Kung Fu S.1; Easily one of the weirdest concepts for a TV show ever–who pitched this thing? “So, there’s this half-Chinese, half-white Shaolin priest who wanders the Old West looking for his half-brother and kicking some thug cowboy tail. Oh, and he spouts Taoist philosophy. And teaches lessons about tolerance and nature and stuff.” But from the beginning–the pilot episode that sees Caine kill the emperor’s nephew and flee to America–the series had such a strong, sure voice, it was entrancing. Everyone watched this when it first came on. And they were treated to a terrific first season, despite some clunkers as the show found its footing.
Clunker: That rattlesnake round-up episode, The Soul is the Warrior. Nearly every character speaks in constant, dense metaphors making for no fun. For what it’s worth, the credited writer (who shall remain nameless but whose initials are “Ron Bishop”) isn’t listed again for the rest of the series.
Starsky and Hutch S.1; Bringing the buddy-cop movie to the little screen, the show played off the natural chemistry of the leads; slashy before slash fanfiction had been invented. Watch it on DVD–it actually holds up pretty well compared to a lot of shows from when there were only 9 minutes of commercials allowed per hour. (Wonder Woman, I’m looking at you, OMG, hurry up already.) This was also before the Moral Majority, the Parents’ Television Council of its day, targeted shows like S&H for their violence. By the second season, the influence is clear as the guys go to silly extremes not to use their guns or their fists or harsh language in dealing with crime.
Clunker: None that I recall.
Star Trek: The Next Generation S. 4; The first dismal season of the revamped beloved classic was far behind us as we entered the fourth season with the conclusion of one of the finest two-hours in Star Trek history–The Best of Both Worlds Part II (you know it–“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile.”) We were treated to Beverly’s best episode, the mind-trippy Remember Me. Tasha Yar’s sister showed up, as well as the awesome K’Ehleyr and guess who her baby daddy was? Data got some in In Theory, and Beverly in The Host, though Geordi decidedly did not with Leah Brahms in Galaxy’s Child. Bonus–Picard in a skin-tight space racquetball suit in Suddenly Human. (Is it tragic or merely pathetic that I can name these episode titles from memory? Anybody?)
Clunker: Some of the eps don’t hold up on rewatch as well as others, like Family, when Picard goes home to France, the only Picard with a British accent.
The Sopranos S. 1; If you tuned in late to HBO’s mob saga and started with season two, you might think the fanatics were exaggerating how good this show is. They weren’t. Starting with the remarkable pilot episode, the first season plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy mashed-up with an old gangster flick starring James Cagney–13 episodes that arc like a great novel. Want to learn how to make two characters sitting around talking into high drama? Watch for Tony’s therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi. There’s more movement and tension and brinksmanship in Melfi’s office than in some war movies. How about mixing tones; drama with violence with family life with humor? See any episode of the first season, but especially College.
Clunker: Some people say A Hit is a Hit isn’t quite up to par because the threats of violence don’t add up to much and it’s somewhat off the beaten track. But it’s still a solid episode.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer S.2; Not that season one wasn’t terrific–it was. But the incredible storyline with Buffy finally succumbing to her passion for her vampire beau Angel, only to have him forfeit his soul and turn really, really evil…it hurt so good. Like David Chase and the Sopranos, Joss Whedon is a master at mixing tones to create a full-bodied, complex work of art–teen soap opera with horror movie with dark comedy with family drama. Spike and Dru showed up, the Syd and Nancy of the vampire set, and Spike was still a lot of fun back in those days. We met scene-stealing Ethan Rayne as well as Giles’s alter-ego Ripper. We grew to like and then to mourn another slayer. The show honed its skill at taking standard horror tropes and giving them a kicky spin: Frankenstein in Some Assembly Required. Killer robots in Ted. Werewolves, love potions, mummies’ curses, ghosts re-enacting their final moments. And it all culminated in the deliciously soap-arrific finale Becoming, the show’s continuation of the theme dramatized so viciously in Prophecy Girl; being the chosen one can suck out loud.
Clunker: Bad Eggs, I suppose. Maybe in another season, it wouldn’t have stood out, but it’s a bit anemic in context.
I planned on doing a dozen of these, but wow, I can’t shut up about TV, so I’ll continue this in another post.
Next up on Devlin’s blog: SHARK WEEK OMG!