Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What I’m Watching: El Camino

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (B-)

Aside from a recently-concluded epic HBO fantasy series, it’s hard to find a show quite as beloved as “Breaking Bad.” While “Better Call Saul” has been an immensely worthwhile show in its own right, it doesn’t fill the same niche that the original series did. The idea to have a TV movie that brings back one of the most popular characters makes a lot of sense, if only for the viewership numbers that Netflix is sure to get as a result. That said, it’s hardly necessary, and I don’t think much is gleaned from it. Aaron Paul was always great, though I do think he ended up taking a few trophies that should have gone instead to the likes of Giancarlo Esposito, and maybe even Jonathan Banks or Dean Norris. Because of the state in which we found Jesse in the series finale, he didn’t really come alive throughout this movie until he got the cops called on him and had to spring into action to take cover while he thought he was calling Ed’s bluff. It was admittedly fun to see some of the old characters, like Saul, and Walt, and Krysten Ritter’s Jane. I’d argue that the strongest performances in this movie came from Jesse Plemons as Todd, believing deep down that he was treating Jesse kindly when he was keeping him captive, and the late Robert Forster, who died the day this was released, reprising his role from the penultimate episode. I also recognized Larry Hankin, who I know best as Mr. Heckles from “Friends,” as Old Joe, and Scott MacArthur as Neil, a character who bore some resemblance to the part he plays on “The Righteous Gemstones.” This felt like an extension of the show because so much of it featured emotional and nostalgic returns to what he lost, ultimately revealing that, besides those two friends he saw near the start, he doesn’t have anyone in his life anymore after all he’s endured (and done to himself, in part). This was a fine and moderately engaging return to that world, but there’s no real reason that it needed to be made.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Take Three: Carol’s Second Act

Carol’s Second Act: Season 1, Episode 3 “The Zebra” (C)

Color me unimpressed and officially ready to move on from this show. It’s a wonder that this show lasted two full episodes before getting to the idea of the zebra, a patient with an unknown diagnosis that each of the interns wanted to have the honor of assisting. Raise your hand if you knew that Carol would be the one to determine that it was actually her patient, the one who seemed to be in the hospital with nothing other than normal symptoms, who was the zebra. This show follows a very traditional and predictable sitcom setup, and it’s getting tiresome. Daniel is arrogant and it always ends up being detrimental for him, like in this case where he had to try to find the perfect blueberry muffin for Dr. Jacobs to replace the one he accidentally ate. Caleb is an idiot, but that won’t stop Dr. Frost from acknowledging him first at every turn and allowing their lifelong relationship to turn into clear favoritism. Lexie will be subverted by that favoritism and manage to guilt him into giving her some credit and opportunity, but not enough for Dr. Frost to truly recognize her existence. And Carol is going to be peppy as ever, unflappable until she realizes that her friends aren’t actually looking out for her best interests. It’s a lot to take, and there isn’t enough in the way of funny lines or substantial scenarios to make this show worth watching. If Patricia Heaton earns an Emmy nomination, I might check back into it for an episode or two, but I’m good otherwise.

What I’m Watching: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 4, Episode 3 “Chillaxing” (B+)

I’ve never doubted this show before, and even though it seems like our friends aren’t anywhere near the goal of reforming all of their charges, it’s sure to work itself out in its own unique way by the end of the season (and series). The realization that Chidi wasn’t delivering because he wasn’t being tortured and therefore felt no guilt to be a better person was helpful, and I love that Jason was able to contribute in exactly the way he could: by being himself. Michael attempting to turn his eagerness to open a peanut butter jar into a metaphor had me cracking up, getting me closer to my season one affinity for Jason as my favorite character. The exploding motorcycle and the extremely helpful ants were humorous subplots related to the Chidi antics. I like that Tahani is taking on a more prominent role as she tries to get John to realize that there’s more to life – and the afterlife – than just being vain and obsessed with fancy things, and she now seems to think that she’s finally getting somewhere with him after some lackluster initial efforts. Janet dying her hair because it’s one of the ways that she read people cope with breakups is an entertaining development, and it’s good to see every member of this team contributing. Eleanor has become a much better person, but she’s still skilled at making her ex-boyfriends’ lives miserable. That grim reaper on the train doesn’t feel like a good sign, and I can only hope that it’s another illegal visitor from the Bad Place.

