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.

10 Replies to “2008 in review: Films and TV”

  1. I finished watching the final series a little while ago, and if you’ve been with it from the beginning it’s a hell of a ride and a pretty shocking conclusion in so many ways. Let me know when you get there.

    I’m still considering retrying The Wire on your recommendation.

  2. I’m not a big fan of made for telly cop/crim series and the fact that The Shield was made by FX put me off even more….and I tend to find recent ‘block buster’ series like 24 and Prison Break have really lowered the bar in script, acting and overall production qualities.

    I just watched season 1 of The Shield and bloody hell…what a ride….I snorted tea, milk and beer out of my nose at the end of the pilot when Mackey does that thing during the drug raid (I won’t spoil it for anyone).

    Also my best mate eric looks scarily like Mackey: http://www.zygonia.net/i/eric.html

  3. Kev – The Shield keeps up the quality. I haven’t listened to all of the episode commentaries, but I’ve watched the documentary features on the box sets, and they give a great insight into the creative process behind the series. The writers, actors, and producers are all enormously dedicated to the story. The studio seems to have given them the freedom to make it the way they want, with no compromises. It’s awesome.

  4. I’m now up to season 6, what an end to season 5! Just when you didn’t think Vic/Shane/et al could dig a deeper hole for themselves, they go and grab a bigger shovel.

    The first season of The Wire just arrived, looking forward to immersing in that.

    And Lost is back which is fab…the rabbit hole just keeps getting deeper.

  5. I watched season 6 last week, and it was amazing. Each episode goes for the “holy shit!” at least once – the tension just keeps ramping up.

    I only watched a few episodes of the first series of Lost when it first hit TV. Might try and get it on DVD, and watch it in connected chunks rather than an episode a week…I get the feeling you have to pay a lot of attention to what is going on!

  6. You really do need to watch Lost in continuous episode mode. I saved them up into batches, otherwise telly ads just break your train of concentration. It’s definitely worth the effort. It has the same endless puzzle after puzzle quality that Twin Peaks had, and JJ Abrams doesn’t insult the viewer by tidying up every loose end conveniently.

  7. I’ve just signed up for a DVD-by-post service, and it looks like they have series 1, 2, and 4 available for rental. Sounds like an opportunity to catch up!

  8. I just watched Season 1 of The Wire over the weekend. Outstandingly good telly – 5/5. Can’t believe I missed out on it, season 2 on order.

  9. Have you caught Fringe yet? First two eps take a bit for you to settle into it but shaping up to be quite good. Has some nice JJ Abrams hallmarks running through it.

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