Thursday, 8 February 2018

Best television of 2017

Man, I watch too much television. Netflix must love me, though. 

As a kid, after-school television was the highlight of my weekdays. Much to my mum’s behest, that was reruns of Saved by the Bell; on the rare occasion, Gilmore Girls would be airing in its place. I wasn’t obsessed with the show at the time, although I was into it enough that when I heard the news of the revival, it spurred me on to watch the original series in its entirety – all thanks to Netflix. 

Once I had relieved the cozy, small-town goings on of Stars Hollow, I eventually reached the 2016 sequel to the original series – Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. The four-episode revival relies heavily on nostalgia, whilst exploring where these characters have been and what they have done in the past nine years. The show immediately delves straight back into the warmth that the original series emitted, especially from seeing the familiar characters again. 

For me, Luke and Lorelai were the highlights of both the original series and the revival, along with the unique relationship between mother and daughter – Lorelai and Rory – which is extremely familiar to me from the best-friend relationship I have with my mum. A Year in the Life may have missed the mark on Rory’s character development, but it still knows that the most important aspect of this show has always been Lorelai and Rory’s relationship, and that doesn’t change at all.

I have also come to the realization through watching this series that I am slowly but surely turning into Luke. 

The fandom surrounding the Marvel universe still irks me greatly, but I do appreciate some of the work that has been created; especially Netflix’s arm of the Marvel machine. Jessica Jones made me appreciate the ‘lesser’ characters within the universe (i.e. not the Avengers) and gave me a solid reason to continue to watch the shows included in the television universe.

You’d think that Daredevil would have been my first foray into the Netflix Marvel-verse, but I really don’t feel that connected to the series. I don’t know why but hold my attention as much as Jessica Jones did. I only watched it since all the shows are connected … and through my brother forcing me to watch it. And then came along the announcement of The Defenders, which would feature Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage.

Iron Fist became my third Marvel show, tied with Luke Cage (I watched both at the same time) in prep for The Defenders. What was intriguing with Iron Fist were the damning reviews; especially regarding Finn Jones portrayal of Danny Rand / Iron Fist. I didn’t see the issue really, he portrayed a man brought up for fifteen years in unconventional circumstances, brought back to Western civilization with a combination of innate powers and a juvenile outlook on life in New York.

Danny Rand wasn’t the conventional superhero that audiences were used to, and therefore stirred up a weird controversy which marred Jones in the press junkets and reviews of the show as a whole. I implored the difference in narrative and characters, even if the plot could fall flat in some instances. I really enjoyed Iron Fist; much more than I thought I would.

The Defenders had already come out by the point I had gotten thoroughly into Luke Cage (and the end of Iron Fist) and was so surprised by this series. It completely distances itself away from the rest of the Marvel television canon, painting its own socially conscious canvas, portraying an intimate setting of Harlem and the community struggles within.

It’s able to balance the superhero aspect from the reality, almost running two separate narratives of Luke Cage ‘finding’ his place in everything, and the criminal underworld of the fictional nightclub Harlem’s Paradise; run by Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes with input from Stokes cousin and Harlem councilwoman, Marion Dillard. 

Due to my inability to binge-watch, I eventually caught up with the rest of the world with The Defenders after watching the aforementioned shows probably in the wrong order. Along with my tendency to spoil certain plot points to make myself feel less anxious and don’t want my expectations ruined/crushed; The Defenders totally rules. 

A limited series (sadly), The Defenders combines well-known characters of the Marvel television universe, finally working together as a team to kick some serious ass. The greatest aspect of the series – for me anyway – is the inventive use of the color palette.

Each series independently had its own color scheme: Luke Cage (yellow), Iron Fist (green), Daredevil (red) and Jessica Jones (blue). Once the team got together by episode four of The Defenders, the colors merged to create a dark, grungey atmosphere – fit for my favorite renegade Jessica Jones.

I can agree that Daredevil is fantastic television, but the characters just do not grab me. It wasn’t until the second season and Frank Castle was introduced that I actually cared for any of the characters of the show. I ended up being more engaged with a character that was first introduced in the series, rather than the characters I had already been on a journey with for the first thirteen episodes of season one. 

He made the entire show for me; he had the most prominent character development in the span of thirteen episodes, and Jon Bernthal’s portrayal was prominent, powerful and emotionally charged. 

The Punisher literally became the sole reason why I binged watched the hell out of season two and was hoping so hard that he’d get his own series. And what happened?

He got his own damn series. Certainly, the best Marvel has to offer at the moment, The Punisher isn’t scared to delve into the dark depths of PTSD, anxiety and the aftermath of loss and war. It’s also Marvel’s most violent series, wasting no qualm at showing the brutalities associated with this kind of vigilante justice. 

