Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What I’m Watching: Downton Abbey (Season Finale)

Downton Abbey: Season 5, Episode 9 (B+)

This year’s Christmas special includes the obligatory trip out of town for the Crawley family, though this time it was somewhat different since most of the servants didn’t come with them. What that meant back home was a lovely dinner with just Carson, Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Molesley, and Daisy. This mega-episode had a lot to do with the servants and their roles, particularly when it came to them overexerting their places in efforts to preserve the traditional way of things. Tom receiving the cold shoulder from Stowell was the perfect impetus for Thomas to secret some revenge on him, setting him up to be disciplined by Lord Sinderby, but then going too far by having his mistress show up with a child. Fortunately, that was the ideal opening for Rose to prove her resourcefulness and her loyalty to her new family. Back at Downton, the rivalry between Denker and Spratt came to an entertaining head over a soup battle followed by a stern scolding from Violet. I was pleased to see Matthew Goode as Atticus’ neighbor and another potential suitor for Mary, not that it suggests much hope for his chances given how well his predecessors have done wooing her. Anna didn’t have to spend nearly as long behind bars as her husband did, and the unexplained ending suggests that they may in fact live happily ever after, which seems like a stretch but it’s honestly hard to stick with this whole Green plotline anymore. The very end of the episode featured another happy ending, one that could have been predicted a while ago but seemed like it was never going to happen: the engagement of Carson and Mrs. Hughes, one of the sweetest non-couples ever to become engaged. This season has been a positive and fun ride, somewhat repetitive but ultimately just the taste of soapy British period drama that it’s always been.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Maggie Smith

What I'm Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 12 "Remember" (B+)

It's always jarring to see a calm, death-free episode of this show, and that makes its troubling moments all the more worrisome. It seems like Rick is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off and upset the fragile and unfamiliar peace offered by their newfound community, and that he and what the "outside" represents is what will undo their current state of tranquility. It was a true shock to see Rick without his beard, grizzle we've become accustomed to over the past few seasons. The few moments before his haircut made him look especially strange, and it's disappointing to learn that the woman who cut his hair has a husband back home since it would have been good to see Rick take a load off and meet a nice lady. Videotaping the interviews felt weird for this show, and it's a sign of changing times for this group. Unfortunately, there's also a certain obsession with barbarism by those who do go outside the walls that threats to unravel the nervous peace between new arrivals and those whose space they are now sharing. I couldn’t figure out who it was playing Deanna but I knew that I recognized her, and it turns out that it’s Tovah Feldshuh. It’s certainly an interesting part, one that seems markedly different from the Governor, and the worry is that her people will revolt against her peacemaking ways and be particularly hostile to their new neighbors as a direct consequence of her excessive generosity.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What I'm Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 13 "Dark Money" (B-)

This show was off the air for nearly two months, and I can't say that I was anticipating its return, and that's not just because there are so many shows on Sunday nights at the moment. It's mostly due to the fact that this show has lost its distinctive quality, no longer cutting edge in the right way and instead featuring forced story lines and insupportable twists. That wasn't much changed in this hour, which had three main story threads. I'm not compelled at all by Kalinda's new side job working for Bishop, and with Cary fully discharged both from the dynamic and any relevant storyline, I don't know where it will go from here. Alicia's pac is out of control, and I'm not sure how many times she and Prady can play this game without things getting really dirty on his end. Ed Asner did do a good job of playing a bigot and upsetting both candidates he was considering supporting. This is the umpteenth time that we've seen Colin Sweeney on trial for murdering a wife or something of the sort, and the only reason it was relatively entertaining was Dylan Baker's comic portrayal of an actor who bore a striking resemblance to Sweeney. I liked that Chumhum being featured in the background was the way that they figured out to force the other side to settle, a humorous reminder of one of this show's other very problematic clients, who in this case proved to be rather convenient as a solution.

What I’m Watching: Banshee

Banshee: Season 3, Episode 8 “All the Wisdom I Got Left” (B-)

I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed by this episode, an hour that I thought addressed and concluded a long-running plotline in an intense but not entirely satisfying way. Maybe it was the fact that Chayton finally got taken down somewhere besides Banshee, which has had a sort of supernatural charm in that anything could happen within its borders, no matter how grotesque, violent, or illegal. Lucas and Brock tracking Chayton down to an illegal fighting ring in New Orleans put them distinctly on someone else’s turf, where their status as cops was just as disregarded as it would be and has been regularly in Banshee. Chayton nearly destroyed Lucas in the ring, and then when he came after him where he was staying, Lucas was able to end it with a resounding and irreversible fatal shotgun blast to the face. Brock seems to have made the whole police struggle in Banshee about Kai, the next enemy for them to defeat, though it seems that Rebecca has done a formidable enough job of that on her own by running business behind her uncle’s back efficiently enough to get him and poor Emily forcibly grabbed from a religious ceremony by an angry buyer. We saw some of Burton’s backstory in this episode, which is rare and helps to explain why he has such loyalty to Kai. Job and Sugar spending time together is usually rich for comedy, but in this case it was just an unfortunate tale of Sugar regretting past actions and being taken for guilt money for a number of years.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Keys” (B-)

