Friday, September 30, 2016

Pilot Review: Aftermath

Aftermath (Syfy)
Premiered September 27 at 10pm

I thought that “The Exorcist” was going to be the disturbing horror series that I wasn’t going to watch at all. I didn’t expect that from a show billed exclusively as sci-fi from the network of the same name, but it turns out that this new show is a huge letdown. It’s possible that there are just too many shows on the air that deal with a post-apocalyptic world, and therefore the standards of what can be expected are much higher. Part of the problem here is that there was an onslaught of scientific and meteorological inconsistencies hitting all at once, and most of the characters barely seemed fazed by it at all. James Tupper’s patriarch is all about religion, and after fleeing some suspicious characters in a Prius, he got to act shocked every time he found out that the family owned a gun when he should have been far more horrified by what was happening to those they had to shoot. I’m not sure who wants to watch a show about “skinwalkers” and how that constitutes as science fiction, and the family’s reaction when Brianna got snatched up by a random flying guy was laughable. The guard telling the family that they had orders to shoot anyone with blood in their mouth on sight was hardly calming, and the governmental attitude towards this inexplicable global crisis is both aggressive and foolhardy. This show doesn’t know what it wants to be, and the post-apocalyptic drama is such a common phenomenon these days that just focusing on the “aftermath” of some event isn’t enough to substantiate a series. I don’t need to see someone cleaning a windshield with a severed head, ever. I’m definitely out.

How will it work as a series? The meteor hitting at the end of the episode was bad news, and something tells me that an inordinate amount of time will be spent on reuniting the family that was so close to being back together. Anyone who has watched “The Walking Dead” can probably predict what comes next, and these characters aren’t nearly as intriguing.
How long will it last? I wasn’t able to find any helpful data on either ratings or reviews, but my suspicion is that this may have been designed as an event series but it’s probably just the kind of show that Syfy wants to see succeed. A second season is possible, but I’ll need to know more before I predict anything.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 6, Episode 2 “Hubbedy Bubby” (B-)

This episode felt strange to me because it tackled something that’s currently happening in our world in an explicit and not at all modified way. Many shows, more often dramas than comedies, deal with major issues that are considered relevant headlines. But I don’t think I’ve seen a show that names current political candidates and has characters actively out campaigning for them. Jess voting for Hillary makes total sense, and her assumption that Schmidt would be gung-ho for Trump was also logical. I like that he’s all about Paul Ryan in 2020, but something tells me that he would be a bit more concerned with what was going to happen in the 2016 election. The episode wasn’t in any particular rush to get anywhere, and Jess spent much more time getting drunk and thriving on being popular with the sorority girls than anything else. Winston’s heavy involvement in Nick’s phone sex was over-the-top, though Nick does have a way of freaking out about things that causes him to completely crumble under pressure. What I found far more compelling about this episode was Schmidt’s reaction to everything, first with the mail and then with the envelope-stuffing procedures at the campaign office. His response to Winston’s description of the drawer that contains old mail and dead batteries was priceless, and that’s the Schmidt that earned Max Greenfield an Emmy nomination for the show’s first season. He’s always been the most adult-like in his ability to live on his own, while his roommates clearly have no grasp on how to take care of themselves in the real world.

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 4, Episode 3 “The Pleasure Protocol” (B+)

This episode took an interesting direction as all four of the partners learned some very fascinating information about each other that makes it hard to believe that anyone is telling the truth. I did wonder it was Lester was so interested in photographing when he wasn’t paying close attention to what was happening in the room, and it really didn’t take long at all for Nancy and Art to have their cover blown. Bill was ready to cut them both loose, which is typically hypocritical given how much he kept from Nancy during their intake. Their trip to the movies was intense, and all the progress they made on incorporating roughness into the relationship immediately went horribly wrong when the husband displayed disturbing violent tendencies. Art and Virginia make a much more functional pair, with his excitement feeding her energy, and his burst of honesty following getting caught was impressive. Judy Greer’s return as Alice was fantastic, and she was equally excellent in her scenes with Virginia and Bill, respectively. David Walton usually appears in more comedic-leaning projects like “Bent” and “About a Boy,” and he actually fit in pretty well as a member of Bill’s legal team who nearly started a romance with Libby only to be taken down by her in the most brutal way when she realized who he was. She was the MVP of the episode in an hour of strong acting, and I’m glad to see her given such superb material again. Betty also had a good spotlight, which is nice to see.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What I’m Watching: Quantico (Season Premiere)

