Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 3 “Empathy is a Boner Killer” (B+)

If there’s anyone on this show who is easy to root for, it’s Nicky. The former drug addict is certainly funny, and she also has a good heart and firm commitment to those around her, even the ones she doesn’t particularly like. She’s also an enterprising business woman, choosing the one guard she knew would sooner join her in distributing drugs than turn her in. Luschek immediately pointing the finger and blaming her when it was his operation was cowardly and cruel, and she’ll now have to suffer the fate of being in maximum security, something she really doesn’t deserve. Let’s hope he gets caught redhanded soon and that she gets bounced to a prison that, surprisingly enough, may stay operational. Caputo got plenty of pressure from his subordinates to let them know what was happening, and a brave call to Fig may have done the trick. It was fun to see Fig again, and to see her odd love-hate relationship with Caputo. I didn’t expect the drama class to go well, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for Alex and Piper acting out their issues via imagined bruised fruit scenarios. I’m enjoying that romance, and it’s good to see these two characters still doing something interesting in the background now that Piper is no longer the show’s lead player. Red translating for Healy and his wife was entertaining, particularly when she stopped speaking English and started yelling at his bride for being ungrateful and not appreciating the man who wants to take care of her.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 4 “What’s Going On?” (B)

There are some parts of this episode that I really liked, and I wish that each full hour could be as intense and cool as a few select scenes and segments were. I’m not terribly engaged by Wolfgang, Capheus, Sun, and their plotlines. Nomi by nature is the most interesting character, but Will ranks second best because he actually has a clue about what’s going on (title and song reference) and wants to understand how to make it better. I love that he showed up to try to talk to Jonas and then managed to go into his cell and learn some crucial information, most notably the fact that Nomi’s wellbeing was in danger because of her impending operation. Switching places with her to pick the lock on her restraints and help her to escape to Amanita’s guardian angel was awesome, and I like just how subtle and quick it was. I was caught off guard by the shared singing scene, which reminded me a lot of the quirkiness of “Magnolia,” but I came around to it as the ultimate expression of connectivity, eight people who just all of a sudden started singing a song that was stuck in their heads and were able to be united by this brief departure from their lives. When the music got intense during the stand-up routine a few minutes earlier, I thought that the episode was going to get much more serious and enthralling, but this show has a certain way about it that makes the moments in which it works overshadow the ones where it lags.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Sex” (B)

I want to really like this show so much, but there’s something about an episode like this that just feels forced. It’s convenient timing for both Grace and Frankie to start having to think about what sex at 70 is like, particularly because, as they’ve now learned, they were both having sex with gay men for forty years (not all that often, of course). Grace did decently well until she actually got into the bed and refused to turn the light on so that Guy hurt his knee, but he’s been a pretty good sport, bringing a flashlight to aid him in their next encounter. Them dancing together was sweet, but it’s clear that Grace needs a dependable romance more than a revitalization of her sex life. Frankie is on another plane entirely, never stopping to think that her yam man Jacob, played by the terrific Ernie Hudson, might actually be into her, and as soon as she did, she became hopelessly awkward, laughing at nothing at all for an uncomfortably long time. I liked seeing the brotherly interactions between Bud and Coyote, who apparently wants to reach out to his birth mother, which could be interesting. Sol being terrified of Brianna was entertaining, but he’s still the sentimentalist, trying to get her to feel something when both she and Robert are considerably more stoic. As he said when he interrupted their moment, “You just don’t get this with boys!” Sam Waterston is definitely one of the best parts of this show.

Monday, June 29, 2015

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 1, Episode 12 “The Ones We Leave Behind” (B+)

Wilson Fisk has definitely made an impression on the people on this show, and his omnipotence in this hour, appearing to some characters in nightmares and others in real life. Opening with Karen imagining herself being beaten to death by the angry sociopath and closing with Ben actually experiencing it was intense, and it took me a moment to grasp the fact that Ben had really been killed. This show has shown a certain bravery and commitment to its storyline in its two most recent episodes, first having Wesley get killed by Karen and then Wilson himself murdering Ben. The veteran reporter, who finally changed his life for the better and was ready to write a transformative exposé about Fisk, wasn’t my favorite character but he added a sense of dogged passion and persistence to the show that the younger players don’t quite have. His death is going to crush Karen, and she’s having enough trouble holding down the fort with Matt, who dealt with his own demons in this hour, and Foggy not talking to each other. I like that Matt is being encouraged at every turn to transform himself into a bona fide superhero rather than just a masked man, and the title of the season finale, “Daredevil,” is more than promising. At this point, I am happy that I stuck with the show through the season, and I think I’ll leave with a positive attitude towards this show and its potential for the future in season two and beyond.

What I’m Watching: Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines: Season 1, Episode 6 “Choices” (B)

This show is a completely different show than it was just two episodes ago, and this entirely expository hour is an important analysis and explanation of how these two vastly incompatible universes exist alongside one another. Ethan got his own personal tour of the world as it actually exists in 4028, with the seemingly kindly Dr. Pilcher filling him in on why they do what they do. The flashbacks to David and his sister trying to discuss and spread their opinions and the Sherriff being hired from his security guard job were effective, and it’s clear that it’s all such a distant memory. Obviously certain things are far from perfect, like the public executions designed to keep all thoughts of rebellion from everyone’s minds, but it doesn’t seem like anything is meant to be malicious. Theresa is going to get herself into trouble by pushing too much, but I think that’s the Burke family gene, and until Ethan clues her in, which I’m sure he won’t, she’s just going to continue pressing and alerting others to the fact that she knows too much (or thinks she does, since she actually has no clue). The best part of the episode was its final scene, in which Ethan learned about a small faction that was trying to remove their chips to stage a revolution, and everything involving Kate from the hour was revealed to be connected, as Kate and Harold, who seemed like such phone-answering, law-abiding citizens, are actually the two culprits right at the forefront of the movement that could bring down civilization as it still exists in Wayward Pines.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pilot Review: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot (USA)
Premiered June 24 at 9pm

I’m not sure where to start with my review of this two-hour pilot that truly feels like a movie in itself. I can’t say that I loved it, but I was deeply intrigued by it. Its style is enormously creative and fully appropriate for its subject matter. Its most electric element, without a doubt, is star Rami Malek. I was trying to remember where I first saw Malek, who I remember as an emotionless music-obsessed killer in an episode of “Alcatraz” and as a loyal devotee in “The Master.” A bit of IMDB research reveals that “The Pacific” was his first major project, which I remembered as soon as I saw it. Malek has an incredible disposition, so quiet and assuming – and often awkward and creepy – that he is the perfect person to play a hacker who sees the world in such a technical way that it prohibits him from experiencing it normally. The most memorable moment for me was when he saw things happening at the end of the episode and threw his hands up in disbelieving celebration in Times Square only to be apprehended by several men in sharp suits. Asking the audience if they were seeing this was a formidable way to end the episode, which makes watching the next hour all but impossible to resist, even if the majority of this show wasn’t firing entirely on all cylinders. Regarding the rest of the cast, Christian Slater is a strong choice for his eccentric role, and I’m also pleased to see Portia Doubleday, who broke out in “Youth in Revolt” a few years ago, in what appears to be a prominent part as Angela. I’m interested to see what this show becomes, but I think it’s one of the most intense and thought-provoking pilots I’ve seen in a while.

How will it work as a series? I wouldn’t consider the second hour of this double-decker start to be a representative example of what the show is going to be like, especially since it was contained in the same overall arc. I’ll have to wait until week two and episode three to see whether this show is as worthwhile as its debut offering suggested.
How long will it last? Well, that’s the good news. This show did so well when USA put it online ahead of time that it actually got renewed the morning the show premiered for a second season of at least ten episodes. That bodes very well, and unless the show’s quality slumps, I think it could have a long and prolific future.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Tyrant (Season Premiere)

Tyrant: Season 2, Episode 2 “Enter the Fates” (C+)

I’m at a point where I want to keep watching just to be able to keep up with the storyline of this show, but I think that it’s bene long enough and the show hasn’t merited continued hope of it getting to a point of being truly invigorating. Bassam crawling through the desert for the entire duration of the episode is an unfortunately accurate representation of this show’s pace, and the fact that he ended up getting captured as some theoretically worthwhile trophy at the end of the hour just underlined the fact that there are interesting things happening on this show, just not at the rate that they should be. The revolution is also worthwhile, though it seems that they could do a better job not seeming outright suspicious, since it stands to reason that, even if the assassination had been successful, its perpetrator would surely have been killed on the spot and not gotten away with it, so getting recognized should hardly have been a concern. He did manage to blow a major deal for Jamal, whose vengeful nature probably won’t help him keep the business relationship he so ardently fought to create. Molly seems extremely calm considering the fact that she believes her husband has just been executed by his brother, and I’m sure the eventual knowledge that he’s still alive won’t jolt her too much either. Bringing back Sammy’s forbidden romance is a strangely timed move, but I assume it’s because the American Fayyad family isn’t close to done with Abbudin. Will I watch again next week? I haven’t decided.

