These are the episodes of television I watched that aired this week, not including any previously aired episodes that I watched in addition: 

24: Live Another Day: “Day 9: 10:00pm - 11:00am” (9.12) - C+ 
The Bridge: “Ghost of a Flea” (2.02) - Will update later. 
Extant: “Extinct” (1.02) - Will update later. 
Halt and Catch Fire: “Giant” (1.07) - Will update later. 
The Honourable Woman: “The Killing Call” (1.03) - Will update later. 
The Leftovers: “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (1.03) - A 
Married: “Pilot” (1.01) - D+ 
Masters of Sex: “Parallax” (2.01) - B- 
Ray Donovan: “Yo Soy Captain” (2.01) - Will update later. 
Rectify: “Act As If” (2.05) - Will update later. 
The Strain: “Night Zero” (1.01) - C 
True Blood: “Death is Not the End” (7.04) - D 
Under the Dome: “Force Majeure” (2.03) - F 
You’re the Worst: “Pilot” (1.01) - B 

24's much-hyped revival had me very excited for the return of Jack Bauer, one of my all-time favorite television characters. Seeing Bauer himself back on screen definitely didn't disappoint as he came with all of his badass ways fully in tact, starting with a shirtless interrogation where he doesn't break a sweat and ending with him chopping off a man's head with a samurai sword. 24: Live Another Day gave the promise that 24 would be returning somewhat new after its four year hiatus, giving us a truncated 12-episode season spanning the traditional 24 hours each season takes, but at the end of the day I can’t help feeling slightly cheated by how similar it felt to any other season of the program. 

I’m a big fan of 24 and despite its inconsistencies I still hold it in high regard, but there’s no doubt that even in the finer moments of the later years there was a lack of genuine excitement given how recycled everything had felt at that point. They could change the location, add in new characters, bring back old ones, whatever they wanted to do but there was still a mole, still a needless filler plot or two and still a bad guy switcharoo all while Jack beats the hell out of people with no regard for his safety and no need for it because he’s indestructible. Live Another Daygave hope of a newly energized 24 but while it maintained the solid performance of the show’s last two seasons it also maintained their lack of any genuine surprise or suspense. Yes, main characters were killed off but there came a point in 24's run where they played so fast and loose with the supporting cast that I became desensitized to anything of the sort and once the Season 5 deaths happened there was no one on the show's roster that I really cared about other than Jack. 

Live Another Day added some nice new faces, particularly Yvonne Strahovski’s Kate Morgan as the requisite female Jack sidekick who unfortunately was made to look a little inept at her job a few too many times, but ultimately all I was here for was Jack. Great moments from him came in spades, along with a stellar albeit one-note villainous turn from Michelle Fairley but 24's return also delivered all the warts that one had come to expect from the series. Barely explained mole? Check. Awkward, cheesy subplots to fill time? Check. Big cliffhanger moments quickly revealed at the beginning of the next episode to be fabricated? Check. Fakeout villain switcharoo at the end of the second act? Check followed by another check. I enjoyed Live Another Day for what it was and will never complain about seeing Jack Bauer on my screen, I just wish they had done something different than giving us more of the same with less filler. 

C+ 

Episode Highlights: 
01. "Day 9: 7:00pm - 8:00pm" (9.09) 
02. "Day 9: 2:00pm - 3:00pm" (9.04) 
03. "Day 9: 3:00pm - 4:00pm" (9.05) 
04. "Day 9: 11:00am - 12:00pm" (9.01) 
05. "Day 9: 9:00pm - 10:00pm" (9.11) 

These are the episodes of television I watched that aired this week, not including any previously aired episodes that I watched in addition: 

24: Live Another Day: “Day 9: 9:00pm - 10:00pm” (9.11) - B 
The Bridge: “Yankee” (2.01) - D+
Extant: “Re-Entry” (1.01) - Will update later. 
Halt and Catch Fire: “Landfall” (1.06) - D 
The Honourable Woman: “The Faithful Husband” (1.02) - Will update later. 
The Leftovers: “Penguin One, Us Zero” (1.02) - B 
Rectify: “Donald the Normal” (2.04) - Will update later. 
True Blood: “Fire in the Hole” (7.03) - D- 
Under the Dome: “Infestation” (2.02) - F 

