I wasn’t reaching, though, when I noticed that as all five shows move into new seasons – four of them having their season premiere on Sunday – they were all faced with the same potential quandary. How to move on to a new chapter in a single tale without seeming repetitive or becoming stagnant? I can let out a sigh of relief because the four returning shows all start out with promise, and Boardwalk Empire now quarter way through the third season (already!) is shaping up well. It's a sign that we're lucky to have such good things to watch on the small screen.
Brief thoughts on the five Sunday dramas ahead….
Dexter: “Are you…?”; Season Seven, Episode One
Episode Grade: B+
The Good Wife: “I Fought the Law”; Season Four, Episode One
Of the five Sunday shows the issues the Kings face with The Good Wife are – in theory – the least difficult to navigate through. Or, they would be if the show went about its way in a more basic way. The focus on ongoing character-specific-stories makes it different from most (all?) CBS dramas, though. So, the familiar issue of where the relationship between Peter and Alicia is and just what it means for them individually, personally and (for him) publically continues to be something of extreme importance. It’s why Kristin Chenoweth’s lawyer is such a welcome presence forcing Alicia to answer questions that we all might have been thinking. Alicia, in true St. Alicia form, still hedges of course but answers are given. And, although I suspect the jury might be split on whether reconciliation between the two is good for “female empowerment” or no, the gradations of the relationship intrigue especially because both are firmly devoted to their children. It’s why having the opening case focus on Zack on trouble is such a good idea. Seeing how the two respond differently to the crisis, and then the reason for its existence, is pointing to so much interesting beats in their characters. And, Noth is often not fully utilised so it’s nice seeing him with much to do.
Of course, all the great beats of that arc are somewhat superseded by the machinations of our favourite in-house investigator – Kalinda Sharma. I heard cries of disappointment that the Kings had given in and gone overly violent, that they were trying to placate the masses and going “50 shades of Grey” on the core fans (I laughed and scoffed, even if I’ve not read that novel, so I can’t confirm or deny) and it points to a bigger hurdle the Kings have to overcome. Kalinda’s appeal for many has always been a mystery, but the character specific drama has always necessitated focus on the main players – and she’s one. So, in developing Kalinda’s back-story the quandary will, of course, become whether the audience is able to reconcile their feelings on Kalinda with whatever her past reveals. Me? I’m satisfied and interested so far, especially since the Kings and Archie have always highlighted Kalinda’s typically unperturbed nature it’s a good movement to having her more flustered and even though I’d prefer to NOT have an easy explanation of why Kalinda is Kalinda (do we even need to know?) and I trust it won't be easy or bland, so I'm willing to go along for this ride. Leather boots, sledgehammer and choreographed elevator fights and all.
Episode Grade: B+
How Homeland and Revenge justify their second chapters and how Boardwalk Empire continues to impress below the jump...
Homeland: “The Smile”; Season Two, Episode One
Even more than The Good Wife and its Kalinda problems, Homeland has a whole lot to overcome. For one, it has to justify that (deserving, mind you) Emmy win for many and then because the final season had such a sense of completion to it – cliff-hanger and all – it needs to justify the existence of the second season. Why does this series need a second season? And, boy, does it justify its existence. More than making us care for the somewhat unhinged Brody the best thing Homeland has done in carving the terrorist inclinations of the soldier is never making it easy for us to examine the issues in a black-and-white way. True, the weakest instalment of the first season featured them trying so hard to make us see “Brody is a terrorist because he cares” (flashback to his days Abu Nazir) but it’s ultimately a positive. Consider how Brody’s Islamic inclinations are not aligned with his terrorist moves. So, even as Jessica explodes when she finds out, and even though WE know she’s right we also now she’s wrong because she’s reacting not to actual knowledge but in that bigoted way Westerners fear the unknown. It forces us to reassess our ideals, not unlike what Dexter does in its season opener and that’s always the mark of a fine drama.
Episode Grade: B+
Revenge: “Destiny”; Season Two, Episode One
Boardwalk Empire: “Bone for Tuna”; Season Three, Episode Three
Now, Winter has the season moving along we’re beginning to discern just how things are changing for our main players. The show continues to be good without James Darmody, but I can’t deny that I do miss Pitt and the reveal that Richard’s vengeance was meted out only for Angela does make his memory somewhat duller. I’m not the only one with Jimmy on his mind, though, and it’s fitting that Nucky is plagued with the memories of his now-dead surrogate son. It’s imperative because as the supporting cast grow more relatable, Nucky threatens to become more stolid and as the protagonist – even an antihero, one – we must finds to understand him. Major points to the creators, though, for managing to turn Nelson Van Alden into such a layered man. Even as Nucky remains implacable look at the pilot and observe the differences in Margaret and Van Alden. Macdonald and Shannon are doing excellent work, and this episode has key moments for both. Margaret’s strong-arming of the doctor shows just how focused she has become, and that moment where Van Alden is faced with the police officer reminding him of his former job is a great moment for the narrative and even great one for Shannon.
Episode Grade: B+
Standout Sunday Performances
Damian Lewis in Homeland B+/A-
Jennifer Carpenter in Dexter B+/A-
Claire Danes in Homeland B+/A-
Michael C. Hall in Dexter B+
Bobby Cannavale in Boardwalk Empire B+
Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife B+
Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire B+
Other things to note
- Will Lockhart/Gardner always be in financial crisis or near financial ruin? Still, an understated Nathan Lane was a welcome addition.
- Fauxmanda truly is one of my favourite things on TV, she's overwhelmingly trashy and sometimes her existence makes no sense but goodness Margarita Levieva is a joy to watch.
- So, Sidney Braverman is young Deb?
- Gretchen Mol is such a delight to watch, I hope she gets more to do this season.
- Where's Carrie's contact Virgil?