Saturday, October 20, 2018

Pilot Review: The Rookie

The Rookie (ABC)
Premiered October 16 at 10pm

Nathan Fillion is what most would consider to be a very successful TV actor. He anchored “Firefly” before it got cancelled and became a cult classic, then spent eight seasons as a mystery author slash police consultant on “Castle,” and now he’s back just a few years after that one went off the air for the latest cop show to try to pretend that it’s doing completely new things. The twist, that he’s a forty-year-old rookie whose unique life experience makes him both the best and worst candidate for the job, only does so much to modify a very tired but evidently popular format which has been done many, many times before. To his credit, Fillion is charismatic as John Nolan, who was bold as an ordinary civilian during a bank robbery and then realized that everything he’s done up until that point has prepared him for a life of public service on the streets. I wasn’t at all impressed with the training officer testing and the very official hazing from the top, and in addition to feeling like I’ve seen the same thing plenty of times in the past, I don’t find it enjoyable or believable. There were some other faces of note who I recognized here, starting with Melissa O’Neil, of the prematurely-axed Syfy series “Dark Matter,” as another trainee whose training officer has more than a few issues he’s trying to take out on her. Afton Williamson, who plays Talia, was on “Banshee,” and Alyssa Diaz, who plays Angela, was on “Ray Donovan.” I’m also fond of Mercedes Mason, from “The Finder,” though her role as the captain is as dry as they come. I didn’t expect to find anything too original on this show, and, sure enough, it’s exactly the procedural it wants to be.

How will it work as a series? Tim in particular is never going to get tired on giving his rookie tests, and the other two actually have major things to work on that are going to affect their ability to do their jobs and be on the streets. It’s all been done before on cop shows, but that’s why people (besides me) like to watch them.
How long will it last? The reviews are decent, but don’t worry so much about that for this kind of show. Every article that I’ve read about the ratings acknowledges that this timeslot is a not a good one, and so even if the numbers weren’t a knockout, it’s a success based on the expectations. I’d expect that this one earns a renewal soon.

Pilot grade: C

Friday, October 19, 2018

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 4 “Vietnam” (C)

This show has so much to offer in the way of its many characters and their different lives, but then it has episodes like this which are supposed to provide immense background that doesn’t end up being all that relevant since, in this case at least, the only person who remembers it all is no longer alive and can’t share that knowledge with anyone else. Telling it in reverse, starting with Jack finding his brother in the middle of Vietnam and then explaining just how it is that he got there from the very point that Nicky was born, which was a time before Jack’s father was an abusive alcoholic who clearly modeled his behavior on that of his own father, played by Michael Ironside. I recognized Scott Michael Campbell’s name in the credits and identified the “Shameless” actor as Jack’s commanding officer who wasn’t willing to let him travel the short distance to go check on his brother, who was of course played by Michael Angarano of “Will and Grace” fame. Having Jack and Nicky watch the lottery numbers called and then showing an entire hospital room full of newborn babies who would all eventually be called up to war was moderately powerful in its own way, but I definitely don’t think we needed an entire episode dedicated to a character that we know we won’t really have a chance to meet because even Jack didn’t get to spend enough time with him before he was presumably killed in action.

Pilot Review: The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are Alright (ABC)
Premiered October 16 at 8:30pm

I always wonder if there’s a database of all movie and TV titles that someone looks at when greenlighting a project that has the same name as another well-known work. Sure, the 2010 Oscar Best Picture nominee “The Kids Are All Right” spells its affirmation of the children’s’ potential differently, but I wasn’t sure when I tuned in to watch this pilot if it was going to be a remake of that great fil. It turns out that’s not the case at all, but instead we get this very crowded show that follows the comedy theory that bigger is better, with a family of eight boys all fighting aggressively for attention and happiness in their 1970s Irish Catholic home. None of the characters are overly memorable, even the rising music star and the would-be priest, but there were a few familiar faces in the cast. I liked Christopher Paul Richards as the affable, precocious brother on “Me, Myself, and I,” and I guess it’s good to see him in a similar role here. Michael Cudlitz got his big start on “Southland” and was a featured player on “The Walking Dead” for many years, and this is just the latest foray into television for Mary McCormack, alumna of “The West Wing,” “In Plain Sight,” and, most recently, “Loaded.” She does have the opportunity to be noticed here, but this role, and the show in general, is far too uncreative and unambitious for its own good. We’ve seen this before, many, many times, and the minor variations in play don’t do enough to make it worthwhile.

