Sunday, January 31, 2016

What I’m Watching: The X-Files (Season Premiere)

The X-Files: Season 10, Episode 1 “My Struggle” (B)

There are a lot of shows just coming back now after many years off the air, but I think this is the most striking example of a show just essentially restarting as if it finished its previous season just a few months earlier. I finished the nine preexisting seasons of this show much more recently than most since I started watching the show after 2002 when it officially ended, but it’s still been at least five or six years since I watched or thought about whether the truth was really out there. What surprised me most was that the opening credits look and sound exactly the same, and the show still has its same dated vibe. Mulder ran through the history of what happened on the show and since in its opening moments, but otherwise there wasn’t much discussion about the dissolution of the X-Files program and all that business. The problem with this show, of course, is that its quality is much dependent on the contents and plotline of each specific episode. I’ve never found alien abduction to be quite as enticing as government/alien conspiracies, though there is something cool about a mysterious woman who can tell that Scully was abducted in the past. Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley didn’t add too much, and all we got to see alien-wise was a puny little creature get killed in front of a group of soldiers and scientists. Seeing the Cigarette-Smoking Man at the end of the hour was definitely a plus, and there’s no way I would plan not to watch the rest of this six-episode series that could well lead to more.

Round Two: Billions

Billions: Season 1, Episode 2 “Naming Rights” (B+)

This show blazed into its second episode with the same awesome ferocity that it demonstrated in episode one, and I’m completely hooked. So are other viewers, apparently, as the show has already been renewed for season two! Axe was the focus of much more of the episode than Chuck, but I think they’ll share the attention over the course of the series. Staging an internal compliance drill made to look like a SEC raid was a brash and brutal move, but ultimately things went pretty well, except for the arrogant employee who Axe decided to fire as an example. The relationship between Axe and Wendy is clearly so intimate that she feels comfortable threatening to walk out and calling him on making a stupid mistake by firing someone who was volatile and would definitely seek retribution. Telling him about what Axe did to the last guy who tried to screw him over seemed like it was more than enough to convince him to keep quiet. I’m intrigued by Axe’s wife Lara, who seems much friendlier and more genuinely down-to-earth than him but was more than happy to support him in his revenge play. Humiliating the family of a man who nearly ruined his life by forcing them to accept a $16 million reduction in what they thought they were getting was an intense moment, and it really shows what kind of man he is. Jerry O’Connell’s Steven Birch took a deal very quickly to cut down his prison time, and I doubt Axe will be too happy about that. It’s very disconcerting how quickly Terry Kinney’s bagman got to Kate and turned her into just the inside spy that Axe needs as the US Attorney’s office is gunning for him.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 6, Episode 3 “The F Word” (B+)

Sometimes, this show can feel like a punch to the gut. Some elements remain purely comedic, and for good reasons, like the fact that the principal let Carl off for selling guns at school because he wanted to purchase one, and then the whole plotline came to an entertaining close when a presumed threat was detected and all the teachers pulled out their guns. That’s one thing that would have been considered as going too far if the show had tried to touch school shootings, and I’m glad that it was left where it was. I like that Carl’s crush is still trying to entice him after her dad nearly beat him to a pulp, and it’s fun to see his post-prison exploits. There wasn’t much to laugh about in the rest of the episode, save for some hijinks involving Yanis and blaming the lesbians next door for all of his problems in life. Fiona confiding in Debs about her pregnancy was a disastrous idea, and I didn’t expect her to handle the intervention and even more so Debs’ tearful confession of her purposeful pregnancy in the manner that she did. Vowing to disown her and kick Debs out was harsh, though she had reasons to be upset following her attempt to reconcile with Gus, which went miserably. Fortunately, Sean was there to support her the whole way, but that eviction notice just brought back everything bad. It was nice to see Lip and Ian hanging out, but sadly Ian’s mental illness got in the way of their bonding and now it seems that he’s seriously relapsed.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What I’m Watching: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 4 (B+)

Maybe it’s just the nature of this show, but there are certain characters who just can’t let anything go and bring the same things up multiple times over the course of one episode. Thomas griping about being let go and Daisy fighting for the rights of Mr. Mason are two such plot points that have come up over and over recently, and only one of them came to an important apex in this hour. Thomas might be upset that no one seems to want him, but calling out Gwen’s past history of employment within Downton’s walls deliberately to embarrass her is exactly the type of behavior that has made him his own worst enemy. It’s a good thing that Robert excitedly announced the news about Mr. Mason before Daisy had a chance to get herself fired for being in an inappropriate place with aggressive sentiments, and now Mr. Mason will be better off too. Most news these days seems to be good news, as Anna’s pregnancy scare turned out to be the impetus for a much-needed medical trip and helped for her to confirm the pregnancy to Bates in a very sweet way. Having Tom back is great for many reasons, not the least of which is his ability to combat Mary’s meaner instincts when it comes to not getting her way in business decisions. Isobel and Violet are still butting heads about the hospital, and I don’t see that ending well anytime soon. Robert’s chest pain is disconcerting, and Baxter’s upcoming trial is also foreboding. On a happier note, it’s nice to see Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes back, and, thanks to the widespread confusion about what to call them, they’ll keep their original names in a progressive move that’s really just been done out of convenience.

Friday, January 29, 2016

What I’m Watching: Galavant

Galavant: Season 2, Episodes 7 and 8 “Love and Death” and “Do the D’Dew” (B-)

These were fun episodes, and there’s definitely a sense that the plot is picking up with just two episodes to go that will all but surely be this series’ final installments given its inability to muster any decent ratings in season two. Galavant being dead for nearly a whole episode was a little silly, and I think the best part of that plotline aside from the potion master singing a long song that delayed his healing help was Eddie Marsan’s appearance as Death. It’s a relief that Richard and Roberta have finally gotten together, and naturally their first kiss nearly happened just as Galavant came back to life a few seconds too early. Galavant commanding the army of the undead with charges of love is entertaining, though they’re definitely not easy to direct or control. I enjoyed the meeting and song duel between Madalena and Isabella, and the fact that Isabella didn’t want to accept Madalena’s brutal terms of surrender, which means that war is inevitable. Gareth and Madalena addressing the troops as a way to talk to each other about their feelings of love was fun, and it’s nice to see that romance brewing. I imagine that the final two episodes of this season will bring things together and set them right in some way, and given the direction that the ratings are headed, it will all probably be wrapped up in some neat bow so that it doesn’t have to end on an unresolved note. Two additional highlights from this pair of episodes: Roberta pointing out that it was awfully early in the season for Galavant to die and the “Grease” parody.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

The competition: The nerdy scientists of “The Big Bang Theory,” the dynamic duo of “Key and Peele,” the household units of “Modern Family,” the inmates and guards of “Orange is the New Black,” the disjointed family members of “Transparent,” and the political operators of “Veep.”

For your information: Two shows are new to this race: “Key and Peele,” which only has two cast members credited, and “Transparent.” Last year’s winner, “Orange is the New Black,” is back for its second nomination. “The Big Bang Theory” is on its fifth nomination, and “Veep” is on its third. “Modern Family” this year earns its seventh nomination, and it won four times in a row. Each show except for “Key and Peele” has exactly one individual actor nominated. I think the only time a show won without any actors nominated was “Glee” in 2009, but I wouldn’t expect “Key and Peele” to win in any version of events.

