So far in this series, I’ve discussed what I considered to be the highs and lows of the most recent television season, whether it was entire shows themselves or actors within. As we approach the second half, it’s time to take a look at the shows I considered to be surprisingly good, disappointingly bad, and my choices for what would be my favourite–and least favourite–shows of the year.
As always, I welcome as much discussion as you can throw my way, so please get involved after reading through this post.
Homeland’s second season was one of two halves: the first of which was dominated by change, and a startling willingness to take all the pieces on the board and throw them into the air to see where they would land, but the latter half was one of all-out insanity, throwing all those pieces in the air far too much, too often. As such, Homeland’s second season was both a surprise and a disappoint this year, and one I hope not to see repeated again.
Because this is a post that exists to discuss the positives, we’ll concentrate on the things that went right in Homeland’s second season. For a start, there was the always phenomenal talent that radiates from both Damien Lewis and Claire Danes, and also very strong performances from both Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin. I suspected it in season one but season two really reaffirmed my belief that Homeland has one of the best casts currently on television.
But it wasn’t just in the level of acting talent where Homeland excelled in its sophomore year. As I mentioned earlier, the first half of the season was an incredible success. The game was changed so many times that it boggled my mind to imagine where they might take things next. I mean, who really expected Carrie to uncover Brody’s web of lies so early on in the show’s life? It was an event many–myself included–had pegged to be unravelled over the course of multiple seasons, letting Carrie become more affiliated and infatuated with a man she would later discover was a closeted terrorist. But it took all of two or three episodes to have that glass ceiling be smashed to smithereens, and it was riveting, explosive television to watch.
Had Homeland maintained that same degree of gargantuan excitement over the course of its second half, it would’ve been a raucous success. Unfortunately, it became overly confident in its belief that more crazy shit = strong television. (I’ll discuss this in more detail in the next post.) But if we ignore where it went very wrong and instead just focus on where it went very right, we have some of the strongest material from the entire television season–and also some of the strongest performances I saw all year. It’s a shame that it couldn’t keep the integrant parts of the machine working as effortlessly as it did in its first half, but what a first half that was.
Before Elementary even premiered (heck, as soon as it was announced that CBS had greenlit a show based around a modern day Sherlock Holmes), there were loud cries from avid fans of the BBC’s excellent show of a similar theme. Those cries were only made louder and more shrill when it was announced that the traditionally male role of John Watson would become Joan Watson, possibly indicating the intention to have Holmes and Watson be a potential romance for the show to utilise. Elementary had all the hallmarks of being a failure before it had even begun.
When it finally premiered, however, it started off surprisingly well. The casting of Jonny Lee Miller in the show’s main role was a tremendous success, and the gender switcheroo with Watson proved to be an inspired decision with somebody as effortlessly fabulous as Lucy Liu in the role. But as the show went on, something just seemed off. The weight of the show’s procedural roots began to bear down on its head, crushing any form of a serialized story format in favour of weekly murders for Holmes to puzzle over for forty minutes before moving on. It became tedious and frustrating to watch, as so much raw potential for an incredibly strong show was kept repressed.
And then “M” happened. Elementary finally began to show signs that it hadn’t completely abandoned all intentions of running story arcs alongside its procedural format. The mythology associated with Sherlock Holmes began to make an appearance, edging closer and closer with every mention of the elusive Moriarty, before exploding in a fantastic three-part story to conclude the season. The show I wanted Elementary to be finally surfaced, and it was worth the wait.
As much as I finished Elementary’s first season feeling satisfied and excited for what would come next, I’ll freely admit that it had problems. It wasn’t a flawless success from beginning to end. It didn’t harness that potential I always knew it had as much as I would’ve liked. It seemed far too comfortable with being just another procedural for an annoyingly long time. But the strength of the show, despite all of the above, is how it managed to turn things around so easily. It’s clear that Elementary is more than capable of having its serialized and procedural roots running concurrently–and if season two can keep the roots growing as smoothly as they did at the end of the first season, it’ll grow to be a magnificent show.
