Banshee (Season Four)

This review contains mild, early episode spoilers for Banshee season four.

Thus far when reviewing Banshee, I’ve talked a lot about the show’s pacing. For all its bombast, it’s a very smartly constructed show, always advancing stories and informing you about the characters and their dynamics. With season four, the show crescendos wonderfully as it sunsets its various pulpy heroes and anti-heroes; but not without a brief stumbling block along the way.

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Banshee (Season One)

Here’s a brief synopsis of Banshee season one.

The fuckin’ coolest guy in the world is released from jail, where was locked up for 15 years for being too much of a badass. He briefly stops shagging every woman he looks at to track down the love of his life, another ex-con who has taken on a new identity to hide from their former mob boss patriarch; a scary stoic Russian with a cool nickname. When sombrely drinking whiskey at a bar, like a cool guy does, our hero bodies some troublemakers – but a soon-to-be-appointed sheriff is killed in the crossfire. Because he’s an antihero, the most badass of character alignments, our protagonist steals the sheriff’s identity in an attempt to cover his own tracks from the afformentioned big bad Russian.

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Making A Murderer (Season 2)

This review contains major spoilers.

There’s a scene in episode nine of this newest season of Making A Muderer, where Barbara Tadych (mother of Brendan Dassey) calls Steven Avery. Tadych unleashes an angry tirade at Avery, whose new attorney has just pointed the finger at her husband, Scott, as a possible suspect in the murder of Teresa Halbach — the murder for which Avery is currently incarcerated. Scott is also heard in the background swearing, screaming, and professing that he always hated Avery. It’s a very jarring scene, where the show’s primary functions come to a head; the pursuit of the truth, and to offer a compelling, bingeworthy drama with a few twists for Average Joe, before he moves onto the next thing. People played Armchair Detective after season one, with some theories implicating Scott and stepson Bobby Dassey, so seeing the theory somewhat vindicated was undoubtedly thrilling; but at the expense of Barb’ Tadych, the long-suffering mother whose human interest story has been a source of levity in the show.

Making A Murderer’s second season is a different beast to its first; an evolution of the core idea. These might typically be read as compliments, but honestly, I’m not so sure.

The true crime mega-hit has tried to come of age somewhat; taking in criticism with the best of intensions, and barfing up something of a response. Where they were lampooned for showing no real compassion for the murder of Halbach, they’ve kinda sorta tried to illustrate how beloved she was by her peers. Where they were knocked, rightly, for leaving out compelling evidence against Avery, they’ve kinda sorta outlined how it’s not valid. Where they were called one-sided… well, they paid lipservice to some of the awful things that happened as a result of their sensationalism. Ken Kratz is undoubtedly a skin-crawling presence on both seasons of the show, but a sub-10 second clip of him saying his family have recieved death and rape threats isn’t exactly doing justice to the mess that’s been made of this story in the last three years.

That’s very much a microcosm of the season as a whole; feeble attempts at broadening their horizons, making something of a haims of it, but still managing to make me think more broadly about this case, and the true crime genre itself. This is far from the first show to milk a tragedy for its creator’s gain and for punters’ amusement. It’s far from the first one I’ve watched this year. But for whatever reason this one felt the need to try and rationalize it’s place in the world.

There’s an extended sequence early in the season dedicated to speaking with what few friends or peers of Halbach are willing to meet the filmmakers. It’s sincere enough, and tastefully done, but rings somewhat hollow when you know her family still disavow the show, and are viewed as villains by some of the audience as a result. If anything it makes the show almost feel seedier, more disingenuous; continuing to make a media circus of this woman’s death, but acting like ‘hey, we really care though.’

Later in the season, the aforementioned pantomime villain Ken Kratz is on a media tour to promote his book, and he speaks to reporters from CRIMECON(!) — a Comic-Con-esque venture for true crime fans, which honestly made me question the very nature of fandom itself in 2018.

