I haven't done one of these in a while, so here's a random rundown of televised entertainment I've been watching lately!
I'm currently rushing through a bunch of Netflix exclusives, in a stupid quest to finish all of them before HBO Now is released so I can cancel my Netflix subscription and switch to that in time for Game of Thrones / Silicon Valley. Some shows are better than others.
At the top of the list, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is fantastically funny. It manages to be really surprising and engaging and clever. I was pretty impressed at how they were able to develop an actual arc over the course of the season... I thought that they were just going to use their strong premise and cast for a typical sitcom structure, but it evolves into this really great overarching story. I'm still a bit baffled why NBC let this one go, it would have easily been the best comedy on the network.
Speaking of great comedies let go by NBC: The Yahoo! TV season of Community has been really good so far. It got off to a strong start, evoking the show's typical love of meta-referential humor thanks to Abed's musing over spin-offs and the study group's disparate levels of attachment to Shirley's and Pierce's vacant chairs. I'd been bracing myself for lowered production values with the jump from network television, but it's actually felt pretty much the same as before; the opening frisbee disaster seems like vintage Community shenanigans. And as a final bonus, I adore Paget and she's been terrific in this.
Archer's also having a very strong season. I'd been bummed by them pressing the reset switch at the end of the previous season, but the show's story and mythology is still continuing to evolve, and the character relationships provide their own form of dynamism. It's great fun, and they continue to outdo themselves in animation quality with each new year. The show also has probably the best-calibrated sense of any show regarding when to repeat their catchphrases and when to give it a rest.
Moving on to dramas, Better Call Saul has been fantastic. I'm a big Bob Odenkirk fan and was on board for whatever happened. It's ended up being a really interesting alternative to Breaking Bad. BB was a master at propulsive serial storytelling: you were always wondering what was going to happen next, how Walt would get out of his current jam. Obviously, since BCS is a prequel, we already know where the character is going to end up, but there ends up being much more ambiguity in this show than the original. It moves forwards and backwards in time, giving us tantalizing glimpses of different moments and revealing character glimpses. When watching this show, I usually don't ask myself "What will happen next?"; instead I'm wondering why characters are relating to each other the way they are, what reasons people have for the actions they take. The payoff to these questions is slow, and many are still outstanding, but the revelations we've gotten so far have been incredibly satisfying. I'm really looking forward to what happens in the rest of this show's run.
On a more negative side, I thought season 3 of House of Cards was its weakest yet. I didn't hate it, but it felt the least engaging out of all so far. In principle, I like the idea of showing Frank under more duress and struggling to maintain power rather than fighting to claim it; but so much time was spent on sideplots that never went anywhere or had little payoff, like Remy and Jackie's relationship or Tom's book or anything Seth and Meechum did. It didn't help matters that Frank was completely ridiculous for the entire season. It's clear that Kevin Spacey is having a lot of fun, which I suppose is a good thing, but the snarling and scenery-chewing and increasingly desperate search for new mores to break got old. (On the plus side, Robin Wright continues to be fantastic. She pretty much carried the season for me.)
I've also begun tearing through Orange Is the New Black and have been really enjoying it. This show also feels pretty loose and has lots of digressions, particularly when it flashes back to the pre-prison lives of its inmates, but in this case that seems to enhance the show: it highlights the vast ensemble's diverse experiences, and also emphasizes the basic randomness of events. We're regularly reminded that these women aren't particularly bad or dangerous; they made mistakes, and were unlucky enough to get caught. There's a ton I like about this show, and perhaps I'll give it its own post later, but for now I'll mention how much I appreciate the complexity of its characters. Someone like Caputo is a great example: he's personally sleazy, and can be really capricious; but he's also a reformer who seems to genuinely want the prison to be run well (although, granted, there's some self-advancement attached to this). On the other hand, Healy is much friendlier than most of the staff and seems like a quintessential nice guy; but he's deeply homophobic and can be extremely petty. What I like about this show is that it isn't just a matter of "This character is good fooled you! no they're bad"; it isn't afraid to make a character sympathetic, then show them being really crass, then show them demonstrating compassion. Every character is a collection of good and bad, just like all of us in the real world.
Hm... I think that's about all that I've watched lately (other than viewing this amazing mashup of Taylor Swift and Nine Inch Nails approximately 50 times over the past two months and Panic Switch another two dozen). I'm definitely looking forward to trying out HBO Now. Netflix has been good and all, but it's been months since I found a movie on there that I actually wanted to watch, and if it weren't for TV shows I would have canceled it long ago. Between Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, and the new movies (including Going Clear) and maybe even that Vice news show, I should have plenty of good entertainment in my future.