True Detective – Season 1

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary FukunagaHBO’s latest offering brough us Matthew Mconaughey and Woody Harrelson as two homicide detectives involved in a dark case. With the initial murder taking place back in 1995 the show flits between then and now. Mconaughey’s Rust Cohle and Harrelson’s Marty Hart are first time partners on the original case but in the modern day Rust has gone off the rails and is a chain-smoking alcoholic, and the pair haven spoken for years. Being interviewed separately about the case they believed to have been solved seventeen years ago but another body has been found. All eight episodes of the season are written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga giving the series an overall style and feel that many shows can’t manage as a collaborative medium.

It’s true that there are a lot of detective shows out there, in all different shapes and forms television has always been obsessed with murder investigations and dirty cops. So the question is why should True Detective be the one you watch? Well, where to begin. The most staggering thing about this series is the quality of the writing. It’s a very dialogue heavy show, which may not suit everyone, but this provides an excellent basis for character development and it doesn’t take long before you see these two A-List movie stars as their characters. Pizzolatto’s scripts are deliciously dark with very little in the way of happiness but he has a real knack for creating flawed protagonists that are still likeable if, at times, questionably immoral. As the tension of the investigation builds so does the action, which is handled ridiculously well by Fukunaga, you may have seen around that episode four (perhaps the greatest hour hour of television you will see for a long, long time) features a six-minute unbroken tracking shot during an undercover mission where, to put it bluntly, shit hits the fan making the show every bit as exciting and cool as any blockbuster movie you’ll go and see. And of course, none of this greatness could have been achieved without a cast to match and Mconaughey and Harrelson deliver some of the best performances of both their careers. Mcounaghey, of late, has become the most exciting actor around and his turn here is probably equal to that of his Oscar winning portrayal in Dallas Buyers Club. Harrelson is just as good, neither of the two ever steal the attention and instead manage to create this very real volatile relationship with each other.

Television is improving at such an astonishing rate that we will soon never be without top quality shows like this. True Detective shows us just how far TV drama has come in recent years and brings with it some of the best stuff you will see on your screens this year. let’s hope they don’t ruin it with a lacklustre second season because this is damn near perfection.

 

House of Cards – Season Two

Kevin-Spacey-in-House-of-Cards-Season-2-Chapter-26Since season one of the show I have watched the first two series of the original British version. What’s quite impressive is that the first three-part British miniseries covers the same more ground than the entire first 13-episode American season. By the end of this second season we have still only reached the point in the plot that the original British version reached in three episodes. That said it would be a bit too easy to judge this American incarnation on the fact that it’s spread the plot across so much more material, and it would be very unfair. So we rejoin Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) after seeing just how ruthless the pair of them can be at the end of the first season.

Episode one doesn’t hang about in hitting that ruthlessness home with a very sudden and unexpected death of a major player in proceedings. From here on in Frank and Claire become more and more cold and calculated as they plot Franks rise to the Presidency not caring about any casualties on the way. In the first season one of the issues was that the power-hungry couple were unrivalled in their ability and only a very small handful of characters had them properly sussed. In this season that issue is addressed and it makes for much more entertaining viewing seeing the Underwoods struggling to keep people on their side, and for the first time see their positions actually threatened. However, when the episodes start to come to an end it seemed as though none of this threat had any point to it and we come out of season two still believing that Frank and Claire are completely untouchable. On top of this we have a number of new storylines in this season which when we get to the end seem to have very little bearing on what actually matters. For example we have our computer hacker, Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) who has quite a few scenes and whenever he’s around I just simply didn’t care. We also had Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) an ex-call girl linked with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) who until the very end of the season seems to have very little bearing on the main plot, that said she does do something very interesting when the season draws to a close. It may well be that these stories will eventually have bearing on proceedings but in season two particularly in the middle section that they just detract from what the shows actually about. I can’t even begin to try and understand why they felt the need to include a scene involving Franks, Claire and a certain assistant in some sharing a very strange experience which again seemed to have no point other than to provide the show with a sex appeal that it didn’t have before, but did it need it?

For me season two is another very enjoyable collection of TV but it felt like it spent too much simply treading water, though I said it would be unfair to judge it against the concise nature of the British nature I really think this could have done with being significantly shorter. That said this is still a show worth watching and I look forward to it’s third season.

 

Sherlock – Series 3

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After the gripping end of series two this third series was a long time coming. One of my most anticipated series of recent times after being left in wake for over a year to find out how Sherlock managed to fake his own death. Series three progresses the crime fighting partnership of Holmes and Watson by focussing on Watson’s marriage which throws a bit of a curve ball into the duo’s relationship. Sticking to the shows unique three episode structure each lasting ninety minutes but could it live up to the previous series’ heights?

Series three is another strong, well-thought out collection of adventures that sees threat levels for the lives of the central pair reach new levels. Despite this rising threat, particularly on Watson’s life, the series never quite reaches the tension and excitement provided by series two. The first two episodes are perfectly watchable and well written adventures but it did feel as though they had lost a bit of the bite that previous episodes have had. The third episode is the stand out of the series providing us with a satisfyingly big plot twist and putting Watson in his biggest predicament yet and giving Freeman the chance to really steal the show from under Cumberbatch’s nose. Also pleasing is the teasing of things to come at the end of episode three hinting towards what will surely be an exciting fourth series.

