Friday, October 31, 2014

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 8 “The Separation of Crows” (B+)

This episode actually contained the least amount of violence we’ve seen in a while, a few finger amputations notwithstanding, and by my count just one death over the course of the hour. What’s much more disconcerting for the long run is that Jax is starting to lose his own people, with his most faithful friend and ally Chibs beginning to question where the violence ends and who else has to die because of what has spiraled out of control in the wake of Tara’s death. Tyler is getting squeamish too, and he may realize that, when pinned into a corner by Marks, he’s the safer ally since SAMCRO will always have enemies ready to hurt its members. That apparently extends to their families also, and the discovery of the dead crows in the bed and the “No son is safe” message on Abel’s wall was definitely unsettling and extremely worrisome. Nero is ready to get out, a sure sign that he won’t survive what’s coming. Gemma’s latest interaction with Courtney Love’s Ms. Harrison was far from ideal, and it’s clear that she doesn’t think that anyone, particularly a lowly school administrator, deserves her respect. Unser saw through the club’s plan for Juice pretty quickly, and I’m curious to see how he and Althea decide to handle it since there’s no way things end well for Juice if he isn’t able to complete the mission assigned to him by an already on-edge and angry group of men currently fighting for their lives.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 6 “Pretenders” (B)

This may not have been the show’s most impressive installment, but it did manage to make both of its plotlines very relevant, a loaded word for this show, in a way that I didn’t see coming. The character of Walter Dang, a.k.a. Detective Forge, felt unnecessary since our heroes already have plenty of opportunities to wow the people they’re helping in a way that doesn’t make their numbers feel so much like groupies. That said, it was endearing to learn that Walter invented his secret identity because he had been inspired by the Man in the Suit and felt the need to step up in light of his disappearance. I’m not sure how everything that happened with Walter didn’t lead Samaritan to discover Reese and Shaw and everything they were up to, but I guess they managed to stay mostly irrelevant. What we did get was Elias returning as more of a villain before coming to the aid of Reese and everyone when they most needed him, and, more crucially, the return of Dominic, which I did see coming but still found satisfying. Those two criminals and their enterprises are going to be this season’s HR while the more potent threat, Samaritan, looms large like Vigilance did in season three. In Hong Kong, Finch found himself a wonderful companion in Jessica Hecht’s Beth Bridges, and the episode turned their romantic banter, highlighted by Finch quite atypically using violence to recover their stolen possessions, into something much more laced with deception. What this means is that Finch has figured out a way to try to spy on Samaritan, at least indirectly for now, and let’s hope he doesn’t get too attached to the tech genius whose laptop he just bugged.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 6 “A Fractured House” (B+)

I’ll go on record: this was the best hour this show has delivered in a long time, mixing action and a handful of solid plot developments while not even touching the big reveal from last week, which was that Skye’s father struck a deal with Whitehall to bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. That endgame was still in play full force in this episode, as Hydra agents posing as S.H.I.E.L.D. committed very public acts of terrorism designed to unite the world against the fabled organization. Fortunately, Coulson and his team thought quickly and utilized the prisoner in their basement for leverage with the man with the power to clear the institution's name: Ward’s brother. I haven’t seen Tim DeKay since I stopped watching “White Collar,” and I think he was a great choice to play the political figure who contradicted everything Ward said while our traitorous agent seemed genuinely afraid of ending up in his brother’s custody. Of course, it was all a ploy to be able to escape, which should make him a more dynamic part of the story going forward. I’m very pleased with how things with Bobbie and Lance are progressing, and their antics in the field are extremely entertaining, coupled with some impressive acrobatics and other tactical skills. It’s reassuring to see that Fitz and Simmons are working to get back to where they were, and though it’s going to take a while, I think they’re on the right track. This team certainly looks different than it did a year ago, but I think it’s a much stronger group.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 4 “Going Rogue” (B+)