Pilot Review: The Brink

The Brink (HBO)
Premieres June 21 at 10:30pm

It’s no surprise that HBO has picked up a show that’s laced with satire. The two comedy series that aired most recently on Sunday nights are both parodies of sorts, “Silicon Valley” a send-up of the tech industry and “Veep” an outright mockery of politics, and therefore “The Brink” is a logical choice to end up on their slate. It’s hardly as polished, however, and whatever this show wants to be isn’t quite clear because of its highly uneven tone. It feels most like a modern-day version of “Dr. Strangelove,” though that’s too much of a compliment, getting serious occasionally but only in the service of extending its comedy, like when Tim Robbins’ secretary of state interrupts a grave meeting to get his dinner order straight. As if Robbins’ Walter Larson wasn’t ridiculous enough, Jack Black is technically the lead of the show as the bumbling Alex Talbot, who makes the entire country of Pakistan look like a joke because of the way he treats it. When Pablo Schreiber, who played Pornstache on “Orange is the New Black,” is cast as what passes for a straight man, a drug-dealing pilot, you know you have a zany show. There’s no denying that here, and while I’m interested to see where it may go, this first episode was far from solid enough to really recommend it. I’d be up for giving it at least one more chance, but I keep wishing that it would feel more like the biting humor of “Veep” and less like something alternatively too outlandish and not outlandish enough.

How will it work as a series? Well, war has nearly been started between multiple countries, but I guess that’s the point of the show’s title, so things can only go belly up from here. This show needs to choose a direction and head in it, and this first episode was too scattered to suggest that it will be able to keep a firm handle on where it wants to go in the future.
How long will it last? The pilot did decently in terms of ratings, and it could be just the semi-intellectual counterpiece to time slot companion “Ballers,” which was watched by far more viewers. Despite iffy reviews, I think that this show is going to get picked up as an investment by HBO in more political comedy.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: Ballers

Ballers (HBO)
Premiered June 21 at 10pm

I knew it before I watched it, and everyone I’ve spoken to has described this as just like “Entourage” but about football rather than Hollywood. It’s extremely accurate, though I think that having an active interest in sports and appreciating all the cameos goes a lot further here than it did when you were simply watching four guys who coasted on fame in a big city without much discernable talent. What’s more worthwhile for me is seeing actors who I’ve seen in other projects get the opportunity to be featured here. I’ve always thought that the Rock was more talented than he got credit for, and so it’s good to see him taking on a role that isn’t entirely action-oriented. Omar Benson Miller, Rob Corddry, Troy Garity, and Dulé Hill are a foursome I would never have imagined together in any context, and I don’t think Arielle Kebbel even appeared in this episode. It’s good to know that there is talent involved, even if it’s not clear how they’ll be used. A half-hour felt long as an introduction to this show’s universe (though a friend and colleague said he felt the opposite, that a show like this needs a full hour to be able to truly set the stage), and I’m not terribly interested in investing in it. It’s only half an hour though, and there’s not so much on television at the moment, so I figure it’s worth giving HBO the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the kind of comedies they’re producing might be worth watching, even if this skews towards the less sophisticated of the series they’re presenting.

How will it work as a series? The pilot identified a few key characters, with manager Spencer and screwup Ricky looking like the primary players. There will be ups and downs, scandals to manage, victories to celebrate, and plenty more, plus a whole lot of high-octane sports and personal drama, which might make this show appealing to a certain kind of audience.
How long will it last? Probably a long time. Even though it’s not as good as a lot of the other fare HBO has aired over the years, it did find many more viewers than the often niche programming the network offers does. A second season renewal should be coming along shortly.

Pilot grade: C+

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: Happyish

Happyish: Season 1, Episode 9 “Starring Bill Hicks, Joseph McCarthy and Alfred Bernhard Nobel” (B+)

This show is becoming more and more poignant as it moves away from its main characters’ pent-up anger and towards the very legitimate issues they take with the way the world works. Larry’s suicide was a devastating way to open the episode, especially since his departure was relatively laced with comedy and seen as a natural cosmic follow-up to a productive career filled with hard and honest work. Thom has now become the stand-in for the sane person in the room, furious at the notion that his colleagues wanted to instill fear in the American people of an impending terrorist attack at any turn to compel them to enlist in the army. That the client agreed with him and was equally appalled at the idea was reassuring, but it’s clear that Thom isn’t long from being phased out of his job and the world in which he presently inhabits. Imagining himself as a game show host was particularly effective, and represents the latest successful move from oversexed elves and talking Geico geckos to something more subtle and strong. Lee taking Julius to Hebrew school was also an instance of maturity on her part, embracing the Judaism she often tries to shirk and balking not at the notion of religion but at Julius’ onslaught of questions she couldn’t hope to answer. It was an interesting moment in which she finally got serious and not so pessimistic about her outlook on life but still couldn’t figure out what to say to make sense of everything.

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

True Detective: Season 2, Episode 1 “The Western Book of the Dead” (B-)

I’ll remind those of you who aren’t loyal readers that I didn’t particularly love this show’s pilot and I opted not to check back in for a second look until the show earned numerous accolades and I felt it necessary to marathon through the entire season for the sake of the Emmy Awards. It hooked me by the middle of episode four, but I still didn’t find it to be nearly as excellent as many proclaimed. I was set on watching it now that I know it paid off to a degree, and while this initial installment is undeniably intriguing, I think it needs some work before it should be considered must-see television. Whereas last season there was an impossibly dark storyline inhabited by strong characters, it seems that this year is about the truly diverse talent the show signed for its second iteration. It’s not clear what Vince Vaughn’s mogul, Taylor Kitsch’s suspended cop, Rachel McAdams’ dogged investigator, and Colin Farrell’s deadbeat detective have in common, and it feels like this story has been artificially created to link them all together. The show is definitely maintaining a commitment to darkness as it relates to its characters, particularly Farrell’s Ray and what happened with his wife and McAdams’ Ani and her family history. I don’t think this will compare to a biblical serial killer, but I suppose it’s worth finding out. McAdams was great in this hour, but the performer I’m watching most closely is Kelly Reilly, who I think will be the standout in this season the way I found the underrated Michelle Monaghan to be last year. My interest has been piqued, and I would love to have my expectations blown away.

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

Orphan Black: Season 3, Episode 10 “History Yet to Be Written” (B+)

It’s enormously sad to me that this show has already reached the end of its season, but it’s reassuring and wonderful to note that this show truly feels like a fully developed and mature show. Don’t get me wrong – I found this show awesome and complete from the very start, but it’s now gotten to the point where there’s so much going on that it can have a triumphant sendoff like this one with plenty of plot twists on a number of fronts. Delphine’s demise at the hands of a mysterious assailant was the most poignant since she’s one of the original characters who has been with the show from its very inception, and who made up for everything she did wrong to Cosima in recent episodes with her loyal and protective actions. The passionate kiss she shared with Cosima emphasized their enduring connection, and she now follows Paul as a monitor who fell in love with her clone to ultimately bite the bullet due to her association and involvement. The sestras have ridden themselves of one enemy – Dr. Coady – and gotten themselves into bed with another potentially much more dangerous new ally, Ferdinand. Krystal has been saved a gruesome fate as Rachel’s doomed doppelganger, and now Rachel must contend with another malicious mother in her family line since the late Professor Duncan’s wife is revealed to be very much alive. This has been a tumultuously exciting season and a firm cementing of this show’s enduring quality. I can’t wait for season four!

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Tatiana Maslany

Pilot Review: Killjoys

Killjoys (Syfy)
Premiered June 19 at 9pm

Sometimes, the timing of a new show feels purposeful. Those who enjoyed watching a ragtag band of bounty hunters and other lowlife antiheroes parade around the galaxy getting themselves into trouble in “Guardians of the Galaxy” would definitely be interested in watching three similarly eccentric, if all relatively normal and human, people get themselves into similar hijinks on a weekly basis. This show isn’t based on a graphic novel or some book series; instead, it’s an original concept that doesn’t feel exceptionally creative. The first episode introduces the Hannah John-Kamen’s strong-willed Dutch and her less serious partner, Aaron Ashmore’s John, who steps in to take a kill job in order to save the life of the mark who just happens to be his brother D’avin, played by Luke Macfarlane. This trio obviously has plenty to work out, but by episode’s end, they’re firm allies whose weakest element is the banter that gets in the way of their missions being completed more quickly. It’s fun to be sure, and a good fit for Syfy Friday nights, but it’s hardly as compelling as fellow new series “Dark Matter” and is considerably less gripping. I see why it might make an appealing show, but to me it’s yet another return to the sci-fi space criminal format that doesn’t seem to offer anything truly innovative or energizing. If there was nothing else on and this was it, I think I’d stick around to get to know these characters, but at this point in time, one mission was enough for me.

