Thursday, August 17, 2017

What I’m Watching: Casual (Season Finale)

Casual: Season 3, Episode 13 “The Hermit and the Moon” (B+)

I do hope this isn’t the series finale, with no news about a fourth season on the horizon, but I suppose this would be a fitting way to wrap things up. There’s no point at which things will work out neatly for anyone, and they’re all likely to fall back into the same cycles of behavior no matter how much they come to epiphanies and try to change their lives. I guess I, like Alex, didn’t realize that Judy was breaking up with him when she said they needed space, but I think that was the helpful deceptive nature of the flashbacks, since his girlfriend at the time wasn’t aware of what he was really talking about and then he was just as oblivious so many years later. It didn’t end badly or messily, and she seemed most upset about having to interview more nerds. Rae revealed her pregnancy very bluntly, and I like that they had a discussion about it which included her telling him that she wanted his opinion just as much as he tried to defer to her. There’s no decision as of yet on what they’ll do, but it’s an interesting place to leave off. Val decided she can live with her brother and that’s fine, and for now Laura is just going to have to be her own person, drinking her grandmother’s Kool-Aid until that spell wears off. And Leon can now be the type of friend for Alex that he needs to be, with Leah less excited about the idea of a camping trip now. I didn’t like the first few episodes of this season but it recovered after that, and still serves as a great show even if it’s not the strongest year the show has produced. I’m hoping for season four since I want to spend more time with these characters.

What I’m Watching: People of Earth

People of Earth: Season 2, Episode 4 “Always a Day Away” (B+)

The group made quite the effort to help Ozzie sneak away to go meet Walsh, and what a scene it was seeing Agent Foster go up on stage and sing a very heartfelt and obviously emotional karaoke rendition. One of the things I love most about this show is that its characters manage to help each other, and I think that Gina’s offer to help Agent Foster work through her issues with being an orphan is sincere, and even though right now she’s furious about being deceived, she may end up taking her up on it. It was also cool to see Don in the distance and have Agent Foster realize that she knew him from a memory since she too is apparently an experiencer! Don coming down to Earth to talk to Kelly was really great, and the fact that she reacted so poorly every single time when he kept erasing her memory, in the style of “Men in Black,” and telling her that he was married wasn’t the best resolution but seemed to be the only one that didn’t end with her freaking out. Father Doug and Chelsea were looking to move forward with their relationship, but it seems that leaving the church isn’t something that’s so simple. The most surprising development of all came from the Cube’s attempt to test Jeff by forcing him to get rid of Kurt’s body. Only it turns out that Kurt isn’t dead after all, and, now that he’s back, he doesn’t feel the same way that Jeff does about him.

What I’m Watching: Loaded

Loaded: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Boat” (B+)

Spending 3.9 million pounds on a boat – excuse me, yacht – isn’t going to solve the problems that this team is having. But putting them in a new environment was helpful in drawing out some other issues and having them all talk about them. Ewan doing a terrible job flirting led to the ground crew member being more aggressive, only Ewan hilariously had to pretend to be their butler so that he would think of him on the same level. Getting exposed by an extremely high Watto was unfortunate, but it was sweet that, thanks in part to Leon putting in a good word, they took a little swim together and maybe this relationship could go somewhere. Leon didn’t get much good news, particularly when he discovered where the red stain on the couch came from. Putting acid in the water so that they could be a bit more amped-up was a terrible idea, though it did seem that Watto took some comfort in the conversation he had with the Chinese fisherman he thought was his mom. Josh was initially furious to hear that Leon had an ex-Mossad agent following Abi, but then he was all too eager to use the drone once he got suspicious. Fortunately, he didn’t blow that, and it seems like they’ll be fine going forward. Naomi got herself busted pretty quickly when she tried to e-mail Casey from Leon’s computer, and good for her for letting loose and standing up to Casey, which immediately got her a raise while she continues doing the same thing.

