You hear that faint, dying buzz coming from your TV, the one that’s getting fainter and fainter the nicer the weather outside gets? Yes, it’s the sound of reruns, because TV is now officially over for the year. There’s no more, it’s all gone; it’s time to unplug the cable box and start being a productive member of society again. Reruns are all that’s left, which is actually worse than blizzard static, because at least randomly bouncing white and black pixels are bound to make something new appear every now and then. Might as well take the batteries out of the remote, because it’s not like you’ll need to turn on the TV for another four months.
And THANK GOD. I might not get summer vacations anymore, but Jesus Christ, I need a vacation from TV, or rather, new TV. There are a few stragglers hanging about (I’ll keep reviewing Mad Men, of which the last two recaps can be found here, and here, and will follow up my 2nd Hannibal recap with a few more this season), and some summer series that will definitely be worth checking out, but any sort of halt to the rising tide of great TV is a godsend to someone already so far behind shows they’d normally be up to date on (I’m 5 episodes behind on Parks and Rec for crying out loud). So with so much more time these next few months available for getting caught up on what’s been on and off my radar (it’s time to finally see if the fuss about New Girl is justified, and the new Arrested Development season is mandatory), now’s the time to do a bit of house cleaning, and wrap up a few series and season I’ve finished in the last few weeks. We’re going have to lightning-round things this week, so let’s not waste another minute.
-Arrow: This is a mini-milestone for me, as Arrow wrapping up its first season these last two weeks makes it the first show I’ve ever covered from pilot to finale. While I never thought my first consistent TV reviewing gig would involve writing more than 30,000 words on a show I originally had no interest in watching, you gotta start somewhere, and I’m glad Arrow was such a starting point for me. It’s really, really tempting when you do freelance writing to only concern yourself with shows that align with your tastes, and tunnel-vision can develop as a side effect. Biasing your viewing habits only towards programs that are critically well-regarded will make you lose perspective on the wide range of stories available on any given night of TV. I would never argue in favour of someone watching Arrow instead of The Wire, or Louie, but it’s important to give a change to shows that aren’t inherently your type of jam, and to be able to recognize their strengths just as readily as their faults. Speaking of which…
-…Spartacus!!!!!!!! If ever a truly excessive number of exclamation points were warranted on this blog, this would be the case, because Spartacus, on its surface, ignores all the classically accepted hallmarks of great television. It’s violent, libidinous, grimy, gory, unabashedly sex-crazed, and honest to God Great Television. There is so, so much worth celebrating about Spartacus, the most important thing being how it defies expectations at every turn; over its first season, a 300-knockoff looking like it was shot on a shoestring budget, morphed into one TV’s best dramas, at once lean and spectacular. The show never looked back after that meteoric rise in quality, even after the untimely death of its star Andy Whitfield; Stephen S. DeKnight, his writing staff, the incredible production team, and a host a talented actors made every single minute of this series count, bowing out after their fourth season last month, and going out on their own terms. I’ve never watched another show that could dazzle the action-living, lizard part of my skull, while keeping the rest of my brain so engaged by the momentous plotting and unforgettable cast of characters. Oh, and it also happens to be one of the most sexually progressive shows of recent memory, just to round out why it is I’m so in awe of everything Spartacus has accomplished. Make no mistake; this brawny jock has more brain and heart than many of TV’s most praised series.
-The Shield: Where Spartacus is bloody opera, The Shield is Shakespearean tragedy. I was sadly unable to follow up my digestion of the first two seasons with complimenting thoughts on the rest of the series, so i’ll have to give the 10 cent review instead. Long story short, while I don’t think I would argue The Shield is essential viewing for your average audience, for fellow TV writers, I’d consider it a must. With each season, The Shield added another act to its tragedy in six-parts (with the scattered Season 1 acting as a prologue), and the further you step back from the show, the more you have to applaud how Shawn Ryan and company managed to tell a complete story that had almost no fat to it. Rock solid consistency across 70+ episodes is a nigh impossible feat, but really, it’s the finale that gave the show its legacy, as that final hour gave weight and meaning to all those that came before it. Take note, showrunners: a bad ending won’t necessarily ruin your show, but a great one can change the narrative completely.
-Top of the Lake: A nice little Jane Campion mini-series breaking up all the macho stuff, Top of the Lake is not the sort of show you will devour like candy, and leave you hungry for more. It’s a slow, winding, but intensely intriguing and ultimately rewarding bit of mystery fiction set in the New Zealand countryside. Elizabeth Moss is terrific in the lead role as detective Robin Griffin, kiwi accent and all, as her investigation into the seedy side of a lake-bound small town uncovers numerous oddballs and dark secrets across the seven episode series. The off-beat pacing will be off-putting to many, and there’s a noticeable wonkiness to how the show’s original six episode length was split into seven for Sundance Channel. I can’t say I’m terribly well-versed in Campion’s work other than The Piano, but her talent for spoiling gorgeous landscapes with disturbing sexual undercurrents is on full display here, making for a hypnotic, and unsettling little series that will likely find a place in my year end list of best series. I’m looking to taper off of the show’s uniquely low-key high with a similarly contemplative series from Sundance, Rectify, the pilot of which I watched last night and see plenty of promise in.
You know it’s been a while since you added an update to your blog when actually making one gets delayed further by forgetting your WordPress login info. Here’s what I’ve had time for writing up in the last couple weeks, in between stuffing myself on the smorgasbord of hockey that is the first round of NHL playoffs:
-Two Arrows, no waiting. With the season wrapping up a week tomorrow, the recap load each week is about to get a lot lighter. The rest of May is barren for new show premieres, but June should pick things up, so their might be something worth covering weekly around that time. In the meantime, I might have to start popping in for check-in reviews, like the one I did for…
-…Hannibal, which, surprisingly, is turning out to be one of the best new shows of the year. You wouldn’t think a series based off a successful novel and film franchise would be an underdog, but considering it’s the umpteenth serial killer drama in recent memory (and on NBC no less), Hannibal entered the scene with bomb bunker-low expectations. Leave it to wunderkind showrunner Bryan Fuller, a strong cast, and the show’s capacity to be legitimately creepy, to make this 2013’s most pleasant surprise. My review catches up with the show midway through its first season, and I’d recommend you do the same. Seriously though, despite being on network TV, this is not one for the squeamish. The jury’s still out for me on whether the show is making a commentary on senseless and gratuitous violence that you’ll find in drek like The Following, or if Hannibal is just better at making said violence entertaining, but check it out for yourself, and see how it settles your stomach.
