A Week in TV - May 2013

A Week in TV – Nightmare of Children (12th May 2013)

I know I seem to start all of these posts off with the same line but here it is again: we’re in the May Sweeps period, it’s horrible and exciting and all things not good for my health, and I WANT IT TO STOP. But it’s not going to, and I’m just going to continue sitting here day after day until it becomes too much and I am committed to a psychiatric facility (but as long as they have a TV it’s okay).

Or, for something a little less insane, I’m going to just write about it instead. But before I start, I just need you to appreciate this scene from last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, featuring everybody’s favourite Pete Campbell falling on his ass in the best possible way. Watch it when you feel sad, watch it when you feel happy. Either way it’ll improve your life considerably.

Revenge – Engagement

If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time I’ve talked about Revenge since its first season finale this time last year. That’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the show or that I’ve stopped watching, but it is indicative of the show’s second season being very hit-and-miss and absolutely lacking in comparison to its debut offering. That being said, the most recent handful of episodes have indicated somewhat of a return to the formula that made the show so popular in the first place, and it’s been far too long.

revenge-image-01This antepenultimate episode felt significantly more akin to the show’s first season than the majority of its second, concentrating on the struggle between Emily and Victoria that were the framework for the show’s premise to begin with. Emily’s renewed engagement to Daniel has brought her back within the Graysons’ radar, and it’s allowing things to shift themselves back into place after a season of misalignment.

One such example of this would be the interactions between Emily and Victoria that while not being eradicated entirely, have been sorely lacking thus far. What works in this ‘relationship’ is the fact that both despise the other with such ferocity yet their attempts at disguising it with carefully placed barbs and exchanges of veiled insults are brilliant television. Madeleine Stowe has always been an actress who seems born for a role like Victoria because her delivery of the Grayson matriarch’s venom-fuelled lines are secondtonone, and any episode that allows her the chance to spar with her nemesis for a whole hour is welcome by me any day.

revenge-image-02Also, ‘Engagement’ did a stellar job in setting up the events for tonight’s season finale with several story strands dangling in the air waiting to be picked up, from Conrad’s gubernatorial campaign and Victoria’s secret child, to the bankrupting of the Graysons and the mysterious city-wide blackout that served as the episode’s cliffhanger–all of which are amongst the show’s stronger story arcs.

In regards to that ending, it may have been ridiculous and outlandish but it worked. The elements that didn’t work, however, can be counted on two hands. In particular, the sword fight between Takeda and Aiden–which had no tension at all because the outcome was inevitable–felt too nonsensical even for Revenge, and that’s some achievement considering how much the show often stretches its sense of realism.

Also, the continued exploits of Ashley (ugh), Declan and Charlotte (complete with new, pointless friend Regina) rarely provide any moments of enjoyment, and always distract from the show’s far more compelling story arcs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the show wouldn’t suffer too much at all if they were all suddenly put on a boat and sent out to sea, never to be seen again. Revenge has a cast of secondary characters that it tries to do things with, mostly to pad out the show’s main story arc but also to give them something to do, but it’s unfortunate that none of their subplots are remotely interesting enough, and consequently their characters become irritating.

Regardless of how inconsistent and going-in-the-wrong-direction Revenge’s second season has been, I’m still confident that the final two episodes will rectify a lot of the show’s wrongs, and hopefully that season three will return to the roots that allowed the show to grow in the first place. Revenge is far, far more entertaining when it’s focusing on the central struggle between Emily and the Graysons, which was the original premise of the show to begin with, and coming back to this would bring the show back to what was so exciting about it in the first place.

Grade: B+

Game of Thrones – The Climb

If you’re wondering whether this week’s episode of Game of Thrones is some bizarre parodical interpretation of Miley Cyrus’ song of the same name, then I’m afraid to disappoint you. Instead, it took its name from Jon Snow and co scaling the Wall, and while those scenes were a highlight of the episode, the hour on-the-whole felt slower than the previous two weeks, though still oozing quality out of every orifice.

got-image-1Firstly, before I get onto anything else, let me just express how utterly fantastic Jon and Ygritte are together. Both Rose Leslie and Kit Harington play off each other so well that it’s hard not to get absorbed by their chemistry. I already know how their relationship will progress (damn you books) and I wish I didn’t, but for the time being, I am loving their partnership more than any other on the show save for Brienne and Jaime.

