Category Archives: series

Flaked (s.02, 2017)

Second season of Flaked follows the Chip story after the unfortunate public meeting. He’s an outcast now, despised by everyone; his relationship with London is developing, but all the difficulties they encounter (no place to live, lack of money, etc.) threaten to ruin it to the ground. Dennis opens a wine-store, or, at least, tries to do it; he later engages into a relationship with his new neighbor, who turns out to be George’s daughter. Cooler looses his lease, and is forced to live in his car for some time, which doesn’t effect his cheery optimism all that much, and then he meets a woman. Chip eventually confesses to London his big secret: he still fails to repair what has never worked properly, but at least they get some clarity.

On the one hand, the overall development seems more or less plausible, especially the development of the relationship with London storyline; all the relapcing is shown rather authentically (although I believe things like this should be emphasized a little more clearly); the acting is fine, as well as the new characters. But Chip becomes more and more repulsive with each episode, as he appears not only a chronic liar, but also a person who can easily abuse somebody’s trust for merely a glimps of benefit. This character is donwright unpleasant, and attitude he provokes kind of spreads onto the show in general. Also, there’s an issue with the story digressing almost entirely into the relationship stuff, which makes it, basically, a melodrama, because most of it ends unnormally happy, and the thragic nature of the rest is a bit too tragic.

All in all, it’s not that bad, really, but it’s worse than (most of) the 1st season; and the troubling tendency leans towards soap, which is never good. Still, there’s a hope, albeit a decrescent one, that the next season would be better than this.

Names and figures

Fargo (s.03, 2017)

Third season of Fargo tells the story most of which happened in 2010 and 2011 in Minnesota. Brotherly long-time resentment over the division of the inheritance gets amplified when the disobliged brother, who works as a probation officer, falls in love with one of his fosterlings, and she responds with similar affection towards him. He makes the decision to finally take what’s his, but the instrument of his action, another fosterling of his, makes a mistake thus launching the chain of reaction that would result in a lot of deaths. Of course, this might not have been as bad as it was, if not for the calamity that happened to the more fortunate brother more or less at the same time: his relatively successful business became the victim of the legal vampire entity – a company of people with some V. M. Varga in charge that forces itself on a business and abuses it for profit until said business is no more. One of the sides in this burning equation is inclined to use violence due to their status quo fatigue combined with lack of resources, and the other tends to use it routinely, so their confrontation could not have ended any other way. Police efforts to get hold of the situation encounter a lot of trouble, but eventually manage to make some difference.

Usually, when I think about how to describe something as beautiful and fascinating as this story, I tend to use word ‘song’, even though there’s little sense to it, as there are a lot of bad songs out there, but I guess, it’s because Russian language uses this analogy quite a lot – after all, there’s only 3 major components to any song (the text, the music, the voice), once you get each of them right, it’s bound to be good. There is a lot more components to a movie, and in today’s world a season of a dramatic show is basically a very long movie, which makes it even more complicated, because it has to stay interesting for much longer, and it’s not easy at all. So, naturally, there’s not too many of those that managed to do everything right; Fargo, in every of its 3 seasons, did just that.

Third season in particular is absolutely brilliant in every aspect of the implementation. The story is captivating and complex, with plenty of wonderful, deep characters, and a number of truly original subjects, including that of what I called legal vampire entity, or LVE. The direction, as well as the photography, is amazing; the freedom with which the directors and executive producers selected and used specific instruments is astonishing. The choice of music is of very good taste; the sound work really made this thing even more powerful. And the acting. The general level of acting is really high; and I can say with certainty that every major character in this story is played on a genius level.

Specifically, I would like to single out 3 acting works, even though many more of them deserve to be talked about in length. First one is Ewan McGregor, who plays brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy; to be frank, I didn’t realize at first that this way just one actor (I rarely read the cast before watching a show), for some reason I really thought thar Ray was played by Bob Odenkirk. Such level of demarcation is really a unique talent. Second is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played Ray’s girlfriend Nikki Swango: she is a bright and complex personality, beautiful and strong at the same time; a remarkable work. The same can be said about David Thewlis playing V. M. Varga as well: a boulemic psychopath and manipulator, a man who likes crushing people for gain as well as for fun, is probably one of his best works ever. There’s also a hitman named Yuri, a descendant of the cossacks in the context of jewish pogroms; and Gloria Burke, a tenacious policewoman, who cares about justice more than about authority; and Sy Feltz, a strong man who gets broken by those who know no rules. There’s plenty more. This show is a collection of surpassing works.

According to wiki, Noah Hawley is not in any hurry to cook season #4, because he doesn’t have any stories for now; the possibility of continuation is not at all excluded, but it probably won’t happen until 2020 or so. And it’s a good thing, too: better wait than get an inferior product early.

In the meantime, Fargo remains one of the few truly perfect shows, with nothing in its bosom to be ashamed of.

Names and figures

Frasier (s.02, 1994-95)

Second season of Frasier is a rather good one. The story/environment evolves, but very, very slowly; in terms of the story, only a few events were significant enough to effect the personalities of the heroes: there was certain resolution in the relationship of Frasier with his ex-wife; Martin solved the case he’s been struggling with for many years; Daphne received an upgrade and asserted herself in the Frasier’s apartment more or less definitively; Frasier, in his turn asserted himself with the radio station more definitively by renegotiating his contract; also, the Crane brothers tried to run a restaurant and failed miserably.

