Category Archives: series

Game of Thrones (s.07, 2017)

In 7th season of Game of Thrones the thread of events gradually becomes tighter through bringing all the remaining storylines even closer together. Daenerys reaches the Seven Kingdoms and lands her forces at Dragonstone. Jon Snow, who was recently proclaimed King of the North, sends a delegation to her asking for help in their fight against the dead enemy, and even leads the delegation himself, leaving Sansa Stark in charge of all the northern business. Soon all 3 of the current Seven Kingdom’s primary forces meet to convince Cersei in the seriousness of this winter, and then decide on the plan of actions. And though it seems like unifying the living despite their differences and intersecting interests would be, in fact, a success, after an unavoidable loss the enemy seems to become stronger than ever, maybe too strong to overcome. The final battle lies ahead, but who knows who would win that thing.

So, besides the process of bringing the story onto the homestretch, which was happening for past few seasons and has almost achieved the closing phase, there is another interesting thing going on with the show as the separation of the scripts from the literary source starts to have its effect on the narrative, which has achieved the habitual rarefied state of a normal American TV show, became not as overly dense as before in terms of internal events intensity, which, on the one hand, is good, because it is much easier to perceive the show this way, but on the other, it leaves a slight hint of dissatisfaction as the expectations aren’t met.

To be totally fair, the creators of the show managed to uphold the level of execution exactly the same, if not higher, which helped a great deal to conceal the loss in density. The amount of work (and money) each episode so obviously costs is truly astonishing, – but, more importantly, so is the final result of all these efforts. Same as before all  the sides of technical implementation are impeccable, including the image, the sound, and, of course, the special effects. The acting is pretty great; it is totally in accordance with the twists and turns of the story, which, by the way, is well elaborated from the psychological point of view, and also just as ingenious as it always has been.

It seems like they have everything for a huge bada-boom for the finale. And I’m sure they can pull it off. But nothing is for certain – after all, the expectations are flying pretty high. All in all, the 7th season was amazing, almost perfect, – and the future probably holds more of good than of bad. Of course, we would only know when it’s too late.

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Ballers (s.02, 2016)

Story in the Ballers’ 2nd season revolves for the most part around Spencer’s feud with Andre, the biggest financial guy in the city who managed Spencer’s money back when he still played and may or may not have caused him the loss of several million dollars. The intensity of the confrontation grows from one episode to the next, the passions are rising, the risks are being taken, the game is being played. The fact that Spencer is having problems with obtaining a license so that he could actually practice does not add a lot of credibility to his position, no more than a Vicodin abuse on account of his hip injury. Yet he manages to execute counterattack by gathering funds from his rich friends to buy the company out.

The story on the conceptual level is pretty good: the origins of the conflict seem plausible enough; the development – quite consistent; and the essence (what seemed like purely ordinary conflict at first, turned out to be the result of Spencer’s internal conflict) – rather elegant. However, the dialogs are sagging: the writers heavily abuse informal vocabulary, sometimes – merely to hide the emptiness of a scene; and even relatively interesting parts resemble Entourage the further the more, and not at their best times, too.

It’s pretty entertaining all in all, but I was definitely hoping for more than that. There is still a possibility, of course, that the show would become more than just talking shit and enjoying the spoils of the wealthy life, but so far the tendency is the opposite.

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Orange Is the New Black (s.02, 2014)

In the 2nd season of Orange Is the New Black previously charted storylines continue to develop in their natural fashion, with some of them interlacing around Vee, a hardcore professional criminal who has history with Red. Piper Chapman and Alex Vause get to participate in the trial of their boss the drug lord, after which Alex goes free, and nothing changes for Piper; she returns to genpop, gets furlough and visits funeral of her granny, makes piece with her ex-fiance and her best friend falling in love with each other, but other than that she just lives. More and more often the focus of attention shifts from Piper’s storyline towards other lines, specifically the one about Vee, who just came to Litchfield, but started to distort reality around herself almost immediately; the one with Brook Soso, another newcomer, a young girl who launched a hunger strike; miss Rosa, a cancer patient who didn’t want to die behind bars; the Diaz baby intrigue, including Mendez the Pronstache, who returned briefly only to be taken to prison himself; and others. The further the more the show seems like a uniform soup with lost of brilliant parts in different places, but no particular hierarchy story-wise.

One of the show’s most powerful features is the diversity: on the one hand, it comes natural, because anybody can end up in prison, therefore no combination of characters would be too unbelievable (plus, there is a build-in mechanism to bring in new ones), all of which means it gives a lot of opportunities for not very high cost; on the other hand, the abundance of faces makes it a little challenging simply keeping up, but so far it’s barely an issue at all.

All of the small stories that constitute the multitude of the show are well thought-out and well-designed; they link together and form storylines that evolve over time. Arguably the strongest constituent of the whole season was Vee, a black woman of around 50 years old showing signs of manipulative and psychopathic behaviour, who gathers almost all black women of the block around herself, and creates out of them a dark force with potential to oppress every other force existing in the prison environment. As contrasted by the events connected to her character, previous prison intrigues seem even kind of childish.

All in all, season seems very strong to me, but with a certain doughiness quality impacting the whole structure of the show, although without any significant consequences so far. Still great, still fascinating, still powerful as hell.

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Frasier (s.09, 2001-02)

In Frasier‘s 9th season Frasier breaks up with Clair, and ends up alone, then goes through several more fleeting, short-term relationships; has a feud with a neighbour; expands his show to another city; and visits Boston. Rose starts dating a garbage man, which becomes one of her most meaningful hookups, but then something happens, and at the moment of weakness she has a thing with her boss, which is huge, but not big enough to ruin their friendship. Niles and Daphne’s relationship goes through natural stages of development, all the way up to the proposal (which was beautiful), and making peace with Daphne’s family. Martin becomes a security guard, and almost falls in love several times, last one – with the neighbor’s mother.

It is astonishing how they managed to keep the overall quality of the show so consistent from one season to the next. It always seems new, – not once has the show repeat itself so far, – and at the same time, it feels so familiar, so comfortable from beginning to end. Apart from the events already mentioned, of which episodes about Daphne’s parents were the most entertaining, there was an appearance by Bill Gates, which happened to be the same episode (#8) when Bulldog returned for a brief period of time; the one about Frederick becoming a national Spelling Bee champion (#18), the one about american flag, the one about the Boston trip (#21), and the one with Daphne’s father (#24).

