After much delay, my Midterm Report Cards for Fall TV have finally arrived. Read below and tell me how smart you think I am or how completely misguided I may be. **CONTAINS SPOILERS!**
American Horror Story Asylum
American Horror Story, whether Asylum or Haunted House-based, has always been kind of a mess. That being said, I would watch a full season of American Horror Story set in a pumpkin patch if Jessica Lange was in it; the woman is that damn compelling. Besides Ms. Lange being awesome, we have a mix of Nazi doctors, serial killers, possessed nuns and even aliens. It think Ryan Murphy was high one night and decided to make a concoction of all of his favorite genre snacks, threw them in the blender and voila, midnight munchies in the form of American Horror Story Asylum. One could argue that the horror elements are metaphors for the sociopolitical climate of the 1960s, but that would probably be as pointless as trying to find the critical merits of a Nicholas Cage movie. American Horror Story Asylum is shock entertainment, which is nothing to be ashamed of – you get what you pay for in this show. Some of the more outlandish elements of this season were the case of the alleged Anne Frank, the hard-to-watch lesbian/serial killer rape-sex and the murderous Santa. Though, I do love me some Ian McShane. God do I miss Deadwood.
Midterm Grade: C+
Fringe Season 5
Fox’s cult favorite sci-fi drama Fringe has reached its final season. The series started off as a “freak of the week” show similar to The X-Files, but gradually morphed into something grander in scale, leading to this season’s dystopian future. I must confess that I am not exactly an advocate for the direction Fringe has headed. While everybody loves a good old fashioned Orwellian nightmare future, I don’t think that Fringe‘s vision of a future controlled by the bald-headed and near omniscient Observers offers anything particularly unique. I miss the days when Olivia, Peter and Walter were crossing into parallel universes and you couldn’t be sure who was who; but maybe I’m alone in that thinking. I will give kudos to the Fringe creative team for the way they brought our heroes into the future though, avoiding any embarrassing age makeup. Other great story beats include the swift addition and subtraction of Etta, Peter’s attempt to become an Observer and most recently Walter’s LSD trip. For five seasons we have heard so much about how our resident loony genius has experimented with various drugs, but we never really SAW it. December 14’s episode “Black Blotter” presented us with a drug trip of pixies, dead lab assistants and a Monty Python-like animated sequence. It was a pretty impressive feat for a network show. With a short order of 13 episodes, there are only three remaining until the series finale. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing yet.
Midterm Grade: B-
How I Met Your Mother Season 8
Because of my intense disdain for the show, I really need to place a handicap on myself when writing about How I Met Your Mother. The most recent season in Bob Saget’s now 8-year-long dictated tale showed the “Autumn of Breakups,” with Ted, Barney and Robin all in relationships that are framed as failures from the get-go. I don’t know about you, but I sure do enjoy watching several spans of 22 minutes with characters that I know will be gone in 3-4 episodes. In other storylines, we have Lily and Marshall learning the wacky adventures of parenthood and Ted consistently being the worst character in the show (even the most dedicated fan would agree with that sentiment.) Then of course was the two-part midseason finale that had Barney use reverse-relationship psychology to propose to Robin in what could be the most ass-backwards scheme of all time. Probably not, but still. Ok, I didn’t try to handicap this report very much at all. Bite me.
Midterm Grade: C
Modern Family Season 4
There comes a time when you must say goodbye to a show, for it no longer fills you with the sense of joy or amusement that it once did. The time has come for me to say goodbye to Modern Family, either now or at the end of this season. I understand the appeal of the show, I once bought into it, but now it just feels stale. Modern Family has consistently cleaned up at The Emmys by doing pretty much the same thing that The Office has done for years with the addition of a gay couple and a buxom Colombian. This year Gloria is pregnant but naturally still sexually desirable, Hayley goes to college for a minute before getting expelled for underage drinking (because apparently THAT’S a thing) and Phil does something good-intentioned but inherently stupid. Also Cam is overly dramatic and Mitchell is too pragmatic for his own good. Business as usual. Modern Family relies too heavily on one-note jokes like “Gloria is beautiful but man is her voice loud and annoying!”, leaving little room for development. Which is what networks like: consistency.
