Friday, October 31, 2014

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 8 “The Separation of Crows” (B+)

This episode actually contained the least amount of violence we’ve seen in a while, a few finger amputations notwithstanding, and by my count just one death over the course of the hour. What’s much more disconcerting for the long run is that Jax is starting to lose his own people, with his most faithful friend and ally Chibs beginning to question where the violence ends and who else has to die because of what has spiraled out of control in the wake of Tara’s death. Tyler is getting squeamish too, and he may realize that, when pinned into a corner by Marks, he’s the safer ally since SAMCRO will always have enemies ready to hurt its members. That apparently extends to their families also, and the discovery of the dead crows in the bed and the “No son is safe” message on Abel’s wall was definitely unsettling and extremely worrisome. Nero is ready to get out, a sure sign that he won’t survive what’s coming. Gemma’s latest interaction with Courtney Love’s Ms. Harrison was far from ideal, and it’s clear that she doesn’t think that anyone, particularly a lowly school administrator, deserves her respect. Unser saw through the club’s plan for Juice pretty quickly, and I’m curious to see how he and Althea decide to handle it since there’s no way things end well for Juice if he isn’t able to complete the mission assigned to him by an already on-edge and angry group of men currently fighting for their lives.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 6 “Pretenders” (B)

This may not have been the show’s most impressive installment, but it did manage to make both of its plotlines very relevant, a loaded word for this show, in a way that I didn’t see coming. The character of Walter Dang, a.k.a. Detective Forge, felt unnecessary since our heroes already have plenty of opportunities to wow the people they’re helping in a way that doesn’t make their numbers feel so much like groupies. That said, it was endearing to learn that Walter invented his secret identity because he had been inspired by the Man in the Suit and felt the need to step up in light of his disappearance. I’m not sure how everything that happened with Walter didn’t lead Samaritan to discover Reese and Shaw and everything they were up to, but I guess they managed to stay mostly irrelevant. What we did get was Elias returning as more of a villain before coming to the aid of Reese and everyone when they most needed him, and, more crucially, the return of Dominic, which I did see coming but still found satisfying. Those two criminals and their enterprises are going to be this season’s HR while the more potent threat, Samaritan, looms large like Vigilance did in season three. In Hong Kong, Finch found himself a wonderful companion in Jessica Hecht’s Beth Bridges, and the episode turned their romantic banter, highlighted by Finch quite atypically using violence to recover their stolen possessions, into something much more laced with deception. What this means is that Finch has figured out a way to try to spy on Samaritan, at least indirectly for now, and let’s hope he doesn’t get too attached to the tech genius whose laptop he just bugged.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 6 “A Fractured House” (B+)

I’ll go on record: this was the best hour this show has delivered in a long time, mixing action and a handful of solid plot developments while not even touching the big reveal from last week, which was that Skye’s father struck a deal with Whitehall to bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. That endgame was still in play full force in this episode, as Hydra agents posing as S.H.I.E.L.D. committed very public acts of terrorism designed to unite the world against the fabled organization. Fortunately, Coulson and his team thought quickly and utilized the prisoner in their basement for leverage with the man with the power to clear the institution's name: Ward’s brother. I haven’t seen Tim DeKay since I stopped watching “White Collar,” and I think he was a great choice to play the political figure who contradicted everything Ward said while our traitorous agent seemed genuinely afraid of ending up in his brother’s custody. Of course, it was all a ploy to be able to escape, which should make him a more dynamic part of the story going forward. I’m very pleased with how things with Bobbie and Lance are progressing, and their antics in the field are extremely entertaining, coupled with some impressive acrobatics and other tactical skills. It’s reassuring to see that Fitz and Simmons are working to get back to where they were, and though it’s going to take a while, I think they’re on the right track. This team certainly looks different than it did a year ago, but I think it’s a much stronger group.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 4 “Going Rogue” (B+)

I stopped watching “Arrow” in the middle of its first season, citing “unexciting directions” as my reason for dropping it. I had a vague recollection that Felicity was a character on that show, but I didn’t remember that I called her “the most annoying character currently found on TV” in my review of that show’s eighth episode. I have to assume that she’s grown into herself on that show because she certainly was a fine addition to this hour. Her chemistry with Barry was great, and she worked in scenes both with the regular people – a.k.a. Iris and Eddie during trivia – and with the smart ones – Caitlin and Cisco – who she managed to outwit with her incredibly quick hacking abilities. I’d love to see her again, and I think her presence was an important reminder for Barry that some people really do root for him even if others can’t hope to notice him. I was also impressed by this week’s villain, who may be back again since he wasn’t caught and put in the basement. He’s the first bad guy not to have powers, and though I thought he might be a version of Mr. Freeze, it turns out Captain Cold is actually a well-known Flash foe. It was great to see Wentworth Miller, whose particular demeanor suited “Prison Break” perfectly, in a role that’s just as fitting and allows him to truly live on the other side of the law. I didn’t mention Joe finding out about Iris and Eddie last week, but I do think that’s being properly handled in a way that feels genuine and doesn’t seem too unserious.

Take Three: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 3 “Chapter Three” (B+)

The soapiness is only getting soapier on this show as the intrigue intensifies and gets even more complicated. What’s nice to see is that Alba, the most staunch and stoic personality out of everyone on the show, is actually a dynamic character capable of change, able to recognize that her granddaughter should be able to have sex with the man she’s about to marry and to deal effectively with her daughter’s actor baby daddy trying to approach Jane before her mother has a chance to break the news to her. As usual, Jane had plenty on her plate, most notably almost having sex for the first time with Michael, though the TV greeting from Rafael and the subsequent pulling of the fire alarm by a panicked Luisa put a considerable damper on that near achievement. Michael talked his way out of getting caught confronting Petra, but now he’s in over his head as he’s ready to turn her in to the police but realizes that he’s complicit because he removed her necklace from the crime scene. The biggest development is that Petra dropped a very revealing and unintentional clue while she was talking to Rafael that is sure to lead him to uncover the full truth about her affair with Zazo, and I’m curious to see how that will unfurl their relationship, which for the moment seems to be going well. The drama on this show is in full swing, and I can see this show – which recently got awarded a full season by the CW – being capable of lasting a long time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Take Three: The Affair

The Affair: Season 1, Episode 3 (B+)

It’s difficult to find a vantage point from which to approach this show since it’s near impossible to piece together the events as told by Noah and by Allison into one coherent narrative. What’s fascinating, however, is the way in which they perceive their own marriages, both jumping their spouses in the middle of the night and telling them not to wake up. In both cases, it’s the other who is the aggressor, though we see how this affair truly got started as Noah overcomes his desire not to keep the relationship going and Allison approaches that same line of thinking, each in their own version of events. I’m not usually impressed by a framing device like the one being used to tell these stories, but so far it seems to be paying off since this town is quite interesting. Noah continues to clash with his in-laws in a big way, and Helen clearly knows that this is something that’s destined not to change, resigned to playing peacekeeper and not expecting anything different from her husband or her parents. At the same time, Cole showed a passionate side of himself that we haven’t seen before, standing up to rail against Oscar’s proposed expansion with a stirring speech in which he invoked the memory of his dead son. We don’t yet know who got murdered, and it’s hard to believe that it would be Cole (I suspect it’s his brother), but I’m sure that things will only continue to intensify as the season progresses.

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire (Series Finale)

Boardwalk Empire: Season 4, Episode 8 “Eldorado”

I’m not sure what I expected from this finale. I always remember this show’s third season as being its standout, and while I stand by that, its first two years were pretty terrific too, and its fourth year wasn’t all that bad either. Jumping ahead so many years to the 1930s was a bold and perhaps unnecessary move that I don’t feel helped the show all that much, and cramming everything into eight episodes while multitasking with flashbacks to Nucky’s past was hardly the fitting opportunity to say goodbye that show like this deserved. Sadly, that seems to be the trend these days, with many shows returning for abbreviated final seasons with double-decker episodes to wrap everything up as quickly and dramatically as possible. I’ll admit that I couldn’t remember what happened to Mabel prior to the start of the show, and therefore I was disappointed not to get much resolution to that (a visit to the show’s wiki reveals that she committed suicide after the death and burial of their child). Instead, it was all about the Darmodys, who didn’t feel relevant throughout this entire season but made a major return in the form of Gillian getting Nucky to come visit her and, of course, Tommy being the one to kill Nucky. It’s not the way we thought he would go – the two assassins sent by Lucky and Meyer were for Narcisse, not Nucky – and rather unceremonious as far as deaths go. For closure, we got Eli with plenty of money, Margaret also with plenty of money and a good business partner in Joe Kennedy, and the mob institution firmly and smartly established as Al went to jail for tax fraud. It’s hardly my idea of a complete and fulfilling finale, but I suppose this show was at its height when its characters were at their most prominent and successful, which didn’t always mean they were doing well but that someone else thought they were a threat.

