Thursday, June 21, 2018

What I’m Watching: Brockmire

Brockmire: Season 2, Episode 7 “Caught in a Rundown” (B)

I know I sound like a broken record, but shouldn’t Jules have been a crucial participant of any intervention for Brockmire? Maybe she prefers him drunk because then at least she knows they’re both on the same page making bad decisions together. Either way, in this penultimate episode of the season, we finally got to an event that should probably have happened at the very start of this show and will surely happen again since, like Tina Fey in her memorable “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” role, he was drinking through his shirt the entire time. It was fun enough to see the top five people aside from Jules try to get Brockmire to realize that he’s drinking all the time, even if most of them really don’t like him. Charles and Pedro are pretty much the only ones who actually do, and Charles isn’t in Brockmire’s good graces at the moment because of his recent betrayal, even if it really is him looking out for his best interests. Brockmire going after him shows that he does still care for him, and their fates are linked together whether Charles likes it or not. Lucy and Jean haven’t shown much affection for Brockmire in the past and their interference now didn’t feel like a major reintroduction into his life, while Raj managed to impress him by roasting him instead of appealing to him in a kinder way. Opting to drown his sorrows with Carrie Preston’s wild Elle should only make his problems worse, but it should make for an intriguing and worthwhile finale.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, Episode 2 “Kimmy Has a Weekend!” (B-)

Here we have a sharp return to this show’s more absurdist tendencies, playing up the real world in an extreme way rather than with slightly subtle humor. Somehow, Kimmy has managed to keep her job after the sexual harassment scandal she very innocently created, and now she wants to make sure she’s living an educated and active life. Thinking that she’s judged by others for her time in the bunker helped to explain why she couldn’t see her white privilege, something that was harped on with plenty of exaggeration when she and Titus when shopping together. Walking into the salon and demanding that all of the employees be referred to by their actual names was a winning moment for her, helping to undo the damage done by those who ate salads off the heads of the women working there. Jacqueline is also a major offender, doing exactly what Kimmy hates, and now she’s trying to help an incredibly dumb shlub become an actor just so that she can get him out of her apartment and pretend for her son that she’s not actually so poor that she’s currently living with Kimmy after being discovered in her office. I’m not too into all of this fake television and film that everyone is watching, and it looks like that may continue based on how this episode ended. The best line in an otherwise lackluster episode came from Titus, referencing himself in the third person in typical fashion: “Titus Andromedon doesn’t deliver, he Digiorno’s.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 8 “Women’s Work” (B+)

This was a very difficult episode to watch, not only because of the cruel violence we saw from a character who’s been one of the few that isn’t so terrible up until this point, but also because of the tremendous regression it represented. Continuing on the impactful end of the previous episode, we saw Serena and Offred growing much closer thanks to the activities that Offred described as befitting colleagues in another life but decried as heretics in this one. Instead of the extended break from the horrors of Gilead that we got at the start of this season, their liberation was a brief one, with Fred’s return a depressing event, one that turned brutal when Fred understood that Serena had tried to assert herself in his absence, something he couldn’t tolerate even though they had worked together like this “before.” Bringing in a doctor currently serving as a Martha to try to help Janine’s baby was bold, and something tells me that, even if she had been able to save the child, Fred would have punished her anyway. What’s most important is that Serena has reached a breaking point, one that might compel her not only to be more humane to Janine and to Offred, who’s checking on her now, but also to work to change this monstrous society she’s helped to create. Maybe that Canada trip can be truly impactful. As Nick’s wife tries everything possible to please him, he’s turning into exactly the controlling husband she wants him to be, becoming something that he’d never want to as likely the only thing that could help hide everything she suspects about him. Ending the episode with Janine holding the baby was certainly unexpected, proving that true maternal bonding does mean something in a world that's tried to erase it.

