Your humble TV critic, Captain Video, has been in hog heaven this past year. With several great new shows and some terrific continuing stories, it’s a great time to be a TV watcher. And with the continued rise in popularity of online sites like HULU and Netflix, it’s not even necessary to have cable TV to enjoy the best that TV has to offer. So in no particular order, here is a list of not the “best” shows, but Captain Video’s own highly subjective personal favorites. In no particular order:
One of the breakout shows of last TV season was Arrow, the CW adaptation of the Green Arrow comic books published by DC Comics. It hit the ground running with an action packed pilot episode and just got better as the season progressed. Much of the credit goes to the lead actor Stephen Amell, who appeared to do much of his own stunt work, including some eye-popping parlor feats. The series focuses on Oliver Queen, son and heir to the Queen fortune who was stranded on an island after the boating mishap that lead to his father’s death. Part of the show is flashback to his time and experiences on the island, while the main part deals with his attempts to fight crime and decay in his hometown.
Season two has been as satisfying as the first, as Oliver continues to fight crime in his city with the assistance of a few other characters from the DC Universe. They’ve already included The Black Canary, and soon will add The Flash.
Captain Video has to admit that he came pretty late to the party when it comes to Dr. Who, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a special that featured several of the past Doctors. Matt Smith was the eleventh Doctor, starring in three seasons and several specials. Many fans hail him as the best Doctor yet.
The series follows the adventures of The Doctor, a Time Lord who travels through time saving civilizations and helping people in trouble, often at the hands of his archenemies, The Daleks. While the series began in 1963, it has not run consecutively and had been off for several years before returning with regularly airing episodes in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston portraying The Doctor. Broadchurch star David Tennant took over after Eccleston stepped down after only one year.
A few years ago a friend of mine suggested I check out Dexter on Netflix. Dexter is the story of a good guy serial killer who works for Miami police doing, of all things, blood splatter analysis. Michael C. Hall, who was terrific on HBO’s Six Feet Under, plays the title character that we learn has suffered a horrific trauma in early childhood that gives him an undeniable thirst for killing. His adopted father, Harry, also a police detective, recognizes Dexter’s dark secret and trains him to follow a code that a) keeps Dexter from getting caught and b) insists that Dexter only kill murderers.
The series is based on a series of books by Jeff Lindsay, with the first season following the plot of the first book in the series, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. One of the benefits of having a Netflix subscription is the opportunity to binge watch several episodes in a row and not having to wait through the off-season for new episodes. It also makes the series available to viewers who do not subscribe to pay cable channel Showtime. And it’s a joy to see the series in its unedited for syndication form, a huge advantage considering the amount of gruesome murders and casual nudity of the cable show.
Captain Video can’t remember the last time there was a Canadian TV series that caught on in the States, but Contiuum is one of his favorite shows. Continuum follows the police adventures of a time traveling cop from the future thrown some sixty years into the past when a group of terrorists set off a time travel device in the year 2077. Rachel Nichols plays the futuristic cop Kiera Cameron who joins up with the Vancouver Police Department, teaming with her partner Carlos (Victor Webster) to hunt down members of the terrorist group Liber8 who are trying to alter the time line of the future. Cameron has the aid of some of her equipment from the future, most importantly a high tech jumpsuit that is bulletproof, can render her invisible and does a boatload of other nifty sci fi type tricks that come in handy while tracking the bad guys.
Continuum does a swell job of dealing with the many paradoxes of time travel (what if you meet your parents before you are born and change the future?) and is a nice twist on the stranger in a strange land storyline.
Sometimes it seems you can’t swing a cat without hitting a J.J. Abrams produced series. There have been hits (Alias, LOST and Fringe) and there have been misses (Six Degrees, Undercovers, Alcatraz) but it’s always worth taking the time to see what Abrams comes up with to excite and thrill audiences.
