Game of Thrones
I read (or rather listened) to all the published books in the series this year, and was basically stunned how well the show manages to translate the complexity of the novels. I love Game of Thrones for its endless scenes of characters, explaining themselves by telling stories. The fighting is awesome too, but the element that makes it the best new show this year (and probably one of the best, altogether) is how the conflicts between the characters play out in the dialogue (and how sometimes, characters make surprising connections with each other). The show also (by design, since the POV nature of the novels is lost) achieves to make some of the characters that only become fleshed out in later books more relatable and complex in the first season that they were in the novels (especially Cersei and Jaime).
Jack Thorne, writer of Chris’ first season episode and Naomi’s third season episode of Skins, stole my heart, ran away with it and made an amazing horror show with a body count. The Angelics are a group of humans who see dead people (the Fades), and fight them, since they are threatening to translate their inability to touch into a destructive war against humanity. There are no good or bad guys, just people with conflicting motivations. Paul is seventeen and an Angelic, with the best best friend one could possibly have (played by Daniel Kaluuya), an angry twin sister (Lily Loveless), and all the problems teenage boys have, but with the additional burden of trying to figure out what he must do with his powers. It’s sad and funny and gory and stuff and eventually became so good that I never ever wanted to watch anything mediocre again.
The only show from the fall premieres except The Fades, which doesn’t count because it’s British, that survived the cut: has the potential to become truly intriguing and finally maybe a show that deals with the political status quo. Also, Claire Danes plays a deeply damaged woman watching a deeply damaged man (Damian Lewis) who she suspects of being a terrorist. Might be at its best when it deals with what surveillance does to both the observed and the observer.
This is England '88
Just watch it. Nothing I could ever say would even remotely express how good it is.
I can’t really put a finger on what exactly constitutes a perfect season of television, but Skins, season five, constitutes both a perfect season and technically a best new show, considering that Skins is, every two years, a new show. I fell in love with every single new character this season (yes, that includes the elusive and mysterious Matty Levan, despite him not having an episode of his own). Something about this group of people was so immediately loveable that the parting pain with the second gen only lasted for about two seconds (I still hold them dear to my heart but the moment Franky Fitzgerald delivered the viewers into the new generation with her eyes wide open to Be Brave, I was sold). I feel invested in every single character. What a glorious exit for Jamie Brittain.
Parks and Recreation
Trying to convey how delightful and joyous Parks and Recreation is… is Sisyphean task. Every time I feel like the show has fully fulfilled its potential, like it couldn’t possibly get any better, there is another episode that succeeds even more. I live on the afterglow of happiness Parks and Rec leaves behind like a vampire.
The first season of Justified was already pretty amazing, but the second season really positioned it as one of the best current drama shows – it reminded me of Winter’s Bone, since both are stories set in the present time but dealing with the kind of eternal issues (power, love, betrayal, greed) that could really fit into any period of time. The feeling was, of course, increased by the fact that Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens seems to have fallen out of time, like he stepped into a time machine during the 1860s and is now trying to navigate a place that doesn’t really fit him anymore. Margo Martindale’s Mags (not unlike Gus in Breaking Bad) undermines the very idea of a seasonal big bad, she is like an ancient queen, quietly ruling her kingdom of rocks and pulling string to ensure that it might prove to be eternal.
I barely ever talk about this show but the fourth season was undeniably one of the most tense, suspenseful, gritty season of television I’ve ever seen. Walter is slowly turning into a horrible person, a match for all the “villains” the show introduces (“I am not in danger, Skyler. I AM the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!”). The show has gotten to a point where protagonists and antagonists could switch places and it wouldn’t make any difference, morally. And, talking about villains, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) was a revelation. AND THAT ENDING. The ending to this season is the kind of thing that people will reference, in the future. (Also, Anna Gunn, who is so horribly underappreciated for what she does with Skyler).
So this weird thing happened, towards the end of W13’s third season. I used to think of the show as the fluffy thing I could recommend to people who really don’t appreciate the Whedony happiness=death thing. I appreciate the show for its likeable characters, the dynamics of the team, the massively awesome concept (I mean, it’s a show about historical artefacts! It’s the coolest thing ever!), but I also had a preconceived notion in my head of how emotionally involved I could eventually become, and despite characters occasionally dying and then emerging, W13 never really felt like the kind of show where… much was at stake, if you will. The dramatic season finales were always brilliant and moving, but it never made me feel like something really bad might happen to these characters, and – the stakes not being high – my investment wasn’t either. And then, suddenly, bodies started piling up, and not in a required-death-of-the-week kind of way, but… more brutal, more immediate. I got this feeling that the show was escalating and changing into something new. My only reference point for this is House’s fourth season (which is the first season of the show I ever saw): I thought I had this show figured out, the procedural elements, the drama between the characters, it seemed interesting, but fairly conventional, and then the Wilson-Amber-House stuff started to happen (and later, the Thirteen stuff – The Dig is one of my favourite newer episodes), and I had to throw all my preconceived notions about how emotionally devastated the show might leave me behind.
