Saturday, May 31, 2014

Pilot Review: The Night Shift

The Night Shift (NBC)
Premiered May 27 at 10pm

The second of what technically constitutes next season’s pilot offerings comes from NBC, which is premiering a handful of new shows this week. This is a series that attempts to spotlight a hospital from a completely new perspective and ends up coming off as completely ordinary and expected. Its title explains what it is, and in case you weren’t sure, there’s Jill Flint, who made an exodus from her role as Jill Casey on “Royal Pains” a couple of years ago, as Dr. Jordan Alexander, the “yes man” who just happens to have a past relationship with the bad boy star doctor of the hospital, the rebellious T.C. Callahan. This is meant to be another “Grey’s Anatomy,” one that emphasizes pranks and romantic drama between all of its young employees. There are two other very notable TV faces in the cast, both in less than spectacular roles. Ken Leung, who was Miles on “Lost,” is a doctor with a generally good heart and not much personality. Freddy Rodriguez, best known as Rico on “Six Feet Under,” is Michael Ragosa, the director who sees all of the patients for nothing more than their monetary value. This show feels entirely familiar, replacing the gimmick of other cities or classes or specialties with a time of day: the night shift. It turns out that not all that much is different, and though this show wants to be cool and cutting-edge, it just isn’t.

How will it work as a series? Now that Jordan is interim chief of the night shift, there will be plenty of opportunity for T.C.’s behavior to rub everyone the wrong way. I’m sure the temporary peace he has achieved with Ragosa won’t last either. It should be entertaining if far from creative and fresh.
How long will it last? The premiere actually did pretty well, and NBC doesn’t yet have its “Under the Dome” or its “Mistresses,” so maybe this is the summer series that will carry NBC to semi-success over the quieter months. It’s too soon to tell, but I think this one could end up being renewed.

Pilot grade: D

Friday, May 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 7 “Who Shaves the Barber?” (B+)

It’s very disturbing to see a gun brought to a school and to hear Lorne walk into an office building and blow away pretty much all of its inhabitants just a week after yet another deadly real-life school shooting. It makes Lorne’s character as a whole less appealing, now seen purely as a villain rather than a sly troublemaker, yet it doesn’t impact the overall effectiveness of the show. It was Lester’s performance that was really a knockout in this hour, as his plan played itself out to perfection and then he put on a marvelous show in front of Bob, who teared up while listening to his cleverly constructed story that shifted the facts about which brother Pearl thought had amounted to something. Bill quoting statistics and how three purple had been murdered in two days was a fascinating introduction, and a fitting pairing for the type of law enforcement practiced by Molly and Gus up to this point. Molly walking in still hooked up to tubes to interrogate Mr. Wrench was fantastic, and it was sweet that Gus got her flowers. It’s a relief that the dramatic opening with Gus sitting devastated in the waiting room didn’t amount to anything since Molly was back on her feet almost instantly. The return of Kate Walsh’s Gina Hess was great for many reasons, but mainly because it allowed us to see the cocky, self-assured side of Lester that’s been buried beneath so many layers of abuse and bullying for years.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 7 “Smile” (B)

Apologies for the late timing on this one – it somehow got lost in the shuffle of episodes to be reviewed and posted. I think we’re sort of at a standstill where not much seems like it’s happening, and we’re already halfway through the season. That said, this installment was still pretty entertaining, even if it didn’t get anywhere terribly productive. Rath just isn’t an interesting character, devoid of much personality since he has such a temperamental reputation, and as a result, he ends up being a pushover despite his initially tough exterior. Hank, on the other hand, continues to do whatever he wants, smoking pot with his young son and then bringing him in to his mom’s office for a fake dentist appointment so that he can confront Julia’s boss, who, like so many of the men in her life, just wants to be with her more than anything else. The whole scene in the office was a lot of fun, and one of the highlights of the episode. Hank is getting more and more attached to Julia and farther away from a true reconciliation with Karen. Related to Stu’s offer, it’s always a blast to see the self-deprecating, hilarious Stephen Tobolowsky as Stu, and to see him change his entire life philosophy at the mere sight of Marcy. She, on the other hand, has become a less full and feisty character, less inclined to protest such ridiculous propositions. She is married to Charlie, after all, so her standards can’t be that high.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 5 “3:00pm-4:00pm” (C-)

Let’s take a look at the ridiculousness of this episode, starting specifically with the Al-Hazari family storyline. The logic of cutting off one of Simone’s fingers to keep Navid alive so that someone could observe him piloting the drone for just a few minutes before killing him just one hour later is absurd, especially since Margot putting a bullet in him only serves to show how cutthroat she is, a fact that she does not need to prove to anyone other than Navid. She certainly doesn’t need to intimidate her daughter, who still pledges allegiance to her despite the aforementioned severing. It seems futile to have killed him when they could easily have kept him alive and punished him for his repeated disobedience in some other way. It reminds me of how Jack tranquilized George Mason back in the pilot so many years ago, because he wouldn’t give up a source that Jack ended up not using at all after that. It was a quick humorous joke back then, but now it’s come to define the show. Though it’s far less outlandish, Navarro abandoning his post to go out into the field to track down one lead isn’t smart or sensible, and of course only Kate and Chloe are able to figure out what’s really going on while everyone else still thinks they know best. Jack has gone in just a few hours from public enemy number one to an ally permitted to be alone in a room close to the president, who managed to stay awfully conveniently coherent for the entirety of this episode.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 7 “Waterloo” (B+)

I noted it a day before I watched the episode, yet while I was actually in the middle of it, I forgot completely that this was the season finale. I know that technically it’s the mid-season finale, but when a show won’t air for almost a year, that should be considered the full-on break between different sets of stories, whether or not the arcs are the same. After an iffy premiere, this season was on a good path, showcasing the many difficulties of Don adapting to his new life and his new role at work. This finale brought things to a head with his receipt of a breach of contract letter supposedly from all the partners, and it was a sign of his renewed confidence that he marched right into Cutler’s office and then held a vote out in the middle of the office to ensure his continued tenure. The rather quiet demise of Cooper was a surprise, and served more as an impetus to once again reconfigure the office structure – now the third time this has happened – than anything else. Roger’s efforts to get Cutler out didn’t work so well, but he was more amenable to his plan than expected. Don didn’t have to work hard to convince Ted that he should stick around and that he could really get back to what he wants to be doing. What I would really love to see more of in the final season is an emphasis on these characters and who they are, giving them a chance to grow and develop as the years progress but remain extraordinarily interesting. Watching Peggy give her first big sales pitch, Don Draper-style, was terrific. What I’m not talking about is the closing musical number that served as Cooper’s big farewell. I want more of what made this show great in the first place – lasting, powerful moments that get to the heart of who these ad men actually are.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Jon Hamm as Don

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 6 “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” (B+)

I’m so astounded and impressed by how this show has managed to completely redefine one of its characters, even giving her a first-time-ever romantic subplot in this episode and allowing her to seem, for once, like a normal human being. After telling Sarah that she was very good with children, saying she didn’t want to be left behind, making dog shadows, and singing along to the radio, she got seduced by a nice guy at the bar where she was sitting with her numerous drinks. I didn’t even recognize Patrick J. Adams from “Suits” as the man flirting with and making out with her. Unfortunately, her bliss couldn’t last forever, and she even agreed to go with Gracie of her own volition. I love that Paul and Mark got into a friendly conversation and made a deal while watching Helena, and that neither got what he wanted because the situation took an unexpected turn. This episode also featured the return of a character I forgot about long ago and didn’t even recognize at first – Vic – who was seemingly back in Allison’s life coincidentally, though that’s never the case in this paranoid universe. Angie’s extracurricular activities are far less productive than Art’s, and I’m greatly enjoying his interactions with Felix. It wasn’t too surprising that Sarah’s search for the scientist who helped to engineer her resulted in her crossing paths with Mrs. S again, who once again knows more than she initially shared. Her conversation with Paul in the car was indicative of the person she really is, and I hope that we’ll see more of that going forward. For now, we’ll have to contend with the news that Dr. Leekie may not be a good guy after all.

