Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 3 “Like Father Like Son” (B+)

This definitely is not this show’s strongest season or storyline, but this episode actually was relatively enjoyable, and though it lacked parallel narratives, instead playing out in a very linear fashion, it’s very true to what this show is all about. The first and most unchangeable thing is that, no matter how mad Karen may get, she’s still going to take Hank’s calls and flirt with him over the phone while making him feel better about himself. Hank always manages to find trouble, no matter where he is, and it’s just his luck that the actress auditioning for the part would choose his hand to grab and stick up her dress at the exact moment that Terry walked in. That Rick wouldn’t really care is even more outlandish, but he’s just like Samurai and Atticus in that way, content to marvel at Hank’s ridiculousness, simultaneously impressed and disgusted by it. Levon managed to make an impression pretty quickly as well, showing Rick’s attractive assistant a porn video in response to the viral video that she showed him. Fortunately, his act of stupidity brought out something I hadn’t expected to see in his mother – a personality. Heather Graham’s Julia showed up to smooth over the situation and flirt with Rick a bit, which is certainly going to be damaging to the longevity of both Levon and Hank’s careers. In other news, we didn’t see Marcy in this episode but only heard her referenced, and I think all parties would be happy if Charlie could get over his current state in the very near future.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 4 “Oathkeeper” (B+)

After an episode that changed the perception of characters, we’re back to the old recent way of things, with Jaime being framed as a good guy trying to help his brother out while his evil sister wants to do everything in her power to behead him. It was good to see Jaime interacting with Brienne again, and to see him actually be a friend to Tyrion. As Petyr filled Sansa in on a few details about the murder plot, we got the juiciest one, which is that Olenna was behind it all. Telling her granddaughter that she never would have let her marry Joffrey before encouraging Margaery to seduce Tommen was fantastic, and she lived up to expectations, wowing the sheepish and quiet younger sibling of the late tyrant. It does seem possible that she could control him, much to Cersei’s certain chagrin. There was more violence than usual in this episode, and that’s saying something, but maybe it’s because of its sources and victims. Daenerys has unleashed her dragons before, but crucifying slavemasters is a brutal punishment, even if their crime justifies it. Bran found himself in an unfortunate bit of danger, and while admitting whose child you are is never a good idea – see “Lost” for a convincing argument – he did manage to save his life for the moment, and hopefully Jon and the other good guys won’t lose too much in the fight to get him back. Maybe we’ll even see more than one Stark family member together for the first time in a while. There isn’t anything quite as eerie as the white walkers, and I bet that baby is going to grow up to have some serious issues.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 19 “Tying the Knot” (B-)

I’ve always praised the fact that so many actors return to reprise their roles on this show, and two-time Emmy nominee Dylan Baker is always a welcome face. Yet there’s a point at which having Colin Sweeney stand trial for murdering a woman in his home becomes purely repetitive and lacks any lasting impact. There was a twist in this episode, of course, which was that it was his new bride, Renata, who was standing trial instead, but that was made all the worse by Diane helping to make Alicia look like a faulty witness on the stand and in turn cast doubt on Renata’s guilt, compounded even more by Renata thanking Alicia for helping her have the experience of murdering someone so that she could fully appreciate her marriage. There’s a limit to what is no longer believable but still fun, and I think this crossed it. I couldn’t figure out where I recognized Laura Benanti, who played Renata, from, and further research revealed that it was from her recurring role as southerner Shelby on “Royal Pains.” This case really dominated the episode in a manner that this show doesn’t tend to employ (even Kalinda was merely seen on screen and did nothing of substance), involving Finn in the proceedings at hand as Alicia saved his job and even unintentionally got him a major endorsement from Peter. I don’t know what the Governor is up to, and Eli is going to have an aneurism before long if Peter keeps operating by directly contradicting his every recommendation. Seeing Owen again was fun, but otherwise I don’t think much came of the photo of Zack with the bong, though maybe it will have some significance in future episodes.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 11 “Chapter 24” (B+)

Most of what happened in this hour was relatively par for the course, even if it meant that characters were on high alert and tensions and drama were heightened. But the scene that was most startling and shocking was the one in which Frank walked in on a drunk Meechum and Claire drinking and flirting, and promptly inserted himself into their play, kissing Meechum after he kissed Claire. You’d think that this power couple would want to be a bit more discreet about what might be seen as a questionable act in the eyes of the public, but I suppose Meechum plays as close to the vest as possible, though it’s also hard to believe that he would feel comfortable with the idea of bedding both of his bosses and expecting to keep his job as if nothing had happened. Frank is up to his usual dirty politics, trying to get Walker’s therapy sessions outed as a way of deflecting attention from his proven use of Doug to investigate Tusk’s operation. It’s good to see Frank give Doug a third chance and Doug in turn decide that Seth should be treated as an ally. Let’s hope Doug doesn’t have to suffer too much for throwing himself under the bus at the behest of the Vice-President. At least destroying his cell phone to cut off communication with Rachel has (literally) taken him off Gavin’s radar, a threat he isn’t even aware of that is likely to have extremely worrisome implications in the near future.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 2 “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” (B+)

Tatiana Maslany’s performances on this show never get old for me, since I really am hypnotized every time and then have to remember that she’s the one portraying all of the clones. I’ve never thought of Sarah as the most interesting one, though she did score a big win in this episode, successfully ferrying her daughter away from a dangerous situation that was about to get a lot worse. After finding out that it was Helana and not Rachel who had apparently kidnapped Kira last week, we found out that Mrs. S was the one who took her, allegedly for her own protection. I’m glad that Kira is able to speak up for himself and could warn Sarah about what was going on, especially Mrs. S proved herself to be a vicious opponent, not hesitating to stick two sharp pieces of silverware in each of her duplicitous host’s hands. Allison is spiraling out of control, confirming that Donnie is her monitor just as her one support system, Felix, leaves town to go with his original clone. After Sarah knocked her out, Rachel seems more determined ever to exact some sort of revenge on the clones, and Cosima is going to bear the brunt of that. Meanwhile, the newest Prolethean is both a religious devotee and a brutal leader, demonstrating his faith in Helena’s significance. The casting of Peter Outerbridge from “Nikita” and other projects makes perfect sense, and I’m sure it won’t be long before Henrik comes face-to-face with Sarah.

Pilot Review: Black Box

Black Box (ABC)
Premiered April 25 at 10pm

There’s a tendency, at least during midseason, for shows to seemingly come out of nowhere. I hadn’t heard a thing about this show before I happened to catch advertisements during a JetBlue flight back from California two days before its premiere. It’s hard to know where the ideas for some shows come from and why they seem appealing, but in this case it is true that the brain is a fascinating thing. What’s more interesting is the show’s title, which might be more edgy and current if it referenced, say, the device of the same name that keeps a record of events aboard a plane, but instead it has to do with neurology and one very prominent intellectual with a secret case of bipolar disorder. I read somewhere before I saw the pilot that posited that Dr. Catherine Black was the new Carrie Mathison, or rather, more erroneously, that “Black Box” was the new “Homeland.” The latter is certainly not true because this is, at most, a medical thriller, but the former could well be, since Catherine gives Carrie a run for her money in the crazy department, acting as self-destructive as humanly possible despite her innate brilliance. Her behavior seems especially off-the-walls in part because of the puzzling and peculiar accent employed by actress Kelly Reilly, a native of England who mastered a Southern accent in “Flight” but here does something far more regrettable that suggests that maybe she should have stuck to her natural way of speaking. In the supporting cast are a handful of other non-American actors, including David Ajala, who was in Tribeca hit “Starred Up,” and Laura Fraser, who had a much more compelling part in the last few seasons of “Breaking Bad.” Vanessa Redgrave is also present as the one person who knows the truth about Catherine’s condition. I was somewhat into this show until she started frantically dancing in the stairwell. There is something interesting about her referencing a handful of geniuses who happened to later commit suicide, but this show overall feels like a bit of a mess, just as chaotic and unorganized as Catherine when she’s off her meds.

How will it work as a series? Each week is likely to feature a different guest star with some sort of hidden brilliance masked by a disease, and in that sense this show is akin to “House” in terms of it being a medical mystery. There’s also the ongoing saga of Catherine and her self-destructive nature, which is sure to intensify as she confides more in Will and makes continuously bad decisions with Dr. Bickman.
How long will it last? Technically speaking, the ratings weren’t incredible, but ABC is touting this show as its best premiere since “Nashville” in 2012. I’m not sure that’s a magnificent figure, but ABC hasn’t had much luck lately in the pilot department, and the network could use a hit that isn’t really all that much like anything else on television right now, even if it isn’t the best show.

