Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The 2016 Kryptos - Television

way more effort went into this graphic than I want to admit

2016.  It seems so far away now.  Heck, Christmas was, like, two years ago at this point.  But let us remember that all too vital part of all of our lives - TELEVISION.

Oh, you don't own a television?  You haven't had cable in ten years?  Well, la di dah, mister fancy pants.  Some of us stay in touch with the people.

Between cable, internet streaming options and sports, it was certainly a year in which I watched a metric ton of TV.  You couldn't not be told you had to watch this show or that show by your friends or co-workers.  And some of them you didn't try, some of them you watched and didn't like and just prayed they'd never ask about whether you'd tried it or not, and some of it was maybe not the best thing but you still tuned in.  And some of it you set your schedule around watching.

Here's a quick rundown of some of what we watched:

  1. The Flash
  2. Supergirl
  3. DC's Legends of Tomorrow (don't ask - I mostly watch it on ffwd)
  4. Marvel's Agent Carter
  5. Luke Cage
  6. Jessica Jones
  7. Daredevil
  8. The Get Down
  9. Stranger Things
  10. Westworld
  11. Veep
  12. Mars
  13. Preacher
  14. The Americans
  15. Baskets
  16. Lady Dynamite
  17. The X-Files
  18. The Venture Bros.
  19. Fargo
  20. Drunk History
  21. Join Or Die
  22. Mythbusters
  23. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  24. Saturday Night Live (though, admittedly, usually as clips online)
  25. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  26. Face-Off (that make-up show on SyFy)

I mean, that's really a pretty crazy amount of TV, and I'm pretty sure that isn't all of the series I was watching.  That list doesn't include baseball, football or basketball, all of which I also watched.  I also regularly watch re-runs of Seinfeld at 11:00 PM, usually while I'm working on a post.  There's the occasional episodes of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation (you're always there for me, BBC America).  Plus, a ton of our local 24-hour local news channel.  God bless ya, Spectrum News.

Of course I'll tape stuff, find myself watching Antiques Roadshow, docs on PBS from Ken Burns to The American Experience, and a thousand other one-off's.  That includes a few of those live (or otherwise) TV musicals like Grease or Hairspray!.  And once in a while I put on Finding Bigfoot, because it's just good stuff watching people running around in the woods and howling official Bigfoot howls.  I need something to make me feel better about myself.

We've recently started The White Rabbit Project (alumni of Mythbusters) on Netflix, and it's really pretty enjoyable in a click-baity kind of way.

I can't remember what series I tried this year and gave up on.  The two that come to mind (that I didn't make it past the pilot) were Bloodline and Master of None, both of which I went into expecting to like, and while I didn't dislike either, I never found myself going back to watch the next episode.  A lot of that I just put up to fatigue.  I did one episode of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, enjoyed it and never watched another one.  Heck, we never even watched anything past the first episode of the third season of Peaky Blinders.  I started watching Tig Notaro's One Mississippi, and I think we've been dealing with too many people losing family lately for me to want to go down that particular road.

Why did we stop watching some of these shows?  Well, look at that @#$%ing list of shows up there.  How much TV do I have to watch?  I need time in my life for other stuff, too, maybe...  I dunno.

The Worst

Well, like any sane person I tried not to stick around anything that I wasn't enjoying, or at least hate-watching.  And while I started hate-watching Supergirl in Season 1, by half-way through and thus into 2016, it became quite watchable.

But I have to say that DC's Legends of Tomorrow is a damn mess, and everything about that show suggests everyone on board is well aware of it and just hanging on while they try to fix it.  Certainly losing some of the cast who departed after Season 1 had wrapped their arcs was a good move, but some of the additions aren't great, and Season 2 is sort of flailing from what I've seen.  I don't think the CW network is set up to handle only having 13 episodes of a TV show per season, or limited series, but that may have worked much, much better with this concept.

One extremely good episode aside, the return of the X-Files reminded me why I quit watching the show a season or two before it actually ended.   Clunky, frustrating, bad at science and surpassed at it's own game in the years since, there was no need for more X-Files.  Coming back to the series could have been a thrill, but instead it was like hanging out with an old flame and being reminded of all of their worst traits.  The trick is to remember that there was never a plan behind X-Files, and they still don't seem to think they need one.

