Television Notes

I finally wrapped up season five of The Americans last night. With shows that I watch a few weeks (or months) after their original airing, I generally have a folder in my Instapaper account where I stash reviews and discussions of each episode from places like The AV Club, The Ringer, etc. to read after I’ve watched them. I don’t read them when I save them, but I often get a feel for what’s going on from the headlines, blurbs at the top of the page, etc. So I knew there was some dissatisfaction with this season by some folks.

Which I completely understood. This was a slow, sometimes tedious, season. No matter your view of it, it has to be ranked as the weakest 13 episodes thus far. But when I say that, it’s with the understanding that the first four seasons were all spectacular and, arguably, the best drama on television each of those years.

To me, though, it wasn’t a poor season. Rather, it was an intentionally difficult year to set up the show’s final season. It was that dragging middle 30 minutes that sets up a movie’s final, breathtaking 45 minutes. It was just a little harder to take because it stretched out over three months.

While this season lacked a lot of the flash and overt brilliance of past seasons, it also was as psychologically taut as any season thus far. As the season went on, almost every character got pushed deeper into corners that became more difficult to get out of. In the last two episodes, Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, and Oleg all seemed to descend into levels of stress that would destroy normal people. As always with this show, sometimes the best moments were the ones with no dialog, as when Oleg looked at his mother in their kitchen before he left their Moscow home for an evening walk, or when Philip and Elizabeth stared at each other wordlessly at the end of each episode. In these moments I was often thinking, “FUCK, I CAN’T TAKE THIS! SOMEONE CRACK!”

For some this was a problem, as the show was setting up season six without offering nuggets about where it was headed. One critic said the show is a mess and doesn’t see any way it can recover and end with honor. I disagree. The producers and writers have always thought five or six steps ahead. They knew exactly what they were doing this year, and how season six will resolve (or not resolve) each storyline. As I trust them, I was willing to put up with a relatively slow season knowing the payoff won’t come until next spring. It’s a long time to wait. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they wrap things up.

Now I’m on to either Better Call Saul or Fargo, which both ended this week.

With it being summer, the girls are watching a little more TV than usual. We probably let them watch too much to being with, so we’re well past appropriate levels. But I figure as long as we get out and do something active every day, and as long as they aren’t watching for five hours straight, it’s fine.

The girls have, for the most part, graduated from animated shows. L will still watch a Star Wars-themed show, or a few others that are aimed at older kids. And they all still enjoy the king of all animated shows, Phineas and Ferb.[1] But usually they’re watching the tween shows on Disney and Nick.

These shows absolutely madden me because there are always a couple really good ones, and the rest are absolute trash. A couple are so bad that I constantly belittle them. “Why are you watching this show? It’s terrible!” The shows on Nick tend to be a little worse, mostly kids just screaming and yelling constantly, but they have a gem and Disney has its own clunkers.

What makes a good (or bad) tween show? It’s really not much different than adult TV. You need good writing, believable characters, and good actors. For some reason with kids shows you either have all three of those qualities or none. Good Luck Charlie, which ended two years ago but Disney still shows regularly,[2] has been by far my favorite of recent vintage. Writing that appeals to both kids and parents. Parental characters who are both present and not total buffoons. And three really good actors for the three main kid characters. It was one of the few shows that could make all five of us laugh at the same time. And I felt like it dealt with some of the issues that kids go through in an honest, but not overwhelming, manner.

Then there are shows like Nick’s Henry Danger. The stories are dumb. The parents are generally not involved with the kids, and only as cartoonish caricatures when they are seen. The action sequences attempt to be silly, slapstick but come off as ham-handed and stupid. The kids are often cruel to each other. And, as mentioned above, much of the dialog is screamed out. Somehow Nick’s Game Shakers takes all this to an even worse level. I had to tell the girls to stop watching it, it’s so bad.

Nick has one good show, The Thundermans. I think it is saved because the two main teenage actors have some chops, both dramatic and comedic, and carry the rest of the show. They’re also not screaming at each other all the time. Seriously, stop with all the screaming!

Another recently concluded, but still airing, Disney show we like is Liv and Maddie. I hated the one-actress-playing-twins gimmick at first. But it has a lot of the same qualities as Good Luck Charlie: decent stories, good acting, solid humor, involved parents. Joey is the element that really makes the show work; that kid cracks me up.

Stuck in the Middle is wrapping up its first season and has become a big hit in our house. Again, it ticks all the boxes: good stories, talented actors, involved parents, moments of genuine humor. Throw in the Latin family and powerful female lead angles and it’s off to a great start.

Rather than go into great detail about all the shows the girls watch/have watched recently, I’ll wrap it up with some power rankings.

1) Phineas and Ferb
2) Good Luck Charlie
3) Stuck in the Middle
4) Liv and Maddie
5) The Thundermans
6) Andi Mack. L and S really like this one, but it leans drama over comedy so I slot it down a little.
7) Girl Meets World. This one often seemed a little heavy for our girls, and I found it too pleased with itself at times. But in general a solid show.
8) K.C. Undercover. I want to like this, but it comes off as too silly most of the time.
9) Bunk’d. A lazy spin-off from Jessie, which I hated.
10) Henry Danger/Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, & Dawn/Game Shakers. All terrible.

L also watches Crashletes, a blooper video show featuring Rob Gronkowski a lot. It’s harmless and safer than turning her loose on YouTube. She and C watch Walk the Prank, Disney’s kid prank show. I find it thoroughly unbelievable. I mean, no one ever has to have curse words bleeped out when surprised by a fake bear, and instantly calm down when told “You just walked the prank!” Come on, clearly these are staged and actors are involved.

  1. Seriously, greatest animated show ever, right?  ↩
  2. Because they know how good it is?  ↩


  1. Stace

    Have to admit that I personally enjoy Teen Titans Go!

    • ddbrann

      L watches that and loves it. I’ve only seen it a few times, so can’t make a real assessment, although it seems like good, clean fun so far.

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