Monday, April 30, 2012

What I’m Watching: The Finder

The Finder: Season 1, Episode 11 “The Inheritance” (B+)

I really love that Walter is so obsessed with finding something that intrigues him, to the point that he wouldn’t look for Joyce’s father’s murderer but instead opted to search for her inheritance. Mageina Tovah, who was so disturbingly creepy in the second installment of “American Horror Story” last year, was delightful as the cheerful and always optimistic Joyce, brought up by her father to always look on the bright side, something that managed to annoy everyone with whom she interacted in this hour save for her mature friend Isabel. Walter’s usage of rats to simulate the horses was entertaining, and I like how Timo got involved in it all because of his interests. Willa applying to college is a twist, and it was nice that Leo stepped in to try to help her, and even more meaningful that she insisted that she wanted to do it herself without his help. Identifying the villains as the tall man, the short man, ad the fat man proved extremely entertaining, particularly when it came to the question of being able to write it down in a report. Walter and his crew seem to have a whole lot of close calls with the bad guys coming to the Ends of the Earth to directly threaten their lives and the lives of the clients. Fortunately, Walter is able to talk himself out of just about any situation, and therefore he’s never in any real danger. Hands down the most hilarious part of this episode, pictured above, was Walter’s horse whispering.

What I’m Watching: Scandal

Scandal: Season 1, Episode 4 “Enemy of the State” (B)

Things are getting serious fast on this show in a major way, in what definitely ranks as this show’s strongest installment so far. Perhaps the most unsettling and hypnotic scene was the one in which Cyrus told the President the saga of how things were going to go from here, as he’d find himself cast out of office and disgraced, eventually choosing to commit suicide to end it all. That whole situation is marvelously complicated, and I don’t think anyone has a clue just how little each party knows. Cyrus waging war against Olivia after an extraordinarily thorough and eye-opening probe into her employees’ backgrounds isn’t helpful since whoever Amanda called on the phone has now broken into her home and abducted her for some unknown malicious purpose. This show wants to be as sensational as possible outside of its presidential jurisdiction, and having a known dictator enlist Olivia’s services in finding his allegedly kidnapped family is quite provocative. Jose Zuniga is a dependable actor able to portray a wide variety of characters, and he was an effective political leader here, and Valerie Cruz, onetime star of “Nip/Tuck” and many other series since, did a good job as his wife as well. Abby is clearly the most passionate among Olivia’s staff, and she’s got quite the back story to boot. I like how Joshua Malina’s David came to Olivia to ask for a favor to save his favorite newsstand, and, though she didn’t have any time to deal with it, Harrison stepped in to take care of it for him. If nothing else, Olivia protects her friends.

What I’m Watching: Awake

Awake: Season 1, Episode 9 “Game Day” (B+)

This show is getting better as it’s starting to tease out Michael’s realizations about how his worlds are connected, and I’m pleased that the show is letting them speak for themselves rather than having Michael verbalize them so that his therapists can shoot down their validity. I can stomach Rex’s unfortunate conversations about how to tell if someone’s lying if it means that Michael can discover that Emma is pregnant in the world in which Rex is no longer alive. Michael being able to pick up on the subtle differences in between his two worlds, where one team wins or Emma doesn’t have an abortion, means that he’s not accepting his realities as fabrications but instead working to bring them together in some productive way. Unfortunately, Hannah likely won’t be pleased if Michael will want to stay in town to help Emma along with their grandchild, and that could prove problematic. The quality of the cases is also improving, as Rob’s murder case proved to be full of twists, as was the hunt for the arsonist that burnt down the laundromat. I’m always happy to see Francois Chau, best known for his role as a scientist with many different names in “Lost,” here playing the laundromat owner in hopeless debt. The backdrop of the big game in both worlds was a good way of amping up the excitement, and it’s nice to know that Vega has become fond enough of Michael to want to plan him a goodbye party, though something tells me he may not be in need of it anymore.

What I’m Watching: Parks & Recreation

Parks & Recreation: Season 4, Episode 20 “The Debate” (B+)

This episode walked a thin line in terms of ensuring that it didn’t let its populace seem too stupid and portray Leslie as the bad guy just because she was actually trying to make logical points while Bobby Newport was shilling out nonsense. After a lively flurry of amusing sound bites from the other candidates, the gun supporter, the animal rights activist, and Brandi Maxxx, things got serious when Bobby purported that Sweetums was going to have to move to Mexico if Leslie got elected. Bobby’s wowed reaction to Leslie’s rebuttal was telling, and it was the perfect moment for the poor viewers at April and Andy’s to finally have their cable hooked up. I like how Ron didn’t get up and make a speech in Leslie’s defense but instead went outside to steal some cable from the government for the occasion. Andy’s tireless reenactments of his favorite films were both mind-boggling and impressive at the same time, and it was a lot of fun to watch him display so much energy to entertain the highbrow crowd. Chris’ efforts to rekindle his relationship with Ann were rather sincere, and it’s good that Ann realized that they shouldn’t in fact restart things. Being with Tom may not make sense either, but his glee at watching her tell Chris it wasn’t going to happen made him perk up amazingly, to the point where he was easily out-spinning Chris with his enthusiastic and exceptionally positive comments about Leslie’s chances and what a good candidate she would be for Pawnee.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What I’m Watching: Touch

Touch: Season 1, Episode 7 “Noosphere Rising” (B)

With Clea’s family life forgotten, this episode managed to take the focus away from anyone’s family in particular, despite the appearance of Martin’s sister-in-law, and instead turn to an investigation into Arthur’s death and what he left behind for Martin to find. Martin definitely isn’t a strong poker player, calling out his hands and trying to be too conversational, and Logan’s signaling was extraordinarily obvious. Still, Martin managed to win on his dead man’s hand, and I liked the invocation of the Wild Bill Hickok story to explain its name and recurrence. It seems that he’s unlocked the keys to a mysterious and plentiful wealth of information with that key, and it’s unclear just what he’ll be able to piece together from it. The trip to the Australian outback was completely unnecessary, as the farm should have been left to its eventual owner in the first place rather than to a horse, and watching a mathematician try to mount a horse is hardly exciting. Natalie, on the other hand, was a great figure for the show to spotlight, gleefully working to unite two star-crossed lovers, only to find a romantic Italian man for herself in the process. It might have been hokey, but it was effective as a storyline. It’s good to see Catherine Dent from “The Shield” getting parts, and it sure seems like Jake’s aunt Abigail isn’t going anywhere, as she’s set on getting custody of Jake and isn’t against using her influence or money to take him away from Martin.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 1, Episode 20 “Matsya Nyaya” (B+)

This episode was doing double duty to inform about Reese’s character by chronicling his past and his present simultaneously, weaving together the show’s many threads as the show heads towards its season finale. Reese’s involvement in the armored security team with Lenny Venito of “The Sopranos” and “The Knights of Prosperity” and Pablo Schreiber of “Weeds” and “Lights Out” was a strong plotline, as Tommy’s duplicity caught Reese off guard and then people started double-crossing each other. Ashley didn’t survive much longer than Tommy did, and it was interesting to hear Reese sound so dismayed when he realized that Tommy was both the perpetrator and the victim. Fusco and Lynch arriving served well to bring everything together, and Fusco’s almost casual shooting of Lynch is sure to have larger implications, as he may manage to rise up the ranks of HR and become a shot caller, which will be helpful in taking down the organization. It’s good that Carter has made up her mind to side with Reese and Finch, and those two need to break the news to their two cop contacts that they’re both playing on the same side before one takes down the other. The flashback detailing Reese’s ghost town mission was rather eerie, and Stanton seems like a strong character. She definitely has a bone to pick with Snow, who won’t emerge unharmed from his current location, but I would imagine that she won’t be too happy to see Reese either how their last meeting ended.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 8, Episode 22 “Fundraiser” (C+)

This show doesn’t seem to have any sense of where it’s headed. Benching Andy only makes sense if he’s going to have some more productive purpose, and adopting multiple dogs at an auction is hardly the best use of his character. He also doesn’t even have a conflict with Nellie anymore, and instead it’s just with Robert, which is nothing new since they’ve always had a bit of a strained relationship. Dwight not knowing that the silent auction was for purchase rather than guessing the amounts didn’t track at all with his character, since he’s much brighter than Joey Tribbiani, who famously got a boat he couldn’t possibly afford out of a similar situation. Technically speaking, Dwight is the show’s most inconsistent character, appearing excessively dumb in scenarios in which he should be expertly intelligent. It’s hardly worth it just to make Kevin feel smart. This show also pulled an awful stunt just like this with the miserable installment “Scott’s Tots,” in which Michael failed to deliver on his promise to fund an entire class’ college educations. What this episode did present was the first genuinely funny usage of Nellie, in which she tried to woo Darryl and hoped that tacos didn’t have eyes. Fortunately, Darryl appreciated her painful consumption of a taco, since it meant that she was trying. The opening scene with Ryan’s ridiculousness was amusing, and, as before, Oscar’s frantic desire to proclaim that the State Senator is gay proved entertaining as he kept getting mixed signals.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 19 “Live From Studio 6H” (B+)

