Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What I’m Watching: Barry (Season Finale)

Barry: Season 1, Episode 8 “Chapter Eight: Know Your Truth” (B+)

I’m not sure how I was expecting this season to end, but this finale managed to wrap up most of the active threads and send us in an uncertain new direction with Barry ready to live his new life as an actor, doomed to be haunted by his actions. While I like Barry and actor Bill Hader, my clear favorite of this season has been Noho Hank, played by Anthony Carrigan. He’s an overall sweet guy, one who was ready to call Barry to thank him for his friendship and warn him that he shouldn’t return to acting class if he wanted to live. Fortunately, and perhaps purposely, he wasn’t in the garage when Ruslan was building stocks to fancifully kill Fuches and then Barry took out Goran and everyone else just in time to save him. Fuches seemed more angry with Barry that he was abandoning what he thought was his calling than anything else, and Barry being welcomed in by Sally when he showed up to say goodbye set him on a very different path than he had expected. Flashing forward to an idyllic weekend at Cousineau’s cabin made it seem like everything was going great, with some logic gaps still present in Barry’s life plan with Sally, like switching roles each night for the many theoretical repeat attendees of their play. Cousineau sharing Barry’s speech about being a hitman was a low point, one that forced Barry to presumably kill Detective Moss. I’ve greatly enjoyed this show all season and look forward to whatever comes next in year two. Now, let’s get Carrigan nominated for an Emmy along with Hader!

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Anthony Carrigan as Noho Hank

Monday, May 21, 2018

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley (Season Finale)

Silicon Valley: Season 5, Episode 8 “Fifty-One Percent” (B+)

I was ready to kill Richard when it appeared that we were going to be treated to a season six with Pied Piper being owned by a gloating, reenergized Gavin Belson. Instead, the often impulsive coder and CEO planned ahead for once, putting his vulgar new signature catchphrase to use after stalling just long enough to have Colin put his new users onto the network so that all of the invading phones from Yao and Laurie could be booted. Fortunately, Colin seems to be closest to my favorite character on this show, who was woefully underused this season - Big Head - hard to offend and more than happy to help when his friendship is needed. It’s good to see that all this hard work paid off and that things may be headed in a positive direction for them, finally, with Monica showing them their massive new offices which will include dozens of employees and new divisions given the scope of their product, an incredible contrast to their diminutive space acquired by Jared what feels like so long ago. I love that Gilfoyle expressed some sort of moderate affection for Monica, and that Dinesh was able to save the day by giving the trooper a ride in the Tesla he bought for his employee. I wish that this season had been longer since I feel like it flew by, and though it wasn’t the best one we’ve seen, this show continues to be well worth watching. I look forward to seeing season six when it returns next year, and hope that it will continue to be rewarded with deserved Emmy nominations come this summer.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Thomas Middleditch as Richard

What I’m Watching: Timeless (Season Finale)

Timeless: Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10 “The General” and “Chinatown” (B-)

There’s a lot to unpack here, and as of this writing, this show has yet to be renewed or cancelled by NBC. The team’s trip back to the Civil War era was full of predictable tropes like Rufus being all too willing to pose as a slave without an exit strategy while Harriet Tubman demonstrated her impressive ability to get stuff done. That was followed by an expected betrayal by Jessica, who apparently had been working for Rittenhouse her entire life, getting close to Wyatt but not killing them all because she still does love him? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since she seems to be pregnant but doesn’t want to be with Wyatt even after Emma went and killed both Carol and Nicholas just because she couldn’t stand them telling her what to do anymore. Why all four Rittenhouse operatives that we know by name and face were together looking for Gia and waiting for the team to show up is an inconsistency akin to high-ranking crew members and captains going on away missions on “Star Trek,” and now we’re expected to believe that all of Rittenhouse will take orders from Emma after she executed their previous leader? Rufus still dying was a confirmation that the universe does in fact correct itself after an attempted disruption, but then we got the biggest shock of all with the arrival of a second lifeboat containing rugged presumably future versions of Wyatt and Lucy. That’s the kind of invigorating twist that this show has needed for a while now, and I’d be pumped for a third season based on that, even though there are many questions to answer that I doubt this show will bother to address. Like last year, I wouldn’t champion this show over others, but I’m definitely intrigued about what a revitalized and more action-packed third season could look like.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Goran Visnjic as Flynn