Who should win: “Orange is the New Black,” “Veep,” or “Transparent”

Who will win: I would go with “Transparent,” but I think that either “Orange is the New Black” will repeat or Veep will win for the first time.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

The competition: The nobles and servants of “Downton Abbey,” the rulers and rivals of “Game of Thrones,” the spies and terrorists of “Homeland,” the devious politicians of “House of Cards,” and the advertising executives of “Mad Men.”

For your information: This category isn’t too exciting - four nominees are back from last year, and “Mad Men,” which won in 2008 and 2009, is back for its sixth nomination and its first since 2012 for its swan song. “House of Cards” is on its second nomination, and the other three are all on their fourth. All of the nominated shows except for “House of Cards” have one actor nominated; that show has two. Shows have definitely won multiple times in a row in this category, and departing series usually have great odds.

Who should win: All decent choices - I’d go with “House of Cards” or “Downton Abbey.”

Who will win: It seems all but guaranteed that Mad Men will clinch it for the last time, unless “Game of Thrones” has enough momentum, which I don’t think it does with this branch.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Miniseries or Made-for-TV Movie

The competition: Nicole Kidman (Grace of Monaco), Queen Latifah (Bessie), Christina Ricci (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles), Susan Sarandon (The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe), and Kristen Wiig (The Spoils Before Dying).

For your information: Latifah won this award in 2007 for “Life Support” and was previously nominated for “Chicago.” This is Sarandon’s fifth career nomination. She won in 1995 for “Dead Man Walking.” This is Kidman’s fifth career nomination, and the first nomination for both Ricci and Wiig.

Who should win: I’ve seen a grand total of none of these performances.

Who will win: Usually, there’s a frontrunner, though this category also usually matches up more than 1/5 with the Golden Globe lineup. Given that, I’ll go with the one that’s in both places, Latifah.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Miniseries or Made-for-TV Movie

The competition: Idris Elba (Luther), Ben Kingsley (Tut), Bill Murray (A Very Murray Christmas), Ray Liotta (Texas Rising), and Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall).

For your information: This is Kingsley’s fifth career nomination. He won this award in 2001 for “Anne Frank: The Whole Story.” Liotta was previously nominated once before, in this race in 1998 for “The Rat Pack.” Murray was nominated once before, for “Lost in Translation.” This is the first nomination for Elba and Rylance, and both of them are also nominated for their supporting film work this year too.

Who should win: I’ve seen a grand total of none of these performances.

Who will win: Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac isn’t here, so I’d give the edge to Rylance over Elba since I can’t imagine any of the others winning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Comedy Series

The competition: Uzo Aduba’s hyperactive inmate (Orange is the New Black), Edie Falco’s pill-popping nurse (Nurse Jackie), Ellie Kemper’s impressionable cult escapee (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ sarcastic vice-president (Veep), and Amy Poehler’s dedicated government employee (Parks and Recreation).

For your information: Kemper is the only new addition to this race, and what a welcome one she is. Aduba won this award last year on her first try. This is Falco’s seventh consecutive nomination for this role, and she was previously nominated seven times for “The Sopranos.” She won three times for “The Sopranos.” This is Louis-Dreyfus third consecutive nomination for this role. She was previously nominated twice for “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and five times for “Seinfeld.” She won in 2014 for “Veep” and twice for “Seinfeld.” This is Poehler’s third nomination. Aduba and Louis-Dreyfus are also nominated as part of their shows’ ensembles. Both Falco and Poehler’s shows went off the air this year. This category has a history of repeat winners, so don’t be shocked if Aduba or Louis-Dreyfus prevail.

Who should win: Poehler!

Who will win: I’d love to say it will be Poehler finally, but I’ll go with Aduba again.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Comedy Series

The competition: Ty Burrell’s goofy dad (Modern Family), Louis C.K.’s wry comedian (Louie), William H. Macy’s depraved patriarch (Shameless), Jim Parsons’ stuck-up scientist (The Big Bang Theory), and Jeffrey Tambor’s transgender parent (Transparent).

For your information: Tambor is the only new addition to this race, as the Golden Globe and Emmy winner secures his first-ever solo SAG nomination. Macy won last year on his first nomination for this role, though he was nominated four times before that for TV movie and film work. Burrell won in 2014, and this is his sixth consecutive nomination. This is Parson’s fourth consecutive nomination for this role, and C.K.’s third nomination for this role. Burrell, Parsons, and Tambor are all nominated as part of their shows’ ensembles, and C.K. is recognized as a member of the “Trumbo” film ensemble (though what a terrible performance that was). Before Macy and Burrell won, Alec Baldwin took home this award seven years in a row for all but the last season of “30 Rock.”

Who should win: Macy or Tambor

Who will win: He wasn’t nominated last year, so I think it’s Tambor’s turn to win.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Drama Series

The competition: Claire Danes’ eccentric CIA agent (Homeland), Viola Davis’ fearsome legal educator (How to Get Away with Murder), Julianna Margulies’ maternal lawyer (The Good Wife), Maggie Smith’s wise-cracking countess (Downton Abbey), and Robin Wright’s cutthroat political wife (House of Cards).

For your information: In a terribly boring statistic, all five of these women were nominated last year, and Davis won on her first TV nomination. She won in 2011 for “The Help” and was previously nominated for “Doubt” on the film side. Smith won this award in 2013. This is her fifth nomination for this role and sixth overall. This is Wright’s second nomination for this role and her fifth overall. This is Margulies’ sixth nomination for this role and her ninth overall. She won twice for “The Good Wife” and twice for “ER.” This is Danes’ fourth consecutive nomination for this role and her fifth overall. She won once for “Homeland” and once for “Temple Grandin.” Danes, Smith, and Wright are also nominated as part of their shows’ ensembles. Margulies was the last and only person in the past 15 years to win this award two years in a row.

Who should win: At this point in their runs, I’d pick Smith or Wright

Who will win: I don’t think that Davis will repeat, so the category is open. While it would be nice to spread the wealth and have Wright pick up her first trophy, I suspect it will go to Margulies again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Drama Series

The competition: Peter Dinklage’s talkative heir (Game of Thrones), Jon Hamm’s ad man (Mad Men), Rami Malek’s antisocial hacker (Mr. Robot), Bob Odenkirk’s wannabe lawyer (Better Call Saul), and Kevin Spacey’s corrupt politician (House of Cards).

For your information: This is Spacey’s third consecutive nomination, and he won last year. This is also the third consecutive nomination for Dinklage. This is the sixth overall nomination for Hamm, who was last nominated in 2012 and then previously in 2010. Malek and Odenkirk are first-time individual nominees for their freshman shows. Dinklage, Hamm, and Spacey are also nominated as part of their ensembles.

Who should win: All excellent choices. I’d probably give it to Malek.

Who will win: Sorry, Rami. Hamm has never won, and there’s no way that this organization, which loves rewarding actors for their swan songs, won’t give him a trophy.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 2, Episode 6 “Bulnerable” (B+)

This episode was interesting because it checked in with all of our characters at very different stages in relationships. Maura got to witness the return of Davina’s beau, fresh out of prison and played by Ray Abruzzo from “The Sopranos,” and to see the kind of loving relationship that she never thought could be possible where he loved her with the full knowledge that she was transgender and appreciated that fact about her. Shelly was in hysterics after being broken up with by Maura, and her mood ruined Sarah’s first chance to jump back into the dating pool with an initially unappealing match with whom she can be less held back and indulge one particular fantasy that’s been dominating her mind lately. I’m not sure what to make of Ali’s naked hot tub interaction with Cherry Jones’ wild Leslie, and I don’t think she has any idea either. The most difficult storyline to watch play out was the one involving Josh and Raquel, since they were already in shaky enough shape after Colton’s exit last week. Josh always says the wrong thing but Raquel has stuck by him, but he did not react the way that he should have when she lost the baby, and now it seems like she’s decided to leave. I can’t imagine we won’t see her again, but this is definitely a very lamentable development that is sure to leave Josh down in the dumps and ruin the one strong relationship that existed up until this point in the Pfefferman family.