Pilot Review: Gang Related

Gang Related (FOX)
Premiered May 23 at 9pm

We’re now that time where new show premieres are technically part of the next seasons, which officially begins on June 1st. Such shows are usually doomed to be forgotten altogether after a brief run, but the recent success of summer-only series on multiple broadcast networks suggests that may no longer be exclusively the case. I’m not sure that this one, however, will follow in the footsteps of “Under the Dome” and “Mistresses,” mainly because, unlike those two, this one has a relatively conventional, familiar premise. It’s two-fold, of course, featuring a joint task force made up of members of different law enforcement agencies dealing with gangs in Los Angeles, and also the twist that its star member just happens to be a member of the “family,” loyal to those he is sworn to take down. Shows about conflicted moles can be interesting – like “Alias” – and they can also be pointless and ineffective – like “The Mob Doctor.” This show straddles the line between those two, but the writing is far from good and its characters aren’t great either. Star Ramon Rodriguez should be familiar to audiences for his short role as Bosley on ABC’s reboot of “Charlie’s Angels,” and Jay Hernandez has been all over TV the past few years, mainly recurring on “Nashville” and “Last Resort.” Cliff Curtis, whose last TV regular role was on “Missing,” is a fine choice to play the mob boss, but two other casting choices are disappointing given what the actors have demonstrated themselves capable of in the past. The first is RZA, who was ridiculous and out-of-control on a season of “Californication,” as a techie, and the second, and far more offensive, is Terry O’Quinn, on Emmy-winning “Lost” fame, who is wasted here as the commander of the task force. Most things about this show have been seen before, and nothing about it suggests that it possesses originality or appeal.

How will it work as a series? Ryan has indicated to the family that he isn’t going to be okay with cold-blooded murder, but that didn’t stop him from picking up a gun to protect someone when he was about to be charged with murder. The predictable conflicts of interest will surely emerge, and it can’t be long before someone catches on to the fact that he’s playing for both teams. Hardly sounds enticing.
How long will it last? It’s hard to know what is necessary to keep a summer show like this alive, especially since FOX hasn’t had a comparable scripted hit in the recent past. This doesn’t strike me as an enduring show that’s going to last, and so I think this initial summer run will be more than enough.

Pilot grade: D-

Sunday, May 25, 2014

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

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 24 “The Wedding, Part 2” (B-)

Part of this episode was genuinely sentimental and funny, but a lot of it was so staged that it was hard to take. The worst offender was the joke of Luke and Manny getting married because Phil had them fill in the wedding vows while standing under the canopy. The fact that Alex had to stand there serving as a constant reminder of the joke highlighted how lackluster it was. Pepper didn’t do much for me (I much prefer Nathan Lane in his subtler turn on “The Good Wife”), and all the wedding drama was far from fantastic. What I did like more was Sal’s water breaking as she was about to perform the ceremony and her quick comments to her husband-to-be that the miracle baby might be black. Haley contemplating a romance with Andy is terrific, and I like that Alex warned her that she shouldn’t just play with him for the fun of it. While I was unsure of what might happen with Barb and Merle, I was ultimately very happy with its resolution, how overhearing a call between Jay and Dede prompted them to realize what they like about each other. After the second relocation, it was a relief to hear Jay say that they couldn’t get married like this and give them the ultimate sign of acceptance, by arranging the wedding at the golf club. Walking Mitchell down the aisle was especially sweet, and having Barb and Merle run up to the same with their son was wonderful. This season has been the most uneven to date, and I hope that season six represents a return to consistent quality.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Ty Burrell

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 6 “Buridan’s Ass” (B+)

This episode took a turn for the much more disturbing, as Lorne’s somewhat comical locking of poor Don in a closet last week turned into a far more malicious plan that involved setting him up to look like a gunman and be blasted away by a room full of cops. Lorne has gone from being devious and purposely troublesome to fully dangerous, capable of enacting great harm for no apparent purpose other than to create a distraction. His appetite for violence also meant the demise of Adam Goldberg’s Mr. Numbers, though he did come at Lorne with a machine gun. Let’s hope that Gus didn’t manage to kill Molly, especially since they’re becoming such good pals, despite their differences in how they react to the existence of evil in the world. Gus’ speech about how being two-faced bothers the most was very compelling. The whiteout was enormously effective for telling this story, not letting (too many of) its characters fall prey to the familiar weather but instead using it as a way to enhance the suspense, like when Lorne just disappeared into the snow. Lester really is a quick-witted creative guy, wrapping his face up to look like another patient so that he could escape from the hospital, and planting the hammer at his brother’s home after he disowned was both cruel and cunning. Returning voluntarily to the hospital might have had something to do with guilt after his nephew saw him, but I think that he believes he can get away with it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 4 “2:00pm-3:00pm” (C+)

It sure is easy to get the President on the line, especially considering the fact that the administration supposedly doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. It does make sense that both Heller and Audrey would want to give Jack the benefit of the doubt and hear his side of the story since they used to be close with him. That said, the main flaw of this show was always that things happening in real time meant that completely absurd moments would be created, like the President calling a man who had just taken hostages directly within fifteen minutes of the beginning of his siege. I’m glad to see that Kate finally realizes that maybe Jack is up to some good and that she’s ready to help him, but I suspect that it’s going to be difficult for her to stay in Navarro’s good graces long enough to help him prove what’s going on. The impending threat is particularly worrisome due to the extreme methods of Margot Al-Harazi, who was willing to have her henchman cut off her daughter’s fingers to make her husband comply with the plan for him to pilot the drones. That she earned that fate after going to her mother to confess about the secret plan is even more unfortunate. I’m not sure how far that family drama will go, and, as with past seasons, I’d like to see this threat wrapped up and move on to something wholly different in the second half of the season, which is upon us in just a few weeks given this reboot’s shortened length.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 7 “Special Relationship” (B+)

Quite a lot happened in this episode, and most of the developments were definitely not good. Ray talking to people was wholly entertaining but obviously problematic, and his attempt to defend his comparison of fat people to devils was remarkably ineffective. Kent trying to talk to him without him having any sense of what was being said was hilarious, and he didn’t even respond coherently to Selina shouting at him following his Air Force Two comment. Dan’s panic attack was the least of his worries, and it didn’t take him all that long to be fired as campaign manager. Having to hear Jonah read off a fake list of symptoms and brag about being the person who broke him was especially harsh. Amy probably won’t last too long as the new campaign manager, but it should be fun to see her try. Mike being relieved that he was no longer in charge and that he could take a nap was amusing, and very fitting for the man who had to ask Siri how many horses died during World War I. I’m not sure what the First Lady’s suicide attempt will have to do with anything, but it’s not comforting news. Among Selina’s biggest gaffes in London were her pub “Daniwah” misunderstanding, her debate with the deputy prime minister about Harry Potter being an underage child wizard, her hat, her complaints about Celsius temperatures and plugs, and her very politically correct commentary about being driven to the airport at Diana speed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 7 “Proof of Concept” (B)

This episode was a bit more grounded and on target than last week, but I still wasn’t enthralled by it, and find it hard to believe that there’s just one more episode before the end of the season. Though the show has already been renewed for a second season, I’d love to feel that this first sampling wasn’t just a directionless introduction, and more of a complete, self-sufficient arc. What we got in this episode is that some things haven’t gone too far – Big Head is content in his aimless life and can’t be seen interacting in a friendly manner with Richard – while others continue to be enormously destructive – Erlich sleeping with one of the judge’s second wife after trying to scope out whether he knew that he had slept with his first wife. It’s also hard to watch Jared be beat up on so much, even though it’s a role that Zach Woods has nailed many times in the past. For him to be thanked only because the object of Richard’s apparent obsession overheard him saying he was Richard’s partner and misinterpreted that he was gay is hardly any consolation. Dinesh being too distracted by Gilfoyle’s completely unintentional role in his attraction to the woman at the booth next to them to go the distance was somewhat amusing, but a sign of repetition and a failure to adequately give the two coders anything to do but fight over women, sex, and all things related. Let’s hope for a more focused finale.