Quantico: Season 2, Episode 1 “Kudove” (F)

This is a show that I didn’t love too much from the start and that I kept watching for the entirety of the first season because my wife enjoyed it much more than I did. I’ve officially decided after this abysmal opener that this is the last episode of this show that I’ll watch. It’s no longer fun to trash the show, and I think I could be spending time watching much better shows. I’m disappointed to see that this is essentially the same thing as season one, filling in the gap of the year and what happened to go from things being fine to the next major terror attack. The show’s “Quan2co” image was mildly clever but that was about it, and it’s frustrating to see yet another dorm training situation where, in this case, the head honchos at both the CIA and FBI academies are well aware that every operative is suspect. What these agencies are doing to breed terrorists in their own midst is beyond me, and you’d think their energies would be better spent on counterprogramming rather than enlisting deception artists. Ranking the recruits feels especially silly, and this index card exercise seems like a preposterous way to train people, even more so than the time stamped post-its they all received. I knew right away that Alex’s attacker would be someone she trained with, and it makes absolutely no sense that the terrorists would pretend to be foreign when they’re actually domestic agents. Ending the episode with the First Lady about to be executed with a machete on live television after the President complied with the demands is too over-the-top to even address. This show seems desperate to be relevant, and if it hadn’t already jumped the shark twenty times in season one, this really did it.

Pilot Review: The Exorcist

The Exorcist (FOX)
Premiered September 23 at 9pm

As a critic, I’m theoretically supposed to enjoy all kinds of films and television. But I just can’t do horror. I don’t enjoy being scared, and premises involving ghosts, demons, and the like don’t appeal to me at all. Enduring the pilot of “Supernatural” eleven years ago, “The Sixth Sense,” and “The House of the Devil” were more than enough for me, and that’s probably almost all the horror I’ve ever seen. As a result, I haven’t watched the renowned 1973 Best Picture nominee that inspired this show. I even considered not tuning in for this pilot, but I figured that it was worth watching just to see. I don’t know how much of what I didn’t like was copied from the original film, but I do know that this pilot didn’t change my feelings about the genre one bit. Much of the time was spent leading up to the big possessed reveal with everyone denying that something might actually be wrong, and then when we finally did see the creepy image of one of the daughters crawling at a sprinter’s pace towards the priest, the scene immediately changed to a far too casual shot of her walking around peacefully once the lights were turned on. Nothing about this compels me, and the overacting by all whenever someone is indeed possessed, particularly the person suffering from demonic hosting, is hard to take seriously. While I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily the worst pilot I have seen this fall (we’ll see) or in a while, it’s definitely the show that I’m least interested in watching for a variety of reasons.

How will it work as a series? I’m not really sure. To me, this seems like a one-shot deal, or at least a miniseries since, at some point, the devil will indeed be exorcised (if that’s how it works; I’m honestly not too sure). I watched the trailer for the rest of the season that aired at the end of the episode, and I think the broad scope that the show is attempting to go after might be a bit ambitious and unsuccessful - I just don’t think this was made to be a TV show, especially not with this title.
How long will it last? While this show seems to be getting the better reviews over other high-profile remakes “Lethal Weapon” and “MacGyver,” its ratings weren’t as impressive. Airing on Friday nights is a challenge but FOX may not be too demanding. At this point, it’s too early to tell, but things could go either way.

