We’re nearly there! Tomorrow reveals the best (and worst) television shows of 2013, but first we need to see who has ended up in the runner up slots.
The series about a vigilante serial killer, Dexter, (Michael C. Hall) hiding in plain sight and working as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department has always been governed by an intriguing concept. Perhaps the show’s greatest achievement was making our lead a sympathetic serial killer. Unfortunately, what the writers end up doing to our anti-hero is what lands the show so high atop my worst list this year.
Sparing you any significant spoilers about how it all comes to pass (you can read all about cinephilactic’s take on the preposterous finale here) Dexter’s fate is simply infuriating. I liken it to having a bad breakup and it sullying the entire relationship that came before it. Dexter becomes an effing lumberjack. I feel like I don’t need to give any further justification than that. A LUMBERJACK. Not only does Miami Metro never discover that there’s a killer literally hiding in their midsts, we don’t know how Dexter’s meant to contain/control his ‘dark passenger’ in his new circumstances. And let’s not forget that he basically dumped his young son with another serial killer in a South American country. Ultimately having Dex end up as Paul Bunyan not only poses more unanswered questions, but serves as a giant F-U to longtime viewers who stuck with the show to see how the saga would end. Sure, we got our share of hackneyed explanations about how Dexter’s lumberjacking is meant to be the cruelest of punishments (he’s been literally silenced – no more narrations!) but trying to justify such a horribly bizarre ending is almost as hilarious as the outcome itself. We’re talking The Killing kind of disrespect here. It’s like the writers threw up their hands and said, ‘we have no idea how to end this, so let’s just do this’.
But to just focus on the final moments of the series doesn’t address how bad the rest of the season was. What the hell was all that business with Masuka’s (C.S Lee) daughter? Pointless. In fact many of the characters seemed to be spinning their wheels this season. Let’s talk about Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). Deb quite frankly deserved better than the fate that she succumbed to. When it came to Deb all that was accomplished was a last ditch fake-out to illicit some kind of shock. Mission unaccomplished as I found myself rolling my eyes wishing the whole ‘baptism in the sea’ scene would just end already.
As season progressed, it was clear that Dexter was becoming increasingly tedious and the writers just weren’t up to task of wrapping things up in a satisfying way. It’s unfortunate that Dexter devolved into the crap that was S8, but because the final episode was such a letdown to fans, it rightfully earns a spot on my list for worst of the year.
- # of episodes watched: 96 – all eight seasons
- Returns: At present, never – but letting Dexter live leaves the door open for a spinoff in the distant future (let’s hope it’s the real distant future…)
- Caveat: S1, S2 and S4 are actually worth checking out
Under The Dome, the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s 2009 novel, had a lot of potential. Unrealized potential, it turns out, because the series never did anything with its intriguing premise: a giant Dome descends over the town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, trapping its hare-brained citizens and their stupid issues inside. The problem is that the characters are nothing more than cardboard cut-outs so even when the conflict heats up, you never care about their well-being.
Beyond this, the world building of the show is unreliable (when the plot requires something, the Dome makes it happen!) and there’s no sense of how big Chester’s Mill is (where did that lake come from?). Most frustratingly, you’d think that a show with a restrictive Dome would be able to really dig into its characters since there’s a limited number, but no…you barely get a sense of who these people are no matter how much time you spend with them. Plus there are new characters being introduced all the time (as though they’ve been present the whole time) but they only show up to die and/or stir the pot and then they’re never seen or heard from again. Despite all this, somehow it still feels as though there are only around 20 people in town at any given time!
Most problematic is the pacing and plotting. Each episode comprises 1-2 days, but no one shows any real panic or distress until nearly halfway through the season. Characters react in an unrealistic fashion – most notably in the case of Junior (Alexander Koch) who, in the most ill-advised plot of the series, traps another character, Angie (Britt Robertson) in a fallout shelter for the first four episodes or so. After she eventually escapes, she then chills with him for the rest of the season like it’s been no big deal (WTF?!). Secondary characters are routinely killed off with little to no consequence, and problematic issues such as limited medication, food and water are handled in a single “problem of the week” fashion and then never addressed again.
By the time Natalie Zea arrives late in the season, the entire enterprise has disintegrated into sheer ridiculousness. This is one show that should only be watched by masochists or people playing drinking games (my reviews routinely featured them). The fact that Under The Dome managed to find ANY success is mind-boggling. The fact that it’s #2 on my “Worst” list isn’t.