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 6 “The Strategy” (B+)

It couldn’t go on forever like this, with Don perpetually throwing a tantrum because he now has to report to other people and Lou and Peggy trying to put him in his place over and over again. Fortunately, seeing how much Pete suggesting that Don do the pitch instead of Peggy upset her, Don took the high road for once and opted to come in after hours to work with Peggy to get her to understand his process and to help her iron out the best idea. They got pretty close, and I’m glad to see that it’s still just a platonic kind of relationship, since them sleeping together now would just undermine everything. This show, of course, doesn’t have the best view of relationships, especially given usual nice guy Bob Benson’s indecent proposal, which he followed up by assuring Joan that this is the best deal she would ever get. While Bob’s nice guy nature can’t be depended upon anymore now that he’s left the agency high and dry, at least Joan’s resolve not to be taken for granted can, which is a comfort. Megan’s visit to New York was only a meager improvement over Don’s last trip to New York, and its highlight was definitely the looks on Megan and Peggy’s face when the secretary said that she didn’t even know Don was married. At least he’s in better shape than Pete, who was too distracted by work and Trudy to give his new and very driven girlfriend Bonnie, who I just noticed is played by Jessy Schram of “Last Resort” and “Falling Skies” fame, any attention.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 6 “Kickoff” (B-)

At this point, I sort of feel like I could sit down to watch any episode of this show and predict exactly what was going to happen while being simultaneously shocked and surprised by the absurdity of what actually went down. The loser this week is the door, an object whose importance is completely ignored, as our good friend Hank manages to start something sexual with two different women in the span of about ten minutes and doesn’t bother to even shut the door, let alone lock it. This magical world Hank inhabits does of course include actresses who pretty much demand sexual favors from their writers and then walk out without being satisfied because of the aforementioned door problem. I was excited to recognize Mercedes Masöhn from the short-lived but terrific “The Finder” and also of the equally short-lived but less terrific “666 Park Avenue,” as that actress, Amy, and I hope we see her again. I was less enthralled by male star Hashtag, who, like Rath, set his sights on Julia, who is too unconcerned with what anyone else thinks to realize that she’s playing three guys who all work very closely together. Her reaction to her son having sex with a prostitute Hank paid for in a pool wasn’t all that monumental, and I do wish that it would appear to lead somewhere, just like the final season of a show that has plenty of plotlines it really should be wrapping up before it signs off for good.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 7 “Mockingbird” (B+)

What a throwback to the way this show started with a cocky but somehow likeable character pushing someone off a ledge to fall to what should be their certain death. Of course, the Stark in this case wasn’t the one being pushed, and Lysa definitely died when she fell into that creepy well, whereas Bran lives on to continue trying to defend the wall and find his family and such. There wasn’t much going back from that kiss Petyr planted on Sansa after she slapped Robin, and Lysa almost delivered to Sansa the same fate that befell her just moments later. Telling her that he only ever loved her sister before pushing her stung the most, but this show has never been one for niceties. Tyrion had a few visitors in this hour, none of whom delivered good news, and Prince Oberyn told him a rather sobering story about his reputation and the way in which he didn’t manage to live up to it. It’s not going to be easy to go up against the giant that is Sir Gregor, but I have a feel that this show isn’t done with Tyrion just yet. For the first time since the demise of Khal Drago, Daenerys is allowing someone into his personal space, and though Daario seems to be able to fulfill her needs, he doesn’t seem to impress her advisors very much. Brienne and Pod seem closer than ever to a Stark sibling they didn’t realize they’d find, while, despite such anger and aggression from him, Arya is actually managing to bond with the Hound.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 22 “A Weird Year” (B-)

It took me until more than halfway into this episode to remember that this was a season finale, and I don’t consider that to be a good thing at all. After such a promising start with what many agree to be one of the show’s best episodes, “Hitting the Fan,” this season took a serious nosedive for the unorganized after Will was killed. The fact that the writers knew they were killing him off means that they should have been able to better prepare and help things come together rather than piecing it all into something difficult to decipher and hard to find appealing. I guess it makes sense that Cary would be resentful of Alicia for always wanting to maintain her ties to Lockhart Gardner, though going to Canning to try to sabotage Diane’s efforts didn’t seem like him. Diane suggesting that she join their fledging firm is a big shock, though it hardly rivals Alicia answering the door for Cary just a year ago. Having both Alicia and Peter’s mothers prepping a meal at home for Zack’s graduation with occasional cameos from Peter and Eli was just plain weird, and not all that effective. Hearing Diane tell Kalinda to continue exploit Cary was definitely hurtful, though he took it out on the wrong person by outing Diane, whose State’s Attorney candidacy was extremely short-lived. I’m not sure what Finn has contributed to this storyline, and while I am a fan of actor Matthew Goode, this has been a rather dull role for him. Here’s hoping that next season is more even throughout the year.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Josh Charles as Will

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 5 “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est” (B+)

I’m impressed in a way that I never expected to be on this show, and that’s with how one of the show’s main characters is being redefined. Helena has gone from being an absolute villain to something more difficult to pinpoint. After the terror in Sarah’s eyes when Helena killed Daniel and came towards her, the attitude she has towards her sister has changed completely. Depositing her first with Felix and then with Art was great, and Felix’s suggestion of feeding the eternally hungry Ukrainian was both hilarious and spot-on. That she broke free and was ready to shoot Rachel with a sniper rifle while using a small voodoo doll of her head was intense, yet Sarah managed to talk her down by telling her that she’s happy she’s still alive and pleading for her to help make sure Felix stays out of prison. Rachel, on the other hand, managed to seduce Paul, and not in the literal sexual sense which made for an uncomfortable extended scene that wasn’t nearly as intimate or passionate as it should have been. Now he’s her official monitor, though the more kindly Dr. Leekie may be able to sway his allegiances. I’m not sure how Sarah finding out about Cosima’s illness will affect their relationship, especially since Rachel was withholding treatment because of Sarah’s noncompliance. Henrik’s methods of family punishment are downright disturbing, and I much prefer the father-daughter dynamic that Kira and Cal have created, looking out for one another and doing a damn good job of it, regardless of whatever mysterious guns may or may not be lying around.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: Elementary (Season Finale)

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 24 “The Grand Experiment” (B)

Like the episode in which Watson was held hostage, this installment didn’t quite wow me. I’ve always argued in favor of this show being an above-average procedural, and corrected those who thought I was talking about “Sherlock” (which I’ve never seen – one day). I still believe that to be true, but some recent episodes involving Mycroft have not been the best. I had to look up whether Mycroft was a major character in the original books, since I know that this show tends to take some liberties that make the effectiveness of its material wholly traceable back to its interpretation of those characters. The fact that Watson desperately wants to move out, for instance, makes sense, much more so than her sleeping with Mycroft. Being physically apart for some portion of the day and night should do interesting things for their partnership, hopefully more good than bad. Sherlock, however, is going to be entering a whole new arena, now that he has accepted the job of working for MI-6 following his brother’s departure from the agency. I don’t know where that leaves Detective Bell and Captain Gregson, but it’s not much of a concern since they were never the show’s strongest or most memorable characters anyway. Where it leaves Watson is more of a question mark since he didn’t consult her before taking the job, and she might not be as excited by the notion of working for a foreign government agency as he is. It should make for a reenergized season three, which I hope proves quite enjoyable and newly fresh. While this year wasn’t as good as year one, it was still good, and my current plan is to keep watching this show when it returns to CBS this fall.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Jonny Lee Miller

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 23 “The Wedding (Part 1)” (B-)

This wedding is something that’s been in the works for a long time now, yet there’s something about the way that it’s presented, namely the casual nature of all the preparations by the grooms-to-be in this episode, that makes it feel lackluster. Cam’s overreactions were sharply contrasted by Mitchell’s attitude that all will be fine, though of course that wasn’t quite true due to the dry cleaners being closed and then the episode-ending news about the fires that meant that the wedding venue had to be evacuated. I’m sure the season finale will end in some romantic, joyous fashion, and it will all work out. For now, however, at least it’s good to see that Jay is coming to the wedding, even if he and Cam’s father aren’t able to properly address their relationships to the newlyweds-to-be in question. That both Jay and Gloria managed to convince Cam’s parents to want to get a divorce is a big deal, and hopefully it’s not a more worrisome sign of trouble in their own marriage. Phil and Claire hanging out with the wrong children wasn’t all that enthralling, though Phil’s awkward stunt as a mistreated blind man was somewhat enjoyable. I like that Haley is trying to be nice to the impossibly genuine Andy, and wouldn’t mind seeing them get together since it would be the complete opposite of her and Dylan and might actually get her to accidentally become a better person. I wouldn’t count on that lasting, but it would be fun to see it play out for a while.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Six Ungraspables” (B+)

I wasn’t sure at first what this episode was doing reviewing scenes that we had already seen, but it turned out to be one of the more helpful types of flashbacks employed (I usually find such things irritating). Watching the trajectory of the bullet and how it got lodged in Lester’s hand before zooming out to find him uncomfortably seated in the cell between Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench was enormously effective. The story of how he purchased his gun as part of a minor sock stop, which resulted in his wife telling him he could easily shoot himself in the face, was just as impactful. Fortunately, Lester’s cell-bound misery didn’t last long, though now he’s in for trouble of an entirely different – and legal – variety, thanks to Molly’s detective work, which helped her to deduce pretty much exactly what happened, save for that tiny little detail of Lester never actually hiring Lorne since he volunteered for the job all on his own. The fact that Bill responded to her report with a less than dubious attitude was a big get, and remarking that Lester happened to be in custody seemed to help to sway things in favor of Molly’s hypothesis. Gus was also making some good progress, but Lorne is onto him too, intimidating Gus’ new neighborhood watch friend and noting where Gus and his daughter live. Stavros really isn’t doing well, and it’s hard to tell whether the biblical problems he’s having are worse than the way that Lorne is messing with him and making him doubt himself.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest (Season Finale)

