Sunday, August 9, 2020

Emmy Catch-Up: What We Do in the Shadows

Every year, I watch the six submitted episodes of every series I don’t regularly watch that’s up for one of the Emmy series prizes. This year, I’m watching the entire season of every series nominated in the top category.

What We Do in the Shadows: Season 2, Episode 2 “Ghosts” (B)

This episode is one of the three installments of this show that’s up for an Emmy for writing. I understand that the concept is somewhat funny, particularly when Nandor insisted that Guillermo shouldn’t exaggerate because he’s only encountered one badabook, not multiple, making that an exception rather a frequent occurrence. I was pretty sure I recognized actor Jake McDorman from “Limitless” and “Manhattan Love Story” as the headless ghost Jeff, and it turns out I was right (he appeared in three season one episodes, apparently). The ensuing assumption that the vampires must also have ghosts who represented the things they didn’t do before they died was an intriguing one, and produced decently humorous relationships between each vampire and their ghost. Nadja and hers got along well, while Laszlo had an uncomfortable task to complete that he apparently did successfully, which was pretty gross. Nandor remembering only how to say “good morning” in his old language wasn’t too convenient, but their unproductive communication was endearing at least. Colin’s obsession with getting someone to ask what “updog” was kept him busy for most of the episode, and bringing back the ghost of his grandmother so that he could get her to do it and then dismiss her was much more to-the-point than most of what he does as an energy vampire. This show has a good sense of what it is and how it wants to incorporate vampire mythology, and I can understand that some find it to be a commendable feat. I’m hopeful that the other two nominated episodes will be more resounding.

Netflix Catch-Up: Orange is the New Black

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

I’m glad that I decided to watch the entire final season of this show rather than just Laverne Cox’s Emmy-nominated hour since I really do like (most of) these characters and I’m glad to see them again. This show has such a large ensemble that it’s interesting to see which players are featured and which aren’t even mentioned because there are so many more people to show. This was the first time we had seen Maritza in a while, and I’ve been watching Diane Guerrero (who I also met at Sundance) on “Doom Patrol,” which is a very different part. She even made the smart decision not to violate her parole and leave the state and ended up with a terrible consequence, which was her arrest and incarceration at the new ICE facility operated by Litchfield where Blanca also is. As she’s given more power, Linda is exercising it in poor ways, buying the precise language that Tamika – who is probably the most honest choice for the job – used at Caputo’s recommendation to impress her and secure the warden job. She’s going to be hated by a lot of people, including Hopper, who’s not a bad guy but is quite literally a criminal in that he’s part of a drug smuggling operation. McCullough’s flashbacks were unsettling, and deciding that she could take charge by having Alex traffic drugs for her rather than for the detestable Hellman was a puzzling conclusion. Adeola seems intent on helping Dayonara secure whatever power she can, and I’m fine with that as long as we don’t have to suffer through more of Badison in the near future. Piper’s struggles in the real world seem insignificant compared to what’s going on inside, but I suppose it’s endearing that she’s trying to support Alex in the way that she needs.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

What I’m Watching: Stateless (Series Finale)

Stateless: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Seventh Circle” (B+)

I wasn’t sure how all of this was going to be resolved since a happy ending didn’t seem appropriate given the real-life inspiration for many of these stories and the fact that it really just wouldn’t fit tonally. Instead, I think the characters experienced some intense growth and faced harrowing decisions that made them come out the other side broken but on the mend towards something that might hopefully be healthier for them. It was reassuring to see Margot press so hard to locate her sister when she came up against so many obstacles that made no sense, and it was a relief that, though she missed the ambulance that took Sofie away after she had to be sedated, she was in fact able to find her. It says something that someone who didn’t belong in detention because they were entitled to other rights as an Australian citizen was the catalyst for a change in treatment to other detainees, but I suppose it’s an indictment of the bureaucratic nature of the operation that takes the humanity out of it, resulting in situations like this. Sofie hallucinating everyone dancing was an intriguing stylistic choice, one that worked well since she suffered considerably but got to enjoy something comforting and pleasing while everyone else just perceived a dismal camp. Ameer’s choice to separate himself from his daughter for her protection was heartbreaking, but he recognized that it was the only way to ensure her safety and permanent stay in Australia. Cam being promoted by Harriet put him in a place he couldn’t stand, pushed to be someone he wasn’t by his circumstances, and simply walking away was the only way he could deal with it. Claire giving a different story to David so that Ameer wouldn’t be the focus of everything was her own sacrifice, and she was ready to accept the consequences if it blew back on her. This show was absolutely thought-provoking and well-done, featuring strong performances and an important story.

