Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 5 “The Flood” (A-)

What a strong episode this was, using the historical reference point of Martin Luther King’s assassination to reveal some deep truths about its characters. The shift in tone was particularly notable in terms of Don’s attitude towards Peggy, which was at first a steely one, in contrast to Megan’s warm, friendly nature, and then turned into the offer of a ride home after Abe ran off to Harlem to cover the chaos. Don driving through Harlem after he forgot to pick the kids up was powerful, as was his trip to the movies with Bobby, who was awestruck by his experience. I love that Don’s first response to Betty not allowing Bobby to watch TV was to take him to the movies, and I was even more intrigued by his immediate reply to Bobby voicing his concern about Henry being shot, explaining that he wasn’t that important. Henry getting offered a seat in the state senate is good news, and it was heartwarming to see Betty express nothing other than support and joy. Ginsberg’s blind date actually went pretty well, and it’s nice to see a bit of his home life. Peggy not getting the apartment because the realtor low-balled was unfortunate, and I’m glad that Abe finally spoke up about his feelings about the lack of diversity on the Upper East Side. Pete not being welcomed back into Trudy’s life in a time of crisis was relatively devastating, and it’s no wonder he’s having screaming matches in the office with Harry. In an extremely moving episode, no moment was quite as impactful as hearing Don talk about faking being proud of your children, which does go to show that, mistresses aside, he must really love Megan if he’s willing to bare all and open up to her in such a vulnerable way.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife (Season Finale)

The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 22 “What’s In the Box?” (A-)

While I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely convinced of the authenticity of a candidate’s wife trying a case with the candidate’s son as a witness directly related to his ongoing election, I think it does track that Zack would be the one to notice and speak up about such a thing, and it made for a truly exciting and invigorating episode. Bringing in two of the show’s best guest stars, Emmy winner Martha Plimpton as Patti Nyholm and Denis O’Hare as Judge Abernathy, helped to make the whole affair even more entertaining. There were a handful of crucial developments in this hour, and I liked the renewed focus on Peter as his campaign took center stage, even without Matthew Perry’s Krusteva present. Jackie telling Peter to never interfere in her life was a shock, and it seemed like Alicia running off to meet Will when she was about to celebrate with Peter would be a bit cruel. It turned out to be a terrific fake-out, with Cary showing up at her door and Alicia dropping the huge news that she wants to leave the firm. It’s possible that it’s because it would make being with Will easier, but I think it’s much more than that. Though he alienated Kalinda, Cary has succeeded in putting together an impressive operation, and netting Colin Sweeney through no hard work of his own is a bonus. I’m so intrigued to see what next season will be like and to see this show transformed as friends are pitted against one another. There’s nothing like redefining a show completely several years into its run, and I’m eager to see what this show can do.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Julianna Margulies as Alicia

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 5 “Kissed by Fire” (A-)

This was a particularly strong and involving episode, with two standout scenes that involved unexpected connections being made between sworn enemies. The most startling was that of the Lannister children and their tyrannical father, who decided that not one but both of his least favorite children would have to marry people they didn’t want to out of convenience to his quest for the crown. That was the perfect punishment for Cersei’s smugness towards Tyrion, and it’s incredible to believe that these adults can take so much abuse both from their father and the younger generation, who has clearly inherited his grandfather’s sense of cruelty. Jamie detailing his past to Brienne in the pool was fascinating, and it’s great to see how he’s become a totally different character. Let’s hope it’s not all a lie, and that he and Brienne can team up soon to do some good for the realm. Robb’s show of power was unusually formidable, and I’m intrigued to see if his plan to attack the Lannisters from a different vantage point will work. Jon’s trip to the cave was intoxicating, and I wonder whether his allegiances will be swayed now that he’s developed what seem like real feelings for his captor (and she certainly has for him). Daenerys is making some truly excellent decisions with her new purchase, and I found the head officer’s reasoning about his slave name quite compelling. It’s about time that Arya is reunited with some of her family members, since she’s been making an impression wherever she goes thus far and could serve to truly influence things were she in the right place at the right time.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 1, Episode 5 “Conditions of Existence” (A-)

I found this show fascinating from the start, and things are picking up now in a way that’s intense and awesome. Not seeing Art or Helena was perfectly fine, since this episode really dug deep into our main characters and unearthed some huge problems in their everyday lives. Sarah and Alison becoming paranoid about their partners being spies planted to watch them definitely puts things on edge, and, based on what we’ve seen, they’re completely justified. I still feel like Cosima should be a guest character that we don’t see all the time because the actress portraying her isn’t a series regular, and hearing her describe the science experiment they were likely in was both extremely interesting and worrisome. It’s great that she made a new friend, but I suspect that she has equally sinister motives to Paul and Donnie. Sarah’s reunion with Keira was quite wonderful, and even her interaction with Mrs. S was decent. Vic running into Alison at the market following his unfortunate injury was bad, and the one-two punch of Sarah seeing Paul’s photos of her with Keira and Vic walking right in to the apartment was very well-executed. I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that problem, but Paul came straight to Sarah rather than her having to seek him out, and I like that his confrontation was focused on genuine concern for a clearly absent Beth. “They don’t tell us why” is a fantastic final line for this episode, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

What I’m Watching: Vegas

Vegas: Season 1, Episode 19 “Past Lives” (B-)

I enjoyed this episode somewhat because of the fatalistic nature of Harry’s situation, which prompted Jack to make what appeared to be the ultimate sacrifice for Mia, earning back the affection he had lost from her and cementing their status as the most complicated couple currently on this show. It was considerably more jarring to see Yvonne’s skin color brought up, since that’s something this show hasn’t dealt with at all up until this point, though I suppose that there is a requirement that Dixon’s plotlines be much more melodramatic than the rest of the show. A jailhouse wedding was peculiar, particularly because the usually stoic Ralph seemed so happy to be there. Getting the FBI cars towed was much more in character, and Burn had it coming for his aggressive approach to dealing with corruption. While the shooter won’t get away since Katherine saw her commit the act, the damage is done, and I think that Burn getting gunned down is going to serve to traumatize Katherine and make her think long and hard about how she wants to deal with the main threat in front of her, which is Vincent. He’s proven to be capable time and time again of dealing with internal problems, like Gainsley in this hour, and it’s always so interesting to see him interact with Ralph when he doesn’t have something sinister up his sleeve. If only this show could focus more on that dynamic and stay away from some of the less compelling material it’s dealt with recently.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 20 “Dead Man’s Switch” (B+)

This show has been on so sporadically lately that I had forgotten quite how I much enjoy it and the complex webs it manages to weave in determining just who the culprit really was. This case was particularly convoluted in nature but so completely organized due to the way that Sherlock went about solving it. His being present at an execution was unusual, and he seemed about as traumatized by it as one might expect, though he shared some rare insight into his psyche about a different part of his life as his one-year sober anniversary approached. I like how Alfredo was involved in this case, and I think his role on the show is terrific, since he’s the last person you’d expect to associate with Sherlock, yet they actually work pretty well together. Watson testing the boundaries of her new relationship with Sherlock was interesting, and I like that she inspired him to confess to the fact that he ordered chips online just to get a rise out of her. Sherlock speaking hypothetically to Gregson was a strong reminder of the friendship that they have, and a great indicator it may in fact be on its way to being fully repaired after Sherlock broke Gregson’s trust a while ago. This episode featured a handful of people who were rather despicable in nature, and I think it’s cases like this that get Sherlock to be serious and investigate belligerently, offering a certain promise of success that law enforcement officials usually try to avoid.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 5, Episode 21 “Swing Vote” (B+)

Leslie and Ron have competed before for the best interests of Pawnee, and it never ceases to be amusing to see them pitted against one another, fiercely fighting for what they believe in. Leslie’s battles are waged with energy and flair, while Ron’s are considerably more subtle and matter-of-fact. The scene with them sitting down to have a drink and talking about how they admire each other’s principles was terrific, and it’s one of the reasons this show is so great. Jamm’s continued appearances are also welcome, since he manages to be so unlikeable while actually becoming a gradually more bearable and believable human being, episode by episode. Tom asking Ann to break up with Mona Lisa for him was fantastic, and I loved all the stages of the process, particularly Tom offering Ann a blanket for her help, Ann getting roped into being her friend, and the suggestion of the threesome, with the different responses it produced from the parties present. I love that Andy was so upset about being kicked out of his band when he actually just didn’t get the calls about rehearsals and the performance, and his swan song was fairly decent. It’s true, he is quite good at coming up with band names. I like that Ben is once again spending a good portion of his time with Andy and April, and it’s good to see that this show is finding a proper way to incorporate Ben’s new job role into its storyline without it being too prominent.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 2, Episode 20 “In Extremis” (B+)

