8 One-Season TV Wonders To Binge On A Snowy Weekend

The forecast is dire. Schools are closing early. Target is out of everything. Your boss even told you to bring your laptop home, just in case you can’t make it in Monday.

This can only mean one thing: A blizzard’s a brewin’, and you’re gonna be snowed in all weekend.

Your ancestors would have played board games. Or card games. Or watched a VHS tape. OR EVEN TALKED TO YOUR FAMILY. Fortunately you live in the age of streaming and none of this awfulness will befall you. You got options.

When a winter storm threatens to keep you curled up inside for days with nothing but streaming to do, here are great one-season TV shows to keep you entertained.

Last Resort

If you like military-government conspiracy stories with a dash of romance and a whole lot of Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine) you will eat up all 13 episodes of Last Resort. The story kicks off with Braugher, as commander of a nuclear submarine, refusing to obey an order to fire a nuclear strike at Pakistan. Braugher’s character has doubts about the legitimacy of the order and, as we see, there’s good reason to.

The story unfolds in the close quarters of the submarine, the French island it seeks refuge on and in Washington, D.C. You never know who to truly believe, who is on which side or which side is the good side. Last Resort includes a guest appearance from Ernie Hudson (Oz, Ghostbusters) that may have been the most dramatic moment in the short-lived series.

There are too many finer points of the story to give a more thorough overview of how Last Resort unfolds, but I’ll stake my claim that it’s among the most intense, heart-stopping episodes of any series I’ve ever seen.

If it’s so great, why’d it get cancelled?
Conventional wisdom chalks it up to an ultra-competitive time slot and a failure to attract female viewers. The premiere earned 9.3 million viewers, but it lost more than one-third of them by the time ABC gave it the ax in November.

Does it get resolved?
Yes! ABC cancelled the show with enough time for the producers to re-tool the 13 episode into a series finale. It ended in January 2013 and there’s no chance anyone will revive it.

The Last Tycoon

The pilot episode for Amazon’s The Last Tycoon drips classic Hollywood. The women have elaborate hair and vivid lipstick, the men wear sharp suits and speak with deep voices. The characters even move as if they could slide right into a classic Hollywood song and dance – and they do halfway through the first episode.

I watched the pilot on a stationary bike at the gym. Like the same for This Is Us, it was so arresting I found myself blowing past my 30-minute goal and watching the entire episode. Amazon released the rest of the season a full year later, but it was worth the wait. I’ll caution that the story does wander a little from the early episodes – don’t get too invested in the Nazi angle. The primary focus is wunderkind producer Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) and his tight-fisted studio head, Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer).

The key to enjoying The Last Tycoon is to remember that, like Lost, the show is about the relationship between the characters and not the events around them. And simply enjoying the look and feel what we all imagine Hollywood must look like on its best day. A spiff for studio buffs: It’s produced by Sony but you’ll recognize it as being shot on the Paramount Lot.

If it’s so great, why’d it get cancelled?
Amazon Studios purged several expensive shows in September (Z: The Beginning of Everything being the biggest name). The Hollywood Reporter cited mixed reviews but you could also assume it was too expensive to continue as Amazon reportedly searches for it’s own Game of Thrones. Good luck with that.

Does it get resolved?
The main storylines from season one come to a satisfying enough conclusion before a cliffhanger in the final scene. That comes with the territory for these one-season wonders. It’s unlikely to get picked up.

Awake

I called Awake “intriguing” when it premiered in 2012 and claimed “This show is so good and so superbly done that it will be on the air for a long, long time.” Well oops about that. But it is phenomenally great. Go through to read my two-paragraph synopsis of the pilot to see how much I loved it.

Lots of shows go heavy with characters; lots of shows go heavy with mystery. Awake went heavy on both and intertwined them in a way that required them to give viewers an answer to both. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t buying and it never got that far.

If it’s so great, why’d it get cancelled?
MetaCritic users rated Awake their second-favourite new show of the season behind Revenge. Given how rapidly that show declined, I would love to go back in time and swap their fates. Awake premiered to 6.24 million viewers, nearly two-thirds of which bailed by the finale.

Does it get resolved?
Unlike Last Resort, Awake was in the can when it got canned. It’s not giving anything away to say the big mystery here is which reality was real. But remember: Characters.

