Saturday, October 21, 2017

What I’m Watching: Liar

Liar: Season 1, Episode 4 (B)

As much as I’m intrigued by this show, I still don’t quite understand what its take on sexual assault is. When the guy at the airport bar kept hounding Laura to give him a shot and then later sent her flowers, that seemed like the perfect time for a conversation about consent which she dismissed in favor of apologizing for her state of mind. We saw Andrew break into Vanessa’s home after apparently drugging her, proving that he’s not just a rapist who thinks he can get away with it but a very dangerous sexual predator who calculates his criminal activities. I think this show could have enough to say about sexual harassment, a notion that’s trending heavily on both my Facebook news feed and in my real news sources, without casting its suspected rapist as someone who isn’t just overconfident about his ability to mistreat women but deliberately malicious in the situations he engineers to willingly take advantage of them. As Vanessa realized - too late - that she needs to get out of this line of work for the sake of her future child, Laura is continuing to try to take action to ensure that Andrew doesn’t get away with what is now a devastating pattern of behavior. She had no luck with his mother-in-law, and she almost had Catherine on her side before the chef realized that little good was guaranteed to come from her speaking up, and forgetting about his influence in her life was the far better choice for her to make.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 2, Episode 4 “Still There” (B)

This was an episode about relationships and realizing the things that are toxic and unavoidable in them. I mistakenly thought that Rebecca’s helicopter mother was portrayed by Margaret Colin from “The Missing Person” and “Veep,” but it turns out that she’s actually played by Elizabeth Perkins of “Weeds” and “Big” fame. Rebecca calling her out on being a racist for not giving Randall the same attention as her other two grandchildren was bold, and it’s a shame that he was within earshot when she said it, though he got his licks in later with his “about time” quip when she complimented him. His desire to get the chickenpox was entertaining, and Jack didn’t turn out to be much use when he too got infected. Randall and Beth’s present-day parenting struggles are far more severe, since Beth was able to achieve a monumental breakthrough by identifying Déjà’s alopecia and braiding her hair, only to have it all undercut by Randall’s very well-meaning gesture of friendship that revealed that the two parents had communicated about something she meant only to share with her foster mother. The expression on her face when she showed up to the breakfast table with her cut hair was one of defiance, and this is going to continue to be a major struggle. After producer Brian Grazer, playing himself, showed up to check on Kevin, he had a tough recovery that seems to have gone well enough even if it was the least compelling focus of this hour. Toby is trying to make sure that Kate is happy while she’s being healthy, and he’s about to be in for a big surprise, one that had my wife cheering while we watched the episode - they’re going to have a baby! I hope he’ll be thrilled when she breaks the news to him.

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3, Episode 2 “Freakshow” (B)

It’s fitting for many reasons that the legends would have a run-in with the circus where they would end up taken captive and conscripted for mandatory entertainment service due to their special abilities. It turns out that this show’s version of P.T. Barnum, as portrayed by Billy Zane of “Titanic” fame, was a pretty terrible person, and he just wanted the show to go on, no matter how little some of his performers wanted to be part of the troupe. I was sure that Nate navigating the dating app on his phone in the middle of the bar while drinking heavily would be enough to inspire a technological anachronism, but all it did was enabled his poor buddies Jax and Ray to get captured and forcing Stein to dress up as a clown so that he could get close enough to infiltrate the circus and merge with Jax, creating yet another spectacular display of entertainment for Barnum to celebrate. I’m glad that Amaya’s back, and it’s good that she’s acknowledging to the team that the animal is starting to take over when she uses her powers. Mick was spectacularly bad at watching the shrunken tiger, letting it out almost immediately, as if that wasn’t a bad enough problem already. Sara and Agent Sharpe had a pretty solid fight, and I’m sure they’re going to continue to clash as they meet throughout time. The news that Rip has been hiding something that even the Time Bureau is afraid of is miserable since it’s even worse than the neverending legacy of the first season: an actual witch who was able to create some sort of being from the water, both off-putting and creepy. Let’s hope that doesn’t take center stage – I’m really not excited by it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 4, Episode 2 “Mixed Signals” (B+)

