Thursday, July 31, 2014

Take Three: The Strain

The Strain: Season 1, Episode 3 “Gone Smooth” (C+)

My interest in this show couldn’t last forever, and it’s definitely waning at this point because it’s transforming into something different. In episodes one and two, it was a horror series faintly supported by supernatural and other violent occurrences but not guided by them. In episode three, everything changed, and all of a sudden Ephram, Nora, and Jim were dodging misdirected snake throat shots erupting from one of the bodies in the morgue. This show surprised me because of its slow burn nature, and now it’s dived fully into its premise. The opening sequence with a freaky shell of a body and face being made and dressed up to look like the seemingly human villain we know was eerie, and watching him do his own dirty work, walking into an office building late at night and staging a suicide, certainly makes an impression. His meeting with Jim was especially intimidating, and learning about Jim’s wife and her health explains why he let the coffin out of JFK, though he definitely regrets that decision now. Our three scientists are starting to catch on to the severity and sheer unbelievable nature of what they’re up against, which I’m not so sure is a great thing since keeping them in the dark longer might have proved more worthwhile in the end. At this point, I’m considering abandoning this show since it’s turning more into the kind of show I expected it to be and not the one indicated by the pilot. It’s still a decent series, but not my cup of tea.

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 3 “Fight” (B-)

In concept, this episode is fascinating. Bill and Virginia get the chance to role play and invent exciting parts of their fake lives while discussing Bill’s childhood and his relationship with his father, a talk prompted by a very symbolic boxing match on television. The problem is that this show has lost the hypnotic allure it had in season one when this was all a mystery, and it wasn’t yet clear that Bill and Virginia would actually insert themselves into their study and manifest their lust-based relationship physically. Now, it doesn’t feel nearly as captivating, and though it’s still an intriguing and alluring hour, there’s something inauthentic about it. The focus on Bill and Virginia, designed to make sure that it’s hard to get out of the moment, neglected the rest of the show, forgetting about Scully, Libby, Austin, Betty, and everyone else. It’s clear that Bill has become so immersed in this fantasy part of his life that it’s consumed him entirely, and there is plenty to be analyzed about the conversation in which Virginia expressed her severe disappointment with the revelation of another woman in her seemingly perfect romance, a conversation she had while serving once again as the other woman, smiling pleasantly and chatting up Libby while chipping away at her marriage, ostensibly for the sake of science. Bill having to deal with a father concerned about his male child being too much of a girl was a far too literal connection, one that felt forced. This show has potential, but it’s not hitting home in the same way that it did during the first half of season one.

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 5 “Gladys” (A-)

This was a very strong and seriously disturbing hour. The initial scene with the stoning of silent, stoic Gladys, who finally spoke to plead for them to stop before that final throw of the rock, was immensely difficult to watch, mostly because all of the violence was shown on screen. What it represents, however, is a redefining of the Guilty Remnant, since now Kevin is advocating for them and making sure that he can keep them safe when previously he just tried to arrest them for any infraction he could find. It was particularly jarring to see how Patti reacted to the situation, spiriting Laurie away to a motel and then shocking her by speaking to her over breakfast. What she did worked in a big way, since Laurie was compelled enough to go outside while Matt was preaching and whistle at him repeatedly to tell him to leave. Meg too seems ready to embrace the nature of what they’re doing. Matt’s desire to see Gladys’ body even while he was being interviewed as a suspect was a sign of his good nature, and his attempt at a funeral, however unsuccessful, was noble. It’s eerie in a great way to see small things unravel on this show, like Kevin’s repeated calls to the ATF agent and his search for his missing shirts, which he managed to get when he was ready to go on a rampage into the dry cleaning shop. Dean being present during the discovery of Gladys’ body and at the town meeting was also interesting, specifically because of how he can get a rise out of Kevin with no one noticing. The end of the episode was very powerful, concluding with the burning of Gladys’ body.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pilot Review: Manhattan

Manhattan (WGN)
Premiered July 27 at 10pm

I wouldn’t have even known about this show had I not stumbled across a trailer for the series on IMDB thinking it was a preview for a feature film. I’m not sure when the last time I watched WGN was, and it seems that, following its first successful original series, “Salem,” which I haven’t seen, the network wants to try more of its own original weekly programming. This is just the latest in a long line of shows to ambitiously set itself in the past, honing in on World War II and the race for the bomb. I immediately recognized John Benjamin Hickey, who was so terrific as deranged, homeless-by-choice brother Sean on “The Big C,” as Frank, who comes closest to being the show’s protagonist since he is a generally noble individual who is still fully aware of what they are working for and its implications. Unfortunately, Hickey’s role here gives him so little to do, and the same is true of typical scene-stealer Olivia Williams, whose part could be so much more interesting. Rachel Brosnahan, who played Rachel on “House of Cards,” seems to have the meatiest role, as Charlie’s wife Abby, who is adjusting to life in Shangri-La. There’s plenty of potential here but I think the show’s pacing and its obsession with portraying its events and concept as utterly startling and completely vital doesn’t work to its advantage. I can see why someone might have wanted to turn this into a TV series, but its sense of fatal importance isn’t echoed by corresponding action and excitement.

How will it work as a series? Given its place in history, I’m not sure where the show could eventually go. There can be ups and downs and minor bumps along the way on the compound, but ultimately there’s much more at play here which might not figure so well into the confines of this show.
How long will it last? The main headline in most ratings reports is that these numbers are less impressive than those of “Salem.” Having only one prior success to compare it to doesn’t bode well for this show, but I think the network won’t want to give up on its second effort so quickly and might be inclined to give this show another shot.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 3 “Gem and Loan” (B+)

This episode was fun because it featured Ray in a different position than usual, trying to achieve something he wanted and needed to get others to get on board without his usual strategy of intimidation. He gave up trying to hook Stu up with the Meryl Streep of porn stars as soon as he found out that she was married to the porn producer, but he still managed to get things to work out, coming to Stu’s aid with the blackmail money and then working out a smart if predictable production deal. It’s nice to know that, bad blood related to the affair aside, he and Ray actually have a good working relationship. Just as interesting, if not more so, was the way that Ray dealt with Kate, first showing up and pretending not to have any clue who she was and then stepping in to be much more aggressive as soon as loyal servant Ronald, who is earning his bribe, called him to say that Kate was on her way. I love that Ray called Kate out on standing so close to him when they were talking, and it would be very intriguing for them to sleep together while they have such ulterior motives. Cochrane was less than pleased to meet Kate, and I like his interactions with Ray, so angry and demanding, something that doesn’t faze Ray but does keep him in line. Mickey’s new friend at the halfway house was a nice development, though that didn’t last long since Ronald showed up right away to spirit him to his off-site meeting with Claudette. I’m not sure what Marvin’s continued presence means, but it can’t be anything good now that she’s gotten into her dream school. My favorite part of the episode was Abby snapping at the neighbor who showed up and criticized her accent, which is pretty over-the-top but really does define who she is.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Last Ship

The Last Ship: Season 1, Episode 6 “Lockdown” (C+)

My opinion of this show is quickly dwindling, and that’s mainly because it’s become immensely predictable in a very disappointing way. I’m not sure exactly where I thought it might go, but it would have been preferable to give the men and women aboard the ship the opportunity to interact with those in the outside world, or at least for us viewers to be able to see them. The ship instead turns into an isolating place, and there isn’t the chance for a new world society or government structure (or lack thereof to be seen). Instead, we get infighting and paranoia among the group about their fears and suspicions related to the outbreak for the disease and its contagiousness. Rachel’s frustration with the panic that started as soon as everyone thought that Danny was a carrier and they were all of a sudden exposed was sensible and very true to life, particularly her explanation of the fact that the discovery of his infection would mean that everyone had already been exposed. Every time anyone talks about monkeys, I find it just a bit harder to take this seriously. Additionally, I’m not too pleased with the show’s use of John Pyper-Ferguson, since Tex is mostly just immature and contradicts the mood of the rest of the show. Quincy did his best to get Bacon to become paranoid, but his scare tactics worked too well, and now he can’t even play chess or socialize, let alone get back in the lab to help save the day.

