The ‘Bitch Awards’ – Best/Worst Television Shows of 2011 (#2)

We’re so close! This is the penultimate day for the Bitch Awards in television for 2011. See what occupies the runner-up spot for best and worst after the jump.

WORST

Cinephilactic

#5: Free Agents S1 (Canceled)

#4: New Girl S1

#3: Ringer S1

#2: The Killing S1

Courtesy of AMC

Oh man, what can I say about AMC’s The Killing? TVangie and I went back and forth on which shows we would name our worst show of 2011 and this one was at the top of the contenders pile the whole time. Which is disappointing, because it comes from the cable network that brought us Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead. It’s based on a ridiculously popular foreign series, which we know can become ridiculously good television (ex: Homeland). And it has a (literally) killer premise in the story of a dead girl whose murder investigation takes a season to tell. It’s a deep character story, drenched in the rainy atmosphere of Seattle with just enough shades of Twin Peaks to give viewers the tingles.

And yet The Killing is none of these things. The characters never develop beyond the generic descriptors we give them in the pilot: grieving parents, overly dedicated cop, roguish newbie partner, sleazy politician and dead girl with a secret past. Without the aid of flashbacks, Rosie Larsen is nothing more than a photo, so it’s difficult to understand why her parents are so distraught. And since each episode covers a single day of the investigation, their grief occupies every scene to the point that we just want to scream “Get over it already!” As lead investigator Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) does her best, but she’s given nothing to work with. We know she has a troubled son, and that she’s moving to be with her fiancé (a wasted Callum Keith Rennie in a dead end storyline), but besides that she’s a blank stereotype. At least Joel Kinnaman as her partner Holder is given some personality, but again, no depth (who is he? Oh, an alcoholic…well I guess that’s enough of an explanation). In any other series this might not have been an issue because we can focus on the case, but the case simply isn’t that interesting. When the show’s creator (a deluded Veena Sud) runs around shouting from roof-tops about how different her show is, it’s hard not to notice that the show isn’t delivering on all the things she’s promising.

Perhaps we should have known since this is Sud’s first time as showrunner after working on the CSI: New York, which we all know features a bevy of multi-faceted characters. But the pilot is so damned fantastic that I couldn’t help but drink the kool-aid. Then came the second episode, featuring Rosie’s red herring boyfriend and lots of crying. Then the third episode featured more of the same (it was the janitor. No wait, he’s just a perv). And so on: it was Muslim extremists…no wait, they just want visas for abused women. No, wait it’s the teacher, Bennett Ahmed…oh wait, he just like Rosie’s videos. After a while the story is nothing more than red herrings, and with no fully fleshed out characters to tune in for, it becomes nothing more than an exercise in waiting to find the answer to the question asked by the show’s promotional campaign: Who Killed Rosie Larsen?

So when the finale aired and Billy Campbell’s mayoral candidate is exposed as yet another red herring and the show ends on a “cliffhanger” (please note sarcastic quotation marks since a cliffhanger should make viewers want to tune back in when the show resumes), it was the final draw. When the interwebs exploded in derision, it was understandable. Where were the deep characters we were promised? Where was the brilliant storytelling that the episode-a-day structure was supposed to facilitate? Where, at least, was the reveal of the killer? Veena Sud certainly doesn’t know, but only because she doesn’t understand why everyone is so mad. She suggested that individuals who were tearing up Twitter and blogs were unintelligent viewers who expected the kinds of stories she had previously developed on CSI: wrapped up in 42 minutes with a bow. What she fails to understand is 1) the show was marketed this way and 2) it wasn’t that viewers didn’t “get” the show; it was that we want a well told story that doesn’t stoop to red herrings and cliffhangers that are wrapped up two minutes into the next episode. That we want fleshed out characters, and that if she is going to give them to us it shouldn’t be as a stand-alone episode ten freaking episodes in. What we want are plausible narrative developments, and what she gave us was shoddy detective work, implausible coincidences and random occurrences designed to tease another season of the same shitty writing.

