Late last year I wrote about some television shows I was looking forward to in 2015. Most on the list have already been broadcast, so I thought it was a good time for a review before the official start of the 2015 Fall season. (Does that even have meaning anymore? Shows debut every period of the year. Oh, well, another topic for another day.)
1. Returning seasons of Black Sails, Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, Les Revenants:
Black Sails: Season 2 of the Starz pirate show was magnificent on so many different levels, it’s impossible to hit them all in a mini-review. Yes, the big reveal was the sexuality of one of the major characters, but that wasn’t the most interesting reveal about him, by far. Turns out his motivations are far deeper and far less self-serving than one might have originally assumed.
He wasn’t the only character to undergo a significant character arc over the season, either. As in Season 1, alliances and relationships underwent massive changes and reshufflings. Several characters bit the dust, and one previously assumed lost forever returned. This show is exciting and fun yet never stops being character-driven. Next season: Ray Stevenson (Rome) joins the cast as Blackbeard. Watch it, watch it!
Game of Thrones: I know it just won the most Emmys of any show in Emmy history, but for me, Season 5 was very much a mixed bag. The highs were super-SUPER high (which helps when you’re competing for Emmys, since producers pick which parts of the show to submit for consideration).
But the lows. Oh, boy.
The Dorne portions of the show skated on the edge of flat-out awful. The way the Sand Snakes were conceived was so wrong-headed, I don’t even know what to say about them specifically; it was all so off. While it seemed inspired to pair Bronn with Jaime for the Dorne sections, neither actor has the same chemistry with each other that they do with Peter Dinklage.
I totally get the reasoning behind why they retooled Sansa’s story. In the books, she’s pretty much just hanging out in the Eyrie with Robin. So I give them props for putting her into a section of the story that is in the thick of the action. But they should have taken into consideration that the new story they put her in is a retread of the Sansa/Joffrey story–which she had JUST escaped. She had grown stronger and even acquired some agency. Instead of just substituting her for a minor character, they could have brought her into that story without regressing her character. WORSE, they made what happens to her a motivation for THEON to acquire some agency.
When I hear arguments that violence against women in the show reflects the world Martin created, I can’t help remembering how Daenerys, Cersei, and Sansa all make it to the end of A Dance with Dragons without being sexually assaulted.
As for the highs: the Battle of Hardhome is certainly the highlight of Season 5, indeed, one of the highlights of the show overall. It even inspired a bunch of internet memes. They didn’t make the mistake they made last year, by having the battle consume an entire episode. The battle scene this time was tightly written and shot, making it exciting and horrifying every, single second it played on screen.
Bringing Tyrion into Daenerys’ orbit WAY faster than the books was a very smart decision. (I couldn’t believe after slogging through the behemoth that is A Dance with Dragons that they still don’t meet by the end!) Lena Heady’s performance during her “Walk of Shame” was superb. (I almost–ALMOST–felt sorry for Cersei.) They were wise to follow-up the very, VERY upsetting fate of little Shireen Baratheon with the scene of Daenerys escaping assassins on her dragon, another great set-piece.
For the record: I don’t care how much the producers deny it, I’m fairly certain Jon Snow is coming back, in some form, next season. If he’s dead-dead without a resolution for the mystery of his parentage, then it’s the biggest literary blunder of all time.
Orphan Black: the reveal at the end of Season 2 that there was also a set of male clones was mildly upsetting. Would the male clones take over the story? Turns out, we worried for nothing. This show knows where its bread is buttered: with the four original clones we were introduced to during Season 1: Sarah, Alison, Cosima, and Helena. Even as we meet more and more clones (male and female), even as the story gets more and more complex (and sometimes wacky) it keeps its focus firmly on the four characters we care about the most–something other sci-fi shows should note (coughHeroescough). It just keeps getting better and better. Can’t wait for Season 4!
Les Revenants: Still no Season 2 of this French zombie show broadcast here in America. HOWEVER, A&E broadcast an American remake of the show earlier this year called The Returned. The first half of the season stayed very close to the French show. The casting was on point and they kept the “isolated and beautiful but creepy town” vibe of the original. The story diverged from the French show during the second half of the season, but I was still willing to stick with it for another season. Unfortunately, A&E canceled the show. So. Still no Season 2 in ANY language yet.
2. Wolf Hall: if you are looking for another sexy, gossipy retelling of the Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn story like The Tudors, then Wolf Hall is going to disappoint you. But if you’re into the behind-the-scenes intrigue of the situation, then this is the show for you. An excellent adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award winning books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, this is about how there was much more at stake than who Henry was going to shag and if he would get the son he so desired.
On the surface, Mark Rylance seems an odd choice for Thomas Cromwell, the low born man who rose to become one of Henry’s most important advisors. He initially seems too nice, but he plays all the nuances of the character perfectly, sometimes even going beyond what is in the books. At one point, he made me believe he built Anne Boleyn up for the express purpose of bringing her down. The way he destroys people for slights they don’t even remember is chilling, and yet he still comes across as very human. An excellent show in every way. Really looking forward to the last book, and hopefully, another miniseries featuring the same cast.
3. Poldark: I was almost incensed when I heard they were remaking the original 1970s series, based on Winston Graham’s historical novels. But I decided to give it a chance.
THIS is how you do a remake.
They stuck very close to the original story (it’s actually closer to the novels than the previous series) and seem to know that the setting–Cornwall–is almost like another character. They use it to great advantage. They cast Aidan Turner, someone physically very unlike Robin Ellis (the original star), who still embodies the perfect amount of sexy broody angst. I was on the fence for most of the season about Elinor Tomlinson, who plays his wife Demelza. I was used to seeing her play upper-class characters and it’s hard to forget Angharad Rees’ indelible performance in the original. But by the end she totally won me over, as Demelza wins Ross over.
Best of all, they paid homage to the original by casting Robin Ellis in a small role. He had two major confrontations with the new Ross, which were delicious and fun.
My only complaint–which is a complaint I have about a lot of British shows with historical settings lately–the background music is incredibly intrusive. Tone it down, guys.
4. 12 Monkeys: I didn’t last one episode. I was extremely disappointed in this. My main gripe was the casting. If you’re going to cast characters already played by Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt, then you’d better find some stellar replacements. It was an interesting twist to change the gender of Pitt’s character, but mostly the casting was so blah I couldn’t get into the show at all.
5. The Spoils Before Dying: another terrific spoof of lousy novels and their even worse movie and TV adaptations by Will Ferrell and Funny or Die. This one makes fun of pulp novels of the 1950s and early 60s. Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire) takes the lead as a jazz musician who is suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend. Actors from The Spoils of Babylon show up here, too, including Kristen Wiig, Haley Joel Osment, and Ferrell himself as the author of this “masterpiece,” Eric Jonrosh. Standout cameo is by Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex). I wish these shows were more widely known–they are really funny and clever.
Still waiting for Westworld, The Last Kingdom, and Flesh and Bone to premiere. I would write about my new favorite show–that I was unaware of when I wrote my previous post–but Netflix’s Sense8 deserves a post all its own.