Pilot grade: C

Monday, April 28, 2014

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 21 “The Man with the Twisted Lip” (B+)

Mycroft’s appearances on this show never seem to end well, and even if they did bring about some intriguing conversation and reflection, they’ve unseated dynamics and events in a major and concerning way. Mycroft propositioning Watson is threatening enough, but more important is the fact that she shared with him that she is seeking to move out of Sherlock’s place and get her own. While that was in theory an inevitability, it’s still jarring to think about since it would mean that Sherlock would have the whole place to himself and wouldn’t have the very necessary presence of his foil to constantly keep him on his toes and off his vices. Mycroft pointing out that Sherlock should appreciate Watson for more than just her intellectual prowess was legitimate, and Watson was fair to point out that his apology to her, as usual, came too late. We do know that Mycroft is up to something more sinister, and anytime that Henri Lubatti of “24” and “Sleeper Cell” fame is around, something has to be up. Watson getting abducted at the end of the episode was a bit of a shock since this show never tends to truly put its characters in danger, and especially not with three episodes left in the season since this might be understandable fodder to lead into a season finale. No matter what’s next, I’m sure it’s going to intensify and pit Sherlock against his greatest and most personal nemesis since the devious woman with whom he faced off in the first season finale.

Pilot Review: Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher (CBS)
Premiered April 25 at 9:30pm

I was not a fan of the movie “Bad Teacher” starring Cameron Diaz and released theatrically in 2011. Not liking the source material doesn’t recommend a remake, though it is possible that the new version might be enabled to be better. I don’t think that’s the case with CBS’ latest foray into the sitcom universe. Ari Graynor, who I think I remember only from “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” even though I’m sure I’ve seen her in other things, takes on the role of the blond, bitchy teacher who is only teaching due to ulterior motives, namely scoring a rich new husband to help pay off the debt she has incurred after netting a divorce from a man with whom she had signed a prenup. If the movie exaggerated things, this show does even more, giving Graynor’s Meredith Davis absolutely no redeeming qualities, and she’s pretty obnoxious to boot. In the nerdy, spineless part played in the film by Phyllis Smith is Sara Gilbert, whose history on a number of shows including “24” and “Roseanne” recommends much better roles for her, and the same is true for Kristin Davis of “Sex and the City,” who here plays a helicopter faculty president who is out for blood when it comes to Meredith. Ryan Hansen, who TV fans will recognize from “Party Down,” is a hybrid of the Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake roles, neither of which were particularly memorable in the movie. Taking this as its own show, it’s an even more overbearing type of played-out joke than “Trophy Wife,”good for maybe a few potshots but nothing more. It’s utterly irritating.

How will it work as a series? The suspension of disbelief is going to have to be high if Meredith is going to be able to maintain her job for more than a few minutes. Each episode should involve her doing something horrible only to realize that there is a way for her to actually be a good person if she tries being even just a little less selfish. Sounds very formulaic and unappealing to me.
How long will it last? Its ratings weren’t all that much to write home about, and while they were still decent, CBS holds all its shows to a much higher standard, and therefore I think this one might be allowed to air its thirteen episodes but is likely to be cancelled right after that.

Pilot grade: F

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

Parks and Recreation: Season 6, Episodes 21 and 22 “Moving Up, Parts 1 and 2” (A)

This show truly is the best comedy on television, and this eventful finale demonstrates that by allowing all of its characters, even the more minor ones, to shine. It also has a remarkable ability to redefine itself within the same context, utilizing logical arguments and constructs to support the way in which it transforms. Michelle Obama was a big get for the show, and to have her tell Leslie that she should come work for them should have sealed the deal. But of course it took Ben pointing out to Leslie how wonderful she is to make her certain, which the statue and plaque put up by her friends worked to undo. Suggesting that her regional job be done in Pawnee because it was such a cost-saver was brilliant, and presents an amazing way to have her continue in a different way. Jumping forward three years is a shock, but maybe that’s just what this show needs to continue to stay relevant in what will likely be the last season. This hourlong finale was perfect on many levels, opening Tom’s Bistro with a first false start and then a genuinely successful launch, complete with Tom getting to reject his former competition Dr. Saperstein and having all the biggest Pawnee celebrities attend. The show made excellent use of all its recurring players, including Jamm, Jean-Ralphio, Mona Lisa, Perd, Joan, and the members of Mouse Rat. The Unity Concert was a triumph, and it generated such a feeling of happiness that’s so nice to see on what can often be a laugh-out-loud hilarious comedy like this. Ron came out as Duke Silver and shared a tender moment with Diane and his kids while resisting Tammy II’s evil influence. April and Andy decided to get divorced just so that they could married again. Even Craig got to have a legitimate part in things, and the show deserves enormous credit for keeping him around for so long and not having him be terribly annoying. The return of the Cones of Dunshire was magnificent, and the always likeable Ben had a terrific episode as well. What is there not to like about this show? Watch the American Comedy Awards on May 8th on NBC to see some fun “Parks” moments, but really, what’s better than this finale? I can’t wait for season seven of the best comedy currently on TV.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Amy Poehler

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 20 “Australia” (C+)

My main thought regarding this episode is, why now? What spurred the need for a trip to Australia, something that seems much more fitting for an event premiere or finale? To have such a journey confined to just one random episode that runs only half an hour is peculiar, not that I’m suggesting that it needed to be a full hour. Like so much on this show recently, this episode was very formulaic, not quite as choreographed as usual but still pretty standard. Obviously Phil would be much more excited than everyone else about the land down under, while Claire and Jay wouldn’t be able to detach from work long enough to actually enjoy it. I think those plotlines would have been just as effective without a kangaroo punching Phil in the face, which was just plain weird, and a wild dog running off with Claire’s laptop. Those events were far too literal for my tastes. While I welcome any opportunity to see Rhys Darby of “Flight of the Conchords” fame in any capacity, the entire character of Fergus was pretty preposterous, oafish and irritating in his behavior yet inexplicably the most famous celebrity in Australia. His rental of a boat to replace the one they were supposed to join Hugh Jackman on was probably the visual highlight of his plotline. Alex narrating constantly and Haley searching for love with a lifeguard were far more appealing storylines than Lily’s whiny search for the perfect souvenir, and I also enjoyed Manny and Luke’s hopeless search for the elusive topless beaches.

Round Two: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Rooster Prince” (B+)

The drama and the suspense didn’t let up at all in this second hour, proving that this limited series seems to have what it takes to tell this unique and incredible story on television. It was great to see Adam Goldberg as one of the henchmen from the title town who spent more time translating for his deaf fellow henchman than actually interacting with the people he came to see. There’s definitely much more going on in Minnesota than either Molly or Bill suspect, but Molly is a much more enterprising detective who is intent on getting to the bottom of a situation she can tell is fishy, while Bill is happy to leave Lester alone rather than push him because he thinks he deserves to mourn without being harassed. Molly’s intrepid distinctive instincts have now cost her the case, but I’m sure she won’t give up that easily. Keith Carradine has a small role on Molly’s father Lou, but he really does make the most of his big speeches. It’s intriguing to see how Gus’ neighbor puts on a show for him, with his daughter, played by Joey King from “Wish I Was Here” and “Bent,” talking to him from a few feet away at the same time. It was great to see Oliver Platt as a supermarket magnate with a blackmail problem, and to see Lorne handle him in an expectedly peculiar manner. I loved the scene in which he tried to get the mail addressed to the town and his rather rude response to his unexpected hotel room visitor.