Friday, May 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: Billions

Billions: Season 3, Episode 8 “All the Willburys” (B)

This episode started to address what might happen next on this show now that Chuck is no longer pursuing Axe, but then it all got stopped before it had a chance to really get going. Chuck Sr. and Jack showing up to end the indulgence of Chuck’s fantasies made both him and Wendy very angry and defensive, but they should have stopped such reckless and public behavior a long time ago if he actually wanted to be governor since Axe could easily have had his guys find out about it if he doesn’t already know. That aggressive action, however, seemed to infuriate them so that Chuck wanted to have a weapon against Jack that he could use, prompting him to conduct a sting to ensure that he would have no leverage against him in the future. How quickly things change, of course, as DeGiulio called in his one favor, which was for Chuck not to run for governor, leading to him endorsing Matt Servitto’s Bob Sweeney instead. The two men who had tried to show him they could control him should have realized that giving him a platform to speak without knowing for sure what he would say was a bad idea, and he showed how powerful his words could be when he chewed Bryan out in front of the entire office staff and fired him. Axe and Wags seemed to have just as much fun dismissing Ari, but he managed to get into Dollar Bill’s head before he left, making sure that Axe Capital isn’t going to steer clear of illegal activities anytime soon. Axe competing with Taylor for the most committed employee isn’t a productive idea, and he’s further alienating his family and a totally enraged Lara, who went off on Wendy in a way we haven’t seen before for daring to talk to her son.

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 2, Episode 4 “The Riddle of the Sphinx” (B+)

One of my favorite things that shows can do is to bring back a character that was presumed dead or simply written out of the storyline but whose death or departure was never actually shown. I did wonder why it was that Shannon Woodward, who was great on shows like “The Riches” and “Raising Hope,” had such a small role in season one before being apparently taken out by a mysterious figure later revealed to be Bernard. The fact that he was able to subvert his programming enough to chain her up and keep her alive was great, and she’s understandably very pissed. It’s helpful for Bernard to have someone around who understands what’s going on and can speak his language, though we’re seeing that he’s experiencing quite a few glitches which make him experience time in a non-linear fashion, which suggests that Elsie may well no longer be alive since he doesn’t know what’s now and what already happened, including his own murder of a scientist. Without either Dolores or Maeve to anchor the episode, we saw more of William and his efforts to get to Glory, saving Lawrence and his family from Craddock, who was on the warpath, only to be told by Ford, speaking through Lawrence’s daughter, that he was on the wrong track. Watching William, first in his youthful form and then as the Man in Black, have the same conversation with Delos over and over again, was mesmerizing but also indicative of just how much he wanted to perfect this recreation of a person’s life that experienced just as many hiccups as Bernard seems to be. It’s helpful to see plotlines coming together, like the tiger hunter who managed to escape her Native American captors turning out to be none other than William’s daughter, a truly intriguing revelation.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What I’m Watching: Killing Eve

Killing Eve: Season 1, Episode 6 “Take Me to the Hole!” (B+)

All of our characters were in much closer contact than ever before in this episode, one that highlighted important relationships as Eve pressed on in the wake of Frank’s murder. Not only did Carolyn reveal that she has a close history with Vladimir, she also knows Konstantin by name! Eve didn’t like either of them when she met them, and it’s interesting to see her go behind Carolyn’s back and enlist her son’s help in digging up dirt that could help pressure Vladimir to release Nadia. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know that she’s too late, thanks to the behind-bars effort of Villanelle, who had no qualms about checking herself into prison for a few days. She’s definitely not meant for confinement, flirting with the guards and then fighting back, something that quickly earned her harsh treatment, though she also managed to get two guards killed in very little time. She nearly got spotted by Eve when she was being led through the yard, and accomplished her mission with typical flair and style. Sadly for her, it appears that Konstantin may have tricked her into accepting this job, now locked up with no one to help get her released and apparently subjugated to a medical regimen that should have everyone convinced she’s crazy. Let’s see how long it takes Eve to find her and if she’s the one to help her get out, if only to ensure that she doesn’t escape justice and has to answer specifically for all the crimes she committed rather than whatever allegedly got her into jail.

