Friday, February 15, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 14 “Cause and XS” (B-)

I find that time loops are very often used in TV shows these days, and I just watched one a couple of weeks ago when I screened the pilot episode of “Russian Doll,” a show with a definite comedic slant centered on one character reliving the night she died over and over again. Nora experiencing that phenomenon was slightly more grating because she continues to be so bratty, and somehow she tried fifty-two times to fix things before realizing that her move – the first thing anyone stuck in a time loop should do – was to read them all in so that they could work together to figure out how to close it. I liked that not much time was wasted on the specifics of the hostage situation and Cicada throwing his deadly spear, almost routine even by the second time that it happened with Sherloque as his captive. This did feel a lot like previous seasons where villains just show up ready to kill in one episode and then disappear for weeks on end after that, and it was unfortunate that they knew exactly how to make sure that Cicada hit himself rather than any of them but then he was able to get away so easily without any of them even trying to stop him. The one-month waiting period wasn’t even a problem anymore, but now they’re going to need to track him down again. It was a relief to see that Cisco’s date with Kamilla finally went well after he mistakenly followed Ralph’s advice and tried to put on a different persona, and while I’d love to see Gypsy return, I’m all for some member on the team being involved in an outside relationship.

What I’m Watching: SMILF

SMILF: Season 2, Episode 3 “Surrogate Mothers Inspire Loving Families” (B)

I feel like this show wants to be so much more than it is, and this episode was indicative of that lofty aim. We barely saw Bridget, which wasn’t necessarily a problem, and instead got to spend time with Ally and the people in her circle. I didn’t think that Connie Britton would be sticking around this show anymore, especially with other commitments like “Dirty John,” but this episode demonstrated that she’s exceptionally skilled for this role. The selfishness that Ally exhibits is truly incredible, making everyone around her feel guilty for thinking that they could do whatever they wanted with their lives and not succumb to her every whim. Connecting that with the story of the woman who she met while working at the store whose birthday it also happened to be was cleverly-done, and Ally managed to make a quick friend before she realized that the news she had for her wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Getting to call her and tell her that the bag was indeed available provided the only real gratification for Ally in this half-hour, a win that was immediately grounded by the reminder of the $23,000 price tag she was completely ready to pay. Rivers certainly wasn’t amenable to doing what his mother wanted, demanding a gun from Target if he went with her and proclaiming that he hated Judge Judy because she’s always right and it’s so predictable. The best line of the episode came from Ally when she donated her old fridge, with so much subtext behind it: “I love gifting gifts on my birthday.”

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Take Three: Black Monday

Black Monday: Season 1, Episode 3 “339” (B)

This show prides itself on being an equal-opportunity offender, sparing no people or religion in its characters’ pursuit of financial success. Dawn was very explicit about them having to offload their shares so that they could implicate people in a felony, and it says something about their relationships that they’re willing to throw people they supposedly care about to the wolves if anything goes wrong. The spotlight on Keith as he balanced his relationship with Mike and his son’s Bar Mitzvah showed that he is just trying to get ahead in some way, stealing Mike’s Nintendo after professing his love for him while trying to get his wife Shira, played by Melissa Rauch from “The Big Bang Theory,” to sign for the shares. She knew what was up and refused to do so, while Mike volunteered to take them, which seemed to truly delight Keith even though he knows how much of a risk it poses. Mo giving his shares to Brad as a Bar Mitzvah gift was both genius and terrible, and he spent the entirety of the half-hour cozying up as a father figure to Blair only to find out that he had decided to break up with Tiff, the whole reason that Mo had been working so hard to get him exactly where he wanted. That’s unlikely to last, but damage control is going to be necessary right away to get things back on track. Spence and Dawn’s parents both hoped that she was announcing she was pregnant, and it seems like they’re all much more into that relationship than Dawn is.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 9, Episode 10 “Los Diablos!” (B+)

