Saturday, January 19, 2019

Pilot Review: Deadly Class

Deadly Class (Syfy)
Premiered January 16 at 10pm

There are some shows that are just so unappealing, it’s hard to imagine how they came to be in the first place. I don’t have a problem with dark shows that create uninviting and deeply disturbing worlds in which their characters exist. Such series can often be extremely powerful and compelling, and then there are others that are far from it. One recent example is “The Purge,” though I honestly found that more palatable than this pilot. This episode featured extremely off-putting moments like Henry Rollins’ teacher instructing his students in poison lab to kill their animals and main character Marcus Lopez watching his parents get killed by someone jumping off a roof to their death. Training teenagers to become killers hardly seems like the kind of thing that needs to be featured on television right now, and there’s no hope of any sort of hero here, with Marcus still intent on killing Ronald Reagan even if he’s not quite as eager to get rid of anyone else who crosses his path along the way, which he is. The only actor aside from Rollins who I recognized in this pilot was Benedict Wong, who plays Master Lin, mainly from his role in “Doctor Strange” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” One hour was more than enough of this show for me, and I have no interest whatsoever in seeing how these budding killers grow and take out what they see as the scourge of society during their training.

How will it work as a series? Marcus knows that he can either be a part of this society or go on the run from it, but it seems like he’s more than happy to stick around and learn from them. There should be lots of murder and mayhem to come, something that might for some reason be enticing to viewers.
How long will it last? This pilot has been available to watch online since December 20th, and Syfy has proudly touted large audiences. The actual viewership numbers aren’t nearly as exciting, though somehow the reviews seem to be much better than I would expect given how abysmal I found this to be. I don’t think this will end up being renewed, but there’s always a chance if this kind of off-putting fare is what people want to watch.

Pilot grade: F-

What I’m Watching: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 2, Episode 7 “Look, She Made a Hat” (B+)

I’m very impressed with the talent that this show has enlisted this season, and I’m hopeful that it’s going to earn plenty of Emmy love for all of its players, not that anyone feels that it’s underrewarded. I’ve been watching Rufus Sewell as a powerful Nazi commander on “The Man in the High Castle” for the past few months, and it was a nice treat to see him with a more natural accent and a bit less control over his faculties as the painter Declan Howell. He was immediately fascinated with Midge, who got to step out of both of her lives to spend some time with him in the secret room that contained his truly personal painting. Benjamin was entertaining getting excited about art and revenge, and he pegged Midge just right as a “great date to bring to something you know nothing about and have no interest in.” I enjoyed the focus on Joel and his building purchase announcement, with the best line during that celebration being “Is this an official meeting, the ten o’clock rendezvous with the woman without the pants?” Seeing Susie’s home life helps explain her attitude, and I was thrilled to see Emily Bergl from “Desperate Housewives” and “Shameless” as her sympathetic sister-in-law Tessie. I’m not always especially fond of the Judaism scenes this show depicts, but it was fun to see the family bickering at the end of Yom Kippur. Midge coming out as a comic at Abe’s insistence at the break-fast dinner went particularly poorly, with her mother stuck on Susie’s fake identity as a plumber and then making matters much worse by bringing up Benjamin, something that both Susie and Joel could agree was not good for business. Her jokes fell flat, but at least she used it all for material at the gig, and I’m eager to see each of her family members start showing up to see her in action.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Pilot Review: Roswell, New Mexico

