Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pilot Review: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst (FX)
Premiered July 17 at 10:30pm

Consider this the surprise of the summer. A title like this doesn’t suggest too much in the way of inspiring quality, and the few quick promos I saw during the pilot of “Married” only reinforced that. Fortunately, this show managed to defy expectations and actually turned out to be rather charming. Its title is spot-on, since it’s hard to find a wedding outburst scene these days that manages to feel original, and Jimmy really is the worst. Gretchen does give him a pretty good run for his money, and it’s a blast to get to know the two of them. Jimmy’s interactions with his child neighbor were quite amusing, and his roommate Edgar has some pretty worthwhile things to say too. Ultimately, though, this pilot was all about its two protagonists, Jimmy and Gretchen, both outcasts from society because of their truly despicable behavior who managed to find each other and revel in their shared passion for not caring about anything. Their sex-filled night was entertaining, and I like that moments like the curious spitting were referenced later when Gretchen was trying to recreate the same detached lovemaking with someone else. Best of all was the ending scene, in which they shared a true connection and Gretchen indulged Jimmy’s foot fetish just for fun. I have no idea whether this show can follow up on that or if I’m just high off the end of the pilot, but I’m hopeful that this might just be an unexpected gem of depraved comedy with an endearing touch.

How will it work as a series? This episode ended on a sweet note, but the question is where it goes from here. It’s important that both Jimmy and Gretchen remain unlikeable, and that their romance doesn’t actually materialize for real since that would defeat the purpose of this show. It’s a tall order, but I’m optimistic.
How long will it last? Not too long, I’m afraid. While this does suit FX’s new brand of comedies, the ratings just didn’t impress, especially compared with lead-in “Married,” which FX would surely choose over this one if it kept just one. Ten episodes is likely all we’ll get.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Married

Married (FX)
Premiered July 17 at 10pm

Because they premiered at the same time, it’s inevitable that this show will be compared to USA’s similarly-themed “Satisfaction.” It’s not entirely fair since this show is something altogether different. It’s emblematic of FX’s new brand of comedy, shuttling a few of its flagship comedies to new sister network FXX and holding on just to “Louie” and “Anger Management.” This show’s humor is reminiscent of the former show, with its protagonist wandering around awkwardly, fated to end up in uncomfortable situations laced with irony. I was a big fan of Nat Faxon in the underrated “Ben and Kate” a few years ago on FOX, and it’s great to see him back on TV. This role is considerably different, but he’s just as well-suited for it as he is for more physical comedy and sarcasm. Judy Greer, who is also a delight, has the opportunity here to be in a perpetual bad mood and deliver her lines with the most attitude possible. Having Jenny Slate and John Hodgman in the supporting cast is an added treat, and this ensemble is perfectly set up for sardonic humor. Watching Faxon’s Russ shop around for a mistress and then find just the girl for it proved hilariously entertaining, particularly with his ill-fated dog purchase and his daughter’s subsequent discovery of that same dog. I think this show could well prove to be enjoyable on a weekly basis, though it’s not almost going to pleasant to watch its characters worm their way out of unfortunate and regrettable situations.

How will it work as a series? Greer’s Lina can only be cool with her husband not being straight with her and insinuating that he may or may not have just come from an extramarital affair for so long, so it’s a question of whether this show is able to make her just as interesting a character as him and to make them both drastically and comically believable.
How long will it last? This show managed to succeed well with its target audience in its initial offering, and it bested its lead-out, “You’re the Worst,” making it easy for FX to decide which of the two shows it should keep going forward. I think this could be a good companion for “Louie,” and I suspect FX will want to stick with it.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Satisfaction

Satisfaction (USA)
Premiered July 17 at 10pm

This is one of those shows that has been advertised so blatantly that it’s near impossible not to have heard of it. That said, its advertisements aren’t entirely accurate, since it makes it seem like two people involved in a joint pact to find sexual fulfillment elsewhere (see FX’s superior effort aired at this same time, “Married,” for that). Instead, only one party is woefully aware that, despite all he does to try to make her happy, she still insists on calling her escort companion, whose cell phone happens to be in her husband’s possession. He’s not blameless either, constantly at work and barely present in his family life. It’s hard to find Americans starring in American television shows anymore, and so it’s no surprise that Australian Matt Passmore and French actress Stephanie Szostak are at the helm of this particular series. I liked Passmore when he was the star of “The Glades,” a show that I didn’t even process was no longer airing, and I don’t think his role here in nearly as entertaining since he’s cast as a dramatic protagonist whose smooth talking could use some work. Compared to “Hung,” this show doesn’t have nearly the same appeal, but its premise isn’t quite the same. I think that this show is trying to do too much at once, and I’m not sure it’s capable of managing it all. There is some potential here, but it hasn’t yet been realized since both Neil and Grace need to be fleshed out much more fully as characters. It’s light entertainment, but hardly classifies as must-see.