Let’s be real for a moment–Dexter’s sixth season sucked. It was predictable, nonsensical, and veered in a direction that was almost universally despised. What was once a show capable of so much more became a very pale imitation of itself, seemingly heading in any direction it saw an opening to regardless of whether it was the right way to go or not (it wasn’t). Things picked up again when Deb walked in on one of her brother’s gruesome kills, but that was the final scene of the finale itself, and things didn’t look good for the show’s future beyond that point.
So, season seven had two giant weights putting pressure on it: the first of which was to deal with the reveal the show had been building towards in a non-haphazard manner, and the second was to improve on a season most considered the weakest in the show’s history. I don’t know about anybody else but when a show falls that far, I always have my doubts as to whether or not it can ever bring itself back, no matter what, or how old, the show is. But to my surprise, season seven of Dexter wasn’t a disaster; in fact, it was the opposite. It was the strongest the show had been since its phenomenal fourth season, and it dealt with the big reveal in a way that didn’t disappoint me, or make my time invested feel unrewarded.
It was perhaps the aforementioned reveal that was the thing I liked the most about the seventh season. The show had been building towards it since it first hit the screen, and it would’ve been immeasurably disappointing if such a pivotal moment in the show’s life was handled messily and without due consequence. But it wasn’t. Deb’s reaction to seeing her brother for who he really was was palpable, with her general sense of denial being followed up by a willingness to ‘rehabilitate’ her brother, before finally being forced to accepting the grisly truth. And when the finale had her murder somebody innocent in order to protect this very same secret, it was the end of a journey that was fantastic to watch for the duration. Dexter became all about Debra in its seventh year, and I loved it.
But it wasn’t just in the show’s main story thread where the seventh season succeeded. It dispensed with the traditional ‘serial killer of the season’ formula that it had employed for six years prior–with varying degrees of success–and, in essence, had Dexter as the main villain for Debra, who almost became the show’s central character, to face off against. The show got this area very, very wrong in the previous year, but it got it so very right for the next.
I’m not going to pretend that Dexter was perfect in its seventh year. It wasn’t. There were some things that, no matter how hard the show tried, just didn’t fit in as well as they were perhaps intended, such as anything to do with Quinn. And there were some things that took more than long enough to become a strong, integral part of the show, like the development of the romance between Dexter and Hannah. But regardless of the faults it had, the show’s seventh season was a monumental improvement on the mediocrity of the previous year.
Like the previously mentioned Homeland, Nashville was a mixed show in its first year. There were parts that I loved, parts that I generally enjoyed, and parts that I thought were abysmal beyond description, and it’s why you’re going to see the show mentioned in this post and the next. But before I started watching the show, I went into it expecting to be left disappointed, never to bother with it again. To my surprise, however, it went in the complete opposite direction.
I’ve never been particularly fond of country music. Perhaps it is because of a lack of enthusiasm on my part, or perhaps it’s just that I spend so much time watching television that there’s little time left for me to entertain the idea. (This is a very possible explanation.) So, you can imagine why I was hesitant to even spend time with Nashville–a show whose main concept revolves around country music. But I was enthralled.
From the moment I started watching the show, I fell in love with the same country music I had almost allowed to veer my attention in another direction. It was imaginative, captivating, and blended in well with what the show was trying to achieve. I even stated, numerous times, that I would be seeking out the soundtrack when it was released. But I also fell in love with some (definitely not all) of the characters, especially Rayna James and Juliette Barnes, both played skillfully by Hayden Panettiere and the always sublime Connie Britton. They were the show’s central characters, and they were at the heart of the season’s most interesting songs and storylines.
I’d like to be able to say that Nashville was a consistent show from start to finish, but I unfortunately can’t. I fell in love with the show almost immediately, and that same love continued for at least the first half of the season, but things went significantly downhill after that. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the next post, but it was, as with Homeland, a season of two halves. That being said, the fact that I grew to like the show so much despite everything being tipped against it speaks volumes regarding how good it could be. There’s potential here, and I only hope they know how to tap into it and exploit it for all it’s worth.
Netflix Original Shows
I had been interested in the proposed Netflix original shows ever since I heard about them. The prospect of an online-only distribution service potentially causing waves among the traditional broadcast, and cable, networks was fascinating, though I never really expected anything particularly inspiring. But then House of Cards arrived, and it became clear to me that Netflix wasn’t just quietly tip-toeing into the member’s only club–they were driving a huge SUV through its front doors.
