Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Season in TV

I did this last year, where I gave a letter grade to the shows that aired this season. I'm not sure where I'll start but right now it will be at the beginning of the the fall season. Some shows haven't finished their run so I'll grade them as they stand currently and will fix them at the end of the season ( I don't expect a dramatic change except for maybe one show). I'll write a couple sentences in some cases as well as the best episodes of the year. I apologize if many grades seem redundant, it was a good year in television. Let's get started.

Game of Thrones (Season 3): B+
The current season has contains material from roughly the first 2/3 of the third book. While the show contains some wonderful melodrama and a fascinating story, the show lacks any symbolism or themes, or at least in the case of this season. There are some high points this season but also a fair amount of low points. In a way the story is to complicated to capture on screen. Still it's a top tier show that still has the best to come.
Note: This grade is almost definitely going to change after the next two episodes.
Best episodes: "And Now His Watch Has Ended", "Walk of Punishment"

Mad Men (Season 6): A-
It's a miracle that a show over six years has not seen a drop in quality and remains one of the best shows on television. This season sees Don in a relapse which is a unique trait for Mad Men. They can show character development even though the character doesn't do anything that out of the ordinary. This season seems to be tackling themes of abandonment seen in trying to reach one's dreams, as one pushes forward they will ultimately lose some of the things they hold most precious. It may not be the quality seen last season (but to be fair that season contains 3-4 episodes that make top ten of the series), the show rarely misses a beat.
 Best episodes: "The Kiss", "For Immediate Release", "The Crash"

The Walking Dead (Season 3): B+
Seeing a vast improvement over last season the grade now seems appropriate (I gave the same grade to season 2 but now I'd say it was more a B). The show did hit some low points here and again but it made up for it with the thing the show missed last season, zombies. Once again a threat instead of an nuisance, the show makes it's gimmicks work. This season also saw the episode "The Clear", which remains one of the best episodes of television I've seen this season and is the best episode of the show (maybe outside the pilot). Heavy on the symbolism, the agony seen by the characters in character development, and show casing what a world of zombies can do to the mind it was practically flawless. Yet the season finale
Best Episodes: "The Clear", "Seed", "Made to Suffer"

Justified (Season 4): A-
In perhaps the show's best season, Justified proves why it is one of the most consistently entertaining shows on television. A wide range of characters with proper development and writing that treats its audience with respect is hard to come by now a days. The show doesn't play games nor does it result in cheap gimmicks to draw in viewers (ex: Game of Thrones spending more time on nudity then story lines). The distinction between good and evil and all the lines in between make this some fantastic television.
Best Episodes: "Decoy", "Where's Waldo", "Kin", "Ghosts"

The Americans (Season 1): A-
FX may just be on it's way to be the best drama channel out there. With this and Justified (Sons on Anarchy is inconsistent but still pretty good) the station doesn't seem to be just getting lucky but has an understanding of what actually makes good drama. Featuring two wonderful lead characters the show analyzes the American family and hidden truths.
Best Episodes: "The Clock", "Duty and Honor", "The Colonel"

Orphan Black (Season 1): B+
If there were justice in the world Tatiana Maslany would win the Emmy for both Lead Actress and Supporting Actress. Playing several characters with a clear distinction between each is no easy feat and Maslany does it tremendously. The show is charming, mystery filled, and just the right amount of complicated.
Best Episodes: "Natural Selection", "Instinct", "Effects of External Conditions"

Doctor Who (Season 7): B+
The least cynical show on television is still a a delight. We had a wonderful finale for the ponds and some promising episodes for the new companion Clara. Matt Smith continues to show why he makes a tremendous Doctor. While Ten is considered the gold standard of the new series, at this rate Eleven may just take the crown.
Best Episodes: "The Angels Take Manhattan", "Cold War", "Hide"

American Horror Story: Asylum (Season 2): B

Last season I thought American Horror Story was the most unintentionally hilarious show on television. This season while still having a big amount of laughs actually delivered on well told story lines instead of just good themes. The season benefited from an actual conclusion, some actors having the time of their lives, and some compelling drama at times. Also "the name game" scene is by far the funniest thing I've seen all year.
Best Episodes: "I Am Anne Frank, "Unholy Nights", "Madness Ends"