What I’m Watching: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: Season 1, Episode 10 “AKA 1,000 Cuts” (B+)

This show continues to astound week after week (or hour after hour the way most people watched it), and it shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. Running from Kilgrave is futile, since if he sees you or has told you to do something, there’s no getting out of it. Take Trish and Jessica’s clever solution to her need to put a bullet in her head, or Kilgrave’s father’s eagerness to cut out his heart while he was helping Trish concoct the vaccine to Kilgrave’s influence, which in itself is a fascinating way to look at who and what he is. Forcing Hogarth to bring him to someone who was medically skilled roped this show’s biggest punching bag, Wendy, into the mix, and ended up being fatal for her. Kilgrave telling Wendy to administer death by a thousand cuts to Hogarth was a brutal command, and she got pretty high before Pam arrived to smash her head in and kill her. Cutting Hogarth loose when she came to defend her was a formidable show of force on Pam’s part, and it’s not going to leave Hogarth in a good place. Poor Malcolm was just trying to get a weight off his chest, and instead his confession inspired crazy Robyn to incite all of Kilgrave’s victims to rush into Jessica’s apartment and unknowingly turn themselves into Kilgrave’s favorite type of insurance: innocent people ready to take their own lives should Jessica disobey him. Hope sacrificing herself was selfless, and now Jessica just has to find Kilgrave and figure out a way to end him once and for all. The most shocking violence in this episode came not from Kilgrave’s command but from whatever drug Will is now on, as he shot Detective Clemons after garnering important information from him and then nearly hurt Trish in his pursuit of Kilgrave’s head. That’s more than disconcerting, and I think that will end up being a more lasting threat once Kilgrave is finally neutralized for good.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Man in the High Castle (Season Finale)

The Man in the High Castle: Season 1, Episode 10 “A Way Out” (B)

Juliana summarized her feelings about seeing events that definitely didn’t happen in this timeline in the reel by saying that everything she did wasn’t to achieve any goal since that’s not how things played out in this universe. I think that a show about the Axis powers winning World War II and conquering the United States would have been plenty interesting enough, and adding an additional element where extrauniversal events are shown in cross-timeline films and characters close their eyes and open them to find themselves back in the world we know is unnecessarily complicated, and the quality of the characters and their storylines don’t match. Nice guy Ed did his best to dispose of a gun in the simplest way possible, but slippery fingers meant that he got caught red-handed, and Frank’s punishment is to watch his friend implicated and presumably executed for a crime that he tried to commit. Juliana going into Nazi headquarters to bring Joe out for his own execution and then letting him go was futile, since nothing is accomplished and he freely admitted to being a Nazi spy. Things in the Nazi regime are much more problematic, of course, as we got our first glimpse of Hitler, who managed to talk Rudolph into killing himself instead of executing him, and John got the drop on his captor and managed to triumphantly call Hitler and report that he had captured a traitor. It’s weird when we end up rooting for the bad guys, but that has much more to do with the fact that John, and Rudolph for that matter, are much more well-written and interesting characters than any of our so-called heroes. This show is going to have a second season, and I am a bit intrigued, but I’m not anxiously awaiting it.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Rufus Sewell as John

Pilot Review: Baskets

Baskets (FX)
Premiered January 21 at 10pm

I nearly forgot to watch this show, which I had only known about in the first place because of the advertisements all over the place with Zach Galifianakis’ melancholy blue face looking up hopefully at the sky. I’m a fan of Zach’s, and I highly enjoyed him in his last TV role on “Bored to Death.” This show I’m not quite as optimistic about, and there are a few reasons for that. It falls into the FX category of comedy that has been most defined by “Louie,” which features depressing plotlines on a regular basis that sometimes are made to be funny and sometimes left as serious and hopeless. This first installment doesn’t inspire much potential for the aptly-named Chip Baskets, who failed out of French clowning college for the very simple reason that he didn’t speak French and couldn’t understand a single thing, and now lives back in California in a motel while his wife, who married him just for a green card and the chance to find someone more attractive, lives in an actual apartment building and calls to demand forty dollars for HBO. When he’s not being pummeled by bulls at his day job, Chip finds himself humiliated in nearly every situation, save for his interactions with poor Martha, an insurance agent who, despite being a terrible driver, offers to drive Chip around and do whatever he wants despite his not being at all interested in her as a person. This show is slow and deliberately uncomfortable, and I’m just not sure that’s what I’m looking for in a new comedy. The casting of Louie Anderson as Chip’s mother is strange, and I think I much prefer Zach playing his twin brother, Dale Baskets, who is a dean, student, and the janitor at his own college. I don’t think I’ll check back in for another installment of this show, and I’ll return to it only if it receives some serious critical or awards acclaim down the road.

How will it work as a series? Despite his offer to his unappreciative wife, it seems that Chip is only interested in being a clown, and with Martha as the sole affirming person in his life and someone who is not trying to motivate him to do anything else with his life, he shouldn’t go far. It will surely be awkward and uncomfortable, and there will be a few laughs and smiles along the way, but I doubt enough to make this show worth it.
How long will it last? The ratings report I read said it did better than “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” which FX renewed, and “The Comedians,” which it cancelled. I think Zach is a comedic investment that the network wants to make, and relatively strong reviews for the show should point them in favor of wanting to keep him around as one of their flagship subversive efforts.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 1, Episode 14 “Will Trash Book Spa” (B)

These were all equally silly plotlines, but they were a lot of fun, representing this show at its best, not necessarily featuring quality storylines but managing to provide some good entertainment and laughs. The first plotline was actually the one that should be most relatable for real families, as Heather offered up Jen’s services in drafting a will for her parents without thinking of the extra costs that would be incurred by Jen and Greg as a result. The ensuing conservation that resulted brought up unfortunate resentment in the other siblings as they felt either that they contributed on a regular basis (Heather) or they were trying to get away with no one noticing their cheapness (Matt). Joan and John were more concerned with trying to insert “psych” into the legal language of their document than what it actually contained, and we know from the pilot of this show that John wants to deal with death with humor. The trash segment was over the top, but it’s fun to watch that family dynamic. I like seeing the workings of Matt and Colleen’s relationship, especially when they’re so rarely at odds with each other as in this case of a bossy author and her uppity illustrator. After Jen and Greg took center stage in the first segment, they got to do so again in a more outwardly comical non-baby plot that they don’t usually star in, as people were quite literally dying as they were supposed to be receiving peaceful and relaxing massages.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pilot Review: Legends of Tomorrow

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW)
Premiered January 21 at 8pm

It’s rare that I’ve stopped watching a pilot once I started it, but there are definitely times I’ve considered it. I didn’t find this show to be all that bad at its start, but I was rolling my eyes at this notion of time-masters and the bleak concept of the future being devastated by Vandal Savage as expressed by him running around targeting individual people in London. But, by the episode’s end, it became clear that this may be exactly the type of show I want to watch. The pilot did a great job of setting up and then completely re-framing its premise, pulling eight people together to fight crimes on a time-traveling basis (more on that later) after they were told that they were legends, and then pulling the rug out from under them by revealing that they were chosen precisely because they didn’t matter, which in turn inspired them to make a difference, even if no one will ever find out about it. The time-traveling nature of the show may not be too sold, but it’s definitely fun to watch time travel and to see how things turn out differently based on where these characters go and what they mess up. The most enjoyable part is the assembly of characters who have been picked for this particular mission. Not being a regular viewer of “Arrow,” I’m actually familiar with all but the White Canary, who I now understand is a less polite version of the Black Canary who fits in much better with Captain Cold and Heat Wave than the heroes. I love that Victor Garber’s Professor Stein and Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer have been plucked from their previous shows to appear here, and I also think that this episode justified Ciara Renée’s Kendra Saunders being taken away from Cisco on “The Flash.” Tying in the Egyptian reincarnation mythology to the premise of this show, with Savage as presumably only the first of many time-centric missions, was a good idea, an di like seeing all of the heroes use their powers to fight together. I’m up for giving this show a little bit to entice me; so far, I’m much more pleased than I expected.

