Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Series I finished watching

Warning: Contains very mild spoilers for all series mentioned. 

I have watched quite a bit of series. Many of them I finished or don't see myself stopping to watch soon, and since I made this marvelous post about Series I Stopped Watching, I feel that a counterweight is in order. Not of all of it is good, but at least I finished it and didn't stop in the middle. Some of the shows are still running, so in fact, the jury is out whether I'll finish them. If not, I'll move them. I noted how many seasons constitutes "finished" at the time of this writing. So, there comes the stuff I did finish, and now I will take the time to tell you why, and you may stop reading anytime and consider what you've read up to this point as wasted time. Let's go.

 

It's a crime story in America. Truly.

American Crime Story. Two Seasons. Wachted: Once. This anthology series, wouldn't you know it, tells true crime stories that happened in America. Shocking, I know. The first season concerns itself with O. J. Simpson murders, which I knew nothing about going into this series other than the fact there once was a person called O. J. Simpson; I didn't even know if he was the perpetrator or victim. The second season is about the assassination of Gianni Versace; I didn't know he existed prior to the series. Now I do know them. I'm of course not sure whether the viewing is enhanced by prior knowledge, but I would assume so, because the show has several appearances and reveals staged in this crowdpleasing manner, "now the moment you've all been waiting for"-style. It's gripping, though. The second season is fooling you a bit; it's actually more about Andrew Cunanan, the murderer, than about the victim, Versace. 

Would watch again: No, it's nothing that would gain on rewatch. 

Saving 13 privates.

Band of Brothers. One season. Watched: Three times. HBO's classical miniseries about a unit of paratroopers in 1944 and 1945 has received much critical acclaim. It provides enough time not to fall for the usual constraints of war movies (the prerogative to make them as exciting as possible) and to give much more sense to the realities of war than movies usually do. The level of detail is also great. On the downside, the characters are, with a few exception, more or less cardboard and mere vehicles of exploring different combat situations on the western front in these years. The lack of focus makes it hard to actually care for the people dying.
Would watch again: Yes.
 
This promotional picture will not be the last religious analogy of this particular series. 
Battlestar Galactica. Four seasons. Watched: Four times. The one SiFi-show you need to watch, Battlestar Galactica combines great (although short) space battles with much politicking and, unfortunately, mystery seeking on board a space aircraft carrier. The show consciously parallels many features and developments of early 21st century American politics, including the invasion of Iraq and the influence of religious extremism, avoiding to take a too clear-cut position on the issues and resolving them firmly set in the BSG universe, therefore giving food for thought without patronizing the viewer, a feat Aaron Sorkin seems incapable of.
Would watch again: Very on the fence here. In theory I'd love to, but I fear I'd only be disappointed and rather keep it in a good memory.

Better than Breaking Bad. Seriously. 
Better Call Saul. Five seasons. Watched: Once. This prequel to Breaking Bad surely didn't start with high expectations, as everyone just asked "Is this really necessary?" And while the answer is still "Probably not", I'm glad that it exists because the series is a blast. Seriously, what they did is amazing. While not without flaws, they avoided the obvious mistakes of making this Breaking Bad fanservice and opted for a different tone and storyline than for what you'd expect, which is just about right.
Would watch again: Absolutely. 

Very dark sails indeed.
Black Sails. Four seasons. Watched: Once. A series about pirates gets everybody's attention, I guess, and so I watched the pilot. It was my second attempt, and I didn't continue the series then. Three times' the charm, though, and so I finally managed to get the series rolling on my third attempt. For my liking, it's much too dependent on boobs and violence, and the plot is veerring into "dumb" territory far often than I'd like. The characters are also on the thin side and plot-driven. However, the series has a strong sense of place, its portrayal of politics and factionalism is second only to "The Expanse", the production values are great and the actors just eat their material, and the constant over-acting does as much to propel everything forward. The show is also a lot of fun, provided you do not mind the constant and extremely foreseeable plot-twists.  
Would watch again: No. It was entertaining, but knowing the plot now, there's no reason to go back.

Quoting Ozymandias at you because why not.
Breaking Bad. Five seasons. Watched: One-and-half times. Breaking Bad is one of the best series ever, period. It has a great cast of characters with real and credible development, the most cohesive storylines ever, going through the logical conclusions with incredible determination. It's filming style is impressive, providing unique perspectives and interesting compositions. If you haven't watched it yet, go out today and start to do it. I mean it.
Would watch again: In a heartbeat. 
 
In a parallel world, this thing killed Game of Thrones after one season.
Boardwalk Empire. Five seasons. Watched: Once. Boardwalk Empire is a period piece, revelling in the costumes and set design. What suffers from it are obviously the characters, who are more functions than real persons, as well as the suspense. Like so many mafia stories, Boardwalk Empire has a rather slow pace in telling its stories, but it's worth it. Again, we have a multitude of characters interwoven with each other and going on their business, creating a really good feeling of a connected, existing and breathing world that is not only there for the characters to inhabit.
Would watch again: Maybe. The show was good, but it never enthused me.

