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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.