Roswell, New Mexico (CW)
Premiered January 15 at 9pm

The CW isn’t a terribly old network, but it’s still managed to bring back and resurrect a whole bunch of shows. While there have been new takes on established superheroes and remakes of shows only a few decades old, this is the second time just this season that the CW is actually making a new show based on a series that used to air on UPN and the WB, the two networks that essentially combined to form this one, after “Charmed.” While I think that the original “Roswell” might have appealed to me at the time that it aired, I wasn’t so into television until around the time that it aired its third and final season, and have never seen it as a result. The formula here is pretty familiar, something that I’ve seen used in a handful of programs the CW has debuted over the past decade. The aliens crash-landed in Roswell as the stories go, but they’re not little green men, and can easily pass as human. There are definitely themes of the alien as a stand-in for the “other” in society, but this is hardly the most potent symbolism. The fact that Max left a physical hand imprint on Liz’s wound when he healed her after she got shot feels like something that would have gotten them caught a whole lot earlier, and it’s hard to ignore those kind of things when trying to take this show seriously. This is very typical CW fare that feels hopelessly dated, which is probably exactly what viewers of the non-superhero shows the network airs want to see.

How will it work as a series? Both Liz and Kyle just got read in on the biggest secret that Roswell has to keep, and they’re theoretically going to be approaching it from opposite sides. Teen drama and sci-fi antics are sure to follow, and there’s nothing especially creative about this show that seems to distinguish it from all of the other thematic fare that the CW has tried to launch over the past few years.
How long will it last? The reviews don’t seem to be too great, though most CW shows aren’t huge hits with critics. The ratings, which also don’t always register given how CW compares to the other broadcasters, were more optimistic, demonstrating that this show does pretty well next to the more established hits that have a greater automatic audience appeal. I’d give this show the edge to earn a renewal at this point, though it’s unclear if that’s definitely going to happen.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 10 “The Last Seven Weeks” (B+)

I’ll admit, there is something clever about having an episode with this title that actually serves to summarize the amount of time that this show has been off the air for its winter hiatus. I’m not usually fond of the structure of this show, starting from an endpoint and then working backwards to explain the big shocks, but doing it all in one episode is actually more appealing. It was affirming to see that, for once, everything is actually looking pretty good right now, even if there are some loose ends that need to be tied up as a result of the latest developments. Kevin telling Zoe that he’s supposed to be giving her space and seeing how the congressman she broke up with over e-mail reacted to seeing her again were the ultimate red herrings, leading to the heartwarming decision that Zoe was going to give this relationship a shot after all. The same was true of Randall and Beth, who appeared to be on the outs but ended up doing fine after the reverend convinced Randall to spend more time with his family, before essentially endorsing him in front of his entire church. His victory is going to be a challenge, but it should provide some interesting direction for his very driven character. Toby labeling his box of valuable Star Wars action figures with letters that could easily be mistaken for the word “donations” was his fault, but Kate showed just how committed to getting them back she was before they both got to enjoy the opportunity to make new memories with their family even if they can’t pass along lost elements of their childhood. The news that Jack knew that his brother was alive is puzzling, and I’m wondering how Rebecca is going to take that when she finds out.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 10 “The Flash and the Furious” (B+)

We’re almost halfway into this season, and I’m glad at least to see that we’re not dealing with a villain like DeVoe who just gets more and more unstoppable every episode. Instead, Caitlin and Cisco believe they’ve come up with a way to defeat Cicada, though it has larger implications for what it means to have powers. That, to me, is one of the most appealing aspects of this aging show, having all of its characters reflect on what their powers do for and to them. Caitlin and Killer Frost are open to exploring Cisco being able to get rid of his abilities, but only in a certain way. Nora and Barry, meanwhile, are exploring the definition of a hero and the need to believe that people can change. It was Nora not buying Jocelyn’s story about not being a villain like her father that allowed her to be corrupted by Silver Ghost, but when she changed her mind and opened up, she was able to get through and convince Jocelyn to come back to the good side. That self-realization was an important step for the continually bratty Nora, who always thinks she knows best. As usual, it’s members of the team not talking to each other that’s going to be their undoing, as Sherloque is starting to put together the fact that Nora is keeping something big from everyone else. The confirmation at the start of the episode that the Wells Nora was talking to in the future is Eobard Thawne is intriguing, and I’m curious to learn how he came to be in this more penitent position.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 1, Episode 10 “Don’t Shoot the Piano Teacher” (B+)

