Sunday, May 17, 2015

2014-15 TV Season Recap

I had so much fun writing up last year’s television season recap, that I thought it be best to keep it an annual tradition. Last year Revolution and Psych had their final seasons, while True Detective is slated to start up later this year. Meanwhile, it looks like 24 returned to TV for one season only, but some theatrical films appear to be coming down the pipeline. So that freed up four slots for my episodic television fix.

Like last year I will be giving letter grades to each season. I regret not having get around to the Netflix exclusive series, Daredevil that has been lighting up the Internet buzz since it debuted last month, but hopefully I will start it up sometime this summer. I also heard good things about the latest on Agents of SHIELD, but I gave up on that show after a weak initial few episodes in its first season. Enough on that though, let us get on to what I have seen in the last year.

Gotham - I am a sucker for the Batman universe, and hearing how FOX’s prequel take on the Batman universe was going down had me easily tuning in for a season to see how it would all play out. Gotham starts right after an adolescent Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents are murdered before his very eyes. We all saw that scene play out in Batman Begins plenty of times so I like how Bruce’s parents and the robber intentionally hammed it up for this iconic moment. After a season I am not yet won over by childhood Bruce on the show as he mostly bounces episodes from being insecure and afraid to showing signs of being the gung-ho detective crime fighter he will eventually become, but unfortunately Mazouz is not really all that convincing in either role. His scenes are made tolerable with an awesome supporting performance from Sean Pertwee portraying his loyal butler Alfred as he takes on the role of his mentor. Young Batman also is accompanied by young Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) throughout this season, and Camren does a far more believable job as childhood Selina than David does as childhood Bruce.

The main star of this season though is newly transferred detective, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he works his way up the ranks through the Gotham Police Department through a flood of corruption and rampant crime. His partner is detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and I really like how it took several episodes for ambitious do-gooder Gordon to win over the part-rugged, part-corrupt and part drunk Bullock. The two have a really good chemistry on screen, and I thought they play off each other well through most of the season. This could not be a Batman-themed show without villains, and Gotham has plenty of them as we see the rise of the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and the season-long transformation of the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) throughout this season. Gotham crime lords Falcone (John Doman), Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Maroni (John Doman) are also constantly at each other’s throats for territorial dominance of Gotham.

I really liked how the Penguin and the Riddler are handled throughout the season. Penguin has a far more fascinating arc as he works his way up as a low level goon in the season premiere to the king of Gotham by the finale. Riddler is more of an entertaining quirky side character most of this season. That is fine however as I really like how you gradually see him open up and embracing the Riddler persona in the season’s final episodes. Maroni, Falcone and Mooney’s big crimelord triangle has some lulls in this season with a few too many backstabs and alliances happening to keep track of, and I got the feeling the writing team needed a break in the latter half of the season as they gave Gordon and Bullock a new foil with a throwaway serial killer to chase after for three episodes as a temporary break from all the gang warfare going on in Gotham.

Mooney’s character also has a far-fetched side story that transpired for several episodes where she is taken hostage in a way you just have to see play out for yourself to see how ridiculous it is, and whenever that side story reared its head it took me out of an episode. Finally, Gordon’s girlfriend Barbara (Erin Richards) has quite the fluctuating story arc throughout the season. There were a couple points where it seemed like they were pulling random plot points for her out of a bucket for shock value sake alone, but by the end of the season I somehow accepted her as an unpredictable psychopath and am intrigued where they go with her for the next season. Not an all-star season by any means, but Gotham hits more than it misses, and I am glad they are keeping up with the dark, gritty tone in the same vein as the Dark Knight trilogy and I will definitely stay on board for season 2. Gotham Season 1 Grade – B+

The Flash - It took me a little longer to get won over by The Flash then Gotham, but by the end of both of these debut seasons I far preferred the story of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) over Bruce Wayne & Jim Gordon. Flash takes place in Central City, where a freak explosion in the season premiere transforms Barry Allen into The Flash. This freak accident also conveniently transforms a bunch of hoodlums into the painful villain of the week trope I despised off older superhero TV shows like Louis and Clark and Smallville. The creative team behind The Flash probably got this vibe too as the villain of the week thankfully took more of a backseat in most episodes, as The Flash does a far better job focusing on the key season-long crime of who killed Barry Allen’s mother and the mystery of The Flash’s primary antagonist for the season, The Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh).

