Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don’t (2012) – Review

Review: Rick Ross is having a great 2012. His mixtape Rich Forever is solid. His Maybach Music posse album Self Made: Vol. 2 has some good stuff on it. And, his fifth solo album, God Forgives, I Don’t, is probably his best album to date. Like Teflon Don and Deeper Than Rap, this album is packed with guest appearances. Ross has his Maybach Music crewmates Wale, Stalley, Meek Mill, Omarion, as well as pop and hip hop’s biggest talents like Drake, Usher, Ne-Yo, Andre 3000, and Dr. Dre and Jay-Z on a good track entitled 3 Kings. Unlike Teflon Don however, Ross is not overshadowed by all the features. Here, Ross has some of his best rhymes and deliveries (building off the great work he did on Rich Forever). God Forgives, I Don’t also is excellently produced and really engaging musically. Ten Jesus Pieces has one of the best musical accompaniments of 2012. For Ross fans, this is an album very much worth picking up, and for commercial hip hop fans this also certainly worth checking out as it is one of the better releases this year. 3/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Ten Jesus Pieces – Produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, featuring Stalley
2)      Pirates – Produced by Kenoe and Got Koke
3)      Diced Pineapples – Produced by Cardiak, featuring Wale and Drake

Available on CD and Digital Download

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012) – Review

Review: The Expendables 2 is a gratuitously violent film, almost comically so, made for the entertainment of fans of 1980s/90s action films and their stars. The film is about a group of mercenaries lead by Barney Ross who are hired to retrieve a delicate item from a plane crash in hostile territory. When the mission goes wrong and a team member is killed, the team turns their sights on revenge. Director Simon West basically only cares about portraying the action in the most entertaining and even fun manner as possible. Sure, there are some characters moments (or attempts at them), but they only sort of work and serve more the purpose of giving the audience a break from the aggrandized action set pieces. The story, too, is not really important. It just puts the characters in motion so they can shoot at lots of stuff and blow up lots of stuff and murder (what seemed like thousands of) bad guys in gruesome ways. For viewers that only somewhat like violent films, do not like them at all, or even only medium like them this is not the film for you. This is only for viewers who love action films, and to that point – action films that are only about the action and extreme violence (stuff like most of the pure action films of the 80s and early 90s, and this may even be more absurd than any of those). As a film, this is entertaining (though, I do enjoy action films to a degree, growing up with these actors and their films), but also is maybe a bit too much. There is so much killing and brutality that it loses all meaning and the viewer becomes completely desensitized, which is not really a good thing, as really films should strive to interact with their viewers and make them feel something real. This is not possible here, unless you hate violence and feel utter disgust towards this film (but then why are you seeing it in the first place when it is very clear what this is going to be going in). All the action gets a little tiresome, because it is all sort of meaningless. However, the film’s saving grace is the likability of the action stars (we all know) and the fun they are having in the film – bantering, throwing around references to their past franchises and making jokes at the expense of themselves (and their age). The charisma of these action stars is what makes the film work. It is okay for films to be mindless entertainment (be it action, comedy, thriller or whatever), but they are never going to be great. The Expendables 2 is mindless entertainment (mind numbing entertainment at that) that is enjoyable, but again it was never going to be great.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Simon West specializes in action, and this is probably one of his most entertaining films to date. What he does well is capture the right tone for the film. The Expendables 2 feels light and fun, but still has enough dramatic weight (giving the good guys a sense of morality, so that the audience gets behind them organically instead of merely supporting them because they are the presented as the protagonists) to give it a hint of seriousness (though all the murder in the opening scene sort of countermands any seriousness as it is fairly ludicrous). Composer Brian Tyler, cinematographer Shelly Johnson and production designer Paul Cross all get what the film is supposed to be, and their work goes into supporting West and the film’s tone. The film is filled with glorified visual staples of the genre, and it all works. Cross has probably the standout work of the bunch, however, with his fantastic Soviet Base set replicating a section of New York. As stated above, it is the film’s stars that really make The Expendables 2 fun. Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews (unsurprisingly) have some of the best side-kick material, while Jason Statham, Jet Li and Bruce Willis are good too. Liam Hemsworth is not very good in the film. His dramatic scenes are clunky and forced, and he just feels out of place in general. Nan Yu, also new to the team, is somewhat awkward, but still works overall. Her chemistry with Sylvester Stallone is one of the better things in the film. Chuck Norris shows up, seems out of place, but makes maybe the best joke of the film (him being there is nothing more than a novelty). Jean-Claude Van Damme is a decent villain, and the sheer nostalgic aspect of his appearance is great. Arnold Schwarzenegger just commands the screen whenever he is on it. He sort of steals the movie. Stallone is good as well, playing the tough as nails soldier of fortune who looks back on his life with regrets but cannot do anything else.

