Thursday, March 31, 2016

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 3, Episode 13 “Parting Shot” (B)

I had read a while ago that Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood would be getting their very own spin-off, but I guess I had assumed that so much time had passed that it wasn’t going to happen. I’m not sure exactly what “Marvel’s Most Wanted” is going to be about and where it will find Bobbi and Hunter in their lives, but I do feel that they’ve both been tremendous additions to this show. Maybe their departure will provide this opportunity for this show to reel back in its many other characters and help redefine them, but they’ll certainly be missed. The structure of this episode was a bit all over the place, but by the time the whole story played out, it made considerably more sense. The inhuman general had quite the power, being able to control his shadow and operate it independently of his body. It did seem strange that both Bobbi and Hunter were there while the rest of the team, all of who were present earlier, were nowhere to be found. I was quite shocked to see the President of the United States standing with the nearly-assassinated prime minister and Coulson, signifying the high level at which these dignitaries talk that I can’t imagine is mirrored in real life, at least not in person. I enjoyed a lot of the back-and-forth between the agents, like Hunter asking Fitz about having watched a documentary he recommended and Hunter and Bobbi’s answers to their tormentors under duress. I was excited to recognize Bethany Joy Lenz from “One Tree Hill” as Malick’s daughter, who seems like just as formidable a threat as him.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 5, Episode 12 “D-Day” (C+)

This episode was fun, but this show has undeniably lost the spark it once had that made it so great. Peter Gallagher is everywhere on TV right now, appearing regularly on “Togetherness” after steady gigs on the likes of “Covert Affairs” and “The O.C.” I wouldn’t have thought of him as a love interest for Jess due to their age difference, but her obsession with his eyebrows does make some sense. He’s a far better choice to play Schmidt’s dad, a smooth talker who easily romanced Jess and then tried to make amends with his son via the video camera attached to Jess’ head. I would have liked to see him be a bit more like the younger Schmidt, but it was still entertaining to have him in this part, especially because of the reaction that his dalliance with Jess elicited from Schmidt. Both Nick and Winston don’t work particularly hard at their jobs, very prone to distraction and the impulse not to work, and therefore having a competition over whose job was harder was a humorous concept. Arresting someone and then putting him in the backseat with Nick was one of the more memorable moments, but overall it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. I wish I had more to say about this episode and this show in general, but sometimes it just doesn’t offer enough, which is disappointing at best. I can’t imagine there will be a time when I won’t want to watch this show anymore, but I do wish it was as good as it used to be.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 2, Episode 16 “Trajectory” (B+)

It’s always a struggle for heroes to prove that they’re really good since so many people want desperately to believe that they’re bad. The appearance of a speedster who streaked the same colors as the Flash definitely pointed to that conclusion, and even our team was perplexed. It makes sense that Caitlin would have needed to collaborate with someone outside of Star Labs to engineer Velocity 9, and that person would have tried to synthesize the product for separate use. It’s incredible how much Barry is able to control his speed and how it affects him, since Eliza fell prey to Trajectory in a way that she was totally trapped inside the destructive villain with no voice of her own, sort of like Professor Stein on “Legends of Tomorrow” when he merged into Firestorm with a Soviet scientist instead of Jax. Trajectory’s end was not a pleasant one, and it paved the way for a brutal realization that was confirmed for viewers before this show went on its month-long hiatus: the use of Velocity 9 leads to blue lightning, which means that Jay became Zoom. That news is going to send them all reeling, and getting to Earth-Two is going to be the least of their worries since grappling with this betrayal, which isn’t really one given that it’s not the Jay they know, is going to be very difficult. I couldn’t figure out where I recognized Iris’ editor from, and it makes sense that I couldn’t take him seriously since Tone Bell was on “Bad Judge” as the bailiff. Iris shouldn’t really be dating if she keeps referencing her and Barry getting married, an event that seems to be inevitable at this point in any timeline or universe.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 6 “Bali Ha’i” (B+)

I’m pretty impressed that this episode made it more than halfway through the hour without showing its protagonist. It’s a sign of a strong show that it’s able to multitask and really delve into its supporting characters, and the best benefit of that this season is the spotlight on Kim Wexler. After her early morning meeting with Chuck, she managed to get back onto the ground floor rather than be stuck forever in the basement, but however good she looked in Chuck’s eyes, Howard seemed very upset that she had spoken to him instead. Refusing to speak to or acknowledge her was especially harsh, and it was certainly enough to make her seriously consider taking her career elsewhere. She got quite the offer from Rick Schweikart, and while I suspect it can’t be as good as it seems, it’s definitely a step up from being ignored and stepped on in her current position. I love that she called Jimmy to tell him that she had a live one on the hook, and that she didn’t even cash the check he wrote them, choosing instead to save it as a souvenir. Jimmy, who had to go through the monotony of being micromanaged during the most unbearably tedious task, got a nice moment of satisfaction when he took a crowbar to the cupholder, and he’s not likely to get in trouble until he loses his job and has to give the slightly modified car back. Mike fought off intimidation with ease at first, but threatening his family changed things completely. That he still negotiated $50,000 out of it, half of which he gave to Nacho, was commendable, but it’s not good that he’s now so involved with that business.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What I’m Watching: Blindspot

Blindspot: Season 1, Episode 14 “Rules in Defiance” (B-)

This show can get intense pretty fast, if nothing else. It’s perplexing to me that Jane needs to be the courier for hints about her tattoos when the information can be transmitted in another fashion that doesn’t involve her, and I don’t really understand “time-sensitive” tattoos that are revealed and investigated within a very short window of time before someone’s execution. If Jane got a tattoo months earlier with information that could save someone’s life, why keep it hidden for so long, enough to risk that said person couldn’t be saved? After she got busted for both leaking FBI secrets to Carter and for her gambling addiction, Tasha was very ready to go undercover and put herself on a bus headed straight for sex slavery under the guise of deportation. It did not take long at all for her to be knocked out and separated from the group at a rest stop, and you’d think that a unit as skilled in surveillance as the FBI would have designed a tracker that wouldn’t be the first thing removed by her abductors, which then made them think for way too long that she was still on the bus instead of in immense and immediate danger. I’d prefer to use it for something far less deplorable, but assigning birthdates in the 1800s to identify people and make it look like a typo is an intriguing sorting strategy. Edgar just got clocked, and I’d hope that he’s not in big trouble, as it appears that Weller may be if Jane doesn’t listen to the people who she theoretically hired to ensure that her post-memory self would be compliant. It’s all very convoluted, and I don’t see it sorting itself out anytime soon.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 2, Episode 15 “Chapter Thirty-Seven” (B)

It’s a relief that all this drama with Rogelio being held captive is finally over, especially after it nearly turned deadly when a furious Lola decided that it was time for them to stage and film their murder-suicide. Michael coming to the rescue was a nice touch, particularly since Rogelio got so excited when he heard over the phone that Jane and Michael had gotten engaged but he wasn’t able to convey that sentiment to his daughter at the time. Breaking down to Jane after trying to keep all his feelings bottled up for the big interview was a sentimental moment, and this will help bring him down to a more human and less artificial level. Rogelio’s support of the engagement was not at all matched by Michael’s parents disapproval of the unreliable Jane who broke Michael’s heart a year earlier, and while Michael was expected to make a stand to his parents about not caring what he thought, Jane doing that was a refreshing surprise. All this business with the curse involving Pablo is a bit silly, though I do appreciate this show’s commitment to the devices that it likes to use and invoke for any given period of time. I like seeing Rafael and Petra as parents, but it’s worrisome that Rafael always seems to have new babies around just when a suspicious member of his extended family has suddenly resurfaced. And #teamrafael suffered a huge blow in this episode when Rafael did just about the stupidest thing he could have done, which was to call Michael and tell him that he trusted his half-brother with that same sibling listening in on the call.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 17 “Manhunter” (B)

Things happen very quickly on this show. When this episode started, Lucy hated Kara and Supergirl equally, and she wasn’t talking to James. Midway through, Kara revealed her secret identity, and then she and Lucy hopped on motorcycles to go rescue J’onn and Alex, and by episode’s end she was the new acting director of the DEO. It’s an interesting promotion of Jenna Dewan Tatum to a more regular role since she’ll theoretically appear in most episodes now, and Lucy and Kara are now suddenly best friends after never getting along before. This whole witch hunt conducted against J’onn by Eddie McClintock’s James Harper was pretty extreme and unnecessary, and it seems strange that Alex and Hank now have to be on the run. The more pressing revelation is that Agent Jeremiah Danvers may still be alive, which is a huge game-changer. All the flashbacks showed us that J’onn barely interacted with either Hank or Jeremiah, but he was still a very good person (though not a human) who can really be trusted. Back at CatCo, Kara’s absence was definitely felt with the humorous shot of James having to answer the phones for Cat, and then it got more serious when Siobhan took the wrong message from her chat with Winn and decided to send a career-destroying e-mail pretending to be Kara to get her fired. Winn showing up to prove her deceit was probably not a great move, especially given the reveal that Siobhan appears to have some powers that mirror her need to scream that could make her a formidable villain.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 1, Episode 15 “Josh Has No Idea Where I Am” (B-)

