Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 9 “Two Trains” (B+)

This was an intense episode, one that returned to this show’s roots as a western. It’s interesting to see just how much things have transformed, with Cullen, Durant, and Mickey firmly on the same side, squaring off with Sydney. This was a very much a cat-and-mouse game, with Cullen and Sydney marching around each other in town to intimidate the other into thinking that he was ready for what would come next. It did seem too obvious that Mickey would get caught trying to buy all the guns in town, but alas that was just what Cullen and Mickey hoped since it permitted Mickey to smuggle the key into the jail so that all the prisoners could free themselves just in time to be rescued by Cullen on the train. This cleverly-titled episode choice a perfect setting for its most dramatic scenes, and there was something gratifying and triumphant about seeing Cullen on top of that train ready to stand his ground and free his men. That he elicited a “thank you” from Durant before he got back to his grumbling was quite a feat. The standoff was intense and there were many casualties on both sides, but Sydney, like the snake he is, managed to get away, meaning that he’ll haunt Cheyenne and the railroad for some time still to come. Campbell wasn’t subtle about his intentions with Louise, and she didn’t seem to mind his aggressive advances. This show has one more episode left next week before a month-long hiatus, and fortunately we’ll still have three full hours left in November before the show closes out its fourth year.

What I’m Watching: Parenthood (Season Premiere)

Parenthood: Season 6, Episode 1 “Vegas” (B+)

It’s always a welcome thing to have this show back, and it looks like its final year is going to be plenty compelling. We start off with the shocking confirmation that Amber is pregnant, a fact that she ends up sharing first with her cousin Haddie of all people. It’s clear that Amber is broken up about it, and the look on Sarah’s face at the end of the episode said it all. It’s going to be a tough road ahead, but we may finally be looking at a fourth generation of Bravermans. The first generation isn’t doing all that well considering Zeek passed out in Vegas, but it’s more his negative attitude towards any type of treatment that’s concerning. He and Camille are happy in their new house, but Zeek does need to be on top of his health. Adam’s distress as the idea of his least qualified sibling and his second least qualified sibling trying to help his dad was justified since both Crosby and Sarah endorsed him gambling instead of staying in the hospital. Julia’s love life is a complicated matter, as she’s very involved with her boss at work – probably not the best idea – and Joel is being the sweet, caring person he always has been in the face of crisis. It’s a triumphant accomplishment to see Kristina’s school finally open, and Adam couldn’t have given her a more perfect gift than convincing their son that he needed to support his mother and be the thirty-ninth student at the school they built for him.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pilot Review: How to Get Away with Murder

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Premiered September 25 at 9pm

Shonda Rhimes has done quite well for herself, managing to program an entire night on ABC with her shows. “Grey’s Anatomy” is now in its eleventh season, while “Scandal” is starting its four. Now, Rhimes is getting even more serious with this cleverly-titled show about a law school professor teaching a course about, well, you know. What this show does have going for it is Viola Davis, an actress I didn’t initially like when she earned an Oscar nomination for what I felt was no more than an adequate turn in “Doubt,” but I’ve come around to her more recently after “The Help” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” She has plenty of passion and fire in her, and she’s a great fit to play this famed teacher and lawyer who also happens to be having an affair with a cop more than occasionally involved in her cases. That’s the good; everything else doesn’t quite stack up. That she chooses favorites is irritating, and I’m none too impressed with the lot of them. This hardly seems like a terrific follow-up to “Orange is the New Black” for Matt McGorry, who played sympathetic guard John Bennett and here portrays the unapologetically annoying Asher Millstone. Ignoring the rest of the cast, I’m especially not into the murder plotline, which we’ve now seen involves the death of Annalise’s husband, illustrated through that always-unnecessary flashback. Maybe they’re just literally completing an assignment, but this is one course I have absolutely no interest in taking.

How will it work as a series? Presumably, each episode will involve a new case, though the murder of this college student is sure to take center stage, particularly because of its connection to the soon-to-be-deceased Sam Keating. As with Rhimes’ other shows, there’s going to be lots of sex, betrayal, and soapy drama to go with it.
How long will it last? Shockingly, it’s a hit! ABC did very well by putting all three of Rhimes’ shows in a row, and this show looks to be one of the biggest slam dunks of the fall so far. I’m sure ABC will capitalize on that and renew this show very soon.

Pilot grade: D+

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 12 “Quetzalcoatl” (B+)

Things aren’t looking particularly good for Marco at this point, especially considering how quickly Galvan’s demands were met by a man who supposedly wasn’t going to negotiate him. It’s so interesting to watch Marco interact with Galvan, pleading for his fellow prisoner to be given medical attention and then expressing unsurprised dismay at Galvan’s order to have the man shot. At least it appears that Marco and Sebastian’s daughter will be used as bargaining chips for Galvan to get out and may actually survive this whole thing. It’s a relief that Robles wasn’t around when Steven stopped by, but his world is collapsing too with the rape charge filed and his career set to be stopped dead in its tracks. You have to hand it to Hank for being so eager to leap out of his hospital bed to help Sonya decode the ledger, and it looks like Eleanor is only one step ahead of them at this point. It’s always a blast to see Hank and Sonya interact with Daniel and Adriana, particularly Hank expressing a definitive lack of patience for Daniel’s antics and his squirrely nature. With just one episode to go this season, I do hope that this show will be renewed for a third outing since I think that this season has done a marvelous job of making the conflicts internal after the first season was focused much more on an individual killer unrelated to the law on either side of the border. It’s sure to be an intense hour next week either way.

Pilot Review: Black-ish

Black-ish (ABC)
Premiered September 24 at 9:30pm

I’ll admit that my expectations for this show were astronomically low after seeing previews for the show and realizing that I’m about as far outside its target demographic as can be. The show’s title isn’t exactly promising either. Going into this pilot with these preconceived notions actually helped me have a better experience than I otherwise might have. This show isn’t terrific by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also far more bearable than most of the shows that ABC has tried to pair with its juggernaut hit “Modern Family” over the past few years. A big part of that is Anthony Anderson, whose last TV effort, “Guys with Kids,” was pretty miserable. I remember him as being terrific during the time he spent recurring on “The Shield” in a more uncharacteristically dramatic role, and I’m glad to see that he’s equally capable of delivering a successful comedy performance, a fact that shouldn’t prove surprising given his background. That’s not to suggest that this show is superb, since there are still plenty of unfortunate moments and the reality of a “Bro Mitzvah.” Dre’s reaction to being put in charge of the Urban Division was a bit extreme, but that’s what this show is all about, reacting to stereotypes and other assumptions with a comic attitude. Anderson is certainly putting in more effort than his most famous costar, Laurence Fishburne, who is relegated to snooty one-liners and pointing out his family’s ridiculousness at every occasion. I certainly won’t watch this show, but it was admittedly much better than I had thought it would be.

How will it work as a series? Dre has managed to accept his situation for what it is, to a degree, and he’ll likely still get himself into trouble for raising hell where there doesn’t need to be hell raised. His family should prove entertaining, and this has exactly the right structure for a successful sitcom.
How long will it last? As with its quality, this show outperformed what had been the status quo in its timeslot, suggesting that it may just be what ABC is looking for to round out its comedy block on Wednesday nights. It’s too soon to tell, but this one may actually be a keeper.

