Thursday, September 3, 2015

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Nominees are listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of minor spoilers for listed episodes.

Kyle Chandler as John Rayburn, Bloodline (Episode 112)
Chandler won an Emmy in this category back in 2011 for the final season of “Friday Night Lights.” Now, Chandler is on Netflix as the most responsible adult child of a Florida family that owns an inn. He submitted the season finale, which allows him to channel some unrestrained rage. He doesn’t have the same likeability as his endearing coach, but it’s a very good sampling of his performance on a mediocre show.

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, The Newsroom (What Kind of Day Has It Been?)
Daniels won this trophy for season one of this show and managed to hang on to a nomination last year despite little love for his show all around on both occasions, and now he’s back for the final season of the show, with the series finale as his submission. He has a good platform to deliver solid and humorous speeches, but I think his time has passed, and I would be even more surprised if he won now than I was when he won the first time.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper, Mad Men (Person to Person)
This is the eighth nomination for Hamm, who has yet to win and now contends for the final time for the role that made him famous. I’m not sure the series finale, in which he sits on a beach meditating and doesn’t really interact with any of the other characters, is the best showcase, but this would be a reward for the performance as a whole if he was recognized. I think he has a good shot, but this episode submission pales in comparison to previous selections.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Better Call Saul (Pimento)
I’m so thrilled that Odenkirk, who is terrific in this role that he originated on “Breaking Bad,” opted not to submit an early episode from the season and instead went with the penultimate hour, one which allows him to be on top for half of it and then utterly devastated for the other. This is probably the most solid submission in this category, and Odenkirk would very much deserve to win based on it.

Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan, Ray Donovan (Walk This Way)
I’m just so happy that Schreiber got nominated after being left off the list last year and he even managed to achieve that feat without costar Jon Voight making the cut. I’d be ecstatic if he won, but I don’t see that happening given the lack of enthusiasm elsewhere for his show. His episode submission is solid, particularly because it shows him exploding at his brother, which he never really does. He’s always terrific, and this episode is a good sampling of the show.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, House of Cards (Chapter 32)
This is Spacey’s third nomination, and his show has yet to score a major Emmy win despite victories at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. His submission this year is a formidable hour that has him trying to negotiate peace in Russia and getting personal with his biographer. It’s a good example of Frank at his subtlest and letting his guard down, which should be good for viewers to see but won’t convince them if they didn’t vote for his showier submissions for season one and two.

Who should win (based on entire season): Odenkirk or Schreiber
Who should win (based on individual episodes): Odenkirk
Who will win: I don’t see how Hamm can’t win for his body of work on the show. If he doesn’t, it will probably be Spacey or Odenkirk.

Next up: Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What I’m Watching: Significant Mother

Significant Mother: Season 1, Episode 5 “Suffering and Succotash” (B+)

This was another highly formulaic sitcom episode, but I enjoyed it regardless and was actually laughing out loud a lot. Linda Gray, who starred on both the original and the new “Dallas,” was a fun guest star as the conservative grandmother who would have certainly disapproved of Lydia’s relationship with Jimmy yet didn’t seem to have much of a problem with her grandson being gay, in large part because she was hiding a secret love of her own. Jimmy and Nate nearly having to kiss wasn’t what was funny to me, it was the fact that everyone overreacted and tried to compensate for their lies so much that it was preposterously obvious that they were up to something. I love Jimmy’s particular intellect and the fact that he was excited to rattle off a bunch of business ideas that he couldn’t possibly hope to realize. Acknowledging that 70% of his concepts involve toasts was the funniest part for me, and I like that Atticus egged him on a bit, inquiring for more details about this spork sex position. Harrison getting a new Tesla as payment for his participation in the scheme was a random reward but an amusing one, especially since everyone was concerned only with what color it was and nothing else. It didn’t take long for Lydia and Jimmy to say “I love you” to each other, but at least now we know that this relationship is destined for something greater, even if it doesn’t ultimately last all that long.

