3 ½ stars, Netflix, third season recently added
If Longmire fails by striving to be more than it can be, then A&E's other original Monday night drama, The Glades (A&E 2010-Present) succeeds by knowing exactly what it is. The show follows big-city detective Jim Longworth as he moves from Chicago to Florida and starts a new life solving murders and romantically pursuing a local nurse. If that all sounds a little by-the-numbers, that's because The Glades is proudly, aggressively, by-the-numbers. When it's doing its job right, it gives you the same satisfying feeling as an afternoon re-run of Law & Order: entertaining but not challenging. There's something to be said for television that you want to watch that doesn't require your full attention. Re-reading that, it all sounds extremely dismissive and maybe it is a little (it's doubtful The Glades will go down in history as one of television's greatest shows) but there really is something admirable about a show like The Glades that doesn't pretend to be anything other than a fun thing to watch for an hour.
4 stars, Amazon Prime, first three seasons now streaming
For decades now, MTV has been creating shows that try to blend the teen drama with the soap opera, and while it's had some ratings success in the past with reality show hybrids like Laguna Beach, I don't think the network's ever attempted something as artistically successful as Awkward (MTV, 2011-Present). What's interesting about Awkward is that it's hard to find a compelling reason why it's so much better than all of MTV's other attempts. There's no especially engaging hook here. It's a show (at top) about a high-school girl who starts to make big changes in her life after an elaborate misunderstanding makes people think she attempted suicide. It's a show about an outcast in high school narrating her own life experience. While the details are different, the big picture sounds just like another dozen teen dramas on television. And yet, there's a spark here other shows in the genre don't have. But that spark doesn't come from any special gimmick or from a show that grabs at the zeitgeist. It's just a well-crafted, well-executed show and in a genre that's usually defined by how cravenly you can appeal to pre-teens that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
Pretty Little Liars
3½ stars, Netflix, third season recently added
Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, 2010-present) is made fun of a lot for being a ridiculous show. Truth be told, it probably deserves most of what it gets. A show about a group of popular high-schoolers who lose touch after their leader mysteriously disappears, only to band together again after they're equally mysteriously blackmailed Pretty Little Liars really is ridiculous. But I have a soft spot in my heart for shows that embrace their own ridiculousness to the insane degree Pretty Little Liars does. (This also explains how I've been able to sit through three seasons of The Vampire Diaries so far.) This is a show about gossipy teenage girls that somehow manages to have arson become a major plot point. This is a show about gossipy teenage girls who regularly discuss getting framed for murder like it's just another thing they have to deal with. Hell, this is a show about gossipy teenage girls where getting framed for murder is just another thing they have to deal with. Pretty Little Liars will never be great, or maybe even good, television but I've watched a lot of good television I've enjoyed less than this.
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