A moderately exhaustive catch-up of pretty much everything I've seen this year before the Fall Season rolls around and I cover those shows. Some reviews will be very brief or I'll link you elsewhere. The shows are broken into categories:
Top tier: Shows that are firing on all cylinders
- Archer, FX-Even by today’s standards, Archer did something pretty bold by flipping the entire premise of its show. The ragtag spy agency previously known as ISIS (they allegedly sold the naming rights to a real-life band of Jihadists in Iraq or something like that) got disbanded and the characters became criminals for a full season. Comic possibilities quadrupled. (longer review)
- The Bridge, FX-The Bridge-Last season, "The Bridge" was a suspenseful ride, but the two aimless episodes between the conclusion of the first season and the actual season finale had me wondering where the show would go once the bad guy was put away. What I didn’t anticipate was that the show’s rich characters and sense of place were more than enough to carry the show regardless of the villain. What’s more, the second season nicely wove the aftermath of the David Tate plot along with the disparate side plots into a larger picture. The show continues to have a lot going for it: A well-paced plot, a touch on topical issues, and some of the most underrated characters on TV (Daniel Frye is who I now want to model myself after as a journalist. I even plan on going to the nearest bar and developing my own drinking problem after I finish writing this)
- Orange is the New Black, Netflix-As Piper became more comfortable with her environment and even began to take command of her surroundings, the show took on a more self-assured tone that could even be called optimistic. In the first season, pretty much everyone Piper bumped into at Litchfield was some version of your worst nightmare. The second season got interesting in the way it kept redirecting audience hatred towards a number of temporary villains (Mendez, Fig, Healy, Alex, Crazy Eyes all did despicable things at some point or another) before making themselves sympathetic once more and eventually redirecting us to one big bad. This show has also written and rewritten the textbook on ensemble pieces, both from the narrative (balancing focus on several characters) and the acting sides. (longer review)
- Review, Comedy Central- Starring straight-man extraordinaire Andy Daly, the premise posits the show as a distant cousin of the "Truman Show" in the way that presenting a man's life choices being driven entirely by the demands of a media audience leads to some very deep satire. In this case, Daly is TV show host Forrest MacNeil who will review any life experience anyone tells him to without question. The cleverest thing about "Review" is how it drops clues towards the genesis to the show-within-a-show and the larger storyline about a somewhat overeager broadcaster being manipulated by a ruthless producer. Viewers are challenged to decipher these clues and it's not until the end of the season that some of the blanks are filled in a season finale, which makes for **SPOILER** a cathartic ending. (longer review)
- The Knick, HBO-Every medical procedural (from Grey's Anatomy to E.R.) should just be set back 100 years in time where medicine was more like alchemy than an exact science. "Patient is not responding! I want some leaches and epoxy salts under his nose stat!" That Clive Owen only got nominated for one Oscar astounds me.
- Quick Draw, Hulu-It’s understandable that this TV show would be underappreciated considering: 1) It is on a network that really hasn’t had any visible hits, and 2) the creator’s last show was on TBS during an era when they proved just how little they know about comedy with those annoying “very funny” commercials. It’s worth believing in second chances because while John Lehr’s previous show “10 Items or Less” was a mixture of slightly inventive and bland, “Quick Draw” is in that sublime zone of comedy where the comic climate is so well-established that as long as the characters stay reasonably in character, every attempt at humor is a joke that hits and every joke that hits is a home run.
- House of Cards Season 1, Netflix-Lots of interesting tension and great characters. I soured on this show on Season 2 so I'll cover that more there (longer review)
- John Oliver-When he took over as host of the Daily Show last summer, it was a breath of fresh air that led me to believe he should take over the show. The second best thing happened: Oliver's carved out a niche for his comedy on HBO. Due to the novelty factor, John Oliver is my favorite late night comedian to watch at the moment.
- Manhattan, WGN-The show isn’t groundbreaking but is certainly watchable. It’s an intelligent historical drama that has a firm grasp of what makes its designated period of history interesting and utilizes that for some good juicy drama. The show manages to touch on social issues from a bygone era from an ironic distance without coming across as overly preachy. The show’s ensemble has mostly unknowns outside of Rushmore/Dollhouse’s Olivia Williams but there are a lot of interesting characters and the ensemble has enough tension so that there’s enough inter-group conflict for a tense World War II pic without a single Nazi.
- Legit, FX-The aimless life of an Australian comedian with too much free time on his hands could rival Seinfeld in terms of low-impact storylines (or as Seinfeld called it “nothing”). with The second season has Jim becoming no worse or better than before, but relatively succeeding at growing up by virtue of the fact that his two roommates have become far more depraved by comparison.
- Bojack Horseman, Netflix-"BoJack Horseman" isn't particularly easy to get into, but a few episodes in, the show's pathos and interesting character dynamics shines through. Like Will Arnett's previous work, "Arrested Development," the show features characters who aim to be dynamic and get out of their ruts in life. Unlike "Arrested Development" however, the show dares to give them, and us, hope at actual improvement. Either way, there's a definite investment to the characters by season's end that gives the show life. The satire also starts getting sharper once the hidden jokes and the parallels to ABC's TGIF line-up of the 1990's start to reveal themselves. People might not notice on first viewing how spot-on "Horsing Around" gets (longer review)
- Royal Pains, USA-I have always maintained that even if “Royal Pains” isn’t the most ambitious show on television, Hank Lawson is one of TV’s most relevant heroes considering the healthcare crisis that’s only intensified since this show premiered in 2009. As medical procedurals go, few are more uplifting than this one. There are no McSteamys and McDreamys here: Just a desperado concierge doctor, a scalpel, lightning-quick diagnosing abilities and the mysterious ability to constantly be around some of the rarest medical emergencies ever recorded (OK, maybe it’s a little more than a scalpel he has). This season’s main thru-lines—The discovery of the Lawson clan’s long-lost sister, the navigation of newlyweds Evan and Paige through a rocky first year, the desire for Jeremiah to step out of his comfort zone—all gibe well and pleasantly focuses on underrepresented dynamics (i.e. siblings, adult-father-and-son) in television. It should also be noted that the series is total scenery/lifestyle porn: People might be falling into comas and strokes in Hank’s presence but they’re having near-death experiences in style.
To be covered in more detail:
I'll Watch It if It's On:
Bad Teacher, CBS; New Girl, Fox; Modern Family, ABC; The Awesomes, Hulu; Fugget About It, Hulu; Parks and Recreation, NBC; American Dad/Family Guy, Fox; Broad City, Comedy Central
What Was I Thinking??: Shows I've Soured On
Under the Dome, Fox; House of Cards (Season 2), Netflix; Deadbeat, Hulu; Halt and Catch Fire, AMC; Mindy Project, Fox
Shows I just never got into:
Hannibal, NBC; The Strain, FX; Turn, AMC; The Middle, ABC