Central to the show’s mix of stone-faced seriousness and hollywood twists and turns is Kathleen Zellner; Avery’s previously mentioned attorney. She’s prolific and respected in her field, notable for getting dozens of convictions overturned in her career. She’s also something of a showman; leading the charge for Avery’s freedom with rallycries on twitter that almost read as blurbs for episodes of the very Netflix show she now stars in. New evidence! New suspects! A man robbed of his life! All this and more, tonight! She couldn’t be more perfect for this show; a talented legal mind who seems very aware of the fanfare surrounding the case and loves every second of it.

For a season so bogged down by its own place in pop culture, it also remains thoroughly poignant in places. As you might expect, the legal trials and tribulations are much slower in this season compared to the last, so things are padded out with more interviews with the Avery and Dassey clans. Steven’s ageing parents are easy to root for, struggling to keep their families together and merely hoping to see their son free again before they pass on. It might sound like a brutal summation of things, but that’s explicitly stated by everyone involved. Likewise the turmoil suffered by the Tadych/Dassey family, as Brendan comes SO close to freedom, is an upsetting reminder of the human cost of this story, outside of prison walls.

Making A Murderer season two is a compelling mess. For some reason it feels determined to draw your eye to the dehumanising mess it’s made of this story, stroking its chin about what it all means. Every slick montage of Wisconsin scenery set to their ominous score feels more like a work of fiction than any kind of documentary. But the story at its core is so hard to tear yourself away from. The term guilty pleasure should really be taken back from lowbrow comedy and the like, and be applied here. It might be award-winning, prestige TV, but I’ve never felt quite so conflicted during a TV show as I did during this.

Top Ten TV Shows of 2017

It’s been a long year but we finally made it; we’re in arbitrary year-end list season! My favourite.

Here’s a list of my favourite TV shows of the year. There was a lot of great stuff to watch in 2017, more than I was able to make time for (I’ll get to you in the new year, Mindhunter) but these were my favourites.

10. The Keepers

The grim, uncomfortable nature of The Keepers makes it hard to class as ‘enjoyable,’ and difficult to rank on a list with a bunch of mostly irreverent hyuck-fests, but nonetheless it was a very affecting show. Detailing the murder of a nun, and how it ties in to systemic abuse and coverups in the Catholin church, The Keepers is a gripping documentary series, in the vein of Netflix’ true crime heavy hitter; Making A Murderer. 

9. GLOW

Netflix’ sorta-true-to-life adaptation of the story behind GLOW was a fun watch for wrestling fans and non-fans alike. The diverse cast (big names like Alison Brie and Marc Maron, juxtaposed with wrestling mainstays like The Amazing Kong) all brought the goods, and I enjoyed the characters slowly learning that wrestling is goofy as hell; and that’s what’s great about it.

8. Broad City

Another solid season of laughs from the fantastic lead actor/producer/sometimes director duo of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. When it’s at its best, Broad City is funniest show on TV. Season four saw a few more misses than usual, but still entertained consistently. Bonus points for some fantastic cameos this year, including Ru Paul and Peri Gilpin.

7. The Confession Tapes

As with The Keepers, this is a perfect follow up for any true crime junkies with a Netflix subscription, who weren’t quite satiated with Making A Murderer. Focusing on coerced confessions, this anthology series covers a number of different cases, speaking to witnesses, prosecutors, and the accused themselves, to piece together what happened, and why the confessions in question may not have been genuine.

6. Preacher

When season one of Preacher aired; I liked it. It was good. But it wasn’t really good enough. Season two was where the show really found its groove, and I couldn’t be more excited about where it goes next. True to the spirit of the comics, not holding back on the outrageously dark humour, but still going in its own direction and avoiding feeling dirivative – season two was hilarious, surprising, and still had a great foundation of three excellent central characters, and three or four absolute gems in its subplots.

