Reviews, Recaps, and Personal Thoughts on All Things TV

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The Walking Dead: No. Eff you, you effing eff.

Even before the end of season 6 of The Walking Dead, I was so over this show. Having watched it religiously for 6 years, (even suffering through season 2), as a loyal fan, I felt completely disrespected by the showrunners. This is one of the highest-rated shows on television. There’s even a show AFTER the show, where the sole purpose is to talk about the show for ANOTHER HOUR. And yet, for whatever reason, The Walking Dead has turned away from even attempting to write compelling storylines, and instead has chosen to throw cheap tricks at us, for nothing more than a lazy grab at ratings they don’t even need.

The Walking Dead spent almost all of last season crawling along at a glacial pace, telling the same goddamn story they have been telling from the beginning–you either accept this new world as corrupt, or you believe there is salvation still to be had (except you’re wrong, you freaking idiots). Our heroes arrive at a town in Alexandria, Virginia, which has managed to escape the worst of the zombie outbreak. The people living there are naive to the reality of the world. And so we spend yet another season watching the consequences of people either choosing to accept it or not choosing to accept it. YAWN.

The thing that has always angered me about The Walking Dead, is that the show spends time making you care about these characters, only to rip them away from you, usually by the next episode. There’s a huge difference between killing a character for the sake of the story to move forward (i.e., Hershel), and killing a character just to kill them (i.e., pretty much everyone else). That’s not entertainment.

Let’s talk about the shit the show pulled with Glenn last season. He seemingly fell off of a dumpster and had his intestines ripped out and eaten before his very eyes. Several episodes later, we learn that the other guy on the dumpster had fallen on top of Glenn, and HIS intestines were being eaten, while Glenn pulled himself under the dumpster until all the zombies eventually shuffled away.

Why. Why would you do that? Why would you tell that story? It’s not a story! It’s a cop out. It’s a ratings grab. It’s bullshit. It’s disrespectful to the fans.

And then let’s bring in Negan–the show’s new Big Bad, who has been hinted at for quite some time, and has excited the fan base who has read the comics. Negan is pure evil. And everyone knew he was going to kill someone.

Of course, I tuned in for the last 10 minutes of the finale to find out: Who was Negan going to kill? Pulling the SAME SHIT they pulled with Glenn’s dumpster dive “death,” The Walking Dead hyped this finale up, only to make us wait until the next season to learn everyone’s fate.

Of course, I was not even the least bit excited to learn who got killed. The Walking Dead marketed the forthcoming death(s) as a game; as a teaser. Posting videos to their Facebook page of each character and asking, “Is this the end for Maggie?”, “Is this the end for Daryl?” No, I don’t want to play that game! These are characters that I care about. I have been with these characters since the beginning. I love them all. I don’t want to take bets on who is going to die!

So, season 7 opens with an extreme close up of Rick, sweating and wearing a smear of someone else’s brains on his face. People sobbing around him. Horrifying, horrible, awful stuff. Where is the entertainment value in this? We learn fairly quickly that it was Abraham who took the bat to the head again, and again, and again, until his head was nothing more than a puddle of blood on the ground. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Later in the episode (and the point at which I stopped watching), the bat is brought down on Glenn’s head. He didn’t die right away though. His eyeball popped out, and he struggled to say one last thing to his pregnant wife as she knelt horrified and hysterical, watching her husband (and a beloved character, plus one of the only Asian men on TV right now) ALSO have his head beaten to a soup of blood. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Not only did it happen, but we had to watch it. Violence for the sake of violence. Gratuitous horror for the sake of gratuitous horror. Why? Why?

I’m not buying Jeffery Dean Morgan’s portrayal as Negan–if this is supposed to be a psychotic, maniacal villain, Morgan is just not selling it. I imagine there are few actors in this world who can deliver the line “pee pee pants city” with any kind of believable conviction to make it not ridiculous. Negan doesn’t scare me, he doesn’t seem unhinged. Which makes the violence even more unnecessary than it already is. If the story is to demonstrate a psychopath, then yeah, maybe the brutal deaths would have been warranted. But Jeffery Dean Morgan is just not pulling that off. He’s not a worthy adversary to Rick. And frankly, I’m sick of seeing Rick’s sweaty hair in his face as he trembles in baffled agony at the events unfolding before him.

What I find particularly disturbing is the reaction of the audience to Negan. They couldn’t wait for this character to show up. Knowing how horrible he would be. Jeffery Dean Morgan is undoubtably a babe (Denny Duquette forever and ever amen), but what was this that I saw at Hot Topic last night:

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The description of this shirt on the Hot Topic website is:
“You really like the bad boys, don’t you?!