This show is starting to get a bit ahead of itself, eager to redefine the outbreak of the virus in each episode and circle back to what it means for the future without necessarily thinking it through entirely. I did like the notion of Cole coming back to a week earlier after having already gone through and failed to be able to stop the virus from breaking out on his previous trip. That said, it gave the episode a one-track feel. I wasn’t entirely sold on the time spent in the future over the course of the past few episodes, but I do feel like we’re always missing out on something, be it 2043, the actual 12 Monkeys, or, more importantly, Jennifer, who is one of this show’s best characters who we rarely get to see. Now, we’ve come to the point where Aaron is a fully trusted ally, one who puts himself in a precarious position related to his work to be able to secure important intelligence and help Cole to prevent what he now understands to be the cataclysmic event that results in the future he knew coming to exist. The virus being exposed is an important development, even if it appears to have been contained because no one infected any mass center of population. I’m very intrigued by the notion that Cole died, and then we saw a past version of him, who left unaware that it might be the final time Cassandra would see him. I’m hopeful that we get a new version of Cole from a fresh future and that he approaches Cassandra as if he doesn’t know her, and she gets to be the one to fill him in on what’s going on.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What I’m Watching: House of Cards (Season Premiere)

House of Cards: Season 3, Episode 1 “Chapter 27” (B)

I wasn’t salivating over the return of this show like many were, and I’m also planning on watching it over the course of three months at the rate of one episode per week as I usually do for Netflix and Amazon shows. That said, I may watch the next chapter right after reading this review simply because I don’t have something else on tap to watch at this very moment. This is a welcome return in many ways to this show’s universe, but it’s also so incredibly emblematic of how over-the-top it tends to be. Frank literally pissing on his father’s grave was a bit much, and we didn’t actually see the new president for the majority of the episode. Instead, we focused on a man I really thought was dead, Doug, who has been resurrected to suffer a miserable fate after losing some of his cognitive abilities and his position of power within Frank’s operation. It was easy to hate Frank after he manipulated his Vice-President into convincing a judge who was losing his memory to stay on the bench longer for political reasons, encouraging him not to stay at home where he might have nothing to focus on but his disease, and then he went and told Doug exactly the opposite when having a purpose is just what Doug needed. It’s interesting to see Frank facing new challenges as president, mainly low approval ratings, which get in the way of his goal of world domination. Claire asserting herself and making sure that her aspirations didn’t get swept under the rug was impressive, but there’s nothing like being brought to a live bombing to make you feel like your problems aren’t as important.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 16 “Connection Lost” (D)

This episode irritated me most because of its gimmick, which I didn’t find to be productive at all. Setting the entire half-hour on a computer screen as Claire desperately tried to get in touch with Haley might have seemed like a clever, cutting-edge device, but I didn’t find it charming at all. Instead, it underlined just how grating some of the elements of this show have become. The characters seemed much less likeable when seen on video, especially because of how distracted they were while still managing the answer the phone immediately every time Claire made a call. And then there’s the whole story with Haley, who somehow went from having gotten mad at Claire for giving her grief about not cleaning the kitchen to presumed to be married to Dylan in Vegas rather than asleep upstairs in the very home that Phil and Alex were sitting in the whole time. I think this show relies too much on assumptions to drive forward its comedy, and then throws in more direct humor like Mitchell’s new hat or Cameron bugging Claire about the popcorn so much that she poured it all out. I know I express disappointment with this show on a regular basis these days, but this episode felt particularly inspired, even as it tried to do something creative. Technology isn’t always a solution, and here it was more of a crutch that just served to drag out an unfunny storyline over the course of a whole episode, making this show feel highly irrelevant and far from inviting.

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 6, Episode 6 “Alive Day” (B+)

There’s nothing that compares to the writing on this show. The way its characters talk is so uniquely superb, each contributing some sort of specific intelligence, even those who possess just as much stupidity. Choo Choo is probably the best example, well aware of how others perceive him yet hopeless to emote more than he does, ultimately undone by a conflict of his desire to protect the one person who was ever nice to him and his allegiance to Tye and his unit. Ending his life on train tracks was a brilliant way to go, made all the more effective by the fact that he didn’t end up hurting anyone since the train stopped in time. When the good guys actually catch the bad guys, it’s a surprise since they spend so much time just chatting figuratively, and Raylan and Tim showing up to catch Tye in the act of confirming his role in a planned crime was terrific. Avery is clean, but he’s going to have a hard time moving forward with most of his crew in the wind. His proposal to Catherine really threw her for a loop, and I loved Wynn’s attempt to remember the four or five Cs of a diamond. Zachariah and Boyd seemed to be doing just fine, but then we saw Zachariah’s true colors, which suggest a dark fate for Boyd down the road. Limehouse calling Boyd to turn Ava in was bad news, and I worry that she’s not destined to stick around much longer given the nature of many recent developments.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 16 “Blunt” (B)