The Flash has a strong team at his side with his fellow STAR Labs scientists Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) to lend him some fancy new tech and gadgetry to combat his latest villain. I love the cheesy nature on each episode on how Cisco loves coming up with pun-cringing nicknames of the weekly villain as the perfect cover to stay true to their comic book origins. Barry’s adopted father, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) steals the show with an awesome supporting performance as a badass detective always by Barry’s side to lean on with some fatherly advice or to assist in the field in taking down the bad guy. By the end of the season, I was surprised I did not mind the weekly villains as much, and I was also surprised out of the amount of special effects and CG they were able to pull off on this weekly network show.

I have never seen an episode of Arrow before, but since both Arrow and The Flash are DC characters and both are on the CW, there are a few episodes where the Arrow’s cast guest stars on The Flash. It only happens a few times so it is not that distracting, but by the end of the season CW accomplished their goal of making me want to know more about the Arrow cast and now I want to start watching that show too. Both Gotham and The Flash have strong first seasons for new superhero shows, but The Flash won me over more with better storytelling in both the small and big picture. The Flash is more lighthearted than Gotham, but knows when to get serious with several, well-earned powerful moments that had me completely glued in to the show, and Gotham did not quite hit those marks unless it was going for shock value moments for the sake of shock value. If you have to pick one superhero show to start up this year, definitely go with The Flash. The Flash Season 1 Grade: A

Agent Carter - Here is the final new comic book themed TV show I watched this year. Agent Carter picks up a year after the first Captain America film left off. It is a year after Captain America vanished into a glacier in 1946, and while Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) may have been his high-ranking CO during World War II, she winds up demoted to secretary duties for the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve, a precursor to SHIELD). Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) also guest stars on this show, as he is accused of treason right off the bat and so it becomes Peggy’s duty to clear his name throughout this abbreviated season.

Assisting Peggy throughout the season is Howard’s butler, Jarvis (James D'Arcy), who provides some much needed comic relief to this show and SSR detective Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). I am very conflicted about how I feel about this show. After a few episodes I wanted to give up on it, but then I discovered it was initially an eight episode mini-series as ABC was not even sure they would green light a second season until shortly before the first season wrapped up. The main over arching story is decent enough filled with Peggy going undercover in quite a few unique outfits in order to discover the secrets Stark was up to that got the government on his tail, and each episode has an enticing cliffhanger cluing me into the greater story at play. However, I could not help but feel Agent Carter had a low budget with disappointing action and special effects compared to Gotham and especially The Flash.

Unfortunately, Agent Carter gets bogged down by network television regulations that took me out of the show. Too many times the show strayed that fine line of being preachy with some of its messages. I get and respect that, and I understand it is part of the setting, but Agent Carter gets a little heavy handed with it throughout the season. I see that it makes sense as a theme given the setting, but a few episodes in it got grating as I already got the message wherein Peggy does a far better job getting the message across rather bluntly in The First Avenger film, and it is just too heavy handed here. Another nitpick is I watched a little too much Mad Men to where I got use to everyone, and I mean nearly the entire cast smoking in period pieces before 1960. Not a single character smokes in Agent Carter, and while I get not wanting main characters to not smoke for positive influence, it was another minor nitpick I had that gnawed away at me throughout the season that there was not even a smoky haze in the background to establish a realistic setting. Later, I learned there are FCC regulations on network shows that prohibit the use of smoking all together, and that Mad Men has it because it is a cable show and not major network television. Again, this is more on me for being a bit of a nut when it comes to little things like this, but combine this with a few other factors and it all combines in a disappointing debut season. Agent Carter Season 1 Grade: C

Behind the Mask - I am glad Hulu brought back their original series for a second season. If you missed the first season, it is a reality show in the lives of four sports mascots. This season brings back my favorite mascot from the first season, Tux the Penguin (Chad Spencer) of the AHL’s Scranton Penguins. This season’s high school mascot is The Tiger from Gilbert, Arizona (Navey Baker). The pro mascot is San Francisco Giants’ Lou Seal (Joel Zimei). The fourth mascot is a freelance mascot-for-hire, Chris Hall.

