Five Shows that Were a Bear to Review

It's safe to say that I've written a whole lot of reviews. Thousands, even, and that's just Supernatural... no, I'm kidding, but it really does number in the thousands.

Last week, as I was finishing up my review of The Handmaid's Tale's second season finale and thinking it was turning into a thesis on misogyny, I began wondering if it was the most challenging and difficult-to-review show I've ever tackled, and why. Lots of reasons, but clearly the content – the enslavement of women for religious reasons – is damned disturbing, and presented with great depth and complexity.

While I was trying to think of other shows that were as difficult to review as The Handmaid's Tale, four other "bears" immediately came to mind:

Lost, of course (2004-2010)

I reviewed Lost for six full seasons, starting right at the beginning, publishing my reviews on TV Tome (now tv.com) and a huge Lost discussion list on Yahoo. It was one of my earliest shows and a weekly challenge for me. Why? Because Lost featured an immense cast of terrific actors, extensive character development through the use of interwoven flashbacks, flashforwards and flash-sideways, and a level of detail and insertion of easter eggs so extensive that it became borderline ridiculous. I did my best but honestly, I never tried to track everything. I tried to focus on what spoke to me.


Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

I got sort of mad at myself that it took me so long to review Breaking Bad. I'd started watching it in season two, but I was reviewing so many other shows that I kept thinking, I just can't take on Breaking Bad, too. By the time I succumbed to the inevitable (the incredible end of season four), I found myself doing retro reviews in time to review the final season as it aired.


Breaking Bad was a bear to review because it was complicated, high concept, terribly funny and occasionally shocking, not to mention the fact that our lead characters were criminals. I fell in love with the show almost in spite of myself, although I don't think I ever actually liked it. As Walter White, initially sympathetic, slowly descended into darkness, I found his actions and motives more and more difficult to write about. I don't think Breaking Bad was my type of show, if I have a type. It was just that it was so good that I had to write about it.

It's also one of the few examples of a show that didn't end too early or too late, of a show that came to a pretty much perfect conclusion.

Rectify (2013-2016)

I get it. I really do. Several people have told me that they couldn't handle Rectify because it was just too depressing. And yes, Rectify is about a young man unjustly imprisoned on death row for twenty years, and that is indeed depressing, a horror that is difficult to handle.


But there is something so beautiful about this series. As the newly released Daniel explored his new world in the small town where he grew up, essentially experiencing the youth that had been taken away from him, actor Aden Young took us along and made us feel what Daniel felt. Rectify was made even more poignant by the seesawing emotions of Daniel's family, and by the possibility that the justice system might victimize Daniel a second time. I only wish they'd been able to give us a couple more seasons.

And finally, Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

I didn't discover Six Feet Under until it was nearly over, and wrote retro reviews after the fact, which means I knew what was coming at the end. (Although when I was watching season one for the first time, I knew I'd eventually have to review it, so I took notes about my reactions to every episode.) (This is not the only show that made me do that, by the way.)


Six Feet Under was difficult to review for one big reason: it was about death. And not just the mechanics of dealing with dead bodies, although that was certainly a memorable aspect of the series (it centered on a family that ran a funeral home). Six Feet Under explored death as a concept, about how people deal with the inevitability of death, about the utter devastation of grief. The show was also exceptionally funny, witty and sexy; there's never been another show quite like it. It also had what I consider to be the best series finale ever. ("Everyone's Waiting")

What do these five shows have in common?

They all feature terrific writing, world class acting and exceptional photography. But there is more than that. Plotwise, each series is unusual, and I think that was the key to why writing about them was so challenging. Often imitated but never duplicated. How many times were we told that a new series was going to be "the new Lost"? How many actually were?
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

6 comments:

Diogo said...

God, Lost was so good for 5 seasons. Shame it dropped the ball and jumped the shark in the last one. I think if the last season had had more episodes they maybe could have pulled it of, but alas.

Lamounier said...

How many times were we told that a new series was going to be "the new Lost"? How many actually were?

Great piece, Billie. The closing statement was terrific. Unique shows can't be duplicated.

I agree that the more unique the show is, the harder it is to review it. In my case, that show is Sense8, although this past season the show that was a bear for me to review was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I kept trying to make sense of the time travel stuff and it just became more and more complicated.

Bravo for the thousands of reviews. That is pretty impressive.

Anonymous said...

I will run from any show that anyone describes as "The new Lost", plus any show from Carlton Cuse & company. Those guys had no fucking idea where they were going, were making it all up as they filmed, and took all of us for idiots. Just rewatching LAX is proof enough of this.

There are very few things that I despise more than the amount of hours I lost (get it?) watching Lost. It was nothing but a scam.

Now, when young workmates ask me about it, I always tell them to watch the first season and the finale. The rest is useless.

A pity that JJ decided to destroy Star Trek after that. The first movie was not bad (too much fan service), but the rest have been pure S H I T.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Star Wars is next.

Almost there.

Dragonfire said...

I would imagine that Supernatural has elements of this, just from how long it's gone on, if not from the complexity of the plotlines.

Anonymous said...

Recitify was a beautiful show, and it was better for it to end when it was still good rather thna drag it out until it lost the spark. Lost did, big time. Thank you for reviewing this lovely show.

Mazephoenix