Well, Fiona finally encountered an irreversible implication of her worsening state, getting fired after making way too many mistakes at the diner. She didn’t even get a warning, but that’s because she’s been told by so many others that she’s in bad shape and didn’t want to do anything about it. Responding by going right home to fish the alcohol out of the trash could have been a truly regrettable step, but instead she found another cause right away in the form of the discrimination against Liam’s lemonade stand by the new neighbor. Throwing a traditional block party to “welcome” her to the neighborhood was a typical Gallagher move, though she did take it one step further by hopping the fence and punching her out. I doubt she’ll actually serve time, but this will be a big wake-up call to her that something has to change. Lip and Tami are getting very cozy, and the way that she responded when Xan showed up makes it seem like they really could last. Carl’s past career is getting in the way of his current sign-twirling, but leave it to him to somehow succeed even with a job meant to be the lowest on the totem pole. Debs taking such an active role in trying to repair the house is entertaining, and I wonder if her pantsless rescue by Kelly is going to cause friction in Carl’s relationship. Randy showing up with Dr. Kwan to go “all North Korean” on Ingrid suggests that this sextuplet birth is going to be derailed in a whole lot of ways. I love the casting of Luis Guzman’s as Frank’s primary rival for the Hobo Loco competition, a hilarious and increasingly disturbing process that’s so right for this show.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 9 “You to You” (B+)

I’m absolutely devastated by the news from yesterday that Starz isn’t picking this show up for a third season, just the latest casualty of an initial two-season order which couldn’t possibly deliver in the way that the network wanted it to before anyone had ever seen it. I’m not going to dwell on that right now since I’m hopeful a streaming service will pick it up and that this coming Sunday’s episode won’t be the last we’ll see of what I currently consider to be the best show on television. This episode was full of somewhat expected and equally dreaded developments that played out in much different ways than I had thought they would. When Ian brought Emily and Howard in, he got cut out in a big way as their Emily came face-to-face with ours, who apparently wields enough power even after her memory loss that she was able to pull the strings and get her Howard home. Their interaction was pretty mesmerizing, and that’s one of the best assets of this show, having two people look at each other’s lives and try to see the similarities and differences. I was thrilled with the casting of Paterson Joseph from “Babylon” and “Timeless” as Naya’s husband, who related to Clare and Peter in a very friendly way, before Clare went right in to get information from Spencer, bailing as quickly as possible after he realized she was wired. Baldwin and Howard showing up to the rescue was an exciting way for that to go, and I’m curious to see how all it plays out. Janek meeting with all of Management in person showed how far apart their worldviews have now diverged, and Mira wasn’t even willing to talk to any of them, arriving after forcing Ian’s hand to shoot them all in the head and preparing to close the crossing forever. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the season (and hopefully not series) finale.

Pilot Review: Pen15

Pen15 (Hulu)
Premiered February 8

Now here’s a show that isn’t even trying to be mature, starting from the point of having its title serve as an infantile reference to genitalia. There have been many shows recently that have tried to approach the teenage years from a novel angle, including “Sex Education” and “Big Mouth,” two very different interpretations of oversexed young people and the outlets they find for their fantasies and real-life issues. The notion of having two thirty-year-olds play versions of themselves going through middle school is mildly appealing for the visual humor it provides, but that’s about it. This show makes its protagonists seem like bullies because they’re so much bigger and evidently older than everyone else, and not in the way that many high school-set shows and movies often feature clearly older actors. I didn’t think I knew either Maya Erskine or Anna Konkle, who serve as co-creators along with Sam Zvibleman and star as Maya and Anna, respectively. A quick look on IMDB shows that Erskine played Rae on “Casual,” a role I enjoyed greatly. Little of this opening half-hour reminded me of the actress’ spark there, and it’s hard to find much to applaud on this show that delivers exactly what it promises: efforts to be inappropriate and crude at every juncture in a way that’s supposed to be made funnier by the physical presentation of adults reflecting back on their childhood while surrounded by actual kids. It’s a gimmick, and one that doesn’t end up being nearly as transformative or revelatory as its star-creators seem to think it is.

How will it work as a series? I can’t imagine that much more of it, since most of the bases of seventh grade have already been covered, from dolls to drugs to kissing. Their friendship will no doubt be put to the test time and time again, and I suspect that, true to form to the people it presents, they’ll manage to get over each hurdle even if considerable drama occurs until each eventual moment of forgiveness.
How long will it last? The reviews are surprisingly good, which baffles me but probably shouldn’t since I know that I’m not in the target demographic for this show. Hulu is trying to build up its brand as it goes up against competitors Netflix and Amazon, and having fare like this will help it diversify the type of content it airs and keep it relevant. I don’t see why a second season wouldn’t be commissioned.

