Saturday, 28 December 2013

2013 Review - Favourite TV shows, Part Deux

Yesterday, I went through my favourite Comedy series and Mystery shows of 2013. Today I'll complete this review with my favourite Sci Fi/ Fantasy shows and 'Mini-series' of 2013.

Science Fiction/ Fantasy

It seems that almost every second show being produced on TV these days is Science Fiction or Fantasy - themed. I enjoy the genre very much, but find it difficult to just keep up with the shows. I've tried to watch Orphan Black, Atlantis and Being Human (both the original British show and the US spin-off, but can't seem either to fine the time or the show is moved around so much that it's difficult just to keep up with it. But there are a few that have stood out this year, some old familiars and a couple of new shows. So here is a Top Five -

1. The Witches of East End - We found this show almost by accident. Both Jo and I enjoy watching Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime and fortunately this show was advertised to follow the Diva slot on Sunday nights. We gave it a try and got hooked immediately. It reminds me somewhat of Charmed in that it deals with a family of witches, led by Julia Ormond as the matriarch of the family, Joanna Beauchamp, her two daughters, Jenna Dewan-Tatum as Freya and Rachel Boston as Ingrid, plus Joanna sister, Madchen Amick, as Wendy. It's a sexy, exciting show; in the first season, the Beauchamps are being plagued by a shape-shifter, out for something. Some of the episodes are quite gritty, but at the same time, there is genuine affection between the four and they all play their parts superbly. It's an entertaining show and we have become quite addicted to it.

2. The Walking Dead - This is my guilty pleasure. Jo hates shows like this, as it is quite grizzly and sometimes disturbing. Since I read World War Z, I have found myself quite interested in the zombie genre and The Walking Dead, distributed on AMC, is an excellent example of how well the genre can be developed. I am currently half way through Season 4; AMC has manipulated the distribution on this quite nicely, delivering it in tidy little blocks, to whet your appetite and leave you waiting anxiously for the next block. In Season 4, the main group of human survivors remain at the prison where they have beaten off the 'Governor's' attack and added new survivors to their group. The Governor is still about, but travelling on his own, maybe thinking of a new attack on Rick and his group. As I mentioned, it can be very disturbing and graphic, but at the same time, there is a strong group/ family dynamic as the survivors work to make a life, not only while surrounded by zombies, but also fight off plague and other human groups. Of all the 'end of the world as we know it' type shows available, this is one of the best.

3. Doctor Who - Like millions of other fans, this is one of our favourite TV shows of all. Since its rebirth with Christopher Ecclestone as 'the Doctor', it's grown into one of the all-time great shows. This past season was no exception. Not only leading up to the rebirth of the Doctor, but with the lovely Jenna Coleman as the companion and also the 50th anniversary of the show, it's been a wild ride for Doctor Who fans. I can't wait for the next instalment!!

4. Grimm - There is something about Grimm, in its third season, one of many shows based on Fairy Tales, that makes it stand above the crowd. I think the main thing is the excellent group dynamic we have. David Giuntoli, as Nick, a police investigator, one of a age old family of Grimms who fight to rid the world of mythological creatures knows as Wessen, is the leader of a disparate group that include his partner, Russell Hornsby as Hank. Others in the group include some Wessen, themselves, Silas Weir Mitchell, as Monroe, a Blutbac (werewolf), Bree Turner as Rosalee, Monroe's girlfriend, who happens to be a Fuschbau and runs a herb shop and finally, Nick's girlfriend, Juliette, Bitsie Tulloch. Assisted by their boss in the police force, played by Sasha Ruiz, and the excellent Reggie Lee as Sgt Wu, it makes for an great group dynamic and makes it such an appealing show. It is also somewhat grittier than others of the genre, such as Once Upon a Time. It's managed to keep up the excellent pace and story lines in its third season. Hoping it continues to do so.

5. True Blood - This series is based on the Sookie Stackhouse books written by Charlaine Harris and stars Anna Paquin, as Sookie, a telepathic waitress who lives in Bon Temps, Louisiana. In this world, humans co-exist, albeit uneasily at times, with vampires and werewolves and other members of the Fae peoples. The series is definitely gritty and sexy, often graphically so. But there is definitely something so very unique about the show, the characters are well-drawn and well-portrayed, the story lines are fascinating and the action is dynamic. Jo and I were hooked on it when it first came out, but struggled to find the time or the show for the next few seasons. But we've managed to catch up and this past season revitalised our interest in the series. Unfortunately, Season 7, summer of 2014 is supposed to be the last season. We will definitely make sure we watch..