Last Resort (Complete Series): B
The show was canceled after several episodes which seems really unfair to the quality of the show. It was tense and thrilling. The material would have been tough for a second season but still one can't deny that fantastic pilot.
Best Episodes: "Captain", "Skeleton Crew", "Cinderella Liberty"

Dexter (Season 7): B
After last season I decided not to return to this show. It wasn't just a boring season but truly a bad story telling one. Yet with the casting of Yvonne Strahovoski in a recurring guest role I was doomed to return. Yet I was impressed with the quality of the early season. it didn't play games and had many surprises (season 6 failed because every twist was predictable) It dropped in quality near the end but  the first half was quite good.
Best Episodes: "Are You...?", "Buck The System", "Argentina"

Homeland (Season 2): B+

In the reverse of Dexter this season the show started off high and progressively got worse. "Broken Hearts" and "In Memoriam" were low points, the show went from cat and mouse to 24 style of tension. Homeland was meant to be a different show and those two episodes didn't help that image. Still "Q&A", "Beirut Is Back", and "New Car Smell" match up to the standard the first season set.
Best Episodes: just look at those three above

Rectify (Season 1): A

I consider drama shows follow a pyramid formation. The top of the pyramid of course for those rare masterclass shows. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are the only two dramas I have in their right now. I think by the end of it's second season this show may join them. Rectify's first season is one of only four drama shows I've given an A grade to a season (those other two shows and the first season of Lost). The show is incredibly slow but is very powerful, moving me to watery eyes. It's so unconventional it felt it's purpose to tell a beautifully different story. I could go on and one about the show but that is for another time.

Hannibal (Season 1): B+

This dark show is for adults and I appreciate that. Like Justified it doesn't treat the audience like children. It is not afraid of its nasty side. Mads Mikkelsen perfectly casted steals the show.
Best Episodes: "Aperitif", "Coquilles"

The Office (Season 9): B
The final season of the beloved show saw an improvement over last season, but never reached earlier season standards (let's be honest it never would). Still the show truly understood what kind of finale it should go for. Some shows like to break the rules in the final season, some look to end the show on a blow out of what was loved about it, and this show wanted to send off each character with a lovely goodbye. The audience truly got to say goodbye to one of the most beloved group of people to grace television.
Best Episodes: "The Target", "Finale"

30 Rock (Season 7): A-
The end of this other great NBC show went out with its best season since the 3rd. Every actor and all the writing was top notch which is something that has been missing over the past few seasons (not saying they were bad, just not as good). It may have the best comedy finale I've seen this generation.
Best Episodes: "Mazel Tov, Dummies!", "Game Over", "Last Lunch"

Parks & Recreation (Season 5): B+

It's strange that the second weakest season of the show still manages a B+, no wonder why when this show is on its A game is one of the best shows on television. Adam Scott has solidified himself as the show's MVP during of the course of the season Andy and April remain the strongest married couple on screen. Still the show wasn't without fault. Leslie and Ron lacked proper season long stories, but maybe that's just in comparison to last year. Still it was a fun ride.
Best Episodes: "Leslie Vs. April", "Leslie and Ben", "Are You Better Off?"

Community (Season 4): B-
With the departure of Dan Harmon the show saw a massive drop in quality. Before the show was weird and original but has heavy and well planned drama. Now the show seems weird for the sake of weird. A weak finale, Abed having character development all over the place, and even was flat out boring made this a weak season. Yet I still enjoyed watching the characters and there were some some decent episodes. At this point I think I've seen the worse so it can only go up from here.
Best Episodes: "Paranormal Parentage", "Basic Human Anatomy"

Archer (Season 4): B+
One of the smartest and funniest shows proves once again why it is a showcase for wonderful television. The grade may seem low but basing this off previous seasons this seems fair. Still an episode of Archer is almost always the funniest episode of TV that week.
Best Episodes: "Legs", "Live And Let Dine", "Coyote Lovely"