Pilot Review: Patrick Melrose

Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
Premiered May 12 at 9pm

I don’t always get to all of the miniseries that air these days, though the lines are becoming increasingly blurred with one-shot limited series that end up being renewed for a second season even if the source material doesn’t extend beyond that. Showtime’s latest is set to run for just five episodes, over the course of as many weeks. The big draw here is that Benedict Cumberbatch is the star. He has picked up a number of accolades for his TV work on “Sherlock” and earned an Oscar nomination a few years back for “The Imitation Game,” and so it’s completely worth noting the projects he chooses. This is quite the role, an adult man hooked on alcohol and a number of drugs trying to cope with the death of the father who was very abusive to him. Cumberbatch is indisputably excellent, and the best parts of his performance are when he acknowledges the voices in his head and reacts almost in annoyance that other people can hear either them or whatever he’s saying back to the person he believes he’s conversing with. We didn’t see much of his mother, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, in this episode, but Hugo Weaving, best known for playing Agent Smith in “The Matrix,” made quite an impression in just a few short flashback scenes as his father. Allison Williams, from “Girls” and “Get Out,” stood out a bit more as the American date who really wasn’t into what he was selling. This is an intense trip of a show, and I think that this first dose was more than enough for me.

How will it work as a series? This show is based on novels by Edward St. Aubyn, and so there’s presumably a good deal of material to cover over the next four episodes that will explain the events that made Patrick into who he is and whether he’s able to recover from this latest crushing blow to his livelihood or if his out-of-control, addictive lifestyle is going to kill him first.
How long will it last? I don’t see any reason to expect that this will continue past its initial five-episode plan, mainly because I believe that the story is contained within it. Reviews seem to be mostly positive, and Showtime airing it on Saturday nights rather than its regular Sunday programming night helps to distinguish it as more of a special event than a continuing series.

Pilot grade: B

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What I’m Watching: Lost in Space

Lost in Space: Season 1, Episode 5 “Transmission” (B+)

All of a sudden, we have tons of people on this planet hanging out right by the Robinsons’ ship, yet we still managed to get individual storylines for all our main characters. The most important interactions were those between Don West, Dr. Smith, and the Robinson family members who got more information about who the two of them are as a result. Don being mocked by Judy for being less than brave about his broken nose was by far the most entertaining part, and everything else just demonstrated how masterful and manipulative a liar Dr. Smith continues to be, especially when she gets backed into a corner. She dismissed Don’s accusations of stranding him and leaving him for dead, going so far as to claim to forgive him for not finding the meaningless treasure she sent him out to find. She also spun a story when confronted by Judy about what Don really did and then proactively got John distracted by spilling the beans about Will and the robot. Fortunately, the robot showed up just in time to stop that dinosaur creature, and Will was able to control it after his kill command nearly went too far and took out some of the innocent people from the colony. Maureen’s solo mission, which almost got her very injured, was commendable, and we’re now seeing just how far she’ll go to make sure that anyone she loves is protected, no matter the circumstances. The Resolute isn’t coming for them anytime soon, but at least Maureen is focusing on the right ideas.

What I’m Watching: Santa Clarita Diet

Santa Clarita Diet: Season 2, Episode 8 “Easels and War Paint” (B+)

It’s a wonder that Carl didn’t end up dead after all given how completely horrible he is, but his decision to fire Sheila for not showing up sent things in an interesting direction. Sheila was understandably mad at Joel for bumbling and not refusing to continue working with him, and how nice it was that, after everything, Joel spent $9 on a business card proof so that he could demonstrate his dedication to starting their own business to work for themselves. It was very entertaining to retrace the steps Sheila took during her blackout, and she was definitely disturbed when the moment of murder became clear and they saw her pounce on the Nazi and devour him in the middle of the parking lot. I like that she had no patience for Joel worrying about their carbon footprint given the number of dish gloves they go through, and she had a decent counterpoint with the fact that every time they kill someone, they drive less. She was awfully proud of herself for encouraging Ann to back off these disappearances to focus on her painting, but unfortunately those paintings are all about the very disappearances and mysteries involving our favorite couple. Abby telling Lisa that she and Eric were dating in order to get Dan’s goggles provided some nice time for the two of them together, revealing just how lonely Lisa is and eager to make someone else up and showing Abby that maybe she’s much too extreme for poor Eric, who doesn’t even want to graffiti anything and couldn’t hit Christian with a book like Abby did. In better news, I’m always nervous that watching a show weeks after all its episode premiered means that it will be cancelled by the time I finish, but this one just got renewed last week for a third season, which is extremely deserved and exciting.

