2017 minus 46: It’s “what I’m watching” wednesday (Part 1)

Posted: 16 November 2016 in 2017 minus, what I'm watching
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It’s been a while since I’ve done any reviews or thought on television. I occasionally mention “tv shows I don’t like that everyone else does” and I’m duly mocked by those who consider that I have no taste (arguable) or no sense (more arguable). Usually, though, like any form of entertainment I don’t enjoy, my response is not that the show/comedian/movie is no good, nor that I have no taste… it’s just that it’s not to my taste.

But it occurs to me that I hardly ever tell you what I do enjoy watching. I started this post intending to write about comedy, but for various reasons, that’s going to be tomorrow.

So, in no particular order, what tv am I enjoying right now? (This turned out to be a long one, so I’m going to do it as multi-parts, one part very Wednesday. Won’t that be something too look forward to? Yes. Yes, it will. Won’t it?)

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
I’m tickled that Last Week Tonight abbreviates to LWT. There’s no reason why I should find it so amusing, and indeed, odds are that if you’re reading this, you don’t find it amusing at all. In fact, you probably don’t know what LWT is, and was, to a whoe generation of British people. LWT was London Weekend Television, and was for me ‘the weekend’. From early Friday Evening until Sunday night, my ‘local’ telly station was LWT. The logo is over there, by the side. 

Er-hem. Moving on.

Last Week Tonight, as everyone knows, is John Oliver’s show, the show he created for HBO about a year after his just wonderful three month stint sitting in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, while Stewart was directing  a movie. It took three shows, just three, for Oliver to stop all the “It’s The Daily Show but on Sundays” criticism levelled at the new show. I say ‘criticism’, but that’s too harsh. It was an observation, a wrong one as it happens, as Oliver quickly made LWT into its very own beast. 

I’m not sure what makes me love the show so much. That’s not true: I do know, but I don’t know what single element makes me love it. Because for once a show has the perfect synergy of clever writing,  fantastic helming by Oliver, understanding of social media and its power, smart graphics, intelligent and detailed research, superbly judged guest cameos, and fact checking like you wouldn’t believe. The format allows Oliver to get genuinely angry about things, and the show gives him the  freedom to express that anger. With other ‘adult’ shows, I sometimes get the feeling of “ooh, it’s adult, we can say the word ‘fuck'” naughtiness. Not with LWT, or at least only ever very rarely. Every swear word, every bit of anger shown is – I have no doubt – genuine.

I’ve never met John Oliver, though we have mutual friends. He was a middlingly successful standup comedian over here in the UK before he joined The Daily Show and he occasionally did The Now Show, and Have I Got News For You. I’m genuinely delighted for his success and for the success of the show. He’s just done the last show of his current run of Last Week Tonight, and I’m already missing the show. My week won’t be the same without it.

Once Upon A Time
I’m a sucker for retellings of fairy tales. Whether it’s in prose (Snow Glass Apples by Neil Gaiman and the trilogy Poison, Chase, and Beauty by Sarah Pinborough stand out), in comics (you have read Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, yes?) or on television, I love seeing how clever writing can make classic tales new. And Once Upon A Time does just that. It had a dip in quality in season 3 that actually led me to drop watching, but out of curiosity, I went back at the start of season 4 and was hooked (you’ll forgive the word, if you’ve seen the series) again. Not every episode f strong, not every performance is wonderful, not every storyline is clever. But enough are, and there’s more than enough plotting and sub-plotting, throughout every show that I keep coming back one more week.

Quantico
One of the cleverest hooks for a show I can recall: in present day, New York suffers a terrorist attack. A newly qualified FBI agent at the scene is told that her organisation believes one of her classmates from a year earlier was involved. And the show then splits into two timelines, one showing her training and the people she trained with… and the other showing the current investigation as well as what happened to all those bright young recruits. The only fault with the show – and it’s one that has continued into the second season – is that sometimes, just sometimes, the flashback/current day synchronicity is a bit… clunky. A lesson learned back then will resonate just a bit too clunkily with a problem to be solved in present day. The acting is great, especially since the actors have to essentially play two roles, one the green recruit, one a  qualified agent. And in one case, the actor has to play four roles. Trust me, it works.

The Arrowverse

Yeah, was kind of obvious, nu? So let’s get them out of the way now. And yes, they’re grouped together because of the four shows, two were direct spin-offs of The Arrow and the fourth, while not originally part of the family of shows, as of this year… is.

The Flash
Let’s get this one out of the way first, as – sadly – it’s my least favourite. And it shouldn’t be. The first season was really good: clever, funny, full of joy… did I mention funny? Later seasons, and we’re a third of the way through season 3 now, lost that. The first season, while having loads of dark moments and clever plotting, was about the joy of discovering what it’s like to be ‘the fastest man alive’. We discovered the sheer fun of being really fast through the eyes of Barry Allen. Then… no. I mean, I really wish I liked this show more than I do. But whatever it had in the early days, it’s lost. I only watch it now for the same reason I read crossover issues of comics I’m not keen on. Just in case I miss something important. Meh.

Legends of Tomorrow
Take a group of diverse characters from the Arrowverse, con them into thinking they’re really important to history, and get them to help you save your son from dying in the future. And since you’re a time traveller, they’ll believe the ‘really important’ bit. Clever set up, but a one episode gag, right? No. Wrong. Flat wrong. This is the show that Flash was in the first season. Clever, funny, smart and dark when necessary. The diversity of the characters, morally as well as otherwise, is fun to watch, and the different time zones allow the characters’ different facets to shine through. At one point in history, knowing how to make a fire is more important than knowing how to fix an engine. At another, knowing how to fight a staged battle was more important than anything. At another, diplomacy was as deadly as a ray gun. Like Once Upon A Time, not every story is a winner, but the hit rate is good enough to keep me watching.

Supergirl
Not quite my favourite of the lot, but damn this show is fun. Perfect casting, great performances, and a Supergirl who can kick butt with the best of them. Other than that, I have no reason why I enjoy the show. The plotting isn’t the best, the episodic nature works agains the show, and the pacing isn’t quite there. But you know what, I don’t care, I just don’t. For once, I just enjoy watching a superhero done right.

Arrow
The daddy of them group. Considering how much I lament the lack of humour, or wonder, in other shows, doesbn’t bother me at all here. This is a show that doesn’t pretend that the characters aren’t hugely damaged: seriously, there’s nt one of the main cast, or even the supporting cast, that isn’t hugely, hugely damaged. And seeing in flashback how one of them became that way, while watching in ‘present day’ the others become that way? It’s grisly and somehow compelling. Do I believe that an of the Arrowverse heroes/vigilantes could occur in ‘real life’? Naah. But if any did, it’d be The Hood.

See you tomorrow, with something about comedy, and who to blame if your favourite comedian doesn’t play your local theatre.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

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