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (Season 8): B
The eighth season of this whacky show might just be its weirdest. It took risks as well as relying on themes and styles from previous seasons. The problem was it was inconsistent. A "B" grade may seem harsh but when comparing this to previous seasons, I think the grade seems fair. One thing that the season does greatly is show case the transformation Dennis has seen as a character. Most of the characters haven't seen much growth, but Dennis with this season sure has. It's what keeps the show so funny after so many years.
Note: most the episodes I found to be the best don't line up with other peoples favorites, but I can argue why they should be there so I won't compromise there.
Best Episodes: "Maureen Ponderosa's Wedding Massacre", "Charlie & Dee Find Love", "The Gang Dines Out"

Suburgatory (Season 2): B
The season started mostly strong and ended that way, but the whole middle was all over the place. While not the funniest comedy on television, the show is easily watchable and contains one of the better pieces of drama I've seen on television this year (In "The Wishbone"). I'm hoping the show can find a steady pace of good episodes next season but that doesn't take away from the fact when this show is good, it's some of the best TV you'll see that week.
Best Episodes: "The Wishbone", "Krampus", "How To Be A Baby"

The League (Season 4): B
There's this theory that at some point this show is going to be 99% slang terms, I'm not opposed to that. The show has remained pretty consistently funny but rarely reaches a top tier quality. Still this season had it's highlights and was a pleasure to watch.
Best Episodes: "The Hoodie", "Anchor Baby"

Girls (Season 2): A-
Last season contained about three of the strongest episodes of television I saw last season. This year we have two, so not to bad. The problem I have with the show is wither it is brilliant or it is frustrating, there is rarely a middle ground. Some will complain that the characters are to unlikable, but isn't that why we watch many television shows. These unlikable characters tend to make me think more often as when they say something prominent or I can find a way to relate to them, I question my own my self.
Best Episodes: "It's A Shame About Ray", "One Man's Trash", "Boys", "On All Fours"

House of Cards (Season 1): B-
I might just rank this show the lowest on the list of the dramas I've seen this year. That means two things. The first is that it has been a great year in television. The second is that this show has it's problems. A lot of it has to do with central plots not packing much a punch and a large inconsistency in quality. Some episodes were terrific and others I couldn't wait to end. Still the show gifted us with Corey Stoll, who has given one of the better television performances this year.
Best Episodes: 'Chapter 3", "Chapter 8"

The Mindy Project (Season 1): C-
When I heard Mindy Kaling was getting her one television show co-written by some former Community and 30 Rock writers, plus costarred Chris Messina and Anna Camp, I was excited to say the least. The finished product was a dull and unfunny mess. When there were two good episodes in a 24 episode run, you know there is a problem. i remember saying the show had potential when it floundered at first, I don't even care anymore if I turn out to be right next season.
Best Episodes: "Harry & Mindy", "Take Me With You"

Ben & Kate (complete series): B+
Why is it that everything I love dies? This short lived sitcom was in the vein of Parks & Recreation in that every character was warm and loved each other even with all the yelling. The show was cancelled despite several strong episodes due to Nielson Ratings, what else is new?
Best Episodes: "Reunion", "The Trip"

Don't Trust the B**** In Apartment 23 (actual season: B, season 2 : B+)
So last spring ABC aired 7 of a 13 episode season and then decided to air the rest of those episodes during the run of the second season. The second season is a much higher quality television show and with combining the first season episodes, plot points that made no sense were introduced week to week.  Krysten Ritter was a delight on the show and was basically a live action Roger from American Dad. The show was cancelled in the Firefly fashion, but man if this show didn't show some potential.
Best Episodes: "A Reunion", "Love And Monsters", "Dating Games"

Bob's Burgers (Season 3): A-
Perhaps the most joyous show on television is also one of its most funniest. Fox gave it its first full season and has only improved each season. Each character great and not a single weak episode, what more could you want?
Best Episodes: "Tina-rannousaurous Wreck", "The Deepening", "O.T. The Outside Toilet", "The Unnatural"

