Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 3 “Breaker of Chains” (B+)

In the wake of the shocking final scene of last week’s episode, this show is really ramping up the action and getting set for a packed season of movements, conquests, surrenders, and more. This episode shared the wealth more than it has recently, focusing on nearly every plotline that the show has with an uninterrupted extended scene for each of them. It’s quite a feat to make Cersei seem sympathetic, but having her father tell her younger son how Joffrey was neither a wise nor a good king mere feet from his dead body is hardly sensitive. And then Jaime, who’s been more of a good guy lately, forced himself on her, again right next to her dead son’s body. Margaery is rightfully pitying herself for the unfortunate results of her marriages, and I hope that she’ll be enabled to remain involved in some capacity. The return of Petyr Baelish was a triumphant one, as he revealed his complicity in Joffrey’s murder and saved Sansa before promptly murdering the man he hired to do it. It’s good to see Davos thinking creatively to get back within his king’s good graces, while Jon and his men will hopefully do their best to hold off the brutal invasion of the Wildlings. We saw a cruder side of the Hound than we’ve seen before in this hour, as he disappointed Arya by being dishonest and treacherous, but at least they’re continuing to move to some hopeful eventual reunion with other Starks. Once again, Daenerys delivered a bold and mesmerizing performance, and ending the episode with a slave picking up chains and looking back at his master was immensely powerful.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 18 “All Tapped Out” (B+)

It’s good to see something come of this NSA storyline that’s been proceeding along peripherally for a while. There were two familiar TV faces playing low-level NSA analysts, Zach Woods from “The Office” and “Silicon Valley” as Jeff, who accidentally took home the flash drive with confidential material on it, and Michael Urie from “Ugly Betty” and “Partners” as Stephen, who picked up on the fact that Cary mentioned the NSA in the background of one of Clarke’s calls. Jeff’s unintentional disclosure of the tapping of Alicia’s phone led to a surprisingly productive spiral, which resulted in Peter stepping in to take charge and force an uncooperative political partner to intervene to stop the taps so that he wouldn’t implicate himself. I’m glad to see Alicia snap back into reality since the sight of her sitting in her bed and fumbling Finn’s case wasn’t terribly pretty to watch. Speaking of Finn, I noticed during the opening credits that actor Matthew Goode is now a series regular. I wonder what he’ll have to offer going forward, but this show always finds opportunities for its characters. It certainly didn’t take long for Louis Canning to join and become integrated with Lockhart Gardner, and though he’s had an icy reception so far from Kalinda and Diane, he might actually be good for the firm. I don’t know how long he’s going to stick around, but, for the moment, I think he’ll be a positive asset for the show who can help keep it on track for its remaining few episodes of the season.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black (Season Premiere)

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 1 “Nature Under Restraint and Vexed” (B+)

It’s fair to say that I was overly excited for this debut installment. I eagerly pointed out the advertisement that adorned a bus stop along my walk to work every day for the past month or so, and I told everyone I saw that they should be watching this show. While this wasn’t one of the show’s very best installments, it was still an intense, productive hour that set up a number of intriguing dynamics for the rest of the season. Sarah being confronted in the bar by the two men was a chilling and ferocious start, made all the more impactful by the revelation at the end of the episode that the emotionless Mark is actually working for Helena and not for Rachel. I love that Helena was cued back in by her creepy music, and her still being alive confirms her Prolethean theory that neither of them can die. It’s so interesting to me that the clones are now fully aware of their situations (exempting Donnie’s role, of course) that Allison could react so matter-of-factly to Daniel’s attempted abduction of her that occurred as Sarah posed as Cosima (the layers of clone duplicity on this show are incredible). Delphine and Paul are both looking out for the people they’re supposed to be monitoring, while Dr. Leekie really isn’t all that bad compared to Kira. And then there’s Art, who’s coming at all this from a different angle, and Felix, who was high and about have a five-way before he got tapped to help Sarah get her daughter back. This is going to be a wild and eventful season, and I can’t wait.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 10 “Chapter 23” (B+)

