Friday, September 30, 2016

Pilot Review: Aftermath

Aftermath (Syfy)
Premiered September 27 at 10pm

I thought that “The Exorcist” was going to be the disturbing horror series that I wasn’t going to watch at all. I didn’t expect that from a show billed exclusively as sci-fi from the network of the same name, but it turns out that this new show is a huge letdown. It’s possible that there are just too many shows on the air that deal with a post-apocalyptic world, and therefore the standards of what can be expected are much higher. Part of the problem here is that there was an onslaught of scientific and meteorological inconsistencies hitting all at once, and most of the characters barely seemed fazed by it at all. James Tupper’s patriarch is all about religion, and after fleeing some suspicious characters in a Prius, he got to act shocked every time he found out that the family owned a gun when he should have been far more horrified by what was happening to those they had to shoot. I’m not sure who wants to watch a show about “skinwalkers” and how that constitutes as science fiction, and the family’s reaction when Brianna got snatched up by a random flying guy was laughable. The guard telling the family that they had orders to shoot anyone with blood in their mouth on sight was hardly calming, and the governmental attitude towards this inexplicable global crisis is both aggressive and foolhardy. This show doesn’t know what it wants to be, and the post-apocalyptic drama is such a common phenomenon these days that just focusing on the “aftermath” of some event isn’t enough to substantiate a series. I don’t need to see someone cleaning a windshield with a severed head, ever. I’m definitely out.

How will it work as a series? The meteor hitting at the end of the episode was bad news, and something tells me that an inordinate amount of time will be spent on reuniting the family that was so close to being back together. Anyone who has watched “The Walking Dead” can probably predict what comes next, and these characters aren’t nearly as intriguing.
How long will it last? I wasn’t able to find any helpful data on either ratings or reviews, but my suspicion is that this may have been designed as an event series but it’s probably just the kind of show that Syfy wants to see succeed. A second season is possible, but I’ll need to know more before I predict anything.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 6, Episode 2 “Hubbedy Bubby” (B-)

This episode felt strange to me because it tackled something that’s currently happening in our world in an explicit and not at all modified way. Many shows, more often dramas than comedies, deal with major issues that are considered relevant headlines. But I don’t think I’ve seen a show that names current political candidates and has characters actively out campaigning for them. Jess voting for Hillary makes total sense, and her assumption that Schmidt would be gung-ho for Trump was also logical. I like that he’s all about Paul Ryan in 2020, but something tells me that he would be a bit more concerned with what was going to happen in the 2016 election. The episode wasn’t in any particular rush to get anywhere, and Jess spent much more time getting drunk and thriving on being popular with the sorority girls than anything else. Winston’s heavy involvement in Nick’s phone sex was over-the-top, though Nick does have a way of freaking out about things that causes him to completely crumble under pressure. What I found far more compelling about this episode was Schmidt’s reaction to everything, first with the mail and then with the envelope-stuffing procedures at the campaign office. His response to Winston’s description of the drawer that contains old mail and dead batteries was priceless, and that’s the Schmidt that earned Max Greenfield an Emmy nomination for the show’s first season. He’s always been the most adult-like in his ability to live on his own, while his roommates clearly have no grasp on how to take care of themselves in the real world.

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 4, Episode 3 “The Pleasure Protocol” (B+)

This episode took an interesting direction as all four of the partners learned some very fascinating information about each other that makes it hard to believe that anyone is telling the truth. I did wonder it was Lester was so interested in photographing when he wasn’t paying close attention to what was happening in the room, and it really didn’t take long at all for Nancy and Art to have their cover blown. Bill was ready to cut them both loose, which is typically hypocritical given how much he kept from Nancy during their intake. Their trip to the movies was intense, and all the progress they made on incorporating roughness into the relationship immediately went horribly wrong when the husband displayed disturbing violent tendencies. Art and Virginia make a much more functional pair, with his excitement feeding her energy, and his burst of honesty following getting caught was impressive. Judy Greer’s return as Alice was fantastic, and she was equally excellent in her scenes with Virginia and Bill, respectively. David Walton usually appears in more comedic-leaning projects like “Bent” and “About a Boy,” and he actually fit in pretty well as a member of Bill’s legal team who nearly started a romance with Libby only to be taken down by her in the most brutal way when she realized who he was. She was the MVP of the episode in an hour of strong acting, and I’m glad to see her given such superb material again. Betty also had a good spotlight, which is nice to see.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What I’m Watching: Quantico (Season Premiere)

Quantico: Season 2, Episode 1 “Kudove” (F)

This is a show that I didn’t love too much from the start and that I kept watching for the entirety of the first season because my wife enjoyed it much more than I did. I’ve officially decided after this abysmal opener that this is the last episode of this show that I’ll watch. It’s no longer fun to trash the show, and I think I could be spending time watching much better shows. I’m disappointed to see that this is essentially the same thing as season one, filling in the gap of the year and what happened to go from things being fine to the next major terror attack. The show’s “Quan2co” image was mildly clever but that was about it, and it’s frustrating to see yet another dorm training situation where, in this case, the head honchos at both the CIA and FBI academies are well aware that every operative is suspect. What these agencies are doing to breed terrorists in their own midst is beyond me, and you’d think their energies would be better spent on counterprogramming rather than enlisting deception artists. Ranking the recruits feels especially silly, and this index card exercise seems like a preposterous way to train people, even more so than the time stamped post-its they all received. I knew right away that Alex’s attacker would be someone she trained with, and it makes absolutely no sense that the terrorists would pretend to be foreign when they’re actually domestic agents. Ending the episode with the First Lady about to be executed with a machete on live television after the President complied with the demands is too over-the-top to even address. This show seems desperate to be relevant, and if it hadn’t already jumped the shark twenty times in season one, this really did it.

Pilot Review: The Exorcist

The Exorcist (FOX)
Premiered September 23 at 9pm

As a critic, I’m theoretically supposed to enjoy all kinds of films and television. But I just can’t do horror. I don’t enjoy being scared, and premises involving ghosts, demons, and the like don’t appeal to me at all. Enduring the pilot of “Supernatural” eleven years ago, “The Sixth Sense,” and “The House of the Devil” were more than enough for me, and that’s probably almost all the horror I’ve ever seen. As a result, I haven’t watched the renowned 1973 Best Picture nominee that inspired this show. I even considered not tuning in for this pilot, but I figured that it was worth watching just to see. I don’t know how much of what I didn’t like was copied from the original film, but I do know that this pilot didn’t change my feelings about the genre one bit. Much of the time was spent leading up to the big possessed reveal with everyone denying that something might actually be wrong, and then when we finally did see the creepy image of one of the daughters crawling at a sprinter’s pace towards the priest, the scene immediately changed to a far too casual shot of her walking around peacefully once the lights were turned on. Nothing about this compels me, and the overacting by all whenever someone is indeed possessed, particularly the person suffering from demonic hosting, is hard to take seriously. While I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily the worst pilot I have seen this fall (we’ll see) or in a while, it’s definitely the show that I’m least interested in watching for a variety of reasons.

How will it work as a series? I’m not really sure. To me, this seems like a one-shot deal, or at least a miniseries since, at some point, the devil will indeed be exorcised (if that’s how it works; I’m honestly not too sure). I watched the trailer for the rest of the season that aired at the end of the episode, and I think the broad scope that the show is attempting to go after might be a bit ambitious and unsuccessful - I just don’t think this was made to be a TV show, especially not with this title.
How long will it last? While this show seems to be getting the better reviews over other high-profile remakes “Lethal Weapon” and “MacGyver,” its ratings weren’t as impressive. Airing on Friday nights is a challenge but FOX may not be too demanding. At this point, it’s too early to tell, but things could go either way.

Pilot grade: F

Pilot Review: MacGyver

MacGyver (CBS)
Premiered September 23 at 8pm

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the TV I’ve watched over the past twelve or so years, but when I’m watching an action show, I want to see something exciting. I’ve grown accustomed to stunts like turning a plane upside down to put out a fire on “Human Target,” and if I’m going to watch a show that’s purely about the thrills, it needs to include some great stuff. I’m not familiar at all with the show that inspired this one aside from a knowledge of the name and what it means, and I feel like I’ve written about shows being remade because the television landscape is completely out of ideas so many times recently. It’s not surprising that CBS, a network that loves procedurals, opted to bring this series, which originally aired on ABC, back, and if it’s going to find success, I think this is where it would be able to do that, especially on a Friday night, one that might attract the type of audience this show wants to. Aside from the lackluster action, the show suffers from having an undynamic lead. Lucas Till is reminiscent of a sedated version of Chris Hemsworth, and he lacks the charisma to be able to tackle this role. Every time he spoke about coming up with a solution to a problem with the things around him, I got nostalgic for “Burn Notice,” where a far less emotive voice would describe in considerably more compelling detail the way that he was going to turn the tables and get out of a tight spot. In the supporting cast, George Eads of “CSI” fame is quite the jokester and Sandrine Holt is trapped in a terribly bland role that doesn’t do her time spent on “House of Cards,” “Hostages,” and “Mr. Robot” justice. We also have Tracy Spiridakos from “Revolution,” who is fortunately much better at acting here but trapped in an insanely predictable role as the turncoat love interest who is obviously going to play a major part in the show going forward. I know he was just a guest star, but seeing Vinnie Jones made me wish that “Galavant” was still on the air. Oh well, it’s series like this that seem to be all the rage now. This show didn’t do much to entice me, and I’ll have little trouble forgetting all about it.

