Friday, December 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 9 “Chapter Nine” (B+)

This episode got a bit more into true soap territory, with Michael thinking that Rafael might be Sin Rostro, Petra’s dark past revealed, and Petra’s mother pushing poor Alba down the stairs after she saw their hostage. Ultimately, though, it was everything else in this episode that drove it, as Jane and Rafael graduated from their honeymoon period into the real world as they argued about how to confront their latest problem, a dramatic and manipulative Petra trying to exert control and get custody of the baby. Her tactics didn’t serve her well, as her secret soon came to light, but it does seem more and more that she may just be a victim of circumstance and not the villain she’s often portrayed to be. Her mother, on the other hand, who doesn’t appear to be so wheelchair-bound, is definitely evil, and that doesn’t bode well for her quick-thinking hostage who is hilariously trying to escape by watching Rogelio’s show and listening to how he escaped his bonds. Rogelio losing his big award to the rival who considers him a father despite the fact that they’re the same age was appropriately humbling, and it’s nice to see that he continues to do kind things for Xiomara, though I think she’s earned something good happening to her of her own volition without her baby daddy pulling the strings. Michael is definitely grasping at straws trying to take down Rafael, and though I’m sure Rafael isn’t an innocent as he claims to be, Michael’s brother’s tip panned out very poorly in a way that is sure to have a negative impact on Michael’s standing with Jane.

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 1, Episode 9 (A-)

It’s impressive that this show has been able to deliver some of its finest episodes after the summer, recounting the aftermath of this affair and how much of a lingering impact it’s had on its perpetrators. I thought that this show had completely abandoned its format since I must have missed the title card for part one, but it’s still extremely effective for its storytelling, so I see no issue with keeping it even though interviews are, for the most part, over. We got some very important pieces of information in this hour, namely that Allison’s medical instincts may have led directly to her son’s death and that Noah’s daughter is pregnant – by Cole’s brother. That’s a incestual web that is just getting more complicated, but it almost doesn’t matter because of how suddenly and irreversibly certain things are happening. Allison learning from Cole’s mother that the ranch is worthless burst all her hopes for the future instantly, and Cole showing up as she was about to board the train for the city was bold and surprising. The fact that Noah was actually there in the frame but not seen for us until the episode’s closing moment was excellently prolonged, and it makes waiting for next week’s finale incredibly difficult. Noah’s attitude towards putting Allison in a bachelor pad that would never be big enough for two people was far too casual, but then he took a huge leap and, out of nowhere, confessed everything to Helen and told her that he wanted to start the process of separating. Helen didn’t even want to discuss it for a moment, and that means that it’s going to be very hard to come back from this moment of honesty. Where that leaves a second season of this show is a mystery to me, but I’m eager to find out.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 11 “Krieg Nicht Lieb” (C+)

I’m starting to question whether this was all worth it, and that’s never a good way to feel about a show’s second-to-last episode of the season. Historically, those are often the best, since all the tensions build and a show is at its strongest right before it wraps everything up going into a break. This episode had just one single focus, forgetting about Saul and nearly omitting Lockhart, who is seen in just one scene discussing how he’s been cut out of the loop as the agency shops for his replacement. Carrie got the news that her father died at a moment in which it should probably have affected her more, but instead all it did was give Max a reason to want to give her a hug despite how much he hated her for never giving Fara any positive affirmation before allowing her to be killed. One would think that Carrie has lost enough people to be just as determined as Quinn to kill Haqqani no matter the cost, and it tracks with the CIA’s actual extermination of Osama Bin Laden that hunting down and killing someone who is directly responsible for great losses of the United States would in fact be a priority. Instead, Quinn becomes a commando and even shoots one of Carrie’s men trying to stay focused on his solo mission. And then, in the middle of a chaotic and foreboding protest, we get a surprise that no one saw coming, mainly because, on the face of it, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not sure how Khan would know who Adar Dal is and know that Carrie would also understand the significance of him being in the car with Haqqani. This is going to require some seriously sound logic to be believed, and I’m not talking about the kind that rationalized Carrie spending a few episodes in a mental institution.

What I’m Watching: The Newsroom (Series Finale)

The Newsroom: Season 3, Episode 6 “What Kind of Day Has It Been?”

