Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 8, Episode 3 “God Bless Her Rotting Soul” (B+)

We haven’t seen much of Fiona as the maternal influence of her family in a while, now that she’s off on her own kicking ass as a landlord. Yet she’s still the most responsible of all of them, and therefore she got to take her sweet time forcing her four siblings to admit that she was right and they were wrong before she would help them get the meth that she tucked into Monica’s coffin back so that they could find some way to repay the meth dealer who was very angry and managed to track them down very quickly. Frank, better known now as St. Francis, was able to talk him down impressively and somehow threaten him in the process, so that problem seems to have gone away for the moment. Fiona’s rental woes, however, have not, as she’s found a new enemy upset about her encroaching on her girlfriend who she’s ready to go to war with and fight dirty to win. Lip has found a new purpose thanks to the professor’s very destructive fifth DUI, and it’s good to see him rally to something positive. Ian is in decent shape, Carl lost his hot tub and he’ll be fine, and Debs is going to have to figure out how to get by now that she managed to alienate Neil and give him someone else to love. Kev finding out that he’s from an inbred group in Kentucky and that he has parents should prove very interesting, and I’m eager to see where that takes the owners of the Alibi as they start their collaboration with Svetlana anew.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

What I’m Watching: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Season 2, Episode 6 “Girl Power” (B+)

We’ve come to a point on this show, the rare juncture where things actually make sense. That love spell Suzie accidentally cast at the end of the last episode seems to have helped our friends figure out what is going on. Unfortunately, while the Mage was the horrible villain who came over from his invented world to try to kill. Dirk so that he could rule Wendamoor as planned, now it’s Suzie who has become drunk and outright vicious with power, turning her son into a frog and then shooting what looked like large picture frames out of the end of her wand to impale people who got in her way at the hospital. The boy is dead, I suppose, though we still don’t know if he really was the boy, and Dirk Gently remains very much alive and moderately ready to go after experiencing his crisis of what he probably wouldn’t call faith. Dirk is still afraid of Bart, who isn’t as optimistic as Panto Trost about their prospects. I love that Todd enthusiastically proclaimed himself to be Team Poncho, making the kind of mistake others do with characters’ name on this show. Amanda is learning what she needs to do in Wendamoor, and I hope that we’re headed for some major showdown in both worlds soon which finds Amanda as the most powerful one on either side. Priest is not having luck with those he’s chasing after not disappearing when he bursts into the room, and I like that he’s now taking orders from Ken, who I certainly hope will be epically reunited with Bart soon.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 4, Episode 6 “Chapter Seventy” (B+)

This was a big episode, ending one relationship and another life. Watching with my wife and sister, we all agreed that we were never too fond of Adam since he didn’t have the appeal of a Michael or a Rafael. Deciding not to go to her show so that he wouldn’t be in any of the pictures because he was already set on moving to Los Angeles might have seemed like the nice thing to do, but he could have gone about it in a better way. Rafael tearing up after reading Jane’s acknowledgment to him suggests some hope for the rekindling of their relationship going forward since he has also cut himself off from all of Petra’s hotel drama. Madga and Anezka were doing a pretty terrible job of running the hotel into the ground, and Petra was smart to put the pieces together and realize that Carl had been real the whole time. Turning Anezka against her mother with that particular piece of information was a great play, but it doesn’t seem to have paid off for her dear sister, who appears to be dead, likely at her mother’s hands. My sister thinks Scott is still alive, but I’m not sure why he would have any grievance with Anezka. Fabian’s appearance was silly but entertaining, and Rogelio going overboard seems to have created a new issue in his marriage to Xiomara: his revelation that he had a suspicion Jane existed and still didn’t do anything about it. Let’s hope they can overcome that particular hurdle.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 3, Episode 6 “Josh Is Irrelevant.” (B+)