Pilot grade: B-

Sunday, September 28, 2014

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

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 1 “The Long Honeymoon” (B-)

I wasn’t very happy when this show took home its fifth consecutive Emmy for Best Comedy Series a month ago. I don’t feel that this show is nearly as fresh as it used to be, and this episode indicated that on a number of levels. The concepts here are pretty clever in theory, but their execution is just too blunt and unsubtle. Seeing the Dunphy clan getting along so well and enjoying their summer, plums and all, felt forced, and of course Alex coming home would make it all disappear, though it turned out that she was actually looking out for them, well aware that they would have poisoned themselves and done a whole lot of harm had she not been there. Seeing Gloria without her makeup has been a long time coming, and while it was somewhat fun, I don’t think seeing Jay in big old man glasses and the visual joke of Gloria getting ready instantly was worth it. Jay and Manny putting the iPad in the fridge on a regular basis was another concept that seems funny but is just too ridiculous in practice. Cam has always been over-the-top, and I think setting up surprises for Mitchell at home is pretty different from showing up at a work party where significant others aren’t meant to be and pulling Mitchell aside to dance with him. There’s some humor in it, to be sure, but this show has definitely done better with all of these characters in the past, and I hope we’ll see more from them this season.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 3 “Playing with Monsters” (B+)

There’s something very disturbing about watching just how much the members of SAMCRO enjoy violence. They’re executing a lot of revenge now, and while the killing merely seems casual and acceptable, terrorizing people to send a message is done with far too many smiles on their faces. At the same time, they’re gleefully endorsing the filming of a terrible Frankenstein porn movie. They’re not making friends quickly, with allies like August Marks telling Jax readily that he has no trouble killing Jax or any of the Sons. The problem lies in how Jax responds, taking it as a threat and preparing payback. Chibs is not in a forgiving mood when it comes to Juice, who was smart to bring Unser with him as a buffer, one who probably saved his life. I’m thrilled to see Annabeth Gish’s Sheriff Althea Jarry come out of her shell when she takes off her uniform, flirting with Chibs and accepting her bribe all too willingly, suggesting that she has something up her sleeve. The unfriendly visitor who assaulted Gemma prompted the ultimate moment of morality when Abel came up and asked her if his father did bad things. Gemma emulated the woman who distracted her so that she could be raped in season two by serving as bait to get him to open the door under the guise of reconciling over pineapple upside down cake so that Jax could come in and beat him up. Clearly, violence solves everything, and it’s only going to get worse going forward.

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

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 1 “Panopticon” (B+)

Often, shows struggle to regain their footing after a major crisis or transformative event which sends their characters to all corners of the earth while the dust settles and things get back on track. Fortunately, this show, which always proves satisfying, manages to surprise once again with a reboot that’s actually pretty terrific, and previews plenty of excitement to come as our beloved team works to fight back against Samaritan and still manages to save people while being careful to stay off the grid. It’s fun to see where everyone has ended up, with Shaw in a dead-end department store job, Reese working narcotics, Finch teaching a class to just a few students, and Root operating, as usual, on her own plane. What’s particularly exciting about all these cover jobs is how they lead into something else, particularly Finch getting led to some sort of startling discovery by writing down the collected typos in his dissertation, Reese becoming Fusco’s new partner, and Shaw going for what she thought was a date and instead becoming a getaway driver. It’s also great to see Reese think creatively and enlist Elias’ help since he knows that wouldn’t put him on the radar. It does appear that his idea didn’t get past the new human enforcer of Samaritan, Martine, portrayed by Cara Buono, an Emmy nominee for her performance as Faye Miller on “Mad Men” a few years ago. She seems like a formidable nemesis for our team, and I’m pretty pumped to see where this season goes.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 4, Episode 2 “Dice” (B+)

This episode was a lot of fun, putting its two wildest characters – Schmidt and Jess – together and leaving the rest to do something else that, for once, centered on Winston. What was most exciting was that this was the return of the Schmidt we all know, love, and sort of hate, a fast-talking, fully entertaining personality who is set in his ways and has very specific opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong, in this case when it comes to online dating. Watching him run through the kinds of behavior that are unacceptable with a Taboo buzzer in hand was a blast, and Jess’ reaction to the whole thing was great. My favorite part was Jess’ flat reading of the exit lines that Schmidt gave her and her subsequent departures from the bad dates. Exiting the dream date early seemed like a mistake, and it was enjoyable to see that it really wasn’t the right choice thanks to his excessive interest in magic. It was a treat to see both Cece and Coach feeling pretty relaxed as they decided that it was the right time to smoke pot before Winston officially became a cop, and while this may be the first time we’ve seen Nick high, it’s really just an excuse for him to babble ridiculousness, which is always worthwhile. It’s great that Winston rallied his friends to have fun with the threesome in the closet, and Winston earned himself a far from enviable nickname – Toilet – that’s sure to delight him anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pilot Review: NCIS: New Orleans

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS)
Premiered September 23 at 9pm

It’s been a while since I’ve watched any part of the NCIS brand. I used to trumpet the original as the first show that I watched live from the day it started (back in 2003). That ended when I stopped reviewing both “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” four years ago simply because there were too many shows airing at the time. Looking back at my reviews, I actually still liked both series, and it’s perfectly understandable that CBS would try to capitalize on one of its biggest successes by launching a new spinoff. Like with the second iteration of this franchise and the original, there aren’t too many similarities other than the structure of the team and the fact that they’re investigating naval crimes and murders. The lone reference to another NCIS crew is a video conference with Ducky from the Virginia crew, which helps to underling the notion that this team’s medical examiner is just as eccentric. The cast has considerable television experience, and it’s certainly an eclectic combination. Scott Bakula has been on a range of shows from “Quantum Leap” to “Enterprise” to “Men of a Certain Age,” and this seems like a good role for him, despite his exaggerated New Orleans drawl. Lucas Black doesn’t need to put on any accent to make himself seem like a native, and I remember when I interviewed Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray, who worked with Black on “Get Low” and said that his accent was so thick that even his mother can’t understand him. He has a great chemistry with Zoe McLellan, who I liked when she starred in “Dirty Sexy Money” a while back on ABC. And then there’s CCH Pounder, who gets another shot at a comic role after “Brothers” following her more serious turns in “Warehouse 13” (somewhat serious) and “The Shield” (much more dramatic). I won’t say too much about Rob Kerkovich’s awkward medical examiner assistant, since he seems like more of a distraction than anything. This show has a fun flair to it, and does a great job of keeping an existing format relevant in an entirely new setting. I’m not keen to start watching another procedural like this, but it does seem like a lot of fun.

How will it work as a series? The city of New Orleans is a great setting for a show like this, arguably much better than Washington or Los Angeles, and it provides the opportunity for plenty of cultural references, including food, music, and just general southern hospitality. That should help to invigorate an immensely successful brand in a new locale.
How long will it last? It’s not even a question. This show was the biggest lock of the fall, and premiering it after the original series was both a very smart and very confident idea. The ratings didn’t disappoint, and this show is sure to be the most prominent of CBS’ early renewals for next year.

Pilot grade: B+

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 1 “Shadows” (B-)

I wasn’t so thrilled with the direction that this show went at the end of last season, and now the show has the opportunity to start over following a summer hiatus. It’s understandable that the show would be in post-crisis mode, with its team members in different places and the structure and order of things looking entirely unfamiliar. What that does mean is that things are a bit all over the place and unorganized, which creates a mix of excitement and uncertainty. There is a pretty large infusion of new characters, most recognizably Lucy Lawless as the most levelheaded of a renegade bunch of former assets, who has now lost her life following the severing of a limb and a formidable car crash. Coulson is now the director of whatever remains of S.H.I.E.L.D, which means that he’s traveling all over the place to find new recruits and acting more and more like Fury every day. May is still his relied-upon number two, but his relationship with Skye is limited to asking her to go talk to an immensely cocky Ward, who I see becoming a tiresome character if he remains in custody for the foreseeable future. Fitz is obviously in bad shape, but just for the sake of a surprising twist, it appears that Simmons made the decision to leave so that he could better recuperate, which means that he’s been talking to himself for a while now thinking he’s communicating with his less literal better half. The villain who can absorb whatever he touches is somewhat cool, but this show is going to have to get itself back on track in the next few weeks if I’m going to keep watching this season. I’m more excited about “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” which takes this show’s place in January and looks pretty decent from the preview we saw in the opening moments of this episode.

