Monday, September 1, 2014

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

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 13 “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” (A-)

This double-decker installment was probably the best episode this show has produced yet, mainly because it kicked things into gear in a transformative way and helped to sew up a few open plotlines. It seemed to me that the tide was finally turning on Vee, and that she might end up being killed in more than one way at the same time. Ultimately, it was a quick, violent, and unmemorable ending that was quite fitting thanks to Rosa spotting her on the side of the road and ramming in to her because she was rude. Rosa’s getaway drive, complete with flashback to her glory days before prison, was absolutely perfect. Larry and Polly’s visit to see Piper was plenty awkward, and I like that Piper used their guilt to motivate them to help send Alex back to jail for season three, which should be a blast. It’s good to see Caputo on top because he’s become a more endearing character recently, much more so than Figueroa, whose exit was far from gracious. John’s situation didn’t exactly get resolved, though Caputo knowing means that John is somewhat more protected and somewhat more vulnerable. O’Neill’s songs played to the nuns were funny, and I liked the bonding among all the varied members of Red’s family. It was a relief to see Poussey rejoin the ranks of those corrupted by Vee, and also sad to see Crazy Eyes made to doubt her sanity because of Vee’s cowardice. I would say that this second year was definitely a blast, and I eagerly look forward to the show’s third season.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Hard to say with so many choices - maybe Barbara Rosenblat as Rosa?

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episode 7 “Equally Dead Inside” (B+)

What a fitting title for a fun episode, one which did stretch its believability a bit by having Jimmy go from an emotionless inconsiderate guy to full of sappy sentiment brewed from a bad relationship with his father. It’s most entertaining to watch Gretchen try to drum up sympathy and, more crucially, empathy, unsure of exactly how she can produce those foreign emotions. Her friendship with Dana evolved quite quickly into something far more seductive and difficult to come back from, and they managed to put a great show for a clearly flummoxed Jimmy. Unfortunately, his little run-in with Sandra Bernhard, in which she belittled his pre-prepared heckles, resulted in a trip home followed by a very brief moment of relief that ruined the whole thing. It was obvious that the threesome had to go wrong somehow, and the revelation that Jimmy hadn’t needed to enjoy any of it because he had shockingly quickly pleasured himself was pretty hilarious. In theory, Edgar and Lindsay are terribly annoying sidekicks, but there’s something about the way that they talk that’s so fantastically emphatic. It’s also genuinely funny that Lindsay disregards all the information she just doesn’t know and dismisses it as unimportant and that Edgar doesn’t feel like he fits into society. That they’ve been able to sustain their own subplot, even if it’s designed explicitly around not being the stars of their own stories, is a testament to the effectiveness of their characters and their ability to stand on their own.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 1, Episode 7 “Waffles and Pizza” (B+)

It’s not too surprising to learn that Russ and Lina have to move every few years, and I enjoyed the fact that Russ knew exactly what he had to hide when they found out about the unannounced open house. It’s understandable that Lina would want to be able to settle down somewhere, but Russ was right in his analysis of Lina’s craziness as she tried to persuade A.J.’s new girlfriend to break things off with her husband so that she could be with him and, most importantly, vacate her home. Cynthia wasn’t a particularly stable person, and it was obvious from the start that she and A.J. were not going to end up together. Russ’ discomfort at encouraging the breakup of a happy marriage was entertaining, as was his reaction each time to Lina talking about something that sounded a whole lot like their marriage. I had expected that we would see a continuation of Jess’ bar outing which may well have resulted in infidelity, but instead it was an entirely new plotline which didn’t cast her in the most satisfied light. That never seems to be her fate; instead, she had to deal with being asked for cocaine by the boss she thought was ready to give her a promotion. That she managed to make a statement and turn the situation to her advantage by getting the promotion she wanted in the first place was impressive, and it’s nice to see her score a rare win every once in a while.

