Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Pilot Review: Rise

Rise (NBC)
Premiered March 13 at 10pm

There are shows that come along every once in a while that are authentically inspiring and attain a following taken in by the way in characters on the show are so transformed by radiant personalities combatting difficult circumstances in the show’s world. One such series was “Friday Night Lights,” defining a town’s livelihood by the spirit captured in its high school football games. It’s no surprise that creator Jason Katims would want to create another series like that one after taking a bit of a break for family dramedy with “Parenthood” and “About a Boy.” This show, which is also based on a nonfiction book, “Drama High” by Michael Sokolove, aims to portray a high school that lacks the right kind of enthusiasm and direction and is irreversibly transformed into something great and enduring through the implementation of a boundary-pushing drama program. The problem is that this feels entirely manufactured, employing a similar look to “Friday Night Lights” but a far less effective feel. Part of the woes might come from casting Josh Radnor, best known for being a great straight man on long-running comedy “How I Met Your Mother,” in the lead role, but it has more to do with the fact that the way the school is portrayed doesn’t make it seem genuinely in need of saving, and Radnor’s Lou is so set on being the inspiration that his eventual success is sure to feel self-congratulatory. He also doesn’t have a great handle on his home life, and he’s already in way over his head getting everyone in the play to demand that the show go on as only they want it to. This is a show that feels manipulative in the way it wishes to guide its audience and far from genuine.

How will it work as a series? The students are indeed the only ones clamoring for this show to happen, supported by Lou and Rosie Perez’s Tracey, and they’re going to come up against plenty of resistance in the process of putting it on from all the parents, administrators, and fellow students who just don’t get it. But we already know they’ll be inspired and successful, which makes it more or less enticing?
How long will it last? Reviews are mixed, more positive overall than how I felt after watching this pilot. The ratings were moderately good to start, following an episode of “This Is Us,” the show that’s probably most comparable to it on the air right now. Taking over its timeslot now that the season is over should mean good things, and therefore I’d expect a second season to be ordered soon.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot Review: For the People

For the People (ABC)
Premiered March 13 at 10pm

Eight years ago, ABC premiered a new show about young lawyers in way over their heads that I described as being advertised as “Grey’s Anatomy” with law instead of medicine. “The Deep End” had some good comic elements, like the protagonist eagerly announcing that he was a little early only to be told that he was ten days late, and the expected amount of sex and scandal to keep things lively. It was decent, if not great, and lasted a mere six episodes. Now, so many years later, we have the same network attempting another series that specifically spotlights lawyers at the start of their careers without any added twist like one of them being in a second career after her husband was disgraced following a political affair. This series wasted no time in being sappy right from the start with an impassioned speech from the judge played by Vondie Curtis-Hall, most recently seen as reporter Ben on “Daredevil.” Playing the adults, we have two very talented and dependable performers, Ben Shenkman of “Billions,” “Royal Pains,” and much more, and Hope Davis of “In Treatment,” “American Splendor,” “Wayward Pines,” and so many others, along with Anna Deavere Smith in a role that’s supposed to tie everything together. Among the younger clan, the only one who sticks out is Britt Robertson, whose recent starring turn on “Girlboss” was far more worthwhile than this dull of a part here which doesn’t do anything to showcase her strengths as an actress. So much that happens on this show is formulaic and predictable, with over-sensationalized plots like someone being arrested for terrorism when he was the lone actual participant in an FBI sting and another person being cruelly targeted for a relatively innocent mistake. This show might be energizing for its target audience, but there’s little new or original about it.

How will it work as a series? We’ve already seen a couple break up after going up against each other in court, and we know that the two adults are actually friendly despite the different ways in which they perceive the world. That’s sure to only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything that could happen on a show that’s likely to feature high-value cases and lots of complicated webs connecting the people defending and prosecuting them.
How long will it last? Reviews were decent for this show, which is ultimately going to be carried much more on its ratings success given its Shondaland status. Those numbers were also okay if not completely fantastic, and while ABC could probably use a new legal show these days, I’m not so sure that this is it. It could still get renewed, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic.

