Thursday, January 4, 2018

Television in 2017 (for me)



Here was the thing about television in 2017:  there was so damn much of it.  

I think we're all pretty comfortable at this point just telling people "I've already got too many shows, I'm not looking for anything new."  Anything and everything is discussed as if it's must-see water-cooler discussion material, but the fact is, the audience is so splintered, and there's so much supposedly quality content on, none of it qualifies as required viewing nor are characters and storylines part of the shared cultural lexicon.

When I do get to it, I don't think the list below is going to sell you on anything.  So I won't even consider this list a pile of recommendations.  I assume you all know how to select which shows to watch.

A long time ago I stopped making time for things I'm not enjoying.  In fact, I gave up on a few series I once quite liked, mostly just through "you know, I think I've seen what this show is going to do, and I'm good".  Stuff like Archer, Sunny, other long running gag shows.  I don't watch Legends of Tomorrow because I can't make myself care about a time travel show that half-asses it this badly, and the acting is mostly awful (really, weirdly bad except for Victor Garber).  And I don't watch Arrow because... ugh.

I do watch reruns of a few old shows.  WKRP in Cincinatti is on Hulu, so I watched some of that this year.  Seinfeld from time to time.  For some reason the fact I'll watch The Nanny from time to time keeps coming up.  

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I spent April through the end of October watching an ungodly amount of baseball.  Probably 3 - 4 games per week at 4 hours per pop.  We seriously probably watched 75% of the Cubs' games this year, at least in part.  It really felt like a part time job.  I have no idea how people keep up with more than one team.  Then I watched the Division, League and World Series, taking us to October 29th or so.     

Now that every show is a long-form serial drama, even if it's a light comedy, mixing the serial nature with social media means you need to watch it all fairly soon or get spoiled, and so watching TV can start to feel like homework.  And, frankly, sometimes I just want to watch a 90-130 minute movie, not the latest chapter in watching characters get ground down.  Honestly, we're actually just about to head into the part of the year when a bunch of our shows kick in and suddenly I've got a required block of two hours of TV per night 4 days a week or we fall behind.  And I am totally okay with some of the shows I ostensibly like ending so I can now replace them and read a book or something.

At any rate, here's a somewhat decent and likely incomplete list of shows we watched in 2017:

  • American Vandal
  • Glow
  • Star Trek: Discovery
  • Fargo - Season 3
  • The Americans
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Lady Dynamite - Season 2 (just started squeaking it in before EoY)
  • Twin Peaks
  • Feud
  • Baskets
  • Stranger Things: Season 2
  • The Flash
  • Supergirl
  • The Defenders
  • Legion (on FX)
  • Justice League Action
  • DuckTales
  • Robert Kirkman's Secret History of Comics
I'll state flatly that my favorite show of the year was Twin Peaks, but I don't really want to talk about it.  As of yet, I've not had a conversation regarding the show that didn't just become someone's gripes that the show couldn't just act more like a regular TV show or do some explaining of itself in a big, finale reveal.  But the show was wholly itself and nothing else, defying convention at nearly every turn, feeling immediate and yet inscrutable, and, in the end, unraveling like any dream when you try to apply rules.

I had a huge affection for GLOW, and both Feud and Baskets were incredibly strong and better than they needed to be.  I still don't get how more people don't talk about The Americans, as it's maybe the strongest, relatively straight drama on TV and a fascinating character study.  Over the seasons they've moved so deftly from "mission of the week" to "here's what's going on internally with the spies", the over-arching espionage plots have all but evaporated.

Of course I watched a lot of superhero TV, and both Supergirl and Flash demonstrated that they could pivot and fix some of their mistakes.  Flash, in particular, feels much stronger this new season.

I started off in love with Legion - created by Noah Hawley who brought us Fargo, maybe one of the most well-thought-out TV shows you're like to stumble across.  But the final episode was so disappointing and unsatisfying, I have a minimum of interest in picking it up again should it return, which is too bad, because the series had a phenomenal first several episodes, feeling truly like the weirder corners of comics.

