Revenge is in God’s Hands

Revenge is in God’s Hands

The Revenant

[This post was originally posted on Andrews.Reviews]

Yesterday I briefly talked with a cinematographer about the movie the Revenant.

“You definitely have to go see it in the theater. It’s so beautiful. He shot the entire movie in natural light.”

“I’ve heard that it’s beautiful. There’s just one thing. My greatest fear in life is bears. I’ve heard there’s a scene…”

“Ok. Yeah. You definitely should NOT see this movie. It is not for you. Not a good idea.”

It’s true. I have a deep-seated fear of bears due to a couple backpacking trips I took while in Boy Scouts in my early teens.

I went to see it anyway.

Continue reading “Revenge is in God’s Hands”

Review: “DUSTWUN”

Review: “DUSTWUN”

Serial: Season 2, Episode 1

Sarah Koenig said that season two of her wildly popular podcast Serial would be released in the fall of 2015. Well, with only 21 days left in 2015, and 11 days left in this fall, the first episode arrived this morning at 6:00 am. That little red notification dot on my podcasts app lit up and I, probably like many across the country, felt a little giddy. Finally.

Despite the fact that Sarah Koenig’s style is easy to replicate and poke fun at (as SNL did masterfully last season around this time), there’s really not another podcast quite like it. Season one’s popularity seemed overall welcomed by Koenig, but unexpected. Being associated with This American Life and Ira Glass of course helped it. But it took on a life of its own, and it’s because Sarah told the story of Anyed Syed masterfully. The story was very interesting in and of itself, of course, but her constant “did he or didn’t he” waffling kept us engaged. Also, the complexities of going back fifteen years to a murder case filled with unanswered questions and building the story from the foggy, incomplete, and conflicting memories of students, police officers, friends, and family and official police records made for one captivating story.

The popularity of the show actually started to get in the way of her actual investigation as a reddit community devoted to determining if Syed was guilty or not started to post details of the case that potentially harmed the telling of the story, and more importantly, the people involved.

The overwhelmingly devoted fan base of Serial when asked to donate money so they could produce more seasons seemed to step right up and throw money at Koenig and her production team. She then promised us two more seasons of the podcast, with the second season being released in the fall of 2015.

People wanted to know more. Fans put up with the ambiguity within the podcast, but they wanted something more specific about the release date  of its second season and what it would be about. Eventually, a report came out suggesting she was working on the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and exchanged for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay. These reports came out after she was spotted at a military hearing for the ex-prisoner of war.

When journalists poked and probed about their suspicions it seems like Koenig and her staff basically told their fellow journalists to back the heck off and let them do their job. People’s obsession with her podcast was actually affecting her journalism. So her production manager Emily Condon eventually released this statement:

“We’d very much appreciate if fellow journalists would give us some room and not feel the need to attempt to dig into and try to figure out what you think we might be doing, especially since we’re actively reporting stories, and having a bunch of wild speculation out there makes our job reporting harder. Doesn’t feel very menschy. In any case, here’s what I can tell you: The Serial staff is currently working on several things simultaneously: Season 2, Season 3, and some other podcast projects. For now we’re not talking publicly about anything that we’re working on.”

But here we are. Episode one was released today and well, people’s guesses were right. Season two of Serial will be about Bowe Bergdahl.

The formula doesn’t seemed to have been altered much, if at all. I mean, why fix it if it ain’t broke. Same sponsors to greet us. Same, “Mail…kiimp” ad. The theme music has evolved just a bit, a few horns added and the such, but it’s probably just the same enough for people to be happy that overall, not much has changed about the format of the show.

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped.png
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, date unknown, (U.S. Army, via Reuters)

Her storytelling methods haven’t changed either. The setup of the story is familiar to last year, and it seems like we will once again be going back and forth from believing Bergdahl and his story, or thinking it’s all just one big lie, developed over the course of five years in captivity.

Koenig is working in coordination with the screenwriter Mark Boal, famous for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, to help tell Bergdahl’s story. In fact Boal was the one who introduced Koenig to the story. In fact, he had already conducted over 25 hours worth of informal interviews with Bergdahl in hopes of someday making a movie of his story.

This season seems potentially a bit more consequential than last season even because we find out in the first episode that Bergdahl is serving in active duty right now and is currently engaged in clerical duties in San Antonio. It sounds like a ruling is soon to be made about whether his case will go before a court-martial.

The first episode, called “Dustwun,” the military term which stands for “duty status – whereabouts unknown” mostly set the backdrop and introduced us to the basic details regarding Bergdahl’s story. She set us up to be ready to be questioning the story at every turn. Although, this season is a bit different because it’s not going to be a “did he do it?” like was the case of Anyed Syed, but rather this season will be about “why did he do it?” And apparently, like Syed, Bergdahl is confident enough in his story that he’s willing to allow millions of people listen in and make judgments of their own. Judgments that could very well affect his life in significant ways.

Apparently Koenig said in talking with Bergdahl and Boal that the season would be “eight to 10-ish” installments but cautioned that it could change. Where exactly will we be taken by Koenig throughout these 10-ish episodes excites me. But my guess? We’ll end up with more questions than answers.

Because of last season we are better prepared for how Sarah Koenig will tell this story. It seems like she’s got a great one, and she knows it. I’m not concerned at all that it won’t be as great as last year. She knows how to tell a story, and in an age of binge-watching Netflix, she knows how to throw in a last hook to make us eagerly await Thursday mornings for the next installment of the story.

Example?

“That’s me, calling the Taliban.”

 

A Year of TV in Review

A Year of TV in Review

It seems that every magazine and newspaper likes to publish their top 10 or 20 lists of TV shows, albums, and books around this time of year. I’ve always been perplexed with this process because they make it seem so objective, they give no criteria for what makes a good show or album or book, and they don’t let us know what they didn’t read, watch, or listen to.