-Mad Men manages memorable moments mourning Mr. MLK, and major movements are made, as magnificently manic merger melts away morbid motifs. I’m now realizing almost no one on this show has a name that starts with “M”, and I think that’s to prevent sentences like the last one from being even more tempting to write.
This goes against my proven policy of improving productivity (okay, fine, I’ll stop the alliteration) by not making any promises, but expect a big ol’ hashout post about a number of series I just happened to finish within spitting distance of one another. Nothing super in-depth or all that analytical, mostly just a little baggage unpacking. The shows? I’ll leave it a surprise, but the article’s working title at this moment is Snakes, Lakes, and White-Male-Antiheroes. Now if you’ll excuse, I need to get back to watching the Canucks lose.
Sorry every other contender for the title of Summer Jam 2013, but we already have a winner.
A week late, but it’s time for another portfolio dump, this time with more video game-ary in one batch than pretty much ever. I don’t get around to playing many games these days, mostly because the average playtime to clock-in a complete title is well over a single season of television. When you start breaking down the numbers, and you don’t have a lot of free time at your disposal, the only thing I’ll get out of bed for when it comes to games is a really good story…or something that’s free. Both of which are present this week, so let’s jump right in:
-The mystery project I teased two weeks back is out and about, and it’s yet another sprawling think-piece, the informatively titled essay, Bioshock: Infinite, Choice And The State Of Storytelling In Game. Like my Bond article from last year, this was a case where the predicted length and time investment for the piece was a gross underestimate. Luckily, that let the article hit right around the time a lot of other really thoughtful analyses of the year’s biggest game were coming out. I’ve been meaning to hash out some thoughts on the gaming industry’s continued inconsistency in storytelling, and Bioshock: Infinite was the perfect catalyst for getting all those thoughts out in the open. Check it out if you’ve played the game, want to know what exactly is so wrong with video game storytelling, or see both those things made all the nerdier by an extended analogy based on the “Han shot first” meme.
-A decidedly less ambitious new addition to the site is my more meat ‘n potatoes review for Injustice: Gods Among Us, a new comic book fighting game that I was fortunate enough to get a review copy of. This was only my second game review, and I really enjoyed both playing the game, and writing about it. And the review confirmed a lot of what I suspected about certain, let’s say, more vocal, parts of the gaming community. Whereas to me, a 3 out of 5 says “fun, but flawed,” to others, that can apparently read like “THE THINGS YOU LIKE ARE TERRIBLE AND YOU SHOULD HATE YOURSELF.” Getting into a whole “Scores as a Review Metric is Fucked” article is something for another day, but sometimes the gaming community can really bum me out. Guys, video games are pretty well accepted in this day and age, so criticism of a single game is not damning of you, or your interests. The war for whether video games can be respectable or not is over: we won. Now start acting like it.
-And finally, it’s a Mad Men, Mad Men, World, so here’s a double dose to tied you over until next time. I gotta say, I’m loving this assignment, despite literally having nightmares about watching episodes, and coming away with nothing to say. Luckily, that hasn’t happened for real just yet; in fact, it’s been easier to spit out 1500+ words on Mad Men within 2 hours of its airing than anything else I’ve written under a time crunch. I’m pretty happy with how the reviews for weeks 2 and 3 turned out. I mean, I got to spend all last Sunday comparing the show to Game of Thrones, and even forced in the word “genuflecting” again. Plus, I hit the minor milestone of 1,000 views on a recap in under 24 hours. What’s not to love?
That’s all for this week. Slate is looking pretty clear at the moment, but we’ll see what the new week brings. Sundance’s Rectify is picking up some good buzz, and Amazon just clusterbombed the internet with about three dozen pilots, so there’s probably something to review in all that. Or maybe I’ll just go see Pain and Gain this week. I may not be a huge fan of the guy’s catalogue, but I feel like Michael Bay is finally using his powers for good, instead of Transformers.
Oh, and just for good measure, here’s the link to that Daft Punk song again. Mankind doesn’t deserve something this joy-inducingly groovy, so it’s a good thing we have French robots to make it for us.
Whooooooooo! Break out the champagne everybody: it’s the second update in as many weeks! What’d I tell you: zero promises=unstoppable productivity. Alright, well, admittedly it doesn’t look like much has changed; there are only two recaps to spotlight this week, but one’s a new addition to the weekly rotation, and it’s a biggie. And in between all that, the groundwork for a much bigger, rambly-er article was laid, on a topic transcending genres, mediums -the very fabric of time and space! Prepare to be dazzled, and set expectations to genuflect!
Shit. Now I’ve gone and promised too much…Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. On to the update!
-Old business first: the weekly Arrow recaps keep on keepin’ on…except this coming week, and pretty much the rest of the month, thanks to a brief hiatus for new episodes. That’s for the best though, because I need focus every iota of critical juice I’ve got right now on…
-Mad Men: Yeah, this was a bit of a surprise for me as well, seeing as I thought someone at the site was already going to be covering it. But in a dramatic turn of events, the big red phone rang Sunday morning, and coach put me in! As a lover of both mixed metaphors, and drinks, I was ecstatic at the chance to review Mad Men…and then legitimately kind of terrified that most of the practice I’d had in TV recapping was from covering a CW superhero soapopera. Considering Mad Men is in the running for All-Time Best Drama of Ever and Always, this was like deciding to try your hand at cracking Saturday’s New Yorker crossword after months doing the word jumbles on the back of Cap’n Crunch boxes.
Or at least that’s what I was worried about, as the actual writing turned out to be less of a struggle than initially feared. It was surprisingly fun to take a run at, and I actually think my recap for the premiere turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself (and I do). We’ll see how that enthusiasm holds up for the rest of the season; I mean, jumping into the Mad Men review game is basically setting a weekly reminder for yourself of how decidedly not hot your shit is compared to the dozens of amazing recaps being done elsewhere, but it feels good to be a part of the conversation.
And finally, one conversation I won’t be getting in on is the passing of Roger Ebert. Don’t get me wrong; the guy embodied everything about the career of “critic” that makes it legitimate, and the worlds of cinema, critical thought, and general human spirit are lesser places without him in them. But you can’t look both ways crossing the street without spying another deeply heartfelt, and moving tribute to the man from critics and writers more skilled than I. I’ll simply let my condolences join their’s in celebrating Mr. Ebert’s life, by doing my damnedest to live up to the high-bar for productivity, insight, and passionate love of shared experiences that he set for the rest of us.
