Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Pilot Review: Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol (DC Universe)
Premiered February 15

I wasn’t expecting to like this show at all after a lackluster experience with the pilot of “Titans,” DC Universe’s first show that apparently spun this one off. Without having seen the episode of that show which launched this one, I didn’t feel lost at all, actually finding the exposition here to be terrific. I understand that the narration is meant to mock other superhero series that are all too familiar to viewers, but it managed to work wonders here, drawing me in and helping me to care about each of the four major protagonists whose lives went very, very awry to get them to the place they are now. I’m impressed with the cast, immediately recognizing Alan Tudyk from the likes of “Firefly” and the underrated “Powerless,” smirking as usual before appearing later in a far freakier form. Brendan Fraser had what turned out to be an underwhelming arc on “The Affair” a few years ago, and it’s good to see him as the tormented former racer now encased in a metal body that gives him strength and allows him to hide the demons inside him. Matt Bomer taking a part that keeps his face behind a mask demonstrates his commitment to the project, and it’s good to see the likeable former star of “White Collar” try something new like this. I couldn’t figure out where I knew Crazy Jane from, and I’m so happy to see that Diane Guerrero, a standout supporting player who was mysteriously absent from season six of “Orange is the New Black,” has found a role that allows her to display many antics and emotions. Though I’m convinced I’ve seen April Bowlby, who plays Elasti-Girl, somewhere before, it doesn’t appear that I have, and she’s winning me over as the former movie star whose uncontrollable transformation into the large blob was one of the best moments of this opening hour. And then of course there’s Timothy Dalton, many years removed from his James Bond career and fresher off “Penny Dreadful,” as the man seemingly pulling the strings who’s actually not in control of much. This pilot was one of the most engaging superhero starts I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m definitely in to see if episode two lives up to it.

How will it work as a series? They’ve decided to stay and defend the town because they don’t think that anything could be worse than what they’ve become, and they got some pretty quick confirmation that’s not the case at all. The powers here are truly interesting and dark, and I’m so curious to see how they use them to defeat more nefarious threats.
How long will it last? The original series “Titans” has already been renewed for a second season, and this one has better reviews across the board. Ratings data isn’t something that the relatively new streaming service is likely to release, but given that Netflix is rapidly pulling out of the Marvel superhero game, I think that DC is going to want to invest big-time here and give this show a ringing endorsement.

Pilot grade: B+

Counterpart: The Best Show You’re Not Watching

I'm still not over the fact that Starz has decided not to renew "Counterpart" for a third season after two completely terrific first years, and I'll have a review of what will now be the series finale later this week. Check out my take on the show as a whole for Criminal Element by heading over to their site to read the piece.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 10, Episode 11 “The Scales of Justice” (B+)

Much of this episode was over-the-top, but it still worked thanks to the dedication of all five primary cast members. I liked the pairing of Jack and Grace in their efforts to critique each other’s bodies and lose weight after they both ripped their pants, and their physical comedy was at its peak as they dove onto the floor to race for the last crouton that had fallen out of the trash (or something of the sort). Realizing that they can be happy-ish while being in shape-ish was a nice way to end it, though I do hope they’re prone to similar antics in the future as they do tend to be quite entertaining. I recognized Aya Cash right away as one of Will’s students, and if the “You’re the Worst” star had to play any part on this far less risqué comedy (a humorous sentiment given how much this show does push the envelope), I’m glad it’s as Karen’s former stepdaughter, who, during her childhood, got grounded by Karen for not drinking enough. I enjoyed that their rift over the necklace turned into the dramatic case at the center of Will’s happening classroom, resulting in Will’s very judicial conclusion that they just wanted to be in each other’s lives again. While I’d much rather watch Cash as Gretchen on the FXX show that’s ending in just a few weeks, I’d be very happy to learn that she was becoming a recurring player on this show much in the way that Michael Angarano once was as Jack’s son.

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 2, Episode 6 “The Small of My Back” (B+)

Andrea was on fire in this episode, expressing plenty of passion in every conversation she had, whether it was chastising her father for having sex in the house when Amelia was sleeping over, telling Mike about the sex dream she had about Mr. Castellotti, or recounting both of those unfortunate happenings to her friend Brian, who was all too eager to both digest the information and then tell all the other parents about it. It could have been a lot worse than Amelia telling Andrea in front of Brian that she just wanted to “do it for fun” when she grew up, and it did seem that Andrea left things awfully unresolved when she failed to truly emphasize the adult nature of sex and that it probably wasn’t something she should reference on the playground. I was very excited to see Rose McIver’s name in the credits since I’m a huge fan of the “iZombie” star, whose show returns for its final season in May. I wish that she would have had a bigger role, but at least she got to play it completely straight with Andrea before she finally acted on the information she had all too subtly alluded to and then remained just as emotionless in her response after confirming the affair. In the way that this show has always resembled “Curb Your Enthusiasm” a bit, I enjoyed Martin’s eagerness to let the waiter go through his whole speech about what to order at the restaurant when he had indeed been there before and Andrea seemed totally ready to put in her order before he opened his mouth.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 6 “This Brief Fermata” (B+)

Gretchen was way too excited when Jimmy proposed the idea of a free sex week, but he was really the one who had something to feel guilty about and tried to cover it up with the “margin of error.” Just confessing and apologizing for his act of what would likely have been considered minor infidelity would surely have gone over better than tricking Gretchen into thinking he was having sex all week just so that she would go out and force herself to have sex with a “random” to be on the same playing field. Scenes like the one that ended this episode with Gretchen very purposely putting emphasis on certain words as Jimmy’s smile slowly faded from his face are the main dramatic appeal of a show that, up until recently, has been mostly focused on its comedy for a while. Gretchen being extremely devoted to work for the first time ever was indeed a change, and she managed to come up with just the right way to solve two problems, linking the very particular Nock Nock up with Sam, which also got him to finally sign the papers so they could turn it into a done deal. We haven’t seen Sam enough lately, and I’m glad that he showed up a few times this episode, at one point to destroy Jimmy in video games and then remind him that Gretchen is the ultimate liar. Jimmy’s going to have to find some way to atone for what he’s done since she is not going to be quick to forgive him this time.