It’s good to see the team functioning relatively well together, though I’m still not quite as enticed by some of these installments that don’t directly involve Samaritan, even though the end did indicate that Root is up to something big. The return of Dominic was inevitable since he and Elias really have a stronghold on criminal enterprise in New York City, and it’s so interesting to see how much he knows about Reese, now Riley, and the rest of our friends, yet he never really poses a true threat to them. I’m surprised that Reese didn’t break the news about Shaw to him since the two of them spent some personal time together and she’s surely his favorite out of the crew. It was funny to hear Finch catch himself while talking to Harper, about to reference Mr. Reese before quickly correcting to Detective Riley. Harper was the most difficult kind of number, one fully intent on getting into trouble with no concept of what consequences there would be, and who still wouldn’t have done anything differently had she realized. Fusco is proving to be an asset lately, no longer a punching bag after affirming his commitment to the team and the cause. I liked the scene in the club because it had a nice rhythm to it that wasn’t the same familiar, albeit excellent, musical meter of this show. I’m very intrigued about Root and what she’s doing, and I’m eager to see where her plan takes her and what her endgame really is.

Friday, February 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation (Series Finale)

Parks and Recreation: Season 7, Episodes 12 and 13 “One Last Ride, Parts 1 and 2”

I’m going to miss this show. Fortunately, it went out on a high note, never dipping in quality and always delivering consistent and often incessant laughs. Jumping ahead in time was a risky gamble for this show’s final season, but I think it paid off, and fast-forwarding to the future even more with every fateful final touch Leslie had with each character was a truly touching way of sending this show off. I like that we even got to say goodbye to a minor character like Craig and Jean-Ralphio, who would be stupid enough to get caught faking his own death by showing up to his own funeral. And though their names were in the credits at the beginning of the episode, it was still a treat to see Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe back as Ann and Chris, content to stop by and say hi without stealing the show. Of the pieces of the future, I think that Jerry’s might have been the best, since it showed him getting elected time after time as mayor and dying on his 100th birthday happily surrounded by his family and an impossibly young-looking Gail. Ron’s fate was also heartwarming, as Leslie found him the perfect job after he realized that he didn’t want to do what we was doing anymore. It was fun to start with Donna since she’s always been a great part of the show, and I like that Tom chose personality types in his book named after his best friends. April giving birth in Halloween makeup was pretty terrific too. What’s not to like about this show? Will there ever be a character quite as universally enthusiastic and cheerful as Leslie Knope? I don’t think there could have been a more endearing and uplifting finale, particularly with Ben and Leslie being approached to run for Governor of Indiana at the same time. Ending on a note of triumph without going into too much detail was just wonderful. I always say I’m going to write retrospectives with best episodes listed and other honors after shows end, and I really mean it with this one – I’m nowhere near ready to forget about it just yet. Also, I should start playing Cones of Dunshire.

Series finale: A-
Series grade: A
Season MVP: Amy Poehler
Season grade: A
Series MVP: Amy Poehler
Best Season: TBD
Best Episode: TBD

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 4, Episode 17 “Spiderhunt” (C-)

This was far from a worthwhile episode in my mind, featuring one or two laughs embedded deep within some very obnoxious and obvious plotlines. I always go back to the brilliant double entendre of “Quick Hardening Caulk” whenever this show deems it necessary to include dialogue that has to have a separate meaning when one or both of the characters have no clue what conversation they’re actually having. Maybe it was the fact that Jess had no problem with the things that she thought Nick was saying about Cece when he was actually talking about the popcorn maker that made it hard to believe, but I think it was just that it was an unnecessary delay tactic before Cece finally admitted to Jess that it was Schmidt who she liked. The handholding moment under the table with Winston awkwardly joining in was the episode’s best moment, which doesn’t say much for the twenty minutes or so that came before it. I hope Cece makes her feelings known soon since I’m tiring quickly of Fawn, and it would be nice to see Schmidt with someone who rolled their eyes at his eccentricities but didn’t stomp all over him all the time. I liked the science behind Nick’s Bolognese sauce, using healthy portions of bologna and mayonnaise to give it its defining taste, which won over Fawn and no one else. Coach’s draft e-mails all getting sent was a positive consequence of an otherwise meager subplot, and I’d like to be able to hear from her more in the near future since I think she really does a number on Coach.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Take Three: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 1, Episode 4 “Hero” (B)