Pilot grade: C

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pilot Review: White Dragon

White Dragon (Amazon)
Premiered February 8

I saw a poster for this show and was excited that Martin Freeman was starring in another project, only to realize that it was actually John Simm, an actor who looks somewhat like the recent star of “Fargo” and “Cargo.” Simm was a great supporting player on ABC’s short-lived “The Catch” and would surely have had a more substantial role in the third season that didn’t end up happening. Here, he plays someone who’s much more out of his element, confident in his classroom but completely railroaded not only by his wife’s death but the news that she had an entirely separate life in Hong Kong as someone else’s wife and mother. I didn’t know what the premise was going to be here and enjoyed the opportunity to watch it play out, as Simm’s Jonah tried desperately to find a phone charger so that he could listen to the last message his wife left for him, which hinted at the double life that she knew he’d soon discover. I’m not sure how much of this show will be occupied by Jonah trying to tail people who knows he’s following them and struggling to speak Chinese, though I like the fact that David didn’t seem to detest Jonah at all and might even work with him, while Lau is all about protesting and will want to get to the mystery of whatever it was her mother was doing that got her killed in what almost certainly was not an accident. I’m not intrigued enough by this start to feel like I really need to know where it’s headed.

How will it work as a series? There’s a lot that’s not clear at this point, and the question will be if Jonah’s search for it, accompanied or not by David and Lau, will be sufficiently exciting, and if the payoff will be substantial in terms of why Megan was lying to both of her husbands. I think it could be, but it may take a while to get there.
How long will it last? I knew that this couldn’t be an original Amazon production, but I was having trouble finding out more about it since it was titled “Strangers” when it first aired on ITV back in September. All I can find in terms of review data are audience complaints about problematic minor plot points, and I think this is also likely a closed-loop narrative, which suggests to me that these eight episodes will be all that we get of this show.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 13 “I Have to Get Out” (B-)

This episode took some very far-fetched turns as it went on, and I much preferred the early musical number that was extremely reminiscent of “La La Land” as Rebecca embraced the benefits of medication as sung to her by Dr. Akopian and a number of other patients who could only say generic names for legal reasons. I thought that the twin brother doctors were actually the same person, and it seems very clear that the one who has a sense of humor doesn’t actually comprehend what’s funny. Paula not getting signed out by the doctor in time to take the bar was a predictable development that didn’t need to lead to a jailbreak operation that somehow resulted in her getting to the test and returning without anyone noticing or her putting her health at risk. Rebecca’s drug-induced sleepiness was also awfully convenient, and I’m glad that she just took her visit to the morgue as symbolic rather than spend too much time down there. The boy with the extremely contagious cough really managed to run amok, and his energy level was helpful only for the two girls who previously hated each other when they realized that they wanted to set their parents up. I knew I recognized actress Maribeth Monroe, who plays April, from somewhere, and I’m glad to see that the portrayer of Mindy St. Clair from “The Good Place” will now be appearing on this show. Josh realizing that Greg had been back in town and not let him know led to a humorous awkward kung fu fighting montage, with Nathaniel just standing by without a clue what to do. If Greg and Rebecca aren’t going to be together, why can’t Josh end up with her? The only problem is that Nathaniel seems just as interested by that unexpected opening.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 10, Episode 10 “Dead Man Texting” (B)

This episode was certainly staged and set up in a very deliberate way for both of its plotlines, but, as this show tends to do, it made it work. Will did not make a good impression on Professor Rice at all, and him dropping dead in the apartment made it a whole lot easier for him to get the position he wanted. It’s much better that he didn’t actually die and that he instead realized exactly what they had done both with his finger and his eyelid. Will winning him over despite all of that was impressive, and it’s a testament to the fact that, after some definite hiccups in his attempts to win him over, he is passionate about what he’s doing and deeply wants to continue. Grace wasn’t especially helpful in the situation, but her strong facial reactions to each moment were humorous. Jack installing an app that would help him track the location of his fiancé and his best friend who hated each other was never going to go smoothly, and of course it turned into the physical comedy of him having to run between two tables so that he could dine with both of them. Having the waiter be a vengeful ex was an additional challenge that Jack wasn’t ready for, and they all ended up taking a dive into the pool before realizing that affection for Jack was the one thing that Estefan and Karen could agree on, even if there really wasn’t anything else for them to talk about or both like.

