News, Views, and Reviews
I don’t drink a lot of soda anymore. Maybe 1-2 times a month. But when I do, watch out, because I’ll talk your ear off about how fantastic and amazing Mountain Dew tastes. Here it is, mid-October, and I’m waiting for the release of the next-gen consoles and all the new games that will probably bankrupt me. In the mean time, and in between sessions of FFXIV and Marvel Heroes, I have started watching TV. Like drinking soda, I don’t do it very often, but watch out when I do! The new fall season of television is a few weeks old, and here are my favorite “flavors” so far:
Action and Adventure
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point that I love “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” I’ve decided to break down this blog into genres to make a point: some of these shows just can’t be compared to other shows. The main criticism and complaint I hear about AOS, over and over, is that it’s “too funny” or “not dark and edgy enough.” Well, guess what, it’s not SUPPOSED to be. It’s an action/adventure show. Yes, it’s funny, and I like that. An IGN editor called AOS a mixture of Indiana Jones and the A-Team. I think that’s great. To that mix, I’d add a dash of the X-Files and a good helping of Joss Whedon. Joss is responsible for my all time favorite TV shows, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” and movie, “The Avengers,” and I perhaps have more faith in this show than others. I think Joss is very capable of delivering drama and emotion when he wants, and switching the tone of an episode or a scene when needed. I’ve watched five episodes of AOS and sure, they all share a light-hearted tone, but the latest episode threw in some dark material and pulled on the heart strings. Like the X-Files, AOS seems to be a “monster of the week” format, with a few plot threads weaving some connections between episodes and establishing a larger story arc. I’ve also come to appreciate that, at least for now, AOS has three main characters: Agent Coulson, Agent Ward, and Skye; and three supporting characters: Agent May, and scientists Fitz and Simmons. Expecting character development from (mostly) the three main characters (instead of all six) addresses other criticisms I’ve heard. At any rate, I enjoy watching AOS, and I’ll keep watching it and encouraging others to watch it, too.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is rated TV-PG, airs every Tuesday at 9/8c on ABC, or can be watched on abc.com the next day.
My other “guilty pleasure” TV show I enjoy watching is “Revolution”. Set fifteen years after a mysterious blackout, which caused every electronic device on the planet to stop working, a rag-tag group of characters try to survive whatever crazy events or plot twists get thrown at them. The first season had really high ratings for the pilot episode, but those numbers dropped way off after that. My theory is that people didn’t see what they were expecting to see, and tuned out. Like AOS now, the first few episodes of “Revolution” got criticized because it wasn’t “dark and edgy enough” or “not dirty enough.” People, the power went out. That’s it. Why so many viewers thought they would see people in some kind of burned out, post-apocalypse wasteland, I’ll never understand. They still have food and water, houses, farms, everything they needed to survive, just no electricity. Part of the appeal, to me, was seeing how society adapted and moved on, some fifteen years later. I didn’t care to see the terrible days or months directly after the blackout, and I didn’t care what caused it. Well, throughout the first season, we DID see some of the direct aftermath in flashbacks, and the mystery of HOW the power went out was eventually solved. More interesting than that, however, is how the show itself course-corrected after a mid season hiatus. The show took a few weeks off, changed some key aspects of the show, and came back much stronger for the second half of the first season. Then, the show took advantage of the much longer break between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second season, and came back with a vengeance. I don’t want to spoil too much, as I strongly recommend catching up on Season One on Netflix, but the end of Season One pretty much wrecked everything, like people were expecting in the first place, and now “Revolution” is really, really good.
Revolution is rated TV-14, airs every Wednesday at 8pm on NBC, or can be watched on nbc.com the next day. The entire first season is available on Netflix.
If “action and adventure” or “guilty pleasure” isn’t what you’re looking for, look no further than the best drama on television: “The Blacklist.” This is about as “dark and edgy” as a crime-thriller can be on network TV. The premise is simple, but oh, so captivating: Notorious criminal Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), on the FBI’s top ten wanted list, inexplicably turns himself in and tells the FBI that he will help them catch his “blacklist” of uber-criminals. The bad people on the blacklist are extremely dangerous, the FBI doesn’t even know they exist, but “Red” will only help the FBI if he deals directly with brand-new Agent Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone). Part of the greatness of this new show are the un-answered questions in that premise: Why did Reddington turn criminal in the first place? Why did he turn himself in? Why does he want to help the FBI catch these terrible people? But, perhaps the most intriguing question is, why Agent Keen? The pilot episode is literally Liz’s first day on the job, and she has obviously never met any of these criminals nor does she seem to have any connection to Reddington. Why is he so interested in her? Each episode, so far, has also been a “monster of the week” type format, with a few new clues teased here and there dealing with Red’s interest in Liz, and some other puzzles and twists to keep us guessing. I love spy shows, but this is like spy versus spy versus homicidal maniacs. I mean, these are some terrible, nasty villains, way beyond the mustache twirling “Bond villains” we’ve gotten used to over the years. The writing is very clever, with lots of bluffs, fake-outs, double crosses and triple crosses that put you on the edge of your seat, and the lead performances (especially Spader) glue you there. Spader is absolutely brilliant and mesmerizing in his role as Reddington: an enigmatic and charismatic character that’s just so fun to watch, but the smiles and witty remarks hide a darkness that is probably not very fun at all. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but Liz might have some crazy secrets of her own. At any rate, this is highly recommended viewing, but parental discretion is advised. Did I mention that these are terrible, nasty villains?