"Totally worthy of its roots" seems damning with feint praise.
Caprica. One season. Watched: Once. The prequel to Battlestar Galactica only made it to one season of running time after being cancelled, and it's easy to understand why. The story is all over the place, the characters are very moody and broody and difficult to sympathize with, the style is bleak and some of it looks like from a 90s MTV video. On the other hand, the show explores some great questions and themes and commands interesting characters, although their arcs are sometimes a bit mishandled.
Would watch again: Nope, not good enough. 

If this looks strange, wait for what's within.
Carnivale. Two Seasons. Watched: Once. I really, really liked the setting of the series in the 30s dustbowle, although the mundane parts always connected more with them me than the mystic stuff about prophecies and special powers. The sets are great, the characters interesting, and the mood and ambience almost unparalleled. From today's standpoint, the series - which was cancelled after the second season - is a clear forerunner of things to come later, but like Rome or Deadwood, HBO wasn't really sure about the market back in the day.
Would watch again: It was interesting, but it feels too much like work. 
 
Looking as baffled as I am that this got made.
Catch-22. One Season. Wachted: Once. George Clooney's mini-series is a pretty straight adaption of the famous novel. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, to be honest. It's funny at times, depressing at others, and simply maddening in yet other parts, which I guess is exactly what it should be. However, as is so often the case with series, I'm unclear about whether or not this warranted a whole series or if something like a very long movie wouldn't have sufficed. I'm glad I watched it, nonetheless, being a incoherent, beautiful mess notwithstanding.
Would watch again: No. It was a chore to go through the first time already.

For your nightmares.
Chernobyl. One Season. Wachted: Three times. This HBO miniseries is astounding. The sheer horror of radioactive fallout, something you can't actually see, was brought onto the screen in a way that gives you the creeps for weeks. The imagery is still with me now, months after the thing aired, and I watched it twice already. In my eyes, episodes 4 and 5 lose a bit of momentum and impact compared to the first three, but still, it's a harrowing experience. One last recommendation: Watch this thing as close together as you can, at best in one sitting. It's even stronger than in my feeling.
Would watch again: Very likely.

Good television coming from Germany. The impossible happened.
Dark. Three seasons. Watched: Twice. Great series from Germany, of all places (usually TV goes there to die). Intricate plotting, deep and compelling characters, and a great sense of time and place in more ways than one. Three different time levels are interwoven, collapsing into themselves with rapid pace towards the end of the series, never losing a step. The second season even expands on it and makes it better. The central quality of the series is that it uses the whole time-travel business to explore characters, not the other way around. Sean and I did a podcast about it.
Would watch again: Absolutely!

Fuck if this cocksucker wasn't one for your mother's tit, as Al would say.
Deadwood. Three Seasons. Wached: One-and-a-half times. The Western series mirrors the historical development of the small town Deadwood in today's South Dakota, where the pioneeres build up their own fortunes or dig their own graves outside US jurisdiction in the closing days of what is today known as the Wild West. Far from simply idealizing "ye olden times", the show grapples with difficult themes such as prostitution, violence and local politics in this unique setting. There are many characters whose attitudes (and language) are difficult to undertand, but many of them command a charisma that make it compelling to watch even if you lost track of who wants to achieve what before they catch a bullet in the belly.
Would watch again: Yes! 
 
What if Captain America, but as a lawyer
Defending Jacob. One Season. Watched: Once. This high-profile Apple-TV production is an adaption of a succesful novel that I haven't read, so I can only judge the show. The central conceit is a whodunnit about a murder where parents have to defend their 14-year old son who's the prime suspect but we as the audience don't know if he did it or not. Unfortunately, the series ends without telling us whodunnit, and the ambivalence is entirely empty and meaningless. There's no "there" there, nothing it tells us or makes us think, just a few really forced twists in the final episode that upend the good work of actors and crew that came before. What a waste.
Would watch again: No fucking way.

Another good series from Germany! That makes TWO!
Deutschland 83. Two seasons. Watched: Once. This homegrown product of a country that is traditionally unable to make things that even resemble good series is kind of a surprise. While in no ways perfect and extremely flawed in regards to plot holes, structure and pacing, the show manages to deliver on great suspense and to capture the flavor of the 80s in divided Germany. Watching it is interesting for Germans and Non-Germans alike because it offers you a view into a world that you most likely didn't know about before, in the German case provided you're about 35 or younger.
Would watch again: Maybe? Entertaining as it is, there are many other series I'd rewatch first. 
 
This shouldn't work, yet it does.
Fargo. Four seasons. Watched: Once. Really great series with a weird and surreal edge, true to the spirit of the Coen brother's original. I found the first season to be better than the second, but both of them really are worth the watch. In both, you have criminals entering the everyday lives of everyday people in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The series has great acting and is stunning in its portrayal of stupid people, which is harder than it sounds. Not at all its seasons are created equal, but they're all watchable at least.  
Would watch again: No. It's good and all, but it didn't really grab me.

This probably needs no introduction, though I fear if you'd return to it now it wouldn't live up to the hype.
Firefly. 14 episodes. Watched: Twice. Joss Whedon's classic SiFi series was unfortunately cancelled after only 14 episodes. It's not that it was perfect and really great material; the show has many flaws, such as the very low budget, the lack of development over more than one episode, the only superficial worldbuilding and others. But it's teeming with fresh ideas and a swaggering bravado that has no equal in the genre. Firefly is a fun ride, nothing like the serious dramas mentioned above, and it excels at just being fun. Not every episode reaches this goal, but enough to make it great.
Would watch again: No. Like with BSG, I think I'd rather keep it in my happy place. 
 
