And so here we are at the beginning of yet another Fall season of television. That Summer sure did pass quickly, huh? Suddenly, after months of diminished activity, a huge influx of TV all returned at the same time (seriously, if your Thursday nights are as busy as mine, I feel sorry for you), with the remainder set to make a comeback in the coming weeks. And that means a return to these weekly posts of mine.
If this is the first time you’re reading a post of this kind on this blog, here’s a short-but-concise description of what they entail: of all the TV I watch during the week, I choose a handful of episodes I wish to discuss in detail, and the rest I simply give grades for ranging from A-F. I basically summarise my thoughts on an entire week’s worth of television, and I would love it if you shared your own thoughts in the comment box below.
Dexter – “Remember the Monsters?”
I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss anything regarding the eighth, and final, season of Dexter over the Summer due to these posts being placed on hiatus, but with the series finale having aired last weekend, I’m keen to share my thoughts on how the show ultimately ended. Spoiler alert: I hated it. Really, really hated it.
Series finales typically have immense pressure riding on them, particularly if the show in question is one with a rabid fanbase who over the years have created elaborate fantasies of their own about how they want things to end. Concluding story arcs and bringing characters to a head after years of development, while keeping things natural and satisfying and not grating to the audience, is not something easily accomplished. Just ask the creators of Lost. But it’s arguably more difficult for shows with anti-heroes, such as Dexter and Breaking Bad, because it can’t be as simple as having Walter White hang up his Heisenburg hat and go back to teaching chemistry after being responsible for the murders of dozens of people, no matter if there are still people who want him to thrive. When characters do things so terrible over the course of a show, consequence has to be dispensed appropriately as a means to make them pay for their actions.
In “Remember the Monsters,” however, Dexter’s only real form of punishment comes in the form of Debra’s death. Once again, Debra has to pay the cost for Dexter’s crimes, his dark passenger, only this time it costs her the ultimate price. And instead of this being the catalyst to, I don’t know, Dexter being caught and subsequently imprisoned, or even committing suicide because of the guilt and disgust at his involvement in his sister’s death, it instead leads to Dexter faking his death and…becoming a lumberjack. Yes, really.
I have major issues with the way in which Dexter, as a character, comes to an end. You could argue that Dexter abandoning his own son for fear of tainting him in the same way he believes he destroyed Debra, therefore being alone for the rest of his life, is a punishment far greater than any jail cell could provide. But I would disagree. Seeing Dexter discovered for who he really is, for the parts he played in the deaths of Doakes, LaGuerta, and countless others to be put on display, would’ve been an ending I could’ve supported. It would’ve felt natural and satisfying after years of the possibility of Dexter’s activities being discovered being dangled above our heads. But this ending? It doesn’t work for me at all. It feels lazy and makes the entire past seven seasons feel worthless.
While the way in which Dexter the character is brought to an end makes me frustrated, the way in which Dexter the show is concluded is even worse. Season eight has been nothing short of abysmal. Storylines were conjured out of thin air seemingly for the sole purpose of filling screen time, and were left dangling with absolutely no resolution by the time the finale finished. Characters outside of the Morgan clan that have been there since the very beginning were treated like afterthoughts and given no sense of conclusion whatsoever. Everything in the finale and before it has been shoddy, lazy, and honestly one of the worst final seasons of any television show I’ve experienced to date.
When I think about how much potential was wasted in Dexter’s final season, I feel angry. I feel like the past seven years of sticking with this show and giving it my time and effort have been thrown back in my face. I feel like the writers responsible for running Dexter into the dirt during what should have been its most exciting year should never be let loose on any television show in the future. (I will most definitely avoid anything they become a part of like it’s infected with smallpox and running at me with an axe.) But most of all, I feel disappointed that this is Dexter’s swansong. This awful, tedious, strange season is the one in which the show says goodbye with.
I’ll just be over here shedding a tear for this tragic event.
EPISODE GRADE: F
SEASON GRADE: F
Hostages – “Pilot”
The start of a new season of television typically brings with it the requisite number of new shows that are, for want of a better word, awful. Shows that try too hard and fail miserably. Shows that promise so much in the pre-launch trailers yet deliver none of it. And then you have shows that really don’t seem to make any effort at all because they really have nothing to offer. CBS’s new drama Hostages fits perfectly into that category.
As far as pilots go, Hostages’ is pretty dismal. The story, about a surgeon being forced to kill the President on the operating table to prevent her family from being murdered by an expressionless Dylan McDermott, seems extremely limited beyond the initial crisis. Not only limited, but also convoluted, uninteresting, and incessantly stupid. Sometimes a premise that for all intents and purposes is silly and outlandish can be a benefit to the show, such as fellow new drama Sleepy Hollow, if it’s exciting to watch and with interesting characters to at least attempt to fill the void. Hostages, in comparison, has neither the framework nor the right materials to build upon its weak foundations.
One of my biggest issues with the pilot is the lack of any semblance of exciting characters. Toni Collette, who fills the role of the surgeon at the centre of this dangerous web, is a jewel in a crown that’s otherwise made of tin. But it’s not enough when everyone else around her is one-note, irritating, or just devoid of anything resembling excitement. When you have the show’s main crisis be the threat of an entire family being slaughtered, and then you give me a family that’s so tedious I actually want them to be gunned down, it’s understandably problematic.
Most of all, however, my largest problem with Hostages, beyond the poor characters and the treat-your-audience-like-they’re-idiots plot, is that I see nothing there that could convince me to continue watching beyond a curious interest in seeing how much lower it could go. I don’t expect a new show to grab me immediately, but I expect to at least be hooked onto the line, even if I were to fall back into the waters later on. That hasn’t happened with Hostages, and if the poor ratings for the first episode–and the inevitable fall that will take place from next week–are any indication, it likely never will.