How will it work as a series? The job that MacGyver has means that he’s never going to run out of missions, and even if the plot gets stale because Spiridakos’ Nikki becomes too distracting or not distracting enough or the team is boring, there’s still the possibility that the energy level and creativity could come back in any given episode since each mission represents a new opportunity for action.
How long will it last? Well, CBS is very demanding when it comes to ratings. Besting any show in the timeslot on the network in the past eleven years certainly qualifies as meeting that demand, and outperforming every other series of the night only adds to its success. Never mind poor reviews – this show is all but guaranteed to be renewed.

Pilot grade: C-

What I’m Watching: Longmire (Season Premiere)

Longmire: Season 5, Episode 1 “A Fog That Won’t Lift” (B+)

I’ve often described myself as the youngest viewer of this show which regularly attracts audience members in their seventies, an unsubstantiated fact that’s exaggerated from ratings reports from the network that used to air this show. It’s also significant since it is the first series acquired by Netflix to receive a renewal after being revived following its cancellation despite being the highest-rated series on its network, and therefore this fifth season feels like a real treat. I’ll admit that I didn’t remember anything about the season four finale that aired a full year ago, namely Walt getting shot and Mathias discovering that Henry is Hector. What’s very clear is that Walt is in bad shape, and his unwillingness to take time to recuperate has already led to him losing consciousness twice and generally seeming unwell around those who are more than ready to pounce on him and take advantage of his weakness. Vic kissing him was an interesting development, though she clarified that in a major way after eviscerating Walt for spitting out his pill like a child. Things aren’t looking good for Donna, and I do hope that she’s alright. The way that Mathias is using Henry now that he knows about his alter ego is interesting, and I think Walt is way too out of it right now to put it together. Cady’s news about her new job did not go over well, and that’s obviously going to remain a point of contention even after Walt recovers. I look forward to another sophisticated and enthralling season of this show.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What I’m Watching: Transparent (Season Premiere)

Transparent: Season 3, Episode 1 “Elizah” (B+)

Fresh off another Emmy win for actor Jeffrey Tambor and another directing trophy for creator Jill Soloway, who triumphantly called to “topple the patriarchy,” this show is back less than a week later with its entire season. As usual, I’ll be taking it one week at a time, stretching the third season out through the end of November. This opening installment was a typically involved, powerful look at characters, featuring just one of the Pfeffermans and a somewhat unexpected appearance from Rabbi Raquel, who introduced the episode by practicing her Passover sermon and spending time in nature, anchoring the thematic content. Maura woke up happy from a truly wonderful night spent together with Vicki, experiencing an emotion that she hadn’t ever really felt. That led to her going in to the hotline with plenty of energy, and she wasn’t at all prepared for a real situation like Elizah. After a rough start, she got into a good rhythm, but going to look for her and asking others if they knew her from the streets represented an unhealthy investment in one particular case. The mood of the episode was jolted when she broke her shoe and then happened upon two people with masking tape and shoe advice who happened to play by J.B. Smoove, better known as Leon from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Denisa Lena Waithe, who plays Denise on “Master of None.” Those two comedic guest stars caught me off guard, and were definitely odd choices in a scene leading up to Maura stealing the Gatorade, being defended by Elizah after she finally found her, and then passing out because of the stress of the situation and the fumes from the nail salon. Calling out to be taken to a particular Jewish hospital was a melancholy ending that showed just how out of control she truly was. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the Pfeffermans are up to, and I’m sure this is going to be a very transformative season.

Round Two: Fleabag

Fleabag: Season 1, Episode 2 (B+)

I’m definitely a fan of this show, and I’m happy to know that it might have a bright future since Amazon was clearly interested enough to bring it over from the United Kingdom for American audiences. It’s not too surprising to learn that Fleabag times breakups with Harry around when the house needs to be cleaned, well aware that he can’t resist the opportunity to tidy up after himself when he’s in distress. Wanting to masturbate without him even being involved isn’t terribly kind, and seeing him take the last little piece of himself wasn’t inspiring. Her description of sex as something she can’t stop thinking about, more the notion of being with someone than the act, was interesting, and speaks to her generally wanting to entertain herself. I enjoyed her reaction to her father walking in after she said that she’d have sex with the next man who walked through the door: “Not ideal.” Running out to buy organic food when eager young customers asked if she had it was a puzzling and definitely sordid move, but the guinea pig managed to scare them away before they ate. I was surprised to see Brett Gelman from “Married” as Martin, who Fleabag has apparently repeatedly accused of watching a certain type of porn when he definitely wasn’t. Her dead friend appearing in many flashbacks adds a more serious, melancholy dimension to the show, and the drama kicks in when the first thing that Fleabag does when she sees signs of a romantic dinner is bolts and then tries to scare the hell out of Harry as a punishment for thinking to try to be kind.

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 2, Episode 4 “The Good, the Bad, and the Dead” (B+)

At a few points throughout this show’s run so far, Pablo has felt very boxed in and started to behave erratically. In this case, however, it was different, since Pablo was ready to have the upper hand, poised to tell the world a story he didn’t even have to make up of Carrillo shooting someone in the head and giving a bullet to a kid to bring to Pablo. His frustration at hearing that no newspapers were running the story was immense, and I didn’t expect him to retaliate in such a brutal fashion. What caught me off guard was Limon’s duplicity, but it makes sense since he was able to find a way to save his girl from Pablo and La Quica by forever indebting Pablo to her even though she thought that she was betraying him. Her link to Javier was much closer than expected, and he’s right to beat himself up for having gone for the bait, even if she wasn’t the one knowingly leading him to it. Pablo likes to make an entrance, and personally killing Carrillo was an important moment for him. In some ways, it’s not as impactful since Steve and Javier weren’t there to witness him pulling the trigger, but they were in bad enough shape when Steve decided to chase a suspect in a really bad neighborhood and nearly get himself cornered. Connie’s return couldn’t have come at a better time, and it’s hard to know whether the Americans not being allowed to go out in the field anymore was the right call that saved their lives or if it’s just going to make things worse. Kudos to Eduardo for making the best of two bad situations and throwing himself on the sword.

Take Three: Better Things

Better Things: Season 1, Episode 3 “Brown” (B+)

Well, I guess it’s worth investing in this show since it has been unsurprisingly renewed for a second season by FX. This episode was the most plot-driven, and it had some truly memorable scenes based around conversations. It’s probably not a great thing about my cultural knowledge that I didn’t recognize Lenny Kravitz as Sam’s new director friend Mel who may or may not have been married. He did a magnificent job winning over everyone in the family, even prompting Mel’s seventy-year-old mother to tell an awful story about purchasing a certain color pantyhose after Sam made the mistake of not warning her that she was bringing home a black man. Sam lacing into Jeff after he insulted Sunny was another fantastic moment, and I’m definitely happy to see Alysia Reiner, best known as Fig on “Orange is the New Black,” as Sam’s number one cheerleader with a vested interest in her having sex with Mel. The fact that both are them are mildly famous enough to know each other is cool, and I like that they decided not to sleep together because they wanted something real to happen. We just got a hint of Sam’s girls being a horror to the babysitter who never wanted to come back, and Frankie liking Mel was a huge score considering how prickly she tends to be. I enjoyed the random David Duchovny cameo we got, a nice throwback to Pamela Adlon’s time on “Californication,” a very different role from the one she’s playing now but equally compelling.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pilot Review: Pitch

Pitch (FOX)
Premiered September 23 at 9pm

Shows about sports have the potential to be truly powerful since there’s a certain excitement that comes from American pastimes and the rush that comes from watching them. That’s one thing that FOX’s new series absolutely captures, stirring up energy around the first female Major League Baseball player. The opening scene was a stylized, triumphant entrance for Kylie Bunbury’s Ginny Baker as she presented a cool, focused front while the world struggled to figure out what to do with her. Her first time pitching went very poorly, and it’s a good thing that she proved herself with her second outing so that she didn’t get the boot and see her dreams disappear in front of her. It was initially inspiring to see Ginny get trained from a young age by her father, and then things got much more serious and upsetting when he pushed her hard and wouldn’t let up, even hitting her brother to motivate her not to stop training. The reveal at the end of the episode that her father actually died and that he’s only with her in spirit may not have been a huge shock, but it was still immensely powerful. Aside from some of the excessive antics that come from the likes of Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the cocky, chatty captain and Ali Larter as Kylie’s powerhouse manager, I think this show does work well and I’m interested to see where it goes even though I really don’t care at all about sports and wouldn’t have imagined myself watching a show like this.

