We’re neck deep into the peak time of Peak TV: The Fall season is in full-swing, and its scythe of original programming has claimed many a victim and inspired many a think piece. October is also one of the worst times at The Job I Do That’s Not Writing About TV, Even Though A Lot Of People Think That’s My Actual Job, Which Is As Perpetually Flattering As It Is Incorrect. So other than writing about “Saturday Night Live” for Rolling Stone, I haven’t jotted down many thoughts about any shows in the past month. Since time is still limited, I can’t write about everything as in-depth as I would like. But here are ten things I think I think about TV right now…
“The Good Wife” and “Arrow” are both having great seasons compared to last year. However, that’s the faintest of praises, as both of those previous seasons were monumentally terribly. With the State’s Attorney’s race in the rearview mirror and bond court a fertile place for immediate law-based storytelling, “The Good Wife” feels close to back on track. Over on “Arrow,” things aren’t completely fixed, but it has learned some lightness lessons from “The Flash,” added the excellent Echo Kellum to bounce off of Emily Bett Rickards, and has streamlined things to the point where they are at least possible to follow. Still, it did give Diggle that ridonkulous helmet, so I can’t fully trust the show yet.
“You’re the Worst” just aired one of the best TV episodes of the past few months, but I can’t shake the feeling that getting there wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked. Part of this may have to do with an overall episode expansion. A lot of it definitely has to do with taking the core four and splitting them up without adding characters as interesting as they are. I am not exactly DOWN on the series, but I am curious how it pivots off this important middle point. If the show turns into a drama, I’m fine with that, so long as it adheres to a particular vision. The high/low comedy of last year is fine when the stakes are just a newfound relationship. But when clinical depression gets added to the mix, there’s a more important need to balance all elements top to bottom. Can the show do it? Sure. But it hasn’t balanced things that well up until this point this season. Maybe this focal point will snap everything together once and all.
Every year I forget how easily I move from, “Yeah, this is a pilot that inspires me to watch more episodes” to “oh Jesus, there are three of those already piled up, can I just move to a desert island” already. Sorry, “The Grinder.”
The move from “Undateable” to “Undateable Live” has necessarily changed the show. It has removed comic precision and replaced it with energetic anarchy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the live energy gives the show its spark. But it’s also turned the show from a surprisingly moving romantic comedy into a show that’s really about the making of a live TV show. From the actors going into the audience during the opening credits, to the fourth-wall breaking onstage, and especially in the inside jokes actors make at the expense of the other, this is a program that wants to be a really well-produced episode of a long-form improv show. And while I still enjoy it, I do miss the Brett Morin/Bridgit Mendler chemistry, which is a casualty of the current production. It’s an impressive exercise, and I know it’s a bit weird to complain about the lack of depth on a show that is seemingly this surface. But the show found a new gear last season, and while this live approach may keep the show on longer, it may not ultimately make it better.
Speaking of improve: between “BoJack Horseman” and “You’re The Worst,” there are a lot of TV writers that really, really fucking hate improv.
I’ve enjoyed a lot more of “Doctor Who” than I’ve hated this season. I’m not as fully enthused as Joanna Robinson on this topic, but I do love Peter Capaldi in the role very much, I love how his presence has activated Jenna Coleman, and these two-part episode set-ups are a hundred billion times better than an entire season dedicated to a crack in the wall. I love long-form serialized narrative, don’t get me wrong. But Stephen Moffat is spectacularly terrible at it, and keeps getting distracted by shiny things along the way. (The resolution to modern-era season six is so spectacularly bad that I’m getting angry just thinking of it.) The introduction of an immortal character who thinks it’s her mission to protect Earth from The Doctor is an interesting idea, and I’m curious to see how that theme is revisited. You know, after a few more unrelated two-part stories.
The show I’m surprised that I look forward to the most each week: “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” a delightful PBS food/travelogue show starring Phil Rosenthal. The “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator is a guileless and beguiling host, with infectious enthusiasm that is above all things approachable. While there are a few instances in which his experiences seem pricey to the point of obscenity, most of them seem like something I could actually recreate if I had the time to do so. Above all, “I’ll Have” is an ode to simply stepping out of your door and trying something new. That simple guiding principle isn’t anything groundbreaking, but makes this more than just a vanity project and turns it into a plea to actually experience life rather than simply watch it on television.
Yes, I recognize the irony of that last statement, since I’m writing about all the TV I’m trying to catch up on. Yes, I’m counting this as the eighth thing that I think I think. It’s my blog. I can do things like this.
Shows on my current weekly watch (ie, I will make a lot of effort to watch the latest episode before the next one airs): “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Good Wife,” “The Voice,” “Jane The Virgin,” “I’ll Have With Phil’s Having,” “Fargo,” “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Fresh Off The Boat,” “The Goldbergs,” “You’re The Worst,” “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” “Billy On The Street,” “Undateable,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Doctor Who”. I’m shockingly behind on “Scandal,” but I’m trying to catch up, and I finally caught fully up with “Empire” on the treadmill this morning after starting it from the pilot three weeks ago. I’m trying to rekindle my relationship with “The Leftovers,” and while I really liked the first two episodes this season, I just look at it on my DVR and tend to look for anything else to watch first. Dear “The Knick” and “Bob’s Burgers”: I like you very much and I have no idea when I will watch you. Please know it’s me, not you.
I thought until typing all that out that I wasn’t watching a lot of TV this Fall compared to years back, and it just turns out my overall percentage of all TV is the thing that has precipitously dropped. It’s very democratic that everyone’s personal viewing habits are a goddamn snowflake at this point, but it makes me wonder how applicable this type of “broad” analysis has even overlapped with your own experience. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I’m curious how you feel about watching TV knowing the ways in which we talk about them has almost permanently changed since the first season of Netflix’s “House Of Cards.”