Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 3 “White Justice” (B+)

It’s staggering just how similar what happens in this episode is to what happened just seasons earlier to the African-American workers. It’s obvious that the white people in this time, with Cullen proving to be one of the few exceptions, just can’t stand to see anyone else perceived at the same level as them, and insist on taking them down a peg as often as possible just to show it. Cullen telling Mei that “This is America, ain’t no one belongs to no one, we fought a war over it” is definitely true, but that doesn’t mean that his comrades have chosen to simply accept the situation as it is. Chang isn’t causing too many problems, but a simple attempt to defend his shop when a bunch of unruly Irishmen showed up resulted in him being shown the lynched body of a member of his people and then nearly suffer the same fate himself. Demanding a trial, even with Cullen’s support, didn’t do much, and what has happened already will only serve to anger the dominant class. Discovering a discrepancy in the books has made the Swede the number one ally for Phineas, who now despises his father. It’s hard to figure out if the Swede truly believes the religious fervor he is spewing or if he’s merely playing the long game and trying to influence Phineas and by extension the Mormon community as he climbs the ranks. Either way, he’s doing a magnificent job and succeeding quite well at placing himself exactly where he needs to be.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 8 “Episode Eight” (B+)

I knew that we’d see more about this travel transit when Six casually discovered it during a visit to the doctor a few episodes back, and seeing it in action is completely satisfying. I especially loved Six declaring, upon his second time trying to get to the man at the top, that he wasn’t sure what mistake he had made the last time but he wasn’t going to make it this time. The problem, of course, is that everyone seems to be doing this since it truly is the safest way to travel. I enjoyed One trying to woo the technician with the exact same speech Six had given her earlier, and it was interesting to see him wake up from his pod with his real face, something Four did not react well to. It turns out that seeing his real self proved awfully informative, and now he knows that Three was the one who killed apparently killed his wife and is likely the reason that he came aboard the Raza in the first place. The romantic relationship between One and Two is hopelessly awkward, almost entirely due to One’s sheepishness and continued misreading of every situation. The Android determining that her reaction to certain things means she is showing emotion and as a result a defect was entertaining, and I like seeing Five help her realize that she may be more human than not after all. This show is shaping up really well, and I’m very glad I stuck with it.

Pilot Review: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer (Netflix)
Premiered July 31

I saw the film “Wet Hot American Summer” in 2007, and my short review, posted within the first month that this site existed, talks about how a funny, promising start didn’t really lead anywhere for me personally. When I mentioned to friends that I could barely remember the film, they all urged me to watch it again, but I felt like I’d be better off revisiting the universe from the vantage point of having it as a distant memory and seeing how the new show holds up. This first episode is an introduction more than anything else, but it’s one that shows just how talented a comedy cast this show has assembled. I figure that I can probably identify which members of the cast weren’t in the film – namely Josh Charles and John Slattery – but what’s most astounding is the talent that has returned to revisit summer camp and all the hilarity it has to offer. I’m not a huge fan of this show’s humor and the way it goes about it, but I still do find it fun, and I love recognizing so many actors in roles that seem perfect for them. This is definitely a show that I’m eager to continue watching and to let grow on me, if only to see the likes of Marguerite Moreau, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Bradley Cooper, and so many others make fools of themselves on television in a parody of camp that feels all too familiar, wild, and absurd.

How will it work as a series? It’s designed as a prequel to the movie, which means that it has a lot of gaps to fill in and has to stick, in large part, to how events in the movie play out. That said, I’m treating it as a standalone production, and I found this first installment to be perfectly expository and informative, to the point that I think it will do very well and have no problem milking fresh comedy over the course of thirteen episodes.
How long will it last? Netflix is almost impossible to measure, but I think there’s enough buzz and nostalgic goodwill around this show that it will likely return for another season, even if this was only meant to be a one-shot reunion. My suspicion is that one season is all it should really be back for, but positive vibes and energy will encourage its network to pick it up for more.

Pilot grade: B

Monday, August 3, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 8 “Fear, and Other Smells” (B+)

Alex is an interesting character because she doesn’t tend to really socialize with other characters on the show, with the exception of Nicky during the time that the two of them started dating towards the end of season one. During the first season, she was a predatory figure who helped shock Piper into her new life, in season two she betrayed her and then was barely around, and now she’s been relatively absent and sheepish, especially because she feels like Lolly is watching her. The context we got from the flashback was that Piper leaving really hurt her, and she had a lot of resentment that built up which resulted in her doing drugs and getting herself into trouble with the big bad boss she now believes to be after her. The confirmation at the end of the episode that Lolly is in fact tracking her every movement is worrisome, though I suspect it may be a personal thing more than a bounty hunter-type arrangement. Piper boiling it down to paranoia and taking it upon herself to very publicly seduce the guard didn’t help at all, and she’ll be crushed if Alex gets hurt while she’s too focused on her criminal enterprise. It’s tough to see Red falling apart in the question, but it’s clear that, especially with the kosher meals everywhere, the food situation is going downhill. Caputo now seems like a good guy, and it’s a shame that Pearson advocated for him and got shut down and then took it out on Caputo, who was just trying to enjoy some regularly-scheduled band practice. Crazy Eyes’ book is really exciting everyone, and Poussey is into it in a way that’s far too intense. Daya telling Pornstache’s mother the truth was unexpected, as was her reaction, which was a devastated but dignified one, far different from how her awful son would ever act.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 9 “Death Doesn't Let You Say Goodbye” (B+)