Pilot Review: Forever

Forever (ABC)
Premiered September 22 at 10pm

Over the past week or so of this pilot season, I’ve written frequently about how shows have tried to capture fresh concepts that are far from original. What I haven’t yet mentioned is the unintentional influence of watching two new shows back to back which happen to be somewhat similar. In this case, “Forever” and “Scorpion” don’t have all that much in common, except, of course, the protagonist’s tendency to deduce just about everything about a person by simply looking at them. While CBS’ new procedural was all about misfit geniuses, this show is about a man whose ability to discern so much from a person’s appearance comes from the fact that he’s been alive for two hundred years. This isn’t the first time immortality and policework have interacted, and the last time I can remember starred another non-American, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, now of “Game of Thrones,” as the title character in “New Amsterdam.” The secret of immortality here isn’t explained, and instead of Dr. Henry Morgan never dying, he does actually die and then comes back to life somewhere in the water. That gimmick already becomes tiresome in the pilot, and, as would be expected, someone has learned his secret and is going to try to exploit him and figure out how it’s possible. Ioan Gruffudd tried TV a few years ago with a dull role in “Ringer,” and at least this is a more interesting part for a charismatic actor whose energy just isn’t quite right for this kind of character. Alana de la Garza was a regular cast member in the later seasons of “Law and Order,” and her part here is rather bland. Judd Hirsch, Joel David Moore, Donnie Keshawarz, and Lorraine Toussaint all have plenty of TV experience but have seen better material. This show wants to be groundbreaking and epic, but it’s just not.

How will it work as a series? Henry now has a new friend in Detective Martinez, which will help him to feel like he’s doing something to help the world while surely tipping her off on many occasions to his secret. Balancing that and this mystery man who wants to get to know him will likely be stressful, but Henry seems to have it all under control in this mild and far too casual drama.
How long will it last? It’s too early to tell, but this show did manage to pull off the unusual feat of doing better in its regular timeslot premiere than in its special preview the night before. With ABC having renewed “Resurrection,” I think this may just be the type of show the network wants to put on its roster.

Pilot grade: C

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pilot Review: Scorpion

Scorpion (CBS)
Premiered September 22 at 9pm

I’ve been writing a lot lately about pilot season and how there are so many attempts to seize on an original concept. This show’s poster has been plastered all around New York City and on the front of city buses for a few weeks now, and it didn’t exactly look promising. It looked to me a lot like “Numb3rs,” which didn’t appeal too much since I stopped watching that show after the pilot. This show has certainly assembled its fair share of eccentrics, four people with so much genius and absolutely no social skills. It’s a bit much, and this show doesn’t apologize for that, wearing its characters’ cleverness and quips as a badge of honor. The setup is rather basic, a hard-headed government agent constantly directing someone who is definitively antiestablishment to do things that he couldn’t even conceive of in order to help save people in the middle of unthinkable crises. The setup of this first hour has added a character who is supposed to be the polar opposite of Walter and his friends, not conventionally intelligent but particularly smart in the ways of the world, and her son who happens to be a genius with no social aptitude. I’m not too fond of that structure since it’s been seen many times before, and none of the characters are too appealing. Elyes Gabel is just the latest Brit to score a lead role in an American TV show, and his relatively charisma-free performance can’t steer the show too effectively. Katherine McPhee, the breakout star of “Smash,” has a more subdued and modest role here as his social consultant and theoretical love interest, and she’s considerably more bearable than Jadyn Wong, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Ari Stidham as the members of Walter’s team. Robert Patrick has been much better in previous roles, and this part doesn’t demand much of him. I will say that, despite everything I’ve said, the last ten minutes of this episode were extremely thrilling, and I’ll never object to watching an action scene like this involving a plane. If successive episodes were 90% that and 10% awkward technobabble, this show would be well worth watching.

How will it work as a series? If my formula doesn’t pan out, which I’m all but certain it won’t, this show’s quality will vary based on the plotline of the episode each week, and if the specific case or situation is intriguing enough, the episode will be a lot of fun. Those who enjoy “Numb3rs” and “Bones” will probably like most episodes.
How long will it last? Probably a while. This is just the kind of procedural that CBS likes, and its pilot ratings were strong. If this show matches its numbers in its second outing next week, I think that it’s a sure bet to return for another season as a slam dunk for the network.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: Gotham

Gotham (FOX)
Premiered September 22 at 8pm

It would be fair to call this the most anticipated show of the fall. Batman got big over the past ten years because of the positive reviews for Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, and TV watchers are always thrilled about a comic book reboot. In this case, it’s not the CW making a new DC show (like “Smallville” or “Arrow”), but another network that made an ill-fated venture into the Gotham universe with “Birds of Prey” about a decade ago. FOX is actually a great choice for a show like this, since it doesn’t need to be on cable but does deserve to be somewhere that’s able to deliver consistent action, which I think it’s reasonable to say FOX does. The good news is that this show is actually pretty decent, and it may avoid the trappings of a series like this which hinges so much on predicting its own future. Centering the show on a young Commissioner Gordon rather than on Bruce Wayne himself is a smart idea, and it seems to be paying off since he’s a real do-gooder stuck in a dark world plagued by corruption. I’m still a bit worried about all of the characters needed to lead up to their destinies, but it seems like Catwoman and Penguin, at least, will be put to productive use in a way that doesn’t feel entirely tied to their preexisting alter egos in Batman lore. It’s hard to believe that Ben McKenzie is the same actor who played Ryan on “The O.C.” a decade ago, and I think he’s actually this show’s strongest asset as Gordon. It’s interesting to see Donal Logue flip-flop between comedy and drama, and he’s a good fit for bad egg Harvey Bullock. I’m not sold on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney, but I think the supporting characters will just have to grow on me. This was an ambitious pilot, and though things could go downhill, I’m intrigued for now.

How will it work as a series? Gordon has made his choice not to let the city get to him, but his partner thinks that he killed the Penguin, an untruth that’s going to come back to haunt him sooner rather than later if the violent end of the episode is any indication. There is so much in this universe that can be done, and let’s hope this show embraces the “Smallville” model of blazing new trails rather than sticking to the facts as they were invented so many years ago.
How long will it last? This one seems like a guarantee to be FOX’s flagship new show, and pairing it with the success story of last season, “Sleepy Hollow,” is a good sign. The ratings for the pilot were great, and I have no doubt that this show will soon be renewed for a second season.

Pilot grade: B

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 11 “One for the Money, Two for the Show” (C-)

There’s only one episode left in this season, and I’m definitely out after that. This show has become prone to lots of lofty themes and slow fade outs, trying to dramatize its events and make them seem all the weightier. Subtlety has officially gone out the window, with the highly forced meeting in the lobby between Libby, George Johnson, and the tenant played by Marc Evan Jackson, familiar from “Parks and Recreation” so overtly confirming that Virginia really isn’t Bill’s wife, as if the interview didn’t do that enough already. Every element of the interview process was uncomfortable, as Virginia too enthusiastically participated and Bill refused to speak, partially because of his long tie, until he came out with the world’s most perfect speech. It’s clear that the study isn’t anywhere close to near ready for television, and Andy Milder’s pompous editor telling Lester that he needed staged interview footage just underlined that in a miserable way. Of course George would have transformed into the perfect husband and father now that he’s not with Virginia, and taking the kids with them to Paris is actually probably a productive idea. I’m particularly unimpressed with Teddy Sears’ acting in his scenes as Austin with Flo, where he can’t seem to comprehend why any woman would want to emulate “Gone with the Wind.” I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take away from the expression on his face when he’s forced to role play by Flo since sympathy is hardly the first emotion that comes to mind. Libby’s involvement in the racial equality movement has always been a tangential plotline, but now she’s gone ahead and started an affair that she has in truth deserved for a long time now (not that it’s a good idea in any way).

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

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 1 “The Line” (B-)

After a disappointing end to last season, I’m not sure what I expected from this premiere, but I’m not convinced that either of the two major plotlines featured here are the right way to go. I understand that Josh Charles wanted to be written out of the show and therefore killing him off was necessary, but now the show is headed in whatever direction its creative team thinks is best. Having Cary arrested and making it impossible for everyone who knows him to get him released is a strange and dark way to go, since he was a perfectly competent and strong character out in the real world. It makes Lemond Bishop a bigger part of the story than he should be, especially as he tries to get his underlings to cut off Cary’s fingers and forces Kalinda to stop questioning his people. It’s going to prove immensely distracting, and I don’t think that this is the way that Finn, who isn’t a great character as it is, needs to be positioned. It’s clear that Castro has an axe to grind with Peter after Eli’s rather blatant manipulation of the two of them, and it’s going to be an uphill battle this season. Where Diane ends up isn’t of much interest, but telling Louis and David that she’s retiring was a poor idea because now they think she’s up to something whereas they might not have had any clue had she remained silent. It was good to see Sarah Steele back as Eli’s daughter, though her role in each of her scenes was rather forced.