I wasn’t too fond of this show last time it tried to pull off a live show, and I’m not big on the concept in general. Yet what’s most clear from this half-hour is that the cast is having fun, and there’s something to be said for that. This installment managed to send up the live show from last season in a major way by one-upping the cameo by Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Liz’s flashback self and inserting plenty of familiar friends and faces. Flashing back to invented old television shows with the cast playing the parts was quite hilarious, and I especially enjoyed seeing Jon Hamm opposite Tracy Morgan in the awful show that the producers decided to keep on the air despite the fact that there was no content. Amy Poehler as Liz’s younger self and Jimmy Fallon as Jack’s younger self were inspired choices, and I liked seeing Fred Armisen pop up there as well. Learning how everyone’s back stories were intertwined was terrific, and the best bit of flashback casting had to be Donald Glover from “Community” as Tracy, who managed to elicit quite the shocked applause as he danced his way to being ridiculous on television. Kenneth uniting everyone to save live television was a good way to incorporate the quirky, passionate character and to structure the episode. I enjoyed Nazi Doctor Leo Specimen’s past and present commercials. Who could disparage this episode, however, after hearing Tina Fey give a shout-out to her good friend Amy Poehler’s “Parks & Recreation,” telling all her viewers to tune in at 9:30pm to watch this show. Now, that’s just awesome.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Take Three: Apartment 23

Apartment 23: Season 1, Episode 3 “Parent Trap” (B+)

In terms of making Chloe out to be the biggest sociopath that ever lived, this show is doing an excellent job, as she managed to adopt a child by pretending that June was her lesbian lover and then enslaving her as her secretary so that she can spend the three days of the year that she works as productively as possible. It helps that June so easily bought the story of a journalist coming to profile their apartment, but Chloe took it to a whole new level of abuse by having Molly do all of her work while a distracted June found herself in a similar situation. Being hired as a 24/7 unpaid intern is truly unfortunate, but Joyce seemed happy with June initially, before finding out that she had unwittingly adopted a child. Chloe’s job sounds pretty damn cool, knowing just enough of a number of languages so that she can entertain diplomats while they’re in town at the UN. Her identification of a crab during her flag test was quite amusing. The plot revolving around June’s kleptomaniac coworker at the coffee shop isn’t all that exciting, but it’s fun to see June stretched so thin. I enjoyed Kiernan Shipka’s appearance as herself, and it’s clear that, after a “Funny or Die” skit from last year, the young actress is capable of making fun of herself and referencing the extremely mature role that she plays on AMC’s highly-acclaimed “Mad Men.” Her cameo also proved to be a strong use of the otherwise unconnected James Van Der Beek.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pilot Review: The L.A. Complex

The L.A. Complex
Premiered April 24 at 9pm

This is just what network television needs right now: another show about trying to make it in Hollywood. Interestingly, this show actually comes from Canada, where it premiered this past January, so perhaps it’s not as familiar a concept there, and might have seemed worthwhile as an original idea. Predictably, it’s a cookie-cutter clone of so many shows before it, featuring expected characters and stale plotlines. The line “You gotta choose: it’s me or Los Angeles” is heard in the show’s opening moments, and the dialogue goes downhill from there. The show’s title has a double meaning, referring to the state of being in Los Angeles and to the physical dwellings in which its characters reside. At best, it’s an unfortunate imitation of last year’s reboot of “Melrose Place” aired by the CW, but it doesn’t look nearly as good or polished. That said, it’s just as outlandish, and it’s hard to decide which character is the most lamentable. I think that dishonor goes to Raquel, the well-known movie star who can’t get a gig because producers want her reading for the part of the mom or tell her that they’re looking for an African-American actress, and still pretends that she’s getting the big parts, even though her neighbors see her sitting by the pool all day. The reason she’s so tragic is that she’s played by Jewel Staite, onetime star of the classic “Firefly,” and who really shouldn’t be stooping to this level to be on television. She deserves so much better. Aside from her, most of the cast has a Canada-heavy resume, with Cassie Steele from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” assuming what appears to be the lead role. This series is just the kind of thing that the CW would put out had it made it itself, and it’s exactly the reason that this network is hurtling towards non-existence.

How will it work as a series? There are a handful of characters, all in similar situations in which they have to work hopelessly hard to attain the bare minimum in terms of breaking into their show business, and so this should play out like so many before it. It’s not likely to run dry of plotlines, but it’s also likely to cover extremely familiar ground.
How long will it last? The show has already been renewed for a second season in Canada, but something tells me that this may not make it through its six-episode order here in the United States. Vulture touts it as the lowest-rated network drama premiere ever, bringing in under a quarter of the viewers that watched “Ringer” when it started in the time slot back in the fall. The CW has little to replace it with, so I don’t see them yanking it, but it’s not going to make it past episode six.

Pilot grade: F

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 1, Episode 22 “Tomatoes” (B+)

It’s strange to see everyone except for Nick in a relationship at the start of the episode, though more than one of those pairings had a tough time throughout the course of the half hour. Nick’s desire to plan tomatoes and put up a scarecrow rather than date women was entertaining, and his frustration with Winston’s nonstop references to his perfect relationship with Shelby was understandable. Nick and Winston do make a great miserable pair, and their recollections of past misadventures were amusing. Calling Caroline was definitely not the way for Nick to handle his misery, and I enjoyed how Jess and Nick started shaking their rear ends at each other as a way of competing for who was right. Jess trying to be mean and rough with Russell didn’t work out too well, and Russell and Uli sure went at each other when they were put at the same dinner table. I didn’t expect that a disagreement over passion would lead to their demise, but it had to happen somehow. Cece’s dismissal of Schmidt following her pregnancy scare led to his unfortunate pairing with Nadia, who did not treat him gently at all, putting him in the hospital with a broken penis. Winston’s efforts to excite him were hilarious, particularly because they were, predictably, odd things. The funniest monologue, however, was Nadia’s, as she described the many things about America that she loved, especially Mick Mouse. I’m so glad that Cece confessed to Schmidt that she likes him, expressing her continued horror at that fact.

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 3, Episode 17 “Dance with Somebody” (C)

I’m all for tributes to Whitney Houston, though I’ve never been too knowledgeable about her music, but this show really needs to improve its plot if it’s going to aim so high with the music. The notion that Whitney’s death was like Princess Diana’s death for these kids is an intriguing one, though I’m not sure the comparison stands for the greater populace. Everyone’s definitely starting to feel like the end is near, and it’s hard to imagine what the show’s going to look like if characters start going in and out a revolving door. Joe talking to Sam about Quinn is the ultimate example of the show going through so many changes, as Sam was an import who stopped by as a recurring guest star long after the show had already established itself. The moral that Christianity is outdated and has to be modified to accommodate modern temptations is a strange one to include alongside Quinn and her struggle to deal with handicapped life. Kurt’s painfully obvious flirtation with a cute guy was inexcusable, and his treatment of Blaine was harsh. Of course, just like Burt, Blaine was only being distant because he doesn’t want Kurt to leave, and though he’s become less central this season, his absence is going to be felt once he does (not necessarily inevitably) depart. Will trying to move up his wedding so that the glee club members can attend is inappropriate, and something tells me that this crew would manage to make it back to Ohio to attend their mentor’s big day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I’m Watching: Smash

Smash: Season 1, Episode 12 “Publicity” (C-)

This show is starting to seriously slip, and it’s unlikely that it will be able to recover once Rebecca Duvall inevitably finds herself fired from the project. She’s proving to be increasingly despicable, and primping Karen as the next big thing was rather obnoxious as well. The trip to the Indian restaurant resulted in the show’s most peculiar and non-diegetic move yet, which featured Dev twirling around and singing with everyone else dressed in traditional Indian garb. I think the show would be better off sticking to reality, where it won’t embarrass itself with overdone, unnecessary scenes. Tom’s excessive emotion about Leo’s disappearance was irritating, and everything to do with Julia, Frank, and Leo is irksome, mostly because Leo is a terrible character who’s almost more worthless than Ellis. Julia’s intimidation of Leo’s friend was unfortunately laughable, and it’s yet another instance of why personal lives should be kept private on this show. Nick was quite uncultured at the gallery, but he does deserve credit for not letting Jerry get to him, and for whisking Eileen away from the miserable party. Though she’s not bright, Karen didn’t deserve what Ivy and Ellis did to her, and, while I suspect that the show wouldn’t let her go that easily, she’s going to suffer the consequences for adhering to the texted instructions to go home. Derek has plenty more rage to get out of his system, and Rebecca’s inability to sing is likely going to bring about her downfall, especially considering how powerful Ivy’s rendition was to Eileen and everyone else.

