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The best TV series of 2014

Posted on December 19th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

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The last several years, this one included, the new fall TV season has been underwhelming at best and just plain bad at worst. It’s not like there aren’t any interesting new shows on in the fall anymore, it’s just that there are so few of them. If the fall season is so blargh, then lately the winter, spring and summer TV seasons have been a true joy. In fact, you won’t find a single series here that started in the fall. Each and every one was a non-fall show.

The methods I use to determine my “best of” lists changes every year. Sometimes I try to rank the shows best to worst throughout the year and sometimes it’s simply based on my mood when compiling the list at the end of the year. That being said, this year I did things a bit differently. The list this year is mostly based on how much I wanted to watch a season of a show again after having finished it. And the show that kept coming to the top of my list when thinking about this was The Americans on FX.

The Americans

Phillip Jennings: “The KGB is everywhere.”

The "normal" Jennings family

The “normal” Jennings family

The Americans is the rare series that’s actually about something. The first season of the show was about what it’s like to be a married couple in the US in the guise of a 1980s period spy drama of USSR vs USA and this season was about what it takes to get someone to betray their ideals in pursuit of a greater cause.

Here, characters Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are KGB agents posing as a normal married American couple in early 1980s Washington DC but they’re really Soviet sleeper agents out to bring down the red white and blue. In this most recent season, Philip and Elizabeth are trying to uncover the secrets of new stealth technology while at the same time hunting the killer of another KGB family that was a mirror of the Jennings’.

What was really interesting with The Americans this season were the places series creators were willing to go. Be it with the murder of an entire family, Elizabeth mentoring an young idealist agent who shares the same ideals whom Elizabeth must sacrifice for the greater good to Phillip and Elizabeth learning that while mother Russia might want Phillip and Elizabeth to make sacrifices for “the cause,” that’s nothing compared to what they have in store for their children.

Halt and Catch Fire

Joe MacMillan: “I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about legacy.”
Cameron Howe: “You’re not the future, you’re a footnote.

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Mackenzie Davis in Halt and Catch Fire

I’m not sure how or why, but I seem to be the only critic out there who liked Halt and Catch Fire, let alone loved it. Some have complained that Halt is too much like Mad Men with it taking place in the corporate world, having a young woman as an up and coming employee with a strong male with a self destructive streak in the lead. As if only Mad Men were allowed to do this or even that Mad Men is far from the first series to play out this way.

Regardless, I was enamored where Halt went with certain characters being plowed under by the stress of trying to create a new PC in the early 1980s and others rising to the challenge. And not to spoil the ending of the first season too much, but if every other show out there is about people building something great and successful, Halt was about building something that turned out to be, at best, average. I’m not sure any show has ever done that before.

Hannibal

Hannibal Lecter: “Occasionally I drop a teacup to shatter on the floor. On purpose. I’m not satisfied when it doesn’t gather itself up again. Someday, perhaps a cup will come together.”

2013-blog-hannibal-hugh-madsIf the first season of Hannibal was about FBI detective Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) trying to track down a serial killer who they don’t realize is Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), then the second season is about the FBI trying to catch Lecter in a trap and jail him for the murders. Except the one guy you don’t try and trap is the guy who’s going to be ahead of you every step of the way setting traps of his own.

True Detective

If Hannibal was head-trippy then True Detective was acid-trippy. It’s a show that seems to divide up my friends nicely. Some of whom loved it and character Rust Cohle’s (Matthew McConaughey) ramblings about the intricacies of good and evil in an uncaring universe while others hated the show and found the series to over the top and boring.

Community

In its fifth season Community returned with series creator Dan Harmon back at the helm after an absence of a year and returned a sheen of greatness to a series that had faltered in recent years.

Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock

Even if micro-series Sherlock is only three episodes long, they’re some of the best hours you’ll spend in front of the television. If there’s anything I’m worried about with Sherlock is that while there are two season’s of the show left, Sherlock star  Benedict Cumberbatch is now on the verge of uber-stardom with recently being cast as Doctor Strange in a Marvel movie and I can’t see him wanting to stick with Sherlock any longer than he’s contractually obligated to do so.

Game of Thrones

I find it humorous when people binge-watch past seasons of something like Game of Thrones in a few days or weeks. They have absolutely no idea of the excruciating wait between new seasons that makes viewer’s wait nearly 10 months between the end of a season and the start of the next agonizing. I’m not complaining, though. When it’s on Game of Thrones is the best thing on TV. I do wonder if it had aired in the fall rather than spring if Game of Thrones wouldn’t have made an appearance much higher on this list?