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire: Season 5, Episode 3 “What Jesus Said” (B+)

This show is back on track, delivering its first truly involving episode of the season and reminding viewers why it was great in the first place. I didn’t make mention of the show’s newest character in episode two, a very familiar and historical name, Joe Kennedy, portrayed by Matt Letscher, who used to be on “Scandal,” among other shows. Kennedy is a dynamic and very intriguing new player, and his desire not to drink to avoid perpetuating an Irish Catholic stereotype is pretty terrific. Watching Nucky around him is particularly interesting, and I’m now starting to see the point of all these flashbacks. There was something magnetic and haunting about Nucky delivering flowers to the man and his female friend every day, and it leading into Margaret coming back was very effective. Margaret’s reaction to her aggressive encounter with Rothstein’s widow was great, and I’m glad that her path has led her back to Nucky, even though it’s not for a good reason. Who would have thought that Mickey could survive this long without getting himself killed? Another character I didn’t expect to see was Narcisse, who I thought was doomed to eternal imprisonment after the season four finale. His inability to compromise didn’t serve him well, and now we have yet another bloodbath on our hands. Chalky’s home invasion was intense but made for very captivating drama thanks to the players involved, and it’s interesting to see that Chalky’s intellect actually managed to get him into trouble rather than help him since it both revealed his humanity to his captors and caused panic in his coconspirator.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 11 “Rodef” (B+)

Ray’s life has been imploding for a while, but now he’s reaching a dangerous point where he no longer even has the illusion of being in control. He’s managed to alienate his three best allies in the world – Lena, Avi, and Ezra – and Ezra is talking to Avi about him being the problem the same way he spoke to Ray earlier about Kate needing to go. This show can’t lose its title character, of course, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t get very bad for Ray in the upcoming season finale and beyond. Jim certainly wasn’t able to rectify the problem, trying to be tough and pulling Cookie over without a great plan of what to do next. Ray not being reachable when an impatient Cookie was calling him to see the video was almost as worrisome as the content of the video itself. The sight of Abby on the couch with Bridget a gun next to her is disconcerting, and the Donovan house is swiftly coming undone. To his credit, Mickey didn’t mean to leave Terry behind to catch all the blame for their botched heist, and Terry did tell him to get out. Ronald’s plan has gone to hell, and Ray is going to be very upset when he realizes that the brother he loves is in trouble instead of the father he so wants to be rid of. It’s hardly surprising to know that the people Ray is in business with aren’t exactly honest, as evidenced by the $20,000 demand that somehow got mistranslated by Marty to be $2 million.

Pilot Review: Madam Secretary

Madam Secretary (CBS)
Premiered September 21 at 8pm

It’s pilot season, which means that there will be new concepts across all the networks. From CBS, master of procedurals, we have this attempt to dramatize the secretary of state’s office. Tea Leoni is not an actress I’m particularly fond of, and while I’m not sure that this show would be any more compelling if someone else had been cast in the lead role, but it certainly doesn’t do the show any favors. She doesn’t have the gravitas or the charm needed to play this part, though it’s not as if the show around her is all that well-constructed either. The setup has Leoni’s Elizabeth McCord positioned as a retired CIA officer turned small-town professor living on a farm, a definitive fish-out-of-water for Washington politics. As the president said to her, she’s a perfect choice because she doesn’t even know there is a box, looking at a world affairs through a certifiably non-political lens. What it’s reduced to, instead, is a pissing match between Elizabeth and Chief of Staff Russell Jackson, who steps in at almost every moment to subvert her ability to consult directly with the president. It was almost comical to hear the president tell Elizabeth that her way hadn’t worked and that he was going with Russell when Russell had manipulated Elizabeth in the first place to do something she didn’t want to do. Zeljko Ivanek has had much better roles than Russell in the past, and Keith Carradine is a formidable choice to play the president, also privy to stronger parts in his recent career. Tim Daly gets to play the star of Elizabeth’s home life, which isn’t all too enthralling and now involves, you guessed it, a major conspiracy. This show wants to be a sentimental, evocative political drama with a bit of “Scandal” mixed in, and I don’t think it’s any of those things.

How will it work as a series? Let’s hope that there are bigger things for Elizabeth to worry about than having to text the president’s wife to cut Russell out, and that she’ll be able to continue making overdramatic achievements like naming all a polygamist king’s wives. I don’t see that being terribly appealing, but maybe others will find it enjoyable.
How long will it last? This pilot appealed mostly to older viewers, which may actually be a good thing since CBS wants to corner more than just the young adult market, which is always the aim of broadcast networks. As long as this show doesn’t belly-up like “Commander-in-Chief,” a strong start should guarantee this show an early renewal for a second season.

Pilot grade: C-

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 8 “Under Color of Law” (B)

This was a substantial improvement over the two Elam-centric episodes, and, as expected, Elam is almost a distant memory who doesn’t really factor into anyone’s plotline. Cullen’s woes are entirely related to things that happened separate from Elam, and Eva dolling up the prisoner Elam brought back only used him as a way of introducing the character. Truth be told, it’s the best shape Eva’s been in a while, seeing someone who is like her and realizing that she’s now in a position to help her move become as much a part of society as she can and to set her in the right direction. Cullen’s Mormon marriage didn’t last too long, but at least Naomi is now in a place where she’s safe with her father and her community. Brigham Young’s trek with the Swede is very intriguing, particularly because Young is so sure that the Swede is not who he said he was and all he wanted from our exuberant Norwegian was a confession of his true identity. It took a while to get him there, but once he did it was obviously cathartic for both parties, and we’ll have to see what devious schemes Young has in mind to bring down Durant. Governor Campbell freeing Sydney Snow and making him marshal was a bold and questionable move, and there’s no way that’s going to lead to anything other than unrest. With just a few episodes to go this season, it’s hard to see how things can settle in Cheyenne.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst (Season Finale)

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episodes 9 and 10 “Constant Horror and Bone-Deep Dissatisfaction” and “Fists and Feet and Stuff” (B-/B)

This show didn’t exactly go out on the best note, since its last three episodes couldn’t live up to the quality of its first seven. I don’t think that’s damning, and I would still welcome the news that it was returning for a second season. Having an entire episode focused on everything that happened before this show’s universe began, with Jimmy proposing to Becca and Gretchen being unwittingly promoted while doing drugs, doesn’t offer much in the way of enlightenment or satisfaction since what’s made this show endearing has been watching its characters grow. The finale was a bit more on point since it quickly got back to the way things should be, with a few bumps along the road as Jimmy for once wasn’t being the worst but still got cast in that light when Lindsay tried to make out with him and Becca’s failed booty call was revealed. Gretchen thinking that Jimmy was trying to propose didn’t turn out too poorly, and I think Jimmy asking her to move in with him was sweet and sufficiently awkward. Becca having a baby makes her relationship permanent and irreversible, while Paul’s confession of an emotional affair and his desire for a divorce should appropriately liberate Lindsay. I’m not sure what to do with Edgar, but it was fun to see him pretend to have a new British roommate who turned out just to be an actor from “NCIS: L.A.” Here’s to more of this singularly offensive show, a fine addition to FX’s comedy slate.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Aya Cash as Gretchen

What I’m Watching: Married (Season Finale)

Married: Season 1, Episodes 9 and 10 “Halloween” and “Family Day” (B-/B+)

I wasn’t too into this show’s penultimate episode, which I felt got away from anything relevant on the heels of the show’s equally disappointing eighth episodes. Out of all of the characters on this show, I think A.J. is one of the weakest, entertaining in small doses but not as worthwhile when he’s taking up a greater percentage of the episode’s runtime. Sending him to rehab could have been something simple and didn’t need to take up the whole half-hour. I’ll spend more on a time, as a result, focusing on the show’s season finale, which renewed my faith in it by offering up a very intense and surprisingly dramatic setup that turned into something happy by the end. It was uncomfortable to see Russ and Lina fight as he talked about wanting to move to Costa Rica and travel the world and she obsessed over getting a third bathroom, and then things turned ugly by the time they were in the middle of A.J.’s opportunity to make amends. Lina snapping at and being rude to Jess was worrisome, and it’s a good thing that, when we checked in with them at the end, it seemed like all the tension had been rectified. Having them all talk about how they’re going to die was a fun way to end the season, and a fitting finale for a show that’s layered with sarcasm. I hope this show comes back for a second season since I did truly enjoy it and would embrace the idea of revisiting these characters.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Jenny Slate as Jess

