Monday, June 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 4 “A Whole Other Hole” (B+)

Now this was a very full and fun episode, exemplifying the fact that this show has evolved from a comedy about Piper’s life to a dramedy about just about everyone in prison, with Piper nothing more than a supporting player. Watching her try to track down the things others took from her when they thought she wasn’t coming back was a hoot, and it was a great scavenger hunt around the prison to see where everyone is. Red and Piper bonding was a blast, and I think that they’re truly terrific roommates. I like the rivalry forming between the two most promiscuous women in prison, Big Boo and Nicky, and that the incessantly talkative Brook was the pawn in their competition. Taystee turning down Poussey’s affection was unfortunate, but not nearly as much as Vee poisoning her daughter against Poussey altogether. Larry and Polly being mistaken for a married couple was the latest in a series of troubling instances that make it abundantly clear that something is about to happen with them, and the lies Larry quickly made up were indicative of his putting too much thought into the idea. The most monumental revelation of the hour had nothing to do with holes but instead with Lorna, who initially seemed like she would have been arrested for shopping fraud. Starting with her first meeting with Christopher and then jumping forward to the trial in which he revealed how completely crazy she was heartbreaking, and the fact that no one knows she went to his house is even more devastating. I’m sure we’ll hear about this again, but it’s tragic to learn that one of the sweetest people is also one of the most troubled.

What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 2, Episode 2 “Sleeping Giants” (B)

I wasn’t sure that I was going to watch this show again after its debut last week, but here am I back again for more. What this installment did that its predecessor didn’t was to hone in on the human relationships in its universe, showcasing some fabulous conversations. Its pacing remains slow, but at least its content is extremely interesting. I was especially taken with the scene where Tawney came clean to Ted about how Daniel asked if he could kiss her and that they spent plenty of time together. Both people were so unexpectedly calm and honest, unpacking their emotions and talking to each other in a way that was actually quite healthy, something that neither party has really indicated before given the nature of their relationship. As Ted fights for a forward-thinking dream, it’s good to see him recast as a fuller and more worthwhile figure, capable of expressing valid and intelligent opinions even if he is a brute. Tawney, on the other hand, has always been extremely emotional, and now she’s not bottling it up, which is also quite healthy. Amantha, as always, is ready to snap at a moment’s notice, and it was refreshing to see the happiness in her face when Daniel woke up, particularly because of the negative reaction she had to the doctor’s news earlier. Now that Daniel is awake again, let’s hope his attackers don’t come back for more since they’ve been apprehended and are likelier than ever to be volatile and vindictive.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pilot Review: Taxi Brooklyn

Taxi Brooklyn (NBC)
Premiered June 25 at 10pm

I like to know as little as possible about a show before I start watching it, and sometimes, I know next to nothing. Here I read a tiny bit about the premise – a cop works alongside a cab driver in Brooklyn – but that’s all I knew. What I didn’t realize, which puts the show into a more coherent context, is that, as the show’s broken English title might suggest, it’s not an American production, but instead a series that aired first in Belgium and France before making its way to the United States. I didn’t recognize its star at all from the first role I knew her in, “Reunion,” and her subsequent and much more well-known part on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Chyler Leigh looks incredibly different with this haircut, and the character she plays here, devoid of all cuteness and any endearing sympathies, is hard to like. Her whip-smart, anti-establishment attitude doesn’t do her any favors, and she ends up coming off as much more hard-nosed and obnoxious than I think she’s meant to be. Jacky Ido’s Leo, on the other hand, is all too charming, impossible to dislike because of his smart driving, winning smile, and the fact that he has a son he never sees because his ex-wife has sole custody. Their partnership, however, seems far more stable and credible than either of them individually, so this show could well prove to be enjoyable. It’s certainly an offbeat, odd offering, but that may not be the worst thing for some forgettable summer fun.

How will it work as a series? There’s a dramatic undercurrent to the main comedic themes here that involves the backstory of Cat searching for clues surrounding her father’s death, plus Leo’s time spent in jail. The mix of potentially serious cop plots and lighter buddy hijinks could be entertaining, if nothing else.
How long will it last? Its premiere numbers weren’t anything to write home about, but it’s hard to judge a summer show since the landscape is so different and NBC is searching for a good summer fit. Given that other networks are opting for imports to fill their off-seasons, NBC might opt to stick with this one. Some quick French googling indicates the show will be back abroad for season two, so I see no reason why NBC wouldn’t want a piece too.


What I’m Watching: Wilfred (Season Premiere)

Wilfred: Season 4, Episodes 1 and 2 “Amends” and “Consequences” (B+)

There’s no show as singularly offbeat, crude, and depressing as this one. As it enters its final season, which will air on brand-new network FXX, this show is still very much the same series it always is, albeit now permanently confined to miserable endings, no longer featuring Wilfred and Ryan getting high in the basement. Starting with Ryan’s dad still alive and Ryan’s brave choice of the job over Wilfred provided some misleading false hope, since his father was destined to die again, and, worse than that, was disappointed with Ryan when he did since Wilfred had e-mailed him a picture of the two of them riding in Ryan’s car. Meeting the three kids in the dog suits doing the visitation ritual was just peculiar, and I much more enjoyed Wilfred’s sob story about how he never got the chance to make amends with the post he used to lick. Episode two featured more of the traditional Wilfred-trying-to-sabotage-Ryan plotline, trying to break Jenna and Drew up so that she could be with Ryan. Drew as usual was an oaf, but a nice one, and his enthusiasm for camping made his subsequent fall and breakup seem less deserved. Ryan and Jenna are not destined to be together, mainly because Ryan has a closer bond with Wilfred than his owner, but I also think that this season is going to involve Ryan getting closer to the truth about what Wilfred is, interfacing with Harriet Sansom Harris’ gruff lawyer boss and trying to stay sane while doing it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pilot Review: Tyrant

Tyrant (FX)
Premiered June 24 at 10pm

I wasn’t too excited about this show, and that’s mainly because the poster I had seen didn’t give me too much hope. In truth, they actually indicated a great deal about its subject matter, and appropriate representation of a small, relatively unassuming man in a literal desert on his own. This is a very high concept drama, and I’m curious to see how its successive episodes will compare to what it was an extremely insightful and expository pilot. I couldn’t figure out where I recognized star Adam Rayner from - it turns out he was on “Hunted” and “Hawthorne,” two shows I forgot all about after their pilots – but I do think he’s an interesting and appropriately understated choice to play this noble son who seems to have tried so desperately to put his past behind him and start a new life. In contrast, you have Ashraf Barhom playing his brother Jamal as an exaggerated, completely despicable oaf whose most dangerous quality is either his power or his temper. Jennifer Finnigan, who I really liked in “Better With You” and less so in her other television endeavors, is a strong supporting player as Barry’s wife, and it’s great to see a very out of place Justin Kirk as a high-society neighbor. I’m sure he’ll contribute great things in this unexpected role. This pilot’s course is somewhat predictable from the start but still rather startling and evocative as it plays out. Barry’s son Sammy is also sure to get himself in trouble thanks to his unsubtle flirtation with another man, while Emma is more in danger of boring herself to death than anything else (though I imagine that may change). The end of the episode made me want to continue watching this show a lot more than I had expected it would, and I’m intrigued to see if this show can maintain its tone and dramatic weight going forward.

