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Archive for July, 2014

The Best of Drama on Television

Part I

Introduction

Entertainment is a big part of our lives, especially television and the movies. About once a year I like to post my review of movies I think are outstanding, and deserving of people taking the time to watch. This year I want to write about television, especially those television series that pertain to the category of drama.

What I discovered recently about my own TV watching habits is that, although I like most any category of program (Sit-coms, musical programs, sports programs, drama, news programs, documentaries, etc.,) I value dramatic television series the most. Consequently, I will present in this Blog what I consider to be the best dramatic series on television.

There are two categories I want to describe regarding a dramatic television series: (1) a fine quality dramatic series in which the viewer is fully satisfied and thoroughly entertained, and (2) a fine quality dramatic series in which the viewer is totally captivated, feels immersed in the emotions of every scene, and is blown away by the storyline and action. Category 1 is very good drama and Category 2 is outstanding drama of the highest quality. Deciding a category in which to place a television series is based on my own subjective definition of what it is that makes one show more dramatic in impact than another. If the television series knocked my socks off, it definitely was placed in category 2 rather than category 1. All series reported in this Blog I thoroughly enjoy; all are very much worthy of your time. Part 1 will describe the television series in Category 1 and Part II will describe the television series in Category 2.

 

Category 1

The Following

   The Following is an American television drama series which premiered on Fox on January 21, 2013, about an ex-FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer and his murderous cult. The series was created by Kevin Williamson and is jointly produced by Outerbanks Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television.

The Following’s first season centers on former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Keven Bacon) and his attempts to re-capture serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) following the latter’s escape from prison. Hardy soon discovers that Carroll has surrounded himself with a group of like-minded individuals whom he met while teaching and while in prison, and turned them into a cult of fanatical killers, including his right-hand, Emma Hill (Valorie Curry). When Carroll’s son Joey Matthews (Kyle Catlett) is abducted by his father’s followers, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) and the rest of the FBI discover that it is the first step in a wider plan for Carroll to escape custody, humiliate Hardy, and be reunited with his ex-wife Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea).

The second season centers on a new cult, led by Lily Gray (Connie Nielson) and her twin sons Mark and Luke (both played by Sam Underwood), as they begin to develop and make public statements to lure Carroll out of hiding while the rest of the world believes him to be dead. Weston is re-recruited by Special Agent Mendez (Valerie Cruz) and the FBI in order to find the new cult; however, Hardy and his niece Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) have plans of their own to track them down and find Carroll, provided he is in fact alive.

Covert Affairs

Covert Affairs is a USA Network television series starring Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham. The one-hour drama premiered on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. The show concluded its first season on September 14, 2010 and was renewed for a second season on August 19, 2010. The second season began airing on June 7, 2011, and a DVD set of the first season was released on May 17, 2011. The series was renewed for a third season by USA Network on September 15, 2011. The third season began on July 10, 2012. On September 25, 2012, Covert Affairs was renewed for a 16-episode fourth season, which began airing on July 16, 2013. On October 3, 2013, USA Network renewed Covert Affairs for a 16-episode fifth season to air in 2014, which premiered on June 24, 2014.

Overview

A young CIA trainee, Annie Walker, is sent to work in the Domestic Protection Division (DPD) as a field agent. August “Auggie” Anderson, a blind tech operative, is Annie’s guide in her new life. In the beginning, Annie’s cover story is that she works in Acquisitions at the Smithsonian Museum but she is later let go. As of the fourth season, her new cover is that of a glamorous and well-connected importer/exporter, with expensive tastes and dealings that may not always be legal.

Main cast

  • Piper Perabo as Anne Catherine “Annie” Walker: a CIA trainee who is quickly promoted to field operative in order to, unwittingly, help capture her ex-boyfriend. In addition to English, she speaks seven languages fluently and several other languages with varied skill levels.
  • Christopher Gorham as August “Auggie” Anderson: a CIA military intelligence /special ops officer who was blinded while on a mission in Iraq where he served in an Army Special Forces unit. He guides Annie through the paces of her new job.
  • Kari Matchett as Joan Campbell: a senior officer who heads the Domestic Protection Division (DPD); she is Annie’s supervisor, Arthur Campbell’s wife, and a skilled spymaster who was quite talented in her field days. She attended Pennsylvania State University, and her cover is that of an executive at the World Bank.
  • Anne Dudek as Danielle Brooks (season 1–2): Annie’s older sister, who is married with two children; Annie lives in her guest house. Initially she is unaware of Annie’s real career, knowing only Annie’s cover- that she works in Acquisitions at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Sendhil Ramamurthy as Jai Wilcox (season 1–3): CIA officer assigned to the DPD by Arthur Campbell. His family has a difficult history with the CIA; his father, Henry Wilcox, was formerly the CIA Director of the National Clandestine Service (D/NCS).
  • Peter Gallagher as Arthur Campbell (season 2–, recurring previously): D/NCS. During his time as a field operative in the late eighties, he posed as a student in Berlin to gather Intel on the Stasi.
  • Hill Harper as Calder Michaels: (season 4–) CIA station chief based in Medelin, Columbia. Calder becomes the new head of the DPD after Joan is made D/NCS

