Monday, September 30, 2013

What I’m Watching: Parenthood (Season Premiere)

Parenthood: Season 5, Episode 1 “It Has To Be Now” (B+)

It’s reassuring to know that, for only the second time in this show’s history, it’s going to get a full season of twenty-two episodes. This completely Emmy-ignored light-hearted drama is one of TV’s most dependable shows with a terrific, talented ensemble, and it’s nice to have the Braverman family back on TV. The newest change in season five is Crosby being a father, and it’s quite a shift from his bachelor lifestyle. It’s going to take him time to get used to the idea of having a kid, and fortunately he has great role models in his family to look to so that he doesn’t screw up too badly and incur Jasmine’s wrath. Kristina wanting to go back to work for Bob made sense, and running for mayor against him is a big step which should prove challenging for her family but ultimately fulfilling for her. Max and Hank bonding was fun, and I’m glad that Ray Romano is sticking around even if Sarah is no longer interested in him. Julia is not having an easy time finding a new job, but it’s good that Joel found something, even if Sonya Walger’s Pete seems like she could be a problem. I’m glad to see Amber get some unexpected happy news after worrying that her relationship with Ryan was on the fritz, and let’s hope that only goes good places. Sarah’s life seems like it’s all over the place, and I think her next step is almost certain to be the new tenant she currently can’t stand but will most likely come to find herself attracted to soon enough.

Pilot Review: The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones (CBS)
Premiered September 26 at 9pm

CBS has proven itself to be quite dependable in providing something that most networks now don’t: sitcoms with laugh-tracks. The success of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men,” “2 Broke Girls,” and “How I Met Your Mother” make the presence of this show, which isn’t filled with nearly as many blunt jokes or a laugh track, in its Thursday night lineup bizarre at best. Robin Williams returning to TV is a big deal, and, to a lesser extent, so is Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose one post-“Buffy” effort, “Ringer,” crashed and burned after just one season on the CW. Pairing the two of them, supported by familiar TV faces James Wolk, from “Mad Men” and “Lone Star,” Hamish Linklater, from “The Newsroom” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” and Amanda Setton, who departed “The Mindy Project” midway through its first season, seems like something that should be extraordinarily successful. What it is, instead, is a pale imitation of the corporate and advertising worlds as portrayed on “Mad Men” and “House of Lies,” and a general mess with no coherent focal point. Having a celebrity guest star as themselves in a pilot is never a fantastic idea, mainly because it detracts from the rest of the show and its regular protagonists. Kelly Clarkson added nothing but pulled too much attention away from Williams’ zany Simon and his eccentric daughter Sydney. Williams is all too unhinged and eager to slip into a Scottish accent, while Gellar is limited by the scope of her role. Wolk and Linklater are far less properly utilized than they were in their most recent TV roles, and Setton, while less irritating than she was on her last show, doesn’t add much either. This show is wild but not worth the adventure, and it’s best described as scatter-brained and unfulfilling.

How will it work as a series? Simon and Sydney are sure to clash as they did in this first episode on a regular basis, and that should prove entertaining most of the time, especially since they’re such different personalities. Let’s hope that McDonald’s is just an example client and that each episode won’t be star-studded and supported by a name brand. This show could be creative on its own, and I’d like to see it embrace its fictional nature more.
How long will it last? Premiering against “The Michael J. Fox Show,” this series easily won in the ratings battle. Its 9pm slot is extremely coveted, but CBS also demands extremely high results from its series. Williams being back on TV should be enough of a reason to keep this show on the air, and as long as people come back to watch episode two, I see this one having little trouble getting renewed.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot Review: The Michael J. Fox Show

The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)
Premiered September 26 at 9pm

I’ve always liked Michael J. Fox, and I suspect most people have too. From his early days on TV and in “Back to the Future,” Fox was charming and funny, and he succeeded on “Spin City” as well later in his career. In recent years, while he has worked less because of his Parkinson’s, Fox has made great guest appearances on “Scrubs,” “Boston Legal,” “Rescue Me,” and “The Good Wife.” Now, he’s directly addressing his disease and starring in a show that features it front and center. It’s a nice idea, but the main problem is that the show around his character feels awfully conventional. His children are so purposefully dysfunctional to the point of being too normal for TV children these days, and his wife, played by Betsy Brandt of “Breaking Bad,” is entirely dull. Katie Finneran and Wendell Pierce, two actors who have proven their abilities in important supporting TV roles on “Wonderfalls” and “Treme,” among others, are given prominent parts to highlight them, but they’re a bit too showy and don’t work fully well. Episode one provides an introduction to this world, while episode two shows that, when given the opportunity to be creative and thrive, it opts for a terribly easy and embarrassing plotline about an attractive female neighbor and the jealousy created by her presence. Seeing Fox succeed is something everyone wants to do, but his character isn’t quite endearing enough, and his show feels all too familiar and unappealing at the same time.

How will it work as a series? The second installment aired on Thursday night was all too telling for me, giving each of the children and Mike’s sister Leigh a chance to show their inner selves to unfortunate effect. If Mike’s back at work, let’s show him back at work, and give him a few believable scenarios in which to appear that don’t involve him just staying at home, because that’s not going to prove interesting or entertaining.
How long will it last? NBC opted to premiere this show a week before its Sean Hayes offering, which will occupy the 9pm slot while this one will air at 9:30pm. That suggests its confidence in its success, and while its numbers couldn’t equal those of CBS’ debut of “The Crazy Ones” (review coming up next), they were pretty good, and I think that NBC is going to want to jump on this comedy as one of their hits of the season.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation (Season Premiere)

Parks and Recreation: Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2 “London, Part 1 and 2” (B+)

It’s a wonderful thing to have this show, which remains my favorite comedy on television, back for a sixth year as it comes closer and closer to airing its hundredth episode. Fantastically, it’s still fresh, and this first hourlong episode was very funny. After seeing the title of the episodes, I wondered how they might get to London, but it worked out perfectly, giving Leslie a chance to be honored for all of her hard work and to still experience the misery of being told that she doesn’t have it as good as others do. Casting Heidi Klum as another recipient of the prize from Denmark was an inspired choice, and she felt just like a European version of an Eagleton resident. April’s obsession with the Mongolian honoree was entertaining, and it was sweet to hear her later read aloud the letter she submitted to the organization nominating Leslie. Sending Ron on a train trip across Europe to discover something that he would actually like was remarkable, and it’s that kind of thing that makes this show so terrific. I love that Andy got along so well with the similarly childish Lord Covington, and their work together in London over the next few months should prove extremely enjoyable. Introducing Henry Winkler as Tom’s mystery nemesis and the father of Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa was fantastic, and I’m rooting for Tom to overcome this vindictive new player in his business. Ron and Diane’s wedding was appropriately brief but still nice, and I look forward to seeing where their relationship goes next. Ann and Chris got some big news, and let’s hope that their relationship only gets stronger as the pregnancy continues.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Contest Winners!

Tonight on Showtime are the season premiere of "Homeland" and the series premiere of "Masters of Sex." Thanks to all those who entered the giveaway to win posters and a "Homeland" book. I realized that my post announcing the winners had never officially gone up, and wanted to make sure it did in time for the premiere of the both shows! I have prizes for angela0040, Becka, and Jenny S. Please e-mail to claim your prize, and stay tuned for future opportunities to win cool TV things! Check back in a few days for my reviews of the season premieres, and leave your own thoughts in the comments!