Summary & score: You get exactly what you expect and what you want with The Expendables 2: a fun and entertaining highly violent action film filled with all the stars you love from the 1980s and 1990s (plus Jason Statham). 6/10

Monday, August 27, 2012

Movie of the Week – Mean Creek

This week’s movie is Mean Creek (2004).

The drama is about a bunch of teens that decide to get even with a local bully, inviting him along on a boat trip in rural Oregon with a plan of vengeance. The film is the feature debut from writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes (someone I thought had a very bright future when this came out, but has yet to have another film picked up). He worked with composer tomandandy, cinematographer Sharone Meir and production designer Greg McMickle. The film has a very naturalistic approach, which works really well with the subject matter and impact of the drama. The young actor are also wonderful. It features Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, and Carly Schroeder. Thematically, it is similar to Larry Clark’s Bully and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, but not as graphic. Mean Creek is all the more tragic as it does not start out as a mean spirited film or with the intention of going dark – but things just do not go the way they are planned for the characters taking them down a dark path. It beautifully portrays realistic teenage characters – naïve, innocent and yet still with the capability of immense cruelty. While there is a clear bully character that the rest of the characters want to get back at, things are never that simple, as delving deeper into the characters and narrative reveals that many of the characters are both bully and victim depending on the circumstances. The film is quite powerful as it addresses morals, coping with tragedy and other adult issues forced on teens (many of them very young). It is one of the best truly indie dramas of the past decade. It is well worth checking out for fans of good dramas. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Friday, August 24, 2012

Essential Songs of 2012: Part 7 – Music Spotlight – August 2012

Artist: Dum Dum Girls Song: Lord Knows Producer(s):  N/A Featuring: N/A Album: End of Daze

Artist: Dusted Song: Cut Them Free Producer(s): Leon Taheny Featuring: N/A Album: Total Dust

Artist: Ellie Goulding Song: Anything Could Happen Producer(s): Ellie Goulding and Jim Elliot Featuring: N/A Album: Halcyon

Artist: J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar Song: They Ready Producer(s): J. Cole Featuring: N/A Album: DJ Khaled’s Kiss the Ring

Artist: Kendrick Lamar Song: Swimming Pools (Drank) Producer(s): T-Minus Featuring: N/A Album: Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City

Artist: Nas Song: Loco-Motive Producer(s): No I.D. Featuring: Large Professor Album: Life is Good

Artist: Reks Song: The Jones’ Producer(s): Numonics Featuring: N/A Album: Rebelutionary

Artist: Rick Ross Song: Diced Pineapples Producer(s): Cardiak Featuring: Wale and Drake Album: God Forgives, I Don’t

Artist: Talib Kweli Song: Push Thru Producer(s): S1 Featuring: Kendrick Lamar and Curren$y Album: Prisoner of Conscious