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The second Showtime series in as many years where I was very excited for it leading up to its premiere, found the first episode to have a lot of potential and then a few more in I was so bored and frustrated with the characters that I gave up on it completely until returning after the season was over, falling in love with the fifth episode and sticking with the rest of the season. Penny Dreadful didn’t live up to the promise of that game-changing fifth episode the way that Masters of Sex did, but at least its second half presented a far more engaging and far less needlessly vague experience through to the end. The finale was disappointingly anti-climatic with reveals that are positioned to make the audience jump up in surprise yet everyone watching knew things were heading in that direction by the end of the second episode, but the series overall began to flesh itself out and come into its own by the end of the eight-episode season, presenting a promise for what’s to come next year. 

This was certainly a messy season, perhaps overstuffed with characters who vary drastically on their level of interest for this viewer (give me all the Vanessa you can muster but go ahead and keep Dorian Gray and Frankenstein’s Caliban as far away from me as possible) and very bizarrely structured for something with such a brief run. A lot of the first season of Penny Dreadful had trouble building momentum, which isn’t really something they ever fixed, so taking only eight episodes and having one dedicated entirely to a flashback followed two weeks later by a bottle episode that keeps all of the characters confined to one location was a troubling move and yet they were ironically far and away the best episodes of the season. 

A lot of this has to do with the best thing that Penny Dreadful had going for it from start to finish — the bravura, fully committed and violently physical performance of the incomparable Eva Green. Green is the kind of actress who does her best to elevate whatever material she’s working with and barring that she’ll just go ahead and be the only good thing in it (I can’t imagine anyone else pulling off the only redeemable aspect of Dark Shadows the way she did), but Dreadful gives her a kind of showcase that she has seemingly been searching for this past decade at least. Utilizing every strength Green has at her disposable and even uncovering ones that hadn’t been exposed before, she turns Vanessa into a screen-devouring creature of indefinable, endlessly fascinating proportion. She’ll certainly be ignored for next year’s Emmys but she shouldn’t be — it’s another display of a great actress given an ample opportunity to give a caliber of performance that she was so rarely afforded in film and another name on the list of tremendous Leading Actress performances on television right now. It’s almost a fault with the show really because any scene with Green only further illuminates how much the series can struggle to make some of the lesser characters remotely interesting. 

An earlier episode that centers almost entirely on a flashback with Frankenstein’s creature, who gave himself the name Caliban, almost put me into a coma due to its tediousness and unengaging character — not to mention the dire later attempt to give us an eleventh hour sympathy that was lost on me — and almost single-handedly gave me the motivation to quit watching the show. It was a genuine shame that his second creation, played spectacularly by Alex Price, was taken so soon as he had more emotional resonance in two episodes than Caliban managed in the remainder of the season. Penny Dreadful sets itself up as a kind of League of Extraordinary Gentleman thrill ride, but it’s far more interesting when its giving texture to these characters and the relationships between them. There’s a reason why that bottle episode grabbed me in a way that no repetitive battle with a den of vampires possibly could — these characters, for the most part, are actually interesting if you give them room to show it. 

The narrative arc of Dreadful's first season was more or less the least interesting thing in it, with a daughter who was practically a glorified MacGuffin (aside from that astonishing fifth episode that explored the relationship between her and Vanessa) and a resolution that felt bizarrely flat, but the real gem of the season is in opening up these characters, all of these lost monsters, and trying to find the humanity in them. As we uncover new layers of each them there are things that shock and sometimes disgust (Sir Malcolm became more loathsome with each new piece of backstory we received) but they also add as texture that I didn't feel we really began to see until that fifth episode. Hopefully the second season centers in on the finer points of this confounding, sporadically engaging first year — it's one of the rare cases where I honestly have no idea where they are going to go given how they left things off at the end of the finale. Just give me a healthy dose of Eva Green, Timothy Dalton saying “chicanery” and some Wolfman Josh Hartnett and you'll have a permanent place on my DVR. 