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 8 “Surrogates” (B+)

There are some parts of this show I’m not always thrilled about, like Lester and Jane inserting their personal lives into the study and Bill having to act like a disapproving parent, but there were a number of strong plotlines that I found very effective in this hour. Austin was all too willing to try to deceive Bill in order to get Helen and Betty on his side in his custody battle, but Bill saw right through their scheme and quickly deduced that he and Helen had never had sex despite their claims of having tried to get pregnant for several years. I like that Betty stood up for herself and even brought up Bill’s affair with Virginia that he brought up keeping private lives private. It was great to see Emily Kinney from “The Walking Dead” as Nora, Bill’s new star pupil who used to live down the street and was sleeping in the office because she’s more than a bit late on her rent payments. Libby was not fond of having her participate in the study, but she’s engaging in her own secret behavior, sleeping with Paul and pretending that he’s her dearly departed Robert, who we learned was hit by a car after surviving Freedom Summer. I was pleased to recognize Rob Benedict from “Threshold” as Scully’s new assistant who was very keen on the fact that he too liked musical theater. Dan spiriting Virginia away to a business pitch was a real treat, and I like that he referred to her as a partner after she nearly derailed the meeting and stuck with her as a respectable agent of his operation. Turning down the contract because he doesn’t want to leave St. Louis suggests a major attachment that might prove problematic given her relationship with Bill. The way he handled himself with the burglar was impressive, and kudos to Virginia for opting to give the poor kid a second chance instead of calling the police on him.

Round Two: Fear the Walking Dead

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 2 “So Close, Yet So Far” (B)

I don’t think there’s any cause for alarm just yet, but it’s hard to know how this show is going to function like this on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. That’s the definition of post-apocalypse, of course, but now we’re full on in the middle of the apocalypse as it’s unfolding. I liked the franticness of Nick’s experience contrasted with the calm around him in episode one, and now we’re looking at chaos on all fronts. I found Madison’s visit back to school the most effective of the plotlines, as she tried to grab some pills for her son and first encountered Tobias, eternally obsessed with nothing but getting his knife back, and then her former colleague Art, whose excessive time within the school’s walls listening to teachers made him more than a bit stir crazy and caused him to turn into a zombie. Travis’ attempt to convey the urgency of locating his son was lost completely on his uncooperative wife, but she changed her tune as soon as he emphasized its seriousness. Leave it to bright young Chris to decide that being at the center of a police protest was the best place for him, and it’s a shame that no one keeps their cameras rolling when the victims of alleged police brutality turn into full-on zombies and necessitate being shot for the safety of all around them. I’m sure that will start happening soon, and for now we’ll have to contend with the knowledge that only our main characters know what’s really going on.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 8 “Tulip” (B+)

I’m not usually a fan of shows flashing forward and back in the same episode and foreshadowing an event that will later be happening. This episode revealed the surprising identity of the dead body Ray and Avi (!) were burying in a clever way, and that act served to tie up a bunch of loose ends that now seem far more solid in the way that they’re going to pan out. Varick was understandably upset at being cut off by Andrew, and Paige rudely telling him he never deserved anything didn’t help matters at all. It’s no surprise that he went to his former lover to try to understand why he was being shunned, and unfortunately Andrew let his rage get the better of him and hit him over the head with a fatal blow. Now Andrew and Ray are back on solid ground, with Andrew paying the asking price of $90 million because Lena punching Helen to calm her down resulted in her getting bitten by the snake, a wild plotline that managed not to seem too far-fetched. It’s also good that, despite Bunchy’s uncharacteristic threat, the Donovan brothers didn’t kill another priest, since Romero was never going to call the police on them but instead just wanted to inspire them to think about changing. Burning the documents he gave Bunchy with Varick’s body was a cathartic dismissal of the past that should hopefully help Ray move past all that. Avi apologizing to Ray was a very sentimental moment, and at least now they’re back what they used to be. I enjoyed seeing Terry bond with Abby, and the line “None of us got Ray” rang very true. I can’t understand what Bridget thinks is going to happen with her teacher, though he seems pretty hopped up on medication and helpless to do much to control the situation. I love that Mickey tried to be nice to Teresa, the only person to actually make the effort, and she responded by less than kindly telling him to be gentle with her boy.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels (Mid-Season Finale)

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 7 “False Prophets” (B+)

For all intents and purposes, this is really the fifth season finale, and the show will return for its final seven episodes next year, which should technically constitute a sixth and final season. I won’t argue the semantics of that too much, but I will say that this hour was an enticing one and makes me excited for the premise of the final slate of episodes. That said, the ending moments of the episode firmly reframed things after Cullen had engineered it so that no one was happy and that it would be a race to the finish line between two different railroad companies each with separate goals from the Mormons rather than everyone heading for one terminus, regardless of the location. Grant does have a soft spot for Cullen that makes him listen to him over anyone else, and Cullen entertained attempts to bribe him from all parties involved only to suggest something wholly different from what any of them expected. Durant trying to paint Cullen as a mutual enemy and then attempting to enlist him to come back to his side was particularly interesting, but Cullen didn’t bite. Phineas making his move at an inconvenient time for Brigham seemed finite enough, but the prophet didn’t go down easy, and showing up to bloody his treacherous son who was clad in white was quite the image. The Swede going after Cullen’s family won’t end well for anyone and is sure to be an electric start for this show when it comes back. Eva made her move too, and even though she didn’t get support, it’s clear that she isn’t going to go down without a fight. I’m looking forward to seeing this show into the sunlight in summer 2016.