I love this show, but this was my least favorite episode for one reason more than any other. This show is so great because it uses musical numbers to tell part of its story and to reveal what its characters are thinking. Having Rebecca fall asleep on the plane and talk to the dream ghost of her therapist was a less satisfying device that felt more forced, while the same ends could have been achieved by this show’s usual means. It also meant exploring memories in a more literal way, which didn’t work as well since Rebecca got to see part of the conversation she never experienced between her parents years ago and to stop by her house to witness what was going on while she was asleep on the plane. That was disappointing to me, but ultimately the content was more fun and productive than the setup. I love that Rebecca’s first reaction to the notion of a dream ghost was to visit the nearest intelligent planet and see a play, which we got to glimpse a bit at the very end of the episode. Josh and Paula interacting at Rebecca’s house was great since they both feel a certain connection to Rebecca, and Darryl and Greg showing up to try to talk to Rebecca and then get concerned for her wellbeing was a great bonus since I’m always for supporting characters who never interact spending some time together. Josh getting hung up on Greg being called super hot was fun too. Paula showing Josh the pictures Rebecca ordered of him happened a moment too soon, and ending the episode with Josh asking Rebecca if she was in love with him was an unusually frank and honest moment that I imagine may produce the clearest and truest response yet from our plucky heroine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What I’m Watching: 11.22.63

11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 6 “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” (C+)

This show just did another time jump, and once again a lot of things happened during that time that our not-so-trustworthy lead character wasn’t aware of. The most glaring thing that he missed while he was taking care of Sadie as she healed from her deep wounds that require plastic surgery was that Bill has built a full-fledged relationship with Marina and a friendship with Lee, which is definitely a bad idea. Bill did raise a good point when Jake came in and reacted in the worst way possible, which is that he’s somehow immune to the rules and allowed to have his own relationship with Sadie while Bill is prohibited from contact with anyone. Now, it’s a problem that he’s choosing Lee as a friend since he’s the target of their operation, but Bill also doesn’t have the same stake in it as Jake. What we didn’t know is that Al told Jake that he would have to kill Lee as part of his mission, which is considerably more finite than what we’ve seen from him so far. Lee discovering the bug when the lamp broke is hardly problematic, and it seems that Jake is the one suffering most from time pushing back, with Sadie nearly dying during her operation and then him getting beaten up right when he really needed not to stand out and to be coherent and not comatose. There are only two episodes left, so I assume we’ll get somewhere big next week since there just isn’t a lot of time remaining to cover what’s still to come.

What I’m Watching: Togetherness

Togetherness: Season 2, Episode 5 “Just the Range” (B+)

I was so devastated to learn just before I wrote this review that this show has been cancelled, leaving only three episodes left in what will now be the final season. I’m so sad about this news since this season has been so terrific, and it has so much potential to get even better and now won’t get that chance. There’s no use bemoaning that fact sadly, since HBO has so many successful shows that there’s no way that this is going to earn any sort of reprieve. Talking about this episode, however, I can report only good things, as the addition of two new characters was great. I couldn’t figure out how I recognized Anna, and it turns out she’s played by Katie Aselton from “The Freebie” and “Weird Loners.” She’s superb, and did a superb job helping Michelle relax when she really needed it, even if they fired a contractor while they were high on pot lollipops. After Brett got physically assaulted by some very frisky and violent female Uber passengers, he had a much better experience when his battery died and he made an ill-advised joke about murdering Natalie, played by Emily Althaus from “Orange is the New Black,” who is an equally strong new player. Brett was so upset at Michelle for bringing David up, and it seems like he’s more than ready to move on from the idea of them being a couple. Tina’s very into this parent thing, and to have Larry react so poorly to the thought of them considering children after he was so adorable when Tina brought her nephew over was a real shame. Alex had less serious things on his plate in this episode, and with Christy’s very passive-aggressive departure, maybe he and Tina being supportive to each other is exactly what both of them need right now.

What I’m Watching: Girls

Girls: Season 5, Episode 5 “Queen for Two Days” (B+)

While it seems that this show has forgotten all about Marnie, it’s doing a good job otherwise of meeting its characters where they are, following them as they navigate the challenges that life throws at them, which is what this show has always been about. It was nice to see Hannah spend some time with her mom in a context that didn’t find her being judged for anything, potentially having the moral superiority for once because her relationship with Fran is, despite her reports to the contrary, going pretty well, as contrasted with the state of Loreen’s marriage. Hannah testing the waters by bringing her cell phone with her and wearing a bathing suit during the hike was typical, but she also tried something completely new that didn’t go anywhere near as smoothly as planned. Ending up in a very comprised situation with her instructor led to some quick romance, but that ended swiftly when Hannah couldn’t keep going and she got left behind by her selfish partner, for lack of a better way of phrasing it. Loreen being told that her gay husband was a nonexistent problem didn’t feel good, but I think it helped her realize that it is a surmountable issue. Jessa introducing Adam to her sister and asking her for money ended up being a great moment for Adam to step up and show that he cares about her and can be the type of boyfriend for her that he was never willing to be for Hannah. Shoshanna’s self-exploration in Japan was interesting, and ending the episode with her walking through the deserted streets was very contemplative and oddly silent for the incessant chatterbox.

What I’m Watching: Billions

Billions: Season 1, Episode 9 “Where the Fuck is Donnie?” (B+)

There are two big things that happened in this episode that I didn’t expect based on how everything ended in the previous installment. The first is that Axe taking ownership of the trades might have been bold and brave but it didn’t stop any of his scorned enemies from getting vengeance, and the second is that Donnie being a double agent meant good things for Axe. Seeing all the protesters outside Axe Capital was one thing, but far more unsettling was the way that the firemen stormed into Lara’s restaurant and purposely destroyed property and invented problems to shut it down and force customers out at that very moment. Lara is understandably uncomfortable, and I don’t know how much longer that family can go on. Donnie’s disappearance seemed strange at the start of the episode, and it wasn’t clear that he was going off the radar as much for Axe Capital as he was for the unrecused Chuck and a very frustrated Brian. The most important takeaway of Donnie’s religious retreat was that he’s now an unreliable witness, damaging for the government’s case and also worrisome for Axe and Wags who were using him to their own ends. Though their lines of communication have been more open than in the past, Wendy and Chuck are heading down a dark road after Wendy is trying to get through every day at work and then Chuck is shutting her out whenever she gets home because he’s working on a case that he’s not even supposed to have anything to do with.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What I’m Watching: Quantico

Quantico: Season 1, Episode 14 “Answer” (C-)

I’m confused about the passage of time in this show’s future, since I’m pretty sure we saw Simon testify and be mad at Alex just a day or two ago, and now he’s living in a cabin in Vermont pointing a gun to his jaw every morning so soon after. I’m also surprised that Alex would go straight to him since he’s the one she trusts most when that really hasn’t been the case at all (that honor goes to Ryan). Telling him the full truth didn’t take long, and somehow he managed to get out of his house before burning the whole thing down, which is convenient since Alex could really use an ally. It seems that these new recruits aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, since we’re getting plenty of backstory on them, further suggesting that they may be the ones to ultimately become terrorists. Iris is all over the place, manipulating events to her every whim and then coming out of nowhere to express sincere sympathy to Shelby, while Will is tailing Caleb as he dresses up and pretends to be someone else to help right the wrong that has been committed by Shelby’s alleged half-sister. Drew went from not at all interested in talking about what happened in Chicago to publicly airing his grievances, which resulted in a quick dismissal from the academy, hardly the result he wanted. I can’t read Alex and her relationship with Liam, which seems wildly inconsistent, and given what we know of the future, I don’t think that he’s going to resign as he’s been told to.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 6, Episode 10 “Paradise Lost” (B+)

This show has always ventured towards drama on occasion, and this episode featured a few small serious moments couched within a greater ridiculous narrative. It was inevitable that the Gallagher family’s time on the commune couldn’t last forever, and to me the most poignant moment was when a panicked Debs called Frank “Daddy” and begged him to take her away. Giving birth in the Gallagher home was a great way to bring Debs back into the family again. Before they left the commune, I finally identified Jeff Kober, who played Jacob Hale on “Sons of Anarchy,” as Jupiter, the man who ended up wrestling naked in the mud with Frank until his opponent got the upper hand, so to speak. The other less comedic moment was Lip learning about what happened when he got drunk and blacked out, a harsh and deafening confirmation that his drinking problem has gotten totally out of hand, which stung most when his mentor and boss told him he had to wake up and start acting like an adult. Ian’s relationship continues to be full of pleasant surprises, like his boyfriend’s quick acceptance of his many sexual partners and encouragement of the idea to lie and not put on his application that he’s ever been in a mental institution. For once, Fiona is doing fine, and I like that her bachelorette party involved Kev and the guys from the bar stripping on stage, and it all went well until Kev found out that Veronica and Svetlana had gotten married without trying to see how his plan worked out. Carl going on a ride-along with his girlfriend’s cop father was a treat, and I love that the experience has inspired him to want to become a police officer, something that I imagine will present more than its share of obstacles.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 7, Episode 17 “Shoot” (B-)