Series finale: B-
Season grade: B
Season MVP: Steve Buscemi as Nucky
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Michael Shannon as Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller
Best Season: Season 3
Best Episode: “Two Imposters

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 5 “About a Boy” (B+)

As if Carrie’s actions at the end of last episode weren’t impulsive and shocking enough, now she’s spending all of her time with Aayan and not answering her phone, which led to not one but two serious missteps including an abducted Saul. At least she managed to get Aayan to trust her fully, admitting that his uncle isn’t actually alive and expressing a deep connection to the one family member he has left. She’s going to have her plate full with Quinn pissed off and a vengeful American uncovering some of her most dangerous secrets. Dennis is ready to do some major damage after breaking into Carrie’s apartment and taking pictures of her baby photo and her prescriptions, and she’s going to have more to worry about than being beaten to death by an angry mob since we know that the intelligence is going straight to Tasneem. This whole terrorist organization is formidably small, since Tasneem was also directly responsible for the orchestration of Saul’s abduction, which came right in the middle of his frantic pursuit of Farhad, whose visibility was too good to be true. He’s a main character on the show, and while that didn’t save Brody, I think that Saul is both considerably more valuable as an intelligence asset and not nearly as controversial, so he’s just going to be one of the many ways that Tasneem is going to try to force Carrie’s hand for whatever the next step of ISI’s plans in Pakistan turn out to be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 3 “Four Walls and a Roof” (B+)

It’s always strange to me when a show goes to the trouble of introducing a character and then kills him or her off almost right away. I’m not sure that I’ll miss Gareth and his merry band of cannibals since they’ve been fearsome and disturbing additions to the show. Moreso, I have to hope that the reason for his swift death is that there is something – or someone – even more compelling on the horizon. I suspect, however, that his brutal bludgeoning is more of a catalyst to show Rick and his gang’s descent into inhumanity, though that’s somewhat contradicted by the optimistic ending suggested by Abraham’s surprisingly pleasant note on the map. Gareth certainly made an impression in his final extended scene, showing up to terrorize the remaining inhabitants of the church and ready to kill a baby before Rick and reinforcements showed up, successfully having tricked Gareth and his crew into thinking that they had wandered off to find the cannibals’ camp. At least we know that Gabriel is good, and Bob, to his credit, died a pretty noble death with a solid final few hours. I hope that we’ll continue to follow Abraham, Eugene, Maggie, Glenn, and everyone else as they head to D.C., which by my calculations should take them as little as a day if they drive straight at about 30 miles per hour. Back at the church, Daryl made it back awfully quickly, but the episode’s strange ending seems to indicate that things are not fully okay.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 6 “Old Spice” (C)

This episode was all about rehashing old plotlines that feel like they’re being done to death, and coming up with others that don’t feel right at all. Cary’s bail situation has been one cosmic joke after another, and now he’s facing his last warning because he went to a party half a mile over the border into Indiana. You’d think that he’d be sensible enough to pay attention to such things, but I guess this show is set on making a character that’s transformed completely from a jerk to one of its most endearing players suffer for his past crimes. And he even got Kalinda, someone who usually likes to stay in the shadows, dragged into the limelight and banished from his life. This is the umpteenth time that Howard Lyman has been manipulated so that his inexplicably important stature can help swing things to one side, and it’s hard to find it believable anymore. Diane went from having to hand over her hold on the lease to her old firm to having no chance at evicting her tenants to suddenly getting them out in just twenty-four hours. Moving back into comfortable office space won’t do much for the fledging firm, but it should at least give them a literal roof over their heads under which to impress new prospective business. I’m not sure how to address the singular peculiarity that is Elsbeth and Josh’s relationship since both of them are so ridiculously weird. I’d rather have left it at their night spent together and not delved into yet another opportunity for Josh to find himself duped by someone who was wearing recording equipment that captured someone admitting to an illegal act.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Wilderness” (B+)

We got our first real glimpse in this episode of how this family functions when they’re at their most normal, and, expectedly, it’s not all that much different from their usual states. There was a whole lot of Judaism thrown into this episode in a casual manner as the family got together for a Shabbat dinner, which got very memorably interrupted by an unfriendly visit from Len, who was not happy to see Maura sitting in full female garb with his children present and forced to deal with the idea of their grandfather now being a woman. Maura dealt with it pretty well, and at least Sarah and Tammy seem to be on the same page about how they want to approach it, which is good. Ali and Syd had a great time auditing a gender studies course biased heavily in one direction, and it’s nice to see that this show can be self-analytical while still trying to glean some important wisdom about the idea of gender fluidity. The flashbacks to Mort’s time spent with Bradley Whitford’s Mark are fittingly brief and pretty worthwhile, and I’m both curious and nervous to see if obstacles like a family event conflict were the only reasons Mort stayed in the closet for so many years. It’s refreshing to see Josh embark on what seems like it will be a healthy relationship with Rabbi Raquel, and let’s hope that she doesn’t get thrown off by his family once she gets to know them better.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pilot Review: Constantine

Constantine (NBC)
Premiered October 24 at 10pm

If there’s one thing I’m really not interested in watching, it’s a show about someone who fights demons. I gave “Supernatural” a chance way back in 2005 and recently revisited the subject with “Penny Dreadful” earlier this year. Now, NBC is getting back in the business, wisely pairing its new show with something that’s pretty similar, “Grimm,” also a pilot that I didn’t care for enough to continue watching past the first week. While this show may appease fans of the genre, it also does as much as possible to make the title hero as unlikeable as possible, likening his demon-dispelling abilities to his coarse personality and inability to display emotion. In place, he tries for dark humor, and it doesn’t work particularly well. I don’t remember encountering series star Matt Ryan anywhere before, and I’m not keen to see him again. In the supporting cast, we have Lucy Griffiths, who played Nora on “True Blood,” as Liv, who possesses the ability necessary to help Constantine save people, and two “Lost” alumni, Harold Perrineau and Jeremy Davies. If this show’s subject matter appealed to me at all, I might have enjoyed this hour more, but there is a certain discord between the show’s inherent darkness and the casual nature of its characters that feels like it would be unconvincing on any show. This show is all about a crack team of people saving people from the fires of hell, and I can assure that I will be staying far, far way.

How will it work as a series? Eventually, Liv is going to discover that Constantine manipulated her into signing up for this line of work, but I presume that she’ll have thrown herself into it enough to be able to swiftly forgive him. That said, there’s sure to be plenty of hellfire and heartbreak along the way for this eccentric duo and their friends no matter how well they work together.
How long will it last? The show’s ratings weren’t great, especially in comparison to the show in this timeslot last year that got cancelled, “Dracula.” It was up against the World Series, so NBC might try to perfect its freaky Friday night, especially with Halloween serving as the second outing. I still think this one won’t live long.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 6, Episode 5 “The Scale of Affection is Fluid” (B+)

If last week was about parents, this episode was about children. Many of them were adults, of course, but it’s still about seeing life through a younger lens and looking up to parents as the source of approval. That rang particularly true for Crosby, who was rebelling so aggressively against Jasmine’s very literal grounding of his freedom that he felt the need to push the limits all the time, unprepared for the realization that no one, even his bear-facing father, is invincible. Adam was a barrel of laughs in this hour, acting like a child when he saw Julia’s new boyfriend at the house and forcing him to stay and then incurring Kristina’s wrath when he encouraged Max to go for it with his crush. I like that Max’s boldness impressed Dylan without fully winning her over, and it seems that things might actually work out for Max provided he stops reading the books he got immediately. Amber’s coffee spill turned dog park date was cute, and it’s a shame that the state of her pregnancy is hitting her so hard. Joel’s reaction to seeing Chris playing basketball with his former family was heartbreaking, and Julia seems to be taking his anger in stride, ready to show the whole world that she’s doing what she wants with her life. I was disappointed to learn that each cast member would be absent from an episode of this season due to contract cuts, but I think that’s been artfully handled so far, with Sarah not being around in this hour easily explained away by a line from Crosby and not being too problematic.

