Sunday, September 7, 2014

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episode 8 “Finish Your Milk” (B-)

I suppose there had to be a “meet the parents” episode eventually, and there were some positives to it even if the overall experience was lackluster. There’s something to be said for Gretchen feeling like she needed to pack and have Jimmy drive her to the airport only to stay in town to host her parents while they were around. The “Usual Suspects” homage moment was a bit funny but also a bit excessively dramatic in a way that felt inappropriate, and then Jimmy decided that the only thing left to do would be to insert and assert himself where he clearly wasn’t wanted. Seeing how Gretchen behaved in front of her parents was much more worthwhile than Jimmy stepping in to give a boyfriend speech, which felt odd given that they had just defined themselves as something more than non-exclusive friends with benefits. Edgar’s hunt for military-sponsored pills was a showcase for the social worker played by Tim Bagley, who I recognize from his days on “Will and Grace” and “Monk.” This wasn’t the best use of Edgar, but I did enjoy how Lindsay was utilized. After getting reamed out by Becca, Lindsay felt the need to spend more time with her husband, and what a magnificent adventure it was. It was nice to see her try to open up and enjoy his sweet if deathly boring habits and to revel in the simplicity, even if she had to drop everything and run when Gretchen needed help, thanking Paul for a truly nice day.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Old Date” (C+)

This was easily this show’s least impressive installment to date, which is a shame since I’ve been enjoying it so much up until this point. I think what happened here is that one of the show’s strongest characters – Jenny Slate’s Jess – didn’t appear at all, and neither of the two storylines that were at play landed particularly well. I can’t say I was particularly pleased to see Ike Barinholtz as Russ’ old business partner Bruce, mainly because his performance as Morgan was one of the reasons that I stopped watching “The Mindy Project.” As a character, he was very weak, and Lina trying to distract him with enthusiasm and dancing so that Russ could steal back his board was not terribly creative. It is worthwhile to have Russ and Lina lament their lost excitement and obsess over nostalgia, but this is not the best way to do it. The same goes for A.J., who is hopelessly obsessed with his ex and felt it appropriate to show up at her new beau’s shiva. Making a speech was the worst part of it, and Roxanne telling him he needs help afterward has hardly a cathartic resolution. At least it’s good to know that the supporting players on this show are capable of hanging out on their own without Russ or Lina, as John Hodgman’s Bernie showed up again, dressed in scrubs, to unwittingly accompany A.J. to shiva and then to make their scheduled stop at a much more logical destination: a strip club.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 9 “Rakshasa” (A-)

This show really knows how to craft a grueling episode. Sonya’s abduction by the Chopper could have been just a filler plotline, one which involved far too much plodding and pausing on her would-be killer’s part, literally challenging her to get away, with her survival entirely assured due to her role on the show. But this killer was just like this show’s other two big bad guys, David Tate and Eleanor, who relish the ritual of killing just as much as the necessary act itself. This turned out to be a harrowing experience for Sonya, who held out and tried desperately to escape, only to not recognize Marco when he finally came to save her. This show’s walls are closing in, as Marco helping out Sebastian’s daughter led directly to Marco finding out about the hit on Sonya and rushing to her aid. I’m glad Marco didn’t hesitate to shoot the Chopper, ready to shoot first and ask questions later to ensure the safety of those important to him. Events at Red Ridge started out much more calmly despite a brutal suffocation, but they ended far more brutally than anyone could have expected. Eleanor and Cesar getting arrested by McKenzie and Hank seemed too clean, but I wasn’t prepared for the shootout that resulted in the shocking and devastating loss of one of this show’s best characters, Charlotte. Let’s hope that Hank survived, since I don’t think Sonya could bounce back from that loss, especially after coming so close to death herself.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pilot Review: Selfie

