Working in production takes a toll on a human being. Long hours can mean debilitating health as well as a lack of social life (and forget dating altogether).
I’ve come to know these pratfalls all too well during my stint as a freelance production sound mixer, yet the most ironic things I’ve missed out the most on are current film and television releases. You’d think that being as entrenched as I am in the creation of new content (be sure to check out the UnderArmour commercial I recorded sound for in December), I’d relish the opportunity to consume as much as humanly possible. Unfortunately, my 13-hour days make that somewhat of an impossibility.
I’ve seen a grand total of two of the Oscar winning films this year despite my residency as an entertainment writer here at Writtalin (Gravity and Frozen; they’re both awesome) and the only show I keep up with is the impeccably scripted Adventure Time (come on grab your friends). Therefore, I’ve decided to force myself to keep up with five current shows no matter what obstacles my schedule throws at me. Since thirteen hours of my day are already accounted for, this is a bit of an undertaking; a sacrifice for my craft. Thanks to word of mouth passed to me by my friends and acquaintances, I’ve narrowed the field down to the following shows. From what I hear, they’re great and you should think so too. Time will tell if they’re true works of cinematic art in this new golden age of television, but I’m just happy to have something to occupy the time that I should use for sleeping.
1. True Detective
Freshman Writtalin writer Ryan Zwirner already covered the broad strokes of why HBO’s new drama should make the cut on your to-watch list, but allow me to elaborate a little. In addition to its tried-and-true approach, True Detective takes the crime drama premise in a new direction. According to the powers that be, each season focuses on a new crime and new time period with new actors and characters to solve it. This debut season features Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as the titular detectives pitted against a grisly occult murder of a prostitute in southern Louisiana (my sister lives there; it’s just as down-home and backwater as the show suggests). But what separates this show from the various Law and Order imitators is its strict focus on the human element.
Fans of HP Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers will find plenty to love here. True Detective features a prominent obsession with classic horror in the vein of these late 19th century writers. Fans of their work will recognize a focus on mental imbalance (referring in particular to Matthew McConaughey’s nihilistic ex-drug addict detective Rust Cohle) as a conduit for the macabre and the supernatural. Without giving away too much, you need to tune in to this show for his performance alone, which capitalizes on madness in a very Lovecraftian dynamic. If you don’t know what this means, do yourself a favor and pick up Call of Cthulu right now (I’m not a nerd. Shut up!) or at least read the continually quoted King in Yellow by Chambers. A short story anthology primarily about ex-patriot American artists living in Paris, each tale tangentially refers to a fictional eponymous play that strikes madness in the heart of all who read it. Characters may come across it at some point or base their actions on “truths” learned somewhere in its pages – usually to disastrous end.
I’m only three episodes in, so I don’t know what relevance this work holds for the mysterious killer, but with the finale looming on the horizon (March 9th to be specific), we’ll know soon enough.
Direct all your questions about the series to the more informed Ryan. I’m sure he’d be glad to answer them until I catch up.
2. Rick and Morty
The finale of Futurama left a gaping hole in my heart for tightly-scripted science fiction. Luckily this series has delivered and then some. Created by Community mastermind Dan Harmon and his close confidante Justin Roiland (you may know him better as the distinguished Earl of Lemongrab), Rick and Morty plays like a fetishized version of Back to the Future, one in which Doc Brown is perpetually on the sauce and Marty wishes he would just leave him the f*ck alone. What follows is a universe hopping, meta-joke roller coaster of informed laughs that’s as instantly quotable as the first Anchorman. Despite a shaky first episode, Rick and Morty is so addictive I found myself watching the six currently available episodes all in one sitting (the wine may have helped). If you have a taste for sentient dogs, Jurassic Park parodies, minimal capacity Matrix-type simulations or existence-adverse wish genies, this is the show for you. And even if that isn’t your cup of tea, the voice cast will make it an easy swallow. John Oliver, David Cross, Dana Carvey and Maurice LaMarche rear their heads when you least expect it, making this a rapid fire spoonful of comedy for its full 22-minutes every time.