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 3, Episode 2 (B+)
He may not be particularly emotive, but Max is a good, calm leader, one who wants to make sure that the synths under his care aren’t all unilaterally punished for the crimes of others. He was smart to make sure to get Mattie and Leo out of there as quickly as possible once Agnes indicated that her subordination wasn’t close to over and that she was determined to find whatever he was hiding. Niska wasn’t into following his orders either, and her latest trip allowed us to see Mia springing into action to help protect the refugee synths who arrived looking for some hope of salvation. Though she was originally upset at the idea of having a synth escort because of her role on the commission, Laura found ways to use Stanley to her advantage, helping with the shopping list, catching projectiles thrown by angry people, and calculating the percentage of likely truth in a fellow commission member’s statement. I was questioning why it was that Joe continues to be a part of this show, teaching Toby about work ethic in his moderately successful grocery store, and I guess it’s so that he can help Karen and Sam realize that they’re not nearly as safe as they think they are, even if Sam is able to correct his “inadequacy requires more effort” statement to something a bit more human. Joe hasn’t been useful for a while, so let’s hope that him being featured prominently means that he’s going to an asset rather than the hindrance he’s been since he first tried to have sex with Mia.

What I’m Watching: Legion (Season Finale)

Legion: Season 2, Episode 11 “Chapter 19” (B+)

This was one hell of a transformative episode, showing us that everything we learned from Future Syd about what David would become was indeed true, though it’s possible that knowing what he would do made them act in a way that then caused him to turn. The opening scene was uniquely weird, with David and Farouk transforming into different people, animals, and objects in their midst of their epic battle, animated above their bodies as they participated in a questionably necessary musical number. Syd showing up with a gun pointed at David because she realized that he might not be the hero was a somewhat unexpected but equally inevitable development, and Lenny springing into action to fire two bullets to give David the upper hand was incredibly choreographed, especially with the sideways cinematography showing her walking in the desert carrying her gun. Farouk was felled pretty effectively by that power-cancelling and painful-looking crown, but, as we quickly learned and David did too, it wasn’t him that was on trial. David’s fury was evident when he was trapped in that containment bubble, but Syd telling him that he drugged her and then had sex with her demonstrated how out of touch he is with his own actions. Melanie and Oliver calmly commenting on events from three years in the future without their bodies and a good chunk of their memories opened this episode in a very different way than it ended, with David’s triumphant and terrifying turn, bringing Lenny along with him for a destructive joyride with Blondie firmly in his rear-view mirror. I’m so intrigued to see what happens in season three.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Dan Stevens as David

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 3, Episode 22 “Make It Reign” (B-)

We’re almost finally to the end of this very lengthy saga, and I sincerely hope that whatever happens in the season finale makes all this feel worth it and charts a path for season four that involves completely different plotlines. The one relatively exciting moment in this hour was when Alura decided to jump through the portal with them in full costume, traveling to Earth to help defend her daughter’s planet in a way that none of her other people were willing to do. I’m about ninety percent certain that this will end with Alura making the ultimate sacrifice, along with M’yrnn, to stop the worldkillers, taking her away from Kara just as they’ve finally been reunited. I can’t hope to understand how it is that these worldkillers are created and then can pull in human minds and bodies from elsewhere, but it doesn’t seem like a great idea for the severely weakened Sam to go straight into the lion’s den to combat three very powerful, very angry scorned Kryptonians head-on. I’m also not quite sure how Hank and his father were able to discern that there was trouble afoot at the DEO when they were so involved in this mind-meld of sorts, but it’s good that they’re back in action so that these worldkillers can finally all be felled, returning Supergirl to a more prominent status as the superhero defending Earth who just has to deal with regular old human criminals.

What I’m Watching: Billions (Season Finale)

Billions: Season 3, Episode 12 “Elmsley Count” (B)

Someone I was talking to about this show told me that they were sure this was going to get back to the Chuck-Axe rivalry after all indicators were the opposite, and I certainly didn’t expect to see the hour end with Wendy, Chuck, and Axe sitting together drinking wine and strategizing the best options for revenge against their new enemies. You’d think there would be far too much bad blood at this point for them to do it, but I guess they realize they have much big fish to fry to accomplish their shared goals. I knew that something was coming for Chuck when he so easily set up his takedown of Jock, and all those he had quashed seemed to take great satisfaction in knocking him off his throne. What doesn’t make all that much sense is that Jock was dictating how cases should be handled, and now Bryan, Oliver, and Kate have allied themselves with someone they know to also be corrupt in taking down one corrupt boss. Taylor’s betrayal was nearly as dramatic, and if Axe didn’t seem angry enough at them for their betrayal, Wendy was even more furious at the thought that she could be poached. Both Axe and Taylor working with Grigor is a bad idea, and seeing him slap Hall in the face when he interrupted him showed just how dangerous he is. This has not been my favorite season of the show, often favoring grandstanding speeches and scenery-chewing to legitimate plot developments, but it’s still a decent ride and one I look forward to re-boarding in season four.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor

