Lately it occurred to me that it’s kind of silly that I have a space on this blog for reviews of books, but no reviews of television and movies. I watch a fair bit of media, and though I enjoy books more, shows and movies are much more convenient for enjoying with friends. Back when I didn’t have many friends (don’t feel bad for me, in some ways that was a blissful time) I had lots of time to read. Now, not so much, especially once I added school and writing to the mix. I wanted this blog to be dedicated mostly to the writing process, but reading and cosplay have crept in, so why not television? The fact is that there are some really excellent shows on the old boob tube these days, and there’s no reason I can’t analyze them for characterization, diversity, and compelling writing the same way I would a novel or anthology.
So without further adieu, here’s what I’m watching right now and my thoughts on the episodes so far.
American Horror Story. I list this show first because it’s the one that I most want to watch each week. Compelling writing, fascinating characters, and believable motivations make this show intense. The haunted “murder house” in which the characters find themselves trapped acts like a villain in this show, a character in and of itself, one that is constantly awing me with genuine Tiffany chandeliers and OMG-is-that-real-wainscotting? I’m almost willing to brave the monsters in the basement, this house is so gorgeous. Oh and the pilot has several naked man-chest (and butt) scenes, courtesy of Dylan McDermott, so that’s not to be missed, especially since you can watch episodes for free on the network’s website. Warning: this show is scary as Hell. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish or nightmare-prone.
The Walking Dead. This show premiered last Halloween to much fanfare and ballyhoo. Having read all the comics (the series is ongoing, and I’ve read through Volume 14…I’m just waiting for 15 to appear at my library) I have to admit, I had high expectations for the show. I was disappointed. Though the first few episodes were pretty good, the show quickly descended into the kind of formulaic writing (“Let’s go to the CDC and explain the zombie plague even though that never happened in the comics! What do those comic writers know about mystery amping up the tension? Bah!”) that I worried would be a problem when presenting something so dark on a regular cable network. Unfortunately, I’m just not sure that justice can be done to the comics on cable television. And then the first episode of season two was fraught with logic errors and inconsistencies, some of them hilarious. Am I a big enough fan to keep watching even though the show has problems? Yeah, probably. Will I grit my teeth while I do it? Also: yes, probably. Fingers crossed that it gets better. The one saving grace? The plot of the show is not following the plot of the comics. I was worried that I would be able to predict every twist and turn, but instead they’re keeping things interesting, even for those of us already familiar with Rick and Carl and their adventures. The casting has also been spot-on, I can’t criticize that, and the effects are really good. I still have to watch last night’s episode so we’ll see what I have to say at the end of the week.
Once Upon A Time. I was really surprised by this show after hearing people criticize the production values. I enjoyed it, and I tend to dislike fairy tale shows/movies because they’re so overdone, but I found this one to be just familiar enough without being trite and predictable. The costumes are lavish, the sets are beautiful (admittedly, I was watching on my computer, so on a huge plasma screen it might look a bit different), and the show stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, and Robert Carlyle, all of whom I have lingering fondness for after their turns on some of my favorite shows (Big Love, House, and Stargate: Universe). After only 45 minutes, I was hooked by the characters and the mystery and I’ll definitely be back for more. I’m especially pleased that this is one show with women holding down the fort as the main characters, which is rare on television right now. Now if we could just get some people of color on the show, I’d have nothing to criticize.
Grimm. Take everything I said about Once Upon A Time and reverse it. The show opened with a girl in a red hoody jogging and being grabbed by a blurry wolf-man (to a canned scream I’ve heard on countless shows before…talk about production values!). Her ipod falls to the ground, and, hours later, the detectives who find it discover that it’s playing the same song it was playing when she was killed. Do these writers not understand how ipods work?! After that things just got worse–the main character starts seeing things, his cancer-ridden aunt appears to tell him the conveniently sparse details of his family history (that she’s kept from him until now because….?!) and then they both get attacked by some monster. It’s basically Buffy: The Vampire Slayer all over again, including the silly humanoid monsters from 1997, except without the compelling female lead. Part of what made Buffy great were the strong (and weak) female characters, and the fact that the story took place in high school–the whole show was a metaphor for puberty and the battles we fight in our teenage years. A 30-year-old male detective is, to this female viewer anyway, about as compelling as a sack of potatoes, especially without some horrible secret of his own (addiction, illness, illegitimate child, etc.).
I didn’t even make it all the way through the pilot of Grimm. I’m not writing it off completely but it’s definitely on probation. At least there’s one black character on this show? I’m really looking for something to love here.
Boardwalk Empire. I’m several episodes behind on this show since I just finished a field experience (a 3 week nightmare during which I wake up at 5:30 am and work about 12 hours a day, plus all weekend!) but I hope to be caught up soon. I watch this show for Jimmy, aptly played by the gorgeous Michael Pitt, and Kelly MacDonald’s brilliant turn as the conflicted Mrs. Schroeder, and for the lavish backdrop of the 1920’s…much as the house in American Horror Story is a character, the time period is a force to be reckoned with on Boardwalk. The era is like the ocean carrying the characters on, whether they like it or not, into the future, a future which they may not survive. This show is a slow burn and hard to get into at first–there are a lot of characters, and sometimes the accents and dated speech can be hard to follow–but it’s worth the investment. Bonus: Steve Buscemi in some really amazing suits.
Other shows I really enjoy are more of the reality show variety. Currently I’m watching Project Runway (Team Anya or Viktor, if one of them doesn’t win I might throw something), America’s Next Top Model, and my guilty pleasure…Sister Wives. Hey, don’t criticize, when Big Love went off the air it left a gaping polygamy hole in my life. I tell myself that watching the drama of others keeps the drama at bay in my own life…blah blah blah flimsy justification.
What might shock you is that I don’t have cable. Most of these shows I watch on Amazon (only $1.99 an episode), for free on the show’s website, or at a friend’s house. I’m also currently working the UK version of Being Human on Netflix–more on that once I’ve watched a few more episodes.
So, dear reader, what are you watching? What did you think of these shows so far?
I’m watching Walking Dead and intend to check out some of the others you list (since I like to check out any sort of genre TV). I’m not sure how long The Fades will take to make it to BBC America, but it is AWESOME! I usually watch the British scifi shows, but I thought I’d take a peek at their latest shot at horror. I was immediately hooked. It’s a shame it’s one of those 6 episode shows.
Thanks Rob, I’ll have to check out The Fades!