When good shows disappoint

They are coming...and they are a total bummer.
They are coming…and they are a total bummer.

This is a tough post to write, because it’s a critique of two shows that I used to love. And while I still tune in to these shows, they just aren’t what they used to be.

First, Fringe. When Fringe started out, it was brilliant. In the tradition of The X-Files, Fringe was a clever mix of monster-of-the-week and recurring mythology. Even when the show made the leap of introducing an alternate universe, I was right there with it. And where many shows falter, it proved to be genius in bringing together its two main characters, Peter and Olivia.

But let’s face it, Fringe is the kind of show that doesn’t reach a wide audience. Although excellent, it is just too heavy for the mainstream viewer. So each year, I was surprised when it was renewed. And last year, I think the show’s creators were even a bit surprised, as the season finale would have made a perfect series ending.

Alas, the show was renewed, and my worst fears for it have come to pass. The one-off episode focused on the Observers from last year paved the way for this season. And instead of that brilliant mix of monster-of-the-week and mythology, it has become a bleak, dystopian mini-series. Each episode drags on, and the characters lack their original appeal. Frankly, if it weren’t in the final few episodes, I’m not sure I would continue watching.

I'm not drinking the Bones Kool-Aid.
I’m not drinking the Bones Kool-Aid.

Next, Bones. Now, you probably think I’m upset about Bones and Booth as a couple (the dreaded Moonlighting curse). But that’s not my gripe with the show. I do think the way Bones and Booth came together could have been handled better, but I’m over it. My real problem with the show is the lack of focus and the degradation of the characters. Bones basically comes across as a robot – with such lines (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) as “He is upset because this is a dead child and he has a little boy” and “I get it, it’s funny because you wouldn’t put a murder in a children’s book.” Seriously? Bones is a novelist and a mother, and she seemingly has no emotional depth. In years past, she struggled with empathy, but she seemed to be on a path to discovering herself. She never seemed so wooden as she does now. And Booth is about as interesting as a yard tool at Sears.

This show was at its peak during the long-term story arc of the Gravedigger. Now, it just seems to meander from episode to episode with no real direction. And don’t even get me started on the 9/11 episode, which was so flawed on so many levels.

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on these points. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still tuning in, so there are obviously some redeeming qualities to Fringe and Bones. But I’d like to see them regain their former glory.

10 girl crushes: My favorite ladies of TV

I just love the wit and wisdom of Dr. Temperance Brennan.

                                                                         

On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about Bones. That got me thinking about Dr. Brennan, and how much I love her character, which got me thinking about some of the other cool ladies on TV right now.

My co-blogger, Mark, has said that we are in a Golden Age of TV. I tend to agree – there are so many good things to watch right now. Part of the appeal of many of the shows I watch is the strong leading lady. It used to be that such strong women on TV were few and far between. Of course, the ‘90s gave us Dana Scully and Buffy Summers, two monoliths of TV womanhood. But to my knowledge there has never been a time when so many women dominated the tube. And the great thing about these leading ladies is that they are such diverse characters – gone are the days of the token strong-willed woman trying to eke out a living among the boys. Here are some ladies of note.