……Oh, hi there.
Things have been a little slow ’round these parts for the last month, due to the new job, the holidays, and inordinate amounts of time being spent looking for the right tumbleweed GIF. I figured if I didn’t update soon, the Kentucky Fried Chicken rant might have made that last post look like a suicide note, and that would have made following it up kinda awkward.
Anyway, here’s an all too brief catch-up for the month:
-A pair of Arrow reviews, on the 1s and 2s. I’m not really sure what that expression means, but it rhymed, so there. I think it has to do DJ-ing or something. Or maybe traffic and weather reports for a news station. It probably wouldn’t be a very good one if the report every ten minutes always required an immediate followup.
-Yo Joe…and everybody else reading this: I reviewed the new G.I. Joe movie, Retaliation, and might be the only critic out there legitimately disappointed by it. There is an art to making a stupid movie enjoyable, something the first G.I. Joe understood, and the sequel did not. And yet, I still think it’s probably the best franchise Hasbro has going for it.*
*Sidebar: This was the part where I was going sarcastically snark about being super excited for a Tonka Trucks movie, but then I remembered that, holy shit, there might actually be a Tonka Trucks movie. How are we supposed to make to make jokes about bad movie ideas using comedic hyperbole, when the actual ideas for movies these days are this hyperbolic?*
Aaaaaaand that’s it for now. I’d say my plan for the month is to really throw some coal on the TV coverage fire, but science says claiming you’ll do something just decreases the likelihood of you actually doing it. So, in the interest of actually being productive this month: I promise nothing. Let’s see how that turns out.
You ever have that moment hit you, when you’re walking down the street, loving and living life, and suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, it dawns on you that you haven’t had KFC in, like, a year? Before you know it, you’re back home, holding a plate of undercooked drumsticks, a cup of brown, motor oil gravy, and a greased through box of stringy potatoes that are to french fries what stubbing your toe on the cafe table is to a foot massage. As even your most base cravings flee the pleasure centres of your brain, you realize this is all too familiar. The stumbled upon stroke of gastro-genius, the thrill of putting thought into motion, the dreamy anticipation that follows on the way to the kitchen, and the cold, coagulated reality that greet you there are all part of a mistake you’ve made again, and again, year in, year out. You knew this was going to be the end result, because this is what happens every time you order KFC, and you’ve gone through these same motions more times than you can count. You should know better by now, you do know better by now. But you went through with it all anyway. You let the money change hands, and knowingly brought seven herbs and spices worth of sheer, southern-fried disappointment into your home. You see yourself as Memento‘s Leonard Shelby, having chosen to willfully ignore the truth of your own unchanging, self-destructive nature, and chase the glimmering mirage that’s better left out of reach. Alone, you stare into the depths of the red cardboard bucket of chicken, and the chicken stare back.
Whoops, sorry bout that. Just cleaning fried chicken skin out of the keyboard. I wanted to start this week off with an extended metaphor for how finding stable, gainful employment after months of searching is like drifting onto an island moments before starvation…except then the very thing keeping you alive becomes a comforting deathtrap, and you wonder if it’s worth sucking down coconut juice for the rest of your life. You know, the ol’ “be careful what you wish for,” type deal-y, except filtered through the universal disappoint that follows the five minutes each year you spend thinking, hey, I could really go for some KFC. Guess that sorta got lost in all the dramatics, my bad. And what the hell do I know about fried chicken anyway, I like Popeye’s for God’s sake.
Oh, right. Articles.
- Like clockwork, a new Arrow review materializes. I may have been assigned covering the show, but that just means I appreciate its recent hot streak all the more.
- And speaking of wooden objects that can be driven into the heart of a person, animal, or Dracula, the latter of which was created by late-Victorian-era author Bram Stoker (BOOM, SEGUE): here’s my review for Stoker, the new movie from Old Boy director Park Chan-wook. I was lucky enough to catch it in limited release, and thoroughly appreciated its gothic style, and general fucked-up-idness. Plus, I think I’ve finally committed the proper ordering for Park Chan-wook’s name to memory.
I also had the very industrious goal of rattling off some thoughts on the shows I’m watching right now, but KFC-slamming slam poetry got in the way. Here’s the five-second appraisal for a few of the things I’m keeping tabs on:
-Four episodes after reviewing the pilot, I’m still playing the Homeland game of “is this the week a tightly constructed spy drama goes to shit for being to plot-heavy?” So far, it hasn’t happened, and the great character work, combined with the beautiful, insane setpieces, make this a challenger to Justified‘s Stetson crown as FX’s best show.
- Justified: One sawed off foot out of a pair of Walton Goggins bug-eyes.
-I might not have expressed this clearly enough when I reviewed the premiere for season 4 a few months back, but on the level of TV as entertainment, Justified is the best thing out there right now. Even the background music for the “Previously On” intros gives me more pure pleasure in 2 minutes than most shows manage in an hour. That it’s a hoot every week, while also being consistently pretty great as a showcase for drama, acting, directing, writing, and all that, is just gravy.
- Bob’s Burgers: One Jon Hamm-voiced transforming toilet out of Eugene Mirman’s H. Jon Benjamin impression.
-I don’t know if I’ve fallen for an animated family sitcom like this since The Simpsons. Okay, so there haven’t really been too many shows that fit the profile, and I didn’t really fall in love with The Simpsons, so much as devote an entire childhood to it, but I stand by the inaccurate hyperbole. Bob’s Burgers lands in a perfect sweet-spot between low-key, and zany, and the voice cast is really something else.
- The Walking Dead: Thirty Walkers-appearing-from-literally-nowhere out of every furrowed brow Michonne gets to deliver instead of actual characterizing dialogue.
-I should more thoroughly hash out my near complete falling out with this show these last few weeks, especially after last Sunday’s episode, which, while a significant step up from what the latest half season has brought, convinced me that The Walking Dead and I may soon be parting ways. And that’s coming from a guy who enjoyed 50-odd issues of the comic, and reads The Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide at least once a year. “The Problem with Post-apocalyptic Programming” will wait for another time, but for now, I’ll just say that between the two minutes of zombie action breaking up the tedium each week, and AMC’s relentless efforts to Walking Dead-ify every waking moment of your life, I’m pretty strung out.