The opening scene of this episode was very intriguing since it told an entire story much like the first part of “Up” as a run-up to the more central epilogue about what happened after Harry’s daughter was killed. I like Blair Underwood, who was particularly impressive on “In Treatment,” and this role was interesting but ultimately less consequential than the case itself, which resulted in an unexpected and humorous ruling that Harry must pay a fine of forty cents per day for keeping the sign up since it might adversely affect the gun shop’s business. It was good to see Alicia fiercely stand up for Grace when she was nearly denied admission to college because of a charge of plagiarism related to her essay, but I really question the fact that she could be told that she had plagiarized without actually being given any details about what she was alleged to have stolen and reused. Alicia seeing Jason at the bar walk in and kiss another woman was an unfortunate development, and though he freaked out when Lucca told him Alicia had seen him, she didn’t seem to mind all that much, and they moved on pretty quickly, which is at least somewhat refreshing. Lucca’s ascension in the workplace is nice, but I still can’t see why Alicia is so ready to lie to Cary and to cut him loose when he’s the truly decent one who will be hurt most by Diane and Alicia’s creation of an all-female firm.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 6, Episode 14 “Twice as Far” (B+)

This episode couldn’t match the isolated intensity of last week’s installment, but this show is among the best I’ve seen at killing off major characters in the middle of episodes with no warning at all (“Sons of Anarchy” is the other contender for that title). While Eugene seemed the likelier one to die in this hour after he insisted on killing a walker on his own before flailing while trying to do so, Denise assumed that risk factor when she went for the cooler trapped in a car with a walker, though she survived that too. That’s what made her death in the middle of her stirring speech, with an arrow to the eye no less, all the more shocking and intense, especially because it has nothing to do with her unfitness for the state of this world. Merritt Wever won an Emmy for “Nurse Jackie,” and I’d love to see her win a guest acting trophy for this show too. She was a terrific character, and it’s unfortunate that she had to be the subject of the maximum impact to get their point across that the man Darryl let go decided to take out. I was surprised that Eugene pointed out Abraham’s location to his captors, but he came in quite handy – with his teeth – to turn the tide and make sure that they survived the day without sacrificing the livelihood of everyone back in Alexandria. Making Abraham apologize to him for questioning his skills was a nice moment, and their interaction out on the road won’t prevent him for doing what he suggested, the very useful idea of manufacturing bullets. I’m not sad about Carol’s exit since I don’t find her to be anywhere near the show’s strongest character, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she’ll show up down the road just as someone really needs her.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What I’m Watching: Daredevil (Season Premiere)

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 1 “Bang” (B)

It took me all the way to July last year to get through this show’s first season, which I felt took a long time to really get going, and I could barely remember any of it when I sat down to watch this premiere. I remember liking the show more by the end than I did at the beginning, and being intrigued enough to continue watching if only because I liking being up on all the Marvel shows headed for a big Netflix crossover series soon (I still have two episodes left of the far superior “Jessica Jones” that I’m eager to watch). This premiere started very strongly, reintroducing Daredevil as a hero who operates in the shadows, handling the filth of the city that the police aren’t adept enough to deal with and ensuring that the streets are safe even if they’re not brightly lit. With Wilson Fisk out of the picture, we got a formidable new enemy in this hour in the form of whoever took out an entire room of vengeful potential villains and the intense soldier who marched through the hospital determined to take out his target. I can’t imagine they’ll match Fisk, though he was also overplayed a bit by the always dedicated and intense Vincent D’Onofrio. I like seeing both Foggy and Karen take initiative to push the envelope and dig deep as their firm is going under financially, and while it will be an uphill battle, I trust that the crafty Matt, who seems to be in a good mood lately despite having so many messes to clean up, will come up with a creative solution sooner rather than later. As soon as I’m all caught up with my regularly airing shows, I’ll continue watching this one each week as I usually do with Netflix shows.

Pilot Review: Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CBS)
Premiered March 16 at 10pm

I don’t watch procedurals anymore. I used to watch a number of them, and even stuck with a few for a while, but the shows I still stick with now that might be called that don’t really count (“The Good Wife” comes closest; “Person of Interest” graduated from that moniker long ago). Watching this show reminds me of exactly why I stopped watching series that weren’t even as good as the best of them, like “NCIS” and “The Closer,” because every time you tune in, you have new characters to meet and barely any time to spend with the loosely-defined personalities that you see on a regular basis. I didn’t make it past the pilot of the original “Criminal Minds” back when it premiered nearly eleven years ago, a year and a half before I started this site. I wasn’t fond of the short-lived spinoff, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” and now we have a show that barely resembles the original, with no mention of criminal profiling even coming up until more than halfway through this episode. Gary Sinise was once a great film actor in the likes of “Forrest Gump” and “Apollo 13,” and now he’s relegated to forgettable, monotone roles like this and “CSI: New York.” I remember liking Alana de la Garza in the final season of “Law and Order,” the only year I watched, and here she’s got plenty to do but not nearly as much charisma. The acting isn’t supposed to be what’s memorable here, but choosing a cultural hunter making two tourists run for their lives for the first episode hardly suggests that this show will prove terribly interesting or worthwhile.

How will it work as a series? Not every episode is going to be set in Thailand, but that also means that there will be even less grounding and consistency for this show since its characters will constantly be traveling and going to new places. That might be fun for those who miss “CSI” and more action-centric shows, but that doesn’t appeal to me one bit in this context.
How long will it last? The original series is popular enough to currently be airing its eleventh season, and though this one didn’t match those numbers, it faired pretty well, suggesting a healthy future for the series. A renewal isn’t guaranteed or even forecasted just yet, but count this one among the likelier to return given CBS’ affinity for procedurals and its desire to propel a new successful franchise.

Pilot grade: C

Round Two: Underground

Underground: Season 1, Episode 2 “War Chest” (B+)

I hadn’t expected to tune in beyond this episode, but it was more engaging and enticing than I expected. It doesn’t mean that I’m committing to watching this entire season, but I’m definitely in it for the moment. I mentioned in my review of the pilot that I wouldn’t have thought of this as a premise for a weekly television series, but it’s clear that there are dynamic characters here whose stories deserve to be explored. On the plantation, the planning for the escape is going well and is actually quite sophisticated, with talk of following the song’s words and making preparations for false papers to ensure safe passage once they make it out of Georgia. Tom hosted some vicious guests with degenerate opinions, and that was followed up by an unexpected reveal of the intimate affair he’s having with a domineering Ernestine, who has Tom under her thumb and is making the most of the unfortunate situation in which life has put her. John and Elizabeth picked quite the time to visit William’s operation, and what a plan they put together to ensure that the runaway slave they were harboring could safely escape while those who sought to catch him were sent to prison for attacking a free man. I presume that the stories will continue to intersect as things move forward, and the fact that John and Tom are brothers will come up again. I imagine that will prove complex and intriguing, and I’m curious to see how it will all play out.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 16 “The Cover-Up” (C+)

When characters sit down and freely admit that they decided to lie even though they knew it was a bad idea, it’s hard to imagine the plot will head in any positive direction from there. Fortunately, Phil’s situation being compared by an unknowing Luke to the Watergate scandal was only a brief distraction, and instead Phil got to use his typical physical comedy antics to do his very best to hide from his wife the fact that he was trying to sell a house to an attractive African-American woman who fit the bill of his type. Claire catching him first worked out well for him as she was hiding her own delight at Gloria’s yoga instructor spending a lot of time on her and then ultimately making a pass at her. What I enjoyed most about that entire plotline was that Angie’s husband expressed similar feelings for Claire that Phil had shown for Angie. Lily being scared about riding a bike was understandable, and of course Cameron tried to put on a show and then hurt himself while Mitchell was sympathizing with his daughter and being concerned for her well-being. The Jay Talking video show was rather entertaining, and I like that he got so upset about his troll and went looking for him, only to discover that it was his eternal nemesis Earl. The fact that Earl wanted to disagree with him on everything but couldn’t find an issue on which they felt differently was very funny, but not quite as much as Manny’s reaction to the enormously vicious review of his performance in “The Sound of Music” that somehow got printed in a school newspaper.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Pilot Review: Crowded

Crowded (NBC)
Premiered March 15 at 10pm

I saw posters for this show with the headline “They’re Baaack…” and the image of two parents barricading their adult children and adult parents from entering through a door all around New York City. Nothing about it looked appealing to me, save for the fact that Emmy winner Carrie Preston from “True Blood” and “The Good Wife” was one of the stars, and “Prison Break” star Stacy Keach played the grandfather. Unfortunately, their previous television experience doesn’t prove helpful or relevant here. I’m still always caught off guard by the use of laugh tracks in new sitcoms, which shouldn’t really be the case since it was such a popular thing for so many years and a defining aspect of television comedies. What’s far more grating is the premise of this show, which is that a couple has both their adult daughters move back in while the husband’s parents stick around much more than they would like. There’s little to nothing to be found in the way of freshness, save perhaps the fact that the rebel daughter, Stella, fluctuates freely between a very unimpressive male ex and a new female suitor. The sentimental bonding moment that she experienced with her nerdy sister Shea, played by Miranda Cosgrove, was sweet but hardly surprising. And I can’t think of a worse app for dating than one where someone scrapes off their toast as a way of rejecting you. That’s exactly what I’d like to do to this show, but I don’t think I need to be nearly that creative.

