TV Series: Best Shows of 2014


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There was a LOT of excellent television again in 2014. Making my list and rating each of the shows against each other is challenging. And let me also state that all the shows in the top 20 below were outstanding. The other seven were ones which I actually did not like as much.

I picked Sonic Highways first because I was moved by the Seattle episode and I felt the whole series was extremely strong, original and entertaining. Game of Thrones was excellent as well and I am already impatient for S05 to start. I loved John Oliver’s news show on HBO and found it of the highest integrity and always totally hilarious.

The next three are really close as well: I chose Fargo because I loved the characters and how they built the story more than that of True Detective. And yet, The Walking Dead was super-strong as well. I guess I put Fargo on number 4 because of Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman and put True Detective on number 6 because I was so disappointed by the last episode (that being said, I found my single favorite episode was the Beaumont, TX one which would be neck and neck with the aforementioned Seattle episode of Sonic Highways. The Walking Dead goes in the middle at number 5 because of the massive plot holes despite the excellent character development.

Next in the list is another group that was difficult to class as two of them were the last seasons and since the last two episodes of Homeland haven’t aired yet. I put The Newsroom at number 7 because of the quality of Alan Sorkin’s writing and the banter between Sloan and Dan (as well as that between Will and MacKenzie). Homeland beat out Sons of Anarchy for number 8 perhaps because the final episode was a bit flat and because the energy in the last half of this year’s Homeland was incredibly action-packed and was back to the level of season 1.

No top 10 should be without the best animated show on TV: Archer which this season was entitled Archer Vice and featured a pregnant Lana (with the ever-amazing Aisha Taylor doing the voice) wielding an AK and a load of wacky and hilarious scenarios with our favorite super agent Archer (with the voice of H Jon Benjamin who is also Bob in Bob’s Burgers). Perhaps this one could have been even higher on the list but when you look at the quality of all these shows…I cringe at not including Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire up here in the top 10 but what would I remove? There is also the spectacular 2nd season of Rectify which was mesmerising and gripping as well as the sophomore season the The Americans which was awesome as always. Not to mention the fantastic Emmy-winning and stupefying performance of Uzo Aduba in Orange is the New Black…So much extraordinary television in 2014….

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  1. Sonic Highways S01 – Dave was incredible here – great music – great storytelling – I will remember this for a long time
  2. Game of Thrones S04 – incredible followup to an amazing 3rd season…season 5 will be amazing
  3. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver S01 – I think this is the best journalism I have seen in years. and hilarious.
  4. Fargo S01 – my favorite new drama – I liked this more than True Detective because I felt it was more consistent and beautifully filmed
  5. The Walking Dead S04/S05 – great first half of this season (and great ending to S04
  6. True Detective S01 – hard to bet against these two guys but the ending was so disappointing
  7. The Newsroom S03 – loved the ending to this one. have to write a standalone article here
  8. Homeland S04 – slow burner but the last episodes were as good as the first season
  9. Sons of Anarchy S07 – amazing ending – I loved this show and this ending. in the all time tip 10 at least
  10. Archer S05 – Archer Vice was so incredibly funny. I love Lana and Archer and the rest. Incredibly amazing comedy. can’t wait to see where they go on S06.
  11. Orange in the New Black S02 – great second season and totally deserving performance from Uzo Aduba but hard to move this above 11 given the quality of the top 10…
  12. Rectify S02 – this was really excellent – surprising given how I did not fully appreciate the first season
  13. The Americans S02 – great second season but once again too much incredible TV this year
  14. Sherlock S03 – god do I love Sherlock but I was a little disappointed with the followup to the Sherlock death in S02 but anyway one more season left
  15. Boardwalk Empire S05 – wrote this already but too short and not a good enough ending
  16. Mad Men S07 – gotta wait for the second half and fully judge by the ending next year
  17. Californication S07 – sad to see Hank go but S07 was still not as good as my favorite which was the second season
  18. Gomorrah S01 – I loved this one and wonder where they will go in season 2
  19. Treme S05 – So incredibly sad to see this one go and with only 5 episodes in the last season. As I wrote about in my blog, I will miss Treme.
  20. Ray Donovan S02 – great second season albeit incredibly dark
  21. Bob’s Burgers S05 – hilarious – I love Bob. great moments here but again so much incredible television…
  22. The Leftovers S01 – as I stated in my blog, this one was a slow burner but with a good payoff
  23. House of Lies S03 – maybe it was just too long ago and I can’t remember anything about it anymore
  24. The Bridge S02 – not a bad reboot after the first season but not all
  25. Episodes S03 – funny but not as funny as Archer, Bob’s Burgers or Calif0rnication.  Hopefully the next season will be funnier
  26. Gotham S01 (didn’t finish – still working on it – it might move up)
  27. House of Cards S02 (implausible rise despite spectacular acting from Kevin Spacey)
  28. Justified S05 – again, seems so long ago and I love Raymond but I can’t even remember a single plot twist
  29. Comic Book Men S04 – same old same old but some hilarious moments such as the scary Bronie conference
  30. Gracepoint S01 - this would have been better if the ending wasn’t such a complete downer. This is why I don’t watch network TV
  31. Black Sails S01 – this was pretty decent – for some reason the production reminded me of Magic City (-sniff-sniff-). I guess if you are hankering for a pirate story but this is still 2nd or 3rd tier TV
  32. Chozen S01 – pretty funny but at the same time annoying and overly offensive – or stated differently, overstatedly offensive
  33. Girls S03 – more of the same snivelling sort of snobby white chick in NYC thing. Marginally funny at times but not in the top 30
  34. Penny Dreadful S01 – the gothic atmosphere was was pretty heavy and there was Eva Green but it never really built into something compelling
  35. Silicon Valley S01 – interesting but a bit too much and a bit implausible and predictable
  36. The Michael J Fox Show S01 – this was really not a great show. Depressingly not funny.
  37. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01 (couldn’t finish) – definitely the worst show of the lot

