Monday, 19 January 2015

TV Shows I Watched In 2014

Last year I delivered a Top Ten Shows list, which I very much enjoyed. For one reason or another, 2014 didn't see me watching that many shows from this year alone, and saw me more on the catch-up thanks to Netflix. So, in the spirit of fairness, here are the fiction-based TV Shows that I watched in 2014 that came out in that year.

Game of Thrones - Season Four, HBO/Sky 1

Game of Thrones' fourth season saw a sea of controversy and intrigue, as the plot developments moved onto the second half of G.R.R. Martin's third novel in his Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords. Much as its fellows over at The Walking Dead, GoT is attempting to follow the plot of the books while keeping things fresh for those who've already read them, as well as imprinting its own stamp on the series. Whether this has been successful or not is up to debate, but the general feeling that I left the series with was that many opportunities had been missed and several plot elements were twisted to gain a much more problematic bent than in the original text.
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Oberyn and Ellaria, this season's standout characters.
Shame they were so short-lived. From Wikia
      The biggest controversy (spoiler warning), came in the season's third episode, Breaker of Chains, in which anti-hero/anti-villain Jaime Lannister raped his twin sister Cersei as she mourned over the death of their son, Joffrey, in the previous episode. While disgusting enough in the book, the fact that the series decided to make this a non-consensual act and then proceed to never bring it up again left a bad taste in my mouth, and highlighted a lot of the other moments in the show when the producers had chosen to include more on-screen rape and sexual violence than was in the book to begin with. While this had calmed down by the end of the season, we were still given more of the same in the completely show-original scenes at Craster's Keep where villain Karl Tanner (an admittedly fantastic performance by Burn Gorman, Torchwood) used and abused a village of women already brought up in a life of incestuous torture. It's a strange thing that GoT brings sentences like that up.
     However, there were some fantastic moments this series which helped to balance out the controversy. The appearance of Pedro Pascal's firey bisexual Prince Oberyn Martell became an absolute scene-stealer whenever he was on screen, especially as he tread carefully around the politics surrounding King's Landing. The main plot in the South, with the death of Joffrey and Tyrion's trial for murder, didn't get quite the development it could have, but it came to a fantastic head in the penultimate episode. Some of Tyrion's motivation for his actions in the finale has been removed from the show's text, and that made his motivations less clear, but Peter Dinklage is still the stand-out actor of the show. Add in fantastic developments for Sansa and other characters, and GoT is still worth coming back to every year.
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It's telling that the most exciting thing I found in 5A was
a few brief shots of Morgan. From Forbes

The Walking Dead - Seasons 4B and 5A, AMC/Fox

AMC's zombie drama seems to have been daring out into more experimental territory, and simultaneously bringing in higher and higher viewing numbers. After spending the first half of its fourth season in tense action at The Prison, the second half moved into a strange direction, breaking the ensemble cast up and focusing on groups of 2-3 people at a time as the characters escaped The Prison and headed down the tracks to Terminus, a promised land. Mixing in plot developments from Volumes 9-11 of the Comic series, the season had two stand-out episodes. The Grove saw badasses Carol and Tyreese escorting the deranged Lizzie and her younger sister Mia, and the eventual consequences when Lizzie tries to prove her theory that Zombies are just like other people. The season finale, A, felt in its second half like a bit of an anticlimax, but dealt with a certain brutal scene in the comics with a fantastic level of poignancy and horror.
     After Season Five had mopped up the cliffhanger from the previous show, the plot developments seemed to take a weaker turn. A major stepping-stone plot from the Comics was dealt with by the third episode, leaving the rest of the season to deal with long-winded flashbacks and a show-original plot based on Beth which ended (spoiler warning) with Beth's death. While the episodes preceeding the event were enjoyable enough, Beth's death comes at the end of the episode after everything has reasonably been resolved, and thus has started to poke a big hole in the show's suspension of disbelief. I'm still a Walking Dead fan, but the second half of Season Five needs to find a little more tension and make a little more progress toward's the show's eventual move to D.C.

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How little I care. (Yet still watch, albeit with a
month delay.) From Wikia
Doctor Who - Series 8, BBC1

Moffat is still here. That should say enough; while his writing is not as intensely unpleasant as it was the end of Matt Smith's tenure, there are still bumps here and there, and even that aside, the show is fast becoming stale under his leadership - and that's not just from my Tumblr-driven social justice background, that seems to be an increasing sentiment amongst fans too. By this point Moffat has had the job for about as long as RTD did, except that he isn't cutting his losses and will continue to be showrunner at least until the end of this year (and, he threatens, for even longer.)
     While I haven't finished my individual reviews of this season, I do have a good grasp of my basic problems. Clara, despite how much the series tries to build her up, has an arc which is either incredibly subtle or just tellingly hollow, which follows her seperation from The Doctor and her personality taking on a more destructive form of The Doctor's role. The problem with this was that it came bundled up in the relationship with Danny Pink, not only tying up her development into a man for no reason, but also forcing a relationship which, upon deeper inspection, is unhealthy and unbelievable. Peter Capaldi is doing his absolute best with what he's got, and despite The Doctor's new asshole persona I still think that Capaldi's Doctor knows what he's doing more than Smith's did. But in using his character differently in each episode, the series treads all over its attempts to present continuous themes, and the result is a season of uneven episodes.
     By the end of the season I'd found ways of looking past my problems with the show and at least enjoying it on a surface level - the finale two-parter was especially good in that regard, as for all it did to confuse and stretch Doctor Who canon, it managed to stay true to the (admittedly thin) characterisations and do so in an entertaining way. I used to hope that Doctor Who could become better - but now it seems to want to settle for middle-of-the-road. Tonally, Series 8 makes me think more "Adian Hodge's Survivors" than "Saturday night blockbuster", and you know my feelings on that.