And here we have it, just twenty-five episodes in, the familiar title of an Aaron Sorkin finale in what ranks as his second-shortest series. What this hour indicates more than anything is that this show had excellent characters and deserved better than a truncated third season in which its storytelling had to be condensed to just six episodes. Charlie’s death provided the impetus for some soul-searching as well as for mandatory flashbacks to the beginning of things, namely right before Will gave his memorable answer prompted by none other than Mackenzie. Seeing everyone at those points is a reminder of how far they’ve come, and while I do understand the tendency to want to look back and in fact usually like it, it might have been nice to spend more of this precious time that we had left with the characters in the present. I think that Sloan became my favorite character, namely because she handled Sorkin’s quick dialogue better than anyone, rattling it off with precise pronunciation and the sense that she just needed to get it all out as quickly as possible. Her manipulation of Jim and Maggie’s relationship was merely because she and Don actually did find something great that didn’t need much work to be done. It’s great to see Maggie embrace her potential and Jim welcome that, and, were we to continue seeing them, they would be sure to have many more awkward repeated conversations before the truth finally and inevitably came out. Neal’s return to the newsroom was triumphant, and it’s good to see him end on such a high note. Fiona had a bigger role in this hour than she did in most, convincing Pruitt that he needed to appoint Mackenzie to a high leadership role to improve his image and to ensure that he had someone checking his moves all the time. Will blabbing about Mackenzie’s pregnancy was pretty hilarious, and there’s no denying the effectiveness of the show’s final scene, showing each person’s face and then ending with Will introducing the news as he surely will every night for the foreseeable future of this show were it to continue. I liked this season much more than season two, and I just wish that we got to see more episodes like the second and third installments of this season. I’ll make a list someday of shows I would immediately resurrect, and this would be near the top of the list since it didn’t have the opportunity to fully realize its potential and should have lasted much longer.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: A-
Season MVP: Olivia Munn as Sloan
Season grade: A-
Series MVP: Jeff Daniels as Will
Best Season: Season 1
Best Episode: “The Greater Fool”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 3, Episode 7 “The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction” (B+)

After a concerningly uninteresting episode last week that made me reconsider whether I should be watching this show on a weekly basis, this hour did well by providing an intriguing and immensely watchable plot: the hunt for a criminal who kills people and leaves a distinct trace of nutmeg at the scene. Deducing that it was in fact a cleaner who connected all the victims rather than a killer made things even more enticing, and then to learn that the cleaner himself was cleaned by an apprentice whose criminal father was concerned that his secrets would be spilled was interesting indeed. Though there’s some unnecessary back-and-forth about who does what and who wants to be there, the new trio of Sherlock, Watson, and Kitty actually works pretty well. Sherlock, to his credit, is giving Kitty appropriate commendation for the things she does right, allowing her to play her music at full volume during normal quiet hours after it was her observation that led to a major breakthrough in the case. Her response – to play a much calmer, more Sherlock-friendly musical choice – was sweet. Sherlock butting into Watson’s romantic life is nothing new, but this episode allowed him to portray her in a negative light, stirring up understandable resentment from her and a decent defense in the end after Christian Camargo’s doctor hired Watson to find out who stole his ID and then asked her out. The shot of her preparing dinner alone in the apartment wasn’t optimistic, but at least she’s not letting Sherlock take over her life too much.

What I’m Watching: A to Z

A to Z: Season 1, Episode 9 “I is for Ill Communication” (D-)

Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but terrible quality can contradict that pretty fast, meaning that I was anticipating the return of this show after a two-week hiatus, but watching it even for just a few minutes reminded me of how terrible it’s become. Over the course of a mere nine episodes, this is not the first time that we’ve seen Andrew and Zelda lie to each other and feign excitement about doing something or starting a tradition that neither actually wants to do. While many relationship may undergo the same process of figuring out how to be honest with each other, this has become tiresome and contradicts the excitable and eager way in which these two usually communicate with each other. Stu and Stephie continue to exist just to serve as angels and devils on their best friends’ shoulders without having compelling personalities of their own, and we’ve already seen Stu be unnecessary confrontational and possessive around Zelda while Stephie, who is usually much more prickly and selective about who she spends her time with, seems more than happy to embrace Andrew and his impulsive nature. The scene at Burbank Airport was full of awkwardness, and saying “I love you” to each other should have come at a better moment that wasn’t as laced with resentment and inexplicably available last-minute Christmas flights (see also this week’s episode of “New Girl”). Howard being pushed to go on a date to save the company was just the latest act of workplace depravity we’ve seen from Lydia, but at least they got a tender moment together working over the holiday, which is about as much as we can hope for when it comes to the awful product that is Wallflower.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 10 “Haley’s 21st Birthday” (C+)

