Monday, March 30, 2015

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 3, Episode 5 “Chapter 31” (B+)

Frank can certainly be described as a bully, but now he’s transforming from subtle power player to full-on force determined not to let anyone stand in his way. Forcing America Works through the system by taking control of FEMA to fund it is a bold and aggressive move, and though he has the support of the D.C. mayor, he’s going to encounter a lot of opposition. Positioning Jackie to start a fake presidential campaign in which she criticizes him and America Works before eventually conceding to being his vice president is truly playing the long game, and I feel like there’s way too much that will happen before we get there for it to go flawlessly. Dunbar is arming herself for a vicious campaign, and I like how she analyzed that Doug wasn’t a mole because he negotiated his salary rather than taking the first offer. He’s a true asset, but his steely demeanor still makes his true motivations unclear. Kim Dickens’ journalist is going to be trouble for Frank and more crucially for Seth, and it’s fortunate that she’s too high-profile for Frank to merely quash with a wave of his hand. I like that Frank went from playing a game on his iPad to bringing in a famed novelist because of his video game reviews to write the perfect biography of him to sell to the American people. It took me almost that whole scene to realize that the actor playing him was Paul Sparks, best known as the oily, high-pitched Mickey Doyle on “Boardwalk Empire.” Claire has learned from her husband how best to exercise her authority, meeting with the Russian ambassador while doing her makeup in the bathroom. Her conversation with Frank about sleeping in the same bed felt awfully professional, but it’s still so interesting to see the two of them actually act like humans. Seeing Freddy watching the fireworks was haunting, and it suggests that the little people Frank is ready to hurt along the way may not all go so quietly.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 18 “Spring Break” (C)

I’m writing this review a few days after I watched the episode, and I went online to remind myself of exactly what it was about. While summaries aren’t everything, the one-line description on reads “Claire does some spring cleaning. Haley attempts to distract Alex by taking her to a music festival.” The second part is obviously a much more substantial plotline, but the first is an example of how this show really stretches sometimes to fill the content of a half-hour episode. It’s nothing new that Claire snoops through her children’s stuff, and therefore finding out about Alex’s rejection from Harvard seemed inevitable. That Haley would try to get her to unwind and end up loosening her up too much at the music festival was somewhat entertaining, but I have a hard time believing both that Haley would take her and that Alex would actually agree to go. I prefer the much subtler instances of Phil and Luke bonding since his impossible perfection in both music and gymnastics abilities was far from compelling as a father-son obstacle. I wasn’t interested at all in Cam’s musical feud or Gloria’s role in it, and Mitchell trying to rescue Lily from camp because he thought she was having a miserable time was only slightly amusing. Jay’s thorough attempts to smoke a cigar in peace were redeemed only by his casual donning of a full-body orange track suit and hairnet so that he could mask the smell from certain detection by his wife.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 6, Episode 10 “Trust” (B+)

I’m pretty pleased to say that the final season of this show isn’t flying by as I had expected it to, but instead proceeding along at the kind of deliberate, slowly fascinating pace this show has always excelled at. We still have three episodes to go and each one so far this season has radically redefined where everything is headed. I can’t decide which I love more – the many layers of trust and deception or the exceptional dialogue that makes this show feel so much like a modern-day Western. Everyone is double-crossing everyone else but then going back on it, and it’s absolutely terrific. Mikey deducing Wynn’s role in the imprisonment of Catherine’s husband and calling Catherine to cash in on that knowledge became irrelevant quickly as Boyd took her hostage and used her to get Avery to pay him. Then, as Ava was telling Boyd she’d support him and then chatting with Raylan about what was really going on, Ava decided to shoot Boyd and run away with the money, leaving a flummoxed Raylan without the first clue about what to do. And all that after Vasquez revealed that he was planning to send Ava back to jail no matter what. On to the subject of conversation, I loved Boone’s dialogue with Raylan and the fact that, while he was looking for something fun to do in Harlan County, he opted to go back to the diner and intimidate the waiter into giving him his hat for $80. “They always say that, probably heard it in the movies” was one of my favorite lines, but I also liked Raylan asking Tim, “You really think this ends in a trial,” to which Tim essentially implied that Raylan was the one who would end up shooting him.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 18 “Skip” (B+)