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 6 “Karma” (B)

For most of this episode, things were not looking good as Bill’s symptoms worsened very quickly and Sookie confirmed that she too is infected. It’s depressing but not all that unforeseeable that things wouldn’t end positively for these characters, but the three leads dying slow, painful deaths is pretty much as dark as you can get. After Eric and Pam nearly burned up in the sun in the most unceremonious of ways, they managed to talk their way into extended their lives by agreeing on a common enemy: Sarah Newlin. And that’s where things get very complicated. The news that the frantic, fanatical Sarah drank the antidote developed in the TruBlood factory changes everything, since now she might be the salvation for all vampirekind, which will only work out if the Yakuza think that marketing a vaccine will be good for business. It’s understandable that Bill would be furious at the awful lawyer he consulted, but stabbing her was still a pretty brutal punishment. Andy going ballistic after he found Wade in bed with his daughter presented a fiery but relatively entertaining feud with Holly which Arlene stepped in to mediate, but things may have taken a much more serious turn since Violet seems ready to exact revenge on the happy young couple for Jason’s sins, which is extremely worrisome. It seems unfortunately clear that Lettie Mae isn’t completely crazy about Tara now that Lafayette is joining her in her hallucinations, and I hope it doesn’t end up being all that irritating a journey.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 8 “Appropriately Sized Pots” (B+)

Talk about a range of emotions in this episode. There were firings, hirings, deaths, and plenty more. As we learned the sad news about her surgery not being approved, it was a real treat to watch Rosa’s story unfold, as she robbed banks and kept seeing the men in her life die. It was truly enjoyable to watch her work with her young friend at chemo to pull off one last great heist and get to remember what money smelled like. That was a surprising and enthralling back story, and it’s nice for such a background character to be given such an exciting and dramatized pre-prison life. Figueroa, as usual, was extremely harsh in her skewering of guard performance at the prison, but Caputo’s crackdown was cruel, especially for poor Fischer. Her parting scene with Nicky was sweet, followed up by Luschek’s marvelously supportive “lame.” It’s a relief that Red was able to relocate her product before Caputo came around pouring out flower pots, and she seems to be making the right moves to keep her alliance with Gloria while Vee tries to step in to seduce her. Piper’s furlough being granted really was more of a punishment than anything else, especially considering how much flak she got for it and the unfortunate news that her grandmother passed away before she got out. Soso’s situation has turned from something comic into something far more unsettling, and let’s hope she goes back to being perky and talkative soon. There’s much more to be concerned about given Figueroa’s latest hire – the return of the one, the only, and the truly despicable Pornstache.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Round Two: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episode 2 “Insouciance” (B+)

Wouldn’t you know it, but I enjoyed this show’s second installment just as much as I did the first, completing a terrific new hour of television for me every Thursday night on FX. This was a premise that could have lost its novelty effect quickly (and might still), but this episode is very encouraging. It’s almost not important what Jimmy says specifically, but more worthwhile to depend on the fact that he’s going to oppose pretty much everything, and that he’ll say the wrong thing in every situation. Painting Cameron as the villain in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” because he doesn’t want to have fun is the perfect example, but what brings it home is that Gretchen feels exactly the same way. Seeing them together in the movie theater at the end being literally the worst people on the planet was a blast, mainly because the idea of being with either of them is so horrifying that seeing them together is perversely appealing. Gretchen going in to try to get Jimmy’s vindictive ex-girlfriend to put his book front and center was funny, as was the opening scene with Jimmy’s unceremonious efforts to fulfill himself with a disapproving Gretchen looking on and ruining it for him. Even Jimmy’s kid pal is working out well, finally located by Edgar after Jimmy flat out abandoned him in the heat of the moment when his bookstore caper went wrong. It’s good that Jimmy and Gretchen didn’t have to come out to his ex just yet, but I’m sure that will happen eventually.

Round Two: Married

Married: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Shower” (B+)

I’m pleased to report that episode two of this show didn’t disappoint, creatively following up on the promise of the pilot and delivering an equally awkward but endearing installment that didn’t actually have anything to do with Russ’ quest for a mistress. Instead, he was all about trying to romance his wife, jumping into the shower when she was in there and then failing to lock the gate, resulting in a $5,000 surgery bill for that damn dog. His subsequent obsession with the four showerheads and his suggestion for a spontaneous shower session almost worked, but there was plenty to distract them from that actually happening. A.J. clearly has some issues, thinking it would be a good idea to attend an engagement party for his ex-wife that he sold to Russ as a housewarming. Ordering two prostitutes for a bizarre workout session wasn’t exactly an inspired idea, but it was unexpectedly entertaining. I was very pleased to see some interaction between Jess and Lina (and fantastic actresses Jenny Slate and Judy Greer), which I hadn’t anticipated being featured until well into the show’s run. Jess springing a meeting with her work crush and his friend at the bar wasn’t cool, but neither was Lina referring to Jess as her husband’s friends, which prompted a terrific reaction from Jess. Ultimately, it’s nice to have this show’s antics brought home by the kids, who Lina reluctantly admitted are not that cool and who Russ was happy to talk with about whether everything gets easier when you’re a grownup.

What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 2, Episode 6 “MazelTov” (B+)

It’s so interesting to watch Daniel ease back into society, disappearing from the lives of those who have so closely supporting him as he ventures out into his own life. Seeing him wake up in a woman’s bed was a surprise, though not entirely given the party he went to last week, but it was still gratifying to see him make such a human connection, brought on by the sentiment he described to Tawney during their conversation at his house later. Daniel’s speech at the funeral was actually quite touching, and it’s a shame that all it did was inspire Foulkes and Carl to conspire about how best to take Daniel down, with Carl telling the Senator what Teddy confessed to him. After that unfriendly run-in at the gas station, Daniel met up with Lezlie again, who isn’t actually such a bad influence, and was able to find him that stove that he wanted to get for his mother. Her reaction, influenced by his being so late to the party, was less than enthusiastic, but it was great to see Ted Sr. step in with an unexpected positive attitude, encouraging Daniel and his thoughtful gift. I liked how Teddy was so taken aback by Amanda being uncharacteristically nice to him, though of course that didn’t last too long. Tawney asking if Teddy wishing them a “Mazel Tov” was appropriate was a rare hilarious moment, and it’s a shame that Teddy had to go ahead and share their big news after he saw Daniel talking to Tawney and smiling, when Tawney had expressly asked him not to. The scene with the priest talking to Daniel and playing music for him was very powerful, though I was less impressed by the final scene with Daniel hearing a woman’s voice talking to him, since I’d like for this show to remain literal rather than having manifestations of Daniel’s demons materialize and help take him down.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 3 “Sorrowsworn” (B+)

Finally, we have the return of all of our familiar first season characters who hadn’t yet appeared this year. While I’m much more partial to Charlotte than I am to Steven, it’s fantastic to see that all of this show’s plotlines are truly interrelated, and that what initially seemed like separate threads are all intertwining now. This show has truly found its funk, as Hank enthusiastically welcomed back Marco and offered to cover for him with his captain before Agent McKenzie rudely refused to share intel with a Mexican cop in the room. Steven initially seemed very passive about the Mexican cop Bob found trespassing, but that changed quickly into an aggressive beatdown which will surely produce some answers. Ray and Cesar getting their supply carjacked was an odd but intense moment, and it’s great to have Charlotte back, and I do hope that she doesn’t take her boyfriend’s ill-advised idea of going to Alaska seriously. She did well fending for herself before, and I feel like a meeting with Galvan could turn out well for her. As Daniel and Adriana worked to uncover their own piece of the Eleanor story, it was sad to hear Raul ask his killer what would happen if he screamed before he was unceremoniously put out of his misery. Sonya as usual is quite blunt with her sexual partners and with those she works with, hardly demonstrating a proper bedside manner with Dex when he asked if his friend was okay. Marco, on the other hand, is back in the game and doing a great job of appeasing those Sonya offends. Unfortunately, though Eleanor spared Dex, her plans are only going to get more evil and horrifying, especially with her new assistant Jaime on board.

What I’m Watching: Wilfred

Wilfred: Season 4, Episode 6 “Patterns” (B)

Watching this show is definitely captivating, but it’s hard to know where reality ends and this show begins. It’s near impossible to comprehend just what is going on, and to know how satisfyingly this show will end in just a few weeks. The absence of the token post-credits scene during which Wilfred and Ryan would smoke pot together is disconcerting enough, and now we’ve gone well beyond a basement not existing into something far more disconcerting. Ryan is doing his very best to keep Jenna out of his life despite her frequent attempts to reach out to him and try to connect romantically. Meanwhile, he’s busy hunting for answers about his father and his mysterious partner, and encountering something far more malicious in the process: Bruce. No longer is the game-loving enigma portrayed by Dwight Yoakam, and instead it’s the brilliant Billy Baldwin in the role, soaking up all the absurdity of his character. Ryan’s discovery that he is in fact a dog and may just be Krungle the Trickster God was startling and cleverly done, but then we had the subsequent scene in which Bruce was back in his regular form and didn’t actually have makeup on covering up his dog suit. It’s hard to know what comes next, and it’s agonizing to watch Ryan take pride in every small discovery only to realize that things are not at all what they seem. If he hasn’t gotten there already, he is gradually continuing to lose his grip on what is real and what was ever real.

