Sunday, July 27, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 3 “Sorrowsworn” (B+)

Finally, we have the return of all of our familiar first season characters who hadn’t yet appeared this year. While I’m much more partial to Charlotte than I am to Steven, it’s fantastic to see that all of this show’s plotlines are truly interrelated, and that what initially seemed like separate threads are all intertwining now. This show has truly found its funk, as Hank enthusiastically welcomed back Marco and offered to cover for him with his captain before Agent McKenzie rudely refused to share intel with a Mexican cop in the room. Steven initially seemed very passive about the Mexican cop Bob found trespassing, but that changed quickly into an aggressive beatdown which will surely produce some answers. Ray and Cesar getting their supply carjacked was an odd but intense moment, and it’s great to have Charlotte back, and I do hope that she doesn’t take her boyfriend’s ill-advised idea of going to Alaska seriously. She did well fending for herself before, and I feel like a meeting with Galvan could turn out well for her. As Daniel and Adriana worked to uncover their own piece of the Eleanor story, it was sad to hear Raul ask his killer what would happen if he screamed before he was unceremoniously put out of his misery. Sonya as usual is quite blunt with her sexual partners and with those she works with, hardly demonstrating a proper bedside manner with Dex when he asked if his friend was okay. Marco, on the other hand, is back in the game and doing a great job of appeasing those Sonya offends. Unfortunately, though Eleanor spared Dex, her plans are only going to get more evil and horrifying, especially with her new assistant Jaime on board.

What I’m Watching: Wilfred

Wilfred: Season 4, Episode 6 “Patterns” (B)

Watching this show is definitely captivating, but it’s hard to know where reality ends and this show begins. It’s near impossible to comprehend just what is going on, and to know how satisfyingly this show will end in just a few weeks. The absence of the token post-credits scene during which Wilfred and Ryan would smoke pot together is disconcerting enough, and now we’ve gone well beyond a basement not existing into something far more disconcerting. Ryan is doing his very best to keep Jenna out of his life despite her frequent attempts to reach out to him and try to connect romantically. Meanwhile, he’s busy hunting for answers about his father and his mysterious partner, and encountering something far more malicious in the process: Bruce. No longer is the game-loving enigma portrayed by Dwight Yoakam, and instead it’s the brilliant Billy Baldwin in the role, soaking up all the absurdity of his character. Ryan’s discovery that he is in fact a dog and may just be Krungle the Trickster God was startling and cleverly done, but then we had the subsequent scene in which Bruce was back in his regular form and didn’t actually have makeup on covering up his dog suit. It’s hard to know what comes next, and it’s agonizing to watch Ryan take pride in every small discovery only to realize that things are not at all what they seem. If he hasn’t gotten there already, he is gradually continuing to lose his grip on what is real and what was ever real.

Take Three: Extant

Extant: Season 1, Episode 3 “Wish You Were Here” (C)

Things are moving at a fast pace on this show in terms of developments from which the show won’t be able to come back. It’s only a few episodes in and Alan has already played his hand to reveal that he wants to bring Molly in for “observation,” and that was only a short while after he came to her confessing his supposed ignorance to what was going on, something that she bought initially. Molly’s trusted ally, Sam, has now put herself in extreme danger by being present at the run-up to the attempted capture and quarantine of Molly, and though Molly managed to make her escape, I don’t think Sam will be nearly as fortunate. Molly’s shocking pregnancy was explained away pretty easily by a scientific experiment, painting John as the father without much doubt, which strikes me as far from likely. It was disconcerting but fairly obvious that the good old friend that Molly was talking to throughout her party wasn’t actually there, and just serves to underline the eeriness of it all, which doesn’t feel quite as compelling and creative as it should. Meanwhile, I can understand John and Molly’s desire to educate others about how their son is a real boy and should be treated as such rather than be ostracized, but Ethan is demonstrating some seriously sociopathic tendencies. On an unrelated but interesting note, this episode was titled “Wish You Were Here,” and actor Pierce Gagnon, who plays Ethan, also stars in “Wish I Was Here,” the new Zach Braff film that opened in New York last week.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What I’m Watching: Tyrant

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 5 “Hail Mary” (C)

