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September 22, 2014

Off-Season TV Reviews




Lili Simmons in one of her over-dressed moments from Banshee.
OK, if this doesn't raise the hit count around here, then I'm just giving up..



Reader, how have you been? And how have you been coping with the recent paucity of posts on this site, coinciding, as it has, with the off-seasons of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones? Hard times, these.

Me, I’ve whiled away the summer months in book-editing mode. As evidence, I cite two new additions to the Josh Muggins family: the ebook version of Summer of Marv (heretofore available only as a paperback) and the paperback edition of Wussie: In Praise of Spineless Men, which should be on sale by the end of the month. As always, Kudos to Gary for re-working his own excellent covers to fit the new formats.

There was also fulfilling progress on the entirely new book, but we’re not going to get to a release in these waning days of my summer vacation from school. It will have to wait until the semester ends in February, I suppose. To do otherwise would risk flooding the market with Mugginsabilia. Think of the children.

So we have managed to stay fairly productive around here, which was good, because otherwise the aforementioned lack of The Walking Dead would have been that much harder to cope with. And I have to tell you, if I don’t see a bunch of moldy people eating another person’s face off soon, I may slip so far into withdrawal that I start eating my own. (After which, I could tell Mr. Spotswoode that yes, I have seen everything.)

While we stagger through this zombieless desert, I’ve been nibbling on a buffet of lesser fare, and will now give you my capsule reviews.


Banshee (Cinemax)

Concept: Ex-con tracks his old girlfriend to a lawless little Pennsylvania town, where he assumes the identity of the newly appointed sheriff after the luckless fellow conveniently drops dead in front of him, and then sets about keeping the peace via bone-crushing violence. And tits.

Where I’m at: End of Season 2

In case you didn’t know, Banshee is the new Spartacus, mainly in the sense that it offers a comparably high batting average in showing you the naked attributes of actresses whom, upon seeing for the first time, you find yourself thinking, “Hmm, I would very much like to see her naked attributes.” (Alas, no equivalent of Spartacus’s famed Arena Tits
TM.) Banshee ticks most of the other Spartacus boxes, too, including:

* Gladiator-ish combat.
“Sheriff Hood” dispatches the robbers who offed Sheriff Hood, an MMA prizefighter, a couple of locally notorious white trash thugs, and a motorcycle gang, and that’s just in the first five episodes. The violence isn’t as giddily graphic as that of Spartacus—I can recall only one measly decapitation. In Spartacus, you might have three before the opening theme finished.

* Miraculous recoveries from fatal wounds.
Again, there’s nothing in Banshee quite comparable to that time Spactacus’s frenemy Crixus was gutted like a fish by a psychotic giant and spurted out enough blood to flood the Overlook Hotel, but was cleared for a return to action six episodes later. But we are treated to a flashback of how Sheriff Hood developed his survival skills after a lethal beating in prison; to the heroine staggering out of the ICU to shoot her own father; and to that thoroughly shot father reemerging in fine fettle the following season.

* Cast catered by the International House of Nobodies
The male and female leads are from New Zealand and Croatia. The villains are a Danish guy playing a fallen Amish and a British guy playing a Ukranian.

Verdict: My go-to show when I’m up to my fourth beer and need mindless entertainment that’s sure to include tits.


Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Concept: Privileged white chick expands her cultural horizons, get funbags squeezed by strangers during a prison term for abetting drug trafficking.

Where I’m at: Middle of Season 2

As you might imagine, I’ve been a major enthusiast of the women-in-prison genre going back to the heyday of Linda Blair, so I was not about to be deterred from this show by the threat of having my consciousness raised. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to notice that, yes, I am gaining a broader perspective on demographics about which I had been woefully ignorant (transgender folks, for one), while these lessons are frequently sweetened by the aspects that drew me to the women’s prison setting in the first place.

Whereas Spartacus and Banshee tease you with fetching actresses (see photo above), Orange is the New Black surprises—and shames—the oversexed viewer by suddenly offering up the hooters of actresses that you never once fantasized about but who turn out to be remarkably hot once they wriggle out of those formless prison togs (c.f. toothless meth addict Pennsatucky, strutting tomboy Poussey), forcing you to analyze your prejudices in the midst of whacking off—which is not as easy as it sounds. And of course there is the notorious, steamy shower shared by star Taylor Schilling and (gasp!) Laura Prepon. Ball in your court, Mila Kunis.

Verdict: Some of the Season 2 episodes are starting to feel like a cavity search. The yearning among the guards and administrators to connect as friends, the Hispanic faction’s tenuous hold on the cafeteria franchise, the rivalry for control of the black market...these are among the especially tedious threads. More social enlightenment leavened with competing lesbians, please.


The Leftovers (HBO)

Concept: Three years after the unexplained disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population (including Gary Busey and the Pope), residents of a small New York town cope by either moping around or joining a creepy silent cult.

Where I’m at: Halfway through Season 1

"Damon Lindelof as showrunner + HBO = A large Lost-like ensemble cast crammed with really hot actresses whom we’ll get to see naked for a change."

That formula was the lure that got me to bite on this one. So far, by my count, one floppy scrotum has constituted the sum total of Things We Couldn’t Have Seen on Lost. Jesus, Lindelof—at least Lost gave us wet chicks mud-wrestling.

Verdict: At this point, my interest is on life support and could be Raptured at any moment. The Leftovers is chucking just enough intriguing characters (the Asian-chick-obsessed Holy Wayne for one) and WTF moments (the stoning of a silent cult member and the government’s aggressive indifference to their persecution) to keep me chugging along. Hard to see my interest surviving once the zombies ride back into town, though.


Masters of Sex (Showtime)

Concept: Remember Masters and Johnson, the sex research pioneers? What if they and their colleagues and research subjects led soap-operish lives, and all got naked sometimes?

Where I’m at: Halfway through Season 2.

A few months ago, someone at either Slate or Salon began a review that I can no longer find by asserting something like “No one watches Masters of Sex for the sex.” Ahem. Excuse me, unknown writer whom I’m probably misquoting, but I beg to differ. The abundance of nudity and writhing was the primary fuel propelling me through the first season and well into the second.

This show shares with Banshee that compelling “You’ll get to see everyone naked sooner or later” vibe that will keep someone of my ilk tuning in. True, the estimable Caitlin FitzGerald—playing the frustrated Mrs. Masters—has yet to show us the goods, but I’m confident that peer pressure will wear her down. For Pete’s sake, even Allison Janney has bravely done her part.*

Apart from that trait, there is little else Banshee-like about Masters of Sex. It does, however, share the Sophomore Slump Syndrome of Orange is the New Black cited earlier. The writer I misquoted above was making the point that, to her thinking, it’s the characters and subplots that sustain the viewers, along with quality acting and writing (five Emmy noms) and period-piece prestige. And yes, some of the characters do stir one’s sympathy, notably the gay guy trapped in the Fifties (and in wedlock with Allison Janney) played by Beau Bridges. But…

Verdict: I take a hard line toward shows that front-load nudity into their early episodes to hook people like me (see my thoughts on Rome here) and then leave us flaccid for seasons on end. Tell me it isn’t so, Masters of Sex. Your characters are all hyped up about accumulating sexual data. I say you need to improve your BPE (boobs per episode) figure if you wish to continue to enjoy my custom.






* Muggins’ Law: It’s never a good thing when someone describes your nude scenes as “brave.”