Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pilot Review: The Bisexual

The Bisexual (Hulu)
Premiered November 16

I had no idea that Desiree Akhavan had made a television series, but if I had imagined what one would be like, this would definitely be it. Akhavan made her feature film debut behind the camera and in front of it in “Appropriate Behavior” in 2014, portraying her discomfort navigating the world as a bisexual Persian-American. This year, she returned as director for “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” a compelling story of a teenage girl sent to a gay conversion therapy camp. It’s interesting but not at all unexpected that she would choose a British network and setting for her first foray into television, with this series premiering on Channel 4 in the UK a little over a month ago and then dropping all six of its episodes on Hulu this past Friday. As Leila, Akhavan is just as awkward and unapologetically blunt as she was in her debut film, ready to break off a serious relationship because her girlfriend proposed marriage and then jumping to re-propose to her when a heterosexual encounter led to terrible confusion. Opposite her, Brian Gleeson, son of Brendan Gleeson, is terrific as her roommate Gabe, who of course asked about “Blue is the Warmest Color” as soon as he was around lesbians only to have them mention “The L Word” before warning him of its context. This is a great showcase for Akhavan whose “No, stay, she says” was the highlight of this half-hour for me. I’m up for another episode or maybe even all five.

How will it work as a series? Sticking gum in a black girl’s hair is probably going to come back to haunt her, especially because she’s still working for Sadie on a creative basis every day. I’m hopeful that she and Gabe won’t sleep together, but I do look forward to them navigating the complicated world of romance and love together as friends.
How long will it last? Reviews are good, even better in fact that they have been for Akhavan’s two narrative films. British television, by its nature, is usually short-form and unlikely to last too many seasons, and broadcasting to American audiences via Hulu should help grow its audience. I’d predict two seasons of this show before Akhavan moves on to bigger projects.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: The Kominsky Method

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Premiered November 16

When I sit down to watch a Chuck Lorre sitcom, I expect to chuck a bit and maybe even laugh loudly once or twice. I don’t, however, expect something mature and sentimental. After making a name for himself with “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” among others, Lorre went to Netflix a couple years ago with “Disjointed,” another laugh-track comedy starring Kathy Bates as a weed dispensary operator, that didn’t suggest much creativity and ended up being quickly cancelled. Now, unexpectedly, Lorre is teaming with two veteran Oscars who are also Oscar winners for something that’s much more sophisticate and successful on a number of levels. We’ve seen plenty of shows about those who are way past the prime of their lives trying to stay relevant by being acting coaches, including another one just this year, “Barry.” This one is nice because it features two much older actors, Michael Douglas, who is 74, and Alan Arkin, who is 84. The best part is that they’re both great, and this show serves as a slightly more dramatic counterpart to the similarly charming “Grace and Frankie.” I’m also very happy to see Sarah Baker from “Louie” as Sandy’s daughter, and Nancy Travis, most recently seen on “Last Man Standing,” seems like a great addition as Sandy’s new date who’s going to do a deep dive into their relationship. I didn’t recognize Emily Osment as Theresa, the student who did the “Steel Magnolias” scene, but she was great. I didn’t have high expectations for this one despite seeing Douglas’ name listed on Golden Globe predictions list, but now I’m more than ready to settle in for its eight-episode first season.

How will it work as a series? Eileen dying at the end of the episode was certainly a sad direction to go, but it’s going to help Sandy realize that he’s mortal and that he should be thinking more about what he’s really doing with his life. Following his relationship with Lisa and his difficulty relating to these young, entitled acting students should prove to be a lot of fun, with some drama mixed in along the way.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be mostly positive, but given how popular Lorre is and how respected his stars are, I assume this one will keep going as long as he and the actors are interested in continuing to produce it. I’d expect a renewal very, very soon.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 10, Episode 6 “Kid ‘n Play” (B+)