Revolution is a post-apocalyptic drama that takes place 15 years after the start of a worldwide blackout that we later learn was caused by a group of American scientists whose invention went “whoops”. The series features a large ensemble cast that includes LOST alum Elizabeth Mitchell and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito. As with LOST, the show has had a serious body count, which ups the ante for viewers since with one of two notable exceptions, any cast member could die at a moment’s notice. The producers appear to be Stephen King fans as there have been many references to his Dark Tower series and the show has many elements of King’s epic The Stand.
Pay cable has been the home of most of televisions best drama since HBO led the pack with the great mob series The Sopranos. But AMC entered the game in a big way with Mad Men and later the highly rated Breaking Bad. Is there anyone out there in TVland that doesn’t know about the mad antics of high school science teacher turned meth cooker Walter White (Bryan Cranston)? Probably not.
Breaking Bad took much of the spotlight (and award nominations) from Mad Men and finally bowed out this year with a great final season where millions of viewers turned in to see who would live and who would die in the end. It was a fitting finale to an epic series, created by former X Files writer Vince Gilligan.
It’s been quite some time since PBS had a breakout show that pulled in non-typical PBS viewers, but the widely acclaimed Downtown Abbey has done just that. So far three seasons of the highly rated show have appeared on American TV, with a fourth season airing early next year.
The series focuses on a family of wealth and privilege and their servants, beginning with the sinking of the Titanic, where the presumed heir to the family fortune and property is lost at sea. Maggie Smith leads the ensemble cast as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham and she is a joy to watch. Last season one of the male leads, Dan Stevens, opted not to continue with the series and his character, Matthew Crawley, was killed off in an automobile accident. Next season will be partly concerned with the effect this has on the family inheritance and the prospective suitors vying for the hand of his widow, Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery).
Orange is the New Black
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this wonderful series is another reason to spend the money for a Netflix subscription. Orange is the New Black focuses on the fish out of water story of Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling. The series is a Netflix original series and is based on the book of the same name by Piper Kerman.
While sharing many details from Kerman’s real life experience doing time in federal prison for a drug trafficking charge, the series is a fictionalized version of Kerman’s time in the big house. After college, Kerman had a relationship with a woman who was an international drug smuggler, and a few favors for her lover came back to haunt her years later when she was engaged to the man she eventually married. Her old drug ring was busted and she was tried and convicted and sent off to prison only to find herself in the same facility as her former lover. Awkward.
OITNB features a fine ensemble cast including That 70’s Show’s Laura Prepon as the former lover and the great Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) as a Russian-American inmate who Chapman butts heads with in the first episode.
As a longtime fan of Thomas Harris (author of Silence of the Lambs and several other books featuring the serial killer Hannibal Lecter) Captain Video was thrilled, but a bit skeptical when news came that Hannibal would be the title character in a TV series. It was a daunting task for the producers to attempt a series with a new Lecter, given how memorable and astonishing Anthony Hopkins was in the movies made from Harris’ books. And after all, broadcast television censors can be a little squeamish when it comes to depicting the violence of serial killings. And since Lecter isn’t just a killer, but a cannibal to boot, the producers of Hannibal had a complicated task ahead of them.
Hannibal begins by portraying events that take place before the story of Red Dragon, Harris’ first novel about Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham. Viewers who have seen Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal will be familiar with where the story is going (and it’s planned to follow the novels' plots if it continues to be renewed) but the first season is all about how Graham and Lecter get to know each other while attempting to solve a series of murders, something which they are both familiar with, albeit from opposites sides of the law. While Hugh Dancy plays the hero of the show, as Graham, the real focus of the show centers on Mads Mikkelsen who plays Dr. Lecter to eerie perfection, rarely letting his guard down as he gets more and more involved with advising and later treating Graham.
Season One ended with the arrest of Graham, leading viewers to wonder how Season Two will play out (again in a 13 episode season, as future seasons will be) as Graham learns the truth about his friend. Laurence Fishburne co-stars as Jack Crawford, head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit.
Honorable Mention: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Person of Interest, The Office
16th November, 2023