This show often feels very dated, particularly when it portrays happenings in the New York Police Department. When compared with other shows, its vision of the NYPD is relatively simplistic in one sense, while HR manages to pull plenty of strings so that the truly good cops who figure out what’s going on have no chance of staying alive long enough to rat out the ones who are pure evil. Tracing Fusco’s steps, as seen through flashbacks and interpreted by Carter, was effective, since it showed just how quickly and unintentionally he became a corrupt cop. I’ve always felt that everyone is too mean to him, and therefore it was reassuring to see that someone, especially someone who didn’t know whether to trust him, opted to help him out. Reese’s work in this hour felt awfully personal, and he was assisting a man who was already dead while he managed to keep breathing and get revenge on the man who wanted to take care of him so that he could continue to live more than comfortably. TV veteran Dennis Boutsikaris, who played Dr. Nelson, has appeared on a handful of series recently, including “Shameless” and “The Good Wife,” while “Warehouse 13” fans should have recognized Allison Scagliotti, who portrays the fiery Claudia on that show, as his rebellious daughter, Molly. It’s definitely concerning that the machine didn’t help Finch and Reese save Dr. Nelson and Beecher and Szymanski, and it’s infinitely more worrisome that it appears to have shut down all together, which is sure to make for a stressful final two episodes of the season.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 9, Episode 20 “Paper Airplane” (C-)

It certainly doesn’t feel like the finale is approaching anytime soon with episodes that waste time like this with a paper airplane competition and Andy’s horrific career, only moving forward developments with the show’s most prominent couples. Nellie forgetting to tell everyone that there was a cash prize wasn’t all that exciting, mainly because everyone was already competing fiercely, and the only real highlight of that storyline was Angela telling Dwight not to lose on purpose to take pity on her. Esther showing up to encourage Dwight and pity Angela was poorly-timed, and Angela’s response was formidable. Erin’s adoption history is something we’ve already heard about, and her couple status with Pete has barely been touched upon for a while now. Everything involving Andy’s acting job was embarrassing, and that’s the kind of thing I’ve never really liked about this show. It seems to me that Darryl and Jim have the best, most unlikely deals in the world, where they’re able to spend full days in Scranton doing nothing while at work and prioritize their Philly jobs if anything related to them comes up. At least Jim was sitting at his desk for most of the day, while Darryl just went on a field trip with Andy while he could have been busy appeasing clients in Philly. I’m still not taken in by the drama of Jim and Pam’s relationship and their excessive complimenting in this episode, since it’s clear that they’re going to make it in the end, and all this back and forth is pointless.

Pilot Review: Rectify

Rectify (Sundance Channel)
Premiered April 22 at 10pm

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show whose poster in the subway – conveniently plastered at the bottom of the escalator down to the 7 entrance at 42nd and 3rd, which I passed several times in the last week – that inspired me to tune into a network I hadn’t ever watched before. The ad suggested a “startling new series” from the producers of “Breaking Bad,” which to me implied something like “Banshee,” another new show on a network I hadn’t really watched before. The shows started out similarly, with a man long behind bars being released out into a changed world, but they diverge from there. Whereas the protagonist on Cinemax’s hit series assumes a new identity because no one knows him, everyone in the small town knows Daniel Holden and knows just why he was put away in the first place. In hour one, we didn’t hear all that much from Daniel, and it was therefore all the more effective to hear him recount his violent experiences in prison to his unsuspecting stepbrother in hour two. He’s an interesting lead character, and this show has an intriguing focus, spanning the breadth of the whole extended Holden family and well as those lawmakers who would like to see Daniel put back behind bars. Among the cast, the standout is certainly Abigail Spencer, who made an impression on “Mad Men” early in its run, as Daniel’s temperamental sister Amantha. I’m especially interested also that this show is created by Ray McKinnon, who recently starred on “Sons of Anarchy” and appeared in a feature film release today, “Mud.” I’m not sure I’m hooked just yet on this show, but I’m definitely enticed by its commitment to what strikes me as a somewhat unusual and different subject matter.

How will it work as a series? Daniel’s adjustment back into society is beginning slowly, and I think we’ll see more and more of that each episode. Ending the first installment with a smile and a suicide was effective, and the second finished in a less pleasant but equally objectively powerful way. As long as the show has a clear direction, I think it should be a worthwhile journey.
How long will it last? Sundance Channel has its own measurements of success, and this show is starting out with just a six-episode order. Whether or not the story can be wrapped up that quickly is yet to be determined, and I think that the channel will want to reward a show with good buzz and bring it back for another year. If not, it could be a one-shot miniseries.

Pilot grade: B

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What I’m Watching: Revolution

Revolution: Season 1, Episode 14 “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (D)

While this was still inarguably a poor episode, introducing yet another of Miles’ onetime devotees who now hates him, the storyline was definitely approaching somewhere positive. After being stranded in the miserable mess that is the Monroe Republic, our characters, particularly young, naïve Charlie, finally ventured out into the world. I enjoyed the “24” connection that exists between Billy Burke, who plays Miles, and Leslie Hope, who portrays the president of the Georgia Republic. While Burke’s character didn’t appear until season two and Hope’s appeared only in season one, I do think that’s the first role for both of them that I can actively remember. Hope does seem better suited to this part than she did to that of the irreconcilably irritating Teri Bauer, and I’m hopeful that she takes her fight right to the front lines. Alec wasn’t all that interesting since he didn’t have much of a personality, and I predicted Miles’ exact response to a befuddled Charlie, revealing that he was the one who trained him how to be ruthless. Monroe being present and shouting into the microphone when Alec wasn’t responding was a bit over-the-top, and would like to think that he has a more foolproof strategy for his next attack. This is not the first time that a cinematic cure for cancer has turned out to have adverse affects, and I do wonder just how simple it will be for Rachel to get the power back up and running by negating that positive effect of it being turned off.

Round Two: Defiance

Defiance: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Devil in the Dark” (B-)

This episode didn’t exactly thrill me any more than the first double-decker installment did, but it also wasn’t really less appealing. I’m still not taken with either of the lead characters, Nolan or Irisa, and the feud between Datak Tarr and Rafe McCawley is a bit too cut-and-dry, especially since their children are planning to marry. Nolan appears to be siding with Rafe, mostly because circumstances dictated them descending into Old St. Louis together in this hour, while Amanda has to play peacekeeper and therefore defend the ancient traditions of Datak’s people, which managed to upset Irisa considerably and nearly start a full-scale riot in town. We saw less of Amanda in this episode and nothing of her sister Kenya, so I do hope that the two of them will be back in the spotlight in episodes to come. Jaime Murray, who I hadn’t remembered noting in the pilot, was much more prominent in this hour as Stahma, Datak’s formidable wife, and I’m mainly baffled by the number of non-American actors putting on fake American accents for these roles, which, in the case of both Murray, who I first remember from season two of “Dexter,” and Grant Bowler, makes their performances less effective in my mind. While Ben took himself definitively out of the equation after being shocked back into in this episode, it remains to be seen just what the former mayor’s plans entail as she prepares to leave her city behind and ready for some unfortunate fate to befall it. • Grant Bowler

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 1, Episode 14 “The End is Near” (D+)

As this show’s plot continues to unfold, it becomes less and less bearable, and more like the deranged ravings of a lunatic and his completely crazy posse. What was initial so impressive about Joe and his followers were how organized they were, and now they’re wielding axes and stabbing each other just for the hell of it, while Joe cooks spaghetti and feeds his unfortunate guests. His continued inability to understand that Claire does not love him and wants only to get away from him is baffling, and he’s just going to keep getting physically attacked if he doesn’t stop letting her roam free and find sharp objects. I’ve never been pleased with the FBI’s intellectual capacity, but the fact that it took them three-quarters of the episode to figure out something that was obvious to me from the moment they first mentioned the evacuation center, that it would be the target for Joe’s followers, is especially jarring. Ryan’s credibility is also dwindling, as he once again employs force and the threat of death to interrogate Joe’s followers, using what could well become his catchphrase, “Stop all the creepy cult stuff.” Annabelle sure was frightening, and it’s difficult to say whether she or Emma is the more dangerous foe, loyal to Joe enough that she would kill Jacob after he tried to convince her to run away with him and leave Joe behind. I suspect that Claire is not as expendable as the rest of the cast and that Ryan will be able to save her, but I can’t say the same for Debra, who I do hope survives, since watching her being buried alive was extraordinarily unsettling and disturbing.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 2, Episode 2 “Signals” (B+)

