Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thinking: Non-Essential Seasons of Essential Shows

When I was writing up my love for Fringe's third season, it struck me that there are whole seasons of “essential” shows that you can probably safely skip, and I've been pondering on it ever since. I've settled on five examples, and so here they are:

Fringe, Season 1
This is the example that set me off. At the start, Fringe is hardly a bad show, but it’s not a great one, and the first season is a far cry from the mad science, parallel worlds lunacy that the show grew up into. It does establish the characters and broad setting, and I guess a more mundane start grounds the show a little as it starts to spin off into ever more complex areas, but the joy of Fringe is that it is, by mid-second season, so wholly just itself, its first season just feels too normal.

What you’d miss: “There’s More Than One of Everything”, the series finale that really kicks off Fringe becoming Fringe.

Take That, Fun! 
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6
Buffy Summers dies at the end of Season 5, killing a god and accepting her destiny as the Slayer. It’s a great ending to a great series, and the series always seemed to struggle with continuing beyond that. There is something brave in Season Six’s desire to “go dark”, with Buffy struggling with her resurrection and the some heavy metaphorical stuff dealing with bad relationships, drugs and other real world stuff. The problem is that Buffy always did its best work by sliding around the tonal scale with a certain abandon – flashes of darkness and real pain and flashes of levity and hope  - and this season overloads itself in angst and suffering and manages to be both depressing to watch, and in places just plain dull.

What you’d miss: the cast having fun playing against type in “Tabula Rasa” and the marvellously self-indulgent “Once More With Feeling”.

Doctor Who, Seasons 22 & 23
Yes, this is the whole of the Sixth Doctors tenure. It’s a fashionable choice to knock Colin Baker but it’s apparent he’s a victim of the confusion and BBC internal politics that took hold in Who’s production at that time, and an already difficult sell – a dangerous and instable incarnation of the Time Lord – is crippled by poor scripts, budget cuts and general behind the scenes chaos. Many of these problems (and Bonnie Langford) are carried forward into early Seventh Doctor stories, but Classic Who’s last hurrah shows marked improvement over its run, so you’d be better off watching that.

What you’d miss: “Trial of a Time Lord” – an ambitious season long story that completely falls flat; also fans of very stupid looking coats should probably watch.

Babylon 5: Season 5
J. Michael Straczynski always said he had a five-year plan for Babylon 5, and always struggled to get renewed season to season, leaving fans with the constant fear they would never see a conclusion. But they did – at the end of Season 4, hurried along after he was told he may not get the fifth. But he did, and it’s a bit of an orphan child to the rest of the series. Most notably, the big arcs were B5’s strong point, and with those mostly gone the season felt like filler – especially a heavy-handed and clunky Psykers plotline that dominates the early running. A bit like Fringe’s first season, it’s not terrible by any stretch, but it displays very little of what made B5 worth watching in the first place.

What you’d miss: “Sleeping in Light”, the Series proper finale.

Lost, Season 2
As you may have noticed, I loved me some Lost.  It’s first season is fantastic – structurally innovative, slick, directed storytelling that meshes great character work with a building early mythology, but 3 or 4 episodes into season two I just stopped watching it. So did a lot of people, apparently. A few years later I picked up the show from the Season 3 and tore into it like I’d never been away; picking up the few new characters with little difficulty and never feeling the loss of 20-odd episodes I've never seen.

What you'd miss: I don’t know. I never watched it.