All in all, a great season: there are lots of fresh stories, and all of them are pretty great quality, including the humor (which still seems funny to me after years of comedy impressions’ stratification on my mind), and the drama (which develops in the orderly, logical fashion and has wonderfully powerful peaks). Watching Frasier is always a pleasure. Names and figures

Orphan Black (s.05, 2017)

Fifth season of Orphan Black is the final one. It starts exactly where the 4th left off: Rachel becomes the executive of Neolution movement, which is revealed to be founded by a man who’s still alive and is now 170 years old, one P. T. Westmorland. Within first couple of episodes the Leda opposition suffers a grave defeat to Neos, when Sarah and Siobhan and everyone else (except Helena) is apprehended by Ferdinand’s people; and then one more time – when Kira chooses against her mother. With Helena being on the loose, however, there is still hope, and besides Sarah and the company are secretly plotting against the seemingly amicable organization. One of the tactics soon manages to bring a powerful advantage to the rebels, one that becomes Neolution undoing, but in the process of it some convulsive movements threaten to make a mutual destruction type of story.

If I had some doubts in the beginning, especially about all the resurrections, that’s because they raised the level of improbability a bit too much, but that was carefully managed by the writers, and by the 4th episode already the narrative straighten out and the story started to grow stronger with each next episode. One of the most powerful storylines of this season is about the refutation of the myth, which I find pretty cool. The overall development of the story is, of course, science fiction, yet it lies within the realm of plausible and, just as important, – believable, and it uses genuine human relationships for its fuel, including family ones (albeit word family applies here perhaps in a broader sense), and that combination sums up to a fascinating work of cinema – smart and entertaining from beginning to end. The acting is, like before, impeccable, with traditional praises for Tatiana Maslany, who is totally amazing in her consistently perfect acting. The execution in general is pretty great, music in particular, but really – everything.

The finale is very conclusive – and it seems like the end of a straight line, one that is natural and expected, and it was obviously intended that way. The show astonishes me first and foremost with how precise and well-calibrated the narrative is, although not without sudden jerks here and there, of course, but none too determinative. The beauty of the concept intensified by the quality of execution makes this show one of the truly great ones. One of my favourites, that’s for sure.

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Ballers (s.01, 2015)

Ballers is a comedy-drama about a bunch of ex- and current football players and the world of professional athletes in general. Primary heroes are: Spencer Strasmore, who left his successful football career while at the peak and became a financial manager for high-level sport professionals; Joe Krutel, his friend who turned him into a financial consultant; Ricky Jerret, a very talented football player with temper issues; and Charles Green, a retired player who tries to find a new way in life. So, for the 1st season, the storylines are as follows: Spencer and Joe try very hard to land Vernon Littlefield, one of the most promising young players in the league, and encounter various obstacles on that path, including blackmail and corporate interests getting the best of loyalty and personal relationships, which is the foundation for everything in that business; Spencer also deals with his nightmares connected to an episode, when he injured an opposite team player so hard he had to leave the game; Ricky gets kicked out of the team due to bad PR vibe he’s producing, but Spencer manages to find him new home – his own old team, the Miami Dolphins, which is not the end of it, because Ricky continues to get into various stories, but he also tries hard to change his ways, and to some purpose too, although he does lose his girlfriend in the process; Charles gets a job as a car salesman, but feels discontented at it, so when he’s offered a way back to his old career, he gladly takes it.

First of all, this show reminds me Entourage a lot: the same atmosphere of big money (only professional sports instead of movies), the same perfect-weather setting (only Florida instead of California), the same general tone of rich people’s problems that are significant, but not too serious, because – you know, – there’s a lot of money floating around. The story is different, though, and I don’t mean specific events, but rather the structure of the show’s narrative, which in this case is more dense, more consistent. Plus, the main heroes are way more likeable – Spencer’s sincerity, his aspiration to help those he cares about, his resolution in building his own personality the way he wants it, – all these things make me sympathize with him; Joe is an interesting character, with his ups and downs, but definitely curious to watch; and the same can be said about Ricky and Charles, too. Their storylines intertwine with each other quite harmoniously. The humor is nice – it’s not jokes based, but rather an additional filling for the events.

However, the ending of the season seemed to me a little too cautious – there is no twist there, no cliffhanger, which sends a message that life goes on as usual, and could go on like that indefinitely, that there would be new things to overcome, but they will come and go, same as everything else. This kind of attitude is somewhat threatening, because it relaxes the writers (because it’s pretty much all the same, so why bother), and relaxed writers are not a good thing for drama. Of course, we would have to see how it would pan out in reality; so far all is pretty great.

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Orange Is the New Black (s.01, 2013)

Orange Is the New Black is a drama with a touch of comedy about a girl (Piper Chapman) who was sentenced to a term in a minimal security prison for assisting drug trafficking some 10 years ago. It is based on the memoirs of Piper Kerman. The story follows Piper’s attempts to adapt to prison life and not lose her identity in the process, which proves to be extremely hard. Larry, her fiance, tries to be as supportive as he can, but some choices Chapman makes while behind bars, turn this task into an impossible one. Secondary storylines follow some of Chapman’s inmates paths, including those of Alex Vause, her former lover and the reason she’s got imprisoned; Miss Claudette Pelage, a Haiti native convicted for murder; Red, a Russian native and a power figure; Crazy Eyes, a strange and intense girl with lots of talents and stage fright; Nicky Nichols, a hot and bright lesbian; Pennsatucky, a christian fundamentalist with mental issues; Laverne Cox, a transgender hairdresser. Prison staff also produces some major characters for the story, including COs mr. Healey, Joel Luschek, George “Pornstache” Mendez and John Bennett; Joe Caputo and Natalie Figueroa. There are many other characters, too many to count, each of whom comes with his or her own story.

I don’t have a lot of words for this show, except, maybe, that it’s extremely rich and perfect in a lot of ways. The thing I loved about it the most, that it impacts the viewer in a way consistent with how Piper’s life developments impacted her – after the 1st episode, I was pretty much terrified with all that’s been going on, and my only thought was that all the romanticization of prison life, all the attempts to rationalize this kind of experience, are utter bullshit, and that I would never want something like that happen to me; later, as Piper adjusted a little bit, found some friends and engaged into some not entirely unhealthy activities, it became easier, and, of course, humor enclosed in the numerous funny situations helped a lot, so I even thought to myself – it ain’t that bad; but then the scale achieved relative balance: I got the feeling that even though life in prison is still life, and people there are still people, I still would never want to get there, because not being able to exercise my will is still a horrible experience, no matter what they say. All those stages of understanding corresponded really well with what the heroine was going through, and in that I see a great achievement of the writers’ team, and especially of Jenji Kohan.

