Thursday, January 29, 2015

What I’m Watching: Girls

Girls: Season 4, Episode 3 “Female Author” (B+)

This show is finding a good way of balancing Hannah being in Iowa and the rest of the characters being in New York, illustrated well with this episode. I thought that Skype would be the only way that we would see Jessa during this half-hour, but it turned out that she actually had the strongest storyline for the first time in a while. She and Adam seemed to have formed a positive relationship, and then she had to go and, to be crude, literally piss on it. I like that, after Ray’s lecture, Adam was sensible enough to make the smart decision and tell Jessa that she is a bad influence. Adam is maturing even more now that he’s not with Hannah, and it’s a shame since she could use him more than ever. Marnie insisting that she wasn’t the mistress in this situation was entertaining but unsurprising, and kudos to her for finally standing up for herself and speaking her mind to Desi. For once, she didn’t sound like the selfish one, and every attempt he made to placate her and tell her that he was right made her sound even more reasonable. Shoshanna’s interview went extremely well, and of course she had to go and mess up what could have been an incredible opportunity by turning down the job on the spot and insulting her interviewer by saying that it was just a rehearsal. And then there’s Hannah, who is having a blast in Iowa and felt it necessary to go around and skewer each of her coworkers in a way that can’t possibly be undone. I’m sure class is going to be fun from now on.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 5, Episode 3 “The Two Lisas” (B+)

This was a pretty transformative episode that had a few big blowups that, as usual, get taken in much more stride than they would in a normal situation. The Gallagher family war sponsored by Frank against the two lesbian Lisas and executed by his children is going decently so far thanks to the successful overnight de-gentrification of the neighborhood, and I’m glad to see that one of the Lisas is not going to be intimidated, which should bring those two characters into greater focus. Debs’ party wasn’t particularly great, even with Milk of the Gods as the drink of choice, and though I thought at first that she tricked Matty into thinking they had sex, it seemed like they actually did. Only on this show would Debs be upset about raping someone and have her brother trying to defend it by saying that many guy would be lucky to be raped by her. Carl’s nickname was pretty legendary, and I do wonder how long this wheelchair-bound stage will last since he’s not managing to get into as much trouble. Fiona reacted pretty competitively to the news that her rocker romancer had a live-in girlfriend, and she may have just found herself a good musician after all. Frank trading his daughter for alcohol creation supplies was typically heartless, and it’s going to be hard to appeal to either of the main women in his life now that he chewed both Sammi and Sheila out pretty cruelly. The house exploding was a perfect literal complement to everything that’s been boiling over recently.

What I’m Watching: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: Season 5, Episode 4 (B+)

When something gets stirred up on this show, it just keeps on building until it boils over and explodes. We’re still talking about Edith’s aggressive godmotherhood, Mary’s impending engagement to any one of her suitors, Violet is spending more time with her Russian would-be beau, Mrs. Patmore is upset about her nephew not being honored in the war memorial, the death of the rapist valet isn’t going away, and Tom’s dear friend is all about angering Robert as much as she possibly can. More news on what may have happened to Michael isn’t promising, and Edith is going to spiral downwards with nothing positive to hold on to in her life. Mary is getting annoying again, weighing her options so publicly with each of the men who want her and seemingly intent on never deciding. It’s unfortunate to see Carson and Mrs. Hughes get such delight from tormenting Mosley by insisting upon treating him as the first footman, and it’s a good thing that he’s the one being given all the works since Thomas is obviously working out some more severe personal problems. Anna being seen in London does not bode well, even if Bates didn’t have anything to do with the murder. Mrs. Hughes and Anna should really come clean with Carson since, though he wouldn’t want to tell a lie, he would be a good ally for them. Robert calling up Daisy and Mrs. Patmore to discuss her teacher’s negative influences was embarrassing, and Violet’s delight at the whole thing was extremely amusing. I like the fact that Isobel got an unexpectedly romantic proposal, since she is probably the show’s purest character and it’s good to see her earn some deserving attention and affection from someone else.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What I’m Watching: Galavant (Season Finale)