Artist: The xx Song: Chained Producer(s): Jamie xx Featuring: N/A Album: Coexist

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012) – Review

Review: Celeste & Jesse Forever is sort of a mix between a quirky indie romantic comedy and a hipster music video. The film is about two best friends Celeste and Jesse who got married young and are now in the midst of a divorce. However, they refuse to move on constantly spending every minute together. Things change and feelings are hunt when they each try to move on. Director Lee Toland Krieger and writers (both of whom also star in the film) Rashida Jones and Will McCormack seem to firstly want to make a romantic drama/comedy without all the generic tired convention that plagues the genre. In this, they have succeeded. The film is dynamic in its emotional portrayal of Celeste and Jesse and the journey that they must go through to be okay with moving on. Their emotions feel very natural, organically stemming from the narrative and strong character work. Comedy also plays an important role in the film, as it has some great comedic moments. The comedy is used well to disperse the emotional depression funk that Celeste (the film’s protagonist) finds herself in for a large portion of the film, keeping the overall tone more on the light side than a more deeply brutal romantic drama. The characters are also a strong component to the overall narrative. Celeste and Jesse are given a lot of nuanced and relatable moments allowing the audience to connect with them, and thereby buy into the emotions of the film and get where each character is coming from without being beaten over the head with character clichés. The supporting characters are mostly made up of comedic bit players and genre specific fill characters, but as the film primarily focuses on Celeste and Jesse the supporting characters really do not need to be more than they are. As a romance drama with comedic moments, the film works quite well. However, where things sort of become questionable is in the sort force-fed hipster style. Almost all the characters, locations and stylistic choices play into the indie or hipster aesthetic. Everyone is dressed in a chic hip fashion. The characters only frequent ironic or cool locals. And, the visual style sort of goes back and forth between being very intimate using a handheld camera and being detached exhibiting very stylized and aesthetically interesting shots (many of which are in slow motion and accompanied by music – and look like they are straight out of a music video). Aesthetically, the film is reminiscent of Garden State (except it is not as compelling, because hundreds of indie films have tried to replicate that film’s style and thus now when films attempt the same feel and look it seems generic). The highly stylized moments are on their own fantastic (particularly think of the sequence of Celeste smoking while outside the wedding tent), but they somewhat contradict the comprehensive feel of the film. Also, the film’s pacing is a bit problematic, due to its unorthodox narrative structure. Trying something different narratively is great, especially in a genre rife with cliché like romance. However, that said, this film’s structure seems to circle back on itself a few times, leading to it feeling like it is coming to an end, only to rehash sort of the same scenes again, and then do it again. This leads to it feeling slower and longer than it is. The structure is a product of the filmmakers wanting the narrative and characters to feel real, and they do. But, from a narrative standpoint, this probably could have been done in more economical efficient manner that flows better. Overall, despite some narrative structure issues and stylistic discontinuity, Celeste & Jesse Forever is a good romantic drama/comedy built on strong lead characters and honest emotion with some cool stylistic moments.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Lee Toland Krieger has some other indie films (none of which I have seen), but Celeste & Jesse Forever is his debut for a bigger cinematic audience (receiving limited distribution after the film’s success at Sundance). He is certainly a competent director with some great aesthetic ideas, and he gets good performances (which is most important). I look forward to seeing what he does next. For Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, this film marks their screenwriting debut. The script incorporates some good drama and comedy moments, but most noteworthy are the strong emotionally genuine characters. Again, like Krieger, I look forward to what they write next. The score by Zach Cowie and Sunny Levine is good, but overshadowed by the great soundtrack. David Lanzenberg’s cinematography is fantastic during the film’s more stylized moments. He is someone to keep an eye on as a potential rising star. Ian Phillips’s production design is good as well. It plays off the characters and the overall aesthetic of the film. Performance wise, the film has a lot of good work in smaller roles. Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olson, Rob Huebel, and Will McCormack are good in these smaller parts. Chris Messina, Emma Roberts and especially Elijah Wood (who steals his scenes) are also good in support. Andy Samberg, who is generally very funny, is (somewhat surprisingly) good playing a much more dramatic role as Jesse. He does not have as much heavy lifting, but does his fair share of superb emotional character work. Along cinematographer Lanzenberg, the other star to come out of this film is Rashida Jones. In addition to co-writing it, she is fantastic in portraying Celeste. She is funny and dramatically compelling, playing Celeste as sort of a petty know-it-all who wants to be in control. All of which seems to compromise her happiness. I hope to see her get more leading work based off of this film.

