Thursday, April 11, 2013

Season Premieres and Season Finale(s) : Walking, Mad Men, and Shameless

There are no spoilers here, unless, you don't want to know if someone didn't die in the Walking Dead.  That's it.  We good.  Let's go!

After the season 3 finale of The Walking Dead it appears one of my favorite programs has reached a crossroads.  Will it go the route of Dexter, or Breaking Bad?
Welcome to the Prison.
This finale was was the first time I felt that the show didn’t know what it was.  And that’s probably almost entirely due to the fact that they are now on their third showrunner in as many years.  Unfortunately Fortunately, it is also experiencing it's highest ratings.  So will it be a show like Dexter that while the ratings soared, creatively the show disappointed, or will it be a show like Breaking Bad that's only gotten better and thus justified the higher ratings?  The second half seemed to promise some kind of head on collision between the Governor and Rick, and that never really materialized.  What we got was a finale that seemed more like the writers room kicking the proverbial can down the road to season four.  Almost as if AMC said, "you know what, let’s punt and figure it out over the summer."  I didn’t read the comics so I’m not sure what the Governor's fate is, but it just seemed a little anticlimactic to let him slide.  It felt like the show got taken over by network types ("suits" as Billy Walsh would say) who championed this idea of, "oh no, this is *our* villain, you can’t get rid of him."  Honestly, I’m ok with The Walking Dead not being an action driven type of story.  One of the standout episodes of the season series was "Clear," and that focused on a three character side mission and didn’t deal with the governor (at least directly) at all.  It dealt with people trying to survive a Zombie apocalypse and how that changes you.  So if that’s the reason Glen Mazara left, because he didn't want to keep a character that no longer served the story, then I’m 100% team Mazzara.  The Walking Dead, much like it's characters, is searching for answers...answers it will probably never find.  Not as long as the ratings continue to soar.
I feel like I'd fit in with this family.
Shameless on the other hand delivered what was probably the most impressive seasons of television I’ve seen all year.  (One of the best ever.)  Granted it’s early, and Breaking Bad’s second half of season five will almost certainly supplant this by the end of August.  Regardless, Shameless crushed it.  This needs to be acknowledged.   It’s a sneaky good show.  What I love about Shameless is that not a lot of people have figured it out.  It’s on the same channel as Homeland, a superior show (being consistent season to season), with superior stories, more developed characters, but nowhere near the same degree of hype.  This is almost perfect.  It’s right before a show gets too popular and puts the showrunner in the awkward position of writing to stay on the air *Looking at you True Blood, Dexter, and the aforementioned Homeland.*  I’m almost hoping that no one figures it out, at least not until there are a few more seasons in the can.  So what made this season particularly enjoyable?  Well for starters, it felt like every story that had been brought up over the twelve episodes coalesced perfectly into one whole.  Everything made sense and everything was earned.  (My favorite moment was probably Carl's last scene with Frank)  At the end of the day I believe that Frank needs to change, and I believe that they love him despite the fact that he’s a destructive force.  Who knows what will happen next season, because all of our characters were seemingly given a final sendoff.  I have to agree with Alan Sepinwall that it almost felt like a series finale, and if the show was cancelled (which it’s already been renewed for season 4) I wouldn’t be upset because "Survival of the Fittest" is how a series is supposed to end.

Jessica Pare. Umm, what was I saying?
Last, but certainly not least, we arrive at Mad Men's Season premiere..."Doorways."  I thought it was fantastic.  It wasn't "The Suitcase," my favorite episode of the series, but it was very good.  What kills me is year after year how many Mad Men "fans" complain that nothing happens.  Well first of all, it's not an action show.  Don isn't trying to stop an asteroid from crashing into earth, so sorry.  It's a show that's so much more nuanced.  The show is all about the layers, and if you'll take a step back and just enjoy these characters, it's the most enthralling form of television you'll find.  It took a second look, but when you watch all the doorways the characters go through, and reflect on the doorways they've been through, it's really an incredible episode.  Even this season premiere "Doorways" is itself a doorway.  We're standing at the beginning of this 12 episode journey and we're going to come out alongside these characters on the other side.  It's one of those shows that you only get out of it as much as you put in.  If you sit there and say, " man, nothing happened," well then 1.  Great, I don't want you to watch Mad Men, and 2.  Why were you watching a season 6 episode in the first place?  My point is, the Mad Men season premiere "Doorways" is perfect because ironically enough it's not about getting from point A to point B.  It's about watching these characters change.  It's about watching what makes them want to change, learning what drives them, and seeing how they adapt.  The Mad Men premiere convinced me that the show is confidently headed in a certain direction, and I can't wait to see where this doorway leads.

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