Saturday, June 29, 2013

Belated Top 25 characters in TV: 2012

1. Carrie Matheson, Homeland (Claire Danes)-Carrie has been through hell and back and you know the show has hooked you when you desperately want her to be redeemed. Carrie is firm in her resolve, intelligent, and has the traits of a great action hero, yet she still remains unequivocally feminine.
2. Nicholas Brody, Homeland (Damien Lewis)-It takes a great performance by Damien Lewis to pull all these contradictions and facades together. My only complaint is now having learned one of the best American characters I’ve seen on TV is British. I did not see that coming. 
3. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler)-The year that Leslie’s outsize ambitions finally met up with reality. It’s either a testament to the show’s growth that Leslie has come a long way from the godawfully awkward version of the same character we used to have.
4. James van der Beek, Don't Trust the B--- In Apartment 23 (James van der Beek)-Celebrities satirizing themselves are nothing new (Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, the guest stars from Extras, etc) but James van der Beek one ups them by diving head-first. What I find most interesting about his character is how as a celebrity he has everything a normal TV character could want (wealth, power, fame, romance) so he seeks to reinvent himself each week in increasingly superfluous ways.
5. Olivia Pope, Scandal (Kerry Washington) - Although she's based on Washington PR's Judy Smith (with a heightened sex life for dramatic purposes), Olivia Pope is her own creation. It would be hard to portray someone so appealing and self-assured that every power player in Washington wants to hire her and and the US President is uncontrollably in love with her, but Kerry Washington (a consummate working actor for the past decade) sells it.
6. Sister Mary Eunice, American Horror Story (Jessica Lange)-She's partially being awarded a high spot because Lange is riding the residuals of her Emmy-winning performance as the playfully flirtatious antebellum-mannered neighbor Constance in Season 1. The plot of AHS's second season is a mess but there are plenty of great characters. Like the first season, Lange steals the spotlight as disciplinarian nun Mary Eunice who also turns out to be a dynamic (English literature term for characters that change, not the other definition. That's all the spoilering I'll give) character. Compliments go to whoever directed that trippy dancing sequence and to Lange's dialect coach for that wonderful variation of the traditional Boston accent.
7. Phil Dunphy, Modern Family (Ty Burrell)-Superdad made my list last year, and he's certainly worthy of return. It's no wonder that the new season of Arrested Development referenced Modern Family here and there, as Phil is truly stuck in arrrested development and happy to be there. (Also: See last year's list)
8. Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad (Aaron Paul)-My obligatory Breaking Bad inclusion. The TV Critics Association fines me if I don't include it.
9. Agent Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire (Michael Shannon)-Likely the most obscure actor to get an Oscar-nomination in the past 10 years, Shannon is a wonderful foil to Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson. He brings such an energy to the role that I'm convinced Shannon really enjoys that old-timey dialogue. More pragmatic then he is obsessive, Van Alden is very much a shade of gray.
10. Kenneth Parcell, 30 Rock (Jack McBrayer)-It took Kenneth Parcell six seasons to grow on me. Of all the characters on 30 Rock, I might very well miss this uber-morally square one the most. Especially when you consider how unlikely it is that another character on TV will ever come along like him again. Unlike Liz, Jack or Tracy, Kenneth could only exist as a funny  and effective character when sandwiched between business-savvy executive, the overworked CEO, and the two empty-headed divas.
11. Schmitty, New Girl (Max Greenfield)-Greenfield successfully convinces us that Schmitty is both the dorkiest guy in the room and someone alluring enough that Cece (Hannah Simone) would want. Getting a model as a girlfriend tends to disqualify you in the former category.
12. Margaret, Boardwalk Empire (Kelly McDonald)-If you shift the focus to Margaret, Boardwalk Empire could almost be seen as a Prohibition-era version of Breaking Bad. Margaret, being the epitome of morality, makes a deal with the devil in her marriage to Nuckie and slowly starts to accept corruption into her life. One of the stronger stories of the series.
13. Dallas Royce, Suburgatory (Cheryl Hines)-One of the more underlooked pieces of the show, she is part of the out-of-it sanitized suburbia that Tessa fears so much, yet she is so comfortable in her skin (not to mention her low-cut dresses), that it's hard not to be won over by her (inexplicable, considering we're on Long Island) Southern charm. Indeed, she has carved her way into the hearts of both father and daughter Altman.
14. Stefon, Saturday Night Live (Bill Hader)-I admit I’m a little behind the curve in recognizing Stefon despite being an avid Saturday Night Live watcher. Two years ago when Stefon and creator John Mulaney were making the press rounds, I had no idea who he was.  Well, I’m happy to report I’ve caught up on my Stefon watching and I’m equally enamored with this lovably bizarre party insider. Unlike “What’s Up With That” or half of the other SNL characters, there’s a lot of room for diverse jokes with every Stefon outing, and even more room for creativity with the sketch’s ending.
15. Wilfred, Wilfred (Jason Gann)-We still don’t know exactly what Wilfed is and here’s hoping we never will.
16 and 17. Cheryl Tunt and Pam Poovey, Archer (Judy Greer and Amber Nash)-Whoever thought that the secretarial clerk and HR rep at an international spy agency could be the most fun characters to watch? Major points go to Adam Reed and company for giving continuity to the highly tenable character bullet that Cheryl is worth a half billion dollars but still shows up to a crappy job every day that she doesn’t appear to be all that crazy about. Bonus points for giving Pam a more active sex life this year as well.
18. Anne, Go On (Julie White)-Anne immediately struck me as the most multi-layered and unique character within Go On's ensemble cast and she's paid off in dividends. She can't easily be pigeonholed as she’s a little bit of everything: Supportive and loyal yet grouchy and blunt. Both desperate and confident. Open to the world around her but wanting to shut people out. Most importantly, Anne’s a confused soul and a complete three-dimensional character. She strikes the perfect balance between individualistic instincts and the need to belong that is the show’s main theme.
19. Lana Peters, American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson)-The level-headed journalist (who's lesbianism was surprisingly well-handled for a Ryan Murphy show) kept us relatively steady in a world that got increasingly ridiculous. She sold some of the show's best moments.
20. Selina Meyers, Veep (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss)-The program of Veep is particularly original on the whole but I give JLD marks for nailing the character. It's too bad The Thick of It and In the Loop came out first.

