TV Question Qorner: Midseason TV Report Card
What I'm watching — or no longer watching — and why.
Boardwalk Empire. I have to catch up on recent episodes, but so far, A-minus — the minus is for the pacing, which is very slightly slow and self-regarding in the first couple of eps, but seems set to pick up a bit now that the audience has had a chance to admire the set design. It's nice to see Gretchen Mol working, too. I've always felt that she got jobbed by Rounders and didn't get another chance to show what she could do until recently. Also: Omar.
Chase. One of the few things I still enjoyed about Prison Break as it sogged into the sunset was the relationship between Michael and Sucre. Amaury Nolasco, usually saddled with some variation on a magical-Latino theme, is extremely charming in spite of it, and his scenes with Wentworth Miller were among the few that seemed to untrack Miller from constant Blue-Steeling and into actual acting and reacting. I gave Chase a try mostly for him.
It's gotten punted from the DVR, though, not because it's bad but because it's just…kind of there. The show is trying to build to a reveal about Annie's father, but I feel like the lawperson whose dad is a crook is a trope I've seen too often, and I don't care about Annie enough to see it through (Kelli Giddish is good, but she has to try so hard not to let the Cliché-o-Tron 3000 digest her whole that she can't make much headway). They do get good guest stars, but it's not enough.
Detroit 1-8-7. Another one I watched on the strength of the casting, and another one I deleted in defeat after watching Michael Imperioli nearly herniate himself in an attempt to give the autism-spectrum veteran detective some depth. Imperioli is a fantastic actor, and because he's also a writer-director, he comes at material as a whole, but it soon became clear that there's not much he can do here — we've seen it done before, and better, by various Law & Order: CI detectives, and I think the Detroit 1-8-7 writers would have done better to take that character in a less D'Onofrio, more Noth direction.
I didn't see the version of the show that more closely mimicked the style of The First 48, but based on the elements that remain, I suspect it worked better that way and I don't see why the network overrode it. Like Chase, it's fine, not actively bad, has some interesting actors in it (Aisha Hinds, the lieutenant, made good work of a bad job in an SVU guest spot last year), but I was never excited about watching it, so: punt.
Hawaii Five-0. I tried; I did. Scott Caan is fantastic. I wish he were on a different show. Alas, he's on this one, and life's too short. Nix.
Law & Order: Los Angeles. As Wing aptly pointed out on the best new podcast you should obviously already be listening to, Extra Hot Great, it's not really a Law & Order — no chung-chung, no chyrons telling you the address, none of that. It is obsessed with pointing out How L.A. It Is, which is irritating, but I gave it a spin anyway, because I don't think Skeet Ulrich is as blank a slate as some critics (or at least I don't think it's a bad thing), and I liked Corey Stoll's energy. But they went with a quickness to the, to me, super-boring territorial-posturing-over-terrorism well; Terrence Howard, ordinarily a brilliant and subtle enough actor that I can temporarily forget his creepy attitudes towards feminine hygiene, has a ham under each arm and a few slices down his shorts; and this one doesn't do anything additional to or better than the now-cancelled mothership. Fail; punt.
Luther. Mmm…Idris Elba. It's a bit strange to see Stringer Bell in a state of British-accented psychological dishevelment — even more so because I've started rewatching The Wire from the beginning — but Elba is predictably great, great enough that I can live short-term with another chewed-to-pablum trope of the genre, the serial killer who's obsessed with taunting the police in ways so intrusive and flamboyant that there's really no way a real-life detective couldn't nail his or her ass to the wall. Can Western culture please give that shit a rest? Luther does twist it a bit, in fairness; at the end of the last episode, the lightness of the "One coffee doesn't mean we're friends" exchange is startling and interesting, and Ruth Wilson bailed out her annoying character just with that single scene. The acting is carrying the over-writing.
But the reason we are culturally obsessed with serial killers is the very thing they don't do in real life: explain how they do and are, and let us understand (and thereby avoid) the tragic mayhem that results. To give sociopaths a bunch of teasy, smug, socially lubricated talking to do in our art makes sense as a human instinct, to try to control the unpredictable, but as a shortcut to making police casework interesting, it's worn out its welcome.
Terriers. I like it a lot, although I don't love it, and I feel like perhaps I've missed something because I don't love it yet. With that said, I also feel like the one reservation I have about it — that it's too invested in a USA-detective-show-ish tonal palette that, instead of leavening the darker stuff, is a little shticky and distracting — is about to change. Sometimes a story wants to go in a bleak direction, and fighting that is a mistake; certainly the actors can carry it, Donal Logue in particular, so I hope my prediction is correct. Even that quibble is fairly minor, though (my other quibble, that Logue's hair had gotten too long, was also addressed in a recent episode — way to recognize for the CFF, hair and makeup! hee). This one's a keeper.