How will it work as a series? Bounty hunting is a great profession to be featured in a TV show since each episode involves a different notable guest character and permits the exposition of background information on each of the three members of this group. As I said, it should be fun, it’s just not must-see television.
How long will it last? Like “Dark Matter,” this show also airs on Space, a Canadian network, which means that its chances are doubly good since both channels would have to cancel it to be dead. Its stateside ratings were far from promising, but I think that this might be the kind of show that will attract just the right kind of niche audience to merit the possibility of a second season.

Pilot grade: C+

Friday, June 26, 2015

Round Two: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 2 “Episode Two” (B)

I’m forming much more of an attachment to this show than I expected to, and I’m very pleasantly surprised about that. I really like the central notion of the premise, which is that these people know that they’re bad but have the choice now to redefine themselves as something else and something better. That doesn’t necessarily make them terrific people, as Three still has quite the mean streak in him that doesn’t always put innocent people above his well-being, but they are free to make choices about who they are. I like also that their lack of knowledge of their identities gives them a certain confidence to lie and pretend, as Two managed to do expertly in manipulating those around her to both protect their reputation and ensure that her enemies wouldn’t be a problem. Their pasts will surely catch up with them sooner or later, but for now it’s clear that they’re on a different path, and I’m eager to see where it takes them as they discover more about the world they live in and inadvertently also more about themselves. I like the Android’s minimal personality, asking emotionless guards if they have offspring, and I think she’s a strong character. Five is definitely the biggest mystery, and it seems that she knows more than the rest of them do about their true intentions, even if she too can’t figure out exactly what she knows and why it is that she knows it. I’m eager to learn more, but also content in the knowledge that it may take a while for it all to be revealed.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 2 “Bed Bugs and Beyond” (B+)

You’d think that bed bugs would be the most serious threat facing Litchfield at the moment, but it seems that its future is particularly bleak, with new mattresses not commissioned since the prison is scheduled to be closed soon. We saw just how miserable it was for someone like Piper to be in another facility, unsure of what will come next and who she’ll have to form new relationships with in a fresh setting. Litchfield has become an institution over the course of the series, and seeing it go would mean the devastation of the show itself, which of course suggests that maybe it will make it somehow. Every part of John and Daya’s baby drama is cause for concern, as Pornstache’s mother, played by a very well-cast Mary Steenburgen, showed up to lay claim to the baby, while John thought that proposing and then driving out to her family’s home to announce the news was somehow a smart decision. There’s no way that this ends positively at all, and seeing the way that her family deals with children and guns, it’s obvious that he can’t handle it and isn’t ready to get in bed in such an irreversible way with this criminal family. Having him be the focus of the flashbacks was an unexpected surprise, but I guess he too ended up in prison, even if it wasn’t being behind bars but still confined by them. It was so strange to see this cocky, callous version of him, so different from the Bennett we know today.

Take Three: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 3 “Smart Money is on the Skinny Bitch” (B)

We don’t have any more answers in this episode, but there are definitely some intriguing new elements. The main thing that was particularly cool was when Capheus was trying to get the stolen goods back and Sun was able to sub in for him to take down the thieves with her boxing ring abilities. That she won both fights was impressive considering how Will’s multiplayer car chase went last week. Jonas being arrested and then transferred is disconcerting, and I’m curious to see if he can beam his conscience or whatever these people can do from whatever prison he is in currently. We didn’t see much of Nomi other than the frightening near-occurrence of her surgery, interrupted by a convenient fire which she seems sure that Amanita has started. I didn’t mind that unnecessary reminder flashback so much because it emphasizes the fateful nature of this show. Lito’s new threesome arrangement is a fairly standard drama plot, but I like that it’s made more dramatic by the way it’s framed. For now, Daniela seems like an ally to Lito, and we’ll see if that’s always the case. I know that the Sense8 aren’t supposed to actually meet each other, and we’ve gotten a few glimpses of them interacting even though they’re not in the same place, but I think having Jonas or someone else show up to clue them in just a bit more on what’s going on would be helpful. Most have one dependable friend at their side, but they need someone who can be of true help and can provide some crucial clarity.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Spelling Bee” (B+)

I enjoyed this episode a lot, mainly because all of its plotlines were entertaining and drove the plot forward in a productive way. Frankie and Sol being obsessed with watching the three-day spelling bee isn’t much of a surprise, and the fact that neither Grace nor Robert was particularly enthralled with the idea of watching even for a second was equally predictable. Yet it was still a blast to watch Frankie try to figure out how to turn on her computer as she decided to forge her way into the world of internet interaction, at first egged on by a kindly sales rep with a soft spot for older users and then told that she wasn’t actually engaging with anyone. Turning Sol away when he first came over and then departing the moment Robert got home were important steps in gaining her importance, though it’s still sad to see her sitting making margaritas for herself as everyone around her is permitted some human contact. Casting Craig T. Nelson, fresh off “Parenthood,” as the world traveler who came back just to give a romance with Grace a shot is brilliant, and it seems like they connected pretty quickly despite Grace’s initial hesitation. Brianna opting to get a dog after her brisket date went awry was rather impulsive, but it appears to have gotten her a bit of relief in the form of five-dog-owner Dutch, played by Nicholas D’Agosto, currently starring on “Masters of Sex.” It’s nice to see her get the chance to relax and unwind, if even only for a moment.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 1, Episode 11 “The Path of the Righteous” (B+)

I’ll admit that I do now see this first season as a slow-burn origin story, but it’s a good thing that I decided to stick it out since the first half of the season wasn’t enough for me to deem this show worthwhile. This episode was mostly about close character interactions, with Karen and Matt meeting in Matt’s apartment, Claire returning for what feels like a final exchange, and Karen showing up at the bar to chastise Foggy for wallowing in whatever drama he and Matt were having. Interestingly, I think that Karen would be most supportive of Matt’s extracurricular activities since she sees clearly that what she’s doing isn’t working, especially considering the speed and ease with which Wesley found her after she and Ben paid a visit to Wilson’s mother. Wesley taking matters into his own hands and dealing with Karen was intriguing since he’s always much more calculated and calm, but he made the crucial mistake of bringing a loaded gun to threaten someone despite his claims to the contrary. Karen killing him was a shock, and it’s going to severely weaken Wilson, since he’ll think that his trusted advisor has abandoned him and will only get angrier once he learns the truth. I’m curious to see who Karen turns to for help given how two of the three men in her life have sidelined her recently, and let’s hope that our four friends can get it together enough to hit Wilson when he’s at his least ready.

Pilot Review: Complications

Complications (USA)
Premiered June 18 at 9pm

Jason O’Mara doesn’t have a great TV track record in terms of longevity, but I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong. He strongly commits to whatever demanding role he’s taken on, whether it’s a modern-day cop mysteriously sent back in time on “Life on Mars,” the de facto sheriff in prehistoric times on “Terra Nova,” or the loyal brother of the actual sheriff in developing Las Vegas on “Vegas.” Those shows lasted just one season each, and O’Mara, who also stopped by “The Good Wife” for a bizarre recurring arc since then, is now back on TV in a role that isn’t related to law enforcement and actually involves the express breaking of it on a regular basis. This is the kind of show that feels highly specific in its premise but not in a terribly organized way. O’Mara’s Dr. John Ellison is a dedicated doctor who, after losing his daughter to cancer, is prone to fits of rage and who just happens to end up in a bad part of town where he becomes inexorably linked to the fate of a young boy and the numerous criminals trying to both kill and protect him. It just isn’t a solid enough premise to merit a show, and the characters, like Lauren Stamile’s stoic supervisor, Beth Riesgraf’s personality-free wife and particularly Jessica Szohr’s edgy nurse, don’t help much. USA has been trying this format recently, focusing on a medical professional of some sort without supernatural abilities but with some secret part of their life that enables them to be far more skilled but also far more stressed than the average doctor. This show doesn’t make a great case for continuing the trend.

How will it work as a series? Presumably, there’s more to John’s life than just this one responsibility, but it is clear that it’s going to be lorded over him for a good time to come and going to present considerable problems for him in terms of keeping his work-life balance healthy. I don’t plan to stick around to find out – two hours was more than enough time to spend on this show.
How long will it last? Its ratings were much more on par with “Satisfaction,” which got renewed, than “Rush,” which got cancelled, which bodes well for its chances. USA is skewing towards more serious fare like this, and so maybe they’ll opt to renew it. I wouldn’t bet on it though – my prediction is cancellation.

