2008 in review: Films and TV

Early on this year I gave up on tracking films and books in my Quick Reviews list. I hope this is a temporary condition, because I’ve come to the end of the year and I’m struggling to remember what I have watched and read.

At least with films, I know for a fact that the list is very limited. I caught a few of the obvious ones (Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace), but there there are many more I wanted to see, but missed: Hancock, The Incredible Hulk, Body Of Lies, etc. And nothing I saw has stuck in my mind as an all-time great.

The viewing experiences I enjoyed most in 2008 were TV shows, consumed in multi-episode nightly blocks, courtesy of DVD box sets. I love pouring myself a glass of single malt, curling up on the sofa, and settling in to watch a couple of episodes of something big – a story that is going to go on for hours and hours. Here’s what I’ve been watching in 2008:

  • The Wire is one of the best TV shows ever made — believe everything you hear about it. Every character is nuanced, every piece of dialogue is textured, and every episode is a treat to savour. I caught up on seasons 3 and 4 this year, and it keeps getting better. I’m about to order season 5, and I can easily see myself going straight back to the first series to watch the whole thing all over again.

  • Richard is a big fan of The Shield, and it was on his recommendation that I started watching it. I was a bit apprehensive at first — The Wire sets a high bar for quality — but The Shield is a very different beast. It’s fast-paced where The Wire takes its time. It runs on a constant knife-edge of conflict where The Wire exists in a flux of uneasy truces. When violence erupts, in The Shield it is ugly, brutal, and personal, whereas in The Wire it is more likely to be “just business.” But in both cases, the characters are more than just the heroes and villains of the story, they are the story. I’m up to season 5 now, and about to order season 6.

  • Spooks had never really been on my radar when we were in the UK, which is odd, because I do like a good spy story. My brother bought me series 1 last Christmas, but I didn’t watch it until June. After that I was hooked, though. The episodes are uneven, and sometimes it feels like the team just stumbles from one terrorist plot to another with nothing much inbetween. It really shines, though, when the characters’ decisions matter, and affect their lives from that point forward. I’m three seasons in, and 4 is ready and waiting.

  • Criminal Minds is the odd one out here. The cast of characters is engaging and watchable, but although each episode takes the opportunity to reveal something more about each member of the BAU team, it has not irrevocably changed any of them — so far, at least*. I’m two episodes into season 2, and it’s still the Serial-Killer-Of-The-Week club. That’s not to say I don’t like it — I do; it’s well-written and very entertaining — but with the exception of a few episodes, it’s popcorn crime compared to the The Wire and The Shield.

The only downside of watching TV series is that it’s way too easy to say, “oh, I’ll just watch one more episode,” and before you know it it’s gone midnight.

* Update: spoke too soon. I should have waited until episode 5+6 of season 2.