Take Three: The Unicorn

The Unicorn: Season 1, Episode 3 “Widow’s Group” (B-)

Watching this show, there are moments where I feel it really has potential and others where it doesn’t deliver nearly as much. This third installment didn’t feature the same kind of emotionally transformative moment as the second, with Wade yelling out his anger far less compelling than bonding with his daughter. Joining a support group for other widows and widowers made a lot of sense, but naturally he’d be the only male in keeping with this show’s premise that all the good men get snatched up right away. It’s almost as if I expected Betsy Brandt to appear in this episode after her previous very different roles in “Breaking Bad” and “Life in Pieces,” with this one skewing much more towards the latter as she divulged quite a bit about how no one else could possibly (and literally) measure up to her late husband. All of Wade’s friends were very pushy in trying to get him to go to the group, and asking if there were any other men involved would probably have been a smart idea. Getting drunk to the point that he wasn’t able to keep up certain commitments that he had made wasn’t superb, but at least he got to bond with people who are uniquely equipped to understand what he’s going through. I’m not sure yet if I’ll give this show a fourth chance – it’s not wowing me. I like Walton Goggins and Michaela Watkins, and I want to see them do something great, which this just doesn’t seem to be.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

What I’m Watching: Why Women Kill

Why Women Kill: Season 1, Episode 9 “I Was Just Wondering What Makes Dames Like You So Deadly” (B+)

This show used yet another device to introduce this episode, with dead characters narrating each of the three storylines. I’m not sure quite what to make of that, though it is important to frame exactly how the villains in each of the time periods were created. As if Rob wasn’t terrible enough already, we found out just what a manipulative, controlling person he is, fully aware that the secretary he was having an affair with left the door open which allowed his daughter to run out and get hit by a car yet happy to let Beth Ann think that she was responsible. She’s already planted the seeds of doubt in April by warning her that Rob isn’t the kind of man who would let his wife have a career, and now she’s going to make him suffer in some unknown way. This would be the time for her to apologize to Sheila and beg for her help in exacting revenge on her truly awful husband. For a couple planning to get divorced, Karl and Simone are remarkably in sync, storming out of the club with a disdainful flair, and it’s really a shame that Karl is the one being penalized for Simone’s affair with Tommy. I have a feeling that, vindictive as she is, Naomi won’t succeed in killing Simone, with Tommy likely jumping in the way to save the love of his life. In the present, Eli is lucky that Lamar was willing to help Taylor try to talk some sense into him, and him going to rehab is good news, with the threat of a homicidal scorned Jade only mildly concerning. Now why hasn’t this show been renewed for a second season yet?

Round Two: Almost Family

Almost Family: Season 1, Episode 2 “Related AF” (C)

Episode two of this show felt a lot like the first one, entertaining to a degree but really not very good. I haven’t ever seen this story play out yet all of it seems hopelessly predictable. It’s also hard to take seriously, namely because of how overt much of the developments are. I’m speaking mostly about Edie, who is clearly being selected to take Amanda out because everyone at the firm knows that she’s a lesbian. Their relationship is intensifying in a way that’s meant to be extremely scandalous, but all it’s doing is showing how careless the two lawyers are being, with Tim very suspicious already and Julia actually spotting them making out after she already walked in on Tim and Edie having sex earlier in the hour. Leon is also quite manipulative, getting Roxy to like him while plotting with Isaac to put him in charge rather than the daughter he actually raised, who somehow gets to be in charge even after his incapacitation for wrongdoing, which I’d think would make some of the clauses up for debate. Roxy’s ankle bracelet hack was particularly poor and definitely didn’t work, yet somehow all four of them made it back to the apartment before the parole officers and Edie used the situation to get the bracelet removed altogether. I really don’t think there’s much potential for this show going forward, but, especially since it’s a show that my wife Arielle seems to like and enjoys watching together, I’m willing to give it one more shot and see if week three shows any signs of improvement.

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 4, Episode 3 “Unhinged” (B+)

I found this episode to be more compelling than usual, demonstrating that a show often known for its excessive sentimentality still has some very interesting and worthwhile material left to cover. The least enticing, though still decent, plotline was Jack making a big mistake at work and Miguel stepping in to save his job, showing the true power of their friendship, which extended much further than Jack could ever have possibly imagined. I like how Jennifer Morrison’s Cassidy is being incorporated, initially angry at Kevin for bonding in the waiting room with her son and then eager to laugh at the stupidity of what he was saying along with Nicky so that the three of them could get booted from an AA meeting for being disruptive. It was also sweet to see Deja and Tess bond after Malik stopped by to tell her about his baby, and we saw a similar friendship emerge between siblings when Kevin stepped in to calm Randall down after he panicked because his first black teacher wrote him up for not complying with the dress code. Randall’s open-door policy did create some issues, but, like his friend and chief of staff Jae-Weon said, they’re not in this to become career politicians but instead to effect actual change, which is why the risky decision to fire Bernice for constantly subverting him feels like the only Randall thing to do. It didn’t take Kate long to realize that Toby was working out, and after the argument they had, it’s nice that she found a kindred spirit to take walks around the neighborhood with in her recovering neighbor, played by Timothy Omundson from “Psych” and “Jericho.”

