Sunday, March 8, 2015

Season of Disappointment

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

There are a handful of television programs airing in the first few months of the year that I look forward to watching, the last eight episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the new season of Downton Abbey on PBS, and the Netflix original House of Cards, which begins streaming at the end of February. These shows are very different from one another, and each has always had their share of strengths and weaknesses, but in the winter of 2015 they have all been somewhat more disappointing than entertaining.

The Walking Dead has been shuffling toward fatigue since the prison burned in the midseason finale of 2013. Recycling The Governor as a villain may have turned out better than expected, but beginning with the death of Herschel the show started losing too many characters that the viewers cared about. In a show about rampant death you risk losing your audience as much as your actors risk losing their jobs. And maybe nobody misses Bob (except for Sasha), but clearly Beth had fans who are upset over her loss. Killing off Tyrese in the first episode of the back eight didn’t help things. Some fans may be wondering who is left to identify with. But beyond the constant deaths, the old run, kill zombies, find haven, get threatened by human survivors, burn haven to the ground plot can only be used so many times before it is totally exhausted. Because we all already know that Alexandria is doomed.

On the other end of the spectrum is the period drama Downton Abbey, which is populated by strangely compelling (if somewhat too modern acting) characters living on an English estate in the early 20th century. This season saw more that the usual share of contrived plot points, including one that turned the tables on earlier events by having Anna end up in prison on suspicion of murder. And like The Walking Dead, too much of this season spent time going over old ground, Mary’s manipulative way with men, Edith’s self-defeating self-pity, Lord Grantham’s general cluelessness followed by a moment of rare insight. And even developments that seemed more original, Daisy’s pursuit of further education, Barrow’s attempts to cure himself of his homosexuality, and Carson’s proposal to Mrs. Hughes, never proved as compelling as earlier events in the series were.

Finally, House of Cards gave us what we’ve been waiting for since season one, a Frank Underwood presidency. But the Underwoods aren’t nearly as interesting in power as they are when scheming to get power. Yes their power is threatened from the beginning by the Party’s decision to not back Frank’s reelection, but under the scrutiny of being president he just isn’t able to make those classically nefarious Underwood maneuvers. He then manages to screw up by overreaching on both foreign policy and his domestic agenda, not to mention the estrangement of all of his personal and political allies. I understand that Underwood needs to be the underdog in order for this series to work, but he just makes way too many mistakes. And the dynamic of the relationship between Frank and Claire, whatever deep conflicts and problems exist there, is founded upon their mutual desire for power and their mutual dependence on one another to acquire that power. Claire leave? I don’t think so.

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