Thursday, January 9, 2014

Television In 2013, Part I - TV on DVD

2013 was an awesome viewing year as well as an awesome reading year. I revisited old favourites like GILMORE GIRLS1, delved into cult hits like MERLIN2, and continued series I began in 2012 like THE ALMIGHTY JOHNSONS3.

While I don’t intend to write about television on anything like regular basis, I can’t resist taking some time away from the usual Thursday focus on food to gush about a few of the shows that moved me most. Let’s kick things off with four offerings I adored on DVD (or on YouTube, as the case may be), reserving my two favourites and my current viewing schedule for subsequent weeks.


Far too often, I enjoy a show's first episode, resolve to record the series as it airs, and never actually schedule my DVR to do so.

That’s exactly what happened here. I enjoyed ELEMENTARY’s pilot very much, but I totally forgot to record every subsequent episode.


Having missed a number of episodes, I decided to wait and borrow the series from the library when it came out on DVD. Once it was in my greedy little hands, I devoured it in record time.

Y'all know the basic premise of ELEMENTARY, right? It's a modern day take on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, set in New York, with Watson as a surgeon-turned-sober-companion rather than a former military doctor. She's also a woman of Chinese descent instead of a white dude. While she initially moves in with Sherlock to help him cope with life after rehab, she soon finds herself eager to help with his work as a consultant for the NYPD.

The mysteries are all very well and good, but it’s Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller who really sell the series. Both actors deliver subtle, nuanced performances that bring their characters to life, and they play off one another oh-so well.

It helps, too, that Joan Watson is among my favourite character types. She’s a smart, compassionate, driven person who genuinely cares about others and is disinclined to take crap from anyone. If you try to bullshit her, she will call you on it. Give it another season or two and she might very well appear on my (Highly Exclusive) List of Favourite TV Characters.

I’ve begun watching the series as it airs, even though I missed the first chunk of S2. That’s the good thing about case-of-the-week mystery shows; one needn’t worry so much about continuity. If only my 2012 self had remembered that. I could've been watching ELEMENTARY all along, those few missed episodes be damned

I like it so much more than Steven Moffat's SHERLOCK, unpopular though that opinion may be.

Orphan Black

I did the exact same thing with ORPHAN BLACK as with ELEMENTARY. I watched the first episode, liked it, forgot to set the series to record, and had to catch up on it after the fact.

I’m mighty glad I made the effort, though, because this Canadian science fiction show is fabulous. The story follows Sarah, a young woman who is shocked to witness the suicide of a person who could be her twin. Street-wise Sarah snatches the woman’s abandoned belongings and sets out to steal her identity so she can forge a new life for herself, her daughter, and her foster brother, but her plans implode when she learns what drove her doppelganger to the brink.

If you’ve spent any time on the SFF-focused internet in the past year, you already know that ORPHAN BLACK is about clones. More than that, it’s about a diverse group of women who have the same face but are nothing alike. From their hair to their body language to their vocal stylings, each member of Clone Club is utterly unique. The show examines their differing responses to the situation they find themselves in, along with the ways in which their dissimilar lives have conditioned them to be as they are. Tensions often run high, both between individual clones and between the clones as a group and society, as they make sense of what it means that they share this peculiar genetic heritage.

There’s also a psycho clone-killer on the loose, a dubious scientific organization, some hella creepy stuff, and an awesome sibling relationship. (Oh, how it’ll break my heart if we learn Felix is Sarah’s minder! It doesn't seem possible, given what we know so far, but the fan in me can't help but fret.) It’s great storytelling from start to finish, packed with vivid characters and plenty of twists. The story starts strong and gets even better as it rolls along.

It was nice, too, to watch ORPHAN BLACK immediately after SUPERNATURAL. While I love SPN dearly--more on that next week--it’s very boys-boys-boys with a side of boys. And oh, hey, how about we throw in some more boys? It felt good to watch something centred on women, and on such a variety of women, after weeks in the boy-show trenches.