Some acclaimed shows that I didn’t watch: American Horror Story, Hell on Wheels, Scandal, Hannibal, Parks & Recreation, The Good Wife, 24, Big Bang Theory, The Blacklist, Peaky Blinders, Under the Dome, Outlander, Broad City, Archer, Downton Abbey… There is only so much time…who watched these? Does one of them stand out in particular? American Horror Story perhaps? Hannibal?

Do you agree with my list? I didn’t think so but please write something in the comments and start the debate :)

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Movie Review: ‘Round Midnight (1986) – A Jazz Masterpiece


270px-RoundmidnightposterI read Herbie Hancock’s autobiography, Possibilities, a few weeks ago and he talked about winning the Oscar for the soundtrack of ‘Round Midnight which he also acted in. This peaked my curiosity so I watched it on the airplane on the way home today. In French director Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 film, Dexter Gordon himself plays a fictionalized combination of Bud Powell and Lester Young named Dale Turner who goes to Paris and befriends a local Parisian Francis Borlet (played by François Clauzet). It features cameos from Herbie, Wayne Shorter and even Martin Scorsese and is a moving and intimate film. It is based on the memoir/biography Dance of the Infidels by Francis Paudras (I have not read this, has someone reading this post read it? worthwhile?). The acting from Dexter Gordon is spectacular – he was nominated for an Oscar for this performance. Having not seen many films about jazz (Bird, Straight No Chaser), I was blown away by this portrayal.

In real life, Bud Powell was a pioneer in bebop and an incredible pianist who was brutalised by NY police and mentally damaged for the rest of his life. He moved to Paris in 1959 and moved in with Francis who took care of him in 1962. In 1964, he went back to Paris and stood up Francis at the airport when it was time to go back to Paris and he died shortly thereafter from alcoholism and poor health. Also in real life, Dexter Gordon lived for many years in Paris. The sax playing of Lester Young was soft and expressive like that of Dale in the movie. The other reference was the recording session that Dale does in the film actually did transpire between Dexter Gordon and Bud Powell.

In the movie, Dale was brutalised in the military repeatedly after defending himself against a white officer’s attacks and suffered (as Bud) permanent brain damage. He goes to Paris under the tutelage of Buttercup, a black woman in the Paris Blue Note Club where he is kept under lock and key. Francis who loves his music freezes in the rain outside listening to Dale’s music coming through the induction vents on the sidewalk. He eventually works his way into Dale’s life and becomes his best friend – meanwhile inviting him to live in his home and keeping him clean. It is a beautiful and touching story of friendship that I will not spoil for those that have not seen it. The soundtrack by Herbie Hancock won an Oscar and Dexter was nominated for one.