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 8 “Goliath” (B+)

There’s a sense that things are coming together more than ever before, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s hard to remember what side of the law some of our favorite characters are on these days, particularly with Robles being taken in by Mexican police who wanted to know where Galvan has hiding. That he was ready to leave Marco in charge while he was away before the unsuccessful raid on Galvan’s location says a lot, though I think that would have presented more challenges than advantages. Agent McKenzie poisoning Sonya against Marco by telling her about his past with Galvan was very counterproductive since now she has pushed him away just as she needs him most. The Chopper is a fearsome American counterpart for Eleanor, and things don’t look good for Sonya, though her being one of the leads on the show suggests that she’ll make it through okay. Daniel continues to make poor life decisions, going after Sebastian at his son’s school. Sebastian calling the police represents just how little he considers Daniel to be a threat. I like that Adriana went to Marco for help to get him out of jail since it’s good to see these connections. Eleanor and Cesar make for a great odd couple, and I’m intrigued to learn more about Eleanor’s prospective buyer. It’s strange to see Eleanor in such a standard business setting because of how we met her, but it also underlines the fact that, when she wants to, she’s perfectly capable of blending in and flying under the radar.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Tyrant (Season Finale)

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 10 “Gone Fishing” (C+)

This finale was definitely a tense one, but I’m not entirely convinced by the way everything played out and certainly not reassured by what might come next in the second season for which the show has yet to be renewed. As Bassam grew more irritable and frantic, Jamal actually calmed down, enjoying a day out at sea with his brother and seeming like he genuinely wanted to sail off and abandon his country and his every responsibility. Bassam’s overconfident preemptive apology for arrested his brother was in fact premature, and it seems that everyone in the State Department was far too certain of what proved to be a failure in turning Jamal against Tariq. Now, Bassam has gone from mere adviser to political prisoner who will apparently face execution – that’s where the notion of a second season doesn’t become apparent since that doesn’t seem like a meaty enough premise which would be hopelessly drawn out. Just as worrisome is that petty theft was responsible for stranding the entire Al-Fayeed family in the country, confined to the embassy, which I think is somewhat less exciting that an actual move by Jamal and Tariq would have been. Either way, things are not looking good for everyone involved, and I’m iffy on whether I’d return for a second season. This show was better than I expected, but I’m not sure I thought it had much potential to start off with, so that’s not saying too much. I’d still like to nominate Ashraf Barhom as the cast’s strongest member, doing a great job of playing a very exaggerated character.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Ashraf Barhom as Jamal

Friday, August 29, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 7 “Asterion” (D)

Talk about a nosedive. This show just isn’t recognizable anymore, and these extensive time jumps didn’t particularly help matters. I’m not sure what the rush is since is still the middle of the season and there seems to be no reason to run all the way ahead. I can see the effect this show is going for, making its events seem and feel all the more dated, which should be productive and emphatic but comes off instead as off-putting and grim. Seeing Bill come up behind Virginia for a moment of forbidden romance at the wedding before he started berating her by pretending to quote her apologizing for her past lovers was pretty miserable, and it’s hard to understand the man he has become. The fast-forwarding did manage to portray Libby in a more positive and human light, though I’m at a loss as to why she was standing around in her undergarments while having a big fight with her husband. It’s good to see Ann Dowd back at least as Bill’s mother, though I’m not too convinced by the pretext of it and the extreme drama of having Bill invite her back into his life. All of a sudden, Austin is back in the picture, united with a new bride who’s perfect for him after an introduction only a few minutes earlier (in the time of our show), and now he’s become a slightly better person. Virginia, on the other hand, is a perpetual punching bag, condemned by all parties for her inability to truly focus on her relationships. I’m not sure how much more of this show I can take and may choose to abandon it midseason.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Garveys at Their Best” (A-)

This episode was enormously effective, flashing back to before the rapture to showcase all of our favorite characters – excluding Meg and Dean – and to see what they were up to in their more normal lives. It’s most eerie to see both Laurie and Kevin Sr. interacting with people in a usual way. What’s very clear, of course, is that few of these people were actually happy, evidenced most in Laurie’s negative reaction to Kevin smoking and his desire to save the deer and Nora’s inability to retrieve a simple phone call while her husband sat completely distracted on his phone at the table with his kids. Seeing Jill happy with her brother at home was a real surprise, and Matt too seemed so full of positive energy with his non-comatose wife around. This episode managed to still incorporate a good degree of foreboding eeriness, particularly revolving around the deer and Patti’s prophetic visions of something bad on the way. What was most mesmerizing was the rapture event itself, since it seemed by the tail end of the episode that there wouldn’t be time left and this had to be a few years before the big day. Instead, it struck at the most devastating time possible, literally severing the link between Tom and Jill, disappearing Kevin’s adulterous mistake into thin air, removing Nora’s entire crazy family in an instant, and, most powerful of all, removing the baby in the sonogram Laurie was looking at. What a heart-wrenching hour which makes me incredibly excited and anxious for the finale.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 7 “Walk This Way” (B+)