Round Two: Girls

Girls: Season 1, Episode 2 “Vagina Panic” (B+)

It’s always refreshing when a second installment is just as good as, if not better than, the first. This episode opened with yet another disturbing but entrancing instance of Hannah’s gross sex with Adam, which can only be described as odd and exploratory, explaining just who Hannah is and how little control she has of her own life. Her ensuing obsession with the fact that she might have an STD even though she always uses condoms was entertaining, and it got weird but quite amusing when she started saying that AIDS would be a great excuse to be mad at a guy and not to have to get a job. She was doing so well on her interview and it seemed impossible that she wouldn’t get the job, but then she had to go ahead and make a joke about date rape, something which has to be considered a universal faux pas. Charlie’s efforts to be more of a jerk to interest Marnie were entertaining, and it seems like she’s completely bored of him, and her mind won’t easily be changed. Jessa’s bar encounter was rather intense, and her aggressiveness appears to have paid off, as her scheduled abortion proved unnecessary. Marnie’s frustration with Jessa not showing up for the abortion revealed a lot about her but also enabled a fantastic encounter with the excessively chatty Shoshanna, who got serious for a moment to reveal that she had never had sex, a fact that was not assuaged by Marnie’s assertion that it’s overrated.

Pilot Review: Veep

Veep (HBO)
Premiered April 22 at 10pm

It’s no surprise that HBO’s newest series feels a whole lot like the biting 2009 political satire “In the Loop.” I had no idea that Armando Iannucci, the writer and director of the aforementioned film, was also the creator of this show, but it made perfect sense when the credits rolled. The show may not feature Peter Capaldi’s foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, but it does star Anna Chlumsky, originally known for “My Girl,” in a similar role as the one she played in the film, and an equally entertaining cast of characters. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is terrific as the sarcastic, impatient Vice President, but, like many shows of this nature, it’s her staff that really makes the show work. Chlumsky is fantastic, echoing Selina’s sentiments with the same measure of meanness and lack of concern for the feelings of others. Tony Hale is highly amusing as the eternally-mocked and tormented lapdog, but he’s not even the most reviled, as the President’s errand boy Jonah, who gets continually lambasted for his stupidity whenever he visits. He didn’t exactly help himself by being amazingly creepy when he prepared to take Amy out for a date. Matt Walsh is also great in his role as Selina’s communications director, and it’s fun to see Reid Scott, who last appeared as Cathy’s nice guy doctor on “The Big C,” take on the role of shark Dan Egan, who’s sure to make Amy’s life a living hell in episodes to come after throwing his old boss under the bus to get himself a new job. This pilot shows a serious funny bone, utilizing the instances of Selina being politically incorrect about corn starch utensils and the incorrect signing of the card to create comedy gold. Mike guessing random bad things that might happen to distract the public is a sign of the show’s dark side, and I’m extremely excited to see more of this new series.

How will it work as a series?In the Loop” was based on a successful TV series, so there’s no reason that this show couldn’t work just as well. Centering itself on an unusually spotlighted office provides an opportunity for infinite hilarious plotlines with rich characters to have their stupidity highlighted in the most intelligent of ways. This show’s going to be a hit.
How long will it last? The ratings were good for the pilot, but that’s largely irrelevant. This is the kind of comedy that HBO wants to be appearing, and Louis-Dreyfus, who carried the extremely unfunny “The New Adventures of Old Christine” on CBS for five years, is going to have another comeback with this show, something that the network will surely want to endorse with a renewal sometime soon.

Pilot grade: B+

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 5, Episode 6 “Far Away Places” (A-)

This episode felt like a dream, and mainly a bad dream given that no one really ended up happy after the events that transpired. Starting with a focus on Peggy was nice since we rarely get to see her outside the office, and she’s always magnificently interesting when her personal life is spotlighted. Fighting with her boyfriend about how she’s too obsessed with work wasn’t much of a surprise, but her activities at the movies with her new male friend were quite shocking. The fact that Michael revealed that he was told that he was born in a concentration camp really seemed to disturb her, and it’s intriguing to see the show explore that. Roger taking LSD and deciding that he’d get a divorce while he was high was rather extreme, and it’s clear that he so wanted to go up to Howard Johnson’s with Don without their wives. Don’s trip with Megan wasn’t terribly fruitful, at least not in a positive way, as he forced her to try orange sherbet and set different expectations for her than for him. What’s so fantastic is that she talks back, and even took a bus home to the city while he drove around looking for her. The next day, everything seemed fine with them, though the usually absent Cooper chastised Don for leaving Peggy in charge and allowing her to screw up an account because she couldn’t take the abuse from the client. The intersecting chronology of the episode worked well, allowing for three vacations of very different kinds from the office.

What I’m Watching: The Big C

The Big C: Season 3, Episode 3 “Bundle of Joy” (B+)

Sometimes a trip out of town is just what you need to get yourself centered. Cathy’s experience with Joy wasn’t what she expected at all, and Susan Sarandon was the latest big-name performer to stop by the show to play a wacky character with a whole lot of spirit. It was fun to see how quickly Paul took to her when she complimented his blog, whereas Cathy was not pleased at all with having to carry around rocks and blame herself for her cancer. Adam, once again, is falling head over hells for a girl, and getting somewhat interestingly involved in religion as his Valentine’s Day experience with the rock concert slash church session seems to have moved him, though it also filled him with some rather impure thoughts. It’s fun to see the show’s most eccentric, disconnected characters, Sean and Andrea, better known now as Ababu, bond on Valentine’s Day with an entirely platonic date at a garlic restaurant in which the theft of a dessert resulted in a joking proposal. I’m glad that the kiss was made completely unromantic by Sean burping in Andrea’s mouth during it. Sean is doing well with his phone sex operation, which clearly horrified Cathy when she came over to find him in the middle of a call. Andrea hasn’t yet found her own place either in school or in life, though spending some quality time with Sean means that she can start forgetting about Mick and start moving on with her life.

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 2, Episode 5 “Ghosts of the Past” (B)

Things just don’t get any less miserable for anyone on this show. There was no sign of Jack in the hour, as, like Holder’s Little Man before him, he only existed over the phone, as Sarah called to check in on him while he was sick. The reappearance of her ex-husband definitely wasn’t something about which she was excited, and she doesn’t need any more stress in her life. She had a great retort to Holder’s continued offers of cigarettes: “smoking isn’t how I define living.” Her new lieutenant is making her job difficult, though she managed to elicit the information she needed from Alexi when he showed up in the back of Holder’s car. The revelation that Stan isn’t Rosie’s real father is huge news considering he seems so attached to her, and I suspect that, if he didn’t already know that, finding out is going to push him over the edge. Pursuing a relationship with Terry isn’t smart, but it’s hard to judge someone’s response after they find out that they may be going to jail for three to five years. Mitch isn’t doing much better, befriending a troubled young girl as some attempt at reconnecting with her dead daughter. Darren wetting himself during a pleasant conversation with a woman outside the hospital was not a high point, but it appears that he has just been reenergized by Jamie’s information about the fact that Mayor Adams was involved in framing him for his complicity in Rosie’s murder, something that he’s not going to take lying down, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 21 “The Penalty Box” (B+)

It’s hard to believe that this show’s season finale airs next week, but this season has been full of developments, and this episode was too. Involving David Paymer’s Judge Cuesta in a major way was extremely interesting, and he had plenty to say about the ethics of defense and throwing others under the bus. Stephen Root’s Judge Wicks was, in the style of this show, a funky, unconventional lawman with a peculiar and entertaining way of doing things. Howard’s participation in business meetings is quite hilarious, interrupting only to ask who the candidate would take with him or her to a desert island. The fact that Eli tried to manipulate him only to get caught in a miserable situation was funny as well. Diane interviewing Callie was unexpected, and it sure caught Will off guard as he had to disclose his relationship with her to Diane and once again found himself chastised for his sexual indiscretion. Callie turning down the job and beginning a seemingly serious relationship with Will means that Cary can come back to Lockhart Gardner, which is convenient since Eli’s tattling led to Peter getting upset about loyalty and letting him go. It’s great to see just how far Alicia and Cary have come since being adversaries, and Alicia seems ready to welcome back Kalinda as a friend too, which is nice, even if Kalinda and Cary aren’t quite in a good place just yet. Kalinda paying a visit to Lana Delaney was full of sexual tension, and their strained relationship is sure to cause more problems in the future.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4 “Garden of Bones” (B+)

Anytime someone makes a joke about danger, death can’t be far behind. Unfortunately, what’s coming is hardly funny, as the army of wolves rips the city apart, and those left alive don’t fare much better. Torture by rat and fire isn’t pleasant, and it’s even more of a shame when a confession doesn’t even save you. Fortunately, Arya was in the right place at the right time and, having been recognized as a girl, will now serve as a cupbearer, which is sure to get her closer to home again. It’s interesting to see two camps of alleged heirs to the throne meet, and even the more peaceful of them can’t get along. It’s entertaining to hear them talk about how similar their banners are. Daenerys managed quite a show of power with the Thirteen, though her threats almost led directly to the exile of her people in the desert so that they would no longer pose a danger to the city. Robb’s interaction with the mysterious woman was intriguing, and it’s good to see him humanized on occasion since his reputation is featured more than the character himself. Joffrey is proving himself to be more horrible than ever, pointing a crossbow at Sensa and then ordering her beaten to pay for Robb’s attack, and then having a prostitute beaten senseless after Tyrion stepped in to save Sensa. Tyrion is walking a fine line with Joffrey, educating him in front of his servants, but he’s also being smart and sensible by sending Ned’s body back to his wife for burial. That ending was entirely disturbing, and ranks as one of the most frightening onscreen births I’ve ever seen.