Things are getting serious on this show, and the final three episodes of this season are sure to be turbulent at best. Frank and Claire didn’t seem too shaken up by the idea of a bomb being planted on their doorstep, though Claire was clearly devastated that it was meant for her because of her very public stance on abuse in the military. Jackie is taking extreme steps to show that she won’t fall in line, first disappointing Claire and then incurring Frank’s wrath, which is never a good thing. Her actions also prompted Frank to reveal Remy’s ulterior motives, which are sure to negatively impact their already dark and secretive romance. Walker was understandably angry at Frank for keeping him in the dark when everything about Tusk came to light, but Frank seems to have talked his way out of another disagreement quite smoothly. Doug’s treatment of Seth is rather demeaning, and Frank’s loss of confidence in his former go-to number two is going to impact Doug’s self-esteem greatly, which might make him more dependent on Rachel rather than the other way around. I’m relieved to see that the current reporting on Tusk is being handled in a much smarter and better-supported fashion than any of Zoe and Lucas’ previous coverage was. Frank and Claire’s relationship is endlessly fascinating, as Frank cheerfully told Claire about Meechum walking in on him watching porn and subsequently asked Claire if she missed being with Adam. Most intriguingly, Gavin returned at the end of the episode in hot cyber-pursuit of Doug, which makes me and many other viewers, I’m sure, very curious about what happens next.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What I’m Watching: Parenthood (Season Finale)

Parenthood: Season 5, Episode 22 “The Pontiac” (B+)

This show always seems to end earlier than all of the rest, but it's been a productive and impactful season. This episode was all about the change taking effect that has been brewing all season. Amber being by Ryan's bedside recalled a lot of their earlier times together, but that all changed when Ryan's monster mom, in the form of the always fabulous Annabeth Gish, arrived to make Amber feel like she was completely worthless. We'll see if that subtly-purchased pregnancy test near the end of the episode will mean anything major for the returning Wyoming resident. Natalie telling Drew she loved him as she boarded the bus to Portland started off what could have been a miserable summer for him, but he managed to help and complain his way to a wonderful prize from his grandfather: a car to drive up to see his girlfriend. Another benefactor of the hard work put into Zeek’s car was Victor, who finally scored a win in the school arena. The family’s day together really was great, and it was sweet that Joel stayed late to tuck Sydney in and simulate what their old life was like when he and Julia were together. Hank staying to be there for Sarah and Amber paid off with a tremendously awesome kiss and Hank’s palpable excitement about his genuine kindness having paid off. Haddie coming home with a girlfriend was big news, and despite some awkward moments, it’s clear that her parents are entirely supportive, and it will be all about who she’s dating and not what gender she is going forward. Adam and Crosby sledding down the stairs as they helped with the move was fun, one last hurrah before a truly big change that will affect things in a major way if the show returns next season. It’s been a great year, and while this would be a fine final episode, I do think the show deserves a sixth season and possibly more after that.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Erika Christensen as Julia

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 6, Episode 20 “One in 8,000” (B+)

This show is all about throwing curveballs, and this episode amplified the news of Leslie’s pregnancy to make it a far more substantial undertaking involving not one but three babies. What was most fun about it was the fact that, for once, Leslie got to be the calm, collected one who just stood there sweetly smiling while Ben freaked out and worried about how triplets would cost them $2 million. It was especially nice to see how all of their friends, Craig excepted, reacted to their announcement. My favorite offer came from April, who said that she and Andy were free to babysit anytime only during work hours. It was quite an accomplishment for Andy not to spill the beans about Leslie and Ben’s secret to April, and I enjoyed hearing the many lies he invented. April being nice to Larry was a blast as well. Donna and Ron hanging out was a treat, and I liked that Joe turned out to be a truly great guy, something which Donna wasn’t happy about it since he made her less interesting. Donna paying Ron the compliment of noting that his being a father made him grow as a person was great, and it’s fantastic to see them bonding. There was no sign of Tom in this episode, which was weird, but we did get to see the eternally odd Dr. Saperstein again, as well as Jamm, the guy with the handlebar mustache, and Ann’s boring doctor boss who told Ben that he had weak hands.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pilot Review: Fargo