How will it work as a series? I’m hopeful that this show is able to stay relevant and enthralling by depicting what it’s like to be outsiders (Barry’s family) and an insider who thought he had gotten out (Barry’s family) in an altogether different. Its brutality seems inescapable, but it should be tempered by some topical and involving human drama.
How long will it last? The ratings weren’t anything to write home about for FX, a network that’s done extremely well for itself in recent years. That said, the show did fine, and I think that this is a good fit for the FX brand and is likely a series that the network will endorse and renew soon.

Pilot grade:B

Friday, June 27, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 4 “In the Pines” (B+)

As with the other episodes so far this season, this one featured a very personally-motivated murder with a deep connection, in this case a negative one, between the person killed and the culprit. I like that Walt was ready to scale a cliff at a moment’s notice and improvise by using handcuffs to help stage a rescue. While this case was decently involving, what I enjoyed much more about this hour was all of its supporting plotlines featuring our regular players. The return of Michael Mosley, who currently stars on USA’s “Sirens,” as Sean was a welcome one, especially since he reacted in rather mature fashion to the very antagonizing parcel left at his doorstep with a photo of Vic and Walt at the motel. His conversation with Walt was tempered, and the points he made to Vic about moving to Australia were also valid. The flashback to Vic’s romance with Ed Gorski was intriguing, and showcased a very different side of Vic that we don’t often get to see. Henry isn’t doing so well out on bail, but at least he’s not getting beaten up anymore and he hasn’t gotten himself arrested yet. It’s good to know that Branch wasn’t just on a hallucinogen-induced goose chase and that he was actually following up on a very valid theory, proving his point to Walt so that they can reopen the case. The final scene featured a very unexpected instance of fury from Ruby, stepping in to defend Walt and request rightful vengeance on her behalf.

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 9 “7pm-8pm” (D+)

I’m finding this show to be less and less credible as every hour goes by. A lot was resolved in this hour while newer less compelling plot points were introduced or driven forward. The revelation that Heller didn’t really die was a surprise, though not a terribly positive one considering Margot didn’t bother to confirm that simple fact before downing five of the drones and the fact that we saw things play out in real time, so the chance for Jack to make a recording with Chloe to fool the Al-Harazis seems truly unlikely. What we learned, however, is that life really is a videogame, where you can grab the joystick to divert terror in a ticking time-bomb situation. It’s hard to believe that Jack just casually tossed Ian out the window before much more purposefully grabbing Margot and throwing her out after him. The show seemed to breeze right over that, and instead we’re on to the news that Adrian Cross, who is helping Navarro escape the country, is romantically involved with Chloe. Navarro panicked and went into full-on escapee mode when he realized he would be found out, and let’s hope that his clear complicity will help to clear the record of Kate’s husband. It seems highly ridiculous that Navarro would come up as an associate of Navarro’s in a search right away when he bothered to use Cross as a middleman. I know the clock is ticking, but sometimes things just happen much too quickly on this show.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pilot Review: The Last Ship

The Last Ship (TNT)
Premiered June 22 at 9pm

The last time a TV series took on the idea of a lone military vessel being the last hope of society was “Last Resort,” a thriller that hit hard with its pilot and then sank quickly after that. The difference here is that the apocalypse really has happened, and it’s not just a matter of resisting authority or trying to do what’s right. A good portion of the population has been wiped out, and therefore the Navy officers and CDC specialists aboard this ship really are the key to humanity’s survival. This strikes me as having enormous potential to fizzle out quickly, starting strong with a relatively rousing hour and then losing steam because this new universe isn’t as appealing as how it came about. There was an awful lot of action in this pilot that was decently thrilling, and I think this show is just as poised to be an action series as it is a drama. At the helm of this cast are three TV veterans, all with very different experience. Eric Dane was McSteamy on “Grey’s Anatomy” and seems an appropriate fit for the part of the duty-bound, relatively serious captain. Rhona Mitra, who was on “The Practice” and more recently “Strike Back,” isn’t always so great but here seems to have a fine role. Adam Baldwin, of “Chuck” and “Firefly” fame, is relegated to a part that uses none of his talents, which is a shame. This show isn’t really about the cast, but it does need to make sure that its characters are decent enough to sustain the enormous weight of its concept. There’s definitely a sense of military pride here, and I’m hopeful that this show will deliver on what could be a cool and potentially even sustainable premise.

How will it work as a series? The president and vice-president both perished very quickly, and so the government is out as a reliable source of information or ruling structure. If fraction governments are established, that could be worthwhile, and as long as this show doesn’t feel too isolated spending all its time in the middle of the ocean, it could prove to be interesting and engaging.
How long will it last? The ratings for this pilot were strong, and I think that TNT is set on this kind of series being its flagship, no pun intended. I suspect a second season renewal will come soon isnce the network will want to show that it’s confident in a series like this.

Pilot grade: B

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication (Penultimate Episode)

Californication: Season 7, Episode 11 “Daughter” (B)

We’re almost at the end of the road here, and at least it feels like things are about to be wrapped up in some respects. Let’s start with our supporting players, namely the cast and crew of “Santa Monica Cop” and the endlessly crude couple that is Charlie and Marcy. The cancellation of the show after one episode hardly comes as a surprise, though as Rick puts it to Hank, it doesn’t really matter since he’ll just move on to something else. The notion of Hank writing his own show is somewhat appealing, but I think that the writer needs to go back to the page and start writing books again, where his language and ideas can’t be mutilated by those modifying his vision and speaking his words on camera. Charlie and Marcy deciding that Marcy should sleep with Stu and Charlie should sleep with someone random is about as fitting a solution as they ever conceived, though Charlie’s luck with the ladies continues to be miserable. Stu has clearly gone off the deep end, and hopefully that won’t mean anything bad for Marcy. Becca’s return home was predictably made awkward by Levon’s presence, but I actually quite enjoyed their interactions. Becca getting married is inconsequential to the overall storyline, but it does help to underscore Hank’s enduring ability not to be able to commit. This half-hour was a good start, and I’m hopeful that the upcoming series finale will be an appropriate, endearing goodbye to one of the promiscuous characters ever imagined, who could well be in store for a happy ending after all if things go well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What I’m Watching: True Blood (Season Premiere)

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 1 “Jesus Gonna Be Here” (B-)

It’s not entirely fair to describe this show as a complete mess, but it’s certainly not well put-together at the moment. Some of its elements are intriguing, but there isn’t much of a sense of cohesion among the various plotlines. Skipping ahead a year at the end of last season means that we missed all the run-up to the explosion and instead just start right in the middle of the chaos, literally in the middle of a battle with the Hep V-infected vampires. Sookie hasn’t been the protagonist of the show for a long time, and her difficulty dealing with all the thoughts she was hearing in this episode felt like little more than more whining. Jason finally getting to sleep with his vampire girlfriend was a lighter if unsettling plotline, and Tara’s death felt awfully sudden, especially considering she should have – and did – die before when fans actually wanted her gone. What impressed me much more was Andy Bellefleur, who really has changed into a respectable lawman, one deeply committed to finding the doomed Arlene and Holly, who I’m sure will survive but likely not unscathed. Jessica defending Adilyn had a very gothic feel to it, and that’s definitely one of the strongest threads this show has going for it right now. Seeing how the vampires try to fit in with the humans in their newly defined roles is what should prove most interesting over the course of this show’s final season. And let’s hope it doesn’t take Pam too long to find Eric halfway across the world.