How will it work as a series? I gave this one another chance with its second half-hour that aired as part of its initial pilot presentation, and I can’t report any improvement over the first installment. This cast is better off in other roles, and the entire show is drowning in familiar and undesirable tropes.
How long will it last? This show did okay in its debut Tuesday airing, and then paled in comparison to the other shows with which it’s airing on Sunday nights at 9:30pm for episode three. I don’t expect this one to last more than the season, but it’s not likely that NBC would find a reason to pull it before it airs its commissioned thirteen episodes.

Pilot grade: D+

What I’m Watching: Limitless

Limitless: Season 1, Episode 18 “Bezgranichnyy” (B+)

I like these episodes that find Brian out on his own away from the FBI and fully involved in some secret mission with one female who he somehow manages to romance. I liked Piper the first time he met her, and it was great to see the look on her face when she got released from the van and saw a smiling Brian there to greet her. Having most of the episode’s intertitles displayed in Russian was fun, and I love that the fact that Brian managed to get George R.R. Martin on the phone to disclose the ending of “Game of Thrones” to the man in charge was just summarized as a casual and clever solution, one Piper later invoked again when she had to get Brian out of prison. The FBI wasn’t too hot on their trail, fully aware that Brian went to Russia but not able to discern anything beyond that. It’s jarring once again to see Dennis stand up so strongly when he defends his son, blaming Rebecca for manipulating Brian and refusing to let any of his family members be questioned again without the proper legal authorization. That Rachel chose to trust Rebecca and come see her without her father knowing is telling, and of course Brian would call and leave a message for Rebecca that he was coming back just as she stepped away from her phone to learn that Sands was the operative who was at the safehouse in the middle of the night. Much more concerningly, that same shady operative is well aware of the fact that Brian and Piper were together in Russia, which is very troubling for the continued safety of the one person who might be able to free Brian from his alliance with Sands and Morra for good.

What I’m Watching: The Grinder

The Grinder: Season 1, Episode 18 “Genesis” (B)

It’s an enlightening treat to see some flashbacks to fill in the blanks about how Dean went from not working after acting school to becoming the one and only Grinder. I appreciate the wealth of talent that this show has recruited thus far to appear in brief scenes of the show-within-a-show, and in this case we got a great TV star for the backstory of Dean’s real life. Jenna Fischer was one of the best parts of “The Office,” earning just one Emmy nomination over the course of the show’s entire run, and here she’s portraying a character very different from the sweet, sensitive Pam. Kelly was not at all supportive of Dean’s ambitions, and he was a shell of a person, defined only by his subservience and his poor choice of a haircut. His friend, played by the affable Chris Klein, who I came to really like from his time recurring as Drew on “Wilfred,” convinced him that there was no one better suited for the part, doing just what Stewart so often tries to do to motivate him to do what he thinks needs to happen. And Stewart and Debbie were totally supportive of Dean thinking for himself, with no threat of having the massive personality of the Grinder forever imposed upon them. In the present, Stewart and Todd did a poor job keeping their office ransacking a secret, though it was really a distraction more than anything else given the fact that no progress was made on the case against the elder Dean.

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 3, Episode 12 “The Inside Man” (B-)

In the three months that this show was off the air before its return last episode, a new series debuted on the CW from DC called “Legends of Tomorrow” which is very similar to this one in that it features a handful of fringe characters who never really got to be stars of their own comics or films, and a number of whom don’t even have powers. Obviously, the shows are different, with this one focusing on alien mutations and the other dealing in frequent time travel, but I can’t help but compare them. This show has just as many characters, and it’s hard to feel like it’s not a mess sometimes. Characters we’ve seen before, like Talbot, are being reintroduced, but there are still so many players out there and it’s getting hard to keep track of why they all need to be involved. The biggest new threat is the inhuman currently inhabiting Ward’s body, who made an allegiance with the freaky eye guy and regularly feasts on human hosts to essentially charge himself. He’s going to be impossible to stop, and the fact that he’s wearing Ward’s face is only going to further complicate matters once they learn of his existence. Where there are unknown enemies, there are also unexpected allies, and despite the abduction of Talbot’s son, it turns out that he and Creel are actually on the right side. It’s more complicated to determine how the government should be involved in this inhuman situation, as Lincoln thinks that a vaccine is a good thing while Skye claims the transformation is a birthright and Coulson pretended to be a scientist arguing about the need for one place to put all the inhumans for either their safeguarding or their extermination. On a lighter note, I enjoyed the response to the news that Hunter brought weapons: “I love you” from Bobbi and “I don’t hate you quite as much” from May.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 5, Episode 11 “The Apartment” (B-)

It’s a strange thing to focus on the departure from a place that we’ve barely seen and that even our characters, aside from Jess, haven’t spent much time in. Thinking back, Schmidt used to visit Cece there and meet her roommates, but that’s about all I can remember. What this episode did was help to reestablish Jess as a major character, at one point the lead, of this show. The plotline involving Elizabeth Berkley’s completely incompetent principal who just forces Jess to do all of her work was annoying, and Cece picking up the phone to tell her that Jess quit was entertaining but hardly believable given the many things that Jess does on a whim that seem impulsive and extra eccentric. Jess realized some important things about herself as she locked Cece out of her apartment to pack everything, and having Cece around as a full-time resident of the loft should make things entertaining and a bit easier. I was excited to see Sam Richardson as a guest star on this show given how funny he was as a new addition on “Veep.” While he did a pretty solid job, his character was pretty broadly drawn, totally blind to what’s around him and to the way things work. Going right back to Aly didn’t take long, and the bigger issue is that Winston’s problem with her – that she keeps talking about her boyfriend and how much she likes him – hasn’t been rectified in any sense and will only continue to come up on a very regular basis.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 5 “Rebecca” (B+)

It’s always very moving and involving when this show starts out in flashback mode, filling in some piece of the puzzle that we didn’t even know we were missing. Seeing Chuck so happy with his wife was a nice change, and it was uncomfortable to see him get so angry when his wife enjoyed Jimmy’s lawyer jokes but didn’t even react to his meager attempt at one. It was an especially interesting introduction given how Chuck played into the rest of the episode, stopping in to see Kim in the middle of the night and, after having her make him coffee, opening up to her and then commending her on a job well done, suggesting that he was going to talk to Howard to see what he could do about getting her moved out of the basement. Kim really did work hard to dig herself out of her own hole, and it’s a shame that Howard insists on punishing her rather than seeing what an asset she is. Jimmy introducing his babysitter Erin to his grandpa Mike was a fun moment, and hopefully he’ll navigate this new lower-ranking supervision in a way that doesn’t earn him too many demerits. Mike got quite the surprise visitor in the diner, and I’m sure other “Breaking Bad” fans were very excited to see Emmy nominee Mark Margolis reprising his role as Tio Salamanca, who is definitely talking a lot and not sitting nearly immobile in a wheelchair. His proposal to Mike is intriguing, and I think a much more serious business relationship is in store in the near future as events continue to build themselves towards the past we know to exist.

