Now that Deadline Hell is finally and incredibly -if temporarily- a thing of the past, I’m finding some time catch up with backlogged TV series that have been accumulating on my hard disk. Obviously, the real stunner as far as the past season’s worth of TV drama is concerned, is Game of Thrones, the fantasy epic that started off very well, and continued to improve with every new episode. Critics who didn’t simply write off because of the show’s genre trappings, and sadly, there were many who did, have described it as “the best first season of a cable series […] since Deadwood back in 2004.” And even if we decide not to turn up the hyperbole as Matt Zoller Seitz did somewhat in his review, we can in any case conclude that Game of Thrones does convincingly join the ranks of other HBO successes like The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm as a show that instantly finds its voice, and that makes the wait for its second season a trial that must be endured.
Another show that I caught up with just as its second season drew to a close is Justified, the modern-day Western that puts a cowboy hat back atop Timothy Olyphant’s oft-glowering face, and with generally pleasing results. Unlike the more high-profile premium cable dramas, the FX-network series doesn’t give much of a tightly-wound story arc across its first season, instead offering a tribute to old-timey episodic series like Wanted: Dead or Alive with its emphasis on smaller story lines. Olyphant holds center stage extremely well on this laid-back show, drawn largely from two Elmore Leonard novels and successfully emulating his patented brand of dialogue. But from the get-go, Walton Goggins (of The Shield fame) walks away with every episode he’s featured in as the unpredictable sociopath who used to be best friends with Olyphant’s unusually violent US Marshal. The narrative conceit of Olyphant killing somebody nearly every episode isn’t necessarily the most compelling formula for a weekly TV show, but the first season certainly provides plenty of colorful characters, well-written dialogues, and a promising set-up for the second season (which is the next thing I’ll now have to catch up with).
Finally, comedian Louis CK’s sitcom Louie falls somewhere between Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, merging the affable everyman’s standup routines to loosely plotted narratives in which he plays himself, dealing with the daily problems of a divorced balding man in his forties. The first season, which proved to be highly addictive once I got going, is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but is all the more impressive for its willingness to go the other way and offer some thoughtful, nuanced reflections on the issues at stake. With hardly any narrative to speak of, the episodes have a stitched-together quality that nevertheless manage to keep the viewer hooked. What’s more: the first season includes an extended cameo by Ricky Gervais, which may be the funniest thing he’s done since the original The Office. It’s certainly a showcase for his ability to play outrageously offensive. The second season of Louie has recently started airing on the FX network.