Killer TV

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I’m not a TV junkie – AT ALL – which stands in stark contrast to my formative beginnings. My Mom LOVES to tell people that I learned to read at a very early age just so I could flip through the weekly TV Guide and circle in Crayon every show I dubbed Must See TV. Every Sunday morning, I used to run into the kitchen and feverishly give her a synopsis of the next thrilling installment of ‘Happy Days‘:

“Mom – Richie (Ron Howard) and the gang must convince Fonzie (Henry Winkler) to help them take down the nefarious Malachi Brothers in a duel-to-the death demolition derby. And then, on Laverne & Shirley, the Big Ragu… can I have some juice?”

I was FOUR!!! And that continued for at least another 12 years – until somewhere around mid-High School my interests skewed more towards the movies and less towards TV. I never quit cold turkey; rather I’d find a handful of shows that I absolutely could not miss – and became a loyal fan. But channel-surfing was never my extreme sport.

Twin Peaks. The Simpsons. Seinfeld. The X-Files. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Friday Night Lights. Millennium. LOST. Alias. 30 Rock. Parks & Recreation. Arrested Development. Fringe.

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Those are the shows I pledged allegiance to at one time or another. They are also the shows that stand as a litmus test when I think about making a commitment to another show.

My interests skew towards comedies and dramas – although, I’m partial to the single camera style for comedies (see Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development) versus the static multi-camera, studio audience variety (Friends, How I Met your Mother). On the dramatic end, I go for serialized stories – (Friday Night Lights, Fringe) and am not a fan of straight killer-of-the-week procedurals. My marching orders are usually no cops, no lawyers, no docs – at least, that can’t be the sole focus. If someone on one of these shows happens to have gone to med school, that training better be used to autopsy an alien.

I’m very attuned to pop-culture so even if I’m not watching a show, I usually know what’s coming down the pike and will pop something on my radar screen if it interests me. The problem is – and it is not a BAD problem to have – there are SOOOOOOO many choices out there. I read an article earlier this week, written by one of my favorite television critics Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix.com), who talked about this very dilemma. There is a lot of quality TV out there and only so many hours in the day which means we have to be extra choosy.

All of this rambling preamble has a point. From time to time, I aim to take to these pages and give you my reactions to what I’m watching. Not reviews, per se. Been there done that. Also, I have yet to find another show that compels me to commit to weekly commentaries. That drive died with LOST and until I find another series that touches the mainstream and ignites my own curiosity while serving up a Smoke Monster or two, I’ll likely just post little stand-alone posts from time-to-time to let y’all know what’s going on in Ed’s head.

The Walking Dead just ended its 3rd Season so I see no reason to recap that. That show remains a Guilty Pleasure. I watch it week-after-week but if I were to recap it, I would likely spend as much time tearing it apart as I would building it up. It’s enjoyable as a B-movie serial BUT it’s a series whose showrunners seem hell-bent on killing off the best actors and the characters with the most promise. R.I.P. Milton and Merle. Although, they do balance the scales. Good riddance, Andrea and Laurie. Still, if I were running the show, I would probably have left things with Rick & company moving on from that prison for the lofty confines of Woodbury. It’s not like the Governor can’t get into that prison whenever he damn well feels. The guy is missing an eye and yet, he always finds his way in. Oh well – give me a little while. The way they churn through show runners on that series, it’s only a matter of time before I’m calling the shots.

Right now – aside from Parks & Recreation and New Girl, I’m watching the following shows on a regular basis. I figured I’d give you my thoughts on them and ask you to stop by from time to time. I plan to make this a recurring post so next time I check back in, I’ll let you know if these are still on my radar or if something new has popped my peepers.

And please – add a Comment below. Let’s make this a conversation.

Bates Motel – AMC – Mondays at 9 pm ET

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When I saw that showrunners Carlton Cuse (LOST) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) were joining forces to re-imagine Psycho - bringing it to contemporary times and focusing on a young Norman Bates and this boy’s relationship with his best friend – his mother – I was all in. I watched the pilot episode and was struck by the production values. The film is shot in coastal British Columbia; using the same lush, green, towering forests that Twin Peaks and The X-Files used to great effect. In addition, they built a stunning replica of the Psycho house and motel. Then they cast Freddie Highmore as a young Norman Bates and the always excellent Vera Farmiga as his controlling mother Norma – so the elements all seemed to be in place for something special.

When the show focuses on the complex relationship between mother and son, it’s fascinating. Unfortunately, the writers have (rightly so) determined that may be enough for a movie but to sustain a television show that would arguably run multiple seasons, they needed to build some narrative hooks – and therefore they have populated this tiny little town with enough incidents and secrets to sustain 3 genre shows.

