Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My 2017/2018 Television Report Card

I realize things have been quiet on the blog lately because I just haven't been reading as much as I'd like.  I wouldn't call this a slump--I want to read, but I'm having trouble doing it as much as I'd like.  Let's just thank some eye issues that are putting up quite the obstacle--although I do think those are starting to abate a big.

When I have free time and am not reading or writing, I've been trying to keep on top of my favorite television shows.  This past year has been easier than most because it wasn't actually a great viewing year for me.  I do think television is currently experiencing a bit of a renaissance, but it doesn't seem to be extending to broadcast television.  Is it just me, or are the offerings on the big four networks more likely to be subpar than usual?  There are some great offerings in streaming--I'm especially surprised with what I've found on CBS All Access so far--but it's hard to have enough self-discipline to watch a season of a streaming series over a long period of time, as opposed to watching it over only a week or so.

Since I don't have much to say about books at the moment, I thought I'd dip into what shows were the highlights and lowlights for me this past year.  These are not all the shows that I watched (there were a number of new shows that I tried for a few episodes before dropping and then some others that I've watched for years--and continue to watch--but didn't stand out for me this season.  Instead, I have 3 new shows I loved, 3 (+1) returning shows that stood out, and 3 shows that I dropped.  If you are interested in comparison, last year's television report card is here.

All photos were taken from IMDB.com.

My 3 favorite new shows this season


I never thought I'd be a Star Trek person.  I've seen various series over the years, but usually because other people were watching it and I was somewhere in the vicinity.  I remember Star Trek: The Next Generation being especially popular among my high school friends and more than a few get-together viewing parties, but I usually paid more attention to the snacks than the show.

Then Star Trek: Discovery came along.  I already had CBS All Access--when we cut our cable and realized that our antenna didn't pick up our local CBS Affiliate, I had to get All Access to continue watching The Big Bang Theory--and I thought my husband would enjoy this (also, he was on about his 6th viewing of the entire season of Star Trek: Voyager and I needed a break).  I realized about 15 minutes into the first episode that I was hooked.

Everything about this show is light years (heh heh) ahead of the other series.  First of all, it is visually stunning--everything from the sets to the CGI to the makeup is big budget movie quality.  It is quite possibly one of the most beautiful shows I've ever watched.  The acting is also head and shoulders above most of the acting on previous series (exception being Sir Patrick Stewart, of course!).  While there were a number of new (to me) faces here, there were also actors who I've enjoyed in other roles: James Frain, Michelle Yeoh, and Jason Isaacs.  Isaacs is especially good and he plays probably the most fascinating character in the show.

The story of this show is also far more nuanced and progressive than I've seen in any other Star Trek venture.  I won't go into details (because you really should watch it!), but the writers did a triumphant job of weaving in Star Trek cannon while going places no Star Trek has gone before.  Also, this show features the first F-bomb in franchise history.  Seriously, it's ground breaking.

***

I've learned to be wary of television shows filmed in Oregon.  Sadly, they have always sent me into a rage spiral (this one being, by far, the worst..), and Everything Sucks! also ended in a rage spiral for me, but not the usual rage spiral.

Everything Sucks! is a sweet little coming of age story, set during the 90s in Boring, Oregon (a real place, but the show was actually filmed in Oregon City, Oregon).  Many viewers compared it with Freaks and Geeks, which I never watched.  Admittedly, I am about a decade older than these characters, but I still enjoyed all the organic 90s nostalgia.

Teenaged actors make up the majrity of this cast and that can be, well, iffy.  I will admit that I probably came in with lower expectations just because I didn't think that such a young cast would be able to pull of something especially deep.

I was wrong.

The actors here are simply astounding, especially Jahi Di'Allo Winston and Peyton Kennedy, both of whom carry the emotional bulk of the story telling.  I'm simply amazed at how perfect these two were.  I also enjoyed Patch Darragh and Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako in the adult roles, both of whom were endearing and authentic.

