This is a well-made show with at least one fatal flaw. (And possibly two. I didn’t get that far.) Recommended as ideal for watching during the pandemic we found quite the opposite: that the pandemic actually made the whole thing seem far less believable than it might have seemed when it first aired.
So, there are some definite positives to the show:
- The cast is excellent, for one. (Look it up, it really is stellar.)
- There is plenty of attention to detail (in terms of world-building, not plot) that makes the world feel real.
- There are some excellent episodes in the first season, but it’s worth noting that the best episodes of the first season often feel like bottle episodes.
- Though I didn’t love the score, I found the rest of the music cues quite well done and appreciated the variety of sources.
- The pacing is great.
- And there were aspects of the story that intrigued me enough that I would have kept watching had I not been utterly fed up by my big problem with the show.
So let’s get to that problem: the characters. With a few exceptions, virtually all the main characters are fucking miserable. And they are miserable regardless of whether or not they lost anyone three years earlier.
We’re living through a pandemic right now and you know what I’m being reminded of? How resilient and adaptable people are. We’ve re-watched Contagion and a few other films like it and one thing Hollywood gets wrong is how humans react to crises. They endure, they don’t start rioting in the streets the moment something goes wrong. And they also don’t just sulk. Don’t get me wrong: plenty of people are unhappy. But not everybody.
But, in this show, basically everyone is unhappy. And it’s unbelievable because we’re 3+ years out from the event now. Somebody aside from Dennis (and those twins) must be okay with their life. Would it kill the show to have one major character who is not miserable?
And that brings me to the biggest part of the show’s problem with character: Kevin Garvey is a “difficult man” without any redeeming skills. Think of all the “difficult men” of the Golden Age of Television – whomever you’re thinking of, they were good at something:
- Tony Soprano is great at being a mob boss.
- McNulty is a great detective.
- Swearengen is great at too many things to list.
- Don Draper is incredibly creative.
- Walter White is brilliant.
You get the point.
But Garvey is awful at everything:
- He can’t drive.
- He is a horrible cop. (And he seems to have inherited the job somehow.) In any decent community he would lose his job.
- He is a bad father, despite what the show tries to tell us. (It tells us he’s a decent father, it shows us he’s an asshole to his daughter, as he is to everyone else except Nora.)
- And he was a bad husband.
- He can’t even sleep well.
He is bad at everything. And he didn’t lose anyone in the event. And yet, this is the man who is the centre of the show.
It’s one thing to have an unlikable character at the centre of a show. It’s another thing to make him incompetent. It’s a disastrous decision that makes every episode he’s the centre of a chore to watch, and every episode that barely involves him or doesn’t mention him feel excellent. Every scene without Garvey is better because he is not in it. Some of them are excellent for completely unrelated reasons, but avoiding the show’s central problem is a huge step towards a quality TV program.
The other issue I was worried I would have is with how the plot would resolve itself. But, aside from some vague religious dialogue here and there, I didn’t stick with it long enough to start worrying about how they would resolve this. I was intrigued by the Wayne storyline (though Jenn wasn’t), I was willing to overlook some plot holes because I liked aspects of the show, and I was certainly willing to explore the show’s central mystery, as long as I didn’t have to do with Kevin Garvey.
In fact, I would have done it with Kevin Garvey had he either been competent at one part of being an adult – any one, say, being a father or had he been removed from his job as Police Chief the first time he did something that would get basically anyone else fired. (He repeatedly does things that should get him fired. Nobody seems to know.)
Once again I have watched a highly acclaimed show and I’m wondering what the hell everyone else sees in it.
6/10 because of the cast and production values. (It’s not the actors’ fault their characters suck.)
PS: Jenn has read the plot summaries of the remaining two seasons and we have no regrets about stopped at the end of season 1.