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Sunday discussion: the summer television wasteland, 2016

Way back when, we used to come up with all sorts of interesting activities so that we had something to post here on Doux Reviews during what we called the summer television wasteland.

We'd do stuff like Vampire Month and the Buffy re-watch, and we'd review classic shows -- which we still do, all flavors of Star Trek, our long-running and closing-onto-the-finish X-Files, classic Doctor Who and Farscape. In 2010 and 2012, we got desperate and interviewed each other (which was tremendous fun and maybe we should do that again).

And then for a couple of years there, it seemed that there were a lot more new shows airing in the summer, so we had TV-related Things to Do.

So what happened to this summer?

Frankly, I've spent most of it watching American Ninja Warrior and stuff on Netflix. I think I'm enjoying Fear the Walking Dead more than some of the fans out there, but it went on hiatus back in June. With sincere apologies to our wonderful contributor Logan Cox who is reviewing them, Preacher isn't for me, and I haven't re-clicked yet with the critically acclaimed Mr. Robot. I liked the first two seasons of The Last Ship, but I only got ten minutes into season three and turned it off. I haven't even tried season two of Dark Matter; it's piling up on my DVR, which is never a good sign.

So -- Agents of DOUX, has this been a substandard TV summer, or is it just me? What are you watching? What do you recommend?

ChrisB: I wish I had time to watch more in the summer! I’m loving the reviews of Happy Valley, but am saving it for slower, darker days. What few hours I have spent with the television on has been to watch older shows that I have been wanting to watch forever. The current obsession is Midsommer Murders.

Josie Kafka: I'm all for interviewing each other again!

This summer has been a TV and movie drought for me. After a strong start with my discovery of the cultish Coherence, I hit a dry patch. I tried Stranger Things on Netflix and got so bored during the first episode that I wound up playing games on my phone. I tried to keep up with Roadies because I liked the premiere, but it got boring and cheesy. And Netflix only has one season of the Great British Baking Show available, much to my dismay.

I've been slowly rewatching Gilmore Girls and considering seasonal reviews. (Anyone want those?) I saw a few movies in the theaters, which was fun, but nothing out right now appeals to me. Not the newest Bourne and certainly not the newest DC film. The best thing I've watched recently is an episode of The $100,000 Pyramid with Snoop Dogg.

I did discover a great book, though: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It's about the build-up and aftermath of a Jesuit mission to a distant planet: how the characters decide to go, and how what happens there affects them. It's a fascinating, dense book that takes its time to build complex characters who are inclined to have philosophical conversations about everything from linguistics to theodicy.

I've also been playing the Duolingo game. Duolingo is a free language-learning app that is doing absolutely nothing to A) improve my Spanish, or B) teach me useful German. But according to my scores, I'm 45% fluent in Spanish (I am so not 45% fluent in Spanish) and 9% fluent in German, which is the wrongest thing this side of walnuts in brownies. It's useless but addictive.

Billie Doux: Points for use of the word 'theodicy' in a sentence, Josie. I am in love with The Great British Baking Show, too. And please, yes -- anything Gilmore Girls would be wonderful, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. (We're going to be covering the four-episode reboot this November.)

Juliette: It's been a crazy busy summer this year and I've barely watched anything. I do love, though, how much easier it is to binge on old shows on Netflix (other streaming services are available). I've always had a tendency to catch up on older shows over the summer, and Netflix makes that much, much easier, and saves me from having to wait for the arrival of the next cheap Supernatural DVD from Amazon.

This year, although I haven't got very far yet, I'm slowly working my way through Gilmore Girls (and would definitely be interested in reading some reviews!). I think summer is a good time for binge-watching, whether of old or new shows. Sometimes it's good to have some true water-cooler television to watch, something everyone watches at the same time so that they can talk about. But summer, with everyone going away at different times, doing different things, and generally just getting out of the house and enjoying the weather (if the sun comes out, not a guarantee in these parts), is the perfect time to work through something at your own pace.

Thomas Ijon Tichy: For me I have spent much of the summer discovering some obscure miniseries. I have also watched two "blockbuster" movies at the big theater in my town - Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad - which is rare for me. What's even rarer is I ended up liking them both.

One show I used to see, Tyrant, is now in its third season, but I have dropped it. I could no longer stomach its special brand of racism, sexism, ignorance, American-savior-complex and ultra-right-wing propaganda.

If anyone's bored he or she should check out Parade's End, which I reviewed recently. It's really a phenomenal show, so that's my recommendation.