Take Three: Extant

Extant: Season 1, Episode 3 “Wish You Were Here” (C)

Things are moving at a fast pace on this show in terms of developments from which the show won’t be able to come back. It’s only a few episodes in and Alan has already played his hand to reveal that he wants to bring Molly in for “observation,” and that was only a short while after he came to her confessing his supposed ignorance to what was going on, something that she bought initially. Molly’s trusted ally, Sam, has now put herself in extreme danger by being present at the run-up to the attempted capture and quarantine of Molly, and though Molly managed to make her escape, I don’t think Sam will be nearly as fortunate. Molly’s shocking pregnancy was explained away pretty easily by a scientific experiment, painting John as the father without much doubt, which strikes me as far from likely. It was disconcerting but fairly obvious that the good old friend that Molly was talking to throughout her party wasn’t actually there, and just serves to underline the eeriness of it all, which doesn’t feel quite as compelling and creative as it should. Meanwhile, I can understand John and Molly’s desire to educate others about how their son is a real boy and should be treated as such rather than be ostracized, but Ethan is demonstrating some seriously sociopathic tendencies. On an unrelated but interesting note, this episode was titled “Wish You Were Here,” and actor Pierce Gagnon, who plays Ethan, also stars in “Wish I Was Here,” the new Zach Braff film that opened in New York last week.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What I’m Watching: Tyrant

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 5 “Hail Mary” (C)

I’m losing interest fast in this show, and it’s a shame since it’s actually getting more interesting. The arrival of an old proponent of peace who might well be able to set things back on the right track if Jamal is willing to sit down with him suggests that there is something new on the horizon, but I don’t think it will take, and I suspect it will take a long time to unfold. What’s most problematic is that this show has turned into something cartoonish, with Jamal furious when Tariq tattles on his brother that he wasn’t exactly where he was supposed to be, and then waiting to give the order to clear the square until he actually sees and questions the brother he no longer trusts to be loyal. Not that Jamal wasn’t always over-the-top, but his tyrannical nature has become a bit too literal, as evidenced by his stringing up of his son’s father-in-law and subsequent use of him as target practice to convince him that he should never speak about what his daughter told him and that she should certainly not be granted a divorce. Meanwhile, as her husband put his life in danger and survived an assassination attempt, Molly is becoming acclimated to the society in which she now resides. It’s about time she got the spotlight after the focus on her son, and it’s proving to be an eye-opening experience, as she can’t believe the way that people are treated and not treated in times of crisis but also isn’t above using her name to ensure that her will is fulfilled.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 8 “Harvest” (B+)

So much for last week’s cliffhanger ending, since that was resolved almost instantly with no lasting damage to Walt. But this episode had just as much intrigue to offer, related both to its crime-centric plot and its main characters. Finding bodies with missing body parts is never a good sign, but it was the people who were still alive who were far more volatile in this hour. Seeing a wife and daughter arm up and prepare to defend their property until the bitter end upon hearing the news that the patriarch of the family had been found dead was cause for concern, and when the man who had the best reason to kill him came looking to collect with his bulldozer, it was obviously that things had escalated in a disconcerting way. Nick’s attitude towards decency was rather disturbing, but what was most shocking about this episode was Walt’s decision to forget what he learned about what actually happened. It’s rare that he won’t serve justice as it is traditionally spelled out, but in this case he seemed to see no value in robbing the family of much-needed money and imprison a man who was just trying to help a friend who was dead anyway. Vic was rightly furious first with Sean and then with Branch for reading her private files, and it was a rough hour for her, disappointed by Walt’s refusal to put a fight about her resignation and rejected by Sean after joking about having to pretend to be weaker than she is. Branch is spiraling out of control, but what’s truly worrisome is that Bridges is in fact on his trail, and no one believes that he’s actually on to something.

Round Two: The Strain

The Strain: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Box” (B)

I’ll start off by noting that people biting into other people’s necks without warning and snakes crawling out of dead kids’ mouths to attack their parents is not my cup of tea. But like “The X-Files,” the horror here is presented in a very literal way. Nothing jumps out to scare you, but what’s going on is truly terrifying. The structure of the plot is actually quite competent, offering up just the right amount of nonsense to mix with serious stuff. I’m very pleased with the score, which helps to set and sustain the mood, ensuring that this thriller doesn’t let up, constantly keeping its viewers at the edge of their seats even if someone isn’t about to be brutally murdered by an unspeakable entity. While Ephram is busy trying to make sure that he doesn’t lose custody and still remains his son’s dad, he’s not quite focused enough on the work at hand, though his baffled reaction to a phone call from a father reporting that his dead daughter came home was understandable. We got a much more direct look than I expected at the Master, and even got to hear him talk. I guess it is important to have a physical, literal villain, and we can expect more of that going forward, especially with Gabriel’s unexpected act of vampirism. I finally recognized Leslie Hope of “24” fame with long hair as Dr. Luss, who really should consider the offer of staying under quarantine given her visions. Kevin Durand is a perfect fit to play Vasiliy Fet, the all-too-eager health inspector who sure knows how to hold a dead rat for maximum effectiveness.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 2 “Kyrie Eleison” (B)

This episode was interesting, to be sure, but this show seems to have lost some of its signature flair and in particular the manner in which it felt like it was really a product of its time period. Part of that is due to the fact that Bill has only negative things to say or do and no longer has the opportunity to get excited about the work he is doing. Along the same lines, Virginia was understandably upset that she couldn’t be a part of Bill’s new study because she doesn’t technically have the qualifications, and meeting his new secretary didn’t help matters at all. Bill’s banter with Betty, while harsh, was actually the most enticing part of the episode, and she’s a pretty wonderful character. Her unconventional pep talk to Rose was just what was needed, and her less serious interactions with Bill and with his flummoxed secretary were truly entertaining. Austin’s attempt to woo Vivian was met with miserable failure, and he only had success with Virginia since she’d never fall for him and she can’t really become much more of a social pariah at this point. Motherhood seems to have turned Libby, who was the show’s strongest character in season one, into a harsher person, getting fed up by the incessant crying and then rudely correcting her new nanny’s pronunciation of the word “ask.” Virginia continues to be a good friend to Lilian, whose condition seems to be deteriorating but won’t stop her from indulging a peculiar craving for pizza.

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 4 “B.J. and the A.C.” (B+)

This show continues to be endlessly dark, but it’s still enormously effective as it pulls back and examines the bigger picture, featuring Matt for just one pivotal moment and focusing instead on all the other characters. The haunting score is very strong, and it helps to add to the disturbing nature of it all. Starting with the baby stolen from the nativity scene was a peculiar but still unsettling introduction, and it’s so interesting to see how religion is treated in this post-apocalyptic society. We got to see more of Tom than ever before as he tried to help his friend survive an attack and then realized that he needed to go on the run because all signs pointed to him as the one who attacked her. His reaction to getting the call with a recorded message when he so desperately needed Wayne to call was understandable, and the subsequent scene in which the bodies wrapped in white were sprawled all over the road was certainly chilling. Laurie stopping by the house inspired great rage in Kevin, and for once gave Jill didn’t seem to be filled with hate for her dad. Nothing was quite as cold, however, as the Guilty Remnant staged a distraction at the school while its other members went through all the houses and removed every single photograph from them, which is sure to cause mass panic and unrest going forward. On a lighter note, it was very interesting to see Kevin open up so immediately about his infidelity to Nora, another pariah of the town just trying to keep her life together.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 2 “Uber Ray” (B+)

The stakes are a lot less high this season than they were last year in many respects, but it’s all set to implode in a big way due to different factors. Cochrane wasn’t the least bit interested in Mickey for his own sake but seems very intent on cracking down if either he or Ray do anything to irritate him. Cochrane’s participation in a cover band almost serves to confirm his incorruptibility, though I’m sure Ray is going to work hard to find some way in. He did that very quickly with Wendell Pierce’s parole officer, who stepped in to rattle Mickey’s sweet new setup. Frances coming in to see Ray was a surprise, and it seems that her visit got everyone agitated, even prompting Terry to punch his brother in the face, which is a big deal. Abby is all over the place, making out with her yoga instructor in a moment of passion after reacting negatively to Ray’s overzealous and excessively frequent attempts to have sex. It seems like Ray is finally noticing her, which is good, but if he ever finds out about that forbidden kiss, there’s going to be hell to pay. I like that Abby was so easily able to track her son down because he took Uber to go meet Mickey, though it does mean that she and Ray are going to know everywhere he goes, which might not be ideal. In his post-grief hysteria, Ezra is turning tyrannical, and his efforts to steer clear of the FBI might not go so well if he is too noticeable because of his pushiness in tracking down pledged donations.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Last Ship

The Last Ship: Season 1, Episodes 4 and 5 “We’ll Get There” and “El Toro” (B+/B)

You’ll notice that I’m reviewing two episodes at a time here – busy Sunday nights got the best of me, and I neglected to watch this show’s fourth episode in time to review it last week. What I will note is that while the show isn’t entirely forgettable, it’s far from exciting to watch two episodes in a row. I liked the first installment better, mainly because it contained some creative thinking and didn’t feel like every episode of “Last Resort.” It was a clever idea to sink everything from the lab in order to keep it cool at the bottom of the ocean, and it worked, which was a relief. It seemed for a bit like all hope was lost and that doom might near just four episodes in, but alas there were seagulls on the horizon. I’m glad that Adam Baldwin’s Mike finally got to show some personally, handling their uncooperative prisoner effectively without breaking a sweat. Chandler’s admission that he didn’t have a vision was troubling, but it was clear from episode five that both he and Mike are well-equipped to lead, turning around to unseat Jose Zuniga’s tyrannical leader and rescue the men, women, and children terrified under his reign. Seeing the infected people looking with such longing at Chandler and his men was probably the most unsettling part of the episode, and I suspect that things are only going to get more serious as time goes on and the crew comes into contact with more and more humans, both infected and not.

