Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 TV Year in Review: The Bad

As much as I enjoyed the year's TV lineup, I don't want it to seem like it was all good on the small screen. Per usual, there were a number of shows that simply didn't make the cut. So let's talk about them.

The Newbies:

I don't think anything proved to be a bigger waste of time on a weekly basis than Fox's The Following. I'd be shocked if any new series in 2013 had a bigger PR push leading up to the pilot. It seemed to have everything going for it. From Kevin Bacon making his debut as a TV leading man, to James Purefoy being fun and menacing, to the always preferable 13 episode season. And yet so much was missing or just lacking. The love story was pathetic and unbelievable, the multiple disciples Carroll had, all in exactly the place he needed them to be, strained credulity so much it was
laughable, the show never really deigned to show us exactly what it was about Carroll that made him so appealing and charismatic to these people in the first place, and so many things happened on a weekly basis simply because the plot required them to. Generally, when a story has plot elements that seem to come out of no where and have no basis in reality, it's because the writers haven't thought out their characters well enough for their decisions and failings or successes to seem organic. After the 6 episodes I watched (and 6/13 hours is more than enough to gauge a series in my opinion), the writers' sheer lack of clarity on who these characters were was obvious.

But just as bad as all that was The Following's pointless and egregious use of violence. As premium and even just cable shows continue to get more and more popular and more and more critical acclaim, basic cable has found itself in a position to ask what it is that sets these series apart from their own. As opposed to looking at the confidence and crispness of these shows' storytelling, it looks like Fox has decided it's just about the lax Standards and Practices these channels are allowed to employ on their programming. So the writers of The Following decided to cram in a lot of pointless and gratuitous violence and never understood that the presence of violence alone is meaningless without some kind of stakes behind it. 

In the end, The Following is a show of almost-but-not-quite. The Poe foundation could have been nice if the series actually seemed to know anything at all about Edgar Allan Poe beyond what has been made sensationalized over the years. The love triangle between the two not-so-gay guys and the cute androgynous psychopath would have been nice if the show actually understood the complexities of human sexuality instead of wanting to deal with it like a child who thinks kissing adults are funny and mysterious. And I say all of this acknowledging that enough people seemed to continue watching The Following to warrant Fox giving it a second season which starts soon, so maybe I'm the minority here (I actually know I'm not), but everything about this show reeked of bad storytelling tropes.

The other big deal new comer that fell horribly flat was Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I've already detailed my feelings about the first 7 episodes here, so there's not much more to say on the subject;
my thoughts haven't changed as the series has rounded out the 11th hour. But more importantly, after almost a full season by certain standards, AOS hasn't gotten any better and I've finally lost all desire to watch.

Possibly the most disappointing, if not outright offensive, thing the show has done thus far was to come out of hiatus with a huge campaign about finally giving answers on the Coulson mystery only to not deliver with the episode in question. Some light was shed on the issue, the story took a miniscule step forward, but the question of what actually happened to Agent Coulson still hasn't been answered. And the scant, pseudo-answer the episode provided did nothing to inspire me to even want to find out what the real answer is. So with all of the promise in the world, with the same team that was behind Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog leading the way, and with all of the might of Marvel's cinematic universe behind it, AOS turns out to be a bust. C'est la vie.

The Favorites?:

Forever proving that a series doesn't have to be new out of the gate to be a disappointment, last year saw a couple shows that simply couldn't get their shit together long enough to prove to be worth watching any longer.

Dexter had the unenviable job of trying to wrap up a series that had long outlived its usefulness in a lot of ways. This is a point upon which I certainly think I am in the minority, but while Dexter hadn't been great in many years, I don't think it reached a point of being fully unwatchable until it's final
season. Nothing the show has done since it's fourth season (which was a solid four years ago mind you) has been "good," but I don't think anything they did forced viewers to give up on the show en masse. And then there was Hannah McKay.

If there was one mistake Dexter made over the years, (and trust me there were many) it was in not understanding who their main character really was and trying to force more traditional TV storylines onto him. Dexter isn't the type of person to need or even really want a relationship. His whole thing with Rita was invented out of necessity and convenience, but somewhere along the line the show forgot that important fact and decided they wanted Dex to be a normal guy who just sometimes kills people. As a result we get characters like Hannah who have no purpose beyond being a love interest for a character who shouldn't have any more love interests. The character never really functions or gets off the ground in any serious fashion and as such she never really works.