- Enlightened: One epiphany-inducing sea turtle out of a dozen ironically self-involved existential voice overs.
-Again, I wish I had more time to write this one up properly. Then again, just about everything worth saying about how insanely precious this show is to TV as a whole, has come gushing out of the critical community these last two weeks like an African rainstorm, so I don’t know how much I have to add. It’s a show that’s hard to really do justice in a paragraph, or even find an easy point of comparison, so let’s settle for this: it’s the opposite of Breaking Bad, and that’s a compliment. Maybe everyone on Game of Thrones just wears sweat pants for a week, and HBO can spare the change to give one of the best things to happen to modern TV a third season.
- WordPress Shortcuts: 0 intuitive rulesets for font modification out of FUCK-YOU-I-JUST-WANT-THE-LAST-PART-ITALICIZED-WHY-IS-EVERYTHING-BOLD-NOW?!!?!
That’s all for this week. To close up shop, please once again reflect on this picture of two-time Oscar-winner Ang Lee eating at In-N-Out Burger. I don’t think we as a people have given the photo its proper due:
Happy post-Oscars Monday, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life with Argo as a Best Picture winner. Well, we could honestly say that the After Argo era started weeks ago, when the actual awards were just a formality needed to make it crystal clear that the Academy learned precisely nothing from last year. Apparently, Spielberg, and the war on terror, are out as sure-fire Oscar bait. What’s in, are trifling, alphabetically convenient black & white love letters to Hollywood, The Artist being visually B&W, and Argo adopting the binary when dealing with themes, character, and writing. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself, and swear I’ll be limiting my rambling on this subject, which has already been written about to death by much more perceptive commentators than I. So, let’s just start with the old business:
- Two Arrow reviews for the price of one. Well, technically, it’s two for the price of any integer, seeing as I’m not charging for these. How do people make money on the internet again?
- And here’s the piece where I got out most of my Oscar-oriented verbosity before the actual awards, in what was once titled “The Bullshitters Guide to the Oscars.” I figured the addition of a number, and a subtraction of the word “bullshit” would help the SEO traffic. This was a lot of fun to write, which makes it easier to accept that I spent 7000 words writing an article with the shelf life of a baguette.
So, anyway, back to last night’s big event. Look, I love the Oscars. It’s maybe my favorite night of television all year, despite the fact that that as cultural commentary, a celebration of film, or just honest to god entertainment, they’re usually pretty lousy. The major winners are almost always a given, and the broadcast itself is a familiarly blended cocktail of shameless pandering, and nervous flop-sweat. Worst of all, it’s never quite as bad as your more sinister impulses might hope. But like I said, I love ‘em, and the mix of that love that’s ironic or earnest changes each year.
This time, with Argo rolling in as the prom king waiting to be crowned, and Seth MacFarlane hosting, the balance tipped far more towards the latter than the former. I don’t actually mind how the winners shook out (beyond how some of the swing categories affected the results of my Oscar pool), and there’s nothing really upsetting about Argo winning Best Picture, probably because there’s nothing terribly upsetting about it to begin with. It was the default, the safety choice, the cheese-and-no-toppings pizza the Academy settled on after it was apparent that picking a film that played to the middle would be less of a headache than supporting something that’s even a slightly challenging. Why risk creating small pockets of dissent among the voters, when you can just make everyone shrug their shoulders in unison, mildly content with knowing that the one film that rubbed them the wrong way didn’t win?
“At least it wasn’t the worst thing,” has become the de facto motto of the actual awards, leaving the show itself as the main attraction. This went about as well as you might imagine. The Academy hired Seth MacFarlane as a ratings bid to a younger, male-oriented audience, knowing full well that probably meant an evening of mean-spirited cracks about weight, sexual orientation, gender, and just general decency. There was a ten-second window in which it looked like MacFarlane’s self-awareness would overpower his natural instincts, when his pre-recorded ditty, “We Saw Your Boobs,” was cheekily pointing out the low expectations he was walking into the ceremony with. But then it kept going, and going, until you realized that the meta layer was present to let MacFarlane have his bad joke cake, and eat it too. The only thing in the opening act accomplished in a timely manner was how quickly it became apparent that William Shatner’s “Ghost of Social Media Future” role wasn’t an attempt at self-deprecation, so much as it was extended ass-covering (which is thematically consistent with the night, if you think about it).
The whole evening felt like it was written for the Crazy Old Racist archetype you find in a lot of TV and movies, where the jokes pretend to say “laugh at how inappropriate this person is,” but really just provide backdoor entrances for the kinds of easy, racy groaners supposedly being satirized. Backhanded compliments, and other people’s words, were MacFarlane’s choice method of insulating himself when firing shots across the auditorium. Javier Bardem sure sounds weird huh, but it’s okay, because he’s pretty! I’m not making fun of Adele’s weight, but remember when Rex Reed did? The thing is, there is a great Oscar host in MacFarlane, one brought out during the numerous song ‘n dance skits that were the reason du jour for the overlong running time. As a comedian though, he played things as predictably as the Oscar voters, which is to say he stuck to his patented “mildly inflammatory joke, shit-eating grin” two-step. The snippy attitude infected some of the presenters, and a bit using the Jaws theme as playoff music, while amusing in concept, had the misfortune of being deployed during a heartfelt acceptance speech on behalf of recently bankrupt visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues.
Even The Onion got caught up in the general meanness, as an errant tweet about 9 year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis was quickly taken down after posting, requiring a full-on apology letter this morning. The joke itself was actually a simple jab at how we accept that half the reason people watch these things is to see which couch-bound critic can unload the most vicious twitter insults. Wallis was the “target” for the sake of maximizing comedic juxtaposition between the harshness of the name-calling, and how innocuous the people being judged by millions really are. Buuuuuuuut there’s just no way a majorly read publication, satirical or otherwise, comes out looking clever or insightful for calling a child a “rhymes-with-hunt,” so whatever point there was to be made got buried in some very, very poor phrasing. It’s a bummer of an evening when the only laugh everyone could enjoy without reservation was seeing Flight reenacted using sock puppets.
