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TV: May 2011’s Television

Far later than intended, we have the May round-up posts, where I write a little about all the media I consumed throughout the month (June’s will hopefully go up next week, but haven’t been worked on at all yet). This month we start with the television I watched.

There are far fewer portraits this month but it's not because I watched much less television. Read on for the explanation.

Image sources: The Host, Holtz, Brennan, Jonathan, The Doctor, Daenerys, House and Dale

Outside of this intro text and the above image everything was pretty much all written and ready to post by the 31st of May, so there was really no excuse for it not to go live on time. I’m doing things slightly different this month, commenting only on the shows that I feel I have something I want to talk about (and only doing images for those ones), so let’s get to it:

Angel (DVD) - Season 2, two episodes (21-22)

This was essentially just the season’s finale, a big otherworld event that seemingly abandons the Darla story (who I would have expected to be the focus just as she was throughout the season, but as I mentioned last month she just kind of disappears). What’s very welcome is that the Host gets a big role, seeing as this other world is where he came from. Less welcome is that the penultimate episode pulls a similar cheap stunt as the first season’s finale did, suggesting an event that turns out not to be true at all. The first time I saw these episodes was when they were originally broadcast, and in the week between them I was genuinely not pleased with what I thought had happened, only for it to be undone without seconds in the final episode. In this case it only seemed to be there just for something dramatic to happen,  as they don’t do anything with it after that beyond cracking jokes.

It’s still a good finale, a proper big event that puts all the cast through their paces, even if it seemed to come out of nowhere. This is the one I mentioned back in January, which I thought was going to tie into what Buffy was doing at the time in the fifth season finale but ultimately turned out to be unrelated (I still like my idea, though it would have been unworkable for the reasons I mentioned back then). The finale is also where Winifred Burkle (Fred) is introduced, but I’ll cover her next season.

Verdict: Good

Angel (DVD) - Season 3, ten episodes

I didn’t watch as much Angel as in previous months (or as I did with Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I made more of an effort to watch films this month (which I’ll cover in the films post) and also alternated between Angel and Twin Peaks each time I finished off a DVD. Having bought the fourth and fifth seasons as well as the entire series of Twin Peaks, it means I’m set up for TV for a long time.

The cast changes again slightly this season, adding Fred to the regular roster. To an extent it might seem like she’s an unnecessary addition, being intelligent like Wesley but having no combat skills, and purely in those terms she doesn’t really have a role at this point. She’s a good character though, incredibly timid and lacking social skills after her time in Pylea but worshipping Angel, the ‘handsome man’ who saved her from the monsters. The Host doesn’t get elevated to main cast but is still otherwise a regular, appearing in almost (if not all) of the season’s episodes. I’ve mentioned each month how Wesley steadily evolves from buffoon into a much better character, wise and moral, but season three pretty much just makes that change from the start, which makes sense considering the role they have for him later in the season (which I didn’t reach this month).

This season returns to the Darla arc that was suddenly abandoned last season, adding an impossible pregnancy (though considering all that’s happened to the parents ‘impossible’ isn’t what it used to be). These nine episodes constitute the entirety of Darla’s role in the arc, with her bowing out in the ninth and not returning outside of flashbacks. With Darla gone the focus is on two things, Connor (who I’ll talk about next month) and Holtz, the vampire hunter who slept for two hundred years in order to have his revenge on the two vampires he was never able to kill in his lifetime, Angelus and Darla.

His first appearance in the present day is a good one. Awakened by the demon Sahjhan he is told to rest a while as his muscles will have atrophied after resting for so long, but Holtz leaps up and simply says, “Just tell me where he is.” Granted, it’s a case of the writers setting up a rule so that they can immediately break it and make Holtz seem formidable, but it works. Holtz isn’t a mere villain either, not least because as far as he’s concerned he’s still in the right. Angelus and Darla were monsters who killed hundreds of people, including Holtz’s family. When he finds out that Angel has a soul and Darla is pregnant he doesn’t discount these things even if ultimately they can’t change his opinion about the fate they deserve (they did a lot of horrible things, and pregnancy aside Darla is still the same person she was). He’s merciless but I wouldn’t say he’s evil, even knowing what he’s going to do later in the season, which I’ll cover next month.