How will it work as a series? It seems highly implausible that Neil could continue to balance everything in his life and string along his wife while he had a whole separate career as an escort. Posing as Simon and stealing his clients also doesn’t seem sustainable, so I’m somewhat curious but not all that optimistic to see how this show plans to keep those storylines going.
How long will it last? The pilot did better than the show that aired before it, “Rush,” but not by too much. It’s very possible that the advertising campaign for this show will lead to considerable disappointment, and I think the ratings will suffer as a result. I don’t see this one lasting past the season.

Pilot grade: C

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pilot Review: Rush

Rush (USA)
Premiered July 17 at 9pm

One of USA’s big successes has been “Royal Pains,” its show about a doctor fired from a top New York City hospital for choosing morality over money who becomes a concierge doctor in the Hamptons. Clearly the network likes this brand, as it has engineered a show that is similar in premise but slightly different in execution. Substitute getting fired because of a drug addiction and swap in Los Angeles for the Hamptons, and you have this show. Tom Ellis’ Dr. William Rush is no Hank Lawson. He’s far from a nice guy, and doing the right thing for him means teaching an abusive athlete not to hit women by bashing his hand in with a baseball bat. While it’s certainly more serious than the Hamptons-set show sometimes tends to be, it isn’t necessarily any more compelling. We’ve seen enough flawed doctors on television for a lifetime, and I think a drug addiction hardly makes Rush stand out from the crowd. Odette Annable’s Sarah does help to humanize him, as does his loyal assistant Eve, but otherwise, he’s in over his head way too much, enlisting henchmen to collect bills when he knows that he’ll be forever indebted to them for their service. I’m also not sure that Rush is a character worthy of this network, since he doesn’t have the charisma the show seems to think he does, charming enough but not able to deliver as much on the promise of his disarming demeanor. He’s a mediocre character on a show that too is pretty mediocre.

How will it work as a series? With a premise like this, there’s ample opportunity for drama, both comedic and heavier in nature, with the revolving door of clients who might call upon Rush for medical attention and also call upon him for steeper favors. We’ve seen this before, which suggests that it will be entertaining but hardly original.
How long will it last? Maybe not so long. The ratings for the pilot didn’t impress all that much, and I think that the show doesn’t seem unique enough to draw an audience all its own. The summer is the perfect launching pad, and so if the ratings haven’t improved by the end of the show’s first season in early September, I think that will be it.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 2, Episode 5 “Act As If” (B+)

Plenty is changing on this show as its characters are being put into new situations where they have the opportunity to share feelings and opinions that haven’t been dredged up recently. Most startling was the aftermath of Daniel’s visit to a store while on the hunt for a new, or rather old, stove. It does make sense that the people most likely to approach Daniel with an open mind would be those with a more open attitude to most things. That doesn’t mean that Daniel would necessarily respond well to such invitations, and he did his best being put in his first mass social situation in a long time, standing up most importantly for his desire not to be physically chained to anything. We’ve seen the effect of being on death row on Daniel, but not as much on Janet, particularly in how she dealt with the repeated news that Daniel was not going to be executed and that a chapter of her life would still remain open. It’s disconcerting to know that Senator Foulkes is still actively building a case against Daniel, far from satisfied with the notion of even ten years in prison. Amantha is failing miserably at her new job, and something tells me that the opportunity to move to Boston and start over won’t ultimately appeal. It’s so interesting to see how Tawney and Ted look at each other, and to hear them discuss business, college, and pregnancy all in the same conversation with a sort of detached but curious outlook.

