Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Take Three: The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America: Season 1, Episode 3 “Part 3” (B+)

This episode charted further into the dark imagined reality of this show, and it did so in a subtle, disturbing, and effective way. Opening with Philip’s nightmare about swastikas being all over his stamp collection was jarring, and seeing the adults cleaning off the defaced graves at the cemetery showed that it wasn’t just in the heads of children. There were a number of truly unsettling moments during the Levins’ family trip to Washington, and I was so nervous the entire time that their friendly driver, Mr. Taylor, played by Michael Cerveris from “Mindhunter” and “Mosaic,” was going to do something bad to them. Instead, he and the waitstaff at the diner were their only allies, and they were accosted as loudmouth Jews at the Lincoln Memorial and then had their suitcases packed up by the hotel. Getting applauded after singing was the one moment of happiness, and that won’t be enough to sustain the angry Herman or the very anxious Bess. Alvin, who doesn’t like to broadcast his identity, put it best when he explained “I’m a Jew because I was born a Jew and this whole [expletive] world wishes I wasn’t.” It was truly horrifying to hear news broadcasts of “relocation camps” being constructed in Montana, and learning that there weren’t enough Democrats left in Congress to stop Lindbergh from very publicly shaking hands with Hitler was far too eerily reminiscent of current events. Rabbi Bengelsdorf’s enthusiastic promotion of the Office of American Absorption’s “Just Folks” program to send Jewish kids away to assimilate over summers seems so obvious a misstep, but he and Evelyn truly believe it’s for the best. Whatever comes next is sure to be even worse.

Pilot Review: Almost Paradise

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Black Monday

Black Monday: Season 2, Episode 4 “Fore!” (B+)

This episode, for all its absolute absurdity, really was pretty funny. I loved the casting of June Diane Raphael from “Grace and Frankie,” who also happens to be the real-life wife of Paul Scheer, who plays Keith, as Corky. Dawn finding out that her father was the pastor who invented the term “pray the gay away” and her villainizing of token conservative Nancy Reagan for marrying Ronald Reagan after he divorced, only made the situation more worrisome, particularly because Corky wanted to connect Dawn with that powerful father of hers for business opportunities. Blair misinterpreting Roger’s hole number as fifty-one was hilarious, and it was a relief that Dawn got there in time to hit him with the golf cart so that he wouldn’t have to pretend he knew what he was doing any longer. Roger revealing his promise to never be alone with a woman was a clear parody of Mike Pence, who actually advocates that policy and who variety series like “Saturday Night Live” often allege is secretly gay. After all this deception, it turns out Corky was just worried that her husband would leave her for another woman, not another man, which enabled both the passage of the bill and a potential new connection for Dawn. That said, everything came full-circle seconds later when Mo’s full game plan was revealed, enabling him to get revenge on everyone who screwed him over as the newscaster kept naming the bank over and over. We’ll see that fallout soon and how Mo arrives back in town eventually to take back his throne. Yassir and Wayne’s hunt for the penis photographer was totally ridiculous, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from this show.

What I’m Watching: Good Girls

Good Girls: Season 3, Episode 7 “Vegas, Baby” (C-)

Okay, now things have gone too far, and I’m giving this show one more episode before I just give up. The botched robbery was the first sign of how these three women, for how clever they are to be able to stay alive so long, continue to make absolutely poor decisions that lead to very expected and poor consequences for them and those around them. Annie is clearly the least responsible of the three, and technically this wasn’t her fault, but she would probably have been a better fit to have created a diversion outside than to be in charge of defusing a situation where someone ended up getting shot. Stan getting into illicit business because he decided he wasn’t righteous enough to become a cop again hardly seems like the most logical option, and he’s definitely going to get into trouble as he sees the potential for financial gain. I don’t even want to touch on Dean making a power play when Gayle tried to fire him since it’s both stupid and uninteresting. Beth introducing Max to Rio was in no way a good or plausible idea, mainly because there’s no reason that Rio wouldn’t have done some research and known what the problematic boyfriend he wanted to kill looked like. Most absurdly, Rio spent an extraordinary amount of effort to neatly move every single thing in Beth’s home, a symbolic message that will have Beth’s children making too much noise and will accomplish so little. It’s just too unbelievable, and I can’t imagine this show will go somewhere positive after that.