Also, I’m not entirely sure if Ygritte confessing to Jon that she knows he hasn’t switched his allegiances was something that happened in the book, but regardless, I appreciate how it’s given their relationship a different edge; one that’s fuelled by passion and loyalty to the other rather than loyalty to a cause. It’s clear that Jon only ingratiated himself with Ygritte as a part of his objective earlier in the game, but now it’s much more than that. Their partnership is growing at a natural and organic way and it’s wonderful to see unfold.

got-image-3Another storyline that’s continuing to provide exciting material, despite not actually progressing out of a specific geographic location, is Arya’s involvement with the Brotherhood. This week saw her beginning archery lessons (which I’ve heard may be foreshadowing of a story in one of the later books that I haven’t read yet), and receiving an impromptu visit from Melisandre, whose scenes with Thoros in particular were strong.

Melisandre’s presence in particular fuelled a pretty significant departure from the books, in that Gendry is standing in for Edric Storm–a character who becomes quite involved with this segment of the narrative later down the line. It makes sense, really, because Gendry is overwhelmingly similar to Edric Storm because they’re both bastards of King Robert, and therefore why introduce an entirely new character when you already have a well-liked and established one available that could function in the same role? And plus it keeps Joe Dempsie on the scene for longer and I have no complaints about that.

Elsewhere in ‘The Climb’, we had a scene between Tywin and Olenna that was EVERYTHING (seriously, Charles Dance and Diana Rigg are exceptional actors and together, they’re incredible), poor Sansa’s dreams of finally leaving King’s Landing were crushed in one fell swoop, and poor Ros was the victim of Joffrey and his beloved crossbow, murdered by the King in an event orchestrated by Littlefinger, who learned of her deception with Varys and punished her so. ‘The Climb’ may have been a comparably slower week than the last two, but it was by no means devoid of any narrative progression.

got-image-1However, once again the story threads belonging to Bran and Theon continue to go nowhere any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally disinterested in their stories, but the frustratingly slow movement of both is tiresome to watch on a weekly basis. I understand why Theon’s plot is slower because he wasn’t even present in book three, but Bran’s plot does have places to go, still, yet is taking its sweet time in getting there with just four episodes remaining of the season.

Nevertheless, ‘The Climb’ proved to be another episode in a season that’s delivered on almost all points so far, including in the ratings, whose records it keeps breaking on a weekly basis. The audience is growing, the critical acclaim continues to pour in, and the quality of the storytelling and characters rarely falters.

Now, somebody get to overlaying the wall-climbing scenes from this episode onto the aforementioned Miley Cyrus song, because I have a feeling it’ll be weirdly awesome.

Grade: B+

Elementary – Risk Management

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve felt relatively cold towards Elementary this season. I’ve never considered it a bad show but neither have I thought of it as anything remarkable, either. But recently, the show has become great. It’s become compelling, and it finally feels like it’s harnessing the potential I’ve always known was there–and after this week’s episode, I’m actually at the point where I’m thinking of it as a better show than Sherlock. Yes, really.

If there’s one thing Elementary has nailed, it’s the partnership between Holmes and Watson. Over the course of the season, it’s grown from Watson merely being Sherlock’s companion, looking after him to make sure he didn’t relapse, to being his friend, his employee and his trainee. It’s developed magnificently and regardless of the show’s other faults, it’s grown to be Elementary’s biggest asset.

In contrast to Sherlock, I never get the impression that this version of Holmes ever looks down on Watson. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock often uses his superior intellect to look down on everyone around him, whereas Miller’s character doesn’t. He knows his mind is more perceptive than Watson’s but instead of ridiculing her for it, he strives to push her so that she, too, can see what he sees. It’s a stronger, more level playing field-esque relationship, and one that has carried me thus far with the show.