Pilot grade: C-

Pilot Review: The Astronaut Wives Club

The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC)
Premiered June 18 at 8pm

Sometimes the premise of a show doesn’t matter – it can be appealing enough to travel to any time or destination for the right cast. I have watched and enjoyed a number of this show’s stars on other shows, and the opportunity to see so many of them together seemed too good to be true. JoAnna Garcia Swisher was one of my favorite parts of “Better With You,” Yvonne Strahovski was great on “Chuck” and “Dexter,” Dominique McElligott left “Hell on Wheels” far too soon, ditto Odette Annable with “Banshee,” and Desmond Harrington (“Dexter”), Bret Harrison (“The Loop”), Kenneth Mitchell (“Jericho”), and Evan Handler (“Californication”) all have strong TV histories as well. Unfortunately, amassing a talented troupe of performers doesn’t always to do the trick, and in this case there are far too many of them to competently keep track or properly get attached. This show is billed as a miniseries the way a lot of multiseason shows tend to be these days, but I think it may be a much more contained story given its tie-in to historical events. Its frequent use of news footage and that style definitely grounds it in the past, but it doesn’t make it very inviting the way that “Mad Men” and other 60s-set series have effectively done. None of the actresses or their storylines stand out, and that’s a shame given the wealth of material here that really should speak much more loudly and energetically than it does. Neither the astronauts nor the wives are as compelling as they need to be for this show to be worth it.

How will it work as a series? Plenty has happened in the first hour alone, so I think this show will continue to sprint ahead as it paints a colorful picture of these newfound celebrities and the women who support them. It should be soapy and over-the-top, which might make for sufficient drama but not something that I’m interested in watching.
How long will it last? I read a nauseating number of puns about soft launches regarding the ratings for this show, but it’s important to remember that it is summer and broadcast networks don’t tend to do too well with their original offerings. I think this will end up being considered a successful one-shot miniseries, but you never know.

Pilot grade: C-

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What I’m Watching: Tyrant (Season Premiere)

Tyrant: Season 2, Episode 1 “Mark of Cain” (C+)

I debated whether or not to watch this episode after an uninspiring first season, but I decided it was worth checking out before the influx of summer television truly began. Season premieres are always temperamental after highly impactful finales, and Bassam being imprisoned after General Tariq was released and helped keep Jamal in power was definitely a transformative note on which to end. The aftermath is certainly eerie but hardly as enticing as the setup of season one, mainly because now Jamal is the one who wants to seem least like a dictator and he no longer has his brother there to temper his actions and advocate against the vicious plans conceived of by Tariq. He still gets to be villainous, crushing his son’s dreams of starting new somewhere else and intimidating the future mother of his grandchild. It was painfully obvious that it wasn’t Bassam under that hood during the execution, and Jamal deciding to drop his treacherous brother somewhere in the desert that was remote enough that he had to take a helicopter is a cruel punishment but one that will surely come back to hurt him. Molly’s efforts don’t seem to be working too well, and the revolutionary cause in Abuddin is gaining steam enough to make Tariq want to exterminate it. I’m a bit curious; we’ll see how long that lasts and whether I continue to tune in for the entirety of this show’s second season when there are more enticing dramas on television right now.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pilot Review: Proof

Proof (TNT)
Premiered June 16 at 10pm

TNT and Jennifer Beals – two TV things I haven’t thought about in a long time. I used to watch a few shows on this network, but I abandoned “Major Crimes” and “Falling Skies” a while back. I haven’t made a definitive decision on “The Last Ship,” which returns this weekend, but I’m not feeling optimistic. TNT has strayed from typical procedurals like “The Closer” to shows with a twist that involve something semi-supernatural or at least highly theoretical. I’m not too impressed by the notion of someone who operates entirely scientifically being chosen by a dying billionaire to research what happens when people go towards the light and have near-death experiences. Beals is just the one to play the part, of course, though her steely nature makes for a less engaging performance than in “The L Word” or “The Chicago Code,” in which she also played relatively buttoned-up characters. I think the problem is that the subject matter just isn’t all that interesting, especially as portrayed in a television show. It’s far too ethereal, since it will surely be hard to prove anything, despite what the show’s title would suggest, and instead doesn’t actually provide any substantial satisfaction. Beals’ Dr. Tyler having lost her son is obviously important, but sharing custody of a teenage daughter with a doctor who she happens to work with is an unnecessary and unflattering complication. This is the kind of show that feels like a smart-science spin on a procedural, but instead it’s something far less rooted in evidence and more in experience. That may appeal to some, but it certainly doesn’t to me.

How will it work as a series? Matthew Modine’s billionaire is going to die soon, so he can’t be around for that long, but I’m sure he’ll have Dr. Tyler firmly swayed to his way of thinking well before then. There are going to be a lot of uncomfortable conversations with grieving parents that I doubt will be helped by Dr. Tyler’s abysmal bedside manner.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot episode were not positive, and reviews haven’t been either. Since it’s on cable, it should at least get the entirety of its first season order, which is ten episodes, but I think that’s all and the pull will be pulled on this show.

Pilot grade: D+

Pilot Review: Clipped

Clipped (TBS)
Premiered June 16 at 10pm

I’m not sure why I keep expecting to like shows on TBS after giving the last three pilots I watched on this network – “Ground Floor,” “Sullivan and Son,” and “Men at Work” – a D+, D, and F, respectively. Apparently, all three shows have now been cancelled, and this could well be one of the network’s flagship comedies (though I think its reruns serve that purpose). This show feels like a firm and unwelcome return to the sitcoms of the 1990s, taking a location – a barbershop – and presuming that it speaks for itself in terms of its comedy. Sure, there are modern-day updates, like the same-sex relationship between George Wendt’s barber and Reginald VelJohnson’s traffic cop, bizarrely uniting two famous TV faces from the 1980s, but their relationship is really just fodder for gay joke after gay joke. Those quips feel even more tiring considering Wendt’s Buzzy sits next to the incomparable Charmaine Eskowitz, who gives Twofer of “30 Rock” a run for his money by being both black and Jewish. Lauren Lapkus, who played a sweet-natured prison guard on “Orange is the New Black,” is relegated to being an airy receptionist completely clueless to the fact that a coworker is in love with her. Ryan Pinkston’s Mo is a walking Boston accent, something that manages to, impossibly, speak louder than his stature. The only two sane, normal characters are Ashley Tisdale’s uninspired Danni and Mike Castle’s overly hopeful A.J. This show’s dialogue feels out of date, and nothing about any of its characters is inviting, funny, or worthwhile. This initial half-hour has been more than enough of a sample for me.

How will it work as a series? Firing someone could have happened, but now that it didn’t, it’s going to be a question of finding new reasons to keep the state of the barbershop in flux, which will likely include strange clients coming in and every member of the team trying not to engage in relationships with each other. That doesn’t sound appealing to me at all.
How long will it last? It’s hard to know what TBS is looking for at this point given that it dropped all three of those shows within the past year, but I don’t think this is it. It’s always possible it could get a reprieve, but I think one unmemorable season is all this show deserves and will earn.

Pilot grade: F

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What I’m Watching: Veep (Season Finale)

Veep: Season 4, Episode 10 “Election Night” (B+)

Ending the season with the election was a great idea, and I love that it’s not the solid, satisfying finish that any other comedy might deliver but instead an agonizing half-hour of back-and-forths that make it hard to latch onto any certainty in this world. The reporting of news within the Baltimore hotel room was pretty funny, and Mike was particularly incapable of delivering anything the way he should have, always giving those around him the wrong impression. Bill lamenting the fact that he’s going to prison and no one caring at all was exemplary of this show’s dark humor and lack of compassion, and I’m glad that he stuck around in this episode to crack melancholy jokes about his future. Jonah’s certainly ridden his troubles to success, and though he should never be allowed to emcee anything, he’s doing pretty well considering everything. It was nice to see Amy come back to be with the President during her big moment, and to see Sue realize that she might actually like her job too. Karen’s presence was hilariously useless, and when even Tom James thinks you have no purpose, you know something’s wrong. Having the election be a tie is infinitely better than its potential outcome, which is that an apparently unwitting James might actually become the president, which would drive Selina crazy. I’m eager to see how things play out, and watching Tom ask Selina to be his veep was priceless. A great season all around, and it’s a shame it always has to be so short!

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Hugh Laurie as Tom and Sam Richardson as Richard

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

Silicon Valley: Season 2, Episode 10 “Two Days of the Condor” (B+)

What a rollercoaster of a season it’s been. Even just this episode was full of ups and downs, with Richard thinking he was going to lose the case and deciding to kill Pied Piper then showing up to save it after he won and then getting the boot anyway because Laurie bought the company from Russ to give him back his three commas. I love that the stream worked so well that it got them to 300,000 viewers, and that they fought tooth and nail to keep it up. Erlich realizing that his home was only valuable because it could be demolished was a crucial moment, and it was great to see him get his carpal tunnel glove and start coding again, the first true thing he’s done in a long time. Richard winning the lawsuit on a technicality and getting off scot-free was great, and it was funny to see his colleagues do as much as possible to postpone the destruction of their product because it had to be deleted in just the right way. I’m very curious to see what Laurie’s plans for Pied Piper are now that she is the majority shareholder, and whether they involve Richard in any way. I don’t see this crew as being too loyal to their founder, but I suspect they won’t want to see Pied Piper abused or misused in a way they would find detrimental. This show has grown on me, and I think it’s been a fine and commendable second season that more than recommends a third.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Thomas Middleditch as Richard

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What I’m Watching: Happyish

Happyish: Season 1, Episode 8 “Starring Rene Descartes, Victor Frankenstein and HRH The Princess of Arendelle” (B+)

There’s no denying that Thom is angry, but it is important to remember that he’s not always the angriest person in the room, as cleverly proven by his quick-witted setup of Debbie in the Coke meeting. Thom was right to be furious when he was ousted from his office so that there could be a central location for the wholly unnecessary concept of an ideation room, something abstract designed to woo young thinkers and create buzz. The fact that it was Jonathan who did it rather than Gottfrid and Gustav seemed to sting more, though Thom and Jonathan both got angrier with the two Swedes when they showed up uninvited to observe the argument between two longtime coworkers and old friends. Having a porn star explain how his industry is strikingly similar to what Thom does was an interesting departure from the way this show usually interprets the way its characters are feeling, and it worked somewhat well. Back in Woodstock, Lee had one hell of a day listening to “Let It Go” from “Frozen” over and over and over again, while helping Jules through figuring out whether he wanted to wear a dress to school. Smoking pot with a fellow mother was a nice validation of Lee not being alone, and to top it all off, we got a parody performance complete with singing from Lee, albeit to a slightly different melody to avoid what apparently might pass as copyright infringement on this show. It was strange to be sure, and at least it gave Lee the imagined opportunity to kill her mother.

