Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Round Two: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 1, Episode 2 “Interruptus Date Breast Movin’” (C+)

The second installment of this show is very much like the first, although it’s over the novelty of waiting until the end of the hour to connect all of its segments. A few players appeared throughout the different plotlines, which just proves that this family is rather tight-knit in several ways. Matt walking in on his parents having sex was an unfortunate event that served as the catalyst for a weird and unproductive sharing session between random partners from the family, the best of which was Tim and Jen, a conversation that ended immediately when she refused to take part in it. Matt and Greg had plenty of fun trying to say the same word, but that just demonstrates that this show has more to offer than its format, since the casual interactions of its characters is better than the formulaic plotlines it concocts. It was fun to recognize Stephnie Weir from “The Comedians” and Rhys Darby from “Flight of the Conchords” as the anti-formula sibling couple who tried unsuccessfully to train Greg and Jen to breastfeed. Matt’s dating life certainly isn’t going too well, but it was sweet that he opted to turn his date’s previously scheduled wedding day into something rather romantic and enjoyable. This show hasn’t won me over just yet, but it’s harmless and relatively entertaining enough to occupy Monday nights, which otherwise aren’t too populated by comedy and could use a bit of occasional laughter. There’s some of that to be found here, and so I’ll keep watching.

What I’m Watching: Doll and Em

Doll and Em: Season 2, Episode 3 (B+)

It didn’t take long for things to get awkward as they always do, but they didn’t play out in the way I had expected. Ewan McGregor was a fun and surprising choice to show up and take Dolly away from her drink with Buddy and show her just how much talent he thinks she has. Their making out in the bathroom and his general praise of her writing helped inflate her ego to a level that made it so that, when Em broke the news to Dolly that she wasn’t going to be able to direct because she got the part, Doll was read to tell her that she could do it without her and didn’t need her anymore. That obviously didn’t happen, and now it’s getting to the point that Dolly is confusing the play they wrote for their own lives. She isn’t the only one, as Olivia’s rather invasive visit to her home to try her life on for size caught her by surprise and showed how little Olivia has self-awareness and boundaries. What is completely clear is that both Olivia and Evan are committed to the play and that it should take off. John’s attitude and his facial hair, on the other hand, are a bit more of a hurdle, but show business isn’t supposed to be easy, and this show wouldn’t succeed the same way if there wasn’t the opportunity presented for enormous discomfort at every turn. With three more episodes left, I’m sure there’s much more of that in the weeks to come.

Pilot Review: Quantico

Quantico (ABC)
Premiered September 27 at 10pm

This is undoubtedly one of the buzziest new dramas of the fall, and this premiere doesn’t disappoint in terms of its intrigue factor. A massive terrorist attack that took down Grand Central and was apparently perpetrated by some new FBI agent is a solid premise, especially with one of the brightest new recruits framed as the prime suspect and forced to rack her brain to figure out which one of her classmates might have actually been behind it. This show feels right on ABC since its theatrics are right out of “Grey’s Anatomy,” with its recruits seeming much more like oversexed teenagers than federal agents in training. I have some issues with the believability of the first assignment given to the recruits, since letting every agent know every deep, dark secret of its other agents seems foolhardy. Additionally, it’s absurd just how much the FBI missed, namely Alex having killed her father, Brian J. Smith’s now-deceased Mormon having gotten a teenager pregnant while on his mission before she died following her abortion, and Nimah actually being two people! How Director Shaw ends up being Alex’s one ally should be interesting to find out, even more so because Deputy Director O’Conner is completely on the opposite side, fully certain of her guilt. This show has an appeal even if it’s not entirely solid or logical, and I think it has the right spirit and pacing to become something stronger and watchable as it progresses and drops more bombshells about this immensely corruptible agency and its suspect recruits.

How will it work as a series? Flashing back to everything that has occurred between the time Alex arrived at the FBI to the Grand Central attack allows for plenty of holes to be filled in, and the knowledge of certain inevitabilities should increase the opportunity for easter eggs and red herrings which should make watching this show more fun.
How long will it last? The future is bright for this show, which opened very strong and much better than other programming on ABC. Priyanka Chopra clearly is a draw, and I think that ABC is going to want to invest in one of its buzziest and freshest programs. A renewal shouldn’t take long.

Pilot grade: B-

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

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 12 "Full Ten Count” (B-)

What a rollercoaster season this has been. At this point last season I was ready to cast this show out entirely, and there’s definitely been a resurgence in the fourth season. There’s no question that the strongest part of this season has been Dan Logan, who at first was alluring and mysterious and then turned out to be fully in awe of Virginia and ready to give her the kind of recognition and respect Bill had always denied her without having to be asked. In this episode, he went to Mexico to get divorced and then promptly showed up to propose marriage to Virginia, asking her father for permission in the process. He was even keenly aware enough to ask Virginia whether she hoped Bill would show up or whether she hoped he wouldn’t. Bill offered Virginia what she wanted far too late and for all the wrong reasons, and his decision to get out of the car and not even try to stop her at the airport demonstrated that he finally realized he was headed down the wrong path. Hopefully the Little Brown Man won’t derail both their careers fully because they’re not on stage, though it’s going to be hard to pick up the pieces no matter what. It’s good to see Barton and Jonathan happy thanks to some prompting from Jonathan and meddling from Betty, but it does seem strange on such a sexually explicit show for this forbidden romance to feel so sterile. Paul’s sudden disappearance is a disappointing shock, but Libby did a great job standing up for herself and leaving Bill to sit in jail when he decided that he needed to confess his affair at that point as a way of exonerating himself. Virginia refusing to listen to Nora’s attempts to justify her actions made for a great scene, and I’d like to note that Lizzy Caplan has done truly terrific work this season, rebounding from poor season two material and really doing her best with everything this year. I’m intrigued for season four but not waiting with baited breath. At least this season is leaving a much better and more promising taste.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Josh Charles as Dan Logan

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pilot Review: Blood and Oil

Blood and Oil (ABC)
Premiered September 27 at 9pm

There’s always at least one show each season that just doesn’t even come close to interesting me. This is definitely that show, one that focuses on oil in North Dakota, a state I only enjoy traveling to if Fargo is my destination. Part of the reason is that I already watched “Dallas” for a while when it got remade, and with this kind of show, you actually want more soapy drama to make it exciting, even if it’s more absurd and silly as a result. No, this show is rather run-of-the-mill, showcasing a young couple who get into a destructive car accident immediately upon arriving to their new home, and somehow Chace Crawford’s ambitious Billy manages to put down $10,000 and turn it into $75,000 instantly to make Barry Corbin’s landowner a deal that he doesn’t refuse even though the competition is offering nearly double the price. At least Billy and Cody are being smart enough to pay it forward and produce a $50,000 investment check for the people who got them started as soon as they actually have money to play with, but it’s hard to get too attached to anything or anyone on this show since it doesn’t feel realistic or worthwhile. Ending the first episode with a near-deadly attack and the main character of the show about to go up in flames hardly seems like it’s meant to be taken seriously, and though Rock Springs may be booming, I can assure you I won’t be returning for any reason.

How will it work as a series? It didn’t take long for Billy and Cody to grow their net worth exponentially, so I imagine they’ll both be world leaders with private jets by episode three. On a more serious note, they’ve gotten themselves in bed with the top oil moguls in town, and so now it’s just a matter of them going to war on the same side as everyone else tries to sabotage them because that’s clearly the only reasonable way to go about making money in this town.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot weren’t spectacular but they weren’t too awful either, but this was not the success that “Quantico” was in its debut airing. Last year, ABC renewed many more shows than I expected, and so it’s possible the network is on a hot streak right now. I wouldn’t predict this show to be one of its more enduring series, but I do think that ABC will give it a chance to see how it does.

