Sunday, May 28, 2017

What I’m Watching: Casual (Season Premiere)

Casual: Season 3, Episode 1 “Ashes to Ashes” (B)

One of my favorite dramatic comedies is back all of a sudden, and I’m definitely not going to rush three episodes into just one sitting like Hulu keeps doing with its series, debuting them back-to-back on premiere night. I’m taking this show one episode per week, as usual with shows that I like, and so here we are with a very expository installment, one that shows us where we stand and how things aren’t really all that ordinary anymore. Alex has always been an oversharer, demanding far too much time from Val and Leon. Now, he’s moved on to his new tenant, Hans, who he managed to scare away quickly, and Jennifer, who seems to be taken with his charm despite his repeated violation of the boundaries in their therapist-client relationship. Val’s new landlord is far too laidback and crunchy, and describing how she didn’t call her handyman because she didn’t want to interrupt his soul-searching journey was evidently not okay with Val, who tried calling Leon and then Drew before finally telling her landlord off and demanding action. Val and Drew got to do some moderately-effective parenting in splitting the cost of Laura’s tattoo removal while the troublemaker teen managed to be on what for her counts as good behavior. Val was miserable enough at the memorial that her mother put on for her late father before that surprising bit of news was just casually dropped, and if I heard what I thought I did, Val is in for some serious spiraling.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 3, Episode 7 “Expenses” (B+)

It’s remarkable to watch Jimmy work. Sure, I prefer – and I’m sure we all do too – to see him in court arguing something that seems impossible to prove or winning over old ladies with his ability to pen a good will. Jimmy bounced back from a yearlong ban on practicing law to selling the commercial space he had already paid for in less than a day, and now he’s trying to turn it into his regular business. He has an incredible knack for selling, and he went from trying to get two guys in a musical instrument shop to pay for a bulk package to offering it up completely for free, with the understanding that, if the advertising works, they’ll pay the full rate for more. That scene at the end of the episode was really something, since he was clearly getting revenge on his brother by putting him in the crosshairs of the insurance agency, but part of his sob story was true: he can barely afford his minimal bills at this point. Kim lashing out at her Mesa Verde contact was an unexpected moment, but I think she’s grappling with what they’ve done much more than Jimmy is. Nacho is taking on a more central role in the story, and I like that he and Mike have crossed paths again. Seeing Mike in a more sentimental lens with the support group and doing his construction project was very worthwhile, though it’s clear that his new association with Nacho is going to pull him deep in to more criminal enterprises.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin (Season Finale)

Jane the Virgin: Season 3, Episode 20 “Chapter Sixty-Four” (B+)

Talk about a lot of developments in this hour to set season four in a while direction! Jane getting ordained as a minister and then being at a loss as to what to say was a mere subplot, and Rogelio and Xiomara were able to get married after all despite everything stacked against them. Darci showing up seven months pregnant was terrible timing, but luckily we didn’t even have to wait for Rogelio to step up and do the right thing, refusing to be swayed by her sudden return and declaring right away that he was going to be contacting her through a joint lawyer with Xiomara. Jane got to read the letter from Michael that she didn’t know existed, and apparently it came to her from a very unlikely source: Jane’s first love, who will likely feature heavily into at least the start of season four. As anyone who’s read my reviews knows, I’m #teamrafael all the way, and it seemed like Rafael was being incredibly romantic in his courtship of Petra, firmly choosing her over Jane, but that wasn’t what was happening at all. Luisa and Anezka sharing a taxi was the worst thing that could possibly happen for their siblings, since now Anezka is reading to kill Petra and a furious Luisa is taking the Marbella back from her brother because he tricked her. The revelation that the real Eileen killed Scott because he had seen Rose moments earlier and could have blown their whole deal was intriguing and actually makes a lot of sense. As always, this show is a terrific source of unique entertainment. I look forward to its return next year!

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Gina Rodriguez as Jane

Saturday, May 27, 2017

What I’m Watching: Supergirl (Season Finale)

Supergirl: Season 2, Episode 22 “Nevertheless, She Persisted” (B+)

I didn’t see this episode’s title until I sat down to review it, and it’s a much more overt political statement, echoing Elizabeth Warren being stifled in her passionate argument against Jeff Sessions, than this show usually tends to make, Cat’s “fake news” dig aside. This episode was very much about standing up to oppressors, and Kara managed to power through kryptonite being wielded at her to make an incredibly difficult decision and save the planet. Mon-El has been a surprisingly strong addition to the show this season, and this was quite a formidable way for him to go out, sent away in a shuttle doomed to never return to Earth after his mother turned to stone and then crumbled. Kara made a heartfelt confession of love to Mon-El as he was getting into the pod, and it’s clear that they got very close and both helped each other a lot. I’d be happy to see Mon-El return, but I’m not sure how that could feasibly play out. It was very sweet to see Alex propose on the spot because she felt so close to Maggie, and I guess there’s a wedding in store next season! Even Hank got some romance with a returning M’gann. Cat, in a welcome return appearance, gave Kara a great pep talk, and it turns out that she does know that her scrappy former assistant is Supergirl. The flashback to the pods being launched on the last day of Krypton suggests that we have a new major villain coming next season, but that’s for another time. This has been a solid second season and I look forward to season three.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Laura Vandervoort as Kara

