So two of my favorite TV shows have been airing their miniseries this month-- one of which always HAS been a miniseries and is technically having its second season, the other of which is a miniseries for the first time and is back after over a decade. I was going to do a wrap-up review of both AFTER they'd both completely finished airing, but I'm exceedingly worried about the fate of the one that still has one episode to go so I'm hoping, perhaps, I can get all my multitudes of readers to marathon it and watch the last ep live in the next week so as to singlehandedly save the ratings situation. Every little bit helps, right?
(Any specific spoilers will be noted, but this will be more of a general review of things for the most part)(If you're reading this in Feedly which apparently several people do, I don't know whether the LiveJournal spoiler cuts will transfer over, so proceed with caution. I'm vague about the bigger bombshells, and the specifics aren't huge surprises or anything, so it shouldn't hurt TOO badly).
So, let's discuss the completed (HAH HAH) miniseries first. I only watched The X-Files
sporadically back in the day when it was regularly on TV, then Jason and I marathoned it 9 years back or so and my love was more solidified (admittedly, not as HUGE of a fan as a lot of people I know-- not to obsession level-- but LOVE? I do love it). A miniseries seemed like an excellent idea for a revival-- many of my favorite shows ARE recurring miniseries, and I've mentioned
what I love about that format before.
I wasn't going to go into that all again, but one point is very relevant here: miniseries tend to be tighter, more consistently high-quality than regular television. Unfortunately, THAT was not the case with THIS miniseries-- "wildly inconsistent" would be my two-word review.
But, enjoyable as it was, the original X-Files
was also scattered through with clunkers-and-the-entire-ninth-season. I still loved it. But when you have a six-episode miniseries (what's UP with that? Fargo
has ten-episode seasons and that should be the final word. Granted, Sherlock
has 3-episode seasons, but each episode is longer
so that counts for...something?--it occurs to me I could probably write up the Holiday Special of that one, here, too. I might. I think it might happen organically) it sticks out more when half of them are clunkers. In this case, episodes 1, 5, and 6 were the clunkers. And 5 was one of those nonsensical-what-the-hey-did-I-just-
watch clunkers that the series has a-plenty. 1 and 6-- possibly not coincidentally, the two parts of a two-parter-- were the two that just didn't sit right with me at all.
I figured out why as soon as I saw the previews for episode 2 at the end of episode one. In just a few clips, I felt
like I was watching X-Files
again, more than I had in the entire episode that had just ended. And it felt rather cruel of me, if I wasn't talking about a fictional character, but I realized the problem with that first ep (and again with the last) was depressed Mulder
. I mean, storywise he had every right to be depressed in the first episode, and he spent most of the last gravely ill and injured and also-- this may be key-- separated from Scully. But that wasn't what I loved about the X-Files
In the end I realized that it was THESE TWO SPECIFIC CHARACTERS that made this show for me. The X-Files
has spawned so much great TV SciFi since. I can find conspiracies and crazy monsters and mysterious phenomena LOADS of places on TV-- Agents of SHIELD
's got all that, if a little less scary-and-or-gory. But no other show has Mulder and Scully, these very complex and fully-alive characters with their perfect banter and chemistry. Many shows have tried to replicate that banter and chemistry but the fact is it's not going to be Mulder and Scully unless it actually IS Mulder and Scully. And in those moments of the episode 2 preview, I saw them again. The two of them, out Truth-seeking again, in their element. In episode 1 you had a kind of somber, slower, softer Scully, and even more glaringly, you had depressed, hopeless, disillusioned Mulder. Dangit the POINT of Mulder is his readiness to believe! I missed playful, determined, obsessed, and loving-every-minute-of-it Mulder. His JOY in discovering paranormal phenomena is what buoys this show along! In one moment of episode 1-- when he sees a replica of an alien spacecraft in action-- that old Mulder cracked through to the surface. But he was back to himself consistently for episodes 2-5, as was (possibly because of his
being himself again?) Scully. And in those episodes I could sit through great writing (episode 3-- I know my online friend/biggest X-Files expert of them all, @easyqueenie, didn't like that one so much, but I thought it was brilliant) and terrible writing (ep 5, as mentioned), because I was hanging out with these two characters whom I loved so much I even managed to write a small and ridiculous piece of fanfiction
about. I could roll with it. Whatever weirdness happened, they were still my two favorite FBI agents and I always enjoy their company. 1 and 6 just didn't feel that way, and that was the only time I really felt dissatisfied.