Pilot grade: C-

What I’m Watching: Fear the Walking Dead

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 5 “Cobalt” (C)

There’s just one episode left in this season, and I’m hoping that it will end on an intriguing note that will compel me to come back and watch the show when it returns for its second outing. While “The Walking Dead” shows how far people have come due to the nature of their circumstances, this show finds them already at a point of base humanity before they have any apocalypse to justify their behavior. Lieutenant Moyers handing his soldier a tissue when he raises a legitimate concern about 50 hours of being awake was cruel enough, but forcing Travis to shoot a walker as a test of his loyalty and sanity was excessive and unnecessary. Daniel was also way too ready to set up and torture the soldier that he and Ofelia kidnapped and had in the basement, and Madison didn’t object nearly as much as expected. That said, the information that they learned from Andrew is immensely troubling and shows how bad the situation has gotten. Evacuating the soldiers and not the people and humanely terminating the patients is a disturbing plan, and that has to lead to an explosive finale. Strand is an intriguing new addition who has Nick’s back, but I’m not sure how that’s going to play out. Chris and Alicia bonding by trying on rich people’s clothes and breaking their stuff is hardly a productive use of time, which makes just five hours so far already feel like too long to get to this point. Griselda didn’t last long, and it seems that Dr. Exner was well aware of the fact that this contagion affects anyone no matter how they die.

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

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 12 “Exsuscito” (B+)

You know it’s been a busy, packed season if one of its biggest plotlines, the Finney family, figures only into one minor scene with Paige offering one last miserable thought on what has transpired. Ray’s got a lot going on, though, and he had a lot to deal with in this eventful hour. Bridget running off and pretending to be with Mickey actually caused much more damage than she intended it to since it put Terry in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Ray got there just a moment too late to be able to stop the Armenians from opening fire on the apartment. Killing everyone can only do so much, and now Mickey will have to live with the fact that, through it all, two of his sons got shot and they both won’t make it out the same way, especially since we don’t know where Ray is being taken by Father Romero following his confession and absolution. Daryll showing his father his license with a different last name was the ultimate way to disown Mickey, and hopefully he’ll be better off without him. Mr. Donellen was lucky to get off with a mere beating from Bridget, and kudos to him for finally waking up and realizing that it wasn’t relevant that people would assume that they had already done something illicit. Teresa revealing her pregnancy to Bunchy did not produce the reaction she wanted, but it seems like they make just be able to make it through okay. I’m eager for season four of this show; it’s been another terrific and gripping year.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Liev Schreiber

What I’m Watching: Hand of God

Hand of God: Season 1, Episode 4 “He So Loved” (C)

I’m less and less impressed with the direction of this show, and I think I’m even ready to stop watching this show if the first few minutes of episode five don’t entice me. The literal elements and the notion of hearing instructions from God aren’t working well together, and the story is weakened as a result. Pernell refusing to take his medicine is imbecilic, and the fact that his wife and his good buddy Bobo aren’t able to encourage him to do so would ordinarily make it impossible for him to pass any sort of mental evaluation, yet somehow, unrealistically, he had no trouble getting by and even being allowed to make a ruling on the same case that caused him to be under review in the first place. Getting told to sacrifice his son sounded like a pretty clear message, but of course Pernell decided that was open for interpretation. Giving KD the house and taking him shopping for fertilizer to cultivate a nice lawn was a cruel antecedent to the unforgiving and entirely selfish decision to send him back to prison for violating his parole despite KD’s immediate mention of the fact that he should report his new digs to his parole officer. Betraying his one ally will definitely make Pernell too cocky to see that he’s not clear of suspicion despite the productive developments in that case, and his ego is going to get the best of him. Learning more about Crystal’s past and Tessie’s was somewhat interesting, but not enough to make this show strong.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 1, Episode 5 “There Will Be a Future” (B+)

Pablo in exile is a wholly different beast, but one that is just as dangerous and volatile. Sitting by the pool and living in luxury is hardly a miserable fate, but it’s clear that Pablo really does love Colombia, and the way he said that he would never again leave his country once the plane came within view of the mountain cemented his inseparable bond with the land. Pablo’s reach from afar is no less severe, and he managed to take out the most influential politician just by making a call. The crucial development is that his lieutenants are starting to talk among themselves and to think that maybe it’s time for a less drastic situation since all Pablo continues to do is escalate and assert the supremacy of his organization and operation. At the same time, two strong and separate elements are building against him, both of which will surely anger him and cause plenty of collateral damage. Gaviria was appointed by the son of his assassinated predecessor to be the voice of the people against Pablo and the narcos, and his rallying statement to the American press confirms that he’s going to take the side of standing for good and for extradition, knowing full well that it may well lead to war but will prevent Colombia from being a narco state. Carrillo is an even more aggressive antagonist for Pablo, speaking English in front of his untrusted men and going so far as to call Pablo to wage war against him, an undoubtedly regrettable move. Javier working to get protection for Elisa is earning him no friends in the agency, and there isn’t a way that ends without someone getting hurt.

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 11 “Triggers” (C)

It’s almost like this show is determined to turn viewers against every one of its supporting characters, one at a time. The problem is that while Jenny Slate is moving on to bigger and better things, Brett Gelman and A.J. are not going anywhere. Having Russ be annoyed and furious that A.J. would draw up a contract dissolving their friendship doesn’t help anyone’s case since all it does is to demonstrate how exaggerated and absurd a character A.J. is. I was enjoying his budding relationship with Abby, but now he’s taken things way too far by having no clue how to exist and operate as a human, showing up to Russ’ work and refusing to acknowledge the presence of his boss, insistent that he has to spend all of his time illustrating the Farmer Todd books that he was never he even asked to collaborate on. His buddy Lincoln didn’t help matters at all, and was just an awkward extra person in the room to just make things worse. That they ended in a good place that involved ranking Russ’ imaginary grill over this friendship with A.J. was a minor saving grace that came far too late. At the same time, Lina was similarly the one to point out the absurdity of Abby’s reliance on and continued bond with her manipulative ex, played by Rob Huebel, who is Len on “Transparent,” a plotline that worked a bit better but still was far from a home run. Lina trying to stifle her urge to give other people advice was entertaining, but that didn’t last too long because, naturally, she was right all along in this particular case.

Pilot Review: The Player

The Player (NBC)
Premiered September 24 at 10pm

Every show needs a hook, something about it that distinguishes it from other shows that might be thought of as similar. NBC’s newest offering deserves credit for a premise as original as it is absurd. Rich moguls placing bets on whether crimes will happen or whether they’ll be stopped by a neutral agent seems too far-fetched to possibly be real, yet that’s exactly what’s behind the plot of this show. Logic goes out the window pretty early in this show’s universe, presuming that the “dealer” and “pit boss” have omniscient influence and the ability to see and control all. Contrast that game mentality with the general goodness of our hero Alex Kane, who is able to perceive so much and always be there to stop the bad guys from winning, except in the case of his ex-wife when she is killed by an armed intruder. Alex himself is actually a relatively appealing character, and a show centered around him alone would probably be strong, especially considering his penchant for jumping through windows, bashing bad guys over the head with expensive bottles of wine, and just generally being a stand-up guy. Watching him, I wished I was watching “Human Target” instead since Alex faintly reminds me of Christopher Chance from the short-lived action series. The guest star list in this pilot was high, topped by Carlo Rota from “24” as the diplomat in harm’s way and Haaz Sleiman as his treacherous head of security. Wesley Snipes is chewing scenery as Alex’s new boss, and I actually like Charity Wakefield as Alex’s new right hind woman Cassandra. Her unexpected connection to Ginny is considerably more of a twist than the expected news that, thanks to Alex’s discovery that Ginny’s finger is missing the tattoo that was always covered by her ring, it seems that Ginny is still alive, driving Alex to take on this job and save some lives in the process of finding her. That should be fun – hardly essential viewing, but possibly not as brainless as it easily could be.