Of course, there’s more to that; there are stories not as far-reaching, but interesting nonetheless, and there are some not so great ones, as well; more importantly, there’s a lot of humor, and most of it is pretty good. Stories about Daphne’s room (ep. 17), the blackout (ep. 24), the triple translation (ep. 21), the restaurant drama (ep. 8), Frasier being robbed (ep. 14), contract renegotiation (ep. 22), are all really good. The one about the restaurant business (ep. 23) I didn’t like very much – the disaster is just way too symmetrical (life usually includes amounts of chaos here and there), more like geometry than paintings, didn’t seem plausible. But other than that, the season is great – funny, entertaining, low bullshit level.

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Castle (s.02, 2009-10)

Second season of Castle is almost indistinguishable from the 1st one. Most of the case stories are completely separated from each other and have no impact on the overall development. The arc I was expecting did not happen: although there were certain movements in that direction, it ended up in a disappointing deadlock. By far, the only significant thing in the show that actually evolves is Castle-Bennet mutual appetency.

So, that thing with investigation into Bennet’s mother’s murder manifested itself first in Bennet making peace with the case being revived (couple of first episodes); and second, in discovering that the murder was a hit, executed by a hired professional (episode 13). Unfortunately, the fact that the hitman was killed before he could reveal the name of his client, left very little hope on decent continuation of the storyline; for the rest of the season, there wasn’t even a hint at it.

The most exciting part of the season was a double episode (17&18) about a serial killer, who chose Bennet as his target believing that she’s a real-life Nikki Heat. The piece in quite fascinating in itself: there’s the FBI involvement with subsequent friendly rivalry between Bennet and the agent in charge, there’s the influx of impressive technology (even though some of it look like bullshit); but the most interesting thing about it is that it is all provoked by the growing mass of Castle-Bennet professional alliance. Too bad, there were no more stories like this.

Finally, there’s the story of emotional attraction between Castle and Bennet, full of unresolved issued and conflicting desires. Interestingly enough, the writers manage to pull it off without actually sliding into melodrama; this development looks quite serious, but it doesn’t dominate everything else. I’m afraid, though, that without sufficient counterbalance of the professional part of their relationship (which, by the way, was very much present in The Mentalist), it might as well turn into soap; at least, there is an alarming tendency towards it.

All in all, watching the show is like processing ore: in order to get an ounce of gold, you have to dig through at least 2 tonnes of useless material. Episodes 13, 17 and 18 might be worth checking out, everything else – not so much.

Names and figures

Flaked (s.01, 2016)

Flaked is a tragicomedy about a recovering alcoholic named Chip, whose life has rapidly changed after he killed a person while drunk driving some 10 years ago, and who since then relocated to Venice, California, and gradually became a renowned member of the community by trying to help those around him. He cultivates a friendship with a guy named Dennis, who lets him live in his house, and maintains a business of making stools, though not a very successful one. When a new girl starts waitressing in his favourite restaurant, Dennis immediately fells for her, but so does Chip, and though he tries to keep away from her, the chemistry between them soon becomes indisputable. Also, the era of new technology comes to Venice in the form of large Internet companies, as well as real estate developers, which arouses resistance reaction in the community, and, because Chip has certain connections (his famous and wealthy ex-wife is in a relationship with one of the key developers), he manages to overthrow the redevelopment project, – or does he?

Up until a certain point, the show was great, even amazing. The story is simple, yet deep enough to be interesting; the characters – well-elaborated; story turns – curious and quite unexpected. The atmosphere, and well as the whole environment mutation premise, is savoury and rich with ingredients; all in all, it was pure pleasure to watch it.

But then came the finale. The last episode spoiled everything. First of all, it introduced the final story turn, which turned out to be so spectacularly trite, I felt it like a personal betrayal. If not for this ultimate-truth-that-threatens-to-ruin-everything bullshit, even hero’s selling out (which is the second bad thing about this episode) wouldn’t have been all that disenchanting, but 2 of them combined feel kind of like you’ve been eating in a nice restaurant, and every single dish was perfect, so you dig into the last one, not expecting any foul play, and suddenly it’s a piece of tofu, or something equally terrible. And the worst part: there was no need for either of those things, they weren’t exactly driven by the story, but added simply for the purposes of intensification. Sadly, that miscalculation ruined all the previous hard work.

I’m still going to see the 2nd season, though: for one thing, it’s not that large, and also I’m curious as to how would they extricate themselves from that mess.

Names and figures

Darknet (s.01*, 2013)

Darknet is an anthology horror series. It comprises a multitude of stories, big and small, all united through the keynote of a website called Darknet, which is specifically dedicated to scary real-life communications, with CCTV videos of real murders, and something like a forum, where a killer can leave a message asking for advice on how to get rid of the body and actually get a response. The show resembles V/H/S movies a lot, only updated to reflect the internet era.

There is no direct relation between the episodes in terms of the stories; each of them is created by a different director, with different characters, etc. The website does work as a stem on which the stories are strung, but it’s not until the ending of the 6th episode when the common plot strarts to appear. Considering that there is no continuation, and probably won’t be, it’s a bummer.

Episodes’ quality level varies as much as their stories. The only perfect one is the first, done by Vincenzo Natali, all the others are flawed in one way or another: sometimes a piece would be based on an assumption too far-fetched to be taken seriously, sometimes the rythm would be wrong, and sometimes the acting would be not good enough. Episode #6 (done by Rodrigo Gudiño) is better than the others, and also contains an interesting cliffhanger, but it’s still not as great as Natali’s work.

All in all, there is a lot of really frightening stuff here, so as a horror this series works quite well. I hope there would be some sort of closure, even if only a short film – just to wrap things up. But even with the final path leading nowhere, it’s worth checking out; and better do it when the night is at its darkest. Works better that way.

