Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Take Three: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 3 “Episode Three” (B+)

Part of me wishes that this show had a larger cast and numerous guest characters who could interact with the primary seven players on a regular basis. Yet there’s something fascinating about building a show around just a small base of people and setting it in one place. This hour was relatively intense and didn’t even involve leaving the ship, save for a few brief treks out onto the deck to repair some problematic issues with the ship. I like the Android as a character very much, since she’s extremely matter-of-fact but also possesses a personality, displayed most prominently in reminding them that she did in fact do the same for them by risking her life to save theirs. Not that their guns were going to do much, but I did enjoy Five pointing out that her allies should aim their guns at Four because she had taken all the bullets out of Three’s guns because she didn’t trust him. The end of the episode’s big revelation was hardly a surprise, but it does underline just how much these characters have been transformed from the criminals they once were. The casting of One as the true culprit who pursued the Raza and then presumably wiped their memories clean, erasing his own in the process, is brilliant since he’s the show’s moral compass, arguing for the preservation of life above all else in the strongest possible way, more belligerently even than the mission-minded Two. I’m very intrigued to see what comes next.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 3 “Empathy is a Boner Killer” (B+)

If there’s anyone on this show who is easy to root for, it’s Nicky. The former drug addict is certainly funny, and she also has a good heart and firm commitment to those around her, even the ones she doesn’t particularly like. She’s also an enterprising business woman, choosing the one guard she knew would sooner join her in distributing drugs than turn her in. Luschek immediately pointing the finger and blaming her when it was his operation was cowardly and cruel, and she’ll now have to suffer the fate of being in maximum security, something she really doesn’t deserve. Let’s hope he gets caught redhanded soon and that she gets bounced to a prison that, surprisingly enough, may stay operational. Caputo got plenty of pressure from his subordinates to let them know what was happening, and a brave call to Fig may have done the trick. It was fun to see Fig again, and to see her odd love-hate relationship with Caputo. I didn’t expect the drama class to go well, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for Alex and Piper acting out their issues via imagined bruised fruit scenarios. I’m enjoying that romance, and it’s good to see these two characters still doing something interesting in the background now that Piper is no longer the show’s lead player. Red translating for Healy and his wife was entertaining, particularly when she stopped speaking English and started yelling at his bride for being ungrateful and not appreciating the man who wants to take care of her.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 4 “What’s Going On?” (B)

There are some parts of this episode that I really liked, and I wish that each full hour could be as intense and cool as a few select scenes and segments were. I’m not terribly engaged by Wolfgang, Capheus, Sun, and their plotlines. Nomi by nature is the most interesting character, but Will ranks second best because he actually has a clue about what’s going on (title and song reference) and wants to understand how to make it better. I love that he showed up to try to talk to Jonas and then managed to go into his cell and learn some crucial information, most notably the fact that Nomi’s wellbeing was in danger because of her impending operation. Switching places with her to pick the lock on her restraints and help her to escape to Amanita’s guardian angel was awesome, and I like just how subtle and quick it was. I was caught off guard by the shared singing scene, which reminded me a lot of the quirkiness of “Magnolia,” but I came around to it as the ultimate expression of connectivity, eight people who just all of a sudden started singing a song that was stuck in their heads and were able to be united by this brief departure from their lives. When the music got intense during the stand-up routine a few minutes earlier, I thought that the episode was going to get much more serious and enthralling, but this show has a certain way about it that makes the moments in which it works overshadow the ones where it lags.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Sex” (B)

I want to really like this show so much, but there’s something about an episode like this that just feels forced. It’s convenient timing for both Grace and Frankie to start having to think about what sex at 70 is like, particularly because, as they’ve now learned, they were both having sex with gay men for forty years (not all that often, of course). Grace did decently well until she actually got into the bed and refused to turn the light on so that Guy hurt his knee, but he’s been a pretty good sport, bringing a flashlight to aid him in their next encounter. Them dancing together was sweet, but it’s clear that Grace needs a dependable romance more than a revitalization of her sex life. Frankie is on another plane entirely, never stopping to think that her yam man Jacob, played by the terrific Ernie Hudson, might actually be into her, and as soon as she did, she became hopelessly awkward, laughing at nothing at all for an uncomfortably long time. I liked seeing the brotherly interactions between Bud and Coyote, who apparently wants to reach out to his birth mother, which could be interesting. Sol being terrified of Brianna was entertaining, but he’s still the sentimentalist, trying to get her to feel something when both she and Robert are considerably more stoic. As he said when he interrupted their moment, “You just don’t get this with boys!” Sam Waterston is definitely one of the best parts of this show.

