Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 2 “Strangers” (B+)

This episode was a more balanced hour that mixed uneasiness, hopelessness, and sheer dread without binging on the gore too much. And that’s an hour that ends with someone watching himself being eaten! Part of why it works in this case is that the cannibals are reminiscent of the Governor in the way that they matter-of-factly justify their behavior, and that should make them interesting – and terrifying – enemies for our friends for the duration of the season. Sure, they did capture the wandering people who came in search of sanctuary, but they also burned down their home, which is cause for vengeance and apparently produces quite an appetite. It’s a shame that Bob is their first victim, but at least he’s a somewhat tangential character. This episode had a very weary feel to it, as everyone seemed relieved after much walking in the woods to find a literal sanctuary in the form of a church. There is something decidedly iffy about their new preacher friend, but he’s most fascinating for his unadulterated perspective on the world, trusting in his faith to protect him and renouncing violence even in the face of certain death. Both Carol and Tara have managed to ease themselves back into the group, which is good, since they’re all going to need to present as unified a front as possible to fight off whatever awaits them in the church and the impending threat of the cannibals. And, who knows, maybe Daryl will even manage to find Beth in the middle of everything.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 5 “Shiny Objects” (B-)

This episode achieved the remarkable feat of featuring multiple plotlines, and that’s about all that elevated it above the quality of recent episodes. All of a sudden, Alicia and Finn are best friends again, and the fact that Alicia doesn’t want to betray the kindness of her friend by having him not introduce her ended up revitalizing Alicia’s campaign and forcing Peter’s hand as Alicia let him have it for not standing by her after she stood by him so many times. As expected, the photo op resulted in side-by-side comparisons with Alicia standing next to her husband when he gave his big speech, something that should work out favorably for her in the end. This Trojan Ware thing didn’t end up being too problematic for Florrick Agos thanks to the hard work of Kalinda in fighting it, and instead it seems to have presented quite the opportunity for Diane, who got a friendly reminder from a very bitter David Lee that she still holds the lease for the offices presently inhabited by Lockhart Gardner. Seizing the space for her new firm seems like an endless lawsuit waiting to happen, but I’m sure that wouldn’t surprise for this show. Kalinda toying with another law enforcement ex-girlfriend to get information was nothing new, and it just demonstrates how little she values emotion, as she was talking to Cary about coming over later while in bed with Lana. Elsbeth’s return was hardly worth it, as Alicia managed to easily distract her and it all didn’t matter anyway since Kyle MacLachlan’s Josh Perotti showed up to disrupt the whole thing.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 1, Episode 5 “Wedge” (B+)

This was a fun episode because it gave us some serious bonding time for the siblings as Ali executed a desperate search for the missing Ed. That Sarah and Josh only wanted to drink Bloody Marys while Ali was maligning the state of the world was entertaining and helped to flesh out just who these people are. Josh had a successful romantic episode by sleeping with a real estate agent who could help sell his father’s house, while Sarah is in better shape with Tammy, who is now more focused on her and only somewhat pulled back by her former life with Barb. I liked Josh and Tammy’s interaction, which was entirely hostile and rude from both sides, since putting together two characters who rarely share the screen is one of my favorite things on TV. Maura’s experience in this episode was almost more difficult than being viciously ostracized in a bathroom since Gary couldn’t help from laughing looking at her, but she handled herself with dignity and grace, which is a positive thing considering the way that Josh and Shelly took the news of Mort’s current public state. Ed walking in with a caricature at the end of the episode was a great finale, and I do hope that him being back means that we’ll stick get to see more of Rabbi Raquel. I’m thrilled with the casting of Kathryn Hahn, who starred in series creator Jill Soloway’s feature film debut “Afternoon Delight,” as Rabbi Raquel, and since she didn’t have much to do in this episode, I’m eager to see her featured in subsequent installments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

AFT Awards: Best Comedy Series

This is the twentieth and final category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Episodes, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, Shameless, Veep

Emmy nominees: The Big Bang Theory, Girls, Louie, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep

Semi-finalists: House of Lies, Modern Family, New Girl

Finalists: Family Tree had the stylings of a British comedy but a tone and premise all its own. Eastbound and Down signed off with its second final season, staying true to the incomparable Kenny Powers and his unique legacy. Wilfred got weirder and more depressing as its events became even more muddled in uncertainty. Silicon Valley took a bit of time to get comfortable but ended up being one of the most current and promising comedies. Welcome to the Family got a paltry three episodes but made the most of them – I just wish we’d seen more of this NBC comedy.

The nominees:

Veep tackled a new storyline – a campaign – and handled it with true hilarity the whole way. Episodes introduced a new element into its already frantic world to tremendous satirical effect. Orange is the New Black catapulted Netflix to comedy relevance with this occasionally hilarious, occasionally devastating hourlong dramedy. Hello Ladies was a perfectly British comedy that should have lasted more than just one short season.