Like I said, the show is very rich, however, notwithstanding the abundance of characters and situations, it would be hard to get lost in them as everything in this story is well-structured and extremely well-balanced. And because the writing and the direction are so good, the narration feels so smooth and easy, you may not notice the time passed. The acting is amazing; all the cast members are in their proper places, and all of them do their job amazingly well. The setting, the makeup, the special effects, – there is literally not a single element of the concept, or the execution, that has been overlooked or tumbled.

This is a great show, because it’s both significant and entertaining, and also because it’s implemented with unparalleled dedication and talent. At least, so far.

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Frasier (s.08, 2000-01)

In the 8th season of Frasier the lie of the land disturbed by the Niles and Daphne’s mutual affection finally unsealed slowly restores to the usual state – over the course of the season, that is. Consequences of the sudden shift (necessity to uphold Niles’s fake marriage, law suits from Donny) fade away rather quickly; and N & D’s relationship slowly evolves to come to a turning point at a later stage, when psychological issues connected with it are recognized. Frasier goes through several unsuccessful relationships himself, reconnects with Lana (the homecoming queen) and becomes a sort of friends with her, which brings him into a relatively more significant relationship with woman named Clair. He also receives a lifetime achievement SeeBee award, goes into midlife crisis, and expands his show with a wine tasting section for a brief period of time. Roz struggles to find a proper man for herself, gets a god, and almost writes a children’s book. Daphne gets fat; Niles throws a basket ball and hits the target. Martin dates 2 women simultaneously, but fails both relationships; he later attends the parole hearing for the guy who caused his injury. The season ends with everybody going to Belize for a vacation.

This season is pretty great, even though the dramatic intensity is nowhere near what was fueling the previous one. Still, it’s a lot of fun to watch the development of all the principal storylines, most of all – that of Niles and Daphne’s relationship. I was a little worried it would be killed off somehow, but the writers chose to embrace it instead. The thing with the psychological issues accumulating during their first year and then bursting blended rather perfectly with Jane Leeves’s pregnancy, which was turned to the story’s advantage as the overeating problem. Frasier’s midlife crisis provoked by the SeeBee award is also a quite important landmark in the development of his character. Martin’s being at the parole hearing was a really nice touch as well, especially with him not being forgiving and not telling his close ones about it – this adds some cold reality to the whole thing.

At that, the quality of humor remains at pretty much the same level as it was before. Also, there were a lot of cases of sitcom entanglement, but none of them were concocted but quite plausible instead. The french break-up thing was really good (#15), as well as the John Glenn bit (#16; although that one can fuel some idle-headed conspiracy theories), the N&D’s transition to physical relationship was executed really nice (#19), as well as their relationship flashbacks, which were embedded rather skillfully, finally, the whole Claire intrigue was quite entertaining.

All in all, the show keeps being great, and for the 8th season in a row it’s kind of big deal.

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Castle (s.08, 2015-16)

The final season of Castle is pretty much the do-over of whatever scraps of the common plot were present over the course of previous 7 seasons. It still consists of unrelated investigation episodes for the most part, but the remaining ones are united in a relatively consistent narrative. As the story goes, senator Bracken turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg of a major conspiracy, which is centered around a mysterious person inside CIA called loksat, who is extremely powerful and extremely wicked analyst. He pulls strings connected to numerous significant figures in the same way he did with Bracken, and he’s very cautions, which is why nobody knows who he really is. Becket together with a guy named Vikram (who worked with Becket’s former DC team before they all got killed for approaching too close to loksat) works in secret to bring down the villain; at first she even separates from Castle in order to keep him safe, but later they join forces. Additionally, at some point Castle finds out that whatever he has learned before about his 2-month absence wasn’t all there is, and the remainder of that term he spent in LA and somehow learned about loksat in the process, which is the main reason he wanted his memory erased.

Okay, on the one hand, the plot of the 8th season is much better than that of any of the seasons before it. It’s basically a remake of the earlier chapters of the Bracken intrigue, only compressed into a denser story, and with better consistency factor. On the other hand, though, the story is weak, because outside of the season it has no roots whatsoever; and it is full of stretches and sentimental bullshit, same as before. The action is relatively good, but not as powerful as it potentially could have been due to lack of plausible psychological elaboration. New characters are rather nice – Toks Olagundoye as Hayley, Sunkrish Bala as Vikram; I suppose, you can even say they breathed some new life into the show, but the established ones are pretty much as they were, nothing really new there, although they are not completely without development: Alexis, for example, started working as a PI assistant, Martha wrote a book, Esposito became a sergeant, and Ryan had another child. Of course, none of those events matter very much.

You can see the show slowly dying out through some circumstantial signs: for example, Stana Katic was absent for 2 whole episodes, which never happened before. It’s rather natural that her refusal to participate in probable continuation of the series was one of the most crucial reasons season 9 never happened. The fatigue of the concept is obvious, the challenges grew too difficult, and combined with the fact that nothing about the show was ever brilliant in the first place, it kind of closed the deal. It also seems to me that the creator of the show, Andrew W. Marlowe stepped down as a show runner and a writer, and that Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter replaced him as the creative force behind it, although there’s not a word about it in wiki.

Now that I have watched this thing from beginning to end, I can say with absolute certainty that this show is mediocre, and save from a few interesting spikes isn’t worth wasting time on; that it had the cast much worthier than the writers, and that its main problems were lack of planning and arising from it lack of consistency, and contamination with sentimentality virus. Curiously enough, Castle is the evidence that this combination of disorders is not at all critical, and probably quite the contrary to it, as an average human mind is more disposed to handling the impotence of commonness than the might of true art.