Fargo (FX)
Premiered April 15 at 10pm

Watching a remake of a beloved classic can be a bittersweet thing. It’s hard to find a film as simultaneously chilling and hilarious as 1996 Best Picture nominee “Fargo,” which features an Oscar-winning performance from Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police detective who sounds kind of funny on account of her Midwest accent. FX’s announcement that it would be producing a ten-episode limited series was obvious cause for both celebration and concern, and I was intrigued to find the exact same poster art used for the TV show as was used for the film almost twenty years ago when I received a press kit in the mail from FX a few weeks ago. The pilot starts out the same way the film does – insisting that its events occurred, and that the names have been changed at the request of the survivors, but everything else has been left exactly as it happened out of respect for the dead. What’s marvelous about the pilot is that it does contain some of the same elements, but in a wholly different context. There is an eccentric pregnant woman, and a car salesman, and a man who couldn’t be less attracted to his wife. But this story is something else, a fresh tale that feels like it belongs in the same universe as “Fargo.” More than anything, this pilot feels purely plot-driven, unencumbered by the traditional format of a television show to keep its characters alive week-to-week, instead content to tell what is so far a gripping story, whatever the collateral damage may be. I was particularly impressed by the performances of stars Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton. Freeman, who is usually all about awkward comedy, does a dead-on William H. Macy impression as a polite everyman despised by everyone and finally encouraged to stand up for himself. Thornton is formidable as a mystery man who seems intent on creating chaos everywhere he goes, egging those he meets on to make bad choices. Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, and Colin Hanks all appear in what are likely to become more substantial supporting roles. This show just has a certain quality about it that makes it very appealing, and I can’t wait to see what happens in episode two.

How will it work as a series? Ten episodes seem like a lot in theory considering how much happened in just this episode, but I have faith that this limited series has been well plotted-out to remain extremely interesting throughout its run. I’m very ready to see where it goes.
How long will it last? This show is billed as a limited series, so it’s very possible that it will conclude after just ten episodes regardless of how well it does. The reviews have been strong and the ratings were solid too, so I have a feeling that FX may want to consider expanding this into a more long-term project.

Pilot grade: A-

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 3, Episode 20 “Death Benefit” (B+)

This show officially entered uncharted territory in this hour, and it’s a very big deal. I’m amazed that this show has been constantly reinventing itself over the course of the past three years, and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Who would have thought that Root would be pulling Shaw out to help her save one number while Finch directed Reese to another, and that they would be handling both relevant and irrelevant numbers? More importantly, of course, what happened in this episode suggested something completely game-changing: that the Machine wanted our friends the good guys to kill one of the numbers. It wasn’t initially clear who John Heard’s Senator McCourt was being hunted by, but it did seem that he was an imminent threat to national security, something he confirmed by calling Garrison and promising to help Samaritan come online. This new system is awfully reminiscent of the targeted anti-insurgency capability from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and its first unfortunate target appears to be Finch, though something tells me he’ll manage to survive. The fact that Reese and Shaw opted not to kill McCourt demonstrates that there’s a line they both won’t cross anymore, while he is sure to be a problem that the world would be better off without. With so many competing organizations trying to launch and prevent the launch of Samaritan, it’s hard to know if McCourt really is the most powerful threat out there right now or if he’s simply going to end up becoming irrelevant.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 3, Episode 21 “Big News” (C+)

As much as it was a concern for these two fictitious characters to eventually break up since they were roommates already, it’s equally problematic for the show that surrounds them to deal with such an event. It was weeks ago that the episode aired which featured the fight which caused such catastrophe, and whose result had to be confirmed by a few clear notes written by Nick on his own hand. Having them try to pretend to be okay with things while each of their friends secretly found out wasn’t all that entertaining, and I don’t know where things go from here. I enjoyed the fact that Nick’s confusion of “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost” and his incorrect terms like “shell beavers” were revealed as part of their fighting, but I don’t see it going anywhere worthwhile. Nick comforting Jess as a roommate is awkward, and it’s just not sustainable. Winston getting into the police academy was an unusually forward-moving development for his character, and his brief reign on the throne during his honey roast was a rare moment of full-on glee for him. Cece attempting to do something intellectual with her life is interesting, and I like that Schmidt wants to tutor her and help her achieve something there, even if he claims that his interest is purely educational. As season three finishes over the next few weeks, I’d love to see some strong sign of what’s ahead for season four and the ways in which this show can once again be a hilarious, must-see comedy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 1, Episode 18 “Providence” (C+)