Without the token “Did the president call?” uttered at any point in this episode, POTUS’ influence was felt rather than heard as Ken invoked his power and gave it to the man least likely to get anything accomplished on his behalf, Jonah. Selina’s trip to pig country was quite amusing, particularly because of the hat she decided to wear and her attitude about the practices and intelligence level of the people with whom she was interacting. Gary’s girlfriend accidentally leaking the signals was brilliant, and I enjoyed the many terrible suggestions about how Selina should subtly indicate that she wants to get out of a situation. It turns out that none of them worked, and what she thought was a fake call from Gary was actually real. Her daughter’s controversial film essay was timed perfectly, and the best part of the “pork schmork” scene was Mike using two phones to relay Ken’s orders to Jonah and the presidential liaison leaning behind Selina to literally block the pig from view as she was talking about Israel and Jews. It wasn’t too prominent, but Selina’s controlled reaction to the news that her daughter was dating an Iranian was priceless. Dan starting to do pilates so that he could work out next to Ken was funny, particularly because it lasted such a short time. I like that Dan accompanied Amy to the hospital in their revolving door of favors for each other, and her family’s reaction to seeing her ex-boyfriend was quite fantastic, if entirely embarrassing for Amy. Mike’s descent into further debt was an amusing subplot as well.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 4 “To Have and to Hold” (B+)

This Heinz business is getting awfully secretive, and it’s angering more than one person in a damaging and lasting way. Ken being kept out of Pete and Don’s meeting with his client was bad enough, and the sight of Peggy sitting so cheerfully outside the hotel room that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce paid for was infinitely more wounding to Don’s pride. It’s a rare thing that he listens in on someone else’s conversation, and I think hearing Peggy sell using his language was the most painful part for him. Though Stan didn’t take the blame for informing Peggy about Heinz’s availability, he’s surely going to take out his anger on Peggy, cutting her off from her old firm. A rare spotlight on the secretaries was most notable for its spotlight on the tension between Harry and Joan, both of whom are hard to like when they’re being so cruel to each other. Harry has already earned more things than he should have, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop asking for even more anytime soon. Joan’s friend coming to visit helped show a different side of Joan and to underline just how out of place she feels in a job that even her mother applauds her for having. Don did seem awfully unbothered by Megan’s upcoming sex scene at first, but that changed in a big way when he showed up on set for the first time to watch her film it. Megan was spot on in her analysis of his motives: if he couldn’t prevent it, he’d be there to ruin it. It seems that Don isn’t the only unhappy one in this marriage.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 21 “A More Perfect Union” (B+)

Even without a mention of Diane’s impending judgeship, everything was certainly changing at Lockhart Gardner in this episode. Cary’s move was one thing, but it was Kalinda playing him and Will that was truly interesting. Of course, there’s little comparison to David Lee and his impossibly condescending attitude, which was especially jarring alongside Alicia’s attempt to be the civil one. The assistants deciding to unionize while Alicia was representing the coders was great, and it’s always an infuriating treat to see Mamie Gummer back as the worst’s most manipulatively ditzy lawyer, who seemed to be won over by the compromise prone judge played by John Michael Higgins, who can be seen regularly on “Happily Divorced.” I was also excited to see Fran Kranz, who Joss Whedon devotees will recognize immediately as Topher from “Dollhouse,” and who here had a decent but meatless role as one of the main coders involved in the suit. Owen’s guest appearances are always welcome, and it was shocking to hear him say that he had changed his mind about Peter following their heavily awkward meeting. Peter and Alicia renewing their vows is a big deal, because she up until this point was supporting him only politically, and I think it’s more than a bit alarming to see Alicia’s mother visit Lockhart Gardner for the express purpose of getting Will to step up to the plate and to tell Alicia how he feels. I imagine nothing will come of it, but that should count as a motive for Alicia to never let her mother see her grandkids again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 4 “And Now His Watch is Ended” (B+)

The balance of power continues to shift in each episode, and it makes it very exciting to watch, if continually confusing in terms of just how all of the various kings, princes, and princesses are related to one another. The biggest gain this week goes to Oleanna, who managed to give Tywin, who destroyed his daughter much like he did his son several episodes ago, a run for his money when it comes to make people feel really bad about themselves, and who made a powerful ally in Varys and may just hold the keys to taking down the Lannisters. Margaery is quite capable of that herself, of course, and I do hope that she’s merely playing Joffrey rather than expressing actual delight at his despicable tales of horror. Oleanna and Varys’ evaluation of Sansa, and Baelish, for that matter, is spot-on, and it’s amusing to see just how useless Sansa is practically despite her irreversible relevance to the plot. Hopefully it won’t be long before Arya makes her big break and returns to rescue her shocked sister. The newly handless Jaime and Brienne are bonding incredibly in their captivity, and of course Jaime still managed to hold his own, for a moment, with a sword in his other hand. As I assume most did, I saw the death by dragon fire coming, but that didn’t make the ensuing moment, in which Daenerys earned the truthful undying loyalty of her soldiers, any less awesome. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with, and now she’s ready to attack.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 1, Episode 4 “Effects of External Conditions” (B+)

As more of these clones start taking center stage, more of a burden is placed on star Tatiana Maslany, and she just keeps rising to the challenge. Cosima is such a quirky free spirit, and Helena is a downright frightening image of what happens when these clones go bad, especially considering the fact that she believes strongly in what she’s doing, convinced that Sarah is different from Beth and all the others. Though she’s on the wrong side of things, Helena is inarguably tough, able to withstand a pretty severe stab wound and to persevere to continue to manipulate events to her ends. Telling Paul to come urgently to the station was a bold move, and Art definitely has his eye on his partner now that it’s ever clearer that she’s not the person she used to be. The fact that Sarah recorded a message confessing to her true identity for Art shows that she does trust him, and I do hope that she’s not wrong about that. To her credit, Alison stepped up to the plate in a major way after Sarah thought of the great idea to have her pretend to be her so that Mrs. S wouldn’t take away her only chance to reconnect with Kira. It was so interesting to see that, her superb performance notwithstanding, Kira was able to tell right away that she wasn’t her mother. Fortunately, Alison knew just what to do, and she has the maternal instincts and sensitivity necessary for helping out another struggling mother in her place.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What I’m Watching: Vegas

Vegas: Season 1, Episode 18 “Scoundrels” (C+)

This episode was hardly the strongest the show has offered, with none of its plotlines succeeding terribly well. All of the happenings at the Savoy have become somewhat cartoonish, with this being just the latest comic caper involving Vincent’s henchmen, and Mia and her mother spending some very obviously staged mother-daughter bonding time together. Mia is a competent enough smooth-talker by herself, as evidenced by her generous offer to help Dixon on Jack’s behalf, and her mother doesn’t seem to have any idea of who she really is, which worries me more as an unintentional underestimation of Mia’s character that will lead to future inconsistencies on this show. I was stunned to see Jim O’Heir, who plays Jerry on “Parks and Recreation,” in a bit role as the bank manager, dressed up in costume but without much to do here. Dixon being arrested for hitting Violet was a dragged-out plotline that wasn’t ever going to lead anywhere, and it’s a peculiar way to end their whirlwind romance, especially if the point was merely to indicate that Dixon has suddenly changed his mind and developed feelings for Yvonne – which he had already, if I remember correctly – and now wants to be with her because he feels a connection following his act of loyalty to her in Los Angeles. I suppose it’s only right that this town’s law enforcement officials should only have romances with other law enforcement officials or criminals, since ordinary folk just don’t seem to be interesting enough to merit consideration.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 5, Episodes 19 and 20 “Article Two” and “Jerry’s Retirement” (B+)

I’ve said it before, and this time is no different. There are few things that I look forward to more than two new episodes of this show on the same night. These two installments also focused on two longstanding, hilarious mythologies of the show: the town of Pawnee and the incomprehensible existence of Jerry. I love that Pawnee still participates in a ritual throwing of “Ted” into the water because of a spelling error in their constitution, and it was great to see new TV guest star MVP Patton Oswalt as Leslie’s episode-long nemesis, who did a formidable job both of outwitting her in terms of colonial living and of filibustering with a magnificent synopsis of his hypothetical seventh “Star Wars” film. Leslie obsessing over Jerry’s retirement was no surprise, and it’s a good thing that Ben knows who Leslie is and is willing to indulge her in her priorities. It’s great that Jerry didn’t actually retire, mainly because it represented Ron actually do something to help someone else, Tom in this case. When he stepped in to try to spare April Chris’ seminar, April was the definite victor in that amusing situation. Ben and Ann’s war over the waffle iron was terrific, highlighted by Ben’s reaction (and Donna’s) to Ann’s lack of knowledge of the “Game of Thrones” universe. Ann and Chris realizing their continued passion for each other during the process of having a baby has been wonderful to watch, and though they have their differences and it may not ultimately work out, I look forward to seeing them go further down this road.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pilot Review: Defiance