Fortitude

I’m breaking the rules here. Fortitude got a second season, but the first could stand on its own. It’s so damned good and perfect for a snowed-in weekend because it’s set above the Arctic Circle in the fictional town of Fortitude. Everyone there is cold and resigned to the fact that there will never, ever be a time without snow and ice. Just like you are when you look out the window.

The idyllic yet insular setting gives Fortitude the perfect foundation to tell a slow mystery with a hint of darkness lurking at the edges. This story couldn’t take place anywhere but the most northerly settlement on Earth. If you had to categorize it, you’d draw a triangle with character-drive, sci-fi and psychological thriller at each corner.

This is a European show, and even thought it’s in English the American audiences might need subtitles for the accents and you should be aware that there’s levels of penis only seen stateside on HBO. Speaking of HBO, Richard Dormer plays the main male supporting role. Game of Thrones fans will recognize him as Beric Dondarrion.

Barely Honourable Mentions

The Event, NBC. This show tried, but it just didn’t work. It would have been better as a movie. Like, a Michael Chrichton movie. The government was hiding some aliens, some of the government was aliens. The Event premiered post-Lost and thought it could get away with the same flashbacks Lost used to perfection. It couldn’t and just confused people. NBC gave it huge hype and it premiered strong, then lost half its audience and died.

Flash Forward, ABC. Flash Forward premiered near the end of Lost, and there’s no doubt ABC had hopes it would bring many of us over. As I wrote at the time, the premiere covered a lot of ground quickly, which Lost fans would have loved. It brought a lot of mystery, much of which I enjoyed. Few others did. Go read the book.

Terra Nova, FOX. One of the things I loved about Lost was the way it started with a very small setting that expanded over time. First there was the wreckage on the beach. Then came the camp and the caves. We discovered the island with the characters as they ventured during season one before blowing things wide open starting with The Swan in season two. By the end of the series, the beach had a nostalgic “Oh yeah, remember when Lost was just the beach?” place in fans’ hearts. Terra Nova could have had that, but it sucked.

Tell Me You Love Me, HBO. So remember when I warned you about the penis in Fortitude. It’s nothing compared to HBO’s study of the sex lives of three couples who see the same therapist. The “Did You Know?” feature on Tell Me’s IMDB page actually has to disclaim that the sex scenes were simulated, even though no one would forgive you for thinking you were watching straight up porn. It somehow got renewed, but the second season never aired because there wasn’t anything in the first worth continuing.

Stay warm.

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Scattered Thoughts: The Blacklist, 911, This Is Us and More

The Blacklist

I was so excited by the direction The Blacklist appeared to take in the season premiere. It looked like we were going to get a season of the dashing, fun Reddington we got in the first few seasons. Instead, we got the odyssey of killing Tom Keane. Great, that was a nice arc. But in like two episodes Reddington had all his money and cars and houses and suits back. WTF? We’e seen the Aida Turturro character what, two times?

Tom’s death was well done, and I enjoyed how the storyline played out. Less so the second half of the season with Liz trying to find his killer. Yawn. So let me offer an alternative arc:

  • The first half of the season is Reddington rebuilding his network. Starting from the hotel in the premiere and ending with him regaining his status at the mid-season finale.
  • The second half of the season is Tom’s death. Maybe Tom did something to help Reddington that led to someone wanting him dead. Maybe Reddington’s re-ascension came at Tom’s expense. Who knows.

I think this would have been a better path than such a quick return to the same The Blacklist that had grown so stale in previous seasons.

What I finally settled on as The Blacklist’s real issue is this: It has two main characters. Is it about Liz or is it about Raymond? Their relationship is the center of the show, but I think it also means the show is quick to bore.

Blindspot

Blindspot gets a little ridiculous sometimes when they’re putting together clues from Jane’s tats. Run these numbers through a random code, combine them with these numbers put in a circle, multiply them by pi—BAM!—found a bad guy. It’s a little much, but still fun. I’m glad they shipped Weller’s kid off to Denver.

I love Patterson. TV is too quick to make its technophiles into absurd caricatures (looking you, NCIS and Criminal Minds). Blindspot didn’t. Patterson is an integral part of the show and the FBI team. The show deserves credit for treating her like a brilliant professional. I loved the style and content of the Patterson-focused episode this past week.

But she should have died. As much as I like the character, I was surprised to find myself wishing she would walk into the elevator. It would have been a wonderful ending to a character that the show has given so much heartbreak.