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 5 “Lost Cause” (B+)

I’m torn about this episode because, in some ways, it’s absurd, since Lafayette just decided to invite the town over immediately after Alcide’s death even though he knows they all hate Sookie and she doesn’t much like them either. What this episode did do well, however, was to start to tie things back together and acknowledge that the show is ending soon, returning to some of the show’s token tropes that it’s abandoned in recent seasons. Sarah’s vampire sister was a fabulous example, someone who got along so well with Eric and Pam because of her general attitude towards life and towards her sister. Subplots like Ginger begging Eric not to go without having sex with her are lighter entertainment, but there’s still a place for that. Sarah asking her mom to call Laura Bush was pure comedy gold, as were Eric and Pam’s outfits, but then the Yakuza showed up to make everything truly deadly. I think this show can be vicious and violent enough without needing to have Eric grab someone’s face and rip it off. Andy asking Jessica to borrow a ring so that he could propose to Holly was sweet, and it’s nice to see something working out, even if it seems too optimistic a resolution. Lettie Mae’s initial toast was actually quite strong, and it’s just a shame she had to go and try to get Willa’s blood for her undead daughter. I love that Jason’s romance was actually becoming real, and I’m very worried about what’s going to happen now that he made the mistake of sleeping with Jessica, who was pretty damn pissed when she found Jason having sex with Lafayette (what a soap opera this show can be). The flashbacks to the Civil War were very effective, a tragic lead-up to the revelation that Bill is infected. So much for happy endings on this show.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 7 “Comic Sans” (B+)

Things are heating up in prison in more ways than one, and it can’t be long before a boiling point is reached. Caputo’s insistence on a crackdown by the guards would be well-timed with the sudden influx of contraband flowing freely through prison if only he or any of the other guards had the faintest clue. Everyone seemed to be having a great time smoking, though of course that led to unnecessary drama. It was eye-opening to learn Black Cindy’s story, which solidified her guilt due to her compulsive thieving ways. Vee is determined to alienate everyone around her one person at a time, though her endgame does include circling back around to those she excluded, which in this episode was Poussey. I like the intercultural conversations, namely Nicky talking to Poussey about lesbian best friends and everything about the newsletter committee, which includes two relatively intelligent fishes out of water and two sweet-natured but airheaded others. This show is working hard to humanize those who aren’t inmates, including the newly reunited couple, while hardening two of the more kindhearted ones. It’s understandable that John would be frustrated with all the blackmail, and let’s hope that Fischer goes about revealing the news of Daya’s pregnancy in a smart and delicate way. I highly enjoyed Polly coming over to Larry’s to tell him nothing could happen only to talk herself into having sex with him, which was awkward at best but thoroughly amusing throughout. The sad refrain of senile Jimmy the mood considerably, reminding that it’s not all fun and games even when things seem to be going well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pilot Review: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst (FX)
Premiered July 17 at 10:30pm

Consider this the surprise of the summer. A title like this doesn’t suggest too much in the way of inspiring quality, and the few quick promos I saw during the pilot of “Married” only reinforced that. Fortunately, this show managed to defy expectations and actually turned out to be rather charming. Its title is spot-on, since it’s hard to find a wedding outburst scene these days that manages to feel original, and Jimmy really is the worst. Gretchen does give him a pretty good run for his money, and it’s a blast to get to know the two of them. Jimmy’s interactions with his child neighbor were quite amusing, and his roommate Edgar has some pretty worthwhile things to say too. Ultimately, though, this pilot was all about its two protagonists, Jimmy and Gretchen, both outcasts from society because of their truly despicable behavior who managed to find each other and revel in their shared passion for not caring about anything. Their sex-filled night was entertaining, and I like that moments like the curious spitting were referenced later when Gretchen was trying to recreate the same detached lovemaking with someone else. Best of all was the ending scene, in which they shared a true connection and Gretchen indulged Jimmy’s foot fetish just for fun. I have no idea whether this show can follow up on that or if I’m just high off the end of the pilot, but I’m hopeful that this might just be an unexpected gem of depraved comedy with an endearing touch.

How will it work as a series? This episode ended on a sweet note, but the question is where it goes from here. It’s important that both Jimmy and Gretchen remain unlikeable, and that their romance doesn’t actually materialize for real since that would defeat the purpose of this show. It’s a tall order, but I’m optimistic.
How long will it last? Not too long, I’m afraid. While this does suit FX’s new brand of comedies, the ratings just didn’t impress, especially compared with lead-in “Married,” which FX would surely choose over this one if it kept just one. Ten episodes is likely all we’ll get.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Married

Married (FX)
Premiered July 17 at 10pm

Because they premiered at the same time, it’s inevitable that this show will be compared to USA’s similarly-themed “Satisfaction.” It’s not entirely fair since this show is something altogether different. It’s emblematic of FX’s new brand of comedy, shuttling a few of its flagship comedies to new sister network FXX and holding on just to “Louie” and “Anger Management.” This show’s humor is reminiscent of the former show, with its protagonist wandering around awkwardly, fated to end up in uncomfortable situations laced with irony. I was a big fan of Nat Faxon in the underrated “Ben and Kate” a few years ago on FOX, and it’s great to see him back on TV. This role is considerably different, but he’s just as well-suited for it as he is for more physical comedy and sarcasm. Judy Greer, who is also a delight, has the opportunity here to be in a perpetual bad mood and deliver her lines with the most attitude possible. Having Jenny Slate and John Hodgman in the supporting cast is an added treat, and this ensemble is perfectly set up for sardonic humor. Watching Faxon’s Russ shop around for a mistress and then find just the girl for it proved hilariously entertaining, particularly with his ill-fated dog purchase and his daughter’s subsequent discovery of that same dog. I think this show could well prove to be enjoyable on a weekly basis, though it’s not almost going to pleasant to watch its characters worm their way out of unfortunate and regrettable situations.

How will it work as a series? Greer’s Lina can only be cool with her husband not being straight with her and insinuating that he may or may not have just come from an extramarital affair for so long, so it’s a question of whether this show is able to make her just as interesting a character as him and to make them both drastically and comically believable.
How long will it last? This show managed to succeed well with its target audience in its initial offering, and it bested its lead-out, “You’re the Worst,” making it easy for FX to decide which of the two shows it should keep going forward. I think this could be a good companion for “Louie,” and I suspect FX will want to stick with it.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Satisfaction

Satisfaction (USA)
Premiered July 17 at 10pm

This is one of those shows that has been advertised so blatantly that it’s near impossible not to have heard of it. That said, its advertisements aren’t entirely accurate, since it makes it seem like two people involved in a joint pact to find sexual fulfillment elsewhere (see FX’s superior effort aired at this same time, “Married,” for that). Instead, only one party is woefully aware that, despite all he does to try to make her happy, she still insists on calling her escort companion, whose cell phone happens to be in her husband’s possession. He’s not blameless either, constantly at work and barely present in his family life. It’s hard to find Americans starring in American television shows anymore, and so it’s no surprise that Australian Matt Passmore and French actress Stephanie Szostak are at the helm of this particular series. I liked Passmore when he was the star of “The Glades,” a show that I didn’t even process was no longer airing, and I don’t think his role here in nearly as entertaining since he’s cast as a dramatic protagonist whose smooth talking could use some work. Compared to “Hung,” this show doesn’t have nearly the same appeal, but its premise isn’t quite the same. I think that this show is trying to do too much at once, and I’m not sure it’s capable of managing it all. There is some potential here, but it hasn’t yet been realized since both Neil and Grace need to be fleshed out much more fully as characters. It’s light entertainment, but hardly classifies as must-see.

How will it work as a series? It seems highly implausible that Neil could continue to balance everything in his life and string along his wife while he had a whole separate career as an escort. Posing as Simon and stealing his clients also doesn’t seem sustainable, so I’m somewhat curious but not all that optimistic to see how this show plans to keep those storylines going.
How long will it last? The pilot did better than the show that aired before it, “Rush,” but not by too much. It’s very possible that the advertising campaign for this show will lead to considerable disappointment, and I think the ratings will suffer as a result. I don’t see this one lasting past the season.

