2017: A Television Year in Review

Here at Much Ado About Cinema, the focus tends to be on films – which is great, but that’s not all cinema amounts to. 2017 was also a great year for television, and there’s a lot of arguments to be made concerning the prestige of the format; with the popularity of netflix and the prominence of many highly-regarded directors flocking to the small screen, television is experiencing something of a resurgence in reputability. With this in mind, Much Ado will be incorporating more coverage of the medium as we head into 2018, and we thought we would begin with a look back on our favourite shows of 2017, from the surprising, to the disappointing, to the consistently brilliant.

 

American Gods

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American Gods. © 2017 Fremantle Media North America

To most, American Gods might seem no different than many other fantasy series that are on cable TV, or even the network: it has cool visuals, is based on a book series, and written in hopes of captivating its viewers via carefully crafted plot twists. Built on the already complex premise of Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, creator Bryan Fuller and his team of writers manage to succesfully carry a transition between two mediums of storytelling by doing that one wouldn’t expect from such a genre, and focusing on the people that  fantasy world rather than what makes the world a fantasy one. Of course, the fact that people are mostly the main reason that this world is magic does provide help on this subject to them, but even the visual work here is always about what it tells of instead of what it might show. Fuller might be best known for his visual perfection of Hannibal, but his work here can be even argued to exceed that. Eight episodes, each not longer than an hour, work as book chapters of their own — and they all have their own prologues in most cases, little, thematically coherent cold openings that tell smaller stories with little to no consequence, but are still able to create an impactful parallel with the bigger picture. When looked from afar, American Gods is a masterpiece of filmmaking and production — and that might even be enough for it to be considered as one of the best outings of the year: but the real present opens itself up when one begins to examine the work closely, and finds themselves in a labyrinth of significant questions abot love, life, belief and fate.

– Deniz Çakır

American Vandal

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American Vandal. © 2017 Netflix

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this year was a little Netflix show called ‘American Vandal’. An audacious parody of the true crime shows the steaming service itself loves to produce, ‘American Vandal’ uses familiar tropes to hilarious results, demonstrating a keen awareness of what makes true crime shows so addictive. Name something you’ve seen in a true crime show and it’s probably there: hierarchy charts, a timeline of events, 3D reenactments, it goes on. The show stays committed to replicating the genre in even the smallest of details, such as giving the characters executive producer credits. What makes the show so surprising though is that it cultivates an intriguing mystery of its own — over the course of 8 episodes, two high school students try to solve the show’s elusive case: who drew the dicks on 27 cars in the school parking lot? (“Who drew the dicks?” gets repeated so often that I’m kind of ashamed to say that I laugh every time.) But ‘American Vandal’ goes beyond being a funny pastiche, and provides a thought-provoking commentary on the politics of high school, and even exposes the exploitative nature of the genre. As a meticulously crafted satire, ‘American Vandal’ is more than just dick jokes — but also, expect a lot of dick jokes.

– Iana Murray

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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A Series of Unfortunate Events. © 2017 Netflix

Adaptations are hard to do for many reasons: one important among them being the fact that they mostly exist in a purgatory between the originality they have to carry if they want viewers to keep being interested, and the dedication they have to hold for the source material if they want viewers to be satisfied with the concept of them being an adaptation. And when you add all these to the possibility of a book being metatextual commentary and its own story and own medium, the thinking process becomes more of a unsolvable puzzle of seven or so dimensions rather than a linear line; as it is the case with A Series of Unfortunate Events. Lemony Snicket’s worldwide known masterpiece of dark humour filled children literature have been tried to be put into the screen during the modern history, first in 2004, which was an above average success and secondly in 2017, with Netflix’s TV series of the same name starring Neil Patrick Harris — who is wonderfully evil in his role as Count Olaf —, Malina Weissman, Patrick Warburton and Louis Hynes in its main roles, which is; in my honest and possibly uneducated opinion; one of the first, and the best, example of a visual work creating a metatextual border around it. It is hard to explain without using references and giving spoilers, but from the moment you start watching the TV series, you quickly understand that you are being played by it. Not by the story though, at least not just by the story, but the show itself, too — with its production, camera angles, pacing, even episode titles: the body of work wraps you around its fingers and doesn’t let you go until the very end. And when it lets you go, then it is too late, and you are already six feet deep into internet theories and crazy clue searches. But let me tell, it is all worth it.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Better Call Saul

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Better Call Saul. © 2016 AMC Networks Entertainment LLC. and Sony Pictures Television Inc.