I don’t think I can accurately call something my favorite thing about this show anymore since there are so many things I love about it on a weekly basis, but its use of recurring characters is truly tremendous. We got to see Harper, Beth, and Iris again, all taking on much more significant roles in the scheme of things. On the new guest star front, Ato Essandoh, who plays Alfredo on “Elementary,” was Ray, the big man in everyone’s sights, and Katheryn Winnick was Frankie Wells, the private investigator with more than a passing resemblance to a female version of Reese. Their coordination while handcuffed together was extremely impressive, and she was all about the flirtation with her talk of handcuffs and overt kissing of one Detective Riley. Harper wins the prize for most daring and effective move, standing up in the middle of a three-sided group gunfight to propose a deal in which nearly everyone wins. Reese just letting her go means that she and Frankie will inevitably be back at some point. It’s good to see Iris finally make a move with Reese after awkwardly tiptoeing around him all episode, and let’s hope that doesn’t put her in danger. Obviously fraternizing with one of our dependable team members can be problematic, as was the case with Beth when Root decided that she had to kill her so that Finch wouldn’t end up dead. Drinking the poison she was planning to use to kill Beth was an extreme move, but it got the message across and saved her life. Unfortunately, Root still sabotaged any hope of a friendship Finch could have had with her, and while it’s good to see them both still alive, it looks like we’ll be seeing less of Root in the immediate future until her assistance becomes vital when things start getting crazy before the end of the season.

Round Two: iZombie

iZombie: Season 1, Episode 2 “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?” (B+)

This was certainly an effective follow-up to this show’s surprisingly strong debut last week, and at the moment I’m confident that it’s the kind of series that I will enjoy watching but don’t feel like I absolutely need to if I end up with too much television on my plate. I think that the zombie aspects of Liv’s personality and life are far more intriguing and worthwhile than the actual cases featured, though I’m sure those will have their moments too. Her newfound skill and appreciation for art is great, especially because of just how casually she uses advanced terms and reacts to simple situations in which those around her are hopeless to react in a way that represents anything other than pure shock. It looks like David Anders’ Blaine will be a major character, and it’s hard for me to acclimate to his American accent and not being Sark, though it’s a similar role in that he’s not clearly a villain but also extorts newly turned zombies for brain provisions and kills those he deems to be a threat. It was good to see Judy Reyes of “Scrubs” fame as the wife of this episode’s main murder victim and eventually the one revealed to have done it thanks to some collaborate investigation by Liv, Clive, and, most crucially, Ravi. Liv’s attempt to reach out to Major at the end of the episode was sad in the resentment it provoked in him, but at least she’s started to return to the idea of what it’s like to be around another person.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 14 “Love in the Time of Hydra” (B-)

There’s still a whole lot going on here, and while I’m intrigued to see where some of it goes, it’s not all completely even in its execution. We hadn’t seen Ward since before this show went on hiatus back in December, and I guess I had just assumed that he died since I couldn’t recall all the developments of that eventful midseason finale. It turns out that’s not the case, which I’m fine with since I think that he’s become a decent character after his surprising change into Hydra mole for hire. Agent 33 is also interesting, and the two of them make a decent team and couple, even if their exact aims aren’t fully clear. Her not being able to get rid of May’s face is intriguing, though obviously it presents both advantages and disadvantages. Talbot’s search for the imposter wearing his wife’s face was extremely over-the-top, and hardly the best use of his character, who is at least now firmly pro-S.H.I.E.L.D. if otherwise incompetent. I’m thrilled to see Edward James Olmos as the commander of the “real S.H.I.E.L.D.” and unsurprised that Kirk Acevedo is playing another mid-level troublemaker with an attitude, but I don’t really understand what this other organization is about other than questioning Coulson’s leadership. Skye’s new seclusion may do her some good in terms of getting her new abilities under control, but I have a feeling that being alone for too long is going to lead to her changing too much and not being able to keep her frustration and isolation in check.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 16 “Rogue Time” (B)