Pilot Review: Miracle Workers

Miracle Workers (TBS)
Premiered February 12 at 10:30pm

I watch every pilot, and it’s a rare pleasure that one is truly enjoyable enough that I know I’m going to continue watching it. After enjoying a clever vision of the afterlife on “The Good Place” for three years, it’s fun to encounter a different version of the world above with none other than Steve Buscemi as God, who has become complacent and outright bored, to the point that he’s willing to trade not destroying Earth to watch someone eat a worm in public. I was always a fan of “Bruce Almighty” and thought that having Jim Carrey acquire God’s powers was a blast, and this show is a much grimmer but equally funny look at how things might function and explain the state of the world today. I enjoyed Buscemi’s God rewinding the video interview of a deceased racer saying “Praise God” so that he could hear it over and over again, and then complaining that people didn’t sacrifice rams to him anymore even though it grossed him out. The departments are an entertaining premise, and I like that Daniel Radcliffe’s Craig has gone stir-crazy trying to very, very slowly answer some people’s prayers. Though spunky do-gooder Eliza has convinced Craig that he can do more with his time than just small natural phenomena, it’s good to see things grounded by the unfortunate inevitabilities like the man they helped find his second glove turning out to be the Shotgun Killer. I’m very pleased with this start and eager to see where the next six episodes go.

How will it work as a series? The bet is on, and I assume we’ll follow events slowly through their little television screens as Eliza and Craig try to find clever ways to intervene and shape events in the way they need to go to save Earth. I’m looking forward to seeing how God starts to care about the people that he’s been ignoring for so many years.
How long will it last? It’s possible that it’s intended only to be a one-season show running seven episodes, and though reviews weren’t quite as formidable as mine, I think that it’s been well-received enough that it could continue beyond that. TBS has made some questionable programming decisions lately, but I’d bet that this one can go for two seasons.

Pilot grade: B+

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pilot Review: Boomerang

Boomerang (BET)
Premiered February 12 at 10pm

It’s hard to find any truly original programming these days, with a whole bunch of previously popular films and television series being repurposed and continued in the present day, hoping to find an audience. In this case, it’s the 1992 film “Boomerang” starring Eddie Murphy, which this reviewer hasn’t seen. Given that the film was released nearly thirty years ago, it makes sense that the next generation would be the focus in what has been described as a straight continuation of its plot happening many years later. There’s a clear dynamic at play here, one in which Simone, the daughter of Murphy’s character from the film, lives in a privileged position because of her father’s success and often exerts undue influence as a result, yet all she wants is to be able to make her own, individual mark on the world, evident in her excitement at seeing a check that didn’t have her father’s name on it. On the other side of things is Bryson, who knows that he needs to work hard and should really listen to his instincts rather than let Simone reshape a winning pitch that he had made into something with her fingerprints all over it that was not what was ordered. This show is reminiscent of “Insecure,” though its protagonists come from very different backgrounds. The only performer I recognized immediately was Paula Newsome, who I first encountered on “Women’s Murder Club” and appeared much more recently on “Barry,” as Victoria, Bryson’s unforgiving boss. This show is fun for what it is, but it doesn’t appeal particularly to me.

How will it work as a series? Even though it cost him what could have been a great gig, Bryson does seem to value Simone’s input, and their futures are going to be interwoven, both professionally and personally. This is a setup that we’ve seen before many times, and though it’s formulaic to a degree, these characters should help it stand apart.
How long will it last? Reviews seem to be pretty good, which is a major get for a remake of a movie so many years after its initial release. It already lost some of its viewers going from episode one to two, and they’re not as impressive as other series on BET. The network feels like a good fit, and I suspect this one will get a shot to prove itself in a second season.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 12 “Songbird Road: Part Two” (B)

It sure seems like Rebecca knew a lot about the parental figures absent from her children’s lives and didn’t tell them, always sitting down to talk about the secret goings-on she doesn’t want to discuss in front of them. Nicky was not particularly kind to Rebecca in his takedown of Kevin as a movie star who wanted to have a great story to tell by saving his uncle, and it’s clear that so many years away from society and being shunned as an embarrassment by his brother have made it difficult for him to function around other people. The most regrettable part of the entire affair is seeing what Kevin failing to pull off the incredible feat that his father could have did to him, prompting him to drink again and sink back into the depression he was experiencing before this hopeful reunion took over his every thought. Let’s hope Rebecca notices and tries to help him before he ends up completely isolated like Nicky, with Zoe already apparently not returning his calls. It was sweet to see Kate and Randall have some time to bond as they reminisced about their sequin fight with Jack, both remembering it in vastly different ways that spoke to Jack’s mental state and his ability to put on a good face in front of his children. Getting let in to their childhood home helped them to realize that it didn’t look at all the same, and it was nice to see Kate return home with ideas of a backyard for her family while Randall is going to have to be more present at home while Beth goes out of town to help her mom.

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