“You’re STILL watching that!?” is probably the most common response when bringing up ‘Better Call Saul’ in conversation. To be sure, viewership of the ‘Breaking Bad’ spinoff has dropped off considerably, with the Season 3 finale bringing in a total of 1.8 million viewers as opposed to the 7 million that tuned in for the pilot back in 2015. Those who skipped out on watching though, are missing out on some great television; ‘Better Call Saul’ has never been, well, better, as it were. Led by a brilliant performance from Bob Odenkirk, the series goes from strength to strength in its third season, merging a beautifully poetic script with all-round brilliant acting. The plot, which details the escapades of the eternally lovable lawyer Saul Goodman (known in the show by his real name, Jimmy McGill), flows smoothly between quiet, emotional struggles and the loud vibrancy of the character. ‘Better Call Saul’s’ true success, however, lies in its balancing act as a prequel. The show includes just enough references to its predecessor to give the story that kick of extra excitement, a wink to the dedicated fans that have stuck with this franchise since its birth, whilst also ensuring that the episodes feel fresh and organic, rather than a rehash of the show that came before. The new characters introduced in the show are just as watchable as the familiar faces –  most notably Kim Wexler, a fiercely brilliant co-worker of Jimmy’s who becomes his confidante and eventually his lover. Jimmy’s brother Chuck is another irritatingly human addition, and his oscillation between a familiar loved one and a cold, seemingly heartless rival perfectly represents the uncertain nature of morality that ‘Breaking Bad’ was so concerned with. Here, then, is a show that is more than deserving of its predecessor – and with a new season coming in 2018, there has never been a better time to catch up.

– Megan Christopher

 

Big Little Lies

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Big Little Lies. © 2017 HBO

‘Big Little Lies’ is a masterclass in the art of the big reveal. This mystery-drama unfolds slowly over a seven-episode run, but the experience never feels dragged out; on the contrary, each episode is packed with intense character development, poignant representations of female friendships, a sprinkle of comedy and a sensitive focus on the topic of marital abuse. Anchored by career-defining performances from Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz, ‘Big Little Lies’ begins with the introduction of new-soccer-mom-on-the-block Jane (Woodley), as she navigates the difficult world of the upper-class Californian suburb. Here, she meets Celeste (Kidman), a mum-of-two who has a seemingly perfect family life, and Madeline (Witherspoon), a headstrong pack leader who has a finger in every pie in the town. The trio form a hilarious group of characters that are thoroughly likable even as the show gently mocks their posh suburban habits – for these women never become a caricature, and are instead often relatable in their difficulties and complexities. In a series of flashforwards, we discover that somebody within this tight-knit community is murdered on one fateful trivia night, and as the show continues, information is drip-fed to the audience in a way that is both tantalizing and excruciating. Either way, this tact will keep you watching eagerly until the very end. Though ‘Big Little Lies’ was intended to be a mini-series, its overwhelming critical and commercial popularity has led to the announcement of a second season, to mixed response, as the first season wraps the storyline up pretty well. Personally, I’m excited to see more of these characters, and with the announcement of Andrea Arnold as director, there’s high hopes for where ‘Big Little Lies’ can go from here.

– Megan Christopher

 

Bojack Horseman

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Bojack Horseman. © 2017 Netflix

If you are a fan of weird and existential adult animation like Rick & Morty and Animals, then you definitely will love BoJack Horseman.

Through all three of its previous seasons, it had a story arc that BoJack had to deal with or overcome. In season one it was writing his memoir, in season two it was starring as the title role in the upcoming Secretariat film, and in season three it was his Oscar campaign for Secretariat. In this new season, he finds out he has a long lost daughter, and he has to struggle with being both a responsible father and a successful actor.

Just like every other season, BoJack struggles to maintain good relationships with his peers, tries to stay as relevant as he can in an age where there’s a new popular trend in entertainment every month. The show is not only a satirical look at the life of a movie star, but an existential look at what it means to be a good person, and how certain self destructive behaviors can affect other people as well as yourself.