What an explosive episode featuring, more than anything, a whole lot said that can’t be taken back. Most shocking was the confrontation between Terry and Ray since they never really come to blows, physical or verbal, and when they have in the past it’s never a good thing. Ray telling Terry that no one wanted him was hurtful, and Frances was right to come to his defense regardless of the veracity of his claims, and telling Ray that she knows exactly what she saw was a questionable move but one which will certainly protect her since Ray knows that Terry would never forgive him for offing her. Mickey giving Conor the car was the second biggest mistake of the hour, as evidenced by Daryl’s complete meltdown after he went ballistic on the car that Mickey shouldn’t have given to his grandson. Ryan O’Nan’s Stan seemed like a good friend for Bunchy, but kissing him definitely was not the right move given his negative reaction. Marvin’s business friend talking to Ray closed in the walls of all the worlds on this show, and while Ray trying to keep Bridget away from Marvin really is for her own good, he’s only pushing her closer by telling her not to see him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Abby tried to divorce Ray soon, but he won’t take that lying down. I enjoyed Ray’s visit to Steve Knight’s house and his interaction with Bob, particularly the fact that he ended up having to give him a ride home. Ending the episode with Ray calling Kate, Ashley waving to Bob, and Ray dancing with Conor was very productive and powerful.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Last Ship (Season Finale)

The Last Ship: Season 1, Episode 10 “No Place Like Home” (B+)

Now this is what I’m talking about, even if this wasn’t a perfect episode and I could have predicted many of its developments. That said, this is exactly the excitement level and proper use of the outside world that I think could have “powered” the show until now (pun intended for those who watched). Hearing a specific hail acknowledging the continued mission of the Nathan James and then seeing a purportedly friendly face upon arriving into port made it seem like things might actually be okay. It was great to see Titus Welliver’s rebel leader again, and though his actions may be murderous, his intentions may not be all that bad given what Alfre Woodard’s Mrs. Granderson is up to. Rachel’s realization that they were making people sicker instead of curing them was worrisome, and Mrs. Granderson not even trying to deny it made matters even more disconcerting. It wasn’t too hard for Tom to find his family once he was on land, but unfortunately he didn’t make it in time for his wife, which is sad but helps to add a certain level of drama and weight to everything since a glowing reunion would have been too neat and perfect. Discovering that the city is powering itself with the bodies of those who have died is disturbing, and I’m curious now to see how the show will be transformed if the ship stays on land or if they venture out to seek a better society. I’m of course hoping they don’t go far, since this kind of dystopian society is the reason I signed up for this show. I have some doubts that’s how things will go, but I’m much more inclined to check in for the season two premiere now.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Eric Dane as Tom and Rhona Mitra as Rachel

What I’m Watching: True Blood (Season Finale)

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 10 “Thank You”

If I had to describe this finale in one word, it would be rushed, due mainly to the plethora of time jumps in the final few minutes that didn’t really have much of a point. But that’s not quite doing it justice, because there’s little about this finale that’s actually satisfying. The usual trope that a penultimate episode is better than the final hour is true here to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that was a perfect and fantastic installment. This episode contains just one bit of “action,” which was a rather ridiculous speedy execution by Eric and Pam of all their Yakuza pals which seems like it could have happened a few episodes ago. What took the focus of the hour was a spur-of-the-moment human-vampire wedding laced with awkward comedy since everyone there had a reason to feel uncomfortable. There’s nothing quite as generous as demanding a timely wedding because you’re on a clock to voluntarily meet the true death, but I suppose that Bill has done as right as possible by Jessica considering the nature of their first meeting. I am very pleased by how her character turned out given how things could have gone. No one else’s fate was too important, which is somewhat interesting with a large ensemble like this. Sookie proved to be terribly annoying right up until the end, taking a painfully long time to not use her light to kill Bill but to stake him instead. The flash-forward to everyone with kids and pregnant felt a bit too neat and happy, not quite right for this show. TV billionaires Eric and Pam seemed far too sterile, but then there was a dark ending to it all right before the final picnic scene. It’s strange to end on a shot of Sarah Newlin, who was a fantastic character who has pretty much just been tied up and abused for the past few episodes, completely miserable and hallucinating her dead gay vampire ex-husband. It’s a bizarre way to end, but I guess I couldn’t have expected anything different from this show. I just wish it been more even, emphatic, and exciting after so many years.