Selfie (ABC)
Premieres September 30 at 8pm

This pilot has been available online for a few weeks, and I watched it along with “A to Z” right around when it was first offered. We still have almost a month until it airs, and I think this is an example of exactly why you don’t want to preview your show before it airs. I think expectations were already astronomically low for this series, and getting the chance to see it does no one involved with it any favors. Its title is bad enough, but there’s plenty else to dislike about this new show. Karen Gillan’s Eliza Dooley is incredibly obnoxious, and it’s not as if her demeanor makes her inherently likeable or that her starting point is inspirational because of the change and growth she can achieve. Instead, she’s just a terrible person, and hardly a worthy protagonist for a series. John Cho’s Henry Higenbottam is almost at bad, mainly because he’s so completely unbelievable as a character. He’s an anachronistic gentleman whose sheer existence and additional willingness to help Eliza become a good person might make sense within the world of a musical, but not so in a modern-day technology-infused sitcom. The supporting characters are grating, and it’s hard to decide whether they’re actually worse than the leads. No one was clamoring for a present-set remake of “My Fair Lady,” and I don’t know why ABC thought this would add anything to its comedy block. Whatever wasn’t brutally unfunny was monumentally sappy, and it’s hard to feel a good about a show whose pilot feels like an unbearable eternity.

How will it work as a series? I don’t think we’ll have to find out, but were this show to go ahead and air its produced episodes and maybe even more than that, I have no doubt that we would continue to find Eliza chewing gum, being impolite, self-centered, and constantly on her phone, while Henry encouraged her to act a bit more like a human being and we saw some goodness peeking through every once in a while. That hardly sounds like a worthwhile or fun ride to me.
How long will it last? Not long at all. This seems like the easiest and most predictable cancellation of the fall without even knowing what other shows are out there. The only reason it might survive is if ABC thinks that the online viewership during the sampling period makes it a potential success. I’m dubious, and I think this one will be gone before the end of October.

Pilot grade: F-

Pilot Review: A to Z

A to Z (NBC)
Premieres October 2 at 9:30pm

This show doesn’t start for almost a month, but it’s been available online for a few weeks. I watched the pilot almost right away when NBC put it online for viewers to sample, and now that there’s not much on TV, it’s the perfect time to review it. Finding a fresh sitcom is a tough business, and there are those shows that try hard to be formulaic and those that don’t. This is the former, the ultimate example of a concept sitcom, one whose every event and occurrence is rooted in its format. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Cristin Milioti, who broke out as the title character in “How I Met Your Mother,” should return for yet another series where she isn’t able to control her own destiny. There’s no denying her appeal, and it’s nearly impossible not to like her. That doesn’t necessarily make for great television, of course, since she doesn’t have to get viewers to come around to the idea of being sympathetic to her. Similarly, Ben Feldman, who earned an Emmy nomination for his work as sarcastic copywriter Michael Ginsberg on “Mad Men,” has a lot going for him from the start, and it’s not much of an effort to find his romantic desires and idealizations positive. It’s not that there isn’t any conflict that needs to be resolved, but I think that these two might be perfectly fabulous leads in a less confined setting, and it’s a shame that the show that’s constructed around them is excruciatingly ordinary and uninventive.

How will it work as a series? The title suggests that it goes from A to Z, which seems to predict 26 episodes. If it’s really a good show, it will get away from that format after just a few installments, but if it does stick to it, it’s going to have to work hard to be charming – and funny – enough to sustain itself.
How long will it last? The pilot will have been available for a month and a half by the time it actually airs, and the question is whether viewers will be very ready for the next episode or hopeless about its chances. I think this could be a winner, but we’ll have to see how other shows do and how this pilot performs on air.