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 2 “Ghost of a Flea” (B)

Last season, we didn’t know the identity of the main villain but we had an idea of the message he wanted to get across. In this season, we’re well aware of the primary threat – Franka Potente’s deadly Eleanor Nacht – but don’ really know just what she’s up to, only that it’s extremely malicious. Somehow she’s more terrifying stringing a poor and all too willing teenager along by promising him the opportunity to touch her than with her ear-slicing henchman in tow. Her identity has become immediately clear, as the corrupt Mexican authorities want to make sure that she is found right away and Sonya managed to grab a screen capture of her walking through immigration. It’s hard to tell where Marco falls at the moment since he’s struggling to stay on a good path but is being pulled in multiple directions mostly as a result of the vengeful favor he requested at the end of last season. He was awfully frank with Sonya about what he had been told to by his superiors but left out the very crucial detail of needing to bring Eleanor in before she did. Abraham Benrubi’s DEA agent is sure to further complicate things, and then there’s Daniel’s investigation with Adriana, which are getting more and more serious by the minute with an especially pungent and deadly development. I’m still waiting to see more of Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte, who has gone unmentioned in both this episode and the season premiere but is definitely one of the show’s strongest characters.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I’m Watching: Wilfred

Wilfred: Season 4, Episode 5 “Forward” (B)

This episode had a bizarre introduction and structure to it, utilizing the black-and-white flashback device to fill in missing pieces of time much more than ever before. It was strange to see Ryan torturing Wilfred, both because it was physical rather than emotional and because it usually happens the other way around, as it inevitably did later in the episode. It’s about time Ryan started baiting Wilfred to do something devious to catch him in an exaggeration or outright fabrication, and it would be nice if, for once, Ryan managed to gain the upper hand in a situation. What was different and interesting about how this played out is that Ryan’s efforts to get Wilfred thrown out of the preschool interview for Joffrey – complete with alcohol, a gerbil, and ski mask – were allegedly done in Ryan’s best interest. For once, that may have been true, since Amanda was at the school. The revelation that she was a janitor and not a teacher was a sad one since she was clearly so distraught by her breakup with Ryan. The suspicion that Wilfred is an evil dog and not actually Ryan’s friend is somewhat legitimate, though I think Wilfred is capable of plenty of malicious behavior all on his own without being possessed or impersonated. He’s also pretty terrible at making tied-to-a-chair puns while exacting his revenge, infusing some uncomfortable comedy into an uneasy situation that seems less and less like it will end on a positive note for our good friend Ryan.

Round Two: Extant

Extant: Season 1, Episode 2 “Extinct” (C+)

I didn’t comment last week on the fact that this show’s very brief opening credits display the word “extinct” before morphing it into “extant,” which to the best of my understanding means the opposite. Featuring a visit to a natural history museum is a bit of a direct and explicit way of analyzing the human race and where it’s headed, with Ethan as the artificial intelligence being who is self-aware enough to tell another computer that he’s not human and Molly pregnant with what may very well be an alien baby. It’s not entirely clear what’s going on and who’s responsible, though Hideki and Alan obviously know much more than they’re letting on and have some sort of sinister plan brewing. It’s going to be a long road until Molly finally confesses that she is with child to her husband, and I think that’s some relationship drama that could be lowered considerably by her coming clean instead of putting it off to drive him away even more in the interim. Brad Beyer’s deceased astronaut appears to be very much alive, showing up right in front of where Molly works to pick her up and rush her off to some secret place to converse and let her know what happened to him while he was away. I’m not so on board with his creepy mom following him around the ship with a longing look on her face since that’s pretty frightening, but his swift decision to airlock her is considerably more interesting and shows that he’s trying to be on top of his sanity, which isn’t an easy task on this show.

What I’m Watching: Tyrant

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 4 “Sins of the Father” (C+)

This show is not moving quickly at the moment, seemingly stalled as Bassam tries to slow the dictatorial efforts of his brother and to help ease the severity of his responses as much as possible. With no reference to the public hanging that occurred last week, this was all about how Jamal and his government were going to crack down in anticipation of the reaction to the anniversary of a brutal event in the history of the Al Fayeed family and their country. Maybe it’s that all of this is too cut-and-dry, with Bassam advocating for a more moderate way of dealing with political protest and Jamal and his top advisors underlining the necessity of keeping the public calm and in line by instilling fear in them. Bassam’s strongest point of the hour was about not avoiding violence because it’s wrong but rather because it doesn’t work. The rest of the episode wasn’t much more enticing or enthralling, featuring no plot or character development whatsoever for Molly and little for Emma, and instead spotlighting Sammy, who has already had more than enough time to shine. Painting Abdul as his father’s son makes sense even though it seems out of character for him, and Sammy definitely needs to take a moment to comprehend where he is and what the implications would be if someone were to discover his predilections, and how much worse they would be for the man he’s into since he doesn’t have the benefit of being an Al Fayeed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 7 “Population 25” (B+)

