Home > Monthly Report (TV), Personal, TV > TV: January 2011’s Television

TV: January 2011’s Television

I’ve decided to resurrect the old monthly review posts that I tried briefly last year (the earliest three entries with the monthly review tag), but doing them more in the style of the 2010 in review posts. Having only just decided to do it means I’m going to have to sort out January’s now then almost immediately jump into February’s, but going forward there should actually be a month between them. This first post covers television viewing, and there will also be posts for film, books and gaming.

 

Spike, Buffy, Raylan, Simon and Jack.

Making a top image out of every watched show may prove awkward in months when I watch more.

Image sources: Raylan, Simon and Jack (Spike and Buffy are DVD captures)

Being the first post in this style I’ll talk about when I watch TV in addition to what I watched. As I’ve mentioned previously on work days I only have about three hours of free time, and on those days I wake at 3pm, sit at my computer and watch an episode of something I have downloaded or on DVD, and while doing so I check into Twitter then scan Google Reader to whittle the hundreds of entries down into just the ones I want to properly read. On my days off I do the same (keeping to the same hours as a work day), but also have time to watch something on an online video service during the evening, then a couple of things at about midnight that have queued up on the Sky+ DVR.

With that in mind, here’s what I watched (with summaries that will include some spoilers), after which I’ll give my overall verdict on the month:

The gift.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (DVD): Season 5, 22 episodes

Click the image for a link to the source.

The timing on this worked out rather well, with me watching the final episode of season four on December 31st, so the first day of the new year was also when I started watching the fifth season of Buffy, watching one episode a day. Season four is definitely the low point of the series as everybody involved adjusted to the loss of so many characters (while also not quite knowing what to do with some of those who stayed, like Xander and Giles) and moving the focal location from the high school and into UC Sunnydale. The secret military project of the Initiative never felt right, Adam wasn’t a threatening villain and I never warmed to Riley as a love interest. It’s not an awful season but it’s not as good as any of the others.

Season five saw the series recover magnificently. The new Big Evil, Glory, is a great character who is a lot of fun while also being menacing when needed, Riley leaves during this season, Spike is properly integrated into the group and finds a more comfortable role instead of being little more than comic relief, Dawn joins the cast in what I think is a pretty unique way (I remember trying to rationalise her sudden appearance back when I first watched the show, as I imagine a lot of fans did before the truth was revealed), and all the existing characters are used better.

The season’s finale is possibly my favourite of the entire series (though at the time of writing I’ve not yet rewatched the final ever episode), with the final few episodes really building up to the final battle, which as far as I’m aware was deliberately written to serve as the series finale if needed before it moved to a new channel and ultimately ran for two more seasons. The end is genuinely moving, Spike’s reaction in particular. It’s a really strong season.

Where do we go from here?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (DVD): Season 6, 9 episodes

No source as this was a DVD capture.

By the time I watched the finale of season five I already knew that there was going to be a sixth (this was long before Sky started broadcasting episodes as close to the US broadcast as possible), so it was immediately obvious that Buffy would be resurrected in some way. It’s not something that can be done casually in most fiction because that would remove death as a serious danger, with comic books being an example of a medium where death is seen as a temporary event. The writers of Buffy really, really didn’t treat it lightly, giving the season a darker tone that a lot of fans were quite critical of.

My original theory for how they would bring her back was connected to Angel, the spin-off that ran alongside Buffy (and which I don’t have on DVD, which prevented me from recreating the experience this time). At the same time that Buffy sacrificed herself by jumping into a gateway between dimensions Angel and his team were themselves in another dimension on a rescue mission, so I thought they would tie into one another, with Buffy perhaps being drawn to Angel thanks to their being soulmates. It wouldn’t have worked though, not least because Buffy’s body didn’t cross through the gateway, just her soul, while everybody in the Angel team physically travelled to the new dimension. The biggest issue would have been that it would really have been awkward for anybody who only followed one series, with one of the most significant events in Buffy the Vampire Slayer essentially being resolved ‘off screen’ over in Angel, while Angel’s finale would have felt derailed by events that viewers may have had no awareness of.

Ultimately I think the way the writers  brought Buffy back was done well, as it not only wasn’t glossed over it ultimately defined the entire season. I appreciated the darker themes back then because as a teenager I was into that kind of thing (and preferred the generally darker themes of Angel), and Buffy’s detachment from her friends and struggle to reintegrate into a world she willingly left behind made for some good stories. I only watched nine episodes by the end of January so most of the series’ storylines were only just being established, with series villains The Trio active but Buffy currently unaware of them, Buffy having just revealed the nature of the place her soul had been before her resurrection, Willow’s magic addiction starting to escalate and Buffy finding she could share something with Spike that she couldn’t do with her real friends. I’ll get into season six’s major arcs properly in next month’s round-up.