Summary & score: Celeste & Jesse Forever is finally the romantic drama/comedy that is not just another throwaway cliché filled waste of time. It is dramatically and emotionally engaging. 7/10

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TV Series of the Week – Brotherhood

This month’s TV series is Brotherhood (2006-2008).

The crime drama is about two brothers, Michael and Tommy Caffee, who grew up and live in an Irish neighborhood in Providence. Michael is a local gangster recently out of jail and Tommy is a state representative causing constant confrontation between the two. Its creator Blake Masters went on to develop Law & Order: LA. The series stars Jason Isaacs, Jason Clarke, Annabeth Gish, Kevin Chapman, Fionnula Flanagan, Fiona Erickson, Madison Garland, Kailey Gilbert, Ethan Embry, Kerry O”Malley, Tina Benko, Matt Servitto, Len Cariou, and Brian F. O’Bryrne. The show ran for three seasons before being cancelled by Showtime; however it does have a suitable ending. The first two seasons are fantastic, making it one of the best crime dramas in 2006-2007 (probably only second to The Sopranos), while the third season is good but not quite as strong. The cast is wonderful as well, especially Isaacs and Clarke. It is well worth checking out for fans of great crime dramas.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie of the Week – The Barbarian Invasions

This week’s movie is The Barbarian Invasions (2003).

The Canadian drama is about the final days of a college professor Remy’s life and the lengths his son Sebastien will go to, insuring that his father is comfortable and surrounded by his friends and loved-ones (it is a sequel to The Decline of the American Empire in so much as it shares many of the same characters, but that film is not necessary at all to enjoy this one). It is touching story written and directed by Denys Arcand (who also had a critical hit with Jesus of Montreal). The cast is very good lead by Remy Girard, Stephane Rousseau, Marie-Josee Croze, and Marina Hands. The film was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in addition to winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and it won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival (where it was also competing for the Palme d’Or). Arcand’s screenplay is wonderful, as tonally it is both tragic and full of happiness. It is a scathing critique on healthcare in Canada and the younger generations who seemingly have grown-up without knowledge of the arts, while also touching briefly on the futility of the war on drugs. It is a beautiful tale of a father a son reconnecting, and finally a story about a man facing the end. And yet, even with such a broad range of topics, Arcand develops wonderful characters and moments. It is a must-see for fans of great dramas (this is one of the best of the decade). Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Movie of the Week – The Man from Nowhere

This week’s movie is The Man from Nowhere (2010).

The Korean action thriller is about Cha Tae-sik, a quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past. When his only friend, the ignored child of a tenant in the building, is kidnapped by a trafficking ring, Cha Tae-sik finds himself reverting back to his violent ways to find her and bring her home safely. The film is written and directed by great up and coming Korean filmmaker Jeong-beom Lee and stars Bin Won (who is also in the very good films Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War and Mother). While the story is really nothing new, the execution of the narrative is great, and the action is very well done and visually striking (though very violent and brutal). Korean cinema has become a powerful force in Asia creating many of the best films of the region in the last decade – films like: this, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, The Host, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, Lady Vengeance, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 3-Iron, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, My Sassy Girl, Memories of Murder, Thirst, The Chaser, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, A Bittersweet Life, J.S.A.: Joint Security Area, and Mother to name a few. The Man from Nowhere is worth checking out for fans of Korean cinema and action films, as this is one of the better recent action thrillers. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TV Preview 2012/2013 – 25 Must-See Series, Part 6: Anticipated New Series

25-21/20-16/15-11/10-6/5-1/New Series

Genre: Drama
Creator(s): Aaron Sorkin
Channel: HBO
Premiere Date: June 24, 2012
Plot Summary: The series is about respected news anchor Will McAvoy who is very comfortable on his nightly cable news show. However, his world is shaken up when he is forced to work with a new team of colleagues.
Why It Made the List: The Newsroom is the new show from Aaron Sorkin who gave us the TV series Sports Night (my personal favorite of his), The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as well as the screenplays for A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and Moneyball. To say the least, he is a wonderful writer, who seems to be at the top of his game when writing a series about making a TV program (alas Sports Night and Studio 60). It also features a great cast. Fans of great writing and Sorkin’s past work should definitely be watching this. Reviews so far have been very strong.