What I’m Watching: Insecure

Insecure: Season 2, Episode 4 “Hella La” (B+)

Issa can’t seem to catch much of a break, but she keeps ending each episode on a positive note. It’s disheartening to see her turned away repeatedly in the most impolite of ways, and the guy who she met who immediately asked if she could change both her hair and her voice was particularly offensive. Going clubbing with Molly and Kelli wasn’t the best solution, mainly because she ran into Daniel right away and, as this season’s titles would agree, she made it hella awkward by trying to talk to him privately. Moving over to his table after he texted her to point out that Kelli was enjoying herself way too much under the table was a nice step, and maybe they could work out after all. Lawrence had a disconcerting encounter with a cop who pulled him over that turned out to be nothing, but it was enough for two eager white girls to buy his alcohol for him and then invite him over for what should have been a fantastic threesome but was ruined equally by his inability to power through a second round of sex seconds after the first one and their generally being terrible people. Molly actually wins for the most bizarre sexual-ish encounter, as she was coming way too close for comfort with Dro only to find out that he’s in an open marriage. She contemplated it for a minute but then retreated back to her more buttoned-up sense of proper relationships, which is properly a better way not to get hurt.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pilot Review: Get Shorty

Get Shorty (Epix)
Premiered August 13 at 10pm

I’m a big fan of the 1995 film starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, and Dennis Farina that itself was based on a book by Elmore Leonard, who wrote the books that were made into “Jackie Brown,” “Justified,” and others. I was excited to see the poster for this show since I’m a big fan of Chris O’Dowd from his previous TV show, “Family Tree,” and I liked Ray Romano a lot in his most recent film role in “The Big Sick.” Unfortunately, this show was off-putting from the first scene, where for some reason we had to watch – and hear - some guy’s tongue getting cut out. I remember Farina getting shot multiple times in the movie, which was considerably tamer and much funnier. This pilot was a mess, and there are so many characters, most of whom don’t need to exist. I started liking it a lot towards the end when O’Dowd’s Miles worked up some courage to pitch Romano’s Rick on his movie script, but then he decided to get back in league with the goons who are going to make his life miserable, even though he came up with a brilliant money-washing idea. In addition to the stars, we also saw Paul Sparks from “House of Cards” as the writer offed mid-sentence and Topher Grace as the demanding actor, but otherwise most of the cast wasn’t familiar to me. I preferred both lead actors in previous roles, and I just don’t think there’s much of an appeal if this clunky, slow start is any indication.

How will it work as a series? Miles’ partner is right – it’s a bad idea for him to get into business with people he knows regularly kill anyone that they no longer find to be valuable to their organization. Such a project, with a star like John Stamos, is also going to be way over Rick’s head based on what he usually does. This is going to be a disaster, and not an entertaining one, in my opinion.
How long will it last? Both of Epix’s first two original series, “Berlin Station” and “Graves,” were renewed. Ratings aren’t available for those shows, so the only real comparison is reviews, which seem to be pretty similar for all three programs. I think that this show should be able to earn a renewal though it’s hardly guaranteed.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 5, Episode 2 “Las Vegas” (B+)

There’s something strange and a bit eerily dreamlike about these flashbacks to Ray and Abby spending happy time together, and it just doesn’t feel real. I think that’s because, even at his most romantic, Ray is still pretty cold and unemotional. He’s clearly so distraught about having lost his wife, but I’m not sure he ever truly valued her when she was alive, even in this more idyllic time. Abby knows what’s going on, and she wasn’t okay with the idea that Terry had sex with another woman and then proposed to Maureen on the same night, especially since she knew that Ray might do the same sort of thing. They had fun together getting Ray’s mother’s ring back, but then she had a seizure, and things just went downhill from there. This season’s prominent mess of a star appears to be Natalie James, played by Lili Simmons, who spoke about as much on “Banshee” and in this episode nearly made Ray miss his brother’s wedding and then shot her soon-to-be-ex, plays by Rhys Coiro of “Entourage,” when she went back for her dog. It’s too bad that the wedding didn’t go well even with the Donovan brothers behaving themselves, and it was the cops who started trouble that quickly turned into a brawl thanks to Bunchy jumping in to defend his brother with his fists. Terry does seem to have undergone a pretty positive physical transformation, but unfortunately happiness is a much more elusive thing for those in the Donovan family.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episode 5 “Eastwatch” (B+)

It’s been a long time since I’ve been caught up enough on my TV to watch an episode of this show while it was actually airing. I was noting to a friend that I’ve never been a fan of the White Walkers as a plotline on this show, but I guess you don’t get to choose what you like and what you don’t like. There’s something intense and exciting about seeing Jon, Davos, the Hound, and a few others head out into the snowy abyss to, apparently, try to catch a White Walker to bring to Cersei as proof of their existence. She did seem much more amenable to the idea of accepting some sort of truce with Daenerys, which I didn’t expect at all, though she’s still pretty angry at Jaime for giving Olenna a peaceful death, especially after learning that she was the one who killed Joffrey. Jaime wasn’t happy at all to see Tyrion, who is increasingly becoming one of the lone beacons of positive humanity. Daenerys is no longer listening to him, opting to have her dragon burn the Tarly men alive so that every other member of Cersei’s army will bend the knee. Discord is sowing between Arya and Sanda, and no one needs that given the many threats facing them. It’s good to have Jorah back and to see him joined with Davos and the others, healed by Sam, who continues to be underused despite having infinitely more knowledge than those who tell him to continue serving silently.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black (Series Finale)