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 1, Episode 19 “The Only Light in the Darkness” (B-)

Despite technically still being in crisis mode, things are a bit more back to normal on this show as Coulson and most of his team ventured out of their secret base to deal with a relatively routine case with one big twist: the woman the criminal with special abilities was obsessed with happened to be a major romantic interest of none other than Coulson himself. The obvious choice to play Audrey was of course one of TV’s most reliable recurring actresses, Amy Acker, an alumnus of numerous Joss Whedon projects including “Dollhouse” and recent Shakespeare cinematic adaptation “Much Ado About Nothing.” Hopefully, we’ll see plenty more of Audrey, who thought that she hallucinated seeing Coulson only to have likely seen the real thing. As Coulson gets more humanized with hints of his personal life being dropped, we also got to see an unexpected family member: Agent May’s mom. She seems to have just as much of a personality as her daughter, and it looks like they both want to talk to Maria Hill, who is played by Cobie Smulders of “How I Met Your Mother” fame and who, in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” seemed like one of the only true good guys left. I’m sure having her back will be a boon for the show. There’s no doubt now that Ward is fully bad, especially after he killed poor Eric (goodbye, Patton Oswalt). I’m glad that Skye realized what Ward is up to, and hopefully she’ll be able to outsmart him enough to score one for the good guys and help get what remains of S.H.I.E.L.D. back on track.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 2, Episode 14 “Silence” (F-)

It’s perplexing to me, and I know I’m not the only one, that this show is so eager to kill off its best (and I use that word liberally) characters in ways that completely don’t advance the story. Sure, Lily’s death means that her sons want to kill Mike all the more, and Emma’s death means that Joe will actually want Claire dead for murdering the one person in the world he actually liked more than he and Ryan. Emma is a staple character who has been around since the beginning and who I’ll admit isn’t nearly as stupid or pointless as everyone else, much more determined to remain (relatively) sane and reasonable while those around her do incredibly idiotic things. It’s strange to see Claire be the one to kill her, though I guess it does make sense since posed as Joey’s nanny for a few years and deceived Claire the whole time. The latest show of theatrics that was more important for Joe to be present at is another brutal, endlessly disturbing act of public violence, and probably the most literal and unsubtle yet. Joe essentially declaring himself God was high-handed but not too surprising given his history, and both for the sake of his accent and his dignity, it’s a good thing that, unlike his son, Tom Cavanagh’s Kingston Turner ended his own life rather than take someone else’s. Ryan got to fulfill his episodic dose of preventing other people from killing themselves (two this time), and now we’ll have to see in the show’s season finale if Mike is really dead at Joe’s hand (making the twins pointless) or if more sinister and stupid things are in store for the two cops trapped inside a church with a bunch of psychos.

Friday, April 25, 2014

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 3 “Alicia” (B+)

All comedy aside, it’s great to see Selina do something good for once. In fact, she scored not one but two home runs in this episode, salvaging the child care portion of her speech and embracing the humor of the SNL skit. Having her crack team manage the publicity around her big announcement was predictably out of control, thanks to some zany antics from Mike, Dan, and Gary in particular. Tracie Thoms and Edwina Findley were on fire as Alicia and her friend Dee, both ardent proponents of the need for universal child care, naively trusting of the Vice President’s support and only suspicious once it became clear that they were being sidelined. Mike’s unfortunate cow comment reminded me of actor Matt Walsh’s character in David Cross’ Sundance movie “Hits,” coming out in limited release on May 12th, and it’s a good thing that Alicia opted to lie for him rather than help guerilla journalist Jonah embarrass him further. Seeing Catherine again was great, mainly because of the fact that she was wearing the exact same outfit as her mother and that her pep talk managed to snap her out of it but didn’t result in any kind words from Selina. Having Kent and Ben around full-time is definitely worth it, even when they’re not fighting with each other. Kent’s flirtatious relationship with Sue continues to be odd but entertaining, while Dan is coming off as more and more of an unsympathetic jerk as the campaign kicks into high gear.

Take Three: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 3 “Articles of Incorporation” (B)

HBO renewed this show already for a second season, and I think I’m on board too, even if the episode wasn’t one-hundred percent solid. It’s clear that there is plenty of opposition to the name Pied Piper, and that Richard is really its only proponent. That said, it is his company, and he worked pretty hard to be able to keep the name, showing off some impressive negotiating skills when he thought his life was in danger. Casey Sander, who portrays Bernadette’s father on “The Big Bang Theory,” was great as Arnold, the owner of the other Pied Piper who agreed to sell the name to Richard for $1,000 before changing his mind and then demanding much more before settling for the original amount with or without gas money. Leave it to “co-founder” Erlich to royally mess things up by publishing widely that the company was doing incredibly well, hiring a fake intern and making Richard’s life miserable. His séance in the desert didn’t go too well either, resulting in what appears to be a child kidnapping. Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s switched roles are rather amusing, particularly because Dinesh gets so irritated by every thing that doesn’t irk Gilfoyle at all. All of them shouting their names to prevent from being attacked was hilarious. My favorite part of the episode was every moment involving Peter Gregory, who did his best Kyle MacLachlan impression and dissected everything about Burger King’s business model and menu, only to reveal himself not to be quite as crazy as everyone initially thought. He’s definitely eccentric, and it’s a good thing he has Monica to watch out for him.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 2 “A Day’s Work” (B+)

After an uncertain start last week, I’m happy to report that this episode was a resounding success. Seeing how the firm functions on a bicoastal basis without watching a character traveling between the two is actually more compelling, particularly because of the bad connection that caused the partners’ meeting to devolve into an argument with many things overheard that shouldn’t have been. It’s interesting to see how each of the non-Don players are being repositioned, with Cutler and Roger going at each other and Ted being the too-calm peacemaker while Pete returns to his typical frantic jealous mode. The situation involving the secretaries in this episode made for fantastic television, namely due to Peggy’s gross assumption that the flowers sent were from Ted for her and not for her secretary. Lou’s treatment of Dawn was unnecessarily harsh, and it’s great to see that Joan managed to use the situation (and Cooper’s racism) to her advantage to let the one secretary who actually knows what she’s doing – Dawn – take over her responsibilities while she moves upstairs. Don being especially present in his social life is jarring to watch, but it proved very worthwhile for his time spent with Betty. It’s incredible to see him be so honest after she called him out for being dishonest and let him know how hard it was to think about running into Sylvia in his elevator. Don and Sally really are similar, and it’s terrific to see them spending time together as if they’re on the same level.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 2 “Julia” (B)

I was much happier with this installment than I was with last week’s premiere for a few reasons, though I still strongly doubt that this final season will prove to be the show’s most compelling. Its most positive sign was the fact that its mundane conversation moments were actually interesting, most notably the scene with all of the writers gathered around the table. Mary Lynn Rajskub of past and near future “24” fame, made quite an impression with only a few lines and a lot of vomit, and I’m sure she’ll follow that debut up with more of her winning personality in the coming episodes. Hank’s effort level for his work is about on par with what’s in been in the past, but the difference here is that he’s not showing off just for Karen, who only cares that he has a job of some sort, but for the newfound son who idolizes him and wants to be a part of it. Levon’s antagonistic behavior towards the cops didn’t do him any favors, but, surprisingly, insulting Rick’s past work seems to have earned him an instantaneous job. I won’t comment on Charlie’s rather public Viagra incident since it more than speaks for itself. I was excited to see that Heather Graham is the actress who will play Levon’s mom, though after this start, I’m worried it might be a rather boring performance. I’d hope that she’d be on par with Graham’s character in “About Cherry” rather than her lackluster bisexual in “Gray Matters,” a highly forgettable comedy I’m not sure anyone else saw from a few years ago.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 3 “Breaker of Chains” (B+)

In the wake of the shocking final scene of last week’s episode, this show is really ramping up the action and getting set for a packed season of movements, conquests, surrenders, and more. This episode shared the wealth more than it has recently, focusing on nearly every plotline that the show has with an uninterrupted extended scene for each of them. It’s quite a feat to make Cersei seem sympathetic, but having her father tell her younger son how Joffrey was neither a wise nor a good king mere feet from his dead body is hardly sensitive. And then Jaime, who’s been more of a good guy lately, forced himself on her, again right next to her dead son’s body. Margaery is rightfully pitying herself for the unfortunate results of her marriages, and I hope that she’ll be enabled to remain involved in some capacity. The return of Petyr Baelish was a triumphant one, as he revealed his complicity in Joffrey’s murder and saved Sansa before promptly murdering the man he hired to do it. It’s good to see Davos thinking creatively to get back within his king’s good graces, while Jon and his men will hopefully do their best to hold off the brutal invasion of the Wildlings. We saw a cruder side of the Hound than we’ve seen before in this hour, as he disappointed Arya by being dishonest and treacherous, but at least they’re continuing to move to some hopeful eventual reunion with other Starks. Once again, Daenerys delivered a bold and mesmerizing performance, and ending the episode with a slave picking up chains and looking back at his master was immensely powerful.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 18 “All Tapped Out” (B+)