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Frasier (s.01, 1993-94)

Frasier is one of the most successful sitcoms of the 1990s. It is a spin-off of another successful comedy that dominated american TV in the 80s – Cheers – and follows one of its characters, doctor Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer), as he moves back to his hometown of Seattle and becomes a radio host. The story revolves around Frasier’s efforts to reconstruct his life, and reconnect with his father, a retired policeman Martin Crane (played by John Mahoney). Other primary characters of the show include Frasier’s brother doctor Niles Crane (played by David Hyde Pierce), his producer Roz Doyle (played by Peri Gilpin), and his father’s physiotherapist Daphne Moon (played by Jane Leeves).

First of all, I should make it clear that I haven’t seen Cheers, but, considering that Frasier was written by completely different bunch of people (although James Burrows, one of Cheers‘ creators is a director here), I don’t see how that might be a problem. For what it’s worth, my perception may be clearer and less prejudiced without prior influences.

So, is this show worth watching? I think it is. I didn’t detect any falsity in any of the situations, or consistent lines of relationships. The actors are all pretty great, which might have helped a lot with that, but primarily it’s because of the writing, which was of good enough quality. I can’t say it’s amazing, or anything like it, but it’s quite good in general, and there are no silly or stupid solutions, like I feared, and also the humor is very good. Not hilarious, but really funny, – great jokes were present in every episode. Another important thing: there is no sag towards melodrama whatsoever, but emotional component is not at all abandoned. I’d say, the series, at least in this 1st season, is very well-balanced.

That being said, one should keep in mind that it’s the middle of the 90s, and TV developed a great deal since then, meaning the setting, the demeanor of the characters, as well as certain fundamentals of the environment (like the radio talk show) are somewhat outdated. If you can make peace with that, I think, you’d enjoy the show quite a lot, same as me.

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Castle (s.01, 2009)

Castle is a procedural drama leaning towards dramedy. Its primary setting is very similar to that of The Mentalist: a female detective gets an unwanted aid in the person of a minor celebrity with good investigative skills of non-police origin; at first she’s not exactly happy about it, but the helper proves to be quite useful, plus they have some emotional tension growing between them, so eventually it becomes their new normal. The show is of mixed format, although, unlike The Mentalist, Castle‘s 1st season is only building to a story arc, but consists of separate episodes connected exclusively through the network of personal relationships.

The show does bear a lot of similarity with the Mentalist, at least in the beginning, but when it comes to the quality of writing, it obviously lags behind. There is no excuse for absence of the arc; acclimatizing with the characters and the environment is fine, but that personal connections thing is too weak of a glue to hold this all together. This is especially evident against the background of simplistic, predictive stories (it’s not a good thing when a viewer arrives at the right solution earlier than the detectives do) full of cliché situations, dubious psychological profiles for the secondary characters (victims, witnesses, etc.), and, once in a while, not very good dialogs. Of course, Fillion’s acting (and, what the heck, charisma) makes it all seem worthwhile; the humor is not so bad; the acting of other main characters is quite good, – but that’s barely enough to sit through these 10 episodes, and not enough to want to keep watching.

However, this is my second go at the show; after 1st attempt I concluded pretty much the same thing as described above; this time I’m willing to go further – not least since I’ve heard that what only started to take shape by the end of the 1st season (dead cold investigation of detective Beckett’s mother’s death) should develop into something interesting in the subsequent seasons. So, I’m going to see how the 2nd season would pan out, and decide what to do next from there.

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Benidorm (s.04, 2010-11)

Benidorm‘s Christmas special is dedicated to, and built around the death of Mal Harvey, which was necessary because the actor playing him (Geoffrey Hutchings) did actually die. The episode explores a brief period of wealth in the lives of the Garvey family. Following season features some of the old characters, but also has a significant influx of new ones. The Garvey’s come without their older daughter, Chantelle; Mrs. Maltby comes accompanies with her daughter instead of son (she also takes the place of Kate Wheedon as a person who constantly whines about how awful this holiday is); the fatter Ramsbottom comes with a friend instead of his long-time partner; the Stewart couple is as filthy and adventurous as usual; there’s also transvestite man Les with his son; young girl Natalie with her friend; and, as usual, Mateo the bartender.

It would seem that the change of the series’ format is followed, with certain timeout) by the change of the essence, which is basically a drift from comedy towards dramedy, although considering a heavy admixture of emotional bullshit of various kinds, I would rather call it melodramedy. It becomes increasingly story-centered (with the Garveys in the core) rather than environment-centered. It also becomes less and less amusing – I don’t even want to use word ‘funny’ here, because there wasn’t a single funny joke in the whole season.

As soon as I watched the special, I realized how perfectly mediocre this whole thing is; while watching the 4th season I was looking searchingly for any reasons to keep on doing that in the future as well, – alas, I didn’t find any. There is no hope it would ever evolve into something better; that is, there is some development, of course, but the direction of it leaves pretty much no chance of growth. Which is why I’m not going to torture myself any further.

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House of Cards (s.05, 2017)

Fifth season of House of Cards follows Francis and Clair Underwood in the next chapter of their struggle for ultimate power. Frank manages to obtain presidency, but preserving it turns out to be even more ambitious challenge than taking it. Facing lowest ratings ever, he moves the final decision to the parliament by skillfully manipulating public’s opinion, as well as the law. He creates the situation of high pressure, to which he is quite accustomed, but his opponent (NY governor, republican Will Conway) is not, which is why he eventually cracks, thus letting Underwoods occupy their positions as the president and the vice-president permanently. Or, at least, so everybody thought. Some powers still trying to withstand his efforts receive unexpected help from ex-president Walker, when, instead of pleading the 5th amendment, he decides to actually testify to certain events from the times when Frank was his VP. But, as the history already showed on a number of occasions, expecting Frank to not have a plan even for such case would be unwise. In parallel, storylines of president’s aide Doug Stamper and LeAnn Harvey, as well as investigative reporter Tom Hammershmidt, and several new characters, supplement and amplify the primary one.