What I’m Watching: Blindspot

Blindspot: Season 1, Episode 13 “Erase Weary Youth” (C+)

I’m starting to get tired of this show, though this episode was definitely different than previous installments. The questionably cast John Hodgman was back in this hour as Fisher, who decided to close down the entire operation being managed by Mayfair to go after a mole who in the end turned out to be him, which was a twist I didn’t see coming but didn’t necessarily buy either. Mayfair’s orders for Weller to investigate the identity of the mole discreetly dissipated almost immediately thanks to the arrival of the less subtle Agent Sloane and then Fisher’s outright stupid disregard for any discretion. It’s very true that both Jane and Tasha have plenty to hide, and I’d think that having your memory erased is a better excuse than just being bad at tests. Though they didn’t share much screentime, this was a “Banshee” reunion of sorts with Afton Williamson as Agent Sloane and Trieste Kelly Dunn as Allison, who somehow got in during a lockdown but then couldn’t get out due to high security. The Russian agent getting killed by her lawyer brought back one of this show’s more memorable plotlines, and it seems that all that has made Jane angry enough to stop trusting Oscar and decide it’s better to cut him loose than keep playing the games he insists she created. Weller coolly telling Edgar to break up with his sister was a calmer reaction than I might have expected, but not a productive one. It seems that Weller has more serious things to worry about, but he doesn’t know that yet since Mayfair and Edgar are going to be operating with something no one in this hour knew anything about: discretion.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 16 “Falling” (B+)

The best part of having Supergirl constantly subject to unpredictable elements that change her behavior is that we get to see Melissa Benoist demonstrate some serious and entertaining acting abilities. After she was her old self and reacted to catching Winn and Siobhan having sex in the closet, she encountered some red kryptonite and then things started to get pretty weird. Dressing snappily and taking Cat’s elevator seemed like harmless enough changes that just made her more self-assured, but letting an alien go with simply a warning not to annoy her was a more destructing and troubling move. Throwing Cat off a roof and catching her just before she hit the ground was the most worrisome of all, and Cat holding a press conference to declare her former hero unreliable was among the more sensible and defendable things she’s ever done. Naturally, Max Lord was the one who created Red Kryptonite, and he was pretty willing to help create an antidote once he saw what was happening. While everything Kara said to Alex seems not to have stuck or stung as much as it could have, what she said to James about Lucy has likely made their eventual romance much further off since he couldn’t shake it. Hank changing into the Martian Manhunter in front of everyone to take Kara down was a bold and selfless move, and now it appears that he’s in big trouble, regarded as an enemy combatant by his former ally Senator Crane. It didn’t take long for Siobhan to get fired, but something tells me that she won’t be gone for long and will be back with a vengeance.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I’m Watching: 11.22.63

11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Truth” (C+)

I’m liking this show less and less, but with only three episodes left, it hardly seems worthwhile to abandon it after being invested this far. Jake’s involvement in the past isn’t causing it to fight back against him, but it’s getting him distracted in a major way to the point that he’s missing some very crucial moments that he needs to witness in order to really put the picture together. I’m not sure why he thinks going back to 2016 is a smart idea without sticking around through the actual date of the assassination since something could well go wrong before then, and then he’d have to come back and live through the whole thing again. Not taking Bill with him is probably smart because he’d have trouble adjusting to a different time period, but that didn’t help his case too much. The bigger problem Jake had to deal with in this hour was the ugly return of Sadie’s ex-husband Johnny Clayton, who gave Sadie a good beating before trying to get Jake to drink a glass of bleach to save her life in true soapy villain form that didn’t feel too fitting tone-wise for this show, far less compelling than the equally dark arc featuring Frank Dunning. Somehow, escaping that deadly situation worked out in Jake’s favor, giving him a free pass for killing a man and getting back into Deke’s good graces for saving Sadie’s life after getting fired for his big web of lies. Bill meeting Lee face-to-face definitely wasn’t supposed to happen, and there’s way too much going on now for Jake and Bill to be able to focus on what they’re supposed to be doing.

What I’m Watching: Togetherness

Togetherness: Season 2, Episode 4 “Changetown” (B+)

After Brett and Alex’s therapeutic trip out of town, having them back in town under different circumstances is going to take some getting used to for all parties involved. I love that Brett has started filling his hours by being an Uber driver, and that he’s listening to his headphones instead of interacting with his passengers. The problem is that his awkward nature is very much not helping the current dynamic that he has with Michelle as they try to figure out how to move past what happened. He articulated it very well to Alex, explaining how he flips back and forth between wanting to forgive her and wanting to hate her so often. The system that’s in place is not working, since the kids are well aware that he’s not around all the time and starting to notice that something is up. Michelle’s number one reliable friend shouldn’t be Tina, but it appears it is, and watching her stamp around in fancy heels and orange juice was very therapeutic after a long and angst-filled day of babysitting. What was most interesting was her conversation with Larry, whose initial reaction to her realization that she might not mind being around kids was pretty legitimate given every discussion about children they’d ever had, and it did not end well for either of them. Free of Tina’s influence, Alex and Christy’s relationship isn’t going that much more smoothly, and I heartily enjoyed Christy laying out the facts of what was about to happen in the bedroom, dryly inviting Alex to be a part of it or not.

What I’m Watching: Girls

Girls: Season 5, Episode 4 “Old Loves” (B+)

I had forgotten how Fran and Hannah met, and the opening scene of this episode provided a humorous reminder that they’re both teachers who understandably have very different teaching styles. Hannah was at her most stubborn and inappropriate when she dragged her poor student to Fran’s class to demand an answer for her from him about why her work got torn up. Their relationship is actually probably the smoothest one at the moment, which doesn’t say much about the other romances on this show. I was surprised but delighted to see Vella Lovell, Heather from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” angrily and dryly criticize her neighbor, Marnie, for being inconsiderate. Desi did quite a spectacular job of turning Marnie’s apartment inside out, and after he destroyed that interior he freaked out and nearly fell apart. Fortunately, in that time, Marnie went from furious to feeling guilty and wanting to console her new spouse. Jessa was especially mean to Hannah when they went for rice pudding at Rice to Riches (I’ve been many times – great place), and somehow she justified her anger at Hannah for being upset as a reason to betray her and have sex with Adam, a reunion that didn’t prove nearly as satisfying or smooth as either of them expected. Suddenly, Elijah has become a main character, and his newfound relationship with celebrity Dill Harcourt is taking some very nice turns, giving him just the affirming moments that Hannah and her female friends who used to be the stars of this show could really use.

What I’m Watching: Billions

Billions: Season 1, Episode 8 “Boasts and Rails” (B+)

It’s fascinating to see Chuck and Axe interact outside of their vicious work setting, with Axe getting the chance to play the hero and arrange for Chuck’s kid to get a baseball signed. Chuck and Wendy’s relationship dynamic has been repaired considerably as their lines of communication have opened up, and it’s great to hear them being very honest as they explore their options for the future. Chuck’s thirst for taking down those who feel entitled to live however they want won’t allow him to accept any of the plum offers that he’s received, and it’s interesting to know that Wendy might really have left her job had he opted to take one of those other positions. Telling Wendy how much he hates Axe was a particularly enlightening moment. She stood up to Axe when he tried to use her a human lie detector, but it appears that he’s actually been playing Chuck the whole time, planting Donnie as a double agent who’s really working for him! That’s an unfortunate game-changer, and it means that poor Brian, who is crossing lines left and right to try to impress Chuck while his boss and mentor is trying to get him moved off the case, is going to see his career damaged tremendously when his entire case falls apart. It’s amazing to hear Axe admit freely that he did play the system when he saw an opportunity to make $750 million in a day that could be used for the surviving families of his company when he was about to be let go, fully unapologetic and ready to own a controversial revelation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What I’m Watching: Quantico

Quantico: Season 1, Episode 13 “Clear” (C-)

For agents that are supposed to be highly trained and at the top of their class, it seems unthinkable to me that they would simply presume that a mastermind terrorist who has managed to convince all but one person that he or she doesn’t even exist would make the stupid mistake of leaving a computer traceable and then unattended for the FBI agents to find. Now Alex is doubly screwed because her one ally is dead and she didn’t tell anyone else that she had been contacted by the real terrorist. This threat is far too omniscient, able to send her pictures seconds after she burst into Ryan’s apartment in hysterics yet somehow invisible to the entire world. I also don’t quite believe that the past as we’re getting to know it is going to end up aligning with the future that we’ve already seen happen, and that’s going to create serious continuity problems because events that we see in flashbacks will contradict what previous versions of the future have already shown. The addition of this other class didn’t do much for this episode, introducing three new characters who got to flirt a lot and then show that they’re just as flawed and vulnerable as the classmates we know. Though I still believe it would be illegitimate to make one of them the terrorist, it’s obvious that it’s not Will, whose mysterious dresser hunt cancels out his inevitable guilt, or Iris, who is suspicious but also inherently good despite her fierce exterior. I don’t see former footballer Drew as the guy either. This is definitely my least favorite role for Eliza Coupe, who is usually so fantastic but is stuck in a dull part as Ryan’s ex-wife who really doesn’t like Alex and is doing absolutely nothing to help Alex’s efforts to stop a terrorist from killing everyone she holds dear.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 6, Episode 9 “A Yurt of One’s Own” (B+)

