Thursday, May 10, 2012

Seven Devils

I like TV! Here's what I'm currently watching, very roughly in order of preference!

Game of Thrones' second season is even better than its first! Clash of Kings is harder to adapt than Game of Thrones was - it's a longer book, adds still more characters, and doesn't have really obvious points of trimming. But, they've done an absolutely fantastic job at translating it to the screen. (SPOILERS FOR BOOK 2 AND SEASON 2 FOLLOW FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRPAPH .) The biggest example I've seen so far has been their streamlining of Arya's arc. Yeah, the book is better - we get an extended period with her on the run, witness the full breadth of depravity shown by Gregor Clegane's ruthless band, and more heart-stopping reversals as she's tossed to and fro. But they've managed to distil her plot down to capture the most significant beats (Jaqen H'ghar, her witness of the Tickler, her quick thinking and resourcefulness under pressure, her entry into the world of revenge), and even added some amazing new stuff; I believe her scenes with Tywin were invented for the show, but they've been some of my favorite stuff this season. (Tywin: "I'm cold." Me: "Yes. Yes, you are.") And oh man, Melisandre's shadow baby? Crazy! It's one of the only times in my life when the on-screen version of a monster ended up being stranger and scarier than what I'd imagined when reading a book. Even the stuff I didn't like much in the first season has largely improved. I didn't think much of the actor playing Renly in the first season, but the character has grown into the role. They've fortunately tamped down on the sexposition, while not getting rid of it altogether. I was happy to see that they didn't pretty up Asha/Yara or Brienne the same way they did Osha (and I must admit, I'm quite happy with how Ygritte looks, even with her perfect teeth). All of this, and we haven't even gotten to the Blackwater yet. Awesome!

I caught Sherlock shortly after it aired in the UK, but it's showing now state-side on PBS, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should watch it there! (Do watch the first season first; it's only three episodes long. If you're pressed for time, you can skip the second episode.) Everything I loved about season one is back in force: phenomenal acting from Cumberbatch and Freeman, excellent style, gorgeous cinematography that captures a dynamic modern London, extremely clever dialog, genuinely surprising plot twists, deeply disturbing (and sometimes disturbed) villains.

I forget now who recommended Party Down to me, but whoever you are, thank you! No, this isn't a new series, but it's new to me, and I'm about halfway through the first season and loving it. It's the freshest take on the "discomfort comedy" genre that I've seen since the original UK version of The Office, and the acting cast is just incredibly good. The chemistry between Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan may be the best that I've seen on television. Most of the other core cast are just amazingly talented at being awful people; Roman in particular is a delightfully hateable character.

Parks and Recreation is continuing a really nice serial arc. The only other time I can think of when the show did this was back during the budget crisis / harvest festival arc. The show is super-funny, and as usual, it's the terrific characters and the show's heart that keep me attracted to it. In some ways, I feel like Parks & Rec is to TV like Vonnegut or Pratchett are to novels: there aren't any true villains, only oppositional characters. Paul Rudd's Bobby Newport is a great example: in any other show, he'd be the bad guy, but here, even though we're rooting against him, we can't help but like him: he's just so guileless and charismatic, even though he would be absolutely awful at his job. Similarly, Jennifer Barkley is a terrible person (duplicitous and immoral), but I can't help but like her, and I think that she genuinely does like Leslie and the waffles in Pawnee.

Community has been pretty great as well. The "Law and Order" spoof they did a while ago was one of the funniest things I've seen this year, even though I've never seen an episode of any of the franchises; I imagine it's even funnier to people who are familiar with that show's tropes and tics. I am feeling a little lost about the overall season-long arc; based on the pilot, I was expecting to see a lot more John Goodman and Omar this season, and while they've been great whenever they show up, it doesn't feel like the show is too committed to their (and Troy's) stories. Still, there's time left for the show to wrap everything up together, and in the meantime, we're still getting plenty of funny and clever shows.

Archer finished its third season a while back. It was excellent, and kind of a pure indulgence of Archer's fantasies (super-sexy spy car! fighting bad guys IN OUTER SPACE! etc.). Nothing quite touched the giddy highs of last season's "Terms of Enrampagement," but it was still a terrific season.

I'm mostly enjoying 30 Rock; I was thinking that I might stop watching after this season (it seems like the show is running out of stuff to do), but it's now looking like the next (abbreviated) season will be its last, so I'll probably go ahead and see the show out. When it's doing well, it's fantastic; the Leap Day episode was just incredibly good (despite blatantly ripping off Andrew Hussie).  Every episode can make me laugh at least a little, but other than Donaghy it doesn't feel like any of the characters are really evolving, which makes it harder to stay interesting.

I was underwhelmed by the second and final season of "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret." At the end of the first season, I had a rough idea of where the show was going to go; I turned out to be largely wrong, which is good in and of itself (I enjoy being surprised), but I didn't enjoy where it ended up. There are still some really funny bits in it, but as the mystery is stripped away, and you understand what's going on, it feels mean, petty, and not as much fun as I'd hoped.

So, what do I have to look forward to? Louie's third season starts in late June. I'm kind of astonished that I still need to wait another year for the next season of Venture Brothers. I'm getting tempted to FINALLY catch up on (i.e., start watching) Breaking Bad so I can chat about its new season when it airs in July. I feel similarly guilty that I haven't watched any Mad Men. The advantage, of course, is that I know I have some quality TV options in the bag that I can pull out whenever I want something good to watch. That's a nice predicament to have!

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