Genre: Adventure Drama
Creator(s): Eric Kripke
Channel: NBC
Premiere Date: September 17, 2012
Plot Summary: One day fifteen years ago, all the planet’s power sources stopped working. Now, humanity carries on surviving the way people lived before there was electricity. Charlie Matheson is a young woman living in a small fringe community. Her life is further changed when a local militia shows up and murders her father, leading to her discovering a mysterious secret – something linking her family to the blackout fifteen years ago. She set out on a journey to find answers.
Why It Made the List: Revolution is the new show from creator Eric Kripke, who gave us Supernatural, and executive producer J.J. Abrams, who has had a few TV missteps lately but has a great track record overall. The premise of the series is what fascinates me. It sounds very ambitious and different from anything on TV right now. I also usually enjoy dystopian narratives. I imagine that NBC hopes that this could be the new Lost (something that a new series claims to be each year, but none have lived up to the hype – this certainly has the potential to be great). Fans of adventure dramas/mysteries should check this out.

Genre: Adventure Drama
Creator(s): Shawn Ryan
Channel: ABC
Premiere Date: September 27, 2012
Plot Summary: While out on patrol, the USS Colorado, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, is relayed orders to fire nuclear missiles towards Pakistan. The order is given without confirmation or explanation, thus the commanding officer Captain Marcus Chaplin refuses to carryout it out, and loses his command. The vessel’s XO also refuses the order, and the sub is fired upon and the crew is left for dead. However, they survive and take refuge on the island of Sainte Marina. As enemies of their own country, they declare the island a sovereign nation with nuclear capability, while also trying to find out who set them up. 
Why It Made the List: Last Resort is the new series from Shawn Ryan, one of TV’s great talents. He is responsible for The Shield and The Chicago Code. He also worked on season two of Angel, and executively produced Terriers (one of the great short-lived series) and The Unit. Writer Karl Gajdusek (who worked on Dead Like Me) is executively producing the show with Ryan. The Shield is one of the greatest TV series of all-time, and so whenever Ryan is working on a new show it is well worth paying attention and checking it out (though, with Terriers and The Chicago Code, he has had bad luck on his last two projects). Fans of adventure/action dramas should tune in.

25-21/20-16/15-11/10-6/5-1/New Series

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TV Preview 2012/2013 – 25 Must-See Series, Part 5: 5-1

Rank: 5
Genre: Comedy
Creator(s): Dan Harmon
Current Season: Fourth
Channel: NBC
Return Date: October 19, 2012
Plot Summary: Seven friends started out as just a study group at the lowly Greendale Community College, but over the course of the show have become so much more – hanging out, mixing it up and going on adventures.
Why It Made the List: Season three of Community is one of the most brilliant pieces of sitcom television (or television period) ever. The show’s creative head Harmon, his writers and the wonderful cast have taken the show to crazy and awesome places that fans never could have imagined. It is simply one of the best and most creative things on TV. That said, season four faces the major challenge of overcoming the loss of Harmon (who was fired as the showrunner for not working well with NBC, but Sony did not object to his firing either), and along with Harmon a number of the show’s producers and writers are leaving as well. The new showrunners are David Guarascio and Moses Port would did do a great job with Happy Endings’s second season. Likely, despite Guarascio and Port’s promise to keep it the same, things will be different for the Greendale seven – but hopefully the show will still be the weird and brilliantly funny series it is. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie

Rank: 4
Genre: Crime Drama/Mystery
Current Season: Second
Channel: Showtime
Return Date: September 30, 2012
Plot Summary: Nicholas Brody is a marine that went missing in Iraq eight years ago. Carrie Mathison is a CIA agent that suspects that he might be a sleeper agent when he is miraculously found and brought home. Carrie risks her career to prove that he is plotting an attack on America, but is he really?
Why It Made the List: Homeland is a great thriller, built on effective writing and pitch perfect performances. Claire Danes is probably doing the best work of any actress on TV right now. The series also works well as a mystery, as we try to discover the truth behind Sergeant Brody. Personally, I cannot wait to see where the writers and actors take the series in the second season.

