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Television: March 2011’s TV

On time for once (and coming straight on the heels of February’s), here we have the March round-up posts. This month we kicked off with the books I read, followed by the games I played. Next up is the TV I watched:

That's right, this time I needed to fit even more images into this little space, though thankfully the majority carried over from last month so I didn't have to find new sources.

Image sources: Doyle, Jed, Francis, Enoch, Brennan, Kitty, the Turok-Han, Rick, House, Phil, David, Hope, Brian and Albert.

New this month to the TV round-up are individual verdicts, helping me to judge whether I should keep watching. They’ll either be Good (will definitely stick with), Okay (which means I’m not fully enjoying it, which could result in it being dropped if that continues) and Bad (which will probably be where I do stop).

Some general spoilers will follow:

Angel (DVD) - Season 1, twelve episodes.

With Buffy over and done with (which I’ll cover below as these are listed alphabetically) it felt like time to add the Angel box set to my collection and start working through those (though there was something else I watched in between, which I’ll also get to below). I didn’t buy the whole series at once as that feels like a lot of money to shell out in one lump so have just started with season one. Depending on the prices this might turn out to be more expensive than buying the big box set, but psychologically it feels cheaper. Or something.

In January’s report I mentioned that something I liked about Angel back when I originally watched it was that it was darker than a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially when looking at the point they split, Angel’s first season and Buffy‘s awkward fourth. Watching Angel again now though I’m not so sure that’s true. Yes, there are some darker elements to it with Angel’s general broodniess, and in the opening episode he fails to save the girl due to his own problems and despatches with the villain in a suitably dramatic manner, but there’s plenty of comic relief and lighter elements too. Cordelia is a major source of that, at this point still mostly the superficial girl she was in Buffy and able to puncture Angel’s broodier moments with a put-down.

Then, of course, there’s Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Brought into the series at the tenth episode (replacing Doyle, who’s sudden departure was something I’d always wondered about back in those pre-Wikipedia days), that should have been a clear sign that they weren’t aiming for a dark, wholly-serious series. In Buffy Wesley was the Watcher (a teacher/guardian of the vampire slayers) brought in to replace Giles but who was never very good at it, commanding no respect and having little authority, generally messing things up or just not helping. In fact, based on their Buffy characters Cordelia and Wesley would definitely count as ‘B-team members’, the dregs of the group who weren’t really that helpful when compared to the likes of Willow and Xander (the former because she wasn’t that interested, the latter because he was incompetent). Angel really does let them grow though, and convincingly so, making them much better characters than they were in Buffy while still retaining their core traits. They’re undeniably in Angel to counter the titular character’s darkness though, which at times can make it a little uneven in tone but definitely helps keep it straying too far from that comfortable Buffy feel.

Being something of a sucker for a good love story that has plenty of pain and sacrifice means I was looking forward to watching the eighth episode, “I Will Remember You”, as it’s one of the ultimate moments for Angel’s relationship with Buffy. He is cured of his vampirism, becomes mortal and human and is freed of any responsibility to be a hero or earn redemption, and for one day he gets to see how wonderful things could be with Buffy (who he left precisely because they could never have those things). Ultimately though he realises he needs to be a vampire because people need saving and as a mortal he’s too weak to help them, meaning it would be selfish to let so many people die just so he could be with his soulmate. He rewinds the day and destroys the source of the cure before it can affect him, meaning he’s the only one who knows what originally happened, a major sacrifice on his part and a heavy burden, something which I like in stories and why I always liked Angel throughout both series.

Thinking about it now though, this means they essentially have a cure for vampirism with an unlimited source (its ability to regenerate is actually a plot point and is why it can bring vampires back to life), meaning every vampire killed by anybody in either series from this point on is somebody that could have been saved. Maybe it doesn’t restore their soul (the soul/demon issue has always been a bit iffy for me, to be honest, especially with the way Spike’s character developed), but there are several ways to restore a vampire’s soul in the Buffyverse. Of course, by the end of this episode nobody but Angel knows it’s possible, so one could argue that he thinks that knowledge isn’t worth the risk as it could be used on him and endanger Buffy and everybody else again, but it’s still something that is maybe a lot more significant than it’s treated as.

Verdict: Good.

Bedlam (TV, Sky Living) - season one, three episodes (4-6)

This marks the end of the first season of Bedlam, and I said pretty much everything I have to say about it last month. It was okay but I’ll be surprised if it’s gets a second season. Annoyingly it ended on a confusing clliffhanger that I didn’t fully understand the significance of (and nor did the other people I know who also watched it), which will likely never be resolved. I understand that part of the function of a season finale is to hook the viewer so they return next season, but I also think writers shouldn’t take another season for granted and always try to leave their series in an acceptable state in case it does get cancelled (this goes for games as well, which are becoming increasingly fond of ending their games in a way to set up a sequel that is almost never guaranteed).