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

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 10 “Mother’s Mercy” (B+)

This show always stacks its most intense episodes towards the end of each season to the point that the finale can’t possibly address everything, not than any given episode of this show actually features all of its characters. I suppose most threads were wrapped up in this hour or at least launched into their next iterations, but some were far from dramatic, particularly the city left behind by Daenerys. Tyrion serving as a governor of sorts is certainly appealing, and he scored in a big way by revealing an unexpected fluency in Valleryian. Daenerys doesn’t seem headed for anywhere good, and her ascension to the top throne has hit a considerable stumbling block. Stannis did really great with his preemptive siege, though Brienne’s execution happening offscreen makes it seem like it may not have happened at all. Jaime sharing a moment with his daughter was sweet, but Ellaria’s revenge was similarly so, a cruel gift for the now kindhearted one-armed Lannister to go home with. Nothing was as harsh as what happened to Cersei, who had to be paraded naked for an endless march through the city, finally arriving home to some form of comfort and hopefully to a chance to feel whole and human once again. Who would ever have thought we would wish something like this on Cersei – that’s a credit to the show. I don’t even know what to say about what’s going on with Arya and her apparent blindness, and we’ll leave that unpacking to next season. Jon being the big casualty of the episode is hardly a shock given how this show likes to kill off its noblest leaders, and I suppose he had a good run. This was a strong season but, as always, feels too short and scattered, and it’s hard to know where season six will pick up.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Peter Dinklage

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 3, Episode 9 “Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow” (B+)

It’s no surprise that this show would eventually bring its characters back to England given the network that it airs on, and it feels like an entirely different universe. We’ve seen how Mrs. S has this incredible past with relationships with illustrious people in every corner, but watching her sing in a bar was a completely new experience. What this hour represented was a much more vicious, violent hour than usual, with considerably more fatal bloodshed than we’ve seen in a while. It represents an amplifying of what we’ve seen so far, like the drug dealers who were giving Donnie a hard time but hadn’t actually killed anyone on screen and James Frain’s Ferdinand, who got caught trying to pull one over on Rachel but didn’t seem like a credible threat at the time. Now, Helena, hilariously posing as a sick Allison, lit up when Donnie’s babies were threatened and killed everyone in the warehouse, and Ferdinand took out two of Mrs. S’s top contacts. It’s nice to see both Helena and Gracie acclimating as much as possible to their new domestic lives, though it looks like Gracie couldn’t stick it out and is heading right back into the lion’s den. Delphine getting ready to torture Shay was intense, but it does seem like there’s something fishy there even if she wasn’t the one who took the book. The biggest shock of all was the revelation that Mrs. S’ own mother is the Castor original, and she now holds the key to just about everything, provided Mrs. S doesn’t shoot her.

Pilot Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter (Syfy)
Premiered June 12 at 10pm

Deep-space missions always seem ill-fated, especially when members of the crew are frozen and put into hibernation for a long duration of time before they reach their destination. This new series presents a worst-case scenario of sorts, as the six people on board awaken with no memories of who they are, only unexplained crucial skills that come to them in moments of necessity. Naming themselves in the order of when they woke up helped amplify the mystery since they can’t even consider themselves to truly be people since they are designated only by a number. The android serving as a non-guide who is programmed with knowledge but doesn’t actually know anything of use is another strong device, particularly because the first thing she did was follow her programming to attack all of them. She’s also a dead ringer for Yvonne Strahovski of “Chuck” fame. This first episode was interesting but not too inviting, and then the end of the hour dropped the ultimate bombshell – they’re all criminals guilty of murder and plenty more crimes. How they embrace the identities they can’t remember should prove a worthwhile and watchable process, and up until now only the aggressive Three has seemed villainous. Two is a natural leader, while One, if only because of his moniker, seems like the show’s main star. The only cast member I recognize is Roger Cross, who played Curtis on “24” and here stars as Six, the decidedly least suspicious of the crew. This show makes me miss “Firefly,” and I hope that the second airing will be decisively engaging to make me want to stick around.

How will it work as a series? The real worry is that unfurling too much information about these characters, like their names and crimes, will make the show’s premise far less enticing. It only took the length of one episode to reveal that already, and so let’s hope that the payoff is worth it and that they’re just as strong as characters once we and they know who they are.
How long will it last? Syfy is a bit fickle with keeping some of its shows that seem designed for its network, like “Alphas,” on the air. Space-set series tend to do better, as evidenced by another show airing on Syfy Fridays, “Defiance.” Without knowing much about the ratings, I’d predict this one to be picked up soon for season two.

Pilot grade: B

Monday, June 15, 2015

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

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 1 “Mother’s Day” (B+)

Just watching the opening credits of this show was a reminder to me of how much I enjoy it, and it’s truly great to have it back on the (streaming) air. While others have already binged the whole season two or three times, I’m excited for it to take me all the way through September, especially since every episode is so packed with plot development and character interaction. I loved the Mother’s Day theme of this hour, which allowed for not just one central flashback but a number of looks back at the inmates’ early experiences with their mothers. It seems that only Poussey really had positive associations, and it was a shame that everyone around her couldn’t support those memories and had to stomp on them instead. Bringing a large group of children to Litchfield probably wasn’t the smartest idea, especially when the alarm had to be sounded and everyone was traumatized, but at least no one got hurt. Daya’s baby drama is out of control, with her family members introducing themselves to John and Mendez’s mother writing her a letter that she hears she is expecting a grandchild. Caputo certainly doesn’t want to hear any of it, and it’s entertaining to see how he’s putting into effect his legitimately decent vision for what the prison system should look like. Big Boo comforting Pennsatucky as she stood over the graves of her aborted children was surprisingly sweet, and it’s nice to see that most unexpected friendship blossoming. And then we have Piper and Alex, reunited but barely featured, something I’ll sure will change as the season progresses.

Round Two: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 2 “I Am Also a We” (B)

This episode was definitely an improvement on the first hour of this series, not enough to confidently say that it will be great but enough for me to decide that it’s worth sticking with, at least for a few weeks. It’s not as much of a mystery as it is a science fiction drama, with Naveen Andrews’ Jonas guiding these eight unconnected people to be able to access their new higher abilities and unlock the potential of what they’ve become. The last scene demonstrated that this show isn’t going to be a slow burn where they gradually start to realize that they’re gifted but that there will be payoff, even if it’s just one major bombshell at a time. It was hard to tell whether Jonas was actually there on his visits in this hour, and for him to show up in the passenger seat of Will’s car was one thing, but Will then unknowingly beaming himself into Jonas’ car was pretty cool and unexpected. The resulting car crash leaves Jonas’ fate unknown, though I suspect that he’ll continue to be a crucial part of the show, even if it’s only in a strictly ethereal sense. Nomi is definitely the show’s most fascinating character in her own right, even before her new abilities. Her mother showing up to the hospital, banishing Amanita, and referring to her as Michael was stifling and unkind, and it was wonderful to learn that Amanita was doing her very best to spirit Nomi out of the hospital and away from a procedure that Jonas suggested was designed to lobotomize her. I imagine that others will be front and center in future episodes, but I sincerely hope that Nomi still manages to play a large part.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Earthquake” (B)

This episode was relatively enjoyable, throwing Grace back into the dating world while Frankie was quite literally cowering under a table. There wasn’t any one thing that distinguished Loves to Laugh as a poor fit for Grace, but there were plenty of signs that he was simultaneously trying too hard and being overconfident, an uninviting combination. Grace, to her credit, did pretty well, ordering what she wanted and trying to give it a shot before sending her food back and requesting that it be thrown out immediately. Sol running over as soon as the earthquake hit because he knew just how much it would paralyze Frankie was kindhearted but also tragic since it was an unfortunate reminder that things can’t possibly go back to the way they were. Sol is having a much more difficult time letting go of Frankie than Robert is of Grace because their relationship was much more built on friendship and support, while the latter marriage was about the two of them being polished partners, less sensitive to each other’s feelings. It’s harsh but understandable for Robert to be judgmental of Sol having trouble parting ways with Frankie, and it’s far too soon for premarital bliss. I enjoyed Coyote’s ill-advised visit to Mallory’s home, and it was especially fun to see the interaction between Coyote and Mitch, who very clearly don’t get along. I think Coyote and Mallory may be this show’s best characters, and I truly hope to see much more of them throughout the rest of the season.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 1, Episode 10 “Nelson v. Murdock” (B)