Happy Endings (Season 3): A-

With the cancelation of this show by ABC and The USA Network likely not picking it up I can declare that love is dead! A showcase of zany and whacky comedy, it was practically a lie action cartoon. The cast members improved their comedic chops and while maybe not as impressive as the last season, it was still a delight. I never stopped grinning during this show and I pray I see more of it.
Best Episodes: "No-Ho-Ho" "Fowl Play/Date", "The Ex Factor", "The Merry Prankster"

Breaking Bad (Season 5): A
Alongside Mad Men, I consider this the top of the drama food chain. Tense story telling, masterful acting, twists and turns that even if you see coming they still have the emotional shock, and just a general desire to be great make Breaking Bad one of the best shows in history. Season Five just continues that trend.
Best Episodes: "Buyout", "Say My Name", "Gliding All Over"

Louie (Season 3): A-
The best dramedy on television is both hilarious and though provoking. Louie C.K shows signs of an auteur in art, and truly tries to make television all it can be. The fact i thought a particular dream sequence was reminiscent of Wong Kai's films is just an example of the top tier entertainment Louie brings.
Best Episodes: "Daddy's Girlfriend Part 2", "Late Show (Part 3)", New Year's Eve"

Wilfred (Season 2): B+
This and Louie make for one melancholy filled hour. While Louie was already a pinnacle of this trait, Wilfred has only recently stepped up it's game. The show improved as a dramedy with some of the better character development I've seen in a comedy this season. I can't wait for more.
Best Episodes: "Guilt", "Truth", "Secrets"

New Girl (Season 2): A-
Not only was New Girl the most improved show on television, it was arguably the best comedy on television this season. Instead of just throwing characters into funny situations. it developed characters so that they bring the laughs no matter what they do. Zooey Deschanel was good the first season but tremendous this season. it just took some time and practice to make here one of best female comedians on television. Huge laughs and some startling drama realizations made this one hell of a show.
Best Episodes: "Fluffer", "Santa", "Cooler", "Parking Spot"

Best Dramas This Season

1.) Rectify
2.) Breaking Bad
3.) Mad Men
4.) Justified
5.) Game of Thrones

Best Comedies This Season

1.) Louie
2.) New Girl
3.) Bob's Burgers
4.) 30 Rock
5.) Girls

Best Comedy Episodes
1.) "Late Show (Part 3)"- Louie
2.) "It's A Shame About Ray"- Girls
3.) "Parking Spot" - New Girl
4.) "On All Fours" - Girls
5.) "Last Lunch" - 30 Rock
6.) " Game Over" - 30 Rock
7.) "The Wishbone" - Suburgatory
8.) "Legs"- Archer
9.) "The Unnatural"- Bob's Burgers
10.) "Fluffer" - New Girl

Best Drama Episodes
1.) "Jacob's Ladder"- Rectify
2.) "Gliding All Over" - Breaking Bad
3.) "Decoy"- Justified
4.) "Drip, Drip"- Rectify
5.) "And Now His Watch Has Ended"- Game of Thrones
6.) "The Crash"- Mad Men
7.) "Q&A"- Homeland
8.) "The Clear" - Walking Dead
9.) "Duty & Honor" - The Americans
10.) "Buyout"- Breaking Bad

Best of the Best
Louie for "Late Show (Part 3)" is the best episode of television I've seen this year.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Upstream Color (***1/2 out of ****)

Shane Carruth has directed one other feature, it was called Primer. It was a mad mans take on time travel and the continuity affects. Looking at all the paradoxes the notion creates. The film in itself is similar to a homework assignment. It needs to be analyzed and studies so that sense can be made of it. It's a film that makes one think, I pushed my self to understand it and shouldn't an art form cause some stress. How does one learn if they are not challenged or willing to work? Shane Carruth returns nearly a decade later with Upstream Color. The director did not lose his touch in creating a haunting and dizzying experience.