Galavant: Season 1, Episodes 7 and 8 “My Cousin Izzy” and “It’s All in the Executions” (C+)

It’s not often that shows address the end of their seasons directly in song. I’m not sure that these episodes were any worse than the six that came before them, but I did get the sense that they were emphasizing ridiculousness rather than actually getting anywhere. This has been an interesting and unique experience, if nothing else, and I still have “Come back for our next show” permanently stuck in my head. The story didn’t go where I expected, certainly, which I guess says something, and that does make it creative at the very least. Madalena is the opposite of what a princess would usually be, and she’s turned out to be infinitely more manipulative than before. Killing the king’s brother after getting both Galvant and Richard to leave was shrewd, and now she and Gareth will be able to rule the kingdom with just as much fervor as Richard but perhaps a bit more intelligently. Galavant kissing Isabella was a long time coming, though now they’re separated, and, puzzlingly, she’s imprisoned in a weird small house built by her tiny cousin. The music on this show was what made it most fun, and I also think that the cast, particularly Joshua Sasse (Galavant), Karen David (Isabella), and Timothy Omundson (Richard), were terrific. I’m not sure that this needs to come back for a second season and I certainly wouldn’t miss it, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this wacky, odd medieval musical comedy either. I don’t think its chances look good, but who knows?

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Timothy Omundson

What I’m Watching: Banshee

Banshee: Season 3, Episode 3 “A Fixer of Sorts” (B+)

For a man who stole someone’s identity, the fake Lucas doesn’t have much luck staying hidden from people who want to kill him. I could not be more thrilled about the introduction of Denis O’Hare as an FBI Internal Affairs agent who know full well that Lucas is not who he says he is. Showing up with a gun and taking Lucas into custody probably wasn’t the smartest idea, and it almost got him killed. As tends to be the case, assumed identities aren’t always better than the original ones, and the real Lucas Hood once again became a problem for his new self. It was only fitting that Lucas pushed the employer of the man who he decapitated under a truck so that he could suffer a similarly brutal and bloody end, though there isn’t really another kind on this show. Nola went out in an unforgettable fashion, fighting to the last moment before suffering what looked to be an enormously painful death. I’m sad to see her go since she was a terrific character, but she made the mistake of charging in to kill Kai without the brute force possessed by her friend Clayton. It was hilarious and exciting to see Job and Sugar getting things done in the field together, and at least they’re both making smart choices while the other two members of their team make unwise ones. The most jarring part of the episode was the look on Siobhan’s face when Lucas walked in, and he is going to be completely honest to get himself out of this one, which is still sure to leave things dramatically changed.

Round Two: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 1, Episode 2 “Mentally Divergent” (B+)

I’m on board after a great second installment of this show, which affirmed the fact that this series is well worth watching. I was particularly impressed with the fact that plot developments like Cole being sent to North Korea in 2006 rather than Philadelphia in 2015 were not embellished or dwelled on for too long and instead just used as a jumping-off point for the fact that this time travel business is not stable. It’s good that they could easily just slingshot him to the right time, and that ultimately made it much simpler for Cassandra to track him down. It does seem that their fates are permanently liked, and I can’t imagine that Cole is going to disappear anytime soon. It was very worthwhile getting to know Jennifer, seeing that she’s not completely crazy but that she does have some problems. She and Cole are actually on remarkably similar levels, and I’m so curious to see what happens next with Jennifer. Kudos to the casting team for bringing Tom Noonan on board as the major villain who calmly threatened Cassandra while she was standing over her dead friend’s body and then came for Jennifer. The fact that he knows who Cole is complicates things, and it’s clear that there is an extraordinary web of bad things that come together in different times to arrange events for the outbreak of this virus, and I am eager to see where this show goes since it’s doing a terrific job so far of turning this concept into a series.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Take Three: Babylon

Babylon: Season 1, Episode 3 (A-)

