Yanks still winning

An overdue round-up of the best American telly. I know how much you like to keep up with what I’m keeping up with, and there’s so much of it, I sometimes find it hard to keep up myself. So, then: The Pacific starts this Easter weekend on Sky Movies, but I am lucky enough to have been sent the first three episodes. (Well, I don’t have Sky Movies, having pruned back our package to the basics to save money, so it’s just as well their press people are very accommodating.) What can I say about it? It’s Band Of Brothers in the jungle. If you liked that, you’ll love this, as they say. Muted palette, lots of unknown actors in combats, difficult to tell apart to begin with, all saying “fuck” the whole time because it’s on HBO in the States, and built around the notion that the opening of Saving Private Ryan is now the only template for recreating war: hand-held, in-the-thick-of-it, in-your-face, muddy blues, muddy browns, blood spurting, bullets whizzing past your head, confusion, shouting, no heroics. I can’t say I mind.

Interestingly, Episode 3 has our boys on leave in Melbourne after the baptism-under-fire battle of Gaudalcanal, an interlude explained by a Tom Hanks-narrated history lesson using newsreel footage and talking heads. It’s the first “soap” episode, and allows us to actually get to know – indeed tell from one another – the individual Marines, particularly Bob Leckie and Sid Philips (The Pacific is based upon actual memoirs of actual Marines). It’s essentially light relief, with a bit of HBO sex, but true to the actual order of events – oh, how those Marines cleared the custard with the equally sex-starved ANZAC wives! I admire The Pacific – and its various directors and writers, including TV vets Tim Van Patten, David Nutter, Jeremy Podeswa, Bruce C McKenna and George (The Wire) Pelecanos – for its easy command of both combat action and R&R angst, although I’m already sick of the broken bit of charcoal in the opening credits, chalky with portent. And I wonder if they’ll bother to personalise any of the “Japs” beyond squealing machine gun fodder, as Clint Eastwood bothered to in Letters From Iwo Jima? Give it time.

Looked into Cougar Town on Living TV, to see if the preparatory fuss was merited, and Courteney Cox is going out on a bit of a limb admitting her age and paying a single mom looking for love in this fast-paced, smart-mouthed sexcom from the Scrubs people (I never got into Scrubs) – it’s like the unwieldy Desperate Housewives compacted into a handbag sized slab. It begins with Cox wobbling bits of her own body in the mirror, and, yes, some of it moves, but her character’s constant whining about being old and past-it and unattractive is somewhat undermined by the fact that she still looks like Courteney Cox. Still, she plays the dork in it, and that’s refreshing. If you told me that there were no more episodes after the two that I’ve seen, I wouldn’t kill myself. It doesn’t really speak to me.

I’m surprised to be watching what now turns out to be the final season of 24 on Sky 1, as I ditched it after Season Two, which wasn’t a patch on Season One, and had such a lame shootout ending, I felt this was a cracking idea that couldn’t support subsequent outings. The New York switch hooked me back in to this one, with its “dirty bomb” (they must have done a dirty bomb while I wasn’t watching, surely?) and fake Middle Eastern country, and I can’t say I wasn’t excited by the prospect of Ellen Starbuck (ie. Katee Sackhoff from BSG) as a communications whiz at CTU. In fact, she’s been landed with what’s turned into a really irksome subplot that I assume will dovetail into the main story at some stage, but for now, it’s the weak link, even though the actor playing the probation officer is the one who played the vampire locked in the cellar in Season One of True Blood. I’m in for the duration, but you can see why they’re calling it a day.

Glad I rejoined Lost, also on Sky 1, for the final season, too, having met the men who make it last year and hearing their passionate case for it. They weren’t lying, it’s much closer to basics than previous seasons, and the flashing back and forth has slowed down. A bit too much running around the temple and banging on about Jacob for a couple of episodes but we’re really cooking with gas now. I won’t mention anything about the plot. It never seems appropriate. Needless to say, the one with the pirate ship was terrific.

Enjoying The Good Wife, probably the glossiest of the current crop, largely due to Julianna Margulies, who convinces as lawyer, mom and humiliated spouse. It’s a legal drama. Who can resist a legal drama? Cases are solved. This is quite refreshing after all the arcs contained elsewhere.

