Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #9

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

Michael Schur, the creative mind behind “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” came up with something that didn’t seem like it would work as well for his latest idea. Fortunately, it surpassed expectations, and both Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are superb choices for their roles, supported by a fabulous cast in a really fun and enjoyable show.

Best Episode: “Jason Mendoza
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #10

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

#10: The Detour

I could start by saying that I’m overjoyed that Natalie Zea, who I’ve felt for a long time is one of the best actresses working in television, has finally found a regular role worthy of her talents. Her onscreen children, however, are just as great, and this theoretically throwaway TBS comedy managed to go way beyond its premise and become very watchable and funny.

Best Episode: Pilots
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #11

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

#11: Insecure

HBO has ventured into new territory with its comedies recently, and this fun, fresh show is one of its finest experiments. Issa Rae is a fantastic delight, full of nervous energy and an occasional tendency to say the wrong thing. It’s not just Issa’s story, and that’s what makes this show so worth watching, with humor and unexpected drama melded together to make an extremely well-rounded breakout hit.

Best Episode: “Racist as F**k
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #12

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

Michelle Dockery spent what felt like decades in period garb and a posh English accent on “Downton Abbey,” and it’s hard to believe that she would be able to top that. Yet less than a year later, she’s already in a completely different, mesmerizing role in an unbelievably plot-driven show that’s gripping and extremely intriguing.

Best Episode: “Pilot Review
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #13

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

I don’t watch many shows on WGN, but this slavery-centered series made it onto my radar and stuck. It’s not the kind of subject commonly covered on television, and it’s refreshing to see an involving and compelling story presented that’s full of both drama and intrigue. I’ll be especially interested to see what happens with season two after a transformative season finale.

Best Episode: “The Lord’s Day
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #14

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

#14: The Catch

I would never have thought to cast Mireille Enos in this seductive, comic role after her dark, miserable turn on “The Killing,” but she was great on this surprisingly entertaining and enthralling caper opposite another actor playing against type, Peter Krause. This show is fun and involving, and I’m eager to find out when season two will air.

Best Episode: “The Laragan Gambit
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #15

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

I’ve been a big flash of “The Flash” since it started, and spinning off a few recurring players and adding a few introduced on sister show “Arrow” turned out to be a tremendously entertaining success, sending its characters through time on fun adventures. A directional shift at the start of season two was welcome, and the show continues to be dependably enjoyable.

Best Episode: “Marooned
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Top 16 New Shows of 2016: #16

My annual TV Awards, the AFT Television Awards, are given out during the summer. It’s always nice to reflect midway through the television season to reflect back on all the calendar year introduced us to. As 2016 closes out and 2017 begins, here’s a look back at the best new shows of the year.

Pamela Adlon, who was probably the best part of “Californication,” found a perfect opportunity to follow up on an Emmy-nominated recurring role on “Louie” and find her own showcase. There was something that felt very real and genuine about FX’s frank, honest show which had some very solid moments in its first season.

Best Episode: “Future Fever
Pilot Review | Episode Reviews

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Timeless

Timeless: Season 1, Episode 10 “The Capture of Benedict Arnold” (B+)

I knew that this episode, which marks this show’s last installment until mid-January, had to end with a huge game-changing cliffhanger, and I’m glad to see that it didn’t disappoint. Benedict Arnold seems like a fantastic historical figure for this show to cover, and how convenient that Flynn could just be a foreign spy helping whichever side benefited him most. Neither Arnold nor General George Washington were particularly pleasant people, and our friends were bold to try to seem like Arnold’s compatriots. It was an intriguing surprise to discover that Rittenhouse was once a person and not just an organization, and I’m pretty sure that we have here is a classic case of time travel to kill the father that then results in the son seeing his father’s death and becoming the person he’s meant to be because of that incident. Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus working so casually with Flynn felt strange, but I think this is the start of the transformation, since we got that great ending with Flynn taking off in the mothership with Lucy aboard, headed to some unknown destination where he will presumably show her whatever it takes for her to change her tune. I’d love to see a more advanced version of this show where Lucy is on the other side of things and Wyatt and Rufus have to try to combat her and see how they can stop her or understand what she’s really up to. I don’t expect that to happen too soon, but with Agent Christopher asking questions and Mason telling Rufus that he’s well aware of his lies to Rittenhouse, things are bound to explode sooner or later.

What I’m Watching: People of Earth

People of Earth: Season 1, Episode 8 “Mars or Bust” (B+)

There’s definitely a point at which being part of the group becomes problematic for your real life, and Ozzie saw that in a big way when he was being honored for his big exposé about Jonathan and then saw a job offer from the New York Times disappear instantly because he honestly answered a question about whether he believed in aliens. Even worse was the fact that the job offer didn’t go away, but came with the condition that he walk back what he said, something that totally negates all the progress he’s achieved. Leaving Beacon was a big step, but he couldn’t do it without seeing something that made him realize that he can’t suppress what he knows to be true. Jerry is being awfully assertive with Yvonne, and her desire to keep a secret romance up rather than move in together seems pretty fair, even though Jerry took it particularly poorly. Father Doug getting abducted was an interesting twist, though it turns out it was just H. Jon Benjamin’s Officer Glimmer paying some local kids to kidnap him so that he would come to the conclusions that all this alien nonsense in an unacceptable distraction. Jeff reprogramming Nancy for the sake of the mission was a fantastic development, and I love that he sent her into Star-Crossed and then ended up sharing some true emotions and feelings about his dearly departed friend Kurt. We have just two back-to-back episodes left, and I’m thrilled that this show secured a renewal for a second season.

What I’m Watching: Divorce (Season Finale)

Divorce: Season 1, Episode 10 “Détente” (B+)

Opening this episode with Robert wearing a suit and showing a FunSpace video to potential investors made it seem like he was really doing well and might actually achieve his dream. Finding out that his assets had been frozen and his check not clearing was what was going to stop him from making it was a real blow, and it put him in a really bad place. It was surprising to hear Tony suggest that Frances might not have even been the one who initiated it, and when all Frances talked about when Robert called to congratulate her about the gallery was how great it feels to see your dreams come true, that just sealed the deal. This episode ended with Frances saying something that sounded a whole lot like what Robert said so vindictively at the end of the pilot, but without any of the enjoyment of getting revenge. Calling the police to report Frances kidnapping their children crossed a huge line, and there’s no going back from that. The night before, Frances did do really well with her opening, and she even got to react dismissively to Julian showing up to profess his affection for her. Denise buying a lot of alcohol and then finding a lost child looking for his mom was an interesting moment, one that showed just how much she’s on a different page than her unhappy husband. This show, after an unenticing pilot, turned out to be pretty great, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in what’s sure to be a much more hostile season two.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Thomas Haden Church as Robert

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 3, Episode 4 (B+)

After appreciating that last week’s episode continued its narrative directly from Juliette’s perspective into Noah’s, I’m even more glad to see that this installment has returned us to conflicting accounts with no definitive clarification on who’s right, a frustrating but fascinating facet of the show. I was particularly moved by the framing and cinematography that shows Alison as a rightfully concerned mother in stark contrast to what Cole saw, which was Alison freaking out and then earning a demerit in the supervisor’s book for her overreaction. It’s just as stark to see how Cole is so sympathetic to Alison and sees her in a kindhearted light where he wants her to succeed, while Alison perceives him as cold and judgmental. Luisa wasn’t particularly nice to Alison in either of their recollection of events, and after she made Alison take her cake back, she responded relatively well to Alison calling her a monster by agreeing to let her see Joanie more. Alison is trying to get her life back on track, and it’s hard for her to see her daughter living in such luxury away from her while she doesn’t have much and needs to fight just to be able to spend time for her. It’s crazy to think how little Noah figures into what Alison and Cole think about, and his return thanks to visits from the police managed to make them into adulterers once again. Naturally, Noah wasn’t going to stay away for long, and his physical return following Alison stopping to reflect on what felt like happiness was a very dramatic and effective way to end this episode.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 7, Episode 11 “Happily Ever After” (B+)

