We've all experienced that agonizing moment when you have to decide whether to delete the latest episodes of True Blood or The Walking Dead, in order to record the season finale of Boardwalk Empire. It's a horrible position to find yourself in, but things aren't about to get any easier. American TV shows are taking over the world, and A-list movie stars are jumping on the bandwagon in favour of strong character arcs, the chance to explore new mediums, and of course, the comfort and security of a regular pay check.
You can check out my TV past in part one just here. In part two we'll be exploring ten of the twenty shows that are currently rocking my world. A lot of shows are missing, of course. I have yet to sample the delights of Justified, Banshee and Entourage. Besides, there are so many ways to catch up with the latest drama, the need to tune in every week has become a thing of the past. It may have resulted in a need to add spoiler alerts to our lunchtime discussions at work, but at least we're free to discover shows at our own pace. Talking of which...
Top 20: The Present
20/ Under the Dome
In all honesty, Under the Dome has failed to set my world on fire thus far. Under the Dome is blessed with an intriguing concept - a mysterious invisible dome traps a community inside as the rest of the world looks on - but has failed to captivate me in the way that it should. Based on a Stephen King novel, Brian K. Vaughan's lightweight creation feels too mechanical and small in scope, from the generic characters to the scenario-of-the-week format that plagues one too many TV shows. Much like the residents of Chester Mill, there are signs of promise struggling to break free, but I'd be surprised if the show wasn't cancelled before the end of season two.
Grimm is a police procedural fantasy television drama inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales, created by the makers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Season four is currently airing in both America and the UK but I've yet to start season two. Season one, however, was a lot of fun. The characters are a little older than their counterparts, but Grimm shares a lot of similarities with its siblings, even if the demonic CGI effects take a little getting used to. The first series borrows heavily from the fairytales on which it's based and there's fun to be had watching the stories play out with a contemporary spin. The characters haven't won me over entirely but the show definitely has legs, and the growing mythology should allow for plenty of depth. I'll be catching up with season two in the near future, that's if the other 19 shows on the list don't mind.
18/ Bates Motel
A contemporary spin of Psycho sounds like the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, but there's something about Bates Motel that warrants attention. Perhaps it's the casting of Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. Highmore nails the awkward, twitchy Bates persona, and Vera Farmiga is no less impressive as Mother, despite some yo-yoing character traits. The show does have its problems, issues that the writers will have to eradicate if they're to prevent us from going 'a little mad sometimes'.
Norman Bates is far too popular with the ladies of White Pine Bay and who would've thought that Norma would be so damn hot? No wonder Norman has mother issues. There are signs that the writers don't know what to do with this, and seeing as we already know where the story is going, they will do well to keep the show from losing its edge. However, season one could've and should've been a lot less appealing. All in all, Mother isn't quite herself today, but she'll certainly do for now.
17/ Person of Interest
Person of Interest revolves around a former CIA officer (Jim Caviezel) recruited by a mysterious billionaire (Michael Emerson) to prevent violent crimes in New York City. It has a unique hook, one that could've proved a little too gimmicky, but thankfully Person of Interest is a fast-paced, action-packed drama series that holds your attention throughout. I've still not convinced that Caviezel is the strongest of leads, but fortunately for fans of the series, John Reese isn't asked to show much emotion, which should suit Caviezel just fine. Emerson however, is as captivating here as he was in Lost. Season three is currently airing in America, with the U.K. playing catch-up on season two. Season one showed signs of great promise though. The case-of-the-week format could have grown tiresome, but the mystery of the machine's origin, coupled with Emerson's shady past, provide a spark of longevity that should prevent us from losing interest.
16/ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Expectation is a bitch. Of all the shows that started this year, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was by far the most anticipated. Not only is it a continuation of the Avengers universe, a place we all like to call home, but it also marks the return to small screen peril for Joss Whedon. Buffy and Angel were big hits for Joss, but the shows that followed - Firefly and Dollhouse - struggled to find both an audience and a patient TV network.
There's a lot of pressure on S.H.I.E.L.D. so it's easy to see why people have been disappointed by early episodes. However, the writing is smart, relevant and funny, and the large ensemble - Whedon wouldn't have it any other way - is mostly engaging. Particularly Sky (Chloe Bennett) and her foxy wardrobe. Back-story. I mean back-story. There's a lot of potential here so let's hope the show gets the chance it deserves. Besides, even the chosen one didn't have Samuel L. Jackson to fall back on. Will the curse of Whedon strikes again? It's already lasted longer than Firefly, but we won't go there just yet. I'm still angry.