This fitted black tee from AMC’s The Walking Dead features a black & white photo design of Negan and his bat Lucille with text that reads “I (heart) Negan.”

There are not enough emoticons in the world to depict how I am feeling. This character BEAT THE LITERAL BRAINS OUT OF TWO CHARACTERS. HE’S NOT A BAD BOY, HE’S A SICK TWISTED MOTHERFUCKER WITH NO REDEEMABLE QUALITIES.

Seriously, what the actual fuck am I looking at? Negan is not a misunderstood emotionally unavailable man with a secret heart of gold and the ability to be saved if a woman loves him enough. This disturbs me to my core. Why aren’t more people angry about this? Where is the entertainment value in this?!?

You know who the target customer at Hot Topic is? Teenagers. Teenagers. TEENAGERS. (And me, but we’re not talking about that right now.)

The Walking Dead is one of (if not THE) most popular shows on television right now. Its scope stretches far and wide. Its marketing suggests entertainment in violent death, and now it glorifies villains. This shirt has a man on it, holding a bat that is dripping in blood, with the words a middle schooler would doodle on the sides of their looseleaf paper. Do you like me? Yes. No. Maybe. Circle One.

No. No. Fuck you The Walking Dead you fucking fuck. This show is dead to me. And yet, like every dead thing on this show, it rises back up from the dead and crawls toward me with evil intentions–it’s already been renewed for two more seasons.

 

Why ‘The Walking Dead’ is Still Unwatched on My DVR

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SIGH. I’m starting to really get tired of The Walking Dead’s shit. Over the past 6 seasons, the show continuously got better and better. And yet, it was getting better at telling the same damn story. That story being: Who are we after the world collapses? And, also, this is the world we live in now, you have to adapt to it.

Well, fuck, I’m bored as hell with that! The first half of the current season was spent introducing us to a slew of new characters that we all know are gonna die eventually and probably pretty soon. All of these characters have had the privilege of living behind the walls of a neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, where some temporary geographical circumstances had the worst of the zombie mobs kept away from this pristine little place. All of the people inside are, obviously, totally oblivious to how the world works now. In marches Rick and his merry band of badasses who have seen some truly horrific shit, and now they have to co-mingle with a group of doofuses and, boy, do they butt heads! lol

Except, you know what? I already saw HOW many seasons of people accepting this new world? I’m over that. I got it! It sucks and you either die or you live. I don’t need to see the character development of some rando Joe Schmo who’s going to die in the next 30 minutes anyway. I don’t even need new characters! Stick to the main characters you still haven’t killed, they’re the only ones we care about.

I also really don’t need characters like Morgan believing that there is still redemption to be  found in all humans, and that killing is a mistake. Nobody has time for this shit, Morgan. I know you’re plot point one, but see plot point two: This is the world we live in now, adapt to it!

Not only am I just generally bored with the storylines, but the show gives us so much awful and hardly any relief. I know it’s a show about zombies eating people and people killing people. But the audience does get invested in these characters. Not only are they consistently killed, but we’re also hardly ever given some happy moments or satisfying ones.

Take the shit this season pulled with Glenn and the dumpster–we thought he was dead (which was awful), now he’s alive (but the reason is bullshit), and for most of this season, we’ve been waiting for Glenn and Maggie to be reunited. It happens, but WE don’t see it. I briefly saw Glenn walking toward Maggie in the infirmary after the zombie shitshow was over and all the annoying characters got eaten. I thought I was going to punch something. You put me through all of those hours of agony, and then you don’t even give me anything in terms of a reunion? Nothing? You couldn’t give me Glenn’s hand on a baby bump, or a simple kiss? Am I machine without feelings?

And people die now just to die. Their deaths don’t add anything to the story. Hershel’s partial beheading was the last death to really mean something to me on this show. His character was important. He had become a voice of reason and a leader. He was a good man. And killing him pushed the show’s storyline ahead.

Beth’s death? EFF. THAT. That was ridiculous. And what is Maggie going to do if Glenn dies? She’ll be sad. The end. What intriguing storyline can there possibly be with that? They’ve run out of character arcs for these people, so now they’re just doing cheap tricks (like pretending to kill Glenn) and recycling old storylines with new people.