What I’m Watching: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 19 “The Return” (C+)

Well, Katherine’s back, and it doesn’t mean all that much, since Regina barely appeared in the whole hour and didn’t exercise her supreme evil until the last few moments when she threw Sidney under the bus to save herself. I’m continually saddened to see Giancarlo Esposito wasted in such a pathetic, manipulated role, and Sidney is a rather miserable character. All that his false confession has done is inspire Emma to rail against Regina and proclaim that she’s planning to take her down and take back her son, something that should make the next three episodes relatively exciting. David and Mary Margaret’s romance has been drawn out for a while, and isn’t likely to be resolved until all the stars align. Perhaps peculiarly, Katherine doesn’t seem to mind one bit that everyone thought she was dead, and in fact is starting to resemble her fairy tale counterpart in terms of her friendship feelings for David, almost supporting his other relationship. August took center stage in this hour, as he was only the latest adult to corrupt Henry and make him complicit in an illegal search, and for a while there, it really seemed like he was in fact Mr. Gold’s son, or rather Rumplestiltskin’s boy, escaped from the fairy tale world to hunt down his magic-obsessed father. Instead, it appears that he is merely an impostor, which means two things: that’s he dangerous and somehow knows about the fairy tale world, and that Rumplestiltskin’s son is likely still out there, furious at his father for refusing to give up his magic to be with him.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Take Three: Magic City

Magic City: Season 1, Episode 3 “Castles Made of Sand” (C)

It seems a bit early in this show’s life to be bringing in past lovers, not to mention two of them at a time. Ike’s business relationship with his sister-in-law is entirely awkward and full of sexual tension, but it’s not as bad as Cliff, who isn’t anywhere near subtle in the way he speaks about the fact that he considers Vera the one that got away, going so far as to offer her a job away from Miami Beach. Vera leaving Ike wouldn’t be nearly as deadly for her as it will be for Lily once her husband finds out just what she’s been up to with her lover on the side. Ike’s most interesting interaction with another woman wasn’t actually with Meg but instead with Mike Strauss’ widow, who showed up to ask him to stop sending money to her every week. She managed to get a job as a pastry chef in his kitchen rather easily, and she even seemed to buy the fact that he had nothing to do with Mike’s death, something we know to be patently untrue. Ike’s efforts to get gambling legalized weren’t terribly productive, but politicians should be careful about how they behave in public, lest they make themselves prime targets for blackmail, though the most resilient can manage to survive even that. In its third outing, this show continues to be rather shallow and vapid, presuming its characters, events, mysteries and plot developments to be far more intriguing than they actually are.

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 2, Episode 19 “Wrath” (C)

Reviled as Percy and Amanda may be, neither of them have racked up quite as many mortal enemies as Nikita. There were two crucial differences in this case: Brant wasn’t going to be swayed by Nikita to become just the latest member of her ragtag band, and she didn’t want, purporting to have not regretted the mission in which she put him in jail. The torture rack was a bit excessive, and its only real usefulness was when Nikita swung it upside down to get the best of Brant, as she predictably would do. She sure was mad at Michael for giving himself up, especially since it wasn’t even to save her and merely made a bad situation infinitely worse. Their relationship is extremely complicated, and I’m not sure how well Michael’s plan to teach her to love herself is going to go. Getting relationship advice from Birkohff and Alex isn’t the best idea either, considering their romantic track records. Percy’s hunt for plutonium felt cartoonish, and he’s much better at undermining his enemies and manipulating his allies than plotting mass destruction. For the umpteenth time, the episode ended with Nikita telling Percy that she’s coming for him after he offers to back down and let them each go their separate ways. That’s nothing new, though Percy telling Nikita that she has evil in her hasn’t been explicitly uttered before. The random casualty of the week is Madeline, who had to go so that a one-episode guest star could get Nikita’s attention.

What I’m Watching: The Finder

The Finder: Season 1, Episode 10 “The Conversation” (B+)

Walter’s one wacky guy, to be sure, signing on only to find a conversation rather than to find a missing man. Of course, he appears to have a heart, seeing out the case because it means something to Leo, though a well-timed explosion that could have made it more interesting for him as well. We learn more about Leo’s daughter Ellie in this hour, that she died at age twelve of an e coli outbreak that could have been prevented but was not due to corporate greed. It also explains Michael Clarke Duncan’s massive weight loss by saying that Leo went on a huge health kick after the death of his wife and daughter. Leo having Timo read his future means that he’s seriously struggling, but the successful location of the honest, whistle-blowing father and his subsequent threatening of the CEO will likely put him back on track. Willa had a fun part in this hour, using her facial recognition and lip-reading abilities to assemble the entire conversation, with the help of a whole lot of coffee. Her accents were particularly amusing, and her getting slapped was another entertaining moment that even made her smile. Agent McHottie was a great part of the episode, flirting with Walter and then revealing herself to be an agent not of the law but of the company, looking to hurt Carlos instead of help him. Walter made excellent use of his hula hoop tennis ball fence-cutting device to electrocute him and allow him to get out of yet another slippery situation.

Take Three: Scandal

Scandal: Season 1, Episode 3 “Hell Hath No Fury” (C+)

After two weeks of introducing a bevy of characters and not delving too deep into any of them, this show makes a conscious choice in this hour to abandon some of its more mentioned players – namely Stephen and Abby – for the moment, at least, and to return to fresh face Quinn as the newbie in the operation. I enjoyed that Guillermo Diaz got a chance to show some personality as Huck, helping Quinn to unwind her reporter friend since she clearly had no clue how to do it. Olivia is smart to help him by giving him something from her other case, since now he’ll be loyal to her and won’t be tempted to get revenge on her, as I’m sure many of her previous enemies have. Michael Cassidy, best known as Zack from “The O.C.,” was rather smoothly seedy as the rapist innocent of one charge but guilty of another, and it was quite interesting to see Olivia encourage his mother not to let him slide as she had done so many times in the past. I recognized Curtis Armstrong, who plays despicable attorney Peter Goldman on “The Closer,” as the similarly eccentric defense lawyer unhappy with the opposition’s demands. The president continues to play an extremely active role on this show, and he’s done well to alienate everyone in his life, as Cyrus is now lying to him and his own wife appears to be fully aware of one of his indiscretions. Amanda’s big bombshell – she’s pregnant! – doesn’t answer the question of who she was talking to on the phone, or who is trying to blackmail the president. This certainly has become quite the scandal.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I’m Watching: Awake

Awake: Season 1, Episode 8 “Nightswimming” (B)

Here what we have is an episode that’s almost entirely devoid of any connections between Michael’s two universes, and perhaps more significantly, one in which neither of his shrinks appear. The one exception to the first rule was when Ayelet Zurer’s hysterical wife shouted at him that he couldn’t imagine what it feels like to leave everything behind, which was followed up immediately by Michael awakening in his other life to find Hannah packing up and throwing away most of his life in their garage. Michael’s relationship with his C.I. Jake was most telling in terms of what’s holding him back, the notion that he’s just so willing and ready to move on and leave his old life behind. To him, of course, it hasn’t been easy, and we’ll have to see what ends up happening in terms of his being tethered to his location due to his dual existence. Running around naked at the beginning of the episode proved merely to be the amusing epilogue to a rare bit of levity, in which Michael and Hannah went skinny-dipping in the pool, only to trip an alarm and get themselves discovered by the law. Neither case of the week was exceptionally strong, as the C.I.’s purposely bad information obviously went nowhere, and preparing for witness protection proved intense but ultimately anticlimactic since neither the husband nor the wife was terribly compelling as a character. Michael’s a good cop, but, to an extent, he’s only as good as the case he’s assigned in each of his universes.

What I’m Watching: Parks & Recreation

Parks & Recreation: Season 4, Episode 19 “Live Ammo” (B+)

Having this show off the air for more than a month is terrible, and within moments of its return, it’s clear that this remains the best comedy currently on television. Leslie’s desperate desire to find money in the budget elsewhere so that her own department won’t have to get cut is nothing new, but it’s still fun to see her continue to fight back as both Bradley Whitford’s Councilman Pillner and Kathryn Hahn’s Jennifer Barkley derailed her latest step in the plan. Leslie didn’t react well to being called a dog killer, and adopting almost three dozen pets was a rather rash decision. Leslie managed a slam dunk when she gave Jennifer the fantastic idea to have Bobby help out with the budget, telling her that she’s going to kick his ass in the debate and then having the waitress give her the check. I liked that April actually got passionate about the project, only to be disgusted by the lack of success of her adoption drive. It was sweet that Tom gave over to comfort her with a photo of the one adoptive child as well as one of himself, which somehow got in there. Ron and Chris’ interactions were perhaps the best part of this episode, as Chris was most impressed by Ron’s willingness to be flexible and play along. Ron cheering Chris up with whiskey and a pep talk when Chris found out his own job was in jeopardy was terrific, and it’s great to see a rare serious moment between two excellent comedic characters.

