Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season
If Breaking Bad's current fifth and final season goes south (not bloody likely), at least season four delivers a climax that could have serves as a satisfying serious closer, were it not renewed.
But it was, and no wonder: Bryan Cranston may have the tube's richest character arc, as his Walter White is no longer that mild-mannered chemistry teacher who turned to manufacturing meth to build a secret nest egg for the fam. Now he's a full-blown, scary-serious drug kingpin, fighting for his turf instead of stumbling through it blindly.
This 13-episode batch sees him manipulate his partner (a fine Aaron Paul) as they wage war against their fiercest competitor (Giancarlo Esposito, in a career-defining guest role) And finally — finally — the underrated Anna Gunn gets something to do besides be the mere moping spouse. It's nice to see her get her hands dirty.
The winning, acidic half-hour series forces LeBlanc on TV writers Sean and Beverly (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg), who've moved from across the pond to develop an American version of their erudite Britcom, only to see it dumbed down one foot past the green light. While Episodes' purposely inside-Tinseltown world will alienate many 99-percenters among the pool of potential viewers, the dry punch lines hit hard, and squarely in the groin.
The show's unheralded MVP is Kathleen Rose Perkins (the locally lensed Cowgirls n' Angels) as a neurotic network exec who lies through her well-capped teeth; she's a national treasure. So are the breasts of co-star Mircea Monroe — they merit their own subplot, and deservedly so.
The Big C: The Complete Second Season
I'm afraid that after a fairly solid first season, The Big C already peaked. As glib as this sounds, I wish Laura Linney's Cathy character had succumbed to cancer at the end of the first year; it would've made for a gracious, workable exit.
With the debut episode of season two, it feels as if the writers already are grasping at subplot straws: Her teenage son (Gabriel Basso, Super 8) is "aggressively farting"; the family dog eats some muscle relaxers; and Cathy is haunted by the ghost of her saucy deceased neighbor (Phyllis Somerville, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), which is a new conceit that does not work.
Worse, Cathy is so whiny and, yes, selfish that she no longer is sympathetic. Cynthia Nixon's line of "I've had so much educated cock in my mouth" strikes me as an accurate summation.
True Blood. The third season tanked compared to its rather creative second, mostly because it added so many new characters virutally all at once, and diving headfirst into the deep end of its own mythology before we had a chance to get a grasp on who's who.
Same with year four, and once more, so much goes on in each hour without accomplishing anything at all. Each episode should move the season arc forward, even by just a bit, rather than going in a circle to bide time. The once-mighty HBO hit is a perfect example of a show that would benefit greatly by the British TV model of doing three, four or maybe six episodes before taking an extended vacay.
Other than the opener and the finale, each of these 12 smell like the same fairy tales — literally that, when it comes to Anna Paquin's Sookie character — repeated. It doesn't help that it seems beholden to Twilight's godforsaken success by foregoing horrific elements to play up the romantic entanglement for the bored housewives. Maybe season five is better, but after being burned by nearly two whole years, I won't be watching.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eighth Season
Curb Your Enthusiasm should be getting long in the tooth by now, its eighth season. And while its all-threads-tie-into-embarrassment endings are more foregone conclusions than surprises, Larry David's semi-improvised comedy of discomfort remains as funny as ever — the Rosie O'Donnell appearance aside.
Other than Louis CK, who else could spin a real-life tragedy (his own divorce) into continuing gold? David makes more smart moves by keeping J.B. Smoove around for another year as his Katrina-displaced housemate, and having Michael J. Fox play himself and make Parkinson's jokes.
The season highlight stems from Larry's dips into the dating pool: He meets his new girlfriend's grade-school son who sings the praises of sewing machines and Project Runway, yet his mother fails to see all the signs of the boy’s burgeoning sexuality. Whoever that kid is, he deserved a guest Emmy. It's the funniest scene I've ever seen a child do.
The Fades: Season One
As if being a teenager isn't hard enough, young Paul (Iain De Caestecker) experiences wet dreams (the urine kind, unfortunately) and visions of a dead girl. Such is life for the protagonist of The Fades, a six-show supernatural semi-wonder for the BBC. He sees dead people — yeah, yeah, I know — who walk our earth because they're trapped here.
"Give me pills, give me … a lobotomy. I just want this to stop," Paul says, but you'll want it to go on, if you're already a fan of BBC's (superior) horror shows like Being Human and Bedlam. With a genuinely creepy opening and monsters are among the freakiest on TV, it has potential it doesn't always reach, but England continues to do televised fright far better than these United States.
Torchwood: Miracle Day
Finally, there’s Torchwood: Miracle Day, the American attempt at turning the BBC hit Torchwood (itself a Doctor Who spinoff) into a hit for Starz, but retaining only three of the original show’s characters — notably, the two Men in Black-ish leads: omnisexual immortal Capt. Jack Harness (John Barrowman) and partner Gwen (Eve Myles).
The premise of the 10-episode series — and meaning of the title — is that one day, humans worldwide are unable to die (even through abortions). As nice as that may sound, the globe cannot withstand that population — at 7 billion and counting — and just because people can’t expire doesn’t mean they can’t get deathly ill ... and be stuck there. But what a windfall for the pharmaceutical companies, no?
And that’s actually part of the plot as Jack re-enlists Gwen to help him reset Earth. The sight of her clutching a gun in one hand and her infant child sporting earmuffs in the other made me deliriously happy, if the series as a whole did not.
Oh, I still enjoyed it — it’s just not the epic blast I expected. The merging of British characters in a largely U.S. setting works well, particularly because the casting is — excuse the pun — dead-perfect, especially Bill Pullman’s evil turn as a death-row inmate turned cult hero. While not the ideal end for the franchise, Miracle Day is still sci-fi heaven. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• Bedlam: Season One DVD review
• Being Human: Season Three Blu-ray review
• Breaking Bad’s science adviser at University of Oklahoma
• Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol Blu-ray review
• Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series Blu-ray review