TV Round-Up :: murder and mayhem and a few other things
I have my mom to thank for the subtitle of this post. Recently she was talking to a fellow volunteer at their current job site and the woman mentioned a couple of TV series that Mom had never heard of. Finding herself lost in the conversation Mom finally questioned her and was told that the series in question were all network comedies. My mom shrugged her shoulders and replied, “Oh, we don’t watch anything like that. We just do murder and mayhem.” The moment Mom repeated this conversation back to me over the phone, I laughed loudly and said, “I’m totally making a blog post on that!” And here it is, because she’s right. My family really does love TV and movies centered around murder and mayhem. And as far back as I can remember, this has always been the case.
If you ask me what I remember of television in my childhood I will always first recall the crime shows, the police and detective dramas: Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files, The Equalizer, Hart to Hart, MacGyver, Remington Steele (a personal favorite of my 13-year-old self), Simon & Simon, and Miami Vice. Oh, yes. Miami Vice was a game changer for me. Whereas cop shows had often been equal parts drama and humor (like other family staples CHiPs and Starsky and Hutch), Miami Vice was gritty and edgy and, quite often, kind of sleazy. By the time it premiered I was deeply mired in an angry adolescence, so I fully embraced this shift in crime drama. And through the years since then I’ve come to most love series that dig into the underbelly of human behavior. My fascination with psychology allows me to love shows like Criminal Minds and CSI and this season’s critical darling, The Killing, but I can directly trace this interest back to my earliest TV memories. My family always watched television together, and shows in the 70s and 80s were generally acceptable entertainment even for older children. Even now that we are all adults, I still discuss beloved TV with my parents almost every week. We love most of the same series, and we enjoy tossing personal theories around during the network seasons and reveling in the excitement of seeing our theories proven right (or wrong). For these reasons I never submit to the belief that TV is a bad thing for kids. Instead, I believe it can be a perfect way to bring families together, in the same room, night after night, week after week, and it can encourage discussion in a uniquely adult way. Knowing that family members are always watching the same shows is great fun for me. And our conversations are almost always a jumping-off point for something intelligent and provocative and even deeply personal, at times. Which is exactly why I don’t apologize for loving television. It has always been the go-to entertainment choice in my family, moreso than movies even, and it remains a unifier of sorts, even today.
There are a few great posts to be made from my own personal TV memories throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, but I thought it appropriate now to recap my thoughts on the most recent television season. Most of the series I follow have run their season finales now, and the summer schedule is already under way, so I really wanted to capture my feelings (good and bad) about 2010-2011 offerings. For a long while last fall I was extremely disappointed in the episodes that were airing, and I dropped more shows this season than I’ve ever before dropped at one time. But things really turned around in the past few months, and the sweeps episodes in May have revived my opinion of many longer-running series. I found myself with renewed love for a few shows that I’d not yet dropped despite feeling indifference for some time, and I even found interest in several comedies this season that had never before been of interest to me. And after all of that, I’m grateful to say that only a few of my “regulars” did not make the cut for the 2011-2012 season. It really is nice to know that favorite shows and beloved characters will be around for a little while longer.
My favorites from the fall/spring season were Fringe, which had its best season yet; Castle, which continues to get better and better and better, thanks to its incredible cast; NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, both of which started off a little slow but ended with great character development and wonderful setups for a new season; White Collar, which just makes me happy to watch every week and makes me miss it terribly when it’s gone; and A&E’s fugitive drama, Breakout Kings, which gets better with each passing week and features a lot of wit and intelligence in its writing. I found enjoyment in quite a few other series, of course, though mostly out of habit and curiosity. Still, I’ll be tuning back in during the next season for Hawaii Five-0, Bones, The Mentalist (especially after a finale moment that truly shocked me), CSI: NY, Blue Bloods, Parenthood, Body of Proof, The Walking Dead, Fairly Legal, The Good Wife, and Grey’s Anatomy, which itself is proof that an almost-done-for series can revive itself if willing to trim the fat and turn characters on their heads. It was Grey’s PTSD storyline for Cristina Yang, in fact, that kept me riveted throughout the first half of its season, and though I am seriously tired of the Callie-Arizona-Mark Sloan drama, I still enjoy a lot of the stories that have been written over the past year.
I do watch a few other types of shows, and this year I found more reality series than ever before. Although, technically, the ones I enjoy are more like game shows. I’m kind of addicted to the food competition series of Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Chopped, and 24 Hour Restaurant Battle on Food Network (mostly because I love Scott Conant), and I also love Project Runway and The Amazing Race. I care nothing at all for the basic “talent” shows like American Idol or any of the dancing competition shows, and I see no point whatsoever for all of the “find a husband, find a wife on TV” series. Up until last year I did watch Survivor, but I finally cut that cord when the contestants just got ridiculous and the “drama” was boring. I stuck it out through the Heroes vs. Villains season (solely because of J.T.), but I found myself using the fast-forward button more often than watching the show itself. Though I did tune in to the next season, I deleted it from my schedule after only a couple of episodes because the cast was the most boring group of people I’d ever seen on the show. The most recent season was nothing more than a confirmation for me when the “big match-up” was Russell vs. Boston Rob. I can’t think of any two people I’d rather see less of in my life. What began as a truly fascinating social experiment has just devolved into a platform for exceptionally annoying people. And I have no interest whatsoever.
