Thursday, July 28, 2016

Take Three: The Night Of

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 3 “A Dark Crate” (B)

I’m determined to become invested in this show but I’m not sure that it’s going to happen if we’re already three episodes in and I’m not feeling it. We’re moving on past the detectives and uniforms present during the night itself, and now letting the law and order process begin. There were a few important developments in this hour as Naz spent some time in prison and those on the outside made moves to help ensure that he either stays there or has a fighting chance at getting off. We’ve seen so much of Stone that I was surprised to see him cast aside so quickly, especially after Naz said to his father that he liked him and wasn’t so sure about the idea of a new lawyer. Even though he’s been disconnected from the main plotline, he might not be out of the story entirely thanks to Salim’s bosses getting his card from a cop who gave them a clever idea to be able to get their cab bavck. Alison Crowe seems too good to be true in a lot of ways, and even though she has the resources to represent him for free, her style might be a bit too manipulative for him to seem naïve and innocent. The notable new addition of the hour is Michael Kenneth Williams as Freddy, playing his umpteenth role on an HBO drama as a bad guy with some surprising good in him. He’s definitely interesting, but I’m not sure I’m set on sticking around to see what role he plays in the show.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels (Series Finale)

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 14 “Done”

Now this is exactly what I was looking for in the series finale of this show. Durant and Huntington arguing about who gets to do what before the fateful photo was taken was only the introduction, with a barfight based on who was on which side, and then we got to the subject of what all these people do now that the railroad has been finished. Setting most of the episode in Washington was extremely effective since, in so many ways, it’s not where this show has taken place. Cullen looked very out of place with his white gloves on at the fancy dinner party, and then he managed to win over a crowd of soldiers even after the awkward truth about his Confederate past came out. Cullen being popular while Durant is poison in the town was a strange thing, and it was obvious that Cullen wasn’t suited for military life after operating on his own and reporting to only himself for so long. Refusing to incriminate Durant was an interesting choice, and while I thought he might hang himself to avoid a fruitless future, seeing him take the train back to San Francisco and set sail to find Mei was a far more fitting fate. Louise realized she was wrong to try to put Eva into a box in which she clearly couldn’t fit, and her acceptance of a certain satisfaction with her place was reassuring. Ending the episode with another tirade by Durant felt appropriate, since he would no doubt go on to deliver any number of similar speeches in the imagined future of this show. This season has been unexciting to say the least, but this finale wraps up a decent if not terribly memorable show in the best possible way.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: B
Season MVP: Anson Mount as Cullen
Season grade: B
Series MVP: Christopher Heyerdahl as the Swede
Best Season: Season 3
Best Episode: “Blood Moon Rising

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 4 “We Were Family” (B+)

After we saw what the crew used to be like, it’s pretty incredible to see the difference in their behavior now. That couldn’t be truer than with Three, who was always the gruffest and seemingly baddest of the bunch, but who now won’t even consider the option of kidnapping a man’s son to motivate him to help with a job. Eagerly throwing back in with his old crew seemed a little too easy, and killing his former mentor because he realized that the reasons that he followed him weren’t part of the person that he now is was a satisfying and respectable decision. I love that the Android made some new friends in the form of enhanced androids who seem much more human, and I wish that there could be a crossover with “Humans” and she could meet similar characters from that show. I look forward to seeing how she starts acting more human and the members of the crew begin to notice. Speaking of things that aren’t necessarily human, I’m just as intrigued as Four by Nyx’s ability to learn things right away and inherit skills in a masterful, seemingly impossible way. Five was inventive and on the ball with her decision to surveil Nero, and now it looks like they’re rid of that threat since they discovered his treachery and left him behind. A bigger and more dangerous war awaits, apparently, but that will come in due time. With Nero off the ship, Devon and Nyx are proving to be dependable allies.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 6 “Piece of Shit” (B+)

It catches me off-guard sometimes when I realize that there’s no featured flashback in a given episode. That was the case here, but there’s so much going on that I barely even noticed. It was great to start with a focus on Nicky, a character this show has gone far too long without. Seeing how she kept her spirits up by naming state capitals and celebrating small victories like earning a sobriety milestone chip she couldn’t even hold onto was inspiring, and it’s a shame that Lubschek’s visit drove her to such a place that she felt the need to break her sobriety just as he found a way to get her released and sent back to general population. Lubschek really is an awful person, as exemplified by so many moments in this episode, and it’s great to see him start to realize that maybe he doesn’t have to be so bad. Judy demanding sexual favors in exchange for her help shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected, and now he’s crossing a line that he really shouldn’t be, and even he knows that. Piper also crossed a line by framing her competition, and I can tell that she’s going to regret it, as if she doesn’t already given the years it added to another prisoner’s sentence. Taystee did a great job of negotiating peace between warring bunkmates, and I’m eager to see their partnership continue. I’m loving the relationship between Caputo and Linda, and Caputo really does have the best interests of his inmates in mind. Hopefully this education thing will take off as he envisions it.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 9 “Seven Minutes in Heaven” (B+)

