Monday, August 31, 2015

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter (Season Finale)

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 12 and 13 “Episode Twelve” and “Episode Thirteen” (B+)

It’s agonizing to me that this show hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, especially considering the last great Syfy show I watched ended on a similar cliffhanger and didn’t return for year three despite being terrific. These two episodes aired together but were very much separate installments, each focusing on a different thread. Learning that Two is something far more than human presented the almost immediate arrival of a threat looking to capture and reprogram her, but fortunately our friends weren’t willing to let her be taken and decommissioned. I love some good robot science that reminds me of “Battlestar Galactica,” namely the Android falling prey to the same dampening systems that were incapacitating Two. There’s also nothing like the threat of getting a new brain to really help you kick into overdrive and escape from that kind of facility. It’s obvious that Alex and his mysterious master in the hospital bed are going to be threats for this crew, but, interestingly, the final episode presented a much more internal sense of paranoia. The Android got tased for the umpteenth time, and I like that her copy self showed up to talk to Five and promptly found herself ordered to shut up and delete her programming. It was so intriguing to see how the members of the crew turned on each other, with Five suspecting Two, One and Three suspecting each other, and then the bombshell revelation at the end of the hour that the other five crew members were being dragged off the ship unconscious while Six walked behind them. I’m sure there has to be an explanation, and I’m so eager to find out. This show is very cool, and I like its style a lot. Syfy, please renew this one right away!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Melissa O’Neil as Two

Pilot Review: Narcos

Narcos (Netflix)
Premiered August 28

There are some shows that Netflix picks up that I automatically know may be interesting, while others, like “Marco Polo,” just don’t entice me at all. I wasn’t sure about this one, and I’m very glad that I decided to watch the whole first episode. There’s something about the style of this show, so sweeping and grand in scope, beginning in 1989 and then flashing back to earlier decades and the establishment of the cocaine trade, is mesmerizing. I’m pretty sure that the narrator, played by Boyd Holbrook, isn’t even close to the series’ most magnetic character, and yet hearing his relatively neutral take on his role in this entire ordeal just makes it all seem even more intriguing. I love the fact that this show is true to its native languages, employing subtitles very frequently and making everything seem entirely realistic. I’m extremely impressed with Wagner Moura, the Brazilian actor cast to play Pablo Escobar, who, with the greatest subtlety, commands every scene he’s in. There were many great moments in this premiere, but the best scene was inarguably when Pablo met new faces at the border crossing and identified every law enforcement official by name and even clued them in to some more personal details he knew about each of them. Enough happened in this first hour to fill a movie, and then the episode ended with the game-changing pledge by Pablo to pay for the head of a DEA agent, signifying that a remarkably successful smuggling scheme had now turned into a full-on war with the United States government. I’m pretty thrilled to discover this show, and can’t wait to watch episode two next week.

How will it work as a series? I can only imagine how much ground this show can cover, and as long as it recognizes that what it’s done so far has worked very well, it can continue to be great. While I lamented the slow pace of “Daredevil,” I think this show could benefit from not being in a rush to get anywhere, since there’s obviously so much rich real life material that, to keep everyone happy, needs to be fictionalized just enough to end up being even more magnificent.
How long will it last? The first season will be ten episodes, and I think that the international appeal of this one will enable the network to measure it as a home run. The reviews so far have been favorable, and so I suspect that this one will be picked up again as just the latest Netflix offering to prove to be a hit for the network.

Pilot grade: A-

What I’m Watching: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer: Season 1, Episode 5 “Dinner” (C)

This show continues to stray towards the more fully ridiculous, abandoning almost entirely any sense of seriousness and opting for the most ludicrous plotlines. This show also seems to feel the need to linger on one concept for an extended period of time, with Jonas’ hunt for Victor the biggest example in this episode. Jonas/Gene failing to see Victor when he was literally right in front of him was also absurd, and I guess I’m just not quite cut out for that type of humor which demands an enormous suspension of disbelief. Gail deciding not to marry Gene because Jeff showed up and voiced his objection was silly, but I suppose that’s just what had to happen. I’m continually not pleased with the direction that everything related to the play is going, with Claude attempting to rather unceremoniously seduce Susie, who doesn’t object too much since Ben is otherwise inclined and hasn’t given her much to write home about since they started the summer. I enjoyed the introduction of Michael Cera as the hapless lawyer who Beth and Greg seem to think is going to be able to help them take down the government and save the camp from certain destruction by toxic sludge. Lindsay didn’t have to try too hard to convince JJ to come with her into the woods to her next scoop, but he didn’t last long, and so Lindsay got the chance to meet Eric, played by Chris Pine, all by herself for just one brief appetite-whetting moment.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 12 “Don’t Make Me Come Back There” (B+)

Watching this show one week at a time caused me to forget that there is just one supersized episode left this season, which is a shame since I feel like there’s such a large array of characters and plotlines just waiting to be featured. I think it’s a good sign that so much potential exists, and this episode and those before it have all been engaging and satisfying. Daya giving birth in this episode was the crucial development that has been coming since the very beginning of the show when her romance with John first began. Giving Aleida the flashback in this episode was enormously effective, as we saw how she latched on to her daughter, eager to give her away to get some time without her and then desperate to make her forget that she could ever have any fun without her. Calling Pornstache’s mother to tell her that the baby died was her own way of protecting her family, and maybe Daya will be able to forgive the mother who just wants to give her daughter the same connection she had. Pennsatucky and Big Boo’s latest actions are considerably darker than anything we’ve seen so far, and I can’t imagine that will go well. Sophia’s situation is extremely difficult to watch, and the fact that sending her to solitary is the solution hardly seems right. Red’s special dinner was a nice festive occasion, and I like that Taystee, who is definitely the momma now, worked hard to negotiate peace with Red rather than egg her on. Black Cindy’s continued insistence on converting to Judaism never fails to be amusing. I like how Cal and Neri are getting ahead of themselves trying to maximize this business from the outside, while things on the inside aren’t going so well thanks in no small part to Alex pulling out. After so much torment, it seems that Soso has finally slipped, and I do hope she comes through okay since she’s one of the show’s most individualistic characters.

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 7 “The Cruise” (C+)

I’m not thrilled with this season, and this episode didn’t do anything to change that. There’s a certain degree of suspension of disbelief I’m willing to allow in a sitcom, and the way that Russ’ mother decried their deplorable living conditions reminded me all too much of Nathan Lane’s Pepper on “Modern Family” describing the slums in which Mitchell and Cameron reside when they’re actually beautiful and quite expensive homes. Russ’ mother was a lot to take in general, and while I think that dealing with in-laws is an important part of marriage that’s ripe for spotlighting in a sitcom like this, it felt a bit exaggerated in this episode. I did like that Russ and Lina were firmly on the same side, and that they were casually discussing how long the marriage would last if she decided to move in. Fortunately, Russ offering for her to stay in the guest house was just the way to get her to hit the road immediately and leave them alone for a while. I felt like Bernie in this episode was a whole lot like A.J. in the way he acted, yet A.J. for once noticed that it was more than a little weird. The best part of the whole plotline of trying to sponsor school for a webcam girl was that A.J. and Bernie decided to get Shep involved, who immediately said no and still managed to get suckered in to their shenanigans. I wish we could have seen Jess too, but I guess that’s hoping for too much.