Rank: 3
Genre: Adventure Drama
Creator(s): David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Current Season: Third
Channel: HBO
Return Date: March 31, 2013
Plot Summary: The series is about the plotting and fighting of seven noble families, as they all joust for control of Westeros.
Why It Made the List: Game of Thrones is probably the most addictive series on TV right now. All the characters and stories are wonderfully compelling, and the world in which the series takes place is aesthetically pleasing and otherwise alluring (especially for fantasy genre fans). However, even though season two was great and just as good as season one, the show has an issue with the number of characters, which is massive. There are really too many. The episodes feel, at times, choppy (and the overall narrative feels bogged down) as the story jumps around so much to give snippets of each character’s story. The series is still masterfully written, but certainly this could become a problem (and already is for some viewers). That said, there may not be a more enthralling and entertaining program on television (and I cannot wait for season three).

Rank: 2
Genre: Period Drama
Creator(s): Matthew Weiner
Current Season: Sixth
Channel: AMC
Return Date: March 2013
Plot Summary: The series follows Donald Draper, a talented yet mysterious ad executive in New York City during the 1960s, as he wrestles with balancing his responsibilities and desires.
Why It Made the List: Mad Men is maybe the best written show on TV. It has some of the best characters, dialog and individual episodes of any show. Seasons three and four made it what I would consider the best show on television, but season five was both excellent and somewhat disappointing (especially the finale). The series has such high expectations, that anything short of sheer brilliance is a letdown. The series is changing a lot as some characters start to feel out of place in their own time, while other are coming into their own – the series expertly set against the social and political upheaval of the 1960s. There is not a better straight drama than Mad Men right now. If you are not watching it, you are missing something special.

Rank: 1
Genre: Crime Drama
Creator(s): Vince Gilligan
Current Season: Fifth
Channel: AMC
Return Date: Part 1: July 15, 2012/Part 2: 2013
Plot Summary: Walter White is an underachieving genius chemist resigned to teaching high school chemistry due to failed ambitious. One day Walter is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hoping to leave his family with some security, he turns to crime producing the highest quality crystal meth on the market. However, his life of crime continually pulls him deeper and deeper in the dark life of the business.
Why It Made the List: Breaking Bad has always been a brilliant program, but as Walter White’s journey gets darker and darker the series gets better and better. Bryan Cranston’s work is probably the best on TV, as White is a fascinating flawed character. The show’s fifth season is its last – split into two eight episode chunks. Really all of the top three shows on this list could be number one, but Breaking Bad seems to just be getting stronger. If you are not watching this show, you are really missing out on one of the greatest series of all-time. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Monday, August 13, 2012

TV Preview 2012/2013 – 25 Must-See Series, Part 4: 10-6

Rank: 10
Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery
Current Season: Fifth
Channel: Fox
Return Date: September 28, 2012
Plot Summary: FBI agent Olivia Dunham, and her team, investigate strange and paranormal occurrences and phenomena.
Why It Made the List: Fringe started out as sort of an almost procedural drama with character story arcs linking multiple episodes, but it has become a much more serialized series in the last two seasons. If you were to watch an episode of season one and then an episode of season four, you would be completely lost story wise and maybe even narrative structure wise (not just character wise, as would be the case with most procedurals). Network TV just does not offer good dramas anymore because they try to attract too board an audience and often play it far too safe with characters and situations (sadly, because that is what most people watch looking at the ratings). Fringe is the last great Network drama (and the only one to make this top 25 list – at least of the big 4: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), and season five is its last. The show has a great mix of action, mystery and dramatic elements along with wonderful characters making it the best sci-fi genre series right now.

