Thursday, July 20, 2017

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 6 “One More Card to Play” (B+)

I like just how frequently we have the opportunity to see interdimensional interlopers like the bad versions of Portia and Boone show up, though I’ll admit it gets very, very confusing, especially since the alternate doubles don’t have distinguishing features like, say, a goatee that Mirror Universe Spock wore that help viewers tell him apart. It’s also hard to remember and keep track of who’s still alive where and all that. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out where I remembered Wexler from since I was convinced it was more than just this show, and it turns out that Ennis Esmer also stars as neighbor Dave on “You, Me, Her.” He’s certainly among the more sympathetic slimy characters aboard the other version of the Raza, whose crew had no problem spacing a bunch of prisoners to advance their evil aims. Capturing Three and switching him out for their Boone was a smart play, but fortunately Five saw through it and then did her very best to negotiate with Tash. Their android deciding to shoot Tash and talk to Five herself was great, and I enjoyed the very logical discussion between the two androids when they were doing their prisoner exchange. They’re back in Commander Truffault’s good graces, which is a positive, and they’ve lost Adrian and Solara, which means their numbers are down. More problematically, the other Portia has made a new ally in Commander Nieman, a development that can’t be good for the crew of our Raza.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 5 “Sing It, White Effie” (B+)

I’d hope that Emmy voters wise up to the fact that, not only is this show deserving of more than two total Emmy nominations, but Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox, while both great, are no longer the standout performers on this show. In fact, I’d argue that Taylor Schilling shouldn’t be considered a lead since she plays such a minor part these days. This season so far belongs to Danielle Brooks as Taystee, though others deserve mention too, and there’s no denying the powerful nature of her speech at the end of this episode, refusing to let a white woman like Judy King who hadn’t actually experienced any true hardship in prison speak for her. It was a powerful moment for Janae too, making her flashback, highlighted by her reaction to watching white women play the pivotal “Dreamgirls” roles in a school play, all the more meaningful. The fact that Angie had the gun on her belt the whole time and that Pennsatucky opted to give it to Donuts so that he could make his escape was probably for the best given that the gun hasn’t done anyone any good so far. While Luschek trying to hum at a certain pitch to get Stratman to be able to go the bathroom was undeniably funny, it’s disturbing to see that he too ended up trapped inside a sealed porter potty outside the prison in the full heat just two units down from a similarly stranded Caputo. Maria’s discovery that she hadn’t actually had time added to her sentence is an important indicator of how different life inside can be since it’s impossible to know what’s actually going on from the outside, and I think that Aleida’s forthcoming TV appearance is sure to be enlightening in a different way than she expects.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 8 “Kimmy Does a Puzzle!” (B+)

This episode was decidedly more absurd than even this show usually is. I think we can all agree that no one aside from Titus thought that he had actually eaten Dionne Warwick, played to excess by Maya Rudolph, clearly having fun hamming it up and going way beyond any sort of impersonation is meant to. The real story turned out to be far more believable if still inspired by this show’s totally ridiculous nature, and made to seem all the more extravagant and dramatic thanks to the style of Titus’ telling. If there’s one thing that he’s easily susceptible to – and there are many – it’s the allure of fame, and therefore his first thought upon finding out that Dionne had recovered from exposure to hot tub water was to get some more and make sure that she got sick right away again. Poisoning literally everyone on the ship but him so that they all threw up on stage during the performance was quite a powerful accident, and I think it’s safe to say that Warwick turned out to be fine, unlike those who live between exits 1-82 in New Jersey. My favorite part of this episode was actually Peter Riegert’s Artie, who was more than willing to accept Titus’ argument that a shell could be pasta and has just generally done a superb job of acclimating to this show’s distinctive style, helping to make this episode about a funker truly entertaining despite its insanity and token detachment from anyone’s sense of reality.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 8 “Masks” (B+)