21. Tim, Life and Times of Tim (Steve Dildarian)-Take the most tragi-comic episodes of Seinfeld or It's Always Sunny and multiply them by a factor of 10 and you get perhaps the most unluckiest character ever conceived in the history of television. Tim is a 25-year old urbanite constantly in danger of losing his job, his girlfriend, or the respect of his friends and nothing in his external circumstances seems to be helping him any (think a walking Murphy's Law). As Tim goes out of existence this year with the non-renewal of the show (perhaps, the least buzzed-about show in HBO’s history), someone needs to give him a little love and this list might as well be it. Besides, Tim had a relatively good year: He didn’t get urine thrown at his face by a WNBA player (that was Amy), he was promoted to Vice President (likely not for long), and didn’t get caught when he stole the boss’ dog back. Of course, I haven't seen the series finale.
22.Andy Dwyer, Parks and Recreation (Chris Pratt)-See last year's list
23.Kylie Sinclair, Last Resort (Autumn Reeser)-Kylie's first on screen appearance is on the backend of a date with an aide for a senator she's trying to lobby, as she's talking about submarine schematics while making his mouth water as she undresses. Trying to introduce a character as knowledgable AND sexy within a talkative sex scene isn't anything particularly new (see Faye Dunaway in Network), but in Autumn Reeser and Last Resort's hands, Sinclair projects a confidence and duality that works here.
24. Morgan, Mindy Project (Ike Barinholtz)-It's been a few years since Ike Barinholtz was on the sinking ship known as the final seasons of Mad TV, and thank god, he found a good vehicle to return with. Morgan, the ex-con male nurse, is wonderfully unashamed of being a male nurse and pretty much devoid of inhibitions in general which makes him a wonderful foil for the uptight trio of doctors in charge 
25 (tie). Principal Stark, Unsupervised (Sally Kellerman)-Principal Stark-The kind of supporting character whose backstory could fill a novel, Principal Stark is a fine blend of pragmatism, strong-willed determination, and at times, sheer laziness. Her odd approach to running a school leads to some of the show’s funniest moments whether it's pepper spraying a kid who discriminates against a gay student or offering to send the lowest-scoring kids to grade school. And she’s voiced by Sally Kellerman who apparently is still alive. MASH fans rejoice!
25 (tie). Mr. Woolfe, Suburgatory (Rex Lee)-Chatswain High's closeted guidance counselor advisor came out of the closet in hilarious fashion at the start of the year ("Oh and one more announcement, I'm gay. So from will be driving a Miatta. Please let me know if you have any questions"). The way Rex Lee chirpily delivers the dreariest suburban platitudes gives Mr. Wolfe the most laughs per minutes on screen for a TV character with limited screen time.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to deal with all the TV there is to watch

