maninchair_thumbIt’s that time once again for me to tell you what new TV shows I tried out and why most of them have sucked. I think the “golden age” of TV we have been living in this century might be ebbing right now. Hopefully TV can bounce back soon but looking at the shows on the horizon I don’t think so. Still, TV is better than the movies at this point but not by as much as it use to be. The suck gap is narrowing fast.


Turn (AMC): This period drama about America’s first spies during the Revolutionary War, The Culpeper Ring, is based on a book called Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose (very interesting book). Unlike the book Turn isn’t very interesting and drags like it has an anchor attached to it. The problem with Turn is with the protagonist, Abe Woodhall, a spineless weak-willed daddy’s boy who reluctantly gets dragged into being a spy (eventually a very good one) by, of course, a woman. The story takes place just after England’s lighting fast (for the time) amphibious assault that took Long Island and what eventually became the five boroughs of New York as a base of operations pushing Washington and the Continental Army out into the woods without any way to gather intel on the English. Enter Ben Talmadge, rebel officer and proud son of Setauket (which is on Long Island where most of the story takes place all the conspirators are from there and know each), who with his childhood friends develops the beginning of the Culpepper Ring with not much success until they get Abe Woodhall to spy for them. Woodhall’s father is a loyalist and war profiteer with close ties to the English army which young Abe exploits brilliantly in his double agent role.

The show looks nice, the uniforms are correct, the actors handle their weapons with believability however it is such a slow developing show with such a weak central character that you have a hard time caring about any of it. The glaring weakness of the main character is quite evident when either Ben Talmadge or Robert Rodgers, a Merc famous for his light infantry known as Roberts Rangers (Don’t Forget Nothing!), are on screen. Watching those two trying to murderize each other is the best part of the show. In fact everybody but Woodhall is interesting. Hell even the English, who normally aren’t, are interesting past their normal upper crusty pomposity and obnoxiousness. This show had the potential to be a home run for AMC instead it became a dreary exercise in period facsimile.

I think we will stay with AMC since I seem to have a bone to pick with them.


Halt and Catch Fire (AMC): I can’t figure out if this show is good or such a train wreck I can’t turn away. This is another period piece, this time set in the early 1980’s is a thinly veiled retelling of the rise of the Compaq computer company among the first to sell IBM desktop computer knock offs, the start of the personal computing revolution and the beginnings of the “Silicon Prairie” in Texas. (The Dallas area has a high concentration of TELCOM, IT and semiconductor companies that rivals California’s Silicon Valley)

In this version of events a former top sales guy at IBM Joe MacMillian (Lee Pace), resurfaces after a years disappearance as a salesman for Cardiff Electric in Dallas, Texas. Cardiff is a system software company providing products for mainframes and has zero to do with the manufacture of computers. Joe is a very Don Draper like character with a mysterious backstory and ability to spin out beautiful sounding BS at a drop of a hat. The reason MacMillian targeted Cardiff Electric for his personal take over bid is because Cardif employs a man named Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy). Clark when we meet him is a beaten down engineer however a few years earlier Clark along with his wife Donna (Kerry Bische) built the first prototype personal computer and it damn near killed him when it didn’t get made by anybody. Clark also penned a moderately famous treatise in Byte magazine about the future of personal computing.

Joe also recruited a hotshot female college coder named Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) to help back engineer IBM’s software. With all his personnel in place Joe embarks on seizing Cardiff for his personal ambitions and he, Clark and Howe set about building the first IBM desktop knockoff for home use.

The show like all AMC shows is great to look at. The period details are exact and the acting is generally solid especially Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy who are essentially playing the roles of Steve Jobs (salesman/proselytizer) and Steve Wozniak (the forward looking techie). However the early epsiodes are tough going to watch unless you are really into the nitty-gritty of computer development. The other issue I think the show had is on the conceptual level. On paper I think the creators and writers thought that the main relationship of the show would be between Joe, Cameron and Clark with the Cameron character being the breakout character after Joe. However in execution the most interesting characters on the show turn out to be Joe, Clark and Donna who is every bit as smart and capable as her husband and saves the day on numerous occasions. Cameron who they thought would be a powerhouse character, wasn’t. That’s due to the fact she’s a mass of clichés being held together by an actress not up to the task. These conceptual issues really hamstrung HaCF in the early going until they figure out what they wanted to do with the characters and their place in the story. When they straighten themselves out the show improved.
Might as well stay with the computer motif with the next show.