This episode really sealed the deal for me, hoping that this series will return for a much longer if typically British-in-length run. I’ll get to the ending in due time, but I first want to start by noting that the music in the show is great, infrequent but appropriate in nature. There was the expected humor in this episode, like someone calling the police because of a Facebook post right before a real bomber calling but having his reference to Hegel mistaken for “Hey girl.” Charlie getting stopped for shoplifting – and shoplifting shampoo, at that – was entertaining, and fortunately it didn’t get any more serious than him freaking out and worrying about getting cut of the loop. Liz telling Finn that he needed to get in line or resign sent him reeling, though that’s all going to change now as a result of the episode-ending events definitely change that. Richard admitting to an extramarital affair seemed to negate the tensions between them that had arisen as a result of the ultimatum from last week, but that confession spiraled out of control as Richard eventually revealed that it wasn’t just one affair. Liz was truly angry at him for disappointing her and for being so stupid, and that turned the episode incredibly serious towards its end, accompanied by Warwick mindlessly playing video games and Robbie’s video reporter friend getting canned. Nothing can match the dramatic and shocking impact of Richard stepping off a ledge to fall to his death – a startlingly serious and irreversible decision that, at the very least, is going to be near impossible for Liz to spin.

What I’m Watching: Parenthood (Penultimate Episode)

Parenthood: Season 6, Episode 12 “We Made It Through the Night” (B+)

It’s sad to think that this show is so close to being over, but, truth be told, it’s lasted a solid hundred episodes and covered a decent amount of ground. I like where everything is headed, and the fact that Zeek didn’t die before the end of this episode means that everyone should have a relatively happy ending. I love that Sarah accidentally summoned her entire family to the hospital for false contractions with a confusing text, and that Hank’s efforts to calm his pregnant stepdaughter-to-be in the car failed miserably. Hank getting married at a volcano was never going to happen, but I like that they’re going to do something small in Berkeley to make sure that Zeek can be there and fully present in it. Zeek telling his kids that he’s not going to have the surgery was emotional enough without the actual words having to be said on screen, and it’s good to see the whole family rallying to support her rather than arguing among themselves about what course of care is best for the patriarch. The Luncheonette business was resolved after an unfortunate revelation that threatened to ruin it all and get Jasmine and Adam in plenty of trouble. It was fun to see Adam decide to be a French chef mentor for Edgar, simultaneously debunking Max’s statistic about autistic people getting jobs. Julia and Joel fighting again was discouraging, but at least they were good enough to go into the car to do it so that they wouldn’t upset Victor. The scene with Sarah playing guitar and singing with Amber was a nice treat, and hopefully we’ll have similarly sentimental moments in the series finale later this week.

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 3, Episode 11 “The Illustrious Client” (B-)

Well, this all moved a bit fast. At the end of last week’s episode was the reveal that Kitty’s abductor had come to New York, and now the victims of that kidnapper and murderer have been freed, but it turns out that someone else was the man who took Kitty, and he’s in New York too! I’m fully behind the casting of Stuart Townsend, who I thought was great on ABC’s very short-lived “Night Stalker,” as that very man, but I would think that we could have gotten to know him for a while as Watson’s new employer before Kitty pegged him by his voice form a phone call and news clip. Interestingly, his situation reminds me of Jonny Lee Miller’s character in the fifth season of “Dexter,” where he was a public figure secretly engaging in brutal depravity. I think this show is more than capable of sustaining itself without overambitious arcs, though the season one plotline with Irene and Moriarty paid off monumentally. Kitty transformed in a big way in this hour, stopping by a witness’ home to intimidate her and do enough damage to get her plush consulting gig with the NYPD suspended. I’m sure that Sherlock and Watson will advocate on her behalf, but things are not looking good, and the timing is especially bad considering the news about Kitty’s real abductor being in New York and on the loose. I don’t think this will last too long, but I hope that it will play out slightly more smoothly than I found this hour.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pilot Review: Backstrom