So, does that mean we’re in for another soft-ball show next year, with the Academy pulling back on being “hip” by bringing back Billy Crystal, so long as he promises to leave the black shoe polish at home? Hard to say. Initial reports show that ratings did go up this year, and while critical response to the show has ranged from disappointed, to outright pissed off, the broader consensus from viewers at home seems to be that MacFarlane did a solid job (“Of course he was offensive, that’s his job!”). Seeing as a bunch of old white dudes, a demographic safely outside MacFarlane’s go-to material (unless a joke involving pedophile is needed), decided to gives this year’s biggest prize to a work that’s popular and inoffensive, then why not double down making the broadcast popular and offensive. At least when you do that, people might actually talk about the Oscars.
I realize I’m coming off as a downer, even though there have been far worse Oscars in the past, and the future will surely deliver many more. To end on a positive note, please enjoy this picture of two-time Best Director winner Ang Lee going all Richard Parker on some In-N-Out Burger.
Hey-hey, everybody! Happy belated February, one and all. It’s been a hectic one over on my end, but for celebratory reasons. After months on the hunt, I’ve finally locked down a job, so the lights at my humble abode will remain on for the foreseeable future. Theoretically, anyway -the electricity bill is going to take a nosedive, as my new gig is mostly night work. It’s got really good pay, with some really bad hours, but it’ll free me up to write more extensive features during the daytime. Already cooking is my previously mentioned Oscars guide, as well as an opinion piece on Netflix’s recent entrance into the heavyweight division of TV programming. Here’s some stuff to tide you over until then:
-New business: I reviewed the pilot for The Americans, a very promising new show on FX that can be best summed up as Cold War-era Homeland. As with Showtime’s twisty conspiracy drama, I’m waiting for this one to go off a cliff at any moment, but through two episodes, it’s been terrific. If nothing else, watch the first ten minutes of the pilot, which is fantastic, and might make a Fleetwood Mac song your new pump-up jam.
-Off my mind: I like having this blog because it lets me write pieces that don’t really belong on other websites. For instance, I recently decided to take on The Shield as my next big TV drama, and wrote my thoughts on it through two seasons a couple weeks back. Ditto for my not-review-but-still-kinda-review-sounding think-piece for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which was supposed to only run a few hundred words, but quickly took on a life (and length) of its own. See, Peter Jackson: you’re not the only one who can turn a small, simple project into a gigantic, shaggy monstrosity that runs waaaaaaay too long.
That’s all for this update, but be sure to check back regularly, or subscribe to the site. As always, you can see an orderly list of my recent published work by checking out http://wegotthiscovered.com/author/sam-woolf/
“From great things come small beginnings”– Misquoted American proverb
In the wee small hours of Friday’s snowpocalypse (known as Ragnafrost in other regions), a thought crossed my mind, one I’ll attempt to transcribe in as lucid, and complete a manner as can be managed:
Mmmuuurrrrgh, go back to sleep. It is too early for this waking up nonsense. I should see what time it is to make sure it really is too early for said nonsense. No, don’t do that, that’ll just encourage you to get up; this bed is too comfy to risk that. Wasn’t I supposed to do legs at the gym today? That twitter picture made a pretty convincing case to do so…but this nirvana of warmth and goose down sounds a whole lot more enjoyable than squats. I’ll just go get some work done downtown later, that’s at least a good hour’s worth of walking. The weather’ll make it a workout. This much snow outside, it’s going to be a real jour-
And that was when I realized that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had been out for more than a month, and I still hadn’t seen it. Worse, the window to watch it in theatres (which is kind of important for this type of movie) was rapidly closing. Checking the local listings, my only option was the very nice (and way too expensive) theatre that had an IMAX 3D showing. Yes, it was far, and yes, $20 is more than anyone in their right mind should pay for a movie ticket, no matter how maxed the I-s, or three the D-s. But I tread the snow, and I dropped the cash anyway. It’s The Hobbit for crying out loud.
A little bit first on my relationship with The Lord of the Rings films: I love ‘em. I still remember seeing Fellowship for the first time (also in Toronto oddly enough), and it was right around the time that the Balrog showed up in the Mines of Moira that a franchise lifer was born. At most, I usually make it six months without watching one of the movies, which more often than not leads to popping in the other two soon after. It’s a generational thing I suppose. Most of my friends are big fans of the LotR movies as well, so it’s always been incredibly easy to have one of the films on in the background while hanging out, having a drinking session (and a subsequent hangover session), or doing some household chores that could use the epic sweep of a Howard Shore score. Point being: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the trilogy.
The foundation of my allegiance to the franchise owed a great deal to both how old I was when first watching the films, and my near complete obliviousness to the source material itself. I’m not even sure I was really aware of The Lord of the Rings until the advertising for the first movie came out, though vague memories of a fellow classmate’s book report on all ~2000 pages of the series might have biased me against it to begin with (it was my arch-6th-grade-nemesis giving the report, so if he liked something, it had to be stupid). I had read The Hobbit years earlier, but forgotten most of it by 2001, though didn’t forget that I had enjoyed it. The movie memories have stuck, though: I remember the theatre trip for each original viewing, and the first re-watches on DVD (or 2-cassette VHS, in the case of Return of the King).
So, like a lot of people who hold Peter Jackson’s magnum opus fairly near and dear to their heart, I was pretty nervous through the entire build-up towards, and production of, The Hobbit. Jackson seemed done with Tolkien’s universe, which was completely understandable: the three movies he made were massive critical and commercial successes, setting up one of the toughest acts to follow in cinematic history. Making his grand return to Middle-earth using a 300-page children’s book as a guide seemed like a daunting task, to say the least. Later claiming he wanted to make two movies out of said 300-page children’s book seemed like a fool’s errand. But upon hearing a 300-page children’s book was going to be the basis for a trilogy of films, you started to worry that Jackson had set out to film the world’s most expensive career suicide note.
The reviews that came out when part I was released confirmed many of the above stated fears. Despite dipping into the Tolkien appendices for extra material, critics found An Unexpected Journey too thinly stretched, and overly reminiscent of the first trilogy. Fans were kinder, recognizing that The Hobbit was a different kind of beast, and probably had no chance of escaping the shadow of the LotR movies. A call went out for adjusted expectations. After my viewing yesterday, I feel like I side a bit more with the film’s detractors than its supporters, even though I’d say I liked it overall.
