You like overviews? You want overviews? Great! Cause you’d better believe us when we say THIS is a goddam Overview!
by Steve Greene
There may come a day when the tide of TV programming starts to subside, when networks decide that sheer quantity is not enough t–
Ha, who are we kidding, there’s always going to be way too much TV to watch. So, in our ongoing quest to help viewers prioritize 2019 TV shows, we’ve assembled a giant list of every IndieWire TV review of the year, organized by the letter grade (A+ to F) that accompanies each of them. Some series have prompted follow-ups after pivotal episodes or finales, but the links below will take you to season reviews of all the shows listed.
These reviews were based on various numbers of episodes per season. (Due to the nature of production, sometimes only a handful of episodes are available before a show’s premiere — other times, the whole season is ready to be previewed.) So, with that context, let us offer our best attempts at a TV starting point for the year….
NOTE FROM LB: This is the review that I should have written about The Good Fight. But Michelle Goldberg has done it much better, so:
by Michelle Goldberg
In the second season of the serial drama “The Good Fight,” Diane Lockhart, an attorney played by the regal 67-year-old actress Christine Baranski, makes a heated speech at a meeting about a legal strategy for impeaching Donald Trump. “I have spent the last few months feeling deranged,” she shouts, though she uses an expletive before “deranged.” “Going numb! All Trump, all the time. What’s real, what’s fake? Well, you know what? I just woke up.”
This captures a pretty widespread feeling among Americans right now — consider all the women who mobilized for Democrats in the midterms — but it’s surprisingly rare to see it expressed in pop storytelling. Part of the dystopian character of Trump’s presidency is his ubiquity; he dominates the news cycle, late-night TV and book publishing. Yet Trumpism has, with only a few exceptions, gone weirdly unprocessed by fiction, either written or filmed.
Perhaps that’s because people are desperate for a respite from Trump, or because the imagination can’t compete with the strangeness of reality. It means that while there’s an explosion of news stories about the current moment, there’s a lack of the sort of human tales that might help discombobulated Americans make sense of what we’re going through.
Sure, “Saturday Night Live” makes valiant attempts to parody Trump, but it’s hard to caricature a caricature. And there are shows coming out that seem at least obliquely inspired by Trump’s odiousness, like Ava DuVernay’s dramatic mini-series about the Central Park Five, a group of wrongly imprisoned teenage boys demonized by Trump, which debuts at the end of the month. But the feeling that makes otherwise sane people wonder whether we’re all living in a computer simulation gone glitchy hasn’t yet been successfully channeled into any art that I’m aware of.
Except, that is, for “The Good Fight,” the only TV show that reflects what life under Trump feels like for many of us who abhor him. Its showrunners, the married couple Michelle and Robert King, have figured out how to alchemize our berserk era into entertainment. When historians look back at this ghastly moment — if there are still historians when it’s over — this fizzy, mordant cult series is likely to be one of its richest artifacts. It’s a balm, a reminder, on days when I feel like I’m cracking up, that it’s really the world that’s gone crazy….
Cold war intrigue is upon us this spring — not from Washington, D.C. or the Kremlin, but from ABC. Viewers need only turn to the alphabet network on Wednesday nights at 10:00 pm to catch the ambitious new hour-long espionage series Whiskey Cavalier.
The lightweight spy spoof/buddy comedy follows the escapades of an inter-agency group of agents who join forces to save the world from the worst the enemy has to offer.
Scott Foley (The Unit, Scandal) stars as Will Chase, an FBI super-agent whose official designation is ‘Whiskey Cavalier.’ He’s earned a reputation as a top-level spy, yet his mojo is currently on the fritz due to a nasty breakup with his fiancee (the as-yet unseen Gigi) six months earlier.
In the pilot episode, Will met and matched wits with his no-nonsense CIA counterpart, Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge (The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan), as the two pursued rogue NSA systems analyst turned hacker Edgar Standish (Tyler James Williams, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders), who was wanted for treason after he amscrayed from his department with covert intelligence files.
