Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What I’m Watching: Timeless (Season Finale)

Timeless: Season 1, Episode 16 “The Red Scare” (B-)

I’m feeling very mixed about this finale. I think that, since it started, this show has been defined by a certain adventurous silliness tied to the excitement of traveling back to time periods in which they could meet famed characters from the past. Despite the impending danger of a changed timeline after every single trip Flynn made, nothing substantial actually happened after that fateful first episode which still didn’t make all that much sense since they’ve done much more impactful things that should have had huge reverberations. We saw one glimpse of what could have been when Gia went into a trance and there was a shelled-out bridge in the distance indicating a darker, dystopian present, but this show hasn’t given us anything more than that. Instead, we get Rufus, who should be bleeding to death, instead still pacing around and gripping his stomach every few minutes for dramatic effect, somehow still totally functional, while Gia, who went through space training but hasn’t adjusted to the new gravity, if you’ll allow the metaphor, nearly died on her first trip back to the past in an overcrowded lifeboat. It also doesn’t make sense to me that, all of a sudden, they decided to help Flynn, something that I think they should have done a while ago, and then Agent Christopher went and betrayed Lucy to arrest him rather than let him carry out one last mission. And I suppose Mason was always on the right side of things, if still insanely egotistical? The biggest surprise of all was Lucy’s mother revealing that she’s known about Rittenhouse all along, and that she’s definitely a bad guy. I’d like to think that Lucy going back to change the past is precisely what made her mother this way and that the mother she grew up with had no connection to the organization, but unfortunately I think that’s too high-level thinking for a time-travel show that isn’t relying too much on any real science (well, maybe fake science) or logic to back it up. This show has yet to be renewed for a second season, which isn’t a good sign, and while I’d hope we’d see more of what I want in year two, I’m not convinced that either will happen.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Abigail Spencer as Lucy

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 3, Episode 12 “Chapter Fifty-Six” (B+)

I’ve written about this many times before, but I don’t think it’s come up yet on this show. I love when characters that never interact share scenes, and therefore Petra and Rogelio sitting together to watch archive footage and failing entirely to understand each other made me so happy. It’s really true that both of them speak very quickly, and I was laughing quite a bit and their miscommunications. We may never see them together again, but this was well worth it. It’s funny but also incredibly strange that Rafael’s girlfriend just happens to be there in every scene that the narrator introduces as just between him and someone else, and so far we haven’t really seen anything of substance from her. We did get to learn a lot about Jane and the aftermath of Michael’s death, when she learned how to deal with her panic attacks. Mateo’s ability to read that she was thinking about Michael was very sweet, and I love that he also suggested that Rogelio send a Ropology basket to the people who were suing him for $10 million. The neverending saga that is Rogelio’s reality show took a turn for the more extreme in this episode with the proof that Rogelio knowing allowed Xiomara to be turned into a monster meme, and the best part of the whole thing was his fully Spanish heart-to-heart with Alba. Jane’s quitting was pretty epic, and I’m glad that Rafael, who is going to be less zen and also much more criminal, came up with a great idea for her to have a new job. Now let’s just hope that Petra isn’t racked by too much guilt for what seems like an effective solution to a tricky situation that wasn’t going to work itself out on its own.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 2, Episode 13 “Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk” (B)

There are times that this show feels right on-point and like it’s headed somewhere, and there are other times when it just feels completely random, inserting some bizarre plotline right in the middle of other action (or when there’s nothing else going on). While I don’t feel that a superhero show needs to have a Valentine’s Day episode at all, it didn’t help that I watched this episode nearly two full weeks after the romantic holiday. I found Mxyzptlk to be thoroughly annoying – which I know he’s supposed to be – and I think he was only really there to help foster the romance between Kara and Mon-El, which was on full display in a very intense final scene in which Kara was very surprisingly not wearing her glasses and was speaking volumes with her eyes as she and Mon-El finally got to take action on their feelings. Mon-El’s eagerness for a duel with his fifth-dimensional rival turned far too literal, and playing Alexander Hamilton was about to turn very bad for him. Kara was uncharacteristically combative and angry in her takedown of her would-be suitor, and it’s good to see her get a happy ending for the moment. Maggie responded very poorly to Alex’s attempt at a romantic gesture, and fortunately they made up just fine. Winn was in for quite a ride with his aggressive alien mate, and even Hank got sentimental for the holiday and penned his own version of a valentine to the closest thing he has left to family a whole planet away.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Pilot Review: The Good Fight