Blindspot has handled itself very well in its third season. It’s not easy for shows to pivot away from their main storyline. The Ronan character is strong enough to be the main thorn in Jane’s side, and I expect that storyline will get most of the visibility for the rest of the season. It should be a good one.

This Is Us

I strayed a little from my “Don’t analyze this show” mantra after the over-done trilogy ended the first half of the season. It’s been dynamite since it came back. Except for last week. I don’t know what made anyone think we want a whole episode about Deja. But I do agree with the producer that NBC deserves credit for not intervening when the second-to-last episode of the season left out two-thirds of the main cast.

Remember last year when the penultimate episode was soooooo great and the finale was sooooo meh? Hoping for the opposite this year.

Y&R

When did Sharon enclose the porch on the ranch house? And come to think of it, why is Sharon still living in her ex-husband’s house on her ex-husband/ex-father-in-law’s property?

Goodbye, Chelsea. You were great with Adam but unfortunately the show let you die on the vine until you weren’t much more than someone who smiles at Nick.

Nick, you’re a brat. If they made posters of spoiled rotten rich kids, you’d be in them. You hate your father, but you love his money. Oh no wait you gave away all your money. Now you’re doing low-income housing. Sorry, that’s Randall and Beth Pearson’s gig. And your bar burned down. TWICE. My god you’re pathetic at adulthood.

I root harder for Nick & Sharon than I do for myself.

Ashby kids, you’re annoying. If my DVR had AI capabilities it would learn that I fast-forward through all your scenes.

Noah, sorry you were only good for being bad at having girlfriends. I wish they’d have done more with you, you could be a nice conflict between your father and grandfather.

I don’t care about The Hillary Hour. At all.

Nikki, that was kinda hot when you ran off with Nick’s contractor. You go!

9-1-1

It’s gotta be pretty bad for a show set in L.A. to not get my enduring affection. But 911 achieved it. Wow was this show bad. I quit after the plane crash episode. Not because the plane crash was poorly done (it wasn’t). But because this show has nothing other than emergency porn to keep your interest. The guy with rebar through his head? Come on.

The only thing worth watching about this show was the phone relationship between Connie Britton and the horny firefighter. That was awesome, but not awesome enough to keep watching. Peter Krause is terrible. Angela Bassett is terrible. So bad.

SWAT

Hey there, Shemar Moore. I’m sure SWAT is a totally unrealistic portrayal of an actual SWAT team. But it’s an entertaining hour nonetheless. The relationship between Shemar and his boss is a little forced, and the show’s attempt at addressing societal controversies is not quite ambitious enough to cram into one episode the way it tries to do.

The best character is probably the hot-headed young kid. It’s fun to watch him mature. I also really like the way they handled the story with him hitting on his co-worker who turned out to be bisexual. A show with no merit (hello, 9-1-1) would have drawn this out and probably given us at least one steamy sex scene. So kudos.

Jeopardy

Lee is a titan. If he qualifies for the Tournament of Champions, lookout. The dude was rarely wrong. Rachel also deserves credit for out-slugging him to start her run. She went on to benefit, I think, from some weak competition. This little banker twerp was pretty good, too.

Roseanne

I generally lament TV remakes (SWAT included, in this respect) because they make me afraid this great era of TV is running out of steam. So why am I curiously interested in watching Roseanne?

Africa’s Great Civilizations

This has been airing on the PBS lately. It’s pretty good.

Penn & Teller: Fool Us

More to come on this show. 😉

The Man In The High Castle

WHEN IS SEASON THREE HAPPENING FINALLY?

Bosch

Season four due out in April. Bosch isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a solid and enjoyable show. Doesn’t hurt to have Man in Black, Matthew Abadon and a house with the most gorgeous view imaginable.

House of Cards

The more time goes on, the less interested I am in the upcoming season. What if the show just ends with President Claire declaring that it’s her turn? I think that would be fine, and also somewhat fitting. Kevin Spacey’s character is deposed, out of the power he’s enjoyed for decades. Replaced by the woman he manipulated for so long.

I normally don’t like it when TV pierces the screen to mirror real life events. But that would have been perfect.

4 Thoughts After This Is Us Suffers Back-to-Back Bad Episodes

I know I said we shouldn’t do this, but we need to talk about This Is Us. It is two episodes into its trilogy featuring each of the Pearson children, and in my opinion they’ve been the two weakest episodes of the whole series.

I’ll keep it brief.