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The Good Guys (s.01*, 2010)

The Good Guys is an action comedy and a police procedural. It is about 2 detectives brought to work together as partners: one is Dan Stark, a great 1980s cop, whose methods are outdated and rough, but effective, second is Jack Bailey, a playing-by-the-book type, a complete opposite of Stark. Both got demoted to work on property crimes (burglaries, petty thefts, etc.), which is what they do, except that every single case they got leads to something significantly larger, mostly due to pure chance. They try very hard to get back to a better league, and they do produce results, but methods by which they produce them cancel out the positive outcomes, so they just preserve their position without moving forward. Over the course of the season Bailey tries to win back his ex-girlfriend, who’s a smoking hot assistant DA, while Stark manages to charm the hell out of every middle-aged woman he gets to deal with.

It is a comedy, so there is no cross-cutting story here; every episode tells a separate one connected to the others only through the main characters and their relationships with each other. The core idea is far from being original (starting with “opposites improving each other” and up to the concept of police procedural that does not deviate from the standard very much), plus a lot (no – A LOT) in those stories depend on coincidence and/or pure luck, but the execution is actually quite nice. The stylization, sound effects, etc. irritated me at first, but they are not so bad, really. The humor is good, and sometimes even great. There are a lot of wonderful secondary and circumstantial characters.

Frankly, I thought it would be a drag, especially considering unnatural for a comedy overall length, but it was enjoyable. The show’s nothing much from a position of the art of cinema, but it’s surely a wonderful entertainment. Real pity it was cancelled – by all means, it was better than Castle‘s 3rd season with which it partially overlapped. By the way, these 2 shows are very close to each other in terms of format, although they are defined differently. All in all, The Good Guys is a nice option for killing some time.

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11.22.63 (m/s, 2016)

11.22.63 is the screen adaptation of the Stephen King’s novel of the same name. It tells about this guy, who found a doorway to the past, specifically, to one particular day in 1960, and so he goes back there with a purpose of preventing John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Using information available to him thanks to all the researchers who devoted their time to the matter, he tries to figure out if CIA, or FBI, or anybody else, was involved, while living a life of an English language school teacher at the same time. He prevents several gruesome crimes along the way, funds his investigation by making bets on the various sport events he knows how would pan out, finds a companion in arms named Bill, and also finds the love of his life, a beautiful blond named Sadie. All of it only to find out eventually that what we think is best for the humanity might not be that good after all.

So, there are several problems with this story, which can be divided into 2 main groups. First one is about time travelling, and it’s kind of expected, because it is extremely hard to develop a story within this concept that would be consistent through-out. Here the rules of the game are not exactly clear – the guy goes in, changes something, then he goes out, and the world is re-set, or maybe not, depending on the scale of the change. The past resists to being altered, but the change is still possible somehow. There are some weird ghosts that can be witnessed not only by the traveller, but also by the people helping him. There’s a strange loop-guy, who has something to do with this whole mess, but it’s unclear what exactly. All in all, it does work, but there are holes, and pretty evident ones, too.

Problems belonging to the 2nd group are less forgivable as they relate to the quality of the story itself. First of all, it would seem like the plot was inspired, at least partially, by the authors’ nostalgic feelings about the 1960s, where “even the food tastes better”, and that seems silly. The hero sometimes does real stupid things, some of which can be justified by the novelty of the situation he found himself in (like making bets too large), and some not (like throwing away the phone). Author’s arbitrariness plays a significant part in driving the story forward – more often than it would be suitable things happen simply because otherwise the plot would go the wrong direction (like Bill seeing the ghost of his sister at the Walker’s stake-out, or Jake’s sudden hunch during the plastic surgery, or the way he dragged the girl along when rushing to Oswald’s lair). The way Jake was let go in the finale seems extremely weird to me. But the worst thing is probably complete absence of emotional response to Bill’s jump, which was 100% Jake’s fault.

Each of these little things are not very significant on their own, but they pile on top of each other, they accumulate, and their sum does hurt the overall result. However, there are a lot of great things about the series as well. Pretty much all the characters are quite powerful, especially the psychopaths, Bill, the principal, miss Mimi, and some others; at that, the main heroes are very good too. The depiction of the era seems rather authentic to me, even with all that nostalgic bullshit. References to the movies and song yet to be created are funny and appropriate. Development of Bill’s storyline is logical and really strong. And, of course, the outcome of all the effort is disenchanting and devastating because of its vividness and general consistency.

So, even though the show is far from being flawless, it’s quite great nonetheless. It’s a good action movie executed on a most amazing professional level and leading to anticipated, but still rather deep conclusions.

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Frasier (s.07, 1999-2000)

Frasier‘s 7th season is probably the most significant one so far. Over the course of the season: Frasier dates several different women (a child’s book author who resembles his mother; a new neighbour; a high-school crash), but none of the relationship sticks; he progresses as a radio host, almost gets his own TV show with Bebe, almost finds roots in the Romanov royal family, and gets problems with his back; Roz continues to raise her daughter as a single mom; Martin gets new glasses. However, the real development sits in the confluence of Daphne’s and Niles’s storylines, because the thing we’ve been anticipating for so long finally happens: while preparing for her wedding with Donny Daphne finds out you know what. Niles, who engages in a relationship with his ex-wife’s plastic surgeon somewhere in the middle of the season, doesn’t learn about the change in the state of affairs for quite a while, which allows Daphne’s confusion (and feelings) to evolve, then several more complications occur along the way, and in the season’s finale something happens that is wonderful and terrible at the same time.

All in all this season is a rather ordinary one, meaning it’s pretty good but (apart from N&D intrigue) not really special. Martin and Roz get to the center of attention less frequently than before, and Frasier is the same old Frasier, with expected quirks and whims. Humor is pretty much the same we got accustomed to, but the level of dramatic elaboration grew up substantially.

The development with Daphne and Niles is the real gem of the season – and of the show in general. I believe, it can be compared to Rachel learning about Ross’s feelings at the end of season 1 of Friends, with one distinction – in this case the anticipation was being build for 6 long years, which imparted a specific tincture to the situation. The evolution of this storyline is well thought-out, there is enough time for it to grow, and key events are located in all the right places. Needless to say, acting is up to the knocker as well, same as every other element out of which this whole thing is constructed. Without any doubt – this is a remarkable job executed with amazing skill and passion.

No matter how it all will pan out in the following seasons, this one elevated the show to a new level.

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Castle (s.07, 2014-15)

As Castle approaches the end of its line, it gradually becomes less and less consistent, which in its turn affects how interesting the show is. The senator Bracken storyline gets no continuation, meaning it’s probably closed down for good. Castle’s spy father’s line also doesn’t get any development. Out of the ocean of empty, unrelated stories, only 2 islands stand out: the mystery of Castle’s disappearance and the 3XK final chapter. Everything else is basically junk.