It’s good to see something come of this NSA storyline that’s been proceeding along peripherally for a while. There were two familiar TV faces playing low-level NSA analysts, Zach Woods from “The Office” and “Silicon Valley” as Jeff, who accidentally took home the flash drive with confidential material on it, and Michael Urie from “Ugly Betty” and “Partners” as Stephen, who picked up on the fact that Cary mentioned the NSA in the background of one of Clarke’s calls. Jeff’s unintentional disclosure of the tapping of Alicia’s phone led to a surprisingly productive spiral, which resulted in Peter stepping in to take charge and force an uncooperative political partner to intervene to stop the taps so that he wouldn’t implicate himself. I’m glad to see Alicia snap back into reality since the sight of her sitting in her bed and fumbling Finn’s case wasn’t terribly pretty to watch. Speaking of Finn, I noticed during the opening credits that actor Matthew Goode is now a series regular. I wonder what he’ll have to offer going forward, but this show always finds opportunities for its characters. It certainly didn’t take long for Louis Canning to join and become integrated with Lockhart Gardner, and though he’s had an icy reception so far from Kalinda and Diane, he might actually be good for the firm. I don’t know how long he’s going to stick around, but, for the moment, I think he’ll be a positive asset for the show who can help keep it on track for its remaining few episodes of the season.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black (Season Premiere)

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 1 “Nature Under Restraint and Vexed” (B+)

It’s fair to say that I was overly excited for this debut installment. I eagerly pointed out the advertisement that adorned a bus stop along my walk to work every day for the past month or so, and I told everyone I saw that they should be watching this show. While this wasn’t one of the show’s very best installments, it was still an intense, productive hour that set up a number of intriguing dynamics for the rest of the season. Sarah being confronted in the bar by the two men was a chilling and ferocious start, made all the more impactful by the revelation at the end of the episode that the emotionless Mark is actually working for Helena and not for Rachel. I love that Helena was cued back in by her creepy music, and her still being alive confirms her Prolethean theory that neither of them can die. It’s so interesting to me that the clones are now fully aware of their situations (exempting Donnie’s role, of course) that Allison could react so matter-of-factly to Daniel’s attempted abduction of her that occurred as Sarah posed as Cosima (the layers of clone duplicity on this show are incredible). Delphine and Paul are both looking out for the people they’re supposed to be monitoring, while Dr. Leekie really isn’t all that bad compared to Kira. And then there’s Art, who’s coming at all this from a different angle, and Felix, who was high and about have a five-way before he got tapped to help Sarah get her daughter back. This is going to be a wild and eventful season, and I can’t wait.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 10 “Chapter 23” (B+)

Things are getting serious on this show, and the final three episodes of this season are sure to be turbulent at best. Frank and Claire didn’t seem too shaken up by the idea of a bomb being planted on their doorstep, though Claire was clearly devastated that it was meant for her because of her very public stance on abuse in the military. Jackie is taking extreme steps to show that she won’t fall in line, first disappointing Claire and then incurring Frank’s wrath, which is never a good thing. Her actions also prompted Frank to reveal Remy’s ulterior motives, which are sure to negatively impact their already dark and secretive romance. Walker was understandably angry at Frank for keeping him in the dark when everything about Tusk came to light, but Frank seems to have talked his way out of another disagreement quite smoothly. Doug’s treatment of Seth is rather demeaning, and Frank’s loss of confidence in his former go-to number two is going to impact Doug’s self-esteem greatly, which might make him more dependent on Rachel rather than the other way around. I’m relieved to see that the current reporting on Tusk is being handled in a much smarter and better-supported fashion than any of Zoe and Lucas’ previous coverage was. Frank and Claire’s relationship is endlessly fascinating, as Frank cheerfully told Claire about Meechum walking in on him watching porn and subsequently asked Claire if she missed being with Adam. Most intriguingly, Gavin returned at the end of the episode in hot cyber-pursuit of Doug, which makes me and many other viewers, I’m sure, very curious about what happens next.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What I’m Watching: Parenthood (Season Finale)

Parenthood: Season 5, Episode 22 “The Pontiac” (B+)

This show always seems to end earlier than all of the rest, but it's been a productive and impactful season. This episode was all about the change taking effect that has been brewing all season. Amber being by Ryan's bedside recalled a lot of their earlier times together, but that all changed when Ryan's monster mom, in the form of the always fabulous Annabeth Gish, arrived to make Amber feel like she was completely worthless. We'll see if that subtly-purchased pregnancy test near the end of the episode will mean anything major for the returning Wyoming resident. Natalie telling Drew she loved him as she boarded the bus to Portland started off what could have been a miserable summer for him, but he managed to help and complain his way to a wonderful prize from his grandfather: a car to drive up to see his girlfriend. Another benefactor of the hard work put into Zeek’s car was Victor, who finally scored a win in the school arena. The family’s day together really was great, and it was sweet that Joel stayed late to tuck Sydney in and simulate what their old life was like when he and Julia were together. Hank staying to be there for Sarah and Amber paid off with a tremendously awesome kiss and Hank’s palpable excitement about his genuine kindness having paid off. Haddie coming home with a girlfriend was big news, and despite some awkward moments, it’s clear that her parents are entirely supportive, and it will be all about who she’s dating and not what gender she is going forward. Adam and Crosby sledding down the stairs as they helped with the move was fun, one last hurrah before a truly big change that will affect things in a major way if the show returns next season. It’s been a great year, and while this would be a fine final episode, I do think the show deserves a sixth season and possibly more after that.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Erika Christensen as Julia

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 6, Episode 20 “One in 8,000” (B+)

This show is all about throwing curveballs, and this episode amplified the news of Leslie’s pregnancy to make it a far more substantial undertaking involving not one but three babies. What was most fun about it was the fact that, for once, Leslie got to be the calm, collected one who just stood there sweetly smiling while Ben freaked out and worried about how triplets would cost them $2 million. It was especially nice to see how all of their friends, Craig excepted, reacted to their announcement. My favorite offer came from April, who said that she and Andy were free to babysit anytime only during work hours. It was quite an accomplishment for Andy not to spill the beans about Leslie and Ben’s secret to April, and I enjoyed hearing the many lies he invented. April being nice to Larry was a blast as well. Donna and Ron hanging out was a treat, and I liked that Joe turned out to be a truly great guy, something which Donna wasn’t happy about it since he made her less interesting. Donna paying Ron the compliment of noting that his being a father made him grow as a person was great, and it’s fantastic to see them bonding. There was no sign of Tom in this episode, which was weird, but we did get to see the eternally odd Dr. Saperstein again, as well as Jamm, the guy with the handlebar mustache, and Ann’s boring doctor boss who told Ben that he had weak hands.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pilot Review: Fargo

Fargo (FX)
Premiered April 15 at 10pm

Watching a remake of a beloved classic can be a bittersweet thing. It’s hard to find a film as simultaneously chilling and hilarious as 1996 Best Picture nominee “Fargo,” which features an Oscar-winning performance from Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police detective who sounds kind of funny on account of her Midwest accent. FX’s announcement that it would be producing a ten-episode limited series was obvious cause for both celebration and concern, and I was intrigued to find the exact same poster art used for the TV show as was used for the film almost twenty years ago when I received a press kit in the mail from FX a few weeks ago. The pilot starts out the same way the film does – insisting that its events occurred, and that the names have been changed at the request of the survivors, but everything else has been left exactly as it happened out of respect for the dead. What’s marvelous about the pilot is that it does contain some of the same elements, but in a wholly different context. There is an eccentric pregnant woman, and a car salesman, and a man who couldn’t be less attracted to his wife. But this story is something else, a fresh tale that feels like it belongs in the same universe as “Fargo.” More than anything, this pilot feels purely plot-driven, unencumbered by the traditional format of a television show to keep its characters alive week-to-week, instead content to tell what is so far a gripping story, whatever the collateral damage may be. I was particularly impressed by the performances of stars Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton. Freeman, who is usually all about awkward comedy, does a dead-on William H. Macy impression as a polite everyman despised by everyone and finally encouraged to stand up for himself. Thornton is formidable as a mystery man who seems intent on creating chaos everywhere he goes, egging those he meets on to make bad choices. Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, and Colin Hanks all appear in what are likely to become more substantial supporting roles. This show just has a certain quality about it that makes it very appealing, and I can’t wait to see what happens in episode two.

How will it work as a series? Ten episodes seem like a lot in theory considering how much happened in just this episode, but I have faith that this limited series has been well plotted-out to remain extremely interesting throughout its run. I’m very ready to see where it goes.
How long will it last? This show is billed as a limited series, so it’s very possible that it will conclude after just ten episodes regardless of how well it does. The reviews have been strong and the ratings were solid too, so I have a feeling that FX may want to consider expanding this into a more long-term project.