Series grade: B+
Series MVPs: Yvonne Strahovski as Sofie, Jai Courtney as Cam, and Asher Keddie as Claire

Emmy Catch-Up: Normal People

Every year, I watch the six submitted episodes of every series I don’t regularly watch that’s up for one of the Emmy series prizes. This year, I’m watching the entire season of every series nominated in the top category, as well as this one, which netted a few important nominations even if it missed the main limited series race.

Normal People: Season 1, Episode 2 (B+)

This is one show whose pilot I liked a lot but I unfortunately decided not to keep watching when it premiered at the end of April, which was a busy time of TV for me. Nathaniel, the editor at The Film Experience, has raved about this show, and anyone I’ve spoken to who kept watching insisted that it was absolutely wonderful. Because it earned bids for star Paul Mescal and for directing and writing, I decided that it was worth checking it out, even a few months after I missed my first chance. I have to say that it is truly captivating, and part of that has to do with the very strong music choices used. But it also may well be the most immediately immersive and intimate thing I’ve seen in a while, wisely choosing to spend most of this episode getting to know its two protagonists as they get to know each other. The sex scenes are both passionate and reserved at the same time, and there’s a real sense that everything we’re seeing is completely necessary rather than gratuitous. The way that Connell and Marianne talk to each other is mesmerizing, and that of course stands deeply apart from the way that they (don’t) interact when they’re around anyone else. They’re so incredibly honest with each other, and I’m definitely on board to see how this romance is going to play out over the course of the next month or so before Mescal competes for his chance to win an Emmy.

Emmy Catch-Up: The Mandalorian

Every year, I watch the six submitted episodes of every series I don’t regularly watch that’s up for one of the Emmy series prizes. This year, I’m watching the entire season of every series nominated in the top category.

The Mandalorian: Season 1, Episode 2 “Chapter 2: The Child” (B)

Now here’s a show where I know I’m in the minority since it was extremely popular upon release last November. I’m a big “Star Wars” fan, even if I only liked “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” out of the most recent spate of films. This show earned a somewhat unexpected Best Drama Series Emmy bid to go along with its impressive performance in the technical categories, and so now I’m going to go back to try to find out why everyone loves it so much. I understand that Baby Yoda is meant to be very cute and impressive, and he certainly held his own in this episode as he used the Force to stop that giant creature in its tracks so that the Mandalorian could kill it and cut out the egg to trade with the Jawas. But it does seem more than a bit precarious to bring him along through the desert as the bounty hunter continues to encounter enemies bent on killing him, especially after the blows he did suffer that could have incapacitated him and left Baby Yoda defenseless following an exhausting exertion of the Force. This show definitely wants to feel like “Star Wars,” with its frequent transition wipes and its adventurous spirit, but I’m still not seeing its greater purpose. Unlike so many traders portrayed in this universe, Kuiil really is one of the good guys, determined to keep his word and eager to help the Mandalorian even when it definitely doesn’t benefit him to vouch for someone who is no friend of the Jawa.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Emmy Catch-Up: What We Do in the Shadows

Every year, I watch the six submitted episodes of every series I don’t regularly watch that’s up for one of the Emmy series prizes. This year, I’m watching the entire season of every series nominated in the top category.

What We Do in the Shadows: Season 2, Episode 1 “Resurrection” (B)

The announcement of this show as a Best Comedy Series nominee was definitely one of the most surprising moments of the Emmy nominations broadcast, and it also came near the very end, especially since it’s alphabetically last, and was the only announced bid for the show (it also earned technical bids and three writing citations). I enjoyed the pilot of this show just fine even if I think that we don’t need more mockumentaries in the world, and now I’m going to watch the ten episodes of season two to try to understand what everyone loves so much about it. This opening installment was entertaining enough, and having them check back in with the camera crew about what happened during the time off seemed to be like a fairly sufficient recap to get me situated with the events and characters. I immediately recognized actor Haley Joel Osment, best known for being the kid who could see dead people in “The Sixth Sense” and a recent recurring player on “Silicon Valley” and “The Kominsky Method,” as Topher, the familiar who, unlike Guillermo, didn’t put any effort into what he was doing and, also unlike Guillermo, got plenty of credit for being great. From his quick demise to his unfortunate reanimation, I most enjoyed his constant eagerness to have Guillermo high-five him, even when he was literally holding his severed arm in his hand. I didn’t feel the same affinity for Wallace, played by Benedict Wong from “The Martian” and “Doctor Strange,” whose obviously imperfect spell-casting was a bit much. I didn’t expect the ending with his zombie keychain factory, but I guess this show is capable of surprises. This season might be fun.