After last week’s very dramatic and intense finish, I think this was an important episode that shows how all of the people closer to Rebecca showed up when she needed them most, even if they were a bit too present and ready to chop down a door with an axe because she had headphones in and didn’t hear their knock. I like that she’s developed a relationship with her three female friends, led by the overprotective Paula, with the self-involved Valencia and generally apathetic Heather there for support. Most crucially, she got a diagnosis from the hot doctor played by Jay Hayden from “The Catch.” I’m going to go ahead and say that “A Diagnosis” is one of the best songs this show has produced yet, seeming and sounding a lot like a Broadway anthem and actually serving an incredibly purpose of driving the story forward by explaining the many things Rebecca could be suffering from and the joy she’ll feel from finally knowing what it is that makes her who she is. The borderline personality disorder diagnosis didn’t provide her much closure and instead made her much, much more anxious. Fortunately, she seemed to have come to a much better place by the end of the hour, and things look bright ahead. Josh is likely to experience some soul-searching after hearing that it's not about him straight from Rebecca following Hector telling him the same thing. And this was the most we saw of Valencia in a while, highlighted by a far less sophisticated song that was pretty much about a bowel movement.

What I’m Watching: Longmire (Season Premiere)

Longmire: Season 6, Episode 1 “The Eagle and the Osprey” (B+)

This marks the premiere of the final season of this show, and while I’ll be sad to go, this series has managed three seasons on another network after being cancelled by its original broadcaster, and every one of its episodes these days are a full sixty minutes. This show has come far from just being some procedural, with so much character development and multiple plotlines building from where they’ve been headed over the past few seasons. The most disconcerting situation was the one experienced by Henry, who nearly died of dehydration and heat stroke in the middle of the desert, encountering a few would-be saviors before Walt showed up to rescue him. Cady’s visions are a strange subplot since it’s indulging a somewhat supernatural mythology, which is obviously tied in to real events. I like that this case, which was far more urban than usual, was full of such complexities, and that it wasn’t revealed to be an inside job with the chatty teller but instead a man who thought he was shooting the man who had committed the robbery and shot the security guard by mistake. Vic didn’t seem too confident about taking over for Walt with the pressure being put on him, but she did a pretty solid job steering the ship and directing Ferg. As usual, Walt has an important fight ahead of him, and I look forward to experiencing the long hours of this season as he prepares to face whatever fate awaits him when this show ends.

Pilot Review: The Punisher

The Punisher (Netflix)
Premiered November 17

Here we have Netflix’s sixth original series from the Marvel cinematic universe. Though Luke Cage appeared throughout most of the first season of “Jessica Jones,” he was always intended to have his own show, whereas it seems that the popularity of the Punisher during season two of “Daredevil” was what got him his very own series. I felt strongly that he was the main reason to watch that season, since everything having to do with the Hand bordered on completely unbearable, and therefore I think this show could have potential. It’s not immediately clear from this debut installment what the focus of this show will be other than to follow Frank Castle as he goes through life taking out the trash he encounters on a daily basis. Watching him work through all that demolition with his hammer shows just how much aggression he has to get out, and the entire first hour was spent waiting for him to finally take out those obnoxious construction workers who mocked him and didn’t include the one nice guy until they got him roped into a criminal job for which he wasn’t ready at all. After he took care of all of them, he went after the mob bosses who would have tracked him down, therefore cleaning up a big mess and making sure that there aren’t bad guys left to go after innocent people. Unlike the heroes we’re used to, he isn’t concerned about how many people he kills and doesn’t bother to try to save lives of those who might be less guilty. Jon Bernthal is the perfect actor for this, capable of bottling his emotions entirely and conveying a truly lost man whose only outlet is getting rid of bad people. I’m intrigued enough to see what comes next, even though I imagine this will be considerably less tied in to the mythology of the Marvel cinematic universe than the other shows.

How will it work as a series? Like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones before him, Frank has become the subject of a police investigation by someone interested in getting the whole story behind this complicated antihero. As long as this show is focused enough on something, I think that its protagonist can make it an engaging viewing experience.
How long will it last?Daredevil” is already immensely popular with Netflix viewers, or so the limited viewer reports that have been released indicate, and fans were clamoring for this show, even if its reviews aren't that great for the extended franchise. I’m sure that, as long as there’s a story to tell, this show will return for many more seasons.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Stranger Things

Stranger Things: Season 2, Episode 4 “Chapter Four: Will the Wise” (B+)