Feeling a little dissatisfied with the episode already probably made the ridiculous cliffhanger at the end of episode 6-- the LAST episode, remember-- a little easier to take. I'd never witnessed such a blatantly trolling move by a TV show before. Or, I thought, such a gutsy bid for another season: "You WILL give us more episodes or you will NEVER KNOW HOW THIS ALL WRAPS UP!" And the thing is, despite the unevenness of the writing and the expense and hard-to-get-hold-of-ness of the stars, they probably will. Because it's a big deal, dangit. It's the first thing that shows up when you go to the catch-up-on-TV Comcast page. And people watch it.
But meanwhile, over at ABC, it seems like nobody's watching television's greatest gift to humanity, Agent Carter
, or more appropriately AGENT!CARTER!
because I tend to get excited. And those who are-- well, I suppose most of us ARE just peachy with it, but there's a small contingency of reviewers and folks who are SO DISAPPOINTED with various aspects of this season that they keep writing "THIS IS WHY AGENT CARTER
ISN'T WORKING" articles (two such from GeekMom people!). Never mind that this season has improved on many aspects of last season (and THAT season was amazing!), and blows The X-Files
out of the water quality-wise (not just the new miniseries, but the bulk of the original episodes as well). It deserves way more positive attention than it's getting. I honestly cannot comprehend how low the ratings supposedly are. I said the same thing last year
, but it bears repeating: if Agents of SHIELD
can get decent ratings, why shouldn't Agent Carter
get MORE? I LOVE Agents of SHIELD,
it's my favorite current non-miniseries TV show, but it doesn't hold a candle to Agent Carter. Carter
is clever, funny, and suspenseful all at once; it's got a premise even non-MCU fans like my mother can appreciate; it's gorgeous to look at both in the cinematography and the period costume/prop/set design (OMG I am still pining for Whitney Frost's purple coat/dress combo
from the other night), and relatively universally cast-wise as well; and it's JUST GENERALLY AWESOME I'm out of specifics that fit in this sentence.
It's simply an awful lot of fun
. When you get down to it, I just enjoy watching
it. Much like those X-Files
episodes where the leads AREN'T painfully depressing to watch, I'd follow it in whatever weird directions it might want to go. Which is why I really don't understand the criticisms. They tend to be minor nitpicks and personal preferences blown up into THIS IS GOING ALL DOWNHILL fatalism. It makes me wonder if people have gotten so used to looking for things to complain about in their media so they can write a Proper Critique of it online, that they've forgotten how to just ENJOY a show.
I mean, I'm not trying to claim that it's perfect. My biggest gripe with this season (though, remember, there's one episode left, it could blow up in my face then! But I doubt it) was that Jarvis was being used far too exclusively as comic relief in the first half of the season, which not only does a disservice to his character, but becomes extra jarring in the second half when he goes through a period of intense worry and anger which is just beautifully acted, but it would have been nicer if he hadn't been made a fool of too many times earlier in the season
Otherwise there were moments here and there where I thought "well THAT was stupid" or winced from something that wasn't nice to see (that would be Whitney's Zero Matter mostly
-- but obviously that's not a bad choice on the part of the creators, that's just gross), or where I really wasn't sure if I would like a direction the story was going in, but I went along for the ride, and always ended the evening satisfied-- okay, maybe "satisfied" is the wrong word when most of the time I found myself more and more anxious for the next Tuesday to arrive. And yeah, I was pretty freaked out for the week after episode seven, but that's just suspense. That's what a cliffhanger is SUPPOSED to feel like (and only last a week!).
I don't know if people are ALLOWING themselves to go along for the ride. Take, for example, your random musical dream sequence
. (That spoiler title is actually longer than the spoiler it's hiding). It seems very much a matter of personal taste. But the reactions I've seen are either "That was the greatest scene ever and it elevated the rest of the episode, which was meh" or "That was an utter flop and totally wrong and it ruined the whole episode, nay, the whole SEASON." Seriously? There's no middle ground here? I was dubious about it, and storywise I think it was pretty pointless, but I, like I said, went along for the ride and enjoyed it for what it was, and in the end I WAS HAVING FUN AND THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERS.
People are also very opinionated about the romantic angles. Last year I said outright
that the LACK of romance was one of my favorite things about the show. Yeah, it was. And apparently lots of other people felt the same way, because this year there IS a romantic subplot and suddenly people are all "YUCK GROSS WHY, YOU'VE RUINED IT, PEGGY DOESN'T NEED A MAN!" (with the occasional addition of "...unless it's Angie who isn't a man anyway"). And I'm sitting here gaping agog at these comments, wondering where this vitriol is coming from. I
don't like (hot and heavy) romance! I
loved last year's lack thereof! I might have chalked it up to my demisexuality, except that most of these
people are far more sexual than I am, and yet I
have no problem
with this season's romantic subplot! Okay, ALMOST no problem, I'll get to that in a bit, but....
