Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


2014 TV Reviews Pt 2

Posted on June 4, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Hannibal Season 2

It has been about a year since I wrote about Hannibal’s first season. Though I could easily look at my past blog to confirm this, it’s more fun to try and assume what I wrote. I’m sure “great acting” and “excessive gore” and “great murder/mystery” investigative drama has some notes, I’m for-certain that “gorgeously shot” and “wonderfully directed” had to be brought up.

Well all that transferred beautifully to Season 2. Though not quite as consistant as Season 1, Season 2 also takes more risks and pushes more envelopes.

Hmmm…envelope pushing. What an odd phrase.

I think the biggest note for Season 2, aside from it continuing to be one of the most beautifully shot programs on television, is its acting. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson not only embody their roles to perfection, but their on-screen chemistry is second to none. It’s both intense and uncomfortable, not to mention oddly sexual.

Fanfiction is abundant. This is their design

Dancy is certainly taking a page from the Manhunter playbook. In fact, I’d say the show does as a whole, but particularly how it and Dancy approach the character of Will Graham. The 1986 Michael Mann classic was the first interpretation of anything Thomas Harris and it really sent a ripple effect to the present. Though it’s not as polished as Silence of the Lambs a few years later, it is far more psychological: getting deep inside Will’s head.

Dancy certainly takes that William Peterson approach: always on-edge. Sometimes it’s overplayed, but that’s the thing about Hannibal. It’s a melodrama: playing itself up big across the board. Emotions, gore, plot, dialogue…it’s over the top and intentionally so.

Even the cooking is like poetry. Food porn at its finest and you're gonna get hungry. Also those are probably people.

Mads Mikkelson as Hannibal Lector is incredibly charismatic in every single scene he’s in. It’s hard to not be captivated by him. It’s done subtly, which is the best way to approach a character that, on paper, is so extreme. More is said by a slight grin and glassy-eyed stare than anything coming out of his mouth.

The supporting cast is equally solid, this year we said farewell to a few cahracters and hello to another. One that is big. Nuts. Crazy. Played by Michael Pitt, Mason Verger is the plotline that many were looking forward too and boy did Hannibal (and some dogs) deliver.  Though I feel it might have been better to bring it in earlier, the Verger plot arc is the type of thing you watch Hannibal for.

If you open yourself up to the world of Hannibal and accept its absurdities, it’s a hypnotic show of often odd and disturbing imagery.

Season 2 probably wasn’t as consistent as Season 1, it seemed to restart itself about half-way through it’s 13 episodes and a strange drop-off of Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams' characters who could easily get their own spin-off stuck out, and some of the plot lines feel rushed and forced to a conclusion, but it still feels part of a whole thanks to the characters of Graham and Lector, who, along with Lawrence Fishbourne’s Jack Crawford (who bookends the show with a framing device of a gruesome battle with Lector) at least makes an attempt to string it all together even if it’s a bit forced at times.

In fact, thinking back, there’s a lot of plots that really weren’t even needed. There were some great things happening, but the show almost felt like it was obligated to up the ante and push itself. Or maybe it just wrote itself in a corner with having Will Graham in prison for a good chunk of the season: your main character in one place doesn’t have a whole lot to do, though it was fun to see Hannibal manipulating the hell out of everyone on the outside.

Despite that, there’s a lot of great twists, some solid food-porn, lots of gore that I’m surprised the FCC hasn’t received complaints about and brilliantly fun characters. Hannibal is picked up for Season 3 which I can’t wait for, and it’s a great testament that the BBC approach of short-seasons is often better for having a solid season of entertainment.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Prime Izzard Cuts


Bob’s Burgers

had been meaning to get around to watching Bob’s Burgers for years. I’ve always caught a few episodes here and there, but didn’t really see any in order and couldn’t tell you what they even were. I just know I wasn’t all that into it, but I also knew if I just sat down and watched the damn thing I would be.

So I sat and watched all four seasons, making this more of a look at the entire show than just the latest season, Season 4, and not only found myself liking it, but actually impressed with it. The animation, notably, is far better than the very straightforward art style implies. I love the details of the show's backgrounds, and the animation is fluid, making the world and characters feel more alive than they do with, say, Family Guy where a lot of it is just people standing around yakking then doing a cutaway gag.