Season grade so far: B+
Season MVP: Anson Mount as Cullen

Round Two: Blunt Talk

Blunt Talk: Season 1, Episode 2 “I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment” (C+)

This second episode was not much of an improvement over the first episode, still intent on classifying itself mostly as a show about an unstable, questionably depraved person and the hijinks he constantly gets himself into. Using Harry as a muse and then having his painting ruined by a flying ball from next door was a bizarre introduction to this episode’s main guest character, Ronnie, who was played by Brett Gelman, who stars as A.J. on “Married.” His obsession with having Harry star in one of his erotic films and the fact that he actually demanded that as payment for the favor of using his green screen was a bit much. I did laugh at Celia nearly derailing the porn star’s attempt to sweet talk Harry and prepare him for their big scene. Not getting on the plane because of Walter’s neurosis and the automatic flushing toilet continuously pulling the seat cover in as soon as Walter had so carefully set it was a drawn-out moment, and the kind of thing that seems all but guaranteed to be repeated throughout this show on a regular basis. The ultimate call that the hurricane he had tried so hard to falsely report on was downgraded and he was supposed to fly back from the city he never actually made it to emphasized the absurdity of all this. This show has a certain style and tone, and while I see how some might find it appealing, I don’t, and I think I’ve seen enough to make that call.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter (Season Finale)

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 12 and 13 “Episode Twelve” and “Episode Thirteen” (B+)

It’s agonizing to me that this show hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, especially considering the last great Syfy show I watched ended on a similar cliffhanger and didn’t return for year three despite being terrific. These two episodes aired together but were very much separate installments, each focusing on a different thread. Learning that Two is something far more than human presented the almost immediate arrival of a threat looking to capture and reprogram her, but fortunately our friends weren’t willing to let her be taken and decommissioned. I love some good robot science that reminds me of “Battlestar Galactica,” namely the Android falling prey to the same dampening systems that were incapacitating Two. There’s also nothing like the threat of getting a new brain to really help you kick into overdrive and escape from that kind of facility. It’s obvious that Alex and his mysterious master in the hospital bed are going to be threats for this crew, but, interestingly, the final episode presented a much more internal sense of paranoia. The Android got tased for the umpteenth time, and I like that her copy self showed up to talk to Five and promptly found herself ordered to shut up and delete her programming. It was so intriguing to see how the members of the crew turned on each other, with Five suspecting Two, One and Three suspecting each other, and then the bombshell revelation at the end of the hour that the other five crew members were being dragged off the ship unconscious while Six walked behind them. I’m sure there has to be an explanation, and I’m so eager to find out. This show is very cool, and I like its style a lot. Syfy, please renew this one right away!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Melissa O’Neil as Two

Pilot Review: Narcos

Narcos (Netflix)
Premiered August 28

There are some shows that Netflix picks up that I automatically know may be interesting, while others, like “Marco Polo,” just don’t entice me at all. I wasn’t sure about this one, and I’m very glad that I decided to watch the whole first episode. There’s something about the style of this show, so sweeping and grand in scope, beginning in 1989 and then flashing back to earlier decades and the establishment of the cocaine trade, is mesmerizing. I’m pretty sure that the narrator, played by Boyd Holbrook, isn’t even close to the series’ most magnetic character, and yet hearing his relatively neutral take on his role in this entire ordeal just makes it all seem even more intriguing. I love the fact that this show is true to its native languages, employing subtitles very frequently and making everything seem entirely realistic. I’m extremely impressed with Wagner Moura, the Brazilian actor cast to play Pablo Escobar, who, with the greatest subtlety, commands every scene he’s in. There were many great moments in this premiere, but the best scene was inarguably when Pablo met new faces at the border crossing and identified every law enforcement official by name and even clued them in to some more personal details he knew about each of them. Enough happened in this first hour to fill a movie, and then the episode ended with the game-changing pledge by Pablo to pay for the head of a DEA agent, signifying that a remarkably successful smuggling scheme had now turned into a full-on war with the United States government. I’m pretty thrilled to discover this show, and can’t wait to watch episode two next week.