Pilot Review: The Mysteries of Laura

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC)
Premiered September 17 at 8pm

Each fall, broadcast networks make an attempt to come up with the next big cop show. The problem is that there are only so many possible iterations and combinations of premises, and it’s hard to find one that’s original. This one is going for two different concepts, one about Debra Messing’s Laura being a single mom and the other about “mysteries” since this is, after all, a police procedural, and every successive episode begins with “The Mystery of…” That formula makes it seem very hokey, but that’s far from this show’s biggest problem. Messing is an Emmy-winning actress who delighted many with her performance on “Will and Grace,” and she definitely has an appeal. That doesn’t, however, make her the right fit for this show. There have been plenty of single mom cop dramas in the past, most recently the Ally Walker starrer “The Protector,” which didn’t last long at all. Messing is impossibly grating, and seeing her eat all the time and effectively seduce a valet into doing her bidding is far from impressive. It’s sad to see decent actors like Josh Lucas, who hasn’t had a role to match “A Beautiful Mind” since then, and Janina Gavankar, late of “True Blood,” wasted in irksome supporting roles. The show even got rid of one of its best assets, the likeable Enrico Colantoni, by casting him in a plotline that’s made expressly for a memorable pilot as the captain who is also responsible for the very murder his main detective is investigating. I’m not a big fan of cop shows, and this show ranks particularly low on that already unenthusiastic list.

How will it work as a series? With Lucas’ Jake appointed to be the new captain of Laura’s precinct, there are sure to be heads butting on a regular basis at work, especially since he still tries to make out with his wife at home even though they’re no longer married. I hope we see as little of her kids as possible, but I’m not sure scrapping them could save this show.
How long will it last? It might actually be one of its network’s star shows. The pilot did pretty well in the ratings, which is saying a lot for NBC, which often underperforms. 8pm is a decent time slot, and I think NBC may be eager to endorse a show that I think many people enjoyed a whole lot more than I did.

Pilot grade: D

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episodes 10 and 11 “Eidolon” and “Beholder” (B+)

After the deadly shootout that occurred in episode nine, putting the pieces back together hasn’t been easy, and has nearly led to more bloodshed on the part of our favorite protagonists. It’s a relief that this show transformed into an action series with an intense chase scene when Eleanor was ready to go torture Hank’s wife to make him confess where he had hidden the ledger. Unfortunately, the successive episode, in which Sonya got herself pretty easy access to Eleanor before being interrupted by Adam Arkin’s straight-faced federal investigator, showed that Eleanor is far from out of the picture. Ian Hart always plays seedy characters, but the fact that his CIA agent immediately released Eleanor and is now planning to get the ledger back and ensure order to things is immensely disconcerting. That’s not to say that Marco’s journey to the mountains to find Galvan is going any better, since his police escorts were stupid enough to get themselves killed and now Marco’s cover has been blown. With Hank in the hospital and Eleanor on Sonya’s trail, who will be able to rescue Marco? Maybe Sebastian can help if he’s not too distraught about his daughter, but I think that Daniel and Adriana may actually be closer to unraveling the truth and stepping in at just the right moment. On an unrelated note, Steven looks so normal and a whole lot like Daniel Day-Lewis with his beard shaved. Kudos to Eva for the good idea, and it’s great to see them finally get together in a normal way.

Pilot Review: Red Band Society

Red Band Society (Fox)
Premiered September 17 at 9pm

This was another show that was available to preview this summer, but busy times and preparations for the wedding didn’t permit me to get to it until the night it premiered. I’ll start off by saying that this show, regardless of what I think about it, perfectly fits Fox’s brand. It has that fitting ensemble feel and a certain childishness about it that makes it appeal particularly to teenagers while offering some accessible points for adults as well. It’s reminiscent in a way of a less ambitious “Glee,” a story about a group of kids just trying to get by in an unusual setting. In that sense, I think it could very well be a hit. If my wife hadn’t so enjoyed the pilot, I doubt I would be returning for another installment. Some of the characters are decent if a bit overdone, like Leo and Emma, while others, particularly evil cheerleader Kara, are painfully irritating and way too over-the-top. I’m also not sure what to make of comatose Charlie, who serves as the series’ narrator and manages to communicate with the patients whenever they end up in the “in-between.” As for the adult cast, we have a recognizable slate of Octavia Spencer, Oscar-winner for “The Help” caught in an all-too-familiar role that’s probably a good fit for her, Dave Annable, who got his start on a short-lived Fox show, “Reunion,” and Griffin Dunne, most recently seen as the Rainmaker on “House of Lies,” as the lone adult patient. This show has the potential to be entertaining, and it’s certainly nowhere near as grating or unbearable as many other shows with similar premises.

How will it work as a series? Setting the show in a hospital means a confined environment for the kids and the likely presentation of many challenges for them to surmount. Additionally, it offers the promise of a revolving door of other patients who come to the hospital for shorter stays to alternately dramatize and trivialize the lives of the residents. There’s plenty of potential for storylines here.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot were not great, but it’s hard to know how the show will do when an original episode premieres that wasn’t sampled online for months beforehand. This is the first show that Fox is launching this fall, and while it’s been hard for them to find hits, I think this one would be a positive one in which to invest. At this point, however, I don’t think it’s going to make it.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy (Season Premiere)

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 1 and 2 “Black Widower” and “Toil and Till” (B+)

This is it – the final season of this show, which I’ve often considered to be the bravest series on television, perfectly willing to kill off a series regular in the middle of an episode. The season finale definitely showed that, and now the death of Tara has made Jax a much more hardened man and transformed everyone around him too. It’s disturbing to see just how eagerly Jax tortures the man Gemma told him killed Tara, and to see the lengths he goes to in order to ensure that those he thinks are responsible will truly pay. It’s a sign that Jax really is more like Clay than like his own father, ready to do what he believes is necessary to show others how he should be treated. Katey Sagal has a formidable task this season, to play Gemma as a woman keeping this brutal secret, unapologetic for the many lives of all shades and colors that she is going to be directly responsible for taking. Juice is in bad shape, and it can’t be long before he cracks, though it’s good that he opted to let Unser go once he realized that he wasn’t a threat. It doesn’t seem like Gemma has learned her lesson about jumping to conclusions, and Unser’s cushy new consulting gig may not work out so well for him. I am eager to see more of Annabeth Gish’s new sheriff as she becomes the latest actress to make her way around FX. After everything, it’s good to know that Wendy does have her children’s best interests at heart, and maybe she’ll be able to look out for them while everyone else is busy trying to kill each other. The murder of the Asian Gemma framed and a whole bunch of Lin’s crew is just the tip of the iceberg, and I can tell that this is going to be one miserable, irreversible season.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

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

New Girl: Season 4, Episode 1 “The Last Wedding” (B)

This show didn’t end on a great note last season, but I don’t think it’s worth giving up on it just yet. It’s the first network television show back after the summer hiatus, which is good, and it’s also pretty much the only returning network sitcom I’m planning to watch (“Parks and Recreation” doesn’t return until midseason). I did enjoy the fact that this episode was wedding-themed given I myself just got married last weekend, and it was a fun way to start things off. What this episode did have to offer was a fun slate of guest stars, namely Reid Scott and Jessica Biel. The latter is certainly unexpected casting, but she did do a great job of going head-to-head with Jess and telling her all the ways in which she was a better fit for him. It was entertaining to see the “Veep” actor portray a very flummoxed best man hopeless to decide which woman he should take home. Seeing Coach get reamed out by each of his former lovers was amusing, and it’s nice to know that Schmidt and Cece might happen again. The suggested foursome was hilarious, particularly Nick’s reaction to the situation. Ending the premiere with the triumphant removal of wedding invitations from the fridge was enjoyable, and I hope that kind of camaraderie can be present throughout all this season’s episodes, laced with some more consistent and funny storylines. This show has the characters to be successful, and I think this could well be a rebound season.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10 “Story of My Life” and “Below the Belt” (C-)