This episode wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the hour that came before it, both in terms of its plot developments and its general positive nature. It’s an important lesson for Barry that he’s at his best when he’s quietly confident rather than outright cocky, since his attempt to predict every moment with a full knowledge of what was going to be said made him seem awfully arrogant and produced wholly different results than he was expecting. Things played out very much unlike the previous time Barry experienced it, but thankfully no one had to suffer the consequences since the creator of the tidal wave ended up in the underground prison before he could grab Joe or stir up any storms. In his place, we got the “Prison Break” boys back along with the newest member of their gang, played by Peyton List, who gave Cisco a wild ride before coming clean about her true intentions. It’s interesting to see Barry make a deal with him to continue his crime wave in exchange for keeping his identity a secret on the condition that he stops killing people. Cisco’s brother Dante, played by Nicholas Gonzalez, started out as quite obnoxious and didn’t end up being too much better when he revealed his true nature, and I think we’ll do well to be rid of him for a while. Fortunately, Cisco is safe, and it was very intriguing to see Dr. Wells’ conversation about him being like a son take a very different and much livelier direction. It’s a shame Barry ended his relationship with Linda, the one event that actually went well in this version of events, since Iris clearly isn’t interested just yet and we’ll have to wait a while until another major outpouring of suppressed love for her adoptive brother.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 1, Episode 8 “Rico” (B+)

I really like what this show has become. I wasn’t fond of the first two episodes but I’m extremely supportive of where it’s gone since then. Beginning with a flashback to Jimmy revealing to his coworkers that he had passed the bar after working diligently in the mailroom at Hamlin’s practice provides some important context to who Jimmy is and how he got to where he is now. Not playing the audio of Hamlin’s conversation with him while he was eating cake was actually more effective than hearing it would have been since Hamlin’s excuses don’t matter because he obviously didn’t take Jimmy seriously. That makes Jimmy’s new class action lawsuit discovery process all the more fascinating, as he just happened to realize that he had stumbled upon something when his elderly client couldn’t pay him the measly sum for drawing up a will. Having Chuck help him was great, and I love that Chuck came through and sprang into action at just the right moment, demanding $20 million dollars from the arrogant lawyer who tried to offer $100,000 as a settlement only moments earlier. Chuck casually walking outside to get some files from his trunk was a shock, but not as big as the one he got once he realized what he had done. Seeing just a bit of Mike and his daughter-in-law was certainly worthwhile, and I’m glad to see that plotline continuing even if those of us who have watched “Breaking Bad” know how it all ends.

What I’m Watching: House of Lies

House of Lies: Season 4, Episode 10 “Praise Money! Hallowed Be Thy Name” (B+)

Marty had everything he could want, and he just had to go ahead and tank it just for the sake of being difficult and getting his way. Courting the burger chief whose company and outlook on life bear more than a striking resemblance to Chick-fil-a was the one thing he was told expressly by Denna that he couldn’t do, and that just made him want to sabotage his success. Her dismissal of him when he went to her office was deserved, and it’s going to be a bitter downfall from here for Kaan and his associates. Roscoe certainly got an unfortunate punishment, facing expulsion from his school after selling fake handbags at designer prices but more upsettingly being ostracized by all his former friends. I don’t see Marty being able to comfort him and get him through this, and I just hope it’s not the start of a serious downward spiral. It was inevitable that Jeremiah’s age-inappropriate romance would to at least a flirtation with one of his sons, and Chantelle did not respond well to Malcolm’s advance. Speaking of uncomfortable romances, the sight of Kelsey making out with Doug and Clyde in succession was not a pleasant one, and it’s strange to think that Clyde is the hopeless romantic in this situation, vying for her affection and really pouring out his heart, something we’ve rarely if ever seen him do. It was definitely odd to see Jeannie’s pregnancy presented as a wholesome, positive thing, and of course that was the heart of Marty’s big con sales job.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What I’m Watching: Girls (Season Finale)