What I’m Watching: Little Voice

Little Voice: Season 1, Episode 7 “Ghost Light” (B)

Sometimes it feels like Bess is the least sympathetic character on this show, trying to figure out who she is but also failing to put the necessary effort in when she doesn’t get exactly what she wants. She’s had a lot piled on her lately, and she tore her entire apartment up looking frantically for the songbook we saw her leave on the subway, so perhaps she’s earned a bit of a pass. Going from audition to audition was exhausting enough on its own, and for Bess to be told alternately that her voice was great but in need of a real songwriter or that her songs were great but in need of a real singer was pretty crippling. That Jeremy’s guy complimented both but told her he wouldn’t be able to offer her anything was a real blow, and good for her for finally realizing that he’s not a nice person and calling him on it. Samuel was a solid support system, which proved especially important when she was horrified to find her father sleeping on the street and not willing to come home with her. Elaine, played by Becky Ann Baker from “Girls” and “Hunters,” made an interesting point when she noted that Bess wasn’t letting Louie fight any of his own battles because she always picked up the phone, though that didn’t make it any easier to see him get crushed again and again while trying to start his vlog. Prisha’s big bagel brunch was certainly a celebration of something she didn’t want, and the way things are moving make it seem like this is going to become permanent and irreversible pretty soon.

Pilot Review: Hitmen

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

What I’m Watching: Doom Patrol (Season Finale)

Doom Patrol: Season 2, Episode 9 “Wax Patrol” (B+)

I was right that the end of the world was going to coincide with Clara’s wedding, and it’s a good thing that he just left a voicemail at the diner instead of actually having to hear the disappointment in her voice that he wasn’t going to make it. I will say, this was a pretty bleak ending, and it’s tough not knowing whether this show will be back for a third season, especially since it took a few months for season two to be commissioned after the first finished airing. Flashing back to Miranda as the primary in 1969 Wisconsin meeting a seemingly kind musician was informative for how her being in the driver’s seat was, and the reaction from the rest of the personalities was very bad when she showed up in the underground after the wild swingers’ party triggered some traumatic memories. Jane taking over at that point made sense, and it’s not entirely clear if it was the candlemaker who was posing as Miranda or something more internally sister. It was brilliant that all of the other characters had to face their own imaginary friends, who they managed to bond with after some time until the candlemaker showed up to terrorize and then freeze them. Rita’s was a freaky giant paper collage with her mother’s eyes, and she did a good job standing up to something that is the physical embodiment of her worst fears. Vic’s Doctor Cowboy was well aware of his purpose as the yes men, enthusiastically approving life choices he knew were terrible but that he was supposed to unconditionally affirm. Cliff’s angry, swearing Jesus may have been the best one, and I liked Cliff’s question about if he had an exemption to take his own name in vain. I would be very sad if this is the last we saw of this show – it’s been another wild and fascinating ride this season.

Season grade: B+
Season MVPs: Brendan Fraser as Cliff and Matt Bomer as Larry

Pilot Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Pilot Review: Coroner

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Netflix Catch-Up: Orange is the New Black (Season Premiere)

Orange is the New Black: Season 7, Episode 1 “Beginning of the End” (B)

I’m very late to the party streaming the final season of this show, and I actually watched this episode and wrote this review months ago. Things got busy and I didn’t get past this episode, so now that Laverne Cox has been nominated for another Emmy, I feel like it’s time to catch up and finish a show I’ve always liked. Unlike many, I thought that the riot season was very strong, just as good as the four years that preceded it, while the denouement that was season six didn’t impress me much. I don’t know why this premiere chose to kill off Daddy rather than Badison, since I think most viewers would have been much happier to have the far more palatable new addition from last season still around. I suppose this will create the most conflict, since Alex is now in a position of power she doesn’t want that will almost certainly get her into trouble, and Dayanara has lost the security she’s had for a bit. I’m not sure how I feel about the new device where each of the inmates (and Piper) narrate and seemingly think out loud, and we got some random thoughts from a handful of the inmates at the end of the episode too. Piper’s life on the outside is far from glamorous, though her attitude has never succeeded much in gaining her sympathy. I like how the relationship between Gloria and Red continues to build as they spend time in solitary confinement, and I’m not sure what to make of Aleida’s affair as she does a poor job hiding her lack of interest in Hopper. It should be an interesting final hurrah if nothing else!