1. First of all, it's a subplot. SUBplot. It never overpowers the story proper. It never tries to be more important than SUPERVILLAINS PLOTTING WORLD DOMINATION. It reads, to me, as mere social entanglements that give the characterizations a little flavor, that's all. Nothing to make or break the show.
2. Second, I think personal bias about certain tropes has colored a lot of opinions. The mere existence of a LOVE TRIANGLE UGH causes people to rant about how awful that trope is and how it automatically brings the show down. LOOK, OKAY, maybe certain tropes are overused and often used poorly, but I've seen next to nothing of the faults that plague badly-shoehorned love triangles in this show, in practice. Peggy is SO NOT MOONING over two men, helplessly pondering which one might be her One True Love. In fact she's doing her darned best to IGNORE the situation, only rather angrily (although yes quite confused) discussing it once Jarvis pesters her into discussing it, and it takes being outright knocked out for her even to ponder it to herself subconsciously
. Plus it's not a triangle. I wouldn't even call it a quadrilateral, even though it is, because that connotes, like, STRUCTURE. THIS is not a geometric shape, it's a long series of miscommunications and bad timings!
3. I also think people's own shipping preferences might have something to do with it? Note the "unless it's Angie"s. Or, whomever. I called it last year, I'm a Peg/Sousa shipper, and my ship is prominent among these entanglements-- in fact that oddly might be my only problem with the romantic subplot, because this year it's a LOT MORE OBVIOUS that Sousa IS the romantic endgame here, which perversely makes people who DON'T ship it angry that the showrunners are trying too hard to FORCE him on Peg, which makes me miss the days when I could say "See that guy? He's perfect for Peggy. I bet he's the one she eventually married," and it was a theory based on good judgment of character, not because THE WRITERS ARE TRYING TO SET IT UP AND UGH, THEY'RE WRONG
. Which, no, YOU are wrong,
* Sousa-haters, HE IS SO
PERFECT FOR HER, I think I explained why last year, not to mention gorgeous and apparently a very good singer
. Anyway so I'm happy with the chances for my team, but other people like other matches better and suddenly it's the SHOW'S fault if the show doesn't agree?
4. Nobody's saying Peggy NEEDS a man. PEGGY sure isn't saying she needs a man. But it's already canon that she eventually does marry one, because she mentions him in Winter Soldier
. So it's not like she's going to stay single forever, either. She's totally over Steve now, she can date whomever whenever she wants, and it will IN NO WAY WEAKEN HER FROM THE AWESOME CHARACTER THAT SHE IS.
Returning to the subject of tropes. OMG TROPES. These come up frequently in online critical discussion, but it's never about "How was this trope incorporated?" It's instead "THAT trope showed up. And THERE's an example of THAT trope. This show keeps using all these tired tropes!" GUYS, STOP. Stop trying to name tropes. Tropes are not automatically cliches that should be eliminated. Tropes are basic storytelling threads that show up again and again through the WHOLE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY (certain technological details excepted). It does not matter if a certain trope can be identified-- does it fit, organically, with this story? HOW does it fit? What do the writers, or actors, or set designers do to claim it as their own? What makes this piece of storytelling unique? Tell me that. Don't tell me it happens to HAVE a trope you don't like on principle.
It's like people are reviewing shows against an imaginary ideal in their head and getting mad when it doesn't meet those expectations.
To be honest, I realized my personal problem with this kind of criticism just about a year ago, when I read an article that pointed out that this grew out of lazy academic criticism. FLASH BACK to my second semester at college, when I went to my first English-major specific class, Literary Analysis. Guys, I SUCKED at it. Sure, I LOVE analyzing literature! I can do it nonstop! But apparently I was doing it WRONG. Lit Analysis was about looking at works through SPECIFIC LENSES, going in with a premade set of things to look for, and coming up with how that set matches up with the work, and then judging the entire work based only on those criteria. IT MADE NO SENSE to me. Why were we intentionally biasing what we said about a work in this way? Why couldn't the WORK ITSELF instead work on us, and then we could say how it managed what it did? These Lit Analysis methods seemed altogether BACKWARDS-- like telling a work "How well do you follow MY RULES?" instead of saying "Okay, art, what are you here to offer me?" My professor kept rolling her eyes at my idiocy and repeating the same seemingly nonsensical things over and over, certain that if she just said it again with MORE EMPHASIS I'd get it. But instead, I decided it was hogwash and changed my major to elementary ed, where our analysis of literature revolved around how well it worked for kids of various ages and abilities, which is much more the way I preferred to do it.
