It’s in my best personal and professional interest to watch huge swaths of TV (It’s what I study and research. I know right?! It’s not even a real job yet here I am!). A few shows resonate deeply into my empty void chamber where a “human heart” typically resides. But like the Grinch, I, too, can be overcome by goodwill. Here are some shows that I think you might like, some that are objectively and subjectively good, and some you just might should maybe take a risk on.
Where? Netflix (streaming)
One of Kyle Chandler’s most striking features as an actor is he just looks like a hardassed do-gooder. This served him well in Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty, and as Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights. In Kyle we trust, and the pilot of Bloodline would suggest just that. Things, as they do, take a hectic turn for the worse for Sheriff Chandler when the family’s black sheep of a son, Danny (played by Ben Mendelsohn via Severus Snape) returns to the series locale—Key West, Florida. Playing on our sensibilities of what makes a family unit work, success in business, and the black sheep that every family has, Bloodline take a stereotypical plot and upends expectations, nearly episodically.
The focus of the series is on the Rayburn family, a well-to-do but still likeable and casual, cohesive team. The parents, played admirably by Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, run a hotel for tourists, and everyone in the family seems to just get along—maybe a little bit too much so. I don’t want to offer too much plot summary here, but the scenery in and around the Keys and the relationships of the siblings on this island, both literal and metaphorical, create an atmosphere of a slowly spoiling paradise. If you’d like to take a vacation but can’t get away for the summer, let Bloodline offer all the scenic views you need, with some murder, drugs, and an unraveling family as your main option for the night’s entertainment.
Halt and Catch Fire
Where? Sundays, AMC
I get it; I understand why people do not like this show.
Season One of Halt and Catch Fire had some huge structural problems, and had far too many scenes of a growling Lee Pace’s businessman Joe overpowering Scoot McNairy’s hardware engineer Gordon. I get it. I didn’t like them, either. The popular, good-looking kid always seems to beat up the nerd in glasses.
But for a certain person who grew up in and around Dallas, looking at the TI building as a place not where microprocessors were made and spreadsheets passed from desk to desk, but as a place where this slowly growing thing call “The Internet” and “Computers” were taking over people’s lives, Halt and Catch Fire scratches a nostalgic itch of the teenaged possibilities of the computing future, before the ennui of the adult future actually arrived. #existentialcrisis
If you know and liked the movie Hackers, fire up your DVR immediately.
Set in the 80’s on the so-called “Silicon Prairie” of the Big D, Season Two of Halt and Catch Fire largely reboots the entire series, moving Joe and Gordon to the sidelines in favor of Mackenzie Davis’ Cameron, a punk-rock genius programmer now running the online gaming slash grown boy daycare known as “Mutiny,” and her stay-at-home Mom turned ace network analyst Donna, played by Kerry Bishe.
Season One is worth a watch, but Season Two’s focus-shift was a smart one. Pitting traditional institutions with innovation seeking to destroy them in the Wild West of Early Computing makes sense, and provides more relationships and ideas in which to tease out drama. Technical know-how isn’t needed, but for those familiar with any technical aspects of coding/computing will get a kick out of the dated hardware and even more dated language. A recent episode noted the incredible power of this new-fangled tech called “broadband,” which many of you are using right now to read this post. Funny.
While not for everyone, it’s one of my favorite shows and I highly recommend it, if not for the drama then for the kickass title sequence alone.
Instead of looking backward from whence we came, Humans looks forward. In a neo-London, “Synths” are synthetic humans, basically computer people who are at the beck and call of their owners. As AI spreads without any concern (Siri!) in our current landscape, Humans offers a future view that isn’t so rosy as directions or baseball scores.
How does a mother tackle the issue of being replaced by the young, good-looking synth that her husband purchased to help with the kids and the family? How does an aging and sickly scientist hold onto the past through his Synth that very much represents, in a fashion, a literal son? And what of the Synths who, through some glitch in programming (which serves as the driving narrative), develop self-awareness and think they have a right to be free without subjugation—and are willing to fight for it? Any one of these plotlines would be enough for an entire drama, but Humans interweaves them all into a taut, spooky pilot (and series) that’s worth a look.
AMC has long looked for a signature piece of quality programming to hang it’s “Premier” mantle on, and with the recent losses of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, this might just be the show to regain the network’s supremacy. After big misses with Hell on Wheels and Turn, Humans is properly aimed and hits the mark. While nothing will decapitate The Walking Dead in terms of viewership (and LA-based spinoffs, starting in a few weeks), Humans can offer the A+ series that AMC advertisers so desperately crave in addition to volume.
A Deadly Adoption
Where? Lifetime, On-Demand and (currently) on rotation
I’m not really sure how to deal with this thing. Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, after losing their baby in a tragic “falling off the dock” accident, seek out a baby to adopt. You guessed it, they find one—and the experience turns DEADLY.
Playing on every single genre trope in the “bad Lifetime Movie” repertoire, the story unfolds as you would expect. Apparently some sort of secret expert, my wife laid out the entirety of the plot almost scene-by-scene from just the title sequence of the movie. Ferrell and Wiig play it straight, but is it? Is it some sort of postmodern gesture towards our expectations, meeting them, and thus by meeting them so expertly, subvert them? I have no idea. It’s oddly serious at time, maddeningly cliché in others, and (unintentionally) hilarious. Sort-of?
While it’s easy to brush this off as some ironic homage to the genre of Lifetime movies, it’s played straight the whole time. With any other actors, this is a de rigueur Lifetime movie, but the introduction of comedic actors definitely not being comedic is somehow serious and funny at the same time. This movie preyed on me, as a person who must analyze and make meaning out of everything, no matter how ridiculous. I eventually had to give up, and it felt good.
I guess I don’t know the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis.
The Daily Show
Where? Comedy Central, Monday-Thursday
If you haven’t heard, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in its current iteration will be no more in a scant three weeks, starting Monday. The final three weeks should prove to be scathing, if the previous week’s content will be any indication towards the future. This bridge-burning by Stewart is long overdue, and no structure will be left (ideally) after his run ends. New host Trevor Noah will takeover, and much needless hand-wringing has been made of the pick. Who cares? Watch the show then assess.
The next three weeks should be equal parts hilarious and bitter, and I for one cannot wait. The rhetorical structures and comedic timing of Stewart always felt good, and this final curtain call should be more exciting than a simple bow to the audience. In fact, the whole stage might catch on fire; maybe the whole building.