How will it work as a series? The sky’s the limit! The seedy character of the billionaires betting big implies that the degree of danger and potential devastation that Alex will be thrust into on an episodic basis could be anywhere from something seemingly small to a major terrorist attack. The bigger the better since the risk will be high and Alex will have to be even more creative to save the day.
How long will it last? The ratings for episode one weren’t great, though Deadline noted in its report that it may do better when it airs after the season premiere of “The Blacklist” next week. Still, it’s not too inspiring, and reviews haven’t been too terrific either. I wouldn’t expect this one to live past its initial thirteen-episode order if even that far.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot Review: Heroes Reborn

Heroes Reborn (NBC)
Premiered September 24 at 8pm

Some days it seems like there will never be a completely original new series. “Heroes” ran for four seasons on NBC starting in 2006, and I’m one of the few who thought it was overrated even from the start, producing a few solid episodes in a flawed first season and then dragging on for three unbearable additional years. Did this show need to be the latest to be revived with a few signature players and an otherwise similar concept? No, not at all. Will I watch it anyway? Probably, and this is actually one show I wrote that I was almost watching only to pick it apart when it was in the middle of what I had thought would be its final season. This new incarnation is definitely different, but its tone, style, and comic book obsession are all still very much present. It’s odd that Jack Coleman, who played HRG, is the only major returning cast member, but it does make sense if the premise is that it’s the next class of heroes just waiting to be found. The storyline has evolved just as the “evos” have, with the same uncomfortable darkness and brutality that existed in the original series and an inciting event that took many, many lives. I was shocked and a bit disturbed when Zachary Levi took out a gun and killed all the evos in the support group, and I feel like that sense of destructive violence is out of touch with the rest of the show. It was also a surprise to see Levi as a villain, though it seems clear that, despite his willingness to shoot first and never ask questions, he actually has a conscience that will likely get the better of him. Levi’s Luke is a member of two power couples with ulterior motives, one of which managed to capture a surprisingly grown-up all-powerful Molly. The most questionable casting is that of Henry Zebrowski, who was excessive comic relief on “A to Z,” as conspiracy theorist Quentin, who is sure to prove to be a constant headache for HRG. I’m perplexed by the necessity of having an Asian-speaking character and the even more questionable decision to have her power be that she can transplant herself into a video game. This show is appealing in some ways but just as messy as the original show was.

How will it work as a series? It’s designed to be a thirteen-episode miniseries, but, as the resurrection of this show demonstrates, such ideals are never finite realities. There’s more than enough happening here, and an overarching mythology capable of spinning plenty of plotlines thanks to the reboot caused by the public nature of the evos. Whether it’s quality drama is a different question.
How long will it last? The ratings were pretty good but the reviews weren’t as solid, and I think that this show needs to really land big in order to secure any sort of renewal. Its thirteen episodes will air no matter what, but the concept of a planned limited series being picked up for another round has to be based on true unexpected success and not just doing fine.

Pilot grade: C

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 4, Episode 3 “High Noon” (A-)

I remarked at the beginning of the season that moving to Netflix hadn’t changed this show at all, but the extra fifteen or so minutes in each episode has definitely enabled the show to tell more of a story in every installment. This episode started off in one place and ended somewhere completely different and unexpected, and what an involving ride it was. Cady’s return to the show was a very welcome one, and it was quite an episode for her. Getting what appeared to be a $50,000 tip turned into an extraordinarily enticing job offer, but that went downhill so fast once she realized just who she was really working for. Currie Graham is an actor who I remember from his guest spot on two “24” season one episodes and who has guest starred in countless series since then. This episode allowed him to give one of his most memorable and intense performances, demonstrated most in the scene where he chewed Cady out for not knowing what she had agreed to do. Walt finding a drunk Barlow at the beginning of the episode seemed to suggest a new relationship for the grieving father and his late son’s boss, and Walt needed all the friends he could get after someone took a shot at Nighthorse and gave him all the ammunition he needed to take Walt down. That long and tense scene at the end of the episode in which Walt told Barlow he knew that he had killed Branch and Barlow proudly confessed to ordering the murder of Walt’s wife was an unforgettable one. It’s going to be hard for Walt to get out of this situation, and killing Barlow in self-defense may lead him down an unkind and unforgiving road. I could tell this season was going to be dark, and it only seems to be getting darker.

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 2, Episode 3 “Born Dead” (B+)

It’s very true that the only friends we’ve ever seen Jimmy and Gretchen interact with are the supporting cast members, Edgar and Lindsay. I love that Gretchen rattled off a list of people she was supposedly best friends with to complete bewilderment from Jimmy, and that he argued that friends are for babies and were nothing more than an unnecessary distraction in life. Gretchen’s friends definitely grew up without her, and Cory was an unfortunate display of what Gretchen could look like if she had no semblance of what makes up a decent person. Jimmy hiring Killian as a bartender was absurd but amusing, and I like that he interacted with two fringe characters we don’t always see: Paul and Vernon. The fact that Vernon earned himself points with Jimmy by mocking Paul was interesting ,and I enjoyed their surprisingly serious and honest conversation. Lindsay meeting Amy was never going to go too well, and my favorite moment was her asking Amy if she was calling her an old horse. Making out with Edgar to make Paul jealous definitely excited Edgar, but she’s going to take it too far and going to break the heart of the guy who just wants to be there for her and not to show off her alleged romantic success after their break-up. She is without question one of the least self-aware characters I’ve ever seen on television, so it could take a while for her to realize how he really feels, but it has to happen eventually.

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

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 1 “Summer Lovin’” (B)

It’s no secret that my affinity for this show has dwindled considerably over the past few years, and the fact that, for the first time ever, it didn’t take home the Emmy for Best Comedy Series last week had almost made it fall off my radar completely. I’m not at a point where I need to abandon it though, and, fortunately, this premiere was considerably better than what we’ve seen lately. Its formulaic nature hasn’t changed, but I did enjoy its plotlines a bit more than I have recently. Through the show’s decline, Haley has tended to be one of the show’s stronger characters, exaggerated in an amusing way but still fairly solid. Her shutdown following Andy’s proposal to Beth and subsequent jumping back in to a relationship with the dependably dopey Dylan was entertaining to watch. I enjoyed Dylan’s v-neck t-shirts that used the v-neck as the letter v, particularly Claire’s Evolve t-shirt that perplexed Jay. I wasn’t as fond of Fat Andy since I think that’s an unnecessary gimmick, but it served to mostly give him and Haley the opportunity for a furious interaction. Alex’s love life is also fun to watch, particularly because she and her intellectual boyfriend are ready to defy the statistics because they’ve never been in bottom percentiles and they both love numbers so much. Jay and Gloria trying to get Joe into preschool too late didn’t offer much in the way of new material, but it was relatively entertaining. Mitchell taking to painting was a bit random, but it was nice to see him go off the rails rather than Cameron, and proved a funny and harmless distraction. Let’s hope this season can be a return to relative greatness for this show.

Pilot Review: Rosewood

Rosewood (FOX)
Premiered September 23 at 8pm

It doesn’t surprise me that this show is one of the worst-reviewed new series of the fall, achieving a better score than only “Dr. Ken” on Metacritic. For me, this show is actually one of the least offensive new shows, and one that I probably won’t be watching but certainly don’t mind. Like any police show, including three other pilots I’ve just reviewed – “Limitless,” “Blindspot,” and “Minority Report” – it’s about a cop who partners with an unofficial consultant who has special insight and skills that help the duo to close more cases and catch more bad guys. The difference here is that Rosewood, or Rosie as he’s affectionately called, doesn’t have any superpowers, he’s just a medical examiner for hire who wants to be a part of solving murders and the like, especially if his mom asks him for help. He’s charismatic to an extreme degree, and he manages to irk his unwilling partner, Detective Villa, at every possible juncture. He also has a quirky support team comprised of his sister and her fiancĂ©e, and all four women in his life give him plenty of grief for being so cocky and always thinking he knows best. This is nothing startlingly new, but it’s perfectly fun and harmless, definitely not deserving of the trashing it has received from most other publications and users. I like Morris Chestnut from his role on “V” a few years ago, and this is a great role for him. Jaine Lee Ortiz, who is more of a newcomer, plays off him well, and the two should make a fine duo on this entertaining if unmemorable show.

How will it work as a series? At the end of the episode, Rosewood still made his token joke while pointing to his billboard, so I don’t think the relationship between him and the police department is going to get any more official, but that should allow him to butt his way into plenty of cases while occasionally being invited by Detective Villa, which should prove enjoyable and fun.
How long will it last? Even though the reviews were uninspiring, the ratings were actually pretty good, and it helped that this show was the only one to premiere on Wednesday, following “Empire,” which was FOX’s big hit from last season. Who knows if this one will make it, but right now it looks like it has a bright future ahead, even if it’s just for the rest of the season.