Series finale: B
Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica/Ashley Hinshaw as Brigitte
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica
Best Season: Season 1/2
Best Episode: You’ll be the Death of Me (Season 1 Finale)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 4 “Reckoning” (B)

This was a decent episode, but I didn’t find it to be terribly consistent with the hours that preceded it. That’s mainly true regarding Ruth, who I’ve always found to be a great character but who here aired her thoughts about Jesus Christ and eternal damnation for those who don’t believe a bit too publicly and arrogantly. Sure, she reached out to Naomi and invited her to come to services after to apologize, but it didn’t fit with her character that she would start out being so embarrassed by her loud, rude comments. Meanwhile, Durant was more polite than ever before, generously opening up his home to Eva, offering to give her money and returning to take sexual favors as payment, saying instead that they were friends. I’m not sure that’s the case, but Durant does have just as many allies as he has enemies. Cullen, meanwhile, is continuing his annual return to prominence, seen as the most competent man around by just about everyone, even able to make the most of an ill-advised run in with Indians. Campbell seems determined to show Mickey who’s boss, and I don’t think that he’s a problem that will go away so easily. Speaking of such things, the Swede doesn’t seem ready to be out of the picture just yet, sticking to his story and going head to head with Aaron ready to keep up the charade for as long as possible and ensure that his religious zeal continues to influence the Mormon people.

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 4, Episode 4 “Dream Baby Dream” (B-)

I think that this show is the darkest show on television. Recently, I’ve considered that maybe it was “The Bridge” or “The Leftovers,” which live in miserable places, but I think this series takes the cake. Watching what goes on in military school is so immensely disturbing, as an already distraught Kyle is forced to watch a violent slapping game and then be its victim when he refuses to take part, and then to be locked in his room by his sympathetic headmistress when he tells her that he found a gun and a suicide note on his desk. Since we saw his sister, it’s hard to know what’s real, but I do think he’s very much in danger. It’s not as if Linden and Holder are going to help him much now either since their situation has imploded in a terrible way. Carl’s source put the whole thing together for him, and, while he does deserve some credit for asking Skinner’s wife the uncomfortable question about him liking young girls, he pretty much had it handed to him. The sight of all the bodies lined up by the water was a horrifying sight, but not as disconcerting as the car with Skinner in it slowly being raised from the water, somewhat reminiscent of the show’s own watery beginnings when Rosie was a much more innocent victim. With Linden having family problems and Holder falling back into bad drug habits, is there any way that the two of them make it through this and manage to protect Kyle and solve that case in the process? I’m not optimistic.

Emmy Awards: The Morning After

I didn’t get a chance to post reactions after the show last night, so here goes. I miss the days that awards shows used to have clips galore and really get excited about the shows or movies or whatever that were nominated. In an effort to keep the show to a strict three hours, there wasn’t a single montage, and even the tribute to Robin Williams was unexpectedly short. They asked comedy stars what the best direction they got was, but that was the only time that the nominees were announced in a creative way. The funniest part was inarguably the Billy Eichner and Seth Meyers clip featuring a laugh-out-loud moment when a woman answered unintelligibly about the name of the awards show. Weird Al’s main title theme music with words bit was fun, but hardly as funny as it should have been.