Monday, June 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 2, Episode 8 “Kiksuya” (B+)

It’s a risky thing to be more than a week behind on this show, and so I’m catching up as quickly as I possibly can (I’ll make it before the finale). What I had read about this episode was that some considered it to be a career-best turn for actor Zahn McClarnon. I think I first encountered him in a regrettable role on the CW’s less-than-quality “Ringer,” but then I got to see him in crucial recurring roles on “The Red Road,” season two of “Fargo,” and of course as Officer Mathias on “Longmire.” I know he was submitted as an Emmy contender for Best Guest Actor for this role, and I’d be surprised if he did get the nomination because I doubt many know who he is, but it would be nice if he got that recognition. What this hour accomplished is that it showed how those hosts who are able to remember things from their previous iterations - previously just Dolores and Maeve - experience their enlightenment through seeing a way out, sharing past memories with someone else, and then watching that entire history be erased when the techs arrive to reprogram and reboot defective, wandering hosts. Having Akecheta tell Maeve’s daughter about everything he learned and went through while Maeve was lying, seemingly unable to be saved, on the table was powerful since she seems to have developed even more incredible powers, and just because she’s not following a map specifically laid out by Ford doesn’t mean she’s not capable of astonishing things, even when she’s not conscious.

Pilot Review: American Woman

American Woman (Paramount)
Premiered July 7 at 10pm

There’s a wave of early feminism being showcased on television now, with series as diverse as “Good Girls Revolt,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and “Good Girls” serving as call-outs to mostly fictionalized acts of defiance against institutional chauvinism. Not all have been hits, but this is clearly a hot subject these days. The newly-branded Paramount Network is launching a few shows at the moment, and this could well be its flagship comedy. There’s a lot that’s recognizable about this show, but its characters do make a distinct impression, particularly its protagonist, Bonnie, who drags her kids out at night to follow her husband and reveal his affair. This is the first starring vehicle for Alicia Silverstone since NBC’s short-lived “Miss Match” a whole fifteen years ago, and she is nothing if not determined to make her character memorable. I’m always happy to see Mena Suvari, the breakout star of “American Beauty” nearly two decades ago, and she does seem to have the second meatiest role on this show. I recognized Cheyenne Jackson from “Glee” as Kathleen’s closeted boyfriend and couldn’t peg James Tupper from “Men in Trees” as Bonnie’s worthless and apparently criminal husband. This show does seem invested in portraying its time period in an in-depth way, and it does commendably on that front. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be back for another episode to see where it goes, but a half-hour show like this should be harmless enough and, as soon as I’m caught up on all my shows, I should have some time to give it another shot.

How will it work as a series? Bonnie didn’t waste any time in pursuing an official separation, and she seems attached more than anything to holding onto the house. The news that there’s an arrest warrant out for her husband changes the game, but something tells me it’s only going to make Bonnie more determined to seek out and prove her independence from her husband.
How long will it last? The reviews aren’t great, and the ratings are even worse from what I can tell. This show isn’t pulling in the audience it should be, and unless Paramount is especially committed to making this concept work since it’s hot right now, I think one season will be all this show gets.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: Condor