House of Cards had all the hallmarks of a well-produced, quality drama that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see on a cable network like HBO. It had the strength of storytelling, as debatable as that may have been among certain circles, an Oscar-winning actor at the helm of its cast, and for Netflix’s first true foray into the concept of original shows (there was Lilyhammer but that had neither the advertising nor the attention to be a true entry for the service), it was a resounding success. (Also, the attention the show has gotten in the recent Emmy nominations is evidence of how Netflix have changed things, this year.)
But right when things looked promising for Netflix, they released Hemlock Grove. The show had a fairly interesting premise, and it was a radically different outing for Netflix compared to House of Cards. Plus, with the advertising, it was hard to see how the show could fail. But where HoC was a critical darling, Hemlock Grove was almost reviled wherever you looked. With sloppy writing, poor characters, ham-fisted performances and a plot that moved at the speed of turtle, Hemlock Grove was a resounding failure–the antithesis to House of Cards.
Along came May and it was time for Netflix’s third true attempt at original content–reviving the beloved comedy Arrested Development. After years of absence, with the show developing a very passionate fanbase in that time, it was time for the service to pull out the big guns in a way it hadn’t done before. The hype was astronomical, the marketing was insane (they even had a real-life banana stand in London), and it was clear that no matter how the new season would be received, it would still be a success. The reaction to the show was mixed depending on who you asked, with some citing the change in format as problematic, while others appreciated how it allowed characters to come out more, but despite issues here and there, you cannot conceivably label the show as a failure.
With the recent release of the service’s latest original offering, the critically adored (and fantastic) Orange is the New Black, it’s abundantly clear that Netflix is heavily invested in entering the television landscape in a way no other digital distributor has ever done before. There are many debates to be had about whether or not the decision to release all the episodes simultaneously instead of on a weekly basis is advantageous to how the audience perceives the show, but it’s been interesting to see how Netflix has changed the game this year. I’ll have an article posted relatively soon discussing my thoughts on Netflix’s success this year, but for now, their offerings, and how they’ve made a significant impact, have interested me considerably.
Scandal’s ratings increase, and the cause of it
If there’s one thing that’s really surprised me from the recent television season, it’s how Scandal went from being a merely average performer on a Thursday night, to a phenomenon that dominated not just the timeslot, but the social media-sphere as well. That kind of growth is not usually seen in such a short space of time, but it really fascinated me, this year.
For reference, Scandal’s season two premiere achieved a 1.7 rating in the pivotal 18-49 demographic, which was relatively on-par with its performance at the culmination of its first season. And those kinds of ratings continued for some time, up until the show had one of its main characters shot in a sort of ‘whodunnit’ mystery, which was when I noticed things changing. The show was becoming considerably more popular on Twitter especially, and the ratings continued increasing, leading to a figure of 3.2 (18-49) for its season finale–a series high.
Quite why Scandal grew so much in the space of one season can be attributed to many things: its strength in telling outlandish stories in a ridiculously addictive manner; its confidence in knowing exactly what kind of show it was and how to get the most out of it; and to the performances of its cast members. But I find the potential impact that social media had on the show to be one of the most interesting contributing factors.
I don’t remember where I read it or when, but I remember reading an article a while back that called Scandal “the show that Twitter built.” It was a perfect description of what I believe to be the biggest factor in the show’s growth this season. Yes, the significantly stronger storytelling and utterly compelling nature obviously aided in that growth, but it was Twitter’s role in spreading the word about that. As more and more people became familiar with the show, checking it out for the first time based on the mentionings of those in their Twitter feed, the show spread like an epidemic. Also, most, if not all, of the show’s actors have their own profiles and regularly engage with the fans and audience, which may or may not have had an impact in enticing newcomers to this ‘Scandal’that they were always hearing about.
I am by no means an expert on social media, and it is quite possible that everything I just mentioned is complete bullshine, but I truly believe that Twitter had a large role to play in pushing Scandal from an average show to one of the highest-rated performers currently on television. And if that’s the case, I am really interested in how it might contribute to a show’s audience growth in the future.