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    TV - A Vast Wonderland

    television is deadOnce upon a time, television was called a "vast wasteland."  Granted, this was years before PBS and many groundbreaking dramas and comedies but the perception has remained.  And, to be fair, for every brilliant series (like "Game of Thrones") there's double the amount of crap being foisted on the viewing public whether that viewing is online, streaming or on "traditional" TV or cable.

    Here's a few new shows I thought would be worth mentioning.  Some are "bingey" and some are being released more traditionally week-by-week.  They also share the fact that it's a pretty disparate list of production entities that have traditionally not been involved in original programming.  This is, in a word, wonderful.  The more the better as far as I'm concerned although it can be a challenge keeping up with them all.

    This list, which is simple and by no means comprehensive, doesn't include so many other worthy series but these are just the ones I've been watching lately.

    GOLIATH - I've done a review on GOLIATH with Billy Bob Thornton (on this site) which I think is a pretty solid show.  It's a more standard drama-type, lawyer series but it's got a lot to like and some decidedly non-traditional elements.  It's on Amazon available for bingeing.goliath slice 600x200

    Goliath brings up a point about streaming entire shows.  Should these shows be called "series" or long-form drama?  Or is that distinction today moot?  I don't know and don't really care all that much.  Long-form narrative or series TV, they're very good. 

    Historical note:  the first, as far as I can tell, the first long-form narrative series was "Wiseguy" created by Steven J. Cannell and Frank Lupo.  It was a six-episode storyline for each case (2-3 cases per season), involving an undercover operative (Ken Wahl) who infiltrated bad guys' operations to bring them to justice.  One of those bad guys was a young Kevin Spacey.

    A number of these new shows feature (a) a supernatural/magical element, (b) equal parts drama and comedy or (c) both.  This seems to be a very winning formula and it's not really new.  USA Network at one time ruled the serio-comedic world with show like "Monk" and "Psyche".  "Veronica Mars" as with many Fox TV shows like "Wonderfalls" and even "Firefly" blurred the lines skillfully.  Of course, the serio-comedy grandaddy of them all - the Mystery Movie Wheel which had three different shows in rotation: " "McCloud" "Columbo" and " "McMillian and Wife" prototyped them all - but that's another article.

    But in the case of Sweet/Vicious, the show mentioned below, the comedy isn't nearly as strong as the drama which is ratcheted up a few notches because it deals with a very difficult and emotional problem - sexual assault.  Maybe you will not agree with me that the dichotomy works but I think it does nicely.  I truly dislike humorless shows.  I just cannot imagine a world where there are no light moments to be garnered.  Perhaps it's different for the characters who are experiencing psychic trauma but somewhere in that same world is humor even if it's not directly focused on the central theme.  Like I said, maybe this won't jibe with your sensibilities but it does work (for me) in Sweet/Vicious.

    MTV SweetVicious Post Image 1SWEET/VICIOUS (MTV)  - taking a cue from the recent (horrifying) report about sexual assault on college campuses "Sweet/Vicious" features a sorority vigilante who was raped by the boyfriend of a friend. 

    Now, none of this is particularly funny and it's not played that way.  But there is a lot of humor surrounding the targeting and dispensing of justice to these people who drive the main character (Taylor Deardon) into becoming a ninja kickass.  She doesn't kill anyone (almost) but she does track them down and bloody them.  While most of the show is played light and funny what isn't funny is the pain Deardon lives with and her inability to get beyond the assault she experienced.  Her therapy is violence which is exactly what was perpetrated on her.  She continues to be a victim over and over again as she not only relives her experience in her head (via flashback and dreams) but as she beats and brutalizes others.

    Fun, huh? 

    Yeah, I know it doesn't sound like it is and it isn't in some spots but there's a dark humor here that makes this series a wonderful thing.  There's also a real sense that the women in this series are supportive and strong for each other.  It's a woman-first sensibility that really sings. 

    Well, sorta-kinda.  Not all women are so supportive.

    In one episode, after the Deardon character meets her "sidekick" (the sweet vicious ninjascompletely lovely and hilarious Eliza Bennett) the duo go after a sister sorority which is shaming pledges.  I think this is just to show that women are capable of hurting other women in that fashion and that assault is assault after all.

    I'm only half through this one so I'm not sure how it ends up but this is solid work and worthy of a look-see.  The characters are well drawn, the situations interesting and the subject matter isn't soft-peddled.  They shove these assaults in your face and force you to think about the effects that even attempted rape has on an individual.  The psychic trauma feels real even if the vigilante part is a bit far-fetched. 

    The hesitations here would be the vigilante nature of the attacks - I mean, who is to decide guilt or innocence, and the fact that the show itself tries to posit that physically damaging these people who assault will somehow mitigate the psychic pain of the victims.  Perhaps some of this will stan against evilbe covered later.  This show is not being presented in its entirety so we can only watch week-by-week.

