Monday, May 13, 2013

Hit List: Top 5 TV Shows

All right... in light of the fact that ALL of my favorite TV shows that I am currently watching had INCREDIBLE episodes in the last week... I figured it was time for a new Hit List! :)

In no specific order (just whichever one came to mind first), here are 5 of my Top Favorite TV Shows!

1. Psych
The Basics: Energetic, charismatic Shawn Spencer, the son of a retired cop, uses his eidetic memory and keen observation skills to help the local police department solve crimes. The Twist: in order to avoid being named a suspect himself, and unable to fully explain his ability, he has convinced the police that his dead-on observations stem from a psychic ability.

Where They Nailed It: Psych nails it for sheer variety. For most shows, after about five seasons, the pattern emerges and the arcs begin looking familiar and replayed or drawn out. Not Psych. It is well into it's seventh season, and I still have no idea where each episode is going to end up. The guest appearances are exciting, the characters are endearing, and the banter is first-rate.

Where They Missed: I'm starting to get a bit annoyed at the relationship uncertainty the writers keep playing up. It's cute to see characters get together; to tear them apart again when things are about to culminate seems more like a cruel twist of fate and a failed attempt at "spice." You'd think that writers who craft such unique seasons full of one inventive episode after another wouldn't need the added drama... But apparently there are those who disagree...

Overall: Fabulous show. It has the capacity to keep going as long as possible.

2. Person Of Interest
The Basics: In response to the events of 9/11, the government saw fit to commission the development of a program, The Machine, that can access any sort of electronic record: e-mails, documents, phone calls, receipts, with the purpose of detecting terrorist movements before they strike. A millionaire computer genius builds the program, then, to keep the government from controlling and manipulating it, seals it up so no one can access it. The largest issue with the machine is that though it can read everything, the government is only interested in those crimes related to terrorism. All the other crimes go unimpeded, which strikes the conscience of the inventor, who decides to go into hiding, erasing all record of himself, and figures out a way (with the help of a burned ex-Army Ranger) to remotely acquire the "irrelevant" data and perform the same "stop-before-it-happens" service with smaller, local issues. The Twist: this "backdoor" only provides the Social Security Number of a person (or group of people) involved—not whether they are victim, perpetrator, or witness. The two men must asess the situation, find the criminal, and protect the victim before the crime happens.

Where They Nailed It: As a series created by Jonathan Nolan, produced by J.J. Abrams, and starring Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel, you really can't get a better crime drama story. The storyline is compelling, and the writing shows the same judiciousness as the Machine, exploring the morality and ramifications of The Machine's existence only to the extent that it is relevant to a story arc. They don't get sidetracked or bogged down, the main characters are "dead" men and so they tend not to have many loose relationships (if any), and once again, the banter is spot-on. The supporting characters (a dirty cop and a good one) are also marvelous.

Overall: This series progression has been largely satisfactory. Jim is suitably kick-butt, while Michael's verbal rapport is quick and the humor is dry. The story-arc enemies have all stated very clearly their warped reasoning behind their choices, and it is relatively sound logic, if based on a faulty premise or ideology. But at least it's not "I'm a bad person, so I do bad things" or "You're a good person so I'm just trying to stop whatever you want to do because you're good and I want to be bad." And they aren't too stupid nor too smart. They are the perfect match for the show's heroes—every bit as smart and connected, only their purposes are very different.

3. Grimm
The Basics: Grimm is more than just a surname; it's an occupation. The descendants of the Brothers Grimm are all charged with maintaining order among the Wesen, outwardly-normal people with hidden creature natures. It's these creatures that ostensibly serve as the basis for the stories we know as "fairy tales"; a Grimm can see the creature nature within. There are evil creatures and harmless ones. The series follows one particular Grimm, Detective Nick of the Portland Police, and his encounters with Wesen and his unorthodox choice to weed out the bad Wesen from the good, rather than fulfill the traditional Grimm role and kill all the ones who merely look evil. Also involved are the Royal Family, a pure bloodline of Wesen aristocracy, who look upon other Wesen as dispensable masses and Grimms as their agents.

Where They Nailed It: Application of creativity absolutely carries this show, hands down. I almost wouldn't have chosen to watch it for reasons I will detail below, but once I started, man, I was hooked. Not many shows keep going this strongly. The closest resembling show to Grimm would be ABC's Once Upon A Time, which started fraying at the seams near the beginning of Season 2 (because of twisting the plot too many times, offering too many explanations, and going overboard with introducing new characters), whereas Grimm, at roughly a full season ahead of Once Upon A Time, still leaves questions unanswered for now.
Another area Grimm nails that other shows regularly botch is that of the romantic relationship(s) of the main characters. So many times, you have the main guy character who is in a relationship or forms a relationship with the main girl character, then after they've been together long enough that every fan is practically predicting that they just might make it "official"—which is precisely the moment when the screenwriters decide that the two of them should have a big fight over a little thing, and split ip over it, leaving both of them vulnerable to others trying to take advantage of the fact that they aren't working as a team.
Not Grimm; Nick doesn't have to bend over backwards to try and keep Juliette's affection, and she is still bound and determined to maintain and in some cases regain their relationship. All this, in spite of all Nick's enemies do to split them apart, even when it would totally make sense for her to just forget about him and welcome the pursuit of another, because her attachment to Nick is causing problems—she holds on for him. And he's a better man for it. They are the most emotionally-mature (and secure) couple I've seen in a TV show for a long time.
The banter is awesome, and the chemistry amid the entire ensemble of the main cast is marvelous. The writers do a good job of keeping something potentially over-complex to a manageable level of simplicity by functioning off a certain number of different creatures, introducing new creatures only ever so often and having a specific purpose for involving that sort of creature, beyond just filling out the ranks. There are even some creatures named but never featured, which lends an air of realism to the whole thing.