I’m relieved to see that things weren’t nearly as bad as they seemed between Sean and Fiona when the episode started, and by the end everything was much, much better. Nothing worse could have happened after Gus showed up to request a peaceful and very civil divorce than Fiona trying to take legal action against him since she couldn’t buy the ring back, and what a relief it was therefore for Sean to show up and do the most inappropriate thing of all – propose during a meeting about her divorce – effectively negating all the problems and setting them up for what will hopefully be a lifetime of happiness. Lip’s going a little crazy at school with all the girls, and ending up in the hospital because of alcohol poisoning seemed only to faze him because he was going to have to pay for the cost of the ambulance. Seeing Mandy as he came back in to the Gallagher house was jarring, and her appearance in general was a strange throwback to times when the Gallagher brothers were in a very different place. Carl’s headed in a better direction now that he’s dropped his punk act, and I love that he went downstairs to ask Lip or Ian if they had any condoms when the one his new girlfriend brought proved not to be enough. Ian’s relationship continues to be a positive one, and they seem to be on a pretty even playing field when it comes to revealing their secrets and trusting each other. Kev and Veronica are in serious trouble if they lose Svetlana thanks to the arrival of an immigration officer, and I’m sure that Svetlana and Veronica pretending to be a couple will be plenty entertaining. Frank’s time on the commune is definitely fun to watch, and now he’s interested in helping out with the generator because he realizes exactly what it powers. Deb is also having some growing pains, and I can’t imagine this commune life will last too long for the Gallaghers.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 6, Episode 13 “The Same Boat” (B+)

This show is doing some serious self-exploration, and it’s both fascinating and deeply disturbing. This episode introduced a few new characters, none of whom survived the hour. Most prominent among them were Paula, played by Alicia Witt from “Justified” and other series, and Rus Blackwell from “Banshee” as Donnie. They took Carol and Maggie hostage and Paula negotiated with Rick, suspicious that he wasn’t going to stick to their prearranged deal. Paula told her story about starting out as a secretary reading inspirational e-mails and then killing her boss because he was weak, later stopping her count of people she killed when she got to double digits. What was crazy about this hour was the way that it framed our group, since they did sneak into this camp and kill everyone in it without negotiating or talking to them. “You’re not the good guys; you should know that” was the most haunting quote from the other side. Maggie was determined not to leave anyone alive while Carol seemed to be taking Morgan’s advice to heart as Paula taunted her and dared her to pull the trigger. When Maggie’s stomach nearly got sliced by Michelle, Carol had no trouble shooting her in the head. They said they were all Negan, which means they have a strange cult mentality, but that doesn’t change the fact that Rick promptly executed Primo after he told him that no one was coming from him. These people may have been bad news, but it’s our people who went around on a killing spree after another group told them to without asking too many questions. That’s a lot to ponder.

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 1, Episode 20 “Puppy Prank Gum Assistant” (B)

It’s not a surprise that Tim is prone to childish tendencies, and it’s a real treat to see every once in a while that Heather can be equally immature. Deciding to rearrange the letters on the marquee at Tyler’s high school was a relatively harmless prank, and it proved much more difficult for them to take responsibility for it than they would have thought. Tyler being frustrated with his parents for their idiotic actions and subsequent meddling is entertaining, and that bled in to the third segment of this episode, which found Joan trying to cover up the fact that she let her granddaughters eat anything they want, namely candy and other unhealthy things, when they came over to her house. Everyone is keeping secrets from everyone else, and they’re all in cahoots with someone else about something. The notion of grandparents getting to spoil their grandchildren the way that they couldn’t hope to do with their own children was definitely on display here, and I think that’s a very relatable concept. Jen not telling Greg about her hot new assistant didn’t lead to him being angry or anything, but rather going off the deep end trying to dress cool and impress his top competition, which didn’t go so well after he threw his back out almost instantly. Greg’s immediate excitement at the idea of getting a hot new assistant of his own ended that whole plotline pretty quickly. As I’ve written before, I’m never so enthralled by John-centric plotlines, and the best part was yet another chance to see Colleen still in the show and getting back to a good place with Matt.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 1, Episode 8 “Night of the Hawk” (B+)

It’s an interesting concept to be able to travel back to a time before they ran into Savage and gave away who they are, and I suspect that, once repairs to the ship are made and they’re able to recover the whole group, they’ll try to use that strategy of encountering him further back in time so that he doesn’t see them coming. It was pretty jarring for Kendra to open the front door of her new home in the 1950s and see a smiling, well-kempt Savage introducing himself as a neighbor. It’s not clear what happened to Savage when he fell out the window after getting shot, and it’s very worrisome to think that three of our friends are now stranded in 1958. Everyone was so casual about the rampant racism and sexism of the time, joking about it with Jax’s comment about dipping fries in milkshakes and Sara telling Stein to get her coffee. There are bigger things to worry about, of course, like boyfriends turning into mutant hawk creatures. Sara helping her fellow lesbian nurse feel good about her identity was nice, and it’s good to see her human side a bit. As far as lighter moments go, I love that Ray was perfectly happy to eat the casserole that Savage brought over. That relationship is progressing pretty fast due to their time playing house, and they seem to be in a good place, save for that whole being left behind thing. Chronos keeps showing up at exactly the wrong moment, and this time he got way too close, which suggests worrisome tidings to come for all members of our team.

Pilot Review: Underground

Underground (WGN America)
Premiered March 9 at 10pm

WGN America is a network new to original programming, but it’s quickly establishing a reputation as a strong producer of quality shows. Its latest offering is its most ambitious yet, a drama series set before the Civil War in Georgia on a slave plantation. This is the definition of a period drama, and it’s hard to classify WGN America in comparison to other networks. Given their success with “Manhattan,” I think that they’re well-equipped to handle and deliver this show. This first installment introduces the key players, slaves and non-slaves alike, and helps to build the dynamics between them that make things complicated and interesting. Chief among those is the fact that an abolitionist lawyer who has been approached by the Underground Railroad for the use of his house happens to be the brother of the owner of a slave plantation with more than a few slaves eager to find a way to escape their current situation. This episode managed to convey some of the horrific elements of slavery traditionally dramatized in film and television, like the masters reading a newspaper and sipping lemonade while watching a slave being beaten in their front yard. The use of anachronistic music mixed with traditional spirituals and a strong score works well, and this episode ended on a tense, enticing note. In terms of casting, all parts seem well cast, with Jurnee Smollett-Bell standing out among the cast for her role as Rosalee. I was surprised to see Christopher Meloni playing a good guy who helped a slave, but it turns out that he’s worse than all of them, pretending to be good only to then betray the slaves he’s offered to help. Committing to this show seems like a big thing to do given its depth and period nature, but I’m open to starting the second episode to see how involving it proves.

How will it work as a series? That I’m not sure about – I think it’s going to be good however it plays out, but I wouldn’t have thought of it as a regular television series. Telling its story that way may well be effective, and I’m sure there will be plenty of content and opportunity for this show to develop its characters and universe over the course of a number of episodes.
How long will it last? The headline “18-year ratings high” for WGN America seems to guarantee that this show will have a healthy life, and positive reviews should also help with that. It hasn’t been renewed just yet, but I feel like it has to be a lock.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Of Kings and Prophets

Of Kings and Prophets (ABC)
Premiered March 8 at 10pm

It’s rare that I watch a pilot for a show that’s already been cancelled. What that means in this case is that I’m catching up to current television, and being a week and a half behind means that this miserable excuse for a show has already been pulled following its second airing. It’s no surprise to anyone that this show got cancelled so quickly, and there are multiple reasons for that. The first is that period dramas are always a tough sell for television, especially if they don’t air on cable networks. Even “Rome” lasted just two years, partially due to high production costs. The bigger reason is that I can’t imagine anyone, even those who eagerly went to go see “Clash of the Titans” and “Gods of Egypt,” two films whose cinematic child would produce something that looks like this show, was asking for this series to be made. That and it’s absolutely terrible. “Were you not off fighting a lion?” was one of the choice moments of dialogue I wrote down while watching the pilot, which was an unbearable, completely unengaging hour full of unnecessary brutality and inane conversation. All this talk of the Israelites and uniting the tribes is an unpleasant reminder that this is supposed to be based on the Bible, and I can almost guarantee that this is one of the least impressive adaptations of that formidable source for so much literature and cinema. I can’t even really tell you what happened over the course of this pilot, but I do know that I won’t get this hour of my life back.

How will it work as a series? There’s not much more to say, other than that this is a dense show that’s nowhere near as sophisticated as it purports to be or should be. There will be blood, killing, sex, and speeches, all in the name of telling the greater story of David and Goliath.
How long will it last? As noted above, this show has already been cancelled following terrible ratings in its first two outings. Ten episodes were commissioned, leaving eight episodes unaired. Though this show didn’t receive as universally poor reviews as I would have expected, I’m sure that no one is clamoring to see the rest of this show. It’s better forgotten about right away.

