Saturday, March 31, 2012

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 3, Episode 11 “Measures” (B+)

Masterful lawman that he may be, Raylan doesn’t always have a way with words. I enjoyed seeing him get tongue-tied by Lindsay while trying to apologize for what occurred with Quarles the night before, before things got more serious. There seems to be an endless trail of blood and death that follows all the villains on this show as they fight turf war after turf war, and now Detroit has actually sent people to bring Quarles back, with a higher price tag for him alive because of his slippery reputation. I love how this show utilizes Neal McDonough’s stark looks, namely his blue eyes and his blond hair, to help make Quarles an utterly fascinating character, easily identifiable by a witness. Boyd’s interception of Quarles means that things are about to get much more interesting, especially since Wynn is now involved. Calling Theo, who is played by Adam Arkin, who already portrayed a terrific villain on an FX show, “Sons of Anarchy,” was a bold move, and it’s intriguing to see just how honest Wynn is, considering all of the deception regularly rampant on this show. Raylan’s pursuit of Quarles is made infinitely more entertaining by Art’s presence, and I suspect that Quarles is not going to let himself be put behind bars, no matter the charge. Dickie is being followed by just about everyone following his release from prison, and I don’t see how he manages to avoid getting himself killed since there’s not one person still alive that actually thinks fondly of him.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What I’m Watching: Ringer

Ringer: Season 1, Episode 19 “Let’s Kill Bridget” (C)

This show’s trajectory is being entirely tiresome, and it’s really not getting anywhere productive, constantly confounding its mysteries and conspiracies. The quick flashes at the start of the episode were obviously intended for shock value and weren’t going to play out as perceived, and they turned out to be quite disappointing. Bridget’s plan to testify as Siobhan pretending to be Bridget actually made some sense, but it came at an unfortunate time after Machado just couldn’t resist punching a guy excessively in front of a whole bunch of witnesses and managed to get himself suspended. Staging a death photo shoot in the middle of nowhere is only half-intelligent, because it presents the opportunity for a real assassin to be present. The thugs on this show have the worst aim possible, and of course his employer isn’t even related to Bridget’s past. Having Siobhan killed seems like an unnecessary move after losing all of her money back to Andrew in a truly dumb move, and I think Katherine should be out of the picture already. For that matter, Henry’s continued stupidity is irritating, and even his father-in-law doesn’t appear to like him. The one exciting moment of the episode, which did seem rather random, wasn’t even genuine, as Siobhan imagined herself confronting Bridget and ripping into her for stealing her life and doing a better job of living it than she had been. It’s time for the two to meet, or at least for Bridget to realize that she’s not the only person with her face still walking around Manhattan.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 1, Episode 18 “Fancyman, Part 2” (B+)

This installment wasn’t really a continuation of last week’s episode, but it was just as entertaining. Russell’s unexplained pat on the back definitely sent Jess reeling, and that whole romance is turning out to be quite amusing. It was nice that Nick, in his drunken stupor and in the midst of his desperate desire to vomit, was able to assure him that the Jess he was seeing wasn’t the real Jess, and that she’s one of the good ones. Martin Starr’s poet Dirk was a good guest star, mainly for the way in which he managed to corrupt Nick and Jess for the evening. Nick’s reaction to the college girl’s response to his career choice was priceless, and it’s always fun to see Nick taken aback by the stupidity of other people. Winston’s clinginess was a bit worrisome, and driving over two hours to Mexico was definitely a potential sign of craziness. Fortunately, he just happened to take Schmidt’s car while he was in the back having sex with Cece as a result of her extreme efforts to get him to stop working. The sexcretary (initially autocorrected to secretary, by the way) reference was quite hilarious, and Cece’s outfit equally lamentable. Now that Winston knows about Cece and Schmidt’s romance, things are sure to change a bit around the apartment. Winston’s observation that the world has now turned upside down indicates that he may not be able to process this information terribly smoothly and might be inclined to cause problems for the semi-couple.

What I’m Watching: Smash

Smash: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Coup” (C)

If there’s one thing not to do in the midst of trying to produce a play, it’s to secretly stage a performance of a new number with the girl that didn’t get the lead without telling the writers. As Eileen’s daughter Katie, played by Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer, pointed out, that’s something that Derek or Jerry would do, and she should have known much better than to think that such a stunt wouldn’t be hurtful. Karen earns no points by playing dumb, particularly because they seem to want to cast a star in the role rather than her. Derek’s effect has not been lost on Ivy, it appears, and she’s just going to continue to get hurt as she lets him worm his way back into her life. It was good to hear Tom air his issues with Derek, and to manage a blow that stung like something Derek might say. I understand having Eileen’s daughter pop by to infuse her mother with some hope, and I can comprehend why Leo and his legal problems are still being featured, even if they’re unnecessary, but why must Dev get his own plotline? It won’t be long before he either slips and does something stupid with RJ or Karen gets jealous enough to presume that something is going on and preemptively tanks the relationship. I think that this show is casting too wide a net in trying to follow the personal lives of all its characters, and a tighter focus might be nice. Oh, and get rid of Ellis already!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What I’m Watching: Alcatraz (Season Finale)

Alcatraz: Season 1, Episodes 12 & 13 “Garrett Stillman” & “Tommy Madsen” (B+)

There are many things I loved about this finale, not the least of which is that the final episode’s title takes us back to one of the mythology’s central characters. One of my favorite things is when a character says something like “Ask me anything, and if I know, I’ll answer.” This new Lucy is far more intriguing than the one we met in the show’s pilot, and it’s so interesting to hear her articulate what the transition to a new life in a world that’s gone on without you is like. Talking to Ernest Cobb and learning that she’ll always be a target is hardly inspiring, but there’s nothing like being threatened to make someone more resilient. Greg Ellis’ Garrett Stillman was another great villain, and I was impressed that Doc managed to figure out his plan and toss his cell phone in his car to serve as a GPS tracker. The Warden’s manipulative actions regarding Garrett and the parole hearing were mysterious, and there’s this whole new intense dynamic now with Harlan and the unknown man played by Matt Craven. I really do hope that this show gets renewed for a second season since there’s clearly so much to explore. The fact that the main character got stabbed by her grandfather and then flatlined in the hospital is pretty big, and while I think that the show could survive without her, I doubt she’s actually dead. I’ve already read theories about it, and I’m sure that, if granted the opportunity, this show will deliver. That was one great car chase, and the music in this episode was so good. It's rare to find a show like this that delivers so consistently, and I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for more.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Sam Neill as Emerson

What I’m Watching: Life’s Too Short

Life’s Too Short: Season 1, Episode 6 (B+)

Warwick should know by now that any party he throws is not going to be a success, and he really needs to learn that telling people that you’re dating someone else when your actual date is right there next to you is not a smart idea. I was shocked that Amy was still around after last week’s horrible happenings, and being told by Warwick that she knew what she was getting into dating a player should send her packing, for her sake if for no other reason. Warwick’s calls to Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson weren’t met with much success, and I liked that Rupert Grint called back and Warwick promptly told him there was no party. Cat Deeley was a fun guest, though she looked miserable, and the reality-competition show host is clearly a good sport, appearing also earlier this season as herself on “House of Lies.” The discussion about how best to commit suicide was rather morbid and peculiar, but what else could be expected of Warwick’s actual friends? The fiasco with the washing machine removal was rather hilarious, as the inconsolably strange Cheryl neglected to tell Warwick that she had, for once, done something productive and switched the washing machines before he got back with the hand truck. The installation of the peephole in his door proved similarly amusing, as he was disappointed to discover that looking at a peephole placed at groin level allowed him to see no higher than a person’s groin. His substitute solution proved quite visually entertaining.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 5, Episode 11 “Party” (B+)

More than anything else, this show knows how to make use of a space. Hank’s surprise going-away party offered up plenty of surprises and adventures, with different rooms housing unexpected and lamentable developments. It’s strange to see Bates try to reject Hank after being so unexpectedly kind and friendly with him, and it’s such a passive booting that it’s disarming. I’m glad that Charlie refuses to give up in his pursuit of Hank’s friendship, no matter how rude the writer is to him, and throwing him a surprise party was a fantastic idea. Bates’ indiscretion was perhaps the most jarring event, and I enjoyed the casting of Patrick Fischler from “Mad Men” and “Lost” as his confused sponsor. Once again, Hank took the high road and didn’t tell Karen, though his composure didn’t last through the night. It’s appalling that Tyler thinks that Hank wouldn’t be furious about his indiscretion with Kali, and punching him in the face repeatedly in front of Becca isn’t going to open up his eyes, unfortunately, it’s just going to alienate those he loves most. And to think that he almost got to be with Karen again on the beach. Samurai Apocalypse seems relatively calm these days, and Tyler is more likely than Hank to bear the brunt of his fury. I can’t comprehend why Charlie is so obsessed with Lizzie when she clearly doesn’t care about him at all, far too committed to advancing her career through a series of business transactions with Stu. It’s hard to believe that it’s already time for the season finale, but fortunately, this show was renewed for a sixth season back in February.