Well, in this case it was totally worth bringing back a character from season one. The opening scene helped to establish what Fisk has been up to all this time, learning that life on the inside isn’t quite so grand if you’re not the head honcho. Having the Punisher brought to him to deal with the nuisance posed by William Forsythe’s kingpin seemed like a good idea, and Frank wasn’t too impressed by Fisk’s attempts to be sympathetic. The guards trapping Frank with all the inmates who wanted to kill him seemed like it might mean Frank’s time was up, but of course he managed to kill every single one of them singlehandedly, and then earned himself a release by walking out the front door in riot gear. Karen is making extraordinary strides as a journalist, and her discovery of the sting operation – timed with Frank learning of this too – was substantially dramatic and intriguing. Telling Foggy that she doesn’t need to be warned was the second most powerful personal-professional interaction of the hour, behind Matt being upfront with Foggy and telling him that he’s done apologizing for who he is. I’m much less interested in whatever it is that Matt has stumbled upon as part of his revenge mission against Stick. It would be helpful if he had his head in the game, if only to be able to depend on some ally other than going it all on his own, disregarding and alienating Elektra, Foggy, Karen, and anyone else who might try to help him.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 9 “Chapter 48” (B+)

This was a pretty exciting episode, with the dramatic roll call for vice presidential nominations at the Democratic National Convention serving as the primary plot device. The Kentucky senator casting a vote for Claire introduced the idea in a way that caught on in a big way, perfectly engineered by Frank and Claire to seem like it was something that they couldn’t even have imagined. Donald was very helpful in all of it by spreading the word that Kathy barely had a role in the negotiations in Germany, and Claire got nearly to the top of the list without all that much effort. Kathy’s reaction to Frank breaking the news to her was the biggest surprise of all, noting that she thinks Claire would be great for the job. Kathy may have something up her sleeve too, as Louisiana’s endorsement of her for the position of president indicates considerable dissent against the Underwood dynasty. Seth telling Leanne that Doug has it in for her can’t be a good idea, and he seems set on painting her as the reason for all of Underwood’s woes. It was a nice treat to see Frank and Conway sit down and talk one-on-one after making their initial contact such a televised publicity stunt. Playing games together on Conway’s phone was easily the best part, followed closely by Frank nearly choking when Conway made him laugh and his metaphorical presentation of ham. I also enjoyed Frank’s accidental misquote of the famous line – “One man’s tragedy is another man’s treasure.”

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 4 “Bad Blood” (B+)

It’s nice to see an episode with a bit more of a dramatic kick than the usual admittedly entertaining silliness of threesomes and all that. What was crucial about this episode was that it demonstrated how self-involved Johnny is, but, more importantly, that he has absolutely no sense of that. Piping up in the meeting to speak for Ava instead of letting her talk for herself was just the tip of the iceberg, and it says something that Ava didn’t even bring it up to him and instead had Gigi do it for her. As his daughter, Gigi possesses a lot of the same gusto and unfiltered energy as Johnny, but she’s able to perceive how what she does affects others. Telling him that he’s being fired wasn’t easy for her, but when he reacted in the way that he did, she had no trouble going in for the kill. Ava defiantly refusing to listen to him was telling, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. Things started off on a less serious note with Flash trying to figure out why Gigi got him this ruby-filled tongue and whether she was seriously thinking about getting married and spending the rest of her life with him. But even that conversation had Flash confronting Johnny about the way that he was talking about his daughter, not confident that any of the women in his life that he’s supposed to be holding dear can actually accomplish success on their own. It’s a real shame, and I hope he’ll be able to come back from it.

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 3 “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd” (B+)

I appreciate the structure of this episode and the way that it started with a seemingly unimportant flashback explaining the root of the fsociety name and then ending with Dominique’s discovery of their arcade headquarters. It’s much more like “Breaking Bad” than this show has tended to be, since it usually drops major bombshells but not that in that subtle, removed way. I’m more than fascinated by our two new character additions this season. Craig Robinson’s Ray has much more to him that meets the eye, cognizant that he’s having breakfast each morning with a person who’s not there and eager to get to know Eliot by playing chess with him. Grace Gummer’s Dominique is a unique kind of federal agent, and she absolutely has the right personality to fit in on this show. Defiantly popping Adderall pills to get rid of Mr. Robot was a bold move, and picking them up from his vomit on the floor after he hallucinated being abducted was furious and intense. Seeing him smiling, cleaning dishes, and commenting on “Seinfeld” was alluring and disturbing at the same time, and I like that he interpreted it as an error in his code. Seeing a disapproving Mr. Robot silently standing there as Ray moved when they were talking towards the end of the episode was haunting and very effective. Angela being introduced to two bigwigs at Evil Corp demonstrates the type of person she has become, and it will be interesting to see what she does with the knowledge that she’s just gained.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 8 “The Magpie” (B+)

