Short Season Winners

Sometimes more isn’t better.

I was thinking about this the other day because it seemed like a number of the television shows we enjoy are presented in a short season – 13 weeks or less.  Without the broadcast network requirement for a September through May season, producers and writers have a chance to tell more-focused stories and provide great entertainment.  Some of our favorites this past fall have been:

Bored To Death (HBO)  I don’t watch a lot of comedies, but this offbeat series about a set of losers in New York really captured me this season (its second).  Jason Schwartzmann plays Jonathan Ames (the show is written by Ames) an aspiring writer who supplements his income by becoming a freelance private-eye (advertising on craigslist).  He’s joined by his doper comic-artist best friend Ray (Zack Galifanikis) and his doper, womanizing magazine editor mentor, George (Ted Danson).  There are fantastic cameos throughout, and the show is most fun when it’s at its most absurd.

Bored To Death

The Big C (Showtime)  In its first season, this drama-comedy by Laura Linney followed the story of Cathy – a suburban mom in a not-so-good marriage that finds out she has terminal cancer.  She decides how she is and is not going to handle the news with her family and friends.  After some bumps in the first few episodes (I almost stopped watching), this show finished strong.  Particularly moving was Cathy’s relationship with her curmudgeonly neighbor Marlene.

The Big C -- Marlene and Cathy

In Treatment (HBO)  Gabriel Byrne is back again for a third season as Dr. Paul Weston, a psychoanalyst who sometimes needs as much help as his patients.  The first season of this show was brilliant and if there’s any recommendation from this post, it’s go watch that one.  The show’s format remains the same: tight 20-25 minute episodes focused on one patient.  Most compelling has been Paul’s interaction with Sunil – a displaced middle-aged Bengali who’s having trouble adjusting to life with his son and his American wife in New York.  Also, Amy Ryan has done a great job as Adele — taking the place of Dianne Wiest as Paul’s therapist.

In Treatment -- Paul and Sunil

The Walking Dead (AMC)  There’s not a lot of straight horror on TV – and certainly not much that gets the A-grade treatment that this mini-series has.  Both gripping and repulsive in equal measure, we follow the survivors of a zombie apocalypse.  The producers haven’t pulled many punches and the episodes to date have been harrowing and exciting.  I wonder if this series success will pave the way for more serious treatment of “B-movie” topics.

The Walking Dead

Sherlock (PBS) When I heard that the new installment of Masterpiece Mystery was to be an updating of Sherlock Holmes, I sort of rolled my eyes.  Boy, was I wrong.  This 21st century Holmes is fast-paced and requires the audience to pay attention more than any procedural that I can think of.  The casting of freelance investigator Holmes (by the remarkably named Benedict Cumberbatch) and returning from Afghanistan Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) is spot on, and their interactions are really fun to watch.   Adding to the enjoyment is that Holmes (as he should be) is a bit of a prick – so you’re always hoping that he’ll get a bit of comeuppance as he solves the crime.  My only nitpick is that there weren’t enough episodes.

Holmes and Watson

Note:  One show that I really wanted to include on this list was the thoughtful AMC drama Rubicon.  In a way, it was the opposite of “The Big C” – it started out great and I had a real respect for a show that counted on dialog and subtlety rather than action to build suspense, but the show meandered a bit in the middle and what should have been a great finish was torpedoed by a terrible finale.  I’d be curious if anyone else watched this show and what you thought.

18 thoughts on “Short Season Winners

  1. Steve, I did the same eye roll when I heard that an updated Sherlock Holmes was being made. But you are spot on about the writing and how the actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, embodies the character in just the way we hope, we expect. Martin Freeman as Watson is at times down played too much for me but as the episodes move on it seems he is becoming more engaging. I/we fully agree that there weren’t enough episodes and we hope for more. Sadly I haven’t seen any of the others. My husband and I don’t watch much television but are watching more.

    • Hah — I realized that this post pretty much screams, “We don’t have kids!” — b/c we really do have the opportunity to come home, make dinner and choose something to watch for an hour or an hour-and-a-half.

  2. I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan, so I don’t know how I missed the new series. Damn. But making Watson a veteran of the current Afghanistan war is a stroke of genius.

    I read The Walking Dead graphic novel earlier, but this is one of those rare times where the video series far surpasses the print version. That scene where the protagonist confronts the little girl zombie is both sad and creepy.

  3. I haven’t seen “Bored to Death” though I have been curious, however the other three are on my best list too. I was hooked on “Sherlock” from the first press conference when Holmes texted everyone “Wrong!”. I enjoyed the series way more than I expected. “The Big C” has also been a great ride. I cried like a baby in the last two episodes.
    One that you didn’t mention that I highly, HIGHLY, recommend is “Luther” with Idris Elba. It is only 6 episodes long, and is excellent. Taut and gritty, with great characters, the show really grips you.

    • Yes — The last few episodes of “The Big C” were easily the most emotional– they really went out on a high note.

      I’ve heard really good things about “Luther” too!

  4. I want to go on record that when Steve says ‘we’ – I do NOT watch the Walking Dead and it would not make my favorite list (episode 1 almost undid me!)

  5. I think we might be the only people who watched Rubicon. I recently watched it all over the course of two days; at first I wasn’t into it, by the middle I had made peace with it and got into it a little more and by the end I was just watching it to finish it.

    AMC has really been knocking out of the park the last few years with Mad Men, Breaking Bad and now The Walking Dead. Rubicon didn’t quite fit into that pantheon of awesomeness but it had potential.

    • No — Rubicon had a real shot at being good, but they kind of got muddled. I actually thought that it would have been better if they’d left if off on the next-to-last episode.

  6. I’m always entertained when Benedict Cumberbatch shows up (more often than you might think — he’s everywhere in BBC-land). AND I love Martin Freeman.

    To bad I don’t have cable…

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