Pilot grade: C+

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 8 “Mirror, Mirror” (C-)

This episode wasn’t as bad as last week’s time-jumping mess, but I still think this show got way off track and there’s no way for it to straighten itself out and get back on course. I really should stop watching, and may well muster up the courage to do so when other shows start to return for their fall seasons in a few weeks. It seems a strange time to introduce a mystery sibling for Bill in the form of Christian Borle’s Frank, who appears intent on reasserting himself in his brother’s life due to his alleged fertility troubles. At the very least it will give Bill yet another distraction so that he can stay unfocused on his home life. I’m not sure what to make of Libby’s run-in with Robert and her newfound conscience which compels her to do the right thing and stand up for an underprivileged community. Betty has become quite the financial expert recently, very knowledgeable of what’s needed to circumvent an audit, and fortunately Virginia is more than competent at getting a board member to sign on, awkwardly confused by the police chief as Bill’s wife with Libby standing right next to the work pair. All of these sexual discussions with Betsy Brandt’s Barbara and Kevin Christy’s Lester are presented so frontally and unsubtly, and I feel like this show has lost all the finesse it used to have, no longer using subtext and layers and instead putting everything at disappointing face value, forcing explicit conversation about sex at every turn.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 8 “Sunny” (A-)

Talk about a harrowing, wrenching hour, this after last week’s already intense episode. Things escalated in a big way as Avi protested his assigned duty of tailing Abby as she met Jim at a motel, and there wasn’t much time for things to fester before they outright exploded. Ray going to Jim’s house was bold, but he didn’t actually try to intimidate him after he kicked down the door, more just asked him strongly to stop seeing his wife. In typical fashion, Ray didn’t deal with it in a particularly verbose or conversational way, instead just demanding her signature and refusing to speak to her about it. She did an excellent job of throwing his many infidelities in his face, and there’s really no way of coming back from this easily. What’s far more jarring, of course, and is sure to cast things in a new light. Bridget defying her parents was one thing, but ending up in the back of the car as Lee’s attempts to undercut Cookie failed miserably and he came to shoot both Recon and Marvin. She’ll evidently be traumatized, and rightly so, and let’s hope Ray handles it well in the middle of all this pressure. Mickey’s instant three picture deal was way too good to be true, and it’s a shame that his tussle with Alan managed to get it all cancelled so quickly. I love that he stole silverware and was so happy about it. His hopes may have been deflated, but at least he came out ahead and he’s doing a whole lot better than the rest of his family.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 5 “Life’s a Mystery” (B)

This was a strange episode, one which shifted focus away from regularly scheduled events in Cheyenne to make way for an unexpected visitor. The opening scene felt like a highly stylized Western, and while this show has certainly made its testaments to the genre over the past few years, this one felt the oddest and most foreign. Sydney Snow really didn’t fit in in Cheyenne, and he did just about everything he could to try to make his presence felt, which was far from advisable. Not recognizing the racial landscape he had entered was his first mistake, and not reading Cullen’s relationship with his wife was almost as poor a choice. But taking his gunfight to the local store where he decided he had to kill the witness to his accidental murder of a kid was the point of no return. I’m not convinced he would have killed Naomi, but it’s still good that Cullen arrived when he did. Durant having Campbell’s house ripped from its roots with him inside was a masterful show, but it also made him the prime suspect in the murder of Jessup and the target for Heckard’s revenge. Being told that he was Irish scum was certainly a trigger, but Mickey’s murderous temper has gotten the best of him too much recently. Gregg Henry was an interesting choice to play Brigham Young, and it’s very intriguing to learn that he knows that the Swede isn’t who he claims to be but still finds him a useful ally for some apparent vendetta he has against the most popular man in Cheyenne: Thomas Durant.

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 4, Episode 5 “Truth Asunder” (C)

With just one episode left in this entire series (if it’s not resurrected yet again by some network that inexplicably thinks people wants to see more of it), it’s hard to imagine things getting any more miserable than they already are. This was a great opportunity for Holder and Linden to severely piss each other off, with Linden making the unwise choice to yell at Caroline for not aggressively helping them enough, even though she didn’t stop to ask her for help in the first place and instead just started laying into her. Carl telling Linden that Holder blabbed at an NA meeting only worsened matters, and Holder rubbing it in her face that she forgot to take her son to the airport just fueled the fire even more. Margaret was being awfully forthcoming with information in this hour, both to the police and to surprised (if unconvinced viewers). Showing up at the police station to readily admit to having an affair with Lincoln’s father was gutsy, but also seemed to be far too overconfident. It seems that Margaret isn’t nearly as innocent as she had purported, since she and Lincoln were somehow involved in the murders, not happy that Kyle is starting to remembering what happened. I’m not sure I’m on board with that particular development, but I’m fairly certain that, no matter how things turn out with both the Skinner situation and everything involving Kyle and his conspiratorial colleagues, the season/series finale won’t be terribly pleasant or satisfying.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black (Season Finale)