What I’m Watching: GCB

GCB: Season 1, Episode 4 “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” (C+)

There’s a certain point at which I begin to ask myself why I’m still watching a show, if it’s not hooking me right away and if the grades I’m giving each episode aren’t particularly high. That’s the case with this show, an intriguing premise that isn’t particularly tailored to me, and in whose story I haven’t yet become fully invested. Generally speaking, however, this show is quite harmless, though I’m sure that plenty of people are still offended by it on a weekly basis (not that they’re watching, of course). This episode is full of duplicity, though everyone at first seems to have honest intentions, which isn’t always the case on this show. Amanda working with Blake and Cricket was never going to work out, even if Cricket can’t be jealous of Amanda in the same way that other wives might. Trying to sabotage her, however, was rather cruel, and Amanda, for all her good intentions, is being a little too indiscreet about Blake’s secret life. The spotlight in this hour shone on Sharon and Zach, who began a trial separation at the insistence of Pastor John. Zach heating up frozen dinners and claiming that they’re just as good as Sharon’s, only to try to end their time apart by asking her to come back and cook again, wasn’t terribly impressive, whereas Sharon actually made the most of her alone time and did some serious building. Carlene’s investigation hasn’t been all that fruitful, and the whole storyline with Uncle Burl wasn’t nearly as enticing as it could have been.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What I’m Watching: Eastbound & Down

Eastbound & Down: Season 3, Episode 6 “Chapter 19” (B+)

If Kenny’s father didn’t explain enough about the foul-mouthed, hot-tempered baseball player, then his mother certainly does. Within her first few minutes onscreen, she establishes herself as a similar soul, punching her bowling opponent in the face just to prove a point. Kenny’s father being present at Kenny’s return changed things considerably, since, for better or worse, it appears that Kenny and his mother have had a fairly positive relationship. I enjoyed learning that her trophy room was full of prescription and illegal drugs, and that she was prone to getting mad at Kenny for smoking - without her. The dual apologies that came out of the bowling lane gutters were entertaining, and it’s good to see these flawed characters strive for, and come somewhat close to, redemption for their many continued sins. As he narrates his life, it’s clear that Kenny has many obstacles to overcome before he gets to a true point of contentment and satisfaction, and one would think that would be fast approaching as the show is set to end for good with a mere two episodes left in the can. I liked that Casper was given a bit of personality in this installment, even if it was depraved, since Stevie has gone off the deep end and Eduardo is no help. I’m hopeful that, in the final two installments, we’ll see a return of some familiar faces, most notably April, but also Dustin and Cassie and all of the other people that, though he’d never admit it, have helped Kenny to get where he is today.

What I’m Watching: House of Lies

House of Lies: Season 1, Episode 11 “Business” (B+)

There’s nothing like a monumental development that doesn’t go the way anyone expected. Greg Norbert is such an intriguing character, so easily riled up about something but never quite as vindictive as he initially appeared. Blatantly expressing his crush on Jeannie was awkward, and handing over the information about Galweather to her was quite a surprise, though not so unpredictable for the entertaining and inconsistent character. Galweather’s final show of power was highly memorable, as he left Marty a few nasty surprise in his briefcase and hidden around his office. The big shock, of course, was that the Rainmaker betrayed Marty and let the merger go through, throwing him under the bus and leaving his fate and that of his team entirely uncertain. Marty, never one to take betrayal lightly, seemed to be drowning his sorrows at a random bar, but leave it to him to go out that very night and bed the Rainmaker’s daughter to get back at him in the most stinging of ways. He’s ensuring his own destruction now, yet this show can’t function if Marty is unemployed, so perhaps change lies ahead, with Marty potentially starting his own consulting firm. Monica picked a particularly bad time to rub her new boyfriend in Marty’s face, and he’s already at risk of losing Roscoe thanks to his lack of effort in getting April to stay and his continued prioritization of work over his home life. This Sunday’s finale is sure to be intense, and I already can’t wait for season two.

I had a rare and exciting opportunity yesterday to video chat with two of the show’s stars, Ben Schwartz, who plays Clyde, and Josh Lawson, who plays Doug. The way they interact with each other is much different than the way their characters do on the show, but both of them quickly established a shared desire to mock me in the same manner that Clyde does to Doug on the show after I stumbled momentarily when they caught me off guard. The two recounted stories of goofing off on set, deciding that Doug’s first name should be pronounced “Doog” and his last name should be “Gugg-enheim,” and explained that they do get to improvise and are always excited when their little jokes make the final cut. Both are writers, and create short films in their spare time. Mid-interview, Josh had a blast drawing stick figures of George Clooney and Mr. T and holding up a framed photo of Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell. Both actors expressed an interest in sharing scenes with Jeremiah, Marty’s father, and Richard Schiff’s Galweather or Megalyn Echikunwoke’s April. I was pleased to learn that Ben enjoys watching other Showtime shows like “Dexter” and “Homeland,” while Josh failed to come up with any coherent answers to that question. All in all, they’re a fun duo, and the most surprising things for fans unfamiliar with Josh may be that he’s actually Australian! And, for all the “Parks & Recreation” fans out there, I did ask Ben if he’s returning to play Jean-Ralphio, and he said he may just be. Enjoy the screenshot above of the chat. Thanks to Kareem and Showtime for the opportunity, and to Ben and Josh for their energy!

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 8, Episode 18 “Any Moment” (B-)

With a mere five hours to go before this show ends forever, it’s clear that things are winding down, as some characters are learning how to live with their situations and others are trying to desperately to alter them. Perhaps the most unexpectedly positive and compelling development was Gaby’s unintentional attainment of a job, resulting from a mass shopping spree following her less than optimistic meeting at an employment agency. The notion of Gaby being a personal shopper makes total sense, and it’s truly the one thing that could keep the Solis family afloat now that Carlos is resigning. Andrew’s return with a female fiancée came out of left field, and her Overeaters Anonymous identity was completely overdone and unnecessary. Much more noteworthy is the fact that Bree, thinking she was in the clear, called Ben to confirm her guilt to the police officers listening in to the call. There’s no way this ends easily for Bree, and I’m sure the newly happy couple will be torn apart when Renee finds out what Ben did for Bree without telling her. MJ’s anger issues and Susan’s passive response were rather disturbing, but fortunately their jam-throwing session seems to have set things right away. Lynette’s latest attempt to get Tom back wasn’t nearly as ill-advised as one might have thought, and she seems to have made some headway, though I’m completely certain that Jane isn’t going to let Tom go without putting up a fight.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 2, Episode 11 “Just Like the Pilgrims Intended” (A-)

It’s hard to find another show so capable of balancing comedy with drama, and the closest one I can currently think of is another Showtime Sunday night offering, “House of Lies.” Monica’s presence has always been spiked with seriousness, but it took on a whole new meaning in this hour as she was completely lifeless until Frank took her to his brother’s house to try to extort money from him. Her return to the Gallagher home sent her back into her depressed state, and the sight of her lying with her wrists slit in the kitchen was horrifying, and quickly erased memories of carving bald eagles. And of course the Gallaghers, big extended family unit that they are with Kev, Veronica, and Steve in tow, head right up to see Karen’s new baby, who turns out to very much not be Lip’s, which is sure to send him spiraling even more, something which previously seemed impossible. The fact that he ditched clingy Mandy while her brothers were holding up a store and he was the getaway driver won’t help either, and the Gallagher brothers need to learn to stay away from that family. In the midst of all this, Sheila and Jody seem to have found some happiness, and Ian might also with his one-night stand with a random guy from the club. After avoiding certain death at the hands of a jealous Marco, Steve may just have come up with the perfect plan to get rid of his old life and win back Fiona.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I’m Watching: Luck (Series Finale)

