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Television: April 2011’s TV

It’s time for each of April’s round-up posts, a quick overview and assessment of all the entertainment I consumed during the month. Having finally been on time enough last month to make goals this is the first proper opportunity to see whether I was able to meet them. This month kicked off with film, then it was books and then the month’s games, and we finish with April’s television.

Six new additions this month meant making this image wasn't any less time consuming.

Image sources: Doyle, The Host, Francis, Enoch, Brennan, Jonathan, Kitty, Rick, Alexei, The Doctor, Daenerys, House, Phil, Hope, Brian and Nicholas.

There are sixteen portraits in the image above (each representing a different season/series), compared to fourteen last month, twelve in February and just five in January. Despite that increase I did actually watch less television this month (which I’ll talk about in the goals section below), it just happened to cover more individual programmes. Let’s get to it:

Angel (DVD) - Season 1, ten episodes (13-22)

April saw me watching the final half of Angel‘s first season, which is almost the exact point where the cast undergoes the change I mentioned last month, substituting Wesley for Doyle and making Cordelia the source of the visions. It takes a while for Wesley to settle into his regular place for the rest of the series, that of the source of knowledge, and his comic relief elements are really still at the forefront for most of the season (and never truly go away, but are dialed down to a more comfortable level). It’s a good season, even if it does struggle at times with the balance between drama and comedy. Some comments on individual episodes:

Five By Five & Sanctuary – These are the Faith episodes, where Angel does all he can to save the rogue slayer from herself and get her to seek redemption. It’s the point where a rift of sorts forms between Angel and Buffy over how best to deal with Faith, Buffy wanting her to be punished for all she’s done while Angel believes heavily in the potential for redemption, having been through it himself before. While they clear the air in an episode of Buffy that aired shortly after this Buffy never returns to the series.

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Prodigal” – Both these episodes had guest appearances from people who have since become better known, with Jerry Lambert (Kevin Butler in Sony’s US ad campaign for PlayStation 3) playing a shopkeeper in the former and Christina Hendricks (Saffron in Whedon’s other show Firefly and who has really reached TV stardom in Mad Men) in the latter, playing an unnamed barmaid in a flashback.

“To Shansu in L.A.” – This episode was the season finale and it’s pretty solid. Angel’s team is disabled one by one and he goes to face what Wesley believes will result in his death, having translated a prophecy about a vampire with a soul. The resolution to that prophecy was a bit of a cop-out within the episode itself but it continues to play a role throughout the series, as does the ultimate, shocking revelation at the end of the episode.

Verdict: Good

Angel (DVD) - Season 2, twenty episodes

Angel’s cast varies in members and appearance each year, which made it difficult to find a suitable image for this season.

I watched everything but the final two episodes in April. The cast continued to evolve this season, adding Gunn to the main team (having been a recurring guest throughout the first season) and introducing The Host as a recurring guest, a demon who runs a karaoke bar and can read the singer’s destiny.

It’s a darker season than the first thanks to the return of Darla, which sends Angel down a dark path, firing his team and doing some unpleasant things to Darla and Drusilla or, in one memorable scene, not doing something to them and letting them do something rather bad. Drusilla’s role in the series essentially just ends here without closure, as she leaves L.A. to try and recruit Spike, which would have reunited the foursome for the first time in the series in the present-day setting, but is unsuccessful and never comes back. I think having all four together would have been an excellent thing to see and it’s a shame that never happened in either series, but by this point neither Angel or Spike were in places that made a full reunion possible. Darla also just kind of disappears before the season’s end (though in much more obvious circumstances), as the finale abandons that arc for something else entirely (which I’ll cover next month). Some specific comments:

“Guise Will be Guise” – In this episode Wesley pretends to be Angel and I really enjoyed it. It’s maybe the biggest moment so far that looks at how Wesley can be so much more than the bumbling comic relief, even though there’s still plenty of that here.

“Darla” – Last month I mentioned how much I like seeing the early days of the vampires. Darla’s return at the end of season one means we get lots of those flashbacks to start season two. Earlier episodes showed the origin of Drusilla, last season had the origin of Angelus and this episode, ‘Darla’, gives us the final origin (Spike’s having been seen in Buffy), how Darla became a vampire (sired by the Master.his only appearance in Angel). I think this episode also had the first mention of Holtz, in a flashback, which meant nothing at this point but becomes very significant later on.

“Happy Anniversary” – This is the first episode where The Host plays a major role, assisting Angel save the world after he fired the rest of his team, making the episode almost like a trial run for elevating the character to main cast status.