The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
Premiered February 19

When a show lasts seven seasons and runs for more than 150 episodes, that’s usually considered a success. “The Good Wife” began in 2009 and just wrapped last year, and I would think that story had run its course. Yet it seems that the market these days is always looking for the next big reboot or spinoff, and therefore it’s back to the world of Chicago law with a new show on CBS’ new streaming service. Taking supporting characters who work well and then promoting them to lead status is a risky idea, and it doesn’t always lead to success. What we have here is a show built around two players, one who was Emmy-nominated for the first six seasons of the original series and the other who joined in its final season. I like Christine Baranski and I like Cush Jumbo, and putting them with Rose Leslie from “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones” seems like a smart move. What I’m less excited about is the fact that this show is built around a scandal the same way that the original show was, one that I feel might hold it back since Leslie’s Maia Rindell is going to be obsessed with overcoming her own family drama which seems awfully excessive. I don’t know what to think of Delroy Lindo’s Robert Boseman, and Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold feels different from who she was on the original show. I couldn’t figure out where I knew Barbara from, and it turns out it’s Erica Tazel, who played Rachel on “Justified.” I don’t feel like I need to watch this show but I’m going to give it a least a little bit longer since I already invested seven years in this universe.

How will it work as a series? Despite some initial setbacks, Diane managed to get to a place of good standing pretty quickly, and the second episode introduced an involving case that demonstrates that this show does know what it’s doing and doesn’t require the same kind of exposition because of preexisting characters and narratives. That should serve it well and should entice fans of the CBS series.
How long will it last? This premiere aired on CBS and didn’t do so well with the ratings, but its status as the flagship series of a new streaming service should allow it to write its own legacy. I think that this show could go on for a while given the parent company’s enthusiasm to keep it on the air, and so I wouldn’t write it off just yet.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: Crashing

Crashing (HBO)
Premiered February 19 at 10:30pm

HBO is an enormously successful network that has produced a number of hit comedies. A few years ago, some of its best shows were axed to make way for the likes of “Girls” and “Veep,” both of which turned out to be huge. Now, with both of those shows well into their runs, HBO is using them as launching pads for new fare. Lately, a popular comedian or an established talent who previously headlined a series has served as the anchor. The former is true for this show, though I don’t have any familiarity with Pete Holmes. I’m actually very distracted watching him since he bears a striking resemblance to Ike Barinholtz, an actor I found mostly annoying but sometimes funny on “The Mindy Project” back when I used to watch it, and I kept picturing him and expecting him to sound the same every time he spoke. I’m also not too familiar with Artie Lange, and therefore pairing the two together doesn’t do much for me. I’m much more excited about seeing Lauren Lapkus in a regular TV role after watching her on “Orange is the New Black,” and her two brief scenes in this pilot were the highlight of it for me. This reminds me in a way of “Enlightened,” a show that set itself up as chronicling someone going through a huge breakdown and then turned into something completely different. I’m not optimistic, but maybe it can follow that model. I might be willing to give it another shot.

How will it work as a series? I’m not sure where it’s headed and whether Pete is just going to move on with his life and not go back to try to be with Jess after encountering Leif the last time, and I suspect that Artie will lead him on plenty of misadventures along the way. It could be appealing, but I’m not all that enticed.
How long will it last? Reviews for this show look pretty good, and it did well in comparison to other shows on the network that launched recently without a major star or buzz. I don’t know that I see this one being all that enduring, but HBO may be up for investing in it for at least a little bit.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

What I’m Watching: Girls

Girls: Season 6, Episode 2 “Hostage Situation” (B+)

I had expected that we were going to spend at least a few episodes with Hannah undercover at the surf club with her new semi-boyfriend Paul-Louis, a trip away for New York City comparable to the show’s several episodes that had her in Iowa in season four. Instead, she’s back right away and at the service of her best friend, Marnie in her latest instance of cyclical self-destruction. The two of them really have had a rocky road, and since that first great season two episode “Bad Friend,” it’s clear that both of them have made mistakes and done things that they wish they could take back. It took so little time for Marnie to go from being on a romantic secret getaway weekend with Desi (and Hannah in tow) to realizing that the man that she was still carrying on with was actually addicted – quite severely – to oxycodone and ready to go ballistic the second she suggested withholding it from him. Hannah came through for her in a big way, and she also had the chance to meet a true enigma in the form of Joy Bryant’s relaxed third-rail hippie Marlowe. The enduring strength of Hannah and Marnie’s friendship stands in stark contrast to that of Shoshanna and Jessa, since the newly blonde chatterbox finally stood up to her carefree British cousin and told her that she was tired of her ruining everything. The fact that Shoshanna’s friends were maddest at her for making them split a hotel room two ways instead of three was predictably petty, but it’s true that she hasn’t gone too far since that point. While Elijah was busy entertaining himself at the WEMUN event, he did show that he was a better friend to Shoshanna despite his inherent selfishness.