For me, I have watched too many a lot of TV shows this year. I am a person who constantly wants to be submerged in stories. I love a well-told story, and television is my favorite medium for which stories are told. TV isn’t something that I just put on in the background and go about my day. I’m a studious watcher and student of the medium.

Over time I have learned what I like in a show, and it’s mostly great character development that I’m interested in rather than a complex plot. But if you can manage both, then that’s a rare show. That’s a great show. I want to connect with the characters of a story. I want to love them, hate them, root for them or against them. I don’t usually want a storyline to be predicable. I want to be kept on my heels. I want to cry, laugh, get mad, etc. Get me emotional. And generally speaking, that means that I’ll enjoy dramas more often than comedies.

There are so many great shows right now that it’s hard to have time to watch them all. And people get extremely passionate about why they love or a hate a show. I have a hard time hating a show. If I don’t like a show, I just stop watching it. Ain’t nobody got time for that! There’s too many great shows out there!

Here are my favorite shows of the year:

1. The Leftovers, Season 2 (HBO)The-Leftovers-Season-2-Key-Art-640x395.jpg

There’s probably not a more polarizing show on TV. Either you love it or hate it. That is very clear from any comment section you read of a review of this show. But put me in the love column. Season 1 was just intriguing enough for me to keep watching, and it was mostly just so I could try and figure out what the heck was going on. But they stepped it up in season 2 – a lot. I know it (rightfully) gets compared to Lost all the time because of writer Damon Lindelof, but it takes the best elements of Lost and intertwines it into a fascinating and mesmerizing show if its own. There’s really nothing about this show that I don’t like. I love that it has huge nagging questions. That it plays with our understanding of what is real and what is imagined. And I don’t think it is fair to criticize it for diving into the more mystical. I mean, the whole show is built upon the premise that 2% of the world’s population just disappeared! This show also had one of my favorite episodes of the year. I wrote about it hereReally hoping HBO renews this show despite how low the viewer count has been.

[UPDATE:] The show got renewed! (Unless we’re seeing things…)

2. Fargo, Season 2 (Fx)fargo-title.png

Season 1 of this show was probably my favorite show of last year. It is hard to find a show with more consistent writing and an excellent cast of both actors you know and love and actors you’ve never seen before.

I’m pretty sure there was only supposed to be one season of this show. It was simply going to be a one season mini-series. But fans loved season one so much that it was obvious that there needed to be a second season. And man, I am so glad. They scrapped the entire cast of the first season, bumped the timeline back to 1979, and changed the location a bit.

The cast in this season is incredible. The storyline and the subtle Coen Brothers’ humor are second to none. It’s just about as perfect of a show that you can watch. It also contains one of my favorite unexpected LOL moments of any show that I’ve seen.

3. Mr. Robot, Season 1 (USA Network)mr.-robot-key-art.jpg

USA Network? Really? That was my thought when a friend told me to check out Mr. Robot and I asked him what channel it was on. This show is towards the top of my list because it too is just not like anything else I’ve seen on TV. It’s trippy, kind of dark, and keeps you guessing. There are definitely moments when you realize that your guesses about what was going on were right, and usually I’d say that’s a disappointment when watching a show, but for some reason it really just works in this show. And its cinematography makes it one of the most oddly beautiful shows on television. And how about a shoutout to Rami Malek’s mesmerizing eyes.

4. Louie, Season 5 (Fx)louie-s3_zps4a293cab.jpg

Louis C.K. is the man. Seriously. His show these last few seasons have been so, so good. No one really matches his ability to seriously tackle real life issues with humor. The awkwardness is perfect. The storylines  The way he has been stretching out his story arcs has been a lot more fun and interesting than his first couple seasons. And his girls on the show are the cutest kids in TV.

5. The Affair, Season 2 (Showtime)affair-season2-trailer.jpg

I’m sure this show is polarizing too, but I don’t care. I think people who have a beef with this show just don’t appreciate great TV when they see it. The show’s device of telling the story from the different perspectives is done incredibly well. I especially love when we see the timeline overlap between two of the characters. As time has gone on, there has been less and less overlap, and that’s probably understandable. But this show has really tried to walk the line between character development and plot progression. Like the other shows at the top of this list, it’s a unique show. I haven’t seen anything quite like this show, and that makes this show that much more interesting because of it. But it’s hard to have characters that are not incredibly likable. It’s hard to root for an affair, broken relationships, drama. But that tension is what makes this show what it is.

6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 1 (Netflix)unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt.jpg

This show was so hilarious I ended up watching it one day. Tina Fey is such a great writer. As a fan of 30 Rock, my love for this show may be a bit wrapped up in some nostalgia. But it’s a great show in and of itself. This show definitely gave me more laughs than anything I’ve seen in a long time. Who would have thought that an escapee from an apocalyptic cult could be so hilarious? And this show wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Ellie Kemper. She’s the only one that could pull off that role.

7. Mad Men, Season 7b (AMC)mad-men-lost-horizon-peggy 

Bittersweet. “The End of an Era” was its tagline. And indeed it was. Ending shows well is very difficult, but this last part of the seventh season was done very well. It was sad to see the gang broken up, but it made for some great storytelling. We were able to say goodbye to some of our favorite fictional characters on television in a way that was satisfying. Plus, the shot of Peggy walking into her new office is one of my favorite images of a show of all time. (See above.)

8. Rectify, Season 3 (SundanceTV)rectify_lg.jpg

Slow. Steady. Beautiful. Wrenching. Powerful. Challenging. Awkward. Thoughtful. Gripping. These are just a few words that come to mind when I think of this show.

