Sunday, July 31, 2016

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 7 “It Sounded Nicer in My Head” (B+)

This show is doing a superb job this season of blending comedy and drama into the same episodic recipe, and this installment was firing on all cylinders. It was great to see the tragic story of Lolly played out for the first time, with an intrepid reporter undone by the conspiracy theories swirling through her head and the voices adding considerable stress and agitation to that. Seeing her homeless and delivering coffee to people on the street was heartwarming, and it’s sad to see where she’s gotten to in prison when everything is continuing to overwhelm her again. Welcoming Nicky back into the fold was a cool way of recapping what’s going on at the moment, with Red particularly overjoyed to see her, though she has to yet to receive confirmation that Nicky is once again being consumed by her addiction. The plot to capture a photo of Judy King was hilariously timed with the unfortunate revelation of her racist puppet show past, and I think that’s a fun entertaining subplot that also got to be a little dramatic when Aleida visited and realized that she should use her skills doing nails to help find success in the real world. Linda getting Caputo’s education plan approved was a victory, but the fact that it looks nothing like what he wanted and has little to with education cancels out any sense of celebration that should have been present. Just as she was starting to understand what she had created, Piper got betrayed by the person she thought she had to worry the least about, resulting in a brutal but fitting punishment: the burning of a swastika into her arm to remind her of who she was pretending to be. It had to happen eventually, but it was very painful to watch.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 10 “The Man in the Box” (B+)

This episode opened very grimly with the sight of all these prisoners and Daredevil talking to his cop friend, but things got much, much worse and plenty creepier by the end of the episode with the seemingly possessed children moving to take over the hospital while the ninjas were climbing up the outside of the building. It was good to see Claire again, annoyed as usual that Matt had sent them all there but hardly surprised since she is one of the few people he can truly trust. The biggest shock of the episode was when, just moments after Reyes and her previously loyal henchman Blake admitted to having set up a sting and determined that the park shouldn’t be cleared so as not to tip off the parties involved, the whole office got riddled with bullets and she ended up dead. It seems more than clear that Frank isn’t responsible for this, particularly because he would never threaten someone’s child, and his presence at Karen’s apartment at the end of the episode and their shared near-death experience all but confirms it. Hopefully Matt, Foggy, and Ellison will come to their senses and realize that they have to back the right horse to help protect Karen, whose life is in extreme danger. Elektra doesn’t seem to be doing too well either, but now that she realizes she’s marked for death, she can hopefully be exactly the ally that Matt needs. They have a lot of work to do, and she could come in very handy right now. Matt going up against Fisk and being tossed around like a rag doll was a disturbing sight, especially because it indicates that there’s no end in sight for Matt even if he manages to defeat the two latest actionable threats trying to put him out of business for good.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 10 “Chapter 49” (A-)

This is easily the best hour this show has produced yet. Everything about it came together in an incredible way leading up to that very powerful last scene. Starting with Wolf Blitzer doing analysis of the election and how things were going to play out made this seem like it would be much more of a clinical episode, but instead it was one that was very emotional. Tom meeting Claire’s mother built a relationship that didn’t last long but was obviously influential, as he was making her laugh and seemed to give her some comfort towards the end. Her offer to end her life just in time for Claire to ride the momentum towards the nomination was surprisingly generous, and it really does represent the best act of repair of their relationship. Claire having Tom there with her is a comfort, and hopefully he understands how well he can do in the world if he keeps that private. Seth made a power play against Doug and it worked, but now it seems like Doug really is losing it, racked with guilt about the man he let die and also incapable of stifling those he finds irritating, namely Seth and Leanne. Tom bringing Dunbar to his home to show her his research hasn’t gotten anywhere just yet, but it’s at risk of seriously upsetting the extreme high that the Underwoods have currently achieved. Frank threatening Durant by confessing to killing Peter and Zoe was pretty surprising, but laughing it off made it seem all the more intimidating. Durant made the expected move and conceded, throwing her full support behind Claire, and what an introduction it was. This is the most honest Claire has ever been, and she essentially admitted both the bad relationship she and her mother had and even confessed to marital troubles between her and Frank. Seeing the two of them holding hands, smiling, and headed towards a very successful run was nice, and it’s rare to feel genuine positive energy towards these two power players. It’s the mark of a truly strong and memorable episode.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 5 “And She Was” (B+)

After last week’s big blow-up, I had anticipated lots of drama and resentment from Johnny for being kicked out of the band whose members he had managed to so alienate by trying to steal the spotlight. There was a similarly stomach-churning ending to this installment, but everything that led up to it was considerably tamer than I had expected. Johnny trying to be supportive didn’t turn out to be the carte blanche he thought it would, mainly because his “yes man” attitude was completely transparent and not genuine. Ava not getting the usual feedback from him threw her off, and calling him on it when he was approving a dress she would never wear is what set the latest blow-up in motion. Johnny being jealous that everyone else in the band was headed somewhere but him was equally understandable and petty, and I think she’s had it at this point with being put second. Gigi has been talking about getting married and starting a family a lot lately, and Flash had the perfect cover with a story about meeting Lady Gaga for lunch to take her to the land he bought to deliver a decent proposal with no ring. I fear that his heartfelt actions may have been taken the wrong way if her immediate freakout is any indication, and the only comfort to take from that is that she obviously bounces from idea to idea very quickly without putting much weight in any of them, meaning that she should be able to recover from this momentous shock to her system without needing too much time.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 4 “eps2.2_init1.asec” (B+)

I don’t think I could find two siblings who interact like Darlene and Elliot do on any other show (the closest example is probably Billy and Brenda Chenoweth on “Six Feet Under”). After we had to discover by her horrified reaction that they were brother and sister last season, it’s disarming to see Darlene casually stop by to spend time with her brother on Halloween, indulging in bad horror movies, Instagram, and conversation that didn’t turn serious until Elliot realized that she was up to just as much as Mr. Robot in terms of dangerous schemes designed to bring down powerful corporations with almost certain resounding implications. The internal battle going on within Elliot right now is endlessly fascinating, and he is literally playing chess with himself as a way of determining who will wrest control, either the calm, antisocial Elliot or the massively bold and psychotic Mr. Robot. The fact that Ray is well aware of Elliot’s internal struggles is equally interesting, and though I’m not sure he’ll ultimately be the ally that Elliot needs because of the way that they actually crossover and intersect in the business that they’re in, it’s great for Elliot to have him there now to keep tabs on him. Angela is continuing to stand up for herself and a big way, and while her latest attempt to assert her demands didn’t work, she’s not giving up. Dominique’s location of the headquarters is being handled and showcased in a cool way that doesn’t have her actually finding either Elliot or Darlene but shows just how close she is to unraveling their entire operation. Joanna is growing tired of her husband’s absence, and it didn’t take long at all for her to agree to turn on him just to be able to finance her lifestyle.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 9 “The Lake” (B+)

What a great episode this was about the nature of commitment and how it really affects your life. After she went to go find him at the hotel room and he wasn’t there, Valerie forgave him and then was enticed by his offer to indulge spontaneity and go somewhere that she wished she could go if the things in her life weighing her down didn’t exist. She was right to criticize the flighty way that he lives his life, but he had a valid point when he saw that she couldn’t stop to enjoy anything because she was so busy trying to keep tabs on her troublesome brother and make sure that his life was headed in the right direction. Finding that the lake no longer existed was a miserable finale, and it sort of bursts whatever bubble that Valerie had briefly considered living in. Alex’s latest decision has come back to bite him in the ass immediately, and Sarah has wasted no time moving in with him, even deigning to confrontationally ask Laura if she and her mother ever considered getting their own place. She’s made herself at home, and the fact that he feels trapped isn’t going to make the ensuing interactions easy to watch. Jordan’s ultimatum was a brutal one, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he was angrier than anything else and willing to let innocents pay the price for Alex’s misdeeds. Laura was not kind in how she spoke to Aubrey, and she raised some valid points about the way that Laura was manipulative and unfair to her. I think that friendship has been irreparably severed, and it’s only going to sting that much more when Spencer’s terminal cancer becomes more than just a punchline.

