So here we are again, folks. Last year, around this time, I wrote a six-part series detailing what I thought were the biggest, and worst, shows of the season, as well as what, and who, disappointed me or surpassed my expectations. And here I am once again, with a significantly increased show-load to pick and choose from.
Over the course of this series, I will talk about the shows I enjoyed the most, those that weren’t as pleasing, the performers who excelled this season, the biggest surprises and disappointments, and concluding with my top five shows of the year.
Of course, all throughout this series, I would love to hear your thoughts and views on what succeeded the most over the course of the past season. But, if you’re going to tell me that you liked Hemlock Grove…step away before the massacre begins (just kidding).
The Best Shows
“HELL YES!” “WHAT IS GOING ON I CAN’T EVEN?” “DID THAT JUST HAPPEN??” “I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS TENSION.”
The above were all expressions and feelings felt throughout the course of Scandal’s mesmerizing, insane sophomore season, and all were more than warranted. What was, in its first short season, an interesting show but with nothing particularly remarkable, rapidly became a behemoth in its second year; a show you HAD to watch live, to experience with others in order to not get left behind in a swamp of spoilers. And if, by some unfathomable miracle, you managed to avoid the show everyone was talking about this year, you were missing out. Really missing out.
It’s not difficult to see why everybody fell in love with Scandal this year. Few shows on network television could even dream of maintaining such a rapid, constantly twisting tale with fascinating, well-written characters on a weekly basis like Scandal does. They would crash and burn under the weight of everything they were holding on their shoulders, whereas Scandal took what it had, threw in several captivating, outlandish plots to increase the excitement (Presidential assassination attempt, anyone?) and watched as everybody fell in love with it. The audience grew over the season, the critical acclaim increased and the show fast became the dominating force in its timeslot–and all of it was deserved. Scandal had an outstanding second season from beginning to end, and if season three can keep with that momentum, it, too, will enjoy as successful a year as this.
American Horror Story: Asylum
My journey with American Horror Story has been a turbulent one to say the least. I tried the pilot when it first aired and hated it, but I tried it again last year and found myself liking it. Season one was decent but nothing particularly special, mostly relying on its crazy, bizarre narrative to have everything else exist around. Then I started season two, fell in love with it, and I now love a show I once detested.
American Horror Story’s second season wasn’t anything of a radical departure from the one preceding it; everything was still insane, and the plot was every bit as wacky and outlandish as the first. However, what worked in the show’s favour the second time around was a stronger, more interesting setting, a plot with more scope and potential, and characters far more memorable and exciting to watch, along with their respective actors. (The combined force of Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange was immeasurably strong.) Season two felt like everybody had brought their absolute best to the table, and it paid off immensely.
I can understand why American Horror Story could be a show that you either love or hate with a passion. Its plots are not to everyone’s tastes, nor is the feeling that the show constantly throws insane shit at you to see how you’ll react (Dylan McDermott sucking a breast…let’s not go there), but these are the reasons why I find the show–particularly in its second season–so remarkable. They’re not afraid to venture into areas that some would consider outrageous, and I can appreciate how that brings something unique to the table. These were the reasons I disliked the show to begin with, but now they’re the reasons I enjoyed the second season so much, and if that’s not indicative of growth, then I don’t know what is.
As I type this, NBC’s Hannibal is still on-the-air, but from what I’ve seen of the show so far, it has surpassed every expectation I ever had of it. It’s just unfortunate that the one thing working against the show more than anything else happens to be the network it’s on, but otherwise, Hannibal has had an extremely impressive debut season.
Why were my expectations of the show so low, you may ask? Well, mostly because the subject matter didn’t seem particularly thrilling to me when reading about it, nor did the fact it was a midseason show being broadcast on NBC–two things that, when paired together, doesn’t exactly bode well. So you can imagine my surprise when I watched the pilot and discovered that the show was everything I was expecting it not to be: exciting, dark, complex, and with captivating characters being played by exceptional actors–and it has managed to mostly maintain that success so far this season.