How will it work as a series? Now that they’re more clued in to the fact that Rip is on the run from the time masters rather than working with them, our team should be much more able to ensure that any run-ins with bounty hunters are better anticipated in the future. They still have a lot of work ahead of them, but traveling through time should bring plenty of entertainment and adventure as well as deadly threats that should be fun to watch.
How long will it last? It looks like Marvel has a great competitor in this show, which nearly matched “The Flash” in its strong premiere numbers and should definitely be considered a hit for the CW. Superhero series have been a success recently for the network, and I think this is just the latest one that will sustain a healthy present.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Heroes Reborn (Series Finale)

Heroes Reborn: Season 1, Episode 13 “Project Reborn” (D-)

I think the reason that I kept watching the original series and this reboot is that I thought that it was the type of show that I should like, but it just never got there. This finale was a clear reminder that it was never worth it, and this show was built around the same type of flawed, absurd construction that made the original show hit an unbearable nadir a few seasons in. This show’s concept of time travel is mind-bogglingly bad, highlighted in this final hour by Tommy feeling a need to rush or go back somewhere in the middle of dealing with one problem when he can literally stop time and nothing will happen. Running into his future self from a few moments later was reminiscent of a Harry Potter time-travel mistake where the future only happens because it already affected and directly caused the past, and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously. The whole idea that first Hiro and then Tommy was trapped inside a video game didn’t help this show to be taken terribly seriously. Tommy going back to the moment before HRG got killed and showing him that he had to be the conduit between him and Malina and then asking him what to do as if he didn’t know was a bit hard to believe, but I guess this show needs some drama. The moral of the story is that, while some characters, like Luke and Quentin, can be redeemed, part of that comes with having to kill the ones they love who couldn’t see the light, hardly a pleasant image of concept. The notion of our powered friends becoming unlikely heroes because they were stationed in a hospital is positive, but it’s a little late to be starting fresh. And, for some inexplicable reason, we got a weird hint that a potentially evil Peter Petrelli is coming back even though NBC officially confirmed that the show will not be coming back last week. I’m more than done, and I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time watching this season..

Series grade: D+
Series MVP: Zachary Levi as Luke

What I’m Watching: Limitless

Limitless: Season 1, Episode 13 “Stop Me Before I Hug Again” (B)

This show is all for using different devices to frame its episodes, and sometimes it uses more than one in a single hour. The best way to defend the “hugging” and “cuddling” censorship that went on in this episode is that Brian is functioning at such a high level that he gets bored in ordinary situations so he has to find ways to reinterpret the information to make it interesting to him. It was strange to experience it this way, though I guess it did temper an investigation filled with a lot of brutality by toning down the terms used to describe killing and all the other terrible things that happened. I was pretty sure that the initially hyped-up and later disgraced agent who showed up and hand-picked Brian to come in for some more thorough case work was played by Anthony Michael Hall, but it turns out it was actually Terry Serpico (though don’t tell me that this photo doesn’t look a whole lot like Hall). The casual way in which Brian reveals that he has figured something out that others have been working on for decades is always entertaining, and he was more appreciated than hated in this hour for that ability. I love that Rebecca was referring to what Brian thought was happening as real-life inception, indulging the excitable Brian in seeing a made-up concept come to life. She was also a pretty cool road trip buddy. Brian looking out for Rebecca to make sure that she didn’t come too close to confirming her theory about Senator Morra being on NZT was smart, but I think she’s equally intelligent and likely to figure out a way to prove it sooner or later that is sure to put her in harm’s way.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Grinder

The Grinder: Season 1, Episode 11 “Exodus” (B)

Leave it to Dean to make Stewart asking him to consider not living with them forever into a much bigger deal than it really was, interpreting it as a complete betrayal of their relationship and preparing to sever ties entirely. Having his stand-in show up with a truck full of his things and then move in himself was hardly a subtle hint that Dean wasn’t planning on going anywhere, and this had to happen eventually, so why not now? Getting cornered in the bathroom by the sleazy duo who used a drunken Todd for information a few episodes ago led to a bold and treacherous move on Dean’s part, opting to bypass studying for the bar and skip right to courtroom speeches on the opposing counsel should help him get back at his brother in a big way. Now, obviously a real lawyer would object to someone on an active case switching sides while the trial was in progress, but there’s not likely to be too much of that here, in this exaggerated TV universe where both of Stewart’s kids turned against him for first kicking out Dean and then Andre. Seeing Debbie relax with Andre making her salads was fun, leaving Stewart as the lone voice of reason. It was fun to see Richard Schiff show up as a guest star in the episode that Dean was watching with his father and Todd, though I’ll admit that I haven’t seen many episodes of “The West Wing” from when Rob Lowe was on it since I only started watching regularly in season four. Blasphemy - I know. I’ll go back through the whole show eventually.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Grandfathered

Grandfathered: Season 1, Episode 12 “Baby Model” (B)

I’m never so into the plotline of modeling since it tends to get characters very distracted and preoccupied, and in this episode, it did just that, which was fortunately more entertaining than not. It makes sense that Jimmy would be all for the idea of his granddaughter modeling, though naturally he thought that he was the one being approached first. Vanessa following him outside to tell him that she was secretly agreeing with him before she slapped him to make it look real was fun, and I like when Vanessa gets the chance to interact with different characters since she really does tend to be underused. Sara getting into it when they asked her to model was fun too, as was her reaction to having her face pasted over on the billboard. When Jimmy, Vanessa, and Sara have to keep something from the serious-minded Gerald, it usually ends up being pretty entertaining. Meanwhile, at the restaurant, we saw Annelise go from calm, emotionless work-minded individual to full-on crazy, paranoid for good reason that the cook she broke her rule about mixing work and play with had been missing work for more devious purposes than actually being sick. It was a bit much, but it wasn’t the worst use of her or Ravi that I’ve seen. Typically, Ravi is the louder, more annoying one, and so having him switch places and try to keep Annelise sane while not egging her on too much was at least worth taking up one episode.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 5, Episode 3 “Jury Duty” (C+)

This was a purely fun episode, one without any true substance. Jess being eager for jury duty didn’t come as a shock at all, though John Cho’s lawyer pushing her on it after he gave her number because of her genuine affinity for legal service was a bit silly. And naturally Jess would get the opportunity of a lifetime that she wouldn’t be able to take because her number got picked, and then, just to augment it all, she had to be sequestered for a month-long case (my jury duty was just three days - that sounds miserable). Of course, it’s just a ploy to get Zooey Deschanel off the show for a while to have her baby, which was born in July. Given FOX’s delay in airing this show, Jess didn’t need to depart at all. We’ll have to see if it’s worth it, since Jess tends to be one of the more reliable elements of this show. It was entertaining to see Nick and Cece fight, though this is hardly the best we’ve seen of both of them. Jess narrating all of it detracted from the excitement a bit, and Winston was busy trying to cover up the big hole he created in the wall. Ultimately, it’s nice to see Nick and Cece realize that they both just care about the crazy Schmidt, and that they’re willing to get along because they’re the two most important people in his life, a fact that doesn’t bother Winston since he wasn’t listening anyway.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 2, Episode 10 “Potential Energy” (B+)

