2014: Television

by Daniel Coughlin

Allow me to begin with a disclaimer: I'm not a film student, an artist, or even hard to entertain. I don't know all of the fancy words to describe the way a particular sequence in a television show or film is shot or tracked. I only know the most basic things about taking video of something from a single college course in which I had to use a variety of types of filming shots to prove that I knew what they were at the time. I have since forgotten them. I guess you could say I am the target audience. I value my own opinion of a show more highly than what others say about it and I don't much care if it is brilliant unless I think it is. I am the mostly inarticulate member of the audience who simply wants to enjoy themselves. Now that I've made you completely uninterested in what I have to say, let us get to it.

There were dozens of shows that you could have watched for the first time or the last time in 2014. A big-time sitcom ended, an FX drama called it a day, we got a follow up season of a FOX sitcom, some new FX, and HBO continued to make basic programming seem outdated or beige. So, we will run through the few shows that I did watch this year and see what we get.

The League (FX) Season 6

All things change. Sometimes it is harder to adjust to that when it happens in some form of "art" that we consume. It happens in music as well. And nothing seems to change much for the better. Either a show will never evolve and we will get bored with it never exploring something new, sticking to the safe confines of the plot/structure that it already built and has had success employing. The League has evolved. I don't feel comfortable with it, but I still want to watch. It reminds me of another FX series, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. An old roommate first showed it to me when it came out. Our entire house, all 8 of us living in the six bedroom hellhole, became fans and regular viewers. We were all delighted, even as we moved on to other things in life, the series was still great. Until it wasn't. I couldn't even tell you if it is still a good show. I haven't seen it in years. I still own the first four season on DVD, but I haven't even been bothered to catch up with show on Netflix from the comfort of my own couch.

The point is this: I'm not sure that a show gets worse with age, I just think that I may have changed enough that the changes in the show move it down my list.

I'm not sure that The League is bottoming out for me, but I do know that nothing that they show has done this season, number six in the series, has stuck with me more than the McGibblets episode in season one, or the marathon episode in season two. They aren't obsolete, but it is getting a bit thin. I don't remember who I had the conversation with, but at some point this year it was brought up that it is possible that the cast has overbooked themselves. Paul Scheer has been doing amazing things in both the podcast and YouTube world, along with Jason Mantzoukas. Nick Kroll seems to be also endlessly working on other endeavors, though he has recently announced that the Kroll Show on Comedy Central is coming to an end. It seems that there could be some weight to the idea that they have too much going on with other projects, but no one is blaming them, you have to take advantage of the moment when the opportunity presents itself. That is probably why they brought in a team of well-known and established writers before season five. And while the writing is strong, perhaps better, that uniqueness of their approach in the first few seasons isn't something that can be replicated.

I wrote first, and in length, about this show because it is the most difficult show for me. I don't know how I truly feel about it. I watched the entire season. I laughed and it had more than a couple of great episodes. But I also find myself turning more to their early work on Netflix when I want something from them that I know for sure I will be able to sit back and fully enjoy.

Drunk History (Comedy Central) Season 2

The idea of combining people on booze with historical fact probably has been around for thousands of years. It is how we have come to view history as we now do. The story is told by the victor and I doubt that the victor was always sober. Just look at the world we live in.

Derek Waters brought his Funny Or Die hit to cable comedy last summer and it was amazing. Just watch the Rich Fulcher story on Abraham Lincoln and if you retain all of your sanity and don't break into riotous laughter at some point, you are probably a rationale-based robot.

Season 2 was much too short, but still just right. I think it must be very hard to create a series of historical shorts with the inebriated under any circumstance, but as people become more familiar with the concept of the program they have to be, at least subconsciously, distorting things ever so slightly in an intentional way or with an awareness of it's use. For that scale of difficulty, I think they did a great job. I love the show and hope that there are many more seasons to come.

Constantine (NBC) Season 1

Constantine is the newest television adaptation coming from the comic book world. Marvel is already running the world both at the box office and in primetime on basic network programming with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. Probably seeking a chance to not get run out of the ratings game, NBC signed up for an adaption of DC Comics spiritual-thriller Constantine. Exorcisms, angels, demons, mining zombies, and awful accents. It is all here.