And now I hear all of this talk about Negan, from the comics. I hear that he’s a horrendous person. I hear that he kills a beloved character by bashing his brains in with a baseball bat. So Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead is sitting unwatched on my DVR. Because here’s what I’ll find when I hit play: Boring overused storylines, death and pain and no satisfaction or gratification, and the promise of terrible things to come. I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. Nah, you know what, I’ll probably just go watch it.

No, wait, there was a moment of satisfaction recently. When that weird kid got eaten by the zombies. Finally. Yeah, that part was great.

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Tiptoe through the tulips indeed, Sam.

 

#TBT Completely Valid and Legitimate Ramblings about ‘The Bachelor’ (from 2 years ago)

It’s been a long time since I posted and I very much want to get back into writing about things. So I’m sharing with you thoughts on The Bachelor that I posted to Facebook on this day 2 years ago. Remember the season with Juan Pablo? Yeah, me either. Timehop had to remind me.

February 26, 2014

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Douchebag alert, douchebag alert.

You should know that I only watch The Bachelor during Fantasy Suite episodes and for purely sociological reasons. I’m being serious when I say I don’t watch for entertainment value (though I’m not proud to admit that I do laugh at it). I don’t like the way it portrays women, nor glorifies a man who is a self-important douche, and I understand even less how all of the women proclaim to “fall in love” with him. Most of all, I just do not understand how this show happens. Last night, one of the women was a pediatric nurse, and the other an assistant district attorney. These are intelligent women, with a lot going for them.

The Fantasy Suite episodes are the most fascinating of all though because it’s the episode where each woman in turn gets to publicly decide whether or not she’ll have sex with the guy by spending a night in the “Fantasy Suite.” I was appalled last night that all three women chose to have sex with Juan Pablo (single most ridiculous Bachelor name ever) after the conversations they had with him. Every time one of the women would try and talk to Juan Pablo, he would say, “You’re doing a lot of thinking tonight,” and then start to kiss them. (Because thinking would definitely lead to the obvious conclusion that Juan Pablo’s a piece of shit, and he can’t have that.)

One woman said, “I’m in love with you” and when he said nothing back, she quickly said, “I understand that you can’t say anything right now!” and started kissing him before deciding that, yes, she would go to the Fantasy Suite with him. The self-consciousness it must take to be on this show. The fear of rejection so vast that she would rather end all conversation and have sex with the man, than maybe hear that he doesn’t love her. It’s delusional and it’s sad and I think it’s how many women in America approach and react to love, or the desire to be loved.

Another woman said, “I’m in love with you,” and Juan Pablo said, “I didn’t know that. I…..like you. Like……” and then kissed her and then SHE had sex with him. These women delude themselves into thinking they are in some kind of relationship with an emotionally unavailable man who wouldn’t even be available if he was dating ONE woman. But the women just can’t or won’t see what’s in front of their face.

The MOST frustrating thing in last night’s episode, though, was Andi. Who did go to the Fantasy Suite but woke up the next morning proclaiming to the cameras that it was a “nightmare” and that she was “Not in love with Juan Pablo, and never will be.” And I’m sitting on the couch like, “All right! Finally! Bring it, girl!” But THEN, when she confronts JP about it, he simply says, “Okay. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I respect you.” Which I thought, okay, that’s legit. But then Andi started to get ANGRY because Juan Pablo wasn’t upset that she wanted to leave. And she started to get into an argument with him, trying to get some sort of emotion out of him when it was clear that he didn’t care and wouldn’t ever care. I mean, it was her own damn fault for sleeping with him, I’m sorry it took her so long to open her freaking eyes.

I instantly started to lose respect for as she pathetically tried again and again to get him to feel sorry that she was leaving. She got hung up on the semantics–she claimed he said she was in the top 3 by default, but he claimed he never used that word and told her she “BARELY” made it to the top 3. Which, in my opinion, is WAY more offensive. She just kept bringing up, “You SAID ‘default.’ You said it.” And I think this is what’s happening to these women on the show. They get so caught up on a tiny, trivial thing that they fail to see the huge picture (in this case, that he actually said something way more offensive than what she was offended about).

Glaring communication errors aside, I think the reason the women act the way they do (participating at all, catty competitiveness towards the other women, agreeing to share a man with 27 other people, claim that they are “falling in love” with this man–and maybe even believe it, agree to have sex with him, desire a proposal from him) is most closely related to the cognitive dissonance theory that is used to explain why normal, intelligent people who also have a lot going for them would participate in crude and violent hazing rituals (either as the one being hazed or the person doing the hazing) to gain acceptance and entry to a fraternity or sorority.