I’m losing interest fast in this show, and it’s a shame since it’s actually getting more interesting. The arrival of an old proponent of peace who might well be able to set things back on the right track if Jamal is willing to sit down with him suggests that there is something new on the horizon, but I don’t think it will take, and I suspect it will take a long time to unfold. What’s most problematic is that this show has turned into something cartoonish, with Jamal furious when Tariq tattles on his brother that he wasn’t exactly where he was supposed to be, and then waiting to give the order to clear the square until he actually sees and questions the brother he no longer trusts to be loyal. Not that Jamal wasn’t always over-the-top, but his tyrannical nature has become a bit too literal, as evidenced by his stringing up of his son’s father-in-law and subsequent use of him as target practice to convince him that he should never speak about what his daughter told him and that she should certainly not be granted a divorce. Meanwhile, as her husband put his life in danger and survived an assassination attempt, Molly is becoming acclimated to the society in which she now resides. It’s about time she got the spotlight after the focus on her son, and it’s proving to be an eye-opening experience, as she can’t believe the way that people are treated and not treated in times of crisis but also isn’t above using her name to ensure that her will is fulfilled.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 8 “Harvest” (B+)

So much for last week’s cliffhanger ending, since that was resolved almost instantly with no lasting damage to Walt. But this episode had just as much intrigue to offer, related both to its crime-centric plot and its main characters. Finding bodies with missing body parts is never a good sign, but it was the people who were still alive who were far more volatile in this hour. Seeing a wife and daughter arm up and prepare to defend their property until the bitter end upon hearing the news that the patriarch of the family had been found dead was cause for concern, and when the man who had the best reason to kill him came looking to collect with his bulldozer, it was obviously that things had escalated in a disconcerting way. Nick’s attitude towards decency was rather disturbing, but what was most shocking about this episode was Walt’s decision to forget what he learned about what actually happened. It’s rare that he won’t serve justice as it is traditionally spelled out, but in this case he seemed to see no value in robbing the family of much-needed money and imprison a man who was just trying to help a friend who was dead anyway. Vic was rightly furious first with Sean and then with Branch for reading her private files, and it was a rough hour for her, disappointed by Walt’s refusal to put a fight about her resignation and rejected by Sean after joking about having to pretend to be weaker than she is. Branch is spiraling out of control, but what’s truly worrisome is that Bridges is in fact on his trail, and no one believes that he’s actually on to something.

Round Two: The Strain

The Strain: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Box” (B)

I’ll start off by noting that people biting into other people’s necks without warning and snakes crawling out of dead kids’ mouths to attack their parents is not my cup of tea. But like “The X-Files,” the horror here is presented in a very literal way. Nothing jumps out to scare you, but what’s going on is truly terrifying. The structure of the plot is actually quite competent, offering up just the right amount of nonsense to mix with serious stuff. I’m very pleased with the score, which helps to set and sustain the mood, ensuring that this thriller doesn’t let up, constantly keeping its viewers at the edge of their seats even if someone isn’t about to be brutally murdered by an unspeakable entity. While Ephram is busy trying to make sure that he doesn’t lose custody and still remains his son’s dad, he’s not quite focused enough on the work at hand, though his baffled reaction to a phone call from a father reporting that his dead daughter came home was understandable. We got a much more direct look than I expected at the Master, and even got to hear him talk. I guess it is important to have a physical, literal villain, and we can expect more of that going forward, especially with Gabriel’s unexpected act of vampirism. I finally recognized Leslie Hope of “24” fame with long hair as Dr. Luss, who really should consider the offer of staying under quarantine given her visions. Kevin Durand is a perfect fit to play Vasiliy Fet, the all-too-eager health inspector who sure knows how to hold a dead rat for maximum effectiveness.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 2 “Kyrie Eleison” (B)