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 1, Episode 7 “Supercalifragilisticjuliefriggingandrews” (B+)

As if Johnny and Gigi weren’t complicated enough in terms of their own relationship, it’s abundantly clear that there’s much more drama in the extended family. After Gigi’s mother showed up last week, now we get to meet both of Johnny’s parents who are truly a handful. Johnny’s mother, played by Kelly Bishop from “Gilmore Girls,” is remarkably similar to her son in that she continues to thrive on a fame that could have been, citing her pregnancy with him as the reason she lost out on the starring role in “Mary Poppins” and missed out on a career of stardom. Pretending to have cancer and flouting her engagement to a very gay man played by Roger Bart were behaviors extremely typical of rock stars, and she didn’t even try to bolster up her son in any way, even ignoring him in her scheduled interviews. Johnny’s father, played by Peter Riegert, on the other hand, is firmly against the music industry and life, abandoning it for a medical career and disapproving of both his son and granddaughter for their choices. Throughout the episode, I enjoyed Johnny’s mother calling Ava by the wrong name consistently, and then arguing her point further when she was finally corrected, and Bam Bam discussing the things he would be okay doing to have taste some truly terrific ribs. Everyone in this band has their standards and limits, but a bit of free stuff or a shot at immortal fame won’t stop them from compromising on anything and everything.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pilot Review: The Carmichael Show

The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Premiered August 26 at 9pm

Now that “Mr. Robinson” has wrapped its six-episode season, NBC is giving another comedian the chance to anchor his own series with two episodes airing per week over the course of three weeks. The star this time is Jerrod Carmichael, who plays a version of himself. This is a very typical sitcom in a lot of ways, structuring it around one central adult couple and another adult couple who spend an inordinate amount of time with their parents. Jerrod is in many ways the straight man, as most of the personalities around him are extremely exaggerated. His brother is a security guard who has trouble getting taken seriously, and his ex-wife, who pretends that they are still married, is a loud, obnoxious woman who actually seems like a perfect fit for the man who used to be her husband. Jerrod’s father Joe is a typical laidback patriarch who just wants to be left alone and eat his ribs, while his mother Cynthia has considerably more energy and flair, but also possesses a deep connection to the bible and living a spiritual life. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the show’s other main character, Maxine, who is Jerrod’s live-in girlfriend and who is deeper and more substantial than she ought to be given the rest of the players on this show. At times, this show lands a good punchline, and these actors certainly know how to spout off dialogue, but otherwise it’s not terribly memorable or worthwhile.

How will it work as a series? In the first two episodes, they’ve already tackled religion, race, and the importance of birthdays. This show seems to want to confront current issues head-on with humor, like racial profiling and police brutality, but I don’t think it tries too hard to make a joke of them without really creating a substantial and satisfying comedic or dramatic narrative.
How long will it last? The ratings for this hour-long first airing were pretty solid, and so it may well live on to see a second season. The summer slate is really picking up for the broadcast networks, and this could well prove to be a good anchor for them. I wouldn’t get too attached just yet, but consider this one firmly on the bubble.

Pilot grade: C

Friday, August 28, 2015

What I’m Watching: Difficult People

Difficult People: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Children’s Menu” (B-)

This episode was much improved from last week’s to be sure, but I still find it to be incredibly inconsistent, which is a shame since I think there’s enormous potential given the two talents and the premise of the show. Creating a restaurant that features only children’s menu items for adults was a brilliant idea that many I know have joked about starting, and it’s just a shame that, inevitably, it attracted actual children who came and contributed to creating Julie’s own personal hell. The fact that the restaurant exists as it does and that Billy gets puts in charge only to close it immediately to order elsewhere and then completely change the menu is much harder to take seriously. In general, this show likes to take jokes and beat them senseless, hammering home a certain point over and over again. Julie’s mother giving her a hard time about pretty much everything is a major example of that, and it makes the comedy weaker and less effective as a result. The new SNL opening credits with literal children as the new stars was another example, one that takes reality and stretches it a bit too far. The You Tube star Julie used to babysit who couldn’t remember her was somewhat more effective, and I like that she recorded Julie and Billy exploding at her and then remixed them to make them seem like the idiots instead of her, a concept they couldn’t quite understand that set them back to square one.

Pilot Review: Public Morals

Public Morals (TNT)
Premiered August 25 at 10pm

It seems that a new show set in a memorable decade from the 20th century with a specific theme related to law enforcement premieres every few months, usually in the form of a miniseries. TNT, which made the short-lived “Mob City,” which I somehow missed when it premiered last year, has chosen 1960s New York City as its setting and the cops charged with keeping the city safe from all forms of denigration as its focus. As expected, that heavily involves the mob and plenty of corruption on the part of the police officers who are supposed to be protecting the city from negative influences. Ed Burns’ Terry Muldoon even goes as far as to spell it out explicitly for a new recruit, pointing out that these crimes are victimless and someone has to keep the peace. This familiar premise comes with the usual predictable traits, characters who espouse their deep moral values and then contradict them at evert turn, excessive force used to intimidate both good guys and bad guys, and people with unfortunate attachments that cloud their judgment and will likely lead to problematic places. Burns definitely nails the vibe, and Michael Rappaport is also a good fit for the character he’s playing. It’s hard to get too attached to anything else on this show that feels like a pale imitator of “Boardwalk Empire” removed a few decades with a far less compelling style and characters. I didn’t have high hopes for this show, and nothing about this pilot did anything to exceed them.

How will it work as a series? The episode-ending execution shows that the Public Morals division does not have nearly the hold on the city and its criminal elements as its members think they do, and so they’re going to have to battle internal and external enemies, which should travel down a path that anyone who has watched a crime-related drama before will surely recognize.
How long will it last? Despite decent reviews, this show is all but guaranteed to follow in the footsteps of its similarly-themed predecessor. The ratings for the debut installment were lower than TNT’s other current offerings, even those whose numbers aren’t much to write home about. I’d expect the initial ten episodes to serve as the entirety of this show’s run.

Pilot grade: C-

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: Significant Mother

Significant Mother: Season 1, Episode 4 “Edibles Wrecks” (B)

This is undeniably a silly show, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch. I’d categorize a main character accidentally getting high the same way as I would a pregnancy scare – a sitcom plotline invoked all too early, suggesting that a wealth of possible directions for this show to go does not exist. Fortunately, this episode was a lot of fun in spite of that. I like how casual some things are, like Lydia deciding to buy drug gummies and body paint to best simulate the Burning Man experience without actually going. It took just seconds for that innocent plan to be thrown off course by Nate ingesting the drugs before his interview with a blogger, resulting in an amusing attempt to prop him up and make him look alert and okay that was much funnier for the teamwork of his family and friends that the execution of the plan itself. I particularly like the relationship between Harrison and Jimmy, with the latter having absolutely no clue that Harrison despises him, thanks in no small part to his complete obliviousness and his inability to catch a Spicoli reference. I love that Nate kept forgetting he was on drugs and that he had the courage to go up and boldly kiss Sam, something that he probably remembers and she seems intent not to share with him. I’m sure something will happen with that again soon. At least the interview went well, even if the owner may be baked as a cake.

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

The Brink: Season 1, Episode 10 “There Will Be Consequences” (B+)

All in all, this was a fun finale and a proper resolution to a wild first season that’s sure to be outdone by subsequent years of zaniness. The best scene was Walter videoconferencing with a number of different governments and then running around the room ending each conversation on an emphatic and definitive note, cutting off each foreign dignitary as they tried to protest. This was all a big win for Walter, even if he didn’t get any credit from Navarro or Pierce. He also managed to win his wife back completely, with more than one round of sex in the conference room and a pledge from her not to be sent into the underground bunker without him. Israel joking that it was too late to stop their missile was entertaining, and it’s a good thing that the only negative result of everything that happened was that a nuclear missile is now in Eritrea and may eventually find its way into the hands of someone powerful enough to do something with it. Walter’s realization about a second plane as mentioned by Zaman in his last words was brilliant, and Z-Pak did quite well in shooting backwards to take out the first plane and then ensuring that the fuel tanker managed to blow itself up. Who knows where those two will end up next, and something tells me that Alex’s new post, which may or may not end up being in Paris, is going to be where the next crisis begins as season two gets its start. What a weird, wacky show this is – I’m glad I stuck around and I look forward to season two next year.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Tim Robbins as Walter Larson

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 7 “Monkey Business” (B-)

There’s no denying that what’s happening on this show is interesting, but it’s also more than bit bizarre and also rather unfocused, bringing back plotlines from previous episodes and seasons without much warning. The return of Sarah Silverman’s Helen was one such example, as she expressed her desire to have a baby and then ended up nearly being inseminated by Betty at 2am before being introduced to a very welcome familiar face, Austin, at a strip club. Jane also showed up with her impotent theater pal Keith, who didn’t pass muster with Bill because he was single but ultimately got what he needed thanks to Jane opting to step in and help out a friend in need for the sake of the work. Bill, as usual, is not subtle about his desire to keep Virginia away from anyone else, and Dan didn’t stand for it, insisting that Virginia herself tell him that she couldn’t come out with them and then dressing up in a gorilla suit to charm Virginia and make her laugh. Tessa flirting with Dan and keeping her identity a secret was quite something, and he did his best to hide his complete shock when he found out who she really was. Virginia needing to motivate Gil was interesting, to say the least, and she did not seem pleased at all. In less significant plot developments, Johnny burning Bill’s baseball card seems like an ineffective form of silent protest, and Libby and Paul, following her hurtful outburst, are now on a path towards needing each other, inching ever closer to their inevitable affair.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pilot Review: Fear the Walking Dead

Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)
Premiered August 23 at 9pm

It’s relatively uncommon for a show that’s neither a comedy nor a procedural drama to get a spinoff these days, and there are a few important questions that need to be answered in order to determine whether a show can hold its own and distinguish itself from its original series in order to prove legitimate. In this case, the opening scene was stark and deserted and ended on an emphatic note, showing just how many people were actually around and that normal life is still occurring in these pre-zombie times. It’s interesting to see how this show is structured, with a police shooting that seems like it has to have been faked serving as the initial impetus for the spread of panic on the streets. This show takes a gritty approach from the very start, with Nick being a drug addict and Travis and Madison working at a school equipped with metal detectors. More than that, Nick nearly got himself executed by a drug dealer who thought he was spreading untruths about his product and who Nick’s parents knew well enough to stop by his house looking for him even if they didn’t know what he actually did. The zombies on this show are a bit slower and less deliberate, but I think that’s all about the slow mutation and the beginning of something that people can’t quite recognize yet. I’m pleased to see that these characters are strongly defined and the dialogue is considerably improved from the show that spawned this one. I watch the original; something would really have to go wrong for me not to watch this show after this promising start.