Things are definitely not looking good for our friend Will as he’s communicating the needs of whatever that was that went inside of him in the upside down to his mother, who at least is doing a superb job of trying to tend to his needs. Suggesting that he draw instead of speak was a great idea, though I’m not sure what it is exactly that they’re going to learn. Eleven’s busy doing her own research with Hopper out of the house all day, and his attempt to ground her definitely didn’t go as planned. I’m also happy to report that Nancy was very useful for the first time in a while, as she and Jonathan got apprehended by Dr. Owens, who told them exactly what was going on, and managed to get away with a recording of him admitting to all of it. I’m not sure what they’re going to be able to accomplish in terms of getting the truth out, but maybe they can at least help Will out somehow in the process. As Dustin realizes that he’s gotten more than he bargained for with his new pet, the rest of the crew has done a good job alienating Max, whose brother seems especially concerned that she’s hanging out with the likes of Lucas. We still don’t know much about Billy, who seemed to suggest that Max isn’t her sister but has confirmed that they are family, and if he’s being obnoxious to Steve, you know that there has to be something wrong with him.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What I’m Watching: Mindhunter

Mindhunter: Season 1, Episode 6 (B+)

I was very puzzled when I saw that this episode was only thirty-four minutes long since every other hour has been closer to sixty. I’d argue that it was actually a positive thing for this show, since this episode felt much fuller and more engaging than the installment that came before it. Picking up right in the middle of the other case in Park City, Kansas did feel strange, and what ended up happening there was a conclusion that all three were complicit in the murder. I thought Wendy did an excellent job blunting summing up how they were all involved, but it seems that law enforcement and, more importantly, the judicial system aren’t ready for this kind of complex understanding of criminality. We got a peek into the home lives of the other two main characters that haven’t yet been featured, and Wendy’s was fascinating. Casting Lena Olin as her partner was a great choice, and she wasted no time in ripping the notion of her working more with the FBI to shreds. Wendy wears an incredible mask when she’s with Holden, who is very inquisitive, and her response to whether her colleagues knew she was a lesbian was so immediately dismissive but also tracks with her not revealing any aspect of her personal life despite many questions. Bill’s home was pretty tranquil, with his wife eagerly chatting Debbie and Holden up. It’s crazy to think that Bill has a son he comes home to, and that made his conversation with Holden about children all the more interesting.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 4, Episode 9 “They Is On the Way” (B)

This was a bit of a scattered episode, in keeping with the other installments this season has produced and following its tendencies to reduce episode runtimes so that they feel like they’ve over almost before they started. Everyone looked miserable on the bus but then they went to the Dead Sea, where it seems like they were able to let loose a bit. I enjoyed the discussion about having to wait fifteen minutes before swimming and how Len outright rejected that myth. After some arguing last episode, Sarah and Len appear to have reached an important place, which is the decision that they’re going to move forward without Lila as part of their relationship. She’ll probably shrug it off and they’ll have trouble getting over her, but I suppose a normative relationship couldn’t be the worst thing for this couple to try. Josh, who was kind enough to help his mother into the water, couldn’t get off Ali’s absence, and their conclusion that Ali was a “they” seemed like exactly the conversation Ali would admonish them for having since it assumes that they know what she’s going through (using that pronoun since Ali hasn’t otherwise expressed that she should be called they). Ali’s dip into the Dead Sea appeared to provide some fulfillment, and we’ll see how things turn out when the family gets back to the United States. We got a strange glimpse of Davina at the house, with an initially worrisome and then just plain weird interaction with the tenant, who I sincerely hope leaves as soon as they return. It’s not satisfying to check in with characters like this for just a scene every few episodes, and I’m not sure what to expect from the season finale for any of these people.

What I’m Watching: Better Things (Season Finale)

Better Things: Season 2, Episode 10 “Graduation” (B+)

This episode, which was a very fitting finale, offered something this show rarely does - a chance to see all the characters we know together in one room. We had the immediate family, Marion, Dormin, Rich, Tressa, Sunny, and Jeff all there to make Max feel wanted after Xander predictably bailed on one of the most important and influential days of her life. I enjoyed seeing them all interact together, and that’s an element of this often-insular show that I’d love to see more of in the future, particularly Marion’s relationships with the likes of Rich, Sunny, and his mother. We’ve come to know Duke as the adventurous one, Frankie as the rebellious one, intent on not answering the door only because her mother was yelling at her, and Max as the less-than-intelligent and mostly whiny one. Her strict demands for things like a keg weren’t all that bright, and she fell for Sam’s trick that had her bite into an onion to cure her hangover. Ultimately, Sam got her something completely unexpected, a family dance routine that had her smiling from ear to ear. Xander not showing up is inconsequential since it’s always just been Sam in this family of women, and I’m sure that’s going to be even more the case going forward as Louis C.K.’s involvement with this presumably falls off completely in season three next year. This has been a good season, and there’s no denying the strength of this cast, particularly its Emmy-nominated leading actress who has truly found a perfect role for her talents and affect.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Pamela Adlon