I’m not completely sold, but there were elements of this episode that indicate that this show may possess the ability to truly be great if it stops long enough to linger on its more potent and haunting moments. There was something about Howard and Kim going to look at the billboard and it slowly coming into view that felt truly and fantastically intense, and really worked. Starting at the beginning of the episode with Kevin Weisman of “Alias” fame as a random acquaintance of Jimmy’s out on the town with him was great because it didn’t clearly introduce the situation or its timing and also gave us the first mention of Saul Goodman. Making it seem like Jimmy was being played for a fool and then finding out that it was actually him who had created the ruse was cool, and it makes Jimmy a very tough character to read. Putting up a sign designed to infuriate his rival and then staging a rescue in front of it shows just how little he cares about the ethics of the methods he uses, which made his reluctance to accept a bribe from Mrs. Kettleman, who didn’t want to hire him since he seemed like the kind of lawyer who represented guilty people all the more perplexing. He clearly managed to pique Chuck’s curiosity enough to risk going out into the ungrounded wild to steal a newspaper, which suggests that Chuck knows him well and would judge him for the tactics he has used to get ahead and earn, among other things, seven new voicemails.

What I’m Watching: Togetherness

Togetherness: Season 1, Episode 6 “Ghost in Chains” (B)

I liked this episode, but I think it was a bit fragmented to truly fit its title. The amount of time Brett spends in nature hunting for sounds is absurd, especially considering how little those he works with value what he does. He should really do more creative things with what he cares about, though it wouldn’t be like him to stand up for himself and try to make a change. Encountering Mary Steenburgen’s earthy stranger in the woods was certainly odd, there’s no getting around that. But it was fascinating to see him open up partially to her view of the world, and welcome the opportunity to be buried under leaves at the end of the episode despite his ardent protests. Stepping outside his comfort zone is something he rarely does, and it was jarring to see someone open him up so easily by exhibiting no sense of boundaries or judgment. Michelle does enjoy spending time with David, and Tina wasn’t wrong to comment on her excitedly going to flirt with him. I like that Michelle was relatively blunt and honest with Tina about her lack of appreciation for and sensitivity towards the people in her film. Unfortunately, seducing Larry into giving Alex a part in his movie didn’t have the effect she had hoped it would. Seeing the two of them bicker, especially when one of them has something to be sorry about, is a true pleasure, and for me it’s the highlight of this admittedly awkward but usually satisfying show.

What I’m Watching: Girls

Girls: Season 4, Episode 6 “Close Up” (B+)

This was a fun episode, highlighting each of our characters, girls and boys, as they faced the latest tribulations in their lives with plenty of wit, frustration, and personality. Jessa was the only one who didn’t really do anything, while Hannah made the realization that she wants to help people, something that she’ll likely tire of very quickly. Marnie and Desi went from having lots of sex to a major argument about whether they thought of themselves like another band and Desi wanting to write songs by himself and polish his motorcycle instead of appreciating Marnie’s creativity. Shoshanna has proven that she is the absolute worst at interviews, and her banter with Jason Ritter was absolutely fantastic. She’s jumping ahead a bit in terms of her marriage plans, but I’d be happy to see him again and see where their soupy romance goes. Ray going to the city to fight for what he believes in was a great step, and I love that he didn’t end up getting called and then he launched into a tirade for the rights of the people, which resulted in the members of the council bickering like children. It would be a thrill to see him run for political office, even such a minor one, and I heartily look forward to his campaign. Mimi-Rose is a fantastic character, and it was great to see a lovestruck Adam change his tune so much when she casually dropped the news that she had an abortion. An odd ending montage was actually fitting, and it makes me pleased with the direction this season is taking.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 11 “The Distance” (B+)

This show has some deeply contemplative themed episodes and also sometimes tends to follow just a few of its characters in a given hour. And then it features episodes like this, which are very stream of consciousness and in the trenches, following the whole group as they move from place to place, unsure of what’s going to come next. That was very much the case here, as Aaron served as a friendly face who seemed all too calm about the state of things, almost too good to be true. It turned out that he was incredibly sensitive, reuniting with his partner Eric after getting truly concerned during the car ride when he saw the flare go up. He’s a fascinating character, and I really am curious to see what lies beyond the gates in Alexandria. Michonne, who defended Aaron’s apparent intentions, made things seem dark again when they were finally looking up when she suddenly got concerned and asked Rick if he had asked Aaron the three questions. Maybe the problem with Alexandria is going to be that they won’t be able to trust the tranquility of things and will feel the need to leave to be able to return to the predictable chaos of the outside world. Abraham and Rosita at least seem to be looking ahead to the future – and Washington, D.C. – with some positivity, and the sound of children playing is certainly inspiring. It’s just so hard to know what’s going to make it all fall apart.