So, where did the rage spiral come in.  To be fair, Everything Sucks! itself did not bring on the rage spiral.  Instead it was the fact that Netflix canceled this show after one season!  Not only is this upsetting because the show ended by setting itself up for a second season, but also because there are so few intelligent shows for young adults right now.  I'm convinced that Netflix shot itself in the face with that move.

***

When Young Sheldon was announced, I remember thinking, "What a stupid idea."  I mean, why would I want to watch a show about the childhood of a character I already knew, and about whose childhood I had already heard about?  Plus, Sheldon Cooper is, despite being a genius, not the most dynamic character.  But, heck, I decided to give it a shot.

The first thing to know about this show is that it doesn't feel like The Big Bang Theory.  It actually feels much more like one of my favorites of years ago, The Wonder Years.  The second thing to know is that while the show is called Young Sheldon, Sheldon is actually not the draw for this show.  Sheldon is Sheldon--a child genius, who is less obnoxious as a child but still pretty socially awkward.  Instead, it is his family--his football coach father who is living in the aftershocks of his own failings, his devoted mother who knows how "special" Sheldon is, his free-spirited "Meemaw" who is making the most of her twilight years, his older brother whose football skills are not enough to bring him out of Sheldon's shadow, and--my absolute favorite--his twin sister who more street smart than Sheldon is book smart with an attitude to match.

I worried that there would be a fair amount of retconning with this show to force it to match up with what has been said about Sheldon's childhood in The Big Bang Theory, but instead the writers did something very clever.  They've set adult Sheldon up to be an unreliable narrator.  They've made it clear that what Sheldon remembered about his childhood may have been what he perceived happened, but not what actually happened.

I realize that this is time-limiting show and that I already know certain things that are coming in future seasons, thanks to it already being mentioned on its parent show.  But I'm okay with that...I'm just here to enjoy this one while it lasts.

My 3 favorite returning shows (+1)


I almost think that Call the Midwife is the perfect show.  It has survived through numerous cast changes (it is the only show I know of that actually improved when the main character left!) and has kept up with its own timeline.  Its long arc story lines are well executed and its episodic plots suck you in.  And I have cried in every single episode of this show.  Yes, every one.

I know a number of people felt that this past season was a disappointment compared to earlier seasons, but I disagree.  There was the problem with one of the main characters (and my favorite character) being absent for a good chunk of the season due to the actress's pregnancy, but many shows deal with that and as long as the character isn't pregnant only because the actress is pregnant, it isn't a big deal to me.

One thing that makes this show so remarkable is how well they deal with social issues of the time (I believe we are now in the mid-1960s).  I also enjoy how they deal with the changing social views: instead of just saying that things that were once looked down upon are now accepted, they show the characters changing their views.

I have a friend of mine who is a doctor and we've talked about how hard it is for her to watch medical shows because the medicine is usually so unrealistic.  This show, however, is the one that she says is one of the most realistic medical shows on the air.

***

Staying in mother England, another favorite show in our household is The Crown.  I think I read somewhere that it is the most expensive show Netflix has done, and it shows.  Every detail is perfect and nothing is missed.  As a history buff, it's great fun to see how they bring everything alive.  And, even as a history buff, I watch this with my good friend Wikipedia nearby.

I honestly felt that this second season was even better than the first.  While we don't have (other than one quick scene) the fantastic John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, we do have some pretty in depth character development from our Windsors.  Elizabeth is coming into her own, Philip is winning everything except Father of the Year, and Margaret is really, really bitter.  In some ways, it sounds like the most exquisite soap around and, in some ways, it is.  We haven't yet hit the tabloid-y period (I'm guessing we'll be there in 2-3 more seasons), but there is still plenty of fun stuff going on in this family.

If you haven't wanted this yet, please do.  I mean, I know it sounds like it might not be your cup of tea, but if my sci-fi and action-loving husband can get sucked into this, you can two.  The performances are all gold standard, especially that of Claire Foy as Elizabeth.  I'll admit I'm sad that she's done with this role--they switch out the cast every 2 seasons and Olivia Colman will be the next Queen Elizabeth (and PEOPLE!  HELENA BONHAM CARTER WILL BE THE NEXT PRINCESS MARGARET!)--but I am so glad that this is giving her the career catapult she deserves.