Pilot grade: F

Pilot Review: MacGyver

MacGyver (CBS)
Premiered September 23 at 8pm

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the TV I’ve watched over the past twelve or so years, but when I’m watching an action show, I want to see something exciting. I’ve grown accustomed to stunts like turning a plane upside down to put out a fire on “Human Target,” and if I’m going to watch a show that’s purely about the thrills, it needs to include some great stuff. I’m not familiar at all with the show that inspired this one aside from a knowledge of the name and what it means, and I feel like I’ve written about shows being remade because the television landscape is completely out of ideas so many times recently. It’s not surprising that CBS, a network that loves procedurals, opted to bring this series, which originally aired on ABC, back, and if it’s going to find success, I think this is where it would be able to do that, especially on a Friday night, one that might attract the type of audience this show wants to. Aside from the lackluster action, the show suffers from having an undynamic lead. Lucas Till is reminiscent of a sedated version of Chris Hemsworth, and he lacks the charisma to be able to tackle this role. Every time he spoke about coming up with a solution to a problem with the things around him, I got nostalgic for “Burn Notice,” where a far less emotive voice would describe in considerably more compelling detail the way that he was going to turn the tables and get out of a tight spot. In the supporting cast, George Eads of “CSI” fame is quite the jokester and Sandrine Holt is trapped in a terribly bland role that doesn’t do her time spent on “House of Cards,” “Hostages,” and “Mr. Robot” justice. We also have Tracy Spiridakos from “Revolution,” who is fortunately much better at acting here but trapped in an insanely predictable role as the turncoat love interest who is obviously going to play a major part in the show going forward. I know he was just a guest star, but seeing Vinnie Jones made me wish that “Galavant” was still on the air. Oh well, it’s series like this that seem to be all the rage now. This show didn’t do much to entice me, and I’ll have little trouble forgetting all about it.

How will it work as a series? The job that MacGyver has means that he’s never going to run out of missions, and even if the plot gets stale because Spiridakos’ Nikki becomes too distracting or not distracting enough or the team is boring, there’s still the possibility that the energy level and creativity could come back in any given episode since each mission represents a new opportunity for action.
How long will it last? Well, CBS is very demanding when it comes to ratings. Besting any show in the timeslot on the network in the past eleven years certainly qualifies as meeting that demand, and outperforming every other series of the night only adds to its success. Never mind poor reviews – this show is all but guaranteed to be renewed.

Pilot grade: C-

What I’m Watching: Longmire (Season Premiere)

Longmire: Season 5, Episode 1 “A Fog That Won’t Lift” (B+)

I’ve often described myself as the youngest viewer of this show which regularly attracts audience members in their seventies, an unsubstantiated fact that’s exaggerated from ratings reports from the network that used to air this show. It’s also significant since it is the first series acquired by Netflix to receive a renewal after being revived following its cancellation despite being the highest-rated series on its network, and therefore this fifth season feels like a real treat. I’ll admit that I didn’t remember anything about the season four finale that aired a full year ago, namely Walt getting shot and Mathias discovering that Henry is Hector. What’s very clear is that Walt is in bad shape, and his unwillingness to take time to recuperate has already led to him losing consciousness twice and generally seeming unwell around those who are more than ready to pounce on him and take advantage of his weakness. Vic kissing him was an interesting development, though she clarified that in a major way after eviscerating Walt for spitting out his pill like a child. Things aren’t looking good for Donna, and I do hope that she’s alright. The way that Mathias is using Henry now that he knows about his alter ego is interesting, and I think Walt is way too out of it right now to put it together. Cady’s news about her new job did not go over well, and that’s obviously going to remain a point of contention even after Walt recovers. I look forward to another sophisticated and enthralling season of this show.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What I’m Watching: Transparent (Season Premiere)

Transparent: Season 3, Episode 1 “Elizah” (B+)