The disappearance act covers 3 episodes – #1 and #2, and then #20. First couple of episodes make it painfully obvious how impotent the writing for the series became: there is nothing of the essence uncovered there, all the plot gimmicks serve the single purpose of further muddying the waters, at that the writers have no idea how to wrap up the story, but give themselves plenty of space to deal with it later. The solution provided in episode 20 is not completely without elegance, and is in fact relatively consistent, but fails to include all the nuances invented in the season’s beginning, which leads to another half-baked story about Hollander woods recounted in episode 23.

The 3XK storyline gets finished in a double episode in the middle of the season (#14 and #15). The way it gets solved shows writers’ dedication to bring it to a suitable finish no matter the cost, in which situation quality of the drama falls the first victim: while the development in general is acceptable (barely), I can’t help but think it could’ve been so much better, especially in the light of previously accumulated potential.

Other notable excursus include look into social media (#5), alternative reality (#6), hello to the Expendables (#9), pseudo-AI (#16), hello to SNL (#22), as well as Castle’s becoming a private investigator after getting banned from NYPD and then coming back. Even these stories are quite mediocre, and can only be distinguished against the background of the rest of the season, which is pretty poor.

All in all, degeneration of the concept proceeds ahead at full speed: of all the significant assets the show ever had only actors remain as they were, which in the absence of good stories is not that much at all. The finale of the season didn’t even have a cliff-hanger, for crying out loud. How worse can it get? I guess, I’ll see soon enough.

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The Wrong Mans (s.01-02*, 2013-14)

The Wrong Mans is an action comedy about, as the title suggests, a couple of random people caught in the middle of very dramatic events. Over the course of the show there were kidnappings, shoot-outs, car chases, terrorists, biological weapon, lots of conventional weapon, mob dealings, sinister prospects, explosions, deranged parties, martial arts, prison break-outs, intelligence services, parachuting over the border, nazi treasure, and other stuff of similar nature, but all with a touch of realism (as opposed to action genre clichés) mostly presented in the form of 2 main heroes, who are quite ordinary, who react correspondingly to whatever’s going on around them.

A lot in the story is dependent of chance, on things that simply happen for no particular reason; given the number of various coincidences piling on top of each other, plot’s overall likelihood is pretty low, but this is actually not a drawback, but a selling point: it’s all interesting and funny in part because stuff like that never happens to common folk. The authors of the show aimed at unfamiliar combination of action and feasibility, although I don’t think they knew exactly what they gonna get. While the show is actually great, both conceptually and in execution, the extravagance of that combination seems to be a little uncomfortable. It’s the same thing that was not quite right with The Brink: even though it is a wonderful story, well placed and implemented on a high professional level, because of the unfamiliarity the audience didn’t buy into it 100%, which led to show’s short lifespan.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable movie experience; the show pans out as an action, and as a comedy both; acting is great; special effects are brilliant. It may be a little amiss (as compared to audience’s expectations), or it may be ahead of its time, it’s hard to tell, but either way it’s worth watching.

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The Night Manager (m/s-1, 2016)

The Night Manager is a mini-series adaptation of the John Le Carre novel of the same name. Jonathan Pine, who works as a night hotel manager in Cairo, happens to get involved with a woman named Sophie, who was a lover to Freddie Hamid (offspring of a wealthy Egyptian family), who in his turn was a liaison between his family’s business and one Richard Winslow Roper, a weapons dealer of international scale. Sophie gets killed, which scars Jonathan for life; he relocates to Europe and tries to forget all about it, but chance throws him back into the game when the Roper’s clique settles into a Swiss hotel he was working in at the moment. With the help from British special service MI6 he goes deep undercover in order to get closer to Roper and bring down his operation.

The book was written back in the 1990s, and the show’s author adapted it to reflect current times. I don’t know anything about the literary source, but the story in the series looks very consistent and logical, including (especially) the ties to actual historical events. The overall development of the intrigue is also coherent and without any gaps; characters’ motivation is believable enough; and the dialogs are pretty good. The acting is really great – Hollander was quite amazing; I liked Coleman’s work a lot; of course, Laurie was good, as well as Hiddleston.

However, I didn’t like two things. First, (and this is inherent to the show), the main hero is sort of a James Bond, -ish: extremely good-looking, fit, charming, knows right from wrong, capable of action, etc.; he attracts beautiful women, and is attracted to them himself, but never looses his head over romance. This combination seems a little artificial to me, – the guy’s just too perfect. The second thing is the complete absence of humor, which makes the narrative dry and not too easily digestible. It’s not that big of a deal, but the movie would’ve been better with a touch of irony.

All in all, this is a captivating action film, very nicely done on almost all levels. In fact, the network management like the result so much, they ordered a 2nd season of show, which never happens to miniseries. I’m not sure, though, this is such a good idea, but, as usual, I hope to be wrong about this.

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Frasier (s.06, 1998-99)

In season 6 of Frasier following stuff happens: Frasier deals with the loss of his job for a while, fails to find a new way for himself, and gladly returns when the status quo is restored; he goes through several short-lasting relationships of various significance level, including Martin’s friend’s daughter who saw him mostly as a counselor, a lady named Cassandra from work, and a jewish girl named Fae – every one of this relationships was eventually blown; Niles continues his painful journey through the divorce, which at some point comes to an expected finale; he struggles with his desire of Daphne, who is still unaware of his feelings; Daphne hooks up with Niles’s divorce attorney and gets engaged to him; Roz is being a single mother; she also finds out about Niles’s crush; Martin endures his break-up with Sherry, and later tries to date on several occasions, including a relatively lasting relationship with a woman named Bonnie, but it ends in the season’s finale, along with Niles’s surprising intrigue with a waitress and Frasier’s relationship with Fae.

All in all, the season is more or less what you would expect from Frasier after watching 5 seasons of it. Roz goes a little bit to the background – her single-mother situation could’ve been developed in much more detail than that. Frasier’s storyline feels like the default one – it’s good, but not the one you love. The most interesting here is the development of Niles-Daphne line, especially such rather radical events as Daphne’s engagement, which seems to be quite serious, and finalization of Niles’s divorce, which is a significant step ahead as well.