What I’m Watching: Twin Peaks (Series Return)

Twin Peaks: Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2 “The Return – Parts 1 and 2” (C+)

I have a lot to say about this very lengthy premiere. I got into this show probably about a decade ago, and it may not have been my smartest choice not to brush up on what I remembered from the first two seasons. I also didn’t finish the second season since I got tired of it once it got relatively off-track and wasn’t all that interested in how it was going to end. I went to read a recap of these two episodes to provide some more clarity on what happened over the course of what felt like two never-ending hours, and I’ll say that it didn’t help at all. What I used to love about this show was its stylized soapiness and the way some supernatural cleverness played into it, particularly when invoked by the incomparable Dale Cooper. Unfortunately, this opening double-header focused much more of the parts of the show that I really didn’t like, with its severe creepiness and things that just don’t make any sense. So much of this episode took place in that room with the subtitled language, and we even got to see Laura ripped away in a horrible fashion that will be hard to get out of my head. Kyle MacLachlan is playing a very different character, a formidable villain who killed a handful of people in these episodes, and he was joined by some interesting new faces, particularly Madeline Zima from “Californication” and Jane Adams from “Hung.” I also enjoyed the brief appearance by David Lynch regular Patrick Fischler, and I missed most of the cameos from former stars of this show. I’d love to be into this show, but seeing a severed head that doesn’t match the body it was placed above underscores the show’s disturbing nature more than anything else. If I don’t see more of what I used to like about this show in the third hour, I’m not sure I’ll proceed to the fourth.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 6, Episode 6 “Qatar” (B+)

Maybe she’s always been this way, but it does seem to me that Selina is getting more vulgar and hateful every episode. Selina doesn’t really have what most people would call “morals” and that was evident in her analysis of the situation in African countries with totalitarian leaders and horrible treatment of the female population. Getting caught in a photo that made it look like she was cavorting with a Sudanese dictator led to the episode’s best line – calling him a bomber and a photo bomber – and its most awkward content, which was Selina having to censor her speech, which was going to be a scathing indictment of him and of genital mutilation, turning it instead into an extremely forgiving and liberal take on what countries should be allowed to determine for their populations. Her head was a little cloudy on account of her dalliance with Jaffar, and that ended rather abruptly when her whiteness presented a problem. Dan scored a big win in ousting Jane, though I’m sure there will be more than enough trouble to come for his new solo gig. Roger having everyone over to his house where he put on an angelic front for his wife was peculiar, and Jonah was bold enough to try to advocate for a better office while Roger had to be in a kindhearted and forgiving mood. His new girlfriend – or is it fiancĂ©e? – is really something, arranging his life but also helping him to get somewhere aside from just his strict stance on the idiocy of Daylight Saving Time.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 4, Episode 5 “Blood Boy” (B+)

Things on this show sure move fast, and the rate at which its central characters switch jobs is truly incredible. Gavin is a big idea man and is not at all one to worry about minutia, and the fact that he was multitasking during Richard’s pitch was the least of any of their worries. Getting blood transfusions from a supposed picture of health is a crazy thing to do, but it makes total sense that Gavin would be into that. Anyone who has watched even a minute of the terrible show that is “Quantico” knows that Graham Rogers, who played Bryce here, is not to be trusted. Erlich revealing him as a druggie who was lying about pretty much everything should have been Richard’s smoking gun, and instead it got Gavin to realize that he needed to get out, thereby putting Richard as his team, which newly includes Dinesh, at a total loss. Yes, they have the patent Gavin signed over to them, but they’re without funding and now have to deliver on the big launch that Richard had to agree to as a result of his collaboration with Gavin. Dinesh calling the FBI on his girlfriend to get out of the relationship was a bit extreme, and he’s going to be kicking himself now that he’s left his penis-sorting job to work with his buds. Monica is also is an interesting position, and I think her following mother-of-three Laurie somewhere new is probably a good way to go for her career, though it’s impossible to know how things are going to turn out.

