Digital Polyphony

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2014 TV Reviews Pt 1

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 3:30 AM

2014 TV Season in Review Pt 1

It's that time of year. Shows are wrapping up, finales are airing, things are happening...or something. So for the next few weeks, off and on, I'll be doing write ups of the full seasons of three shows, starting with a genre-oriented entry this week with Agents of SHIELD, Arrow and Person of Interest. Spoilers...there really aren't any major spoilers. I'll keep it general.

Agents of SHIELD

It was all pretty dour at the start, but by mid-season Agents of SHIELD began to find some footing. While it doesn’t solve all its issues,at least found a little more consistency in storytelling and tone, not to mention a plot to hang its hat on (much to do with The Winter Solider events more than anything, but it was needed either way).

Now here’s the thing in regards to television shows: very few first seasons, in particular genre shows like this, are really all that good. Some are great and fully formed right out the gate (Lost’s first season still its best, Walking Dead was overall solid, Firefly was pretty much set to go) but a majority struggle. A perfect example is pretty much every Star Trek series from The Next Generation on. Hell, I would even go as so far to say that the first seasons of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, two of the most lauded shows by geeks everywhere, are damn near unwatchable. X-Files is another that struggled early. Buffy the Vampire Slayer another. It’s a long list, far longer than the other where things are all set.

It takes time for a show to center and find itself, which is why I always get upset when first seasons of solid shows have their legs taken out before they could really get started. A show like Almost Human, cancelled this past year, had a lot of potential that could have been explored with future Seaons. A show like Arrow, which also struggled its first season, has really found itself in its second. It was given such a chance.

Agents of SHIELD was thankfully given a chance to right the ship. While the characters still need a lot of work, at least some of them have turned in to more interesting characters. Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, is the lynchpin to the entire thing. Any scene he’s in tends to be a scene you simply pay more attention to. As the series went on, both Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Skye (Chloe Bennet) were able to evolve into solid characters themselves.

Everyone else, no matter how adorable (Jemma Simmons) needs work and really feel “too little too late” once the season finale hit. That’s not to say they are bad, they all fit their roles nicely for an ensemble, but their characters really didn’t go anywhere and only one major twist made Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) uninteresting character. I suppose you can say they do the best with what’s given to them. You have to give it up to the show for one thing: it took some risks at the end, and it paid off. And that’s what fans of this stuff like: take a few risks, challenge your audience and there’s a good chance your show will gain momentum and grow. That’s what hindered it for most of its season: it simply wasn’t going, or growing, anywhere.

Also...ummm...wait....sorry what was I talking about?

Highlights are certainly the last six or so episodes when bad stuff starts to happen, they get rid of the episodic feel (which they really shouldn’t have tried to begin with) and just made one long overarching plot. Genre shows like this usually dabble on both realms, but few actually do both well. Off the top of my head, the only show I think got the continued stories down while still having a good chunk of episodic stuff thrown in was the X-Files and, a bit more recent, Person of Interest although that show is becoming less episodic this past season. Some shows even threw the episodic nature right out (like Deep Space Nine) and just took that season-long overarching approach. More often than not, that seems to always be for the better.

Fans of this stuff love those overarching plots. They love to tune in to see what happens next and continue on a cliffhanger. Agents of SHIELD really only need look at its comic book brethren to see the example of how to do it and what their audience expectations are.

So Agents of SHIELD, I feel, is on the right path. It started shaky, but I expected that (far from the hyperbolic “this show sucks!” that you might read on Twitter or something, because it doesn’t, it’s just struggling). This was a bit of an ambitious show to pull off - having to try to weave a story within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and actually make it work and stay in the confines of a television budget. Though I think it’s safe to say once Winter Solider came out, it improved across the board so, perhaps, it’s not the writers and show runner we should be thanking but for Marvel Studios itself shaking up its own universe. Season Two will need to continue the momentum. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but at least better.

2.5 out of 5 Blank Ward Stares


Hey, I mentioned Person of Interest a bit ago…

You can trace the evolution of Person of Interest in a similar fashion to other genre shows: it starts with the idea of episodic, but soon realizes that having overarching plots is much, much cooler and more interesting. Especially if you’re going to dabble in science fiction where a lot of themes and ideas need a good amount of episodes to be explored. Person of Interest began to evolve out of that in Season 2, and pretty much threw it out completely in Season 3.

Person of Interest is probably the most consistent show on television (outside of shitty CBS scheduling with strange week to two week breaks). The writing, the characters, the plot, the variety, the humor and the action are always top-notch week to week to the point where you actually have a hard time breaking up the show and trying to label episodes. They’re all so good, so flowing from one to the next, that it’s hard to not look at it as a whole - similar to how you can’t look at Breaking Bad or Battlestar Galactica without stepping back and seeing the full picture.

Fans love that. They love that care and approach to it. The writers of Person of Interest have figured it out, somehow. TV writing really is just a “winging it” type of style because setting something in stone is damn hard to full off on a show that doesn’t have a clear endgame (just ask the Lost show runners).  Yet when I watch Person of Interest, I see such polish that the fact that they have to do that while still being flexible is amazing to me. Hell, I admire it. Sarah Shahi polishing off this steak. Nothing is ever explained with her character, it just happens and you deal with it. #random

It really comes down to the characters, I think. Person of Interest is a lot about plot and story, but its centered by the characters and they pretty much set the pace for the entire show. Sometimes they even allow a good insight in to the bigger picture, such as the brilliant Episode 22 of this past Season, “A House Divided” which gives us back story on a character that isn’t of the main cast.

