One of my favorite pastimes is to watch TV shows from one end to another. That’s the great thing that this millennium brought with it – season boxes with several discs, making it possible to watch the shows continuously without the fear of missing an episode.
In the beginning I went crazy and watched maybe four of six episodes one weekend and then another batch again after a few days. Later I learned to save the better TV shows, especially as I started having trouble finding the good ones.
I even have a movie night each week where I watch selected shows together with my family. It’s a tradition we’ve had ever since the first season of Lost was released, and throughout the years we’ve been through a lot of shows. I always buy the cakes for the 9 o’clock coffee.
So, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts about what shows I’ve watched and what I thought of them. Just a few remarks for each of them. The text will be with only minor spoilers, so it should be relatively safe to read this in case you’re curious about shows you haven’t seen before.
There will be four blog posts about the season-based TV shows (listed alphabetically):
- Part 1: 24, The 4400, Alias, Battlestar Galactica (2003), The Closer, Criminal Minds.
- Part 2: CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, The Dead Zone, Dexter, Dollhouse, Firefly.
- Part 3: Fringe, Heroes, House M.D., Jericho, Lie to Me, Lost.
- Part 4: The Mentalist, Numb3rs, Odyssey 5, Prison Break, Rome, Terminator, Waking the Dead.
Click a link to immediately jump to the section about that particular TV show.
I’ve discarded a lot of shows to get down to these four parts. Some of them were skipped because I’ve seen too little of them to comment on them, while others have been skipped because of being too old – I wanted the series to be about relatively modern shows. I have seen all the Star Trek spin-off shows too, but I thought that perhaps they should have their very own blog series at a later time. Star Trek has a special place in my geeky heart and thus deserves a special treatment.
So, without further ado, let’s start with…
Country: USA | Genre: Action/Thriller | Seasons: 8 (2001-2010) | Status: Ended
24 is an American television series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer. Each 24-episode season covers 24 hours in the life of Bauer, using the real time method of narration.
Bauer is the only character to have appeared in all eight seasons, as well as appearing in every episode of the series. The series begins with him working for the Los Angeles based Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), for whom he is characterized as a highly proficient agent, but one taking an “ends justify the means” approach regardless of the perceived morality of some of his actions. Throughout the series most of the main plot elements unfold like a political thriller. A typical plot has Jack Bauer racing against the clock as he attempts to thwart multiple terrorist plots, including presidential assassination attempts, nuclear, biological and chemical threats, cyber attacks, as well as conspiracies dealing with government and corporate corruption.Wikipedia
A lot of shots are typically shown as a mosaic of images, especially during the countless telephone conversations. The camera movement and the lighting seems to be slightly inspired by the Danish Dogme concept, which I personally believe makes the show look cheap at times and also adds to the stressful pacing. This is shaky cam at its worst.
And that’s probably the top reason why I didn’t like the show entirely – it was just too stressful in the long run. Cliffhangers are in abundance, Jack Bauer is frequently captured and tortured, trusted employees are suddenly traitors, or (my favorite nag) close friends or relatives are repeatedly kidnapped (even within the same season). Some of the twists also felt a bit artificial.
I watched the first three seasons before I had enough of the above reasons, but it definitely wasn’t all bad. At some point during all three seasons there was always a sequence or a few episodes where Jack Bauer was on top of things and it actually got quite exciting. Then suddenly someone betrays him or the bad guy acquires an advantage and it’s all back to the stressful pacing again.
Another annoying detail is that Jack Bauer often feels like the only constant in the show. Everyone close to him typically dies, betrays or leaves the show more regularly than in pretty much any other show I have seen. Jack Bauer is tough as nails, but it would be nice with a few additional faces we could trust to always be there for him (apart from his cute daughter).
On the plus side, Dennis Haysbert was great as the American President David Palmer in the first few seasons. He seemed believable and authoritative, just as a president should be. I’d even go as far as saying that he was better than many president actors I have seen in many movies. Ironically, some of the later presidents in the show are the exact opposite – completely unbelievable.
Country: USA | Genre: Science Fiction | Seasons: 4 (2004-2007) | Status: Canceled
The 4400 is a science fiction TV series and stars Joel Gretsch and Jacqueline McKenzie. In the pilot episode, what was originally thought to be a comet deposits a group of exactly 4400 people at Highland Beach. Each of the 4400 had disappeared at various times starting from 1946 in a beam of white light. None of the 4400 have aged from the time of their disappearance. Confused and disoriented, they remember nothing between the time of their disappearance and their return.