Person of Interest: Season 3, Episode 23 “Deus Ex Machina” (B+)

Like its central nonhuman character, the machine, this show just keeps evolving in incredible ways. This is not the first major reboot this show has undergone, and to think that Carter was alive for the first half of this season, which focused on HR and threats not all that related to Decima and Vigilance is mind-boggling. To imagine that Root answered a phone in a psychiatric facility at the end of last season is even crazier. And, of course, now that the team is at the height of their efficiency, even looping Hersh in for a final selfless and heroic act, it’s time for a big, devastating change. Nothing Collier did during his trial, including killing a defendant, was as impactful and mortifying as the look on his face when he found out that his whole trial hadn’t been broadcast and that Vigilance was a creation of Greer’s all along meant to serve his purpose. It’s a lot to take in, but this episode didn’t let up after that, dropping another bombshell in the form of Root revealing that they were never going to stop Samaritan from going online, but rather working to get themselves off the grid so that they could be spared, with some hope of eventually fighting back. Digesting that is going to take some time, and that’s why a summer hiatus is convenient. This season demonstrated that, after a stellar and game-changing second year, this show has so much more left to offer and is constantly reinventing itself.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Amy Acker as Root

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season Finale)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 1, Episode 22 “Beginning of the End” (B)

That was actually a fairly solid finale, filled with some enticing action and some appropriate resolution for its characters, all the while setting up some big things for season two. I wasn’t so taken with Garrett going crazy, though I guess it was fitting to turn him into a supervillain right at the end, one overcome by delusions of grandeur who got summarily blasted away by Coulson in a great comic moment, one of many in this episode. His final episode did reveal, however, some troubling news about Coulson, who experienced the same relentless drive to draw patterns on the wall as Garrett, indicating that he might be headed down a similarly disturbing road. Having Nick Fury stop by, spoiled as it might have been by his name in the opening credits, was fun, and it was nice to see him so relaxed, even if his attitude and outfit were strongly inconsistent with everything we know about his character. Skye and May’s takedown of Ward was satisfying, and I’m not sure whether he’s completely out of the picture since they left him alive. Fitz proved himself to be truly heroic in trying to save Simmons, and it looks like they might just both come out of it okay. The revelation that Skye’s monster father is still alive is major, and it should shape things in a dark way for what could well be a very good season two. I didn’t love this first season, but it’s still hard for me not to want to watch, all the while wishing it was a more satisfying, well-rounded show. I’m glad it will have another chance to prove its worth.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as Fitzsimmons

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 3 “Day 9: 1:00pm-2:00pm” (C+)

There were some decent moments in this episode, but it’s hard to find this some anything but frustrating. A few years into its initial run, and especially towards the tail end of that stretch, this because all about how Jack can do what no one else can, just as invincible as the mythical Chuck Norris. Only he can convince Chloe and her band of cyberterrorists to help him just by asking nicely (after some gun-pointing, of course) and only he can save the world by talking directly to a president he doesn’t realize is losing his memory. Kate, who can actually get things done and might as well be Jack’s heir apparent given her manipulative, law-breaking tendencies, is wasting so much time tailing Jack that it’s a wonder more terrorist attacks aren’t happening while she’s misdirecting her intrepid efforts. That said, the best moment of the episode was at the end when Jack shot off a few rounds to distract the crowd and Kate helplessly watched Jack run into the building. I’m finding everything involving Heller, Mark, and Audrey completely dull and cyclical, and the other family drama – that of the Al-Harazi family – is much less accessible and too removed to be compelling. Someone needs to find Lieutenant Chris Tanner fast and talk to him, and, as is to be expected with this show, I can’t imagine it will be anyone other than Jack. This season has twelve episodes – could it really take any less than eleven for Kate to realize that her best ally is the man she’s hunting?

Friday, May 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 6 “Detroit” (B+)

It really is incredible to think about the combination of personalities surrounding Selina and how they all contribute to help make her the candidate that she is. Having Catherine and Andrew, and Christopher Meloni’s Ray, around just enhanced the fun. Catherine punching Selina’s liberty-defending assailant one-upped Selina walking through a glass door in terms of sheer visual shock effect, and, unsurprisingly, Selina wasn’t too happy about the attention being diverted from her. Jonah scored an unusual success while wearing his all-too-standard lanyard by celebrating the devastating stunt of Maddox putting his hand on Selina’s back after their handshake to appear as if she needed his help. Ray made things all kinds of awkward, and Gary watching Amy enjoy the message she requested to distract from Selina’s loud sex with Andrew was perhaps the most worthwhile and uncomfortable part. I love that Ben is being incorporated more into the regular story, and that Dan got to put his foot in his mouth in a big way by insulting the speech Ben had written which he thought was penned by Mike. Watching Dan flail about as a campaign manager with two iPads really is entertaining. I enjoyed Kent and Sue being extremely efficient while holding down the fort in Washington, and seeing their bizarre but apparently solid relationship develop. Amy trying to defend her genuine friendship with Selina was also amusing, especially since she’s usually the voice of reason who doesn’t try to pretend to be more attached to her boss than she really is.

Pilot Review: Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful (SHO)
Premiered May 11 at 10pm

I’ll admit that I almost stopped watching this show after the first scene. I was torn between my commitment to watching every pilot and the fact that I just can’t do horror. I remember when, at the very beginning of my TV obsession back in 2005, I was terrified by the pilot of “Supernatural,” and I don’t think I’ve watched a full episode of a true horror series since then. Fortunately, it was really only the first scene that had that seriously freaky startling quality, and the rest of the hour was just full of gloomy gothic occurrences. There was plenty of blood and brutality, and this is the definition of religious-oriented horror. It’s simply not something I can stomach or have any interest in watching or thinking about, but I will admit that there was some intriguing dialogue. “The place where superstition and science walk in hand” is an interesting concept to be sure, and it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of the line “The moment you realize you are no longer the hunter and you are the prey,” especially as uttered by one Timothy Dalton. This whole show could function solely based on scathing looks from Dalton and Eva Green, who could just stare people down for an entire hour every week. Josh Hartnett’s performance, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired, as he seems like the dumb, lazy American putting in little effort amongst a far more talented European ensemble. This could well be a sort of “Once Upon a Time” done right in a far more chilling, dramatic fashion, but that’s not a show I particularly want to watch.

How will it work as a series? I see the appeal of the final scene, reimagining the birth of Frankenstein’s monster in a starker fashion that’s not all that dissimilar from the conventional idea of the story. That actually makes this into a freak-of-the-week procedural in a sense, though one that thrives on gore and pitting its many characters against each other in as freakish a setup as possible. I think there’s definitely an audience for that.
How long will it last? This show is definitely searching for a niche viewership, and fortunately, it seems to have found it. After having been available to watch online early, the premiere’s ratings were higher than those of the “Homeland” pilot, but lower than the “Ray Donovan” pilot. I think Showtime will endorse this genre show with a second season renewal soon.

Pilot grade: C+

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 6 “Third Party Insourcing” (B-)

All elements of the plot of this episode were pretty silly, but it was still quite entertaining anyway. Up to this point things had been exaggerated in a more literal way, while this installment demanded far more suspension of disbelief. The revelation that the famed Carver was actually an arrogant little kid named Kevin was amusing at first and then quite horrifying, when he made Richard feel self-conscious about his habits and then almost ruined the entire system because he didn’t have his Adderall. Getting slapped in the face by another kid when he tried to buy some Adderall was a definite low moment for Richard, and then the violence only continued when Erlich slapped the guy right back and scared him into getting them what they needed. That was a bit too stark and startling for my tastes, and I didn’t find the Satanist meeting or Gilfyole’s trickery of Dinesh and, less intentionally, Erlich, regarding his girlfriend’s desire for them. Gabe’s plotline was completely out-of-this-world, and I actually found myself laughing quite a bit at it. His excitement at the self-operating car was great, and then things got crazy in a way that has literally stranded him on an island where no people live and everything is operated by machines. I wonder if anyone will ever realize he’s there? I’d love to see this show incorporate some of this episode’s far-fetched technological innovations into more grounded storylines. I think there’s plenty of potential for it if it doesn’t try to reach too far.

