singing, True Blood. Take one more victory lap around the pool if you must (HBO has just announced that Season 7 will be the last), but if there’s a fork sticking out of your back end, it must mean you’re done. [Ed. Note: Yep. But Deborah Ann Woll (pictured at left) is on this show, so all arguments against it are void.]
Burn Notice (USA). As much as I’ve loved this show since its premiere, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for the last year or so that it had over-stayed its welcome by at least one season. Let’s face it, once Michael made it back into the somewhat guarded good graces of the CIA, what was there left to do? Go on one more mission, apparently, and here in what has been announced as the Final Season, they’re going out with a bang, sending Michael deep undercover, estranged from Fiona and his mom, with not even Sam and Jesse knowing exactly what’s going on in his head. Part of what reignites the excitement this year, of course, is that word, final. Since this is the last year, anyone can go at any time. No series regulars have died yet and if Mike and Fiona don’t wind up reunited, I’m going to be exceedingly pi$$ed off, but with only two episodes left, anything can happen, and on Burn Notice, it probably will. [Ed. Note: I have failed my mentor, Bruce Campbell. Never seen a minute of this.]
Graceland (USA). A surprisingly entertaining cop drama from White Collar creator Jeff Eastin, starring Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me) and Aaron Tveit (Gossip Girl) as undercover roomies living with a group of disparate agents from the FBI, Customs and the DEA in one big house. The problem is Tviet’s character Mike is really there to spy on Sunjata’s character Briggs who the FBI thinks might have gone over to the Dark Side. Only two more episodes of this one as well and I gotta tell you, they haven’t left themselves a lot of time to save Briggs’ bacon. Would they really have the pretty lead of a popular cable show turn out to be a bad guy? I don’t know, but I’ll watch the lovely Serinda Swan (Smallville, Breakout Kings) in anything, so I’ll hang around to find out.
Archer (FX). I had never watched an episode of this comedy spy toon on FX until this summer. I’m still not convinced it’s the comedy gold other folks claim, but after watching the first season and the beginning of the second, I am willing to come back and check out the rest. H. Jon Benjamin and Aisha Tyler make wonderful foils for one another as former flames Sterling Archer and Lana Kane and I wouldn’t have thought Jessica Walter could have found a more insane, over the top character to play than Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, but in Sterling’s mom and spy boss Malory Archer, she has done that and more. Fun stuff. [Ed. Note: How specific is one's taste in comedy? I paid to see Archer Live at the Ryman Auditorium in June. It was not so fun. Bottom line - creator Matt Reed (absent at live show) is the genius behind all this.]
The Bridge (FX). Sorry guys, they can’t all be winners. I really tried to find something to appreciate with The Bridge, but I just couldn’t find it. Diane Kruger (the National Treasure movies) is a talented actress, but her Asperger’s-afflicted detective is such an off-putting and unlikable character, I just couldn’t find a way to root for her. Plus, the rest of the characters are so under-drawn that it’s hard to figure out what makes them tick and the slower than a tumbleweed pace just makes me want to scream.
Broadchurch (BBCA). Speaking of shows that are slower than Christmas, the first thing I thought of when watching Broadchurch was the first season of AMC’s The Killing, with whom Broadchurch shares many similarities; a murder in a close-knit community of a child from a blue collar family, a father who owns his own business with a suspicious partner, a burnt-out protagonist who’s just barely holding on and a cast of characters with more secrets than you can shake a stick at. Starring Doctor Who’s Tenth Doctor David Tennant and co-starring one of the Eleventh Doctor’s companions, Arthur Darville, Broadchurch is a seething potboiler of a show that works when so many shows similar to it just don’t. Thanks to the magic of internet gnomes, I have seen the entire eight episode first season of Broadchurch, while you folks watching BBCA are still at ep 4 or 5, and all I can say is that once the glacial pacing began to break open and things began to happen, I was yelling at my TV. Did not see that coming. And yet, unlike The Killing, Broadchurch does tell you whodunit and they tell you in eight episodes, not two whole seasons. So there.
Continuum (SYFY). This show is a big hot mess. Produced in Canada originally for the Showcase channel, Continuum is a show about a cop from 2077 who is accidentally sucked back to 2013 to stop a bunch of terrorists from changing the time line. Unfortunately, Keira (the future cop, played by the lovely Rachel Nichols of the Conan remake) can’t resist making timeline changes herself, even though she says all she wants is to return to her time and her husband and son. With a mythology that’s as muddled as its mission statement, I’ve actually found it more entertaining lately to skip the show and read Charlie Jane Anders’ hysterical episode reviews on io9.com instead. [Ed. Note: Rachel Nichols. So lovely, so talentless. Her trail of dead TV shows is starting to rival the late Bob Urich's.]