What I’m Watching: A to Z

A to Z: Season 1, Episode 4 “D is for Debbie” (C-)

I was hoping that, four episodes in, this should would feel a bit more developed, and unfortunately it doesn’t. What changed about this half-hour is that it wasn’t saved at the end by a big romantic gesture on the part of one or both of our affable leads, but instead it was dragged out through the episode as both parties were somewhat uncomfortable. Zelda not inviting Andrew to the funeral made sense given the short amount of time that they’ve been dating, but his bright outlook on life made him think that only good things would come of him going there. The problem is that both were right, and what ended up happening was Zelda freaking out, which doesn’t bother Andrew at all, and her fast-forwarded lawyer eulogy was hardly the way to make his presence there worthwhile. Like all of this show’s supporting characters, it doesn’t match the nature of their relationship. Ending with a heartwarming music session was peculiar and is exemplary of nothing more than the fact that Andrew and Zelda can occasionally be normal together in the midst of weird circumstances. I don’t have much to say about Stu and Stephie, who do their best to hog the screen at every opportunity, but Lydia continues to be a drain on the show, putting hunting traps out to catch her employees immediately in a moment of unproductivity and then getting herself in trouble at the hands of Wayne Wilderson’s corporate surveyor. I liked him better as the convict is his short stint on season three of “The Office.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 5 “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor” (C+)

This episode theoretically wasn’t as bad as other recent installments, mainly because its plotline wasn’t so formulaic and, for once, was actually quite literal. Talk about a formidable and diverse cast of guest stars, some of whom weren’t used to any comedic effect at all. Ben Lawson of “The Deep End” and Fiona Gubelmann of “Wilfred” were the couple that the Dunphys wanted to move in next door but accidentally scared away by making them think that they wanted to have a foursome. Steve Zahn of “Treme” and Andrea Anders of “Better Off Ted” were the extremely over-the-top, excessively loud and redneck couple that did end up moving in and may unfortunately grace our screens again in the future. On the more veteran side, Jon Polito, who I recognize but can’t peg which of his 200+ projects on IMDB I know him from, was Jay’s Closets, Closets, Closets nemesis Earl Chambers, and Tyne Daly, winner of many Emmys for “Judging Amy” and more, was Lily’s tyrannical teacher at school. It was good to see Cameron and Mitchell doing something different for a change, and their interactions with Daly’s aptly-named Mrs. Plank were decently entertaining. Jay’s closet references were also mildly enjoyable, and I’m just happy to see these characters’ professions put to good use since it seems like all we’ve heard about recently is Phil being a realtor and Cameron being a coach. Unfortunately, that’s all marred by the thought of the Dunphys’ new neighbors trying to encourage a foursome again.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 7 “Greensleeves” (B+)

It’s as if this show is trying to be as creative as possible in thinking of the horrible ways that human beings can be tortured and killed, and I keep telling myself that it’s in the service of demonstrating just how much violence begets violence. TVLine made a gallery of deaths caused by Gemma this season that illustrates just why she had such a foreboding sense of dread when she was summoned to the cabin since she is so directly responsible for so much of the pain and misery inflicted upon Charming and its neighbors recently. This show has never been shy about killing off its series regulars in the middle of a season, and it’s worth being frightened now since the end is near and anyone is fair game more than ever. Bobby’s severed eye being delivered to SAMCRO by Marks’ head of security sends a brutal message, and there’s only going to be more violence in the near future. Delivering that fearsome news was a face I haven’t seen in a while, Matthew St. Patrick, last seen on “Six Feet Under” as a security guard and then fated to obscurity after a quick follow-up stint on “Reunion,” as Moses, who seems to have a temperament fitting for working with Marks. The club sending Juice into prison so that he could kill Lin is a smart idea, but I suspect that things are going to unravel way before then and plenty of innocent and guilty people are going to get caught in the crossfire.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 4, Episode 5 “Prophets” (B+)

This episode was full of action as those supporting Samaritan reappeared, and it’s really cool to watch the show in its new dynamic. I’m particularly fascinated by Root, who manages to have a new identity every day in order to stay off the radar, and who bonded with Finch in a rare moment of sweetness as they were both putting their technical skills to good use together. The flashbacks to 2001 when Finch was destroying AI after AI because they all became self-aware and threatened to do harm to Finch were very potent and relevant, especially with Samaritan doing exactly what Finch was afraid of his machine doing. Deciphering Samaritan’s plan over the course of the episode wasn’t easy, and Jason Ritter’s whiz kid numbers guy managed to get himself nearly killed a few times. The team’s plan to get the newly elected governor to resign didn’t last long due to her untimely death, and now it appears that her second-in-command Nick Dawson is around and ready to do Greer’s bidding. Martine continues to be a formidable foe and fitting nemesis for Root. I couldn’t figure out where I knew Reese’s new police therapist from, and it turns out that Wrenn Schmidt played Julia on “Boardwalk Empire.” She does seem to be getting him to open up a bit, which is a major feat even if he’s not being entirely truthful about who he is. The mention of Carter struck me since this show has transformed itself so much since she left, an impressive accomplishment considering how integral to the show she used to be.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Round Two: Marry Me

Marry Me: Season 1, Episode 2 “Move Me” (C)

I’d really like to like this show, but I just don’t see that happening. Moving on from botched proposals to the next phase of engagement could have presented opportunities but the show didn’t exactly seize them, instead choosing to be focused on its characters’ inherent ability not to be romantic. I prefer leads who do in fact have some emotional chemistry, and that’s one of the reason that I stopped watching the already-cancelled “Manhattan Love Story” and why I continue to watch “A to Z” even though I’m not thrilled with it. What I do like about this show is a few members of its supporting cast, namely Dan Bucatinsky and Tim Meadows as Annie’s dads, and I’ll admit to laughing a few times during their scenes with Annie. I want to be excited about seeing Sarah Wright, who I liked in the first season of “The Loop” a while back on FOX, as Dennah, but relegating her to being vain and getting terrible botox isn’t exactly a productive use of a character like hers. I don’t feel that way about anyone on the show, particularly Gil, and I think that there is not a solid enough foundation here to build an entire series given that the leads can’t be depended upon to be endearing. Their moving hijinks were far from enthralling, mainly because they didn’t exactly have much time to materialize since Annie bolted as soon as Jake started behaving in a very oblivious manner, completely unaware of the fact that he was now living with someone else.

Friday, October 24, 2014

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 5 “A Hen in the Wolfhouse” (B)

A lot happened in this episode, changing the landscape of things in a major way and confirming some rumored untruths that now can’t be taken back. Skye’s father went from being a virtually unseen phantom to something much more tangible as he lost his temper and demonstrated what he could do, which led to Skye seeing the results and calling him a monster. What that created was something unexpected and intense, which is an alliance between him and Hydra with the express goal of taking down Coulson. That can’t be good, and let’s hope that Skye can appeal to her father’s humanity, even if neither of them is particularly human at all. Simmons’ cover got blown pretty easily when she rather publicly passed a covert message on to S.H.I.E.L.D, and that photo Raina took of her did some pretty terrific damage. Her rescue was made somewhat implausible by the fact that we saw Bobbi intimidate Simmons when she was herself rather than coming clean so that they could more easily extract her. The addition of Adrianne Palicki, onetime “Friday Night Lights” star and the would-be Wonder Woman, is definitely welcome, and I think she’ll add plenty to the show, especially considering the bombshell that she’s Lance’s ex-wife. Fitz reuniting with Simmons just as he finally came to terms with the fact that he was hallucinating her was sweet, and let’s hope that he return is something positive for his recovery rather than a troublesome step in the wrong direction.