Rectify is the slowest paced and most beautiful show on television. It’s first two seasons were mesmerizing. Aden Young might be the most mysterious actor on TV, pulling us into the world of what it looks like to be freed from jail after spending 20 years on death-row. The family drama. The emotional turmoil. The unclear truth about what all has really happened. What a story, and what a show. It’s got to be one of the most under appreciated shows on television. Being on SundanceTV probably doesn’t help it out much.

9. Game of Thrones, Season 5 (HBO)landscape-1436195072-mcx-game-of-thrones-jon-snow.jpeg

Game of Thrones is such a cultural phenomenon that it probably is in most top 10 lists. There’s probably not a more complex storyline to have to follow on television that I know about. So many characters. So many plot lines. But by this point in the show we basically know everyone that is still around quite well. There were the moments that were very satisfying as a viewer, for instance we finally got to see Tyrion and Daenerys meet each other. And, well, dragons. We got to see Cercie experience some justice for all her evil plotting. There was also the outrage for going off script from the books, especially when it included an “unnecessary” rape scene. (That’s the episode that won an Emmy, though.)

Jon Snow. He’s dead though. Like, really. He’s dead. But will he come back as Ghost? As a White Walker? If Bran can do it, why not Jon Snow, too? We’ll find out in late April I’m sure.

10. Homeland, Season 5 (Showtime)homeland-season-5-cast-photo.jpg

I’m guessing a lot of people gave up on Homeland by now. The last couple seasons were, hmm, not all that good. But this season has been much better. Carrie can’t escape the CIA or her former life as much as she’d like to. ISIS and Syria now play a part in the show, keeping up with current events. And there’s a mole that’s been a part of the CIA for 20 years that puts Carrie on the run, makes Saul suspect, and Quinn assigned to assassinate Carrie. It’s a little messy of a storyline, but it is captivating and its seeming plausibility keeps things interesting.

11. Master of None, Season 1 (Netflix) lists_yearintv_15_masterofnone_740_300.jpg

I’m a huge fan of Aziz Ansari in general, and when I heard he was making his own show I immediately had the release date on my calendar. Like Louis C.K., Aziz tackles serious topics with mastery, blending the seriousness of the topic with humor, allowing for his audiences to empathize with his character. The fact that he has his real parents be his parents on the show is so great. Clearly not the best actors, but it makes it that much sweeter of a show knowing that is actually his mom and dad. The individual episodes are great in and of themselves, but when the ten episodes are put together you see an incredible accomplishment of a well told story challenging the status quo in what we’ve understood TV to look and sound like up to this point.

12. 12 Monkeys, Season 1 (SyFy)16287719166_db10feee6c_b.jpg

I’m a sucker for anything dealing with time travel. And this show is almost entirely about time travel. It gets complicated, for better and worse, but it’s got to be the best thing SyFy has ever put out, right? This show definitely doesn’t have the best cast of all time, or the cleanest writing. But the premise is just so darn interesting it carries it a long way for me. Every episode made me want to see what would happen next. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie though, I can’t remember if it even really connects in any way. But the show stands on its own for me. It ended very strangely, and I’m curious how things will pick up in season 2.

13. Jessica Jones, Season 1 (Netflix)Jessica Jones Netflix.jpg

Even though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every superhero movie, I’m just not really into them. They’re usually pretty flat, way too much action and not enough character development. I haven’t seen Netflix’s Daredevil, so maybe that’s good too, but Jessica Jones seems to depart from what we’ve come to expect from Marvel in some really great ways. Darker doesn’t automatically equal better, but in the case of this show it does. It’s raw. It’s diverse. It’s feminist. It’s great TV, and hopefully representative of what Netflix will continue to produce.

14. Masters of Sex, Season 3 (Showtime)Masters-of-Sex-saison-3-un-nouveau-trailer-tres-coquin_reference.jpg

Time has passed. The book is published. Now what? Well, things slow down for one in this season. And it starts off with a real focus on the family lives of Masters and Johnson. This got scoffs from the viewers as being too boring, but in my opinion, it’s the best this show has been since the very beginning. This show made such a splash when it landed, probably because of the premise of the show, and maybe people have grown tired with it as it has aged passed its hot and spicy beginnings and into the complexities of long term relationships, babies, and family messes. It’s still a big win of a show with some great performances, especially by Lizzie Caplan.

15. Getting On, Season 3 (HBO)main_s2.jpg

My dad always told me he didn’t like the cartoon strip Dilbert because it was just too much like real life. My wife is a nurse, and she’s said the same thing about Getting On. I can understand that. This show is definitely awesomely awkward. The cast is great and their acting just about perfect. It’s weird because every time I watch an episode I squirm a bit, but I love it nonetheless. The characters are so consistent and believable that sometimes I think this is a documentary.

16. Silicon Valley, Season 2 (HBO)1427358mktpasiliconvalleys2-ka-v12rev2jpg-52a950_1280w.jpg

I have absolutely no idea how accurate this shows portrayal of what life is like for developers and startups in Silicon Valley. But Mike Judge does a great job of making it seem believable and funny at the same time. You feel pity mixed with sympathy for these characters as they limp their way to hopefully creating a successful app of their own. A bunch of geeks trying to make it as a business in the cutthroat startup world makes for an entertaining show.