This is the best episode this show has produced in a long time. Getting away from all the political stuff and back to the characters actually worked tremendously well here, as Grace’s relationship with Noah hit a bit of a snag when Will found out some information and Karen tried to use Jack’s perpetual ability to implode his acting career to create a tax shelter for herself. David Schwimmer’s Noah is definitely tough cookie, one who has managed to win over Grace in part because of his curmudgeonly nature, and it stands to reason that Will would be intimidated by him. It was entertaining to hear him immediately insult “West Side Story,” prompting Will to decide to watch the film then and there, and I’m glad that it was something like a secret child rather than a secret separate girlfriend. Confessing his love for Grace was a big deal, and it’s good that things aren’t so rosy right away and that he’s not too interested in having Grace meet his daughter anytime soon. Jack’s Gaybraham Twincoln concept was pretty hilarious, and this show’s gay puns were strong in this half-hour. Karen recording herself pretending to be Jack saying that she could replace him at any time was funny, and having Jon Cryer, just announced as the future Lex Luthor on “Supergirl,” show up to play himself was a fun way of referencing Karen’s universal connections that didn’t include someone like Ivanka who would never actually guest-star on this show. Let’s have more episodes like this, please!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 3, Episode 9 “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” (B+)

I wasn’t sure what was going on when we saw Michael McKean from “Better Call Saul” at the start of this episode, but he turned out to be the perfect choice to play Doug, the theoretical blueprint for what living a perfect life really was. “One man’s waste is another’s man water” was a terrific anthem representing just how overly nice Doug was to a fault, sort of like how Chidi could never make a decision in his life, which earned him a spot in the bad place. Eleanor spotted the demons and Jason tried to make a Molotov cocktail for their getaway, but Shawn and his crew were ready to take them on and drag them back to hell. Luckily, Janet kicked ass even before she touched the door to the afterlife and managed to get her powers back, helping to clean up the room and ensure the safety of our human friends. The return of more demons, including a Bad Janet, is bad news indeed, and I’m curious to see what it will be like for them in Janet’s void. Any chance to see Derek again would be highly welcome. Eleanor telling Chidi that they once loved each other and that she thinks she might again was urgent and sweet, and I love that Jason, of all people, was able to help Chidi relax and focus by teaching him the special Jacksonville-style pool with no rules and the ability to make up your own points before Michael had to send him off to fetch for a moment of clarity.

What I’m Watching: Bodyguard

Bodyguard: Season 1, Episode 4 (B+)

I know this is technically considered a miniseries, and I don’t want to look into whether its prospects for a second season are good for fear of encountering spoilers for the remaining two episodes. Regardless of its length, killing off one of the two main characters halfway through its run is still a brave move. I was thinking for most of this hour that it’s a real shame we won’t get to see Julia anymore, though it’s possible she’ll be an even more powerful presence now that she’s no longer alive. She was so attached to David in a way that no one besides him knows, and now he’s being looked at as a potential suspect in the multiple attacks that he tried to stave off while he was protecting her. He was understandably defensive, and the fact that they know that he searched for her voting record means that they can’t be too far away from uncovering his political leanings, not to mention his ties to the assassin who killed himself after failing to kill Julia. I thought this show was going to complete astound by having both main characters die in one episode, but there wouldn’t be much left after that. David pulling the trigger and having notes written to his children shows just how far he’s gone and how little hope he feels, and while that would never affect his ability to do his job, it’s really not clear what that job is right now other than smoothly interrogating Nadia.

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 7 “Sometimes” (B-)

This episode was full of flashes between multiple time periods, tracking Jack at war trying in vain to help his brother, when he first drove across the country with Rebecca, and then returning home racked with guilt about what happened over there. Of course, in typical fashion, instead of Jack saying goodbye to Nicky when he was first told that he couldn’t be enlisted in the same unit as his brother, now we’re going to get to know him as a character, someone who hates Jack because of what the war has done to him, before he’s inevitably killed in some tragic fashion. Finally letting his guard down and crying when Rebecca sang to him in the car was sweet, and it was just the sign of encouragement that she needed after cruelly being told that was “Pittsburgh good” after giving it her best shot. Kevin is trying so hard to get to know his father, but as usual, he’s really not in tune with his surroundings at all, unsurprised that Zoe might be vomiting after excitedly eating bat and not for a moment suspecting that there was a real reason that she didn’t want to engage in a relationship with her father. He’s confused enough about what he wants, chasing after a necklace which apparently is so commonplace that it means nothing, though I guess we’ll find that out now that one of the many Jacks were seeing is coming face-to-face with the woman he saw in the picture. And maybe we’ll even check in with some of the other characters who aren’t stuck in the past in the next episode.