What I’m Watching: Nashville (Season Premiere)

Nashville: Season 2, Episode 1 “I Fall to Pieces” (B-)

This is one show that I didn’t intensely miss during its summer hiatus, and one which I’m not entirely sure that I’d love to keep watching, though I likely will because it’s one of the shows that my fiancée and I watch together each week. Picking up where last season left off, this episode managed to hit on a number of plot points and introduce some new, worrisome threads for the various supporting players. Chris Carmack, who plays Will, is now a series regular, and his closeted sexual orientation is causing some major grief for Gunnar, who isn’t close to over Scarlett after she refused his proposal. Gunnar had a great moment with Avery when he turned his snarky comment around on him, and I’m not sure what will happen now with Scarlett as she moves on with her life while the two most prominent men in it continue to interact with her regularly. Deacon was experiencing some serious self-pity, complete with a number of flashbacks, and while he might want to punish himself with jail time, Rayna corroborating his lawyer’s suspicion that he wasn’t driving should spare him that. Juliette managed to milk Rayna’s time in the hospital for all it was worth, a truly selfish move, and befriending Maddie is an intriguing development. Teddy is extremely distracted, and Peggy lying to him about the pregnancy is immensely manipulative and sure to lead nowhere good. It’s interesting that Lamar is being given a new plotline when actor Powers Boothe is no longer a series regular, so we’ll have to see how far that goes.

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 1, Episode 12 “All About Eva” (B+)

In the aftermath of last week’s devastating hour, it was hard to imagine this one topping that. This was a transformative installment for all involved, and featured Steven and Charlotte, who we didn’t see last week, having their own issues moving on and adjusting to events as they are now. Steven’s hunt for Eva was determined if nothing else, and coming to see Sonya to ask for police help in finding her meant he was really serious, as did taking her to his place to convince her that he was telling the truth. Those two shots of Stephen surrounded by seemingly endless images of missing women, one when he was putting up the posters and the other when he was digging in the desert, were quite powerful. Charlotte making a new deal was yet another instance of her seizing power, though, like the woman she killed, her new business partner feels that sex should always come on the side. Daniel isn’t doing too well, but it was good to see him adjusting back to his old self after a visit to Adriana’s family dinner table, even if that didn’t work out productively for her because of the lifestyle she chose which so offended her mother. Marco was in truly bad shape, and that made it all the more marvelous to see Sonya step up to take him home when he was drunk, make him breakfast in the morning, and motivate him to get back into her newest case with a stirring speech, the best line of which was “So don’t tell me you’re not my partner.”

What I’m Watching: Modern Family (Season Premiere)

Modern Family: Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2 “Suddenly, Last Summer” and “First Days” (B+)

I’m very gratified to find both of these episodes highly enjoyable, especially since I found the third and fourth season premieres underwhelming. It comes at an especially good time after this show won what feels like an automatic annual trophy for Best Comedy Series, depriving every other show on the air of that award. But this hourlong premiere demonstrated what’s best about this show and what, nearly one hundred episodes in (that milestone comes in October), still works about it. Mitch and Cam trying to one-up each other with a proposal after the legalization of gay marriage was a wonderful plotline that wasn’t as much funny as it was sweet. Mitch was actually very well used in both these episodes, showing his sentimental side to Cam in the first installment and then standing up for once to his boss and protecting his niece in a storyline which also featured a great guest appearance by Justin Kirk as his boss. Cam getting a substitute teaching job and dressing up to teach Alex’s class was amusing, and I’m sure that having him as the football coach should prove much more productive and quite entertaining to boot. Claire’s bad first day was terrific, and I liked watching her try so hard to be liked only to accidentally deliver some damaging news before ending on a smiling note with her father. Gloria and Phil bonding over their children not needing them anymore was a welcome new angle for both of them, and a chance for them just to be parents. I’m hopeful that this is a sign of more enjoyable episodes to come this season.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pilot Review: Back in the Game

Back in the Game (ABC)
Premiered September 25 at 8:30pm

When I assessed this show back in May when the networks offered up previews of their new series, what I noticed was that Maggie Lawson, who was always one of my favorite players on “Psych,” was getting her own show, and that esteemed actor James Caan was going to play her father. The premise didn’t seem overly complicated, but it looked relatively appealing. What I didn’t process was that it was being put on by ABC, a network that, recently, has found success with shows like “Modern Family,” “Suburgatory,” and even “The Neighbors.” This series about a single mom with a son and a crotchety dad who all love baseball feels like a sitcom that might air on CBS, or maybe even FOX. But it doesn’t seem to fit into the current ABC slate. Airing on the wrong network isn’t a cancellable offense, but if the tone of the show doesn’t match up to any of the channel’s other offerings, that can be problematic. The main issue, however, is that the show has promise but doesn’t fully deliver on it. Lawson is great, and I’m very happy to see her in a lead role. Caan, on the other hand, isn’t trying very hard, and his character is a bit too unhinged and overbearing for my tastes. Young actor Griffin Gluck is spunky but fairly precocious, and his anti-bullying tactic is unconventional if nothing else. Lenora Crichlow, from the British “Being Human,” feels like she’s just been dropped in from an entirely different universe to help pull a few important strings, and she’ll be featured all too much throughout the show’s run. Showcasing misfits is always a welcome strategy, but this show needs a little more work before it truly finds its voice.

How will it work as a series? Now that Lawson’s Terry has discovered that The Cannon was actually invested in her success during her childhood, she’s likely to trust him more, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be any less blunt or obnoxious. Giving Jerry a life of her own outside of her son and her father should prove positive, and the baseball stuff might not be too bad either.
How long will it last? Its pilot ratings were decent but nothing to write home about, higher than what the renewed “The Neighbors” netted in this same timeslot last year but not substantially. It’s all a question of how much ABC wants its Wednesday night comedy block to succeed, and I suspect they’ll give this one a chance at least for a few months.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: Lucky 7

Lucky 7 (ABC)
Premiered September 24 at 10pm

It’s unlikely that this show seems familiar to anyone. For one, it’s based, like so many series these days, on a British show called “The Syndicate,” which follows a group of people who win the lottery in a pool. While I have yet to see that series, I do remember a 2006 NBC summer offering called “Windfall,” which brought together a group of unconnected individuals whose lives were changed when they all split a lottery pot. On ABC’s latest series, the employees of a gas station all win a $145 million jackpot which leads to some success but presumably equal trouble down the road for all as well. The concept, as always, is clever to a degree, and of course it might be interesting to watch bad things happen to those who seem to have been graced with such fortune. The problem, however, is that these characters are defined in such an unspecific, cliché fashion that it’s hard to believe any of them truly exist. Lorraine Bruce’s Denise is the best example of that, and it’s especially puzzling since the actress played the same part on the BBC series. Frequent TV watchers will be please to see Isiah Whitlock Jr. from “The Wire” as the paternal manager of the gas station and Matt Long from “Jack and Bobby” and “The Deep End” as a struggling father with a new baby, but both of them have been better in the past. I’m not sure this premise ever yields a positive result, but this lackluster melodrama sure isn’t worth watching each week.

How will it work as a series? The British version followed a different character each week, and so it stands to reason that this show might do the same. Hints have already been dropped to suggest that each character’s life is equally populated by secrets, and so, however ridiculous they may be, this show’s plot twists should be easily creatable.
How long will it last? Not long. Only two hours after the strong start of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” this show’s debut ranked as ABC’s lowest-rated fall premiere ever. It’s hard to come back from that kind of statistic, and I think this show may join “Lone Star” and “Do No Harm” in the cancelled-after-two-episodes club.