With just one episode left to go this season, it feels like all the plotlines are really wrapping up, with few outstanding problems at this moment. Depositing and framing her $160,000 check has allowed Fiona to be happy, and she didn’t waste much time in visiting her newly gutted space to make a contact who could now allow her to do great things with the money that she made and put her enterprising talents to good use. Though Etta isn’t happy about going into assisted living, Fiona really is doing right by her. Lip is on the mend, finding a kindred spirit who also isn’t into the monotony of meetings and who suggested, of all things, that he take up knitting. Ian proved his worth by hotwiring a car better than his jailbird boyfriend, finding a way to get cash without killing anyone, and then making the right decision not to go with Mikey to Mexico and instead return to his relatively stable life. Debs is out of the woods with her parenting issues, and now she’s ready to move on to welding after the loss of her job thanks to the laundromat’s conversion into a Jamba Juice. After railing against computers and trying to translate his last name into Spanish, Kev found his calling bartending at a gay club, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s considering being more open with his sexuality to make a few dollars, something I imagine that Veronica, who has recently dabbled in bisexuality, may actually support. Frank and Monica getting married was quite the event, with screaming and punching during the vows, but ultimately they did have a sweet connection about being perfect for each other. And then we have an unexpectedly devastating ending, with Frank holding his dead wife in his arms, having only experienced the happiness of getting back together for a brief moment.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead (Mid-Season Finale)

The Walking Dead: Season 7, Episode 8 “Hearts Still Beating” (B+)

I’m still very disturbed by this show and wondering why it needs to feature such dark, depressing ideas of the depths of humanity, but there’s no denying that this was a totally captivating hour of television. Somehow, Negan shaving his beard made him seem more threatening. I suspected that there was no way he would appreciate the boldness that Spencer employed by showing up to Rick’s door to suggest that he should be in charge instead, and asking him if he had guts so that he could slice him open for a very brutal visual display of power was pretty horrific. Seeing everyone gathered around with mouths agape and tears falling from their eyes was harrowing, and I was shocked that Rosita pulled out her gun and fired one of Eugene’s homemade bullets at Negan. That would have been far too easy a way for him to die, and instead Negan just threatened her and then had a random person, who turned out to be Olivia, killed. After Rick refused to say thank you, Negan just left, leaving things off on a much calmer note than expected, with a sentimental hugging and smiling party, including escapee Darryl, to close out the hour with hope and optimism. With Eugene taken in to make bullets for Negan and nothing actually having changed regarding their situation, I don’t see what cause there is for celebration, and I predict that things will be just as grim when the show returns in February. Maybe I’ll be wrong and they can actually be happy for a little bit.

What I’m Watching: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Season Finale)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Season 1, Episode 8 “Two Sane Guys Doing Normal Things” (B+)

This is definitely one of my favorite new shows, and the way that things concluded in this hour, especially after the previous wild revelatory episode only cemented that. Every character that we’ve met so far played an important role in the way things played out, and now things are set to head in a totally different direction. The Rowdy Three came in very handy to beat up all the Men of the Machine, and it’s great to see Amanda very happy with them. Thanks to some crafty thinking from Dirk and Todd and some quick action by Farah, they were able to switch Lydia and the dog back, giving us the first opportunity to hear the real Lydia speak. It turns out that she understood what was going on pretty well and even had four million dollars to spare. Bart not killing Dirk was a relief, but it was much more exciting to see that Ken was supposed to be there too, since he knew how to make the machine work. Farah’s investment in Dirk’s detective agency is a great idea, and Dirk promoting Todd to Ward was a fun if not quite impactful development. Ending things on a happy note might have worked, but instead we got the government coming to bring in all of their different agents, which is going to change things and make for a very different second season. Todd developing the disease is a twist I didn’t expect, and after such a wild first year, I can’t wait to have this show back again.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Everyone? If I had to choose, maybe Fiona Dourif as Bart or Jade Eshete as Farah

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What I’m Watching: Luke Cage

Luke Cage: Season 1, Episode 11 “Now You’re Mine” (B+)

This show has really developed its own signature style, and there were a few moments during this episode where its token music kicked in, indicating that things were about to get crazy. It’s incredible just how little the police and the reporters outside the club knew about what was going on, and I kept wishing that Misty was going to think to try to send a text when her service went out and she couldn’t transmit some truly crucial information to a certain inspector that would have cleared up a whole lot. Fortunately, even Mariah’s deputy wasn’t so set on the fact that Luke was bad and that killing him with advanced bullets was the way to go, and therefore the episode ended emphatically with Luke being arrested and going in willingly, hoping to get a fair shake from the police and from the media. Diamondback gave us a good deal of background about who he is and why he hates Luke so much, and he’s getting to be so vindictive that even those like Shades who are just as much out for themselves are no longer behind him. The MVP of the hour was Claire, who proved that she is capable of remaining cool in any situation, lying to save someone she didn’t know and then getting a free pass to roam about and look through a secret exit whose location she managed to communicate to Luke by tapping on a wall. With just two episodes left this season, I’m eager to see what comes next for Luke and for Harlem.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 2, Episode 7 “Who’s the Cool Girl Josh is Dating?” (B+)

I think this was an even better episode than the last one in how it used its “squad” and showed how both of Josh’s exes became furiously obsessed with looking into Josh’s life after seeing just one photo on social media. The way that they tried to hide it and uttered nonsense alerted Heather to the fact that they weren’t paying any attention to what they were saying, and she, in a relatively non-judgmental way, was able to see that they were hopelessly involved with something that was never going to play positively for them. I love the interactions between Rebecca and Valencia now that they’re a united front, and I enjoyed Valencia’s comment that Rebecca thought she was dumb but it was because she makes so many obscure references. It’s impressive that Brittany Snow, in just her second appearance, got to sing a song entirely by herself, and it’s clear that she’s just as poor a fit for Josh as his two crazy exes were. Josh’s experience trying to be a hipster and order a cup of coffee was pretty awkward, and he’s in way over his head. For now, Rebecca and Valencia seem to have dodged a bullet with this car-cat business, but the calm can’t last long. Paula disappointing her husband by missing his performance was a shame, and I do hope that’s one relationship that doesn’t become too strained since it’s really not what Paula needs right now in her life, especially as she risks alienating both Rebecca and Sunil by focusing on neither of them and just the law.

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 2, Episode 7 “Swim Survivor Zen Talk” (B)

I enjoyed two of these segments a whole lot and the other two were decent if not nearly as fun. I’ll start with the two that were just okay. John trying to film a “Survivor” audition tape seems a bit outdated given that the show has been running for sixteen years, but my friend Andrew, who I just saw a few weeks ago, argues that it’s still one of the best shows on the air. Tim trying to hijack his tape and outwit him to impress Jeff Probst was somewhat predictable, and of course all their squabbling just led to Jeff, appearing as himself, agreeing with his team that Clementine, who showed up in a bikini in just one frame, was their obvious choice. Heather teaching Sophia about sex was more than a little extreme, and her asking Matt and Colleen if they had just had sex became a truly awkward family topic. Fortunately, Jen had her fake meditating as a great excuse to get away. If you think about it, she was practicing a kind of relaxation technique, even if playing video games on your phone isn’t regarded as highly in normal circles as deep breathing. I also like that Greg was more impressed and jealous than anything else when he found out about her deception. Colleen’s reason for not learning how to swim was certainly unique, and I loved her deflection technique: “Who even swims anymore? We have cars!” Matt pushing her into the pool as a lesson about the physics of swimming was a poor choice, and I’m glad that she ultimately ended up succeeding in a children’s class as the one student who wasn’t peeing in the pool.