Pilot grade: C

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pilot Review: Rush

Rush (USA)
Premiered July 17 at 9pm

One of USA’s big successes has been “Royal Pains,” its show about a doctor fired from a top New York City hospital for choosing morality over money who becomes a concierge doctor in the Hamptons. Clearly the network likes this brand, as it has engineered a show that is similar in premise but slightly different in execution. Substitute getting fired because of a drug addiction and swap in Los Angeles for the Hamptons, and you have this show. Tom Ellis’ Dr. William Rush is no Hank Lawson. He’s far from a nice guy, and doing the right thing for him means teaching an abusive athlete not to hit women by bashing his hand in with a baseball bat. While it’s certainly more serious than the Hamptons-set show sometimes tends to be, it isn’t necessarily any more compelling. We’ve seen enough flawed doctors on television for a lifetime, and I think a drug addiction hardly makes Rush stand out from the crowd. Odette Annable’s Sarah does help to humanize him, as does his loyal assistant Eve, but otherwise, he’s in over his head way too much, enlisting henchmen to collect bills when he knows that he’ll be forever indebted to them for their service. I’m also not sure that Rush is a character worthy of this network, since he doesn’t have the charisma the show seems to think he does, charming enough but not able to deliver as much on the promise of his disarming demeanor. He’s a mediocre character on a show that too is pretty mediocre.

How will it work as a series? With a premise like this, there’s ample opportunity for drama, both comedic and heavier in nature, with the revolving door of clients who might call upon Rush for medical attention and also call upon him for steeper favors. We’ve seen this before, which suggests that it will be entertaining but hardly original.
How long will it last? Maybe not so long. The ratings for the pilot didn’t impress all that much, and I think that the show doesn’t seem unique enough to draw an audience all its own. The summer is the perfect launching pad, and so if the ratings haven’t improved by the end of the show’s first season in early September, I think that will be it.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 2, Episode 5 “Act As If” (B+)

Plenty is changing on this show as its characters are being put into new situations where they have the opportunity to share feelings and opinions that haven’t been dredged up recently. Most startling was the aftermath of Daniel’s visit to a store while on the hunt for a new, or rather old, stove. It does make sense that the people most likely to approach Daniel with an open mind would be those with a more open attitude to most things. That doesn’t mean that Daniel would necessarily respond well to such invitations, and he did his best being put in his first mass social situation in a long time, standing up most importantly for his desire not to be physically chained to anything. We’ve seen the effect of being on death row on Daniel, but not as much on Janet, particularly in how she dealt with the repeated news that Daniel was not going to be executed and that a chapter of her life would still remain open. It’s disconcerting to know that Senator Foulkes is still actively building a case against Daniel, far from satisfied with the notion of even ten years in prison. Amantha is failing miserably at her new job, and something tells me that the opportunity to move to Boston and start over won’t ultimately appeal. It’s so interesting to see how Tawney and Ted look at each other, and to hear them discuss business, college, and pregnancy all in the same conversation with a sort of detached but curious outlook.

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 2 “Ghost of a Flea” (B)

Last season, we didn’t know the identity of the main villain but we had an idea of the message he wanted to get across. In this season, we’re well aware of the primary threat – Franka Potente’s deadly Eleanor Nacht – but don’ really know just what she’s up to, only that it’s extremely malicious. Somehow she’s more terrifying stringing a poor and all too willing teenager along by promising him the opportunity to touch her than with her ear-slicing henchman in tow. Her identity has become immediately clear, as the corrupt Mexican authorities want to make sure that she is found right away and Sonya managed to grab a screen capture of her walking through immigration. It’s hard to tell where Marco falls at the moment since he’s struggling to stay on a good path but is being pulled in multiple directions mostly as a result of the vengeful favor he requested at the end of last season. He was awfully frank with Sonya about what he had been told to by his superiors but left out the very crucial detail of needing to bring Eleanor in before she did. Abraham Benrubi’s DEA agent is sure to further complicate things, and then there’s Daniel’s investigation with Adriana, which are getting more and more serious by the minute with an especially pungent and deadly development. I’m still waiting to see more of Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte, who has gone unmentioned in both this episode and the season premiere but is definitely one of the show’s strongest characters.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I’m Watching: Wilfred

Wilfred: Season 4, Episode 5 “Forward” (B)

This episode had a bizarre introduction and structure to it, utilizing the black-and-white flashback device to fill in missing pieces of time much more than ever before. It was strange to see Ryan torturing Wilfred, both because it was physical rather than emotional and because it usually happens the other way around, as it inevitably did later in the episode. It’s about time Ryan started baiting Wilfred to do something devious to catch him in an exaggeration or outright fabrication, and it would be nice if, for once, Ryan managed to gain the upper hand in a situation. What was different and interesting about how this played out is that Ryan’s efforts to get Wilfred thrown out of the preschool interview for Joffrey – complete with alcohol, a gerbil, and ski mask – were allegedly done in Ryan’s best interest. For once, that may have been true, since Amanda was at the school. The revelation that she was a janitor and not a teacher was a sad one since she was clearly so distraught by her breakup with Ryan. The suspicion that Wilfred is an evil dog and not actually Ryan’s friend is somewhat legitimate, though I think Wilfred is capable of plenty of malicious behavior all on his own without being possessed or impersonated. He’s also pretty terrible at making tied-to-a-chair puns while exacting his revenge, infusing some uncomfortable comedy into an uneasy situation that seems less and less like it will end on a positive note for our good friend Ryan.

Round Two: Extant

Extant: Season 1, Episode 2 “Extinct” (C+)

I didn’t comment last week on the fact that this show’s very brief opening credits display the word “extinct” before morphing it into “extant,” which to the best of my understanding means the opposite. Featuring a visit to a natural history museum is a bit of a direct and explicit way of analyzing the human race and where it’s headed, with Ethan as the artificial intelligence being who is self-aware enough to tell another computer that he’s not human and Molly pregnant with what may very well be an alien baby. It’s not entirely clear what’s going on and who’s responsible, though Hideki and Alan obviously know much more than they’re letting on and have some sort of sinister plan brewing. It’s going to be a long road until Molly finally confesses that she is with child to her husband, and I think that’s some relationship drama that could be lowered considerably by her coming clean instead of putting it off to drive him away even more in the interim. Brad Beyer’s deceased astronaut appears to be very much alive, showing up right in front of where Molly works to pick her up and rush her off to some secret place to converse and let her know what happened to him while he was away. I’m not so on board with his creepy mom following him around the ship with a longing look on her face since that’s pretty frightening, but his swift decision to airlock her is considerably more interesting and shows that he’s trying to be on top of his sanity, which isn’t an easy task on this show.

What I’m Watching: Tyrant

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 4 “Sins of the Father” (C+)

This show is not moving quickly at the moment, seemingly stalled as Bassam tries to slow the dictatorial efforts of his brother and to help ease the severity of his responses as much as possible. With no reference to the public hanging that occurred last week, this was all about how Jamal and his government were going to crack down in anticipation of the reaction to the anniversary of a brutal event in the history of the Al Fayeed family and their country. Maybe it’s that all of this is too cut-and-dry, with Bassam advocating for a more moderate way of dealing with political protest and Jamal and his top advisors underlining the necessity of keeping the public calm and in line by instilling fear in them. Bassam’s strongest point of the hour was about not avoiding violence because it’s wrong but rather because it doesn’t work. The rest of the episode wasn’t much more enticing or enthralling, featuring no plot or character development whatsoever for Molly and little for Emma, and instead spotlighting Sammy, who has already had more than enough time to shine. Painting Abdul as his father’s son makes sense even though it seems out of character for him, and Sammy definitely needs to take a moment to comprehend where he is and what the implications would be if someone were to discover his predilections, and how much worse they would be for the man he’s into since he doesn’t have the benefit of being an Al Fayeed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 7 “Population 25” (B+)

This was one intense hour, especially for an episode that started out rather calmly with the only real danger being Sean boring Vic to death on a road trip in his ill-advised convertible. Unfortunately, far more sinister things with much bigger implications were at work, one of which wasn’t resolved and will keep viewers on the edge of their seats until next week. I’ve been a fan of Peter Stormare’s since “Fargo,” and while I think his villainous turn here is quite different than the one there, namely because of his enthusiasm for dramatic flair and verbal prowess, he’s just as terrific. Vic really did pick the wrong driveway, and that escalated very quickly. Trying supposed traitors in a frightening trial is something that we’ve seen elsewhere, like on “Person of Interest” recently, but putting helmets on people’s heads and then bashing them with baseball bats is probably more disconcerting and scary. It was strange to see Sean under pressure, because at first he seemed woefully incompetent and then he actually did alright, even though he didn’t seem terribly fazed by the gravity of the situation. What was most interesting about this episode was seeing Ed Gorski show up and work hard to get Walt to trust him, initially appearing hostile but ultimately showing signs of good faith and going in side-by-side with Walt. The sheriff may not have found his wife’s killer, but he is certainly face-to-face with a formidable enemy, and let’s hope this encounter doesn’t leave him down for the count.