Pilot grade: B

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pilot Review: Limitless

Limitless (CBS)
Premiered September 22 at 10pm

I reviewed another show earlier this week that was based on a movie that I had seen and liked (“Minority Report”) and I was pleased to report that it was a sequel rather than a remake or prequel. It turns out that this show, which is based on a movie I didn’t see, takes the same approach, and it seems like a productive one. Which I don’t know all the background on NZT and what happened with Bradley Cooper’s character in the film, his appearance in this pilot was appropriately relegated to just one extremely informative and mysterious scene that leaves it open for him to reappear or not reappear as he is needed, desired, or available. When I first heard about this show, I was glad to see that Jake McDorman was starring in this role. I first got to know him as the likeable Mike on “Shameless,” and then saw him crash and burn in the obnoxious and very quickly-cancelled “Manhattan Love Story.” I think he’s a great fit for this role, though he doesn’t have nearly as much charisma while he’s playing the sad sack version of himself before he discovered his drug of choice. I don’t quite understand how the injections he’s getting work, since they seem to solve the problem of his having any side effects or not being able to remember what happened and allow him to still use 100% of his brain all the time. Jennifer Carpenter is a predictable choice to play a cop working side-by-side with a questionable criminal who really just wants to help people, and it should be a good part for her. This variation of the procedural should be fun enough to keep me entertained, though I’m hardly ready to commit for the whole season or series if other shows prove to be more original or enticing.

How will it work as a series? McDorman’s Brian has put together the basis of the NZT criminal history, but he and Agent Harris are going to have to work together to figure out what’s really going on while presumably dealing with episodic distractions. It’s just like any other police show, just with an extra compelling backstory to keep it going.
How long will it last? The ratings for the pilot were pretty good, and it got an early start out of the gate bringing younger viewers in, something that CBS (and any network) values a lot. A renewal isn’t guaranteed but things are definitely looking promising for this show.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: Scream Queens

Scream Queens (FOX)
Premiered September 22 at 8pm

Sometimes expectations about a show can be traced back most strongly to its creator if that person has enough of a reputation. In the case of Ryan Murphy and his partners Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, that is certainly the case. “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee,” and “American Horror Story” occupy three very different genres, but all include the same excess to whatever degree is appropriate in their categories, namely sexual explicitness, over-the-top high school parody, and grotesque horror. The newest show from this team seems to combine all three of those elements into something appropriate for a broadcast network audience (the first and third aired on FX, which allows more objectionable content than FOX). The best way to describe this two-hour pilot is that it’s a lot to take. Its portrayal of college sorority life is extremely exaggerated, taking on a “Mean Girls” attitude but pushing it to the extreme. Its incorporation of horror also involves such pleasantries as watching a woman get her face burned off and someone else having her head run over by a lawnmower. This show is supposed to occupy the place between comedy and horror, and for many, I’m sure it will be a success. The lead character portrayed by Emma Roberts, an AHS alum, is particularly excessive, but that’s what this show is designed to be. I lasted through about three seasons of “Nip/Tuck,” about the same of “Glee,” and one short disturbing episode of AHS. I’m inclined to give this show, which does include good performances from Abigail Breslin as a loyal Chanel and Niecy Nash as an absurdly ineffective security guard, another chance, but it’s so unbelievably irritating that I don’t know how much I can really stomach. There isn’t enough to make up for that annoyance in terms of its content, but I guess the mystery of who the killer is slightly intriguing.

How will it work as a series? There are only so many characters this show can kill off before it’s out of players, but I don’t think that will be too much of a problem considering the rate at which they seem to be coming back to life. Managing its excessive nature shouldn’t be a problem given that the creative team’s previous efforts have been similar indulgent.
How long will it last? The opening ratings were not much to write home about, and that could be a problem given that FOX was clearly banking on this show to be a big hit. Reviews were decent but I think FOX is going to want stronger numbers for this show to keep it around. Right now, I think it’ll be safe for the season but unlikely to get a renewal.

Pilot grade: C

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pilot Review: The Muppets

The Muppets (ABC)
Premiered September 22 at 8pm

I don’t have any particular feelings towards the Muppets. I’ve never been a huge fan, but I also don’t hold anything against them. I didn’t see either of the recent films that came out, and I only watched this pilot because, well, I watch every pilot. I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, though I’m not sure exactly what I expected. This show is taking the questionable route of framing itself as a mockumentary, a device that sometimes works but is also used to excess on many occasions. The reason it works here is that the concept of Muppets coexisting with humans is rather absurd, and it’s actually decently funny to watch them on screen together. Nowhere is that truer than with Fozzie Bear and his human girlfriend’s parents, and I enjoyed the casting of Jere Burns from “Burn Notice” and “Justified” as her disapproving father. The public breakup of Kermit and Miss Piggy provides some decent dramatic backstory for this show, and it was amusing to find out exactly why Miss Piggy had such a problem with Elizabeth Banks guest-starring on the show. On that note, the use of celebrity guest stars is intense but not overbearing, since Tom Bergeron, Banks, and Imagine Dragons were all appropriately relegated to brief bits that allowed them to have fun but not dominate the scene. I don’t know how long this show can keep its momentum up, but this episode was enough fun that I’m willing to start watching the show on a regular basis.

How will it work as a series? A lot happened just in this opening episode, and so I think that there will be no shortage of plotlines in the future. Its primetime placement also gives it the option to push the envelope in a few ways, which could also help to keep it interesting since it’s not concerned with staying G-rated.
How long will it last? It seems like this show did well on all fronts, posting solid premiere numbers and earning decent reviews from critics. It’s hard to know if viewership will plummet after week one, but I think that this one is enough of a hit that ABC will put its energy behind it and give it a renewal pretty soon.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: Blindspot

Blindspot (NBC)
Premiered September 21 at 10pm

I’d probably categorize this show as the most visibly promoted new series of the fall season, with Jaimie Alexander’s tattooed woman emerging naked from a bag in Times Square an image I’ve seen many times over the past few months. It’s difficult to judge this series and its potential based on the pilot because it’s so purely expository, with an anonymous woman sent gift-wrapped with a note to call the FBI on the bag and an agent’s name tattooed on her back, and both what’s on her body and why it’s there are equally deep mysteries. What this pilot did well was to give a smooth and gradual introduction to Alexander’s Jane Doe, who expressed frustration with being asked questions she didn’t know answers to and then conveniently produced translation and combat skills as they became necessary over the course of the hour. Learning more about her and why, as we saw in the closing moments of the episode, she electively chose to wipe all her memories is sure to be a promising and interesting road, and hopefully the show around her and that can develop at the same pace. I much more enjoyed Sullivan Stapleton as a bumbling Australian dentist in “Kill Me Three Times” earlier this year than as a personality-free FBI agent here, but I think he should do okay. This series reminds me of “The Blacklist,” which I don’t like at all, but this debut has whet my appetite much more, and I’m ready to stick around and see what’s going on if it stays interesting.

How will it work as a series? That’s the big question. If future episodes can match the shock value of this episode’s big moment with said scenes not being known to viewers ahead of time, this show will be a surefire hit. It’s just a matter of whether the mystery is too big and complex to solve, or if exactly the right number of easter eggs will be dropped along the way to make it worthwhile and watchable.
How long will it last? A while. This show’s premiere was a big hit in the ratings, and NBC obviously thinks it’s going to be a success given how much promotional effort they’ve invested in it. I think this may well be the first show to be renewed for a second season, but given that only a few shows have premiered so far, it’s probably too early to confidently make that call.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Significant Mother

Significant Mother: Season 1, Episode 7 “Under Buddy” (B+)

Nate hiring an “understudy” bartender named Timmy to take Jimmy’s place was a plotline perfectly suited to Jimmy’s maturity and personality. The fact that even Jimmy accidentally called his nemesis Jimmy and then said after he left that he kind of liked him made this whole debacle all the more enjoyable. It’s hard to know sometimes if Nate is actually aware of what he is doing or if he’s just oblivious or easily influenced, but that didn’t make this plotline any less entertaining. Jimmy changing his signature drink after Timmy stole his initial Martini takeoff was just one of the many amusing jokes that came out of the similarity of their names. I love that Harrison showed up to praise Timmy and even went so far as to get a t-shirt made that said “Team Timmy.” Going off on an unrelated tangent in the middle of a conversation just to show Jimmy what it was like to talk to him was fun, and I like that Jimmy wasn’t even phased by that. Responding to the comment “I was born ready” to “I was born a baby” was completely typical of Jimmy and totally hilarious as well. I was surprised by the uncaring willingness with which Timmy admitted that his other signature drink was indeed in his pants, but he had to go eventually. I like how the dynamic of Lydia and Jimmy’s relationship is working with Nate in the middle, and it never ceases to be entertaining and enjoyable to watch.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pilot Review: Minority Report