Monday, June 29, 2015

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 1, Episode 12 “The Ones We Leave Behind” (B+)

Wilson Fisk has definitely made an impression on the people on this show, and his omnipotence in this hour, appearing to some characters in nightmares and others in real life. Opening with Karen imagining herself being beaten to death by the angry sociopath and closing with Ben actually experiencing it was intense, and it took me a moment to grasp the fact that Ben had really been killed. This show has shown a certain bravery and commitment to its storyline in its two most recent episodes, first having Wesley get killed by Karen and then Wilson himself murdering Ben. The veteran reporter, who finally changed his life for the better and was ready to write a transformative exposĂ© about Fisk, wasn’t my favorite character but he added a sense of dogged passion and persistence to the show that the younger players don’t quite have. His death is going to crush Karen, and she’s having enough trouble holding down the fort with Matt, who dealt with his own demons in this hour, and Foggy not talking to each other. I like that Matt is being encouraged at every turn to transform himself into a bona fide superhero rather than just a masked man, and the title of the season finale, “Daredevil,” is more than promising. At this point, I am happy that I stuck with the show through the season, and I think I’ll leave with a positive attitude towards this show and its potential for the future in season two and beyond.

What I’m Watching: Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines: Season 1, Episode 6 “Choices” (B)

This show is a completely different show than it was just two episodes ago, and this entirely expository hour is an important analysis and explanation of how these two vastly incompatible universes exist alongside one another. Ethan got his own personal tour of the world as it actually exists in 4028, with the seemingly kindly Dr. Pilcher filling him in on why they do what they do. The flashbacks to David and his sister trying to discuss and spread their opinions and the Sherriff being hired from his security guard job were effective, and it’s clear that it’s all such a distant memory. Obviously certain things are far from perfect, like the public executions designed to keep all thoughts of rebellion from everyone’s minds, but it doesn’t seem like anything is meant to be malicious. Theresa is going to get herself into trouble by pushing too much, but I think that’s the Burke family gene, and until Ethan clues her in, which I’m sure he won’t, she’s just going to continue pressing and alerting others to the fact that she knows too much (or thinks she does, since she actually has no clue). The best part of the episode was its final scene, in which Ethan learned about a small faction that was trying to remove their chips to stage a revolution, and everything involving Kate from the hour was revealed to be connected, as Kate and Harold, who seemed like such phone-answering, law-abiding citizens, are actually the two culprits right at the forefront of the movement that could bring down civilization as it still exists in Wayward Pines.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pilot Review: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot (USA)
Premiered June 24 at 9pm

I’m not sure where to start with my review of this two-hour pilot that truly feels like a movie in itself. I can’t say that I loved it, but I was deeply intrigued by it. Its style is enormously creative and fully appropriate for its subject matter. Its most electric element, without a doubt, is star Rami Malek. I was trying to remember where I first saw Malek, who I remember as an emotionless music-obsessed killer in an episode of “Alcatraz” and as a loyal devotee in “The Master.” A bit of IMDB research reveals that “The Pacific” was his first major project, which I remembered as soon as I saw it. Malek has an incredible disposition, so quiet and assuming – and often awkward and creepy – that he is the perfect person to play a hacker who sees the world in such a technical way that it prohibits him from experiencing it normally. The most memorable moment for me was when he saw things happening at the end of the episode and threw his hands up in disbelieving celebration in Times Square only to be apprehended by several men in sharp suits. Asking the audience if they were seeing this was a formidable way to end the episode, which makes watching the next hour all but impossible to resist, even if the majority of this show wasn’t firing entirely on all cylinders. Regarding the rest of the cast, Christian Slater is a strong choice for his eccentric role, and I’m also pleased to see Portia Doubleday, who broke out in “Youth in Revolt” a few years ago, in what appears to be a prominent part as Angela. I’m interested to see what this show becomes, but I think it’s one of the most intense and thought-provoking pilots I’ve seen in a while.

