My 2017 in Television

When the kids went back to school in late August, I reunited with Netflix. Our wifi is abysmal but refusing to submit to Comcast is a hill I’m willing to die on, so if a child is on the computer or a tablet, Netflix for me is out.

I felt guilty enough for watching so much uninterrupted television that I decided to start crocheting, and ultimately made nearly every family member an afghan for Christmas, about 9 in total. (A young niece and nephew got hats, and I made my grandmother a matching scarf and hat.)

Here’s what I watched:

Sports Series That Lived Up to the Hype: 2017 World Series

MR. MORTON CLOSED OUT THE SERIES. ENOUGH SAID.

Documentary About Some Badass Women: The Keepers

Unsatisfied with local law enforcement’s efforts to find out who killed their beloved English teacher, Sister Cathy, her former students–now in their 60s–combine their resources to find out what happened. It’s so frustrating how their efforts are thwarted at the local and city levels, and it made me angry that a young nun’s death could have been covered up to help keep secret what priests were doing to girls in that high school. The former students are steadfast and unflappable in their pursuit of justice.

Comic Book Series I Hate-Watched: The Iron Fist

The best part of this white-washed show was the villain and then she turned out to be boring, too.

Comic Book Series I Watched With My Blankie and One Hand Over My Face (Which Made Crocheting Really Hard): The Punisher

Unrelentingly violent. From the first episode to the last. Like … I get your point, Frank. I really do. I thing everyone does. Please do something more productive than drawn-out torture. Please.

Period Series That Were Very Good

Jamaica Inn

After losing her parents, the (actress who played) Lady Sybil Crawley goes to a relative’s hotel to live and work. She soon realizes something is amiss, and uncovers a smuggling ring that includes almost everyone in town and is carried out in a most disturbing way. The series is based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel.

Alias Grace

An Irish immigrant is convicted in the double murder of her employer and his housekeeper in Canada, but a psychiatrist is sent to determine whether she is to be pardoned; it’s unclear whether she was a full participant or an accessory. (An unreliable female narrator? WHO KNEW) The psychiatrist soon becomes obsessed with his subject. This series, like A Handmaid’s Tale, is based on the work of Margaret Atwood.

A Science Fiction Show, Complete with Subtle Conspiracies, That Does Not Seem Like a Science Fiction Show Until You Realize It’s Normalized Resurrection and Reincarnation #waitwhat: Glitch

A bunch of people come back to life by digging themselves out of their own graves in what at first could be a cliched happy ending to Pet Sematary. But! Some people have been dead two years, others decades. Their loved ones have moved on. They slowly remember how they died. A cop—whose dead wife is one of the resurrected—and a physician—who has an affair with another—have to figure out what’s going on without stirring up too much attention, and to keep safe from another group of people trying to kill them. Both seasons are pretty strong, and the writing and acting are great.

Science Fiction That Started Out Great But Declined Into a Hate Watch Series: Continuum

It started out with a promising, if trite, premise: can you change the future by going back to the past? But Continuum lasted two seasons before its writers were all, “Well what do we do now?” and introduced confusing temporal paradoxes and contradictory character development that made the show watchable. Oh and the answer to the question, according to this show, is yes.

A Science Fiction Show Whose Writing Was So Lazy I Couldn’t Even Hate Watch: Dark Matter

Six people wake up on a spaceship with their memories wiped and eventually find out they’re criminals who are employed as enforcers. What makes it interesting (and hopeful) is that they instinctively work together–people are inherently good, after all!–to solve their initial crisis in the pilot show. But huge plot holes arise and much of the conflict in the next two is resolved off camera and relayed through casual dialogue. #nope.

Science Fiction That Handled Time Travel and Reincarnation Quite Well: Travelers

Catastrophic events make the future a decidedly not swell place to be, but people have figured out how to send consciousness back in time. These people, called Travelers, take over a person’s body right after the person’s supposed time of death. The Travelers have a specific purpose: Prevent an asteroid from colliding into Earth, which triggers global-warming enhanced famine and destruction. The show basically takes the same premise as Continuum but with far better results. The first season was pretty solid but I still have to see Season 2.