Defiance (Syfy)
Premiered April 15 at 9pm

An ensemble science fiction series set in a future where alien races inhabit a transformed Earth alongside humans has the potential to be extremely exciting and appealing. After the two-hour premiere of Syfy’s new show, which is connected to a video game being released simultaneously, it’s a complicated task to unpack the show. There are many enticing elements of the show, including a predilection for battle scenes and an inarguably intriguing premise, but the show doesn’t come off seamlessly by any interpretation. The extensive presence of alien races doesn’t always lend much credibility to their characters since their physical appearances aren’t all that compelling, and the casual way in which they speak (like humans) doesn’t allow them to be taken as seriously as perhaps they should be. This two-hour start often feels like a mediocre episode of the original “Star Trek,” with many moments unintentionally funny due to their sheer construction. The two characters who we first meet, Nolan and Irisa, are also problematic since they’re such basically defined personalities too interested in breaking free from the show of which they are now an inextricable part. Grant Bowler, who, like most leads on American cable TV these days, hails from somewhere other than the U.S. and Canada (Australia in this case), has had much better parts in the past, namely on “Ugly Betty” and “Lost.” I am pleased to see two actresses cast perfectly and used to excellent effect: Julie Benz and Mia Kirshner. Benz was irritating on both “Dexter” and “Desperate Housewives” mainly due to the whininess of the characters, but here mayor Amanda is self-assured and one of the show’s most grounded personalities. Kirshner, who was great in the early seasons of “The L Word” before her character fell off the wagon, is a super choice to play Amanda’s sister, madam Kenya, who knows how to flirt but also how to keep her wits about her. It remains to be seen how supporting players like Jaime Murray and Graham Greene will contribute in a lasting way. This show is exactly the kind of series I’m supposed to like, and, while I’m far from hooked, it’s definitely a few steps up from such initially poorly-realized attempts at capturing futuristic greatness like “Revolution.” Let’s see how successive episodes hold up.

How will it work as a series? The arrival of Nolan and Irisa into Defiance, the installation of Amanda as mayor, and the surprise attack on the city were catalytic events that will shape the show going forward. I think that permitting at least Nolan to ease into society with a better attitude should make the show more productive, and I hope that it moves past base characterizations to create a more advanced idea of a future society.
How long will it last? The numbers for the pilot were extremely strong, and, if they continue, this show is sure to be a hit. That said, the show is a massive production, and reviews were mostly negative. Most like networks, however, a quick hit is interpreted to be a lasting hit, and this show is likely to receive an immediate renewal as long as its numbers don’t plummet in week two.

Pilot grade: B-

Friday, April 19, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 1, Episode 13 “Havenport” (C-)

Like its main character, for whom nothing seems to be working out these days, this show is losing its grip. It’s navigating an unfortunate trajectory which is transforming Joe from a cool, collected mastermind into a madman without a hold on sanity. Joe’s big plan was formidable if overwrought, and now he’s speaking frantically and overplaying his hand at every turn. Melissa’s severe stunt was laughable in terms of the physical comedy of it all, and you’d think that Joe would be cunning enough to commission his followers to undermine the FBI’s authority and effectiveness rather than simply take out its members. The glaring incompetence of the FBI worsens with each episode, and perhaps it’s best that Nick is the latest one to fall, considering he essentially sanctioned Ryan’s blanket offer of immunity for any of Joe’s followers who came forward instead of chastising him for glaringly interfering with the FBI’s investigation. Roderick and Claire both made brash decisions I’m sure they’ll come to regret in this hour, with Roderick’s seeming frantic and ultimately working out well for him, considering the fact that the FBI will surely not catch up with him, and Joe may not pursue him now that he no longer has Joey. Claire, on the other hand, is likely not doomed to death just yet, though she should really take some tips from another Natalie Zea character, Winona on “Justified,” who fared much better when faced with a threatening presence on this show.

What I’m Watching: Veep (Season Premiere)

Veep: Season 2, Episode 1 “Midterms” (B+)

I forgot just how funny this show was, and how Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ dry interpretation of the desperate, attention-seeking vice president, while not the only good part of it, grounds the show in such a fantastic way. This episode also had two great background guest stars, Gary Cole of “The Good Wife” and “The West Wing,” among other things, as legendary strategist Kent Davison, who really doesn’t like Selina, and Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Pindar on “Franklin and Bash,” as the more helpful of Jonah’s minions. Jonah continues to be such a hilarious supporting character, and I loved the myth of POTUS, still unseen, being awake or asleep in the Oval Office. I’m thrilled to report yet another excellently creative version of Selina’s “Did the president call?” which this time was uttered without any expectation of a response only to receive a shocking confirmation. Amy’s father’s stroke could have been an odd emotional point of the story, but instead it was just an interesting look into her family life and just how much she doesn’t get along with her sister. Mike’s boat scandal was funny, and the fact that Gary now has a girlfriend is actually pretty awesome. This show tends to fly under the radar in terms of buzz compared with other HBO shows, but I’m very glad that it’s back since it’s easily one of the best political shows on TV as well as one of the funniest comedies currently airing, with a superb and well-rounded cast to boot.

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 3 “The Collaborators” (B+)

It’s clear that this season is going to be just as powerful and resonant as those before it, and I love how it can focus on so much yet not even include several major elements of the show’s mythology, namely any Draper family member other than Don. The main character himself doesn’t have all that much to do in this episode, instead finding himself criticized by people in his professional and personal life for being the way he is. Megan confiding in Sylvia about her miscarriage was jarring, and it’s so intriguing to witness Don’s reaction to a completely unexpected development like that. Peggy crossed a major line in this hour, revealing too much of what was a conversation between friends, and I suspect that both Stan and Don won’t quickly forgive her for it. She’s turning into Don more and more each episode, though at least she seems to possess some regret for the consequences her actions have. Ken never does seem to have much luck with the clients about whom he gets so excited, and instead it’s the ubiquitous Bob who keeps coming out looking good. Joan coming to Don during Jaguar’s visit was both heartbreaking and moving, and it’s nice to see that their relationship remains strong. This episode’s scene-stealer was inarguably Allison Brie, who kicked Pete to the curb in a brutal and definitive way. It’s not as if the sniveling, sideburns-wearing ad man didn’t have it coming, so flagrantly cheating on his wife and acting all innocent when she showed up with a bloody nose at his door. I think we should be ready for a much more sullen, depressed Pete in the episodes to come.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 20 “Rape: A Modern Perspective” (B+)

This episode featured yet another hot-button topic, weaving the world of social media into a rape case and featuring Mr. BitCoin himself, Jason Biggs’ Dylan Stack. I like the relationship that Alicia has formed with him, similar in many ways to the layered way in which she speaks to Louis Canning, but in a much less hostile manner. Revealing Kalinda’s role in the exposure of evidence was interesting, and I was concerned earlier in the episode when Zack and Grace got text messages since, if there’s one thing Alicia absolutely cannot tolerate, it’s someone messing with her children. Diane so bluntly admitting to her engagement to Kalinda and the vetter was a surprise, and it was extremely interesting to hear that her “partner” whose actions were causing roadblocks was Will and not Kurt. David Lee certainly didn’t help matters by inciting the rest of the partners against Will and Diane, and the impending news of Cary’s secret departure makes the future all the more unclear. I suppose it could turn out that Diane becomes a judge, Alicia and Cary leave the firm together, and Will still has a part to play, since this show has featured characters from multiple law firms and spheres of involvement in the legal process, but I do think that it would dramatically change the style of the show. I hope that Robin is here to stay since she’s a superb addition, and she’s quickly building a rapport with Alicia that has Kalinda disliking but admiring her, not an easy feat.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 3 “Walk of Punishment” (B+)

Though he’s having some trouble succeeding in gaining relevant power, it’s truly great to see Tyrion try to reassert himself, defiantly dragging chairs and having layered conversations with people who purport not to take himself seriously. The surprising success of his savior and new protege was an entertaining diversion, and it’s an important reminder to see just what the perks of being close to the throne are. Another Lannister showed an unexpected compassion for someone else, and that was Jaime, who stepped in to save Brienne from an unfortunate fate without much in it for him. I suspect they’ll soon becomes allies even if the possibility of true friendship isn’t likely. Losing his hand was a painful punishment, but I think he’ll still be a competent swordsman more talented than most men without it. Theon’s fortune seems to be changing, though he’s having a rough time of it on the way there. I’m sure that Daenerys has something up her sleeve and that purchasing Missandei as part of her deal might be helpful in not handing over one of her precious dragons. Her associate is hardly as creepy as the kind of beings she had to contend with last season, but it would still be sweet to see her take her revenge after all of the terrible things said about her in a language she didn’t understand. Maybe Davos will be able to convince Stannis that he has been hypnotized into uselessness by Melisandre with her gone, returning one more contender to this regal match.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Take Three: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 1, Episode 3 “Variation Under Nature” (B+)

