Friday, May 29, 2015

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 4, Episode 7 “Mommy Meyer” (B+)

It’s very interesting to see more and more of Hugh Laurie’s Tom James, who really is impossibly charming but definitely has some far-out views and opinions on things. Likening a shooter to his victims was a serious misstep, but he managed to walk it back without even explicitly apologizing, convincing everyone that he was just a nice guy deserving of their forgiveness. Talking about legalizing drugs threw everyone for a loop, but fortunately he expressed that he is smart enough not to ever air those beliefs in public. Selina’s old friends saying they’d support her terrible bill if he was selling it was not a positive development, and it descended quickly into a rather mean gathering, culminating in Selina being unnecessarily protected by a legion of bodyguards while her friend was in harm’s way but apparently immune because Selina herself was the only person who would want to kill her. I enjoyed Gary reminding Selina of a fun memory to share, Catherine being yelled at for eating ice cream, and Selina chastising one of the agents for trying to grab food from the table. I don’t think I’ve conveyed how much I love Richard as a character, the perfect veep for the eternally hapless Jonah. Watching Dan and Amy compete as siblings of a sort is great fun, and I think this is the perfect job for both of them, selling their souls while mercilessly convincing others to do things that in the long run will surely not benefit them.

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 2, Episode 7 “Adult Content” (B+)

It’s nice to see Richard score a win every once in a while. His frustration with not being seen or heard was compounded by being misidentified as Erlich when he walked in calling himself the CEO, and Russ’ solution of buying the company that stole their idea and essentially swallowing up Pied Piper was hardly fair or intelligent. It’s not too shocking that Pied Piper will end up being a bastion of the porn world rather than some more legitimate industry, and this is one way that they might actually be able to make money. I love that Gilfoyle justified his theft in his usual deadpan way by noting the stupidity of a CEO to leave his password written on a post-it note with enemy programmers in the building. Dinesh’s romance seemed so set to pan out, and of course a saved wi-fi password meant that she had been a former and apparently current flame of Erlich’s, which is a disappointment. I enjoyed the awkwardness of Jared and Richard discussing layoffs within earshot of the employees they might have to lay off. Big Head’s presentation of his miraculous idea was pretty terrific, and the best part was clearly when he revealed to a horrified Gavin that this technology might in fact be available within their lifetimes. That the group decided to take lunch before getting to work is yet another instance of their commitment to unproductivity, a remarkable thing that the maniacal, self-involved Gavin can’t seem to stop and notice.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What I’m Watching: Happyish

Happyish: Season 1, Episode 5 “Starring Josey Wales, Jesus Christ and The New York Times” (B+)

This is definitely the best episode this show has aired yet, and I’m pleased to see it developing into something that isn’t so entirely pessimistic, able to let its characters breathe for a moment and enjoy life every once in a while. The timing of this train-centric episode is really something, and the offscreen death of one anonymous commuter feels so insignificant in comparison to the casualties and extreme nature of the real-life Amtrak crash that occurred several weeks ago near Philadelphia. Thom being inconvenienced and stopped for several hours on his way to work is nothing like a derailment that might actually cause him some harm or threaten his life. I like that the stillness caused the woman sitting next to him to reconsider whether she should be reading the New York Times rather than try to push him to her way of thinking, while the woman behind him proselytized her aggressive seatmate. I love that Thom turned around and went home to surprise Jules and Lee in the snow, and that he was having an actual human moment while Gottfrid was criticizing his priorities. I wasn’t so fond of Lee suffering through a neverending story from a Holocaust survivor since this show’s obsession with Lee’s hatred of Holocaust guilt is far from my favorite of this show, but it serves Lee right that an offhand remark should result in an hourslong diatribe from an oblivious visitor. It seemed to affect her a lot, but she’s the one who brought it up to someone she mistakenly thought was harmless.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 7 “The Gift” (B+)