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Flash (Season Premiere)

The Flash: Season 6, Episode 1 “Into the Void” (B+)

This show feels considerably edgier and different than it has in the past, namely because it’s diving into all-new territory with its characters and plotlines, and both Barry and Iris are deeply in mourning for a daughter that is now never going to exist, something they’re both having trouble admitting. Starting out with Godspeed clones who can’t communicate and a barbecue which found Team Flash all hanging out casually felt like they had gotten back into a sort of rhythm, waiting for the next big bad and just going through the motions until that point. That all changed with the introduction of Dr. Rosso, played by Sendhil Ramamurthy from “Heroes” and “Covert Affairs,” as yet another brilliant mind so driven by his ambition to change the world that he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. It didn’t take long for him to reveal his true nature as he got angry at Caitlin for not seeing eye-to-eye with him, and he’s definitely going to be back to create problems just as big as those giant black holes for all of Team Flash. Caitlin making a deal to put Killer Frost in the driver’s seat should prove interesting, and it’s helpful with Cisco officially out as a powered member of the team. The Monitor showing up to tell Barry that the Flash has to die in order for the world not to end is indeed a weighty message, one that is likely to drive Barry and Iris to do whatever they can to prevent that inevitability.

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 2, Episode 3 “The Preemie Monologues” (B)

This show does seem to be able to stretch a lot of its comedy from the notion of its characters not being able to afford much, something that comes up selectively and which often gets blamed on just one resident of the house. Darlene is the most frequently-accosted, in this case for them being out of toilet paper, which they apparently use for everything. The decision that she’s having trouble making about which man she’d like to keep romantically in her life wasn’t made any easier by the fact that Harris knows she’s sleeping with both David and Ben, and I like that Darlene tried to approach her “insane” daughter by talking right to her and being upfront after Harris told her that she knew. Becky being a mother hasn’t been smooth either, though I think she’s struggling most with Jackie driving her crazy, trying to have the baby start learning Mandarin from the nurses at the hospital and other absurd expectations that she’s somehow concocted. Going in to work and trying to guilt a customer into a huge tip because of what she’s going through went predictably poorly, though Louise did do a pretty great job of salvaging the situation by billing it as dinner theater in the early stages of development. It looks like Louise might become a more permanent fixture on the show after suggesting that Dan would want her there for important moments in his life, and he responded by eventually asking her out, which should provide some entertaining fodder for future episodes. I feel like we haven’t seen DJ do anything of substance in a while, and so having him do magic for the wrong baby felt oddly appropriate.

What I’m Watching: Our Boys (Series Finale)

Our Boys: Season 1, Episode 10 “Chapter 10: A Shaft into a Dark Tunnel” (B+)

I’ve contended since it started that this show is excellent, and is the case when I watch episodes of “The Crown,” I’m eager to do some research after it ends so that I can find out what’s real and what’s fictionalized. I appreciated how the conclusion of this episode answered many of those questions, noting that pretty much everything about the perpetrators and the victim’s family was true aside from the names of the minors, whereas both Simon and Dvora, two very compelling characters whose interaction in this episode was extremely powerful, were composites of several people, just like Jessica Chastain’s protagonist in “Zero Dark Thirty.” The framing of this episode, which includes a closing note about the search for the killers of the three Israeli boys and how their homes were demolished, provides one last supporting argument for the idea that this show doesn’t portray Israel in the best light, focusing instead on how this search for justice reveals more about how unjust the country is. I do think that most of what it brings up is indeed fascinating, like Suha’s desire to have the Israeli killers’ homes demolished, but I can understand why this could just be used as more ammunition against Israel by those who already detest it. My hope is that those who watch will see it for the layered, introspective portrait of a deeply upsetting situation that hit home for so many that it is. I’m not sure it will appeal to Emmy voters, but I’m pulling for it, especially for Jony Arbid (Hussein), Adam Gabay (Avishai), Or Ben Melech (Yoseif Haim), Shlomi Elkabetz (Simon), and Noa Koler (Dvora). This has been an enlightening, excellent experience, though far from an easy one.

Series grade: A-
Series MVP: Jony Arbid as Hussein

Friday, October 11, 2019

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot (Season Premiere)

Mr. Robot: Season 4, Episode 1 “401 Unauthorized” (B+)

