Sunday, November 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: A to Z

A to Z: Season 1, Episode 8 “H is for Hostile Takeover” (D-)

Slowly but surely, this show is wringing out all of its charm and becoming entirely unappealing. If Thursday nights were more populated by other comedies, particularly NBC’s far better “Parks and Recreation,” which has been saved for midseason for its final season, I might give up on it, but I feel compelled to stick around. The main problem now is that Zelda is no longer adorable, cast as a drag on Andrew’s individuality with no positive qualities of her own. In turn, that makes Andrew seem like a worthless character, incapable of not being influenced by others, and that’s not how it has to be. Stu up until this point has been all about Zelda except when it means that it’s diminishing his relationship with his best friend, and his hostility to her felt out of place. At the same time, Stephie’s sudden desire to be Andrew’s best friend was puzzling since it doesn’t track with her behavior up until this point, aside from her tendency to latch on to whatever anyone else is doing before giving it up quickly when something more interesting presents itself. I for one had never heard of professional stair climbing and didn’t think it was a real thing, but apparently it is. This show just seems to be going for the lowest common denominator and the easiest plotlines to pull off without having to put any effort into making its characters three-dimensional. It’s disappointing, and I don’t see much hope for the final five episodes of the show that are still slated to air.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 8 “Three Turkeys” (B)

This episode was extremely choreographed, but unlike some of the installments that came before it, it actually worked to pretty decent comedic effect. This was the first Thanksgiving episode of the season that I’ve seen, which may have helped to cast it in a positive light, but there’s no denying the ambitious quality of the setup here as related to the famed giant family holiday. Jay and Gloria’s faked vacation to be able to get away from time with the family was entertaining, and leaving Joe upstairs in the room by himself was the high point of that particular plotline. Cam and Mitchell putting on dresses designed purely to show no reaction from Jay or Gloria was a bit too coordinated, but forcing Lily to carry the backpack that ultimately made her fall on the ground was funny. Phil’s best moments were reacting to the shrunken turkey and the fact that nothing was going right, and I probably could have been done with the seductive-sounding app by about the third or fourth time we heard it. Manny and Haley’s storyline was actually the strongest simply because of how both reacted to it, and my favorite part of the episode was Haley’s quick thinking in figuring out a way to convince the family that it was their idea not to spend Christmas together so that she could go away on a planned trip with her friends. For one of the two dumbest members of the family, sometimes she can be pretty smart sometimes.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 11 “Suits of Woe” (B+)

This episode was very deft in its handling of the gradual reveal of Gemma’s actions to the whole world. Everyone in this hour was at the top of their game, but particular credit goes to Charlie Hunnam for realizing Jack’s reaction in an unusually emotive way. It’s stunning to see how he took the news, staying with Abel in his room through the night and then going to see Juice to get the answers he needed. At first, he kept others at bay, and then he came clean with the entire club, taking on the responsibility for all of the collateral damage that occurred as a result of his murder of the innocent Gemma and Juice framed. It seems like Jax, once again returned to his reformer ways, may actually be the one who pays the price for what Gemma did, if the club votes that he should meet Mr. Mayhem, an outcome he seems more than prepared to accept. It’s an instance of rather extraordinary leadership, though it won’t be able to make up for what has already happened. Gemma also seems to realize that her time with Abel and the club is soon over, though she’s running from it instead of facing it head-on. I had the opportunity to participate in a press phone call with Katey Sagal earlier this week in which the actress demonstrated a much different demeanor and attitude about everything, politely answering questions and speculating that Gemma really is doing everything out of love. It’s just a shame that she’s gone crazy, talking to herself and enlisting another person who’s gone off the rails, Juice, to frame a random racial group and spread violence all around Charming and its surroundings.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 8 “Point of Origin” (B+)

Who would have thought that Shaw would have gotten herself identified at her department store job in a scene quite as awesome as this episode’s final moments? As always, I appreciate this show’s ability to multitask, featuring a new episode-specific plotline that tied in to Reese getting to serve as a training officer, and connections to Elias, Dominic, and Samaritan thrown in along the way to tie everything together. It’s always interesting when this show throws the rare curveball of its number actually being the perpetrator, and in this case it was a false positive: Dani was taking pictures of her fellow trainees not because she was trying to take them out but because she was working to identify a traitor among them. Adria Arjona, who is slated to appear in the second season of “True Detective,” handed in a decent performance as the highly motivated Dani, who had trouble suppressing her strong police training, and I look forward to seeing her on HBO’s anthology crime drama. No Root in this episode was a shame, but I’m sure she’ll be back soon enough to help Shaw out of the comprising situation in which she’s found herself, easily identified by Martine thanks to her dogged pursuit and probably realizing that the rest of her underground, irrelevant friends are sure to be put back on the map soon too. We’re barely a third of the way through the season – I can’t even imagine where this consistently reliable show will take us over the course of the rest of its fourth year.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 8 “Things We Bury” (B+)