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to contribute to Cory Barker's blog TV Surveillance in his latest 2013 wrap-up roundtable

I was intrigued with another open question he asked of his fellow film critics and wanted to respond on my own:

There has been a lot of discussion this season about the glut of good TV. Alan Sepinwall wrote a piece voicing his frustration on the matter back in April, and I wrote something similar last summer. Although this is one of the biggest first world problems of all-time, it can be exhausting trying to keep up with all the “important” shows, the new shows, and the shows you just enjoy, no matter the quality. This is the first television season since I started watching “seriously” where I simply couldn’t keep up with all my desired interests. Some of that has to do with my schedule, but a lot of it has to do with A.) The increase in the number of interesting projects and B.) The decline in quality in many shows I probably would have kept with anyway had I found myself with more time. Therefore, there are really two things going on here. Did you folks feel this same kind of weight pushing down on you, and/or were there shows that declined so dramatically that you reached a point of no return?

Unless you're a professional TV writer, TV is a way to supplement your life and naturally it will be balanced with other time demands of your life.  You can adjust your answer accordingly if you fall under the category of aspiring professional, semi-professional or serious hobbyist, but unless you're veering into being irresponsible, we all have to abide by some sort of TV diet.

To compound the problem, we're living in a Golden Age of TV. As a result, there are going to be a great number of programs more worthy of your attention than programs you have time to watch.

But this isn't a curse. It's a blessing.  In contrast to people who say that TV is a waste of time and bad for your brain (hi mom and dad!) while praising other forms of art like cinema or live theater, I maintain that the capacity of TV to enrich you culturally, socially, and intellectually is greater than ever before. There's no greater evidence of that than the fact that the amount of enriching programs on the air exceeds our available time to watch them all.

So if you have to give up on some critically acclaimed program like Mad Men or Dexter to be able to keep up with Justified or Enlightened, it's still a win-win situation. The only danger you have of "losing"  as a TV watcher is if you don't use your TV diet to challenge yourself. If you watch a soap opera, reality TV show, a standard procedural, or a sitcom that doesn't push the boundaries (i.e. Two and a Half Men, According to Jim), a rerun of something you've already seen, then you are just using the medium as comfort food and  guilty of eroding your brain like your parents (if they were anything like mine when I was younger) accused you of.  Of course, the degree to which something like Grimm, Raising the Bar, Royal Pains, or Southland transcends the procedural or whether a certain reality TV show has merit, is up to you the viewer to justify. But that's part of the fun. I've never bought the argument that Happy Endings has merit beyond the standard sitcom, but I did enjoy the process of my fellow film critics slowly discovering that Happy Endings wasn't a typical sitcom (Cougar Town also falls into this category).

It's not just a blessing, but a challenge.  Sure, it is really easy to fall back on TV as comfort food. It takes a little effort for me to explore something new than to fall back on a rerun of Futurama, Archer or Newsradio which are instant gratification for me. In fact, since the era of YouTube, my attention span has significantly shortened to the degree to which an hour-long  drama can feel like something of a chore. A show like Homeland is so suspenseful that I have no trouble jumping on board, but I've also challenged myself with shows that might not be immediately as rewarding like Scandal, Revenge, or (the now defunct) Terra Nova to develop myself intellectually. With a show like Hell on Wheels, it paid off heavily.