Monday, April 6, 2020

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 3, Episode 3 “The Absence of Field” (B+)

This season continues to be fascinating, and not spending any time within Westworld (or at least assuming that’s the case) hasn’t been a detriment at all. The one frustrating element has always been true on this show, which is that a focus on specific characters means that we don’t see everyone in each episode. But at least the overarching plotlines are aligning, with Charlotte being shown that Maeve’s code has been stolen and later meeting with an unhappy Serac, who really doesn’t know nearly as much as he thinks he does. It’s so interesting to see the power dynamic between Dolores and Charlotte, and to understand more about who Charlotte is, since apparently the real Charlotte is still buried in there somewhere and trying to claw her way out of a body that no longer belongs to her. Tessa Thompson is delivering a layered performance this season, and her best work was when she went to pick up her son and nearly strangled the pedophile who she said reminded her of what it meant to be a parent. I like the casting of Michael Ealy from “Sleeper Cell” and “The Good Wife” as Jake, Charlotte’s ex, though I’m not sure we’ll see him again anytime soon. Aaron Paul is proving to be a superb addition to the cast, with Caleb fearlessly standing up to the fake police who showed up to take Dolores and then withstanding torture so that he wouldn’t put her in danger. He wasn’t pleased with how much Dolores knew about his entire life, but her full honesty suggests she’s recruiting a true partner rather than just someone else she can control.

What I’m Watching: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist: Season 1, Episode 8 “Zoey's Extraordinary Glitch” (B)

One of the benefits of having a show where someone has unexplained powers is that they can, all of a sudden, start working differently. I was thinking recently that it’s a shame that the talented Jane Levy, who plays Zoey, doesn’t get to sing and perform with anyone else, and this episode went ahead and resolved that in a big way. It makes some sense, I guess, that when Zoey is the one who sings, she’s actually singing in real life without the big ensemble she’s picturing in her head. The music selection was certainly clever, with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” as a particularly humorous choice, and what she sang to the two men she’s interested in definitely upended those relationships. Max seemed most hurt by it since he knew it was what she was really feeling since she couldn’t hide the truth, and Simon responding by kissing her was definitely not what I expected to happen. This glitch that Zoey experienced had a clear root, and it’s absolutely devastating that Mitch now has only a short time left to live when it seemed that he was both able to better communicate and that he was getting the care that he – and his family – desperately needed from the eccentric Howie. Zoey running from that was not like her at all, and sitting down next to him and singing “How Do I Live” was a poignant and heartbreaking way to channel what she was really feeling. Her powers may now return to normal, but life won’t.

Pilot Review: Baghdad Central

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Pilot Review: Vagrant Queen

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

What I’m Watching: Better Things

Better Things: Season 4, Episode 5 “Carbonara” (B+)

After getting to really let loose on her oldest daughter in the previous episode, Sam got to check in with her two other children and see how much their perspectives have changed. Frankie wasn’t upset anymore with Sam walking in on her in bed with an older man, and she actually expressed a moderately mature attitude about how she wanted to make sure that Sam was cared for down the line. She was not happy when Sam tried to come into her appointment with her, but that’s to be expected, and she wasn’t nearly as confrontational or outright rude as she’s been in the past. She’s even trying to set Sam up with a dating profile, though the returns aren’t proving all too successful just yet. Duke being told by her ballet teacher that she had to choose between that art and soccer felt harsh, and I would have thought that being questioned about whether she’s had her period would turn her off from it altogether. Instead, she put her headphones in right away when Sam picked her up and made the decision that she’d quit soccer so that she could dance, and she’s officially growing up fast, turning into the kind of rebel that both of her older sisters have been up until this point. Phyl pricing down expensive items so that she could buy them felt like exactly the kind of iffy behavior she’s been doing for a while now. The silent film segment was irreverent, but this show marches to its own wonderful beat these days.