Take Three: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 3 “Things You Can’t Outrun” (B+)

This show is just running along, continuing to function on its main character’s enthusiasm for the good work he is doing and the consistency of each episodic guest star. I’m very happy to note that this show feels like it’s already well-established, with the dynamics of its supporting players, both of the scientific and law enforcement nature, fully developed. It’s the kind of rhythm that often takes much longer to establish, and this show managed to do it in just a few episodes. The gaseous villain in this episode was pretty cool, and though the people he was hunting – mainly Joe – didn’t come as a surprise, the revelation that he was about to be executed when he was infused with this new ability was considerably more unexpected. This episode included a fair amount of flashback time, filling in some important blanks about the night that Barry became the Flash. I like the casting of Robbie Amell, brother of “Arrow” star Stephen and star of last year’s CW effort “The Tomorrow People,” as Ronnie, Caitlin’s fiancé who died extremely heroically by sacrificing his life to save many others. Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco seem to all have come to a good place now that they’re using the particle accelerator as a makeshift prison, and it’s just a matter of someone figuring out what evil Dr. Wells is really up to. It was good to see Joe go see Barry’s father in prison, and let’s hope that he doesn’t somehow end up dead before Barry and Joe can figure out a way to set him free.

Round Two: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 1, Episode 2 “Chapter Two” (B+)

This was a perfectly entertaining episode, but I’m not sure that this is a show that I need to be watching every week. It turns out that it’s a surefire hit, already commissioned for a full season by its network. It is definitely committed to its stylized telenovela nature, even giving its bemused narrator the opportunity to crack jokes, like the fact that he didn’t care so much that Michael wasn’t a virgin. This episode turned everything on its head by adding in some new plotlines that, as tends to be the case, only select people know about, meaning that deception is in the air and no one knows the full truth. Jane googling Rafael was an unfortunate idea, but it seems that he truly has changed, though he of course should be raising the baby with Jane and not with Petra. Michael just happened to be surveying Petra, who it now appears may have pushed her lover to his death so that she could appease Michael and also rid herself of a problematic obstacle to getting to raise the baby with Rafael, something she may now actually want. Luisa is permitted her own plotline, and her romantic past isn’t going anywhere anytime soon either. Alba found out about Rogelio being Xiomara Jane’s father in just about the most fantastic way possible, and I’m sure that her daughter is going to have plenty of explaining to do after Alba hit the floor hard due to the shock of seeing a TV idol in bed with her daughter.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Round Two: The Affair

The Affair: Season 1, Episode 2 (B+)

This show was definitely appealing in its second hour, maintaining its format of showing half the episode from Noah’s perspective and the other from Alison’s and also continuing to position its events relative to someone’s murder in the present day resulting in the interrogation of both parties. What’s interesting is just how different their recollected experiences are, particularly in Noah saying that he spent $12 at her stand and Alison remembering him buying one of everything for a grand total of $40. Noah describing Alison as disaster was intriguing, and his inability to remember his wife’s birth year was also noteworthy. I’m ready to see where this relationship goes, and happy to see that Helen and Cole are still substantial characters, not relegated to just the role of discarded spouse. Helen fixing Alison’s outfit was a particularly impactful moment, and Noah wasn’t shy about his distaste for his father-in-law after he spoke negatively about Alison. Even the kids get to play a big part in the overarching saga of this forbidden romance, which makes things all the more engaging. Martin jumped at the chance to work on the ranch, and this show has woven quite an interconnected web by making Cole his new mentor. Whitney was not shy about saying hello to the boys, and we got to see that Cole didn’t go for the flirtation, which makes his and Helen’s inevitable discovery of Noah and Alison’s affair all the more likely to truly sting and do lasting damage to both marriage.

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire (Penultimate Episode)

Boardwalk Empire: Season 5, Episode 7 “Friendless Child” (B)

It’s hard to believe this show only has one episode left, though it certainly feels like it’s ready to sign off. Its style has become much more theatrical and dramatic, and it’s clear that loose ends are being tied up in a way that doesn’t necessarily feel linear. The opening radio broadcast-narrated montage emphasized the grand nature of the mob, and the big hostage exchange scene only further embellished that idea. It didn’t take much for Nucky to hand over the keys to his empire, but that’s what always made him this show’s protagonist. He’s not a bad guy, and he really is loyal to those he cares about. It’s good to at least see him standing side-by-side with Eli at the end of it, with his second closest ally, Mickey, outliving expectations by surviving almost the entire series before being shot. With no sign of Al, this episode featured another famous up-and-coming mobster – Bugsy Siegel – who’s still playing second fiddle but is surely on his way up, just as soon as he evades his captors and gets back to his wife to celebrate Lag Ba’omer. The only question now is whether Nucky can successfully withdraw himself from his business or if he won’t be able to get out clean. The flashbacks also brought up another outstanding storyline, which is Gillian’s fate, as she was humanized after seasons of murderous incestuous misery as yet another lost soul that Nucky saw fit to pluck from obscurity and help turn into something respectable. Let’s hope for a memorable and fitting finale next week.

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 4 “Iron in the Fire” (B+)

There’s no CIA agent quite like Carrie Mathison. This episode demonstrates that she believes that literally sleeping with the enemy is always the best course for getting the job done. It was shocking enough when she seduced Brody back in season one and then when she willingly went back to him knowing full well what he was after that, but this was something wholly different. Maybe it’s because Aayan looks so young and doesn’t seem like a fitting match for Carrie, but I think it’s more because there was nothing about that situation that called for Carrie to put the moves on him. That’s what makes this show a blast to watch, since Carrie is so unpredictable and it’s impossible to know what she’ll do next even and especially if things seem like they’re headed in the right direction without her throwing a major curveball. We already got two big bombshells in the episode before this, both of which have enormous implications. The first is that Aayan’s uncle didn’t die in the drone strike, and that it was all a set up to make the Americans look bad for killing innocent civilians. The second is that the leak isn’t hard to find – it’s the Ambassador’s husband. Mark Moses is great at playing long-suffering husbands living in the shadow of their wives, and therefore he’s the perfect fit to portray a man in way over his head as he’s now in debt to a group that is surely going to have him transmit more damaging information than ever before that will lead directly to the deaths of Americans.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 2 “Strangers” (B+)

This episode was a more balanced hour that mixed uneasiness, hopelessness, and sheer dread without binging on the gore too much. And that’s an hour that ends with someone watching himself being eaten! Part of why it works in this case is that the cannibals are reminiscent of the Governor in the way that they matter-of-factly justify their behavior, and that should make them interesting – and terrifying – enemies for our friends for the duration of the season. Sure, they did capture the wandering people who came in search of sanctuary, but they also burned down their home, which is cause for vengeance and apparently produces quite an appetite. It’s a shame that Bob is their first victim, but at least he’s a somewhat tangential character. This episode had a very weary feel to it, as everyone seemed relieved after much walking in the woods to find a literal sanctuary in the form of a church. There is something decidedly iffy about their new preacher friend, but he’s most fascinating for his unadulterated perspective on the world, trusting in his faith to protect him and renouncing violence even in the face of certain death. Both Carol and Tara have managed to ease themselves back into the group, which is good, since they’re all going to need to present as unified a front as possible to fight off whatever awaits them in the church and the impending threat of the cannibals. And, who knows, maybe Daryl will even manage to find Beth in the middle of everything.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 5 “Shiny Objects” (B-)

This episode achieved the remarkable feat of featuring multiple plotlines, and that’s about all that elevated it above the quality of recent episodes. All of a sudden, Alicia and Finn are best friends again, and the fact that Alicia doesn’t want to betray the kindness of her friend by having him not introduce her ended up revitalizing Alicia’s campaign and forcing Peter’s hand as Alicia let him have it for not standing by her after she stood by him so many times. As expected, the photo op resulted in side-by-side comparisons with Alicia standing next to her husband when he gave his big speech, something that should work out favorably for her in the end. This Trojan Ware thing didn’t end up being too problematic for Florrick Agos thanks to the hard work of Kalinda in fighting it, and instead it seems to have presented quite the opportunity for Diane, who got a friendly reminder from a very bitter David Lee that she still holds the lease for the offices presently inhabited by Lockhart Gardner. Seizing the space for her new firm seems like an endless lawsuit waiting to happen, but I’m sure that wouldn’t surprise for this show. Kalinda toying with another law enforcement ex-girlfriend to get information was nothing new, and it just demonstrates how little she values emotion, as she was talking to Cary about coming over later while in bed with Lana. Elsbeth’s return was hardly worth it, as Alicia managed to easily distract her and it all didn’t matter anyway since Kyle MacLachlan’s Josh Perotti showed up to disrupt the whole thing.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 1, Episode 5 “Wedge” (B+)