How will it work as a series? I wouldn’t consider the second hour of this double-decker start to be a representative example of what the show is going to be like, especially since it was contained in the same overall arc. I’ll have to wait until week two and episode three to see whether this show is as worthwhile as its debut offering suggested.
How long will it last? Well, that’s the good news. This show did so well when USA put it online ahead of time that it actually got renewed the morning the show premiered for a second season of at least ten episodes. That bodes very well, and unless the show’s quality slumps, I think it could have a long and prolific future.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Tyrant (Season Premiere)

Tyrant: Season 2, Episode 2 “Enter the Fates” (C+)

I’m at a point where I want to keep watching just to be able to keep up with the storyline of this show, but I think that it’s bene long enough and the show hasn’t merited continued hope of it getting to a point of being truly invigorating. Bassam crawling through the desert for the entire duration of the episode is an unfortunately accurate representation of this show’s pace, and the fact that he ended up getting captured as some theoretically worthwhile trophy at the end of the hour just underlined the fact that there are interesting things happening on this show, just not at the rate that they should be. The revolution is also worthwhile, though it seems that they could do a better job not seeming outright suspicious, since it stands to reason that, even if the assassination had been successful, its perpetrator would surely have been killed on the spot and not gotten away with it, so getting recognized should hardly have been a concern. He did manage to blow a major deal for Jamal, whose vengeful nature probably won’t help him keep the business relationship he so ardently fought to create. Molly seems extremely calm considering the fact that she believes her husband has just been executed by his brother, and I’m sure the eventual knowledge that he’s still alive won’t jolt her too much either. Bringing back Sammy’s forbidden romance is a strangely timed move, but I assume it’s because the American Fayyad family isn’t close to done with Abbudin. Will I watch again next week? I haven’t decided.

Pilot Review: The Brink

The Brink (HBO)
Premieres June 21 at 10:30pm

It’s no surprise that HBO has picked up a show that’s laced with satire. The two comedy series that aired most recently on Sunday nights are both parodies of sorts, “Silicon Valley” a send-up of the tech industry and “Veep” an outright mockery of politics, and therefore “The Brink” is a logical choice to end up on their slate. It’s hardly as polished, however, and whatever this show wants to be isn’t quite clear because of its highly uneven tone. It feels most like a modern-day version of “Dr. Strangelove,” though that’s too much of a compliment, getting serious occasionally but only in the service of extending its comedy, like when Tim Robbins’ secretary of state interrupts a grave meeting to get his dinner order straight. As if Robbins’ Walter Larson wasn’t ridiculous enough, Jack Black is technically the lead of the show as the bumbling Alex Talbot, who makes the entire country of Pakistan look like a joke because of the way he treats it. When Pablo Schreiber, who played Pornstache on “Orange is the New Black,” is cast as what passes for a straight man, a drug-dealing pilot, you know you have a zany show. There’s no denying that here, and while I’m interested to see where it may go, this first episode was far from solid enough to really recommend it. I’d be up for giving it at least one more chance, but I keep wishing that it would feel more like the biting humor of “Veep” and less like something alternatively too outlandish and not outlandish enough.

How will it work as a series? Well, war has nearly been started between multiple countries, but I guess that’s the point of the show’s title, so things can only go belly up from here. This show needs to choose a direction and head in it, and this first episode was too scattered to suggest that it will be able to keep a firm handle on where it wants to go in the future.
How long will it last? The pilot did decently in terms of ratings, and it could be just the semi-intellectual counterpiece to time slot companion “Ballers,” which was watched by far more viewers. Despite iffy reviews, I think that this show is going to get picked up as an investment by HBO in more political comedy.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: Ballers