How will it work as a series? She’s made it into the big leagues and has already overcome so much, but as her father keeps saying, she’s not there yet and still has a long way to go. The journey towards a stable life is what this show is going to be about, and I think a lot of it might be familiar but could also be very engaging and worth watching.
How long will it last? The news out of the gate is much like Ginny’s first time pitching, pretty worrisome but probably worthy of a second chance because of its potential. FOX is likely to hang on to this show because of its positive reception and its ability to win over viewers, so hopefully the show can bounce back in subsequent airings to ensure it a promising future.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Notorious

Notorious (ABC)
Premiered September 22 at 9pm

I went into this show knowing just three things about it: the lead actress was Piper Perabo, the lead actor was Daniel Sunjata, and it was sandwiched between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” My incorrect assumption was that it was a Shondaland production, though ABC is certainly positioning it that way. I wasn’t sure what it was about at the start, and it reminded me most of a far more normative and less seedy “Nightcrawler.” I didn’t used to be a fan of Perabo, but I guess she grew on me after spending a few seasons anchoring “Covert Affairs.” She’s definitely right for this role, and casting her opposite Sunjata works very well. He was a real charmer as a firefighter on “Rescue Me,” and here he gets to ooze charisma as he wheels and deals to protect those he cares about and those he represents in partnership with Perabo’s cutthroat news producer. This first episode wasn’t necessarily as sensational as I thought it might be, but it was far more personal, affecting Perabo’s Julia when she found out that her politician boyfriend regularly had sex with prostitutes and Sunjata’s Jake when he lost the love of his life, who also turned out to be a murderer. I don’t know how much of a show this sets up, but the chemistry between the two leads is a real asset that should enable them to deal with any storyline and make it work much better than it otherwise might.

How will it work as a series? There’s a premise here that could be appealing, though I do wonder how often a news producer and a lawyer can cross paths and at what point it becomes hard to believe that no one realizes that they’re in cahoots. It’s probably going to be fun, though I don’t feel like it’s something that I need to watch.
How long will it last? I wouldn’t count on this one to last long. Its Metacritic score is a dismal 32, meaning that it probably won’t have critics or audiences fighting for its survival. The bigger problem is that its performance in the ratings was unspectacular when it was given everything it needed to succeed, and that all but seals its fate as one of the likely first cancellations of the season.

Pilot grade: B-

Round Two: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 1, Episode 3 “Tahani Al-Jamil” (B+)

We’re getting a lot of this show in just one week, with two episodes last Monday night and then another installment in its regular timeslot on Thursday. There have been a number of shows in recent years that have attempted to deal with someone checking things off a list, and this show functions sort of like that even though it’s not explicitly framed that way. I especially appreciate every flashback that we see of a truly terrible Eleanor back when she was alive. Refusing to boycott a coffeeshop where the owner got caught on video sexually harassing a job applicant and then throwing her boyfriend’s goodness in his face just to be mean was a helpful compliment to the accidental good that Eleanor did in this episode after she set out to take down Tahani and ended up befriending her. Michael telling Chidi that his book was boring and he needs to try something else sent him reeling, and the best part was his description of his directional insanity and his once having gotten lost on an escalator. Michael trying to reprogram Janet for maximum conversational efficiency was entertaining as it continually went awry, and her cold, cruel phase was probably the best. What I enjoyed most about this episode, however, was the ending reveal that the person sending notes to Eleanor was none other than Jianyu, who definitely isn’t mute and, just like Eleanor, also doesn’t belong in the good place. That’s a fun twist that makes the show feel a bit more accessible, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Pilot Review: Easy

Easy (Netflix)
Premiered September 22

I wanted to look up more information about watching this pilot with little to no knowledge of what the show was about going into it, and I was surprised to learn that this is actually an anthology series that is going to feature different actors and different storylines each week. That makes reviewing a pilot a tough job since I don’t anticipate seeing these people and revisiting their lives again. What hasn’t changed since I learned more about the nature of this show is that I was excited to see two actors who I’ve often enjoyed in previous parts given the chance to anchor a show together. Elizabeth Reaser was the lead on the short-lived “The Ex List” and earned an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series back in 2007 for “Grey’s Anatomy,” but I much prefer her turn in the film “Puccini for Beginners,” which was one of the first independent films I saw when I started college in New York City. I know some people find her annoying, but I think she was right for this part. Even more thrilling is pairing her with Michael Chernus, who recurred on “Orange is the New Black” and “The Big C” and has offered crucial support in films like “People, Places, Things” and “Mistress America.” I know that looking at those two actors is irrelevant for subsequent episodes, but it makes me optimistic about the potential for this show. I enjoyed this opening installment, a mild exploration of gender roles and how they affect a couple’s sex life. It’s nothing to write home about but it’s a fun and intriguing setup that makes me interested to see more.

How will it work as a series? That’s the question that can’t be answered since it could end up being a totally different show from week to week, an expression that doesn’t completely hold water since the whole season was released all at once on Netflix. Eight episodes with an extremely alluring cast seems like it could definitely be interesting.
How long will it last? Netflix doesn’t release ratings data in a timely or terribly informative way, but from what I can tell, the show has been relatively warmly received. It’s going to be up to creator Joe Swanberg to decide if he wants to continue the show into other seasons, and I imagine that Netflix would be interested if he is.

Pilot grade: B

Monday, September 26, 2016

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 3, Episode 4 “Men Get Strong” (B+)

Jimmy’s dad dying is turning out to be taking a lot of time away from other things this season, although Jimmy is hardly reacting to it in the way anyone would expect. Faking stalled emotion to elicit sexual favors was typically devious, and Jimmy put much more effort into holding in farts that he did to actually trying to connect with the loss that he should be feeling. Gretchen came closest when she put on an accent and got Jimmy to yell at her, but there were many false starts, including the sexy funeral that got them turned on and the awful kid who was cyberbullying his father. I liked Jimmy’s argument that everyone who feels emotion dies in movies, and that only the robots survive. Lindsay got a major spotlight this episode after she realized that someone who eventually miss her, leading to a very surprising performance in parenting class. Vernon was busy trying to guzzle alcohol with Paul’s help and Becca was focused on competing with Lindsay, and during all that Lindsay was the true star of the class, heroically bringing a fake baby back to life. Lindsay drinking on the floor with a sad dad looking for a second chance and then trying to kiss him prompted an unfortunate reaction that swung dramatic, as she started to run away from her new life in a more major way than just stabbing her husband so that his skin would have to grow back together. The worst part is probably that the man she tried to kiss had already made plans to go kayaking with Paul.

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

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 12 “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z” (B+)

It’s a reassuring feeling to watch this finale after Rami Malek took home a very well-deserved Emmy last Sunday for his performance in season one and has done extremely consistent work this season that should and could earn him a second Emmy next year. This episode in particular positioned Elliot in a fascinating lens as he struggled to come to terms with the revelation that Tyrell is still alive and sought to take control of what he was seeing and convince himself that he was a projection just like Mr. Robot. It’s difficult to grasp how Elliot comes off to the rest of the world since he’s such a brilliant hacker with an incredibly fractured personality, so skilled at his craft when Elliot is in charge and so maniacally destructive when Mr. Robot is at the wheel. It turns out that the FBI is well aware of what’s going on even if they see Tyrell and not Elliot as the ringleader, and Darlene stonewalling Dom didn’t work so well since she wasn’t actually fishing for information, just trying to convey to her that she had been cornered. The other major development was that Scott was the one who sent Joanna all the gifts because he had found out that Sharon was pregnant the morning before she was murdered, and he wanted to give Joanna hope that he could step on. Baiting him so that he would start choking her seemed like just the latest indulgence of her fantasies, but it turns out she has much more sinister aims in mind. The question is whether she knows Tyrell is alive and if almost everyone we know is involved, since Angela picking up the phone when a panicked Tyrell called at the end of the episode was a shock. I still feel like I need a lot of help decoding every episode’s events, but this continues to be almost inarguably the most interesting show on television. Bring on season three!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Rami Malek

Pilot Review: Designated Survivor

Designated Survivor (ABC)
Premiered September 21 at 10pm

I’m willing to bet that at least 75% of people who watched this pilot did so for one reason alone: star Kiefer Sutherland. The actor carried “24” long past any sense of coherence with a unique ability to remain energetic against any threat that might emerge and be the only one to able to predict where terrorists would strike next. It’s interesting, therefore, that he chose this as his next major project after a brief return to television on FOX’s “Touch.” ABC’s new drama casts Sutherland as a regular guy who likes to spend time at home cooking for his family and acts in the very safe, action-free position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. A major attack on the entire Congress and Cabinet makes him, the lowest on the totem pole, the next in line to be President, and suddenly this family man not used to acting under pressure has to lead the country. While Sutherland’s acting could get over the top on “24” (“You have to trust me” was his go-to line), here he’s much more focused and very compelling, exhibiting strength and poise despite discerning and disapproving eyes looking down on him as completely unqualified for the job. Sutherland is ably supported by Maggie Q from “Nikita” as an FBI agent intent on figuring out who attacked the country, Kal Penn as a speech writer, and Natasha McElhone from “Californication” as his loyal wife who still doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to take on this job. This was a strong pilot, and I imagine this could be one of the more exciting new shows of the season.