The world nowadays is unstable, politics-wise, or at least it produces that impression, which cannot but reflect in every show touching upon political issues of modernity, be that Homeland, or House of Cards, or anything else. And though it creates an unpleasant, unsettling feeling, there is no doubt that in itself it’s an amazingly rich soil for complex and comprehensive stories of all kinds to flourish. The universe of discourse described in this show is way more troubling than the actual reality (thankfully, Trump is not even close to being as smart and conniving as Underwood), but there enough resembling traits (the power of populism, weak spots of the legal systems, etc.) to promote anxiety: after all, there is nothing out there that can prevent people like Frank, or Clair from appearing and making their way to the top. I suppose, that’s what we ultimately should be concerned with: how not to let something like that happen.

Fifth season is the first one, where show’s creator Beau Willimon is not the showrunner: he stepped down as the head writer in favour of Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson, which didn’t seem to influence the quality all that much, – it remains incredibly high. The primary storyline develops in a plausible fashion; it is driven by the smallest things, the nuances; combined, they create a full-fledged, complicated picture of multitude of wrestling powers, that can be influenced and even managed, but only by somebody who understands them well, and only to a certain extent. In this story Frank Underwood together with Clair serves as a person who can balance all the streams of power better than anybody else, but still not quite perfectly. Yes, up to a certain point, they are one and the same person; only when the more public part of their alliance becomes too damaged to continue as such, they separate, and we can see that their interests are not that aligned after all.

Supporting characters, including Doug and LeAnn, as well as Jane Davis, Mark Usher, Sean Jeffries, Alex Romero, Aidan Macallan, and the Conaway couple, all enhance the main story in various ways; all of them are bright, complex and interesting, and some are quite scary (Davis), too. Their respective stories, although incomplete in most of the cases, enrich the show immensely.

Implementation from the technical standpoint is quite flawless.

So what conclusions can we make here? A psychopath is more likely to succeed in politics than anybody else, and the dark triad would give a person an even better competitive edge. Power is the strongest incentive of all, and thirst for it can become a disease. Betrayal is an acceptable instrument for any talented politician. Nothing new, I guess. But as a terrifying illustration to all of these (and more), House of Cards is incredibly fascinating, and therefore goes highly recommended.

Names and figures

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (s.03, 2017)

In the 3rd season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy decides to go to college, and actually gets into Columbia; she almost becomes a crossing guard, and acquires the closest thing to a boyfriend; Titus comes back from the cruise, breaks up with Mickey only to realize eventually that it was a mistake, records a hit song about things that are of no interest to him, and almost becomes a Sesame Street cast member; Jacquelin marries Russ Snyder, but looses him to fame and vanity, manages to change the name of the football team to an even more offensive one (but for a different group of people), and eventually finds a  path of her own; and Lilian meets a wealthy guy, whom he fights at first, but then falls in love with.

The spirit and essence of Kimmy is exactly as they were from the very beginning: the show is incredibly inventive and rich with jokes, gags, situations, characters, background humor. It’s funny and exciting, it’s interesting and absurd and provocative and satirical, and it’s implemented on an amazing level of sophistication and mastery. I enjoyed it immensely, but couldn’t help but feel like it’s a bit overwhelming – by the end of the season I became a little tired of the perpetual torrent of everything, and some things even started to irritate me, – which is not the problem of the show’s quality, not at all, but maybe it would’ve been best to reduce the number of episodes to, say, 10. Because I remember feeling the same way after watching the 2nd season as well.

All in all, though, every episode of the show is undoubtedly a masterpiece of comedy, and a wonderful journey. I’m not sure, if such comparison is consistent, but still: against comedies like Benidorm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels like Albert Einstein against a school teacher of physics. Goes highly recommended.

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Hell on Wheels (s.05, 2015-16)

Fifth and final season of Hell on Wheels revolves around the last chapter in building of the Transcontinental Railroad, this time from the sides of Central and Union Pacific companies both. Cullen Bohannon keeps looking for his lost family, and accepts an employment from Collis Huntington, the proprietor of the Union Pacific, solely because he promises him aid in that endeavour. He works really hard to get through the mountains, and in doing so he dives deep into the world of Chinese refugees who are employed there as the primary workforce. Secondary workforce is the Mormons managed by Brigham Young’s youngest son, who, in his turn, is managed by the infamous Swede. Thor Gundersen works hard to undermine prophet’s authority in the eyes of his son, aiming to take his place. Durant struggles with lack of cash and many other hindrances that are accompanying the construction. Eva and Mickey run a business together, and they too have their issues. Louise doesn’t have her own newspaper anymore, but continues to follow the construction as a freelance writer. Both Huntington’s and Durant’s enterprises experience various kinds of trouble while racing for the big prize – the coal minds of Ogden.

So, this last season is incredibly deep, rich with ideas, characters and situations, it is inserted into the universe of discourse in the most sublime manner, and it is executed beautifully. In this respect it’s not very different from other 2 seasons ran by John Wirth, meaning it’s just as amazing. Stories of the Bohannon’s family, of Thor Gundersen, of mr. Chang, and then of Ah Fong and mr. Tao; the insanely fascinating race of the railroads; the development of Psalms’, and Louise’s and Eva’s, and Mickey’s stories – everything, basically, is thought-out and written perfectly – there’s really no way around that word, – every one of those items is perfect, and they coexist with each other in harmony so wonderful, there are no words to describe it. You can feel it, though, and I strongly encourage you to watch this show, because it’s really worth it. The authenticity of the world described is astonishing; the acting is admirable; the photography, the sound, the music, – every element of implementation brings enjoyment along with a multitude of emotional response.