What I’m Watching: 24 (Season Finale)

24: Season 9, Episode 12 “Day 9: 10pm-11am” (F)

It’s hard to know if this should be termed a season finale or a series finale since this show signed off a while ago only to emerge again. What this finale did is it cheated, skipping ahead twelve hours to a convenient point in time when funeral arrangements were all too hastily prepared and events conveniently took place over the span of just a few minutes. Dissecting this admittedly terrible finale isn’t an easy task, since it’s puzzling to decipher just what the point of it all is. The absurd speed at which things happen, like Kate managing to track Audrey down in minutes despite having no clue where she was before dillydallying rather than taking action, ultimately leading to Audrey getting fatally shot. You’d think that more caution would be exercised, but that hardly seems wise since Jack appears to be destined for eternal misery. As if his holding a sword to Cheng’s neck to get him to admit his name (which hardly seems necessary when facial recognition has already confirmed his identity) while on camera with the president wasn’t brazen enough, Jack had to go ahead and slice his head off, both sparing Cheng of the punishment he might endure in prison and ensuring that he could be prosecuted for a crime that he most obviously committed. Jack turning himself over to the Russians in exchange for Chloe is an even bleaker resolution, hardly fitting of comparison to the way the show ended, with Jack going on the run, or even how previous seasons finished, like Jack faking his death or being captured by the Chinese. This show could well return, and I’d certainly hope for a more coherent, optimistic effort next time. This wasn’t worth it.

Season grade: D
Season MVP: Yvonne Strahovski as Kate

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pilot Review: The Strain

The Strain (FX)
Premiered July 13 at 10pm

After seeing a photo of an up-close eye on a sidewalk advertisement for weeks, I wasn’t anticipating this show very much, especially because it seemed like it skewed a bit too close to horror for me. Perhaps that lack of excitement was why I did actually enjoy this first extended episode. I’ve watched other shows about the outbreak of a virus in the past – most recently “Helix,” which I didn’t find particularly interesting – and it’s always hard to find a balance between the gravity of some unknown pathogen seeping its way into society and the inevitable way in which people dismiss serious concerns or clues that seem crazy at the same time. That scene in which Dr. Ephram Goodweather laughs off what appear the rantings of a senile old man was right-on, so foolish in concept but so likely in execution. I’m not suggesting that the writing is superb here, because at times it can be a bit much, but there is a decent storyline going on with Ephram’s complicated family life and his sexual history with his partner, Dr. Nora Martinez. At first, I almost didn’t recognize Corey Stoll, who was last seen on “House of Cards,” mainly because Ephram displays such a sense of self-confidence that his last character didn’t have. I remember Mia Maestro, who plays Nora, from her days on “Alias,” and she seems competent enough for her role. The other familiar face in the cast is Sean Astin, originally big as a hobbit and far better here than he was on his one-season arc in “24.” I’m not sure exactly where the show goes from here, but it’s clear there are many competing interests at play and few of them seem to be for the true good of the world. I think I’d like the show a bit more if the virus didn’t manifest itself in such a physical, demonic way with the hooded monster (apparently it has something to do with vampires), but I suppose it’s not that bad. An eerie thriller that’s not too creepy or downright scary is just fine in my book.

How will it work as a series? Dead people are coming back to life, and they’re definitely possessed! One villain suggested walking the streets of New York City one last time before everything changes, so I suspect things are just going to get worse as time goes on, which could certainly be enthralling.
How long will it last? The premiere numbers were great, and FX hasn’t really tried Sunday nights too much before, so that’s a very good thing. Besting the network’s other recent series debuts bodes very well, and I can’t see why FX wouldn’t want to capitalize on this success.

Pilot grade: B

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex (Season Premiere)

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 1 “Parallax” (B-)

By the end of last season, I wasn’t so enamored with this show anymore, and this premiere doesn’t inspire much confidence. That said, it’s an obviously transitional installment, and so it’s hard to tell how the chips will fall. Bill flashing back to his perfect moment of truth with Virginia quickly turned into him sitting at home in the dark with a baby crying in the background, a harsh reminder of the current reality of his situation. The episode deliberately tried to trick its viewers into thinking that the two timelines being shown were one and the same, where in fact it appears that Bill and Virginia’s honeymoon period was short-lived and is now purely professional, as much as that can be the case. Bill turning up the music to drown out his baby’s cries was hardly kind, but pushing his caring mother away was truly cruel, particularly to Libby. Virginia’s life isn’t all that enthralling at the moment, thanks to her constantly being propositioned. Fortunately, one person appreciates her work, and she may just have a bright future ahead. Austin continues to be the comic relief of the show, managing not only to fool around on his wife but being indiscriminate enough to do so with her sister. Scully’s shock therapy was unpleasant to watch, as were its aftereffects, namely Scully trying to commit suicide after an unsuccessful attempt to seduce Margaret. Danny Huston went from a meaty role on one 1960s-set show, “Magic City,” to another one on this, and I’m intrigued to see what kind of part he’ll play going forward in Bill’s professional life.

Take Three: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 3 “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (B+)

It’s a brave thing for a show to feature just one of its characters so early into its run. The first two episodes of this show have introduced us to this world and how it works, but what this episode managed to do was dig deep into the soul of one particular person. It’s strange to see Matt framed in a positive light since, before this, he was cast as a villain, deriding the good names of those who disappeared in the rapture. Now, we get a full picture of his life, as he struggles to make ends meet while sticking true to his convictions, insisting upon the merits of his work despite nearly everyone being against him. Connecting him to Nora was very effective, since the two loneliest people in town actually share a connection. His run-in with Laurie when he went to get the money was powerful, and what happened next was just mesmerizing. Watching him bet the money over and over, managing to win an incredible amount, only to be mugged in the parking lot before going nuts on his attacker, then getting hit by a rock when he stopped to help someone on his way to the bank, was entirely gripping. His subsequent visit to the bank brought this show back to its supernatural roots with the lost time, and then that look from Patti sealed it all. This show has such a grim and eerie outlook, and this chronicle of a cursed man was a fantastic introduction.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan (Season Premiere)

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 1 “Yo Soy Capitan” (B+)

In the time signed this show signed off following its first season, I had forgotten just how good this series was. Sure, Emmy nominee Jon Voight is great, but he’s hardly its sole recommender. The “previously on” segment reminded me of the first season’s quality, and this episode set in a motion what looks to be a fantastic follow-up. It’s hard to match Ray’s bold coolness, always ready to storm in angrily and silently to tackle any situation head-on. Marching in to introduce himself to Hank Azaria’s Agent Cochran and confessing that he paid Sully to kill his father was extremely brazen, but I suppose he has a plan. I’m very excited to see Azaria in this role and look forward to his interactions with Ray. Unfortunately, Ray’s being distracted by too many problems at home with his kids, and his therapy isn’t helping much, especially considering his reaction when he inevitably finds out that Abby told the therapist about his having been molested. Daryll seems to be all grown up, and he’d be doing much better for himself if his father wasn’t betting against him on a fight he arranged. The sight of Bunchy wearing a tie and shorts and actually trying to do well for himself is affirming, and let’s just hope that his new friend doesn’t have devious aims. Ezra, as always, is entertaining and on a whole separate level, spewing Jewish phrases with perfect emphasis. While she continues to be underused, Lena’s brief appearance was probably my favorite, coming to the rescue of a gunshot victim before threatening to shoot her again if she didn’t stick to the story.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 4 “Death is Not the End” (B)

This show is all over the place, with this episode featuring some strong moments and some less cohesive and compelling ones. The music changed immensely throughout the hour, and as usual I find the gothic, moody undertones to be the most effective. Starting out with lots of death notifications and a brief scene with a clueless Hoyt set the stage for a grim and serious episode, and that’s definitely how things panned out as our small group rallied for the fight of their lives. It turns out that, while Arlene came pretty close to leaving this world, which would have been a miserable fate given how sweet and innocent she was for the whole of the show, things turned out pretty decently, with no major casualties among the good guys. The fight turned into an unnecessary choreography right away, but at least it didn’t last all that long, and we got to see both Bill and Eric rushing to the aid of those they care about to protect them from the true death. Seeing Eric sick is a frightening and pitiful sight, and I suppose that’s why we got the glory shot of him walking in as an awed Ginger looked on. Learning that Pam glamored Ginger into forgetting that she had come up with the idea for Fangtasia isn’t earth-shattering news, but it does underline the fact that, as Lafayette demonstrates, humans are pretty necessary to the enduring survival of vampires. While she’s supposed to be the positive protagonist, Sookie continues to be excessively irritating and likely won’t stop until the show signs off.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 6 “You Also Have a Pizza” (B+)

Valentine’s Day is a great framework for any show, and setting it in prison gives it an additional edge. It was especially fitting that the guards got to shine, as Healy tried to convey his affection for the wife who hates him and Caputo’s attempts to romance Fischer didn’t go as he planned. Inviting other prison guards to what was supposed to be a date was painful enough, and seeing her flirting with Luschek was even more miserable. It’s quite a feat that Caputo has become a sympathetic character, and a credit to the show for reframing him as such. I particularly enjoyed Crazy Eyes comforting Lorna while everyone else celebrated love, and it’s nice to know that sometimes she knows exactly what to say. Big Boo and Nicky’s sex competition may be over, but their antics continue to be truly enjoyable. It’s understandable that Piper would be annoyed by Larry’s latest attempt to take advantage of her situation in prison to get a story, but she seems just as intent on pursuing it. Larry planting a kiss on Polly wasn’t the smartest choice, but I suspect it’s not the last we’ve seen of that budding romance. It’s good to see Red back on top, though Vee is clearly climbing at the same time, which could lead to increased rivalry. John’s lack of discretion is worrisome, and him being blackmailed by Daya’s supposed friends is probably going to lead to more troubling concerns. It’s great to see a bit of Poussey’s past, and even though we didn’t really get a sense of what landed her in prison, it’s obvious that her life has been a series of deep attachments and then serious disappointments because someone told her that she shouldn’t feel the way she did.