Silicon Valley (HBO): This laugh out loud funny (I hate myself for writing that description but it’s actually dead on) and from what I can tell an on target ripping of Silicon Valley culture by Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Idiocracy, Office Space who also has a degree in physics and he worked at a start up briefly) is the best new show I have seen this year. SV is smart, insightful, biting yet never mean and occasionally just a bit poignant but not in a syrupy way.

SV is about the development of a compression algorithm for movies, pictures and TV that has almost zero degradation (don’t ask me more I don’t know anything about that) but really that is the starting point for Judge to make some funny observations about Silicon Valley, the startup culture and what happens when geeks get money. I highly recommend this show and if you can’t laugh long and hard at the ‘tip to tip” ratio scene you have no heart.


Fargo (FX): This show is sort of based on the Coen brothers movie being that it is set in winter in Minnesota. The only thing I can recommend about this chump change of a show is the former Mr. Angelina Jolie, Billy Bob Thorton, as an extremely violent but erudite hitman. When he’s on screen the show is electric full of life and energy. When he’s not the show sucks so mostly the show sucks. In fact it sucks so hard the nerds love it which is a prerequisite for nerd love. Avoid this hot mess if at all possible. Bilbo Baggins is so bad in this I am reconsidering my take forgiving him for Tim Canterbury. Unqualified nepotism boy a.k.a. Tom Hanks Jr. is nigh unto unwatchable. The fat deputy broad is annoying and painful to both the eyes and the ears. All in all a terrible experience.


Rectify (Sundance TV): This show is pure 100% Southern Gothic and could have been created by Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner or Thomas Wolfe. Rectify is the story of Daniel Holden (Aden Young) who at 18 was convicted of the rape and strangulation murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend Hanna Dean. Holden was sentenced to death and spent 19 years on death row before his conviction was vacated due to new DNA evidence. This slow burn character study is about what has happened to Daniel, how he views the world and the effect on his family and the town over his release. There is also a ‘conspiracy’ angle in true southern gothic style that plays with the conventions of the genre that I won’t ruin here. They also play around with the notion that Daniel might not be guilty of the crime but he might still be a guilty of some heinous things.

I highly highly highly recommend this show. It has some of the finest acting I’ve seen of late by Aden Young and the story is compelling and deeply layered however it isn’t an easy watch since it mines some very dark depths and puts the onus on the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions on the subjects presented. That my friends is a refreshing change of pace. The other thing that this show does is use silence to a lethally effective degree. I don’t mean silence as in not talking, though there is some of that, no I mean there are stretches of no sound whatsoever. This caught me off guard the first time it happened, I thought it was a problem with my computer or the download but it wasn’t. It was planned and it was highly effective. I can’t recommend this show enough. I binge watched all 16 episodes (6 first season 10 second) over two days.

Lastly, and I hear the sighs of relief, I’m going to do something different and take a look at a show already cancelled and deservedly so but there is a specific reason why I am doing this that will be clear in a moment.


Believe (NBC): This offering from Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Lost) had a great pilot episode then 11 goofy pretty bad ones that followed. Believe is about Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) a 12-year-old girl gifted with all sorts of special powers like telepathy, ESP, precognition or whatever the writers need to move the plot forward. Bo is on the run from the evil government/corporation axis or something for some reason and her chief caretaker, Dr. Milton Winters (Delroy Lindo), has to breakout from prison a new day-to-day caretaker, William Tate, on the night of his scheduled execution for a reason so obvious it hurts. Bo and Tate go on the run have adventures and shenanigans and what not.

Look the show really wasn’t good but I struck with it for two reasons. The first is the girl who plays Bo, she was pretty good in what really could have been a thankless role. She made the super powered Bo grounded and played her like a normal tween more or less. The real reason though why I stuck with the show is this. The actor who played Tate, Jake McLaughlin, served with the United States Army’s 3rd Infantry Division as a dismounted M249 LMG (formerly SAW) gunner and was in the initial Iraq campaign where he was critically injured. McLaughlin earned a Combat Infantrymans Badge (I have one I earned when I was in the Army with 4 stars) and a Purple Heart (I am ashamed to say I have too many of them, I’m not good at my job.) What that means is that he has bought a ticket for me to watch anything that he is in forever no matter how bad it is.


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About Xiphos0311

Sporadic genius but mostly IDGAF.

36 responses to “XIPHOS TV ROUND UP”

  1. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    “laugh long and hard.” Nicely done.

    Good stuff Xi. I’ve seen a little bit of all of these, and mostly agree with you.

    I’d go as far as to say, though, that Halt and Catch Fire is pretty good, with no trainwreck in sight. Although, I agree that it spends some musical chair time shuffling characters until things click. I think if it holds out, it will have a terrific second season.