BoJack has always been a troubled person, and he has never had an easy time dealing with all of these troubles. The best episode in the entire season is Episode 11, Time’s Arrow, where we get a look into the life of BoJack’s mother, Beatrice, and we can see where all of BoJack’s various insecurities and issues come from.

However, what this season does that is very different from previous ones is that it actually ends on a somewhat positive note, giving the audience a rest from the heavy and depressing endings that the last two seasons had. It also gives us hope that in Season 5, BoJack will finally be able to become the person he wants to be, but knowing the rest of the show, that probably won’t be the case.

– Ryan Solomon

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. © 2017 The CW

The series that I had visualized in my head when I first heard of Crazy-Ex Girlfriend was something in the range of New Girl: pretty good, but nothing too new or exciting when it comes to concepts — but what the series shaped itself to be during its first three seasons cannot be more different than that. Filled with clever comedy and beautiful songs that pay homages to many eras and ideas of music such as jazz, 2000s rapping, ballads, fifties Marylin Monroe, country, girl-power anthems, and eighties rock; the show finds it strongest foot rather in its depiction of the human condition from its many perspectives more than any of those. The series, co-created by Rebecca Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, tells the story of a top-level New York lawyer who seems to be severely depressed and unhappy with her life moving away from the big promotion of her life and all her connection after she sees an old summer crush and learns where he lives, which is West Covina of California. Named Rebecca Bunch, the character’s struggle with mental ilness is based on Bloom’s personal experiences on the issue and her own face offs with the stigmatization against it; and the honesty of the moments where one sees Rebecca’s own darkness behind her quirky attitude feels like spaces where one can truly make a connection. The three dimensional reality of Bloom’s characterization pours itself into the script with every joke and lyric, with its sometimes irritating honesty and always captivating complexity, as the show stands strong among its peers by being such a conversation starter on an issue of this importance. Especially in a time where mental ilnesses are still one of the most misunderstood conditions of human life, Crazy-Ex Girlfriend’s sweet and sour look into its own madness offers up a place where people like, or people like you, find pieces of themselves on the screen without feeling judged by it.

Also, there’s a song named “We Tapped That Ass” in the series, which is just too good to go unwatched by everyone.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Dear White People

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Dear White People. © Netflix

Identity politics is a hard thing to navigate in the entertainment industry. Even if one wants to find a show or a movie that would have a representation for them in its fictional world, that is usually isn’t enough. Of course, there are shows that accomplish writing good stories for different types of marginalised group, but even they fail most of the time if they try to create stories about intersectional identities. Not Dear White People though, as this Netflix show takes the premise of the Justin Simien movie that it was based on and expands it by having different characters lead and take the first person view of different episodes. This way, it allows itself to have such personal, yet so universal narratives: touching on everything from having a crush on your straight roommate when you are trying to come out, to police brutality black people face in contemporary American society. Keeping it real — in the literal sense — while still being a fun show to watch, Dear White People is a flawed but still incredibly important piece on conversation that is also very necessary in our cultural climate. The show asks questions about colourism, allyship, political correctness and homophobia without smacking the viewer’s cheek with them, and presents reasonable, even if not 100% perfect, answers for them.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Fargo

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Fargo. © 2017 FX Networks

The previous two seasons of ‘Fargo’ were set in the past, featuring retro sets and clothing that fit perfectly into the off-kilter atmosphere that the dark comedy relied upon. Fargo season 3, however, pushes the anthology series into the 21st century, with a host of brand new characters that serve to be equally as extraordinary as those that came before them. Ewan McGregor plays two of these roles – a pair of twins who could not possibly be more different – with additional supporting cast including the likes of Carrie Coon, David Thewlis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It’s a delicious array of talent on display, and the cuttingly bleak humour that forms the ‘Fargo’ brand is not wasted here. Focusing on two estranged brothers who become involved in a murder case, the series incorporates a very expensive stamp, a fake sex tape, an incredibly cute kitten, a used tampon, a death by air conditioner, and a helpful little robot into its ten-episode run. Amongst all this peculiar dressing, however, ‘Fargo’ never loses track of its story, and the mysteries at the heart of the plot are as original and well-paced as ever. In terms of the future, whilst season 3 was an undoubted success for broadcaster FX, the fate of the show is still uncertain; creator Noah Hawley has stated that he would only continue the show if he had a worthy enough idea. Still, this is a more than respectable approach to take, and for now, the three existing seasons form a brilliant cynically comic trilogy to rewatch again and again.