A Show That Successfully Incorporates Science Fiction, Comic Book and Western Genres: Wynonna Earp

Wynonna, second oldest daughter of Wyatt Earp, reluctantly and sullenly returns to Purgatory to fulfill his legacy of killing demons. She has help from her indefatigable younger sister, Waverly; a federal agent, Dolls; some cops; and a never-aging Doc Holliday. Come for the witty dialogue; stay for Wynonna’s baby shower.

Procedural Series That Are Still Great in Their Third Season:

Broadchurch

Hardy and Miller investigate a rape this time around, although we revisit their controversial past case tangentially.

I love Olivia Colman, who injects such empathy and compassion into her characters. Her chemistry with David Tennant (aka The Official Doctor of Online Offal) is wonderful, and illustrates that yes, indeed, women can work with men without any sort of underlying sexual tension.

Narcos

The show transitions from focusing on Pablo Escobar to the three brothers comprising the Cali Cartel, who swooped in to take advantage of the power vacuum after Escobar’s death. In particular, it focuses on a man who defects from the cartel to become an informer of (handsome and winsome) agent Javier Pena. It’s an ultimately frustrating tale of how much one is willing to put up with a trade wreaks havoc and destruction because the people who inflict it are part of a larger political agenda.

Procedural Shows Inspired by/Similar to Broadchurch Just to Remind You People Everywhere Have the Capability of Being Truly Disgusting to Their Fellow Man: (Alternate Description: Brooding Male Detective in New Environment Overcomes Internal Angst to Solve Unspeakable Crimes)

The Break (La Treve) (takes place in Belgium)

Hinterland (takes place in Wales)

Case (takes place in Iceland)

Wallander (takes place in Sweden)

Bordertown (takes place in Finland)

Shetland (takes place in a archipelago north of Scotland; technically the UK)

Procedural Shows in Which the Brooding Detective is Female:

Marcella (takes place in London)

Deep Water (takes place in Australia)

Paranoid (takes place in the UK)

A Procedural Show That Takes the Best Parts of Stephen King’s It and Stand By Me: The Five

A boy goes missing after hanging out in the forest with his older brother and the brother’s friends. The show explores how the effects of the disappearance can still reverberate after 20 years. It comes to a deeply satisfying conclusion and reinforces the inexplicable power and healing that childhood friendship provides, even after two decades have passed. TL;DR: Your buddy Online Offal was a puddle of tears after watching this show.

A Procedural Series I Didn’t Know What to Do With: Mindhunter

I couldn’t tell what the point of this show was: a retelling of Silence of the Lambs? An FBI agent turns to serial killers to make him a better boyfriend? Serial killers act the way they do because of their mothers? Understanding serial killers will help us in trying to identify and/or prevent prospective ones?

The series starts out SLOW and even though Jonathan Groff is extremely pretty, I couldn’t get what this show was trying to accomplish. All that being said, the scenes of two FBI agents interviewing serial killers in prison juxtaposed with a man preparing to and beginning to kill is eerie and compelling.

Honorable Mentions: Stranger Things 2 (Serviceable, Got the Job Done) and Ozark (The Only Character I Liked Died; I Don’t Care What Happens to Anyone Else)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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My 2017 in Television

Thirteen Reasons Why Irresponsibly and Selectively Lectures Us How to Feel About Suicide

Earlier this year, a local middle schooler committed suicide. To put it kindly, our school district has been in hot water, but the community put together a Go Fund Me page for the family to help defray funeral costs, and grief counselors were sent to the school to talk with students.

A friend of mine, who’s an administrator at a school in a neighboring district, says the school, although it’s not mandated by our state, has an action plan in place should such a situation occur.


Photo credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix

We’re never told exactly where Liberty High, the fictional setting for Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why, is located, but after student Hannah Baker kills herself, the school administration slapped up some suicide awareness posters, allowed fellow students to enshrine Hannah’s locker, paid some lip service to being available if needed and called it a day.

As if anticipating this tepid response to a very real and tragic problem, Hannah helpfully and lovingly crafts charmingly retro audiocassette tapes that soon consume her guilt-ridden and shell-shocked fellow students as they struggle to cope with her death.

