Summer is here! You know what that means? Most of my shows have wrapped up for the year. I’m sad to say that it hasn’t been a thrilling run since two of my favorite shows ended way back in Feb/March (Parenthood, The Walking Dead). This made the last 2-3 months feel a little bit lackluster. With the exception of some strong comedies, there was nothing on my DVR that I had to see immediately. Nothing worth reading about the next day. When The Walking Dead ended, I missed having a water cooler show. That will change soon when summer rolls around and brings us some goodies. Breaking Bad‘s final season (part one) will kick off in July (it’s my first season watching the show live!) and season three of the superb, experimental dramedy, Louie, begins at the end of June. Also, The Newsroom debuts on HBO at the end of the month as well.
Can. Not. Wait.
Despite my misgivings about the lack of fireworks later in the season, there were still some big doings on TV this spring. I started watching not one but two “reality” programs (Shark Tank, Savage U). The horror! A long-running show bit the dust for good (Desperate Housewives). A promising debut blossomed into something pretty special (New Girl). Some of my old-time favorites proved to be smooth, well-oiled machines (Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation). And on the opposite end of the spectrum, two shows are literally hanging by a thread (Glee, Californication).
Let’s get to it.
The Walking Dead
Season 2: A
Series to date: A-
After a strong but meandering start of the series, The Walking Dead came into its own during the devastating, tension-filled 2-part second season. Many folks complained about the barn setting and how the characters were simply standing around talking about their feelings for weeks on end. It’s true, that’s what they did. But you know, that’s far more interesting to me than going from setting to setting, killing one horde of zombies after another. That would have gotten very old very quickly.
Instead, the writers crafted a nifty little character study where we learned about what makes these people tick. We still know too little about T-Dog and Carol, but they have survived the season and there’s still a good chance the writers will beef up their stature. Gone are Dale, Shane, and a bulk of the Greene clan, and while some of them will be missed, their send-offs are necessary in adding new dimensions to the rest of the cast.
Standout moments of the season include: the grisly and utterly shocking discovery of Sophia; Shane’s grappling with the guilt of Otis’s death; and Dale’s heartfelt, passionate plea to end the senseless killing. I also really enjoyed watching Daryl turn into an intensely likable hardass over the course of the season. And ditto for Herschel going from a territorial protector to a willing team player.
Season 3 couldn’t come any sooner.
Season 3: A
Series to date: A
Ugh. Can this show break my heart any more than it already does? Jason Katims is a master juggler of storylines. He and his ridiculously talented writing team (who are also responsible for the dearly departed Friday Night Lights) give each member of the Braverman clan some time to shine. They have all had remarkable arcs this season.
Zeek mends his contentious relationship with his mother. Sarah builds her bond with Mr. Cyr (the always pleasant Jason Ritter, who I hope joins the cast full-time since his pilot was not picked up). Julia and Joel struggle with the adoption process, which led to some surprising revelations toward the end of the season. Drew has a girlfriend (yay!), and delightfully, awkwardly comes of age. Amber got a new job, only to fall for her boss. Despite that predictable turn of events, the story redeems itself as she and Bob Little rise above the situation. Also, I really loved the small moments between Amber and her cousin, Max, who has Asperger’s. Amber is the only one who truly understands him.
And Max, who has been adapting to school with some difficulty, had some really strong moments this year. The fallout with Jabbar and his running away gave Max Burkholder his most powerful performances since the series began. What an excellent young actor. His folks, Adam and Kristina, are exhaustively attempting to keep everything afloat, including the birth of their new baby girl, Nora, and starting new jobs (Adam with Crosby at The Luncheonette, a perfect excuse to get the great Peter Krause and Dax Shepard in as many scenes together as possible, and Kristina with running Bob Little’s campaign). Their daughter Haddie had less to do this year, since she sadly ended her relationship with Alex (Michael B. Jordan, who really needs to come back to the show). Her expectations needed to be in check, however, when she discovered that her folks wouldn’t be able to afford to send her off to Cornell.
Heartbreaking, heartwarming, endlessly relatable stuff. Parenthood is the best show no one is watching.