– Megan Christopher

 

Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones. © 2017 HBO

Oh how the mighty have fallen. The show that once led Best TV lists is now the show that makes everyone wish it was over so they could move on. From lousy dialogues to plot holes, Game of Thrones had its worst season and it’d be true to say it “jumped the shark” (probably before the 7th season). One of the aspects of the show that sparks a lot of discussion was that how quickly the characters travelled across Westeros. The defence of some of the fans was that Game of Thrones is a fantasy and that we shouldn’t question such mundane details. But what these defenders seemed to be missing was that just because the show takes place in a fantasy world, doesn’t mean anything can happen. Each fantasy worlds have their own rules within their realities and this fact was what made Game of Thrones so special at the first place. It wasn’t a show where things happened randomly without explanation but each scene had a purpose and fit within the realities of George Martin’s world. Once the characters who in the first season took 5 episodes to arrive somewhere start to do the same travelling within the span of 20 minutes, that reality started to collapse and this is just one thing that makes Game of Thrones so “get it over with” at this point. Negative criticism towards the show can go on and on for pages. In its 7th season, Game of Thrones feels tiring to watch and even its “Holy shit!” scenes can’t make its dedicated fanbase watch it for anything but wonder as to whose ass is going to end up on that damn throne. Here’s to hoping for the new book to come out soon!

– Dilara Elbir

 

Good Behavior

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Good Behavior. © 2016 Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company

When ‘Good Behavior’ began its first season in earnest last year I, alongside much of the hypercritical public, expected this high-style drama to be shambolic. I was perhaps half right; the chaotic series, which follows con artist Letty (Michelle Dockery) and her hitman boyfriend Javier (Juan Diego Botto), is far from the ranks of prestige television. This, however, does not stop the show from being a complete riot, and a regular fun watch to break up the droll charm of many an Emmy vehicle. Dockery – who was probably the biggest audience pull for legions of people desperate to see Lady Mary snort coke – excels in her role, adding a believable vulnerability to the imperfect mother/master thief/wayward daughter/occasional drag queen.

Season 2 drives the show even further into the realms of soap opera drama, with twists that come out of nowhere and schemes that must be seen to be believed, but the chaos is grounded with a humanity that resonates across all audiences. Falling in love with these characters and their maddening choices is part of the draw, and the odd pairing of Letty and Javier leads equally to ridiculous quips (one episode of the season is aptly named “Can’t You Just Keep A Person Alive For Once) and genuine heartfelt struggles. ‘Good Behavior’ has probably been the show I’ve enjoyed the most this year, and the show that I’ve continued to look forward to week upon week. There’s no word on Season 3 at this point, but I’ll definitely be hoping for more, as I’m nowhere near ready to say goodbye to Letty and Javier yet.

– Megan Christopher

 

How to Get Away with Murder

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How to Get Away with Murder. © 2017 ABC

When How to Get Away With Murder started its journey as the youngest child of Shondaland Empire of ABC’s “Thank God It’s Thursday” Programming in 2014, it wasn’t a perfect show. It had great pieces of storytelling in itself, a diverse group of actors with some real star talent shining in between (first of all, Viola Davis — and then Aja Naomi King, Liza Weil and Karla Souza; or guest stars such as legendary Cicely Tyson) but had problem with building bridges between the interpersonal dramas and more conspiracy based ones. Still, it was built on an intriguing idea and some turns and twists that would make you reach for your breath, especially in mid-season finales. Although the seasonal formula, that there was always one person dying or murdering in a flashforward and the show would reveal the suspects one by one, was clear by the beginning of the second season, it still did its part to keep the viewers curious.

That was, unfortunately, until the third season finale — where many thought that in the name of a “true surprise”, the series made its most absurd choice to date. I held my hopes up for a long time, thinking that they would have an explanation or a twist that would make everything fall right into place in the end, but the fourth season just continued to get worse. Not only did they not have a complex enough reasoning behind their choice, both the protagonists and the antagonists of the shows were starting to become two dimensional paper cuts of unlikable drama-makers. Sadly, now, I don’t think there’s a way that How to Get Away With Murder can go back its golden days; though I certainly hope so.