Even the supporting characters are incredibly memorable and lovable.

Here, these characters move, have mannerisms, subtle expressions, then the environment and world often plays a character itself. The stories are inventive and creative, often paying homage to classic movies and television as they go along, and there’s a surprisingly large dose of music happening throughout all the seasons. Enough to ceretainly get stuck in your head with how catchy and often-awful they are.

Of course the main character is “Bob” and Bob Belcher is likeable right from the beginning. His wife Lynda, though, isn’t. At least right away. She a bit one-dimensional at first but soon you start to realize how much she loves her family. I had a similar reaction to Louise, who I thought I would certainly like right away (because I love Kristen Schaal’s standup and voice) but it actually took a good season for the show to really figure out what to do with her. She starts off very abrasive, even a bit spiteful, which turned me away from the character. But by the first episode of Season 2 (The Belchies) they turned her around completely. In that epsidoe, she has a “come to Jesus” moment as she’s stuck in an abandoned Taffy factory and you realize she actually has a heart.

I think that’s what I didn’t quite like at first – she felt spiteful towards her family, but the writers turned her around without sacrificying her personality.

Gene Belcher, though…well I’m still not a big fan of him after the marathon viewing. He really doesn’t do anything interesting and is there to just be the “dumb” character (ala a Zoidberg, only without Zoidberg’s sweetness) that will throw out a funny line here and there. He’s still annoying, but I’m cool with that because he’s balanced by Tina, probably my favorite character on the show. She’s reserved, deadpan and insecure…and it’s perfect in a family full of more extreme characters.

The town is also a character, and it’s full of memorable characters not to mention recurring characters and plotlines. I think that’s what impresses me more about Bob’s Burgers – you really need to watch from the beginning because there’s a continuinty and canon happening here (it’s the same reason I love Rick and Morty from this past year).

References to past episodes and events play an integral role, and characters actually change, evolve and learn as the show progresses. It’s not like The Simpsons or Family Guy where nothing really relates to each other and you can drop in any time. There’s a sense of risk going on, and from that risk you feel more relatable personas come out because you begin to actually care what happens. Louise and Tina are probably the best indicators of this, as Louise begins to warm up to her family over the seasons while Tina starts to come more out of her shell.

I feel like comparing the show to the National Lampoon movies with Chevy Chase, particularly the ones about family traveling and the holidays. It’s the same type of humor and style.

Bob’s Burgers is clever and funny but not in your typical animated-show type of way that you might expect (say crazy or weird or just off-putting humor). It stays grounded, believable (as far as animated sitcoms can be), as though these people in this town and the Belcher family might just be people you know. Often times their conflicts are realistic, from “a bully at school” to “competitive business” to “shady landlord” to “risk of affairs.” It may just be the best animated show on TV right now, I’m ashamed it took my four years to finally sit down and recognize that.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Amazing Musical Numbers


Mad Men

I had thought about waiting until the second half of Season 7 before posting a "review" of sorts, but then I remembered it's going to be a good year before those are aired and I had nothing else ready to go just yet.

So here we are. I've been enjoying Mad Men for a while now. I'm a fan. Not a huge fan, mind you. I don't tune in weekly but, instead, usually wait until there's a handful of episodes so I can just binge. It's benefitial for the show, if anything, because so many story lines a strung through the episodes that any sense of “arc” can be lost if you don’t watch a bunch together. That’s one thing I love about Mad Men. You can’t really watch just one episode, you have to know the context of that episode in relation to every other episode. It’s not going to “catch you up” at some point, and you’ll never be able to put the picture together on your own or even have someone explain it to you. You just have to watch it all, like eating potato chips.

This first half of Season 7 is no different. It’s all about redemption and mending fences, as well as admitting to yourself who you are for better or for worse. For someone like Peggy, for example, she finally admits she’s strong enough to do this. No more self doubt. She’s a leader and she knows it. For someone like Don, and who knows how long this will last because he’s been in these situations before, it’s about admitting you’re not the end-all be-all. Same for Sterling, who realizes that maybe leaning on Cooper this whole time was holding him back and that, maybe (just maybe) he’s a damn good businessman.