This episode was interesting, to be sure, but this show seems to have lost some of its signature flair and in particular the manner in which it felt like it was really a product of its time period. Part of that is due to the fact that Bill has only negative things to say or do and no longer has the opportunity to get excited about the work he is doing. Along the same lines, Virginia was understandably upset that she couldn’t be a part of Bill’s new study because she doesn’t technically have the qualifications, and meeting his new secretary didn’t help matters at all. Bill’s banter with Betty, while harsh, was actually the most enticing part of the episode, and she’s a pretty wonderful character. Her unconventional pep talk to Rose was just what was needed, and her less serious interactions with Bill and with his flummoxed secretary were truly entertaining. Austin’s attempt to woo Vivian was met with miserable failure, and he only had success with Virginia since she’d never fall for him and she can’t really become much more of a social pariah at this point. Motherhood seems to have turned Libby, who was the show’s strongest character in season one, into a harsher person, getting fed up by the incessant crying and then rudely correcting her new nanny’s pronunciation of the word “ask.” Virginia continues to be a good friend to Lilian, whose condition seems to be deteriorating but won’t stop her from indulging a peculiar craving for pizza.

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 4 “B.J. and the A.C.” (B+)

This show continues to be endlessly dark, but it’s still enormously effective as it pulls back and examines the bigger picture, featuring Matt for just one pivotal moment and focusing instead on all the other characters. The haunting score is very strong, and it helps to add to the disturbing nature of it all. Starting with the baby stolen from the nativity scene was a peculiar but still unsettling introduction, and it’s so interesting to see how religion is treated in this post-apocalyptic society. We got to see more of Tom than ever before as he tried to help his friend survive an attack and then realized that he needed to go on the run because all signs pointed to him as the one who attacked her. His reaction to getting the call with a recorded message when he so desperately needed Wayne to call was understandable, and the subsequent scene in which the bodies wrapped in white were sprawled all over the road was certainly chilling. Laurie stopping by the house inspired great rage in Kevin, and for once gave Jill didn’t seem to be filled with hate for her dad. Nothing was quite as cold, however, as the Guilty Remnant staged a distraction at the school while its other members went through all the houses and removed every single photograph from them, which is sure to cause mass panic and unrest going forward. On a lighter note, it was very interesting to see Kevin open up so immediately about his infidelity to Nora, another pariah of the town just trying to keep her life together.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 2 “Uber Ray” (B+)

The stakes are a lot less high this season than they were last year in many respects, but it’s all set to implode in a big way due to different factors. Cochrane wasn’t the least bit interested in Mickey for his own sake but seems very intent on cracking down if either he or Ray do anything to irritate him. Cochrane’s participation in a cover band almost serves to confirm his incorruptibility, though I’m sure Ray is going to work hard to find some way in. He did that very quickly with Wendell Pierce’s parole officer, who stepped in to rattle Mickey’s sweet new setup. Frances coming in to see Ray was a surprise, and it seems that her visit got everyone agitated, even prompting Terry to punch his brother in the face, which is a big deal. Abby is all over the place, making out with her yoga instructor in a moment of passion after reacting negatively to Ray’s overzealous and excessively frequent attempts to have sex. It seems like Ray is finally noticing her, which is good, but if he ever finds out about that forbidden kiss, there’s going to be hell to pay. I like that Abby was so easily able to track her son down because he took Uber to go meet Mickey, though it does mean that she and Ray are going to know everywhere he goes, which might not be ideal. In his post-grief hysteria, Ezra is turning tyrannical, and his efforts to steer clear of the FBI might not go so well if he is too noticeable because of his pushiness in tracking down pledged donations.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Last Ship

The Last Ship: Season 1, Episodes 4 and 5 “We’ll Get There” and “El Toro” (B+/B)

You’ll notice that I’m reviewing two episodes at a time here – busy Sunday nights got the best of me, and I neglected to watch this show’s fourth episode in time to review it last week. What I will note is that while the show isn’t entirely forgettable, it’s far from exciting to watch two episodes in a row. I liked the first installment better, mainly because it contained some creative thinking and didn’t feel like every episode of “Last Resort.” It was a clever idea to sink everything from the lab in order to keep it cool at the bottom of the ocean, and it worked, which was a relief. It seemed for a bit like all hope was lost and that doom might near just four episodes in, but alas there were seagulls on the horizon. I’m glad that Adam Baldwin’s Mike finally got to show some personally, handling their uncooperative prisoner effectively without breaking a sweat. Chandler’s admission that he didn’t have a vision was troubling, but it was clear from episode five that both he and Mike are well-equipped to lead, turning around to unseat Jose Zuniga’s tyrannical leader and rescue the men, women, and children terrified under his reign. Seeing the infected people looking with such longing at Chandler and his men was probably the most unsettling part of the episode, and I suspect that things are only going to get more serious as time goes on and the crew comes into contact with more and more humans, both infected and not.