How will it work as a series? The only real worry here is catching up to the present, since the more people there are that know about zombies, the easier it is for this to start looking like a post-apocalyptic world. That said, the most fascinating part of any transition to that future is what happens in the interim, with societies and governments transforming, falling, and adjusting, and that’s what I’m extremely excited to see.
How long will it last? Forever? Probably. The show has already been renewed for a second season, jumping from six episodes this round to fifteen then, and the original series, which shows no signs of losing steam, is heading into its sixth season. Expect this one to stick around for a long, long time.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 7 “All Must Be Loved” (B+)

This episode had a very unexpected and unsettling religious connation to it, one which was haunting but turned out to be very effective. I actually forgot the whole Finney family existed as soon as Ray drove to Father Romero’s church and entered the building. Ray was surprisingly willing to do what Romero suggested at first, confessing his sin and accepting forgiveness as an alternative to being reported to the police. It didn’t last, of course, and his walking out resulted in Romero cursing him in Latin and unnerving Terry with his decree of excommunication from the church. We don’t see religion much on this show, and Ray obviously was never one for it, but it’s clear that it was ingrained in the Donovan family at some point as a crucial component of their being. Ray and Terry dismissing Bunchy’s engagement as illegitimate is only setting their brother off more, and Teresa made quite an impression staking her territory and the fact that she’s not going anywhere. Mickey’s partnership was not going well, and I’m not sure that his violent retribution is going to achieve the effect he wants it to. Now that her secret plan has been revealed, Paige is not being shy about her intentions and severing all ties to her father, trying to reel Ray in at the same time. Bridget’s song performance was a worthwhile surprise, and her budding romance with her teacher can’t possibly end well, as her accidentally encouraging mother will soon discover when she sees her advice put to action.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 6 “Hungry Ghosts” (B)

Episodes like this one serve as a strong reminder that this show is, at its core, a Western. A simple trip to San Francisco to find a new translator turned into a treacherous multi-day journey by multiple methods of transportation after the train wasn’t able to cross the bridge. Mei was an unintended companion for Cullen, as was her father’s casket, but I think it was a cathartic journey, one that ultimately ended with Cullen having to hit the road immediately for Salt Lake City. My favorite part was when they ran into Stagecoach Mary and Mei started negotiating the price of the bacon, pointing out that it was a day old and there’s no way it should cost three whole dollars. There wasn’t much excitement on the road with Cullen and Mei, but fortunately, plenty was happening back at the other railroad as Brigham Young showed up to make very clear that he intended not to be swindled, and that Salt Lake City was indeed to be the terminus of both railroads. Losing the Mormon workers is definitely problematic, and I imagine that this impending meeting of the minds is going to be far less productive than all parties hope it will be. Louise charging forward immediately after her abortion to interview Brigham and return to life was ill-fated, but fortunately the kindhearted and caring Eva was there to take care of her. It’s rare to find fully good people on this show, and I think both Eva and Louise are prime examples of that rare breed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pilot Review: Blunt Talk

Blunt Talk (Starz)
Premiered August 22 at 9pm

Brits and Americans are very different, and it’s the subject of many television shows. In the case of this new Starz series, the fact that news personality Walter Blunt is British is almost inconsequential, really contained to him spouting Shakespeare when he’s hopped up on any number of substances. It’s his addiction to all those products that is immensely problematic and makes him a train wreck just waiting to derail. I imagined that this episode would feel a lot like the first hour of “The Newsroom,” but it lacked that certain cathartic moment in which the audience could truly understand what Walter brings to the table. Instead, he interviewed himself, which was odd and not so impactful, and then he passed out on screen. This show’s title has many meanings, and it is indeed blunt, edgy, and unfiltered. Patrick Stewart is a fantastic actor making his major return to television after a long run over two decades ago as Captain Jean-Luc Picard (I enjoyed the cameo by Brent Spiner, his longtime costar on that show), and it’s great to see him in more of a comedic light. That said, his performance is controlled but his character is all over the place, and it’s hard to latch on to him as a protagonist. In the supporting cast are a few familiar faces, including Timm Sharp from “Enlightened,” Dolly Wells from “Doll and Em,” Romany Malco from “Weeds,” and Jacki Weaver from “Animal Kingdom.” I’m willing to give this show another chance, but this debut installment wasn’t exactly satisfying or inviting.

How will it work as a series? I’d imagine that Walter has to still be alive, and maybe passing out on air will help spike ratings in the way that the show and network desperately need. He’ll be on a tight leash to be sure, and it could be entertaining to watch him try to stay out of trouble. It could also be depraved and directionless; I’m hoping for the former.
How long will it last? Starz has already ordered two seasons, which makes for twenty episodes in total. It’s too hard to know whether the network will want to stick with it any longer so far down the road, but I also suspect that, no matter what the ratings are, two seasons of this show will be exactly what the network wants to produce.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 11 “Episode Eleven” (B)

I knew there was no way that Two was really dead, but finding out how she survived being spaced was considerably more interesting than I expected. I thought that Wexler had staged it to intimidate the rest of the crew, but it turns out that she actually did get jettisoned out into space, but thanks to some advanced engineering, microorganisms in her body shielded her from the deadly effects of being in space with no protective gear. That the Android knew about it all along is intriguing, but now it’s a matter of Two not having any idea of who she is aside from her true identity, which makes her more of a threat but also puts her in more danger. Spacing Wexler after she promised not to wasn’t necessarily a regression to her previous life, but an acknowledgment that she can’t let enemies who were ready to kill her – and in fact thought they did – stay standing. One’s voice-crack-riddled speech to rally the boys to come together and get revenge was a bit silly, and they were so woozy and delusional by the time the door opened that they couldn’t do much anyway. The teamwork this crew utilized was impressive, but now they have to face the fact that the device they just handed over was capable of destroying an entire planet in minutes, suggesting that they’ve just delivered the keys to an immensely dangerous object that is all but certain to fall into the wrong hands if they don’t find a way to destroy it first. Next up – the two-hour season finale!