Darlene is an extremely sarcastic person, and it makes a lot of sense that both of her children would have inherited some of that. Harris displays it in a relatively unfriendly way, grilling her about having slept with other men they didn’t meet, while Mark was evidently corrupted to pretend to have a tantrum just to mess with his mother. Ben went over well with Dan, even though he caught on right away that Darlene was trying to test him by agreeing to Ben’s suggestion of giving her son piano lessons. Making Mark cry seemed like an unproductive development for their relationship, especially given the way Ben responded when Darlene confronted him, but she’s trying something new by dating someone who is going to challenge her rather than just take what she says, which led to a humorous attempt to have Mark get Ben to come back without implicating her actions in the situation. Ben inviting Darlene and the kids to move in with him was a surprise, and I’m sure there’s going to be some drama if that actually happens. Becky having a baby shower just for the gifts after Blue suggested it was funny, though Jackie got her more upset by inviting Emilio to show his own contribution for the baby. Dan hiring Emilio to do work for him was a sweet gesture, one that hopefully won’t backfire either if he fails to live up to his expectations of a hard worker or, worse, proves less than sincere in his desire to be a part of his future child’s life.

Pilot Review: The Passage

The Passage (FOX)
Premiered January 14 at 9pm

I’ve been seeing the billboard advertisement for this show around Los Angeles for a while now, and something about that and the title made me think this really wasn’t going to be any good. It turns out, it’s much worse than I could have imagined. I’ll always remember actor Jamie McShane from his role on “Sons of Anarchy,” but now I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forget his cringe-worthy “I don’t know, but I feel amaaaaaazing” when he first discovered the effects of his turning into a vampire or zombie or whatever it is that this show wants us to believe is happening. Starting with Amy declaring that this is the way the world ends doesn’t provide much hope, and I can’t decide if the show’s overarching premise or the dialogue and characters that filled this hour are worse. It always takes me a few minutes to recognize Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who I last watched regularly for a bit on “Franklin and Bash” and then encountered in the first few episodes of “Pitch.” He’s certainly not good here, with “If you touch her again, I’ll shoot you in the face” being one of his more regrettable lines. If an agent lost a child, they should never be assigned to unsubtly abduct a child who lost her parent to bring her in for an illicit government experiment. That’s far from the most glaring plot hole on this show, which also traps Henry Ian Cusick from “Lost” and Emmanuelle Chriqui from “Entourage” in lackluster roles. I’m very happy to try to forget all about it.

How will it work as a series? Amy is narrating from an unknown point, declaring the end of the world when obviously she goes on to survive in some form or another. High-concept shows like this often get bogged down with unending scenes of characters running from their fates, and every indication is that this one will follow suit and not get very far as it continues to drag on.
How long will it last? I can’t comprehend how this show boasts a 63 average on Metacritic since this truly was one of the worst pilots I’ve seen in a long time. I guess this is what a lot of people want to watch though, with its ratings proving to be pretty decent. I think it’s too early to suggest a second season, with viewership likely dropping off in the coming weeks, but this one will likely stay on the air much longer than it should.

Pilot grade: F-

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

True Detective: Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2 “The Great War and Modern Memory” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (B-)

