Tag Archives: halt and catch fire

Best of 2016: Shows

There were 455 scripted TV shows that aired in 2016. No one could watch them all and no one save for critics could watch even a significant fraction of them. We have so many options now and a decent portion of them are really solid choices that are capable of exciting and enchanting us. This is always a hard list for me to make because I watch so much TV and I really love most of what I watch. So in addition to my top 10 that I’ve briefly talked about, I included an additional 10 honorable mentions that I would recommend just as enthusiastically as my actual top 10. Especially since when I finalize these lists, I always feel like I have more to say about my dramas so my comedy favorites get a little neglected.

1. Rectify (Sundance) What a beautiful, special show. Over the course of four seasons, this show has treated its characters with such empathy and grace. It has been a slow and thoughtful journey all leading up to the finale and an important realization. Mistakes of the past can’t always be rectified, but we can still grow and move past them. We can become better. We can heal. Daniel’s imprisonment and subsequent release are moments that will shape not only his life, but the lives of each member of his family and the people drawn into their world. But they do not have to define them any longer. There is room for hope and all the messy emotions that accompany it. There is a place for dreams that take you far outside your comfort zone. There is a place for family and love, for forgiveness and understanding. It is a time for rebirth. This show has been one of the most emotionally satisfying I have ever experienced and I will always be grateful that it existed and went out on its own terms.

2. The Americans (FX) This show just keeps getting better as the seasons go on. It’s in the act of maintaining the tension and the emotional release that I find the show most impressive and it did that better than ever this year. After years of service with little break, the Jennings finally got to step back from their duties and truly be a family. It was a peace that couldn’t last as they still have a job to do, but that small bit of relief made all the difference. This could be a dark and depressing show. It’s full of lies and secrets and pain, inflicted both intentionally and unintentionally. But just as Philip and Elizabeth’s break helped bring them back from their breaking point, this show finds ways to prevent itself from becoming unbearably bleak. It’s a show that loves and honors the connections these characters make, even if those connections ultimately end in heartbreak. It recognizes their value and the way Martha shaped Philip and Young Hee shaped Elizabeth. Just because they started as assets to be manipulated didn’t mean that was their full value. We were encouraged to love them and care for them just as much as the Jennings did even when we knew we shouldn’t. It’s remarkable storytelling and I could never recommend this show enough.

3. American Crime Story: People vs. OJ Simpson (FX) I can’t speak to the authenticity of this series but I do know what it has done to re-contextualize this trial and the people involved in it. The original was such a media spectacle that it seems a perfect fit for a television show like this, especially when combined with a talented cast such as this one. We got to see the role racism and sexism played, the way it became a media circus, and most importantly, we saw a show that never forgot the victims in this case. Yes, the trial was technically centered around OJ Simpson but it never felt like he was the star of the show. It was a battle of the lawyers and we saw how deeply the outcome of this case affected Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. They wanted to win it for the Brown and Goldman families. They may not have won then and they have been mocked for it ever since, but I appreciate what this show has done to make people see how wrong they were to do so and for ending the show with Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, who somehow got lost amongst the madness of this trial.

4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW) This show could have made the list for the music alone, which continues to be fantastic, but even beyond the clever songs, this is one of the most confidently made shows on TV. It always feels like it always knows where it wants to take these characters. It knows when to lean into expectations and when to run the other way from them. The second season has been especially smart in ditching the love triangle in a believable way while focusing on the real relationship of the show, the messy friendship between Rebecca and Paula. The supporting characters round out the cast in the most delightful ways and the show has become even better as more of them are able to be highlighted.

5. Person of Interest (CBS) I would have loved a longer final season but there were so many outstanding episodes in the one we got. This season gave us a look into Shaw’s mind and the depth of her love for Root. No matter what happened, in any scenario Samaritan could dream up, Root was her constant. Her touchstone. She is her safe place and the only thing on the planet she would die to protect. I think the writers would have loved to give these two more time, but maternity leave made that impossible, so we were given this beautiful gift and I’m grateful. We got some truly lovely moments of Team Machine coming together to protect The Machine and Finch. We saw to see the people the Machine had saved and later recruited to her cause come together to save the people who originally saved them. We saw this family come together to save each other and save the world. However unrealistic, I would have loved if they could have done it all without any losses. But I know that was never in the cards. John’s death was always coming and I’m sure he’s in the Machine listening to Root call him a big lug and having all those conversations with Joss they never got to have while she was alive. These characters will live on and the memory of this show will live on in the hearts of the fans and create new ones as people discover it through Netflix.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Shows