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 5 “Lost Cause” (B+)

I’m torn about this episode because, in some ways, it’s absurd, since Lafayette just decided to invite the town over immediately after Alcide’s death even though he knows they all hate Sookie and she doesn’t much like them either. What this episode did do well, however, was to start to tie things back together and acknowledge that the show is ending soon, returning to some of the show’s token tropes that it’s abandoned in recent seasons. Sarah’s vampire sister was a fabulous example, someone who got along so well with Eric and Pam because of her general attitude towards life and towards her sister. Subplots like Ginger begging Eric not to go without having sex with her are lighter entertainment, but there’s still a place for that. Sarah asking her mom to call Laura Bush was pure comedy gold, as were Eric and Pam’s outfits, but then the Yakuza showed up to make everything truly deadly. I think this show can be vicious and violent enough without needing to have Eric grab someone’s face and rip it off. Andy asking Jessica to borrow a ring so that he could propose to Holly was sweet, and it’s nice to see something working out, even if it seems too optimistic a resolution. Lettie Mae’s initial toast was actually quite strong, and it’s just a shame she had to go and try to get Willa’s blood for her undead daughter. I love that Jason’s romance was actually becoming real, and I’m very worried about what’s going to happen now that he made the mistake of sleeping with Jessica, who was pretty damn pissed when she found Jason having sex with Lafayette (what a soap opera this show can be). The flashbacks to the Civil War were very effective, a tragic lead-up to the revelation that Bill is infected. So much for happy endings on this show.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 7 “Comic Sans” (B+)

Things are heating up in prison in more ways than one, and it can’t be long before a boiling point is reached. Caputo’s insistence on a crackdown by the guards would be well-timed with the sudden influx of contraband flowing freely through prison if only he or any of the other guards had the faintest clue. Everyone seemed to be having a great time smoking, though of course that led to unnecessary drama. It was eye-opening to learn Black Cindy’s story, which solidified her guilt due to her compulsive thieving ways. Vee is determined to alienate everyone around her one person at a time, though her endgame does include circling back around to those she excluded, which in this episode was Poussey. I like the intercultural conversations, namely Nicky talking to Poussey about lesbian best friends and everything about the newsletter committee, which includes two relatively intelligent fishes out of water and two sweet-natured but airheaded others. This show is working hard to humanize those who aren’t inmates, including the newly reunited couple, while hardening two of the more kindhearted ones. It’s understandable that John would be frustrated with all the blackmail, and let’s hope that Fischer goes about revealing the news of Daya’s pregnancy in a smart and delicate way. I highly enjoyed Polly coming over to Larry’s to tell him nothing could happen only to talk herself into having sex with him, which was awkward at best but thoroughly amusing throughout. The sad refrain of senile Jimmy the mood considerably, reminding that it’s not all fun and games even when things seem to be going well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pilot Review: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst (FX)
Premiered July 17 at 10:30pm

Consider this the surprise of the summer. A title like this doesn’t suggest too much in the way of inspiring quality, and the few quick promos I saw during the pilot of “Married” only reinforced that. Fortunately, this show managed to defy expectations and actually turned out to be rather charming. Its title is spot-on, since it’s hard to find a wedding outburst scene these days that manages to feel original, and Jimmy really is the worst. Gretchen does give him a pretty good run for his money, and it’s a blast to get to know the two of them. Jimmy’s interactions with his child neighbor were quite amusing, and his roommate Edgar has some pretty worthwhile things to say too. Ultimately, though, this pilot was all about its two protagonists, Jimmy and Gretchen, both outcasts from society because of their truly despicable behavior who managed to find each other and revel in their shared passion for not caring about anything. Their sex-filled night was entertaining, and I like that moments like the curious spitting were referenced later when Gretchen was trying to recreate the same detached lovemaking with someone else. Best of all was the ending scene, in which they shared a true connection and Gretchen indulged Jimmy’s foot fetish just for fun. I have no idea whether this show can follow up on that or if I’m just high off the end of the pilot, but I’m hopeful that this might just be an unexpected gem of depraved comedy with an endearing touch.

