Monday, September 14, 2015

MEDIAVORE TV ~ POST-BINGE BULLET REVIEWS, PART 2!

As I wrote in the first part of this new ongoing Mediavore sub-project here at DDD, more and more people are consuming their entertainment in great, gulping binges. And yer old pal Jerky is no exception. 
In fact, my recent attempts to go back and watch all the shows my friends wouldn't stop raving about over the past decade or so have forced me to watch not just seasons, but entire SERIES in marathon sessions. I'm particularly worried about my upcoming attempt to watch The Sopranos from beginning to end. That one's gonna hurt.
Anyhoo, my pain in this case is your gain, because today, I bring you the second installment of my bullet reviews for as many of those "must watch", "TV renaissance" shows. I'll try to fill you in on which are worth the effort, and which are just a waste of everyone's time. Enjoy! - YOPJ

TRUE DETECTIVE, (HBO), Season 2



Speaking of wasting everyone's time... what the fuck happened here?! Nic "Alphabits" Pizzolatto had the TV viewing public eating out of the palm of his hand after the unparalleled (if somewhat qualified) success of True Detective, Season 1. That stylish exercise in Swamp Gothic Neo-Noir left a churning sea of critical acclaim, ratings success, geek reverence and awards galore in its bloody wake... which is fine. Despite its pretty substantial failings (which I won't get into here), it nevertheless featured some killer cinematography, interesting ideas and undeniably great acting performances. Season 2, on the other hand... Oy. Okay, this season also featured some fine performances, key among them being Colin Farrell's and Taylor Kitsch's. It also had some intriguing imagery and a few genuinely thrilling sequences.  Unfortunately, these few pleasures can't counteract the show's myriad problems, which include a complete lack of narrative cohesion, an incomprehensible tangle of seemingly unrelated subplots, and some of the most ridiculous dialogue ever to cross an actor's lips.

Flow Factor: Bad. The first two eps are terribly slow. Things kick up a notch and reach a crescendo with the show's penultimate (and best) episode, but the finale drags it all back down to Failsville.

Superfluity Levels: NA

Binge-ability Index: More easily watched in one chunk than week-by-week, but that's not saying much.

Bottom line: Ersatz Lynch meets second-rate Polanski, trying way too hard and failing, big time.

***

ENLIGHTENED, (HBO), Seasons 1 and 2


Speaking of David Lynch, one of his favorite actresses, the supremely talented Laura Dern (and her mom, fellow Lynch vet, Diane Lane) stars in this lovely ode to the paradoxical emptiness/wisdom to be found in all the Self Help section of your local book emporium. But this Mike White-scripted series is about so much more than that. It's about contemporary workplace etiquette, the complexity of family and other intimate relationships, learning to accept yourself and others, warts and all... and despite being sincere and serious at times, it's also frequently hilarious and, yes... even occasionally enlightening. 

Flow Factor: Watch the first episode first and the last episode last for both seasons, and watch the seasons in order, and you're good.

Superfluity Levels: None. It's all good and worth your time.

Binge-ability Index: Middle-high.

Bottom line: Fellas; introduce your gal pal to this show and score some serious Good Guy Points. Ladies; if you haven't heard about this show yet... you're welcome!

***

THE BRINK, (HBO), Season 1

Right up front, The Brink declared that it was trying to be a contemporary re-think of the Dr. Strangelove model, with three sets of characters in three different locales, all linked via potentially world-destroying international nuclear intrigue. And why not? Kubrick's satire is, after all, considered one of the greatest achievements in comedy film of all freaking time. And so, just like in Strangelove, we have a group of characters surrounding the President of the USA (with series star and producer Tim Robbins playing kind of a Fantasy Football version of the Secretary of State), a group of military men (a pair of pill-popping fighter pilots based on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf) and Jack Black as a low-level embassy official "on the ground" in Pakistan as a series of coups and counter-coups take place.

Flow Factor: Moves along at a fast clip, each episode flowing into the next quite nicely.

Superfluity Levels: Admirably low.

Binge-ability Index: The short episodes and frequently over the top humor make this one an easy, breezy viewing experience.

Bottom line: Nowhere close to Kubrick, but political junkies (especially center/left) should get as much of a kick out of it as I did.