Though it’s not uncommon on this show, power is shifting drastically in more than a few places. Starting with something relatively insignificant, Sansa begged poor Theon to go give the signal to Brienne that she needed rescuing, and he ran straight to Ramsey to tell all to him. Ramsey and Joffrey aren’t all that different, and casually showing her the corpse of the ally who could have saved her was fitting for his particular brand of cruelty. Olenna going to see the High Sparrow and cavorting with him about not being able to kneel because of bad knees and hips was a falsely light reintroduction to Margaery’s imprisonment. Cersei’s trip to Margaery’s cell was full of spite, but just as soon as she thought that she had made her latest play and executed it successfully, a face from the past reemerged and the High Sparrow imprisoned another member of the royal family to face trial and certain conviction. I don’t see Tommen being strong enough to outwit the zealot, but maybe Olenna and Baelish will prove helpful once they realize just how much of a threat he is. Bronn’s cellbound flirtation nearly turned deadly for him, and it’s clear that his female neighbors mean serious business. Stannis said winter is coming, but it’s already here, and what a ferocious start with Sam standing up for Gilly to two would-be rapists from the Night’s Watch. Jorah made a formidable showing to Daenerys with a mask on, and it’s a good thing that Tyrion ran out and announced himself to the befuddled queen before he got carted off and locked away. I’m curious to see what this alliance could bring and if it could dramatically help all three parties.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 3, Episode 6 “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” (B+)

This was certainly an intense episode, one that shifts the landscape and changes things dramatically. It’s never been clear what we’re supposed to make of Paul, but this episode emphasized the fact that he has always been a good person caught in a bad situation. The home videos we saw in this episode clearly show that Art wasn’t the only one in love with Beth, a haunting character we barely got to know. Apparently, he has been spying to find something that Virginia was doing wrong, and as soon as he found it, he tried to take charge and imprison, only to be undone by his own superiors. Fortunately, he managed to take out his share as he died, though it may only be infrastructure as Mark and Virginia may well have survived just like Sarah did. Helena eating the talking scorpion was a triumphant victory for Helena’s return to relative sanity, and it was great to see her return to save the day just as Sarah could have been buried by the explosion behind her. Felix was in full revenge mode in this episode, ready to torture Rachel to get answers about Sarah, with Scott hopelessly standing by. It’s wonderful to see Cosima so happy, and Delphine’s return couldn’t have been any more poorly-timed. Alison and Donnie dancing in a pile of money was wholly ridiculous, and while I love the idea of them running a drug front, it’s painfully obvious that Donnie’s stupidity and jealousy are going to doom the entire operation from the start.

Pilot Review: Between

Between (Netflix)
Premiered May 21

In the continually developing realm of television partnerships, what we have here is a Netflix coproduction with Canadian network City for this six-episode series that will premiere simultaneously on the American streaming service and on the Canadian broadcaster. What’s most interesting about this show is that it includes an almost entirely unknown cast, something which might actually be to its benefit given that experiencing the apocalypse is often more believable if familiar faces aren’t popping up at every turn. The idea of a virus wiping out all adults and leaving only children is definitely an alluring concept – and I distinctly remember reading some book about such an event when I was a kid though I can’t recall what it was. There are multiple issues, of course, that arise out such a lofty premise, many of which are not resolved in this pilot. Containing the outbreak of this virus to just one area can be handled by not allowing the adults from outside the perimeter in for fear of contracting it, but there are still those over 21 outside who can affect decisions about policies within. Some adults, like Chuck’s father, take much longer to die and therefore still have the ability to practice odd and archaic forms of punishment like tarring and feathering those who offend him. I prefer the idea of the 21-year-old teacher who is going to end up being the moral compass as the elder of the surviving residents. This may be too aimed at young adults for my taste, but if the writing and characters were a bit better, this show could actually be decently compelling, and now is just the time to launch when it may manage to build and attract an audience.