Luck: Season 1, Episode 9 (A-)

After only nine episodes, it’s sad to see this show go, but in light of its recent cancellation due to the deaths of three horses during the filming process, this is as strong a way as any to close out and conclude this show’s arcs. Everyone cheering Rosie on during the first race in which she leads them to victory, with Renzo’s mother and the doctor present to make the win even more magnificent, was a great scene, and the squeaker of a finish during the derby was fantastic as well. These guys were a strange bunch, but they made great ensemble players, particularly Ian Hart’s Lonnie. I liked that Rosie was celebrating with them as well, and I imagine her character is one that would have been featured more heavily in season two. Turo expressing his newfound desire to start a family was made tragic by Jo losing the baby, but it’s clear from his constant check-ins and his affectionate comforting of her by her bedside that he’s reevaluating his feelings for her as well as for the child he was going to have. Gus and Ace seeing Nathan’s severed head made that whole plotline infinitely more sickening and real, and it was sweet that Ace called Claire to hear her voice after that horrifying experience. The arrival of Ace’s grandson changed things considerably, and I’m glad that Ace was able to express that he doesn’t blame him for letting things fall apart, and that he’d like things to be different going forward. Gus proved himself a loyal and capable servant by taking out the assassin sent to kill Ace in the restaurant bathroom. Ace’s desire to give away a horse once a month is noble, and hopefully he won’t get too much trouble from his vindictive rivals. I would have loved to see where this show went in future seasons, and I doubt that we’ll see even a glimpse of what was already filmed for season two before production was shut down. Regardless of what happens in the future, I hope that this show will be remembered for its quality and not the reason that it was cancelled so quickly.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Dustin Hoffman & Dennis Farina as Ace and Gus

What I’m Watching: Mad Men (Season Premiere)

Mad Men: Season 5, Episodes 1 & 2 “A Little Kiss” (A-)

This show is truly superb, and a two-hour season premiere like this indicates that it’s going to continue to be great for some time to come. This opener progresses less far into the future than past seasons have, skipping ahead to bit to show how things have turned out following, to cite only the two most crucial developments, Don and Megan’s wedding and the birth of Joan’s child. Interestingly, Betty Draper is nowhere to be found during the whole two hours, but that doesn’t mean that Don’s love life is any calmer than usual. Throwing Don a surprise party was not a good idea, though Megan did throw her heart into it since she just doesn’t quite understand how her new husband’s mind works. Her show of defiance while she was cleaning the apartment didn’t go as planned, and I suspect that Don will soon grow frustrated with her and return to his old ways, though he is able to boss her around in a way that he wasn’t quite able to do with Betty. Pete and Roger seem to have quite the rivalry going now, with each managing to infuriate the other on a regular basis. Harry appears to be friendless, offending Megan and then selling his soul to Roger so that Pete could get a bigger office without Roger having to give up his. Casting Christine Estabrook as Joan’s mother was a brilliant idea, and Joan showed her staying power when she marched right into the office after seeing the joke ad put in the paper. Lane’s retrieval of the wallet and subsequent meeting with its owner were nothing short of mesmerizing, and I’m so glad he’s become a featured character on the show. It’s a pleasure to have this show back, and I look forward to another complex and rewarding season ahead.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 19 “Blue Ribbon Panel” (B+)

This episode cleverly took on corporate bureaucracy in two vastly different arenas, as the three hotshots at Lockhart Gardner vied for Will’s position and Alicia found herself on a panel utterly uninterested in her legal abilities. Eli and Julius flipping a coin to decide which of them would oppose David was quite entertaining, and I was impressed by Will’s sly peacemaking solution, which put Jerry Adler’s bathroom-obsessed, porn-surfing lawyer Howard in his position in an interim capacity. Alicia’s experience on the panel was wholly negative, though Charles S. Dutton Pastor Daniels seemed less inclined to censor her and somewhat eager to allow her to voice her opinions. Matthew Perry’s Mike Kresteva is a cruel, vindictive character, much more harmful to Alicia than the disgruntled judges played by Kurt Fuller and Peter Rieget, both previously seen on this show. Alicia’s heartfelt letter to the owner of her house was quite intense, and it appeared to worked, though it didn’t achieve the desired effect of getting her lower offer accepted. Jackie buying the house is sure to cause conflict, and I like how this episode ended without resolving it. Kalinda being audited is a headache, and it’s clear that she doesn’t like to be messed with, as evidenced by her very public flirtation with Jill Flint’s FBI Agent Lana Delaney. If there’s one person who is overworked more than any other on this show, it’s Alicia, who’s balancing so many things that sometimes she literally can’t handle more than one at a time.

What I’m Watching: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 17 “Hat Trick” (C)

This episode took a very different trajectory than those before it, namely in that it launched right into events in the real world, providing an unexpected and very overt connection to more than one other universe. Having both Emma and Mary Margaret get kidnapped by Jefferson made Storybrooke feel much less peaceful than usual, and, though Emma managed to escape her bonds remarkably quickly, it was peculiar that no one seemed to worry about them being missing for a while. The story of the Mad Hatter was, as always, incorporated into this show’s grander plotline, with Regina leaving Jefferson to have his head cut off (with poor special effects) so that she could smuggle her father out of Wonderland and back to the fairy tale world. He was probably the most dangerous villain we’ve seen in Storybrooke thus far, and his purpose seems to have been to get Emma thinking about the fact that maybe he’s not so crazy after all, which seemed to please Henry more than anything. An unfortunate revelation, though it shouldn’t be too surprising, is that Mr. Gold and Regina are in collusion, rather than the dirty moneyman representing Mary Margaret as a way of getting back at Regina for treating him so poorly. With Jefferson’s random abduction of Mary Margaret, it seems almost inconsequential that she’s about to be on trial for murder. Where are all these good people in Storybrooke when they’re most needed? If things do progress to a trial, one would hope that they would start coming out of the woodwork to show their support for the nicest woman in town.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 2, Episode 17 “Arising” (B-)

For a show that has twenty-three episodes this season, an awful lot happened very quickly in just an hour. The revelation at the end of last week that Cassandra is working for Ari was almos inconsequential, as it served merely to confuse MI-6 and to help drive the plot forward, which was already firing on multiple cylinders. Nikita’s lack of enthusiasm for Michael’s plan to raise Max with her is understandable since her mothering abilities are more attuned to teenage drug addicts, and Michael himself seems a bit too prone to angry revenge missions to settle down with a kid. That’s the moral of this episode, that no one can be happy together until Division is taken down, since Alex succeeded in freeing her mother from Semak’s grip but sent her away to a remote location with Sean rather than go with her. Semak’s dead, Amanda knows everything, Cassandra’s cover is blown and she is presumed dead, and Percy decided to take the hour off since he’s been dominating much of recent episodes. When there are too many operations and shadow organizations at play at one point, both characters and audiences get confused, and I think this show needs to narrow its focus again, utilizing characters like the newly rescued Ryan to positive effect, exiting the Russian arena to pay attention to what really matters: both Percy and Amanda are incredibly evil people, and it’s about time someone took them down a peg, or even took them out for good.

What I’m Watching: Awake

Awake: Season 1, Episode 4 “Kate is Enough” (C+)

In theory, there’s something extremely interesting about having a character, more than just a suspect or victim in a case, that exists in dramatically different fashion in two universes. Amy Smart’s character in “The Butterfly Effect” immediately comes to mind, as she played a sorority sister in one universe and a prostitute in the other. Rex’s old babysitter Kate wasn’t nearly as intriguing in her dual role that put her opposite Michael in the interrogation room. It’s increasingly irritating to hear both Dr. Lee and Dr. Evans demean Michael’s dual existence by referring to the other universe as a dream, and shocking him into reality is not a productive solution. It seems that we’ve totally forgotten about Laura Innes’ character, the police captain who was somehow involved in creating Michael’s situation by bringing about the car crash, and I think it would be very worthwhile to return to that to give some relevance to Michael’s splintered reality. It was exceedingly obvious from the opening moments in which Rex got into a fight with his friend because he used his racket that said racket had been a gift from his mother, and this show needs to step up its plotting so that its familial interactions are far more complex and interesting. Taking over the job of playing the obvious culprit on TV shows from Raphael Sbarge, currently seen as a good guy on “Once Upon a Time,” is Eric Lange, here playing one of the company men and best known as the irritable Radzinsky on “Lost.”