17. Better Call Saul, Season 1better-call-saul-season-1.jpg

There was so much buildup to this show after Breaking Bad ended I didn’t know if it could live up to the hype. It did and it didn’t. If you were hoping for this to be a continuation of the Breaking Bad formula, you were probably disappointed. But if you were hoping to get a closer look at one of Breaking Bad‘s best characters, then you got everything you were hoping for. The paced slowed way down for this show, and that was totally ok. I just wasn’t expecting it. It is very character centric and we got to see into the lives of proto-Saul and his extremely intelligent yet paranoid lawyer brother. We also got to see that overall, people don’t change. Saul here is the Saul we’ve always known, but just in his beginnings. We even learn the origin of Slipping Jimmy, a somewhat cheesy backstory to Saul’s con man way of life. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more interested in Mike’s backstory than I am Jimmy’s, but having these two characters in this show is definitely entertaining.

18. Veep, Season 3 (HBO)Veep-S03-Keyart-16x9-1.jpg

There’s not a more quick witted and fast paced show on television. Veep may very well be one of the cleverest shows too. And probably the best executed show on TV as well, with maybe the exception of Fargo. It finally won the Emmy for Best Comedy, dethroning Modern Family after something like five years running. It was well-deserved. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfect, and as her character has gone from Veep to President, we see how the pressures of the office continue to grow stronger and stronger. The show is ridiculous, hilarious, inappropriate, and absurd. And yet, at the end of the day you wonder just how accurate this show may actually be.

19. Togetherness, Season 1 (HBO)main.jpg

There’s just so much I love about this show. First of all the cast is great. Mark Duplass is a convincingly sad and sometimes pathetic father and husband. The rest of the cast is tremendous, and I love the synergy they have as a whole. It really makes the way they interact as friends and family hilarious and believable. The situations they encounter – the struggles of trying to make it in Hollywood, dealing with emotional baggage, sexual tension/boredom, and the complexities that come with a growing family are all so well written and performed on the show. And the Kick the Can episode is one of the best episodes of TV this year in my opinion. The show ended with a cliffhanger, one where I really found myself rooting for a certain result against all odds. Hopefully here in a month or so we’ll find out exactly what happened. Fingers crossed!

20. Bloodline, Season 1 (Netflix)bloodline4.0.jpg

This show definitely had its ups and downs. The last four episodes were  the best of the show by far, and it’s frustrating that it took that long to get there. This show has one of the most chilling murder scenes that I’ve ever seen on television. The cast is good overall, but there was always something about it that just felt a little off. I’m not sure why, and honestly it’s been a while since I watched the show, but the cast didn’t gel together in a way that really made them feel like they were truly a family. Bloodline barely makes it into my list, but the story was interesting overall and makes me think that Netflix is on the right path, but still needs to work on a few things if it plans to make more shows like this in the future.

Shows I watched that ended up being disappointing:

Girls, Season 4girls_3155805b.jpg

I know that people love this show. I appreciate it for what it is. But with each season, I have liked it less. The writing is too obvious (and yes, it is is still much better than 90% of network TV shows). I find myself the most interested in Adam and Ray’s characters, which I feel bad for because this show is about the four girls, primarily Hannah. But I’ve grown to be more and more disinterested in Hannah and just really don’t care for her at all anymore. Maybe we’re not supposed to, I don’t know. But it doesn’t really make me want to watch it.

True Detective, Season 2True-Detective-Season-2-Rachel-McAdams-Character-Poster-e1434901834331.jpg

I can’t really call this show polarizing because most people seem to hate it. There was such a buildup of hype for this show after season one’s existential and nihilistic character driven series. This season was inconsistent. It had more lows than highs. The writing was sometimes uncomfortably cheesy for a show of this kind. Devices were a bit overused, and Vince Vaughn was not a good casting choice. He has like two facial expressions. The story was interesting overall, and even though it doesn’t make my top 20, I think it deserves more respect than what it got.

Orange is the New Black, Season 3orange-is-the-new-black-s3-cast.jpg

I know, I know. I didn’t like Girls and I didn’t like this season of Orange is the New Black. I swear it’s not because of the female casts. It’s just not that great of writing. I appreciate the boundaries they push. I appreciate the characters and the cast. But the writing is sometimes annoyingly obvious that I find myself rolling my eyes. I still watched it, and it wasn’t hate-watching either. I just was expecting more from it this season than what I got. But it is a wildly popular show, and overall I can see why. There’s really nothing like it on TV.

Quantico, Season 1 (ABC)quantico.jpg

Watching this show has made me realize how much of a TV snob I am these days. I haven’t watched a network television show in a while. I mean, I watched the first two seasons of Hannibal which were incredible, and yet received some of the worst ratings. But other than that show, I pretty much stick to cable television. Quantico’s premise was intriguing enough for me to check it out. And as soon as I started watching it I realized that this was just an FBI soap opera where everyone is sleeping with everyone. The characters are surprisingly one dimensional despite them being FBI recruits. The acting on this show is sometimes downright bad, and other times kind of laughable. The plot has twisted and turned in ways that don’t really make sense. The jumping back and forth in time is simply a tool that has been used too often. Each episode’s flashback of challenges and lessons directly relate to the present day’s situation. Maybe some people like that, but I think it’s getting a bit tiring and overused.

Minority Report, Season 1640_Minority_Report_Cast_Gallery.jpg

I remember when the movie Minority Report came out I loved it. I probably have watched it 10 times. So I was anxious and skeptical about this show. But, I remained hopeful. I watched the first few episodes and was pretty disappointed. I was really hoping for more. I like the backstory. I like how the characters are used, but the writing just seems sloppy. I am not caught up on the most recent episodes and they still remain towards the bottom of my list.

Heroes Reborn, Season 137DbsnPFtSc.market_maxres.jpg

The first season of Heroes was so fun. I know that it wasn’t the best television, but it was fun. All the characters. All the different powers. “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” It was going somewhere. It was exciting. Then it went off the rails. The writers strike happened, and then it never really recovered. The last season had its moments, but it was pretty underwhelming.