Minority Report (FOX)
Premiered September 21 at 9pm

I should start this review by saying that I’m a big fan of the film on which this show is based, unlike another series that also premiered this week, whose original movie I haven’t even seen. That does mean that my expectations for this show were high, and I was pleased when I saw a trailer a few months ago that made it look like this show had all the same things that I loved about the movie. I like that this isn’t a remake or a prequel, but instead a legitimate sequel that focuses on one of the precogs after precrime has been shut down and murders are happening again. There are some things about Dash’s behavior that don’t quite track, and I think that Stark Stands is much more skilled at acting like a robot than at expressing his human reactions to things. That gives the show a comedic feel, as the far more socially adept Detective Lara Vega mocks him for his inability to be cool in situations and respond the way she might expect any normal person to. I’m glad to see Meagan Good on a show like this rather than “Deception” after a strong arc on “Californication,” and I think she has the right style and attitude to play a good cop with much stronger instincts than many of her superiors and colleagues. Dash being the one who gets visions but no names could seem like a gimmicky obstacle, but I think that should work well too. This is a fun, futuristic twist on the detective show, and I’m eager to see where it goes, especially because of all the advanced future technology.

How will it work as a series? It was almost a requirement for the missing Arthur to show up in the pilot’s final moments, complicating matters and giving Dash a larger mission that goes along with his new police position. That overarching plot should complement the episodic murder cases nicely, and I think both should prove intriguing and engaging.
How will it work as a series? Unfortunately, it may not last long. FOX didn’t do well with the season premiere of “Gotham” or this show, and I think my take on this pilot may have been more positive than other critics’. I don’t think it’s necessary to close up shop just yet, but the future does not look bright unless the ratings sharply increase, which is not a usual trend.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces (CBS)
Premiered September 21 at 8:30pm

Vignettes have their place and they can work well if done right, but if the fact that they’re all related is meant to be the big gimmick, it’s going to be an uphill battle to make the format last. This show’s title and the credits that begin with “Story One” warn that this show is not a conventional sitcom but rather one told plot by plot. NBC tried something similar few years ago with its long-delayed eventual summer series “Love Bites,” which followed a few of the same characters but also introduced new players and plotlines on a weekly basis. This show could look a whole lot like “Modern Family,” which advertised itself as involving many different family members and then brought them together in a creative way by the end of its pilot, but this show is fully committed to its explicit format. That could be fine if the vignettes worked on their own, but most of them felt forced in this debut airing. Jordan Peele’s live-in ex-fiancĂ© was particularly far-fetched, and James Brolin’s John throwing himself a seventieth birthday funeral was also a stretch. Having trouble finding a place to have sex for a budding new couple and fearing certain sights post-pregnancy were decent starts, but this show hasn’t proven itself to be reliably funny yet. It’s fun to see a handful of familiar faces, including Thomas Sadoski from “The Newsroom,” Colin Hanks, Zoe Lister-Jones from “New Girl,” Dan Bakkedahl from “Veep,” and Betsy Brandt from “Breaking Bad,” and I hope they’ll be used well in solid individual settings and in stronger group storylines than the one in this opening installment. I’m willing to stick it out a few weeks, but this one didn’t really have me laughing.

How will it work as a series? I think that the concept of this show requires that it sticks to its four-story format, but it will be interesting to see how long that lasts or if the grander family dynamic will take over and that separation will be phased out. If the individual plots are good enough, it won’t need to be, but they’re going to need to get a little stronger and more reined-in than what we’ve seen so far.
How long will it last? The ratings report is actually pretty decent, which is especially impressive given that this show airs on CBS, which is the strictest and most demanding network, cancelling shows that outperform solid hits on other networks for what it considers weak links. I still don’t think this one is going to last, though I think it will be around for a full season before it gets pulled.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Doll and Em

Doll and Em: Season 2, Episode 2 (B+)

I’m really enjoying this show in its second season, and I think it’s done a great job growing into itself. I immediately recognized Olivia Wilde as one of the actresses unknowingly auditioning for a role in Doll and Em’s play (I couldn’t peg Evan Rachel Wood though), and the two of them having them over for dinner at the end of the episode was a nice treat because it enabled our two protagonists to bond while watching the younger actresses analyze and judge them. Em falling asleep while Doll was having an honest conversation with her and trying to deny it was entertaining, and I like that both of them skyped with their mothers, who were equally incredulous about the idea of them directing an off-Broadway play. Em trying to have multiple phone calls at once while her son was following her around asking for food was very funny, and I love that she told the whole stirring citizenship story to Doll by accident and that she found it very nice and then hung up because she had found her daughter. Dropping off the kid on a random stoop so that she could go get money to buy the mirror was nearly as hilarious as her leaving her with him, which resulted in them playing cards and then him bringing her home later that night. It’s not a surprise that their future portrayers thought they were a couple, and it’s a real treat to see them both got along, hopelessly awkward but still better together than apart.

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 3, Episode 11 “Party of Four” (B+)

Whatever else you or I can say about this episode, I think this was the most honest hour of television I’ve ever seen. With every single plotline, we saw characters coming clean with each other, first trying to put up fronts but then taking them down and telling the complete truth. Bill and Virginia fighting before they even sat down at their ambush dinner was bad enough, and it only got worse when Dan and his wife showed up. I was delighted to see Judy Greer as Dan’s wife Alice, and it was especially great after a lackluster season of “Married” to see her playing a malcontent married woman with considerably more depth. Bill telling Virginia that she’s entitled to a life outside work but just doesn’t want one after she defended her hiding of her affair so that he wouldn’t cut her out was cruel, and he was the only one in this entire episode who didn’t get angry or upset, gloating the whole time about the way that he manipulated events to his advantage. Dan telling Alice that he loves Virginia and her responding by saying that he used to be better was a moving moment, and both guest actors were truly superb (“Is there a good way to meet your husband’s mistress?”). The fact that Libby and Paul were playing house while all this was happening was fascinating, and Libby confessing that she was most afraid that Bill wouldn’t care when she asked for a divorce was an intense but well-founded fear. The detective coming by to interview Johnny about Bill’s alleged sexual abuse got Johnny to speak his mind about his relationship with his father, and I do hope that doesn’t lead down a bad road for Bill, despicable as he is. Showing Dan and Bill sitting at the table verbally sparring showed their true colors, and Bill trying to share his feelings for Virginia before running home to his family was the example both of bad timing and of the enduring bond between them. And to cap it all off, somehow Virginia ended up with a fancy dinner all by herself after all was said and done. As if there weren’t enough bombshells, Dan decided it was finally time to leave his wife and now Virginia will have to decide in the season finale what she really wants.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What I’m Watching: Fear the Walking Dead

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 4 “Not Fade Away” (C+)

I thought this show was starting out strong and I even praised the dialogue in the pilot episode, but now I’m starting to doubt that. We’re two-thirds of the way through the season, and while things are getting interesting, they’re progressing at a relatively slow pace throughout most of the hour and then amping up only towards the end in a way that doesn’t match the rest of the hour. Chris making a video about “day nine since the lights went out” and spotting a light in the distance gave the episode a very dated feel, but that quickly changed to Madison’s curiosity being piqued and her sneaking out to see what’s really out there. Nick just relaxing in the pool and claiming to be off drugs felt far too casual given the strong military presence surrounding them. Travis being called the mayor by Jamie McShane’s soldier cements his role in the town, even if he can’t hope to keep everything under control, and Ofelia making out with another soldier to get meds wasn’t exactly subtle, or effective, as it turns out. The arrival of Sandrine Holt's Dr. Exner and her use of Liza’s faux nurse seemed like a good thing, but yanking Griselda and Nick out of their home late at night for transportation to supposed medical care was not a promising or affirming sign of the good intent of the government and military, especially if the neighborhood they were in was supposedly one of only twelve safe zones in the area.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 3, Episode 11 “Poker” (B+)

