What to watch TV: True Detective

For an actor I once dismissed because of ridiculous cookie-cutter rom-coms, Matthew McConaughey’s recent string of outstanding performances have not only turned me into a fan, but I’ll tune in to almost anything in which he is cast.  And since I’m currently obsessed with crime dramas, well, his new mini-series is now pre-recorded on my PVR. 

Two of my favourite actors, McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star in a new 8 part HBO miniseries True Detective about a 17 year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana.

Has to be magic.

Grantland posted an early, rather critical, in-depth, review of the series and while I hope to disagree with Andy Greenwald’s opinion, though I’m sure I’ll relate to it, I was thankful to see the series’ two stars are worth watching:

“And it’s thrilling to see movie stars like McConaughey and Harrelson crackling in nearly every scene. They’re not slumming in TV, they’re soaring. Both are at the top of their game, though McConaughey in particular seems to be playing a different sport altogether: His True Detective turn comes smack in the middle of one of the more remarkable career resurrections in recent memory, immediately after a role that should get him an Oscar nomination (as unlikely activist Ron Woodroof in the excellent Dallas Buyers Club) and just before one that will likely break records at the box office (as the handpicked lead ofInterstellar, Christopher Nolan’s first movie after parking the Batmobile). Of course, Harrelson is no slouch, either: Between acts of grand theft cinema in smaller flicks likeSeven Psychopaths, he has kept busy collecting paychecks and a new generation of fans in the money-printing Hunger Games franchise. The two could have been anywhere else on earth during the long months it took to film True Detective, but they chose to be here, slipping in bayou mud and dodging crawfish shells. That desire is palpable in their performances.”

Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan.

Air date: Sunday, January 12th, 2014.

Save Mindy!

The Mindy ProjectAs if cold, dark winter nights aren’t bad enough, this week Fox released the news that, due to low ratings, as of January 28th, The Mindy Project will go on hiatus until April – essentially bumping it from the winter schedule.

This is horrible news for Mindy lovers.  The comedienne’s sitcom is one of the funniest on television and by far the best on Tuesday nights, a night filled with good comedies.

This is my plea to readers to catch up on this hilarious, hero-less 30 minute comedy teeming with celebrity guest stars that actually complement the show.  Trust me, your tv lineup will be better for it.

In case you haven’t checked it out, here are some highlights from this season:

Fall TV 2013: New Sitcoms

After a raucous wedding weekend all I wanted to do on Monday night was to curl up on the couch and watch something light.  It turns out I don’t have a Monday watch list and there wasn’t anything that caught my attention.  Instead, I decided to surf the net for some new comedies I’d heard about but had yet to watch and see if there was a hidden gem in the mix – which is rarely the case.

Package-Deal-fall-preview

First, I found Package Deal, a new sitcom about a girl who has to accept her boyfriend’s oddball brothers for the sake of their relationship.  Sadly, it was so bad I turned it off after the first few lead-in jokes that were so hammered by a laugh track that I was cringing before the opening credits.  I say sadly, because it’s a Canadian show and we, as a country, can do much, much better. Canadians are funny. Shame on us.

My rating: I hope it doesn’t last.

My IMDB rating: 1/10.

This also led me to wonder why comedies are still using a laugh track.  Doesn’t everyone find stock laughter annoying by now? Sure, there are a lot of successful sitcoms that used (and I use the past tense purposely because I don’t find The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men funny. At all.) the laugh track to their advantage: Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Friends – but is it still relevant or even necessary as tv enters a new Golden Age of creativity? I think not.  Case and point was the next show I found:

mom

Mom is also a new sitcom with a laugh track about dysfunctional moms played by two actresses that I really like: Alison Janney and Anna Faris.  Faris is a talented comedian who, I feel, is forever dragged down by bad material.  This happens to be more of the same.  Faris’ performance is decent but completely ill-timed with the laugh track.  Only Alison Janney, a consummate professional, is so natural in front of the multiple camera format and laugh track that she provides the only humourous moments of the show.  I lasted into the second episode because I wanted so much to like it but seriously, the laugh track is  doing the show no favours and I feel it would work better without it.

My rating: I wouldn’t be surprised if this show came into its own but so far I’m not interested.

My IMDB rating: 4/10

DADS

Finally, in typical Seth McFarlane fashion, the laugh track in his new sitcom Dads is used ironically, or at least I hope it is.  The jokes are so Republican (read offensive) or so not funny that the canned bubbles of laughter that burst at the predictable punchlines is almost funny in itself. Almost.  Again, a talented cast, including one of my favourites Giovanni Ribisi, is completely wasted and I couldn’t make it through the episode despite one or two moments that were genuinely funny.