The Blacklist is rated TV-14, airs every Monday at 10/9c on NBC, or can be watched on nbc.com the next day.
“Zombies” seem to be super popular these days. They appear in just about every video game, movie, and TV show, yet the quality of “The Walking Dead” is so high, that they don’t feel as trite and cliche as they do in everything else. It probably helps that, like the original “Night of the Living Dead” movie by George Romero, nothing in “The Walking Dead” – no character, no literature, not even a commercial – refers to them as “zombies”. Okay, I just have to get this out of the way: a “zombie” is technically a re-animated corpse that is controlled by magic, usually voodoo magic. Whenever you see a movie, show, or video game with “zombies” in it, and those “zombies” are actually caused by some kind of virus outbreak or natural phenomenon like that, it drives me NUTS that they are called “zombies.” Romero called them “ghouls” and “The Walking Dead” calls them “walkers” as in “dead people that should be dead but they are still walking around”. End rant. “The Walking Dead” gets that right, and as I said, it is a high quality show. One of the greatest aspects of TWD is that it takes the over-used premise of an undead “walker” apocalypse, goes beyond that, and deals with some serious issues: surviving the immediate aftermath is one thing, but what do you do six months later? Twelve months later? More importantly, what is more dangerous, the “walkers” – or other people? The main characters of TWD seem to have seen it all, dealing with all kinds of heartbreak and tragedy, kindness and betrayal, that it’s hard to imagine that things could get any worse. But Season Four is beginning to remind us that they haven’t seen everything, and, well, I don’t want to spoil any more! If you can handle horror and gore, lots of graphic, disgusting gore, there is some really intense drama and outstanding stories to praise in TWD.
The Walking Dead is rated TV-MA and airs every Sunday at 9/8c on AMC. The first three seasons can be watched on Netflix. The current season is available on amazon.com for $2.99 an episode in HD, $1.99 an episode in SD.
I’ll be brief, as most comedies are light diversions, clocking in under 30 minutes an episode. Sometimes, I’m not interested in action, adventure, or drama, I just want to laugh my head off. The only comedies I’m interested in right now are “How I Met Your Mother” (or “HIMYM” for short, now in it’s ninth season) and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. Okay, so “HIMYM” has a seemingly never-ending plot of, well, how Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) relates, in flashback, to his children, how he met their mother. And yes, I did say this show is now in it’s ninth season. Those poor kids have been sitting on that couch, listening to a very, very, long story. But it’s really funny! And…it is a little dramatic, and I’m hooked on these characters, and I can’t wait to see what crazy thing happens next, and how it all ends. Thanks to Netflix, I had the opportunity to catch up to Season Seven, but then I had to wait for Season Eight to be finished. Just before Season Nine started, I had another opportunity to binge-watch Season Eight and get all caught up. (I did the same with The Walking Dead. I said at the beginning of this blog that I don’t watch much television.) So, yes, I’m watching HIMYM, but maybe because I only recently watched the first eight seasons, I don’t feel as burned out and impatient with the show as some people might be.
How I Met Your Mother is rated TV-14, airs Mondays at 9/8c on CBS, or can be watched on cbs.com the next day. The previous eight seasons can be watched on Netflix.
But, on the very opposite end of the spectrum of all these shows – and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much – is a new, hilarious, light-hearted comedy called “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Believe it or not, it’s a cop-comedy, a genre that hasn’t appeared on television in, I don’t know, decades? Andy Samberg plays Detective Jake Peralta, an immature goof off that happens to be a very good cop. Or is he a good cop that happens to be an immature goof off? His co-workers at his precinct, the dysfunctional #99, aren’t that much better: Andre Brauhger plays Captain Ray Holt as the perfect straight man; Terry Crews is hilarious as Sergeant Terry Jeffords, the would-be-tough-cop-that-cracked under pressure; Melissa Fumero plays Detective Amy Santiago, a friendly rival to Peralta; Chelsea Peretti plays the civilian office manager Gina Linetti; Joe Lo Truglio plays clumsy try-hard Detective Charles Boyle, who has a crush on “the crazy cop” Detective Rosa Diaz, played by Stephanie Beatriz. Taking a cop show premise, that deals with crimes including murder, and turn it into a comedy should be a disaster, but its actually really funny. Andy Samberg is silly as one would expect, but he doesn’t go too far overboard or over-shadow the other cast members, and I think that’s what makes this show really stand out. Right away, even from the first episode, each character was strongly developed and they have this insane chemistry with each other as if they’ve been doing this show for years. The creators, Daniel J. Goor and Michael Schur, also created “Parks and Recreation” together, (another one of my favorite TV comedies) and Schur also worked on “The Office” although “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” seems quicker paced than “The Office” and zanier than “Parks and Rec”. At any rate, it’s a really funny show, and I highly recommend it!
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is rated TV-14, airs every Tuesday at 8:30/7:30c on FOX, or can be watched on fox.com the next day.