Other interesting things include: Woody Harrelson appearance as his character from Cheers; the way Frasier contrives to undermine every romantic relationship he has, at that – in a new fashion every time; origin of Maris’s money (and the way the absent character is used over the course of this season in general); the character of the lawyer (played by Saul Rubinek); Daphne’s web chatting in episode #19; dr. Nora  (episode #20, played by Christine Baranski); and the way Niles handled the sudden story turn with Daphne’s engagement.

All in all, very enjoyable comedy, funny and ingenious, not unlike before, but with story moving a little bit further than usual.

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Castle (s.06, 2013-14)

Sixth season of Castle is interesting as a picture of degeneration, although interesting might be a bit too strong of a word in this case. It’s kind of sad – watching the show that was never bright in the first place devolving into some kind of nauseatingly pink fairytale with toy dragons. At least, before it had some semblance of a conflicts plexus – the Becket’s mother’s murder investigation, the tension between Becket and Castle, – now the first component is abandoned until episode 17, and the second is gone for good. There was another 3XK reappearance (a nice one) in episode 9, and Castle’s spy father returned for episode 12, but for the most part it’s all mellow bullshit of i-love-you-more-i-love-you-most type, diluted with usual unconnected murder investigations of different quality.

Previous season ended with a job offer for Becket, so in the beginning of this one she went through with it, but lasted for only 3 episodes. In episode 4 everything returned to the way it was, with the exception of Alexis moving in with her new boyfriend, whom Castle hates, of course, but eventually everybody got to understand everybody else, so in that department everything is just as pink.

There was a number of not-so-bad episodes: #1 and 2 is a pretty captivating story of mass attack threat; #4 is a hostage situation; #5 introduces good kind of ambiguity about the future and mental illness; and #9 revives the 3XK storyline. Others were complete horsecrap, including the one with ninjas (#18) and the one with the arson (#11).

The most curious story of the series, the one with senator Braken, is not addressed until almost the end of the season; it consists of 2 episodes (#17 and #22), with the first one being quite thrilling and designed with certain elegance. The second part, however, is basically concocted out of nothing, with a clear purpose of finalizing the subject for good; there were some good parts in it, but mostly it’s one huge strain.

And, because the writers got rid of their most productive storyline, they had to come up with something catchy for the season’s finale, and so they did – but it feels like they ran out of all the good ideas, and now just raping the corpse of a cow. I go into season 7 with great deal of irritation, not expecting anything decent. So, maybe, they’ll manage to surprise me, – that’s pretty much my only hope at this point.

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Wasted (s.01, 2016)

Wasted is a tiny British comedy about a group of friends, one of whom just returned after a year of absence. Kent was trying to start a career as a DJ, but failed in that undertaking, and came back to his home town, where he reunited with his friends – Alison, Sarah and Morpheus. Together they get into various kinds of shenanigans, which is pretty much the whole content of the show.

The series, as it is very much obvious from the annotation above, is not exactly original in terms of the concept, but the good news is that it doesn’t make it any less wonderful. The characters, the pattern of relationships connecting them to each other, as well as the execution of specific stories, – the combination of these factors is what makes the show a very curious phenomenon.

All of the heroes are well thought-out; each of them is a bright, albeit seriously weird personality, and they click with each other in a way that produces rather spectacular adventures. And considering that they live in a small town with not much going on, it says something.

Each episode is shaped in a different style with its own set of techniques, which, interestingly enough, doesn’t seem eclectic, but imparts certain allure to the whole thing. One story device in particular deserves a separate mention: Morhp has an imaginary spiritual guide, who appears to him in the form of Sean Bean (played by himself) dressed as his character from the Game of Thrones; unlike most of the other stuff, this thing is being used in every story in this first season, – and splendidly so.

The humor is really good. The stories are all ingenious and interesting. The stylization is brilliant. All in all, this is an outstanding comedy, although I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody as it involves a lot of drinking and using drugs. But those of you who are not children and not prudes, I would advise to watch it. Totally worth it.

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Fear the Walking Dead (s.02, 2016)

Second season of Fear the Walking Dead follows the story of the Travis Manawa group in their continuous struggle for survival in the post-apocalyptic world. It falls into 2 halves, each featuring a story arc. The first one, comprising 7 episodes, tells about group’s attempts to survive in the international waters on the Abigail the boat, as well as encounters with a family at the ranger station and a band of pirates led by Connor, and then their journey to Baja California, an estate in Mexico, which only seems to be a safe haven. At the end of episode 7 the group gets scattered: Travis goes with his son Chris; Madison and Strand try to get back to the boat with Alison and Ofelia; and Nick goes on his own. The second half of the season follows their respective journeys: Nick eventually comes to a Tijuana colonia, which suffers from lack of resources and is endangered by a group of ruthless traffickers; the Madison fraction ends up clearing out a huge hotel; Travis tries to help his son, but to no avail; and Ofelia, who also breaks away at some point, heads back to the US territory. There are a lot of other characters, each of whom comes with a story, big or small; there is a lot of events too – everything is changing quite rapidly in the show.

So, yeah, a lot of stuff happens during this season, – most of it is okay, and the rest divides equally between great and stupid. First, I’m gonna enumerate things really liked. The process of the Chris’s psychological transformation is quite amazing: over the course of the show he demonstrates psychopathic traits more and more often, does it with wonderful consistency; it even makes me regret that he ended up the way he did, because if, after the separation from his dad, he would’ve survived, and then returned in a couple of years as a ruthless murderer or even a gang master, it would’ve been really cool. The way Nick adapted to the changed world is pretty great; as well as the way Daniel’s restless soul inspired hallucinations. All in all, fluctuations of the worldview demonstrated by various characters (Celia with her ‘life eternal’; the Brannon group and their murders; the pharmacist running the colonia in Tijuana; etc.) are very curious and not at all implausible.

At the same time, almost every significant character behaves in a reckless and stupid way at one point or another: Nick falls asleep by a live fire; Ofelia doesn’t check the radius when her car breaks down in a region unknown to her; Madison gets drunk with Strand and causes a stir in the hotel restaurant; and so on and so on – it happens all the time, it drives the story to where the writers want, but it feels awfully unnatural. Same as other story turns, like the traffickers not killing Nick during his final trip for the water, or the woman in the hotel stabbing Strand – it just happens for no good reason other than the necessity to bring the story to a certain point. Chris coming with Brannon and not Travis seems incredibly stupid as well, especially after he himself pronounced the main reason why he shouldn’t do it. Nick and Luciena believing in some miraculous refugee camp where they would be welcomed goes into the same category. And why so little people use the disguise, especially those who know for a fact that it works? How Nick managed to find Luis? Why Connor’s brother didn’t make any zombie noise at the exchange? There are loads of stretches and mistakes like this, all of them summing up into vastly irritating coating that covers the show all over and effects its quality in a very negative way.