The winner:

Parks and Recreation didn’t fade at all in its very funny sixth season, which expanded its universe and gave its characters even more fun and ridiculous things to do.

Next up: That’s a wrap! The Oscar race is getting started, so stick around here for pilot reviews and head over to for everything on movies!

AFT Awards: Best Drama Series

This is the nineteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Banshee, Boardwalk Empire, Boss, Homeland, The Newsroom

Emmy nominees: Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, True Detective

Semi-finalists: Burn Notice, Dexter, Downton Abbey, Elementary, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Hell on Wheels, House of Cards, The Killing, Longmire, Mad Men, Masters of Sex, The Newsroom, The Red Road , True Blood, The Walking Dead

Finalists: Orphan Black and Banshee both followed up astounding freshman debuts with equally compelling second seasons, charting new territory but sticking true to the concepts that made them fascinating in the first place. The Bridge took a difficult concept and made it work on many fronts with a stellar cast and strong storytelling. Shameless made the switch from comedy to drama (though Emmy voters would have you think the opposite) seamlessly. Parenthood stayed true to its characters as they all overcame great trials and tribulations.

The nominees:

Justified brought in new blood for a fabulously-written and executed new chapter of Kentucky crime. Breaking Bad went out memorably and unapologetically with six unforgettable hours. Ray Donovan was a magnetic ensemble story with an irresistible and unmatchable lead character. Person of Interest truly found its footing in its fantastic third season, rising well above the ranks of the procedural it could have been.

The winner:

Sons of Anarchy was heartbreaking in its penultimate season as its violence took an irreversible turn and demonstrated the permanence of actions and decisions.

Next up: Best Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

This is the eighteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Episodes, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, Shameless, Veep

Semi-finalists: Family Tree, House of Lies

Finalists: Silicon Valley brought together a few oddballs for an uncomfortable but fun team. Welcome to the Family didn’t have much time to prove itself, but its cast showed plenty of comedic promise. Eastbound and Down reunited its most prominent players for one last glorious inning. Hello Ladies emphasized awkwardness and used its performers to the best of their abilities to aid with that. Modern Family isn’t as good as it used to be, but its actors are still pretty decent. The nominees:

Parks and Recreation lost two of its regular players but none of its momentum thanks to the fine work of the rest of its cast and a few notable new additions. Orange is the New Black was literally a madhouse, carefully balancing many outrageous and pitch-perfect performances. Episodes brought in a new boss who only contributed to the zany nature of the reliable returning players. New Girl didn’t have an even season but its cast was still firing on all cylinders.

The winner:

Veep was fantastic all around, letting all its characters come fully out of their shells in the midst of a memorable campaign.

Next up: Best Drama Series

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

This is the seventeenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Boardwalk Empire, Boss, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, The Newsroom

Semi-finalists: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Bridge, Burn Notice, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Hell on Wheels, The Killing, Longmire, Masters of Sex, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead

Finalists: Banshee amped up its performances and matched its gritty drama with strong turns all around. Shameless took a more dramatic turn and still got the best from its wild cadre of actors. Sons of Anarchy battled its toughest year yet with a firmly committed ensemble. Parenthood gave its characters obstacle after obstacle, and its cast responded strongly. Mad Men stepped into its swan song with its eclectic cast ready to face the future.

The nominees:

Breaking Bad went out with a bang thanks in large part to its superb stars. Ray Donovan was had everything to do with being connected, and the many parts of its large cast definitely were. Person of Interest rallied for its best season yet, employing its diverse talent to perfection. House of Cards added to its repertoire of morally questionable politicians and their associates with a fine commitment to quality.

The winner:

Justified introduced a new mischievous family and brought with it a fantastic new slate of actors and still solid performances from the rest of the cast.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Monday, October 20, 2014

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 6, Episode 4 “A Potpourri of Freaks” (B+)

I praised this show last week for not heightening its drama for any reason or trying to pull the rug out from under its viewers by surprising them with a big twist or death, and I’d like to applaud it this week for effectively recalling its own historical events for the purpose of a powerful moment. Kristina going to visit Zeek and commiserating with him about people talking about how “we” can get through this made for a fantastic scene, and it’s great to see her help get him back on his feet by motivating him through her shared experience. Aside from that positive interaction, this episode was all about parenting in a big way. Julia and Joel are managing to get back on track after realizing that their uncertain status has affected Sydney in a problematic way, and it’s good that they decided to talk to her. Sandy telling Hank that Ruby couldn’t spend time with Sarah was harsh, and good for Sarah for standing up for herself and managing to get Ruby to hate her only as much as her mother and father. It looks like this Hank and Sarah thing may work out after all, which is really great for both of him. Crosby’s visit to the silent meditation retreat was entirely ridiculous but entertaining, and he’s got plenty of growing to do in his marriage before he realizes that aggressively riding off on his forbidden motorcycle doesn’t help matters at all. Dylan definitely made an impression, and it’s nice to know that, offensive as everything she says is, Max seems to like spending time with her, which could lead to an important progression in his school experience.

