Ah, the dog days of summer. A misnomer if there ever was one. It was a terrific summer all around for me, especially in the area of television. I used to despise TV during the summer months. The quality and selection were always lacking. But thanks to cable and their non-traditional seasons, I got to enjoy four shows during these hot months. That’s more than I typically watch during this season. But all of these shows were completely worth it.
Season 5 (Part 1): A
Series to Date: A+
What can I say about Breaking Bad that I haven’t said already? This is one of the very best shows in television history; easily the best show running on TV now. The show’s penchant for high quality scripts, superb acting and knockout twists continued with this new half-season that did not disappoint. The second half of this final (boo!) season will conclude in summer of 2013 (boo hoo!). I was hesitant to give it a grade at all since it’s technically not a full season. We got 8 sterling episodes this summer, and they were as great as you’d expect from Vince Gilligan and his crack team of writers. But even though all previous seasons got an A+ from me, I need to shave off the + for season 5 for the reason that 8 is just not enough. I felt short-changed. It’s like they took away my favorite meal before I got to finish it. That being said, when I view the second half, I’ll grade the entire 16-episode season as a whole, and we’ll see if I’m full then. I have no doubt I will be more than satisfied. These guys never let me down.
Highlights of this season so far: Skylar’s harrowing descent into the dark side; Walt’s increasingly arrogant behavior (“It’s over when I say it’s over”); the devastating death of an innocent boy and the gang’s grim handling of it; the life and death of Mike Ehrmantraut, one of the show’s very best characters; two gorgeous montages in the mid-season finale – the prison shanking and the 3-month leap forward; and the final jaw-dropping twist that gives new meaning to the word “info dump.” By the way, Hank was severely underused this season, but judging from that twist, he’ll be in full force in the show’s final run of episodes.
Ten months is a long, fucking time.
Season 3: A
Series to date: A-
Watching Louie is like witnessing an abstract painting come to life. Your emotions are running off in different directions. At heart, Louis C.K. is a comedian and, like his standup, his TV show is designed to make us laugh. But C.K. is also a observer of life who is so finely tuned to his audience’s expectations and feelings. He is so completely and utterly in control of the tone of his show that it’s like watching a master dramatist at work. The season finale – probably the best half hour of TV I have seen all year – had me endlessly chuckling while remaining in awe of how open and raw Louie’s emotions are. When he started crying because the damn doll wasn’t coming together as he’d like it, I felt so exasperated for him. I wanted to hug him. Then the elevator door closed, his family separated from him… Well, I just wanted to take him home.
It’s ironic that his character is at the lowest point of his life and career, being alone and having failed to get the Letterman gig, but yet C.K. himself is hot off a couple of Emmys and is a respected commodity in television. Season 3 of Louie has some of the best work he has ever done. The fact that he pulled in some great cameos (Williams! Lynch! Poehler! Seinfeld!) is only icing on the cake.
Thanks John Landgraf of FX for giving Louis C.K. complete control of his show. It’s still unlike anything I’ve ever seen on any network. How refreshing.
Season 2: A-
Series to date: A-
I hate the term “reality show.” When I think of reality TV, I think of The Bachelor or something lame like I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Then when you say reality competition, I immediately think of American Idol or Survivor, which aren’t quite the bottom of the barrel, but still not exactly satisfying television for me. The Glee Project deserves so much more attention than it gets. It’s better than the “reality” sub-genre it’s stuck in. It’s even far better – and far more rewarding – than Glee itself! The Glee Project is a refreshingly honest, intimate talent competition that blows American Idol out of the water, substituting smarmy coke-drinking celebrity judges with creative, nurturing mentors. No studio audience necessary, either — these kids bust their asses for Ryan Murphy, Zach Woodlee, Nicki Anders and Robert Ulrich. These charming, humble contenders answer to no one but them.
The Glee Project is enchanting, uplifting and exciting television. I sincerely hope there is a season 3.
Season 1: B+
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have Aaron Sorkin back on the tube. I’m a big fan of all of his television projects (yes, including the deeply flawed but endlessly compelling Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). None of his work has come close to the rousing perfection that was his first series, Sports Night. Sadly, not even The Newsroom reaches the heights set by that short-lived triumph. But the potential is definitely there.
The Newsroom, in its punchy, uneven first season, features a stellar cast delivering the finest work in years by esteemed actors like Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterston. The first half of the show was kind of all over the place, unsure of its footing and experimenting with character dynamics. The overall initial feeling I had of this show was sort of schizophrenic (the romantic entanglements of the staff didn’t quite mesh well with the real-world news events), but as the show progressed, each subplot grew more fine-tuned. I’m not quite hinging on the suspense on whether Jim and Maggie will hook up, but I actually liked their characters more and more once the season wrapped up. Ditto the once-flaky, now multidimensional character of Sloan Sabbath (who’s on-air slipup caused a fantastic showdown with network president, Charlie Skinner).
In the end, a lot of things absolutely worked for me, especially the balance of comedy and drama. I knew Sorkin would pull through. Will the show be able to continue its path towards greatness? Whether or not it heads in that direction, I’m easily on board for season 2.