Pilot grade: A-

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 3, Episode 20 “Death Benefit” (B+)

This show officially entered uncharted territory in this hour, and it’s a very big deal. I’m amazed that this show has been constantly reinventing itself over the course of the past three years, and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Who would have thought that Root would be pulling Shaw out to help her save one number while Finch directed Reese to another, and that they would be handling both relevant and irrelevant numbers? More importantly, of course, what happened in this episode suggested something completely game-changing: that the Machine wanted our friends the good guys to kill one of the numbers. It wasn’t initially clear who John Heard’s Senator McCourt was being hunted by, but it did seem that he was an imminent threat to national security, something he confirmed by calling Garrison and promising to help Samaritan come online. This new system is awfully reminiscent of the targeted anti-insurgency capability from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and its first unfortunate target appears to be Finch, though something tells me he’ll manage to survive. The fact that Reese and Shaw opted not to kill McCourt demonstrates that there’s a line they both won’t cross anymore, while he is sure to be a problem that the world would be better off without. With so many competing organizations trying to launch and prevent the launch of Samaritan, it’s hard to know if McCourt really is the most powerful threat out there right now or if he’s simply going to end up becoming irrelevant.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 3, Episode 21 “Big News” (C+)

As much as it was a concern for these two fictitious characters to eventually break up since they were roommates already, it’s equally problematic for the show that surrounds them to deal with such an event. It was weeks ago that the episode aired which featured the fight which caused such catastrophe, and whose result had to be confirmed by a few clear notes written by Nick on his own hand. Having them try to pretend to be okay with things while each of their friends secretly found out wasn’t all that entertaining, and I don’t know where things go from here. I enjoyed the fact that Nick’s confusion of “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost” and his incorrect terms like “shell beavers” were revealed as part of their fighting, but I don’t see it going anywhere worthwhile. Nick comforting Jess as a roommate is awkward, and it’s just not sustainable. Winston getting into the police academy was an unusually forward-moving development for his character, and his brief reign on the throne during his honey roast was a rare moment of full-on glee for him. Cece attempting to do something intellectual with her life is interesting, and I like that Schmidt wants to tutor her and help her achieve something there, even if he claims that his interest is purely educational. As season three finishes over the next few weeks, I’d love to see some strong sign of what’s ahead for season four and the ways in which this show can once again be a hilarious, must-see comedy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 1, Episode 18 “Providence” (C+)

It’s going to be hard for me to find this show compelling for the foreseeable future, mainly because I still don’t buy the fact that Ward has been a traitor all along. It’s also extremely disappointing to have continued confirmation that Garrett was in fact the Clairvoyant, and that he had no powers but simply used his status as a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to convince others that he was all-knowing. I’m never pleased when shows pull game-changing twists that redefine characters completely and the characters respond by changing entirely in unbelievable ways. Garrett does seem like a self-obsessed king, while Ward seems a little too eager and suave. I’m still concerned that, despite the fact that we saw him kill a number of people in this episode, he’s not going to turn out to actually be a bad guy, which would be hard to explain. I do wonder if the creators of this show knew the direction in which S.H.I.E.L.D. would be headed as dictated by the Marvel movie universe when they started, and I would hope that it’s all part of a grander plan. The notion of the group arriving to a secret base in Canada with Ward continuing to act as a sleeper agent among them is somewhat intriguing, and I hope that it will play out productively. I was delighted to see the always excellent Patton Oswalt as the sole staffer of the secret base, completely casual and chatting Coulson up about lanyards, parking spaces, and Call of Duty while far more serious things are going on outside in the real world.

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 2, Episode 13 “The Reaping” (F)

It’s abundantly clear that both Ryan and Joe are operating so much on their own that anyone else is hopeless to be able to control events given the shared obsession they have with each other. It’s funny, of course, that Joe insists on keeping Ryan alive while Ryan would love nothing more than to kill Joe so that he would no longer be able to plague his life and the world. What’s less funny is that their actions are so thoughtless and stupid that they’re hindering their own progress. I’m not sure what Ryan hoped to accomplish by shooting during the human sacrifice session at Korban, and Emma’s assumption that the FBI was right behind him would make sense if anything he did was logical. Similarly, there was an unintended hilarity to Emma’s whining about Joe refusing to kill Ryan and stalling as long as possible so that they could narrowly escape. Lily’s attack on the compound was rather deadly, though it worked out worst for her since, no matter what, everyone on this show who isn’t Joe or Ryan dies. Mike shooting her was predictable but so far from advisable, and all it really did was give Ryan another chance to unsuccessfully try to talk someone down from doing something regrettable. Joe’s busy being chased out of his own compound by the law and the rival cult, but I’m sure he’ll find time to take Claire’s message too much to heart, something that only she would know but which she easily could have relayed to someone else before she allegedly died. I’m not sure where Tom Cavanagh’s preacher will fall in all this now that Joe has moved again, but I’m sure Joe will use the fact that he manipulated his son into committing murder in the most destructive way possible.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 2 “The Choice” (B+)

I like that this new format of Selina running for President involves her closely personally watching and criticizing the actions and positions of her two main opponents – and the man currently occupying the seat she soon hopes to get – and professionally stumbling to try to do and say the right thing to be as likeable as possible. Bringing Mike back in during his honeymoon wasn’t exactly kind or thoughtful, but it did provide the opportunity for some tremendous comedy, as Mike was hopeless to be able to tell Selina what organization she was speaking with and whether they were pro-choice or pro-life, with Amy whispering the opposite answer at the same time. It’s clear that, in the midst of all this, Dan is going nuts, to the point that he started swearing and yelling at Selina, which got him promptly fired, something that likely won’t be taken seriously or hold, but which still means that he’s on thin ice. He used that anger and took it out on Jonah, who really has become even more ridiculous and who felt so threatened by being force-fed a burrito that he actually enjoyed that he decided not to offer any sort of position on what Selina had said and done, effectively killing whatever chances he had at becoming a celebrity White House tabloid journalist. Kent’s fascination with Sue is a bit odd, but not necessarily bad, and it’s a shame to see that Gary’s career ambitions won’t work out for him given that Selina permanently thinks of him as suited for the job he has now.

Round Two: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Cap Table” (B)

I’m still not enthralled by this show, but I definitely think that this second episode showed more promise and delivered on its concept. That initial meeting with Peter Gregory in which he completely took apart Richard’s lack of business preparation was terrific, and it provides a true snapshot of just how over his head he is. Erlich being present was a superb distraction, and his obsession with getting credit for being the owner of the incubator home greatly overpowers any actual positive contribution he might otherwise be able to make. I’m glad that Zach Woods’ Jared jumped ship and came to help work with Richard to beef up his strategy. He’s a truly non-threatening entity, one so polite that he wouldn’t even use the bathroom without asking permission, though obviously Richard’s roommates, particularly Erlich, don’t view him that way. Richard and Jared interviewing each of the members of the incubator was a smart device that helped to introduce each of them more fully, as Dinesh and Gilfoyle badmouthed each other and emphasized Big Head’s worthlessness, while he didn’t do a particularly good job selling himself. I think that both Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr were perfectly cast, as was Woods, and I’m glad to see that they found such fitting roles. Ultimately, of course, it was Big Head who proved himself most loyal, calling Richard to tell him that his algorithm is being repurposed completely just as he realized that the $200,000 check he was trying to cash might not actually be as valid as he had thought.

