We’re back dear reader, Synthetic Error abides. This one goes out to all the space cats riding the cosmic rails, and what’s out there with them, blasting like x-rays from man in the moon marigolds? Television! Jesus there is a lot of it to watch. 2017 saw the world hitch into a slightly more depressing phase here and television has reflected that, with damaged people filling the small screen these days. Some of the best damaged people anthologies of the small screen in 2017 follow:
Best Superhero in Abstract Setpieces Show : Legion
Noah Hawley was sniped from Fargo to bring his quirk to FX’s attempt at an XMen TV story, but surprisingly they took their shot with Legion, the nutcase mutant in the wings on Marvel’s armies of superheros who doesn’t make his bones saving people but instead has to worry about existing. Without Hawley, this thing doesn’t exist – it’s a passion project mind bender that focuses on perception and consequences instead of plot twists and action fodder. David is locked up already when we find him, but a passing fancy sends his medicated world into disarray, with some forces hoping to kill him before he becomes unkillable, while others hope to bend him to their cause. Mostly shot from David’s shaky perspective, we’re piloted by the constant unreliable narrator of his own thoughts and feelings. Things are presented inconsistently yet in a designed fashion, the impression of empty patterns which mimic the searching of a schizophrenic mind. Come looking for a fight and you’re liable to be disappointed (Hawley refused to glorify violence unless it’s in the service of something, like empowering female throwdowns). Come instead looking for a show that actually sits down and thinks about how its subject’s psychic gift would blur all lines imaginable, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
Best Very Dark High School Musical Sequel: Crazy Ex Girlfriend
At heart Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a subversion of nearly every romantic comedy; the over the top hijinks that lovers get up to in these movies would probably actually be the product of stalkerish obsession from someone with underlying issues. Crazy Ex leans into it, having fun with Rebecca’s decision to uproot her entire life and move to a shitty cement Los Angeles suburb to be closer to a guy she dated once at summer camp a decade ago, but the show never really endorses her actions. The mechanic of the show though is full blown mockumusical, with two or three parody songs with full production every episode that rip into guy’s low romantic IQ, love conquering all, or attention seeking announcements of sexuality. The tone is decidedly arch – everyone on the show is the butt of the joke – but the cast is still endearing in the end and some of the jokes are very sharp. I sat up and started paying attention because of one background bit about an emotionally intense ad campaign for butter fueled by despair.
Best Victory Lap/ Action Show : Samurai Jack
After a decade simmering in the family friendly comedies that gave Genndy Tartakovsky his big payday, we return once more to the forbidden dystopia of the wandering samurai who engendered Genndy’s more mature aspirations. Samurai Jack itself was always dark and severe, but held back enough to show on a channel called “Cartoon Network.” Now, for the final epilogue season, Genndy has tapped deeper into desperation and viciousness than ever before, portraying a beaten Jack up against the wall. Still true to itself, this belated final season is a near-silent odyssey of the man out of time, transcending its cartoon roots.
Best Motherforking Satire : The Good Place
Kristen Bell and Ted Danson provide the star power dazzle for what ostensibly is a goofy jaunt to see how the other half lives in heaven (the dead half). It quickly unfurls into a moral quagmire as we find out not everyone belongs where they were placed. Rather than becoming either a whimsical farce or a Supernatural style power struggle, the plot instead highlights moral dilemmas week after week, in a digestible fashion. The result is a show that quickly shatters all the typical moral conveniences that power most of TV, which usually can be summed up with “be good”. Somehow this churlish show which cracks jokes about frozen yogurt ends up being one of the most serious shows on televsion, rewarding you for paying attention. Everyone is winning and funny on top of that, so you can laugh out loud while confronted with figuring out if murder is ever morally justified or if selfless good exists.
Best Show of 2017: Twin Peaks : The Return
David Lynch has always been our greatest director when it comes to capturing dread, unease, and the unknown. His spare approach doesn’t depend on CGI or trickery, he reveals things in a way that they just slightly don’t fit together, and that schism ripples out into the worlds he makes. Twin Peaks is kind of a combination of all of Lynch’s fever dreams, it’s most obvious touchstone being the suburban menace of Blue Velvet. For the return though, Lynch has fired on all cylinders, with Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, and Lost Highway joining the fray. This last season is the nasty cynical future whose promise frightened us at the end of season 2. Everything is strange and weird in a way that doesn’t feel trite, but instead feels beyond us. Lynch mostly refuses to explain the game, just showing us how the pieces move about. Some of these episodes though rival any film, and the experience is beyond unique. TV is generally supposed to entertain you for a bit, but Twin Peaks is a meditative act that by some alchemy even makes our own world feel bigger.
Thats the breaks! I know it’s only about 50 hours of content so maybe I can give you half a week and then we can chat about it? Oh, you may not have time actually because my Music, Games, and Movies Best of lists for 2017 are incoming. Til next time the river banks bend close reader…
Originally published on Synthetic Error July 29, 2019