While series three never quite gets as good as series two did the show may have set it’s own bar slightly too high. That said, this is another great collection of adventures that don’t flop in any way and point towards a new series that has the potential to reach the same brilliance it once found in series 2. If you haven’t got into this show yet don’t leave it any longer!

Boardwalk Empire – Season 4

Boardwalk-Empire-1Boardwalk entered its fourth season off the back of a superb third series as one of the most consistently entertaining shows around at the moment. Things were going to be different this time round though with Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Margaret Schroeder’s (Kelly Macdoanld) relationship a thing of the past and his tyrannical reign of the criminal underworld not as secure as it once was.

Nucky’s storyline is no longer the main attraction come this fourth series and the stand-out plot this time round comes with the arrival of Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) causing Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) numerous problems. Also Al Capone (Stephen Graham) continues his usual bully tactics this time becoming involved with Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden character who seems a lot less crazy than he has in previous seasons. Season four saw the usual slow burn and tension building that we’ve come to expect of the show, with impending explosions constantly bubbling just below the surface ready to blow by the final few episodes and it doesn’t disappoint. In this series despite Nucky perhaps not being as central a character as he originally was his empire is under more threat than it has ever been and although the character will never show it it’s clear that soon things will come crumbling down around him. The strongest point as always with Boardwalk is its writing and that’s no different in season four but there is not a single element of the show that isn’t done superbly well.

It’s pleasing that a programme of this cost and intelligence can manage to keep going in a climate of television where studios want to make cheap, accessible shows but Boardwalk is one of a small flurry of shows marking a revolution that exemplifies how the format can be the best way to tell great stories. With Breaking Bad over it’s time Boardwalk deserves a place as the best running TV show on our screens and in my opinion, it is.

 

Misfits – Series 5

Misfits_-_Season_5_-_Cast_Promotional_Photos_(2)_FULLMisfits has easily been e4’s best original drama from the past two or three years but this year it was time for the asbo-superhero show to draw to a close. Now with a completely different cast from when the show started out Misfits had become a slightly confused entity. Despite this I thought series four was on of the programmes strongest overall, mainly because it took everything back to basics; the writing had become over-complicated by series three and the upheaval of cast members meant that they had to start again from scratch. With it’s fifth and final series though, Misfits badly fails to deliver.

In the past Misfits has been a eclectic mix of comedy, drama and action, every element being well thought-out and completely fresh and original. Series five however lacks the fresh-faced bite it once had. There aren’t many darker moments and only one episode of the series where we get a flash of the horror element that the show so successfully pulls off in previous seasons. The cast interaction is awkward too, and by this series it becomes impossible to look past the fact that these people actually live in the community centre and the support worker isn’t even bothered by it. The support worker, played by Shaun Dooley, it must be said is the programmes strongest character and the funniest, a dangerously insane man with homosexual tendencies that he doesn’t really know how to express but by episode eight even this joke is wearing thin. I’m also a big fan of Joe Gilgun’s Rudy and think he makes a great central character but what it comes down to in series five is the writing being off the ball. There are too many episodes that just feel like filler with the odd hint at the overall story arc that then is rushed together in the final episode and limply flops to a climax. Not to mention the fact that they kill a character off and then have him come back moments later, it seems too set on having a happy ending to let that happen, never a strong way to end something.

In the past Misfits has provided some of the best TV moments, and was one of the freshest drama ideas that has been produced in recent times so it’s a real shame that it’s final series fails to deliver and cap off what should be remembered as a very important milestone in British drama.

 

Eastbound and Down – Season 4

maxresdefaultSo last week saw the grand finale of HBO’s Eastbound and Down. The sitcom that followed Danny McBride’s Kenny Powers, an ex pro baseballer as he desperately tries to cling on to his fame and win over the love of his life. I was a late-comer to the show but it quickly became one of my favourites, every season managed to create a fresh, new situation to throw this brilliantly observed character into. After initially announcing that the third season as the last after the final episode it was announced that there would be one last blaze of glory for Kenny Powers.

Season four picks up with Kenny having quit baseball and becoming a stay at home dad, while his wife makes her name as a real-estate agent. It’s not long before Powers’ ego gets the best of him and he can’t handle playing second fiddle to his wife and when he is offered a guest spot on a sports TV show it’s not long before he slips back into his fame hungry, selfish ways. What has always been the best thing about Eastbound and Down is that it manages to keep the laughs flowing but also makes you feel for it’s tragic lead character who can’t seem to grow out of his ten-year old mindset. His sidekick Stevie is also a consistent provider of big laughs while being a completely tragic pushover. What the writers do so well is making the drama feel real without going over-the-top. Season four in particular makes use of this emotional connection we have with the characters creating probably the most touching moments of the show and providing us with a fitting end to one of the most ingenious sitcom’s to come out in recent years.

The quality of the show is so high it’s impossible to pick a best season, as every one of them could make a good case. Although the very final moment of the season leaves you wondering what was actually going on season four gives us a fine farewell to a superb comedy creation.