Sunday, May 27, 2018

What I’m Watching: Billions

Billions: Season 3, Episode 9 “Icebreaker” (B+)

It’s always a nice surprise to see a completely unexpected guest star, especially one as well-cast for this role as John Malkovich. The two-time Oscar nominee is probably best known to most for appearing in the truly odd “Being John Malkovich,” and he was last seen on television as Blackbeard in the short-lived NBC series “Crossbones.” While he’s definitely American, it was fun to see him chew almost as much scenery here as he did in his unforgettable part as a criminal in “Con Air.” It would be hard to imagine someone who could go head-to-head with Axe, aside from Chuck of course, and someone who could strike fear in him in a way that Chuck has never managed to do. Making a comment about being invited to the place where Axe’s kids sleep got the moneyman to be very defensive, and that story at the end of the episode showed that he isn’t going to tolerate anything, including the rightfully unpredictable stock market taking even a bit of his money. It’s Axe’s own fault for being so desperate to do something extreme, and Taylor is obviously hedging their own bets, bringing Will Roland’s smartass on board to give him another chance. Bonnie seems like an interesting addition to the team, and putting her next to Dollar Bill after he got the guy who stole his dollar for luck demoted. In the wake of the death in custody of the man they were supposed to prosecute, Kate and Chuck seem to be on the same page about going against Jock, who said in explicit terms that not all people are created equal, creating an even greater foe for Chuck to go after than Axe ever was.

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 2, Episode 5 “Akane No Mai” (B)

After an episode rooted in science and plot development germane to how we got to where we are now, this was an extremely dense and less than invigorating hour. Seeing much of the Shogun World play out just like we’ve seen Westworld in the past isn’t as enticing, and there’s something - perhaps it’s the language barrier - about it that just makes it pale considerably to the mystery and the grandeur of Westworld. We’re learning more about the hosts and less about what makes them who they are, with both Dolores and Maeve continuing to take on powerful roles in understanding what they can control now that they have their memories and that they know what’s really happening. Others are being clued in to Maeve’s abilities, with Musashi ordering her gagged so that she couldn’t command them, a temporary solution whose complete uselessness was demonstrated by the unexpected mental powers she utilized at the end of the episode to spare her life and orchestrate chaos around her with nothing more than her mind. There were two notable guest stars in this episode, Hiroyuki Sanada from “Lost” and the very underrated 2010 film “The City of Your Final Destination,” as Musashi, and Rinko Kikuchi, Oscar-nominated for the overrated 2006 film “Babel,” as Akane. Dolores grasps that Teddy is far too idealistic for what’s to come, and therefore he’s not going to get to experience it all clear-eyed like she will. The most fascinating moment of this episode, to me, was Clementine watching the new version of her character, played by Lili Simmons, recite the same lines she used to say, and I’d love to get back to the operational goings-on rather than these simulated storylines.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What I’m Watching: Killing Eve

Killing Eve: Season 1, Episode 7 “I Don’t Want to be Free” (B)

This episode got a bit messy, breaking down relationships we thought were central to this show and making things mighty uncertain going into the season finale. Eve did not understand at all that Carolyn and Konstantin were wearing the same clothes from the day before because they slept together, and you’d think that she’d be a bit more consistently perceptive. Getting Nadia released meant nothing since, as we knew, she was already dead, but Eve didn’t waste a moment, enlisting Kenny to surveill his mother and meeting with Anna to learn more about who Villanelle was. After an unconvincing stint with the cellmate she killed within hours of being paired with her, Villanelle got sprung on her prison transport, reacting in amazement to the number of dead bodies resulting from her escape. Her fellow freed prisoner wasn’t so into her new status, and Villanelle bestowed the same fate upon the man who wasn’t Konstantin who tried to explain how the world was going to work to her. Konstantin seemed very frightened to find Villanelle in his daughter’s bedroom, but he took those pills and then got the upper hand, giving her the finger while he got away on his boat. As Eve discovered that it was Carolyn who met face-to-face with Villanelle and help get her released - a puzzling twist given that she’s the leader of this entire operation who put Eve in a position to expose what Villanelle was doing - it’s hard to know what’s going to happen with Villanelle and Eve both finding that the mentors they looked up to are colluding with each other and working in opposition to the very different goals they are aiming to achieve.