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 5 “The Runaways” (B+)

It’s so interesting how this show spotlights the various hobbies practiced by its characters outside of work. I remember when Ken’s science fiction writing career was squashed by those who thought that he couldn’t focus on his work at the same time, and now we have Lou drawing comics which, from the looks of it, weren’t that bad. Unfortunately, Stan and the rest of the gang weren’t subtle about mocking it, and, though it’s hard to have sympathy for a guy like Lou, it was tough to watch everyone laugh at him. It didn’t justify making Don stay late so that he would miss his flight to California, which in turn meant bigger problems at home that Megan tried to fix with a seemingly hallucinatory threesome that pushed the boundaries of where this show usually goes. The office antics were especially light considering the serious nature of Ginsberg’s condition, which meant from odd and overbearing to extremely concerning when he offered Peggy the nipple he had cut off to stop the hum of the machine. With one team member out of commission, Don made a bold move that definitely paid off, thanks to some helpful intel from Harry, offering to fall on his sword for a potential client with the full knowledge that they would never make him do it. Betty and Francis’ home life is certainly not picaresque at the moment, and though she’s so detestable, the choice moment from this episode was definitely Betty defiantly telling Henry that she wasn’t stupid and that speaks Italian.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 5 “Getting the Poison Out” (B-)

There is something undeniably entertaining about the relationship Hank and Levon have, but this episode felt forced and staged in an unfortunate way. Having Karen stop by just as Hank and Marcy were in the middle of their depraved plan to hire a prostitute with a very irritable pimp for Levon was all too convenient, and her subsequent hanging around to agonize over what was going on and serve as the moral compass was excessive. The moral of this episode is that prostitutes really can do wonders on anyone, and now Levon is likely to be addicted to the idea. It’s also inevitable that his mother is going to find out, and though she’s an open-minded parent, she’s sure to be furious with Hank. She may have some apologizing of her own to do if her date with Rick leads to any problems at work, though I think it’s fair to say that Levon is doing plenty of damage on his own to the situation. I liked Mary Lynn Rajskub’s crazy writer in last week’s episode, but I wasn’t quite as taken with her in this installment. Throwing up all over Charlie’s crotch was certainly a memorable moment of the evening, and I’m glad he told Marcy about it since the effect Goldie has on him could do detrimental things to his marriage. At least Stu is referring clients to Marcy and still pining over her, but it’s very clear that she’s no longer interested in him, mainly because of his cheating, so Charlie better tread very carefully.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 6 “The Laws of Gods and Men” (B+)

We’re back to the regular format of spending an extended period of time on a given plotline and missing a handful of our regular characters in each episode. That wasn’t a problem in this hour as most of the content was extremely strong, starting with a focus on a character I’ve extremely excited to see featured prominently. I think that actor Liam Cunningham is enormously talented, evidenced by his work as the star of the short-lived “Outcasts” and the film “The Guard,” and he does such fine work in a small role as Davos, who in the extended opening scene got to make a case for Stannis and show some energy for once. The rescue mission for Theon was a definite bust, and his current situation continues to be immensely disturbing. Daenerys is understandably having issues keeping her newly freed constituents in order, finding some expected backlash to her merciless punishment of the masters. As the Lannisters discuss the severity of the challenges posed to the new king’s rule, their present problem is much more internal. Peter Dinklage proves his salt once again as, even when offered a way out by his kindhearted brother Jaime, Tyrion opts to speak up and dare the courtroom to convict him, exposing the hypocrisy of what is happening. An ordinary man might be defeated by the sheer nature of the odds stacked against him, particularly Shae’s betrayal, but Tyrion just took things to a whole new incredible level, ending this show on a maddening cliffhanger for the first time in a while.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 21 “The One Percent” (B-)

This episode was a real disappointment, mainly because it felt so formulaic on a show that’s usually able to be completely inventive and enticing. This was a choreographed comedy of errors, with Tom Skerritt’s James Paisley perpetually putting his foot in his mouth much to the chagrin of Alicia and the delight of Louis. His comment about feeling like Anne Frank was particularly thoughtless, and Louis’ response of having Howard wear a yarmulke in court was appropriately over-the-top and somewhat hilarious. Alicia failing to correctly differentiate between the two African-American anchors, on the other hand, felt rather rehearsed, and didn’t have the same comedic effect. Yet the trial didn’t feel fresh, and Louis’ presence seems all too menacing in the wrong ways. Kalinda is hovering over him while Diana watches from afar, and unless he joins the show full-time, which I don’t see being productive given the nature of his character, I don’t see where it’s all heading. I’m also not too taken with Finn, who is a perfectly nice guy but a bit flat as a character. He’s just a convenient reason for Peter to want to cheat again, forbidding Eli to tell him what to do because he’s sure that he wants vengeance and doesn’t care if he self-destructs while getting back at his wife. With Will gone now for a few episodes, I’m hopeful that the season finale can productively set the show up for whatever its new direction may be next year as it begins its sixth season.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 4 “Governed As It Were By Chance” (B+)

While it turns out that a good guy, the quick-thinking Cal, was the one who plowed into the car Sarah was being forced to drive by Daniel, that doesn’t mean that she’s safe, because things happen so quickly on this show that an hour can change everything. Cal seems like a genuinely good person, and I hope that he ends being like Cosima, Paul, and, generally speaking, even Art, sometimes a bit too driven to follow what they think is right but ultimately an ally for our army of clones. What he does with the name of the Dyad group should be the first telling sign of whether his motives are anything but pure. The discovery that the scientists in the picture were Rachel’s parents is definitely intriguing, and I’m sure it’s going to lead to even more enlightening information. For the moment, however, Sarah managed to be very resourceful and invade Rachel’s private space, but she got herself caught again by the brutal Daniel, who, fittingly, seems to have died a violent and painful death at the hands of none other than Helena, who alienated her new “family” by acting in self-defense when one of them took a pillow to her face. It was fortunate for her that Art was there to delay her pursuers, though now Sarah will have to deal with her. Tatiana Maslany is always incredible, but I’m not sure she’s ever had to deal with such physically different mannerisms in such a confined space. Allison’s current predicament is no laughing matter, but that didn’t prevent some truly hilarious moments, namely Felix’s suggestion of brunch and mimosas and Allison’s insistence that she’s never “done the nasty.”

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

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 13 “Chapter 26” (B+)

It’s hard to believe how much has happened on this show, and to see the presidency practically handed to Frank on a silver platter. To think that Walker could be undone by the mere fact of seeking marriage counseling is incredible, yet there was far more work put into trying to unseat the president than just a simple recommendation. Frank writing a letter on his typewriter to Walker with a full confession to the crimes he had committed was the definition of bold, but of course he was really just daring Walker to leak it and let the chips fall. Watching Walker and Tricia walk away with no one paying attention to them after Walker delivered his resignation speech, all eyes turned on Frank, was very powerful and unsettling. Ending with Frank walking down the hallway and pounding his fist on the desk in the oval office was quite emphatic and foreshadows what is sure to be a volatile third season. There have certainly been casualties in this second year, particularly poor Doug, who panicked when Gavin tried to make a deal with him and ended up getting bashed over the head by Rachel, left to rot in the woods with no one knowing that he was even officially missing. To see Raymond Tusk pushed to the point of lying to implicate his old friend because he felt slighted by the withdrawal of his pardon demonstrates just how destructive Frank and those who associate with him can be. Compared with the first season, I think this slate of episodes was just as exciting to watch, even if the plot became much more soapy in nature. Molly Parker’s Jackie Sharp was a fantastic addition. I definitely enjoyed watching one episode per week and look forward to continuing that tradition going forward for all Netflix series.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Kevin Spacey

Monday, May 12, 2014

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 23 “Art in the Blood” (B+)

This episode opened by providing confirmation of something that most viewers might have pieced together by the end of last week’s installment: that Mycroft wasn’t just working with MI-6 but that he is in fact British intelligence. That helps put a lot of things that have happened into perspective, and also to paint him as a better person than he’s come off recently. Mycroft’s handler asking Sherlock to help with an NYPD case to help close out the Holmes service to the agency This show has been doing a lot lately with removed body parts, and I’m just glad that the missing arms were a way to introduce Emily Bergl as the deceased agent’s wife, who happened to have pictures of the invisible tattoos on his arms and hadn’t spoken up earlier because she was being watched. Sherlock being asked to come work for MI-6 certainly does present an interesting idea, though it contradicts Sherlock’s historical nature as a private detective and this show’s NYC setting, which I can’t imagine it would abandon. Any sort of decision will have to wait, of course, because Watson moving out and sleeping with Mycroft again are the least of their problems. Having to be the one to save his brother from a frame job is a great way of reconnecting the Holmes brothers, and it’s an excellent way to set up what is sure to be an exciting finale next week, which could change things as we know it in a big way.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 22 “Message Received” (B+)