What I’m Watching: The Great Indoors

The Great Indoors: Season 1, Episode 7 “At Emma” (B+)

I know it’s not sophisticated, but sometimes this show just cracks me up. I’m happy to ignore all the hopelessly sexual innuendos that Clark cluelessly made at the zoo, and instead focus on the main millennial problem of the installment: Emma expected a raise for not actually doing anything spectacular and got a harsh reality check from our good friend Jack. Framing it as a warning rather than a promotion since he had just seen her literally sleeping - unapologetically - on her desk moments earlier predictably sent her running, and in this new information age, that means getting a job at a rival company right away. I enjoyed Jack and Roland’s efforts to do her hourly tasklist, with the higlights being Jack’s blurry “hashtag lapm” picture and Roland confusing Google and Twitter, typing in such things as “private mode Judi Dench bikini” and then posting them. Emma’s new workplace was totally absurd, and I loved Jack’s interactions with the hipster who was not at all impressed with him, a sentiment Jack echoed perfectly. Jack’s hire was also pretty poor, and his attempts to defend her fell very flat. Eddie’s eagerness to rebrand and dabble in magic was a fun subplot, and the best part was when Clark freaked out when, somehow, Eddie delivered his order of a hot dog by telling him to check behind his ear. I’m not so sure that’s possible, but there are plenty of things on this show that require a considerable amount of suspension that has to be excused for it to work.

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 2, Episode 8 “The Capone Way” (B+)

It’s fun watching this show at the same time as “Timeless,” though it can also get confusing when the time-travelers depend on what they’ve seen in movies as the basis for how things work in real life and when a lot of the same things happen on both shows. After a slight alien distraction last week, this show got back to what it’s really about with a firm definition of the two - not three - villains who want to destroy the legends and pretty much time itself. The only one I’m very familiar with is the Reverse-Flash, and now in addition to Damien Darhk, we have Malcolm Merlyn, another “Arrow” character with a penchant for evil. His presence has certainly riled up those who knew him, and fortunately Sara was able to resist his offer to reset time for her. It’s a good thing that they realized that Stein wasn’t himself, which was poorly timed given how strange he was acting because of the existence of his daughter. While Ray and Nate were fighting like siblings, they had fun playing Elliot Ness and his associate Bob De Niro, and I like that Ray’s first comment upon seeing the real Ness was that he didn’t look like Kevin Costner. Amara and Mick posing as Bonnie and Clyde was great (and hilarious given the theme of this week’s “Timeless”). After some worrisome gunfire on the ship, we know who the bad guys are after, and it turns out it’s none other than Rip Hunter, who apparently is directing a movie about his own exploits back in 1967.

Monday, December 19, 2016

What I’m Watching: Rectify (Penultimate Episode)

Rectify: Season 4, Episode 7 “Happy Unburdening” (B+)

This episode opened with a monumentally therapeutic but also highly disturbing detailed account of his sexual assault to his therapist. Hearing Daniel explain what happened sheds a lot of light on how he is the person he is, and it’s a sad thing to see that, even after the friendly invitation he got from his new roommate to go out and socialize, something he never would been have included in back home, he still spent the closing moments of the episode listening to the recording of him talking about his assault. It was almost as unsettling – and even more heartbreaking – to hear about the embarrassment of what actually happened with the investigation where no one even bothered to consider that Daniel might not be guilty after he confessed, going so far as to let other persons of interest go without checking their alleged activities. Jon setting up the meeting for Bobby to apologize to Amantha was a nice gesture even if it felt like an ambush, and it obviously set Amantha off enough for her to go off on her mother, who was busy selling off all of her stuff with her youngest son’s help. I like where Teddy and Tawney’s relationship is heading, as they still want to spend time together before things change and agree that mediation is probably the way to go, something that Tawney is going to look into. Teddy also got great reactions from both of his parents when he broke the news of his divorce. I liked seeing Daniel energetic about helping Chloe pack, and she’s a really good person for him who is going to help him end on a hopefully positive note in this show’s series finale, which is sure to be powerful and memorable.

What I’m Watching: Designated Survivor

Designated Survivor: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Blueprint” (C)

It seems inevitable that a whistleblower would have showed up on this show, as if there weren’t enough high-profile secrets that are way too out in the open to be remotely believable. The fact that someone could leak something incriminating to get Tom to seriously consider firing Emily but withhold important evidence that proved every single allegation that she had cited seems far too convenient and totally out of the realm of control. At least Tom has smart people by his side, with Aaron, Emily, and Seth all watching out for him in different ways. Aaron realizing what the whistleblower wanted and helping to make it all go away was very useful, and it’s good to see that he’s firmly on the president’s side now. On the far more action-oriented side of things, we were introduced to Reed Diamond’s director of Internal Affairs, who should be smart enough to realize that Jason is the victim of a frame job. Instead, Hannah is out in the wind all by herself, discovering such things as Catalan being in MacLeish’s unit where all of his men say exactly the same thing about his heroism. Calling Kimble was a smart move, but driving like a maniac only to be hit quite deliberately by a car en route didn’t help her cause much. This is the kind of thing that was worth discussing on the phone just to make sure she didn’t get killed first. Now that she is likely out of the picture, we’re treated to such thrills as Tom taking off his glasses to show just how precarious his situation is with a traitor in his government.

Pilot Review: Shut Eye

Shut Eye (Hulu)
Premiered December 7

All I needed to compel me to watch this pilot was seeing that Jeffrey Donovan was the star. I started watching “Burn Notice” in its second season because Tricia Helfer joined the cast, and thoroughly enjoyed that show all the way to the end, with Donovan providing a unique energy that worked just right for that particular show. I didn’t know a thing about this series before I watched it, and I found this opening installment to be somewhat intriguing. To me, a show about scammers who pretend to be fortune tellers is interesting enough, and therefore I’m not clear why this had to go to a point of Charlie being able to see the future. This is a good companion piece to “Chance,” a show that I would have liked to watch but just couldn’t get on board with a few weeks ago when it started. I’m more inclined to give this one a chance, but I’m not sure how long I’d stick with it. I like Donovan in this role, even if it’s not as fun, and I think that Kadee Strickland does a great job making his wife Linda an even more magnetic central character. I liked Emmanuelle Chriqui on “Entourage” and think she’s found a far more complex part here as a hypnotist with a few secrets of her own. I’m not sure what to make of David Zayas’ gangster or Isabella Rossellini’s tyrannical matriarch, with the former seeming like a much better part of the show than the latter. I’m interested to see more and wonder if episode two will make me want to stick with this show for the rest of the season, which was all already released online a week and a half ago.

How will it work as a series? Charlie spent most of the episode saying that he needed to run everything by Fonso, and now he’s saying something completely different, not to mention the fact that Linda is engaging in an illicit relationship with Gina that her husband (probably) doesn’t know anything about. This should be volatile and enthralling if nothing else.
How long will it last? Ratings data for Hulu isn’t readily available or helpful, but that also means that it’s not so relevant. “Chance” was better-reviewed than this series, so that doesn’t suggest a hopeful future for this one, but Hulu offering something to binge right away may be a plus that could give this show a second season.

Pilot grade: B

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” (B+)

As this show wraps up the first part of its season before a shorter winter hiatus than usual, I’m glad to see that one of its primary plotlines has now been fully resolved and we’re heading into more compelling territory for the future, which is good since I was considering giving up on this show due to the direction it was headed. Eli was a formidable threat with immense power, and his ability to create water was a dangerous sign of what he might be able to do given the opportunity. Fortunately, Coulson was there with a quip about getting a girlfriend instead and helped to compel Robbie to break free and then dispense with his power-corrupted evil uncle. I like seeing Yo-Yo in action, and it’s nice that she and Mac have finally expressed their feelings for each other. This new superpowered team is cool, and the best part is that they’re supported by Mace, who more than made up for his secretiveness with his total honesty. Explaining Daisy’s presence as a long-term undercover job was brilliant, and now she can be a bona-fide member of the team again. Sponsoring Holden’s work in-house seemed like a positive step, but it appears that Aida’s ability to feel pain has led her to evolve to the point of snapping an agent’s neck and knocking May out, begging the question of just who it is that is sitting and enjoying a drink with Coulson. I guess we’ll find out when the show comes back in January!