What I’m Watching: Touch

Touch: Season 1, Episode 6 “Lost and Found” (C+)

This episode wasn’t as strong as the last few, namely because it shifted the focus away from Martin and Jake’s relationship but instead brought in Clea’s family life, which dominated the entire episode and led to a sparseness of guest characters, something I never expected to be saying. Martin was occupied entirely by Clea in this hour after making his delivery to the home of the missing boy, and for the umpteenth time, he had to say “This is going to sound crazy, but…” as he introduced himself to the next person in the interconnected web of everything that drives this show. With all this talk of numbers, all I was thinking about was “Lost,” and the very next moment, Will is sitting out in the middle of a field after his plane has crashed. That moment was almost entirely ignored as Will just casually strolled back into the office and then went wailing onto the construction site, acting like a crazy person and not really accomplishing much of anything. I suppose the near-death experience that the person that was originally slated to occupy his seat went through was a compelling reason for her change of heart about having a child, but those two plotlines were considerably less meaty than what this show has provided in weeks past. It’s not clear whether Arthur is in fact dead, but he’s definitely not headed down a good path if he’s still alive, even if he’s managed to find a kindred spirit in Jake.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 8, Episode 21 “Angry Andy” (C+)

 I’m not really sure what to make of this episode. Most of it was actually quite funny, but the fact that the office actually held a meeting on impotence and Robert asked everyone what their best erection was felt extremely unrealistic and unnecessary. Michael was no stranger to crossing boundaries to an egregious extent, but he was never guilty of something quite so explicitly public and vile. Everyone sharing how they’ve never been impotent was just awkward, and not in the good way for which this show is so famous. Nellie’s character in general is obnoxious and dominates the show too much, and I’m not sure what to make of Andy and Erin’s quitting since it’s unlikely they’ll start their very own Michael Scott Paper Company. Toby’s proclamation that HR has no power seems oddly timed given that he withstood so much hate from Michael and never gave up on his charge to keep the office running fairly. The supporting focus on Ryan and Kelly was, by contrast, enjoyable and unexpected, as Sendhil Ramamurthy’s pediatrician got Ryan acting jealous. Ryan is one of the show’s best characters, taken from a shy, disgruntled intern to the biggest jerk in the universe, adding a condition to every statement to ensure that he won’t trap himself in any remotely undesirable situation. It seems the one person he’s fooling is Kelly, who held out for so long but appeared to be making out with him at the end of his hapless and incomprehensible stint atop the horse.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 18 “Murphy Brown Lied to Us” (B+)

Jack’s never-ending quest to find productivity in his failing business led to a rather entertaining and biting satire of the American workforce in this episode, as the all-American team of engineers didn’t have a clue how to build a coach, and instead created something that forced its sitter into a stress position. Hiring Stacy Keach to do the commercials was a great idea, and he proved to be very funny. Jack setting Liz up with a guy so that she could meet his incredibly cool daughter was actually quite sweet, and her father lived up to the reputation set forth for him by his signature of “Sent from one of my four iPads.” Criss crashing Liz’s date wasn’t terribly impressive, but it’s not to think that they might be interested in starting a family together, though something tells me that the process won’t go smoothly at all. Jenna’s celebrity breakdown was rather extreme, highlighted by her running through a wall in the middle of an interview and it was fun to hear Tracy giving her advice on how to act crazy, though he actually proved to be the voice of reason, determining that she was in fact having a breakdown. The return of her ex-lovers, including Frank and a poisonous package sent by Mickey Rourke, was amusing, but none of them compares to Paul, who was secretly in the room the whole time, disguised as a nurse and tending to the love of his life, with whom he can hopefully restart his relationship peacefully and semi-normally.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Round Two: Apartment 23

Apartment 23: Season 1, Episode 2 “Daddy’s Girl” (B+)

I’ve decided to refer to this show by its shorter title, partially because I plan on writing about this show for the foreseeable future, given that its second episode was superior to its first and it’s pretty damn entertaining. Most remarkable about this installment is that it manages to one-up Chloe sleeping with June’s fiancé, and it’s worrisome only in that it’s going to be hard to sustain such dramatic and horrifying events on a weekly basis. It really seemed like Scott might actually be a nice guy, and June even got over the fact that he was Chloe’s dad. But the arrival of June’s wheelchair-bound mother, distraught that her husband might be cheating on her, drove home the fact that both Chloe and Scott really are awful people. Scott’s assertion that his wife didn’t like biking was met with appropriate horror by June, and, as daughters should, Chloe felt it necessary to push her father into the street so that he could get hit by a bike. James Van Der Beek is hovering elsewhere on his own plotline, trying to teach an acting class but not being taken seriously aside from his work on “Dawson’s Creek,” which is a very meta plotline since the show is doing the same thing, and I wonder how long that can last. I suspect that June will be dating plenty in the near future, considering how completely gaga, complete with hypnotic music, she went when she saw a baby coming out of the elevator.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 3, Episode 20 “The Last Walt” (B+)

After taking up all of Phil’s time in last week’s episode, it’s only fitting that Walt should dominate an episode in which he doesn’t even appear. Luke’s lack of a reaction to the death of his friend affected both Claire and Phil much more, as they dealt with the situation in extremely different ways. Claire’s inability to hide her smile when she delivered the bad news resulted in a hilarious scene with the Meals on Wheels woman and the UPS guy. Phil taking Alex with him to throw Walt’s dog tags into the ocean didn’t turn out so well when the bird flew away with them as soon as they got out of the car, but they did end up having quite a wild adventure as Phil drove fifty miles out of the way for the world’s best milkshake, only to find that the machine was broken. His excitement at delivering a baby was amusingly undercut by the arrival of actual doctors, and his over-feeding of Alex resulted in her expected vomiting. Casting Barry Corbin as Cameron’s father was a great choice, and it was entertaining to see Jay and Merle bicker over which of their sons is the wife and try to imitate their laughs. Oddly enough, the cleverest person in this installment was actually Haley, who casually told her mother that “her uncle” would be supervising the party she was throwing. Only on this show would the preteen prove a stricter chaperone than the adults. Gloria’s reaction was priceless, forcing him to go out and be a kid and break the rules.

What I’m Watching: Suburgatory

Suburgatory: Season 1, Episode 19 “Entering Eden” (B+)

Talk about a double entendre for a title for this fabulous episode. I didn’t even recognize Alicia Silverstone, who was last seen in a starring role on television in 2003’s “Miss Match,” as Eden, the woman that immediately attracted George’s attention at the organic farmer’s market. I didn’t connect the dots that George’s new gal was also Noah’s surrogate, and that reveal was handled quite well with an awkward realization at dinner and subsequent severing of ties between George and the girl that dubbed him George Foreman when she couldn’t remember his real last name at the hospital. I’m glad that she’ll be back as George pursues a relationship, but I suspect he’ll have a tough time keeping things from getting physical, and that’s sure to cause some friction between him and Noah. It’s fun to see a bit of Mr. Wolf’s relationship with Alan, and the disappearance of Yacolt paved the way for them to have an important conversation about how they display themselves a couple. Tessa teaming up with Dalia to go find him, complete with a slow-paced chase through a parking garage, was a great instance of them working together for a common good, namely Dallas’ happiness. Dallas continues to be a spectacular character, and hearing her introduce the joystick-controlled video surveillance system Steven installed to track shoe removal in the house was great. I guess Eden being in the picture negates the immediate possibility of George and Dallas happening, but she seems to be doing just fine on her own.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What I’m Watching: Ringer (Season Finale)

Ringer: Season 1, Episode 22 “I’m the Good Twin” (C)

It’s hard to believe that Bridget was able to come out with the truth so easily to Andrew and then to Juliet only moments later. It took her an unbelievable twenty-two episodes to get it out, mainly because of distractions like Katherine, who had to stick around until just last week. Conveniently, Macawi finally woke up and realized that Bridget was in New York, though he wasn’t smart enough to do a tiny bit of research and find out that she had a twin. Jimmy’s escape from prison and subsequent murder wasn’t necessary, and it felt rather forced to have the real Siobhan cleaning out the apartment at just the moment that Macawi broke in. Not seeing her face was the kind of thing that should have happened midway through the season, and it’s only due to the awesome Solomon that Bridget finally knows that Siobhan is alive. She earns some credit for heading right over to see Henry and tell him she knows about Siobhan. It’s unclear whether this show will get a second season, and this is a frustrating way to leave things. Andrew reacted poorly to the news about Bridget’s true identity, and so did Juliet, and maybe they wouldn’t factor into season two in the same way, or maybe not at all. Andrew finding out about the affair should have happened a while ago, and this finale was the ultimate counterexample to the show’s usual tendency to drag things out way too much, wasting twenty episodes and instead cramming everything into one hour. I’ve become somewhat invested in these characters, so I’d follow a second season, but the quality of this show’s writing and characters doesn’t exactly recommend one.

