There’s one time of year all television enthusiasts dread: the Summer hiatus. All your favorite shows disappear completely for four months leaving little to nothing in their absence other than vampires, meth kings, serial killers, and the staff of a newsroom. But while it’s hard to say goodbye to the likes of Alicia Florrick, Olivia Pope and vice versa for the Summer, it’s also a good time to venture out into the wilderness of forgotten classics, re-watches, and catching up with shows you’ve been shamefully neglecting. And also Netflix, because no Summer hiatus is bearable without Netflix.
The Summer hiatus that’s just coming to a close (yes, a close. Let that sink in for a moment) has been a particularly interesting period for me in terms of the television I’ve consumed. I re-watched one of my favorite shows of all-time, finished something I started years ago but never completed, started one that had been on my radar for some time, and that’s not even including the wealth of summer shows that have been and gone in the last few months. And in this post and subsequent others, I’m going to discuss exactly what kept me busy in the last few months and why this hiatus has actually been somewhat useful, as unfathomable as such a notion used to be to me at one point.
The Sopranos (Re-watch)
Re-watches are an intrinsic part of my, and others’, television viewing habits. We fall so in love with the characters and narratives of shows that finishing them and never going back simply isn’t an option. We watch our favorite episodes over and over, watch our favorite characters in their finest–or lowest–moments so much that we can recite the dialogue verbatim, we revisit the show’s universe time and time again because being there is better than being elsewhere. But they come with a price. We can’t get shocked or surprised by cliffhangers, or wonder where the narrative might be progressing to next, because we’ve seen it all before. What’s new becomes old. And while they may be exciting, we lose something every time we do them.
The main reason I wanted to re-watch The Sopranos so relatively soon after my original watch (the beginning of last year) was because I consider the show to be the absolute pinnacle of storytelling, of character work, of television itself. David Chase’s vision and interpretation of this murky world is simply so captivating, so brilliant, that I feel I need to watch it on a regular basis just to remind myself of how good television can be. But I was fully expecting to have something missing that was there the first time around, presumably in the shape of shock at story developments or character actions, because of the price re-watches come with.
What I didn’t expect was for it all to feel fresh and new, not old. I wasn’t surprised by what was happening, but I was even more mesmerised by it than before. The Sopranos is so layered, so thematic, that it demands your utmost attention while you watch it. And I’m not going to lie, I failed to do that the first time around. The result of that was my re-watch consisting of me noticing new things, new themes. I was watching it with a more observant eye, and it felt like I was watching it for the first time all over again. The surprise was lost, but being able to truly appreciate everything the show has to offer more than made up for it.
Re-watching a show always seems to come with the disadvantages described above, but sometimes it’s just fun to be back where all the excitement is. Being back with The Sopranos was a fantastic experience I cannot wait to repeat in the future. It’s unfortunate that James Gandolfini sadly passed away in the middle of my re-watch, making the remainder of it feel interminably sad, but he leaves behind a legacy few actors will have the fortune to compare to. Because The Sopranos is, and will always be, an unscratchable, gleaming diamond.
I’ve already discussed my adoration for Orphan Black in the last month or so numerous times (I even called it my favorite show of the entire season in my ‘TV Season Overview’ series), so I won’t tread on old ground by repeating the same points. But this short but significant series that focuses on a group of clones, all played by the incredible Tatiana Maslany, was an exquisite watch from start to finish. It’s captivating and compelling, unique and interesting, genre-defining and unrivalled in its field. It’s silly fun, but not the kind that sacrifices story and character in order to maximise action and insanity (cough, True Blood). I’ve already watched the debut season twice (something which I never do so quickly), and if you haven’t watched it for yourself yet, stop what you’re doing and get to it immediately.
Friday Night Lights
As a medium, television makes me cry and feel emotional far more than any other source of entertainment currently available. Video games give me the ability to shoot and blow up anything and everything, meaning I fail to emotionally connect with them. Movies have the potential to make me connect with story and character, but I find it difficult to do that after watching something for just two-or-so hours. Television, however, lets me watch characters and see stories unfold over a period of days, weeks, months, and it all assists with helping me form an attachment to the people I’m watching.
Emotional TV shows are, in some ways, the best kinds of shows you can watch. They make you care about the characters, about what happens to them, and they use that to their advantage to engender an empathetic response from you. Shows that are all action and no substance may be exciting but they’re not easy to connect with. But shows like Friday Night Lights are frighteningly easy to bond with.
I had previously considered watching the show before this Summer, but the high school football theme had always steered me in another direction. But the football, as big of a concentration as it was, was merely a backdrop–the mechanism used to bring all these characters together as a community. They would deal with their own personal issues and struggle to achieve the things they wanted, but then they would all come together every Friday night, put all of their issues to one side, and simply cheer a bunch of teenagers on. The football was, in many ways, the glue that held the cast together–to superb effect.
But if there’s one thing I liked the most about the entire show, it would be the relationship between Coach and Tami Taylor. Marriages on television are usually subjected to all manner of attacks, whether in the form of illicit affairs, long-hidden secrets, or just any contrived drama designed specifically to destroy said marriage in the name of entertainment. However, Friday Night Lights decided to dispense with all of this and instead choose to have the Taylors remain married throughout the five-season duration. And it was refreshing. Their marriage is one of the strongest I’ve seen on television, and the kind all people hope to have for themselves one day. These people were in love, the kind of love that survives bumps in the road, and both characters were made considerably better by having their love dominate all.
Television shows that make me so invested in the characters and what happens to them resonate with me more than any other. Because after all, it’s not the story I connect with on an emotional level, it’s the characters. Friday Night Lights made me care so deeply about what happened to everybody that it absolutely has to go down as one of the most emotional television shows of all-time–and therefore one of the best.
Falling Skies (season three)
Why do I still watch Falling Skies? This is a question I have pondered the answer to innumerous times over the years, and I still don’t have an answer. Perhaps I like aliens. Perhaps I like mindless sci-fi that requires the minimum amount of thought process to understand. Perhaps there are so few shows airing during the Summer that I’ll just watch anything, irrespective of quality. I don’t know why I still watch Falling Skies, and after season three, this question is as mind-blogging as ever.
I could spend hours writing about how Falling Skies always manages to underwhelm, how it always takes an age to get where it wants to go, and how it pads out its seasons with frankly rubbish subplots featuring characters I still don’t know the name of after three seasons, but the show’s principal issue can be summarised in one point: it constantly squanders its potential. There is so much the show could do with what it has, but it never does it. It sits back, afraid to ‘go there’ and be something more along the lines of what it could be, and it consistently suffers because of it.
Season three was a prime example of exactly what I’m talking about. Instead of concentrating on the more interesting plot points, like the possibly poisonous alliance with the rebel alien force, we were instead treated (nay, subjected) to stories like Hal’s possession that ended abruptly and unsatisfactorily, or the frankly atrocious plot about Tom and Anne’s mysterious baby that ultimately became a vessel of contrivance used to allow Moon Bloodgood to take her maternity leave. Instead of the story navigating to places that would’ve made the show immeasurably better, it sat still and allowed itself to get dry and stale, like a slice of bread left exposed.
I suspect that I continue to watch Falling Skies despite it doing everything to dissuade me otherwise because I see the potential it has and how much it might one day choose to harness it. But that day continues to look further and further away the more the show goes on, and with season four said to be increased in length, I can only assume the process will continue. Whether I will or not I have yet to decide.
In the next post, I’ll be discussing some of the other shows I watched during the Summer hiatus, such as Parenthood, True Blood, and Orange is the New Black. Please check back soon!