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

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 1 “Time Zones” (B-)

It’s hard to find a show that feels just like this one does, and it seems like it comes around ever so rarely. The last two seasons started with a bang with an emphatic two-hour premiere that set up a truly intriguing season, and the first of what will be two slates of seven episodes of the final season doesn’t quite do that. What it does set up is a different kind of show, one that slows down its filming speed to showcase Megan and her long legs walking towards Don in California and adds excessive music in to highlight other scenes. It doesn’t feel as natural anymore, and its artfulness has taken over to an overbearing degree. There’s certainly something intriguing about this bicoastal Don who comes to California far from jealous to see his wife’s acting successes and shower her with expensive gifts (not that she doesn’t own enough already) and can’t stop working from home back in New York as he feeds his old firm his ideas through Freddy. It’s both interesting and miserable to see how far Peggy and Joan have come only to have such obstacles still thrown in their way. Lou reminds a lot of a duller version of Mr. Rogers, hardly worthy of being Don’s successor. Roger is completely out of it, living a lifestyle seemingly inspired by his LSD trip a few seasons ago, while Pete has fully embraced the hipster L.A. lifestyle. I was of the opinion that this show didn’t need much changing, and I hope that this final two-part stretch returns to the creativity of past seasons without feeling so glaringly different.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication (Season Premiere)

Californication: Season 7, Episode 1 “Levon” (B-)

I’ll admit that in the almost full year since this show last aired, I had completely forgotten about it. When Showtime’s depraved comedy block premiered back in January, this show was conspicuously absent, replaced by “Episodes” with its final season delayed until the spring cycle. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six years and that we’re entering the seventh season. Not much has been accomplished in all that time other than Hank alienating every person he could potentially work with, which proves particularly problematic after season six guest star Atticus Fetch fires him via Charlie offscreen and he needs to start looking for new work. As Hank romances Karen for the umpteenth time and she smiles along, not quite upset by the fact that he’s still obsessed with her, it looks like this season will have two other primary focuses. The first involves Michael Imperioli’s Rick Rath, who has heard plenty about him yet still seems to have a soft spot for his future collaborator. The second and far more impactful new character is Oliver Cooper’s Levon, who, not too surprisingly, is Hank’s son. Becca has always known what her father is, but here is the chance for someone to come to know his father only through what he wrote and did and what others thought about him, which presents an entirely new challenge. Hopefully his presence will end up being productive and worthwhile, and this season will feature more than just Charlie crying because he can’t compete with Stu in the department of lovemaking with Marcy.

Round Two: Turn

Turn: Season 1, Episode 2 “Who by Fire” (C+)

I want to like this show since I think its premise is strong and it has the capacity for greatness. I also know that other shows such as “Hell on Wheels” which have started out slowly have ended up being terrific. I’m not sure that’s the case here, however, and I don’t think I’ll stick around long enough to find out. This show isn’t about just one spy, and instead there are numerous elements spying for different sides, and they’re all converging in one very small center of the universe. It seemed a bit immediate for Major Rogers to travel to speak to Abraham personally, and have him end up right by his side as he was piecing together what was going on out loud, complete with illustrative dead body to make sure his points hit home. I don’t really understand how this is all so sustainable since it seems abundantly clear that Abraham, who always wears a suspicious look as he glances around constantly, is hiding something and working with both sides. His father will certainly realize soon enough, especially since he already suspects Anna’s allegiances. All of the characters seem very exaggerated, particularly the loyal Brits, and it makes this show feel the opposite of authentic (not that I lived in the 1700s, but it does feel like they’re putting on more of an act than they should be). More than anything, that applies to Samuel Roukin’s Major Simcoe, who could have been headed for certain execution but is now going to be around for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 2 “The Lion and the Rose” (B+)

This show really does manage to one-up itself each time with an even more shocking and finite event that changes the landscape of its universe completely. In his final moments, Joffrey managed to be even more despicable than ever before, with his one charitable act, donating the leftover food to the poor, being secretly countermanded by his mother. Tyrion was defiant and noble in standing up – no pun intended –to Joffrey, and now he may pay for that following his arrest at Cersei’s command. It’s interesting that the deadliest Lannister was brought down not by a Stark or a competing king or queen but instead by one of his own family members. What happens next is a mystery in terms of who succeeds him, but Margaery’s newly elevated status might help the realm since she is much more kindhearted and logical than her late husband. Cersei, on the other hand, is just as evil as her deceased child. I’m not sure if Tyrion’s arrest means that Jaime’s sparring sessions with Bronn will stop, and I’d love to see Brienne stick around in some capacity in the aftermath of the chaos. Ramsay really has done a number on Theon, and it’s clear just how mean-spirited he is by the way that he tries to show Roose the value of his new prize. Stannis continues to be hapless and controlled, but at least he still defends his daughter, who did an impressive job of standing up to Melisandre and her hypnosis in her cell.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 17 “A Material World” (B-)

It’s clear that Will’s death is going to continue to have a major impact on all aspects of this show, but it doesn’t strike me as believable if it goes directly against what would have been his wishes. I’m talking specifically about Diane and Alicia getting drunk at his funeral and talking about the idea of merging their two firms, something to which Will would have been very much opposed. The two of them acting far too civil in front of their partners gave away their hand, and while Alicia isn’t in much danger of alienating Cary, Diane sure managed to do that quickly with David Lee. He did a tremendous job of retaliating, calling none other than Michael J. Fox’s Louis Canning to suggest a merger, something the fictional character might very much be up for her now that his portrayer’s NBC show has been cancelled in its first season. Kalinda may have succeeded in getting rid of Damien, who we hadn’t even seen in a while, but David seems intent on outfoxing Diane somehow. Kalinda coming over hot and heavy to Cary’s place was a shock, but she didn’t last long and instead went over to Jenna’s to get some relief, but ended up instead with important intel and a much-deserved slap as a result. It was good of Alicia to warn Finn that his boss was gunning for him, and she just needs to snap back to be able to be a proper lawyer for him. Peter telling Alicia that she needs to handle Will’s loss better wasn’t exactly gentle, but she one-upped him by telling him that she when she cheated it did mean something. Giving him the freedom to do whatever he wants and kicking him out for good has little to do with his recent actions, but it’s still a big deal that should have major reverberations.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 9 “Chapter 22” (B+)

Frank is right to be terrified of his wife since she really is even colder than he is when she decides that someone only exists to serve her every whim, not capable or deserving of persisting in his or her own right. And so it goes for Adam, who provided the release she needed when Frank didn’t prioritize her needs, who got thrown under the bus when Claire lied about her relationship with him and then contradicted the very story that she had told him to feed to the press. It’s sad at the same time to see another casualty of connection to the Underwoods, Freddy, whose business went under as a result of a story about how he was an ex-con who served time for killing a man. Sure, he didn’t get the $90,000 he was promised but still ended up with $45,000, but this was a man who never cared about money and just liked cooking the best ribs that Frank had ever tasted in his small little shop. As Frank and Claire cut loose their former allies, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Raymond is truly an enemy for them, wielding secrets and destructive truths and launching them via Remy to try to take down the man who singlehandedly damaged his rapport with the President. In the midst of other power struggles, it was interesting to see the usually quiet and unflappable Doug become irritated enough with Seth to lash out and put him in his place.

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 20 “No Lack of Void” (B-)

This show is certainly open to all types of plotlines, and it’s about time that anthrax took a starring role. I didn’t find this episode to be as compelling as some of the show’s other installments, and that was partly because the anthrax storyline was featured alongside the death of one of the few people that Sherlock could actually call a friend. In the past, I’ve found most things related to Sherlock’s addiction quite compelling, and part of what didn’t work for me was that he actually saw and spoke to Alistair, who died before the start of the episode. This show is creative and clever enough that it doesn’t need to have Sherlock talking to dead people. Talking with Watson is a more than effective way for him to grieve and to process the loss he experienced. On the guest star front, the familiar face of the week was Garrett Dillahunt of “Raising Hope” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” fame as Bart McIntosh. There was some impressive construction to this episode and to the way that it narrowed its focus from its initial premise, with Sherlock and Watson deducing that the anthrax was intended not to harm humans but instead just to kill off Bart’s cows so that he could profit financially. That was a surprising and satisfying conclusion, one which demonstrated that an uneven episode like this need not be all bad and can still have its merits. Considering the quality of the first season’s two-part finale, I have high hopes for the final few hours of this season.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 5, Episode 21 “I’m Still Here” (B+)

For at least three of the Bravermans, it looks like there’s hope of reconciling past relationships. The development most evidently positive and likeliest to last involves Drew, who finally managed to get back together with Natalie. It was enjoyable to see them fight in public a bit as Drew lashed out and then Sarah happened to be present before they realized that all they wanted was to be together. They deserve their young love, and someone ought to be happy. Amber’s reunion with Ryan was far less joyous, and it was sweet that, without much hesitation, Hank hopped in the car to drive her there. I’m not sure whether he and Sarah are going to get back together, but at the very least they might be able to be friends again. Despite Julia’s tryst with Mr. Knight and Pete’s rather blatant appeal to Joel’s more oblivious side, they might also be headed to a good place, and, surprisingly enough, it’s all thanks to Crosby, whose efforts to guilt Joel into coming to help him fix his house worked and produced a truly hilarious interaction which mainly featured Joel making fun of Crosby’s abilities. Kristina’s plotline more than made up for the light-hearted nature of most of the other developments of the episode. Her final interaction with Gwen showed just how far Kristina has come since the days when she was facing almost certain death, and her visit to Bob to appeal to his humanity didn’t go well either. Gwen’s generous gift was inspiring, and it’s great to see that there’s renewed hope for the charter school.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 6, Episode 19 "Flu Season 2” (B+)