When a job needs to be done, Ray does it, and lately it seems to be causing him more trouble than it’s worth. Andrew going to the police to tell them that it was Ray who killed Varick and then threatened to kill him if he went to the police created a worrisome situation in which Ray was way too close to being the prime suspect in a murder with evidence ready to convict him and send him to prison right away. Fortunately, his brute nature enabled him to get to Cochran, shoot him in the leg, and then threaten him with a baseball bat so that he could get the incriminating evidence Cochran planted in his apartment out of there just in time to get off scot free. Convincing Paige to testify against her father and tell the truth was the important closer, and moving the body back to the Finney compound and torching it at just the right moment should present enough damning evidence to overwhelm the influence that Andrew has over the police and public officials. Paige asking Ray if he or her father was more powerful was a legitimate question, and I think it’s Ray now. Leaving Cochran alive was a puzzling choice but also a smart one given the fact that his disappearance would surely raise unnecessary alarm. Mickey throwing himself a goodbye party seemed innocent enough, but then he pulled the ultimate get out of jail free card, telling his children about his fake diagnosis in order to gain their sympathies and make Ray look like the bad guy. His relationships with Bunchy, Daryll, and Conor are so interesting, and I’m glad that he’s not going to Reno, even though, as Abby pointed out, it’s only an hour flight from Burbank. Bridget is just trying to get herself and her teacher in trouble, and I don’t know how that can end without him either going to jail or getting killed. It was about time Abby and Terry shared a kiss, but I don’t know if that’s going to lead to anything more since the two of them would never be able to be forgiven by Ray.

Take Three: Hand of God

Hand of God: Season 1, Episode 3 “Contemplating the Body” (C+)

I’m still curious to see where this show goes, but I’m not sure that I’m as convinced of its quality as I initially was. For men so obsessed with religion, KD and Pernell sure use violence and foul language an awful lot. It’s hard to find them too believable when they’re so brutal all the time, and I’m also not too fond of the very matter-of-fact plotline which involves Pernell going to pick up a body on his own with his normal clothes and a van that his wife has seen and then dumping it somewhere else because a picture in a doctor’s office told him to do it. Part of it might also be Ron Perlman’s affect, since he usually portrays headstrong authority figures, and now he’s running around like a madman listening to voices and having full on conversations with people around him in response to the things that he believes PJ and God are telling him. Meditation between the Harris parents and their daughter-in-law did not go well at all, and now there’s a twist, which is that Crystal and Nick had what appears to be a very intense and passionate affair if their dirty talk is any indication. Jocelyn shooting at Josh with the gun that PJ used to try to kill himself is not a strong sign of her stability, though at least Josh seems to care for her enough that he’d look out for her. We didn’t see much of the church in this hour other than our resident reverend chastising KD for beating up a homeless man who dared to urinate on the church rather than doing the Christian thing of inviting him in to improve his state.

What I’m Watching: Wet Hot American Summer (Season Finale)

Wet Hot American Summer: Season 1, Episode 8 “Day is Done” (C+)

I don’t know if I was expecting any sort of logical closure at the end of this season, but that certainly didn’t come. Instead, we got a reinforcement of the same ridiculousness that has dictated this entire season, which brought it to a close in its own way. Falcon and Gene sparring at the start of the episode was an amusing moment, and then, after Gene revealed that he had in fact switched out the cans so that the real Mitch was still there, there was another wholly unnecessary twist that the Falcon was actually a double agent the whole time. I think that it was designed fully as a parody of twists that make no sense, as underlined repeatedly by Beth pointing out that Falcon actually killed two people and then Coop summarizing it all and mentioning that it didn’t track. Neil and Shari getting a happy ending was nice since most of the show devolved into absurdity, and at least they got to come out of a hurtful nose game and end up a shining example of a great couple. The military showing up with Reagan in the tank to destroy the camp just as the rival camp was about to destroy them and Eric stood up to use music to save the day was too preposterous to describe, so I won’t even try. This show as fun but hardly anything to write home about. If there was a second season, I think I’d watch, but I wouldn’t be too upset if it didn’t get renewed.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Paul Rudd as Andy?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Palace in Flames” (B+)

It’s no wonder that every episode feels so packed and full of content – there’s so much to cover and it only gets more interesting as it goes. Pablo getting blamed for the murder at the end of last episode presented a serious problem since the idea of him getting extradited to the United States meant that all bets were off. Naturally, they just changed United Against Kidnappers into a similarly vigilant organization advocating against extradition. The fact that judges had to hide their faces when handing out verdicts to ensure their own safety is absolutely insane, but it was fair since he hired M19 to storm the supreme court and created a big military conflict that was a cover for the destruction of all the files that would have allowed the government or the DEA to make a case against him. Making the whole court disappear was a perfect and terrifying way to put it. Giving the sword back to the insurgent who initially offered it to him seemed like a kind gesture, but instead it was his final act before exterminating all of them, acknowledging that he is truly unforgiving and finite in the way he acts. Communism cited as a bigger concern for the United States military than cocaine is definitely impeding the ability of the DEA to do its job, but informants playing both sides aren’t making it easy either. Elisa’s role in everything is very interesting, and the layers of good and bad on this show are so complex and fascinating in their frequent intersections.

What I’m Watching: Married

Married: Season 2, Episode 10 “1997” (C+)

This show is feeling less and less genuine as it progresses, and it’s a shame. I expected an episode called 1997 to feature a bit more of a flashback than just Russ and Lina visiting their old college and Lina searching hopelessly for a nude painting of her. Part of the problem was that she was the only one who was able to remember that she was a student who posed for her professor, the glory of the gardens on top of the faculty housing, and that she and Russ had their first kiss up there. Russ doesn’t spend any time yearning for his glory days, and it feels like he’s just there to tag along. Fred Melamed was the perfect actor to play the professor who tried so valiantly to invent other people who might have been Lina, which only made his every wrong guess more unfortunate since it showed how little he actually remembered anything about her. Her joy at being caught in the act of attempting suicide was slightly endearing, but it couldn’t save the episode. Russ’ enthusiasm at getting ahold of shrooms also felt out of place, and it was no surprise that it didn’t end up happening. AJ’s relationship with Abby, on the other hand, is progressing at a very slow pace but managing to be involving and sweet along the way. AJ writing a children’s book about addiction does seem far-fetched, but if anyone can do it, he can. Eventually he’ll break his celibacy, and it seems like the process getting there is doing him some good.

What I’m Watching: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (Season Finale)

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 1, Episode 10 “Because We’re Legion” (B+)

I was expecting this episode to feel much more like a season finale, perhaps even more so since, as far as I know, this show hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season. I sincerely hope it will since I do enjoy it a lot, and I think that the cast works very well together. Rob Morrow’s JP showed up to shake things up after the mess last week, and Gigi flirting with him like crazy was probably harmless and designed just to make her ex-boyfriend Flash jealous. JP whispering infuriating things into each band member’s ear just before they started playing and recording was a productive trick, it turned out, since it just encouraged them to give it their all rather than try to kill each other. The revelation that Flash and Ava slept together years ago was almost inconsequential, though it did create a few moments of amusing awkwardness between them and Gigi. Passing around the blame at the beginning of the episode was entertaining, especially watching Johnny and Flash each delight in being the good guy for a moment and Ava and Gigi yelling at them no matter who was in more trouble. A successful recording session was a promising way to end, though of course it all fell apart because, as part of the deal that Johnny hastily made to get Rehab and Bam Bam back in the band, they sold a version of the song that made their take completely unsellable. Oh well – that’s the world of rock and roll. Let’s hope for season two soon; this was a blast.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Elizabeth Gillies as Gigi

What I’m Watching: Longmire

Longmire: Season 4, Episode 2 “War Eagle” (B+)

As our characters move on from Branch’s death, they’re returning to a sense of normalcy with a sense of closeness and tragedy still pervading everything. What’s interesting is that it hasn’t created a culture of warmth and caring, but instead one of passive aggressive snapping and distance. The relationship between Vic and Walt has always been one of the best parts of this show, and now they’re truly at odds with Vic traumatized by the sight of a baseball bat and the memories it brings up and Walt trying to be overly protective with the wrong approach. Walt deputizing Henry with Branch’s badge was a meaningful moment, and an important way to keep Henry involved in a bigger way in the main plotline. Dealing with the new ownership of his bar and helping to right wrongs written about in letters to Hector keeps him busy enough, but now he can also be Walt’s official right hand and make sure he stays out of trouble. He’s certainly pushing the envelope trying to pin Branch’s murder on Nighthorse, who unsurprisingly has a secret past, and the fact that all signs point to Branch having been killed rather than killed himself is only encouraging him to keep digging. War Eagle was a strong focus of the episode, recalling an unremembered history of the area and the country that didn’t present a true mystery but instead a melancholy one about culture, expectations, and righting wrongs that left one well-meaning man very misunderstood and fully deceased.

