With the exception of one drama (my top choice down below), it’s felt like a fairly weak summer television season, especially for new dramas. The two best shows of the summer, The Bridge and Rectify, continue to kick amazing amounts of ass (and once I get a clearer picture of what the hell is going on in The Bridge, we can discuss it further), Masters of Sex has come back incredibly strong, and though I don’t watch it, I understand that True Blood is at least fairly eventful as it wraps up its final season.
But what about the new shows? The dramas that AMC, FX, and HBO have pinned their future hopes upon? Before the summer kicked off, we took a quick look at the ten shows we are most excited about this summer. Seven of those shows have aired, and I have watched six of them (I still haven’t gotten around to The Musketeers).
Here’s my ranking of them, so far:
6. Halt and Catch Fire — I liked the pilot so much that I stubbornly felt some ownership over the new AMC series with Lee Pace. Had I not, I’d have quit after the troubling telltale signs had become glaringly obvious by the end of the second episode when Lee Pace ripped off his shirt and gave some sob story about the scars on his chest. Seldom have I seen a show shit the bed so mightily and with such volume, and the way that Lee Pace throws him into the terrible, terrible material almost makes it worse. I feel truly embarrassed for him. It’s a terrible show that feels as though each episode is being written by a different person, and none of the episode writers are talking to each other. It’s an incoherent mess that reached a new low this Sunday with the worst TV scene of 2014.
5. Extant — I haven’t seen this week’s episode of Extant yet, and the truth is, I thought the pilot was OK. From Steven Spielberg, and starring Halle Berry, the sci-fi series is about a woman who returns from a 13-month solo space mission only to discover that she’s pregnant, which is impossible because she was both alone and because she is infertile. There’s also another storyline involving her son, who is an android, who may or may not be evil. I’d rank this higher if I knew the series were going to be as good as this all season long, but the fact that it’s on CBS, during the summer, leads me to believe that it’s not a show that’s going to hold up well over the course of 10 episodes. I did like the ideas in the series; but the characters were not that compelling.
4. The Strain — I did not like the pilot. At all. And yet, the premise is intriguing. The special effects are amazing. The vampires themselves, and the whole idea behind the vampire virus is cool as hell. But man: The writing on this show is atrocious. And the thing is, I don’t know whether the camp is intentional or not, and I’m not sure that I care. Corey Stoll’s hairpiece and his character’s name (Ephraim Goodweather) are basically metaphors for how cheesy The Strain is. It’s a shame, too, because better acting would flow from better writing, and better writing would disguise some of the horror-movie tropes. Basically, Guillermo del Toro should come up with the idea, and he should direct, but he should let someone else do all the writing, which is basically true of all of del Toro’s English-language work.
3. Tyrant — FX’s Tyrant is a mixed bag, too. The whitewashing of the main character is problematic, as are the Middle-Eastern stereotypes. But the premise — basically, The Godfather set in a Middle-Eastern dictatorship — is promising, and some of the ideas are interesting. But the writing and the characterization is woefully inconsistent, and there’s a deus ex machina for every decent setup. It’s a serial drama, but it badly wants to include episodic lessons, and it’s not working. With that said, of the dramas on this list besides The Leftovers, Tyrant still holds out the best long-term prospects, which isn’t saying much.
2. Welcome to Sweden — I’ve only seen the pilot so far, but that episode — which sees a character played by Greg Poehler move to Sweden to live with his girlfriend — was very funny, very sweet, and very unexpected. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, and it has a European sitcom sensibility, but it still very much feels like a show you’d expect from a Poehler (and yes, Greg’s sister, Amy Poehler, is featured prominently in the pilot): Sweet, simple, funny, and lovely.
1. The Leftovers — I think I’ve probably written enough about The Leftovers on the site this summer. I think it’s the show of the summer. I’m intrigued by all the open questions it has presented so far. Not everyone agrees, however, and I don’t understand why, though I suspect it has something to do with an anti-Lindelof bias.