Fresh off another Emmy win for actor Jeffrey Tambor and another directing trophy for creator Jill Soloway, who triumphantly called to “topple the patriarchy,” this show is back less than a week later with its entire season. As usual, I’ll be taking it one week at a time, stretching the third season out through the end of November. This opening installment was a typically involved, powerful look at characters, featuring just one of the Pfeffermans and a somewhat unexpected appearance from Rabbi Raquel, who introduced the episode by practicing her Passover sermon and spending time in nature, anchoring the thematic content. Maura woke up happy from a truly wonderful night spent together with Vicki, experiencing an emotion that she hadn’t ever really felt. That led to her going in to the hotline with plenty of energy, and she wasn’t at all prepared for a real situation like Elizah. After a rough start, she got into a good rhythm, but going to look for her and asking others if they knew her from the streets represented an unhealthy investment in one particular case. The mood of the episode was jolted when she broke her shoe and then happened upon two people with masking tape and shoe advice who happened to play by J.B. Smoove, better known as Leon from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Denisa Lena Waithe, who plays Denise on “Master of None.” Those two comedic guest stars caught me off guard, and were definitely odd choices in a scene leading up to Maura stealing the Gatorade, being defended by Elizah after she finally found her, and then passing out because of the stress of the situation and the fumes from the nail salon. Calling out to be taken to a particular Jewish hospital was a melancholy ending that showed just how out of control she truly was. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the Pfeffermans are up to, and I’m sure this is going to be a very transformative season.

Round Two: Fleabag

Fleabag: Season 1, Episode 2 (B+)

I’m definitely a fan of this show, and I’m happy to know that it might have a bright future since Amazon was clearly interested enough to bring it over from the United Kingdom for American audiences. It’s not too surprising to learn that Fleabag times breakups with Harry around when the house needs to be cleaned, well aware that he can’t resist the opportunity to tidy up after himself when he’s in distress. Wanting to masturbate without him even being involved isn’t terribly kind, and seeing him take the last little piece of himself wasn’t inspiring. Her description of sex as something she can’t stop thinking about, more the notion of being with someone than the act, was interesting, and speaks to her generally wanting to entertain herself. I enjoyed her reaction to her father walking in after she said that she’d have sex with the next man who walked through the door: “Not ideal.” Running out to buy organic food when eager young customers asked if she had it was a puzzling and definitely sordid move, but the guinea pig managed to scare them away before they ate. I was surprised to see Brett Gelman from “Married” as Martin, who Fleabag has apparently repeatedly accused of watching a certain type of porn when he definitely wasn’t. Her dead friend appearing in many flashbacks adds a more serious, melancholy dimension to the show, and the drama kicks in when the first thing that Fleabag does when she sees signs of a romantic dinner is bolts and then tries to scare the hell out of Harry as a punishment for thinking to try to be kind.

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 2, Episode 4 “The Good, the Bad, and the Dead” (B+)

At a few points throughout this show’s run so far, Pablo has felt very boxed in and started to behave erratically. In this case, however, it was different, since Pablo was ready to have the upper hand, poised to tell the world a story he didn’t even have to make up of Carrillo shooting someone in the head and giving a bullet to a kid to bring to Pablo. His frustration at hearing that no newspapers were running the story was immense, and I didn’t expect him to retaliate in such a brutal fashion. What caught me off guard was Limon’s duplicity, but it makes sense since he was able to find a way to save his girl from Pablo and La Quica by forever indebting Pablo to her even though she thought that she was betraying him. Her link to Javier was much closer than expected, and he’s right to beat himself up for having gone for the bait, even if she wasn’t the one knowingly leading him to it. Pablo likes to make an entrance, and personally killing Carrillo was an important moment for him. In some ways, it’s not as impactful since Steve and Javier weren’t there to witness him pulling the trigger, but they were in bad enough shape when Steve decided to chase a suspect in a really bad neighborhood and nearly get himself cornered. Connie’s return couldn’t have come at a better time, and it’s hard to know whether the Americans not being allowed to go out in the field anymore was the right call that saved their lives or if it’s just going to make things worse. Kudos to Eduardo for making the best of two bad situations and throwing himself on the sword.