Pilot grade: F

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 3, Episode 1 “Liberty” (B+)

I was so thrilled about the direction that this procedural went in second two, and I’m excited to see that season three is off to a similarly creative and terrific start. Adding Sarah Shahi’s Shaw and Amy Acker’s Root to the main cast is the best decision that this show has made since it started, and both enhanced this episode considerably. I like that Shaw is always on call to help out with a number, but that she isn’t quite keen to the idea of non-lethal force, and when she does agree to it, she requires a steak as compensation. Root, on the other hand, is still locked up, but this episode provided a marvelous look at how she’s really waiting to play her hand, telling her doctor everything she knows about him before threatening to kill him. With Carter demoted to the rank of officer, she’s actually even more helpful to Reese and Finch, though she’s also playing her own game by working with Elias without telling them, which could prove dangerous. This show was always interesting, but I’m so glad to see that it’s now found its groove, and this installment about a sailor on shore leave in trouble was a fantastic one. Watching Finch listening and helping from his home, Reese going on to do negotiations, Carter helping out with logistics, and Fusco playing the part of the bearded horse carriage driver was so much fun, and especially with Root lurking in her temporary home, I can imagine that this season is going to be spectacular.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 6, Episode 3 “Poenitentia” (B+)

I’ve always been impressed with the montages this show puts together, which sometimes come from out of nowhere but prove to be very effective in summarizing what’s going on and showcasing the events in an extraordinarily compelling light. I didn’t appropriately express my enthusiasm last week at the casting of CCH Pounder as District Attorney Tyne Patterson, now the sixth former cast member from another terrific FX drama, “The Shield,” to stop by this show. Her partnership with Toric and actually hiring of him is disconcerting, especially considering his accidental shooting of the prostitute he was sleeping with and his brutal torture methods. It’s much more worrisome to see how he reacts to his gun going off, which is to kill her without a second thought and then figure out how to get rid of the body. It was good to see Roosevelt again, and nice to know that actor Rockmund Dunbar is still interested appearing on this show, even if his character no longer tolerates SAMCRO. While Clay is on the inside figuring out the best way to deal with his situation, it’s impressive to see Jax and Barosky work together to take care of their problems, in this instance a drive-by shooting that nearly got Collette hurt. Tara may be pregnant, but that’s not as big a deal as Wendy pretending to get attacked to get Jax to help her out. And of course there’s Tig, who looks like he might finally be in for his end, though I suspect the more business-minded Marks, played by actor Billy Brown, also currently appearing on “Hostages,” may have some better use for Tig than the simple revenge Pope had planned.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pilot Review: Trophy Wife

Trophy Wife (ABC)
Premiered September 24 at 9:30pm

This is the kind of show that most don’t expect to be anywhere close to good, and instead just a chance to show off a pretty face and see if a show might work around her. While it’s far from terrific, it’s not actually all that bad, much better than the show that leads into it, at the very least. Swedish actress Malin Akerman, who I remember well from films like “Watchmen,” “The Bang Bang Club,” and “The Romantics,” has the charm and presence to play the third wife of a man with three kids from previous marriages who is well aware of her status in all of their lives. Bradley Whitford is a fun choice to play the husband, and the show deserves credit for enlisting the talents of the icy Marcia Gay Harden and the hilariously unhinged Michaela Watkins to portray his first two wives. His two older children, Hillary and Warren, are actually decent characters, though I have to take issue with Bert, his son from his second marriage, who is far too precocious and irritating. I’m also not too taken with Meg, Kate’s best friend, which is especially lamentable since I liked actress Natalie Morales a lot in her recurring role as Lucy on “Parks and Recreation.” I’m not sure this show has all that much potential, but it was considerably better and much more watchable than I had anticipated. Whether that should be considered a success is another matter, but at least this pilot was remotely entertaining.

How will it work as a series? A lot of action involving all three of the wives was packed into this episode, so that suggests that equal emphasis will be placed on all of the characters, which means that this show can go many different directions. I’m hopeful that it can outgrow his name and won’t be tethered by a need to frame Kate as just a trophy wife.
How long will it last? The pilot ratings were decent, and this show got slightly better mentions than “The Goldbergs,” which puts it ahead of the curve just a bit for survival. It remains to be seen how ABC will feel about its new Tuesday night comedies, so for now I’d put this show’s odds of survival at fifty-fifty.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: The Mindy Project

The Mindy Project: Season 2, Episode 2 “The Other Dr. L” (C+)

I can tell that parting from this show is going to be an unlikely event, even though I’m no longer impressed with the direction the show is headed and have little faith that it will be changed anytime soon. In addition to Beth Grant, who became a series regular midway through the show’s first season as the nutty and completely counterproductive character Beverly, Xosha Roquemore, who plays Tamra, has also been promoted to series regular status for this season. Turning Morgan into something other than a one-shot plotline and succeeding to some degree was a large enough victory, and showcasing those two, who are infinitely more grating than the original receptionist character, Shauna, indicates that this show is never going to get away from its medical office setting. The removal of James Franco’s other Dr. L was done in a semi-clever way, though he was so obnoxious for most of it that it just wasn’t really worth it. Losing in a shot-off with Mindy was no surprise, but sleeping with Christina was a considerably bolder and more reckless move. I’m so unimpressed with how Jeremy has completely lost his backbone and composure, and now he’s nothing but the practice’s most serious member, a far cry from his casual and eternally detached doctor in season one. Danny’s basketball league, while slightly funny, was the kind of storyline that likely worked a lot better on paper than it did practically as it played out in this episode. No matter what his plotline is, however, Chris Messina always and dependably commits.

Pilot Review: The Goldbergs

The Goldbergs (ABC)
Premiered September 24 at 9pm

I’ll admit that I expected horrible things from this show going into it, but it was pretty awful all on its own. It’s probably the worst and most inexplicable decision ABC has made since premiering another comedy in this same timeslot six years ago. “Cavemen” was based on a popular Geico commercial, and someone thought that thirty seconds of humor could translate to thirty minutes of hilarity. In short, they were wrong. The notion that a comedy about living in the eighties, however autobiographical, would be funny just because it was a comedy about living in the eighties, is equally illogical. And it’s not that this show’s humor is grounded in a world from thirty years ago, but rather that its characters and plotlines are supposed to be entertaining because, and only because, of their setting. It’s difficult to assign the moniker of worst character on the show to any of the family’s six horrible members, though George Segal gets a pass because he’s portraying the token grandfather. Jeff Garlin, who was perfect for his role on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” puts so little effort into being the overreaction-prone father that it’s laughable, while Wendi McLendon-Covey, who has been good in fare like “Bridesmaids,” is so far at the end of the spectrum that’s she unbearable. “The X Factor” contestant Hayley Orrantia and the inconveniently-named Troy Gentile compete to be more like 80s stereotypical children, and neither wins, while Sean Giambrone’s narrator character suffers from acute precocious television child syndrome. There is nothing to laugh about on this show, and it’s hard to believe that enough people thought it would make a remotely decent TV show.

How will it work as a series? Despite dashing through a handful of clips of 80s films in its opening moments, this show hasn’t exhausted all of the most preposterous things about its selected decade. Beyond that, it will surely cover the traditional things that afflict families with children of different ages and present themselves in sitcoms.
How long will it last? I was shocked to find that while another terrible new series, “Dads,” scored a horrific 15 on Metacritic, this show netted a whopping 52, meaning that it’s not as despised as it should be. Its premiere numbers were fine, but I think it will fall considerably and inconsolably in week two and beyond, and is headed for cancellation sooner rather than later.

Pilot grade: F-

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 3, Episode 2 “Nerd” (B+)

There are times at which this show’s plotlines aren’t entirely creative or logical, but it manages to be terrific and hilarious anyway. Jess not fitting in with her fellow teachers at a new school made sense, and I liked the casting of two familiar comedy faces in new and different roles. Seeing Angela Kinsey from “The Office” as an adult mean girl rather than a stuck-up strange woman was fun, and the same was true of Dreama Walker, transplanted from “Apartment 23” overexuberance to a more controlled and cruel bullying teacher. The fact that Nick invited them to his bar to help Jess become popular was great, as was his later action of breaking into the principal’s backyard with Jess so that he could be her partner in crime. They’re a sweet couple, even dorkier together than they are individually. Schmidt’s continuing two-girl crisis doesn’t seem to be approaching its end anytime soon, but this episode did deal with it in a fun way that gave us the opportunity to see Eva Amurri again as Schmidt’s workplace nemesis who is very much aware of the fact that he’s simultaneously dating two women. His box-size “Mad Men” imitation office was entertaining, and I like how he unintentionally tricked Cece and Elizabeth into thinking the other was there for a perfectly natural reason and that there was no reason to suspect anything else. Winston’s bizarre reactions continue to be terrific, and I love that his first instinct was to murder Daisy’s cat when he realized she didn’t want to be exclusive. It’s rare to see him stand up for himself, and that was a welcome treat.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Round Two: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Tagger” (B-)

I’m going to try to be discerning this year with which shows I continue watching after disappointing pilots, but I felt that this comedy was worthy of a second shot despite my lack of enthusiasm for the first installment. This second episode is no better and no worse than the pilot, hardly hilarious but not entirely unfunny also. Andy Samberg continues to try his hardest to create a character so gleefully irritating that it’s hard not to love him. His determination to find a way not to follow all the rules is half charming and half annoying, and it’s hard to decide which half comes on stronger. Andre Braugher seems intent on keeping Captain Holt as stoic as possible, equally set on making Samberg’s Jake realize that he has to take himself more seriously as he is on making his life miserable until he comes around to that idea. What I did like was the fact that Holt stood by Jake when he decided to arrest the commissioner’s son, effectively protecting Jake’s career and applauding him for making the choice he did to do the right thing rather than the lazy thing. The almost-romance between Charles and Rose is somewhat entertaining, but this show still needs to figure out exactly what it wants to do with its supporting characters. Terry is an exception, amusing in his short tirades about his minivan, and it’s good to someone used effectively. I’m still not sold on this show, but I haven’t given up hope of improvement yet either.

