The Growing Obligation Of Streaming Shows – By Ben Clemmer.
I have been thinking for a few months now about writing a blog post about a TV show I just finished, or one I was working my way through. It’s fun to have conversations about these shows with the rest of the team, often via text. Our most recent episode was a deep dive into and love letter to a pair of TV shows originating in the nineties.
This year has been a bit of a wake up call as I have started new shows or picked up on ones I’ve been watching for a while, and I realized that by the time I finish a show and begin to process it, I am already watching at least one if not multiple others.
Is my goal today to review them? No. I don’t think I plan to be that comprehensive.
Is my goal to rank them? Kind of. I started making a list of shows that I have watched this year, that have debuted or had new seasons come out this year, and I realized the list is long and I probably still forgot some things. Overall, I think I can put them into three categories.
I don’t think any of them are bad. The first group I am watching out of a sense of obligation. Often this takes the form of previous seasons or a new chapter in a narrative I am already familiar with, prequel or sequel. The second group leans hard into nostalgia. This is not to say the first and last groups don’t, but I think most of my middle group fits into this category perfectly. The last group, I could see doing entire episodes on (for one of them we already have), or at the very least they might come up in a Spotlight at some point. With that, let’s dive into 12 shows I have watched this year and a few things I’m trying to process.
Two last notes, I am writing this on September 28, 2022. Three of these shows have seasons still in progress as I write this. I will also do my best not to spoil the plots of the shows.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – Obligation
This is actually the first Marvel TV show I’ve circled back to this year. I kept up with WandaVision, The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, What If…?, Loki, and Hawkeye last year. I did not watch Moon Knight or Miss Marvel this year. I think there are two things to be aware of when it comes to assessing Marvel content right now. First, so much has changed since phase one. The MCU isn’t trying to necessarily aim for mass general appeal, rather targeting shows to specific audiences. Miss Marvel for instance was aimed at tweens. I’m not necessarily in the target audience for She-Hulk. That said, there has been a lot I’ve enjoyed. I went in expecting it to be campy and in that regard, the show is meeting expectations. The legal aspects are probably where the writing is weakest. One area where many shows I’ve watched in the last two years have felt different is that She-Hulk joins Hawkeye and The Falcon & the Winter Soldier as a show that feels like it could have been a solid movie.
The other thing to be aware of with the MCU right now is that these stories are asking different questions. Now in the first phase post Endgame, we are asking how we collectively live in a world changed by superheroes, not how can superheroes change the world? We’ve seen that play out. The current question is not as much of a power fantasy, which might be a contributing factor to some of the lower ratings, on top of the campier tone, more specific target audience, and people who were going to hate the show anyway.
Peaky Blinders Series Six – Obligation
It’s hard to absorb the impact of the passing of a cast member, especially a performer who was as much of a standout as Helen McCrory. Because her character had to be written out and so many plot threads from the end of season five had to be resolved, the overall tone of season six is one of mourning. Given the season was also produced during the pandemic, there’s some catharsis to be found here, but it just felt like the show was wearing a shroud it never really took off.
The plot is somewhat penned in by history. Despite these limitations and the bleak overall tone, Cillian Murphy and the cast remain excellent. I had to think back to the fifth season of Boardwalk Empire. It’s hard to end a gangster drama on anything other than a slow spiral downwards.
The Umbrella Academy Season Three – Obligation
The pattern of the Umbrella Academy is starting to lose my interest. That said, I immensely enjoyed a lot of what was happening here in season three. The introduction of a rival team was interesting, but the narrative wasn’t given much time to develop them before the story began to hurtle towards the next reset in the status quo. If I recall correctly, Elliot Page was included in the writing process, which benefits the story of this season immensely. For many of the characters, similar to season six of Peaky Blinders, you could sense the processing of trauma and loss right beneath the surface as most seasons of Umbrella Academy end with multiple characters scarred by events that have unfolded.
The Rings of Power – Obligation
I have to offer this preface. Outside of what we have seen in the six live action films of the last 25 years, I don’t have the knowledge of the lore necessary to grade the show on that level. I think it has made a lot of decisions to feel like the original films. The music provides many call backs and it is wonderful to see actors in orc roles instead of CGI villains.
Again, as I am writing this, the season is not over. Without diving too deep into characters, because I would like to see their entire stories play out, I can spend a moment on pacing and the lack of tension in a prequel. These feel like some of the show’s biggest drawbacks to me. By the time we get invested in a place or plot we are seeing, the show yanks us across the world and we likely won’t come back to that set of characters until the next episode. The show is centered around many characters we have met before and even if they feel different here, we know they will live to see future storylines, so it’s hard to build suspense.
All that said, the visuals are stunning and I do care about all the different characters and elements of the world. I’m excited to see where things end up.
Harley Quinn – Nostalgia
Alright, we are now in my next category. Harley Quinn, the character, is now thirty years old and maybe one of the most popular and recognizable comic book characters on the planet at this point. While I have not been a fan of every DC film and TV show from the last decade, far from it, the irreverent chaos of Harley Quinn is a joy to watch.