This show demonstrates its quality yet again by utilizing a recycled title to tremendous (if not entirely relevant) effect and featuring an episode that isn’t so much about its plot developments as it is about its characters. Leslie’s pregnancy reveal is particularly perfect, since Larry being quarantined in a flu tent in the office and Andy sneezing like crazy made Leslie think that she too had contracted the flu, only to discover that it was something else entirely. I love that Andy and Leslie got to hang out and that he gave a very fitting speech that included him miming what seemed to be a pregnant belly but which actually turned out to be petting a dog. Ben getting really drunk because Ron didn’t want him to talk about his personal problems produced some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly Ben’s reaction to the “phone water” and his cry of “Home is that way!” which was followed by his ill-fated attempt to scale a fence. Running into Eagleton Ron was brilliant, and it was wonderful to see Ben rush in to Leslie to tell her that he wanted to start a family and have her smile as she prepared to reveal the best possible news. Watching April and Craig try to sell wine was a blast, and it was fantastic that Donna straight up poured wine on Tom’s competition to distract him before busting out fluent French. Tom’s description of Craig as “like a crazy volcano” was highly accurate, and it was a blast to watch Tom, April, and Donna test his ability to keep cool by creating the most offensive wine pairings they could think of.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What I’m Watching: Justified (Season Finale)

Justified: Season 5, Episode 13 “Restitution” (B+)

Now here we have a quality season finale that also perfectly sets up a fantastic final season. In many ways, the resolution of the whole Crowe family storyline wasn’t all that exciting, mainly because its best developments happened midway through the season when Wendy wasn’t a quivering mess and Daryl was talking more than just threatening. Still, there was something satisfying about seeing Wendy thank Daryl for his confession before shooting him at rather close range twice while Raylan stood calmly by. It was definitely terrific having the entire family around for the duration of the season. It’s so intriguing to see the focus shift in the episode’s second half, as Rachel came face-to-face with Boyd after their shootout with the cartel and vowed to take him down. He really hasn’t been positioned as a bad guy recently, especially considering the more despicable nature of the people he was doing business with, and to see him now cast as the villain is interesting. Ava’s release from prison was very swift but also very crucial, and it’s clear that it came at a high price. I’m glad that her prison days are over since that wasn’t headed anywhere relevant or productive, but now the greater challenge will be for her to convince Boyd to confide in her again. This season was definitely an improvement on the show’s still-good fourth season, and I was especially thrilled to see such fantastic actors on display.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Jacob Lofland as Kendal

Friday, April 11, 2014

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 1, Episode 17 “Turn, Turn, Turn” (C+)

I wasn’t so fond of this episode for a few reasons. The main thing is that this episode being a tie-in with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” meant that you had to see the movie to truly appreciate what was happening and to understand why the closing credit featured the insignia of Hydra replaced the insignia of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the very end of the episode. It does mean major changes for the show, and I get that, but, had I not seen the movie before I saw this episode, I would have been totally lost. Additionally, my initial praise of Bill Paxton’s Garrett not being a traitor didn’t pan out so well, and having him be a gun for hire who chose the stronger side rather than actually believe in its ideals isn’t as interesting as the notion of a full-fledged Hydra operative. I’m also not impressed by the fake-out of having May be one of Fury’s loyal acolytes, who, despite her duplicity, is actually one of the good guys, while Ward, who no one would ever have suspected, is in fact a devotee of Hydra. Something tells me the whole story hasn’t yet unfolded, but that would make all this a waste of time. I don’t think this show is going to get a second season anyway, so it might be a moot point, but, if it actually wants to stick true to its game-changing events, it should kill Ward off and add a few bring in a new character or two. I wasn’t a big fan of Victoria Hand, though there was something intriguing about watching her prepare to kill Coulson because he was Hydra when in fact none of them were. It’s all about where this show goes from here now.

What I’m Watching: The Following

The Following: Season 2, Episode 12 “Betrayal” (F)

You’d think that if the person that the FBI was protecting realized that there was something suspicious going on in front of their car, the FBI agents themselves would have some idea too and think carefully before stepping out of the car and ensuring their immediate deaths. It makes just as much sense for Ryan to tail Joe’s new followers to their compound without any backup so that he can kill Joe himself and not worry about other people getting in the way, not to mention the fact that Joe’s followers don’t need him to be alive to commit atrocious acts of murder. Gluing masks to the unfortunate people unlucky enough to be at the fraternity house when Joe’s followers arrived was definitely a new level of creepy, and not in a good way (though there’s little on this show that is). Lily and her boys didn’t waste much time in revealing their hand to Mandy, offering her cake before confirming to her that they just want her to tell them where Joe is right away. It seems quite senseless for them to have killed her immediately instead of hoping she might eventually break, and Lily being present for the latest family dinner with a dead person at the table was even more gruesome and unwatchable than the last time the twins did it. Claire isn’t keeping the fact that she’s alive very much under wraps, and I can’t imagine what she and Carrie could possibly do that would both help the good guys and keep this show on the air, which is it going to be for at least another season.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What I’m Watching: Veep (Season Premiere)

Veep: Season 3, Episode 1 “Some New Beginnings” (B+)

It’s great to have this show back, and to see it return to some of its classic humor while taking its storyline in a definitive new direction. It’s appalling to think that Selina would miss the wedding of one of her staff members, but it’s not all that surprising given what her priorities tend to be. I love the fact that all the guests had to put their cell phones in a bowl and that Gary was the only one who returned Seina’s call, though of course she didn’t pick up when she saw that he was the one calling. Replicating the speech she gave at the funeral for Mike was funny, and I also enjoyed watching Selina try to entertain herself by knocking the books off and autographing all of the books in her hotel room with Ben. The best part of this episode was actually Richard, the clueless Gary wannabe who truthfully had no idea that he was making the situation even worse by trying to cover for Selina and who failed to comprehend any of Selina or Ben’s demeaning humor. That he exists is fantastic enough, and this show is using him to tremendous effect. It was a hoot to find out that Jonah runs a gossip blog about the White House, and I do hope that Ken’s forceful ousting of him and Dan’s subsequent celebration won’t mean his permanent departure from the show. Neither Amy or Dan is likely to become Selina’s chief of staff, and I hope the person who does get the gig is a positive addition to the show who can make season three just as terrific as seasons one and two.

Pilot Review: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley (HBO)
Premiered April 6 at 10pm

This show’s title should immediately conjure up images of a buzzing, innovative, productive area in Northern California where technology is truly booming. The poster that has adorned many subway station walls and buses in New York City for months features the show’s main characters all doing their best Steve Jobs impressions, and therefore expectations of the show should be that it will spotlight bright young thinkers who think a lot of themselves, regardless of what their actual talents may be. The show itself contains an intriguing and diverse cast with previous appropriate nerdy TV experience. Lead Thomas Middleditch is the only one I didn’t recognize of the five pictured on the poster, and he’s very much the straight man who actually has great ideas and fewer personality tics than the rest of the bunch. T.J. Miller is a certified oddball, memorable to me as Marmaduke, who excitedly interviewed for a job on Skype with no pants on, from the short-lived “Carpoolers.” Kumail Nanjiani was the agoraphobic Pindar on “Franklin and Bash,” which he may or may not be returning to when the show premieres its fourth season in August (I stopped watching long ago). Zach Woods was the awkward and irritating Gabe on “The Office” and Chad in “In the Loop” before that. And Martin Starr’s signature sarcasm is forever recognizable from two cult classic shows: “Freaks and Geeks” and “Party Down.” The question is, does the combination of these five actors amount to anything? The short answer is not just yet, though the prospect that a completely undeveloped product could net instant offers of $10 million or $200,000 for a five percent share is pretty baffling. The show is definitely much less mature than I would expect for HBO, and certainly less so than its time-slot companion “Veep.” It has the potentially to be truly clever, but it hasn’t proven itself yet.

How will it work as a series? A short season of eight episodes is probably a perfect opportunity to sample the stories of creator Mike Judge’s time spent in Silicon Valley. In many ways, this will be a very plot-driven show, while its characters will also provide ample fodder for mockery and humor.
How long will it last? Reviews for the pilot were strong, and the ratings were pretty good too, besting the third season premiere of “Veep” which followed it. Given that HBO has redefined what kind of comedies it’s looking for and the network loved “Looking,” I think this is a no-brainer for a second season pickup.