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 3, Episode 6 “Certified” (B)

This show seems intent on spending the last of its hours devoted to on major character, looking earlier this season at Matt and Kevin Sr., and now it’s time for Laurie, one of the most complicated personalities on this show, to take center stage. I still contend that the Guilty Remnant was one of the most fascinating and disturbing aspects of this show, and the cult’s absence in this final season has been very felt. Opening with the flashback to her lack of interest in a session that resulted in her donning the white clothing was powerful, as was Nora’s angry reference to her actions while she was part of that cult, but I still feel that this show used to be much more focused, taking its plot points somewhere devastating and immensely powerful. Ending with Laurie ready to scuba dive to her death as she got a call from Jill was thought-provoking but didn’t do enough to address the other things that we learned in this hour, like Kevin’s willingness to be killed and John’s belief that Evie is still alive somewhere. It’s very likely that this show will end the way it started, with some experiencing what they believe to be a cathartic experience that only serves to defend everything that they’ve theorized and others left behind with no more knowledge as to what’s going on in their world. With just two episodes left, I’d like to zoom out a bit more and see what’s going on with everyone as the seventh anniversary approaches.

What I’m Watching: Making History (Series Finale)

Making History: Season 1, Episode 9 “Body Trouble” (B)

I do wish that this wasn’t the final installment of this show, but I would argue that it was far from the best sampling. This show is a comedy first and foremost, and therefore it’s not a surprise that its tackling of the serious issues – or rather, science fiction issues – involved with time travel wouldn’t be the priority. I liked when this show first started exploring that a few episodes back and would have loved to see more of it, but I guess this is all that we’re going to get. Dan going to Dr. Cobell to show him the duffel bag time machine was never a great plan, and the esteemed intellectual having a heart attack when they were in the bag was an unfortunate development. Dan going back minutes and minutes earlier after that only made things worse, and the sight of him with five dead Dr. Cobells in the car was pretty absurd. I liked the logic of no one ever thinking to check the sky, and Deborah suggesting that they should bury the dead bodies in another time was actually pretty smart. Hancock and Adams were insanely over-the-top characters, but they worked. My favorite of all was Deborah, whose passion for ice cream, including a scooping inventory that somehow didn’t result in all of the product melting, was truly inspiring and transcendental of time periods. I wish this show was continuing, especially since we didn’t see Natalie Morales’ intrepid reporter at all. I can’t imagine this will be high on anyone else’s list of cancelled shows to bring back, but I’ll be rooting for it as I fondly look back at one of the most enjoyable comedies of the season.

Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Leighton Meester as Deborah

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season Premiere)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 1 “Kimmy Gets Divorced?!” (B)

While this show was on hiatus, I didn’t think about it very much, but I did find myself making comparisons to its universe and its token irreverent nature when describing NBC’s appealing new comedy “Trial and Error.” As with so many streaming shows these days, I nearly missed the start of this one since it seems like there are at least ten new shows premiering each month and a handful returning for a second or third season at the same time. This show’s return is mostly welcome, though I think I had forgotten just how outrageous and absurd a lot of this show was. The mop made up to look like Titus which everyone spoke to was one such instance, and I don’t even know what to say about Lillian’s continued relationship with Fred Armisen’s Robert Durst. Titus having to choose whether to do something truly uncomfortable to get a role on “Sesame Street” was odd but unsurprising, and I don’t know that this show needs to spend too much more time pursuing that plotline. There was a whole lot of Jon Hamm in this episode, but that’s never a bad thing, and the divorce conversation turned very comical as Kimmy, egged on by Jacqueline, refused to give in to his request for a simple signature to dissolve their marriage. It’s nice to see Kimmy so determined and positive, and who knows how long this next chapter will last as Kimmy starts to figure out what she wants to make her happy in life.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys (Season Premiere)

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 1 “Mother” (C+)

I already have a strict policy about how I watch streaming shows, and I wasn’t about to let a whole season – let alone the penultimate season – of this show go by over the course of just three days. I can’t understand why Syfy decided to air the same thing over one weekend, but I’m going to let it last me throughout part of the summer. That said, I wasn’t too enthralled by this opening hour, which had an intriguing introduction with Jones narrating how they’ve gotten to where they are. The problem is that this show has always been best when it’s dealt with time travel and, in my opinion, visited the recent past or the near future. Heading too far into the future enables the presence of advanced technology which permits villainous characters to go back in time, kill someone to prevent what they know has happened, and then trap someone in an impossible loop from which they have no hope of escaping. What makes even less sense is that Cole, wearing a protective device that allowed him to be present with his former self without causing a paradox, was actually with Cassandra when he told his former self to give up looking for her. I’m not a fan of all this business with the Witness, and I just hope that this new nightmare is over soon so that we can get back to our characters doing what they do best – traveling through time to try to stop evil forces from prevailing. Putting Jennifer front and center again can’t hurt either.