The show isn't without flaws or some considerable drawbacks. The obvious audience most likely to criticize the show are the fans of the comic book. Just like I would be upset if someone appropriated something that I identified with, comic book fans and followers get angry when things aren't done the way they should be. And it isn't just comic books. They get so angry over adaptations of classics like The Hobbit that you would think they are going to summon a balrog. It is only fair that networks or casual show watchers not familiar with the comic series by prepared to deal with all the hate that will be thrown out there from the vast corners of the internet.

But it isn't just comic fans that might not be too pleased. I remember Constantine not because of the comic book, but the movie starring Keanu Reeves. I enjoyed the movie, a lot. The fact that it was a movie does present some obstacles to the television version. A movie can be more dramatic, encapsulating entire global catastrophes on bloated budgets with big stars and highest quality in editing and sound. There are things that don't always translate to television. You don't get that massive epic in a single episode that you will in a single movie. That can be both good and bad, television has a great arc when written well. The arc can pull you in and familiarize you with the characters so that you become intrigued and want to keep watching. These aren't deal breakers, but that can make the show much more difficult to embrace.

The hardest sell for me is on the content of the episodes; I love it. I'm into dark, occult-type shows. Angels and demons and exorcisms and the supernatural, whatever you want to call it. It makes for great TV for me. But, being a fan of that, much like to comic book crowd, I've probably already seen the formula; either in Constantine comic, the Constantine movie, or in shows like Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Being Human, etc. If Constantine remains solid, I will probably remain part of the audience. I do hope that it gets better than what I have seen from up to this point. The show has five episodes left in season one, which will conclude this winter, beginning on January 16, and has been moved from the 10 PM slot to the 8 PM slot, but the show has not been picked up for a second season. Yet.

Mike Tyson Mysteries (Adult Swim) Season 1

As an adult, I probably don't watch as much animated programming as younger audiences might, unless we are including Space Jam. in 2014, Adult Swim picked up a show that seems absolutely genius to me. Mike Tyson as Mike Tyson, solving mysteries in an indirect fashion while dealing with a daughter, a gay ghost and a human-turned-pigeon boozer voiced by Norm Macdonald.

The show is clever, funny, and doesn't ask too much of itself. Keep it simple, keep it short. Give Tyson some lines, have a human element, a sassy element, and a scathing or sarcastic element and let it ride. Tyson is both hilarious and loveable, while Norm-as-Pigeon is in classic Norm delivery form. I don't have much else to say about this one.

Only five episodes have aired so far, which episode six set to air in January. And this comes with the news that Adult Swim decided to pick up a second season of the show, so I can rest easy knowing that I will have many more 10-minutes episodes of Tyson to cherish.

Sleepy Hollow (Fox) Season 2

Technically, season 1 of Sleepy Hollow did end in the calendar year of 2014. However, we are talking about the season that is currently underway. Have I mentioned that I love this show? Taking a classic Washington Irving tale and spinning into an epic that predicates itself on the American Revolution being the precursor to a massive good vs. evil clash of Biblical proportions a la the book of Revelation.

We've got the Headless Horsemen, Ichabod Crane, Benjamin Franklin, a demon name Moloch, and Dr. Walter Bishop. When you start incorporating a strong cast, steep it in both Biblical and Colonial American lore and then sprinkle some Walter Bishop on top: success. The show maintains a high level of actions and drama while also making the characters relatable and real.

Ichabod stays in character, and dress, from the original span of his lifetime during the series to keep a fresh angle on apocalyptic doom. When not battling demons or trying to prevent one of the Four Horsemen being unleashed, there are light hearted sequences that depic Ichabod adapting to the modern world and technology such as smart phones. They also write his character into a bit of a preachy figured who gets worked up just enough to bring a smile to the face of the other characters in this show.