In these women’s desire to find “love,” what we’re really talking about is the desire to not be rejected. To have validation. They’ve come to the wrong place. Because the very act of appearing on The Bachelor–manipulated and edited to portray the worst about women–gives you a huge audience. And everyone in it is judging and rejecting you. Not just Juan Pablo.

Another Year, Another Controversial Rape Scene on ‘Game of Thrones’

Sansa and Ramsay

Some things come around every year. Birthdays. Holidays. Paying your taxes. Uncomfortable rape scenes on Game of Thrones. This most recent rape scene (yes, these are sentences we write now when talking about Game of Thrones) occurred in the 6th episode of season 5, entitled, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”

The victim was the unfortunate and forever-tormented Sansa Stark, whose storyline throughout the show takes her from bad situations to worse ones. The rapist is her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, whose onscreen time has been used to demonstrate how sick, twisted, sadistic, sociopathic, and cruel his character is. The additional uncomfortable element added to this scene is that Theon Greyjoy (also named “Reek,” the man who Ramsay tortured, imprisoned, and psychologically broke) was forced to stand and watch it happen.

I have to say, I was really surprised that this particular rape scene elicited any sort of controversy. What did viewers think was going to happen? That Ramsay—who cut off Theon’s penis, who literally hunts the women in his life down and kills them because they’re boring—would marry Sansa and suddenly be a loving and gentle husband?

Game of Thrones has always been pretty liberal with their rape scenes. The show has been criticized heavily in the past for its gratuitous depictions of sex and women’s bodies, and for its numerous (numerous!) depictions of rape. And in the past I’ve been on board that ship, at the helm, with my arms flung out wide like, “Jack, I’m flying!” with my opinions on the problems with these particular scenes. However, the rape of Sansa Stark made sense narratively; it wasn’t gratuitous, and it had a purpose to the character’s arc and this season’s overall storyline. Did I want to see Sansa raped? No. But it certainly made sense to the narrative. And besides, was there any doubt that’s what would happen upon seeing Ramsay’s “I do” face?

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Of course, though, I do have teensy problem. As Sansa is getting brutally raped, the camera zooms in on Theon, who was forced to stand there and watch. We, as the audience, can’t see Sansa’s rape, we can only hear it and interpret it in the horror, anguish, and turmoil on Theon’s face.

I’m down with this scene portrayed as it is but I do take issue with rape being used as the catalyst for a man’s storyline and personal character growth. Because watching that scene, we are to assume that the show is leading Theon toward some kind of redemption story, one in which he takes revenge on Ramsay, or at least tries SOMEWHAT to help Sansa. Either way, the focus of that scene was not on Sansa’s pain, but on Theon’s.

And this is always how it seems to go down when it comes to rape on Game of Thrones. Rape or almost-rape are used on this show in one of two ways: It happens but we all just pretend it didn’t, or it is a catalyst for a male character’s story development. And that really grinds my gears. As if I’m not sick enough of male narratives, they also get to have a better storyline than a woman because she was raped? Games of Thrones has often been criticized for using women’s bodies as props and set dressings, and to use violence against women as a backdrop to a man’s storyline is…ugh, just ugh.

Let’s look at the evidence. In season 1 of Games of Thrones, Daenerys is consistently raped by her husband, Khal Drogo. How does this plot progress? It finds Dany having a pretty girl-on-girl moment with her handmaiden in which she is instructed on the ways to please a man. During the next rape session with Khal Drogo, Dany tells him, “No,” while getting on top of him and taking control of the situation. Drogo then falls in love with her and then it was like, “Hey, she was never raped, Drogo was just doing sex all wrong lol!” Ah, love.

In season 2, Sansa is almost raped during a riot in King’s Landing, but in swoops the Hound to save her. The Hound is mean, and terrifying, and just so complicated, and his rough exterior seems to soften only for the beautiful and innocent Sansa Stark. What will happen with the Hound next? I mean, he saved a girl from getting raped! He has depth!

In season 3, Jamie lies to his captors that Brienne is very wealthy and will fetch a handsome ransom price, so no one should rape her. Brienne is the strongest woman in Westerns, hands down, but she is never given the chance to take control of a situation in which she is victimized, because Jamie is always there to save her. He ensures she does not get raped while they are being held captive, and he also risks his life by jumping in to a bear pit to save her life (though she was probably capable of saving it herself, but I guess we’ll never know). Am I saying I want female characters to be raped? No. Am I saying I don’t want male characters to stop a rape if they can? No. I’m just saying I’d like female characters to be able to command their own storylines for once. Jamie going out of his way to help Brienne is a huge part of his redemption storyline. It’s where we finally see that he is a good person inside, even though he’s done terrible things. Seemingly, in the books, Brienne exists just to propel  Jamie’s story forward. (Mercifully, the show is giving her her own independent storyline this season.)