***
PARTY DOWN, (Starz), Season 1 and 2


Recommended by someone whose opinion I respect tremendously, I nevertheless found this catering industry-set sitcom to be only intermittently amusing, lazily written, and ultimately not worth the time needed to watch it. Which is kind of sad, because the performances by the series regulars playing wannabe actors earning a living slinging hors d'oeuvres and cheap sparkling wine are uniformly good. Adam Scott is suitably hangdog, Ken Marino is suitably hapless, Lizzy Caplan is suitably cute/conflicted, and Jane Lynch/Megan Mullally are suitably off-the-wall in their respective seasons. I mean, there are worse shows, to be sure. But I was expecting more from a creative team that included some of the Eastbound and Down gang and Paul Rudd.

Flow Factor: Nothing much happens. Characters don't evolve or change. Relationships all seem to be in stasis. The whole thing is oddly Limbo-like. Or maybe Purgatory?

Superfluity Levels: Off the charts. So many repeated beats and similar scenes taking place in only marginally different locales it begins to feel like an improv troupe doing their shtick on different nights.

Binge-ability Index: Low.

Bottom line: Maybe if you've worked as a caterer, you might get more out of this than I did.

***
BOSS, (Starz), Season 1

Chicago mayor Tom Kane (played menacingly by Kelsey Grammer) is diagnosed with a mental disorder that causes him to hallucinate, and which will ultimately kill him. He decides not to tell anyone, as he attempts to retain his monstrous grip on power. Kane is one of the most vile and corrupt public officials ever to be portrayed in fiction. We're talking Shakespeare level evil, here, with Kane seeming like a combination of Richard III and Macbeth. The human wreckage this character leaves in his wake is astonishing. Reputations are ruined, fortunes are lost, lives are snuffed out... this is a killer series. 

Flow Factor: Awesomely addictive.

Superfluity Levels: Zilch.

Binge-ability Index: It's tough to stay immersed in such a vile milieu for extended periods of time, so two or three episodes at a time is the maximum I'm willing to recommend.

Bottom line: I haven't seen Season 2 yet, but based on Season 1, BOSS is one of the best premium cable dramas ever produced, and the fact that it was cancelled is almost as big of a loss as the premature abortion of ROME.

***

SILICON VALLEY, (HBO), Season 1

Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge strikes again, with perhaps his best offering yet, a half-hour sitcom set in various different success levels of the technology business. From the lofty heights of a Microsoft-like, ultra-slick "tech campus" to the lows of a suburban start-up "incubator" where the participants live and work together in an effort to both save money and increase productivity. Starting with Office Space, former aerospace industry employee Judge has shown himself to be an astute observer and keen critic of contemporary workplace dynamics, and here he unleashes his full satirical fury on a deserving subject.

Flow Factor: Excellent. The stakes start out high, and they keep on increasing, ratcheting the tension non-stop as the series progresses.

Superfluity Levels: Minimal, except for a stretch in the middle of season two, when a tech billionaire investor's shenanigans start to wear thin.

Binge-ability Index: Very high, especially thanks to its being a half-hour per episode.

Bottom line: A great ensemble cast in a fresh setting with an amusingly populist/postmodern sensibility make this one of the best ongoing TV comedies around.

***

BETTER CALL SAUL, (AMC), Season 1


I haven't seen more than 10 minutes total of Breaking Bad, but Bob Odenkirk has been one of my favorite human beings for a long time, now. Even his so-called "shitty" movies (Let's Go to Prison, The Brothers Solomon) have somehow managed to find a way to give me pleasure. So when he and his cohorts manage to pull together a series as impossibly perfect as Better Call Saul... well, it makes my heart swell with an odd combination of pride, jealousy, and a sincere wish that I could meet him in person just to say thank you.

Flow Factor: Perfect.

Superfluity Levels: Non-existent.

Binge-ability Index: Supreme.

Bottom line: The most "must see" TV show of all the "must see" TV shows that is still currently producing new episodes. Yes, that includes Game of Thrones.

***

VEEP, (HBO), Seasons 1, 2 and 3


What if Seinfeld's Elaine Benez somehow grew up to become the Vice President (and, ultimately, President) of the United States of America. That's it. That's the premise.

Flow Factor: Excellent.

Superfluity Levels: Minimal, with slight samey-ness early on in the second season. But it manages to pick up steam again pretty quick, and the third season is maybe the very best.

Binge-ability Index: Very, very good.

Bottom line: Elaine becomes Vice-POTUS. It really is as simple as that.

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