Round Two: Vice Principals

Vice Principals: Season 1, Episode 2 “A Trusty Steed” (B)

This was inarguably an engaging episode, but I think the sophistication of the plot and the humor isn’t quite as evolved as I might have hoped. That’s not to suggest that I would have expected to see Neal and Lee destroying every item in Dr. Brown’s home and then topping it all off with Lee lighting a match so that her house burnt down. I guess it means, if nothing else, that these guys mean business and aren’t going to stop in their quest to destroy the boss that they’ve somehow managed to suck up to enough that she no longer perceives them as a threat. Neal’s weakness is that he shows his reaction to everything she says to her, while Lee can’t control how he tries to mimic what she says while she’s facing the other direction. They make a truly suspicious team, especially when they come together for secret meetings in the woods. I enjoyed the visit to Lee’s home where Neal, thinking it was Dr. Brown’s home, launched in with the derogatory comments, which of course prompted verbal retribution from Lee. Together, the two of them are a force to be reckoned with, equally skilled at sabotage and self-destruction. I can’t decide if it’s more fun to see them fighting or conspiring together. Neal being forced to fire the inefficient front office secretary with Dr. Brown’s spy lapdog present was not a pretty sight, and he managed to make her feel like a terrible person, securing his present status but ruining any connection he had with her in the process.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 5 “Get Even Before Leavin’” (B+)

It’s really something to see Ray and Mickey working together to prepare for a job when you consider what their relationship was when the show started, with Ray hiring Mickey’s mortal enemy to kill his own father. Ray had enough stress to deal with while casing the casino with a tail following him, and Mickey wasn’t exactly being subtle, keeping his “piss jar” on the dashboard even though he left the van to go buy a donut. Ray switched into typical operator mode when he smoothly handled Pinky threatening to burn the money, but then Mickey went and called the woman he knew to be loyal who ended up caught in a very difficult place and forced to give Mickey’s location up. Bill arriving with the police to take back the money and take their pictures so that they could never again return to his casino seems like a finite way of making sure this isn’t an option without terrible repercussions that Ray doesn’t need right now. Mickey taking the rap for the murders is a huge game-changer, and I’m eager to see where that sacrifice leads. I like that Avi wanted to make Connor read a book by beating him in a video game, and the fact that Connor won and he’s now going to be experimenting with guns is not comforting. Bridget’s relationship with her teacher is over and Terry is taking compassion on his upstart of a protégé, which is all good and fine. It’s nice to see Abby sharing everything with Ray as she grapples with how to handle her present medical situation, which is looking grimmer by the minute. It’s devastating to see that Theresa’s departure had less to do with Bunchy and more with apparent post-partum depression. Bunchy is saying and doing all the right things, but it’s going to break him to see Theresa not snap back from her present state.

Take Three: The Night Of

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 3 “A Dark Crate” (B)

I’m determined to become invested in this show but I’m not sure that it’s going to happen if we’re already three episodes in and I’m not feeling it. We’re moving on past the detectives and uniforms present during the night itself, and now letting the law and order process begin. There were a few important developments in this hour as Naz spent some time in prison and those on the outside made moves to help ensure that he either stays there or has a fighting chance at getting off. We’ve seen so much of Stone that I was surprised to see him cast aside so quickly, especially after Naz said to his father that he liked him and wasn’t so sure about the idea of a new lawyer. Even though he’s been disconnected from the main plotline, he might not be out of the story entirely thanks to Salim’s bosses getting his card from a cop who gave them a clever idea to be able to get their cab bavck. Alison Crowe seems too good to be true in a lot of ways, and even though she has the resources to represent him for free, her style might be a bit too manipulative for him to seem naïve and innocent. The notable new addition of the hour is Michael Kenneth Williams as Freddy, playing his umpteenth role on an HBO drama as a bad guy with some surprising good in him. He’s definitely interesting, but I’m not sure I’m set on sticking around to see what role he plays in the show.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels (Series Finale)

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 14 “Done”

Now this is exactly what I was looking for in the series finale of this show. Durant and Huntington arguing about who gets to do what before the fateful photo was taken was only the introduction, with a barfight based on who was on which side, and then we got to the subject of what all these people do now that the railroad has been finished. Setting most of the episode in Washington was extremely effective since, in so many ways, it’s not where this show has taken place. Cullen looked very out of place with his white gloves on at the fancy dinner party, and then he managed to win over a crowd of soldiers even after the awkward truth about his Confederate past came out. Cullen being popular while Durant is poison in the town was a strange thing, and it was obvious that Cullen wasn’t suited for military life after operating on his own and reporting to only himself for so long. Refusing to incriminate Durant was an interesting choice, and while I thought he might hang himself to avoid a fruitless future, seeing him take the train back to San Francisco and set sail to find Mei was a far more fitting fate. Louise realized she was wrong to try to put Eva into a box in which she clearly couldn’t fit, and her acceptance of a certain satisfaction with her place was reassuring. Ending the episode with another tirade by Durant felt appropriate, since he would no doubt go on to deliver any number of similar speeches in the imagined future of this show. This season has been unexciting to say the least, but this finale wraps up a decent if not terribly memorable show in the best possible way.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: B
Season MVP: Anson Mount as Cullen
Season grade: B
Series MVP: Christopher Heyerdahl as the Swede
Best Season: Season 3
Best Episode: “Blood Moon Rising

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 4 “We Were Family” (B+)

After we saw what the crew used to be like, it’s pretty incredible to see the difference in their behavior now. That couldn’t be truer than with Three, who was always the gruffest and seemingly baddest of the bunch, but who now won’t even consider the option of kidnapping a man’s son to motivate him to help with a job. Eagerly throwing back in with his old crew seemed a little too easy, and killing his former mentor because he realized that the reasons that he followed him weren’t part of the person that he now is was a satisfying and respectable decision. I love that the Android made some new friends in the form of enhanced androids who seem much more human, and I wish that there could be a crossover with “Humans” and she could meet similar characters from that show. I look forward to seeing how she starts acting more human and the members of the crew begin to notice. Speaking of things that aren’t necessarily human, I’m just as intrigued as Four by Nyx’s ability to learn things right away and inherit skills in a masterful, seemingly impossible way. Five was inventive and on the ball with her decision to surveil Nero, and now it looks like they’re rid of that threat since they discovered his treachery and left him behind. A bigger and more dangerous war awaits, apparently, but that will come in due time. With Nero off the ship, Devon and Nyx are proving to be dependable allies.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 6 “Piece of Shit” (B+)

It catches me off-guard sometimes when I realize that there’s no featured flashback in a given episode. That was the case here, but there’s so much going on that I barely even noticed. It was great to start with a focus on Nicky, a character this show has gone far too long without. Seeing how she kept her spirits up by naming state capitals and celebrating small victories like earning a sobriety milestone chip she couldn’t even hold onto was inspiring, and it’s a shame that Lubschek’s visit drove her to such a place that she felt the need to break her sobriety just as he found a way to get her released and sent back to general population. Lubschek really is an awful person, as exemplified by so many moments in this episode, and it’s great to see him start to realize that maybe he doesn’t have to be so bad. Judy demanding sexual favors in exchange for her help shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected, and now he’s crossing a line that he really shouldn’t be, and even he knows that. Piper also crossed a line by framing her competition, and I can tell that she’s going to regret it, as if she doesn’t already given the years it added to another prisoner’s sentence. Taystee did a great job of negotiating peace between warring bunkmates, and I’m eager to see their partnership continue. I’m loving the relationship between Caputo and Linda, and Caputo really does have the best interests of his inmates in mind. Hopefully this education thing will take off as he envisions it.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 9 “Seven Minutes in Heaven” (B+)

Well, in this case it was totally worth bringing back a character from season one. The opening scene helped to establish what Fisk has been up to all this time, learning that life on the inside isn’t quite so grand if you’re not the head honcho. Having the Punisher brought to him to deal with the nuisance posed by William Forsythe’s kingpin seemed like a good idea, and Frank wasn’t too impressed by Fisk’s attempts to be sympathetic. The guards trapping Frank with all the inmates who wanted to kill him seemed like it might mean Frank’s time was up, but of course he managed to kill every single one of them singlehandedly, and then earned himself a release by walking out the front door in riot gear. Karen is making extraordinary strides as a journalist, and her discovery of the sting operation – timed with Frank learning of this too – was substantially dramatic and intriguing. Telling Foggy that she doesn’t need to be warned was the second most powerful personal-professional interaction of the hour, behind Matt being upfront with Foggy and telling him that he’s done apologizing for who he is. I’m much less interested in whatever it is that Matt has stumbled upon as part of his revenge mission against Stick. It would be helpful if he had his head in the game, if only to be able to depend on some ally other than going it all on his own, disregarding and alienating Elektra, Foggy, Karen, and anyone else who might try to help him.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 9 “Chapter 48” (B+)

This was a pretty exciting episode, with the dramatic roll call for vice presidential nominations at the Democratic National Convention serving as the primary plot device. The Kentucky senator casting a vote for Claire introduced the idea in a way that caught on in a big way, perfectly engineered by Frank and Claire to seem like it was something that they couldn’t even have imagined. Donald was very helpful in all of it by spreading the word that Kathy barely had a role in the negotiations in Germany, and Claire got nearly to the top of the list without all that much effort. Kathy’s reaction to Frank breaking the news to her was the biggest surprise of all, noting that she thinks Claire would be great for the job. Kathy may have something up her sleeve too, as Louisiana’s endorsement of her for the position of president indicates considerable dissent against the Underwood dynasty. Seth telling Leanne that Doug has it in for her can’t be a good idea, and he seems set on painting her as the reason for all of Underwood’s woes. It was a nice treat to see Frank and Conway sit down and talk one-on-one after making their initial contact such a televised publicity stunt. Playing games together on Conway’s phone was easily the best part, followed closely by Frank nearly choking when Conway made him laugh and his metaphorical presentation of ham. I also enjoyed Frank’s accidental misquote of the famous line – “One man’s tragedy is another man’s treasure.”