What I’m Watching: Good Behavior

Good Behavior: Season 1, Episode 5 “Beautiful Things Deserve Beautiful Things” (B+)

There’s no denying that Letty is a fantastic and magnetic lead character. What makes this show great is that it invests similarly in its two other primary players, Javier and Christian, to give them depth and moral complexities of their own. Javier was much more prone to sharing than usual after picking Letty up, probably because they’re now past her owing him anything and on to a new stage of their relationship. He may be estranged from his family, but the closeness of his connection with his sister and her two kids is much more human and civil than I would have expected. I love that Letty never wants to go along with the lies Javier suggests for her, and telling his nieces that she worked for Instagram deleting nude selfies was pretty hilarious. Javier being a professional chef came as a surprise, and it looks like he may be getting back to his craft, which also means talking to the family members he swore off long ago. I’m impressed that Christian, after being threatened with termination for covering for Letty so many times, used a hotel name on a bathroom in the back of a picture to track her down. Letty was amazingly honest with him right off the bat, and deciding to take the score from someone else’s con just for the thrill of it was a delight to see. Their relationship is fascinating, and I’m so excited to see what they do next. Letty lying to Javier about ripping off his sister isn’t a great start, and I’m not sure that Christian is going to be able to keep it under wraps for long.

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 1, Episode 10 “Last Christmas” (B+)

As this show is blowing up and earning numerous awards nominations, it’s great to see an episode that I’d easily consider the best since the pilot. I’ve found this show to be overrated over the course of the past nine episodes, and this hour actually made me think that maybe it can occasionally live up to the hype. Starting with Kate’s appendix needing to come out and Dr. K being in the hospital preparing for his death made it seem like this episode would be firmly grounded in the past, but instead it was all that was happening in the present that proved to be more compelling. I was thinking that this show was all about holiday episodes, but that is the time when families come together. An awkward Hanukkah focus with Sloane’s family led to the suggestion of a triumphant plan and what may well be the healthies non-relationship Kevin has ever had. Rebecca realizing how little she knows about her daughter’s current state was an important bonding moment for them, but nothing could top Toby showing up and making Kate happier than she’s been in a long time. Randall talking a coworker, played by Jimmi Simpson from “Westworld,” out of killing himself, which was pretty powerful, and then he learned from his daughter that his father is gay or bi, engaged in a relationship with an intriguing man played by the always great Denis O’Hare. Such a heartwarming holiday episode wasn’t going to end without a twist to keep viewers anxiously awaiting its return in early January, and seeing Toby collapse and then apparently code while in surgery was an effective and heartbreaking way to do that.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 6, Episode 9 “Es Good” (B-)

This episode was somewhat enjoyable, but I’m still not at all convinced that Robby should continue to be on this show. I liked it when he was a romantic rival for Schmidt with Cece, fully confident and self-assured but also likeable enough. When he was pining for Jess and then hopelessly injured, he was pretty pathetic, and now all of a sudden he’s a total enigma that Jess knows nothing about who has done so much incredible and not credible things in his life. Of course Jess would overreact to Robby’s casual dismissal of their relationship status by inventing a date of her own, but you’d think she could have done better than a man who didn’t speak English and mulled his own wildly hallucinogenic wine. Robby and Jess’ reunion where they professed their affection for each other was sweet, so maybe this relationship will improve slightly going forward. I liked seeing Winston and Cece bond over being needed by Jess, and even with Robby around, this was the best use of Winston we’ve seen in a while. I recognized Jason the contractor from his role as the male lead on “Mike and Molly,” and I think the best part of his so-so role was Schmidt’s attempt to speak the language of the common people, something he’s hopelessly unable to relate to. Stealing things out of Jason’s truck was a silly diversion, but at least the vegan contractor turned out to be a good guy who had even taken the items off the invoice when he realized that he wasn’t going to use them for this job.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 3, Episode 9 “The Present” (B+)

This is the kind of Christmas episode that I like more than those that just feature families and friends getting together for the holidays. The group of allies working with the Flash to combat evil metahumans and anyone else who might threaten Central City in however many multiverses just keeps growing, with Cecile and Julian officially joining the ranks and none other than Jay Garrick showing up with some fatherly wisdom to help Barry get back on track. The discovery for Barry and confirmation for us that Julian is Alchemy led to a trusting act on Barry’s part of revealing the identity of the Flash and enlightening a clueless Julian about his alter ego. It’s interesting to me that Savitar is only visible to other speedsters, and how useful that Barry just happens to know two of those who were able to help him go up against him. This was a much more positive use of the speed force than the episode where it took human form to speak to Barry, and it also enabled Barry to see something really worrisome, which was Iris being killed by Savitar in the future. I’m sure that’s going to haunt him, but for now this show went into its six-week winter hiatus with nothing more than pleasant thoughts about Christmas, caroling, and Caitlin using her powers to help them have a white Christmas. And Wally is even part of the team now as Kid Flash with a pretty ugly suit, and, until devastation strikes, Barry and Iris are officially going to live together, which is pretty sweet.

What I’m Watching: Search Party

Search Party: Season 1, Episodes 5 and 6 “The Mystery of the Golden Charm” and “The Secret of the Sinister Ceremony” (B+)

There is no denying that a lot of the things that happen on this show are really weird. What keeps this show in check is the way that its characters react to them. When Dory, Elliott, and Portia were trying to infiltrate the cult, they heard some off-putting stories and then tried to contribute their own. As usual, the mention of Chantal killed it all, and then we got our first real confirmation that something bad is really happening, following the creepy birthing and the very direct message left on the wall of Dory’s apartment. She was also able to get some support in the form of the private investigator hired by Chantal’s family who had been tailing her and who was close to being on the same page with her about what was going on. Of a handful of guest stars in these installments, the best and most notable was Ron Livingston, perfectly cast as Keith, who talked his way out of nearly being arrested when Dory realized he was tailing her and then helped her find a few clues. Christine Taylor is entertaining as Gail, and I couldn’t figure out who Brick was played by but immediately made the connection when I saw Parker Posey’s name in the credits. Among the best moments of these two episodes were Drew’s family’s reactions to Dory’s absence and her role in Drew’s life in general and the sudden realization of the director that Portia was supposed to be playing a Hispanic character.

What I’m Watching: Timeless

Timeless: Season 1, Episode 9 “Last Ride of Bonnie and Clyde” (B+)

I wouldn’t have immediately thought of Bonnie and Clyde as historical figures since the Oscar-winning 1967 movie made about them created such an impression on me when I saw it probably ten or so years ago. What was most effective about this episode was seeing the excitement with which Lucy and Wyatt realized where they were as they ended up right in the middle of the final heist pulled by the Barrow Gang. After Lucy was told that she couldn’t open a bank account with permission from either her father or her husband, she had a much easier time impressing Bonnie and Clyde by taking credit for some of the robberies that the famed couple didn’t actually commit. I was thinking during this episode that this show presents a cool platform for lesser-known actors to get noticed playing famous people from the past. The only guest star I recognized in this hour was Chris Mulkey from “Sleeper Cell” and many other things as dogged investigator Frank Hamer. Rufus was smart to use his tape recorder to prove that he was telling the truth, and it didn’t hurt anyone since all those who heard it died just moments later. I like that our heroes don’t always succeed in stopping Flynn, and that their actions in the past can be futile. In this hour, we got a long-awaited kiss between Lucy and Wyatt that was just meant to be staged but will clearly mean more going forward, and we also found out that Agent Christopher is certainly one of the good guys, but she’s in far more danger than she realizes with the omniscient Rittenhouse.

What I’m Watching: People of Earth

People of Earth: Season 1, Episode 7 “Last Day on Earth” (A-)

I really liked this episode, and I feel like this show, which was renewed recently for a second season (hooray!), has come into himself in a fantastic way. Jerry is sometimes an obnoxious character, but he was perfect in this installment. Calculating the day on which, throughout history, people were taken and then not returned got him set for the biggest day of his life, where he was finally going to be abducted by aliens. I love that he quit his job and had a checklist, including packing astronaut snacks. Going over to Yvonne’s house to confess his feelings was sweet, and I love that she felt the same way and offered to drive him to his abduction the next morning. When he didn’t get taken, it was wonderful to see the group be totally supportive of his validity and worth since the aliens hadn’t chosen him. It’s just as great to see Jonathan sacrifice himself to make sure that Ozzie’s life could be spared, since, when he was abducted as a child, Ozzie drew a picture of Jonathan and called him his friend. I hope that we’ll still see Jonathan going forward, and maybe he can be a good friend to Ozzie now. My favorite part of the episode was the romance between Don and Kelly, with Don apologizing for all male privilege and then remarking that no one ever asks if he wants a drink. His first brainfreeze – and daiquiri – experience was entertaining, and I love that he has now developed a very polite assertiveness which he used with a very unamused Jeff.