And then, there were the winners. I correctly predicted a dismal four wins, three of which were in top categories – “Breaking Bad” for Best Drama Series, “Fargo” for Best Miniseries, and “The Normal Heart” for Best TV Movie – and the fourth of which was Allison Janney for “Mom.” I’m more disappointed in the winners than in my predictions, namely because Janney was the only series winner who hadn’t won before for her show, and she already has five Emmys. Giving Cranston his fourth trophy, Margulies her second (for this role), Paul his third, Gunn her second, Parsons his fourth, Louis-Dreyfus her third, and Burrell his second suggests that there is nothing creative or new about the Emmys. It doesn’t matter that other actors had better submissions since clearly the favorites always win. Somewhat along the same lines, the miniseries and TV movie acting prizes went to stars of projects that have been nominated before, “Sherlock” and “American Horror Story.” I’m not arguing that they’re not deserving, and it’s more exciting to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman take home Emmys even if they couldn’t be there to accept them, but it’s strange that these standalone categories still have repeat nominees. “Fargo” was probably the best thing on television this past year, but “True Detective” will be back in the same format next year, so why are they in different categories? That’s a whole separate mess.

As always, I conclude that I like the nominations process more, predicting the nominees, watching the announcement, and then screening all the episodes submitted. Maybe it doesn’t matter to voters which episodes were picked, but that’s still what gets me most excited about the Emmys.

In more satisfying news (for me, at least), the 8th Annual AFT Awards, my own choices for the best in television this past season, will begin in September when I take some time off to get married! Stay tuned, and then get ready for what’s sure to be an exciting pilot season! Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Final Emmy Winner Predictions

For some unknown reason, the Emmy Awards air tonight (Monday) as opposed to last night (Sunday). I prefer keeping the ceremony on the weekend, but I suppose it’s all the same. I’m already 2/4, correctly predicting Allison Janney and Uzo Aduba but missing Joe Morton and Jimmy Fallon in favor of David Morse and Bob Newhart. Now, the questions are whether “Breaking Bad” will be edged out by “True Detective,” and if “Modern Family” can be finally be taken down by “Orange is the New Black.” Plenty of these categories will be extremely competitive, and I’m honestly not sure what’s going to happen. I’m hopeful that it won’t just be a boring repeat of the past but rather that there will be a lot of creativity and first-time wins this year. I’m excited for the show, and will post some brief reactions either immediately afterwards or the next morning. Enjoy the show, and leave your thoughts in the comments! For detailed predictions in all applicable categories, click on the hyperlinked category name.

No guts, no glory:
William H. Macy for Best Comedy Actor

Breaking Bad

Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)

Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Josh Charles (The Good Wife)

Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey)

Felina (Breaking Bad)

The Secret Fate of All Life (True Detective)

Orange is the New Black

Ricky Gervais (Derek)

Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

Allison Janney (Mom)

Lesbian Request Denied (Orange is the New Black)

Special Relationship (Veep)


The Normal Heart

Billy Bob Thornton (Fargo)

Cicely Tyson (The Trip to Bountiful)

Matthew Bomer (The Normal Heart)

Allison Tolman (Fargo)

Fargo (The Crocodile Dilemma)

The Normal Heart

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

The Voice

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 12 “It Was the Change” (B+)

Now this was a pretty packed episode and a fitting penultimate hour for the season (though the finale is 92 minutes, which is sure to be an experience in itself). Even if she is fated to be transferred to another prison, it’s good to see Piper get one last chance to dig into the prison and realize that things are actually awry, mainly the plumbing issue and the files she got caught redhanded with by Caputo. She may even have found her meal ticket if the files in her hands are damning enough to serve as blackmail. During the storm, it was fun to see certain characters deal with the situation, like the gullible Pennsatucky and Boo, while it was much more serious and less entertaining for others. It’s hard to feel sympathetic for Figueroa when she saw her husband kissing another man after she ignored Caputo’s many calls and treated everyone at the prison so terribly. More flashbacks to Vee’s past reveal that she was above nothing including sleeping with her son and then having him killed immediately after by her cop friend because she thought he was competing with her in business. Red not strangling her made her the better person, but then Vee had to come back after alleging a truce to wail on her. I certainly hope this isn’t the end for Red, but especially with Taystee realizing that she can’t hate Poussey, I don’t see how the tables can’t turn on Vee in what’s sure to be a very transformative and memorable finale.