How will it work as a series? This opening hour was full of action and intrigue, and this show needs to make sure that it rises above standard political drama to be something more since it’s lost that initial surprise element. The shady conversations happening between conniving underlings to get Sutherland’s Tom booted need to be kept under control, while the continued threat of another attack both should not be underestimated or too much in focus.
How long will it last? This show delivered in a major way with its numbers, all but assuring it a very bright future. Positive reviews don’t hurt either, and as long as this show’s ratings don’t plummet in week two and beyond, this show is guaranteed to be renewed for a second season.

Pilot grade: B+

Sunday, September 25, 2016

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

Modern Family: Season 8, Episode 1 “A Tale of Three Cities” (C)

I had almost completely forgotten about this once-great show since it was barely a part of the Emmy Awards save for its presence in the opening segment and a few cast appearances. I’ve debated whether or not I was going to continue watching this show, but I always feel like I would regret giving up on it. This premiere was far from promising, emphasizing the formulaic above all. Why both the Dunphy children and the Dunphy parents would care so much about keeping their extra time in New York a secret from each other is beyond me, and I’m more perplexed by the flexibility of the flight tickets for the children and Claire’s ability to just decide not to go to her conference. They spent much more time trying to deceive each other and pretend they were somewhere else than actually enjoying their time in New York City, and far too much of each scene focused on Luke’s stupidity and referenced his carnival settlement. Mitchell walking into opportunities for Cam’s family to hate him and blame him for the death of his grandmother got old and annoying very fast, and her racism and homophobia was less funny than it was meant to be. Manny getting kidnapped was extremely over-the-top, and you’d think that Jay would have realized a long time ago that Gloria might have daddy issues that led to their age-gap marriage. This show needs to get back to its simple roots and stop being so staged and set up.

Pilot Review: Speechless

Speechless (ABC)
Premiered September 21 at 8:30pm

When I saw this show advertised, I definitely did not expect it to be airing as part of ABC’s Wednesday night comedy block. In some ways, it fits that bill, since Minnie Driver’s Maya is the definition of a loud, obnoxious mother who wants to be heard no matter how unnecessary or even just plain wrong her case may be. There’s an obvious twist on that format, which is that Maya actually does have a reason to speak up, which is to advocate for her wheelchair-bound son JJ, who also cannot speak because of his cerebral palsy. It turns out that what JJ wants to say isn’t all that nice, which makes him getting a high-pitched aide to be his voice all the more unfitting. There’s also personality to be found in JJ’s siblings, especially in JJ’s younger brother Ray who is tired of his brother always being put first. The introduction of Cedric Yarbrough’s Kenneth, who bonded with JJ as a far better representative voice and stood up to Maya when she tried to tell him that he was being insensitive and unaccommodating to someone with special needs, suggests that the DiMeo family is going to putting down roots in this new place and getting used to this new school. Driver was just on TV on NBC’s “About a Boy,” and I far preferred her dramatic role on FX’s “The Riches” nearly a decade ago. She manages to provide lots of entertainment here, but I think the show that surrounds her isn’t nearly as on point, misidentified as a half-hour comedy when it would probably be more effective in a different form.

How will it work as a series? Maya is sure to create more antics on a regular basis while JJ adjusts to his new setting and the other members of the family contribute to the plot occasionally too. There may be some humor and some drama along the way, but this is hardly a series that I feel I need to watch.
How long will it last? The pilot did well and the reviews were good, so ABC may want to invest in its most untraditional addition to its Wednesday night slate. I think it’s too early to call since the ratings may fall in subsequent weeks, but my current bet is that this one is going to be kept.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon (FOX)
Premiered September 21 at 8pm

Though I know I probably should have, I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen any of the “Lethal Weapon” movies. What’s far stranger to me is why anyone was calling for a remake a full sixteen years after the fourth film was released. Most shows these days are remakes, however, and buddy cop comedies are especially popular. CBS tried “Rush Hour” earlier this year and that tanked, and now FOX, arguably a much better fit for this type of project, is investing in their own old-school reboot of a popular if not entirely well-regarded franchise. The casting of the main two roles is interesting, to be sure, and I think it’s actually a decent pairing. Damon Wayans hasn’t had a regular TV gig in over a decade since he starred in “My Wife and Kids,” and now he’s portraying a man who had a heart attack when he turned fifty and has to monitor his heart rate to make sure he doesn’t push himself too far. I recognized Clayne Crawford from his role as Teddy on “Rectify,” an equally passionate but far different character than the loose cannon he plays here. The action is ridiculous but the setup is fun, and Crawford’s Riggs walking into a hostage situation with a few pizzas in his hand and demanding a gun be put to his head has a certain appeal for the sheer boldness of it all. I imagine this show would be perfectly entertaining to tune into every once in a while, but it’s not a weekly must-see series.

How will it work as a series? Their big takedown should enable them to remain partners, but they’re going to face constant scrutiny from Murtaugh’s former partner and current boss Captain Brooks. Riggs’ death wish is going to serve them well in some cases and get them into immense trouble in others, and I think this show will be best when it’s not plot-driven, especially when its characters’ sex lives aren’t major story points.
How long will it last? Ratings were decent for the pilot but didn’t knock expectations out of the park. It’s too early to tell whether this is going to be one of the major hits of the season, and it’s airing on a very competitive night opposite other new shows. I don’t know if a renewal is in the cards, but this show isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Pilot grade: B-

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What I’m Watching: Blindspot

Blindspot: Season 2, Episode 2 “Heave Fiery Knot” (B)

This show has found a certain groove in its new setup that has Jane acting as a double agent for the FBI, doing what Sandstorm has instructed her to do but filling her government agency friends in on everything so that she can help make sure no one gets hurt. She has a serious point that they may not actually be on the right side, and every time we get to see a little bit of Roman and Shepherd, they’re only acting to protect Jane and be loyal to her. The intentions of the NSA and the FBI are often far more devious, and some tension is already coming up between Patterson and Nas about sharing information and enabling each other to be able to do their jobs. Kurt being the one to keep the peace is interesting since he’s got the shortest fuse of all of them, but I think that his hatred for his father and the way he started to feel about Jane has enabled him to be less furious at her than Edgar and Tasha, both of whom are completely untrusting and have no desire to welcome her back with open arms. I like that we’re getting to know Nas more, and that she’s revealing a bit of her history, overcoming preconceptions about her birthplace, and in the present being less than truthful with the team about her true intentions. Edgar trying to get his former teammate involved in the case against the coach brought back a plotline I didn’t realize we were still dwelling on, but it’s obviously going to continue to be part of the show. Dr. Borden giving Patterson a CD-rom of Oregon Trail that she couldn’t play was funny, and it will be good for her to explore a relationship with someone else and try to move on after David.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Take Three: Atlanta

Atlanta: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Streisand Effect” (B+)

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that FX has renewed this show, along with Thursday night offering “Better Things,” solidifying its identity as a provider of semiserious mature comedies created by interesting people. This fourth episode led its characters to encounter far less danger than they did in previous installments, but there were still some more than moderately annoying things they had to deal with in their quest for continued existence and perseverance. Earn trading his phone in for nearly $200 should have been simple enough, but then we have Darius to get in the way of things by telling him that he could get him a whole lot more by trading it in for a sword. Earn’s reaction to the news that he would get his dividends in September was one full of frustration, and I much preferred Darius’ response to the whole thing, which was that they’re now friends. Earn is destined to experience minor misfortune after minor misfortune, and what would have happened had Darius not given him his brand-new phone to trade in probably wouldn’t have amounted to more than Van expressing disappointment in his continued inability to provide and be reliable. Paper Boi experienced a different nuisance in the form of the hapless, clueless Zan, who took to social media to start trashing Paper Boi after he refused to indulge him after his overeager approach. Watching the foul-mouthed kid get robbed after he delivered the pizza was a truly bizarre occurrence, and Paper Boi’s response was the right one: just get out and walk away.