When awards show nominations were unveiled last week, it’s interesting to see how Screen Actors Guild members still like their own, rewarding Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, and the ensemble with repeat nominations, while the Golden Globes dumped Sofia Vergara and the show itself for the first time in its history. I’m of the opinion that this show is still better than some, but it’s lost much of its magic and creativity. This installment represents what’s most often problematic about this show, which is that it’s theoretically funny but then ends up being way too choreographed to be effective or, more importantly, actually funny. The best and most lamentable example of that is Lily asking her older cousins about how babies are made, which dragged on for a while before she revealed to her befuddled relatives that, despite her confidence, she in fact had no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t hard to figure out where Jay’s overconfidence in thinking that he could get the better deal on a car was going, though I did expect Phil to prevail and be able to score his original price instead of Jay bribing the salesman to say that he gave him the deal. At least we got to see Phil light up at the notion that Jay actually what he thinks of him. I wasn’t too taken with the gay men dancing with overeager women at the bar, and it was much more entertaining to see Haley open up to her mother in an ill-advised way. Claire ending up with a tattoo was definitely not expected and, while out of character to a degree, still enjoyable.

Exciting Success with Predictions!

Whenever I make predictions for major awards show on this site and Movies With Abe, I log my predictions over at Gold Derby, which is a fantastic site that can essentially be described as Fantasy Football for film and TV awards. It turns out that I was ranked #1 in predictions for the Golden Globes nominations this year!

I've been meaning to post it - check out the article about my predictions and explore the fantastic website that is Gold Derby!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy (Series Finale)

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 13 “Papa’s Goods”

As far as series finales go, I think this one probably won’t be as talked-about, mainly because it’s pretty solid and shouldn’t create much controversy. It’s not the series’ best episode, but that’s because the show has already delivered numerous devastating and unforgettable hours, or in the case of this season, much more than an hour. Getting what probably amounts to an extra 120 or so minutes of this show this season has been worthwhile since there has been considerable storytelling to do, and good for Kurt Sutter and FX for having a partnership strong enough that allows him to get the time he needs to wrap up his plotlines (Aaron Sorkin deserved similar treatment from HBO for “The Newsroom” and certainly didn’t get it).

Breaking down this episode requires an examination of what Jax did and what he didn’t do, and whether those things make him a good person when all is said and done. Confessing Gemma’s role in Tara’s murder to Patterson was a noble move, one that places all blame firmly on his shoulders and makes sure that there is no continued collateral damage. Killing Marks was an obvious choice, one that protects his club from further retribution, and offing Barofsky was a way to show that loyalty is valued above all. Executing the Irish and endorsing Conor showed that they’re looking for business deals and not to kill people just for the sake of it. He had his sweet parting moments with his sons, with Lyla, with Opie and Tara at their graves, and with his club. Not meeting Mr. Mayhem makes it so that his sons won’t blame the club for killing him but instead he gets them to see him as cowardly for driving into a truck instead and not facing the consequences of his actions.

To have Michael Chiklis return as the driver of the truck that he crashed into is an interesting if not fully necessary move, and my only curiosity would be what happens to his character, since sending an innocent man to jail for manslaughter is hardly a worthwhile final act. I suspect, however, that the long trail of police cars following Jax would support the fact that he turned into the truck’s path and that Chiklis’ trucker in not to blame at all. Having Chiklis there at the very end helps to underscore this as a serious contender for the title of best FX show since “The Shield,” and series regular Walton Goggins’ presence in the series finale of “Justified” this spring will do the same for the other top contender. Looking back at my season finale reviews over the years, I gave season two an A and every season since then an A-. That’s pretty solid. This has been a wild, violent ride, and a very worthwhile contribution to television from a singular mind.

