By Erik Grove
Welcome to Erik's Weekly Watch, the all-new, all-TV column for Bleeding Cool! Each week you can expect a variety of TV-centric awesome! Coming up soon, I'll be diving headfirst into the fall TV season (and there might be a special Doctor Who edition coming even sooner) but this week I'm starting things off with some summer TV picks.
It used to be that summer was the dead season on television. Popular shows ran in repeats so that you could catch up on what you might have missed during the regular season and the rare shows launched in summer were usually so bad they were unwatchable. That's changed so much in recent years that while the biggest marquee shows still launch in the fall of winter, there are plenty of cable and alternative programming to keep even discerning couch potatoes happily tuned in. It will be another month or so before the new TV season is in full swing but if you want to watch something between now and then, there are plenty of options and I'm going to put a spotlight on them here.
Orange is the New Black
Back in June the event of the summer TV season kicked off but you wouldn't have found it on cable. Jenji Kohan and the now familiar cast of Orange is the New Black returned just before the summer solstice for a second season of the breakout hit Netflix original and while expectations were higher and the pressure was greater, the cast and crew were more than up to the task. Featuring Lorraine Toussaint in a vivid and instantly-classic villainous turn as Yvonne Parker, a seasoned and conniving old rival of Kate Mulgrew's "Red", the season expanded beyond main character Piper Chapman to develop and explore the more complicated issues of race, age and economics in prison. Where the first season solidly revolved around Taylor Schilling and her star-making turn as Chapman, this second season smartly rounded out the cast and storyline making Schilling part of an impressive ensemble. It's rare to find such smart writing on television that can move seamlessly from comic to tragic but to do so featuring a cast of primarily women of different races, ages and backgrounds is unprecedented. Netflix has had a strong track record with their original programming but Orange is the New Black is something extra special: a show about women that's not just for women.
Nathan for You
Also returning for a second season this summer is a show on Comedy Central many of you have probably never heard of that lambasts reality shows with style and delightful subversion called Nathan for You. Co-created by and hosted by Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder, the show features Fielder helping to "rescue" small businesses with ridiculous and outlandish gimmicks that confront the business owners and their customers with a wry guerrilla comedy that evokes Sasha Baron Cohen at his best. I became familiar with the show through one of its most successful viral media plots – the creation of "parody art" Dumb Starbucks in Los Angeles. From Dumb Starbucks I quickly caught up on the show and I'm glad that I did. Reality-based shock comedy can get old and tired quickly but Fielder and Nathan for You haven't come anywhere near to wearing out their welcome yet.
I need to get this out of the way before talking about FX's Guillermo Del Toro-infused modern vampire deconstruction tale, the Strain – if there's a club for people to get together and make fun of Corey Stoll's wig in this show, please contact me immediately. If not, I'm forming that club and we're going to meet on Wednesdays and we're going to have pie and we're going to make that hairpiece cry. Stoll's really bad fake hair aside, this show has kept my attention for several weeks now and shows some real promise. It's slow moving and moody and acts as an ironic counterpoint to the last season of HBO's popular but fading vampire soap opera True Blood. If you like your vampires more vicious and ugly than bedroom-eyed and sparkly, this show seems to have you covered.
I've only watched the premier of Cinemax's newest original show the Knick starring Clive Owen but it has a lot of promise not the least of which is delivered by veteran filmmaker Steve Soderbergh who directed all of the inaugural season's first 10 episodes. The premise itself, a medical procedural set in turn of the 20th century New York City, a kind of Downton Abbey meets House, M.D., is nothing exceptional but Soderbergh and Owen bring gravitas and intensity to every scene. Owen brings the arrogant but brilliant and tormented Dr. Thackery to life with charisma and certainty while Soderbergh seems rejuvenated by his new television playground and brings his expert sensibility and storytelling in full glorious force. Every scene has weight and intensity in the pilot and I'm very curious to see where the show goes next.
When Veena Sud adapted the popular Danish show Forbrydelsen as The Killing for American audiences on AMC in spring 2011, I turned in for the pilot and I was blown away by the tremendous potential in the cast, story and the setting. Mirielle Enos and Joel Kinnaman had instant chemistry and seemed unique in a sea of repetitive police procedurals. I enjoyed the first season and was less incensed by the last minute cliffhanger that many audience members (and critics) felt was a betrayal of the show's premise. I found things to like about the second season but where the show really found new life and stepped up for me was in the third season when the show shifted from the Rosie Larsen storyline that ultimately suffocated the first two seasons to a new mystery.
The third season of the Killing was rich with spectacular performances and gut-wrenching plot twists but the audience never returned and the show was cancelled after a massive cliffhanger. Enter contemporary TV white knight Netflix where the show found new life with a streaming binge-watching audience and earned a fourth and final season that premier on the first of this month. This final season picks up right where the third ended with no real recap for new viewers but if you haven't watched at least the third season it's worth catching up before you watch the show in the final stretch. Gritty and unrelentingly grim, this finale should satisfy new and old fans of the series.
That's it for this week, folks! Keep watching and keep coming back.
Erik Grove is a writer living in Portland, OR but his dog, Bruiser, prefers it when he watches a little TV with a side of dog on the lap. You can read his thoughts on TV and comics and the best kinds of nachos in all kinds of things here on Bleeding Cool or you can read his blog and the stories he writes when he's not petting his dog at www.erikgrove.com. You'll also probably see far too many photos of the dog on Twitter @ErikGrove.