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 13 “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” (A-)

This double-decker installment was probably the best episode this show has produced yet, mainly because it kicked things into gear in a transformative way and helped to sew up a few open plotlines. It seemed to me that the tide was finally turning on Vee, and that she might end up being killed in more than one way at the same time. Ultimately, it was a quick, violent, and unmemorable ending that was quite fitting thanks to Rosa spotting her on the side of the road and ramming in to her because she was rude. Rosa’s getaway drive, complete with flashback to her glory days before prison, was absolutely perfect. Larry and Polly’s visit to see Piper was plenty awkward, and I like that Piper used their guilt to motivate them to help send Alex back to jail for season three, which should be a blast. It’s good to see Caputo on top because he’s become a more endearing character recently, much more so than Figueroa, whose exit was far from gracious. John’s situation didn’t exactly get resolved, though Caputo knowing means that John is somewhat more protected and somewhat more vulnerable. O’Neill’s songs played to the nuns were funny, and I liked the bonding among all the varied members of Red’s family. It was a relief to see Poussey rejoin the ranks of those corrupted by Vee, and also sad to see Crazy Eyes made to doubt her sanity because of Vee’s cowardice. I would say that this second year was definitely a blast, and I eagerly look forward to the show’s third season.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Hard to say with so many choices - maybe Barbara Rosenblat as Rosa?

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episode 7 “Equally Dead Inside” (B+)

What a fitting title for a fun episode, one which did stretch its believability a bit by having Jimmy go from an emotionless inconsiderate guy to full of sappy sentiment brewed from a bad relationship with his father. It’s most entertaining to watch Gretchen try to drum up sympathy and, more crucially, empathy, unsure of exactly how she can produce those foreign emotions. Her friendship with Dana evolved quite quickly into something far more seductive and difficult to come back from, and they managed to put a great show for a clearly flummoxed Jimmy. Unfortunately, his little run-in with Sandra Bernhard, in which she belittled his pre-prepared heckles, resulted in a trip home followed by a very brief moment of relief that ruined the whole thing. It was obvious that the threesome had to go wrong somehow, and the revelation that Jimmy hadn’t needed to enjoy any of it because he had shockingly quickly pleasured himself was pretty hilarious. In theory, Edgar and Lindsay are terribly annoying sidekicks, but there’s something about the way that they talk that’s so fantastically emphatic. It’s also genuinely funny that Lindsay disregards all the information she just doesn’t know and dismisses it as unimportant and that Edgar doesn’t feel like he fits into society. That they’ve been able to sustain their own subplot, even if it’s designed explicitly around not being the stars of their own stories, is a testament to the effectiveness of their characters and their ability to stand on their own.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 1, Episode 7 “Waffles and Pizza” (B+)

It’s not too surprising to learn that Russ and Lina have to move every few years, and I enjoyed the fact that Russ knew exactly what he had to hide when they found out about the unannounced open house. It’s understandable that Lina would want to be able to settle down somewhere, but Russ was right in his analysis of Lina’s craziness as she tried to persuade A.J.’s new girlfriend to break things off with her husband so that she could be with him and, most importantly, vacate her home. Cynthia wasn’t a particularly stable person, and it was obvious from the start that she and A.J. were not going to end up together. Russ’ discomfort at encouraging the breakup of a happy marriage was entertaining, as was his reaction each time to Lina talking about something that sounded a whole lot like their marriage. I had expected that we would see a continuation of Jess’ bar outing which may well have resulted in infidelity, but instead it was an entirely new plotline which didn’t cast her in the most satisfied light. That never seems to be her fate; instead, she had to deal with being asked for cocaine by the boss she thought was ready to give her a promotion. That she managed to make a statement and turn the situation to her advantage by getting the promotion she wanted in the first place was impressive, and it’s nice to see her score a rare win every once in a while.