How will it work as a series? Netflix is unfurling this show one episode per week, which is how I watch all of my shows but a notable departure from its unusual all at once format. That should allow suspense and anticipation to build, but especially if this show gets better as it goes along, it could well lose viewers who might be more likely to binge now than wait patiently until more shows premiere this summer.
How long will it last? It’s hard to know how ratings will be measured since Netflix data is remarkably hard to come by and its future isn’t entirely dependent upon its success in Canada. I think this show won’t attract the viewership it wants to and that six episodes will be all it gets.

Pilot grade: C+

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Take Three: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 3 “The Dinner” (B)

This show is proceeding along consistently, and though I don’t love it yet, I’m definitely getting attached to it and enjoying it. There’s plenty of uncertainty and awkwardness involved in figuring out how to navigate the new state of things, and I like that the fathers are being factored heavily into the plot of the show. It turns out that Grace and Frankie didn’t find out about the big family dinner being held without them, but they faced their own challenges unrelated to their ex-husbands. Grace going back to work only to find out that she was no longer the face of her own company because Brianna wanted to go with something more relevant was rough, and her meltdown at the checkout counter wasn’t pretty. Frankie’s humiliation wasn’t as public but it was still miserable, as she thought she was interviewing for a job but instead was being given a tour of a retirement home as a prospective resident. While Brianna is definitely the harsher of the two sisters, it was Mallory who needed a drink most to get through the dinner, which also gave us some insight into exactly what Coyote did to make her hate him so much. It’s interesting to see how something as simple as Robert taking Sol’s hand and calling him babe can so unsettle their adult children, and it is abundantly clear that there is nothing about this transition that is going to be easy or solvable with just one tasty if overdiscussed dinner.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 1, Episode 7 “Stick” (B)

There’s something about a guest character that can reinvigorate and refocus a show so completely as he or she takes over an entire episode. Scott Glenn’s Stick did that and more as Stick, the blind instructor who taught Matt to be who he is and to use the abilities he lacked to his advantage. Meeting him mid-decapitation signaled that he wasn’t going to be the kind of ally Matt wanted, someone who would agree not to kill anyone while they were working together. Watching the two blind men fight was certainly enticing as they both employ skills that are pretty visually incredible, and both demonstrate such an expert mastering of their surroundings despite not being able to see. I learned more than I ever would have expected about a vanilla ice cream cone and all the things contained within it, and it’s a truly intriguing perspective on the more insignificant things in life. Stick’s talk of half-measures, reminiscent of “Breaking Bad” midway through its run, emphasized that Matt really has taken the unusual path by not using his talents to become a villain. It’s good to see that Karen is ready and willing to defend him while others such as Foggy want to punch him in the face, though she’ll get herself in more than enough trouble trying to straighten the spaghetti with Ben. I like how Ben has charted out crime in Hell’s Kitchen and cast Fisk as the king and Daredevil as the jack. On a lighter note, I love Karen’s hilariously uncensored language and enjoyed Foggy’s reference to Claire as “Hottie McBurnerphone.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

What I’m Watching: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1, Episode 12 “Kimmy Goes to Court!” (B)

This show is in full absurdist mode, and a return to Durnsville for more of the trial only enhances that. I like that Kimmy isn’t relegated to being shocked at what is happening during the trial and that she is instead trying to be proactive and take an active role in finding something that can put the reverend away for good. There’s no end to Jon Hamm’s magnificent charm, turning Wayne into a local hero who babbles garbage and watches the townsfolk eat it up. It’s not as if Durnsville has much in the way of intellect to recommend itself, though we at least are supposed to believe that Randy is the least competent member of the police department, which suggests that the normal brand of stupidity is at least a degree higher. The four Mole Women are all so radically different, and bringing them all together again is fun. I’m extremely curious to know what they found in the bunker, and I’m sure that will be front and center in the season finale. Titus’ ascension to stardom was doomed from the start, and seeing the guy from the opening credits as a has-been cautionary tale was great. There’s almost nothing I could think of that would be worse for Titus than being a meme, and he played so majestically into it by doing as much as humanly possible to embarrass himself while he was unknowingly on camera. He’ll never be able to live down that shame, and I’m sure it’s going to plague him for a long time.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards (Season Finale)