Ballers (HBO)
Premiered June 21 at 10pm

I knew it before I watched it, and everyone I’ve spoken to has described this as just like “Entourage” but about football rather than Hollywood. It’s extremely accurate, though I think that having an active interest in sports and appreciating all the cameos goes a lot further here than it did when you were simply watching four guys who coasted on fame in a big city without much discernable talent. What’s more worthwhile for me is seeing actors who I’ve seen in other projects get the opportunity to be featured here. I’ve always thought that the Rock was more talented than he got credit for, and so it’s good to see him taking on a role that isn’t entirely action-oriented. Omar Benson Miller, Rob Corddry, Troy Garity, and DulĂ© Hill are a foursome I would never have imagined together in any context, and I don’t think Arielle Kebbel even appeared in this episode. It’s good to know that there is talent involved, even if it’s not clear how they’ll be used. A half-hour felt long as an introduction to this show’s universe (though a friend and colleague said he felt the opposite, that a show like this needs a full hour to be able to truly set the stage), and I’m not terribly interested in investing in it. It’s only half an hour though, and there’s not so much on television at the moment, so I figure it’s worth giving HBO the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the kind of comedies they’re producing might be worth watching, even if this skews towards the less sophisticated of the series they’re presenting.

How will it work as a series? The pilot identified a few key characters, with manager Spencer and screwup Ricky looking like the primary players. There will be ups and downs, scandals to manage, victories to celebrate, and plenty more, plus a whole lot of high-octane sports and personal drama, which might make this show appealing to a certain kind of audience.
How long will it last? Probably a long time. Even though it’s not as good as a lot of the other fare HBO has aired over the years, it did find many more viewers than the often niche programming the network offers does. A second season renewal should be coming along shortly.

Pilot grade: C+

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: Happyish

Happyish: Season 1, Episode 9 “Starring Bill Hicks, Joseph McCarthy and Alfred Bernhard Nobel” (B+)

This show is becoming more and more poignant as it moves away from its main characters’ pent-up anger and towards the very legitimate issues they take with the way the world works. Larry’s suicide was a devastating way to open the episode, especially since his departure was relatively laced with comedy and seen as a natural cosmic follow-up to a productive career filled with hard and honest work. Thom has now become the stand-in for the sane person in the room, furious at the notion that his colleagues wanted to instill fear in the American people of an impending terrorist attack at any turn to compel them to enlist in the army. That the client agreed with him and was equally appalled at the idea was reassuring, but it’s clear that Thom isn’t long from being phased out of his job and the world in which he presently inhabits. Imagining himself as a game show host was particularly effective, and represents the latest successful move from oversexed elves and talking Geico geckos to something more subtle and strong. Lee taking Julius to Hebrew school was also an instance of maturity on her part, embracing the Judaism she often tries to shirk and balking not at the notion of religion but at Julius’ onslaught of questions she couldn’t hope to answer. It was an interesting moment in which she finally got serious and not so pessimistic about her outlook on life but still couldn’t figure out what to say to make sense of everything.

What I’m Watching: True Detective (Season Premiere)

True Detective: Season 2, Episode 1 “The Western Book of the Dead” (B-)

I’ll remind those of you who aren’t loyal readers that I didn’t particularly love this show’s pilot and I opted not to check back in for a second look until the show earned numerous accolades and I felt it necessary to marathon through the entire season for the sake of the Emmy Awards. It hooked me by the middle of episode four, but I still didn’t find it to be nearly as excellent as many proclaimed. I was set on watching it now that I know it paid off to a degree, and while this initial installment is undeniably intriguing, I think it needs some work before it should be considered must-see television. Whereas last season there was an impossibly dark storyline inhabited by strong characters, it seems that this year is about the truly diverse talent the show signed for its second iteration. It’s not clear what Vince Vaughn’s mogul, Taylor Kitsch’s suspended cop, Rachel McAdams’ dogged investigator, and Colin Farrell’s deadbeat detective have in common, and it feels like this story has been artificially created to link them all together. The show is definitely maintaining a commitment to darkness as it relates to its characters, particularly Farrell’s Ray and what happened with his wife and McAdams’ Ani and her family history. I don’t think this will compare to a biblical serial killer, but I suppose it’s worth finding out. McAdams was great in this hour, but the performer I’m watching most closely is Kelly Reilly, who I think will be the standout in this season the way I found the underrated Michelle Monaghan to be last year. My interest has been piqued, and I would love to have my expectations blown away.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black (Season Finale)

Orphan Black: Season 3, Episode 10 “History Yet to Be Written” (B+)