Backstrom (FOX)
Premiered January 22 at 8pm

I feel like I saw the trailer for this show so long ago (and I did, back in the fall), and my excitement for it then was about comparable with my enthusiasm for it now, which was looking listings and realizing that it was starting. I thought Rainn Wilson was a terrific part of “The Office” specifically because he wasn’t the lead character, and playing someone so over the top like Dwight fit in the format of a comedy series. This must the thousandth police drama to premiere featuring an irreverent detective at the helm whose motives and methods make sense to no one yet who miraculously manages to outsmart and outperform everyone else on his team. Wilson does give his all to the role, but it’s a lamentable situation. It’s also disappointing to see Dennis Haysbert, once the great presidential candidate on “24,” in a thankless cop role that won’t allow him much creativity or gravitas at all. This pilot didn’t include anything particularly interesting, as each one of Backstrom’s eccentricities failed to land and instead fell flat. While his partner Nicole may be relatively intelligent, she’s the only mildly intriguing personality in the whole bunch. I don’t know who decided to let Kristoffer Polaha back on television after his horrific performances in “Made in Jersey,” “Ringer,” and so many shows before that, and I’m least entertained by his out-of-place intellectual forensic tech. I don’t think I was ever going to watch this show, but Wilson’s involvement made me think that it might be a bit worthwhile, and this debut installment proved that wholly wrong.

How will it work as a series? This show is based on a book series, and as if there weren’t enough cop plotlines that could be explored, there’s an actual set of stories that could be pulled directly to create scripts. I think this pilot was likely a fitting preview of what the show will be like, which for me is not promising.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot weren’t bad, but they’re not terrific by FOX’s standards. Doing better than the short-lived “Rake” did last year in the same timeslot is hardly a badge of honor. I don’t think TV is looking for the next great brilliant detective procedural, and a short midseason life is all this should get.

Pilot review: D-

What I’m Watching: Justified (Season Premiere)

Justified: Season 6, Episode 1 “Fate’s Right Hand” (B+)

I had the chance to watch this premiere a few weeks early thanks to a press kit sent to me by FX, and I opted not to flip through the pages of the kit detailing the many guest stars in the show’s final season before watching so that I could instead be surprised by fresh faces. The only notable new actor in this premiere is Garret Dillahunt from “Raising Hope,” who brings his signature brand of uncertain creepiness to a bearded buyer who shows up to purchase Raylan’s land with cash in hand and a suspicious Raylan eager to send him on his way. While I’m sure there are many talented performers who will show up over the course of the season, it seems like this final stretch is going to be much more about the characters we already know and love. Opening with Winona suggests that Raylan’s home life isn’t as out of reach as it feels, but he’s not going to make getting home a priority if his reckless behavior in Mexico at the start of the episode is any indication. He did get a cold reception from his federale contact, but bringing him back in his trunk wasn’t exactly diplomatic. Every moment of the hour with Dewey was sheer brilliance, particularly Raylan’s assertion that 1000 feet is just a figure of speech. Truth be told, Dewey serving as a decoy for Boyd’s bank robbery was the most useful thing he could have done, but his reaction prompted Boyd to make a decision I expected him to make before the episode was done, to shoot Dewey in the head and rid us of one of the most idiotic but brilliantly written characters on television. It means that Boyd means business and no one is going to get in his way. Ending the episode with him watching Ava sleep is foreboding, especially since her informant relationship with Raylan isn’t exactly going well. I sense a dark season on the horizon, which may be even more fearsome that what we’ve experienced up until now since it’s Boyd who is being cast as the central villain.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 11 “The Sound and the Fury” (B+)

This was a fun episode, mainly because it paired together the two former stars of FOX’s “Prison Break.” That they got broken out of their transport to prison at the end of the episode was just one of the many great moments highlighting Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell, both of whom are selectively good for specific performances. Purcell is great at playing a hothead, which he got to do both literally and figuratively here. His heat powers were the perfect complement to Captain Cool’s icy abilities, and I can’t wait to see what Snark’s sister can do aside from free them. Joe and Dr. Wells are acting like the angel and the devil on Barry’s shoulders, whispering in his ear to tell him what is more important for him to do at the moment. Trying to play the long game of figuring out how to defeat the Reverse Flash was probably the right thing to do until the villainous duo abducted Caitlin, though I am surprised that Robbie didn’t burst in to save the day and instead it was just Joe who was able to outrun a bomb, which does seem to be a bit convenient and tidy. I’m thrilled that Eddie stepped in to protect the Flash and has now realized that he is a good guy, since that’s an important aspect of recognition for Barry and also one less obstacle for him to have to deal with in his crime-fighting capacity. In the end, Iris did move in with Eddie, but at least she and Barry patched things up, and now Barry moved back in with Joe, which is going to make keeping up his alter ago relatively easy as long as Iris doesn’t drop by too often.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Final SAG Winner Predictions