As for discarding shows, I've never seen an episode of Dexter, Friday Night Lights, and have missed large swaths of Mad Men and Breaking Bad but I don't consider myself the lesser for it as long as whatever I'm watching grows me as a TV watcher. Sure, it might hurt my ambitions as an aspiring professional TV reviewer, but there's a wealth of material I'm already exploring.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Capsule reviews of 2012 films: Pitch Perfect, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Dark Knight Rises, Trouble with the Curve

Pitch Perfect
Pitch Perfect is a surprisingly fun film that goes about as emotionally deep as it needs to without getting overly mushy. The storyline is of a reluctant college student (Anna Kendrick) who learns to open herself up more to people and possibilities through joining an a capella group. Anna Kendrick, who's been nominated for an Academy Award, is probably too good for a film like this, but thank God the producers were able to get her because she gives her all and elevates the film significantly.

The film, adapted from a book wherein the author spent significant amount of time with 3 college a capella groups, delves deep into the a capella world and it's clear that the filmmakers have done their research and this sets this film apart from the typical coming-of-age college film as we're taken deep into the world of this subculture. The music itself is also very entertaining..

Although there's a sort of love-hate romance (wherein the boy's primary method of winning over the girl is annoying her to death), the film is all about girl power and how this loner learns to bond with other females for the first time and (excuse the pun) make beautiful music.

With Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam Driver, Anna Camp, and Rebel Wilson, the supporting cast has a great chemistry despite the fact that it's difficult to believe some of these people are 18-22 years old (Anna Camp and Rebel Wilson in particular)

The film's screenplay is by Kay Canon (who has written for 30 Rock and is well-known in comedy circles) and while there are some laughs, it's not primarily a comedy. It IS a fun film.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

An Altmanesque ensemble piece exploring old age, wistfully weaving in and out of several story lines fluidly. The story centers around seven random British retirees (all feeling various stages of incompleteness with their situations) who get lured by an ad to spend their retirement in a hotel that's not as glamorous as advertised.

Tom Wilkinson shines as Graham: a gay man who grew up in the days of the Empire in India before moving to India. It's true what they say: Bonus points on your acting resume for going gay. Graham's storyline, involving reconnecting with his homeland and a lost lover lies at the heart of the story.

Elsewhere, we have a couple horny seniors looking for love for different reasons (one to feel young, one for financial security), a woman recovering from surgery (Maggie Smith), a hypochondriac, a marriage in flux, and a newly widowed woman taking her first job (Judi Dench). Each of these story lines all provide relatively satisfying layers of richness. 

Trouble with the Curve
An aging scout who looks like Clint Eastwood (who in real life, by the way, is over 80) is being pushed out of his job (hello, it's called retirement) and adopts an attitude of spunky rebelliousness, when in fact he can't do the job anyways because he's losing his vision. A movie premise based on a plot hole a mile wide is on some shaky ground to begin with. It doesn't help matters that every person who disagrees with him about retirement conveniently turns out to be an incompetent a-hole.

The film still has some nice moments and takes us moderately deeply into the universe of baseball scouting and going somewhere new is always interesting. At the same time, a more realistic film might have made us feel like we were actually experiencing the life of a baseball scout.

The film's other strong points are Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake. As someone who is not in the camp that Timberlake has previously displayed any acting skills, this is Timberlake's first role in which he could legitimately be called an actor. Amy Adams, who is always wonderful, showed here that she can actually be sexy on screen on top of all the other great character beats she bought with the character.

Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises was the pivotal success of Batman if you consider that Batman Begins had too much exposition and Dark Knight was so focused on the Joker and his omnipotent brand of evil, that it made for more of a horror story than an event film. The Dark Knight Rises really was the optimal blend of ingredients that one would come to expect in a Nolan film. Like Inception and Prestige, it was an epic story with twists that unraveled satisfyingly. More importantly, the film really was about Batman which is a hard chore considering he is usually always upstaged by more interesting and colorful visions in pretty much every auteur's vision of Gotham city.