I was excited about the idea of Heroes coming back. Especially with so many of the original cast members (Hiro Nakamura especially). The lack of Hayden Panettiere is painfully felt. It has been a long time since I last watched Heroes. And it is only now that I realize that Jack Coleman, the actor who plays Noah, is really not a good actor by any means and it’s unfortunate that he basically has the lead role in the show.

I only continue to watch this show out of loyalty to a show that I once loved, not because it’s actually a good show. I like the elements of time travel that have been used thus far. I’m hoping Hiro and his “son” will be featured more as time goes on.

Fear the Walking Dead, Season 1fear-walking-dead-trailer-poster.jpg

I am not a big fan of The Walking Dead. I stopped watching it a season and a half ago. I mostly only watched it because of how wildly popular it was. But I just never really connected with the characters or thought it was all that great of a show. But I thought I’d give this one a shot. I was interested in the origin story.

But they didn’t really show exactly how it started. It already exists when the show starts, and then it quickly escalates. That surprised me, and was a bit disappointing. Now it just feels similar to the original show.

Critically acclaimed shows I didn’t get the chance to watch:

Hannibal
This show is at the top of my list to watch because the first two seasons were some of the best seasons of television that I’ve seen. I’m not one to enjoy gore or violence, but the show is so masterfully done that I feel like I can’t turn my eyes away.

The Americans
I didn’t have a subscription to Fx when the first season came out, and I’ve always lamented the fact that I’ve never had the opportunity to watch this show. I hear nothing but awesome things about it, and it is constantly ranked as one of the best shows on TV.

The Knick
I don’t get Cinemax, so I feel like I’m missing out on a great show.

You’re the Worst
Once again, missed the first season on Fx, and haven’t had the ability to watch the first season. I don’t want to just jump into the second.

Daredevil
I started to watch the first episode and got sidetracked somehow. I’ll definitely come back around to it. Especially after how much I enjoyed Jessica Jones.

Halt and Catch Fire
I didn’t think the show looked all the interesting to me when it first aired, but people seem to like it. Maybe I’ll catch up on it sometime now that it’s on Netflix.

The Walking Dead
I have my doubts that I’ll catch up on this show. I lost interest in last season and I think I finally gave up on it.

Transparent
Another show on the top of my list. I’ve heard nothing but good things. But is it a comedy or a drama?

Documentary Now!
I love Bill Hader and Fred Armisen. I just don’t watch enough documentaries for me to feel like I’d get a lot of the jokes.

The Flash
The CW, really? Apparently so. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this show, and it’s on Netflix now, so…

Narcos
A Netflix show that I’ll probably get around to watching next summer during the lull of good shows.

Jane the Virgin, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat
I love that shows are directly countering what has been an obvious lack of diversity on television. I don’t get around to watching many network TV shows, but these three are definitely on the list.

Don’t Think in Straight Lines

Don’t Think in Straight Lines

Great television is more than entertainment. The greatest TV shows of the last 25 years have not simply told great stories, but they have involved us in their telling of the story. They know how to break into our lives – our stories – to get us to invest ourselves and our emotions into the show, into its characters, and into its plot. If we are living in the Golden Age of Television right now, it’s only because of the shows that have gone before it. They have taught us all how to recognize what makes a great show and how writers can use the medium of television as a very powerful way to tell a story.

The greatest shows of the past 25 years are also products of their times. And that’s fine. That’s good. It’s part of what makes the medium of television what it is. Of course the greatest shows will also be timeless, but they are still the most impactful when they aired. Right now, there’s a number of great shows on TV, and they are everywhere. In fact, there’s so many, that it may even be hurting the medium itself right now. We simply can’t watch them all. I mean, I try, but it’s just not feasible. I don’t think I’ve ever turned on the USA Network until this summer’s premier of Mr. Robot. I binged all of Master of None in one day on Netflix. I’m even (for some reason) watching Quantico on ABC just because I liked the premise. And shows like Homeland, for all it’s ups and downs, definitely will be interesting to look back on 10 years from now. These shows are products of the time we are living. That’s true for even a show like FX’s Fargo, which this season takes place in the 70s. It’s a good time to be alive if you have time to watch TV. That’s for sure. There’s so many great shows on TV right now (and yes, there’s plenty of bad ones, too), but perhaps no show has captivated my attention more than the second season of HBO’s The Leftovers.

Season one of The Leftovers was a show that I had a hard time making my mind up about. It was intriguing, but it was also confusing and sometimes simply frustrating. But I couldn’t think of another show like it on TV. And that makes me a fan. Yes, there are definitely some places of overlap between The Leftovers and Lost. We’re dealing with some of the same writers here. So that should be of no surprise.

I didn’t know if The Leftovers was a show that would be able to get renewed. But it did, and I was so glad. I wanted to see where this would all go. Would any answers ever come? Or would we simply get more and more questions?

Well, we got more questions, but in a much more satisfying way. Like Lost and even The Walking Dead, you don’t know where the storyline is going to go the next week, or what characters were going to receive the focus of an episode. Or what characters might die (or “die”). Sometimes this can be frustrating because the plot can basically come to a standstill as the show focuses on one character and their backstory, but that’s what makes the medium of TV great in my opinion, especially for network television shows which have 20+ episodes a season. Maybe some people get frustrated by the lack of plot progress in a show like The Leftovers where there are only 10 episodes, but personally, I love it.

Many great TV shows that have pulled us into their worlds, the shows that have intertwined themselves with our emotions and expectations and hopes, have at least one defining and polarizing experimental episode. Some examples would be the fly episode in the third season of Breaking Bad, the LSD trip of Roger Sterling in the fifth season of Mad Men, the food poisoned induced dream-filled world of Tony Soprano in the season finale of the second season of The Sopranos. These are episodes that are polarizing. These are episodes where the storywriters and directors take some significant risks. It’s one of the reasons I loved every one of those episodes.