Top Chef: Just Desserts. I didn't expect to enjoy it at first, and I almost quit watching during the Seth-fugue series of episodes; I won't pretend that I don't like reality-TV craziness, because I do, but even for me, there comes a point when it's a medication issue that isn't ethical to watch unfolding, never mind pleasurable. But it's pretty good, and Padma-free living is the way to go — I know they won't fire her at this point, but maybe she'll quit on her own and they can make Gail the head judge on Top Chef: Savory. I'm also happy to see that Gail is dressing for her body more successfully on this version; she has a perfectly cute, normal figure, but in the past has tended to wear clothes that lumped her up unnecessarily. (My theory: wardrobe only buys dresses that look good on Padma, who's like a foot taller and built differently, and Gail has to pick from those. On her own show, this isn't an issue.)
The Whole Truth. I'll give it one more episode to make me give a shit, because, once again, I like the cast a lot but the premise is not doing it for me. Also, it's possible to make obnoxious characters sympathetic, but it's not always easy, and it's not happening with Morrow's character. On probation. [Edited to add: Joe R just told me it got cancelled yesterday. Problem solved!]
The Challenge: Inappropriate Historical Terminology. My continuing to watch the show is indefensible, and yet, here I am. Best wishes to Teej in his recovery; he's started strapping his bitch on over the last fewseasons, usually towards contestants I already hate, and I hope he doesso for many seasons to come. Also, shut up, Laurel.
Chuck. This fell out of the rotation last season, during my household's dark night of the DVR when we had to switch the boxes out like every two weeks — and I just never put it back on. I wasn't one of the people who hated Brandon Routh, or that arc, but the season overall felt inattentive and slow, and I just never got back into it; it had become a chore to keep up with, so I dropped it. Mr. Stupidhead reports that it's gotten its mojo back this year, and I'll no doubt catch up with it later.
Fringe. I'd expected the divided-worlds plotting to feel too slow and obligatory, but they've done a decent job with it. The interruption by baseball probably forced the show to move things along, in a way, instead of deliberately portioning out suspense to a contrived climax point timed to sweeps. That may still happen, but I'm encouraged so far.
Here's hoping that what we've seen to this point puts at least a short-term stop to the complaining about Anna Torv's acting. She's not the best in the cast, but the cast is extremely good; she's not the most emotive, but that's the character, at least partly. I don't need her to get an Emmy, but what do you expect from an FBI agent whose primary job, at least in the show's early going, was to ask Walter to explain things to the audience? No, she's not Bernhardt, but the part doesn't call for that. Give her a break.
Anyway. I'm grossed out that Alternalivia and Peter Did It, but I'm situationally grossed out, not grossed out writing-wise. Keeping it, obviously.
The Good Wife. Turned into one of my favorites last year — Kalinda is my hero. Love her outfits, love her attitude, love her awesomeness at her job, super-love her whole hate-fuck subplot with Jason Street, which really shouldn't work for me at all but somehow totally does.
I don't love Julianna Margulies, for reasons that aren't fair to her, really; she has a certain judginess to her face that's just how her face is, but it comes into her characters and I tend not to care for them as a result. But everyone else on the show is fantastic, and the decision to back away from the Alicia/Will pairing, at least for now, was smart (the execution was both abrupt and meh, if that makes sense, but the other smart choice was giving it to Alan Cumming to play). It's not the most groundbreaking material in the world, but some of it is fresh, and you can't beat the acting talent. Keeping it.
Law & Order: SVU. I should let this one go too, but I can't — it's too funny. The two-parter starring Desmond from Lost as a "tragic" pedophile? The PSA about soda and obesity? Its commitment to becoming steadily more ridiculous is unswerving. I'm in.
Project Runway. I've really enjoyed this season; expanding it to 90 minutes and bagging the separate model show works. The final three also works for me. I hope Michael C. is okay, though. That elimination was, while correct, utterly wrenching. Boyfriend needs to tell his family to fuck off.
Survivor: Nicaragua. Does the season play kind of weirdly to anyone else — as though they keep having to change things on the fly? Some seasons, I get the sense that the showrunners know it's a dud and just try to get to the end so they can start fresh with a new crop of contestants, but it's not exactly that this time out. Maybe they counted on Jimmy Johnson staying in it longer, and didn't know quite how to gin up excitement once the other Survivors (rightly) ousted him? Andy Dehnart deemed last week's episode both weird and boring, which is about where I am with it; if something compelling doesn't happen this week, I might ditch it until next time.