This show is finally picking up the pace as it follows up the ending of the previous episode in which Foggy discovered that the man in the mask is none other than his best friend Matt with an equally compelling hour that delved into their relationship. Foggy has never been an especially serious character but he has had his moments, mostly his strong defense of the murdered Elena, and now he gets to hold Matt accountable for lying to him for years about his condition. Sticking up his middle finger in front of Matt’s face to get him to confirm that he could see how many fingers he was holding up was an impolite but effective way to convey just how he was feeling, and the flashbacks to the beginning of his friendship with Matt were effective. Once Foggy comes around to the idea of Matt being who he is and the fact that it’s undeniably cool, I think their relationship will work well, but it’s obvious that they’ve hit a rough patch. Karen taking Ben to the nursing home prompted an unexpected surprise in the form of a personal interview with none other than Wilson Fisk’s mother, which should fast-track their exposé in a big way. It’s a bad time to be going after Wilson, of course, since he’s going to raise hell and eviscerate anyone in his path after the apparent death of his beloved Vanessa, who succumbed to the same poison mixed in to the drinks of a number of guests at the function he was attending, suggesting the emergence of a new and very dangerous player in Hell’s Kitchen.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

What I’m Watching: Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Truth” (B-)

Well, this is something different. After a few creepy hours that made it seem like this was a town full of pitchfork-wielding Neanderthals, it turns out that it’s actually the opposite. This episode feels very much like a reboot, unconnected to the four installments that led up to it, redefining the show in a major and irreversible way. Truth be told, I’m much more intrigued now, though so much is still unclear, namely the way in which people like the late Sherriff can travel to 2014 to bring new residents to Wayward Pines and why their society is based on so much cultish secrecy. The manner in which Ben learned the truth while his father uncovered it for himself and Theresa made a lot of progress without really discovering anything was relatively well-executed, a nice surprise for this show, which has been big on the mystery but not so big on the payoff. I very much appreciate the revelation of Toby Jones’ Dr. Jenkins as David Pilcher, the engineer of all this who represents the first source of answers and isn’t nearly as eerie getting out of a helicopter out in the wasteland. Pam too for that matter! I’d love it if Wayward Pines was almost a thing of the past, and we could move on to this 4028-set universe full-time. Hope Davis being the one to explain the history of Wayward Pines as Megan Fisher was perfect, offering up an eerily calm story that’s quite a lot to digest.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What I’m Watching: iZombie (Season Finale)

iZombie: Season 1, Episode 13 “Blaine’s World” (B+)

This was quite an intense episode, one that skewed far more action-oriented and dramatic than most of the installments that preceded it. Having someone find out you’re a zombie never goes as planned, and while Peyton’s reaction was certainly not good, Major’s was entirely unfortunate. After an awesome extended action sequence in which he took out everyone but Blaine, he got felled and marked for death by a brutal stab wound. He could have been spared the pain of knowing that Liv lied to him had Blaine not been so vindictive, and now it seems that he’s gone from being near-dead to a zombie to potentially human again in a matter of hours. Injecting Blaine with the cure was an interesting punishment since he won’t actually pay for his crimes, and it appears that Clive is hot on Major as the prime suspect rather than Blaine, who Suzuki took such care to make sure seemed like the culprit. Liv’s brother showing up just as the place was exploding was pretty tragic, and I feel like he’s either going to have a bigger role to play in season two or his death due to Liv not giving him a blood transfusion is going to drive an enormous wedge between her and her mother and cause Liv to spiral downwards into a depression far worse than what she’s experienced as a zombie. It also seems clear that Steven Weber’s Vaughn is going to become a more major character, which is great, since Max Rager has been identified as the prime cause of this impending zombie apocalypse. His extermination mission with his new number two played by Brian Markinson, who was Arnold Rosen on “Mad Men,” is far more sinister than the cure Ravi has developed, and I don’t think he’d be content to stop at healing those he has injured. This show impressed me so much more than I expected, and I’m eagerly awaiting season two this fall.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Rose McIver as Liv

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 4, Episode 9 “Testimony” (B+)

This episode was much more formulaic than this show tends to be, but there’s no denying the absolute brilliance of the dialogue on this show and the way that it was put to use in this installment. I particularly enjoyed the testimony given by Amy and by Sue, and the uniform sarcasm with which the two of them, Bill, Kent, and Ben addressed the committee was terrific. Jonah’s nicknames being read off was a highlight, far more worthwhile than his having to discuss the touching of his private parts. Gary consulting repeatedly with a lawyer was also entertaining, and Catherine’s testimony was particularly dry and unfriendly. Selina was all business, contradicting herself on many occasions and then reading a statement when she should have been answering questions, breaking up her daughter and her fiancé during the course of her time on camera. Framing Bill was an inevitability because he’s a fringe character, and what with the constant talk of scapegoats by everyone, leave it to him to have to be the one to go, offering the committee the chance to watch him undress and see the blades sticking out of his back, some terrific metaphorical imagery. Ben was especially blunt with the committee, making it clear that he doesn’t do well being accosted by anyone, especially high-ranking political figures. Tom chiming in at the end with his own account and his description of Gary was well worth his brief appearance. Who knew that this season was almost over, with just one episode left?

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 2, Episode 9 “Binding Arbitration” (B+)

Watching this show is very much like watching a train wreck in the process of happening, guaranteed to occur in some fashion even if the first few collisions aren’t fatal. Bighead bringing Richard a Nucleus phone was a wonderful gift, and I like that Bighead had to point out that Richard seemed to be, for once, a few steps behind him. Using that as leverage to let the lawyers talk and say what each of their clients should and shouldn’t actually say led to the amusing scenario of binding arbitration, with a disbarred and disgraced former attorney representing Richard and trying to help him get off without confessing to something he appears to have done. After Bighead was mesmerizingly aggrandized for accomplishing absolutely nothing, Erlich’s time spent on the stand could have done exactly what it needed to. Instead, his pride resulted in a slip of the tongue that led Gavin’s lawyers directly to the conclusion that Richard’s girlfriend was in fact his computer. It may not be as bad as Jared quite literally killing someone by having the camera turned off, but it definitely is not going to leave Pied Piper in particularly good shape heading into the season finale. This show isn’t one for extravagant closing moments, and so I doubt that season two will end in some dramatic fashion; likelier a subtler and typically miserable turn of events that don’t end up being quite as dire as they initially seemed. It’s been a fun season, and it’s a shame that it’s almost over.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What I’m Watching: Happyish

Happyish: Season 1, Episode 7 “Starring David Ogilvy, Anton Chekov and Lady Liberty” (B+)

I watched this episode on a flight home from Los Angeles, which I found to be pretty ironic given its setting and Thom’s attitude towards the city of angels. It’s interesting to see Thom’s trip out west marked by the time left until he can leave, and the fact that he got stuck there much longer than he wanted was at first comical and then much more dramatic due to the effect it had on his family. Thom calling to sweetly tell Jules that he wasn’t coming home resulted in deep disappointment manifested as anger in his son, and it’s a real shame given that he did his best to keep things rolling. Despite going in without much optimism, Thom stepped up when both Rob and the star of the commercial were divas and managed to assuage the situation by boosting JJ’s ego and getting him to be cooperative. Rob, on the other hand, decided he was done because there wasn’t anything left that needed his participation. Urinating on his car would have been the ultimate fulfillment of a revenge fantasy for Thom had he actually managed to find the right car. Lee’s initial reaction to being sold a phone was typically icy and harsh, and it didn’t take long for her to mellow out and accept the fact that she needed to buy the protective case and plenty more. Jules throwing the phone down in anger and breaking it right away was just the kind of cosmic reasoning this show loves to live by.