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 3, Episode 3 “Treasure Ride Poker Hearing” (B)

Usually, it’s Matt who’s the unaccomplished sibling no one likes, but in terms of the three siblings, Greg is definitely the one who was never on the same page. His excitement about being included in digging up the time capsule was childish but unsurprising, and his inability to comprehend that both of his pets had been killed by his own father was a familiar sitcom plot. The second segment was one that incorporated modern-day technology a lot more, with Jen concerned about her dismal 1.2 rating on Lyft that she did nothing to be able to help aside from bring Sophia along with her to charm the drivers. Sophia, never one to miss an opportunity, was all about getting the unlimited sugar, resulting in a humorous but totally absurd phone call made by the Lyft driver to report a passenger for immediate suspension. I’m sure that doesn’t exist, and there’s also a difference between someone being sick and vomiting and an obviously drunk person getting into the car and throwing up. Joan’s relationships with other people have always been a bit bizarre, and her determination not to take any of her neighbor’s lemons lest she give her an excuse to use some of her trash allocation was typically stubborn. One thing Joan doesn’t seem like is a con artist, but she managed to take everyone’s money and leave their heads spinning by pretending not to play poker. John doesn’t often seem to be on the same page as the rest of the family members, and therefore hearing what he wanted was an expected development. Turning the volume down on Tim at the table with a big smile on his face was a moderately endearing ending that allows him to live in his own volume-controlled world.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pilot Review: There’s Johnny!

There’s Johnny (Hulu)
Premiered November 16

Following its major Emmy wins for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu is making a play to be a top-tier streaming service, up there with Netflix and Amazon, offering high-quality programming. This is the second new show launched by Hulu this week alone, a period comedy about a guy who just wants to have the chance to work on Johnny Carson. His Nebraska enthusiasm took him to the set for what he thought was a live taping, and from there things just started happening around him, as George Carlin was nearly not present and he was able to stand-in as a runner with no experience whatsoever. The choice to have Carson and his guests appear only in archive footage as themselves, similar the way Joseph McCarthy was portrayed in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” is an intriguing one, since it helps the supporting players to stand out but also almost guarantees that there will be no interaction with the big dogs, at least nothing substantive since they aren’t likely to ever appear in non-taped scenes. Ian Nelson seems affable and excitable enough as Ian, and it’s good to see familiar faces like Roger Bart and Tony Danza in the cast, both having a great time playing their characters. I’m happiest to see the always-superb Jane Levy, who stole this entire pilot episode as Joy, who puts up with a lot and also manages to get a lot done. I’m not overly familiar with Carson, so the nostalgia factor doesn’t work as well on me as I’m sure it does on others, but I’ll give this show another chance to see where it goes.

How will it work as a series? Andy may have found himself a permanent job at the lowest level as a result of his misunderstanding and his curious attitude, and something tells me his positivity is going to propel him through all of the misery that might affect others, though it’s going to be a complicated journey with all the jokes he doesn’t get and the relationships that he can’t hope to comprehend.
How long will it last? Like “Future Man,” which premiered earlier this week, the entire first season – which here consists of seven episodes – was released on day one. Reviews seem to be pretty good, if not as strong as some of the network’s other shows, and it will just be a question of whether it manages to achieve any popularity. I think it’s possible, and I’d learn toward this one being renewed for a second season.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Back