5. The Punisher

Bucking my sense of Marvel fatigue was this surprisingly thoughtful deepdive on the character of Frank Castle. Yeah, that Frank Castle. Castle was a highlight of the supremely lame second season of Daredevil, largely due to the sheer level of violence he brought. Jon Bernthal scowled, said some noire-y dialogue, and bodied some crooks in spectacular fashion. For the standalone series, the bodying was reigned in, in favour of actually examining what makes Punisher who he is – more than just anger over his dead family. A rare example of a Marvel/Netflix collaboration that didn’t outstay its welcome, I would strongly recommend this to any comic book TV show cynics, or jaded former fans.

4. Rick and Morty

Look; the conversation around Rick and Morty became insufferable this year. The arrogant fans suck. The ‘I don’t watch it, aren’t I cool?’ people suck. Some of the people involved in the show suck. BUT. It’s still one of the sharpest shows on TV today. As much as the fanbase ran it into the ground, to the point it’s now a dog whistle for the worst people on this planet, Pickle Rick was an enjoyable instance of the show lampooning itself. Likewise, the szechuan sauce that spawned a million thinkpieces, was actually a clever conclusion to the season’s debut. In summary; this is a show best enjoyed when watched alone and never discussed with any other person, ever. Just as Rick would want, baby! WUBBALUBBLADINGDONGDOODLE!

3. Big Mouth

It’s understandable to worry an animated Netflix show about puberty would be nothing but dick and cum jokes — and hey — we got some dick and cum jokes here, for sure. But Big Mouth is an honest and relatable show about the most awkward time in a young man’s life – with just enough heart to balance out all the other stuff. The belly laughs came faster than I anticpated with this one, and it ended up being one of the best surprises of the year for me.

2. American Vandal

This perfectly timed satire of Making A Murder, The Jynx, and others, doesn’t just poke fun at the frequently occuring tropes of these documentaries – it also crafts a bizarrely compelling mystery of its own. This is easily the most bingeable show of the year – with its hilarious, deadpan delivery and whodunit plot that will genuinely keep you guessing. 

1. Nathan For You

After a slightly weaker season three, Nathan Fielder returned to form this year, and retook his place as one of the funniest and weirdest comedic minds on TV. This season of Nathan For You was everything that makes the show great, amped up to the next level and culminating in a two hour finale that defies explanation. The cringiest, funniest, most bizarre thing I can recall seeing. If you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon yet, start with season one and get caught up right away. While I would hate to see it ended, season four would be the perfect culmination for what is one of my all time favourite shows.

Rick and Morty (Season 3, Episode 1)

After 18 months in stasis, the much-anticipated return of Rick and Morty came via their website. On April 1st. Seriously.

If it were any other show, I’d have said this was a cute idea. But given the supremely cynical nature of Rick and Morty, part of me thinks this was done purely so they could trick a handful of people into not watching. Maybe I’ve over-thought this, but if ever there was a team of people to have that mindset – this is the show they’d produce.

Rick and Morty 1

Following season two’s cliff-hanger, which left the show’s rabid fanbase frothing at the gums for nearly two years, Rick is once again battling an army of space aliens trying to use his genius for their gain. Deep diving into his mind, we’re teased with origin stories, true motivations and even revisit some of the previous timelines Rick and Morty have fumbled their way through in previous seasons. Whereas this show typically romps from week to week with a different villain, setting or gimmick, season three comes out swinging with callbacks and meta-commentary on the show’s existing meta-commentary. In some ways, it’s the perfect Rick and Morty episode, with sharp-wit and genuinely surprising twists coupled with common-as-dirt toilet humour.

If not for the heavy reliance on callbacks to earlier seasons, this would be the ideal episode to introduce new viewers to the show – it’s laughs-per-second ratio is through the roof, and the episode’s conclusion is so dark, without feeling ‘try-hard,’ that it encapsulates everything that fans love.

Rick and Morty 2

Now we wait for the rest of season three, due out this Summer. And more importantly, we wait for the sauce.

For those of you who have yet to join the nihilistic fun of Rick and Morty — season one and two, 20 short episodes in total, are now on Netflix (UK and Ireland).