I didn’t read the YA novel upon which the series is based, but Hannah is repeatedly betrayed, humiliated and shamed during her two years at Liberty High. A compromising picture is broadcast throughout the school. She loses friends. She’s named Best Ass in a version of a slam book. She’s stalked, groped and eventually raped.

That’s a lot for any girl to deal with. But her melodramatic, passive-aggressive, manipulative tapes send earnest Clay Jensen on a macabre scavenger hunt as he desperately tries to find someone and everyone to blame for Hannah’s death, instead of putting it exactly where it belongs: with Hannah.

Thirteen Reasons Why, honestly, should have been called We All Let Hannah Down. Each of the other students featured on the tapes were dealing with their own problems–alcoholism, poverty, parental neglect, homosexuality, addiction, overbearing parents–but they all take a back seat to Hannah’s issues. Indeed, more than one angrily tell Clay that Hannah killed herself; she alone made that choice; but it’s portrayed as a defensive reaction instead of a very real and reasonable response. The anger, it seems, should only be directed inward.

Likewise, we’re made to believe that Hannah’s version of events are The One Real Truth instead of merely a perspective. By virtue of being dead, Hannah does not get challenged although she makes some incredibly poor choices (and, incidentally, is a pretty terrible friend) herself.

The series has graphic rape and sexual assault scenes, and the suicide is not only graphically described but also shown in all its glory, a horrifying instructional video.

For all the high-fives and headpats the creators are giving themselves, I didn’t see a single suicide hotline number, website or any other helpful advice prominently displayed for kids watching the show who might decide Hannah Baker is a role model instead of a cautionary tale. (It might have had text after the credits but I never watched that far.) Instead, the show glorified Hannah Baker’s revenge against her community, as if killing yourself is merely a way to get your point across.

Thirteen Reasons Why Irresponsibly and Selectively Lectures Us How to Feel About Suicide

Escape TV: The Second Seasons of The Magicians and Shadowhunters

Both Young Adult series The Magicians and Shadowhunters have strayed so far from their source material that I gave up comparing the TV shows to the books and just enjoyed the ride.

Shadowhunters had a bit more substance this season with meeting new characters (especially fierce and formidable females) and making series regulars more enriched and complex. It’s finally revealed why Clary is so special and important. We meet the Iron Sisters, who develop and test all weapons for the Shadowhunters. There is a full-fledged gay relationship that is addressed front and center, not treated like a subplot or ignored entirely after a smooch last season. A character develops an addiction. The second half of the season starts in a couple months, with a secret son and I hope, a trip to Idris to explore that world.


(Image source: Syfy.com)

Speaking of new worlds, The Magicians delivered in spades. We spent a lot of time in Fillory (a place that was thought to exist solely in novels but in fact is real) this season. My expectations for this show are a lot higher, and this season was uneven (people in Fillory singing show tunes from Les Miserables on the way to battle another kingdom made my eyes roll so hard) but everyone was committed, I give them that. 

Only one character, Margo, remains stubbornly one-dimensional despite being Fillory’s sole ruler for a good chunk of time. The actress’ delivery of lines is slow and deliberate and caustic. 

My favorite places are The Library, where Penny works to pay off a debt; and Brakebills South, a facility in Antarctica where the school’s most brilliant magician has been outcast.

The season ends with the total eradication of magic in both worlds. The show has been renewed for a third season; I hope time travel–the lazy way out– is not involved in restoring magic to both Earth and Fillory.

Escape TV: The Second Seasons of The Magicians and Shadowhunters

I Missed the Biggest Story of Spring Training


In what was surely inevitable, Major League Baseball is teaming up with Game of Thrones for a big promotional hootenanny.

I came across this story this afternoon on the Twitters, where I first learned Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard will have a walk-on role on this season of Game of Thrones. (He was available to film in November because the Mets lost their sole play-off game hahahahahaha #soblessed.)

As a surprise to no one, I have some ideas on how to incorporate the Game of Thrones world into baseball games.