What I’m Watching: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer: Season 1, Episode 4 “Auditions” (C)

I think this may be the point where this show crosses the line from stupid in a funny way to just plain stupid, but I’m not ready to give up just yet since I’m still having some fun. Much of what’s transpired already, like Coop’s relationship with Donna and Lindsay’s scoop, are forgotten in this episode which, unfortunately, features a focus on auditions for the play, which I find to be the weakest plotline of this entire show. I love Amy Poehler, John Slattery, and Michaela Watkins, but there’s something about it all that just doesn’t succeed for me. Ben’s veiled conversation with McKinley was entertaining, but I didn’t go for the overenthusiasm of the first cast actor and his anger then acceptance when Andy wandered in and got the part so that he could make out with Katie. Blake seems to have a fitting replacement for his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend in Kristen Wiig’s Courtney, but he doesn’t appear to be too interested at the moment. Gail is doing too much research into her fiancĂ©’s past, and Randall Park’s Jeff has helped her to uncover some disconcerting information about who he really is. The Falcon is wholly ridiculous, tripping four punks with one kick and posing as a famed hypnotist to get into camp, but I think he’s emblematic of this show, a send-up of camp that’s funny enough when it’s pretty literal but always feels the need to go the extra mile to make sure that it can’t possibly be taken seriously.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 11 “We Can Be Heroes” (B+)

I always find it especially compelling when this show features a character who’s not an inmate for its flashbacks. Caputo has always been an oddly endearing member of this show’s ensemble, and seeing him as a young wrestler and then a kindhearted father-to-be doing what’s right for his family only supported that idea. Taking a job as a prison guard for the benefits was noble, but obviously he built up so much resentment about the sacrifices he made that when his wife left him he didn’t have anywhere else to go. His weekly sex sessions with Fig are a sign of his lack of direction and self-hatred. Taking charge of the union is a risky move given his tenuous position, but it obviously gives him a sense of purpose. Ending with a song from “Les Miserables” was appropriate after an hour that focused largely on the machinations of the prison, particularly Piper’s new business enterprise assisted by Red’s mobster experience. Piper is excited and power-hungry, and it’s a shame that she can’t see that Alex is trying to prevent her from going down a road she knows all too well. I like seeing Poussey and Crazy Eyes bond while Healy didn’t get the satisfaction he had hoped from seeing Berdie suspended because of what was going on in her class. Sophia facing transphobia was hard to watch, and it’s touching to see Big Boo doing her best to scare Pennsatucky straight and show her that what’s going on with Donuts is not okay. Leanne just won’t let things go with Soso, whose new haircut is sure to drive her over the edge if she’s not there already. Angie getting unexpectedly and accidentally released was a surprisingly serious exploration of what it means to be out of prison and really feel like there’s nowhere to go.

What I’m Watching: Sense8 (Season Finale)

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 12 “I Can’t Leave Her” (B+)

Now this is a finale, a packed episode that largely wraps up a lot of the events that have been building up over the course of the season and raises a few new questions that will surely be slowly answered over the course of season two. It seems without question that three of our sensates were much more prominent and important to the show – Will, Riley, and Nomi – while four of them – Capheus, Lito, Kala, and Sun – have no role other than a brief guest appearance to help Will infiltrate the facility and spirit Riley to safety. Now they all do have an important role to play, and it’s great to see how well strategized this show is, but it’s also clear that their storylines aren’t as entirely compelling or action-oriented. Wolfgang’s is, and he got a fitting shootout to get revenge on those who wanted to harm him, but it has no lasting impact on his future as it relates to his connected others. Will locking eyes with Mr. Whispers was a truly terrifying moment that obviously has tremendously worrisome implications, though I don’t really understand – and I’m not sure the writers do either – what it means and how long it lasts. Keeping him in a permanent state of sedation can’t be the answer, though maybe he and Riley can get to some really remote location where Whispers won’t be able to find them since he can’t recognize anything. The scene with all eight of them on the boat at the end of the episode was powerful, and Will and Riley actually touching was awesome too. I’d love to see more interactions in real life between the characters in the future, but I think I’m excited enough to see this strange but satisfying show return for another mind-blogging season next year no matter what its content is.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Jamie Clayton as Nomi

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 6 “Murder!” (C+)

This episode didn’t do much for me, but I think I could tell that right from the start with the episode’s title and its odd opening, which didn’t even try to reference Halloween. Martin Starr has his own odd appeal, but he’s so much better suited to uttering hilariously deadpan and emotionless lines on shows like “Party Down” and “Silicon Valley” than just skulking around doing very suspicious things that, to Lina, seemed like the traits of a recently released murderer. If all this had to happen for Russ and Lina to have some truly good sex that made a surprise appearance towards the end of the episode, then maybe it was fine, but I hardly think it was worth it. In its second season, this show has demonstrated that it doesn’t always have as solid a footing for its plotlines, and I’m saddened by the apparent demotion of Jenny Slate’s Jess to a recurring player since she was always one of the strongest members of the ensemble. Instead, in this installment we get the completely oblivious Bernie, who is far more irritating than usual as he fails to realize that what he is doing at work is completely inappropriate. That he didn’t even mind getting fired after Russ postponed doing it so much was a bit of a letdown. Lina taking a new job will probably be good for her, and I’m hopeful that her doing that will enable the show to get more on track with its comedic plotlines each episode.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 1, Episode 6 “Tattoo You” (B+)

There has never been an instance of more perfect casting than having Callie Thorne play Gigi’s mother. While Thorne earned a Golden Globe nomination for her USA series “Necessary Roughness,” it was her work as Sheila on “Rescue Me” that truly astounded me, and she’s an obvious choice for Leary’s latest show, the first major player from that series to show up here in a big role. She toned down the crazy and upped the flirtation factor, largely ignoring Johnny but trying to tempt Flash with her sex appeal to end his relationship with Gigi, which she saw as misguided and ill-advised. There was a lot of explicit talk about vaginas in this episode, but that seems to be par for the course for this foul-mouthed crew, getting away with as much as they can say on FX and bleeping out the rest. I loved the conversations between Cat and Ava in which they complimented each other’s styles and bodies before getting down to real words and insults, ultimately emerging with a more serious and better understanding of where they were both coming from. Flash admitting that Gigi seems like a younger version of her mom and that maybe he was too old for her was definitely honest but also prompted an honest reaction from her in the form of his destroyed guitar. The line of the half-hour, from Flash, was “I’m 50, but my balls are 17,” a truly off-putting and odd sentiment only this show could pull off. More Callie Thorne in the future, please!

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 1, Episode 9 “eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt” (B+)

I said that last week that I can’t handle this show and its constant twists, and that’s doubly true as we got confirmation of something that The AV Club has suspected all along. It was clear from the end of last week’s episode and its twin bombshells about Darlene and Mr. Robot that Elliot has some severe disassociative personality disorder, one that causes him to fail to recognize people he’s known his entire life and convince himself that he’s meeting them for the first time under entirely different circumstances. Mr. Robot showing up to tell Elliot that he’ll never leave him only to disappear as a confirmed figment of his imagination at his grave was an intense final road for the fabulous Christian Slater, who I hope will be back again in some form, especially since imaginary friends always seem to need to vanish as soon as they’re revealed not to be real. Talking out his hallucination with Angela seemed therapeutic as she noted how much she’d love to spend time with her mom even if it was all in her head, while Darlene took a more direct approach to try to unlock Elliot’s brain and remind him that he was the one who started fsociety with her. Joanna made her wishes and intents very clear to a devastated Tyrell after the baby arrived, and his subsequent business meeting did not take things in a very good direction. Price’s conversation with him about playing out how he would react in his mind made for a fascinating scene, and now it looks like Tyrell is ready to take out his fury at the world and try to win his wife back somehow with the help of a truly confused Elliot, which should make for a wonderfully engaging finale.

Take Three: Difficult People

Difficult People: Season 1, Episode 4 “A Soldier’s Courage” (C)

I did not like this episode, a half-hour that felt like a major departure from the first three installments of this show in a very troubling way. The plotlines that were previously featured, like the participator, Julie’s mother, and even the PBS pledge drive, were exaggerated slightly from real life but still fairly easy to digest and take seriously. This episode took its mockery to a whole new level, one that really doesn’t resemble reality at all and served as a disappointing example of what happens when things are taken too far when they were working just fine. Julie competing with another woman for her mother’s affection, or merely just trying to outdo her nemesis for the sake of showing her up, makes some sense, but I doubt that she would think an elderly veteran would make a compelling graduation party date. Shouting at him after he propositioned her and running out with gift bags was pretty absurd, and I think this show can do better than that. Similarly, Billy’s experience at his brother’s home on Yom Kippur was an odd and inexplicable mess with no recognizable Jewish traditions and so many inconsistencies. Maybe that’s what Billy and Julie think observant religion looks like, but I expect more from these comedians who I think can present events more literally and still find a way to make fun of them. Learning that Billy’s new agent had a brain tumor that caused him to sign random clients was a hopeful hint that maybe this whole episode can just be a fever dream. Mocking HBO for its obsession with Ricky Gervais and Julie chatting hospitalized veterans up about “American Horror Story” - that’s what this show should spend more time doing.