A small stage for the actors, a big stage for the audience.
For all Mankind. Two seasons. Watched: Once. This new series by Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore explores the idea of what would have happened if the Soviets had been first to the moon and the space race never ended. It's right up my alley. I like the subject matter a lot. However, it reminded me a lot of Kim Stanley Robinson novels, with the characters taking the back seat and the real characters being the institutions and historicial/political dynamics of the situation. It's surprisingly emotional for all that, but it'd be wrong to say the show plucks at your heartstrings because it's more like hitting you over the head with a crowbar, almost emotionally abusing you, making up for it with great workmanship in music clues, camera, etc. That's to say if you're into what this show is about, you'd get diminishing returns because the characters sure will not pull you through. Season 2 especially involves a lot of very, very dumb character moments that steer the plot in overly familiar and quite unbelievable territory. 
Would watch again: No. I really liked it, but there's nothing in it warranting a rewatch. What you see is what you get.
 
Jon Snow, terrorist as well as oath breaker.
Gunpowder. One Season. Watched: Once. This BBC production is utterly forgettable, I'm afraid to say. I feel sorry for Kit Harrington, that's two misfires trying to get a career going away from Game of Thrones. But what can you do? I have a longer review on the Patreon.
Would watch again: Hahahahahahahaha no.

There might be a reason this is considered to be unfilmable. 
His Dark Materials. Two Seasons. Watched: Once. Yet another try of adapting a novel that's legendary for being hard to adapt, HBO is trying its hand. They're succeeding in so far as one can succeed with this material; despite the novels being incredibly successful, they're not actually that good, and their over-reliance on inner monologues and outright descriptions of motivations and inner workings of characters isn't doing the visual medium any favors. Lots of elements and plots don't really fit together, but the cast and the production team make the best of it, and it's still HBO, so it can't really be bad. The second season then MARKEDLY improves and is, dare I say it, great. 
Would watch again: Yes, but given limited time, this an academic question here.
 

The eighth season is actually good, don't mind the haters.
Game of Thrones. Eight seasons. Watched: One-and-a-half times. The adaptation of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series has its problems (especially the handling of Catelyn and Jon comes to mind) and can only be really enjoyed as one really, really large movie rather than a series of episodes, but the sprawling cast of great characters, really good actors, good production design and genuinely clever ideas in deviating from the original plot make this series highly recommendable. For more information I advise to read into Blue Buddha Press' "It Is Known" series, to which I contributed one book myself.
Would watch again: Definitely.

Come for the jingoism, stay for the homophobia.
Generation Kill. One Season. Watched: Once. This HBO mini-series concerns itself with the first 21 days of the invasion or Iraq in 2003, following an elite squad of Marine recons into the country. It's a weird experiment, since the people are so insufferable, there is no attempt to cut through the underbrush of military lingo and logic and given that it's based on real persons and events, dramatizing it is rather difficult. It has a lot to say about the nature of modern war, the state of modern masculinity and the inner workings of the military, and it's weirdly engrossing, but to call it a great series would be pushing it.  
Would watch again: No. It was interesting enough, but there's no reason to do this twice. 
 
Not Obi Wan Kenobi, but also a limited series about a guru.
Halston. One Season. Watched: Once. This Netflix miniseries (only five episodes) starring Ewan McGregor depicts the creative years of, you guessed it, the designer legend Halston. From his starting point as designing Jackie Kennedy's hat to the descent into coke and AIDS in the 80s, the series develops a strong vibe and absolutely magnetic presence, despite (or perhaps because) a notable lack of real drama on screen. Structurally, the show checks all the relevant biopic boxes, but the asthetics of it, the visuals and the acting of everyone involved make it into a dizzying ride. 
Would watch again: No, I don't know what I would get out a second watch. 

The best show you never heard of.
Halt and Catch Fire. Four Seasons. Watched: Twice. After recommendation by my podcast colleague Sean T. Collins, I watched this. The first season is a chore, but the quality picks up rapidly in the second one, goes over to greatness in season 3, and reaches transcendent quality in season 4. You need to absolutely watch this. Underrated and unknown, this one provides some of the best character work I've ever seen and touches you in emotional places you didn't even know you had.
Would watch again: Yes! Sign me up.

What if Suicide Squad, but as a sitcom?
Harley Quinn. Two Seasons. Watched: Once. I think Suicide Squad is garbage. I'm lukewarm about Birds of Prey. So third time is the charm, I guess. Who would've thought that an animated R-rated cartoon sitcom of all things would warm me to Harley Quinn and the other DC villains? The idea is rather brillant. In a woke setting (just self-aware and harmless enough not to scare other audiences away), the show centers around Harley and Ivy trying to stake it out in a male-dominated super-hero-world and to make sense of their feelings. Will Harley ever manage to be accepted in the Legion of Doom? Can Ivy form a meaningful connection to another (super-)human being? Such questions are framed in typical sitcom and workplace drama conventions, which is hilarious. I'm not as sold on the uber-violence, which often seems gratuitous, but I'm willing to put up with it for the rest. 
Would watch again: I mean, it was okay, but it wasn't THAT good.
 