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 2, Episode 5 “Extra Boobs” (B+)

It’s no surprise that Andrea is an extremely awkward patient, though her doctor wasn’t exactly being the epitome of professional when she kept laughing at her underarm situation. She tried to throw Mike under the bus when he made a humorous but definitely inappropriate comment after her recovery, but he wasn’t having any of it and refused to admit to what he had said. Mike is usually much more subdued than Andrea and less prone to make jokes that would be deemed overly colorful, but he got his chance while she was still coming back after the procedure to be the more profane one, which was entertaining. He also refused to let Sharon off the hook when Andrea was piling on about the present nature of her relationship, affirming that he too found it strange. As tends to be the case with looking into your ancestry, Andrea found out some things about her parents’ roots that didn’t make her feel all that great, starting with her father’s casual mention of the fact that he wasn’t actually Greek. His switch to making jokes about being Polish didn’t go over well with her, and that’s before her mom essentially confirmed that her family have been Nazis. Andrea always has big reactions to just about anything, and so the fact that both of her parents were so nonchalant about destroying everything she had always believed made the impact of that news all the more startling. Letting Amelia still present herself as Greek was probably the smart and safe choice.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 5 “A Very Good Boy” (B+)

No one would argue that Jimmy is a good person, but all it took for him to need to prove that he’s awful was Gretchen telling him that he’s a very good boy. That sent him spiraling, no longer committed to being punished if he didn’t write his twenty pages per day and ready to steal the computer of the guy next to him who asked him to watch it while he went to the bathroom before returning it moments later out of shame. The last time I thought I recognized Hannah Marks from “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” it wasn’t her, but this time she did play the disinterested florist who brought Jimmy to a club that he wasn’t ready for at all. His insistence on seeming bad led to the one thing that might actually anger Gretchen, and he wasn’t doing nearly enough to stop it from happening. Gretchen trying to get food from a conference room made her actually have to do her job for once, and her suggestion of DJ Nock Nock somehow paid off. Yvette is watching her now, and maybe she’ll do a decent job and perform, even if she’s been trying so hard not to all these years. Lindsay and Edgar definitely don’t work in the real world, but at least they’re happy with what they have. It’s reassuring to know that Vernon and Becca are also terrible people, apparently conning Paul into paying them $5,000 a month after they throw his sperm out the window.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 13 “Goldfaced” (B)

It was hard to take this episode seriously because I just watched “Threat Level Midnight,” the episode of “The Office” where, in Michael’s movie, Agent Michael Scarn faces off against Jim’s villain Goldenface. Therefore, the idea of a bad guy called Goldface who, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a meta who could turn into solid gold, wasn’t all that impressive, nor was the scenario in which Ralph had to act bad and Barry got to pretend to be a supervillain named The Chemist to impress the criminals whose operation they were trying to infiltrate. As if setting the printable guns meant to kill police officers to stun wasn’t enough of a signal of making the best of bad situations, Barry and Ralph having to take down a powered meta without the use of their powers was an affirming reminder that it’s their brainpower and teamwork that’s most useful, not just their speed and elasticity, respectively. Iris was the one who got the most accomplished in this hour, talking to Sicada before he realized that she was there for illicit purposes. Keeping him still for a minute so that his powers can be removed won’t be easy, and I can’t imagine it will work the first time. As Nora tried to get Sherloque off her scent, her staged setup with the woman of his dreams went extremely smoothly until he creeped her out by telling her way too many things about herself. I was sure it was Erica Durance from “Smallville” playing Renée, but it turns out it was Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who appeared in five different forms as the face of seven of Sherloque’s ex-wives. Determining that she’s a meta will likely have consequences, but it seems the most it’s done now is to get Sherloque back to work on defeating Sicada so that she won’t become his next victim.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 8 “In from the Cold” (B+)

It’s extraordinary to think about all the layers embedded within this episode, all of which come to unspool by the end of the hour. Their Howard was talking to our Emily, and his face gave away plenty when she started remembering that she had traveled to the other world and spent time with the daughter she didn’t know, along with the bit she doesn’t remember about her relationship with this very Howard, who had to pretend that he was shocked by everything she was saying. He seemed to love helping her work through the decoding process, but the magic ended the moment that he brutally stopped an assassin from getting inside, demonstrating instantly that he was not the Howard that she had loved for so many years. On the other side, Emily chose to read her daughter in so that they could save our Howard, and her reaction was one of wonder and satisfaction, somewhat delighted to know that she had been right all along about them being heroes. It’s hard to know what will come of the multiple plans that both Emilys and Howards have for contacting Management, but let’s hope it’s not too late for the most surprising change of heart to come in handy. After Peter helped Clare to realize that she had been radicalized and lied to, bringing her to Nia and introducing her as Shadow was pretty much the clearest display of transparency he could have made. Let’s just hope it’s not too late to stop the crossing from being destroyed before Howard can make it home.