I do not know of any other show, present or past, on the TV that was anything like Hell on Wheels. Sure, it started off in a somewhat confined, narrow manner, but it grew better every season, and eventually it became if not genius than pretty damn close to it. One of the best shows I’ve seen, that much I’m certain about.

Names and figures

Benidorm (s.03, 2009)

In its 3rd season Benidorm changed its format – each episode is now ~45 minutes long instead of ~22. As for the story, it is continued in an expected way: free vacation vouchers awarded to the guests after the unfortunate hostage situation are cashed out by almost all of them, so pretty much the whole gang is assembled. Martin, though, comes without Kate, and brings a “friend” instead, one who would cause a major trouble further ahead. Garveys, Ramsbottoms, Stewarts, all doing their usual thing; Mateo remains in his place as the hotel employee; and Geoff Maltby comes to leaving his mother closer than ever after something sparkles between him and Chantelle.

Seems like the change of format wasn’t just a technicality, but rather signified the process of reframing the whole thing, even though the list of characters barely changed – judging from what info is available on wiki, next season would bring a larger renewal of the cast. As for the quality, I felt like the narration became more confident, like Litten stopped simply fooling around and provided himself with a development plan. At that, the humor remained as it was: the show is more amusing than it is funny, which is totally fine, because the author is simply being subtle, and doesn’t really try to force audience into laughter.

Whatever sentimental bullshit was present in the previous season’s finale, is now evenly distributed across all of the 6 episodes, which makes it tolerable. Also, in this season trips outside of the Solana territory became much more common, which is probably one of the reasons it seems more diverse and therefore more interesting.

All in all, the growth is quite obvious, and I hope the tendency to it will remain future seasons’ hallmark as well.

Names and figures

The 100 (s.04, 2017)

In the 4th season of The 100 the threat of AI enslaving humans goes away, but another one rises. If no solution is found, within 6 month time every living creature on the planet would fall due to destruction and radiation caused by crumbling nuclear reactors. Clark and others start to looking for that solution, but experience difficulties of every kind on each step of the way. The grounders’ alliance falls apart, – driven by fear crews turn on each other; Roan takes power, but in the established chaos, keeping it turns out to be a bigger problem. Possible viable solutions seem to be insufficient, and cannot save everybody, so sacrifices have to be made. The race of survival rises to a whole new level.

There is a lot of great stuff in this season: the overall development is plausible enough; solutions found are imperfect, limitations imposed by them are reasonably serious, and consequences of the decisions resulting from those limitations are frightening and sometimes fascinating, as they should be.

But. Pretty much the whole time I felt that the mixture of pathos, anguish, and melodrama permeating the narrative is way too strong for the amount of action we are given – in other words, the characters are lamenting all the time, in this form or another, and that creates an unpleasant sour feeling that accompanies everything. I understand, that survival as a genre calls upon such emotions, and there is a lot of pressure in the story, but again: the mixture is too strong, meaning the writers didn’t manage to keep things balanced.

Another thing that was irritating me a lot, is that Rothenberg et al. obviously were protecting the original main cast from their characters dying. There were a lot of situations, where their lives were at risk, yet the only one who actually was let go died at his own volition (and considering his annoyingly hysterical behaviour, good riddance). This is a clear case of author’s arbitrariness caused by external reasons, as well as cowardice, inability to understand how powerful such sacrifice can be. Which is sad, because you expect better from people who killed off Lincoln just a year ago.

Finally, certain story solutions look less and less believable, as well as certain explanations. Scientific stuff sounds more and more like quasi-scientific (organism that rejects radiation among other things), and sometimes things happen simply because otherwise the story won’t move forward as conceived.

I think, mr. Rothenberg came up with a decent story arc, but failed to preserve the proper quality of writing. Episodes written by him personally, by the way, are quite good (in particular, I loved the oxygen exchange idea in the finale), but all the others – well… They could’ve been much better.

All in all, the season is troubled and imbalanced, although not exactly bad. The final cliffhanger is curious and brings hope for better development. Fifth season is going to happen, and I’m going to watch it, albeit with apprehension.

Names and figures

Mom (s.04, 2016-17)

Mom‘s 4th season is about the same things as previous ones: the Plunkett family and their friends and acquaintances going through another year of their lives. Christy studies to become a lawyer. Bonny manages the new relationship. Jill comes up with a wish to have a baby and ends up being a foster-mother. Others have some insignificant stuff going on as well.

I watched this season only because the mixture of immiscible substances that constitutes the essence of this show seemed curious to me. Nowhere else have I seen attempts to show absolutely non-funny things, like death, rape, or relapsing, in a comical way; it’s an interesting experiment, really. Unfortunately, this season brings me to conclusion that it doesn’t work. This particular experiment doesn’t work, that is, and not just because the task seems unyielding for the writing crew (which it is), but mostly because even those pieces that have no reason not to be funny are written on a level that is mediocre at best.

I was a little bored during this viewing, so I counted every joke that seemed more than amusing to me; turns out, there were 3 such jokes per episode at best, and most of the episodes had less, and some of them had none at all. That is terrible statistics. I’m not sure why people keep watching this, except, maybe, because it deals with stuff a lot of people care about, you know, drug dependency and all that. For me it’s not enough, so I’m giving this up. The show’s just not worth the time.