Condor (Audience Network)
Premiered June 6 at 10pm

DirecTV’s original channel has been doing well recently with its dramas, and it’s no surprise that a counterterrorism thriller would be next on the list. This is one case where I’m glad that I didn’t read the official summary before I watched the first episode since it completely spoils its events. I’m not too fond of seeing defenseless people gunned down in their places of work by assailants since it hits a bit too close to home with real-life shootings happening regularly, and it never gets any more comfortable, even if it’s crucial to the development of the plot. Before our analyst whiz saw his entire office taken out, I noted that this series really is a ticking time bomb show, which I remember John McCain debunking in the powerful documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side” after a clip of terrorist interrogation from “24” played. Joe made the point that Muslim-Americans are allowed to have P.O. boxes and work in football stadiums, and it seems that the man killed before he could unleash this deadly virus may have been framed after all, which suggests that this show is combating the popular notion that all Muslims should be suspected terrorists and that torture can really prevent immediate threats from being carried out. It’s worth noting that this show is based on a 1975 film, “Three Days of the Condor,” from director Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford. Though I haven’t seen that film, I assume this is a pretty stylish update, one that involves lots of sex and nudity to go with all the action and violence. I was pretty sure that was Brendan Fraser in the opening scene and wasn’t sure he would be starring in both this and “Trust,” but it indeed was, and William Hurt is always recognizable by his voice. Star Max Irons is the son of Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, and he does seem energetic even if he can’t quite mask his British accent. This show does its suspense well but its plot doesn’t appeal enough to me - I’d recommend the superior “Counterpart” instead.

How will it work as a series? The way this episode ending always demands that the next episode be watched, though it’s hard to imagine that Gabrielle will manage to catch Joe and kill him since he’s the main character on the show. The pacing is good even if the story isn’t as original, and I imagine that it won’t take much to entice audiences to return for more as the plot progresses.
How long will it last? Reviews for this show were pretty good, and it’s hard to find much in the ways of ratings data. I suspect that this is the kind of fare that Audience wants to able to present, especially one of its flagships, “Rogue,” ended. I’d expect a season renewal to be announced soon.

Pilot grade: C+

Sunday, June 17, 2018

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season Premiere)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, Episode 1 “Kimmy Is… Little Girl, Big City!” (B)

This review comes considerably after this show first dropped on Netflix, and while I always watch streaming shows one episode per week (much later than most), it’s usually my plan to review the first episode right after it airs, but time got away from me recently. Here’s the first episode of the final season, only it’s actually the first half of the final season, and we might get a movie or two to wrap it all up, so no reason to say goodbye to Kimmy just yet. Starting with a fake credits sequence was moderately entertaining, but this episode ranked more on the bizarre side of things than the entertainingly irreverent one for me. Kimmy’s HR fiasco might not have been so over-the-top had she not thought that dropping her pants would be unobjectionable, and continuing to work there isn’t going to be good for anyone. Titus trying to win Mikey back by pretending to be on a show with Greg Kinnear seems to have actually worked, at least in the genesis of “The Capist” with the actual Kinnear starring on it. It’s good to see Jacqueline in a role that allows her to do something productive, even if she’s still saying all the wrong things when given the opportunity. Leave it to Lillian to help Artie find his eternal resting place by getting his ashes into the members-only club in disguise as cocaine, giving Lillian a huge chunk of cash that she didn’t even realize she would get.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 7 “After” (B+)

I know it’s a dangerous thing to be so far behind on this show when two more episodes have aired, but I’m doing my best to catch up after a busy few weeks. This post-attack installment was very effective, for the first time in a while linking the three main threads of the show and displaying what was happening in relation to the same events in each place. Fred survived the attack, which is a surprise but also means that he’s incapacitated, forcing Serena, Nick, and Offred to work together to ensure that their house won’t be impacted by this investigation, which, to help maximize the impact of the terror, is punishing entire homes for what one member did. Serena sharing that she used to vacation with Cushing before all this was a vulnerable moment, and one that gave Offred the energy to stress the importance of making sure that he believed she was taken rather than having run away. Serena is asserting herself in a major way now that Fred is no longer able to be in charge, and having Offred copy-edit the new orders was a huge gain. Maybe while she’s inciting individuality by introducing herself as June to other handmaids, she can also help change the world they live in to something more tolerable. Serena handing her a pen was a big moment. Seeing how Little Canada hears the news of the attack with actual names reported rather than a funeral ceremony with red veils was intense, and I can now understand why Emily and Janine were sent away to prison since their crimes can be forgiven as long as the roster of handmaids remains full.

