So, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, the entirety of the 2011-2012 teevee season is now in the books. How was it? It was like all teevee seasons, it turns out: a mixed bag. Here are thoughts on specific shows.
:: OK, might as well start with Castle. In general, I liked this season, although it honestly felt like they were deliberately stretching the main story out as long as possible. Here I'm referring to the ongoing investigation, such as it is, of the murder of Joanna Beckett, mother of Detective Kate Beckett. It was my firm belief going into this season that this storyline really needed to get wrapped up this year. Did it? No. And worse, the ball barely got moved. So now we drag it onto next season, when my hope will still be the same: that this tale gets closed out and done, so we can move into more interesting territory. The murder of her mother is what has defined Kate Beckett, it's the event that has motivated her life more than any other. So what will she be like when it's done? What will that mean for her? That's a fascinating question, and I hope the writers embrace the chance to find out. I'm afraid they won't, however.
The season also kept the "will they or won't they" nature of Castle and Beckett's relationship going for far too long, as I complained about in my open letter to Castle a while back. I was willing to see where they went with the season finale, on the assumption that maybe the obstacles thrown in between them would turn out to just be ways for the writers to postpone any major developments to the finale episode, because many such shows are total captives to the teevee season schedule and will only do BIG events on the final episodes of a particular sweeps period. And yet, that does seem to have been the case, as the finale ended with Castle and Beckett finally coming together. (Well, it almost ended that way. More on that in a bit.)
Anyway, yes, I'm very glad that they finally stopped playing coy and making sly references to feelings they both know the other has and all that rot. And you know what? The scenes where that happened were actually very well written and superbly acted. So why they felt the need to postpone it and put it off with all manner of goofy "I'm mad at Kate so I'm not gonna talk to her and I'm gonna play around with a flight attendant instead, neener neener neener!" stuff really does seem to have been what I called it back then: a Love Boat third act, a fake complication designed to do nothing more than drag things out. That was awful writing, but at least it resulted in a well-done outcome. Nathan Fillion's acting in the final confession was great; he made Castle's simultaneous anguish at trying to pound his way through Beckett's determination and his relief at finally ripping off this stupid Band-aid very real. And I continue to think that Stana Katic plays Beckett very well, with relentless focus. Her mindset is very much "one thing at a time", and when life does its thing of forcing her to confront more than she wants to confront, she tends to want to shut it down. This time it led to (for her) disastrous results, but it also forced her to a place where she finally had to admit what she's felt for Castle. This was all very well handled, and I hope that the preceding nonsense was just an aberration born of the rigid mindset of American teevee that you can only do Really Big Things in season finales.
As for the developments in the Joanna Beckett case, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, the tale is still out there, waiting to be resolved. On the other hand...when I really think about it, Andrew Marlowe and company actually didn't muddy the waters much more than they already have. They didn't introduce yet another element or layer to the case; they simply put a face on an old one (the sniper who nearly killed Beckett last year) and gave a tiny bit of revelation about another one that's been around a bit (the shadowy figure who's been informing Castle). So, even though nothing has been resolved, I'm at least glad that we didn't peel away another layer of this story's onion just to find yet one more layer.
My Open Letter actually got quite a bit of attention from several Castle fan forums across the Interweb, which I was interested and sometimes amused to follow along. Two forums in particular gave it quite a bit of discussion, and interestingly, I was right in the middle of the prevailing opinions of each forum! On one forum, I was "too caught up in my own idealism" to see that Castle's reaction to learning that Beckett had heard what he'd said months before, as she was bleeding in the grass, was totally realistic and respectable and consistent with who he was, as if my desire to have seen some kind of character growth over four years of storytelling was just too much to ask! But on the other forum, I was giving the writers too much credit; over there, the Castle showrunners are little better than the million monkeys at the typewriters, hoping to use their infinite time to produce the works of Shakespeare. Clearly, I was in between those extremes...although I found the former more disappointing than the latter, because the folks there struck me as being insufficiently critical. But who cares? I'm just me.