There are a lot of people on this show who know that Barry is the Flash. It’s actually pretty staggering if you think about it, and a handful of them aren’t even good guys, like Leonard Snart. But that reality puts telling another person into perspective, since it really wouldn’t matter all that much and someone like Patty would never use it for destructive purposes. It’s still a question, of course, and tragically Barry waited until it was too late. I was remembering when he first revealed himself to Iris before he ran back in time and how incredible that was, and he could have done that here if he hadn’t waited so long. But time wasn’t on his side in this episode thanks to the Turtle, played by Aaron Douglas of “Battlestar Galactica” fame, who was starting a seriously creepy collection of frozen people that nearly included Patty. It’s devastating to see Patty leave and Barry not be able to make her stay, with the only relief being that Zoom won’t use her to get to him. Barry has something much more serious to worry about now though with the unexpected return of one Eobard Thawne, who looked less villainous than usual showing up with no idea where he was. I suspect he’s from Earth Two, but wouldn’t Jay or Harry have mentioned him? The good thing about so many people knowing Barry’s identity is that they’ll all team up to beat him, and something tells me that Harry will be a formidable foe for the man who killed him and assumed his identity in another world.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 10 “Childish Things” (B)

I’m getting my superhero shows mixed up a bit, as I could have sworn that this was the second episode in a very short time to feature a villain who manipulates toys and sends them on evil errands against the good guys. Then I remembered that was “The Flash,” so this show gets cut a bit of slack. But lest Winn feel like he never gets to be a part of the plotline as much of James, here he was a central character dealing with his murderous father, who just wanted to use toys to get revenge for being wronged and couldn’t help but put bombs everywhere to ensure that his plans weren’t thwarted. I knew I recognized the actor playing the Toyman from somewhere, and some quick research suggests that I know Henry Czerny from his guest spot on season one of “Falling Skies” back when I used to watch that show. It was good to see Kara express such loyalty to her friend Finn, who got shot down when he tried to kiss her and she didn’t reciprocate the sentiment. James’ world got rocked by Cat hiring Lucy as her new in-house legal counsel, and I can imagine that working romance is going to be tough to navigate. Alex was bold to try to occupy Maxwell while Hank worked his memory-erasing magic on a guard who caught him taking pictures of Maxwell’s reanimated corpse, but she wasn’t as sneaky as Maxwell, who not only had backup cameras installed but also planted a camera on Alex’s bag to learn the secret truth that she and Alex are actually sisters.

Pilot Review: Billions

Billions (SHO)
Premiered January 17 at 10pm

When reviewing pilots, I often find myself noting that it’s hard to find an original show these days. Fortunately, Showtime seems relatively immune to this problem, regularly offering new, creative programming, and this show is just that. We’ve seen legal thrillers before, and I’m pleased to report that, based on this pilot, this show is a very worthwhile exploration of two immensely complicated characters and the web of intensity that connects them. Their connections are complex and intricate, and there’s no simple way for any of it to be resolved without plenty of people getting hurt. This pilot started by bluntly showing Paul Giamatti’s U.S. attorney indulging in a submissive fantasy, and ended by revealing that the dominatrix in question was actually his wife, who just happens to be a top employee of the billionaire that Chuck is going after. Damian Lewis’ Axe has his own layered backstory, the lone surviving partner at his company after September 11th and a man not able to back down from a challenge, especially when it involves money. It’s great to see Lewis back on TV, and on Showtime, after he jump-started his career on “Homeland,” and, though I’m not sure she’s as well-suited for the role, I’m pleased that Maggie Siff from “Sons of Anarchy” has a solid follow-up gig. Also in the cast are Malin Akerman, David Costabile, and Tony Leonard Moore, reliable faces who have all graced the television screen recently, on “Trophy Wife,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Daredevil,” respectively, among others. Giamatti is clearly an excellent fit to play Chuck, and he was pretty terrific in the scene where he showed up to work after his client committed suicide and he delivered a stirring speech about hard work rather than a eulogy. This show feels like a fitting companion to “The Affair,” a drama with two distinct sides that often feel black and white and which is propelled forwarded by the intrigue of its plot and the strength of its characters and the actors who play them. I’m in.

How will it work as a series? Chuck has done enough to begin to wage war against Axe, and now it’s just a question of how the dominoes fall. Both men have close confidantes who should be loyal partners for them but just as many underlings who may be eager to screw them over. Watching all that play out with Siff’s Wendy in the middle should be fascinating.
How long will it last? Before I saw an official ratings press release, I figured that streaming this early and positive word of mouth would probably assure its success. Then I read on The Futon Critic that this show "delivered the biggest premiere numbers ever for a new Showtime series across platforms." Yeah, I’d expect a renewal for this one to go with the “Shameless” season seven pickup that came last week pretty soon.

Pilot grade: B+

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pilot Review: Angie Tribeca

Angie Tribeca (TBS)
Premiered January 17 at 9pm

I feel like I first saw a trailer for this show at least a year and a half ago, and I was very excited. I had all but forgotten about in the time since until I learned of the incredibly intriguing and I believe unprecedented strategy of airing the entire ten-episode first season back-to-back with no commercials five times in a row before launching the second season, one episode per week, the following Sunday. Sticking to my usual strategy, I calculated that I could make this show last almost half a year by reviewing one episode at a time. Ultimately, I watched two before writing this review, and that’s partially because I just had to see whether this show improved at all with a second look. I’m a big fan of Rashida Jones and I would have expected something from the minds of Steve and Nancy Carell to be genuinely funny. While this show is somewhat entertaining, it’s also incredibly irritating, obsessed with dragging out every possible TV trop and making it infinitely more ridiculous than it needs to be. Some of the jokes were funny the first time and then got repeated over and over again to an unbearable point. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but watching this show for twenty weeks doesn’t feel like it can happen. Maybe I could marathon the whole thing against my usual policy and see how much of it I make it through. I really like Jones and want to see her succeed, but I just don’t know if I can stand this show.

