Getting up-to-date with TV, Part II: What’s on Now and Looking Ahead

My favorite shows are back or on their way back. I’ve been watching few shows on a regular basis over the last month or so, but I’m really pleased about the return of some of my favorite shows, both the new and (relatively) long running.

Some deserve special note. But first, I have to begin with one of my omissions from last season.

Shades of Blue (NBC). This turned out to be a very good show. The plot concerns a squad of crooked NYC police detectives who are drawn into a plot that leads to grand larceny and murder. Jennifer Lopez plays a member of the squad who is turned informant by the FBI, and Ray Liotta plays the tragically flawed leader of the corrupt crew. Jennifer Lopez can act. The suspenseful series is likely to return.

Now, for the current season.

Black-ish (ABC). The show manages to address important social issues while taking cover behind the sitcom clichés of bumbling men and smart women. It works, and it’s funny more often than not. However, the addition of (the nearly ubiquitous) Wanda Sykes adds nothing to the show.

The Blacklist (NBC). This sturdy and engaging series is winding down to its finale, steeped in tragedy. The characters have changed as the show progressed and I’m curious to see how they end up and who will survive. There are some indications in the media that the show will generate a spinoff focusing on the characters of Tom Keen and the new villain Susan Hargrave (Famke Janssen, recently seen on How to Get Away with Murder).

Blindspot (NBC). In its second season, the show is an entertaining challenge to the suspension of disbelief. An amnesiac woman appears, her body covered in mysterious tattoos, each of which helps solve a significant crime. “Jane Doe” turns out to have Special Forces training, and in short order she becomes a team member of the FBI unit assigned to follow up on the clues revealed in the tattoos. The new season reveals secrets of “Jane Doe’s” past life and her secret mission inside the FBI. As I said, it challenges the suspension of disbelief.

Containment (The CW). This is the latest in the deadly virus-themed shows (The Walking Dead, Helix, The Last Ship, 12 Monkeys). In this case the outbreak is confined to the city of Atlanta, where an area has been sealed off to contain the virus. The central theme is not an impending global apocalypse. Instead, the show investigates political and social issues from the perspective of a Southern, largely Black, city. A mood of dread and despair is created in each episode, as the protagonist, a Black police commander, struggles to maintain his sense of duty as the government’s draconian plans appear increasingly sinister.

The Detour (TBS).  This new show is painfully funny. Jason Jones stars in a show that he and his wife Samantha Bee wrote about a family driving from Syracuse to Ft. Lauderdale through a surreal landscape of absurd situations and even more absurd people. It helps that these parents and their two children are hilariously inappropriate whenever possible.  Did I mention that this show is funny?

The Family (ABC).  This is the best of the new shows. A boy who was kidnapped and declared dead returns to his family after 10 years.  The family to which he returns consists of a mother obsessed with political power, an alienated father, and two damaged children. Everyone has deep secrets, which are slowly unveiled through flashbacks and the persistent inquiries of a journalist and a police detective.

House of Lies (Showtime). In its fifth season, this show continues to pack more into a half hour than any show I can think of. The characters are still trying to conquer the world of corporate consulting as they deal with parenthood, failed relationships, and getting older and remaining unfulfilled. The plots are brilliant and the comedy sneaks up and kicks you in the behind.

Orphan Black (BBC).  This science fiction tour de force has returned with new characters and a continually thickening plot. Tatiana Maslany continues to amaze as she adds to the number of clones she portrays.  The series hasn’t yet run out of plot twists and promises more surprises.

Penny Dreadful (Showtime). This is one of the really good shows. The first two episodes of the third season demonstrate that it has staying power. The show is a creative mashup of horror and Victorian noir. So far it has incorporated elements of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Paradise Lost, La Dame aux Camelias, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the goddess Hecate,  as well as later updates The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolfman. Everything in this series is beautiful, even the most gruesome and terrifying images. The acting is excellent and convincing, the photographic imagery is exquisite, and the musical score is equal to that of any van Trier film.

12 Monkeys   (SyFy). The show based on Terry Gilliam’s classic movie is in its second season. It takes the framework of the film (a plot to destroy humanity with a virus) and expands it into a complex web of characters, groups, and time periods. There seem to be a lot of plot deviations, but the writers succeed in bringing them together and moving the story along in a intriguing way.

Veep (HBO).  Entering its fifth season, the show crams an hour of comedy into each half-hour episode. It joyfully celebrates the craziness of presidential politics and the jockeying for power in the White House. It also skewers the press corps, the lobbyists, and the consultants who multiply the chaos inherent in a colossal collision of egos. The cast is still great and the writing is still brilliant.

I’m also looking forward to the return of some excellent shows from last year, among which are these:

Mr. Robot (USA). Led by newcomer Remi Melek and veteran Christian Slater, this series is part sci-fi, part cyberfiction, part psychological thriller. We watch a hacker collective bring down the world’s most powerful corporation as filtered through the often drug-addled mind of young computer genius with psychological problems.

Wayward Pines (FOX). M. Night Shyamalan directed and Matt Dillon starred in the first season of this story of a group of people who find themselves trapped in a small town in the grip of totalitarian rule with no way out. There are strange secrets and a strange world just outside the town’s impenetrable walls. The season one conclusion foreshadows a continuation of the tragedy that ended the first season. It’s grim and well done.

I’m sure I missed shows that I’ve forgotten about during their absence. I’ll keep you up to date.  And in the mean while, I await the reboot of Twin Peaks.

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