Now, this is more like it. After a season that’s felt all over the place, here’s an hour that actually is but still manages to seem much more coherent and compelling. Cole and Cassandra definitely have some cool new tricks as they fight their pursuers and use their time suits to jump around and gain the upper hand, though there’s also some artistry going on, like Cassandra having to improvise after getting her hands tied behind her back mid-fight. I enjoyed watching Cole teaching Cassandra how to pickpocket followed by her showing him how to dance, and they needed all the preparation they could given that Jones herself deemed it worthwhile to travel back in time to express just how furious she was that Cole had betrayed her. Fortunately, Jennifer used her turtle to cause a paradox so that a perfectly willing Dr. Lasky could send her back in time to dress up in the witness mask and shoot fireworks off as a distraction. Jennifer really is endearing, and it’s a shame that she helped them get away and now she’s the one in a cage, something that’s going to continue to drive her crazy. It’s still intriguing to see how the witness has gone down his path, and I didn’t recognize the superb casting choice of James Callis, best known as Gaius Baltar from “Battlestar Galactica,” as the man to play this mythical being who we’ve previously only seen in a mask or as a ghost of sorts writing stuff on the wall in a very creepy way.

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 9 “Amarsi Un Po” (A-)

Now here’s another fantastic episode of this show, an extremely romantic extended installment with so many wonderful moments. Starting with Dev having to get into the sub for a photo shoot so that Jeff could take a bite highlighted the still banal nature of his work even though he was moving on from “Clash of the Cupcakes” to something more substantial, and it helped transition things to a much more poignant love story. Things got off to a superb start with someone on the street congratulating Dev for being an Indian who landed such a hot woman, and I like that it wasn’t a one-sided affair, with Francesca showing her unexpected love for big, variety-filled American pharmacies. Watching them yell at people to finish their food and pretend to be in a huge fight were some great snippets from the episode, as was their discussion of terms like “curry person” and “soy sauce people.” When she texted him while they were sitting with her fiancĂ© and Arnold, that was a big sign that this was all in Dev’s head, despite his nightmare of having her literally rip his heart out. Her getting stranded at his house when the power was out and sleeping over – in the same bed – was another lost opportunity, especially because she noticed that a lot of the women on his celebrity list were Italian. Going for it at the club and then in the helicopter – on a non-private channel – were perfect instances of how even when things seem like they might work out, it’s not always so glamorous or easy. This episode is definitely one of the season’s best, and a sign that Ansari, who wrote and directed this episode, really knows what he’s doing and should be producing a whole lot more TV.

Pilot Review: Snowfall

Snowfall (FX)
Premiered July 5 at 10pm

I’ve been seeing posters for this show for months in the subway, boldly declaring, “This is how crack began.” FX has really risen in quality over the past decade, starting with a few incredible standouts like “The Shield” and “Rescue Me,” and now home to almost a dozen highly-acclaimed series, including three immensely popular anthology series that are going to continue to dominate awards races for years to come for each new iteration. This show has a more specific focus, traveling back to 1983 Los Angeles to chart the lives of a handful of influential individuals in the rise of crack as an American institution. This pilot reminded me a lot of a mix between two popular Netflix shows, “The Get Down” and “Narcos.” It’s styled very much like the former, with popping colors and purposeful backgrounds to ground itself in the time and culture in which it’s meant to take place, and it features an in-depth look at the machinations of the operation involving the CIA’s very direct involvement in and knowledge of international drug trade. I didn’t find it nearly as gripping or involving as either of those, though Damson Idris’ Franklin Saint is an endearing protagonist who seems way too good for this world and who very quickly transformed himself into someone ready to become LA’s top drug dealer just because someone thought he couldn’t do it. I didn’t recognize him when I watched the episode, but I will commend this show on actually casting an Israeli actor, Alon Aboutboul, who starred last year in “Harmonia,” as an Israeli, since so many other series have fabricated accents by people from different places. It’s not a great showcase of the Israeli people, but there’s no denying that this show is multicultural in its portrayal of what went into an epidemic that struck the nation. I don’t feel the need to watch more of this show, but I can understand why some like it.

