It's Not TV

For someone who cut cable service several months ago, I haven't done too badly at keeping up with TV shows. Between Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming sites, I can get just about every show I'm interested in. Just about. There are, however, a particular subset of shows that my usual sources can't cover. And for that, I had to resort to...other methods. That opened a whole new avenue of shows, all of them on HBO. I have no idea how long this portal will remain open, so I hurried to jump into everything that I'd been hearing good things about, plowing through the inaugural seasons of four shows that couldn't be much more different in tone:

First up was Veep, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a hapless vice-president whose ambition far outstrips her competence. Her office is full of slackers and schemers, and the group of them is always getting into one embarrassing situation or another. It's a comedy very much in the vein of The Office (minus the invisible film crew), but with higher stakes and the ability to swear. This is the only show of the four that has already been on for more than a season, which also means it's the only show that had expectation built in. People have been falling all over themselves to praise Veep since it started; Louis-Dreyfus has won three consecutive Emmys for it. And while both she and the show are good, it didn't quite live up to the hype for me. That may be because cringe comedy has never been my favorite style. Or it may be genuinely over-praised. Still, it was a funny season, and I'm more than willing to catch up with the rest of the episodes.

Next was Silicon Valley, which is another comedy. This one is about Richard Hendricks, a brilliant but socially inept programmer who develops software that has the potential to change the technological community. Big businesses smell money and come after his idea, but Richard decides to retain control of his idea and builds his own small business with his cantankerous friends. All sorts of challenges rain down on his head, ranging from logos to intellectual espionage. It's actually really rich story material, but the show never gets too heavy, which I liked. It's also got just about the perfect amount of dude humor, which can go overboard in a hurry. Making a simple dick joke can be lazy. Making a dick joke into a full-on mathematical debate is genius.

But enough of things like smiling and good feelings! Let's muck around in some despair! That was easily accomplished by watching True Detective. Take all the critical praise that Veep gets and triple it, and you'd be in the general vicinity of how much attention this show has attracted. It's a depressing, dour show about a brutal murder and the toll it takes on both the community and the two detectives tasked with solving it. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson both turn in impressive performances, but unfortunately, the tone of this show struck me the same way that another highly-praised, violent drama did. Not to say that True Detective was bad. Some of the technical work that went into it was riveting, and I can recognize what an achievement it is. But I can also recognize when a show is Not For Me, and while I'll probably check out Season 2 to see if it's different enough to grab my attention, I'll likely have to make my peace with being in the minority on this one.

Finally, I zoomed through the first season of Looking, which was pretty easy to do, given how fascinating it was. One of the executive producers is Andrew Haigh, which makes sense, since the show is reminiscent of Weekend extended to series length. It follows the lives of a group of gay friends living in San Francisco. They're all trying to work out what they're looking for, both professionally and personally. None of the characters are purely good or purely bad - they're all saddled with flaws and assets in equal measure. A lot of the storylines are mortifyingly relatable, from app hookups to blurred lines between friends/coworkers/boyfriends. The ground is thick with relationship dramas these days, but there aren't a lot of realistic gay stories being told. This series is a refreshing change of pace, without resorting to the eye-rolling melodrama that Queer As Folk traded in. Though it won't take the top spot on my list of 2014 television shows, there's a real chance that "Looking for the Future" - in which two characters play hooky from work and do nothing more than hang out for the day - will be my favorite individual episode of the year.

Veep - Season 1: B
Silicon Valley - Season 1: A-
True Detective - Season 1: C+
Looking - Season 1: B+


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