Season 3: A-
Series to date: A
Modern Family never fails to make me laugh every week. The writing is so fresh and sharp. The cast gels perfectly; they’ve been firing on all cylinders since the pilot. After three seasons, there is still not a weak performer in the bunch. Not all story structures work, but at this point, that hardly matters (for now), as long as the laughs are there.
However, the show is beginning to show signs of age. These wobbly story structures will eventually collapse and grow more far-fetched as the series runs its course. The blessing of the show is that everyone is so damned talented. The curse is that these characters do not evolve. Their dynamics do not change. If I turned on a rerun of Modern Family, I wouldn’t be able to tell if the episode was from season 1 or season 3. Look at Friends or Roseanne, two of my favorite sitcoms. New relationships are forged. New life-changing struggles are introduced every season. The characters evolve, they grow over time. With Modern Family, it’s like nothing ever happens to these people. That can be troublesome because I don’t want them to become caricatures.
Gloria’s pregnancy reveal at the end of the season may, in fact, reinvigorate the show. It may be just what is needed to start season 4 with fresh material and new challenges. But more twists and dynamics of this kind need to keep fueling this show in the long run. Right now, though, Modern Family is working wonderfully, and I hope the creators don’t run out of gas before it’s too late.
Parks and Recreation
Season 4: A-
Series to date: A-
After the first season, Parks and Recreation established the characters and made a few tweaks as it tried to find its voice. The show was off and running during seasons 2 and 3, which were the high points of the series. Week after week, this gang never failed to make me laugh. The characters were so well-rounded, the dramatic stakes were heartfelt, and the delivery was pitch-perfect. Season 4 was no different.
Some highlights: The on-again off-again relationship between Ann Perkins and Tom Haverford was ingeniously played out because it was treated like a joke, though the characters were not exactly in on it. These two do NOT belong together and this show knows it. Also, April and Andy continue to grow as individuals, with him going to college and her having more work to do in the office. But they still remain lazy, lovable creatures who have such deep affection for one another. It’s also nice to see a new side of Chris, who is always optimistically chipper. His downward spiral showed us how good of an actor Rob Lowe really is.
The one thing I wasn’t too crazy about this season was the balance between Leslie’s running for office and her workload at the Parks and Rec department. I thought a little too much time was devoted to her campaigning. Now that she won (spoiler alert!) maybe we’ll see more stories involving the improvement of Pawnee, which is where the heart of the show lies.
Season 3: A-
Series to date: A-
I had seen bits and pieces of Shark Tank during their first two seasons, and I was intrigued. But because I have some kind of an aversion towards “reality” programming, I just couldn’t commit. Well, it so happened that I watched an entire hour earlier this season, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I had room on my DVR and decided to become a full-time viewer. What an addictive series. The premise is simple: entrepreneur wannabes pitch their wild ideas to five business-savvy investors who wish to make their empires bigger than ever. These billionaire investors — sharks, for dramatic effect — fight one another to score the best deal that will make them richer. The foundation is solid. The sharks are entertaining. And, for better or worse, the businessmen and women who sell their ideas with passion and vigor are what makes America a shining beacon of opportunity.
Season 1: B+
“Who’s that girl, who’s that girl, who’s that girl? It’s Jess!” Wow, this show has come a long way since it premiered way back in September. After sampling five or six episodes, my wife and I were on the fence about continuing it. Sure, it was cute but it was so offbeat and only occasionally funny. Curiosity kept luring us back to it every week. And I’m so glad we never stopped.
I think it was around the time when CeCe and Schmidt started sleeping together that the show went from a mildly entertaining sitcom to must-see TV. Watching that relationship develop was pretty special, thanks mostly to the show’s MVP, Max Greenfield, whose “Schmitty Cents”, a metrosexual douchebag with heart, has evolved into a wholly interesting, full-fledged character. The show simply drags without him in the front and center. Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschenel, the one who drew me to the show in the first place) have also become more defined and less grating as the season progressed. Winston (the game Lamorne Morris) needs some more work. I feel like they were just beginning to figure him out once the season ended.
I’m really looking forward to seeing this gang return in the fall.
