Downton Abbey: Season 4
Last week I criticized the extraneous week-in-week-out flow of guests at the Abbey, as well as the sexually flat relationship between hyper-empathetic Anna and the needlessly noble Mr. Bates, only to find myself justified/HORRIFIED this week at what Julian Fellowes had in store for the useless/happy couple. Seems he planned all along to take the series' one (legitimately arch) goodhearted soul and have her savagely raped (!!!) by one of those extraneous rotating Downton guests! Yep, it's time for a Maggie Smith glare gallery...
To be fair, I could sense something deeply sinister afoot. What at first appeared to be the usual fast and forced establishing of a new love triangle in the servant's quarters sees Anna and a new guest servant laughing together and playing a raucous game of cards. No one on this series has EVER laughed that hard, or had any sort of emotional reaction at a volume level of anything over a three. At Downton this kind of cheery disposition read as a notably jarring, unnerving moment. Naturally it was undercut seconds later by Mr. Bates scolding his wife for enjoying herself publically. The servants stop upstairs to see this week's musical guest, and Anna feels a headache, saying it's -- wait for it -- likely because of all the laughing earlier! Anna retires downstairs again to find her light flirtation with the guest servant immediately translate into brutal sexual violence. And by the episode's end of course, Anna being Anna, she decides to keep her suffering a secret, so as to save her dear Mr. Bates from possible prison time, and to ensure he can do something deeply noble in several weeks time.
It was a despicably gross moment on its own but I'm sure Fellowes would assure you it was tastefully done, mostly relegated to implication. But when a show had me thrown off by simple LAUGHTER, he should expect fans to be thrown by the sight of smiling Anna being slapped and cowering with blood clotted in her hair. There's something remarkably off in the tone here, not to mention the way the entire subplot seems to be entirely devised to give (regressive) seasonal motivation for Mr. Bates than to offer any kind of greater theme or resolution for Anna. This show's stooped to some pretty lame extremes before (Edith's childhood friend and Matthew's car accident the most glaring) but this might be the most egregious yet.
The closest comparison I have for a show like this is The L Word, which I watched to the bitter (bitter) end, laughing at and wincing with each questionably offensive detour and miscalculation. It's just that The L Word never started on a high point like Downton and never had the stuffy-period-Awards-clout to mask its soapy wheel-spinning. Maggie, we need you again...
American Horror Story: Coven
Not much to say about this premiere specifically, other than that I'm hoping for more Asylum, less Murder House. More "Name Game," less "Ghost Christmas", y'know what I mean? All I really care about is THAT CAST!!! Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates (bringing back major Misery vibes), Angela Bassett, Frances Conroy (getting a livelier role this time), and Asylum highlights Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe. This premiere isn't exactly spellbinding, it's a lot of setup, but it is visually captivating (the credits this season are the series' best) and promises lots of the trademark batshittery and bloodshed in weeks to come. It handles the camp and chaotic storytelling infinitely better than True Blood, and I can't wait to see that Louisiana scenery chewed up and spit out by Lange and her legion of kickass ladies.
"Come on, Mary Todd Lincoln. I'll buy you a drink."
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 9
(Ep: "The Gang Saves the Day")
Maybe hit-or-miss once in a while, this series has sustained surprisingly well into its ninth season, even finding charming ways to survive those dreaded later season "what if"-episodes. Sort of Seinfeld-meets-South Park, this latest episode surrounding a convenience store robbery was one such showcase of just how wonderful and underrated this ensemble is, using small performance ticks to make even the most minor bits reveal the best (which is usually the worst) of their characters. If I had to pick my favorite I'm going with Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olsen) and one of my personal TV-crushes, Charlie (Charlie Day), whose Up fantasy sequence in this episode was charming, teary-eyed, and oh so... Charlie. I'd marry him at full price and then we'd buy beautiful babies together.