What I’m Watching: Lost in Space

Lost in Space: Season 1, Episode 6 “Eulogy” (B+)

Another episode, another life-and-death situation that managed to turn out okay for the Robinson family after a handful of close calls. Maureen’s discovery that they can’t stay on this planet is an ominous one that’s clearly going to eat at her, and the fact that a conversation she thought was just with her husband was overheard means that it will soon become public. The official decision that the robot can stay but all of its movements need to be documented was something that Will initially didn’t understand but his father helped him to see when he showed him that he had to do his own work sometimes. Dr. Smith proved especially destructive in this hour, coaching Angela so that she would try something violent, resulting in John getting hurt and Will having the robot plunge off the cliff to his death. Hopefully Dr. Smith won’t be able to inflict all that much more damage now that Don and Judy are well aware that she is not who she says she is. Don encouraging Judy to use the rover’s “sunroof” was entertaining, and I love that she twisted his “princess” remark into something else. He did seem to be genuinely honored that she thanked him for his heroic action, and it’s good to see him being accepted given how we know this crew will continue to be stranded. Penny’s big plan to get Vijay to kiss her was hilariously derailed, but she still managed to make it work in a pretty spectacular and unforgettable way.

What I’m Watching: Santa Clarita Diet

Santa Clarita Diet: Season 2, Episode 9 “Suspicious Objects” (B+)

I don’t know which was funnier, the fact that Joel is just as unsubtle about trying to gather facts about clams with a series of very specific questions or that he billed himself as a “clamauteur” (if you will). The casting of Sarah Baker from “Louie” as Ruby, who managed to produce a staggering 5000 infected clams, was great, and I enjoyed watching her try to seduce Joel only to realize that he wasn’t the aspiring clam man he claimed to be. Eric and Abby, who were hilariously passive-aggressive to each other, did the bickering for this episode while Joel and Sheila almost stumbled over each other to apologize and take the blame for starting this whole mess. Sheila had some trouble remembering which side of her face Ann accidentally punched her in, and her encouragement of the painting unfortunately just pushed Ann to go to the right audience to be able to get her investigation fast-tracked. Joel was correct in noting that they’re not precise people, and it was fun to see him squirm when he kept assuming that certain people were female. I’m glad that these characters have time to debate current social issues while attempting to save the world. While Paul and Marsha taking out Ruby’s clam incubator was helpful for one problem, the fact that their next step is hunting down and killing whoever it was that ate the clams is definitely something that they’re going to have to contend against in what’s sure to be a memorable finale.

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces (Season Finale)

Life in Pieces: Season 3, Episodes 21 and 22 “Video Piercing Model Hangover” and “Sixteen Spanish Car Leak” (B

This show has perpetually been on the bubble every single year, and it was finally renewed for a fourth season just a few days before these episodes aired, after most others series had already had their fates announced. This two-part finale included a series of segments that felt more interconnected than usual, with one particularly uplifting and unusually sentimental development. Colleen and Matt, hardly the definition of stability, have been trying for the entire season to have a baby, and for them to find out that their very willing surrogate was already pregnant when she was about to be inseminated was a truly unfortunate but hardly unpredictable blow. Jen and Greg discovering that they were pregnant after Lark was starting to do things for herself was a heartwarming moment of excitement, one that had to be hidden due to Colleen and Matt’s own efforts. I’m not sure how this adoption process will work, but it’s good that they’ve already moved on to another option instead of getting stuck following their latest hurdle. John being hired as a model for a stair chairlift was mildly entertaining, far more so than him and Joan trying to learn Spanish. My wife and I related very much to the thank you notes plotline since we sent out our own thank you notes a full year after our wedding, with what we thought was a clever note about how those who are late have much more fun. Sam coming home to the surprise party her family convinced her they weren’t throwing and asking her boyfriend to be her first in front of all of them was pretty hilarious and a definite high point of these two episodes. I’ll continue watching this show next year at midseason because it’s fun enough, but I’d love to see it become just a bit more consistent.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Zoe Lister-Jones as Jen

