Thursday, August 25, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Night Of (Penultimate Episode)

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 7 “Ordinary Death” (B+)

I think this was the best episode this show has produced yet, and it’s about time given that the season finale, and likely the final installment of the show, airs next week. What proved most interesting was seeing the trial in action. At first, it didn’t appear that Chandra was up to the task of cross-examining the witnesses, and it looked like things wouldn’t go her way at all. Then she managed to do a terrific job of utilizing her witness to show that there definitely are questions, and even Helen couldn’t turn it around well enough to make it seem like he wasn’t credible. I think he played well with the jury, and following that up with Chandra’s questioning of Detective Box was exactly what the defense needed to give Naz a fighting chance. Safar walking out of the courtroom while the really graphic stuff was being presented was not a helpful development, and Salim learning that he’s going to have to sell his medallion for a fraction of what it’s worth was yet another miserable ripple effect of Salim’s arrest. Stone’s investigation into Don seemed to be going well until the cougar-catching personal trainer let him know that he was on to him in a very threatening manner. Naz has hung in there in jail so far, unlike a friend of his, and he may just be able to get a happy ending considering the circumstances if the jury finds in his favor, which I wouldn’t say is too realistic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 9 “Goodbye Beautiful” (B+)

You know Ray is a changed man when his two henchmen have to convince him that his fist instinct should be to kill everyone and make sure that he and his family are safe. Ivan’s body being discovered wasn’t good for anyone, and Sonia bringing her daughter to Ray’s house so that he could secure new identities for them and safe passage out of the country was quite the about-face, and Abby greeting them at the door was horrendously awkward. Lena executed her job with precision but unfortunately Avi didn’t do so well, getting himself into serious trouble and is now in the hands of Sonia’s uncle, whose request to see his niece may be difficult given that she just took off in the plane Ray arranged for her. Raymond J. Barry is definitely not Russian but is a strong choice to play the new villain on this show, having honed his vicious family member skills on “Justified” as Raylan’s father. Mickey’s job didn’t go so great either, resulting in the tragic death of his beloved Silvie, who really shouldn’t have gotten killed but whose death made Bill a whole lot less brave. It was the most melancholy moment we’ve seen in a while for Mickey, and great Emmy bait for another nomination next year. It’s good to see Teresa back, and also nice to see Terry making a move and entering the dating pool again after Marisol nearly burned down the gym. That family is really nothing but trouble.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 8 “Stuff to Steal, People to Kill” (B+)

If there’s one thing I love more than time travel, it’s alternate universes. I was pretty sure as soon as we learned that there was a war going on that the Raza had accidentally jumped into the future, but of course that didn’t make total sense because they would have had to return to their time to go around shooting up other ships. Instead, they jumped into another universe, which was dryly explained by the Android, and encountered some other versions of themselves, notably missing Five and only seeing Six in a video before he got his head blown off by a far less forgiving Portia Lin. I like that the crew was just different enough, with a few familiar faces including Jace Corso. Marc Bendavid is no longer a series regular, but he’s sure up for stopping by every once in a while. Letting the crew of this other Raza go was a sign that our crew has turned into good people and that they’re not going to stop to anyone else’s level despite the positive effects getting rid of that murderous scum would have on this universe that they left behind. Four getting to play Emperor was cool, and I liked the fact that One decided to use the other Android to help take back the ship after their Android got taken offline. I would have thought that the modifications the Android used could have enabled her to pretend to shut down and then come back with a vengeance, but I guess for now we need to depend upon the fully human members of the crew to be conscious to save the day. The other slightly non-human member of the crew isn’t looking too good either, and her status as leader of the crew is going to be severely compromised when they find her out of commission in her bunk.

Pilot Review: The Tick

The Tick (Amazon)
Premiered August 19

In a way, this is the strangest of Amazon’s new slate of pilots, but that’s hardly a fair statement given that one is a comedy starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the other is called “I Love Dick.” This ranks as just the latest reboot of a popular series that was cancelled too soon, one that I never watched since it aired right before I really got into TV in the way I am now. To think that it debuted the same season as “24” is strange, and how this one got brought back before “Firefly” or “Jericho” is a mystery to me. I’m all for comedic interpretations about superheroes, but I’m not sure exactly what this merits being revisited by a juggernaut like Amazon. It’s most odd to me that there are two protagonists, the Tick and Arthur, and there’s a hero and a villain to boot along with it, which just feels crowded. I knew I recognized Peter Serafinowicz’s voice from his stint as Andy’s British pal on “Parks and Recreation,” though I didn’t know that his first screen credit was voicing Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace.” I totally didn’t recognize Valorie Curry from “House of Lies” and “The Following” as Arthur’s sister Dot and I couldn’t place Yara Martinez from “Jane the Virgin” as the villain we saw at the end of the pilot. What we’ve seen so far of this show is too unfocused and all over the place for my tastes, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t watch it and try to get into it if it got picked up.