- # of episodes watched: 13
- Returns: Summer 2014 on CBS
It’s easy to rag on reality shows, but Catfish: The TV Show deserves to be singled out as something special. Hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph help couples that have a relationship online to meet for the first time in real life. A ‘catfish’ is a person who misrepresents themselves as someone else online. Each episode exposes a different kind of ‘catfish’ because, as you can imagine, the motivations for creating a fake persona and engaging in romantic relationships online are plentiful. Catfish ultimately serves as a fascinating exploration about how the internet plays into identity construction and manifestation.
The greatest strength of the show is its ability to keep its audience incredibly engaged as we wonder who is really behind the latest online photograph. This season in particular has kept us on our toes, exposing new kinds of catfish each week. There was some variety in S1, but back then there seemed to be a similar motivation from week to week – for one reason or another the catfish was insecure about who they were in real life and found it liberating to pretending to be someone they weren’t. We do get a bit of that in S2, but the catfish are much more sophisticated this time around. Some of the highlights include a man impersonating a traditionally ‘hot’ woman in order to lure out cheating men, another impersonating rapper Bow Wow (sending thousands of dollars to his internet betrothed), and one who simply wants to practice his ‘game’ by misleading multiple women online.
The reveal of the catfish is by far the most exciting portion of each episode, but the show also explores how powerful the hope for love can be. The individuals that seek Nev and Max in the first place are romantics, so blinded by their optimism that they are unable to accept that they’re being duped. It’s incredibly relatable no matter who you are. There’s something wonderful about seeing so many people still cheerfully clinging to their fantasies, especially in a world where they could easily devolve into cynicism.
Another reason to applaud Catfish is because it does a good job of ensuring it’s not exploiting its subjects. Nev and Max’s intention is to help the subjects find love, even though the result is almost always dramatic. You get the impression that the hosts genuinely care about their subjects’ well being, even if they’re shoving cameras in their faces as their internet romances fall to pieces. The hosts take time in conducting several “after reveal” interviews (particularly with the catfishes) in order to get to the root of the problem. It appears that there’s more to it than just getting the most scandalous of stories. Sure, the show is problematic because, at the end of the day, it is sensational, but if you look beyond that, Catfish is a show that’s exploring an aspect of society that likely has touched us all in one way or another. The fact that it does so in a way that is consistently compelling earns Catfish: The TV Show a top spot on my ‘Best’ list this year.
- Returns: Renewed for a third season (woot) and likely returns in Fall of 2014 on MTV
- Watch: Watch the 2010 documentary Catfish (Joost & Schulman) for some context, then sit back and watch the TV show from the beginning
I described yesterday’s “Best” entry, Broadchurch, as the very best crime drama of the year. I can stand by that statement and still rank The Fall higher because I don’t consider it part of that genre. Yes, there are police and yes, there is a killer, but The Fall is far more interested in the people behind the categorizations.
Specifically it’s interested in Stella Gibson (the wonderful Gillian Anderson), the cool, calm and powerful woman who just happens to be the Detective Superintendant responsible for solving a string of break and entry murders of attractive young woman. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the man she’s hunting is Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a very attractive social worker who is married with two kids. Paul is an unconventional killer; Stella is an unconventional detective, but this isn’t CSI: Belfast (with a better looking cast). The Fall spends an inordinate amount of time with both of these characters because we’re meant to get to know them, to understand how they think and why they act the way they do. There’s nearly as much time spent exploring the mundane aspects of their work and personal lives as there is dedicated to committing and investigating the crime scenes.
What makes The Fall work, though, is Anderson. She is a complete revelation as Stella – a character unlike any other I have ever seen. The way Stella interacts with other characters, particularly men, is incredibly unconventional. She’s curt, direct and refuses to placate or soften her language when she’s unhappy or provoked. It’s so refreshing and thankfully there’s no Freudian psychology meant to explain her disaffected mannerisms. Stella’s simply a woman who knows what she wants and how she wants it; she’s gotten to this stage in her career (and personal life) by being smart and not taking sh*t. Even as you bristle at how she keeps everyone (even us, the audience) at arm’s length, you have to respect The Fall for making half (the likable half) of their main characters such a cold-hearted bitch. Stella Gibson is a great character, Anderson is an amazing actress (Dornan’s no slouch, either) and The Fall is great TV. Do yourself a favour and track it down ASAP.
- Returns: S2 begins filming in February
- Watch: All 5 episodes
We’re so close. Can you taste #1 yet? Tune in tomorrow at 12pm EST to find out which shows take the top (and absolute bottom) of the pile for 2013. Until then, let us know what you think of our runner-ups in the comments below.