This batch of nine episodes includes one very special one, ‘Once More With Feeling’. This is the musical episode, something which sounded absolutely ridiculous when it was first revealed but which turned out to be brilliant (and I should have had more faith in the writers, as the revelation that Willow was going to become a lesbian seemed like it was being done for titillation but actually resulted in maybe the strongest relationship of the entire series). Coming after a string of dark episodes meant it served as a bit of light relief in a lot of respects (though this was by no means the end of the darker tone), and it got around a lot of things that would have taken up a lot more time and been harder to handle: How would Buffy tell her friends the truth? What could make her give Spike a chance? How could we learn how Xander and Anya feel about their upcoming wedding? What could make Giles and Tara want to leave?

All of these things (and more) were dealt with in just the one episode, and presenting them as songs meant that each subject wasn’t simply rushed through but lavished with attention for several minutes. It’s an excellent episode and most of the songs stick in your head for a long time afterwards.

Fire in the hole.

Justified (Sky+): Season 1, 11 episodes (all but the first two episodes of the season)

Click the image for a link to the source.

I’m a big fan of Timothy Olyphant, or at least his TV roles in things like Deadwood and Damages (films like Hitman and Die Hard 4.0 were not so good for him). That was my primary motivation for giving Justified a try despite being more reluctant these days to start any new series at a time when the cancellation axe seems to be being waved around with far too much fervour, something to which both Deadwood and Damages had already fallen victim (at this stage Justified had already been renewed for a second season, but that’s no guarantee of future success).

I’m glad I gave it a try because I enjoyed the series. Olyphant’s character, Raylan Givens, is a US Marshall transferred home to Kentucky after a questionable shooting which, thanks to his itchy trigger-finger and barely-contained rage, isn’t close to being the only such incident throughout the season. Givens is a good character, generally quite calm and smooth but with that rage always boiling away beneath the surface. The rest of the cast is good too, particularly love interest Ava and ‘reformed’ murderer Boyd, whose arc throughout the season doesn’t just go the predictable route of making him the final villain. Hopefully season two (already airing in the US) will make its way to the UK before too long, and will just be the second of as many seasons as the writers feel they can keep the show entertaining for.

This place is heaven.

Misfits (online - 4oD): Season 2, episodes three, four and five

Click the image for a link to the source.

While I enjoyed the first season of Misfits it had some issues. The biggest for me was how much it felt targeted at a ‘youth’ demographic that doesn’t include me (and to be honest may never have done). All the cast are young offenders having to do community service, and outside of maybe Simon they just weren’t characters I could identify with and it took a while for me to like them. It also felt a little like the writers didn’t quite know where to go with the idea or how to get the most out of each super power.

That’s all changed with season two. The characters are more likeable now (in part due to familiarity but also because they’ve been given things to do that help show them in a better light), the storylines are much better (with some ideas that really resonated with me in ways that the first season’s never did) and all in all it’s been a much stronger season that I’ve really enjoyed. The only reason I’ve not watched past episode five is because it slipped my mind and by the time I remembered to watch them they were no longer available on the 4oD service. I’ve just checked though and they’re back now, so I must remember to watch them soon.

Bathed in light.

The Pillars of the Earth (Sky+): 5 episodes

I read the book this is based on several years ago and really enjoyed it. It’s an epic (and fictional) tale of the building of a cathedral at the priory of Kingsbridge in the early 1100s, spanning forty years. While the prior Philip engages in a battle of wills with the cruel William Hamleigh and the ambitious Bishop Waleran in order to keep the project alive, they all also have to deal with the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the throne of England. There’s also a love story with a relationship that goes through more than its fair share of difficulties, and the book provides a fascinating look into the beliefs and lifestyles of the time. The book is considered Ken Follett’s masterpiece and really is excellent, so I was excited to discover there was a TV adaptation.

While not a wholly faithful adaptation it was still a good miniseries, the changes mostly brought about by the necessities of making a television programme (keeping the cast more constant, compressing the timeline and removing characters/events to keep it from getting unwieldy, and so on), though there were a few things introduced that brought elements of the story to less satisfying conclusions. Still, it was very good with some strong performances (particularly from Ian McShane as Bishop Waleran and the people playing Tom Builder, Jack Jackson and Aliena). The changes encouraged me to read the book again but not because it was bad (as has been the case with things like The Lost World: Jurassic Park), just because it was different enough that I wanted to familiarise myself with the original story again.

*****

January Verdict

Quality – I really enjoyed everything I watched this month. I’d already seen Buffy so that wasn’t a surprise, but it was nice to discover that The Pillars of the Earth was a decent adaptation and that Justified was good, while Misfits has really found its feet this season.

Quantity – Unlike films I think I might watch too much television at times, including sticking with something I’m not particularly enjoying but feel I’ve invested too much time into to give up on (Fringe was a good example, but I gave up on that last year). I don’t think I watched too much this month, mostly watching one episode of Buffy every day (two on the day I watched season five’s finale) and one episode of something in the evening. That was less about discipline as it was simply that there wasn’t really that much available on the Sky+ in January (with most of the US imports being on hiatus), and even the things I did watch on it had been there from last year.

Goals – There’s nothing that I feel really need to change in February, other than maybe making sure that I keep up with the programmes that I watch online so that they don’t end up expiring before I finished them. Had this post been written on time I would have committed to watching the remaining episodes of Misfits (assuming they were available again), but at the time of writing it’s February 28th and I would already have failed that. It will have to roll over into March.

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