How will it work as a series? I can only imagine how much ground this show can cover, and as long as it recognizes that what it’s done so far has worked very well, it can continue to be great. While I lamented the slow pace of “Daredevil,” I think this show could benefit from not being in a rush to get anywhere, since there’s obviously so much rich real life material that, to keep everyone happy, needs to be fictionalized just enough to end up being even more magnificent.
How long will it last? The first season will be ten episodes, and I think that the international appeal of this one will enable the network to measure it as a home run. The reviews so far have been favorable, and so I suspect that this one will be picked up again as just the latest Netflix offering to prove to be a hit for the network.

Pilot grade: A-

What I’m Watching: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer: Season 1, Episode 5 “Dinner” (C)

This show continues to stray towards the more fully ridiculous, abandoning almost entirely any sense of seriousness and opting for the most ludicrous plotlines. This show also seems to feel the need to linger on one concept for an extended period of time, with Jonas’ hunt for Victor the biggest example in this episode. Jonas/Gene failing to see Victor when he was literally right in front of him was also absurd, and I guess I’m just not quite cut out for that type of humor which demands an enormous suspension of disbelief. Gail deciding not to marry Gene because Jeff showed up and voiced his objection was silly, but I suppose that’s just what had to happen. I’m continually not pleased with the direction that everything related to the play is going, with Claude attempting to rather unceremoniously seduce Susie, who doesn’t object too much since Ben is otherwise inclined and hasn’t given her much to write home about since they started the summer. I enjoyed the introduction of Michael Cera as the hapless lawyer who Beth and Greg seem to think is going to be able to help them take down the government and save the camp from certain destruction by toxic sludge. Lindsay didn’t have to try too hard to convince JJ to come with her into the woods to her next scoop, but he didn’t last long, and so Lindsay got the chance to meet Eric, played by Chris Pine, all by herself for just one brief appetite-whetting moment.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 12 “Don’t Make Me Come Back There” (B+)

Watching this show one week at a time caused me to forget that there is just one supersized episode left this season, which is a shame since I feel like there’s such a large array of characters and plotlines just waiting to be featured. I think it’s a good sign that so much potential exists, and this episode and those before it have all been engaging and satisfying. Daya giving birth in this episode was the crucial development that has been coming since the very beginning of the show when her romance with John first began. Giving Aleida the flashback in this episode was enormously effective, as we saw how she latched on to her daughter, eager to give her away to get some time without her and then desperate to make her forget that she could ever have any fun without her. Calling Pornstache’s mother to tell her that the baby died was her own way of protecting her family, and maybe Daya will be able to forgive the mother who just wants to give her daughter the same connection she had. Pennsatucky and Big Boo’s latest actions are considerably darker than anything we’ve seen so far, and I can’t imagine that will go well. Sophia’s situation is extremely difficult to watch, and the fact that sending her to solitary is the solution hardly seems right. Red’s special dinner was a nice festive occasion, and I like that Taystee, who is definitely the momma now, worked hard to negotiate peace with Red rather than egg her on. Black Cindy’s continued insistence on converting to Judaism never fails to be amusing. I like how Cal and Neri are getting ahead of themselves trying to maximize this business from the outside, while things on the inside aren’t going so well thanks in no small part to Alex pulling out. After so much torment, it seems that Soso has finally slipped, and I do hope she comes through okay since she’s one of the show’s most individualistic characters.

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 7 “The Cruise” (C+)

I’m not thrilled with this season, and this episode didn’t do anything to change that. There’s a certain degree of suspension of disbelief I’m willing to allow in a sitcom, and the way that Russ’ mother decried their deplorable living conditions reminded me all too much of Nathan Lane’s Pepper on “Modern Family” describing the slums in which Mitchell and Cameron reside when they’re actually beautiful and quite expensive homes. Russ’ mother was a lot to take in general, and while I think that dealing with in-laws is an important part of marriage that’s ripe for spotlighting in a sitcom like this, it felt a bit exaggerated in this episode. I did like that Russ and Lina were firmly on the same side, and that they were casually discussing how long the marriage would last if she decided to move in. Fortunately, Russ offering for her to stay in the guest house was just the way to get her to hit the road immediately and leave them alone for a while. I felt like Bernie in this episode was a whole lot like A.J. in the way he acted, yet A.J. for once noticed that it was more than a little weird. The best part of the whole plotline of trying to sponsor school for a webcam girl was that A.J. and Bernie decided to get Shep involved, who immediately said no and still managed to get suckered in to their shenanigans. I wish we could have seen Jess too, but I guess that’s hoping for too much.