Last season, we saw how Alchemy gave a whole bunch of people powers that they had in other multiverse, and now there’s someone operating from the future or somewhere else doing something similar. This episode was a pretty classic case of a powered individual going after the people he believed ruined his life because they took credit for his idea and then made lots of money off of it, and he got rid of them in pretty brutal ways, starting with a violent elevator drop. Sheila was unapologetic and extremely rude when he confronted her, but it was Tim who was tormented after Barry was able to run quickly and break apart his car so that he was just on a seat with a steering wheel. There were a lot of funny moments in between the serious ones in this hour related to getting the team back together, and I for one am thrilled that Caitlin has returned, even if she has some issues controlling the Killer Frost within her. Cisco thought of all these technological improvements to the suit, most of which are absurd and wholly unnecessary, and they managed to backfire tremendously when the suit got hacked by Kilgore. The sumo flotation mode was the most ridiculous. Breaking down the situation with “Silicon Valley” comparisons was great, and there’s a certain joy I get from imagining that the characters I watch on TV also watch the same TV shows I do. Iris bringing Barry to couples’ therapy was a lighter dramatic development, and it’s good that he realizes that he’s not behaving the way he should after his long absence. I enjoyed the romantic moments between Cisco and Gypsy, who revealed her softer side by talking about “1-1-1 Day” and using the word “shmoopy.” That couple never seemed like they would last, but now, they’re looking strong.

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 4 “Star Wars” (B+)

It makes complete sense that Alex would be obsessed with “Star Wars,” and this episode captured that perfectly in all three of his timelines. His excitement at going to see the one-night-only showing of the movie in 1991 was understandable given that he hadn’t seen it on the big screen ever and Justin had taped over part of it with “Cheers.” I had a fun flashback to when I used to tape shows and sometime just used the same VHS tape for any number of episodes of different series. Maggie and Ron putting up a united front led to a very sweet act of fatherly protection by Ron, who decided to take the blame for Alex sneaking out when he realized that they were both trying to adjust to a new situation. I love that, after Alex tried to get back at Ron when he thought that he had shown his daughter “Star Wars,” it turned out that he had just shown her “The Phantom Menace,” which made it all better. Of course, she didn’t even like it, and he was mature enough to watch “The Princess Bride” instead. As the sixty-five-year-old Alex was preparing to finally go into space, he was more than ready to give that lifelong dream up to spend the day with Eleanor, saving her by being her line cook. She might still have a fiancé, but something tells me that Alex just worked his way back into her heart as more than just a friend.

Take Three: The Gifted

The Gifted: Season 1, Episode 3 “eXodus” (B-)

If nothing else, this show features mutants with some pretty cool powers. The bartender’s ability to turn himself and an entire van invisible is awesome, and everything that happened outside Daniel’s house was intense in a great way too. Unfortunately, I don’t think that interesting abilities, including Dreamer planting a fond memory in Blink’s head so that she would open up a portal and save the man she thought she loved, are enough to carry this show. We’re running into a situation where everyone is perpetually on the run, and only so much can be accomplished when characters are moving nonstop. What is clear from this episode is that the public doesn’t like mutants, and parents were ready to storm Daniel’s home and kill their kids’ friends just because they had powers. Even after his house turned into a war zone, Daniel was loyal to his sister, who refuses to accept the idea that she won’t see her husband again. While Amy Acker is good, her role isn’t written nearly as well as Stephen Moyer’s, and it was great to see Reed talk his way into getting transported to his family and then decide that it was worth facing whatever punishment or torture might come next to save the mutant mother who took his pain away and all other mutants who might be imperiled by his act of selfishness. I suspect that, sooner than later, Jace will switch sides, especially if he gets pressured by Garret Dillahunt’s Dr. Campbell into turning over the mutants that he just wants to imprison for whatever experimentation purposes he seeks them.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 3, Episode 2 “Triggers” (B+)