And there was season 4’s rape of Cersei Lannister. This one was the worst rape scene because the showrunners insisted that it wasn’t even rape, c’mon. The problem that I had—well, the BIGGEST problem that I had—with this rape scene was that it was purposeless. It didn’t happen like that in the book. And while the scene we saw on television was exactly the same scene from the book, the exception was that in the show Cersei was raped and in the book it was consensual. To change just this one factor was very jarring and it challenged the integrity of the character of Jamie as a whole, and destroyed all of the character building that we had to have Brienne almost get raped like 12 times to get! And for what? That scene made no sense, and then it was never brought up again.

And just this past week, we had yet ANOTHER attempted rape. Sweet Wildling Gilly was almost raped at the hands of two brothers of the Night’s Watch. But poor, sweet, weak Sam stepped in and saved her (but not before getting the crap beat out of him). As Gilly nurses Sam back to health, she admonishes him for trying to save her and makes him promise that he will just be sure to take care of her baby should anything happen to her (anything being, we can assume, rape followed by death). And then, as a reward for Sam’s bravery and character development, she climbs on top of him and has slow, awkward, fully clothed sex with him. The story here wasn’t about Gilly at all. The story was about Sam showing his strength and courage and how that should be rewarded.

And see, it’s just a damn shame. The females of Game of Thrones have great stories in them. But the show seems determined to have them resigned to the reality that they might get raped, and to exist mostly to drive a man’s story forward.

As I said before, I support the narrative choices the showrunners have made in having Sansa be raped by Ramsay Bolton. I’m just crossing my fingers real hard that the story be Sansa’s to tell, and not Theon’s or anybody else’s.

Check back for next week’s essay: Even More Objectification on Game of Thrones or, Why Did That Sand Snake Take Off Her Clothes? C’mon.

My Cat From Hell and the American Dream

Guys, I recently fell down this weird rabbit hole where I watched like 7 hours of My Cat from Hell. For anyone unfamiliar with this gem, My Cat from Hell is a show on Animal Planet starring Jackson Galaxy (real name Richard Kirschner): a cat behaviorist by day, and a musician by night.

So when does he find time to groom his beard like this?

So when does he find time to groom his beard like this?

Jackson travels across the United States of America in his pink convertible ­­­to the homes of people with rambunctious and problematic cats. Once there, he assesses the situation with his calm demeanor and knack for just really getting along with cats. Cats act like dicks for all sorts of reasons: their environment, the people in their lives, sometimes even feline illnesses. Mr. Galaxy won’t give up until he figures out why your cat attacks you and pees on your stuff.

Jackson will calmly and without fear enter the room where the cat has been corralled and spend some quality one-on-one time with the alleged demon, where he usually discovers the cat is actually pretty nice.

Then the real drama begins. If this cat can get along with a chap like Jackson Galaxy, then what the deuce is going on in this home that’s making the cat go crazy? See, this show isn’t just about how Jackson can unite a cat with its owners; it’s about how Jackson can really get to the root of a familial problem and solve it together, as a team. You’ll see such telenovelas as the guy who kicked the cat ONCE but only gently with one toe, or the woman who doesn’t want to get rid of her cat even though it attacked her child. Jackson Galaxy is a level-headed, unbiased presence who just wants people to enjoy these majestic creatures, damn it!

However, his job doesn’t seem hard. After the third episode I was like, “Okay I could have figured that out.” There’s not what you would call a wide range of stories going on here, or even moderately entertaining drama.

But I love the dream behind My Cat from Hell. That you can just reinvent yourself into a pseudo-intergalactic musician with a guitar case full of cat elixirs and be successful. This is the American Dream, people! You love two unrelated things? Why not be both of them? Jackson Galaxy is unafraid of who he is and that’s why he’s compelling. That’s why I can’t turn off the TV when there’s a show on that marries the concepts of cats and perceived outcasts, which is really just the internet on Animal Planet.

My Cat from Hell knows exactly what it is: A slightly absurd show that capitalizes on the fact that it’s sometimes really funny when cats are jerks. God bless America.

