The Idiot Box
Thoughts on TV shows and my current viewing habits.
In August Elementary finally came to an end after seven years. The last season spanned a tighter than usual 13 episodes and introduced a new and very contemporary archnemesis; tech giant Odin Reichenbach (James Frain). Although it can be argued that the story arc was very formulaic, it also drew upon many elements of Conan Doyle’s original stories. Holmes realises that he may have to sacrifice himself to take down a foe and protect those nearest to him. Then there is the issues of his “death”. For many viewers such as myself, the final season wasn’t so much about a clever narrative but simply seeing what happened to all the major cast members. Broadly, it was all very satisfactory. Spoiler Alert. Captain Gregson retired and Marcus remained at the NYPD instead of taking his position with the US Marshal service. Joan finally adopted a child and Morland was killed while trying to broker one of his high-level deals. All story lines were brought to a neat and acceptable end. Furthermore the door was clearly left open for a future revival of the show if required.
Mindhunter Season 2 has proved to be an improvement over the first series. The focus has moved away from FBI Special Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and now Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) have been given more scope to develop. Bill’s young son was inadvertently involved in the killing of another child which has put his marriage under a lot of strain. Wendy continues to navigate the male dominated corridors of power and struggles with her own closeted sexuality. As with the first season the interviews with the various serial killers prove absolutely hair raising, with much of the dialogue coming from original FBI transcripts. Season 2 also benefitted from a continuous story arc exploring the Atlanta child murders. It was both harrowing and depressing to see countless children’s deaths ignored by the authorities due to entrenched racism and the way in which politics and business colluded to sweep matters under the carpet once a potential culprit was found.
Although there has been plenty to watch over the last four months since I last wrote an instalment of The Idiot Box, I am getting a little tired at the way that successful genres quickly become popular band wagons. After years of the fantasy genre being underrepresented, we now find a glut of such material. I was briefly interested in Carnival Row as I initially thought it was simply going to be a period set, police procedural like Ripper Street. But then it became clear that it was just another “fantasy” based drama with little originality. I’m also completely over anything about superheroes, so have given The Boys a wide berth, despite it getting good reviews. The basic premise is just so uninspiring. However, I am looking forward to Star Trek: Picard when it’s released in early 2020 because it is part of a long-established franchise. I’m curiously optimistic about The Witcher series which looks more promising than expected.
Here’s a summary of what else I’ve been watching:
Dead Pixels. A UK sitcom about a fictitious MMORPG called Kingdom Scrolls and an eclectic group of players. After years of perpetuating stereotypes about gamers, Dead Pixels is possibly the first major comedy that successfully captures some of the quirky foibles of the gaming community. It’s funny and honest as it’s not afraid to show some of the less positive attributes associated with gamers.
The Shining (1997). A two-part miniseries directed by Mick Garris, that follows Stephen Kings source text a lot more closely than the Kubrick movie. It is functional and adequate but suffers from a low budget and some poor CGI. The grandeur of the 1980 version is lost. There’s a nice performance from Steven Weber who has a far more measured decent into insanity than Jack Nicholson. I enjoyed the cameo from Melvin Van Peebles as Dick Hallorann.
Chernobyl. This is an utterly compelling docudrama that just reeks of authenticity. The science is chilling, as is the myopic nature of the Soviet authorities’ response to the unfolding crisis. The performances are measured and the tone is tragic. However, it’s a difficult watch as it quickly becomes apparent that many of the cast have doomed themselves to a singularly unpleasant demise.
The Twilight Zone Season 5. I started watching the first season of The Twilight Zone April 2018 and over recent months have slowly worked my way through the entire back catalogue. The first three seasons certainly have the best episodes. Season 4 moved from a 25-minute format to 50 minutes and some of the stories cannot sustain that running time and are ponderous. Season 5 saw a return to the original duration but the stories are not so strong. Still, I am glad that I’ve taken the time to fully acquaint myself with this iconic show. It may be a cliché but this was ahead of its time and although various other shows have tried to replicate its success, few have succeeded.
The Terror: Infamy. The first season of The Terror was the big television surprise of 2018. A curious blend of fact, historical conjecture and mysticism. It was a delightful slow burn drama and a solid analysis of mental disintegration in adverse conditions. Season 2 is a radically different beast but no less fascinating. Set during the internment of Japanese Americans citizens during World War II, this is another measured foray into horror. The ghost story being told is relatively straight forward but it is the cultural trappings that make it quite different and compelling. Plus its always a pleasure to see George Takei in anything.
Instinct. I was most surprised this show got a second season. It’s a curious hybrid of police procedural, forensic psychology with Alan Cumming starring as Dr. Dylan Reinhart; an author, university professor and former CIA operative who now consults for the NYPD. The show also focuses on Reinhart’s relationship with his husband Andy (Daniel Ings), a lawyer-turned-bar owner who still uses his law skills to help their mutual friends when needed. It’s all somewhat contrived and tries to cover a little too much ground but I watch it mainly because of Cummings, who holds it all together and sports some wonderfully flamboyant suits.
TV To Do List:
Evil. I stumbled across this show while looking for reviews of another. The plot sounded intriguing; a sceptical forensic psychologist allies with a priest and a contractor to investigate purported supernatural incidents. So I’ve decided to give it a go. Robert and Michelle King who created the show have an established pedigree with titles such as The Good Wife and The good Fight. And I'm a sucker for anything with Michael Emerson in. So let’s see how it pans out.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. I really want to catch up with this show. The Dark Crystal is a grossly underrated movie. The sort of experimental film making that thrived briefly during the post Star Wars period. Plus anything with puppets and animatronics caters to my tastes. I suspect I’ll binge this show over a couple of nights in October.