Pilot Review: Working the Engels

Working the Engels (NBC)
Premiered July 8 at 9:30pm

I’m not sure a show with this title ever had much promise, but I’m certainly not pleased with the results. There are plenty of comedies that are far too familiar and seem rather uncreative (this show’s lead-in, “Welcome to Sweden,” is a prime example). And then there are those that are truly awful, so seemingly committed to recycling every sitcom concept that it’s impossible to find an original idea buried underneath the rubble. This show opts for the format of introducing its very broad characters with snippets from their unimpressive lives highlighted by written text. It’s not necessarily lazy, but it’s certainly not highly productive. It’s hard to decide which character is the worst, though I think that dishonor might have to go to Azura Skye’s Sandy, who is an addict to her own drama more than anything else and is completely off the rails. At least Kacey Rohl’s Jenna is grounded in trying to actually be competent and successful despite obstacles at every turn, and Benjamin Arthur’s Jimmy knows that he has no ambition and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. I’ll admit that the one laugh I did find in this premiere was his telling a bar patron that he was born in 1978 but didn’t look 78. Don’t even get me started on Andrea Martin’s booze-downing matriarch Ceil, who is the most poorly defined character on this show. The idea of them working together in a law office is rather nauseating, and I don’t see what could be very funny about that, especially considering the intellectual prowess of their first client. I’m not at all interested in seeing where this show goes.

How will it work as a series? Not well at all. Dumber comedies than this have aired before, but I can tell just how sophisticated this is going to be by the way this show has portrayed its central players thus far. I can only imagine what kind of miserable oddballs will drop by the office and force Jenna to question why she ever decided to pick things up back at her father’s practice rather than be trained to dance like a monkey in her old job.
How long will it last? This show is airing as a coproduction between NBC and Global in Canada, where it aired its first season back in March. That might help it, but this show’s ratings paled in comparison to the already less than dazzling numbers for lead-in “Welcome to Sweden.” I think one and done is this show’s fate unless Canadians disagree. Good riddance.

Pilot grade: F-

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pilot Review: Welcome to Sweden

Welcome to Sweden (NBC)
Premiered July 8 at 9pm

It’s not every day you hear about a show from a country like Sweden coming over to the United States in its original form rather than as an American remake. But it’s also not often that an American actor creates a series for in English for Swedish television. Greg Poehler, brother of Amy Poehler, isn’t actually an actor, but this series is based on his life. In many ways, it’s an innovative premise, and in others, it’s completely familiar and reminiscent of what sitcoms have been like for decades. Sure, Bruce quitting his job as a talent agent to move to Sweden to be with the love of his life might be a modification of a character losing his chief executive job and moving back to his small hometown with his family, but it’s not all that different. What is supposed to be new is every trope related to Sweden, which includes broken English – though Emma’s parents speak the language much better than they let on – taking a boat to a place where you could drive, steaming together naked, and toasting “skal” over and over with plenty of alcohol. Singing at the dinner table doesn’t seem as realistic, while other parts of the show, like the critical parents unimpressed with Bruce’s life plan, are more universal. Poehler is a likeable and pitiable dweeb, while Josephine Bornebusch’s Emma has much less of a personality than her family members. It’s good to see Lena Olin in a role from her home country, though this hardly demands as much of her as her Emmy-nominated turn on “Alias” did. This show is somewhat fun fluff, but nothing more.

How will it work as a series? Bruce made it to Sweden, and once he’s able to sleep for a few hours, maybe he’ll have an easier time adjusting. If the show emphasized things like the sun never setting during the summer and other unique and distinctly Swedish cultural facets, it might prove to be more intelligent than this first installment seemed.
How long will it last? The ratings weren’t superb, but launching a show in early July isn’t exactly a great catapult to stellar viewership. As far as summer series go, this one did perform decently, and I think having Greg’s brother Amy on board as an executive producer could help given NBC’s fondness for her. That and the fact that the show has already been picked up for a second season in Sweden.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 2, Episode 4 “Donald the Normal” (B+)

I kept saying that I might not continue watching this show, but whenever Thursday rolls around, I find it hard to resist giving this show just one more shot. Despite drowning in an overly loud and inappropriate score which changed dramatically and inconsistently throughout the hour, this episode was actually a relatively strong, showing Daniel in a way that we’ve never seen him before: wandering around like a normal person whose identity and supposed sins are unknown to those around him. Watching him unassumingly get off a bus, pull out a map, and introduce himself as Donald to a friendly woman at a museum. Frances Fisher was a great guest, imbuing Daniel with a sense of self that he’s never been able to possess because of the circumstances in which we’ve come to know him. His visit to Kerwin’s family was powerful, mostly for the reaction of his mother to Daniel coming by. Taking apart the kitchen was a major move, but I think it will be good to give him a sense of purpose. Amantha sure could use that, and hopefully a dull retail job will be just the thing to get her out of her permanent bad mood. Ted and Tawney’s marriage, while deeply unsettling, continues to be fascinating to watch, as Ted’s inability to deal with Tawney being nice led to an uncomfortable scene in which a drunken Ted tried to force himself on an unimpressed and miserable Tawney. Ted sharing what happened with Daniel is a worrisome development, but it seems that he doesn’t want to expose him, just to let someone else know that it happened so that he doesn’t think he’s crazy.

What I’m Watching: The Bridge (Season Premiere)

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 1 “Yankee” (B)

In the midst of Emmy season, it’s strange not to find this series, which I named the fourth best new show of 2013, completely absent. What this premiere, which isn’t entirely cohesive, does demonstrate is that it has two of the most fascinating lead characters currently on television. Diane Kruger had to grow on me for a bit as Sonya, but I’ve gotten used to her and now find her intensely awkward demeanor highly appealing. Her behavior in this episode was considerably bolder and more brazen than usual, though her appetite for sexual affairs was previewed last season. Hooking up with the brother of her sister’s murderer is rather twisted, even if she doesn’t have some sinister, manipulative plan at work to get revenge (I suspect it’s just a case of trying to connect to someone). Marco is a mess, and it’s interesting to see him appointed by his corrupt captain to deal with the lawyer who wants to make a name for himself. At first sight, Marco might not seem like a clean cop, and unfortunately his season-ending efforts to kill David Tate don’t suggest that he’ll be able to be seen as one for much longer going forward. Hank continues to be a strong supporting character, and I’m also happy to see a drunken Daniel and Adriana used well. It was jarring to see Brian Baumgartner of “The Office” as Daniel’s friend, but I suppose he’s well suited to play the straight man in a more comic plotline. Franka Potente’s Eleanor is pretty terrifying, and watching her command her all-too-eager disciple to cut off an innocent’s ear makes me question whether watching shows like this is worth it due to their disturbing content. I think I’ll stick around due to the general quality of the show.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What I’m Watching: Wilfred

Wilfred: Season 4, Episode 4 “Answers” (B+)

This was a very trippy episode, reminiscent of when Ryan woke up in the mental asylum being treated by Robin Williams from “Good Will Hunting.” What was eerier about this installment was that it didn’t seem like anything was amiss at first, and only when Ryan realized that the shock machine wasn’t plugged in did he begin to piece together that something was seriously wrong. Kristen executing some serious martial arts moves was an unexpected sight, but the truly unnerving moment of the episode was seeing Wilfred in human form, unzipping his dog suit and showing his true human body before realizing that things were at a code red. It seemed for a second that it was all over and the ruse had been discovered, but of course this is just more unsettling evidence that whatever Wilfred is, his existence is malicious and deceptive in nature. What’s consistently excellent about this show, aside from the way in which it identifies its surreal moments with warped cinematography akin to Ryan’s perception of the world around him, is Elijah Wood’s lead performance. He’s truly committed to his role in a way that demands extraordinary effort. Jason Gann, while great, doesn’t ever have to do too much since his role is originally funny. Wood, on the other hand, delivers a focused, often frantic portrayal of a man utterly unable to stay in charge of his own life, forever in servitude to the occasionally malicious whims of those around him, a list which certainly includes Wilfred.