Names and figures

Hell on Wheels (s.04, 2014)

In 4th season of Hell on Wheels construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad continues westward through the newly established Wyoming territory. Primary conflict reforms into that between federal government, represented by the provisional governor Campbell, and local authorities (relative as they are) controlled by Durant. In that confrontation Cullen Bohannon, who comes back with his mormon wife and child after 4 months of absence, takes sides with Durant, because at least they have a goal in common, while governor’s goal is establishing law and order by any means necessary. Along with this unfolding conflict (in which most of the town supported Durant), life in Cheyenne goes on: Eva tries to survive without Elam Ferguson, who’s gone missing; Louise Ellison keeps depicting what she sees for all of the America to read; Ruth preaches and learns how to be a mother to Ezra, son of late bishop Dutson; Bohannon struggles to preserve his new family; and so on. Swede gets exposed after governing the mormon colony quite successfully for a short time, but manages to survive and even build a career out of it.

Well, I can’t say nothing, but to praise this season, almost in its entirety. Those utterly insignificant discrepancies with previous story (like with Ruth’s story, for example) do not influence anything at all; if anything, I would rather change what was written by the Gaytons than what was told during this season. The overall development is great; the season is very well thought-through, which is especially evident if compare entry episodes to the first part of the Elam’s story (middle of the season). Authenticity remains on an extremely high level, with all the filth, and dirt, and deaths, and limitations, and consequences, making the show realistic and powerful.

Aforementioned story of Elam Ferguson is astonishing, frightening, unsettling, shocking, or, to put it simple, fascinating. Same goes to the way the conflict grows, in the core of which different interests of quite powerful forces sit, the archetype of the federal-local balance that comprises the diversity of the USA life today. Specifically, the way Campbell tries to bring Durant to submission, and the way Bohannon doesn’t let him, and the range of consequences this final aggravation brings, are extremely hard to tear oneself away from. The story of Ruth deserves a separate mention, and not just the contents, although it’s staggering, but also the implementation – execution shown from the perspective of the sentenced person is absolutely mind-boggling.

And those are just the largest stories, they are like trees in the woods; there’s also underbrush – smaller stories and circumstances that determine and form the environment in which everything takes place, and they are implemented in the most brilliant way possible. All in all, Hell on Wheels in its 4th season is delicious and sublime. The 5th is the final one, and I hope this wonderful rise of quality has not been spoiled. Although, considering that John Wirth was still in charge, I’m pretty confident, it hasn’t.

Names and figures

Benidorm (s.02 + The Special, 2008-09)

Second season of Benidorm is about the same exactly thing as the 1st one: british people taking their vacation in an all-inclusive Benidorm hotel. Faces are pretty much all the same; the stories are different. This time the Garvey family is brought by a Madge’s boyfriend, who almost dies several times over the course of the holiday. Geoff Maltby ones again comes with his mother. The Wheedon couple tries to book a different hotel, but ends up in the hated resort anyway. Then there’s the gays, sexually adventurous elderly couple, several new characters, and, of course, Mateo.

The fact that all those people happened to stay in the same hotel at the same time – again – is a big stretch, but that would’ve been completely insignificant if not for the lack of novelty in humor. Separate stories may be more or less interesting, but none of them is actually funny – amusing at best. Unlike in season 1, there is a story arc here (with the Madge’s relationship and eventual marriage) – although, it doesn’t make the season interesting, it still creates some comfortable steadiness.

Some of the stories are particularly curious, including the one with the bull-fight, the one with the arm wrestling competition, and, I suppose, the one with the marriage. The special, that continues the cliffhanger of the final episode, resolves the story, but seems to me overly pretentious and not funny enough.

The acting is fine, but I would like to single out Siobhan Finneran, who was pretty great this time.

All in all, this comedy is not exactly terrible, but also far from great. It seems worse than the 1st season (maybe because of the increased running time), and I can only hope it will get better in later ones.

Names and figures

Sense8 (s.02, 2016-17)

Second season of Sense8 continues the story of a sensate cluster fighting against a powerful secret organization, while trying to figure out their own lives at the same time. A lot of stuff happens during the season, but the initial disposition is something like this: Sun is unjustly imprisoned by her brother, and craves revenge; Will and Riley are fugitives, hiding from BPO in Europe, away from people dear to their hearts; Wolfgang tries to stay alive in Berlin; Lito witnesses his whole career crash into shambles; Nomi is running from the law; Capheus is looking for his own way to help people of his country; Kala gets unhappily married; and Whispers is coming for all of them.

The show is totally brilliant – in 2nd season same as in the 1st, or maybe even more. The picture is beautiful; the development of the concept is original and interesting; the story, although weighted with multiple embranchments into personal stuff, is extremely captivating; the acting is genius; the editing is sublime, as well as the direction. The story is very inventive. Emotional scenes, at least some of them, are absolutely fascinating. The action is amazing. There are still some minor things, like substitution of one of the leads (Aml Ameen was replaced by Toby Onwumere as Capheus), or how Sun was saved during her escape, but, considering that Onwumere is really great (and I can think of couple explanations of the escape thing, albeit rather strained ones), all of them combined seem insignificant compared to all the quality stuff.

Sense8 is a work of art probably more than any other show, past or present. At the same time, which doesn’t happen very often, it is a breathtaking entertainment that is hard to turn away from.

Which saddens me all the more, because it was decided by shitheads at Netflix that there will be no 3rd season. Of course, I understand their position (they claim that the audience of the show is too small compared to its budget cost), it seems quite valid, but I still hate them for this decision, which was made 14 days ago, and reconfirmed last week. On the other hand, no statement was made by either Lana Wachowski, or J. Michael Straczynski, so we don’t know if they have any plan of action; besides, history tells us that a way out is still possible: the show might be repurchased by some other network, or budget might be renegotiated, or, at the very least, they can make a full-length movie, just to wrap up all the cliffhangers.