The National Threat Assessment Command (NTAC) is in charge of dealing with the return of the 4400. The primary agents assigned to the cases of investigating the 4400 are Tom Baldwin and Diana Skouris. Many of the returned people have trouble trying to get their lives back on track after being separated from their world for years. More significantly, a small number of the returnees begins to manifest paranormal abilities, such as telekinesis, telepathy and precognition, as well as other “gifts”.Wikipedia
The show follows a few regulars out of the 4400 as they settle down and discover their powers. Tom and Diana often investigates (much like Mulder and Scully) and especially in the beginning it seemed like the show was going to follow a template of “another unique 4400 of the episode discovering his or her abilities” which I thought was nice, because it gave the impression that the show could last a long time without running out of steam.
Unfortunately the show soon breaks out of this template and instead concentrates on the regulars and their conflicts. It gets quite absurd and there’s especially one cliffhanger in the end of a season that is downright unbelievable, even if you normally watch Star Trek. Don’t worry, you’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it. After that event the show is never quite the same again and starts meandering. The show was canceled after four seasons but does leave on a note that could, with some good will, almost be perceived as closure.
Still, there are quite a few memorable actors and episodes which makes it worth watching the show. Jordan Collier is a very charismatic leader obviously inspired by Jesus. He’s a sneaky character that you’re never quite sure about, and Billy Campbell is perfect for the role.
I’ve always had a soft spot for shows and movies where the characters have cool abilities, and the show often delivers in this department. There are certain characters where you wish they had done a lot more (such as the underutilized ability that Richard Tyler has) but this is made up for by various antagonists with terrifyingly fatal powers.
My favorite episode of this show was probably No Exit, where the cast is trapped inside NTAC without any memory of how they got there. Everyone must then put aside their differences and work together in order to find a way out.
Country: USA | Genre: Action/Drama/Science Fiction | Seasons: 5 (2001-2006) | Status: Ended
Alias was created by J. J. Abrams and stars Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, a CIA agent. The main theme of the series explores Sydney’s obligation to conceal her true career from her friends and family, even as she assumes multiple aliases to carry out her missions.
A major plotline of the series was the search for and recovery of artifacts created by Milo Rambaldi, a Renaissance-era character with similarities to both Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus. This plot and some technologies used in the series pushed Alias into the genre of science fiction.Wikipedia
There are five seasons and the story has a very nice closure in the end. During these seasons, the departments in control are shuffled around a bit. There is one season where a boss returns to the CEO chair in a way that feels like the writers wanted to recreate the same atmosphere as in the first season, which seemed a bit contrived.
One of the best features of the show is Sydney’s relationship with her father and mother. Both are also involved in the spy business, but only the father (Victor Garber) is there from the beginning. He is very articulate and intelligent and usually feels like he’s in control of the situation. Later, Sydney’s mother arrives and seems to be a double agent with sinister motives; you’re not quite sure what side she’s on. Sydney’s mother is played by Lena Olin and does a magnificent job. In fact, both of the actors are very believable as Sydney’s parents. Some shows introduce a father or a mother in a totally unconvincing manner, but Alias doesn’t have that problem.
I watched all seasons together with my family, a few episodes once a week. We agreed that although it wasn’t perfect, it was usually exciting and often thrilling. The show have enough calm periods to prevent it from being stressful in the same way as e.g. 24.
There was one thing we were making a lot of fun of, however. Sydney usually gets into trouble in one way or another during a mission and has to make a run for it. These runs often takes place in a long corridor (typically in a basement area) from one end to another. Whenever that happened, we always shouted “CORRIDOR RUN!” and laughed for the umpteenth time.
Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Country: USA | Genre: Drama/Science Fiction | Seasons: 4 (2003-2009) | Status: Ended
Battlestar Galactica was created by David Eick and Ronald D. Moore as a re-imagining of the Battlestar Galactica television series from 1978 created by Glen A. Larson. The series first aired as a three-hour miniseries in December, 2003, and ran for four seasons thereafter, ending its run on March 20, 2009. The series featured Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell.