Where They Missed: I tend to be squeamish when it comes to mangled bodies—and there seem to be a wide variety of Wesen who favor dismembering their victims. (I will say that the fact that I am still watching it is testament to the way the writers disperse the gory scenes widely among the story scenes; and I have only seen one creature in one part of one episode who could be termed as truly too creepy for me) That being said, not every victim dies a horrific death.
I've heard the objection that Grimm is more of a procedural drama than fantasy. I would agree—but that's not really a "miss" for me, personally. It's also relatively dark and intense, not for little kids.

Overall: I think it's a great show, in regards to writing and acting quality. It's dark, best taken in small quantities (so marathons would not be advisable) but the balance of humor is very tastefully done, and makes the series recommendable to those interested in that sort of thing.

4. Leverage

The Basics: A poor man's "Ocean's 11." A former insurance agent gets burned by his own company in a very personal way, so when a mysterious stranger sets him in charge of a team of professional criminals, he jumps at the chance to prevent anything like what happened to him from happening to other people—a modern-day Robin Hood to outwit the rich to gain retribution for the poor.

Where They Nailed It: Well, for starters, it may be set in Boston (for about the first four seasons) but it's filmed in Portland. So for me a small part of the entertainment factor cane from trying to figure out where they were in each scene (mostly the exterior shots.) The main ensemble are some great actors (for the most part; some characters more than others), and the periodic guest appearances by actors I recognized was always fun.
I like the intrigue of the challenges the team has to face, and how the members working individually is definitely not as effective as when they all work together. It's pretty much everything I liked about the Ocean's movies (the cons, the heist, the chemistry, the banter...) minus all the things I didn't like (the scantily-clad women, low moral standards and motivations, innuendo, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones...)

Where They Missed: They avoided it for a good long while, but even Leverage fell into the pitfall of over-dramatization. The two principal characters were in and out of the relationship for most of the show, and just when you think it really could happen and really be great, one or the other pulls a stupid and they fight and they're not talking...again. I did approve the pairing of two of the supporting characters, and their relationship was adorable to watch and I just wanted to slap the main characters silly and go "See? SEE???" But alas... Such uncertainty proved too much to hold interest in the show, and it ended just last year. Requiescat in Pace.

Overall: A good show, definitely recommendable. With only five seasons, it shouldn't talke too long to get through, and it's worth it.

5. Castle
The Basics: Murder mystery author Rick Castle has hit writer's block and is looking for inspiration. Imagine his surprise when he becomes the lead suspect in a case involving a serial killer who murders his victims and then stages them in scenes patterned after scenes from Castle's books. The head homicide detective is a very attractive woman who ends up inspiring Castle to begin writing again. Of course, then he contrives to be attached to the NYPD as the detective's shadow, claiming it is "research." He follows her around, they save each others' lives at various points, she grows to like him, and, working together, they solve crimes.

Where They Nailed It: Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. Odd names, but BRILLIANT actors. Fillion especially, as a master of comedy and lovableness. (Any Firefly fans out there would recognize Fillion as the unquenchable Captain Mal) I was intrigued to see how he might portray a celebrity writer—and I'll admit I relate to his behavior, fictional though it may be. The constant distraction of plot ideas and story intrigue, the penchant for wild, inventive theories, the apparent lack of ability to think logically (or at least real-world logic; our logic works just fine in a fictional universe!)
The supporting cast nailed it. Partnered cops Kevin Ryan and Javier Esposito help Castle and Detective Kate Beckett in various aspects of their cases. Ryan has to be my favorite out of the two, especially since he's the only one of them all who managed a successful relationship with a woman who starts the show as his girlfriend, he proposes to her, and by now they are happily married and expecting their first child. The kicker? Ryan's love interest is played by his real-life wife. It's adorable. I love it when actor couples act together. They just seem to have a lot more fun than everyone else.
My favorite character out of the whole ensemble would be Castle's daughter Alexis, played by the "unsinkable" Molly Quinn. She is beautiful without being overdone, smart without being sarcastic, funny but not ditzy—and the chemistry between Nathan and Molly is as close to father-daughter as I've seen two actors get. It's great.

Where They Missed: For a while before Beckett and Castle became an item, of course Castle is very narcissistic and loves getting attention from ladies—which made for some uncomfortable scenes in some episodes. But luckily by now he's gotten beyond that and he and Beckett are securely in love with one another and that's great to see. So far, the writers seem to be keeping tabs on their "misses" and resolving them into "wins." It is a procedural drama, but that isn't a miss in my book. Lately, too, there has been more of Awesome Alexis and not as much Annoying/Awkward Martha (Castle's mother who lives with him), which is more of a win than a miss. (If it had been the other way around...) There were a few attempts at a love triangle early on in the series, but once Beckett and Castle were positive about being together, all other potential relationships subsided. (and the fan base heaved a collective sigh of relief...) There was a vague attempt at a Rear-Window-esque episode a few weeks ago that I was not impressed with, but that's all.

Overall: Great writing, great acting, great banter, great show! It does have a overreaching story arc that involves Beckett's mom and some unresolved issues (basically her motivation for becoming a cop), but the show doesn't fixate on it too much, maybe for a few episodes per season then moves on. I call that good taste. Keeps the viewers watching, but doesn't drive them crazy.

All of these shows come with heart recommends from me, if you are interested in any of them. Feel free to voice your own opinion about these or other currently-running/recently-ended shows in the comments! :)