This is a show that’s had a rocky road. Its first season premiered to critical acclaim and earned many awards. Its second was reviled and barely merited any mentions. Now, three and a half years after its previous season, it’s back with an all-new cast and new premise. Unfortunately, its issues aren’t resolved, and, to me, this feels like the more of the mopey, moody misery that often overwhelmed the first season and certainly dominated the second. It’s appropriate that Mahershala Ali is making his return to television just as he’s headed towards his second Oscar win, following his first trophy that was awarded to him just after he got an Emmy nomination for “House of Cards” and starred in the first season of “Luke Cage.” He’s a good actor, and this is a decent role for him, but it’s nowhere near anything else he’s done before, and not as compelling as the wearied performances delivered by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in season one. There are many familiar faces in the cast, like Stephen Dorff as his partner, Mamie Gummer as the abducted kids’ mother, Sarah Gadon as the documentarian, Carmen Ejogo as Wayne’s wife, and Scoot McNairy as the grieving father. There’s also Josh Hopkins of “Cougar Town” and Jon Tenney of “The Closer” as the investigators interrogating Wayne in one of the many time periods focused here. Showcasing him as a white-haired man reflecting back on his testimony from twenty-five years earlier of events that happened ten years before that seems like too much, and these episodes came off as very dense as a result. The police brutality is nothing new, but it’s still unsettling, and there isn’t really anything here that makes this show stand out. With only eight episodes that are likely to earn some sort of awards attention, I’m considering continuing, but I think I know what I’m in for, and I’m already not into it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan (Season Finale)

Ray Donovan: Season 6, Episode 12 “The Dead” (B-)

I’ve been wondering a lot this season about how best to define this show, since, in its early days, it was a drama that had style and intrigue, often driven by its rhythm more than anything. Lately, it’s been prone to cyclical repetitiveness and musical interludes, both played in the background to accompany montages or actually sung by characters, as was the case in this closing hour. Some of what’s happening, at face value, is just absurd. Bridget was walking around delivering sandwiches to her family members as Sandy casually sawed off a dead cop’s dead, and then nonchalantly agreed to take over for Sandy while Smitty was vomiting nearby. Somehow that romantic setup encouraged Smitty to decide that they should get married right away, and no one was bothered by the fact that only Terry was invited to the courthouse ceremony. After a season of playing so many sides, Ray managed to get Lena back on his good side by allowing her to kill Sam’s right-hand man, and possibly Sam herself, while he made a deal with Feratti that enabled him to get Bunchy out. Ray working for Feratti would be more of the same, but he’s going to be a new person now that he’s acknowledged that he needs some help, calling Alan Alda’s doctor to take the next step. I wish I was more excited that this show, which I used to really like, was continuing, but I’m hoping for some serious reinvention in the season eight premiere since this year just didn’t really cut it for me.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Eddie Marsan as Terry

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 1, Episode 13 “Miracle on 123rd St” (B-)

I though this episode was going to have Miles and Cara running around New York City like crazy after that flurry of seventy-six simultaneous friend requests from the God account, but it only took a minute for them to realize that all of them lived in the same apartment building. As is usually the case, it wasn’t too difficult to predict exactly what was going to happen as the landlord arrived to announce that the building was being sold and torn down in thirty days, but the specifics of how it happened were mildly more interesting. I was happy to see James Martinez, who I always recognize from his terrific role on the short-lived “Gravity” so many years ago, as William, who championed the cause of the residents, and while I wasn’t sure where I knew his onscreen sister from, I think it’s from Anabelle Acosta’s former role on the miserable “Quantico.” What proved most worthwhile about the designation of the building as a historical landmark due to the presence of a notable writer was Miles being inspired to give Cara a first-edition book as a celebratory gift, hopefully indicating to her that they’re ready to move past their fake relationship into something actual that will benefit them both. We haven’t spent too much time with Ali just yet, but it seems like she’ll become a bit more prominently featured now that she’s moving on from her relationship. Arthur appeared doubtful about the prospects of continuing his romance with Trish, but her willingness to jump in and give church a try is a ringing endorsement for its longevity.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 9 “I Need Some Balance” (B-)