Monday, September 21, 2015

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

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

This episode wasn’t terribly complex in its construction, but thanks to the reliability of its characters, it worked just fine. Gretchen’s uneasiness at wanting to buy stuff that made her seem too much like a homemaker was understandable, and it wasn’t helped at all by the fact that Jimmy considered her to be a guest rather than a resident and suggested that she could put her newly purchased things in bags or in whatever section of the home could be deemed hers. Naturally, as soon as he decided to ease up on his uninviting offer, she plopped herself down with her unsophisticated art and messy style. I loved the opening moments in which Jimmy was tormented by the other three, some purposely and some unintentionally, with their failed trivia answers that included Buzz Lightyear as the first man to walk on the moon. Lindsay’s obliviousness is trying, to be sure, but I like that, while Edgar is content to be her wingman and not protest despite the fact that she’s so obviously ignoring him, other characters aren’t so willing to let it go. Being encouraged by the gay guy at the bar who said he wasn’t interested in either him or Lindsay to flirt with someone else, namely the bartender who kept dating married guys, was a nice way for him to get to have some happiness before his latest chance to be used and unnoticed as the photographer for Lindsay’s sexy photo shoot to populate her new dating profile.

What I’m Watching: Difficult People (Season Finale)

Difficult People: Season 1, Episode 8 “Difficult Christmas” (B-)

After just eight episodes, this show is done with its first season, already renewed for another outing to premiere sometime next year on Hulu. I enjoyed the show to a degree, but I’m also disappointed given the potential of what it could have been and could still be. It’s obvious that both Julie and Billy are annoyed with the way most people act and this show is designed most as a parody of their lives as they seem, but this show’s excessive, exaggerated nature doesn’t always work to its advantage. It’s hard to believe that Julie wouldn’t have better sense than to casually discuss “Capturing the Friedmans,” a documentary my cousin recommended to me over a decade ago when it came out but I still haven’t seen, with a customer at the job she had just gotten hours ago while wrapping gifts at a hopelessly slow pace. At least that was more sophisticated than Billy’s attempt to get into the gay mafia using his niece and her Friday night dance opportunities. I enjoyed the concept that Marilyn was using surge pricing in advance of the holidays for her therapy customers, though it was of course exaggerated a bit much with her use of multiple cell phones and not even listening to any of the people on the phone. Similarly, Arthur’s parents being equally dry versions of him with completely unemotional vows was a theoretically amusing idea but not quite as hilarious in practice. If this show can hone its premise into something a bit more consistent, I think I’ll enjoy season two a lot more.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Billy Eichner

Pilot Review: The Bastard Executioner

The Bastard Executioner (FX)
Premiered September 15 at 10pm

It’s fair to say that I and many others would want to know what Kurt Sutter would be up to after “Sons of Anarchy” came to an end. The brutal FX series ran for seven years and explored the depths of humanity through its focus on a northern California motorcycle gang. I would have expected his follow-up project to look something like Denis Leary’s different shows, transplanting the same ideas and banter from a firehouse to a rock band, for instance. I didn’t know much about this show about from its title before I sat down to watch it, and discovering that it has to do with shires in the 1400s in Wales made me considerably less excited. I do watch “Game of Thrones” and don’t necessarily mind a trip back to regal antiquity, but this show is especially dense. I was able to put together who some characters were and how they were related by recognizing actors who stand out to me from the sea of armor and bloodshed contained in this two-hour pilot. First there are two notable “Sons of Anarchy” alumni, Timothy V. Murphy, who played Galen in the show’s final season, as the priest, and Katey Sagal, Sutter’s wife, in an absurd role as the witch, hardly the best use of her talents or a formidable performance from her. I see Sutter himself listed in the cast as well but didn’t spot him in the pilot episode, even though he may well have appeared. The other two major actors, both of whom often have to hide their accents to play Americans, are Brian F. O’Byrne, whose credit as a special guest star gave away the fact that he wasn’t long for this world, and Stephen Moyer, who portrayed Bill on “True Blood” for its entire run, as the most well-connected man in town with a strong head on his shoulders and an apparent fondness for other men. That’s about all I could pick apart in this show that obviously opts for the utmost violence at every opportunity, both in showcasing it on screen and in the concept of executing a known quantity at the drop of a hat because of a stranger’s claims. I’m willing to give it another hour because I remember finding “Sons of Anarchy” dense at the start too, but this seems like a much more difficult uphill battle.

How will it work as a series? Ending with a vivid killing cements this show’s status as living up to its name, and reforming things after a few major deaths is going to take some time. That medieval mess should present plenty of chaos, and involving a witch in the affairs too will only muddle everything since death just isn’t permanent. That sounds exhausting and uninvolving to me, but it could get interesting.
How long will it last? I think that FX feels a certain loyalty to the creator of one of its most successful and longest-running series, and so the network will give it a chance even if it’s not a bona fide hit. The ratings weren’t terrific in the way that other series in recent years have been, and so this one right now is probably tepidly headed towards a renewal, but it’s far from guaranteed since I’m sure the show is expensive to produce,.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Significant Mother

Significant Mother: Season 1, Episode 6 “Get Forked” (B+)

It’s about time that Nate started dating someone, and leave it to his mother and best friend to be the ones to try to set him up. Creating a profile for him on a website called Get Forked for foodies attracted a predictably strange crowd, which included those who were far too obsessed with food and those who were inclined to dine and ditch. That’s what made the choice of Annie so perfect since she seemed to be relatively normal and a true catch for Nate. I was pleased to see Mircea Monroe of “Episodes” playing her, and of course it all turned out to be way too good to be true, first with the porn star past and then the stealing of his father’s expensive new car, ending in a lesson on not posting pictures of yourself on the internet with a $150,000 car since it might attract the wrong type of girl. Lydia and Jimmy’s “hashtag teamwork” bit was funny, especially when Lydia tried to triumphantly say it only to have Jimmy halfheartedly participate since she had actually done some matchmaking without him. I like that Atticus finally noticed that all of Sam’s songs are about Nate and not about him, and that she had such a tough time writing something about her actual boyfriend who is never at a loss for things to say about her. Sam as a character, and Atticus too, could be one-dimensional and oblivious, but the fact that she’s just as secretly into Nate as he is into her is a great thing for her to be able to slowly realize.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Final Emmy Winner Predictions

The Emmy Awards air tonight, and I’m hoping to tune in from my hotel room in Vancouver. So far, I’ve predicted 1/4 correctly, guessing only Joan Cusack to finally win on her fifth nomination for portraying Sheila on “Shameless.” Other winners were Reg E. Cathey for “House of Cards,” Margo Martindale for a two-minute performance on “The Americans,” and Bradley Whitford for “Transparent.” The big question this year with the drama races is who will prevail now that “Breaking Bad” is off the air. “Mad Men” and “Homeland” have both won before but are not in high regard anymore, and this is the last shot that “Mad Men” has to win any acting award despite its many nominations over the past eight years. I’m going with “Game of Thrones” to win the top prize, but it could be any of them. As far as the comedy races are concerned, “Modern Family” could still win, “Veep” might upset, and I’d be ecstatic if “Parks and Recreation” got a consolation prize for never winning before in the form of a deserved trophy for Best Comedy Series for its superb final season. And if there’s any way that Tatiana Maslany could win, I’ll be thrilled. As always, I’m excited for the show, and will post some brief reactions either immediately afterwards or the next morning. Enjoy the show, and leave your thoughts in the comments! For detailed predictions in all applicable categories, click on the hyperlinked category name.