With their competitive natures, Will and Frankie (whose own field designation is ‘Fiery Tribune’) played a dangerous — and often comic — game of one-upmanship in order to deliver Standish to their respective agencies. Their rivalry in turn became the greatest threat to the success of their mission.
But when the Russians showed up to steal Standish from both of them, Will and Frankie were forced into an uneasy alliance that not only thwarted their opponents but led to Standish’s vindication.
Their bosses were so impressed by the joint venture that they decided to keep Will, Frankie, and Standish together in an inter-departmental effort between the FBI, CIA and NSA. Joining them are a support team of fellow spooks: Dr. Susan Sampson (Ana Ortiz, Ugly Betty), a top FBI profiler who also happens to be Will’s analyst; and CIA Weapons Specialist Jai Datta (Vir Das), the only person in the world Frankie sincerely trusts.
Then there’s Ray Prince (Josh Hopkins, Quantico, Cougar Town), the FBI’s Head of Evidence Response. Ray wants to be a part of the team, too. Problem is he’s incompetent and untrustworthy — and could very well be a double agent.
The five mismatched agents must pull their resources while keeping their egos in check. To protect their true identities from the rest of the world (particularly their enemies), the team poses as a group of friends partnering up to open a New York Irish pub called ‘The Dead Drop.’ In essence, it becomes their batcave.
Will and Frankie make for an interesting pair. Their strengths and weaknesses could either make or break their missions. Will is emotionally needy, while Frankie is withdrawn and unavailable. Yet despite their differences, these two oddball agents have somehow made a mutual connection. There’s always a chance that they’ll end up satisfying each others needs, which might lead to romance. But let’s hope they’re able to become friends first.
Whiskey Cavalier is one of the more ambitious programs to hit network TV recently. ABC placed an initial order for 13 episodes, then sent the cast and crew packing. The series is set in different foreign locale each week, but rather than recreating the world on L.A. soundstages, the producers opted to add authenticity by filming on actual locations in and around Prague and other areas of the Czech Republic. Production commenced on September 8, 2018 and wrapped on February 23, 2019, just one-day before Whiskey made its high-profile debut following this years Oscars telecast.
Not everyone, however, is thrilled with the lighter moments of the show. Whiskey is a ‘dramedy, ’ but today’s audiences may not be as open to the genre as past audiences were. It’s like trying to sell fans of Daniel Craig’s James Bond on “Moonraker” or “Octopussy.” It’s become a sore spot with many viewers.
Yet one look at the names of those working behind-the-scenes on Whiskey and suddenly the programs often comedic tones will make a little more sense. The show was created by David Hemingson (Just Shoot Me) and produced by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs).
The reasoning behind the move, according to Scott Foley in early interviews, is that there’s so much violence and hate in the real world — and on TV — that they wanted to do something that would provide fans with both thrills and a bit of escapism.
Once Foley signed on, he packed up his entire family — his wife Marika and their three young daughters — and made the six-month shoot in Prague an extended family affair. The girls even attended school there for a semester.
The series got off to a great start with its post-Oscar show preview, scoring impressive numbers (including an 85 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer) and positive reviews.
But in its regular Wednesday night timeslot, viewership has dropped consistently over the past five weeks, and analysts are predicting that the future of Whiskey Cavalier will most likely ride on how the two episodes scheduled for April 10 and 17 perform in the ratings.
Perhaps Standish can hack into the Nielsen computers.
Doug Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Check him out on IMDB.
Fans have been arguing about whether CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery is absolute genius or total dreck since the series premiered in 2018. Now it’s 2019 (“Oh, really? I’ll be damned”), and last week brought us the second season premiere–
Which, believe it or don’t, has begotten a whole new, ahem, “discussion” of genius versus dreck, shit versus Shinola, and on and on and on. Inasmuch as our feckless leader, Larry Brody, was an early disciple of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (in other words, he spent much of his early career working for the Great Bird His Very Self, writing for a variety of projects including ST:TAS, ST: TNG, and ST:VOYAGER) we here at TVWriter™ also have found ourselves caught up in the debate, we thought we’d give y’all some samples of current thinking.