The goggles are ridiculous, sorry.
Invincible. One Season. Watched: Once. This comic adaptation basically follows the premise "what if Superman was bad?", which isn't as original as it was when the comic came out, but the foundation is very strong. The series follows the tired trope of obscenely bloody animation, but unlike in Harley Quinn, it actually serves a story-telling purpose here, so I'm much more on board. Its story is gripping enough, but the real draw in my eyes is how they manage to weave the superhero-story with facets of teenage life, using super powers as metaphors for teenage struggles in the good old Spiderman way. Can absolutely recommend. 
Would watch again: It's not a big time commitment, but I don't know what it would gain on rewatch.

Actors and network united in their quest for Emmys. 
John Adams. One season. Watched: Twice. It's not a big accomplishment to finish a series that has only seven episodes, of course, but they feel like at least fourteen. That's not to say that they are bad, but I think it wasn't the best call of HBO to really depict all of John Adam's political life. The sequences in Europe are dragging on endlessly, especially since Adams is sick a very long time, and dignified people talking only rescues so much, no matter what great actors portray them. I really love the first two episodes that concern themselves with the Boston Massacre and the Declaration of Independence, but it's somewhat downhill from there.
Would watch again: Nah, too boring for that and not really in the right place today.
 
Weird that despite the abundance of katanas in zombie fiction no one did this before. 
Kingdom. Two seasons. Watched: Once. This Korean zombie series is having some very interesting ideas, going into some social critique of inequality and authoritarian rule while combining elements of Game of Thrones with standard zombie fare. Notable for it's lack of "the group" antics, the show cannot resist violently killing children and women for shock value, unfortunately. However, its strengths are outnumbering such flaws, and if you're not searching for really challenging and intelligent entertaintment but just want to watch some zombies getting murdered with medieval equipment, this might tickle your fancy.
Would watch again: No. I'd watch new season, but certainly not the old ones again. 
 
The great precursor. Don't mention the Mystery Box.
Lost. Six seasons. Watched: Once. Lost is surely the one show that I regret finishing. My wife and I really did want to know how it ended, despairing more and more about the new and totally unmotivated characters (the Japanese guy, the demigods, etc.) and especially the deranged plotlines that the creators were starting to heap onto each other in a desperate attempt to avoid resolving the old ones. Look, a hatch with numbers! Look, a camp of the Others! Look, time travel! Look, another dimension! Look, the afterlife! Eh, what? And still we don't know anything. It doesn't help that the show has some really sucking characters that will strain your nerves by repeating themselves over and over and over and over and over again. Looking at you, Shepard and Kat.
Would watch again: Certainly not. Even if I had liked it, and I didn't, the BSG rule would apply.
 
Topical topic and Horror evergreen, what could go wrong?
Lovecraft Country. One Season. Watched: Once. In the year 2020, doing a series about racism in the 1950s and how black people were supressed isn't quite as trail-blazing as it once was, but it's welcome nonetheless. The general conceit beyond the loose adaption of Lovecraftian horror is that all the protagonists are black, all the antagonists white, and the horror is only secondary to the horror of human violence. Sounds familiar? The show unfortunately has two-and-a-half  major problems beyond its stellar cast and acting: the writing is very on-the-nose, eschewing all nuance for brute force in its message; the structure is very chopped, with a "monster of the week" style that doesn't mesh well with the larger narrative; and the atrocious CGI quality. 
Would watch again: No. A rewatch couldn't even recreate the utter disappointment and letdown. 
 
He's the most inconspicious thief ever encountered.
Lupin. One Season. Watched: Once. This French series features Omar Sy, a giant hunk of attrative blackness, as a master thief who can blend in anywhere he wants and who takes his inspiration from the Lupin stories. This is a ridiculous setup that you totally accept on the strengths of clever writing and a superb cast. It's not a series that'll change your life, but the harmless charm of it is very welcome. The stakes are family-friendly, and the whole thing manages to stay grounded despite its frequent detours into impossible plotlines. Recommended as distraction TV. 
Would watch again: No, this doesn't sustain more than one watch.   

The seminal text, to be studied in class and absolutely pretentious. 
Mad Men. Seven seasons. Watched: One-and-a-half times. The series covers the 1960s as kind of a bourgeois panorama shot, following the fortunes and misfortunes of a group of ad men (the titular "Mad Men") through the social upheaval of the decade. The show is fascinating for its multi-layered focus on themes, carefully constructing set, costumes, character and plot to fit it, elevating it to literature levels. It is also interesting for the lack of change in the characters who are stuck in a changing world and utterly fail to cope with it - getting overrun by the changes of the 1960s is no fun experience for these 1950s-style wannabe-patriarchs growing old.
Would watch again: Maybe. If I really had time to kill. 
 