I stopped watching “Arrow” in the middle of its first season, citing “unexciting directions” as my reason for dropping it. I had a vague recollection that Felicity was a character on that show, but I didn’t remember that I called her “the most annoying character currently found on TV” in my review of that show’s eighth episode. I have to assume that she’s grown into herself on that show because she certainly was a fine addition to this hour. Her chemistry with Barry was great, and she worked in scenes both with the regular people – a.k.a. Iris and Eddie during trivia – and with the smart ones – Caitlin and Cisco – who she managed to outwit with her incredibly quick hacking abilities. I’d love to see her again, and I think her presence was an important reminder for Barry that some people really do root for him even if others can’t hope to notice him. I was also impressed by this week’s villain, who may be back again since he wasn’t caught and put in the basement. He’s the first bad guy not to have powers, and though I thought he might be a version of Mr. Freeze, it turns out Captain Cold is actually a well-known Flash foe. It was great to see Wentworth Miller, whose particular demeanor suited “Prison Break” perfectly, in a role that’s just as fitting and allows him to truly live on the other side of the law. I didn’t mention Joe finding out about Iris and Eddie last week, but I do think that’s being properly handled in a way that feels genuine and doesn’t seem too unserious.

Take Three: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 3 “Chapter Three” (B+)

The soapiness is only getting soapier on this show as the intrigue intensifies and gets even more complicated. What’s nice to see is that Alba, the most staunch and stoic personality out of everyone on the show, is actually a dynamic character capable of change, able to recognize that her granddaughter should be able to have sex with the man she’s about to marry and to deal effectively with her daughter’s actor baby daddy trying to approach Jane before her mother has a chance to break the news to her. As usual, Jane had plenty on her plate, most notably almost having sex for the first time with Michael, though the TV greeting from Rafael and the subsequent pulling of the fire alarm by a panicked Luisa put a considerable damper on that near achievement. Michael talked his way out of getting caught confronting Petra, but now he’s in over his head as he’s ready to turn her in to the police but realizes that he’s complicit because he removed her necklace from the crime scene. The biggest development is that Petra dropped a very revealing and unintentional clue while she was talking to Rafael that is sure to lead him to uncover the full truth about her affair with Zazo, and I’m curious to see how that will unfurl their relationship, which for the moment seems to be going well. The drama on this show is in full swing, and I can see this show – which recently got awarded a full season by the CW – being capable of lasting a long time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Take Three: The Affair

The Affair: Season 1, Episode 3 (B+)

It’s difficult to find a vantage point from which to approach this show since it’s near impossible to piece together the events as told by Noah and by Allison into one coherent narrative. What’s fascinating, however, is the way in which they perceive their own marriages, both jumping their spouses in the middle of the night and telling them not to wake up. In both cases, it’s the other who is the aggressor, though we see how this affair truly got started as Noah overcomes his desire not to keep the relationship going and Allison approaches that same line of thinking, each in their own version of events. I’m not usually impressed by a framing device like the one being used to tell these stories, but so far it seems to be paying off since this town is quite interesting. Noah continues to clash with his in-laws in a big way, and Helen clearly knows that this is something that’s destined not to change, resigned to playing peacekeeper and not expecting anything different from her husband or her parents. At the same time, Cole showed a passionate side of himself that we haven’t seen before, standing up to rail against Oscar’s proposed expansion with a stirring speech in which he invoked the memory of his dead son. We don’t yet know who got murdered, and it’s hard to believe that it would be Cole (I suspect it’s his brother), but I’m sure that things will only continue to intensify as the season progresses.