For the first time probably since the pilot installment of this show, this episode surprised me. I’ll get to the comedy of the episode later, but there was one plotline in particular that tugged very unexpectedly at the heartstrings. What seemed like an innocuous competition between Cam and Mitchell over whose heirloom was worth more – Mitchell won before dropping his comic book in the mud, less funny that but reminiscent of Phil physically destroying his mint baseball card – turned into something much more serious which resulted in Mitchell telling his father that he didn’t have to come to their wedding. Jay being stuck in his ways is nothing new, and it’s always worked out somehow, but hearing his father say that he wasn’t really on board with the idea of a gay wedding triggered something in him that made this episode end on a dramatic note. It was especially poignant after hearing Mitchell’s voicemail for Claire that told her Jay would come around to the idea of her being pregnant before she was married. On the lighter side, the answering machine pranks were great, highlighted by Haley and Luke both snapping at Alex for encouraging them to rise to their potential and Claire reassuring Phil that she was happy she ended up with him. Manny, Jay, and Gloria forcing each other to try new things ended up being pretty hilarious, and Manny was all about the classic one-liners in this episode. “All the cool kids with their leather jackets and their pickles” was my favorite, though his disappointment at himself for not making a pickle pun was a close second.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 4 “Eating the Blame” (A-)

This is the last of the show’s episodes that I received early as part of a press kit sent by FX, and I had planned to watch it some time ago before other shows got in the way. I’m glad I waited, since it gave me plenty of time to forget just how good this show is and to truly ease back into its particular tone and mood. This episode started with a magnificent and unexpected flashback, explaining how Stavros found the money at just the right time and then subsequently made his fortune. Being tormented with plagues is pretty miserable, and that, combined with all of his duplicity in this episode, makes Lorne seem like a truly evil person. Billy Bob Thornton was incredible in this episode, donning an entirely different persona to fool Schmidt and Bill, exonerating himself completely as a suspect and damaging Gus’ reputation in the same way Molly’s has already been tarnished. Lester getting himself arrested after escaping from Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench was a smart play, but that quick thinking was immediately overshadowed by the look of resigned dread on his face when they got into a brawl at a bar and got themselves arrested, thrown into the very same cell in which poor Lester was waiting. His misfortune is comic in nature, though it could get real and deadly fast, though he also seems to be smarter than might be expected, knowing that telling his brother that he was taken won’t him much help and that he’ll have to rely on his own wits to get out of a tough and very dangerous situation.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 3, Episode 22 “A House Divided” (B+)

I’ve commented before about this show and “Orphan Black” that there are so many layers and different organizations with competing goals that it’s just incredible to watch it all play out. I’m all for helpful flashbacks that fill in important blanks about certain characters, and understanding how Collier got to the place he’s in today was fascinating. His disdain for the U.S. government is troubling considering the situation that he has now created, with multiple factions, including Finch, on trial by Vigilance for their crimes. There’s no way this ends well, but it also changes things in a big way in terms of how both the machine and Samaritan can operate after the public is so explicitly aware of their existence. I loved that, despite her objections, Shaw was forced to protect Control and team up with Hersh to combat the greater threat, Vigilance. Control did a spectacular job making a pitch for Samaritan, and I definitely think the show should have a place for Camryn Manheim in future seasons. Listening to Greer and Finch have a philosophical conversation about the machine and what it can and should do was terrific. I hope that Greer too is involved in some way in season four and beyond, because I think this show has created an enormous universe filled with people who might be villains one week and closer to heroes the next, and that’s gripping to watch. Not knowing if the people they’re helping are victims or perpetrators is always what this show has been about, and seeing that come full circle to Finch is truly fantastic.

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

New Girl: Season 3, Episode 23 “Cruise” (B-)

Unsurprisingly, television ends up being a topic of conversation almost every day at work during lunch with coworkers. I find myself defending this show often as others lament its decline in quality. Looking back at my reviews for this season, I actually did enjoy its first half, but wasn’t too taken with its second. I don’t think too much had to do with Jess and Nick’s relationship, though its subsequent breakdown wasn’t all too enthralling. The issue now is that the show isn’t as inventive or funny as it once was, forced to construct scenarios like the prom and this cruise in which to insert its characters instead of letting their interactions speak for themselves. I don’t think that this show is doomed, but it will need to reconfigure itself in season four if it’s going to work going forward. Schmidt and Nick bunking their beds could help, but I think that expanding the group will also be useful. Having Jess’ sister around for a few episodes was good, and I suppose Coach hasn’t been as intrusive lately as he initially was. There were elements of this cruise that were fun, and it’s always appealing to see Jess and Nick interact, even if they’re super awkward together trying to prevent a romantic package from being anything but platonic. I like that Schmidt still loves Cece and wanted to make a romantic gesture but opted not to, and maybe Winston will even have something to do one of these days. I’ll still continue watching this show, but I hope season four is more well-rounded.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Jake Johnson as Nick

Saturday, May 10, 2014

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 1, Episode 21 “Ragtag” (B)

As a standalone hour, this episode was actually relatively decent, but my greater problem with the show stems from the irreversible turn it took a few weeks ago. I’m truly curious about whether Ward was always intended to be a bad guy, because everything leading up to what happened in that first Hydra-focused episode contradicts everything we know about him now. But there’s little to be done about that at this point, and so it’s up to the show to back it up going forward. Starting with a flashback to a young Ward being sprung from jail by a scenery-chewing Garrett was helpful in establishing who this character is supposed to be. Contrasting that with Fitz’s eternal belief that Ward was being controlled in the same way that Mike was made his betrayal sting all the more. On the lighter side, it was fun to see Coulson and May do their best Fitz-Simmons impressions while utilizing Captain America-era technology that Coulson and Triplett were so excited about. Against my every expectation, ABC has in fact renewed this show for a second season, along with a new WWII-set series, “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” starring Hayley Atwell. I guess season two is happening after all, so what takes shape in the finale is going to have a lasting impact. I don’t know if that means that Ward survives and somehow becomes a hero again, or if Triplett joins the team full-time, or if S.H.I.E.L.D. comes back together in a coherent way. I’m sure the finale will provide some answers.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24 (Series Return)

24: Season 9, Episodes 1 and 2 “Day 9: 11:00am-12:00pm” and “Day 9: 12:00pm-1:00pm” (B-)

There are a number of shows recently that are being revived years after they ended and recommissioned for new episodes. In many cases, it’s hard to believe that this or that show is the one that netted enough attention to merit a revival. With this show, however, it’s different. By the time it went off the air back in 2010 after eight seasons and nearly two hundred hours, this show had burnt out most of its original energy and creativity. It was nonetheless a blast to watch, and it would be difficult to find anyone who didn’t find the notion of watching more “24” at least a little bit exciting. Set four years after Jack went on the run following his express act of treason, this show picks up in a world in which CTU is just a distant memory and Jack is a wanted fugitive. This show does like to keep its Presidents in the family, and therefore it’s former Secretary of Defense Heller’s turn in the Oval Office, though he happens to have a debilitating and continually worsening memory and mental state. Kim Raver’s Audrey is back too, this time with a new last name and a new husband, in the form of Tate Donovan’s Chief of Staff, who hates Jack with a fiery passion. The other returning faces are none other than Chloe O’Brian and our very own Jack Bauer.

Having Jack back on TV comes with the same stipulations and suspension of disbelief that was crucial to enjoying this show in the first place. Jack doesn’t even speak for most of the first episode, and it’s to be understood that as soon as he is in custody, much like Nina before him, nothing anyone can try to do to stop him can control or contain him. Contrary to popular belief, he does not possess superpowers, yet he certainly acts like he does. It was great fun to watch Jack overwhelm his escorts and look at the camera with that token look of his, and to see that Chloe was a prisoner in the Special Activities division and immediately understand what was going to happen next. But the fact that he managed to get into a secure facility and break his way out within minutes – an instance of this show’s real-time format working against its believability – is purely ridiculous. That only Yvonne Strahovski’s disgraced Kate Morgan can deduce what Jack is up to, and exactly that, for the record, is equally preposterous, especially considering her conveniently familiar story of not knowing that the person she loved was a spy. I don’t see how Jack is going to be able to convince anyone that he’s trying to save Heller’s life when everyone believes the opposite, but I guess that’s the point. Michelle Fairley from “Game of Thrones” seems like a formidable villain, and hacking drones to use against the very army that’s supposed to be controlling them is an intriguing storyline.