What I’m Watching: Stargirl

Stargirl: Season 1, Episode 12 “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. - Part One” (B)

I thought that there couldn’t be too much ground left to cover on this show now that the bad guys all know the secret identities of their enemies and have decided to take them out. I underestimated the tendency for comic book villains to gain delight out of their conquests and kills, and that proved to be the undoing for Sportsmaster and Tigress, who wanted to be artful in their approach to getting rid of Courtney’s entire family and failed as a result. They knew Courtney and Pat had some abilities and fighting experience, but it was Barbara and Mike who ended up surprising them and gaining the upper hand. It’s good to know that there’s a safehouse where they can all be together and regroup, even if they’re not exactly subtle, what with Justin showing up with snacks and Pat having his giant suit fly in by itself. Sportsmaster and Tigress might have gotten carried away and killed one of their own – the Fiddler – when she criticized their parenting skills, but the bad guys appear to still be out front and looking ready to wreak havoc on the world. Beth did seem startled by the humanitarian aims of their manifesto, but the idea that twenty-five million people would die because they couldn’t accept the brainwashing made it clear that this was indeed an evil plan. Trapping Barbara in a trance was disconcerting, but being able to control Pat and the suit was much more worrisome. This is an uphill battle our youthful team has ahead of them, which should make for an intense finale.

What I’m Watching: Perry Mason

Perry Mason: Season 1, Episode 7 “Chapter Seven” (B+)

This episode was full of sensational events, and I’ll admit that I googled around for a recap to make sure that I fully understood all of the revelations. Opening with the flashback to Birdy agreeing to “give” Alice to a man in exchange for a ride helped to explain more of their dynamic, and that made the final scene in which Birdy tried to give Alice credit for a resurrection that she was devastated she hadn’t been able to make happen feel much more impactful. Alice recognized the tall order she was putting on herself, doing something that hadn’t been done in nearly two millennia, and Emily’s blind faith in her was deeply troubling. It didn’t help Perry at all, who had to close the bible she was reading in court so that she wouldn’t be automatically convicted. He shook off the egg that was literally thrown on him to wow in court with the stunt of having all the financial records brought in, something that Maynard did not expect, but his failure at the brothel was just as palpable, and considerably more painful. Lupe buying his house was another blow, and he even managed to alienate Pete following his unsuccessful tailing of Sidel. Smoke bombs being thrown in court didn’t even account for the wildest and most intense part of the hour, which was definitely Della having to drive through an angry mob at the cemetery after the coffin was opened with no body inside. While the mystery of what happened to Charlie Dodson will likely be resolved in the finale, I’m glad to know that this show will be back for a second season since its characters and storyline have plenty more to be explored.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

What I’m Watching: The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone: Season 2, Episode 9 “Try, Try” (B+)

Time loops are common in movies and television, and in fact a movie about the subject, “Palm Springs,” premiered on Hulu just two weeks after this episode first debuted. There are many things I liked about this episode, and the first was that it wasn’t inherently clear from the start that this was about a time loop. Instead, Topher Grace, an actor who started his career on “That 70s Show” and has transitioned to more serious projects like “BlacKkKlansman” recently, played someone who had a clear connection with a woman portrayed by Kylie Bunbury from “Pitch” and “Brave New World.” We knew she was an intellectual and a scientist, and how he knew so much about her and had so much in common was a mystery. Predicting what was going to happen next was a neat trick at first, but obviously that wasn’t enough for Marc, whose extensive time loop experience had convinced him that he and Claudia were soulmates. Her response – that she couldn’t match his feelings since this day was new for her – was absolutely correct, and it produced a terrifying response from Marc, who was also correct that he could do whatever he wanted because the day was just going to start again from him. The resolution was far from reassuring, since he’ll remember exactly what happened and likely hold it against Claudia even though she won’t have done it yet on that new day. I imagine I’ll be thinking about the implications of what was presented in this episode for a while, and it’s nice to know that even something as frequently done as a time loop can offer new food for thought.