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire (Series Finale)

Boardwalk Empire: Season 4, Episode 8 “Eldorado”

I’m not sure what I expected from this finale. I always remember this show’s third season as being its standout, and while I stand by that, its first two years were pretty terrific too, and its fourth year wasn’t all that bad either. Jumping ahead so many years to the 1930s was a bold and perhaps unnecessary move that I don’t feel helped the show all that much, and cramming everything into eight episodes while multitasking with flashbacks to Nucky’s past was hardly the fitting opportunity to say goodbye that show like this deserved. Sadly, that seems to be the trend these days, with many shows returning for abbreviated final seasons with double-decker episodes to wrap everything up as quickly and dramatically as possible. I’ll admit that I couldn’t remember what happened to Mabel prior to the start of the show, and therefore I was disappointed not to get much resolution to that (a visit to the show’s wiki reveals that she committed suicide after the death and burial of their child). Instead, it was all about the Darmodys, who didn’t feel relevant throughout this entire season but made a major return in the form of Gillian getting Nucky to come visit her and, of course, Tommy being the one to kill Nucky. It’s not the way we thought he would go – the two assassins sent by Lucky and Meyer were for Narcisse, not Nucky – and rather unceremonious as far as deaths go. For closure, we got Eli with plenty of money, Margaret also with plenty of money and a good business partner in Joe Kennedy, and the mob institution firmly and smartly established as Al went to jail for tax fraud. It’s hardly my idea of a complete and fulfilling finale, but I suppose this show was at its height when its characters were at their most prominent and successful, which didn’t always mean they were doing well but that someone else thought they were a threat.

Series finale: B-
Season grade: B
Season MVP: Steve Buscemi as Nucky
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Michael Shannon as Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller
Best Season: Season 3
Best Episode: “Two Imposters

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 5 “About a Boy” (B+)

As if Carrie’s actions at the end of last episode weren’t impulsive and shocking enough, now she’s spending all of her time with Aayan and not answering her phone, which led to not one but two serious missteps including an abducted Saul. At least she managed to get Aayan to trust her fully, admitting that his uncle isn’t actually alive and expressing a deep connection to the one family member he has left. She’s going to have her plate full with Quinn pissed off and a vengeful American uncovering some of her most dangerous secrets. Dennis is ready to do some major damage after breaking into Carrie’s apartment and taking pictures of her baby photo and her prescriptions, and she’s going to have more to worry about than being beaten to death by an angry mob since we know that the intelligence is going straight to Tasneem. This whole terrorist organization is formidably small, since Tasneem was also directly responsible for the orchestration of Saul’s abduction, which came right in the middle of his frantic pursuit of Farhad, whose visibility was too good to be true. He’s a main character on the show, and while that didn’t save Brody, I think that Saul is both considerably more valuable as an intelligence asset and not nearly as controversial, so he’s just going to be one of the many ways that Tasneem is going to try to force Carrie’s hand for whatever the next step of ISI’s plans in Pakistan turn out to be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 3 “Four Walls and a Roof” (B+)

It’s always strange to me when a show goes to the trouble of introducing a character and then kills him or her off almost right away. I’m not sure that I’ll miss Gareth and his merry band of cannibals since they’ve been fearsome and disturbing additions to the show. Moreso, I have to hope that the reason for his swift death is that there is something – or someone – even more compelling on the horizon. I suspect, however, that his brutal bludgeoning is more of a catalyst to show Rick and his gang’s descent into inhumanity, though that’s somewhat contradicted by the optimistic ending suggested by Abraham’s surprisingly pleasant note on the map. Gareth certainly made an impression in his final extended scene, showing up to terrorize the remaining inhabitants of the church and ready to kill a baby before Rick and reinforcements showed up, successfully having tricked Gareth and his crew into thinking that they had wandered off to find the cannibals’ camp. At least we know that Gabriel is good, and Bob, to his credit, died a pretty noble death with a solid final few hours. I hope that we’ll continue to follow Abraham, Eugene, Maggie, Glenn, and everyone else as they head to D.C., which by my calculations should take them as little as a day if they drive straight at about 30 miles per hour. Back at the church, Daryl made it back awfully quickly, but the episode’s strange ending seems to indicate that things are not fully okay.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 6 “Old Spice” (C)