There’s a massive, covert, well-guarded pot farm that most of this quaint fishing village is apparently in cahoots to conceal. Norman finds that his new digs were apparently a front for an international human trafficking ring. Within a few episodes he discovers a mysterious girl chained in the basement of the local deputy – who just so happens to be romancing his Mom as payback for covering up her brutal killing of the local town drunk who took it upon himself to sexually assault her on her first night in town. Of course, this may not be the only murder she’s covered up. In addition, there are retribution killings occurring in town with not one – but two – townspeople mysteriously set ablaze to send a message to someone. Who? Who knows!!! The entire town operates under a stifling code of silence that were just starting to decipher.

It’s a little too much of the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. Every once in a while, the writers come back to the seemingly normal Norman, who really does come across as a sweet kid, and then have him menacingly wield a mallet behind some unsuspecting character when their back is turned just so we’re reminded not to trust everything – and everyone – we see.

I think it’s a mistake. A little too much incident for any one show – especially one this early. Pick one or two mysteries and let those run through the season. Focus on the strange relationship between Mother and Son. This Norman is not the movie Norman – there’s no reason he ever has to grow up to be a murdering psychopath. In fact, I would let that thought fuel the drama. Will he or won’t he? This show seems to want to focus on the inevitability. I say – let’s see what happens. Just slow it down a bit.

I’ll follow this for a few more weeks but in light of the next show on my list, I may need to check out sooner than I had expected.

Hannibal – NBC – Thursdays at 10 pm ET

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Despite the best efforts of some top-notch FBI profilers, author Thomas Harris is the only person who every truly caught and neutered Hannibal Lecter. It took the author 4 books to do it, but by the time he released Hannibal Rising, which made the unfortunate mistake of trying to humanize the monster, the mystique was gone.

Movies don’t scare me often. I remember going to see Aliens at the age of 14, completely unnerved by what I was going to see. I never saw the original film – all I knew was at some point, chest cavities would pop. That was enough to put my guard up BUT I was with some neighborhood friends so… strength in numbers. That said, I was on the edge of my seat from the first frame, waiting for that film to do its worst. Instead, I came out charged for battle; pleasantly surprised by the rah-rah action flick James Cameron concocted.

It wasn’t until I sat down to watch The Silence of the Lambs that I felt the same sickly stew of fear and dread sink back in. I’d never read any of Harris’ books and all I knew was a brief synopsis I read in Entertainment Weekly – something along the lines of: “In order to catch a killer, FBI Agent Clarice Starling must turn to the devious, captured killer – Hannibal the Cannibal – for help.

That film is a masterpiece of mood. The atmosphere – from the very first scenes of Starling running in a grey wood – are drenched in despair. The atmosphere suffocates. Everything feels cold and wet. It feels like death.

The sequels grew garish and ghoulish – AND unfortunately, cartoonish. Lecter became a well-dressed Freddy Kreuger. His menace was misplaced. His teeth were filed.

I’m two episodes into the new Hannibal series – and the horror is back. Mads Mikkelsen, so memorable as the villain who wept tears of blood in Casino Royale, is the new Hannibal and he’s perfectly creepy. At no point does he mime Anthony Hopkins’ iconic performance – mining an entirely new mannered monster. I’ve read some comments where people say they have a hard time understanding the Danish actor’s line delivery. I haven’t had a problem BUT I also think that aids the performance. It immediately sets you off and you find yourself paying attention – drawn in – sitting on the edge of your seat, listening for every carefully constructed syllable.

And every single time they show him preparing food for someone, I cringe. They’ve yet to reveal what Hannibal is doing behind the scenes so a lot of our discomfort comes from the familiarity with the character and his motivations. Showrunner Bryan Fuller is having fun with the audience. He knows that we know that something isn’t kosher with that pork.

I’m fascinated by the show’s protagonist – Will Graham (Hugh D’ancy) who is essentially getting his legs back. Self-described as somewhere along the Autistic spectrum, he’s unlike any of the other “superhuman profilers” that seem to dominate most TV fare. Let’s be honest – Harris laid the blueprint for every Gus Grissom, Bones, House and anyone else who enters a scene and can immediately ascertain the who, what, where and when before the next commercial break. He did it first and best. And then he lost his way.

Now – his characters are back on track to show ‘em all how it’s done.

Tune in next time when I touch on ‘The Americans’ and whatever else I happen to be watching.