This was one intense hour, especially for an episode that started out rather calmly with the only real danger being Sean boring Vic to death on a road trip in his ill-advised convertible. Unfortunately, far more sinister things with much bigger implications were at work, one of which wasn’t resolved and will keep viewers on the edge of their seats until next week. I’ve been a fan of Peter Stormare’s since “Fargo,” and while I think his villainous turn here is quite different than the one there, namely because of his enthusiasm for dramatic flair and verbal prowess, he’s just as terrific. Vic really did pick the wrong driveway, and that escalated very quickly. Trying supposed traitors in a frightening trial is something that we’ve seen elsewhere, like on “Person of Interest” recently, but putting helmets on people’s heads and then bashing them with baseball bats is probably more disconcerting and scary. It was strange to see Sean under pressure, because at first he seemed woefully incompetent and then he actually did alright, even though he didn’t seem terribly fazed by the gravity of the situation. What was most interesting about this episode was seeing Ed Gorski show up and work hard to get Walt to trust him, initially appearing hostile but ultimately showing signs of good faith and going in side-by-side with Walt. The sheriff may not have found his wife’s killer, but he is certainly face-to-face with a formidable enemy, and let’s hope this encounter doesn’t leave him down for the count.

What I’m Watching: 24 (Season Finale)

24: Season 9, Episode 12 “Day 9: 10pm-11am” (F)

It’s hard to know if this should be termed a season finale or a series finale since this show signed off a while ago only to emerge again. What this finale did is it cheated, skipping ahead twelve hours to a convenient point in time when funeral arrangements were all too hastily prepared and events conveniently took place over the span of just a few minutes. Dissecting this admittedly terrible finale isn’t an easy task, since it’s puzzling to decipher just what the point of it all is. The absurd speed at which things happen, like Kate managing to track Audrey down in minutes despite having no clue where she was before dillydallying rather than taking action, ultimately leading to Audrey getting fatally shot. You’d think that more caution would be exercised, but that hardly seems wise since Jack appears to be destined for eternal misery. As if his holding a sword to Cheng’s neck to get him to admit his name (which hardly seems necessary when facial recognition has already confirmed his identity) while on camera with the president wasn’t brazen enough, Jack had to go ahead and slice his head off, both sparing Cheng of the punishment he might endure in prison and ensuring that he could be prosecuted for a crime that he most obviously committed. Jack turning himself over to the Russians in exchange for Chloe is an even bleaker resolution, hardly fitting of comparison to the way the show ended, with Jack going on the run, or even how previous seasons finished, like Jack faking his death or being captured by the Chinese. This show could well return, and I’d certainly hope for a more coherent, optimistic effort next time. This wasn’t worth it.

Season grade: D
Season MVP: Yvonne Strahovski as Kate

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pilot Review: The Strain

The Strain (FX)
Premiered July 13 at 10pm

After seeing a photo of an up-close eye on a sidewalk advertisement for weeks, I wasn’t anticipating this show very much, especially because it seemed like it skewed a bit too close to horror for me. Perhaps that lack of excitement was why I did actually enjoy this first extended episode. I’ve watched other shows about the outbreak of a virus in the past – most recently “Helix,” which I didn’t find particularly interesting – and it’s always hard to find a balance between the gravity of some unknown pathogen seeping its way into society and the inevitable way in which people dismiss serious concerns or clues that seem crazy at the same time. That scene in which Dr. Ephram Goodweather laughs off what appear the rantings of a senile old man was right-on, so foolish in concept but so likely in execution. I’m not suggesting that the writing is superb here, because at times it can be a bit much, but there is a decent storyline going on with Ephram’s complicated family life and his sexual history with his partner, Dr. Nora Martinez. At first, I almost didn’t recognize Corey Stoll, who was last seen on “House of Cards,” mainly because Ephram displays such a sense of self-confidence that his last character didn’t have. I remember Mia Maestro, who plays Nora, from her days on “Alias,” and she seems competent enough for her role. The other familiar face in the cast is Sean Astin, originally big as a hobbit and far better here than he was on his one-season arc in “24.” I’m not sure exactly where the show goes from here, but it’s clear there are many competing interests at play and few of them seem to be for the true good of the world. I think I’d like the show a bit more if the virus didn’t manifest itself in such a physical, demonic way with the hooded monster (apparently it has something to do with vampires), but I suppose it’s not that bad. An eerie thriller that’s not too creepy or downright scary is just fine in my book.