This episode was all about rehashing old plotlines that feel like they’re being done to death, and coming up with others that don’t feel right at all. Cary’s bail situation has been one cosmic joke after another, and now he’s facing his last warning because he went to a party half a mile over the border into Indiana. You’d think that he’d be sensible enough to pay attention to such things, but I guess this show is set on making a character that’s transformed completely from a jerk to one of its most endearing players suffer for his past crimes. And he even got Kalinda, someone who usually likes to stay in the shadows, dragged into the limelight and banished from his life. This is the umpteenth time that Howard Lyman has been manipulated so that his inexplicably important stature can help swing things to one side, and it’s hard to find it believable anymore. Diane went from having to hand over her hold on the lease to her old firm to having no chance at evicting her tenants to suddenly getting them out in just twenty-four hours. Moving back into comfortable office space won’t do much for the fledging firm, but it should at least give them a literal roof over their heads under which to impress new prospective business. I’m not sure how to address the singular peculiarity that is Elsbeth and Josh’s relationship since both of them are so ridiculously weird. I’d rather have left it at their night spent together and not delved into yet another opportunity for Josh to find himself duped by someone who was wearing recording equipment that captured someone admitting to an illegal act.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Wilderness” (B+)

We got our first real glimpse in this episode of how this family functions when they’re at their most normal, and, expectedly, it’s not all that much different from their usual states. There was a whole lot of Judaism thrown into this episode in a casual manner as the family got together for a Shabbat dinner, which got very memorably interrupted by an unfriendly visit from Len, who was not happy to see Maura sitting in full female garb with his children present and forced to deal with the idea of their grandfather now being a woman. Maura dealt with it pretty well, and at least Sarah and Tammy seem to be on the same page about how they want to approach it, which is good. Ali and Syd had a great time auditing a gender studies course biased heavily in one direction, and it’s nice to see that this show can be self-analytical while still trying to glean some important wisdom about the idea of gender fluidity. The flashbacks to Mort’s time spent with Bradley Whitford’s Mark are fittingly brief and pretty worthwhile, and I’m both curious and nervous to see if obstacles like a family event conflict were the only reasons Mort stayed in the closet for so many years. It’s refreshing to see Josh embark on what seems like it will be a healthy relationship with Rabbi Raquel, and let’s hope that she doesn’t get thrown off by his family once she gets to know them better.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pilot Review: Constantine

Constantine (NBC)
Premiered October 24 at 10pm

If there’s one thing I’m really not interested in watching, it’s a show about someone who fights demons. I gave “Supernatural” a chance way back in 2005 and recently revisited the subject with “Penny Dreadful” earlier this year. Now, NBC is getting back in the business, wisely pairing its new show with something that’s pretty similar, “Grimm,” also a pilot that I didn’t care for enough to continue watching past the first week. While this show may appease fans of the genre, it also does as much as possible to make the title hero as unlikeable as possible, likening his demon-dispelling abilities to his coarse personality and inability to display emotion. In place, he tries for dark humor, and it doesn’t work particularly well. I don’t remember encountering series star Matt Ryan anywhere before, and I’m not keen to see him again. In the supporting cast, we have Lucy Griffiths, who played Nora on “True Blood,” as Liv, who possesses the ability necessary to help Constantine save people, and two “Lost” alumni, Harold Perrineau and Jeremy Davies. If this show’s subject matter appealed to me at all, I might have enjoyed this hour more, but there is a certain discord between the show’s inherent darkness and the casual nature of its characters that feels like it would be unconvincing on any show. This show is all about a crack team of people saving people from the fires of hell, and I can assure that I will be staying far, far way.