Pilot Review: This Is Us

This Is Us (NBC)
Premiered September 20 at 10pm

There’s something about the marketing campaign, font choice, and it being on the same network that made me think that this show was going to be the next “Parenthood.” Based on this pilot, I’m pretty sure I was right. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the whole thing since I’m going to address an unexpected development that changes the whole nature of the show that you won’t see coming. Many pilots start from the vantage point of following a number of people who happen to be connected in some way, and often that’s a crutch for the opening hour to explore and wow with its surprising connectors rather than an asset for the show to continue to expand on in coming installments. In this case, the use of the same birthdate proves very effective, since we have a father expecting triplets who it seems will be born on his birthday, twin siblings with different lives defined by loneliness, and an adult son who never had the chance to meet the father who abandoned him. What’s cool and different about this show, which smartly wasn’t revealed until a clever scene at the very end of the episode, is that Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack and Mandy Moore’s Rebecca are actually the parents of three babies who will grow up to become Justin Hartley’s Kevin, Chrissy Metz’s Kate, and Sterling K. Brown’s Randall. That makes their stories much more interesting, and I’m hopeful that it will add more dimensions to the drama that plays out in episode two and beyond. I’m excited to see Brown in a regular role like this after his affirming and genuine speech at the Emmys this past Sunday, and I liked Hartley when he first appeared in season six of “Smallville” and hope that he’ll have a good post-manny career on this show. I was worried that Rebecca dying during childbirth was going to be the devastating twist, and I’m glad that things went in a far more invigorating and creative that makes me more than happy to come back for more.

How will it work as a series? The format is certainly interesting, and now the question becomes whether the show can sustain itself based on its events in both time periods. “Jack and Bobby” did it a while ago, and as long as there’s enough content to drive the plot, I think this show could truly win me over the way it already has my wife and many other viewers.
How long will it last? Comparisons to “Parenthood” are definitely a positive for this show, and it looks like it pulled in ratings that match the early performance of the show that managed to run for six years on NBC. This show is moving to 9pm in a few weeks, but I suspect it will continue to do well there, and general affection for the show will undoubtedly bolster its chances and assure it a bright, heartwarming future.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Bull

Bull (CBS)
Premiered September 20 at 9pm

I started watching “NCIS” back when it was known as “Navy NCIS,” and it’s actually the first show I watched regularly from the beginning, right when I was just getting into the “film and television phase” that I haven’t grown out of since. I watched Michael Weatherly for seven and a half seasons, and I’d argue that he was the strongest cast member aside from his two female counterparts, Sasha Alexander and Cote de Pablo. Both women left the long-running show, now in its fourteenth season, a while ago, and Weatherly finally got out too. It’s exciting to see him take the lead after so long and really anchor a show, and this is inarguably a perfect role for him. He’s great at playing a know-it-all, and here he actually does, purporting to be able to predict how a jury will vote even before they know. The whole premise is pretty far-fetched, and this was a wildly sensational pilot, featuring a witness throwing something at the defense attorney while testifying, the suspect’s father getting shot by the victim’s father, and the suspect confessing on the stand that he’s gay after Bull told him that he knew even before the suspect did. It’s a lot to take but I guess that’s the nature of the law procedural these days, with CBS trying to think outside the box of its formatted programs and giving it an enticing twist. I like Weatherly and I’m also happy to see Freddy Rodriguez, who was a fantastic part of “Six Feet Under,” who stood out in this episode when he pretended to be the defense attorney for the simulation trial. This isn’t a show I need to watch in any way, but it’s nice to know that there’s a new fun series on the air.

How will it work as a series? We got a glimpse into Bull’s psyche at the end of the episode when he confronted one of the jurors and got analyzed himself. There’s sure to be some recurring drama there, and while this pilot was obviously loaded up with excess, I would imagine that ensuing episodes will actually be just as full of over-the-top characters and incidents, making it very memorable. Its procedural nature means that it should be easy enough to check in at any moment.
How long will it last? CBS is pulling out all the stops in terms of its marketing, using Weatherly’s face and a catchy tagline with the knowledge that “NCIS” fans are going to be ecstatic about seeing a beloved actor get his own show. The ratings for the pilot were solid, and I expect that CBS is going to jump on this one and renew it very soon.

Pilot grade: B-

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season Premiere)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 4, Episode 1 “The Ghost” (B)

The new fall shows are upon us, and with that comes a handful of returning series. This is the first one out of the gate, back on Tuesday nights but at a later time, 10pm, which seems to bring with it a darker world. There was plenty of possession with all the inhuman stuff last season, and now we have what seems to be a haunted spirit lurking around and affecting the likes of random villains and esteemed agents such as May. I much prefer people with powers than all of this supernatural stuff. Additionally, I know absolutely nothing about the character of Ghost Rider, and while I wasn’t initially impressed, the sight of his flaming head and the revelation that he has a wheelchair-bound younger brother who he cares for makes him considerably more layered and a fitting successor to Andrew/Lash. It’s strange to see Coulson demoted to the rank of agent with some mysterious new boss in charge, and for Simmons to outrank May and tell her she needs to follow orders. I hadn’t expected John Hannah’s Dr. Radcliffe to be a full-fledged member of the cast now, but it is fun to have him since he’s an entertaining personality, especially since he’s now officially one of the good guys. It’s immensely disconcerting to see that Fitz’s secondary reaction after disapproving of Radcliffe’s human robot was to tell him that they had to perfect it before reading Simmons in, a plan that has never worked for anyone. It’s affirming to see that Mac has become such a strong central character after he joined the show late, and that recurring players like Yo-Yo are still around. And Skye, fresh with extra eyeliner, seems to be evading capture from both bad guys and good guys at the moment, still moving to the beat of her own drum. This season is off to a ferocious start, and there’s much ground to be covered.

What I’m Watching: New Girl (Season Premiere)

New Girl: Season 6, Episode 1 “House Hunt” (B+)

My affection for this show has decreased considerably since it started, and therefore I’m pleased to report that this premiere had me laughing quite a bit. I love the idea that Schmidt and Cece are looking to buy a house since it means that the show is graduating and getting ready to abandon the idea of the group being roommates and living together in a loft forever. The house does seem like something that Lillian would describe on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” so it’s not as if luxury immediately awaits. I enjoyed Tim Bagley’s loan officer whose dilated eyes led to plenty of misunderstandings and who had absolutely no sense of humor or generosity. Aly’s sister truly is a terrible real estate agent, walking Schmidt and Cece through a house three times that wasn’t even for sale. What cracked me up the most was that she saw a dentist on a boat, which is why she found the perfect new home for Winston, which, shockingly, made for the third time that he had nearly bought a boat. Jess realizing that she’s still in love with Nick has already proven to be totally overwhelming for her, and finding out that he dedicated his book to his good friend Jess is sure to only augment her feelings. Now that all our characters are coupled off or close to it, I think this show really could work well again, and I’m going into this season with renewed optimism and a strong sense that it can return to comedic greatness. The best moment of the episode was inarguably Schmidt’s pronunciation of “coupons” and Cece’s horrified reaction.

Pilot Review: The Good Place

The Good Place (NBC)
Premiered September 19 at 10pm

If I didn’t watch every pilot, there are two people involved with this show who probably would have compelled me to check it out. The first is Kristen Bell, who most love from her breakout role on UPN’s “Veronica Mars” and who I’ve recently enjoyed a lot during her five-season gig on “House of Lies.” The second is Michael Schur, who serves as creator of the show and made two of NBC’s biggest hits, “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” This show is nothing like those, though it definitely has its interesting elements. The show’s title is a bit lackluster, referencing its purposely casual definitions of the two possible destinations available to the newly deceased after their time on Earth is done. Casting Ted Danson, who turned in entertaining TV performances on “Bored to Death” and “Fargo,” as the architect of the “community” that they all live in is a strong choice since he has a certain affect that makes him seem put together and positive even if that’s not exactly how he’s feeling. This show has a weird childishness to it in that Bell’s Eleanor throws a tantrum of sorts and then her emotions are literally rained from the sky since her untruthful presence is causing such a disturbance. Her inability to curse despite repeated attempts signals the muted, somewhat immature nature of the show, and I think that might eventually become grating. For now, Bell and William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi, are doing well opposite each other, and I’m definitely up for seeing where this show goes. If it becomes more sophisticated in the near future, I’ll be very pleased. If not, we’ll have to see how long it truly deserves.