Pilot grade: C+

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 4, Episode 16 “Run, Iris, Run” (B+)

If there’s one thing that this show has done well, it’s giving each of its characters the opportunity to shine with powers of their own. Joe is now the only member of the team who hasn’t been either temporarily or permanently gifted with abilities, since Harry is technically amplifying his brainwaves to give him amplified power of thought. It was Ralph’s own grappling with his mortality and how the odds are looking for his future that made him spur Iris into action because she felt judged for never going into the field, and it just so happened that she got taken hostage and ended up being given Barry’s powers. Though the first few outings didn’t go so smoothly, it was nice to see Iris energized by her speed and accompanied by a purple light of her own, with Jesse’s costume serving as a perfect fit for her brief use. Creating the tidal wave and vanquishing the firestarter after a rough beginning was an impressive final feat, and it’s good to know that she’s now more than satisfied with staying on the sidelines and running point for the team. After seeing so many metas destined for evil just because they were endowed with powers, it was refreshing to see hero paramedic Matthew Kim actually want to help. I’m nervous that he won’t actually be able to take DeVoe’s powers since everything so far has worked out so poorly, and there are still six episodes left until the end of the season. At least the team has two legs up right now with Harry’s successful acquisition of the last two names of the bus metas.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Take Three: Good Girls

Good Girls: Season 1, Episode 3 “Borderline” (B)

This show continues to be interesting, though I feel like it’s stalling a little bit in some predictable ways. The best comparison to this episode is when Nancy crossed the border the first time and had to pee in her Starbucks cup on “Weeds,” furious to discover that it was just a test mission without any drugs. What Rio is doing is considerably more serious, with that giant warehouse and all of the counterfeit money, and seeing that made the trip to Canada feel more worthwhile. It was entertaining to see first Beth and then Annie try to convince the guy who didn’t want to give them their package to do it, and then Ruby tried to intimidate him with the empty gun only to accidentally shoot him right away. While that was an unfortunate mistake, the fact that it was a gun made it more dangerous from the start. Annie pairing her phone with the stolen car, on the other hand, was very poor decision-making that could easily have been avoided. It’s also evident that, however much she loves her child, Annie is not a responsible parent given just how much it took for her to remember to be a home for a visit that, and it’s no surprise that it went poorly enough that she needed to ask for a ride to the emergency room. I’m not sure what Beth is thinking in calling Rio over, but hopefully it’s to make sure that there’s a legitimate way for them to continue their affiliation with his criminal enterprise and steer clear of the police. Ruby made the best of her situation when she thanked the woman who tried to take credit for giving them the money for so many things that she hadn’t offered to do but now had to in order to keep up the lie.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 4, Episode 3 “Brainless in Seattle, Part 1” (B+)

This new reality means that the suspect pool is considerably more limited due to the already proven fact that those who committed or were victims of crimes had to be in Seattle before it was sectioned off from the rest of the country, but we also know that there are those trying to get in and out and others helping them to do it. Annie was nervous about coming in with her smuggler escort, who was very reassuring that he had done this before, but then she ended up dead because she could meet the man she had started dating online just a month earlier. Liv eating her brain promptly transformed her into a homeless romantic eager to narrate each month and prone to falling head over heels in love with each person she saw. Trying to seduce Allan during interrogation was very entertaining, and it was fun to see Ravi let her try to give him a makeover so that he could help Peyton chaperone her trip to the Scratching Post, where she met another guy before panicking that she had lost the number that he wrote on her arm. Using the sketch artist to draw Tim was hilarious, though they do have to focus more on Bruce, who apparently was not just a treacherous coyote but a serial killer. There’s also the matter of Dale’s apparent infidelity, which is going to have normal Liv off any brains hating her, and Don-E’s hardball with the brain supplier who Blaine used to get someone that he could turn human with the cure to feast on his brains and get the answers to track down Renegade that he needs.

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3, Episode 14 “Amazing Grace” (B)

This is an episode that exemplifies the nature of this show, which is wildly entertaining if a bit outrageous and random sometimes. I’m not usually fond of ghosts showing up in any of the programming I watch, but I do have to admit that this relatively tame episode managed to handle it well, certainly more pleasantly than all the exorcism stuff we saw earlier this season. I love that Nate’s hair product ceased to exist and Mick had to rename his pet rat because Elvis never made it as a rock star and therefore rock and roll didn’t become a thing. Naturally, Elvis’ guitar would have the sixth totem attached to it that was actually the ghost of his dead twin brother who helped inspire him to make his music. It was convenient that his preacher uncle could cite that as the devil showing up through the music, and it did manage to unearth quite a few spirits in Memphis that only Elvis making peace with his brother could put to rest. Ray having a funeral for Mick’s pet rat on the ship was a silly diversion, though I guess it was a bit entertaining. It was notable to see Nate try to get Amaya to experience music that meant something to her, and though she wasn’t entirely fond of his particular genre, it is clear that she’s fallen in love with him, which makes their constant exploits and the fact that she ultimately has to return to her timeline all the more complicated.