I’m continually impressed by star Tatiana Maslany’s ability to create multiple characters that are remarkably different from one another. Following Sarah posing as Beth in the lead role is fascinating because she’s so smart and quick on her feet in many ways, but also prone to making bad decisions for selfish reasons. Alison is tough but easily agitated by incompetence, and Cosima is definitely the brainy one among them. That makes for a terrific combination of skills, and that’s not even it, since apparently the person trying to kill them is also a clone. While it nearly cost her her life, Sarah almost getting killed by her evil self was a good thing in terms of fortifying her relationship with Art, who has now given her back the cash that she’ll hopefully use to help figure out just why she and her fellow orphans are being hunted. Felix babysitting was quite a hilarious idea, and it certainly didn’t help Sarah’s relationship with Alison. His reaction to Paul stopping by for a hot-and-cold visit was also entertaining, but it underscores the delicacy with which they should be proceeding, since there are so many separate players involved. I am completely hooked on this show, eagerly awaiting its airing each week at a time when there just isn’t another compelling drama series on the air. Its British style isn’t one I would have anticipated liking, but this sci-fi thriller is absolutely my kind of show.

What I’m Watching: Vegas

Vegas: Season 1, Episode 17 “Hollywood Ending” (C+)

I want so much to like this show, particularly because it’s almost certainly doomed to death because of its poor performance on an already unfortunate night of the week. This episode took a rather stark turn in terms of its D.A. Reynolds storyline, quickly outing him as Vincent’s man on the inside and then turning him from a double agent into an outed spy whose life now appears to be over. Vincent referring to him as the “avocato” was a silly thing, and it’s all much more interesting for the fact that Vincent has now essentially admitted to murder on the call, turning him into the certifiable villain that he’s somehow avoided being as one of the show’s endearing protagonists. Melinda Clarke was a perfect choice to play Mia’s mother, who got busy with Vincent right away and then tried to get her daughter to like her after so many years of not being there. Jack looking out for Mia is going to get mighty awkward when everyone realizes just how in on Vincent’s operation she is, though hopefully she’ll wise up and use the load of information she got about the skim to net herself some goodwill from leaking useful things to Katherine. I’m not sure I see Dixon’s logic in going to beat up an apparently defenseless Silver since he could easily take out his rage on Violet, and it’s an unfortunate first start in the business for the naïve but innocent Yvonne. Not everyone can make it in show business, I guess.

Round Two: Hannibal

Hannibal: Season 1, Episode 2 “Amuse-Bouche” (C)

I really want to like this show. There’s something about the Hannibal Lecter mythology that makes me want to keep up with every aspect of it, even if “Hannibal” had its share of problems and “Hannibal Rising” is better forgotten entirely. This incarnation isn’t bad, but it lacks excitement and energy. It’s both grim and dull, and it’s hard to get attached to a show that fails to reel its viewers in with compelling plot developments and whose events don’t have the necessary power to be resounding. There is an undeniable creepiness to the serial killers portrayed on this show, but, most of the time, it’s too obvious a setup for only Will and Hannibal to be able to comment sufficiently on the modus operandi of the killers. The therapy sessions between the two of them aren’t nearly as gripping as this show seems to think, and I’m also not so intrigued by the character of Freddie Lounds, whose oh-so-intrepid investigative skills got her both nearly killed by the deranged pharmacist and on Hannibal’s radar in a very bad way. There can only be so many shots of Hannibal serving and consuming delectable pieces of meat while describing the type of loin on his plate, and I think this show seems much more focused on things other than Hannibal most of the time and then overly centered on him when it chooses to be. This show could be much better, and I’m not sure it’s worth sticking around to see if it realizes that and takes a new approach.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 9, Episode 19 “Stairmaggedon” (C)

Objectively, the notion of Stairmaggedon is funny, but it just didn’t play out that way here, minus a few mildly amusing moments. Clark and Dwight are continuing their path to friendship thanks to their latest adventure, and though this show has presumed similar things in the past, I find it hard to believe that a drugged-up Stanley managed to impress a client enough for them to sign a contract and close a deal. The increasingly undeniable existence of the camera crew’s series, which inexplicably will air on PBS, is causing more problems that aren’t making for entirely compelling plotlines. The Senator announcing that he is gay with Angela by his side and then revealing that he is in love with his chief of staff started out in a good way and then turned peculiar and over-the-top fast. Andy’s desire to be a movie star was just silly, and there’s only so much stupidity that can be believed. Paying a $5000 flat fee to hire a talent agent is hardly the most regrettable thing Andy has ever done, but it’s certainly not his proudest moment either. I find it strange that Pam and Jim should choose to confide in, all of people, Nellie and Toby, about their impending couples counseling, but it’s nice at least to see them walk out and smile at each other rather than despair about the reality that they both have very different visions of what their futures together look like and where they are. I think they’ll make it.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 5, Episode 18 “Animal Control” (B+)

I love this show. It manages to fire on so many cylinders all at once and to still be fresh with its focus on local government after nearly five seasons. It’s absolutely wonderful that the City Council continues to meet, with minor characters like Councilman Hauser and Councilman Dexhart appearing on a regular basis, and the eternally obnoxious Councilman Jamm trying to get his patients into office only to switch sides purely to actually win for once. The interviews were superb, particularly with Jerry and Oren, and I love that Leslie suggested April, and she managed to come up with a great solution that both made sense and will enable her to stay in her role while doing something new. Chris getting hurt was a small subplot, but amusing in its own right. Ann forcing Ron to get medical attention was funny, and his responses were terrific. The final scene with the banana was great, and I’m glad that Ron is such a consistent character. Ben, Tom, and Andy make a magnificent team, and it’s just a shame that they have to deal with such annoying people. This show has found a fantastic balance of spheres for its characters to exist in, and I’m glad to see Ben and Leslie both thriving in their jobs while encountering such regular obstacles that make for amazing episodes of this show. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but this show needs to be renewed for a sixth season. It’s easily the best comedy currently on the air.

What I’m Watching: Nashville

Nashville: Season 1, Episode 17 “My Heart Would Know” (C+)

This was hardly the best episode of this show, treading familiar territory without really covering any new ground at all. Juliette’s behavior in particular is deplorable, and her reaction to her mom trying to kiss Dante was horrible. Dante so strongly shifting his behavior doesn’t exactly track with his past record, and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before he either gets tired of Juliette’s attitude or chooses to follow someone else who might offer him more power. Back in Nashville, things with Lamar were considerably more dramatic, mainly because of the breaking news that Rayna’s mother had an affair with a major musician we know. Deacon running to Rayna’s side when she called him was sweet, but he shouldn’t be going around giving keys to his house to other people if he’s not going to be upfront about where his priorities and allegiances lie. Tammy taking over Lamar’s stake in the stadium deal should drive a further wedge between Teddy and his ex-wife’s family, and something tells me that, somewhat deservedly, Peggy is going to suffer the consequences most. Gunnar’s new buddy has done a good job of getting him to focus on what’s truly important, and I just hope that Scarlett’s newfound sweet success won’t impact what looks to be a healthy relationship. At least they’re better off than Avery, who really is scraping the bottom of the barrel in his business and is likely to cause friction between Dante and Juliette that I suspect will lead to him getting punched.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Round Two: Rogue

Rogue: Season 1, Episode 3 “Cathy’s Song” (C)

I found this episode less impenetrable than the first two-hour installment, but I still wasn’t drawn in to the believability of the characters. Everyone here, except for Ian Tracey, who plays Mitch, and Ian Hart, who plays Buddy, is overacting, which is also true of Martin Donovan, though he has so little to do in a dull role as Hernandez’s boss. Jimmy and especially Alec are such overdrawn, exaggerated villains that it’s hard to take them seriously. As soon as I saw those duffel bags, I flashed back to a classic moment from “The Sopranos” and knew that there were heads inside. If I have a beef with someone who took out a bunch of my men, I doubt that having the guy who ordered it walk in and deposit their severed heads on my card table would sufficiently convince me that I should lay down my arms and make peace. It’s equally unbelievable that Jimmy would actually take Grace up on her advice to go to the police station and profess his innocence. While Buddy was cracking up and delighting in Jimmy’s extravagance, everyone else was just angry, and it seems that Grace is continuing to cut herself off from the police force while communicating only with Mitch, who appears to have nothing else to do besides help her. The fact that it took the entire episode for them to finally find something is hardly reassuring, and I don’t think this show is going to be headed anywhere interesting quickly.