C+ 

Episode Highlights: 
01. "Closer Than Sisters" (1.05) 
02. "Possession" (1.07) 
03. "What Death Can Join Together" (1.06) 

These are the episodes of television I watched that aired this week, not including any previously aired episodes that I watched in addition: 

24: Live Another Day: “Day 9: 8:00pm - 9:00pm” (9.10) - C+ 
Californication: “Grace” (7.12) - F 
Halt and Catch Fire: “Adventure” (1.05) - D
The Honourable Woman: “The Empty Chair” (1.01) - C 
The Leftovers: “Pilot” (1.01) - C+ 
Nurse Jackie: “Flight” (6.12) - C- 
Penny Dreadful: “Grand Guignol” (1.08) - C+ 
Rectify: “Charlie Darwin” (2.03) - A- 
True Blood: “I Found You” (7.01) - D- 
Under the Dome: “Heads Will Roll” (2.01) - F 

Officially begins its decline toward joining the pantheon of once-great Showtime shows that were fucked over by a network that refuses to let something good reach its natural conclusion and instead stretches something worthwhile well past its expiration date, turning to repetition and ludicrous plot points while making its characters uninteresting, unlikable shells of what they once were.

Hey remember that Showtime half-hour series with the vile female lead who became even more vile the further the show went on and destroyed everyone around her who for some inexplicable reason kept trying to help her out and support her bad habits, then at the end of the sixth season she finally got arrested? No, I’m not talking about Weeds. Oh wait.

C

Officially cements itself in the pantheon of once-great Showtime shows that were fucked over by a network that refuses to let something good reach its natural conclusion and instead stretches something worthwhile well past its expiration date, turning to repetition and ludicrous plot points while making its characters uninteresting, unlikable shells of what they once were. David Duchovny used to be Emmy-worthy on this show and he closes off a great character looking as bored as I did. Oh, Karen and Hank got back together? I remember when that happened at the end of Season 1. That’ll last.

D

These are the episodes of television I watched that aired this week, not including any previously aired episodes that I watched in addition: 

24: Live Another Day: “Day 9: 7:00pm - 8:00pm” (9.09) - B+ 
Californication: “Daughter” (7.11) - C 
Halt and Catch Fire: “Close to the Metal” (1.04) - D- 
Nurse Jackie: “Sisterhood” (6.11) - C+ 
Rectify: “Sleeping Giants” (2.02) - B 
True Blood: “Jesus Gonna Be Here” (7.01) - D- 

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Last year Orphan Black really came out of nowhere. A sci-fi show about clones on a channel with no history of original programming (BBC America) airing on a night not known for quality original programming (Saturday) with actors virtually no one had heard of and the vast majority of the main roles played by one young unknown. Yet it quickly caught on with a cult following and built from there, becoming not only one of the best new shows in a great year for new series but one of the best programs of the year period. It also featured far and away the best performance on television I had seen in quite some time in the form of the Emmy-robbed Tatiana Maslany (that unknown who has since become an internet icon), whose absence from the nominee list this year would be a monumental crime now that the voting members should have at least heard her name shouted from every computer in a five-state radius. Last year’s snub was understandable given that the show premiered relatively soon before the deadline for nominees and while the network tried to pull out a last minute campaign of support there wasn’t enough to get her in there but now she’s won back-to-back Critics’ Choice Awards so it’s time to give her what she’s due. 

