Thursday, February 22, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Detour

The Detour: Season 3, Episode 5 “The Boat” (B-)

More than anything this season, we’re seeing our characters experience delusion and see other people’s faces when they’re talking to them. So much for Edie’s investigation and getting close to Nate, who was so excited to see Robin at the end of the last episode but now just left her for nearly a year to go work on a fishing boat. Leave it to him to not ask any questions about the salary of “up to” $150,000, resulting in him nearly throwing up every day and experiencing a whole lot of cabin fever for a pretty low salary that definitely wasn’t worth that much. The crystal meth also contributed considerably to the whole thing, helping him to hallucinate his children when he was trying to cheer himself up with some high quality visioning. This show must be a lot of fun to film, particularly in this episode when Robin stood in for his opponent and then got replaced by Vanessa when Nate heard him challenge his dedication to his family. I’m not sure what episodes like this really accomplishes, though I suppose the idea is that there are infinite detours on their path towards prosperity and happiness and, eventually, their latest arrest and court case. I prefer the antics back on land, if not the mainland, with the whole family together and Edie getting closer and closer to taking down the Parker family once and probably not for all. We still have the season left, so let’s get things as focused as they can be on this singularly derailed show.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pilot Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles

The Frankenstein Chronicles (Netflix)
Premiered February 20

I wouldn’t normally watch a show with a title like this, but its genre classification on IMDB and my desire to sample every show on television led me to give it a try. Here’s the second straight show and the latest in a handful that aired its original run a few years ago, though this one is a bit more recent since season two just premiered this past fall on ITV Encore in England after the first season aired in late 2015. This show is most notable for two reasons: its title which adapts Mary Shelley’s famous “Frankenstein” in a different way with her as a character, and star Sean Bean, best known for his crucial role on “Game of Thrones.” This show definitely goes for gruesome in its thematic content, though what it actually shows on screen isn’t nearly as graphic as a number of other series have been recently. This does feel very dated, a far less flashy version of something like “Taboo” or “The Alienist” that aims to look the part rather than enhance its setting with striking imagery or visuals. This first episode didn’t qualify as horror, which I consider a plus, though given the nature of what he’s investigating and how things were often perceived at that time, I can imagine that subsequent installments may be considerably eerier and darker, especially since Bean’s Inspector Marlott seems to be haunted by his own demons. The opening scene was disturbing and intriguing, and I was curious to see where the investigation would take Marlott by the end of the hour. Unfortunately, it took a predictable route into less-than-engaging darkness, which is enough for me to say that this isn’t for me.

How will it work as a series? Marlott isn’t making friends in his search for answers, and I assume he’ll only encounter more enemies and unfriendly allies along the way. That could prove very isolating, especially considering the miserable and unsettling nature of what it is that he’s searching for. It could be easy to drown in this show, which needs to maintain a certain pacing to keep its audience interested.
How long will it last? This show was very well-received when it was first premiered on ITV Encore, and the fact that a second season aired two years later suggests that the network thought it was worthwhile enough to launch even after such a long time. Netflix opted to release both seasons in full on the same day, presumably hoping for some binge-watching. I haven’t read anything about a third season in the works, but I assume that if it’s successful here, that could be in the cards.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: X Company

X Company (Ovation)
Premiered February 19 at 10pm

Here we have the latest international series to make its United States debut after it has already finished a multi-season run in its home country. In this case, that’s Canada, where this show premiered on CBC almost exactly three years ago and aired its season three series finale just about a year ago. This show is notable for being one of the few weekly television series to feature Nazis as the main villains, and one that isn’t set in an alternate universe where they won World War II but instead during that fateful time. Spotlighting a team of Canadian specialists sent into the field to go undercover and take out Nazi targets has a certain appeal, I suppose, but the risk that a show like this faces is that each mission can’t be too monumental since we all know how history went, and watching targets force young girls to keep their arms raised for hours as punishment for insurgent behavior is hardly a comfortable practice. There were four very recognizable faces in this episode who have all shown up on different TV shows in the past few years, though many of those American appearances were actually after they starred in this show given how long ago its initial run was. Évelyne Brochu, best known as Delphine on “Orphan Black,” is the most notable, though she didn’t get to do much here other than flip between accents and cross her arms defiantly in a seemingly far too obvious signal not to blow the bridge. Dustin Milligan was a highly entertaining part of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” and now he’s relegated to a far less interesting role. Though he appears to be dead, François Arnaud should be familiar for playing Oscar on “Blindspot” and his starring role on the recently-renewed “Midnight, Texas.” And it’s no surprise to see Canadian mainstay Hugh Dillon from the likes of “Flashpoint” and “The Killing” in an important supporting role. Those familiar actors can’t do much to make this show, which often feels like a less flashy and only slightly more convincing version of “The Monuments Men,” truly enticing.