Series finale: B+
Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Charlie Hunnam as Jax
Series grade: A-
Series MVP: Some combination of Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff, and Charlie Hunnam
Best Season: Season 2
Best Episode: TBD

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 10 “What They Become” (B-)

After a strong start to the season, this episode was a bit of a mess since it charged into the mythology full-throttle and made a very important and not entirely believable character changes happen. It’s a questionable move to head into a four-month hiatus with most of your characters trapped inside tunnels and caves that have just collapsed, but this show has been pretty bold for the second half of its life so far. Probably the most monumental moment of this episode was the long-awaited reunion of Skye and her father, who we now know is named Cal. Though at first he seemed a bit too crazy, it became clear that he was motivated by good, and it didn’t take long for Skye to call him dad, even if it was only to stop him from killing Coulson. The current head of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasted no time in shooting Whitehall, which was strange given how many enemies they’ve left standing and what mysteries still remain unsolved. Ward revealed himself to be loyal to Skye and Agent 33, who may now too be for hire, and it will be intriguing to see where they end up now that Hydra as an institution is crumbling. That’s not the only thing that’s crumbling, and poor Trip was just trying to be a hero and save Skye. Instead, she managed to be reborn in some way, as did Raina, it appears, while Trip turned to stone and disintegrated. The tragic aftermath of all this is sure to play out dramatically in March when the show returns after yielding its timeslot to “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” and then we’ll get to deal with this freaky man with no ones and what ominous threat he represents.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 4, Episode 11 “LAXmas” (D+)

Now this was just an annoying episode. This show has been formulaic and uncreative before without resorting to parading around an airport where Jess inexplicably is in charge of everyone’s travel arrangements and our once-beloved characters somehow manage to get on and off flights on one of the busiest travel days of the year with remarkable ease. Ryan being really rich is a very contrived plotline since he’s already charming and too perfect in most ways, so adding that complicating layer feels forced, especially if he’s so humble that he uses his money to fly back to the U.S. to surprise Jess after he thought that her flight was cancelled. An extravagantly priced ticket is the only explanation for him landing at the same time as her, and therefore it’s hard to understand how she managed to get on a flight too. Nick and Winston ending up in first class was mildly enjoyable, but I don’t believe that they’d really get up and then end up in the seat right next to the bathroom squished into the aisle by a very large man in the window seat. I was disappointed by Billy Eichner’s guest spot as the flight attendant who befriended Jess since he toned down his crazy too much, something I thought I’d never say, to just seem vindictive and cruel. The other notable guest star was also a bit too one-note, and that was Barry Bostwick of “Spin City” as the rich man who prompted Schmidt to start calling him a bitch in the first class lounge. I’m glad Schmidt and Cece are friends but I’d love to see it play out in a less immature and embarrassing way. I’m also always thrilled about seeing Jewish characters forgetting that they don’t celebrate Christmas.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Man in the Yellow Suit” (B)

To say this was my least favorite episode so far isn’t all that bad, but I just didn’t feel that it was as finessed as the other hours that came before it, and it tried to cram too much into just one episode that left things feeling very unresolved going into a six-week hiatus. It introduced Reverse-Flash, who killed Barry’s mom and who seems set on being his nemesis, it brought Caitlin face-to-face with her dead fiancĂ©, who has now become Firestorm, and it had Barry confess his feelings to Iris. Reverse-Flash isn’t all that cool of a villain, mainly because he has the same powers as Barry but with a whole lot extra, and he has some sinister relationship with Dr. Wells, though they likely had a falling out given the thrashing Dr. Wells got in the force field. The ending scene is perplexing at best, but I’m not sure we’re meant to understand exactly what’s going on, since Dr. Wells being Reverse-Flash doesn’t exactly track. It would have been far more dramatic if Firestorm had popped up a few times before revealing himself to Caitlin, and then he showed up to save the day in the lab, which was cool but felt a bit odd. Hopefully he’ll serve a better and clearer purpose in the future. I’m really not up to date with my Flash mythology, but that just means that I never know if a character or concept is original to the show or dates back decades. Iris and Eddie moving in together does seem a bit fast, and I don’t think there’s any part of Barry’s confession of love for Iris that was well-timed or well-received. That’s sure to be awkward now when the show returns for what’s sure to be an exciting back half or so of its first season in January.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 8 “Chapter Eight” (B+)