Aside

The “I’ll Never Let Go, Jack” Television Theory

Every Monday at work, my coworkers get together and talk about the latest episode of Downton Abbey, which is a show I do not watch. They consistently complain about the plot, how boring it’s become, how dissatisfied they are with any number of events, and how the show should have ended after season 2. Yet simultaneously, they never fail to turn to me and say, “You should watch it!” I reply back, “Why should I watch it? You guys hate it.” And they say, “No, no, it’s really good!” And I say, “You said it should have ended after season 2.” And they say, “Yeah, but you should still watch it.”

Which I find to be interesting and confusing logic.

I have heard from any number of my friends that they are still watching shows that they think have peaked and can’t stand, but can’t bring themselves to stop watching. I like to call this the “I’ll never let go, Jack” phenomenon. This is true of books as well–so many of us start reading a book that, 50 pages in, we decide we hate, but feel compelled to finish anyway. Anytime I’ve done this with a book, the only thing I end up hating more than the book is myself.

So why can’t we let go? Nostalgia? A need to know what happens next, even if we don’t care anymore? A need to know how it ends? We can find those things out by Googling recaps; there’s no need to suffer through an hour of television every week, so why do we?

The answers may differ for everybody but my theory is that while nostalgia does play a giant part in it, I also think it’s because, deep down, we may still like the show despite the fact that it’s changed. Or at the very least, we desperately want to. And the part that we actually hate is that we like it now, or want to like now, even if it’s worse than the show we once thought was perfect. Perfection can’t last for 9 seasons. It can probably barely last for 5. Shows that continue on past their peak have run out of story lines to tell. They’ll introduce new characters and repeat the same kinds of things that made the show great with their original cast, but with a lesser impact because this very show already did it before. It can still be entertaining though, and you can still enjoy it in the moment, while simultaneously mourning the loss of when this show used to blow you away.

It’s our own expectations and standards that stop us from enjoying a show that maybe should have ended 3, 4, 5, seasons ago. Take Arrested Development for example. I’ve watched that series start to finish 3 separate times. I could quote to you any number of lines, as can so many people (probably anyone on the internet, actually). The show was sheer perfection, cancelled before its time, and worshipped and memorialized by so many  that Netflix decided to bring it back as a Netflix original programming. Suddenly this show, which had seven years to build a cult following after its cancellation in 2006, was going to be revived and try and recapture the magic that made it so incredible in the three years it was under-appreciated on regular television.

The pressure and expectations placed on this new season of Arrested Development were more than all the money that’s always in the banana stand. Netflix released all 15 episodes of season 4 at once and many, including myself, barricaded themselves in front of their laptops and binge-watched the entire season. The response and reception was mixed, and many felt that the show lost what it once had.

But I, personally, thought the fourth season was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant! Each episode focused on a different character (mostly to account for scheduling conflicts with the actors), with the storytelling non-linear, often slightly disjointed, but brought together in the end for one cohesive story. The creators put so much thought into this timeline, and stuffed the episodes to the brim with fun easter eggs for the diehard fans. One could spend quite a long amount of time dissecting every episode to find the clues, where the stories intersect, and piece together a more linear timeline of events. The season should be watched multiple times, and its format opened the door to a new kind of internet storytelling.

But more than that, I was fascinated by where the characters went in this story. The original three seasons of Arrested Development focused on the Bluths: a broken family of millionaires who lost everything when the patriarch was sent to prison for treason. Main character, and only competent son, Michael, had to take over the family business and try and save everyone. The hilarity of the show was in the ridiculousness of these characters, whose antics made the fact that they were despicable people hysterically entertaining (in a Seinfeld kind of way).

But season four opens with six years having actually passed between the events of seasons three and four (the character arcs follow the events in between 2006 and 2012). The characters are still ridiculous, still despicable and selfish, but somehow this is less funny than it once was. Whereas the characters of seasons one through three were outlandish caricatures, when we find them in season four, they are suddenly much more human and sad in their failure to change anything significant about their lives. And watching these truly pathetic people flail through life, even if it was funny at times, made me sad. At first this sadness disturbed me, and I would finish an episode and think, “What the hell?!?” I would feel angry at Arrested Development and I, too, felt let down and was ready to say they failed.

But, for reasons of nostalgia, I kept an open mind. And the further I got into the season, the more I realized that this was the only direction I believe the show could successfully go. You can’t bring a show back after seven years, and not change the way you approach the storytelling or even change the characters themselves. For instance, regarding the character of Tobias: The running joke with this character was that he was a closeted gay man. I was surprised when, in the fourth season, Arrested Development almost instantly buried this storyline and chose to come out and say that Tobias actually ISN’T gay. And then they took his character forward from there. They chose to not solely rely on the same jokes that people have grown to memorialize in favor of trying to do something different. Which should be commended.