How will it work as a series? Bell has proven herself to be more than capable of playing a conniving operator, and seeing her try to transform from that mode to an actual thoughtful human being should be fine. I’m not so sure about the show’s visual effects, but I imagine that those will end up being truly supporting to the show’s comedy and plot.
How long will it last? The show premiered with two back-to-back episodes starting at 10pm on Monday night and is going to air regularly beginning tonight at 8:30pm, so its initial airing shouldn’t provide terribly accurate data. What’s good is that this double-decker debut was received both in terms of audience numbers and critical reviews. For now, I’d give this one a good chance of getting renewed.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: Kevin Can Wait

Kevin Can Wait (CBS)
Premiered September 19 at 8:30pm

I’ve been seeing Kevin James’ face on billboards and buses everywhere for the past month or so. He’s lounging in a deck chair on his roof holding a beer in his hand with a smug look on his face, and the tagline below him reads “Hello again, America.” If ever there was a sign that there are few truly original shows left on television, this would be it. I’m not even sure what the title is supposed to mean, but it identifies (Kevin) James as the show’s lead, serving as a recognizable face to the audience that is America. I never watched “The King of Queens,” the long-running CBS sitcom that netted James an Emmy nomination towards the end of its run. That show ran nine seasons, and now it’s been nine years, completing the cycle of no James on regular television and apparently necessitating his return. This show is pretty much what I expected, showcasing James as a freshly retired husband and father who is more than ready to just sit back and enjoy his life with no responsibilities. This is the definition of a sitcom, pandering to the laugh track and presenting obstacle after obstacle in Kevin’s quest for relaxation. The big joke of the pilot was Kevin being a disapproving father to his daughter’s boyfriend, an issue made worse by the fact that another friend of hers fits his bill of who she should be with much better. Erinn Hayes, best known for “Children’s Hospital,” tries her best to liven up the show and her costar, but there’s not too much to be done for either. This show is entertaining enough but fails to bring anything new or vital to the table to make it watchable.

How will it work as a series? Not only has Kevin come to terms with his daughter’s boyfriend after maturely passing up the opportunity to get him out of the picture, now he’s also invited them to come live in their house. That’s sure to create plenty of family friction that has no better home than on CBS. That’s not what I’m looking for in my comedies these years, but I imagine that many will disagree.
How long will it last? It seems like the ratings were pretty good, keeping in mind CBS’ very high standards for performance as compared with other networks. Reviews were expectedly poor, but I don’t think CBS takes that into consideration too much. I don’t think a renewal is around the corner but it wouldn’t surprise me if this show ended up lasting a few seasons.

Pilot grade: C-

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I’m Watching: Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex: Season 4, Episode 2 “Inventory” (B+)

Bill and Virginia deciding to find new partners was going to mean new characters, but I didn’t expect them to be quite so opinionated and intriguing. Virginia micromanaged Dr. Leveau during her interview and then she blew her away with actual medical knowledge that far outweighed her interpersonal skills. After she aggressively went after John Billingsley’s Dr. Madden and then made sure he felt terrible about himself, Virginia too went with an eclectic choice – Dr. Dreesen – who had no advanced degrees but was more than qualified for the job. As if Bill lying outright about his relationship with Virginia to Dr. Leveau wasn’t enough, it turns out that the two new hires are actually married to each other! That’s a cool twist, and one that I imagine will come to light soon and not in a good way. Dr. Leveau grabbing Bill’s hand while watching Dale and Darleen try to overcome Dale’s obsession with shoes was intense, and I think it is good that he’s having some human contact aside from his disapproving sponsor. Betty stood her ground to an oblivious Virginia, and I guess she does deserve the extra pay and respect given how she manages to keep things afloat with her very blunt style. The best confession was the one that came from Libby, who finally got the chance to speak her mind to Bill and tell him that for all the years that he was having an affair with Virginia she was having sex in every room of the house. That scene felt pretty Emmy-worthy to me, but I don’t think that’s actually likely.

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals (Season Finale)

Vice Principals: Season 1, Episode 9 “End of the Line” (B+)

I wasn’t sure how this finale would play out since the last episode changed everything since it finally gave Lee the smoking gun they needed while Neal seemed like he was less and less excited about bringing down the increasingly sympathetic Belinda Brown. Since getting rid of her was always their aim, that’s what they decided to do, though Lee was far more into it and went way too far, as evidenced by her reaction to the news that they had burned down her house. Blackmailing her with the video footage would have been enough, but now they’ve created a formidable enemy who seemed to go away quietly but clearly has done exactly the opposite (we’ll get back to that shortly). Lee and Neal being appointed interim co-principals with the ability to tell their families that they’re the principal was a perfect development, one that allows them full run of the school without a sense of permanence that they can truly be dictators. Lee trying to put all the blame for Belinda’s downfall on Neal was disconcerting, and it seems that Neal is practically getting much more down than his bowtie-wearing colleague. He’s maturing in many ways, getting his daughter a bike that he knows will push her closer to Ray and apologizing to Amanda in fantastic form. Seeing his car and Lee’s on fire changed the tone considerably, though not nearly as much as a masked person shooting Neal twice, leaving him to bleed out in the parking lot. That’s a serious shift I wasn’t ready for, but he didn’t get hit anywhere fatal, so I’m sure that will just have him and Lee walking on eggshells and looking over their shoulders when this show returns whenever it’s supposed to for the back nine episodes of its two-season order. I’ve really enjoyed this show and think that it shows enormous potential - I look forward to more soon.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Danny McBride as Neal

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

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 12 “Rattus Rattus” (B+)

I would have expected a slightly louder and more climactic finish to this season, but I guess a bunch of Russians did get beaten to death and shot, and the character we thought was going to bring Ray down was quietly murdered off screen. What makes Ray a great fixer is that he is discreet in the way he handles things, which doesn’t prevent him from walking up to someone and punching them in broad daylight, but it does enable him to operate behind the scenes in a way that’s designed not to make headlines. Even his handover of all the drugs to the detestable Frank was down in a dimly lit building away from public attention. I do worry that, as Abby expressed, that Ray saying things are over isn’t nearly as finite as it’s supposed to be. Her overhearing Ray being very honest with his brother about what happened with Marisol and Hector could have been earth-shattering and truly destructive, but she’s seen and heard enough of it before, and now it’s just about her recovery. It’s really something to see Bridget tell her parents that she got into NYU and board a flight for New York the same night. Watching Ray as a nervous parent reminding her multiple times of the plan was endearing and considerably lighter than most of what we see with him. This finale didn’t address certain elements or offer concrete resolutions for Bunchy, Teresa, or Mickey, while giving Terry a platform to speak his mind and Daryll another shot to prove himself. It’s been a great season, as always, and I’m eagerly anticipating season five and beyond.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

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

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 13 “But First, We Save the Galaxy” (B+)

I was going to write that this wasn’t as explosive a finale as I had expected, but I think that would definitely be the wrong choice of words. There was actually plenty that happened, and I think it’s more that things are in such an uncertain state. We learned a surprising lesson from the season premiere which was that the characters are expendable, even those who are part of the original six. Nyx getting killed by Misaki is lamentable, to be sure, but she was never really one of the crew and was doomed to be exiled by them or someone else eventually. Her death, which will inevitably be revealed to the villainous emperor once known as Four, is going to help humanize him, since he obviously still possesses some ties to his better self, informing the android about his plan so that she could warn the crew and try to help them get off the station before everything blew up. It was fun to see the crew in fancy civilian garb, and Five made particular progress as a member of Commander Truffault’s entourage. That she was able to convince an enhanced android that he needed to airlock himself so that he wouldn’t kill scores of people was impressive, and given that she and Six were the only ones conscious at the time of major explosions, it’s hopeful that they made it out okay. I can’t imagine that Two or Three would be cut loose since they truly are the series’ stars, but it’s hard to know with this show. I’m glad it will be back for season three since I think it is a great addition to the TV landscape, and I’ve enjoyed a season that feels like it’s flown by.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Zoie Palmer as the Android

Pilot Review: Fleabag

Fleabag (Amazon)
Premiered September 16

I find these days that there are so many new shows premiering on Netflix and Amazon that it’s hard to keep track, and inevitably I’ve missed one or two even in the past month. But I happened to catch a very positive review of this one and made sure I didn’t miss it, and I’m very glad for that. This show aired its six-episode first season on BBC Three in England back in July, and now it’s come to Amazon to be seen by American audiences. Immediately, this show reminded me in a very good way of “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” mainly because Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag started out in the episode’s first scene directly addressing the audience and then continued to do so throughout the episode even while events were happening around her and others were present in the frame. While that device might seem overused, in this case it works very well since it offers us some welcome insight into the twisted mind of this show’s protagonist. I’m not sure many people could cite Obama as the reason for their breakup in quite the same way, and she seems to do just about everything possible to rile people up, wearing her sister’s stolen sweater and then swiping her stepmother’s very expensive piece after being told that she couldn’t take it. Lashing out at the nice guy who asked her out because he was making excuses not to sleep with her was probably an instance of her poorer judgment, and she definitely has a complicated relationship with just about everyone in her life. Her ending narrative was sobering but it’s hard to know what’s really true since she flashed that devilish smile at the camera to close out the episode. I’m intrigued and definitely want to see more.

