Tim Goodman: 10 Musings From My Summer TV Watching

Rethinking the endings of 'Patriot' and 'Catastrophe,' pointing out Showtime's 'Shangri-La' and other observations and suggestions from THR's chief TV critic.
Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
'Catastrophe'

Now, you would think that at some point — say, right after fellow THR critic Dan Fienberg and I recalled numerous summer series in a lengthy discussion just last week, or not one but two lists from early July about what to watch before the summer gets started — that there wouldn't be anything to talk about regarding TV.

But you'd be oh so very wrong.

There are always thoughts. Oh, so many thoughts. And not just my own. If all you have are industry friends, you should listen to other people talk about TV because it's pretty eye-opening and, sure, possibly scary, to find out what they're thinking. (Hint: They are so insanely far behind you would freak out. I mean, not like Mad Men season five behind, but yeah. On the other hand, many are fully caught up, fully engaged and ready for more; I'm forever stunned by that, but it's massively encouraging).

Onward with some TV tidbits scattered all over the place:

1. At the recently completed Television Critics Association's summer press tour, Amazon finally confirmed that Patriot was no more. I don't need to go into any more detail about how much I loved that show because, well, it's pretty well documented, but hearing that it was finally put to rest meant that I finally had time to linger a bit on the brilliant scenes that ended the series. (You can jump to the next item if you don't want to know). I remember when I first watched that last episode, wondering if it would, indeed, be the last we'd see of John (Michael Dorman), and so it had even more resonance and certainly more than I could bear watching it. I've gone back a few times and watched the last 10 minutes, and the more I see it the more I think it's a near-perfect ending if an ending had to happen (yeah, I really wanted that third season).

It's not just the swimming in the ocean and the desperation and metaphor of it all. It's not the jellyfish. It's not the distance, the sinking feeling or the sinking person, the thought that John might drown. It was this: once safe on the rescue boat, the confusion, the tears, the weight of it all, the still-coming-on-strong-but-not-spilling-over tears and the silence. That sad, sad, silence. For a show that made me laugh a lot, that made me think a lot about depression and friendship and love and family — mostly presented near other moments that leavened such difficulty — well, those last 10 minutes or so didn't have the life preserver, the safety, that I was used to and needed. Those final minutes just had helpless weight, crushing and sad.

Sitting in a ballroom at TCA, months removed from it all, when Amazon confirmed the series was over, all of it came rushing back.

A TV show did that. It did all those amazing emotional things. Nice work, Steven Conrad (and yes, Michael Dorman). Patriot will become, for me, what so few series do: something that I'll rewatch from start more than once, as needed.

2. There are two perfect transitions here, so let's go with the most obvious one first, which is to say that Conrad and co-creator Bruce Terris also have the brilliant Perpetual Grace, LTD on Epix and Patriot fans have all probably found the family of Patriot actors over there (and so many impressive new ones like Ben Kingsley and Jimmi Simpson). So there's ultimately some kind of happy ending here. And yes, I expect Epix will renew it.

3. The other transition to the Patriot water ending is the water ending on Catastrophe (also on Amazon). I've heard almost no one talk about this (yes I know that Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney have addressed it obliquely, but I'm talking about viewers). I didn't write it at the time because, well, it was mostly within whatever nebulous spoiler rules still exist, though it's well outside now (but you can skip to the next entry if you also want to avoid a small bit of chatter about that ending). So, I'm in a wine shop — not much of a shocker there. It's my favorite one and my friend Dan, who runs it, starts talking about turning a family member on to Catastrophe and so I wait, just a bit, to see if he, unlike virtually anyone I know, will mention the ending. And he does: Are they dead? Or about to drown? And I think, excellent, someone I know hasn't chosen the convenient fact that Catastrophe is (mostly) a comedy and that under the cover of that label it's not necessary to talk about what seems pretty obvious: Sharon and Rob are swimming in riptides, the kids are sleeping in the car, and the duo are much further out than expected, making almost no progress swimming forward and, as the aerial shot pulls back, seemingly drifting to their deaths.

Most people I know either chose not to see it that way or simply forgot the ending. (That's Peak TV for you. I also think it's a fallout from bingeing. I mean, these are pretty smart people.) The sentiment I ran into goes a little bit like this: Even though it's a bleakly funny comedy, it's still a comedy and everything will be alright, right? It all ends up well for two people who came together by accident and made a marriage and a family work against all odds. The end.

But does it?  I don't think so. I think they died. Dan the wine shop guy, who actually has a background in filmmaking, thinks there's beauty in the ambiguity. 

Anyway, it's weird how things — TV moments! — come flooding back when you think you've talked them all out.

4. I haven't heard anyone talking about Black Mirror on Netflix this season. That's...weird. I know there's a certain fatigue, but two of the three episodes this season were actually really good. This is why we can't have nice things.

5. Sometimes after a review, once it's washed off the front page of the site and nobody's clicking on the Twitter link you sent out, you just have to keep making a push, verbally, for people to find something. One of the shows I've been lugging around as a recommendation, face to face, is Showtime's docuseries Shangri-La, centering on music producer Rick Rubin and the origins of creativity. It's really something. Go find it.

6. In a similar vein, if someone is looking for something fun, smart and creative — and they are not adverse to the fantasy genre — I always push Good Omens. (Big presence for Amazon here, I'm realizing as I type this, but that doesn't mean I forgive it for Patriot. Grrrrr.)

7. Fun with relative obscurity: When people tell me they are loving HBO's Gentleman Jack — not a thing you hear every day, by the way, despite it being so good — I take the opportunity to turn them on to Sally Wainwright's other work if they don't know it already, specifically Happy Valley on Netflix.

8. I get asked this all the time — do you still watch TV for pleasure and look forward to series like a normal person? The answer is: Of course not, on both accounts. Kidding! Yes, of course to the first, since it's actually baked into the job, despite there still being loads of crap. Also, yes to the second. With some specificity, I can say the series I'm most looking forward to next is: Fargo on FX.

9. I'm going to preface this next one, since it ties directly into No. 8, by saying that no, I do not have a second job at Amazon. In fact, Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, would probably gleefully tell you how much she didn't like me when she was at NBC and how weird it is for her now that I like so many of her shows. Frankly, I think it makes her uncomfortable. So, with that out of the way, two of the series I watched merely for fun — didn't have to review them, wasn't particularly swayed by existing reviews to even make the effort to watch them — were Jack Ryan and Hanna, both on Amazon. That might not seem strange to you on the surface if you haven't kept close tabs on my likes and dislikes as close friends have, but those were eyebrow-raising choices. As in, wait, you have almost zero time to watch any movies because you watch so much TV and you complain constantly about how you can never catch up and you just decide, on your own, to watch Jack Ryan and Hanna, of all seriesbeginning to end?

Yep. And I quite enjoyed the non-judgmental experience. In fact, I just talked about this very thing with my TV Talk Machine podcast partner, Jason Snell: It's so rare that I'm not completely in the weeds dissecting shows like Perpetual Grace, LTD, trying to wring out and explain the greatness, that I can just sit back and say, "Blow shit up and entertain me." The Platinum Age of Television can be exhausting, yo.

10. I have started the process of cutting the cord. It's no longer a theory; it's an exercise. Plenty more details of that in future columns.