Orphan Black's second season came down quite a bit for me, but it still maintained plenty of the things that made the first season such a refreshing shot in the arm of genre television. Last year saw the core trio of clones (Sarah, Cosima and Alison) finding each other and forming a sisterhood to protect one another in one of the most gloriously female-positive, open-minded and deeply layered displays of character building seen in recent television. This year split them up on their own paths and while I can understand the desire to try and do something new, the show suffered from lacking the adrenalized pace and focused narrative arc that the first season thrived on. There were a lot of times this year that it felt like things were happening on completely different shows for each girl; Cosima, the science geek stuck in a lab all year while occasionally coughing up blood and struggling through one of the blandest and unfocused romantic arcs (probably the most consistent problem with this show is how flat and uninteresting the romantic relationships are) on a good television show at the moment; Alison sidelined from the action for almost the whole season while sitting in rehab along with the dreadfully unwelcome return of Vic; and of course Sarah who drove the meat of the story and remained the powder keg that blows everything up in order to make the pieces fall where they need to. 

With the first season ending with Sarah’s daughter Kira being taken away by an unknown entity and Sarah wailing out the window, I was very worried that this year was going to be a season-long arc about the search for this young girl — a kind of narrative move that has plagued many great shows before. Thankfully that was resolved quickly and Kira ultimately became one of the best things about the season; seeing her so ready to throw herself in harm’s way in order to protect and help out her mother and aunts was heartwarming but disturbing at the same time. The other pleasant surprise this year was Helena, a character who I found didn’t live up to the hype of her epic introduction in the first season and was very displeased by her return before she ultimately became my favorite thing about the year. Part of that may have to do with my favorite character (Alison) being stuck in campy wonderland with the worst characters on the show for the year, but still Helena’s moments brought plenty of chilling goosebumps (that scene where her and Sarah see each other again for the first time still haunts me and instantly demands what should be Maslany’s second Emmy trophy) along with the best comedy of the year on a consistent basis (her road trip with Sarah soon after had me in stitches). No matter what the nature of the scene, if it featured Helena it likely ended up being the highlight of the week. Seeing them develop her humanity through her desire for a true, loving family and her fondness for children was an absolutely beautiful way to layer what had previously been a somewhat shallow figure in a show loaded with rich female characters. 

Orphan Black is always at its best when it’s bringing its ladies together and that remained true for most of this season, but disappointingly it was the final stretch of episodes that began to do a lot of damage this ten-episode run for me. The eighth episode is unspeakably bad, making a bold move that was admirable in theory but fell completely flat and was dismissed instantly (though that wasn’t the only flaw of the episode by any measure), and it was then followed up by two episodes that propel the narrative forward far too much for what was otherwise a very measured season. It felt as though the writers were stalling for time in the first eight episodes and then realized they only had two left to wrap up the season and so they crammed in a season’s worth of narrative into two hours and the plot became far too over-complicated and borderline incoherent. The first season of Orphan Black had a lightning-fast pace that impressively managed to never lose its audience, but this year suffered from stops and starts all ending with a bolt of juice in the end that lost me. That being said, the season was still plenty of fun overall and certainly has more unique ideas on its mind than most other shows on television even if it didn’t nail the balance of comedy, drama and sci-fi genre fare as well as the first year. 

C+

Episode Highlights: 
01. "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" (2.05) 
02. "Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things" (2.07) 
03. "Governed As It Were By Chance" (2.04) 
04. "To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings" (2.06) 
05. "Mingling Its Own Nature With It" (2.03) 

When news first came that the Coen film Fargo (one of my all-time favorites) was being adapted into a television series for FX it seemed like I was one of the few that were genuinely excited at the potential while most people were either frustrated or simply baffled. I suppose then that it only makes sense that with the first season now over most people consider it a great surprise and one of the best series of the year so far whereas I found it average at best. Things started out absolutely fantastic, kicking off with a first episode that was basically equivalent to a great piece of cinema but there should have been a warning sign in how closed-off and singular that experience felt. As things progressed and the series struggled to justify running for ten episodes on a relatively thin story that we knew from the beginning how it would all resolve itself in the end, I realized more and more why characters like the ones the Coens create aren’t designed to function in a format like television — after a few hours they become annoying as hell. 