Pilot grade: F-

What I’m Watching: Limitless

Limitless: Season 1, Episode 17 “Close Encounters” (B+)

This episode was different in a few ways, and the most notable one was just how much of Brian’s secrets were on display for all the people in his life. There isn’t a time yet where we’ve seen Brian get legitimately angry at someone and lash out, and it turns out that Rebecca was the one who got to experience it. Brian was understandably angry about Rebecca sending agents to his apartment to look for the extra NZT pills she knew he had, but he sent said hurtful things to her when he said she was obsessed with him and the thrill of him taking NZT. Rebecca arranging to have him assigned to a different handler was a blunt and finite response, and it seems to have encouraged Brian to leave with his spare NZT pills that he swiped from Mike. The bigger and much, much more worrisome problem is that Rachel decided to tell her parents about the NZT pills that she found in Brian’s apartment, which turned them against him and also inspired her budding boyfriend Ike to take some initiative and ask her to describe the agent she saw show up in the middle of the night. I suspect that Ike will show allegiance to Brian to a certain degree, and that he’ll find a better way to deal with the information he’s learned that to report it straight to Naz. Maybe he’ll go to Rebecca, who will definitely be able to identify Sands. On a much lighter note, I enjoyed Mike casually mentioning that he was gluten-free when he walked into the Finch family home.

Monday, March 21, 2016

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 3, Episode 11 “Bouncing Back” (B-)

It’s been three whole months since this show last aired, giving its companion series “Agent Carter” a chance to air its second season. Last I remember, most of our characters were away on a distant alien planet, and they managed to make it back, but not without allowing a very dangerous ancient inhuman to escape with them. The fact that it/he has taken the form of Ward just makes his existence all the more terrible, and it seems that he’ll be a threat not just to the good guys but also to the likes of Gideon Malick and Mr. Giyera. The team was in many different directions this week, with Coulson and crew trying to get information out of Werner only to realize that he really was suffering as a result of what he was recalling. Mac made himself a new friend in the form of Elena, and I liked that their communication was so limited because they didn’t speak the same language, with Mac using his knowledge of Spanish from restaurant menus. The freaky cops capable of stopping people in their tracks with their eyes were intense, and it’s a good thing that they didn’t use Bobbi or Hunter as a victim of their shows of force. The state of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been considerably elevated by the authority of the President, played by William Sadler, who has essentially given the green light for the organization to keep doing what it’s been doing unofficially with his private approval. As much as the two of them butt heads, Talbot is actually a great choice to supervise Coulson since he’s a good and incorruptible soldier who understands the importance of the work that has to be done.

What I’m Watching: Grandfathered

Grandfathered: Season 1, Episode 19 “Some Guy I’m Seeing” (B+)

This was another great episode, further exploring the complexities of the newfound relationship between Jimmy and Catherine and the renewed romance between Gerald and Vanessa. It’s nice to see Jimmy trying so hard, though he isn’t necessarily going about everything the right way the first time. Bringing Sara along to shop for feminine hygiene products and introducing his doorman to give Catherine illegal privileges to walk into his apartment were nice gestures that showed his narrowmindedness, and he got it right later by showing up and suggesting talking about her sister, cuddling, and the like. Reacting to being referred to as “some guy I’m seeing” was a fun way for the whole thing to begin, and I’m so pleased to see that this relationship may well last a long time. They’re great for each other because of just how similar they are, whereas Gerald and Vanessa are so completely different. Vanessa’s participation in movie night went pretty terribly, partly because it seems like an awful and unbearable process that’s also pointless, and Gerald’s frantic eagerness to place bets quickly revealed a problematic past involving gambling addiction. It was pretty funny to see them make up and suggest a variety of activities that they might do together, which couldn’t work since every suggestion one of them made the other rejected outright as unappealing. It might actually be okay for the two of them to be so different, and as they’re struggling to be business partners and parents, it will be fun to watch them navigate the ups and downs of a relationship.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 5, Episode 10 “Goosebumps Walkaway” (B)

I had almost forgotten that Zooey Deschanel was ever on this show. That may just be because it’s been a while since she was on it, but this show felt different without her. I don’t know if it’s a positive thing, since I went back and forth about Megan Fox and her portrayal of Reagan. But no matter how the show was without her, Jess’ reintroduction felt very abrupt. Of course she’d come back from jury duty with souvenirs custom made for the residents of the loft, and she also reappeared at the worst possible time because Reagan and Nick were about to get their feelings for each other out and sleep together. Normally, Reagan would hate everything that Jess is, but in this case they ended up being friends since Jess helped her through the dilemma of what to do about Nick. Awkward as it was, their “Sayonara, Sammy” exchanges coupled with Reagan wearing the t-shirt Jess got her on the flight home made for a great exit for Reagan that also allows her to come back at any point and reenter their lives. Jess obsessively trying to find juror 237B before giving out her e-mail and phone number on national television was just like her, and the fact that they had nothing to talk about was a funny ending to that short saga. Winston’s dance gatherings was a silly way for Schmidt to realize that he needs to let loose a little, with a nice life lesson from Winston about not caring what anyone else thinks.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 4 “Gloves Off” (B+)

Well, this couldn’t really have gone any worse. The fact that Jimmy’s commercial was a tremendous success in terms of getting new clients doesn’t seem to count for anything. Instead, Clifford Main is so furious at Jimmy that he’s ready to fire him on the spot for cause, which is really a shame. The worst part of all of it, of course, is how Kim is getting blamed and punished as she kept warning Jimmy she would. Rhea Seehorn really is a valuable member of the cast this season, and the way she’s played Kim over the last four episodes has been simply terrific. It’s nice to see Jimmy and Chuck talk even if it wasn’t entirely pleasant, but there’s a bond between them that’s defined by the caring way in which Jimmy treats his brother when he sees that his illness, be it physical or mental, is acting up and he’s suffering as a result. Offering to stop practicing law if Kim gets a pardon was a generous if unrealistic offer, and I think we know well that things don’t end up playing out that way. Speaking of things we know from the future, it was good – and frightening – to see Tuco Salamanca, played by Raymond Cruz from “The Closer” and “Major Crimes.” He’s volatile as ever, though it was Mike who egged him on more than anything by hitting his car and then grabbing him, resulting in a likely felony change and a very bloodied, battered half of Mike’s face. It’s very intriguing to see just how far Mike went not to kill someone, a habit that isn’t going to last.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

What I’m Watching: Blindspot

Blindspot: Season 1, Episode 12 “Scientists Hollow Fortune” (C+)

After a decent return last week, this episode only confirmed the limited scope of answers that we’re going to get each week while receiving even more fully tangential distractions as plotlines. What served to distinguish this episode’s featured supporting storyline was that Charlie’s experiences with his memory and coming out of an amnesiac state with no understanding of why he possessed the skills he possessed so closely mirrored Jane’s own recent life. So many sights and sounds are prompting flashbacks for her these days, and it continues to be a question why she needed to wipe all of her memories if she was only going to slowly recover them anyway. My continuing theory is that she had to really seem like she didn’t know who she was, otherwise she could have been detected as an enemy agent. Even though she’s not moving ahead with her relationship with Kurt, he did have a major breakthrough with his dad, who confessed that the reason his shoes were muddy when he came back from what was assumed to be his murder of Taylor Shaw was that he had tried to kill himself. That certainly was not expected, and it’s going to shift Kurt’s worldview in a big way. Speaking of Weller family drama, Sarah’s mystery boyfriend turned out to be someone we know pretty well: Edgar. While he’s a respectable guy who is probably much likelier to gain Kurt’s approval as Sarah’s boyfriend than anyone else, I suspect that our headstrong FBI agent won’t react too well to the inevitable news that I can’t imagine will end up being broken in the controlled setting Edgar and Sarah would like it to be revealed.

What I’m Watching: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin: Season 2, Episode 14 “Chapter Thirty-Six” (B+)

Who would have thought – maybe it won’t take so long for Jane and Michael to find their way back to true happiness? I certainly wouldn’t have expected Jane to be present at the birth of Petra’s twins and Michael to be in the car with Rafael at that same moment, but sometimes things just work out that way. All four of these characters have come a long way since the start of the show, and there’s also a lot going on at the moment. I like that Petra tricked Jane into going with her to confront Rafael by begging her to join her for baby prep activities that Rafael wasn’t coming to, even if they didn’t actually end up meeting him. Petra did do a tremendous job of encouraging Jane to talk to the novelist who stole her idea for a book, but her water broke at just the right time to prevent her from doing that. Rafael is smart to help Michael try to find his mother, since putting all that business behind them would be good for everyone. It seems his investigative work has only egged on that half-sibling to return, and he’s sure to be trouble. Rogelio is already in a perilous state, and despite being clever enough to use his custom-made pajamas to hide a sleeping pill and drug his captor, he wasn’t quick enough on his feet to figure out what to do with her while he plotted his escape, and now he’s back in the same spot he was to start, only now she knows he’s been lying. Xiomara was too preoccupied with being mad at her mother and then planning for Pablo to come visit to really process the smart signal Rogelio sent to let her know that something was up.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 1, Episode 14 “Josh Is Going to Hawaii!” (B+)

After the surprise kiss that ended last week’s episode, there was no way that things were going to be resolved as idyllically as Rebecca or Paula imagined. As usual, this show rose above what could have been a simple and unsatisfying resolution and added some depth and drama to this whole thing. Josh going to see Father Brah only to discover that he was stoned wasn’t productive, and deciding that he needed to tell Valencia just showed how honest and good he is. Her immediate forgiveness was unexpectedly kind, and Josh was overjoyed by that development, reminded only moments later of the serious issues in their relationship. While this was all happening, Rebecca discovered that she really hasn’t been managing her money well, and now she’s pawned a family heirloom to pay for a trip to Hawaii that she really doesn’t need, though it may turn out to be a free five-hour therapy session, which is convenient. “I’m gonna yolo before I fomo” / “Is that yogurt?” was one of my favorite exchanges, and though it was crazy weird, “I’m the villain in my own story” was a cool and appropriate song. Darryl’s relationship with White Josh continues to be entertaining as they try to meet each other somewhere that’s comfortable for both of them and none one at Darryl’s work except for Maya cares that he’s bisexual. Greg’s obliviousness about Heather being angry at him for breaking her heart was hardly surprising, and I like that they’re going to keep working together and interact on a regular basis.