It certainly wasn't the worst, but, man, Luke Cage took a deeply disappointing turn after *someone* died.  What had been a phenomenal show turned into something duller and more forgettable very quickly.

And, man, was Join or Die annoying after a while.  From a show that seemed full of promise, four or five episodes in, you got the feeling that the only person who wasn't half-assing it was host Craig Ferguson.  As the History Channel tried to right itself this year after becoming the UFO's and Bigfoots channel, they introduced a sort of talk-show/ game-show format where Craig Ferguson and a "panel" talked about who was the most *something* of history (ie:  Biggest Bad-Ass in History), limiting themselves to 6 options which they'd discuss and eliminate to get to their un-scientific answer.

In short - while well-intentioned, History Channel really over estimated your average actor and stand-up comedian's grasp of history or their desire to make fart jokes instead of discuss the matter at hand.  And even host Craig Ferguson seemed like he was miserable through most of it.  I'd argue the show would have been amazing with three historians and Ferguson.

The Best

Clearly I hold an affection for all of the shows I continued to watch, or I wouldn't be putting in somewhere between 7 and 22 hours of my life watching a season of any of these programs.

I don't know if I can pick my favorite superhero show of 2016 .  I'd probably give it to Supergirl for the amazing turnaround and "stronger together" ethics of the show, but The Flash continues to impress me most over the long haul, finding new ways to mix it up about every half-season.  And Grant Gustin's work is understated but heartfelt, and I think he's done a great job creating a Barry Allen that works perfectly for TV.  Of course I liked Jessica Jones a lot and it had terrific performances by the cast (literally everyone), but the show dragged in the middle for no particular reason other than it needed to be 13 episodes, as did the second season of Daredevil.  Nor was the threat in Daredevil anywhere near as compelling as Wilson Fisk in the second half of Season 2.

It's a tie for my favorite drama.  Fargo Season 2 was mind-blowingly good TV, and I sincerely want to get both Season 1 and 2 and watch them over.  But the work that's happening on The Americans across the board is stellar serial television.  Each season has been better than the previous year, and the exploration of who the characters are is some of the most mature work I've seen on TV, and did the work a lot more efficiently and with more grace than other shows I felt swung for the fences when it came to this level of character development.

And, hey, they had Dylan Baker, so how bad a season could it have been?

But in it's own way, Mars was absolutely engaging television, and as far as I know, Jamie and I were the only people aside from an ex-co-worker that I know of who saw it.  It's too bad.  It was remarkable television and truly felt like a call for us all to be mounting rockets as quickly as we can.

The year also brought two very different but remarkable shows in Lady Dynamite and Baskets, both starring veterans of The Comedians of Comedy.  Both shows thrived in a sort of comedic twilight zone, delving into the absurdities and tragedies that Maria Bamford and Zack Galifianakis always seemed privvy to in their stand-up, something making it all funny.   Lady Dynamite allowed Maria Bamford to tell a semi-autobiographical account of her own mental breakdown and recovery, while Baskets is about a clown who aspires to art, but finds himself having failed in Paris back in Bakersfield, California living with his mother, played absolutely expertly by Louis Anderson.  Also, he plays his own twin brother.  You'l just have to trust me on this one.

Oh, and Venture Bros. is still the funniest show on TV.

But of course...

Look, I may not have named everything up there, but clearly I liked it for one reason or another and could talk about all of the shows at length.  

The best moment of the year on TV was likely that second after I realized the Cubs had just won the World Series.  But the best scripted stuff was scattered throughout all those shows, in moments here and there, in trying something better.

I wasn't a kid who watched a lot of TV growing up, and I didn't participate in the early HBO explosion of "important TV".  But, like we all say, there's an embarrassment of content out there, and you can never say you saw it all.  And all of it deserves some sort of recognition.  And just because I didn't watch Dr. Who or Sherlock or whatever you'll ask about doesn't mean I don't like them - it means I never quite made the time.

Also, I'm pissed Agent Carter isn't getting a third season.

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