The Leftovers itself feels like a polarizing show. I’m not sure what else to compare that to. Perhaps Twin Peaks? I’m not sure. Maybe some of the later seasons of Lost? (I think we can all agree not to like the ending, though). But I’ve never been more interested in a show’s next episode since The Sopranos and the last season of Breaking Bad. 

People love to hate on shows. I used to be an avid reader of the AV Club, but anymore it just seems that the writers hate on the episodes of most of the TV shows. It really confuses me as to why, but it seems to be the thing to do. People loved hating on this summer’s True Detective. It was hard to find any good reviews, except for our own Adam Robinson’s reviews here on Library of Impressions. But it’s so easy to complain about shows and to pick them apart. Sometimes the poor reviews of the shows I watch have been made up for by the incredible comment section of the AV Club. A rare thing these days. But the The Leftovers this season has been filled with mostly negative and cynical reviews and angry annoyed commenters. People “hate watch” the show simply so they can get onto the site to complain about it. So guess what I’ve stopped doing? Reading AV Club reviews. (So I guess I have to just write my own…)

The Leftovers has been a show that has transported us to another world, a world gripped with deep questions as people try to move on and let time try numb out the biggest question of all of them “Where the heck did all those people go?” And as viewers, we’ve been right there with them. We haven’t really been privy to many answers ourselves. We have no idea what is going on. As viewers we think we like to get answers to the big questions that shows like these set up. For instance Twin Peaks’s biggest question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” We thought we wanted to know the answer until we found out. Once we found out, it was kind of like, “Ok, now what?” I think that was Lost‘s biggest realization. No, we actually don’t want the biggest question answered. Maybe some of the smaller ones, but not the biggest one. As much as we think we do. The best shows seem to know how to deal with ambiguity well. Answering all of our questions actually steals a big part of the joy of a show.

The Leftovers is a show filled with questions. And big ones. And it has kept that tension perfectly this season. It almost never answers any questions, but just creates more and more. And that’s been incredible as a viewer. For some, that is repelling. For me, that is magnetic. I want to see where the story continues to go.

That is why this most recent episode “International Assassin” is it’s riskiest episode to date. It seemingly answers some questions. It answers perhaps one of the biggest ones, “Are there forces/powers/spiritual worlds beyond that which we can see and understand?” The show was clearly dichotomized through Kevin’s experience of dealing with Patti. Is she real? Or is she a figment of his imagination?

As viewers, we were basically challenged with that question ourselves. Do we think there is something, I don’t know, spiritual going on? Or can it be neatly explained through psychology, and treated with medication? This is not an unfamiliar dichotomy – science versus faith – but it is a device where the show itself can reach into our own lives and reveal something about ourselves. What do we want the answer to be? And why?

Well that answer was seemingly answered this week. I say seemingly because I’m always cautious with supposed definite answers, especially in a show like this. There is still the chance that this was a poison induced nightmare where he filled in a dramatic storyline to connect all the dots of those that have been killed over the course of the last season and a half. I have my doubts, but at the same time you can never be too sure in a show like this. It hasn’t given us answers before now, why do we expect this has given us the answers we’ve been looking for?

People actually wrote off Kevin’s character last week. Really? REALLY?! Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead has really caused us to constantly be in fear of a main character dying. But Kevin is THE main character. There’s just no way he was done in the seventh episode of the season.

Now we’ll have to find out if Patti is indeed gone for good? Is the Jeopardy scene her final scene?

The setup for this episode was so good, the last couple episodes especially, that I had been looking forward to it all week. I knew it was going to be one of those polarizing episodes. Probably the quickest a show has done something this polarizing – the eighth episode of its second season. But I like that. We’ve been a part of this world for a while now. We want to get some handholds as to what the heck is going on. What better way to answer that sentiment with an episode where you basically are asking yourself, “What the heck is going on?” throughout the entire thing?

This is the first time I’ve ever turned off Sunday Night Football to watch a TV show. I didn’t want to wait until later. I wanted to watch it right away. And I was glued to the TV. And despite all the haters, I think this will be one of this show’s defining memorable episodes, like those others I mentioned above from some of the best televisions shows ever to air in the past 25 years. I think The Leftovers is a big part of “The Golden Age of Television” right now. People roll their eyes at the various esoteric nods to literature (Dante’s Inferno), movies (the explicit reference to The Godfather), philosophers (Epictetus), and the visual (the guilty remnant’s white attire) and audio devices (dramatic Beethoven segments surrounding scenes of violence) borrowed from cult classics like Clockwork Orange. And that’s not to mention the nods this episode and show give to the heritage of great TV that has come before it.

People scoff at stuff like this, but I think it’s great. What, would you rather watch The Big Bang Theory? Or The Blacklist? Really? If so, stop complaining about this show. It’s not for you.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with shows like The Leftovers for me, is that their seasons are usually only ten or so episodes long. Eight, in the case of True Detective (for better or worse). Only two more episodes left in this second season. We’ve been shown a glimpse that things are not going to get any better for Kevin. That handprint is going to have dire consequences it seems. At least we still (thankfully) have the huge nagging question of “Where did the departed go?” still looming. And it now includes those girls. They weren’t in the purgatory in-between alternate world that Kevin was in. So…what does that mean?

I’m curious to see which questions will be answered and which ones will continue to go unanswered. Most likely, we’ll end up with more questions than we had before. But we have to remember as Virgil said to not think in straight lines.