Round Two: How to Live with Your Parents

How to Live with Your Parents: Season 1, Episode 2 “How to Get Off the Couch” (C)

I want to like this show, but it’s difficult when it’s treading such familiar ground in a less than creative manner. Sarah Chalke’s level of focused energy will never be matched, and, in theory, Polly is a good character, but the show around her is actually quite boring. After a quick montage of her many social activism projects from young adulthood, Polly petered out after suffering a fall during her run. It wasn’t difficult to guess that she was faking her injury, and her legitimizing her relationship with Julian ensures that he’ll be around for some time to come, which, shoeless recommendations aside, is probably an unproductive idea for the show. While he’s grumpy, it’s easy to like Max, but his act is getting old, as is Elaine’s. In theory the concept of Elaine telling her granddaughter’s class all about where they were before they were born might be funny, but it just didn’t work here. Max and Elaine aren’t made out to be very intelligent, which is fine, yet they don’t possess many other redeeming qualities other than extreme laziness. As a devoted watcher of many shows on a weekly basis, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t one which I’ll need to keep up with. I’m tempted to give it another chance, but, thus far, the show has such a limited scope that I doubt that there are brilliant new characters just waiting to help improve the show in the coming episodes. Not all sitcoms can be winners, I suppose.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 4, Episode 20 “Flip Flop” (B)

I was waiting for the inter title that would announce that several months had passed and the house had not yet sold, just one instance of a completely predictable moment in an episode that was still funny if entirely expected. Flipping the house has been a decent storyline, and I think that devoting full episodes to it is something that shouldn’t go on forever. Fortunately, it looks like Phil did manage to trick his nemesis into buying the house, even if he in turn got tricked into getting into trouble with Claire. The funniest part of the episode was Luke’s casual mention of his friend Zack and everyone else’s realization that he was in fact a full-fledged adult, played by Anders Holm, who is currently appearing as Mindy’s Christian boyfriend on “The Mindy Project.” The whole production was relatively amusing, and I enjoyed Haley’s overenthusiasm and her parents’ horrified reactions. The “I told you so” subplot with Mitchell was less creative, but it is in line with Cam’s overconfidence and his inability to listen to anything he doesn’t want to hear. Along with returning guest star Benjamin Bratt as Javier, it was nice to see Paget Brewster as the sophisticated, charming Trish, who got Gloria very jealous until she realized that she was in fact the one making Trish feeling insecure. I loved that her visit encouraged Jay to bring out Barkley, whose very existence continues to be fantastic and who provoked excellent responses from Javier and Trish that pleased Jay and infuriated Gloria.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Mindy Project

The Mindy Project: Season 1, Episode 21 “Santa Fe” (B-)

This show never seems to be able to deliver on its promising episodic premises. I was waiting for the follow-up scene to the hilarious sight of Mindy announcing her plans to take a full-size suitcase as a carry-on and a garment bag as her purse on the plane where she gets told by the TSA that she can’t do it, only to sweet-talk them into letting her do it, much to Danny’s horror, or something of the sort. Instead, we get the remarkable irreverence of Morgan and Jeremy steaming for too long and Josh being in rehab, addicted to cocaine. Josh was one character that used to be a positive aspect of the show, and seeing an athlete utilized to such inconsequential effect was disappointing since his presence was purely unnecessary. Danny’s grumpiness is getting old, but it was entertaining to hear him talk to all of the patients in rehab about how their addictions shouldn’t actually be categorized as such. I suppose Josh guessing that Mindy was now dating Mindy was the most productive part of the episode, mainly because it finally indicates that their romantic entanglement might be in the near future. Seeing them hold hands for a moment of turbulence on the plane and quickly pretend it didn’t happen is hardly satisfying after a whole season of buildup, however, and I do hope that this show overhauls some of its less successful elements in preparation for what could be a much more even and coherent second season.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 2, Episode 22 “Bachelorette Party” (B+)

The setup for this episode wasn’t superb, mainly with the surprise guest at the bachelorette party, but it actually worked pretty well, even that particular plotline, aided by an unexpected humorous story that helped to ease plenty of tension. Cece’s engagement to Shivrang came quite quickly, but, like with Robbie before him, this show is actually making him into a compelling character rather than just a personality-free nemesis for Schmidt. As his own person, Shivrang is quite entertaining, particularly his response both to Nick and Winston’s initial request for a picture of his penis and what he perceived to be Cece’s desire to see it once he arrived at the party. Jess’ reaction to the news that it was Nick’s photo and not Shivrang’s was priceless, and I’m glad that happened. Winston’s continued violent intentions are funny, and I’m pleased to see him getting such great lines. It’s a treat to find out about one of Schmidt’s past relationships, and to see that Elizabeth is none other than Merritt Wever, an Emmy nominee this past year for her scene-stealing sarcastic work on “Nurse Jackie.” I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of her, and that it will provide more of a spotlight on the sentimental side of Schmidt rather than a return to Fat Schmidt, something I think that this show can live without.

What I’m Watching: Revolution

Revolution: Season 1, Episode 13 “The Song Remains the Same” (F)

This show continues to proceed along with an inane storyline, and I once again find myself bashing it every week. Yet there’s such a sense of lost hope when, episode after episode, the same thing happens with one or two variations on the specifics. The predictability level is unbearably high, evidenced most in Tom’s capture and inevitable escape. He did seem to accept the presence of his son all too quickly, but the notion that the rebels, who managed to survive being in hiding for who knows how long, were so easily tracked by his Houdini skills that he managed both to get away and to kill both of them without much resistance of any kind. His escape, however, didn’t do him much good, since Monroe apparently can’t comprehend that Tom is his best asset, and instead feels the need to make him feel underappreciated and embarrassed in front of his new best friend Randall, who managed to skirt yet another close call with enemy forces. While it’s probably true that he is on the right side of things now, Miles did seem awfully quick to trust Jason after a somewhat significant gesture that wasn’t nearly as grand as he made it out to be. Danny getting killed recently and Rachel running off to protect her family by being away from them makes this whole cycle feel awfully repetitive, and the journey up until now rather pointless. Aaron accompanying Rachel also seems futile given that, one flask-centric incident aside, he’s proven pretty useless in a tight situation.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 1, Episode 12 “The Curse” (C-)

There’s a point at which I find myself citing the same problems over and over with a given show, and I start to wonder whether the show will never get better and I should just stop watching now. And then, after yet another glaring show of incompetency by the FBI which put two agents in grave danger, there is a moment like the one that came at the very end of this episode, perfectly scored and haunting in just the right away. Roderick did seem to display a certain confidence while meeting Ryan for the first time that contradicts the way he’s been recently with Joe, which takes away from its effect somewhat. Joe is turning into more of a cartoonish villain, particularly with leaving his computer unlocked for Claire to read his unfinished chapter and calling Ryan to tell him about his writer’s block. Emma earns herself the award for being the most naïve person in this show’s universe for presuming that Claire would even acknowledge her after she kidnapped her son, and I suspect that her sleeping with Joe is of little concern to the already irked mother, whose escape attempts will no doubt continue on an episodic basis. I find it hard to believe that both Jacob and Mike have been so transformed by their recent brushes with death that they are now cold-hearted soldiers with murderous instincts. This show has just three episodes left in the season, and I hope that it can find a compelling new direction before it truly spirals out of control.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What I’m Watching: Californication (Season Finale)

Californication: Season 6, Episode 12 “I’ll Lay My Monsters Down” (B+)

In many ways, this finale was fitting, but it was also somewhat disappointing, in that the whole of this season was so marvelously nutty that this ending episode almost wasn’t outrageous enough. That said, Atticus did still make out with Marcy for an extended period of time immediately following his pronouncement of Charlie and Marcy as husband and wife, and Hank did propose to one woman while he was busy sleeping with another one. I suppose any woman will have to come second to Karen, but it was still jarring to see Hank get down on bended knee after his hallucinations of Lew and ask her to marry him after spending so much time with Faith. She took the news pretty well, and her parting recommendation to leave before she seduced him into staying was an excellent way of sending her off. Of all the potential spinoffs that are discussed, I think that Faith would have been worthy of her own show, especially if she brought Atticus and company with her. Upon further research, however, it looks like I missed the news that Showtime opted not to pick up the spinoff back in January. With Marcy and Charlie settled into relative normalcy, ending the episode on Hank knocking at Karen’s door was a great way to close what turned out to be a great season, and the show’s best since its third year, despite a rocky start with the first episode. I’ll be eagerly tuning in next January for this show’s return.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Maggie Grace as Faith

