Sunday, October 23, 2022

Negotiations: notes on Minx, Ipcress File and Inside Man

As the year starts to wind down, spotlighting three series that brightened my 2022.

Minx has flown under the radar; it’s a comedy about a woman determined not to fly under the radar, so there’s some sort of poetic injustice to that. I heard very few people discussing it while it was airing, and when it was ultimately picked up for a second season by HBO Max, there was hardly a murmur. And now that HBO Max is being absorbed into Discovery Plus, and a lot of its scripted shows — even ones that have been renewed — may fall by the wayside, I still don’t hear anyone talking about it, or fretting about its future. But it’s the best new comedy I saw in 2022: not just a vivid evocation of life in America in the early ‘70s, but a resolutely apt analogy for life in America in 2022.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Rating Richard Armitage

I discovered Richard Armitage alongside millions of other TV viewers, only ten years later. That sounds like an oxymoron, so let me explain. North & South, the miniseries that made Armitage a star, aired on BBC in 2004 and was released on DVD a year later — but I didn’t come across it until 2014. Nevertheless, it was my introduction to Armitage, and just like audiences a decade earlier, I was transfixed; I proceeded to seek out as many of his performances as I could. I’m not one to let an actor dictate my TV viewing — I tend to choose properties based on the creator and/or the premise — but Armitage is one of a handful of artists whom I determinedly follow from show to show. (Others include James Norton, Nicola Walker, Ben Whishaw and Mireille Enos.) I make a point of researching what they’re up to next, and I make a point of tuning in. I trust them to choose smart properties, and I look forward to seeing what they'll do with them.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

What Do Critics Want?: notes on American Rust, The Offer and The Time Traveler’s Wife

HBO canceled The Time Traveler’s Wife last week. There goes another show I quite enjoyed. But hell, I’m used to it; at 63, I practically expect networks to discard the series I’m most fond of. What I don’t expect is that those same series will be so thoroughly trashed by critics.

Friday, June 17, 2022

The 10 Best "Everybody Loves Raymond" Episodes

Picking your favorite Raymond episodes ultimately comes down to “which Everybody Loves Raymond do you like best?” Don’t get me wrong: unlike a lot of long-running series, Everybody Loves Raymond has no dramatic shifts in focus or approach. No new showrunner comes in at the halfway mark hellbent on “righting the ship”; there are no late-stage casting shake-ups designed to goose the ratings. The core characters in the pilot — sportswriter Ray Barone and his wife Debra, plus his parents Frank and Marie and brother Robert, who live across the street (thaaat’s right) — are the core characters in the finale. (Monica Horan, a recurring presence for seven seasons, is elevated to series principal near the end, but that stems from story-line, as her character marries into the family.) Showrunner Phil Rosenthal and writers Tucker Cawley, Steve Skrovan and Lew Schneider are there at the start and there at the end. Kathy Ann Stumpe pens her first script early in Season 1 and sticks around for five years; Aaron Shure and Tom Caltabiano come aboard a few seasons in and never leave. Stability in every department — nine years of it — is paramount to Raymond’s success.

And yet…

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Friday, December 31, 2021

A Perfect Little Death: The Best of 2021 (part 2)

The countdown continues: my top two dozen shows of 2021, a very good year for television. For #24-#11, click here. Here are my top 10.

But first, my annual disclaimer.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A Little Priest: The Best of 2021

My write-up of 2021, following 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Given the challenges of filming during a pandemic, it’s amazing how much good TV aired in 2021. Last year, as COVID battered the industry, it was easy to limit my “best of” list to 10, with a handful of runners up. In 2021, I counted two dozen series I wanted to praise — even the “flawed but fascinating” ones. So get ready: counting down my top 24 shows of 2021, starting here with #24-#11, and saving the top 10 for next week.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Grantchester series 6

That I adored the first three series of Grantchester should come as a surprise to no one; my affection for the “James Norton years” is plastered all over this site. Shortly after the first series aired in late 2014, I hailed it as the year’s top show, labeling it “an original: part murder mystery, part character drama — but in proportions I've never seen before, equally (and exquisitely) balanced. Each episode a mere 45 minutes, each one offering up a new case as it pushes the ongoing story-lines forward — but the continuing plots never feel slight, and the detective work never feels slighted.” And although I found the supporting cast uniformly strong, I reserved my highest praise for top-billed James Norton, an actor at that time unknown to me: “He's [Sidney Chambers,] a vicar in 1953 England, still mired in memories of the war: tortured and self-loathing, looking to others to deliver him from the darkness. Yet he's also the ideal father confessor: open-faced, reassuring, nonjudgmental — except when it comes to himself, and then he's unforgiving. ‘I'm supposed to be setting an example,’ he bemoans in one episode, when his fondness for whiskey and weakness for woman have led him to another indiscretion — and yet his empathy for others, and his sincere belief in the lessons he preaches, make him refreshingly human, and genuinely heroic.”

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Rough Edges: notes on Back to Life and The Other Two

After 18 years in prison, Miranda “Miri” Matteson has moved back in with her parents in Hythe, Kent. She was sent away for the accidental death of her friend Lara, and she’s done her time, but she’s been branded a murderer, and although she keeps insisting “it wasn’t like that” — and indeed, it wasn’t like that — that’s the term that stuck. That’s why she awakens to find “psycho bitch” painted on her parents’ fence. That’s why a box of feces is delivered to her home, and a brick sails through the window of her first place of employment.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Doctor Who series 8

Is there any Doctor Who season as polarizing as Series 8? Is there another that not only divides fans, but wittingly pits them against each other? You rarely hear a moderate opinion about Series 8 — folks either love it or hate it. And for many who love it — as I myself do — it’s one of the greatest seasons, and it’s distressing that others can’t see it. And so you feel a need to defend it against its detractors. Very little about Doctor Who inspires that level of protectiveness; until the Chibnall era brought out the crazies, Doctor Who fandom — recognizing that divergent opinions were inevitable with a show that’s been running for some 40+ years — had pretty much adopted a “live and let live” attitude. I can’t stand most of Series 3, but if someone tells me it’s their favorite season, I’m fine with that. And conversely, I think Series 5 is sublime, but if someone tells me they don’t care for it, it rolls off my back. But come after Series 8 and, well, it’s war.