I've said in the past that it can be difficult in describing a plot, this might be the hardest. So Kris (Amy Seimetz) is out at a nightclub one night where she is drugged. However it is not some regular chemical, but a bug like organism. It causes a hypnosis state that allows for the mind to be altered. It destroys her life. Some time later she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), who has the same thing happened to them. They begin seeing each other and everything should be ok. However their identities become intertwined, memories confused, and pasts entangled. The organism that once was in them lives in a  new host and the effects are still there. Fear and panic set in.

When I say that Shane Carruth is an artist, I don't take that word lightly. The director through an powerful story, meaningful jump cuts, and a sense of mystery makes this a strong contribution to cinema. Instead of approaching this film as something that needed to be solved like Primer, he looks to analyze a question that cannot be answered, only to give some insight. Carruth looks at the condition of life and what drives it, where it begins and what is held sacred in it. It's a intoxicating odyssey  that needs and deserves interpretation.

***1/2 out of ****

Iron Man (**1/2 out of ****)

Jon Favreau steps down from the directing chair and passes the mantle onto Shane Black. The man previously worked with Robert Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the outrageous action comedy. So it's not surprising that Iron Man 3 is perhaps the funniest super hero film yet. At points the film feels like it could just be a slapstick comedy, but then the fights kick in and your reminded where you're at here. Perhaps it is best described as a buddy cop style movie between various characters. Iron Man 3 has it's problems but that doesn't mean it isn't a blast.

This time around Tony Stark (whom has been immortalized by RDJ) is haunted by his inner demons. The incident he experienced during The Avengers has left fixated on making newer and better Iron Men Suits. In comes The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who looks to teach the US their faults. There's quite a few twists and turns so I shouldn't go t much further but it's similar to the past two Iron Men in style.

The comedy, the climax, and some of the new characters work incredibly well. Ultimately it's goofy fun with some captivating action and to many that's enough. Still the film has some faults. Some the new characters suffer from strange or boring characterization. Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen has little to contribute to the plot which is disappointing as she deserved better. Many of the characters don't contribute to the entertainment without Stark around. So despite some interesting character notions, they lack a life outside of the lead protagonist. Regardless Iron Man 3 will joyful to those who enjoyed previous installments.

**1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top of The Lake (**** out of ****)

Top of The Lake is transcendent it's story telling of a typical police mystery story. No emotion to big or to small in this series. Everyhting flows at such a natural pace and relies much rather on the emotional implications of an event rather than just throwing a big twist for shocks and gasps. Ther series leaves out overdone cliches and reworks others. A hauntingly beautiful story about child abuse, sexual assualt, incest, and cromes against women. Top of the Lake doesn't take these issues lightly and deals with them with maturity. It's some of the most compelling series  in this "Golden Age of Televesion".

Robert Griffith (Elizabeth Moss) has returned home to New Zealand as her mother's (Robyn Nevin) illness is progressing to a point of no return. While there she receives a call from her old department asking for aid in a crime. A young girl Tui (Jacqueline Joe) one morning rides her bike out to a large lake, walks into it and attempts to freeze her self to death. The next day she disappears. What follows is a wide search for this girl and the people responsible for her strife. Tui's father Matt (Peter Mullan), a leader in the area's criminal world  will make this search far more complicated. There is also a group of women seeking refuge and enlightenment lead by the mysterious GJ (Holly Hunter) that will play a role in the fates to come.

It's a long story that so rarely goes off track and if it does it knows how to use those elements to its advantage. It's a fierce feminist work that yet works spectacularly as entertainment. There are issues here that plague the world over and director Jane Campion deals with it in a responsible fashion. A engrossing mystery filled with true character development make it rewarding. Elizabeth Moss leads the terrific cast, but she gives a tour de force performance. It's a work that I can honestly say was a privilege to watch.