Verdict: Good

Bones (TV, Sky Living) - Season 6, four episodes 18-21)

One of this month’s episodes was ‘The Finder’ (the first time they’ve broken their episode naming convention since the very first episode), essentially a pilot for a new show that included the Bones characters around the edges. I don’t know how common that is in the US but I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before, with my only experience of spin-offs being things like Frasier, Angel or The Lone Gunmen, characters taken out of existing programmes and set up in one of their own. This really was mostly just an episode of a different show, with the three new characters starring throughout. It’s an interesting idea, pitching something new directly to an established audience in the hopes that they’ll follow it when it branches out.

It seemed a little like they were trying too hard to establish the characters in the time they had while also trying to keep the actual Bones elements ticking over. Walter (the finder) had a catchphrase (“I’ll risk it”) and an extreme paranoia from the same brain injury that also gave him his uncanny ability to find things, Knox rattled off every crime they were or would be committing, Latiluppe deliberately mispronounced words, and they had a chalkboard in the bar that serves as their home base where they put up different versus scenarios (who would win in a fight between a ninja and a samurai, was a drowning kitten more sad than a fat woman smoking, and so on).

I think there were some interesting ideas in there for sure and I’ll consider watching the proper series when it comes out, but if they’re just going to end up investigating murders around lost things then I don’t know if it will have that much of an identity when compared to all the other programmes set around solving crimes through one character’s unique ability (of which Bones itself is a part). The murder element might only have been because they needed a Bones connection though, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Verdict: Good

Bored to Death (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season 1, four episodes (5-8)

The second episode I watched this month, “The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer”, was the first that put the three main characters together on one of Jonathan’s cases (in fact I think the above image comes from this episode). I’m surprised it took six episodes (especially as there are only eight in the season), because the way it was advertised seemed to set them up as a trio from the start. There really is a good dynamic between the three of them so I would like it to be a regular occurrence through the series, if not the default scenario each week.

The finale brought them all together for a series of boxing matches against their rivals, and it was fun. Bored to Death was a fun series in general, not a straight sitcom like Raising Hope or Modern Family, playing up the serial and dramatic elements a little more while still being funny. I’m looking forward to season two.

Verdict: Good

Doctor Who (TV, BBC One) - season 6, three episodes (3-5)

This month included an episode written by Neil Gaiman, the author who has written (or co-written) two of the books I’ve read this year. It was a good one, a little darker in places than I would have expected and with some great dialogue. In fact I’ll quote one bit that obviously counts as a spoiler:

House: Fear me. I’ve killed hundreds of timelords.

The Doctor: Fear me. I killed all of them.

Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor is mostly a very fun, often care-free character without much angst over being the last of his people, but when he does need to get angry or intimidating it still works well.

Verdict: Good

Game of Thrones (TV, Sky Atlantic) - Season 1, four episodes (3-6)

Game of Thrones is by far and away the best thing I’m watching right now, it’s genuinely the TV highlight of each week. I managed to convince my mother and sister to give it a try despite them not liking fantasy (though for a lot of the time those elements are peripheral in Martin’s story in many respects it fits in with things they enjoy such as The Tudors or Rome) and they are both really enjoying it as well. I hope HBO proceeds with adapting all the books as I really want to see how my family react to some of the later events (there are also couple in the first book that I know will shock them) and I know they likely won’t ever read the books if the series gets cancelled.

One episode this month, “The Wolf and the Lion”, had some particularly strong moments. There was a clash between the Clegane brothers that ended when Robert called for them to stop, and Sandor immediately dropped to his knees and bowed while Gregor’s sword swung through the space where he had been. It really highlighted the differences between the two characters as well as showing how much they dislike one another.

A later scene was simply a long conversation between Robert and Cersei where they discussed the Targaryen threat, their marriage and Robert’s love for Lyanna. It was a really great scene and both Mark Addy and Lena Headey gave fantastic performances.

My mother keeps coming up with theories about what is going to happen, sometimes getting things exactly right and other times getting them very wrong, but of course I can’t really say anything in reply because I’ve read the books and am at least three years ahead of them.

Verdict: Good

House (TV, Sky1) - season 7, four episodes (20-23)

Last month I mentioned how it’s a shame that Masters is gone now, but it really is nice to have Thirteen back as well. Easily as jaded as House, her bleak worldview sits nicely alongside his. In the first episode of the month, ‘Changes’, the team attempted to diagnose a lottery winner who was filled with hope and attempting to track down his lost love, and Thirteen was not impressed. Convinced that he would only ever find disappointment and people willing to use him, it was a running joke through the episode that she was saying House’s lines before he had the chance. So while Masters may be gone Thirteen is currently more than making up for it.