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

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 10 “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” (B+)

This was a jam-packed finale, and it’s really a shame that this show’s run is already over with the show yet to be renewed for a third season, which is hopefully an inevitability. What this installment featured which it hasn’t ever really before is the chance to see all the main clones together in one room, literally experiencing a dance party with Kira and Felix, celebrating the fact that they are all sisters. That the eternally hungry Helena was part of it was sweet, and it’s unfortunate that she was the one who Paul opted to have Mrs. S take into custody so that the military could presumably study her. The big reveal that the military made male clones was quite a doozy, and it sets up what should be a very interesting third season. It could have been Paul or Cal, but choosing Mark as the one who was the male clone was a braver choice, especially since he really was fascinating from his first moment on screen and it’s great way to continue involving an otherwise dormant plotline. I like how Marion was redefined as more of a good guy, while Rachel proved herself to be quite evil by wasting Kira’s marrow to punish Sarah. Cosima has managed to stay alive this long, and so let’s hope she’s not going anywhere soon. This season feels like it flew by, but what a great and enthralling year it was. I can’t wait for season three.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Tatiana Maslany, obviously

Monday, June 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 3 “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” (B+)

The incorporation of Piper back into our familiar prison system is actually quite positive here, especially since it establishes her as more of a supporting character, with the story no longer being told exclusively through her eyes. What we got that was a treat was the story of Suzanne and how she never quite fit in when she was younger, and then ended up having an incident during her graduation before somehow ending up in prison, a story I’m sure will be told later and hopefully which doesn’t involve too much disturbing violence. Finding out that she came outside and knocked Piper out with two punches to the face is intriguing, and it seems that hug in front of Caputo has resolved Piper’s situation for the moment. More than anything, Piper seems to be fed up with the drama that is caused in prison, and lashing out and threatening to kill Brook was harsh but not all too surprising. Pennsatucky isn’t finding her transition back all that smooth either, and the fact that no one is complimenting her teeth is causing serious issues. Vee has managed to ascend the prison ladder quite quickly, though she’s made some serious enemies in Red and Gloria in the process. It was nice to see her take a shine to Crazy Eyes, giving her a mission, cake, and the chance to play the game that others would only let her keep time for previously. While Lorna got some bad news that made her considerably more emotional than usual, it was great to see Nicky and hear her stories about her sexual escapades.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: Rectify (Season Premiere)

Rectify: Season 2, Episode 1 “Running with the Bull” (B)

I didn’t think about this show at all from the time it went off the air about a year ago until its return just now. I remember its finale driving home an emotional resonance that had been building over the course of the season, and I’m now reminded of the show’s rather cumbersome pace. Not much happened in this premiere, though I suppose it’s because it was that necessary waking-up-from-a-coma episode. Everything from Daniel’s time spent in prison continues to be deeply disturbing, and it’s not as if he has much more to look forward to once he wakes up. As he remembers his horrific neighbor and resisting the guards coming into his room, his family in the present day is clearly in turmoil, even if they did all manage to make it to the hospital to visit Daniel. Janet is undoubtedly the uniting force of the family, taking time to sit with each of Daniel’s visitors and check in to see how they are doing. Tawney’s time at the hospital was very revealing in terms of the intensity she expressed, and it was no surprise that Ted Jr. didn’t want to come. Amantha, as always, is ready to explode at anyone who rubs her the wrong way, a staunch defender of her brother and an enemy of anyone who might threaten his livelihood. I still see the appeal of this show, but I’m not sure I’m enthralled enough to stick around for a full round of ten episodes this summer.

What I’m Watching: Fargo (Season Finale)

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 10 “Morton’s Fork” (A)

This was the perfect conclusion to a truly unique and incredible long-form television event. That’s saying something since this miniseries was an adaptation of a film to begin with, and it managed to match the tone of that Oscar-winning movie perfectly while still achieving its own distinctive feel. Finally playing the full musical theme from the film at the end was a wonderfully satisfying and powerful conclusion. This finale exemplified all the best of what this show had to offer, namely its use of landscape as demonstrated in the chase scene in Montana with aerial views. The way that it tied up its loose ends was also fitting. Its characterization of Lester in particular was so fascinating, showing how much he actually became cunning and devious, setting a trap for Lorne by pretending to make the very same kind of panicked call he made one year earlier to Lorne when he killed his wife. His demise, driving onto thin ice and falling in while fleeing those certain of his guilt, was beyond appropriate. Lorne also got what he deserved, tracked down in his safehouse after murdering the hapless FBI agents and shot by Gus. Popping up and laughing after taking a few bullets almost made him seem like a superhuman cockroach, but Gus’ successive finishing of the job ensured that he truly wouldn’t come back. The scene with Lou and Greta on the porch was very strong, and proof that this show was able to define even its most minor players. Lester solving Pepper’s riddle was great, and Pepper and Budge were superb characters as well. Ending with such simplicity as new chief-to-be Molly, Gus, and Greta watching television was brilliant. It’s unknown whether there will be a second season, and it sounds like one would be similar to “American Horror Story” in its isolated anthology format, but I have full confidence that more of this series would be a real treat.

Season grade: A
Season MVP: Martin Freeman as Lester

Friday, June 20, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 3 “Miss Cheyenne” (B)

The idea of Walt judging a beauty pageant is an even more far-fetched concept than the notion of him tending bar, but that didn’t dominate much of this episode, with a body showing up at the beginning of the hour to interrupt him from his responsibilities. This show really has been focusing recently on specific cases with plenty of mystery and then a stark resolution with a truly vicious motive behind the killing. At the same time, Walt wasn’t too focused on all of that since he was busy trying to help free his good friend Henry, who has the best attitude despite being constantly threatened and physically beaten by those around him in prison. Cady, on the other hand, was pretty worn down by the initial prospects of her case, and her mood only worsened Henry was in fact granted bail: in the amount of one million dollars. It’s interesting to see her new convenient lawyer friend portrayed by Nick Gehlfuss, who spent this season on “Shameless” wreaking havoc as Mike’s brother Robbie. He surely won’t cause as much trouble here, but his counsel managed to distract Cady enough for her to forget her plans with Branch, who is on shaky ground to begin with considering his current physical and mental condition. I like getting to see some of the supporting cast more, like Cady and Branch, and I hope that Vic continues to shine and get a chance to take the spotlight over the course of the rest of the season.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 8 “6pm-7pm” (C-)

I do feel that time on this show could be better spent than watching Jack track the movements of Secret Service agents in order to smuggle the President away from his security detail to certain death. It also seemed incredibly easy to escape steadfast agents who didn’t even listen to a directive, presuming that Audrey was exempt from the request for Heller not to be disturbed. What really befuddles me is the way in which Margot chose to take out the brave and suicidal President, who was standing on the field presumably expecting at least a face-to-face or a recorded execution, and instead got hit from a drone in a manner that will make it both hard to prove that it was really him and also impossible for Margot to escape prosecution after for this targeted killing. I’m not sure what comes next, particularly because the other threads on this show have become extremely tiring. Audrey and Mark’s relationship drama is of particularly little interest, and so we’ll have to settle for the CIA traitor stuff. Let’s hope Kate is more perceptive than she was with her husband being framed, and that she’s able to honor the life of the unexpectedly resourceful but hilariously panicked late Agent Reed. It all ties in to Chloe in an unfortunate way, and as a result Jack, and I’d prefer a bit less mole-oriented plotting and a much grander theme for the final four episodes of what I truly doubt will be the real final season of this show.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 10 “Dinner with Friends” (C+)

