What To Watch On TV 2015

There is too much good television these days and it’s almost impossible to keep up with what is on and when it starts and if you should watch it or not.

The idea here is a list of cable and streaming series to watch, ordered chronologically by premier date. For returning series it is easy to decide what makes the list. For new series, it’s always going to be hit or miss. Shows will be added and possibly subtracted throughout the year.

The letters after the channel show if earlier seasons are available for streaming onYkiZiACkmazon Prime,Huluulu Plus or 3ohmlq2rqnur0ajbydi8etflix. HBO series are only available for steaming on HBO Go and Showtime series are available on Showtimewtime Anytime.

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Thinking of Marion Ravenwood

So I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark the other day, partly because its great and partly because it’s on Amazon Prime. Now, I’m hardly the person to talk about direction and form but there is so much pleasing in the movie, not just in the story and the acting but in Steven Spielberg’s direction. This was a bit on my mind lately because Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted this:

Mavericks often turn into has-beens, right, and maybe we are all tired of Spielberg now (although Stranger Things begs to differ), but in Raiders Spielberg was in his prime and the camera movement especially is so enjoyable. (To be clear, I’m not tired of Spielberg, or Scott for that matter.)

One other thing that I loved in the movie is the shadow work. I may post something later about other ways Spielberg used shadows but look at these few examples with Indiana Jones thinking about Marion Ravenwood.

This first shot is from the scene in which Marcus Brody goes to Indy’s house to tell him that the US government wants him to go find the Ark of the Covenant. While Indy is packing, he asks Marcus if he thinks “she” will be with his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood. (Yeah, the names in this series are excellent.) “She” is Abner’s daughter, Marion, with whom Indy had a relationship. Look at Indiana’s face in this shot.

Indy is in shadows while Marcus Brody is clearly lit. We know from context that something happened between Indiana and Abner and Marion that caused a falling out (and we can probably guess what it is), and the shadow on Indy’s face reinforce this.

Indiana travels to Nepal to find Marion who he hopes will give him the headpiece that he needs. (I assume you’ve seen the movie so all this makes sense to you.) Their reunion is not exactly joyful (Marion slugs Indiana and refuses to give him the headpiece). Marion tells Indiana that he broke her heart and hurt Abner also. She tells Indy to come back the next day to get the headpiece. This shot is of Indy as he walks out the door.

Again, his face mostly in shadow. There is still something between them but maybe they will never be able to put the old hurt behind them.

Shortly after Indy leaves, Marion is attacked by Nazis who are also looking for the headpiece. Indy rescues her and Marion takes the headpiece and tells Indy she’s his partner. Together they go to Egypt.

In Egypt, Indiana and Marion are in the sun with Sallah’s family, enjoying the weather as well as each other’s company. Eventually Marion gets kidnapped by those pesky Nazis and when Indy tries to rescue her he causes the truck she’s in to explode. Marion is dead. (Marion is not dead. [SPOILER])

So yeah, Marion is not dead but Indy doesn’t know this. So first Indy drowns his sorrows, then threatens to kill Belloq until Sallah’s children rescue him, and then he confronts his grief. This is the shot that brings it all home. Look at this.

It’s a callback to the door for Marion’s bar in Nepal and again there is Indiana’s face partly in shadow. Indiana and Marion reconciled somewhat but now they will never fully reconcile. Simply, there will always be a shadow when Indiana thinks of Marion.

Two Experts Talk On GChat, Canonicity Ensues

I have read Alan Sepinwall’s work since Bill Simmons’ gave Alan his imprimatur by having Alan on the B.S. Report. Because of his prodigious — and insightful — output, Alan is one of the giants of the Recap Industrial Complex. Sometime later I came to Matt Zoller Seitz, probably because I kept seeing people link to or quote him in my Twitter feed. Or maybe it was after Matt became the editor at rogerebert.com. Or maybe it was after I read one of Matt’s recaps, er, overnight reviews and was struck by his focus on form, and by his humanity.

In TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, Alan and Matt rank the one hundred greatest scripted American television shows of all time. It’s an audacious undertaking, but one which Alan and Matt are certainly capable and qualified of undertaking. As they write in the introduction, they have a combined forty years of experience, not counting their “misspent” youths. And if I had any doubts about whether Alan and Matt were up to the task, those doubts turned to dust in a section called “The Great Debate: How Do You Pick the Best Show of All Time?”.

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Oathbreaker: The Limits of Our Stories

We are all heroes of our own stories. To that end, we construct the stories of other people in our lives so that they fit our themes. In the third episode of season six of Game of Thrones, “Oathbreaker”, Bran Stark and the Three-Eyed Crow witness the confrontation at the Tower of Joy between Ned Stark and his bannermen, and members of the Kingsguard. What Bran sees does not conform to the story that he “knew” from childhood, from the story he remembers being told. And it makes me wonder if, in the world of Game of Thrones, the old stories matter very much in the current situation.

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A Prayer to the New Gods

So after watching the season six premier of Game of Thrones I started working on this theory about the women that were featured and relating them to the gods in the Faith of the Seven. It felt very useful and I was pretty proud of myself when I did this mapping.

Daenerys = The Mother
Cersei = The Father
Melisandre = The Crone
Sansa = The Maiden
Arya = The Stranger
Brienne = The Warrior

This seemed so good that I spent some time trying to shoehorn another woman in The Smith role, but was unable to do it. To be honest, I know that not all these matches are perfect. Then I watched the second episode of the season and now I think I know who The Smith is.

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I Still Don’t Know What I Am Waiting For

To me, a boy growing up in Vermont in the seventies and eighties, David Bowie was a threat. Bowie was too clever, too variable, too strange, too complicated, too challenging. I didn’t know what to make of a musician whose lane was seemingly whatever he wanted it to be. That this also applied to Bowie’s movies and fashion was overwhelming. To that boy who wanted so badly to fit in, to not be thought of as strange or different or weird, Bowie was a warning and a danger.

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A Dream of Winter

Today George RR Martin posted an update on the progress of The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin announced that the book will not be released before season six of the HBO series Game of Thrones premiers in April. This means that the book readers and the non-book readers will be, for the most part, on equal footing. This also means that things will happen in the series before they are in the books, theoretically spoiling the books. I am one of millions of book readers and my reaction is as follows: meh.

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Transparent Season Two

Transparent S2

Amazon has mostly produced series that are okay, with the exception of Transparent. Season one was as good as any series on television and made us hope that Amazon would produce other new series which were better than okay. With the possible exception of The Man in the High Castle, Amazon is still lagging behind the other streaming services. However, Transparent is back for a second season and I’m sure it is also excellent. Watch it all.

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Springsteen and The Ties That Bind

The Ties That Bind

Continuing a trend that started with the Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition in 2005, Bruce Springsteen today released The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, a re-release of the original 1980 double album, along with some other goodies, the most important of which for this piece is the single album that he was going to release in 1979 called The Ties That Bind, and 22 outtakes from the River sessions, 11 of which had previously been unreleased.

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Jessica Jones Season One

JJS1

I’ve never read a Jessica Jones comic so I have to idea what to expect from this series. However, it looks like almost everyone likes it, especially how the series deals with victimization. Jessica Jones, along with Orange is the New Black, is one of Netflix’ best series.

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My World Ended When You Departed/Turned Into A Zombie

A lot of television shows are about the end of the world, mostly because we use “world” as a synecdoche for things that aren’t really the world (lovers, apartments, blogs). So you can say that Mad Men was about the ending of a certain world in which white men ran everything or that Breaking Bad was about how Walter White’s world was ending so he decided to end it first. These are fair but they are no more useful than my favorite idea that all TV series are about identity.