Midterm Grade: C
Parks and Recreation Season 5
It’s either a really good thing or a really bad thing when you can’t remember how many seasons a TV show has had. In the case of Parks and Recreation it is a really good thing. NBC’s comedy about the fictional (and wonderful) town of Pawnee, Indiana keeps getting better. Part of the season had April and Ben Washington D.C., away from their partners in Pawnee; but that wrong was eventually righted. The fifth season saw Tom grow up (a little), gave walking punchline Jerry a beautiful family and had Ron Swanson date Xena herself, Lucy Lawless. The differently-quirky relationships of Ben and Leslie and Andy and April are always entertaining and sweet. Amy Pohler is just the right amounts of insane and sincere when it comes to Leslie Knope. I say this every year, but Rob Lowe deserves at least an Emmy nomination (if not award) for his character Chis Traeger. So far this season Chris has been on the brink of emotional insanity, and as awful as that may sound it is hilarious to watch. Parks and Recreation is the best comedy on TV right now…until Community comes back of course 🙂
Midterm Grade: A
Saturday Night Live Season 38
Saturday Night Live’s last season had the exits of veterans Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg, as well as Abby Elliott (cast member since 2008) and sophomore Paul Britain. The first three of those names were a huge loss to SNL – Wiig and Samberg especially, leaving a large void for the current season. Out of the 9 episodes so far, only two of them have been great or at least mildly entertaining: hosts Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx. Highlights from those episodes being the Homeland parody, Mokiki: The Legend of the Sloppy Swish and Foxx’s Ding Dong appearance on Weekend Update. Barring those episodes, the rest of the season has been pretty bad and in some cases cringe-worthy. One would think that a presidential election would be rife with joke opportunities, but SNL missed the mark for the most part. Jay Pharaoh took over Fred Armisen’s President Obama, disappointingly making it the first impression that Pharaoh’s uncanny skills could not imitate; also it seems the makeup department doesn’t really know how light or dark Obama’s complexion is. If SNL wants to improve they need to stop going for the awkward round-about jokes and start featuring heavy hitters like Fred Armisen, Taran Killam and Nasim Pedrad more frequently.
Midterm Grade: D+
The Mindy Project Season 1
The Mindy Project is the only new show that I have stuck with from the Fall season. The pilot took me by surprise with the deeply flawed and equally loveable Mindy Lahiri (Kaling’s TV alter ego.) Like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, Mindy Lahiri is both a successful career woman AND a goofy fun mess of a human being; shocking, I know. While Kaling’s presence clearly drives the show, supporting characters like oddball nurse Morgan, immature secretary Betsy and uncomfortable cool doctor Danny are beginning to hold their own as well. The Mindy Project is certainly not the Pietà of TV comedies, with some routine stereotypical setups and predictable “will they won’t they” potential with Mindy and Danny. But underneath a couple layers of cliche lies an undeniably unique soul due to Kaling’s creative commitment. Plus when you have been a regular writer and costar on The Office for 8 years like Kaling, you get to call in cameo favors from Ed Helms and Ellie Kemper. Must be nice.
Midterm Grade: B
The Office Season 9
The folks at The Office have decided to whip the series back into shape for its final season, with Greg Daniels returning as showrunner. Perennial everyman Jim has finally decided to take charge of his life and work in a field that makes him happy. (Like most people do when they’re not tied down with a wife, a house and two kids…oh wait.) All sarcasm aside, Season 9 is an improvement in every way for a show that has been going downhill for years. Office pranks are funny again, Pam is annoying me slightly less and Dwight’s weirdness is (mostly) toned down. You can also evaluate the skill of a writing staff when Oscar having an affair with Angela’s husband feels both wrong and joyously funny at the same time. My only complaint would be that Andy has taken over the role of manager, which of course means that he must get stupider and stupider. Teasing us with the notion that Andy’s neglect will cause Erin to leave him for intern Pete will probably just be a cruel joke. Regardless, your cruelty is not appreciated, writers of The Office.
Midterm Grade: B+
The Walking Dead Season 3
I think Robert Kirkman often wakes up in the morning and slaps himself in the face in awe over how popular The Walking Dead has become. After a heavily-criticized second season, the zombie apocalyptic favorite returned better than ever. Fans of the comic series got to see popular characters like samurai sword-wielding Michonne and the villainous Governor (who is a little more likeable on TV.) Our plucky band of survivors definitely took their share of losses right off of the bat. A highlight of the season so far was Lori sacrificing her life so that her child could be born, in one of the most gruesome scenes not involving zombies to date. I also give Andrew Lincoln props for so convincingly portraying Rick’s despair at the end of that episode. Everything happening at Woodbury with The Governor, Andrea and Merle is also Grade A Walking Dead meat. Seeing how another group of survivors lives has always been an interesting aspect of The Walking Dead comics, so it’s nice to see that depicted onscreen. The only real complaint I have is what could be called “The Case of The Black Man” on The Walking Dead. When Rick’s gang was clearing out the prison T-Dog went down for the count, but was quickly replaced by another large black man, Oscar. In the mid-season finale we were introduced to comic book fave Tyreese, so naturally Oscar was taken down by one of the Woodburians in the crossfire. I get that we needed a casualty at “The Battle of Woodbury,” and that it couldn’t be someone so vital, but really? One black man in, one black man out? For shame The Walking Dead. For shame.
Midterm Grade: A-