One moment in particular I appreciated and which really spoke to me is when Dale is sitting outside the club looking puzzled and Francis approaches him to ask what is wrong. Dale tells him that he was forgotten the words to the standard “Autumn Leaves”. Francis sings is softly to him and Dale reenters the club and plays a gorgeous solo over the tune. This made me realise how musicians like Dexter Gordon and others took inspiration from the lyrics of the songs to infuse such emotion into their interpretations. It was a fascinating moment in this fantastic film.I guess I took for granted that the soloist was thinking more about his own chord changes and melding with his group when in fact the additional factor of the song’s context itself is just as key.

A definite must for jazz fans was well as cinema buffs. Just keep some tissues around for the ending. Fantastic, amazing piece of art.

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TV Series and Music Review: Foo Fighters “Sonic Highway” (2014) – Awesome Roadtrip with Dave


UnknownI wondered what David Growl would come up with in this show on HBO released in conjunction with the Foo Fighter’s 8th studio album of the same name. In fact, I listened to the album and found it interesting, but when I started watching the 8 episodes (one per disc track), I was blown away. The Foos go from Chicago to DC, Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle and end in New York City in an insightful and fascinating road trip across America’s musical heritage. It is eye-opening (I had never heard of gogo, have you?) and moving (the footage of Katrina and ESPECIALLY the various reactions to the suicide of Kurt Corbain) and kickass (the original piano from the original Austin City Limits studio). There are loads of guest musicians and at least one featured on each track of the CD. The episodes are structured around the city they are visiting and typically a producer or a studio where they will record the track. All the tracks were written and recorded in each city and the interviews and anecdotes we see on the screen are reflected in the lyrics of the songs at the end of the episode. David Grohl directed and produced everything here – is there anything he can’t do? I loved the textures of each of the documentaries and how they weaved in history and current scenes each time (I kept thinking of the Ken Burn’s Jazz series and saying to myself how much I preferred the David approach to documentary). I felt that it was incredibly brave for David to go back to Seattle and bare his soul a bit in terms of the heart-rending reactions and his own healing process which led to the creation of the Foo Fighters two years after the suicide. Obama makes some amazing statements on the last episode which prove once again how erudite and cultured he is. If you love music, you need to watch these episodes. They are absolutely amazing. Oh, and the CD is also excellent.

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TV Series: Gracepoint S01 (2014) – Great buildup but disappointing conclusion


UnknownMy dad pointed me to this show starring Anna Gunn and David Tennant a few episodes into the season. It is a murder mystery based on a successful British show also starring David Tennant called Broadchurch. Not having seen the original, it is hard to judge which was the better version. I found that the buildup throughout was pretty good and I really was wondering week to week who killed Danny. However, the ending (no spoilers I promise) was a bit underwhelming. I feel that they built up some particular suspects but that the payoff in the last episode was unsatisfying. That is not taking away from the excellent acting and even the beautiful photography, but perhaps because it was on network TV or perhaps because they ran out of time or inspiration, I was left wanting at the end.

Anyone else try this one?

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TV Series: Sons of Anarchy S07 (2014) – End of the road for Kurt and Jax


sons-anarchy-season-7-spoilers[I WILL TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS ON THE FINAL EPISODE]

It has been a great ride for 7 years of SAMCRO. There were ups and downs but overall it has been a fun show to watch. This last season – particularly the penultimate episodes – has been great and the buildup to the final episode was tremendous. The fact that they took the Clay character out prematurely in season 6 was actually a good thing as the conflict between Jax and Gemma was far more interesting and compelling than a Jax-Gemma-Clay conflict would have been. It would be hard to beat the episode where Opie says “I got this” (a phrase echoed by Jax in his final lines of the show) and honestly I feel that the final episode does not equal that one. For those that have not watched the finale, a couple of things to watch for: religious symbolism (lots of it), the multiple significances of the title “Papa’s Goods”, and the veiled The Shield reference. I think that Kurt got to go out on his own terms after a long series run which is certainly exceptional in TV these days and I still would rank SoA in the Top 10 shows that I have ever watched. But there was less satisfaction here than in the Breaking Bad finale.

Anyone else watch the finale and wish to comment?

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Music Review: “My Side of Town” by The Roadside Bombs – The Boys of ‘Noma Slam It Home


I could justifiably be accused of nepotism, but I want to plug my cousin Ben’s band  The Roadside Bombs and their debut CD just out called “My Side of Town” on Chapter 11 records. Ben has been a punk rock singer since he was a kid. Legend has it that one of his early bands opened for Green Day back in the 90s.  His current band, The Roadside Bombs, rocks hard on these 14 tracks all super tight fitting pounds and pounds of riffs into these 2 minute anthems. I think Ben would probably defend the choice by saying something along the lines of “If you can’t say it in two minutes, then what the hell are you really trying to say anyway?” ‘Course, I’ll let him add a rebuttal or correction(s) in the comments.

