Happy Friday! It’s the end of the work week, which means it’s time for us to take a look at the Best TV Shows on TV. Every week, we watch so much TV that we feel like we have to lie when somebody asks what we’ve been up to. And then we sort through it all to find the best television shows of the week. It’s a service we provide because we’re trying to impress you. Let us know if it works!
Most of our thoughts this week were tied up in the fantastic Mad Men season finale, an especially goofy Venture Bros.(“Spanakopita!”), and the new season of Big Brother. We’ve already recapped those at length, but there’s still more that caught our attention.
Whodunnit? – We’re suckers for a weird reality show, especially in the lazy summer months. Luckily, ABC’s Whodunnit? is a bizarre delight. Now, don’t get us wrong. It’s not really good. But it’s a hoot. It’s a lot like the much-missed The Mole, with a group of contestants trying to solve a mystery. The one who has the least information is eliminated at each week. It’s a solid formula. But this has a weird twist; it’s presented as a murder mystery, and everybody pretends like they’re taking it incredibly seriously. The contestants all talk like they’re solving an actual murder. Ane the production even has them do autopsies on fake bodies. Nobody ever refers to it as being a TV show, and they act like the eliminated contestants are actually in danger of being killed. Which, to be fair, is how people act on a lot of reality shows. But on this one, the episode ends with the eliminatee (well, a stuntman pretending to be an eliminated contestant) running through the house while they’re engulfed in flames and then jumping in the pool before being pronounced dead.
Yeah, this show is nuts. You could argue that it’s in bad taste to have it hinge on simulated murders, and we’d be inclined to agree. But it’s so ridiculous that it’s hard to be offended. It’s like a murder mystery dinner theater, and the whole thing is goofy as hell. This is not something that you’d skip Mad Men to watch, but it’s an enjoyable summer series. And just check out the ridiculous solution to the episode 1 murder. Whichever one of the contestants turns out to be the killer, it’s clear that they are unaware of Occam’s razor.
Copper – Tom Fontana’s 19th Century police drama returned to BBC America for a second season this week. The premiere made for a great jumping-on point, beginning a new arc and not dwelling too much on the events of Season One. Corcoran’s former partner, Maguire is safely in prison. At least until all the evidence against him goes missing and the judge orders his release. Given that he was in jail for all the murders he committed to cover up his affair with Corcoran’s wife, we have to think that a confrontation is imminent.
While it was good to see Corcoran and the supporting cast (especially Freeman) again, the best parts of the episode came from General Donovan, freshly back from the war to bring law and order back to the Sixth Ward. Donovan is played by none other than Donal Logue, whose recent work has been strong across the board. (He was excellent in the much-missed Terriers, and his supporting role on Sons of Anarchy last season was fantastic.) He’s come a long way since MTV promos, and these days he’s the human version of the Nintendo Seal of Quality. He brings a whole new energy to the show and at this point it’s not possible to tell where he’s going to fall in the street cops vs. bosses struggle. Fontana has compared him to Boss Tweed, so presumably he’s not going to turn out to be one of the good guys. But based on this episode, he comes off as sort of a pragmatic idealist. It’s a really great performance, and we can’t wait to see where his character is going.
Based on just the one episode, it seems like this season might be easier to follow than the first. It’s more clear who’s important and the class struggle that drove last year’s episodes is largely in the background. If the conflict between Corcoran and Donovan forms the spine of Season Two, Copper could go to a whole new level. At the very least, we got the great scene of Eva expanding her prostitution business and giving a speech about “good, honest whoring”. Brought back fond memories of Deadwood’s Joanie Stubbs, she did.