Close-ups of middle-aged people, the show.
Mare of Easttown. One season. Watched: Once. This great HBO-mini-series can be full-heartedly recommended, although its bleakness and tragedy might pull you down. The characters are all incredibly believable; you'll understand why they do what they do all the time, even and especially as they constantly drag themselves down, haunted by their own past - even the youngest. Oh, and there's also a murder-mystery. The real star of the show is the slew of great actors, and the show revels in close-ups of faces, following every line like it's a canyon in the structure of their minds. Ironically, the actual investigation plot is far less interesting than the characters and their stories. I found the story sagging in the middle part, though, and leaning a bit too heavily into cliches. It's the actors' performance that really elevates rather mediocre materal in the end.
Would watch again: I don't think so. It's a good series, but I don't feel there's anything getting enhanced by a rewatch.
 
Very uneasy with the ethical implications of this series to be honest. 
Making a Murderer. One season. Watched: Once. This Netflix documentary covers the disturbing story of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were accused of murder and convicted in a trial that is thoroughly critisized in the series. The immersive qualities and the suspense are laudable, but not for no reason it came under criticism for distorting the facts for a strong pro-Avery bias, so enjoy with caution.
Would watch again: No.

It's better than The Witcher, that's for sure. 
Marco Polo. Two seasons. Watched: Once. This Netflix series really, really wants to be Game of Thrones. If you thought that its great model had its fair share of moments of gratuitous nudity and violence, wait until you see those whorehouse- and harem-scenes in Marco Polo and witness everyone and their brother be really proficient in martial arts. It's pretty entertaining and gives you a vivid picture of the era, though, so it's tepidly recommended.
Would watch again: No. 
 
Galadriel finally gave in to temptation.
Mrs. America. One SeasonWatched: Once. Cate Blanchett plays Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who single-handedly brought down the Equal Rights Amendment. In what is surely also a topical mini-series, she is pitted against the women's rights movement (meticulously cast) on the hand and patriarchy on the other. The series is telling the story of the ERA and the women's rights movement well, but despite getting a lot of screen time, Schlafly herself isn't well served, not for the depiction per se but for the repetiveness of her story, which makes her not a very good choice of main character. I get what they were trying to, fleshing her out as a person rather than a one-dimensional antagonist, but it doesn't always work. The series is still very good, don't mistake me, but the conceptional flaw keeps it from greatness.
Would watch again: No. 
 
If you think this looks creepy, wait until you see the show proper.
Raised by Wolves. One SeasonWatched: Once. In this Scifi show, human children are raised by Androids on a far-away planet after a destructive civil war between believers and atheists destroyed earth. I don't really want to tell you more than that because you should go in this with at least expectations as possible. It's directed by Ridley Scott, if that is an information that sends you in its direction.  
Would watch again: New season: yes. This one again: Unlikely.

Worst business decision HBO ever took.
Rome. Two seasons. Watched: Three times. Like Deadwood, Rome mirrors historical developments, in this case the rises of Caesar and Augustus. Unlike Deadwood, however, the plot is faster paced and easier to understand, in large parts thanks to an almost ridiculous amount of gratious violence and nudity. Historians agree that the show is not as faithful as it tries to be by far, but it is certainly one that comes closest to actual Classical Rome. It helps that it has interesting and in the case of Pullo even likeable characters, another thing that Deadwood lacked (which made it difficult, not bad, mind you). There's no reason at all not to check out Rome. It is a great series, and it's unfortunate that it was shelved by HBO after only two seasons due to the unparalleled production cost of about 100 million dollar per series.
Would watch again: Another case for the BSG rule. 
 
This is how Poe Dameron should've looked like.
Show me a hero. One season. Watched: Once. This is another great HBO miniseries, consisting of six episodes, concerning itself with urban planning and constructing public housing. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? It's been co-produced by David Simon of "The Wire"-fan, and if anyone can make this material gripping, he is it. And boy, is it gripping. Check this out!
Would watch again: This is nothing you'd rewatch. 

A kid's cartoon that's watchable for adults and that produces a lot of Star Wars canon.
Star Wars Rebels. Four seasons. Watched: Once. This is a surprisingly great series. Despite being made for kids, which shows in the episodic structure and the generally low stakes for the characters, it grows astonishingly dark and complex and offers great characters with even greater voice-acting. I don't care much about the episodes that deal with the Force and all the mystery stuff, but whenever they're actually doing rebel things, it's just great.
Would watch again: Nope. 
 
There's a curse hanging over this era of Star Wars. 
Star Wars Resistance. Two Seasons. Watched: Once. It's not like this one would be so much different from Star Wars Rebels, but it's geared to an even younger audience and relying a lot on slapstick. I'm a bit of a Star Wars completionist, though, so...
Would watch again: Certainly not. 
 
A series adapted from a series of paintings sure is something new. 
Tales from the Loop. One SeasonWatched: Once. This Amazon Original was adapted from a series of paintings, like the one above. Seriously. The strange imagery of the robotic vision of the 1980s has its own beauty, and while Amazon sure would like some part of the Stranger Things audience to migrate, this couldn't be further distant. This is an extremely moody, slow series, beautifully shot, ruminating on regret, death, the nature of time, friendship, loneliness and a lot of other things. It's very deep, but not in a pretentious way. It leaves you with a lot of questions without trying to give answers. If I told you many of the stories are very circular and self-contained, you wouldn't be too surprised, given the nature of the title, right? Give it a try. It's worth it.
Would watch again: No. It was interesting, but it wouldn't be a second time. 
 