How will it work as a series? Having four protagonists whose lives are all separate but destined to come together should allow this show to have more than enough material from which to draw and plot out its course, and I have no doubt that there is an interesting web to be spun here that should draw committed viewers in over time.
How long will it last? The reviews are pretty good and the marketing campaign was definitely strong, but the ratings don’t seem to be keeping up with that, starting out okay and then falling in the second week, a usual trend but not one that demands a renewal. I think this show will still end up being picked up for more, but it’s not a guarantee.

Pilot grade: B-

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 6 “Chapter 58” (B+)

Okay, so maybe that final scene in the previous episode shouldn’t have made me speculate that Claire might become president but instead confirm that she had been chosen to serve as acting president. It’s a crazy thing to see her sitting next to Frank and having people unsure of who to address as the president since, technically speaking, no one actually chose him to be president while she was temporarily placed in the role. Watching her debate whether to give him security clearance was a tense moment since he surely would have destroyed her for it, but it’s hard to blame her for thinking about going all in on her own since she had to fight him tooth and nail to get where she is now. Tom is engineering his own little mini-rebellion by having sex with a tour guide in the press room, and I’m sure Claire will be furious once she finds out that he’s actually daring to live his own life. The Russians holding an American responsible for hacking to affect election results feels a bit close to him, and I do wonder how much of this plotline was planned in advance and how much was a middle finger to the current political administration. Watching this episode, I’m puzzled that Emmy voters once again chose Michael Kelly, who is good but mostly stagnant, over Joel Kinnaman, who is doing a tremendous job showcasing Conway’s descent into anger and full-on aggression, demanding to pilot the plane he’s flying and lashing out at everyone around him. It appears that Usher is powerful if nothing else, and things aren’t looking up for Conway given the level of familiarity he showed with the Underwoods.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 7 “The Rat King” (B+)

An episode like this is helpful every once in a while since it brings everyone together from their separate lives to interact in one isolated space. I think it’s very important to note the relationships people had going into everything, and the helpful nature of having everyone couple up. The only truly platonic pair, who I imagine will remain that way, is Alex and Rae. She’s bold and obnoxious, but also starting to turn into more of a human being, allowing them to fight about things like her having allegedly brought a rat from her beloved New York City and his unwillingness to tell his sister the truth despite her nearly spilling the beans more than a few times. The most important revelation, perhaps something that was hinted at before or even fully confirmed when I just wasn’t paying attention, is that Leon and Leia are dating, something that she has totally kept from Val and is sure to be a miserable revelation when it finally comes out. Val is completely unaware, preoccupied with flirting with Jack instead. Leon’s attempts to be humane to the rat were funny, especially since everyone shot him down. And then there’s Laura, who brings over a boss who wants to bring down capitalism and other things like that and has no problem walking around naked in front of her. It doesn’t appear that’s headed anywhere fast enough for Laura to stay interested, but Val sure made an impression going head-to-head with her about her beliefs.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 4 “Let the Children and Childbearers Toil” (B)

I’ll admit that sometimes this show loses me a bit as it begins to drown in its mythology that involves 170-year old men and creatures of the night. Yet there is something very intriguing to me, and logical, about the notion that an imperfect Castor clone with murderous impulses isn’t the worst experiment that those who worked on copying genomes could have created. While an ogre or a monster who runs off in the middle of the woods at night feels a bit cartoonish for this show, Cosima is living on a compound removed from civilization in an environment that feels removed from time. I’m not sure what comes from this since I don’t believe that Cosima is meant to be learning all of this, but Sarah and Mrs. S were also told the same information by Virginia when they snuck in to interrogate her. It was fun to see Sarah play dress up – still an incredible feat by Tatiana Maslany for us to feel that she’s doing that since literally that’s all the actress does – and pretend to the hapless assistant to Mrs. S’s doctor, and luckily they had a distraction from Virginia to allow them to escape before being questioned for just exactly who they were. Adele’s return was far more welcome than her first appearance, and it’s good to see that she’s a firm and dependable ally now. It’s also a relief to see Helena so at peace and aware of where she’s supposed to be, a sign that maybe the good guys will win this thing after all if there’s even still a battle to be fought.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 5 “Give It Up, Princess” (B+)