What I’m Watching: Billions (Season Premiere)

Billions: Season 2, Episode 1 “Risk Management” (B+)

This was one of the best new shows of early last year, and because it finished its first season at the beginning of April, it’s been a long time since it was last on. Instead of flashing forward to a time much in the future, this opener takes place shortly after everything that happened in the finale, namely Wendy making a break from both her personal life with Chuck and her professional relationship with Axe. Chuck, with a cleaner goatee, is just as cutthroat and vengeful as ever, ready for the investigator who showed up intent on proving his corruption and freely calling in favors to those still in power. Those under him are making moves to ensure that their careers aren’t entirely linked to his, and apparently Bryan may have had a much more direct role in this latest development, calling for the inquiry into Chuck after his meeting with Axe. Just as Chuck is trying to recover, Axe is playing very close to the vest, trusting only a select few and requiring much more stringent protocols for his employees. Wags seems to be in bad shape, but that only adds to his paranoia instead of making him sloppy. And then there’s Wendy, who seems to have come out of this ahead, getting great lecture gigs and turning the arrogance of her audience members to her advantage, still seen by both men who played tug-of-war over her in season one as the only person who really understands them and can help them move forward.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pilot Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies (HBO)
Premiered February 19 at 9pm

I’m really doing my best to watch every single new series that premieres this year, whether it’s defined officially as a miniseries or a regular series meant to return for season after season pending a renewal. This HBO miniseries certainly has a stacked and crowded cast, and, if nothing else, there are a lot of players involved and plenty of room for drama. It’s interesting to see who the top-billed actors are since they all come from different backgrounds and different mini-eras of popularity. Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar a decade ago and used to make many movies, and now isn’t doing quite as much but fits the role of a mother with a teenage daughter, while Shailene Woodley, who is nearly fifteen years younger than Witherspoon, is the kind of mother who could easily be confused for the nanny because of her age and appearance. Laura Dern played Witherspoon’s mom two years ago in “Wild” and she and Nicole Kidman are both the older moms, actually only about a decade older than Witherspoon. All four have contended for major awards and are more than qualified for the roles they’ve been given, demonstrating great talent in this premiere installment. The men include an interesting array of mostly TV names – Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard, James Tupper, and Jeffrey Nordling – none of whom seem to have nearly as interesting parts to play given this pilot. There are a number of others in the supporting/recurring cast, like Sarah Baker, Sarah Burns, Kelen Coleman, Merrin Dungey, all of whom I remember from impactful supporting or guest TV roles in recent years. Beyond the cast, this show has an intense documentary format that I don’t necessarily love, inundating viewers with interviews interrupting almost every moment. We don’t yet know who it is who has been killed, and I sincerely hope that it’s not a child given the brutality described when the details of the murder are described. The contradiction between the seeming simplicity of this premise and the clear complexity of its characters is alluring, and I’m curious enough to come back for at least a second round.

How will it work as a series? I’m hopeful that it won’t take forever to figure out what happened, though I know that’s sort of the point, and that what we’ll learn in the meantime will be immensely interesting. There’s so much talent here that it has to work out well, and it’s just a matter of if the pacing and if the denouement will prove to be satisfying.
How long will it last? It seems like the show has received pretty good reviews, and the first episode did well in the ratings, besting pretty much everything HBO has premiered recently except for “Westworld,” which was a huge smash. I don’t know if there’s material available for a second season, but I have a feeling that this could run more than the seven episodes for which it’s been initially commissioned.