Round Two: Touch

Touch: Season 1, Episode 2 “1+1=3” (B-)

Conceptually, this show is pretty cool. In practice, however, it doesn’t work nearly as well, in the tradition of other shows with innovative premises that can’t quite follow up in their execution. This show is excessively reminiscent of “Heroes,” boasting poor writing, cheesy characters and plotlines, and an inexplicable need for subtitles. It’s quite interesting to see how everything connects, with one character suddenly revealed to be related in some way to another, like the mobster’s son and the flight attendant’s father. The singers with the webcam aren’t so connected, however, and it seems strange to have them as the only recurring thread aside from Martin and Jake. The story generally seems rather stale and undeveloped, and the conversations are quite uninteresting. It’s an awfully big coincidence to see another “24” alumnus, Jude Ciccolella, appearing so early in the history of this show as the depressed pawn shop owner, and I’m always pleased to see Blake Shields, from “Sleeper Cell,” though I would have preferred that he had been given a more substantial role than that of the pawn shop thief and peanut vendor. Jake’s quite an impressive boy, and his mastery of numbers is mesmerizing, as he manages to continue to escape Clea’s custody and track down his father, who will do just about anything for him. Hitting a guy with a baseball bat after breaking and entering, even if it’s to save his child, doesn’t seem like a wise idea, and this show is missing one thing more than anything else: consequences.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episodes 13 & 14 “Grandmentor” & “Kidnapped by Danger” (B+)

These weren’t perfect episodes, but they were generally entertaining and it’s hard not to appreciate their cleverness. I’d still prefer that this show didn’t continue to bump other Thursday night NBC programming due to the need for a double-dose. The night’s first episode was well-constructed, with Liz having to select a walk-on contest winner for TGS and Kenneth presenting himself as the perfect solution to the problem at the last minute. I liked how Jack’s new assistant was incorporated into a punch line, tasked with finding a featured extra with no lines and embodying those very characteristics. Liz taking on the role of Hazel’s mentor was never going to end well, but I like how Jack saw himself as a grandmentor. Liz’s tirade about there being too few women on death row and too few female serial killers was quite hilarious, and her rapport with Jack of the reasons this show works so well. Over-the-top as it is, Tracy being helped to do everything wrong is pretty funny. Jenna’s extensive efforts to be cast as Avery in the TV movie version of her story were impressive and irritating at the same time, as was her fervent attempt to write a story, with Tracy’s help, that couldn’t be parodied by Weird Al. Casting William Baldwin as Lance, the method actor portraying Jack, was an inspired choice, and Cynthia Nixon’s brief appearance as the actress playing Nancy was terrific. The return of Mary Steenburgen’s Diana was entirely welcome, as she described how the train was disgusting (she flew, but saw a train) and then forced Liz to be the “third wheel that prevents people from having sex). Her solution of having Lance substitute for Jack was smart, and I enjoyed the many differences between the two Baldwin brother characters.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Round Two: Missing

Missing: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Hard Drive” (C+)

There’s a point at which things can simply be too literal. While it’s hard to argue that Hard Drive isn’t a decently cool character, having him be named and referred to as such is a bit silly. Becca addressing him as Hard Drive was a sigh-producing moment, and I feel like this show is going to be full of those. At least Hard Drive had a personality, and Becca seems to be an extremely loyal friend. Her commitment to keeping his family safe makes up for her steely exterior, and I’d imagine that those she takes care of take care of her as well. I was pleased to see Joaquim de Almeida as corrupt French policeman Antoine Lussier, consistently excellent as a bad guy on American television shows since his time as Ramon Salazar on “24.” Becca has an interesting rapport with all of these male law enforcement officials and agents, and that’s part of what makes the show work somewhat well. Her relationship with Dax is sure to be rocky, since he appears to have a hard enough time of keeping his own family in order, and now he has conflicted feelings about whether or not to bring Becca in and shut down her search. It seemed way too early for Becca to come face-to-face with a hooded Michael midway through the episode, but that obvious trick gave way to the devastating image of her running down the tarmac as he was loaded onto a plane and flown out of the country. They were so close, and now it’s going to be near impossible for her to find him.

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 6, Episode 13 “Let’s Doo-Wop It Again” (B+)

After a couple of uneven episodes, it’s great to see a winning installment again, this time featuring a slew of guest stars, including Mekhi Phifer, Jaleel White, and Liza Lapira. I didn’t instantly recall the fact that both White and Blackappella have been featured on this show before, and I most certainly enjoyed them this time. Who knew that Shawn could actually contribute in a positive way to the group, aside from his insistence on referring to them as Quarterblack, which ostensibly makes no sense. His appendix bursting put him out of commission, but that worked well because it forced Gus to carry around a tablet with Shawn’s face on it the whole time, and kept Shawn bed-ridden so that the real bad guy could come threaten them and then get surprised by an alert and coherent Shawn, whose father cut off his pain medication since he was the one footing the bill. This episode also permitted Lassie a reunion with his beloved, and only he could appreciate the fact that she needed to punch him in the face to sell her cover and her contempt for the law. Shawn’s decision to have Blcakappella perform in the women’s prison at the end of the episode was fun initially, but it quickly turned violent as, for no apparent reason, all of the women started rioting. Leave it to Lassie to use that opportunity to sneak an elusive kiss with the woman he’s holding out for while she serves her time in jail

Pilot Review: Bent

Bent (NBC)
Premiered March 21 at 9pm

It’s always useful to have a double-dose of a series right away when it premieres, especially when it’s a half-hour sitcom. This show is an interesting new addition to NBC’s Wednesday night lineup, which is autonomous from but not entirely different from its more stable Thursday night fare. In many ways, it’s a traditional comedy that one might find on any network, yet it still looks and feels like a distinctive NBC show. It’s not wholly funny, but its characters are decently endearing, and it’s hard not to smile every once in a while. I enjoyed Pete’s conversation with his father about their contraception situation, which he deemed “awkward and separate,” and I liked Pete’s rapport with Screwsie, both looking at each other carefully to determine if they slept together. David Walton, seen within the past two years on different failed NBC sitcoms, "100 Questions" and "Perfect Couples," is perfectly at home in the role of Pete, and Amanda Peet is always great, and Alex is another terrific showcase for her. They immediately have a great dynamic, and I look forward to seeing it develop. Jeffrey Tambor, Margo Harshman, and Matt Letscher stand out in the supporting cast, and I suppose I’ll get used to the presence of excessive scene-stealer J.B. Smoove from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Matt Damon-lookalike Jesse Plemons, from "Friday Night Lights," as carpenter’s apprentice Gary. I’m not so impressed with Joey King, who played Jess’ student nemesis Briana in a recent installment of “New Girl,” who portrays Alex’s daughter Charlie as way too precocious and distracting of a character. Premiering this show so late into the spring means that I’ll likely have more attention to focus on it, and it could well become one of my regular shows if it remains fresh and funny.

How will it work as a series? This contract job on Alex’s house can’t last forever, but at the rate that Pete and his crew seem to work, he could be there a while. As their sexual tension builds, there are plenty of situations that can arise, as evidenced by the return of Pete’s ex-fiancée and Ben’s efforts to get Charlie to like him. I think this could be a show that, like “Cougar Town,” evolves past its premise when its characters have the chance to develop.
How long will it last? It may not have that chance, of course, given its poor performance on opening night, coming in lower than the quickly-axed “Free Agents.” With NBC’s other Wednesday finishing up their seasons this coming week, this show could stick around if viewers still want to watch something, but I don’t see it making it past the end of the season.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 3, Episode 10 “Guy Walks Into a Bar” (A-)

This show has a distinctive feel rarely captured by television shows these days, outside of those that air on HBO, and most of those are period epics. There’s such an incredible investment in even the smallest and most inconsequential of characters, with each episode broadening this show’s universe of memorable personalities. Shelby got that showcase in the opening moments of this installment, as he made up a story about having cancer and taking Napier’s lieutenants with him to save his own skin. It seemed like Boyd was going to kill or kidnap Napier’s sister, but his plan was far shrewder - to hire her without Napier knowing so that his election would be invalidated. Quarles’ reaction was incredible, and Boyd coming to gloat and call him a conquistador definitely didn’t help. The appearance of Marshall Allman’s Donovan revealed just how fearless Quarles is, and clearly things didn’t turn out well for him following Quarles’ astonishing speech that managed to calm him down. That scene in the bar was mesmerizing, and I especially liked Lindsey’s participation in it and her subsequent connection with Raylan. If there’s one thing Raylan’s not good at it, it’s testifying in court, and it was quite entertaining to see the smooth lawman end up endorsing Dickey’s release from prison. He’s not going to have an easy time on the outside, given that he’s got more than a few people that want him dead. This is where Limehouse enters the picture again, and something tells me that the body count is going to keep on getting higher before the season ends.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What I’m Watching: Ringer