Take Three: Significant Mother

Significant Mother: Season 1, Episode 3 “Who’s Your Daddy” (C+)

This installment was disappointingly formulaic, and featured the kind of plotline I would have expected to be saved for much further down the road. I’m glad to see, however, that this show still has a fun rhythm, with all of its characters getting far too excited and jumpy about every little thing that happens. It seems that in the television world there can never be any possible reason for throwing up other than pregnancy, and therefore that was the logical assumption here when Lydia was having trouble holding down her lunch. There’s no denying that Nate is horrendously awful at keeping secrets, wearing multiple pairs of sunglasses and a headband to keep his eyebrows from raising themselves a la Jack Nicholson, a trait apparently shared by his mother. Jimmy and Harrison dueling to impress Lydia and build themselves up as the proper father was entertaining, and their rivalry has not gotten old. Harrison’s snide nature and Jimmy’s goodness mesh well together, especially since Lydia usually yells at both of them for reacting inappropriately. I’m glad that there wasn’t actually a real pregnancy, since that’s not something this show needs, just a well-meaning early proposal and an unexpected comment from Lydia about how she wouldn’t mind having another kid. On the guest star front, I was pleased to see Robert Picardo, who played the Emergency Medical Hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager” and has been mostly absent since, as another doctor here, one who dropped dead before he could announce whether Lydia was truly pregnant.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What I’m Watching: The Brink

The Brink: Season 1, Episode 9 “Just a Little Crazy Talk” (B-)

Walter getting fired didn’t do much to deter him from coming up with another hair-brained scheme, and this one also seemed like it worked, although unfortunately there were other factors that he failed to consider that transpired during the time that Zaman remained in power. I very much enjoy the absurd demands that all of these Pakistani leaders make and Walter’s reaction to all of them, and it’s also fun to see the whole thing play out with Rafiq translating for Alex. Walter managed to get exactly the proof he needed to convince even Pierce that he knew what he was doing, with his wife caught somewhere in the middle, seemingly out of a job simply for associating with Walter. The news that Zaman managed to launch an attack headed towards Tel Aviv that can’t be recalled is certainly devastating, and now all of Walter’s hard work will once again backfire as Alex has to make a deal to ensure that a third world war isn’t started and Israel isn’t annihilated. Luckily, Z-Pak and Glenn were grounded and now, for the umpteenth time, are the last hope of the American military to defend the world from certain doom. Being hopped up on alcohol, drugs, and chemicals didn’t serve them too well last time, but right now, they’re all that’s left, and I don’t think we could ask for two more reliably ridiculous pilots who somehow will probably manage to get the job done while doing something truly risky and lamentable along the way.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 6 “Two Scents” (C+)

Who would ever have imagined Bill as a high school football coach? With his latest extracurricular activity, Bill has demonstrated that he is capable of being just as cruelly oblivious as he is cruel and unfeeling, welcoming in the boy who beat up his son and bonding with him in a way that he’s never been able to do with his own son, all with his son watching from the next room. It’s as if Bill has legitimized his actions by equating them with being acceptable the more they get a rise out of Libby. She too was unkind in the way that she revealed how Joy had planned to leave Paul before she suffered her accident, though she was spurred on by his demeaning tone and general ignorance of any rights or opinions of women. Celebrity clients were the perfect impetus for a bit of introspection on the part of Bill and Virginia, though he took something much stronger away from it than she did. It’s clear that he’s in love with her and considers her the partner he should have, while she continues to be independent while feeling all too tethered to any one person in her life. Despite Bill’s transparent attempts to intervene, Dan and Virginia finally had a sexual encounter, one that didn’t seem to exactly invoke the pheromonal power of Lester’s sweat scent but emphasized that sex always seems to be the endgame in any relationship, no matter what its original nature or either party’s perceived desires.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 6 “Swing Vote” (B+)

This was a rollercoaster of an hour, ending on a rather volatile and uncertain note. Ray went from not talking to Abby to jubilantly inviting her to meet the governor in a brand new dress and give their marriage another try. Unfortunately, he didn’t foresee that the elder Finney would find out about his 3% NFL deal with Paige, and his fury about that action coupled with the governor’s loss did not present itself in a favorable way for Ray. Paige asking Abby about her time in Boston was a red flag that she and Ray spent much more time together than it might have otherwise seemed, and Andrew wasn’t subtle about implying that Ray and Paige were having an affair. It’s hard to know what will come next, but I think that Andrew as an enemy will bring much more trouble than any benefits having Paige as an ally would have provided. Terry is not holding up well outside of prison, and the placement of the weight by Bunchy at the end of hour all but confirmed that just about everything is in his head. Bunchy going to Bakersfield to track down Teresa was bold, and he seems to have had surprising success. Confirming that Ray killed the priest to the devious Father Romero was a lamentable development, and there’s no way that will lead anywhere good. I’m glad to see that Daryll has some good business savvy and that his father is taking his ideas. I wasn’t too sure about the direction that Bridget’s budding forbidden romance with her teacher was headed, but their bathroom-set scene was considerably more tender and powerful than I had expected.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What I’m Watching: Humans (Season Finale)

Humans: Season 1, Episode 8 (B+)

I’m glad that this show will be back for a second season since there is obviously a much bigger story to tell here, and I think that these initial eight episodes really developed it from something which wasn’t fully accessible to a cool show with immensely dynamic characters. Niska giving the code to Laura to hold on to was the ultimate symbol of victory for the human-synth relationship, except for the fact that Niska actually took it with her as she begins her life as a human away from her synth siblings. Hobb implanting Fred with an innate loyalty to him that made him unwillingly transmit his location back to home base was an unfortunate turn of events, but luckily everyone decided that getting away would be in Fred’s best interest even if he couldn’t actually go with them. Karen also managed to find some semblance of happiness with Pete after deciding to betray her brothers and sisters, though I’m not sure how long that will last given their very precarious professional situations. I like the way this show has portrayed its intrapersonal relationships, and that, in its final two hours, it condensed a few plotlines into just one main stream of events, permitting all of its characters to appear on screen together. This show was much better than I expected it to be, and I’m glad that AMC opted to pick it up in partnership with another network and bring it back for next year. I look forward to watching it again in season two to see where it goes!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Emily Berrington as Niska

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 5 “Elixir of Life” (B+)

There’s something about the sight of Cullen all dressed up that just doesn’t feel right, but he does do a good job of cleaning up. He’s done well to achieve a good stature within the railroad, and the only problem is that he still doesn’t have that many friends. Trying to turn Phineas against the Swede failed miserably, and he nearly got his head blown off by the trigger-happy Phineas when he confronted the Swede before he put down his gun and then knocked Phineas in the face with it. Unfortunately that time spent with them allowed a white assassin to track down his best ally, Tao, and shoot him point-blank with, as Chang pointed out, only Chinese witnesses. Now Cullen has angered his Mormon colleagues and lost his top Chinese supporter, and it’s going to be hard to keep the railroad running after that. We can see now that the Swede’s endgame was to manipulate Phineas into seizing the reins of the cause from his father, using religion as his number one argument. I liked his response to the man selling eternal life, trumpeting the Mormon cause as a free way to achieve such a thing. Back on the other railroad, Mickey has a good business proposition to keep things running, but it doesn’t include the same compassion or humanity offered by Eva. Louise’s abortion wasn’t a wonderful process to watch, and given what we’ve seen of Durant, it’s for the best that she isn’t letting something like this give him power to control her. Durant’s bait and switch scheme with Laramie may just work, but that’s a long way down the road. It was great to see Psalms again, and to see him push Durant to sell him the land he and his fellow free men are entitled to thanks to their hard-earned money.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 10 “Episode Ten” (B+)

I wanted more characters to appear in a given episode, and that’s what we got here, with an unseen enemy nearly annihilating them with nuclear missiles and then another showing up to pair them with another crew on an unknown but surely sinister job. Our six protagonists play much better among themselves than they do with others, with Two’s attack on her suitor serving as the most aggressive action that all but sealed their fate as the target of their temporary ally’s next job. There was a good deal of action during the job, and I like that the androids have become the most fearsome creatures on this show because of how their programming sets them to attack right away without assuming that any positive motivations on the part of the humans around them. Fortunately, Five was able to think on her feet and use the power of the android and its charge to open the doors, and Four was there with his sword to help spirit them out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, things aboard the ship couldn’t help but derail when the crew decided to take both the bounty and the crew for themselves rather than honoring their deal. Three revealing the code to save Two’s life was a shock, but not as much as Two getting sucked out into the airlock as the episode credits rolled. There are still three episodes left this season, and while I’m sure that Two can’t be dead, it’s not looking particularly good at the moment for our friends.