What about the rest of you guys?

Samantha M. Quinn: It's been an odd summer for me, with most of my time free time being spent catching up on movies I missed (or wanted to re-watch) or the shows I let pile up on the DVR. Since Game of Thrones ended there hasn't been anything left actively running except for things like The Great British Baking Show and American Ninja Warrior. So between video games, movies, and mindless reality television there haven't been many shows I've watched over the summer worth talking about. I haven't tried Happy Valley which seems to be a hit, I haven't started season two of either Dark Matter or Mr. Robot. I dropped The Last Ship ages ago, and Preacher left me cold, a lot like the comic book did way back when I read those first five issues or so when they came out. And wow, this is a fairly depressing list of meh.

Okay, there is one positive I can think of. Somehow I missed the entire run of the first season of Wynonna Earp and I'm now slowly catching up on it. It's worth mentioning mostly for its potential, I'm not finished but it feels like the first real show to at least partially capture that elusive Buffy wit and allegory, even though it does feel a bit more like Lost Girl than Buffy. I haven't gotten totally hooked yet, but I can feel it getting better with each episode, and it just got renewed so it has a real shot at becoming something special.

Joseph Santini: On live TV, American Ninja. Yeah. Because.

I caught up on three seasons of Game of Thrones this summer and am really intrigued by the question of whether George R.R. Martin will ever return to the books. I think in some ways the edits and clarifications made for television improve the story, in particular the choice to make Sansa's story incorporate that of the character known as Jeyne Poole.

I've also finally started True Blood and am exactly two episodes into the series and love it. Sookie is nothing like I pictured from the books and manages to make me like the show just as much.

I tried out Hung earlier this summer and am disquieted halfway into Season One. I was hoping for an exploration of straight male sexuality beyond literal pissing matches. It feels like the show is playing with superficialities. There are shows which do this well and add depth and social context; this does not seem to be one of them. I like the actors, but the story, meh.

In reading I've discovered Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey mysteries and have now read each book exactly twice. Why can't every mystery author be as prolific as Agatha Christie? But hopefully the collection of short stories I've ordered, Lord Peter, will help me continue to find life worth living. I'm also debating ordering the DVDs of the televisations. It's either that or Classic Doctor Who on DVD because I'm sick of online services offering three episodes out of four of a serialization and I need more Tom Baker!

Billie Doux: That's it for us so far. What about you guys? Anything good this summer? What do you recommend?


  1. I’ve been feeling quite despondent about the quality of TV lately. I’m still enjoying a lot of shows, but nothing is really blowing my mind like TV used to back in the late noughties. That was the era when Dexter, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, Lost and Fringe were traumatising me on a weekly basis, and I’m really missing that experience. I can’t believe that TV was just so much better back then, but I do find myself thinking that modern shows do seem to repeat the same old formulas, making everything seem trite, overly familiar, and occasionally a chore to watch.

    The one exception this summer has been Game of Thrones. Despite many complaining that David Benioff and Daniel Weiss have lost the plot now that the show has gone its own way, I found season six to be an utterly gripping and highly emotional ride. And I’ve read the books, so I can’t really blame this blasphemy on me being unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin’s work. I like his books, I just love the show more.

    Maybe I’m jaded. Despite really enjoying Mr Robot, Dark Matter, Stranger Things and Preacher this past month, I’ve really been looking for something to blow my socks off, and I’m still sitting here sadly woollen-footed. And with the new TV season about to begin, and Arrow, Flash, Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow, Lucifer, The Walking Dead, etc. all due to begin their autumnal run, all I can think about if who’s going to win this year’s Great British Bake Off, and whether Ahsoka Tano is going to die in next season’s run of Star Wars: Rebels. How sad is that?

    Actually, it’s not sad at all, Rebels has been knocking it out of the park recently, and The Great British Bake Off has become a real guilty pleasure—guilty because I generally abhor reality TV. And Poldark’s back in September, so there’s always that. But I’m not overly enthusiastic about the return of the CW’s quartet of superhero shows. Arrow’s gone tragically downhill lately (boo, Olicity, boo I say!), Legends of Tomorrow had a depressingly average first season, and who knows what Supergirl’s move to Vancouver might mean for the show? Maybe I’m just smarting at having no Doctor Who or Sherlock to savour--or maybe things are slowly sliding downhill. Time will tell.