Season 1: B+
Another “reality” show on my DVR. What’s happening to me!? I would not be giving this MTV half-hour a moment’s notice if it weren’t for Dan Savage. Savage is a sex advice columnist – and a very good one too – whose podcast gets weekly play on my iPhone. The man tells you everything you need to know about relationships and sex. He’s the male, American, gay version of Ann Landers, but readers/listeners of all walks of life can enjoy Savage’s easy-going, candid nature.
He took his expertise to college campuses around the country and MTV went with him. Savage is joined by his producer and friend Lauren Hutchinson (a sweetheart and a charmer), and together, they answer questions about dating, masturbation, STDs, threesomes, S&M, bisexuality, you name it. Nothing is off-limits here, and the result is a refreshing, wide-eyed look at topics that are not for those who are shy in nature.
My only wish is that Savage U were not so damn short (with commercials, it’s only 20 minutes!). I hope it sticks around. I can never get enough of this guy.
Season 8: B+
Series to Date: B
Wow, 8 years! This show has gone through some serious ups and downs over the course of 8 seasons. Izzie’s final season was the show’s lowest point; when she left, I thought “good riddance.” It took some time for the show to rediscover itself, and this season was the show’s finest since the early days. Focusing on the residents’ fifth (and final) year at Mercy Hospital provided plenty of drama. The pressures of passing the big test (masterfully executed towards the end of the season), landing a job, moving to a different part of the country, all while balancing their requisite relationship problems and emotional caseloads — all nicely played out here.
However, the season finale, which saw our core group in a plane crash, reeked of manipulation and lazy plot mechanics. I’m sure the intention was to get our characters in a new emotional place for season 9 (a sort of reboot, if you will). Still, it’s a small misstep in an otherwise very compelling season of a show that once showed signs of weakness and has since found a new lease on life.
Season 8: B
Series Final Grade: B
After 8 wildly uneven seasons, Desperate Housewives should not have lasted this long. There’s nothing intelligent or redeeming about this show. The characters are inconsistent; the arcs are predictable; the season-long mysteries are long-winded and convoluted. In fact, it’s so easy to be critical of this show, and I found myself shaking my head in contempt more often than not. I cannot tell you how many times I almost wanted to end it.
But Marc Cherry and his team managed to bring me back, season after season. While it was never an A-level series or “must see TV,” it was actually a fun soap opera that was easy on the eyes and easier on the brain. It was comfort food that I usually felt guilty about consuming. It required no thinking. If I left the room to get something, I didn’t rewind the show to see what I missed. I folded a lot of laundry during Desperate Housewives.
I’m glad the show ended when it did. I won’t miss it, but I will miss seeing Felicity Huffman on the airwaves. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since the days of Sports Night. Marcia Cross’s Bree Van DeKamp was actually my least favorite character when the show launched back in 2004, but as the show progressed, I began to like her more and more. I could always take it or leave it with Teri Hatcher’s Susan Delfino and Eva Longoria’s Gabrielle Solis; their personas were always about as subtle as jack hammers when it came to characterizations and plot developments.
So long, Wisteria Lane. It was kinda, sorta fun while it lasted, but don’t let the door hit your cleavage on the way out.
How I Met Your Mother
Season 7: B-
Series to date: B
The damn title is bringing this show down. After 7 years of leaving tantalizing clues and teases, the central concept of How I Met Your Mother is now a complete joke. The amount of wrenches they have thrown this series-long arc is ridiculous. Even Lost knew when to put an end to it! And it’s too bad because a) this cast is awesome and b) most often than not, the show is very, very funny.
Not long ago, maybe two or three seasons ago, I vowed not to care about who the mother is anymore. It’s pointless. The show is about the journey, not the endgame. But the creators of the show are making it increasingly difficult to care about Ted and the women he dates, including (and especially) Robin. I love Cobie Smulders. She has created a dryly funny and completely believable character in Robin Scherbatzky. But this season’s big final twist resulted in nothing more than character assassination. Throwing her back together with Ted makes zero sense for either character and brings us further and further from the show’s “endgame.”
