TV Review: Mad Men (2007-2015)

Original Run: July 19th, 2007-May 17th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Carbonara, RJD2 (opening theme)
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Kevin Rahm, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Alison Brie, Joel Murray, Peyton List, Harry Hamlin, Linda Cardellini, Rosemarie DeWitt, Randee Heller, Caity Lotz, Ray Wise, Stephanie Courtney, Patrick Fischler, Alexis Bledel, Anna Camp,

Weiner Bros., Silvercup Studios, Lionsgate Television, @radical.media (pilot only), Lionsgate Television, AMC, 92 Episodes, 47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night saw the end of an era, as the series finale to Mad Men aired. The show was one of the best shows of the last ten years and frankly, one of the best television shows of all-time.

Sure, maybe I’m late in reviewing it because it is now over and it has been on television since the summer of 2007. I also didn’t have this blog back then and I like to wait and review television shows after they have had time to establish themselves.

Chances are, most of you reading this have already seen the show and formed your own opinions. Most of you probably loved it or at the very least, liked it. Sure, there is the minority that didn’t and that is fine. Regardless, it is what this show brought that makes it so iconic and important.

As viewers, we were thrown back into the 1960s. The time and the style of the show ignited nostalgia in a lot of folks and thus, had them engaged from the first scene: Don Draper sitting in a bar trying to solve the dilemma of marketing Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

The strongest element of the show was not its style however, it was its substance. With that opening scene, you knew that you were in the past, where things were quite different. A time where minorities and women were treated generally, pretty poorly. Also a time where cigarettes could be marketed and people were a lot less concerned about the health risks of smoking, drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. As the show traversed its way through the 1960s and into 1970 – in the final season, our characters were faced with a multitude of issues and many of them had to deal with the consequences.

There isn’t anything in this show that hasn’t been dealt with our addressed in entertainment before but what this show did, was take all of these issues and put them in one place. Mad Men was a brilliantly executed smorgasbord of the social, economic, political, health and safety issues of the time. It also doesn’t hurt that the show was just always stunning to look at and perfectly acted.

Whether it was the set designers, the creative directors or the wardrobe people on set, it all became a happy and perfect marriage and gave us something special and unique. It has also paved the way for other shows on non-premium cable television to take more risks and not be fearful of being too edgy.

Without Mad Men, AMC wouldn’t have become a television powerhouse. For those that forget, AMC used to just show old black and white movies and that was it. Mad Men opened a door at the network that led to shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Hell On Wheels, Halt and Catch Fire, TURИ: Washington’s Spies, The Killing and the soon to debut Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands. Mad Men also inspired a resurgence of period dramas on other networks – some successful and some, not so much.

With the last episode now having aired, I can say that Mad Men lived up to its continued hype and never disappointed. It was quality from day one and maintained its superior level of television storytelling all the way up to the very end. And ultimately, it had the balls to take everything it told you from the beginning and flip it on its head at the end.

The show had a unique ability to reinvent itself and its characters without the viewer realizing it in the moment. That being said, the characters on Mad Men could very well be the most human characters in television history.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Magic CityHalt and Catch FireThe Astronaut Wives Club and Manhattan.

TV Review: The Flash (2014- )

Original Run: October 7th, 2014 – present
Created by: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Blake Neely
Cast: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, Keiynan Lonsdale, Victor Garber, Franz Drameh, Robbie Amell, Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Peyton List, John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays

Bonanza Productions, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 69 Episodes (so far), 40 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015.

In sixth grade, my favorite television show was The Flash. It was cancelled after one year but it was still the best comic book series put to television at the time. Well, 24 years later, the Flash returned to television again in another self-titled series.

The modern version of The Flash is a spin-off of CW’s Arrow. It goes on to further expand the DC Comics television universe and mythos and has thus, spun-off its own show debuting in the fall called Legends of Tomorrow.

Having now completed the first season of The Flash, I figured it was time to review it.

In short, this is the greatest comic book television show of all-time. Yes, Daredevil, which just debuted a month ago on Netflix is amazing. This however, this is lightning in a bottle – pun intended.

Something about The Flash is just magical. I can admit, maybe I am affected by nostalgia for my love of the original Flash series from years ago. And maybe that is magnified by the fact that the new Flash show features the stars of the original show. The thing is, everyone else I have talked to that has watched this show, regardless of their knowledge of the series from 1990, is pretty much in agreement that this is simply great.

Sure, the acting isn’t always fantastic, there is that typical CW romance thing going on and often times, the villains can be cheesy. But this is a television show based on comic books and if it took itself too seriously, it would be a train wreck like Gotham. (updated 2017 note: Luckily Gotham fixed that.)

The thing this show has going for it is heart. You can’t not care about these characters, their motivations and their world. When I watch Gotham, I really don’t care about anyone on that show. The Flash is the most human and heartfelt superhero show currently on television, if not of all-time.

The story arc of the first season was well orchestrated and ended perfectly. Everything throughout the year was well paced and while it fell victim to the “monster of the week” formula at times, it built a much larger universe and everything had a point to it. There wasn’t a lot of filler unlike a lot of episodes of Arrow this past season.

Where The Flash goes from here is anyone’s guess. I hope the momentum maintains going forward and that the show doesn’t go off the rails, as its predecessor Arrow has recently. I also hope that the quality isn’t effected by the new spin-off series. We shall see but the future looks bright.

Update:

Having now gotten through three seasons, the show unfortunately becomes redundant and derivative of its previous seasons. It sucks that it sort of nosedives, even if you still care about the people on the show. Season four I hope gets back to form. And we really don’t need another speedster as the season’s major villain.

TV Review: Gotham (2014-2019)

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind, Peyton List, Crystal Reed

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.