With just two installments in this series’ lengthy run to go, this is a perfectly light revolving-door episode indicative of its current quality. Hank literally spends the entire half-hour answering the door for one colorful guest after another, presuming that none of these characters have anything to do on a random night than stop by Hank’s just to sit, drink, and ultimately be robbed by the latest in an alarming trend of prostitutes to enter the Runkle house. This silliness also negates so much of what has happened this season, as Rath chats up Karen, getting ready to get in the way of yet another complicated Hank romance that isn’t going to end well for him. Krull hits on just about everyone while charming no one. Julia, appealing as she is, doesn’t have much of a consistent personality, and Leavon is more of a caricature than anything else at this point. And then there’s Eddie Nero, who is just off-the-wall crazy, and Stu, who has also gone off the deep end with his obsession with Marcy. Ultimately, it’s all about how Karen doesn’t think she can ever be with Hank, though obviously he’ll never stop pursuing her. With so little time left, this show is treading water and opting for repeats of past plotlines that have worked better in previous seasons. I don’t know how this show can resolve itself in a satisfying manner without demanding some sort of change from its protagonists, and while I’m curious to see how it all ends, I don’t expect to be thrilled.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

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

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 10 “The Children” (B)

Well this certainly was a packed finale, and it can’t be argued that a lot wasn’t accomplished. Yet still there’s a sense that the events in this season ender didn’t really address what happened throughout this season, and that not much has been resolved, instead just set in a new direction. There’s also a new wave of plotlines heretofore unseen, like the freaky undead skeletons trying to murder Bran that managed to fell Jojen. Daenerys having to lock up her dragons after fighting so hard to break others’ chains was an unfortunate punishment, and it doesn’t seem like she’s come all that far this season. It’s frustrating to see Brienne and Arya come so close to being on the same side but end up forever separated, with the Hound losing in combat to Brienne and Arya sailing away to even farther lands. Speaking of those who previously didn’t share screen time, Jon is now in the same place as Stannis, an odd combination but a worthwhile one since Jon’s status as Ned’s son recommends him tremendously. His conversation with Raider was a strong moment of the episode, as was his final goodbye to Ygritte. What takes the cake, of course, is all the Lannister family drama. Cersei telling her father about her relationship with Jaime and then going to plant a kiss on him was brave, but not as much as Jaime saving his brother, who proceeded to murder the two people who treated him the worst: Shae and Tywin. What comes next? I have no idea, but it’s been a mind-boggling if somewhat unproductive season.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Peter Dinklage as Tyrion

Monday, June 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 9 “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” (B+)

With just one episode left this season, it’s appropriate that this installment sets things in a frightening new direction while tying up a few loose ends that have been unfolding throughout the past eight episodes. Most crucially, Angie tries to use Vic again to detrimental effect, and, in the process of burying a body together, Alison and Donnie actually managed to be closer to each together than ever before, with Donnie displaying some bad boy courage and Alison loosening up a lot thanks to this new side of her husband. Helena’s stay at the religious colony didn’t last long, and as she’s demonstrated before, wronging her is a sin punishable by something worse than death, namely injecting things that are not supposed to be injected in the most painful of ways. I’m not sure what comes next for year, but I like that she got to play the role of protector to those who couldn’t stand up for themselves in this hour. Rachel, unsurprisingly, has some issues of her own, and playing the part of Sarah to steal Kira and bring her to her childhood home was dirty but enormously effective. Delphine is clearly on the right side, but that doesn’t help too much if Sarah is without Kira. I imagine there will be a major showdown in the finale, and though the show hasn’t officially been renewed, I have little doubt that it will be soon, and hopefully the creative people behind it will decide that this show should go on for more than just the three seasons they initially planned.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 2 “Looks Blue, Tastes Red” (B+)

After an entire episode devoted to Piper and just Piper, it’s nice to take a step back and see the world from someone else’s perspective without having to include Piper at all. She’s been almost completely forgotten about back at her old stomping grounds, though Pennsatucky managed to get herself what is sure to be some impressive dental work thanks to the beating she took from Piper at the end of last season. Not much has changed since we last saw these characters, with the exception of Red and her spiral down into depression, softened somewhat by the kind nature of several other older prisoners. It’s nice to see a bit of Taystee’s backstory since she’s always been a likeable character and here it’s hard not to be fully sympathetic towards her plight. Getting $10 instead of an actual job was an unfortunate blow, and the revelation that her adoptive mother is inside is big news. The mother-daughter dynamic isn’t working out too well for Dayanara and Aleida, though it was definitely better by the end of this hour. I enjoyed the brief snippets of each person’s mock interview and how hilariously off-base and unfiltered most of them were. Larry got some decent advice at a weird place from his father, and Polly was being awfully liberal with her wardrobe choices when Larry came over. Piper’s reintegration can’t be far out, and I’m sure it’s going to go far from smoothly, leading to some serious tension and further unpleasantness for our friend Piper.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 9 “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage” (B+)

Things don’t get any less interesting a year in the future on this show, and they’re even more unnerving and unsettling than before. It’s hard to figure out just what Lorne Malvo wants to accomplish in his life, killing his mark and his girlfriend simply because Lester insisted on confronting him and planting some minute bit of suspicion in the minds of those who believed he was an affable dentist and then hunting Lester down, only to shoot his wife in the head with Lester watching. It’s a real shame since Lester could have avoided the whole mess this time by not calling upon his newfound courage to nudge his way back into Lorne’s life, and he had a wife who was willing to lie to the police for him simply because it seemed like he had talked himself into trouble somehow. I’m sure glad that Lorne didn’t see fit to harm Lou, and it’s probably for the best that Molly arrived just as he was leaving the diner. It’s good to see some enthusiasm for Molly’s cause, and hopefully Gus’ postal sighting of Lorne will help fuel the fire even more and help Molly and crew catch him by the end of the next episode. I really do hope that we have more than just one hour of this fabulous series left and that a second season is in the works since this premise has proved extraordinarily fascinating and effective and certainly worthy of another round.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pilot Review: Murder in the First

Murder in the First (TNT)
Premiered June 9 at 10pm

Nineteen years ago, ABC premiered a series that would cover just one case over the course of an entire season. I remember discovering and being excited about “Murder One” about a decade later, and then watching the pilot and being disappointed by its dated nature, never managing to finish the show. Now, TNT is set to revive that concept, when such things are far more common, as seen on “The Killing” and other series. What this show has which the others didn’t is an unfortunate sense of humor and lackluster writing, which makes its characters seem annoying and make them much more difficult to take seriously. I was particularly excited about this show because of its female star, Kathleen Robertson, who I thought was excellent in Starz’s short-lived “Boss” as the astute, power-hungry confidante for Kelsey Grammer’s corrupt mayor. This role doesn’t offer nearly the same opportunities for quality acting, though she does stand out as one of the stronger members of the cast. Steven Weber appears in a small but surely relevant role as the pilot for the private jet of one Erich Blunt, portrayed by Tom Felton, best known for his role as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. There’s definitely something sinister about him, and I think that this case could prove to be interesting as it unfurls throughout the season. I’m not sure the same can be said of the show, which tries to be edgy but fails, especially in scenes like the one where Taye Diggs’ Detective English (what a name!) scares the kid drug dealers by telling them they’ll be murdered in jail.