Ringer: Season 1, Episode 18 “That Woman’s Never Been a Victim In Her Entire Life” (C+)

Now that Andrew has been shot, all of this silliness about him being a crazed killer are gone, which is good, but so is essentially any trace of what was going on with those that knew about the Ponzi scheme. Finding out that Henry accidentally killed Tyler through the classic throw-him-against-a-table move is a disappointment, and I’m not sure that’s going to lead anywhere productive. Everyone on this show is completely chasing their tails, and so few people actually have any concept of what’s really going on. Thinking that Olivia took Juliet and finding a body with Malcolm’s wallet on him are just two major examples of all the red herrings this show provides, with considerably unexciting payoff. People seem to have awfully loose lips these days, with Henry admitting to causing Tyler’s death, Siobhan nearly telling Andrew the whole story, and Juliet blabbing to Bridget about her mom’s plan. Machado finding the tower card seemed like a wholly inappropriate and peculiar twist to add to this show, containing unnecessary complications, but now it seems that, unlike what happened in the pilot, Bridget is actually being targeted for being Bridget, not for being Siobhan. It’s still unclear whether this show is going to be renewed for a second season, but, no matter where it’s headed, it’s about time that someone besides Henry found out that Siobhan was still alive. And it shouldn’t be any of the missing people, namely Olivia or Malcolm, because this show has enough loose threads and doesn’t need any more.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 1, Episode 17 “Fancyman, Part 1” (B+)

I love that Jess is technically the star of this show, yet all four characters are featured almost equally prominently, with even Winston getting a fair amount of focus in this particular half-hour. Nick’s terrible credit care was a hilarious intro, and I enjoyed his efforts to be the man with no phone and how that led to his rather embarrassing introduction to Russell. Jess didn’t start off too well with him either, yammering about taking condoms off of cucumbers and then accepting his offer of a car when hers stalled. The Japanese talking toilet was a hoot, but the best part of all was Nick putting on Russell’s sweater and then making a whole bunch of ridiculous demands while sitting at his desk. His penning of a letter to a friend since he had no phone was pretty damn funny too. I’m glad that he encouraged Jess to say yes to Russell’s invitation to dinner, and I look forward to seeing how that goes. Winston talking to his little kid friend Alvin again was a delight, and I particularly liked Alvin’s suggestion that he start wearing fake glasses. Schmidt’s competency at trivia is no surprise, and I like how his competitive spirit inspired Winston to try to memorize trivia in order to impress Shelby. The best citation of his incorrect answer was naming Crispin Glover as the first man to die in the Revolutionary War. Leave it to Schmidt to not take the hint and leave Winston and Shelby alone while they’re in the middle of making out.

What I’m Watching: Smash

Smash: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Workshop” (C+)

This episode may be riddled with problems, but there’s no denying the impressiveness of the spectacle of the performance. The songs in the show, as they come together, are dazzling, and the numbers are a blast. The story, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as strong. It’s somewhat interesting to see Karen featured in the Marilyn performances, imagining herself in the lead role, but it’s also somewhat strange given that she’s no longer in that part. Skipping her major appointment just to be in the workshop is likely to backfire, unless she gets the part of Marilyn later on in the process, which is hardly unlikely at this point. Ivy performed rather well despite considerable pressure both from Derek and from her mom, played by the lovely Bernadette Peters. Everything is being aired out in the open, and far too many people are aware of Michael and Julia’s affair. It’s no surprise, given just how indiscreet they are about their fooling around. Leo continues to be the show’s most irksome character, smoking pot and crying and just being an immature nuisance. Firing Michael is not going to have positive implications since he was one of the only consistent parts of the workshop. I was happy to hear Eileen immediately threaten Ellis after he tattle-told on Michael and Julia, but she did seem to be awfully forgiving of him, continuing to socialize and drink with him outside of work in what should be considered the most peculiar friendship currently featured on TV.

What I’m Watching: Alcatraz

Alcatraz: Season 1, Episode 11 “Webb Porter” (B+)

This show really knows how to profile its villains. As portrayed by Rami Malek from “The Pacific,” Webb Porter was a brilliant savant with a very specific regime for crafting his art. Interestingly, he seems to have not been the subject of the warden’s hatred, a rare feat, as he gave Lucy his full support for her therapies, returning him to general population to earn a new reputation as a musician rather than a screamer. I like how this show continues to reference its previously-featured guest characters, showing their reactions to Webb’s playing both in the 1960s and in the present day in the new Alcatraz. Emerson’s obsession with capturing Webb alive was quite evident, and I’m glad that Rebecca and Doc are voicing their frustrations with constantly being kept in the dark, not that it’s going to do them much good. Spotting Lucy in the footage was an exciting development, and I like how Webb was perfectly fine helping Lucy, not even putting up a fight once he saw her lying unconscious. That last shot of Lucy opening her eyes was the perfect end to the episode, and an awesome way to head into the show’s two-hour season finale next week. I really hope that the show gets renewed for a second season since this is a series worth saving, but I’m terribly worried that next week’s double installment is the last of this show that we’ll ever see. If it has to end, I’m sure it’s going to be a thrilling finish.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I’m Watching: 2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls: Season 1, Episode 19 “And the Spring Break” (B)

I don’t believe that this show is losing its quality as it goes on, but rather that its focus as of late hasn’t been totally on the money. We’ve seen Max and Caroline experience luxury before, and this was hardly the most memorable instance of that. Caroline’s efforts to turn dog-sitting into spring break and to pose as Ashley were entertaining to a point, and it’s hard to fault the charming Caroline for being so peppy all the time. What was most endearing about the episode was the fact that Max brought Earl a present from their time away, which he wholeheartedly appreciated. That’s the kind of relationship I’d like to see expanded upon on this show, and I think it would be a much better focus than the friends-with-benefits romance now going on quite in public between Oleg and Sofia. This show was renewed last week as part of CBS’ affirmation of its success as a network, and so there will be plenty of opportunities for Max and Caroline to have adventures in Brooklyn. Often, shows tends to shift priorities and change the importance of cast members in their second seasons, and perhaps some neighbors other than Sofia and a new employee at the diner could be beneficial to the show’s overall well-being. This show still has five episodes to go in this season, and I look forward to seeing more of Max and Caroline, and a bit more of a spotlight on the show’s initial central theme: their cupcake business.

What I’m Watching: Life’s Too Short

Life’s Too Short: Season 1, Episode 5 (B+)

Warwick is proving him to be just as offensive a character as the creator of the show, Ricky Gervais. Searching for the perfect religion after his useless visit with his psychic housekeeper simply revealed his idiocy, as he accused the priest of being a pedophile and then left because Catholicism disapproves of masturbation. Going clubbing with his accountant produced similar results to anything he does with his assistant, with him having to claim to be a racist rather than a rapist because he wanted to be perceived of as being bad. Getting yelled at for using a mop at the grocery store to knock food down without purchasing it was quite funny, and Warwick’s bad attitude tends to negate the awfulness of the things that happen to him. Meeting a female “Willow” fan was a huge score for Warwick, but buying condoms from that very same supermarket was hardly the smartest or smoothest idea. His first date with Amy started out horribly and somehow turned good when she thought that his rude reaction to her being a dwarf was funny, and it was only a matter of time before he managed to screw it up. Taking a step back and confronting the host at the restaurant for assuming that he was meeting the dwarf rather than the tall, attractive woman was very reminiscent of Larry David. Things got much worse than he needed to when he proved too belligerent, and telling your date to pretend she’s your sister is never a good idea.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 5, Episode 10 “Perverts & Whores” (B+)

On a show which, essentially, serves as a never-ending cycle of Hank winning Karen back then alienating her again, it’s fun to see the focus shifted in a big way. Charlie taking on Tyler as a client and then getting him the job on “Santa Monica Cop” was unforgivable, and even diving into a pool with all his clothes on isn’t going to make Hank get over it anytime soon. Without Charlie by his side, however, Hank seems just as prone to getting himself into trouble, as evidenced by his chivalrous defense of a prostitute from fervent filmmaker Lars. It’s always a treat to see Judy Greer’s Trixie, who seems to be one of the few people that actually get Hank. Larry seems like a good agent, but he’s nowhere near as entertaining as Charlie. I really don’t see much use for Lizzie, who I’ve never liked, and hopefully her indiscretion with Stu will soon be revealed to Marcy, since Charlie was unexpectedly noble and didn’t tell Marcy that Lizzie cheated on him with Stu. Hank’s near-reconciliation with Karen was a delight, as always, but the mood quickly shifted when Becca got home and was upset because of Tyler. Hank seems equally furious about Tyler going for Kali and him being so stupid as to presume that Samurai Apocalypse won’t kill him once he inevitably finds out. Maybe it won’t be Hank who pays the price for his relationship with Samurai’s number one girl, and instead Tyler takes the brunt of the punishment, ridding this show of a despicable character.

