The TV Gazette #5: “Homeland” thoughts, “The Walking Dead” returns, and more

Welcome to the TV Gazette! This week, we jump into several quick thoughts about Homeland‘s fifth season premiere, the return of The Walking Dead, and a boatload of new season premieres. The fall TV season is kicking into high gear and I’m loving it. Are you?

Homeland tries to keep calm and Carrie on

Homeland started its fifth season with not so much a bang as a small pop of a bubble wrap. The premiere, “Separation Anxiety”, continues the show’s desire to ground the itself in current affairs, carrying on from the previous season’s focus on drone warfare to a refugee crisis on the Lebanon/Syria border with Hezbollah in the mix.

The premiere was a low-key affair as it focused on getting our main characters up to speed and setting this season’s plots in motion. Indeed, there were no shots fired in this episode (although one big explosion did occur.) Instead, there were pointed conversations and cocked heads rather than guns. Also, the fifth season was filmed on location in Germany, which adds up to “Separation Anxiety” looking and feeling like a John Le Carre book adaptation.

However, and this is a big “however”, the show cannot shake off the ghost of its past seasons. Carrie looks to be happy and stable so far, but her fragile psyche, relentlessly explored in the previous four seasons, has tainted her character. It’s a lose-lose situation either way: keep her as she is now and you have a frustrating character that oscillates between espionage genius and amazingly stupid decisions, or strip away her instability to leave only a female Jack Bauer.

Can Homeland maintain its current low-key stability? Or will it devolve into the flimsy action plotting of last season? Either direction is fine, but it needs to make up its mind.

Now, on to several returning shows…

Jane The Virgin was one of my favourite shows of last year. I’ll shake off my modesty and repost what I thought was great about the first season (which the second season looks to build on):

A telenovela adaptation about an artificially-inseminated Catholic virgin should never have been so good, as the show twisted and turned at a break-neck pace and even managed to create a meaningful family drama out of the characters.

The titular character, Jane Villanueva, is played by Gina Rodriguez brilliantly. Rodriguez is unflinching as she plays this frankly ridiculous character in a ridiculous situation, and she manages to make her character’s struggles and troubles feel real.

Fargo could not shake off the inevitable comparison with fellow anthology heavyweight True Detective last year, but any debate between the quality of these two shows’ second seasons looks to be short-lived. Critics are raving about the new season of Fargo, which is set almost two decades before the events of the first season and in the same universe. According to them, the new season “appears to have equaled its splendid predecessor, capturing the same off-kilter tone while actually enhancing the comedy quotient” and has proven that “Fargo is one of the most original, joyful things on TV“. There’s a new all-star cast (Kirsten Dunst? Jean Smart? Nick Offerman? Ted Danson? Fantastic), and that alone should make the second season an attractive proposition.

Manhattan had a low-key but very solid first season. The historical drama revolved around the Manhattan Project, the American scientific effort to produce an atomic bomb, and it was an incredibly tense and claustrophobic affair. The sense of paranoia and secrecy was a key theme in the first season, as well as the sky-high stakes of a top-secret military project that would change the world. Any viewer watching Manhattan will know about the eventual success of the Manhattan Project, but the show is more interested in exploring the emotional turmoil of the people involved. As the trailer will tell you, the fallout from the first season is just beginning.

Kingdom, the MMA-inspired drama, was one of the surprise debuts of last year. The show, set around the people who run and train in an MMA gym, combined gritty family drama with a realistic depiction of MMA bouts. The show has assembled a competent cast: Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Matt Lauria (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights), Jonathan Tucker (Justified, Parenthood, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and surprisingly, Nick Jonas. Outside the MMA ring, the fighting continues as the characters struggle with their familial relationships, fighting careers and other demons. It’s a well-crafted show, and its fighting sequences are at first glance the highlight, but anybody who stays with the show will do so for the raw, grounded drama.

The Knick is the exquisite outcome of Steven Soderbergh’s craft. I’ve previously written about the show in some detail, and I’ll plagarise myself:

The Knick is an rarely-seen achievement in television: its first season is directed, shot and edited entirely by Steven Soderbergh. This means that the show is impressively coherent in terms of visuals, and boy, is it good to look at. The show recreates early 20th-century New York to great detail, using realistic sets and props, to create a New York City that is dangerous, disease-ridden and socially unstable.

Despite its gorgeous visuals, the show is just as strong in its storytelling. The first season of The Knick covers issues like medical ethics, racial problems and the infancy of medical science. There are slow points in the season, yes, but there are several fantastic parts – the seventh episode, “Get the Rope” especially – that are highly memorable.

The Walking Dead has nothing to fear

The zombie apocalypse aftermath continues this weekend as The Walking Dead returns for its sixth season.

I enjoyed the fifth season a lot, as it offered up the things that we’ve all grown to love from the show: inventive zombie kills, a human death once in a while, and the increasing dread occasionally punctured by periods where our protagonists meet other bands of survivors. The third season had Woodbury, the fourth season had Terminus, and the fifth had the Alexandria Safe Zone, where Rick and the protagonists are still holed up in as the sixth season starts.

Rick’s degeneration into madness is bound to continue, and there are undoubtedly more humans out there which are more interested in killing other humans than cooperation, but the more interesting subplot has to be Rick’s growing leadership over the inhabitants of the Safe Zone, who are concerned with Rick and his gang’s battle-hardened mentality. Rick’s violent and nihilistic outlook is not unreasonable given the apocalyptic setting everybody is in, but he’s already had problems leading in the past. This time, the stakes are higher as he’ll have that many more people under his charge. Most of them will definitely become zombie food, and the Safe Zone is bound to fall, but before the madness resumes, The Walking Dead has the chance to keep still and make hay.

The back page

Thanks for reading the Gazette! I’ll be back next week with more thoughts and analysis.


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