What I’m Watching: Indebted

Indebted: Season 1, Episodes 8 and 9 “Everybody’s Talking About FOMO” and “Everybody’s Talking About Pleasure” (C+/B)

I’m not sure why it is that NBC decided to air a double dose of this show this week, and I mistakenly thought that the tenth episode was the last one, unaware that thirteen episodes were actually ordered and filmed, at which point this show will almost certainly be ended. The first of these two episodes was the weaker one, since it’s already a stretch to believe that Rebecca goes along with her in-laws’ shenanigans but somewhat understandable given how Dave defers to his parents’ whims. Joanna, on the other hand, has her own life, and though she’s prone to extreme sensitivity and sentiments of being ignored all the time, she’s better at resisting the overwhelming and overbearing influence of her parents. The amount of food they ordered to cheer her up explains why they’re broke but not how they still have enough money to do that, and the overall message that Joanna isn’t connected enough to social media was amusing. Dave and Rebecca’s antics were far less entertaining. I did enjoy the second half-hour more, with Dave and Rebecca doubting their sex life because of Stew and Deb’s inappropriate interference and Deb’s absurd references to the pregnancy developments of a woman they’d never met. Joanna’s plotline was actually even better, as she tried to resolve her issues with how her father reacted with her coming out by bringing over the girl she was kissing, only to eventually realize that his eyes were scarred not by her sexual orientation but by jalapenos (or jolly peenies, as Deb calls them). I couldn’t figure out where I knew Jenny from, and it turns out that actress Emily Pendergast played Jonah’s wife on “Veep,” a very different but similarly subservient role.

What I’m Watching: Outmatched (Series Finale)

Outmatched: Season 1, Episode 10 “Royal Rumble” (C)

This show hasn’t officially been cancelled, but given that it’s now aired all of its filmed episodes and most well-regarded series are going to be experiencing production delays due to the current situation, I can’t imagine anyone is going to be clamoring for this show to return. As it’s gone on, it’s felt increasingly choreographed, and the three older children looking on and then walking over to their newly-approved potential guardians was one such moment that just felt painfully scripted and staged. I’ve noted multiple times that the incorporation of Rita and Irwin into the storyline has been one of the most clunky and least effective elements of this show, and having them as the assumed guardians who had never been asked was only moderately entertaining, mainly because it was so obvious from the start that it was going to lead to them wanting to do it. Mike and Kay lying to their youngest daughter about her birthday seemed just plain odd – and unsustainable, given that it’s not hard to check and theoretically would have come up – but it led to a revelation that supports the inkling that this show, like this character, is actually much smarter than it seems. Leila being a secret genius who just pretends to be dumb so that she can do as she pleases is an interesting twist, though one that comes far too late in a show that hasn’t shown much intelligence to be taken too seriously. I like what Maggie Lawson and Jason Biggs were doing on this show, and I look forward to seeing what they do next in a project that isn’t this.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Maggie Lawson as Kay

What I’m Watching: Star Trek: Picard (Season Finale)

Star Trek: Picard: Season 1, Episode 10 “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” (B+)

Now, this was a pretty formidable finale, and I’m quite pleased that I stuck with this show through an initially unexciting few episodes to see how much it improved. This episode did a good job of rehabilitating some characters whose true motivations had come into question, namely Agnes, Soji, and even Narek. Picard was a strong anchor for all of them to guide them in the right direction and explain what was most right, and he even managed both to fool an entire Romulan fleet into thinking there were hundreds of ships in front of them right before he defused an intergalactic confrontation. I was worried that Agnes was going to try to kill some of the synthetics, but fortunately she just wanted to rescue Picard so that she could utilize his wealth of experience to figure a way out of all this. Narek appealed to Raffi, Rios, and Elnor to understand his perspective, and Picard was ultimately able to talk Soji down and broadcast his message of support for her kind to everyone watching so that no misunderstandings would ensue. Riker showing up in charge of the Starfleet cavalry was quite satisfying, and there was no way that a show with a character’s name in it would kill off its lead. Agnes and Soji working together to bring Picard back to life but keep him human enough was a great way to end it all, and that final shot of the crew getting back into their seats, including Seven of Nine, got me very excited for a second season, whenever that will be.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine

Saturday, April 4, 2020

What I’m Watching: Unorthodox (Series Finale)

Unorthodox: Season 1, Episode 4 “Part 4” (B+)