    STAN AGAINST EVIL (IFC) - This is pure escapism.  The backstory is simple:  a curse has been put on the law enforcement entities of this small town for their part in a 300-year-old burning at the stake of over 150 witches.  The one, true witch who is burned vows revenge in the form of a curse (demons) that will visit all the law enforcement entities.

    In the past, the sheriff's wife was keeping the demons who seek this revenge at bay.  But once the current sheriff's wife dies, the demons begin to come after Stan, the titular character played well and with perfect gruff and grump by John C. McGinley.  McGinley is the marvelous Dr. Perry Cox from "Scrubs" who played a similar type even if this character is even more broadly based and a tad more grumpy than Dr. Cox was. 

    All this silliness is fun and basically very entertaining albeit mindless.

    CRAZYHEAD (NETFLIX) -  Crazyhead is a Brit production from Channel 4 in association with Netflix.  Again, it's demons and comedy with some solid drama mixed in.  The premise says that we don't know the world is inhabited with hidden demons who cause all sorts of mayhem.  Certain people, seers, can "see" these demons.  Some see them and fight them.  Some see them and are killed by them.

    crazyheadThe heroine duties are split between Cara Theobold and Susan Wakoma.  Theobold's character is a newcomer to this world; she suddenly started seeing these demons for what they are and is attacked by them.  She's rescued by Wakoma who has been fighting them for many years.

    The stories bounce between fighting the demons and their wicked plans and finding love and sex in today's world.  The heroines have as much trouble with their inner demons as they do with the physical ones.

    Crazyhead was created by Howard Overman who was also responsible for "Misfits" another oddball of a series that is highly entertaining. 

    The photo above shows characters from both shows.

    Of special note is the bad guy demon, actor Tony Curan, who is stunningly funny and good.  Not only is he written well but Curan just OWNS the part and delivers with such relish.  I just couldn't get enough of him.

    STRANGER THINGS - Of course everyone's darling this year was "Stranger Things" and you can count me as a fan.  It has been covered ad infinatum so I won't say much about it here.  I did not think I was going to like it; too many little homage thingies in there.  Surprised, happily so, to say that I did enjoy it greatly and can't wait for Season Two.

    THE GET DOWN - This show grabbed me and held me although parts of it were a little distracting and unfocused.  Some concepts and moments thegetdown s1were pure genius and some had me groaning.

    I loved the retro feel to the story (1977) and the semi-historical telling of how hip hop and rap became so prevalent.  Not a huge rap fan I can't say if it was accurate but it did feel like it was in broad terms.

    The music is really fantastic and that's reason enough to tune it in.  I'm a sucker for anything with music in it.  I was a Glee, Smash and Galavant fan and I hope producers keep presenting these hybridized shows even though I know they are hard to make and even harder to convince productions companies to commit to.

    The multi-talented Baz Lurman is directing/producing this show.  And in case you don't recognize him, that's Jaden Smith (Will Smith's talented son) in the fro on the far right who is contributing to this show. 

    The other fro-wearing actor in the foreground is actor Justice Smith who I'm sure will be a huge star - he's that good.

    LONDON SPY - I can't say I loved this show but I did like it a lot.  A lot.  The tone was so oddball and frightening and the characters' struggle was painful to watch.  This mixture of spy and drama made an impact.  It was very well done and plotted and so offbeat that it kept my attention through to the end.  Not many shows do that these days.

    Probably the biggest difference in this show with the others is that almost all the central characters are gay and in fact, the main character (Brit actor Ben Whishaw) is trying to find out what happened to his lover who turns out to be...well, watch the show to find out.

    DIRK GENTLY'S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY - Based (loosely) on the Douglas Adams books, this series promises a lot and delivers a lot.  I found myself a few times on the egde of dropping out but I am thrilled I didn't.  It's soooo different and quirky that it sometimes veers into difficult territory which makes it uneven but they manage to tie everything up neatly in the end.

    DirkGentlyThe pacing is frentic; the concepts come fast and furious and the characters never seem to be quite sane - a good thing in this wacky world that has been created.  The actors are superb.  So, so good.

    This may have been one of my favorites of all the new shows.  PLEASE check it out.

    I could go on and on (and on) but as a young friend commented at lunch the other day with a groan "there's just so much TV to see these days"  Yes, that does seem to be the case.  And isn't that a wonderful problem to have? But sadly there's only so many shows that can be covered and I've now reached my limit.  Time to load up on some new shows coming soon.  I'll try to cover as many of those as I can.

    I think the health of small media (TV) seem guaranteed with these gems and some of the upcoming mid-season show coming in 2017!

    Happy New Year to you all.

    Mark
    2016.12.31

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