All of the shows here are currently are on hiatus while the next seasons are produced, giving you the opportunity to catch up to the hype train attached to all these shows. There is no better time than now, to get yourself buried in the community and fandoms, as well as the fascinating plots of each of these shows.
Ten TV Shows to Binge-Watch this Summer - Part 3
Hopefully by now you are busily plowing through some of the excellent TV mentioned previously, but in this section all the shows are still running.
Welcome to the trip, man
To describe Orphan Black without revealing details of the plot that some feel make the shows reveal so great is actually impossible. So if you want the spoiler free version of the review here it is:
This show is fantastic, it is easily one of the greatest television show of the 2010's, and has an amazing breakout actor with Tatania Maslany. Now skip to the next show if you want to avoid any
and all hints of the plot of the show, stick with us if you want to know why this show is so fantastic.
The show is a genre blurring sci-fi thriller, take us on a quest and chase for knowledge as we are introduced to Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a tearaway Brit living in Generica, who sees a woman who looks exactly like her walk in front of a train. Curiosity gets the better of her and she steals the woman's luggage, and attempts to take on her identity in an attempt to commit a little bit of identity theft to secure some money so she can run away with her daughter and foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris)
What she eventually discovers is that the woman who looked exactly like her, Beth Childs (Tatania Maslany), is actually one of many woman who are all the same: they're clones. This is when you are introduced to the Clone Club. The first clones we are introduced to are Cosima (Tatania Maslany), the hot kick-ass scientist clone, and Alison (Tatania Maslany), the stereotypical soccer mom. Sarah has walked in on the middle of these sisters attempting to work out who they are, where they came from, and why they even exist.
The show does what all good Sci-Fi does and explores different themes, all relevant to our world, while exploring the story of the Clones. The writers explore sexuality, and the fluidity of sexuality and gender, what a modern family looks like, the power of Big Pharma (and its ability to produce huge Super-PACs), what it means to be a person, transhumanism, and the ethics and morals that scientists must hold themselves up against. And this all done underneath a poweful interpersonal stories of the Clones and their struggle with personal identity, as well as they search to find out who they all are.
Throughout the show we are introduced to more clones, all with different knowledge bases and connections to the cloning programme, allowing the writers to explore a huge number of stories and avenues, all linked by a singular connection.
The shows writing is engaging and competent, but what really makes the show stand out is Tatiana Maslany's ability to play multiple characters, all with different and engaging stories, personalities, and quirks, living out their own complex stories, as well as interacting with each other in scene after scene.
The effort and work that goes into shooting multiple-clone scenes is amazing, showing an amazing dedication from both the post production team, and Maslany's silent stand-in Kathryn Alexander, who plays opposite Maslany during filming (so learns all the lines and mannerisms of each character) only to be removed in post production.
This show hooks you, pulls you tight, and never lets go. In the words of Cosima herself: 'Welcome to the Trip, Man'
Game of Thrones
You either Win, or Die
Unless you have been living under a rock, it is hard to not have at least heard of Game of Thrones. Whether it was the watercooler discussion about the Red Wedding, the adoration for the effortlessly cool Peter Dinklage, or people constantly telling you that 'Winter is Coming'; you've probably heard of it in some capacity. But if you are not watching it, you are missing out on one of the coolest, and richest TV experiences currently available.
The Game of Thrones series is an adaptation of George R. R. Martin's epic saga A Song of Ice and Fire, which is currently five books long with two more to come, and follows the stories of several noble houses vying for power in the fantasy kingdom of Westeros.
The world is a rich tapestry of complex individuals living out their own lives that all connected through the world spanning war, and the relations they build with others as they try to survive and succeed through their encounters.
The narrative originally follows the Stark family, as they head from their home in the North to the capital of the Kingdom (King's Landing) to take up the new role as Hand of the King. Not long after arriving Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) discovers a dangerous secret about the King and Queen.
This revelation leads to death and disaster for anyone playing the Game of Thrones. A war breaks out among the kingdoms with cries of succession and revolution. The War of Five Kings begins and the show takes us through the 'heroism' and deception of any feudal war.
But where the show really excels in how it deals with the relations between characters. The books themselves were written in biased third-person, with each chapter being a point of view of a specific character, so you get all their internal rationalisations and thoughts. The show doesn't have this ability so instead focuses on a mixture of expositionary dialogue, and verbal battles of wit.
This leads to some absolutely phenomenal writing and pieces. Some of the highlights include two of the major characters, who have very different approaches to legacy, discussing the value of order versus chaos.
Attempting to really get into the plot of the show would require a series of articles and span several thousand words. There is a lot going on, and there are a lot of names to keep track of. If you watch very casually, without paying much attention you will be confused by everything going on. There are seven kingdoms, each with a major house, and several lesser houses in each. Each of these families has at least two named characters, often many more. The Freys have in the order of 80 named characters, many of them with extremely similar names.