Take Three: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer: Season 1, Episode 3 “Activities” (C+)

This show is just as hilarious as it is absurd, and that’s its saving grace. I think the biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the entire episode was Coop chanting “Maria” before blowing the shofar, which it turns out Donna gave to just about everyone at camp, not just the boyfriend she occasionally spends time with but never really fully engages with in serious conversation for more than a moment. This show is all about mocking conventions, best done by the kids being in the bunk all of a sudden and Lindsay firing away on her typewriter on her lap while taking notes about the haunted house at the edge of camp. I don’t even know what to say about Mitch coming back to life as a can, and Jonas’ memory regression techniques that allowed him to spit out the code were definitely eccentric. This show’s universe got a whole lot bigger with the sudden involvement of President Reagan and an assassin, played by none other than Jon Hamm, tasked with taking out Beth and Greg, who have stumbled upon information they shouldn’t have ever learned about, putting them in the crosshairs of the government. I wish I was enjoying the plotline with Josh Charles and Marguerite Moreau a bit more, and the same goes with John Slattery’s tyrannical direction of the play that does not seem at all stage ready. Overall, this show is a zoo, but it’s a wildly entertaining one that tries very hard to push envelope to side-splitting effect at every juncture.

Monday, August 17, 2015

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 10 “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’” (B+)

It’s incredible to see how much Pennsatucky has changed as a character from the start of this show up until this point, and I always think that shows have a responsibility to stick to characters’ historical backgrounds, which means that the pre-prison her shouldn’t make her seem like a better or more mature person. I think what it shows is that she has never had a glamorous life, and the blank look in her eyes every time some man forced himself on her over the course of this episode was haunting. It was sweet that her new guard friend Donuts came up to her to clear the air and explains that he wants to be her friend, and unfortunately it only took him getting in trouble with Caputo once to regress and force himself on her when all she was trying to do was be nice and help him adjust to a job for which he’s clearly not cut out. We got to see another terrible guard in the form of Pornstache, whose mother broke the news to him about Daya’s baby not being his and then still managed to convince Daya to give the baby to her, albeit without her son being involved. Getting him out of prison could be tricky, but it’s not like Bennett is around anymore anyway. Piper is being particularly awful when it comes to her level of discretion and guilt surrounding her budding affair with Stella, and Alex doesn’t seem to have the energy to be able to deal with it. The apparent revelation that Lotty is just plain crazy is almost more disconcerting than her actually trying to kill Alex on behalf of her former boss. The hubbub surrounding the trial and potential new Litchfield inmate was one of the group moments that brought the episode together, along with the Norma lovers screaming in the yard and having some internal difficulties and Red making a real vegetable dish for her kitchen crew. Lorna sending her Italian suitor to beat Christopher up was not great, and I wonder how much more trouble she can get in now. Gloria and Sophia’s feud is rooted most in their relationships with their sons, but it’s not going well at all. I like that Crazy Eyes has an admirer and that she had to ask advice about sex from Lorna, putting the cherry on top of her season-long erotica saga.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 11 “Just Turn the Wheel and the Future Changes” (B+)

Here we have a good mix of solid action in a few unexpected places and some decent general plot progression that advances things in a big way. I wish there was more than one episode left, but fortunately this show will be back for a second season! The biggest news is that Will might be headed to Iceland to try to save Riley in person, meaning that two of the sensates may actually meet in person for the first time. The bad news is that Mr. Whispers is going there too, news conveyed by Jonas in a perplexing moment that still leaves many questions left to be answered. I liked the teamwork of Will and Nomi in cutting communication so that Whispers wouldn’t find out who and where Riley was, even if it didn’t end up working. Capheus’ situation was exceedingly worrisome with no apparent way out, but luckily Sun and Will were on tap to help him take out an extremely large array of enemies ready to cut him in half and shoot him in the head. Saving a man and his daughter, even if the man is not a good man, demonstrates that Capheus truly is a good person. Kala also has a heart of gold, and finding out that she is praised by her father-in-law’s assailants because she brought him to them was a disturbing revelation. She and Wolfgang finally shared a kiss, though he is headed for much more serious trouble. Sun finding out that her brother killed her father was unsettling, and the anger she physically demonstrated suggests that she isn’t content to be confined in prison and not take action to set things right.

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 5 “Pimps” (B+)

I like that Lina and Russ usually have different storylines that revolve around the same general theme, and trying to figure out how to make friends in uncomfortable places when it should have been much easier was the main subject of this episode. Lina’s desire for her kids to like her has driven her actions a lot recently, and trying to get her daughter to befriend a kid she doesn’t like so that she can find another couple to go on vacation with was a typical scheme that went rather awry when Lina couldn’t focus on much else even after her daughter got attacked when she didn’t play the robber (which Lina deemed the best since the villain is the most fun). Russ’ work life does seem pretty miserable, but fortunately it includes his assistant Miranda, played by Kimiko Glenn, familiar to TV audiences for her role as peppy inmate Brook Soso on “Orange is the New Black.” Having her spend time with his boss was a similar play to Lina using her daughter to make friends, and let’s hope the Robot appreciates his new moniker just as much since Miranda seems to have told the awkward story to just about everyone. I like that Russ ended up having to Skype with his family on the beach, during which he asked to be turned so that he could stare at a woman in a bikini. A.J. staging a preposterous intervention for Abby was well-intentioned, and luckily she was touched rather than furious, and that weird, wonderful relationship continues.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 1, Episode 5 “Doctor Doctor” (B+)

This episode reminded me very much of a memorable “Rescue Me” season two episode, “Sensitivity,” in which the firehouse crew is assigned mandatory sensitivity training and spend the entirety of it being as offensive as possible, destroying their instructor and the program in the process. This episode was extremely similar, even if it started out from a less serious standpoint. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure that it was going to be as effective, but this episode demonstrated that the writing on this show really is terrific, enabling every minor character to contribute in some way to the conversation, a perfect thing to illustrate in an installment highlighting those who aren’t usually part of the conversation, like Bam Bam and his drumsong and Ava and her ukulele. Getting Griffin Dunne’s doctor to declare that they were the most messed up band in history was a badge of honor, and the scenes that precipitated that were truly hilarious. I especially enjoyed Gigi and Johnny competing to name celebrities, with Gigi identifying George Harrison and then the two arguing over who Steve McQueen was when, in fact, both photos were of people who have that name. The setup of this episode provided a fantastic framework to showcase all the characters and give them the opportunity to speak up, most often with selfish and absurd sentiments, but that’s the beauty of this show and its title. The band didn’t do much making music, but they did accomplish a whole lot by completing eviscerating the bold doctor who deemed himself worthy to try to fix them.

What I’m Watching: Rectify (Season Finale)

Rectify: Season 3, Episode 6 “The Source” (B+)

This extended episode did some justice for a season that was far too short, and all of the content of this installment was informative and engaging. This episode achieved a particularly impressive balance between the appreciation of the beauty of nature and the world as Daniel sees it and actual things going on for him and for the rest of the world. Daniel’s goodbye with Jon seemed more emotional than his goodbye with his own sister, but that was much more due to Jon’s apparent investment in Daniel as a client and friend. Jon’s visit to Senator Foulkes was unexpectedly vicious, and the line that it didn’t much matter if he was dead or alive going forward was the perfect response to Foulkes’ slowly-uttered retort. Chris’ opening confession was intense and in-depth, and Trey’s reaction to his later arrest was far less forthcoming but seemed to indicate that there is more going on than it seems, even if Daniel is not the prime suspect as he has been for so long. Daniel connecting with a young kid on the beach was a nice moment, just about the only one that wasn’t unnaturally interrupted or less satisfying than usual during his trip, with his fish choice and the music timing ranking as lamentable developments. Daniel and Tawney meeting in a dream where she came to visit him in prison was an interesting scene because it seemed to show both of their true feelings, and, surprisingly enough, it was Tawney imagining it and not Daniel. The best interaction of the entire episode was Teddy and Amantha sitting down to eat Chinese food and play gin rummy, a truly worthwhile scene at the end of a solid season-ending episode. I’m not sure where season four will take us, but after these past two episodes, I’m invested.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Abigail Spencer as Amantha

Round Two: Difficult People

Difficult People: Season 1, Episode 3 “Pledge Week” (B+)

