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Mad Men- There has been a half-a-dozen shows in the past few years which have been met with enormous praise: Mad Men is one such show. I’m roughly shin deep in the waters of Sterling & Cooper and I’m not completely sold on the supposed excellence, but I’m slowly getting there.
I love how unafraid it is in conveying the uglier parts of 1950’s/60’s America. Blatant racism -and especially sexism- run rampant. Foolish people often call the 50’s a golden era and it really wasn’t. It was the beginning of America’s transition from an ignorant, innocent child to a full-grown adult, aware of its many imperfections.
Mad Men’s greatest strength is in its protagonist. Donald Draper is incredibly human. He’s got your typical hard working American and loving father and husband shtick but at the same time he’s not perfect, just like all of us troglodytes.
The rest morally destitute cast couldn’t be more well done. I found myself instantly invested in their stories and lives. But here comes my skepticism. How long can they keep this up for. Is Don’s mysterious past going to be enough to carry the show, because as of now, the rest of the cast is more of a two or three season gig. Affairs and office politics is certainly interesting, but is it interesting enough to hold my interest for very long?
I know, I know. There have been five seasons and the show has yet to be significantly bashed, so I should hold my reservations for later.
Derek- Recently British comedian- and the mind behind The Office, Ricky Gervais- released his semi-new show for American audiences exclusively via Netflix. I generally enjoy anything the man is involved in so it should come as no surprise I was pleased with Derek.
Some have praised it for finding a great balance between comedy and drama, and while I’m inclined to agree, I wouldn’t say it’s anything too mesmerizing. The jokes hit their mark more often than not, but the drama, can be a bit too cheesy for my tastes. The focus on an elderly home and Derek, clearly a man not all there mentally, is a nice bit of cliche and originality. Occasionally however, things lean towards the cliche side more than a healthy amount. Thankfully, the acting and writing is surprisingly top-notch in a few regards. Hats off to Gervais, he so easily could have made Derek into a spectacle of low-brow humor making fun of the mentally challenged but he steered clear of those violent waters.
By no means is Derek a show you need to watch, but if you’re a fan of Gervais you should more than consider it.
Breaking Bad- My favorite show? No, but it’s up there. Most well made show I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing? Without a doubt in my mind I know this to be true. I love Game of Thrones and I adore Death Note, but they’ve got some issues. Small, but still issues. Breaking Bad? Well it’s just so tough to find flaws within the beautiful cinematography, captivating characters/narrative, expert usage of licensed music, and all around superbness in every other aspect. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but Vince Gilligan and crew may be T.V. gods.
While I could drool over how amazing Breaking Bad is for hours and hours, there are far more intelligent people who would give it justice in a much more eloquent way. I would rather focus on the ending.
So yea, spoilers-ho!
Endings are tough, real tough. Breaking Bad managed to find a way to avoid the many pitfalls and elevated itself in the closing moments to be a true masterpiece. A beautiful tragedy, if you will. In those final, heart-breaking minutes, Walt comes to terms with his death and the mistakes he had made. All along he had lied to himself and those he cared about. He had not become a meth kingpin for the sake of his family’s wellbeing after he was gone. He did it for himself. He was good at it, and he enjoyed it.
The truth is, Walt hated many aspects of his life prior to his diagnose and subsequent rise to infamy. He was a brilliant chemist who forgoed being a millionaire at the helm of Gray Matter Technologies for the sake of raising a family and teaching. He had realized the death of Walter White would have meant so little to the world. But Heisenberg, now that’s a name history would remember.
Pride and arrogance would be his undoing, not unlike some characters from my other favorite shows.
When all was said and done, things had a tidy-but not as if they had been explained with a heavy-hand- feeling. I was left in a satisfying, if saddened, state but just enough was left up to the viewer to interpret. Did Jesse forgive Walt or did he simply not want to dilute himself further with the blood of another human being? Was Skylar ever able to get Walt’s remaining money? Who knows? Probably not even Vince Gilligan himself.
Attack on Titan- It kills me to think there are so many people out there, especially among the people I know personally, who refuse to watch anime. Childish, weird, whatever their excuse, shows like Attack on Titan proves them to be invalid criticisms.