Pilot Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
Premiered September 24 at 8pm

I’d rank this as the fall pilot I was most excited to watch, and I have to admit that I’m disappointed. I got so caught up in the Marvel universe and the world of the Avengers, and I forgot to consider the fact that this show might be truly hokey. There’s a disconnect between the Agent Phil Coulson of the movies, who truly was cool, and the one featured in this show, who goes on talking much longer than he should and turns what could be serious moments into jokes. The bigger problem is the team, which right now lacks a grounding force. Brett Dalton’s Agent Grant Ward is too cocky and unwilling to let anyone else measure up to his standards, while Ming-Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May exhibits the same sense of superiority without the social skills. Fitz-Simmons is a funnier concept, and though they’re impossibly awkward, they do work together well. Chloe Bennet, last seen as Hailey on “Nashville,” is given too prominent a spotlight in this hour, and Skye manages to ascend to a level of access and intelligence far beyond what would make any logical sense given that all her efforts to that point had been spent on trying to take down S.H.I.E.L.D. and expose it for the shadowy government organization it was. I had wanted this to be something like Syfy’s cancelled-too-soon “Alphas,” a smart and dramatic take on superheroes in our midst, and instead it’s a mix of the overzealous and underdeveloped universe of “Heroes” and the childish comic-book idealism of “No Ordinary Family.” I’d love for this to be an awesome show about finding superheroes and stopping supervillains, but this is not what I signed up for.

How will it work as a series? The agents have some pretty distinctive personalities, and so I think their interactions and, more importantly, their backstories, will play just as much of a central role in the show’s weekly events as its episodic guest stars. It might actually be pretty fun, but this start was underwhelming.
How long will it last? ABC was hoping for juggernaut audiences for this show, and, thus far, it got them. It netted the best series premiere ratings for the network since “V” in 2009, and I suspect the week-to-week retention will be better here given the massive network of movies associated with it. This will likely be the first broadcast renewal of the season, and it could come soon too.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: Hostages

Hostages (CBS)
Premiered September 23 at 10pm

This well-advertised show is jumping on the patriotism bandwagon, using American flags in its promotional posters and putting the life of the president in the hands of someone being manipulated by a rogue FBI agent with some greater purpose in mind. Most interestingly, this is designed to be a fifteen-episode series so that its plot can be contained in a tighter and more concise run. I’m wondering how they’ll manage to stretch it to even that, considering it could have been over and done with, and I imagine there are going to be so many inconsistencies along the way. What is likeliest to be the case is a failure to follow through, namely that no-nonsense ringleader Duncan Carlisle, portrayed by Dylan McDermott, is going to make idle threats, promising to exact pain and vengeance on Dr. Ellen Sanders’ family but then letting her attempts to defy him go unpunished. Her first major tactic, to push off the president’s surgery, was somewhat clever because it still presents the opportunity for her to operate on him again in the future. Using her husband Tom, portrayed by Tate Donovan, who always seems to draw the short straw in terms of being abused, as a punching bag, does not seem like the most effective option. Not shooting the dog and keeping her daughter’s pregnancy a secret contradict Duncan’s modus operandi, and I’m concerned that such things will prevent the show from being engaging and believable. I do like the group of actors assembled to play Duncan’s team – Billy Brown from “The Following,” Rhys Coiro from “Entourage,” and Sandrine Holt from “House of Cards.” I’ve liked Toni Collette better in other roles. This show might prove interesting, but it’s going to have to deliver in its second installment to convince me to keep watching.

How will it work as a series? That’s the primary issue that this pilot brings up, which is that it took an entire episode to get to Ellen’s first move on the chess board, and the pacing might be far too slow to get the show to remain relevant for fifteen episodes. A curve ball or a focus on supporting characters could change that, but I’m not optimistic.
How long will it last? CBS might be compelled to air all fifteen episodes, but the pilot ratings are not much to write home about, and that would likely be it. CBS does not have a history of being forgiving to its underperforming shows, and I think trying out a contained run of a show is worth the risk, but the network is not going to want to commit to anything else.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot Review: The Blacklist

The Blacklist (NBC)
Premiered September 23 at 10pm

This was one of many people’s most anticipated fall dramas, but it’s also worth noting that most of the events of its pilot episode were recounted in detail in its extended series preview. It’s hard to judge its effectiveness as a result, but there’s still plenty to be said about this pilot. My number one worry was that too much emphasis would be placed upon James Spader’s natural and detestable charisma, and that the show around him would be quite weak. Unfortunately, that is true, as Spader waltzes in and chews scenery like he means it, dwarfing everyone and everything else about the show. His selection of rookie agent Elizabeth Keen is meant to suggest something important about her, but that’s from the case, and she’s just a run-of-the-mill newbie up-and-comer with no discernable traits or skills, other than the ability to be impossibly calm in certain situations, namely the abduction of the girl she was sent in explicitly to protect, a definitive mark of mission failure. Attributing a secret life filled with many, many passports to her husband seems unsustainable, and I think this show is going to be grounded in entirely too much trust and liberty being afforded to its central bad guy. Spader is good, sure, but it doesn’t feel like he’s putting in any effort at all. I’m far from hooked by this first installment, especially because of the unnaturally violent home invasion, but I think this show might have some potential if it finds its groove.

How will it work as a series? Spader’s Raymond Reddington has a list of people that he’s been amassing for years, and this is hardly the first time that a list with innumerable names or things on it has been the basis for a series. The question is whether the agents pursuing the people on his list and his relationship with them will be just as compelling as the bad guy of the week.
How long will it last? This is going to be NBC’s dramatic hit of the season, I think, because Spader does command an audience and it’s a cool premise. The pilot easily dominated the series start of “Hostages” (review coming up next), and I think that this will be one of the early success stories of the fall.

Pilot grade: C

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pilot Review: Mom

Mom (CBS)
Premiered September 23 at 9:30pm

Last week was the premiere of FOX’s “Dads,” and one had to hope that CBS’ similarly-titled sitcom would at least be a little better. That’s true, of course, but mainly because the first show was just that bad. Pairing two genuinely funny comediennes should have been a recipe for success, but this is just another run-of-the-mill laugh-track-driven CBS comedy. The show actually makes its first mistake in its opening moments, showcasing a hysterical Christy, portrayed by Anna Faris, having a meltdown as she goes from table to table crying while waiting on the unsuspecting guests at a restaurant. That over-the-top introduction conveys the lack of complexity this show offers, opting for visual gags that detract considerably from its actually being funny. Faris rolls her eyes constantly in an effort to acknowledge the ridiculousness of things going on around her and applaud her own attempts to be a good person, but it comes off as miserably forced. Allison Janney is a no-brainer to play an eternally manipulative and self-involved mother slash grandmother, but her role is broadly written to the point that it’s impossible to take her seriously. At least they’re somewhat stronger than token rebellious daughter Violet, who is a walking teen cliché. Supporting players like French Stewart are excessively flamboyant, while others, like Nate Corrdry, are wasted in uninteresting roles. Matt Jones, who played Badger on “Breaking Bad,” is an exception in the admittedly brainless part of Christy’s ex-husband Baxter. There could have been a lot of creativity here, but this show just isn’t trying very hard, and it’s too bad considering the potential of the premise and talent involved.