How will it work as a series? This episode ended on a sweet note, but the question is where it goes from here. It’s important that both Jimmy and Gretchen remain unlikeable, and that their romance doesn’t actually materialize for real since that would defeat the purpose of this show. It’s a tall order, but I’m optimistic.
How long will it last? Not too long, I’m afraid. While this does suit FX’s new brand of comedies, the ratings just didn’t impress, especially compared with lead-in “Married,” which FX would surely choose over this one if it kept just one. Ten episodes is likely all we’ll get.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Married

Married (FX)
Premiered July 17 at 10pm

Because they premiered at the same time, it’s inevitable that this show will be compared to USA’s similarly-themed “Satisfaction.” It’s not entirely fair since this show is something altogether different. It’s emblematic of FX’s new brand of comedy, shuttling a few of its flagship comedies to new sister network FXX and holding on just to “Louie” and “Anger Management.” This show’s humor is reminiscent of the former show, with its protagonist wandering around awkwardly, fated to end up in uncomfortable situations laced with irony. I was a big fan of Nat Faxon in the underrated “Ben and Kate” a few years ago on FOX, and it’s great to see him back on TV. This role is considerably different, but he’s just as well-suited for it as he is for more physical comedy and sarcasm. Judy Greer, who is also a delight, has the opportunity here to be in a perpetual bad mood and deliver her lines with the most attitude possible. Having Jenny Slate and John Hodgman in the supporting cast is an added treat, and this ensemble is perfectly set up for sardonic humor. Watching Faxon’s Russ shop around for a mistress and then find just the girl for it proved hilariously entertaining, particularly with his ill-fated dog purchase and his daughter’s subsequent discovery of that same dog. I think this show could well prove to be enjoyable on a weekly basis, though it’s not almost going to pleasant to watch its characters worm their way out of unfortunate and regrettable situations.

How will it work as a series? Greer’s Lina can only be cool with her husband not being straight with her and insinuating that he may or may not have just come from an extramarital affair for so long, so it’s a question of whether this show is able to make her just as interesting a character as him and to make them both drastically and comically believable.
How long will it last? This show managed to succeed well with its target audience in its initial offering, and it bested its lead-out, “You’re the Worst,” making it easy for FX to decide which of the two shows it should keep going forward. I think this could be a good companion for “Louie,” and I suspect FX will want to stick with it.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Satisfaction

Satisfaction (USA)
Premiered July 17 at 10pm

This is one of those shows that has been advertised so blatantly that it’s near impossible not to have heard of it. That said, its advertisements aren’t entirely accurate, since it makes it seem like two people involved in a joint pact to find sexual fulfillment elsewhere (see FX’s superior effort aired at this same time, “Married,” for that). Instead, only one party is woefully aware that, despite all he does to try to make her happy, she still insists on calling her escort companion, whose cell phone happens to be in her husband’s possession. He’s not blameless either, constantly at work and barely present in his family life. It’s hard to find Americans starring in American television shows anymore, and so it’s no surprise that Australian Matt Passmore and French actress Stephanie Szostak are at the helm of this particular series. I liked Passmore when he was the star of “The Glades,” a show that I didn’t even process was no longer airing, and I don’t think his role here in nearly as entertaining since he’s cast as a dramatic protagonist whose smooth talking could use some work. Compared to “Hung,” this show doesn’t have nearly the same appeal, but its premise isn’t quite the same. I think that this show is trying to do too much at once, and I’m not sure it’s capable of managing it all. There is some potential here, but it hasn’t yet been realized since both Neil and Grace need to be fleshed out much more fully as characters. It’s light entertainment, but hardly classifies as must-see.

How will it work as a series? It seems highly implausible that Neil could continue to balance everything in his life and string along his wife while he had a whole separate career as an escort. Posing as Simon and stealing his clients also doesn’t seem sustainable, so I’m somewhat curious but not all that optimistic to see how this show plans to keep those storylines going.
How long will it last? The pilot did better than the show that aired before it, “Rush,” but not by too much. It’s very possible that the advertising campaign for this show will lead to considerable disappointment, and I think the ratings will suffer as a result. I don’t see this one lasting past the season.

Pilot grade: C