Summer Viewing: Part One

The annual summer television hiatus is a nightmare for any respectable enthusiast to have to endure. Your favourite shows all disappear for at least three months, leaving nothing but repeats and cable shows to watch. It’s hard and it sucks but we all go through it with a sense of perseverance that has to be respected. Some people may even cry but let’s not talk about them.

However, while the hiatus brings about painful memories of absence, it provides something rather valuable: time. Time to catch up on what you’ve missed, time to watch shows you’ve not yet gotten into and time to widen your viewing habits without the struggle of sticking to your existing schedule at the same time.

Over the summer hiatus this year, I’ve gotten myself into many, many shows that I hadn’t even looked twice at before, as well as making use of the time to re-watch my favourite show of all-time, as well as tune in to familiar favourites. Over the course of two posts, I’ll talk a little about what those shows were, whether they were worth watching and any other general thoughts. I’ll even given them ratings out of five, with five being superb and one being Ringer-esque. I think that should be a good idea of the quality we’re talking about here.

Breaking Bad *****

What is there to say about Breaking Bad other than it’s one of the most well-written, well-acted and brilliant television shows in recent times? Not much because that overwhelming praise just about sums up the entire show in a single sentence.

Using the power known as Netflix, I caught up with this magnificent show over the summer and boy am I glad that I did. I initially watched season one last year but never went back for more, strangely. I don’t think it had much of an impact on me as it did this time around and I didn’t appreciate just how strong it actually was. Now I definitely do.

Amidst the exceptional scripts, terrific cast, fantastic direction and production, there is one person standing in the centre of it all that makes Breaking Bad the show that it is: Bryan Cranston.

There’s a reason why Bryan Cranston has won so many Emmys for his role as teacher-turned-meth-king Walter White and that’s because he’s just so incredible at what he does. The character development of Walter is some of the strongest I’ve ever seen on television and he’s right there making excellent use of it week on week, never faltering in his efforts. Remember that scene in Crawl Space from season four? You know the one. There are few actors who could make a scene like that so phenomenal the way Cranston did and there won’t be another for some time, either.

There are few shows currently on TV that are as consistent as Breaking Bad. You get a great episode one week and right when you think it cannot possibly get better, it does just that, time and time again. If you don’t have this show in your life, you cannot call yourself a fan of television until you do. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Damages *****

Once again harnessing the powers provided by Netflix, I watched all four seasons of Damages over the summer as well as the recently-concluded fifth season, which was the last the show would have. I can’t say I liked it that much because that wouldn’t be giving the show enough justice; I adored it, even in its weaker moments, and I am incredibly sad that it’s now gone from our screens for good.

Damages has all the ingredients of what makes a show good. It has an addictive and compelling set of stories that keep you wanting more after each episode, a wonderful cast spear-headed by the incredible Glenn Close and a character at the centre of it all that is one of the most layered and deep creations a TV show could portray.

When someone says “Damages” to me, my first thoughts are always to do with Glenn Close. Based solely on her work on the show from its beginning to its end, it’s safe to say that she is a phenomenal actress capable of tremendous things. She made Patty Hewes what she was; a cold, manipulative woman who used and abused her position of power to crush her enemies, regardless of the personal costs to her and those around her. She started the show with a son, a husband and a life for herself. She ended it with nothing but her work in her life. Patty went on a journey throughout Damages and it would never have been so compelling had it not been for Glenn Close’s performances over the years.

The leading lady herself isn’t the only factor that contributed to Damages being the show it was. Ellen Parsons was the opposite to Patty’s ruthlessness, who over the course of the show inched steadily towards being moulded into Patty v2. Byrne and Close bounced off each other with an ease and excellence that’s not so easy to achieve and their relationship was one of Damages’ strongest elements, perhaps the strongest.

I’ve read that Glenn Close doesn’t plan on returning to TV now that Damages is over and while that saddens me completely, I am at least pleased that her swan-song was as wonderful as Damages, even if the show was criminally under-rated for most of its life. Patty Hewes, you were a bitch but I will miss you more than anyone will ever understand. Sob.

True Blood Season Five **

The fifth season of HBO’s fang-a-thon True Blood aired over the summer and what a disappointment it was. Considering True Blood continues to be nothing like its earlier self, however, I can’t say I’m too surprised by it.

Season five was simply overwhelming with how insane it tried to be and how all over the place it was. The number of stories all running concurrently made each episode feel jam-packed with the stories you didn’t want to see and less of those you did. For example, Terry’s utterly ridiculous smoke demon story took precedence at several points before coming to an abrupt end and then forgotten about. Where is the continuity here? It was the same last season with how quickly Jason forgot about almost being turned into a panther and quite frankly it makes these storylines feel even more pointless, and that’s quite an achievement.