How will it work as a series? This first mission seemed pretty intense, and now there’s a new recruit who is definitely not what anyone would consider field-ready going very deep into the next one. Again, the biggest issue here is stakes since they’ll likely be impossibly high on an episodic basis, making it difficult to become fully engaged since their successes can’t be all that significant.
How long will it last? While Ovation is going to air the show in the United States, this is a Canadian production, one that has already enjoyed a successful three-season run in its home country. As long as American audiences take to it the same way their Canadian neighbors have, then those three seasons can have a similarly productive run here stateside too.

Pilot grade: B-

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3, Episode 11 “Here We Go Again” (B+)

Here we go – back to something that makes sense, the requisite time loop episode which involves one character repeating the same day over and over again while struggling to convince everyone else that she’s not crazy. The important difference is that she didn’t know the pop culture keywords of “Groundhog Day” or the “Cause and Effect” episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to trigger Nate and Ray into instantly knowing what they had to do. Her antics aboard the ship were entertaining, as she heard Nate and Amaya having some very passionate, animal-enhanced sex before wiping their own memories, read the entirety of Mick’s sci-fi erotica, and watched Sara video-chatting with Ava while admitting that she was only hard on Zari because she did like her. It was a useful explanation to know that Gary, stuck in a trash compactor, was the one creating the time loop with a device made specifically for that purpose. Of course, that wasn’t what it really was, since Gideon had inserted her into her own simulation, and I’d actually argue that I like simulation episodes, like those featured on “Person of Interest,” more than time-loop ones. Now that they’re all reunited and Zari isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, we’re back to the non-Mallus problem at hand, which is that Rip is running wild trying to accomplish whatever he’s supposed to, which involves a new addition to this cast, someone we’ve seen before, but not recently, on another CW show, “The Flash,” none other than speedster Wally West.

What I’m Watching: Divorce

Divorce: Season 2, Episode 6 “Losing It” (B+)

I didn’t realize that this season is only eight episodes after the first featured ten, and I’m worried that this will soon become the latest underrated HBO comedy to be cancelled after just a few short seasons. This episode demonstrated just how great this show has become, with Robert walking in on Tom having sex with Ella in the bathroom and then trying to figure out how to deal with it in consultation with the important women in his life. Jackie was really not very fazed by it, perfectly and loudly blunt in public about her progressive sex talk with her daughter, leading Robert to the inadvisable decision to suggest to Ella that she had much more experience than Tom and should take it easy with him. I love that Robert and Frances went to their marriage counselor, who didn’t realize they were divorced, to talk at her and discover that they had exactly the same ideas for how to deal with Tom’s sexually exploratory behavior. Frances literally chasing Tom to have a sex talk was pretty funny, but not nearly as much as her getting caught on the trampoline with Andrew much to Robert’s gloating delight. Diane trying to get Dallas into her club led to some interesting antics on Diane’s part with her tumble down the stairs, but I found Dallas’ accidental run-in with Jackie much more enjoyable, especially since she managed to turn it into her own spontaneous therapy session that played out like so many frustrated patients’ experiences do in film and television, with the therapist literally saying nothing.