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 1, Episode 7 “Supercalifragilisticjuliefriggingandrews” (B+)

As if Johnny and Gigi weren’t complicated enough in terms of their own relationship, it’s abundantly clear that there’s much more drama in the extended family. After Gigi’s mother showed up last week, now we get to meet both of Johnny’s parents who are truly a handful. Johnny’s mother, played by Kelly Bishop from “Gilmore Girls,” is remarkably similar to her son in that she continues to thrive on a fame that could have been, citing her pregnancy with him as the reason she lost out on the starring role in “Mary Poppins” and missed out on a career of stardom. Pretending to have cancer and flouting her engagement to a very gay man played by Roger Bart were behaviors extremely typical of rock stars, and she didn’t even try to bolster up her son in any way, even ignoring him in her scheduled interviews. Johnny’s father, played by Peter Riegert, on the other hand, is firmly against the music industry and life, abandoning it for a medical career and disapproving of both his son and granddaughter for their choices. Throughout the episode, I enjoyed Johnny’s mother calling Ava by the wrong name consistently, and then arguing her point further when she was finally corrected, and Bam Bam discussing the things he would be okay doing to have taste some truly terrific ribs. Everyone in this band has their standards and limits, but a bit of free stuff or a shot at immortal fame won’t stop them from compromising on anything and everything.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pilot Review: The Carmichael Show

The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Premiered August 26 at 9pm

Now that “Mr. Robinson” has wrapped its six-episode season, NBC is giving another comedian the chance to anchor his own series with two episodes airing per week over the course of three weeks. The star this time is Jerrod Carmichael, who plays a version of himself. This is a very typical sitcom in a lot of ways, structuring it around one central adult couple and another adult couple who spend an inordinate amount of time with their parents. Jerrod is in many ways the straight man, as most of the personalities around him are extremely exaggerated. His brother is a security guard who has trouble getting taken seriously, and his ex-wife, who pretends that they are still married, is a loud, obnoxious woman who actually seems like a perfect fit for the man who used to be her husband. Jerrod’s father Joe is a typical laidback patriarch who just wants to be left alone and eat his ribs, while his mother Cynthia has considerably more energy and flair, but also possesses a deep connection to the bible and living a spiritual life. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the show’s other main character, Maxine, who is Jerrod’s live-in girlfriend and who is deeper and more substantial than she ought to be given the rest of the players on this show. At times, this show lands a good punchline, and these actors certainly know how to spout off dialogue, but otherwise it’s not terribly memorable or worthwhile.

How will it work as a series? In the first two episodes, they’ve already tackled religion, race, and the importance of birthdays. This show seems to want to confront current issues head-on with humor, like racial profiling and police brutality, but I don’t think it tries too hard to make a joke of them without really creating a substantial and satisfying comedic or dramatic narrative.
How long will it last? The ratings for this hour-long first airing were pretty solid, and so it may well live on to see a second season. The summer slate is really picking up for the broadcast networks, and this could well prove to be a good anchor for them. I wouldn’t get too attached just yet, but consider this one firmly on the bubble.

Pilot grade: C

Friday, August 28, 2015

What I’m Watching: Difficult People

Difficult People: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Children’s Menu” (B-)

This episode was much improved from last week’s to be sure, but I still find it to be incredibly inconsistent, which is a shame since I think there’s enormous potential given the two talents and the premise of the show. Creating a restaurant that features only children’s menu items for adults was a brilliant idea that many I know have joked about starting, and it’s just a shame that, inevitably, it attracted actual children who came and contributed to creating Julie’s own personal hell. The fact that the restaurant exists as it does and that Billy gets puts in charge only to close it immediately to order elsewhere and then completely change the menu is much harder to take seriously. In general, this show likes to take jokes and beat them senseless, hammering home a certain point over and over again. Julie’s mother giving her a hard time about pretty much everything is a major example of that, and it makes the comedy weaker and less effective as a result. The new SNL opening credits with literal children as the new stars was another example, one that takes reality and stretches it a bit too far. The You Tube star Julie used to babysit who couldn’t remember her was somewhat more effective, and I like that she recorded Julie and Billy exploding at her and then remixed them to make them seem like the idiots instead of her, a concept they couldn’t quite understand that set them back to square one.