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Opening Credits Sunday: True Detective (2014)






Screaming for attention: 400 TV shows and counting



Late last year researches at FX Networks found that there were more than 400 scripted TV shows in 2015. Not 400 HOURS of scripted shows, but 400 DIFFERENT shows. Let that sink in for a minute. If there’s 400 scripted shows and each show has on average 10 episodes, some would have more and some less, that’s something like around 4,000 hours of NEW TV produced last year. To put that number in perspective, with that amount of content you could watch nothing but new TV shows 24 hours a day from December to mid-June.

Humans on AMC

Humans on AMC

And that’s not including news programs and game shows and variety shows and reality and TV movies either. That’s 4,000 hours of scripted dramas and comedies.

Part of why there’s so much “stuff” out there is that every channel wants to have a hit series that draws in viewers, which might turn a channel very few are watching, and therefor getting less ad dollars, into something many are watching and talking about and getting lots of ad dollars. Case in point AMC. A decade ago AMC aired classic movies, hence the name; American Movie Classics. Then in 2007 they launched Mad Men to great acclaim and have since launched other popular series like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Before, AMC was a channel that hardly anyone watched. Now, AMC is one of the most watched spots on TV and one that now makes a lot of money.

And with viewers “cutting the cord” as it were online services are also trying to get in with scripted shows too. Netflix and Amazon have have been creating series specifically for their service for a few years now and now other platforms like Hulu and YouTube are getting in on the game too with content of their own.

Jessica Jones on Netflix

Jessica Jones on Netflix

I watch a lot of TV, probably too much. And even with my prodigious TV habit I couldn’t watch everything last year that I probably would have in years past. For example, the series Humans on AMC looked interesting enough but I had too many things to watch at that time and never got around to it. And with a show like Jessica Jones on Netflix I did watch the first episode but when it didn’t immediately connect with me I moved onto something else.

Now I’m not saying that I’ll won’t go back and try and watch Jessica Jones or Humans again this summer when there used to be fewer new things to on, but I can’t guarantee it since nowadays there are just as many new and interesting series premiering during the summer as there are in the fall/winter months.

New shows last summer like Halt and Catch Fire, True Detective and The Carmichael Show, all of which I enjoyed a great deal, took whatever time I would normally have to checkout things I’d missed during the fall and instead put the focus on them. In fact, the only show I did catchup on last summer was Fargo, and that was only because a friend highly recommended it.

Maron on IFC

Maron on IFC

Which makes me wonder, what am I all missing? Years ago I was only ever able to get into The Wire when I caught up with it after HBO aired the first few seasons before the start of the third. Up until then I’d watch a few episodes at the start of each new season and give up. It was only because I had the time to catch up on it that I was able to be sucked in by that wonderful show.

But the last few years that really hasn’t been happening for me. I tell myself that I need to watch the latest season of House of Cards or Justified or Maron and something else new will appear on my pop-culture radar and I find myself putting off things for one more season.

I suppose the solution to all this is to count my blessings, too much of a good thing is better than nothing, and wait for the day that the eventual collapse of all this good stuff which is inevitable. There’s no way that all the networks and cable channels and online services can be pouring BILLIONS into these new shows with all expected to make back any money.

Maybe what I need to do is to get a colossal DVR and record EVERYTHING I might be interested in when the day comes after the pop-culture collapse when the only thing on to watch are reruns of The Big Bang Theory and episodes of Redneck/Swamp-Truckers/Fishermen/Miners/Pawn on The Discovery Channel.




The best TV series of 2014



The last several years, this one included, the new fall TV season has been underwhelming at best and just plain bad at worst. It’s not like there aren’t any interesting new shows on in the fall anymore, it’s just that there are so few of them. If the fall season is so blargh, then lately the winter, spring and summer TV seasons have been a true joy. In fact, you won’t find a single series here that started in the fall. Each and every one was a non-fall show.

The methods I use to determine my “best of” lists changes every year. Sometimes I try to rank the shows best to worst throughout the year and sometimes it’s simply based on my mood when compiling the list at the end of the year. That being said, this year I did things a bit differently. The list this year is mostly based on how much I wanted to watch a season of a show again after having finished it. And the show that kept coming to the top of my list when thinking about this was The Americans on FX.

The Americans

Phillip Jennings: “The KGB is everywhere.”

The "normal" Jennings family

The “normal” Jennings family

The Americans is the rare series that’s actually about something. The first season of the show was about what it’s like to be a married couple in the US in the guise of a 1980s period spy drama of USSR vs USA and this season was about what it takes to get someone to betray their ideals in pursuit of a greater cause.