UnderThe Dome

     Under the Dome is an American science fiction drama television series that premiered on CBS on June 24, 2013. The series was developed by Brian K. Vaughan and based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. Both Vaughan and King serve as executive producers along with Neal Baer, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Jack Bender, Steven Spielberg, and Stacey Snider. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev produced and directed the pilot. Neal Baer serves as the show runner for the series.

CBS renewed Under the Dome for a 13-episode second season which premiered on June 30, 2014.

     Under the Dome tells the story of the residents of the small town of Chester’s Mill in Maine where a massive, transparent, indestructible dome suddenly cuts them off from the rest of the world. With no Internet access, no mobile signals and limited radio communication, the people trapped inside must find their own ways to survive with diminishing resources and rising tensions. While military forces, the government and the media positioned outside of this surrounding barrier attempt to break it down, a small group of people inside attempt to figure out what the dome is, where it came from, and when (and if) it will go away. Characters in the show were mostly taken from the original novel, although some have been combined and others have changed jobs.

The cast members are:

  • Mike Vogel as Dale “Barbie” Barbara, an Army veteran in Chester’s Mill, on a mysterious mission.
  • Rachelle Lefevre as Julia Shumway, an investigative reporter who takes an interest in Dale, resulting in a romantic relationship.
  • Dean Norris as James “Big Jim” Rennie, a politician and owner of Jim Rennie’s Used Cars.
  • Colin Ford as Joe McAlister, a teenager whose parents are outside of the dome.
  • Mackenzie Lintz as Elinore “Norrie” Calvert-Hill (recurring season 1; regular 2-present), Alice’s daughter.
  • Alexander Koch as James “Junior” Rennie, Big Jim’s psychopathic son.
  • Jolene Purdy as Dodee Weaver (regular season 1; guest, season 2), a radio engineer who makes contact with the outside world.
  • Aisha Hinds as Carolyn Hill, a Los Angeles entertainment attorney, trapped in Chester’s Mill.
  • Nicholas Strong as Phil Bushey, a popular radio DJ.
  • Eddie Cahill as Sam Verdreaux (season 2-present), a reclusive EMT and brother-in-law of Big Jim.
  • Karla Crome as Rebecca Pine (season 2-present), a teacher who is pressured into re-opening the school.
  • Britt Robertson as Angie McAlister, Joe’s older sister who works as a waitress and a candy striper with dreams of escaping Chester’s Mill. (Season 1-Season 2, episode 1)
  • Natalie Martinez as Deputy Linda Esquivel, a loyal and ambitious sheriff’s deputy who becomes sheriff in accordance with martial law. (Season 1-Season 2, episode 1)

The Black List

     The Blacklist is an American crime drama television series that premiered on NBC on September 23, 2013. The series stars James Spader, Megan Boone, Ryan Eggold and Harry Lennix. Former government agent Raymond “Red” Reddington has eluded capture for decades, but he suddenly surrenders to the FBI with an offer that can’t be refused.

The pilot episode was written by Jon Bokenkamp and directed by Joe Carnahan. Executive producers for the series include Bokenkamp, John Eisendrath, and John Davis for Sony Pictures Television, Universal Television, and Davis Entertainment. On October 4, 2013, NBC gave a back-nine-order, filling out the series’ first season. On December 3, 2013, NBC renewed the show for a 22-episode second season. On May 11, 2014, owing to the show’s breakout success, NBC announced the show will air an episode in the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot in 2015.

The show has been met with critical acclaim, with many critics singling out Spader’s performance.

Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent and one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, surrenders at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He claims the FBI and he have similar interests in getting rid of dangerous criminals and terrorists. He makes an offer that the FBI cannot refuse and insists on one condition: Reddington will co-operate only with Elizabeth Keen, a rookie FBI profiler.