Season grade: C+
Season MVP: Sean Patrick Thomas as Solomon

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 1, Episode 21 “Kids” (B+)

Having a child around the apartment definitely isn’t a good idea considering all four of its inhabitants often have trouble controlling themselves. Nothing could have quite predicted the scene in which Ouli entered to find Sarah struggling to take off Jess’ highly inappropriate clothing, being helped by Nick as Schmidt and Cece celebrated the arrival of her period. Sarah’s immediate affection for Nick was entertaining, and, as usual, it was Jess’ reaction to the mess that really sold it and made it work. Nick dating a girl just out of high school who knew Sarah from the bus didn’t help matters at all, and it served instead to elevate Nick to the level of douchiness often inhabited by Schmidt. I like the rapport between Jess and Sarah – it’s hardly ideal in many ways, but Jess is able to give of herself and shape her student in a way that will prove influential, even if it doesn’t work out with Russell. Sarah’s discovery of her many bras was a particularly amusing scene. I enjoyed Schmidt’s parade of extremely Jewish names for his baby once he found out that Cece might be pregnant, and while I don’t think either the couple or the show is ready for that just yet, it’s something that could happen years down the road a la Ross and Rachel. Despite working for a horrible boss, Winston is proving himself an exemplary employee, acting as getaway driver for his boss and giving him inspirational pep talks that may worked too well.

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 3, Episode 16 “Saturday Night Glee-ver” (C+)

I suppose it’s a good a time as any to do disco. Starting with Blaine tapping his foot in class and walking out to just go nuts and dance has an appeal, since this show sometime stalls, and its musical numbers help rescue it from slumps. This episode, however, was all over the place, and while the theme was that no one knew what was ahead, it felt extremely discombobulated. Will’s selection of Finn, Mercedes, and Santana seemed somewhat random, as Emma doesn’t seem to be doing all that much as a guidance counselor since half the school has apparently forgotten to start thinking about their futures. Using the “Saturday Night Fever” suit to encourage enthusiasm was a decent ploy, and it’s good to see Sue working with Will to get them excited about what the students perceive as a long-since-trendy fad. Finn making his decision to go with Rachel was sweet, and I’m sure they’ll have plenty of bumps along the way to go. Brittany released Santana’s sex tape was a bit extreme and rather poorly-handled, but I suppose a cheerleading scholarship fixes everything (not quite). The introduction of the latest random new character brought in from “The Glee Project” was intriguing, the cross-dressing Unique, who so infuriated Jesse St. James during his performance but whose fellow team members didn’t seem to mind or even notice that he was garbed in women’s clothing. Characters from other schools can only be so involved in this show, but I suspect that Unique will return and play a bigger part soon.

What I’m Watching: Smash

Smash: Season 1, Episode 11 “The Movie Star” (C)

Just like it did in the show, the presence of a big movie star drove the tone and focus of the episode in a completely distracting way. Uma Thurman is an odd choice for the role of Rebecca Duvall, mainly because she hasn’t done roles quite like this in the past, and while her entrance at the end of the previous episode was rather fantastic, her presence here isn’t terribly positive. She’s causing unnecessary extra drama in a workshop that was already plagued by plenty of problems, and the fact that she can’t sing is a huge deal. Her many demands didn’t make her too popular with the crew, though realizing that she needs to hire a vocal coach earns her some points. It would seem that she’ll be sticking around for at least a little bit, and I think the show would be okay without her. Ivy and Karen aren’t wasting any time plotting their comebacks, and it’s refreshing to see Karen stand up to Ivy when she talked down to her about stealing the part. Ellis sure managed to alienate his contact quickly by not checking to ensure that his call had been transferred, and it’s good to see him get burned since he’s such an obnoxious jerk. Eileen sure isn’t giving up on her man, which shows maturity, and he didn’t give up on her without a fight, which was nice. The less said about Julia’s family life the better, but I will note that I had a strange meta moment watching Tom and Julia walk out of the Brill Building on 49th & Broadway not five minutes before I myself walked into it for a press screening.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What I’m Watching: 2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls: Season 1, Episode 21 “And the Messy Purse Smackdown” (B+)

It’s hard to be timely with television because of a show’s designated night and the disconnect between the filming date and the airdate, yet this show somehow pulled it off just right. While most viewers, this one included, hopefully filed their taxes a while ago, Monday night was in fact April 16th, the day before tax day. Giving Earl a spotlight was entertaining, and it’s nice to see him featured so prominently. Caroline’s expertise with financials made sense, as did Max having never filed her taxes before. In this case, Caroline and Max clashed almost more than ever before, as Caroline being organized and obsessive-compulsive offended Max’s lackadaisical laziness. It didn’t take long for them to end up standing side-by side knee-deep in garbage in a dumpster, and that’s what makes this show work. Ending the episode with everyone standing in line helping Max file her taxes was a blast, and the postal worker giving Max a stamp after she slid the envelope in right under her “Closed” sign was sweet. While Sofia is hardly my favorite character, it’s amusing to see her in over her head with a surprisingly romantic Oleg, purporting not to be charmed by him but acting in a manner quite contrary to that sentiment. This show is quickly nearing its hour-long season finale, and while it’s unlikely that it will provide any major closure or summation similar to what a drama series might, it will be interesting to see if the format of the second season is the same as this one, or if the girls embark on a new adventure.

Pilot Review: Girls

Girls (HBO)
Premiered April 15 at 10:30pm

HBO has always been a forward-thinking network, and while its dramas tend to be purposely grounded in the past, at least recently, its comedies are considerably more current. Its latest series is a far cry from a female version of “Entourage,” shirking themes of fame and promiscuity for a stark, realistic portrayal of the lives of several very different women bound by friendship. What the show has assembled, in addition to some extremely clever and witty writing, is a fabulous cast, led by its creator, Lena Dunham, whose hit indie film “Tiny Furniture” I never got the chance to see. Her character, Hannah, is purposefully unglamorous, and doesn’t exactly do a great job of defending her allegedly aimless life to her parents when they tell her that they’re cutting her off effective immediately. Her relationship with Adam defies explanation, and the height of awkwardness in their interactions is absolutely ridiculous in a very good way. Allison Williams is terrific as the Marnie, the most stable of the friends, and she seems like a strong anchor for the group. British import Jessa hasn’t yet been fully fleshed out, and I really look forward to seeing more of Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna after hearing her yammer on to her cousin about nothing in particular, even referencing HBO’s own “Sex and the City,” a particularly meta moment. Mamet is great in her recurring role as Peggy’s friend Joyce on “Mad Men,” and I look forward to seeing what she does here. The characters’ alliterative names are fantastic, and I really look forward to seeing this show and its characters evolve. It’s definitely a show of the moment that, smartly, isn’t trying too hard to become an instant classic.

How will it work as a series? This is all about the characters, but that’s always the case with HBO series, and even though this one has less of a hook than most, that’s a positive thing since there’s so much territory to explore and no bounds in which it must be confined. The first season is only ten episodes, and I’m sure the show will cover an immense amount of territory during that time.
How long will it last? Though the ratings weren’t terribly high, this show got mostly excellent reviews, and HBO is going in a new direction with its comedies after cancelling half its comedic slate. I suspect that it’s just the kind of arthouse series in which the network will want to invest, so I’d expect a second season, though the timing may be in line with HBO’s usual tendencies of not feeling too rushed.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: NYC 22

NYC 22 (CBS)
Premiered April 15 at 10pm

It wouldn’t be midseason without at least one police procedural premiering. I’m not sure who exactly thought that the primetime TV landscape needed even more cops, especially those without alleged psychic powers or particular hooks, but that’s exactly what CBS, a network known for producing successful procedurals, including two major franchises, has churned out on Sunday nights at 10pm, a time slot that neither of the rival networks, ABC or NBC, has been able to conquer. This may just be the recipe needed, and it’s certainly a familiar one. The rookies include a famous basketball player who could have made it, a woman with a better nose for plumbing than her sports star partner, an Arab-American, a considerably older recruit starting his second career, a woman whose brother was a criminal, and a man whose entire family was on the force. Not one of them stands out, though two recognizable faces are prominent among the rookies: Adam Goldberg, whose last cop drama, “The Unusuals,” failed rather quickly, and Leelee Sobieski, starring in her first television series since 1995’s “Charlie Grace.” Terry Kinney, also seen on “The Unusuals” but best known from “Oz,” grimaces appropriately as the always-driving, serious-faced cop put in charge of whipping the rookies into shape by demoralizing their egos. The immediate reaction of all the other cops to these new faces is met with predictable silliness and clichéd behavior from all of the rookies, and there are few surprises to be found in this hour. As tends to be the case with police dramas, there are a few exciting and enthralling moments, but they’re too sparse to make this show worth watching again when there’s much more creative fare to be found out there.

How will it work as a series? Procedurals depend upon episodic cases and criminals to drive their events rather than the characters, and having six rookie cops in the cast means that they can be spread thin or work all together, so the show shouldn’t have a problem mustering up material for as long as it’s deemed worthwhile of being on the airwaves. Plus, there’s always the opportunity to introduce new recruits.
How long will it last? The pilot did alright in the ratings, but CBS has different standards than most, so its least successful show might still be better in terms of viewership than anything else offered by any other network, and it still might not make it. “Blue Bloods” managed to hang on, but I’m not sure that this one will live to see another season, especially positioned where it is after “The Good Wife.”