--anyway my point is, there's probably nothing wrong with the way other people critique shows, it just happens to be a way I find painfully
antithetical to my own way. I AM SORRY, OTHER REVIEWERS. IT REALLY ISN'T YOUR FAULT. IT'S A WORLD VIEW PROBLEM. I
cannot experience art by chopping it up and going at the pieces with a checklist. I don't like when the people who CAN AND DO insinuate that I'm wrong
, so, defensively, I've been trying to turn the tables. Hypocritical, no?
But in defense of MY way, I think I get to enjoy myself more. I can experience the forest without harping on about how some of the trees are shaped. Remember my allusion up above to the Sherlock
holiday special? MAN, that thing was WEIRD, and it had bits that weren't to my taste. But I utterly enjoyed watching it, 'cause I rolled with it. I decided to accept it as is and see what I got out of it, and I got a pleasant evening out of it that happened to include Martin Freeman doing narration, which is something I will always adore (not to mention, Martin Freeman as a WHOLE, but his doing narration is a thing that always sticks out for me). I'm not always
going to enjoy myself with the roll-with-it technique. There will always be shows that turn out to have nothing good to offer me in the end. But at least I didn't go in with a checklist.
Okay, some final Agent Carter
reactions: Speaking of rolling with it, when I heard Mrs. Jarvis would actually be IN THE PICTURE this season, I wasn't sure what to think. It was sort of a running gag that you never saw her before. But hey, roll with it, and of course she's wonderful. And what's up with all these villains you can't help but sort of root for? Dottie is so much fun in her sociopathic way, and Whitney Frost, I don't know, but I find I'm loving her more, too, the more horrible she gets. Shout out to the minor characters who are awesome, like Rose, or awesomely annoying, like Samberley. OH GOSH SAMBERLEY-- it's kind of fun having someone who is neither evil nor just a typical bigoted 40s white guy who is nonetheless completely unlikeable. And just because I'm a Sousa fangirl doesn't mean I dislike Jason Wilkes, he's quite charming when he isn't being completely messed up by Dark Matter. Actually the only bad thing about him is that, whenever anyone calls him "Jason," MY Jason ALWAYS feels the need to say "Yes?" and that does get irritating after awhile. And Jack Thompson. Dude. Why do I get the feeling you're going to be part of the reason Hydra ends up building itself into SHIELD from the beginning? I'm onto you and your ambitious ways, Thompson! EDIT! I need to include my thoughts post-finale! The only part of what I said before that has been really changed by the last episode was, of course, JACK. OMG. The guy's a jerk, but he can't end this way! WHICH FURTHER NECESSITATES A THIRD SEASON! I need either closure or reprieve. Granted, I've seen at least one of the showrunners, in at least two different places, stress the ambiguity of his fate, just short of yelling "HE'S NOT DEAD!" at us. If he IS dead, I guess he doesn't have any hand in the Hydra infiltration. If he's not, the possibility still stands. But I'm glad he really does seem to respect Peggy now. The scene with the dinner orders was just THE BEST. And kind of heartrending in retrospect-- it's kind of foreshadowing, because his relationship with Peggy came so beautifully full-circle, it's like, should have known that'd be the end of him, we just totally closed an arc there! But it was awesome.
Also, I want Whitney's purple dress in THAT episode, too.
Also, I am so gloating about my ship, guys. Look, it's not even that I was THAT PASSIONATE a shipper. My favorite ship of the MCU is still the ill-fated half-season-long Coulson/Rosalind deal because I'm just weird that way. But there are still so many people that DO NOT APPRECIATE SOUSA PROPERLY that I just feel compelled to be all fist-pumpy in-yo'-face about that freakin' intense kissin' they had going on there. I CALLED IT GUYS AND IT'S CANON WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.
ANYHOO. GIVE ME SEASON THREE OR I WON'T BE ABLE TO LIVE. Well, perfectly happily anyway.
In short, DO AS PEGGY SAYS. Or, support Agent Carter
because it's way too good to get brushed away.
I think that's all I have to say. If not, question me about my omissions in the comments and I'll expound upon them there.
*Teasing. I'm only name-checking the one Sousa-...-disliker
I can argue with in complete confidence that it's all friendly on both sides!