How would it work as a series? The original show in 2001 ran for nine episodes, following a successful three-season animated version back in 1996. There seems to be a vast universe of heroes and villains for the show to use as fodder for its storylines, so coming up with material for episodes shouldn’t be a problem at all if the show can work on getting focused.
Will it live on to be a series? Probably. Given the bizarre enthusiasm for the original series, I think this show can straddle its odd comedy nature and the more dramatic tendency of Amazon’s programming to create a workable hybrid that can do well for Amazon. It’s not a sure thing, but I’d bet on it.

Pilot grade: C+

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pilot Review: I Love Dick

I Love Dick (Amazon)
Premiered August 19

The second of Amazon’s offerings for its latest pilot season is definitely its most notable one because it comes from the creator of the network’s most highly-acclaimed series to date, “Transparent,” which is soon going to premiere its third season and has already been renewed for a fourth. While that show was a resounding hit from the start, I’m not nearly as impressed by this one. Part of the problem is that it’s not entirely clear what’s going on, with two intellectual New Yorkers struggling to adjust to life in rural Texas with one poorly-named professor at the center of their thoughts. To me, that doesn’t have the same appeal as someone who has spent his entire life as a man coming out as transgender to his adult children. What I do like is seeing Kathryn Hahn back with director Jill Soloway after their teamwork on Sundance hit “Afternoon Delight.” I’m a big fan of Hahn’s from a number of projects, including her recurring role on “Parks and Recreation” and her recent stint on Showtime’s short-lived “Happyish.” This does seem like a better part, and she’s cast opposite Griffin Dunne, a background player in the likes of “House of Lies,” who seems more than well-equipped to portray a self-obsessed husband with little interest in his wife. And then there’s Kevin Bacon, who is doing something much, much better with his time than “The Following” and playing a man capable of entrancing Hahn’s Chris and shattering her whole worldview with one conversation. I’d be up for seeing more but wouldn’t be too devastated if this show didn’t get picked up.

How would it work as a series? Chris seems to have found unique inspiration following her dinner with Dick, and the obsession she has with him is only going to build. There’s more going on with their neighbor and of course the subplots of her unfortunately-scored film and Sylvere’s professional relationship with Dick. It has the potential to be weird and spirited, certainly, and I imagine could get really interesting.
Will it live on to be a series? I imagine so. It’s based on a popular book and comes from Soloway, who has made herself a valuable commodity with Amazon. I think its title could just as easily appeal as it could detract, and while this pilot isn’t a knockout like “Transparent” was, this seems like the best bet of the three to earn a pickup.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Jean-Claude Van Johnson (Amazon)
Premiered August 19

It’s that time again - Amazon pilot season! This cycle, it’s just three half-hour comedies, the first of which I watched was this predictably disappointing attempt to revive or revisit - not sure which - the career of one of the most popular action film stars in recent film history. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any of his movies, which is part of the reason that I totally forgot until I sat down to write this review that he’s already had a chance to reflect back on his career in the relatively well-received “JCVD” film in which he played himself back in 2008. I don’t know who thought this show would be a good idea, and it’s always strange to me to see relatively unsophisticated humor like an old man unable to do splits coupled with foul language throughout, though this show doesn’t feel like it really tries to go for unfiltered in either arena. Jean-Claude Van Damme is not known for his acting abilities, and therefore casting him in a comedy designed to poke fun at himself is only going to be so effective. Far more productive choices are Kat Foster from “Weeds” and Phylicia Rashad of “The Cosby Show,” who have more experience in this genre and are fully equipped for the challenge. The action on this show isn’t good enough to merit its existence, and it’s not too funny either. I will admit that I chuckled at the notion of an action-style P.F. Chang’s origin story with Jackie Chan playing General Tso, but jokes like that can only go so far.