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Eastbound & Down (Series Finale)

Eastbound & Down: Season 3, Episode 8 “Chapter 21” (B+)

It was hard to imagine how this show was going to end, yet somehow this conclusion summed everything up just perfectly. The opening scene with Seth Rogen was amusing, and his getting hit by a car was just what Kenny needs to get his shot in the major leagues. Storming into Andrea’s class proclaiming that it was something much more fantastic than a school shooting was bold, as always, and telling her that this was the breakup that really counted, highlighted by some biting revelations, was harsh but essentially just Kenny’s style. I was surprised that he seemed so eager to let Stevie go, relieving him of his duties as his assistant and giving him the right to name their child after him after confirming that Maria was in fact pregnant. Bringing Toby his pet hermit crab was a bittersweet goodbye, and it looked like Kenny really was leaving it all behind. Everyone cheering for Kenny in Texas was an unusual sight, and Kenny walking off the field because he couldn’t take it, unfortunately, wasn’t. Driving off a cliff and having his car explode was rather shocking, and the montage of everyone hearing the news, starting with a distraught Dustin, was appropriately moving. Leave it to Kenny to subvert death just to dye his hair blond and come back to April to start a family, having not processed the fact that he could just have had April and Toby come down to Texas to be with him while he played. It’s the perfect ending, and I’m so glad that this is where it’s all being left. This show truly was one-of-a-kind, and though season two got lost a bit in Mexico, this show never really lost its quality, and season three was a blast. I look forward to re-watching this show at some point – it’s been an unparalleled adventure.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Danny McBride
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Danny McBride

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 5, Episode 5 “Signal 30” (B+)

There’s nothing like a trip out of the city to allow boundaries to be stripped away and true identities to come out into the open. Don’s inability to resist Trudy’s invitation led to a very interesting dinner party at which Pete showed his excitement that Don actually came all the way out to Cos Cob to visit his home. Pete’s unsuccessful efforts to fix the faucet led to an extraordinarily dramatic scene where Don sprung into action to fix it, wowing everyone and even turning on Megan enough to stop the car mid-drive back to the city. Don’s hatred for the suburbs seemed matched by his drunken desire to “make a baby” with her, as he put it, and it’s wild to see him so affectionate over the person to whom he’s actually married. Pete seemed especially annoyed about his fidelity, clearly longing for much more than Trudy and unhappy that Don suddenly finds himself so restrained. Lane being taken off his own business was a shame, and that night out sponsored by Roger sure was crazy. Lane challenging Pete to a duel in the conference room was fantastic, and he clearly was the victor, leaving with his pride and even managing to get a smooch with Joan out of the whole thing, to which she reacted rather professionally and kindly. Ken’s secret life as a science fiction author came out of nowhere, and it was heartbreaking to hear Roger tell him that he already has a day job and a night job.

What I’m Watching: The Big C

The Big C: Season 3, Episode 2 “What’s Your Story?” (B+)

There is such a thing as being too honest, and both Jameson parents discovered that in this installment, as they managed to systematically ruin Adam’s life by airing their vices far too publicly. Paul blogging about Cathy’s affair and omitting his own was rather thoughtless, and Cathy insisting on Paul telling Adam that he too cheated was only fair. Admitting to her many indiscretions while drunk in his classroom, however, was a misstep that Cathy would have done well to have avoided. Flipping off the principal and then bumming a cigarette off a student on her way out indicates that she really just doesn’t care anymore, and her simulated life at the bar in which she’s a widow attending flight school is definitely not healthy. I do think that Sean’s in a much better place than usual, cleaning out the garbage in the school and getting to champion his beliefs via a peculiar platform. Setting up his voicemail system and taking down a sex caller’s credit card information, however, is considerably less mainstream, and that’s not likely to lead anywhere good. Andrea’s newfound African pride is proving to be interesting, and I enjoyed her lackluster efforts to start a Black Students Association, which turned out to be far more effective in detention when she managed to whip a few delinquents into shape than when she actually held a meeting. Adam’s interest in religion is intriguing too, and hopefully it’ll yield better relationship results than Parker Pokey’s disturbingly old child woman.

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 2, Episode 4 “Ogi Jun” (B+)

This was not a happy episode for anyone, and Seattle seems even rainier and drearier than ever. It’s good that Sarah and Holder seem to have gotten back on better terms with each other, even if the road towards them making up wasn’t terribly conventional. Sarah not wanting to hear Holder’s excuses was considerably less entertaining than Holder’s free-styling of “Dial 1-900-LINDEN” as he mocked her apparent affair with the lawman she brought him to meet. Their investigation isn’t leading anywhere positive, and it’s just getting glummer and viler by the day. Sarah getting a call that she might have to face a custody battle doesn’t help matters in the slightest, and it’s clear that her longing for a family life is already affecting how she’s able to do her job and maintain focus. Stan is spinning out of control, attacking his own allies as he realizes that there’s more going on than he knew, and getting more and more aggressive and impatient with his family members. Tommy locking his brother in the trunk of the car was particularly disturbing, but nothing quite compares to Stan confronting him at school and telling him that he should fight back rather than take it or run next time someone hits him. Darren was even more depressed as Mayor Adams came to tell him he’d support him in four years, and after a valiant attempt to get him some fresh air, Jamie got an undeservedly harsh scolding that’s sure to do irreparable damage to their relationship.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 20 “Pants on Fire” (B+)

It looks like Matthew Perry’s Mike Kresteva is going to become a bigger part of this show than just an unfriendly foreman of a blue ribbon panel. Launching an investigation into the state attorney’s office and fingering Alicia as a corrupt element determined to get him to back down on her husband so that he can convince Peter to stay out of the race didn’t work, namely since threatening someone almost always encourages them to do exactly what you told them not to do in the first place. Alicia’s frustration was just as palpable as Eli’s agony over her not listening to him, and Eli being forced to drop his ex-wife’s campaign to support Peter was rather harsh, evoking sympathy for a man who usually doesn’t muster up such endearing emotion. Alicia’s fury over Jackie’s actions took a backseat to her anger towards Mike, but her determination to stop her was matched by Peter’s stern conversation about butting out of his relationship with Alicia. Her stroke means complicates things, but seeing Alicia standing by Peter’s side once again means that they’ll likely return to being a strong political team, even if doesn’t mean the reconciliation of their relationship. Kalinda’s investigative abilities continue to be unrivaled, even by a disgruntled Cary, and I like that Alicia hired her to look into her mother-in-law as well. I’m a big fan of Julianne Nicholson, and I enjoyed her appearance as a lawyer who could well understand Will’s state of mind during his period of suspension.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3 “What Is Dead May Never Die” (B+)

With the continued introduction of more and more claimants to the throne, it’s interesting to see which regular characters are spotlighted as they plot their own ascensions to power. That final proclamation near the end of the episode, in response to the charge “In the name of the king!” couldn’t be more accurate: “Which king would that be?” Tyrion has always been this show’s best character, which is saying something when it comes to this talented and rich ensemble, and here he gets the opportunity to once again, as is alluded to by the mention of a “very small man that can cast a very large shadow.” Tyrion was hard at work undermining his sister in this episode, plotting carefully to uncover her informant by planting different information with different potential allies, and in the process, he didn’t manage to make any new friends, alienating the ever-unfortunate Petyr by damaging his credibility. Sensa isn’t having an easy time of things, having to stand by her murderous fiancé when she hears that he might next kill her brother, and it’s no wonder that she took out her anger on her incompetent new handmaiden, a secret of Tyrion’s sure to soon be uncovered by the endlessly manipulative and vindictive Cersei. If Tyrion is the show’s best character, then Arya is the coolest, and hopefully she’ll now find herself headed closer to getting revenge on Joffrey and helping the rightful heir to the throne reclaim the spot without getting herself killed or found out in the process.

Round Two: Magic City

Magic City: Season 1, Episode 2 “Feeding Frenzy” (C)

This show definitely isn’t as good as it looks, and I mean that in the most literal way possible. Its visuals are rather astounding, yet the quality of the acting, the dialogue, and the story don’t come anywhere close. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge this show in comparison to other currently-running period dramas, namely “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” because those two happen to be excellent series featuring particularly interesting eras and characters. Miami Beach just doesn’t have that same allure, in that the landscape is mesmerizing, but it’s a pretty picture devoid of much substance. The lengthy debate over how the “Bas Mitzvah” is going to play out is tiresome, and Ike’s family members aren’t terribly compelling characters, with the exception of his wife, who can’t possibly carry the show on her own, expressing interest in things that seem of no concern to anyone else. A grand effort is being made to establish Danny Huston’s mobster The Butcher as the evilest man in all of Florida, but shooting a dog because he’s on the phone and purporting to be able to sense infidelity aren’t exactly convincing villainous attributes. He seems much more like a cartoon than anything else, especially as he sits out on the water beckoning his minions to come join him in the middle of the night. The only truly interesting plot point is the beginning of the handling of Danny Evans as he ascends into the district attorney’s office, something that clearly and rightfully makes Ike extremely nervous.