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 9 “The Dance of Dragons” (B+)

I’ve often felt the need to “go underground” between when an episode airs and I watch it to avoid any major spoilers, but it’s hard to stick to that in the middle of a season of a random show that I watch. TVGuide.com is also notorious for putting spoilers on its home page after episodes have aired, and it serves me right for visiting there on a Monday before I had the chance to watch Sunday night’s episode. Daenerys being reunited with her dragons, or one of them at least, isn’t a huge shock, but the way in which the dragon swooped in to save the day when all the masked assassins had them cornered in a circle in the arena would have been quite glorious had I not remembered moments earlier that I saw something about dragons related to this episode. I’m not sure where Daenerys flying off on her dragon leaves Jorah, Tyrion, and everywhere else, but hopefully it’s a positive step considering she clearly had powerful enemies lying in wait to murder her. I love how honest Elliara, who poured out her wine when Doran toasted the Lannisters, was with Jaime, defending his love for his sister and acknowledging that she was well aware that Myrcella was his daughter. It’s interesting to see Doran as a partner for peace with the Lannisters, and to realize that we’re now rooting for peace with the Lannisters since they’re no longer the brutal threat that they used to be when Joffrey was alive and Cersei wasn’t imprisoned. They certainly seem more humane than Stannis, who let his own daughter be burned at the stake as a sacrifice. Davos is not going to take that well, and it’s possible he’ll sabotage Stannis’ entire army if he has the power since the one good thing he knew has now been extinguished. After a very eventful two episodes, what could possibly still be left to transpire in the season finale?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 3, Episode 8 “Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method” (B+)

It’s always a treat to meet a new clone, and though we saw a bit of Krystal via video footage when we found out that she was abducted by two Castor twins. Krystal is very much unlike the other clones, but she’s just as fascinating, talking to Delphine about how she sees her line of work, doing manicures, as a form of healing. It was fun to see Felix come by with a headset and an American accent to steal her wallet, and it’s a shame that she got caught up in this triple-cross which has resulted in Rachel returning to power while everyone else thinks that she’s dead. Delphine playing Cosima while she thought she was playing her is an unfortunate development, mainly because it’s near impossible to trust anyone now given the amount of deception going on recently. On a more positive note, it’s sweet to see Helena and Gracie adjusting to their new circumstances, the unlikely first two employees of the new Bubbles. Donnie’s slap fight with Jason was entertaining but also worrisome, since them fighting over Allison could make her whole operation infinitely messier and less secretive than it needs to be. I was sad to realize that there are only two episodes left in this season, and therefore the hunt for the Castor original does seem like a pressing matter of importance. I’m not sure where that will leave things, but I’m definitely eager to see more of the clones working together to achieve a common goal.

Pilot Review: Sense8

Sense8 (Netflix)
Premiered June 5

“The Matrix” is considered by many to be an excellent science fiction film, but it was also one of the most mind-boggling cinematic experiences back when it came out, and laid the groundwork for much far-out filmmaking for years to come. Now, the Wachowskis, who wrote and directed all the Matrix films, are back with a new Netflix drama that is the definition of a head trip. It’s near impossible to dissect anything about this show without at least visiting its Wikipedia page to make some sense of exactly what’s going on. Its hectic start with Daryl Hannah and Naveen Andrews made it clear that things are definitely out of whack with those two and the other eight around the world who are somehow connected and starting to realize that they know more than the average person around them. It’s hard to crack this show’s dense nature, especially because it’s so set on constantly jumping around the world to feature its eight characters and their backstories. Some are definitely more interesting and engaging, like Nomi and her girlfriend Amanita, while Capheus' budding taxi service feels like something out of “Heroes,” which is not a compliment. I’d be willing to give this show another try in my traditional one-per-week Netflix style, but I’m going to need a bit more clarity in episode two to be motivated to make it through the season.

How will it work as a series? I read the non-spoiler somewhere that these characters won’t actually meet during the first season, which means their interactions will be limited to the kind of bizarre moment shared by two of the eight at the end of the episode. I imagine that would be more infuriating than anything else, but maybe it can help with character development, as long as each story becomes equally involving.
How long will it last? Netflix metrics are measured in a different way than traditional network series, and so it’s impossible to know which one this will play. Generally intrigued reviews and a commitment to the creative forces behind this show should enable it to be renewed soon for a second season.

Pilot grade: C+

Monday, June 8, 2015

Take Three: Between

Between: Season 1, Episode 3 “Crossing Lines” (D)

I’m starting to think that maybe this show doesn’t need to be a part of my summer lineup. It’s mainly the dialogue that ruins it for me, since the rest is really just kids being kids while thinking that they’re qualified to be adults. Adam diagnosing that Wiley is definitely going to die but hopefully not for decades is supposed to be humor, but it’s far funnier than intended since his position as stand-in doctor is rather absurd. Throwing Wiley’s bag with the money in it to test for a mine was another astute move. “You’re being a pain in the ass – someone has to milk the cows” was one of my favorite lines from this episode, as Frannie demonstrated her advanced twelve-year-old vocabulary by calling Chuck a moron and his friends Neanderthals. Taming a tiger hardly seems like a productive use of an hour, even if she is only a fringe character. Gord getting shot reminded me of Monty Python’s famous line, “It’s only a flesh wound,” enabling him to continue mediating the inane feud between Chuck and Ronnie’s family. Stacy did a bang-up job of escalating things by adding false fuel to the fire and framing Ronnie for something he didn’t do, and it serves her right to get caught in a lie by Chuck, who hopefully will realize that he needs to calm tensions down rather than let them continue to get out of hand. Wiley going to stay with Ronnie couldn’t possibly be a bad idea, and I don’t think I’ll stick around to find out how it all goes down.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Fall” (B-)

I’m not sure how exactly to feel about this episode. Featuring only three main characters over the course of the episode, with a brief appearance by Robert mixed in, was effective in a sense because it allowed their personalities to be fleshed out, particularly Brianna, who opted to spend time setting her mother up on a dating website and getting high with Frankie instead of living it up on a Saturday night. The downside to that was that we didn’t get any other character development, though I guess Grace and Frankie really are meant to be the stars and the rest of the cast are just supporting players. While it worked emotionally, having the majority of the episode take place in Grace’s head doesn’t do much for the story, particularly because Grace has just conjure up an imaginary scenario in which Frankie showed herself to be a true friend and will now attribute a closeness to her that isn’t rooted in reality. Frankie has always been the nicer person, of course, but it might have nice for them to actually experience getting closer in real life. I enjoyed the casting of Corbin Bernsen as the doctor who Brianna immediately identified as a potential romantic match for Grace and who then, in her dream, was rather oblivious and ready to operate on her hip without her consent. It’s a shame she blocked him from her list since it would have been nice to see his true nature and if he would have been just the right fit for Grace.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 1, Episode 9 “Speak of the Devil” (B)

The game has really changed now that Fisk has revealed himself to the public and cast himself as the savior of the city while Daredevil is its scourge. This show is finally revving up and getting ready to head somewhere interesting, though it did spend an awfully large portion of this hour on the Nobu-Matt fight that was inevitably going to be win, albeit by a hair, by our hero. Fisk showing up to ominously proclaim that he tricked the man in the mask into eliminating one of the thorns in his side gave him ample opportunity to do some scenery-chewing, but his enemy wasn’t so easily eliminated by his henchmen thanks to his daring escape through the window. It’s interesting to see how Matt behaves around Ben as he talks to Foggy and Karen about their attempted takedown of Fisk, doing his best to preserve his secret identity but also pleased that they are taking the legal route to topple him rather than something more aggressive. Matt meeting Vanessa and then being introduced to Fisk provided a very intense moment as he nearly lost his cool. Elena’s death is certainly tragic and has egged Foggy on to an uncontrollable fury. This was probably the best way for him to unmask Daredevil and realize that he’s Matt, and I’m so intrigued to see what comes next as they embark upon an undoubtedly uncomfortable conversation about the biggest secret that the blind man has been keeping for quite some time from his best friend.

What I’m Watching: Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines: Season 1, Episode 4 “One of Our Senior Realtors Has Chosen to Retire” (C+)

This episode offered up a fresh attitude from Ethan on how to survive in Wayward Pines as his circumstances changed considerably, yet, as always, this show is in a rush to marathon through its developments, not content to leave Ethan in a positive position even just for a full episode. Ethan being appointed sheriff is a surprising turn of events in one sense but also the logical choice given his background, and he actually did well and decided to play along to see what it would do for him. Truth be told, Pam was the only one who was opposing him and insisting that Peter be reckoned, and Ethan might have actually been able to mold the town into something less sinister. That doesn’t account, of course, for whatever took his predecessor and whatever was watching him at the end of the episode. Pam as sheriff is a worrisome notion, and I think the town may turn against her since she doesn’t have the personality for it. Pope understood that he had to be liked and managed to do alright despite his posthumous reviews. Ben’s induction into his new school is certainly unsettling, as a refusal to call Seattle the place that he lives earns him the right to play guitar and start classes with other students. It’s never a bad thing to see Hope Davis cast in a role that I hope is worthy of her talents. It was interesting to learn that Theresa was training to become a Secret Service agent, and to see her icy interaction with Kate. At least she’s smart enough to play along from the start as an act of allegiance to her husband and his ongoing case.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 1, Episode 12 “Dead Rat Live Rat Brown Rat White Rat” (B+)