If there are two things that work especially well in Hannibal, it would be in Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen’s performances, with the latter being particularly phenomenal as the subtly psychotic Hannibal Lecter. Everything else seems to weave in and around them with absolute ease, creating a slow–but thrilling–experience that feels totally out of place on NBC. Hannibal is, at heart, a cable piece masquerading as a network show, but that disguise does not prevent the show from being one of the strongest new shows of the season, and definitely a highlight of the network television-o-sphere.
I absolutely adore FX’s The Americans. There, I said it. I only got into the show several weeks after it premiered after hearing many positive things about it from Twitter folk, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with everything it was offering. So much so that I plan to re-watch the season sometime this Summer, just to experience it all again with a more observant eye.
The Americans was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of this season’s strongest new shows. It had the trifecta of elements to make it a success: excellent characters, an interesting premise, and a well-scripted plot to form the spine of the show. Each of those elements was a resounding success, creating a sublime show that went soaring above the other new offerings from the last nine months.
Although the plot of The Americans was a big success, it was perhaps the characters that I fell in love with the most: Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, as Philip and Elizabeth, respectively, were a genius pairing, sharing chemistry to make the troubles their characters–who were married to each other–faced a tangible affair. Also, Margo Martindale’s appearances as the cold, calculating ‘Granny’ were just as strong as befitting Martindale’s acting talents, as were the efforts of Noah Emmerich as Stan, the character that, in some ways, represented the threat to the central characters the most.
Overall, The Americans started off its hopefully long life with an excellent debut season that, if there is any justice (and if the Emmy voters weren’t predisposed to ignore anything on FX), would enjoy a presence at the Emmys ceremony in September. But even without award recognition, The Americans was probably my favourite new show of all the offerings over the course of the past season, for all of the reasons mentioned above and then some.
The Good Wife
The Good Wife enjoying a strong season? It’s hardly a surprise, I know, but season four of the acclaimed drama really did have a strong effort in its fourth year, and that’s even including the shaky first half.
If you’ve visited this blog before, or even if you just know me from Twitter, you’ll already know that I ADORE The Good Wife. But even with that, I can admit that the fourth season was a little rough around the edges in its first half. This was mostly–if not entirely–because of the story arc involving Kalinda’s husband which could’ve been one of the strongest stories the show had done, and certainly could’ve provided excellent material for Archie Panjabi to sink her teeth into, but instead just flopped about maniacally before being put out of its misery. It’s unfortunate because I was looking forward to it so much, but the execution was just poor and did damage to Kalinda’s character that was hard to look past.
Eventually, however, the negative response to this particular story arc, from critics and viewers alike, meant that the plot came to an end somewhere around the middle of the season, and things improved tenfold after that, concluding with arguably the show’s strongest season finale to date. So much changed in the last episode that season five’s landscape will inevitably be massively different, full of exciting change to both the story and the characters–and if they utilise that potential in the way I would hope they will, season five could be an exceptionally strong year for The Good Wife.
I’m an idiot, it’s official. For some reason, I stopped watching New Girl after an episode broadcast last March. I don’t know why, but I just did. So I decided to catch up from where I left off a few weeks ago, and boy am I glad that I did, because New Girl had a fantastic second season.
I’ve never truly disliked New Girl, even when it was still struggling to find its feet early on in its first season, but season two was where I really began to appreciate what it was offering. With several genuinely strong story arcs running concurrently (the best of all being the sexual tension between Nick and Jess), as well as many wonderful episodes under its belt, there was rarely a time when I wasn’t impressed by how much the show had improved in its second year. In fact, I dare say that by binge-watching all of season two in the space of a week, its successes were even more apparent to me than if I had watched them weekly.
To be honest, I’m still not sure how a show I was relatively lukewarm towards in the first season (maybe this is why I fell so far behind?) became a show I adore second time around. It just felt like they had taken a look at what didn’t work for them before and either threw them out or improved them. Of all the comedies I watch, New Girl was certainly not the one I was expecting to have the strongest year, but it happened anyway, and if there isn’t some Emmy love come September, “I will Calcutta bitch up in here,” to quote the ever amazing Schmidt.
You should be aware of the things that Breaking Bad does to me by now. Watching an episode almost, in some bizarre way, physically hurts me–and the first half of season five, aired last Summer, did that to me so much that it’s a wonder I’m still operating at minimum capacity.