Still, the show that always puts a big, dumb smile on my face is Justice League Action.  Playing with the toybox that is the DCU, the series heavily features characters like Space Cabbie, Plastic Man and Booster Gold while keeping them in the same room with Superman, Batman and a pretty dynamic Wonder Woman.  At 15 minutes per pop, it's all plot and jokes, and purely episodic, but it's still a lot of fun.

Defenders was better than I thought it would be, but felt weirdly open ended at the conclusion.  I'll be back for more Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.  I'm not sure how the general public handled all that very 80's-comic-booky stuff, but since it was the milk upon which I was raised, I was good with it.

Perhaps most controversial was that I was totally fine with Star Trek: Discovery (barring the use of the F-bomb, which was super cute but took me right out of the show).  I'd tried watching Voyager and was dying inside during what little of it I watched (it feels like a show for people who hate fast movements or sudden noises).  But Discovery held to a lot of the basics of Trek while also saying, "yeah, but what if stuff got a tad grittier and our crew was maybe a bit sketchier?".  The two shows couldn't have been more opposite in their approaches to Trek, but at least I didn't find Discovery boring, even when I thought they muffed things here and there.  And I don't know how I feel about the fact that shady-ass, win-by-any-means-necessary Captain Lorca makes more sense to me than Janeway, but here we are.

Fargo was perhaps the strongest it's ever been, thematically, and maybe from a formalistic standpoint, but never quite jelled as an actual show the way the two prior seasons had done (frankly, Season 2 was apex television).  But, goddammit, I would have watched a whole spin-off show of Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character.  What Fargo has done over three seasons is some of the most challenging stuff I've seen - even if it can just be read as crime, gangster and other genre television, and in a better world, we'd all hear a lot more about it.

Still, it's going to be Twin Peaks and its beautiful, horrible vision that will stick with me.  It's the first show I've purchased on BluRay or DVD in years, because it's the first show I've wanted to make time to re-watch in years, not just to view the puzzle once all the pieces had been sorted out, but to re-experience the show.  Maybe I'm blessed with patience when it comes to seeing how things will work out (this is absolutely not true in real life, but maybe with TV shows) and I don't spend much time trying to fan-theorize or think everything has to work together like a sealed system, but I was down with watching weeks of Dougie drink coffee and do his thing.  And, of course, Diane.  And those final, horrifying moments (God, Sheryl Lee's scream is just mortifying).  And whatever was going on with Audrey (the only part that made me hope we can get a 4th season).

Anyway, TV 2017.

6 comments:

JAL said...

We are simply lucky Twin Peaks the Return exists. That final episode is a perfect thing.

JAL said...

FWIW, The Leftovers is pretty amazing. You may need to push through season one, which is the “weakest”. Season two is one of the best complete seasons of television I’ve ever seen. Carrie Coon’s performance in the series finale is one of the best performances of this year or any other. I know people shunned this because of D Lindelof, but, man, this thing is great. I could go on and on.

Ryan Steans said...

Coon was in Season 3 of Fargo, and was stellar in a heartbreaking part, which I'd guess is her thing.

And, yeah - when I heard folks hemming and hawing about Twin Peaks, I wanted to shake them by the shoulders and shout "RECOGNIZE GREATNESS IN ITS TIME".

Gerry Lopez said...

I'm really loving Discovery. I don't understand those that say it's somehow not sci-fi enough. The entire spore drive concept is about as out there as I've ever seen.

The Americans is hands down the most solid show on TV. I can't wait to see how it ends. The thing I really love about this era of serialized TV is that we get a real ending to shows. I love good endings.

And yeah, to echo from above, The Leftovers was great. It's everything they lied to us about Lost being in the end. Coons is amazing.

J.S. said...

The Expanse, Season 2. Mindhunter. And, in my mind, surprisingly, The Punisher.

JAL said...

Oh, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is superb