House of Cards: Season 3, Episode 13 “Chapter 39” (B)

After such an intense season, I’m not wholly sure about this finale compared to the rest of it. The most significant development of the episode is one that, by the time it happens, is inevitable: Claire leaving Frank. He’s always been cruel, but rarely to her, instead justifying his next power move as relevant and crucial to them as a couple. Now, after she expresses a legitimate acknowledgment that she’ll never be his equal, he explodes and tells her that she doesn’t deserve any of it and needs to bend to his will to help bolster him. Truthfully, leaving him is the most damaging thing she can do, far less ambiguous than not being at his side for campaign events. Though her political prowess has never been her best asset considering the public’s reaction to her interest in wanting to be ambassador, it’s still possible that she could end up winning some other office of her own as the more likeable of the two. At least Frank is keeping his other allies close, like Dough, with his unexpected knowledge and approval of his field trip to go take care of Rachel, who at first successfully pleaded for his life and then ended up buried in an anonymous ditch, providing Doug some closure and a clear transformation from a man who could barely walk to one who can beat someone like Gavin with his cane. Tom’s meeting with Claire was enlightening, and he hit the nail on the head when he said that neither she nor Frank ever answer a question directly. This season has been good, merging drama and scandal on a regular basis, and I look forward to seeing where a surely more divided season four takes us.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Kevin Spacey

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Round Two: Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines: Season 1, Episode 2 “Do Not Discuss Your Life Before” (B-)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this show, because in one sense it seems to be proceeding along at an accelerated rate, revealing quite a bit about its town and its rules and even publicly executing one of its main characters in its second episode. Certain major questions still remain, like why everyone thinks it’s 2000 and why they all comply with these rules if most of them are in fact outsiders who have been deemed not allowed to try to leave, to talk about their lives before, etc. It’s hardest to read Kate, who we know tried to communicate some secret message by the porch fan to Ethan and now emotionlessly converses with all the. She also seemed somewhat turned off by watching Beverly’s execution, signifying that maybe she isn’t as completely in line with the town and its rules as it seems. I like that Ethan is figuring out subtler ways to push the boundaries, like calling the Seattle office and tricking the secretary into admitting that she isn’t actually in a real place. Theresa and Ben driving to Idaho is worrisome, but I suspect that they won’t be able to find Ethan since only a fatal car crash or some other devastating incident can actually send you to Wayward Pines. We’ll see if this show continues to be alluring and intriguing or if it gets lost in its own convoluted rabbit hole instead as it unfurls more and more of its mystery and what it is that makes this town so creepy.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family (Season Finale)

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 24 “American Skyper” (B-)

This wasn’t a terrible season finale, with a few entertaining plotlines and lines mixed in to otherwise unimpressive scenarios. There was also a good deal of sweetness included, particularly with Alex, who got an amazing heartfelt gift from Mitchell and then an extremely generous one from Jay, and still told Claire that she didn’t need anything from her but instead wanted to invite her to come with her to Europe. I think I enjoyed Haley’s storyline most since she’s rarely more aware than everyone else around her. In this case, however, she was the only one who realized that Beth straight up hated her and might be crazy. Phil was on fire with the robot humor, and it was very funny that his audio cut out just as Haley and Andy were embracing and he realized that they actually had feelings for each other right before Andy was set to propose to Beth. It’s good, if nothing else, to see Mitchell relaxing, enjoying his time off with his new pal in the park, playing checkers and spending hours on a memory book for Alex, and fortunately Cam’s affair suspicions didn’t take him too far off the ledge. Jay suspecting Gloria’s cousin of stealing from them provided a few humorous moments of translation but otherwise nothing too worthwhile. This episode was emblematic of a lackluster season, even if it was slightly better than most of the installments throughout the past year. This show will be back for another season and surely plenty more, and I’m not sure if it will ever be the consistent, creative show it once was.