***

On a completely different note, I'm back with one of the best comedies on television...The Good Place.  I gushed about this last year and the second season did not disappoint.  In fact,  I think the second season was actually much better than the first.  The two seasons are vastly different (and I suspect season 3 will be its own animal), which is what makes it work.  

This sitcom has perfected the art of moving the plot forward better than any other sitcom I've seen.  Each episode builds on the previous ones and puts the characters in a different place, so to speak.  I've found sitcoms to be generally static--how long have Sheldon, Amy, and Leonard occupied the same apartments?  How long did Monica, Ross, Chandler, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe go to the same coffee shop?  I think this static nature is sort of a trademark of the genre and I find it very brave that this show is completely bucking the trend.

Here's the thing, though.  If you haven't seen this, you need to start with the very first episode.  So, yes, you (currently) have 2 seasons to watch.  But don't worry!  The seasons are only 13 episodes long and the episodes will suck you in completely and, in no time, you won't stare dumbly at someone who responds to your request with, "I can't be your Janet."

***

Okay, here is my +1 to this category.  This is a returning show, but I didn't start watching it until this year...and then I was completely hooked.  

I never watched The Good Wife when it was on air (the hubs and I actually just started watching it last night and are only 2 episodes in...), so I'm not quite sure what possessed me to give the sequel, The Good Fight, a try.  But I will say this, from the first scene of Christine Baranski watching the Trump Inauguration in pure horror, I know I was all in.


If you have watched The Good Wife, this particular show is centered around Diane Lockhart (one of the partners at the law firm in the first series), who is now the only white partner at an African-American law firm.  Diane is great, and there is no one like Christina Baranski.  But she is hardly the only character in this show and the cast, through and through, is excellent.  They've also had some top notch guest stars--Matthew Perry, Alan Alda, Megan Hilty, and Bebe Neuwirth have all made appearances.

If, like me, you are here for Trump bashing, you will not be disappointed.  They take Trumpism on without hesitation and it is simply wonderful.

3 Shows I quit watching this season


Guess what happened this year!  Hell froze over!  I have been with Grey's Anatomy from the beginning.  I've stuck with it through ghost sex, toxic blood, pink mist, and that gawd-awful musical episode.  I watched series regulars get hit by buses, by cars, crash in airplanes, perish in a mass shooting, and--once--someone die of the hiccups.  I've celebrated or suffered through MerDer, Slexie, Gizzie, Calzona, Burkina, Japril, and whatever the hell Minnick and Arizona were.  And I've stayed.

Until now.  I've had enough. I'm done.

Last year in my TV Report Card, I bemoaned how horrible season 13 had been, but had a good feeling for season 14, which would be under the helm of a new showrunner.  Oh, how foolish I was.  The season started with a character all of a sudden having a brain tumor in the part of her brain that controls personality--and, of course, that tumor had been there the entire time this character had existed in Shondaland.  And, of course, this character was one that audiences didn't particularly like.  So, the brilliant brain surgeons remove the tumor from the, ahem, brilliant brain surgeon and she has a whole new personality!  (Did I forget to mention that this brain tumor was discovered when she was masturbating in an MRI machine?)  Look, one thing (well, one of the many things) I can't stand in TV is a personality transplant.  It's just lazy writing and this was one of the most blatant examples of it I've seen.  And, the thing is, that isn't even what did it for me this season!

Basically three things happened this season that caused the perfect storm:
1 - It became very clear that the show is, once again, trying to center itself around the character Meredith Grey.  You would think this is a no-brainer, except that they've never been able to successfully do this in the 14 seasons the show has been on the air.  They are great when they pair Meredith with someone, be it Derek or Ellis or Cristina--and the show is best when it is a true ensemble piece.  But, sadly, Meredith Grey is not a strong enough character (and Ellen Pompeo is not a strong enough actress) to carry this show on her own and I really don't relish having to watch the show make the same mistake over and over again.