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 4 “Bad Blood” (B+)

It’s nice to see an episode with a bit more of a dramatic kick than the usual admittedly entertaining silliness of threesomes and all that. What was crucial about this episode was that it demonstrated how self-involved Johnny is, but, more importantly, that he has absolutely no sense of that. Piping up in the meeting to speak for Ava instead of letting her talk for herself was just the tip of the iceberg, and it says something that Ava didn’t even bring it up to him and instead had Gigi do it for her. As his daughter, Gigi possesses a lot of the same gusto and unfiltered energy as Johnny, but she’s able to perceive how what she does affects others. Telling him that he’s being fired wasn’t easy for her, but when he reacted in the way that he did, she had no trouble going in for the kill. Ava defiantly refusing to listen to him was telling, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. Things started off on a less serious note with Flash trying to figure out why Gigi got him this ruby-filled tongue and whether she was seriously thinking about getting married and spending the rest of her life with him. But even that conversation had Flash confronting Johnny about the way that he was talking about his daughter, not confident that any of the women in his life that he’s supposed to be holding dear can actually accomplish success on their own. It’s a real shame, and I hope he’ll be able to come back from it.

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 3 “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd” (B+)

I appreciate the structure of this episode and the way that it started with a seemingly unimportant flashback explaining the root of the fsociety name and then ending with Dominique’s discovery of their arcade headquarters. It’s much more like “Breaking Bad” than this show has tended to be, since it usually drops major bombshells but not that in that subtle, removed way. I’m more than fascinated by our two new character additions this season. Craig Robinson’s Ray has much more to him that meets the eye, cognizant that he’s having breakfast each morning with a person who’s not there and eager to get to know Eliot by playing chess with him. Grace Gummer’s Dominique is a unique kind of federal agent, and she absolutely has the right personality to fit in on this show. Defiantly popping Adderall pills to get rid of Mr. Robot was a bold move, and picking them up from his vomit on the floor after he hallucinated being abducted was furious and intense. Seeing him smiling, cleaning dishes, and commenting on “Seinfeld” was alluring and disturbing at the same time, and I like that he interpreted it as an error in his code. Seeing a disapproving Mr. Robot silently standing there as Ray moved when they were talking towards the end of the episode was haunting and very effective. Angela being introduced to two bigwigs at Evil Corp demonstrates the type of person she has become, and it will be interesting to see what she does with the knowledge that she’s just gained.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 8 “The Magpie” (B+)

I love how all three of our characters are in distinct places in their relationships where, to a degree, they are the ones in control of where they will go and they’re all headed towards some degree of self-destruction. Valerie’s is the most harmless in many ways, mainly because all that’s at risk is her own loneliness. Jennifer is obviously unhappy with her choice not to pursue Harry and her decision to opt instead for the more exciting and inconsistent Jack, and telling Valerie about fun plans that she has with Harry that she’s not invited in wasn’t particularly nice, nor was canceling on lunch after barely committing to it anyway. Valerie’s abused patient choosing to cut off therapy rather than get out of his dangerous relationship was an unfortunate supporting development that signals her failure to get through to someone she should be able to protect. Laura feeling claustrophobic with Aubrey and wanting to spend alone time with Spencer is understandable, but the way that she’s trying to disengage is going to backfire. And then there’s Alex, who was in shock when Jordan expressed naïve hope that his engagement would stay on and then tried to convince Sarah that she should be with him instead. Jordan vowing to burn Alex’s company to the ground is bad news, but Sarah showing up with all her stuff is a nice silver lining for the moment that’s sure not to last. I am very eager to see where it goes even if I’m nervous that it’s going to end badly.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys (Season Finale)

12 Monkeys: Season 2, Episode 13 “Memory of Tomorrow” (B)

Let me start by saying that I do like this show a lot and I’m definitely in it for the long haul. I’m not totally sure where this season went, so focused on destroying time that it ended up in a completely different place than I ever imagined it would. Now we have people using time machines to travel to other places without actually time traveling and others traveling through time with nothing more than a hallucinogen to propel them from year to year. Starting out with everyone we saw actually dead and a very happy Cole and Cassie expecting a child together in the home they made in the past presented a fascinating trajectory of events, but of course that couldn’t last for a while. I very much appreciated the casting of Madeleine Stowe, who starred in the original film that inspired this series in the Dr. Railly role, as Lillian, harbinger of doom who forced Cole to take action and change the future. I guess undoing events that took place in 2044 doesn’t undo the two years they had together – though I’m not sure that makes sense – and that’s why Cassie is still pregnant. Going far into the future is a cool idea that should make season three exciting, though the creepy sight of a hooded cult and the notion that Cassie’s unborn child will grow up to become the witness veers a bit towards the supernatural for me. It’s been a fun if relatively insane ride, undoubtedly, and I’m intrigued to see where this show continues to go. More Jennifer repurposing famous movie speeches to motivate the troops, please!

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Aaron Stanford as Cole

Pilot Review: Vice Principals

Vice Principals (HBO)
Premiered July 17 at 10:30pm

I was eager to see this show as soon as I heard of its existence, and it’s pretty much exactly what I expected. This is very similar to “Eastbound and Down” in a lot of ways, mainly because it comes from the same creative team and stars Danny McBride as an antisocial educator concerned with no one other than himself. The difference here is that McBride’s vice principal Neal Gamby has a daughter and a kindhearted cheerleader in his ex-wife’s new husband Ray. He also has traded his dimwitted sidekick for a formidable rival in Walton Goggins’ Lee Russell, the complete opposite of him in terms of vice principal posturing, sweet-talking everyone and letting his nice guy nature serve him just as well as Gamby’s iron fist does. Whoever thought of pairing McBride and Goggins was brilliant, and it’s great to see Goggins succeeding marvelously in this straight comedic role after stealing scenes on “Justified” and Sons of Anarchy” and in “The Hateful Eight” where his Southern drawl helped him add comedy to dramatic characters and situations. I’m also very pleased to see Shea Whigham from “Boardwalk Empire” in a very different role as Ray, and I’m sure that having Busy Phillips in the cast as his wife Gale will prove very worthwhile too. The foul-mouthed, infantile nature of the two protagonists on this show is a lot of fun, and it’s good to see that other characters, like new principal Dr. Brown, aren’t immune to such pettiness and crude language either. This show is sure to be a lot of fun, and I’m excited.

How will it work as a series? Comparing it to McBride’s previous HBO comedy is probably the most accurate representation of what this show will be like, with a recurring storyline and plenty of antics to get in the way as both Gamby and Russell manage to let their egos guide them towards a place of revenge rather than actually educating those with whom they’re charged to work.
How long will it last? HBO endorsed “Eastbound and Down” for four seasons, and something tells me that this show will go on however long its creators want it to. A renewal is likely soon, and I’d expect that this show should also last for about four seasons, though it’s obviously too early to say for sure.

Pilot grade: B+

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 4 “Federal Boobie Inspector” (B+)

I was expecting to see this episode’s title prominently displayed at some point, but instead it happened in a flash as the “FBI” letters on the back of a careless skateboarder’s t-shirt caught Ray’s eye and made him think twice about how to handle his Sonia problem. Seeing him go to the batting cages to get out his aggression rather than react with brute force right away really is so interesting, and while he’s all about the blackmail and manipulation of events around him, he’s trying to restrain his violent impulses. Bringing Ezra back into the storyline felt like a blast from the past, and getting Belikov out of jail seems like it will be relatively easy compared to how complicated it could be. Ed forcing Ray to sing karaoke as partial payment for his services was a great moment, and it was sweet to see Abby and Ray sing and dance together as the episode faded to black. Those two are being very honest with each honest these days, particularly when it comes to Abby and her little tryst with Lena’s cancer doctor ex-girlfriend. Mickey’s trip back to Los Angeles didn’t come as free of charge as he thought, but it seems that he has a surprising partner in Ray to help him pull off his latest job. Bunchy eagerly asking Ray to be the godfather and celebrating his father’s return did not go over well with Teresa, and her expressed desire to go back to Bakersfield is likely to come up again very soon. Terry is determined to train Damon, and he’s not giving up until he helps him to realize his potential.