In the first episode I was riveted by the turn of Martin Freeman’s nebbish pushover Lester Nygaard and the calculated mystery of Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo but the further the series dragged on the more I realized that these people weren’t worth spending two hours with, let alone ten. Practically every character was enjoyable at first, from those two to the hitmen duo of Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard and so on but the more time spent with them the more I became aggravated by their presence or merely disinterested, as was the case with the dreadfully bland Alison Tolman and Colin Hanks, who were supposed to be the people I was rooting for this whole time. When it comes down to it the only character I never tired of was Keith Carradine’s Lou Solverson, the father of Tolman’s Deputy Molly, and I’m sure most of that boils down to the fact that few people can hold a scene down the way that Carradine does in his sleep. Throughout the season there were several references to an incident with Lou that happened decades ago and it really gave the impression of Fargo teasing that this will be what we see in the show’s second season which was momentarily an exciting idea but then I realized Carradine wouldn’t be a part of it unless there was some sort of split narrative, so perhaps it would just end up the same as the first. 

Either way, it’s always been said that film is a directors medium and television is the writers and I don’t think the writing here was remotely up to the task that they set out for themselves. The season struggled through meandering plotlines trying to stretch out this length through characters that I grew less and less interested in as time wore on and by the dozenth tired parable one tells to another I was just waiting for the day to be saved and it all to be over. When I’m nothing more than annoyed by the bad guys and completely bored by the good guys, there’s nothing for me to really latch onto in a medium that’s built on the strength of its characters. The time jump near the end of the season was a bold move on the part of creator/writer Noah Hawley (though it unfortunately came a few months after the similarly designed True Detective pulled the same move in even bolder fashion) and it was the perfect decision structurally but it only further illuminated how little I cared about any of these people. When a jump like that happens the audience should be aching to discover what the lives of each of the characters are like, and I only realized that I couldn’t have cared less about any of them. When the reveal came that Molly had gone the full Marge, I rolled my eyes and the forced comparison only made the series look worse as a result. 

In their film the Coens created a group of deplorable people doing stupid things, but the difference there was that they were fun as all hell to watch while the good guys came barreling down with nothing but warmth in their hearts and a desire to see the right thing done. This television series should have been the same thing (in theory it is, and most people who aren’t me did get that experience out of it) but they stretched this story and these characters out past their point of worth and then went on for another eight episodes after the fact. Lorne Malvo was an absolute joy in the first episode, played brilliantly by Billy Bob Thornton, but by the end of the second I was absolutely sick of his needless confrontations and his indestructible resilience. It only got worse from there. 

I can’t say I hated the first season of this show by any measure — for all of my displeasure with the characters and several of the performances there were some standouts, chief among them being Oliver Platt’s crumbling work as a supermarket king and Kate Walsh’s hilariously daft seductive widow, and at the same time the direction and design of the episodes held my interest more than any of the characters ever had a shot of doing. I’d say that in each episode there was at least one or two scenes that I found immaculately constructed, whether it was the showdown in the snow in the sixth episode or Malvo’s office rampage shot entirely from outside the building in the seventh. I constantly found myself impressed by the way that they put this show together on a directorial level. The cinematography was exquisite throughout, as was the editing, clearly trying their best to imitate the work that has so often defined the Coen canon. 

Fargo suffered from an indecisiveness in how much they were willing to draw from the work of the Coens, not just the namesake film but plenty of others as well, and more often than not whenever they went for it the show only looked worse by comparison. If the second season can further demonstrate a willingness to be its own creation and not feel too restricted to be a pale Coen imitation, I think it could draw out something more readily appropriate for the television format than this first season was. At the very least, they need to start with characters who have a much longer shelf life than this grab bag of shallow, irritating nuisances. I’ll certainly be watching and hoping for the best because there was a lot of potential put on display here and even as I was begrudging the insanely strong reception it was garnering I still could never deny that there was plenty working in every episode of Fargo. Just not nearly enough for me to feel the hype is justified. 

C 

Episode Highlights: 
01. "The Crocodile’s Dilemma" (1.01)