Basically, I know what to expect with this show, and most other people do too. Will it be completely over-the-top and unbelievable? Yes. Will it be a blast at the same time? I think so.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 5 “Fishing” (B+)

Is there anything quite like the dialogue on this show? I suppose the delivery is half of it, most brilliantly on display during Selina’s candid conversation with Maddox about preferring to be shot in the face over being vice-president again. Asking Gary is he thought she was ruthless and getting a second conflicting answer when she modified it to include “enough” was hilarious as well. That she was less concerned with the notion of Mike masturbating at work and more about his having a baby during the campaign demonstrated her token heartlessness, which when uttered with sarcasm doesn’t always sound as bad. While Selina was meeting with French Stewart’s very ax-happy campaign manager candidate who suggested firing everyone, it was fun to see the rest of the crew unwind as Amy invited them all over for a catered dinner to get them on her side. Selecting Dan as the campaign manager was a polarizing choice in some ways, but it wasn’t all that much of a reward considering he heard her offer the job to someone else only a few minutes earlier. Gary being told by the doctor that being Selina’s bag man was causing all of his shoulder pain was unsurprising but still entertaining, and it was a hoot to see Jonah as Jake, Maddox’s new bag man and a far more appealing player all of a sudden once his important family connection was revealed. Dan’s attempt to be nice to him was admirable and equally laughable in nature.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 5 “Signaling Risk” (B+)

I’m officially on board with this show now, and I’m definitely seeing why it’s a worthwhile and lasting concept. There’s a level of industry speak to it that works to its advantage, using the real-life event of TechCrunch Disrupt to cast Richard as a naïve programmer who innocently entered his company to be eligible and didn’t realize that having seed funding from Peter Gregory means that he shouldn’t be there. Of course, like with everything involving him and involving Pied Piper, it turned into a pissing contest, with Gavin showing up to catch Peter off guard during lunch and break the news about Pied Piper and about using it as a Launchpad for Nucleus. His holotechnology was the ultimate example of innovations being useless, as evidenced by his subsequent video and phone calls that ended quickly due to bad service. Buying the old logo and putting it on display was pretty ridiculous and showy as well. I think that Erlich was used perfectly in this episode, driving the Aviato van into questionable territory to hire a convicted criminal and street artist to design their logo. The initial work, which unveiled a far more troubling pot farm inside the garage, was certainly not what they wanted, but it was great to see that it all worked out in the end, and that Erlich helped save it. Jared’s unsubtle effort to motivate Gilfoyle and Dinesh into doing work by competing with each other was brilliant and truly successful, best evidenced by the sad look Dinesh gave when Richard asked him to go outside and Gilfoyle wouldn’t stop working. It was nice to see Monica put some personal time into wooing Richard, and to comfort him in a perfectly platonic but very reassuring way.

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 7, Episode 4 “The Monolith” (B+)

It’s incredible to watch how self-destructive Don can be. Coming back to his old office stripped of his position and demoted to working under his replacement was bad enough, but having to report to Peggy truly stung. It’s hard to blame him in a sense, but throwing a tantrum and storming out of the office like a child before coming back and getting drunk was definitely a low. It’s good that Freddy, who has been through his own tough time, was able to coach him back to a point of actually trying, and it’s reassuring to see Don eagerly tell Peggy that he’s going to have the work done soon and that he may put in some effort for once. Peggy’s raise feels like much less of a reward when it comes with the added burden of having to manage Don, but hopefully that will go well from now on, and maybe she and Don will even be able to surprise Lou. The construction to install the computer is certainly disruptive, and I’m eager to see just how different things will look once it’s finished. Though it feels like a completely different show, it was enthralling to watch Roger decide to drop everything and spend the night sleeping under the stars with his hippie daughter, and that made it all the more difficult to see him try to pull her out of it in the morning only to have her react very badly, returning their relationship to the miserable state it was in before she got hooked on this alternative lifestyle.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 4 “Dicks” (B+)

This show just keeps on rolling, opting to feature only its recurring females instead of its regular female players, but to a good degree of success. We got to see Mary Lynn Rajskub, who returned to her TV role on “24” earlier this week, do more than just throw up, and it turns out that Goldie is quite a nut. In a worrisome way, she’s just right for Charlie, getting off on morally wrong and dangerous situations, completely unaware of how she is perceived by other people. Let’s hope that Charlie’s bathroom trip is the worst of his indiscretions, or Marcy is going to murder both him and Goldie. I’m also less than confident that having Goldie in charge of the show would be any better than having Rick where he is now. Julia didn’t have much trouble landing the part thanks to Rick’s infatuation with her, and she does seem naive enough not to be concerned with what happens next, if her flirting via dental cleaning is any indication. Levon, on the other hand, continues to be all too obvious about his feelings for Melanie, who, to her credit, is proving merely to be unsophisticated and concerned about status rather than truly unkind. Levon is managing to keep his head up despite repeated bad decisions, and, given his nature, I’m sure that he’ll be happy rather than distraught when Hank and Julia eventually sleep together, regardless of how Hank feels about it given that neverending obsession he has with Karen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 5 “First of His Name” (B)

I feel like we’ve lately had the opportunity to spend extended time with characters who aren’t always as featured, while some who usually occupy a greater percentage of the allotted screen time – namely Tyrion and Jaime Lannister – have hardly been featured. Instead, Cersei took center stage, moving on from the loss of her son as she seemed to come around to the idea of Margaery marrying the new king, treating her in a much kinder fashion than she did when she first called her “sister.” Joffrey’s one-time fiancée Sansa has now found herself in a somewhat precarious situation, saved by Petyr Baelish and spirited away to safety, but very close to her frantic and unpredictable aunt Lysa. Arya’s time with the Hound is growing more and more unpleasant, though she got some minor revenge by naming him as one of the people she planned to kill. I’m very glad that the brutality Karl going to unleash on Meera didn’t come to pass, and kudos to Jojen for his brave and rather insightful prediction of his impending demise, which stalled long enough to keep them alive before the cavalry arrived. Bran did pull off a neat trick of his own with a devastated Hodor by using him to kill Locke. It was torturous to see Bran and Jon so close to each other, but I suppose a family reunion is something that’s still a long way off. For the moment, we’ll have to settle for others being out on endless treks, like the new entertaining odd couple of Brienne and Podrick.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 5, Episode 20 “The Deep Web” (B)

This wasn’t the show’s most inviting installment, mainly because not much happened and all the women on the show took center stage, which is usually a great thing but wasn’t as enticing as usual. Alicia having jury duty, from which she was obviously excused as soon as she stated both her profession and her name, was a good excuse for Cary to make her take a day off, though it’s puzzling that in the current competitive landscape in which their new firm exists that there would be time to be able to play hooky from work purely for the sake of relaxation. Nestor Carbonell's flirtatious juror is somewhat intriguing, but I suspect Alicia won't allow such an indiscretion. Diane discovering, with Kalinda’s assistance, that her client was lying to her and was quite likely guilty, was an unfortunate wake-up call that she might be sleepwalking through her work, but it’s something that could have happened to anyone since she was just trying to help out a friend. Realizing that David and Louis were conspiring to steal her clients was far more crucial, and the news that Louis is both dying and trying to screw her over is certainly interesting. I rarely comment on it, but there’s something about this show’s music that really defines it and makes it an eternally entertaining and operatic drama. On the male side of things, Eli did his very best to make the likeable but stiff Finn come out of his shell, and, despite his best efforts, Finn might just turn into the politically competent candidate Eli wants him to be.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 3 “Mingling Its Own Nature with It” (B+)

It continues to astound me how many layers there are to this show, with Daniel spying on Henrik’s operation while chasing after Sarah while Angela approached Alison, who promptly distrusted her because she thought she was a new monitor. This episode didn’t feature much of Sarah interacting with either the Neolutionists or the Proletheans, but she did have the chance to see someone much more unexpected: Kira’s father. Michiel Huisman, the bad boy philadendarer from “Nashville” and “Treme,” is a great choice to play Cal, among the more apparently trustworthy and kindhearted people to appear on this show. Though Sarah clearly took advantage of him, he was quick to forgive her and even to jump back into bed with her. With Felix back at home to support his other clone friend Alison, Cal is now going to have to play father right away to his daughter since Sarah has been taken by Daniel, who made himself seem like a real bad guy by killing a cop. It’s hard to know who is the latest person to interfere and smash their car into Daniel’s, but I’m sure it will prove worthwhile to find out. Seeing the video of new clone Jennifer was haunting, and it puts Cosima’s fate in grim perspective. The Prolethean ritual had a very creepy vibe to it, and there’s something to be said for making Helena seem like the most normal one in the room. “We are your instruments in the war for creation” was definitely the choice quote of the episode.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 2, Episode 12 “Chapter 25” (B+)