What I’m Watching: House of Lies (Season Finale)

House of Lies: Season 2, Episode 12 “Til Death Do Us Part” (B+)

Ultimately, this was a good episode, but it was nowhere near as complete or satisfying as last year’s finale, which employed a similar time-jumping format. What this episode boils down to is the fact that everyone made their own efforts to be heard by Marty, only to be shut down and to let him know, in different ways, that they wouldn’t follow silently forever. Clyde’s act was by far the most vindictive, though Marty did bring it upon himself by so disregarding Clyde’s stake in the Carlson deal and by angering Monica to the point of being ready to acknowledge and even hire Clyde. Sarah staging a proposal to herself is disconcerting, but if that’s all Doug has to worry about, I think he’ll be fine, and hopefully he’ll be content in whatever role there still is for him at Galweather. Jeannie confessing her love for Marty was ill-advised, mainly because he devalued it so harshly. Calling her at the end of the episode while he was standing in the dark was a sure sign that Marty’s future looks mighty lonely. Celebrating with his son and with his father was sweet, but Marty truly managed to push away his three best assets more than ever in this episode. I hope that next season brings an interesting new dynamic with everyone in new places, plus perhaps a few new characters to work at Kahn and Associates. This season has been entertaining but hardly as bitingly entertaining as season one. I’m hopeful that season three will be a return to vicious glory.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Don Cheadle

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

Mad Men: Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2 “The Doorway, Part 1 and 2” (A-)

So long into its run, you’d expect that this show might have lost some of its signature style and creativity. Yet that’s not the case at all, as this premiere was even more engaging and enthralling to watch almost than ever before. Starting out in Hawaii was a magnificent way to reintroduce the characters and to demonstrate just how dissatisfied Don still is, despite the fact that he has a gorgeous, intelligent, successful woman by his side. After an embarrassing overindulgence at the funeral of Roger’s mother, Don impressed as always with an intoxicating pitch, and the way he protested the reaction he got from the client was evidence that he needs to be the one running the show, and doesn’t want to listen to what anyone else tells him. His neighbor doctor provided both the framework for an excellent plotline and a complex illustration of how dishonest Don can be when he’s actually bothering to be social. It’s fascinating too to see that Peggy has become Don, though she treats the non-work people in her life better than he does, and she had to be told by her flabbergasted boss that she should let her underlings go home on New Year’s Eve. Roger’s behavior at his mother’s funeral was hardly surprising, but highly embarrassing nonetheless. Seeing both of his ex-wives wasn’t helpful, and to see Jane as the more respectful one was unexpected. There was a bigger spotlight on Betty than there has been in a long time as she got the chance to atone for the disturbing comments she made to her husband about her daughter’s friend, and it looks like her story will continue to be just as intriguing and worthwhile even though she’s so distant from Don. We didn’t see much more than new facial hair from most of the firm’s employees, and I’m sure this season will present countless opportunities for fantastic plot directions.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What I’m Watching: Shameless (Season Finale)

Shameless: Season 3, Episode 12 “Survival of the Fittest” (A-)

This emotional finale was full of major life cycle developments for each one of the characters. It was heartbreaking to see Fiona continually call Steve to leave him angry messages, only to finish off on a more apologetic, melancholy note. Not seeing his ultimate fate forces that relationship to end with a sense of dread, and particular tragedy that his final gift for Fiona would be delivered without the important addendum that he was incapacitated and hadn’t left by choice. Confident that she was no longer going to Michigan, however, Fiona did seize on a major opportunity and made a great impression, which secures her continued future as the breadwinner for a household that may be two children down. Both Debs and Carl had the chance to grow up in this episode, with Debs telling Fiona off for treating her like a child only some of the time and Carl shaving his father’s head. Watching Frank and Lip bond was unexpectedly intoxicating, cut short by the brutal sight of Frank coughing up a troubling amount of blood after Lip vomited everything he had taken in during their free lunch. It looks like Lip might actually go to MIT after all, while Ian ships out to the army despite Mickey’s surprising plea for him to stay. I’m glad that Kev managed to convince Veronica that it wasn’t worth it to be angry at her mother for continuing their twisted tryst after she was already pregnant, and that process is sure to bring even more craziness in the future. This season has reached new lows and highs, and it’s been a terrific ride. I eagerly await next January for this show’s fourth season.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: William H. Macy as Frank

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 2 “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (B+)

For me, this episode was much more engaging than the premiere, namely because it featured, quite extensively, two of the show’s strongest characters that were nowhere to be found in episode one. The first is the incomparable Arya Stark, last seen opposite an ally with a new face and wandering the kingdoms trying to pass herself off as a boy. Her charade didn’t last long in this hour, with her gender obvious to her latest encounter and her precise identity revealed, much to her chagrin. Hopefully a reunion with some of her living family members isn’t too far off, but it looks like Sansa may be getting herself into plenty of trouble where she is, with help from Shae, who needs to practice more discretion if she wants to remain safe from Tyrion’s enemies. Jamie Lannister never seems to be short a brutal escape plan, and cutting the rope that Brienne was using to keep him at arm’s length immediately put him back into a position of power. Brienne, to her credit, managed to ignore his many earlier attempts to bait her, and fought him off quite compellingly. Unfortunately, there are just too many people who want to be at the top for them to continue unescorted, and now their trip is going to be cut short, should the tide not turn again before they reach Robb’s camp. It’s hard not to recognize Thomas Sangster, who played young, lovestruck Sam in “Love Actually,” as Reed, Bran’s surprising new friend who will likely help him considerably in his quest to stay alive and be reunited with his siblings. Things are not going well for Theon, but he was hardly the luckiest person before now. If Joffrey’s vicious tendencies weren’t frightening enough, now he has someone with whom to share it all who has a much better stage presence and overall self-presentation.

Round Two: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 1, Episode 2 “Instinct” (B+)

This second installment didn’t disappoint, offering a glimpse of what the show will be like on an episodic basis. After burying the body of the German and scrubbing the car clean, Sarah got a chance to meet what she thought was the other voice on the phone, who turned out to be a soccer mom with a mean streak. I’m equally intrigued by the funkier clone that Sarah met at the very end of the episode, who, as the first moments of the preview for episode three reveal, is finally going to let Sarah in on the fact that they’re clones and not twins. She demonstrated another extraordinary instance of thinking on her feet by nonchalantly telling the hotel clerk to charge $6000 from the credit card on file after she was accosted for trashing the room, and that paid off. Threatening the police psychiatrist worked well too, and she managed to ace her hearing, which will likely put her back in good standing with her partner, though I’m sure she’ll be in way over her head then and won’t even think about taking the money and running. Vic wanting to meet Keira is problematic, but more so for Felix than for Sarah, who, despite a close call, has done a gone job of avoiding him thus far. Sarah seemed truly devastated that Keira was going to think that she was dead, but Mrs. S’ reaction to the news that she was still alive didn’t sound all that much more positive in terms of the chances of Sarah getting to be reunited with her daughter anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What I’m Watching: Vegas

Vegas: Season 1, Episode 16 “Little Fish” (B)

This show is back on a new night after a nearly two-month hiatus, and I suspect that this may well be the show’s final airing. The surprising introduction of an opening credits sequence, one which was jarring for its very presence but otherwise unremarkable, comes far too late in the game, since this show is doomed after a predictably poor performance on Friday night. I liked the plot developments in this hour, if their execution was somewhat over-the-top and melodramatic. Dixon’s efforts to free Violet from her relationship so that he could have her to himself fell under that category, and I wouldn’t mind having Anna Camp appear more regularly, since she is one of the few performers on this show who actually works to inhabit the era in a believable way. Sarah Jones is the other winner of that award, and this was an unprecedented opportunity to see Mia work her magic and gets things accomplished in a sinister way without Vincent’s hands touching it. Asking Vincent outright if he told her father that she was a rat was bold, and hopefully Jack’s daring decision to tap Vincent’s phone will prove productive and won’t come back to haunt him. Ralph was very sympathetic to Patricia’s plight, and his emotions didn’t help when it came to his confrontations with Byrne, who will surely be back to aggravate Ralph some more. Yvonne’s singing interest – and talent – caught me off guard since she’s been relegated to plotlessness thus far, but it looks like she may be taking center stage soon enough.