This was a fun episode because it gave us some serious bonding time for the siblings as Ali executed a desperate search for the missing Ed. That Sarah and Josh only wanted to drink Bloody Marys while Ali was maligning the state of the world was entertaining and helped to flesh out just who these people are. Josh had a successful romantic episode by sleeping with a real estate agent who could help sell his father’s house, while Sarah is in better shape with Tammy, who is now more focused on her and only somewhat pulled back by her former life with Barb. I liked Josh and Tammy’s interaction, which was entirely hostile and rude from both sides, since putting together two characters who rarely share the screen is one of my favorite things on TV. Maura’s experience in this episode was almost more difficult than being viciously ostracized in a bathroom since Gary couldn’t help from laughing looking at her, but she handled herself with dignity and grace, which is a positive thing considering the way that Josh and Shelly took the news of Mort’s current public state. Ed walking in with a caricature at the end of the episode was a great finale, and I do hope that him being back means that we’ll stick get to see more of Rabbi Raquel. I’m thrilled with the casting of Kathryn Hahn, who starred in series creator Jill Soloway’s feature film debut “Afternoon Delight,” as Rabbi Raquel, and since she didn’t have much to do in this episode, I’m eager to see her featured in subsequent installments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

AFT Awards: Best Comedy Series

This is the twentieth and final category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Episodes, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, Shameless, Veep

Emmy nominees: The Big Bang Theory, Girls, Louie, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep

Semi-finalists: House of Lies, Modern Family, New Girl

Finalists: Family Tree had the stylings of a British comedy but a tone and premise all its own. Eastbound and Down signed off with its second final season, staying true to the incomparable Kenny Powers and his unique legacy. Wilfred got weirder and more depressing as its events became even more muddled in uncertainty. Silicon Valley took a bit of time to get comfortable but ended up being one of the most current and promising comedies. Welcome to the Family got a paltry three episodes but made the most of them – I just wish we’d seen more of this NBC comedy.

The nominees:

Veep tackled a new storyline – a campaign – and handled it with true hilarity the whole way. Episodes introduced a new element into its already frantic world to tremendous satirical effect. Orange is the New Black catapulted Netflix to comedy relevance with this occasionally hilarious, occasionally devastating hourlong dramedy. Hello Ladies was a perfectly British comedy that should have lasted more than just one short season.

The winner:

Parks and Recreation didn’t fade at all in its very funny sixth season, which expanded its universe and gave its characters even more fun and ridiculous things to do.

Next up: That’s a wrap! The Oscar race is getting started, so stick around here for pilot reviews and head over to for everything on movies!

AFT Awards: Best Drama Series

This is the nineteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Banshee, Boardwalk Empire, Boss, Homeland, The Newsroom

Emmy nominees: Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, True Detective

Semi-finalists: Burn Notice, Dexter, Downton Abbey, Elementary, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Hell on Wheels, House of Cards, The Killing, Longmire, Mad Men, Masters of Sex, The Newsroom, The Red Road , True Blood, The Walking Dead

Finalists: Orphan Black and Banshee both followed up astounding freshman debuts with equally compelling second seasons, charting new territory but sticking true to the concepts that made them fascinating in the first place. The Bridge took a difficult concept and made it work on many fronts with a stellar cast and strong storytelling. Shameless made the switch from comedy to drama (though Emmy voters would have you think the opposite) seamlessly. Parenthood stayed true to its characters as they all overcame great trials and tribulations.

The nominees:

Justified brought in new blood for a fabulously-written and executed new chapter of Kentucky crime. Breaking Bad went out memorably and unapologetically with six unforgettable hours. Ray Donovan was a magnetic ensemble story with an irresistible and unmatchable lead character. Person of Interest truly found its footing in its fantastic third season, rising well above the ranks of the procedural it could have been.

The winner:

Sons of Anarchy was heartbreaking in its penultimate season as its violence took an irreversible turn and demonstrated the permanence of actions and decisions.

Next up: Best Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

This is the eighteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Episodes, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, Shameless, Veep

Semi-finalists: Family Tree, House of Lies

Finalists: Silicon Valley brought together a few oddballs for an uncomfortable but fun team. Welcome to the Family didn’t have much time to prove itself, but its cast showed plenty of comedic promise. Eastbound and Down reunited its most prominent players for one last glorious inning. Hello Ladies emphasized awkwardness and used its performers to the best of their abilities to aid with that. Modern Family isn’t as good as it used to be, but its actors are still pretty decent. The nominees:

Parks and Recreation lost two of its regular players but none of its momentum thanks to the fine work of the rest of its cast and a few notable new additions. Orange is the New Black was literally a madhouse, carefully balancing many outrageous and pitch-perfect performances. Episodes brought in a new boss who only contributed to the zany nature of the reliable returning players. New Girl didn’t have an even season but its cast was still firing on all cylinders.

The winner:

Veep was fantastic all around, letting all its characters come fully out of their shells in the midst of a memorable campaign.

Next up: Best Drama Series

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

This is the seventeenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Boardwalk Empire, Boss, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, The Newsroom

Semi-finalists: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Bridge, Burn Notice, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Hell on Wheels, The Killing, Longmire, Masters of Sex, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead

Finalists: Banshee amped up its performances and matched its gritty drama with strong turns all around. Shameless took a more dramatic turn and still got the best from its wild cadre of actors. Sons of Anarchy battled its toughest year yet with a firmly committed ensemble. Parenthood gave its characters obstacle after obstacle, and its cast responded strongly. Mad Men stepped into its swan song with its eclectic cast ready to face the future.

The nominees:

Breaking Bad went out with a bang thanks in large part to its superb stars. Ray Donovan was had everything to do with being connected, and the many parts of its large cast definitely were. Person of Interest rallied for its best season yet, employing its diverse talent to perfection. House of Cards added to its repertoire of morally questionable politicians and their associates with a fine commitment to quality.

The winner:

Justified introduced a new mischievous family and brought with it a fantastic new slate of actors and still solid performances from the rest of the cast.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Monday, October 20, 2014

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 6, Episode 4 “A Potpourri of Freaks” (B+)

I praised this show last week for not heightening its drama for any reason or trying to pull the rug out from under its viewers by surprising them with a big twist or death, and I’d like to applaud it this week for effectively recalling its own historical events for the purpose of a powerful moment. Kristina going to visit Zeek and commiserating with him about people talking about how “we” can get through this made for a fantastic scene, and it’s great to see her help get him back on his feet by motivating him through her shared experience. Aside from that positive interaction, this episode was all about parenting in a big way. Julia and Joel are managing to get back on track after realizing that their uncertain status has affected Sydney in a problematic way, and it’s good that they decided to talk to her. Sandy telling Hank that Ruby couldn’t spend time with Sarah was harsh, and good for Sarah for standing up for herself and managing to get Ruby to hate her only as much as her mother and father. It looks like this Hank and Sarah thing may work out after all, which is really great for both of him. Crosby’s visit to the silent meditation retreat was entirely ridiculous but entertaining, and he’s got plenty of growing to do in his marriage before he realizes that aggressively riding off on his forbidden motorcycle doesn’t help matters at all. Dylan definitely made an impression, and it’s nice to know that, offensive as everything she says is, Max seems to like spending time with her, which could lead to an important progression in his school experience.