Characters aside, ‘Risk Management’ did a superb job of intertwining a traditional case of the week with the show’s larger mythology, culminating in one of the show’s strongest scenes so far–Holmes and Watson discovering an alive Irene Adler (yes, that was Natalie Dormer. Yes, she’s flawless). Episodes like this show that Elementary can be adept at combining both its procedural and serialized storytelling formats without completely abandoning one or the other, and it’s something I hope we see more of in season two.

I’m still surprised that I’m at a point where I’m excited for an episode of Elementary, and I’m even more surprised that I currently think of it as better than Sherlock. But above all, I’m just thrilled that I stuck with the show for this long because it finally feels as though my loyalty is being rewarded. If the final two episodes of the season follow in a vein similar to the previous few, I will be even more happy than I am right now.

Grade: A

Doctor Who – Nightmare in Silver

It’s the penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s current series, it’s written by Neil Gaiman–the one responsible for the widely adored ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ from series six–and it features the first Cybermen-focused plot since 2011. So, it had all the ingredients to be a strong, memorable outing, right? Right? Well, that was the hope.

While ‘Nightmare in Silver’ was by no means a bad episode, it wasn’t all that it could’ve been given the potential. In fact, it’s probably one of the current series’ most divisive episodes, because for every good point there lies a bad that took away from what could’ve been.

doctorwho-image-1In terms of the main story, ‘Nightmare in Silver’ wasn’t that bad. For a start, it managed to succeed in making the Cybermen an actual formidable enemy once again, and their redesign was much appreciated, also. I’m not familiar enough with the Cybermen designs from the classic Doctor Who era to compare them to that, but when stood alongside the series two iterations, they stand considerably taller.

But, as good as the Cybermen were, they weren’t enough to carry the whole episode. If they were, it would’ve indeed been one of the best episodes for a while. Instead, ‘Nightmare in Silver’ felt very much like yet another example of how much I think two-part episodes are sorely needed again, because the scope for this episode was far greater than what forty-five minutes were able to handle. That complete deux-ex machina ending was evidence of that, and it’s something we’ve seen multiple times this series, each time to frustrating effect.

doctorwho-image-4On top of that, the inclusion of Artie and Angie–the two children who blackmailed their way onto the Tardis last week–was so frustrating and unnecessary that the entire episode suffered significantly as a result. It’s not that having children travelling with the Doctor is some kind of crime against the unwritten laws of Doctor Who, because with the right material it could’ve allowed for some fun, and different, character interactions than what we’re used to. But here, it was all so pointless; their presence simply wasn’t required. They weren’t intrinsic to the plot, they were incredibly one-dimensional, and that’s before you even take into consideration how utterly annoying Angie was whenever she was on screen (seriously, you’re on an alien planet and you’re MOANING about it?!). I’m unsure as to why they were included in the episode but let this be a lesson for the future: only bring children on-board the Tardis when you have material to make it worthwhile, not because it might be a good idea.

Irrespective of ‘Nightmare in Silver’s many faults, one thing stood out in the episode and that was, once again, Matt Smith’s performance. This time around he had the chance to play as a mean, Cyberman-infected Doctor that, as the normal Doctor, he had to fend off against in a Two-Face-like manner–and he had an absolute ball making the most of it. Smith has deployed many exceptional performances in this current run of episodes alone, and at this stage, I expect nothing less from him, though I still find myself in awe whenever he gives them.

doctorwho-image-3One of my main concerns with this episode was that a lot of people were assuming it would be something remarkable and spectacular based purely off Gaiman’s involvement, and as a result, anything less than exemplary work would be considered underwhelming and poor. ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ was a rare type of episode that doesn’t happen too often with Doctor Who, and replicating that wouldn’t have been an easy task. ‘Nightmare in Silver’ was not the episode to match that quality, unfortunately, but ‘poor’ it thankfully was not.

Grade: B

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