Cuoco and Bell play Harley and Ivy with amazing chemistry. You could make a case that the third season could have been called Harley & Ivy. The supporting cast pulls out all of the stops. Alan Tudyk is a revelation as Clayface and the Joker. Now that the third season of Harley Quinn has wrapped, I find myself wanting more. On some level, I wish the show had an episodic format rather than a serialized one. The show does blend the two well, even if it is leaning harder into the latter.
Stranger Things – Nostalgia
What hasn’t already been said? Max and Eddie entered iconography as the show returned to form this season. Season four accomplished what it needed to, with the show runners writing out of a corner from the splitting up of the main cast from season three. This season also sets up the battle we will see in season five. It felt as powerful as a penultimate chapter needed to feel. We’ve grown up with these characters and I want to see how they grow and end their stories. Every season to this point has introduced new people and we’ll probably still get more new characters in season five. Matthew Corville also had a video reflecting on the Eddie or two he grew up with. It is absolutely worth a watch.
Obi-Wan Kenobi – Nostalgia
This was the closest positioning battle for me. Star Wars gets the nod over Stranger Things on the nostalgia factor with how long I have loved the franchise. This show had to juggle a lot. Between the continuity and the iconography of the characters, the time and love that needed to be put into this show clearly was. It was wonderful to see Ewan McGregror and Hayden Christensen back as Obi-Wan and Vader. As the hype for the show built up, it’s fair to say that the actors got to see a love for the Star Wars prequels that they might not have seen when those movies were new.
There were some moments where Obi-Wan Kenobi felt like it could have been a movie. The Star Wars TV shows have fallen into some of the same traps of Disney+ content generation. There were also a couple idiot plot moments where the only reason a certain plot beat was going to happen was if a character who had no history of being an idiot suddenly was an idiot.
House of the Dragon – Nostalgia
I did not see this coming. It’s so easy for prequels to disappoint for reasons mentioned in previous paragraphs. House of the Dragon is not only avoiding those issues, it is reminding audiences and me of why we liked Game of Thrones in the first place. The quality of the show feels the same as the first four seasons of Game of Thrones. It’s almost been a salve for where we left off after the disappointments of that show’s final seasons. The time jumps are helping to keep up narrative momentum, though we lose younger performers who don’t get to stay in the story for long. Thus far, the tradeoff is working, and I am excited to see how this first season ends. Depending on that, it would be easy to see Caleb and me spearheading an episode on House of the Dragon.
Under the Banner of Heaven – Episodes
I watched this one after a few recommendations and this show blew me away. I’m realizing that Andrew Garfield has yet to disappoint me. He’s at his best here as Jeb Pyre, as the murder investigation hits so close to home and he finds himself questioning his faith as mystery unravels.
The mystery unravels in such an interesting way. As Jeb interviews unreliable narrators, we get a sense of the timeline and see events unfold from different perspectives on the same scenes. I was expecting excellent work from Wyatt Russell and Sam Worthington and got it. I didn’t know much about Daisy Edgar-Jones and Denise Gough and they blew me away. Gough is also in Andor, so I am excited to see her in that when I get around to watching it. While the chilling performances for some of the Lafferty brothers stand out, the heart of the show comes from Jeb’s conversations with his partner, Bill Taba. I would consider a rewatch in the near future for their dynamic alone.
Our Flag Means Death – Episodes
This one is going to feel like a copout, but it isn’t, because we already did an episode on this. Larissa and Caleb both gave Our Flag Means Death a huge endorsement when we were planning our schedule and you can find our May episode here. Rhys Darby has quietly become one of my favorite actors.
Sandman – Episodes
Sandman brought me so much joy. I realized I hadn’t looked for Tom Sturridge in anything since seeing him in Pirate Radio. He is the perfect actor to play Dream. There will be a theme with this entry and my final one, as a creator got to bring his vision to life for a second time. Neil Gaiman in his sixties got to improve on the work of Neil Gaiman in his twenties. Over the ten (or 11) episodes of the season, the show is unafraid of switching from dark and disturbing tones to strange and wacky ones in the same episode, if not the same scene. This one probably needs to be its own blog post later on, if not an episode of SB, hence where I’ve placed it on this list.
The Legend of Vox Machina – Episodes
Putting this list together made me realize something. Over the last two years, I have been way more interested in and invested in Dungeons & Dragons than I have been in comics. The Legend of Vox Machina is my favorite show that I have watched this year. Again, a team of creators gets to bring their vision to life for a second time. Over the last year, I’ve started watching Critical Role throughout my week. I am current on campaign three. I am 26 episodes into campaign two (I know, ouch, long may he reign), and I am content to let this version of Vox Machina’s story be my version of it. I have watched some of the major moments from campaign one which I will not detail here as I am excited to see them one day rendered in animation. What Critical Role has been able to accomplish is inspiring on so many levels and it is a joy to be a critter.
I think that’s all the new shows I’ve watched in 2022. Now I just need to find time to watch Andor.