With just one episode to go after this, things are heating up in a big way and on the verge of exploding. Frank has been positioning himself to take Walker’s job for a while now, but in this episode he all but cements it. Getting Walker to freeze him out was not intentional, but it does mean that he’s going to be overly cautious and feel like he has something to prove, which will in turn give Frank the upper hand. Securing the Secretary of State as an ally is important, and he also did away with Raymond as a threat pretty quickly, even if he doesn’t end up getting convicted for the crimes of which he’s been accused. Walker and Tricia trying to cover up their “spiritual counseling session” looks bad enough that what happened during it, which may or may not have involved medical prescriptions, almost doesn’t matter. Jackie calling in to take apart Megan’s arguments was vicious, and it’s about time Claire sat down with her face to face. Working with her to support a new bill is one thing, but charging her with calling to impeach the president is a much bigger deal, one sure to have disastrous fallout. Gavin’s latest action continues to be mysterious, but it is enormously significant. Getting Rachel to hate him is going to be the least of Doug’s worries going forward if Gavin succeeds with whatever plan he has concocted.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What I’m Watching: Elementary

Elementary: Season 2, Episode 22 “Paint It Black” (B-)

I was very much looking forward to this episode after last week’s cliffhanger ending featuring Watson being abducted by the man she was surveilling. This installment reframed things in a crucial way before turning it all on its head with a surprising final scene. It’s weird that, when the loyal Watson is taken hostage and Sherlock needs someone to help, he wouldn’t turn to the show’s other two regular players, Captain Gregson and Detective Bell. Instead, he worked only with recurring guest character Mycroft, who had to take his share of insults from a spiteful and rather mean-spirited Sherlock before finally seizing the opportune moment to taze his brother and take the upper hand. Sherlock is awfully productive when he’s angry, and so he made some important discoveries in a short span of time which proved useful, especially since their initial suspicions were not accurate. Watson’s captivity left something to be desired because it put her in the familiar situation of having to say “I’m a doctor!” so that it really wasn’t all that miserable. I would have liked to see Henri Lubatti, who played Marchef, used better, and Michael Gaston’s accent left something to be desired. The revelation that Mycroft is working with an agency - a British agency - is big news, and is sure to have catastrophic consequences considering Sherlock just reported him to the NSA. Watson may be able to forgive Mycroft, but I sincerely doubt that Sherlock will have the inclination to do so.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 21 “Sleeper” (C+)

This show’s last few episodes haven’t delivered, and I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one either. Taking another family portrait is an event ripe for some comedy, but a lot of this felt forced and overdone. Gloria wanting Joe to look more Colombian was a big waste of time and doesn’t even need to be addressed further here because it falls into the recognizable category of pointless ways to utilize Gloria and her non-American heritage to fill plot points. Jay wanting to enter Stella into a dog show was strange and rather random, and resulted in some hush-hush goings-on that didn’t add anything to the overall story. At the center of this ridiculousness this week was an actor who always commits, Ty Burrell, laden with an unfortunate case of sudden onset narcolepsy which was visually somewhat amusing but otherwise irritating and unnecessary. That Phil let Claire yell at the washing machine company for not sending anyone when he knew full well that someone did stop by was more entertaining, but everything after and aside from that wasn’t needed. Alex fretting over report topics was a nuisance, less endearing and productive than usual. That leaves the one somewhat redeeming storyline, which was Mitchell being invisible, praised for talents he obviously didn’t have by others not paying attention to him and then forgotten by his father when he opened the door and wasn’t in the family portrait. Cam’s fake hand-me-down photos were slightly amusing as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pilot Review: Playing House

Playing House (USA)
Premiered April 29 at 10pm

USA, a network known for its lighthearted hourlong dramas, is getting into the business of half-hour comedies. “Sirens,” from Denis Leary, premiered a few months ago, and now we have a show about two best friends whose current lives at the start of the pilot couldn’t be any more different. This show is actually remarkably similar to the last effort put together by best friends Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, which was NBC’s short-lived April replacement “Best Friends Forever” in 2012. In their newest iteration, Emma (St. Clair) has so much trouble detaching from her high-powered international job that a visit home for just one weekend proves immensely problematic. Maggie (Lennon Parham), on the other hand, still lives where they grew up, almost ready to pop and feeling very unsupported by her best friend during her pregnancy. The pilot spends its entire course driving home the point that maybe Emma could thrive if she succumbed to suburbia, and that she is actually the person who cares most about Emma in the world. Both Parham, who I still remember from a tiny guest appearance on an old “Parks and Recreation” episode, and St. Clair, who was recently on “Veep” and has plenty of additional television experience, show that they are capable of comedy, and, put together, should make an effective pair. In supporting roles, two actors who seem to be on every show right now - Keegan-Michael Key of “Key and Peele” and Zach Woods of “Silicon Valley” - add a level of nonthreatening entertainment. This show has already set itself up, and now can it go forward and manage to be offbeat and enjoyable enough to stand apart from what is otherwise a pretty conventional comedy?

How will it work as a series? Now that Emma has decided that she’s with the corporate life, it’s going to be a monumental adjustment to get used to living in a slower-paced, much more family- and memory-oriented environment. That should create some amusement, and hopefully will allow Emma and Maggie to become equally fleshed-out and funny characters.
How long will it last? It’s hard to know. USA has different standards than other networks for success, and I’m not sure where this one will fall. Reviews were about on par with “Sirens,” and I think that the network could want to pick both of them up if it wants to endorse a new format. I think this one’s chances are pretty good.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 3, Episode 21 “Beta” (B+)

This wasn’t the most exciting episode this show has ever produced, but it still had some strong elements and set up a truly fascinating situation that is sure to have consequences in the show’s concluding episodes of the season. Seeing camera recordings from within the Samaritan system rather than our familiar machine was a subtle but wholly crucial difference, most of all illustrating the fact that the bad guys really can see everything that the good guys see. Root helping them to avoid cameras so that they could stay hidden and smuggling them in and out of New York City was entertaining, and it’s great to see how the show has now framed its protagonists, with the all-knowing Root, able to talk to the machine in ways Reese and even Finch can’t, swooping in to save the day on multiple occasions, all the way frustrating Reese and Shaw and freaking out Fusco. It was weird not to see Finch for the bulk of the episode, instead hearing about the man he once was from Grace as she talked about him to Greer. Telling Reese to kill them all if they harmed Grace in any way was monumental, but fortunately the prisoner exchange went well, complete with a convenient job offer and plane ticket from an unusually logistically-minded Reese. Greer offering tea to Grace and then sitting down to chat with his new guest was eerily peaceful, especially when contrasted with his omniscient order to Virgil to kill himself.

Take Three: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 3 “A Muddy Road” (B+)

I liked the construction of this episode because it filled in some of the blanks of what happened to bring our good friend Lorne to Minnesota in the first place and connected all of the plotlines to help them converge in the present moment. There’s something wonderfully simplistic about the episode ending with Molly, Gus, and Greta sharing milkshakes in Molly’s father’s restaurant, and that’s part of what makes this show so great (and feel so much like the movie, reminiscent of that extraordinary buffet scene). Despite the condemnation she continues to receive from Bill, Molly is proving herself to be a competent detective, planting a photo of Lorne in the files she conveniently happened to drop while she was visiting Lester to try to elicit a reaction out of him, which she did. It was fortuitous that she came by just as Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench had stopped by to pay him a remarkably uncomfortable visit. Gus coming forward to say that he had met Lorne was brave, and it’s good that he now gets to work with someone as kindhearted as Molly. Lorne clearly and rightfully thinks that his intimidating nature will help get him out of any possible trouble, like being caught on camera dragging a man out of his office by his tie, and he’s now taking his devilish tactics and utilizing them to more deadly effect. Telling the blackmailer that he was taking over the job before killing Stavros’ dog while he got the information he needed to blackmail Stavros was both disturbing and intriguing, as so many things on this show are.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 3, Episode 22 “Dance” (C)

I’m not of the opinion that this show has gone irreversibly downhill this season, but I do think that this was a much weaker episode that lazily attempted to create funny plotlines by exaggerating all of its characters, which it really doesn’t need to do. It’s akin to some of the more grating choreographed episodes of “Modern Family” that don’t put its players to productive use since they’re much more entertaining doing more natural things. Jess’ enthusiasm about a dance certainly made sense, and having her nominate all of the faculty members who never volunteered to be chaperones is just the kind of ill-fated idea that she’s famous for having. Calling in her male friends to serve as emergency replacements when that plan petered out was also logical, but that’s where things fell apart. Interestingly, it was Coach’s behavior that was the most believable, which is rarely the case, though his whistle-blowing and proclamation of the “Worst! Chaperones! Ever!” was regrettable because of its very forced nature. Schmidt challenging a young bully to a race was far from compelling, and Nick drinking soda with the punks in the parking lot served no purpose. Winston running from a gaggle of girls obsessed with his every move was truly inexplicable and illogical. Jess alluding to Cece’s more substantial experience with men while talking to a young student was much more worthwhile, and let’s hope that this show’s final few episodes of this season are much more like that than the rest of this episode.