This was a very powerful closer, one that makes me and I’m sure many other viewers want more. But I think that this episode – and miniseries as a whole – was more about showcasing an escape rather than a new life, since there are still many elements of Esty’s situation in Berlin that remain extremely unresolved. Just because she got Yanky to understand that she needs to be her own person doesn’t mean that the rest of the community she left behind will, especially given how much Yanky was influenced by his mother and everyone else, to the point that he asked for a divorce since they weren’t about to have sex and get pregnant. After Moische made sure to intimidate Leah, she used the same gun he left to torment Esty to keep him from ruining her audition, but, as she well knows, he won’t be the only enforcer the community sends, and lawyers will surely work to get custody as least of the baby even if they eventually don’t care about Esty anymore. Leah revealing that she had lost custody of Esty was heartbreaking, and reframed their entire relationship in a way that still won’t be her easy for her daughter to easily digest. Changing to song at the last minute was a surprise, but her choice of a second song was immensely moving. It had particular resonance for me since I walked down the aisle at my wedding to that song, albeit a different tune, though one that I’m familiar with at another point during Jewish weddings. Its style also reminded me of a woman whose program I attended in college who left the ultra-Orthodox world and retained the praying style usually reserved for men from those communities. I found this four-episode series to be incredibly worthwhile, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t to watch the accompanying twenty-minute documentary available on Netflix. I would also certainly tune in for a second series should that ever come to fruition.

If you want to learn more about this show, join me for a live interview with co-creator Alexa Karolinski tomorrow (Sunday) at 12pm PDT at the movieswithabe YouTube channel.

Take Three: Unorthodox (Penultimate Episode)

Unorthodox: Season 1, Episode 3 “Part 3” (B+)

This hour showed us what was likely the main reason that Esty realized that she had to leave while simultaneously exploring her even deeper immersion into a life completely different from the one she’s always known. It was surprising to see the focus on the couple’s inability to successfully have sex, and kudos to this show for naming vaginismus and demonstrating what many women have to go through when society expects them to be able to have sex without any issue. Early on in the episode, I still thought that Yanky was one of the only palatable elements of Esty’s insular experience, and even that his actions with the prostitute/dancer were meant as research to how he could be a more attentive husband to his wife rather than something lustful. But when we saw Esty push through the extreme pain and how his response was simply to acknowledge his own pleasure, it was clear that he was just as clueless and unconcerned with her happiness as the other oppressive elements who caused Esty to feel so trapped. It’s disturbing to see how Moische operates, flagrantly disregarding religious law and basic decency, and it was almost more alarming to see him opt to take pictures of her dancing with another man rather than confronting her since he likely plans to weaponize it so that Yanky will be the one to drag his own wife home. I hope that Esty’s new friends and her mother can help ensure that she is able to give a freer experience a try, even if some of the infectious behavior, like the passionate dancing and a different kind of sex, is merely temporary as she continues to discover herself.

Round Two: Unorthodox

Unorthodox: Season 1, Episode 2 “Part 2” (B+)

This second installment did not disappoint. Flashing back to Esty and Yanky’s wedding set the tone for an hour that examined the most formative moments in their insular life and then how they responded to a whole new world in Berlin. Yanky thinking that he could ask Moische’s smartphone where his wife was because the capabilities of the Internet seemed boundless to him and Esty expecting that eating ham would make her throw up were two entertaining examples of their struggles to acclimate to being somewhere that the rules don’t apply and where consequences don’t necessarily follow deviation from normalcy. Moische really is a despicable character, one who exudes arrogance and a disregard for the principles that most in his community hold dear, happy to use his “business phone” to play games and ready to physically intimidate someone to get what he wants. Yanky, on the other hand, is much gentler, and it seems that he was likely one of the only positive things for Esty to hold on to in Williamsburg. The fact that they went straight to her mother’s house and Esty hasn’t stopped by yet is puzzling, but she may not have realized or been told where her mother lived, and she’s just trying to find her bearings. As an Israeli, Yael is the one who knows where she comes from best, and she’s also not willing to ease her transition, bursting her bubble about her piano performance when everyone else was ready to applaud her. It took me a minute to recognize Yousef Sweid from popular Israeli films such as “The Bubble” and “Tel Aviv on Fire” as Karim, the conductor who has a soft spot for Esty but not for Dasia. I’m looking forward to episodes three and four!