The story lines are and expertly juggled and the production quality is top notch. It's also fair to say that the emotional content of a Batman film has never resonated so well with me and I even found it more realistic (and slightly amusing) that the facade of Batman wasn't kept sacred and pretty much every character just said "screw it, he's Bruce Wayne." 

Friday, June 07, 2013

Scandal: We have a dialogue problem

Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 makes for a great guilty pleasure because it's so simultaneously brilliant and terrible. It's not devoid of the brilliant storyelling instincts and the style of Sorkin, but it also epitomizes his greatest flaws as a dialogue writer and places them in the worst possible context (a comedy show): characters in varying walks of life who all have a minimum IQ of 150, sound the same, and like to discuss a minimum of three topics at once.

I've watched a handful of episodes of Scandal in non-sequential order and even without being familiar with the overarching story arc, I find it very engaging. It's got a great sense of its setting (the upper echelons of D.C. politicos), it has one of the strongest protagonists on TV in Kerry Washington's scandal fixer Olivia Pope, and it has a wonderful sense of pace and style.

But the dialgoue is another story. I haven't read many other reviews of the show (I wanted to be unbiased) and don't know if others have commented on this, but the dialogue is so annoyingly Sorkinesque. It seems as if the ghost of Sorkin circa 2006 has possessed the writer's room.

Here's a snippet of dialogue in the latest episode I just watched, "The Other Woman" (Season 2, Episode 2) between the White House chief of staff and his same-sex partner who also happens to be a major political reporter:
[Reporter wakes up WH chief of staff at 5 in the morning]
"Ethiopia's closing"
"Wait, what?"
"We waited too long, Ethiopia's closing. We can't get a baby too long unless we can pull some strings. Can you pull some strings?"
"Frankly I think we should go for a domestic adoption. There are a lot of babies in our own backyard who need homes"
"Its 5 a.m."
"I quit my job Cyrus. I'm an award-winning journalist and I ----"
"Oh, you won one award in college. It wasn't even Ivy League for God's sake---"
"I was on the short list for the pulitzer in 2009. That's like winning. I quit my job to take care of you and the fat, smushy baby you said we're gonna have. But there's no baby, where's the baby, Cy?
[Reporter gets out of bed and paces around]
"You've been dragging you're feet. That ends now. I want a baby. And Middlebury's just as good as the Ivy League, you highbrow, conservative snob. I can't believe I fell in love with a Republican"
"Being on the short list is not 'Like' winning. [shouting] Winning is like winning"
[Reporter storms out of room]

Thumbs up for creating drama and tension. Thumbs way down on being realistic. This is not how normal people interact. The reporter, in particular, sounds like he needs to be medicated for mania, especially considering he woke his lover up in the middle of the night to discuss this. When Bradley Cooper's character in Silver Linings Playbook woke his parents up in the middle of the night and started ranting, it was very clearly established that he was mentally ill.

In Scandal, characters are so intense that they come off as mentally ill, rude, or clueless. It's understandable that characters with the ambition to get positions of high power leading fast-paced lives will be Sorkenesque but nearly every character in Scandal's universe sounds and talks like this. When Olivia's associates Harrison and Abby are visiting the morgue, they have this conversation with an ubersnarky coroner working the night shift:
"Can I help you or do you two just like to watch"
"Abby Whelan and Harrison Wright. We're with Olivia Pope and Associates handling Pastor Drake's arrangements"
"You know we're backlogged but you can leave a number and I'll call you as soon as I get to him"
"Yeah, the thing is the family wants an open casket and ----"
"---- and unless the pastor is going topless in his coffin the incision will be well-hidden. I don't mean to brag but I'm something of an artist"

Are we supposed to believe this is how she speaks to everyone entering the morgue? For all she knows, Harrison and Abby are two ordinary people inquiring about funeral arrangements.  Her job description isn't entirely centered around customer service but she deals with people who are inquiring (and might be distraught) about people who have been violently murdered. Instead of using any degree of sensitivity, she talks to them worse than the rudest waitress you've ever had.