There are three Golden Globe winners nominated tonight – Kevin Spacey, Billy Bob Thornton, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. “The Affair” and “Transparent,” named the best series of the year, aren’t represented at all, and “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez isn’t contending either. The other big difference here is that “True Detective” is competing as a drama series, which means that Matthew McConaughey may finally be rewarded for his performance. I would be so excited about Tatiana Maslany winning, but I sadly just don’t see it happening. Expect last year’s winners, Ty Burrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and “Modern Family,” to triumph in the comedy categories. Any fun surprises to expect? Aside from Maslany, I’m not too enthralled.

I may or may not tune in to part of the broadcast online while I’m at Sundance. Enjoy final predictions below (film here), and offer your thoughts in the comments!

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock: His Last Vow)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
House of Cards

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Modern Family

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 7, Episodes 3 and 4 “William Henry Harrison” and “Leslie and Ron” (B+)

I heartily enjoyed this hourlong presentation, which presented a “to be continued” scenario that was continued immediately, which put a positive spin on the fact that this show is being finished off as quickly and ceremoniously as possible. What’s best about both of these episodes is how defiant both Leslie and Ron are, Leslie in her determination not to lose her zeal and her spirit, and Ron in his lifelong staunch attitude of not connecting emotionally with people. I liked how the specific circumstances of Ron’s departure from the Parks department was revealed, with Leslie trying so hard to get Ron to talk and ultimately managing to squeeze a few words out of him and realize just what had happened to make him leave. It’s always great to see his sentimental side, which in this case made him feel lonely and prompted him to muster up the courage to ask Leslie for a job. That she was too busy to be able to meet with him, or even remember her appointment, is a shame, but at least we got to fast-forward through most of their not being friends to this point of wonderful and hilarious reconciliation. The use of the wood from Ann’s door to make a friend of the picture was especially sweet. Among other things, I enjoyed the fact that Jerry has become a notary public and the many different entities who tried to argue for the sanctity of the land. Andy suggesting that he and April each say a word and see if it made a profession was terrific, and I loved that his only word was trampoline.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 10 “Chapter Ten” (B+)

It’s good to hear just from his tone that the narrator is still having fun, and so am I! This show is riding high after giving the CW its first-ever Golden Globe win for star Gina Rodriguez earlier this month, and it’s starting off the year on a great note. I’m glad to see that a “natural disaster event episode” like this didn’t dishonor the nature of the show and take too many leaps in terms of credibility or plot development. It was a terrific impetus to involve the idea of praying, which revealed the sweetness of Alba in teaching Xiomara how to cook so that she wouldn’t embarrass a young Jane at school and cleverly got Xiomara to pledge not to open her legs so that a renewed romance with Rogelio is doubly complicated. Of course, Xiomara knows it was Michael who made sure that Alba wouldn’t be deported, but that’s not something that Jane can know just yet. To his credit, Rafael isn’t being a jerk, and Jane shouldn’t have asked him about who he was going to lay off since it only led to her feeling responsible rather than just powerless. I like that Jane and Rafael ended up in a good place after the layoffs and after Jane confronted him about the passport and money, which he was smart to be honest about (even though that may not be the full story). This plastic surgery cover-up is quite a soapy twist, and I think that Rose has spun one too many webs to be taken at her word that she truthfully suspects that her husband is Sin Rostro. Luisa’s upcoming escape is sure to throw a wrench in the Solano family dynamic, and the impending arrival of Petra’s pursuers will surely make things even messier.