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 7, Episode 2 “Rebel Rebel” (C-)

I don’t understand where all this is headed and what the point of it all is. In August 2016, this show was renewed for two more seasons, which means that there’s still another season after this one! Keane is starting not to seem quite as totalitarian as she’s so far appeared this season, but Wellington is still not being as open and honest as he should be with his newly released and appointed national security adviser. Saul was right to insist that he wouldn’t be a blind cheerleader for all of Keane’s policies, and Wellington respectfully requested that he wasn’t a subversive leaker either. The fact that Keane doesn’t buy McClendon’s heart attack death but also has no information about it just means that there is so much illicit behavior going on and that no one anywhere can be trusted. Matt Servitto continues to be cast as slighted law enforcement following his memorable roles on “The Sopranos” and “Banshee,” and hopefully his Agent Maslin will be helpful to Saul in his discreet pursuit of O’Keefe. The fugitive radio host offered his own take on the Second Amendment, a hot topic in real-life news these days, insisting that resisting tyranny is the real reason for it, something that most gun owners probably wouldn’t argue is their number one argument for holding on to their weapons. Why he had to shoot himself in the head is beyond me. Carrie is back to her old ways going way too in to her operations with no one backing her, baiting the owner of the ransomware sexually and somehow compelling him to invite her to where he was. Threatening him with her CIA status should be far from intimidating given how easy it was for him to lock her files, but I guess that’s what you get sometimes on this show which has lost sense of what it means to have compelling storylines.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 1, Episode 5 “Shaking the Tree” (B+)

What an ending! This episode clearly demonstrated that not everything on this show is meant to thrill and create intrigue, but sometimes there is simple, powerful drama to be found in the human relationships that can exist between those on one side and either their others or the people in their others’ lives. When Howard told the other Emily that she knew him better than anyone else, she was quick to remind him that she isn’t the same as his Emily. And Anna, who I just now saw is played by Sarah Bolger, who I first encountered fifteen years ago in “In America,” was furious with her father for all of a sudden trying to take an interest, to which he smartly and emotionally asked her to pretend that he wasn’t her negligent father and to just tell him what he’s missed all these years. It’s going to be tough for him to go back when they do finally switch sides again, and fortunately his other is making some progress at determining who the players in his immediate vicinity are, while Pope is playing all sides and creating confusion for our Howard and their Emily. Heinrich found himself in a precarious position in this episode and doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere good, while Aldrich showed a gentler side of himself as they met both Alices. Emily also handed us an important piece of information about their side, which is that seven percent of the population was wiped out by a flu, which explains some of their lack of technological advances and certainly why there is less shopping.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season Finale)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 3, Episode 13 “Nathaniel Is Irrelevant” (C+)

This was a disappointing finale. I felt like this show really achieved something this season once Rebecca acknowledged her depression and took steps to change her life, distancing completely from Josh and trying to keep things unemotional with Nathaniel so that she didn’t slip back into familiar dangerous behaviors. I knew that Trent wouldn’t be gone forever after last week, and unfortunately he didn’t even die now when Rebecca pushed him off a roof. He has contributed nothing positive to this show, and he worked so, so much better as a fake boyfriend even though that wasn’t a home run either. What we got here was a situation that legitimately made Rebecca look like a crazy person since the trio of Tim, Maya, and the suddenly returned George didn’t think it was weird that he was holding a knife over Nathaniel. And Nathaniel didn’t even hate Rebecca at all for what she had done, and just wanted her to get better, even breaking up with his girlfriend because of the strength of his feelings for her. I see no situation where Rebecca going to jail is a good direction for this show, and ending on her confession of guilt with everyone in her life behind her was an odd way to end, especially since a fourth season is far from guaranteed, though hopefully likely given the CW’s recent decision to expand back to Sunday night programming. Paula finally cutting Rebecca out of her life barely lasted ten minutes, and Heather gave birth without much fanfare thanks to the epidural, leading to White Josh’s return in which he seemed much more okay with babies than in the past. I just don’t think that this closer properly sums up the entire season, and it’s a sad way to leave this show in the middle of February.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Rachel Bloom