Season grade: C+
Season MVP: Ty Burrell

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 1, Episode 10 “Mr. Berserk” (B+)

That this show could follow up the whopper of an episode that was last week’s and not even feature the villainous Blaine is a testament to its quality and to the fact that it has plenty going on to fill its episodes. Liv eagerly ingesting alcoholic brains in order to rid herself of her PTSD wasn’t a good sign, though it did do just the trick in terms of giving her an ace journalism interest that helped them get to the bottom of exactly what was going on with Max Rager. There hasn’t been an instance since the near-death of Liv’s hapless brother in her apartment that Liv has been so directly put in harm’s way as when she was attacked with a blow that should have killed her and ended up about to be thrown to the bottom of the ocean aboard creepy cleaner Sebastian’s boat. It’s a good thing her zombie nature kicked in when it did, but it’s bad news that licking her face was enough to turn him into a zombie, one who could end up an unlikely ally for Liv in this new life but will likely be a dangerous enemy. Liv allowing Major to think he’s crazy and check himself into a mental institution might have seemed like the best idea at the time, but unfortunately it appears that others have been sent down similar routes and now Major has an answer for what’s going on. It’s about time Suzuki sat down with Liv to let her know he’s a zombie and figure out a way to keep him fed and solve the whole Blaine problem. Steven Weber’s guest spot wasn’t big, but he’s just the actor to play the part of a seedy operator well aware of the dangers of his product and more than willing to ignore them for the sake of business.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

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

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 23 “Fast Enough” (B+)

Now this is a season finale. Everything was building towards a big showdown with Wells, but instead what we got was a different deal, which involved Barry getting to reset his past and save his mother’s life in exchange for Wells, or, rather, Eobard, getting to go back to his time. Barry deciding that he shouldn’t save his mother but instead give both of them the opportunity to say goodbye was immensely moving, and then he raced back to the present to cancel Eobard’s ticket back to his time, declaring that he liked his life. The ensuing battle was certainly chaotic, and who would have expected Eddie to do something significant and sacrifice himself in order to ensure that Eobard would never be born? I read before I watched this episode that this show would feature parallel timelines next season, and I’m incredibly excited since, while wormholes are exciting, nothing beats alternate universes. I’d love to see how Barry could grow up with both parents and have the real Wells help him to become the Flash, with all the characters behaving slightly differently. I don’t know exactly what’s in store, but I do know that this show has been superb this season and I’m incredibly eager to see where season two takes it. And I like that the erasure of Eobard doesn’t necessarily mean the death of Harrison Wells (in fact, it saves the real Wells’ life). I can’t wait to see where season two heads, even if it doesn’t emphasize another reality – this one is more than sufficient already.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Grant Gustin as Barry

Friday, May 22, 2015

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 4, Episode 6 “Storms and Pancakes” (B+)

It’s inarguable that Hugh Laurie has been a spectacular addition to this show, not expressing much enthusiasm on a regular basis but shining in just the moments he needs to, which has managed to piss Selina off more than anything since she’d rather have the spotlight. The look in her eyes when he offered up a dairy-free pancake batter was priceless, and he doesn’t seem to have enough energy in him to develop resentment towards her, but she’ll certainly try to keep him down so that he doesn’t overshadow her. I love that Dan getting Amy a job means a demotion for him and plenty more benefits for Amy, and while Dan hasn’t managed to deliver much since beginning in his new role, Amy is the perfect fit, capable of promising to skewer others and then actually deliver on it. I’m a huge fan of the subtle character interactions on this show, and Ben stopping by to complain to Sue about how lonely and quiet it is when everyone is gone was a nice touch. That she responded by later hiding from him so that she wouldn’t have to make conversation was very entertaining. Selina isn’t the vice-president anymore, but showing up to the wrong place after declaring a state of emergency when there wasn’t even any inclement weather is exactly the type of ironic mishap that used to befall her all the time. Her post may have changed, but the harsh, devastatingly sarcastic way she reacts to such a situation hasn’t changed a bit. I like that Jonah’s post-Teddy plotline is going in this direction since it’s entertaining to watch Jonah react so horribly to the fact that all of the women he met look just like him.