Let the debate begin!
There you have it, three different video views of the first episode featuring the Trekkers Delight known as Captain James Pike. And if by chance you’re actually interested in reading some thoughtful words, there’s also this review from Siskoid’s Blog of Geekery:
STAR TREK #1472: BROTHER
CAPTAIN’S LOG: Captain Pike takes command of the Discovery and takes it on a dangerous mission.
WHY WE LIKE IT: It’s funny and exciting. Pike is cool.
WHY WE DON’T: That jackass Connely. Is that really Spock’s voice?
REVIEW: Season 2 of Discovery begins with a familiar name (not to say face) joining the crew as its (temporary?) commanding officer, Captain Christopher Pike.
Anson Mount looks vaguely like both Jeffrey Hunter and Bruce Greenwood, but regardless of your familiarity with those interpretations, brings immediate charm to the role. We quickly get a sense of who he is. A practical man who is (but for one line) anti-technobabble and likes easy to understand analogies.
An honest man who uses transparency to get the trust of his crew, and treats them as a team where rank doesn’t really matter (even gives us the feeling we’re going to see more of the extended bridge crew, and indeed, they get their moments).
He’s a little out of it, having been forced to sit out the war, and on a ship that is not his own while Enterprise gets repaired from system-wide failure. And he gets serious sometimes, will act like the dad if his officers start bickering, has no patience for defeatist attitudes, and is loyal to a fault when it comes to his people.
This is post-The Cage (there’s a cute reference to it in Lorca’s old ready room), and for older fans, the “toll” the journey took on the Enterprise’s captain stems from that episode.
I’m very happy that he sticks around at the end, and rather intrigued by how he and Saru will “share” command. After Lorca’s dark secrets, it’s nice to have a more heroic figure leading the crew, and Pike makes a great first impression.
Not to say there aren’t mysteries set up in this first episode. At first, I thought the asteroid was the origin of dilithium or something, but no, it was already a thing in that Short Trek with Tilly. So what IS this new power source?
But that’s a MacGuffin. The big mystery is really the relationship between Michael and her foster brother Spock. Part of the story is told through flashbacks to her adoption by Sarek and Amanda, and the decidedly uncommunicative younger Spock who would rather play with his futuristic Etch-a-Sketch than deal with his new sister…
Love it or loathe it, YOU, the series that drew little attention when the dark anti-hero thriller/romance first aired on the Lifetime network, has become a viral hit after re-premiering on Netflix in December of 2018.
The modest ten-episode series that barely reached a viewership of 600,000 in its initial broadcast hit the 40,000,000 mark when it landed on the international streaming service.
The streaming juggernaut has not only taken control of the series as a ‘Netflix Original,’ commissioning an additional 10-episode second season (now in pre-production) but has asked for a third installment even before cameras turn on the second run.
Let’s take a writerly overview of what made YOU a breakout hit and what we can learn from it.
LOOK WHO’S STALKING…
The antihero has become the new leading man, especially in television.
In his 2013 book, DIFFICULT MEN Behind the scenes of the Creative Revolution: From the Sopranos to Mad Men to Breaking Bad, author Brett Martin explores the evolution of the antihero in television and why we have learned to love the ‘bad boys’.
According to Martin, rather than seeking traditional role models, we have grown tired of good guys. The good guys are too damned predictable – they have nowhere to go – nowhere to grow.
Lead characters with complex flaws and dark backstories are more interesting to write and more interesting to watch. They thrive in the shadows and fight inner demons. We can relate (to some degree) to their struggle to overcome their flaws and damaged origins to become better people.
John Truby sees character arc as leading the character to a positive or negative self-revelation – to discover their ultimate truth. Stories that lead characters to deep self-discovery are naturally compelling.
NARRATION IS A WEAK LAZY CHOICE… UNLESS IT ISN’T…
One of the surprising elements on You that works remarkably well is the ongoing internal monologue of the lead character, Joe.
