Thursday, June 22, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1, Episode 8 “Jezebels” (B+)

I’m glad that we’re getting so many origin stories, with precious few details but enough information for the characters to make more sense, as current events play out that add even more depth and clarity. Nick doesn’t have much of a personality, and therefore it tracks that, before everything, he was just a guy looking for a good job who couldn’t hold anything, and working for the head of one of the chapters of the Sons of Jacob was absolutely the right fit. That he met Fred when he chose not to speak up after hearing the crass, casual discussion about handmaids and why wives shouldn’t matter is also logical, though it’s intriguing to find out that his main job as an Eye is to report on his commander, not on everyone else in the household and what they’re doing. Offred’s predecessor having committed suicide and Serena indicating that she knew what the Commander was doing with her calls into question whether she knows what’s going on between her husband and Offred. That underground club was a weird place, and it was bittersweet for Offred to run into Moira, since it means that she didn’t end up dead or back as a handmaid but that she’s found something that’s only mildly better. Serena giving Offred the gift of a girl trapped in a box who only dances when someone else opens the lid was a moving metaphor on which to end the episode, and I’m eager to see how Offred delivers on her promise not to let herself be trapped and not to give up.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 3, Episode 11 “Conspiracy Weary” (B+)

Well, that whole situation resolved itself pretty quickly with Don E being held captive and Ravi nearly being executed thanks to the raving brute force displayed by the amped-up duo of Blaine and Liv. The helpful assist from Fillmore Graves was a little late and permitted the escape of two hostiles who did their own form of damage later, but at least the zombies got out okay. There have been a couple of times that we’ve seen Liv and Major eating the same brains, but this was the first time that a very, very hungry trio, consisting of Liv, Blaine, and Don E, went nuts on the brains of a conspiracy theorist, causing them to have some pretty hilarious conversations about some urban myths and unsolved mysteries. Major, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly paranoid enough, dating someone who publicized their entire private relationship, sex forts all over the house and all, and even created “Killer Abs” t-shirts that made Major the victim of a whole lot of mockery. I think her enthusiasm is relatively innocent and misplaced, if still more than a bit strange, unlike the kind ear of Ravi’s new friend Rachel, who turns out to be a journalist that put Liv’s zombie face on the front cover of the paper. Seattle may have just elected a zombie that happens to be a murderer as its new mayor, but the fact that zombies have just been somewhat incontrovertibly outed well ahead of schedule is cause for grave (pardon the pun) concern.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 3 “Chapter 55” (B+)

In an age where everything electronic and social media-related is instantly perceived by the American public, it’s extremely interesting to see the bold gamble of a presidential candidate hosting a question-and-answer question over live video chat where both he and those posing the questions can be seen. That’s part of what has defined Conway in the time that we’ve known him – he wants to face his accusers head-on and combat their allegations rather than let Frank, who ominously enough decided to call in and “allow” Conway to ask him a question, hurl libelous insults at him. Ultimately, it was his non-American wife Hannah who helped to truly humanize him when he got clearly agitated by the captain’s brother’s call. If that’s one way to handle the night before an election, Frank and Claire acting out lines from an old movie was something completely unexpected and actually quite endearing. Frank’s sore throat and cough was ill-timed, ready to make him look weak at a time that he couldn’t afford it, and even though Claire is exactly the partner that he needs, he still thinks that she isn’t supportive if she even thinks to bring up the possibility of losing the election. I’m not sure who voter turnout being lower than expected is bad for, but it sounds like it’s not great for everything that Frank expected to happen. Doug standing behind the commander-in-chief’s desk and carving his initials into it was a strange symbol of power, one that represents how much this particular position has meant to him.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 4 “The Sprout” (B+)

Alex really isn’t a great landlord or renter or whatever you’d call him, managing not only to consistently eat all of the food purchased by his tenants but also to cause them to have some marital troubles by bringing up something that happened in his personal life that they had no business needing to know. Only on this show could Alex see a picture of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, invite her over, and have her immediately come with no hesitation about it being uncomfortable or inappropriate. The truth is, they still get along well and haven’t lost any of their chemistry. Yet that was never their problem, and Emmy’s feelings on monogamy haven’t changed. Laura didn’t put much effort into trying to get her petition signed, but she did make a great new friend who even let her stay over due to their quick bond. Her stupid choice to do something reckless, taking something that didn’t belong to her just for the hell of it, cost her what could have been a nice relationship, and I think that’s going to stick with her and sting. Valerie, on the other hand, got decimated by her classmates before bonding with them in a better way after the class. She even got to set her own rules by sleeping with someone and then leaving his apartment when she wanted to, indicating at the very least to herself that she’s not fully in the middle of some crisis and is ready, for the moment, to face the world head-on.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 3, Episode 9 “Fall” (B+)