What I’m Watching: 11.22.63

11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Eyes of Texas” (B-)

It’s March 1963 already, and it’s about time things should be picking up. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case, and I’m wondering how much longer I can continue to invested in this drama. We’re getting to see a lot of Jake’s relationship with Sadie, as he does exactly what he wasn’t supposed to do, which is to create deep emotional connections with people in the past. As if they weren’t enough problems to come with her ex-husband showing up, Jake had to rather obviously tail George and Oswald into a brothel and then get arrested during a raid. I’m not sure how I feel about the casting of T.R. Knight from “Grey’s Anatomy” as Sadie’s clothespin-wearing abusive ex-husband since he’s one of the last people I would have thought of for the role, and I’m not sure whether to take his “You deserve each other” comment as a sign that we’ll never see him again or that he’ll stick around to act as a thorn in Jake’s side and maybe even more of a serious threat. Jake isn’t going to be Jake’s only problem now that Sadie has discovered his tapes, and only so many people are going to believe that he’s part of the CIA. Jake has already been caught by enough people in a lie, and I can’t comprehend how he’s gotten by this far, especially with Bill forming a relationship with Marina, which is most definitely against the rules and a surefire way to get them into serious trouble.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What I’m Watching: Togetherness

Togetherness: Season 2, Episode 3 “Advanced Pretend” (B+)

This was a great episode, with Alex stepping up in a big way to spirit Brett away from Michelle’s revelation and give him a chance to return back to reality in his own time. Spending $950 apiece for plane tickets to Detroit was quite a generous spontaneous act, and Brett barely seemed conscious as Alex pushed him through the airport in a wheelchair. I knew I recognized Kennedy when she showed up in Detroit, and it took me just a few seconds to identify Hilarie Burton, who started out on “One Tree Hill” and had a great recurring role on “White Collar.” She was fantastic in this episode, taking him on a slow roll and peeing while he was in the bathroom. He could have slept with her and felt vindicated because of what Michelle did, but instead he told her he was married and then ran outside to yell at Alex for being on the phone too much. This season is all about unabashed confrontation, and Brett and Alex screaming at each other was very therapeutic. Christy and Tina hurling insults, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as productive. In this case, it turns out that Tina is right that she needs to tell Alex that she doesn’t want kids, but I think that Christy’s response had more to do with Tina’s behavior the night before. Though she nearly hyperventilated at the sight of a dirty diaper, Tina did manage to do for Michelle what Alex did for Brett to a lesser degree, and hopefully Brett and Michelle can patch things up very soon.

What I’m Watching: Girls

Girls: Season 5, Episode 3 “Japan” (B+)

I enjoyed the way this episode started out, finding Shoshanna having the time of her life in Japan, seemingly a little less vain and fake as she actually managed to learn a little Japanese. The opening title being in Japanese was fun too. Hearing her say that she’s never heard that she talks too fast was hilarious, and the hot tub chatting about whether she’d sleep with her boss (and hearing his similar simultaneous conversation too) was entertaining. Finding out that she got “managed out” rather than fired was a devastating blow, and she went off the deep end a bit with her last hurrah. Putting on the nurse’s outfit and getting into the Japanese sex club scene was an uncomfortable moment, and ultimately she got what she didn’t know she wanted all along: a romantic encounter with that boss, who was considerably nicer than all the others at the sex club. Too bad Scott was waiting at the airport for her with a sweet sign, and her not showing up prompted him to throw out his flowers. She’s on her own planet anyway, but I suspect that she won’t have a warm homecoming when she does inevitably return to New York. I liked the brief snippet of Marnie we got on her honeymoon in Ecuador (I can’t pronounce it like she can). Seeing Adam’s TV guest spot opposite Lucy Liu was fun, and it seems that his fine acting wasn’t enough to convince Jessa that they really should just go for it and explore a sexual relationship. Hannah’s reaction to Fran masturbating to pictures of his naked ex-girlfriends rather than porn was somewhat understandable, but of course she went about it in a very aggressive way, and something tells me that Fran will not be too happy to learn that she went ahead and deleted all the pictures while he was sleeping.

What I’m Watching: Billions

Billions: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Punch” (B+)

It’s impressive that, after ending last week’s episode with such an immense blowup between Axe and Chuck, this installment didn’t see them interact at all and barely even dealt with the case against Axe. Instead, the charismatic billionaire nearly made headlines for a different reason after he found out that someone drove his kids while he was drunk and he promptly drove over half-clothed to punch him in the face. It nearly became a story, and it turns out that Axe didn’t even have to catapult a journalist’s career to make it go away since the full video essentially let Axe off the hook due to the admission of drunk driving on the part of the man he punched. Lara’s determination to give her sons street smarts wasn’t as supported by Axe as it could have been, namely because of his defiance of her plan to force them to camp overnight to teach them a lesson, something that seemed to give him immense pleasure. Wendy is making big strides in finding a new career, and Steven Pasquale’s Chase Kendall seems like he’ll be just as much trouble here as he was on “The Good Wife.” Chuck completely eradicated Ari when the sniveling lawyer tried to blackmail him into being in charge of the entire case, but he didn’t have as much luck putting the pressure on Brian, who stood up to Chuck when he seriously chewed some scenery by hiding in the closet and then bursting out after Brian’s clandestine meeting with his informant. This show is still good despite regularly veering into potentially exaggerated territory.

What I’m Watching: Quantico

Quantico: Season 1, Episode 12 “Alex” (C)

This is the second of two crazy-hot fall shows that made the questionable move to go off the air for three full months after starting off so strong. My opinion of this show by the time it went on hiatus in November wasn’t nearly as favorable as “Blindspot,” and this midseason premiere confirms that this show is forever determined to be embroiled in frustrating mystery an never get anywhere too productive. It’s impossible to believe that Alex is literally the only one who believes that Elias wasn’t working alone, and that all of these FBI agents who went through the exact same training are convinced that beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the only threat. It makes just as little sense that Alex would decide to change her story and agree that Elias acted alone, and naturally that is what would inspire the unknown terrorist to call her and then strap a bomb to Nathalie, who inexplicably has become Alex’s only true ally. This show is quite simply out of suspects, and introducing a whole new class of potential threats is hardly legitimate, since it wouldn’t have been possible to discern who the bad guy was if we hadn’t actually met him or her yet. Finding out that Shelby’s fake sister has been kidnapped and that Miranda’s son isn’t telling the truth about what he remembers hardly seems relevant or interesting since it’s all just a distraction from the truth that we surely won’t learn for months.

Friday, March 18, 2016

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 6, Episode 8 “Be a Good Boy. Come for Grandma.” (B+)

This episode’s title says more about this episode than I would ever want to write, demonstrating that Queenie really does belong in the Gallagher family. Her homeopathic massage sure managed to destress Lip, as his energetic foursome with the sorority sisters at the end of the episode humorously showed. It’s great to see Ian so happy, engaged in a normal relationship and more than capable of handling himself opposite his boyfriend’s friends. Divulging his bipolar disorder made the HIV-positive confession much more manageable, and I think that’s one hurdle they can get past. Debs getting hit on by someone into pregnant girls was hardly surprising, and of course it had to be something other than the fact that he’s probably at least ten years older than her. Frank did a great job of getting into the drug trade on behalf of his son, but that didn’t last long, and now he might have to pay with his testicles, which won’t be pretty but also surely won’t deter him from further shenanigans. Carl getting out wasn’t so bad after his initial beating thanks to Sean’s assistance, but that kindhearted act led to Will finding a gun in the Gallagher house, which didn’t do any damage to Will but prompted Sean to say something that he can’t take back. It seemed like this relationship might actually work out, and now that Carl has come back to the light side, it’s probably it for them after what happened since neither of them are going to be able to move on anytime soon.