Don’t let the high school doodle design fool you, Rick and Morty is entertainment of the highest caliber – a joke-heavy half hour that rewards the scientifically literate, the gamer, and the cinephile in each of us.
Broadcast television has shied away from the gruesome and the grisly since the FCC violently took the reigns, but select shows have dared to push the boundaries between the no-holds barred HBO pseudo-porn and the nauseatingly safe broadcast fare we’re subjected to from week to week.
The creative minds behind Hannibal aren’t content to sit back and abide by the precedent for “explicit” set by CSI, NCIS and other acronym shows I may have forgotten. From the few episodes I’ve sampled, it’s hard for me to believe that the blood, gore, and abject horror on display here abide by the TV-14 rating assigned to the NBC drama.
Aside from the boundary-pushing transparency of the subject matter, Hannibal features many qualities that make it a worthy peer of its cinematic precedent Silence of the Lambs. Following the early days of the swarthy, sophisticated and cannibalistic psychologist Hannibal Lecter and his antisocial FBI protégé Will Graham, Hannibal is a rare procedural that meshes chilling cinematography with dedicated performances and unmatched scene-setting sound design. It’s a full package the likes of which networks are afraid to put out for fear of ratings. But since the advent of the demographic-shifting Walking Dead, edgy, audience-stealing cable programming (to the tune of 13 million viewers) has thrown a wrench into the network business model. Producing content that challenges the status quo and gives views a more realistic (and grisly) depiction of life as we know it has become a must. Enter Hannibal, which is all those things and more.
4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
On paper Brooklyn Nine-Nine looks like another Fox sitcom just waiting to disappoint us.
Yet beneath its manic presentation and overabundance of stars (Andy Samberg and Terry Crews? Did they spend their money on anything else?) lies an astoundingly witty show that layers on the humor like a delicious Super Bowl bean dip. Not content to go for the easy laugh, Brooklyn Nine-Nine veers for unexpected punchlines that work on up to three or four levels. It’s the kind brisk back-and-forth that hasn’t been this rewarding since Arrested Development.
The show also caused a bit of a ruckus when it snatched the Golden Globe for Best Comedic Television Series from underneath Parks & Rec (just as deserving a choice) and Modern Family (not so much anymore). But after diving into the pilot, I see that is was a well-informed decision on the judges’ part. The laughs are uproarious and consistent, while the cast have a ball with the material. It’s an excellent way to get lost in a new show, much like marathoning all 138 episodes of 30 Rock on Netflix (also a good use of time).
This one is a bit of a lark considering it hasn’t aired yet, but the various online outlets are already abuzz about FX’s big budget adaptation of the Coen Brother’s 1996 classic. Executive produced by Joel and Ethan themselves, the drama is set for a limited, 10-episode run much like FX’s own American Horror Story. Sticking to the True Detective model, this short commitment allows the show-runners to court big names for the project while leaving it open to anthology treatment should it be a success. And it already looks like that approach is working. Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman have already signed on as the leads in Season 1. The former will play Lorne Malvo, a drifter who meets a small town insurance salesman (Freeman) – loosely based on William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard in the original film – and convinces him to start a life of crime. And of course all this place in the winter of northern Minnesota, a region known for its… special charm.
As the caliber of FX continues to increase with the likes of Sons of Anarchy, The Americans, and The Bridge, it seems the cable network is quickly becoming the home of topnotch programming. For this reason, I’m cautiously optimistic about the direction of Fargo.
No one blends dry humor, the macabre, and dull, inland America better than the Coens and considering they’re at the helm, it’s hard to see how it could all go wrong. Plus, Fargo is one of my favorite movies of all time.
What shows are you addicted to this season? Let us know in the comments below.
Tags : Adventure Time, Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, coen brothers, Dan Harmon, Fargo, featured, FX, Hannibal, HBO, HP Lovecraft, Justin Roiland, Matthew McConaughey, Rick and Morty, Robert W. Chambers, Television, Television Shows, True Detective, tv, Woody Harrelson