Honourable Mentions - almost too many to list; but some of those excellent shows include, Haven, based on the Stephen King book The Colorado Kid, Once Upon a Time, Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human (new shows this season which seem to have potential). Some Canadian made shows that we've always enjoyed but have difficulty finding at times include Lost Girl and Warehouse 13. It's a great genre and still seems to have a wealth of untapped potential. New shows in 2014 which I may give a try to include Bitten, which is based on the Kelley Armstrong Otherworld series, about a female werewolf, and Helix, starring Billy Campbell, about a group of scientists investigating a possible disease outbreak.


I'm using this category somewhat loosely because some of the mini-series listed have now been around for more than two seasons. But I think they still qualify as mini-series as each season is a mini-series in its own right, and the number of episodes tend to be less than the normal US series of 21 or so shows per season. So there you go, now that we have that qualification out of the way, these are my top five of 2013.

1. Masters of Sex - One of the best discoveries of 2013 for us, Masters of Sex is one of those wonderful HBO series. It stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as pioneers of sex research, Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson. It's another of those shows that grabbed our attention from the very first episode. It's a fascinating look at their work, their lives, the people around them and the time when they were doing their research. Sheen and Caplan are both excellent in their parts; Sheen, very well-known already brings an aura of gravitas to the show as the frigid, internalised, Johnson and Caplan, who I only knew from her brief appearance on True Blood, is a revelation. The show is quite graphic at times, particularly as the two perform their research on individuals and couples having sex, but there are also wonderful story lines; Caplan trying to raise two children, work on her medical degree and working long hours for Johnson; Alison Janney offering a tour de force as the wife of Beau Bridges, the university proctor who struggles with his homosexuality; Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters, Masters' long suffering wife who wants nothing more than his love and to have a baby. The first season was an eye-opener and I can only hope Season 2 is as good.

2. Game of Thrones - We've been hooked on this show since its inception; the amazing world created by George RR Martin's Fire and Ice saga, the superb cast, the complex plots of war, love, subterfuge and the amazing land in which the action takes place. Season 3.... gads, it's amazing to think that there have already been three seasons, was fantastic, more plots, action in the frozen North, which introduced new and different characters to the stories and surprise after surprise. The writers have no qualms of turning the story on its head and removing key characters, to further the plot and leave the audience gasping. Excellent show and I can't wait for Season 4. And to read the 4th book sitting on my bookshelf.. :0)

3. Call the Midwife - This show completed its second Season in 2013. It's a period piece, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, set in East London in the 1950's and follows a group of midwives on their daily duties. They are a mix of nurses, lead by star Jessica Raine, Nurse Jenny Lee, and the nuns with which the live and work, lead by the wonderful Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne. It's a wonderful show, touching your heart in every episode and beautifully produced and acted. I can't say enough about the series, except to say that I have now bought the first book and plan to read this year. Season 3 starts in 2014. Excellent!

4. Downton Abbey -  A wonderful period English drama created by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the wonderful Gosford Park. It follows the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants as they live and work to maintain their hereditary estate in Yorkshire, Downton Abbey. The drama starts with the sinking of the Titanic, works through WWI, the Spanish influenza pandemic, financial scandals, etc and is a wonder to behold. The cast are excellent, from Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern as the patriarch and matriarch of the Crawley family and Jim Carter and Elsie Hughes as the Head Butler and the Housekeeper of Downton Abbey. We've loved every episode and enjoy the time period, the lovely estate and costumes and just the love and care with which the show is developed and has grown since its inception.

5. Last Tango in Halifax - Another new show for us, this is a lovely British romantic drama starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as two old friends who missed the chance at a romance when they were young due to extenuating circumstances, who are meet again many years in the future and fall in love. It follows them, both such talented actors, and their families, each with their own unique issues and problems, in a humorous and also touching manner, as Alan and Celia get to know each other once again and plan a future together. Season 1 was laugh out loud funny, tear bursting crying and extremely dramatic in almost every episode. Excellent show.

So there you have it, my Top 5 of 2013. I might add another that the missus watches, one I will admit that I had difficulty watching, but nonetheless a powerful entry in the mini-series category; that being Live Schreiber's Ray Donovan. Give it a try, it's definitely different and worth a try.

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