Anyway, I'm glad that Castle ended on at least some of the notes it did, and I'm not entirely annoyed that it ended on some of the other notes it did. But really, guys: wrap up the Joanna Beckett murder mystery. Trust me, it's just not that interesting anymore. They've already promised a return to the more 'fun' atmosphere of the first few seasons, so here's hoping. One thing I noticed this year that if he wasn't saying it outright once in a while, there was almost no real mention of use of the fact that Castle is a writer. I liked it back when he would have a poker game with his mystery writer buddies and bounce his theories off them about his current case. They should get back to doing that sort of thing.
:: You know what else isn't interesting? Patrick Jane's quest for Red John on The Mentalist. And to be honest, the show itself isn't that interesting anymore. This was a really down year for that show...I'd always found it entertaining, before, but this season just did not produce too many memorable episodes, and the Red John storyline is starting to get ridiculous. I read an interview the other day with the show's creator, in which he indicated that Red John has become more of a 'Moriarty' figure than an elusive serial killer, which is fine, but the show's writing staff just doesn't seem to have the chops to pull this off. It continues to be increasingly unbelievable that a violent murderer like Red John could continue to command the utter, unwavering loyalty of so many underlings. If they could explain that, then maybe it would be believable. But really, this show needs to wrap up its long mytharc, too...but we all know it's not going to. Sigh.
:: House had a fairly uneven season, I thought, but overall it was a satisfying last year, and I for one really liked the way the show ended – it was bittersweet (Wilson's cancer), but also optimistic (House finally finds a way, albeit drastic, to put all of his demons behind him).
:: The king of uneven seasons, however, was turned in by The Office. Wow, was this year a mixed bag. Sometimes it was as great as ever, but other times it was cataclysmically bad. Just...weird. I generally liked the dynamic of Andy Bernard as the boss, but the show got away from that too quickly, with goofy shit like Dwight's possibly being the father of Angela's baby, the Robert California character, and in the last third of the season, a very strange character named Nellie who took over the office despite having apparently no business acumen whatsoever. It was just a terribly odd year, and I think that's mainly because the writers have almost totally run out of ways to make the show a satire of the soul-crushing world of just-getting-the-work-of-business-done. (Plus, Dwight should never, ever, ever, get the upper hand on Jim. Any time Dwight scores a victory, it feels completely false.)
:: CSI: Miami is canceled. This disappoints me, but what are you gonna do. The other CSI shows have been off my radar for years.
:: Not too many new shows captured my interest. I followed Two Broke Girls, not terribly religiously, as it's a show with an appealing concept but whose sense of humor tended to stay in the Two and a Half Men end of the pool, and that's a show I've never been terribly warm about. I mainly like Two Broke Girls for the two leads, one of whom is Kat Dennings (otherwise known as the Newest Love Of My Life). But the show is just OK.
So, too, is The New Girl, the Zooey Deschanel vehicle that puts Her Quirkiness at the service of three bachelor dudes in an apartment. It's not a bad show. Nor is it a great one. It's rarely better than mildly amusing, and the quirky Deschanel effect is hit or miss. There were moments when I loved it – an episode where the cast all joined on the dance floor at a wedding and slow-danced the 'Chicken Dance' together to 'Groovy Kind of Love' was a nice moment – but the show rarely rises above being a vehicle for occasionally-endearing quirkiness. (The pilot was, for me, an enormous tease, showing Zooey Deschanel I decked out in a wonderful pair of overalls that, as far as I could tell, she never donned again. Aieee!)
The best new show this year at Casa Jaquandor? That would be Person of Interest, which has rapidly become a big favorite of ours. We love this show. It's exciting, its stories tend to be character driven, its characters are interesting people with pasts and histories and motivations, its humor is character driven which shows the high degree to which the creators understand the people with whom they've populated their show. Sometimes the action and intrigue is a bit hard to believe, but mostly, I'm willing to go with it, and even the show's backstories are complex in a welcome way. There isn't one central 'mystery' to the show, a la Red John or Beckett's Mom's Murderer, but instead we have several characters whose shadowy pasts are threatening to rear their ugly heads again. The finale episode gave us a cliffhanger, as expected, but I was truly excited that the cliffhanger we got wasn't even close to the one that I expected. Person of Interest is a terrific show.