I suppose I should stick with this show through the end of the season (just two more episodes), but I’ve lost interest entirely. There are no interesting characters left, and anything that is remotely intriguing is far too blunt and blatant, with no subtlety or subtext left at all. There’s something half-worthwhile about Virginia transmitting Barb’s sexual frustrations to a therapist as if they were her own, but then her inability to understand just what she is doing when she comes clean with the therapist is disappointing. I’m not happy with the direction that Lester has gone, and even Betty is starting to be grating – not that it’s much of a surprise, but her character has lost considerable depth since the beginning of the season. I’d be interested to see what Adam Arkin’s PR man could do to spin the study into something positive, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. We got a lot of family drama after Bill’s mother had a little accident, and it’s so incredible to me just how unlikeable Bill is. Sure, he admitted to Virginia later that he did abandon his brother, but he was so cruel and vicious to him when they were fighting. Usually, such despicable characters have a silver lining, but there’s nothing about Bill that makes him a fitting protagonist. Austin’s predicament was also far from sympathetic. I suppose there’s some solace in the fact that Libby is redeeming herself following her racist stage, and the idea of her asking Virginia if she’s comfortable lying to Bill is pretty funny.

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers (Season Finale)

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 10 “The Prodigal Son Returns” (B+)

After such a devastating and terrific season, it’s hard to expect that the finale would be able to resolve everything in a satisfying way. Fortunately, this is still a compelling hour that resolves a few important plotlines and lays the groundwork for what’s sure to be an equally involving second season. Patti’s death haunted the episode, particularly in the stark dream that Kevin had where he ended up I the mental institution with his father. The way this show conveys loss of time and the effect it has on each person experiencing it is simply mesmerizing. Matt is a fascinating character, and his willingness to come help Kevin out of his situation was great. Kevin meeting Wayne in his final moments bleeding out in a bathroom was a terrific intersection of storylines, and their private conversation was haunting. The Guilty Remnant promised something big and that’s exactly what they gave their town, with Nora seen bearing the brunt of the pain when she came downstairs to find lifelike recreations of her husband and children sitting at the kitchen table. This show has done a marvelous job of demonizing all of its characters and none of them to the point that there are no sides, particularly with Kevin, Matt, and the Guilty Remnant. Kevin springing into action to help save the GR when they were being attacked was noble, and fortunately he managed to save Jill, who had decided that she should join their ranks at exactly the wrong time. Tom’s return home, Laurie’s renewed look at life, and Nora’s departure turned baby discovery suggest that season two will be very different but I have no doubt that it’s going to be fantastic. I can’t wait to see more of what to me has been the most impressive new show of the year.

Season grade: A
Season MVP: Ann Dowd as Patti

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire (Season Premiere)

Boardwalk Empire: Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2 “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” and “The Good Listener” (B)

This show is back for its fifth and final outing, a shortened order of eight episodes to conclude its Prohibition-era story. In order to ensure that things are still relevant and interesting, a time jump has been made, scattering the various personalities on the show but putting them pretty much in the places you’d expect them to be. There always seem to be a specific interest in Nucky’s past, as we frequently see flashbacks to his childhood as he began to work for the Commodore while his sister was dying. I’m not sure of the relevance just yet, but I can say that going back even further in time doesn’t do the show any favors. This has always been a dense series that, at its best, was furiously interesting despite its pacing and thick ensemble. Now, however, it’s not nearly as accessible. The overarching theme of this season, that Nucky is preparing to turn what was for so many years an illegitimate business into a legitimate one, is undeniably intriguing. He can’t escape his past, with frequent attempts on his life, but he is having important meetings where he is using his bootlegger status to his advantage as a standout point on his resume. At the same time, his nephew is preparing to become a district attorney, ready to take down the likes of his uncle who try to corrupt those charged with executing justice. Certain players like Eli, Al, and Nelson/George are around again, which makes sense, but I don’t know why we’re still following Gillian’s adventures while she’s incarcerated. These first two episodes didn’t really do it for me, but I’m hoping that the remaining six will help return this show to its former glory and let it go out with a memorable bang.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10 “Snowflake” and “Volchek” (B+)

The aftermath of Marvin’s murder is certainly not doing good things for the Donovan family. Ray swooped in to protect Bridget as would be expected, but as his tendency, he didn’t do it in the warmest way possible, resulting in Bridget hating him and Abby being paranoid about Cookie coming to kill the witness to his crime. Cookie stopping by to pay his fake condolences to Bridget was a big misstep on his part, and let’s hope that Ray manages to get things under control before someone makes a mistake. Abby asking Jim to get rid of Cookie for her wasn’t the smartest or most realistic idea, but he seems level-headed enough not to do something truly stupid. Ronald was an easy target for Ray, and now it looks like he’s made himself an even easier mark for Mickey, so desperate for money that he’s willing to help out on a job that partners Mickey, Shorty, their prostitute friend, and unlikely muscle Terry, who I’m very worried might be the one to take the fall just as he’s planning his miraculous exodus to Ireland. It’s sad that Bunchy’s relationship was going so well and that what was meant to be an intimate gesture ruined everything. Cochrane is one of the most detestable characters this show has ever seen, and that’s saying something, telling Ray he needs Kate gone and that he might need to kill him too. The worst thing was berating Tom for thinking to ask for a promotion and then transferring him to North Dakota as revenge for giving Ray blackmail. No wonder he showed up at dinner and then killed himself, an act that triggered only annoyance on Cochrane’s face. Ray’s relationship with Kate is definitely fascinating, though it took a dark turn with the choking when Kate pressed him about his past with the priest. I liked the end of the second hour where Ray took off all his clothes and ran into the ocean to the cheers of a very unique, enthusiastic, and encouraging Steve.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 6 and 7 “Bear Man” and “Elam Ferguson” (C-/C)

I was talking about this show to a few people recently, and not one of them had heard of it. I mentioned its ambitious period setting and its generally dependable quality. These two hours, however, do not recommend it very well at all. The first hour, which tracked Elam’s slow and difficult recovery from his confrontation with the bear, was completely unnecessary, mostly since it ignored the rest of the story and all of the strong characters in Cheyenne. The second hour wasn’t much better, since it sidelined most of those other characters to focus on Elam’s return as a slave-selling crazy man unable to recognize the friends from his former life. What’s most disappointing about the whole thing is that two episodes have been wasted on a character who’s now permanently deceased. I didn’t expect Elam to come back after he came face-to-face with the bear at the end of last season, and now I feel like this season has derailed (no pun intended) right at the peak of its most interesting events, and that while the impact of his death on Cullen, Eva, and Psalms seems intense now, I’m sure it will soon be forgotten in favor of more relevant plotlines. After suffering a violent beating, Durant got himself back on top pretty quickly, managing to squash a potentially damaging investigation and exact his revenge in a very fulfilling way. Now he just has to make sure Cullen stays on track and that they can manage to continue to coexist with Governor Campbell.

TV with Abe Got Married!

If you've been missing your regular fill of television reviews over the past two weeks, it's because I've been in California getting married! You can head over to Movies With Abe to read about a few of the movie-related things incorporated into the wedding.