It was only a matter of time before the superhero bandwagon rolled onto our TV screens. Arrow isn't the only small screen adventure for spandex loving crime-fighters, but it is the first to capitalise on the big screen success of The Avengers. Arrow is based on the fictional superhero Green Arrow, a costumed crime-fighter who appears in comic books published by DC Comics.
Which means we can expect to see the occasional big name cameo in episodes to come; The Flash is already finding his feet in series two. At first glance Arrow comes on like a cross between The O.C. and Batman, complete with moody protagonist and glossy exterior. Further probing reveals a darker, more adult friendly tone. Some of the characters are superficial, and the soap opera trimmings do clash with the potent violence at times, but Arrow remains a rollercoaster ride of high adventure. Blessed with solid production values, great action choreography and of course, Felicity Smoak, who puts the 'S' in Supergirl.
14/ Ray Donovan
It's early days for Showtime's coolest crime drama, but evidence suggests that they may have something special on their hands. The show takes place in Los Angeles, where Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) is a "fixer" for the law firm Goldman & Drexler, which represents the rich and famous. Ray experiences his own problems when his father, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight), is unexpectedly released from prison and FBI agents try to bring them down.
Voight is exceptional, as is Schreiber, and Ray Donovan has garnered comparisons to hit show The Sopranos. High praise indeed. Both seasons are compulsive viewing; fearless, rewarding and unafraid of exploring the vicious underbelly of L.A. life. The characters are fascinating, each and every one of them, and the themes of family, resentment, loyalty and fear kept me glued to my TV screen. It'll be interesting to see where they go from here, because both season one and season two tied things up pretty nicely. There are several roads the writers can go down, this is L.A. after all, and with Voight and Schreiber leading the charge, we'll be with them every step of the way.
The first season of Homeland - which stars Claire Danes as a C.I.A. officer with bipolar disorder, and Damian Lewis as a United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper who was held captive by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war, and may or may not have been "turned" by the enemy - is one of the most thrilling TV experiences of all time. The twists, turns and performances were fantastic, and the 'is he/isn't he?' debate kept us on tenterhooks throughout.
Season two wasn't as compulsive to me, and I do wonder whether they should have called it a day after the first season wrapped, but there was more than enough to keep me infused. Claire Danes in particular, who was difficult to watch at times as she struggled to cope with her mental illness, career and so called (love) life. Both Lewis and Mandy Patinkin - as Carrie's mentor Saul - were also strong, but despite moments of high tension and a devastating climax, the longer the series went on the more I felt it lost its way. Season three has failed to reignite our interest, and it's becoming increasingly obvious that there might be a loose wire. Maybe it's time to call it a day? Oh wait, Season four is airing now. Is anybody still watching?
12/ The Following
The Following centres on former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and his attempts to recapture serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) following the latter's escape from prison. Hardy soon discovers that the charismatic Carroll has surrounded himself with a group of like-minded individuals (which he met while teaching and while in prison), and turned them into a cult of fanatical killers. Graphically violent and disturbing at times, The Following was created by horror maestro Kevin Williamson (Scream).
There are times when implausibility rears its ugly head, but this is, after all, a well-orchestrated horror series, so we'll forgive the writers for the occasional dip into genre convention. Like all good horror yarns it's also scary, and gratuitous violence helps stem the tide of wayward plotting. Bacon and Purefoy are a joy to watch, and it's their 'blossoming' relationship that will keep me coming back for more. Season two put me off book stores for life. Like I needed any excuse to wait for the movie adaptation...
Based on characters created by Thomas Harris in the novel Red Dragon, Hannibal hopes to shed some light (and plenty of darkness) on the relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and FBI investigator Will Graham. Fuller intends to make seven seasons of the crime thriller, with the first three taking place before the events of Red Dragon. Seasons four, five and six will cover the books in the series, and season seven will bring Hannibal's story to a satisfactory conclusion.
That might seem like a long way off, but if the quality of the first season is anything to go by, Hannibal has a long and illustrious future on small screen TV. Mikkelson (Lecter) is electrifying, Dancy (Graham) is enigmatic, and together they embark on a dark and disturbing journey. There's fun to be had in the way that Lecter manipulates his victims, not least Graham, who's struggling to connect the pieces of his own fragmented mind, let alone the latest serial killings. Hannibal does get lost in the darkness at times, but for the most part this is a haunting, surreal nightmare with twisted visuals and gruesome imagery. If nothing else, the amount of serial killers loose in the United States will surprise you. Which should ensure the lambs are screaming for some time to come. AW