And then the two-hour season finale of W13 happened… and HOLY FUCK. It wasn’t just H.G. Well’s arc wrapping up beautifully (though I am quite sure this won’t be the end, and I like her and Jaime Murray enough to want her to return, not just in the possible prequel), with her finding redemption and forgiveness in the ultimate sacrifice, it was CLAUDIA, slowly growing and evolving Claudia, who had finally found the familial support she’d been deprived off all her life, losing Steve. I severely underestimated the potential of this show, and I can’t wait for the next season.
The Good Wife
I’ve written about what I consider the core relationship in the show before, and despite the occasionally lacking procedural element, this is still, emotionally, an incredible show with a perfect cast.
I discovered Luther this year and the main draw, for me, is the characters and their relationship, especially the complex cat-and-mouse thing Luther and Alice play – but to me, this isn’t a police procedural at all, it is more like a superhero drama (in the Watchmen-sense of superheroism) without actual superpowers – and instead, severely damaged characters, corrupting themselves and those who surround them, mostly doing horrible things not only in the pursuit of selfish goals, but also when trying to do the right thing. This year’s season only had four episodes and a painful lack of Ruth Wilson’s Alice, but Aimee-Ffion Edewards as Jenny Jones was a revelation. And of course, there’s Idris Elba.
Pretty Little Liars
I am trying to remember when I started to think of this show as more than guilty pleasure and it really was a very subtle thing, a collection of moments that eventually made me decide that this is the best show about the challenges of being a teenager and the life-saving friendships (especially if your family is dysfunctional) that make it slightly easier that is currently on – regardless of the fact that Pretty Little Liars is also a Murder-Mystery-Show with very little chance of the mystery part actually ever coming together in a coherent way, that the plot-twists are bordering on the ridiculous – I am not even interested in who is A and who killed Alison anymore (and, I mean, really, was Twin Peaks truly about who had killed Laura Palmer, wasn’t it more about how her death impacted her community and wrecked her friends and revealed all this darkness?). I watch this show for Aria and Emily and Hanna (oh Hanna) and especially Spencer fucking Hastings, who will fuck you up if you fuck with her friends.
I should have a separate column for shows that make me happy, and Raising Hope is one of those shows. It took me a while to figure out why, but there is a point in the first season when it becomes obvious that the show has a lively, beating heart, that it isn’t a caricature of lower lower lower middle-class life – and in a way, I grade other comedy shows now by whether they achieve this moment or not (because comparing them to Parks and Rec would just doom them, really). I love the relationships on this show, especially what Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton manage to do with their respective characters.
This is a recent discovery, and I’ve never seen the first season – this does, in a way, fill the place in my heart that was previously occupied by FNL, because Parenthood does families and how they work and how they debate and how they solve conflicts incredibly well (even though it requires some suspension of disbelief that these characters never actually WORK when they are at work because a family member constantly comes in to HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT AN IMPORTANT ISSUE). Parenthood is what FNL would have been if characters of Gilmore Girls had constantly prodded at its characters and forced them to talk about their emotions. The acting is superb (Lauren Graham! Dax Shepard! Peter Krause playing the character most possibly different from Nate Fisher! And everyone else too, of course). The show also handles the “how to cope with having a kid that has Asperger’s” storyline incredibly well, but really, it’s Mae Whitman’s performance as Amber that brings me back every week.
Can’t say why, this show just radiates happiness. If Parenthood and Raising Hope are about literal families, Leverage is about the artificial ones that provide an opportunity to grow and heal open wounds (for a group of, in part, fairly damaged characters). And of course there’s heisting and conning and thieving and general awesomeness, also.
Okay, so… if the finale of the sixth season hadn’t been so good, Doctor Who might have gone into its very own category of “HOW DARE YOU STOP MESSING WITH ONE OF MY FAVOURITE CHARACTERS”, because this season deprived Amy Pond of her agency and Amy Pond’s ability to save the day was one of my favourite thing about the fifth season. I wouldn’t have given up on the show, but there are many, many episodes in the sixth season that I never ever want to see again (Neil Gaiman’s, naturally, isn’t among them – because that was a rather beautiful thing). I am also sort of in the group of people who believe that River Song should have remained mysterious, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter because the best thing about her is that she is played by Alex Kingston who does marvellous things. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Amy Pond.