What I’m Watching: Humans (Season Premiere)

Humans: Season 3, Episode 1 (B+)

This is a show that has largely flown under the radar, broadcasting first on Channel 4 in the UK and then on AMC, reaching a third season without much fanfare. This show truly is underrated since it’s a subtle but extremely effective picture of what advanced technology could look like if it wasn’t entirely rebellious but just malfunctioning and desiring of a right to direct its own existence. It’s been more than a year since season two finished airing on AMC, and so I had forgotten that Mattie did something major that changed everything. Picking up a full year after Day Zero, in which 110,000 casualties were suffered, shows the dire state of things, with the synths we know hiding out in a camp undisturbed by the authorities but just waiting for the big crackdown that finally came after the bombing which turned out to have been executed by a group of violent synths. Laura really is trying to hardest to advocate for them, but it’s hard when no one seems interested in giving them a chance and one sector of the population is making them all seem like villains. As usual, Niska hasn’t really chosen a side, seeking her own personal vengeance against whoever it was that perpetrated the attack, and Karen is training Sam to pick his nose like a good little human boy so that he won’t get spotted as a synth. The most resounding line of the hour came from Mia in response to another instance of irreversible system failure: “Death. Call it death.”

Friday, June 15, 2018

What I’m Watching: Legion

Legion: Season 2, Episode 10 “Chapter 18” (B+)

For a show where it’s often hard to figure out what’s really going on, there was no mistaking what happened at the end of this episode, with Farouk gazing out into the distance, back in his own body. Only we’re not sure he’s really the villain anymore, since he did manage to trick David into torturing Oliver while he was being put back into his body, but that said much more about David than anyone else. Melanie is definitely not acting like herself, but that doesn’t mean what she’s saying is illegitimate. Syd served as a very effective stand-in for the audience in this episode, slowly realizing with clip after clip of mostly things we’ve already seen that David has gone down a dark road. The enthusiasm with which he tortured Oliver was disturbing, and I think he knows that but is powerless to stop it. As usual, the presence of regenerating enemies that all look and act the same was creepy, and Kerry and Lenny rallied to save the day even though they have no clue what it is that they’re fighting. I’m far enough behind that the final episode of this season has already aired (I’ll get to it as soon as I finish the other outstanding episodes of other shows I need to watch), and it’s hard to imagine a more impactful and game-changing finale than this. I assume that David’s dark road might be solidified by an irreversible action, killing one of the good guys (aside from Syd, who is safe given that we met her future self) and showing that, much as he’d like to be the hero, he just can’t be because of how powerful he is. Where that leaves Farouk, I don’t know, since, if I’m following things correctly, Future Syd’s chat with David may have change the course of history since he wasn’t supposed to get his body back in the world that she knew.

Pilot Review: Dietland

Dietland (AMC)
Premiered June 4 at 10pm

Many shows exist as a way to parody something that is accepted as mainstream and normative in society, and often those shows are deliberately over-the-top so that they can expose the ridiculousness of what it is they’re targeting. There are shows that deal with being overweight and efforts to lose weight, and others that present the beauty industry both in a straightforward manner in a mocking one. This show is a bit all over the place, finding its heroine in a woman who has accepted the nickname Plum due to the size and shape of her figure, and rallying in support of the many women who write letters to fashionista Kitty thinking that it’s her and not Plum answering and helping them. This show is comparable in some ways to “Ugly Betty,” though it’s far less entertaining and possibly even more outrageous, without the important characteristic of it being a telenovela. There’s this mysterious murdered soldiers plotline happening with an unknown woman named Jennifer, which by the end of the second hour seems pretty clear as a revenge operation against those who have mistreated women. I haven’t seen Joy Nash before in anything that I can remember, and I know Tamara Tunie from more serious roles in “The Red Road” and “24.” Robin Weigert, from “Deadwood” and “Concussion,” is well-cast as Verena. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this show is the casting of Julianna Margulies, who in recent TV history has been playing a do-gooder lawyer and here gets the chance to have a blast and portray someone far less charitable. Watching two hours of this show, which has moments that indicate it could be worthwhile, was more burdensome than anything else, and I think the world would be just fine without its existence.

How will it work as a series? There’s a lot that still has to be unpacked, like why there is mistrust between Julia and Verena, and what role Plum is ultimately going to play in the big revolution that’s to come. The flashes that connect the revenge murders to what’s going on with the primary plot suggest that they’re much more connected than we think.
How long will it last? Puzzlingly, this show seems to have received mostly positive reviews from other critics. The first two episodes aired together, and now a third has also been shown. A decent initial showing in week one dropped for week two, and I think that one season of this show is more than enough for viewers to experience.

Pilot grade: C