My rating: I expect more MacFarlane.

My IMDB rating: 3.5/10

There are only two new comedies that I have been able to stomach this Fall season and neither of them have laugh tracks.

the crazy ones

The first, The Crazy Ones, from super comedy creator David E. Kelley, stars Robin Williams as an ad agency exec who might be losing his mind or his touch.  The show is funny because Robin Williams is funny and watching James Wolk’s character Zach Cooper try to keep up with him and roll with his frenetic improv is magic.  I have never been a fan of Sarah Michelle Geller’s acting and this show has not changed my opinion.  While I understand that she is meant to be the voice of reason, either it’s her performance that is lacking or the writing because her ‘I can’t believe he just did that’ facial expression was so overused to pass an incorrect judgement on Williams’ brilliance – a trite cliché for storytelling in general – that I hoped for scenes without her.  That said, the show itself and overall cast (that includes an alumni from the Mindy Project and the New Adventures of Old Christine) has the potential to become very funny.

My rating: Wolk and Williams are worth the 30 minutes.

My IMDB rating: 6.5 but I guarantee it will be up to a 7 before Christmas.

brooklyn nine nine

Finally, Andy Samberg’s departure from SNL has led to Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  For me the premise, a sitcom, cop show, is funny.  Andy Samberg is funny.  Some of the characters do a good job of getting some laughs but generally without Samberg the show would falter.  His timing is impeccable and it seems that this is another show that could grow into its skin as the cast becomes better at feeding off each other or as the writing grows stronger so it doesn’t rely so heavily on delivery.

My rating: I’m looking forward to this show getting good.

My IMDB rating: 6.5

Thanks Fall Season of New Pilots but until The Crazy Ones or Brooklyn Nine-Nine have a few episodes under their belt, I think I’ll stick with what I know and love:

newgirlmindyprojectbanner

Best Television Dramas: Honourable Mentions

Here are two shows that I feel have been somewhat undervalued this summer – kind of like indie films in the wake of Hollywood blockbusters.  They are gripping dramas that have kept me glued to my television long after bed time.  This is what you should turn to next if you’ve exhausted the top ten.

1.  RAY DONOVAN

raydonavon

My one complaint about this show is that Ray Donovan spends more time fixing his family than the Hollywood starlets that make up his bread and butter.  This show is smart, crass, violent, endearing, melodramatic and highly performance driven.  Jon Voigt will make your skin crawl and you’ll want to be Ray Donovan.

Rating:  Perfect show for bingeing.

Airs: Showtime, Sundays at 10pm.  Only three episodes left of season 1.

IMDb:  Unrated. ??    metacritic:  75%

2.  BROADCHURCH

broadchurch

This 8-part murder mystery is one of the best shows I’ve seen in awhile (and the most Tweeted about show in Britain when it aired this summer).   It is not only a highly suspenseful whodunnit but also a character-driven piece that is beautifully acted and emotionally resonant.  While the story may not be original (given the number of crime dramas readily available at the moment), the deftly handled direction creates an intimacy between the audience and this small town trying to cope with the murder of an 11 year old boy.  We watch in horror as friends and partners turn on each other, and with suspicion when the press gets involved.  The show is wonderfully crafted with exquisite performances from the two leads who, as mismatched partners, offer something new to an old trope.

Rating: Keep in mind, I have yet to watch The KIlling or Top of the Lake, but this show will feel new and different.  It will make you angry, make you laugh and break your heart.

IMDb:  8.2       metacritic: 91%

1. Breaking Bad

breaking bad

Of course it is.  No television drama has been talked about more this summer than Breaking Bad.  Since its August 11th premier, social media has been bombarded with references, quotes, images, theories, opinions and recaps of the show’s fifth and final season.  So much so, that it is the only drama on television that invites celebrities onto a panel to talk about episodes right after they air (Edit note – I was mistaken.  Apparently AMC does this for all their dramas).  From what I can understand, the craziest part of the frenzy is that it is well deserved, with each new episode topping the last and not a second of air time wasted in this crime thriller about a former chemistry teacher who starts a meth lab.  I’m not sure if I’m disappointed with myself that I stopped after the first season or if I’m excited that I have four seasons to catch up on and witness how great television is made.  Guaranteed this series will go down in history.