As the story unfolds in present time (whereas most narration is reflective) the series follows the lead of the original novel by author Caroline Kepnes and puts us deep inside the mind of the protagonist.
The book unfolds entirely from the point of view of the protagonist, therefore, we are forcibly placed in his singular perception and understanding of what unfolds – his desires, his choices, his actions and rational.
At times this internalized perception shifts in surprising ways. We feel like we know Joe – even like him… but then he does little off-putting things like masturbating outside his perspective girlfriend’s open window while she makes love to her current boyfriend… and starts killing people. A lot of people…
Did I mention Joe is flawed? Did we continue to side with Dexter when he dismembered bad guys with a bone saw? Did we secretly sort of hope that Walter White would get away with his crimes?
BAD, BADDER, BADDEST…
Joe is a seriously sick puppy, creating the major challenge faced by showrunner Sera Gamble. In an interview for the website, NME.COM she offered:
I think we are hardwired to want to forgive characters like Joe. Most leading characters in most TV shows and films are just straight white men. Most of them cross lines that are problematic, and we are trained to forgive them and see them as the star and the hero of the story.
“So, our show is just interested in getting our fingernails in the dirt of that, really. I think the way that Penn (lead actor, Penn Badgely) addresses this is emblematic of his sort of dry sense of humour about it all.
But I will say this: in season two – and ideally beyond – Joe, who is not a monster and is somebody who contains a lot of confidence hits within himself, he may have a moment where he seeks redemption, but that’s different than the show wanting to redeem the character.”
To put it another way, the show does not try to justify Joe’s actions, instead, it uses the internal monologue to place us inside his motivations – we may not feel comfortable with what he does, but he does, and that allows us to follow his story, albeit an uncomfortable journey.
One major change from the book is the entire B-Story with Pedro, the little boy next door to Joe who is suffering an abusive relationship with his drugged-out mom and her brutal boyfriend.
Joe relates to the kid, protects him and ultimately kills for him. Not in the book at all – entirely added for the series.
Why? Because they use the device to create more balance for the character than existed in the original book. Joe relates to the boy, providing an entry point to explore his own abusive childhood and his strange formative relationship with Mr. Mooney, the owner of the bookshop who adopted him when he was a teenager, teaching Joe valuable lessons in life and antique book restoration by imprisoning him in the soundproof cage in the basement. (Don’t all bookstores have these?)
These sympathetic details flesh out his character and allows to see beyond his creepy stalker/killer persona.
Another change from the book is how we perceive Joe’s victims. (Getting into major spoiler territory here – get over it.)
In the book, Benji (his first kill) is just a hipster douche. In the series, Benji is a hipster douche who killed a kid in Thailand while on vacation and has the video to prove it. Well… I guess Joe can kill him…
And Peach Salinger… in the book, Joe chases her down while she’s jogging on the beach and brutally smothers her in the sand before dumping her in the ocean with stones her pockets ala Virginia Wolfe in a presumed literary inspired suicide.
Of course, in the series, Peach is dispatched off-camera in what Joe assures us was self-defense. All these additions and changes allow the audience to feel more comfortable with relating to this increasingly hard to love antihero.
The You pilot didn’t mislead us about who Joe was — we saw the romantic, the stalker, the protector — and the killer. Back to showrunner Sera Gamble:
“In writing the pilot we talked about how we saw the pilot as like a little capsule of Joe Goldberg. By the end of it, you had to have the complete spectrum where you really understood [the character].
You saw the best of him; at the beginning in the bookstore, I think also how he interacts with Paco. And then also braining someone with a hammer. We wanted the whole thing.”
But Joe’s love interest, Guinevere Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail) is severely underdeveloped as a character. This is in part a carryover from the original novel in which we only have Joe’s perception, so we only ever see her through his eyes. The series makes more of an effort to put meat on her thin bones, but the character never seems worthy of the obsession she inspires. She’s just another pixie dream girl.