And so The Killing is the second worst show that I wasted many, many hours of my life on this year.  And, in case you were wondering, I will be checking out the second season when it debuts in the spring (after AMC inexplicably renewed it). Why, after spewing so much verbal hatred at it, will I tune back in? Because I genuinely want to see if Sud let anything sink in, or if she’s as much of a hypocrite as she revealed herself to be earlier this year. That, my friends, is the real question behind The Killing.

# of episodes watched: 13

Returns: Likely in the spring of 2012 on AMC

TVangie

#5: Dexter S6

#4: How I Met Your Mother S6

#3: How To Be A Gentleman (Canceled)

#2: The Killing S1

Courtesy of AMC

There isn’t too much more I can add as to why I hated The Killing that Cinephilactic hasn’t already tackled in his rant, but here goes. This show made me angry. The reason it lands so high on my list comes from a deeply personal place – I felt absolutely betrayed and cheated by this show – something I never thought a television series could do. Why you ask? As Cinephilactic stated above, the season finale, ‘Orpheus Descending’, didn’t reveal the killer of Rosie Larsen, and that was just wrong. Viewers and critics alike took to the internet to voice their displeasure. Mo Ryan over at AOLTV gives a particularly good assessment of the finale, calling it “the worst season finale of all time” (my emphasis – because I completely agree with her).

So why was it wrong? Because for 13 long drawn-out episodes, we the audience were waiting to find out who killed the girl. As the series waned, some of us still stuck in it with the faith that, at the very least, we would get some closure to the looming question that had graced every bit of marketing for the damn show from the beginning. (Marketing included: all advertisements plastered with the headline: “Who killed Rosie Larsen?”; A ‘suspect tracker’ on the official website allowing fans to eliminate suspects after each episode (i.e. after each dead-end lead was revealed to be a red herring); Asking twitter followers to tweet theories with the hashtag #CaseClosed – No! None of this would suggest that we would actually find out who the killer was!)

But let me back up and give you some background so you can better understand the source of my intense anger, that months after the finale, is apparently still lingering. After the pilot, (which I thought was excellent; the acting was perfect, the writing, the editing, the soundtrack, the overall mood of the piece- a perfect introduction to a very compelling murder case) I was strapped right in and ready for a season long ‘anti-procedural’ as Sud calls it .

But after a few episodes and (already) about a dozen red herrings, it became evident that this show was going to succumb to a very basic formula: teasing the audience with one dead-end cliffhanger after another. I’ve said this before – you can only cry wolf so many times before people get frustrated and take a hike. But with some great performances by Joel Kinnaman as the not so one-dimensional, street-wise partner, Holder, to protagonist Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), and grief stricken Michelle Forbes (who is almost always excellent), I stuck in there. Initially, there was enough in the periphery to keep me going even if the main narrative thread of the murder mystery was slipping away.  But even that quickly faded and all I wanted to know was who the damn killer was.

It was clear that as the season progressed, the show was going to sloppily ignore all of the loose ends it was presenting as pivotal just a few episodes prior (i.e. Remember all that blood they found in the underground high school lair? There were buckets of it. How was it explained? Oh, the character down there is prone to nosebleeds. I kid you not. That was the explanation!). Even with the absurdity abound (i.e. Linden and Holder are just horrible detectives aren’t they?) I still kept watching because at the very least I would find out who killed Rosie. But no, the season ended with yet another red herring! Unbelievable. And to further piss me off, Holder was tactlessly revealed to be a dirty cop, boxing him right back into that one-dimensional stereotype which I previously identified as one of the only good things about the show.