:: I pretty much abandoned Hawaii Five Oh, or however it is they actually type it out. The show's still what it is – a reasonably entertaining cop show that takes itself too seriously – but it generally lost my interest, and I found myself with the show on but not paying any attention whatsoever. Not a good sign for a show's longevity as a going concern of mine. And its own long mytharc, why Jack Lord Jr.'s father was killed, is still unresolved as they continue to chase 'Wo Fat'. I have a goofy conspiracy theory that Wo Fat, Red John from The Mentalist, and whoever is ultimately responsible for Joanna Beckett's murder on Castle are all the same person! I think that would be funny. Weird, but funny. But anyway, the show itself just doesn't command my interest in a big way, and that's even with the addition to the cast of Terry O'Quinn, who is starting to develop a pretty depressing track record of being my favorite actor on shows I don't much care for.
:: Boy, has Bones descended into self-parody and soap opera silliness, hasn't it? Ye Gods. It's The Daughter's favorite show, so we still watch it, but it's been incredibly cheesy. That said, the season finale was actually excellent, as it dialed down the goofiness and focused instead on the mystery, which has led to Dr. Brennan having to go on the run and Agent Booth having to clear her name for a murder she didn't commit. I hope they keep to that episode's tone more next season.
:: We really enjoyed The Finder, which was a quirky and fun and entertaining. And canceled, because apparently we were the only ones watching it in its shitty Friday timeslot. I'll never understand why networks greenlight shows that they don't believe in and have no intention of supporting.
:: I finally gave up on American Idol. I couldn't take it anymore. The ship has sailed. And f*** X-Factor, while we're at it. It's time for these competition shows to go away. This season of Idol was excruciating, and the end came the night of the Final Two and their performances. I turned on the show, and The Daughter said, "Gee, Dad, what's the worst thing that happens if we don't watch this?" I thought, and then I said, "Nothing, I suppose," and turned off the teevee. Thus do I leave Idol behind. Oh well. Seacrest, out!
:: The Amazing Race was boring this last time out. The final three teams were two teams I didn't care about, and one team I hated. So the rooting interest wasn't much, there. But at least they managed to avoid what's happened in a lot of recent seasons, when one of the final three teams is basically done in by a crappy cab driver who can't find where he's supposed to go. Other reality shows? Kitchen Nightmares quickly becomes same-old, same-old; ditto Undercover Boss. I'm still annoyed with Survivor for the Boston Rob fiasco (and I remain utterly convinced that we haven't seen the last of him or Russell), and The Amazing Race's new habit of casting people from other CBS reality shows (a couple from Big Brother being the last) is incredibly irritating. Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef return soon; I'm hoping for a bit of a break from formula in the former, which has become all-too-predictable the last several seasons, to the point where I can actually predict the challenges each week. Still, I hope for fun watching from both.
We've been watching Cake Boss on Netflix, which is kind of fun, although I always wonder how people eat those cakes. (Another bonus is that, being as it takes place in a bakery, there's an occasional pie in the face, which is always nice.) There's a barbecue challenge show (whose name I don't remember) that we've watched a bit. And I really wish that Pawn Stars would get more episodes on Netflix, but that's not up to me.
:: Finally: kudos to The Big Bang Theory, which showed signs of creakiness but has managed to reinvigorate things by actually allowing its characters to grow a bit. The final episode of this season, which combined the wedding of Howard and Bernadette and Howard's space launch, was as good an example of ensemble-cast comedy as I've seen in recent memory. I still love this show!
:: So, what about summer teevee? I'm already watching Battlestar Galactica (the new one), and I need to get back into rewatching The X-Files. We also plan to watch Once Upon a Time and Grimm, now that the seasons are complete. I'm wondering if I should try out stuff like Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and The Wire, as well as some SF stuff like Farscape, and frankly, I wouldn't mind doing a Star Trek re-watch one of these years, as it's been over a decade since I've seen many, if not most, of the episodes of all the series. I am not watching Game of Thrones; re-reading the books has been trial enough for me, thank you very much.
And that's the state of teevee at Casa Jaquandor.