Year In Review – Television (Part One)
Unlike film (or at least, good film), television is an inherently inconsistent medium; for while one week’s episode may be a masterpiece the next could have been written by a bore. Obviously most rooms would strive for consistency and thanks to the current clime giving rise to an unparralleled reign of seriality they tend to achieve this in terms of story, tone and character; equal quality, however, ever evades their lengthy grasp. This is not a criticism though, it is simply, as I said, an inherent part of the medium. If you are constantly changing the formula – changing the writer, director, star (sometimes) and story on a week to week basis as they do – then you simply have to expect changing results.
With all that in mind I have decided not to simply skim together an average sum of a seasons parts in a ‘Top 10 Shows” list like many others, but instead highlight those single episodes whose whole exceeded theirs, bucking the formula and delivering something amazing. Though of course the best episodes oft come from the best shows, so it may well nearly serve as both. Following in a particular, but not perfect order are the episodes that I have deemed to be TV’s…
The Hour – Episode 3 / Downton Abbey – Season Two Premiere
So yeah, i’m going to cheat a little on these opening entries because the division between choices had gotten so small. None of my native Australian Television was good enough to make this list, but it seems that the motherland was still able to scrape in a mention besides our older brother, America.
Both solid, consistent affairs that benefit from that British class, patience and pace; were these shows made in the United States I fear they wouldn’t work. However it is their Britishness that holds them so far back up the list, they are a little too stiff in the upper lip, a little too lifeless to take on the vibrance and revolution of the American Golden Age.
These two episodes are however their relevant shows best attempt at doing just that. The hour of is one that see’s the usually pent-up and paranoid period piece relax a little in a large country mansion, allowing it’s characters to play while its plots are placed temporarily aside; while the episode of Abbey that most stuck out to me was one where the usually low-stake drama of social manners in upper society began to bleed at the seams as its world was rocked by war, it’s characters forced to stop playing and start seriously shaping their world . It’s a perfect point of convergence for the two shows and both offer a great look into the lives of those left behind during conflict.
Lights Out – Infight / The Chicago Code – Greylord and Gambat
Whereas the last two entrants were solidly strong shows that would have ranked higher in a listing of seasons (As say, Parks and Rec certainly would have) these two would likely have missed such a list when taken as a whole, but stand here because of the strength of some single episodes. Both shows harkened back to an older era of entertainment – one the crime films of the seventies and the other that decade’s boxing flicks, primarily the Rocky’s – but executed their ideas with a thoroughly modern, cable-esque televisual touch.
That all sounds good in theory, but in practice the shows obviously didn’t work, sitting as they are in the one and done pile of the years cancelled shows (and lucky to have gotten that far in the formers case). The problem though was an intrinsic one (unlike say, the extraneous nomenclature no no of Terriers), both shows were a little bit boring. Code played too safe with its material in a media that picture Mackey and McNulty when you say the word ‘Cop’; sure it was on a network but if you don’t embrace formula fully then you need to stick to your subversions, the balanced middle ground is basically banal. Lights on the other hand failed to fulfill either serialised or standalone plot models but choosing to forgo all but the slightest of story each week.
Infight introduced a new character played by the infinity fascinating Eamonn Walker and with him some serious drama and shock, the show became unpredictable again and the places it went were utterly engrossing. Greylord was not as massive a shake-up but as the penultimate episode of the season it did, finally, play-out all of the shows slowly arcing sub-plots in one expected but still utterly entertaining hour. With these episodes however both shows stepped up their games and proved just why their demise was a tragedy.
United States of Tara – Bryce Will Play
Yes, yet another cancelled show and in a tragic twist Tara was cancelled the very same day that this episode, the best of the entire series, aired. The episode itself is also, essentially, a tragic twist in of itself, taking place as it does right when Tara’s Dissociative Identity Disorder gets the better of her and she goes over the deep end ; Tara was the first of the female driven dramedies that Showtime pumped out after the success of Weeds, but what occurs in ‘Bryce Will Play’ introduces another genre to its title, horror. Invading spirits, rapists returned from the dead and knife-wielding, pumpkin-headed monstrosities are only a few of the nightmares let loose and all in one episode no less.
While it may seem fitting that a woman with psychological issues would be involved in such genre antics, this shows approach to mental illness has never been anything like that of a scholcky horror movie, the subtle opposite in fact. And yet it works, when Bryce starts killing off the Alters one by one it is both immensely creepy and yet, still true to the character of the show (and in extension the character of Tara). Tonally the show has always been ridiculous , but that absurdity is actually a lens with which to sugar-coat the real, much in the same way as the scripts Diablo Cody-ism’s sugar-coat the real way that people speak; at their core they are both true and at its core these chilling scenes are true to Tara and so they work.
It’s not all sex and stabbing though, for a mere twenty minutes this episode of Tara manages to fit in a whole host of other great sequences from the framing dialogues between Izzard and Colette (Both of whom are wonderful actors and give some of their best work here) to the charming, admittedly hipster trip that Max takes to New York to screen his student film. Most of all though it’s the horror that got it here; I mean PumpkinHead, come-on!
Part Two, HERE
Part Three, HERE
(Comment Below if you want, be it critical or supportive or just Link to your own lists)