That’s not how I felt for the first fifteen minutes mind you. When the camera opened up on Ian Holm as Bilbo, and a new twist on those familiar musical strings started playing in the background, I was lucky my bulky IMAX glasses were hiding the embarrasing doofus grin that was on my face. It was like finally getting to revisit your favorite vacation spot with fresh eyes, after a decade of flipping through old photos nostalgically. There’s the Shire! Oooh, a lengthy prologue about the dwarves, and Smaug! And hey, it’s Elijah Wood! I should probably be more critical of a cameo this pandering, but who cares! Frodo!
By the time the title card proper faded in, and we got our first glimpse of Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo (who gets flack for playing a typical Martin Freeman character, despite it being called for here), I was hopelessly back in Tolkien’s thrall. Gandalf showing up a moment later should have sent me into babbling fanboy overload, which it did…until he actually started talking. I was giddy to see Ian McKellen back in the role that has defined him for so many people my age, but as the two characters were having their formal introduction, something just felt off. Not so much in terms of how they were speaking, but what it was they were saying. There are fast friends, and there are friends that can transition a lesson on syntax into an invitation to go kill a dragon in under 30 seconds. For a being that’s never late, Gandalf seems to be in an awful rush to get Bilbo’s big adventure started.
Then came the lengthy dinner scene that’s become something of a litmus test for viewers, taking what must be at least a half hour to introduce the many dwarves in Gandalf’s company, setup their quest to take back the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, and get Bilbo from housebound fuddy-duddy, to aspiring adventurer. And sure enough, the length of the sequence makes itself felt, but it provided a beautiful display of the production values that have become a hallmark of these films. The tracking shots covering more than a dozen characters of vastly different height and stature were wonderfully intricate, and the tight corridors of Bilbo’s Hobbit-hole let your eyes feast on the elaborate costumes and set design.
The opening act is indeed overlong, and the singing felt a wee bit out of place, but those weren’t cause for alarm. No, what did rankle was the big speech that Gandalf gives to convince the party (especially their leader, Thorin Oakenshield) to take on Bilbo as their burglar. And by big speech, I mean he bellows menacing commands as his voice drops several octaves, and takes all the light of the room. It wasn’t just that Gandalf, one of the most level-headed inhabitants of Middle-Earth, started using his spooky outdoor voice apropos of nothing, or that the scene felt like a far too blatant homage to a memorable moment from Fellowship.
What concerned me was the same thing I felt when Gandalf and Bilbo were first meeting, because in both instances, Gandalf is telling everyone what has to happen. Not in a guiding, “let me help you find your way” manner, but more of a, “here’s how this shit is going to play out, so do as I say.” He doesn’t offer Bilbo the call to adventure: he sticks one half of adventure’s cell phone in Bilbo’s ear, as if it were Óin’s hearing aid, then shouts in the other end that, yes, Mr. Baggins will be more than happy to accept the charges.
As one of the most powerful beings in the LotR universe, Gandalf is entitled to having “a good feeling” about what it is everyone should be doing, but The Hobbit upgrades his skills from that of a psychic, to a full-on author surrogate, directing events instead of guiding others along through them. A common complaint for the film is that most of the predicaments Bilbo and co. find themselves in are solved by Gandalf’s miraculous timing, and pocket full of “get out of jail free” spells. This is entirely valid, as Bilbo, the ostensible hero of the story, has about as much impact on its outcome as some of the more interchangeable dwarves. Save for the finale, his biggest scene (and arguably the best in the movie) is the game of riddles he shares with Gollum, which ends with Bilbo escaping with the one ring.
What I love about that sequence isn’t the riddles, or getting to watch Andy Serkis slip back into the milky skin of his most famous role; what sold it for me was the very end, when we see Bilbo struggling to pick whether or not to kill Gollum. We know the eventual outcome of his decision because of the original trilogy, but it doesn’t diminish the suspense that comes with watching Bilbo make an actual choice for himself. Choice was a hugely important element in LotR, as it should be in any narrative. Will Frodo accept the burden of the ring? Does Gandalf join Saruman? Will Boromir betray the fellowship? Yes, these are foregone conclusions once we’ve gotten to know the characters, and the type of narrative being told, but in context, they’re weighty turning points for those involved.
The absence of agency brings to focus that horrible balancing act most prequels are saddled with, where past events have to have importance, and weight, despite audiences knowing the eventual end to the story. If it’s done correctly, you get something like X-Men: First Class, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where learning about the origins of the original franchise is surprising, and entertaining in its own right. The journey really does become more important than the destination, something a bad prequel usually doesn’t understand. Poor ones go out of their way to fill-in blanks no one ever cared about (like Anakin being the one who builds C3PO), or cause a studio do creative gymnastics to justify going back in time without mucking up the continuity (Fox’s major narrative justification for a Wolverine prequel: AMNESIA).
Maybe it’s out of reverence to the original trilogy that An Unexpected Journey puts so much stock in devices like fate, and destiny, as opposed to actual character initiative. Perhaps the only prophecy in LotR was the “duh doy” claim that Sauron would one day return, and it doesn’t take a wizard to predict that the manifestation of pure evil needs more than a finger lobotomy to truly die. The events of An Unexpected Journey, on the other hand, exists entirely because of ancient forecasting, soothsaying, and dumb luck that gets explained away with similar narrative hokum. The dwarves move to retake Erebor because somebody figured Smaug’s rule over the Lonely Mountain must come with an expiration date, and a vital clue on Thorin’s map (a door that only opens at a specific time, on Dwarven New Year’s) is rather conveniently revealed, thanks to the party arriving in Rivendell precisely when the moon’s plot driving powers are at their peek.
Thing is, a lot of these developments are from the book, which further illuminates the big narrative differences between The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Generally speaking, I have an inherent issue with any plot dependent on an ancient returning evil threatening the world, because it’s the laziest means of creating audience investment. It’s not like you’re going to start rooting for the giant flaming eyeball, right? But it’s about the only narrative you can do when you want to capture a world with as much expanse as Tolkien’s, which the LotR movies smartly explored in terms of breadth, not depth. The problem with An Unexpected Journey is that it’s telling a much smaller story in a setting that’s not all that new to us anymore. Taking back a mountain full of gold doesn’t really seem quite as urgent as stopping fantasy Satan, so the film tries to make the stakes more personal, which doesn’t really work out.