Doesn't look like much, but that's a feint.
Ted Lasso. One Season. Watched: Twice. I'm famously not interested in football, having podcasted right through Germany winning against France in the World Cup once. And yet, this show about an American (!) football coach going on to coach a London soccer team is just great. It's so relentlessly positive it's a force of nature, and actually funny at the same time, will still being able to pull a competent melodrama. Absolutely recommended. 
Would watch again: Haha, yes, sure!

It's a weird praise, but this really gets the boring chore of spywork across really well.
The Americans. Six seasons. Watched: Once. This one was a pleasant surprise. The first season was good, suspenseful and entertaining, but it wasn't until halfway into the second season that the show actually became GREAT. And I mean that in capitals. The show is astonishingly good, taking its time to tell stories and delving deep into characters and procedurals with a very understated yet intense acting style. You need to check this out.
Would watch again: Yes! 
 
I still don't get why it isn't "The Purple Crystal". 
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. One Season. Watched: Once. Without having seen the 1982 original movie, I went into this not knowing what to expect. As many critics have noted, it's off to a bit of a slow start and needs some getting used to - puppeteering isn't exactly a widely used craft - but I found myself captured by the charm of the series very quickly. It's worldbuilding is exquisite, and the characterwork steps up the plate after the rather mediocre first two episodes as well. It's captivating and really atmospheric, but you need to go with the flow and the experience of the world of Thraa, else you'll quickly be bored.
Would watch again: No, too uneven. 

Nah, keep those seasons coming!
The Expanse. Five seasons. Watched: Once. This is a surprisingly great series. It doesn't quite reach the level of Battlestar Galactica, but its actors are great and able to do something with the piss-poor dialogue they are sometimes given. More importantly, the production design is very solid, with a distinct and atmospheric aesthetic, the plot is complex and rewarding, and the moral choices the characters have to make are compelling. I also have to give kudos to the character of Amos; you really believe that he is unpredictable and dangerous despite not looking like the type.  
Would watch again: Yes. 
 
Fighting for the freedom of the military-industrial complex and unaccountable government agencies.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. One season. Watched: Once. This was supposed to be the realy pleaser of Disney's new slew of Marvel shows, but the Pandemic kicked it back and gave Wandavision the prime slot. Just as well, because "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" sucks ass. I talked about it at length on a BLAC episode, but long story short: the writing is really bad, the visuals are bland, the characters ranging from uninteresting to serviceable, and the incoherent mess of a thematic throughline and hot garbage central message provide the nail in the coffin. 
Would watch again: God no.
 
Nuttier than a squirrel's turd
The Good Lord Bird. One SeasonWatched: Once. This miniseries centers around the last fighting years of John Brown, him of the Raid on Harper's Ferry fame. The story is told through the eyes of the fictious black boy "Onion" who witnesses and, more importantly, comments the proceedings. "The Good Lord Bird" is an incredibly weird series, wildly and succesfully alternating between different strands of comedy on the one hand and tragedy on the other. It has more than a pinch of Tarantino in it, and the actors, led by Ethan Hawke, are all chewing the scenery as much as they can.  
Would watch again: No, I'm glad I finished it the first time around. 

At least, Shamalyam isn't involved.
The Haunting of Bly Manor. One SeasonWatched: Once. A Netflix horror series that's very low on horror, which makes it watchable for me. I am terrified of most horror. The series is more of a puzzle box, really, and therefore a lot of its success hinges on the final two episodes where everything is revealed. Its success is mixed. There are some strong characters and performances, but there are also some spectacular misfires and in the end, a lot of stuff doesn't amount to all that much despite there being nine episodes worth of plot, and the ending doesn't make all that much sense. It's watchable and unoffensive, but there's not really a positive reason to engage with it. 
Would watch again: It was bad, so, no. 

Trashy, but a whole lot better than The Witcher.
The Last Kingdom. Four seasons. Watched: Once. This series is actually quite good, albeit a good deal from a great series. It's very entertaining and, with noticable hiccup around season 1, episode 5, very well paced. There is a manageable slew of characters that are relatable, and I adore the sheer stupidity of our main character. He's an incredible dork, but good with a sword, so he survives the bullshit he gets himself in. Watch for good entertainment.
Would watch again: No, this is nothing that would improve on rewatch. 
 
I'm not the target audience, but then, I never understood why people loved Boba Fett. 
The Mandalorian. Two Seasons. Watched: Once. The first Star Wars live-action series is surely entertaining enough, but I can't really get over how much I'm not the target audience, which makes it difficult to give it a fair assessment. It's a bit like Star Wars Rebels, or Star Wars Resistance, in that it's a show made for kids. In this case, it's a show made for 13-year-olds, and while I don't have anything particular against this age-group, stuff made for them is decidedly not for me. The almost forced bad-assery and emptiness of the titular character is something for people who consider Boba Fett a great character, and I'm really not that.
Would watch again: No, not good enough. 

The weird cousin of "Band of Brothers".
The Pacific. One season. Watched: Once. The successor to Band of Brothers fixes the main problem by squarely focussing on three characters on the Pacific theatre; however, the decision to use historic characters rather than simply create some proves troublesome. Oftentimes, we watch more living monuments than people, and it is even harder than in Band of Brothers to get a feeling of time and place. However, there are some really gruesome details in there, and the depiction of the daily war routine is, as in Band of Brothers, really intriguing.
Would watch again: Yes.