How will it work as a series? Two mother-daughter dynamics have already been established, and now Janney’s Bonnie will likely be involved in a big way with her daughter and granddaughter, which should make for plenty of well-intentioned mishaps. I’m not sure what will become of the various supporting players, but the main stars should have more than enough material to keep them busy for a while.
How long will it last? The show was already picked up for a full season way back in May, which is pretty impressive considering it didn’t start until months later, and given that this is just what CBS tends to do best, I think that the network will for once be happy with a premature pickup and give this show a vote of confidence, returning it to the airwaves for many predictable, repetitive years to come.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 1, Episode 12 “Same Exactly” (A-)

A cable season finale is always worth anticipating because it wraps up all the season’s threads in a big way and usually sets things in a whole new direction. It wasn’t clear which threads this show would wrap up in its first year, but there was no concern about things being left up in the air since the show was renewed for a second season just a couple weeks after its premiere. What was dealt with in this finale was the impact of Ray’s execution of the priest on his brothers and the whole Sully problem, and both were given excellent and powerful resolutions. Ray taunting Frank to arrest him for a crime that he actually wasn’t guilty of was an entertaining start to a much more intense situation, in which Ray decided that he had to trust Mickey in order to defeat a common enemy. Their conversation at the gym was terrific, and it’s important to help understand why Ray hated his father so much. The boatside shootout was very well-coordinated, and hopefully its one unanticipated casualty, Avi, will make it through just fine. I was very happy with Avi as a character this season, and I hope that Katherine Moennig’s Lena will get a similarly strong showcase next season. The supporting players on this show are all so fantastic, and this episode provided some minor resolution for most of them. Ray telling Terry to let Frances go was unkind, and it was sad to see him lash out at her when she reacted poorly to the news about the priest. Bunchy paying a visit to the church was a bad sign, and it’s worthwhile to be worried about him going into season two. Ezra proposing to Deb so that she can’t testify against him is far form romantic but probably smart, even though that shouldn’t be much of a concern anymore. The episode’s final moment was its best, with Connor and Bridget both unfazed by the sight of Ray with a bloody shirt sleeping on the beach. This has been a great first year, and I can’t wait for season two of this underrated series.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Liev Schreiber

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire: Season 4, Episode 3 “Acres of Diamonds” (B+)

I was glad to see Nucky featured so centrally in this episode because I feel like he’s barely had a part in this season when he used to be the show’s protagonist. Having him lay low has made him much less of a lead, but it’s good to see him back and better than ever. Sparking up a conversation with Skeeter Walsh after hearing his sales pitch was the first sign of Nucky starting up again, though his lack of enthusiasm for his friend’s business deal indicated that he, smartly, was thinking about what partnerships actually made sense and that going into business with unreliable loose cannons probably wasn’t the wisest option. Unfortunately, Nucky came around to the idea a little too late for Bill, and now he’s unintentionally earned himself a different loose cannon for a partner. Nucky’s bar conversation with Patricia Arquette’s Sally was pretty great, and it’s good to see him connecting with someone in Margaret’s absence. Another notable female on the show, Gillian, is doing very well with her new man, and it’s a shame that her past just keeps catching up to her. Richard, on the other hand, is leaving his past behind and heading back to civilization after his sister saved his life following his crisis of conscience. Narcisse continues to be an enigmatic and intriguing character who is going to cause trouble for everyone around him, and working with Arnold Rothstein will only make him more powerful and dangerous. The focus on Eli’s son Willie is interesting, and it was nothing if not a great opportunity to see Mickey again, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of Willie in the near future.

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad (Penultimate Episode)

Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 15 “Granite State” (A-)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that is so insanely plot-driven. As compared with “Dexter,” which wrapped up its eight-year run the same night this episode aired, this show is firmly committed to seeing all of its many threads through, following all of its characters and showcasing their stories as well. Impossibly, it’s gotten even darker than ever before, moving into seriously disturbing territory with two acts committed by Todd. The home invasion brought Skyler back into things in a frightening way, and the murder of Andrea was a brutal punishment for Jesse’s escape attempt, all the more cruel after Todd gave Jesse ice cream as a reward for his 96% purity. It’s hard to read Todd, which is what makes him so fascinating, always the one to pull the trigger and do the dirty deed but mysteriously advocating for Skyler to stay alive. His relationship with Lydia is fantastic, and I’m so glad that these two fringe characters are being featured so prominently in the show’s final hours. The casting of Robert Forster as the man who makes people disappear was brilliant, and I loved seeing Saul for what may be the last time, expressing to Walt that he really isn’t into all this stuff, and then earning a rare victory over Walt when his cough kicked in and his threat didn’t seem so worrisome anymore. Walt arriving in snowy New Hampshire was an excellent start to a lonely end for him, and seeing him just months later offering to pay his associate $10,000 to stay and play cards with him was mesmerizing. Calling Walter Jr. only to have him lash out at him and tell him that he should just die already seemed like the final nail in the coffin for him. But of course this show isn’t done with Walt just yet, and hearing his old friends belittle him egged him on to ditch the DEA and make one last play which I have no doubt will prove to be absolutely spectacular in the upcoming series finale.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What I’m Watching: Dexter (Series Finale)

Dexter: Season 8, Episode 12 “Remember the Monsters?”

It’s been eight years and almost a hundred episodes coming, and Dexter’s story has now come to a close. It was going to be difficult for the show to provide a satisfactory end to its mythology, but it’s hard not to feel a little underwhelmed. The main thing is that nothing about this finale harked back to the show’s most memorable characters, instead boiling it down to the relationship between Dexter and Deb as the most important thing in this life. Once Deb died, which happened in the classic fashion of her seeming fine after being shot and then all of a sudden taking a turn for the worse, Dexter didn’t feel that he had anything to live for, which prompted him to make the bold decision to sail right into the heart of a tropical storm. The problem is that leaving Hannah to fend for herself in Argentina and take care of Harrison doesn’t track with any of the recent emotions he was feeling, especially because Hannah understands him infinitely more than Deb ever could. While the closing image of him coming home from a solitary life as a lumberjack was powerful, it’s disappointing because it suggests that Dexter succeeded in faking his death but felt the need to continue living by himself instead of returning to his family. Other shows have ended that way more effectively, and I just don’t buy it as the way that Dexter signs off. It was interesting to see Dexter kill Saxon in full view of a security camera and to have Batista and Quinn essentially look the other way and absolve him of any guilt. There wasn’t any sort of closure for those characters as their own people, instead all related in some way to Dexter and Deb. In contrast to another departing show, “Breaking Bad,” this show didn’t do enough to embellish its ensemble and honor them in the same way that it honored its main protagonists at the end of its run. This show will be remembered for its astonishing lead actor, Michael C. Hall, and for a tremendous first and fourth season. I’d also recognize the fifth and the seventh as especially strong, but I know not everyone agrees with the latter selections. Its finale, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired and doesn’t provide nearly the fitting closure it should.

