Not ‘At the Movies,’ but the three best shows this year
For the purposes of “new show,” let’s consider anything that’s premiered since the beginning of last summer. That means any shorter show in its first or second season or longer show that’s run a full season. As far as Netflix and pay cable push, and they have gotten close, the three best new shows are still found on basic cable and network TV.
“The Last Ship” is the best of these. One of the last U.S. Navy ships, the destroyer Nathan James, attempts to develop a cure after an epidemic wipes out most of humanity. Tense in its action and high-concept in its plots, the show is willing to lean conservative and liberal in different moments, showing deference and respect to both sides as the ship struggles to save society. The first season confronts an out-of-conspiracy-theory moment of government overreach, while the second requires our heroes to stand up to villains who create a following by abusing evangelism.
In many ways, “The Last Ship” recalls the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot. I won’t call “The Last Ship” better, but it is more focused. It’s less distracted down rabbit hole side-plots and it’s deeply flexible as an action drama. In four consecutive weeks this last season, it offered an hourlong running gunfight, a tense naval procedural that recalled “The Hunt for Red October,” a rescue operation in the style of a heist, and a touching personal drama about guilt. It uses its post-apocalyptic framework to pose difficult moral, religious, and even Constitutional questions, but it always stays true to its characters first and foremost.
“The Last Ship” blends together the best of old-fashioned westerns, military procedurals, and modern action films. It also features one of the most diverse casts on TV. Men, women, and people of all races hold positions of power and are not questioned in their qualifications to do their job well. Everyone has to lean on each other and dismiss those prejudices, period.
“Gotham” tells the story of how Batman’s home city evolves into a war zone between lawful vigilantes and criminal anarchy. It follows a young Lt. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) on the police force as he comes into contact with both origin stories and his own set of strange cases. The show recognizes that there’s no need to exaggerate Gotham’s corruption the way it has been in the past -- we already live in a world of corporate monopolies, organized crime, and government you can buy off.
“Gotham” tells the story of how we see this every day and convince ourselves to nod our heads and go along with it. There’s just enough that we’ll suffer it rather than take the risk that change requires. We follow Gordon, and “Gotham” strikes upon the stories of Bruce Wayne, Catwoman, and Penguin. Yet it’s the perfect adaptation of Harvey Bullock’s character by Donal Logue that truly gives us pause. We see Gordon stand tall and risk his life to do what’s right, but we don’t identify with him. Instead, we see too much of ourselves and our society in his equivocating partner. Bullock is a critique of the audience themselves, and on American culture. We’re like Bullock, it says, and we watch the Gordons take risks on our behalf and get swallowed up by a corrupt world every day. If it continues on this path, “Gotham” could become the most important Batman adaptation we’ve seen.
“Wayward Pines” employs one of my favorite premises: Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) wakes up in a strange place, not knowing where he is or how he got there. That strange place is a small Northwest town called Wayward Pines, and the local populace seems to be in on keeping him from leaving. What makes or breaks that premise are the answers to the questions it raises along the way, and “Wayward Pines” throws in so many incongruous details that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s going the loony bin way of “Lost.” Instead, as Burke investigates the disappearance of two Secret Service members, those details begin fitting together in increasingly disturbing ways.
I was so involved in “Wayward Pines” that I stopped watching the show for several weeks after only the second episode, angry and hurt a character I’d identified with had met a horrifying end. If a show can pull that off in two episodes, I’m hooked. (Obviously, I caught up later, after some time.) It is one of the best horror shows to enter the fray in years. It also boasts perhaps the best cast of any series running, starring Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Toby Jones, and Shannyn Sossamon, as well as the best turn Dillon’s done in more than a decade.
These are the three best new shows of the past year, and technology allows ample ways to catch up on them. Seek each of them out, and enjoy the ride.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at email@example.com.
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