Pilot Review: Everything Sucks

Everything Sucks! (Netflix)
Premiered February 16

What the TV landscape surely needs now is another dramedy about high school misfits. I think there are few people, especially television characters, who would describe their high school years as a pleasant time, and therefore the question of why this show was made in the first place seems very relevant. Its 1990s setting doesn’t distinguish it nearly as much as the 1980s backdrop of “Stranger Things” does, and as a result it’s just another lackluster visit to an educational experience that many find miserable. I guess this is supposed to be like a new version of “Freaks and Geeks” where even the principal isn’t cool since his summer girlfriend and colleague felt the need to cruelly tell him that she didn’t find him physically attractive at all. His daughter is a moderately more interesting character, one who made friends with Luke and then stole a Maxim magazine from him, which made her start thinking that she’s attracted to women, which should make Luke’s romantic pursuit of her complicated. The drama audition scene was a little much, indicative of how this show seems to either underdraw its characters or overcompensate with others by having them be very over-the-top. Having its lead comment on how visitors come to Boring, Oregon just to take a picture with the sign and not even bother coming in doesn’t exactly recommend their environment, and I found little else of note on this unmemorable and pretty forgettable half-hour comedy that hardly represents the best of what Netflix has to offer programmatically.

How will it work as a series? Luke and Kate are friends but there’s more than either of them know involved in that dynamic, and they both have single parents who don’t exactly have wide social circles. The A/V club and the play are likely to be productive settings for antics that will help these characters discover who they are.
How long will it last? It’s Netflix, so ratings data is not transparent and sometimes not even relevant. The reviews for this one are mixed but generally a bit more favorable than mine, and the fact that people are comparing it, whether or not it’s in a positive way, to “Stranger Things” is likely to help rather than hurt its chances. I don’t know if a second season is likely but I certainly think it’s possible.

Pilot grade: C+

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 4, Episode 2 “The Scavengender Hunt” (B+)

What a horribly impatient bunch unwilling to indulge these expectant parents in their little game. Only Coyote, and Saul to an extent, got excited about the clues, and then the fact that the cake didn’t actually indicate the gender of the baby disappointed everyone. We did see some productive developments for all of the characters throughout this episode on other fronts, however. Robert made the decision that he’s too old to be running around protesting things every night, and Saul made a similar discovery when he came home unable to move his back without extreme effort. Barry took a job working for Brianna’s sworn nemesis and failed to pick up on the fact that she didn’t want him to take it, but I suspect that, with her sarcasm and generally emotionless nature, it won’t end up being too problematic for them. I can’t say the same for Frankie and Jacob, who are sure to have a strain put on their relationship due to their geographical separation. While I do find Lisa Kudrow’s Sheree to be irritating, I’m glad that there’s most to the story and that she’s determined to get Frankie to like her since she’s not stupid and she has noticed her obvious disdain. I’m still a fan of a Coyote-Mallory relationship, and therefore having Mallory find a great use for the eggs that he couldn’t fit in his tiny refrigerator before accidentally driving forward into Mitch’s fancy car was helpful in bringing them closer with this little secret.

Take Three: The End of the F***ing World

The End of the F***ing World: Season 1, Episode 3 (B+)

I really love the dueling narration on this show, with Alyssa and James having a conversation with the audience as if they’re speaking to each other, which they do only occasionally. Alyssa was quite skilled at figuring out which home was going to be safe to enter due to the lack of an obvious burglar alarm and the pile of mail sitting outside, though unfortunately that didn’t account for when the owner would return home. While they had the house to themselves, Alyssa wanted to do the adult thing and have a glass of wine, though unfortunately she took the fact that he was distracted during what should have bene an intimate sexual act by a picture as a sign that he wasn’t into her. She wasted no time at all finding Topher, whose name she didn’t respect, and then paraded him back inside before deciding that she wasn’t actually interested in sleeping with him. James developed a bit of emotion and was just standing there with the flowers in his hands when she walked in, a monumental choice given the plethora of duct tape and other material that could have been used in the murder he’s so hoping to execute that were in the closet. He did get to stab someone to death, and that was the predatory homeowner who wanted to take advantage of Alyssa, and now they’re going to be able to get close doing something James actually loves doing, which should prove to be very interesting to watch.