The Fosters–This show keeps getting to be a more and more solid family drama, even if we’re sort of uncomfortable that Max from Wizards of Waverly Place is basically a romantic leading man now. That’s just nuts. But he’s also a pretty decent actor, as are the rest of the kids in this cast. This week, it was time for Mariana’s quinceanera, and her moms had gone all out on the celebration, feeling it is important to keep their daughter linked to her cultural heritage, even though she doesn’t really have any ties to it normally. Mariana was being a brat; fretting about dancing with her two moms (they got Mike, Brandon’s dad, to fill in), and wigging out when she overheard Lexie and Jesus talking about the relationship they’re hiding from her. Eventually, they all made up, following a heart-tugging picture montage at the party, and she apologized to her moms. Brandon dumped Talia, who was still being a jealous bitch to Callie, continually shooting her a stink eye every time Brandon was nice to her and throwing around the name of the mysterious “Liam” multiple times. WhenBrandon followed her out of the party to talk to her and the sexual tension between them got too much (points to the show for addressing the taboo of teenage foster kids hooking up with their foster siblings), she fled to the beach to hang out with the loner dude from her English class. Brandon was stuck driving his drunk father home, which may or not be the thread to a bigger storyline about Mike the alcoholic.
Futurama – This week, the Planet Express crew defied an embargo on Omicron Persei 8 in order to get some of the Professor’s special medicine. Because Bender is the last guy you want to be paired with in a buddy system scenario, Fry was left behind. He ended up hiding out with Lrrr’s young son, Jrrr. So yeah, it was an E.T. parody because it’s 2013 and why not. (The title of the episode was “T.: The Terrestrial”, which is great.) Now, I’ve got a problem with the fact that it was previously established that it takes 1000 years for TV signals from Earth to reach Omicron Persei 8, and this week, Lrrr was watching current (well, 31st Century current) shows. But the opening promo for a show about the last remaining cop who couldn’t see ghosts and didn’t possess any powers that helped him solve crimes shot was a good laugh and I am easy to win over with silliness.
Aside from the dated (and occasionally scatological) parody, there were some strong gags this week. Like the way Fry’s love life and career did better when he was light years away and Bender was just making excuses for him. (And check out Bender using that one answering machine message to make it possible for people to talk to Fry. He’s inventive!) And the bit about bicycles powered by love (“which is common on our planet”) was really funny. We haven’t seen a real classic episode yet this season, but we’re only three episodes in, and they’ve all been good for a half hour of laughs even if we’re not hankering to rewatch them immediately.
Degrassi – This week was the big prom/graduation special and it was actually called “Time of My Life” because it’s always sort of the 80s in Degrassi-land. After the long wait, certain aspects of this episode were disappointing—mainly the parts that involved yelling, “Imogen, why are you doing that?” at the TV screen. There was a lot of that. But, somehow we’re so darn invested in Imogen and Fiona at this point that, despite Imogen acting out of character and downright mean most of the episode, it still broke our hearts that she never got her “I love you, too.” This episode also brought us what might be the best (non-tearjerker) moment of the entire season: Clare decided she’s ready to be with Eli and ultimately their scene together was very romantic and kind of perfect for them—but first she had a hilarious reality check scene in which Alli and Jenna told her to lower her expectations for what sex is like. Really, really lower them. Teen shows tend to portray sex as either the Holy Grail or something that will destroy your life and it was a lot of fun to see Alli and Jenna describe it as being kind of lame. There was also a cute plotline where Marisol helped Mo tell Jake how much he cares about him. It was funny and finally justified Marisol and Mo’s generally bland relationship. Overall, even though “Time of My Life” was clunky in parts, it’s got us pumped for next season. Especially since the promos tell us there’ll be more on Becky and Adam’s relationship, emotional development for Maya and Imogen “We’ll-Forgive-You-for-
The Hero – The Rock’s TNT reality competition is really impressing us. Yes, it’s maybe a little confusing and the show is definitely full of itself. But the temptations offered to the competitors make for an interesting dynamic, and there are some legitimate surprises along the way. The thing that really makes it work, though, is the way the show lets the competitors tell their stories. Last week, Athena was on the outs with the team after accepting a $35,000 payday that handicapped the rest of them. The Rock encouraged her to tell the others about what the money meant to her, and she talked at length, in tears, about her brother who suffers from a tumor on his brain stem and his struggles. Her team did not seem to be won over, but it was heartbreaking and effective – The Hero gets beyond the usual “reality villain” trope and we understand competitors’ decisions in a way that goes beyond “I’m not here to make friends”. It resists reducing everybody two a two-dimensional casting type, and it makes for an emotionally involving experience.