Is there any denying the maniacal brilliance of Kyle MacLachlan? There’s something about his delivery that just can’t be matched, from his introduction as a doctor to his emotionless review of the fact that he shouldn’t have given himself away by calling Coulson by his first name. It’s very interesting to learn that he’s not just allying himself with Whitehall, but instead positioning him for a painful death as revenge for torturing and killing Skye’s mother. I love the casting of Dichen Lachman, best known for her work on “Dollhouse,” as the woman who managed to touch the obelisk without being destroyed and who didn’t age in the decades of Reinhardt’s incarceration. Seeing the transformation of Reinhardt into Whitehall was informative and worthwhile, and this latest flashback to Agent Carter, coupled with ads on the bottom of the screen for her show’s premiere, make the 1950s post-Hydra world seem like an intriguing place to visit. I enjoyed Coulson giving Skye and Triplett ridiculous errands to do in Hawaii without cracking a smile, and it’s good to see Bobbi and Hunter letting off some steam by jumping back into bed together, a decision they’ll surely regret. Ward’s time spent digging for the well with his brother was unsettling, and though Christian died an offscreen and unglamorous death (is he really dead?), it’s clear that Ward doesn’t possess much emotion and is simply concerned with whatever the best and most logical business deal presented to him is. He’s the perfect ally for Whitehall and a formidable enemy for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 4, Episode 18 “Teachers” (B-)

I have to give this show a higher grade than usual since I did burst out laughing at one point and managed to sneak in a few more hearty chuckles over the course of the episode. The part that really made me laugh was Schmidt’s attempt at doing laundry, mainly because of the determination he expressed to pretend he was doing it right even though he was really just doing ridiculous things to the machine. Winston not understanding how to read a ruler was also relatively funny, and though it wasn’t hilarious, their men’s night spent drinking sangria in a tent was somewhat entertaining and made this bunch considerably more bearable than they have been in a while. Off at her teacher’s convention, Jess was extremely silly in her blatant attempts to ward off any contact with Ryan, and Coach didn’t end up being much help. I could skip all of the preamble involving Jess being forced to touch Ryan and to connect with him, but I’ll admit that it was satisfying to see them share a passionate kiss and to realize that this relationship is headed places that will likely cause Jess many overactive headaches. Coach’s drunken behavior only really served as a way to better showcase Ryan’s angelic nature in Jess’ eyes, but Damon Wayans Jr. does deserve credit for his ability to really dial up the eccentric craziness when he’s called upon to do so. This episode gives me hope that maybe this show might be able to produce some decent installments in the future.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Flash is Born” (B+)

This episode was fun because it had a personal feel to it, with Barry coming face-to-face with a bully from school who, when endowed with powers, opted to use them to become even more of a bully. Having Tony go after Iris first helped root this show in the history that Iris and Barry have shared, and then helped make Barry all the more inspired to get a five point three mile running start to take down the guy who made his life miserable. Barry hasn’t exactly managed to solve the problem of Iris being obsessed with the Streak, though he did at least manage to earn himself his proper moniker. Though it doesn’t help get him Iris, Barry talking to Mike and learning how to fight actually proved productive, and it’s important that they get along since they’re inevitably going to be spending plenty of time together. It’s nice to see that Iris and Barry made up and that they’ll be headed good places in the future. Joe is being awfully enterprising in his search for the metahuman who killed Barry’s father, and his first suspect – Dr. Wells – seems to have exonerated himself, though our knowledge of his future-facing tendencies indicate that he’s probably hiding something. Joe did earn himself a troubling warning in the form of a streak-like visit and a note pinned on his wall that very directly threatened the life of the person he cares most about, which is sure to make him question whether the road he’s traveling is worth it.

Pilot Review: State of Affairs

State of Affairs (NBC)
Premiered November 17 at 10pm

Every season, it usually happens that two very similar shows premiere around the same time. In this case, “Madam Secretary,” a show about a female political player fighting chauvinism around her as she advises the president, got a two-month head start. The crucial difference between the CBS drama starring Tea Leoni and this show is that Katherine Heigl’s Charlie Tucker has the ear of the president already as a trusted confidante and the former fiancée of her late son, and she’s struggling to keep that pipeline open in the face of some secrets that might damage their relationship. As a result of that different setup, Charlie doesn’t have the same appeal as Leoni’s Secretary of State since she hasn’t undergone a major transplantation to her new role. Instead, Charlie is a determined woman who fights hard for what she thinks is right, which involves pissing off more than a few people in the process. This marks Heigl’s return to television after her departure from “Grey’s Anatomy,” and this role is considerably more mature in a way that doesn’t exact suit her. Alfre Woodard, who can adopt any part without much effort, is able to chew her share of scenery, but it’s not the best showcase of her work. This show is far from exciting politically, and the subplot of Charlie covering up CIA secrets related to her fiancée’s murderer being an asset isn’t all that enthralling. I didn’t have high expectations for this show, and, predictably, it didn’t exceed them.