The Android has always been my favorite character on this show, and every episode that deals with her enhancements is incredibly interesting to me. Obviously the big moment in this episode was seeing her in a red dress setting up a punchline where she told a guy that she never slept with anyone whose ass she had to kick. Yet the bigger thing to me is that she’s so easily able to get these enhancements and that, when she’s using them, she’s not eager to return to her normal mode, since there’s something about feeling real that truly connects with her. She also managed to use the power of the enhancements to their advantage when the team ended up trapped in a sticky situation where the android loyal to Tabor was ready to hold everyone hostage until his master returned, something no one expects to happen at any point soon, if ever. Adrian and Solara are doing well adjusting to being part of the crew, though there are obviously still some bumps. Sending Five in undercover was a risky move given that she’s not really field-trained, but apparently she knows more than her new trainer thought when they started out. Six may be off the job, but his appearance at the end of the episode, both in conversation with Five and on a screen as a secret weapon for Four, proves that he’s not done with the Raza just yet, even if he thinks that he’s left that life behind for more important aims.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pilot Review: Gypsy

Gypsy (Netflix)
Premiered June 30

As should be obvious to anyone following this blog on a regular or infrequent basis, I’m quite behind on my TV, and I’m even further behind on writing reviews of things I’ve already watched. I actually saw the first episode of this show just a few days after it initially premiered, meaning that I’m reviewing it more than two weeks after watching it, which can’t be a good thing. While I was in the middle of watching – I took a break and returned to it the next night – I read a headline that described this show as the hottest new show of 2007, meant as an insult since the kind of things that are showcased as edgy on this show are in fact well behind the times and dated compared to what counts for innovative and worthwhile these days. I’m not sure that I would agree, though I do think that this show lacks focus and clear direction. After sitting through an hour of it, I’m not sure where it’s meant to go and what its premise really is. Naomi Watts is a strong actress with multiple Oscar nominations who hasn’t done TV in twenty years, and therefore you’d think that a project that would pull her to a weekly series would have a lot to offer, especially considering her work with directors like David Lynch and Michael Haneke. Yet I still don’t comprehend where this show wants to be or what it wants to be, and while I’m mildly intrigued, it’s been two weeks and I just don’t care that much. With so many other shows to watch, this indistinguishable series about a therapist spending way too much time investing in and inserting herself into the lives of her patients just doesn’t rate.

How will it work as a series? That’s what anyone who gets past episode one is sure to find out, or maybe not if it continues to be all about delving deep into the tangential experiences of those she hears talking to her about their lives. Telling the difference between what’s real and what’s not is also crucial for a show to maintain interest from viewers, and I’m not sure this show can do that.
How long will it last? As usual, Netflix ratings don’t count for much even if they are released, though it’s worth noting that the streaming service has axed a few series recently, which it hadn’t done all that much in the past. Reviews have been pretty poor across the board, so I wouldn’t count on Netflix bringing this one back for more.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 4 “Litchfield’s Got Talent” (B+)

It’s been fascinating watching how different people try to use their power when they’re in charge. What seemed like equally irritating and harmless pantsing led to the gun falling off of Gloria’s waist, which was probably the safest place for it to be, and ending up in the hands of someone with far less noble aims. Having the guards be the contestants in a talent show was an entertaining diversion that didn’t turn out all that bad for all those involved, and the striptease, which went way farther than just a tease, was certainly the most memorable of all the acts. That the demands only reached a governor who was very drunk and high isn’t an affirming development, and I’m not sure what comes next for the inmates. I’d assume that the camera that took photos of Judy and the others on the roof belonged to paparazzi, and that’s not going to bode well for anyone. Judy’s luck has turned very sour, with both former friends and skinheads united against her and ready to take out their aggression towards the “man” on one rich woman. I like that a very sleep-deprived Red was thinking about getting senior discounts and learning how to paddleboard, and it’s also interesting to see life on the outside with those not keen on participating in the riot inside, with Alex emerging as an unwilling leader. Brief flashbacks to Alison’s life before she was in prison were intriguing, but I would have liked to see a bit more of what got her to where she is.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 7 “Kimmy Learns about the Weather!” (B+)

