Thursday, June 3, 2010

What To Watch This Summer While TV is Dead

I guess I don't really touch on Television all that much, but I certainly partake in a lot of it. Summer is a great time to get out and enjoy various recreations, but one is likely to have some downtime as well. There's going to be lazy and rainy days. On such occasions it would be typical to flip on the trusty television, but summer lineups across the board a typically abysmal. Sure, you could watch some films or read a book, but I don't advocate abandoning TV altogether. Summer is also a good time to catch up on shows you never got a chance to watch. I have a few suggestions for anyone looking to fit a little more TV into their lives:

1. "Battlestar Galactica" - That's right, BSG. This is a fairly nerdy suggestion (there are more coming), but anyone who can get their hands on this show should. I guarantee that after watching the first couple episodes, you'll need to finish out the whole series. Don't be fooled by the nerd-stigma or the association to the campy original, "Battlestar" is deadly serious and powerfully made. I started watching it last summer and it completely took over my thoughts for an extended period of time. This version of the story starts with the end of humanity at the hands of the cylons. All but a handful of humans (relatively) have survived the decimation of their homeworlds. Led by their courageous leaders, Captain Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), the survivors set off for somewhere to call home out of reach of the cylons.

BSG ran for 4 Seasons and ended in 2009. It's generally considered one of the best things to ever be on television. The performances are great and the production values are top-notch, especially considering the show was on Sci-Fi (now SyFy). The show has elements of BLADE RUNNER and the TERMINATOR franchise, only better and more in-depth. This time around, the cylons aren't just villainous robots, they appear to be human because they were made to be indistinguishable. Part of BSG's appeal is learning more about this pseudo-humans and their nature/motivations for killing off humanity. Another draw of the show is its mystery elements; we are told from the get-go that there are cylon sleeper-agents amongst the survivors and it is (slowly) revealed who they are. The whole situation will keep you guessing and questioning the protagonists. There are also plenty of episodes that don't involve the cylons and only concern human affairs. These are some of the best. Torture, abortion human rights, power hierarchies in government, social status and martial law are all touched on with great success without preaching a particular viewpoint. I started with this first because I'm pretty sure it's my favorite show ever, but despite my enthusiasm, it took me the better part of six months to get through the 80 or so episodes and several miniseries. This summer would be a good time to start it off though.

2. "Dexter" - This show is quite the phenomenon, but it airs on Showtime and not everyone has Showtime. I know I don't. I watched this mostly on DVD and Netflix instant watch. So, it's reasonable to assume that there's still a lot of people out there who haven't seen the show. If you haven't, do yourself a favor watch it. The first episode I ever watched was from the second season and I didn't even pay attention to the whole thing, but when it was over, I wanted to keep watching. The production values are slick, the story arcs are often winding, unpredictable and tension inducing, and the show's star, Michael C. Hall, is ultra-charismatic (he won a Golden Globe for the role earlier this year). The show has run for four seasons thus far with a fifth starting this fall. Unlike "Battlestar", this is a quick watch. Each season is only composed of 12 or 13 episodes and there are so many cliffhangers and nail-biters that it wouldn't be unreasonable to polish off half a season on a lazy afternoon.

I don't think it would be short-sighted of me to say that the most intriguing component of the show is Dexter. There are a lot of subplots and important characters, but I don't really pay them much mind and I honestly don't think they have a positive effect on the show. Hall is the star, of that there's no doubt. Having your primary protagonist be a serial killer is a fine line to tread. Yes, he only kills bad guys, but he's still mentally ill and there has to be a downfall for him eventually. I think there's a little vigilante in all of us, so I can see why people would get behind the character, but it's Hall's performance that truly seals the deal. He's just so likable. His inner-monologues are often funny and sometimes scary. On the outside, he presents a certain vulnerability, but he consistently rebukes this by sharing his lack of feeling and numbness to the world. He's something the typical viewer can't quite understand, an enigma and the performance is so believable. If you end up watching this thing through to the end, you might end up ordering Showtime before the 5th season starts. I'm considering it myself.

3. "Deadwood" - This will go down in history as one of the highest-quality television shows of all-time. Unfortunately, "Deadwood" also belongs to the fraternity of television shows that never got a proper ending. With all the sets, quality actors and equipment, the show became too expensive for HBO to continue despite its popularity. After the third season (which ended with a great amount of build-up for the fourth), the show got axed and its stars were scattered in the wind. Timothy Olyphant, who starred as Seth Bullock, can now be seen in movies (THE CRAZIES, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD) and as the star of FX's "Justified". Ian McShane (Al Swearengen) starred in NBC's "Kings" and will portray Blackbeard in the upcoming 4th PIRATES film. The list of quality performers stretches far beyond these two as well. I think that's what made "Deadwood" so good. It was never the most action-packed show, most episodes are spent in anticipation of events that will eventually come to pass, but the characters keep it lively and very entertaining.

The show tells the true story (with a fair amount of creative liberties) of the lawless and corrupt Deadwood camp in South Dakota. The three seasons find the town in some state of growth and the drama revolves around that pains that accompany that growth. The show is often shocking because it doesn't clean up the old-west with anachronisms. Deadwood is gritty and filthy and its people are the crude and violent children of the West. You get the sense while watching it that you're getting proper picture of what things were like, both aesthetically and through content. The experience of watching the whole series is bittersweet because you'll come to love it, but your heart will break when you realize that there is no fitting conclusion and there never will be. Despite going through this "Deadwood" depression, I'd still highly recommend watching every episode.

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