How do you evaluate the quality of a television show? Everybody has their own way of measuring how good a show, or even an individual episode (I log and rate everything I watch), and everybody places importance on different things; some viewers want great stories, others just want to laugh. But I think that, no matter who you are, there are five important aspects of any show that need to be considered in any review or rating:
Story & Character Development: Is the story moving in an interesting direction? Does it make sense? Are those developments true to the characters and the show itself? Breaking Bad is the story development king.
Production Values: Does the show look good? This can include everything from costumes and sets to computer effects; a show like Downton Abbey does well in this category.
Performances: This one is self-explanatory - how good are the performances on the show? I reckon a show like Boardwalk Empire features great performances across its entire cast.
Writing: How well does the story translate to the screen? How well is the dialogue written? Parks & Recreation is a show that I consider one of the best written on television.
Entertainment: Pretty simple really - how entertaining is the show? The Walking Dead scores highly on this one, as does something like Jono & Ben At Ten or Community. I reckon this is the most important aspect.
I mention all of this purely because I've started thinking about my Best Shows Of 2013 blog post*, and I'm not sure what to do with Orange Is The New Black, which finished its first season last night on TV2**.
If we use the rating system I've adopted, OITNB is arguably the best show on television, or at least in the Top 3. But it doesn't feel like one of the best shows on television. So do I trust the rating system and call Orange the best show on television? Or do I ignore the rating system in this instance and go with my gut?
Regardless of where it ends up on my end of year list, Orange Is The New Black is a bloody good show. It's one of the most entertaining hours of television I watch every week, a really easy show to consume because of the way it brings its characters, and the world they live in, to life on the screen.
You can credit most of that to Jenji Kohan. The writer and creator of Weeds is at the helm of OITNB, which she based on a book of the same name by Piper Kerman, and has again proven herself capable of crafting a show that is at once unlike anything we've seen before, but which also manages to tap into something familiar, something which makes us quickly latch onto the show and its characters.
I also love the direction Kohan took her show over the course of thirteen episodes. I won't spoil anything for those who haven't seen the finale, but if you think about where some of the key regular (and recurring) characters started the season - Piper as the scared outsider who prepared for prison by reading about it, primarily - you have to be amazed with what Kohan has done with them, with where they've ended up.
Kohan lucked into some fantastic performances, too. Natasha Lyonne (Nichols) and Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes) are standouts for me, actresses doing whatever it takes to bring a pair of brilliant characters to life. Taryn Manning (Pennsatucky) was another standout; who knew that the singer-turned-actress had that in her?! Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Kate Mulgrew ... Orange Is The New Black boasts a remarkably strong cast of interesting actors/actresses and characters.
As you can see, I loved Orange Is The New Black. But I'm not sure if I'm ready, or if I'm comfortable, to list it alongside some of the obvious Best Of 2013 shows - Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, to name two - just yet. So help me out ...
What do you think: just how good is Orange Is The New Black? Should I trust the ratings system and call it a Top 3 show? Or should I trust my gut and rank it where it feels right?
(*) I love the last week of blogging for the year because I love ranking everything. And I figure if every department store and supermarket can start putting out Christmas decorations, I can start planning.
(**) That line should read "finished its first season last night on TV2 at such an ungodly hour that I've decided not to put any details in this blog post for fear that I'd spoil it for anyone who was still waiting to watch it; I love TV2 for bringing this show to our screens relatively quickly, but airing it so late means there is no rhyme or reason to when people are watching it, which in turn means that folk like myself can't discuss it for fear of spoiling it."