This is an episode that I think I might have appreciated more if I was at all familiar with “Cats” beyond possibly (?) having seen the musical when I was much, much younger. This show has always been unapologetic in its weirdness, so why should it stop now? Of course Rebecca would try to relax with feminist porn that surely doesn’t exist in reality, but that introduction did help her to get serious about what she needed in order to move on from her exes, only one of who is truly over her. Trying to carry on a relationship with Jason was easy enough even with illnesses of different sorts on both of their parts, and I think the fact that Jason was accepting of any of that made his immediate departure upon finding both Nathaniel and Greg on her porch all the more indicative to Rebecca that she’s not the problem – it’s her baggage. White Josh tried his best to stop Nathaniel and Greg from becoming best friends at the gym (and failed), and I hope that their realization of their connection doesn’t mean the end of their newfound relationship. Valencia did announce that she’d be back for the rest of the season, and I guess that means she’ll be playing a role in Rebecca’s life that would never have seemed possible when they first met. Everybody has come far, including Josh, who has found some happiness for himself as Rebecca’s platonic roommate. I wasn’t terribly fond of the waste of time that was Darryl and Burt warring for the affection of their employees, and hopefully now we can just move on to the two similar and similar-looking men getting along as good friends.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pilot Review: Informer

Informer (Amazon)
Premiered January 11

It’s only two weeks into 2019, and already we have a British import making its American streaming debut after an initial broadcast back on BBC1 in October and November. This one isn’t quite as short as some of the limited series concepts seen recently, producing six episodes instead of four. It feels closest to an HBO production, “The Night Of,” one that finds a young man from a family of immigrants implicated in a simple crime that makes his life much more complicated and dangerous. Actor Nabhaan Rizwan appears to be new to movies and television, but he does a superb job as Raza, who understands the situation he’s in and tried to do as much as he could to avoid this fate. I remember Paddy Considine from “In America” and “Red Riding: 1980” a number of years ago, and he’s well-cast as a hardened agent helping the intrepid newcomer played by Bel Powley, who stood out to me from the cast of the lackluster “Mary Shelley” last year. Holly seems to be the most interesting character next to Raza, creative in how she manipulated circumstances to compel him to be an informant and able to conceal any emotions or tells that might give her away. It’s not clear how the events that we see playing out will ultimately lead to the opening shooting after the phone was left on the train, but this is just the latest mildly intriguing premise that, were there fewer compelling shows to watch and more time, I might stick with to watch unfold.

How will it work as a series? Six episodes seems like the perfect amount of time to track Raza’s immersion into this dual life as he becomes an informant to whatever attack ultimately occurs that he helps to uncover through his work. There are enough dimensions of the story that it’s sure to be enaging throughout the process.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be pretty good, and the timing of this show just a few months after “Bodyguard” got everyone interested in this kind of series should help it greatly. I’m not sure that it’s as accessible, but it’s always possible that it could earn a second season. I’m betting that this will be it, likelier for creative reasons rather than monetary or viewership figures.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Sex Education

Sex Education (Netflix)
Premiered January 11

Here we have a British show that’s premiering on Netflix, but, unlike almost all foreign imports, it’s new to audiences everywhere at the same time, airing first-run episodes in the United States. This show reminds me a whole lot of another British show distributed internationally by Netflix that premiered a few months ago, “Wanderlust,” which I enjoyed but ultimately didn’t end up picking up. This one is interesting because, in any ways, it’s a teen comedy, but one that includes plenty of foul language and adult concepts, based in no small part on the fact that its protagonist’s mother is a sex therapist who has no concept of what kind of boundaries she should use with her son and his friends. I was almost positive that Gillian Anderson, longtime star of “The X-Files,” was American, but it seems that living in London for many years has both helped her perfect an English accent and end up headlining one of her country’s shows. She wasn’t actually featured all that much in this opening hour, though it’s fair to say that she chews as much scenery as possible. Asa Butterfield, who is only twenty-one, has already amassed an impressive resumĂ©, and this part is a great one for him. Emma Mackey, who reminds me of a British Jane Levy, seems like a great choice to portray Maeve, who sees an incredible opportunity for sex therapy for students with Otis’ vast knowledge of his mother’s work. Adam is the most intriguing character, desperate to broadcast the size of his penis and distance himself from his headmaster father. This concept isn’t entirely new but it is fun, though I’m not sure this is a show I need to be watching even if I might enjoy it.