P.S.: “Choice is less about what happens than it is about how we deal with it.”

Names and figures

Modern Family (s.8, 2016-17)

Eight season of Modern Family follows Pritchett-Dunphy family into yet another year of their lives. As usual, nothing big happens. Alex studies at college, taking time for the family once and again, and starts dating. Haley goes into her own business – sort of. Claire continues to run Jay’s company. Phil and Jay buy a land plot together and build a parking lot there. Gloria keeps on being Gloria. Cameron and Mitchell keep on being Cameron and Mitchell. Lily turns out to be smart, fun, and popular. Manny and Luke graduate high-school.

Very little has actually changed – including the general quality level. The show is fun, interesting, funny, and implemented in the most sublime manner. Overall story development is good: there is nothing fake or implausible (but also nothing genius). Separate stories are pretty great – well, some of them, others are just good. The acting is as nice as expected. When it comes to the main cast, or to the writing, there are no surprises, which is good on the one hand, but on the other – not so much. This is preservation, but it feels like a hint at decline.

Over the course of the season multiple guest stars were cast, most interesting being Nathan Fillon, Vanessa Bayer, Kelsey Grammer, Andrew Daly and Jane Krakowski. They added some poignancy to the show, made it fresher and brighter.

Although, Modern Family is still pretty amazing (which is a great achievement for a show running 8 years in a row), and nothing important was lost along the way, I feel like continuing it even further would be a mistake. I hope, I’m wrong about this, though. For now it’s a great entertainment, and a decent contribution to the art of cinema.

Names and figures

Hell on Wheels (s.03, 2013)

Third season of Hell on Wheels tells about the next chapter in the construction of North Pacific Railroad. Bohannon and Durant battle each other for the control of the process; and while Durant has money and influence, Bohannon has the support of the people, as well as of those significant powers who value that factor. Mr. Ferguson becomes the chief of police, and grows to be Bohannon’s friend. McGuiness brothers fall apart: Mickey continues handling the brothel, and Sean goes into accounting for the railroad (while spying in favour of Durant). Mr. Tool’s brother shows up to claim Eve’s baby on account of blood ties. Ruth becomes a preacher instead of her father. Mormons become a significant factor the railroad has to deal with, and take the place of the indians in that respect, although the latter do not go away either. A reporter comes to tell the story of the railroad construction, and about people who work there. General Ulysses Grant appears in the picture as one of the deciding powers.

The Gayton brothers stopped writing for the show, and stepped down as its creative force; instead John Wirth became the showrunner. It didn’t cause a drop in quality, quite the contrary, actually, because I don’t feel that constraint I felt during the 1st and (to a lesser extent) 2nd seasons. It’s like walls around the scene have suddenly been lifted, and the space and light filled everything. Having got rid of some characters, including the priest and Fair-haired Maiden of the West, the show revived its spirit.

The arc story is rather complex and even delicate, as there are a lot of tiny parts and conjunctions, that are easy to break if handled without logic and understanding of the nature of things. Fortunately, the writing team is quite amazing – there is nothing in their stories that goes against those things. In fact, some of those stories are extremely powerful: mormon father making a decision; the death of the first new chief of police; Swede acquiring new life for himself, but being unable to change his distorted mind; the game of stickball; water shortage; general Grant interference; the quarrel between the McGuiness brothers; mr. Ferguson trying to help Bohannon, but falling at the paw of the bear; and many others, including the finale. All these different stories entwine together in a truly astonishing canvas.

The authenticity remains as it was – extremely high. Psychological development of characters is logical and plausible. The narration in general is captivating.

All in all, the show only keeps growing better and stronger. I hope this tendency will continue for season 4 and 5 as well.

Names and figures

Benidorm (s.01, 2007)

Benidorm is a British comedy about a Spanish resort. It is comprised of storylines that follow various groups of British tourists who came for an all-inclusive vacation: a family of 5 whose grandma loves smoking and sun-bathing more than anything else (washing included), and whose daughter is pregnant in her 16; a couple of gay guys; a family of two going through a hard time; a pub-quiz champion of England with his mother; sexually adventurous elderly couple, etc.

The idea is a good one, a fortunate guess, – a highly volatile environment of an all-inclusive hotel-resort is filled with opportunities, which is a great source of life for a comedy. (I suppose, the fact that the show has recently finished its 9th season, is the proof of this source’s richness.) There is a lot of funny in the show, and I love how the intersections of the stories are done. The acting is good enough – for a British comedy, that is. My overall impression: nice and cute and enjoyable, albeit small-scale. The show has a lot of potential, and so far there is nothing rotten in it.

Names and figures

Black Sails (s.04, 2017)

Fourth and, sadly, final season of Black Sails tells about how the all-ambracing pirate rebellion against British Empire almost happened. Captain Flint, together with Long John Silver, fight the British governor, who was brought to Nassau by Eleanor, while trying to secure their hidden treasure needed to fuel the coming uprising. But Silver fell deeply in love with Madi, daughter of late mr. Scott, and this fact not only complicated things very much along the way, it also was the undoing of the rebellion in general, on system level. Because ultimatelly this story is about the insurmountable contradiction between desire for personal happiness, which is what mentally healthy people are lean to, and aspiration for grand accomplishments, which is a choice of people with nothing to lose. Eleanor, Max, Jack Rackham, Anne, Billy Bones, – they too have their stories going on, and all of them are wonderful, and they intertwine with each other in a breathtakingly beautiful manner.