Friday, May 25, 2018

What I’m Watching: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: Season 2, Episode 11 “AKA Three Lives and Counting” (B+)

It’s strange to have Kilgrave back, mainly because he’s not nearly the threat he once was, and there wasn’t even a moment where Jessica thought that he was real. He was such a force in season one who terrified Jessica, and now he’s just a nuisance trying to convince her that, even without his influence, she’s a killer. Through all her moodiness and unwillingness to help those she doesn’t like out, like the ultimately cooperative veterinarian she left locked inside one of the cages, Jessica still has only killed three people: Luke’s wife, Kilgrave, and now Dale. It’s understandable that she would be spiraling because of this, and when she finally tracked down her two closest associates, she made the wrong decision to blame Malcolm rather than trust him. Trish having Karl turn her into some sort of superpowered being showed how far she’s slipped, and she’s not going to be pleased to find out that the process was interrupted - by Jessica, no less - and now Karl is gone as a result of his own actions. Alisa was doing so well, being treated kindly by her new guard and even allowed to watch television that could help take her away to warmer, friendlier places, but that access to television also meant that she saw the news of Karl’s death before Jessica could come talk to her. Things can’t possibly get better from here, and I don’t see a way that Alisa survives after this.

What I’m Watching: Brockmire

Brockmire: Season 2, Episode 4 “Retirement Ceremony” (B-)

After a brief, all-too-delayed shot of Jules at the end of the last episode, I had hoped that he wouldn’t immediately give up on trying to win her back and that she’d return to being a fully featured player on this show. Instead, we had an installment that was almost entirely Brockmire-focused, with Charles sitting out the funeral to experience what it’s like to be sitting next to a far more appreciative commentator. Brockmire’s “load bearing anecdotes” should come as no surprise since he’s all about delivery, and naturally he’d be capable of writing something heartfelt and sincere about Charles as long as he never had to tell him such nice things while he was still alive. Going home for his father’s funeral was an unwelcoming experience to say the least, with his first relative getting him to cough up $1000 because he didn’t know his name, which was in fact the same as his. I was pleased to see Becky Ann Baker from “Girls” as Brockmire’s sister, who had no kind words for him and didn’t appreciate his mockery of her new last name, Glasscock. Lucy’s reappearance felt relatively tame, and I would have loved to see actress Katie Finneran, who was much more memorable in season one, put to better use. We’re starting to get to the point where a formerly plot-driven show is becoming one that could be watched unsequentially, which doesn’t speak too well to the enduring power of its narrative.

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 4 “Other Women” (B+)

This episode addressed one of the most important things about how Gilead has managed to stay in power and quell those who wish to resist. We saw protesters being gunned down in a flashback during season one, and Aunt Lydia made it completely clear to June that she would stay locked up in a room until the baby was born, but Offred could go out into the world. June is fully aware of what compliance can get her, and she saw what it was like to be free of all this. There’s a true delusion to be found in the rituals of the women of Gilead, who celebrate the impending birth of the child as if it really is Serena having it. She got so angry with Offred for daring to comment about what she did after her own baby shower, unable to accept the idea that Offred could ever have had a life of her own. Saying that she was kidnapped rather than that she tried to escape makes the Waterfords seem like heroes, rescuing those less fortunate and returning them to this wonderful life of servitude, and it was especially difficult for her to have to apologize to and thank them in front of Nick. Flashing back to the beginnings of her relationship with Luke, when his ex was tormenting her for breaking up their marriage, made the notion of this new world order seem all the more absurd, since the handmaids are barely even thought of as people. Seeing the body of the driver who saved her hanging and learning that the wife will be forced to be a handmaid was a horrifying confirmation of the omniscience of this totalitarian empire, almost as terrifying as seeing how subservient Offred is now planning to be in order to survive.