Hot In Cleveland—The nostalgia factor was insane this week, as we met Victoria’s family in upstate New York. Her spinster sister was played by Jean Smart and mom was the incomparable Carol Burnett, who had hatched a plan to getVictoria to come visit by acting like a crazy old loon. Her sister told her they were dedicating a park to her in order to lureVictoria in, knowing she wouldn’t come just for the heck of it. The best line was issued by Betty White when the girls walked in the house, filled with piles of old newspapers and such: “Well, I guess I don’t have to watch Hoarders this week!” Joy and Melanie had fun in the 70s time capsule that was Victoria’s childhood bedroom, listening to records, wearing old clothes and making things in the Easy Bake Oven. Betty and Carol had fun being partners in crime, and the end result was that Victoria’s mom will be moving to Cleveland. Her first visit resulted in her being picked up by an old guy played by her old partner in crime, Tim Conway, always a delight.
Under the Dome – The TV version of the Stephen King book that has exactly the same plot as The Simpsons Movie began this week. The pilot is quite good except for the parts that are terrible. Now, having not read the book, we don’t know how closely the TV show hews to the novel. So we can’t judge it on that basis.
One day, a giant invisible dome appears over the small town of Chester’s Mill (And the effect makes it seem like the dome is lowered into place, increasing the Simpsons comparisons.) Dome does a really good job of thinking out the logistics of what this would entail -from the livestock and building bisected by the dome (that half-cow is pretty darn gross) to the traffic in and out of down in the moments before anybody really know what had happened. The shots of vehicles stopping dead and crumpling against an invisible wall are effective. The way they dealt with people accepting the reality of this dome was well-done, too. Clearly they’ve thought out the logistics, because we’ve already got people realizing that, say, their medicine is not going to come in with the next delivery truck. Families are separated, and the dome doesn’t even allow TV or radio transmissions through, let alone sound.
Besides the giant dome, there are some other mysteries established right out of the gate. Like why was the police department stockpiling propane in the weeks before the dome appeared? And what does Julia’s husband do when he pretends to be at work on Sunday? The cast includes spunkyfaves like Dean Norris of Breaking Bad and Larry Young impersonator Jeff “Lapidus” Fahey, both of whom do a great job. Rachelle Lefevre (formerly of Swingtown) is also a standout as an investigative reporter, even if she gets saddled with some crummy dialogue
There are some problems – as noted, some of the dialogue is pretty on the nose, but that might get better now what we’re done with the pilot and we know who everybody is. But the whole plot with Junior Rennie kidnapping his sort-of girlfriend and locking her up in a fallout shelter is flat out awful. There’s enough going on that’s interesting without this sort of dated soap opera shenanigan. It’s on the edge of being really good, but there’s enough eye-rolling in there to hold it back a bit. Plus, one of the best characters seemingly doesn’t survive the pilot.
Under the Dome is definitely worth a look. The good outweighs the bad, but this Junior Rennie thing needs to get wrapped up in a hurry. As it stands, the dome is an intriguing mystery, but it’s the life underneath it that really deserves the spotlight. We’d sort of be OK with “Yeah, there’s a dome for some reason”, as long as the character work comes together. We’re on board, with minor reservations.
That’s it for this week! If there’s something we should be watching, let us know. We’re kind of tied up with Big Brother, but we’ll make time if we’re missing something awesome. We’ll see you next week for more of our tomfoolery!