Take Three: GCB

GCB: Season 1, Episode 3 “Love is Patient” (C+)

This show is definitely trying to be as over-the-top and wild as possible, as evidenced by the married couples present at the singles event at the church and Amanda’s withholding of milk from Sharon until she confronted Zach about kissing her. This is the perfect show to follow “Desperate Housewives,” and therefore it might have some success since that show is headed off the air at the end of the season. This episode expands the plot of the show considerably by revealing that, prior to his death, Bill came down to Texas to convince Ripp to invest, and now Ripp is trying to figure out what Amanda knows about what Bill did with the money. The direction of the show has been transformed dramatically by Ripp and Carlene’s conclusion that, due to some creative interpretation of Amanda’s words, Bill must still be alive. It’s nice to see that, frustrations aside, Blake does make Cricket happy, and she’s able to get her happiness elsewhere. Having her fitness instructor’s fiancée’s company bought up and torn down was quite a show of power, and while Carlene is clearly the queen bee of the pack, Cricket can be just as aggressive and unforgiving. It’s fun to see Tyler Jacob Moore, who plays Tony on “Shameless,” as Pastor John, once again the cleanest and kindest person among much more devious people. The cleverest and most cutting insult delivered by Carlene in this hour, and immediately criticized by Pastor John, was her message to “take the sin out of single.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What I’m Watching: Eastbound & Down

Eastbound & Down: Season 3, Episode 5 “Chapter 18” (B+)

Kenny Powers has seen better days. While he’s embarrassed himself plenty in the past, nothing quite compares to his energetic entrance to his July 4th party being met with silence and stares from the many staff members he hired, not to mention his unsuccessful attempt to steal the spotlight from his rival Ivan at his far superior party. Not managing to convince Andrea to come with him was the nail in his coffin, and Kenny has never seemed more dejected. Earlier in the episode, his obvious effort to get his “I rented this hooker” T-shirt noticed was mildly amusing, and that’s a far cry from having Casper bring dynamite to Ivan’s party. The return of Kenny’s father was a bit unexpected, but Eduardo has some surprisingly sound advice for his son, in terms of the importance of family and just taking it easy. Telling Maria that Eduardo was a child molester wasn’t terribly kind, but they seem to have reached an accord of sorts by episode’s end, as Kenny caved and decided to call his mother. I can’t wait to see more of Lily Tomlin as his predictably foul-mouthed, since the one minute we’ve already seen of her was absolutely fantastic. Kenny may be falling apart, but he’s doing better than Stevie, who was so guilty-ridden about cheating on Maria that he had to go ahead and tell her about it, ruining his relationship and depriving Toby of two very vital influences in his life and subjecting him to being raised by members of the Powers family.

What I’m Watching: House of Lies

House of Lies: Season 1, Episode 10 “Prologue and Aftermath” (B+)

It’s hard to find two television characters more messed up than Marty and Jeannie. On the outside, both present themselves as confident, competent, and utterly unconcerned with anyone else’s feelings. Their sexual reputations are not well-kept secrets, and they don’t seem to mind. A visit to Spokane and Jeannie’s hometown led to an awkward dinner that turned extremely serious and uncomfortable when she started talking down to her mother, played by “Twin Peaks” alum Peggy Lipton, about her ever-absent father. The final scene with her asking the Rainmaker if he was proud of her was particularly indicative of some serious father issues. That sort of makes Clyde and Doug’s hiring of a stripper cop to celebrate the unveiling of Jeannie’s secret engagement the less memorable part of the episode. Marty, on the other hand, did a good job initially fending off Monica when she asked for five years with Roscoe but couldn’t resist sleeping with her to conclude the meeting. Monica has now proven that she plays incredibly dirty, paying a visit to April and letting slip the news of their indiscretion. The worst part was that Marty didn’t even try to fight for April once she confronted him, telling her to leave and letting a relationship that serves as one of the only good things in his life fall apart instantly. Never has an “I love you” proclamation been more ill-timed, and I suspect that Marty won’t stoop to trying to woo April back, and she won’t be crawling back to him either.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 8, Episode 17 “Women and Death” (B-)

On the subject of flashbacks, I’m torn. I do know that people these days tend to despise clip shows, where almost no new material is presented and old footage is simply weaved together in a clever way to emphasize some particular theme, but that’s more common with sitcoms and not with hourlong dramas. In this case, we see all new scenes, with Mike appearing as the saving grace and levelheaded one in nearly all of them. It’s a bit like when Beau Bridges’ handyman died and everyone remembered their interactions with him, but not nearly as manipulative since Mike has been a staple on this show since day one. It was a good opportunity to bring back some long-forgotten faces, like Carlos’ mother and Rex, and to see Tom and Lynette when they were actually happy together. Lynette’s new plan to get Tom back is sure to be paved with obstacles, and Jane is going to hate her soon if she doesn’t already. Gaby’s encouragement of Carlos is sweet, and I hope that he does find happiness in being a counselor. The pairing of the body being prepared for burial and Alejandro’s body being dug up was strong, and now the ladies are in for a world of agony. Bree handled herself exceptionally well during the interrogation, but unfortunately it was all just an excuse to get her fingerprints and confirm that she was in fact guilty, so that Chuck’s vindictive friends can build a huge case against her and make her pay for breaking his heart.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 2, Episode 10 “A Great Cause” (B+)

Hurricane Monica continues in the worst way of all, as Monica finds the secret stash of money and manages to spend it all without any thought to its significance. Encouraging Ian to enlist without finishing high school is one particular instance of her giving bad advice, and her conversation with Frank in which they identified children by which drugs they were on when they got pregnant was especially disconcerting. Most unfortunate of all is the fact that Fiona was motivated enough to talk herself into a managerial job by citing her raising of her family as experience, thinking that Monica was actually capable of change. Her meltdown at the end of the episode was perhaps her most miserable moment yet, and she’s not going to recover quickly from this horrific disappointment. Ian and Lip breaking into the Milkovich home to plant a gun didn’t end as expected, but it’s good that Ian offered to raise money for Mandy’s abortion. Lip really needs to be much more careful and start considering condoms. Steve’s brilliant plan to bring Marco back wasn’t as smooth as he might have hoped for, and he’s going to be in for a lot of pain if Marco suffocates in the shipping container. Sheila’s hospice patient is not what she might have expected, but she and Jody seem to have a good operation going. Veronica and Kev’s efforts to get pregnant are sweet, and hopefully they won’t be in for a major disappointment with whatever road they choose to go down.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead (Season Finale)

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 13 “Beside the Dying Fire” (A-)

After one intense season, this finale was not a letdown. I love how episodes start on this show, with the walkers wandering aimlessly and suddenly being lured en masse to the site of Shane’s second execution. Watching the farm get overrun by walkers was frightening since it’s been such a safe haven all season, but it did make for one terrific extended sequence. Everyone driving in circles and Glenn shooting out the window were particularly affecting, as was the shot of Daryl watching the barn burn before responding to Carol’s cry for help. It was worrisome that Andrea got left behind, but it looks like she’s actually in better shape now that she’s met the (for now) faceless master of two walkers that have been essentially enslaved. Apparently, she’s an iconic character from the graphic novel, and I’m intrigued to see more about her as she comes into focus next season. I’m glad that Lori stood up to T-Dog and forced him to take them back to the highway since another splintered crew would have done no one any good, though it seems that not everything is blissful for the reuniting camp. After killing Shane, Rick is a changed man, and telling everyone that Dr. Jenner told him that they were all infected didn’t exactly help his case. Mutiny is sure to be an order of business next season, and fortunately, the way this show played out this season, new episodes arrive in just a couple of months in the fall. I firmly believe that this season was even better than the first, and I can’t wait for year three.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Scott Wilson as Hershel & Lauren Cohan as Maggie