Take Three: I Love Dick

I Love Dick: Season 1, Episode 3 “Scenes from a Marriage” (C-)

I do not love this show. In fact, I really despise it. I had such high hopes for star Kathryn Hahn and her admiring director Jill Soloway, but this show just makes me angry. It’s a mess, first of all, and it’s completely unappealing beyond that. It didn’t take long at all for Chris’ deeply explicit love letters to Dick to get to him, mainly because she dropped them off for him to review, and predictably Sylvere got very angry about it. The whole relationship dynamic between Sylvere and Chris is already very all over the place, and adding his attempt to control her before punctuating it with his actual desire to be controlled by her, as forcefully demonstrated by the episode’s closing scene, only further complicates things. If there was some sort of catharsis or meaning that came from all this, that would be great, but Dick is also a relentlessly boring figure. Devon is so fascinated by everything that Chris has written that she’s essentially living her life through her, and she didn’t even blink at the idea of having been fired because she let her friends be too rowdy in a space that wasn’t hers to disrupt. I don’t feel that this show is going anywhere, and I’m fairly certain that its title is controversial enough that it isn’t likely to pick up a good deal of awards attention for fear of having to print this show’s name anywhere. As a result, I don’t feel any regret giving it up, and I hope to forget about it soon and enjoy the next season of “Transparent” instead.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 2 “Le Nozze” (B+)

I didn’t expect to like this episode all that much since I’ve never really been a fan of Arnold. Fortunately, this was his best appearance yet, and his presence in Italy helped Dev to realize what was actually important to him. Dev is his own man, but it was still a lot of fun to see him indulge in the excitement with a surprisingly less irritating than usual Arnold, who was polite enough to ask if they were allowed to have free samples without buying anything and who had Dev come along to the wedding with him so that he wouldn’t do anything he really regretted. He still tried his best, of course, and I’m glad that it was presented in a fashion that didn’t highlight it as the focus of the episode and instead just served as a humorous subplot. The car getting stuck and Arnold getting stuck trying to get out of it was funniest for Dev first taking a selfie for perspective, following up on Arnold’s use of a photo with him to show his size. Best of all, Dev kept walking away to text Rachel a picture of his food or what he was thinking, and knowing that she’s still on his mind and vice versa is truly wonderful. Dev departing Italy was also sentimental, mocking the English of his chef colleague, and I wonder whether we’ll see her again once Dev makes what’s sure to be a difficult transition back to living in New York.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 2, Episode 4 “Polyphony” (B+)

We know that Will was a cop, Sun does well in hand-to-hand combat, and Capheus knows how to drive. What I enjoyed most about this episode was how, in the opening escape, Lito continued to the group by putting on a great performance screaming as Riley so that Will could get away. I like the scenes of everyone walking around together, shadowing Will or Riley or whoever it is that’s actually experiencing the moment and getting guidance from the other members of the cluster. Lito was a valuable player in this hour, doing his own detective work tracking down someone related to the person who had helped him have an early positive sexual experience years earlier. Amanita, on the other hand, was put in a much more precarious position as she went out on the town and then found herself being tailed, giving Nomi a good scare. Wolfgang, of course, was late to the party since he’s spending time with someone from a different cluster, which is definitely messing with his head. While we’ve seen more than enough of Daryl Hannah’s Angel since she died in the first episode of the show, it’s still worth noting the unsettling passing of Jonas, who was deemed no longer useful and drilled into by the powers that be which also seek to destroy the sensates we know. I’m more than certain that Jonas will appear again in some form or another, but him getting taken out almost equalizes the victory they scored when Whispers no longer posed a threat.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 3, Episode 9 “The Apology” (B+)

I’m actually pretty impressed with how this show handled the number of times that characters in this episode wanted to say something nice about Robert’s mother and had to stop themselves to insert something remotely praiseworthy about her. While Sol indulged in his own memories of his mother and then vehemently tried to deny that Robert’s mother was murdered and wasn’t still alive even though he hadn’t seen a body, Robert had a far more cathartic outing with Grace, forcing an employee of the store to model the white dress suit they were going to buy for his mother to wear in the coffin. Apologizing to Grace not loving her back was a very nice moment, and how sweet that he bought her a scarf as an in-the-moment present to show that he cared. Frankie learned some surprising news about her lack of prominence in Jacob’s thoughts about the future, and at least they talked about it now so they can figure out if moving to Santa Fe is totally out of the question because Frankie doesn’t want to leave Grace. Brianna’s excitement at proving Mallory wrong was short-lived when she realized the implications of what being right meant, and encouraging Mallory not to stay unhappily married just for the kids was important. While I expected someone to realize that Coyote was what Mallory needed, I was pleased to see that Brianna reflected on her own missed opportunity with Barry, which is sure to lead to an awkward reunion when whoever it was drinking wine with him presents a huge roadblock to whatever Brianna thinks is going to happen when they see each other.