Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


2014 TV Reviews Pt 5

Posted on July 9, 2014 at 6:50 AM

It's readily apparent by this point I watch a lot of television. Amazingly, though, I don't have cable/satellite. It's all digital these days, folks, and in this fifth installment it's two shows that, despite some flaws, were my highlights of the weeks they ran. So here we go:

As a big fan of the classic film by the Coen brothers, I, like most, approached Fargo with a bit of cautious optimism. I loved the cast attached, I liked the idea of doing something similar in tone and style but doing its own thing, which is exactly how it ended up, for better or for worse.

Simply put, Fargo begins incredibly well. It sets its tone early: dark, very much like its film counterpart in tone and slight elements of comedy, memorable characters and a crime that needs solved, but then more crimes end up happening that create a web of issues for law enforcement, FBI agents and the people of the town of Bemidji (no, this isn’t Fargo, though there are some scene that take place there). It introduces great characters, twists and for the first five or so episodes, it’s brilliant.

Don't mind the hammer, dear.

Then it begins to unravel, and I can tell you it does that around episode six. The show, already a bit of a “fairy tale” of sort with certain parts that require a suspension of disblief, just jumps a shark, then it jumps another one in episode eight where we jump ahead a year. A “time jump” isn’t a problem for some shows (see True Detective) but it very much is here only because we’ve gone eight episodes covering a small time frame in a small area of the country.

Then suddenly, we’re a year ahead in Vegas. The tone shifted. All those plot threads set up either a) never got resolved and may or may not be now (some are, most aren’t) and b) never address most of the elements set up for eight episodes. For a ten episode series, the end seemed to, already, be meek and without direction: as though they kind of knew where they wanted to go but didn’t quite know how, so they just jumped ahead a year and hoped we’d forget about things like the hit man in the hospital, the sleeping with a high-school bully’s now-wife, the buried money, the fact that characters just seemed to sit around and not do anything for a year…it can go on, but it all comes down to that one time-jump which showed that the show runners and writers maybe, just maybe, weren’t sure on how to end this whole web they’ve created.

That’s not to say it’s bad, but the finales and wrap-ups lack the punch of what the show was able to achieve in its first half of its run, with a vigor and polish that was up there with the best of them. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thorton’s performances more than make up for much of it, and newcomer Allison Tolman really steals the show as, for lack of a better word, our lead despite it being ensemble. Thorton, in particular, is what people will remember this show for. His character of Malvo is just utterly fantastic in every scene. Freeman, too, manages to have one arc that is ambitous and bold for a television series. Sure, those "areas of gray" are common these days in TV "anti-heroes" but Fargo takes that up a notch as it completely toys with your expectations and emotions.

Throw in a cast of character actors, like Bob Odenkirk, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh and Key and Peele, and you have yourself a darn good cast even if the show doesn’t quite always know what to do with them (for example, Glenn Howerton and Stephen Root are only in for one episode, and they’re pretty much throwaway and unnecessary characters).

Great character actors are abound in Fargo, including one of the greatest of all time, Stephen Root, who will always be Milton to me.

But still, the writing just never quite hits as it should, most noted by the character of Gus played by Colin Hanks. Hanks himself is fine in the “gosh-golly” role, but the character doesn’t quite go anywhere, and when it comes for his “encounter” at the end, it just falls flat because we had no investment in it to where his arc feels fully satisfying. Molly (Tolman) and Bill (Odenkirk) and Lester (Freeman) all have their arcs seen through, but Gus was written as a supporting role when, it turns out, he probably should have been approached as a lynchpin. The same might be said about Malvo, but Billy Bob Thornton commanded so much of the show and every scene and his, perhaps “light,” exit is fine because his arc felt complete.

Fargo maybe didn’t have that impact that, say, a True Detective limited series had only because it seemed it didn't quite see itself all the way through. It could have been, but due to it juggling plot threads that were arguably unnecessary and misfiring with one of its leads, it ended up only a solid, entertaining distraction in the same we look back at shows like Sons of Anarchy: mishandled, but still a good watch and doesn't detract from its fantastic strengths.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Malvo icy stares


Hey, did you hear? There’s a show about kings and knights and dragons and stuff on HBO. It might be good. Or not. I hear a lot of people die and stuff. It also has itself a catchy tune.

