Smart TV is a weekly series that includes TV news, reviews, and recommendations on what shows to watch. Warning: each post may contain spoilers.
It is no secret that HBO is synonymous with compelling characters. Two of the premium channel’s mid-year shows just aired their finales in consecutive weeks. Both series, Insecure and Ballers, induced major character shifts this year. Only Insecure succeeded in stretching its plot well, but both changes are examples of HBO’s unique storytelling.
I am also on a Deadwood binge. The Western series aired on HBO from 2004 to 2006. Through just one season, Deadwood already ranks among my favorite shows ever. I am amazed by the writing and acting that brought the historical town of Deadwood, South Dakota to life.
Eight episodes is the right length for Insecure, but Issa Rae has a knack for making me want more at the end of every season. The writer and actress has made the relationship dramedy entertaining and interesting for three straight years.
Insecure tells the stories of a group of friends as they work, date, and hang out. Each character is perfectly imperfect. They are not bad people, but make mistakes in a realistic way.
My favorite part of the season was Insecure’s Coachella episode. Issa’s minor change of plans exposed the insecurities of each character. Issa’s romantic rebound with Nathan cost her another long-term goal, Molly needed affection, Kelli put herself out there a little too much, and Tiffany was just helpless. In the end, each flaw ended the characters’ shot at a Beyonce gig.
Insecure’s best trait is how practically they depict friendship. The Coachella episode stands as a great example of how friends deal with their worst moments.
In a previous post, I mentioned Insecure’s great soundtrack. The Season One song “Girl” by 1500 or Nothin’ still ranks as my favorite. In Season Three, Insecure dropped another catchy song, “Go Left” by Radiant Children, in Episode Six.
I know Ballers is not the edgiest drama. The show is predictable and excessive, but I enjoy HBO’s fictional NFL series. My guilty pleasure took a few left turns in Season Four. The Rock’s crew moved out to the West Coast, acquired a cable network, and took on an activist approach.
Ballers has done a fine job of tepidly integrating current news into its plot (i.e. the Oakland Raiders relocation). Usually the series does this just long enough to move the story along. Chaotic writing in Season Four led to the show’s most aggressive stance to date.
Spencer Strasmore committed massive NCAA violations by leveraging a recruit’s commitment for a TV deal. The show also made some unflattering insinuations about Ohio State and USC. Spencer also sued the NCAA and tried to gain compensation for amateur athletes. Only a channel without NCAA ties could produce stories like this.
At the end of the insanity, Spencer and a star recruit made a vague reference to The Sting in the finale. It was a nice touch, but its out-of-nowhere origin summarized how nonsensical Season Four has been.
Ballers has been renewed for Season Five, but is in danger of jumping the shark. Without last year’s Game Of Thrones lead-in, the series endured its lowest ratings in four seasons. Ballers should wrap next year and end on its own terms to avoid an abrupt cancellation.
The dark Western intertwines fictional characters with historical figures like Seth Bullock and Calamity Jane. Nothing about the series is traditional. The profanity would make for a quick drinking game. The show also did not shy away from the occasional gore. As boldly as both were utilized, the writing is what separates Deadwood.
Creator David Milch used a Shakespearean style to bring their stories to the small screen. Protagonists and minor characters have quasi-monologues that describe their inner thoughts. Many of these moments flirt with breaking the fourth wall, but no one ever talks directly to the audience.
The tact works best with hotel owner E.B. Farnum. Played by veteran actor William Sanderson (Larry on Newhart), the dimwitted Farnum has quickly become one of my favorite TV characters. Farnum is a vintage Shakespearean secondary character. His motives are transparent and uncomplicated. They are also written in such a hysterical way that Farnum has the most memorable lines of each episode.
I can’t recommend Season One of Deadwood enough. For anyone looking for incentive to catch up on the show, a Deadwood movie is in the works.
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