EPISODE GRADE: C-
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Pilot”
I was so excited for SHIELD ever since the project was first announced. A TV show taking place within the Avengers universe? With Joss Whedon attached? Heck yeah. But still, I wasn’t expecting the holy grail of television like some people seemingly were. I expected something enjoyable and exciting but nothing redefining. Fortunately for me, I set my bar substantially lower than most, and I’m very glad that I did.
I should probably start off by saying that despite the pilot’s many problems, SHIELD (periods be damned) has a playground so vast and full of potential that my confidence in it growing and developing into something more akin to what it could be is quite strong. There’s an almost limitless well of storytelling potential for the show to tap into week after week, and it’s that belief that will ensure that I return next week and beyond.
However, SHIELD has problems. Big problems. Problems involving a story that, in the pilot at least, seems bland and lacking in depth. It’s clear that the show intends to have story threads running alongside a procedural format, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the story they choose to open the show with just isn’t exciting at all. Angel alumna J. August Richards does a good job of playing the reluctant and confused hero, and I hope we’ll see more of him, but as a character he’s fairly monotone and lacking, making the episode’s main plot frey at the seams.
Which brings me to my next, and most important point: SHIELD has no interesting characters. At least not yet. I never found Coulson particularly attention-worthy in the Avengers movie, so as great as Clark Gregg is, the character really doesn’t do anything for me at this stage. And everyone else that surrounds him is either overly annoying (Skye), destined to become overly annoying in the near future (Fitz and Simmons), or just plain boring (Agent Ward). There are few exceptions, such as Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May and Cobie Smulders’ character, but the lack of interesting characters really surprises me.
Of course, as I said earlier, there’s a possibility that SHIELD will improve over time. Pilots are tasked with incredible pressure as they have to establish story and characters to somebody who literally knows nothing about either. I’ve seen a few people talking about how the pilots of some of Joss Whedon’s most beloved creations were pretty dismal yet went on to become extraordinary, such as Angel and, of course, Buffy, and I do agree to some extent. But at least in those cases, there were still characters worth watching. I unfortunately can’t say the same for SHIELD.
I’ve been very critical of SHIELD’s pilot simply because I was expecting more. Not as much as some, but more nevertheless. The thing that will keep me watching for at least a few more weeks is the aforementioned potential that may be tapped into eventually. I want to see the story become more interesting and not simply ‘catch a different bad guy every week until the finale when we’ll go up against the big bad guys’. I definitely want to see the characters evolve quickly so they don’t remain their bland, lifeless selves like in the pilot. If this were any other show with a pilot as lacking as this, I would’ve been tempted to call it quits already. SHIELD has far more to offer than it does in the pilot. I only hope it’s not squandered.
EPISODE GRADE: B-
Law and Order: SVU – “Surrender Benson/Imprisoned Lives”
If you followed anything related to SVU all throughout Summer, you would undoubtedly have heard plenty about this season’s premiere. About how Benson, after being taken captive at the end of season fourteen, would be enduring horrifying assaults when the show returned. About how she would never be the same again. About how exciting everything was going to be. The bar was raised to such a height that it was in danger of being too high. Fortunately, however, all the praise was worth it, as SVU’s fifteenth season kicks off with one heck of a premiere.
There are many reasons why “Surrender Benson” is one of the show’s strongest episodes: the writing is on top form; the direction is right on point; the pace is relentless and exciting. But most of all, it feels like venturing into uncharted territory. SVU is one of the most procedural shows on the air, and it mostly does well at being exactly that, but this feels like an attempt at creating something more serialized. It’s clear that Olivia is not going to forget her ordeal in a matter of weeks, so her attempts at dealing with what happened to her are going to become a running theme throughout season fifteen alongside the traditional cases of the week. I welcome that with arms wide open.
Also, let’s not forget the phenomenal performances from both Mariska Hargitay, demonstrating yet again just why she’s so beloved by so many, and also from Pablo Schreiber, who gives a terrifying performance as one of SVU’s most deranged antagonists to date. Their scenes together are oozing with venom, malice, and in Schreiber’s case, absolute evil. SVU has always been adept at providing insights into the very darkest crevices of the human psyche with its villains, but putting its most beloved character into the crosshairs of one of its most revolting creations results in an incredible, if difficult, experience to watch.
Fifteen years is a ridiculously long time for any television show to remain on the air, even one as procedural in nature as SVU. But what’s remarkable in this case is that after so long, it’s still at the top of its creative game. It’s still finding new things to do with its characters, new areas of storytelling to explore without abandoning what makes it whole, new ways in which to give Mariska Hargitay a platform of throwing herself into the material she’s given. This season’s opener fills me with so much hope that the show can continue to thrive this year and beyond.
EPISODE GRADE: A
GRADES FOR OTHER EPISODES I WATCHED THIS WEEK:
Breaking Bad – “Granite State”: A-
Downton Abbey – “Episode One”: B+
Sleepy Hollow – “Blood Moon”: B-
Mom – “Pilot”: B-
Castle – “Valkyrie”: C+
The Blacklist – “Pilot”: D+
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Tagger”: B
New Girl – “Nerd”: A-
The Goldbergs – “Pilot”: B-
Trophy Wife – “Pilot”: B+
Sons of Anarchy – “Poenitentia”: B-
Person of Interest – “Liberty”: B
Nashville – “I Fall to Pieces”: C+
Parks and Recreation – “London, Part 1 and 2”: B+
Grey’s Anatomy – “Seal Our Fate/I Want You With Me”: B
The Michael J. Fox Show – “Pilot/Neighbor”: B
The Crazy Ones – “Pilot”: B
Parenthood – “It Has To Be Now”: B
Elementary – “Step Nine”: A-