As a fan of all things science fiction, horror, fantasy and superhero-y, Game of Thrones is a must-watch for any self-respecting genre fan. It’s such a beautifully shot and well acted show, that you can forgive some of its shortcoming such as “needless scene of nudity” or “sex pandering.” But there’s a constant sense of dread and uncertainty around every corner, something very few shows can really do. Playing around in a world where anyone can die and anything could happen, it only increases the suspense and tension, and this latest season is proof of that.

Spoiler: pie is awesome. Just careful of the wine.

As always, the world feels so organic and lived in, that ever week, sitting down, it’s almost as though you’re watching a travel channel special of Westeros. Many different towns and kingdoms, any factions and families, many pieces of myth and lore. Some are still rather undeveloped (such as Stannis Baratheon) while others feel far too focused on (such as Jon Snow) but one thing is always certain: it’s compelling. Super compelling. You can’t not watch it, and even the underdeveloped stuff is always full of intrigue.

For example, there’s a sub plot about Little Finger happening here. He’s always been a shady guy, and had been absent for much of the season, but then he appears, and you see that little gear working, and all of a sudden a guy who was barely in the season ends up as one of its most memorable parts. Another would be Oberyn Martell, who kind of randomly shows up in this season because our main man, Tyrion is up on trial, and he’s given one of the most memorable scenes in TV history, good on Pedro Pascal for absolutely nailing it.

Oh, and this guy…the best quote of the season delivered hilariously. The Hound is, maybe unintentionally or not, one of the funniest characters in the show.

Speaking of our man Tyrion, just stop and give Peter Dinklage the best actor award right now. I know you have a lot of contention out there, some damn fine acting is to be seen all over television these days, but he needs it for one scene alone. Actually two scenes. Actually…three. Shit, I better stop thinking about him now, but basically it’s #1 his scenes in the finale with his father #2 the story he tells his brother, Jaime, while awaiting trail and #3 the trial. Oh man, that trial, and Dinklage just nails it so much I get goosebumps just thinking of it again. The venom he spews, the passion, and simultaneously the pain of doing it…he’s masterful.

Like it or not, everyone on this show is just really, really good. Those that usually have a problem with it are fans of the books that envisioned someone else. Well of course you did, it's all in your head. I recently read a darn good article about how book fans have a seriously superiority complex when all it takes is a time to sit down and just enjoy the damn show. Oh, Lady Stoneheart wasn't in this season? Who cares? If you get off your high-horse, you can see how, structurally, the show moves things around and she'd be better suited for next season (if at all, she doesn't do a whole lot other than off one character anyways) Hey, you know who I like also?

Yeah, book fans hate Kit, I think he's playing what is essentially the lead "good guy" at this point damn well. (don't misunderstand, Arya is still my favorite character, then Tyrion, but in terms of "this is the last of good men, he's about all that's left)

Now I could spend all day talking about actors and characters on this show, but you kind of have to. The story is often oddly paced and there’s a lot of plot to digest, so you rely on your characters to pull you through. Most are strong, even if sometimes underdeveloped, and their stories are always full of that “what’s gonna happen next!?” bit of intrigue.

If I were to say there’s one weak-link, it’s Daenerys. Not because of the character or even her story, but how detached it is from everything else resulting in a sense of “side story” than actually engrained into the world - especially this season where there's just little talk of her and even relevance. It always feels oddly out of place, perhaps that's because you don't have detail on what she is thinking or how she is, or maybe it's just bad dialogue not really being interesting or intriguing like as Tyrion or Tywin or even Sansa. Sure, that’ll change eventually, but this season in particular, it’s very underwhelming and uninteresting.

While a bit all over the map this season, particularly in pacing, it’s simply another well done one from this cast and crew. It's amazing this show even exists when it comes right down to it. A high-fantasy, dark and blood/sex fueled show? Never would have happened...well it never did happen until now. While the show will probably never win “Best Drama” it offers up enough to get you invested and to feel sadness or pain when someone you really liked dies. Hell, this season took a villain and made you kind of wish he would be ok. It’s great how the show toys with you like that.

3.5 out of 5 Arya laughs

Past Entries:

Part 1: Agents of SHIELD, Person of Interest, Arrow

Part 2: Hannibal, Bob's Burgers, Mad Men

Part 3: The Goldbergs

Part 4: Brooklyn 99, Veep, Louie

Categories: None

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