1. Introducing the players and their positions. Use the GoT music and title sequence to announce fielders, with each player having his own sigil and his position having a construction similar to places in GoT.

2. Quotes for different situations:

  • Bottom of the ninth inning: “What is dead shall never die.”
  • Substitutions, especially during the game: “His watch has ended.”
  • Refer to a particularly brutal inning as the Red Wedding.
  • Referring to the umps: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

3. Recite lineups like Arya Stark’s list of revenge. 

4. DRAGONS! (I haven’t thought this one through yet.)

5. DIREWOLVES! (Ditto.)

I Missed the Biggest Story of Spring Training

The Fall of The Fall

Late last year I watched the final season of The Fall.

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(Image source: BBC)

Tangent: Fifty Shades Darker, the second of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, opened this weekend, starring Jamie Dornan, who catapulted to stardom with his role as Paul Spector in The Fall. Dornan shows us in the first series of The Fall that not only can he deftly handle disturbing material, but that he’s capable of genuine charisma and chemistry even when portraying a serial killer. TL;DR: Jamie Dornan is sex on two legs in The Fall. He… is … not in Fifty Shades. (I haven’t seen Darker, and the only reason I saw Fifty Shades was out of love for a friend. She knows who she is.)

I didn’t know what to make of the third series of The Fall. The first series was excellent and the second was very good, in spite of some missteps. I thought, like Broadchurch, that the third series would be about Spector’s trial. And there are some moments in a few of the episodes that I saw a glimpse of what that would have looked like: a high-powered defense attorney setting his sights on the extremely inappropriate relationship Spector had with his nemesis, Stella Gibson. The Belfast PD uncovering evidence of Spector’s devastating time as a student at a school rampant with abuse, as well as discovering evidence of some of his earliest victims. (Gibson also had inappropriate relationships with her superior, a subordinate, a fellow officer on the force and very nearly the medical examiner because apparently Gibon’s Tinder only worked in her very own office building.) We had Spector’s almost-protege violating her parole to try and see him and also start a cycle of her own violence, a first step to an eventual copycat of his crimes.

But instead, for the first two episodes, we got amnesia. Spector in the hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound, with amnesia. I mean, I was thankful for Delicious Topless Dornan, but I was momentarily transported to a cross between General Hospital and ER. There were whole chunks of dialogue that were merely regurgitation of medical jargon. There was the transport of one of his victims to the very same hospital, and they very briefly crossed paths, which is gobsmacking to me, but maybe the Belfast PD had a groupon for emergency care, I don’t know.

There were several intriguing storylines that could have been picked up but were merely teased and then dropped. Spector’s protective, compassionate nurse fit the physical profile of his victims, but … nothing happened. Spector’s wife Sally pulled a Susan Smith and tried to drown herself and their children in the car. She was dramatically rescued and ended up in the same hospital (does Belfast not have more than one hospital? I hear it’s a pretty big city) and then is never mentioned again.

In a frightening confrontation, Spector, provoked by Gibson, brutally attacks her, underscoring his hatred for women, specifically powerful women. He ends up in a mental institution (#amnesia), where he proceeds to manipulate another resident and eventually kills himself. It’s a wholly unsatisfying ending to a show that was originally billed (and for the first two seasons, lived up to) a cat and mouse game. Instead, I just felt, as a viewer, that I was batted around by the cat.

The Fall of The Fall

Steven Moffat Needs a Nap (Spoilers)

Over the holiday break, I let my kids start watching Doctor Who. We started with what I’d argue is one of the best written episodes of the rebooted series, Blink, in which we meet the most interesting villains of the franchise, The Weeping Angels. (Incidentally, the episode is directed by a woman, and the scarcity of female directors has been a huge criticism of the series.)

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One of the reasons this episode works so well is because The Doctor and his companion, Martha, are relegated to guest star status and Carey Mulligan more than capably pulls the dramatic weight of the story. The Weeping Angels only can move when they are not observed; when seen, they transform to stone. They cover their eyes to give the appearance that they’re crying. They feed off the energy that occurs when they touch someone and send the victim hurtling through time. (They’re after The Doctor’s TARDIS, which as a time machine has a nearly endless supply of that kind of the energy.) It’s a sharply written episode that embraces the “timey-whimey” theme of the show in a way that’s subtle and fresh.