  2. I've watched every episode of Lost now and I've been slowly reading the reviews Billie did, I think I liked the ending and got a bit tearful that I wouldn't see these amazing characters I've spent hours getting to know again. Now I'm nearly done with How I Met Your Mother which I'm still enjoying buts its dipped in quality a lot. I'm near the end of season 3 for Sons Of Anarchy, I wasn't a big fan of season 1 but I decided to see what happened next and I'm glad I did, it's gotten a lot better! After I've finished the last couple of episodes of SOA I think I'm going back to True Blood and Boardwalk Empire seasons 2, I'm surprised at how into True Blood I am, and Boardwalk is nicely filling the void for The Sopranos (I'm also a massive Steve Buscemi, so the more of him the better). Oh, I nearly forgot I'm also watching Curb Your Enthusiasm which is really worth watching if you want a good comedy.

  3. I have to applaud the Syfy channel for giving us lots of varied scripted programs again, after a long drought. Speaking of droughts, it's been so hot where I live that I've barely gone outside all summer. So lots of TV watching. Anyways, 12 monkeys is the best show nobody seems to be watching, Wynonna Earp was good with stellar leading ladies, Killjoys is a blast, but Dark Matter bores me. I can't believe it was made by the Stargate- SG1 people. I loved Stranger Things. I'm the right age to enjoy it, though, since I saw all those movies it references in the theater back in the day. I'm watching the reruns of Legends of Tomorrow, since skipping it the first time, really bored so far. Thinking of dropping it. I love the British baking show, but get confused sometimes by cookies that are biscuits, and biscuits that look like crackers. Also, all the French names for everything. Maybe American baking subtitles would help. Some of Mr. Robot season 2 has been good, that ode to sitcoms last week was hysterical. Right now re-watching TVD, and trying to get through the Klaus episodes. For some reason, I just can't stand him, and I really didn't like The Originals, either. Cannot wait for fall. I heard Jessica Jones won't come back until 2018. Not fair.

  4. I have no idea why I'm still watching The Last Ship, it just keeps getting worse. Dichen Lachman is not in it enough.
    Wawyard Pines had a terrible season, hopefully getting cancelled soon.
    Murder in the First took a nosedive, and had plotlines straight out of soaps.
    On the positive side; Dark matter is growing on me, Preacher got really good, and Stranger things was great.

  5. Love the British Baking Show. I also really really love RuPaul's Drag Race. By the way, when will the review be up for the season finale of Preacher? I did get into this show... and have not read the graphic novel. So, it's all new to me. I have also been enjoying Queen of the South. It's not what I usually go for, but it reeled me in. I particularly like the female "villain", Camilla. I sort of like her story more than Theresa's (the female lead).

  6. I've been re-watching a lot of movies, some that left a big impression on me in my youth (Poltergeist, Dune), but lots of stuff from the 90s and 2000s. (I.E. the movies of Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan and David Fincher.) The ease with which one can watch anything these days still floors me. I'm rewatching The Knick s2 on Blu-ray with all the commentary, as well. And with what's currently on TV, I'm watching HBO's The Night Of and Mr. Robot s2. Both of which I'm liking. I'm reading Jim Sterba's Nature Wars and Jennifer Ackerman's The Genius of Birds because I've always secretly wanted to be a biologist. :)

  7. Joseph, I love Dorothy Sayers! I've read the short story collection, too: it's good, although of course a mystery short story is never as good as a mystery novel.

    Paul, I agree about very shows being socks-knocking. Everyone seems to talk about "peak TV" these days, but I think the peak for genre fans has turned into a valley. A pleasant valley--a Happy one, even--but still not a peak.

    Mallena, I love the slang on the Great British Baking Show. In the Netflix season, there's a woman who uses the line "I don't know whether I'm Arthur or Martha" a few times, and I love how that absurd phrase makes sense when pronounced with a British accent.

  8. "I've been slowly rewatching Gilmore Girls and considering seasonal reviews. (Anyone want those?)"
    YES, PLEASE \o/

    Also, Josie, I watched Coherence after reading your review and is simply an amazing and brilliant movie. Thank you! I also watched I’ll Follow You Down, which isn't as good, but it's still very interesting.

  9. Seasonal reviews of the Gilmore Girls will arrive soon!

    (And I'm so happy people are enjoying Coherence.)

  10. Josie, I'm playing the Duolingo game too! I've been finding it very helpful, actually. If you take classes or study by yourself, Duolingo can be a great additional study tool. By itself, though, I agree that it's not going to improve your fluency on another language.


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