I love Glee. It is made to love. (Incidentally, we had to let Ryan Murphy’s previous creation Nip/Tuck go, midway through the fifth season, after many years’ loyal service. It seems odd to say it got too ridiculous, as it started out ridiculous and that’s why I loved it, but when Christian and Liz got together, the shark was jumped.) Glee is a world of its own, and you’re either in it, or you’re not. It’s silly and smart at the same time, although whatever they do from now on it’s going to be impossible to top Imagine, as performed with Haverbrook School for the Deaf. The general froth of this show is given crunch by Sue Sylvester, the pinnacle of Jane Lynch’s career, which has mainly been about playing characters like this.

I wavered a bit during this, the fourth season of Brothers & Sisters, as Sarah’s French boyfriend annoyed me, and Kitty’s cancer was laid on with a trowel, but it’s settled down since Luc fucked off back to France. You might describe it as a guilty pleasure if you actually care what anybody thinks about which programmes you choose to watch on the telly. I don’t care, so I don’t feel guilt. Let’s just call it a pleasure. It’s healthy to release tears from your eyes on a weekly basis.

True Blood, on FX, which I think I’m one or two episodes ahead on, due to advance discs – thus, I will steer clear of plot points – has gone nuts. BSG‘s Admiral Cain (alright, Michelle Forbes), has turned this programme inside out. And it still has the best credits sequence out of all the American telly I love.

Talking of which, Mad Men continues to tower above everything thus far mentioned for sheer swagger and artistry. It’s not just the big storylines with Don and Betty, it’s the smaller stuff too, like the night Paul Kinsey had the best idea of his career, then fell asleep, drunk, on his office sofa and couldn’t remember it when he woke up the next morning. (That really spoke to me.) And I haven’t grown tired of the Edward Hopper arrangements yet, either. Only two more episodes to go, and Kennedy has yet to be assassinated!

Oh, and this is probably all wrong, but I’m into NCIS: Los Angeles on Sky 1, for the sprightly pace and general lack of pretense, but I’ve never seen the original NCIS, which is showing on Five.

Incidentally, also started watching Twin Peaks from the beginning due to the arrival of the new box set. I can’t tell if it’s any good or not 20 years on, as I am engulfed by a Proustian rush that will be the same for anybody who remembers being hypnotised and terrified by it the first time around, when American telly wasn’t like this. It is now.

Having completed Season Two of Prison Break – and, quite honestly, loved it – I’m considering the Season Three box set, despite all the warnings I’ve had on Twitter. Don’t want to waste my money like I did with Firefly.

And as for British TV, it’s mainly Masterchef.


17 thoughts on “Yanks still winning

  1. wow… feeling wondered to the rich balancing your lines…
    really enjoyed the post…


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  2. oh, Lost. oh, Mad Men. they really are the only the TV shows I need in my life. both completely different, but so amazingly written. they grab me by the balls, they do.

    concerning British TV, you’re forgetting Hotter Than My Daughter… truly a masterpiece in desperate sleaze.

  3. Yes, I am going to pick this out of all the positive things you said – wasted your money on Firefly, really? Everyone I’ve recommended it to has at least liked it, and personally I’d include a couple of the episodes as amongst the best TV ever made. Are you sure you didn’t have the DVD in upside-down? 🙂

  4. Having seen the first 2 eps of The Pacific on preview, I’m gratified to know that in the third one we learn a bit more about the soldiers. I found the first two frustrating because I couldn’t tell who was living and who was dying. I’ll stick with it then.

    I reckon they’ll almost certainly introduce a fleshed-out Japanese character. They pretty much have to in order to conform to formula (and I can’t see them deviating from formula too much in this series).

    I too am loving this final season of Lost – I like that there’s a bit less Kate, my least favourite character, and I like the alternative timelines very much. I thought Jin’s was a stonker this week, and loved Ben’s too. I do wish they’d let Sawyer do something other than look distrustful at people at some point.

    Who do you have pegged for Masterchef? My money’s on Dhruv. There’s no way “children’s doctor” Tim’s going to win, and Alex won’t take the pressure. It’s Dhruv all the way.


  5. Andrew, how long did it take you to watch all this? I was just wondering how critics/fanatics get through all the shows they have to watch — it must be painful at times.

    Also, a general question: given that I watched season 2 three years ago, should I watch BSG season 3 and onwards, or just write it off and look up what happened?

