My TV Rankings, 17/2013
My rankings for the fifteen new episodes of television I watched from Sunday, April 21st to Saturday, April 27th:
1. Rectify “Always There” A
About half a decade ago, Mad Men and Breaking Bad established AMC as a home of great-quality television. Are Top of the Lake and Rectfiy doing the same for its sister network - the Sundance Channel? Based on Rectify's first episode, I'd say quite possibly yes. This was the best first episode of any show I've watched this season, with only The Americans coming close (and that had the advantage of being feature-length). The story of Daniel Holden, a rural Georgian released from death row on a technicality after over a decade away from society is one which is really intriguing and the way Rectify goes about telling it is exceptional: the pace is perfect, the cinematography is beautiful and the acting is phenomenal – Aden Young in particular is an absolute revelation as Daniel attempts to reconnect with the world in a manner which Young plays in a remarkably honest manner – there are no cheap laughs or easy stereotyping here. On top of that, the facts of the case and the environment Daniel returns to are both well sketched-out and mysterious at the same time, which brings this episode to new heights of flawlessness.
2. Mad Men “To Have and to Hold” A-
I loved this episode of Mad Men, and I’m very happy about that: I’ve been worried that the show might take a while to find itself this season (like in season five), but those worries have been banished with this brilliant episode, which really brought out the best in Mad Men. Joan’s problems here were particularly compelling, as we got to see Christina Hendricks get her first substantial episode this season, and the sense of dissatisfaction with her lot was something which Hendricks personified really well. The feeling that SCDP is doing pretty poorly, morale-wise, despite being in decent financial health is something which the episode brought across in a particularly great manner, with Dawn’s statement about everyone crying and drinking being a very stark and very effective image, something which was backed up by Harry’s toxic resentment at Joan for getting the partnership he feels he so deserves and Ken’s increasing frustration with his father-in-law’s difficult account and being shut out by Pete in the Heinz debacle. Don’s maltreatment of Megan was something which I found particularly powerful in this episode – she’s not doing anything wrong, but he’s a massive hypocrite and wants to make others share in his misery. This was an episode which just clicked throughout and I wouldn’t mind seeing more from the office in future.
3. Rectify “Sexual Peeling” A-
The second episode of Rectify was another powerful forty minutes of television, and although it wasn’t quite as good as the first episode, I still enjoyed it heavily. Daniel’s continued exploration of the world he’s re-entering had more really beautiful moments, like him just sitting down on the baseball diamond, a scene which had brilliantly lush cinematography, but then the episode pairs him off with his step-brother and I thought the scene where Daniel recounts his rape in prison is something which doesn’t quite work (although I think it might be intentionally jarring) as well as the rest of the episode, and largely accounts for the grade drop. But then you have the scene where he’s talking to his step-sister-in-law about the seasons and it goes back to being another peaceful, beautiful scene, with two people simply talking and getting to know each other (it has to be said that Adelaide Clemens was fantastic here). There were a multitude of elements in this episode (including Daniels’ sister’s thing with the lawyer and the Senator’s affair with the waitress), but they all seemed to work and the episode ended very well with an impressive montage. This is great stuff here.
For my take on The Americans, Happy Endings and more, read below:
4. The Americans “The Oath” A-
Oh, Martha – shouldn’t you realize that some things are too good to be true. This was a darkly funny episode of The Americans for everyone’s favorite FBI secretary. Between the cheesy marriage proposal, the name (Clark Herbert Westerfeldt – boring white guy alert!) and, of course, Elizabeth and Claudia posing as Clark’s family (they all have terrible taste in eyeware!), this particular plot made me laugh a lot (even more than Claudia playing Mrs. Pac-Man), even though what was happening was probably the cruelest thing Philip and Elizabeth had done in the entire season. Nina’s turn to become triple agent was something I wasn’t entirely sure about, but Annet Mahendru did fantastic work throughout this episode, particularly in the scene where she recited the oath, and I think she made the plot twist work overall. Her turn, combined with the decision of Weinberger’s housekeeper to confess about the clock, the bug in Agent Gaad’s office and the spy scientist getting hauled in for not paying child support, sets up the finale amazingly well and I’m really, really looking forward to Wednesday to see how all this will get resolved.
5. Happy Endings “Un-sabotagable” A-/B+
Max’s very…unkempt lifestyle has been a long-running source of humor on Happy Endings, but there’s only so many laughs you can consistently glean from shlubbiness, so I’m glad HE did a plot which centered around him getting his life in order, which had some great moments for both Adam Pally (who was really on form here) and Eliza Coupe (“You’re like the Oakland of gay guys – you’ve got a lot of bad areas”). Max going back to his unsanitary ways was also great and the reveal at the end that Chase actually had nothing to do with building Max’s life up again was very well done and Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s fantastic speech about destroying Max was pretty much perfect. The B-plot with Alex and Dave’s battle over her Groupon use (I mean, Groupon, seriously?) wasn’t as good as the main plot, but still had some very good moments, like Alex getting covered in puppies (how cute did Elisha Cuthbert look then?) and making unnecessary purchases like the timeshare in Tampa and a talking cotton candy machine. All-in-all, a pretty great episode.