Girls: Season 4, Episode 10 “Home Birth” (B+)

This was a perfectly good episode, but I don’t know how I feel about it as a season finale. After a shaky start with the season premiere, I was actually quite impressed with this season and the direction it took, and while I do wish Hannah was still in Iowa insulting Desiree Akhavan and her other classmates, her return to New York was pretty worthwhile too. The birth of Caroline and Laird’s baby is a very tangential event in many ways, but seeing Adam and Hannah standing near the child and talking honestly about where their relationship meant was very relevant and a byproduct of that situation. Naming their baby JessaHannah is an equally nice and peculiar thing, and it was interesting to see that Jessa made it more about herself than Hannah did, a rare feat. Kudos to Hannah for finally standing up to Adam and rejecting his attempt to go back to the status quo. I’m happy to see that she’s with Fran in the near future, and hopefully he’ll be a big part of season five. Shoshanna’s interviews really are quite wild, and it looks like she’s headed to Japan, which probably won’t be a complete disaster, though it will surely ruin her budding relationship with Scott. Ray’s unprovoked takedown of Desi was pretty fantastic, but unfortunately it appears to have sent him running, which isn’t a problem since it helped Marnie get her solo start, and hopefully she won’t be a complete wreck without him. This season reasserted my confidence in this show, and I’m now eager to see where it’s headed.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Lena Dunham

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 5, Episode 10 “South Side Rules” (B+)

It’s a pity we didn’t get to see any of Carl ruling juvy in this episode, but this was another one of those devastating hours that went from comedy to drama in an instant without any warning. Watching Ian and Mickey beat each other senseless and then make up made the subsequent development, Sammi calling the army to come claim their deserter Gallagher, all the more heartbreaking, and that’s one harsh feat that Fiona and the family won’t let her come back from, no matter what role Carl had in incarcerating Chucky. The other big moment was Lip springing into action to bring his tripping resident to see Helene’s husband believing him to be a medical doctor rather than a doctor of theology, which resulted in Helene giving Lip a stern lecture about the real world and doing what actually matters rather than what might be expected of him by his peers. There’s a magnificent contradiction in Debs’ proactive plan to go on the pill to prevent teen pregnancy and her dismissal of Derek’s responsible presentation of a condom despite having been told expressly that the pain takes a couple of days to work. That’s a disaster just waiting to happen, and I’m truthfully worried about how she’ll deal with it. Frank trying hard to win Bianca’s affections seems surprisingly sincere, and it’s sweet that he’s putting so much effort into connecting with someone who really needs to live every day like there’s no tomorrow and she has nothing left to lose.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 15 “Try” (B-)

Here we are almost at the end of the season with just one episode left, and I feel like this show’s circular nature is rearing its head once again. Things were just starting to get interesting in Alexandria, and now they’re going to hell just in time for the season to end and things to pick up in a whole new place when the show returns sometime around Halloween for its sixth of who knows how many seasons. It was quite a sight to see Rick explode with rage when he was being so diplomatic and trying to get a drunken Pete out of Jessie’s home and away from her. Rick smacking Carl off of him seemed almost as violent as Pete pushing Jessie to the ground, and there’s no going back from the bloodthirsty beating Rick was enjoying giving Pete. At the very least, it’s good to know that no one else stood behind Rick and served to further alienate the Alexandria residents, and Michonne even went so far as to punch him out when he got too belligerent. Something tells me that his friends won’t leave him to be jailed or punished by anyone else, and though that system of law and order could work, it just won’t happen. I liked seeing more of the underused Rosita in this hour, and I hope that in the finale and beyond we get to see a bit more of all of our characters. And I think we have to be approaching a time when Sasha does more than just blindly shoot things to get out her aggression.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 16 “Red Meat” (C+)

