I enjoy stories in any form, whether I’m reading or watching them. Unfortunately for anyone who is within hearing distance of my rants, I tend to have very strong opinions about, well, all the stories I consume. And, for some reason, television tends to bring out my strongest opinions.
I’m taking a page from my fellow blogger, Sue at Book by Book, with a Television Tuesday post. I won’t be posting every week, but my goal is to have such a post up the first Tuesday of each month. Some times it will be a review, sometimes it will be a rant. We’ll just have to play it by ear.
Most of the shows I truly enjoy are streaming shows (I still maintain that The Crown is the show that comes closest to perfection). However, We’re six weeks into the new broadcast season and I think I have my non-streaming shows set. What made the cut? What was cut? Well, let me tell you…
The Unicorn (CBS) – I’m actually not a huge fan of sitcoms (despite the fact that a few are shared in this post). More often than not, I lose interest within the first couple of months. This one, however, is different. The story centers around Wade, a single dad of two girls whose wife died a year prior to the beginning of the show. Surrounding him are his caring, albeit a boundary-challenged friends. After watching Wade not cope for a year, they decide to step in to get him back into the world, dating and otherwise.
There is a fair amount of dating comedy here, but that is not what makes this show so wonderful. Two elements stand out to me. One is the pure love that Wade has for his daughters, both of whom are also dealing with the loss of their mother. Frequently, the dad and daughter dynamic is played for laughs, but here it is all heart. The emotions Wade experiences as he watches one of his daughters take a risk in the “No Small Parts” episode seems almost tangible. This, of course, is a result of not only top-notch writing, but also remarkable acting from both the adults and the younger actors.
The second element that just works for me is Wade’s circle of friends. The whole “found family” concept of friends up in each other’s business is not new to television and, frankly, is rarely successful (keep that in mind as you read later in this post). But with this show it is different. First of all, there is a reason why Wade’s friends are so involved in his life–they’ve seen that he’s struggling and for his and his daughters’ sake, they want to help. But even beyond that there is this thing that Wade has with his friends that one just does not see in television shows–boundaries. As much as this show is about Wade finding his way in the world without his wife, it is also about him defining his own role and that means setting limits with his friends. And, dear reader, it works. I think if more comedy writers would dig deep, like the writers of this show, I’d be more of a sitcom fan.
A priest in training and a couple of skeptics go out miracle hunting…sounds like a show I’ve seen before (I can think of one non-fiction show I’ve seen with this premise). But this one is done by the team behind The Good Wife (which I liked well enough) and The Good Fight (which I simply adore), so I decided to give it a try.
And it’s enjoyable–and a little creepy. It has yet to really hit the “scary” mark for me, but I think “creepy” might actually be more effective. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s definitely good enough for the hubs and I to tune in every week. It does feel like a show that needs a bit to iron out some of the wrinkles, but I think it is starting to hit its stride.
The performances are strong, although the shining star for me is Aasif Mandvi. To be completely honest, he’s one of the reasons I turned this one in the first place. But he plays his part as the sarcastic skeptic skillfully and brings a levity that this show needs.
The Masked Singer (FOX)
This is a wild and crazy show and, frankly, not one I’d normally watch. I’m just not into competitive reality shows. This one, though, is just a spectacle…and it is the only show we can watch together as a family. My kids love the costumes (and they have definitely upped their costume game since last season!), although they rarely know who the celebrities under them are. The performances range from fantastic to “let’s just not talk about it” but the song selections are ones that they know, so they feel entitled to share their own critiques.
Young Sheldon (CBS)
I will admit that it felt a little strange to tune into CBS at 8pm on a Thursday and not see The Big Bang Theory, which finished last season. However, the prequel has a permanent place in my heart. While the central character is the young Sheldon Lee Cooper, this is a very different show from The Big Bang Theory. In fact, I would say it has much more in common with The Wonder Years, with its nostalgia and family drama.
And now that it is a standalone show, I feel like it is coming into its own. The young actors are fantastic and Sheldon’s sister Missy frequently steals the show. But it is the way that the show deals with some darker topics that really makes it stand out. There has been a fair amount about mental illness (again, hold that thought for a bit) this season and it has handled that subject better than any I’ve seen on television. And, as viewers of The Big Bang Theory know, there are challenges ahead for these characters and I’m confident that this show will be able to address them with heart.
The Good Place (NBC)
This may be the most original show I’ve ever seen. For those of you who don’t know, it takes place in the after life…and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Everyone should be watching this show, it’s a generation-defining phenomenon like Friends or Sienfeld. The acting is amazing and, unlike every other show on television, you never know where it is going to go next. This is the last season (sob!), so I wouldn’t begrudge anyone choosing to wait until it is all on Netflix and binge it. But, however, you choose to see it, you must see it.
The Dropped Show:
A Million Little Things (ABC)
Folks, I really did try with this show. I watched the entire first season but only made it two episodes into the second before I said to hell with this flock of assholes. This show could have been phenomenal. Instead, it is a phenomenal mess.
With one exception, these character are all beyond unlikable. The one character who isn’t simply horrible is so martyred that she has become a joke. And all this is because of the truly horrific writing. With one exception, the actors are strong and capable. Of course, that one exception is Stephanie Szostak, who plays Delilah–quite possibly the worst non-villain character I’ve ever seen on TV, who the show continually shoves down the viewers throat as some sort of hero. The show would do itself a great favor to shift away from her to one of the better actors who might be able to salvage something. Instead, it stays focused on an actress who is clearly not up to the task.
Remember when I lauded The Unicorn on how it handled friendships? This show is the polar opposite. These people are the worst friends, the ones with absolutely no boundaries, who use and abuse each other with no thought for anyone but themselves. And remember when I said that Young Sheldon handled the topic of mental health better than any show I had seen. This show was touted to be all about mental health and it handled that issue worse than any other show I’ve seen. And when I said it handled it badly, I mean it handled it in a way that was potentially dangerous. The flippant way it addressed one character’s depression and treatment for that depression sent the exact wrong message to the audience. When a show decides to take on a such a topic, they accept the responsibility to handle it well (as Young Sheldon has done). This one was, at best, careless and, at worst, dangerous.
So, there it is–my broadcast viewing. I may add a show or two at midseason when we have some more debuts. But, until then, it is these shows and whatever is streaming–where the bar is set much higher than most broadcast shows.