Pilot grade: B+

Friday, February 24, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 7, Episode 10 “New Best Friends” (B+)

Look at this, a multitasking episode that features more than just one plotline and set of characters! I was genuinely shocked when, after dwelling on Richard and Morgan as they tried to keep peace between Ezekiel’s kingdom and the saviors despite their troublemaking actions, we got to see Rick and his new friends. It’s time for the Saviors to be taken down, and after the only consequence of Richard’s backtalk was Morgan getting his stick taken away, it seems like things may finally be turning in the right direction. Rick smiling is always an eerie sight, and the fact that he demanded to see Gabriel and had his request granted by the creepy hive mind was a great start to negotiations. Getting pushed off a trash heap and forced to defend himself against an armored walker of sorts was an intriguing test of loyalty, and I like that Rick was confident enough after surviving the experience to push back and insist that Jadis only get a third of what they’ll eventually take from the Saviors and not half. I feel like the nonplussed demeanor that this collective has is just what’s needed to fearlessly take on the Saviors once and for all. Darryl’s reunion with Carol was another nice tender moment, and Morgan was right to pick up on the fact that Darryl had lied to Carol so as not to make her dive back into a depression and also to keep her away from the conflict that he knows is on the horizon.

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 6, Episode 5 “Casus Belli” (D+)

It seems to me that it would be hard enough to perpetrate a terrorist attack (one would hope, at least) that framing an innocent person for it would come with way too many unknowns and chances for it to fail. On top of that, to presume that someone high up in government intelligence would set up a notoriously unreliable CIA officer and a completely innocent Muslim activist is pretty ludicrous. Both in the fictional world in which this show exists and the real world with more than enough conflict and controversial religious persecution going on, this seems both unbelievable and highly unnecessary. Worse still, this episode quickly devolved into an exploration of Quinn’s deteriorating mental health, as he decided to be really helpful and push a reporter down the stairs of Carrie’s building and then shoot a protestor just to make things better. It didn’t take long at all for news crews to show up at Carrie’s private residence and appear at every entrance to make Quinn even more paranoid, and then the cops set up shop all around as soon as night fell and the equally speedy and severe protests were dispelled by the sound of Quinn’s gunshot. Carrie sat by and didn’t do anything for a long time, which isn’t like her at all, and then she managed to save his life when her basement was breached, only to find out that, after all this, Quinn isn’t actually crazy and she was being watched. The President-Elect not being allowed to see her staff is puzzling, but I’m growing less and less curious by the minute.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What I’m Watching: Santa Clarita Diet

Santa Clarita Diet: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Farting Sex Tourist” (B)

This show has such a peculiar way that it looks at the zombie problem its characters are currently facing, with Joel stopping by a number of antique bookstores to research cult books on zombies and Sheila going to Eric for answers that for some reason are deemed definitive even though there’s no proven factual basis for any of the things that he knows. What’s good is that Sheila got through an entire episode without eating people, and she even got up in the miserable principal’s face, close enough to take a bite out of him, to threaten him and make sure that he wasn’t going to penalize her daughter for going through what she described, inaccurately of course, as normal teenager angst. The casting of Thomas Lennon, who currently stars on “The Odd Couple” and who I remember from his role in “I Love You, Man,” as Principal Novak was perfect. I’m also really happy to see Mary Elizabeth Ellis getting featured a lot as Lisa since I felt that she should have been more in the spotlight on “The Grinder,” and it’s nice that this new Sheila is spending so much time with her newfound best buds Lisa and Alondra, played by Joy Osmanski who I always associate with her first credited role a decade ago on “The Loop,” even if the advice she’s giving isn’t always sensible or helpful. At the very least, there’s so optimism to be found in the knowledge that love can still triumph over all, and it was Joel’s declaration that stopped Sheila from turning a problem into her next meal.

What I’m Watching: Sneaky Pete

Sneaky Pete: Season 1, Episode 6 “Coyote is Always Hungry” (B+)

It’s hard to keep with up with Pete, or rather Marius, since he’s always up to something and working with any number of people on his next con. It’s incredible to see some of his partners in action, as Karolina tried her hardest to lose her tail and then cut herself so that she would have a moment alone with Eddie to assure him that she was working with his brother on a way to get him out. Eddie did a decent job of being fearless, but Vince being furious and totally ready to take him up on his bluff to have his finger cut off right there and then shut down his bravery pretty quickly. Pete pickpocketing two petty thieves to show them how good he was and that he wanted their help was interesting, and I wonder whether he’ll have a new apprentice if she follows his advice to “drop 150 pounds” and go solo. Lance’s reminder to pay Victoria’s rent couldn’t have gone off at a worse time after Julia spent the night following her sour reaction to his boat purchase, and it turns out that everything is much more connected than we thought. Lance is involved in a major way, and Audrey is trying to get her money back from him since she’s in the hole. No one wanted to listen to Carly’s evidence about her so-called-cousin Pete, and it seems that her grandparents did when she told them that he was a criminal. Naturally, he’s already ready with a story, and, without missing a beat, is using their unexpected visit to his advantage to move ahead with the next con.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Man in the High Castle (Season Finale)