It’s nice to see that the CW is a friendly network where even the stars of its non-superhero shows still get gigs on other shows. Yael Grobglas, a regular on “Jane the Virgin” and guest last year on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” had a fun role here as Psi, the villain who used fears to paralyze those she was robbing. It’s jarring to see Kara frozen as she remembers her childhood trip since it somehow does more damage to her than something typical like Kryptonite or a strong alien. Fortunately, Alex knows exactly how to help her sister out, which proved to be a helpful discretion from the newly-emerged disagreements in her relationship with Maggie. Arguing about whether to have a band or a DJ in one thing, a subject that Hank hilariously weighed in on, but not knowing whether you want to have kids is a topic that requires considerably more conversation than just a dismissive, “that’s okay with you, right?” We’re seeing some issues at the workplace between Lena and James, and while Lena’s tough love gave Kara the quick-start she needed to get her head back in the game, the professional relationship between the guy who’s been in charge and the woman who now is remains very rocky. We’re just getting to know Samantha, and while she’s insistent that she doesn’t have powers, her daughter Ruby was eager enough to push her to reveal them that she punched someone in the face and nearly got herself killed. It’s interesting to see where Samantha fits in to the regular plotline and I’m curious how that will play out. And, in other news, Hank is headed to Mars to help Megan, a character I always thought contributed pretty well to this show.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals

Vice Principals: Season 2, Episode 5 “A Compassionate Man” (B+)

This show always manages to be more complex than it might seem at first glance. Things going awry was pretty inevitable, and it’s not as if all the teachers’ perceptions of Lee could really get any worse. One thing that has definitely changed since this show started is that Lee and Neal really are friends now, and, when everyone was against him, he was there to stand by his friend. Christine’s meltdown was epic, and it’s good to see the quietest, least featured character really show just how unhappy she is since Lee very clearly made up rumors about Kevin, who seems much more interested in her than Lee ever is, so that they would break up and he could make his move. With just two episodes left in this series, which still makes me sad, I don’t think this will have any real impact on Lee’s career or on the show in general, but this was completely in keeping with this show’s style, particularly Neal’s decision to bring Robin with him to the party rather than a date. The best part was Neal’s reaction to learning that Ms. Abbott has drugged Brian’s drink so that he would look stupid. Initially, he appeared to express concern and realize that this wasn’t okay, ready to run to Amanda to tell her that he knew it was wrong. But then he came to a different conclusion, that she was doing something nice for him, which means they’re going to sleep together, something she’s always wanted and he’s resisted. I can’t imagine that will have a positive impact on his chances with Amanda, but maybe it will make him happy briefly, which is something.

What I’m Watching: Good Behavior (Season Premiere)

Good Behavior: Season 2, Episode 1 “The Heart Attack is the Best Way” (B+)

I’m so glad this show is back – it was one of my favorites last year and I didn’t think that we’d get to experience a second season. This opener was superb, showing this family unit trying to establish a new identity in a place where they sort of could fit in fine if they were really able to give up their old ways of life. We’ve never seen quite this much of Jacob, and I like the way that he interacts with his mother, pushing back on her quick acceptance of home schooling as a natural choice and advocating for being able to choose his own fake name. There’s no competing with Letty’s ability to completely control any situation with lies quickly concocted on her feet, starting with googling Georgia law when the cop told her that Jacob couldn’t be alone and highlighted by her magnificent Gwyneth Paltrow recipe thievery narrative. I’m intrigued by Apple and her mother Carin, and I hope we’ll see more of them in the future. I’m beyond thrilled that Ann Dowd is still around as Rhonda, even though that’s bad news for Javier and Letty, and I enjoyed her movie conversation with Rob, who she thought was Estelle’s son. Letty’s relationship with Christian continues to be fantastic, and I liked his response to her answering the phone with “Hi.” After Javier nearly got killed by another hitman and then brought his body home, he’s in rough shape, reeling from the loss of Silk and from a sense of being in control of his life. This is sure to be a great season.

