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A Year of Watching TV

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One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 was to watch more television. I’ve slowly increased my TV viewing over the last couple of years in response to the great stuff out there. Now it’s kind of weird, as the consensus is that there’s a lot of just OK shows and not much that’s really that compelling compared to the prestige dramas of earlier this decade. But I’m so far behind that this really barely matters to me. And because I am still deeply committed to watching movies of both the present and the past, my TV watching is only going to go so high. I’ve actually seen more movies this year than any since about 2013, but I’m going to wait until the Oscars to release my best movies list, as there is much that hasn’t had real distribution yet, though Providence is such an awful film town now that Cable Car Cinema has closed, who knows what I can see without going to Boston. Anyway, here’s what I watched on TV in 2018, with some thoughts.

First, I finished my rewatch of Deadwood. Still amazing, can’t wait for the movie to come out.

I have since been rewatching The Wire. It still holds up brilliantly. I’m about halfway through the third season.

Tons of ink has been spilled on Better Call Saul. Basically, I agree that the story of Jimmy McGill turning into Saul Goodman and how this affects the people around him is wonderful and the rest of the Breaking Bad background material is largely well done but superfluous.

More interesting, I’ve been watching The Sopranos all the way through for the first time. I had seen bits and pieces over the years, but I’ve never watched it all the way. I am almost done with Season 3. I know some people say it doesn’t really hold up, but I mostly don’t agree. Yeah, the nudity is pretty unnecessary, even if it can at least make sense in the context of scumbag mobsters owning a strip club. The Melfi character is a good one, but she feels like a device that doesn’t always quite work. Otherwise though, I think it is a pretty great show. I’ll be curious to see what others’ perspective is on this.

Probably the dominant feature of my viewing year was finally watching Treme. And it’s…OK? I mean, there are very good things about it. Some of the performances are outstanding and some of the storylines are great. But there are way too many that aren’t and I think at the core it’s that David Simon doesn’t really understand New Orleans the way he does northeastern urban cores and so was way too concerned with authenticity and covering the different parts of the city’s culture he likes. Kim Dickens is a very good actress, but the entire restaurant storyline just spun its wheels except when her character was in New York, when it felt like a different show entirely that gave Simon a chance to put his chef friends in the store. Steve Zahn’s character is the annoying rich guy living as a trying-too-hard countercultural figure we’ve probably all known in one form or another at some point in our lives and I can live with that in the show, but he was used whenever Simon wanted to put things right on the nose about authenticity, a surprising crutch for a brilliant creator of television. Jon Seda’s character didn’t work that well. John Goodman was somewhat wasted in his season. The entire Sonny and Annie storyline was terrible. Sonny was one of the worst characters in prestige television history until Simon finally found a use for him on the Vietnamese fishing boat, but he was also irrelevant at that point. The Annie makes it big in music story was pretty disastrous, in no small part because Lucia Micarelli is an atrociously bad singer, so the idea that she would become a big star as a frontwoman versus a long career as a violinist just did not work at all.

Much better were most of the other women in the show, who really were the rocks that held it all down, especially Khandi Alexander and Melissa Leo, but also with a shoutout to Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, who never even got opening credit treatment as Wendell Pierce’s wife, but who did a great job, showing once again what Simon can do with local non-professionals. Pierce and Clark Peters were typically excellent. The addition of David Morse as the rare decent cop was a great addition in the second season. It’s interesting how much worse the New Orleans police come across compared to Baltimore’s in The Wire. At least in the latter, the police are complicated; here they are pure villains. I know that reflects reality, but it’s interesting how Simon plays that given that the Baltimore PD is not exactly known for being great.

In the end, Treme is minor Simon, but worth a viewing.

I also watched the amazing Comrade Detective. I know that Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s backing is what got this made, but I am curious how this pitch works: “OK, we are going to make a fake Romanian TV show from the 80s about cops trying to solve the murder of another cop by a guy who wears a Reagan mask. We are going to hire top-flight Romanian actors to star in the show, but we will dub all of the voices into English. It’s going to be gold!” I mean, it was gold, but I’m surprised they weren’t laughed out of the room by executives. What a fun 6 episodes of television.

I am also almost through with the lovely Midnight Diner. This is a Japanese show that takes place primarily inside a diner that is only open at night. The grumbly chef has a simple menu but will make anything you want if he has the ingredients. So each show is about the trials of a single individual or a couple of people, based around some dish they really like. The endings are usually positive, whether it is about a older comedian who feels dissed by his younger protege who has become a star or awkward people trying to date. Then it ends with a brief discussion of the food by the actors. It will make you feel good. How many shows really do this?

What’s next in 2019 for me? Finishing Sopranos and The Wire of course. I’ve just started finally watching Boardwalk Empire and while this is not amazing television through the first 4 episodes, it’s good enough by far, for Buscemi alone if nothing else. So that will take up a big chunk of my time. I have a couple episodes left of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. The fat episode was kind of whatever, but the salt episode was really fascinating. I am finally going to watch Bojack Horseman, see how I like that, since everyone talks about how great it is. Veep is very high on my list and I will be curious to see how I respond to a show that was very much part of the Obama years in the Trump years. The Ukranian show Servant of the People is very high on my list, as is the Russian show on Trotsky that Netflix just picked up. I may rewatch Mad Men once I finish The Wire. And who knows what else.

If you want real discussion of the latest in television, obviously Abigail and Vacuumslayer is who you should read. But this is what I’ve seen in 2018.

….Realize already that I forgot to mention watching the last season of The Americans (amazing, what an outstanding show from stem stern), that I watched the third season of Narcos (that show is still a massive wasted opportunity to say something interesting but the third season was OK, not so confident in the Mexico edition that just came out), and that I stopped watching Black Mirror in the third season because it is a terrible awful show.

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