Orange is the New Black

Taylor Schilling

Taylor Schilling

While Orange is the New Black did start off a bit slow this season and focused on more characters than Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as in the first — the sure sign that someone is trying to stretch out a show into multiple seasons — I thought the back half of Orange was just as good as the first season of the show.

Veep

Another great year for a great comedy almost no one’s talking about. Here’s to President Meyer!

The Knick

Writer/Director Steven Soderbergh returned to TV with The Knick, a series about a hospital at the turn of the 20th century New York City. In The Knick, medicine is taking leaps and bounds forward like never before. Even if it means that most people who go into the hospital end up dying there or that having a doctor like John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) hooked on cocaine is not only legal, it’s normal.




Ralph McQuarrie illustration

Posted on December 16th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

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Sam Glanzman A Sailor’s Story art

Posted on December 14th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

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Max Headroom Christmas song

Posted on December 12th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

Now I’ve seen everything.




Posted on December 11th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann



Posted on December 10th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann



Sam Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens Series From DC Comics To Be Collected By Dover Publishing

Posted on December 10th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

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Mad Max Fury Road trailer

Posted on December 10th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

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The art of buying blind box toys

Posted on December 10th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann

It was about 10 years ago at a comic book convention that I first discovered what’s known in Japan as “Gashapon.” Gashapon, or better known here as “blind box toys,” is a type of toy where while you know the line you’re buying but you don’t know exactly what toy you’re going to get. You’re buying them “blind.” It’s like how baseball cards are sold. Packs of cards are sold sealed so you’re not sure what exact cards you’ll end up getting in a pack. And like baseball cards some blind box toys are rarer than others and hence more valuable.

RoboCop Gashapon

RoboCop Gashapon

Until recently, all blind box toys were imported here from overseas. From these imports I’ve bought toys from Akira, Aliens, Star Trek and RoboCop to name a very few. Most everything I’ve ever bought from the imports are very detailed, have accurate likenesses and were all VERY expensive. I’ve paid $25 for a small 2x3x5 inch box for Gashapon. They can command these prices because of how rare they are here in the US and how hard they are to find locally.

You can find Japanese Gashapon toys on eBay, some still in the package and others opened so you know what you’re going to get – but where’s the fun in knowing what you’re going to get?

Sci Fi Mystery Minis

Sci Fi Mystery Minis

Over the last few years the idea of selling toys in the blind has been embraced by US toy companies and American versions of these toys have been turning up at toys shops and big box sellers too. There are blind box Legos, Walking Dead, Nightmare Before Christmas and superhero toys too. And since these aren’t imported from dealers to dealers prices on them are usually very reasonable. It seems like the going rate on US blind box toys is anywhere between $3 and $10.

It seems like some blind box toys are available at some retailers and other ones at other retailers. There’s not much consistency between what you’ll find at a (say) Target at one end of town and Target at another end. It can be frustrating at times to walk into a store expecting that they’re going to carry blind box Legos only to find out that they’re all out of the ones you’re looking for or all they have are ones from an old line.

Last fall over the course of a few weeks I bought about ten “Funko Sci Fi Mystery Minis.” Figures in this line include everyone from ET to Spock to the Rocketeer. Not including any doubles I got about six figures out of this set. The reason I got hooked on these was because they were easily available at a store very close to me.

Aliens Gashapon

Aliens Gashapon

For the most part I’ve been happy with the blind box toys I’ve bought over the year, but not always. Sometimes I feel like the value just isn’t there. I recently paid $4 for a tiny Walking Dead blind box toy that seemed to be worth about 25¢.

Why do I like blind box toys so much? I’ve always liked small toys, toys that don’t require a lot of time or effort to assemble and toys outside of normal toy generas. There aren’t too many figures of Judge Dredd or Mal from Firefly, but there are “Mystery Mini” figures of those two characters and I like that.

I also like the “what if” factor for the toys too — and this is why I don’t gamble. I like the idea that I could open a blind box figure from the 1986 movie Aliens and land on a rare Ripley in powerloader figure that’s worth about $50 is exciting. It can be thrilling to buy something for a few bucks and until you open the box it could be worth considerably more.

For me, though, after buying figures in just about any line of toys the feeling that I “need” to own a certain character from the line usually passes and I don’t need to buy anymore after a while. While there’s a certainty in buying something where you know what you’re going to get there’s little excitement. And since I’ve never been a collector that’s been obsessed about owning a complete collection of anything I’m usually happy with just getting anything I think is “cool.”




The Americans TV full TV spot

Posted on December 9th, 2014 | By: Bert Ehrmann




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