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Rachel Duncan... smiling...
From orphanblack.tumblr
Orphan Black - Series 2, BBC America

My darling, my precious. There are shows I might enjoy more on television, but from my position as a critic I can't think of a show which is just as good as Orphan Black is on every level - acting, themes, plot structure - it's just an amazing, juggernaught of a show. The second season didn't just carry on the plot from the first season, it ramped it up by including a number of new characters and plotlines which only deepened and en-richened the shows universe and characters. Most of this is thanks to the tireless efforts of star Tatiana Maslany, this season playing five clones regularly, and two more in guest spots. The distinct characterisation that Maslany gives to each of her characters and the seamless way she has them interact with and imitate each other is a masterpiece of acting ability, and I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it.
     Season Two's main theme, alongside its intrigue and conspiracy, seemed to be on the positions of women in society, with each of the clones playing a different role and the show really focussing on the clones' attempts to regain their agency after it was robbed from them by a number of organisations. It also followed religious extremism, the rights of the individual, and gave a sensitive if out-of-the-blue look at transgender issues by examining how the clones' dilemma has affected a transman clone, Tony Sawicki.
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Tony Sawicki. Tatiana gives him all the respect the
role demands. From BBC America
     I could go into a lot of detail with how each of the main characters developed, but the most impressive to me was Rachel Duncan, a clone introduced at the eleventh hour in the first season who very quickly developed a very emotionally complex backstory and motivation - a tragic villain who has faced as much if not more suffering than the main characters, but who has been driven to believe that the company who created her and the other clones has to maintain its power. There's an amazing scene near the end of the season where, out of the blue, we see Rachel smile for the first time, and it's so both forced and jubilant that the result is scary and sad. Tatiana Maslany has smiled so many times on this show, but she managed to turn this one into the season's most powerful scene.
     Orphan Black's third season may just be its last, whether because the ratings haven't been that good or simply as a matter of narrative necessity - with this much happening in each episode, it seems sensible to know that you have an end in sight. But if that is the case, I can say that I will severely miss this show - and I hope that Maslany goes on to even more success.

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Kieren and Amy both had tragic moments in the finale.
From The Mirror
In The Flesh - Series 2, BBC3

A couple of days prior to writing, In The Flesh was cancelled. This is a crime against television. Like Orphan Black, In The Flesh is a fantastically written show with not only amazingly strong character development, but also brilliant representation for female and minority characters, and themes surrounding prejudice, war, society and love. While the second season of the show wasn't as condensed as the original three-part miniseries, the show used its extra three hours to tell a story in a larger universe, with a stronger plot arc, more time to invest in its characters and an ending which felt absolutely shattering but at the same time thematically perfect.
     BBC3 has made a number of questionable decisions over the past few years, and that is probably a contributing factor to the channel's eventual disappearance later this year. It is frustrating, however, to note that shows like Jack Whitehall's asinine chatshow Backchat was safely renewed and moved into BBC2, while provocative, relevant dramas like In The Flesh (and to some extent The Fades) were thrown by the wayside. And to think I was annoyed about White Van Man. Luckily, In The Flesh has a massive fandom and the current twitter hashtag has provoked claims that Netflix may take the series up. Watch this space.

Sherlock - Series 3, BBC1

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This whole show is just so dodgy.
From Flavorwire
One of the benefits of this not being a Top Ten is that I can include Sherlock at all. While it wasn't here for long, broadcasting as it did on three consecutive weekends at the very start of the year, Sherlock's third season made its odious presence known. Sherlock series are always quite brief, so I can sum up this series' three episodes as follows: Okay, Fairly good, Horrendous. Moffat's sexism and lack of narrative tact is always more refined in Sherlock, tempered only by the good natures of Mark Gattis and Steven Thompson, but not even they could fix the waste of film that is His Last Vow. On one hand assassinating the character development of Mary Morstan and dehumanising her in the most digusting ways possible and on the other hand giving suspension of disbelief a kick in the shins and throwing it in a ditch, this season's development from okayish into pure arse made me lose any faith that Sherlock will develop beyond Moffat's personal mouthpiece.

Elementary - Series 1&2a, CBS

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Holmes and Joan have an amazing relationship that
is refreshingly platonic, instead focusing on trust and
friendship. From craveonline
I completely forgot about this one, but I did actually watch it, and I did end up having strong feelings about it. I suppose that was my issue with CBS' Elementary - it's a great show with some clever ideas, well-thought-out mysteries and decent character development that takes its more flashy British counterpart and wipes the floor with it. The problem for me as a viewer, aside from the lengthy seasons, was that in this form Elementary was a bit too much like the standard police procedural. Each episode ends up so focused on the mystery itself that, while there is very strong character development, it happens over a longer period of time.
     I binged the first series and the first half of the second all the way back in January, so I am a bit hazy, but if I had to mention my favourite bits it would probably be any moment of the show with Natalie Dormer. That woman is an artist. Both in-show and out.

And that was this year. Some TV was fantastic, some of it was tragic, and some of it mixed the two in a way which was confusing for everyone. See you guys next year.

Thanks.

P.S. Waiting until 20:14 to post this...

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