Various critically beloved shows finished their seasons over the last week. Here now, a quick review of all…
American Gods…I’m not quite a believer yet, and even if I liked Bryan Fuller’s over-the-top, ghoulish style in “Hannibal” (adding a surrealistic dimension to a series that would’ve been laughably far-fetched otherwise), it tends to smother a lot of the promise of “American Gods.” This is a series that needs to be about aging Gods being largely forgotten by a disbelieving public, not something where even the most mundane moments are so off-kilter and fantastical that it’s not that big a stretch to imagine this is a world crawling with tall Leprecahns, gay Jinn, African Goddesses, and corporate New Media Gods. A key word in magical realism is realism and this show could use a bit more of the Neil Gaiman novel’s dry humanity if it wants us to start giving a damn about what we’re watching. Grade for Season: B- (though Ian McShane is great and the moment he revealed he’s Odin was thrilling).
Fargo…Likewise, I’m not sure exactly what went wrong here. I loved “Fargo” season one and really loved the second season (hands-down one of the best series of 2015), but something always seemed a little off here. Was V.M. Varga’s polarizing villain appropriately Faustian—offering Ewan McGregor’s hapless businessman riches of doom—or just disgusting, overly Dickensian, and maddeningly vague? [No matter what you believe, there’s no denying he lacked the visceral force and threat of Billy Bob Thronton’s malicious first-season villain Malvo.] Was the great Cary Coons really given enough to do as Gloria Burgle? Was the bland McGregor perhaps given too much to do with dueling twins? I think it’s inarguable that the dual-role dynamic didn’t really work here, and a great deal of tension was disappointingly gone after the two-thirds mark. Yes, the series set us up for a Caine-and-Abel struggle, but McGregor’s smooth businessman Emmitt never quite got nasty enough to justify that arc. Regardless, it was a decent season that isn’t a totally satisfying finish for the series. Although it’s been rumored there may be another season—in three years—I would argue that such a long hiatus after already coming off a two-year hiatus means this series is as good as cancelled and I expect a “Knick”-like announcement in a year or two. Grade for Season: B
Better Call Saul…For the third year in a row, “Better Call Saul” comes into the season finale with a huge head of steam and momentum and then blows it with an anti-climax. We see Jimmy being uncharacteristically charitable by essentially blowing a million-dollar-plus prize from a class action law suit, and as unbelievable as that moment is, we also have to believe it would be triggered by a visit to Chuck’s house in which the perpetual asshole grouch once again berates Jimmy while admitting no fault of his own. The biggest plot movements once again felt like regressions (Kim and Jimmy shutting down their just-launched law office) and the centerpiece of suspense was Chuck tearing apart his house to find hidden power in “The French Connection” meets a mental illness awareness PSA. Although there’s a fire at Chuck’s house, and I’m hoping he won’t survive it, it wouldn’t totally surprise me if he did just because “Saul” has a problem quitting this character. Grade for Season: B…Grade for Season Finale: C-
Veep…How does this series do it? Selina Meyer is a bad mother, a bad boss, a bad friend, and really a bad person by any standard metric of goodness. Yet “Veep” miraculously gets us to care about one of the most unlikable characters on television every year, and that feels almost exciting given how rarely women are asked to play jerks. [Usually, it’s as some sort-of defensive statement that their behavior isn’t really that bad, but “Veep” seems to revel in making Selina sound like a hypocrite in mounting that defense.] By seeing Meyer out of office, and more venal than ever in getting back her legacy, more money, and a Presidential library that only she seems to want, the series didn’t match the excellent 5th season (the first comedy I’ve ever chosen as the “Best Series of the Year”), but it came very damn close. Extra points for introducing the loathsome private prisons magnet Sherman Tanz, clearly based on Sheldon Adelson, and for having Jonah lead a Tea Party-like band of idiot congressmen into a government shutdown. Grade for Season: A
Silicon Valley…This show seems to be struggling to find a consistent plot but, amazingly, that actually works for it as the characters are all searching for a way to make people actually care about Richard’s groundbreaking compression technology. The series seems to be aware that even the series viewers didn’t really understand “the platform” (like the masses inside the show), and relaunched the main crew in a quest to create a new internet. There are so many plot switches and ups and downs, it would take ten paragraphs to recap them all, but it’s a testament to how good the series is that it never feels totally exhausting, and is frequently hilarious. [The end of episode two where someone bangs on the two-way mirror of a focus group was a rare laugh out loud moment, as was the reveal of a factory hostage situation in the finale.] Although this season was a little bittersweet, as it’s the last one for T.J. Miller’s hilarious Ehrlich Bachmann, frequently one of the funniest things on the show. Grade for Season: A-