Take Three: A to Z

A to Z: Season 1, Episode 3 “C is for Curiouser and Curiouser” (C)

I firmly believe that this show would be substantially better if the supporting characters either didn’t exist or weren’t allowed to speak. More specifically, Lydia needs to go immediately since all she does is serve as an overlord presence with a very problematic complex that makes her feel like she needs approval at every turn but never perceives any situation the right way. Not having her around would be an enormous help for the show. Stu and Stephie, on the other hand, work much better in the manner that we saw them at the very end of the episode, pretending to be friends while secretly telling each other how much they hate each other. Let’s hope that they can remain just what they need to be, which is good friends from our two protagonists. Speaking of them, no matter what happens over the course of the episode, it’s hard not to find Zelda’s sweetness and Andrew’s romantic energy irresistible, and it seems like that’s where every big fight, which in this case was a series of digging to find dirt on each other and then snooping on Andrew’s part, is headed. Andrew is the one who is into the idea of marriage as the one big thing, and Zelda coming around to his more romanticized worldview in definitely appealing. It’s sad to think that they’re headed for a break-up eventually, but my calculations suggest that there’s no way that this show makes it to 26 episodes (presumably over the course of two seasons) long enough for the next slate of episodes to involve them getting back together.

Take Three: Bad Judge

Bad Judge: Season 1, Episode 3 “One Brave Waitress” (C-)

This wasn’t quite as bad as episode two, to be sure, but I don’t think that I should be watching this show anymore, let alone reviewing it. The former likely won’t be happening, since it’s a fun half-hour to watch with my wife, who does enjoy it, and I’ll have to consider whether I can bear to keep criticizing this show week after week. This episode got rid of the truly ridiculous case from last week and did its best to make its featured case as ridiculous as possible. I’ll reiterate my comment that it would be great if Rebecca was actually a truly competent judge whose often missteps were in her personal life, but unfortunately that’s not really the case. Watching her talk in doublespeak and make secret deals to ally with one lawyer doesn’t impress, and her clear bias against the defendant didn’t either. I understand that it’s supposed to be a comedy, but having all the female jurors lined up and ready with excuses necessitating their dismissal was a bit much. I’m glad that we haven’t seen Rebecca’s kid pal since episode one, and instead we get to watch her personal life unfold through her budding and now defunct romance with Billy, who she seems to have inspired to go read a second book, though he’s only the latest in a long line of movie and TV idiots to be surprised that “To Kill a Mockingbird” isn’t actually about a bird. Maybe he’ll come back much smarter someday soon – who knows?

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 4 “Marco Polo” (C-)

What I wouldn’t give for a literal line on this show. Exactly one of this episode’s threads wasn’t executed fully in double-speak, and that was Manny’s surprising romance with a senior girl driving a fancy car, which predictably ended suddenly when she revealed that she was just using him to make her boyfriend jealous. The only positive was that it provided a bonding moment for Jay and Manny, a semi-rare opportunity since it’s usually Gloria doing the bulk of the parenting. There was nothing about the hotel plotline that struck me as funny, from the self-operating cologne dancing around the room to Phil talking to the divorced guys as if his wife and family had actually left him. There’s nothing new about Phil wanting to spend time with his family and the rest of them having trouble coexisting in a small space, and I wish that it would stop being a surprise to them each time. Cam has always been overexuberant about sports, though needing to satisfy his superstitions by walking into a table and tripping on the porch were new specific tics. That the team would immediately start losing when Mitchell appeared on the bleachers and then do well when he was on the fence was silly, and the only worthwhile moment was Mitchell’s furious reaction when he and Cam got soaked by the team. Though I wouldn’t stop watching it, I’m strongly considering no longer writing reviews for this show since I so rarely find myself with anything good to say anymore.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7, Episode 6 “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” (B+)

Some things end up being much more drawn-out and harrowing than expected, and others sort themselves out much more quickly and easily than anticipated. Juice didn’t waste any time in returning to Charming after escaping from Gemma, and he delivered himself right into the hands of Marcus Alvarez, who traded Juice for what may well be the only lasting truce that SAMCRO is able to negotiate before the series signs off next month. Their meeting with the Aryan Brotherhood didn’t go as planned, but it seems that all they needed was to vent their collective frustrations with each other by throwing a few punches. The body count continues to rise in a way that’s just out of control, best exemplified by the literal pile of bodies that SAMCRO brought to the AB as a twisted peace offering. Gemma’s trip north featured this season’s third very special guest appearance after Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love, from Lea Michele of “Glee” fame. I’m not sure why it was a necessary guest spot other than to show compassion for a clearly crazy Gemma, but there was nothing bad or excessive about it. As Gemma is telling her story to the police to ensure that Lin won’t get out of prison, it seems like Nero is firmly on her side despite his being kept in the dark constantly getting him into trouble. It’s just a question of how many more people have to die before Gemma – or likelier Juice – comes clean about who really killed Tara.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

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

I wasn’t initially too excited about the plot of this episode, particularly when it looked like Reese was going to play hopscotch with a few attitude-heavy schoolyard girls to get information. But it managed to surprise me with a few well-timed twists and a reminder that this show can make just about anything work in its universe. What Malcolm and Tracie represent is those unaware of the dangers of the world they are living in, just the real world and not even factoring in Samaritan, but are motivated by the desire to do the right thing. That sentiment managed even to impress Dominic, who seems like he’ll be leaving the two kids alone for the moment. Agent Lennox’s duplicity was obvious from the start, particularly because she kept talking about some unseen partner, but the way in which it was confirmed was great, as Reese heard the cell phone belonging to Dominic ringing in Tracie’s hand. Her fate was not a good one, though she didn’t deserve much after betraying both the DEA and Dominic. The best surprise of all was that seeming comic relief Mini, who bore the brunt of Shaw’s frustrations over the course of the episode, is in fact Dominic. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, and thanks to Finch’s meeting with Elias, hopefully our good guys have an unexpected ally who can keep them one step ahead of Dominic and ensure that they won’t be killed and tossed out of a moving car as finitely and unceremoniously as Agent Lennox.

Pilot Review: Marry Me

Marry Me (NBC)
Premiered October 14 at 9pm

Love stories are very common on TV, especially this pilot season. Each show needs its own specific hook, and not all of them can be entirely romantic. This show established its own incredibly awkward vibe with a memorable first scene in which what should have been a surprising and sweet proposal was ruined by a lengthy and catastrophic speech from a woman who thought her fiancé-to-be was never going to propose. What started as one entertaining isolated incident, however, seems fated to be repeated over and over again, and that’s where the idea of this show as a weekly series becomes a question mark. Jake has proposed, Annie has proposed, and both have had disastrous consequences. That they would both retreat to the same homophobic Mexican restaurant and then realize that they’re fated to be together doesn’t quite sew things together in the way that it should, and it’s hard to tell where this show could possibly go next. It may be that I saw an overindulgent trailer for this show, but that’s not the only reason that much of what happened here felt relatively familiar. Viewers are likely thrilled about this show because of its two stars, each of whom starred on a short-lived comedy with a cult following in the past five years. I watched and liked “Party Down” but never got into “Happy Endings.” While I admire the talents of Ken Marino and Casey Wilson, I don’t see either of them as romantic leads. Given the choice, I’d rather try to get attached to something like “A to Z” where I know that I’ll find the couple endearing rather than watch these two more purposely awkward comedians navigate their way towards an enduring and lasting engagement.

How will it work as a series? That’s the reason to sit through a second episode – to see what this show and fate have in store for its characters. Will there be more proposals or engagement parties, or other hiccups in the relationship? I’m not sure what could turn this show around and make it worth watching going forward.
How long will it last? Possibly a while, actually. The pilot fared well in the ratings, and should be a good companion piece for another not-so-sappy NBC comedy, “About a Boy.” I wouldn’t get too excited just yet, but this show may have found a semi-lasting home on Tuesday nights.