Relatable next-door neighbors in front of a metaphor.
The Plot Against America. One SeasonWatched: Once. Another HBO mini-series, "The Plot Against America" tells the story of what would have been if Charles Lindbergh had won the election of 1940 and established a Nazi-friendly, Jew-hating US government. The first four episodes work very well, ever so slowly ratcheting up the tension for our relatable protagonists, but in the latter two episodes, the story lost its bite for me and started to feel a bit unreal. In that, it reminds me of Tschernobyl. I can't place the finger on why. Still, it's well made, suspenseful and intriguing.
Would watch again: No, not good enough. 

In black and white, classic style, to remind you of the good old days.
The Sopranos. Six Seasons. Watched: Once. The classic that started it all remains inherently watchable to this day, giving you a portrait of mobster life that really doesn't glamourize it too much. At times it's more a series about mental health that happens to include mobsters - those parts are weakest, I feel, because they feel VERY unscientific and made-up - but the study in violence that in my mind penetrates every second of this show is mesmerizing. 
Would watch again: Yes.

Ciaran Hinds when he heard there would be a second season.
The Terror. Two seasons. Watched: Once. The first season is an incredible series. Eerie, well acted, gorgeously shot, meticulously crafted, suspenseful - I am running out of words, but the tale of the lost polar expidition of 1845, despite its obvious (bad) outcome, is gripping down to the last second. You absolutely need to watch this if you haven't already. The second one is...not so great. Still watchable for the production design, I guess, but it fails rather badly on its own premises.
Would watch again: Soft no on season 1, hard no on season 2.

Test
It's actually six days, but what the heck.
The Third Day. One seasonWatched: Once. This very weird mystery piece starring Jude Law's face in REALLY PERSISTENT CLOSE-UPS is interesting and absolutely gorgeously filmed, worth it alone for the looks and the performances. It won't satisfy minds that need a neat conclusion, a clear arc to fit everything in. This is more of an experience, a mood, feeling, mindest you have to engage with. I won't tell you much more than that, since by now it should be relatively clear if this is something for you. 
Would watch again: Nah, not my cup of tea. 

So many good memories. From a time when politics could make you feel good and hopeful.
The West Wing. Seven seasons. Watched: Two-and-a-half times. While The West Wing suffers from much of the problems that many Sorkin productions have: a tendency of underdeveloping characters, a serious incapability of creating female characters and an overzealous celebration of workaholicism and elitism. But on the other hand it offers well researched and realistically feeling political machinations, clever plots, grand dialogue and a genuine idealism. And that makes up for a lot.
Would watch again: Another one for the BSG rule. I'd rather keep it in the happy memory place. 
 
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckitifuck. Fuuuuuck. Fuck. You'll get the reference.
The Wire. Five seasons. Watched: Twice. Another HBO classic, The Wire takes you into urban Baltimore and deep into the bowels of the city, to the real bad neighbourhoods where gangs sling drugs and the police is unable to get in control. So far, it's your average crime-and-police-show, but you'll quickly notice that in reality, it's far more than that. It's a sociological study, taking you deep into the subcultures it explores, widening the scope with every season and refraining from easy black-and-white-patterns that make so many of these shows so primitive. The Wire is also difficult, but rewarding, at least if you discount the fifth season which is kind of stupid. 
Would watch again: Maybe...? But then only the first four seasons. 
 
One of the weirdest things on TV being about the Pope makes a lot of sense, actually.
The Young Pope. Two seasons. Watched: Twice. This series was more than a little odd, I have to say. Oftentimes it feels like a LSD trip, and many of its images and storylines have a dreamlike quality. Combine this with extremely strong performances by all persons involved and usually good writing and you get an interesting picture. To learn more about this, listen to the double-feature Sean and I did on our podcast. Its second season, titles "The New Pope", is equally great.
Would watch again: Absolutely. 
 
Ugliest title card and most boring intro of all time. 
Twin Peaks. Three Seasons and one movie. Watched once. Twin Peaks is an absolute classic. Shot in 1990/1991, it was one of the first and most ground breaking series in more ways than one. The whole series is weird, at times funny, at times dark, dramatic and light at the same time. The second season experiences a marked drop in quality when the network interfered, and David Lynch finished it off with a movie that ranks as "controversial" for its much more mysterious and dark and weird tones. In 2017, 26 years after the original, the team got back together (mostly) and produced a third season, which may or may not be followed by a fourth. This series is worth the watch for its historic content alone, but be warned, there is A LOT of weirdness going on, and a good deal is owed to the time period it was made in. 
Would watch again: I don't think so. Too uneven, too weird for my tastes. 
 
Like Making a Murderer, but not as ethically problematic.
Unbelievable. One Season. Watched: Once. This is a very topical (2019) show, centering around the case of a serial rapist. Luckily, it's not a documentary taking a clear stand while pretending to be objective, like "Making a Murderer", but rather a well-acted drama using the source material for dramatic effect. The first episode especially is really hard to bear, and you will get angry at times, while the series provides a "go get them"-catharsis in the end. Powerful stuff, but from a cinematic point of view, there's not much to it, I'm afraid.
Would watch again: This is not a show you rewatch. 
 