6.Community “Basic Human Anatomy” B+
Jim Rash is an Oscar-winning writer, so its no surprise that Community enlisted one of its greatest assets to write an episode himself, and I have to say that this was definitely one of the better episodes of the season. I would have previously rolled my eyes at the body-swapping stuff as unnecessary, but I think this was just the sort of outlandish plot that season four required and I think it worked very well, on both a humorous and dramatic level, as Troy sought to find a relatively painless way to break up with Britta. Donald Glover was better than he’s been at any stage since season two here and I think he, Danny Pudi and Gillian Jacobs were a big part of what made this work so well. The second body swap, with Jeff and the Dean half-swapping was fantastically hilarious, and from the push-up scene to his scolding of Leonard, Rash was extremely impressive in his attempt at impersonating Jeff. I don’t think this episode was entirely *there*, but I still consider this to be a very well-written, very well-acted episode of Community.
7. Scandal “Seven-Fifty-Two” B+
After I saw the premise of this episode, I was a little worried about whether Scandal could pull this off (seeing as we’ve already had quite a bit of Huck psychodrama this season), but thanks to Guillermo Diaz’ fantastic performance, it largely did and this is another case of the show doing a wonderful job of fleshing out its supporting characters. The flashbacks to Huck’s past as a CIA torturer, combined with the present-day scenes of him having a breakdown at the OPA offices allowed Diaz to do some fantastic work, and he, Jasika Nicole and the ever-awesome George Newburn were simply electric here, with some extraordinarily painful scenes being wonderfully acted-out by the trio. The final flashback which explained the title of the episode was pretty much perfect. Its a pity the rest of the episode didn’t live up to that greatness. I’m tired of ‘Emo Fitz’ – sure, Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn are brilliant together, and the soundtrack makes me want to cry, but c’mon, just give us something tangible here, don’t drag this out Scandal. Luckily, Bellamy Young was on hand to give another awesome Mellie speech at the end, but it still didn’t prevent this episode from dropping down a few notches.
8. Elementary “Dead Man’s Switch” B+
I wasn’t particularly enamored with Elementary for most of this episode, but by the end I was fully on board with what the show was trying to do here. Sherlock and Joan’s attempt to destroy a blackmailing plot had some interesting twists and turns (I especially liked the concept of a ‘fail-safe’ and the way the business completely switched hands at one point), but what I enjoyed more was the exceptionally great character stuff involving Sherlock’s relationship with his sobriety. The return of his sober companion Alfredo was something I really enjoyed and his interactions with Sherlock provided multiple great moments for Ato Essandoh and Jonny Lee Miller. At this stage in the season, I think Miller has really mastered the character and he’s doing great work week-to-week here. Also, as the performance’s have gotten better, so has the rest of the show, which presents an excellent combination of intelligent crime-solving and great character work on a regular basis, exemplified by this very good episode.
9. The Big Bang Theory “The Closure Alternative” B+
Am I going to give anything less than a B+ to an episode of The Big Bang Theory which highlights Heroes' big fall in quality? Probably not, but even going beyond that excellent joke, this was a very enjoyable episode of TBBT, which presented some really memorable character moments in a well-done manner. Sheldon’s need to have closure in everything allowed for one of the greatest montages the show has ever done, with Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik combining well for such memorable moments as Amy leaving out “..the brave” in the national anthem and cutting off sentences before she completed them, with Sheldon’s reaction always generating a few good laughs. The Leonard/Penny B plot was probably the weakest of the episode, but was still reasonably good, with Penny’s realization that she should be happy with what she’s got, giving Kaley Cuoco some very good scenes. As for Raj’s subplot, I was initially quite worried, but Kunal Nayyar and Kate Micucci did really well in the dinner scene and the two clearing up the confusion over his effeminate nature was also well-done.
10. Hannibal “Coquilles” B+
Yeah, I’m kinda surprised I’m not getting more nightmares about this show. The ‘angels’ in this episode were particularly gruesome and the general tone of this resulted in an episode which I found particularly hard to watch in parts (Hugh Dancy makes Will Graham so sympathetic that scenes where he goes into the mind of the killer make me want to cry). I actually didn’t think this week’s ‘Will solves a murder’ plot was all that captivating, despite the gruesomely unique nature of the killer. It just felt…undercooked (and no, that wasn’t a deliberate choice of words). What I did really like was the episode’s focus on Jack Crawford. Laurence Fishburne, Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen and Fishburne’s real-life wife Gina Torres made every scene with the BAU boss into a work of art, and Fishburne’s performance in the scene with angel killer’s wife when he realizes his own wife has cancer was five times better than anything he did in his years on CSI. Hannibal wasn’t at the top of its game in this episode, but there were some incredible stuff here, and the show continues to disturb and entertain very well.