What I’m Watching: Timeless (Season Premiere)

Timeless: Season 2, Episode 1 “The War to End All Wars” (B)

When this show last aired over a year ago, I didn’t yet know whether it would be back for a second season, and an announcement came soon after that it wouldn’t be. While I still argue that this show wasn’t the one that needed to get another chance and end up saved from cancellation when so many others didn’t earn that same opportunity, this is still a fun series that I don’t think I’m ready to give up on just yet. The “previously on” segment was quite extensive and indicated that maybe it was worth bringing back, and this was also an hour that saw things in an uncertain state for our three protagonists. I guess it’s good that Lucy pretending to work with Rittenhouse only lasted for the majority of this episode and not for a good portion of the season, since now she can get back to work with Wyatt and Rufus on combating that which they’ve been trying to accomplish. Emma was very eager to test her loyalty throughout their time together, and her mother has revealed herself to be a villain far more cunning if not quite as nefarious. I like that they met Irene Curie, who said that Lucy’s French was terrible when she complimented her English, and her mother, who Emma nearly shot, which would surely have had a negative impact on history. We’ll have to see what role the soldier they saved, played by Michael Rady from “Swingtown” and “House of Lies,” will play now that he’s been brought to the future to see his vision of Rittenhouse actualized. In more comic occurrences, I loved the cover story of “Was that not Captain Phillips’ truck? He asked us to save Private Ryan.”

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pilot Review: Deception

Deception (ABC)
Premiered March 11 at 10pm

I feel like, for all the shows that there are about people in fields that have nothing to do with law enforcement who end up working with either the police or the FBI to help solve crimes, there aren’t many about magicians who do it. That’s not to suggest that the TV universe is in need of such shows, but here we have one. This show could have kept us going for a lot longer before it revealed a twist straight out of “The Prestige,” but instead it dropped the brother-bomb early, sending Jonathan to prison for a murder he didn’t commit while the disgraced Cameron tried to keep his act going. The fact that Cameron was the one who came to the FBI to tell them that he had witnessed a disappearing act engineered by a magician rather than having his services sought out tells you plenty about the size of his ego, but he also more than proved his worth, first by fooling the agents into thinking that he was a criminal they were looking for and then managing to drive blindfolded, get shot, and still deliver the bad guy straight to the authorities. Star Jack Cutmore-Scott is a relative newcomer to TV, having played the title character on “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life,” a horrible one-season series from 2016, and he’s certainly charismatic, matched well with professional eye-roller Ilfenesh Hadera, who plays Agent Daniels. The two recognizable members of the main cast are Amaury Nalasco, of “Prison Break” fame, who portrays a rather dorky FBI agent entranced by magic, and Vinnie Jones, who I wish was still starring on the short-lived medieval musical “Galavant.” And then there’s also Stephanie Corneliussen, very memorable on “Mr. Robot,” as the sorceress with the magic eyes, who should keep Black and the FBI busy for quite some time. This show is entertaining if nothing else, but it doesn’t stand out enough to merit weekly viewing.

How will it work as a series? Black seems positively energized by the opportunity to hunt down the woman who ruined his brother’s life, and I guess that Agent Daniels is going to keep him around because she also perpetrated the escape of a federal prisoner? That part isn’t clear, but we’ve seen how this works on “Castle” and “Limitless” and so many other shows. It’s predictable to a degree but also wildly exciting – and just as unbelievable – if done right.
How long will it last? The reviews aren’t great, but I’m not sure anyone thought that this was going to be a critical hit. The premiere numbers are decent for ABC on Sunday nights, not emblematic of surefire success but strong enough to give this show a fighting chance to stick around at least as long as its protagonist needs to catch the woman he’s currently after.