I dearly hope Tatiana Maslany, who portrays the clones, will win the Golden Globe. She’s fabulous.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES is a contemporary reimagining of PRIDE & PREJUDICE in which Lizzie Bennet, grad student, documents her crazy personal life in vlog form. Her YouTube channel brings viewers regular updates on all Lizzie’s family and friends: her BFF-since-birth, Charlotte; her sweet older sister, Jane; her wild child younger sister, Lydia; and, of course, their exciting new neighbors. When rich med student Bing Lee moves in down the street and strikes up a friendship with Jane, Lizzie’s vlogs take a rather more romantic turn--and a frustrating one, given the constant presence of Bing’s insufferable friend, Darcy.

I learned of LBD from Janice of specficromantic shortly after the series began, but I didn’t plunge in until last February. It immediately took over my life. I told myself I’d watch, like, two episodes a day, maybe? Or I could bump that up to ten? Or maybe twenty, since they’re really, really short and I wanted to catch up?

Officially, I never watched more than twenty episodes on any given day. Unofficially... well.

LBD, like ORPHAN BLACK, highlights a variety of women with often wildly divergent stances on the world. Lizzie herself is bold and quick to judge. Charlotte is quiet but determined. Jane can’t bear to say anything bad about anyone. Lydia, my favourite, is loud and bubbly and eager for fun, fun, fun. They’re eventually joined by an assortment of friends, enemies, and love interests, all of whom keep the drama running high.

The series does falter in some places, most notably in its treatment of Lydia, but for the most part it presents an addictive take on how PRIDE & PREJUDICE might play out in a world where communications students not-so-secretly vlog their lives and young executives struggle to put their feelings into words. The final product is a sprawling transmedia feast that comprises the core series, several other video streams, heated Twitter conversations, and craploads of Tumblr content.

I loved it ever so much. And I am Team Lydia to the death.


Word on the street said AHS’s premiere season was its strongest, with this second offering coming a distant second. Much to my delight, I felt the opposite to be true. While I enjoyed MURDER HOUSE very much, I couldn’t turn ASLYUM off.

Lana Winters is a reporter in search of a career-making story. She's sure she's found it in Bloody Face, a notorious serial killer who’s been detained at Briarcliff Mental Institution while he awaits trial. In the course of her investigation, she draws the ire of Sister Jude, the stern nun who oversees the asylum--and who silences Lana by wrongfully incarcerating the curious reporter. Lana’s struggle to escape Briarcliff brings her into terrifyingly close contact with Bloody Face, and with an ancient evil that has made the institution its home.

Few things genuinely creep me out, but ASYLUM did it for me in a big way. Wrongful incarceration stories never fail to give me the shivers, because how can someone trapped in an insane asylum possibly hope to prove they don’t belong there? The more you protest, the crazier you look. It’s all the worse when it’s the 1960s, and you’re a lesbian, and you’re almost certain someone has targeted your girlfriend but you can’t get out to help her and also you’re forced into daily contact with a dude who likes to skin women and wear their faces as masks.

You know?

That alone would’ve been enough to bestir my horror-loving heart, but Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also add alien abductions, a Nazi war criminal who evaded trial, and a nun possessed by the devil.4

Regular readers will recall how much I love anything one can describe as "crazy-ass." ASYLUM fits the bill.

On top of the creepy stuff and the crazy-ass shit, we get a cast of complex, fascinating characters who are difficult to pin down. Almost everyone does some seriously bad shit, but almost no one is entirely evil. They all have lines they refuse to cross and moral stances they will not abandon, no matter how often they may be willing to sin in other areas. It's not always immediately obvious who's on the side of the angels and who belongs down below. Many of them slip back and forth as the series progresses.

I watched it in three days flat and am now wicked eager for COVEN's release on DVD. I've heard that it, too, is less engaging than MURDER HOUSE, but my reaction to ASYLUM gives me high hopes for it.