Take Three: Better Things

Better Things: Season 1, Episode 3 “Brown” (B+)

Well, I guess it’s worth investing in this show since it has been unsurprisingly renewed for a second season by FX. This episode was the most plot-driven, and it had some truly memorable scenes based around conversations. It’s probably not a great thing about my cultural knowledge that I didn’t recognize Lenny Kravitz as Sam’s new director friend Mel who may or may not have been married. He did a magnificent job winning over everyone in the family, even prompting Mel’s seventy-year-old mother to tell an awful story about purchasing a certain color pantyhose after Sam made the mistake of not warning her that she was bringing home a black man. Sam lacing into Jeff after he insulted Sunny was another fantastic moment, and I’m definitely happy to see Alysia Reiner, best known as Fig on “Orange is the New Black,” as Sam’s number one cheerleader with a vested interest in her having sex with Mel. The fact that both are them are mildly famous enough to know each other is cool, and I like that they decided not to sleep together because they wanted something real to happen. We just got a hint of Sam’s girls being a horror to the babysitter who never wanted to come back, and Frankie liking Mel was a huge score considering how prickly she tends to be. I enjoyed the random David Duchovny cameo we got, a nice throwback to Pamela Adlon’s time on “Californication,” a very different role from the one she’s playing now but equally compelling.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pilot Review: Pitch

Pitch (FOX)
Premiered September 23 at 9pm

Shows about sports have the potential to be truly powerful since there’s a certain excitement that comes from American pastimes and the rush that comes from watching them. That’s one thing that FOX’s new series absolutely captures, stirring up energy around the first female Major League Baseball player. The opening scene was a stylized, triumphant entrance for Kylie Bunbury’s Ginny Baker as she presented a cool, focused front while the world struggled to figure out what to do with her. Her first time pitching went very poorly, and it’s a good thing that she proved herself with her second outing so that she didn’t get the boot and see her dreams disappear in front of her. It was initially inspiring to see Ginny get trained from a young age by her father, and then things got much more serious and upsetting when he pushed her hard and wouldn’t let up, even hitting her brother to motivate her not to stop training. The reveal at the end of the episode that her father actually died and that he’s only with her in spirit may not have been a huge shock, but it was still immensely powerful. Aside from some of the excessive antics that come from the likes of Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the cocky, chatty captain and Ali Larter as Kylie’s powerhouse manager, I think this show does work well and I’m interested to see where it goes even though I really don’t care at all about sports and wouldn’t have imagined myself watching a show like this.

How will it work as a series? She’s made it into the big leagues and has already overcome so much, but as her father keeps saying, she’s not there yet and still has a long way to go. The journey towards a stable life is what this show is going to be about, and I think a lot of it might be familiar but could also be very engaging and worth watching.
How long will it last? The news out of the gate is much like Ginny’s first time pitching, pretty worrisome but probably worthy of a second chance because of its potential. FOX is likely to hang on to this show because of its positive reception and its ability to win over viewers, so hopefully the show can bounce back in subsequent airings to ensure it a promising future.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Notorious

Notorious (ABC)
Premiered September 22 at 9pm

I went into this show knowing just three things about it: the lead actress was Piper Perabo, the lead actor was Daniel Sunjata, and it was sandwiched between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” My incorrect assumption was that it was a Shondaland production, though ABC is certainly positioning it that way. I wasn’t sure what it was about at the start, and it reminded me most of a far more normative and less seedy “Nightcrawler.” I didn’t used to be a fan of Perabo, but I guess she grew on me after spending a few seasons anchoring “Covert Affairs.” She’s definitely right for this role, and casting her opposite Sunjata works very well. He was a real charmer as a firefighter on “Rescue Me,” and here he gets to ooze charisma as he wheels and deals to protect those he cares about and those he represents in partnership with Perabo’s cutthroat news producer. This first episode wasn’t necessarily as sensational as I thought it might be, but it was far more personal, affecting Perabo’s Julia when she found out that her politician boyfriend regularly had sex with prostitutes and Sunjata’s Jake when he lost the love of his life, who also turned out to be a murderer. I don’t know how much of a show this sets up, but the chemistry between the two leads is a real asset that should enable them to deal with any storyline and make it work much better than it otherwise might.