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 8 “Goliath” (B+)

There’s a sense that things are coming together more than ever before, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s hard to remember what side of the law some of our favorite characters are on these days, particularly with Robles being taken in by Mexican police who wanted to know where Galvan has hiding. That he was ready to leave Marco in charge while he was away before the unsuccessful raid on Galvan’s location says a lot, though I think that would have presented more challenges than advantages. Agent McKenzie poisoning Sonya against Marco by telling her about his past with Galvan was very counterproductive since now she has pushed him away just as she needs him most. The Chopper is a fearsome American counterpart for Eleanor, and things don’t look good for Sonya, though her being one of the leads on the show suggests that she’ll make it through okay. Daniel continues to make poor life decisions, going after Sebastian at his son’s school. Sebastian calling the police represents just how little he considers Daniel to be a threat. I like that Adriana went to Marco for help to get him out of jail since it’s good to see these connections. Eleanor and Cesar make for a great odd couple, and I’m intrigued to learn more about Eleanor’s prospective buyer. It’s strange to see Eleanor in such a standard business setting because of how we met her, but it also underlines the fact that, when she wants to, she’s perfectly capable of blending in and flying under the radar.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Tyrant (Season Finale)

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 10 “Gone Fishing” (C+)

This finale was definitely a tense one, but I’m not entirely convinced by the way everything played out and certainly not reassured by what might come next in the second season for which the show has yet to be renewed. As Bassam grew more irritable and frantic, Jamal actually calmed down, enjoying a day out at sea with his brother and seeming like he genuinely wanted to sail off and abandon his country and his every responsibility. Bassam’s overconfident preemptive apology for arrested his brother was in fact premature, and it seems that everyone in the State Department was far too certain of what proved to be a failure in turning Jamal against Tariq. Now, Bassam has gone from mere adviser to political prisoner who will apparently face execution – that’s where the notion of a second season doesn’t become apparent since that doesn’t seem like a meaty enough premise which would be hopelessly drawn out. Just as worrisome is that petty theft was responsible for stranding the entire Al-Fayeed family in the country, confined to the embassy, which I think is somewhat less exciting that an actual move by Jamal and Tariq would have been. Either way, things are not looking good for everyone involved, and I’m iffy on whether I’d return for a second season. This show was better than I expected, but I’m not sure I thought it had much potential to start off with, so that’s not saying too much. I’d still like to nominate Ashraf Barhom as the cast’s strongest member, doing a great job of playing a very exaggerated character.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Ashraf Barhom as Jamal

Friday, August 29, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 7 “Asterion” (D)

Talk about a nosedive. This show just isn’t recognizable anymore, and these extensive time jumps didn’t particularly help matters. I’m not sure what the rush is since is still the middle of the season and there seems to be no reason to run all the way ahead. I can see the effect this show is going for, making its events seem and feel all the more dated, which should be productive and emphatic but comes off instead as off-putting and grim. Seeing Bill come up behind Virginia for a moment of forbidden romance at the wedding before he started berating her by pretending to quote her apologizing for her past lovers was pretty miserable, and it’s hard to understand the man he has become. The fast-forwarding did manage to portray Libby in a more positive and human light, though I’m at a loss as to why she was standing around in her undergarments while having a big fight with her husband. It’s good to see Ann Dowd back at least as Bill’s mother, though I’m not too convinced by the pretext of it and the extreme drama of having Bill invite her back into his life. All of a sudden, Austin is back in the picture, united with a new bride who’s perfect for him after an introduction only a few minutes earlier (in the time of our show), and now he’s become a slightly better person. Virginia, on the other hand, is a perpetual punching bag, condemned by all parties for her inability to truly focus on her relationships. I’m not sure how much more of this show I can take and may choose to abandon it midseason.