How will it work as a series? It’s so much like other British comedy series that meld dark humor with a more dramatic undercurrent. This one isn’t quite as awkward because Fleabag totally owns it, not shamed at all by the things that happen in her life. Six episodes isn’t too long, and there was a good amount of material covered in just this first episode, which is promising for the remaining five.
How long will it last? That all depends on how long Waller-Bridge wants it to. Most British series like this only run for two seasons purely for creative reasons, and I suspect that might be the case here too. Amazon’s participation is a positive, and I would imagine that this one will earn a renewal from both its producing networks soon.

Pilot grade: B+

Monday, September 19, 2016

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 2, Episode 3 “Our Man in Madrid” (B+)

What we’re seeing now more than ever before is that this war with Pablo is wearing on the American agents involved. The return of Carillo was a formidable event since he made such an impression on the show in season one, and it’s rare for me and I would assume many other viewers to readily pick out a past character on this show full of personalities with similar names. The fact that Carillo just got called up in Madrid and then was back in Colombia again right away is pretty crazy, and he got things back to his way of doing them immediately. He went in hot in a very disconcerting manner, shooting someone in the head just to make a point. Steve asking to be trusted didn’t work out as he planned, as it became more than clear that Carillo has gone off the deep end. Pushing one prisoner out of the helicopter to make a point was almost expected, but pushing the second one out when his brutal death would do nothing to compel someone else to confess demonstrated his willingness to do anything to seem unhinged and dead set on getting Pablo. Unfortunately, his tactics are failing, and Pablo getting his reporter friend to interview the kid to name Carillo as someone who executed suspects on the spot is definitely going to turn the tide of public opinion back against the police, even while they are being attacked and assassinated by Pablo’s people. This really is a grueling battle that never seems to end.

Round Two: Better Things

Better Things: Season 1, Episode 2 “Period” (B-)

I’m still not sure what to make of this show, though I am beyond convinced that FX is trying to establishing a certain brand for itself with its comedies and is doing a marvelous job with this show and “Atlanta” at the moment. I’m not positive that it’s completely for me, and we’ll see if I stick with it once all the other fall series start coming back. In this installment, we got to see a bit of Sam’s work life, which is far from thrilling, especially when her role gets completely cut out of the movie she’s working on. This show likes to employ quick flashes to fill in the blanks of the plot elements that it doesn’t cover, something that feels a bit disjointed but still serves its purpose. Sam has such a torrential relationship with her two older daughters, and she had the chance here to react strongly to both of them. She lashed out at Max for judging her life choices and thinking she knew what was going on, and she targeted Frankie’s aggression by calling her out for having her period in a very public speech to women who were ready to feel empowered. That monologue showed a side of Sam and of Pamela Adlon that explains why this show was created, and I think more moments like that will make it especially memorable and worthwhile. We also had the chance to meet Sam’s mom, who lives across the street, is British, and apparently has more than a few secrets that she’s fully ready to share with the adult daughter who doesn’t often want to be associated with her.

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 3, Episode 3 “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” (B+)

I very much enjoyed the opening of this episode, which found Gretchen ambushing her therapist at breakfast to find out how to tell Jimmy about the death of his father. She’s not one to really stick to something, and therefore she got incredibly distracted when he somewhat unintentionally offered to take her on a cruise. Inviting everyone over to have them tell him instead of her was a smart ploy, and of course no one wanted to bite the bullet and do it, especially when Jimmy came at them with some aggressive heckling following the wild crazy party spurred by the famous pets of Instagram cruise. It was sad to hear Jimmy call to heckle his father and instead just tell him that he sold a book, and watching him freeze at the end of the episode brought this show back to the strangely serious state it was in last year when Gretchen was dealing with her depression. On a lighter note, I liked seeing the many supporting characters we don’t always see, particularly Becca and Vernon. Becca is pretty terrible, and it’s good to see Lindsay, who seems to have successfully incepted herself to fall back in love with Paul, not paying too much attention to her demeaning rudeness. I love that Vernon isn’t allowed to have hobbies that cost more than $25 and that he shrugged off the incorrect fact that someone dies at his work every day. I’m not a gymgoer, but I do wonder how many of the hybrid workouts Edgar rattled off actually exist.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Brief Emmy Recap

I always find that I enjoy the run-up to Emmy night more than the show itself, but I still do enjoy the thrill of watching the awards handed out. I wish there were more clips and that I had liked "The People v. O.J. Simpson," but all in all there was some good humor and a very heartfelt In Memoriam segment. The best speeches were the touching ones that came from Sterling K. Brown, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rami Malek (hooray!). I got 13 right, and at this hour can't readily calculate how that compares to previous years. I certainly beat all the family and friends watching with me. There were some so-so surprises, like Ben Mendelsohn, who I wish had been there, but nothing can compare to the night-defining moment that made me exclaim in disbelief: Tatiana Maslany finally won an Emmy! How she didn't before is beyond me, but the fact that she and Malek were the top drama honorees means that the state of television as it currently exists can be pretty good sometimes. Now on to pilot season and the Oscars!

What I’m Watching: Blindspot (Season Premiere)

Blindspot: Season 2, Episode 1 “In Night So Ransomed Rogue” (B)

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to watch this show again this season, and I still haven’t decided if it’s going to remain on my list when there are twenty plus shows on every week. What was good about this episode is that it provided lots of answers, both from Jane to her FBI pals and about what’s going on from the woman behind it all, Shepherd. Jane escaping from the holding facility was impressive, and the show pulled off a typically showy fakeout when the team went after another woman on a motorcycle who turned out to be nothing more than a counterfeiter. The main new cast member that we got in this hour was Archie Panjabi, best known for her Emmy-winning role as Kalinda on “The Good Wife,” with a fully British accent portraying a new ally for both Jane and the FBI team. I did not recognize two other TV faces I should have – Luke Mitchell from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as Roman and Michele Hurd from “Daredevil” as Shepherd. The two of them seem perfectly nice enough and like they care about Jane, but they also boast notorious resumes, not to mention Roman’s nonchalant murder of a handful of cops when they got stopped trying to get past the checkpoint. Shepherd was quick to reveal Jane’s whole past, including her real name, Alice Kruger, and now it seems that this season has a different mystery: who the mole in the FBI is, assisted by a montage of all the suspects near the end of the episode. The pacing here is strong, and if the season continues like this, I could be into it, but I’m not sure that the plot intrigues quite as much now that all the cards are on the table.

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 11 “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z” (B+)

I didn’t realize that this was the penultimate episode of the season, but it’s reassuring to know that this show was renewed for season three way back in August, which, along with the continued critical acclaim for the show, guarantees that it will continue for a good time to come. We didn’t get to learn anything about Darlene’s fate in this hour, but we did see a very shaken Dom insist that she knew what was going on to a relatively receptive Agent Santiago, who still felt that doing nothing was the smartest option. It’s crazy to think that Ecoin can so easily be adopted as a national currency when all of its illegalities have been pointed out, yet that’s the direction things are headed since it seems like a simple solution to fix the economy problem. Angela’s interview in custody was pretty trippy, and Whiterose was not too kind in his analysis of her ability to stay alive despite the likelihood of her having been killed many times already. It’s fascinating to watch Elliot try to stay awake while he’s asleep and follow what Mr. Robot was doing, later reminding himself that he wasn’t following Mr. Robot but actually was Mr. Robot. Seeing Tyrell so casually was a shock, and Elliot did exactly what he should have in desperately trying to get the cab driver to acknowledge if there was someone there with them. I suppose we’ll find out more in the finale, though with this show you can never be too sure.