Maybe its just because I like the confidence in showing realistic brutality in what these ‘heroes’ do and the consequences, but The Punisher’s best aspect is how it humanizes and deepens the character of Castle than what was first portrayed in the second series of Daredevil. 

It weirdly made me care more for Karen Page also; the chemistry between Castle and Page is electric and amazingly synchronized.

True Crime documentaries seem to be gaining popularity on streaming sites like Netflix, which is good for me since I’ve always been fixated on the intricacies and investigations surrounding these crimes. If I were better at science in secondary school, I would totally have a different career path in mind – forensic science.

As that ended up not to be my ‘destiny’ if you will, I do so vicariously through shows like Making a Murderer or The Confession Tapes; a show that came up in my recommended feed.

Focusing on six cases of possible false confessions, The Confession Tapes presents alternate views of the crimes committed, including interviews from those held responsible for crimes that they seemingly did not commit. Highlights for me in this series are ‘True East Part 1 and 2’ (EP01 + 02), ‘Trial by Fire’ (EP04) and ‘Down River’ (EP07). 

Similar to how I began watching The Confession Tapes, Mindhunter came under my radar after Netflix figured out my viewing habits. Mindhunter is slightly different in the sense that it’s fictional but based on non-fictional accounts by FBI agents John E. Douglas and Robert K. Kessler; both portrayed as Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). 

I was originally aiming to binge on Ozark had I not seen the trailer for Mindhunter first and learned about its context, i.e. grotesquely true crime that is hard to imagine happening in real life. 

Some of its dramatized, sure. But how the serial killers are modelled on actual convicted criminals with their prison scene dialogues were taken from real interviews is truly chilling.

I can’t remember how I came to find out about American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, but I’ve always been intrigued by this case. Once I became interested in true crime cases, I can remember this case coming up in a number of conversations with my Dad, as he drove past the crime scene in Brentwood a few weeks after the murders occurred. 

When the series began to air in February of 2016, I had just finished reading Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter: The Ture Story of the Manson Murders, and had begun Jeff Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People V. O. J. Simpson which I wanted to finish before I began the television show … meaning that I eventually got around to watching it in early 2017. I’m going to carry that process on before I watch the Gianni Versace and Hurricane Katrina chapters of the anthology series. 

The People v. O. J. at times felt like an actual documentary, once you got past the actors portraying the real individuals involved in the case. It gives you a weird, eerie feeling when they get scenes such as the Bronco chase so perfectly right, along with the court proceedings. It immediately transports you to the time of the crime and trial.

I can remember when Stranger Things first appeared on Netflix and completely obscure. I sound like such a hipster, but I watched it before it was cool, man! It was interesting to see how the show exploded, though, providing Netflix with a starting point of original programming to become popular within the regular television sphere. 

Season Two rolls along and I think I enjoyed it more than season one. I loved where they went with the narrative, plunging the kids into even more darkness than they were in in the first season, whilst splattering nostalgic references left, right and center. Along with that, the Duffer Brothers were able to carry the aesthetic over smoothly from the first season and made me fall head over heels in love with Steve (my GOD). 

Ominous, murky, hilarious and laden with synth, Stranger Things is quickly becoming one of the phenomena of the 21st century.

Tumblr can be used for good … sometimes. The site introduced me to one of my now favorite television series ever: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I first became aware of it after someone posting the famed ‘Pepe Silvia’ clip, to which I literally could not breathe from laughing at it so much. 

Twelve seasons in and I have no regrets and have developed a huge crush on Glenn Howerton.

Season twelve has got to be my favorite season by far after each season got progressively funnier with twelve just topping it. ‘The Gang Turns Black’, ‘The Gang Goes to the Water Park’ and ‘Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer’ are highlights of the entire series for me now.

When American Horror Story first came out in 2011, I wasn’t too sure about it. Similar to my stance on Marvel, I’m not a fan of the fandom surrounding it; especially in the way that they promote and make fan content towards the show like those insensitive ‘normal people scare me’ shirts.

Aside from that, I decided to watch the series once it appeared on Netflix. Towards the end of the first season, I began to have those familiar feelings of wanting to binge-watch – and that’s when you know you’ve got yourself into a good show (and a bad habit). Excluding the fandom, the show itself is fantastic and completely one-of-a-kind.

As Brian Falchuk has said of the series, the horror genre always lends itself to an aura of intrigue and that he and Ryan Murphy wanted to create a series that scares viewers. ‘You want people to be a little off balance afterward’, Falchuk states. And my G O D, it is.

I’m just about to begin Freak Show, and I don’t think I can even pick a favorite season yet. That’s the problem with an anthology series; each season is so unique and can become a favorite in its own right. 


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