How will it work as a series? Eventually, Liv is going to discover that Constantine manipulated her into signing up for this line of work, but I presume that she’ll have thrown herself into it enough to be able to swiftly forgive him. That said, there’s sure to be plenty of hellfire and heartbreak along the way for this eccentric duo and their friends no matter how well they work together.
How long will it last? The show’s ratings weren’t great, especially in comparison to the show in this timeslot last year that got cancelled, “Dracula.” It was up against the World Series, so NBC might try to perfect its freaky Friday night, especially with Halloween serving as the second outing. I still think this one won’t live long.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 6, Episode 5 “The Scale of Affection is Fluid” (B+)

If last week was about parents, this episode was about children. Many of them were adults, of course, but it’s still about seeing life through a younger lens and looking up to parents as the source of approval. That rang particularly true for Crosby, who was rebelling so aggressively against Jasmine’s very literal grounding of his freedom that he felt the need to push the limits all the time, unprepared for the realization that no one, even his bear-facing father, is invincible. Adam was a barrel of laughs in this hour, acting like a child when he saw Julia’s new boyfriend at the house and forcing him to stay and then incurring Kristina’s wrath when he encouraged Max to go for it with his crush. I like that Max’s boldness impressed Dylan without fully winning her over, and it seems that things might actually work out for Max provided he stops reading the books he got immediately. Amber’s coffee spill turned dog park date was cute, and it’s a shame that the state of her pregnancy is hitting her so hard. Joel’s reaction to seeing Chris playing basketball with his former family was heartbreaking, and Julia seems to be taking his anger in stride, ready to show the whole world that she’s doing what she wants with her life. I was disappointed to learn that each cast member would be absent from an episode of this season due to contract cuts, but I think that’s been artfully handled so far, with Sarah not being around in this hour easily explained away by a line from Crosby and not being too problematic.

What I’m Watching: A to Z

A to Z: Season 1, Episode 4 “D is for Debbie” (C-)

I was hoping that, four episodes in, this should would feel a bit more developed, and unfortunately it doesn’t. What changed about this half-hour is that it wasn’t saved at the end by a big romantic gesture on the part of one or both of our affable leads, but instead it was dragged out through the episode as both parties were somewhat uncomfortable. Zelda not inviting Andrew to the funeral made sense given the short amount of time that they’ve been dating, but his bright outlook on life made him think that only good things would come of him going there. The problem is that both were right, and what ended up happening was Zelda freaking out, which doesn’t bother Andrew at all, and her fast-forwarded lawyer eulogy was hardly the way to make his presence there worthwhile. Like all of this show’s supporting characters, it doesn’t match the nature of their relationship. Ending with a heartwarming music session was peculiar and is exemplary of nothing more than the fact that Andrew and Zelda can occasionally be normal together in the midst of weird circumstances. I don’t have much to say about Stu and Stephie, who do their best to hog the screen at every opportunity, but Lydia continues to be a drain on the show, putting hunting traps out to catch her employees immediately in a moment of unproductivity and then getting herself in trouble at the hands of Wayne Wilderson’s corporate surveyor. I liked him better as the convict is his short stint on season three of “The Office.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 5 “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor” (C+)

This episode theoretically wasn’t as bad as other recent installments, mainly because its plotline wasn’t so formulaic and, for once, was actually quite literal. Talk about a formidable and diverse cast of guest stars, some of whom weren’t used to any comedic effect at all. Ben Lawson of “The Deep End” and Fiona Gubelmann of “Wilfred” were the couple that the Dunphys wanted to move in next door but accidentally scared away by making them think that they wanted to have a foursome. Steve Zahn of “Treme” and Andrea Anders of “Better Off Ted” were the extremely over-the-top, excessively loud and redneck couple that did end up moving in and may unfortunately grace our screens again in the future. On the more veteran side, Jon Polito, who I recognize but can’t peg which of his 200+ projects on IMDB I know him from, was Jay’s Closets, Closets, Closets nemesis Earl Chambers, and Tyne Daly, winner of many Emmys for “Judging Amy” and more, was Lily’s tyrannical teacher at school. It was good to see Cameron and Mitchell doing something different for a change, and their interactions with Daly’s aptly-named Mrs. Plank were decently entertaining. Jay’s closet references were also mildly enjoyable, and I’m just happy to see these characters’ professions put to good use since it seems like all we’ve heard about recently is Phil being a realtor and Cameron being a coach. Unfortunately, that’s all marred by the thought of the Dunphys’ new neighbors trying to encourage a foursome again.