They also chose to put a more serious spin on the characters overall, but in the seven years since Arrested Development was cancelled, we as the audience have grown and matured, and it’s only fair (and I would say necessary) that the show and its characters grow and mature as well, even if sometimes it’s not funny. There were moments where I was actually perturbed by where they took the characters–GOB’s very dark, sad, and confused “gay” storyline; Michael’s lonely inability to let his son go once he’s at college; Maeby’s failure to move forward at all with her life because she’s stuck still trying to get the attention of her parents, who still continue to ignore her. And I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing at these things at all (I actually teared up during the Maeby episode). And while a lot of season four was hilarious, there was also something distinctly unfunny about much of it.  But I liked that. I like a show that challenges me like that, and I like that Arrested Development chose to become that show.

Many would say (and I think have said) that a show as hilarious as Arrested Development has no right to become more serious. That’s not why people tune in. And I concede that the uncomfortable sort of comedy that makes Girls the show that it is and what Arrested Development chose to do is not for everybody, and there’s a certain betrayal that the audience might feel by that.

But it became very clear to me early into the fourth season that this show wasn’t, and never would be, the show that I had grown to love. Nor do I believe it could ever be successful falling back on what it was seven years ago (Arrested Development used to make Saddam Hussein jokes–these kinds of things aren’t relevant anymore). But that didn’t mean that the show still couldn’t be compelling, interesting, or hilarious and that I couldn’t grow to love this version of it as well. I simply had to accept that though I was watching the same characters, this truly was a completely different show. And once I accepted that, I could let go of my expectations or disappointment and see it as a wholly different beast, one that allowed the characters to grow as if seven years had passed for the both of use (oh wait, it totally did).

Now, I didn’t set out to write a review or critique on the fourth season of Arrested Development, so there is still so much to be said about that. But I think Arrested Development serves as a good example of the way that shows can change over time, and the need for shows to reinvent themselves to still be fresh. The way I see it, shows have two options: End when they’ve hit their peak, or try and continue and potentially disappoint the audience. Either way, I think fans will be unhappy, but loyal. After all, everyone I talk to still watches shows they loved and grew to hate. I urge these people to try and find some redeeming qualities in these shows, because if they insist on making themselves miserable by tuning in each week, perhaps there is some enjoyment still to be had.

All that being said, there are some shows that are just…truly terrible. For that…I have no answer for you. Viewer discretion is advised.

‘The Following’ Wears Its Sophomore Season Well

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The Following, Season 2

The Following, debuting its first season in January of 2013, had an interesting premise and a lot of potential but suffered from poor execution and over-the-top writing. The premise: Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is a serial killer and author who garners a cult following which finds inspiration in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. This following helps him to escape prison and begin writing his next novel, whose central character is FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the man who put Carroll behind bars.

The premise is intriguing, especially with the added element of Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre work from which to draw imagery inspiration. However, the execution left something to be desired. Though the characters weren’t quite one-dimensional: Ryan Hardy was destroyed by the Joe Carroll case; shot in the chest and requiring a pace maker, he became an alcoholic to escape the demons that still haunted him, and believed that death followed him wherever he went. Joe Carroll wanted to write his next novel (his first one was a flop) centered on destroying Ryan Hardy’s life. Add to that mix that Ryan was in love with Joe’s ex-wife Claire, and that Joe had a young son, who he was intent on being reunited with, and I was still intrigued. Also compelling was the fact that the central characters come to learn that people in their lives that they’ve known and trusted for years were actually followers of Joe, who were placed there so that they could strike at the opportune moment.

The problem with all of that, however, is how melodramatic and ridiculous the show ended up being. After Carroll escaped prison and met with his followers at a giant estate that became their headquarters and hideout, he managed to kidnap his ex-wife and son, and yet still allude the FBI for an entire season despite the fact that he stayed in one place for most of said season. The FBI was seemingly incapable of accomplishing anything. The characters of the cult were annoying, dispensable, and always doomed to fail—which made them boring and predictable.

Joe Carroll himself was the biggest problem of all. He was supposed to be brilliant and charismatic, but he strutted around his mansion screaming about metaphors and reciting his own terrible prose that it was hard to believe that he could ever inspire dozens of people to not only follow him, but to become murderers.