All that said, this wasn’t the show’s finest year, not by a long shot. But I did enjoy Lily and Marshall’s transformation from Manhattanite yuppies to parents-to-be Long Islanders. And Barney had some really good moments with his new gal pal Quinn (nicely played by Becki Newton). She’s good for him. It’s nice to finally see Barney so well-matched. And Ted is… Well, still Ted. I’ve always loved him and Josh Radnor’s consistently charming portrayal, so no real complaints here.
They just need to stop jerking us around. Either forget about the mother and move on, or start folding her into the show, like, NOW.
Season 5: C
Series to date: B
I absolutely love David Duchovny. Because of him, and him alone, I will never stop watching Californication, no matter how clumsy it becomes. No matter how shallow, no matter how sophomoric, no matter how lazy… I will be loyal to the show til the bitter end. It’s strange. The first three seasons have been pretty spectacular. The sexual misadventures of Hank Moody and his friends were frank, funny, and no-holds-barred adult programming. It was dirty in such a good way. But all that sex stuff gets old after a while, and I was returning to the show every week because I really dug the characters. Take the Runkles, for example. Marcy and Charlie were so dysfunctional, but their love for one another was so deep-rooted and palpable. Relationships in “sitcoms” tend not to be multi-faceted, but the Runkles were as real as any couple I’ve seen on TV.
But the last two seasons, and especially this one, our favorite characters have been a joke. Caricatures. Californication has, and will always be, centered around Hank Moody, and he’s still our favorite anti-hero, the ultimate fuckup who insists that his relationship with his daughter is the most important in his life. There’s plenty of juicy material for Hank Moody (and Duchovny never fails to play him so well), but it seems that the writers have given up on everyone else. The Runkles are no more, and separately, they have sunken to such low depths. Could they possibly be more desperate and pathetic? Stu Baggs (the great Stephen Tobolowsky) is a one-joke character, and let’s not even go into the non-threatening antagonist of the season, named Samurai Apocalypse (played by RZA). He snarled, he huffed, and then he laughed it off, only to continue doing so in the exact same manner for 10 episodes. And his girlfriend (Megan Good) is the single most poorly written character in the history of the show. When Kali showed up in the premiere on the airplane, I thought her scenes with Hank generated fireworks. But she turned out to be nothing more than a walking and talking plot device.
Hank and Karen are back together. Hank and Becca have mended fences. Here’s hoping the next season brings the Californication we know and love back on track.
Season 3: C-
Series to date: C+
After 5 seasons of Californication, Hank Moody is the only character left worth rooting for. After 3 seasons of Glee, there is no one here that I can sink my teeth into. Oh, what a mess this show has become. Every single character has gone from one extreme to another at the convenience of the “theme of the week.” It’s so clearly obvious the writers have written these characters around the songs, and not the other way around. Season 1 was far from perfect, but it was refreshing (and admittedly addictive) to watch these kids at McKinley High sing popular songs while struggling with the challenges of adolescence. As the series progressed, these characters we’ve grown attached to have become stick figures. The storyline involving Quinn’s baby is by far the show’s most disastrous arc. Quinn had become this evil, soulless teenager who conspired to sabotage the relationship between the baby and its adoptive mother (who happens to be Rachel’s birth mom, who happens to strike an affair with Puck, who happens to be the baby’s daddy and Quinn’s on-again off-again lover). This storyline killed any credibility these characters ever had. Quinn later “redeemed” herself only to be struck by a car not long afterwards and I was seriously hoping she did not survive. Needless to say, she did and was dancing on stage in a matter of weeks. Why, of course she did!
I can’t waste my time listing the rest of the cast’s strengths (there aren’t many) and weaknesses (oh, yes, there are a lot). So why do I continue to watch this show? Well, I’m hopeful. This show used to have magic. And there were flashes during this season that showed some promise and some spark. There were stray moments that moved me, almost to tears. I’m also clinging onto the idea that with half the cast graduating, there will be fresh blood in the new season. Maybe Ryan Murphy and his team will inject some sense into the show.
Side note: I haven’t forgiven them for turning Blaine into a boring, oddball character who couldn’t be more out-of-place at this school. He was a breath of fresh air as a recurring part in season 2. But when they moved him into McKinley and made Darren Criss full-time, they essentially sucked the life out of him and buried his appeal.
I hope Kurt Hummel got the hell out of that town and never looked back.