It’s enormously sad to me that this show has already reached the end of its season, but it’s reassuring and wonderful to note that this show truly feels like a fully developed and mature show. Don’t get me wrong – I found this show awesome and complete from the very start, but it’s now gotten to the point where there’s so much going on that it can have a triumphant sendoff like this one with plenty of plot twists on a number of fronts. Delphine’s demise at the hands of a mysterious assailant was the most poignant since she’s one of the original characters who has been with the show from its very inception, and who made up for everything she did wrong to Cosima in recent episodes with her loyal and protective actions. The passionate kiss she shared with Cosima emphasized their enduring connection, and she now follows Paul as a monitor who fell in love with her clone to ultimately bite the bullet due to her association and involvement. The sestras have ridden themselves of one enemy – Dr. Coady – and gotten themselves into bed with another potentially much more dangerous new ally, Ferdinand. Krystal has been saved a gruesome fate as Rachel’s doomed doppelganger, and now Rachel must contend with another malicious mother in her family line since the late Professor Duncan’s wife is revealed to be very much alive. This has been a tumultuously exciting season and a firm cementing of this show’s enduring quality. I can’t wait for season four!

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Tatiana Maslany

Pilot Review: Killjoys

Killjoys (Syfy)
Premiered June 19 at 9pm

Sometimes, the timing of a new show feels purposeful. Those who enjoyed watching a ragtag band of bounty hunters and other lowlife antiheroes parade around the galaxy getting themselves into trouble in “Guardians of the Galaxy” would definitely be interested in watching three similarly eccentric, if all relatively normal and human, people get themselves into similar hijinks on a weekly basis. This show isn’t based on a graphic novel or some book series; instead, it’s an original concept that doesn’t feel exceptionally creative. The first episode introduces the Hannah John-Kamen’s strong-willed Dutch and her less serious partner, Aaron Ashmore’s John, who steps in to take a kill job in order to save the life of the mark who just happens to be his brother D’avin, played by Luke Macfarlane. This trio obviously has plenty to work out, but by episode’s end, they’re firm allies whose weakest element is the banter that gets in the way of their missions being completed more quickly. It’s fun to be sure, and a good fit for Syfy Friday nights, but it’s hardly as compelling as fellow new series “Dark Matter” and is considerably less gripping. I see why it might make an appealing show, but to me it’s yet another return to the sci-fi space criminal format that doesn’t seem to offer anything truly innovative or energizing. If there was nothing else on and this was it, I think I’d stick around to get to know these characters, but at this point in time, one mission was enough for me.

How will it work as a series? Bounty hunting is a great profession to be featured in a TV show since each episode involves a different notable guest character and permits the exposition of background information on each of the three members of this group. As I said, it should be fun, it’s just not must-see television.
How long will it last? Like “Dark Matter,” this show also airs on Space, a Canadian network, which means that its chances are doubly good since both channels would have to cancel it to be dead. Its stateside ratings were far from promising, but I think that this might be the kind of show that will attract just the right kind of niche audience to merit the possibility of a second season.

Pilot grade: C+

Friday, June 26, 2015

Round Two: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 2 “Episode Two” (B)

I’m forming much more of an attachment to this show than I expected to, and I’m very pleasantly surprised about that. I really like the central notion of the premise, which is that these people know that they’re bad but have the choice now to redefine themselves as something else and something better. That doesn’t necessarily make them terrific people, as Three still has quite the mean streak in him that doesn’t always put innocent people above his well-being, but they are free to make choices about who they are. I like also that their lack of knowledge of their identities gives them a certain confidence to lie and pretend, as Two managed to do expertly in manipulating those around her to both protect their reputation and ensure that her enemies wouldn’t be a problem. Their pasts will surely catch up with them sooner or later, but for now it’s clear that they’re on a different path, and I’m eager to see where it takes them as they discover more about the world they live in and inadvertently also more about themselves. I like the Android’s minimal personality, asking emotionless guards if they have offspring, and I think she’s a strong character. Five is definitely the biggest mystery, and it seems that she knows more than the rest of them do about their true intentions, even if she too can’t figure out exactly what she knows and why it is that she knows it. I’m eager to learn more, but also content in the knowledge that it may take a while for it all to be revealed.