What’s New in 2013?

OK so this blog is only for me and the spammers anyway, but I realized I hadn’t written about any of the 2012/2013 season yet. So firstly, lets talk about some of the new shows. Today I’m going to cover Arrow, Elementary, Revolution, The Following, Bates Motel, Hannibal, The Americans and House of Cards.

Arrow looked like a show that was not going to work. We had years of Oliver Queen on Smallville, did we really need another show? However, it turned out to be a lot better than expected largely due to it being pretty dark and like many superhero stories, a tale of revenge. Stephen Amell as Oliver is more than just a muscled hunk – although those abs usually get an airing each week. Good supporting cast but I am not a huge fan of the Lost-style flashbacks to life on The Island and how he became the Arrow. Yes, it’s giving his back-story but I just find it rather tedious.

Elementary also looked like a terrible idea. A modern day Sherlock Holmes and Watson is a woman????! Oh dear oh dear! However, thanks to a lively lead performance from Jonny Lee Miller it works. Lucy Lui is fine as Watson and they are keeping well away from any sexual tension between them – that would just be too weird! However, Watson is a true partner for Holmes, not just a sounding board. It is Jonny Lee Miller who carries the show though, he is always interesting to watch. Interestingly, one of the producers is Liz Friedman, beloved of us Xena fans, and a producer for many years on House – another show that featured a scruffy but charismatic Englishman as its lead, solving impossible puzzles.

Revolution from JJ Abrams and the people behind Lost is a very high concept show. Imagine ALL electricity ceased to work, yep, no spark at all in the world. What sort of chaos would we live in? Well, like most post-apocalyptic shows, one with armed conflict, lots of walking around but plenty of hair product! Revolution suffers from a very unconvincing young lead Tracey Spiridakos, who looks about 20 and just does not have the charisma or talent to carry a show – not really that surprising for a very young actress. As the show heads into the end of its first season, it has wisely boosted the better actors and Elizabeth Mitchell (love her! Juliet!!), Giancarlo Esposito, and Colm Feore look like playing a major role. I’ve always found Billy Burke grumpy and unappealing, but he keeps getting lead roles and I suppose he is ok, but not a major draw. One of the problems is it is hard to see where the show will go without just becoming The Walking Dead minus zombies. Either they get the power back – in which case surely the show is over, or they don’t and we continue with the same pointless maneuvering. Revolution is worth watching for Mitchell and Esposito but is hardly original.

The Following, Bates Motel and Hannibal are three new shows that all deal with violent crime but in different ways. The Following is the least interesting of the three, although it sounded promising. Kevin Bacon stars as an FBI consultant who caught a nasty serial killer years back, but he now appears to have a cult of followers who continually outwit the authorities and pretty early on, get his out of jail. Frankly, this show is just silly. The cops are so daft, as is the idea that so many seemingly intelligent people would blindly follow a man whose chief appeal is his nice smile. James Purefoy isn’t given much to work with, but it just doesn’t make sense. Racing around each week but somehow NOT killing Kevin Bacon while pretty much everyone else seems to be part of the cult is just getting old.

Bates Motel is the Norman Bates: The Early Years prequel that surely no one was particularly waiting for, but thanks to the lead pairing of Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore, the show is quite compelling at the moment, although I’ve only seen 4 episodes. Highmore was an excellent child actor, but here his young Norman walks a nice line between creepy and innocent. Farmiga is brilliant as the frankly nutty Norma! She is electric to watch as you try to decide if she is a conniving killer or a victim of circumstance. They are handling what SHOULD be a creepy relationship between mother and son really well, with just the right mix of unsettling affection and manic possessive behaviour. An early murder – after an especially nasty and far too graphic rape – set the tone and the show has just been renewed for a second season – I think they are doing 10 episode seasons. I’m not sure long term where the show will go and how long we can be rooting for Norman Bates, but right now I’m enjoying the ride.

Hannibal is another prequel, but as I’ve only seen the first episode, it is very early days. However, the show has an excellent pedigree with Pushing Daisies Bryan Fuller producing, Hugh Dancy very impressive in that premiere as FBI agent Will Graham and Danish actor Mads Mikkelson as Hannibal Lecter. We haven’t seen much of Lecter yet, but just watching him cook is deeply creepy! Lawrence Fishburn and Caroline Dhavernas provide support to what looks like it could be a good show. Dancy is far less balanced than William Petersen in Manhunter, indeed he’s pretty eccentric himself as he looks into the minds of serial killers. Presumably he won’t be spotting much about Lecter too soon or the show will have become Silence of the Lambs!

Quick mentions.

The Americans starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is a really good show about two Russian sleeper agents in the 1980s. Great period detail and quite a few unexpected plot twists and turns in this one. The relationship between the lead couple raises a lot of questions – married for 15 years and never REALLY talked?? But it is involving, even if some of the ‘let’s chase the spy of the week’ procedural elements don’t fully work.

House of Cards is a Netflix produced series, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. It is loosely adapted from the BBC series of the same name starring Ian Richardson. Like Richardson, Spacey talks directly to the audience at times, although he isn’t quite a pantomime evil and conniving. Spacey plays Francis Underwood (Urquart in the original) as more savvy and smart and not quite as cartoonish. Of course the setting is US politics, which is a bit confusing for us Brits, but this one has quality all the way through. David Fincher directed the first few episodes. This show is notable in being the first produced in this way and released all at once on the video-on-demand service.

Top of the Lake is a New Zealand set murder mystery starring Elizabeth Moss and a slightly dodgy Kiwi accent as a detective investigating a crime in her small New Zealand home town. Directed by Jane Campion, we also get Holly Hunter and apparently Campion was after Anna Paquin for the lead. I’d love to have seen that but Paquin was busy having babies and starring in True Blood. Moss is actually excellent in a Sarah Lund-like performance. I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but there is an unsettling atmosphere to the show and I’m keen to see more.