In fact, the character, Collier, was one I loathed. I didn’t feel he was interesting or relevant and was completely one-dimensional. He annoyed me more than anything. But then the writers come in and say “Oh, you don’t like him? Well here you go, now not only are you liking his story, now you’re conflicted because you know he’s also a villain.” It was brilliant, and the actor that played Collier (Leslie Odom Jr.) just nailed it.

Of course, that twist wasn’t the big thing for Season 3. It took a major, major risk about half-way through and really shook itself up, and I think it was needed. A literal shot in the arm, I suppose, because as relevant as some characters are early on, the show evolved in to something far grander and, sometimes, you just have to let some things go. The writers handled it all with grace and affection because they humanized our characters to the point where we actually cared about them and how they would deal with major events in their lives.

Serious business, guys.

There was also a lot of ambition in terms of storytelling happening here. Though the focus is very much over-arching plots, it still had a lot of episodics in it as well, the highlight of which being an entire episode taking place on an airplane. No cutaways to someone somewhere else, just Jim Caviezel doing what Jim Caviezel do and has been doing impeccably well for three solid seasons. Having Sarah Shahi play so well off him is another highlight, also making for some solid comedy in the process, but she’s been good for a while now on that show. Arguably overlooked.

Michael Emerson is as great as always as well as Finch, and let me tell you, there’s one emotional beat towards the end of the season that they absolutely nailed. The actors, the directors and the writers were absolutely at the top of their game on really packing a powerful punch in the episode titled “Beta” that was a schooling on how to have subtlety for character development.

The one character that came into her own, though, was Root played by Amy Acker. Like Collier, I wasn’t a fan of Root. Then what do they do? The exact same thing, and now you start to feel a bit for Root. You start to care. You start to think she’s kinda cute in her weird ways. Acker plays determined and focus alongside vulnerable incredibly well. While Root isn’t the most defined character in terms of depth, she is in terms of personality. You know exactly who she is and what she is and how weird she is, and Acker just nails it.

I haven’t done a 180 on a character so quickly in a while. Root turned from nuisance and contrived to interesting and relatable.

As a fan of science fiction, the exploration of artificial intelligence and surveillance on the show is a great touch. It’s not as pararnoia-driven as The X-Files and more focused than most films try to be. If you like sci-fi (though the sci-fi element doesn’t really come into play until about mid-way of Season 2 if I recall) then this might just be for you.

4.5 out of 5 Sad Finches



Last but certainly not least is Arrow. Arrow is strange. I love it, yet I love it because it kind of knows exactly what it is and just rolls with it, not because it's particularly well-pacedor well-acted. Season One of Arrow really didn’t have that. It was trying to be serious and grounded and…well it didn’t quite end up as solid as one might hope. Entertaining? Of course, it’s a guy shooting people with arrows and fighting crime, but it wasn’t always interesting and the characters weren’t written (or acted) particularly well.

Even though Season 2 doesn’t quite fix up the characters and acting (The character of Roy is written out then back in, also that girl from Firefly) making for a lot of inconsistencies in that department, it does fix up the story. A lot. I mean a lot. It understands that its a comic book show and it boy does it play that up, and all for the better. The action is better and more varied, the villains are far more outrageous, the hero evolution of Oliver is much more defined and interesting and hey…Deathstroke. And Deathstroke is awesome because he really is just a complete piece of shit.

Dude. Slade...Spoilers, man.

Manu Bennett is the one that completely steals the show on Arrow. Sure, there’s a lot of new heroes and villains happening, and even super-powers unlike Season One, but Bennett’s portrayal of Slade Wilson/Deathstroke is an absolute highlight. He plays it up. He plays it big. He commands every scene he’s in because…well because he’s goddamn Deathstroke.

You buy it in that comic book way. His mind is completely set for revenge and probably screwed up with drugs, which is a common theme through this season, and he takes a Joker-like approach to plotting every detail to foil Oliver at any given turn. He’s a dozen steps ahead. When the show as focused on him, it was at the top of its game.

Him and dem abs, right ladies? And guys? Everyone? You can't write something about Arrow that doesn't have an image of Amell abs.

When it wasn’t…it still was pretty damn good. Episode 16, “Suicide Squad” was completely focused on Diggle, Oliver’s partner, and a Mission Impossible-like attempt to steal a deadly nerve agent accompanied by Deadshot, Bronze Tiger (who is way underused I might add) and some guy named Shrapnel who blows up because he’s an idiot. It also gave the first time we heard “Deathstroke” to our ears.

But the show was at its most solid when it was Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson. The female characters still aren’t written particularly well, though “Speedy” had certainly been better in the final episodes, and some plot threads are just completely dropped or forced to a resolution. I remember one episode even kind of pointing this out with a “I forget who knows who’s secret identity” like, so at least the show has such a self-awareness. It’s a show that’s still a mess, but it’s a fun mess.

Quiet, Barry. Your little loft had shelves of stuff too, you know. #barry4life

I feel, though, the show is only going to get better. The improvement from the first season to this one shows they're heading in the right direction. This season played it big, and it makes you wonder how future seasons will play out. You can’t keep going bigger and topping yourself season after season, and there’s only so many flashbacks you can do (though the appearance of KGBeast I never thought I’d see…like ever…in anything, so it was nice).

Arrow is far from a great, well-written show, but dammit if it isn’t entertaining as hell - moreso than most comic-book TV shows (such as the one at the top of this blog). It delivers those comic-book inspired beats wonderfully. It’s consistent in delivering a lot of fun and entertainment and really hitting those action and character beats that it needs to hit to make sure you tune in next week (seriously, this is like a masterclass of how to do cliffhangers every week the likes I haven't seen since 24 or Lost). Room for improvement, certainly, but a fun weekly show certainly as well.

3.5 out of 5 Punching Glove Arrows



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