How would it work as a series? Bringing a script to practice lines while in the middle of an undercover job doesn’t recommend JCVD’s ability to think and perform under pressure, and that kind of juvenile humor doesn’t allow this show to be terribly sophisticated. It’s also not a very fresh idea since dual identities on television with a protagonist living one life at home and another undercover are actually pretty common. I wouldn’t watch this show.
Will it live on to be a series? Don’t count on it. While it does appear that most reviewers enjoyed this show more than I did, I don’t see this as the same type of sustainable quality programming that Amazon has offered so far. The newly popular streaming service isn’t quite as adventurous as Netflix with all its offerings, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it’s more discerning, and I think that will lead to this show not being picked up.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 10 “Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull” (B+)

It’s very disturbing to see how the behavior of the guards is changing, and that the only reason Caputo came down to deal with anything himself was because Sister Ingalls got caught with a cell phone. Leaking pictures of Sophia to Danny won’t do much good in actually changing the treatment of prisoners in Litchfield and will instead only serve the still righteous purpose of getting her out of a terrible situation. Piper’s attempt to go to Piscatella failed miserably, and her solidarity got her put in the same position as Flores, standing on that table until someone finally realizes that it’s an inhumane way to punish people for not doing what they’re told. Perhaps that shared sense of mistreatment can help quash some of the racial tensions brewing, spurred on by Taystee’s unpopular selection of “The Wiz” as the choice for movie night. There’s more than enough going on to distract that, namely the unfortunate discovery of a human hand in the garden which is going to shed plenty of light on its most frequent gardeners. Aleida getting out was remarkably unceremonious, and ending up with a brand new dress but nowhere to stay definitely made her realize that living life on the outside is going to be very hard. It’s a shame to see Dayanara getting in with the wrong crowd despite Gloria’s hard work to steer her in the right direction. Crazy Eyes getting another shot with the girl that got away could have been sweet if her partner wasn’t feeling so vindictive.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Daredevil (Season Finale)

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 13 “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen” (B)

This season ender was definitely dark, underscoring Daredevil as the hero who has to exist but does so in the shadows because of the evil that exists in his city. I’ve mentioned over and over this season that I’m so much less interested in everything involving the Hand, but fortunately most of that was put to rest in this hour, save for the lamentable coda that shows that Elektra isn’t going to stay dead for long and has still fallen into enemy hands. I do like Elektra, and I think she was a strong asset for this season, particularly as she interacted with Matt and tried to draw out his dark side. His offer to come with her when she was facing certain death was generous, and it complicates his feelings for Karen. That said, it was great to see him show Karen the Daredevil mask without any prompting, deciding that he’s lied to her for too long and needs to be honest with her going forward. She held it together well when she got captured along with everyone else Daredevil had saved, and she was the reason that he was able to find them. She remains this show’s best overall character, with Frank Castle the standout of this season. I’m also glad to see that Foggy took a positive turn, earning himself a very competitive offer from one Jeryn Hogarth, who spends most of her time on the fantastic “Jessica Jones.” Matt got to a good place with Stick, and maybe we’ll see a whole new storyline going into season three with Matt spending most of his time as Daredevil, Foggy living the corporate life, and Karen working as a reporter. I’m still set to stick around for this show, which likely won’t be back until 2018, and I’m eager to see how this universe lives on in “The Defenders” and in the spinoff commissioned to focus on none other than the Punisher.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle

What I’m Watching: House of Cards (Season Finale)

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 13 “Chapter 52” (B+)

I wasn’t so taken with this show at various points towards the start of this season, and man did it rally to a truly awesome ending point. It’s able to multitask in a strong way that showcases supporting and guest characters as if they were the center of the universe, and the way that the Conway family has become such a big part of the story is a testament to that. The introduction of this terror threat guard me off guard, and I couldn’t have expected the way that it went down. Getting the mother and daughter released was a definite win, and it’s very possible that the father could have been spared as well. Instead, Frank and Claire made a decision that they were going to use this a distraction tactic to make sure that Tom’s article couldn’t hurt them. Announcing that they wouldn’t negotiate and that they were at war was a bold and assertive thing to do, but it would be foolish to expect anything less of Frank Underwood. The huge surprise that came at the end of this episode was Claire turning to look directly at the camera and address us when Frank said “We make the terror,” making it abundantly clear that Claire and Frank are now on the same page, back as a united front after so much time spent at each other’s throats. Going to war is going to change things, but that doesn’t mean that Tom won’t stop trying to hit them. Doug is coming apart but seems to have found a new source of comfort, and the other Tom was upset that Claire started lying to him but likely won’t go anywhere. Remy and Jackie chose their path, and I wonder if we’ll see them again (their Emmy-nominated portrayers likely hope so). And Conway hasn’t lost the election yet, but it’s going to be a challenge to defeat a sitting commander-in-chief. This was a very smart Emmy submission for Kevin Spacey, and he might finally win for it. I look forward to season five - this season really did come around in its second half.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Joel Kinnaman as Conway