But until then, Pete Nowalk, here’s a little clue: you don’t drop a clue for an emergency number and then let it go for half a season without any progress. You just don’t.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Insecure

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Insecure. © 2017 HBO

Issa Rae’s show about a twenty-something woman navigating her love life, friendships and career continues to amaze its viewers by subversing their expectations of what a millenial comedy show might be in its own version of fast-paced life of Los Angeles. Starring a talented ensemble cast lead by Issa Rae herself and Yvonne Orji, who star as two best friends with completely different life goals and problems but have each others back either way, the show ups the comedy in its second season while also doing the work necessary for creating realistic relationships with realistic conflicts and depth. Now her feet on the ground more strong than ever, the eight episode series is to be showered in awards just for how beautifully shot it is — which is seemingly a hard thing for other directors to do when the colour of black skin is involved, because, racism i guess — but doesn’t get satisfied by just being a beautiful looking show, it aims to be beautiful show. Here’s to a season three that is even better, and believe, if anyone’s gonna top themselves next year — it is the one and only Issa Rae.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Master of None

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Master of None. © 2017 Netflix

I might be in the minority when I say that ‘Master of None’ is not only the best show on Netflix, but one of the best shows on television, period. Season one of Aziz Ansari’s romantic comedy was its own slice of perfection but the follow-up somehow managed to top it. With Dev’s (Ansari) move to Italy, the show wears its Italian influences on its sleeve — beginning from minute one with a pan to Dev’s bedside table upon which lies a stack of Italian classics, followed by an entire episode that is an homage to Bicycle Thieves. Like the previous season, ‘Master of None’ seamlessly navigates topics such as religion and sexuality, and preemptively became the most timely show of the year with its well-handled storyline on sexual harassment. It’s so easy to fall for the swoon-worthy romance between Dev and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) — but it’s the episodes that diverge from Dev’s story that are the true standouts ( this is not a complaint against Ansari, he just understands that he doesn’t need to be the centre of attention). ‘New York, I Love You’ is a loving tribute to the city and the people who live in it, and ‘Thanksgiving’ episode is one of the most beautiful coming out stories ever put to screen.

– Iana Murray

 

Mindhunter

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Mindhunter. © 2017 Netflix

Netflix have been producing original series for years now, and they’ve arrayed from the game-changing (‘Orange is the New Black’) to the popular talking points (’13 Reasons Why’) to the awards darlings (‘The Crown’) to the downright bloody awful (let’s be honest, there’s too much to list). It’s fortunate, then, that the VOD-service-turned-production-company has killed it yet again with this year’s ‘Mindhunter’. Revolving around FBI rookie Holden Ford and his partner Bill Tench, the show follows a series of interviews the pair carry out with imprisoned serial killers, in their attempt to incorporate psychology into the workings of the Bureau. The first episode is a slightly dry affair, establishing the keen arrogance of Ford in contrast with the relative exhaustion of everyone else, but within a couple of hours the plot really picks up steam, particularly with the introduction of psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), who has become something of a fan favourite due to her strength, complexity, intelligence, and lesbianism. As the series continues, the morality of their project is questioned, as is their methodology – is it ethically sound to try and empathise with a killer? Should the result of reducing crime take all precedence? How far can you really delve into the mind of a so-called “monster”? ‘Mindhunter’ boasts a thrilling narrative that refuses to take the easy route of one single answer to any of these questions. Combine this with the uneasy interviews and grisly scenes that are peppered throughout the ten episodes and you have one of the best new shows of the year. It’s understandable then, that Netflix commissioned a new series before the first had even aired, and we can hopefully look forward to that hitting the small screen before the end of 2018.

