We’ve hit the halfway point in our annual countdown of the best (and worst) television of the year. Time to tackle the hump slots!
Let’s bitch it out…
If you read the Summer TV wrap-up, then you probably anticipated this entry. I slammed Extant then and I’ll do it again now. This, folks, is an example of too many ingredients in the stew because instead of a coherent narrative, Extant seemingly features about forty, none of which complement or coincide with one another.
It is supposed to be about Molly (Halle Berry, dazed) an astronaut who returns from a 13 month solo mission only to find herself pregnant. This should be impossible because she’s infertile, but during the mission she had a mysterious encounter with an alien hallucination in the form of her dead ex husband and voila! Magical alien baby! Needless to say, her “condition” makes Molly’s home life with husband John (Goran Visnjic) and their android son Ethan (Looper‘s Pierce Gagnon) a little challenging. Already this is enough material for a show to grapple with and if Extant were a space alien variation of Rosemary’s Baby with a robot kid to boot, it would have a compelling, but manageable premise.
Instead Extant adds in multiple conspiracies, an evil alien race, anti-technology terrorists, an ultra-rich benefactor seeking eternal life (Hiroyuki Sanada in the first of two appearances on this year’s worst list) and a bored and wasted Camryn Manheim as Molly’s confidant/doctor. Oh yeah, and Molly’s baby grows exponentially and possesses the ability to control people via hallucinations. Oh yeah, and new characters are introduced and killed off/discarded in nearly every episode right up until the season finale.
Honestly, Extant had a great deal of promise when it debuted, but because the writers didn’t have a firm grip on the story they wanted to tell, they succumbed to the kitchen-sink approach to storytelling (you can just imagine the writer’s room: “Throw every SF trope at the wall and run with it!”). By the time that Molly has to return to space to prevent a plague of alien mold from entering Earth’s atmosphere, you’re so exhausted trying to care about anything that you almost wish she would fail. At least a world-ending event would force the series to focus on one simple storyline. Everyone deserved better than this hodge-podge concoction, especially audiences who stuck around for the inane final episodes as they were burned off in double doses.
- # of episodes watched: 13
- Returns: Despite dismal numbers and much mockery, Extant will be back this summer (minus half of the cast)
Jane The Virgin is without a doubt my biggest surprise of the year. The majority of the shows on this ‘Best Of’ list were ones that I had been anticipating well in advance, or those that came with cast or creator pedigree. Due to the nature of The CW’s release schedule, Jane debuted later than most shows this past fall and while critics praised the series for its larger than life characters, expedient plotting and measured depiction of race, class and religion, I found the premise off-putting. Who wants to watch an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela about a virgin who is accidentally artificially impregnated? It sounds ridiculous!
Turns out it is…in all the right ways. Jane is a complete delight, reminiscent of the late great early seasons of Ugly Betty without the awkward work/life balance issues. Yes, Jane resembles a telenovela (even going so far as to incorporate scenes from a fictional series that the characters watch), but its soapy aspects complement its warmth and humour. As the titular Jane, Gina Rodriguez deserves all of the praise she’s received (including a recent Golden Globe nomination); her capacity to deftly balance the serious dramatic scenes with the light-hearted comedy is instantly endearing and believable. The multi-generational elements of the story echo the best of family television such as Gilmore Girls and Everwood and the series burns through more plot than The Vampire Diaries. Even the central love triangle, a plot device so overdone and cliché, is tolerable because both options are inherently worth rooting for.
For my money, however, what really distinguishes Jane The Virgin are two unique characteristics: 1) Jaime Camil’s Rogelio De La Vega, whose vain, narcissistic actor is a singular delight and 2) the unique use of voice-over and on-screen text. The series is narrated by an unseen omniscient character credited as Latin Lover Narrator, whose observations are frequently accompanied by written text that is alternately insightful and hilariously on the nose. It’s just one of the many, many components that Jane The Virgin has managed to pull off flawlessly straight out of the gate.
If viewers are willing to overcome their adversity to the title and premise, they’ll discover what fans and critics already know: Jane The Virgin is one of the best, most enjoyable shows of the 2014 season
- Returns: Monday, January 19 at 9pm EST on The CW
- Watch: At a fairly highly serialized 9 episodes, watch them all to catch up
#5: Hannibal S2
Descriptors for Hannibal‘s second season: Delicious meals. Beautiful viscera. Cinematic direction and editing. Career best performances. A thrilling bloodbath of a finale.
So if it has all of these accolades, why is it only coming in at #5? Last year’s #1 show had a hell of a sophomore season, starting off with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) in prison for Hannibal Lecter’s (Mads Mikkelsen) crimes before transitioning into a daring cat and mouse battle of wills once Will is released and began apprenticing under Lecter. In truth, I really enjoyed the first half of the season; it expertly played out the tantalizing reversal of fortune promised by the S1 finale. Watching Will desperately try to convince his former friends of his innocence, accidentally causing Beverly’s death (RIP) and even siccing a killer on Lecter were all high-points of the second season.
The second half of the season I found less successful. In principle releasing Will from prison so that he and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) can initiate a covert sting operation to ensnare Hannibal has promise, but I found the execution muddled. Series creator Bryan Fuller and his team wrote and edited the latter half of the season as though we’re meant to question Will’s allegiance, but even as Will embraced his personal darkness, it always seemed obvious to me that his focus was taking down his mentor/therapist. Throw in additional conflict with the Verger family and the latter half of the season felt bloated and distracted (despite strong performances by Michael Pitt and Katharine Isabelle and a vomit-inducing resolution).
Despite a slightly rocky batch of episodes, Hannibal would likely make this list on the strength of its finale, 2×13 ‘Mizumono’, alone. We return to the bracketing event that began the season – the brutal confrontation between Lecter and Jack that opened 2×01 ‘Kaiseki’ – and explore its aftermath as Will and Dr. Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) are lured to Hannibal’s house for a climactic bloodbath. And make no mistake, it is a bloodbath; by the end of the episode SPOILERS Will, Alana, Jack and poor conflicted Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl) are laid out in various states of mortal peril while Lecter hops aboard a transatlantic plane with secret companion Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), leaving everyone’s fate in limbo END SPOILERS. It’s the kind of cliffhanger ending that has kept me salivating with eagerness for the show’s return (get on it, NBC!).
- Returns: Spring sometime? NBC has yet to schedule Hannibal’s third season.
- Watch: Despite my protests about the latter half, Hannibal is such a visual treat that I would advise watching every episode unconditionally.
We’re over the hump now! With only two days remaining, will your favourites make the cut? Come back tomorrow at 9am EST to see what clocks in at third and fourth place on the 2014 Bitch Awards.