Moffat went on to become the main writer and showrunner of Doctor Who, for better and for worse. Since then, he’s smashed through nearly every convention the show had: the Doctor’s limited number of regenerations; crossing time streams; the dumpster fire that’s become Gallifrey (once destroyed, it now exists in perpetuity in a painting); endless paradoxes; sonic sunglasses instead of a screwdriver; River Song.

“My Doctor” is David Tennant, the 10th incarnate. My husband prefers the 11th, Matt Smith. The 12th version is Peter Capaldi, who just announced a few weeks ago that he’s leaving at the end of the year. Capaldi’s last season was uneven at best. I thought his companion, Clara (a holdout from the Matt Smith era), who we learn is addicted to time travel, overstayed her welcome. I wasn’t that thrilled with guest star Arya Stark Maisie Williams, who was able to live forever but not really remember anything. I only liked two episodes over the past two years: Sleep No More, which explores the consequences of sacrificing sanity for productivity; and the super-hero-themed Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio. In Sleep No More, The Doctor is there to help solve a problem without his Doctor-ness getting in the way. Clara helps, instead of becoming a distraction and/or a sideshow. (In other words, they get shit done.) The Christmas special is an uncomplicated, thoroughly enjoyable homage to Clark Kent/Superman.

There is nearly a year-long gap between Capaldi’s seasons as Moffat turned his attention to the massively successful modern reboot of the Sherlock Holmes series.

Eventually, both series suffered from Moffat pulling double duty. The first three episodes of Sherlock are sheer fun, updated versions of classic cases. The second series started out all right but ended up … killing Moriarty. Online Offal’s First Law of Entertainment is that a show is only as good as its villain. Doctor Who has the Daleks, the Cyber Men and the aforementioned Weeping Angels. Sherlock’s nemesis was Moriarty, the consulting criminal. The third series explored who the new villain might be: Watson’s wife, Mary, a former spy? Sherlock’s own drug addiction? And, again, Moffat broke the rules and along with co-created Mark Gattis created another Holmes sibling, Eurus, completely shattering the Doyle canon.

If you think about it, The Doctor is a lot like Sherlock. Besides the established canon and legendary fan base, the characters themselves have a lot of similarities. Both are brilliant eccentrics with faithful companions who sometimes have to clean up their messes. As mentioned above, they have some pretty potent enemies. Moffat indulgently left both characters to nearly become parodies of themselves, and in the process sacrificed his demonstrated ability for storytelling. (He also wrote the fabulous romantic comedy Coupling which I recommend you spend an afternoon binge-watching; it is well worth your time.) The Sherlock series drifted from Sherlock and Watson actually solving cases (and you know, helping the citizens of London) to Sherlock literally showing off his mental prowess for no other reason than self-reflection and navel-gazing.

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has almost literally become a time-traveling Mick Jagger, an aging rock star refusing to see the limits of his age and his abilities. The Doctor took 4.5 billion years to hack through a diamond wall only to have his memories of Clara erased and my eyes nearly rolled out of my head. I was almost like a Weeping Angel myself, watching those episodes.

Capaldi’s announced he’s going to leave the show at the end of the year, and speculation has begun to mount about the new Doctor, with many, myself included, hoping it will be a woman or at least a person of color. (I’d settle for the Rock or Olivia Colman.) But I wish Moffat takes this time to either regroup or pass the baton onto someone who can breathe fresh life into one or both series.

 

Steven Moffat Needs a Nap (Spoilers)

The Unreliable Narrator: Dirk Gently, Mr. Robot, The OA (Spoilers)

I’ve taken up crocheting and as I’m making blankets for my children and succumbing to the inevitable post-holiday sickness that includes a lovely, nonproductive, cough-suppressant-immune hacking that keepsme up at night, I’ve been catching up on a lot of television.

I’ll be posting my unsolicited opinions on a bunch of different shows over the coming week, but the three that have similar interconnectedness themes are BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, USA’s Mr. Robot and The OA from Netflix.

