Saturday, January 31, 2015

Top of 2014: Relevant escapism

(Jan. 14, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Cable lures with smarter, flashier fare

“It was … the ‘silly, lightweight’ medium compared to film. Now … the real quality work in smaller features is on television and cable,” Kurtwood Smith, star of “Resurrection” told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in May. He was discussing the changes in the entertainment industry and blurring of media lines.

“There’s so much crossover; you can do a bunch of films, then a TV series, then go back to film,” said “Suits” star Gabriel Macht when he visited the country in March.

Recent years have been described as among the best for television, as US shows offered eclectic or original content. Chris Messina (“The Mindy Project,” “Damages”) told us in 2011: “It’s the golden age of television. There’s mostly better stuff … than [in] the movies.”

Many big film actors have come to share this sentiment. Programs also seem competitively designed—and they certainly don’t look like they’re run on a tight budget. While the old slew of view-worthy interactive reality tilts and, sadly, voyeuristic “unscripted” shows about dubious ditzes will always be popular, 2014 was an especially good year for cable TV viewers who wanted more escapist, better-written series. Here are those that stood out for us, in no particular order:

‘How to Get Away With Murder’
Viola Davis as a no-nonsense criminal law professor with marital problems, check! Overachieving, kinky protégés who try to outsmart one another, check! A nonlinear murder mystery that ties everything together, check!

“How to Get Away With Murder,” among the American Film Institute’s top TV shows last year, binds these disparate, intriguing elements into one killer of a show. “I feel like I’m a part of a world that hasn’t been seen on television. That’s the most rewarding part,” Davis told the Inquirer in October.

‘True Detective’
“True Detective” stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play reluctant cop partners investigating the handiwork of an elusive killer. It’s grim, gritty, ruminative, and barely stops for a breather. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is exceptionally portrayed.

His sometimes-drunken existential rants and musings stun and sting. “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door,” goes one Cohle-ism.

We hope to see a differently powerful show next season. The all-new cast has big shoes to fill.

‘The Walking Dead’
After losing their prison sanctuary, survivors in the zombie apocalypse face new threats. Like “Game of Thrones,” the show lures with interesting characters that bite the dust in unexpected, horrid ways. But the season has been characteristically tight and unpredictable. Andrew Lincoln consistently does well as ex-cop Rick Grimes, leader of the weary but formidable survivors.

“They’re screwing with the wrong people,” said the character, tougher than ever, in one episode.

This dark and edgy prequel series examines the early days of Bruce Wayne, shortly after the demise of his parents. Characters from the “Batman” comic books are reimagined; future super-criminals are introduced—if this show lasts as long a
s “Smallville,” we may yet see the first appearance of the Caped Crusader.
For now, it’s a sleek cop drama—future commissioner James Gordon is the sole, true do-gooder in Gotham’s police force—and the early part of an archetypal hero’s saga.

There’s a deliberate artificiality to it that works well. Jada Pinkett Smith dazzles as the sassy, sinister Fish Mooney, a gang leader whose machinations inadvertently help create some freakish fiends.

‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’
The Marvel movies’ TV spin-off, cocreated by Joss Whedon, started passably but gradually turned into a more focused—and action-packed!—show after events in last year’s second “Captain America” film. SHIELD, revealed to have been infiltrated by the terrorist organization Hydra, is essentially dissolved into a small set of heroic operatives led by the perpetually embattled Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

Characters from the espionage-themed comic books continue to appear in this TV version. Followers of Marvel’s cinematic universe should expect another show, “Agent Carter,” to provide extra layers to the mythology.

‘House of Cards’
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright enliven this political drama as an ambitious, manipulative and cold-hearted couple. The labyrinthine US political arena is given an extensive exploration by Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, entertaining with commentary during the occasional breaking of the fourth wall.

One of our fave Frank quotes: “Power is a lot like real estate—it’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

Spacey won, deservingly, a Golden Globe best actor in a drama series award this week.

Silicon Valley
A timely parody, “Silicon Valley” is populated by über-rich eccentrics, ultra-competitive geniuses and the suck-ups who make the formers’ lives somewhat easier. It’s smart, but isn’t above going lowbrow once in a while.

We watch with fascination as a brainiac who develops an algorithm, Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch), chooses a venture capitalist’s offer of $200,000 and 5-percent ownership over a $10-million buyout of his new company. Trouble and hilarity ensue!

The show was included in the American Film Institute's top 10 shows of 2014.

‘The Legend of Korra’
The sequel series to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” learning from its somewhat rushed first season, makes up for it with better-told subsequent seasons, superbly developing main heroine Korra along with fan-favorite supporting characters. It treads territory that its predecessor did not, integrating mature themes into the story lines from time to time.

The series has wrapped up, but online discussions continue on topics it explored, like political structures and gender identity.

Recently nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy series, Louis CK is no regular comedian, as evidenced by this unconventional show. Often addressing the drudgeries of life, “Louie” revels in its unique brand of irreverence, never failing to impart valuable insights with every episode.

Colleagues recognize that unique perspective and his pervasive talent. Guest appearances by Chris Rock, Parker Posey, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, among others, made previous seasons even more special.

‘Game of Thrones’
Unruly dragons, petty royals and vengeful warriors make the fourth season of the fantasy series more chaotic than usual. As in previous seasons, characters we root and care for are horrifically destroyed—for instance, the tragic figure Oberyn Martell, played by Pedro Pascal.

Pascal told us in October that he enjoyed playing the bisexual prince: “This character refuses to limit himself [in] experience. To him, that is true logic … I’m behind him all the way.”

A few villains get their comeuppance at long last, good enough reasons for fans to stick around for another harrowing season!

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