It is not that bad of a show, but it looks deeply imperfect on its own, and even poorer in comparison with the parent series, which, like it or not, is unavoidable.

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Frasier (s.05, 1997-98)

In the 5th season of Frasier everything keeps being pretty much as it was from the start. With regard to specific events, here’s the general picture: Frasier celebrates his 1000th show on the radio station, takes Bebe back as his agent, and hosts annual SeaBee awards; he doesn’t engage into any long-term relationship, but goes through several flings, including one with a supermodel, another one with a high-end lawyer, and yet another one with a modern artist; Martin eventually breaks up with Sherry; Niles almost reconciles with Maris, but she starts an affair, so they end up divorcing each other; he then tries to start things with Daphne (which is also the only significant event in her life this season), but, as usual, something comes up; Roz gets pregnant and has a baby as a single mother.

In terms of the quality, as well as of the essence of the environment, nothing changes much, except that there is much less of Frasier’s show and, correspondingly, of the callers. The accent is shifted towards characters’ personal lives and stuff that happens outside of the radio station. Which adds some irony to the fact that the season ends with all the station staff pretty much dissolved. Event though the humor in general is rather high quality, there was 1 episode (#21, about the noses) that stands out with its unnatural deliberateness.

The most curious episodes were: the one with all the outdoors (#5; also includes the title song performance), the one with different perspectives (#9), the one with Niles and Lilith accidental affair (#15), the one with Niles’ and Daphne’s ‘date’ (#20), the one with Bulldog’s heroism (#18), and the one with the dissolution (#24).

Thanks to the finale, that was quite unexpected, I’m quite curious as to what happens next. All in all, the show remains just as enjoyable as before.
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Castle (s.05, 2012-13)

The main thing about 5th season of Castle is the drastically changed nature of the Castle-Becket relationship, which pierces the season from beginning to end occupying a major portion of the narrative. Other important story movements include a significant shift in the Becket’s mother’s murder investigation, with the mystery of it being pretty much dissolved in the new, albeit not too unexpected, political angle; revelation about Castle’s father; and another case of 3XK killer re-appearance.

So, what was awaited for so long finally happened in the finale of season 4, and the whole 5th season is dedicated to the development of romantic relationship between Castle and Bennet. It goes through a number of stages, and arrives at a logically feasible conclusion in the season finale, somewhat escalated with Becket being forced into a life decision with only 2 seemingly incompatible choices. I have to say, that even though this storyline pretty much subdues everything around it (which makes it a story arc), the writers managed to keep it balanced, and not spoil it with overly sensitive drama, i.e. they found strength to tell the story without turning it into a soap. So far so good.

On the other hand, bringing the main show’s mystery to light, sort of flattened it a little bit. It does seem like a plausible development, but it is not exactly interesting anymore. A ruthless politician aiming for presidency is a good villain in principle, but the new arrangement, one that formed in episode 1 and got reinforced in episode 13, makes it unlikely for a possible continuation to be verisimilar. Which is why the writers chose not to touch it at all in the season’s finale.

Then there is a matter of the spy component: this time it manifests itself in the story where Alexis is kidnapped and brought to Europe. Castle follows her there and learns, finally, the truth about his father. The story is a little cheesy, but stays within the acceptable limits of absurd, unlike the spy story in season 4.

Just like before, most of the season is filled with barely connected episodes, of which, however, 3 stand out. The return of 3XK (#5) was constructed in a rather interesting manner, and got an open finale, meaning the guy might still return at least one more time. The mockumentary episode (#7) was not so curious as it was funny – but it really elevated my mood. Finally, the birthday present (#19) was truly awesome, starting with the concept and all the way up to execution. Several other episodes depicted unusual settings (including the SyFy convention, – that one has multiple references to Firefly), but remained in the Castle traditional manner.

Sometimes the show is a little pretentious, sometimes it’s full of unnecessary pathos, and all in all its 5th season is as far from perfection as every single previous one. But, as far as I’m concerned, those drawbacks is what makes it so curious of an educational specimen. And the further the writers climb, the more interesting it becomes.

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Silicon Valley (s.04, 2017)

In season 4 of Silicon Valley, Pied Piper continues to struggle for existence, which is never a sure thing due to Richard Hendricks’s self-perpetuating streak of bad decisions. Pivot into video chat business doesn’t seem to work out, and not just because they are unable to find funding for it, but also because Richard hates the idea. He comes up with a more ambitious task of creating a system of distributed data storage that he prefers to call the New Internet. However, the funding is still a huge problem, so the team goes through some rough times, disintegrating and coming back together again, almost sinking Gaving Belson along the way, and constantly creating various kinds of disturbances, which they manage to survive thanks mostly to pure luck.

The density of the narrative was quite thick before as well, but in this season is keeps growing even more: pretty much every episode contains a huge amount of events alternating with breathtaking speed, and many of them are significant for the story. Frankly, this kind of tempo is a little daunting; it seems agreeable only because of the humor, which remains really high quality.

On the other hand, some of the characters, including Hendricks, continue to lose their integrity with frightening speed, and that makes the story discordant: I want to empathize with the guys, but it becomes increasingly harder, because they keep making rather nasty decisions as they go along. Those decisions are funny, but at the same time – not at all, and that makes me feel conflicted about the show, which is rarely good for a comedy.

Of course, the writing is still exquisite, there’s a lot of great ideas, and ties to reality are very curiously designed. Plus, like I said, the humor is a very strong feature of the show, and there are no signs that it’s gonna change in the forseeable future. I don’t know if the depreciation of the heroes is going to harm the series, but the tendency seems worrisome to me.