This post was originally written for Library of Impressions

Under the Big Blue Sky

[This review of Rectify Season 3: Episode 1 originally appeared at libraryofimpressions.com]

“The best show nobody’s watching” kicked off its third season this past Thursday on the Sundance Channel. I have been a faithful fan of the show since I first heard the first promo for it. There’s so much I love about the show – though it’s like being in high school and knowing all about an indie band that no one else has ever heard of. I don’t know many people who have seen the show, or are fans of it, but those who have, love it. And there is a kind of instant camaraderie that comes from finding someone else who watches the show, like finding that one other person who has heard of that obscure indie band you like.

I’ve always been a person who appreciates a good plot, but for a show to really stand out, I want to see deep characters and well-written, consistent character development. I want to know how they think and why they think it. Usually that means a slower paced show, but TV lends itself for that. It allows for a deeper connection to the characters, if the writers and actors are able to pull it off. No TV show that I can think of has really mastered the character development while still maintaining an interesting plotline as well as Rectify has. It also helps when you have a cast that really knows how to act and writers who can make awkward scenes and dialogue feel very real.

In “Hurrah,” season three picked up right where season two left off. And for a show that has one of the slowest timeline advances of any show (besides 24, I suppose) they really cut right to the chase. Daniel signed a confession and Ted Jr.’s decision to press charges against Daniel came just moments too late. It works out, though, because as Ted Jr. said, he didn’t really want to press charges in the first place.

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As soon as I saw Ted Jr. at the vending machine I just knew whatever he was buying would get stuck. Of course it would. That’s just Teddy’s luck, isn’t it? At the same time the scene really kind of fell flat for me. It was the weakest of all the scenes of this week’s episode. What, has Teddy never had anything get stuck in a vending machine before? I get it. Teddy has bad luck, and the sheriff does something he probably shouldn’t do. But it just didn’t really work for me.

The best part of the scene was when Sheriff Daggett mentions that Daniel will have thirty days “to get his affairs in order” and Teddy is shocked by the wording and exclaims, “affairs?!” – clearly thinking about Tawney.

The scene at the dinner table and the conversation between Teddy and Daniel afterwards really seemed to be the focal point of the episode. That scene was Rectify at its best, really. The pacing was about as slow as anyone can handle. The dialogue and overall feel of the scene was tense and awkward. The way that the whole scene was visually framed just off center seemed to be a good visual metaphor for what was going on. Then Teddy shows up unexpectedly, slowly proceeding through the uneasy darkness of the room to join the Daniel, Ted, and Janet while they’re having dinner.

The dialogue between Teddy and Daniel was great. Don’t you love how Aden Young handle’s Daniel’s responses to Teddy? Anytime that Daniel and Ted Jr. have interactions with each other, I generally think it’s the best part of the show. Both actors encapsulate their characters so well you can’t help but fall in love with the show, no matter how uncomfortable the dialogue may be.

I also love the set up surrounding the details about the BBQ place, Willy D’s. Janet specifically got this meal because it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. She told this to Ted Sr. before dinner, and even though he knew it was not true he didn’t say anything to Janet. Surprise, surprise. He probably figured it wouldn’t really be much good to upset Janet, and that it wasn’t really information that she needed to know. It was best to just let her think that she was doing something especially thoughtful for Daniel.

Daniel handles the situation in the most Daniel way possible when she tells him that she got this food for him because it was one of his favorite places to eat. “Maybe so. I just don’t remember.” That kind of response sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is it a foreshadowing of Daniel’s innocence of the crime that he’s just confessed to? Maybe I’m just reading too deeply into this scene.

But when Teddy shows up and gets excited that they are eating Willy D’s BBQ it adds that twist we weren’t exactly expecting, and it really makes us look a bit differently at Janet. Then later she rightfully gets upset at Ted Sr. for not telling her and letting her believe that it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. It was a neat moment in the show to see Teddy’s response and the boy-like cheeriness that was brought into the scene at the memory of going to Willy D’s for the first time, yet at the same time it makes you cringe because of Janet’s mistake. That story carried a lot of weight with it in how we are to view Janet and her feelings for Daniel and of Teddy. And it even snuck in some rare feelings of empathy for Teddy.

I love the scenes between Teddy and Daniel – and the scene after dinner is no exception. The way Daniel talks – is it honest to a fault? Is it a sneaky way of being patronizing towards Teddy? Is it just a lack of social aptitude because of his 18 or so years in prison? Perhaps is it a mixture of all three? I honestly don’t know.

Ted Jr.’s accusations usually seem a bit stretched. Though I’ve always found his suspicions generally warranted and pretty understandable for someone who doesn’t really know what’s going on with his wife, and who has had coffee grounds poured down the back of his pants by a man who just moments before was baptized in a Christian ceremony. Teddy has built up a narrative of what has happened, though. And this narrative is full of projections and conjectures that’s he’s formed over the weeks that Daniel has been out of jail. He’s heard the confessions of his wife saying that she had inappropriate feelings for Daniel. He’s seen how Daniel acts around and looks at Tawney. Mix that with his own insecurities, especially about his masculinity, and I think the accusations just make sense, and they’re reasonably well thought out.

Side note: I find it fascinating that being choked out and having coffee grounds poured down the back of your pants is almost as shameful for Teddy as if he were raped or something. The way he’s reacted has always seemed a bit disproportionate with the offense. Which could be why those that he’s told assume that it was more than just coffee grounds down the pants. (But don’t suggest that! He get’s really upset when that happens.) He must be VERY insecure about his masculinity. He feels he is constantly having to prove himself to his wife, who has rejected him sexually a number of times (many men’s worst nightmare) and to his father, who just doesn’t seem to think he can be a successful businessman of his own right. And then there’s Janet, who clearly doesn’t really see him as her son, although now she seems to regret that. (“I wish I hadn’t asked you to call me Janet.”)