Round Two: The Night Of

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 2 “Subtle Beast” (B)

I’m still not completely captivated by this show or its pacing just yet, but I’m willing to give it at least another episode to see where it goes. What’s clear is that Naz is in way over his head, and he’s one of the luckier ones who actually has a lawyer advocating for him, trying his hardest to argue that what the district attorney puts forth as undeniable evidence is merely a summary of the charges and not proof of any wrongdoing. Detective Box denying that he blinked when he was asked whether he thought Naz was guilty was an unfortunate indicator that he really is certain that Naz did it despite the poor young man’s continued assertion that he did nothing wrong. We’re seeing everything play out in a very literal, matter-of-fact mode, with Jack gone from the police station because he’s on the subway scratching his feet or emptying his pockets of so very many things in line to get in to the courthouse. We met a new character in this episode, played by recent Emmy nominee Paul Sparks, Don Taylor, who had no particular fondness for his stepdaughter but still seemed shaken by the visual confirmation of her death. Naz’s parents are intelligent people who seem at a loss to understand the gravity of what their son is into, but I think it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that this is not something that is going away anytime soon and is going to dominate their lives for quite some time.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels (Penultimate Episode)

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 13 “Railroad Men” (B)

I guess we’re getting somewhere, but it’s about time given that this show has just one hour left before it’s done for good. Louise telegraphing the excitement of the race to lay down the railroad track that would seal a victory for either the Union Pacific or the Central Pacific was demonstrative of the down-to-the-second nature of this competition. Jim choosing to poach both Cullen and Mickey’s men just two days before the railroad was complete seemed deliberate and antagonistic, but he’s beyond caring about any of that because of how he was summarily dismissed from his position at the railroad. While Durant and Mickey use intimidation and anger to ensure that their employees are obedient, Cullen is actually good to them, hence Psalms’ decision to lead his people over to the other side at just the moment that they could have helped Durant finish. Huntington conceding to Durant so that the corners he cut would not come to light was disappointing, and the only mediocre comfort was Cullen’s refusal to respond to Durant rubbing in his victory by simply congratulating him and moving on. Cullen’s poor state and apparent heart attack were deeply disquieting, and it seems like Cullen may not be long for this world, possibly even dead as of the opening of the series finale. If he’s gone, who’s left on this show? I’ll reserve judgment until I see where it all goes, but I’m really starting to wonder whether the second half of this fifth season has been necessary at all or if the show could just have been concluded a year ago.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 3 “I’ve Seen the Other Side of You” (B+)

At first, I thought that this episode was going to be a flashback to the crew of the Raza before they got their memories wiped and first discovered their stowaway on board, but instead we got to see Two, Three, and Four returned to their former states when the neural scans taken by the ship previously replaced their present predilections. Five arguing their own merits to them and telling them that they had evolved to be better and more humans than this was probably the most compelling part of the hour, and, as usual, the Android proved totally reliable even though she was unconscious most of the time rebooting herself to try to reestablish a neural link with the ship. Two with knowledge of her nanites and the powers she has is a formidable threat, eager to take on a challenge and neutralize any enemies that stand in her path. Three and Four were simply less pensive and understanding, and it’s good that the three of them have all been returned to their former states. As if their behavior wasn’t enough to make their new friends nervous about being on the ship with them, the actual traitorous nature of one such guest is what’s going to present the next and biggest problem for this crew to try to outrun. We have yet to see if any of them will really take to this crew and help to replace One, but for now it’s the four conscious originals who have to try to fight for their lives.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 5 “We’ll Always Have Baltimore” (B+)

I’m not sure I’ve properly lauded Brad William Henke as the single best addition to this cast this season, which is saying a lot given how great the first five episodes of this already great show have been. As Piscatella, he is uniformly (pun intended) hilarious, so committed to the seriousness of his job that he can’t help but take himself too seriously. His comment about having two beards to Piper was the best example, telling her to cut out her flirtatious act since, as he so dryly put, he’s “into dudes.” His endorsement of Piper’s community carers initiative made some sense, but in a short time, she’s managed to accidentally create a white supremacist group worse than the enemy she sought to quell that only Gina is smart enough to realize is totally crazy. I love how this show transitions into its flashbacks, telling Maritza’s backstory after she stood up for herself when the guards were sexually harassing her and showing how the surprisingly intelligent but hard to read con woman got her promotion from small-time bar scams to major auto theft. Caputo’s visit to the CorretiCon was quite enlightening, and Danny’s guest appearance was disruptive to say the least. It’s nice to see that Linda wasn’t actually upset about Caputo’s behavior, and they got to have themselves a bit of twisted prison fun to celebrate his chivalry. In entertaining subplots, I’m definitely enjoying Crazy Eyes’ hunt for the shower pooper and Taystee’s use of her free time while Caputo is away. I’m intrigued by the introduction of Alison’s cell phone, and I loved Soso’s failed attempt to explain complicated mathematical equations to a puzzled and disgusted Aleida.

Friday, July 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 8 “Guilty as Sin” (B)

This episode redirected the plot in a major way, one that I’m not entirely sure I’m behind. I remember Scott Glenn’s Stick from season one and had all but forgotten about him as one of the precious few well aware of Matt Murdock’s capabilities. Having him show up to save the day when Matt and Elektra were about to be face certain death at the hands of the Yakuza was cool, but it turns out that he’s much more involved than anyone realized. The notion that Elektra tried to turn Matt into something he wasn’t because she’s been working for Stick all along is intriguing, as is the fact that she wants to be with Matt but can’t help her need to kill when her instinct tells her to. That to me is much more interesting than the fairy tale that Stick told Matt which I feel like might dominate the storyline for the near future. I’m also very into the extreme hostility that both Foggy and Karen are throwing at Matt as he managed to show up for very little of the case and mess things up by inciting Frank to confess unapologetically to enjoying all his kills. Having him escorted through a maximum-security prison to meet with one Wilson Fisk is definitely a twist, and something tells me that the man who hates Daredevil more than anything is going to want to enlist the number one new vigilante in town to help exact some revenge on the masked man who got him sent to prison. I’m not sure how the Punisher can help with that at the moment, but I’m sure we’ll find out in the next episode – this show is not too subtle.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 8 “Chapter 47” (B+)

When the Emmy nominations were announced last week, this show received an impressive five mentions in the guest acting races. One of them was for actor Paul Sparks, who makes his first appearance this season in this episode. I couldn’t help thinking of the recent TV roles that the three actors in the opening scene have played, all so different from what they’re doing now. Only Dominique McElligott looked better in her period garb on “Hell on Wheels,” while Joel Kinnaman was lazily disheveled on “The Killing” and Sparks was downright seedy on “Boardwalk Empire.” Fortunately, all three actors are just as strong here in these more polished parts, and I think we’ll see a lot more of them going forward. I can’t quite figure Tom out, but it’s interesting to see how open the Underwoods are with him, not concerned with hiding their manipulative nature since he does know them well. What they did with Senator Austen, on the other hand, was downright deplorable but hardly anything new. Kate is playing right into their games without knowing it, and hopefully she and the intrepid Tom, who had a eureka moment when he realized that the pizza shop owner recognized Meechum, will be able to build a case against the Underwoods without getting themselves destroyed by the power couple in the process. General Brockhart’s resignation and decision to accept the offer to be Conway’s running mate are two things that he’s going to come to regret soon no matter who ends up winning the election.

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 3 “Cool for the Summer” (B+)

This show is proving most serial in format than it was last year, and I think that’s a great thing. In this installment, we get a direct continuation of the threesomes plotline from last week, with both Gigi and Ava ensuring that the things they learned during their experiences inviting women into their bedrooms are imparted on the men with whom they share their lives. Flash’s concern about not being a good kisser shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but he let it get the best of him and overwhelm his every thought. Ava’s offer to help him was probably a bad idea given that it’s going to rekindle some of their old passion, but when has this crew ever been compelled to only take action on good ideas? Johnny was understandably distraught by Ava’s criticism of a particular set of his abilities in the bedroom. The best part of the whole episode was that the solution was for Johnny to turn to Gigi’s new fake girlfriend Davvy for advice on how to improve in that area, something that couldn’t possibly be more awkward given that she’s shared such intimate details with his daughter. I hope that Davvy will continue to be a part of this show for the foreseeable future since she definitely adds a lot and helps every other member of the cast with whom she interacts step up their game a little bit. I’m not overly fond of the subplot involving Rehab, Bambam, and their new side career, but it does have its entertaining moments.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot (Season Premiere)

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 “” and “” (B+)

This double episode aired the night before the Emmy nominations came out and this show scored a very deserved Best Drama Series nod in addition to a few other mentions. I still contend that this is probably the most uniquely interesting show currently on the air, and this premiere only further strengthens that argument. In the wake of the increasingly shocking revelations in each and every episode last year, this premiere found Elliot struggling to keep a handle on what’s real. His regimen and his constant narration was, as usual, fascinating, and he seemed to be doing okay, listening to his friend talk incessantly about Seinfeld and staying away from the temptation to hack. The continued presence of Mr. Robot and his attempts to convince Elliot that, when people saw him, they actually saw Mr. Robot rather than Elliot, were enormously intriguing, especially when Craig Robinson, the strangest choice to appear in a role on this show yet, told Elliot that they had spoken much more than he seemed to acknowledge. The rest of the characters are up to some crazy stuff, with Darlene organizing a show featuring EvilCorp torching nearly $6 million, Angela finding a sense of cutthroat purpose in her new role, Joanna continuing to indulge her desires even without Tyrell, and a distraught Gideon apparently being killed by an a man who thought the world would be better off without him. It’s going to take a while to make sense of all this, but that’s the hook of this cool show.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 7 “Threesomes” (B+)