What I’m Watching: Luck

Luck: Season 1, Episode 8 (B+)

I’m still reeling from the shock of the news last week that this show has been cancelled due to the deaths of three horses on set. Especially following this show’s early renewal back in January, it’s surprising and jarring to see that decision entirely reversed. It’s true, however, that a big part of what makes this show work well is its racing sequences, so I suppose that element being missing would drastically change its quality. HBO was kind enough to send me the full season, through next week’s finale, and it appears that they plan to air them and then the show will end, so hopefully the season ender will conclude all the arcs properly. It’s hard not to let this news influence the viewing experience of the episode, but it’s still quite a strong hour. I’m glad to see Rosie getting back on top, though the old man seems more than distracted with everything going on in his life. Jo getting injured doesn’t bode well for her pregnancy, but it’s reassuring to see Escalante come see her and show a partial interest in her wellbeing. Most powerful of all was Ace’s reaction to Nathan’s disappearance, piecing together that his adversaries had murdered him, which was revealed to be the harsh truth with the images of his dismembered body being discarded in bags in the water. Gus did an impressive job of springing into action and being Ace’s bodyguard upon learning the truth, and Ace was unexpectedly honest in his confrontation with Mike, putting equal blame on himself for the poor kid’s fate.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 18 “Gloves Come Off” (B+)

It’s great that this show seems to be so well-liked by its guest stars that they tend to return more than once. That’s the case in this hour for a whole handful of people, including Michael J. Fox’s manipulative lawyer Lewis Canning, Bryan Brown’s process server Jack Copeland, Gary Cole’s ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh, and Elizabeth Reaser’s reporter Tammy Linnata. Lewis is always a disruptive delight, and this episode proved particularly fun because Alicia managed to pique his interest and elicit a job offer, only to use it to get a bonus from Diane. Affairs at Lockhart Gardner are not in order, as all of the partners are upset at Will for continue to hold sway, and I particularly enjoyed David and Eli coming to him to tattle on the other for leaking Will’s involvement in current cases to the disciplinary board. Tammy’s return was intriguing mainly for the way it threw Alicia off, and her honest interaction with Alicia was especially compelling. Diane’s romantic life was quite enthralling, and I loved how she scheduled dates with Kurt and Jack in the same weekend. Kalinda’s efforts to reach out to Alicia seem to have paid off, and it’s nice to see Alicia approach her and tell her that she’s willing to work towards recreating their old friendship. Alicia seems poised to be able to get her old house back, thanks to some unexpected advice from the hockey player. This episode’s case was quite interesting, and I enjoyed the process and the unlikely outcome.

What I’m Watching: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 16 “Heart of Darkness” (C)

I like how this episode started in media res with Red giving Charming a head start before shifting into her wolf self, but things went downhill from there without much proper follow-up. One thing that this show seems to be doing right at the moment is ensuring that the story developments in both worlds. The underlying problem with that, however, is that having someone cut out a woman’s heart and bury it underground makes sense in a fairy tale universe. Regina’s open-all key ring is another such thing that doesn’t belong in a literal sense in the crossover between the worlds, yet this show insists on incorporating it anyway. David’s regression therapy revealed a surprising memory, one from the fairy tale world, but it would have been useful if it hadn’t been so truncated as to not offer him a complete picture and get him to alienate Mary Margaret by not having faith in her. Mary Margaret using the key mysteriously kept under the jail cell bed to escape isn’t a smart idea, and now Regina is sure to come after her with the full force of the law. Mr. Gold offering his legal services is much more interesting, and perhaps he can actually help take down Regina. Rumplestiltskin is definitely meddling in Charming’s search for Snow in the fairy tale world, and he’s causing some unnecessary bloodshed and arrests, which are sure to lead to the events we saw in the show’s pilot sooner or later. Eventually, we’ll be up to the present and these worlds are going to have to converge.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 2, Episode 16 “Doublecross” (B-)

The cool thing about this show not having a standard procedural format anymore is that it presents the opportunity for unexpected alliances and subsequent quadruple-crosses. Fortunately, this show isn’t complex enough for it to be too confusing, and therefore it’s easy to keep track of just who sides with whom on a given day. What’s frustrating is when members of Nikita’s ever-growing ragtag band can’t be trusted, as is the case in this hour with Carla, who just needs to go ahead and mess everything up by being in contact with Percy and then getting shot by Birkhoff. That whole mess was rather unfortunate, though I suppose that tech guys like Birkhoff aren’t properly trained in weaponry. Percy is certainly a threat, able to talk down a Division agent that’s about to take him in and manipulate every situation to his advantage. The prisoner exchange adds yet another member to the group, and that’s Ryan, whose intellect should help them to be wiser about their operations and is likely to drive a wedge in between Nikita and Michael, especially in light of recent developments. Sean is an extraordinarily sarcastic bodyguard for Alex, and I’ve grown tired of the special Russian score that plays when they enter Semak’s house. Fortunately, this plotline is proving to be somewhat productive as Sean and Alex discover that Ari does in fact have a mole, and it’s worse than just Amanda. Michael is going to be devastated when he finds out about Cassandra, and things are about to get really messy.

Take Three: Awake

Awake: Season 1, Episode 3 “Guilty” (C+)

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems awfully early to have a member of Michael’s immediate family be put in danger in a way other than that which they experience each episode by not existing in one universe. When Michael recognized Cooper, I was concerned that, once again, he had encountered him in his other reality, and when Rex got snatched, I predicted that Hannah was going to get kidnapped as well. I have to give this show some credit for not going down either of those routes, and instead having Michael smartly interrogate Cooper in jail to determine where he might have left Rex in the other reality. That part was extremely cool, at least conceptually, when Michael was told to get some rest and he popped a sleeping pill so that he could reawaken in the other reality and do some detective work. He’s doing a superb job in both universes of alienating his partners, not letting Bird in on the fact that Cooper kidnapped his son and bossing Efrem around like it’s his job. Like it or not, Tara has now inserted herself into the Britten family’s life by being present at Rex’s abduction, and I assume she’ll just get closer and closer with Rex and maybe even Michael, though something tells me he’ll have a tough time dating considering his wife is still alive in his head. I thought that the show had completely forgotten about that world since it wasn’t featured for the first half of the episode, but with that and the reduced screen time for the psychiatrists, maybe that’s where this show is headed, honing in more on the characters and less on the universes and their links. Is that a good thing, though? I’m not so sure.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 8, Episode 19 “Get the Girl” (B)

Once this show inevitably concludes its run, it’s going to be interesting to look back at its course of events and see how they stack up in the long term. I feel like the trip to Florida and Nellie’s bizarre takeover aren’t going to have that great nostalgic feeling of a Michael Scott Paper Company, and instead are going to feel bumpy and uncertain, as if the writers just didn’t know how to handle things in the aftermath of Michael’s departure from Dunder Mifflin. I’d also posit, as I’m such many others would, that there were far better characters than Nellie featured in last year’s finale that could have been utilized in recurring guest spots. Declaring herself manager since Andy was nowhere to be found was strange and only mildly amusing, and Robert’s indifference to her self-imposed status and excessive handing out of raises and naps was somewhat sensible in terms of his personality but equally infuriating. The Tinkerbell scene was a bit ridiculous, and I much preferred Jim’s horrified reaction to Robert’s presentation of a choice between a nature metaphor or a sexual metaphor. Andy’s trip to Florida was somewhat fun, as we learned about another unfortunate cooking habit of Erin’s, which is to reuse the water in which she boils hot dogs. I liked the way he summed up their relationship – “I’m sorry that we have not loved each other at the same time” – and I’m glad that they’re back together. I wonder whether we’ll see anything of Andy’s breakup or if Jessica will be as absent during that stage of their relationship as she’s been during the whole thing.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 12 “St. Patrick’s Day” (B+)