How will it work as a series? Dead people are coming back to life, and they’re definitely possessed! One villain suggested walking the streets of New York City one last time before everything changes, so I suspect things are just going to get worse as time goes on, which could certainly be enthralling.
How long will it last? The premiere numbers were great, and FX hasn’t really tried Sunday nights too much before, so that’s a very good thing. Besting the network’s other recent series debuts bodes very well, and I can’t see why FX wouldn’t want to capitalize on this success.

Pilot grade: B

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex (Season Premiere)

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 1 “Parallax” (B-)

By the end of last season, I wasn’t so enamored with this show anymore, and this premiere doesn’t inspire much confidence. That said, it’s an obviously transitional installment, and so it’s hard to tell how the chips will fall. Bill flashing back to his perfect moment of truth with Virginia quickly turned into him sitting at home in the dark with a baby crying in the background, a harsh reminder of the current reality of his situation. The episode deliberately tried to trick its viewers into thinking that the two timelines being shown were one and the same, where in fact it appears that Bill and Virginia’s honeymoon period was short-lived and is now purely professional, as much as that can be the case. Bill turning up the music to drown out his baby’s cries was hardly kind, but pushing his caring mother away was truly cruel, particularly to Libby. Virginia’s life isn’t all that enthralling at the moment, thanks to her constantly being propositioned. Fortunately, one person appreciates her work, and she may just have a bright future ahead. Austin continues to be the comic relief of the show, managing not only to fool around on his wife but being indiscriminate enough to do so with her sister. Scully’s shock therapy was unpleasant to watch, as were its aftereffects, namely Scully trying to commit suicide after an unsuccessful attempt to seduce Margaret. Danny Huston went from a meaty role on one 1960s-set show, “Magic City,” to another one on this, and I’m intrigued to see what kind of part he’ll play going forward in Bill’s professional life.

Take Three: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 3 “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (B+)

It’s a brave thing for a show to feature just one of its characters so early into its run. The first two episodes of this show have introduced us to this world and how it works, but what this episode managed to do was dig deep into the soul of one particular person. It’s strange to see Matt framed in a positive light since, before this, he was cast as a villain, deriding the good names of those who disappeared in the rapture. Now, we get a full picture of his life, as he struggles to make ends meet while sticking true to his convictions, insisting upon the merits of his work despite nearly everyone being against him. Connecting him to Nora was very effective, since the two loneliest people in town actually share a connection. His run-in with Laurie when he went to get the money was powerful, and what happened next was just mesmerizing. Watching him bet the money over and over, managing to win an incredible amount, only to be mugged in the parking lot before going nuts on his attacker, then getting hit by a rock when he stopped to help someone on his way to the bank, was entirely gripping. His subsequent visit to the bank brought this show back to its supernatural roots with the lost time, and then that look from Patti sealed it all. This show has such a grim and eerie outlook, and this chronicle of a cursed man was a fantastic introduction.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan (Season Premiere)

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 1 “Yo Soy Capitan” (B+)

In the time signed this show signed off following its first season, I had forgotten just how good this series was. Sure, Emmy nominee Jon Voight is great, but he’s hardly its sole recommender. The “previously on” segment reminded me of the first season’s quality, and this episode set in a motion what looks to be a fantastic follow-up. It’s hard to match Ray’s bold coolness, always ready to storm in angrily and silently to tackle any situation head-on. Marching in to introduce himself to Hank Azaria’s Agent Cochran and confessing that he paid Sully to kill his father was extremely brazen, but I suppose he has a plan. I’m very excited to see Azaria in this role and look forward to his interactions with Ray. Unfortunately, Ray’s being distracted by too many problems at home with his kids, and his therapy isn’t helping much, especially considering his reaction when he inevitably finds out that Abby told the therapist about his having been molested. Daryll seems to be all grown up, and he’d be doing much better for himself if his father wasn’t betting against him on a fight he arranged. The sight of Bunchy wearing a tie and shorts and actually trying to do well for himself is affirming, and let’s just hope that his new friend doesn’t have devious aims. Ezra, as always, is entertaining and on a whole separate level, spewing Jewish phrases with perfect emphasis. While she continues to be underused, Lena’s brief appearance was probably my favorite, coming to the rescue of a gunshot victim before threatening to shoot her again if she didn’t stick to the story.