– Megan Christopher

 

One Day at a Time

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One Day at a Time. © 2017 Netflix

If there’s one thing that is plauging Hollywood more than adaptations and sequals to those adaptations, it is reboots. Many of them add nothing to their original material other than some cool visuals and some HD quality scenery, while others fail to even do that (yes, looking at you Terminator: Genysis.) But this is not a problem exclusive to movie industry, as TV shows themselves try to take the easy route of “repeating something that has been succesful before with an added power of nostalgia”, in an age where originality seems to not exist. Thankfully, One Day At A Time, one of Netflix’s newer reboots based on the 1975 sitcom of the same name, is a diamond found in the rough: navigating the story of a single Latina mother who is raising her teen daughter and tween son with the “help” of her old-school mom in such a beautiful way. With wonderful Rita Moreno and Justina Machado leading it, the series tackle such issues as coming out, workplace sexism, immigration, spousal relationships, generation gaps and post traumatic stress disorder of veterans in a serious yet still fun way. It is emotional and funny, bright and heartbreaking — just watching the dance scene in Elena at her quinceanera makes you want to grab a tissue because of the tears coming out. The viewers can enjoy this feel-good series in their bed, eating ice cream; or thanks to Elena’s story, it can be an inspiring gateway example for closeted queer youth who is trying to find their place in this world. It is their choice.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Rick & Morty

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Rick & Morty. © 2017 Adult Swim

If you were alive and on planet earth on 2017, you probably know what Rick & Morty is.

What started as a sort of obscure and weird cartoon on Adult Swim has become a pop culture phenomenon, and is now their most profitable show.

Season 3 had a ton of hype behind it, and when episode 1 of this season aired in April, people flipped out. I don’t even need to explain the whole Szechuan sauce debacle. This episode skyrocketed people’s expectations, and at first, I was pretty skeptical.

Just like everyone else, I absolutely adore Season one and two, but Season 3 kinda had a rocky start. It wasn’t until episode 4 that I really started laughing. It could’ve been fatigue from the constant memes of Pickle Rick that I was seeing all over social media, but I was eventually able to start enjoying the show again when I detached myself from the ridiculous overhyping of pretty small and insignificant jokes in the show.

What really made me love the Season was episode 7, The Ricklantis Mixup, where we get to see life on the citadel, after our Rick and Morty left it in shambles. We see the classism and oppression of the Rick’s in power, and how certain Rick’s are subjugated to factory jobs and are treated like cattle. We see political corruption, greed, and prejudice, and it’s fantastic. The more deep and serious aspects of Rick and Morty are what I love, when it tackles real world problems in an intelligent way, actually making you think. Sure it’s a funny and goofy show, but it’s also much deeper than that, and that’s what makes it stick out as one of the best animated shows on TV right now.

– Ryan Solomon

Rupaul’s Drag Race

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Rupaul’s Drag Race. © 2017 Logo TV and VH1

Media, as it is with everything made in relation to human beings and society, exists in a political space, feeds from the said political space, means something in that political place — and seeing a show about drag queen, who are in their essence one of the most proudly and loudly political artists in the history — on prime television, especially during this time of confusion, hate and extremism in the world, that is a feeling indescribable by word. Not the mention that the show is good, too. Season 9, although it has its problems (such as a cheerleader challenge) serves as a great transition for the show’s move from Logo to VH1. A talented cast of people who are great at what they do fight to be named the America’s Next Drag Superstar by none other than RuPaul herself, and a different star comment on different challenges these drag queens perform in every week as the guest of the episode. For many, this season was criticized for its lack of “faggotry and shenanigans”, but no one in this face of the earth can claim that they didn’t gasp for air while watching the maskgate. And if none of those are enough, the series changes the game at the last minute, and puts the four finalists in a last war of “lipsync for your life”, blessing us with the magnificent moment that is the rose petal situation. Believe me, you’ll never listen to Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” after watching that episode.

– Deniz Çakır

The Americans

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The Americans. © 2017 FX Networks

Keeping the viewers interested in a show, even more so in this time where there’s literally a new series popping every second, is an extremely hard job to take; especially if you refuse to rely on cheap gimmicks of storytelling such as unexpected and ungrounded plot twists. In its fifth season, the Soviet spy story of The Americans makes it to the top this imaginary food pyramid of “keeping the audience intrigued” by not giving them cool fight scenes, identity changes or political conspiracies — although all those things are there, along with very cheap looking wigs, the show does its most dramatic moments when they are of personal conflicts, equipped with clever writing and all around magnificent performances by the cast: and the result is the building of a personal bridge between the show’s fictional world into the watcher’s heart. By inviting us into their most private thoughts and fights, Elizabeth and Philip create a special place in our minds, filled with their complex realities. As its creator, Joe Weisberg presents the show with a story that it deserves in its penultimate season, and rewards the long time watchers with a group of episodes that are artfully crafted and thoughtfully written.