How will it work as a series? Peggy has recognized some talent in her theater-minded son, and now he might be able to finally get away from his family to devote time to his true interest. Fleshing out ten family members is no easy task, and nothing about this opener indicated to me that it’s capable of truly doing that.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be generally good, which surprises me a bit, but the ratings were as expected. The second of four comedies to start on ABC on Tuesday night had the second-best ratings, but I’d imagine those will fall considerably in week two and beyond, and this will end up airing just its original episode order.

Pilot grade: C-

Thursday, October 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Gifted

The Gifted: Season 2, Episode 4 “outMatched” (C+)

This will be my last episode of this show. I actually considered turning it off a few times during this hour but figured I may as well watch until the end just in case it actually surprised me. It did not. I thought that our mutant friends might finally reach out to Jace, their one ally who can actually understand them, but instead, it was the Purifiers, whose far more aggressive and violent methods don’t jive with his far gentler personality (including his texts of “pls”). Lines like “How am I supposed to hack without eyes, genius?” did not wow me, and what we saw here was Caitlin going into full-on torture mode to get back to her innocent Andy, who everyone except for her is well aware has decidedly switched sides. Taking out Lauren was a crucial line that he has now crossed, and the only reason he was able to win was classic Dark Side mentality, which is that the person who doesn’t care about the other’s well-being is always going to prevail, at least at first. Proudstar barely flinched after getting riddled with bullets, and he should use that invincibility to the team’s advantage more often. Reed also appears to have waited a bit too long to talk about his powers, which he’s eager to merely suppress rather than try to hone so that he can wield them with purpose. The mystery person they took might change the game, but I’ve lost interest. I wanted more from this show, but it’s time to tune out.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 2 “Blocked” (B)

There’s a certain repetitiveness to this show when it comes to its villains, who have the ability to completely overpower Barry and all of his friends. We don’t know much about Cicada thus far other than that he seems to take far less delight in going up against the Flash than past nemeses like the Reverse-Flash, Zoom, Savitar, and DeVoe. I didn’t even recognize Chris Klein, who I loved in his dim-witted role on “Wilfred,” as the actor playing Cicada in his human form, not too keen on conversation and seemingly haunted by his murderous actions. The insect-like sound he makes is certainly threatening, and Iris recognizing it at the end of the episode and telling Barry to get out of there indicated just how intense what they’re up against is. It’s helpful that Ralph and Caitlin got Cisco out of his slump so that he can focus again, and we’re getting closer to the mystery of who Caitlin’s father is and where he’s been all these years. Cecile is coming to terms with the loss of her powers and her role as an ordinary mother, while Iris continues to notice an obvious distance between Nora and her. Nora is helping Barry to see what being a parent is like before he’s actually had a kid, and her overeagerness and her use of the term “schway” is definitely getting to be a bit much. With both Jesse and Wally out of the picture, it’s at least good to have another speedster around to help with villains like Block. An important lesson: always put the cuffs on before the celebratory high-five.

Pilot Review: The Conners

The Conners (ABC)
Premiered October 16 at 8pm

What we have here is a unique situation: a show brought back two full decades after it ended to experience incredible ratings and then be swiftly cancelled within hours of its title star making deplorable comments on Twitter. Even crazier is the fact that this series is pretty much an exact continuation of the reboot without Roseanne. At first, it seemed like Roseanne was going to be dismissed like Charlie Sheen was on “Two and a Half Men,” but her heart attack turned out to be something much darker: an overdose on prescription drugs, something that was previously foreshadowed when Dan first realized that she was dependent on medication. It’s hard to figure out if this show is trying to say something about drugs in America (and health care, etc.), especially with Roseanne and her political views out of the picture. Much of this pilot, which shouldn’t really be considered a brand-new series launch since it directly continues from the tenth season of the original series, is about moving on, which most profoundly affected Dan and Jackie. Dan coming to terms with his grandson being gay was a positive step, and it was funny to see Jackie start a five-day couch-cleaning process and try to improve the geometric equilibrium of the coffee maker in relation to the kitchen. Becky and Darlene arguing over their joint responsibilities was entertaining too. I was only watching the original because of its awards potential, so I guess I have to decide whether this show is likely to be a stronger contender without its problematic former star.

How will it work as a series? The opening credits started showing up at the very end of the episode as if to declare, “Look, we do it!” and congratulate this show on being its own story without Roseanne. It was fine and fun, and I think it should be more than capable of generating moderately enjoyable episodes.
How long will it last? The reviews are good, which is a positive, and the ratings were quite strong too. There’s no way that, without Roseanne, this show was going to deliver the same audience numbers as last year’s return, but without that enormous expectation, this debut should be considered a success. I’d look for a renewal announcement very soon.