How will it work as a series? I want this show to be great and hilarious, but watching episode two doesn’t give me any confidence in it changing at all. It’s stupid to an extreme degree, but there are a few laughs here and there that make it somewhat worth it. It’s not the worst thing I’ve seen, but it’s far from the best. Also, don’t expect any serious plot development since continuity and coherence are not what it’s all about.
How long will it last? The 76 rating the show has on Metacritic suggests that most found it much more enjoyable than I did, and they’ve already probably finished the first season and are salivating for the second season to start this Sunday. The number of episodes that will air in such a short time should help propel this show to a third season and beyond.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 6, Episode 2 “#AbortionRules” (B+)

Families deal with teen pregnancies in different ways, and the Gallagher method was brash and blunt. Texting Deb grueling statistics about raising a child to convince her to get an abortion was probably more direct and aggressive than Fiona should have been, but that’s always been her style. Leave it to Deb to carry around a bag of flour pretending that it was her baby and then leave it on the subway as she was passionately obsessed with tracking Derek down in Florida and reigniting their romance. The shocking news that Fiona is pregnant too hit hard, and she almost didn’t seem to believe it. It was so interesting to see how Fiona responded to Sean’s morning passion by duplicating the effort in the evening after a hard day, though she was considerably less in the moment thanks to the haunting truth of Sean’s addiction. Being the assistant manager certainly is not easy, and having Sean duck out all day for meetings and Ian quit on her first day was particularly bad timing. Things seem fine between Lip and Helene, but that doesn’t mean that her husband has gotten over the fact that Lip is falling in love with his wife. Carl paying a janitor to sneak guns into school ranks as one of the more depraved developments of the hour, though Frank seeking out terminal cancer patients to recreate his whirlwind romance with Fiona ranks pretty high too. The increasing profitability of the best worst bar on the south side is entertaining to watch, as was the unfortunate mistake Kev made in cutting the brake wire on Yanis’ motorcycle.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 7, Episode 12 “Tracks” (B-)

I can’t help feeling like we’ve experienced a lot of what happened in this episode multiple times before. As usual, things are hectic at Alicia’s new firm and she’s so caught up in one case despite arguing the merits of having a small, devoted firm to all who ask that she completely misses something that Grace decides to take care of all by herself. Grace did a commendable job fighting the angry woman whose apartment constantly got mistaken for Alicia’s and taking on the Homeowners’ Association by correcting bringing to light the below-board activities of other tenants in the building. It’s true that she needs to get her grades up, but she’s going to resent her mother for firing and hugging her rather than giving her a chance to better balance things. Marissa does seem like an excellent fit to replace her, and I would be more than happy having Sarah Steele around on a regular basis. She cut right to the chase with Alicia about forgiving Eli and accomplished as much as possible on that subject. It’s been a few minutes, so of course it’s time to talk about merging again, and Cary’s offer to Alicia and Lucca to come back to be absorbed into the big firm seems like a huge leap for Diane and David to consider and also like something we’ve been through many times. In the episode’s most surprising behavior, Matthew Lillard’s goofy singer Rowby had little trouble seducing Lucca, of all people, and was so bold as to make out with her in court after they won the first time. That was something I definitely did not see coming.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What I’m Watching: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 3 (B+)

A lot happened in this episode, and we got to witness one of the most significant weddings of this entire show, though the actual ceremony occupied a small part of the hour. Both Mary and Robert were being quite pushy about Carson getting his way in the planning of his wedding, and it was nice to see Cora speak up for Mrs. Hughes and allow her the opportunity to express that she really wanted to do it her way that represented her life. This episode contained the quickest instance of major problem creation de-escalation with Cora bursting in to find Mrs. Hughes trying on her clothes, as approved by Mary, and humiliated her only to apologize a short time later. The devotion that her fellow servants put into making the day special for Mrs. Hughes was sweet, and the happiness was infectious. Anna was smiling for the first time in a while, partially due to her potential pregnancy but also because things are going well. Edith finally saw her editor quit and replaced him briefly with a potential love interest who might end up being just right for her. Let’s hope that Daisy’s obsessive mentioning of Cora’s meddling for Mr. Mason pans out, since it’s going to destroy her if it doesn’t. The intrigue involving Spratt and Denker is unexpected, and I’m curious to see where it will lead. The best surprise of the hour was the unexpected and entirely welcome return of Tom, one of the show’s most sympathetic and endearing characters, who now seems like he may well be around for the rest of the show.

What I’m Watching: Galavant

Galavant: Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6 “Giants vs. Dwarves” and “About Last Knight” (B-)

These two episodes actually pushed the plot forward in a more productive way than usual, giving us plenty of absurd sensational fare along the way and quite a few decent parody musical numbers. I caught references to “West Side Story,” “Les Miserables,” and “Oliver” over the course of this hour, and I’m sure there were plenty more I didn’t notice. I enjoyed the fact that the giants and dwarves were fighting despite the fact that they were actually the same height, and Galavant and Richard couldn’t tell who was on which side when they brought their own little squabble into the mix and attacked the wrong people. Isabella getting her crown knocked off when she went to go see the unkempt princess put an end to the wedding planner’s devious plot that he couldn’t keep track of, and now, thanks to the Forest of Coincidence, he has helped Madalena give Gareth the perfect birthday present in the form of an unprovoked war. Sid did his best to talk Gareth out of romancing Madalena, but it seems that those two are rather well suited for each other, eager to please at the expense of all the peasants and servants around them. Galavant’s dad being a great guy didn’t help his case when he failed to mention his proximity to the starving crew that had to eat hobbits, and the visit ended up going much better than expected, save for that unfortunate sword toss that resulted in our hero being impaled with the sword, something he might get over but likely not without at least leaving a scratch and slowing them down a bit.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 2, Episode 5 “Mee-Maw” (B+)

This was not a very pleasant episode, and it’s installments like these that make this show feel more like a drama than a comedy. For once, it was Josh who took center stage and got to have his life turned upside down by decades-old news that he couldn’t have possibly known. Bringing Colton into his life has put a considerable strain on his relationship with Raquel, who has been unnerved by the continual presence of Rita in her life which has come as an unfortunate companion to the wonderful addition that is Colton. Josh asking her to wear an engagement ring to make the pregnancy seem more conservatively acceptable was not a good start to the visit, and going along with Colton’s comment that Rita would be involved to help out just made it much worse. But it was the pastor’s accusation that Josh had abandoned his family that sent him reeling, and Maura’s casual confirmation that they knew all along about the baby only amplified everything. Colton asking Josh to ask him to stay was hard to watch, and I suspect that the road back to whatever sense of normalcy for Raquel and Josh had won’t be easy either. Maura choosing her moment to break things off completely with Shelly wasn’t kind, and it’s clearly affecting her too. Ali is in decent shape, confident in her relationship with Syd and ready to take the academic world by storm. For the first time in a while, Sarah got the lighter plotlines, being told by the therapist that she had problems simply because she won the session in a raffle and then acting less than cool when her brother’s friend did her a solid by giving her some drugs.

Monday, January 18, 2016

What I’m Watching: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: Season 1, Episode 9 “AKA Sin Bin” (A-)

It was hard to top the previous episode, and I wasn’t sure that this hour was going to do it, but then the last ten incredibly tense minutes of this installment sealed the deal. This show has always been unapologetically and very effectively dark, and that worked incredibly to its advantage in this case. Jessica brought Kilgrave to the sealed chamber she set up, but wasn’t content to ensure that his powers wouldn’t work. Instead, she set it up so that he would be bombarded with horrifying images from his childhood and filled the chamber with water to shock him anytime she felt like it. There were mixed emotions of so many kinds experienced by his guards, as Trish nearly shot him and Hogarth nearly went in there to do who knows what before they were interrupted. Tracking down Kilgrave’s parents and getting them to come see him was a brilliant idea, and inviting Detective Clemons to be a witness to the party should have helped too. But, as usual, that’s not where this show ends. Jessica let things go until Kilgrave’s mother was about to stab herself, but then the electricity fizzled out, and all bets were off. My pulse was pounding as Trish pulled the trigger only to be relieved by an empty barrel and Clemons broke his fingers to follow Kilgrave out as per his orders. That look on Jessica’s face as she realized that she had resisted his command was oddly content, and there’s no reason to be happy right now. At least all our people made it out alive, and Will may be stronger than ever thanks to whatever illegal army medication he’s currently on. And, in better news than our characters could possibly hope for, this show has been renewed for a second season! I’m very glad.