And it is the other characters that further separate this show. In 2014, and earlier, there have been many rumblings about shows such as Saturday Night Live and other major network programs which suffered from a lack of diversity. Fox has done well in casting this show. Around the main character of Ichabod, we have a strong female lead played by an African American actress, who also has a sister in the show of the same ethnicity. The other characters in the show also support the diversity, Asian, Hispanic and African American included. It's nice to get some diversity in a strong leading character on a show that is so fun to watch.

Season 2 isn't wrapped up yet, we are only about half way through, but there are some surprises that have already been alluded to, or posted about on Instagram that I can't wait to see. Michelle Trachtenberg, or Dawn as some of us know her, will make an appearance in this season, playing Abigail Adams. So we can expect more great actors portraying more famous names of the American Revolution this season.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) Season 2

Andy Samberg is a great sitcom lead. Chelsea Peretti, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, and Jo Lo Truglio combine to make a super-supporting cast that is chock full of talent and diversity.

The show features two other characters, played by Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, that I find particularly enjoyable. Terry Crews is a larger than life guy that is filled with energy while playing the role of Sergeant, Andre Braugher performs the role of a solemn Captain who more often drains the emotion from his character than shows it. They are played so well against each other, Crews is great action that occasionally slows to emphasize the moment, Braugher explodes into the moment in the most hilarious way.

Season 2 has been outstanding and made me realize that I should not have slept on this show, missing the entire first season. Thankfully, I only feel like I kind of missed something as they write it so that you can just jump in and feel entertained right away. This show has the ridiculous potential to be around for a very long time and for my own selfish reasons, I hope that it is.

The Strain (FX) Season 1

After getting over the death of Corey Stoll's character in House of Cards on Netflix, I was happy to see that he is back at it, now headlining a show on FX. Much like Constantine, this is an adaptation of a successful comic book. This one comes from the Dark Horse Comics stable, so that makes one DC Comic, one Marvel Comic and one Dark Horse comic adapted for the small screen since 2013. And that's just the shows that I'm familiar with, I'm sure the CW or UPN or whatever channels exist now have a bunch more.

This show did a good job of one thing: it made me wish that each of the main characters sans the character played by Kevin Durand would die. I don't have much else to say about it. I love the antagonist in a show being a vampire or Nazi, so this show has basically merged the two. Also, huge bonus for the show is when the goth-rock bro has his penis fall off. I heartily laughed at that part.

I'll probably watch when the next season rolls around, IF it rolls around. I didn't bother to see if they are going to produce a second season. It would be great if the show got a lot better, I am compelled to feel that the comic must have been amazing. And whoever this vampire sect is that works to control the outbreak, really enjoyable the way they talk. When they rail gun the infected lady in the head and bothered to talk, it was hilarious. I have the feeling that The Strain wasn't intended to make me laugh, but I figure it was probably intended to captivate me and it really didn't do that either.

And the winner of all television in 2014:

True Detective (HBO) Season 1

I don't care much about Game of Thrones. I happened to see all of it and it was good, but I don't care that much about it. The current pacing, the fact that I haven't read the books, the fact that I don't ever, ever want to see that eye-gouging, head-crushing scene in season 3 ever again, just whatever. I'll keep watching, but no thanks. And True Blood? As the overused pun goes, finally got the true death. And good riddance. I made the mistake of thinking the show had potential when I accidentally stumbled onto it back in my first year at university. I watched every single episode and it mostly pissed me off. The one thing I would thank them for is giving Eric the correct ending. His character went out the right way. Everyone else? Don't care. As for just about any other show on HBO, I didn't tap in to anything. Except True Detective.

What. The. Hell. This show was phenomenal. It was gritty, real, evil, awful, compelling, psychotic. It really did dig into the human condition and probe the mind of what my ignorant mind would dub a nihilist and a proclaimer of the good faith while his personal life was bent on nothing other than ruin. The characters connect and clash in grand style, while chasing a morbid, graphic, dark and demonic murder. You all must have read everything about the show and have seen it at least one time through. Matthew McConaughey is riveting and compelling in a way that few other actors, specifically on television have ever come close to touching on. There is a dark and real and worn presence about him, a character that saw real evil. Perfectly set against Woody Harrelson, the fire and brimstone detective just lingering on the ether of becoming unhinged. It's the best show that 2014 brought us.