Rank: 9
Genre: Comedy
Creator(s): Louis C.K.
Cast: Louis C.K.
Current Season: Third
Channel: FX
Return Date: June 28, 2012
Plot Summary: The series basically tackles Louis C.K.’s everyday life – his attempts to find love, taking care of his kids, his standup, and his misadventures
Why It Made the List: Many critics point to Louie as the best comedy on TV right now. In many ways, it is in the same vein as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ricky Gervais’s Extras – capitalizing on the awkward, strange and sort of sad situations that these characters find themselves in. It is often hilarious, but also oddly inviting on sort of a deeper intuitive way, as Louis C.K.’s exploits are very relatable to us everyday Joes. Fans of comedy sitcoms should check this out (though it is quite different than the average Network sitcom).

Rank: 8
Genre: Crime Drama
Creator(s): Graham Yost
Current Season: Fourth
Channel: FX
Return Date: January 2013
Plot Summary: U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens tries to make peace with his past when he is reassigned from Miami to his childhood home in Eastern Kentucky, which he ran away from as soon as he was able.
Why It Made the List: As a huge fan of westerns, I generally seek them out. Justified is a wonderful modern western. Raylan Givens is the standard old-school town sheriff type character from many of the classic westerns. He both fits in and is completely out of place on this show, according to the situation, which often finds him in trouble. The series seems to be getting better and better with each season as it continues to sort of straddle the line between being a procedural (case of the week) and a serialized drama (complete with each season having a big bad). Givens is also a great conflicted character, which only adds to effectiveness of the show’s stories and drama. For fans of westerns, this is the must-see series right now.

Rank: 7
Genre: Crime Period Drama
Creator(s): Terence Winter
Current Season: Third
Channel: HBO
Return Date: September 16, 2012
Plot Summary: The series follows Nucky Thompson, Atlantic City’s treasurer during its heyday in the 1920s. Thompson rules the town through both political means and organized crime, while rivals try to pull him down.
Why It Made the List: Boardwalk Empire (like most HBO dramas) has excellent production value, a brilliant cast and wonderful directors. What I particularly like about the series is that it blends fictional characters and real life people from the era (for example, one of the main characters is Al Capone before he became a Chicago crime boss), giving the series a historical through-line which allows it to play with and comment on events in American history. It also fills the void in television right now for a great gangster style crime drama (the series creator Terence Winter was a writer on The Sopranos). It is certainly well worth watching for fans of crime dramas (and character dramas for that matter, as Buscemi’s Thompson is one of the best on TV right now).

Rank: 6
Genre: Crime Drama/Mystery
Creator(s): Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
Current Season: Third
Channel: Masterpiece Theatre on PBS
Return Date: 2013 (Probably Spring)
Plot Summary: The series is a modern take on the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Why It Made the List: There is not a better mystery series on TV right now. CBS is even doing their own version called Elementary (because adapting British TV for American audiences is the craze right now). Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely fantastic and captivating as Holmes, completely dominating every scene. The episodes are well written (most of them being phenomenal), and are formatted a bit like individual films (each episode is ninety minutes). The format gives the writers the ability to tell expansive stories (and cases). If you like detective series, you need to be watching Sherlock.

Friday, August 10, 2012

TV Preview 2012/2013 – 25 Must-See Series, Part 3: 15-11

Rank: 15
Genre: Horror/Romance/Drama
Creator(s): Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec
Current Season: Fourth
Channel: The CW
Return Date: October 11, 2012
Plot Summary: Elena Gilbert, a typical high school girl, finds her life plunged into a world of monsters when she falls in love with a pair of vampire brothers who are both drawn to her as she is identical to their long lost sire.
Why It Made the List: The Vampire Diaries started out as a poorly done vampire love-triangle teen soap, drenched in fanciful overly dramatic romance and clunky plotlines about vampires trying to pass as high school students, but about halfway through season one the tone of the series changed to more of an action and adventure romance drama and the show has been brilliant and very compelling ever since. Yes, some of the romance beats are still overly dramatic, but the whole show is stylized to be that way (at its core, it is really a show for teenage girls like most stuff on the CW). However, the series has become very much like a reimagining of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has much of the same feel (though, considerably less silly and funny – this is much more serious tonally, which makes it different). As a huge fan of Buffy, I have grown to count this among my favorite TV series right now as each season get better and better thanks to very engrossing drama/storylines and great characters.