What I’m Watching: You, Me, Her

You, Me, Her: Season 3, Episode 8 “The Insidious Lure of Pumpkin Spice” (B+)

Andy really does have bad timing, and Nina pretty much shut down as soon as he reappeared, activating only to punch him in the gut. Just as Nina and Andy discovered that they were probably better for each other than Izzy and Andy were, I think that Nina and Shaun are a far more solid pair, if Shaun is okay with Nina’s inconsistent and often condescending behavior. I love that Nina and Shaun ended up coming with Izzy to the party in the suburbs, where we were treated to yet another fantastic cliffhanger ending, with Kylie emerging from her car and being relatively unfriendly to an equally annoyed Izzy, ready to confront the unsuspecting Jack and Emma. It does feel more than ever like Izzy is a third wheel, with Jack and Emma trying hard to relive their old lives that Izzy has no desire to recreate, and then subverting her wishes by considering a place that they know she won’t want to live. She does seem to have dismissed her dad altogether after he bought her boots, and it’s probably better for her to consult her very distracted best friend for advice rather than a man who long ago proved his untrustworthiness. Carmen and Dave interviewing a prospective nanny was entertaining, particularly when their tunes changed entirely after she presented the extremely demanding rate that she charged for her esteemed services. At least they both seem to be on the same page and are going through this process together.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

What I’m Watching: Legion

Legion: Season 2, Episode 7 “Chapter 15” (B+)

After another cleverly-worded “previously on” introduction phrased as “ostensibly on,” I wouldn’t have expected an episode to ultimately make sense like this one did in the end, thanks in no small part to narrator Jon Hamm asking us, what have we learned? Future Syd’s conversation with Farouk about how he might not be the villain but might instead be the hero who stops David from destroying the world was enlightening if not entirely clear was very interesting since we rarely see anyone besides David, and since it followed Syd’s own expressed concerns about the nature of David’s relationship with her future self. Lenny snapping her fingers and reliving the pain that Amy was in was disturbing enough before we got to the many nightmares Ptonomy was experiencing. I don’t even know what to say about the mustachioed women multiplying and regenerating as Ptonomy and Kerry took them out, and what happened after the basket came off of Admiral Fukyama’s head. Fortunately, David showed up just in time to find the parasites in Clark and Kerry’s heads and pull them out, though he didn’t get to Ptonomy before he morphed into a terrifying giant spider. Who knows what will become of Ptonomy, now trapped deep inside someone’s mind, but the shift in pacing with David at the end of the episode was incredible. He seemed so irritated that the arachnid had chosen this time to attack since he was dealing with so much else, and managed to reframe the situation so that he was the giant and his opponent was tiny. Trapping it in a glass and popping it with his mind was a less comic ending, demonstrating just how destructive this immeasurably powerful mutant, currently on the good side, can truly be.

What I’m Watching: New Girl (Series Finale)

New Girl: Season 7, Episodes 7 and 8 “The Curse of the Pirate Bride” and “Engram Pattersky”

Here we are, finally at the end. After eight relatively disappointing episodes, I don’t feel any more satisfied than at the end of season six last April, and that strong episode would probably have served as a far more fitting finale than this one. The characters on this show have always been infantile, and therefore imagining what they would be like as married people and parents probably would have been more effective instead of having it translate to actual plot. Nick waited long enough to pull off the perfect proposal, which of course didn’t go as planned, and naturally the wedding had its hitches, not the least of which was Jess falling and needing to wear an eye patch and Aly predictably going into labor as they were about to begin the nuptials. Russell trying to get Jess to run away with him was random, and didn’t serve much of a purpose other than to show how bad all these men were at fighting. The strangely absent Coach, who I can’t imagine would have missed this wedding, probably would have fared better. Episode eight was an unnecessary reminder of how obsessive Jess can be in a bizarrely specific way, and showing Cece and Winston crying about their dance parties and Schmidt and Nick remembering foot cream gifts felt peculiar at best. Winston pulling off his greatest prank by evicting them was equally odd, but at least it’s in keeping with his character, and allowed us to see a brief montage of a handful of characters who don’t really represent this show’s best recurring guests. Looking back through my reviews of all 146 episodes, this show has been through a lot and hasn’t been great in a while. I won’t miss this show, but I do want to go back and watch some of the episodes I rated as the best to remind myself how much I once liked it.