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 8 “Ghosts of Skibbereen” (B+)

Johnny managed to take the high road for a good portion of this episode, but the moment that he saw Ava and Flash together, he lost all sense of composure and reverted completely to the selfish and immature child that he is inside. Gigi also did her best to move on, pursuing her relationship with Davvy in a more serious way, and the idea to set Johnny up with a 26-year-old probably wasn’t too well thought-out from the start. The biggest issue wasn’t her age or her physical features but rather her embodiment of everything that Johnny is against, namely antique instruments and recreations of music scenes from the 1800s, but also her immediate identification of his hairstyle. That Davvy and his date ended up together was ironic and also inevitable, showing that Gigi and Johnny can try to act as if they’ve moved on when it’s very clear that their newfound romances are just shams, while Ava’s appreciation of Flash’s property might be more substantial and enduring. I love that Campbell, seconds from going on stage to perform, proudly recognized Johnny as Willem Dafoe and wouldn’t stand for Johnny’s insistence that he wasn’t actually Willem. “Feast” was quite the production, and eating tree bark and elderberries for weeks to mimic food availability during the time in which the play was set seemed like a miserable ordeal. Bam Bam’s casual reveal of his flavored pretzels was pretty entertaining. This may be the last we see of “Feast” but something tells me that Bam Bam will remain a changed man and his future, coupled with Rehab’s, is far from set.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 7 “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme” (B+)

I almost can’t handle the constant feeling of having the rug pulled out from under me that I get from watching this show. Lately, I had noticed that the style of storytelling was changing a bit, with Dom’s discovery of Fsociety’s headquarters and the emphatic transition from laugh-track sitcom to Elliot waking up after being beaten up. The end of this episode offered the starkest revelation since the confirmation that Elliot was talking to his dead father with a line reminiscent of Darlene’s frustrated reminder to her brother of their being related. Krista asking Elliot if he knew where he was led to an astonishing background transformation, with Elliot pleading with his friend, better known as the audience, not to be mad at him for building a wall and constructing a new reality to mask the time he has spent in prison. Thus far, we’ve only seen a few characters interact with Elliot this season, and with the exception of Angela and Darlene, they’ve all been new faces like Ray and Leon. I’m not even sure how long he’s supposed to have been in prison, but I know that this changes everything. The more important discovery is that he’s come to a good place with Mr. Robot where they’re mutually looking out for each other. On the outside, Angela got out of her interrogation with Dom but managed to get herself found out right away when she got a new role thanks to her help in settling the class-action lawsuit. Joanna preparing divorce papers has no practical value aside from keeping her thirty-year-old beau on the hook, and maybe this latest news means that Tyrell is still alive since the reason Elliot couldn’t find him might be because he’s on the run and not behind bars.

Emmy Adjacent-Episodes: UnREAL

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

UnREAL: Season 1, Episode 2 “Relapse” (C+)
Sandwiched between Emmy-nominated episodes one and three

I only watched this episode for some context getting to the next installment, which is Constance Zimmer’s submission for Best Supporting Actress. In this undeniably dramatic hour, this show underscored its mirroring of its subject matter by underlining its soapy and sensational in nature. That does not appeal to me, and I’m honestly pretty bored by this show. I’m also distracted by the focus on Johanna Braddy’s Anna, who I naturally reference as already having plenty of parent issues from her role as Shelby on “Quantico,” an unfair predisposition given that this episode aired months before the ABC FBI drama even premiered. The notion that contestants would miss out on major life events like the near-death of a parent seems ridiculous, and while it may actually happen in real life, it’s still hard to watch. It’s also incredible just how much of the scenes edited into “Everlasting” are taken from members of the producing team planting questions and then reframing the interactions to make it seem like they’re crazy. For Rachel to attend Anna’s father’s funeral seems more than disrespectful, and I find it hard to believe that Adam so willingly led along with being forced to keep Anna waiting and thinking that she might not be chosen to stay on the show with him. Zimmer’s Quinn is showing no signs of calming down as the season is intensifying, and she was not at all pleased to learn that Chet’s wife was pregnant and that he was planning to build her a house to live in all by herself. I don’t plan to watch this show past episode three, and we’ll see how that installment goes.