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 10 “To Right the Wrongs of Many”

I remember when I almost accidentally missed the premiere of this show because I wasn’t too aware of BBC America, but I did manage to catch it four and a half years ago when I moved back to New York. I’m so glad I did. Seasons one and two were all about the clones figuring out who they are, season three was about the Castor clones and how they turned out very differently, and seasons four and five were about figuring out how the clones will continue to exist and what purpose they were meant to serve. I wasn’t sure if this show would be able to provide a satisfying finale since it’s covered so much ground, but I think that it did. I’m always all for flashbacks to pivotal moments from years earlier, and Mrs. S talking to Sarah as she was about to have an abortion was extremely powerful as it transitioned directly into Sarah helping Helena as she was giving birth. Something about Sarah saying to Helena “Look at me, just keeping looking at me” really resonated, since they have the same face but they’re such different people. I’m not sure we’ll ever see a performance like the one Tatiana Maslany gave on this show ever again, though I’m so curious to see what she does next. It was also good to have Art back, knocking out and tying up his partner and then hilariously reacting to Virginia forcing him to serve as midwife. Ultimately, all the clones had to do was take out the two remaining threats to them – Virginia, stabbed in the neck by Helena, and Westmoreland, whose face was crushed by Sarah – and that was all that was left for them to be happy. Seeing the family unit reunited as Sarah prepared to sell her house was great, with everyone having a partner of some sort and highlighted by Art showing up and giving Helena a hug. It’s great to see everyone turn out so happy, and what better gift for Felix to give from Rachel than a list of the 274 Lida clones still out there. The notion that Cosima and Delphine are traveling the world to help cure all the clones that look like Cosima is wonderful, and what a great ending for them too. Finishing with Helena describing the title of the show as an untranslatable Ukrainian expression was perfect. What a great series – I’ll continue to recommend this to anyone and everyone I know.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: A-
Season MVP: Tatiana Maslany
Season grade: B+
Series MVP: Tatiana Maslany Best Season: Season 1
Best Episode: Conditions of Existence

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 11 “The Dwarf Star Conspiracy” (B+)

This show continues to jump around, but at least now we’re coming back to something that we looked at before, involving the aliens coming through the anomaly and inhabiting human hosts. After Three’s nightmare made him take a stand against the rest of the crew about their mission since he had a very bad feeling about it, they went anyway and he did not end up in good shape. Fortunately, both Two and Six think on their feet very well, and they were able to talk to Commander Tarkanian and Dr. Aaron and tell them the truth about what was going on. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Sajen wasn’t quite on the good side of things, and she managed to escape with a few other hosts who are sure to cause problems in the future for the crew. Dr. Aaron calling in a nuclear strike and then shooting himself in the head was not good news for Two, but she did get knocked out and dragged out just before the explosion. The fact that it was Boone who saved her and is now taking her to wherever he plans to is disconcerting, and I’m sure that a face-to-face with the other crew is going to account for a good portion of the content of the final two episodes. I like that the Android got a new suit and talked to Two about boobs, inserting big-word terms that go together like humanity and instrumentality, sexuality and functionality in the conversation to celebrate that the very fact that she can choose a new look should make her happy. Six is always ready to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if they’re not exactly people.

Pilot Review: Atypical

Atypical (Netflix)
Premiered August 11

As soon as I saw that Keir Gilchrist was starring in a new show, I immediately remembered a great movie I saw in 2010 called “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” He carried that film exceptionally as a teenager experiencing a life in a different way than others, and what better item to have on his resume for this project? This show has a cool premise, following the life of an eighteen-year-old on the autism spectrum who doesn’t have a lot of friends and spends most of his time either at his job at a geek squad or talking to his therapist. Sam speaks his mind and discusses how he processes everything differently, and he really loves his research. I like that his sister isn’t too fond of other people but is deeply protective of her brother and anyone else that she sees as being threatened. They’re both exploring dating at the same time, which is going pretty poorly even though Sam is putting his best foot forward and did fine until he accidentally hit the redhead who expressed some interest in him. I was initially unsure of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapaport as the actors chosen to play Sam and Casey’s parents, remembering them from “The Hateful Eight” and “The War at Home,” respectively, but by episode’s end, I was pretty confident in their abilities, with Leigh’s Elsa showing that she might want something else but knowing not to do it and Rapaport’s Doug standing up for himself when he seemed to be an uninterested dud. I think this show is set up for success, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

