Transparent – Season 1 (Amazon)
Winner of some Golden Globes, and a big win for Amazon’s future as a content creator, Transparent’s first season was wonderful. After Netflix paved the way, Amazon has taken it to new places by basically crowdsourcing the evaluation of pilots to the masses instead of focus groups. That led to a great show like this being created. Jeffery Tambor is know for playing oddball characters, probably most famously as the patriarch of Arrested Development. In this show he is a man in his sixties (?) who has decided to fully transition into becoming a woman. He is divorced and has three grown children all with their own personal and professional issues.
Tambor is really spectacular. His brand of humor is definitely not for everyone and in the past just hasn’t felt all that great, but this is an absolute home run and he deserves the accolades he has already won. His oldest daughter is married with a couple of kids before running into her ex-lover from college, a woman, causing her to question everything. The middle child is the only son, and is music executive with major relationship issues as well as a dark secret. His youngest daughter is played by Gaby Hoffman, in a pretty standard “2010s Gaby Hoffman Character” archetype. She is single, unemployed, and pretty much a mess in every way.
Although the beginning of the season focuses on Tambor coming out to his children, it becomes just as much about the kids using this revelation to learn things about themselves, and reevaluate their whole upbringing. There are nice flashbacks mixed in to show how Tambor’s character got to where he is now.
The show isn’t without it’s flaws. The ending to season one felt very abrupt and some of the story lines seemed to take some odd jumps along the way. But it was still good, and Amazon has definitely planted their flag.
Kingdom – Season 1 (DirecTV Audience)
DirecTV has made some original programming over the last few years, and most of it has flown under the radar. Kingdom appears to be no exception. There seemed to be very little buzz or discussion about the drama, which takes place in an MMA gym. The show focuses on the gym’s owner Alvey, a former MMA champion who trains fighters now, including his two sons Nate (Nick Jonas of The Jonas Brothers) and Jay (Bob Little, mayor of Parenthood). Nate is younger, but has tons of potential. Jay is the older brother, the guy who wasted his potential and seems to be in trouble a lot, pretty classic family dynamic. Ryan (Matt Lauria of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) is a former protege of Alvey who is released from prison, and trying to get back into society without slipping back into his bad habits.
Surely because of the subject matter (but not just because of it), this show feels a bit like the failed FX drama Lights Out, but it is far more interesting. It definitely provides a peek into the MMA world that the average person has never seen, and the family dynamic amongst the group is very interesting, especially with the inclusion of Lisa, Ryan’s ex and Alvey’s current love interest, and Alvey’s ex, the mother of Nate and Jay.
The show suffers from a few lulls since it is mostly building up to a fight that isn’t coming until the end of the season, but there are so many random things that happen (including a parole office with a bizarre fetish) that it manages to keep moving along. It’s not a great show, and not on the same level of Transparent, but it’s a show about a different subject matter that seems to do a good job with it. Worth checking out if the MMA world is mildly interesting to the viewer.
Benched – Season 1 (USA)
USA continues to churn out new dramas and comedies each year. They all seem to have a bit of a similar feel to them, and Benched is no different. Unfortunately this show has already been cancelled, so this will probably be short.
The premise is that an attorney at a big firm has a nervous breakdown followed by a destructive freakout and is fired. And the only job she can get is as a public defender. The show then follows the familiar tropes of a “fish out of water” struggling to understand how her new world works before not only eventually fitting in, but enjoying it. Like every sitcom before it this show insists on trying to inject a romance component in the good ol’ “will they or won’t they” trope. Eliza Coupe is funny at times, but doesn’t seem capable of carrying the load thrust upon her as the lead character.
It is not terribly surprising the show won’t be back. It was just OK from day one, and didn’t get a whole lot better.
Whale Wars – Season 7 (Animal Planet)
Whale Wars is a show about the Sea Shepherd Conservation group and their efforts to stop Japanese whalers in the Antartic Ocean. The last couple of years the show has shifted from a full blown 10 (or so) episode season to just a few hour special. This year’s edition was technically three episodes, but they were all shown together on the same night.
This reality show is probably not terribly expensive to make since it just requires a few extra bodies on the ship to film content, and it’s instead more likely that limited run of episodes is more due to lack of interesting content. The last couple of “seasons” had only been a couple of hours each and haven’t been all that exciting, so that has likely influenced the decision to not show more.
Paul Watson, the head of Sea Shepherd is not captaining any of the ships because he is facing charges for the groups actions in previous years. That takes a way a bit from the show. And the new man in charge is a familiar face to anyone who watches this show. There seemed to be some manufactured descent against Captain Peter that magically vanished by the end of the show.
Unfortunately for Whale Wars the show has gotten pretty stale. It feels like every season is just a repeat of the last one and it’s hard to see how long they can keep making it while keeping people’s attention.