I’m not sure I’ve ever properly conveyed how much I enjoy this show’s rhythmic music. It helps to drive it forward in a certain way and quite literally underscore some of its more melodramatic and comedic moments. This episode was full of developments, particularly one that was quite predictable but still managed to be compelling in how it played out. Rafael did not react well to the news that Jane was a virgin, but we’ve seen that he’s not sleazy enough to get drunk and sleep with another woman just because he’s upset. I like that the way Jane learned the truth was because the prostitute hired to pretend to sleep with him was a religious woman who happened to have a Jane the Virgin necklace. Rafael coming clean with Jane about his financial involvement in the lawsuit and them sparking was sweet, and maybe this relationship, which I never would have imagined working, might just last. It’s good to know that Michael is doing just fine in the romance department, irresponsibly sleeping with his partner as he prepares for what’s sure to be a messy pursuit of Sin Rostro. Petra and Lachlan’s antics are troublesome, to be sure, but the biggest Solano family drama was Luisa’s return and Rose’s smart but cruel decision to make it seem like Luisa was crazy since she was feeling too honest. Xiomara’s music plotline wasn’t all that enticing, but I’m definitely a fan of Xiomara and Rogelio ending up together, which this advances.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 1, Episode 8 (B+)

The way this episode started out, I was ready to call it the best hour of this series so far. I might still, but Allison’s time at the hospital with her grandmother wasn’t as strong as much of what happened with Noah individually and with both of them earlier in the episode. Starting off with Noah being awesome at his teaching job gave us a chance to see him thriving, something that he hasn’t been allowed to do at any point yet on this show, and that was a treat. When he went to meet Helen at the restaurant, it wasn’t clear if they were still together or not, and it seems that they quite literally pretended to forget about his indiscretion, though his eagerness to go to the Hamptons to attend his father-in-law’s award did get Helen suspicious. They’re pretty blunt and honest with each other these days, as evidenced by Helen’s admission that she married Noah because he was safe and his response that the news didn’t surprise him. I’d vote for Noah’s attempt to give his son advice on math and bullies over Helen’s unsubtle “Are you bulimic” question to which she got a terrific response from her teenage daughter: “Yes, mom, take me back to therapy.” Noah’s alone time with Bruce was extremely interesting as the older of the two told Noah that he had a muse and she helped him write, and he regretted not keeping it going. Driving your mistress to the hospital so that she can see her dying grandmother is hardly romantic, but this affair is obviously not over. Even in Allison’s recollection, which mostly had to do with Cole stressing over selling the ranch and fighting with her mother over how to take care of her grandmother, the two of them said I love you to each other. Referencing Romeo and Juliet and how it only turned tragic towards the end couldn’t have been more foreboding.

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 10 “13 Hours in Islamabad” (B)

This was a dramatic and resounding hour in many ways, but it didn’t feel like “Homelamd.” I thought for a moment that I was watching “24” again with high-level government authorities standing just feet away from terrorists who managed to tunnel under the embassy and start a shooting rampage. This show has always been a subtler, less boots-on-the-ground thriller, and while this season has taken place almost entirely in the field, it still didn’t quite reach this level. This was a difficult hour to watch with all of the loss of human life for seemingly meaningless reasons, particularly Fara being identified as a Muslim, used as bait to get Lockhart to open the door, and then executed even after he complied. Max has barely ever spoken, and to see him spring into action and then blame Carrie for never giving her any positive reinforcement was a rarity. What really perplexes me is why it would possibly be a good idea for the list of undercover assets not to be destroyed as soon as they found out the compound was breached, and why anyone thought giving it to the most senior official – the only one who the attacking terrorists could identify by name – is beyond me. Hopefully it won’t mean doom and death for Quinn, who charged back into the field to link cell phones and find Haqqani all by himself. Leaving Carrie alone in Islamabad to help him is also worrisome, but this show has two whole hours to wrap up the mostly coherent and compelling dramatic mess it’s created this season.