Verdict: Good

Blue Bloods (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season 1, two episodes (8-9)

Blue Bloods was one of the casualties of me reducing the amount of TV I watch each day, not watching another episode of it in April once I made that decision. I do have something to say about one of the two episodes I did watch:

“After Hours” – Danny and Jackie were looking at camera footage of a shooting but the shooter was off screen. Jackie suggests that their lab guys can maybe expand the viewing angle to show things that weren’t within the field of view, which sounded like a very stupid thing to say, but it turns out to be correct! They get footage back showing a wider area. That can’t really be real, can it? Why would people make cameras that record things that can’t fit on the screen and need lengthy work from a tech team to find? Assuming it’s as ridiculous as it sounds that means it’s another example of the writing staff deliberately inserting nonsense, and I dislike the idea that they think it’s okay to annoy the minority of viewers while treating the majority like idiots.

Verdict: Okay

Boardwalk Empire (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season 1, two episodes (11-12)

April was the first season’s big finale but my issues with the series remain unchanged. Jimmy’s just a thug, Nucki is a bad guy but a sympathetic one, Van Alden is crazy, and genuinely likeable characters are few and far between. It leaves me with little to root for as by and large the city would be better off if most of the main characters were locked up or killed. The season’s possible big antagonist sort of fizzled out in the finale as things went in a different direction, but there’s definite potential in the way it sets up the next season, making it seem like the cast could be split into two camps, with Jimmy on the side of the bad guys (letting him just be the horrible thug that he is) and Nucki on the… well, less bad. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Verdict: Okay

Bones (TV, Sky Living) - Season 6, four episodes (14-17)

I have nothing much to say about Bones this month. It’s still great.

Verdict: Good

Bored to Death (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season 1, four episodes

I almost didn’t bother watching this as I don’t really need to add more new series to my regular viewing, but it fit nicely into my daily half-hour comedy slot and really did look good. That turned out to be the case as it’s been very funny so far. All three main cast members – Jason Schwartzmann, Zack Galifianikis and Ted Danson – are great. Danson was great in Damages in a more serious role so it was almost disappointing to see him back in a comedy, but he really is good.

Verdict: Good

Brothers & Sisters (online, 4oD) - Season 5, two episodes (8-9)

I said last month that Brothers & Sisters was the one show I watch online that I was having no trouble keeping up with (having let Misfits and Being Human expire this year), but April was the month where I let one episode get away from me, so now episodes ten and eleven are both gone, while twelve only has a few days left, making catching up on it all the more awkward. The episodes I did watch were good though, in a way I still can’t properly explain.

Verdict: Good

Castle (other means) - Season 2, one episode (15)

I’m still trying to find a spot for catching up on Castle before I can watch the episodes waiting on the Sky+ recorder, which is why I only watched one episode this month. It was good though.

Verdict: Good

Chuck (TV, Sky Living) - Season 4, four episodes (11-14)

My opinion on Chuck goes back and forth. The first three seasons focused on the ‘will they, won’t they?’ relationship between Chuck and Sarah and in season three in particular reached irritating levels, not least because the series paired each of them off with people who suited them a lot better but had to be removed from the series because they were getting in the way of True Love. Season four has actually brought the two of them together at last, but things are little better because every episode now focuses on their mundane relationship issues as the B plot (House has been doing the same, but it’s the primary arc of the season and is typically over-the-top, making it much more entertaining).

Episode eleven was a relationship-heavy episode that found a way to make their situation even more ridiculous, so I wasn’t too entertained. However, the twelfth episode had some good, funny moments from Morgan & Casey and the trio of Lester, Jeff & Mike, and it’s in these comedy elements that the programme is at its best (and which are mostly lacking from the core spy and romance elements). Then there was:

“Chuck Versus the Push Mix” – This would have been the season finale before extra episodes were ordered so instead it turned into a dramatic mid-season event. A lot of plot threads – Chuck and Sarah’s almost-engagement, Ellie and Awesome’s baby, Chuck’s mother and Volkoff  – were all resolved or reached a major climax. It was a very good episode and Dalton has been a great villain, so I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.

Verdict: Good

Doctor Who (TV, BBC One) - Season 6, two episodes

The Doctor is back for another new season and these initial two episodes were on top form, the same kind of form that’s been almost a standard since Stephen Moffat took over control of the programme and the new cast came in. Matt Smith is fantastic, the writing is top notch, there are lots of great ideas and Moffat is confident enough to leave plenty of unresolved elements that will no doubt come into play later in ways that will likely be a lot more satisfying than their equivalents in the Davies era.

Verdict: Good

Game of Thrones (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season 1, two episodes

I only read the novels of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series over the past couple of years (blogging about one of the books here) so it’s all still very fresh in my mind, and the announcement that they were being adapted by HBO (who have made some of the best television I’ve ever seen) was very welcome news. Not because TV is automatically better than reading (far from it), but it gives a story that extra level of mainstream appeal and potentially draws in more fans, as well as possibly leading to better quality television in general. When it comes to fantasy it feels like a long time since anything like this has been on television, especially treated with such respect, so it would be great if it led to more.

As for the adaptation itself, well, it’s fantastic. In every respect so far I cannot fault it, it’s that good. The casting, the performances, the sets, the opening titles, the music… It’s all excellent. It seems a little sexier than the books, with a greater amount of topless/naked women than I remember being in the books, but I think it’s just about stopped short of being gratuitous. It’s the most minor of grumbles anyway and really doesn’t affect my opinion at all. If there was a verdict higher than ‘good’ then I would absolutely be using it for this.