What I’m Watching: The Finder

The Finder: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Last Meal” (B+)

This episode was cleverly constructed, starting with the client as he and his wife attempted to celebrate their anniversary with their favorite meal at their favorite restaurant but were interrupted by an unexpected closure and some scary shooting. Walter’s immediate excitement at taking on the assignment of finding a meal was fun, though his lack of consideration for Joe’s feelings and for hearing his story, a quality shared by Willa, wasn’t terribly kind. Walter asking Leo for a legal disclaimer before breaking in and then purposely ignoring it unsurprisingly led to Walter getting thrown in jail, and it’s entertaining to see him so casually accept his fate. He did a great job of connecting Willa’s parole officer to Isabel to solve multiple problems at once. Waving to Willa as she was being booked was, as usual, extremely goofy, but that’s always what seems to happen here. The dinner party at gunpoint was a blast, especially since Walter ruined Isabel’s attempt to call for help, though he does get credit for organizing the big meal in the first place. It turns out that Leo was the one who managed to save the day by drawing up a (questionably) legally-binding agreement that made all parties happy, managing to reestablish the restaurant and give the cook his old job back while, most importantly, sparing the lives of all present at the fateful meal. I liked the ending of the episode, showing Walter and Isabel discuss, in their own veiled manner, their relationship and just what they mean to each other.

Round Two: Scandal

Scandal: Season 1, Episode 2 “Dirty Little Secrets” (C+)

In its second week, this show isn’t proving to be any more accessible than it was in its first outing. The characters are proving rather impenetrable, and not one of them is becoming any more likeable than they were to start. Olivia doesn’t try to get anyone to like her, Stephen sleeps with prostitutes, Abby can’t get over the fact that Stephen sleeps with prostitutes, Huck is awfully gruff and unfriendly, and Quinn just seems plain incompetent. Quinn did impress by identifying the reporter sniffing around Amanda’s hospital room, but she managed to undo her productive work by immediately losing track of her charge and then standing visibly dumbfounded when she heard Olivia admit that she believed Amanda’s story. It seems that Olivia’s business is inseparable from the White House, and it would be nice if the smartest woman in Washington was a little subtler than openly holding hands with the president in the Oval Office. The president’s first Supreme Court nominee being on the madam’s list was quite convenient, though the reason for it turned out to be a major bombshell: his wife was actually a prostitute, and the judge never even knew! I’m not sure how likely it is that a man in such a high position of power could be so incredibly oblivious for such a long time. The high-minded discussion about past presidents with the current president standing on the presidential seal was more than a bit lofty, and I think this show could do well to take itself less seriously sometimes.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What I’m Watching: Awake

Awake: Season 1, Episode 7 “Ricky’s Tacos” (B)

I liked this episode because it barely featured Rex and only minimally focused on Hannah and her plans to repair the house so that they could put it on the market in preparation for their move to Oregon. This is monumental because the show actually had time to focus on its developments, featuring not one but two compelling cases and forging an extremely enticing and intriguing link between the two worlds, revealing in the process that Michael is actually close to uncovering some serious information. Michael hearing things at Ricky’s Tacos was interesting, and it’s hard to figure out just how to interpret that particular scene, yet what’s conveyed in that moment is crucial. The fact that there’s a hit out on Michael in one universe can’t be good, but it’s reassuring to know that Captain Harper at least cares enough to try to spare Michael’s life by telling those itching for his corpse that he’s leaving town. The case of the suicidal girl who approached multiple guys asking for sex took an unexpected and dark turn with the revelation that her father was the guilty party, and it was a treat to see Michael and Harper pull off the interrogation room trick together. The case of El Diablo also demonstrated Michael’s abilities, while enabling him the opportunity to give Vega some important policework advice. The “For Sale” sign going up on Michael’s lawn at the end of the episode is a big thing, and though I can’t imagine Michael will actually be able to leave town, I’m so intrigued to see how that would be handled.

What I’m Watching: Touch

Touch: Season 1, Episode 5 “Entanglement” (B)

This show is steadily improving as its main character, Martin, becomes more comfortable with the role that has been fatefully assigned to him as Jake’s father. I’m less interested, however, in Jake himself and the fact that Martin’s tasks don’t permit him to be there at the crucial moments for his son. I still wish that Gugu Mbatha-Raw would have a meatier part that isn’t simply serving as Jake’s babysitter, and I’m not sure why the mystery with her missing mother has been completely forgotten. Martin had an eventful day, managing to get his laptop stolen and then immediately sit next to a woman who rather unnecessarily held him at gunpoint, choosing to explain to him her entire story. Fortunately, the complex web of connections enabled all of the subtitles to be worthwhile, as the call from Saudi Arabia forced to bus to quickly stop, enabling Martin and the murderer to escape, leading to the girl being hit by a car, putting her in the hospital so that Martin could make the donor connection to her long-lost brother. The Montreal-based doctor turning out to be the rebellious Saudi girl’s fiancé was another cool twist, and it’s interesting to see this express such forward-thinking morals and messages. Arthur seems to be unraveling as he realizes that Jake truly is capable of seeing what he sees, yet no one seems to understand the importance of what he believes, and that’s likely going to be his undoing. I’m not sure what will happen with Jake geographically, but something tells me he won’t find himself separated from his father for long.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 8, Episode 20 “Welcome Party” (B+)

A month off from this show requires a reestablishment of the state of things, namely that Andy and Erin, now a couple, are still out of the office, meaning that Nellie is in fact in her bizarrely-attained role of manager. This episode wasn’t hilarious by any means, but it was a relatively solid, unusually focused hour for the way things have been lately on this show. The debate about Stanley’s mustache was amusing, and it’s a good way to get the show going again after we haven’t seen it for so long. Robert’s morning visit to the office, during which he pointed out that the 9-10am hour is the most potentially productive of the day, was actually quite reasonable, though his subsequent request that Dwight and Jim take the day to help Nellie move in was not. The preparation of the party found Pam in a typically uncomfortable place, as she struggled to reason with her cohorts but found herself outfoxed by the more committed trio of Oscar, Phyllis, and Angela. I liked how Jim stepped in to watch out for Nellie, ruining all of the magician’s setups and opposing the thinly-veiled Pam references. Nellie’s not nearly as likeable as Michael, but it’s good to see Jim stepping up to do the right thing and be a nice guy. Andy’s trip was predictably awkward, and I love that he and Erin came back just to make it worse by being completely honest about the fact that, contrary to public opinion, he’s not gay. Let’s see how it all plays out when he finally gets back to Scranton.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 17 “Meet the Woggels” (B+)

It’s nice that Elaine Stritch is available to stop by this show on an annual basis to make Jack’s life a living hell for a little bit. Having her show up in New York after heart surgery was a great way to kick-start the episode’s theme of Liz encouraging everyone to talk about their feelings. Colleen harking back to Jack crying and crying that one time in the hospital (his birth) was hilarious, and most of their interactions were extremely funny, as tends to be the case. Tracy’s desire for his son George Foreman not to go to college and instead to attend the School of Hard Knocks, a one-year vocational program which teaches how to knock on doors and sell magazine subscriptions, was so typical of him, and I liked their subsequent montage, in the absence of the stripper with the same name. Tracy’s immediate dismissal of his son despite college not starting for five months was also not too surprising. Jenna’s fervent need to Yoko a band didn’t play out nearly as perfectly as she had planned, mainly because she picked a subtly white supremacist Australian children’s band that sang ridiculous lyrics through the episode’s closing moments, and Paul appeared to have moved on by dressing like someone else. I expected to see Dean Cain during the course of the episode since his name was invoked twice in a rather derogatory manner. I love that Tracy and Jenna solve their problems together, so unproductive independently and oddly successful as a pair.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What I’m Watching: Psych (Season Finale)

Psych: Season 6, Episode 16 “Santabarbaratown” (B+)

This season ender had pretty much everything a serious fan would want in a finale: plenty of uncomfortable jokes from Woody, Gus high on sugar, Henry prominently featured, and one shocker of a cliffhanger. Rob Estes, who I remember best from the underrated ABC drama “Women’s Murder Club,” was a good potential villain who was most definitely a sleazeball but not so assuredly a killer. The connection to Henry’s past and his work as a cop was a great thing to feature, and despite the fact that he wasn’t aware that all three of his partners were on the take, Henry did do a pretty good job of being a cop in the present day. His readjusting of his pants may have embarrassed Shawn, but I’d argue that Shawn embarrasses his father more than the other way around. Max Gail’s appearance in the final moments meant immediate danger for Henry, as Shawn quickly realized thanks to the extra police work by McNab, and I do wonder whether Henry is going to survive, since that shot appeared to be indisputably point-blank. The show may not change that much with him gone, but it would certainly be a monumental and serious death. What I loved about the end of the episode, prior to that moment, was the discussion between Shawn and Juliet. After Shawn earlier told Gus that there’s no rush to get married, it’s wonderful to see Juliet ask Shawn to stay over for a couple days, and to see what it is that makes their relationship worthwhile. This season hasn’t been entirely consistent, and it’s been a bit intense with the references, like the “Chinatown” allusions in this hour. Even so, it’s still a delight, and I look forward to its return this fall.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Dule Hill as Gus