Watching Jimmy work is always mesmerizing, as I’ve said before, though usually it seems like his crimes are victimless. In this case, he engineered things so that he could pull out the right size sneaker from his trunk to give to a poor old lady to manipulate events so that she would be hated enough by her friends to be highly motivated to sign the deal and bring the class-action to a close far ahead of schedule. As usual, Jimmy is operating completely all out on his own, and therefore when he burst in to celebrate with Kim, she wasn’t in the headspace to hear it because she was heading out to close another deal, not content to wait for a lucky windfall on which to rest her laurels. After a smooth recovery from a near-disaster, she was way too overworked and seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel, causing an accident that banged her up a little but symbolically sent all her carefully-organized papers blowing in the mind, leaving her no real way to pick up the pieces. Lydia hiring Mike as a security consultant was an interesting scene, and it’s cool to see them meet in this way knowing how things ended up turning out for them in the show where we first met them both. Chuck really has willed himself back to health, casually cooking in his kitchen and holding a mixer while it’s on, and he’s done that in part as an act of defiance to Howard’s attempt to push him to retirement, something he’s obviously not going to take sitting down.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pilot Review: Claws

Claws (TNT)
Premiered June 11 at 9pm

I think I knew from the first moment that this show wasn’t for me. It’s on a network that isn’t always known for its top-notch quality but has been able to deliver some decent entertainment in the past few years with a couple of reliable shows. This one is certainly loud and empathic, and its energetic opening scene set the tone for the whole episode. It was obvious from the start that the horribly obnoxious two-timing dealer, who was audacious enough to broadcast it unapologetically, was going to get killed, and while Desna strangling him would have been a bit more satisfying, the way that it transpired did the trick. I recognized a handful of performers in this pilot, all from their previous TV work. It would make more sense to me for Niecy Nash to earn an Emmy nomination for this showy turn than for her mild and unmemorable performance on “Getting On.” Emmy winner Carrie Preston is just the right person to play the recently released Polly, who’s pretty much the same as all of the other characters she’s played but with a tiny bit more of an edge. Judy Reyes is playing the polar opposite of Carla from “Scrubs,” and Harold Perrineau from “Lost” also has the chance to try a different kind of part. And then there’s Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad,” who plays a character named Uncle Daddy, whose very moniker pretty much sums up my feelings about this show and why this opening hour is more than enough for me for a lifetime.

How will it work as a series? Well, these women are already in over their heads and now they’ve got a murder to cover up, and something tells me this is just the tip of the iceberg. These are some loud, colorful characters, and they’re going to have a lot of opportunity to make some noise as they try to keep their activities on the down-low.
How long will it last? I can’t understand how this show actually managed to net mostly positive reviews since I couldn’t stand a minute of it. It seems like the ratings were solid, so maybe this show will have a future after all. I wouldn’t count on it just now, but I wouldn’t be too shocked if TNT orders more of this trash.

Pilot grade: D-

Round Two: I’m Dying Up Here

I’m Dying Up Here: Season 1, Episode 2 “Midnight Special” (C+)

I think I’d like to get into this show, ideally, but I just don’t have the patience for it right now. Its dated feel is matched by its glacial pacing, and it’s hard to watch at certain points due to the extremely uncomfortable tone of just about every scene. There are some innocent enough things, like Goldie having Adam come to her house to do handywork because he knows when not to say anything and he happens to know how to fix things too. And then there’s the rampant chauvinism best represented by Bill’s visiting father, played by a surprisingly enthusiastic Glenn Morshower, compared to his dry portrayal of Agent Aaron Pierce on “24,” who couldn’t believe that Cassie would could both have a job and be his son’s girlfriend. Bill’s set in which he shouted down the group of laid-off women in the front row was truly painful. I’m not sure if it’s thought-provoking or just mundane to hear the comics make the same jokes again and again, since the laughter serves as an endearing comfort. Eddie and Ron’s time on “Let’s Make a Deal” was pretty ridiculous – apparently, it’s not that hard to get picked – and oly they could celebrate winning Rice-a-Roni for a year, literally putting food on their table and nothing more. Ralph and Edgar’s feud was more than just a little petty. I think this is enough of this show for me now – it’s been mildly interesting and I’m more than okay parting ways with it.