How will it work as a series? This is a high-concept show in many ways, mainly in its construction, and it’s just a question of whether its scene-to-scene antics will prove enticing enough, or if it’s going to end up contrasting its serious and less believable moments too much. I’m not sure I’ll watch, but it might get interesting over the summer.
How long will it last? This showcase of TNT’s BOOM drama lineup is airing along with “Major Crimes,” one of the network’s flagship hits. That didn’t work out so well for “King and Maxwell,” which netted similar ratings for its pilot last year and is now off the air. I think this could go either way, but it’s not looking too terrific right now.

Pilot grade: C+

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 2 “Of Children and Travelers” (B+)

This episode delved fully into a specific case with a good deal of relevance for most of the cast while addressing the more overarching plot points that are causing the most stress this season. Seeing Branch out of the hospital and back at work was concerning mainly because of how Cady reacted, and he doesn’t seem likely to take it easy anytime soon, risking a major relapse and a permanent impairment of some sort. Walt is trying him with respect, which is nice, and he’s got his hands full with Henry, who is having a positively miserable time in jail despite an effort to keep up on his reading and to keep his head down. Graham Greene’s Malachi presented a very worrisome situation, with Henry ready to suffer the consequences of being so close with a white lawman, and Walt powerless to stop it since Malachi knows precisely how to manipulate the system to his advantage. The seeming sexual tension between Walt and Vic was odd and seemed to come from out of nowhere, but they are spending a lot of time together and haven’t usually been in such close proximity far from everyone else. Polina’s story was a deeply unsettling one, and the act Walt put on to appeal to those who would do her harm wasn’t particularly charming. It was reassuring that he managed to convince her sister that she shouldn’t suffer the same fate and that he was able to save her from her abusive and murderous adoptive father.

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 7 “5:00pm-6:00pm” (C-)

I forgot to address last week’s big reveal about Kate’s husband being set up by Navarro, but fortunately we didn’t have to wait long for that development to progress, with the only solution for Jordan’s curiosity being a top-secret dead drop assignment that was a ploy to get him taken out. In another logical turn, Jordan, an untrained desk agent, managed to outsmart an assassin and hold his breath long enough to survive and outwit his would-be murderer. I’m sure he’ll cause trouble soon, but there are bigger things to worry about, namely Margot using the drones to take out big public places, which is more than just mildly concerning. These drones don’t seem all that useful since the others, despite having been hijacked, weren’t within range to be able to get there in time to assist in Ian’s video game antics. Targeting the car as Jack constantly yanked Simone from vehicle to vehicle was rather idiotic, and something tells me that Margot is much more likely to be discovered taking out half of London trying to keep her daughter quiet than she would be if she just let her spill the beans. Prime Minister Davies didn’t waste any time letting Heller in on what he knows about him, and Heller didn’t try to deny much of anything, and actually gave a relatively impressive performance. Skyping with Margot hardly seemed necessary, and now it looks like he’s ready to sacrifice himself to save innocent lives, which is a whole lot more noble than whatever Mark is going to concoct to save his skin with the Russians.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What I’m Watching: Veep (Season Finale)

Veep: Season 3, Episodes 9 and 10 “Crate” and “New Hampshire” (B+)

This was a great pair of episodes to finish off a very funny season, catapulting events in the most unexpected and predictably satirical of ways. I loved Kent’s deadpan introduction of the crate on which Selina was to stand, pointing out that it was reinforced with concrete so that he wouldn’t fall through. As if the cost of the box wasn’t enough, the accidental recording was pretty bad news, and Selina looked seriously ready to throw in the towel, getting truly mean and insulting her staffers. The news that POTUS was going to resign to spend more time with FLOTUS presented such an unbelievable opportunity that Selina laughing on the floor with Gary and his bloody nose was really the only appropriate reaction. It’s a shame that Gary got left behind to be the face of the campaign, but it wasn’t like things went much better for those in Washington. After bringing down the house initially, Mike tanked pretty quickly, and Dan had to agree to hire Jonah a Jonah of his own in order to keep his job. Though she was able to intimidate Ben into accepting the job of chief of staff by threatening to bring back prohibition, Selina is not doing well at all in her new position, and her squeaky shoes were terribly unfortunate. Coming in third in the presidential election as a sitting president is bad news, and I’m hopeful that being unseated so quickly ends up being comedy gold for what is sure to be a fabulous fourth season of this extremely funny and clever show.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Kevin Dunn as Ben and Gary Cole as Kent

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 9 “Faith, Hope, Love” (B-)

This was a very contemplative, nostalgic episode that managed to draw at the heartstrings and recall the very best – and worst – of Hank and Karen’s saga of a relationship. In some ways, it felt manipulative, because it essentially skipped over the entire past decade of Hank philandering around and seducing Karen every few months or years. I understand that, in the midst of tragedy, it can be easy to forget about all the stupid stuff, as Marcy pointed out, but this completely omits everything that has taken place over the seven seasons seen on air. It also neglects Leavon, Julia, Rick Rath, and everyone else, demonstrating how this season’s central plotline, and those from the past few years, don’t actually have much relevance in the book that would be Hank’s life. This half-hour pared down this universe to its four primary characters, who even ten years earlier were sitting at dinner in a restaurant talking far too openly about sex, with Karen laughing and Hank charming the pants off her. It’s not anything new, although I suppose there’s something comforting about the notion that nothing really changes and that they can get through anything, even though it won’t be the paradise that could have been created when Hank promised Becca he wouldn’t punch the wall anymore. Having him meet the man whose wife died of cancer was an additional emotional blow, and hopefully Hank will finally be inspired to prioritize growing up and making Karen happy so that they can try being an actual couple in love.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 9 “The Watchers on the Wall” (B-)

I understand that this episode might have been deeply satisfying to devotees of the book series – or, alternately, very disappointing – but as a fan of the show, I found it sorely disappointing. It’s not that watching the Wildlings and the White Walkers try to overtake the wall and seeing it defended, if only for a short time, by the men of the Night’s Watch, isn’t exciting. It’s that there’s so much happening on this show, and so many things to be addressed, that to focus on just one storyline feels isolating and less than gratifying. While there are still a few more seasons to go, this show only has ten-episode seasons, and now we’ve just spent an entire hour focused on one conflict, postponing Tyrion’s fate, Daenerys’ march, and so much more. What we did have that was worthwhile was two love stories embedded in this episode, both unexpectedly romantic and heartfelt. Starting with Jon talking to Tarly about what sex is like was fun, and it was great to discover that Ygritte was having a similar, if far less sympathetic, conversation with the other Wildlings. Tarly finally speaking up and planting a big kiss on Gilly was great, and it was nice that he survived the whole night to remain there to protect her. Ygritte getting shot with an arrow moments after she spared Jon was perfectly tragic, and their goodbye was appropriately dramatic. Let’s hope for a finale that’s exciting and momentous while also addressing all of its plots.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pilot Review: Power