On top of that, the show never really figured out what it wanted to do with the presence of Dexter's son, Harrison, so they invent an excuse to pawn him off on a number of equally useless nannies and baby sitters to justify daddy going off all night to murder people. Again it's an example of the show forcing events to fit the plot instead of developing organically. And with the opportunity to make Harrison into Dexter 2.0 given his experience with Rita's death, it's impossible to look at the route the show ended up choosing as being anything other than disappointing.

I haven't officially finished watching the last season yet, I gave up on it with about 3 or 4 episodes to go, but from what I've heard the ending did nothing at all to improve the show's overall standing, so I won't be rushing to finish up. But ultimately I think Dexter is just an example of how 8 years with a series is about 3 or 4 years too many.

The other show I said goodbye to in 2013 was Glee. The last time I gave up on a series in the middle of its run after years of dedicated, though declining, loyalty was the beginning of the fourth season of Heroes. At the time, no one realized that that season would the show's last, but after three years of diminishing returns, I finally had to say I'd had enough of the series. The same can be said of Glee, though I gave up on that series seemingly a couple years before it will officially reach its end.

The sad part about this is that I don't know that I can say Glee officially hit its rock bottom in 2013. Certainly the end of its fourth season left a lot to be desired, and featured the constantly offensive and deplorable Shooting Star which honestly should be brought up on charges for criminal negligence, but its return for its fifth season wasn't horrible. The two Beatles tribute episodes to kick things off weren't the worst installments the show had ever seen, and the Finn Hudson / Cory Monteith tribute was affecting no matter what logistical complaints I had about it. But where those first three episodes failed was in giving me a reason to continue watching. None of the storylines set forth in those early weeks seemed to be worthy of the screen time they'd wind up with (with the exception of the Santana / Demi Lovato love story that I actually am sorry to be missing), and the whole Kurt / Blane getting married thing was an active turn off for me. The best episode of the fourth season was The Breakup, and Kurt and Blane getting back together and then getting engaged on top of it totally undermined a lot of the brilliance of that particular hour.

But other than that, the problem with Glee in 2013 really just boiled down to More-of-the-Same-itis and I couldn't take it any longer. I couldn't handle more of Kurt and Blane drama, more of the show's misuse of characters like Tina Chang, more of the drastic shifts in characterization, or more of the ridiculous leaps in lack of logic that the show made on a regular basis. To an extent, I think that the fact that Glee stopped making any kind of sense years ago would be fine if it had at least continued to be funny. But that wasn't the case, and as such it lost pretty much all of its appeal over the years. The sad thing about the two most recent seasons of the show is that the New York based storylines have actually been enjoyable if not good while everything back in Lima has fallen into being unwatchable / offensive. If they'd just changed the series at its fourth season to be exclusively the story of the graduating seniors trying to make it in the world, I think it might have been a better choice. But I say that acknowledging that very few high school shows have ever successfully made the transition into college, and I don't trust Ryan Murphy with anything. But if we judge based on simple comparison, the New York stuff was way better and didn't constitute enough screen time to keep me watching the whole series, so I had to say goodbye.

Honorable Mentions:

1) Some of the best news to come out of the end of 2013 had to be the cancellation of True Blood on HBO. Much like Dexter, True Blood reached a point where it should have ended many moons ago, but there's a part of me that thinks this last season was the worst one yet. I don't know if it was the ultimately pointless Billith storyline, the continued insistence on keeping the peripheral characters at the forefront of the story (who honestly cared about Andy's kids?), or the show's complete unwillingness to allow Sookie to simply be single and ok, but whatever it was, this season never once found itself capable of being enjoyable. As opposed to previous seasons that saw brief flashes of entertaining storylines before the entire thing went down the toilet, this year it was just hard to get behind any aspect of the series. I will say that a lot of what they did with Jessica as a character was interesting, but I won't be sad to see the last of this show.

2) Ray Donovan was another series that started with a lot of fanfare, as Showtime shows tend to be, and very little payoff. I watched roughly the first 6 episodes and the different elements of the series never came together for me in a manner that would justify continued watching. Ray seemed like the kind of show with glimpses of good shows locked inside of it, but its inability to decide once and for all which show it wanted to be, which storyline it wanted to give the most weight, was a detriment. I think when a show, or any kind of story for that matter, tries to be everything, it succeeds in being nothing. But the glimpses nestled within it suggests the possibility that the show could be better in the future, or for all I know the last 6 episodes were much better than the first 6, but I doubt I'll be granted that information.

So there you have it, two posts about the highs and the lows of 2013's TV landscape. Stay tuned for my thoughts, hopes, desires, and excitements for 2014's TV season.

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