How will it work as a series? His first date wasn’t great, and now it seems that he’s become fixated on his therapist, something that’s not going to go well at all. But this show seems like it’s invested in all of its characters, not just Sam, and I imagine that will make it a strong comedic drama.
How long will it last? The reviews are pretty good, and even though Netflix has recently cancelled three of its shows after their first seasons, I think that this is right up the network’s alley in terms of originality and individuality. Expect a renewal sometime soon.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 10 “The Reverse Midas Touch” (B+)

If last episode was a horror installment, this episode got back to more of what this show was about, returning to some of its most disturbing content since Humphreys made Maritza eat a baby mouse. I’m not trying to justify anything, especially the treatment of the guards being held hostage, but Piscatella is just continuing more of the needles revenge on inmates who didn’t even really do anything to him. As he was busy physically tormenting Red in front of what he called her family, it was extremely helpful to have a flashback to a nicer, younger version of him who immediately connected with a male inmate and then transformed into a monster as a result of him getting beaten, adopting the personality he had put on as a front and evolving well beyond that. Despite Frieda’s attempts to keep her group from going back to the prison, Piper’s tongue skills helped her get the tape off her mouth and scream loud enough for them to hear and for Frieda’s multitude of traps to save all of the captured group. Off her meds, Suzanne isn’t actually much different, ultimately deciding to help Maureen get medical attention and then trying to show Taystee that Humphreys was dead. Taystee did a good job of keeping Fig and Caputo focused, and the warden advocated pretty well even if much isn’t likely to be accomplished. I like that Linda and Pennsatucky bonded while in the porter pottys, but of course Pennsatucky would punch her in the face as soon as she saw her face. Stratman’s effort to save his finger was smart, and it turns out that Leanne might not be a totally ridiculous character after all. The best line of the episode was about twenty-four hour news – that it’s a great way to not have to live your own life at all.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season Finale)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 13 “Kimmy Bites an Onion!” (B+)

I love the way that this show sees the world, as expressed through Kimmy’s eyes. I’ve often found this show to be the most ridiculous thing on television, but this season I think it embraced that just the right amount to be truly effective. Kimmy putting on mittens before she puts on her jacket just because she wants to is just one of the many things that make her who she is, and I love that she went to go take a test to become a crossing guard, which of course pitted her against the robot. Her selflessness in defying the challenge of the trolley problem to sacrifice herself rather than the kids or the businessman was impressive, and of course a simple background check that showed that she was married to a sex offender was enough to get her booted immediately. Her Vidalia onion analogy was fitting, and I like that Lillian, who claims to be able to time-travel, showed up with Zach in a DeLorean. Zach’s job offer was perfect for her, and I look forward to seeing what she’s like in her new position next season. Jacqueline has also discovered her calling – talent agent/guidance counselor bather – thanks to her featuring Titus in her story. Titus did a pretty great job performing “Boobs in California” and then pouring his heart out very publicly to Mikey, who I suspect might end up coming back next season. This has been the best season of this yet, and I look forward to more!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Ellie Kemper

Monday, August 14, 2017

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 1, Episode 6 “Too Slow” (B+)

I’d never accuse Andrea of trying to be politically correct, but naturally she’d want to be appropriately polite to the only lesbian couple at Amelia’s school – the same way she’d be to any people regardless of their sexual orientation. I immediately recognized Lizzy Caplan as one half of the monster couple, who initially seemed like they might just be a bit more lax with their parenting style, but after they encouraged their son hitting, they completely destroyed a random employee just for doing his job, it was clear that they were terrible people. I love that Andrea was offended when they said that she and Mike were uptight, even though it got them out of having to hang out with them anymore. We hadn’t seen much of Nelson Franklin from “New Girl” and “Veep” as David previously, but he took on a more substantial role in this episode as Andrea told her mom that he was gay and then met with him, expecting him to officially come out to her. The news that he’s dating his roommate’s girlfriend is utterly inconsequential for this show as a whole, but I suspect that this isn’t the last we’ll see of him and hear of this. Andrea hitting the car in front of her because she got distracted trying to take a picture of the woman dressed in all pink was pretty ridiculous, and she’s never one to lose an argument willingly, as evidenced by her forcing Amelia to come sit around during the dance classes she didn’t want to go to after committing to them.