What I’m Watching: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks: Season 3, Episode 6 “The Return – Part 6” (B-)

It’s difficult to get into this show and the plot elements that are actually moving forward when it introduces so many random tangents that I can’t imagine are ever to going to make any sense or even matter to the grander picture at all. A handful of stabbings were plenty disturbing, and after a trippy magic show from Balthazar Getty, an innocent kid got killed thanks to some dangerous driving on the part of one reckless bad egg. It’s still not completely clear to me – nor is it to anyone else I imagine – what exactly is going on with Cooper and why he still can’t function as a human being, though something tells me that there’s not going to be some big “aha moment” in which he suddenly bursts free from Dougie’s body and asks for a nice slice of pie. It was intriguing to see Janey-E, upon receiving an incriminating photo of her husband, bring a wad of cash containing $25,000 to the men who Dougie owed, ready to confidently offer them half of what he owed to be done with it. I think they were more floored than anything, and while it might have done the trick, I wouldn’t mind if we got another chance to spend time with the eternally crazy-eyed Jeremy Davies, who looks just like he did in his Emmy-winning “Justified” role. Now let’s see if Albert is able to learn anything from Laura Dern’s Denise and if anyone inches closer to figuring out what’s going on with the two Coopers.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 6, Episode 8 “Judge” (B+)

I don’t often pay much attention to the “previously on” segments on this show, but this one was crucial since it reminded us that, right after his heart attack, Selina did promise Gary that she’d come down to Alabama for his fortieth birthday party. What a backwards sight it was, with the very kind mother played by Jean Smart of “Fargo,” “Legion,” and so much else and his harsh closeted father played by Stephen Root of “True Blood,” “Office Space,” and so much else. Selina was quick to notice how Gary’s father spoke to her, but she’s guilty of the same and plenty more, as evidenced by her appropriating a personal story he had just told her as her won when she upstaged him during his own party. Inviting Jaffar and some other political people wasn’t a surprise, and I far more enjoyed Marjorie catching Catherine eating two plates of pork ribs. Amy running around Birmingham and back to Dulles with Mike to track down his diary – and apparently his house keys – was fun, and what a find in Leon West’s diary, which I’m sure will allow them the upper hand that I’d hope they would choose to exercise properly and most efficiently. Jonah forcing Dan to hang out with him wasn’t quite as sweet as bringing Jane back to do his interview, completely screwing Dan over, but the joke was, as usual, on Jonah when the government shutdown ended just before his interview was scheduled to begin. I loved the way that Andrea Savage’s President Montes reacted to everything Jonah said, which somehow sounded even stupider than usual.

Monday, June 19, 2017

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Keenan Vortex” (B+)

It’s almost dizzying to keep up with the rate at which fortunes keep changing on this show and with who has intellectual and actual ownership of Pied Piper at any given time. At the start of this episode, Richard was not at all impressed with Haley Joel Osment’s Keenan Feldspar, and then all of a sudden both Dinesh and Gilfoyle were equally obsessed with him, encouraging Richard to strike a deal to be bought in the wake of the unfortunate realization that their contract with Dan Melcher was a bad idea due to its ignorance of overages, which were killing them during this cold front. Richard made a counteroffer meant to scare Keenan away, but then he took it, and then Monica pointed out just how much of a no-nothing showman he was, having minions work hard on making the demo look great because he was hiding the fact that there was nothing bigger and better, or even nearly as functional, behind the curtain. Screwing Erlich over clearly had a very detrimental effect, and fortunately no one was hurt in the fire he started by not bringing his bong outside with him. Jack is all about the flashy tech, and so it’s no wonder that he signed a deal with Keenan, and I’m eager to see how Richard and the boys bounce back in the season’s final two episodes as they go head-to-head with them in preparation for HooliCon, their next big chance to upstage the competition and score an underdog victory against a former ally.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black (Season Premiere)

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 1 “The Few Who Dare” (B)

Here we are, arrived sadly at the final season of this extremely unique and appealing show. I’ll admit that I’m not quite clear on where things are at this point and where they’re headed, but I do know that we have Delphine back, which is great, and all of our clones hard at work doing whatever it is they’re doing, mainly trying to stay alive and out of harm’s way from those who would pursue them. Art finally got himself a new partner, one who’s well aware of the existence of the clones and, despite orders not to hurt any of the clones, had no problem threatening his life so that she could compel one of them to answer her questions. Donnie’s decision not to be spotted when Allison got taken was far nobler than it appeared in the moment, though she’s also not in as much danger as he thinks. Sarah is in bad shape and can use all the help she can get right now. Rachel has clearly become an evil mastermind and this season is going to focus on taking her down because she’s worse than all of the others who supervised and monitored the creation of the clones, acting apart from them despite her really being of the same fabric (if I understand correctly, which I’m not 100% sure I do). As long as we’re treated to a good deal of Helena eating and showing up to kick ass when she’s needed most, I think that we and all of the sestras are going to be in pretty good shape.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter (Season Premiere)

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2 “It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This” and “Being Better is So Much Harder” (B+)