The title track “My Side of Town” has a great drive to it and sets the tone for the entire disc. Firmly rooted in the ‘Noma (Sonoma County, CA) sound, the band members have been all over the northern Cali punk map in bands like The Bodies, The Randumbs and The Feelers. The second track “Backstreet Noise” reminds me a little of the sound and energy of fellow California punk rocker (and car enthusiast) Mike Ness and his old band Social Distortion. The longest track on the disk is track 3, “The Goings On” which has screams with an excellent bass line and some great drumming. The biggest hit on the disk is likely to be “Not Everyone Knows a Good Thing” for which the band cut a cool punk love music vid:

It is an excellent, singalong punk hit that will is loads of fun. Maybe my favorite song from Ben’s repertoire. The next track “Someone to Hurt” has a nice depth to the lyrics. I like the juxtaposition of the tracks “You’re Gonna Die” (great riff here too!) and “Sunny Side of the Street”. There is an optimism underneath the music here. Ben never sent me the band bios and backgrounds but I suspect he wrote many of these himself because the latter sounds like something he would say. “Zaxxon” is a core punk classic – it and “Angry People” definitely make you feel like banging your head or heading for the closest mosh pit. I feel a lot of influence here from punk gods The Ramones but also California staples like the Dead Kennedys and Rancid. I know that “Tax Revolution” is an older Ben composition, having been on his 2004 disk, The Muggers (http://www.interpunk.com/item.cfm?Item=49821&). This version is 100x more powerful and just kicks your ass for the entire 2:25 running time. I sure wouldn’t want to be an IRS agent anywhere near Ben’s garage when they are playing this one! “Bring ‘Em Home” is a song about getting the vets back home from the middle east. The CD ends with a few more fun tracks “Recess Control”, “Story of Your Life” and “Down to the Beach” (were you thinking of Stinson or Petaluma Ben? Maybe Santa Cruz or that’s perhaps too far…)

So, I want to say that I am thankful for having a wonderful family and in this particular case, an extremely talented cousin that has put out a fantastic disc. So, head off to http://corpitus.com and grab yourself a copy. You don’t want to piss Ben off now, do ya? Also, make sure to Like their page on old FB: https://www.facebook.com/RoadsideBombs123

Happy Turkey Day bitches!

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NSFCCDP Movie Reviews: Interstellar (2014) – Gravity with real actors and a better plot


Fimagesive of us went to the movies last night to watch Christopher Nolan’s latest scifi thriller, Interstellar starring the amazing Matthew McConaughey. As usual, I will avoid any spoilers here. The quality of the cinematography is excellent – on the same level as Gravity with that same spooky silence during scenes of high tension but happening in the void of space. There is some crazy physics here with wormholes and blackholes so geeks will have a field day. I am not a physicist so I cannot attest to the science here – most of the premises seem plausible, but there are several moments where I found it a bit challenging to suspend my disbelief. Perhaps that belies the Achille’s heel of Nolan who is trying to say so many things and cramming them all into three hours. This one comes off much better than the disappointing Dark Knight Returns, but does not have a Heath Ledger to place it next to the Dark Knight, and yet it still holds its own. In terms of recent science fiction, it is certainly superior to many of the recent bombs (Elysium, 2012, Battleship, etc). The acting here is far superior to that of Gravity (I’ll take Anna Hathaway any day over Sandra Bullock!) and the storytelling kept me involved for the entire movie (I wasn’t looking at my watch as I was in Oblivion after an hour and a half). My friends were all impressed with this one. Mr Twitter loved it and apparently even 24h later was still telling his wife about it. 2112.net, m.poulet and phi all enjoyed it as well – as the traditional post-screening beer discussion proved. We all found that there were some homes in the plot that we felt did not (fortunately) take away from the overall experience.

As for the plot of the film, it had pieces of originality but also had many homages to other classic SciFi: many sequences reminded me of 2001 and of course Gravity. The premise of a dying earth and a massive escape pod has been done before (the aforementioned horrible 2012 notably) so doesn’t strike me as incredibly original. The thing that sets it apart is the cocktail of physics and special effects along with the extraordinary performance of McConaughey. There is even the tiny possibility for a sequel at the end. I know, no spoilers! :)

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