Thursday, March 15, 2018
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Instead of beginning this essay by launching into reasons "Why I Like Attack of the Cybermen," let's indulge in a bit of fan fiction. Recall, if you will, the end of the Fifth Doctor's final serial, "The Caves of Androzani." Having obtained enough serum to counteract the poison that's killing his new companion Peri (and himself), the Doctor tracks her down at Sharaz Jek's lair and carries her back to the TARDIS, where he administers the cure. But he's committed the ultimate sacrifice, as there's not enough left for himself -- and as memories of his former companions and his oldest enemy swirl around in his brain, he expires and regenerates, and in his place, the next Doctor, Colin Baker, rises to announce "change, and not a moment too soon."
Monday, January 15, 2018
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
I gave up on a whole lot of shows in 2017: Preacher, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Magicians, This Is Us, Ray Donovan, Riverdale. There were bad creative moves that seemed to drag on endlessly, or a string of sub-par episodes that wore me down. Typically, when I do these year-end posts, I start with a quick round-up of the series I watched: the trends I noted, risks I respected and mistakes I lamented. And then I devote the rest of the essay to "the year's best," arranged by genre. But doing that sort of overview of 2017 stumped me. Shows seemed either toweringly good or thumpingly disappointing -- there was so little middle ground -- and I really didn't want to devote multiple paragraphs to series that gave me little pleasure. So I'm revising my format: eliminating the negative, as Johnny Mercer put it, and accentuating the positive.
And so, here are thirteen shows that represent the very best of my TV viewing in 2017. (As always, I do not purport to have watched every series that aired this past year; these are merely the ones I was drawn to, that didn't disappoint.) Some are just getting underway, and show enormous promise; others are nearing the end of their run, and going out in style. All were extraordinarily entertaining.
Monday, November 20, 2017
At its best, Knots Landing Season 1 encapsulates a sexual freedom emblematic of its time, and a middle-class malaise specific to its setting. But although the series is steadily improving as it reaches the end of the season, the challenges are clear. Now that you've re-imagined married life in a way that speaks to present-day audiences, once characters have grown comfortable with the flirting and even the cheating, where do you turn for conflict and suspense? And if seemingly nothing is taboo, what's going to stop the characters from acting on every impulse -- and if they do, will you be able to rein them in? The end of Season 1 finds the writers on a dangerous precipice. What's most remarkable is that they don't seem to notice; as they head into Season 2, they seem unaware that -- in a perfect metaphor for a domestic drama about to go serialized -- they are figuratively hanging from a cliff. Will they survive?
Well, they survive, but the patient spends most of the season in a coma. With its parent show Dallas enjoying record-high ratings in the wake of J.R.'s shooting, the Knots writers decide to embrace a similar format: juggling three or four salacious story-lines at a time. But the plots lack credibility and variety, and worse, they make most of the characters look dense or deplorable.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Then Season 13 rolled around, and within a few weeks, I stopped taping it to two VCR's. Was it even necessary to tape it to one? I remember being rather shocked at how quickly my devotion faded into disinterest. It's not like Knots hadn't gone through rough spells; I mean, even then, as I looked back at the history of the show, I was able to spot a half-dozen dry patches -- some of them bone dry. But there had never been anything like the first fifteen episodes of Season 13: a perfect storm of mediocrity. New writers, none with soap experience, let alone an understanding of these particular characters -- and an outgoing team who had left them with nothing to work from, merely a set of unpromising cliffhangers and compromised characters.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Monday, October 16, 2017
Season 6 is the one where Val's newborn twins are stolen, an event that impacts most of the core characters, but none, heaven knows, more than Valene Clements Ewing herself. And although there's a lot more than just "Val's babies" to the season -- it juggles at least as many characters and plotlines as Season 5, and probably a few more -- nothing else really and truly pays off. Some of the story-lines, in fact, go off the rails so badly, they're jettisoned early in Season 7.
But through it all, there's Joan Van Ark, in an acting showcase unmatched in the series' fourteen seasons. Oh, other actors have seasons that play to their strengths, as well as to their characters' (Michele Lee and Ted Shackelford in Season 3, Kevin Dobson and Donna Mills in Season 5, Teri Austin in Season 10, Kathleen Noone in Season 14), but there's nothing quite like the tour-de-force that Van Ark offers up in Season 6, as Valene -- struggling to accept an explanation she knows in her heart is false -- develops a dissociative disorder, becomes convinced that she's Verna Ellers (the lead character in her latest novel) and takes off for Tennessee.