Now we’re starting to get to the story of what’s actually going on, with Riley and Will given the opportunity to talk about the Sensates and who they are with knowledgeable guides by their side, even if they’re from opposite sides and can’t trust each other. Riley did a lot of soul-searching as she learned the truth about an event that impacted her entire life, and it’s important that she is able to bounce back from a critical moment of devastation. Nomi and Lito meeting with “Mad World” from “Donnie Darko” playing in the background was very effective, as Lito described oral sex with Hernando as a religious experience and Nomi recalled her own horrifying memories of being tormented and brutalized by a group of bullies as a young man. It’s interesting to see how drastically their circumstances have changed, as Lito was depressed enough to pull the trigger and end his own life only to discover that he was using a trick gun, while Nomi has Amanita in her life as her number one supporter. Kala had to deal with the aftermath of her father-in-law’s stabbing and what it means for her, and Capheus also got a flashback of his own to reveal that his younger sister was given away because his mother could not support her. These flashbacks are a new thing since previously we only had characters transported into each other’s present-day lives, but they’re helpful in terms of establishing who these people are and what brought them to this point.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie (Season Finale)

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 13 “The Vows” (B)

I’m behind the times, just finishing this show, and I feel like I’ve been watching it forever. It certainly does feel like a season finale, particularly because of the way that it ends, but it wasn’t immensely satisfying and didn’t have the same tone as most of the rest of the show. It’s also a very surprising and puzzling choice to be Lily Tomlin’s Emmy submission for her nomination since she has the least comedic role of the entire episode, and most of the drama related to her character has much more to do with Sol and the fact that he has now cheated on Robert, who spent the entire time he was with Frankie writing up an eight-page legal brief on the conditions of his love for him. Brianna and Mallory helping Robert with his vows was a sweet opportunity for them to bond, while Sol broke down lighting Shabbat candles with his former wife and his adult sons. Grace breaking up with Guy only to have him forget the entire thing happened since he was on Ambien wasn’t as funny as it should have been, and ultimately it all comes back to Grace and Frankie as soulmates of a sort, living together in relative harmony and trying to help each other figure out how to be happy. This first season was fun, but what I’d love to see in season two is more of all the kids since, to me, they’re the best part and they haven’t had nearly enough screentime.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Ethan Embry as Coyote and June Diane Raphael as Brianna

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 3 “The Sandwich” (B+)

This show has a fun take on marriage in its portrayal of two people who aren’t particularly unhappy in general but tend to get wrapped up in specific things that make them question what their expectations are supposed to be. Explaining to one of their daughters that they were going on separate date nights was particularly entertaining, and I like that they both eagerly came up with an idea of something that would benefit them individually and then were dismayed when the other presented a highly contradictory idea about the plan for that evening. Lina’s attempt to live vicariously through her friend Abby, played by Sarah Burns, who portrayed Krista on “Enlightened,” as she set her up on a date with an attractive widower, presented an opportunity for embarrassment on all levels. That should have been investigated by Lina and her flirting, but instead Abby opted to ask immediately after learning that her date hadn’t been present for his wife’s death what kind of sandwich he had been making, a question repeated by A.J. once he showed up and heard the same story. I love seeing Abby and A.J. together, and I think they could make a terrific couple. Russ’ night was similarly unproductive, with Jess achieving a triumphant moment when her D.J. crush remembered her. The best part, summing up the whole night and everything that happened, was Lina identifying a couple she’d be okay swinging with because the husband was most like Russ, her normal, safe choice who ultimately does make her happy.