Gently honestly is the craziest show I’ve seen on network television in recent memory. It had everything from a device that swapped souls between animals and people; a secret government program whose subjects were people who most generously could be considered delusional; various conflicting entities investigating and/or protecting all the hoopla I just described; cults; and a guy who told his family he had recovered from a genetic disorder so his parents could spend all their money on him and his sister could be hopeful she would be cured as her (real) symptoms developed. There are probably other things I’m missing, but I didn’t understand anything until the third episode, and the pieces slowly came together to basically explain what had happened in the first 10 minutes of the show, and then how Gently has to prevent it from happening in the first place. (There’s time travel, which is sort of shoe-horned in at the last minute, and it was my lease favorite part of the show.)dg_104_bs_0713_0114.jpg

The actors look like they’re all having a blast, and Gently himself is so adorably irrepressible it makes you forget he’s quietly, cheerfully manipulating a whole bunch of people and as sunny as he is, you can’t really trust him or his version of events, because he’s one of the delusional people from the aforementioned government program. However, everything is explained. There are some loose ends, but I don’t feel as though as a viewer I’ve been bamboozled.

THAT’S HOW I FEEL WITH MR. ROBOT, and I’ve only finished the first season. Elliott is a brilliant computer programmer-cum-vigilante who is trying to execute a vast scheme to bring down an evil corporation and rid American citizens of their debt. Unlike Gently, who we know is an adorable wackadoo from the get-go, we’re unaware of Elliott’s pervasive mental illness until nearly the end of the first season, when we’re told he’s wildly and constantly hallucinating. We’ve watched the entire show from his flawed perspective and now we don’t trust him or ourselves. I was so unsettled and uneasy watching the final two episodes because I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know which character is real and who is telling the truth. It’s impossible to know their motivation because Elliott is so paranoid and at one point tried to hit on his sister because he completely forgot he had a sister. There are periods of time he can’t explain, to us or himself. I like the overall concept but I feel it gives the writers an excuse to just throw everything on the wall and explain random stuff away using Elliott’s schizophrenia.

The OA is somewhere in between Dirk Gently and Mr. Robot. I just finished The OA last night and this morning I read a blog written by a high school classmate who compares The OA to John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. (Aside: I thought the actress who played the OA looked like Ann Coulter and it took me a very long time to mentally move beyond that comparison.) Like Gently and Elliott, we learn The OA’s story about her time in captivity can’t be trusted. The little cult (four high school students and one of their teachers) she assembled for what basically turned out to be a religious tai chi class were diligent enough to fact-check her elaborate tale of losing and regaining her sight via near-death experiences and becoming an unwilling test subject to Another British Pretend Boyfriend of Mine, Jason Isaacs, who keeps her and others who claim to come back from the dead in underground cages for lengthy and rigorous experimentation. (According to medical tests she undergoes when returning home, she does exhibit symptoms–vitamin D deficiency, tooth decay, grayness of skin–that suggest she did spend a great deal of time sequestered somewhere.) A kid finds a bunch of books (about near-death experiences, etc.) that The OA hid under her bed and could have used to form her story.

The religious tai chi, which she teaches to her five-person cult in hopes of celestially reconnecting with the people with which she was imprisoned and rescuing them, ends up being used instead to help incapacitate a shooter at the high school that the students attend and the teacher works. (In the Irving novel, Owen Meany knows what his fate is and uses a difficult basketball move he practices throughout his life–among other things–to rescue children in Vietnam.) The ending obviously leaves itself open for another season but I still feel like I was tricked.

I feel if Gently and Elliott had been part of The OA’s cult, the show would have been a lot better and more satisfying. Gently would have been able to figure out how to rescue the other captives using the tai chi and would have been a charming addition to the sullen teens in the group. Elliott would have hunted down Isaac’s lab with minimal effort and prevented him from kidnapping other people. The other victims would have helped cure Elliott’s schizophrenia and given Gently tons of business with his detective agency.

The Unreliable Narrator: Dirk Gently, Mr. Robot, The OA (Spoilers)