What I’m Watching: Sneaky Pete (Season Finale)

Sneaky Pete: Season 2, Episode 10 “Switch” (B+)

It’s deeply disconcerting to me that this show debuted its second season more than two months ago and has been yet to be renewed, especially considered Amazon reupped less than a week after season one premiered. This show is immensely deserving of a third season, with a finale that wasn’t quite as clean-cut as season one and opening the door to much more internal strife in hypothetical future episodes. Otto may well have been this episode’s MVP, refusing to consider himself and Sam even and then solving two problems by introducing the two thugs trying to kill Julia’s skip to each other. Frank killing Luca as revenge for murdering Joe was a similarly helpful solution, though it seems that the acid-loving madman was alive long enough to Maggie to get her revenge by destroying the money right in front of him. Marius’ con was perfectly executed, with his fake FBI friends playing their parts well, but unfortunately he didn’t see Maggie double-crossing him. Her parting gift seems to have been not to blow his cover, but Julia has been paying attention and made the bold decision to go to Bagwell to understand just who her alleged ex really is. That coupled with a big reveal set up about how Carly’s parents actually died more than make the case for season three, which leaves Audrey home free thanks to Taylor’s frame job that Joyce totally figured out. This show was one of my favorites to watch this season, and I sincerely hope season three will soon be confirmed.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Jane Adams as Maggie

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What I’m Watching: Atlanta (Season Finale)

Atlanta: Season 2, Episode 11 “Crabs in a Barrel” (B+)

I’m reading all of these reviews and recaps about how this is the best - and most layered - comedy on television right now, and though I really don’t agree, I do see its merits and how it works to address societal issues and preconceptions. The scene in the Hasidic-run passport expediting office was one that showed how a population that many make assumptions about might still be better off in the long term than African-Americans who will be forever marginalized due purely to the color of their skin. Earn should never have asked that question, of course, but let’s call it him trying to step up and be the manager he’s always supposed to have been, listening to Paper Boi’s request for a Jewish guy rather than the black man they met. Earn leaving the gun in his backpack as he was going through security was an enormous mistake, but he acted fast and all three of our protagonists got to just walk away and board their plane while someone else took the fall for it. Paper Boi did seem to moderately approve of Earn finally taking a bold action that benefited them, and maybe he won’t get fired as he expects to when they get to Europe. Going to the parent-teacher conference at his daughter’s school only to learn that Lottie is advanced and that apparently her school is awful and there’s no place for her to go there was a harsh bit of reality that’s certainly exaggerated in how it might play out but not so much in the way that things really are. There’s no word yet on a third season of this show, but as long as Donald Glover is up for it, this critically-acclaimed hit will be back.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Donald Glover as Earn

Pilot Review: Motherland

Motherland (Sundance Now)
Premiered May 10

With so many networks broadcasting to American viewers these days, it’s easy to find plenty of international programming that might previously not have been available to watch. One such series that has arrived to great acclaim is “Catastrophe,” distributed by Amazon, and now another show involved Sharon Horgan behind the scenes is arriving from BBC Two via Sundance Now’s streaming service. There have been a number of shows in recent years and throughout TV history about motherhood and the many demands it places upon those given an unreasonable amount to do by unsupportive, absent, or simply absent-minded fathers. In its opening scene, this show encapsulated it all thanks to the brilliantly unhinged performance of Anna Maxwell Martin as Julia, the mother who was cursing out speed bumps and running unnecessary red lights to get her kids to school only to find out that they were on break, and then try to cover up for it by making up an allegation about some random kid bullying her daughter. Among the other highlights of this episode were Liz casually chopping off her finger while trying to break apart the frozen cheese she had in her freezer, and Julia’s fervent hunger leading to Lucy Punch’s Amanda announcing the omelette she was going to be making for her, prompting the naive Kevin to request one of his own. This show is somewhat fun but not one that feels vital, just British enough to be less than inviting thanks to the general awkward dispositions of its characters.