Pilot grade: B-

Friday, March 16, 2018

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 7, Episode 5 “Active Measures” (C)

I’m strongly considering giving up on this show, not because this episode was significantly worse than the rest of what we’ve seen this season, but rather due to its inability to really go anywhere interesting. Saul thinks it might be the Russians, not O’Keefe, who was responsible for the doctored video that caused all the chaos, an attempt to mimic reality that doesn’t feel like it’s going to be worthwhile since it can’t possibly compare to election influencing and all that, and is hardly as exciting as the kind of government conspiracies we’re used to on this show. I’m not sure why Keane thought it would be a good idea to encourage the widow of the FBI agent killed to attend the memorial, and the fact that the mother of the dead kid chose to welcome her doesn’t negate the angry reception everyone else gave them when they walked in. Keane is congratulating herself without much reason to do so, and things are going to get much worse soon after this brief victory. Carrie’s operation didn’t go too well despite her intervening to plant a second bug after the first failed, and her puzzled reaction at the end of the episode is leading to a conclusion that we’ve been well aware of for some time: Wellington is not involved in this corruption at all, but, worse, he’s being played by someone else who’s manipulating events. I really do feel that this season is proceeding along without much purpose, and with so much else on, why should I bother with this show anymore?

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 1, Episode 8 “Love the Lie” (B+)

After last week’s knockout of an expository episode filling in a whole lot of the blanks, now we see what happens when that school is discovered. There wasn’t even a need for a shootout to create so many casualties, which shows the lengths this group is willing to go to protect their mission. Its discovery led to what was clearly the most worthwhile scene of the hour, which found both Howards sitting opposite each other and comparing their experiences. It was great to see our Howard stand up for himself and decry theirs for ruining his life, which ours had already managed to improve in just a short time on the other side. It’s disconcerting that their Howard didn’t even bother to apologize for lying about his Emily being alive, and he opted not to share the news that our Emily woke up, even though she’s in no state for our Howard to see her, especially since he’s had the jarring experience of spending time with someone very much like her who has full control of all of her functions. More troubling than their passionate exchange was how a distraught Peter, who spent the hour trying to grapple with his wife’s betrayal, chose to handle the situation when he was confronted by Aldrich. Framing Howard is a questionable move, and one that’s not likely to benefit since their Howard was more than willing to help Peter clean up a mess he should have been aware of long ago when he called him. I suspect that their Howard won’t take it lying down when he’s accused, though it does seem that communication between the two worlds isn’t always a simple or quick process, which could leave him decidedly alone without allies.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 4, Episode 12 “Chapter Seventy-Six” (B+)

Jane and Rafael made such a big deal about breaking the news of their relationship to their family members, but it turns out that their unsubtle behavior was noticed and they had even taken bets to determine when they would finally spill the beans. Things moved quickly from there with Jane taking her father’s advice to do an improv class, something that goes against the way she operates and approaches everything in life. Critic Jane sure was obnoxious, but it was nice to see a device like that used again. Critic Rogelio was scathing and memorable in his lone scene, and that helped open Rogelio’s eyes right away to how he was indeed too much sometimes. Everything with Xiomara happened in a flash, with her apparent affair revealed to just be a dance competition that happened right away before a big fall that has now revealed a lump on her breast, giving this show its first real bit of seriousness since Michael’s death. Rafael searching for his birth mother wasn’t going anywhere all that interesting, but the fact that Luisa covered it up for some reason makes it considerably more intriguing. JR seemed very ready to passionately make out with Petra to cover her tracks, and it was entertaining to see their relationship progress as Petra tried to play it cool and JR commented on her enthusiastic participation in that first kiss. They’re going to have to figure out what to do now that JR’s mother is being threatened so directly, and they still don’t know which of her many enemies want her behind bars.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

What I’m Watching: Sneaky Pete (Season Premiere)

Sneaky Pete: Season 2, Episode 1 “The Sinister Hotel Room Mystery” (B+)

I was a huge fan of this show’s first season and I’m so glad to see that it’s back for a second, and just in time for my birthday along with my actual favorite streaming show, “Jessica Jones,” which premiered its second season a day earlier. Giovanni Ribisi is a very underrated actor, and he’s so superb as Pete (which I’ll continue to refer to him as in my reviews because it’s easiest) on this show, proving his worth immediately by acting casual and calling Audrey when he realizes that he’s in serious trouble, which prompted her to recommend that he run. It was great to see Ethan Embry as the real Pete again, and he didn’t seem too thrilled that his identity thief was asking questions about his past when he consistently indicated no interest when they were cellmates. Learning just one piece of information – that his mother died three years ago – was helpful but unfortunate, and now he’s going to have to find a way to keep those he newly cares about safe after Rory Culkin’s poor pickpocket got himself stabbed so that a point could be proven about how serious Pete needs to take them. Pete’s best moment, of course, was showing up to save the day when Julia was being blackmailed to get back the drug money in the backpack, slapping her when he stormed in and creating such a scene of chaos that they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Carly’s own criminal lifestyle is taking off in a disconcerting way, and Audrey’s desire to confess her sins isn’t good for anyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pilot Review: Collateral