Take Three: A to Z

A to Z: Season 1, Episode 3 “C is for Curiouser and Curiouser” (C)

I firmly believe that this show would be substantially better if the supporting characters either didn’t exist or weren’t allowed to speak. More specifically, Lydia needs to go immediately since all she does is serve as an overlord presence with a very problematic complex that makes her feel like she needs approval at every turn but never perceives any situation the right way. Not having her around would be an enormous help for the show. Stu and Stephie, on the other hand, work much better in the manner that we saw them at the very end of the episode, pretending to be friends while secretly telling each other how much they hate each other. Let’s hope that they can remain just what they need to be, which is good friends from our two protagonists. Speaking of them, no matter what happens over the course of the episode, it’s hard not to find Zelda’s sweetness and Andrew’s romantic energy irresistible, and it seems like that’s where every big fight, which in this case was a series of digging to find dirt on each other and then snooping on Andrew’s part, is headed. Andrew is the one who is into the idea of marriage as the one big thing, and Zelda coming around to his more romanticized worldview in definitely appealing. It’s sad to think that they’re headed for a break-up eventually, but my calculations suggest that there’s no way that this show makes it to 26 episodes (presumably over the course of two seasons) long enough for the next slate of episodes to involve them getting back together.

Take Three: Bad Judge

Bad Judge: Season 1, Episode 3 “One Brave Waitress” (C-)

This wasn’t quite as bad as episode two, to be sure, but I don’t think that I should be watching this show anymore, let alone reviewing it. The former likely won’t be happening, since it’s a fun half-hour to watch with my wife, who does enjoy it, and I’ll have to consider whether I can bear to keep criticizing this show week after week. This episode got rid of the truly ridiculous case from last week and did its best to make its featured case as ridiculous as possible. I’ll reiterate my comment that it would be great if Rebecca was actually a truly competent judge whose often missteps were in her personal life, but unfortunately that’s not really the case. Watching her talk in doublespeak and make secret deals to ally with one lawyer doesn’t impress, and her clear bias against the defendant didn’t either. I understand that it’s supposed to be a comedy, but having all the female jurors lined up and ready with excuses necessitating their dismissal was a bit much. I’m glad that we haven’t seen Rebecca’s kid pal since episode one, and instead we get to watch her personal life unfold through her budding and now defunct romance with Billy, who she seems to have inspired to go read a second book, though he’s only the latest in a long line of movie and TV idiots to be surprised that “To Kill a Mockingbird” isn’t actually about a bird. Maybe he’ll come back much smarter someday soon – who knows?

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 4 “Marco Polo” (C-)

What I wouldn’t give for a literal line on this show. Exactly one of this episode’s threads wasn’t executed fully in double-speak, and that was Manny’s surprising romance with a senior girl driving a fancy car, which predictably ended suddenly when she revealed that she was just using him to make her boyfriend jealous. The only positive was that it provided a bonding moment for Jay and Manny, a semi-rare opportunity since it’s usually Gloria doing the bulk of the parenting. There was nothing about the hotel plotline that struck me as funny, from the self-operating cologne dancing around the room to Phil talking to the divorced guys as if his wife and family had actually left him. There’s nothing new about Phil wanting to spend time with his family and the rest of them having trouble coexisting in a small space, and I wish that it would stop being a surprise to them each time. Cam has always been overexuberant about sports, though needing to satisfy his superstitions by walking into a table and tripping on the porch were new specific tics. That the team would immediately start losing when Mitchell appeared on the bleachers and then do well when he was on the fence was silly, and the only worthwhile moment was Mitchell’s furious reaction when he and Cam got soaked by the team. Though I wouldn’t stop watching it, I’m strongly considering no longer writing reviews for this show since I so rarely find myself with anything good to say anymore.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 6 “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” (B+)

Some things end up being much more drawn-out and harrowing than expected, and others sort themselves out much more quickly and easily than anticipated. Juice didn’t waste any time in returning to Charming after escaping from Gemma, and he delivered himself right into the hands of Marcus Alvarez, who traded Juice for what may well be the only lasting truce that SAMCRO is able to negotiate before the series signs off next month. Their meeting with the Aryan Brotherhood didn’t go as planned, but it seems that all they needed was to vent their collective frustrations with each other by throwing a few punches. The body count continues to rise in a way that’s just out of control, best exemplified by the literal pile of bodies that SAMCRO brought to the AB as a twisted peace offering. Gemma’s trip north featured this season’s third very special guest appearance after Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love, from Lea Michele of “Glee” fame. I’m not sure why it was a necessary guest spot other than to show compassion for a clearly crazy Gemma, but there was nothing bad or excessive about it. As Gemma is telling her story to the police to ensure that Lin won’t get out of prison, it seems like Nero is firmly on her side despite his being kept in the dark constantly getting him into trouble. It’s just a question of how many more people have to die before Gemma – or likelier Juice – comes clean about who really killed Tara.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