Pilot grade: C+

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 2, Episode 4 “Face My Enemy” (B)

This was definitely this show’s best episode in a while, and a positive sign that it can continue to operate under its current circumstances. It would have helped, of course, if Coulson had realized that the woman in his car was not May before he spilled the beans about the fact that he’s going to need to be taken out when he starts acting crazy like Garrett. It’s fun to see Coulson and May operating together, and I liked their final scene in which May said she already had a plan involving a remote cabin and Coulson said that she needed to follow his orders. The May vs. May fight was interesting, and this face-grafting technology was actually pretty cool. It was jarring to think that Talbot was working with Hydra, and it made much more sense when it turns out that he was actually Sunil pretending to be him. Agent 33’s infiltration of their home base gave Fitz a great opportunity to step up and to bond with Lance, who amusingly has no technical skills of any kind. It’s good to see Fitz easing back into human interaction, especially since we didn’t hear from the real Simmons at all this week. We did get to see more of Dr. Whitehall, who continues to be a calculating menace to those around him, this time confronting another villain with a different employer, Raina, and telling her that she needs to hand over the Obelisk or face unbearable pain. Let’s see how S.H.I.E.L.D. manages to get caught in the crossfire of that exchange.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 4, Episode 5 “Landline” (C)

This episode wasn’t as bad as last week’s, but it certainly wasn’t great either. I wouldn’t call any of its plotlines intelligent, though the excitement that Nick got at serving as a secretary for Winston and Schmidt was somewhat amusing. The image of all the roommates yelling on their cell phones on top of Nick’s bed was particularly ridiculous, and indicative of this show’s inability to be subtle these days. Getting the landline was fine, and even Nick having to be around to get all the calls wasn’t a big deal. Taking it a step further so that he could not tell Schmidt about his interview and ruin one of Winston’s relationships was a bit much. I’m not one for Winston’s ability to talk on the phone or Schmidt finding Cece speaking on the answering machine impossibly sexy – I think that this show can and has been funny enough without having to reach. Everything about Jess’ “Shut it down” routine during which she accidentally touched the new conveniently irresistible British teacher twice was unfortunate, and I really don’t feel that Jess’ workplace environment has ever provided her with particularly good plotlines. Angela Kinsey of “The Office” and Erinn Hayes of “Children’s Hospital” can certainly be used to better effect than as audience members cheering on whatever Coach decided to start chanting, and the same can be said of Julian Morris from “Once Upon a Time,” who played awkward eye candy Ryan, who I can only dread is going to be back again soon for an equally futile purpose.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Round Two: The Flash

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 2 “Fastest Man Alive” (B+)

Color me very pleased – the second installment of this show managed to live up to the high expectations set by the first, and I’m hopeful that its quality will only continue as the series goes on. This episode managed to preserve the excitement and thrill of Barry’s new powers and to feature a “freak of the week” as equally compelling and menacing as someone who could control the weather. Danton Black’s ability to clone himself was cool, and I like that there’s actual science (which yes, may be entirely made up) behind the idea of what he can do, which helped Barry to ultimately take him down by isolating the real him due to his weakened state. Finding out why Danton was trying to kill Simon Stagg demonstrated that he’s just someone who felt wronged by the circumstances of his life, but who also chose to use his powers for evil rather than for good when given the opportunity, in stark contrast to eager do-gooder Barry. William Sadler’s Stagg wasn’t particularly friendly, but after being saved by the Flash, he got himself stabbed by the show’s most two-faced character, Dr. Wells, who claims to be protecting the Flash. It’s great to see Joe showing up to give Barry the pep talk he needed and pledging to him that he would help him prove his father’s innocence and find his mother’s real killer. Now Iris just needs to wake up and realize that she’s using Barry to help her with her assignments and she’s completely oblivious to his feelings for her.

Pilot Review: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin (CW)
Premiered October 13 at 9pm

I have to say, I’m liking the CW a whole lot more than I used to. I had no expectations whatsoever for this show, which rates as having one of the flashier titles of the season. Its pilot reminded me in many ways of “Ugly Betty,” a series I didn’t like when I first watched but then decided to go back and start again after enjoying some Emmy sample episodes (it’s not a surprise given they’re both based on telenovelas and both come from the same executive producer). It has the same flair and fun attitude, reminiscent of a fantasy yet grounded in a harsh and unforgiving reality. The plot is certainly comprehensive and creative, involving a number of energetic characters in intersecting ways. I love that Jane and Rafael shared a romantic moment in the past, though now they’ll be tethered to their own significant others, the manipulative Petra and the seemingly sweet Michael. The complicated and intertwining character tree should make for plenty of entertainment throughout the series, and the show’s tone is just right for its fanciful and overdramatic adventures. It’s all carried by Gina Rodriguez, who imbues Jane with such a wonderful and naïve outlook on the universe. Proposing to Michael was particularly sweet, and though Jane has a fierce foe in Petra, I think she stands a pretty decent chance of showing the man who unknowingly impregnated her that she’s the one he should be with, not her. The narration isn’t problematic and only serves to enhance the show’s bubbly nature. I’m surprised to be saying this, but I may actually come back and check out episode two.

How will it work as a series? Balancing her mother and grandmother, plus their own hangups, like the father she never met and her grandmother’s religiousness, and her newfound pregnancy, eternal virginity, and the other people in her life should be ripe for endless plotlines for Jane as she prepares for the unexpected challenge of motherhood.
How long will it last? This show did better than most of the CW’s slate this year and in recent years, so I think it’s off to a promising start. Good reviews also suggest that there will be many more people arguing for this show to continue than for it to end. I think it’s on track to be one of the first series renewed.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: The Affair

The Affair (Showtime)
Premiered October 12 at 10pm

It’s always interesting to see how a show will hold up when its title references what can be boiled down to a single event or plotline. Promotional posters for this show featured Dominic West’s Noah and Ruth Wilson’s Alison looking guilty in the water together, the obvious perpetrators of this show-focused deed. The pilot, however, unfurls its events in a much more subtle and uncertain manner. Having just seen the Him/Her version of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” in which scenes are shown from each character’s perspective in their respective movies, it’s intriguing to see that device used again here albeit to much more significant effect. Whole conversations are flip-flopped as Noah and Alison recount their sides of the story to a police officer in interrogation, making it very hard to know what really happened and why they’re telling such different tales. While I’m wary of perpetual narration like that, I think it could actually work well here. This show has its own singular tone, one laced with a foreboding sense of gloom emphasized by its ordinary nature. Noah finding his seemingly suicidal and dead son at the start was dark, and the fact that they got into the car to drive off for summer vacation as a family only moments later made it seem all the more haunting since no one spoke about him. The same goes for his daughter choking at the diner, an event that immediately made the worst seem realized, only to be passed over after she had been saved. The scenes with just Noah and Alison have been pretty terrific so far, and I’m definitely interested to see where their relationship takes them, especially since they’re both married and have their share of emotional baggage to connect them. I never understand why two British actors would decide to put on American accents and star together on an American show, but it seems like they’re strong choices. I look forward to getting to know them and their illicit stories more as this season progresses.

How will it work as a series? This episode was split evenly between Noah and Alison, and I’m not sure if every episode will have the same structure, but I think that could be very worthwhile since it only covers some of the same ground and helps to really explain these characters in a way that isn’t entirely conclusive since we don’t know who to trust, if either of them.
How long will it last? I’m less confident about that, since having the pilot available online for a week before its premiere didn’t do it any favors. It was way down from “Homeland” right before it, and I think it will have to hinge on positive critical mentions to convince Showtime to bring it back for a second round.

Pilot grade: B+

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What I’m Watching: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire: Season 5, Episode 6 “Devil You Know” (B)

It’s always difficult to draw the line between unfortunate but dramatically worthwhile things happening to characters and regrettable plot choices that could easily have been avoided. I’m having a tough time seeing these characters go out on these terms, mainly because I feel like the show was much more inviting and enthralling back in the 1920s. That said, I can understand that this isn’t meant to be glamorous, as previewed by a shot of Nucky with a bloody cheek and the tagline “No one goes quietly” on the poster for this season. This episode had two major deaths, both of which were somewhat fitting but not necessarily at the hands I might have expected. After George and Eli got caught red-handed by Al’s guys only moments into their attempted betrayal, Nelson Van Alden had one last opportunity for a fiery speech, which got interrupted towards its likely conclusion by a deadly gunshot to the eye. I suppose it makes sense that his death would be quick and unceremonious, giving the man whose career ended in disgrace a decade earlier and whose wife hates him a moment of solitary glory before he’s gone and forgotten for good. Eli seems to have been spared that fate, and I’m curious to see if he aligns himself with his brother’s army once again. Chalky got the chance to see his family again and to meet face-to-face with Narcisse, confident that he was sparing them and allowing himself a dignified death by firing squad to close out the episode. After reciting tongue twister after tongue twister and debasing himself in a bar, Nucky seems to be back on track and ready to face his foes thanks to none other than the shocking rallying force that is Mickey Doyle.