Verdict: Good

House (TV, Sky1) - season 7, three episodes (17-19)

House had a one-week break this month so I only watched three. I don’t have much to say about them beyond they were excellent, as always. The eighteenth saw the return of Thirteen after a long absence due to filming Tron Legacy (that’s Olivia Wilde’s reason for not being present, not her character’s), and that was a good episode. Sadly that does seem to mean the end of Masters’ time with the team. I said back in February that it will be a shame to lose her and I still think that as she’s a good character. We did at least get an episode that focused on her, the nineteenth, which presented her with a moral dilemma and a choice about whether she really did want to be part of House’s team. Assuming that was her final episode I think you can guess what she ultimately decided. Farewell then, Masters, you shall be missed.

Verdict: Good

Modern Family (TV, Sky1) - season 2, four episodes (15-18)

As with last month I don’t have much to say about Modern Family other than that I’m enjoying it.

Verdict: Good

Raising Hope (TV, Sky1) - Season 1, five episodes (10-14)

I’m not sure exactly what it is about the comedies but for whatever reason I really do enjoy them but am left with almost nothing to say. Raising Hope is no exception.

Verdict: Good

Spaced (TV, More4) - Season 2, three episodes (2-4)

I am still enjoying Spaced. However, as it stands right now I tend to watch one half-hour comedy each day, and depending on the day of the week I could have up to four to choose from (Spaced, Modern Family, Raising Hope or Bored to Death). Spaced almost always ends up being the one I put off until last. I’m not sure what that really means, but I do still like it and there are only three episodes left, ever.

Verdict: Good

Stargate Universe (TV, Sky One) - Season 1, one episode (11)

In the early days of the blog Stargate Universe was one of the programmes I was doing episode recaps for (all accessible through this tag link), before I decided that blogging about every episode of Dollhouse, Fringe, House and Stargate Universe even when I had nothing much to say wasn’t something I was enjoying. I really do still enjoy the programme though, and I’d even go as far as saying it’s the best new science fiction programme I’ve watched since Firefly, which was a very different beast. I’d say it’s a lot better than any Star Trek series I’ve watched or the other Stargate series, and it’s incredible to think that it ultimately exists because of what I remember being a fairly average Roland Emmerich movie.

Naturally, being the best of the lot means it was doomed to last for less time than any of those series, and it was cancelled a few months ago. For obvious reasons that’s dampened my enthusiasm for watching the remaining episodes, knowing it will soon end, storylines will go unresolved and it will likely end on a cliffhanger. Things like this are exactly the reason I’m less inclined to watch new programmes these days, because quality isn’t close to being an indicator of success. This episode, the first back after a hiatus of several months, was very good, as I’m sure all the remaining episodes will be. That just makes it worse.

Verdict: Good

*****

April Verdict

Quality – Fourteen of this month’s seasons earned themselves a ‘good’ rating. Boardwalk Empire earned itself an ‘okay’ and had the same rating last month, and maybe if that happened consistently it would be an indicator that I should drop it, though as the current season has finished that’s not important right now. Blue Bloods was ‘good’ last month but has been downgraded to ‘okay’, so we’ll see what happens there as I still have thirteen episodes left in the season, and I don’t want to watch thirteen episodes of ‘okay’.

Quantity – As I mentioned in the opening paragraph above I reduced the amount of TV watch each day, most nights only watching one half-hour comedy and one drama of forty minutes or more, which is much less of a burden on my time. I haven’t dropped anything, I’m just not racing through it as quickly. TV is the only entertainment category where I feel I need to watch less and I’m glad I’m achieving it.

Goals – My goals for April were:

  1. ‘make the effort to catch up with Misfits‘ – Failed
  2. ‘figure out what to do about Being Human‘ – Failed
  3. ‘I’ll reach the end of Angel‘s first season in April so I want to have season two ready’ – Achieved
  4. ‘there are still more Castle episodes to catch up on’ – Achieving
  5. ‘I also want to consider something I mentioned last month, which is dialling down the amount of TV I watch each week’ – Achieved

Not a bad month then. Goals one and two were recurring failures from last month and it will probably be a while before I properly make an effort with them. Goal three was an easy one and I also bought the third season of Angel and the entire Twin Peaks set, so I have more than enough TV to last me through May. I could have done more for goal four as there are still plenty of episodes to watch but I consider that an ongoing goal. Goal five is the biggie and I’m glad I achieved it as I really was watching too much TV each day.

The goals for May look pretty similar. One, two and four roll straight over and I want to continue watching less television (and one of my film goals for May means I won’t be getting through my DVD series as quickly). I need to catch up on the lapsed Brothers & Sisters episodes before too many build up. With both Angel and Twin Peaks waiting to be watched I think I’ll alternate series every time I finish a disc. That’s everything, I think.

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