The Man in the High Castle: Season 2, Episode 10 “Fallout” (B+)

I was thrilled to see that this show was finally reaching its potential at the end of its second season, and this transformative finale didn’t disappoint. I’ve expressed frustration at the notion that Juliana is the center of the world, but apparently that’s true - she was in all of the films and played such a vital role. I never would have expected her to shoot George since she doesn’t always follow through when other people tell her that she can’t do what she wants, and fending off an assassination attempt and walking away clean showed her inner strength. Finding Stephen Root’s Hawthorne acting like the man behind the curtain demonstrated her success, and who would have thought that, after all this, Trudy is still alive? We didn’t see any of supporting characters like Ed or Robert, and Frank is long gone, and so instead we got to watch two of this show’s most notorious and magnetic villains, Inspector Kido and Obergruppenf├╝hrer Smith, come together to act in the service of both of their countries, preventing catastrophic war based on totally false pretenses. It was stirring to see John honored in Berlin, and a harsh reminder that, decent as some of these people may be, they’re still Nazis. Thomas giving himself up didn’t seem all that honorable since it accomplishes nothing, and better for him to achieve greatness in spite of the limitations he is supposed to have given his condition. I have no idea what comes next but after these two strong episodes, I’m more than willing to come back for what I hope will be a better-defined and more satisfying season three.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Rufus Sewell as John Smith

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 2, Episode 14 “Facebook Fish Planner Backstage” (B)

Getting John and Joan online couldn’t have gone worse, and I don’t know what could possibly have improved the experience. What proved most entertaining was Jen fielding their questions about where their accounts would be updated, noting right away that everywhere covered every single one of their subsequent queries. Greg got in the zone and didn’t pay much attention to the fact that they kept coming to Jen for help, stopping by her office in the middle of the day with a supposed emergency because Greg was hanging out in the garage coming up with his next idea. Inviting everyone, including Greg’s ex-girlfriend and Joan’s doppelganger, to brunch by accident was a crucial moment in the life of their social media accounts to tell them that they needed to slow down. Heather trying to revive a dead fish to keep her bond with her daughter strong was a sweet effort, and the most worthwhile part of that whole plotline was Tim saying it was okay to let them die sometimes with a terrified patient in his room. Colleen and Matt’s wedding plans are a mess since they’re both so intent on not repeating past romantic decisions, and hiring a funeral home director was probably their first mistake. I’m sure they’ll find happiness eventually. Tim breaking famous musicians’ instruments backstage at a concert wasn’t the strongest of concepts, but it was fun to see him try to bond with a very angry Samantha who wasn’t responding well to being broken up with by a boy who didn’t even invite her to his bar mitzvah.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Great Indoors

The Great Indoors: Season 1, Episode 13 “DTR” (B)

This show is, more than anything else, about just how different millennials are from their elders, and therefore it was inevitable that we would see Jack trying so hard not to become the thing he hates so much. Hooking up with a younger woman wasn’t the best idea to begin with, and then it turned out that she was Mason’s roommate. Jack’s horrified reaction to the sight of first Mason, then Clark, then Emma in her apartment in the morning was funny, and of course these three spend so much time together outside of work that they carpool to the office. Jack’s efforts to keep up with the young lifestyle didn’t go too well, and his inability to understand basic parts of modern culture that he probably should have - like what “molly” actually means - did him a true disservice. Brooke had the chance to join in on the fun and mock Jack along with the millennials, and I can’t wait until their past romance comes to light and she gets to go back on the defensive. Eddie also got to offer some commentary, mainly pointing out that Jack wasn’t keeping up with what was going on, since he’s considerably more in-tune with the hipper vibes simply because they come to spend money at his bar. After learning that everyone and their best friend was in a relationship with his new girlfriend, Jack made a much smarter choice - to reach back out to the woman we met at the start of the episode. I’ve been a fan of Maggie Lawson since she first appeared on “Crumbs” over a decade ago and enjoyed her most on “Psych.” I hope that she’ll prove to be a great addition here and that she’ll have the chance to come out of her handshake-driven shell a bit too.