This was a pretty transformative sexual episode for all three of our characters, though not in expected ways for most of them. Alex playing into the relationship with Fallon to make Sarah jealous was an interesting and dangerous road to tread, but it turns out that she was doing the same thing. Britt Robertson, formerly of such short-lived series as “Life Unexpected” and “The Secret Circle,” is actually pretty terrific as Fallon, who is much more layered than expected, though not necessarily in the most sophisticated way. The fact that she carries around instructions on how to make her drink on a card to give to waiters is extremely high-maintenance, and she seems even more delusional than Alex in her pursuit of her engaged boss. I enjoyed watching the two of them try to convince a party guest of the quality of “The O.C.” before Fallon gave him notes on his performance. Her point about being racist for thinking that calling Koreans Koreans was racist demonstrated a sort of strange intellectual capacity to her. Sarah showing up to make out with him at the end of the episode was a nice surprise, and we’ll see where that goes. Laura engaged in just about the most casual threesome ever, which clearly made Aubrey more uncomfortable than she was. It was sweet to see the two of them holding hands as the affable Spencer lay next to them smiling. Valerie is throwing herself fully onto the wild ride that is Jack, and it did great things for her up until she realized just home impermanent it really was.

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

Difficult People: Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 “Unplugged” and “Kessler Epstein Foundation” (B-)

I thought I would give this show another chance even though I wasn’t in love with the first season, and I think this hourlong opener was more than enough for me to decide that I don’t need to be watching this show anymore. It’s entertaining and often even funny, sure, but it’s a lot to handle, with more eye rolls than anything else. Julie deciding that she needs to start going to synagogue so that she can make connections was a futile effort from the start, and she did not take well to the idea of unplugging and walking for twenty minutes. Billy seemed ready to take a chance on his latest gym by taking the old-timey Cecil, a relationship that might have gone better were it not for his Nazi leanings. Trying to create their own version of the Ice Bucket Challenge was a totally absurd and typical thing, and of course they managed to kill Nathan Lane after Bernie Madoff ended up being their number one celebrity endorser. The guest spots from famous comedians playing themselves are actually pretty good, with Tina Fey and Nathan Lane giving solid turns that were probably funnier than seeing James Spader don a 75-piece suit would have been. Everything that happens at the restaurant, however, is emblematic of what’s wrong with this show. Matthew is the best example of unnecessarily exaggerated supporting players who feel the need to compete with both Julie and Billy to assert themselves, and the trans conspiracy theorist new hire is exactly the same. I think I’ll stick to “Casual.”

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 2, Episode 12 “Blood Washed Away” (B-)

This was another episode that didn’t have the proper sense of urgency, that instead focused on more aimless wandering, both in the past and in the red forest future, and ended on a very strange note that makes it seem like this show only has two characters left alive. Skipping the eleven months that Cole and Cassie spent establishing lives in 1957 might have been worthwhile, and as a result we opened with them at each other’s throats. It’s hardly the first time that they’ve found the wrong primary, and just as often they seem to let that primary be killed so that a paradox can be caused. For some reason, in this version of the past, Cassie goes into a coma, comes out six months later and becomes a nurse diagnosing people with future diseases, and then finds Cole at a house that really belongs in the red forest. Ending the episode with shots of Cole and Cassie finally getting together interspersed with images of Ramse, Deacon, and the daughters being stabbed by members of the 12 Monkeys was odd and highly unexpected. I enjoyed Jennifer reading off fortune cookie messages and saying “spoiler alert” to preface her words of unwisdom, and I’m not sure where we go from here if everyone is dead. I’m hopeful that the finale will clean things up a bit, but the second half of this season has been uneven and unfocused to say the least. Let’s get back to a place where everyone we know is still alive – it’s time to reset time,

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 3 “Little Bill Primm's Big Green Horseshoe” (B+)

I watched this episode with a renewed enthusiasm for this show since it got nominated for five Emmys this year, up from the lone acting nominations it received in years past. Things got dark very quickly after Abby thought that Bridget was just storming in after she had confronted her regarding her continued relationship with Dunellen and it turned out that an assassin had broken into their home instead. Seeing Ray count to ten to calm himself down felt strange, but it’s clear that he has changed, resorting to violence only when necessary, like in the case of the lawyer who didn’t want to discuss the relationship between Sonia and Belikov. Muncie being murdered was a brutal shock, and to think that this could all be solved by Ray paying Sonia off and getting Belikov out of prison is crazy. What happened in the meantime was very worthwhile, as Bunchy got to get out some aggression on an eager Teresa, who started going into labor and had to break the house arrest Ray was imposing despite Avi’s helpful offer to deliver the baby right there. Avi played a cool part in this episode, also lecturing Bridget and Connor about appreciating what Ray has done for them. Terry and Darryl having fun quoting “Blazing Saddles” together was a nice treat, and it’s a shame their fun was interrupted not by an assassin but instead by the kid Terry wants to train. Mickey’s latest job went predictably poorly, and I love that the last shot we saw of him was aimless wandering made blissfully wonderful by a text with a photo of his newest grandchild.

Pilot Review: The Night Of

The Night Of (HBO)
Premiered July 10 at 9pm

I don’t usually watch miniseries or TV movies only because there are so many regular series airing on a weekly basis, but, then again, it’s hard to tell what a limited series really is these days with shows like “Fargo” and “True Detective” falling under that category. As I’m finally catching up with my TV, I figured that it was worth checking out this very highly-acclaimed premiere. There’s definitely one hell of a story at play here, with an enormous ensemble and many different threads. The way that this double episode played out was intense since it followed our protagonist, Naz, as he began a simple night that turned into something much, much crazier. It’s good to see Riz Ahmed from “Nightcrawler” and “Four Lions” in a lead role like this, and I think he’s very well-equipped for the part. I also recognized Peyman Moaadi from “A Separation” and “Camp X-Ray” as his father, and there are a handful of other actors in the listed cast with great television resumes. John Turturro made quite an impression towards the end of this premiere, showing up as a seedy lawyer who has good intentions and will do good for his client even if he didn’t ask for his services. This show hasn’t hooked me yet, and I’m not ready to commit, but I think that it’s probably worth giving it another shot to see where it goes next now that all the exposition has been presented and things can proceed from here.

How will it work as a series? This is structured as an eight-episode limited series, much like most other recent anthology series like this, so there will be plenty of time for things to play out and transform over that time. I think it’s exactly the right length – the question is just whether it’s going to prove appealing and involving enough to sustain the commitment.
How long will it last? Reviews have been very strong, which is a good sign. This is based on a British show that had two separate seasons, so something tells me that HBO is going to want to improve their “True Detective” track record and invest in another serial drama. A second season renewal is likely.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 12 “Any Sum Within Reason” (C+)

I’ll be very honest – I’ve been having a tough time getting through the final episodes of this show. It’s hard to believe that it’s been on for five years and that I’ve stayed it with it through that entire time even though I have yet to find a single living person who knows this show exists. I’m noticing here more than I have with any other show that only actors who appeared in the episode are listed in the opening credits, which I think is very unusual since most other shows cite a “credit only” appearance for such occasions. Segmented storytelling like this has worked on shows like “Lost” and “The Walking Dead” and also proven frustrating, and here I think it just feels disjointed. I’m not convinced that Chang or even Mei was deserving of a sendoff episode focused solely on the two of them that just ended up with Chang dead, Mei headed home, and Cullen alone again. There were some intense action moments with Chang utilizing some martial arts skills and then Cullen walking around with his stick and shooting people, and I don’t know that such scenes have ever really felt right on this show. This series has always functioned best as an old-fashioned Western, and though it does have some interesting things to say about Reconstruction and the building of the railroad, I’m hoping it will choose the right topics to focus on for its final two installments and end on a memorable and meaningful note.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 2 “Kill Them All” (B+)

This episode caught me off guard for a number of reasons, but all in a relatively good way. First of all, it was very action-packed, and this intergalactic prison fortress seems to be a thing of the past since our friends and their new friends pulled off a daring escape in a very small window of time. There was no amendment to the scene that we saw at the end of last episode – One really is dead. And things aren’t looking great for Six either, who came back around to the good side of things once he realized that the Galactic Authority was even more evil than the crew of the Raza was alleged to be. That’s the cool ethical hook of this show, since even the kindest and most genuine of characters, Five, had no problem ordering the Android to “kill them all,” a scene which took me by surprise since that’s not like her in any way. That’s it for Franka Potente’s Chief Inspector Shaddick, and now the crew with their newfound friends will have other enemies to worry about as they get away from their current predicament as quickly as possible. I liked the eye exchange of prison schematics that Three received, and Two did a spectacular job of using her secret abilities to her advantage and taking down all the prison guards when she made it to the control room. I’m eager to get to know the new members of the crew and see how long they last as renegade criminals on the run.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 4 “Doctor Psycho” (B+)