As well as that, the hyped casting of Christopher Meloni, who contributed to one of the reasons I was looking forward to season five so much, was killed off quite early on. I can understand why that was done but for me, things deteriorated rather rapidly after that point. The main story devolved into madness, taking Bill’s character with it, characters such as Russell became caricatures of themselves and everything simply became a shaky mess that while becoming steadier for the finale, still remained incoherent.

Possibly my favourite part of the season was Tara and her interactions with Pam. Turning her into a vampire did wonders for her character but the worst part of it was that they had so little screen-time. Like I said before, more of the unwanted, less of the wanted.

It’s a shame that True Blood produced a season like its fifth because now any possible excitement for season six is tainted with an expectation of disappointment. For me, this was the show’s worst season, and that even includes season three. Plus we’ll be seeing more of Bill who after season five, needs to be wiped out and fast.

Falling Skies Season Two ***

Falling Skies is a strange show. It’s not watched with any expectation or hope of well-written, riveting sci-fi. It’s watched knowing that an average story will be told with average characters carrying it through. Strangely, what would normally be an obstacle for other shows isn’t much with this as expecting nothing makes it more enjoyable as a result.

Season two wasn’t perfect by any means but it was a better job than the first. At points there was some interesting exposition into the aliens as well as things not being as they originally seemed. Of course, an alien rebellion isn’t a concept unique to the show and it was a little predictable but it finally felt like the show was heading somewhere rather than wandering around in a random direction hoping to hit gold.

While that may have worked, the characters didn’t for the most part. People were introduced early on, seemingly out of thin air (such as the engineer guy – I still don’t know his name), and their deaths had absolutely no impact because the audience didn’t even know who they were. Little Jimmy was also killed off early on and you would’ve expected a death like that to have lasting effect. It didn’t, because once the funeral was done, it was hardly mentioned afterwards.

Plus, it’s probably not even worth mentioning Ben. His character became much more significant in season two but the amount of times he blindly walked into a situation anyone else would’ve seen to be a trap made him seem like, quite frankly, an idiot. Also, I can never believe that a father like Tom would’ve freely allowed one of his sons to disappear in the middle of a freakin’ alien invasion without going off the rails. But hey, character consistency isn’t high atop Falling Skies’ agenda, right?

Falling Skies doesn’t provide fantastic sci-fi. It provides an average supply at best with inconsistent characters to boot. However, it’s still mildly compelling, which is strange. Perhaps I just like aliens that much. I don’t know.

The Newsroom ***

It’s on HBO. Aaron Sorkin is involved with it. It focuses on the happenings within a news studio. All those elements should have created a show of beauty. To be fair, after the pilot, I did indeed believe that something wonderful would unfold over the season. However, I am unsure of whether I’ll even tune in for the second season now that the first has finished.

I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is about The Newsroom that made it so polarizing for many. Some claim the show is sexist, others just say it’s full of plot holes and is, basically, crap. Others have different opinions and say that it’s one of the best shows to arrive on television in recent years. Everywhere you go, you tend to get varying opinions on the show and whether Aaron Sorkin still has it and vice versa.

My personal opinion of the show is that for the most part, it was enjoyable. Most of the characters were watchable and the way in which real-life news items were used as story points makes the show feel more grounded in reality as opposed to what it would be if it used fictional stories conjured up in a script-writer’s mind.

However, as the season progressed, several of the characters began to irritate me. Mac was supposed to be a hardened journalist who had been to war zones and naturally become ‘tougher’, yet she spent most of her time shrieking and bellowing like a school-child who had been told her television had been taken away. Also, while Dev Patel is adorable, I saw no point to his character existing other than to provide moments of occasional humour.

Elsewhere, the dull and pointless love triangles added something to the show that didn’t need to be added, and were focused on to such a degree that it almost made me tune out prematurely. I don’t mind romance plots but when they’re soap-ified like this, they don’t belong.

As well as all that, it seemed at several points that The Newsroom was a little full of itself, so to speak. From the self-indulgent opening titles to the political preferences of the main character, it sometimes felt a little nauseating when Will – Jeff Daniels’ character – went on another one of his speeches to rally the troops and proclaim themselves almost as the saviour of cable news. It wasn’t so bad at first but by the end, it had gotten tiring.

The Newsroom wasn’t a complete disaster and there were makings of a great show in there somewhere but they just didn’t emerge in my opinion. I managed to get to the end but I don’t know if I want to stick around for another season of the same. Also, I am unfamiliar with Sorkin’s previous work so I can’t comment on how The Newsroom compares to those but from the views of others I’ve read, it really didn’t come close to meeting the quality of his earlier work.

Next time, I’ll discuss the remainder of my thoughts on the shows I watched over the Summer just in time for a huge influx of shows making a return for the 2012-2013 season.

Also, in preparation for the upcoming Emmy awards ceremony this Sunday, I’ll have a post containing my predictions, hopes and thoughts on several of the categories uploaded later this week and as well as that, if anybody wants to add me on Twitter, we can possibly discuss the ceremony as it happens. I went crazy with the tweeting last year and I fully expect to do the same this time around!

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