How will it work as a series? There’s a premise here that could be appealing, though I do wonder how often a news producer and a lawyer can cross paths and at what point it becomes hard to believe that no one realizes that they’re in cahoots. It’s probably going to be fun, though I don’t feel like it’s something that I need to watch.
How long will it last? I wouldn’t count on this one to last long. Its Metacritic score is a dismal 32, meaning that it probably won’t have critics or audiences fighting for its survival. The bigger problem is that its performance in the ratings was unspectacular when it was given everything it needed to succeed, and that all but seals its fate as one of the likely first cancellations of the season.

Pilot grade: B-

Round Two: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 1, Episode 3 “Tahani Al-Jamil” (B+)

We’re getting a lot of this show in just one week, with two episodes last Monday night and then another installment in its regular timeslot on Thursday. There have been a number of shows in recent years that have attempted to deal with someone checking things off a list, and this show functions sort of like that even though it’s not explicitly framed that way. I especially appreciate every flashback that we see of a truly terrible Eleanor back when she was alive. Refusing to boycott a coffeeshop where the owner got caught on video sexually harassing a job applicant and then throwing her boyfriend’s goodness in his face just to be mean was a helpful compliment to the accidental good that Eleanor did in this episode after she set out to take down Tahani and ended up befriending her. Michael telling Chidi that his book was boring and he needs to try something else sent him reeling, and the best part was his description of his directional insanity and his once having gotten lost on an escalator. Michael trying to reprogram Janet for maximum conversational efficiency was entertaining as it continually went awry, and her cold, cruel phase was probably the best. What I enjoyed most about this episode, however, was the ending reveal that the person sending notes to Eleanor was none other than Jianyu, who definitely isn’t mute and, just like Eleanor, also doesn’t belong in the good place. That’s a fun twist that makes the show feel a bit more accessible, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Pilot Review: Easy

Easy (Netflix)
Premiered September 22

I wanted to look up more information about watching this pilot with little to no knowledge of what the show was about going into it, and I was surprised to learn that this is actually an anthology series that is going to feature different actors and different storylines each week. That makes reviewing a pilot a tough job since I don’t anticipate seeing these people and revisiting their lives again. What hasn’t changed since I learned more about the nature of this show is that I was excited to see two actors who I’ve often enjoyed in previous parts given the chance to anchor a show together. Elizabeth Reaser was the lead on the short-lived “The Ex List” and earned an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series back in 2007 for “Grey’s Anatomy,” but I much prefer her turn in the film “Puccini for Beginners,” which was one of the first independent films I saw when I started college in New York City. I know some people find her annoying, but I think she was right for this part. Even more thrilling is pairing her with Michael Chernus, who recurred on “Orange is the New Black” and “The Big C” and has offered crucial support in films like “People, Places, Things” and “Mistress America.” I know that looking at those two actors is irrelevant for subsequent episodes, but it makes me optimistic about the potential for this show. I enjoyed this opening installment, a mild exploration of gender roles and how they affect a couple’s sex life. It’s nothing to write home about but it’s a fun and intriguing setup that makes me interested to see more.

How will it work as a series? That’s the question that can’t be answered since it could end up being a totally different show from week to week, an expression that doesn’t completely hold water since the whole season was released all at once on Netflix. Eight episodes with an extremely alluring cast seems like it could definitely be interesting.
How long will it last? Netflix doesn’t release ratings data in a timely or terribly informative way, but from what I can tell, the show has been relatively warmly received. It’s going to be up to creator Joe Swanberg to decide if he wants to continue the show into other seasons, and I imagine that Netflix would be interested if he is.

Pilot grade: B