Rank: 14
Genre: Drama/Music
Creator(s): Eric Overmyer and David Simon
Current Season: Third
Channel: HBO
Return Date: September 23, 2012
Plot Summary: Following Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans pick up their lives and carry on.
Why It Made the List: Treme is firstly a great drama (from David Simon, who gave us The Wire and Generation Kill), but the show can also be appreciated and loved for its dedication and passionate enamor for the music of New Orleans. Every episode is full of music and performances. The characters are also fantastic and drawn across the spectrum of the city, so viewers really get a sense of the different parts of the city and separate yet connected lives of its citizens. While not very flashy, it is consistently very good and well worth checking out for both drama and music fans.

Rank: 13
Genre: Horror/Drama
Creator(s): Eric Kripke
Current Season: Eighth
Channel: The CW
Return Date: October 3, 2012
Plot Summary: Sam and Dean Winchester, trained as hunters by their father, battle monsters, ghosts and any other supernatural evil that threatens our world.
Why It Made the List: Eric Kripke originally had a five-season story arc for Supernatural, and stepped down as showrunner after season five. I wondered if the show could continue its excellence when Sera Gamble took over for a two-season story arc. Seasons six and seven were just as good as the first five. However having finished the arc, Gamble is stepping down and new showrunner Jeremy Carver is taking over for season eight. Carver has written for the show since 2007 and also brought Being Human to America. Much like The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural is sort of the heir apparent to style and genre championed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (The Vampire Diaries is like Buffy, and this is like Angel in a way). For fans of Horror, this is a wonderful action drama that is not afraid to be quirky and aesthetically interesting and tackle moral and deep questions about humanity, all while being very entertaining.

Rank: 12
Genre: Crime Drama
Creator(s): Kurt Sutter
Current Season: Fifth
Channel: FX
Return Date: September 11, 2012
Plot Summary: The series follows the exploits of the SAMCRO motorcycle gang as they try to hold onto their territory and keep the gang together amidst threats both externally and internally.
Why It Made the List: Sons of Anarchy, much like The Shield (which Kurt Sutter also worked on), is a show that one would imagine being filled with adult language, and yet it is so well written that the viewer never notices or even questions the way the characters speak (being in a PG-13 or less manner). There are a lot of good crime dramas on TV right now (this, Breaking Bad, Justified, Dexter to name a few) but this has different, more rugged feel to it. The characters on this series are not afraid of being complex and having a duality to them, and in many cases being unlikable at times. A drama about a motorcycle gang may not seem like something that would appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend it. This series is gritty and dirty and utter compelling.

Rank: 11
Genre: Crime Drama
Creator(s): James Manos, Jr.
Current Season: Seventh
Channel: Showtime
Return Date: September 30, 2012
Plot Summary: Dexter Morgan is a serial killer, but he only kills criminals that have slipped through the system and avoided justice. To hide his true self, Dexter tries to assimilate into normal society with a family and friends, but his dark secret slowly begins to seep to the surface.
Why It Made the List: Usually, Dexter would be higher on this list. Seasons one through three saw it as probably the best show on TV, but with seasons four and five, while still very good, the show has become reparative with each season arc sort of being the same. Season six was easily the weakest, and rumbling started that the show had outstayed its useful life. That said, season seven will be the second to last, as all involved have stated that the series will end after season eight in 2013. Season seven looks a lot better than six, based on the preview trailers I have seen, and I am excited for the guest stars this season being Ray Stevenson and Yvonne Stranhovski. Plus, the story has finally come to a very interesting and different place than the past seasons.