It’s going to be hard for me to find this show compelling for the foreseeable future, mainly because I still don’t buy the fact that Ward has been a traitor all along. It’s also extremely disappointing to have continued confirmation that Garrett was in fact the Clairvoyant, and that he had no powers but simply used his status as a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to convince others that he was all-knowing. I’m never pleased when shows pull game-changing twists that redefine characters completely and the characters respond by changing entirely in unbelievable ways. Garrett does seem like a self-obsessed king, while Ward seems a little too eager and suave. I’m still concerned that, despite the fact that we saw him kill a number of people in this episode, he’s not going to turn out to actually be a bad guy, which would be hard to explain. I do wonder if the creators of this show knew the direction in which S.H.I.E.L.D. would be headed as dictated by the Marvel movie universe when they started, and I would hope that it’s all part of a grander plan. The notion of the group arriving to a secret base in Canada with Ward continuing to act as a sleeper agent among them is somewhat intriguing, and I hope that it will play out productively. I was delighted to see the always excellent Patton Oswalt as the sole staffer of the secret base, completely casual and chatting Coulson up about lanyards, parking spaces, and Call of Duty while far more serious things are going on outside in the real world.

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 2, Episode 13 “The Reaping” (F)

It’s abundantly clear that both Ryan and Joe are operating so much on their own that anyone else is hopeless to be able to control events given the shared obsession they have with each other. It’s funny, of course, that Joe insists on keeping Ryan alive while Ryan would love nothing more than to kill Joe so that he would no longer be able to plague his life and the world. What’s less funny is that their actions are so thoughtless and stupid that they’re hindering their own progress. I’m not sure what Ryan hoped to accomplish by shooting during the human sacrifice session at Korban, and Emma’s assumption that the FBI was right behind him would make sense if anything he did was logical. Similarly, there was an unintended hilarity to Emma’s whining about Joe refusing to kill Ryan and stalling as long as possible so that they could narrowly escape. Lily’s attack on the compound was rather deadly, though it worked out worst for her since, no matter what, everyone on this show who isn’t Joe or Ryan dies. Mike shooting her was predictable but so far from advisable, and all it really did was give Ryan another chance to unsuccessfully try to talk someone down from doing something regrettable. Joe’s busy being chased out of his own compound by the law and the rival cult, but I’m sure he’ll find time to take Claire’s message too much to heart, something that only she would know but which she easily could have relayed to someone else before she allegedly died. I’m not sure where Tom Cavanagh’s preacher will fall in all this now that Joe has moved again, but I’m sure Joe will use the fact that he manipulated his son into committing murder in the most destructive way possible.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 2 “The Choice” (B+)

I like that this new format of Selina running for President involves her closely personally watching and criticizing the actions and positions of her two main opponents – and the man currently occupying the seat she soon hopes to get – and professionally stumbling to try to do and say the right thing to be as likeable as possible. Bringing Mike back in during his honeymoon wasn’t exactly kind or thoughtful, but it did provide the opportunity for some tremendous comedy, as Mike was hopeless to be able to tell Selina what organization she was speaking with and whether they were pro-choice or pro-life, with Amy whispering the opposite answer at the same time. It’s clear that, in the midst of all this, Dan is going nuts, to the point that he started swearing and yelling at Selina, which got him promptly fired, something that likely won’t be taken seriously or hold, but which still means that he’s on thin ice. He used that anger and took it out on Jonah, who really has become even more ridiculous and who felt so threatened by being force-fed a burrito that he actually enjoyed that he decided not to offer any sort of position on what Selina had said and done, effectively killing whatever chances he had at becoming a celebrity White House tabloid journalist. Kent’s fascination with Sue is a bit odd, but not necessarily bad, and it’s a shame to see that Gary’s career ambitions won’t work out for him given that Selina permanently thinks of him as suited for the job he has now.