I love how all three of our characters are in distinct places in their relationships where, to a degree, they are the ones in control of where they will go and they’re all headed towards some degree of self-destruction. Valerie’s is the most harmless in many ways, mainly because all that’s at risk is her own loneliness. Jennifer is obviously unhappy with her choice not to pursue Harry and her decision to opt instead for the more exciting and inconsistent Jack, and telling Valerie about fun plans that she has with Harry that she’s not invited in wasn’t particularly nice, nor was canceling on lunch after barely committing to it anyway. Valerie’s abused patient choosing to cut off therapy rather than get out of his dangerous relationship was an unfortunate supporting development that signals her failure to get through to someone she should be able to protect. Laura feeling claustrophobic with Aubrey and wanting to spend alone time with Spencer is understandable, but the way that she’s trying to disengage is going to backfire. And then there’s Alex, who was in shock when Jordan expressed naïve hope that his engagement would stay on and then tried to convince Sarah that she should be with him instead. Jordan vowing to burn Alex’s company to the ground is bad news, but Sarah showing up with all her stuff is a nice silver lining for the moment that’s sure not to last. I am very eager to see where it goes even if I’m nervous that it’s going to end badly.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys (Season Finale)

12 Monkeys: Season 2, Episode 13 “Memory of Tomorrow” (B)

Let me start by saying that I do like this show a lot and I’m definitely in it for the long haul. I’m not totally sure where this season went, so focused on destroying time that it ended up in a completely different place than I ever imagined it would. Now we have people using time machines to travel to other places without actually time traveling and others traveling through time with nothing more than a hallucinogen to propel them from year to year. Starting out with everyone we saw actually dead and a very happy Cole and Cassie expecting a child together in the home they made in the past presented a fascinating trajectory of events, but of course that couldn’t last for a while. I very much appreciated the casting of Madeleine Stowe, who starred in the original film that inspired this series in the Dr. Railly role, as Lillian, harbinger of doom who forced Cole to take action and change the future. I guess undoing events that took place in 2044 doesn’t undo the two years they had together – though I’m not sure that makes sense – and that’s why Cassie is still pregnant. Going far into the future is a cool idea that should make season three exciting, though the creepy sight of a hooded cult and the notion that Cassie’s unborn child will grow up to become the witness veers a bit towards the supernatural for me. It’s been a fun if relatively insane ride, undoubtedly, and I’m intrigued to see where this show continues to go. More Jennifer repurposing famous movie speeches to motivate the troops, please!

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Aaron Stanford as Cole

Pilot Review: Vice Principals

Vice Principals (HBO)
Premiered July 17 at 10:30pm

I was eager to see this show as soon as I heard of its existence, and it’s pretty much exactly what I expected. This is very similar to “Eastbound and Down” in a lot of ways, mainly because it comes from the same creative team and stars Danny McBride as an antisocial educator concerned with no one other than himself. The difference here is that McBride’s vice principal Neal Gamby has a daughter and a kindhearted cheerleader in his ex-wife’s new husband Ray. He also has traded his dimwitted sidekick for a formidable rival in Walton Goggins’ Lee Russell, the complete opposite of him in terms of vice principal posturing, sweet-talking everyone and letting his nice guy nature serve him just as well as Gamby’s iron fist does. Whoever thought of pairing McBride and Goggins was brilliant, and it’s great to see Goggins succeeding marvelously in this straight comedic role after stealing scenes on “Justified” and Sons of Anarchy” and in “The Hateful Eight” where his Southern drawl helped him add comedy to dramatic characters and situations. I’m also very pleased to see Shea Whigham from “Boardwalk Empire” in a very different role as Ray, and I’m sure that having Busy Phillips in the cast as his wife Gale will prove very worthwhile too. The foul-mouthed, infantile nature of the two protagonists on this show is a lot of fun, and it’s good to see that other characters, like new principal Dr. Brown, aren’t immune to such pettiness and crude language either. This show is sure to be a lot of fun, and I’m excited.

How will it work as a series? Comparing it to McBride’s previous HBO comedy is probably the most accurate representation of what this show will be like, with a recurring storyline and plenty of antics to get in the way as both Gamby and Russell manage to let their egos guide them towards a place of revenge rather than actually educating those with whom they’re charged to work.
How long will it last? HBO endorsed “Eastbound and Down” for four seasons, and something tells me that this show will go on however long its creators want it to. A renewal is likely soon, and I’d expect that this show should also last for about four seasons, though it’s obviously too early to say for sure.