Point 1: Randall and Jack carry this show. The only genuinely touching moment in the first two episodes of the trilogy was Jack encouraging Kevin in the hospital. Randall has been completely absent. The rest of both stories, including Kevin’s solo scene on the football field, was ho-hum. With episode three set to focus on both characters, it is almost certain to be stellar.

Point 2: Kevin’s meltdown was absurd. The whole thing. From the hotel bender to how literally only one person at his high school noticed he was stone-drunk off his ass. And that speech, with the crowd’s reaction. This Is Us built its following by being emotionally true and real. I think this episode broke that promise to the point where the show, for one night, lost its credibility.

Point 3: I can’t stand Kate. More precisely, I can’t stand how hard adult Kate makes it for anyone who isn’t her brother to love her. She’s completely unfair to her mom (as is young Kate, at times) and at times seems to be prodding Toby to run away from her. Which I hope he does, because I like Toby. All he wants to do is love Kate and she constantly makes it hard for him. I warmed up to adult Kate ever so slightly earlier this year when Toby and Kevin had their rulers out over who could love Kate more. Since then, she’s ruined it.

Point 4: I find it improbable that all these life-important things happened to the Pearson kids on the same day. That is all.

I still maintain This Is Us should be a show we analyze minimally and enjoy with our hearts. It almost always delivers. But the past two episodes have been pretty bad.

#TheBlacklist Season 5 Premier: Back In A New York Groove

Just when we thought the male anti-hero had run its course, Raymond Reddington came along. James Spader’s awesome portrayal of someone equal parts charismatic and cunning kept the show alive as other characters found their way. Reddington is a flamboyant version of the international criminal mastermind, and you could feel how much fun Spader had bringing him to life.

Then season four happened. Red made the out-of-character decision to shoot his fixer, Mr. Kaplan, in the head and leave her (not a typo) in the woods to die. It was an overreaction to her perceived betrayal in season three, so much so that it was transparently forced into the show as a way to open up a new storyline. A metal plate no one knew was in her head saved Mr. Kaplan. Obviously pissed off, she used her complete knowledge of Raymond’s criminal organization to dismantle it from afar.

Losing his contacts, his connections and his money put Raymond Reddington on the defensive. Without his confidence he had no cockiness. Without either he was left being the one scrambling instead of the one stirring the drink. It made him uninteresting. Other storylines helped push the season along, but they weren’t strong enough to overcome the lack of fun Reddington.

The season five premiere brought back the fun.

The Blacklist has always been great with music, this year being no exception. The episode started with Reddington conning his way through a valet stand and into a classic sports car, which he promptly outran the police with – all set to “Back In A New York Groove.” He zipped his way to his new home: A motel where he holds court by the pool, giving the show a chance to let Spader’s charm explode onto every scene.

This is the new Raymond. He’s got no network and no money. Immaculate suits are out. He’s gotta hustle for his rent. So naturally he comes to the aid of a bail bondsman who’s about to lose $80,000 if a fugitive doesn’t make his court date. Perfect work for a former criminal entrepreneur.

All of this let’s the show give us the old Red back. The fun Red.

Here’s what season five shapes up to cover, based on the premiere…

Red rebuilds his empire
Season one began with Reddington already on top of the criminal world. Now that Kaplan knocked him off, season five should be heavy on him putting the pieces in place to start over. The premiere had him scheme to bring in a money launderer and a logistics man. He’ll need more, including a new fixer. And speaking of fixers…

Ressler’s in trouble
The Ressler character has been pretty stiff for most of this series. His only purpose seems to be rushing to crime scenes and reminding us of the ethical problems the FBI faces working with Reddington. Nevertheless, I like him. But now he’s got problems. Stupid ones.

At the end of season four, Agent Ressler accidentally killed the National Security Advisor. I mean, oops. Then, in a moment of extreme idiocy, he called the fixer who just betrayed said advisor and asked him to take care of it. Well guess what. The fixer is now gonna blackmail the shit out of him. It’ll cause problems for Ressler, big ones. I can’t stand inevitable storylines and this one is going to drive me nuts.

Elizabeth’s mom’s bones
Like every good fixer (see above), Mr. Kaplan kept an insurance policy against her employer. Hers? The decayed bones of Elizabeth’s mom. Big. She left them for Tom (“Hey, Tom. I got your dead mother-in-law’s bones here.”) who now has them in a brown suitcase that he keeps in the family living room.