    Believe had a fun, campy and very enjoyable first episode. I like the main character and the girl, but the show itself just couldn’t quite get itself together at a story level and the follow-up episodes never had the same energy. It was ok, though. Take him and the girl and port them over into a better show.

    Silicon Valley is aces. Fargo has the Billy Bob scenes and not too much else to offer. I didn’t hate it, but failed to see what the fuss was about.

    I enjoy Turn, but it’s for most of what you pointed out; the period precision, some of the careful plotting. I agree that it just doesn’t light an emotional fire and given the material, that’s just not gonna work long term.

    Rectify is fantastic, though. At least what I’ve seen of it. Cool to see Ray McKinnon really bringing it behind the camera. Aden Young is really, surprisingly good. Flannery O’Connor is a perfect comparison point. This was the literate and dark kind of storytelling I feel people tried to make True Detective out to be.

    You still watching The Strain? I am, mostly because in its best moments it reminds of some crazy 70’s Dan Curtis mini-series.

    I’ve also kept watching Extant, because Im fascinated that some network let actual aliens make a show about how they think humans behave when faced with, well, aliens. I honestly feel like the robot boy wrote the script.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      HaCF is an odd bird. The Pie Man, who never registered for me before, is all kinds of awesome as Don Draper but even he couldn’t make the show that interesting in the early going. however when they figured out that Kerry Bische as Donna was just as good as Pace then the show got interesting. It’s too bad they wasted so much time on Cameron the character and the actress aren’t that good.

      Yeah I’m watching the Strain still mostly for Corey Stoll’s wig which should have a bigger role. I will be reviewing it in part 2 of the round up along with Extant because that show is so weird I kept watching it.

      Fargo is shit on a stick besides Billy Bob. Bilbo is hatefully awful in it.

      I can’t say enough good things about Rectify that show caught me totally off guard although Barfy “gently” reminded me she recommended it but I didn’t remember.

      Turn’s main problem is the changes they made to Woodhall. he wasn’t nearly so much of a pussy in reality. He was a guy trapped by circumstances that found a way out and became an excellent spy.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        I only watched 2 and a half eps before binning Fargo, so it could have gotten much worse. Everything–BBT aside–felt like an incredibly forced attempt to recreate the tone of the original movie, with no success. It was just irritating to watch.

        It strikes me that Freeman needs a new agent or something. I think he’s a great actor–or can be–but it’s totally the wrong role and show for him. Of course even when he does choose right–Bilbo is a perfect fit–he’s got to deal with a crazed Kiwi who decides everything is important BUT the title character.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ve still not seen the second Hobbitch film. And I don’t plan to either, after the godawful first.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Hobbit 2 isnt any good either, but it looks better in comparison to the first one. There’s a handful of good scenes, but most keep going to the point you lose interest. Smaug and his meeting with Bilbo is good until it becomes Terminator 2 meets Burger Time.

        I say this as someone who liked all three of the Rings movies and enjoyed Kong despite its excesses. I’ll watch the last one to see the Battle of the Five Armies, but I’m mostly done with Jackson in blockbuster mode.

      • Jarv says :

        The problem is PJ in non-blockbuster mode is also terrible nowadays (Lovely Bones).

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        True, Lovely Bones is the absolute worst thing he’s done. They need to strip him off the budget and force him to do some low-fy horror picture. They could even make a reality show of it, Biggest Loser–Bloated Filmmaker Edition.

        Best thing Raimi has done in years is when he took off between Spidey 3 and Oz and made Drag Me To Hell.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        the second hobbit is marginally better then the first but I can’t recommended it. I’m like Jonah I’m only in it for the Battle of Five armies and to see the desperate charge of the Last King Under The Mountain. I an pretty sure PJ will fuck me on this one thing I want.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I wished I binned Fargo but damn my impulsion to finish things once I start them.

        Bilbo was so miscast in that role and pulled me out of the show every minute he was on the screen. Him and nepotism boy are both crap on a stick in it.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        You are not wrong about the character of Woodhall on Turn, either. As you said that’s a huge problem because it distracts from the historical interest of him and makes it hard to care much about him amidst everything else.

        I was such a fan of the book and that particular facet of history, that I was willing to put it aside and go with it. Not terribly interested in continuing though.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Oh you read the book? It was quite interesting and exciting for basically being a historical quasi-biography-ish type of thing

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        I did. I love stuff like that, and it was constantly fascinating because of the detail and the subject matter. Here, they’ve tried to add useless, less interesting drama to something that didn’t need it. Tell the essential story and leave the rest.