  1. Still a fantastic series packed with amazing characters. I enjoyed S7 this time, too! Who would've thought?
  2. I'm grateful to Space, Canada's SF channel, who ran a MERLIN marathon early last year so's folks could catch up on S1-S4 before S5 aired. While it took me a while to warm to the show, which is often quite silly, it eventually became something I looked forward to each week. I absolutely adored Gwen and Gwaine, and Merlin's exchanges with Arthur made me giggle more than once.

    Mostly, though, I was in it for Gwen. TEAM GWEN.

  3. S3 destroyed me. I came to love Michelle so, so much, and OMG I WILL NEVER BE OVER AXL AND ZEB AT THE END. NEVER.
  4. Their everything-plus-three-kitchen-sinks approach to storytelling put me off of GLEE, but it works wonderfully here.


  1. Nice! I watched the first couple episodes of Orphan Black the other night. I think Lorrie watched further. I figured the show was Canadian... You can always tell. :) I like it, but I am bad at watching stuff... The same with the other three items on your list. I either started them and never finished or have been meaning to watch forever and just haven't.

    1. I like that I can point to ORPHAN BLACK and say, "Hey! Look! A Canadian TV show that's actually good!"

      That's all too rare.

      I've found it a lot easier to watch stuff quickly since I started borrowing TV from the library. I have to have it back within one week, so I really need to hunker down and watch it. This is fine for shorter shows, like AHS or OB, but it does take some scheduling with a full-length American drama like ELEMENTARY.

  2. NOOOOOOOOOOO I REFUSE TO BELIEVE THAT ABOUT FELIX I CAN'T BE! I thought the season finale hinted at Mrs S, and that was enough to totally break my heart. Anyway, good series :D And I'm tempted by AHS, particularly Coven as I like the cast a lot. Let me know what you think when you get around to it!

    1. I get the impression Mrs S is running her own experiment, with Sarah at its centre. I hope and pray Felix isn't part of it, too. MY HEART COULDN'T TAKE IT.

      Coven has such a great cast. I've heard they do a poor job with the racial stuff, though, which worries me.

  3. The more I hear about Orphan Black, the more I'm looking forward to seeing it!

    Elementary is my favorite TV show that is fairly new. Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller are both fantastic in it, and I agree that they are what really make the show great. In fact, I share your unpopular opinion that it's a better show than Sherlock. I thought I was the only person who had watched both shows who felt that way!

    1. There are a few of us out there, but I think the SHERLOCK-lovers tend to be far more vocal. They make it seem like everyone's down on ELEMENTARY, when in fact it has a huge fan base.

  4. This is why I started watching American Horror Story last night... I'm so creeped out! But not in a bad way? It is good! I am just really terrified of ghosts. I bought Orphan Black, so I'm watching it slowly. One episode every couple weeks or so. I also REALLY want to watch Elementary, but it's so expensive to buy the whole season. I'm going to check and see if the library has it or use up a google play gift card for part of it.

    1. Urgh, I accidentally deleted my original reply. That's what I get for playing around with Blogger's comment thingy.

      Anyways: I really hope you can get your hands on ELEMENTARY! Joan is fantastic.

  5. ORPHAN BLACK. I love that show so much. I got it for two people for Christmas and then felt cross and sad that I didn't own a copy on DVD. (But never fear! One of the people I bought it for, I swear to God, had also bought it for me. Totally coincidentally.) It is too far away to April and the new episodes! I miss Alison!

    I'm really glad you liked LBD -- I love it and I want to buy it on DVD when it comes out as well. I love how inventive the creators were with adapting the story to modern times while still staying very faithful to it. (But yeah, some Lydia slut-shaming stuff, that was not great.)

    1. Hurray for people who give you awesome TV on DVD, even as you give them awesome TV on DVD!

      I want everyone to watch ORPHAN BLACK, and I'm so very, very sad Tatiana Maslany didn't win the Golden Globe. I'm sure Robin Wright did a wonderful job on her show, though. And she does get points for having been Buttercup (though she'd get more points if she'd been Buttercup and Buttercup's six clones).

      Poor Lydia. :( I wish the narrative had treated her better. She's my favourite and I am deeply saddened on her behalf. Also, I would very much like to kill Wickham.