**** out of ****
note: this is a mini series originally aired on Sundance and now available on Netflix Streaming. The nature of the series is that it is continous with every episode blending into the next. It feels like a long movie he anything else

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pain & Gain (** out of ****)

Pain & Gain is perhaps the strangest film I've seen all year. Not completely in the abnormal way but I really had no idea what to make of it. The first thirty minutes or so were dreadful. The pacing is so erratic I was more confused on a why a film would construct itself like this then actually what was happening. Every character is given a narration,  in making every character important, they made them irrelevant.  However the second half the film gets progressively better. Things slowed down a bit. It's also at this point things become incredibly dark. I'm still 100% sure what to make of it.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) works as a fitness trainer in Miami Florida. He's tired of looking at people having wealth when he feels he should have it (yea he doesn't really have a good moral reason). He decides to kidnap a client he trains Victor (Tony Shalhob), a millionaire who's done some dirty dealing to gain his wealth. Daniel recruits fellow trainer Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and a former convict who trains at the gym, Paul (Dwayne Johnson). The three bumbling fools manage to pull off the kidnapping but a former cop (Ed Harris) won't let them get away with their crimes.

Besides the pacing is the odd story. It's based on a true story which is almost shocking since it looks like it was a story conceived by a Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly during their coked up phase of Boogie Nights (borrowed that line). The characters leap back and forth on the sympathetic line, which isn't neccisarily bad, but by the end I was just hoping the Ed Harris, the one sane man here, would win. I mean Mark Wahlberg is really the villian when you get down to the brass tax. He organizes a kidnapping to steal Victor's life and wants to kill the man without a second thought. I think this was the intnet of Michael Bay, but I could be wrong. It is a Bay film so it's longer then it should be and contains no compelling female characters. Yet it only has like two explosions, What's going on with Bay?! I did find some some scenes quite amusing, the comedy is absurd in the unusual way (a coked of Dwayne Johnson making a mess of Mark Wahlberg's "nerighborhood watch" rape seminar being one such scene). The story might is so out there it might have made for a surreal Paul Thomas Anderson film. Pain & Gain is Bay having some fun and doing something different but the man still has some structural problems in his career.

** out of ****

GI Joe: Retalitation (*1/2 out of ****)

GI Joe: Retaliation is a clunky, dumb, confusing, and an eye sore of an action film. The President of the U.S (Jonathan Pryce) has been replaced by the master of disguise Zartan. He sends the GI Joes on a dangergous mission to only double cross them and have their orginaztion destroyed. Now Zartan can safely free the imprisoned Cobra Commander and continue their plans of world domination. Yet not all the Joes died. Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) have survived and look to stop these villains while avenging their fallen brothers. There are several things here that make this film do dreadful. First the action is so fast and disorientating it leaves no impression, it feels all to generic. The plot is whisker thin and only serves as a reason for non constant action. Most of Snake Eyes story is so second tier that it might as well have been a different film. You can see for yourself, but why bother. If anything it felt like a waste of time.

*1/2 out of ****

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Oblivion (*** out of ****)

In some ways Oblivion is a fresh and original science fiction film. On the other hand it is a movie clearly in love and influenced by the past works in the genre and is splendid in its homages and borrowed concepts. Director Jospeh Kosinski is making a name for himself in the digital/CGI cinema world and Oblivion is mystery filled thrill ride with some genuinely interesting genre adding to the man's credentials.

Jack (Tom Cruise) is assigned to a job that is responsible for repairing defence drones. He flies out to their downed location while under the watch of his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) back at her command center. The two have been a team for years and are involved romantically. Their location is Earth. The planet had been invaded decades ago and left nearly uninhabitable, now the humans look to extract resources and start life elsewhere. Jack's drones defend massive resource gathering machines that float high in the sky. There are a few aliens left on the planet and they are known as Scavs (short for scavengers). Jack's time on assignment is running out when a ship crashes in the wastes and changes everything he's every known.

Refrences to several Arthur C Clark works, Star Wars, Tron, The Matrix, Independence Day, and Wall-E make this a somewhat science fiction heaven. The characters are nearly fully realized. Victoria's feelings for Jack and how she reacts to an unwelcomed guest  are brilliant little pieces of character development. Still one has to wonder if the two major female characters are a bit too dependent on advances Jack's story line only. Oblivion is a gorgeous  looking film and seemingly blends CGI and live action. Another great component of Oblivion is its mystery. It has some twists and turns and there I was plesntly suprised. It's a great science fiction film this year.

*** out of ****