Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

orange is the new black Archive



August 2014



The 2014 Summer TV Season Wrap Up

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A few weeks ago, I found myself in a state of disappointment over the summer TV season, a mentality that dissipated a bit as summer wore on. New shows such as Extant, Satisfaction, Rush, Tyrant, Halt and Catch Fire, The Last Ship, The Strain, Manhattan, You’re the Worst, and Married certainly weren’t bombs, but it’s hard to call any of them must see television either. They join sophomore offerings Ray Donovan, Under the Dome, Defiance, Maron, Graceland, and Hemlock Grove as shows that have niche audiences that don’t really draw the same wider excitement that older summer shows like Six Feet Under, Rescue Me, Entourage, Nip/Tuck used to have. This could be largest offering of ho hum shows in summer TV history.

Which leaves a few standout shows that for the most part existed either on the front or back end of the TV season. Louie and Orange is the New Black were long awaited gems, but they were also done before June was even halfway over. For all that was on in July, Rectify and Masters of Sex were the only universally praised shows airing new episodes. The fact that they air on Saturday and Sunday doesn’t do much to help the lull of must see summer television. Then there are Royal Pains, Falling Skies, Suits, and Covert Affairs, which have devoted fan bases, but aren’t really turning heads with innovation or ratings. True Blood is the sole veteran show to bid farewell and followed in the footsteps of Burn Notice and Dexter in supplying plenty of reasons for why its departure should be celebrated and not mourned.

The new shows mentioned all share in common that they exist in the middle ground between celebrated and irrelevant. The aggregate for the positive say they’re entertaining while the common complaint from the detractors is that they’re meh. Then there’s The Leftovers, which might have a similar Metacritic rating but doesn’t belong with the aforementioned rookies as it was easily the most polarizing show of the summer season. Damon Lindelof’s first show since Lost deserves most of its criticism, but I can’t say that I regret watching the grim yet sporadically satisfying post Rapture drama.

August began to change my opinion of the season as a whole. Outlander and The Knick are exactly what the summer season needed. Both shows are visually stunning, well acted historical dramas that haven’t proved they belong among TV ‘s best yet, but show far more potential than any of the other freshman shows. Garfunkel and Oates is in a similar position, which isn’t a big deal as we tend to forget that many shows don’t hit their stride in their first season anyway. The potential is there and it’s appreciated. It’s also worth noting that as neither have finished their runs, this could change sooner rather than later.

So what to make of the 2014 summer season? There was plenty to watch and if you tried all the new shows, chances are you liked at least one or two. How memorable they’ll be moving forward is another story.

I can’t think of another summer season that saw so many rookie shows wind up in the no man’s land between good and great. The rise of Netflix makes that territory less appealing as there’s no reason to watch something that you aren’t completely into with so many other choices at your disposal. If even just one or two had separated themselves from the pack, we’d be looking at a very strong summer season. Perhaps we still are. But that will vary from person to person when it could’ve been a consensus.

Opinions of the 2014 summer TV season remain largely subjective. But there’s something to be said for all the failed potential. TV’s in need of a few new headlining must see programs and we didn’t really get that this summer. But if you look at what we did get, you see that it could’ve been one for the ages. History could be kinder to it should any of those shows step up their game, but for now it was a puzzling year marred by odd scheduling and missed opportunities.

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June 2014



Orange is the New Black Searches for Balance Between Plot and Character Development

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Is it possible for Orange is the New Black to simultaneously be one of the best shows on TV and overrated? Season two of the prison comedy-drama solidified the show’s status as Netflix’ flagship program. The hype was certainly big, which isn’t very surprising considering the complete lack of anything else happening on TV in the month of June. But does it deliver?

This season takes much of the focus away from Chapman. The acting has always been OINTB’s strongest attribute and the cast rarely misses a beat. Kate Mulgrew and newcomer Lorraine Toussaint are responsible for the season’s meatiest moments while other characters make the most of their more limited screen time.

While the cast excels with whatever they’re given, the show suffers from a lack of direction. There are plenty of plotlines, but none of them feel as developed as they could be. Flashbacks and unnecessary scenes involving Jason Biggs, the show’s sole rotten egg performer, waste precious screen time that could be better dispersed elsewhere. Chapman’s breakup with Larry was a perfect opportunity to get rid of Biggs and yet the show missed a perfect opportunity to shed the 90s has been. There’s no good reason to keep him on the show when other characters are given nothing to do for the whole season.

The show also doesn’t utilize its ensemble cast to its full potential. For the most part, they’re completely separated from one another by individual plotline with very little overlap. The quirk feels a bit toned down when the characters are separated from one another and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The season as a whole feels a bit incomplete when it’s all said and done. Most storylines are left unresolved and the payoffs are less rewarding than they should be. It’s okay for OINTB to put its focus on character more than plot, but the balance is a bit lacking. The flashbacks aren’t needed in every episode anymore and the show would do well to recognize that. The same problem plagued Lost in its later years when the flashbacks were no longer necessary. Format changes are okay.

The wasted times affects the season’s most interesting storyline involving contraband smuggling and the subsequent power struggle between Mulgrew, Toussaint, and Selenis Leyva. The plotline is never dull, but it never reaches its full potential either. Hints are made that it could have prison wide ramifications, which would be the natural progression and yet the show hesitates to make this the center of attention. It feels like a slightly extended subplot that is naturally the big attention grabber as it’s the easiest talking point.

Chapman’s storyline is the biggest mess of them all. She starts off the season being duped by Alex, then paints herself as some kind of badass, followed by a highly unrealistic/unnecessary furlough, and finally settles for some Stockholm syndrome. Fun right?

Season two is often a mess and yet it’s a fun mess. The cast is a treat to watch and the concept lends itself well to binge watching. It’s no different from having regrets about eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting though no matter how fun it is. The acting is immensely satisfying, but you’re bound to question what it was all for.

The bar in theory should’ve been raised for this season coming off such a successful debut. It delivers on the acting front, but when it comes to creating a season with a beginning, middle, and end, the show fails to figure out how to make it all come together. That’s the problem with a show that only airs new episodes one day a year. You burn through the episodes fairly fast without stopping to examine the flavor.

Which is fun, but it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread (or Phish Food, whichever came first). OINTB is a very enjoyable program, but much of its praise should be taken in context. It doesn’t need to be better than anything else on TV, because the competition is hibernating when it comes out. The show entered itself for Emmy consideration as a comedy, a move that’s been tried by hour long comedy-dramas like Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, and Glee to mixed results. I’d be surprised if the show didn’t win Best Supporting Actress for either Mulgrew or Uzo Aduba, but voters have been reluctant to reward dramatic series for exploring genre loopholes.

This post has been oddly hard on a season that I did enjoy, but it’s somewhat unsatisfying when you consider the lack of growth that the show took in its sophomore offering. That’s hardly the slump that many other shows have struggled with, but it does preclude it from true contention as TV’s best program. OINTB is a show that settles for the status quo because the status quo works without trying to see if things could be better.

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