The Newsroom – Season 3 (HBO)
Aaron Sorkin seems destined to be remembered as the guy who wrote a few great movies, made one successful TV show and a bunch of others that just didn’t work. Sports Night was before it’s time. Studio 60 went against 30 Rock and was just poorly executed. The Newsroom was just Sorkin officially deciding to do things his own way damn the consequences, and it didn’t work. The third season was an OK sendoff. It didn’t try to get too crazy with the ending, and didn’t try to send people off in every direction for a “clean” finish. It felt a lot like the show it had been the previous two seasons, which was a mix of good and bad.
The Newsroom suffers from the longtime TV show conudrum of feeling like it has to have a romantic element. It is one thing for a show like You’re the Worst to have this, but it seems like so many other shows feel an obligation when often times it just does not fit. Maybe that is still what people want, but the Mackenzie/Will relationship was always one of the things that brought this show down. Sorkin TV shows, with their witty, quick-thinking dialog, have always been well put together, but sometimes the story choices just drag it down. The Harriet/Matt subplot on Studio 60 was always one of the more uninteresting aspects of that show. And in The Newsroom the romantic storylines (of which there are several) just took away from the better parts of the show.
Overall season 3 was a nice sendoff to a show that had a few really great moments (like the bin Laden episode), but mostly mediocre moments. Treme (which by the way I loved) lasted 13 episodes longer than The Newsroom. That is probably all most people need to know when figuring out where this show lands in the minds of some.
Halt and Catch Fire – Season 1 (AMC)
AMC’s status as the new TV drama “darling” after Breaking Bad and Mad Men has been fading into oblivion. Although The Walking Dead is a massive hit they miss more often than not these days (see: The Killing, Rubicon, Low Winter Sun, Hell on Wheels). One of their most recent attempts is about the personal computer revolution taking off in the early 1980s. Although it aired over the summer I just got around to finishing it last month. There is no doubt that the only thing that kept me hanging out was the subject matter, which is near and dear to my heart. This show was more than once been accused of creating a Don Draper clone, complete with a shady/unknown backstory. That coupled with (again!) a forced romantic component makes it a tough pill to swallow.
One thing the show seems to do well is treat the women in it as intelligent contributors instead of just people to get pushed aside by the men who “know more”. The supporting cast is certainly OK, but Joe is so much a Draper clone that it borders on copyright infringement at times. Shows try so hard to copy the “anti-hero” trend these days that sometimes it just takes away from an otherwise unique opportunity to tackle a subject matter that hasn’t been attempted all that much. Now that everyone has a computer and smartphone, this kind of topic is probably more widely appealing than it once was. Unfortunately it’s not executed in a great manner. This show will be back for season two, and I will watch it, but I am not super excited about it’s future unless it shifts its character focus more.
The Bridge – Season 2 (FXX)
The first season of The Bridge was great. Some people didn’t like the serial killer story, but even with that it was one of the better first seasons of television in a while. The expectations were high for season two, even though the ratings hadn’t been especially good up to that point. Many people were excited by a storyline that ventured away from the one-man serial killer. Unfortunately The Bridge mimicked Homeland with an inexcusable season two thud that ultimately led to it’s non-renewal for a third season.
A few new characters were introduced, and some other characters were marginalized to smaller roles, which led to a huge focus on new character Eleanor Nacht (played by Franka Potente from The Bourne Identity). A weird and mysterious character in the beginning, she never got more interesting really and the payoff did not end up being worth the build-up. The zig-zagging across borders did not help the show’s problem of jumping from story to story a bit too much. It was also not helped by a somewhat boring main arc of the season.
This show’s problem ultimately was that it didn’t spend enough time with the characters played by Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir, the two “stars” of the show who were also 85% of the talent. The bench on this show had a bunch of seasoned actors, but vastly underutilized (as opposed to the early years of Mad Men where a bunch of unknowns made ‘B’ plots soar), and ultimately it’s easy to ascertain that it wasn’t just ratings that sunk this show. On top of all of that, because it was cancelled after production finished, the ending does not provide any sort of closure. For anyone that didn’t watch this show, season 1 is worth your time, but it pretty much ends there.
House of Cards – Season 3 (Netflix)
House of Cards continues to be Netflix’s flagship show, being first will do that, but it is far from it’s best anymore. Season 2 turned Frank Underwood into a villain right out of a comic book and took the show to places that seemed beyond crazy. Season three toned that down a bit, but this show still has a ton of problems. Todd VanDerWerff of Vox did an amazing job covering these flaws in detail, and sums up how I feel almost completely.
The constant flip-flopping annoys the crap out of me, and makes it have almost an Ocean’s 12 vibe to it, where it seems like everything you are seeing is not what is really happening. In this case it’s because 10 minutes later everyone literally does/says the opposite of what they did 10 minutes ago. This gets old really fast. Characters change their allegences and positions on issues so frequently and rapidly that it makes it impossible to root for anyone. Perhaps that is by design to make the audience root for Underwood, who might be the worst “anti-hero” in the recent history of the concept.
Without introducing some more compelling characters this show probably doesn’t have much more of a shelf life. Thankfully the show has the built-in endpoint of Frank not winning re-election, but that prospect seem slim at this point. This show fits well in the recent trends of great first seasons squandered by missteps shortly thereafter, and like Homeland, House of Cards seems destined to be remembered as a great show that fizzled fast.