Power (Starz)
Premiered June 7 at 9pm

There’s a certain sense of having seen shows before when watching some pilots. “Power” tells the story of a man who made it big after being born with nothing and is now so embroiled in criminal activity that it’s impossible to turn back, even if he was ready to give up all his fortune. In order to understand just who James “Ghost” St. Patrick is, the pilot episode provides some helpful moments that demonstrate his character. He strolls into his nightclub with pride and discusses how it was always his dream to own a nightclub. He acts politely with his employees but also demands the best from them. He comes down to the basement to assist in the torturing of someone who was wronged him, and then opts for the questionably effective solution of shooting him in the head, something meant to intimidate him but whose impact is lost because only he, the dead man, would have been intimidated by him. The show drops another bomb at the end of the episode which was highly predictable – that the girl Ghost used to date in high school who just happened to pop up again is in fact working on a task force aimed at taking down his number one business partner. The twist, and one which is hard to take seriously, is that she unknowingly stumbled into his nightclub and doesn’t realize that he is the man she’s looking for. The show’s opening credits demonstrate a certain style and tone, and that’s just about the only thing that sets this otherwise rather ordinary and trite show apart from the rest.

How will it work as a series? The danger is only going to intensify as tensions rise, and someone is surely going to get hurt before long. I would hope that the world’s brightest agent, Angela Valdes, catches on to Ghost’s complicity soon, and that’s sure to create some serious and potentially life-threatening drama.
How long will it last? This pilot was available on Twitter for a full week before it actually aired on television, something that didn’t work so well for “Halt and Catch Fire” one week earlier, but it may have done the trick here. Starz messed up by renewing its two previous would-be powerhouses before they premiered, ending them both after a second season, and I think they might hit it right if they find the audience and then decide to renew it.


What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 8 “Variable and Full of Perturbation” (B+)

In an episode that didn’t involve any killing or violence of any kind, we got a surprise a whole lot bigger than anything else we’ve experienced before: a male clone! What Felix endearingly referred to as a “transclone” was Tony, who was initially far too cool for the situation, made a move on Felix, and then was actually pretty okay with everything once he met the female version of him. I don’t know when we’ll see Tony again if at all, but this is yet another performance that Tatiana Maslany has mastered, creating a wholly new and quite intriguing personality. With Ethan now officially working for the Dyad, we learned that the clones were supposed to be barren and Sarah was the mistake, though apparently Rachel is not even close to okay with that idea. Leave it to Alison to be more upset about the trunk not being clean and her gun being used than by the fact that Donnie killed someone, let alone Dr. Leekie, but at least it will keep them together, since the idea of Alison as a single parent is truly terrifying. I’m glad that Cosima got to be the cool nerd girl in front of all of Scott’s friends and that she got Delphine high for a moment of love-laced bliss, since it seems that my favorite clone may have just suffered a fatal seizure of sorts. Losing her won’t hurt as much as it would on another show because we’ll still see her face, but it’s still a major loss.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black (Season Premiere)

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 1 “Thirsty Bird” (B)

I would certainly say that this had been one of my most anticipated series returns for a while, though it’s also going to be one of most agonizing. Most shows only air one episode per week, and so waiting for the next episode is just a fact of life. I made my decision to watch one episode of this show per week before its second premiered mostly to ensure that I was able to devote enough time to actually enjoying and ensuring that I finished it, and I now realize it’s going to be torture to know that another episode already exists but that it’s not the next thing on my watch list. The other major reason for that feeling at the moment is that this premiere featured just two of our regular players, and therefore it’s high time we get to see the rest of the crazy crew. I’m partially on board with that decision, since the prison system as seen through Piper’s eyes is when it’s at its most ludicrous and unbelievable. But she’s also not its most interesting character, and though she’s gotten better than she used to be, it’s a shame that we don’t see other familiar faces. Alex was not in great form, and she even managed to screw up and permanently damage Piper’s life even more than ever before. I hope that Piper will soon be headed back to her home prison, where she won’t have to deal with cockroach trainers, birthtime-obsessed lunatics, and those who seem to be genuinely friendly but are fully ready to spread damaging reputation stories. Larry’s dad’s visit was very sobering, a perfectly honest and helpful account of where she is now and how she get herself out of this miserable chapter of her life.

As with “House of Cards,” I’ll be back once a week with a review, watching this show as if it airs on Fridays.

Pilot Review: Jennifer Falls

Jennifer Falls (TV Land)
Premiered June 4 at 10:30pm

I haven’t kept us as well as I should have with TV Land as it transitioned over to airing original programming rather than just reruns of classic comedies. I caught the network’s first four entries back in 2010 and 2011 – “Hot in Cleveland,” “Happily Divorced,” “Retired at 35,” and “The Exes” – and found them all to be seriously not to my taste (or age demographic). I guess I missed “The Soul Man” and “Kirstie,” but now, in a slow week, I had the chance to watch the premiere of the network’s newest offering. Like its other shows, it features a handful of actors from recent series who should be moderately familiar to television audiences. Jaime Pressly and Ethan Suplee, who costarred in “My Name is Earl,” lead the cast, and Jessica Walter is in the supporting cast, along with a brief guest appearance from her “Arrested Development” husband Jeffrey Tambor. Pressly was always considered the standout of “My Name is Earl,” winning an Emmy for her role, and here she gets to be just as eccentric and energetic, albeit much less truly crazy. Suplee seems more intelligent than this characters tends to be, and will probably just play a big lug without much personality. Walter is playing a role she has played a dozen times before, and the part isn’t written too complexly. Mainly, this show’s premise is one that has been done many times, and even a few times this past season. Compared with USA’s “Playing House,” which wasn’t spectacular, this one is a paler imitation, a bit more edgy but not particularly funny. Missi Pyle’s Dina and Ethan, played by Tommy Dewey, who was Josh on “The Mindy Project,” might be able to inject some likeable dynamics into the series, if not some helpful humor, but otherwise, I don’t see too much promise here.

How will it work as a series? It didn’t take long for Jennifer to fix her relationship with Dina, and even her daughter seems to like her more than before. She’s been humbled, but obviously that won’t last, and so this should be a series of pratfalls and embarrassing moments until she becomes a fully endearing character.
How long will it last? Reviews for the show weren’t strong, and I haven’t been able to find much in the way of helpful information regarding the pilot’s ratings. I don’t see this one having the same appeal to classic sitcom audiences as the other shows the network has produced, so I won’t predict it for a second season at this point.