It’s a rare thing that a male character gets to be the focus of the flashbacks in an episode. What’s most interesting about it is that the flashbacks aren’t charting Healy’s course towards his time spent in prison because of some mistake the he made to put him there, but rather the events that led him to choose a career in prison counseling. His failure to connect with Judy, on top of his increasingly less warm relationship with Red, hit him hard, and for a man like Caputo to tell him that he would no longer be able to serve as a counselor to a woman that he thought he had selected for greatness with the brilliant idea to have her teach a cooking class stung even more. That’s what made the timing of Lolly being targeted for lockup in the psych ward perfect, enabling Healy to step in and help a crazy woman realize that she could get back to a good place. That solves more than a few problems in one, since Alex bringing Red in to help with the Lolly situation just resulted in her agreeing with Frieda that they would need to kill her. This was the first we’ve seen of Sophia in a while, and she’s doing all she can to escape her current predicament. It was also wonderful to catch a glimpse of Nicky, a character I miss dearly, and I hope that both of them will return to the show as regular players very soon. It was refreshing to see Pennsatucky confront Doughnuts about him raping her, and the ensuing scene was uncomfortable but important. Piper is continuing to make enemies, and it’s no surprise that someone would want to start a competing business. Aleida is getting out, something that should help her to provide a decent life for Dayonara’s baby but will also mean the end of the newfound bond the incarcerated mother and daughter have formed.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 7 “Semper Fidelis” (B+)

This episode started with a cool montage of potential jurors expressing very different opinions about the Punisher and about whether he was a menace to society or just the vigilante that the city needs. There’s an interesting public nature to this whole trial and the showmanship that’s involved that contrasts greatly with the intricacies of the case which are saved for the privacy of just the judge and the lawyers. I like that Karen and Matt had their own little conversation about the Punisher and the ethics of what he does, and they came out on very different sides of it, with Karen defending him and equating what he does to what Daredevil does. The most worrisome news of the hour was that the doctor who spontaneously confessed to having altered the autopsy reports did so only because he had been threatened by a masked woman, causing his entire testimony – and the fact that he had been compelled to lie – to be thrown out. Matt was rightfully angry with Elektra for that, and she seems to have no qualms about disrupting the case in a major way. The most scathing judgment was reserved for Matt from his good friend Foggy, who insisted that he, and not Elektra, was the problem, unable to fully invest in what is supposed to be taking precedence in his life. Distinguishing between Karen the coworker and Karen the girlfriend is also becomingly increasingly difficult for our hero, and neither one of those people are terribly happy with him right now.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 7 “Chapter 46” (B+)

For the way that some things on this show seem to happen over and over without end, other things change at a moment’s notice and head in a completely different direction. It seemed that, after Dunbar was honest and gave her testimony about having met with Goodwin, she was determined to stay in the race if only to prove that she wouldn’t be intimidated into backing down to corruption. That didn’t last long, and now she’s out of the race. But not a moment passed before Frank’s attention turned to his new major rival – the Republican candidate. If you had asked me to pick any actor to play his opponent, it would not have been Joel Kinnaman, who I named as the Series MVP for “The Killing,” the depressing Seattle-set crime drama that aired for four years on AMC and Netflix. He was great there, to be sure, but this is a completely different character, one who is warm, friendly, and, at least compared to Frank, pretty open and honest. I did not recognize the actress who plays Conway’s wife, and it’s great to see Dominique McElligott, who was one of the best things about the early seasons of “Hell on Wheels,” back on TV. I love what was done with the snippets we saw of him before we knew who he was that later ended up as endearing home video footage for the country to fall in love with him after he acknowledged his search engine investment. Seeing the flashback to Frank introducing Conway to Walker felt like a real throwback, and Conway didn’t waste any time calling Frank up to talk to him one-on-one. I can’t even figure out what Frank is up to trying to shop Donald around as his running mate, and no one aside from him seems to want it. But now that this new Frank is actually interested in Claire and wants to help her practice for her interview, they’re a team united again, both set on destroying Conway and continuing their quest for omniscient power.

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 2 “Rebel Rebel” (B+)

I’m honestly surprised that it took this show this long to get to the topic of threesomes and just how casually all of its characters treat the idea of inviting an extra person into their bedrooms. I love that Johnny was the one who suggested couples therapy and Ava overruled him, citing her desire for a threesome. Of course everyone in the group would be well aware of Flash’s inability to contain his excitement during a threesome decades earlier, and this would be normal breakfast table conversation for this crew. Gigi’s view that it would be helpful to have someone else there to take over if she got distracted by her phone was pretty hilarious. Her awkward behavior when she went after the girl Flash found, singer Davvy, who was fantastically played by Rebecca Naomi Jones, was even more entertaining, and I enjoyed the way that it progressed and nearly fizzled out until they got some inspiration from Ava’s experience. Johnny brushing his teeth and drinking gallons of mouthwash while the girls were getting started without him was funny, and then he ruined the moment by getting excited too quickly, but they didn’t mind and just kept going without him, exiling him to the kitchen where he in turn got asked to leave the apartment so that Gigi could have some fun. This episode was best summed up by the line, “Don’t want to die monogamous, right?” Only this show could pull it off like this, and what a spectacular job it did without being too explicit.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 6 “100 Cows” (B+)

I’m not sure what exactly Alex meant to do by sending Sarah 10,000 cows, but he sure managed to rile things up. While she stopped by to yell at him after ignoring him up until that point, the much bigger problem he created for himself was his newfound relationship with the receptionist. She was very into him and didn’t want to be ignored, but she’s also totally cray, putting $10,000 on his card when he asked her to buy chairs and then disclosing their relationship to human resources and anyone else who would listen after they slept together once. The worst part of all this is that he’s going to seem noncommittal or unenthusiastic when she’s far more into all this and moving things ahead at an unfathomable pace. Valerie had a nice time trying something new and rescuing a mediocre date, and apparently she wants to keep her options open and even double-booked when her would-be suitor didn’t call to put a night on the calendar. Kudos to Aubrey and Laura for compelling two guys who wanted to see girls kiss to kiss each other instead, and it seems that, even though Aubrey isn’t exactly exclusive, this budding relationship is heading in a good direction for the moment. Did anyone else notice that Laura was wearing a Hebrew Coca-Cola shirt throughout this episode? It didn’t have any relevance to the plot; it’s just an interesting unmentioned backdrop occurrence that I’d be curious to know if was intentional on the part of the writers or costume designers.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 2 “Marisol” (B+)

It barely even registered that Lisa Bonet appeared in the season premiere as Hector’s half-sister, but she made an unforgettable impression here. Getting snatched by Ray and Lena as she was about to tell the world about her sexual history with her brother was just the start of it, and she proved to be very feisty, challenging Ray constantly, baiting Lena, and then escaping out of his car in the middle of a crowded street. It’s crazy that Marisol knows so much about Ray, openly asking him whether he was molested by a priest, and he did not take well to her being so brutally honest and belligerent. Romero not being supportive of how Ray handled the situation is an interesting new component of the show, especially since Ray was hardly ethical about the other business that occupied his time in this hour. Muncie didn’t seem to mind how Ray gave her what he had to trade for Mickey’s freedom, and now Mickey is off to get himself into more trouble. Terry is spiraling downward, defeated at his inability to pursue the thief who snatched Abby’s purse before offering to train him and giving him the tickets to the fight. Bunchy being intimidated by Theresa’s constant sexual desires made for an entertaining and sweet trip to a sex shop. I don’t think the purchase of a vibrator has ever been quite so romantic, and it’s nice to see that Theresa appreciates the man she married, who will soon be the father of their child.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Episode 11 “Gambit” (B-)

I was pretty sure that there were still three episodes to go after this one, and that made the flash-forward to 1885 at the start of this hour come as a bit of a surprise. Some series do tend to jump ahead once they’re closing in on their finales, but it seemed a bit premature. Weirder still is that this hour didn’t feature Cullen at all, and Anson Mount’s name didn’t even appear in the credits (like a few weeks ago when only Mount and Heyerdahl were cited since they were the ones with screentime). Instead, we got a spotlight on Durant, a man so despicable that no one even wanted to pay his ransom. After Louise figured out that Durant must have staged his own kidnapping, Maggie sold her hotel and came out alone to pay the ransom, and paid for that trusting mistake with her life. Mickey could have shot Shea a lot earlier and saved a few lives, and seeing him come back crying to Eva about killing his cousin and killing his brother made the unsympathetic Irishman seem pathetic rather than at all endearing. I liked Maggie, I like Louise, and I’m fond of Eva, but the men on this show, aside from Cullen himself, are pretty worthless as people. Without Maggie to keep him honest, Durant is sure to go right back to his scheming ways, and it seems like he gets there in a sense, but he’s going to pretty lonely along the way.