Collateral (Netflix)
Premiered March 9

The last time I watched a four-episode series that first premiered in the United Kingdom and then made its way to the United States via a streaming service, it was the dark and immensely worthwhile “National Treasure.” That miniseries boasted a superb but small cast, and this new dramatic thriller has an equally compelling if considerably larger one. I was immediately excited to see Hayley Squires, a BAFTA nominee for “I, Daniel Blake,” as the pizza shop manager who didn’t want to close the shop after her delivery guy was killed, and Billie Piper from “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” as the recipient of said pizza who wasn’t too happy to cooperate when she was being questioned. I couldn’t quite place John Simm, who was a great part of the sadly cancelled “The Catch,” as the MP from the opposition. And of course I knew who Carey Mulligan was, and this was quite a different role for her than most of what I’ve seen, especially her recent film-anchoring performance in “Wildlife,” which I saw at Sundance, much more serious than usual and rarely willing to crack a smile. As to the plot of this show, it seems to be complex and I am intrigued even if I’m not filly engaged, and I’m certainly willing to at least give it another episode if not all three to see where it goes. The simplicity and confusingly random presence of the dead pizza delivery guy are enhanced by the greater political happenings and immigration conversations, and I’m curious to see how it all connects.

How will it work as a series? There’s a lot of ground for this show to cover, and my expectation is that each episode will link characters that we’ve seen in isolated storylines and deepen the bonds that we’ve already seen to explain just what’s going on and how high it all goes. I feel like this should last more than four episodes, but I’m confident that it should be interesting enough for the duration.
How long will it last? I think this is designed to be just a four-episode series, though reviews seem to be positive, which could encourage BBC2 and Netflix to revisit it. The fact that creator David Hare said in an interview with Indiewire that a second season wasn’t going to happen is probably the most damning information, but I suppose that anything is possible down the road if it does well enough on Netflix.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 4, Episode 5 “The Pop-Ups” (B+)

Without Sheree around, it’s good to see Grace and Frankie hanging out with friends their own age, even if they’re at very different points in their life. Grace reacted so negatively to how her friend Arlene, played by four-time Oscar nominee Marsha Mason, was confined to her oven-free apartment by her uncaring son, only to realize later on that there was a reason that she needed to be there. Going to a college campus and setting up a pop-up shop did prove to be too much excitement for Arlene, even if Grace thrived on the energy and was ready to make a Frankie-like stand for justice and their right to table without a permit after Frankie herself went missing. Another famed Oscar nominee, Talia Shire, seems like she’ll become part of the plotline going forward after Frankie started thinking about the sister that she apparently has but hasn’t spoken to in decades. I’m not sure what to make of that yet, but I’m sure it will be interesting. Bud proposing to Allison went better than expected, and he even got her to agree to forego the prenup, only to be assigned to pry the paper out of their dog’s jaws, hardly a promising assignment but exactly the type of task he’ll likely need to do now that he’s agreed to spend his life with the very unique Allison. Sol doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of being less mad at Robert for interfering in their neighbors’ relationship, and while Mallory was also upset, Brianna couldn’t get quite enough drama for her tastes.

What I’m Watching: The End of the F***ing World

The End of the F***ing World: Season 1, Episode 6 (B+)

After being physically and emotionally divided before this, Alyssa and James are now firmly united, showing their strength as budding criminals while leaving a spectacular amount of evidence behind at every turn. Stopping at the gas station went predictably poorly, but luckily Frodo was angry enough at his boss to want to rebel on his own, and he was taken with Alyssa from the first moment he saw her. That smile on Alyssa’s face when James described in detail the gun that he clearly wasn’t holding was wonderful, and it shows just how much she really likes him. He, in turn, was happy that she was referring to the murder as the one they committed rather than just him, and even though he didn’t hotwire the car quite quickly enough, they made it out in time, leaving Frodo in the dust. Alyssa thinking “I’m really scared” and then saying it moments later prompted James to step forward in a show of protectiveness, and I’m curious to see how her dad will react. Teri was not happy that Eunice crashed her date to show her the video that Stella decided to turn in, but it does definitely shed some light on the fact that these two kids aren’t menaces to society but rather a bit out of control and so far in that they don’t think they can come back. We only have two episodes to go, and I don’t have the first clue how things are going to end for these two young troublemaking lovebirds.