Series finale: B-
Season grade: B
Season MVP: Michael C. Hall
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Michael C. Hall
Best Season: Season 1
Best Episode: TBD

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 3, Episode 8 “It Happened in Boston” (B-)

It’s always strange when a show reframes one of its long-running characters in a whole new light after they’re no longer around. Sean was always one of the show’s most dependable players, and his sincerity was what made him endearing. To have him killed by his own brother and then remembered as a vicious murderer who committed multiple crimes on his own is truly a shame. For Ruth to be the one to ultimately corroborate Mickey’s story and confirm Sean’s guilty beyond a doubt is even more unfortunate, considering the fact that Sean had nothing but affection for her. Sean may be dead, but Mickey’s fate might be worse, since he’s the one who helped Durant avoid being associated in any way with the murdered senator, and Durant has now taken his act of helpfulness and turned it against him. It’s no surprise that Durant is the show’s most despicable character, but it’s still jarring to see multiple lives ruined by one quick and fleeting action. Another spur-of-the-moment decision is affecting lives, forcing Eva to consider her place in Hell on Wheels and sending Elam straight for the bottle, unable to effectively complete his duties as sheriff of the railroad as a result. Once again, Cullen found himself wandering around with a partner in crime nearly getting himself killed in the process. While expected, it’s become a bit repetitive, and this episode just didn’t feel like it got things anywhere in the middle of an otherwise quite engaging and strong season.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 1, Episode 11 “Take the Ride, Pay the Toll” (B+)

What an emotionally wrenching hour this was. After orchestrating so many things to bring to the attention of law enforcement the great discrepancy between how murders in Mexico and in the United States are handled, David Tate saved his most devastating and personal act for last. Encouraging Marco to kill Daniel in order to save his son’s life was a horrible game, and it’s a testament to Marco that he didn’t give in to it. The editing of this episode was enormously complex, telling multiple narratives at once without full disclosure about when their events were transpiring. Sonya reaching into the tub and yelling Gus’ name before the show cut to commercial was worrisome enough in itself, and then having her run to Marco on the bridge screaming that they found Gus while David was trying to get Marco to kill him was enormously intense. This was a tour de force performance from Demian Bichir as Marco, indicating so much in just his face and then expressing his agony in the way that he shouted at those parties around him. Ultimately, Sonya acted nobly by shooting them both, but it’s clear that it’s going to take Marco a while to forgive her. His words were harsh, but it’s also quite shocking that Gus actually died. This show has turned out to be very competent, and though the main action is probably done with for the season, I’m very interested to see where it goes next, especially since David is still alive and Marco won’t be too happy about that.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 6, Episode 2 “One One Six” (B+)

The aftermath of last week’s devastating school shooting is proving to be extremely compelling, and I’m glad to see that this show is using that to positive storytelling effect. The implications are so layered, and the look on Jax’s face when he first heard the news said it all. The fact that his Irish partners want to keep selling the guns because they’ll be hotter than ever because of the tragedy is extremely disturbing, and I think that will lead to an increased divide between Jax and the club. Nero shooting Arcadio in the head happened so quickly but permanently, and Nero is going to have to live with the repercussions of that. His insistence that they not kill Darvany was a sign that he still had some principles to hold to, and that made Juice’s smothering of a restrained and freshly high Darvany, played by Samaire Armstrong from “The O.C.,” all the more devastating. Juice is entering some dark territory now too, and everything is falling apart. Clay requesting visitation with both Gemma and Jax to brag about turning on them is concerning, but Toric’s extracurricular activities are much more worrisome. Linking up with CCH Pounder’s district attorney to tie SAMCRO to the shooting is a frightening partnership, and I suspect that the most innocent and noble-minded parties, like Jax and Juice, are going to bear the brunt of their fury. As always, there’s nothing quite like this show, ready to kill off a character at any point and destroy another’s world without any warning.

What I’m Watching: The Mindy Project (Season Premiere)

The Mindy Project: Season 2, Episode 1 “All My Problems Solved Forever…” (C)

I really want to like this show, but I also haven’t reached the point at which I can no longer stand it, though I’m sure it’s not far off at this rate. The whole idea of Mindy actually going to Haiti is preposterous, and for her to be airlifted back to New York, rather than somewhere a bit closer, like, say, Miami, is equally ridiculous. The fact that she would ever agree to a casual wedding planned in less than a week is utterly unbelievable, and it does this show a disservice to have Mindy consider such thoughts for even a moment. I’ve read many times that this show would do well to ditch its medical office setting entirely, and I think that adding James Franco as a workplace nemesis for Mindy is an unnecessary stunt that will likely last just one episode and add nothing to the overall storyline of the show. Jeremy getting fat is another instance of the show being lazy and uncreative, and it’s disappointing to see it featured so prominently. I’m more impressed with Danny’s plotline, which was funny and embarrassing, and put him in a position where he couldn’t possibly defend himself. I’m sure it’s going nowhere fast, but I do love that the awkward flirtation between Mindy and Danny continues, and that he seemed devastated to hear that she was marrying Casey but then talked her into going through with the wedding if she thought it was what she really wanted. I’ll give this show a few more weeks, but my confidence is waning.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Emmy Awards: Brief Reactions

I just finished watching the Emmys, and want to post a few reactions about the ceremony and the winners. Neil Patrick Harris was a fun and competent host, and his introduction of the past hosts was entertaining if a bit overlong. The opening segment was relatively funny, and his musical numbers throughout were enjoyable. Having specific performers present designated tributes to actors like James Gandolfini and Cory Monteith was a nice touch, and it’s good to see them spotlighted. It’s interesting to me that the Best Choreography nominees got to put together a dance number, which was admittedly fun, for the telecast when it’s been such an unsuccessful uphill battle for a similar category to be introduced at the Oscars. It’s weird not to have every nominated show represented in that number, but it was still fun.

As for the winners, I scored 11/23 for the categories I predicted. That’s better than 8/25 for two years ago and about on par with 10/25 last year. Though I missed every single acting winner except for Claire Danes, I did predict both series categories and all four comedy and drama directing and writing prizes correctly. I’m thrilled for two winners I was rooting for, Tony Hale and Bobby Cannavale, and excited about “Breaking Bad” winning for Best Drama Series, even if I would have voted for “Homeland.” It was also nice to see diverse winners such as Merritt Wever and Anna Gunn honored, and, the most surprising win of all, Jeff Daniels. That’s an enormous blow to Aaron Sorkin and his show, because it means that voters really like Daniels’ performance and just don’t like “The Newsroom” as a show.

That’s about all I have to say for the moment – it wasn’t a bad show, but it wasn’t all that memorable either. Thanks for following along this Emmy season, and stick around for pilot reviews galore here in the coming weeks and the start of Oscar season over at Movies With Abe!

Final Emmy Winner Predictions

The Emmy Awards air this Sunday night on CBS. So far, I’ve predicted 2/4 correctly, missing both Carrie Preston (The Good Wife) and Melissa Leo (Louie), and correctly guessing Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal) and Bob Newhart (The Big Bang Theory). I’m far from secure in many of my predictions, because I really don’t know what this year’s big show will be in the drama race. My gut says “Homeland” will reign again, while “Breaking Bad” nabs a few acting trophies and “House of Cards” fares fine. Then again, “Downton Abbey” or “Mad Men” could have a resurgence. And will this finally be the year that “Modern Family” doesn’t win? It just doesn’t seem to me that there’s a nominee poised to take it down. Either way, I’m excited for the show, and will post some brief reactions either immediately afterwards or the next morning. Enjoy the show, and leave your thoughts in the comments! For detailed predictions in all applicable categories, click on the hyperlinked category name.

No guts, no glory:
“Veep” for Best Comedy Series

Breaking Bad

Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

Claire Danes (Homeland)

Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)

Chapter 1 (House of Cards)

Q and A (Homeland)

Modern Family

Louis C.K. (Louie)

Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Ty Burrell (Modern Family)


Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Arrested (Modern Family)

Last Lunch (30 Rock)

Behind the Candelabra

Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra)

Laura Linney (The Big C: Hereafter)

James Cromwell (American Horror Story)

Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story)

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

The Daily Show

The Amazing Race

What I’m Watching: New Girl (Season Premiere)

New Girl: Season 3, Episode 1 “All In” (B)

I’m delighted to have this show back, but I can’t help but feel that this was a relatively unserious if entirely entertaining hour. It’s fun to see how Jess and Nick choose to splurge and have the ultimate vacation, getting as much free stuff as possible and then running for their lives once they got caught. Seeing them fully into each other and much more concerned with how to make their relationship work practically now that they have affirmed their feelings for one another is a great way to frame this season, and I look forward to much more of that in coming episodes. Schimdt and Winston having trouble being friends without Nick around is very amusing, and I like that, in keeping with the other peculiar ways in which attempts are made to give Winston his own plotlines, Winston has a creepy and rather hilarious obsession with puzzles, and, unsurprisingly, he’s terrible at them. Schmdit’s woman problems are never going to end, and things are going to work out extremely poorly for him if he keeps leading both Cece and Elizabeth on while cheating on both of them with the other. In one sense, it seems obvious that he’ll choose Cece since she’s a regular cast member, but perhaps their relationship will be just as much fun to watch if they can’t get along because he broke her heart. Only time will tell, and I’m sure that this season will prove to be just as enjoyable as seasons one and two.