The story arc of Battlestar Galactica is set in a distant part of the galaxy, where a civilization of humans live on a series of planets known as the Twelve Colonies. In the past, the Colonies had been at war with a cybernetic race known as the Cylons. With the unwitting help of a human named Gaius Baltar, the Cylons launch a sudden sneak attack on the Colonies, laying waste to the planets and devastating their populations. Approximately 50,000 humans survive, most of whom were aboard civilian ships that avoided destruction. Of all the Colonial Fleet, the eponymous Battlestar Galactica appears to be the only military capital ship that survived the attack. Under the leadership of Colonial Fleet officer Commander William “Bill” Adama (Olmos) and President Laura Roslin (McDonnell), the Galactica and its crew take up the task of leading the small fugitive fleet of survivors into space in search of a fabled refuge known as Earth.Wikipedia
Certainly a unique science fiction show that tried to be different than so many other shows with spaceships on a long journey. Clips in space have a very hand-held camera feel (fast zooming and shaky cam), the inside of the spaceships have old technology (e.g. old phones on a wire), you’ve got drama with big feelings (sometimes bordering social realism), even relatively intricate politics. Some of it takes a bit getting used to, but it’s very commendable for running a lot of risks in trying something new in the genre. If you want to watch a science fiction show that feels refreshingly different, this show may very well be what you’re looking for.
In between the character drama, the battles against the Cylons and the internal politics (all of which takes up the majority of the show) there are a few quite fascinating searches for artifacts in ruins pertinent to the search for Earth. I was a little sad that these more adventurous moments were so rare. They should have had some more of that, instead of just running around shooting or hiding.
At one point the ending of a certain season makes it look like the crews of the spaceships will settle down for good and stop their search for the Earth. At this point I stopped watching the show for a while, but I was glad I picked it up again later. The following season quickly gets back on track and they continue their search for Earth much like in the earlier seasons. It does feel like it jumps the shark at one point, but it makes up for it with a long and satisfying finale with a few nice twists.
Especially Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell were a joy to watch and I also liked most of the other cast. One character I had a problem with, however, was Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis). The actor actually did a good job, but watching the character go through his tribulations was often annoying. Either Baltar was reproved by his arrogant imaginary female Cylon ghost or he just had other problems that always seemed like way more than he could carry. There was a small sequence in the show where he actually cured another cast member of a terminal disease and felt heroic, but those moments were rare. The writers clearly preferred him to be a tormented soul.
Country: USA | Genre: Crime/Drama | Seasons: 7 (2005-2012) | Status: Ended
The Closer is starring Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, a Georgia police detective who arrives in Los Angeles to lead the Priority Murder Squad, later renamed Priority Homicide Division and currently called Major Crimes Division, a team that originally dealt with high profile murder cases.
The cast consists largely of an ensemble of detectives led by Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. Other main characters include Johnson’s superior officer, Assistant Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons), Robbery-Homicide Commander Russell Taylor (Robert Gossett) and her FBI Agent husband Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney). The remainder of the cast makes up Brenda’s squad each with expertise in a specific area such as crime scene investigation or gang activity.Wikipedia
We only watched the first season of this show. It was my impression that it had two significant problems. The first was that only the lead character in the team (Brenda Leigh Johnson) was an interesting and colorful personality – everyone else were pretty much forgettable. Even G.W. Bailey (the extraordinarily funny Lt. Thaddeus Harris in Police Academy) just plays a grumpy old cop almost devoid of any spark. It’s even worsened by the fact that most of the team have problems accepting the new Deputy Chief as their superior.
Unfortunately, the energetic performance exercised by Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Leigh Johnson is just too much in the long run. She’s a little too happy, a little too eager, and she always uses this exaggerated southern accent. Slowly, episode by episode, it grates more and more and becomes the second big problem. Enough for us to drop the show after the first season.
Country: USA/Canada | Genre: Drama/Thriller | Seasons: 11 (2005-) | Status: Returning
Originally, the series centered on Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), Aaron “Hotch” Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) and the rest of the BAU team. For the first season, that included Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini), Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), Jennifer Jareau, or “JJ” (A. J. Cook), and Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness).Wikipedia
This is one of those police procedural shows that we immediately liked because of the diverse cast with sympathetic characters. We have watched four seasons so far. Most of the episodes uses a template that can be a little tiresome in the long run (such as the part in the middle where the team informs the local cops about the profile of the criminal) but the show also takes chances with team characters suddenly being put in jeopardy.
As mentioned, the characters have personality and vary a lot. There’s the nerdy book worm with a photographic memory (a very convincing actor), there’s the good looking martial arts guy (ironically he never really shows it), and there’s the gaudy female computer expert back at the lab (she is wonderfully experimental with her looks). There’s often a hint of humor whenever they call her up for information, but it’s always subtle and never goes too far.
One thing we were very saddened by was the departure of the lead character Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) in the beginning of the third season. Gideon had a marvelous charisma unlike anything we’ve seen in most other shows and really added to the uniqueness of the show. Patinkin said in an interview that he loathed violence on television and was uncomfortable with certain scenes, which was the reason for his departure. He was replaced by David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) which is all right, but doesn’t quite have the charisma that Gideon had. We really miss him.