Emmy Episodes: Mom

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Mom: Season 3, Episode 1 “Terrorists and Gingerbread” (C+)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Allison Janney)

I’m not terribly fond of this show, and watching it each year is far from the highlight of Emmy season. It’s not terrible, sure, but it’s also not particularly funny. It does star Allison Janney, however, who is the reigning champ in this category with back-to-back wins. She also has four Emmys for “The West Wing” and one for “Masters of Sex,” which she’s also nominated for the third time in a row for this year. I think it says something about this show that she’s the only element of it that contends for awards, though this is also not her best work. She’s having a blast, to be sure, but this is not difficult acting or anything of the sort. This is a formidable submission given Emmy voters’ tendencies to appreciate drama when it shows up in the comedy categories, and grappling with meeting the mother that abandoned her is classic Emmy bait. I’m not sure her submission really matters given how well-regarded she is, but this is a good one technically speaking. I wouldn’t vote for her, but that’s also because I’d probably throw my weight behind June Squibb for this episode, since she humorously played the wonderful woman who should have been Christy’s grandmother and took the brunt of Bonnie’s fury when she wanted to let loose on the woman who gave her up. I’m also surprised that Ellen Burstyn didn’t score a nod to go along with her Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series bid for playing Bonnie’s real mother. That just goes to show you - it’s all about Janney.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Emmy Episodes: The Big Bang Theory

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 9, Episode 24 “The Convergence Convergence” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Christine Baranski and Laurie Metcalf)

The second of the nominated “Big Bang Theory” episodes from this year is notable for a number of reasons. First, it’s the season finale, leading into a tenth season that apparently might end up being the last one, but I don’t think its fate is sealed just yet. It’s also a submission for two different nominated actresses, something that actually happens more than you might think. Two years ago, Uzo Aduba defeated Laverne Cox when they both submitted the same episode of “Orange is the New Black.” The two actresses nominated for this episode, both of whom play mothers to the main characters, are Emmy legends. This is Baranski’s fifteenth career Emmy nomination and her fourth for this role. She won once on her first try way back in 1995. Metcalf, who has appeared in a handful of “Big Bang Theory” episodes, marks her first nomination for this part but earns her tenth overall nomination. She won three times in a row for “Roseanne” and has been nominated for four other comedy guest spots in the past twenty years. More impressively, she collected three individual acting nominations this year, the other two of which will be profiled again in this series when I watch them. This is hardly the meatiest showcase for Baranski and especially for Metcalf, both of whom are a handful of snappy one-liners mostly directed at each other. I think Baranski has had better appearances, and Metcalf wouldn’t quite rank in my list, though she’s obviously beloved by Emmy voters. I don’t see either of them winning for a generally fun episode that represents the consistent humor that this show is all about. I imagine it will be nominated again next year, especially if it’s the swan song, and I look forward to returning to it then.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Emmy Episodes: The Big Bang Theory

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 9, Episode 11 “The Opening Night Excitation” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Bob Newhart)

I always enjoyed watching this show most of all come Emmy time, and it’s a sad fact that only two episodes are contending this year. Sure, I know that I could go back and just start watching the whole show again or just watch selected episodes, but all hope of that died when I got put off by negative references to blogs and “Battlestar Galactica” back when the pilot first aired in 2007. I’m not sure how much the quality of the show has really changed, but none of the series regulars are nominated for the first time since the show’s first season. This episode is the submission of Emmy veteran Bob Newhart, marking his eighth nomination and his third for this role. He won in 2013 for his first appearance, and now he’s back as a hallucination who bears a striking resemblance to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Tying this episode in with the premiere of the new “Star Wars” movie, an event that coincides with Amy’s birthday, is very fun, and there’s no denying that Newhart is an entertaining part of it, grumbling about how Sheldon has brought him back to life to give him counsel and listen to his shocking lack of self-awareness when it comes to what his priorities in his relationship should be. It’s probably on par with his previous appearances, but it doesn’t strike me as an Emmy-worthy performance. The episode as a whole is a blast, and Wil Wheaton defiantly walking in to boos in full “Star Trek” garb was one particular highlight.