Pilot Review: White Famous

White Famous (Showtime)
Premiered October 15 at 10pm

It’s always interesting to learn something about a show after you’ve watched it that helps to put it all into a bit more context. I was a big fan of “Californication,” which had a few really great seasons and a few others that weren’t as good, and I did feel that a few of the scenes in this hourlong pilot were reminiscent of that show. Learning that this comes from creator Tom Kapinos and that it’s supposed to be set in the same universe as his previous does make some sense, and it’s been enough time that I didn’t remember that Stephen Tobolowsky had played producer Stu Beggs before. This show provides a great platform for “Saturday Night Live” alum Jay Pharoah to take the lead, and he’s clearly comfortable in the spotlight. I’m not quite sure what to make of the rest of this show, which in just its first two episodes featured a handful of recognizable faces chewing a lot of scenery. Jamie Foxx wearing a skirt and having a conversation mid-sex made quite an impression, and Michael Rapaport’s Teddy Snow is an incredibly outrageous character for whom the actor is a pretty good match. I also liked seeing Steve Zissis as a terrible hand-shaker and Lyndon Smith as Gwen, the actress who played her part very well and threw Floyd for a loop. I’m thrilled that Lonnie Chavis, who played young Randall on “This Is Us,” is getting more roles like this one. This show is very frontal and certainly addresses some hot-button issues, but I’ve seen far more appealing showcases of popular comedians than this one.

How will it work as a series? We went from a racist rant in episode one to a guy who knows he’s crazy and doesn’t care, and Floyd continues to get talked into doing things that he’s dead set against, like taking on a role or encouraging his son to go to private school. It’s a fun setup that’s someone reminiscent of a far more comedic “Atlanta,” and considerably more unhinged.
How long will it last? The first of these two episodes was made available online a few weeks early, and the reviews appear to be generally okay but not all that great. I haven’t seen much ratings data yet, but I think that, given Showtime’s previous affiliation with Kapinos and the desire to see Pharoah succeed, this one will get a decent shot.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 9, Episode 3 “A Disturbance in the Kitchen” (B+)

Of all this show’s tropes, I think that “a disturbance in the kitchen” perfectly epitomizes what Larry is all about. Most people would accept such a line and just move on, but Larry just wouldn’t let it go. What was especially funny about this episode is that the manager ended up spewing a whole lot of unhelpful nonsense, refusing to answer even a simple question and making Damon Wayans Jr.’s cop just as angry. Leave it to Larry to beep a cop because he hadn’t noticed the light had turned green, and then for Larry to be sort of right about Ted’s horn when he beeped somehow and nearly got pulled out of his car by a furious driver who definitely didn’t know who he was. I think we can all agree that Larry’s disguise being gone is a good thing, and getting some coaching from Salman Rushdie on using the fatwa to his advantage to be able to opt out of things you don’t want to do and attract women because of the danger factor. Elizabeth Banks is a funny actress who was just right for this role, comparing her cat Mr. Noodle to the daughter that Susie thinks her lost little sister is and then repeatedly saying “Arnold Parkers” while putting on a horrendous spontaneous performance with accents in front of the cop. I enjoyed seeing Gary Anthony Williams from “I’m Sorry” as the judge who didn’t go for Larry comparing himself to famous black icons as a pioneer and refused the cough drop that Larry promptly demanded back.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 5, Episode 10 “Bob the Builder” (B)

Even more than last episode, it feels like everything’s falling apart, and there’s not one character whose narrative is looking up at the moment. It seemed like Ray was broken by Natalie’s death, but he was still up for completely disregarding Sam’s explicit direction not to mention Doug to the police and then taking his brothers to go steal back Bunchy’s money. Most people who get arrested don’t set out to commit a crime just hours later, but Ray has always operated by his own rules. His choice of a home shopping network was strange, and I guess that’s what constitutes a meltdown for this fixer. It is an art, one that Daryll and Mickey haven’t quite mastered. Jay’s decision to call in the district attorney was bold given that he did still kill someone and then tried to cover it up even though it was an accident. Mickey seems like a big enough fish, but I don’t think Jay really got Daryll to admit anything, and, following his long-standing erection, Mickey isn’t going to back down and give in to this fate. Bridget tried to take matters into her own hands by going after Dr. Bergstein, played by Kim Raver from “24,” and all she managed to do was join the family lineup as the latest Donovan to get arrested. Ray’s not done breaking the law either, and though he was resistant to Sam’s request for him to kill Doug, I have a feeling that he’s going to try to clean this mess up in a way that somehow helps honor Natalie’s memory, which may well involve getting rid of someone who made her unhappy.