What I’m Watching: Divorce

Divorce: Season 1, Episode 9 “Another Party” (B+)

With all of the big end-of-year awards, this show picked up just one nomination, a Best Actress bid for four-time winner Sarah Jessica Parker at the Golden Globes. While she receives top billing in the show, costar Thomas Haden Church, who I didn’t like at all in the first episode, quickly improved and is now probably the show’s most entertaining component, yet he hasn’t received any recognition. I think most probably judged this show based on its pilot and didn’t give it more of a chance, something I do occasionally since I can’t possibly stick with every series after a mediocre or off-putting series premiere. What we’ve come to at this point is a point of entertaining discourse, with Frances fighting to get rid of the snake and Robert seeming like an appointment angel while all Frances knows is the many names of the Tooth Fairy. Frances’ experience trying to get involved in parent school activities was plentifully awkward, with her decision to confront Gillian Vigman’s Janice a particularly poor choice. Hiring a new lawyer at Max’s suggestion introduced us to Elaine Campbell, portrayed by J. Smith Cameron, who plays a totally different kind of person on “Rectify.” Unfortunately, her style is far more aggressive than Max’s, and serving Robert with divorce papers while he was in the middle of coaching a basketball game seems to have soured things considerably. It’s interesting to see that Robert’s business ideas might not be all bad, and Nick may even end up being an investor. Nick’s newfound happiness with Diane couldn’t have lasted forever, and their miserable interaction when she was obsessing about prolonging the toast was uncomfortable. The best part of the episode was the unexpected flirtation between Dallas and Tony, which ended miserably after some crazy sex when Tony couldn’t get over her having dropped a Tums under the seat in his car.

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 3, Episode 3 (B+)

I was very surprised when I saw the opening title card of this episode with Juliette’s name on it. I didn’t realize that she was going to be entitled to her own perspective since we just met her, but I guess the important part of this show is that it has to do with affairs centered around Noah and Alison, and there are plenty of people involved in that as the web of sex and lust just keeps growing. Juliette is undeniably a great character, and it was interesting to watch her just take in her students arguing about consent, contributing that sex might not survive since the articulate is the enemy of erotic. She’s awfully open about everything with her students, as Sarah Ramos’ Audrey showed up to proclaim that she hates Noah but all she can think about is having sex with him, and then Mike stayed behind for some intense sex of his own with his professor. Juliette has her own complicated marriage, and it’s very fortuitous that she stopped by Noah’s place just in time to save him from certain death from that stab wound and all that blood. I like that Noah’s subsequent perspective took right over from that very moment, continuing the story as Noah flashed back, in his delirium, to his time in prison. I saw Brendan Fraser’s name in the credits during the season premiere but didn’t spot him on the show, and it took me a minute to recognize him as the guard who was initially very friendly to Noah and then turned immediately into someone cruel, apparently horrible enough to Noah to make him think that he was the one who stabbed him. My favorite part of the episode was when Noah had to take a guess at which woman showed up at the hospital claiming to be his wife, with the far too domineering Helen proving to be the one. Telling her that she could stay but needed to stop talking was a great line, and she took it without any protest. I really wish we’d see more of Jennifer Esposito, who was great in one short scene as Noah’s sister. She should be on every show. Hopefully she’ll be back next time Noah is the focus of an episode.

What I’m Watching: Westworld (Season Finale)

Westworld: Season 1, Episode 10 “The Bicameral Mind” (A-)

I’m pretty impressed with myself – I managed to watch this finale almost two weeks after it aired and I didn’t have anything ruined. And there was a lot to ruin in this episode, though one thing was infinitely more impactful and transformative than the rest. I had always wondered about how Dolores kept waking up and being questioned by Dr. Ford and the technicians and then seemingly returning to the park and her same journey with William. The way in which his transformation into the Man in Black was revealed was spectacular, and I loved realizing the connection part of the way through his explanation. That twist is an indication of masterful storytelling, following two narratives happening in very different times with the same exact characters. What an awful place this park must be to be able to transform someone like William into the black-souled Man in Black. The notion of the maze being for the hosts and not the guests is interesting, and what I’m still not quite clear on is how only hosts can be hurt in the park yet both Arnold and then – quite dramatically – Dr. Ford were shot in the head by Dolores and actually died. It was so strange to see all the hosts on display with the board eagerly watching and applauding, and it quickly turned into a horror show that even Charlotte won’t be able to spin, if she makes it out alive. Maeve’s hostile takeover was brutal, employing the aid of two programmed killers to make her escape and then leaving them behind to go see the world on her own. The danger of the rise of the machine was on full display here, and what I can’t comprehend is why Felix did all that he did to assist her. I’ll assume it was out of lust or love, and Maeve’s best line was to tell him that he made a terrible human being, which was a compliment. Her deciding not to leave was a tease that will leave us waiting a while to find out if hosts actually can leave the park, and at least we got confirmation that her awakening is playing out at the same time as Dr. Ford’s death, which all but guarantees that her attempt escape will go unnoticed because everyone in Westworld has much more problematic things to deal with at the moment. This has been a superb season, and I look forward to seeing season two whenever it comes out after this show takes home a handful of deserved awards.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Thandie Newton as Maeve

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 7, Episode 10 “Ride or Die” (B+)

It’s hard to decide who’s worse: Frank or Monica. You’d think that selfish Frank would be the clear winner, but Monica is far more manipulative in a sense because of the way that she purports to do everything for the sake of her kids. Hijacking and robbing a bus full of senior citizens headed to a casino was low, but it was the corruption of Neil that really made the duo dangerous. Kudos to Debs for keeping to her rules, locking the door at curfew, and then kicking her parents out after they paid Neil for his share of the take. Debs, as it turns out, is quite savvy, and even though she won’t be an employee of the laundromat much longer, she did have some great ideas to help increase profits. Fiona being bought out was unexpected, and while she literally doubled her investment almost right away, it’s not the success that she had hoped for since she isn’t the one who achieved it. I’m glad to see that she and Veronica are talking again. After tricking Kev and Veronica into signing away the bar by making them think that they were signing adoption papers, it’s a good thing that they’ve finally decided to unite against Svetlana. Mickey’s return did very unfortunate things to Ian, who is ready to ditch his relationship with Trevor and abandon everything to have a life on the run with him. Lip breaking into Helene’s house while he was wasted should put that obsession to rest, and it’s refreshing to see that he’s opting to get help since he’s in really bad shape.

What I’m Watching: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Season 7, Episode 7 “Sing Me a Song” (B+)

This episode was immensely disturbing, as just about everything involving the magnetic Negan is these days, but I found it to be much more compelling and effective than most of what we’ve seen this season. Carl, hardly the best character on this show, managed to trick the usually crafty Jesus into bailing out of the back of the truck so that he could sneak into Negan’s camp all by himself. He didn’t do a great job of hiding, yet for some reason Negan seems interested in him and opted to show him around the Saviors’ camp as if he were a guest instead of a prisoner. Negan’s brothel is a horrifying concept, and the fact that he would publicly brand someone because he dared to sleep with his own wife when the dictator is a public polygamist demonstrates how delusional he is about his situation and his immortality. Forcing Carl to take off his patch and then bringing him back home so that he can torment Olivia by propositioning her shows that, for the moment, he still has all the power. Rick picked the wrong time to go out on an off-the-books scouting mission, and Negan holding Judith on his lap while talking about how he should shoot Rick and Carl was a very foreboding ending. Good for Eugene for standing up to Rosita when she eviscerated him, and I hope he’ll be motivated nonetheless by her words to help with the resistance. Maybe Michonne will have more success with her new captive. The best part of the episode was actually the unexpected humorous and uncensored moment where Gabriel called Spencer a shit after offering some more sophisticated wisdom about how Rick showing up may have prevented the deaths of others.