        Has Houdini started yet? Do you have any hope for that one, Xi?

        The fall is rolling around. I gotta say, I’m looking forward to the return of Sleepy Hollow. Silly as it is, I had a blast watching that one. I’m in it til the end with Supernatural, so that’s on too and I’m hooked on Arrow. Outside of that, will probably keep up with Grimm too.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I think Houdini is this weekend and I for one am looking forward to it I’m a big fan of the man.

        Yeah the Hollywood option they took really didn’t help Turn.

        Yeah Sleepy Holly was goofy fun ditto on the rest.

  2. kloipy says :

    Good write up Xi. I haven’t seen any of these shows, but I do have ‘Rectify’ in my netflix queue. So maybe I should rectify the situation and give ‘Rectify’ a glance.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      You lose several internets for that post kloipy. However you should rectify that situation soon vis a vis Rectify.

  3. Just Pillow Talk says :

    Not seen any of these, but Turn sounded quite promising. That horrible main seems like quite the drawback to say the least.

  4. Judge Droid says :

    Watched the pilot of Fargo. Thought it was pretty good. Not got around to watching the rest of it.

    Not seen Halt, Rectify, Turn (although I have all the eps to watch at some stage).

    SV is very funny.

    I watched Believe but was disappointed to find out it was just an update of The Fugitive (tv show) crossed with one of those wandering do gooder shows like Touched by an Angel or Highway to Heaven. I liked the girl who played Bo but she became a bit annoying after a while. Or her character did. Or both.

  5. Jarv says :

    Good stuff.

    Not seen any of them- You left Extant off the list!

    I’m going to give that an almighty kicking when I eventually get round to publishing the second half of view from the couch.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Extant will be on the next one. I’ve become fascinated by it’s terribleness I think they are taking the piss or it’s some sort of performance art nothing could be that consistently bad unless they set it up to be. Or maybe Jonah’s right and Aliens made it that would explain a lot.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        I honestly think it’s been done on purpose, but I can’t yet figureout WHY. The only question is if they were purposefully trying to merge the Lifetime and SYFY crowd and made crap as a by-product, or someone really thought this would be something transgressive. Since Berry is involved, I’m guessing it’s the former.

        Awful isn’t even the right word. It’s just “broken” for lack of a better word. If this had been on TV fifty years ago, it would have been twenty minutes before they revealed Berry never left the spaceship and everyone at home, herself included, are just sock puppets on the Aliens’ hands. Then Rod Serling would have entered stage left.

      • tombando says :

        Does it have robot lions in it?

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        There’s a robotic kid no lions.

  6. tombando says :

    Haven’t seen any of these. Turn looked interesting, never liked Fargo the movie that much, but can vouch for the Dick Powell marathon TCM is playing. Anyone like either Burn Notice or Psyche?

    • Jarv says :

      No, I didn’t either. Thought I was alone in the world on that one.

      Burn Notice was OK for a while, but I got bored of it. The Chin is in it, isn’t he? Looking fat as well, IIRC.

      • tombando says :

        Naw I just thought the hype was overkill for Fargo, its Ok and yes the 2 leads are fine, but it added up to a so what for me. Lotsa snow wooo! Yah great being from Maine orig thats not a big deal. It Does have Buscemi and Stormare from Armageddon as the baddies, so there’s that…

      • Continentalop says :

        FARGO (the movie) is awesome.

        I haven’t seen that many Burn Notices, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      I really liked Burn Notice but it probably stayed around a season or so too long. Psyche was good also but it stayed around WAAAAAY too long.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    I shall Lovefilm a couple of these (Believe & Rectify). I’ve got lots of telly on Lovefilm – I just never watch anything!

    Good stuff, Xi.

  8. Continentalop says :

    So Believe is basically FIRESTARTER, but with different powers?

    Silicon Valley and Fargo have been on my must see list for awhile (Fargo because it’s set in my home state so I have to check it out), but now I think I’ll add Turn and Rectify.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Yes. there was also a fire control power she got because the writers suck and it was the only way out of the corner they wrote themselves into the hacks.

      I can’t recommend Rectify or Silicon Valley enough. They are outstanding.

      • Continentalop says :

        Ever since I saw that tip-to-tip scene, SV has been high on my list. I doubt the rest of the show is as funny as that scene, but if it’s 1/2 as funny it’s the best comedy being made for TV right now.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Grant the tip to tip scene was the paramount scene of the series but the rest of it isn’t shabby either. I laughed a lot watching it.

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