Sometimes, this show is just a bit too random for its own good. We’ve seen that Sarah Steele’s body woman Marissa is pretty much the counterpoint to the nonstop stress by campaign advisors Josh and Johnny, but it’s a stretch to think that she’d be so relaxed as to convince the candidate to play video games while waiting for the results of the election to come in. Finn joining in as a teammate was also far from believable, and I think some actual flirtation might be preferable to this. What was intense and resounding was Alicia’s spat with Peter, in which she finally spoke up and told him how what was on her mind. His response, to discourage voters from coming out because they were secure in the fact that she would win, was low, and I like that he managed to go back on it in the end by causing a traffic jam that prevented Prady’s supporters from coming out to vote for him. Her roadside meeting with Prady was interesting for the honesty and discord it presented, and I imagine this is now the last we’ll see of him. I’m especially displeased with the route of Kalinda’s character. If she’s leaving the show, it’s about time it happened, since her role as mostly mute babysitter just isn’t cutting it. I did enjoy Diane’s time spent among the conservatives, complete with a superb abortion debate with Oliver Platt’s mystery man who just happens to be looking for new legal representation.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 1, Episode 10 “Divine Move” (C)

I really like the music on this show, and so I tend to get very excited during the opening credits each week regardless of whether the content of the episode is actually good or not. I’m all about what this show wants to do, but this episode just did not do it for me at all. Ramsey’s break with everything wasn’t really precipitated by anything, and felt too sudden even though we had warning that he was growing discontent with Jones’ leadership. Seeing Jennifer in the future lost its appeal since she literally looked like a witch leading a group of “daughters” as they wandered through the barren landscape. Ramsey sending himself back through time is an interesting concept, but to think that all that would be needed to successfully splinter after so many failed tests is one injection is hard to believe. The jump that’s been made from Cole and Ramsey being friends to where they are now was far too quick and intense, and Cole declaring that he’ll kill Ramsey if he tries to stop him is also less than convincing since he’d still likely do anything for his friend. Back in the past, Cassandra and Aaron aren’t doing much, and it looks like 1987 is a much more worthwhile time to be in at the moment. Let’s hope that Cole sorts things out there and gets back to the present, 2015, where he needs to be to pick Cassandra back up and set her back on track.

Pilot Review: Bloodline

Bloodline (Netflix)
Premiered March 20

It seems like Netflix is churning out a new season of some show almost every week now. The latest premiere, which came without too much fanfare, is “Bloodline,” a family drama slash thriller set at a hotel in the Florida Keys. As with “Parenthood,” this family produced a generation of four adult children, all of whom are extremely different. The cast assembled to play these four is pretty diverse and impressive. Kyle Chandler, who won an Emmy for “Friday Night Lights,” is the do-gooder son who became a sheriff. Linda Cardellini, who recently appeared on “Mad Men” and got her start well before that on “Freaks and Geeks,” is the daughter who can’t seem to get her life together. Norbert Leo Butz, a respected Broadway actor, is the lackadaisical brother. And Ben Mendelsohn, who I saw in two Sundance films this year and loved in “Animal Kingdom” and “Starred Up” before that, is the troublesome one who just can’t be relied upon. Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, two venerated veteran actors, are the parents, and a handful of other TV faces, like Jamie McShane, Katie Finneran, Steven Pasquale, and Mia Kirshner also appear in the pilot. The problem is that this show, which comes from the creators of “Damages,” feels a whole lot like that series, which slowly added little bits of information each episode to build a storyline that could have played out over just an episode or two. That style could work better for a show that can be binge-watched immediately, but I still don’t see it being too satisfying. It reminds me of a far less compelling version of “The Affair,” and I don’t see what makes this stand apart. I’d be willing to give it another episode or two, but it has to really pick up the pace.

How will it work as a series? The ending of the pilot presented a real shocker, which makes watching this show a little bit more enticing. How we go from voting one brother off the island to three siblings murdering him is sure to be a stretch, and let’s hope that having an entire season preordained doesn’t lead to stretching out the plot too much.
How long will it last? Netflix is on a bit of a high at the moment, with a number of successful shows and one of its other offerings, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” picked up before it premiered for a second season. This one got decent reviews and seems likely to ride that wave to a renewal, though it’s not the network’s number one show.

Pilot grade: C