Season grade: B

What I’m Watching: Manifest

Manifest: Season 1, Episode 4 “Unclaimed Baggage” (C-)

I watched this episode with my mother-in-law, who is very into it and much more impressed by each of its hours than I am. I continue to find it lackluster and far from interesting, and this episode included a new freaky element in the form of the dripping gray angel. There’s not much consistency to the abilities that the passengers - or some of them, at least - have, and the only thing that does remain true from moment to moment is that they usually lead them to the wrong places first. Preemptively ending the undercover investigation means that Michaela isn’t going to be trusted anymore, and her number one ally, Jared, is also going to be benched and unhelpful after taking the fall for her bad call. I never expected this show to feature an “Angels of America” reference, and it seems to me unlikely that Bethany would be able to smuggle someone on board who wasn’t actually a flight attendant without anyone noticing, especially since he was so clearly scared in the middle of the flight before they went through whatever temporal wave caused all of this. Ben’s parenting struggles make sense even if they don’t have much to do with all this supernatural, science fiction stuff. He was not at all pleased to meet Danny, played by Daniel Sunjata from “Rescue Me,” who showed up to help Olive out of an unfortunate situation that pretty much exemplifies what teenage rebellion looks like.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What I’m Watching: Kidding

Kidding: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Cookie” (B)

All of the characters are on this show, particularly the four primarily Piccirillo family members, are lost and experiencing crisis of variety forms. This show seems to be doing that with them, employing its rabbi character to narrate the opening and closing moments of the episode with the black and white cookies that his girlfriend made which both represent life and the universe and aren’t all that good. We saw an important indicator of Jeff and Deirdre’s early years in this half-hour, with Deirdre screaming at her mother for leaving and Jeff comforting himself with his puppet, a clear step towards where he got to today. I was wondering whether it needed to be a real Olympic skater like Tara Lipinski playing herself on this show or just someone pretending to be a celebrity, but I guess her affect works well opposite Jeff and the way that he tried to argue for keeping his identity and her recalling her younger role as an official adherent of his. Putting on a show for Vivian was sweet, and hopefully his emphasis on continuing her story means that he might accept if she decides that she wants it to end abruptly as she’s indicated. Deirdre is lashing out at her daughter, and Sebastian continues to cradle that empty companion in his bed, unresolved issues that will surely be addressed and featured more in the future. I’m most interested in Will’s activities, saved miraculously from an explosion and then bolstered by fate to take advantage of Phil’s pre-death wishes to score himself a little bit of happiness.

Pilot Review: Camping

Camping (HBO)
Premiered October 14 at 10pm

I was very curious about this show since it marks the return of two well-known, award-winning actresses to television for the first time since the projects that originally made them famous. Jennifer Garner starred in the action series “Alias” over a decade ago, and Lena Dunham created and starred in the HBO dramedy “Girls” considerably more recently. I don’t think I ever would have pictured them working together, though the stranger thing is that this show is based on an existing British series, which seems like a bit of a surprise for the innovative Dunham who usually works on her own material. The product is definitely peculiar, featuring Garner in a comic role that finds her being incessantly chatty and equally anal, driving everyone around her - and viewers watching - crazy. Garner is committed, to be sure, and she plays the part to the fullest effect. I know that he has an extensive resume in other work, but my only prior experience with David Tennant is from his incredible, deeply disturbing turn as Kilgrave on “Jessica Jones,” and so seeing him in this completely harmless, nearly personality-free part seems like a waste of his talent, though he does just fine. Brett Gelman, from “Married” and “Fleabag,” feels like a perfect fit for this show, as does Juliette Lewis, and I like seeing Chris Sullivan from “This Is Us” in a more overtly comic role. I’m interested enough in seeing what those who greenlit this show did to try a second episode, but at this point I’m just feeling more drained from such a frontal and aggressive presentation than anything else.