What I’m Watching: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle: Season 1, Episode 9 “Kindness” (B-)

I’ve never quite been sure what to make of these films and what they represent. I figured that scenes like the U.S. celebrating victory were actual events that had been covered up by Nazi propaganda after the fact, but now it seems that they’re much more likely something from an alternate universe which doesn’t look like this one or like the one in which viewers live. Conversely, it could be taken from the future, but that seems just as unlikely. Instead, it just so happens that this footage was not just damning enough to show the Nazis committing war crimes, if such a thing exists in this universe, but it also coincidentally features Frank being executed by none other than Joe. It’s not as if Joe was going to save them though given his orders from John to kill Juliana, but there’s no way that the news of Joe’s duplicity helps his case, as the Yakuza will be after him if the Nazis or Juliana don’t get to him first. John, who showed weakness and compassion for his son when he found out about his diagnosis and then in this episode when he rushed to his aid, is not backing down, ready to take on any challenge that comes his way, summarily disposing of traitors by pushing them off buildings and reporting it as a suicide. Rudolph being tasked with assassinating Hitler as penance for his treachery heightens the drama considerably, and I can’t imagine what closure we’ll possibly get in the season finale that will make it all seem worth it.

Pilot Review: Colony

Colony (USA)
Premiered January 14 at 10pm

For not necessarily existing in real life, aliens sure do show up a lot in movies and on TV. The latest network to jump on the bandwagon is USA, which offers up this new series about people living in colonies created by unknown “hosts” who invaded some time ago. It’s not actually said at any point in the pilot that they are in fact aliens, but I think that’s to be assumed, and series descriptions indicate that as well. I spent a while watching “Falling Skies” hoping for some exciting science fiction content and never really found out, partly because the aliens didn’t appear as frequently as they should have. This pilot leaves plenty to be desired, offering up a variation of the same kind of dystopian universe we’ve seen in so many other shows, most recently “Fear the Walking Dead.” The two leads are carefully cast to conjure up fond memories of genre staples “Lost” and “The Walking Dead.” Josh Holloway became one of the best parts of “Lost” as the show went on, and his follow-up series, “Intelligence,” fizzled quickly. I always found Sarah Wayne Callies relatively obnoxious on “Prison Break” and “The Walking Dead,” and here she’s no different, fully confident in herself but just as eager to get into trouble and then look frazzled that someone is actually coming after her. The truck blowing up and leaving just Holloway’s Will standing there by himself was an interesting twist midway through the episode, and Peter Jacobsen’s Proxy Governor certainly paints an idyllic portrait of the collaborator life and all the perks that come with it. Callies’ Katie being a ringleader in the resistance throws a definite wrench into it, and there spouts the intrigue that isn’t enough to bring me back for a second round.

How will it work as a series? The stakes are incredibly high, and surveillance seems to be very strong on Will, which suggests that Katie moving freely won’t last long, unless they think they can implicitly trust Will. Much of this show’s ability to keep its audience captivated will depend on how much of the world it can show, and how much the “hosts” play a part in that.
How long will it last? It’s hard to find any ratings data, so I’ll go based on reviews, which have been mixed but generally more positive than negative, and the fact that USA seems to be rebranding to a degree. This show fits a lot more with “Mr. Robot” than with many of the more lighthearted shows it has aired over the years, and so I suspect that this show may stick around for another few seasons.

Pilot grade: C

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What I’m Watching: Life in Pieces

Life in Pieces: Season 1, Episode 13 “Party Lobster Gym Sale” (B-)

This show is starting to graduate from its need to have self-contained plotlines, past the point of having other characters appear in the vignettes mostly starring certain players but also not necessarily tying up the segment in a neat little bow. Take the first part in this episode, in which Greg decided that he needed to get into shape and that joining a gym was the smart thing to do. Drinking protein shakes with absurd fat and calorie content after eating six eggs was one thing, but he was clearly getting too into the whole idea, claiming that it was about spending more time with the baby when he was too busy shaving his legs or getting ready for a big run. Ending in the middle of that craziness means that the plotline may well rear its head again, and this may not be the last we’ve seen of workout-crazy Greg. The best part of the Morgan children having a party while their parents were away for the night was Matt and Colleen’s excitement at being able to come in and bust the party pretending to be cops, followed by Matt’s assertion that Tyler owed him, only to be satisfied with having his $20 debt forgiven. That Heather and Tim’s first step in the accusation process was to have their young daughter think she was drinking a bottle of vodka was rather aggressive and brash, but they’re pretty intense people. The lobster plotline wasn’t too worthwhile, and ended predictably with John being the surprisingly sentimental one. The garage sale segment was highlighted by Joan’s response to finding all of her stuff for sale – take home the profits.

What I’m Watching: Heroes Reborn

Heroes Reborn: Season 1, Episode 12 “Company Woman” (D)

I dislike this episode even more now that I see what its title is. It’s evidently meant to pay homage to the season one episode of “Heroes” that made Noah Bennett, known then mostly as HRG, sympathetic by revealing his background and the hard choices he made to get to that moment. This episode, I guess, purports to do the same for Erica, by having Matt come in and force Taylor to point a gun at herself. While Erica was reliving the circumstances under which she got pregnant – trading her body for an evo’s ability to save first her father and then her daughter’s life – the ungrateful Taylor was hurling insults at her mother in the worst exchange of dialogue I’ve ever heard on this show about how she was going to have an evo grandchild, and nothing dramatically was accomplished because Erica didn’t share any of it with her daughter, and then promptly went and had Otomo executed and Tommy imprisoned. The only part of that which was remotely interesting to me was Casper showing up on her door when she killed Taylor’s father, but of course we don’t get to see any of that play out. Instead, it’s back to the banality and inanity of this plan to get everyone to the future. Shouldn’t Tommy have been able to teleport to precisely where Malina was if the whole point of her standing somewhere recognizable was for him to see it and go there? Instead, Farah had to race to the rescue and get shot while invisible to save her life, and Luke still blew away his wife even after she took the shot. What kind of nonsense can possibly wrap this up in the season finale? Fortunately, this show has been officially cancelled and deemed a one-season event series, so that will be the final installment. That’s more than enough of this show.

Pilot Review: Second Chance

Second Chance (FOX)
Premiered January 13 at 9pm

To get a show to air, you need a good pitch, and some premises seem better and more convincing than others. On paper, this show probably sounded great. An unlikeable 75-year-old former sheriff whose career ended badly being killed and then brought back to life by two wunderkind twins as part of an experiment to see if they can cure the female twin’s deadly cancer sounds intriguing to be sure. In actuality, it’s a bit of a mess, and far from as interesting as it probably seemed. I’m a fan of Philip Baker Hall, who adds a lot to whatever project he appears in, like “The Loop,” and it’s a shame that he won’t actually be the star of this show. Instead, we get Robert Kazinsky, who I knew I recognized but couldn’t place how I knew him. It turns out he was Warlow on “True Blood,” and here he gets to play the younger version of Ray, who has the “second chance” to live his life over and do things right this time. He’s been pretty obvious about his connection to his adult son, played by Tim DeKay of “White Collar” fame, and the futuristic technology that the Goodwin brothers have created isn’t going to be able to stop him from making many missteps along the way. This is really just a slight spin on the extralegal stranger trying to help right wrongs without actually being able to reveal his identity formula, and to me it’s much less appealing than something like “Person of Interest” with less potential for interesting development over time.