Revisionist history for the Eastern Front.
Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (Our Mothers, Our Fathers). One seasonWatched: Twice. This German miniseries about five friends being ripped up by World War II 1941-1945 was one of the major German TV events. Two brothers go to the Eastern Front, always underrepresented anyway, their female friends go into nursery and propaganda, respectively, and the Jewish friend tries to escape the Holocaust. The series received quite a bit of justified criticism for its depiction of the Polish resistance and the whitewashing of German war crimes and can be seen, as all of the German history productions of these last 20 years, as part of a troubling trend in relativism.
Would watch again: No, the first rewatch was a mistake already.  
 
The height of Disney's artistic daring.
Wandavision. One Season. Watched: Once. The general conceit of this series is a persiflage of sitcoms from the 50s to the aughts, in which Wanda trapped an entire community. Her powers are vast and underexplored in the MCU movies, as is her relationship with the unfortunately deceased Vision, and here, the actors get a lot of room to explore said relationship. Whenever the story veers into the bigger picture, however, introducing Rambeaux and the SWORD agency, the quality of the writing drops markedly, and the finale is very uninspired. On the whole, though, it's an enjoyable watch. 
Would watch again: No, there's nothing that would warrant a rewatch.

This shouldn't work. And yet, it does.
Watchmen. One Season. Watched: Once. Shit, if this isn't the biggest surprise of the season. Watchmen is incredibly gutsy, taking risks left and right, throwing curve balls and getting into really troubled waters. It's a demanding show, that's for sure, and while the jury's still out whether or not it really succeeds in what it's trying to say, Lindelof and his team made something that challenges its viewers, and given the standard Netflix fare these days, that's rare enough to come by. However, that gutsiness really lets up quickly and didn't amount to much in the end.
Would watch again: Nope, this as a huge letdown. 

Alan Moore is despairing, but I actually like this one.
Watchmen Motion Comic. One Season. Watched: Three times. I don't know if this necessarily qualifies as a series, but it has 12 episodes, and so I chalk it up under "miniseries". It's a great experiment, simply using the graphic novel and animating all the frames (sparingly, I might add) and voicing all the dialogue (with the same actor, which is kind of annyoing with the female roles). Yet, it's the best moving pictures you'll get to approximate the Watchmen experience, so...there's that. 
Would watch again: Sure!
 
No, it's not about the Civil War, there is other history happening in that period.

1864. One season. Watched: Once. This is the first time I have engaged in a Scandi-drama (yes, I know, Borgen. It's still on my list). As a historian, I have of course a personal interest in its unusual subject matter, the war of 1864 between the German Federation and Denmark. And yes, it's not overly correct on the details, but it captures the general topics. Visually, the eight-part-miniseries is gorgeous, but structurally it's a bit over the place and overly reliant on stereotypes. It also shares some similarities with the typical Irish history movies like "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" in that the sun is always a bit brighter in Denmark, if you get my meaning. Nonetheless, the show is uncompromising and high-aiming, and while falling short of its mark well worth a try. 
Would watch again: Nah, not worth it.

Also check out "Series I stopped watching".

11 comments:

  1. Thx a lot for this overview, Stefan. I've seen a few of this series too (e. g. GoT, BE, HoC, Deadwood, Rome and Lost (only until the middle of the third season, lucky me it seems ;-))) and will give Firefly, The Wire and BG a try in the nearer future 'cause of your recommandation. Greetings from Quedlinburg, Hardy.

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  2. Heartsbane of HornhillMarch 19, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    Stefan, have you seen any of the war miniseries HBO aired. Band of Brothers, The Pacific, & Generation Kill.

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  3. Hi Stefan, I have also completed most of the series on the list and agree with alomst all of your views. I am surprised to see that you have not watched The Sopranos. One show I would strongly recommend to you is Fringe, it was an underrated show that was both interesting and enjoyable. One of my favorite shows of all time.

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    1. I did watch the first season some time ago. Have to pick it up again at some point, but never quite got around to it.

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  4. Is Galactica worth it really?

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    1. If you are in the genre, definitely. Just watch the pilot. If it appeals to you, the rest will, too.

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  5. The final season of BG had one major plot thread I really disliked, but it was an excellent show even with that bit. The weekly airings developed into big viewing parties at our place. I probably wouldn't have hosted the GoT viewings without our great experiences with BG.

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    1. Unfortunately, I seldom manage larger viewing sessions, so it's me and my wife or me alone.

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  6. I like your list and your comments, and I mostly concur.
    For me, West Wing is still one of the best series ever, and I can't say how often I watched the sixth and seventh seasons about the Santos campaign from start to finish - truly great and entertaining stuff.
    I am happy to see you praise "The Americans" so much, this is imho one of the best series ever, period (my love of it may be influenced by my growing up in the eighties).
    To mention one series where I disagree with your appraisal: Breaking Bad. Whereas it's definitely worth watching, I found it slow and almost boring at times, despite some truly great episodes (my girlfriend loves the show, so I watched it with her). And don't get me started on Skyler ...
    A tip for you that you may like: for me, the better Sherlock is in Elementary - check it out!
    Greetings, Tudeh

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