Breaking Bad enjoyed a superb fourth season, so it would’ve been difficult for its fifth to surpass that, but it rose to the challenge anyway and provided a fantastic first half to what is the show’s final series (SOB SOB SOB), which concludes later this year. I mean, who didn’t feel like exploding after that insane cliffhanger to round things off? Anybody? I thought not.
In just eight episodes, Breaking Bad managed to push its plot forward by considerable lengths, along with the characters for good measure. How things ended, with Hank ostensibly becoming suspicious of Walt (on a toilet, for god’s sake. If that doesn’t make you love the show, nothing will), can surely only mean that this year’s final batch of episodes are going to round off what has been an exceptional show, and one that will be sorely missed when it’s finally finished.
Watching Breaking Bad almost comes with pretty weighty expectations. I don’t expect a decent plot, or character arcs bordering on average–I expect brilliance, and that’s exactly what I got week after week in season 5.1. How the show continues to improve on itself so effortlessly is a testament to the level of talent working on it, and to say I was massively impressed with last year’s offerings would be an understatement of enormous proportions.
I just want to make you aware beforehand that I am still recovering from Southland’s cancellation a few weeks ago. It’s taking me so long to recover because its fifth season was the strongest the show had been for a while, and arguably the most consistent season of them all. And while it proved to be the type of swansong all shows would want to have, it still upsets me that this brilliant show will never be on my screen again.
I only got into Southland late last Summer so my history with the show isn’t even a year old, but I understood the troubles it had faced in the past and as such, its cancellation wasn’t a surprise to me. No matter how strong the show was, I understand why TNT couldn’t continue with it for any longer, and I suppose if the show had to finish, season five was the perfect choice to bow out with.
Why was it the perfect choice? Simply because it was consistently excellent over the course of its ten episodes; the story arcs were present and correct, Michael Cudlitz provided multiple phenomenal performances that won’t get Emmy recognition but absolutely, irrefutably should, and I didn’t once find myself unimpressed with what was being offered. ‘Chaos’, in particular, was one of my favourite episodes of television from the past nine months, and I’m glad they got the chance to do it before it was cancelled.
Over the course of its five seasons, Southland proved to be an exquisite police drama that went above and beyond what was expected of it. Instead of concentrating on the cases, it focused on the characters investigating the cases, and their lives and troubles–and although it’s now finished, it will be remembered fondly for the way in which it pushed the police drama genre to be something better. I will miss you, Southland, but I will always remember that the season you made an exit with was worthy of all the love you so deserved.
If you’re reading this, there’s probably a strong chance that you don’t know what Orphan Black is. I don’t blame you–it’s a relatively small show on an equally small cable channel, and its audience isn’t particularly large. But I’m telling you right now, without any hesitation, that Orphan Black is a show you need to watch, and with its ten-episode run recently finished, now is the perfect time for you do so.
I could easily write another thousand words expressing everything there is about the show that’s worthy of your time and effort, but I’ll condense things down into two main reasons: the sheer addictive nature of the show’s exciting premise, and Tatiana Maslany’s phenomenal performances across the entire season that absolutely deserve all the Emmys that will most likely not be thrown her way in September.
We’ll start with the plot, firstly. Orphan Black centers around a group of identical women who quickly discover that they are clones and are part of an insane experiment that continues to threaten their lives. Tatiana Maslany singehandedly forms two-thirds of the show’s entire cast, with scenes often involving multiple characters all played by her alone, and to say she excels at making each clone completely unique and distinguishable from the others would be an enormous understatement. This is what Orphan Black is, and you need to be watching it.
I cannot express that enough, if you haven’t already gathered. I’ve recently pushed a few people into watching the show for themselves, and I’ve taken great pride in seeing their reactions. Orphan Black is more than worthy of your time, Tatiana Maslany is more than worthy of your awe and adoration, and you would be remiss if you didn’t check it out for yourself. Seriously, go and find it right now. Go. Thank me later.
And that’s the end of part one. In the next part in this series, I will discuss what shows I think were the least successful in the last season (*cough* Hemlock Grove *cough*) and my reasonings for thinking that. So, if you’ve reached this far in this post, I A) love you, and B) would love you even more if you returned for the next part.