What I’m Watching: Dirk’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk’s Holistic Detective Agency: Season 1, Episode 7 “Weaponized Soul” (B+)

This hour was a fantastic follow-up to the end of last week’s hour, offering up more explanation than we could ever have hoped for regarding what the machine was and everything that really happened. I’ve always questioned the validity of people traveling back in time to save themselves since they had to survive in the first place to make it to the future, but the way it was pulled off made it all worth it. I saw Julian McMahon’s name in the guest credits, and it took me a minute to realize that the former “Nip/Tuck” star was the one playing Patrick Spring, who was actually two other people and traveled forward in time from the 1880s where he originally invented the machine. The backstory of the hippies that became body-switching fanatics made more sense than I expected it to, and it’s cool that this show has no problem with people coming face-to-face with their future selves. Dirk running into Dirk and giving him a few clues to go on was a very crucial moment, and Todd was ready to never talk to him again after he realized that Dirk knew all along what was going to happen, even if he didn’t have context. Farah made a formidable shot from a car trunk, and just as she got lucky, Dirk got hit. I’m eager to see what happens in the finale and beyond thrilled that the show has already been renewed for a second season. I just hope that the finale brings back Bart, who was sorely missed in this otherwise superb episode.

What I’m Watching: Goliath (Season Finale)

Goliath: Season 1, Episode 8 “Citizens United” (B+)

I found this finale to be a very fitting conclusion to the first season of this show, and it’s both puzzling and concerning to me that, after reports that this was Amazon’s most-binged show and Billy Bob Thornton earned a Golden Globe nomination, this show has yet to be renewed for a second season. I think this year more than proved its quality, crafting a talented and packed ensemble with a handful of supporting characters who really stood out. To me, the best ones were Brittany, who played a tremendous role in this episode, and Patty, who barely appeared in it but still got in a few fantastic lines, namely asking in astonishment if the defense were under the impression that they won. After Donald made his triumphant exit from the shadows to come testify, he didn’t suffer as vicious and swift a takedown as Billy afforded Brittany. He did, however, suffer a stroke on the stand, and the final scene painted an ambiguous portrait of his fate, both eager to die and to get revenge on Billy one last time by sending him to jail for fulfilling his wish. Lucy turned out to be the real downfall for the case, destroying Donald’s credibility entirely. It’s crazy to see how quickly a $162 million judgment was reduced to $25 million and then upped back to $50 million and an admission of guilt thanks to Billy pressing it, and he even managed to get Wendell arrested after recording him. I like this show a lot, and I really do hope we get more of it.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Nina Arianda as Patty

What I’m Watching: Luke Cage

Luke Cage: Season 1, Episode 10 “Take It Personal” (B+)

Whereas “Jessica Jones,” which I still enjoy a lot more than this show, is all about a very personal journey that’s filled with anguish and misery, this show has always been about Harlem and the mood and culture of everyone in it. It surpasses even Daredevil’s repeated statements about “his city,” and part of that is because Luke isn’t the one trying to claim Harlem. With Cottonmouth out of the picture, that honor goes to Mariah, who constantly tries to spin things to her advantage, in this case taking advantage of the police brutality to turn public opinion against Luke and to bolster her position. Diamondback running around the city hurting people and screaming that he’s Luke Cage is a very effective technique, one that only Misty seems to see through as a nonsensical plan for a man who’s trying to stay under the radar. Claire demonstrated her medical resilience to save Luke again, and after he woke up and jokingly pretended not to know her, he got back on his feet very quickly. Claire’s parting line to the doctor - “Be thankful I’m not the one with the powers” - demonstrated just how much she’s in this too, but ultimately it is Luke’s battle. He had a therapeutic episode with his visit to the church and his piecing together of his past and his relationship to his brother was enlightening. Misty locating Diamondback didn’t take too long, but he drew right away and it looks like he may have hit her. Luke showing up to shield her right away was pretty awesome, and let’s hope he can identify himself as the hero to the people before they turn against him.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 2, Episode 6 “Who Needs Josh When You Have a Girl Group?” (B+)

Sometimes this show is a bit weirder and more irreverent than I would like, but when episodes that feature such things end up trying it all together in a truly compelling way, it’s completely forgivable. There were some normal strange things that worked well in this hour, like Rebecca, Heather, and Valencia singing in British accents about their ambitious and terrifying squad goals. The whole notion of that friendship is odd, but it works so well since Valencia constantly misreads every situation and asks a newly accepting Heather if she’s responding in the right way. But when it really became poignant was when Rebecca looked at Paula’s phone and lashed out at her for not wanting to be part of the group and for judging her for replacing her when she had done the very same thing with Sunil. Rarely do we get such sincere drama on this show, and I really liked that. I also loved Rebecca’s instant rivalry with Sunil based mainly on his overemphasis of his theater major and “Fiddler on the Roof” facts. I’d like to forget all about Angelique, so let’s not mention that. At first, Darryl was being horrible to Maya in the same way that most are to him, but it was all rectified when they showed up to do their awesome “dance-mergency” routine and then he named the dance the Maya. I like when supporting characters get their own threads. Trent’s return was also a bit random, but his trying to infiltrate Josh’s guy group to get with Rebecca was appropriately-timed and superbly awkward in its execution. I like that Josh got confused with Trent’s “rent” pneumonic device, though I prefer the helpful tip that if you take out the “t” it’s tent. Rebecca sleeping with Trent because she was bored and didn’t have anything else to do doesn’t really recommend her as all that good of a person anymore, especially when she repeated the action following Trent’s revelation of his virginity.

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 2, Episode 6 “Boxing Opinion Spider Beard” (B+)

I enjoyed this episode, which featured from mostly independent segments connected only by the unexplained presence of Greg’s beard that took center stage in the final vignette. I’ve noticed that most of John’s plotlines tend to be totally unconnected to the rest of the group save for just one other person, which usually tends to be a granddaughter. After a frightening flying lesson two weeks ago with Sophia, now he decided to take Samantha to his boxing gym instead of to ballet. It was fun to see her as a natural talent and then express her rage when he tried to make it seem like she had flaked out when he had instead not picked her up so that she wouldn’t outshine him. Jen is rarely the one who does something wrong, and seeing her have to try to backpedal when she went for a second opinion and then got the results forwarded immediately back to him was funny. Heather and Tim’s passive-aggressive restaurant response was fun too, and it was all wrapped up in a sweet way when Tim accepted Jen’s sincere apology right away. It’s strange to think of the usually relatively serious Joan as a prankster, and apparently Colleen values her future mother-in-law’s approval more than Matt’s as she participated in an extraordinarily elaborate prank involving a whole lot of fake spiders. Greg’s beard was never going to last, and I like that Jen tried to use Heather’s hair-growing scare technique only to find that her grizzly husband knew about it already. Fortunately, the smell of vomit can change opinions very quickly.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Great Indoors

The Great Indoors: Season 1, Episode 6 “Going Deep” (B-)

This show definitely isn’t sophisticated, but even this relatively weak installment was still pretty entertaining. We haven’t seen too much of Eddie thus far as a character in his own right, and in this episode, he got to play a bigger part, reeling from his divorce being finalized and not being sure how to move on. It was fun to see Jack disconnected almost entirely from the millennials and from his adventurer job, instead serving as a questionable influence for his best friend with his flighty advice and easy-to-regret solutions. I like that Brooke showed up to combat Jack’s ideals, instead offering a different form of therapy for the man I guess she calls her friend. Her best solution was definitely the creation of a divorce registry, something that led to the revelation that her registry expired because her engagement has gone on for almost four years. Obviously Jack is still pining for her, and she’s completely clueless that he might be a better choice than the man obsessed with a different kind of jam session. The goings-on inside the office weren’t as enticing, though it was sweet to see that Mason’s first reaction to Clark’s admission that he was into Emma was not to mock him but to be upset that his best friend hadn’t shared it with him. The early episode visit to the cart with free insults hurled at customers came back in a great way when Jack pulled off a fantastic prank by recommending it as a destination to Clark and Emma when they went on their sort-of date.