I’ve never been particularly interested in the mythology of Being Human, so the season-long arcs have always left me a bit disinterested, but the third season of the show had some heartbreaking moments between the four main characters – grown into a slightly dysfunctional, yet lovely family (and I can’t decide what my favourite relationship on that show is – Nina and Annie’s friendship, Mitchell and George, George and Nina…)– and then proceeded to rip them apart, until finally, one of the main characters (in a refreshingly forceful solution to his story arc) was killed off.
Friday Night Lights
As is well-documented in this blog, I have a history of being discontented with series finales, regardless whether they were forced upon the producers because of bad ratings or if the creators of a show are left to their own devices to find a satisfying ending for their characters. There are only a few examples of finales that I am really happy with (regardless of how I feel about the direction of Buffy in its seventh season in general, I’ve always felt like Chosen wrapped it up perfectly, Angel is a brilliant example of a non-ending making a better ending than actual closure would have provided, but I think one of the best, so far, is Six Feet Under’s).
FNL had, in my opinion, a perfect ending. We never see the decisive game playing out – there is only a football, flying, and then a cut to the afterwards, when some of the kids are one step closer to whatever they imagined their lives to be, in the future, while other, tragically, find an escape out of Dillon that isn’t what they hoped for (and it is part of FNL’s charm that there isn’t a happy ending for all the characters – but Luke Cafferty, joining the Army was still brutal and heartbreaking). FNL was a show about football – about what it means to be part of a dream, about what Coach Taylor provided for his kids (and what they, in turn, provided for him, because ultimately he was realizing his own dream too), but, at its best, it was also about how the dream of becoming a star is only attainable for a fraction of those who pursue it, and those left behind struggle with making a life for themselves. It was a show about Dillon, a town so obsessed with football that those not part of it automatically became outsiders (and, to be honest, I sometimes wished the show would have spent more time with the characters that were not in on it). I loved this show, and how it managed to survive even with an almost entirely new cast of characters once the original team had graduated. I loved it even when it sometimes chased a ridiculous storyline (and what a great decision to pretend like that one particular thing never happened). Who would have thought that, of all people, Billy and Mindy would make such a heartbreakingly loving adoptive family? I should also somehow manage to work my appreciation for the character of Jess Merriweather into this whole thing but I can’t figure out how.
Caprica is an example for a show that didn’t end on its own terms but made it feel like it kind of did. All the things that were highly criticized and probably resulted in lower and ultimately deadly ratings were what I loved the most about it: the slow progress, the focus on philosophy and dialogue rather than action, the tackling of complex issues (and, to me, ultimately, the fact that the show never took sides in the religious debates makes its conclusion superior to BSG’s), the way it dealt with identity and free will/programming and a civilization that was busily working on its own destruction… I loved Caprica, and I am sad that it is gone, but the last few minutes of Apotheosis were the COOLEST.
Watched for the first time:
Stopped watching (sadly, some of these are shows I was genuinely excited about last year but then halfway through, I lost interest for various reasons):
Bedlam: Inmates (1x03) LILY LOVELESS!!!
Bedlam: Inmates (1x03) LILY LOVELESS!!!
Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits (1x02) DANIEL KALUUYA!!!
Breaking Bad: Box Cutter (4x01), Crawl Space (4x11), Face Off (4x13)
Caprica: The Heavens Will Rise (1x16)
Doctor Who: The Doctor's Wife (6x04), The Girl Who Waited (6x10)
Friday Night Lights: Always (5x13)
Game of Thrones: A Golden Crown (1x06), Baelor (1x09)
Homeland: Marine One (1x12)
Justified: Bloody Harlan (2x13)
Parenthood: Nora (3x05)
Parks and Recreation: Harvest Festival (3x07), Camping (3x08), Fancy Party (3x09), The Fight (3x13), I'm Leslie Knope (4x01), Pawnee Rangers (4x04), Citizen Knope(4x10) I DON'T EVEN KNOW I CHOOSE ALL OF IT! ALL OF IT!
Skins: Franky (5x01), Mini (5x03), Alo (5x06), Everyone (5x08) and everything in-between too.
The Fades: Episode Four. Everything else too but that one in particular.
The Good Wife: Getting Off (2x22)
The Office: Garage Sale (7x18), Goodbye, Michael (7x21)
'88: ALL OF IT, but especially the third and final episode England