And then there is the whole extra island, Essos, which lies to the east of Westeros, which has it's own cities, history, and culture, with many other characters to remember and stories to explore. All this would be no mean feat to keep track of as a viewer, but you also need to be up to date on the lore and history of Westeros. Characters will continue reference Aegon the Conqueror (the first King of all Seven Kingdoms, he united them by defeating all the other Kings using his army, and dragons, ridden by him and his sister-wives), the Mad King Aerys (a descendent of Aegon, whose mad actions lead to a revolution, resulting in his death), and the Battle of the Trident (Aerys' son, Rhaegar, rode out to face Robert Baratheon, leader of the Rebellion, in combat but was killed by Robert, resulting in the fall of the Targaryen family line, which started with Aegon).
As you can see, the history and stories are deep and complex, but sticking with the show is a highly rewarding experience. If you are going in utterly ignorant of the story then I would recommend avoiding all of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire Wikis because they are riddled with spoilers.
If you are prepared to sit down this is probably one of the most ambitious television products ever embarked on, and the journey is absolutely enthralling. And once you have caught up on the TV show, you can read the books to know what is happening next.
American Horror Story
Murder House. Asylum. Coven.
The co-creator of Glee comes to saying that he has this idea of for a new horror show. Most people would laugh at this idea. Luckily for us, FX did not, as American Horror Story has been a fantastic return to Horror that has been horribly missing from the current branch of supernatural-themed shows on TV right now.
The show also has a novel approach to storytelling, with each series being a self contained story. This very quickly remedies the problem that many shows that introduce mysteries and suspense have with delaying the payoff to keep the show alive (Lost is guilty of doing this to the extreme detriment of the show), and allows you to invest in the show knowing they will be a reward for all of this.
It also allows the show to remain fresh and engaging, approaching different topics and themes with which ever is most interesting, or relevant, to the current cultural paradigm.
To really give an idea of how this show is absolutely stunning from the get go, it is best to tell a little story of how I first came across the show, and then never stopped watching it.
While browsing Netflix I saw a suggestion to watch American Horror Story. As a fan of horror the name interested me enough, but the image for it (on the left) drew me in. The image had so much going on that I had to find out how it all fit together. You have a man in a gimp suit emerging from the ceiling, reaching down to the womb of a pregnant woman, who is laid out in a sexualised position. It is also gives off the vibes of the weirder parts of Twin Peaks, an iconic television show whose effect and influence can still be felt across the television landscape (if you haven't seen Twin Peaks go back and watch it). Twin Peaks was such an awakening for me in terms of what television can do that if someone was tapping back into those themes I wanted in.
I gathered my housemate who spent a lot of last year marathoning through TV shows with. He was also interested in the concept. The idea seemed neat, we're both a fan of American gothic horror, and the subtitle of the show 'Murder House' gave us some hope that this could go down interesting routes.
So we sit down to watch the show and are introduced to some angsty little twins going into an abandoned house to throw firecrackers and smash the place up while we get some pan shots of the creepy house, and a happy little rendition of 'Tonight You Belong to Me' plays over the montage of their destruction. Being young, foolish, and trope-naive they follow the creaks and footsteps into the basement. A basement filled with glasses jars full of preserved animals, and bits of human (young and old), tables filled with surgical equipment. Throughout the whole scene the suspense is being raised through a mixture of audio and visual stimuli, before culminating in the boys being murdered where they played.
And then the show prepares you for the huge amount of emotional and mood whiplash you will face this show by jumping to a modern day obstetrician, where we go through the mundane activities associated with pregnancy, before returning to her home life. The mood heightens due to a revelation of infidelity before the show drops the intro on us.
In the first five minutes you are disorientated by your ignorance of what is going on, and the writers play on this by keeping you off edge before dropping that creepy and disturbing intro on us. Charlie Clouser and Cesar Davila-Irizarry did a fantastic job at creating a theme that matches so perfectly the theme of the show. The theme is also edited for the different seasons, so it maintains the song but with different instruments and pitches to fit the theme of the show.
The first season of American Horror Story explores and deconstructs the tropes that surround Murder House/Haunted House stories. A family in search of a new start move into an old house that was going cheap, and instantly they start to experience weird things. The father of the house is Dr. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) has a patient named Tate (Evan Peters) who has taken an unhealthy interest in the daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), and is repeatedly around the house despite protests from Ben.
The maid Moira, who came with the house, and refuses to stop working for the family appears differently to men and women. To women (or gay men) she appears as an elderly lady with a clouded left eye (played by Frances Conroy), but to straight men she appears as a young redhead, in a sexualised maid's outfit (Alexandra Breckenridge). Their neighbour Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) has an obsession with the house, and keeps inviting herself over, but dropping hints and warnings about the nature of the house, and those who are still within it.