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

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 1 “Welcome to Your New Home” (B+)

This show was one of my unsung favorites of last season, and it’s one that I make sure to mention if people ask me for a good off-the-radar series. The finale set things in a whole new direction, with Six revealed as the one who turned them all in and the other five being carted off to some unknown future. It turns out that what it means for Two, Three, and Four is imprisonment in a very futuristic facility in which guards shoot rabble-rousers with intense knockout tasers and instantly quell any sort of mass unrest sonically by knocking everyone out. I’m excited that our friends, the less scrupulous and ethically-inclined of the six, are already planning an escape, and they seem to have found an interesting new ally. One had lawyers at his disposal to help him, but he got into trouble and now appears to have been killed by the real Jace Corso, a development I can’t believe actually happened. Five’s unhappiness seemed to come most from being separated from her friends, but it seems that now she and One may be lumped back in with their criminal colleagues and set for some miserable fate as Six was revealed of his duty. I was surprised to see Franka Potente as the Chief Inspector, and I’m eager to see what role she will play in the coming episodes. I like that this show has evolved and is charting a new course for season two, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pilot Review: Marcella

Marcella (Netflix)
Premiered July 1

I like to try everything that Netflix has to offer if I can, even if it’s imported from another network since it’s presumably acquired and distributed with good judgment. I’m also usually a fan of dark thrillers about serial killers, but I’m finding more and more lately than this genre isn’t always a great fit for eager new shows. This iTV import stars Anna Friel, who I and many American audiences got to know from her endearing role on “Pushing Daisies” and who then appeared in the short-lived “Allegiance.” Now she’s back at home in London in a much moodier, grimmer show about a cop back on the case after a long break. What sets this show apart more than the disturbing natures of its crime is Marcella’s extremely unstable state. She gives Carrie Mathison a run for her money, particularly when she started hitting Jason, pushed him down the stairs, and then blacked out, coming to only when he had already gone with no recollection of what happened in between. She’s a very volatile character, and I’m sure she’ll make a fascinating protagonist. I see Jamie Bamber from “Battlestar Galactica” listed as a series regular, but it looks like he doesn’t appear until episode two. I was excited to recognize Laura Carmichael, best known for playing Edith on “Downton Abbey,” as a woman tangentially connected to whatever’s going on. This premiere didn’t hook me and I don’t intend to revisit this show, but it is relatively intriguing and will probably head somewhere interesting.

How will it work as a series? This is structured as an eight-episode first season, and Marcella has already become very embroiled in this case, so I’m sure that there are plenty of avenues that this story can take. There are certainly enough characters, so I imagine this complex drama will be more than capable of spinning its tale.
How long will it last? Reports from May, when the show finished airing in the UK, indicated that Friel was signed on for two more seasons even though the show hasn’t actually been renewed. I think it could easily continue, and my suspicion is that Netflix will continue to partner in streaming it if iTV brings it back.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 3 “Don’t Say Anything” (B+)

I’m really enjoying the choices that this show is making this season for who gets the flashbacks in each episode, and I don’t think it’s a problem that we’re not even seeing what eventually sent each of them to prison even though I am curious. Seeing Soso fight against Walmart and willfully go to a sex offender’s house to win a bet was extremely intriguing, and she really is all about giving people a chance. That’s what made the things she told Judy in order to get her to talk to Poussey seem like she was just full of hot air, but they came back around to a nice place. They’re definitely a great couple even if they take too long on the basketball court. Taystee’s new job as Caputo’s secretary is fantastic, and I love how she continues to take notes but can’t figure out how to transfer a phone call. Caputo’s date with Linda was fun even if it wasn’t actually proposed by her. Vince confessing that he lives with his parents and his little brother didn’t go over too poorly, and it was equally sweet and disturbing to see Vince and Lorna engage in full, loud role play with all of the other inmates and their visitors present. Lolly is definitely going to be a problem, and Frieda emotionlessly reporting that she already moved the body and then confirming moments later to Alex that she definitely didn’t do that indicates that she may soon try to make sure that Lolly doesn’t continue to cause any trouble.

What I’m Watching: Daredevil

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 6 “Regrets Only” (B+)

Elektra is quite the character, pulling down her mask and asking Matt if he was hungry after the big opening fight sequence. At first, Matt was very resistant to her plan, constantly judging her and being sarcastic in a way that he isn’t with anyone else in his life. Scoffing at her rule that they can’t have sex was funny, but it seems that she’s intent on dominating his life in a big way that he’s not ready for given everything else that he has going on. They do make a pretty terrific team, and thinking fast to pretend that they were having sex was a smart and effective move. Elektra is into some dangerous staff, and the two of them are only going to be lucky for so long before they get into serious trouble. I thought that the Punisher getting caught was going to be the last we saw of him, but instead we get a much more interesting new direction for things to go in. We previously saw the Punisher talking openly to Daredevil about his family and his suffering, and now we get to see Frank Castle the person thanking Karen for helping him to remember and then going against the decision for him to plead guilty and entering the opposite plea, making way for a major trial that is likely to dominate the rest of the season. Matt and Karen’s date was awkward at first, but it was really nice to see them revel in simplicity and enjoy the beautiful ceiling whose images Karen conveyed to Matt.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 6 “Chapter 45” (B)

It almost seems like it was never a possibility that Frank wasn’t going to recover, though Doug was the only one totally secure in that belief from the start. Obviously, Kevin Spacey is the star of the show and there’s no way it could go on without him, but it’s pretty crazy to think about just how much Claire was able to do while he was unconscious in the hospital. Getting into Donald’s ear was the important step, and somehow she managed to get herself on a plane to Brandenburg after being specifically disinvited from the trip and then negotiated a deal with Petrov all by herself. Not turning the plane around and refusing to take Frank’s call when he regained consciousness were monumental power plays, and that made it all the more impactful when, after a weak Frank told her that he wanted her back, she decided to stand by him and, at least for the moment, rethink leaving him. It’s way too early to tell whether that’s going to last, but it’s definitely an interesting turn of events. Doug crossed a line – not the first one, of course – getting Frank bumped to the top of the transplant list, and he didn’t even seem fazed by getting an e-mail with a picture of the man he let die and his family. Jackie and Remy’s relationship seems like it’s winding down now that Jackie is furious about Remy for caving to Claire’s pressure. Seeing some of Frank’s demons in his fever dream was haunting, and they seem like such distant memories.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 1 “All That Glitters is Gold” (B+)

I totally forgot this show was coming back, and I’m so glad it’s returned. I wasn’t sure who had died at the start of this episode and if I had just forgotten that it happened, but then I realized it didn’t matter. The funeral was just a way for the band to realize that they aren’t going to live forever and for them to move almost immediately to commenting about the aesthetics of the very showy funeral. Ava trying to find a good picture of herself so that she’d have it ready in case she died was a fun start, and things got much more dramatic when Gigi rushed to watch the footage which showed that Ava had quite the relationship with Flash which neither of them bothered to tell anyone about. Johnny being upset that it was a yearlong affair and not just sex was about as legitimate as his frustration that he couldn’t afford to smash Flash’s guitars. The band processing what happened was actually therapeutic – and quite enjoyable – and now it seems like they’re moving past it in the way that only a rock band could. Putting Mickey’s ashes in the maracas was a wonderfully twisted solution, and Bam Bam’s pep talk was pretty great too. My favorite part was Ava acknowledging the incomparable awkwardness of the situation in her pep talk to Gigi, coaching her ex-boyfriend’s daughter on why she should be with the man with whom they both slept. This show is wild and unique, and I’m pumped for this season.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 5 “Bicycle Thieves” (B+)

The opening scene of this episode was quite intense, with an apparent power play by Sara and then the reveal that it was all a dream in which Alex was standing naked in front of his ex-girlfriend in his office. It’s interesting to see how much she got in his head and how that affects his daily life. He’s hardly the model employee, and the conversation that he had with Jordan exemplifies his inability to truly comprehend his situation. Being asked to come in before 11:30am and to wear something presentable shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for a professional organization, and Alex doesn’t do much while he’s at work other than think about things like his ex-girlfriend. Stopping by to see his father and learning that she wasn’t crazy, just fully aware that he was unfaithful, is clearly going to set him back a lot. Valerie is in a fine place with her new best friend, but it’s obviously wearing on her relationship with her loyal assistant, and she has absolutely no idea that it’s bothering her. It was inevitable that Laura and Aubrey’s friendship would evolve into something more, and Laura seems really happy at the moment, which is great. It can’t possibly last, and hopefully she’ll come through this experience with a positive attitude on life and romance, one far more sophisticated and fulfilling than the lust she felt for the older teacher who knew he could never cross an uncrossable line to be with her.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 2, Episode 11 “Resurrection” (B)

I’m not entirely sure what the plan is here since time travel is no longer the way that our friends are going to save time, and one thing that happened in this episode would almost certainly create a paradox in just about every other cinematic interpretation of time travel. I’ve always thought that this show had a much more complicated theory about the way time travel works but hadn’t ever gotten to the place it wanted to, but I still have faith that it will get there, especially after this destroying-time nonsense is hopefully resolved by season’s end. Following the yellow brick road in Jennifer’s head to find the witness in the red forest is one thing, but what was really trippy was Cole going back to the moment he left to bring the Jennifer from 2016 to 2044 so that her daughters wouldn’t kill everyone. What’s most intriguing about it is that the elder Jennifer’s whole entire role as mother to many was based on her traveling to the future to see the part that she would play and be inspired to greatness. As usual, Jennifer’s token eccentric nature was my favorite part, with her line about how you must be this tall to ride this ride as the standout of the hour. Dr. Adler is no longer a part of this world, and it seems like Jones might also be doomed to being consumed by the red forest’s increasing reach. I suspect that Jones will be back in a major way, even if not in the future, and I also think that time might have a way of resetting itself once the newly reunited team of Cole and Cassie put things right and set time back on track.