Friday, November 16, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 5 “All Doll’d Up” (B)

I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t believe I’ve seen a villain this terrifying in a long time on a TV show, even in Halloween episodes or from among the many demons recently featured on “Legends of Tomorrow.” It’s something about the way that Merkel moved with his head screwed on the wrong way that was just unnecessarily freaky, and it was strange to see him ultimately captured when Ralph pretty much swallowed him up. The horror elements of this hour really took a backseat to the plot development related to Cisco getting back to his stronger and more assured self after some nasty injuries to his weakened hands and Barry and Iris get back to a good place with their daughter. We’re getting closer and closer to the mystery of who Caitlin’s father is and what the circumstances were around his alleged death, and I hope that the payoff is good there, including the long-awaited return of Killer Frost. Each member of the team is proving their worth, including Ralph and Sherloque, and it’s good to see that unity in an episode that didn’t feature Cicada at all. Nora truly is a brat, and I think her future sayings are designed to make her more irritating. Cecile knew exactly what to do to trick her into listening to stories about her mother by pretending that they were about Barry, and hopefully our speedsters can work together to defeat their latest enemy in no time so that this whole season isn’t just about one villain again.

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Separation of Church and Dan” (B)

It’s continually interesting to see how this show is moving past the departure of the lead character that used to anchor this family without really including her. Dan’s grief is extremely present, but it’s not like Roseanne or her ideals are still around. Instead, Dan is as stubborn as ever, determined to move on - or refuse to - in his own way and own time. Naturally, he would resist the notion that he needs some help, and he lasted just a few minutes and a few sentences into another guy’s story when he went to a support group, led by M.C. Gainey, who usually plays much meaner characters. Playing cards with his friends and singing is probably the best medicine, since that represents a return to normal behavior for him which would have happened just the same way when Roseanne was around. Geena trying to get everyone to go to church was an enjoyable exercise, one that elicited many jokes from the unwilling, unreligious clan. Probably the most entertaining plotline in this episode was Mark’s assignment which Jackie, representing everything about liberalism, got way too into and completely ruined by trolling the Republican respondent who had some very prepared answers to each of her pointed challenges. As the only cast member to receive an Emmy nomination for last year’s reboot, Metcalf definitely does a superb job of mirroring the people who likely don’t account for much of this show’s audience in a hilarious and not terribly offensive manner.

What I’m Watching: Manifest

Manifest: Season 1, Episode 8 “S.N.A.F.U.” (C)

Ben has to be the least subtle spy ever, and it’s a wonder that he didn’t get caught the moment that he went in to apply for a job for which he was woefully overqualified. Obviously, he would push for more influence and access right away, and then, after he spilled coffee on the IT guy he had gotten to like him by pretending to geek out for his work, he did what only happens in movies and on television, inserting a flash drive into the computer to magically copy everything off that could download in mere moments. I was then expecting him to have a decoy flash drive so that Vance would confiscate the wrong one, but I guess we’re now supposed to believe that Vance isn’t sharing what he knows with the NSA either because he actually wants to help or he’s doing something more sinister. Ben sure had time for a lot in this hour, attending poker night at the office, going to a lecture where he and Saanvi were immediately recognized by the presenter, and having a heart-to-heart with Danny about parenting Olive. Michaela also had time for some socialization, going to an extremely awkward dinner hosted by Lourdes and then bailing because of the telltale heart she couldn’t stop hearing. Jared shouldn’t be able to deny that Michaela has a powerful ability anymore after what he saw, and her finding out that Carlos got Evie’s heart should only confirm for her that she really, really has to listen to whatever she hears.