This show is weird enough on a regular basis, and the sight of a purple cartoon that talked exactly like Titus didn’t feel any more abnormal than most of the other stuff that happens on this show. Casting Scott Adsit, a dependable “30 Rock” player, as the man who stole his voice, was a great move, and I enjoyed his reactions to being intimidated by Titus and being physically attacked by an overeager Kimmy. I like that everyone on this show knows each other’s roles and their strengths, with Titus ready to get Kimmy to rush immediately to his side when he knew he could use her help. Titus was never going to get the credit or back pay for his likeness that he deserved, both because he didn’t actually put much work into it and because that’s not how things work on this show. The other notable guest star of the episode, one that we haven’t seen in other episodes like Peter Riegert or Jon Hamm, was Michael Torpey, better known as the sadistic, evil guard Humphreys on “Orange is the New Black,” as the appropriately-named Drench Thunderman, who I imagine must have met Nathan Fillion’s Rainer Shane from “Modern Family” in the television weatherman universe. Kimmy rightly wasn’t okay with someone telling her to seek shelter in a bunker when it wasn’t necessary, since she’s been through that once before and had her life ruined for over a decade as a result. Lillian was a fitting ally to get Kimmy pumped up in her aggression towards a lying weatherman.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 7 “Nurture” (B)

I’m starting to feel as if I’ve become detached from time, not quite sure exactly what’s going on here anymore and where our characters have gone. Cassandra going back to visit her mother felt especially strange, partially because we’ve never really heard much about her and because it happened so casually. What’s much more interesting to me is the way that the young witness is being portrayed, not eager to harm innocent people and still just a normal young boy in a few ways while he’s being prepared for a life of grand omniscience. I can’t help but feel that we’re in a bit of a “Looper” situation here, where witnessing the stonefaced executions of those around him like Deacon are going to transform him into the ruthless being that he becomes. Or maybe Cole got through to him, in the moment that he decided to spare him, teaching him about the value of life? Jennifer and the witness boding about being primary was an interesting moment, and it’s at least good that they share a connection. Hannah getting hit was an unfortunate casualty of the mission, and I’m sure that’s going to drive Jones and her new partner Deacon to rage in their quest for revenge. Cole and Cassandra have now officially picked a side, and that closing shot of them sporting the fancy futuristic time suits and coordinating their time travel means that things are changing in a completely irreversible way. I have no idea what – or when – comes next, but I’m definitely intrigued.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 8 “Thanksgiving” (B+)

Between when I watched this episode and when I sat down to write this review, this episode earned two Emmy nominations, one for guest actress Angela Bassett and the other for writing duo Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, who plays Denise. I’ve never found Denise to be one of the strongest characters on this show, though I did enjoy her “Stop what you’re doing, this is a citizen’s arrest” moment with Dev from season one. This episode was a very expository installment, one that started from a point in the past where Dev and Denise were just figuring out who they were. Casting Bassett as Denise’s mother was a strong choice, and it seems like it was a fun role to play. For however inappropriate Catherine was in how she reacted to her daughter’s sexuality, there was nothing more horrendously awkward than Nikki. Saying that she watched the news was a bad start, and Dev just made it even more unbearable by repeatedly asking her to say her Twitter handle over and over. Michelle was a much better fit, and it was sweet to see her offer to help with the cooking during Thanksgiving 2017, finally giving Catherine a sense of what it’s like to have her daughter find a great significant other. I didn’t love this episode as much as previous similar format installments, but it was still cleverly-done and a good showcase for the two writer-actors to pen their own lives and have a great time bringing it all to life.