– Deniz Çakır

 

The Crown

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The Crown. © 2017 Netflix

To enjoy the Crown, one must forget about the fact that the characters we see are fictional versions of the Royal Family – if you’re like me, anti-monarchy, you’ll find yourself feeling guilty for enjoying the greatest PR the Royal Family could hope for. The Crown’s second season does almost live up to its first, but it doesn’t leave the same taste. Philip’s problems with his wife being the Queen, as if he had no idea, was interesting to watch in first season because it added to Elizabeth’s struggles of ascending to the throne before her time but the story-line loses its power in second season. Philip becomes even more annoying and not in a compelling to watch way. Margaret and her wildness, despite Vanessa Kirby’s superb acting, becomes too repetitive. Elizabeth’s jealousy of other women and her occasional lack of confidence in her physical appearance feels too much, and sexist, at times. But not everything about the second season is bad. The episode with the Kennedys is the best of the season. It’s quite fun to watch this ancient and outdated family meet the ‘it couple’ of politics. It’s also great to watch Elizabeth interact with a woman who is not a member of her family. Claire Foy’s performance as Elizabeth is still enough to make one bingewatch the whole thing at a one go. Her subtle portrayal is outstanding and it’s no wonder that another wonderful actress Olivia Colman has been chosen to take over the role.

– Dilara Elbir

 

The Deuce

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The Deuce. © 2017 HBO

HBO, like most other cable TV channels, has made a name for itself for being a space where series — such as Game of Thrones — be as expensive, gory, or sexual as possible. But just as with every other thing in content creating, something doesn’t simply become good because it is allowed: it has to serve a narrative purpose other than just surprising viewers with skull-crushings and sudden boobs. With The Deuce, his work focusing on the rise of porn industry in New York after its legalization, author David Simon and his frequent collaborator George Pelecanos succeed in doing just that. Focusing on one of the most neglected work classes of human history, the series tackles issues such as rising drug epidemic and social gentrification of the times and saves itself from being just a pity show by never losing its sight from its casr of colourful, three dimensional characters. Its first eight episodes serving as just a start for this huge machine, The Deuce seems to be on its way of becoming one of the channel’s best TV, even from the start. James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the rising star Dominique Fishback turn their roles into creatures of flesh and blood in this inherently political piece, while the director’s panaromic look on Times Square’s world of prostitution and mafia find its right foot in the way it tells the story of human suffering in the most natural sense possible, with glee and sadness together.

– Deniz Çakır

 

The Good Place

The Good Place. © 2017 NBC

What would you do if you got into heaven, accidentally? Until the very final moments of its first season finale, The Good Place was a good comedy series based on that question; completed with clever jokes, charismatic actors and a beautiful sense of humour; but during those finale moments, the series turned itself into one of best showcases of writing in television history. Seriously, though, no-one could see such a plot twist coming; but also no-one could argue that it was illogical — because the clues were always there, the viewer is reminded by the show in those second, you were just too ignorant to see them. At first, my heart was filled with fear: maybe this was the highest point that the series would reach, and it would all become a downfall after that. Thankfully, I was proven wrong in an instance, when the second season of it continued to play with morality and ethics in a way that is neither too simple nor too heavy; and now with the plus of a conspiracy theory and an escape plan in hand. Even for someone who doesn’t like comedy very much, which is exactly who I am, The Good Place is a great show to watch when you want to feel good about yourself. All five of the main cast — Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Ted Danson, Manny Jacinto — are great in their respective roles; and it is clear in their chemistry that they like the parts they are playing and they like working with each other.

And of course, an honourable mention to D’Arcy Carden, who is just magnificent.

– Deniz Çakır

 

The Leftovers

The Leftovers. © 2017 HBO

It took me a long while before I got around to actually watching The Leftovers primarily because I was skeptical of Damon Lindelof’s involvement – among many reasons that I gave up on Lost. But The Leftovers had me won over from the start and now that it has reached its conclusion after only a brief period of being on the air, it was also about as satisfying a finale as we could have ever received. The very best that a television series much like The Leftovers could be was in some way, a religious experience – and I think that’s almost a fitting description for someone who wants to get a taste of what the show is about. Some things we wonder through life are what our lives would be like under the influence of another entity beyond humanity, and upon an event akin to The Rapture, we wonder all the more about what that leaves the remaining people on the planet. I’m still wondering to myself how Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta had come together in order to create a story that perfectly encapsulates all the confusion that we experience on the spot because there’s no explanation as to what goes on. And maybe that’s why it’s as haunting as it is, it comes so out of nowhere and doesn’t tell you anything about what happens – even by the time it ends you never get a definite answer. Just this period of meditation amidst a manic narrative is enough to convince me that it truly is among the best shows of our time.