Take Three: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 1, Episode 3 “Lust for Life” (B+)

I think what makes this show, and really anything created by Denis Leary, work best is when a character is backed into a corner and needs to fight to argue his way out (it’s almost always a male who needs to do the apologizing). When Johnny heard that there was a hoax going around that he had choked on a chicken bone and died, he initially was offended and then tried to spin it to his advantage by transforming the method of death into something more legendary. I love that all the good ways to die had already been taken, and instead it ended up just being a stunt and a way to get him to squirm through the accidental confession that he had once slept with Joan Jett. That celebrity guest star was used to very strong effect, appearing in just one scene with the hilarious revelation that Johnny had fallen asleep and they never actually had sex. Hitting on Ava was a bonus comedy moment, and her enthusiasm about Gigi’s future was a realistic occurrence that made sense given the music scene that exists on this show. I also enjoyed Johnny struggling to say that he loves Gigi and doing his best to defend her mother, and his reaction to Rehab showing up with a bouquet of flowers for Ava allegedly meant as a memorial consolation and not an attempt to sleep with the newly widowed woman who, over the course of the episode, didn’t have many strong feelings for her domestic partner.

What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 3, Episode 4 “Girl Jesus” (B+)

This episode picked up the pace a bit, but more crucially it offered some truly compelling interactions between its characters. I’ve also found Amantha to be the most fascinating character on this show, with Daniel and Tawney trailing somewhere behind her, and it’s great to see how being an assistant manager has made her feel. It’s hardly where she wanted to be, but she now carries herself with a certain confidence that came out in a big way in her lunch with Jon and then when Daniel showed up at her work to get his form signed. Offering him her car was a sweet and mature gesture, and the way he looked at the clock was so telling of how he still feels imprisoned. Barely even speaking to his probation officer when he handed the form emphasized that feeling of isolation since he didn’t even get to have a triumphant moment of successful delivery. Aimlessly painting the pool at first seemed like a symbol of dedication but then at the end of the episode seemed like all he had left to focus on. Carl is doing his very best to mount a case against Daniel, and things are not looking too good for him at the moment. Tawney admitting that she didn’t think she should be married to Teddy in therapy made for an enormously impactful scene, and I like that Teddy stuck by her afterwards and that they may not be as hopelessly set for loneliness as it initially appeared since the therapy was, for lack of a better word, extremely therapeutic.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Take Three: Impastor

Impastor: Season 1, Episode 3 “Bird of Pray” (C)

This show is emphasizing stupidity above all else, which means that it is still fun but doesn’t exactly rank as terribly memorable. There’s something about it that appeals to me, and therefore I think I’m going to continue watching, at least until fall programming starts to return. The title of this episode, moderately clever as it is, is a fitting moniker for the themes of this episode, which mainly had to do with connections to pets and how praying helps that. Buddy’s excitement at the fact that he had a program in front of him from which he could just read demonstrated his laziness, since he assumed that he didn’t have to do anything and wouldn’t even need to bother to look up what a homily was. Channeling the fiery spirit of a late-night television preacher and amping up the sleaze actually worked to his advantage, impressing all but the discerning Alden. All looked grim when he called in a superior, but it turns out that he too found Alden stuffy and urged Buddy to relax and to quiet any suspicion about him and the mailman that started as a result of Buddy not bothering to lock his bedroom door when he had an overnight guest. Alden fondly remembering his dog was considerably over-the-top, and I suspect that he’ll still feel considerable resentment towards the flashy new preacher. The discovery that the dead body in the river isn’t actually Buddy Dobbs is also sure to create trouble in the near future for an unsuspecting impastor pastor.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 1, Episode 6 “eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf” (B+)

I’m not even sure how to react to this episode after its utterly devastating finish, something that I wasn’t prepared for at all. It started out on a pretty furious note, interrupting a seemingly calm conversation between Elliot and Shayla about the situation they were in with a brisk abduction and Elliot with his back to the wall, desperate to save his girlfriend and neighbor while trying to outsmart Vera in the process. The way that everything evolved was pretty fascinating, as the initial plan of baiting a cop with a free iTunes purchase didn’t work and then Elliot had to evolve to opening every cell door to stage a massive prison break. His discovery that Vera’s brother Isaac actually wanted him dead was surprising, and then all of a sudden Isaac was executed by Vera. It was strange to recognize Isaac as Rick Gonzalez, who was part of the supporting comic relief on “Reaper.” What was completely horrifying and tragic was Vera’s casual reveal that Shayla had actually been with him the whole time. There was a sense of dread that made it seem clear that she wasn’t just tied up in the trunk but dead, a maddeningly miserable discovery that calls into question everything Elliot stands for. I have no idea what he’ll do next, since joining Angela in her bold pursuit of justice isn’t going to permit him any more closure in this terrible turn of events. Maybe he’ll go to Tyrell, whose plan is well understood by an unamused Scott, but likelier he’ll just return to Darlene, Mr. Robot, and the cause he cares about most. Angela using the keywords “change the world” seemed like they might distract Elliot from his mission, but now he’s going to either disintegrate or go on the warpath.