Abby (Darcy Whelan) is likely my favorite character on the show because she's so over-the-top with her snarkiness, that it has a certain theatricality to it. She reminds me of a sharper version of Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreation or Natasha Leggero on the short-lived Free Agents. When the gang walks into the room of a dead minister lying dead on top of his mistress who's handcuffed to the bed, Abby gleefully deadpans "We found him!" There's no reason Abby's character would possibly have to say this in that situation if she has any sense of professionalism, but it has a sort of wink to it.

Another thing wrong with the dialogue is excessive expositioning, wherein nearly everything the characters are saying is a blatant attempt to establish their character traits to the audience and make little sense in a natural conversation.

This happens in spades all over the episode: In a presidential pow-wow, there's an heated debate between the president and one of his aides and the aide counters by emphatically stating "Mr. President, I graduated from the naval academy, taught at the naval war-" before being cut off. This is a guy who's on screen for approximately 17 seconds (thanks Hulu!) and the screenwriter felt the need to use that time to establish his character in dialogue as if the uniform with dozens of medals on it didn't do the job.

We haven't even gotten to the next commercial break when Quinn -- Olivia's new associate and pet project -- is tracked down by Huck as she's running away to San Diego. When she sees Huck, Quinn proceeds to spill out the turmoil of her life story to him. As Huck is ONE OF THE WORLD'S BEST PERSONAL INVESTIGATORS AND KNEW ENOUGH ABOUT HER TO TRACK HER DOWN TO SAN DIEGO, this makes no sense. We need a better reason to justify this conversation.

Two minutes later, the head of the CIA is on screen for twenty seconds and one of his three lines is "I'm the Director of the CIA!" Sheesh! If organically establishing characters is too difficult for this show, maybe they should put large name tags on their chests?

Monday, June 03, 2013

New Spring TV Shows

1600 Penn-For a show topic as ambitious as depicting the shenanigans of the President's family, 1600 Penn is pretty lukewarm.

Still, it's a dependable type of lukewarm, which is enough to make my schedule on many an off-night.

Josh Gad (the show's co-creator) plays the lead as first son Skip Gilchrest who lags behind the rest of the family in the smarts department. He's portrayed as a big lug with a heart of gold and an impulse control problem. He's the perfect example of a character too  over-the-top to carry a show as a lead and would best be suited as a sidekick rather than a side character.

Elsewhere in the family, we have Bill Pulliam as President Matt Gilchrest. Pulliam, who played a much better president in "Independence Day", would probably fare about as well as Mitt Romney or John Kerry if he were running in real life. He's got the broad-shouldered sturdy presidential look and sounds presidential but seems kind of bland and uninspiring. As Gillchrest Senior, Pullman's main job is to sigh heavily and look stressed out that of all people in the world, he's the one who has to run the country.

First lady Jenna Elfman is the second wife and stepmom and isn't too much of a deviation from her Dharma character in Dharma and Greg. This isn't that good of a fit considering she's the wife of the President and cracking sarcastic jokes and making all sorts of gaffes. They try to lampshade her lack of presidentialness by having her directly address a visiting schoolgirl's allegations that she's a trophy wife in the pilot episode.

Legit-The show is highly reminiscent of "Wilfred" in that an Australian representing unfettered id teaches an uptight American (or two) to loosen up.

You would think that Legit would pale in comparison considering no one dresses up like a dog, but I found something refreshingly unconventional in this breezy ride about a guy who doesn't take his life too seriously. Comedian Jim Jefferies doesn't have the most unique voice in the world but the series does a good job at being congruent with that voice.

Jefferies basically plays himself: a comedian from Australia who gets his entire income from doing less than five hours of stand-up comedy a week. He uses his free time to go on mundane adventures with his two new roommates: Middle-aged divorcee Steve (Dan Bakkhedal), who gradually becomes more unbalanced as the show wears on, and Steve's paraplegic younger brother Billy (DJ Qualls). The show earns points for treating a handicapped character as if it is a non-issue.

While the show is unapolagetically mundane, there's a slightly deeper subcurrent underneath as Jim and his roommate gradually negotiate how to be good to each other and how to be better people. For the most part, Jim isn't on a mission to better his life, succeed at a career or find true love. That's pretty refreshing.