What I’m Watching: The Crown

The Crown: Season 2, Episode 6 “Vergangenheit” (B+)

This show serves an impressive double function as dramatic entertainment and informative history lesson. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know what the contents of the secret document that was suppressed by King George and Churchill back in 1945, and the way in which it was revealed proved to be very effective. It was surprising to see John Lithgow back as Churchill just for a moment, especially since I and I’d assume most filmgoers now picture future Oscar winner Gary Oldman as the esteemed prime minister. What was contained in those documents did cast David in a particularly bad light, so obsessed with not going to war with Germany that he completely discounted everything that the Nazis and Hitler were doing. Ending the episode with the real-life photos was quite powerful. Elizabeth turning to Reverend Billy Graham, played by Paul Sparks, who is showing up everywhere these days, for guidance on forgiveness was very interesting, and her fascination with watching him on television led to an unexpected meeting, the kind that she likes to regularly arrange when she sees something that impresses her. She did skewer a furious David by angrily asking him how he could forgive himself. Philip coming home drunk to tell her that he had bonded with her mother and with Tommy over their connection through her and their respect for how she dismissed her uncle was a peculiar prelude to what may have turned into a night of romantic passion, but this is not one typical couple.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What I’m Watching: Longmire (Penultimate Episode)

Longmire: Season 6, Episode 9 “Running Eagle Challenge” (B+)

It’s hard to believe there’s just one episode left on this show, and I’m glad that I saved these two for a bit later after getting through most of the season a month ago. This wasn’t a huge epic hour much like many that we’ve seen throughout the years and particularly earlier this season, but instead one that played out typically slowly and without much fanfare. We got a visit from Boston-based FBI Agent Vance, played by Jon Tenney from “The Closer,” who was more than happy to work with Walt to help track down Malachi and employ their clever plan to embed a cell phone in the heroin that they made sure to announce was being transferred on the radio. Another notable guest star, John Doman from “Person of Interest,” showed up as Vic’s father, who was ready to pack her up and bring her back to Philadelphia even though she had no intention of leaving. Having her learn how to ride a horse and how to canoe so that she could participate in Henry’s tribal triathlon was a bit random, but it seems to have helped her work through things, prompting her not to quit but to ask Walt for a raise, pledging her allegiance to the job but determined to be recognized for her efforts. Cady and Zach do make a good couple, and it was nice that Cady went to her father not to yell at him but to recommend that he hire the devoted would-be cop. Let’s hope for a memorable and fitting series finale next!

What I’m Watching: The Punisher

The Punisher: Season 1, Episode 9 “Front Toward Enemy” (B+)

I was a bit confused when I sat down to watch this episode after taking a month off since I remembered that Lewis had started to go off the deep end but been much less certain of where he was headed and how he was going to relate to the main plotline. We got that answer in the opening moments of this episode with the three explosions he set off in an attempt to be the latest antihero to take a stand against what he believes to be unjust. Targeting Karen as his enemy and Frank as his ally was intriguing, and both of them weren’t shy about sharing what they thought of what he was doing. Karen did it publicly on the radio, while Frank starting talking down to him when he saw what he had done to Curtis and how he was somehow villainizing a Marine who served his country while trying to prove what he felt. While his beside manor leaves something to be desired, it appears to have worked since he told him which wire to cut to save Curtis’ life. While that crisis was handled for the time being, the bigger issue is that Frank’s face is out there and everyone now knows that he’s still alive. David going to see Dinah just then was probably helpful since now she’ll be able to work with them, but they have just about everything going against them which means that they’ll have to trust each other in order to be able to survive.

What I’m Watching: Waco

Waco: Season 1, Episode 4 “Of Milk and Men” (B+)

This series is definitely painting Gary as the only person, aside from Rodriguez of course, on the side of the law who is bothering to try to see the Branch Davidians as human beings. Talking to Balenda and having a child tell him that they can’t call her mother because they killed her makes him much more sensitive, but he’s also framed that way in comparison to Mitch and Tony, who are calculating and just want to find a way to get home before Christmas. Milk being the centerpoint of the negotiations in this episode seemed simple enough, but even that involved contradictions like wanting the children to be sent out, and the unfortunate fact that the bugged delivery picked up David and Steve’s conversation about drinking the milk, further indicating to Mitch and Tony that these people couldn’t be trusted. Tony did reveal that they’re purposely filtering information from getting out, like the video in which Rachel lamented the death of her father. Steve is a smart, level-headed individual for Gary to be talking to, but ultimately he’s going to continue to be driven by his faith in the God that he believes spoke to David, a man he confessed to not liking all that much though he accepts him as a prophet. The power being cut just after they saw Balenda making an appeal to her son to come out and return to his real family was a dramatic way to end the episode and indicate no much progress in bringing this standoff to a peaceful end anytime soon.