Pilot grade: C-

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Heap” (A-)

It’s really not often that you find a show secure enough in its timeline that it can make a year-later jump in the middle of an episode. Sure, this is a limited series, though apparently a second season is very much a possibility, which is excellent news, but it’s still pretty jarring – in a very good way – to see such a transition that fast-forwards past the duller parts and picks up in entirely different circumstances. Of course, nothing is going to stay tranquil for long, and the two long, lingering sequences in which it becomes clear that trouble is afoot are incredible. I had noticed Keegan-Michael Key as one of the less than attentive FBI agents in last week’s episode, and in this hour realized that his “Key and Peele” costar Jordan Peele was the other FBI agent. That comic duo is a perfect fit for this universe, and I love that the newly uncovered photo of Lorne might help turn them into dogged detectives like Molly. Things worked out just great for her, and she and Gus moved quickly to put her into a similar position to that of one Marge Gunderson. Lester managed to make the Widow Hess situation work for him by fighting against her excessive details by attacking her sons with staples, and it won him both his secretary as a wife and the top insurance award. Hearing Lorne’s voice at the bar and seeing an almost unrecognizable and social version of him at a table flushed all the color out of Lester’s face, and it was an amazing way to end this transformative hour and prepare for what are sure to be two intense, involving, and ultimately deadly final two hours.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire (Season Premiere)

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 1 “The White Warrior” (B+)

I’ll admit that I had completely forgotten what happened in this show’s second season finale and that I would have missed this premiere had I not been carefully perusing the listings for the return of some of my favorite and most random shows. Fortunately, this show seems primed for a tempestuous third season, as events from the finale are proving to have more lasting impacts that will change how things work dramatically. Walt sewing Branch up when he found him and before he brought him to the ranch clinic was a sign of loyalty to someone who hasn’t really been a friend recently, but it doesn’t seem to have been interpreted that way by anyone other than the doctor. Branch’s father was certainly not happy about it, and assembling his gun in front of Walt was a sure sign that he’s ready to do something to avenge his son, and he doesn’t care who gets caught in the crossfire. Mathias is also being particularly antagonistic, but Branch being so stubborn about having seen a dead man shoot him isn’t helping matters either. Henry’s ex-girlfriend stealing his money is bad news, and him being in jail is going to seriously detract from Walt’s ability to think clearly. Fortunately, Walt did open up to Vic about what happened with his wife, and so hopefully that support system should prove helpful to him as he tries to put all the pieces back together of everything that’s transpired and thrown his county in disarray.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 6 “4:00pm-5:00pm” (C-)

Continuing on the ridiculousness of last week, I’m not sure whether to start with the Al-Hazari family or the British. Simone, who let her mother cut off her finger only an hour before deciding that it was worth it to punish her husband for his betrayal by killing him, is fine with letting her husband, a man she seems to have loved, if not as much as her mother, die but not able to go through with killing her niece. I think she learned an important lesson that scaring someone into running away without telling them why they’re in danger just doesn’t work, and now she’s been taken out, at least momentarily if not permanently, and the girl who saw her aunt kill her mother is on the loose. Margot, who is now bent on alienating both her children, is soon going to be out of allies and is going to have to pilot those damn drones herself. Moving on to the British, it seems highly implausible that the Prime Minister’s staff would be aware of Heller’s condition and that it wouldn’t have leaked to the public if they were able to find out about it. Sending in a team to follow Jack and then jump to conclusions wouldn’t have been so imbecilic if the entire team hadn’t allowed themselves to be killed, leaving Jack and Kate the only ones standing. Kate proved herself more than capable of being a worthy partner for Jack, agreeing immediately to his crazy plan and then strangling someone with her legs while she was chained up. She should just be thankful that he forgot to start using the drill during that commercial break.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 3, Episode 8 “Debate” (B+)

Who knew that this show was so close to the end of its season, with just two back-to-back episodes left this coming Sunday? I guess a lot has transpired thus far with Selina’s campaign, and this installment launched it in a few important new directions. Firstly, seeing Amy as campaign manager was actually rather uneventful, which means that she was doing a pretty good job keeping things under control since Dan was always ready to explode with his multiple iPads in hand. What I enjoyed most about this episode was having Kent and Ben around to make wisecracks and contribute to the team. I always liked Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn, initially in “The West Wing” and “Samantha Who,” respectively, and I’m glad to see that they’ve become such regular featured players. It was also fun to have a few political guest stars whose remarks were off-color, witty, and overall quite entertaining. Selina’s new haircut was quite a change, and of course only Gary thought that it was a good move while everyone else came up with quips about her look and the puns that people would come up with to make fun of her. The debate was a blast, with some great deadpan performances from all involved and some fantastic commentary from the staffers predicting just what the vet, the coach, and the other guy would say. Forgetting the third “r” could have been disastrous and a repeat of the “Daniwah” incident, but Selina’s repeated use of the word “repel” seemed to work pretty well for her.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pilot Review: Halt and Catch Fire

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
Premiered June 1 at 10pm

I’m always tempted to give AMC series the benefit of the doubt, since some of their most popular offerings – “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Hell on Wheels” – ended up getting much more interesting after their first episodes, which I didn’t love all that much. This one, unfortunately, might fall more into the category of “Low Winter Sun” or “Turn,” shows that proved far too dull and uninvigorating to be worthwhile. This show, set like so many of the network’s series in the recent past, is very into the idea of being hip, featuring dated looks and concepts and presenting them as vital and fresh. It wants desperately to be cutting-edge, yet it feels extremely forced. Lee Pace, who was so sweet and endearing as Ned the piemaker on “Pushing Daisies,” does a full three-sixty to play the oily Joe MacMillan, who can deliver the hell out of a sales pitch but negate it all with his selfish, overconfident attitude. I like Scoot McNairy, from “Frank” and “Monsters,” and Kerry Bishé, from “Virtuality” and “Scrubs,” and I think that they may be the best reason to watch this show as the smartest couple around. I don’t love the dialogue – “You work from now until the day you die” and the like – and the characters generally seem less than complex. This is a show that enjoys getting lost in the science of its not-so-futuristic technology, and I don’t know how much that concept really appeals given that we sort of know how things turn out.

How will it work as a series? Evidently it’s going to be an uphill battle for these three geniuses to be able to build their own computer and make it work just as well as the original. It should be an interesting story, to be sure, but I’m not sure its execution will be quite as enthralling.
How long will it last? At this point, maybe not so long. This pilot was available online for two weeks before it premiered, and therefore numbers were down considerably. It’s not the big hit that AMC wanted it to be just yet, and may end up much like another computer-focused drama that was a one-season wonder on the network, “Rubicon.”

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley (Season Finale)

Silicon Valley: Season 1, Episode 8 “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” (B+)

This was a very fitting finale, and a great way to reformat the show completely for what’s sure to be a wild and crazy season two. After Richard hit it big with offers from both Peter and Gavin in the pilot, now he’s evolved to something much hotter, and as Monica exuberantly rambled, he’s going to be in a whole new world with entirely fresh and grander problems. Things weren’t looking good at the outset here, though being pushed through to the finals as a settlement for what would have been a victorious lawsuit certainly helped. How Richard’s brilliant reconstruct came about was pretty hilarious, and the seriousness with which these hard-core programmers were discussing Erlich’s ability to ensure the satisfaction of every member of the audience was incredible. Richard offering to do the presentation himself was odd and a bit worrisome, and he did not get off to a positive start. There’s nothing more jarring than a big finish though, and he came through with that in a big way. Achieving a score over 5 after he said he could get one around 3 was a tremendous achievement, and the fact that it almost didn’t work provided just the right amount of suspense before a wildly successful conclusion. This season had some iffy moments, but when it was good, it was pretty great. I’m looking forward to seeing how this show can develop in season two and evolve to the next level. It’s just a shame that it will be without the late Christopher Evan Welch, who did such a good job of crafting the magnificent personality that was Peter Gregory.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Christopher Evan Welch as Peter Gregory

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 7, Episode 8 “30 Minutes or Less” (B+)