Series finale: C+
Series grade: B-
Season MVP: Nasim Pedrad as Aly
Season grade: C+
Series MVP: Jake Johnson as Nick
Best Season: Season 2
Best Episodes: “Quick Hardening Caulk” and “Cooler

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 4, Episode 22 “Think Fast” (B)

I appreciated the fact that, in the seemingly neverending quest to defeat DeVoe, we finally got a break (sort of) from losing battle strategies and got to witness an actual conversation about where Barry and DeVoe stand on the human race and their opposing viewpoints about what’s best for it. DeVoe got to be the grandstanding villain he’s always wanted to be, storming into the facility where Fallout was being kept and orchestrating chaos to take out every single guard who stood in his way. He’s free to maim or kill whoever he wants now that Marlize has abandoned him, yet she still believes that her departure only reinforces his worldview that the human race shouldn’t be burdened by things such as love. Caitlin made a major breakthrough, no thanks to Dr. Finkel, who apparently bills this group by the quarter-hour, about Killer Frost and the fact that, puzzlingly, she’s been a part of her since well before the particle accelerator explosion. I don’t know what that means, but it will probably help her to get her powers back and create some new questions to be answered. I’m a bit sick of this forgetful Harry, who is apparently the prototype of what DeVoe sees the new humans being like, but I did enjoy Cecile taking on an unexpected new power which found her hilariously taking on the personalities of those around her. The stoned pizza deliveryman was fun, but I preferred her take on Caitlin, which was very funny.

What I’m Watching: Roseanne

Roseanne: Season 10, Episode 8 “Netflix and Pill” (B)

Being so into television, I find that conversation with friends often turns to what we’re watching, and I’m definitely one of the few in my circles still keeping up with this show. I’m asked how this show supports Trump and his administration, and to me the best examples are the subtle digs that get turned into comedy about how no one in this family can afford to make a decent living and buy what they need because of how the deck is stacked against them in favor of some other, which may well be the masses. The news that Roseanne has been taking a whole lot of pain pills that didn’t belong to her elicited an immediate and serious response from Dan, one which shows how much he wants to make sure she doesn’t remain addicted and that says that he’ll find a way to pay for this surgery that she has been putting off because she doesn’t believe they can afford it. It’s a far realer issue than most of the content on this show, which is all presented through a comedic lens as a way to process it. Darlene didn’t need to put much effort in to get the job that Crystal was retiring from, and that appeal of the full benefits package was all the impetus she needed. Tim Bagley’s guest appearance as the hotel concierge was another portrayal of how those in the working class are often looked down upon by those more fortunate, though you’d have to hope that no institution employee would be quite as condescending as he was.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 4, Episode 11 “Insane in the Germ Brain” (B)

It was just confirmed earlier this week that this show’s next season will be its last, and I’m not too disappointed given that five years is hardly a bad run in this day and age, especially considering this hardly seemed like the CW’s priority with just one out of four seasons slotted for the fall and renewals always coming later than the rest of the network’s slate. I think about how much this show has transformed each season, with the introduction of Fillmore Graves as an out-and-proud zombie force in season three and then the new world order in this place this season. I’d like to think that the show will now have a renewed sense of purpose and direction, all trying to get towards a specific end that helps to better the world or make it all the more chaotic. Isobel’s death in this episode, coming just after her mother finally made it to see her, refocuses everything in a tragic lens, and it’s going to be hard for the good guys to bounce back from that loss. Chase shooting one of Major’s soldiers in the head after a screw-up on an otherwise extremely successful mission shows that he’s transformed into a tyrant, one that should be opposed in a more active way than Liv secretly scratching people. Maybe Peyton can do more to help improve zombie-human relations on her trip to the capitol, but she has a lot stacked against her, most notably Angus and his now very well-known preachings about how zombiekind should overtake its inferior predecessors.