Ryan Hardy was a tortured person who was forever one step behind Joe Carroll, and forced to feel bad for himself as people around him died. The story was predictable, the ending foolish and laughable (Joe Carroll appeared to “die” by blowing up in a lighthouse, but his face as he screamed, “No! Noooo!” behind a wall of flames was so absurd that it had to be staged). The season ended with Ryan believing Joe was dead, and reconnecting with his love, Claire, only to have one of Joe’s followers pop out of nowhere and stab the both of them.

And now we get to season two. Which is such a markedly different show that I am shocked and pleasantly surprised. When season two opens, it’s been a year since Ryan and Claire were stabbed, and you learn immediately that Claire did not survive. But Ryan turned his life around—he quit the FBI, he goes jogging, he’s sober—and works as a criminology professor in New York. But at night, he becomes a secret vigilante, hunting down the remnants of Joe Carroll’s followers (called “Carrollers”) outside of the law.

Removing Ryan from the FBI was one of the best decisions this show could make. Ryan Hardy became so boring and tortured acting as the good guy. Playing by a specific set of rules, where else could his character go except to remain tragic and stuck repeating the same damn plot points? But Ryan Hardy as vigilante? So much better. He seeks revenge, and he will kill. Oh, and he believes Joe is alive.

And of course Joe is alive. He’s living in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere with a prostitute who wrote to him in prison, and her daughter. He’s in hiding, with a glorious beard and an attempt at an American accent. He claims he has reformed, and hasn’t killed anyone since he staged his own death. And it seems it’s true—he is truly struggling with his identity.

But when a cult of copycats, wearing Joe Carroll masks, storm a New York subway and murder a car of people shouting, “Resurrection!” and “Ryan Hardy can’t stop us,” it unfolds a chain of events far more interesting than anything that happened in season one.

Suddenly, there is a new cult, trying to draw Joe out of hiding, and it works. And Ryan Hardy continues to work outside the law (except with the help of his law-enforcement niece, which conveniently allows him to continue to have access to tracing phone calls and the like) helping to erase the ridiculousness of the first season with the FBI appearing to be completely incompetent.

The new cult is the best part of this season (and the show, I believe). Led by an art dealer named Lily, the cult is a hodgepodge of international orphans that Lily picked up over the years and formed a family (they all call her Mother) of twisted psychos. It’s clear that Lily wants Joe to complete that family.

What set this season apart for me right from the start was how it actually works as a suspenseful and creepy show now. Credit has to go predominantly to the brilliantly talented Sam Underwood (who is really good at playing psychos), who plays a set of sick and twisted twins—Luke and Mark. Luke slicks his hair back and Mark wears his on his forehead but you don’t need that small physical distinction to tell them apart because Underwood is a master. Luke is more assertive, more cruel and violent, but more charismatic (the kind of charisma that I think James Purefoy is lacking as Joe Carroll). Mark is bashful, shy, almost sweet, and struggles with emotion.

Together, they murder for their mother and then “have fun” with the body. It is implied that Luke enjoys having sex with corpses, but Mark likes to talk to them as though they were alive. Luke and Mark are chilling and strange.

And yet I find myself most drawn to this family of psychopaths this season. Ryan Hardy’s storyline takes a backseat to the intrigue of this new strange cult, and I find myself actually hoping that they don’t get caught, so I can see how they handle situations next. The characters are wholly more interesting than anything we saw from season one, and the show made a smart decision to kill off almost all of the original members of Joe Carroll’s cult, leaving only Emma (who they’ve somehow made less annoying, though I don’t know how). Gone, too, are the Edgar Allen Poe references and inspirations, which were becoming tedious and contrived.

Even Joe Carroll is a better character this season. He doubts himself, questions his identity, and feels failure—as a writer, as a leader, as a father. When we see Joe murder this season, we believe that he is a serial killer who takes pleasure in the sick things he does. There was some disconnect with that in season one but, removed from his cult, there is more of a realness to him that makes him more believable.

I truly had no idea how The Following could pull off a second season without just repeating the same storylines from the first season. But it’s like watching a completely different show. They removed the elements that weren’t working, took the characters out of settings that were doing nothing for them, and introduced a slew of truly intriguing and scary characters. The acting is better and the writing is better. Whereas the first season was utterly predictable, I believe this season has the potential to shock me—and I hope there will be twists. I truly struggled to get through the entirety of the first season. The second season has done the unthinkable: Made me excited to tune in every Monday. Should I say it? I’m going to say it: I’m a follower.