Saturday, April 22, 2017

"The Americans" — Mid-Season Recap

My friends, it is with a heavy heart that I must report to you that, as it passes its halfway point, I am less than completely in awe of a new season of The Americans. 

More (with spoilers) after the jump:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Sweet/Vicious" - MTV's Drama is the Best New Show of 2016

The last time I stood here, proselytizing about the unsung greatness of a show outside the typical prestige TV framework, I was singing the praises of The 100 as it neared the end of its (still pretty sensational, to be clear) second season.

OK. Not my finest hour in retrospect.

I'm not gonna promise something similar won't happen with MTV's Sweet/Vicious, which I'm about to go to bat for in much the same way. It's only five episodes old, for starters. But those five episodes—while certainly not perfect—represent one of the most exciting, confident starts I've seen from a new hour-long since the first season of Jane the Virgin. (Perhaps second only to WGN America's late, great period drama Manhattan, if we're keeping track.) If there's a major concern for me about it going forward, it's that the various sustainability hurdles inherent in any story built around characters with secret identities—in this case, two women who decide to don masks and take on rapists, vigilante-style, on and around their college campus—may prove to be too much over the long haul. But if there are undoubtedly failures out there, there are also plenty of examples of shows that have spun similarly confining premises into long-term dramatic gold—most recently, of course, twice-reigning drama of the year The Americans. Now, I'm not saying the writers of Sweet/Vicious have the chops of The Americans' writers, but the strength of these early episodes has me hoping they might just be able to pull it off.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Best TV Episodes of 2016

I didn't feel like writing a big intro of any kind to this year's list, both because I've been busy with work and just because, well . . . 2016. You get it.

Anyhow, different year, same old rules. Two episodes are allowed per show (because otherwise I'd probably just list five each from Steven Universe, BoJack, The Americans and Rectify), and in general I try to keep it to one for the majority of them, simply because that allows for more variety.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Best Shows of 2015-16 - Part Two

In comparison to last week's selections, part two of this list will probably look a bit more familiar to those of you who were around for last year's installment. But there's still a potential surprise or two in store.

Again, mild to moderate spoilers ahead:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Best Shows of 2015-16 - Part One

Farewell, Transparent. I don't know if it was conversations with folks on social media that brought me around to the belief that this widely-praised show (which, in a decision that makes me cringe now, I placed at No. 5 on this list a year ago) rings fundamentally empty in most respects, or simply if season two was just so much worse at covering up that hollow, often offensive core. Either way, don't expect to see it anywhere on this year's version of my season-ending chronicle of the best in TV. As for fellow former top-five heavyweight The 100 . . . well, let's sum up what happened to this once-great series in two words: utter ruin. It joins The Good Wife in the illustrious hall of shame of shows that reached greatness, only to fall apart and (probably) never recover from a series of deeply horrible creative choices the following season. (Or maybe it will recover. I dunno. I haven't finished it, because final-semester-of-college obligations forced me to reduce my weekly viewing load a bit this spring. Suffice to say this show didn't merit inclusion in that group.)

The other major disappointment from this year's group of shows is the conspicuous absence of Jane the Virgin. Midway through the year, it seemed to have a spot all but sewn up, but the back half of the season has simply not been very good. Unlike The 100, it doesn't seem to be beyond salvaging (they haven't completely ruined two-thirds of the characters, for one thing), but it was kind of a rough year for The CW in general. (Two shows in the top 20 is still not too shabby, but early in the year it looked like several more were in play. And none ended up making the top 10.)

I could talk about the season's more pleasant surprises as well (of which there were many), but since a number of those shows are listed below, it's probably not worth hearing me sing their praises extensively here. Suffice to say they helped made it another great year in TV in spite of these various high-profile flops.

Part one after the jump (part two will post next week). Mild to moderate spoilers for some shows ahead:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Best Episodes of 2015

Hello! Welcome to another year of my annual tradition of counting down my 20 favorite episodes of 2015. Rules are the same as always: only two episodes from any one show can make the cut. And just as I did last year, while I'll list my top 20, I will only be writing about the top 10 (due mostly to post-semester writing fatigue).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My First Pitchfork Festival in Review

My first time ever at the Pitchfork Music Festival threatened to go off the rails early. I'd come with a couple friends, and we'd just seen Bully tear through a fantastic set (more on them in a bit) to open the day. Following that, Ex Hex was next on the agenda, despite the first feelings of raindrops as we headed over to see Mary Timony and company. After a delay, they managed to get through four songs before the storm finally hit in earnest, and the dreaded closing announcement was heard. Thunder and lightning soon followed, way too close for comfort. We congregated with everyone heading for the exits, forming a bottleneck that must have taken a good five minutes (precious time in this situation) to get through. Finally we made it out, and went . . . well, nowhere. We were surrounded by residential areas whose locked doors offered no shelter from lightning, rain, or possible tornadoes. In retrospect, I doubt this particular storm ever got close enough to pose a serious threat to us, but it was a scary sequence of events. (Not that the people who hadn't heeded the evacuation were any safer, as festival tents are certainly not adequate protection for severe weather.)

I'll get to the music in a moment, but this was such a mismanaged situation, and it could have had serious consequences had weather conditions been just a tad different. So let's take a second to run through the screw-ups. 

1) Zero information about what to do in case of severe weather on the website, and no directions to nearby shelter.

You could perhaps argue that it's the responsibility of the individual to know where to go in these instances. Lord knows I regretted not checking out the nearby streets beforehand for possible weather refuges. But given how confusing Chicago can be to navigate under even ideal conditions (meaning times when you're not panicking about possibly being stuck outside in the middle of a nasty storm), as well as how many people are coming from outside the city to attend, it would seem to be a sensible step to include a map to the nearest place that can serve as a shelter. By which I mean a building (or buildings) able to house several thousand people temporarily. We don't need to be comfortable, just safe. So pack us in if you have to. But make sure the shelter is out there, and that everyone knows how to get to it.

In short, putting nothing under your "weather" section except the words "The Pitchfork Music Festival will take place rain or shine is inexcusable.

Now, I don't know the neighborhood, so it could be that safe shelters are a fair distance away. But that brings me to my second point . . .

2) Not enough warning.

Music festivals are loud. Fact. There is no way people are going to be able to fully register the first faint rumblings of thunder while listening to a band like Ex Hex, even if they're standing pretty far back. And even if they were able to hear it, many people are not going to take it seriously until it becomes louder, at which point finding shelter in time becomes virtually impossible.

Here's the good news: weather systems are pretty darn advanced nowadays. They can tell you when a severe storm is going to be in the area well before it happens. With that information, the decision can and should be made to close the festival temporarily even before those first faint rumblings and tell people to take shelter (which, if the solution to problem #1 has been implemented, they will know how to get to). A lot of folks will probably not be happy about this. So be it. Because what I saw on Saturday was a bunch of people frantically being ushered out of Union Park as the storm was already bearing down, then having no idea what to do next. And that's a recipe for disaster.