11. Veep “Signals” B+/B
If Veep sends Selina Meyer down to South Carolina to ‘listen to rural Americans’, you know you’re going to get a lot of Selina going Southern, a lot of South-bashing and a real or perceived insult which threatens to ruin the whole trip, and yeah, we got all three. This wasn’t the greatest episode of Veep ever made, and I think the show didn’t strike the right balance between SC and DC here, but there was still plenty of fun and most of the jokes landed very well. The unbelievable level of condescension hurled towards the South here was pretty incredible and by mixing in a fracas over the VP’s daughter, who was a big part of last season’s best episode, the show managed to keep the stuff in the South working well, with Jonah’s attempt to block the pig from the camera’s view being the highlight of the episode. A lot of the DC stuff (mainly Dan trying to cosy up to Gary Cole) didn’t work, but Amy and Dan in the hospital wasn’t actually that bad. Anna Chlumsky really rose above the material she got last year, and she’s helping to elevate the show again this year.
12. The Good Wife “A More Perfect Union” B
'Ham-fisted' is the expression I'd like to use to describe The Good Wife's attempts to connect the workers-rights storylines in this episode and set up the finale, and that's a pity, because there was plenty to enjoy here and I think this could have been a great episode had it been sketched-out a little better. Alicia's attempt to prevent some programmers getting fired by getting them to unionize had some very good moments, but in the grand scheme of things it didn't work too well, despite the presence of the ever-welcome John Michael Higgins and Mamie Gummer. The way it connected to the assistant's revolt at Lockhart/Gardner was the part of the episode I so heavily disliked (the bit with the Labor Department guy was particularly cringe-worthy), but that section of the episode was actually for the most part quite enjoyable – David Lee condescending to people is never-not enjoyable and I liked how alienated Alicia was by the whole process. The little Kalinda subplot was obviously there to help set-up the finale, but it had some good moments for Josh Charles and Archie Panjabi, and we also got to saw Robyn (yay!). Also there to set-up the finale was the vow renewal plot and Alicia's clash with her mother, which I quite liked and makes me look forward to tonight even more.
13. Awkward. “A Little Less Conversation” B
Chinese Fire Drill! (no offence). The endless switching of seats in Jake’s car (and the ensuing attempt to appease Ming and Henry) was hilariously well-done by Awkward and will be remembered for a while to come. The rest of the episode didn’t quite live up to that epic scene, but there was still plenty to enjoy. Jenna’s troubles with Matty had some good moments for Ashley Rickards and the attempted BFGFBFF double-date (did I get that right?), or at least the attempt to stage it, was also reasonably enjoyable. Sadie and Matty’s little phone conversation was also pretty fun, mainly because Molly Tarlov and Beau Mirchoff sync together very well (even on the phone). The best part of the episode, however (other than the Chinese Fire Drill) was Ming’s attempt to hide her relationship with Fred Wu, by employing the services of a ‘beard’ named Henry. Her consistent troubles with the Asian Mafia are an endless source of fun, and whether its facing off with the fearsome Becca or prompting Henry to grab her boob, Jessica Lu is fantastic throughout. A pretty decent episode overall.
14. Happy Endings “The Ballad of Lon Sarofsky” B
Although outclassed by the “Un-sabotagable” episode which followed, Friday’s first Happy Endings episode was by no means bad. Penny’s hilariously unhealthy relationship with the Car Czar (he knows what cars are) had lots of memorable highlights, with Rob Corddry bringing his trademark slime to full effect. I particularly enjoyed Jane and Brad’s attempt to ‘parent’ Penny out of her relationship, with Damon Wayans Jr.’s weird yelp-bellow (that’s what I’m calling it) elevating him to MVP of the episode (also awesome – his inability to not invite the Car Czar somewhere). Max entering the gay pageant was, at best, a pretty decent subplot. There was plenty of funny lines here (the bit about the ‘stiff competition’ getting excluded was something I didn’t initially pick up on, but which I now think should go into some sort of Hall of Fame), but overall there wasn’t that much of particularly enjoyable nature and I think a third subplot of some sort could have been worked in with some of the time it used up.
15. Parks and Recreation “The Closure Alternative” B/B-
Hmmm, looking back, I think this was probably the weakest episode of Parks and Recreation this season. Not that it was terrible, but a lot of “The Closure Alternative” just felt forced and only half as funny as it’d normally be. Ron and Leslie clashing over the mini-golf course could have created a ton of awesome jokes and there were quite a few of those here (also, Jamm was not-terrible for the second appearance in a row), but mainly it just served to have them restate their views to each other, because….I honestly don’t know why: we know Leslie Knope loves public services and Ron Swanson hates them – that’s well-established as fundamental to these characters worldview, so why Parks felt the need to restate that here without much funny to back it up is pretty baffling to me. The subplots were slightly more successful, especially Andy’s – which was basically a funny exercise in him getting riled up over something (MouseRat performing without him), which was entirely his fault and then getting to a solution while still doing funny stuff. Chris Pratt’s cry-roar during Andy’s swan-song was epic. Ann and Tom’s troubles with Mona-Lisa weren’t that great, but the plot was worth it for Tom reciting the list of things Mona-Lisa did after they left the club. A disappointing episode overall, but there was still enough to enjoy here.
OK, Good Wife and The Americans finale this week, stay tuned!