It’s been close to two years since this show finished airing its third season, which I found to be almost as magnetically intriguing as season one, even if awards bodies have opted to ignore this show after Rami Malek won an Emmy for its first year. The fact that this show is ending after only four seasons is a shame, but it’s rare that such a sendoff involves the longest run yet, with thirteen installments in this last stretch. I had forgotten both how mesmerizing and disturbing this show can be, with Angela’s execution serving as a stark and unsettling introduction to this opening hour. Her allegiances had shifted in the last season and then sprung back, and Darlene’s devastation about her fate demonstrates just how complicated this whole web of hackers and anti-establishment anarchism can be. Dom is clearly suffering from paranoia, and the only threat she didn’t spot was the real one, in the form of Janice, the boring taxidermist who turned out to be a cruel operative of the Dark Army sent to watch her. Jake Busey’s Freddie felt like just another hapless and eventually helpless guest used as a pawn by Elliot, and it was so cool to see Mr. Robot turn right into Elliot as Freddie boarded the train and the hacker took over. Their relationship is just as fascinating as ever, and Mr. Robot talking to his friend instead of Elliot shows that they’ve found a way to coexist, even if it suggests that Elliot is not doing well in the wake of Angela’s death. The final scene indicates that Elliot is gone too, but that’s obviously not how things are going to play out with twelve episodes left this season. I’m fully on board, just as confused and glued to the screen as ever.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Righteous Gemstones

The Righteous Gemstones: Season 1, Episode 8 “But the Righteous Will See Their Fall” (B+)

Nothing ever seems to go all that right on this show, and the consequences can be very intense. I knew something bad would come of Baby Billy’s desire for some excitement while he was behind the wheel, and naturally he’d end up crashing into Scotty’s van before killing him and taking all of the money that he knew had come straight out of the Gemstone vault. He did a very poor job of hiding the evidence, and it seems unlikely that anyone would believe that Scotty took his own life. He also managed to alienate Judy completely, and she had one hell of a breakdown after she went to go see BJ in his new ear-pierced life, going to town on that cart and the cell phone she just smacked right down onto the ground. Gideon deciding not to cite his father’s deplorable behavior as a reason for his actions was noble when he was getting all the flak for what he had done, and somehow Jesse was so moved by his son’s honesty that he decided coming clean on behalf of all his co-conspirators was the right thing to do. The video viewing party did not go well at all, with kids present and Jesse trying to explain away some of the more regrettable things they were clearly shown doing. I most appreciated this episode as a showcase for Cassidy Freeman as we saw Amber go full-throttle in her rage against her husband, complete with a carefully-calculated and executed gun grab and shot as her hapless spouse tried in vain to flee.

Pilot Review: Press

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl (Season Premiere)

Supergirl: Season 5, Episode 1 “Event Horizon” (B+)

After a long season of building up Lex Luthor and Agent Liberty as the big villains, this season is all about rebooting and presenting many new hurdles for Supergirl and her increasingly impressive team of superpowered friends. The most important development is Lena’s turn to the dark side, so intent on getting revenge on Kara for not sharing her deepest secret with her and even more focused on that aim after Kara came clean with her right before the big speech she gave introducing her for the prize. Selling the company to Andrea changes things in a big way, and trying to monetize their journalism is the least of her sins since she forcefully rewrote everyone’s contacts to force them to stay. It’s the definition of a hostile takeover, one that’s going to reverberate as Kara trying to continue to fight the good journalistic fight and James pursues a new career, perhaps as Guardian full-time? Kelly is in a complicated position, working for Andrea and getting very close to Alex. Hank’s brother showing up isn’t good news for anyone, though at least he’s not in the form of a creepy young girl with the power to animate dinosaurs anymore. I’m enjoying the romance between Brainy and Nia and seeing how she realizes what she needs to coach him on while he makes a considerable effort to show just how sorry he is for the way that he treated her when he got reset. I’m back on board for this season, hopeful that these many different plotlines will prove engrossing and satisfying.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 5, Episode 7 (C+)

There was a moment during this episode where I thought that all of this was for something – when Whitney asked her father about his affair with Allison and why he did it. Their visit back to Montauk was saddled with other unnecessary drama, like their unfortunate visit to shop for a wedding dress where they were made to feel like terrible people for not being able to afford the absurd price tags, enabling Whitney to have a therapeutic moment of rage directed towards one of the employees. Helen not being present for any of this and then Whitney trying on her wedding dress felt wrong in a lot of ways, and the run-in with Luisa suddenly got him thinking about Joanie, the daughter he hadn’t bothered to check in with for years until the day that she and her father happened to be moving to Vermont. That was the obvious moment to transition to half an episode devoted to the adult Joanie, who naturally would take the information she learned about Ben’s apparent role in her mother’s death and go full undercover to learn more about him. Tony Plana, best known for supporting roles on “Ugly Betty” and “The Punisher,” was a good fit to play the older Ben, who initially seemed innocent enough until he revealed that he knew she was Joanie. Confessing to having killed Allison seemed rather blunt and unrealistic, but things took a turn for the much less believable when Joanie did return to have the police arrest him, only to have him concoct a crazy story about her being a patient of his. None of this needed to happen, and certainly not to demonstrate that Joanie’s response to being physically threatened would be to urge her assailant to hold her down even more forcefully. I’m not impressed.