What I’m Watching: The Brink

The Brink: Season 1, Episode 6 “Tweet Tweet Tweet” (C+)

Walter’s stint at the top didn’t last long, as his wife Joanne showed up in Israel to undermine him and he got personally recalled by the president back to the United States, an order I’m sure he’ll do his very best not to follow. Without Walter taking up most of the plotline, this show didn’t waste any time in refocusing its absurdity. I love the fact that Alex managed to cause an international crisis merely by giving the Pakistani girls he brought into the embassy the wi-fi password, giving them a platform to tell the world that they’re loving all the freedoms America has given them. I would have thought that Ambassador Kittredge’s delusional dream would have been their undoing, but there wasn’t even time for that since Alex sabotaged the whole operation right away. Z-Pak and Glenn’s situation only got weirder as they discovered that this lonely couple who may or may not occasionally eat people also have some intense sex fantasies that involve adultery and unfortunately some irreversible violence that forces them to go into the village. If only the world was a bit bigger and Z-Pak didn’t come face to face with one of the men who tried to capture them earlier, putting them right back into the middle of a very bad and dangerous place. Who knows what can go wrong next and how Z-Pak and Glenn will somehow again be the crucial players in an international game that they don’t even really have a clue is being played.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 3 “The Excitement of Release” (B)

As usual, this was a pretty packed episode in terms of its developments even if it didn’t span as much time as previous hours have, but I’m pleased to report that it felt much more thematically relevant. The introduction of three new potential investors – Eddie Jemison’s massager developer, Josh Charles’ perfume man, and John Gleeson Connolly’s Hugh Hefner – makes it clear that this business is going somewhere, and, as the biggest star among the three, Charles’ Dan Logan appears to have won out, asking the poignant question of what sex smells like and how he can put it in a bottle. Bill’s idea to have the book used as a textbook was a strong one, but peddling it to Wash U and trying to drag Scully bag into everything was hardly the best use of his time and dealt a particularly unforgiving blow to his ego. Showing Paul his card collection was heavily awkward, and I thought that Bill was going to mistake his affection for Paul as a signal that he should make a move which would have had disastrous results. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to take Joy’s medical collapse as an indicator that Paul found out her plan and was abusive or a subtler signal that escape is never truly possible from the banality of married life. Lester and Jane found a great way to connect through the erotic content of letters written by fans and haters alike, which is nice to see. By the end of the episode, I had forgotten all about Bill’s ugly double standards about Virginia being married, even though it ended with an all too comfortable shared moment in bed. Tessa’s story is what spoke loudest in this hour, as a fun game of talking about her mother’s book led to her being forced to do something she really didn’t want to do and apparently accepting it as something that might just happen again.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 3 “Come and Knock on Our Door” (B+)

This is a show about family, and this episode was more about that than anything else. It’s incredible to see how Mickey has built a business idea around the people in his life and the ways he thinks it can be a money maker. Bunchy stepping into the mix shows just how absurd it is, as he shops for breast milk at the supermarket and takes photos of topless women to put on the company website. But this show always needs some entertainment and a bit of good news, and while I was worried that there was too much celebration and Terry couldn’t actually have a happy ending, it seems that, for the moment, he really is on top. Though he was able to say to Terry that it doesn’t cost him a thing, Ray really did put everything on the line to get him released. After approaching Frank and then seeing that Mickey had ruined his first plan, he went to Finney, who was able to accomplish the same kind of thing that Ray usually does but with infinitely less effort. All he had to do was say “This is taking far longer than I thought it would” and it happened. Paige gloating after Ray signed the contract was cruel, and she’s obviously going to bother him as much as possible just to see what happens. Abby taking some time away should be a positive thing since she needs to get her life in order, and both Bridget and Conor could use some stability too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 1, Episode 5 (B+)

This was a good episode that helped return this show to solid footing, and I’m now extremely eager once again to see where it goes next. What I like most is that things are actually happening, namely with Mattie once again reaching out to Leo and understanding exactly who Anita is and Niska marching directly to George’s doorstep. It was intense to see Leo react to the complete lack of familiarity expressed by Anita and the total absence of Mia. Mattie’s attitude has shifted completely, as she now understands that Anita is not some artificial intelligence irritation but rather something much more complex. The unfortunate thing is that she was also able to discover thanks to her hacking skills that someone had sex with Anita, and of course she would assume that it was her brother and not her father. Joe’s confession came a bit too late and his dismissal of the severity of his act almost negated it entirely. That marriage appears to be headed the way of Peter’s, which has officially disintegrated as his wife prefers her synth to him as a companion and even wants him to pay for it. Odi getting found in the woods wasn’t a positive development, and it’s a good thing that Peter’s surprise visit didn’t result in Niska hurting anyone. Karen’s own investigation into Niska and her motivations is particularly fascinating, especially because she is posing as a human. Vera pegging Niska as a synth was another great moment, as George’s refuting of her claim proved all too logical.