Pilot Review: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Premiered September 17 at 8:30pm

This show has been touted as one of the best new comedies of the fall, and hopes were high considering the involvement of two very different actors with similar first names: Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher. I actually had the chance to see this pilot aboard a JetBlue flight to Los Angeles, noticing that it was playing at the beginning of the ride and ultimately catching it on its third hourly airing. My excitement wasn’t quite fulfilled, however, since this is a perfectly decent comedy that just isn’t all that funny. Samberg, as Detective Jake Peralta, is operating in his own world, treating everything around him like a joke, which works well at some points and less productively at others. Braugher is ideal casting considering the grave seriousness of his last role on ABC’s short-lived “Last Resort” and the tremendous opportunity for self-parody on this series as Ray Holt, the openly gay captain with little patience for Jake’s shenanigans. The rest of the ensemble is populated with actors who in some cases have just enough to do to make them amusing supporting players, like Terry Crews as Sergeant Terry Jeffords, and in others have either too much to do, like Joe Lo Truglio’s overenthusiastic Detective Charles Boyle, or not enough written into them to make them substantial, namely head females Melissa Fumero as Detective Amy Santiago and Stephanie Beatriz as Detective Rosa Diaz. The pilot’s plotlines were rather weak, and I’d expect much more from the very funny Samberg and the people behind “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office.”

How will it work as a series? It’s possible that this show might still turn out to be one of the better new comedies of the season, and it could just take some time for it to find its groove, to toss aside sillier, more outrageous storylines in favor of genuinely compelling characters and humor. I’m willing to give it a few more installments before I decide if it’s worth committing.
How long will it last? Ratings for the pilot weren’t spectacular, but FOX seems determined to make its Tuesday night comedy block work, and this would be a perfect addition. Reviews for this show were much more favorable than for its lead-in, “Dads,” and I think FOX will choose to endorse this show, renewing it if sooner if none of its dramatic offerings stick.

Pilot grade: B-

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pilot Review: Dads

Dads (FOX)
Premiered September 17 at 8pm

This show was off to a bad start thanks to early negative reviews about the racist content of its pilot. It’s impossible to argue that, thanks to the image of Brenda Song’s Asian assistant Veronica dressed in a schoolgirl outfit. But the unfortunate part is that the show itself is far from competent, taking an amusing but unimaginative premise and not putting much effort in to make it any more creative. I wouldn’t think to call upon Seth Green to do anything intellectual, but Giovanni Ribisi, an Emmy nominee for his guest spot on “My Name is Earl” and a frequent presence on “Friends,” often makes more mature role choices. Here, they’re both bland working types whose level of productivity at work is matched by the strength of their relationships with their fathers. Martin Mull and Peter Riegert both have longer resumes, but that’s more regrettable than anything given the unsophisticated nature of the parts they have here. The show’s title is simple, and the show is even simpler. It’s an example of a time where someone said “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and then relied on that concept to be hilarious in its own right. Two business partners with live-in crotchety, cheap dads is absolutely expected, and this show isn’t interested in turning that into a viable idea for comic purposes. Song is merely trapped on a show that was terrible to begin with, and isn’t doing itself any favors by stranding her miserable excuse for a character in its universe.

How will it work as a series? I don’t think more needs to be said about how predictable and awful this show is going to be. Now that Eli’s dad is going to be around full-time as well, the show will have to try hard to figure out how not to have its younger protagonists and their fathers interact every single second, and I’m sure whatever fills that time will be equally agonizing.
How long will it last? Not too long, I think. FOX doesn’t endorse too many comedies, and it tends to keep only those that are proven winners. I think this will falter compared to the show after it, and a 15 score on Metacritic suggests that few people are clamoring to keep it on the air. It’s doubtful that it will make it to 2014.

Pilot grade: F

Friday, September 20, 2013

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of major spoilers for listed episodes.

"The Closet Reconfiguration" / "The Bakersfield Expedition"
"The Tangible Affection Proof" / "The Egg Salad Equivalency"
"The Love Spell Potential" / "The Spoiler Alert Segmentation"

I don’t watch this show regularly, but I always look forward to watching the submitted episodes in advance of Emmy night. This year’s crop was very consistently funny, and I also enjoyed the three episodes chosen by the nominated actors. Tape one features a slightly dramatic look at Howard’s relationship with his father and an extremely humorous trip to Comic-Con. Tape two focuses on Valentine’s Day and Sheldon failing at understanding the nature of sexual harassment. Tape three shows the gang playing “Dungeons and Dragons” and a major shift in living situations among these friends. The only CBS sitcom in the past twenty years to win this award was “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and, great as this show is, I don’t see it winning this year or any year except perhaps its last.

"Bad Friend" / "It’s a Shame About Ray"
"One Man’s Trash" / "It’s Back"
"On All Fours" / "Together"

After performing better than expected last year, this show is back for its less impressive second year. I have mixed feelings about these submissions, and I’ll start by saying that there’s almost no chance that this show will win. The first tape is actually the best since it contains two truly compelling episodes from early in the season, featuring Hannah finding herself in the right for once and everything falling apart in the next episode. On tape two, “One Man’s Trash” is terrific, but I really didn’t like “It’s Back,” Which reintroduced Hannah’s OCD. Tape three I like least, since it features the final two episodes of the season, the first of which is disturbing but effective, while the second is interesting but not justified by what happened before it. This season was a bit messy, and I think these submissions echo that.

"Telling Jokes/Set Up" / "Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1"
"Late Show, Part 1" / "Late Show, Part 2"
"Late Show, Part 3" / "New Year’s Eve"

This show finally broke into the top category for its third season, and Louis C.K. is flush with nominations once again. This is a show I don’t watch regularly and don’t particularly like, though I’ll admit it grew on me as I was watching it this season. Tape one comes early in the season and features two awkward but entertaining installments. Tapes two and three contain the final four episodes of the season, which are good but are severely dark and depressing at points. I know voters love C.K., and this show winning wouldn’t surprise me, but is this really what constitutes the Best Comedy Series on television? I’m not so sure, and I think this show won’t win as a result of its unusual tone.

"Fulgencio" / "Career Day"
"The Butler’s Escape" / "Arrested"
"Mistery Date'" / "Party Crasher"

This show has won three times in a row, and some viewers are just as sick of it as Emmy voters seem to love it. I liked about half of these episodes, while I was less enthusiastic about the other half, conveniently evenly split, one per tape. “Fulgencio” was decently funny, while “Career Day” wasn’t all that interesting. “The Butler’s Escape” was uninventive, while “Arrested” was a lot of fun. “Mistery Date,” Ty Burrell’s submitted episode, is great, while Manny’s surprise party in “Party Crasher” was disappointing. The issue is that, aside from the final season of “30 Rock,” there isn’t really another show that might be able to unseat it, so I still consider it the frontrunner.

"Stride of Pride" / "A Goon’s Deed in a Weary World"
"Mazel Tov, Dummies!" / "My Whole Life is Thunder"
"Hogcock!" / "Last Lunch"

Though I often forget it, I do like this show, but I find some of its episodes wholly ridiculous. I’m really not a fan of tape two, which features an unfunny wacky wedding and the degradation of women. Tape one is half good thanks to Jack’s enlistment of typical partners and less exciting because of the silly Willy Wonka theme. Tape three, on the other hand, contains the two-part season finale, which, to its credit, was pretty funny. I can’t comprehend why the best episode of the season, “Governor Dunston,” wasn’t submitted. This show won three times in a row before “Modern Family” knocked it from its perch three times in a row, and if voters want to recognize it again, which I imagine they might, this is their last chance to do it.

"Midterms" / "First Response"
"Hostages" / "Helsinki"
"Running" / "D.C."