  6. Not to pile more delicious roast meat onto your already overflowing plate (God, I love Easter) but I’d be interested in what you thought of Caprica, if you’ve seen it?

    Agree with you on 24, but it has suddenly got pretty good again in the last two eps. Disagree, however, on Glee – the pilot and first few shows were gleefully PUN INTENDED snarky and twisted, and it seems to have gone the way of “Aw shucks, welp, guess there’s some good in everyone”, the Imagine being the height of cornball, I thought. Jane Lynch is particularly awesome still, though.

    Loving the new home, by the way. Sleek!

  7. I’m really glad it’s not just me who’s enjoying ‘The Good Wife’. It’s not TV-as-art, like ‘Mad Men’, and it doesn’t require the ability to hold multiple plot lines in one’s head, like ‘Lost’. But it’s supremely well-made, always enjoyable, and with an excellent cast which knows what it’s doing. 15 years ago you wouldn’t have been able to shut Channel 4 up about it; these days, it seems to have slipped under the radar a bit, which is a pity.

  8. Mad Men is wonderful! You seem to be a season behind us, wait until next season! Mad Men has been able to keep up the quality because it is done for a cable channel, so they only produce 12 episodes a season, unlike normal network that will produce around 20 or more a season.

    Lost has gotten very interesting the final season. I am enjoying these “flash sideways” they seem to be doing. Do you get the “enhanced” version of the show in the UK? Here in the US, they will play the previous week’s episode before the new one, with little pop ups that explain what is going on, and give the back story in case you had forgotten.

    The Good Wife is a great new drama this year. It has been doing very well in the ratings so hopefully it will be back again next season. However, lately they have been showing repeats instead of original episodes.

  9. I watched the whole of true blood on da inter web and it is well proper messed up with a thoroughly smashing conclusion. excellent.

  10. All high quality American drama seems to jump the shark. The downside in the massive investment in TV drama over there means they over-milk the teat of every show.

    Even The Wire wasn’t the same come season 5, and that was solely because David Simon couldn’t let go.

    Glee was tedious after episode four and Mad Men is the most overrated pile of pretension I’ve seen on the box.

    Personally, I’m ploughing through My So Called Life on box set and experiencing that ol’ Proustian rush every time I see an open plaid shirt with band tee underneath. Everyone in it seems so young….

  11. I’ve only seen the first ep of Pacific and didn’t really like it. It all seemed rather bitty and more reminiscent of Pearl Harbor than Private Ryan. I’m surprised at this because I expected more. Should I persevere ?

  12. This post was brilliant up until:

    “Don’t want to waste my money like I did with Firefly.”

    Which is a shame. I’ll now be forced to hunt through the rest of the blog to see if you back up that throwaway comment. if you don’t, there’ll be a rumble of some description, I imagine.

  13. Paul, I was half-joking (dangerous, I know): I bought Firefly as a result of continued recommendations to do so from those who comment on this blog, during the vacuum after BSG. I have watched two episodes, and never re-opened the box. It was OK, but not the life-changing experience I was expecting. I may go back to it, but I’m not drawn to, and that’s usually a sign. I’m assuming you love it?

  14. I’m not the Paul above (actually I’m the Paul from comment 4!), but it’s difficult not to sound rather Kermodian when describing Firefly, i.e you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m right and you’re wrong. And I have a completely sci-fi disinterested wife who’ll back me up on that.

    To give you a target, keep going with it (no skipping ahead!) until you’ve seen ‘Out of Gas’, which I’d count as one of the finest episodes of TV ever made. If you still don’t get it then I guess we’ll just have to accept that there’s something wrong with you.

  15. Half-joking? About science fiction? You reckless fool.

    Love’s a strong word, but watching the whole series certainly shifted my expectations of the genre. There’s barely a whiff of the Star Trek McGuffin in there – in the same way that you don’t really notice an awful lot of sci-fi in BSG – and some indecently rich characterisation. The first couple of episodes aren’t the strongest; Joss Whedon had to endlessly dick about with them because the studios considered the original pilot too ‘cerebral’.

    So I like it, it’s fair to say, and would suggest it’s worth more consideration than the first two episodes. I can’t watch Star Trek anymore because of the likes of Firefly and BSG – I loved TNG as a teenager, but now I look at it and wonder how on earth they got away with that convoluted horseshit for so long.

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