  • Dr. Temperance Brennan (aka Bones, of Bones) – Leader of squints and lover of guns, she’s a highly objective scientist who blows away the stereotype of the overly emotional woman.
  • Annie Walker (of Covert Affairs) – This rookie CIA agent doesn’t need a partner to take down the bad guys in her way. She’s spunky and fresh, not your typical tough girl, and she’s a one-woman wolf pack.
  • Fiona Glenanne (of Burn Notice) – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You build bombs. You rescue boys. You kill bad guys. You have impeccable style. You have such a sharp sense of humor.  And I love the way you say, “Shall we shoot them?”
  • Debra Morgan (of Dexter) – She’s hot mess when it comes to the opposite sex, and she’s got a mouth like a sailor. In seasons past, her vulnerability bordered on annoying, but this year she has really come into her own.
  • Liz Lemon (of 30 Rock) – LL is the funniest woman on TV, simply put. She’s a proud nerd who’s not afraid to admit to wearing a bathing suit as underwear. Need I say more?
  • Margene Heffman, Nicki Grant and Barb Henrickson (of Big Love) – Three very different women (who I am counting as one, polygamist girl crush), married to one man. In four seasons, each has shown strength of character and vulnerability. The complexities of their relationships to one another go beyond the challenges of polygamy, and delve into the differences between each one’s ideas of what it means to be a woman, wife and mother.
  • Caroline Forbes (of Vampire Diaries) – Not the obvious choice from this show (that would be the main star, Elena), but I really like Caroline. And what’s more, I think she’s a good example for young ladies. Last year, she was shallow and mean. But over time, her character grew (and changed into a vampire) into a much deeper person capable of true friendship, love and compassion. This season, she has weathered her change with grace, and even stepped up to the plate to help Tyler handle his own change. She’s a nice example of how a young woman can transcend the cliques, gossip and stereotyping of high school.
  • Olivia Dunham (of Fringe) ­ – Olivia is a smart agent who follows her instincts. She not only solves mysteries in our world, she crosses to other universes as well. She is a fascinating character, capable of great emotional depth as well as detachment.   
  • Myka Bering (of Warehouse 13) – Myka left her gig with the Warehouse at the end of last season following the debacle with H.G. Wells. But if you ask me, the empathy she showed for H.G.’s loss added a new dimension to her previously businesslike demeanor. But don’t get me wrong – I have always appreciated her focus on being the best agent she can be, and putting that before her personal feelings.
  • Pam Swynford De Beaufort (of True Blood) – Again, not the obvious choice, which would be Sookie Stackhouse. However, I just love Pam. Classy and ruthless, she is equally commanding in the pleather Fangtasia costumes as she is in her two-piece pink suits.

Ode to Netflix

While most of my posts up to this point have focused on what I watch on TV, I haven’t taken any time to wax poetic on how I watch TV. Mark and I have both praised the DVR, but for me Netflix trumps the DVR as the most innovative way to watch TV.

Specifically, I’m talking about the Netflix Instant Watch service, which comes with the mail plans. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Netflix Instant Watch allows you to stream movies and TV shows from the Internet to your TV. There are a variety of devices you can use – Roku box (that’s what we have), Nintendo Wii, X-box, and others. You can also stream on your computer.

The Instant Watch catalog is impressive – with tens of thousands of movie choices and past seasons of shows from nearly all the major networks. In fact, there have been numerous shows that I started watching on Netflix. Given my rave reviews of Lost, you would probably assume I’ve been watching from day one, but I actually watched the first five seasons from December 2009 to February 2010. Warning: this can become quite addictive and often results in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like state that your friends and family may assume is related to drug use. I also started watching The Office, Dexter, The Tudors and 30 Rock on Netflix.

Of course, for those shows not available on the Instant Watch, there is always the old-school, DVD-in-the-mail option. We have the three-movie-at-a-time plan, and have watched several great shows this way including Deadwood and The X-Files. Right now, I’m catching up with Big Love through the mail. Sometime I’ll talk about these shows.

What prompted this Ode to Netflix? Twas the night before last, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for my two cats. My husband in his boxers, and I in my PJs, had just settled down to watch nothing on TV. When I pulled up the Instant queue and realized The X-Files was added, I arose from my couch and shouted “Yippee!” I browsed to see what else was added, when what to my wondering eyes should appear – Bones, 24 and Arrested Development. I spoke not a word, just frantically clicked “Add.” And as the night waned, I watched 24 with bloodshot, tired eyes. As I dragged myself to bed at an all-too-late hour, I arose from the couch and said with a tired stammer, “Happy viewing to all and to all a good Netflix night!”