Pilot Review: Hannibal

Hannibal (NBC)
Premiered April 4 at 10pm

It’s interesting that this show should premiere now, when it bears such obvious comparison to two other new shows, “The Following” and “Bates Motel.” The former is a show about a serial killer that features an excessive amount of gore, while the latter is a prequel to a famous film about the origins of a deranged killer. This show doesn’t much resemble the former, failing to achieve the same gritty feel though currently doing a far superior job of writing its characters and their dialogue. It’s worthy of comparison to the latter, however, since it too tackles a difficult concept, which is to showcase a killer not behind bars for an undetermined amount of time before he is eventually caught. “Hannibal” adjusts the Hannibal Lecter mythology somewhat by turning FBI Agent Will Graham into a complicated character with Asperger’s, limiting his ability to relate to society and therefore increasing the potential for him to bond with Hannibal. By the end of the hour, Will and Hannibal resembled the versions of themselves portrayed by Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins at the beginning of the excellent film “Red Dragon” than they did at the start of the episode. The fact that Hannibal wasn’t introduced until halfway through this pilot indicates that the show will be as much about Will, whose investigative style is certainly creative but might become tiresome quickly. Hugh Dancy was fantastic in a recurring role as a dying cancer patient on “The Big C,” and he seems more focused and less immediately compelling here. While I do think that Mads Mikkelsen is a great choice to play Hannibal, so far I find him to be less engaging than both Brian Cox and Hopkins were in previous incarnations of the cannibal. I’m glad that creator Bryan Fuller chose to work with Caroline Dhavernas again, but she hardly has a part worthy of comparison to her “Wonderfalls” role. While the last shot of Hannibal and Will sitting with the survivor in the hospital was strong, this show thus far seems like a run-of-the-mill criminal investigation show, one which is sure to run into problems soon once it catches up with its mythology. Will I be watching for now? Yes, but I’m unsure of how long I’ll stick with it.

How will it work as a series? Will and Hannibal are already becoming fast friends, and it’s just a question of how central Hannibal’s cannibal crimes will be, and whether they’ll instead have the opportunity to work on other disturbing cases while Hannibal’s criminal tendencies linger in the background. I’m hoping that it doesn’t try too hard to showcase the Hannibal we know and love, instead opting to create a new character with a different path.
How long will it last? All of creator Bryan Fuller’s previous shows were short-lived, but it looks like this one might have a decent life. Opposite two extremely successful shows, “Elementary” and “Scandal,” the pilot performed decently, and strong reviews for the show point to NBC picking up what may rank as one of its few recent successes for a second season sometime soon.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 19 “Snow Angels” (B+)

It’s a shame that this episode didn’t air after the “Proteus” installment of “Person of Interest” from last month that also set itself in the middle of a storm and with limited resources for its main characters to help save innocent lives. Connecting the two shows, however, was Becky Ann Baker, who played a deputy on the former series and here portrayed Pam the snowplow driver, who seems to have made a friend in Sherlock following the employment of her services during the storm. The other major guest star in this hour was Jill Flint, who recently departed “Royal Pains” and here appeared as one of the criminals who got shot, and who unearthed an unfortunate foreign accent while Bell and Gregson were questioning her. The staging of a riot to compel Denise to reveal herself by leading Elle out of the interrogation room was clever, and it was satisfying to see them apprehended after the extensive mental investigation the criminals put Sherlock through. I liked Sherlock’s disregard of the weather advisory, purporting himself and Watson to be detectives, not citizens, and it was interesting to see their reactions to their houseguest, Miss Hudson. Cleaning the apartment and sorting Sherlock’s books with multiple criteria was the best thing she could have done, and it looks like both Sherlock and Watson now have another ally they can call upon should the need arise. Sherlock may not have the best social tendencies, but he seems to be doing all right for himself as of late.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Mindy Project

The Mindy Project: Season 1, Episode 20 “Pretty Man” (B+)

After a handful of iffy installments, it’s refreshing to see an admittedly over-the-top episode that’s actually quite funny. Mindy’s encounter at the bar with Adam was staged in such a manner that it was hard not to find it entrancing and also not surprising when it was revealed that he was in fact a prostitute. Adam was played by Josh Meyers, who is Seth Meyers’ brother, and will be familiar to audiences from his role as Randy in the final season of “That 70s Show” and also from his sketch work on “MadTV” alongside Morgan portrayer Ike Barinholtz. Adam’s invented railroad money story was terrific, and his parting kiss at the party was impressive. Mostly, however, this episode worked because it embellished the relationship between Danny and Mindy, with the latter being so offended to have not been invited to his dinner party that she turned it into something else altogether by spitefully inviting the entire office. Mindy accidentally revealing to Alex that Danny had an ex-wife ended what was an incredibly short relationship, but it’s probably for the best so that Mindy and Danny can get together sooner. I enjoyed Brendan’s guest appearance, and I do hope he continues to recur, even if he and Mindy don’t end up being fated to be together romantically. I think this was also the most productive use of Maggie yet, allowing her to make Jeremy jealous with an Australian date after he thought that he was going to have to let her down easy.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 2, Episode 21 “First Date” (B+)

After a disappointing serious installment last week, I love that this episode got us back to what’s funniest and most charming about Nick and Jess’ nervous romance. After their wonderfully awkward encounter in which Nick chose to keep his hands on Jess, he went to that fateful bench where he gives himself advice, and what a brilliant bad idea going on a date was. It was great to see him dressed up in a suit and to attempt to calm himself down by not objecting to that militant police officer’s constant jaywalking tickets. I can’t decide whether their first date, their second date, or their friend hangout at the bar was more fun, and it was a delight to see them flip-flop back and forth. Russell’s appearance was opportune because it brought them together in anger towards him for his offhand remark, and I think what was written on those pieces of papers is ultimately irrelevant. That final scene was terrific, and I hope that we haven’t seen the last of the unresolved feelings between these two. Schmidt and Winston’s wild adventures were most amusing because of Winston’s continued exaggerations of their plans, and bringing a homeless man into their bathroom so that he could stage a date interruption was a decidedly awful decision. Seeing the two of them bond as friends without Nick as a buffer made for a pretty cool secondary plot, and it’s especially refreshing to see Winston put to good use, not simply as a convenient fourth character.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 2, Episode 19 “Trojan Horse” (B+)

I love that this show is operating so effectively in multiple spheres right now, following three distinctly different plotlines and doing them all justice. The case of the week allowed Finch a less common opportunity to go undercover and pose, quite believably, as an IT expert doing regularly scheduled updates on computers at Monica’s work. Tracie Thoms, who was seen recently on “The Good Wife” and should be familiar to loyal viewers of “Cold Case” and “Wonderfalls,” had just the right energy to play Monica, who had to contend with a Mandarin-speaking duplicitous assistant and a murderous boss. The fact that Martin killed himself when he got a call from the man in charge is bad news, especially considering that their next target is the machine and the man who made it. Shaw’s return was just as cold as her previous appearance, but I think that, if anyone should be going after Root, it’s her, and I suspect that she’ll be back soon with a prisoner in tow and eager to get some answers both for her and for our dynamic duo. Fusco finally stepped up and helped prove to Carter that Beecher wasn’t a bad guy, but the results couldn’t have been more tragic. Beecher’s familial connection to Quinn explained his previously apparent allegiance to HR, and going to see Elias in jail cemented his status as a concerned innocent. The dramatic music that played when Carter heard about the distress call from Washington Heights and saw Beecher’s dead body enhanced an already emotional scene, and I think that this event may propel Carter to a much more aggressive take down on HR, hopefully with Fusco’s help.

Monday, April 8, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 9, Episode 18 “Promos” (C-)

The end is near, and this show still doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere redeeming. Turning the series-long interviews and unseen cameras into something makes sense, but it also seems a bit jarring in the way that it’s being done. I will admit that the one truly funny part of this episode was Angela and Oscar’s joint call to the Senator, in which Oscar said that he will probably be outed and Angela said that she was caught on film cheating on him with Dwight. Andy wasting his time being concerned with comments on the promo was much less interesting, and the ultimate reveal that it was Nellie posting the comments the whole time didn’t make it any more worthwhile. Pam continuing to question the stability of her relationship with Jim and go talk to Brian about it is not a good thing, and I wish that the show would stop trying to drive them apart. That’s even more true when Jim isn’t actually doing anything at work, instead indulging the other Ryan Howard (bring back B.J. Novak!) by reading a sci-fi sports screenplay for an entire day. I’d like to see considerably less of Dwight’s farm connections, and bringing Esther’s family to the office was not a productive plotline in my mind. Dwight was always destined to end up with Angela, and there’s no reason that Clark needs to become friends with Dwight before the show runs its course. This show should try instead to get back to the things that used to be funniest about it rather than bring everything full circle.