Its not a ground-breaking show and won't ever reach the pantheon of great TV but its consistent and has a firm idea of its direction. The chemistry of the main trio is strong enough that the characters developed to the point that the season finale was genuinely emotional.

Bates Motel-Vera Farminga is excellent as always as Norma Bates and Freddie Highmore (who played Johnny Depp's nine-year-old muse in "Finding Neverland") plays future mentally off killer Norman Bates in this prequel to "Psycho."

In its efforts to slowly disentangle the "why" and the "who" of Norman Bates, the series is rife with nuggets for a budding psych major to have a field day with. More often that not, however, its just a breezy small-town drama with fascinating characters, most of whom are concealing a dark side.
About a third of the screentime is devoted to the protagonist's experiences navigating high school where he's involved in a love triangle in addition to a relationship with a benevolent English teacher that's rife with sexual tension. These scenes play like "Dawson's Creek" with eerie music.

The main drawback of the series is that, like "American Horror Story Asylum", the writers decided to throw every imaginable form of small-town vice into a hodgepodge to create a muddled portrait of the kind of dark environment Norman grew up with, that led to him turning psycho.
We don't need to have a mom's boyfriend who ended up becoming a sex trafficker, a town gripped with vice, a raping of Norma that Norman personally witnessed, another man (Jere Burns) threatening Norma's life, a father who mysteriously died, a clingy mother who discourages your independence, a brother with potentially violent impulses, AND your teenage crush's father being set on fire while you're waiting for school one day. One or two of these causes are sufficient enough to result in Norman going psycho.

Needlessly creating a scenario where nearly everyone in town turns out to be a vile person with an evil motive brings diminishing returns more than anything else. It's almost as if the writers aren't sure which evil plot to go with so they decided to try a little bit of everything.

On the whole, the quasi-enchanting atmosphere and characters have made Bates Motel a very worthwhile show and the season finale left me hopeful that the writers might have had some grand plan at hand.

The Americans-This is definitely an exciting show that has a lot going for it: historic detail, a cat-and-mouse element, suspense, serialization, and a wonderful performance by Keri Russell that has the potential to reinvent her as the Jennifer Garner of the 2010's.

The plot holes in the premise, however, are enormous. The couple (Russell and Matt Rhys) are a pair of KGB spies who have been married 15 years and they are only now beginning to question issues such as whether they love each other? It also would be difficult for them not to see through
Communist propaganda when they can literally see with their own eyes that the US isn't as much of a proletariat Hell it's been described as. If there was some event that happened while Elizabeth and Phil were in the US to renew their hatred of the mainland or some self-realization that "hey, maybe America's not that bad?" I could better get on board the reality of this series, but the show doesn't do much of either.

If Elizabeth and Phil do have any doubts (the latter does when the prospect of defection money presents itself), it's possible that they would have them 15 years after living in the US, but wouldn't all of Phil and Elizabeth's doubts and internal conflicts be so much easier to swallow if it was just a few years that they'd been in the country.

Another big plot hole: Phil and Elizabeth have two kids who don't know they're spies? How could that have possibly been a good idea. It encourages, or rather requires, intimacy between two people who are supposed to avoid emotional attachments for professional purposes. It takes one of the best female agents in the KGB out of commission for nine months or more. It makes them have to work ten times as hard to keep their cover since they're now under surveillance in their own home every day when their kids come home from school. Lastly, it makes them more entrenched within the American social infrastructure since that's who's raising their kids. Oh yes, and it provides counterspies with instant kidnap bait. All this justifies looking a little less inconspicuous?

Final Verdict: 1600 Penn was cancelled and not surprisingly so.  It was beginning to lose narrative steam. Ill go on record, however, as saying it wasn't completely unwatchable. Legit qualifies as a guilty pleasure. Americans has been the most ambitious and has the most potential for a bright future if it works out some of its kinks. It could potentially gain if it had a fewer quieter episodes like Breaking Bad did with "Fly" The best viewing experience I had among these four was Bates Motel.