What I’m Watching: Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek: Discovery: Season 1, Episode 5 “Choose Your Pain” (B-)

I’m becoming less and less enamored with this show. I know that it’s just the name of the ship, but I still feel like we should be getting to explore and feel a sense of wonder from the many different alien races, cultures, and planets that the crew meets. Yet this show seems completely obsessed with the Klingons, who in this version are terribly uninteresting, and the being aboard the ship that Michael managed to prove felt pain and wouldn’t be able to do well with so many quick jumps that Saru ordered. Lorca was taken captive by the Klingons pretty easily, and not once did he seem to sweat his situation, which speaks partially to his fearlessness but also to the predictability of him being rescued. Now, he did do more to help his situation than most might have, and teaming up with Lieutenant Tyler to escape worked pretty well, though it didn’t seem like they had to put up much of a fight. I immediately recognized Rainn Wilson from “The Office” as Harry, and I’m not entirely sure what that character’s contribution to the episode really was. This whole “choose your pain” thing didn’t impress me too much either, and given that it’s the title of this episode, I don’t think that’s an established Klingon tradition in Trek lore. Tilly’s excited reaction to the fact that she’s not the source of Michael’s annoyance was endearing, as was learning that the increasingly likeable Lieutenant Stamets and Dr. Culber are a couple.

What I’m Watching: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Season Premiere)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Season 2, Episode 1 “Space Rabbit” (B)

In my undying excitement for this show to return, I forgot just how little sense this show can make sometimes. I know that’s completely intentional, but it’s still a bit frustrating and makes it hard to latch onto since it’s impossible to follow the story. With all of our characters scattered – or confined – in different places, there were a lot of new faces added in this episode that may or may not return in the future. The one likeliest to stick around is Amanda Walsh, who I loved a decade ago on “Sons and Daughters,” as Suzan Boreton, who appears to have some powers of her own which may have been what inspired Bart to spare her life rather than her search for a new best friend. John Hannah, fresh off “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” made quite an impression in an almost unrecognizable appearance, and I think he’s going to be back too. Roger Cross from “Dark Matter” showed up as Farah’s brother and Tyler Labine from “Reaper” was the talkative sheriff slash tow truck operator, but I think this is probably the last we’ll see of either of them. Hugo got pretty annoyed and bored with all of his interrogations, and poor Ken is stuck in a taxi being tortured even though he doesn’t have any powers at all. As Todd, suffering from his condition and low on pills, chases after rabbits, it seems that Dirk is about to get freed from his captivity by some truly strange and inexplicable trippy forces. I like that Amanda is now leading some of the Rowdy Three around, comfortable with her situation but unhappy in life, and I’m eager for everyone to be reconnected since, as we know, everything is connected.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin (Season Premiere)

Jane the Virgin: Season 4, Episode 1 “Chapter Sixty-Five” (B+)

It’s very fitting that we should get a new competing narrator for Adam given that the show introduced him without any warning at the end of last season. The narrator is one of the most entertaining parts of this extremely entertaining show, and having him compete with someone else for attention is a delight. It’s fun to see a different Jane, one who was so sure that she wanted to get married when she was way too young, uniting both her mother and her grandmother against the idea. It’s interesting to see how they pushed Jane this episode, since I remember how Alba was fiercely #teammichael way bay when while Xiomara endorsed #teamrafael and his bad boy nature. Now that Rafael is just a rich guy living in a house on the other side of town, it’s a different story, yet his feeling that he knows what’s best for their son, whose look has changed given a new actor portraying him, was enough to push Jane away and get her clothes all back on very quickly. Rafael totally was flirting, and it doesn’t seem fair that he should get to go right after Petra after leading Jane on and nearly ruining her chances with Adam. As Rogelio decided to try to make peace with the truly mean Darcy for the sake of their pending coparenting, Rafael and Jane are now on very bad terms. Another joint operation – Luisa and Anezka’s revenge plan – wasn’t going so well since Petra was impersonating Anezka, but it seems that the lesser sister survived again and is going to remain around to cause more trouble.