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 2, Episode 7 “Invasion!” (B)

I think the best part of this whole crossover was the merging of four logos at the start of the episode. That doesn’t say much about it, and it’s unfortunate that the action didn’t really start until the ten-minute sequence we got towards the end of the episode with everyone in play. I’m still happy that it happened, and I like that Cisco gave Kara a gift which allows her to open new breaches and could well create another crossover. It was fun to see two characters that don’t star on this show, Cisco and Felicity, get such a kick out of traveling through time with a few of the Legends, with one of them doing a much poorer job of holding in her stomach contents and adjusting to the effects of traversing the space-time continuum. It’s a circular problem that them saving a Dominator’s life sixty-five years earlier made them guilty of messing with the timeline the same way that they wanted to punish Barry for, and I guess it was important so that they could all get behind Barry and forgive him, especially his best friend Cisco. Stein getting to know his daughter after some convincing from Caitlin was sweet, and I wonder how that will affect the show going forward given that they’re sure to head to another time. I like that Oliver managed to get Kara mad in a way we really haven’t seen, and of course they ended up making up and bonding. The moments I enjoyed most in this episode were the comic ones, particularly Mick and Sara agreeing that the new president is hot.

Pilot Review: Incorporated

Incorporated (Syfy)
Premiered November 30 at 10pm

I’m not sure that there’s a sci-fi subject more popular than the dystopian future. There are so many possible ways that things could go wrong in the coming years as scientific and technological advances continue to develop, and the human race is capable of messing everything up at every turn when given the opportunity. Often, such futures are bleak and devastating, with few people still left alive and even fewer still thriving. Usually, however, there are a select few that have risen above the rest and enjoy a much more comfortable life, as portrayed in the recent film “High-Rise,” for instance, though their status can be easily changed or diminished with one wrong move. Syfy’s new show, as its title suggests, paints a picture of a future ruled by corporations, and getting ahead is all that matters. Oh, and of course there are spies and undercover agents working for those who control the less civilized territories, and they’re headed straight to the top of the reigning empire. I’m someone who is easily drawn to the appeal of this type of premise, and unfortunately I can’t report much if anything in the way of originality in this pilot, which felt cumbersome and unexciting. There are two actors I recognize from much better TV roles: Emmy nominee Julia Ormond, who played Megan’s mother on “Mad Men,” and Golden Globe nominee Dennis Haysbert, who was Senator/President Palmer on “24.” Their talents seem wasted on a show that has a decent concept but doesn’t manage to execute it in an interesting or invigorating way.

How will it work as a series? We have some idea of what’s going on and who the players are, but at this point we haven’t seen what life is like in the Red Zone. One innocent man already got framed and sent away for interrogation, and now it’s a question of how well Ben/Aaron can maintain his cover without getting himself or others killed in the process. There are sure to be twists, but I’m not convinced they’ll be all that enthralling.
How long will it last? It’s hard to find much in the way of ratings data for Syfy and for this show specifically, though reviews do seem to be relatively positive. I can’t comprehend exactly what Syfy is going for these days with its programming, and so I’d say this is a toss-up and this one is going to be renewed.


What I’m Watching: Rectify

Rectify: Season 4, Episode 6 “Physics” (B+)

This show has never been fast-moving, and with just two episodes left, it’s not in any particular rush to get to its finish. As I’ve mentioned recently, this show has become less about Daniel and more about the way that he has affected the lives of those around him. Ted apologizing to Daniel for the way that he treated him was an enlightening moment, and then he just took a very expensive cab to do some local sightseeing instead of spending the day supporting his wife. Janet, after telling Daniel about the offer to sell the shop, put it very bluntly, explaining that she’s not sure that she’ll stay married to Ted because they see the world differently. Daniel’s earlier comment that he’s daunted by his mother’s expectations was equally insightful. A lot of this show is about accepting things the way they are, and that’s the response that Jon got when he tried to get Daniel’s name cleared once and for all. Chloe suggesting the idea of therapy to help Daniel move on from the place he feels he needs to stay was bold and important, and his reply indicates that he doesn’t think he deserves to be happy, a state that’s hard to get behind and accept for anyone with a more optimistic worldview. The most magnetic moment of the episode featured Teddy, not where he shot himself trying to take down that captivating inflatable man, but when he used reverse psychology on a customer by suggesting that he buy something at Walmart instead. At first, it seemed like he wasn’t even trying, but then it became clear that the most transformed character on this show actually knows what he’s doing, even in the depths of his loneliness.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What I’m Watching: Designated Survivor

Designated Survivor: Season 1, Episode 8 “The Results” (C)

I feel like I haven’t seen this show in a month, and that’s mainly because I’m so behind on TV and no episode aired during Thanksgiving Week. I almost forgot that it was on and missed it altogether, and I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing. At this point, two more episodes have already aired and the show is on hiatus until March, so it’s probably worth catching up. The problem is that this show is not turning into what I had hoped it would be, and instead it’s failing on pretty much all fronts. Jason being blackmailed is by far the worst thread, and I can’t imagine how he thought that confessing to killing Nassar was going to play out well for him and assure that his son will be released. And on their side, where did they expect this to go? For whatever reason, Hannah is being encouraged by her own Deep Throat not to talk, and now he’s in custody but no one believes that he’s actually guilty. Everyone loves a cryptic clue-giver, and looking into 11:14pm is sure to take Hannah at least a few episodes. Tom is much more preoccupied with other things, namely going to vote to show the American public that it was safe to do so and trying to maintain his relationship with the son who might not actually be his (though he is). And of course Lisa’s total betrayal of Seth is merely a signal of the power of democracy. I’m not impressed.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 8, Episode 8 “The Alliance” (B-)

One thing that isn’t often covered on this show is the difference between the Pritchett family and the people who chose to marry into it. We know that Mitchell, Claire, and Jay are much more alike than they would prefer to admit, and to see their spouses united in occasional misery and intimidation is decently entertaining. Cam was never subtle, and the sight of Mitchell holding a pitcher of orange juice when he claimed to be running out to purchase the very same thing was entertaining. Gloria dealing with the Russian tenants upstairs by speaking just a few lines of broken Russian to intimidate them worked well, but the whole scheme was fated to fall apart once their spouses caught on to how strange they were acting. In this show’s typical style, getting the Pritchetts to vindictively decide on Italy as a vacation spot was all part of their plan and they were very pleased with themselves for planting the idea along the way. Phil being subject to the effects of the dog collar paled in comparison to that far more worthwhile card-crushing scene a few seasons back, but there’s no denying his skill with physical comedy. Haley having to babysit Rainer’s daughter was a fun subplot, giving her the opportunity to see how horrible teenage girls can be and then turning into her mother - speaking of Pritchetts - when she finally broke and yelled at her for being such an ungrateful, obnoxious brat. I don’t see her having a child anytime soon, so it’s good for her to skip straight to the teenage years.

What I’m Watching: Arrow

Arrow: Season 5, Episode 8 “Invasion!” (C+)

I don’t usually watch this show, and the only reason I’m reviewing this episode is because it was part of the epic four-series CW crossover that involves three shows I do watch. This episode was the least exciting of the three I’ve seen so far mainly because it was so “Arrow”-centric, and it also employed the tired device of characters existing in a different reality where they had to slowly piece together that something about their lives wasn’t right, something “The Flash” has handled much better this season. The only characters who aren’t regulars (anymore) on this show who got to appear in this other world were Ray and Sara, and I don’t know enough about what they did when they were first introduced here for their presence to mean much. Oliver’s squad seems much geekier than the folks at Star Labs, and I think this is a poor example of how to make a crossover episode appeal to non-fans. What I did appreciate much more were the few scenes we got of Kara and Barry taking out the trash together, stopping to high-five because they’re having plenty of fun doing it. I know that they have Mon-El and Iris to deal with, respectively, but I’d love to see the two of them get together romantically. I’m not sure how gematria came into play with the aliens, but all of a sudden there’s an alien weapon hurtling towards earth that I’m sure will be the focus on an episode I’m much more looking forward to of a show I regularly watch.