Now, I'm happy to be using JetBlue's Fly-fi on board my flight back to New York City as I catch up on everything that I've missed. Over the next few days, I'll be covering the finales of "The Killing" and "The Leftovers" and tackling recent episodes of "Hell on Wheels," "Ray Donovan," "Boardwalk Empire," "Masters of Sex," "Sons of Anarchy," "The Bridge," "Married," and "You're the Worst" two at a time. It's pilot season, so look out for plenty of reviews of brand-new shows and a handful of returning ones. Additionally, the AFT Awards are a bit behind schedule but will still be posted over the next few weeks, so stick around for a lot of excitement!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Killing (Series Finale)

The Killing: Season 4, Episode 6 “Eden”

I didn’t expect much from this finale, mainly because I found this final shortened season to be excessively grim – even in comparison to this show’s content in its first three seasons – and far from pleasant or rewarding. I’m not sure exactly what this finale could have offered in the way of productive or fitting closure, and it tried hard to do that but didn’t succeed too well. Instead, what we got was a harsh and miserable conclusion to the big mystery of this season which had us actually see Kyle murder each member of his own family after being egged on and manipulated by his cruel classmates at school. It’s difficult to justify such disturbing material that doesn’t lead to anywhere enlightening or dramatically compelling, and I could have easily skipped this whole plotline. In a throwback to the show’s original incarnation in its first two seasons, we got a very surprising cameo from Billy Campbell as a far more bitter Darren Richmond than we’ve seen before, politically aware that ignoring Skinner’s killer status and letting Linden go free was the smart choice. After that, a trademark flashforward showed that both Linden and Holder ended up in relatively decent places that weren’t nearly as awful as the times during which we saw them on this show. Holder got in one last “Dial 1-900-Linden” quip, and Linden pulled up the car so that they could return to the place where they felt happiest in their lives. I don’t quite buy it, and I think that this show’s third or even second season finale would have been a much wiser and stronger place to end this show.

Series finale: C-
Season grade: C+
Season MVP: Joel Kinnaman as Holder
Series grade: B-
Series MVP: Joel Kinnaman
Best Season: Season 3
Best Episode: “Try

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episode 8 “Finish Your Milk” (B-)

I suppose there had to be a “meet the parents” episode eventually, and there were some positives to it even if the overall experience was lackluster. There’s something to be said for Gretchen feeling like she needed to pack and have Jimmy drive her to the airport only to stay in town to host her parents while they were around. The “Usual Suspects” homage moment was a bit funny but also a bit excessively dramatic in a way that felt inappropriate, and then Jimmy decided that the only thing left to do would be to insert and assert himself where he clearly wasn’t wanted. Seeing how Gretchen behaved in front of her parents was much more worthwhile than Jimmy stepping in to give a boyfriend speech, which felt odd given that they had just defined themselves as something more than non-exclusive friends with benefits. Edgar’s hunt for military-sponsored pills was a showcase for the social worker played by Tim Bagley, who I recognize from his days on “Will and Grace” and “Monk.” This wasn’t the best use of Edgar, but I did enjoy how Lindsay was utilized. After getting reamed out by Becca, Lindsay felt the need to spend more time with her husband, and what a magnificent adventure it was. It was nice to see her try to open up and enjoy his sweet if deathly boring habits and to revel in the simplicity, even if she had to drop everything and run when Gretchen needed help, thanking Paul for a truly nice day.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Old Date” (C+)

This was easily this show’s least impressive installment to date, which is a shame since I’ve been enjoying it so much up until this point. I think what happened here is that one of the show’s strongest characters – Jenny Slate’s Jess – didn’t appear at all, and neither of the two storylines that were at play landed particularly well. I can’t say I was particularly pleased to see Ike Barinholtz as Russ’ old business partner Bruce, mainly because his performance as Morgan was one of the reasons that I stopped watching “The Mindy Project.” As a character, he was very weak, and Lina trying to distract him with enthusiasm and dancing so that Russ could steal back his board was not terribly creative. It is worthwhile to have Russ and Lina lament their lost excitement and obsess over nostalgia, but this is not the best way to do it. The same goes for A.J., who is hopelessly obsessed with his ex and felt it appropriate to show up at her new beau’s shiva. Making a speech was the worst part of it, and Roxanne telling him he needs help afterward has hardly a cathartic resolution. At least it’s good to know that the supporting players on this show are capable of hanging out on their own without Russ or Lina, as John Hodgman’s Bernie showed up again, dressed in scrubs, to unwittingly accompany A.J. to shiva and then to make their scheduled stop at a much more logical destination: a strip club.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Bridge

The Bridge: Season 2, Episode 9 “Rakshasa” (A-)

This show really knows how to craft a grueling episode. Sonya’s abduction by the Chopper could have been just a filler plotline, one which involved far too much plodding and pausing on her would-be killer’s part, literally challenging her to get away, with her survival entirely assured due to her role on the show. But this killer was just like this show’s other two big bad guys, David Tate and Eleanor, who relish the ritual of killing just as much as the necessary act itself. This turned out to be a harrowing experience for Sonya, who held out and tried desperately to escape, only to not recognize Marco when he finally came to save her. This show’s walls are closing in, as Marco helping out Sebastian’s daughter led directly to Marco finding out about the hit on Sonya and rushing to her aid. I’m glad Marco didn’t hesitate to shoot the Chopper, ready to shoot first and ask questions later to ensure the safety of those important to him. Events at Red Ridge started out much more calmly despite a brutal suffocation, but they ended far more brutally than anyone could have expected. Eleanor and Cesar getting arrested by McKenzie and Hank seemed too clean, but I wasn’t prepared for the shootout that resulted in the shocking and devastating loss of one of this show’s best characters, Charlotte. Let’s hope that Hank survived, since I don’t think Sonya could bounce back from that loss, especially after coming so close to death herself.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pilot Review: Selfie

Selfie (ABC)
Premieres September 30 at 8pm

This pilot has been available online for a few weeks, and I watched it along with “A to Z” right around when it was first offered. We still have almost a month until it airs, and I think this is an example of exactly why you don’t want to preview your show before it airs. I think expectations were already astronomically low for this series, and getting the chance to see it does no one involved with it any favors. Its title is bad enough, but there’s plenty else to dislike about this new show. Karen Gillan’s Eliza Dooley is incredibly obnoxious, and it’s not as if her demeanor makes her inherently likeable or that her starting point is inspirational because of the change and growth she can achieve. Instead, she’s just a terrible person, and hardly a worthy protagonist for a series. John Cho’s Henry Higenbottam is almost at bad, mainly because he’s so completely unbelievable as a character. He’s an anachronistic gentleman whose sheer existence and additional willingness to help Eliza become a good person might make sense within the world of a musical, but not so in a modern-day technology-infused sitcom. The supporting characters are grating, and it’s hard to decide whether they’re actually worse than the leads. No one was clamoring for a present-set remake of “My Fair Lady,” and I don’t know why ABC thought this would add anything to its comedy block. Whatever wasn’t brutally unfunny was monumentally sappy, and it’s hard to feel a good about a show whose pilot feels like an unbearable eternity.

How will it work as a series? I don’t think we’ll have to find out, but were this show to go ahead and air its produced episodes and maybe even more than that, I have no doubt that we would continue to find Eliza chewing gum, being impolite, self-centered, and constantly on her phone, while Henry encouraged her to act a bit more like a human being and we saw some goodness peeking through every once in a while. That hardly sounds like a worthwhile or fun ride to me.
How long will it last? Not long at all. This seems like the easiest and most predictable cancellation of the fall without even knowing what other shows are out there. The only reason it might survive is if ABC thinks that the online viewership during the sampling period makes it a potential success. I’m dubious, and I think this one will be gone before the end of October.

Pilot grade: F-

Pilot Review: A to Z

A to Z (NBC)
Premieres October 2 at 9:30pm

This show doesn’t start for almost a month, but it’s been available online for a few weeks. I watched the pilot almost right away when NBC put it online for viewers to sample, and now that there’s not much on TV, it’s the perfect time to review it. Finding a fresh sitcom is a tough business, and there are those shows that try hard to be formulaic and those that don’t. This is the former, the ultimate example of a concept sitcom, one whose every event and occurrence is rooted in its format. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Cristin Milioti, who broke out as the title character in “How I Met Your Mother,” should return for yet another series where she isn’t able to control her own destiny. There’s no denying her appeal, and it’s nearly impossible not to like her. That doesn’t necessarily make for great television, of course, since she doesn’t have to get viewers to come around to the idea of being sympathetic to her. Similarly, Ben Feldman, who earned an Emmy nomination for his work as sarcastic copywriter Michael Ginsberg on “Mad Men,” has a lot going for him from the start, and it’s not much of an effort to find his romantic desires and idealizations positive. It’s not that there isn’t any conflict that needs to be resolved, but I think that these two might be perfectly fabulous leads in a less confined setting, and it’s a shame that the show that’s constructed around them is excruciatingly ordinary and uninventive.