I’m glad that I tuned in to this show in its second week, and I’m pleased to report that it’s actually very funny. The best part is that the real Billy and Julie are obviously held in high regard by the celebrities they get to cameo on their show, and who have the opportunity to take a swing at the critics and internet trolls who lampoon them on a regular basis in real life. Andy Cohen’s opening scene was entertaining, and I also enjoyed Marc Shaiman yelling at Julie and Martin Short recognizing Billy only to tell him that he thinks he has absolutely no charisma. I also enjoyed a less famous guest, John Benjamin Hickey from “The Big C,” who played Fred the participator, a perfectly interesting nice guy whose enthusiasm for volunteering pushed Billy to break up with him. Julie’s love life was also undergoing some problems due to her inability to give Arthur any sympathy during the stress of PBS pledge week. Her idea for a roast of PBS celebrities was perfectly inappropriate and absurd, and yet somehow it worked well enough to get PBS more donations than ever before, a plot development revealed in a hilarious comment suggesting that the public broadcaster has never received as much as $1100 during all its fundraising drives. I like the pacing of this show and the way that all of the supporting characters contribute to it, all exemplifying qualities that either make them ideal people for Billy and Julie to spend time with or completely unacceptable human beings.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 1, Episode 8 “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v” (B+)

I almost can’t handle this show and its insistence on dropping monumental bombshells on a weekly basis. They also don’t seem real at first, and then it becomes clear that we’re just learning so much more about Elliot and the way that he’s experiencing the world, which may not be as literally or linearly as the rest of us do. His direct address to the audience, which he refers to as his “imaginary friend,” is endlessly interesting, and I also love that he ran home once he made a startling realization to hack himself, only to discover that he had erased his own identity and put it all on a CD. When Darlene kept insisting that he tell her who she was, I had no idea what was going on, and the news that she is his sister and that Mr. Robot may be father is completely shocking, suggesting that Elliot isn’t at all in touch with what’s really going on, a disconcerting fact given that he’s the way that we experience the world. Darlene showing up and chatting with Angela at the dance studio was an indicator that they have a relationship we don’t know about, but now it seems like Elliot has fully lost it. Gideon’s fury at his constantly not being there and his close eye on him also puts him in the crosshairs, ready for his entire world to implode. Tyrell’s is already doing that, as he couldn’t muster up the courage to tell his wife about his strangling of Sharon only to have her fake a necessary trip to the hospital in order to ensure that he didn’t get caught in a lie by police investigators.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Round Two: Significant Mother

Significant Mother: Season 1, Episode 2 “Mixed Doubles” (B)

I’m glad I decided to give this show a second shot as I did enjoy this episode and I think I could be into watching it every week. What impressed me about this episode is that it had a celebrity guest star, Denise Richards, who could have taken away from the plot and established this show as one that relies on big names to steal the show, but instead she was incorporated in a perfect way. As Pepper, she was a foil for Lydia, a version of what she could be if she actually considered herself a cougar (or kitty hawk) and thrived on sleeping with younger men just for the sake of it. As we’ve learned over the course of this and last episode, this relationship is more than just about Lydia feeling young, and despite Jimmy’s egg-headed nature, they have something real brewing. I’m glad that the romance extends beyond Nate’s cucumber nightmares and into failed attempts at space-oriented role play. I love just how much “Battlestar Galactica” was referenced in this episode, and that it even got as specific as naming Starbuck and talking about drydock. Harrison is also a positive part of the show, dropping by to give his ex-wife a teddy bear that’s obviously a nanny cam and insulting her young new beau. Every time I hear Atticus talk, I can’t help but be reminded of Russell Brand, but maybe he’ll eventually do something to distinguish himself before Sam inevitably gets won over by the timid Nate.

What I’m Watching: The Brink

The Brink: Season 1, Episode 8 “Who’s Grover Cleveland” (B)

Things are really happening on this show in the wake of Walter’s successful coup being cut immensely short by the immediate bombing of the presidential palace with the wrong ruler inside. The ensuing chaos was far from positive, and back in Washington, Walter has managed to get others angry enough at him to prompt the president to demand his letter of resignation, hardly a positive sign for his political future. Thanks to a pep talk from the impossibly loyal Kendra, Walter is actually using what little time he has left to try to effect something productive and save the world from imploding thanks to the imperialistic blindness of the government around him. Luckily, Zaman’s eagerness to launch a nuclear missile at Israel in the wake of the United States’ militaristic action was met with definitive impotence on the part of the rockets, and now it seems like they’re just going to have to deal with the likes of Alex and Rafiq as bargaining chips. Alex’s selflessness and desire to be forgiven by Rafiq was out of character and kindhearted, and maybe he’ll manage to save the world as a result of his getting left behind. Z-Pak’s return home was far from a celebratory one as he was greeted by two furious women, and I think he managed to talk his way out of that one as best as he could, and now he’s just going to have to brace for the wrath of having given a good deal of product away for free.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 5 “Matters of Gravity” (B)

There were parts of this episode that worked well and others that felt a bit forced. The opening scene with Tessa doing everything possible to get her mother caught in the act with Bill by inviting her grandparents over to surprise her was equally immature and conniving, and it’s clear that she is very angry at her mother and isn’t soon going to let go of that aggression. The most startling part of the entire thing was how Virginia’s mother reacted when put it together that her daughter was engaged in an affair with Bill, applauding her for sleeping her way to the top and encouraging her to get Bill to divorce his wife so that she could be successful with him. Bill had his moment of triumph over those who signed the petition to get him fired, one that seemed to satisfy him a whole lot less than tracking down the boy who bullied his son and terrifying him so much that he peed his pants out of fear. Bill continues to be an immensely unlikeable character, and it’s hard to sympathize with him when he’s such an emotionless robot who doesn’t seem to care about anyone else. It was obvious that Margaret’s love triangle wasn’t going to last long, and the sexual success she was having with Graham just brought to light the lack of a true attraction that would make him pick her over his travel agent. At least she reunited with Barton as a friend and convinced him to call his daughter to come clean and rectify their relationship.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 5 “Handshake Deal” (A-)

I find it so fascinating that Mickey’s dream is to have his entire family together for a barbecue by the pool with his son Ray there toasting his success. Mickey has been a devious character of sorts throughout the entire show so far, and now he selflessly offered his ear to Ray and made it clear that, whatever their past, he was happy to be there for him. He’s also making relatively smart business decisions even if Daryll isn’t always as adept at acting in the moment, costing him fifty percent of his operation in the process. Partners Terry and Bunchy aren’t doing too well together either, as Terry’s gruff nature resulted in Teresa leaving the gym, and that after the rollercoaster hour of her bursting in to his office to seduce him and then him telling her his secret without any judgment from her. Leland Orser’s shady Father Romero also seems to be just where he needs to be to turn Bunchy against the Donovan family for whatever nefarious scheme he has brewing. I think it’s about time Abby got out of Boston and back to California since her life there just isn’t as interesting, and Bridget obviously needs a bit of guidance and not just from her teacher to get back on track. I liked Nestor Carbonell’s rock star professor and his legal defense of his rights that didn’t work with Ray, and it was nice to see Lena return to be Ray’s loyal number two again. The dynamic of the Finney family has just become exponentially more intriguing, as Andrew hired Ray to find a phone with incriminating evidence on Paige so that he could use it against her rather than for her. A small stake in a football team may have just prompted Ray to switch sides, but I can’t be sure just yet. I’m very interested to found out though, as the entire Finney family, Varick included, is immensely watchable.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 1, Episode 7 (B+)

What a rollercoaster of an episode this was, with nearly all the Synths in one place save for one very crucial player who unfortunately didn’t have the same destiny in mind for her fellow creations. The revelation that Karen was one of them but not one of them means that they obviously resented her, and the programming that she had which prevented her from killing herself was her primary motivation in turning the rest of them in to Danny and his team. That all came after plenty of discussion among the Hawkins family and their cybernetic guests about how similar they are and what their real goals are. I never knew how funny Niska could be, responding to Sophie with “Has your face always been like that” and then questioning why everyone keeps telling her to be nice. Playing with dolls with Sophie was an especially great scene. Laura and Joe seeing the footage of her attacking the fight club changed their minds about her, but they didn’t even have time to process it all before the SWAT team burst in. George’s death at Karen’s hands is almost inconsequential, and it seems clear that the Hawkins family, Mattie and Laura in particular, was always much more central to this story. Odi sharing a pleasant memory with George as he lay dying was a fitting way to go out, and who knows what will become of poor Odi, who will likely be recycled and decommissioned, fated for total and complete obscurity.