Keen questions Reddington’s sudden interest in her, but Reddington will only reveal that she is very special. After the FBI uses Reddington’s information to locate a terrorist, Reddington reveals that this terrorist is only the first of many criminals that he will help them neutralize. Over the course of his own criminal career, he has made a list of global criminals who he believes are truly dangerous to society, most of whom are unknown to the FBI. Reddington calls it The Blacklist.

The series juggles two narratives: the episodic stories dealing with the FBI’s pursuit of a person on Red’s Blacklist, and the overall thread dealing with Red’s personal agenda and his interest in Elizabeth.

  • James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent and one of the FBI’s’ most wanted fugitives. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Red was being groomed for Admiral when something happened on his way home for the Christmas holidays. He is known for brokering deals between criminals, and is called “The Concierge of Crime”. Red surrenders to the FBI and provides information on a roster of criminals that he refers to as The Blacklist: dangerous criminals who are so careful to avoid leaving any traces behind that the FBI has not even detected their existence. He has an unexplained interest in Elizabeth Keen, and knows personal secrets about her that she has never made public.
  • Megan Boone as FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen, a novice profiler and the only person with whom Reddington is willing to work.
  • Diego Klattenhoff as FBI Special Agent Donald Ressler. He is a stickler for procedure. He dislikes having to work with a criminal like Reddington, stemming from a previous assignment pursuing him, but he acknowledges that Reddington does get results.
  • Ryan Eggold as Tom Keen, Elizabeth’s husband and a schoolteacher.
  • Harry Lennix as Harold Cooper, Assistant Director of the FBI Counterterrorism Division. He had a particular interest in Reddington’s past, and is willing to oblige Reddington’s unusual requests due to this understanding of him.
  • Parminder Nagra as Meera Malik, a CIA field agent assigned to Reddington’s security detail in the second episode.

White Collar

     White Collar is a USA Network television series created by Jeff Eastin, starring Tim Dekay as FBI Special Agent Peter Burke and Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey, a highly intelligent and multi-talented con artist working as Burke’s criminal informant. Willie Garson and Tiffani Thiessen also star. The show premiered on October 23, 2009, and has aired five complete seasons, with the fifth season concluded on January 30, 2014. On March 20, 2014, USA Network renewed the series for a sixth season, consisting of six episodes.

Neal Caffrey, a con artist, forger and thief, is captured after a three-year game of cat and mouse with the FBI. With only months left serving a four-year sentence, he escapes to look for Kate, his girlfriend.

Peter Burke, the FBI agent who initially captured Caffrey, finds and returns him to prison. This time, Caffrey proposes a deal with the FBI, as part of a work-release program. After some hesitation, Burke agrees, and thus begins this unconventional arrangement where Caffrey helps Burke apprehend white-collar criminals.

The cast of White Collar

  • Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey

A skilled forger and thief, Caffrey was imprisoned after being captured by FBI Special Agent Peter Burke. Neal proposes he become an FBI consultant in exchange for early release. Burke agrees on the condition Neal wears an ankle monitor. Despite being given the opportunity to build a new, honest life for himself, Neal often craves his old life, forcing him to choose between the two.

  • Tim Dekay as Special Agent in Charge Peter Burke

Peter Burke is a hard-working, honest FBI agent, and the head of the investigative team on which Neal serves. He is very committed to his marriage and loves his home life. Peter is the person Neal trusts the most, and Peter is determined to convince Neal that an honest life is possible.

  • Willie Garson as Mozzie

Another con-man and close friend of Neal is Mozzie, or Moz; he is Neal’s most trusted confidante. Abandoned as a baby, he grew up in an orphanage and several foster homes in Detroit, where he learned to be a con-man. Though lacking Neal’s people skills, he appears to be a jack of all trades, has an eidetic memory, and, occasionally, helps with investigations.

  • Tiffani Thiessen plays Elizabeth Burke

She is an event planner and Peter’s wife. She is supportive and understanding of his work and his long hours away. An intelligent woman, Elizabeth is able to discuss Peter’s cases with him, and admires Neal’s refinement.

  • Marsha Thomason as Special Agent Diana Berrigan (recurring Season 1; Season 2–present):

Previously Peter’s probationary agent, Diana assists on Peter and Neal’s first case together. Transferred to D.C. after her probation ends, she later returns to the investigative team in New York.

  • Sharif Atkins as Special Agent Clinton Jones (recurring Seasons 1–3; Season 4–present):

Peter’s point man that is responsible for carrying out a variety of tasks during the team’s investigations, including surveillance. He appreciates Neal’s unorthodox contributions to the team.