How will it work as a series? The title suggests that it goes from A to Z, which seems to predict 26 episodes. If it’s really a good show, it will get away from that format after just a few installments, but if it does stick to it, it’s going to have to work hard to be charming – and funny – enough to sustain itself.
How long will it last? The pilot will have been available for a month and a half by the time it actually airs, and the question is whether viewers will be very ready for the next episode or hopeless about its chances. I think this could be a winner, but we’ll have to see how other shows do and how this pilot performs on air.

Pilot grade: C+

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 2, Episode 8 “Mirror, Mirror” (C-)

This episode wasn’t as bad as last week’s time-jumping mess, but I still think this show got way off track and there’s no way for it to straighten itself out and get back on course. I really should stop watching, and may well muster up the courage to do so when other shows start to return for their fall seasons in a few weeks. It seems a strange time to introduce a mystery sibling for Bill in the form of Christian Borle’s Frank, who appears intent on reasserting himself in his brother’s life due to his alleged fertility troubles. At the very least it will give Bill yet another distraction so that he can stay unfocused on his home life. I’m not sure what to make of Libby’s run-in with Robert and her newfound conscience which compels her to do the right thing and stand up for an underprivileged community. Betty has become quite the financial expert recently, very knowledgeable of what’s needed to circumvent an audit, and fortunately Virginia is more than competent at getting a board member to sign on, awkwardly confused by the police chief as Bill’s wife with Libby standing right next to the work pair. All of these sexual discussions with Betsy Brandt’s Barbara and Kevin Christy’s Lester are presented so frontally and unsubtly, and I feel like this show has lost all the finesse it used to have, no longer using subtext and layers and instead putting everything at disappointing face value, forcing explicit conversation about sex at every turn.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 2, Episode 8 “Sunny” (A-)

Talk about a harrowing, wrenching hour, this after last week’s already intense episode. Things escalated in a big way as Avi protested his assigned duty of tailing Abby as she met Jim at a motel, and there wasn’t much time for things to fester before they outright exploded. Ray going to Jim’s house was bold, but he didn’t actually try to intimidate him after he kicked down the door, more just asked him strongly to stop seeing his wife. In typical fashion, Ray didn’t deal with it in a particularly verbose or conversational way, instead just demanding her signature and refusing to speak to her about it. She did an excellent job of throwing his many infidelities in his face, and there’s really no way of coming back from this easily. What’s far more jarring, of course, and is sure to cast things in a new light. Bridget defying her parents was one thing, but ending up in the back of the car as Lee’s attempts to undercut Cookie failed miserably and he came to shoot both Recon and Marvin. She’ll evidently be traumatized, and rightly so, and let’s hope Ray handles it well in the middle of all this pressure. Mickey’s instant three picture deal was way too good to be true, and it’s a shame that his tussle with Alan managed to get it all cancelled so quickly. I love that he stole silverware and was so happy about it. His hopes may have been deflated, but at least he came out ahead and he’s doing a whole lot better than the rest of his family.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 4, Episode 5 “Life’s a Mystery” (B)

This was a strange episode, one which shifted focus away from regularly scheduled events in Cheyenne to make way for an unexpected visitor. The opening scene felt like a highly stylized Western, and while this show has certainly made its testaments to the genre over the past few years, this one felt the oddest and most foreign. Sydney Snow really didn’t fit in in Cheyenne, and he did just about everything he could to try to make his presence felt, which was far from advisable. Not recognizing the racial landscape he had entered was his first mistake, and not reading Cullen’s relationship with his wife was almost as poor a choice. But taking his gunfight to the local store where he decided he had to kill the witness to his accidental murder of a kid was the point of no return. I’m not convinced he would have killed Naomi, but it’s still good that Cullen arrived when he did. Durant having Campbell’s house ripped from its roots with him inside was a masterful show, but it also made him the prime suspect in the murder of Jessup and the target for Heckard’s revenge. Being told that he was Irish scum was certainly a trigger, but Mickey’s murderous temper has gotten the best of him too much recently. Gregg Henry was an interesting choice to play Brigham Young, and it’s very intriguing to learn that he knows that the Swede isn’t who he claims to be but still finds him a useful ally for some apparent vendetta he has against the most popular man in Cheyenne: Thomas Durant.

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 4, Episode 5 “Truth Asunder” (C)

With just one episode left in this entire series (if it’s not resurrected yet again by some network that inexplicably thinks people wants to see more of it), it’s hard to imagine things getting any more miserable than they already are. This was a great opportunity for Holder and Linden to severely piss each other off, with Linden making the unwise choice to yell at Caroline for not aggressively helping them enough, even though she didn’t stop to ask her for help in the first place and instead just started laying into her. Carl telling Linden that Holder blabbed at an NA meeting only worsened matters, and Holder rubbing it in her face that she forgot to take her son to the airport just fueled the fire even more. Margaret was being awfully forthcoming with information in this hour, both to the police and to surprised (if unconvinced viewers). Showing up at the police station to readily admit to having an affair with Lincoln’s father was gutsy, but also seemed to be far too overconfident. It seems that Margaret isn’t nearly as innocent as she had purported, since she and Lincoln were somehow involved in the murders, not happy that Kyle is starting to remembering what happened. I’m not sure I’m on board with that particular development, but I’m fairly certain that, no matter how things turn out with both the Skinner situation and everything involving Kyle and his conspiratorial colleagues, the season/series finale won’t be terribly pleasant or satisfying.

Monday, September 1, 2014

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

Orange is the New Black: Season 2, Episode 13 “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” (A-)

This double-decker installment was probably the best episode this show has produced yet, mainly because it kicked things into gear in a transformative way and helped to sew up a few open plotlines. It seemed to me that the tide was finally turning on Vee, and that she might end up being killed in more than one way at the same time. Ultimately, it was a quick, violent, and unmemorable ending that was quite fitting thanks to Rosa spotting her on the side of the road and ramming in to her because she was rude. Rosa’s getaway drive, complete with flashback to her glory days before prison, was absolutely perfect. Larry and Polly’s visit to see Piper was plenty awkward, and I like that Piper used their guilt to motivate them to help send Alex back to jail for season three, which should be a blast. It’s good to see Caputo on top because he’s become a more endearing character recently, much more so than Figueroa, whose exit was far from gracious. John’s situation didn’t exactly get resolved, though Caputo knowing means that John is somewhat more protected and somewhat more vulnerable. O’Neill’s songs played to the nuns were funny, and I liked the bonding among all the varied members of Red’s family. It was a relief to see Poussey rejoin the ranks of those corrupted by Vee, and also sad to see Crazy Eyes made to doubt her sanity because of Vee’s cowardice. I would say that this second year was definitely a blast, and I eagerly look forward to the show’s third season.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Hard to say with so many choices - maybe Barbara Rosenblat as Rosa?

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 1, Episode 7 “Equally Dead Inside” (B+)

What a fitting title for a fun episode, one which did stretch its believability a bit by having Jimmy go from an emotionless inconsiderate guy to full of sappy sentiment brewed from a bad relationship with his father. It’s most entertaining to watch Gretchen try to drum up sympathy and, more crucially, empathy, unsure of exactly how she can produce those foreign emotions. Her friendship with Dana evolved quite quickly into something far more seductive and difficult to come back from, and they managed to put a great show for a clearly flummoxed Jimmy. Unfortunately, his little run-in with Sandra Bernhard, in which she belittled his pre-prepared heckles, resulted in a trip home followed by a very brief moment of relief that ruined the whole thing. It was obvious that the threesome had to go wrong somehow, and the revelation that Jimmy hadn’t needed to enjoy any of it because he had shockingly quickly pleasured himself was pretty hilarious. In theory, Edgar and Lindsay are terribly annoying sidekicks, but there’s something about the way that they talk that’s so fantastically emphatic. It’s also genuinely funny that Lindsay disregards all the information she just doesn’t know and dismisses it as unimportant and that Edgar doesn’t feel like he fits into society. That they’ve been able to sustain their own subplot, even if it’s designed explicitly around not being the stars of their own stories, is a testament to the effectiveness of their characters and their ability to stand on their own.