I dislike an unfinished story, which is partly why I’m more reluctant to start watching a new series nowadays. I’d rather wait until it concludes so that I know whether to expect a proper conclusion or even if it’s worth bothering with at all, and if lots of people are the same in the US then that’s going to affect ratings and make cancellations even more likely, which would be a stupid situation but one which would be entirely the fault of the big TV networks who want immediate success. Um, not that Bedlam has anything to do with US television. Moving on…

Verdict: Okay.

Blue Bloods (TV, Sky Atlantic) - season one, four episodes (4-7)

I don’t have much to add to what I said last month, I’m enjoying Blue Bloods when I watch it and there has been a good variety of situations, but I don’t necessarily look forward to each episode with the same enthusiasm as I do for other things on this list. I’m not sure what that means, but for now I’m going to stay positive.

Verdict: Good.

Boardwalk Empire (TV, Sky Atlantic) - season one, five episodes (6-10)

I’m still having trouble warming to a lot of the characters in this series. As I said last month they’re mostly just criminals and bad people, so there’s no real satisfaction in seeing them succeed or be happy, while nice characters (like Jimmy’s wife Angela or prostitute Pearl) mostly just suffer because of them, directly or indirectly. A big exception to that is Richard Harrow, a disfigured war veteran who forms a friendship with Jimmy. He has no issues killing but he’s a a sad, damaged man who it’s easy to feel some sympathy for in a way that Jimmy isn’t, despite being similarly afflicted. I like Boardwalk Empire but I’m not hooked.

Verdict: Okay.

Bones (TV, Sky Living) - Season six, five episodes (9-13)

I’m still really enjoying Bones. One episode was a particular highlight of mine this month (and which I happened to watch immediately after a particular House MD episode discussed below). The team investigated the death of a woman with a lot of similarities to Brennan, being brilliant and professional but detached and hard to get close to, with somebody in her life who loves her but who she routinely rejects. Brennan took the case incredibly personally, to the point that to her the victim’s photo was her photo and the voice on her audio recordings was Brennan’s. By the end of the episode she was actually conversing with the victim and taking criticisms as if they were insults directed at her.

As somebody who is similarly detached from people (though without the genius that allows people like Bones and House to justify it) the episode couldn’t help but resonate with me, especially one point where Brennan is talking about how hard it is for her just to understand people at times:

How – how come I understand every word you say? Always. I don’t have that with anybody else. Sometimes I just hear… noise.

(Incidentally, she was talking to a security guard who we’ve never seen before and who didn’t interact with anybody else in the episode, which lead me to suspect he wasn’t all he seemed and might even have been in Brennan’s imaginiation, but the episode didn’t go anywhere with it)

Brennan learns that the victim regretted never acting upon her feelings for the man she loved because she really stood to lose little from giving it a try, which helps her realise that she too has done the same with Booth (leading to an incredibly rare moment of weakness for her) and may in fact have lost him to his new girlfriend, Hannah (though Hannah’s role seems to have gone in the exact direction I expected last month). That idea of not having anything to lose by taking a chance but still being reluctant to try rings very true to me and I really enjoyed the episode.

Verdict: Good.

Brothers & Sisters (web, 4oD) - season five, four episodes (4-7)

I didn’t have much to say about this last month and I still don’t. It’s very soapy but I can’t help enjoying it, and am having much less trouble keeping up with this than other programmes I watch online.

Verdict: Good.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (DVD) - season seven, seven episodes (17-23)

This is it then, the end of the series (outside of the comics, which I’ve not read and don’t have much interest in). I think it’s a really strong season. Buffy hardens as she prepares for war and has to be the leader, even telling Giles that if she had to she would let Dawn die to save the world (something which she couldn’t do two seasons ago), ultimately leading to her being rejected by the group. The wonderful Nathan Fillion joins the series as Caleb, preacher and henchman to the Big Bad, and quickly establishes himself as a threat by defeating Buffy, Spike, the Scoobies and the Potentials with ease. Faith returns after having been gone since season four (though she popped up on Angel from time to time) and briefly becomes leader of the group (at this point she was being considered for a third spin-off).

Spike was also great and I really do love the character, especially from season five onwards. These final seven episodes kicked off with ‘Lies My Parents Told Me’, which adds more to his history – his soppy, doomed infatuations as a human as well as his relationship with his ailing mother (and what he does to her upon becoming a vampire). I’m fond of the flashbacks to the early days of characters like Spike, especially the ones from when Darla, Angellus, Drusilla and Spike were a team, something which never happens in the present day setting of either series (due to at least one of the team always being either dead or reformed). There are several more coming in Angel, especially from what I remember of season two, so I’m looking forward to that.