How will it work as a series? Is the entire series supposed to take place over the course of just one weekend? It’s reminiscent in many ways of “Togetherness,” but it’s limited in both its setting and its setup. Seeing whether episode two delves more into the characters and offers other avenues for the plot is going to be crucial to whether this show can actually be successful in the long run.
How long will it last? The reviews are far from terrific, which might be a problem given that Dunham’s previous show premiered to much greater acclaim. The British original lasted only six episodes, and this one has already improved upon that with an eight-episode order. I feel like HBO wants to partner again with Dunham and will opt to renew it, but I think two seasons will be its lifespan.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: Charmed

Charmed (The CW)
Premiered October 14 at 9pm

I never watched the original show this one is based on partially because it premiered just before I really got into TV and because I’m not a fan of witches and witchcraft. I can’t understand what the need for remaking series that haven’t even been off the air for much more than a decade, and I think this may well be the first WB series to be commissioned for a modern-day reboot. This was the definition of an expository episode, one that introduced our three protagonists to each other and to their mysterious powers that show them just how much they have to learn about the evils they’re up against. Current themes are on full display here, with rape culture and consent being discussed regularly, and sexual harassment serving as a mask for actual demons. I can’t compare to what the original was like, but this all felt like standard fare to me, with the wannabe boyfriend turning out to be the demon rather than the monster sorority queen. Leaving the guy with his memories so that he could try his best to tell people in a new case of “he said, she said” was a sign that these young women aren’t going to take their situations lying down. The only actress I’m familiar with from the three is Melonie Diaz, who was in “Raising Victor Vargas” so many years ago and in “Fruitvale Station” more recently. I couldn’t figure out where I knew Harry from, and was shocked to discover that actor Rupert Evans is British. He’s infinitely better here than he was in his unbelievably terrible role as Frank Frink on “The Man in the High Castle.” This feels a lot like the “Charlie’s Angels” framework but with witchcraft, a subject that doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. At least it was engaging and modern, but there was never a chance I was watching this show.

How will it work as a series? They still have a lot to learn, and the first thing they’re going to have to deal with is the fact that their mother told them not to trust Harry. I don’t know how often different demons will pop up or if there are going to be grander, more consistent threats, but they’ll be able to bond and grow in the process which should help with the plot development.
How long will it last? The reviews aren’t entirely favorable, but it’s hard to find a remake that’s completely well-received these days. The more important factor is that this show represents half of the CW’s first foray into Sunday night programming, even managing to outdo its lead-in, “Supergirl.” As long as viewership numbers stay strong, expect this one to stay on the air too.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 9, Episode 6 “Face It, You’re Gorgeous” (B+)

This show is approaching some more serious territory, mainly with the way that its main character’s life is imploding in so many different ways all at once. Being asked to casually chip in an additional $25,000 for her real estate deal which won’t be coming to fruition anytime soon was just the first step, and not qualifying for another loan shouldn’t have come as a surprise since she’s truly trying to get into a world that just isn’t right for her given the way that she’s lived her life up until this point. The success she’s been experiencing has always been dependent on keeping herself firmly planted in what she can accomplish, and Ford was right to tell her that this deal didn’t make sense. Discovering that he has both a wife and a son that he acknowledges means that everything he’s been doing up until now was a lie, and she’s going to fall apart after this, even more than she already appears to have physically as a result of her car crash. Ian’s preparation for his immersion into prison was met with a wonderful surprise in the form of Mickey, who I was just thinking Ian looked like as he walked in with his darker hair. Maybe that will be a productive and helpful stage of Ian’s life now that he has a cellmate he loves who he can actually spending time with while serving his sentence. Casting Bob Saget as the bishop at the school was a bit absurd, but I suppose it was entertaining to see him in that role. I much preferred Courteney Cox as the alcoholic actress who tried numerous times to outsmart and outrun Lip, and I hope that she’ll be sticking around as a recurring guest member, either as Lip’s new sober companion or maybe as a love interest for the eternally confused Debs. Carl survival training with his new girlfriend was great, and I like how their relationship is developing. Liam seems to be free of his immediately pregnant bully, now free to go around with Frank as he pursues Katey Sagal’s recently released doctor whose ex-husband, played by Andy Buckley from “The Office,” may prove an obstacle to his courtship.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What I’m Watching: Supergirl (Season Premiere)

Supergirl: Season 4, Episode 1 “The American Alien” (B+)

There’s a lot to say about this season premiere, which represents a welcome reboot for this show after a drawn-out previous year that was all about a villain who stuck around way too long. There seem to be a handful of potential replacements to be found in this opening hour, which featured plenty of new content. I recognize that this is meant to a science fiction series, and perhaps its most far-out scene was the one that found Kara showing up late to a press conference, getting a question in to the president without any trouble, and even starting a side conversation during her response! The focus on anti-alien sentiment feels far more relevant even if it’s symbolic for nationalism rather than literal. In his new role, Hank, who I’ll continue to call that even though I know that’s not what he’s going by anymore, is getting the opportunity to fight for the causes he believes in, though his number one ally, played by Tiya Sircar from “The Good Place” and “Master of None,” has now met an unfortunate end. Other new cast members include Robert Baker, who played Boone the appetizing Nazi on “Santa Clarita Diet,” and Rhona Mitra, from “Boston Legal” and “Hollow Man,” as the Graves siblings. Mitra in particular had me laughing when she slowly pledged her American allegiance while stifling her British accent. I was looking for Sam Witwer, who showed up on another Superman show, “Smallville,” in a suddenly relevant role a few years in, and it turns out he’s the voice behind the menacing and faceless Agent Liberty. Brainy butting heads with Alex was entertaining, and I’m curious to see how Kara’s new mentee, Nia, will fit in to what’s sure to be an involving and refreshing restart.