This show has really taken to skewering holidays recently, and in this case, it’s an actual widely celebrated festival that just happened to occur this past weekend. Liz’s efforts to wear orange for the day and shout “Megan” at a group of Irish women to confuse them were amusing, though things are never so simple for the leading lady on this show. I’m always excited to see Dennis Duffy return, and it was even more fun since, on this rare occasion where I was watching live and not skipping past commercials, Dean Winters was seen several times acting like an idiot in the brilliant Allstate insurance commercials. Criss taking to Dennis was entertaining, and I liked Dennis’s suggestion that Criss sell plain buns to drunk Irish people out of his cart. Frank’s expression of the writers’ decision to stay in on St. Patrick’s Day because they all have faces people want to punch was quite funny, and I enjoyed seeing Jack step in and overanalyze their board game. Hazel is not working out well as a page, which isn’t much of a surprise given how she is somehow being treated even more horribly than Kenneth tends to be, but he has her back, which is a good thing since she really screwed up in terms of Tracy and Jenna’s on-air performance for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Their insistence on reading Host #1’s lines was hilarious, and leave it to Kenneth to know just what to do: show up with a limo for Host #2 and have them fight about which one deserves the secondary spotlight.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pilot Review: Missing

Missing (ABC)
Premiered March 15 at 8pm

More and more these days, shows are focusing on a specific event and its aftermath rather than a stable, procedural format. Two short-lived fall 2006 series, “Kidnapped” and “Vanished,” which aired on NBC and FOX, focused on the abduction and disappearance of a son and wife, respectively. This spring, ABC is giving it their best shot, by featuring the kidnapping of young Michael Winstone by unknown assailants. The difference here is that his mother, Becca, is a former CIA agent, and, like Liam Neeson in most of his current roles and particularly in the film “Taken,” she isn’t about to let it go down quietly. The show’s writing is not superb, and Cliff Curtis’ Agent Dax Miller excessively familiar disgruntled federal pursuer makes this show feel especially uncreative. Ashley Judd is hardly the most capable lead, and much of the show’s success depends on her ability to carry the plot. Yet I will admit that the motorcycle chase scene that came towards the end of the pilot was decently thrilling and action-packed, and the show may prove worth watching if that kind of sequence is more present than any filled with dialogue. I’d have preferred to see a better showcase for Sean Bean, who, like many actors, goes from a stellar cable role like the one he had in “Game of Thrones” to an unspectacular part on a broadcast network show (see Giancarlo Esposito on “Once Upon a Time” for another instance of this). I suspect that Bean might return in flashbacks, and I have a terrible feeling that he’s not actually dead, which would just go to show that this series is nothing original. For the moment, let’s leave it at the lukewarm endorsement that there’s much better stuff out there.

How will it work as a series? The show has a sort of ticking time bomb mentality, and it’s most intriguing since Michael being found, which I’m sure will eventually happen, drastically charges the format and overarching purpose of the series. At this point, it seems like a one-woman rogue series, and that could work well for those excited about seeing a powerful female lead in an action series that demands week-to-week viewing.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot weren’t overly impressive, clocking in at fewer than watched the first episode of the doomed “Charlie’s Angels.” ABC has had trouble filling the slot before “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” for a while, and something tells me that, while it’s not likely to be renewed, this show is probably going to be giving a chance for the rest of the season.

Pilot grade: B-

What I'm Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 6, Episode 12 “Shawn and the Real Girl” (B-)

This show is overdoing it a bit with all of the parodies. Shawn and Gus have had their share of wild adventures posing as various people, and this reality show was hardly the most memorable of them. I liked Greg Grunberg on “Alias,” but I find that everything else in which he appears, he ends up being immensely unlikeable and doesn’t come off as a terribly competent actor. Lindsay Sloane was far more equipped for her role as the bachelorette, and I loved seeing her here after her arc on “Californication” this past season. Wayne Brady’s guest appearance as the host was devoid of much energy or humor, which is a shame considering he used to be one of the standout comedians on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” If this show is insistent on skewering nearly every genre, it should do a better job. I think that jokes about NBC not having any good programming have become tired, especially when the program in question airs on an affiliate of NBC. As I’ve stated before, I’d prefer a much more substantial role for Juliet, who here was relegated to delivering two well-intonated threats to Shawn: “Kiss her and you die” and “Off the show, now!” I did smile at Shawn’s claim that he graduated from Bob Hoskins Medical School, and his inability to help Danny because he specialized in other things as a doctor. The final shot of him telling Juliet that it’s nice that she’s in his life while she was waving at the new contestant was a great way to close an otherwise unremarkable episode.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 3, Episode 18 “Send Out the Clowns” (B+)

This show has done a great job so far of featuring big-name guest stars and not having them detract from the plotline, instead enhancing it. Cameron’s clowning past is an occasionally-referenced immensely humorous plotline, and I enjoyed seeing his former partner Lewis, played by Bobby Cannavale, who won the Emmy for playing Will’s cop boyfriend Vince on “Will & Grace,” appear following Professor Ringmaster’s funeral. It’s hard to decide whether their synchronized performances or their physical fighting was more entertaining. The line of the night came from Cam: “We finished each others…balloon animals!” As always, Mitchell’s sarcastic reactions to everything were amusing as well. Phil’s rivalry with Ellen Barkin’s cutthroat broker Mitzy was funniest because of how Phil tried to counter her, getting his spy pen snatched before hatching the perfect plan to have Luke spin a sad story to melt her heart. Claire’s obsessive need for her daughters to be her friend on Facebook predictably backfired as, once again, they were exposed to some of her less commendable adolescent behavior. The montage of Manny’s door opening greetings was the highlight of that plotline, though I like how Jay initially though that cool kid Griffin Cooper only wanted to be friends with Manny because of him, and it turned out to be Gloria and her body that enticed him. Gloria’s test was brilliant, and I liked Manny’s unexpectedly positive reaction, as he revealed that he too was only using his new friend to get to the relative he had a crush on.

What I’m Watching: Suburgatory

Suburgatory: Season 1, Episode 17 “Independence Day” (B+)

One of the best part of this show has always been the relationship between Tessa and George. Her very logical arguments about his parental protection led to a good fit of rebellion by Tessa. Calling George a dictator wasn’t her nicest moment, though Noah didn’t exactly do a good job of coming up with a euphemism. I enjoyed Dallas’ explanation of the Help Wanted crystal sign, which had nothing to do with the fact that she was planning to hire someone but instead was a piece of art for sale. Tessa didn’t prove to be such a great employee, though her advance and her signing bonus enabled Tessa to pay for that scooter without gas from East Chatswin. Lisa’s reaction to Tessa going to East Chatswin was quite funny, and her pulling out a pack of cigarettes was definitely the high point. I’m curious whether her meaningless poem about the void left by her mother’s absence is going to lead to the appearance of her mother, and who might play her. Dallas’ reunion with her sorority sisters was full of drama, especially when it was crashed by Tulsa, the uninvited widow that may or may not have been the one that slept with Steven. Dalia’s request for a Hangover monkey was quite amusing, and it’s that kind of humor that makes this show simply unique and irresistible. George’s meeting with Mr. Wolf was a prime example of how this show is able to be create hilarity out of the simplest and most mundane of conversations.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 3, Episode 9 “Loose Ends” (B+)

It’s always nice to have a character that has fallen out of the limelight come back in a big way. After playing a major role in Raylan’s life in season one, Ava has been relegated to being Shane’s number two, a part that gives her strong scenes far too intermittently. In this hour, she managed to assert herself in a way that was even more forceful than her first appearance in the pilot and her most recent display of force with a frying pan. Calling Delroy and escorting Ellen May to certain death was intense, but nothing could match shooting Delroy with a shotgun to permanently resolve the problem of this particularly bully. Tanner’s fate wasn’t much better than Delroy’s, left for dead by Errol and victim to a well-placed mine. Raylan is starting to put the pieces together, and he’s not above some clever trickery, namely having a random guy impersonate an officer of the law, and going to talk to Limehouse at the end of the episode shows that he’s tired of all this violence and knows just how Quarles’ plans and continued existence will negatively impact things. Though Raylan’s arguments fell on deaf ears with Limehouse, Quarles should be worried, since Boyd managed to deliver a rousing, inciting speech to rival that made by Mags last season against Carol Johnson that is likely to be the nail in incumbent Sheriff Napier’s political coffin. It’s not going to be a clean battle, however, and many are likely to get hurt before the dust settles.