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Best of 2016: Episodes

It’s been another outstanding year for television. With so many truly great and memorable episodes to choose from, I had to find some sort of logical way to whittle down this list to my top 10. This year it seems, I really loved episodes that wanted to be about something. I want my TV to take a hard look at topics that can be uncomfortable and shine a different light on them. I don’t want them to gloss over the uglier or more painful sides to humanity in service of a story. At the same time, I don’t want that ever be the whole focus. The best episodes are the ones that show a light ahead and connections being made between people even in the bleakest of times. The idea of connection and focus on relationships is so prevalent on this list, in both the top 10 and the honorable mentions. I love that this is the direction television seems to be going after the age of the solitary antihero and look forward to more fantastic episodes in 2017.

1. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia (American Crime Story: People v. OJ Simpson) This show tried to address a lot of things, many of which are found in this episode and all of which I find fascinating. But when I look at this episode in isolation and not part of the larger whole it is contained it, one thing stands out most in my mind. I remember Marcia Clark (as I should, given the episode title). I remember the sexism that surrounded her during this trial that manifested in ways large and small. While also prosecuting the biggest trial of her life, Clark was facing another battle. She was in the middle of custody and child support disputes. She wasn’t a good enough mother to her children because she wasn’t there enough. She wasn’t sufficiently attractive and well-dressed enough to win the public’s approval. And when she tried to change it, she didn’t do a good enough job there either. She dared to have her husband (at the time) take photographs of her naked on a beach, where they were presumably alone, and his decision to profit from their release became another flaw in her character. She failed to uphold traditional gender ideals and was punished for it. Yes, as a prosecutor, she and Chris Darden failed to convict OJ Simpson for a variety of reasons. But it would be foolish to act as though her gender didn’t hurt the way she was perceived in the years that follow. Sarah Paulson is simply incredible here in the way she portrays the toll things like this take on a person’s psyche. Her haircut made her feel confident. She was asked to care about it so she made a change and she felt beautiful. That confidence was quickly burst by the reactions of everyone in the courtroom, save for Darden. It was humiliating and hurt but she couldn’t show it because it would have made her weak. It would be yet another example of her failure to compose herself and be somehow unfit. So she blinked back those tears and pressed forward, knowing that the room and the world were now laughing at her. During all of this, she even had the pleasure of interacting with a store clerk who is so awful that I thought he was made up for the show. He wasn’t. Of almost everything she faces in this episode, all of which is gross and unfair, the period joke made by the cashier makes me the most mad. It is so intrusive and reiterates the idea that hormones and emotions make women unstable for a quarter of their lives from around the age of 13 until they hit menopause. The idea that you would make such a comment to a stranger as a joke is appalling to me, even more so because I know it’s not an isolated attitude. But even in the midst of all the awfulness, all is not dark. In the hardest times in our lives, sometimes we’re lucky enough to find someone who will hold us up when the burden in too much. In this episode, we see how much Darden was that person for Clark. He supports her, encourages her, and makes her laugh at a time she felt most alone. That connection is something special and beautiful and important and I love that it was highlighted here as well.

