As I’ve said many times, for TV viewers, there’s been no better time to be a fan of horror, sci fi and fantasy.
The quality of shows has never been higher, and the sheer volume of material to choose from is mind boggling. But as with any trend, with the good comes the bad, and there are now so many horror shows you need a road map to stay out of schlocktown.
The Walking Dead
When it comes to epic horror/fantasy TV, there are really two gold standards, HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead. And while GOT may have Lord Of The Rings style production values, TWD has George Romero-plus quality gore. Which is not to suggest that either of these shows relies on bells and whistles, they don’t, but they sure do make dark, epic storytelling fun and exciting.
As good as The Walking Dead has been, moreover, I’m convinced, a half dozen episodes into season 5, that this is the best one yet. The best, in fact, by an ever widening margin. The Walking Dead has used patient storytelling throughout its run, and whether by design or simply out of expediency, it seems like every carefully constructed plot device over the last two seasons have come together to blow up, one after the other, this season. It has definitely helped, moreover, that TWD has consciously ignored its main characters in the early part of this season to further stories told by supporting and recurring characters, thus simultaneously giving us something new and something familiar and something unexpected but that we’ve been waiting for all along.
It’s no coincidence that the best episode of the season featured only one series regular, and an underused one at that (Emily Kinney) and possibly the introduction of a new recurring character played by Tyler James Williams of Everybody Loves Chris fame.
While The Walking Dead will undoubtedly refocus on Rick and Co. later in the season, seeing the outcome of the Beth (Kinney), Carol (Melissa McBride) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) storylines gives viewers a sense of reward for sticking with the competing subplots and recognizing that just because an answer isn’t forthcoming at the end of an hour (or last season for that matter) doesn’t mean patience won’t be rewarded. It has been, five times over.
American Horror Story: Freakshow
The announcement that this would be Jessica Lange’s last rodeo as part of the American Horror Story players was bittersweet. Lange has been the face of the series and has been a tour de force during its four year run, but it also seems clear that they’ve run out of ways to reinvent her multiple characters into something new, and this season’s Elsa is reminiscent of last season’s Fiona.
The series itself, moreover, seems to be experiencing some transitional pains of its own, as series creator Ryan Murphy recently confirmed that all of the seemingly stand-alone American Horror Story installments are in fact connected, and the show has yawed like a chained animal against the constraints of not being able to go 100% freakshow in the process.
As in other years, the real horror of American Horror Story is frequently not the visible monsters on screen, but the black souls of the so-called normal people. That was most abundantly clear in Season 2’s Asylum, and it is most muddied here, where both the “freaks” and the “normals” resemble the worst kind of monsters at various points in the story.
This is not to say, of course, that Freakshow doesn’t have scary delights to offer, this is American Horror Story after all, and there are plenty of thrills and chills. Sarah Paulson’s telepathic odd-couple two-headed siamese twins are a jaw dropper, as has been the ultimate scary clown and an awesome anachronistic soundtrack that features Nirvana and David Bowie in an early 1950s setting.
I expect that when AHS is finished its run, we will look back on Freakshow as the weakest installment, but one that was a (no pun intended) necessary evil, as it promises to be the bridge between AHS’ random brand of mayhem and a potentially remarkable seemingly unconnected group of stories that eventually come together to form a big picture no one knew was there.
If you want to talk about a show that clearly doesn’t get it, then NBC’s Constantine is Exhibit A. This joyless compendium of religious themed horror has none of the playful sense of “Boo!” scares that its lead-in Grimm does, instead choosing to be a gloomy collection of explosions and gross-out visuals. If there is a show this reminds me of, it’s the failed Hannibal, but without the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen serving as a magnetic villain.
In lieu of what it could be, Constantine plods forward as a supernatural procedural, with a wisecracking leader (Matt Ryan) who rarely, if ever, cracks wise. His team will remind absolutely no one of Buffy’s Scooby Gang, although he does get periodic visits from a devil-eyed winged angel (Harold Perrineau) who could be so much more fun but instead is just another joyless talking prop, the Prophecy-themed equivalent of the self-destructing tape recorder at the beginning of every Mission Impossible episode.
I’ve heard Constantine is already on the ropes, and it doesn’t surprise me at all. This show has none of the charm of Grimm and seems to have forgotten the whole point of having a horror story in the first place. If you’re not having fun getting scared, why bother?
Remember that episode of Family Guy where Brian, Peter, Stewie and Chris all drink Ipecac and then proceed to puke all over each other? That’s now only the second funniest vomit scene in TV history. Mom has it beat, after this week’s truly hilarious scene that involved drunkenness, punking and many, many hungry cats. ‘Nuff said.
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) The pilgrims were murderers and turkey tastes like napkins (Brooklyn Nine-Nine); 2) The city of Philadelphia is covered in Cheez Whiz (Conan); 3) Who’d have thought Charles Manson would have a better week than Bill Cosby? (The Soup).
So which Thursday night appointment TV show delivered more bang for the buck in its midseason finale? This time around I have to give it to newcomer How To Get Away With Murder, but HTGAWM has been setting up all season for a big reveal at this point, spending an inordinate amount of time in maddening flash-forward, teasing the details of a crime yet to be committed. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Scandal fell down on the job. You knew something was coming, this is Scandal after all, but I bet you didn’t see the cliffhanger the last two minutes left you on.
The series premiere of Booze Traveler airs on the Travel Channel on November 24.
Nellyville debuts on BET on November 25.
USA Network airs a Modern Family marathon on Thanksgiving.
E Channel airs a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon on Thanksgiving.
Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever airs on Lifetime on November 29.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: [email protected]. I welcome your input! Featured Image Image Source 2 Image Source 3 Image Source 4