This to me is one of the most underrated and least talked-about shows on television, and it’s really a very good show. After season one presented a shocking death that turned out to very permanent, we got another loss – Nyx – in the season two finale – that’s already had a serious effect on things since Two and the rest of the crew now want to kill Four. Well, of course he’s not really Four anymore, even though he refers to his former crew members by their numeric names and remembers enough about Nyx that he was furious when he found out that she had been killed. That he wasn’t the one who did it will probably prove inconsequential to Two and Three, since they’re set on killing him anyway since he’s being too much of a menace to continue to exist and terrorize everyone. That anomaly or whatever it was created by the use of the blink drive was intense, eating away everything in its path and absorbing it all into white nothingness. With that one issue resolved, we still have the much more problematic development that Five is continually susceptible to flashing back to these memories, which are very informative but also uncontrollable in their nature, leading her state of consciousness to be highly unpredictable. At least the family is back together for the most part, missing just two of their original ranks but with the addition of a seventh, the android, who makes creative vegetable casseroles and fishes for compliments from her fellow crew members who have to be aware that she’s still evolving.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black (Season Premiere)

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 1 “Riot FOMO” (B+)

This show doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Sure, awards shows may not be able to decide whether it’s a comedy or a drama, but there’s no debating its quality. After one very memorable previous finale in which everyone ran out and took a dip in the lake, we’re coming off a very chaotic and powerful finish to season four in which a full-scale riot erupted. In the aftermath, what we have is chaos, with inmates who really aren’t quite as prove to cruel violence as some of the guards, but nonetheless seek to punish those that they feel have mistreated them both for revenge purposes and simply because it’s fun. Piper and Alex aren’t looking to do any of that, and in fact, as comparatively tame offenders to most of their fellow inmates, they’re trying to find a way to ensure that their would-be hostage doesn’t get hurt. Taystee and her crew are on a mission, and the PR hostage they have with Caputo was all about helping them get their message out since it still serves as a PR win for them. It’s hard to imagine how this is all going to get resolved and things are going to go back to normal, especially with how viral some of it has already gone, reaching those outside the prison including Piscatella, and evidently there’s someone in the prison with the upper hand who just knocked out a very stressed-out Dayonara. I’m looking forward to what is sure to be an engaging and enticing season to come.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 4 “Kimmy Goes to College!” (B+)

If there’s a job that I think would be perfect for Kimmy, it’s the idea of being a taskrabbit – not what she thought the term originally meant – because she doesn’t mind doing things that might irk others and attaining the satisfaction of accomplishing them efficiently and fully. That one of her first clients would end up being Xanthippe’s college roommates was fateful, and it was fun to see Kimmy completely misinterpret her former nemesis’ social situation and then make it worse when she accidentally bought Mike’s Hard Lemonade to a party that was supposed to be dry. Xanthippe’s act of rebellion ended up earning her praise rather than expulsion because of an extremely liberal and forgiving reading of her actions that wasn’t even close to accurate, and then Kimmy earned herself a full scholarship thanks to her experience churning the crank in the bunker and the coach’s bullying of the dean. Titus having to sing the worst possible conspiracy theorist, racist, anti-Semitic lyrics for a chance at stardom didn’t seem to bother him all that much, especially if the flash-forward to three weeks later is any indication. I enjoyed Lillian’s hopeless attempt to filibuster, and Peter Riegert’s grocery chain owner indulged her quite a bit. Appointing her as the liaison for his project was a smart decision that is sure to give him a headache, but I’m glad that it turned out this way since it should give her some sense of purpose that will allow her to focus her efforts on something slightly more productive than usual, even though she’ll actually spend most of her time making sure that nothing is produced.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 4 “Brothers” (B-)

To describe this show as lost in time might not be all that accurate, but it seems fitting given that this show’s frequent flitting around the timestream as of late has made it almost impossible to follow and not all that enticing anymore either. Tracking down Cassandra before Cole ever met her to the point that he could go and give her a heartfelt speech after having not seen her for so long gave this show a very dated feel, though of course it also added incredible poignancy to the surprising return at the end of the episode to the exact place from which she so fatefully disappeared at the close of last season. I for one am very glad she’s back, since now it’s clear what the mission is and that, tragically and fatefully enough, it was Cole and Cassandra themselves who created the witness, who has become the bane of both of their existences. Killing Ramse so that he wouldn’t take her out before she had a chance to give birth to the witness was an important act for him to do, and given that this is the now the thirteenth or fourteenth time that Ramse has betrayed Cole and he’s had to decide whether or not to forgive him, it’s about time. I far prepared the season opener that showed Cole making the choice to forgive Ramse, but at this point I’ll settle for Cole and Cassandra being reunited, ready to sit down and work with Jones and Jennifer to figure out how best to stop the witness once and for all. Not that they’ll stay put for long, I’m sure.