Take Three: Good Behavior

Good Behavior: Season 1, Episode 4 “Your Mama Had a Hard Night” (B+)

To me, this hour was a perfect complement to everything we’ve seen so far of Letty in her isolated journey with Javier. After fighting the notion of taking his phone number, Letty returned to a home she long left behind, and it wasn’t inviting at all. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the casting of Collette Wolfe from “You’re the Worst” as Tiffany, who took a very different path in life that got her to a place of success. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she’s fulfilled, and her husband, who had a relationship with Letty during high school, is definitely having an affair. Kyle’s eagerness to hire Letty after she failed her temp interview with her nine words-per-minute typing test was a sign that he’s especially keen on her, and naturally Letty’s despair would lead to her kissing Kyle at just the moment that Tiffany walked in. Tiffany had some truly harsh words for Letty, inspiring even Letty’s mom to step in to defend her. Letty’s mom dating one of her classmates and charging her daughter $1000 to break a restraining order didn’t much recommend her character, but in the end she stepped in when she needed to in order to help her daughter. Letty’s time spent with Jacob was uncomfortable but also sweet in nature, and it’s clear that it motivated Letty to try to get back on the right track. Calling Javier was a predictable but welcome ending, and I’m very curious to see what happens next.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season 4, Episode 7 “Deals with Our Devils” (B)

As I was watching this episode, I started to wonder whether I really need to continue with this show on a weekly basis. It’s hard to give it up though, especially after an episode that started out iffy and then ended up being far more enticing as it went on. It was hard to tell what was going on with Fitz, Coulson, and Robbie as their whereabouts were initially unknown, and them existing in a different dimension far more removed than all the other ghosts we’ve come to know was bad news. As Mac became Ghost Rider and Aida’s said that she would be able to read the book, we were treated to a far more intriguing and cool playback. Seeing Daisy’s ride happen again with Robbie in the front seat trying to convey instructions to her and Fitz planting the idea in Aida’s head made those moments much stronger, and it was pretty awesome to see Aida build a contraption that allowed them to get Fitz and Coulson back and for Robbie to eventually come through. The unfortunate holdovers are that Robbie and Mac now share some dark Ghost Rider secret and Aida became far too intelligent and now might be a danger to everyone around her, ready to rise up against her human overlords. We also have the mystery that came with the man that Simmons helped to thaw before she was hooded and taken back to the team on Director Mace’s orders, something I’m sure we’ll soon revisit.

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Trip” (B-)

Since I’m a few weeks behind on this show, I watched this episode just as I heard about the Golden Globe nominations, which included bids for Best TV Series – Drama and Best Supporting Actress for both Chrissy Metz, who plays Kate, and Mandy Moore, who plays Rebecca. I suppose there is something relatable about the characters the two of them play, where Sterling K. Brown, who got nominated for his Emmy-winning performance on “The People vs. OJ Simpson,” is in a whole different class in terms of his focused and intense portrayal. What it all comes down to is a show that’s interesting and occasionally very endearing, but hardly as substantive as something like “Parenthood” that really deserved all the praise and attention that this show seems to be getting. This episode was the first to toy with its flashback-and-present format, showcasing the past in a hallucination that Randall had where he directly confronted his younger mother for not sharing the fact of his father’s existence with him. I didn’t find that to be particularly effective, and it didn’t enable much more clarity to have Randall’s memories of Jack defend Rebecca’s actions. Kevin’s relationship with Olivia is getting less and less interesting by the minute, and Kate being far away from Toby isn’t helping that romance either. I’m hopeful that as this show develops it moves away from being relatively simplistic and sappy and back to the inspiring and enticing drama that got everyone hooked when the pilot episode aired.

SAG Nominees: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 4/5, picking “Transparent” over “Black-ish”
Who’s missing: Grace and Frankie, Silicon Valley, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

This category makes sense to me based on my expectations, with “Transparent” swapped out for second-year hit Black-ish. Even though other guilds have forgotten about it, The Big Bang Theory is still here and only here, along with three shows that have only one individual performer nominated: Modern Family, Orange is the New Black, and Veep. Interestingly, the two shows with multiple performers cited – “Grace and Frankie” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” – both didn’t make the cut, even though they’d make great inclusions.

Who could win? I think it will be three in a row for Orange is the New Black.

SAG Nominees: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”
Who’s missing: Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Mr. Robot, Ray Donovan

So much for SAG trends in the drama races this year. It’s the final year for Downton Abbey, and Game of Thrones is at the height of its popularity. Instead of other fan favorites, we get three new shows that are immensely hot right now. I opted not to even watch the pilots of The Crown and Stranger Things for different reasons, and I’m regretting that decision now, especially after both series earned two individual acting nominations. I’ll have to revisit those as soon as I’m finally caught up on the shows I do watch. And we also have Westworld, a formidable inclusion in this race.

Who could win? I haven’t seen two of the shows, but I still think that Downton Abbey will make it three in a row.

SAG Nominees: Best Female Actor in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 4/5, picking Parker over Fonda
Who’s missing: Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Tracie Ellis Ross (Black-ish), Sarah Jessica Parker (Divorce), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin)

Like the male comedy actor race, this category held true to SAG standards in stark contradiction to the drama fields. This list includes all three eligible nominees from last year: Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), snubbed by both Emmy and Globe voters this past year, Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), not yet nominated for a Globe, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), the one actress on this list who was also nominated for a Globe this year. Joining them we have not one but two stars of a show in its second season: Jane Fonda (Grace and Frankie) and Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie). Only Tomlin has earned accolades thus far for the show, so it’s fun to see them both included in a lineup that was never going to have Bloom or Rodriguez in it and therefore is actually pretty good in my book.

Who could win? It’s been two in a row for Aduba, and I think she could easily win again.

SAG Nominees: Best Male Actor in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 4/5, picking Parsons over Burgess
Who’s missing: Louie Anderson (Baskets), Donald Glover (Atlanta), Thomas Haden Church (Divorce), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

So at least my theory held here. We had three of last year’s nominees - Ty Burrell (Modern Family), William H. Macy (Shameless), and Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent). One nominee, Parsons, was dismissed, but his show is still up for the ensemble prize. In his place we got two new nominees, both from shows that are not in their first eligible years – hence snubs for Anderson and Glover. Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) is in with his show also nominated in the ensemble race, and Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is here along with costar Ellie Kemper, and I think those are both fun choices. This is a solid list.

Who could win? Last year it went to Tambor, and I think he’ll take it again this year.

SAG Nominees: Best Female Actor in a Drama Series

My predictions: 1/5, picking only Wright
Who’s missing: Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Keri Russell (The Americans), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld)

Whoa. My theory about SAG not nominating new shows is really a thing, but it didn’t play out at all this year thanks to HBO and Netflix. Robin Wright (House of Cards), who was snubbed by the Golden Globes on Monday, is the one holdover from last year. Joining her are actresses from three new shows, which is really something. Unfortunately, I don’t watch two of them, but I guess I better start. Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) wasn’t cited by Globe voters, but her costar Winona Ryder was. Claire Foy (The Crown) and Thandie Newton (Westworld) were both Globe-nominated, and it’s interesting, but totally fine, to not see Newton’s costar Wood here. I’d say this is a cool list, but I honestly haven’t seen most of these performances, so some catching up is in order.

Who could win? Who the hell knows? Maybe Newton?

SAG Nominees: Best Male Actor in a Drama Series

My predictions: 3/5, picking Odenkirk and Schreiber over Brown and Lithgow
Who’s missing: Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), Kiefer Sutherland (Designated Survivor), Billy Bob Thornton (Goliath)

I was truly shocked when I heard the first nominee announced: Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), also nominated for his Emmy-winning role in “The People vs. OJ Simpson.” On Monday, Globe voters chose two of Brown’s female costars and the show itself, and I expected it to place in ensemble and maybe in actress too, but instead it’s just the Randall show today. I don’t love the show, but he is pretty good. I’m very sad to see Odenkirk snubbed since that show continues to be excellent, and instead we get an actor from a show I don’t watch but apparently should, John Lithgow (The Crown). I’m glad that Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) didn’t get snubbed, and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) is a welcome inclusion as always. And then, in stark contrast to the Globes’ total shutout, Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) is back with his onscreen wife in tow.

Who could win? I think it will be Spacey again considering that he’s won the past two years.