Yes, summer is finally over. My air conditioner has officially given up, but the outdoor thermometer still reads “oven,” so I may be living in the dog days of fall for a while longer. No, in LA we know the season has changed because gone are the days of coming home and leisurely deciding between Netflix, Amazon Prime, or just putting on Cartoon Network and falling asleep on the couch. Fall is here, which means making those delicate calculations every night: (how many shows are on the DVR) x (how many hours I am likely to be awake) / (how much attention I want to actually be paying to the TV) x (what people will be talking about tomorrow) = what I’m going to watch.
I’ve already started the Premiere Week reviews, but I thought I’d take a moment to tell you How I Spent My Summer Vacation.
The Returned: (The French version.) This show offered no answers. None. Every time you thought maybe this was someone who knew what was going on, it turned out they were just as lost and confused as everyone else. They were just more confident about it. And yet, season 2 will be airing soon and I am SO EXCITED. This is a genuinely creepy show, possibly about vengeance, possibly about redemption, possibly about xenophobia. We don’t even know what the “zombies” are a metaphor for! And yet, I’m on board. Follow the horde!
Bojack Horseman: If you’re writing an animation, the number one question you have to answer is: why is this animated? Which is to say, why is this something that couldn’t be filmed in live action? In the world of Bojack Horseman, animals are literally people. At first I was a little disappointed; I really like the idea that Bojack was the only horse-person in existence, and so he chose to star in a cheesy 90’s sitcom. But looking past that, it’s still a really good show. It gets tricky when real animals exist in the same world as the people animals (no one has pets, but also not everyone is vegetarian, so…) and also human people having “relations” with animal people is weird but in general it works. It’s a bizarre form of humor and yet it finds time to be so completely… human. (I had to. It’s right there. They put it right there.) A dying man refuses to forgive his former friend not because he once put his career ahead of their friendship but because he completely abandoned their friendship out of guilt. A career-driven woman is so incredibly lonely that she’ll have dinner with a child on stilts and insist there’s nothing odd happening.
Transparent: Early on, Maura laments to her support group that her children are all very selfish, and that about sums it up. We’re not introduced to any characters that do not immediately sleep with one of the family members. Did their parents screw them up, or just get bad luck? Does it matter? More importantly: is it funny? It’s not that Transparent is a bad show, it’s that it’s not a comedy. Which is only important during awards season, when hire extras to camp out by the SAG-AFTRA building down the street from my office and campaign.
Grace and Frankie: I really like this one. Nobody gets off easy. Although it also makes me really want to be rich so I can get a beach house in Ventura. It’s a subtle humor, grounded in deep moments of human emotion. It’s not so worried about being “best drama” or “best comedy,” and the result is just a good show.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: I watched this months ago and the theme song is still stuck in my head. But then, they don’t call it an ear worm because it was already there. It burrows its way in. And that’s sort of how the show is. It finds its footing and then skips so joyfully that the next thing you know they’re spoofing the OJ trial and you’re okay with it.
Top of the Lake: Despite having no supernatural phenomenon, this one feels a lot like The Returned. It’s a beautiful setting, made cold and lonely. In a small town where everyone knows everyone, it turns out no one really knows anyone. One of the details I was fascinated by was the number of accents – and I’m not talking about Elizabeth Moss’ attempts at a New Zealand accent (although…) but how apparently people from Thailand, New York, Australia and Austria all come to the middle of nowhere in New Zealand to live. The mystery will be solved by the end, right around when you’ve forgotten there was supposed to be a mystery. The mystical characters will mostly have proven themselves human, and assholes, at that.
The Wire (seasons 1-3): This is how far I’ve gotten so far. My brother asked me, while I was watching season 1, what the theme of the season was. Without any point of comparison, I couldn’t tell him. Now I can: Season 1 is the low-level street dealers, season 2 is trafficking (drugs and humans), season 3 is the politics. Season 4 (I’m 2 episodes in) is the “won’t somebody please think of the children?!?” season, which I think means it’s also the season when that one spoiler everyone talks about happens. Interestingly, season 4 also seems to be going after the politicians in the way that season 3 was set up to and then didn’t. Seasons 1 and 2 both hinted that the drug trade went on because it directly benefited a few powerful people, but then season 3 was just about the average do-gooder trying to navigate the system to make change. I didn’t have cable when this show was originally on the air, but I was working with someone who was a huge fan. When I was visiting my parents over Christmas, I watched a couple of episodes but when I got back I told her, “it just seems so depressing. Nothing ever gets better. Nothing can be done. It’s all too big.” She told me that yes, it seems that way after a few episodes, but when you see the show as a whole, larger themes emerge that are more optimistic. I feel like I’ve seen enough by now to say that that is categorically bullshit. If anything, it gets MORE depressing because the overriding themes are that no one has options. That being said, it’s still a very good show that pits smart bad guys against smart good guys and against each other. At different times, you can root for pretty much any character.