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

I wasn’t initially too excited about the plot of this episode, particularly when it looked like Reese was going to play hopscotch with a few attitude-heavy schoolyard girls to get information. But it managed to surprise me with a few well-timed twists and a reminder that this show can make just about anything work in its universe. What Malcolm and Tracie represent is those unaware of the dangers of the world they are living in, just the real world and not even factoring in Samaritan, but are motivated by the desire to do the right thing. That sentiment managed even to impress Dominic, who seems like he’ll be leaving the two kids alone for the moment. Agent Lennox’s duplicity was obvious from the start, particularly because she kept talking about some unseen partner, but the way in which it was confirmed was great, as Reese heard the cell phone belonging to Dominic ringing in Tracie’s hand. Her fate was not a good one, though she didn’t deserve much after betraying both the DEA and Dominic. The best surprise of all was that seeming comic relief Mini, who bore the brunt of Shaw’s frustrations over the course of the episode, is in fact Dominic. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, and thanks to Finch’s meeting with Elias, hopefully our good guys have an unexpected ally who can keep them one step ahead of Dominic and ensure that they won’t be killed and tossed out of a moving car as finitely and unceremoniously as Agent Lennox.

Pilot Review: Marry Me

Marry Me (NBC)
Premiered October 14 at 9pm

Love stories are very common on TV, especially this pilot season. Each show needs its own specific hook, and not all of them can be entirely romantic. This show established its own incredibly awkward vibe with a memorable first scene in which what should have been a surprising and sweet proposal was ruined by a lengthy and catastrophic speech from a woman who thought her fiancĂ©-to-be was never going to propose. What started as one entertaining isolated incident, however, seems fated to be repeated over and over again, and that’s where the idea of this show as a weekly series becomes a question mark. Jake has proposed, Annie has proposed, and both have had disastrous consequences. That they would both retreat to the same homophobic Mexican restaurant and then realize that they’re fated to be together doesn’t quite sew things together in the way that it should, and it’s hard to tell where this show could possibly go next. It may be that I saw an overindulgent trailer for this show, but that’s not the only reason that much of what happened here felt relatively familiar. Viewers are likely thrilled about this show because of its two stars, each of whom starred on a short-lived comedy with a cult following in the past five years. I watched and liked “Party Down” but never got into “Happy Endings.” While I admire the talents of Ken Marino and Casey Wilson, I don’t see either of them as romantic leads. Given the choice, I’d rather try to get attached to something like “A to Z” where I know that I’ll find the couple endearing rather than watch these two more purposely awkward comedians navigate their way towards an enduring and lasting engagement.

How will it work as a series? That’s the reason to sit through a second episode – to see what this show and fate have in store for its characters. Will there be more proposals or engagement parties, or other hiccups in the relationship? I’m not sure what could turn this show around and make it worth watching going forward.
How long will it last? Possibly a while, actually. The pilot fared well in the ratings, and should be a good companion piece for another not-so-sappy NBC comedy, “About a Boy.” I wouldn’t get too excited just yet, but this show may have found a semi-lasting home on Tuesday nights.

Pilot grade: C+

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 4 “Face My Enemy” (B)

This was definitely this show’s best episode in a while, and a positive sign that it can continue to operate under its current circumstances. It would have helped, of course, if Coulson had realized that the woman in his car was not May before he spilled the beans about the fact that he’s going to need to be taken out when he starts acting crazy like Garrett. It’s fun to see Coulson and May operating together, and I liked their final scene in which May said she already had a plan involving a remote cabin and Coulson said that she needed to follow his orders. The May vs. May fight was interesting, and this face-grafting technology was actually pretty cool. It was jarring to think that Talbot was working with Hydra, and it made much more sense when it turns out that he was actually Sunil pretending to be him. Agent 33’s infiltration of their home base gave Fitz a great opportunity to step up and to bond with Lance, who amusingly has no technical skills of any kind. It’s good to see Fitz easing back into human interaction, especially since we didn’t hear from the real Simmons at all this week. We did get to see more of Dr. Whitehall, who continues to be a calculating menace to those around him, this time confronting another villain with a different employer, Raina, and telling her that she needs to hand over the Obelisk or face unbearable pain. Let’s see how S.H.I.E.L.D. manages to get caught in the crossfire of that exchange.