Bilbo and Thorin are meant to split duties as the protagonist, but the former is often pushed off to the fringes, and the latter mostly just broods while looking purposefully off into the distance. (Again, choice seems MIA for Thorin. Aragorn had to reconcile with his lineage and rise to the throne. Thorin wants it because it’s his birthright). While this is setting up overall character arcs that will probably be impactful eventually, there’s a bro-hug’s worth of payoff to be found in part I, and that’s it. Meanwhile, when he’s not busy saving everyone’s asses, Gandalf runs off to share ominous musings with the Middle-earth Security Council, creating an entire subplot dedicated to justifying these films in terms of the ones that came before them. It’s understandable why Jackson was tempted to bring Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee back in for guest spots, but their scenes do little more than temper expositional groundwork laying with familiar faces.
More than anything, An Unexpected Journey’s biggest flaw is the way it tries supplementing the story’s thinness with incidental excess. Whenever there’s an opportunity for something from the book to take on life as an action sequence, Jackson goes for it, even if the source is just a line of dialogue. Azog, an intensely minor figure from the book, is built up to be Thorin’s archenemy, so that this first installment has an active antagonist, but there’s no resolution to their feud, just a bunch of a chase scenes. The party can’t even climb up a mountain without 100-foot tall, granite versions of the robots from Real Steel slugging it out. The whole film boils down to a rhythm that has the company move a few inches toward their destination, get waylaid by a sudden action scene, stumble upon a few connections to the original films, and ultimately get saved in the nick of time by Gandalf. Rinse, and repeat.
It feels like you’re watching the extended edition of the movie meant for die-hard completionists, instead of the streamlined theatrical version meant to make you want to see the extended edition. The runtime is padded out with world building that focuses on superfluous details (you’ll know more about some of the swords than most of the dwarves using them), or showy cameo appearances meant to setup dangling plot threads. Were there only two Hobbit films, it’s not hard to imagine a great deal of An Unexpected Journey’s runtime condensed to a two-minute montage. With its wide cast of characters, and sporadic plotting, the film tries to build a Mount Doom out of a dozen molehills, but they never combine into anything quite so grand.
So, do we have another Phantom Menace on our hands? Hell no! I realize I just spent way longer criticizing the film than I had originally planned, but I still liked it. For as much as I can complain about the pacing and the narrative, the movie itself is entertaining from front to back. The battle scenes are exciting, and the lack of cataclysmic stakes makes for a much lighter and adventurous tone. And while the 3D adds nothing, An Unexpected Journey is a visual tour de force, just in a different way than its predecessors. The nerves of my brain governing how I react to spectacle shots have habituated to the point of uselessness at this point, but the establishing shots for the landscapes and cities frequently amazed me. The heavier reliance on green screen makes the sets less convincing than those in the films that came out a decade before, but as the humble origins of a massive mythology, it actually makes sense that The Hobbit looks more imaginative, and fantastical.
And that’s the thing: when you keep in mind the legacy it has to live up to, and the differences in the source material, The Hobbit really is a perfectly fine follow-up to The Lord of the Rings, one meant to get a whole new generation invested in Middle-earth. It’s probably my original trilogy blinders that make me think every parent should show their kids Fellowship through Return of the King before moving onto The Hobbit, but maybe when all is said and done, the prequels will be the new go-to films for developing Tolkien-ites. More than anything, I’m glad my understanding of what I loved about those original films is clearer because of An Unexpected Journey. I like my Tolkien movies to have narratives that are sweeping and grandiose, with production designs that are intimate and multilayered. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey flips that balance, and it didn’t work out amazingly this time, but Jackson and company still have two more shots at this. After all, I’m part of the problem: no matter how bad these movies might possibly get, I’m going to watch them. I might just make sure to pay closer attention to when Part II is in the cheap theatre, come December.
Like Galactus moving onto Venus after finding a Kilimanjaro-sized hair in his terrestrial supper, my unending need to feed on great television has been sidetracked by some missing Deadwood discs. While that gave my tongue an excuse to try out some new, Milch-ian diction when cursing my fate, it left my teeth eager to find a quality show to gnaw on. I decided to jump genres, and centuries, and crack into The Shield, which turned out to be a bit of a historical exercise all the same, just one that required looking sideways, as well as backwards. I’m an avowed fan of many of The Shield’s contemporaries, and some of the subsequent shows that have owed a lot to it, so I figured diligence was due in seeing how much a product of nascent 21st century TV The Shield was. The answer: almost too much, at least to begin with.
Were they not separated by mere months when premiering in 2002, you could view The Shield as FX’s answer to The Wire, or vice versa. Both are stealth shows, social critiques hidden under policeman blues, crime jargon, and a whole lot of dead bodies. Or you could see it as being the show that proved the white male antihero could work on basic cable just as well as premium, after Tony Soprano further pushed what a protagonist could get away with will still being referred to as a protagonist (though even he owed a lot to ABC’s NYPD Blue’s Detective Sipowicz). And in terms of form, The Shield was a forbearer for half-serialized, half-procedural shows like Justified, and regularly used the one day=one episode structure of Hill Street Blues (which David Milch adopted for Deadwood a few years later).
The pedigree of the themes and tropes is rooted in the people who came up with them. The opening credits for most episodes read like a murderers row of cable talent that would come into its own during, and after The Shield’s seven year run. Creator and showrunner Shawn Ryan was the mastermind for the whole operation, as many of the character types and writing quirks that came to define The Shield would also appear in various permutations across the shows he tried to followed it up with. Joining him were the likes of Glen Mazzara (who worked with Ryan on Nash Bridges, and had a brief stint running/saving The Walking Dead, only to get quickly fired for doing so), and Kurt Sutter (the creator and showrunner of Sons of Anarchy, who outdoes Ryan in ability to make clear his work is his work), in addition to a stable of writers and directors who went on to get involved in The Wire, 24, and Homeland.
As Alan Sepinwall writes in his excellent “The Revolution Was Televised,” The Shield was one of the shows on the forefront of television’s Golden Age, but among the few pioneers on basic cable. That meant it had looser restrictions on content, but was still beholden to the all-mighty advertising dollars at FX. Seeing as it was caught halfway between network reproducibility and premium cable ambition, the mix of long form and short form stories, diverse (but still predominantly white) casting, and intense but-not-to-the-point-of-letting-people-say-fuck content made the show stand out, while still operating under the most familiar banner of programming out there: the cop show.
