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TV Reviews

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Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey has gained a solid and loyal following throughout its four seasons, mainly consisting of—from my experience—an older female demographic. However, I myself have kept up with the show, and have discovered some male friends who shyly profess their love for the British soap opera. This bashfulness is unnecessary and outdated, but unfortunately, there’s still a perception that dramatic and romantic shows are still exclusively targeting women. While the historical time period entails a certain gender hierarchy, the presence of powerful and influential women adds complexity to the show, and makes it all the more engaging for a feminist viewer.
With only two episodes of season five released in North America thus far, Downton has already introduced some major developments. However, each episode seems to be grasping at some dramatic event to spice up the drawling day-to-day life of an aristocratic household. Edith throws a book across her room, and as it lands in the fireplace—which apparently burns all night—it then ricochets onto the floor while she lies in her bed, oblivious to the sudden burst of flames.
While this plot development, among others, is disappointingly superficial, the characters remain complex. The development of the under-butler Thomas Barrow over past seasons seems to be coming to a head in the fifth, as we see his soft and vulnerable side conflicting with the vindictive manipulation of his co-workers. Rob James Collier performs the character with stunning persuasion, perhaps outshining any other performance on the show. Sparks like these keep the BBC series burning season after season, despite some of the contradictory moments and bland performances. The new season holds the promise of more intrigue, scandal, and the possibility of some shifts in the paradigms of British society, changing the very framework of the show and making it both exciting and interesting to watch.

— Elizabeth McLellan

Parks and Recreation

It’s the beginning of the end; Amy Poehler’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreation premiered its seventh and final season last week with two back-to-back episodes, “2017” and “Ron and Jammy.” So, does the vehicle for television’s perkiest comedian successfully rekindle its infectious energy? Short answer: Abso-frikin-lutely.
Starting the audience smack-dab back where season six ended with a brief glimpse of 2017 Pawnee, the show doesn’t miss a beat as it comfortably slides back into its familiar setting, acting as though it had never left. For this reason, new fans are probably better left starting elsewhere in the series as, despite the sitcom aesthetic, continuity jokes hold the brunt of the humour.
However, it is for this very reason that returning fans will find a lot to love and then some with the new season, as familiar characters and dynamics are played off hysterically with clever twists, while futurist jokes are few and unobtrusive. While the premiere isn’t exactly perfect—Tom’s subplot feels a little underdeveloped compared to the others’—if these episodes are a sign of things to come, then season 7 is gearing up to be the series’ best.

— Martin Molpeceres

Girls

Four seasons into its run, Girls is becoming increasingly like televisual comfort food. Though it may not offer much in the way of surprises—as other long-running shows, such as Mad Men, are still able to do from time to time—it consistently provides its viewers with half-hours that are funny, diverting, and sometimes even moving.
This season’s premiere was no exception. Adam was his bizarre but lovable self (his depression ad provided the episode’s comic highlight), Hannah was as neurotic as ever (the episode’s teaser was pleasantly reminiscent of that of the pilot), and the supporting cast continued to play their respective roles quite nicely.
Most notable among them was Marnie. Her already-infamous sex scene from the episode’s opening minutes guaranteed on its own that she’d be among the show’s most-discussed characters, but her dramatic meltdown following her disastrous jazz brunch performance made for a satisfying emotional climax.
The New York setting worked as well as it has in the past, but it’ll be interesting to see how the show handles Hannah’s move to Iowa. The challenges of her long-distance relationship should provide a healthy dose of dramatic intrigue, and the new setting provides opportunities to keep the now-familiar character from becoming stale.

— Max Joseph