Pilot Review: Hanna

Hanna (Amazon)
Premiered February 3

If you asked me to list twenty-five or even one hundred movies from the past two decades that I thought might be worth making into TV series, “Hanna” would not be anywhere on that list. As I wrote in my review then, Saoirse Ronan, who has been nominated for two Oscars since its release in 2011, is a fantastic actress capable of many difficult roles, but the story of a girl who grows up in the woods trained by her father to be a killer just doesn’t work nearly as well in execution as it does in concept. Without Ronan, the appeal is diminished considerably. I haven’t seen British actress Esme Creed-Miles, who has just four film credits to her name aside from this show, in anything before, and she didn’t display all that much personality in this opening hour. What’s more enticing is the reunion of “The Killing” stars Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos, who I initially thought were playing Hanna’s parents but quickly realized were actually on opposing teams, with Kinnaman portraying her father and Enos playing the CIA agent set on hunting her down. Kinnaman achieved success for himself with roles on “House of Cards” and the renewed Netflix sci-fi series “Altered Carbon,” while I enjoyed Enos in a much more approachable and light role on “The Catch,” which ABC cancelled after two seasons. This seems like Kinnaman’s gruffest part yet, while Enos is going dark as well for her cutthroat and determined operative. Putting the two of them together, however, isn’t nearly enough to make this lifeless show come alive.

How will it work as a series? In the movie, Hanna bonded with a family and became a part of their dynamic, and this much more long-form journey seems destined to take an infinitely longer time to rev up its plot and get somewhere. Hanna and her father can only run through the woods so many times before it feels like the same recycled shot over and over.
How long will it last? This episode premiered this past Sunday for just twenty-four hours, and all eight episodes will be available in March, an interesting strategy that isn’t usually employed anymore by Amazon, which used to release their pilots well ahead of the rest of the show. There don’t seem to be many reviews available, but I suspect that this show is only going to last a season if its adult stars’ previous show had so much trouble getting renewed each year.

Pilot grade: C-

Friday, February 8, 2019

Pilot Review: Russian Doll

Russian Doll (Netflix)
Premiered February 3

I imagine most people tuned I to watch this show because they figured Natasha Lyonne staring in anything sounded like a superb idea. I certainly did, and it’s true – the “Orange is the New Black” star and Emmy nominee is extremely charismatic. She has a way with words, with the way that she pronounces every sentence adding tremendous depth and hilarity. I think I read a description of this show’s premise some time before sitting down to watch the opening installment, but I had forgotten it by the time I actually started. If there was anyone who was going to be stuck in a time loop, Lyonne is likely one of the funnier choices, and it’s a bit strange to see it in a setting that’s so distinctly set apart from science fiction, though I guess “Groundhog Day” is one of the most classic examples which is certainly more rooted in comedy than it is in genre tropes. There have been other shows with this premise before, though they’re rarely comedies, and “Daybreak” was one particularly lamentable one that went downhill immediately. It shouldn’t take too long for Lyonne’s Nadia to start saying the words she’s heard those around her utter before or while they say them, and for now, she’s making connections to the people who seem most important to her to determine how they can help her get through the night or at least stop living it over and over. It’s appealing, but this opening half-hour didn’t entice me enough to watch Lyonne do it again and again before maybe figuring out how to escape this cycle.

How will it work as a series? Lyonne has always had a way of expressing things literally when no one around her seems to understand them, and that skill should prove enormously useful here in pointing out the absurdity of her situation that no one else is able to see. Is that enough to fill eight episodes? I’m not sure, but it should at least prove entertaining.
How long will it last? The reviews are very good, and it’s just a question of what happens at the end of episode eight, whether Nadia is dead for good or if she has a new chance either to live life or rope someone else into experiencing this repeating night with over countless times. Given Lyonne’s popularity and appeal, I predict this one gets another round in some form.

Pilot grade: B