I’m thrilled that this comedy, which currently ranks as my second-favorite on TV, got nominated again, along with two more cast members in addition to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won the lead actress trophy last year. Tape one contains the season premiere and the episode in which Selina does an interview. Tape two includes Sue testifying and Selina getting hit on by the Finnish prime minister’s husband. Tape three is the final two episodes of the season, which were great, particularly the awesome finale. If this show won, I would be overjoyed? It’s a spoiler for sure, but its chances of an upset are low.

What should win (based on entire season): “Veep”
What should win (based on individual episodes): “Veep” or “The Big Bang Theory”
What will win: Short of “30 Rock” getting a farewell nod, it will be Modern Family for the fourth time.

Next up: That’s a wrap!

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of major spoilers for listed episodes.

"Hazard Pay" / "Fifty-One"
"Dead Freight" / "Buyout"
"Say My Name" / "Gliding Over All"

I predicted this show to win back in season two, and then again last year. I feel like each year it’s getting hotter, and with the penultimate episode of the series airing during the Emmy telecast, it feels like this is really when it will catch fire. That said, there’s always next year, so who knows? Out of eight episodes, this tape skips the first two and then pairs each successive set of episodes. Season five was a season that got better as it went along, so tape one and tape two are both extremely competent, but tape three is a complete knockout. They’re all great though, so I really wouldn’t be surprised if this show finally broke through and won this race this year.

"Episode 1"
"Episode 4 and 5"
"Episode 6"

After watching all of the first two seasons over Labor Day last year just a few weeks before the Emmys, I watched season three as it aired in the U.S. each week. Unlike other shows, its extra-long installments make for tapes all on their own. The wedding spectacular in episode one speaks for itself. Tape two covers the Sybil plotline for season three, which is quite effective. Tape three, interestingly enough, is not the special, but instead the second-to-last-mega-installment that proves to be just as entertaining and less ultimately devastating. No one would argue with this show winning, but the fact that it couldn’t pull it off at the height of its popularity suggests it won’t be able to do so this year either.

“And Now His Watch is Ended” / “Kissed by Fire”
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” / “Second Sons"
"The Rains of Castamere" / “Mhysa”

This is the third nomination for this show, which managed to hold onto its spot and perform better than ever despite being snubbed by Golden Globe and SAG voters in favor of “Boardwalk Empire.” Tape one contains dragon fire and forced betrothals. Tape two features some excellent unexpected conversations and a great wedding plotline. Tape three is made up of the last two episodes of the season, the first of which is nominated for writing and the second of which is fine but hardly as fulfilling. This show was well-represented with nominations this year, but I don’t see it winning this race.

"The Smile" / "Beirut is Back"
"New Car Smell" / "Q and A"
"In Memoriam" and "The Choice"

I was so excited that this show actually won last year for a stellar first season. Its second season was, impossibly, just as good as season one, and given even greater enthusiasm than last year, this show could pull off a repeat win in a magnificently crowded category. Though they once again omit two of the season’s best episodes – “The Clearing” and “I’ll Fly Away” – these tapes are very well put-together. Tape one features the season premiere, which is less exciting than episode two, which really gets the action going. Tape two is excellent and features a powerful duo of episodes that change everything. Tape three is the final two episodes of the season, which change things in a whole new way again. These are superb submissions, and I could definitely see this show winning again.

“Chapter 1” / “Chapter 2”
"Chapter 7” / “Chapter 8”
"Chapter 10” / “Chapter 11”

This show makes history as the first Netflix original series to crack this category, and it’s interesting to see the episodes selected because many viewers likely watched them all in quick succession. I, for one, screened the episodes included on tape one in April and then didn’t return to the show again until August. They were good, interesting hours, but not enough to compel me to get into the show. Episodes four and five, which were not submitted, really made the case for me. Tape two sees Frank getting more personal, heading back to his hometown in the second of the two episodes. Tape three is inarguably the strongest, featuring Frank having to make tough decisions regarding his wife and his congressman puppet Peter. If this show won, it would be groundbreaking, but it would also deserve it since it’s exactly the fare Emmy voters love. I’m not sure it will happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

"The Flood" / "For Immediate Release"
"The Better Half" / "Favors"
"The Quality of Mercy" / "In Care Of"

This show lost this award for the first time last year after four consecutive victories, and with a field this competitive, it will be a long climb back to the top. The tapes skip over the great Hawaii opener right to the equally compelling fifth episode, which focuses on Martin Luther King’s assassination and its effects. That installment is paired on tape one with a great game-changing episode featuring Don and Ted. Tape two contains Don and Betty’s memorable trip to Bobby’s camp and Sally interacting with the grownups in a major way. Tape three, which includes the final two episodes of the season, is full of big developments that transform many things in an irreversible way. This show is still terrific, but I think Emmy voters are over it.

What should win (based on entire season): “Homeland,” but I like them all!
What should win (based on individual episodes): A tough call again. “Homeland,” “Mad Men,” or “Breaking Bad.”
What will win: It’s a three-way-race: “Breaking Bad” vs. defending champ “Homeland” and newcomer “House of Cards.” My vote: Breaking Bad.

Next up: Best Comedy Series

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order by show. Beware of minor spoilers for listed episodes.

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, Episodes (Episode 9)
Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K., Louie (Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1)
Greg Daniels, The Office (Finale)
Jack Burditt and Robert Carlock, 30 Rock (Hogcock!)
Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield, 30 Rock (Last Lunch)

This category is infinitely less interesting than it was last year. The nominees are actually still pretty decent, representing some quality half-hours of television. Inexplicably, the two-part series finale of “30 Rock” contends as two separate installments here despite being grouped together everywhere else. All of these nominees are returning contenders for their same shows, with the exception of Adlon and Wigfield. Daniels, Fey, and, most recently, C.K., have all won this award for their shows. Fey and Daniels are nominated for the series finales of their shows, which has not historically been a helpful thing but could well be this year for the sake of nostalgia.

What should win: “The Office”
What will win: It could be “Louie” again, but I’ll bet on the series finale of 30 Rock edging out the series finale of “The Office.”

Next up: Best Drama Series

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Directing for a Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order by show. Beware of minor spoilers for listed episodes.

Lena Dunham, Girls (On All Fours)
Paris Barclay, Glee (Diva)
Louis C.K., Louie (New Year’s Eve)
Gail Mancuso, Modern Family (Arrested)
Beth McCarthy-Miller, 30 Rock (Hogcock/Last Lunch)

Each of these directors has been nominated exactly once before, for directing an episode of their current series, with the exception of McCarthy-Miller, who has two nominations to her name for her show. None has ever won, so the victor this year will be a first-time winner. “Modern Family” has won this award the past two years, which makes its victory likely, though “30 Rock,” which has never won before, could be recognized for its two-part series finale. “Glee” is well past its prime, while the episode of “Girls,” while decent, is much too dark for this category. That leaves “Louie,” which won for writing last year and may well win for acting this year, as the third challenger and potential upset. I’m not overly invested in this category as compared with most of the others.

What should win: Anything but “Glee”
What will win: It could be “30 Rock” or “Louie,” but why bet against Modern Family?

Next up: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Writing for a Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order by show. Beware of minor spoilers for listed episodes.

George Mastras, Breaking Bad (Dead Freight)
Thomas Schnauz, Breaking Bad (Say My Name)
Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey (Episode 4)
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones (The Rains of Castamere)
Henry Bromell, Homeland (Q and A)

Most of these nominees are new this year, with the exception of Fellowes, who was nominated last year, and Benioff and Weiss, who were recognized for a season one episode of their show two years ago. “Mad Men” used to be king of this category, but, despite receiving at least two nominations in this race every year since it started, it finds itself omitted completely this year. In its place, another AMC show has been recognized. Both episodes are great, and the same is true of the game-changing installments of “Game of Thrones” and “Homeland.” Rounding out the category is “Downton Abbey,” which always chooses wisely and has submitted a compelling installment as well.

What should win: “Say My Name”
What will win: I’d go out on a limb and predict “Game of Thrones,” but I think I’ll stick with Homeland repeating.