Anyway, season seven and Spike. When he finds out the gang rejected Buffy he insults them all, tells them how stupid they are, fights with Faith and then just leaves them because he supports Buffy. After every other character rejected her leadership I like how unwavering Spike was in his belief in her. They then spend what he considers to be the best night of his life, before Buffy reintegrates into the group. Spike’s part in the big finale and his final conversation with Buffy was really powerful and sweet. Spike’s just brilliant.

The build-up to the finale was also done well, as was the finale itself. As the final episodes approached people and demons alike began to abandon the town, facilities and services started shutting down as businesses were abandoned, and they did a really good job of making it seem like there was more at stake than before, despite the gang having already faced the end of the world several times over the past seven years. I’d still say season five’s finale is my favourite but seven’s is a good one and reaches a conclusion that really hammers home that things have changed, that there’s a good reason why Buffy’s story could end at that point (extra comic story aside).

Wikipedia had an interesting little fact about the finale, in that the presence of Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Nathan Fillion and Eliza Dushku means the episode has appearances from the lead characters from all four of Joss Whedon’s TV series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, respectively). Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day were also both in Whedon’s online project, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, though Neal Patrick Harris was the laed there.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is really an excellent series, funny, dramatic, moving, full of great ideas and a lot of well-written dialogue, as well as lots of great characters, both main and guest stars. I’m really glad I decided to rewatch it and it’s lost none of what I enjoyed about it before. In fact I think I may have even enjoyed it more this time around.

Verdict: Good.

Castle (other means) - season two, three episodes (12-14)

I mentioned last month that the Sky+ recorder missed a bunch of episodes from this season (twelve to twenty), and as they haven’t been repeated I’ve had to turn to, um, other means to catch up. I don’t have much to say about these three episodes beyond that Castle is still a lot of fun, and even the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship between Castle and Beckett doesn’t bother me at all.

Verdict: Good.

House MD - (TV, Sky1) - season seven, five episodes (12-16)

In one episode this month House was trying to get Wilson to date again and get out of his current funk, which had resulted in him getting a cat (a diabetic cat who needs more care than the average cat, of course). Wilson pointed out how ridiculous it was to be encouraged not be such a loner by somebody like House:

Wilson: “You do see the hypocrisy in all this, don’t you? Until recently, your lifestyle of choice was self-exile.”

House: “But I never had a cat!”

As with the episode of Bones highlighted above (which I watched immediately after this) the self-exile comment struck a chord because that’s something I do, and recently I’ve been dwelling on that more than usual. I like that way of phrasing it, ‘self-exile’. I guess I was feeling more reflective than usual as I watched these episodes because those aren’t the sort of reactions I normally have while watching something like Bones or House, but I think it does show that while I might watch a little too much television it’s not necessarily an empty experience, for whatever that’s worth.

The next episode after that had a scene early on that made me think of Pulp Fiction, where Jules Winnifield and Vincent Vega go to an apartment, and it wasn’t long before House started quoting Jules and it became clear that it was deliberate. I find it interesting that though the setting isn’t particularly unique (it’s just an average apartment) the way everything was arranged – the camera angles, the locations of the people, doors and furniture – all added up to trigger that familiarity.

The references continued in a later episode, where dream sequences saw the cast acting out things like Two and a Half Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There was even a zombie sequence, where House’s cane had an axe blade and shotgun attachment which he used to kill his zombified team to try and save Cuddy. House is very comfortable in its formula but it’s also successful enough that it has the confidence to play around like that, which I like. It helps make House one of the TV highlights each week.

Verdict: Good.

Modern Family (TV, Sky1) - season two, three episodes (12-14)

I think this is a great group shot but there was no way to trim it down all the way without cutting people out, so it’s a little bigger than normal.

Modern Family is always entertaining and often makes me laugh, but I don’t have much to say about it beyond that.

Verdict: Good.

The Office (DVD) - entire series, fourteen episodes

This was the series I watched between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, having been given it for Christmas. Technically there are two separate seasons and the Christmas special, but as that’s still only fourteen episodes altogether and I watched them all this month I don’t see any need to split them up into separate sections.

I missed The Office when it first became a big hit in the UK, so despite the praise it received I never had a chance to get into it. It turns out the praise was deserved as it really is very good. David Brent, main character of the series, is a wonderfully awkward man, desperate to please everybody and be one of the gang but failing to be that, while also being a fairly lousy mid-level boss as well, constantly lying to and letting down his superiors.