2 - They started pushing a relationship between 2 characters who, really, should have no interest in each other.  Nothing in either character's personality indicates that they would be the least bit attracted to the other.  Also one character's mother is married to the other character's biological (but not legal) father.  Look, there is nothing wrong with this--it's not incest.  Well, except for the fact that the show kept talking about how it was incest and kept giving us great lines like, "But what if you want to sleep with your sister?"  I mean, DUDE!  Do they really think making people think of incest is going to make this any better?

3 - They "opted not to renew" the contracts of the actresses playing my two favorite characters.

I'll be honest, if it were any 2 of these 3 things, I'd probably still be watching.  But all three?  Even I, and my long-term commitment to this show, cannot withstand that.

Adios Grey's.  It's been wild.

***

I was re-reading what I posted last year and I noticed that I was already having qualms about This is Us.  I get that people love this show--I just don't know why people love this show.  I found the first half of this season particularly enlightening and disappointing (I opted not to return to this show once it came back from its winter hiatus).  

I think that my reading life greatly influences my television viewing in that I catch onto what stories are doing.  For example, I don't think that the fact that The Good Place actually moves its plot along episode to episode would even be on the radar of someone who doesn't read 100+ books a year.   

The flip side of this is that while everyone was crying and wondering how Jack died, I was more concerned with the fact that the stories here were going absolutely nowhere.  The way the show had set itself up, everything in the "modern" characters plots hinged on how Jack died...and then they didn't bother to let us know how he died until over halfway into the second season (and then it was....death by crock pot?  Seriously?).

I feel like the show had a chance to get things going and opted to just idle in neutral.  I spent my time with this show realizing that I didn't like any of these characters, had little to no sympathy for them, and generally didn't care what happened.  I also found, for the most part, that the acting is not as good as people seem to think.  Yes, Sterling K. Brown is amazing and I do think he deserves all the accolades he has received.  But the rest of the cast is much more unremarkable.

Also, I never cried in this show.  Well, I did mist up in the very first episode and then I cried in the Memphis episode, which I believed aired shortly after my own mother's death (so, I'm not sure I can give the show all the credit).  Yet, the show's entire marketing plan is YOU ARE GOING TO CRY!  And then I don't.  Which means that the show didn't deliver on what it promised.  Which means it failed.

Yeah, I'm harsh here.  But I'm also gobsmacked that this show, which is not nearly as good as it purports itself to be, is such a hit.  All I got from watching this show is that they wanted nothing more than to manipulate the audience for no other reason than they felt that they could...and that they didn't know what to do with their own story.

I'm a little nervous because there is exactly one new network show next year that I'm excited about, and it is already "supposed to be the next This is Us."  Since I'm watching the show for an actor I especially like (otherwise I would just not watch), I'm rather peeved about this.  If I wanted to watch This is Us, I'd watch This is Us...and I don't want to watch it.  Sigh.

***

So, my 3rd dropped show is a bit different as I didn't drop it because I didn't like it.  In fact, I'm not sure it will stay dropped, but we'll see.

You see, I had to give up on The Handmaid's Tale.  Don't get me wrong--it's an excellent show with fantastic writing and top notch acting.  The problem was that it might be too good.  I realize it is not an "enjoyable" show and I never expected it to be, but I did find that the first few episodes of this season were much harder to take than all of season 1.  Granted, I've read the book so I knew what to expect in season 1 and season 2 is all "new" material, but it still caught me all by surprise.

I was very unsettled after watching these episodes to the point that I think it actually triggered my anxiety.  I still won't say that I thought it was gratuitous, but it was, well, realistic.  At this point in the world, I feel like I need my television viewing to be an escape, and this show is anything but that.

I do hope that, in a few years, I'll be able to return to this show.  Right now, though, I just can't do it.

***

So, there you go...the highlights and lowlights of my TV year.  There are a few things I'm looking forward to this summer--namely the return of Harlots and Trial and Error, and I have 140+ episodes of The Good Wife to catch up on.  Next year, though...well, we'll see how things hold up!

Also, if you do any sort of season-end TV recap of your viewing, please let me know in the comments  I'd love to know what everyone is watching!

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