Raymond doesn’t know all of this. He knows Kaplan left the bones for someone, but not who. He’s got Dembe on the job, so it’ll get done. It won’t be easy, but we know how it ends because…

That flash forward
At first I thought this was Tom having a flashback, then I realized this isn’t something we’ve seen. To lay the marker for how serious Reddington takes these bones, the premiere ended with a flash forward to Red and Dembe bursting into the Keane’s apartment guns out and, possibly, shooting Tom in the process. That part wasn’t clear. But it wouldn’t be surprising. Tom and Raymond have been at odds for most of the series.

How we get to that scene will be the biggest story for season five to unravel.

#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings

#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings

This is not a rant against television critics. I love television critics. They understand television better than I do and explain it better than I can. I’d be lost (pun…not intended) watching the shows I like without their recaps and insight.

But with expertise and analysis comes the danger of over-thinking, and I think we’re at that point with reaction to the season two premiere of This Is Us.

If you’re not a fan (you should be), This Is Us spent the better part of season one teasing the death of the Pearson family patriarch, Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia. We know he does die, but the show is drawing out the reveal for exactly how. It seemed like we’d get the answer in the season one finale, but no. Like a lot of critics and fans, I was even upset they didn’t reveal it after such a heavy buildup.

At the very end of the season two premiere, they made the reveal. Sorta. They showed Kate and Randall in tears, with Kate getting a line that called back to a future-Kate line earlier in the episode. They showed Rebecca pulling up to the Pearson house and letting out a scream that’s even more impressive when you learn Mandy Moore nailed it in one take.

But they didn’t actually show Jack dying. In answering the question of what killed him, they opened more questions about what led up to it.

Some critics, it’s fair to say, aren’t happy.

Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter (who you should read regularly) called it “emotional ghoulishness” and said:

I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to get invested at this point in the premiere’s shocking revelations that Jack died when the kids were 17, which I guess means 20 years ago, which I guess means 1997? And that apparently he died in a fire in the Pearson house? You could have told me that in the second episode of the first season and literally nothing I enjoy about the show would have been negatively impacted.
Nothing.

James Poniewozik at the New York Times might have cried a little but then his damn brain took over:

I barely had time to register the emotion of the moment before my rational mind went to work gnawing on this newest kernel. No one confirmed that the fire killed Jack, after all. Rebecca appeared to have his personal effects in the car — would they have survived his immolation? Maybe Kate (Chrissy Metz) — who holds herself responsible for Jack’s death — caused the fire?

And maybe that fire led to a different action that killed him. Maybe it was a drunk-driving accident. Maybe he took a long walk, lost in his thoughts, not noticing the grand piano teetering out of a fourth-floor window above him. Maybe he was forced to take a second job, at the old match factory next to the fireworks warehouse.

This is a problem. Here we’d just seen the raw moment where Jack’s wife and teenage children are first grieving his loss. But instead of processing it, the show’s teasing narrative had me constructing an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of death.

Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall (who you should also read regularly) thinks it’s time for the teasing to end:

But we’ve reached a point where this one puzzle has now started to overwhelm the many things This Is Us is good (and, at times, great) at, and to turn into the exact kind of Reddit bait that Fogelman said he doesn’t want it to be.

I get all that.

Here’s my thing: We don’t have to treat every show like it’s in the running for greatest show of all time. Let’s leave the magnifying glass in the desk drawer and enjoy This Is Us for what it is – A remarkably real television show.

I love This Is Us because it’s nice to not be mind-f*cked at the end of every episode. When Game of Thrones is over my mind is whirring with how all the new information fits in with what we already know and what I forgot from past seasons. When This Is Us is over, my mind is silent, but I’m heart-f*cked. I’m replaying the moments in the show – and there’s at least one in every episode – that struck a chord with something from my life. That’s so cool.

I also love This Is Us for the way it’s characters almost always seem to do the thing you hope they’ll do. Your heart was screaming for Rebecca to knock on the door, wasn’t it? It was, because Rebecca knocking on the door was the most emotional, heart-warming thing she could possibly do. It was what any of us would do if we were that desperately in love with someone, which we all want to be. So she did it, and it was amazing.

Let’s just enjoy that. Enjoy a show that isn’t about people who literally never smile (House of Cards) or half as great as it used to be (The Blacklist) or built in a fictional universe with a 12,000-year history (looking at you, George R.R.).

It’s okay to sit back for an hour a week and let your heart takeover.