The month also contained the season finale. It opened in foreboding fashion, with Cuddy and Wilson being tended to by police and medical personnel, Cuddy adamant that she wants to press charges and have a restraining order put on House. It then jumped back several hours to show what led up to whatever it was House did, which turned out not be quite as bad as it could have been but still very serious. The main story arc across this season has been House’s relationship with Cuddy, which is clearly over now, even if Lisa Edelstein does return to the series (which she has said she won’t do).

I think it’s been a good season, but then I always enjoy House. I’m not entirely sure where they’re going to be taking the next season, which is the first time in a while where that’s been the case (season six ended by setting up the relationship for seven, five ended with House’s incarceration and cry for help). Season seven ended with House seemingly achieving closure in his relationship with Cuddy, Wilson telling the police to look for him drinking in a place that matches his mood – somewhere dark and depressing – only for the episode to end with House on a beach, happy.

Verdict: Good

Twin Peaks (DVD) - season 1, eight episodes

I didn’t really know what to expect from Twin Peaks. I knew it was supposed to be a little weird, with the more surreal elements of Six Feet Under being compared to it and the very weird Deadly Premonition said to be directly influenced by it. I even remember The Simpsons making a joke about it, Homer watching a man dancing with a horse on TV (“Brilliant! I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”). In fact there’s a dream sequence in the ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns?” episode of The Simpsons that directly parodies the original scene from Twin Peaks.

Eight episodes in and I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just the weirder elements that led to Twin Peaks being thought of so fondly. The show introduces a large cast of characters (necessary in a murder mystery) but they’re all incredibly distinct. It’s fair to say that a lot of the characters are exaggerated and over-the-top but that works in its favour, creating a large, memorable cast. At the core is Special Agent Dale Cooper, the wonderfully optimistic FBI agent sent to the town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer. He loves the town and is full of praise for everything, and he has  a lot of great dialogue. So far that’s what’s bringing me back, the wonderful characters and excellent dialogue. It really is a great programme.

In the DVD set all episode titles except the pilot are sequentially numbered, so I didn’t realise at the time that these first eight episodes are the entirety of the first season. It explains why the eighth episode, called Episode 7, is such a dramatic one.

Verdict: Good

Here are all the shows I didn’t feel like I had anything to say about:

  • Chuck (TV, Sky Living) – season 4, one episode (15) – Verdict: Good
  • Father Ted (DVD) – season 1, one episode – Verdict: Good
  • Modern Family (TV, Sky1) – season 2, four episodes (19-22) – Verdict: Good
  • Raising Hope (TV, Sky1) – season 1, four episodes (15-18) – Verdict: Good
  • Spaced (TV, Channel 4) – season 2, three episodes (5-7) – Verdict: Good
  • Stargate Universe (TV, Sky1) – season 2, one episode (12) – Verdict: Good

*****

May Verdict

Quality – I gave everything a ‘Good’ verdict this month, which is, well, good.

Quantity – The amount of TV I watched this month was fine, mostly sticking to watching a DVD episode a day in addition to watching a half-hour comedy and a one-hour drama on my days off. I don’t think that’s overdoing it.

Goals – Including the goals that carried over from the previous month, my goals for May were:

  1. ‘make the effort to catch up with Misfits‘ – Failed
  2. ‘figure out what to do about Being Human‘ – Failed
  3. ‘there are still more Castle episodes to catch up on’ – Failed
  4. I want to continue watching less television’ – Achieved
  5. ‘I need to catch up on the lapsed Brothers & Sisters episodes before too many build up’ – Failed
  6. ‘With both Angel and Twin Peaks waiting to be watched I think I’ll alternate series every time I finish a disc’ – Achieved

Not much green text up there. I nailed the goals concerning my general viewing habits, four and six, but the other four all involved me making extra effort to track down episodes or to set aside extra time to watch them, which I just didn’t do. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing even though they’re clearly failed goals. I watch more television than I should so I’m comfortable letting those four shows wait until I feel like watching them, not forcing myself to do so for the sake of these goals. I’m still going to keep them as goals going into June (along with the other two), but expect plenty of red text next month too.

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