Take Three: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 1, Episode 3 “Heavenly Taco Truck” (B-)

I’m not as into this show as both my wife and my mother-in-law, who are very gung-ho about it. It’s pretty formulaic despite its signature hook, though at least this episode offered a slight variation on what we’ve seen so far. Reading Ray in to the God account by having him hired as a private investigator to look into who might be running it was creative, and it meant that he could gauge for himself, as both Miles and Cara have, how much he should invest in this. I knew I recognized actor Brent Sexton, who starred in season one of “The Killing” and has appeared on “Shameless” and other projects, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen him on television. The setup for how two people are sentimentally connected is becoming repetitive, but that’s also one of its more reliable elements. The focus on Miles’ sister Ali was appreciated since it revealed the complex relationship that their reverend father has with his children, both of whom took courses in life that don’t quite line up with his worldview. He seemed to be much more concerned about not being close with her than actually supporting her decision to move in with her girlfriend, and it was sweet to hear Reverend Finer share with Miles that Ali coming out had cost him many members of his congregation, similar to Miles’ bold choice to talk about his conflicted feelings following the introduction of this God account.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season Premiere)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 1 “I Want to Be Here” (B)

It’s rare to go into a show knowing that it’s almost over after just a few seasons on the air without feeling that it’s being cut way too short. Unlike other shows that started out strong and then found themselves subjected to a truncated final year, like “The Newsroom” and “Banshee,” this one has been given an eighteen-episode order, which seems fair enough after an uneven second and third season following an excellent and innovative first season. I really wasn’t happy that Rebecca set herself up to be sent to jail at the end of season three, and therefore it was a relief to see that she spent just one installment there, with a clever follow-up in the form of Rebecca deciding to start becoming a better person by volunteering to give free legal advice to her former fellow inmates. It didn’t take long at all for a parody of “Cell Block Tango” to be featured, and that ended up being more plot-involved than musical. I knew I recognized Britney Young, who played her unamused cellmate, and that’s because she stars as Carmen on “GLOW.” Rebecca, Nathaniel, and Josh singing “No One Else Knows My Song” was a highlight, especially since it really help to sum up this episode’s themes in a pretty decent musical number. I like that Josh, like Rebecca, is trying to diagnose himself with a disorder rather than acknowledge that he just doesn’t really get how the world works. Nathaniel’s punishment adventure camping trip was a bad idea, and good for George for following him to make sure he didn’t die a miserable death in the middle of the woods. Let’s hope for a fun and fresh final season!

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

The Man in the High Castle: Season 3, Episode 1 “Now More Than Ever, We Care About You” (B)

I’m only about a week behind getting started on this show, which is much better than the rest of the streaming fare that I’ll be making my way through for the next few months. I’ve found this show to be an enormous disappointment thus far, and it only finally started getting good at the end of last season. This start is half-promising, with some of the same slow pacing but other worthwhile developments to indicate that there is more enticing stuff coming up. Joe made a hard choice to take his father out so that he could be released, and he doesn’t appear to be behaving any better than he did before now that he’s officially back in the good graces of Smith and everyone else in the Reich. Nicole is making her own power moves, and threatening to kill a cameraman if he doesn’t film the right shot has considerably more weight in this world than it does in ours. Speaking of that, Trudy being around makes Juliana far more positive, and she’s made herself a new contact and love interest in the form of Wyatt, played by the dependable Jason O’Mara, whose most recent TV appearance on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” followed a handful of lead roles that didn’t work out. The ceremony for Thomas was unsettling in a number of ways, and it’s hard to figure out how it’s going to set both John and Helen on a different path going forward. The Kempetai continues to use firing squads, another disturbing element of this universe, and as Tagomi cements his role, Inspector Kido is staying focused too. It’s not all too surprising to see J. Edgar Hoover, played by William Forsythe, in this universe, still tracking down secrets but in a far more gossipy way than as head of the FBI. I’m hopeful for a more even and engaging season - it’s taken long enough to get here.