There are seasons too many

Silicon Valley, a new comedy series from HBO, scored well with critics. It scored poorly with me, and as someone who just finished seeing the first season, I’m left wondering how it rated so highly.

I found it lame, mildly amusing, mostly unconvincing and lazily caricatured. Were the critics predisposed to liking it because it came from HBO?

Because if Silicon Valley had come from any other studio, it would have only got middling reviews — or has the level of television programming dipped so low that Silicon Valley, a so-so comedy, stands out?

What happened, I think, was a bit of both: my own experience with serious television watching has been disappointment after disappointment with all the series acclaimed as the best of the year.

Several of these shows (aggregating a high critic’s score of 80 and above on Metacritic.com) felt overrated: Orange is the New Black, True Detective, Enlightened, Louie, Fargo (a new series based on the movie), Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Justified, Breaking Bad, Masters of Sex, Parks and Recreation, Political Animals and Scandal.

A season or two was the most I could really enjoy of any of these shows before that sinking feeling set in that the series had lost its hold on me. And for those series that have had only a season so far — True Detective, Fargo — a few episodes into them was enough before I began to want to switch off.

There are only three from the year’s best that I think really earned all the praise: Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Veep. Of these, Downton Abbey in its fourth series has already begun to plot-wise wear thin; Sherlock has become more about style and wit than story, while Veep alone retains its satirical sting.

A series that didn’t rate as highly with critics but I thought was really exciting is House of Cards, a political thriller remade from the British original. The second season was even better than the first and the third season, to be shown next year, promises to be the best.

Silicon Valley is about techie culture as experienced by four geeks (one of them a Pakistani named Dinesh!?) and coming from HBO, known for detailing and authenticity, this mostly feels like caricature.

The young techies are unlikeable, the main guy, a Zuckerberg-Wozniak-like character, is annoying. How come a genius like him doesn’t know the first thing about start-ups? Were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs naïve?

The whole thing is played out for cheap laughs, and some critics comparing this to other marvelous HBO shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras is woefully wrong-headed.

I was left similarly unconvinced by Homeland. You simply can’t get rid of the feeling that it’s a manipulative TV show you’re watching.

All these acclaimed shows seem to start off brilliantly and then falter. Why do they falter? Simple: they don’t stop when it’s still good, they have to carry it over to another season promising you that this will be the last — and then at the end of the season leave the story dangling for one more season. Homeland should never have gone into the third season.

The most raved about series recently, Breaking Bad, got burnt out by the third season, but no, they had to stretch it to some seven seasons. I had lost all interest by the fourth.

Everyone in television should learn from the likes of John Cleese and Ricky Gervais — all of us crave for more Fawlty Towers and Office and Extras, but these two gentlemen called it quits at two seasons.

For plain proof, contrast the BBC Office series with the American one which went on for — well, I haven’t even been able to keep track anymore of how many seasons, but it got sillier and sillier with every added season.

The first three seasons of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm were superb, but by the fifth, it too had become uneven.

In its eight season now, the best you can expect from it is three good episodes (if that) out of the eight or so that make up a season. HBO’s contemporary comedy on the other hand, Veep, still sparkles. (I hope they don’t take it beyond three, though).

Veep, if you haven’t already caught some of it, is about Vice President Selina Meyer (played with wonderful comedic timing by Julia Dreyfus) who is empty-headed, self-seeking and obnoxious.

Like every vice president in the White House, she is never taken seriously by anyone. But Selina wants to be taken seriously, and in her attempt to make herself important, she and her bumbling staff make a hilarious political spectacle of themselves.

The satire is by Armando Iannuci, the veteran political satirist of the cult British show The Thick of It (which was adapted into the film as In the Loop). Thanks to Iannuci’s brilliant and biting lines and uproarious comedic plotting, you can never get enough of Veep.

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