In this week’s What We’re Watching, Kam Campbell takes us on a journey through his mysterious and mystifying world of televisual delights…
J. H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner’s sci-fi classic Fringe is a champion of two styles of storytelling – the longer, serialized plot style that is more commonly found in the Netflix/binge-watching school of television, and the case-of-the-week format that has provided the structure for many science fiction shows in America. Created by JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Fringe started as something of an X-Files analogue, with FBI agent Olivia Dunham (an incredible and highly underrated performance by Anna Torv) teaming up with the mad scientist Dr Walter Bishop (an also incredible John Noble) and his estranged son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) to solve crimes that the laws of physics deem impossible.
Many critics received the first season warmly but noted the similarities between the nature of X-Files and Fringe. However, with the final episode of the first season, “There’s More Than One of Everything”, Fringe began to show its true colours. There are two universes; our own, and one that is slightly different – filled with people who are the same, but slightly different. And with this the show became something, byzantine, complex and surprisingly emotional, with the actions of Walter Bishop in 1985, to kidnap his dead son Peter’s alternate universe duplicate creating a ripple of devasting ramifications that result in a war between the two universes. From season 2 onwards, the show truly came into its own, using impossible and fantastical circumstances to create real and palpable human drama that deserves everyone’s attention.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s web series-turned-television-show is a critical hit, and with good reason. The two writer/director/actor/comedians have seemingly perfected the ‘hang out’ comedy, which mixes casual quipping and discussion of seemingly pointless topics with the taking on of everyday challenges, or in the case of Broad City, failing thereof. To say the show had a formula would be over-simplifying it, but after watching for a while, a fan of Broad City learns that bad luck is always around the corner for the two main characters.
It’s helpful then, that Ilana and Abbi are nothing if not compelling to follow regardless of the circumstance. The different attitudes of the equal and opposite pair make for hilarious contrasts in each episode, Broad City often displaying Ilana and Abbi’s different mindsets in taking on disastrous situations often of their own doing or simply bad luck.
It doesn’t hurt that along the way, Broad City is far and away one of the most progressive comedies on television, displaying its female characters in a way that confronts all the real parts of living in a – one episode almost entirely based around the problem of one of the characters not having a tampon while on a commercial flight. While the show more or less hinges on the day to day problems of these two characters, Broad City is populated with an excellent supporting cast, Hannibal Buress often providing consistent weird hilarity as Ilana’s friend-with-benefits Lincoln. Broad City specializes simultaneously in the real and the surreal, using bizarre interjections to make a weird joke out of anything Glazer and Jacobson see fit.
Rob Thomas’s comic book adaptation and spiritual follow-up to his first cult hit Veronica Mars, iZombie defies expectations both as a zombie show and a procedural. While it is more or less dedicated to the classic ‘case-of-the-week’ format, the show takes a stronger interest in its serialized plot from the very beginning of the show, favouring character drama and other moments rather than just the solving of the case. Liv Moore is more than a standard procedural character with a winkingly ironic name, but an extremely burdened yet driven character that is often comparable to Veronica Mars – which is potentially the highest compliment I can pay her.
Rose McIver does expert work in balancing Liv’s ongoing struggles with the onslaught of wildly different personalities each new brain brings her; with a supporting cast that also brings the charm. Her boss and head of the morgue Ravi simply has great chemistry with every other character he meets, her partner in crime-solving Detective Babineux is a fantastic straight-man to Liv’s outlandish antics. In short, there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Rob Thomas has created a fascinating and surprisingly touching show, and cultivated it with extremely memorable characters and moments, from David Ander’s gleefully evil Blaine, to the surprisingly tragic figure of Major, Liv’s former fiancé. iZombie shouldn’t be missed, because Rob Thomas is on a roll yet again.
Jane The Virgin
Another surprising critical hit from the often mocked CW channel, Jane the Virgin is a soap opera for people who wouldn’t typically watch soap operas. Combining the self referential wit of a show like Community or Arrested Development with classic Telenovela narratives, Jane the Virgin leans into its inherent ridiculousness – resulting in a show that is as entertaining as it is moving. Jane, the virgin in question, is abstaining until marriage due to her family, mainly her abeula’s traditional Catholic beliefs, drilled into her since she was young. However, a series of events and a grievous clerical error in the pilot lead to her artificial insemination during what was meant to be a simple checkup – and Jane’s life spirals out of control, in manners not unlike the telenovelas that she consumed as a child.
The break-neck momentum and increasingly complicated subplots are all held together by potentially the greatest narrator in television since Arrested Development, keeping the viewer in the know, reminding them of the significance of different situations with a knowing wink and often hilarious interjection. He is, with good reason, a fan-favourite element of Jane the Virgin. There are insane twists every episode, featuring murder, betrayal, secret parents, secret affairs, love triangles – and this is all in the first 4 episodes. Jane the Virgin only gets crazier, and more entertaining, from there.