When the spring season of anime began, I approached Attack on Titan with tempered interest. I heared some hype leading up to premiere, but my expectations were rather non-existent. So imagine my surprise when I had settled down into the unforgiving world protagonist Eren Jaeger calls home. Now that the first season is over and has been a huge success, I can’t wait to jump back into the most hellish setting I’ve ever seen. Yes, this even tops Game of Thrones’ character disdain and dark setting as far as I’m concerned.
Much like the brutality of Attack on Titan’s world, its fast pace never takes an episode off. The truly memorable moments are when the show is savagely killing off a sizable portion of its beloved faces. Emphasize on the savagery, because I’ve never experienced such a damnable world. I’m always curled up in the corner of my bed frantically worrying who’s going to be the next victim of the insatiable hunger of the titans.
This show gets death right. It isn’t pretty or heroic and you don’t always get to impart your final words upon those you love. Each death is often gruesome and quick. It’s a spectacle. When someone bits the dust, they do so in front of all their friends and comrades. They don’t go down in a blaze of glory. No, many are left pleading for their lives and animalistically trying to grasp at any glimmer of hope. There’s a sense of embarrassing disempowerment no matter how skilled the warrior. When their end comes they’re crushed like an ant among the sidewalks of Manhattan.
Death is terrible thing but I’ve always found the weakness that causes a demise to be far more horrifying. No matter how grand the person, those that knew them best will always have the thought of how they died at the forefront of their minds. How you die plays an enormous role on your legacy.
Things aren't all so heavy. There is a remarkable amount of subtlety. One of the great examples of this is how the “Wallists, a group of religious zealots who believe the giant walls protecting them from the titans to be divine, are casually slipped in. They may be minor to the narrative , but they aid the atmosphere in becoming oh-so palpable.
Okay, so if you haven’t figured it out by now, watch Attack on Titan. I don’t care if you’re an otaku or some sort of anime bigot. Watch it, you will not regret it.
Homeland Season 2- Season one of Showtime’s next big thing didn't fail in impressing me. Homeland manages to pose some questions Americans really should be asking themselves. It highlighted the lack of morality in any sort of war, especially the one we wage today against terrorism. No one side dominates the moral high ground, despite how much they try to keep up their angelic appearances.
In the second season however, I felt things took a slight turn for the worse. Brody has been effectively disarmed, and while they did the right thing progressing the plot they way they did, it felt a lot less impactful. The topical messages of the first season, had slunk away into a dark corner. A transition took place. One from “question your beliefs” to “generic terrorists are bad and we must catch them”.
Things managed to get interesting again towards the end. Season three has been set-up nicely thanks to the precarious positions characters like Kerry, Quinn, and Sual find themselves in.
Dexter- I’ve made it clear in the past how little I care for where Dexter has gone in the past four seasons. Now that I can look back on the show in its entirety, I feel it exemplifies some of American television’s greatest weaknesses. Too often successful shows wear out their welcome, hitting a point in the ratings where the greed of the corporate fat cats, yes I just said that, see success- and rather than go out on top- they milk it until only a emaciated corpse remains. Dexter hit that point after season four. Combined with a new executive producer in Scott Buck, the quality dropped from the sky like a Boeing jetliner out of fuel and filled with sumo wrestlers.
So those are my thoughts on the decline of Dexter, but how about that ending?
Well to put it bluntly, the final episode was awful. Of course they didn’t exactly set themselves up with much, but what’s done is done. Firstly, you had to really work at looking past some incredibly mind-boggling moments such as Dexter dragging Deb’s body out the front doors of the hospital, past dozens of people. These sorts of things have been happening for several seasons now, but I digress. Those last few seconds, oh what a mistake they were. Dexter had appeared to taken the poetic and just way out. After years and years, he had finally realized he was a storm of destruction and torment for any around him. Rather than risk living with Hannah and Harrison in Brazil, he opted to sail off into the coming hurricane, ending his life. Or so we thought. In the final scene it is revealed Dexter had inexplicably escaped the brunt of a category three hurricane and started life anew as a logger.
This is no worse than what the show had been doing for years. I expected and accepted the certainty of an unsatisfying finish. What gets under my skin is the clear attempt to give Showtime an excuse for a spin-off or some sort of continuation, something that CEO, Matthew C. Blank, has not been keeping tight-lipped about. Did they not learn their lesson? Don’t make a show for the money, make it for the desire to tell a story and to entertain.
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