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Fear the Walking Dead (s.01, 2015)

Fear the Walking Dead is a spin-off show of The Walking Dead, set in the same universe of discourse, but in a different geography, which entails different set of characters. Here we have Travis Manawa, who tries to save 2 families at once and who naturally assumes the role of a leader, even though he might not be cut out for the situations that extreme; his current girlfriend Madison with heroin-addicted son Nick and bright daughter Alicia; his ex-wife Liza, a wanna be nurse, and her son Chris; and also we have Daniel Salazar, who joined all the aforementioned due to a coaccidental concourse of circumstances, with his wife Grizelda and daughter Ofelia. Same as in the parent series, the group is trying to survive by any means necessary, and encounters various people in various roles along the way. First season depicts how the society transitions from the world we know to be around us today to the post-apocalyptic world consisting of crowds of flesh-hungry zombies. The group fights the overwhelming circumstances to stay together, and happens to be in one of the 12 safe zones guarded by the military, then gets separated again, this time due to whatever government has remained and their distorted sense of duty, accepts another member, a businessman Victor Strand, while trying to reunite, and ends up in a seemingly safe place with good perspectives.

Although the general concept is pretty much the same as in the first show, the changed environment and the people make Fear very different from it, which, by the way, is a great illustration to the argument about the primary nature of characters in the process of creating a story – to a certain extent, it has to grow from the people inhabiting the world being created. This is how it happens in both shows, and this is what ensures their un-similarity. Different characters mean different incentives, and those, in their turn, mean different set of powers influencing the story.

Of course, not everything comes from the characters. For example, another really great thing about Fear has nothing to do with them: in the original series the process of the world submerging into chaos was sort of skipped (Rick woke up in the hospital after everything already happened), but here it is shown in all its magnificence. It was really smart on the writer’s part to combine the outspread of the virus (or whatever) with street protests thus creating a self-accelerating situation of complete mayhem. It was brilliantly directed, too, which, considering the scale of events, is just as important as the writing.

The role of the military in the overall confusion is very well thought-out. All in all, the way the events are developing over the course of this pilot season seems exceptionally logical and consistent to me. Wonderful photography, make up, acting, and every other component of the series only add to its quality; so far I saw no significant drawbacks; but, of course, everything can change pretty fast, so we’ll see. But so far, so good.

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Frasier (s.04, 1996-97)

Fourth season of Frasier is little different from any of the previous seasons, and appears to be their direct continuation, both in terms of the story and in terms of the environment (universe of discourse). Every principal character on the show goes through certain stages of the love life quest: Frasier dates randomly and inconsistently; Daphne says goodbye to the most serious relationship she had in a long time and suffers corresponding consequences; Martin engages in a very significant relationship of his own, which nobody is really happy about, except for him, of course; Niles adapts to living without Marice, and even goes to dates, but ends up back where he was; and Roz dangles around like she usually does. The constant dancing between Niles and Daphne goes on as it was, and gives the audience several moments where the long-awaited shift seemed oh so possible, but nothing happened still, – just like before.

So, yeah, the world of Frasier is really steady, and changes very slowly. That makes the fact that the writers still manage to come up with new ideas, and, more importantly, execute them in an interesting and funny way, all the more impressive. Even though most of the episodes are not too far above middle level for the 1990s american sitcoms, some are written in a particularly sublime fashion, and raise the general level of the season quite substantially.

Among other things, I try to follow any signs of the times changing: the 1990s were an interesting epoch, with lots of extremely new things, so it’s especially curious how all that novelty pierces through the concepts constructed on the basis of the previous era results. It is not surprising, that there’s very little of that stuff in Frasier, but it’s not a complete absence. Curiously enough, there were no mentions of the Internet whatsoever, but there were at least 2 different mentions of Microsoft (and that’s pretty much it).

More importantly, of course, is that the show is pretty funny, even to me, even after all these years. I especially liked the Thanksgiving episode (#7), the one with the dog psychiatrist (#12), the one where Megan Mullally appears (#13), the one with the radio play (#18), the one with Daphne’s american accent (#19), and couple of others. All in all, I enjoy the show quite a lot, and it’s consistency adds the comfort of a familiar continuum.

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Castle (s.04, 2011-12)

In the 4th season of Castle the Becket’s mother murder investigation finally acquires enough content to constitute a story arc, albeit still heavily diluted with unrelated stories. The Castle-Becket personal relationships goes through some more evolutionary stages in the increscent manner, interweaving at the same time with the events of the said investigation, and reach a long-awaited catharsis in the season’s finale. The Becket team remains more or less fixed, although not without some fresh developments. Castle’s mother keeps being herself; and Castle’s daughter gradually becomes an interesting adult.

This is a curious season. The show definitely becomes stronger and stronger over time: there is a lot more continuity in the narrative, even though majority of all the episodes have nothing to do with the most interesting part, which is the arc; but the amount of events, as well as their spread across the season, at least give me the grounds to think of it as an arc, and that was impossible before. Previously the events related to the BMM investigation were very isolated from each other; now it’s like they are pierced with a single thread. There is a reason now why so little happens about this case: it’s because Castle undertakes, more or less actively, efforts to prevent Becket from finding out new stuff. The factor of mystery remains as it was, or, because of the prolongation, even intensifies a little. And the fact that the people behind that unearthly dark organization turn out to be not that smart only adds to the plausibility, although the surprising story turns are sometimes crudely written. I like the way it all depicted from a psychological point of view, like that Becket demonstrates sings of PTSD (quite accurately, I might add), and not just in the beginning of the season, or that the writers stopped tangling up the Castle-Becket mutual affection before it turned into a f. soap.

Another great thing about the show’s 4th season is that there is enough internal freedom in the Castle‘s universe of discourse for the writers to conduct experiments with genre and format. There was a number of episodes unusual in that sense: the bank robbery in #7, the random killings in #9, the noir fantasy in #14, the terrorist attack in #19, zombies in #22, etc. I think, it signifies the fact that the concept is growing, although not as fast I would like it.

Unfortunately, not everything is that good. It even seems to me that Andrew W. Marlowe may be intentionally stonewalling his own series so that it won’t reach too high a quality. Otherwise, I can’t explain why would he not just approve the story about the CIA (episodes #16-17), but write the second half of it, which is exactly where it all went wrong. At first it seemed pretty exciting, actually, – those spy games and an extremely capable agent gone rogue, but then they abruptly changed is several times, each time introducing either a predictable or a completely idiotic development, so in the end it became ridiculous and sad at the same time. I really can’t wrap my mind around it: why would anybody do such a thing?

Anyway. What we have here is a season that is still imperfect, but much better than any other before it, with the worst episode in the history of Castle sitting right in the middle. The evolution of the format and the writing becomes more and more curious, that is. I wonder what else is gonna be there.

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