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 4, Episode 4 “Wet Hot American Bummer” (B-)

This show is getting sillier and sillier, and I guess I’m going to have to get on board with that if I want to continue enjoying it. I’m not a big summer camp person, and therefore I don’t think I liked this episode as much as many others likely did. It is admittedly clever that this show continues to reframe common tropes like hippies hallucinating at Woodstock and campers sneaking off into the woods to make out into opportunities for demons to try to mess with history. It was amusing to see how different Sara and Ava approached dealing with their campers, with Ava being the victim of a prank because she was far too serious and didn’t understand how to deal with kids in the way that Sara was apparently excellent at thanks to her own experience as a counselor. I suppose that Zari stayed behind because she definitely didn’t go to camp, while Constantine had to come because he’s the only one who can cast spells, which is the major way that the legends are going to deal with all of their nemeses this season. I enjoyed seeing Mick bond with Charlie, who appears to have accepted her fate and will now, post-makeover, help the legends as the new Amaya. We all knew that another familiar face, Nora, would be back eventually, and I’m eager to see how she gets involved with the legends on an official basis and whether she’ll be happy to see them again.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Pilot Review: Sally4Ever

Sally4Ever (HBO)
Premiered November 11 at 10:30pm

There’s a certain style that British comedies have, especially when they’re focused on one woman exploring her years as a young professional struggling in both life and love. I was a huge fan of “Fleabag,” which will finally return next year after a nearly three-year hiatus, and it’s interesting to see a show that seems similar if even a bit more extreme. What’s cool about it is that it’s created by Julia Davis, who plays Emma, the woman that Sally meets and who argues that she’s definitely into being a lesbian even though she purports that it’s just a diversion from the fear of her straight relationship with a guy who’s incredibly boring and meticulous. It’s always intriguing to me when the writer of a show plays the supporting character rather than the lead. David definitely failed at trying to spice things up when he put on a ski mask and attacked Sally when she showed up, and the degree to which he manages to be uninteresting is truly incredible. The sex scene that also included him working on his own personal grooming of sorts was pretty intense, and I think that’s indicative of the way that Sally is going to go through life, weaving between the monotony of what she’s used to with the explosive ecstasy of that which she’s nervously trying for the first time. It’s an appealing premise in many ways – I’m not sure it enticed me the same way that “Fleabag” did, but it could be worth another shot.

How will it work as a series? David is devastated, but it doesn’t feel like Sally is the type of person who makes bold decisions and then sticks with them, which suggests that he’ll stick around for a while miserably trying to win her back. I don’t expect that to go well, but it should be entertaining to watch her try to reconcile her two lives.
How long will it last? This show started a few weeks ago on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom, and is airing just a couple episodes ahead of it on HBO. The reviews seem to be good, though I can’t find too much ratings data. I’d expect that this show will last exactly as long as its creator wants it to, and two seasons is my prediction.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Kidding (Season Finale)

Kidding: Season 1, Episode 10 “Some Day” (B)

At one point during this episode, I was starting to think that maybe it was going to have a normative ending. Tara didn’t die as a result of her sister horrifyingly slicing her throat during their performance, and Jeff’s off-script speech in which he said he killed his son and told kids to find and open their Christmas presents early may have actually had some positive implications. Kids lining up to see Jeff so that he could just listen, sort of like Santa, was very inspiring to see, and even Will and Sebastian got on line for a chance to hear the real Mr. Pickles say “I’m listening.” But then there’s all the weirdness of this half-hour, like Pickles-San coming on stage and greeting the crowd with “Allah Hu Akbar,” prompting his immediate tackling by security, and Jeff remembering all of these moments in his life with puppets and other animated forces rather than the actual people. Peter going next door to find Will and his friends partying led to a very sincere moment between Peter and Jeff in which he confessed that he couldn’t have been happier for a guy like him to be a new father to Will and husband to Jill. But then he had to go ahead and offer him marijuana, which prompted Jeff to run Peter over with his car. There’s a lot to unpack here, and I think I might check back in with a second season even though its unapologetic strangeness hasn’t quite felt worth it to me just yet.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Jim Carrey as Jeff