I sort of feel like the same thing happens on this show every week, and though it’s not a bad thing, it hardly makes this show must-see TV. Fortunately, this half-hour was actually a lot of fun, putting Hank once again into the role of the man literally sleeping with everyone else on the show. His reaction to being romanced by a fellow writer, an actress, and the mother of his love child is perhaps the most entertaining part, though credit is certainly due to Jade Catta-Preta, Mercedes Masohn, and Heather Graham. The characters on this show really need to start locking doors, since this is now the second time that Amy and Hank have been interrupted by someone walking in on them. It’s understandable that both Hashtag and Rath are frustrated with Hank, though, as Julia pointed out, he is quite irritatingly charming. The episode-ending news that Karen, who for no apparent reason at that point was seen driving in the middle of the episode, was in a car accident was devastating, mostly because he hadn’t even been thinking of Karen for the entirety of this episode, stopping to be romanced by three different women instead of focusing on the one woman he actually truly cares about. It would be horrible if Karen didn’t make it after all the back-and-forth between the two of them, so I hope that this will provide Hank with some much-needed clarity and the opportunity to think about what’s actually important to him at the moment.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Mountain and the Viper” (B)

Not all that much happened in this episode, except for that one really big thing that definitely happened at the hand. Theon performed much better than I might have expected him to in the field, triumphantly announcing himself and then sputtering when he was insulted. It’s a shame that those he convinced to surrender didn’t end up experiencing a positive fate. Ramsay is certainly doing better than before, and might prove to be a serious contender among the many throne-seekers in this universe. Jorah’s dismissal was swift and finite, which is difficult to take in given how much of a loyal servant he was to Daenerys, his newly revealed spying notwithstanding. Sansa put on a great show lying to perfection to get suspicion off Petyr, and she finally seems to have developed the self-confidence she so lacked up to this point. Arya and the Hound made it so close to Sansa, and Arya’s laughter was a fitting reaction to the absurdity of the situation. Tyrion discussing the many kinds of killings and the words used to describe them with Jaime was an effective preface to the epic battle that was to come after it. Prince Oberyn starting off by drinking was a worrisome sign, but he managed to rally and do a tremendous job of beating his opponent, using his size against him and shaming him for what he did to his sister. Unfortunately, pride can be a miserable thing, and having his eyed pushed in and his face popped was a pretty brutal way to go. It spells bad news for Tyrion, of course, though I can’t imagine this show will let him go that easily.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 2, Episode 7 “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things” (B+)

We didn’t even see Helena or the Proletheans in this episode, but it was still firing on all cylinders. Alison got to be the central focus, providing the opportunity for some comedy and for Sarah to have to pretend to be Alison, ambushed into role playing with Donnie about their relationship in front of a room full of people. Donnie opening the door on Sarah and Alison standing in the room together revealed just how little he knew, and his subsequent actions indicated that he really didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Obviously Dr. Leekie didn’t think much of him, however, and the way he spoke to him made the accidental firing of the gun less of a freak accident and more like karma with Donnie caught as the unfortunate perpetrator. Hopefully he’ll turn to Alison for help since I don’t suspect that he’d have an easy time covering up a murder. Dr. Leekie really was dead anyway, because the head start Rachel gave him wouldn’t have gotten him far. Michelle Forbes’ Marion is likely to be a major player now, though we know that she has even less sympathy for Sarah than Rachel does. That doesn’t bode well for Cosima, though Kira’s noble offering up of her tooth may help guide things in the right direction. The threat that was Vic was effectively neutralized, though it seems to me that Felix could have simply called up his new best friend Art and asked him to talk to Angie and tell her to back off.

Pilot Review: Crossbones

Crossbones (NBC)
Premiered May 30 at 10pm

Watching this pilot, I was reminded of another NBC offering set several hundred years ago, and I couldn’t recall what it was called. Some quick searching of my archived pilot reviews revealed that it was “Crusoe,” a short-lived fall 2008 pilot that told the story of – you guessed it – Robinson Crusoe. That was a rather isolating, self-contained story about living on an island, whereas this ambitious offering involves an entire group of pirates as regular characters and some rather direct ties to the English throne. It’s surprising to me that NBC would offset a show with a big name like John Malkovich in the lead role and push it off to summer, but I also think that this was just the latest ill-advised broadcast network endeavor into period television, something that just isn’t sustainable. Unfortunately, this show also isn’t very good, featuring a disappointing performance from Malkovich, who should have been able to chew scenery easily yet doesn’t do so consistently, and a rather dull storyline. I remember Richard Coyle as the cameraman in “5 Days of War” and Simon on “Covert Affairs,” and while I like him, I don’t think he has the gravitas to play an undercover agent of the British Empire posing as a doctor and decoder. Fletch’s presence detracts from the seriousness of the show, whatever existed in the first place, while Selma is far too cartoonish. Overall, this pilot was far too dense and frantic to merit a second viewing on my part.

How will it work as a series? That’s what’s hard to figure out, though I suppose Lowe spotting the Spanish conspiring with one of the pirates indicates that this won’t be limited simply to Blackbeard’s story, and his purpose there will be multifold. It still seems like a narrow scope and a well likely to run dry sooner rather than later.
How long will it last? I didn’t think long, but then I read about the ratings. To think that NBC has premiered three enduring summer successes in just one week seems like a stretch, and I think this is both the likeliest to wane and also the likeliest to attract a niche audience. At this point, I’d say it’s a toss-up, but things are looking pretty good.

Pilot grade: C

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pilot Review: Undateable

Undateable (NBC)
Premiered May 29 at 9pm

I’ll start this review off with the line that I thought as soon as this pilot began: “Undateable” is unwatchable. This is the kind of series that would have made sense to premiere about fifteen or twenty years ago, and even then it would have seemed lackluster and deplorable. Laugh-track sitcoms are becoming more and more of a rarity these days, and they tend to be especially bland and uncreative. The third of what constitutes the 2014-2015 TV season is this awful comedy from NBC, which viewers will have the unfortunate displeasure of watching twice every Thursday night for the first half of the summer. I immediately recognized star Chris D’Elia and couldn’t place where I knew him from. Some quick research reveals that it was from the similarly terrible “Whitney,” and a glance back at my review of that pilot indicated that I didn’t blame D’Elia for the horrible nature of his character. That’s not true here, since D’Elia is unbelievably irritating and makes the slimy, annoying Danny infinitely worse than he probably was on paper. I cringed every time he deflected an insult hurled his way by making a sound. The rest of the cast and characters are far less unbearable to watch, but that doesn’t say much. Simply put, this show is not funny, and, worse than that, it’s not even interesting. Briga Heelan’s Nicki is a prime example, completely devoid of any personality or charm in spite of Justin’s obsession with her. Though I would hardly commend Heelan’s lead character on “Ground Floor,” she’s a hell of a lot meatier than this. This show has nothing positive to offer, and plenty stacked against it.

How will it work as a series? Though certain plotlines, like Leslie not sleeping with Justin, may not be addressed, there will be plenty of opportunity for Danny to show Justin what he knows about getting women and also what he doesn’t know. The second episode featured the “pants buddies,” a miserable preview of the sophistication of what’s likely to come in the future.
How long will it last? The ratings were actually pretty decent, following a recent trend of scripted summer series doing relatively well on broadcast networks. I commented in my review of “The Night Shift” that NBC had yet to find its flagship summer show, but maybe it might have more than one, and this could be the other? It’s hard to believe, but who knows?

Pilot grade: F-