Round Two: Atlanta

Atlanta: Season 1, Episode 3 “Go for Broke” (B)

This show is nothing if not very unique and different. Starting off with Earn trying to get a kids’ meal at a fast food joint and then finding some minimal satisfaction in getting away with filling his water cup with soda framed it all within a humorous lens, although one more akin to that of “Louie” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” that find their protagonists struggling to make it through easy day-to-day activities without offending someone and being called out for it. Earn’s ensuing problems throughout the episode mostly had to do with his lack of funds, something that made taking a very pissed Van out for a date incredibly difficult. The waitress eagerly suggesting a market price item and Van already being angry about Earn’s attempt to use the random guy on the street to watch his illegal parking spot didn’t help matters much, and Earn let loose on the waitress when she tried to upsell him to the dessert menu. After we saw Paper Boi far more in charge of his own surroundings in the first two episodes, even while he was in jail, here he and Darius were totally subject to the every whim of their new contact, who was far more eccentric than the up-and-coming rapper. Darius really is hilarious, and the way that Paper Boi responds to every one of his comments is perfect. This show’s tone still confounds me, jumping back and forth from Earn being broke to Paper Boi and Darius watching people getting hunted for sport, but I’m willing to give this show a bit longer to develop.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pilot Review: Son of Zorn

Son of Zorn (FOX)
Premiered September 11 at 8pm

There’s a reason that I don’t watch any of the shows on FOX’S Sunday night Animation Domination comedy block. I just don’t tend to find those shows funny, and watching the latest addition to the lineup, which previewed this past week before its official debut on September 25th, only confirmed that it’s not for me. This show requires an enormous amount of suspension of disbelief, which is obvious, I know, but it’s hard to get around of the absurdity of the concept and the fact that none of it is supposed to be remotely out of the ordinary. That Zorn is the only animated thing in an otherwise entirely live-action world is strange, and I realize that it’s supposed to augment the comedy. There are some concepts that are on the verge of being mildly humorous, like Zorn’s misperception that his boss is a man who does everything like a woman but couldn’t possibly be one because she’s his superior and his citation of a number of famous people who have been known for taking the bus. Jason Sudeikis is a funny guy and he’s got a great voice, but there’s no denying just how irritating Zorn is. I like Cheryl Hines and Tim Meadows, who have spent plenty of time on television in the past. I imagine that they won’t put this at the top of their resumes, even if this show catches on. It’s possible that it could have been clever, but I don’t think it was ever a great idea from the start.

How will it work as a series? There’s something positive in the fact that his boss recognizes his aggression and his inability to correctly perceive how he should react in a given situation as passion, and so hopefully that will help him come around to a better understanding of suburban life away from warfare. He has a long way to go with his son, which should prove frustrating and slow-moving if nothing else.
How long will it last? It’s hard to tell since it’s just a preview, but if it does catch on it could last a long time along with the other series on Sunday on FOX. Apparently the ratings were pretty astounding and the reviews weren’t all that bad, so at this point things are actually looking up for this show, which could well find itself endowed with a second season.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals

Vice Principals: Season 1, Episode 8 “Gin” (B+)

I love that every character on this show has no qualms about dropping curse word after curse word, regardless of who’s within earshot. That’s particularly true of Belinda and Amanda, both of whom are far less crude than Neal and Lee but still manage to avoid any type of filter on a regular basis. It was affirming to see Neal headed towards incredible happiness, spending time with his daughter after her motocross injury and enjoying a blissful night out with the two women in his life. Getting jealous about Bill was an unfortunate development, and Amanda handled it with poise, launching an offensive at Neal when he spoke to her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. His summary of the situation – that she broke up with him, he broke up with her, or maybe they just had their first fight – was completely accurate. What Belinda was offering him was actually what he’s always wanted, employing his talents fully and giving him the recognition and authority that he deserves. You could see it on his face that he didn’t like seeing Belinda go nuts on the alcohol and then, when encouraged by Lee, pee on a police cruiser. Neither of them could have expected the ferocity that came with her drinking that led to them having to heavily secure the bathroom door to make sure that she couldn’t get out and pummel them to death. I’m curious to see what comes next and more than mildly worried about how things are going to play out now that they’ve done this to her.

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

Masters of Sex: Season 4, Episode 1 “Freefall” (B+)

It’s hard to believe that this show is already in its fourth season, but I am pleased to note that this premiere indicates a positive direction that could mean a substantially better year than the past two seasons. With Dan noticeably absent from this episode, Virginia had a great moment embarrassing a sex guru with a reality check, even getting recognized by other attendees of the show as the noted intellectual that she is. She’s made such incredible strides and seems confident in herself, and it’s therefore very disheartening to see her column concept disregarded simply because she’s a woman. That’s doubly true because she went to the effort of dumbing it down and pandering to her audience even though she realizes that it’s far more sensational than scientific. Deciding to operate in the same building as Bill but with different teams – and partners – is an intriguing decision, one that I’m sure will lead to plenty of conflict. Betty did do her best to deflect as much as possible while her two employers were out of the office for an extended period of time, and it will be good to have them back. I enjoyed seeing Rich Sommer as a man only aroused by the sight of women in high heels, a very particular brand of sexual stimulation. I’m excited about the new Libby that we’re seeing since I think her character went so far downhill in recent years. Defiantly divorcing Bill to the point of giving away his clothes wasn’t even the best moment – not being so into taking off her bra and then doing it was a great triumphant moment of transformative freedom.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 11 “Chinese Algebra” (B+)

I didn’t even realize that this was the penultimate episode of the season, mainly because I forgot that Showtime’s series usually produce just twelve episodes rather than the standard thirteen. Taking a week off for Labor Day only compounded that, but this was still a very strong hour. I was filled with a sense of dread the entire episode that Avi was going to be delivered already dead to Ray, though I suppose that the sight of him as close to it as possible with no near future trip to the hospital in store wasn’t much better. Frank is coming after Ray hard, and, like Ed, he’s happy to ruin his life given how much he was abused when Ray had the upper hand. Ray shrugs everything off and deals with it, but being handcuffed on the ground and then shown the woman who he risked everything to save who has now turned on him is disheartening even for the tireless fixer. Ray going to jail doesn’t seem like something that would be worthwhile to feature on this show, but I guess that means he’s going to have to make some hard choices. Killing two birds with one stone is probably too dangerous, but at least Abby got Bridget and Connor out of town with Bunchy and Teresa. Daryll was right to feel scorned and snubbed by Hector, and it’s a good thing that he was there when Terry took a fall since it was an important grounding moment for the two of them that should keep the least included brother connected to his family. Mickey has a way with words – and a ping-pong paddle – that makes him impossibly charming, able to figure out the best way to manipulate any situation to his advantage.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Comedy Series

As I’ve done the past few years, I’m excited to present a detailed look at the Emmy race in each category with a spotlight on every sample episode submitted for consideration to voters. Click on episode titles to read reviews and offer your thoughts in the comments!

Black-ish (The Word, Rock, Paper, Scissors Gun, Keeping Up with the Johnsons, Hope, Any Given Saturday, Daddy Dre-Care)
Master of None (Parents, Indians on TV, The Other Man, Ladies and Gentlemen,Old People, Mornings)
Modern Family (Phil’s Sexy, Sexy House, The Party, Spread Your Wings, White Christmas, Double Click, Crazy Train)
Silicon Valley (Founder Friendly, Meinertzhagen’s Haversack, Bachmanity Insanity, Bachman’s Earning’s Over-Ride, Daily Active Users, The Uptick)
Transparent (Kina Hora, Cherry Blossoms, The Book of Life, Oscillate, Man on the Land, Grey Green Brown and Copper)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Kimmy Goes on a Playdate!, Kimmy Gives Up!, Kimmy Walks Into a Bar!, Kimmy Meets a Drunk Lady!, Kimmy Sees a Sunset!, Kimmy Finds Her Mom!)
Veep (Morning After, Mother, Thanksgiving, Congressional Ball, Kissing Your Sister, Inauguration)

There are two new additions to this category, one in its second season and the other in its first. One show is a five-time champ that was dethroned for the first time last year by a wildly popular show that is the most nominated comedy this year. As a whole, I enjoyed “Black-ish” a lot more than I expected to, with most of the episodes proving pretty funny. I can’t imagine it has the momentum it would need to win, but I do think that it’s clearly a crowdpleaser and also the only broadcast network show besides “Modern Family,” which in this case also translates to good clean fun rather than R-rated cable fare. I’m not a fan of “Parents,” but otherwise I’m all for the other five installments submitted by freshman Netflix series “Master of None,” even if one of my favorite episodes, “Nashville,” wasn’t submitted. I do love “Mornings” and “The Other Man,” though, so it’s great that they’re here. It would be fun if it won but I’m not sure it should. I gave three of the “Modern Family” episodes a C grade, and the only one that’s actually close to good was “Crazy Train.” This show is well past its prime, and its measly four-nomination haul demonstrates that. Don’t expect a comeback. “Silicon Valley” is always consistent and chose great episodes, and if it can ever get out of the shadow of “Veep” it might well win this thing. “Transparent” didn’t win last year for a buzzier first season, and its selection of decent episodes doesn’t paint the full picture of all that it is that could have really swayed voters (though I’m not convinced this season would have). All but the first of the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” submissions are fantastic submissions, and that show is just too far-out to win but easily could if voters remember how much they like Tina Fey and how much they loved “30 Rock.” But then there’s the show to beat, last year’s winner: “Veep.” I wasn’t so thrilled with two of the buzzier episodes – “Kissing Your Sister” and “Mother” – but I think that I’m one of the few who felt that this season was weaker than years past. This show is at the height of its popularity and shows no signs of stopping, with no other show ready to topple it.

What should win (based on entire season): “Silicon Valley”
What should win (based on individual episodes): “Silicon Valley” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
What will win: It’s pretty certain to be Veep.