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 6, Episode 3 “He Be Tight. He Be Mean” (B)

Ray is back, and he couldn’t have picked a more crucial time. What a world he lives in that he can just tell Sam that, in order for him to work for her, he needs to have Lena moved to New York and an apartment ready for him to live. He’s definitely gentler than he’s been in the past, taking productive steps to help the people he cares about, including Lena and Bridget, both of who responded to him with surprise. He worked expertly to help swing the debate away from Anita’s opponent, played by Zach Grenier from “The Good Wife,” and is even starting to have a relationship that looks something like friendship with a fellow employee of Sam’s. He’s there when he needs to be for Mac, and he even trained with Terry, who’s contemplating a boxing comeback, during that well-paced “New York State of Mind” montage. As Bunchy was being triggered like crazy having to dress up as a priest by the truly bizarre Sandy and Daryll was dealing with a very unruly Jai, Mickey’s real reason for breaking out of prison became clear. Calling Ray at the end of the episode was extremely foreboding, and after so much reshaping of his character since he was the bad guy in season one, it’s interesting to see him become so immensely villainous again in this, which isn’t currently but I feel like might be the final season of this show. At least it’s something new, and I am more curious to see where things go than I have been in a while.

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Prodigal Son” (B)

If nothing else, this show manages to modify its premise slightly in each episode, with a new twist on whatever’s going on with the God account helping to keep things feeling relatively fresh. Getting a friend suggestion for his Uncle Terrance while he was just a few feet away from him had Miles very confused, and of course he went about his usual well-meaning invasive tour to get to the bottom of just what he was supposed to do to help. He managed to learn a lot, and as always, things turned out rosy in the end with Terrance heading upstate to try to win back his wife after offering himself up to the board when Arthur was ready to fall on his sword to rectify the situation. Miles also gave his father a big ego boost when he showed up to take his uncle’s seat at the front of the church after Arthur expressed just how formative Terrance’s influence on him had been, though I can’t help noting that, dramatic as it may have been, he was pretty late to the service. Parenting was on full display with Michael Vartan showing up as Cara’s dad, which seems crazy to me even though “Alias” finished airing thirteen years ago, making him a possible age fit to play this adult journalist’s parent. Now that Cara has a decent relationship with both of her parents, maybe we’ll see them more frequently. Rakesh’s hacker friend seems like a possible new love interest for him, which isn’t such a bad thing given that Miles and Cara are still playing hard to get with each other.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 4, Episode 5 “Parasite Lost” (B+)

This season is all about paralleling society and the direction it’s headed today, and I’m not sure I had mentioned previously how Kara describes herself as a refugee at the start of each episode. This episode was all about subtle hatred and how it can be pervasive even within those who are good, making the world far from a black-and-white place. James seeing Guardian being praised by hate groups got him thinking about what being unbiased really means, and maybe talking to Agent Liberty will give him some insight into stopping the incitement of anti-alien hate, even if his new friend is far more intricately involved in all this activity than he knows. The more surprising and disturbing display of discrimination came from Alex’s new boss, who earned her respect when she commended her for both her reorganization of the DEO and her actions under pressure but then revealed that her first priority is to get the DEO back to its core mission of protecting Earth from all aliens, not just those who seek to do harm. There’s still some hope since Alex was able to talk Jensen down when he was going to kill everyone at the vigil, and other humans can be similarly inspired by the writings of Kara and James to reconsider their own prejudices. On a lighter note, it was fun to see Brainy drunk because he thought he was drinking vegetable juice instead of a cocktail and then so proud of himself for having found rather than called Nia after she challenged him to do so when they first met.