These two come full circle that there should be a spinoff comedy called "Rizzo and Ginsberg" about computers taking over the world. It's essentially Pineapple Express circa 1969.

The strongest element of this past season was the relationship of Don and Peggy. There’s a full-circle element happening here and if the season just ended at Episode 7, I would have felt completely satisfied. I’ve always felt that was the through-line of the show. Not romantic or anything, but the position of a man and a woman in the evolution of 1960s business and culture. Everything else is kind of just filler. Dramatic and sometimes very funny filler, but it wasn’t the drive like those two particular characters are: both by far the most developed, most interesting and most insecure of any character in the show.

Like pretty much every past season, you also have those throwaway characters you kind of wish we didn’t spend a lot of time with but have to take the bad with the good. I want to spend time with Sally Draper, but that means having to spend time with Betty Draper as well. Or Betty Francis. Or whatever her name is now, either way she’s awful. I want as much Peggy as possible, but that also means probably putting up with Ginsberg who I like one minute then loathe the next as he’s such a nuisance. And there wasn’t nearly enough Harry Crane happening and probably too much Pete Campbell, who really reached the end of his arc a few years ago but he’s still kind of sticking around because we need some little shit to not like.

Joan is kind of a push. Sometimes I love her because she calls people out on their BS other times I don't because she calls people out on their BS and that's often all she's got going on.

But more specifically, you can feel the end coming in these first seven episodes. There’s a focus and a clear direction happening here, something the series kind of lacked for a few years I thought and probably should have ended at least two years ago with the high-watermarks season 4 and season 5 where everything seemed to be covered and they kind of needed to find filler for Season 6. In fact, I think there were rumblings it would end at Season 5 and I probably would have been fine with that.

But then along comes this and it shows just how damn good it can be when it’s focused and in a certain direction. Mad Men is one of the best written shows on television - a show that demands a commitment of watching and attention to details. That’s to a fault, mind you, because a lot of these long-running character arcs take years to finally come to completion (Don and Peggy's are still going on which is why they’re the best elements of the show). It’s not an easy show to get into either. You have to sit. Watch. Pay attention. Then do that for going-on seven seasons. Like I said. Commitment.

But if you can do that, and listen to what the characters say, get the little bits of humor, see the subtle acting and important mise-en-scene and musical relevances, you’re in for a damn finely polished good time. Season 7, so far, I have no complaints about. It’s been great across the board.

Subtle...kind of. Butts

A few notes:

-  Betty is still an awful person and an awful character. I loathe Betty. Season 7, so far, has actually done better with her. I actually feel like she’s trying to be a good person at times. But damn, she’s still just awful with her attitude and how she treats other people (especially her kids). Campbell is kind of there as well, but he’s been redeeming himself (at least in this season, he seems more at ease and less a little shit).

- By contrast, Peggy is still the best person on the show. She’s certainly the best written, though the best lines and dialogue seem to fall towards either Sterling or Draper.

- Joan, though, still can’t seem to get a good plot line to save her life. I like her character, wonderfully blunt in a world where a lot of people aren't, but it’s like they can never find anything interesting or relevant for her to do on the show. I feel Joan is a great character lost but would shine in a show of her own.

- Sterling’s bit with his daughter was powerful and probably the most human I’ve seen the character in the seven season its been on. In fact, a lot of emotion is thriving this season, but when his daughter tells him off, and he knows everything she says is 100% true, you can see it on his face. Don also had a powerful moment with Peggy and in the final scene of the first half of this season. It was bittersweet and sad despite the gleeful nature of a song-and-dance number.

- I didn’t realize how much I liked Cooper until episode 7. Then you reflect and say “oh yeah…he’s pretty awesome.”

- Hamm is already looked over constantly for awards, but so is Elisabeth Moss who’s every bit as good. These two make this show and deserve all their praise.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Peeping Peggys


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