– Jaime Rebanal

 

The Young Pope

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The Young Pope. © HBO

Jude Law has been always an actor that I knew of, but never was so interested in, other than his role in Sherlock Holmes and 2004’s Closer. So, witnessing what he can do in The Young Pope is a surprising revelation for me, in the best way possible — and that is not even the greatest thing about this proudly campy, weird and absurd drama. The English-language Italian drama television series created and directed by Paolo Sorrentino follows Law as the newly chosen pope of the Catholic church, who in its first release takes the direct opposite direction of his predecessor’s more liberal approach to religion and demands that all believers around the world to give up both their souls and bodies to the God, no matter the consequences. He is an outright homophobic extremist who doesn’t give two shits for the the established Vatican power structure. If you think that making media about religion, which is a very serious subject for society whether or not you believe in it, is hard; watching The Young Pope burn all the rules in its ten episode run, mostly thanks to the ridiculous attitude it so proudly own, is an out of body experience that leaves you in a dilemma of laughing until your eyes water or just… looking at it with blank eyes.

– Deniz Çakır

 

Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks: The Return. © 2017 ABC

A television revival is not an easy task. Many have tried, and when you look at the reception from both audiences and critics, a lot of them have failed. The slippery slope into lazy nostalgia is the most predominant trap in that aspect. But the outlook for Twin Peaks: The Return was always an exciting one. One of the headiest auteurs of modern cinema, David Lynch, returned to helm all 18 episodes of the revival, and he brought co-writer Mark Frost and a huge part of the original cast with him, to create a genre-bending masterpiece that will stand the test of time. The Return, like its creator is heady, and not for everyone. It interacts with the viewer, toys with and confuses him. It defies both standards of television and film, and becomes something in-between that deconstructs both. Watching it needs a lot of patience, rejection of your own expectations, and most of all the will, to let yourself be taken on a journey to places, that have never appeared on the small screen before. It’s a grand, turbulent epic about human nature, that connects fiction with reality, just to subvert itself during the series finale and leave us, in the cold, empty dark. David Lynch challenges the viewer, but he never disrespects him – he shows us the most emotionally satisfying heights of fiction, just to take us to one of the most existentialist and darkest places in human existence – complete helplessness. It’s a narrative of disillusionment, which is hard to stomach, especially when you expect escapism, the original political and socio-political intent of television. It feels like one of the most daring artistic achievements of our time and it might as well be.

– Kareem Baholzer

Stranger Things

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There was a lot of things to love about the Duffer Brothers production about a fictional Indiana town during the 1980s, which becomes host to a frequent appearance of supernatural instances: a boy goes missing and a girl with telekinetic powers espaces from a government lab, while a portal to a much, much darker alternate universe starts to open — good acting; not just from star names like Wiwona Ryder and David Harbour, but also from the younger group of unknown actors, consistent storytelling, good amount of nostalgia references, a not-so-over-the-top mystery that gets solved but still leaves room for more.

In its second season, the show becomes even better, thanks to the expansion of both its mythology and cast. Sure, there were some complaints about newly added characters who did not get enough dimension, or sudden narrative-breaks that left a lot hanging in the air — but I think it is important to understand that this show is not a typical one, rather something more of a movie; with arcs building up on each other. This is why, from a perspective of continuing the universe and creating different sources for it to live off of, even if didn’t love what they did with the “Lost Sister” episode, in my opinion it is safe to say that Duffers got away with way less of a mess than many other TV shows would have.

-Deniz Çakır

And that concludes our TV review of 2017! As Much Ado About Cinema goes into its second year of existence, we’d like to thank everyone for staying with us so far, and wish you a very happy new year! In 2018, we expect to have more features, more reviews and more festival coverage for you – and hopefully we can continue to grow and become even more diverse in our output.

All the best,

The Much Ado Team

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