I’m only retelling this, becase while the story (as a sequence of events) does matter, the highest pleasure that can be found here comes how it is all done. It’s absolutely astonishing. The camera crew is genious, along with special effects guys, – the resulting picture is fascinating. The story is constructred in the most exquisite fashion, the dialogs are truly deep and full of meaning, and the core conflict of the story is powerful and extremely interesting, as it is rarely brought to cinema, or literture for that matter. To be frank, I think the ending was a little too happy – sort of. It is completely plausible, of course, and implemented brilliantly, same as everything else… But maybe I would prefer for the show to turn alternative history, with heroes inhabiting the version of our universe where the rebellion did, in fact, happen. Maybe it’s sadness from the fact that the show’s over now.

It was absolute delight, though. This show is one of the good ones.

Names and figures

Will & Grace (s.08, 2005-06)

Eighth and final season of Will & Grace last approximately as long as Grace’s pregnancy, except the final episode. Will almost falls in love with a psychopath, and eventually ends up with Vince. Karen drops Alec Baldwin’s character after having some fun and reunites with her ex-late husband, only to divorce him in a few weeks, and soon after that she gets broke. Jack leaves his channel and his show, and goes back to acting, and suddenly becomes a decent, sought-after, actor, and then gets rich through a gay marriage (or something like that). Grace gets knocked up by her ex, Leo, and also eventually ends up back with him. Rosario keeps popping here and there, even though there is absolutely no reason for that most of the time.

So, the showrunner for this season did a lot of effort to entertain: they did not one but two live episdoes (e. 1 and e. 11); at least one episode is brilliant (it’s #15, in case you’re wondering); and they casted Britney Spears, as well as Hall & Oats, George Takei, Josh Lucas, Lily Tomlin, Wanda Sykes, – which is sort of cool. But there are less guest stars than before, way less, and somehow, even combined with whatever great jokes are scattered across the seasons (and there are some good ones), it does not top the emptiness of mediocrity that surrounds everything. My overall impression, unfortunately, is not favourable: the season is weak, contaminated with sentimentality and aa (Stanley’s revival alone is worth 100 points.)

That being said, it should also be mentioned that the show is still quite funny, and sometimes – abundantly so.

But still. Things happen to people in the story for pretty much no reason but the writers need to lead it to a certain point. Britney Spears was awfully poseur. During live episodes the cast broke characters way too often to consider it cute.

All in all, even with the grand finale and the 15th episode accounted for, things might have been much better.

Names and figures

Hell on Wheels (s.02, 2012)

Hell on Wheels‘ 2nd season follows the construction of the railroad into the year 1866. Two primary challenges the construction company faces now are a gang of ex-Confederates robbing the workers of their payroll, and necessity to built through the territories considered sacred by a relatively strong tribe of Sioux indians, – and violence resulting from them. Bohannon turns to plunder business himself for a while, but some things don’t work out and he gets condemned to death, but Durant buys him out (which apparently was pretty common those days), and that’s how he comes back to HW.

First of all, the overall development of the story (arc) and specific stories impuing the season, are not just good, they are great – surprising, interesting, captivating, plausible and quite powerful, sometimes even wild. The authenticity is amazing. Some ideas (like Swede going mad in an unmanifest way) even for me seem unexpectedly curious. There is a lot of good in this show, – around 90%, in fact, which is my rough esitmation. That is enough for me to consider it great as a whole.

But there is still a matter of remaining 10% – I believe, I figured it out, mostly because it was more like 20% in the 1st season. It’s a good progress, but there are still imperfect things: for starters, gaps between the states of certain relationships – from the end of season 1 and to the beginning of season 2 in some cases are too deep, which makes the transition abrupt; not a big deal, but unpleasant. Then there is a problem with characters: on the one hand, I feel something mechanical in the way the characters appear to move the story along and then go back to their storecases; in hindsight I don’t think there was anything that unnatural or illogical there (developmental changes are all accounted for), but rather arbitrary, and even that is just a sensation. But on the other hand, there is also casting. Some choices are not very successful, others are simply weird: the first group is represented most vividly with the character of the priest – although, I think Tom Noonan is a good actor, and did a good job (“I wanna see my children” piece is close to brilliant), he wasn’t right for the part in the first place (he kinda gives me the same vibe as Harold); and the character of Swede (played by Christopher Heyerdahl) is just odd, – the character and the way it’s played, too. Not bad, – weird, and that’s hard to evaluate.

Other things I didn’t like very much, but they may be not that important: the fact that Bohannon completely forgot about his vengeance; the music is too rich, too saturated for the drama density this high, it should be much less words; Lily’s death in the finale was meant to look original and versimilar, but I think they could’ve done it brighter; the finale is ambigious but predictable – Swede’s departure could go in a limited number of ways.

But generally speaking, this show is a great entertainment, and not just that: story with the station robbery gone wrong, as well as the hostage situation one, and (to a lesser extent) the finale, are examples of outstanding writing, and thus are quite fascinating. I wonder what they did next: shows like this, good on the whole, but with an imperfection or two, are the most interesting to figure out.

Names and figures

Grace and Frankie (s.03, 2017)

Third season of Grace and Frankie has a lot of notable stories, the largest of which are the one with the title heroes pursuing business opportunity, and the one with the ex-husbands and community theater.

As before, it’s just beautiful. This is one of the most delicate and tender shows on modern TV, and consistently so, from beginning and up to the finale of the 3d season, it is uniformly delicious. I don’t think, there’s any point in going into the specifics of the story, it feels like too solid of a thing to intrude into, but I want to let everybody know that there was no change in quality, or the essense, whatsoever. The development of the story is logical and natural; the acting is impecable; the humor is subtle; the environment is airy.

Like any really good show, this one is quite unique, and furthermore, – perfect in its uniqueness. A truly wonderful thing.

Names and figures

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