The story works on a clever double payoff process, with two separate arcs concluding at different points. The show begins by setting up a lot of mysteries and questions, as these initial mysteries of the show begin to start to wrap up, further mysteries are being set up before a phenomenal two part ending.
The show is a dramatic and tense experience throughout, with some fantastic characters and developments for everyone involved. We discover the dark pasts of those inhabiting the house, and what lead them to be there.
The series is also extremely rewarding to those who are fans of television and horror. It is a very trope-aware show, and plays on the audience expecting tropes to be played out in traditional ways. It uses this expectation to keep you further in disorientation. By you not knowing what is really going on, and feeling a little lost in what to expect means that the tense atmosphere can be maintained. When you know what is going on the suspense would fail, but by being unaware of the narratives goal until it is shown to you, you are gripped to the edge of your seat.
So then when faced with the prospect of how to follow such an amazing first series, and to do it in a completely new setting, Ryan Murphy (creator) and his team made the fantastic choice to hang on to their fantastic cast.
The second season, titled Asylum, takes place in a Catholic mental asylum during the 1960's, run by a strict authoritarian group of nuns, dealing with patients of varying severity and danger. While the first season took a family, and explored the nature of horror and the supernatural, the second focused on sanity, and the changing views of mental illness throughout time.
The series' narrative was linked together by Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson). Paulson had a small role in the first series, but in this series she was allowed to shine as the phenomenal actor she is. Lana is a complex character, with many flaws attached to her powerful and successful nature. She's driven a lot by her own desire for success, at the expense of those attached to her, and her refusal to compromise costs her a lot within her own psyche.
Alongside the central story of Lana Winters we have a possession in Sister Mary McKee's (Lily Rabe) journey, a claimed extraterrestrial encounter by Kit Walker (Evan Peters), a scientist who may have gone too far with Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), and a nymphomaniac (Chloë Sevigny), all overseen by the tale of vicious and bloody murderer called Bloody Face.
There is a huge amount going on all the time, yet it never feels overwhelming.
While the last series excelled in disorientation (which worked so effectively), this series focused more on containing you within the story they wanted to tell. While there was still a lot of mysteries floating around, they were more of an overarching connecting tissue than as the crucial points of the plot.
The casting was fantastic as Jessica Lange showed us why she has been in Hollywood for so many decades, as she blew the audience away as the head of the facility, Sister Jude. Zachary Quinto returned, this time as the chief psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson, able to perform the extreme dimensions and contrasts inherent in the character. Quinto and Paulson also have an amazing scene where Thredson is trying to perform aversion therapy on Winters to 'remove her homosexual thoughts'. The scene is dramatic enough as it is, but with the knowledge that both Paulson and Quinto are LGBT+ the whole scene becomes many times darker.
Asylum is my personal favourite series, as it is by the far the darkest and most disturbing season, with some of the most disturbing scenes, because the horrors are nearly all human in origin.
So now with expectations as high as they can be set, the third season had a lot to live up to it. The creators decided to go for a different approach, one that was far lighter and less horror driven.
Coven follows a Coven of witches in New Orleans, as they learn how to control their powers, and the political power structures that exist within Covens, as well as all the little rules that control their futures.
Coven follows the current Supreme, the most powerful witch within the coven, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) as she comes to terms with her mortality, as a new supreme begins to emerge within the coven. A supreme will die once a new supreme is discovered.
Due to the location of the show, New Orleans, the show uses the theme of the witches and their otherness (and oppression during the Salem Witch Trials) to explore the issues of sexism and racism. The coven is composed only of women, so is an easy way of exploring the negative and disparaging views against women, especially given that their major hunters are composed of, what appears to be, entirely males.
The coven faces oppression for what is an inherent and unavoidable aspect of themselves, but they are in a cold war with a series of voodoo witches, who hold the secret to some extremely powerful and dangerous magic.
The plot within the show is more of a vehicle to carry on the themes that the writers wish to explore, rather than being filled with mystery and suspense like the other seasons. The show begins to ramp up the tension towards the end with the final reveal. Delivering a payoff that ties together a lot of the loose ends.
All in all the show works by allowing each season to explore a different sort of horror. Season one about the horrors of the unknown and supernatural, season two looks at the horrors of humanity, and season three dissects the horrors of division, xenophobia, and differences.
The next season is coming out soon, and is titled Freak Show, and will be the culmination of many of the actors commitment to the show. It looks like it will be set to return to the style of season two, focusing more on the darkness of humans.
The next article will be the final of this series, focusing on what I believe to be the best TV show within recent memory, can you guess what it is?