More recommended tv shows

It's about that time of year where a new season of fall television shows gets rolling, the spring and summer shows have concluded and I have a bit of time to reflect on what I've watched and enjoyed recently.

Everything I watch is available online (via Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or in rare circumstances, other means); I haven't watched via cable or the airways in several years, so most, if not all of my recommendations shouldn't be too hard to find and watch at your leisure--that probably goes without saying at this point.

A couple things I should note: on occasion I will include shows which are more than a few years old. Most are at least somewhat popular, so apologies if you've already watched them. [I've tried watching many obscure shows and most are disappointing.]

Fargo. Coming from the Coen brothers based on the homonymous film, this is clearly and deservedly a popular show. The first season is better than the second and sticks to a more coherent plot, but both are quite good. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton have an interesting dynamic and really give the first season the feeling of a quality feature film. It's a graphic, intense, and wild ride.

While I will maintain that the second season is good, it is annoying, especially the end. I won't spoil anything, but the season persists with a pointless distraction--with deus ex machina qualities (metaphor or not, it's really dumb), and a not particularly satisfying or clever ending. Regardless, as with the first season, the performances and several plot points are fantastic. And despite what the show says, it's all fiction. Well worth the watch, if only for the first season.

Westworld. Only three episodes have aired at the time of this writing, and while nothing huge yet has happened, I get the distinct feeling something will soon. The performances and writing are all top notch so far, slowly hinting at and escalating things; it almost feels like we're marinating what we all know will be a wonderfully delicious roast. We just have to wait. Maybe I'm blinded by my own high expectations, but I'm a sucker for good sci-fi and westerns, all the more when they're blended so carefully that they don't clash.

If, like me, you haven't watched the original film, then here's a few things you might want to know: Westworld is pretty much an amusement park for the very wealthy. It takes place decades (I'm guessing) in the future, where rich customers fulfill their fantasies in an Old West setting, among hundreds or thousands of very life-like androids that have all passed the Turing test. The AI is pretty good at conversation and improvisation, keeping the park and web of narratives alive. Of course things aren't so perfect, and you get this constant feeling that the whole thing is about to unravel in a spectacular, bloody failure. But we're not quite there yet.

Stranger Things. Another extremely popular Netflix show. Perhaps owing to the 80s nostalgia and the
near perfect execution, the hype was absurd. I don't think it was as great as most seemed to claim, but still I enjoyed it very much. It's reminiscent of J. J. Abrams' Super 8, the Goonies, and other 80s films with an adolescent cast, but now in episodic form.

It follows a group of D&D playing boys in suburban America, who happen upon a lost girl, and crazy stuff that they have to investigate. Yeah I can't say it's original or unique really. It was just done well. Definitely worth checking out.

Wentworth. So I was about to give Orange is the New Black a try based on a few recommendations, but then I noticed this other show about a women's prison. A comedy inside a women's prison doesn't sound all that appealing to me, so when I read about Wentworth and its more serious tone, I gave it a chance.

I was not disappointed. The first season is pretty damn good. The second season however is incredible. The third and fourth are very good as well, but the second alone is some of the best television I've seen. If you want proof an all female cast (well, virtually all female) can deliver excellence, this is it.

I have a few nitpicks with the setting and its plausibility, but then I have no idea how women's prisons are run in Australia. I mean, if I had to go to a maximum security prison, I'd want to go there (at least as far as amenities and personal freedom are concerned). It's just a little hard to believe sometimes.

Wentworth is an Australian show and it's pretty much just about life inside an Australian women's prison. It tends to focus on the main character, Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) and her struggles. She grows into a compelling character, as do many others, but so, so much more is weaved in that you end up with this complex richness, and just watching it evolve and adapt gives you a wonderful apprehension. I've probably missed a lot, but the show is great at subtle hints and setting up future plot points, so rarely if ever do you end up scratching your head. The set ups do their job and the subtleties make you smile.

I want to say the writing, directing, and acting are all superlative, but that's like saying the entire show is awesome. And well, it's true. Other than my nitpicks I am at a loss to criticize this show. Highly recommended.


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