Who knew I’d actually be watching some prime-time network shows for a change?
The Last Resort
Here’s a terrific popcorn action series on ABC about a nuclear sub that goes rogue after disobeying an order from a dubious White House to nuke Pakistan. How did this ever get on the network? It looks like a major motion picture, has great acting from Andre Braugher as the sub commander, Scott Speedman, and Robert Patrick, and a solid pedigree from show-runner Shawn Ryan, who created The Shield on FX. Naturally, the only thing this sub couldn’t take on was Admiral Nielson and the U.S.S. Ratings. It’s been cancelled. But that’s a shame and a blessing. A shame because the show did a fantastic job of sustaining good plotlines despite looking like they shot their whole wad in the pilot, and a blessing because it probably should have been a mini-series all along. Playing it out longer than a season might have stretched credibility, especially since Pakistan got nuked and China had already invaded Taiwan by episode four and no television budget could possibly contain what would happen next.
ABC scores again with an All About Eve meets country superstars. Sure, it’s a soap, but so was The Sopranos and Downton Abbey if you get down to it. What lifts something beyond the corn flakes is great writing and acting, and this one was created and launched by Callie Khouri, the veteran feature screenwriter behind Thelma and Louise. Connie Britton as the fading Reba McIntire superstar and Hayden Pantierre as a conniving bitch version of Taylor Swift trying to upstage her make for a tasty rivalry. And T-Bone Burnett provides non-cheesy country songs that ultimately make this hybrid musical wear easier than NBC’s Broadway-set version called Smash. Throw in Powers Booth as the Britton’s sleazy kingmaker dad busy Karl Rove-ing her dim husband’s run for mayor and this show can rest comfortably in the shadow of Robert Altman’s classic political movie of the same name.
I bailed out after the third episode. The premise of society without any electrical or battery power is tasty, but watching the blue-eyed Hunger Games archer babe and her ninja uncle roam through Detroit – er, I mean a decaying apocalyptic America looking for her brother starts to wear thin very quickly. Especially with the cliché dialogue, two-expression acting by Billy Burke and what is basically an alternate universe, weaker version of the pioneer series LOST, which was the first television series out of the J. J. Abrams playbook. Many of the moves that show made, including introducing big characters just to kill them off within a couple episodes, are here. That this show is a hit and The Last Resort gets overlooked is a testament to why I default back to cable shows.
Here’s a cable show that still has some good acting, but completely lost the plot on story and dialogue. It’s descended into Dexter and his sister Deb going back and forth and back and forth wrestling with his legacy as a serial killer who kills bad guys and whether that’s ultimately a deal breaker between them or not. It’s an annoying whine-athon. Here was a show that got better each year the first four seasons, but has jumped the shark big time trying to wring more blood out of a corpse that died around the same time Colin Hanks showed up as a religious-obsessed villain wannabe. Ray Stevenson as the Ukraine baddy running a strip club and plotting revenge against Dexter for killing his male lover is always a good presence, but it’s just not enough. Stick a big blade in it, Dex, and let this once excellent series die in peace.
This show used to be about Steve Buscemi as 1920’s Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson walking the thin line between being a respectable politician or a bootleg gangster. After he blew away his co-star and figurative son at the end of last season, that balancing act was obliterated. Now the show is about all the side characters; Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and a new psycho gangster Gyp Rosetti, who makes Joe Pesci in Goodfellows look reasonably sane, and… it works. Nucky Thompson is now the least interesting character on the show, but this wild assortment of blossoming gangsters more than fills the bottle. Maybe they should REALLY surprise us by the end of this season and kill off Nucky himself. The title still works without him.
The Walking Dead
Who alive isn’t watching this show? Oh, right, my wife and anyone else who doesn’t appreciate well-choreographed mayhem and gore. They killed (do you actually ‘kill’ a zombie?) more flesh eaters in the first episode of this season than the previous two seasons combined. It’s not the most wholesome father-son bonding experience, but my sixteen year-old son and I enjoy the creative ways each week the ‘living’ versions of the walking dead characters mush, mangle, stab, shoot, shovel and Louisville slugger the brains of the ‘dead’ walking dead. The only reason we actually DVR this show is to watch it 15 minutes after the start time to zip through the commercials and try to maintain the ‘mood,’ which is often destroyed by that over-caffeinated Talking Dead host dope popping up mid-show to do a plug. If we didn’t watch this show the first night on, my son would hear all the spoilers of who died next in the episode by his buddies in first period at high school the next morning. This may be the only series on television where more brains are destroyed on the screen, than those sitting before a television screen.
Showtime really knocked one out of the park with this series and the fantastic cast of Claire Danes, Damien Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. But since it was immortalized (or should I say molested) in a Saturday Night Live sketch highlighting Carrie’s bulging eye hysterics and Brody’s tiny-mouthed outbursts, I haven’t been able to watch it as seriously since. I love that they didn’t stretch out the ‘Is Carrie crazy or is Brody really a sleeper terrorist?’ plot past the third episode this season, but where do you go once you’ve had Mandy Patinkin’s character Saul sighing and rubbing his brow while listening to Carrie and Brody loudly bonk each other’s brains out while being monitored by the CIA in a cheap motel room as she tries to keep their precious double agent in play. There’s no place left to go but another sketch on Saturday Night Live.
Add The Amazing Race, which we watch in real time, and once again Sunday night dominates about 47 percent of my regular series television viewing. Just call us one of those ‘victims’ and ‘takers’ of what Sunday night generously has to give.
— A. Wayne Carter