Chad has many hits and misses for his career transpire throughout the season that are fascinating to watch develop as he aspires for a pro-level job so he can afford to spend more time with his kid that lives across the country. Joel is a hoot to watch, as like Kevin who played Bango the Buck from the first season, he is living the dream and seeing him stay as passionate as he does about maintaining his mascot records through a new child and a Giants’ playoff run is a joy to endure. Navey is the first woman mascot on the show, and that brings a whole new dynamic to the show as she competed in mascot competitions and went through the indescribable journey that is senior year. Chris was a unique case since he is autistic and watching him succumb and overcome his autism was both difficult and joyous to watch, especially since he has a strong family supporting his mascot endeavors throughout his very emotional highs and lows. I think I will give the slight nod to the first season’s cast, but the second season of Behind the Mask was still an entertaining watch. Behind the Mask Season 2 Grade: B

ESPN 30 for 30 2014-15 Season - I love the ESPN 30 for 30 line of documentaries that have been around since 2009. I bought the original box set of the first 30 films, and now that Netflix puts almost all of them on streaming about a month or two after they originally air makes it super easy to keep up. I have seen around ten of them from the past year, and not a one disappoints. It seems a running theme on them the past year was collegiate era teams as there are documentaries focusing on the college careers of Christian Laettner, Randy Moss and Brian Bosworth. I remember a lot about Moss’s controversial professional years so learning about his college career was an eye opener for me. I recall hearing all types of craziness on how Boz was a riot for the Sooners before he flamed out in the NFL, and ESPN made a great production where Bosworth and his son relive his memories as he digs out memorabilia from a storage unit.

Laettner’s career as one of the best college basketball players is incredibly in depth and filled with interviews from many coaches, teammates and rivals. Part of me wished they detailed his NBA career a little more instead of just giving it a couple minutes at the end as more of a prologue than anything, but his high school and Duke coverage that makes up a vast majority of the feature is absolute gold. Requiem for the Big East is a thorough look at the rise and fall of the Big East conference in basketball. Also make sure to check out one of the newest 30 for 30s that hit Netflix called Of Miracles and Men, which is all about the Russian perspective of the historic 1980 Olympic hockey championship game. We are all use to the feel good USA side of the story, especially through the classic sports film, Miracle, but Of Miracles and Men brings a fresh perspective this time around from the losing side of the ice…which happened to belong to a Communist superpower at the time that resulted in quite the documentary. ESPN 30 for 30 2014-15 Season Grade: A+

The Following - The third season of The Following just wrapped up under a week ago. As I mention in last year’s recap, this was a bit of a guilty pleasure show because of how over the top it was with the crazy cults that Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) had to go up against in the first two seasons. The writers probably thought having Ryan go up against a cult for a third straight season would have been pushing it, so instead he faces a small ensemble consisting of past and new foes.

It was cool seeing some old faces brought back, but they just were not as effective as the illusive Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) from the first two seasons. Carroll has a smaller role this time around as he is on death row waiting to atone for his crimes, but he does have one last ace up his sleeve that resulted in my favorite episode of the season. This third season of The Following attempts to establish a new villain as the primary antagonist in the form of Theo (Michael Ealy). He proves to be one not to mess around with and the show goes to great lengths to establish him as a legit threat as he easily surpasses the twins from the second season, and almost but not quite hits the levels of Carroll as the ultimate bad guy.

I was not a big fan of Ryan’s new girlfriend for this season, Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson), as the moment I saw her I kept thinking she was going to turn on Ryan on every episode. The fact that she did not have a secret cover was more of a surprise than anything. Ryan was awesome to watch as the recovering alcoholic you unfortunately knew was going to crack and go off the wagon when everything on the case proved to be too much for him to cope with. Watching his two close colleagues Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and his niece, Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) repeatedly fail to be trusted friends for him to lean on has become an accepted and amusing trope of the series as Ryan ignores them and proceeds to do things his own way that are well, not by the book. This was still another crazy fun season of the show, but both previous seasons have higher moments that this one could not live up to. The Following Season 3 Grade – B+

Ok, I have rambled on about my television viewing habits from the past year long enough. Props if you have made it this far! I want to hear your thoughts and recommendations from past year of television please comment below or send me a tweet @Gruel.

Previous TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 7
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
Seinfeld Final Season

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