2. Twenty-Two (You’re the Worst) This episode is the best that You’re the Worst has and possibly will ever create. It’s episodes like this that make me love the show so fiercely, even when Gretchen and Jimmy are being nearly unbearably awful. In 25 minutes, Stephen Falk’s directing and Desmin Borges’s acting give us the most visceral example of PTSD that I can remember seeing on television. We not only see what Edgar is going through with the action onscreen, but we are put in his shoes with the ringing in his ears that never quite goes away and the lack of focus. We feel how broken down and exhausted he is by trying to survive day to day in a world where everything around him feels threatening and takes him back to his days in the military. Despite the heaviness of this episode, all hope isn’t lost. Just when Edgar is at his lowest point, he finds something that gives him a reason to hold on. It leads him back to his car, which is in the process of being towed, and he finally finds someone who is willing to listen to him and who can truly understand what he’s going through because he’s been there before. It’s a moment of pure connection that brought tears to my eyes. On a character level, I love that this moment made Edgar feel like he had the power to make changes for himself. It’s scary to know that you’re the one who is ultimately responsible for changing your life. But it’s scarier to believe that it’s entirely out of your hands. We can’t always fix the broken systems that surround us but we can do what we can to make a better life for ourselves despite their limitations. It was the message Edgar needed to hear. He was hoping that there would be a magical fix that could make him feel alive again because it’s exhausting to exist as he does. But letting go of that idea and committing to fixing yourself as best as possible is the only way to get the power back to truly start living. On a larger scale, I love the compassion that this episode has for veterans and the systems that may be well-intentioned but fail them anyway. It never loses sight of the twenty-two veterans who commit suicide daily and give this episode its name. It extends empathy for their struggles and shines a light on what they face after returning from war. It’s not always comfortable for civilians to think about and their struggles often get overlooked once they’re home. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t take episodes of television to make us care about real world issues like mental illness or police violence. But to deny the power of this medium to make abstract struggles personal and understandable to people without direct experiences with them would be a mistake and it is my hope that this episode made people think and feel and care just a little more than they did before.

3. The Threshold (Halt and Catch Fire) What a magnificent episode. As is not at all atypical for me, this one’s a tough one to watch and I love it. It hurts to see these characters implode. It hurts to see the relationships these characters have formed explode. I will admit to not being much of a Joe McMillan fan. I am aware that he has a story line in this episode but for me, it pales in comparison to what happens at Mutiny. No matter what combination you put them in, the actors were magnificent. We saw the entangled weave of personal and professional connections among the core four of Mutiny and how that became their undoing. We saw relationships solidify or come back together only to be destroyed in the end. In the hands of lesser actors or writing, it could have felt manipulative. For Halt and Catch Fire, it felt right. The characters all made the decisions that made the most sense for them and their development. Had it strictly been a business dispute or a personal fight, it would not have had nearly the same impact. No one exemplifies the lack of separation between business and personal than Cameron Howe. She was Mutiny. It was her. She had a vision of what the company could be and she poured her entire being into making that vision come to life. It didn’t always make business sense. She was terrible at delegating and there was no way to create what she wanted in the time frame she was given. So to reject that vision instead of a deal that seemed to make more business sense was to reject her and what she had given to the company. And when everyone voted against her, she felt that loss on a personal level. She lost a partner, a mentor, and a friend. All she had left was her husband, who she spontaneously married during a time of emotional distress. While the relationship wasn’t terrible, it lacked the foundation she had with Donna and Bos. Donna tried to keep things separate at first. She thought she could have Cameron’s friendship and also her own vision for the company, knowing it conflicted with Cameron’s. But when the disagreement about the business became heated, the attacks quickly became personal. The choices made in that room on that day broke what they once shared. When no compromise could be found, all that was left was destruction. It took out Cameron and Bos’s recently repaired relationship and what was becoming a sweet friendship between Cameron and Gordon with it, but at the end of the day, those severed bonds were only casualties of the rift between Cameron and Donna. It’s tense, painful and brilliantly constructed and acted.  

Continue reading Best of 2016: Episodes

Best of 2016: Relationships

In my list of my favorite characters of 2016, I talk a little about the fact that strong, well-written characters will always take priority for me over plot on TV shows. If a character arc makes sense, I’m happy. But characters can’t stand on their own. It is their relationships with others that help define them and give them what they need in order to grow. In the words of Cory Matthews, “people change people”.

These people have all been permanently impacted by the people they have chosen to let into their lives. For better or worse, they have played a significant role in the way they interact with the world. Those are the kinds of stories I will never have enough of, in all their possible forms. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or exist somewhere in the intersection of two of those forms, these are the relationships that I will remember from this year.