What I’m Watching: Veep (Season Finale)

Veep: Season 5, Episode 10 “Inauguration” (B+)

Well, this is not how I expected this to go, and I have no idea where this show goes from here. After Mike announced publicly that Selina would never be veep again, she reluctantly agreed to be Tom’s vice president after he refused to consider appointing her secretary of state. And then things combusted in a big way and Tom didn’t even win. Instead, we got Laura Montez, a woman who is very much purely American yet insists on trying to paint herself as Mexican despite Selina’s constant attempts to point out that she is very much not that. I wasn’t sure it was her at first, but how fantastic is it that the versatile Andrea Savage, who may also be joining “iZombie” in a recurring role, is now playing the president of the United States? Doyle’s betrayal made sense, and Selina can’t be surprised given how she treats people. Mike getting a six-year-old Chinese kid rather than a baby is pretty absurd, but it’s hardly shocking that he wouldn’t even notice her age. Gary losing it and cursing everyone out for not being loyal to Selina was quite a show, and something tells me he’s going to take home his third Emmy for that scene. Jonah requesting hot interns and ending up with guys that he really liked was entertaining, and I love that Richard was the one who, late at night, shared a drink with Selina as she was preparing to transition to her new life. This wasn’t this show’s best season, but it was still plenty of fun.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Sam Richardson as Richard

Friday, July 15, 2016

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

Silicon Valley: Season 3, Episode 10 “The Uptick” (B+)

If you asked me to plot out a season of this show from where it would start to where it would end, I couldn’t possibly dream it up. What’s really great about this episode is that it completely negated the worrisome development that occurred last year and totally vindicated Jared both because everyone knew what he had done and no one cared. Erlich initially got interest by talking about the uptick, which prompted Laurie to try to sell the company, and then she did it but sold it to Bachmanity rather than to Gavin. It’s fun to think that, while Patrice’s tell-all did nothing since Gavin just bought the blog, Erlich used the profits to bail out Pied Piper. The instant transformation of Pied Piper from compression platform to video chat utility is crazy, but I guess that’s just what startups can be like. I’m very pleased to see that Big Head is staying in the picture, since, despite his complete inability to seem even remotely intelligent, he is a genuinely nice, good-natured guy. This has been a very enjoyable season full of game-changing redirects, and I think this show has really honed its sense of self, mirroring the happenings of the area for which it is named and just riding the next big wave as things happen. The ensemble here is terrific, with Dinesh and Gilfoyle playing particularly entertaining roles, and Laurie and Monica contributing just as much to make one of the most eccentric and enjoyable comedies currently on the air.

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

Pilot Review: Roadies

Roadies (SHO)
Premiered June 26 at 10pm

I have nothing but fond memories of “Almost Famous,” the Oscar-winning film about journalists, groupies, and a band on the road. This show comes from Cameron Crowe, the writer and director of the fantastic 2000 movie, and it’s not hard to see a number of parallels between the two. The unfortunate difference is that this show is set in the present day, which takes away some of the allure and mystique that the film had being set in the 1970s. This feels a lot more like an uncensored version of “Nashville,” a story that doesn’t seem nearly as evolved or as current as the era in which it takes place. There are recognizable faces aplenty in the cast, starting with Luke Wilson, in a return to pay cable following his stint on “Enlightened” a few years back, in a role that is very fitting for him. It’s too bad that Carla Gugino’s part here is most comparable to the part she played on “Entourage” rather than a powerhouse role like in one of my favorite cancelled shows, “Threshold.” I couldn’t figure out who she was until I looked it up, but the undeniable star of this show is Imogen Poots, who really wowed me in “The Look of Love” at Sundance in 2013 as Paul Raymond’s daughter and has the meatiest and most enticing part here. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar-nominated child star of “Whale Rider,” is also in the ensemble, in a role about as big and significant as the one she’s been playing on “Game of Thrones.” There’s much drama to be found here, and some comedy too, but I couldn’t make it past ten minutes of episode two of this mediocre and unexciting show.

How will it work as a series? There should no be shortage of plotlines and incestuous adventures to be covered, and there might even be some profound commentary about the business laced in with all of that. It could be fun and interesting, but this is hardly the smash hit that “Almost Famous” was.
How long will it last? Poor reviews and an unspectacular debut don’t suggest a strong and lasting future for this show. I don’t see Showtime fighting to save this series, but a second season might be possible if it’s deemed a worthwhile creative direction.

Pilot grade: C+

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

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 1 “Girl with Guitar” (B+)

This is one of my favorite shows currently on the air, and it’s great to have it as one of the few summer series that’s already started and will enthrall me throughout the summer months. It’s so interesting to see this new Ray, who opens up in support group, asks Lena how she’s doing, and tearfully thanks his whole family for being at the dinner table. Of course, he’s still just as much of a crooked fixer as he used to be, sitting down with an alcoholic cop and plying him with enough drinks to get him into the passenger seat of his police cruiser and crash it so that it looks like he’s had another DUI. I couldn’t recognize Ray’s latest high-stakes suitor, and it turns out that the mysterious Sonia is played by Embeth Davidtz, who I know best from her stint on “In Treatment” and her role in “Junebug.” The other notable guest star of the hour was Ted Levine from “The Bridge” and “Monk” as Bill, the owner of the casino that no longer employs Mickey, who, after getting very high and hallucinating, ended up right back under Detective Muncie’s thumb. Terry’s desire to lead a mission is intriguing, and it’s a shame that he didn’t get approved for his trip. Abby’s big news is very worrisome, and it’s likely that Ray won’t react too well once he finds out that the one potentially stable thing in his life may not be nearly as permanent and lasting as he thought.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Emmy Nominees: Best Comedy Series

My predictions: 5/7, picking “The Big Bang Theory” and “Girls” over “Black-ish” and “Master of None”

So, as predicted, the five eligible nominees from last year are all back. Veep surged to a whopping seventeen nominations, while Silicon Valley got up to seven. Transparent dropped slightly to ten, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fell from seven to four. Most notably, Modern Family, which scored between ten and seventeen nominations for five years in a row, picked up just four, with this and a bid for Ty Burrell its only major mentions. Instead of two past nominees that picked up seven nods (“The Big Bang Theory”) and a grand total of zero (“Girls”), we get two new inclusions. Black-ish moved up from just a nod for series star Anthony Anderson last year to add a lead actress nod and this bid, keeping up this category’s two-for-seven broadcast network representation. And finally, we get Master of None, a show I’ll be happiest for if it submits the episodes that I really liked rather than the ones others did. Should “Casual” have been here? Yes. And “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” too? Yes. But is this a decent list. Sure!

Who should win? Probably “Silicon Valley,” actually.
Who will win? Given its nominations showing, it will be Veep again.

Emmy Nominees: Best Drama Series

My predictions: 5/7, picking “Billions” and “Orange is the New Black” over “The Americans” and “Homeland”

Well, the two shows I predicted that didn’t make the cut did NOT do well today. “Billions” was shut out entirely, and “Orange is the New Black” scored just one nomination – for casting. The Americans finally broke through and made it into the top races, something I’d be much more excited about if I loved the show as much as everyone else seems to. I don’t know why Homeland still needs to be included since this season was not great, and it’s down to four nominations after scoring eleven for its second season back in 2013. For its final season, Downton Abbey is back up to ten nominations. Juggernaut Game of Thrones dropped one notch to a still-whopping 23 nominations. Better Call Saul, which was superb in its second season, stayed steady at seven nominations, and House of Cards moved up to thirteen nominations. I was worried that Mr. Robot wouldn’t make the cut after it didn’t do as well as I had hoped or expected, but fortunately it did score six nominations. This is a good list, sure, but I wish that “Narcos” and “Billions” had made the cut.

Who should win? I’d probably choose “Better Call Saul” or “Mr. Robot”
Who will win? I think Game of Thrones takes it again.