Out of curiosity, or perhaps because I had an unrelenting need for closure, I watched the first season of the original Danish (and far superior) The Killing. Guess what? That stellar pilot that both Cinephilactic and I were raving about? It feels like a shot for shot remake of the original Danish pilot. And Sud got an Emmy nomination for that! Oh the anger!  Don’t even get me started on showrunner, Veena Sud. The hubris she presented in post-finale interviews is infuriating. After the flurry of scathing commentaries voiced after the finale, Sud had the gall to say that she was honoured people were talking about the show. In some weird way, it all validated her ill-informed choices because viewers were so “invested”. I’m summarizing, but the gist of her defense of the maddening finale was that the show isn’t your run-of-the-mill police procedural, hence, the killer need not be revealed. Yes viewers, if you were expecting that, even though that’s how the show was marketed to us ad nauseam, you’re simply not sophisticated enough to be open to something different.

And that’s where the anger comes from. Not only do you fuck over your audience by pulling the rug out from under them by not delivering on the what you promised, you further rub salt in their wounds by telling them that their expectations are unfounded and rooted in ignorance. Sud is a perfect example of some one who needs to stop talking before implicating herself further. Here’s hoping she gets even more deluded and asks for more money, prompting an unceremonious firing. Further evidence that we were wronged – AMC tried to apologize for the finale. It was a half-assed apology, but its existence at least acknowledged that shows are nothing without their audiences and misleading and dismissing them is not the way to go, ever.

So, will I be watching when the series returns for its second season to see if it’ll be able to dig itself out of a very deep hole? Hell no. I’m officially releasing any investment in The Killing, good or bad, going into 2012. I’ve wasted enough time on this trash and will not have it tainting my new year.

BEST

Cinephilactic

#5: The Good Wife S2/S3

#4: Awkward S1

#3: Revenge S1

#2: Games of Thrones S1

Courtesy of HBO

I went into HBO’s lavishly expensive fantasy series with virtually no knowledge of its source material. The series is an adaptation of five epic novels by author George R. Martin. Since the completion of the first season, I’ve read the first four books and I’m currently half-way through the fifth (the most recent). I’m not opposed to reading the source material, but as a visual person, I typically prefer to let the show tell its story rather than get mired in the details of the adaptation.

Game of Thrones is different. I had to know what happened next. I needed to spend more time with these characters, discover more of their kingdoms, and find out their fates.

You see that’s the genius of this show. If you can make it through the first few episodes, which are relatively light on action and rather heavy on exposition, you suddenly find yourself wrapped up in an epic struggle between some of the most complicated, infuriating, narcissistic and naïve characters you’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with.

The titular game is not a literal game: the characters are not merely competing against each other for sport. No, the game of thrones is a turn of phrase referring to the epic struggle for power involving hundreds of players (if not more), spanning seven kingdoms and beyond. In this game you either win or you die. There are no rules or regulations: everyone is out to make deals, double-cross, grab land, secure titles and kill anyone who gets in their way. It’s a portrait of a dirty, brutal world reminiscent of the Middle Ages, at least until someone mentions the reign of dragons, or speaks of magic. It’s so easy to forget, however, that this world is fictitious because these individuals are so engaging.

The story mostly surrounds the promotion of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), a humble man who reigns over the most northern kingdom, to the position of Hand of the King. This requires him to leave his home and travel to the capital, where he is immediately thrust into a world of deception, treachery, murder and a fair amount of sexytime. Ned’s story is but one of the multiple competing narratives, all of which play out as the first winter in seven years approaches. To try and describe more is a fool’s errand because there are so many characters, and so many twists, and half of the joy of the show is identifying who everyone is, and what their motivations are.

HBO commissioned ten episodes for the first season and around episode five you’re either in it for the long haul, or you’ve thrown in the towel. The first season covers the first book, and having read the novel, I can say that as an adaptation, it’s nearly flawless. The scenery, shot on location in Scotland and Ireland, is gorgeous. On top of the narrative and the scenery, the performances from the international cast are spectacular. Most critics have singled out Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister – a boozy, whoring imp from the most privileged family in the kingdom. I would instead highlight his sister, Cersei Lannister, played with the proper mixture of disdain, bitchiness and secret shame by Lena Headley.