Two current series are more explicitly about an end of the world; The Leftovers and The Walking Dead. In The Leftovers, 2% of the world’s population disappeared without explanation. In The Walking Dead, a zombie apocalypse has transformed the world (or at least the southern United States) into a state of accelerated Darwinian evolution. While The Walking Dead seems less interested in how society responds to the collapse of social norms, both series are most interesting when they contemplate what it means to live, what the purpose of faith is, and what the “world” really is.

In season two of The Leftovers, Kevin Garvey’s father, Kevin Sr., explains how he was able to get released from a psychiatric facility. It wasn’t because he stopped seeing people who weren’t there but because he decided to start listening to them. “God I love this town. But now everywhere I look all I see what’s gone. So, I can sit around and cry about how the world fucking ended or… I could start it up again.”

In The Walking Dead, we get an episode which is mostly a flashback filling in the blanks between when we saw Morgan until he showed up last season. During that time, Morgan meets Eastman who tells him about finding peace through aikido and believing all life is precious. It’s not a message Morgan is ready to hear given the loss of his wife and son. Eastman’s wife and two children were killed by a sociopath seeking revenge on Eastman. Later Eastman kidnapped the man and starved him to death. When Eastman went to turn himself in, he couldn’t because “the world had ended”. “But the world didn’t end,” Morgan responds.

Of course in neither The Leftovers or The Walking Dead has the world really ended, but as opposed to Mad Men or Breaking Bad, the “world” has ended for almost everyone equally. And the question about how to respond when everything is different forever is an interesting one.

In The Leftovers, it is possible to draw an analogy between the Departure and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Although the Departure is orders of magnitude greater than 9/11, in both cases it is possible to see the world that existed before the events in the current world. Indeed, it would be reasonable to suggest that people who don’t visit the sites of the attacks or fly on planes may not notice the difference between our world and the pre-9/11 world. In The Leftovers, it is not possible to ignore the Departure, even in a place like Jarden in season two where no one departed.

As I wrote earlier, The Leftovers is very interested in the role that faith, old and new, plays in the new world. Kevin’s father wants to move to a place where he can no longer see the old world and start a new one. Kevin himself is eager to start over again with Nora Durst and find a place where they will never have to be afraid again. At the end of the latest episode, Nora’s brother Matt decided that it was his time to atone.

The Walking Dead is not as interested in faith, other than the faith that it is possible to create a new world out of the ashes of the old one. Part of the lack of interest is due to how obsessed the series is in showing zombies getting killed, but part of it is the suggestion that religious faith is a luxury in a world as dangerous as that of The Walking Dead. Last season and this season have been primarily set in Alexandria, an idyllic community with walls to keep zombies and anarchists out. When Rick and the gang arrive, their goal is not to assimilate into the culture of Alexandria. Instead Rick and his followers are determined to show the residents of Alexandria what the world really is, and if necessary take Alexandria for themselves.

While we all want to know what happened to Glenn on The Walking Dead, “Here’s Not Here” may be the most important episode of the series in that it brings faith to the fore. The only character of faith in Rick’s gang is a priest who locked himself inside his church with the community’s supply of food because he was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough. But can the world go on without faith? There’s a reason that the most popular religions in the world were born centuries or millennia ago; life was difficult and confusing. It was appealing to imagine that all this suffering had a point. In The Leftovers, it didn’t take long for people to turn to faith to comfort themselves. In The Walking Dead, we’ve mostly seen faith centered on the idea that Rick will lead them to a better life. The Governor peddled a related idea but both faiths have the idea of killing those who don’t agree running through them.

What has Morgan brought with him to Alexandria, and what effect will that have on Rick and his people? Rick and his people believe all life is precious, but some lives are more precious than others. What kind of world can be built on that? And is faith a luxury that can only exist when you can still see the old world? I’m interested to see what The Leftovers and The Walking Dead have to say about faith.