1. Dad!Kane and his children (The 100) In the course of building a new way of life on the ground, Marcus Kane inadvertently adopted several of the delinquents. It wasn’t intentional and it’s in no way official, as most of the kids are young adults and have been on their own for far too long. But he took them under his wing and mentored them and they developed a respect and love for him that no one could have anticipated. When the adults landed on the ground, Marcus was the authoritarian who still saw these kids as the rule-breakers he helped imprison on the Ark. But as he grew and learned that things couldn’t be so black-and-white on the ground, he saw the drive and skill it took for them to survive. He saw children who grew up under harsh conditions who have found their way but still suffer from the long-lasting effects of their culture. So he helped guide them. He was supportive of their emotional needs and made sure that they knew they could come to him. He tried to steer them back on the right path when they got lost in fear and anger and told them the things they needed to hear, even if they weren’t ready to hear it. There was never a doubt that he cared and it was the bond they had formed that helped Bellamy realize that the road Pike was leading them down was dangerous and to take the first steps toward making amends. As they all work together to save the world in the upcoming season, I can’t wait to see these relationships continue to grow. 

2. Riley and Maya (Girl Meets World) No matter who else comes into their lives, what these two girls share is extraordinary. This is the relationship at the heart of this show and these two are better because they have each other. Maya helps to ground Riley while Riley shows Maya that sometimes it’s OK to fly. These friends love all the parts of each other that others might consider flaws and want only the best for each other. They may not always know what the best is, as Riley ended up sending Maya into a bit of an identity crisis this year, but her heart was in the right place and she didn’t want to see Maya lose the parts of herself that were uniquely hers. When Riley gets to be too much for everyone else around her, Maya is there by her side. When someone implies that Riley’s made Maya weak, she’ll literally chase them away because Maya knows it’s Riley’s influence that has made her strong. When Maya gets scared of Shawn finding out that she and her mom can be kind of a mess, it’s Riley who gives her the confidence and trust that he loves them because what seemed like a mess was borne of a deep love. She gives up her traditional Christmas with her best friend because she knows that she needs to spend this one with her new family. It’s Riley who laughs at her boyfriend when he says that her relationship with him was more important than her relationship with Maya. These two are it for each other. No one else will ever hold such a special place in their hearts and that bond will keep them together no matter what comes. It’s friendship at its purest and it is a beautiful thing to see.

3. Donna and Cameron (Halt and Catch Fire) Give me more relationships like this on television. I want positive relationships between women on TV but I also want messy ones that don’t fit into easy descriptions. This season was complicated and so very painful for these two but I loved every moment of it. These two have been the highlight of Halt and Catch Fire since it realized what it had in them in season 2. Their friendship is strong and built on trust and respect for what the other has to bring to the table. They balance each other out and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it’s not enough and it breaks, seemingly irreparably, because despite all that, there is an omnipresent part in both of them who think they are the person with the best vision and will forge ahead without any discussion. It’s fine when they are fighting for the same goal, but when they are on opposing sides, it’s brutal. They know each other well so they know exactly where to strike to hit each other’s insecurities. They had a tentative truce in the finale but I should have known it was too good to last. Cameron’s admission that she enjoyed working with Donna again but couldn’t ever trust her with another project was heartbreaking but fitting for these characters and their history.

4. Maya and Lucas (Girl Meets World) I seem to need a new pairing to fall incredibly hard for each year and in 2016, Maya Hart and Lucas Friar were that pairing. In them, I see the promise and potential of a deep, lasting relationship based on recognition and love for everything that makes these characters who they are. I see something that is too big for them right now and too overwhelming to really wrap their minds around. It lacks the ease of love at first sight, at least in their young minds. Maya keeps her feelings close to her, it’s only when she can no longer hold them back that they slip out at all. But Lucas has seen them. He knows the heart that lies underneath that tough exterior. He sees the girl who would do anything for her best friend, who will put everyone else in the world first because that’s how she believes it should be. He’s always been among the first to fight for the person that Maya is. That beautiful girl who scares bullies away by running at them with hammers. As someone who loves Maya, that is all I want for her. Lucas doesn’t have the same level of development as Maya. We haven’t gotten to see him work though the fact that the person he was in Texas is still a part of him today. It doesn’t seem that he’s allowed himself the same complexity he allows Maya. But with everything we know about Maya and how she loves, she would be the same supportive presence that he was while she doubted herself. Maya was right to end the triangle the way she did. Neither of them are ready for what the other has to offer right now. They have some growing up to do first but what they shared was real. It wouldn’t take much for them to discover it again when they’re ready.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Relationships