Pilot Review: Mr. Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes (Audience)
Premiered August 9 at 8pm

I read somewhere that the opening scene of this show was extremely disturbing, and that was confirmed by the warning that was displayed on screen at the start of the episode. My first thought upon seeing the horrific murder of a number of innocent people, including a young mother and her baby, was that this had to be based on fact, because who would make something like that up? I was relieved to find that it wasn’t, that it instead was inspired by a 2011 incident in which a woman similarly drove her car into a crowd at a McDonald’s but with no fatalities as far as I could tell. The timing of this premiere couldn't be any worse given the recent terrorist attack of a similar nature in Charlottesville. It makes some sense that this comes from the brain of Stephen King, though there’s nothing supernatural about it, just a man who likes to kill people and then toy with the man who wasn’t able to catch him. My problem with this and many serial killer shows and movies is that the villain in question exercises such control in their murderous operations yet falls victim to a controlling – and then some – mother and a demoralizing boss who has no clue what the directionless millennial who works for him actually does with his spare time. I was sad to find out that the role of Brady was originally slated to be played by Anton Yelchin before his untimely death in a car accident. Brendan Gleeson is a tremendous actor who’s absolutely right for this part, and it was good to see Emmy winner Holland Taylor for the first time in a while as his sometimes-nude neighbor. Kelly Lynch from “The L Word,” Scott Lawrence from “Rectify,” Breeda Wool from “AWOL” and “UnREAL,” and Mary-Louise Parker represent strong elements of the supporting cast. This show is intriguing but its villain is too dark for my tastes, sending taunting videos that show an unnecessarily purposeful and depraved attitude towards what he’s done, and its pacing wasn’t quick enough for me to feel like it was worth returning for more.

How will it work as a series? There’s no indication that he’s actually going to strike again, but what he did two years earlier is unsettling enough, and he’s now taken to tormenting Bill just for the hell of it. This episode wasn’t all that focused on their interactions, filling in a lot of Bill’s life and Brady’s, and so I’d expect similar pacing in coming episodes.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be pretty strong, and it’s hard to find ratings data from the Audience network since it operates differently than a lot of other channels. Given Stephen King’s popularity and the positive reception for this show so far, I’d expect a second season to come along, especially since there were two other book published in King’s series.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: Swedish Dicks

Swedish Dicks (Pop)
Premiered August 9 at 8pm

I don’t know what it is about Sweden – there are a number of shows that have started in the country and then been adopted as well-reviewed British or American series like “Humans” and “The Bridge,” two of my personal favorites. Recently, Sweden has also been the focus of some English-language shows, like the TV4-NBC sitcom “Welcome to Sweden.” Now, a show that started out on a Swedish streaming network almost a year ago is coming to the United States on Pop, and it’s all about two Swedes – make that ex-Swedes – living in Los Angeles. I’m always all about recognizing actors and being happy to see them in notable roles, and in this show, that’s Peter Stormare. Though he’s more recently served as one of the more legitimate elements of “Prison Break” and recurred on shows like “Longmire,” he’s most memorable for his portrayal of a relatively silent criminal paired with a very chatty Steve Buscemi in “Fargo.” Here, he’s embracing a comedic side. He’s pretty great as a private investigator who doesn’t mince words or actions, and he’s well-paired with a would-be DJ, Axel, played by Johan Glans, an established TV actor and stand-up comedian in Sweden. They’re funny together, and this is a fun spin on the buddy cop comedy. We only saw one glimpse of Keanu Reeves as an assassin, but his connection to this show is intriguing to me. I enjoyed these first two installments and considered picking this show up, but I think I pretty much know what to expect without having to tune in each week.

How will it work as a series? Ingmar’s relationship with his daughter is sure to be interesting, as is his constant battle with his nemesis, who he managed to get to drink from the piss jar after Axel lost the shooting competition. The episodic cases will probably be fun too, as evidenced by the first two that we saw.
How long will it last? That’s the good news. This show was renewed before season one even finished back in Sweden in October. The second season will also be broadcast on Pop, regardless of reviews or ratings, which don’t seem to be too easy to find. I think this show could go on for a while, though it’s likely it will just be a few seasons.

Pilot grade: B+