Alias. I've never watched the first season all the way through, and it's really fun — more so knowing that the actual plotting/season arcs always get reset, so I can just have it on while I do other things and not have to pay religious attention to it. Well, except when Garber is effing killing it, which is every scene he's in. Aw, Spy Daddy.
Modern Family. Still catching up on first-season eps, so it's in the Vintage section for now. I didn't think I'd stick with it past the first disc Netflix sent; it felt too broad in parts, but the main problem early in S1 is Phil, who is unwatchably awkward, and worse, his lines are timed to force the bloom. I call that the Kramer Entrance School of Nudging the Viewer, and I don't like it. Fortunately, the writers calmed him down a bit as the show progressed.
And what I do like about the show is its consistent ability to feint left and go right. I watch very few sitcoms, because most of them telegraph the jokes and plots from the very first scene, and watching the journey is not fun for me…I don't know why. It's a how-the-sausages-are-made issue, maybe, although I've never written for TV, so that's not the aptest description. Arrested Development could up-end that kind of thing, which is why I liked it; Modern Family isn't quite as deft and doesn't pack quite as much in, but it stays far enough ahead of me that I'll keep on with it.
The Wire. No need to get into the show's awesomeness generally, but I'll be the 18,283rd to say that, if you have avoided watching it because you're afraid the overhype from the show's fans will mean the show isn't as good as you expect, I had the same fear, but the show really is that good. Furthermore, it is a fox-fest.
My note here is about Wood Harris, who plays Avon Barksdale, and it's a question I've had since I first got into the show a few years back. Does Harris purposely play Avon as a mercurial guy whose affect is sometimes inappropriate? Or is his acting just not very good? There's a line in Episode 112, I believe, where Avon and Stringer have cleaned out the office and they're just kind of waiting around for the raid to happen, and Avon tells Stringer to open the safe instead of letting the police break the lock open. Harris's reading is a good example of what I'm asking about: "Well open it up, man, no sense ruining a good safe." Avon is pretty nervous in the scene, which is a good choice; Harris usually plays Avon as less steely than you'd expect, also a good choice. But is that reading "Avon is nervous," or is it just a weird reading?
Harris has a lot of line readings like that; you could justify them on various emotional bases, but the problem is that he's usually in scenes with heavier acting hitters like Elba or Larry Gilliard Jr. (who, by the way, gets more amazing on every rewatch). Those guys occupy their lines to the point where it's like watching a documentary; Harris frequently seems to live on top of his lines instead, and at times it takes me out of the scene, wondering if this is the best take they got and why it comes off like a rehearsal.
I haven't seen Harris in much else, but I recall having the same sensation during his guest shot on Southland (and speaking of, did that get sacked? Anyone know?), that he's a good fit physically and does his blocking seamlessly, but occasionally drops a clanker that doesn't feel intentional.
…I think that's everything I'm watching. What have you guys kept or punted from your initial fall-season lineup? Anything you think I'd like to add?
Tags: Adventures In Random DVR-Pausing Aisha Hinds Alan Cumming Alias Amaury Nolasco Andy Dehnart Anna Torv Arrested Development bitchfaces Boardwalk Empire Brandon Routh Chase Chris Noth Chuck Corey Stoll dear sir or madam your writing is ass Detroit 1-8-7 dial-a-cliche Donal Logue DVR Break-Up Fringe Gail Simmons Gretchen Mol Hawaii Five-0 Hoarders Idris Elba It's Log Jimmy Johnson Julianna Margulies Kalinda in 2012 Kelli Giddish Larry Gilliard Jr. Law & Order: D'Onofrionics (tm Wing Chun) Law & Order: LA Law & Order: Mothership Law & Order: SVU Luther Michael Costello Michael Imperioli Modern Family Mr. Stupidhead Padma Lakshmi Paul Scheer Prison Break Project Runway Rob Morrow Ruth Wilson RW/RR Challenge Scott Caan Scott Porter sexism shut up Jeff Probst's vast collection of smugly tailored camp shirts shut up Kramer Skeet Ulrich Southland Survivor Terrence Howard Terriers The Crushed Film Festival The First 48 The Good Wife The League The Whole Truth The Wire TJ Lavin Top Chef: Just Desserts TV Victor Garber Wentworth Miller Wood Harris