This season I also gave up on Private Practice after the last three interesting people — Cooper and Violet and Pete — became as melodramatic (and whiny!) as the rest of the cast, which had been irritating me for more than a season already. I finally had to admit that Private Practice had gone the way of Desperate Housewives, and that meant I was done with it. Brothers & Sisters suffered the same fate with me, as well, with the unbelievable stupidity of every single sibling in the “family.” When melodrama becomes boring, there’s definitely a problem. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when it was cancelled. At the beginning of the fall and spring seasons I tried to like Nikita, My Generation, No Ordinary Family, and Mr. Sunshine, but none of them really clicked with me. I did watch quite a few new (or new-to-me) series, though most of them won’t be returning in the fall. I am still lamenting the loss of Rubicon, just as I will honestly miss Human Target, Lie To Me, Off The Map, The Whole Truth, CHAOS (which barely even got a chance, CBS!), The Cape, The Good Guys (goofy as it was), and Chase, which was my absolute favorite new series of the season and a much-welcomed return for Cole Hauser and Amaury Nolasco. I can only hope someone finds a place for those guys very soon! A few other shows that I watched all the way through but which won’t be returning really aren’t bothering me too much. The Event was interesting enough for a slow Monday night, but I won’t really miss it. Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been, and last fall’s Lone Star never quite found its groove (or an audience). In my overcrowded TV schedule, losing these isn’t going to break my heart.
I found some room (and some love) for a few comedies this season, and that is extremely rare. But shows like The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly really charmed me with their quirky humor and extremely likable lead actors. I’d love to see a lot less crude humor, but they are both tempered so well by the sweetness of their main characters that it’s hard for me to dismiss them. My love for Glee is well-documented on Twitter and Facebook, but I was disappointed in the beginning of this season last fall. For a long while I feared that it had gone the way of a sophomore slump, but then it found a glorious groove with the first guest appearance by Gwyneth Paltrow, and the spring episodes built and built into something great on which to end the season. I’m more excited for tonight’s finale than I’ve ever been for any of its episodes. And I’m really looking forward to seeing it grow further in the third season.
The greatest surprise for me this year was The Office. I’ve watched it faithfully since its second season, I think, but I’ve never been a fan of much more than the Jim and Pam story. Steve Carell, in his various characterizations, has never appealed to me, and the role of Michael Scott has always just irked me to no end. I usually skipped through most of his monologues just because they bored me. But then something incredible happened this season: he developed a heart and a sweetness that didn’t resort to vulgarity to bring the funny. It’s all in credit to Amy Ryan, of course, whose character of Holly Flax finally gave Michael Scott a reason to be truly happy. By Carell’s final episodes before his departure from the series, I found myself touched again and again by the series and even shed several tears during his farewell scenes. If you had told me that this would happen back in the first seasons of the series I would’ve scoffed. But now that the Michael Scott character is no longer in the office, there is a definite void from which the series may never recover.
This summer promises to provide plenty of action and adventure to keep me occupied, and I think these series are even more beloved than the ones shown during a 22-episode season. I never seem to tire of Leverage, Flashpoint, In Plain Sight, or Psych, and I really enjoy Burn Notice, Rizzoli & Isles, and Memphis Beat. Covert Affairs and The Closer are also interesting enough to make me return each week for a new episode. I’m also happy that Law & Order: Criminal Intent is going out on a higher note with the return of Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, and I’m beyond thrilled that A&E’s quirky series The Glades will be returning, as well. I’m happy to be able to indulge my inner sci-fi geek with new episodes of Warehouse 13, Haven, and Eureka, and I’m very intrigued by the new series Falling Skies, which brings Noah Wyle and Moon Bloodgood back to my TV after much too long an absence. The adventure series Expedition Impossible looks to be fun, and I’m curious about Rocco’s Dinner Party, as well. Part of me also wants to check out TNT’s Franklin & Bash, but only because Reed Diamond is featured in a role. If it weren’t for him, I’d just as soon pass on it because it looks a little too over the top for my taste. But TNT makes incredible series, so I think I’m willing to give it a try. Two other new series have me excited for individual cast members, as well. Longtime favorite Gabriel Macht stars in Suits, while Marc Blucas has a supporting role in Necessary Roughness. Their presence alone is all I needed to know.
All in all, the TV season of 2010-2011 has been pretty enjoyable for me. It’s certainly been better than recent years. I’m also happy that television schedules are no longer limited to fall and spring. With Texas summers maintaining triple-digit temperatures and gas prices skyrocketing again, plus the fact of continued unemployment, my best source of entertainment is going to be the TV… indoors… under the air conditioning. But with so many shows to choose from, it just might be the best (entertainment) summer yet!
image banners via The TV Database