How will it work as a series? Charlie has made her enemies, and she managed to get herself filed and flagged for detainment in the span of the show’s first episode. That doesn’t bode well for her future, especially considering the fact that the President likes her but isn’t particularly warm. At least she’ll be able to execute some solid operations, provided she can stay focused without letting her skeletons distract her from doing her job.
How long will it last? That all depends on NBC’s metrics. The pilot managed to win its timeslot but still fell short of the impressive numbers that “The Blacklist” was pulling in. I think NBC will want to stick with what should still be considered a hit if it can find more than one of them, and this show may actually have a promising future.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 6 “Chapter Six” (B+)

This episode felt different from the previous five hours, maybe because the narrator is talking less or maybe because the show isn’t headed in a fully expected direction, which is great. I’m most relieved that Petra didn’t end up immediately intimidating Rafael into giving in to her demands, and instead Michael got to be there to smugly help with the arrest, with nothing much coming of it. Jane’s career got to advance in an unfortunate way, as she first ended up as a high school teacher at a catholic school, and then had to have Rogelio’s monster stepdaughters as her students. Jane didn’t waste much time in getting her revenge, and it’s sweet that Rafael was eager to help her by distracting them with his shirtless body. Jane breaking things off with Michael was a surprise, even if it makes sense, and I’m nervous about what he’s going to do when he finds out about that kiss that Jane and Rafael shared at the end of the episode. Xiomara prioritizing her relationship with her daughter and Rogelio’s budding relationship with her over their own romance is thoughtful, and Jane could use a few odds stacked in her favor. Things have changed considerably since Jane first got inseminated, and now we’re looking at Petra being in much more serious trouble than she was before and a dangerous villain who might even transcend the soapy nature of this show in a way that could be very devastating for Rafael and everyone connected to him.

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 1, Episode 6 (B+)

This episode brought in a wholly new plotline that put the central affair on the backburner, throwing it all into question as Noah discovered something surprising about Allison. I wouldn’t have pictured her as a drug dealer, and the way in which she responded to Noah confronting her in both his account and hers of the conversation demonstrated a sense of having accepted it as a necessary evil. Reconsidering that decision later by suggesting to Cole that maybe they should get out of the drug business and sell the farm didn’t go over well, and tensions in that marriage have now gone from uncomfortable to full-on uncommunicative. Helen’s request to Noah to revive their sex life was honest and reasonable, and if only Noah hadn’t let the sour taste of realizing that Allison wasn’t the woman she thought he was inspire him to come home and take the romance out of their lovemaking by acting aggressively and prematurely. Their friendly visitor dropped another hint that Noah is lying to his wife, confirming that he continued the party without him, and it can’t be long before she truly knows that something is going on. Allison driving Martin home after he spent the night on the farm was an instance of this illicit relationship being at risk of being way too out in the open, though it’s hard to top the reckless idiocy of the two of them sneaking into a bathroom together with his daughter in the stall right next door.

What I’m Watching: The Newsroom

The Newsroom: Season 3, Episode 2 “Run” (A-)

I’m very pleased to report that this is the best episode this show has produced in a long time, a pleasant reminder of how clever and fantastic this show used to consistently be. This is the kind of writing that Aaron Sorkin is known for, and these actors known really know how to deliver it. I thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth between Will and Neal with a bit of Rebecca mixed in, and Mackenzie’s arrival only made things more entertaining. That it ended in such a serious fashion is worrisome but the transition to drama was smooth and effective. It’s great to see Mary McCormack, who starred in the last few seasons of “The West Wing,” as Mackenzie’s FBI friend whose initial advice didn’t end up panning out. I heartily enjoyed Maggie’s train ride back from Boston, mostly because she’s become such a confident reporter but also because of the guest stars: Paul Lieberstein from “The Office” as an EPA official broadcasting personal opinions all over the train and Jimmi Simpson of “Virtuality” as the man who put in headphones for her and then asked for her number. I was also very happy with the casting of Kat Dennings as Reese’s stepsister, who helped give Sam Waterston the best material Charlie has had in a while, and Jane Fonda for that matter too. Sloan and Don’s brunch date was fabulous, and I cracked up at her obsession with the waffles. Their subsequent tricks were entertaining, and this is one terrific power couple that wants to do anything possible not to admit that they have genuine feelings for each other.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 8 “Halfway to a Donut” (B)