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

True Detective: Season 2, Episode 8 “Omega Station” (B=)

The good thing about an anthology series like this is that every season is self-contained and is designed to provide a relatively high degree of closure given that this is the last time that we’ll see these characters. The question that I always ask when characters are blasted away and die miserable, lonely deaths is what worth such a death has and how it stacks up to how they lived. In this case, Ray getting riddled with bullet holes and Frank getting stabbed before collapsing after a valiant march through the desert are far from fitting ends to two people who were initially villains but ended up being certifiable good guys who wanted the best for certain people in their lives and had made some questionable choices along the way. That Ani ended up as nothing more than a romantic figure who managed to get away on a boat and later begin to spread the story of what actually happened was disappointing since, throughout the season, she was consistently one of the boldest and bravest characters. I stand by my assessment of Jordan as the season’s best player, and Kelly Reilly’s performance in this episode was just about the only one that didn’t feel forced. I wasn’t fond of Frank’s near-death hallucinations since this show has previously succeeded with letting words and stories do the emotional work, and it felt forced to have him conjure up images from his past in his final moments. I don’t think that the mystery came to a particularly compelling end, and I do question whether it was all worth it. Based on how this season played out, I’m not a third season is in the cards, but I would hope that any new effort would put more thought into creating a strong plotline and characters before starting casting.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Kelly Reilly

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 4 “Struck” (B+)

This show has really evolved over the course of its run, and it’s now handling many concepts of race, religion, and multicultural America every episode. Chang organizing the Chinese workers to stop working until he saw justice done led to an intriguing stalemate, one that found Cullen trying to help but also pointing out to him that his demands weren’t realistic and that he was more than prepared to starve them out to make sure that they went back to work as soon as possible. We got to see a handful of characters we haven’t seen in a while over the course of this hour, which was a nice treat, though they’re really not doing too well at the moment. Eva is beyond frustrated with the state of the brothel, and Mickey isn’t taking much of an active role other than to step in after things cooled down. Durant was smart to see potential in Shay as a foreman, and he whipped them into shape as soon as he started his job. Mary certainly made an impression, and I enjoyed both her knockout punch that sent Shay to the floor and her conversation with smooth talker Psalms. Louise’s eagerness to get a quote in and her readiness to trade her hair clip showed just how starved for information she is. The Swede helping Phineas become a great orator is interesting, and he truly has a way with words that obviously doesn’t translate to the page.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 1, Episode 9 “Episode Nine” (B+)

This show is taking an interesting approach now, focusing pretty much just on one character per episode as they pursue their individual backstories and try to make right what little they remember or have learned about their pasts. Objectively, Four is actually the least interesting character since he doesn’t say much and comes from an oddly ancient background, but it is worthwhile to see his sense of nobility play out and how he cares enough to save his captor’s life and then stabs him after bidding him a respectable farewell just to send a message. The part he doesn’t remember – and probably doesn’t know – is that his brother was not the one who killed his father, but it was his stepmother who engineered the whole thing. It was great to see the rest of the crew come after him and save the day. The conversations between each of our six protagonists continue to be what’s best about this show, with One and Two debating how responsible they really are for sins they can’t remember committing. I also liked how Three went over the number of times that he saved One’s life and that One saved him, with One concluding that it’s probably best that Three owes him at the moment. The budding friendship between Five and Six is endearing and entertaining, and that and One’s constant awkwardness are helpful in keeping the tone of the show relatively light when it could be very unforgivably serious and dark most of the time.

Round Two: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer: Season 1, Episode 2 “Lunch” (B-)

There’s no denying that this show is both idiotic and entertaining, probably to equal degrees. This episode was a blast to watch but it’s completely absurd, rivaling “The Brink” for the zaniest comedy currently on television. I like that there’s young romance brewing which was nearly disrupted by an unfortunate bathing suit soiling incident, and fortunately Coop was there to save the day by donning the dress and deflecting attention from Kevin’s embarrassment. Waving the soiled underwear at Donna while still dressed as a woman with no explanation was among the most ridiculous moments of the episode, following the hilarious appearance of Yaron the Israeli counselor, who I did not recognize as David Wain, director of the film that spawned this series. There were a handful of familiar faces in this episode, particularly Elizabeth Banks’ journalist colleagues, who included Jordan Peele, Paul Scheer, and Jayma Mays. Banks is definitely an asset to this show, posing as a counselor despite her actual age of 24 and hypnotizing everyone with the way she dresses and her rebellious attitude. Michaela Watkins was also an enjoyable guest as Rhonda, Claude’s assistant, who did not help the relationship woes of Ben and Susie. Molly Shannon’s Gail and Christopher Meloni’s cook Jonas are pretty crazy, but nothing really compares to Amy, the girl who emerged from the bathroom a wholly different woman. And of course the episode ended with Mitch falling in to the toxic sludge, which might not be so toxic since Greg sampled it with his finger and a spoon.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 3, Episode 9 “Where My Dreidel At?” (B+)

This episode was a fantastic look at religion and what it can really mean to people, with the Norma cult, Leanne’s unexpected Amish past, and the rent-a-rabbi showing up to interrogate inmates about their true Jewishness. Leanne definitely has a surprising past, and the fact that her own honesty and desire to rid herself of her drug-filled present and return to her Amish roots showed that she had her heart in the right place. Unfortunately, her situation prior to arriving to prison wasn’t too great, and it’s clear that she’s latched on to a cause with trying to get this religion officially identified so that it too can’t be taken away from her so quickly and easily. Making Soso feel isolated wasn’t a smart move, but her attempt to confide in her didn’t go well either, as Soso opted to respond with laughter and mockery rather than sensitivity. The kosher quizzes were hilarious, and I love that only Sister Ingalls passed the test because all Abrahamic religions are basically the same until you get to Jesus. Pennsatucky’s budding friendship with new guard Charlie was at first endearing, but it quickly turned into something much less appealing that even Pennsatucky clearly found off-putting. Piper’s relationship with Gerber is going much better, though she’s neglecting Piper in her true time of need and instead pursuing an alluring fling with Stella. It’s especially bad considering Alex has discovered that Lotty is really after her, and there’s no way that Piper is going to believe her now despite the proof she has found.

Monday, August 10, 2015

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 1, Episode 10 “What is Human?” (B+)

I like the discussions that happen on this show about what it actually means to be a Sensate, and Jonas pointing out that being human isn’t necessarily something that can be tangentially defined. This episode provided a good mix of plot development related to its characters and exposition, and I just realized that there are only two episodes left this season and no confirmation yet on whether the show will be renewed. Capheus managed to get out of his sticky situation pretty well thanks in large part to an underwear-clad Lito showing up to encourage him to make the most of his action movie situation and blow away those who sought to hurt him. Capheus returned the favor later, showing up to ensure that Lito knocked out his own aggressor and rescued Daniela, which in turn helped him win back Hernando by deciding that it didn’t matter who knew about his sexual orientation. The July 4th setting was effective as a backdrop for the hour, with Joe Pantoliano’s father-son moment proving the most poignant. The ending scene with everyone delighting in the beauty of the music was also powerful, and a bloody Riley collapsing at the end is definitely worrisome. I’m not sure where things go from here, but I’m hopeful that this will mean that the cluster will come together and unite to help make sure that one of their own doesn’t succumb to whatever presumably genetic condition she has and that she or anyone else doesn’t get located by the vicious Mr. Whispers.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 4 “Koreatown” (B+)

This may not have been the smartest or more creative episodes this show has produced, but it’s a great summary of parenthood and adult friendship in the twin plotlines it portrays. Lina having trouble connecting with her daughter, especially after seeing how warmly she treats her father and that she bonded with another mother at a sleepover, was a natural impetus for her to try to host the perfect sleepover to get in with her kid and her friends. Letting them use one of her fancier outfits was a nice and relatively harmless gesture, but egging them on – pun intended - to go one step beyond teepeeing another girl’s house definitely turned out to be a regrettable move when Lina found out that its resident’s mother was undergoing chemotherapy. I recognized the other mom as Amy Landecker, who I think is the standout of the “Transparent” ensemble and had a pretty decent role here that served to get Lina all fired up to try to be the cool mom. Russ’ mission, to keep A.J. sane and from making some irreversible mistakes, was a bit more difficult, and he managed to succeed if only because he prevented the police from being called to stop A.J.’s alleged suicide attempt. A.J. is far from stable, and the fact that he was most concerned with what he was wearing on his first day back at work was an important indicator of his readiness. I liked Shep’s reminder to Russ that he doesn’t leave the Valley, all but negating the next step of their evening plans.