Longmire (A&E). If you like the slow and measured pace of Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone TV movies, you’ll like Longmire. I confess I missed the first season of this laconic western shot against the contemporary backdrop of modern day Wyoming, but I caught on in Season Two and I’m along for the ride. Longmire stars Australian actor Robert Taylor (best-known as Agent Jones in The Matrix) as the title character, a strait-laced and incorruptible Sheriff, trying to apply his black and white belief system to an increasingly gray world. He is backed up by a phenomenal ensemble, Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica), Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba), Bradley Chase (Saving Grace) and Cassidy Freeman (Smallville). If your TV viewing can handle another inch by agonizing inch by inch potboiler, this would be a good show to check out.
The Glades (A&E). The leads on this show have no chemistry and the character of Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) gets more annoying every week. Honest to god, I don’t know why I’m still watching it. Then again, considering the last three eps are still sitting unwatched on my DVR…maybe I’m not. [Ed. Note: Cancelled by A&E this past week.]
Teen Wolf (MTV). The most embarrassing guilty pleasure on this list. Awful title, taken from an awful movie, but a great show. Our young lycanthrope Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) leads a cast of pretty young people (and a couple of fairly attractive adults) into a supernatural world of monsters and things that go bump in the night…but NO vampires! That’s not the only reason to like this show, but it helps.
Suits (USA). I was so afraid this show would turn into a one-trick pony about Mike Ross not really being a lawyer, but it’s branched out nicely and the question of Mike’s bona fides hardly raises its head anymore at all. Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams lead a talented cast of phenomenally hot women (Gina Torres, Meghan Markle and Sarah Rafferty), not to mention the hysterical Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt in what turned into one of the most interesting legal shows on television.
Franklin and Bash (TNT). Speaking of interesting legal shows, the magic here is not about the law, it’s about the bromance. Paul Michael-Gosslar and Breckin Meyer have become besties in real life and have enough on-screen chemistry to ignite a forest and it shows in every moment they are on screen together. The producers keep throwing women at them so that we won’t forget their not gay, but really, who needs romance when these guys are obviously having so much fun? Oh, Malcolm McDowell, Heather Locklear and Reed Diamond co-star and they seem to be having fun too. [Ed. Note: Futoncritic.com confirms this has not yet been renewed by TNT. I am worried, as this is what Summer TV should be. A happy-time fave.]
Covert Affairs (USA). This show is like getting back together with an old girlfriend. In the beginning, it’s all hugs and kisses and appointment TV, but by the end of the season, I’m bored and three or four episodes behind. Don’t know why, Piper Pierabo is lovely as is Kate Machett and Chris Gorman is fun as Auggie, but it just doesn’t hold my attention for the entire season.
Falling Skies (TNT). Talk about a show that can’t hold your attention! Falling Skies starts off strong every season. They usually have a new showrunner who sets the show off in an exciting new direction, but by the time the season ends, everything has gone completely off the rails and is just lying there in a big hot mess. I’m convinced that there’s a good show in here somewhere with interesting characters and an intriguing conflict, but I don’t think anyone knows how to find it. At least they haven’t yet.
Orange is the New Black (Netflix). I’ve only watched one episode of this show, but would someone please tell me why it’s supposed to be so funny? All I felt was uncomfortable and slightly ripped off. I’ve had several folks tell me that it takes this show several eps to really hit its stride, but it’s gonna have hit that stride with a baseball bat before I give it much more of a chance than this. [Ed. Note: Second season OITNB production was the given reason that Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) blew-off her leading role in this weekend's Creation Star Trek Convention in Nashville. And I can tell you two things I learned at that convention - though neither will likely surprise dedicated nerds. First, the new ST film series is being mostly ignored by the old-school fandom. More importantly, Mulgrew is fast approaching Shatner as most-disliked Trek icon by the community.]
Is that it? No, I also sampled Low Winter Sun on AMC, Recitfy on Sundance and a bunch of old TV shows like Remington Steele and WKRP in Cincinnati and Zorro, and a lot of movies and such, but I didn’t watch enough of any of those things to really make comment on them. Coming up, we’ll begin delving into the new TV season, looking for the gold nuggets amongst the dross on the flat screen horizon. I look forward to seeing you there.
[Final Ed. Note: Rectify is the only other thing on TV playing near Breaking Bad's level. But the pace is slower than glacial, and it is also organically Southern, so it really has two strikes against it. If you stick it out, the reward is stunning. Not sure where it goes in a second season, but I'll be there. Plus, Mrs. popGeezer and I knocked out Hannibal, CSI, & The White Queen (original UK version) this summer.]
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