Here, characters Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are KGB agents posing as a normal married American couple in early 1980s Washington DC but they’re really Soviet sleeper agents out to bring down the red white and blue. In this most recent season, Philip and Elizabeth are trying to uncover the secrets of new stealth technology while at the same time hunting the killer of another KGB family that was a mirror of the Jennings’.

What was really interesting with The Americans this season were the places series creators were willing to go. Be it with the murder of an entire family, Elizabeth mentoring an young idealist agent who shares the same ideals whom Elizabeth must sacrifice for the greater good to Phillip and Elizabeth learning that while mother Russia might want Phillip and Elizabeth to make sacrifices for “the cause,” that’s nothing compared to what they have in store for their children.

Halt and Catch Fire

Joe MacMillan: “I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about legacy.”
Cameron Howe: “You’re not the future, you’re a footnote.

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Mackenzie Davis in Halt and Catch Fire

I’m not sure how or why, but I seem to be the only critic out there who liked Halt and Catch Fire, let alone loved it. Some have complained that Halt is too much like Mad Men with it taking place in the corporate world, having a young woman as an up and coming employee with a strong male with a self destructive streak in the lead. As if only Mad Men were allowed to do this or even that Mad Men is far from the first series to play out this way.

Regardless, I was enamored where Halt went with certain characters being plowed under by the stress of trying to create a new PC in the early 1980s and others rising to the challenge. And not to spoil the ending of the first season too much, but if every other show out there is about people building something great and successful, Halt was about building something that turned out to be, at best, average. I’m not sure any show has ever done that before.

Hannibal

Hannibal Lecter: “Occasionally I drop a teacup to shatter on the floor. On purpose. I’m not satisfied when it doesn’t gather itself up again. Someday, perhaps a cup will come together.”

2013-blog-hannibal-hugh-madsIf the first season of Hannibal was about FBI detective Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) trying to track down a serial killer who they don’t realize is Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), then the second season is about the FBI trying to catch Lecter in a trap and jail him for the murders. Except the one guy you don’t try and trap is the guy who’s going to be ahead of you every step of the way setting traps of his own.

True Detective

If Hannibal was head-trippy then True Detective was acid-trippy. It’s a show that seems to divide up my friends nicely. Some of whom loved it and character Rust Cohle’s (Matthew McConaughey) ramblings about the intricacies of good and evil in an uncaring universe while others hated the show and found the series to over the top and boring.

Community

In its fifth season Community returned with series creator Dan Harmon back at the helm after an absence of a year and returned a sheen of greatness to a series that had faltered in recent years.

Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock

Even if micro-series Sherlock is only three episodes long, they’re some of the best hours you’ll spend in front of the television. If there’s anything I’m worried about with Sherlock is that while there are two season’s of the show left, Sherlock star  Benedict Cumberbatch is now on the verge of uber-stardom with recently being cast as Doctor Strange in a Marvel movie and I can’t see him wanting to stick with Sherlock any longer than he’s contractually obligated to do so.

Game of Thrones

I find it humorous when people binge-watch past seasons of something like Game of Thrones in a few days or weeks. They have absolutely no idea of the excruciating wait between new seasons that makes viewer’s wait nearly 10 months between the end of a season and the start of the next agonizing. I’m not complaining, though. When it’s on Game of Thrones is the best thing on TV. I do wonder if it had aired in the fall rather than spring if Game of Thrones wouldn’t have made an appearance much higher on this list?

Orange is the New Black

Taylor Schilling

Taylor Schilling

While Orange is the New Black did start off a bit slow this season and focused on more characters than Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as in the first — the sure sign that someone is trying to stretch out a show into multiple seasons — I thought the back half of Orange was just as good as the first season of the show.

Veep

Another great year for a great comedy almost no one’s talking about. Here’s to President Meyer!

The Knick

Writer/Director Steven Soderbergh returned to TV with The Knick, a series about a hospital at the turn of the 20th century New York City. In The Knick, medicine is taking leaps and bounds forward like never before. Even if it means that most people who go into the hospital end up dying there or that having a doctor like John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) hooked on cocaine is not only legal, it’s normal.




Quote of Note – True Detective: “Haunted Houses”



“A man’s game charges a man’s price. Take that away from this if nothing else.”
– Detective Martin Hart

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True Detective Pink Floyd



My favorite part of this week’s outstanding True Detective episode? Detective Martin Hart’s (Woody Harrelson) Pink Floyd Division Bell tour t-shirt.

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