How will it work as a series? Julia doesn’t seem to have any qualms about infiltrating the Alpha Mums group, but that’s also because she doesn’t let things like shame or embarrassment stand in her way, too fed up with the world to be held back by others. There should be some fun and a whole lot of uncomfortable moments along the way - viewers should know what to expect after this pilot.
How long will it last? Despite only decent reviews from critics in America, this show was a hit after debuting in September 2016 on BBC Two as nothing more than a pilot. Its first season went well and its second is already on the way. I see no reason why Sundance Now wouldn’t want to keep airing this show if it continues.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: Safe

Safe (Netflix)
Premiered May 10

Michael C. Hall is an incredible actor who first became known for his role in the ensemble of “Six Feet Under,” and then got to anchor his own show as the undisputed lead and title character of “Dexter.” The successful Showtime serial killer drama went off the air in 2013, and Hall hasn’t appeared on television, aside from a one-episode guest spot as John F. Kennedy on “The Crown,” since. Now, he’s back with his first Netflix show, sporting a British accent that I did not expect to hear. Hall’s strengths on his first two big TV series were to get at the heart of a character who had many secrets and presented a different, more normal exterior to the world. The same is definitely true of Tom as far as the secrets are concerned, though it seems that he’s not the one keeping most of them and that almost everyone around him is hiding something. I go into shows not knowing what they’re about, and watching this pilot didn’t provide my with any quality or answers. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and I’m surprised that a show starring Hall made it to air with such an unspecific and flimsy premise. The only other cast member I recognized was Marc Warren, who plays Pete, from his much-despised arc on “The Good Wife” as Kalinda’s ex-husband. I won’t be back to find out more about what this show’s title means and why its characters exist - this one fell completely flat.

How will it work as a series? Pete’s daughter is still missing, and now he has reason to suspect that his best friend may have been involved. There are plenty of other messes surrounding him, but not one of them has demonstrated itself to be worthwhile of focus just yet, making this entire setup unappealing.
How long will it last? I still don’t understand why a show with Hall, who fans love from “Dexter,” hasn’t been promoted more intensively by Netflix, with its Thursday launch hardly an endorsement. The reviews seem to be decent, far more so than I expected, and so I guess a second season is possible though hardly likely in my opinion.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: Season 2, Episode 10 “AKA Pork Chop” (B+)

This show manages to be so many things at once, and when it starts to veer towards something less interesting, it doesn’t stay there for long. I was worried that watching Alisa get tormented by Dale in prison was going to become tiresome, but it took a very different turn after she initially mentioned that she didn’t eat meat and he started becoming far less kind than he originally was. Jessica is, primarily, a private investigator, and so it was somewhat comforting to see her start tailing Dale, realizing that there was more to the story when she saw the burn marks on her mother’s arm. She managed to deduce that he was a hunter of sorts, and while she still managed to fell him even after he pepper-sprayed her, her true act of self-defense turned out to be a fatal one, leaving her in a position that is going to be near-impossible to explain or hide. Trish bombed her audition, but she’s doing far more disconcerting things, like knocking Malcolm out and putting him in the trunk of the car so that she can go over Carl on her own. The news that Jessica gave Trish was the most soul-crushing of all, revealing that not only was Shane a con artist, but Inez was too, making her way into Hogarth’s life and getting close to her only to con her, rob her, and disappear. Hogarth had nothing left to lose before this, but now she’s been deceived and may not have the energy left to go after Inez and Shane to punish them.

Monday, May 14, 2018

What I’m Watching: Brockmire

Brockmire: Season 2, Episode 3 “Knuckleball” (B)

This episode had me doubting my continued allegiance to this show, since I don’t feel that it’s necessary to watch two men engage in a foursome before masturbating with their backs against each other on the baseball field. At least it got more relevant when Brockmire got paired with Raj to cohost a game, which ultimately wasn’t all that bad since they do sort of balance each other out. I’m impressed that, once again, Charles found a way to help Brockmire be Brockmire and counteract things like the Fallon effect to get back into the good graces of the people. Filling his binoculars with alcohol was clever, and things got extreme quickly when he soaked the tampon in alcohol so that, all chemistry and any sort of educated science aside, he could get drunk during the game without Raj noticing. Having Pedro play his last big game made it relatively personal for Brockmire, who went to bat for someone other than himself or Charles to make sure that Pedro’s good name wasn’t dragged through the dirt before he made his big comeback. What changed my mind about this show altogether after an episode that got better over the course of the half-hour was the moment I’ve been waiting for all season. My mouth dropped when Jules answered the door. I couldn’t be more excited to have Amanda Peet back on this show, and I love that the “Starring Amanda Peet” credit came up at the bottom of that screen when she got him to back up and slammed the door in his face. Let’s hope that this isn’t the battle that he chooses not to fight since this show desperately needs her around to compensate for Brockmire’s excessiveness.