Rating:  Now it all makes sense.  No other television show has consistently improved over the course of its run.  In fact, most shows dip here and there and have a hard time living up to their first season.  Not so with Breaking Bad.  From its first season ranking of 74%, the drama has consistently climbed to 85%, 89%, 96% to this season’s whopping 99% ranking – nothing comes close on this list.

IMDb:  9.4     metacritic: Season 1, 74%

2. Orange is the New Black

o-ORANGE-IS-THE-NEW-BLACK-facebook

I’m pretty sure the final two entries on this list of top ten dramas on television will come as no surprise to anyone.  I was first introduced to Orange is the New Black through my Facebook feed.  After it premiered on July 11th in its entirety (thanks to Netflix), friend after friend updated their status as they completed season 1 in less than a weekend.  The show, based on the real life experience of a young woman who was incarcerated for 15 months on a drug related charge, has grabbed everyone for its intelligence, wit, emotion, character development and authenticity.  I’m actually less surprised by its success than the lack of hater-backlash, which inevitably happens to any trend.  I have yet to hear a negative word about this show other than ‘it’s good’ rather than ‘it’s amazing!’

Rating: This is the second Netflix show with only one season under its belt.  Still, Metacritic rates it at a 79%, which is well below the highest rated show in the top ten, but higher than House of Cards.  Interesting.

IMDb: 8.6    metacritic:79%

3. Dexter

dexter

Dexter is a show that I came across and started watching because I liked the premise: a television drama about a serial killer who is also the narrator, protagonist and quasi-hero. The narrative voice was literary, believable and astonishing.  The crimes were interesting, the characters wonderful.  I was obsessed with this show for two seasons.  How or why I stopped is beyond me, other than to say that the fall of the video store and the rise of streaming has reintroduced me to a lot of television I loved but let slide through my fingers.  Right now, in it’s 8th and final season everyone is not only back on board, they are talking about it; they are gearing up for Sunday nights rather than waiting to watch it online.  This is television at its best.

Ranking:  Dexter must be everyone’s guilty pleasure because the general Metacritic rating is in the high 70s (only seasons 2 and 7 are above 80%)  whereas IMDB ranks it at a 9.0. Season 6 has the lowest Metacritic rating on this list at 63%.  Keep in mind, however, that Dexter is also the longest running drama on this list and every show that goes the distance has one or two seasons that don’t measure up.

IMDb: 9.0     metacritic: Season 1, 77%

4. Homeland

homeland

I was hooked on the first three episodes and then wasn’t too keen on the direction I felt the show was taking so stopped.  Clearly, I’m alone; and worse, I’m the jackass at the dinner party that blocks their ears when Season 1 comes up in conversation, pleading with my eyes for the conversation to stop because even with my ears blocked I can hear everything.  I get it;  the show is a must-see.  Why I never got back on board with this superbly cast and well-written spy thriller that has raked up a ton of hardware is beyond me, other than to say please see nos. 5, 7 and 8 – and there are only so many hours in a day.   Expect a review soon.

Rating: Highest we’ve seen so far.  Metacritic has a 91% positive rating for Season 1 and a 96% for Season 2.  What to start first? Walking Dead or Homeland??

IMDb:  8.6      metacritic: Season 1, 91%

6. Walking Dead

walking dead poster

I have no idea how I missed this show.  I heard about it for the first time after Season 3 came to a close in March.  Granted, despite great casting, a fantasy drama about a small group of people clinging to life in a world of zombies is not really my bag, but the ratings are high and everyone I’ve talked to  loves it.  Quite honestly, I’m disappointed with myself.  Look for a Can You Tell A Story review before season 4 gets underway in October.

Rating: This is the second AMC show to reach my top ten.  Metacritic rates season 1 at 82%.  Not bad.

IMDb:  87%      metacritic:  Season 3, 82%

7. Sherlock

sherlock

Ok, so this one might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but with season 3 premiering in the fall (or so I thought. Rumours have it premiering in Jan. 2014) I had to include this on my list, because it’s one of my favourite shows.   After Season 2 ended with a “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” cliffhanger, Sherlock fans have been waiting with baited breath for this thrilling, funny, intelligent, fast-paced, character driven drama to return to the air.  Seriously.  If there are rumours about a release date then I can’t be the only one watching.  If you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2 now is the time to catch up.  Guaranteed it will grab you.

Rating: Metacritic has season 2 ranked at 92%, the best we’ve seen on this list so far.

IMDb: 9.2       metacritic: Season 1, 85%