The head of FX made headlines awhile back by complaining that there’s too much TV, an odd lament for the head of a TV channel. Of course his point was that, thanks to proliferating channels, there is too much competition, so that the economics of the business may soon make no sense. Once there were three networks, then a couple pay channels, then a half a dozen cable channels started making original content and now anyone from Amazon to a kid with a camera and an adorable cat can produce his own series and stream it. Soon there will be one show per person.
The FX guy has got a point, though there may also be some sour grapes involved. FX seems to have nothing as good as “Damages,” “Justified,” “Terriers,” or “The Shield” in the pipeline. Still, it is getting hard to keep up with the burgeoning content. Often, by the time word of mouth alerts you to something up your alley, you are a season or two behind and have to binge watch to catch up. Still, the network executive’s loss in revenue is the viewers gain in variety.
Here are a few shows that have captured my attention in the past few months. Among the many that didn’t hook me were “The Bastard Executioner,” “Scream Queens,” “Supergirl,” “Blindspot,” “Scorpion” and “Code Black.”
“Homeland” and “Elementary” continue to hold my attention and offer irresistible characters, especially Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson. And speaking of Saul, I am also sufficiently bemused by Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean to hang in a little longer with the adventures of a hapless attorney in “Better Call Saul.”
On Syfy, I am tepidly still involved with “Helix” and slightly more excited about another season’s worth of “12 Monkeys.” And I have been waiting impatiently for tonight’s premiere of a six-hour adaptation of the classic Arthur C. Clarke novel, “Childhood’s End.” One of the great sci-fi notions, it is hard to believe they can pull it off, but I will be glued to the screen.
Amazon has provided two surprisingly good shows so far. “Bosch,” from the Michael Connolly’s series of L.A. detective novels, has Titus Welliver as the world-weary title character who is perpetually crosswise with the suits. Welliver’s name may be unfamiliar, but you know his character actor’s face from dozens of roles. He’s very good in this.
“The Man in the High Castle,” from the Philip K. Dick novel, is set in an alternate history 1960s. The United States has lost World War II and is partitioned between a Japanese-ruled West Coast and an East coast under the Nazi heel. A sort of Vichy, France neutral zone occupies the Rocky Mountain States. The plot concerns an underground resistance allegedly run by the mysterious man in the high castle. The first season had lots of atmosphere and dread, but moved rather slowly and has been rather short on explanation. After ten episodes I ought to know more than when I started. It’s also not good when the leads we are supposed to care about are rather bland while the most compelling character is Rufus Sewell’s Nazi.
The second seasons of the promisingly creepy “The Leftovers” and a French production, “The Returned,” were disappointing for the same reason. We are no closer to knowing why a percentage of people worldwide vanished one day in the former or why a few people are coming back from the dead in the latter. In both cases, the worry is that the series may be like “Lost” which jollied viewers along for years without ever really explaining the central mystery satisfactorily.
I have already abandoned ship on “The Returned” and may have to do the same with “The Leftovers” despite wonderfully soulful performances from Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux. It is a bad sign when the season cliffhanger is one main character saying, “I have no idea what’s going on,” and a second replying, “Me either.”
An ending was not a problem with the wonderful ten-part miniseries “The White Queen” about Plantagenets behaving badly. The star from start to finish is the electrifying Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodhill, the consort to King Edward IV. She is the actress who stole the latest Mission Impossible movie from Shorty Cruise. Here she marries for love, and to protect her family which finds itself on the wrong side of the War of the Roses.
Far from being safe, she finds herself in a pit of vipers including the King’s mother, his brother who becomes Richard III after killing her sons, and the ruthless Margaret Beaumont, the matriarch of the competing House of Tudor. The naïve White Queen is forced to toughen up to survive and prevail, as she does when her daughter marries the future Henry VII and becomes the mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I.
Best for last. I came late to “Orphan Black” and have had to catch-up with three seasons of the show to be ready for new episodes in 2016. The mind-bending dramedy concerns a bunch of female clones raised separately, and unaware of each other’s existence. When they do find out, they form a sisterly bond and try to unravel the dark forces behind the science experiment that create them. Tatiana Maslany, who plays a dozen or more clones, is a wonder to behold.
She makes each of the clones is a separate individual, a street smart con artist, a cop, a microbiologist, a Ukrainian assassin, a soccer mom, an untrustworthy biotech executive. The plot alternates absurdist comedy, edge of seat peril and humane sentiment. If there were any justice in acting awards, Maslany would have won a shelf of them by now. What are you waiting for? Time to binge on this excellent Canadian production that appears on BBC America and is available for streaming.