Back (Sundance Now)
Premiered November 16

Here we have the latest British import to air on the Sundance streaming service, this one without any recognizable actors in the cast but with an influential name in comedy at the helm. Simon Blackwell was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the screenplay for “In the Loop,” is an Emmy-winning writer and producer on “Veep,” and was also involved in a lesser-known movie that I really like, “Four Lions.” Here, he’s created a comedy that isn’t quite as outrageous in nature but definitely features a sad sap trying to make it through life with so many obstacles being thrown at him. Struggling to figure out how to talk to his dead dad seemed hard enough before a foster brother who lived with them years earlier for only five months showed up to steal his spotlight, and the fact that everyone loves Andrew just makes things much less bearable for Stephen. He really is the unluckiest guy in the world, gifted a dog he didn’t want by a woman who purported that she was just leaving it for him to watch for a moment. This show employs some creative and intriguing devices like showing Stephen as a young boy remembering his interactions as a child in particular moments, and that makes its relatively entertaining plot a bit more clever. This is a show that I could take or leave, and given that its British humor isn’t raucously funny, I think I’m perfectly happy to leave it for now.

How will it work as a series? Andrew has already won over everyone in the family, and the fact that he’s had such an easy time fitting in is surely going to drive Stephen mad as he continues to try to wrap his head around the fact that his father is gone and that he’s not the preferred son anymore. That should make for some fun antics, but this show is more subdued than anything else.
How long will it last? Six episodes were commissioned for the first season, which aired over the course of six weeks beginning in September on Channel 4 in the UK and are all available as of Thursday to stream on Sundance Now. While it appears to have been well-reviewed, I don’t believe it made much of a splash back home, and so this is likely all we’ll see of the show.


What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst (Season Finale)

You’re the Worst: Season 4, Episodes 12 and 13 “Like People” and “It’s Always Been This Way” (B+)

It’s always a relief to go into a season finale knowing that the show you’re watching is definitely slated to come back, and fortunately that was the case here, since this series earned a fifth and final season pickup. While I’ll be sad to see it go, I think that five seasons is an awful lot for a show that switched networks, and it’s still been a fun ride along the way. It’s hard to believe the season is over already, and I was glad to see that there was a good deal of honesty to be found in this episode. Gretchen was right to panic when Jimmy wasn’t there in the morning even though he just went out to get breakfast, and she shouldn’t have so readily accepted Boone’s offer to move in with him, especially since he only proposed that since Lindsay tried to scare him away when she hid in the trash can. Lindsay was an unexpected problem solver in this episode, recognizing that Gretchen was going to become Olivia’s La Bamba dad and then proposing a solution to Paul’s baby dreams which would also manage to help keep the completely hapless and apparently narcoleptic Vernon from going bankrupt as a result of his botched surgery. It was no surprise that Max asked not to work with Edgar anymore, but at least he wasn’t so horrible about it. I don’t care much what happens there since I don’t think this was an especially interesting season for Edgar. After Jimmy got chewed out by a jogger for shouting out that she had dropped something, he actually came and fought for Gretchen, punching the wrong guy and proving to Gretchen in the process that he cares for her. I was pulling for Boone since I think that Colin Ferguson was the best thing to happen to this season, but I suppose Gretchen and Jimmy starting over together can’t be all bad. I look forward to season five next year - despite its title, this show is always much more like the best.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Colin Ferguson as Boone

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 3, Episode 6 “” (B+)

I’m really liking the narrative format that the recent episodes have followed, and it’s clear that this show is capable of delivering enormously when it follows a standard timeline instead of just trying to piece together different pieces of information that are difficult to understand. What’s most fascinating is the dynamic that exists between Elliot and Mr. Robot, as he felt himself switching over and losing time over and over again as he was trying to stop the attack. When Mr. Robot resorted to just trying to physically stop him in his tracks, Elliot opted to go a different route. The fact that they were able to collaborate to stop the attack and that they might be on the same side now is immensely interesting, though of course Elliot wasn’t able to see the bigger picture which involved taking down seventy-one other facilities around the world. So much for Whiterose playing nice and laughing at Phillip’s jokes. Flashing back to Angela talking to Elliot’s real father when she was a child demonstrated her warped perception of what death means and how to undo it, and her fearlessness in the face of an armed robber on the subway shows that she doesn’t think anything can kill her. Darlene barging into her apartment doesn’t seem to have accomplished much, and their relationship has obviously changed since we first saw them going to yoga together. I love the great pounding music that scored the three separate plotlines throughout this episode, and watching Dom work is always thrilling. She managed to find the cellar and then end up right there when Tyrell got arrested, but she still doesn’t know that her duplicitous boss knew exactly what was supposed to happen that Elliot and his alter ego stopped.