Round Two: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Cap Table” (B)

I’m still not enthralled by this show, but I definitely think that this second episode showed more promise and delivered on its concept. That initial meeting with Peter Gregory in which he completely took apart Richard’s lack of business preparation was terrific, and it provides a true snapshot of just how over his head he is. Erlich being present was a superb distraction, and his obsession with getting credit for being the owner of the incubator home greatly overpowers any actual positive contribution he might otherwise be able to make. I’m glad that Zach Woods’ Jared jumped ship and came to help work with Richard to beef up his strategy. He’s a truly non-threatening entity, one so polite that he wouldn’t even use the bathroom without asking permission, though obviously Richard’s roommates, particularly Erlich, don’t view him that way. Richard and Jared interviewing each of the members of the incubator was a smart device that helped to introduce each of them more fully, as Dinesh and Gilfoyle badmouthed each other and emphasized Big Head’s worthlessness, while he didn’t do a particularly good job selling himself. I think that both Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr were perfectly cast, as was Woods, and I’m glad to see that they found such fitting roles. Ultimately, of course, it was Big Head who proved himself most loyal, calling Richard to tell him that his algorithm is being repurposed completely just as he realized that the $200,000 check he was trying to cash might not actually be as valid as he had thought.

What I’m Watching: Mad Men (Season Premiere)

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 1 “Time Zones” (B-)

It’s hard to find a show that feels just like this one does, and it seems like it comes around ever so rarely. The last two seasons started with a bang with an emphatic two-hour premiere that set up a truly intriguing season, and the first of what will be two slates of seven episodes of the final season doesn’t quite do that. What it does set up is a different kind of show, one that slows down its filming speed to showcase Megan and her long legs walking towards Don in California and adds excessive music in to highlight other scenes. It doesn’t feel as natural anymore, and its artfulness has taken over to an overbearing degree. There’s certainly something intriguing about this bicoastal Don who comes to California far from jealous to see his wife’s acting successes and shower her with expensive gifts (not that she doesn’t own enough already) and can’t stop working from home back in New York as he feeds his old firm his ideas through Freddy. It’s both interesting and miserable to see how far Peggy and Joan have come only to have such obstacles still thrown in their way. Lou reminds a lot of a duller version of Mr. Rogers, hardly worthy of being Don’s successor. Roger is completely out of it, living a lifestyle seemingly inspired by his LSD trip a few seasons ago, while Pete has fully embraced the hipster L.A. lifestyle. I was of the opinion that this show didn’t need much changing, and I hope that this final two-part stretch returns to the creativity of past seasons without feeling so glaringly different.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication (Season Premiere)

Californication: Season 7, Episode 1 “Levon” (B-)

I’ll admit that in the almost full year since this show last aired, I had completely forgotten about it. When Showtime’s depraved comedy block premiered back in January, this show was conspicuously absent, replaced by “Episodes” with its final season delayed until the spring cycle. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six years and that we’re entering the seventh season. Not much has been accomplished in all that time other than Hank alienating every person he could potentially work with, which proves particularly problematic after season six guest star Atticus Fetch fires him via Charlie offscreen and he needs to start looking for new work. As Hank romances Karen for the umpteenth time and she smiles along, not quite upset by the fact that he’s still obsessed with her, it looks like this season will have two other primary focuses. The first involves Michael Imperioli’s Rick Rath, who has heard plenty about him yet still seems to have a soft spot for his future collaborator. The second and far more impactful new character is Oliver Cooper’s Levon, who, not too surprisingly, is Hank’s son. Becca has always known what her father is, but here is the chance for someone to come to know his father only through what he wrote and did and what others thought about him, which presents an entirely new challenge. Hopefully his presence will end up being productive and worthwhile, and this season will feature more than just Charlie crying because he can’t compete with Stu in the department of lovemaking with Marcy.