Daniel doesn’t help dissuade Teddy’s narrative or projections. Daniel really doesn’t stick up for himself beyond, “No…that’s impossible.” The narrative that Teddy has built up continues to be strengthened because Daniel really seems to allow for himself to take the blame for things that he isn’t truly guilty of. Maybe to a fault.

At the same time, we do know that Daniel has feelings for Tawney. He isn’t just an innocent friend. He has feelings for Tawney, and Tawney has had feelings for Daniel. This isn’t simply an innocent friendship. And Ted Jr. has picked up on that and amplified and projected all of his insecurities into the situation.

The scene of the jail workers prepping Daniel for execution wasn’t a flashback, but rather a fantasy. That’s something I don’t think we’ve experienced in this show as of yet. And this fantasy had some great underlying emotions attached with it. Was it anger? Grief? I’m not really sure exactly what it was – but it was good. This isn’t a memory like in the scenes of the jail that we’ve seen before. This was more of a projection of how he is feeling right now. His punishment was the result of his confession of the crime – and that punishment was the killing off of his life from the rest of his family. Perhaps most significantly to his mother, who seems desperate to believe that Daniel is indeed innocent.

Daniel’s scene in the park continues to show his ineptitude in social interactions. This time amplified because it’s a mother with her child at a merry-go-round. (Do they still have those? I haven’t seen one for years…) Daniel is a gentle giant in many ways, but boy is he awkward. But this show can pull off awkward like few shows can, and that’s almost purely due to both the writing of Daniel’s character and Aden Young’s ability to pull it off in such a remarkable way.

I kept figuring since this is such a small town the young mom would be able to connect the dots about who this creepy over-sharing dude was and figure out that this was that killer that was released from prison just weeks ago. But no, she was very patient and kind in her interaction with Daniel and instead of scampering off with her daughter in fear (which I think most shows would do) Daniel is the one who eventually walks away. I loved that scene.

There was a glimmer of hope that maybe Teddy would become a decent man, and be willing to do whatever it took to reconcile with his wife. But…of course not. He’s too stubborn and insecure (although Tawney really did try to phrase things the best she could for him to consider therapy of some kind).

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Also, Teddy only admitted earlier to Janet that he and Tawney were having marital issues out of necessity. She was standing on his front doorstep asking where Tawney was. So add that to the shame wagon that Teddy is carting around with him all the time. But when Tawney told him that Beth, the woman whom she has found refuge with during this time (btw, why did Tawney tell Teddy where she was?!), has had two miscarriages of her own, Teddy responded with a cold “Good for her!” It’s such a despicable response that even Tawney failed to believe her ears. “What?!”

So much for any hopes of therapy or reconciliation. At least for now.

And then there’s Amantha. She needs to make a decision. Should she stay in Paulie? Should she take a managerial position at Thrifty Town?

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She seems so lost. What is she going to do? She devoted herself to her brother and his case and now she feels betrayed by him that he took the plea deal. But, at the end of the day, when Daniel says needs a place to sleep, she says “of course” he can stay with her.

Amantha seems so downtrodden now. She was a fiery defender of Daniel. Her devotion to Daniel, and by association her own family and name, has waned a bit since he’s gotten out of jail. That was her entire purpose of living for years it seems, and then he got out, and now she’s sort of aimless. She’s also frustrated and angry with Daniel that after all that she has done for him to get him out of jail, he takes the easy route and says he “did the deed.” She gave her life to clear his name based on the belief that he didn’t do it. But the fact that he admitted he did it, even if only to stay out of prison, I think nags at that deep feeling of doubt that everyone is carrying with them – Did he do it?

Perhaps we’ll find out for sure this season whether he “did the deed.” We the viewers know a lot about the characters in this show, but at the end of the day we don’t really know if Daniel did the crime that he confessed to. (Although I am still haunted by that scene where he chokes that rag-doll in his bedroom.) And honestly, we don’t even know if Daniel knows if he did it or not. How much longer can this show carry that tension so successfully? Is there a breaking point? I guess we’ll find out together.

Stray Thoughts:

  • In AV Club fashion I thought I’d include some meandering thoughts or observations I had while I watched.
  • It’s come to be that I’m shocked when Amantha isn’t smoking during a scene. She’s got to have lung cancer by now, right? Someone should count how many cigarettes she’s smoked since season one. I know people did that for alcoholic drinks andMad Men.
  • The last scene with Senator Foulkes was definitely interesting. Is it a way for the show to point to an overarching sense of “justice will prevail”? When I was watching this with my wife she noted that many people fear a stroke over death itself, and interesting contrast to Daniel’s fantasy of his own execution.
  • Am I wrong about my reaction to the whole Twix getting stuck thing? I mean, they have vending machines at their tire store. Surely this is not an uncommon occurrence. I’m pretty sure Teddy would know how to get the Twix unstuck “due to its ridges” or whatever.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that Amantha’s (ex?)boyfriend/Daniel’s (ex?)lawyer constantly looks like an extremely exhausted Mark Ruffalo?
  • I didn’t talk about anything related to Jared in this review, but something tells me there will be plenty of opportunity later this season, even though his appearances up to this point have been quite sparse.
  • I didn’t mention anything about the DA, but it seems clear to me that she’s very conflicted about this whole thing. She doesn’t seem to believe that this case is closed. And Senator Faulkes can see it, and he suggests that she not go down any of the paths of doubt. The whole dead body and the details surrounding the stuff being dug up at the river just goes to show that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than is apparent right now. We already somewhat knew that because of very short snippets of scenes that has made us aware, but it seems that maybe those storylines will finally be developed this season. And I’m looking forward to finally putting some of those puzzle pieces together.