  • Hilarie Burton as Sara Ellis (recurring Seasons 2 and 4; Season 3):

Sara Ellis, an insurance company investigator who testified against Neal when he was on trial, and was determined to see him return to prison, later discovers she enjoys working with him. During an investigation they embark on a romantic relationship, complicated by the reappearance of Alex.

  • Natalie Morales as Special Agent Lauren Cruz (Season 1):

Natalie is a junior agent who requested a transfer to Peter’s team and served on it briefly.

 

Murder in the First

     Murder in the First is an American detective drama television series that airs on TNT. The series was created by Steven Bochco and Eric Lodal, and stars Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson. Set in San Francisco, the show follows a single case across an entire season. TNT ordered 10 episodes on September 19, 2013, which premiered on June 9, 2014.

Although this show got off to a rocky start in terms of reviews and ratings, I recommend viewers continue to watch it. The story line is good, the cast is very strong, and the setting (San Francisco) gives it a boost as well. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But my instincts are telling me this show has a lot to offer the viewer in terms of a crime drama on TV. Stay tuned!

Elementary

     Elementary is an American crime drama series that presents a contemporary update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes. The series was created by Robert Doherty and stars Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. The first season premiered on CBS in September 2012 and season two began airing in October 2013. The series is set and filmed primarily in New York City.

The show follows Holmes, a recovering drug addict and former consultant to Scotland Yard, as he assists the New York City Police Department in solving crimes. His indifference to police procedure often leads to conflict with Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn), although the two still remain mutually respectful of one another. He is accompanied by Watson who initially acts as his sober companion. She is a former surgeon and was hired by Sherlock’s father to help him in his rehabilitation. They eventually begin to work together on his cases, and she becomes Holmes’ apprentice. The series also features Holmes’ ongoing conflict with his nemesis Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer). Other supporting roles include Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell and Rhys Ifans as Mycroft Holmes, who wishes for Sherlock to return to England.

Before the series premiered, it was met with some criticism given it followed closely on the heels of the BBC’s modern adaptation Sherlock. After the premiere it was picked up for a full season, and later an extra two episodes. The season two premiere was partly filmed on location in London. The series has been well received by critics, who have praised the performances, writing, and novel approach to the source material.

CBS renewed the show for a third season on March 13, 2014.

Arrow

     Arrow is an American television series developed by writer/producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg. It is based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, a costumed crime-fighter who was created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp.

It premiered in North America on The CW on October 10, 2012, with international broadcasting taking place in late 2012. The series follows billionaire playboy Oliver Queen portrayed by Stephen Amell, who, after five years of being stranded on a hostile island, returns home to fight crime and corruption as a secret vigilante whose weapon of choice is a bow and arrow. Unlike in the comic books, Oliver does not go by the alias “Green Arrow” in the television series. Arrow also features appearances by other DC Comics characters.

The series takes a realistic look at the Green Arrow character, as well as other characters from the DC Comics universe. Although Oliver Queen/Green Arrow had been featured in the television series Smallville from 2006 to 2011, the producers decided to start clean and find a new actor (Amell) to portray the character. Arrow focuses on the humanity of Oliver Queen, and how his time on a presumably deserted island affected him. The creative team chose to illustrate that in the series by crafting flashback scenes to the island for almost every episode. The series is primarily filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

     Arrow has received generally positive reviews from critics, and was the highest rated new series on the CW in past five years up to its release. The series averaged approximately 3.68 million viewers over the course of the first season, and has garnered multiple award nominations and three wins.

To assist in promotion, a preview comic book was released before the television series began, while webisodes featuring a product tie-in with Bose were developed for the second season. The first season is available on DVD and Blu-ray in regions 1, 2 and 4 and a soundtrack of it also been released. The second season of Arrow premiered on October 9, 2013.

On February 13, 2014, The CW renewed the series for a third season, which will premiere on October 8, 2014.

Fargo

     Fargo is an American dark comedy, crime driven television series created and written by Noah Hawley. The show is inspired by the 1996 film of the same name written and directed by the Coen brothers, who serve as executive producers on the series. It premiered on April 15, 2014, on FX The series stars Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, and Martin Freeman.

Hawley confirmed that, if the series is renewed for a second season, it will be a new story featuring different characters.

In January 2006 Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) passes through Bemidji, Minnesota and influences put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) with his malice and violence. Meanwhile, Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Duluth police officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) team up to solve a series of murders they believe may be linked to Malvo and Nygaard.

Final Choices for Best of the Best

Category 1

#1     The Black List

#2     The Following

#3     White Collar and Covert Affairs tied

#4     Under the Dome

#5     Elementary

#6     Fargo

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