With television’s recent array of Golden Age shows (many would argue that Mad Men is the last of this early 2000s bunch) coming to the end of their runs (and in Mad Men’s case, it will be a long final lap – the final season is being drawn out over two years – AMC!), the next wave of contenders are all vying for their standing in our DVR queues and paid streaming service binges (as enabled by the passwords we mooch off our parents). 2013 was a masterful year of television. It brought us some most promising new dramatic series talent (Masters of Sex, The Americans, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black), brilliant material from our British friends across the Atlantic (Black Mirror, Broadchurch), a most welcome return of the mini-series (Top of the Lake), some established shows continuing to find their sweet spot (of which Game of Thrones was my favorite), and the best season of television I have ever seen (the final season of Breaking Bad).
2014 is ready to build on this momentum with dozens of most intriguing upcoming shows (I have “summer” already circled on my calendar for the premiere of The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof’s post Lost television project on HBO), most welcome returns of old flames (even 24 wants some of the good will), and the continued maturation and evolution of a medium that is at the center of the collective pop culture conversation. I will be commenting every few weeks on the many television musings that come across my path throughout the year, make recommendations, and will try to make sense of the changes in the “what” and “how” of how we consume our TV. There is no better place to begin than last night…
THE 71st GOLDEN GLOBES
Some of my television-centric takeaways (there will be no Jacqueline Bisset sanity inquiries here)…
• Although Brooklyn Nine-Nine remains the only fall 2013 new network show that I consistently watch each week, I admit that it is still finding its comedic and storytelling footing. Its win for Best Television Series – Comedy and Best Performance by An Actor in a Comedy Series for Andy Samberg were both a bit of a surprise and may be a little before their time, but I like this symbolic vote of confidence. With The Office and 30 Rock gone, The Mindy Project mired in an unfortunate vortex of quality inconsistency, Modern Family recycling most stories, and the brilliant Parks and Recreation a brutal victim of NBC’s horrendous scheduling decision quality and on its likely final local government campaign, the network single camera throne is up for grabs. Brooklyn Nine-Nine may just have the goods to take it and with a full season already ordered and a coveted (and unexpected) post-Super Bowl slot to showcase it to the masses, the Golden Globes wins may be a harbinger for promising things to come. After so many too early show cancellations, the thought of the great Andre Braugher with a stable job is the ultimate form of television justice. I will be rooting for it.
• Apparently the people in charge of the seating chart didn’t get the memo that the people winning television awards would need easy access to the stage. The Breaking Bad creative team seemed to have to journey from a room across the street to accept Best Television Series – Drama.
• Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were as lovely as ever, but I thought last year’s hosting performance was more memorable. Something seemed to be a little too produced this year, whereas last year had a more organic feel throughout (this does not include Amy Poehler’s make out session with Bono after her award acceptance).
• Speaking of Amy Poehler and awards, her win (finally!) for Parks and Recreation could not have been more deserved.
• Although NBC must be happy with the best Golden Globe ratings in years, the biggest television winner of the night may have been Lorne Michaels and his Saturday Night Live empire. With Amy and Tina hosting, Amy and Andy winning comedic acting awards, and as the heavy promotional material kept reminding you, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers starting new late night gigs in February, it is a good time to be Lorne. Even SNL alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus was game for some of the best gags of the night.
• Aaron Paul loves award shows and loves opportunities in which he can be Jesse Pinkman again. There is no one more excited for the 2014 Emmys.
• Line of the night from Tina Fey: “And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.” Zing! Leo, who deservedly one Best Actor in a Comedy Film, could not have taken the roast more graciously.
Just about the time when P. Diddy sang “Let it Flow” and confused the audience after U2 won its Best Original Song Golden Globe for “Ordinary Love,” HBO unleashed its new anthology series, True Detective, starring movie stars Woody Harrelson (an old television veteran) and Matthew McConaughey, the early frontrunner for “Best 2014 of any person on Earth” (the Golden Globe win for Best Actor in Dallas Buyer’s Club later in the evening is just the beginning). Harrelson and McConaughey play Louisiana detectives investigating a brutal, satanic murder in 1995. Storytelling uniquely combines interviews from 2012 with flashbacks to 1995. True Detective’s first season (and the only one Harrelson and McConaughey will appear) will run eight episodes and complete a serialized mystery story. According to showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, future seasons will star different actors and will feature a different central mystery. The conceit is intriguing on its own, but, after watching the premiere, the show has the potential to be something really special. Its unique voice and vision are already clearly defined (each episode is written by Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Kukunaga) and the performances, especially McConaughey, will win awards. I will write more on it as the season progresses, but for now, you cannot ask for a more engrossing first hour of a series.
In what can only be seen as accidental counter programming, the Girls season three premiere (two episodes!) debuted right after True Detective. Early trends include much more Adam and Shoshana (both are great things) and a focus on the relationships of these girls to each other as opposed to these girls to their respective, challenging lives. Some of season 2 landed as a reaction to the unnecessary and unyielding criticism mounted on season 1 for reasons unbeknownst to logic. My hope for the uber-talented Miss Dunham here is continue to make the show that she wants to make. Already, some of the humor that had drifted away last season seems to be back (I will gladly take more scenes between Adam and Shoshana!) and I think Marnie will only benefit from having Charlie completely out of the picture (Apparently Christopher Abbott wasn’t sure he wanted to play the character anymore. Oops.). I will definitely be spending some quality time with HBO on Sunday nights for the foreseeable future (Another piece of gold in its 2014 treasure chest of riches had its coming out party last night as well. HBO released the first trailer for the fourth season of Game of Thrones. Yep.)
Real World: Ex-Plosion
Finally, the premiere of season 29 of The Real World debuted on Wednesday night. If you have spent any time on the Bishop and Company site, you know that my relationship with The Real World and its amazing offshoot, The Challenge, is longstanding, loyal, and passionate. Despite trepidation about the new format – the true story of seven strangers picked to live together and then…Surprise! Your exes are also moving in – I was obviously going to give it a shot. My true story after Wednesday – I hated it (critics seem to agree). Yes, the exes have not moved in yet (as the countdown clock won’t seem to let me forget), but the show I watched on Wednesday night was not The Real World that I have given so much of my viewing lifeblood to watch. Obviously, The Real World has been a different show than its original version, a social experiment dealing with real issues and the reality tv pioneer, for some time now, but this show did even resemble the positive things about recent incarnations. Everything on it felt forced and overtly contrived, from the camera crews capturing the acceptance phone calls, to the decision to show boom mics and cameramen on person, to Ashley’s phone call to production about where they were going out that night. Because the exes conceit is its central premise, we are inundated with conversations about exes and all the potential ensuing drama. I wasn’t having any of it. Begrudgingly, out of loyalty and respect to this beloved franchise, and to scout for future The Challenge competitors, I will at least stick around to see how the exes arrival goes down (25 days!), but I am considering jumping off of this sinking ship.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.