No guts, no glory:
Tatiana Maslany for Best Drama Actress! If only!

Game of Thrones

Jon Hamm (Mad Men)

Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)

Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)

Method and Madness (The Knick)

Person to Person (Mad Men)


Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)

Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

Best New Girl (Transparent)

Alive in Tucson (The Last Man on Earth)

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

This is the eighth category of the 9th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2014-2015 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Nina Conti, Cristin Milioti, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Laura Prepon, Christine Woods

Emmy nominees: Mayim Bialik, Julie Bowen, Anna Chlumsky, Gaby Hoffmann, Allison Janney, Jane Krakowski, Kate McKinnon, Niecy Nash

Semi-finalists: Dorian Brown (Wilfred), Emily Bergl (Shameless), Emma Kenney (Shameless), Fiona Gubelmann (Wilfred), Gaby Hoffmann (Transparent), Jane Krakowski (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black), Kether Donahue (You're the Worst), Lorraine Toussaint (Orange is the New Black), Mircea Monroe (Episodes), Retta (Parks and Recreation), Sufe Bradshaw (Veep), Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black)

Finalists: Brooklyn Decker (Grace and Frankie) and June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie) tempered their mother’s craziness with their own antics, balancing sweet and frantic and controlled and cutthroat. Kathleen Rose Perkins (Episodes) contended with her latest obstacle – a female boss to sleep with – with typical frenzied panic and hilarious antics. Andrea Navedo (Jane the Virgin) made her young mother a much more complicated character than she ought to have been, sweet and still figuring out how to be an adult and a parent. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) grew up against her every inclination in the final season of her show, hanging out to her singular disdain for life and others but managing to actually accomplish something at the same time.

The nominees:
Amy Landecker (Transparent) energetically explored her own sexual confusion as her father came out in a much bigger way. Amanda Peet (Togetherness) could have been a caricature but instead ended up shaping the dramatic nature of her comedic show as an impulsive and childish adult.Jenny Slate (Married) showed up at all the right moments to paint a picture of marriage and friendship as two distinctly separate things. Anna Chlumsky (Veep) got her best material yet as she finally spoke her mind and realized there were other avenues for her in which she could be far less subtly brutal.

The winner:

Yael Grobglas (Jane the Virgin) made a clear-cut villain something much more complex, constantly swinging from conniving manipulator to gentle, sentimental soul with true commitment.

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

This is the seventh category of the 9th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2014-2015 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Aziz Ansari, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, Nick Offerman, Christopher Evan Welch

Emmy nominees: Andre Braugher, Titus Burgess, Ty Burrell, Adam Driver, Tony Hale, Keegan Michael-Key

Semi-finalists: Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), Baron Vaughn (Grace and Frankie), Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation), Ethan Cutosky (Shameless), Jay Duplass (Transparent), Jim O'Heir (Parks and Recreation), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), Martin Starr (Silicon Valley), Matt Walsh (Veep), Reid Scott (Veep), Stephen Mangan (Episodes), T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley), Timothy Simons (Veep), Titus Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Tony Hale (Veep), Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Zach Woods (Silicon Valley)

Finalists: Justin Baldoni (Jane the Virgin) turned a character who should have been a waste of space into a good-natured, flawed reformed playboy who ended up being one of the best aspects of his show. Bradley Whitford (Happyish) was full of fiery frustrated passion in a role that should have lasted longer. Steve Zissis (Togetherness) made an over-the-top personality bearable and endearing, toning him down whenever needed and letting him run wild the rest of the time. Gary Cole (Veep) was on call to point out the absurdity of everything around him, his voice permanently set at a sarcastic barometer. Timothy Omundson (Galavant) was silly and wild as a ridiculous king, having a blast and making the most of his wacky show.

The nominees:

James Nesbitt (Babylon) was stoic, poised, and permanently infuriated as a police commissioner with no patience for stupidity or obstacles. Jaime Camil (Jane the Virgin) was the definition of egomania, almost as effervescent about his new family as he was about himself. Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) turned up for one final character arc that gave Ron the perfect ending and a hilarious battle on the way to it. Ethan Embry (Grace and Frankie) stood out in his cast as an unhinged but sweet addict trying to get his life back together with the utmost energy.

The winner:

Sam Richardson (Veep) was always at the ready to say the wrong thing in the most oblivious, enthusiastic tone, meaning well but never having a clue about time and place.

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Saturday, September 19, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

This is the sixth category of the 9th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2014-2015 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Amy Acker, Erika Christensen, Caitlin FitzGerald, Annabeth Gish, Sarah Shahi

Emmy nominees: Uzo Aduba, Christine Baranski, Emilia Clarke, Joanne Froggatt, Lena Headey, Christina Hendricks

Semi-finalists: Abigail Spencer (Rectify), Adrianne Palicki (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Amy Acker (Person of Interest), Annabeth Gish (The Bridge), Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil), Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood), Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead), Erika Christensen (Parenthood), January Jones (Mad Men), Jennifer Ferrin (Hell on Wheels), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Julianne Nicholson (The Red Road), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Molly Parker (House of Cards), Ophelia Lovibond (Elementary), Sarah Shahi (Person of Interest), Trieste Kelly Dunn (Banshee)

Finalists: Mae Whitman (Parenthood) anchored her large ensemble as a mother-to-be unsure of whether she was ready to be a grown-up. Adelaide Clemens (Rectify) embodied true kindness and compassion as she struggled with figuring out if she was in the right place in life. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) refused to let a new administration compromise the values she had worked hard to build. Maura Tierney (The Affair) enhanced her supporting role by giving her wronged wife one hell of a personality. Emily Hampshire (Twelve Monkeys) was magnificently maniacal as a disturbed revolutionary with quite a manifesto.

The nominees:

Ann Dowd (The Leftovers) exhibited immense control over everything around her as a true believer intent on spreading her gospel, especially to those who didn’t want to hear it. Franka Potente (The Bridge) was an excellent villain for her show as an emotionless killer whose roles as murderer and mobster were equally compelling. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) transformed into a new equally interesting person after her irreversible fall from grace. Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) was full of fast-talking energy and spirit as she delivered news and navigated an office romance.

The winner:

Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) conveyed extraordinary sadness and loneliness as a woman who lost her entire family charged with negotiating insurance settlements for those who lost their family members in the rapture.

Next up: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Friday, September 18, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

This is the fifth category of the 9th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2014-2015 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Josh Charles, Peter Dinklage, Dean Norris, Peter Sarsgaard, Jon Voight

Emmy nominees: Jonathan Banks, Jim Carter, Alan Cumming, Peter Dinklage, Michael Kelly, Ben Mendelsohn

Semi-finalists: Ashraf Barhom (Tyrant), Craig T. Nelson (Parenthood), Michael Scott Kelly (House of Cards)

Finalists: Michael McKean (Better Call Saul) was focused and fascinating as the older brother of our budding lawyer with more than a few issues of his own. Joshua Jackson (The Affair) made a supporting character who could have been bland and tangential a layered and vital part of his show’s ensemble. Ari Millen (Orphan Black) had big shoes to fill on his shoe and preformed commendably as a few different variations of the same defective archetype. Sam Waterston (The Newsroom) went out with fiery passion for the work he did and the nobility of his enterprise. Nick Blood (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) was a fun full-time addition to his already unserious cast.

The nominees:

Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul) revisited an already superb character and gave him considerable depth and backstory in a role that started out as all too brief. Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers) defined faith in his depiction of a preacher determined to make others see the same harsh light he did. Ted Levine (The Bridge) was a crucial part of his show, offering sardonic commentary but also a more serious sense of loyalty. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) was an outcast with fewer soapboxes to speak on but still managed to let his fiery wit and spirit into the world.

The winner:

Walton Goggins (Justified) transformed Boyd into something more than just a villain, setting him up as a man with a plan whose ambition always got in the way of living a happy normal life, and his choice of words was thoroughly sophisticated and magnificent the whole time.

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series