This episode was full of plot developments, and it’s definitely recognizable as the penultimate installment of a season, building up plenty of things set to explode in the season finale. It got off to a dark start with Sebastian crawling out of the ocean and promptly getting hit by a diverse group including cheerleaders, rockers, and stoners. Most prominent among them was Teresa, played by Bex Taylor-Klaus, who starred as Bullet in season three of “The Killing,” and who was the last of her friends standing but ended the episode desperately trying to make a phone call to save her life from an unknown assailant who is most definitely not Sebastian. I never would have imagined that Peyton would be the first one to discover Liv’s secret, and what an awful and unfortunate way for her to find out, seeing her go full zombie and kill Sebastian. The way she reacted – and disappeared – is going to destroy Liv, and she doesn’t even know how much trouble Major has gotten himself into after playing detective and posing as a health inspector or that her brother has just unsuspectingly applied for a job at Blaine’s butcher shop, which is sure to put him in danger as someone close to Liv. I do like seeing how all the characters are being developed more and more each episode, and it was a lot of fun to see Liv go from peppy cheerleader to unmotivated stoner over the course of the first half of the episode.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Pilot Review: The Whispers

The Whispers (ABC)
Premiered June 1 at 9pm

This is not a show I imagined I would like, but I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt and try the first hour as I would any other show. What I noticed first was the tone was unexpectedly jovial, since this is and could very well be an extremely creepy show that’s dark and scary. Instead, it follows the model of “The X-Files,” where it’s clear well before something theoretically shocking happens that it’s coming, and the frightening part is that it’s occurring rather than the moment in which it occurs. Kids talking to an imaginary friend named, of all things, Drill, is weird enough, but apparently, according to the show’s description on the trusty epguides.com, aliens are actually the ones responsible. It’s alluded to in the discovery of an unexplained phenomenon where Claire’s husband’s plane appeared to have been dropped, but it’s also considerably more of a stretch even than the notion of some sort of supernatural haunting. It was also incredibly obvious from the start that Milo Ventimiglia’s mystery man was none other than Claire’s presumed-dead husband. It’s a far less convincing role than Peter Petrelli, and it’s all emblematic of the enormous mess that is this show’s universe. I do like Lily Rabe as Claire, but I think that’s because she seems like the only remotely intelligent person on this whole show, which is hardly a badge of honor. I think I’ll leave hearing the whispers and figuring out what they mean to someone else.

How will it work as a series? I don’t see this premise as being able to sustain itself since Drill probably can’t talk to too many kids before someone realizes, and already reaching out to Claire’s own family speeds things up in a big way. And why is it that these omniscient aliens can only appear as one imaginary friend to different children? That limitation doesn’t quite track.
How long will it last? I would never have guessed, but apparently this show performed pretty well in its debut airing. ABC managed to keep “Resurrection” on the air for two seasons, so who knows what the network will endorse next. I don’t think this one will make it to a renewal, but its chances are better than they were at the outset.

Pilot grade: F

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 4, Episode 8 “B/ill” (B+)

It’s inevitable that the lead character on any show will get sick, but I can’t really remember a time where someone ill has been quite as simultaneously rude and obnoxious as Selina was in this hour. She even managed to ruffle Tom’s feathers, which is quite a feat. I enjoyed how she sent people voice memos that contradicted what she had told Gary and that her advisors were competing over whose memo was most recent and more important. Leave it to this group to send those they knew would do poorly in lobbying on behalf of the bill – Jonah and Richard – to talk to the very same people that Gary had subtly and possibly illegally hired Dan and Amy to bully into voting against it. Moyes’ reaction was a vindictive one, and that made the subsequent visit to the bedside of one Congressman Owen Pierce all the more entertaining since Jonah and Dan started shouting at each other and ignoring Pierce after Jonah and Richard had initially succeeded by making him think that the President cared personally about his vote. Naming Dallas as his favorite city when asked where he would like to be ambassador was a ridiculous moment, and Gary deciding on Selina’s behalf that it would be Paris was a surely regrettable decision. I especially enjoyed Bill and Mike’s reactions to seeing Dan and Amy when they stopped by the White House, and it’s good to see everyone in the same space again, particularly because they hate each other so much now. As he’s developing a bit more personality – and even swearing – I’m continuing to enjoy the character of Tom James.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 2, Episode 8 “White Hat/Black Hat” (B+)

Richard really is a master of saying too much, and he did marvelously in this installment, returning several times to talk to Seth and work himself up into being paranoid and thinking that their big launch was going to be sabotaged. That it was, of course, and the brilliance of it being Russ’ uber-expensive tequila bottle resting on the delete key and not some insane hack was just so perfectly fateful. The humor of Richard getting sworn at repeatedly in front of children isn’t what does it for me – it’s the more self-deprecating attempt by Richard to defend the impressive quality of their error by arguing that Endframe wouldn’t have been able to delete nearly as much data that really gets me. Similarly, Jian Yang having a celebratory smoke just as Erlich finished pitching a service that isolates and demonizes smokers was also fantastic. I like Monica as a character because she’s the smartest one in the room but hardly the least flawed, and she always seems to get herself into trouble around much dumber people. Gavin hiring Bannercheck to come back and take over Nucleus backfired immediately as he realized that absolutely nothing was actually being done, and that man really has a knack for getting angry, as evidenced most recently when he was told that he would now forever be associated and linked with Nucleus, unable to pawn off what is sure to be a dismal failure on any other unsuspecting sap. It’s just a shame we won’t see more of Patrick Fischler.

What I’m Watching: Happyish

Happyish: Season 1, Episode 6 “Starring Helen Keller, Moses and Lenny Bruce” (B+)

I liked this episode because I felt like it took a different approach than usual, casting Thom and Lee in slightly different roles. Thom started out being annoyed that he had to work with Atomic Goldfarb, who thought Woodstock was some concert that happened in the 1990s, and then he ended up indulging him by going with his idea for the Wonderbra ad, only to have the spot and his approval of it ridiculed by his colleagues, who told him that he should have known better. That will teach him to think outside the box and try being open-minded every once in a while. It’s good to see Michael Zegen of “Rescue Me” and other shows as Goldfarb, so very hip and detached yet somehow infinitely less irritating than Gottfrid. Lee, on the other hand, didn’t try to let go and enjoy something different, and got chewed out by her friend for it. Bella yelling at her and asking her how perfect her life had to be for her to be happy was an important wake-up call, and Richard Kind’s Moses, who got lost in the mall and then went to the Cheesecake Factory, was a helpful symbolic element of Lee’s search for meaning in life. I like the Israelite scene with the sand as the soul imagined experience of the episode since it was easier to digest than some of the other hallucinations Lee and Thom have had. More importantly, it was good to see Lee with Bella and to see both of them letting loose and letting go.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 8 “Hardhome” (B+)

As this show’s latest season comes to a typically surprisingly quick end, this is the definitive hour of year five, and, fortunately, it feels a lot more like “Blackwater” than the slow-paced “The Watchers on the Wall” from last year, even though the plot much more resembles that. I’m glad that Arya’s plot is picking up and that her mission has gone from middling to extremely interesting quite quickly. As the episode began, I remarked that there really is nothing quite as engaging as the Lannister family story, and seeing Cersei struggling to stay spiteful in the face of her imprisonment and hearing Tyrion defend his status as the number one killer of Lannisters only reinforced that. It’s great to see that Daenerys has chosen to make Tyrion her advisor, and their banter is absolutely superb. It’s hard to know what will happen with the High Sparrow and religious rule in King’s Landing, but it feels so insignificant next to a zombie army obliterating an entire people just to turn them into the walking undead. Seeing the Wildlings wiped out in a way somehow even harsher than the way that we saw the Wildlings killing several seasons back. I don’t really know why there are zombies on this show, but there’s no denying the intensity of the final fiteen minutes of this show and its haunting finish, stranding Jon in the middle of a freezing ocean with the knowledge that those he fought to defend and protect have now been turned into his enemies.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 3, Episode 7 “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate” (B+)

This show has the most fantastic and unique tone, and this episode illustrates that superbly. There are no words to describe the awesome sight of Helena wearing a cowboy hat getting ready to spar with Mrs. S (after eating, of course) in a bar in Mexico, and kudos to Mrs. S for taking the beating and then still sticking around to prove her loyalty to one of her daughters. Pairing that with Allison and Donnie getting caught up in a drug deal while she was supposed to be in the middle of her was perfect, and that situation was all over the place, with Donnie flirting in Portuguese one second and then nearly having his nose amputated the next. Meeting Allison’s mother explains a lot about the person that she is, and it was good to see her take a stand and tell her off, ultimately getting her vote after a stirring speech that took over at just the right moment from Cosima nearly outing Allison as a lesbian (ally). I like that Jason kissed Cosima thinking she was Allison and that she just shrugged it off and later asked Allison if she was having an affair. Delphine showing up while Cosima and Shay were in bed together was highly invasive, and it does seem like Shay is just concerned for Cosima’s wellbeing without any ulterior motives aside from being a jealous girlfriend. I enjoyed the strange seriousness of Scott teaching Rachel how to play a game that seems to very strongly resemble Settlers of Catan while actually decoding the book, and that, as usual for this show, she needs an audience with the one and only Sarah, the definition of a supporting character in this hour, to reveal the latest big secret.