How will it work as a series? No one has been entirely subtle up to this point, which makes me think that Otis and Maeve’s operation will be hard to launch without it going public right away. This is one pilot that is expository before getting to the big idea that serves as the focal point for the show, and so to really understand where it’s headed, a second viewing is probably necessary. I imagine many will tune back in and stream the rest of it.
How long will it last? The reviews are pretty good, and premiering so early in the year on Netflix gives this show an easy advantage to be considered one of the best right out of the gate. While it’s sure to be disparaged by whatever ultra-conservative groups still exist to dismiss forward-thinking, uncensored media, this show seems like a perfectly inviting product of the times, and I’d guess it has a promising future ahead of it.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 3, Episode 11 “The Book of Dougs” (B+)

Every time this show returns, it’s bittersweet since it means it’s closer to going off the air, with its season finale slated to air before the end of January. A fourth season renewal means that we’ll have more of this show to enjoy in the future, but I wish that this show didn’t feel so sparse as compared with so many other series. More than anything else I’m watching at the moment, this show is guided by its plot developments, turning into something completely different each episode. I couldn’t figure out where I knew the extremely friendly and trusting mailroom employee Gwendolyn from, and it all clicks now that I see that it was Nicole Byer, who hosts the Netflix baking show “Nailed It,” which I recently watched for the first time and enjoyed (though I have no plans to review it). As usual, Michael was smooth and creative under pressure, and after he found out that it would literally take millennia for the committee to even start investigating what he had found, now he’s headed straight to the judge with his findings, which is very exciting. Tahani meddling to help Jason and Janet was sweet, even if none of them were really on the same page. Chidi trying to cheer Eleanor up by putting on a mailman’s uniform was really great, and their budding relationship is one of the most heartwarming elements of this show at the moment. I love how the real good place is defined by the smell of what makes people happiest, which meant very different things for our four protagonists. Absolute moral truth/warm pretzels and the divider between first class and coach were my favorite choices.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pilot Review: Fam

Fam (CBS)
Premiered January 10 at 9:30pm

In an age where most comedies don’t have laugh tracks anymore, CBS continues to churn them out. There have been so many series about families being brought together as the result of an engagement, and usually they couldn’t be any different before slowly and heartwarmingly finding common ground. In the case of this show, the bride-to-be told her recently-promoted fiancĂ© that her father was dead because she found him to be such a terrible influence. Setup-wise, this show is extremely familiar, but it does have a rhythm, one that feels closest to “Will and Grace” but with the style of “How I Met Your Mother,” where lines sometimes feel choreographed to lead in to the next joke. I thought that I recognized the lead actress from something, but I wouldn’t have imagined that it was Nina Dobrev from “The Vampire Diaries,” a show that I didn’t watch past the pilot. This is certainly a different role for her, and she seems to do fine in it opposite Tone Bell, who I remember from “Bad Judge” and a handful of other short-lived series. I also thought I knew Clem’s sister Shannon, though maybe that’s from the family resemblance between Pamela Adlon and her daughter Odessa, who plays this role. I’m always happy to see Gary Cole in anything, including the upcoming final season of “Veep,” and this is a great part for him as the world’s worst father, who also happens to be a police officer. I don’t have any plans to watch this show, but it’s not the worst or least amusing way to spend half an hour.

How will it work as a series? Shannon living with Clem and Jay is sure to be a disaster, and now that Jay’s parents know that Cole’s Freddy is alive, there are sure to be plenty of opportunities for them to interact and learn about each other. This premise is all about setting up situations in which they can speak and realize their differences, which should work pretty well.
How long will it last? Its ratings debut was trumpeted by Cinema Blend as an improvement on “Murphy Brown” in the same timeslot earlier this season, and that’s probably the best thing for the show since it can be marketed as a success. Its reviews are less enthusiastic, but that’s never stopped a CBS sitcom from living a long and healthy life. I say this one gets another few seasons.

Pilot grade: B-