Pilot grade: B+

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 4 “Federal Boobie Inspector” (B+)

I was expecting to see this episode’s title prominently displayed at some point, but instead it happened in a flash as the “FBI” letters on the back of a careless skateboarder’s t-shirt caught Ray’s eye and made him think twice about how to handle his Sonia problem. Seeing him go to the batting cages to get out his aggression rather than react with brute force right away really is so interesting, and while he’s all about the blackmail and manipulation of events around him, he’s trying to restrain his violent impulses. Bringing Ezra back into the storyline felt like a blast from the past, and getting Belikov out of jail seems like it will be relatively easy compared to how complicated it could be. Ed forcing Ray to sing karaoke as partial payment for his services was a great moment, and it was sweet to see Abby and Ray sing and dance together as the episode faded to black. Those two are being very honest with each honest these days, particularly when it comes to Abby and her little tryst with Lena’s cancer doctor ex-girlfriend. Mickey’s trip back to Los Angeles didn’t come as free of charge as he thought, but it seems that he has a surprising partner in Ray to help him pull off his latest job. Bunchy eagerly asking Ray to be the godfather and celebrating his father’s return did not go over well with Teresa, and her expressed desire to go back to Bakersfield is likely to come up again very soon. Terry is determined to train Damon, and he’s not giving up until he helps him to realize his potential.

Round Two: The Night Of

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 2 “Subtle Beast” (B)

I’m still not completely captivated by this show or its pacing just yet, but I’m willing to give it at least another episode to see where it goes. What’s clear is that Naz is in way over his head, and he’s one of the luckier ones who actually has a lawyer advocating for him, trying his hardest to argue that what the district attorney puts forth as undeniable evidence is merely a summary of the charges and not proof of any wrongdoing. Detective Box denying that he blinked when he was asked whether he thought Naz was guilty was an unfortunate indicator that he really is certain that Naz did it despite the poor young man’s continued assertion that he did nothing wrong. We’re seeing everything play out in a very literal, matter-of-fact mode, with Jack gone from the police station because he’s on the subway scratching his feet or emptying his pockets of so very many things in line to get in to the courthouse. We met a new character in this episode, played by recent Emmy nominee Paul Sparks, Don Taylor, who had no particular fondness for his stepdaughter but still seemed shaken by the visual confirmation of her death. Naz’s parents are intelligent people who seem at a loss to understand the gravity of what their son is into, but I think it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that this is not something that is going away anytime soon and is going to dominate their lives for quite some time.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels (Penultimate Episode)

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 13 “Railroad Men” (B)

I guess we’re getting somewhere, but it’s about time given that this show has just one hour left before it’s done for good. Louise telegraphing the excitement of the race to lay down the railroad track that would seal a victory for either the Union Pacific or the Central Pacific was demonstrative of the down-to-the-second nature of this competition. Jim choosing to poach both Cullen and Mickey’s men just two days before the railroad was complete seemed deliberate and antagonistic, but he’s beyond caring about any of that because of how he was summarily dismissed from his position at the railroad. While Durant and Mickey use intimidation and anger to ensure that their employees are obedient, Cullen is actually good to them, hence Psalms’ decision to lead his people over to the other side at just the moment that they could have helped Durant finish. Huntington conceding to Durant so that the corners he cut would not come to light was disappointing, and the only mediocre comfort was Cullen’s refusal to respond to Durant rubbing in his victory by simply congratulating him and moving on. Cullen’s poor state and apparent heart attack were deeply disquieting, and it seems like Cullen may not be long for this world, possibly even dead as of the opening of the series finale. If he’s gone, who’s left on this show? I’ll reserve judgment until I see where it all goes, but I’m really starting to wonder whether the second half of this fifth season has been necessary at all or if the show could just have been concluded a year ago.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 3 “I’ve Seen the Other Side of You” (B+)

At first, I thought that this episode was going to be a flashback to the crew of the Raza before they got their memories wiped and first discovered their stowaway on board, but instead we got to see Two, Three, and Four returned to their former states when the neural scans taken by the ship previously replaced their present predilections. Five arguing their own merits to them and telling them that they had evolved to be better and more humans than this was probably the most compelling part of the hour, and, as usual, the Android proved totally reliable even though she was unconscious most of the time rebooting herself to try to reestablish a neural link with the ship. Two with knowledge of her nanites and the powers she has is a formidable threat, eager to take on a challenge and neutralize any enemies that stand in her path. Three and Four were simply less pensive and understanding, and it’s good that the three of them have all been returned to their former states. As if their behavior wasn’t enough to make their new friends nervous about being on the ship with them, the actual traitorous nature of one such guest is what’s going to present the next and biggest problem for this crew to try to outrun. We have yet to see if any of them will really take to this crew and help to replace One, but for now it’s the four conscious originals who have to try to fight for their lives.