Comments now closed (4)

  • Perhaps I might check out Bates Motel if it ever makes it on Netflix, but otherwise I have zero interest in the series. Hannibal on the other hand is a show I could not pass up on. Although when I first learned they were making a show based on characters from Red Dragon, I was a bit turned off, but the more information I found out about the series made it more appealing. Laurence Fishburne was a huge draw. I think casting Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal was a brilliant move. I just re-watched Casnio Royale and Quantum of Solace to prime myself for my first viewing of Skyfall, and I have to say I was quite smitten with Mads. He was also in Paul W. S. Anderson’s Three Musketeers, a film by Paul W. S. Anderson, which was quite bad, even for a popcorn flick, but Mads’ performance was one of the shining qualities.

    I went in to the series with very LOW expectations. Had this been a CBS show I might have thought more of it, but NBC hasn’t really dished out much in the way of drama in the last decade or so (I know they aired your precious FNL!). I’ve seen my fill of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, and Profiler to know my way around a procedural, but thus far this show seemingly bucks the trend, and I hope it continues to do so.

  • I wouldn’t call myself a TV junkie, but I do have a short list of shows I like to keep up with, or at the very least DVR, and then usually on a nice cold/rainy/damp day catch up on them all at once.

    How I Met Your Mother
    Hawaii Five-0
    NCIS/NCIS:LA
    Criminal Minds
    The Big Bang Theory
    Two and a Half Men
    Person of Interest
    Elementary
    Blue Bloods
    The Mentalist
    The Walking Dead

    I have a short list of shows that I do watch but either just don’t have the time to watch or don’t subscribe to premium cable and can’t watch. For instance, I loved 30 Rock and Parks & Rec, but alas, I’m out most Thursday nights so I find it difficult to keep up on them. I discovered both on Netflix anyway, so I’ll most likely just wait until their new seasons come out. I don’t get HBO to watch Game of Thrones, but like I did with Season 1 and 2, I will download it when the season is finished and watch all the episodes in a couple viewings.

    I got into Doctor Who a few years back, slightly before Matt Smith (Eleven) took over the reigns and it became “trendy” to like DW. I downloaded the first new season with Christopher Eccleston (Nine) and started with David Tennant (Ten) on DVDs which I had borrowed from the library. Even with taking a year off from watching the series after Ten said goodbye, I quickly caught up with Matt Smith and had no choice but to wait. I tried downloading episodes, but I like being able to sit down and watch a bunch of episodes at a time

    Mainlining really is my preferred way of watching a show, or at the very least keep up with a steady pace. I caught American Horror Story on Netflix and loved it. I’ll watch Season 2 when it’s available.

    Speaking with Netflix, I caught House of Cards, which is a Netflix exclusive series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright (Penn). HoC is a political drama about all the wheelings and dealings that go on in Washington DC and focuses on Spacey’s character, a Congressman from Georgia. The show is a lot of fun to watch because you’re literally sitting there wondering whats going to happen next! The best part is that they made all thirteen episodes available to watch at once, so no waiting! I watched four episodes in my first screening, and then I think finished in a nother two or three viewings.

    I am very much looking forward to the return of Arrested Development, coming back exclusively to Netflix. I could go on and on about that show, but its presented in a very exciting way. The season is split up over fifteen 30 minute episodes and essentially plays like a seven hour choose your own adventure story. All episodes take place at the same time so you can watch one character’s story, and then switch over halfway through to another character’s episode to see what they were doing at the same time. To be honest I’m quite unsure of how the results will be, but I think its going to be exciting either way!

  • Great comments Chris. You are spot on in regards to NBC – in fact, if it wasn’t for DirecTV coming in to save the day and co-finance Friday Night Lights, that show NEVER would have seen a second season – let alone several.

    I’ll have to give House of Cards a whirl. Thanks for the tip. As for Arrested Development I’m cautiously excited. Hoping they don’t screw this up. Part of me feels that show was lightning in a bottle. Can they capture it again?!?!!,

    • I’m cautiously optimistic about Arrested Development. It’s been seven years since the show’s finale — I think it sill be different, but hopefully familiar. I agree about lightning in a bottle — they were all at a certain point in their lives and careers and to go back to these roles again, but then again. But the fact that they all came back gives me me hope. It was either all or nothing — if even just one person declined I don’t think it would have come together. I remember reading a while back there were rumors about Michael Cera refusing to come back — but thankfully it was just a rumor. I just hope it has that off-beat wackness that made me fall in love with the show in the first place. I’ve lost count how many times I have watched and re-watched the show from beginning to end. And each time I still find the same jokes funny or find something new that I somehow overlooked.

      *whistles* It’s Arrested Development.