I questioned, midway through this episode, where this show was headed when Saul managed to escape and then went running for the hills. It seemed too easy that he could just get away from his captors like that, and hardly realistic that they wouldn’t be keeping a closer eye on him. And then this show let its walls close in on Saul, as Carrie led him through alleys and back doors and convinced him not to end his life long enough to send him straight into the arms of an eager mob of terrorists ready to apprehend him again. Lockhart, to his credit, did a great job of reigning in his temper by episode’s end, but submitting so quickly to all of the demands was a disappointment, and certainly doesn’t benefit Saul. There’s a certain simplicity to the way this show works, with Kahn realizing right away that Dennis is the one leaking information to Tasneem, who he apparently knows is actually working with the terrorists. At least there’s one person in the ISI who is sympathetic to Americans and all that is good, but it may not be enough considering how damaging a blow to the ambassador the news that her husband is a traitor will be. Maybe Carrie in all her operational capability can use that knowledge to their advantage to purposely misdirect their enemies, which could double as a smart tactical move and the perfect revenge for them stooping so low as to mess with her medical cocktails.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 6 “Consumed” (B-)

On the scale of what’s most relevant and exciting on this show right now, watching Carol and Darryl wander through the streets searching aimlessly for Beth does not rank towards the top. I’ve never been a big fan of Carol since she dragged the show down when she was only concerned about Sophia and then didn’t quite fit in when she got all too tough and murderous. Paired with Tyreese, she wasn’t exactly inviting or warm, but at least they functioned well together. That’s certainly true of her and Darryl, who tends to be more interesting when he’s actually talking then when he’s just grunting and shooting his crossbow. Nothing game-changing or shocking came about in this episode, at least for its first two-thirds. Only when Darryl was about to leave Noah to die a vicious death did Carol again become the empathetic one, and the episode didn’t really get revved up until they realized that he knew Beth and could take them to her. The way this show has been recently, we’re not likely to see a rescue mission for a few seasons, but let’s hope that things converge before then and that Beth hasn’t been unduly punished for helping Noah escape and defying Dawn. Seeing the city was definitely a stark reminder of how things are just as bleak in the middle of a former metropolis as they are out on the long, winding road to Terminus or the prison or Hershel’s farm or anywhere else our ragtag band has been over the last few seasons.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 9 “Sticky Content” (C+)

This episode was two-pronged, hardly a surprise these days but still disappointing for a show with an ensemble like this. Cary managed not to get himself into more trouble with the law for the first time in a while, but he did endanger himself in a bold and probably not too intelligent way. It took a while to verify that the tape was in fact authentic, and then it turned out that Bishop wasn’t actually serious about wanting Cary dead. It would be nice if he was more concerned with keeping his former lawyer out of jail, since there’s really no way this ends well. As she pressed Kalinda to be more invested in their relationship, Lana seems to have screwed herself over career-wise after handing over the tape to her pushy girlfriend. Having her personal life aired out by Cary in front of her boss didn’t help matters much. What I can’t believe most is that this show finally referenced its tendency to have characters say “phoned” rather than “called,” something I noted in my review of a season two episode four years ago and have noticed many times since then. On the campaign front, it’s rather appalling to see the stupidity of the attack ads conceived of by the campaigns and the pacs. It seems like the only productive – and truly destructive – thing that came out of it was that both Peter and Alicia think that it’s a good idea to have affairs at this moment, egged on by the other’s insolence.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 12 “Thirteen Steps” (B-)

This season has featured a few episodes that focused only on one character and drew out their death when it just wasn’t necessary and didn’t serve a more lasting purpose. I suppose that Elam dying led to Cullen realizing that he needed to quit the railroad, but it took Ruth getting hanged for him to actually do it, so I don’t see why both needed an entire episode each. Ruth’s determination to die was puzzling given just how easily she could have prevented it by accepting Governor Campbell’s pardon. Nothing good comes from it since now there will likely be unrest and possibly even violence in Cheyenne as a result of her execution, maybe from more than Mickey and his new enforcer. Ruth was a great character, to be sure, but I think she was at her most interesting when her father and brother were both still alive. Ezra was good for her too, though he’s also been forgotten now since we haven’t seen the Swede or Brigham Young anytime recently. With law enforcement and the church officially without leaders in Cheyenne, law and order is going to break down, and I’m not sure how things will turn out. This show recently got renewed for a final season which will be spread out over two years, so there’s obviously more ground to cover in this ever-changing town. Cullen and Durant have both changed so much over the years, and, along with Mickey and Psalms, they’re now the only characters from the beginning of the show left.