What I’m Watching: Homeland

Homeland: Season 4, Episode 3 “Shalwar Kameez” (B+)

Obviously, this show is very good and there’s little to complain about with this episode in particular. The problem is that it’s nowhere near what it used to be, and there’s little hope of it reaching that anytime in the near future. Carrie and Quinn are compelling, magnetic characters, but the lack of an additional element – someone like Brody – makes it far less enticing. Carrie trying to reconstruct Sandy’s final moments is interesting, and I love that she opted to bypass a more subtle second attempt to talk to Aayan in favor of pretending to be a pregnant woman in pain to lure him into a bathroom. But I don’t know how far that will go and what kind of secrets it will unfurl, since there’s no Abu Nazir to chase and we don’t know anything about this person that Quinn recognized in the video. At least this should get Quinn back into the action, because wallowing in self-pity and alcohol and being cruel to the manager who clearly likes him wasn’t doing him much good. Dar was relatively helpful in prompting Quinn to get back on track with his blatant threats, and let’s hope that Quinn’s girlfriend didn’t actually overhear anything. It’s good to see Fara and Max again, both seeming much more confident as the secret second team in Pakistan. Carrie is going to have her work cut out for her with Michael O’Keefe’s John Redmond, who probably wouldn’t hate Carrie as much if Lockhart hadn’t reached out to him to appoint him the new station chief before she stole the job from him.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead (Season Premiere)

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 1 “No Sanctuary” (B)

I don’t read the comics and therefore don’t know what exists in the mythology of this show, aside from the few things I accidentally read. I will say that this show is brutal and disturbing enough without needing to watch people execute prisoners on screen, and the walkers do just fine taking out innocents without depraved humans having to surgically dismember their captives. I guess it does demonstrate the enduring humanity of our heroes, and the fact that, despite Rick’s insistence that they kill each of these people without hesitation, they’re not willing to become barbarians. This episode was tough to watch, and I’m hoping that the flashbacks to “then” will be the extent of the horrors we’ll have to endure as this season progresses. Fortunately, captivity didn’t last long, and Carol has managed to redeem herself in a big way by saving the day and acting very calm and cool under pressure. It’s not the kind of performance that’s often recognized, but I’d like to commend Chris Coy, who portrayed Sookie’s fellow telepath Barry in “True Blood,” for making Martin into a detestable but completely intriguing character who just kept on talking. Threatening the life of the baby was definitely a tipping point, and he met a fearsome and miserable fate. Rick spray-painting the word “no” above the sanctuary sign was an extremely poignant end to a stressful episode, and let’s hope that, now that they’ve made it out of the cattle car, our friends can rally together and take on their new enemy head-on.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 6, Episode 4 “Oppo Research” (C+)

Well, Alicia is officially running, and her campaign is taking over the show in a way that even makes it hard to remember that Cary is fighting for his freedom since he barely even factors into the episode. Instead, enter Steven Pasquale, best known for his role as dimwitted firefighter Sean on “Rescue Me,” as a far more intelligent campaign manager coaxed by Eli to meet with Alicia and just as resistant to the process as she is. Not being impressed with her at the outset didn’t stop him from endorsing her wholeheartedly, and now it seems that they’ve gotten over that initial hurdle, and Alicia has to deal with the many skeletons that she has in all facets of her life. The most poignant among them was Alicia finding out about Zack lying to her about the abortion, betrayed by his lack of honesty and then ultimately forceful with him in a way that doesn’t really suit her, determined not to let it get in the way of her candidacy. Finn has also undergone a dramatic character transformation, so soft-spoken and do-gooder last season and now an old buddy of Alicia who can go against her in court and then still interact pleasantly when he finds out she’s running. Veronica’s citizen parenting was entertaining if a bit overdramatic, while Alicia managed to offend Owen by asking him if he’s careful with his married Palestinian lover. And, as he tends to do, Peter gave Eli another heart attack by clarifying that he wasn’t having an affair with his intern but possibly with her mother. Let’s see if the next episode gets back to all the lawyering that used to be featured on this show.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

AFT Awards: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

This is the sixteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Writing for a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: It’s a Shame About Ray (Girls), Quick Hardening Caulk (New Girl), Finale (The Office), Cascading Failures (Shameless), Governor Dunston (30 Rock)

Emmy nominees: Episode 305 (Episodes), So Did the Fat Lady (Louie), I Wasn’t Ready (Orange is the New Black), Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency (Silicon Valley), Special Relationship (Veep)

Semi-finalists: Flu Season 2 (Parks and Recreation), Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency (Silicon Valley), Special Relationship (Veep)

Finalists: The Cones of Dunshire (Parks and Recreation), Episode 306 (Episodes), Double Date (New Girl), Lesbian Request Denied (Orange is the New Black), The Dinner (Hello Ladies), The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip-Off Classic (Parks and Recreation)

The nominees:

Crate (Veep)
Civil War (Family Tree)
Pilot (Transparent)
Fucksgiving (Orange is the New Black)

A hilarious concept takes center stage, literally, in HBO’s political satire, while the network’s short-lived genealogy comedy was at its best in its most complex and ridiculous half-hour. Amazon hit it out of the park with its new and inventive family drama, while Netflix hit its high note with its Thanksgiving-centric episode of prison life.

The winner:

Moving Up (Parks and Recreation) was the hourlong sixth season finale of a show that’s still committed to being funny nonstop and to writing its characters as magnificently entertaining people.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

AFT Awards: Best Directing for a Comedy Series

This is the fifteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Directing for a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: The Ghost is Seen (Enlightened), Revenge Play (Enlightened), Episode 7 (Episodes), Survival of the Fittest (Shameless), D.C. (Veep)

Emmy nominees: Episode 309 (Episodes), 100 (Glee), Elevator, Part 6 (Louie), Vegas (Modern Family), Lesbian Request Denied (Orange is the New Black), Minimum Viable Product (Silicon Valley)

Semi-finalists: None

Finalists: Episode 309 (Episodes), Crate (Veep), I Wasn't Ready (Orange is the New Black), Fucksgiving (Orange is the New Black), Doppelganger (Parks and Recreation)

The nominees:

Pilot (Transparent)
Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency (Silicon Valley)
The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip-Off Classic (Parks and Recreation)
Chapter 29 (Eastbound and Down)

Amazon’s best new comedy debut was full of drama thanks in no small part to the way in which it was presented. The season finale of HBO’s newest show and the series finale of one of most peculiar and sporadic were both appropriate majestic, and the third episode of TV’s best comedy was a blast thanks to its deft handling of a very delicate merger.

The winner:

Moving Up (Parks and Recreation) sent its show to hiatus with on a major high note thanks to an enormously enjoyable and transformative hour.

Next up: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Writing for a Drama Series

This is the fourteenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2013-2014 seasons. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Writing for a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Two Imposters (Boardwalk Empire), Helter Skelter (Dexter), The Hatchet Tour (Justified), The Greater Fool (The Newsroom), Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner (Orphan Black)

Emmy nominees: Felina (Breaking Bad), Ozymandias (Breaking Bad), The Children (Game of Thrones), Chapter 14 (House of Cards), The Secret Fate of All of Life (True Detective)

Semi-finalists: Bloodlines (Banshee), A Murder of Crowes (Justified), The Strategy (Mad Men), Pilot (Masters of Sex), Hunag Wu (Sons of Anarchy), John 8:32 (Sons of Anarchy)

Finalists: Granite State (Breaking Bad), All Shot to Hell (Justified), A Mother's Work (Sons of Anarchy), RAM (Person of Interest), You Are My Sunshine (Sons of Anarchy)

The nominees:

Ozymandias (Breaking Bad)
A Mouth is a Mouth (Ray Donovan)
The Beetle (The Bridge)
Wrong Roads (Justified)

These incredible dramatic four hours all employed fantastic dialogue that helped to define the shows’ characters, giving them ample opportunity to define themselves, particularly Dean Norris’ Hank, Jon Voight’s Mickey, Eric Lange’s Kenneth, and Steve Harris’ Roscoe, respectively.

The winner:

Hitting the Fan (The Good Wife) put into motions events that had been building for a while and didn’t disappoint, executing every little moment in the most empathic and memorable fashion.

Next up: Best Directing for a Comedy Series