Pilot Review: Extant

Extant (CBS)
Premiered July 9 at 8pm

Halle Berry doing television any time of the year on a cable network would be relatively surprising, therefore her headlining a summer show on CBS is even more interesting. An executive producer credit from Steven Spielberg adds considerable gravitas to this off-season sci-fi effort, and makes this easily one of the most alluring series of the summer. I’ve never found Berry to be a particularly terrific actress, Oscar win notwithstanding, but movie actors switching to television doesn’t almost mean top-notch acting. It’s more about the appeal of the project, and the fact that someone like Berry would be interested in taking on a weekly role. The plot here is definitely inviting, featuring a suspicious solo astronaut setup, and the very puzzling revelation that Berry’s Molly is pregnant. The suspenseful events aboard the ship were very well-done, and I wish that the episode as a whole was more about that than awkwardly creepy run-ins by the garbage can. I like the fact that Brad Beyer’s supposedly deceased astronaut is actually alive, but his “don’t trust anyone” warning felt a bit melodramatic and forced. I do like the cast, which includes Beyer of “Jericho,” Michael O’Neill of “24” and much since then, Goran Visjnic of “ER,” Hiroyuki Sanada, recently seen on “Helix,” Grace Gummer from “The Newsroom” and much more, and Camryn Manheim from “The Practice” and “Person of Interest.” They’re of more interest to me than Berry, and I think that this show might be able to prove a stirring summer series. I’m definitely up for another look.

How will it work as a series? Molly is going to have trouble keeping the fact that she is pregnant a secret, and Alan and Hideki are already making shady moves to ensure that she is under close surveillance. Robot Ethan adds an entirely different dimension of problems, as his emotions and whole personality are subject to the potential for serious malfunctions. To me, this has the making of a strong series.
How long will it last? CBS would love to have another hit to position alongside its breakout from last summer, “Under the Dome.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be it. Maybe its random mid-July launch explains it, but I think the ratings here won’t be enough for CBS, even though they’re pretty good compared to anything else. I see no reason why CBS wouldn’t air the initial thirteen episodes, but I doubt there’s more to come after that.

Pilot grade: B-

Take Three: Tyrant

Tyrant: Season 1, Episode 3 “My Brother’s Keeper” (C+)

I’m hopeful that this show isn’t going completely downhill, but this episode definitely had some thematic flaws to it. I understand that Bassam (referring to him as Barry doesn’t feel right) is supposed to be positioned as the moral center of the show, but he’s still far from a saint. Speaking up in a meeting against the idea of a man being hung without having a trial first only counts as decent if you push it and don’t just let it go. Finding out that the culprit was actually not guilty should have triggered an immediate desire to save him rather than needing to be convinced of the validity of the information. It’s possible that this show will end up being much more about Bassam becoming his brother than the other way around, especially since he still let someone be executed publicly, even if it was accompanied by the release of a bunch of the prisoners who had been rounded up. Soon enough, the idea that Molly ever wanted to leave will be forgotten, and hopefully she and her children will have the opportunity to acclimate to life in Abbudin the same way Bassam has. Sammy is certainly getting comfortable, and let’s hope that, should the need arise, being the president’s brother really does give Bassam the authority to decide who lives and who dies. For now, getting to know the supporting characters would be useful, and getting a peak at Abbudin outside of the castle as seen through new eyes couldn’t hurt either.

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 3, Episode 6 “Reports of My Death” (B+)

First of all, let’s give this show a hand for its terrific title. It does reference a pretty fantastic scene and some superb dialogue delivery too. The framework of this episode was very strong, featuring the mystery of who killed the missing man worth millions and whether said man was actually who people believed him to be. What this episode did well was it created a viable suspect who ended up being anything but threatening, setting Ferg up for some serious hurt and instead allowing him the opportunity to be complicit in the real Wells’ escape from his terrible family. It’s hard to determine who was really right or wrong in this situation, but this episode presented the question in a very worthwhile and often entertaining way. Vic going with Branch on his stakeout was an important move and an equally unwelcome one, but at least it’s good that she’s proactively looking out for him and trying to help him before he crosses the line again and gets himself into real trouble. Henry seems hell bent on violating his parole, but for good reason. His tracking of Malachi seemed personal and ill-advised, but instead it revealed something much more vital and unsettling. His apparent complicity in the murder of Walt’s wife is sure to set off a domino effect of worrisome developments in the county, and it will provide Cady with an impetus for being more involved and getting more screentime, which is certainly not a bad thing as things intensify over the course of the coming episodes.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 9, Episode 11 “Day 9: 9:00pm-10:00pm” (D-)

It’s hard to believe how we got here, with two presidents on the phone with each other trying to stop a war that’s already begun from starting and Jack doing whatever he feels like in search of some impossible solution that will resolve this whole conflict. It turns out that the Russians ambushing Jack and Kate as they were about to close in on Chloe wasn’t a coincidence, and that Anatol is working directly with Cheng to create world conflict that the two can spin to their advantage. It would seem logical, therefore, for Anatol to have warned Cheng that Jack was in London and so close to tracking him. Instead, it was possible for Jack to immediately uncover another would-be traitor’s identity thanks to his uncovered trail and all of a sudden a fully cooperative Mark was on the way to Anatol’s private residence, an address known to the chief of staff who didn’t realize he was a criminal, even though Jack thought that was completely obvious. Mark, an inconsequential character, came out with barely a scratch, while the potentially useful person, Anatol, ended up dead pretty much at Mark’s hands. Now, Cheng managed to be on the run and keep a close eye on Audrey, enough to take out all her kids and position himself for some terrific revenge on Jack. What was just hours ago a global conflict and might still be one has now transformed into a fully personal vendetta, which, if nothing else, ties this show together by harking back to the great days of season one when an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate and lone CTU agent was all about personal payback. Those were the days…

Friday, July 11, 2014

Round Two: The Leftovers

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 2 “Penguin One, Us Zero” (B+)

In its second outing, this show demonstrates that it’s extremely dark, and isn’t going to offer any sort of satisfying, peaceful sentiment anytime soon. The level of detail is impressive, namely the notion of an insurance representative going door-to-door assessing claims of those who disappeared in the rapture. This show has constructed for itself some intense, disturbed characters, and it’s fascinating to see them interact with each other. Jill’s obsession with Nora is an intriguing way to learn about one character, with another tailing her and judging her as she goes about her daily business. Kevin, meanwhile, is having lots of trouble convincing people that his dog-killing friend Dean exists, though that haunting scene near the end confirms that he does seem to be real and that he is going to continue to involve Kevin is his crusade against what he believes are no longer their dogs. Laurie’s newfound role as mentor to Meg is very interesting, and it’s a fantastic way to get to know this particular cult. The final scene with Meg triumphantly swinging at the tree was enormously effective, and this series manages to capture the long-honored tradition of HBO episodes feeling like full movies, ending on a stirring and affecting note. Whatever is going on with Kevin’s son is definitely worrisome, but I do think this show has done well by focusing on a family unit where each parent is in a completely different place and the two children are just as determined and forceful in their chosen perspectives on society and what they plan to do to change it.

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 7, Episode 3 “Fire in the Hole” (B)

This episode was a bit more put together, and certainly included its share of monumental developments. It’s exciting to see that Sarah Newlin is back since she’s been one of the show’s more consistent characters, plus it means a chance for the fabulous Anna Camp to play one of her more juicy roles. Unfortunately, her carefully-timed lovemaking was followed by the decapitation of her sexual partner and cult leader, and it seems that his murderers aren’t the only ones after her, since Eric seemed mighty eager to track her down when Pam revealed that she was alive. The flashback to Eric choosing his human over Pam was stirring, though not quite as much as the flashback to Bill’s family being photographed before the war by a Fortenberry. The early rescue of the imprisoned townsfolk by Jessica and Andy was a far too optimistic indicator of things to come, since Sam’s vampire colleague got blown away pretty quickly, and now he’s on the run too. Hoyt’s mom shooting Jessica wasn’t fatal for her target but did produce a surprisingly vengeful response from Violet, who just earlier was part of an entertaining conversation with Jason about adopting a child. James and Lafayette bonding was a treat, and I also find the reverend’s sermon to Willa very moving. The notion of Sookie literally being vampire bait is not surprising, and my favorite part of her time with Bill was their discussion of Six Flags. Alcide getting killed was a shock, and I guess it means that things are serious now and this is going to be one hell of a bloody final season.