It’s very well written, the office is full of excellent characters, and while it’s a comedy there’s a love story that runs through the series that is really rather sweet. I definitely think it helps that they chose to end it so soon instead of trying to keep it going on indefinitely (which is what is happening with the US version, though I’ve not seen it so I can’t say whether that’s a bad thing), as it means the show got to finish on its own terms and never wore out its welcome.

Verdict: Good.

Raising Hope (TV, Sky1) - season one, four episodes (6-9)

As with Modern Family I don’t have much to say about this but it really is very good. The Chance family are all great, they’re often stupid but always endearing, and I was happy to find out that Shannon Woodward was in it as she was great in The Riches, which was sadly cancelled before its time. It’s a very funny programme.

Verdict: Good.

Spaced (TV, Channel 4) - season one, three episodes (5-7) and season two, one episode

One episode this month had the two main characters, Tim and Daisy, getting into a big argument. Each successful barb they exchanged was followed up by a quick clip of Tekken 2, with Nina Williams getting a hit in every time Daisy said something cutting and Paul Phoenix doing the same for Simon. Obviously Spaced aims its sights quite squarely at a geeky audience but it was still nice to see video games being used like that, as if they’re just a general, easily understood thing that can be used to tell a joke without the game (or gaming) being part of the topic.

Verdict: Good.

Treme (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season one, four episodes (3-6)

I’m still not sure what to make of Treme. I suppose comparisons to The Wire are inevitable and right now it hasn’t hooked me in the same way, despite having similar themes, a strong and varied cast and the same quality of writing. It’s possible that the lack of a core and unifying conflict might have something to do with it, as The Wire kicked off with the police setting up a special unit to bring down the Barksdale gang and everything fed back into that. Right now Treme seems to be telling many stories that are mostly unconnected, characters who have little to do with one another, and currently I don’t see where it’s going and don’t have anything to anticipate.

The biggest issue for me is a personal one that I’m guessing doesn’t affect almost anybody else watching, and that’s the love of music that permeates the programme. It’s an inevitable focus for anything to do with New Orleans, but as somebody who isn’t really into music it can come across as very self-indulgent. Multiple points in each episode will have just have people performing for a minute or more, mostly not advancing the plot or adding anything meaningful to the characters, and while it’s obviously not the intention it comes across as filler for me, little different to the way Disney would use songs as an easy way to pad out their films without having to advance the story or work hard to keep the audience interested. I realise it’s daft to equate the two but at times that’s how it seems to me, and when these bits start I find myself tuning out, as if my time is being wasted, and that’s becoming a real issue.

Verdict: Okay.

*****

March Verdict

Quality – This is pretty easy to judge now with the summaries I added, as it means I’ve already declared eleven of this month’s programmes as ‘good’ and three as ‘okay’. Nothing earned a ‘bad’, though Bedlam came close.

Quantity – March has been the busiest month so far for TV. This month I would watch my ‘morning’ DVD episode every day, and on my days off there would also be one half-hour comedy and two things that were forty minutes or an hour long, as well as trying to keep up with the programmes I watch online at my computer. We’re talking somewhere between three and four hours, which is quite a lot.

Goals –Despite the lateness of last month’s post I did posit some possible goals I would have made if they had been made more promptly, so let’s see how I did with them:

  1. ‘make the effort to catch up with Misfits‘ – Failed
  2. ‘figure out what to do about Being Human‘ – Failed
  3. ‘buy Angel on DVD so that I have something to watch when I reach the end of Buffy’ – Achieved
  4. ‘I also have a bunch of Castle episodes on the Sky+ that I can’t watch because I missed some that came before them, so I need to catch up on those somehow’ – Achieving

Onto this month’s goals then. Goals one and two above carry over, catching up with Misfits while it’s still available and making a decision about what to do about Being Human. The third and fourth goals also kind of carry over, as I’ll reach the end of Angel‘s first season in April so I want to have season two ready, and there are still more Castle episodes to catch up on before I watch the rest of seasons two and three that are waiting on the Sky+.

I also want to consider something I mentioned last month, which is dialling down the amount of TV I watch each week. Most of it has no time limit as it’s just sitting on the Sky+ waiting to be recorded so I don’t need to watch everything that’s been recorded during that week’s days off, it will wait as long as needed. It can also help weed out things I’m not enjoying, as when I have to make a choice about what to watch there might be things I keep shunting aside, making it clear I don’t really want to stick with them (which happened to both Fringe and V last year). I think it’s the sensible thing to do, especially as there are more programmes returning in April than there are programmes finishing, which would further increase the demands on my time. So yes, next month I think I will watch less.

Wilson: “You do see the hypocrisy in all this, don’t you? Wilson: “You do see the hypocrisy in all this, don’t you?
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  1. May 5, 2011 at 15:06

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