Back to showrunner Gamble again, this time from The Hollywood Reporter:
“It was important to us in telling her story to have her — because she’s just alone in there and there’s literally nothing else for her to do besides think about this stuff — we wanted her to track through all of the things she’d be thinking about what had landed her in the cage. We wanted to be sure that we hit on the conclusion that there was no way for her to win.
It wasn’t as though she was dumb or selfish and so therefore, she deserves to be locked in a cage like an animal, rather that in many ways the situation has been unwinnable for her for a long time. This is just the most extreme version of that.”
Beck is a dream-girl, a target, a cypher… we knew this would not end well for her – but somehow, we hoped it would. It doesn’t. Yet, in the end she is not a victim. She does everything she can do to survive – to convince Joe she truly understands him and his twisted vision of the world.
Beck’s death is heartbreaking and strangely romantic in a sick way, because we have been conditioned to see her fate through Joe’s eyes. What other choice did he have? The appearance of the presumed dead Candace (the old girlfriend) as a hook at the end offers a tantalizing tease to what the next season will hold when the action shifts to California. But that’s another story.
According to Gamble in The Hollywood Reporter:
“Part of the fun of continuing the story is that the loose ends from Joe’s past are still dangling and could come back to him at any time. He is very worried about the fact that Peach Salinger’s family has hired people to investigate her alleged suicide, and there is evidence potentially still at her house from season one.
If you look at every act of violence that he does in season one, that is potentially something that could come back and bite him.”
In fact, one of the big flaws in the series (slightly less-so in the book) is that Joe is the sloppiest/luckiest serial killer who ever bagged a victim.
(NOTE TO SELF: Do not leave a jar of your own urine at a crime scene… And wear gloves… And plan… And don’t cremate bodies in the woods where hikers can wander by…)
On the other hand, had Joe been more crafty and less impulsive, we might not have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
THE CYBER FACTOR…
In both the book and the series, the theme of how we live our lives online is an important element and I think has contributed to the viral popularity of You.
Though Joe’s success at hacking into Beck’s cyber-life lack any credibility, the illustration of it presents a well-executed examination of how Instagramed and Facebooked our lives have become – and the danger that represents. It’s one thing that Beck can’t seem to afford curtains (duh…) but we can all relate to the fear of being cyber-stalked or hacked.
FINDING THE RIGHT AUDIENCE…
You is the perfect Netflix show, and I suspect the freedom of producing the subsequent seasons for streamer will only make it better. Netflix does not release demographic info, but I am willing to bet the show appeals to young, urban viewers – women in particular, who have long been the target audience for crime dramas and ‘bad boy’ antiheros.
Originally developed by Greg Berlanti (RIVERDALE) and Sara Gamble for Showtime, after Showtime passed, the series ultimately ended up on Lifetime before finding a home on Netflix.
I’m going out on a limb here, but my perception of a Lifetime audience (having written a MOW for the network) is primarily middle-class moms, middle-aged or older. While they might have warmed to the ‘romance’ of You, once Joe brains a guy with a hammer, they probably switched back to Ellen ASAP.
According to a recent article in the (not failing) New York Times, Bela Bajaria, a vice president of content for Netflix said she was enthusiastic about You from the moment she read the script.
“We really felt this hit a sweet spot for our audience, and we felt that our members would love the show,” she said. “I was hoping it would be big.”
In fact, after Lifetime balked at a second season, Netflix committed to making more episodes even before the series began streaming. Exec Producer Berlanti joked, “If Joe is a man who is simply just searching for love, well, then, our show finally found the right partner.”
Further to the show’s success, Bajaria offered, “It’s actually done well in every region, and that doesn’t always happen,” adding that she was particularly pleased with its performance in Latin America, France and the Philippines, which speaks not only to the universality of the story, but to the globalization of writing for television.
It’s a streaming world, boys and girls. Get used to it.
A teacher of screenwriting at the Vancouver Film School, Rick Drew has written over one hundred hours of television and developed series for Universal Television, Warner Brothers International, Ivan Reitman Productions and the CBC. He is currently developing a one-hour police drama for Global Television. Oh, and LB wants y’all to know that Rick writes fast – very fast.