Michael Chiklis stars as Vic Mackey, a corrupt cop who’s the right combination of smart and ruthless needed to maintain order in L.A.’s volatile Farmington district, though it means that the letter, language, and legality of the law is left at home most days (where it can be invaded without a warrant and planted with drugs). Mackey is the leader of a similarly Machiavellian Strike Team that acts as the tip of the experimental department’s spear, targeting the big street players causing trouble, while the rest of the force (who work out of a repurposed church nicknamed The Barn) respond to murders and try to keep peace. Thanks to friends in high places who often need a guy like him, Mackey sees himself as a “different kind of cop,” a description from the pilot that doubled as the show’s way of telling viewers it wasn’t going to be your average police procedural.
Yet, from the perspective of someone who’s already watched television’s Great American Novel, a number of gut-wrenching morality plays, and even some truly great genre fiction, going back to a cop show can be a little difficult at first, no matter how different it might be. When comparing first years, The Wire offers a far more textured and complex look at law enforcement, and that was back when the show was at its simplest. Meanwhile, Vic Mackey quickly stole Tony Sopranos’ title as the ur-WMA, with the split between his idyllic, family-loving home life, and morally reprehensible actions in the line of duty, laid on pretty thick in the early goings. It’s perhaps the point: when you introduce your main character as someone willing to shoot another cop in the face for being a snitch, the only place for your opinion of the protagonist to go is up, right?
But even at a story level, the ambitious episode structure would often strain when trying to craft an A, B, and C plot that could not only get wrapped up in 24-hours, but also build around, and within one another. The plotting in season one would skip over large chunks of time while following the same character, instead of flowing into a different story to cover the gap, and the season as a whole doesn’t develop much of an arc beyond a two-part finale. The 13 episodes divide their attention across seven or eight main characters, but Mackey is the show’s nasty catalyst for mayhem, as his sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes purely self-serving actions inevitably harm those in his personal and professional life.
That’s arguably the biggest thing separating The Shield from its half-sibling The Wire though, because the latter treated its characters with about as much concern and investment as a burner phone (which is an important part of the thematic consistency: it’s not about the people, it’s the institutions). Meanwhile, The Shield spends a lot of its first year molding its characters into set archetypes (the idealistic rookie, the hardnosed older detective, the pissed off captain), and then starts gently nudging them out of the comfort zone. Mackey is the main point of interest, but we also develop a better understanding of his family, the varied alpha bros on his team, and many of the detectives, uniforms, and administration workers at The Barn.
Those investments over the first season really come to bare fruit in the superior second, to the point that you could argue the first season was intentionally held back from greatness, because the show in the long view (thus far) has been very much about trying to change for the better. Perhaps Ryan and company were initially worried that the bleakness of their vision wouldn’t find an audience unless it was easily digestible in other ways, so the really ambitious stuff had to be restrained until it was clear viewers wanted to go to some new places. When the show turned out to be a hit, the writers were freed up to really start fleshing out the stories and world of Farmington, turning it into something more than just a meat grinder that spits out a corpse or two each week.
You get that sense from the first scene of season two, which opens not on Mackey, but Amardillo, a devious and savage Mexican gangbanger who styles himself the conquering hero of Farmington, uniting the disparate Latino factions under a single banner. The show had already established Farmington as a hotbed for over-achieving psychos and serial killers, but they usually disappear by the end of the episode; Armadillo is the first instance of an ongoing threat to Mackey’s team that doesn’t originate from inside the department, and the season is largely built around the new kid being the year’s big bad, a concept then-producer James Manos Jr. made an entire show out of with Dexter three years later.
While Mackey and Armadillo butt heads and burn faces, the Strike Team spends months prepping to takedown an Armenian money trafficking operation that could make the rest of their lives very comfortable, if all goes according to plan. Back at the Barn, the other cops face recurring problems based on rank, sexual orientation, and race (gender is a far subtler divide, as many of the best cops on the force are women, but undercurrents of patriarchal thinking still remain). All the characters start to break out of their initial stock roles in the second season, becoming more complex, and more human. The Shield can be genuinely horrifying in its portrayal of gore and sexual violence, but it’s always shown with purpose and consequence, because it’s through the characters trying to understand, and stop such horrible acts that the thematic aspirations of the show really start to take form.
The inhabitants of The Barn are fighting against the worst, most terrifying impulses that people are capable of, and wind up compromising themselves for doing so. Mackey’s duty is to save lives and stop crimes, and he’s found that his ends frequently justify the means. That’s discounting how often he’s nearly arrested or killed most weeks because of these tactics, but if it keeps the peace, he can sleep at night (especially if doing so helps his struggling family sleep just as comfortably). More concerning than individual corruption is how law enforcement as an institution is built to accommodate acceptance of loose morals. The blue wall of brotherhood amongst cops is shown as a pillar of strength for those on the front lines, but that same comradery leads to habitual abuse of power, directed against suspects, uncooperative citizens, even cops who don’t fall in line. Even that bond ultimately has a breaking point: in one of the season’s best turns, Mackey’s solution to his escalating Armadillo problem comes from backstabbing a fellow officer out of their career.
Whereas season one was guilty of speechifying to make a point, season two is much better at letting the show’s themes be explored through both the cleverly constructed weekly cases, and Mackey’s continuing failure to climb out of the muck once and for all. You could fault it for goosing the realistic frequency with which small errors and happenstance cause Mackey et al. to be backed into a corner, but television is all about seeing what happens when you throw characters into the deep end without warning. Each week wrings finger nail-destroying tension out of high stakes scenarios dramatic enough to entertain, but not stretch plausibility into the realm of pure fiction. Vick Mackey probably doesn’t walk the beat in your district, but the threats to his moral integrity almost certainly do. Those ideas are more directly expanded upon in shows that have followed in The Shield’s footsteps, but few have been able to do so while being this engaging week to week.
And I’ve still got five seasons left to go. Honestly, I chose this show as my next meal in a vain attempt to find a new source of whatever magic Ryan was cooking with when he made Terriers (one of his criminally short-lived follow-ups), but also because The Shield is credited with having one of the finest series finales ever made (unemployment gives you time to consider the 88th hour of a program worth the preceding 87). While I enjoyed the first season, The Shield in its second year is more inline with the reputation that has followed it in the five years it’s been off the air. Will it turn out to be the runt of the Golden Age litter? Maybe, but even ignoring the handicap of “historical curiosity,” episodes of The Shield still manage to surprise me even ten years past their air date. Here’s hoping season three keeps up that pace.