Perhaps one of the elements that I appreciate most about the show is its scope: for the first time in many years, here is a show that’s daring and expansive in its execution. It was a risk to undertake an adaptation of these novels. The result, which could have been a huge misfire, is instead a huge success as the ratings for the season grew throughout its first season. By taking the content seriously, the show’s creators have done right by the source material and fans of epic television have been gifted a new show that has potential to run for several years to come. So long as the show continues to explore this world with the same care and dedication to serious adult drama, there’s a good chance you’ll continue to see Game of Thrones on my ‘Best of’ list for many years to come.

Returns: April 2012 on HBO

TVangie

#5: Damages S4

#4: Breaking Bad S4

#3: The Walking Dead S2

#2: Homeland S1

Courtesy of Showtime

I had heard next to nothing about the show when I started watching Homeland, only some surrounding buzz that it was something I had to check out if I were any kind of television viewer. And I’m telling you the exact same thing now – you must start watching this show if you haven’t already. Homeland never shies away from taking risks and leaves you on the proverbial edge-of-your-seat in almost every episode.

The show focuses on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a CIA operative who analyses terrorist threats. She receives intel that an American POW has been “turned”. A few weeks later, missing Marine, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is discovered in a hole (literally) in Iraq and returned home after eight years of captivity.  This sets off a cat and mouse game as Carrie tries to identify whether Brody is a terrorist as viewers try to figure out if a) she’s crazy (she is) and b) he’s really a terrorist (it’s complicated to say the least especially as I try to avoid blatant spoilers).

The show is richly layered. Its visual form is much more complex than traditionally seen on television, punctuating the thematic narrative elements. It’s akin to what you would see in arthouse films and was not unnoticed by me.  Its writing is superb, clearly mapped out and impeccably played out by both its lead and supporting actors. There are too many to list (ranging from the kids to the one-off CIA informants) but Danes, Lewis and Mandy Patinkin, who plays Carrie’s CIA mentor, Saul, deserve particular mention for truly elevating the series to one of the best on television ever (and it’s only one season in).

I don’t particularly care for Danes, I find her “shouty” acting a bit abrasive most of the time – but it all lends itself to the character. Carrie is bipolar and enduring high stress situations. This is how she copes- I don’t like it, it’s annoying – but it’s believable. She also does some crazy things, which again, had me raising an eyebrow or two, but her risks usually payoff in unconventional and unexpected ways. Danes does provide some nuance in her performance. Most of the time she’s awkwardly shouting expletives, but when she gives her quieter moments, they are much more resonant because of the contrast. Lewis is amazing as well –  he’s impossible to read, but when he does give us instances into his psyche, they are quite profound. The two serve as good counterpoints to one another – Carrie is manic and all over the place, while Brody is unnervingly calm and reserved. I particularly enjoyed the episode ‘Crossfire’ in which we discover Brody’s motivations. This is Lewis’ episode, it’s heartbreaking and compelling to witness.

This show is a candidate for groundbreaking television if I ever did see one. And I make this bold statement based primarily on one episode. I’m talking about episode seven entitled “The Weekend,” and I believe it to be one of best episodes in the history of television drama. This is due largely in part to the interrogation scene at the picnic table. Carrie reveals her suspicions of Brody and asks him, point blank, to answer her questions and convince her that he’s not a terrorist.  And he does. Such a confrontation scene usually has it place in a season finale, if that. As many would consider the true nature of Brody to be the crux of the series, the writers blow that predictable assumption right out of the water by introducing this confrontation mid-way through its first season. It’s unfounded, unexpected and absolutely marvelous. The writers demonstrate their confidence in the viewers by asking them to trust that there is much more to come even though such a milestone is achieved so early in the season. In my opinion, they don’t disappoint as I was equally enthralled with the latter half of the season as I was with the beginning of it.

Homeland is quality TV at its finest. Seek it out if you can, and you won’t be disappointed.

Returns: Likely fall of 2012 on Showtime

We’re just one day away from our number one shows of the year. What did you think of our runner-ups? Any predictions on what our number ones will be? Have you seen The Killing? Do our scathing reviews illicit any interest? We hope not – we really hope not. Chime in down in the comments section below.