Relatively few Americans are watching the final season of Mad Men as it airs live. Unlike with Breaking Bad, AMC’s other prestige drama that ended on a bifurcated episode order, the availability of Mad Men on streaming hasn’t brought the show any closer to the phenomenon status of Game of Thrones or the megablockbuster spoils of The Walking Dead. It seems the slow pace, narrative digressions, literary allusions and absence of obvious narrative momentum aren’t driving people to furiously binge-watch and catch up as they did, urgently, for the end of Breaking Bad.
The show has few, if any, loose plot threads to tie up, and its characters hardly appear close to the happy endings some viewers might be expecting. But with the instant-classic episode “Time & Life” (which aired on April 27; yes, I’m behind), creator Matthew Weiner proved once again that he is singular among television writers for creating drama out of circumstances that seem to have passed their expiration date.
Photo by Ursula Coyote, AMC
2015 is shaping to be television’s most prolific year yet. A show just premiered on the PlayStation network, of all places. Netflix and Amazon have fully established themselves as networks to watch. And great television’s old haunts – basic cable, subscription services, even the broadcast networks – haven’t been slouching either. Here’s a look at four of my favorite shows so far this year.
Better Call Saul
When AMC announced that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould would be reuniting the Breaking Bad crew for a spinoff starring the huckster lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the initial response was trepidatious at best. Why risk spoiling one of the greatest runs in TV history with a shameless cash grab? But such reactions, despite the wobbly creative fortunes of the parent network, proved unfounded. Far be it from me to question Gilligan and Gould’s narrative ambitions.
Empire is a ratings phenomenon unlike anything on television in years, or maybe ever. The number of people watching each episode has increased without fail for each of the show’s nine episodes. It’s handily outdoing American Idol, once an unstoppable phenomenon, now Fox’s Wednesday night warmup act. The social media buzz is off the charts, with GIFs of Cookie being Cookie and clips from the original songs reliably popping up on Twitter each week.
All of this buzz prompts the question: is the show, created by Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and Danny Strong (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire screenwriter and onetime Mad Men recurring character), any good?
The answer is complicated. I watched all eight of the show’s non-pilot episodes in one fell swoop yesterday afternoon, and I’m not sure I’d call Empire good so much as savvy.
Last night’s Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special began with a musical tribute to the show’s iconic characters performed by two of its most currently camera-ready stars. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake “History of Rap”-ified forty years of surreal catchphrases and gross-out gags before intoning the show’s now-infamous opening salvo.
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
And now, a humble request from a TV fanatic: don’t be a Jane the Virgin virgin.
In an era when the term “prestige television” means dark antihero dramas and niche single-camera sitcoms, Jane the Virgin stands out. This loving parody of and homage to Spanish-language telenovelas is a complex, character-driven show with a specific point of view, an eye towards diverse perspectives and an array of colorful performances. Watching the pilot, I was overwhelmed by the seemingly unsustainable tangle of plot threads. And yet, by some miracle, the show has sustained those threads and deepened beyond them.
As with most people, the word “reboot” sets my teeth on edge. I’m always a proponent of discarding tired concepts and flagging franchises in favor of original material. But reboots aren’t inherently bad. Tuesday’s “Ghostbusters” announcement offers hope that at least one upcoming remake won’t be cringeworthy. Read the rest at The Eagle.
Pay little mind to the historical accuracy police. For its unconventional approach to the biopic formula, for its unsentimental depiction of a man whose legacy practically demands sentimentality, for its powerful visualization of a protest in progress, Selma demands to be seen.