Pilot grade: B-

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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

House of Lies: Season 3, Episode 12 “Joshua” (B)

So this is how this whole arc ends, without even a sign of Dre and no guest appearances from the likes of Monica or Sarah either. Instead, things begin too tranquilly with Marty and Jeannie waking up blissfully and planning to go out together on a real date as the beginning of a real relationship. Unfortunately, that dream was short-lived thanks to Jeannie’s overenthusiasm which prompted her contact to raid the Kaan and Associates offices looking for the cooked books. They didn’t locate those, but they did find documentation of Marty and Jeannie’s planned long con involving the food chains, which didn’t lead to all that much since they started officially working together almost right away anyway. I found Samantha’s proud public announcement of the successful exoneration of Jeannie unbelievable and highly unprofessional, though I suppose it did make Marty’s arrest all the more dramatic. There really isn’t anything more wounding to Marty and to his ego than to have to dissociate himself completely from the company that he created. Taking some time off for personal time with Roscoe and his dancing skills was a nice thing for him, however, and his journey to the desert also seemed therapeutic. Who knows what comes next, but hopefully it will be a much more stable and coherent arc in season four. The food wars and the mogul partnership didn’t lead anywhere interesting, and instead all we got was Marty and Jeannie finally getting together right before something irreversible happened that forever separated them. I’m more optimistic about the possibilities for next season.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Don Cheadle as Marty

Pilot Review: Turn

Turn (AMC)
Premiered April 6 at 9pm

You can’t get much more ambitious than a weekly series about spies during the Revolutionary War. AMC has previously taken on the 1960s and the Old West, and now it’s headed to new territory much more similar to that of “Rome” on HBO. What this means is a predictably dense pilot that includes a handful of meaty characters and a lack of urgency in storytelling. It could well turn (no pun intended) into a “Mad Men” or even a “Hell on Wheels,” a series that is rarely thrilling to watch but can often be quite captivating. I certainly won’t object to a show whose main character’s name is Abe. Jamie Bell, whose career took off with his film debut in “Billy Elliot,” is doing TV for the first time in the role of the conflicted citizen being pulled in multiple directions by those around him. I knew I recognized his father from somewhere, and as soon as I saw his name – Kevin McNally – I realized that he was Mr. Gibbs from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Among the supporting cast, Angus Macfayden is a familiar face, here getting a fun role as Robert Rogers. This show took its entire initial ninety minutes to set up the story, so we won’t know until episode two how it will actually work. If I can make it through all of the next installment without falling asleep, I may just be intrigued enough to stick around. It’s a concept that could be truly cool, and its scenery certainly suggests that it’s taking itself appropriately seriously.

How will it work as a series? The universe created in this pilot is pretty insular, and Abe’s father already knows that he lied. How he’s able to stay undercover and pass along secrets to the other side remains a mystery, and that’s what should make this show interesting, provided it doesn’t get too bogged down in references to the “worthless colonial dollar” and the like.
How long will it last? The AMC series that haven’t lasted a while have been the less ambitious, present-set ones rather than something like this formidable undertaking. Going up against the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” and the ACM Awards didn’t help this debut, and so it’s unclear if this will make it. I suspect AMC will want to invest further in this already surely expensive production.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Shameless (Season Finale)

Shameless: Season 4, Episode 12 “Lazarus” (B+)

After a season of drama, who knew that most of our characters could get happy endings, at least for the moment? Fiona being released from jail early due to overcrowding was a wonderful development, and it was great to see her parole officer give her a chance and acknowledge that maybe she wasn’t a completely terrible person. Debbie and Carl’s reaction to Fiona coming home was especially sweet, and things are finally looking up for the elder sister. Ian, on the other hand, seems destined for less fortune, and hopefully Mickey’s eternal loyalty to him will include at least looking at hospitalization options so that his apparent bipolar disorder doesn’t go untreated. Lip running into Mandy at the diner after his evening with Amanda was a reminder that he wasn’t in the social place that he was supposed to be, but, after everything, he seems to have developed a decent relationship with his roommate’s girlfriend. It’s a shame that Debbie and Carl haven’t found their perfect romances reciprocated, but they’re still young and have time to find others. Sammi and Sheila going to war over Frank’s affection was entertaining, and it’s good to know that they have each other while their father slash husband occasionally treats them like they don’t exist. Frank had a bizarre but fitting triumphant moment with Carl at the end of the episode, once again announcing to the universe that he isn’t going anywhere. Jimmy’s return is sure to shake things up, though hopefully it won’t completely ruin the fragile balance that Fiona is close to achieving. This season was definitely strong, and I look forward to season five next year!

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Emily Bergl as Sammi

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones (Season Premiere)

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 1 “Two Swords” (B+)

I’ll admit that, unlike other shows that I watch, I had forgotten all about how much I like this show in the time that it has been off the air. But there is something incomparable about it that is easily recalled by the theme music alone, and this introductory installment, while it only touched upon some plotlines involving some of the more appealing characters, it set up what is sure to be an exciting and bloody season. There’s something strange about seeing Jaime with a neat haircut no longer having to fend for himself, and a polite and polished Brienne is just as startling a vision. It’s understandable that Sansa would be devastated by the vicious murder of her family, and it was nice to see Tyrion try to comfort her, even if she didn’t take it too well. Cersei, Tywin, and Joffrey are all doing their best to ensure that the Lannisters remain a hated breed, alienating the few true friends they have who might support them if the tides turned a different way. Jon has been saved from execution and might even help save his people, while Arya got to try her hand at being personally involved in revenge as she and the Hound got a handful of chickens and a horse each. Daenerys’ march continues to be slow, and I look forward to the day when she comes face-to-face with someone else from this show since her plotline has been fully separate for so long now. I’m sure that won’t happen soon, but eventually it has to!

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 8 “Chapter 21” (B+)

Frank was busy trying to advance himself in this episode, and it worked wonders on one front while failing miserably on another. Cutting Linda out was rude and bordering on cruel, and she managed to offer up her resignation pretty quickly after Walker made it clear that he didn’t value her opinion as much as he did Frank’s. Linda’s parting gift accomplished one big thing, which was to make Frank respect her more than ever before, and now the question will just be who her replacement is. Frank was being awfully pushy with Walker, telling him that he couldn’t know things that might incriminate him, and made the careful distinction to make himself an equal by correcting “Mr. President” to “Garrett.” Claire made great progress with Tricia, who she has fully behind her on her military rape efforts, despite Megan’s inability to perform, and getting them into counseling is another victory that will surely pay off later for the Underwood-Walker relationship. Unfortunately, Frank and Claire’s White House successes made them much more vulnerable to what appears to be front-page news about Claire leaked by Remy and Raymond. Frank tossing the $200 steak at the dog took self-control, and I love that he called up to demand ribs be served on his flight back to the East Coast. Rachel’s newfound romance with her temporary roommate is sure not to last long, and giving Doug some intel likely won’t help in the long run. Remy and Jackie’s relationship continues to be fascinating, as the line between work and play becomes increasingly harder to see.

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 19 “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville” (B+)

This episode has quite a title, and it was fitting for an entertaining and creative installment. Starting with Sherlock discovering the thief hiding in the morgue was mostly irrelevant, but it was an appropriately fun beginning for an enjoyable hour. We even got a brief flashback involving Watson and Dr. Fleming once she realized that the current case had some strong similarities to one involving a murderer who died on her operating table back in 2005. The fact that Colville confessed to two murders before he let him die was disconcerting but not entirely important, and the ultimate revelation that Colville’s mom was the one committing the murders using snap-on dentures was quite a shock. But what made this episode truly terrific was everything it involved with Sherlock. I love scenes like the one where Sherlock told one suspect he was innocent, to which he responded, “I know that, how do you know?” Sherlock’s investigative mind has always been one of the most singular and superb parts of this show, and, with Watson’s own abilities taking center stage recently, it’s nice to see a return to what he does best. His comment about a day where criminals will realize that they shouldn’t use social media was fun, and it was great to see the ways in which the hackers chose to embarrass him as payment for their services. Wearing the sign that said “Help me catch a murderer by punching me in the arm” was a hoot, but I’m sure everyone would have loved seeing even a snippet of Sherlock singing every song from “Frozen” in a prom dress.