How will it work as a series? As Mary’s health declines, the stakes are going to get higher, but for now it’s going to become a procedural, I imagine, as Ray gets involved in saving lives on behalf of the twins and his law enforcement instincts, and his son gets closer and closer to figure out exactly what’s really going on. It’s a lot to process, to be sure, but doesn’t sound all that enticing.
How long will it last? Both the ratings and the reviews are not promising. FOX has had a few hits over the course of the season and a few failures, and I think this will ultimately end up in the latter category, though the network probably won’t be too quick to pull it from the air, giving it at least a second chance or maybe a few after that before it pulls the plug for good.

Pilot grade: C-

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 11 “Spread Your Wings” (C)

I appreciated this show so much more when it wasn’t so obsessed with being metaphorical all the time. This episode transcended that a bit in that it actually spoke aloud that Phil was so attached to the three ducks because they reminded him of his children, which prompted Claire, Haley, and Luke to identify the stupid duck, the vain duck, and the smart duck. In my opinion, the ducks have been around way too long and taken up a disproportionate amount of screen time and energy on this show. Phil going to visit Alex was a sweet but drawn-out process, as she indicated her strong lack of desire to be involved in any sort of social life at school, and her father was astute enough to bring her a party dress and goggles so that she could participate in the time-honored traditions at her academic institution instead of immediately moving him. The amazement that her fellow students had when Phil caught a football without looking was mildly funny, representative of the humor that the entire plotline was supposed to be centered around. I feel the same way about the sauce as I do about the ducks, and there’s no way that even the self-centered Cam could have thought that putting his face on the jar would be okay with Gloria. Jay being there to support Mitchell in his sleepover-coordinating events and working to tire out the girls with the workout videos was more sentimental than humorous, and I have trouble buying that Jay would so readily admit to having watched and used workout videos.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 2, Episode 10 “Method Head” (B+)

This episode had the potential to feature the most absurd Liv yet, and I think it actually may have been the tamest, which was not what I expected. It was inevitable that a show about zombies would exist in this zombie-populated universe, and of course a method actor would be the star of the show and take everything way too seriously. It was a lot of fun to see Liv get so into acting, and to so emotionally deliver the lines for one scene before helping to scare a confession out of the killer by pretending to be upset with Clive. What I find myself enjoying most lately are the moments that show Clive demonstrating some weird particularities, like getting excited at every kind of candy that was out on the craft services table on set. I want to see more of the Clive that gets pumped about “Game of Thrones” and shows his nerdy side. On a more dramatic note, we got the important connection that Dale just met Clive’s number one suspect, and Blaine is unknowingly known in the police’s crosshairs, and not because of his yellow lunchboxes. Speaking of zombies, Major passed a very important and crucial test which he was smart enough to use to his advantage, planting a bug on Vaughn and figuring out his own way to take down a man that would nearly condemn a loyal underling to a brutal death just to make sure that the fear in his eyes was real.

What I’m Watching: Grandfathered

Grandfathered: Season 1, Episode 11 “The Sat Pack” (B)

It didn’t take long for one of John Stamos’ “Full House” cast stars to show up, and Bob Saget isn’t actually the first after Dave Coulier’s one-scene cameo towards the start of the show. Saget has become known for his reputation as an inappropriate comedian since finishing his wholesome role on the popular 1980s family sitcom, and so it’s only natural that he would be cast as Jimmy’s best friend who likes partying and sleeping around a whole lot. Interestingly, and maybe it’s because of the broadcast network that airs this show, Ronnie didn’t seem all that outrageous, and probably paled to Jimmy at the height of his pre-parenthood absurdity. Ronnie was a big jerk when Gerald showed up upset about his recent breakup, and I like that Gerald ended up punching him in the face after he slapped Jimmy, prompting a sweet reconciliation between Ronnie and Jimmy that ended in Ronnie getting in the limo to head to the next big party and then hopping out before it drove off to call a cab home instead. Bruce asking Sara to move to China with him was innocent and well-meaning enough, but it did not go over particularly well. It was still nicer than Frankie’s emotionless breakup with Gerald, which was precipitated by her taking the time to count how many other people she was dating. It’s too bad we won’t see Lyndsy Fonseca anymore, but it was nice to have her for a little bit. The next new relationship is likely to be between Jimmy and Sara, and I’m eager to see that. It was also fun to watch Vanessa do her best to figure out a simple movie night with all of Gerald’s complex remotes lying around.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 5, Episode 2 “What About Fred” (B)

This episode was relatively predictable but still turned out to be pretty fun. The weaker plotline was definitely Schmidt and Nick trying to take over the bar and get taken seriously, something that did not go well at all. Nick didn’t even manage to succeed in becoming a manager, instead opting to let his underlings do whatever they wanted and just realize that the bar will keep on going no matter what. I enjoyed Cece being the ringleader and walking out after Nick fired Javier, and Schmidt didn’t help matters at all by complimenting the boldness and attractiveness of his fiancée and separating himself from the situation by not treating her as his employee in that moment. I like that Schmidt’s suggestion about the one-napkin policy and the “Are you sure?” follow-up actually worked on Winston. I’ve had enough of seeing Winston with his creepy relationship with Ferguson, and therefore it was good to have him serve as a partner-in-crime for Jess in trying to secure a lifelong friendship with Flip and Nancy while figuring out a way to get out of dating Fred. The way that everyone at the table reacted to Fred’s incredibly boring nature was great, and I think this guy was even less interesting than Ryan Kwanten’s lunch lover from a number of seasons ago. Winston enlisting the help of his bored partner in keeping Fred occupied was a highlight, and I liked her challenge of having him act like he’s about to breakdance. He was surprisingly into it, and that served as a ridiculous but amusing end to the episode.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 7, Episode 11 “Iowa” (C)

I didn’t like this episode, and I found neither of its primary plotlines terribly compelling even though they tried very hard. I can’t comprehend why Eli would feel the need to tell Alicia that he essentially ruined her life by deliberately deleting Will’s voicemail, since he could easily have conveyed the same sentiment about wanting her to be happy without being so detailed. There’s no way that she’ll ever forgive him for it, and he honestly doesn’t really deserve it. Saying that the nightmare was being in Iowa was harsh, and she managed to take off her sunglasses, take out her headphones, and put on a smile long enough to apologize for the comment and make it seem like it was all a big misunderstanding. Ruth pushing Peter to do the Full Grassley was a risk, and it didn’t appear to pay off when he had first zero and then twenty-eight supporters on the caucus floor. Getting caught on camera spitting out his umpteenth loose meat sandwich was obviously a misstep, but it’s absurd to think that he would be able to eat food at every single stop he made in the state (I guess that’s why most candidates don’t do it). Coming in dead last with just four votes is a pitiful way to end the campaign, and even Eli championing Alicia’s merits is unlikely to resurrect the spirit if a comeback is still at all possible. Jackie, who did not have very nice things to say about the state of Iowa, thinking Howard was senile because he didn’t remember $2.2 million in an account and trying to get power of attorney over him was a mildly amusing subplot, and now David Lee has gotten himself into big trouble for trying to hide money from Alicia and not telling Howard about it. I wonder if the elder lawyer is going to fight his newly-imposed emeritus status after Cary found a clever way of getting out of trouble for their discriminatory hiring practices without throwing himself under the bus.

What I’m Watching: Shameless (Season Premiere)

Shameless: Season 6, Episode 1 “I Only Miss Her When I’m Breathing” (B+)

It’s always good to have this show back. This episode didn’t feel as depraved as usual necessary, but it was defined by bad choices. We’ve known for a while that Fiona has leadership potential, but she also tends to self-sabotage. Spending plenty of quality time with Sean in an intimate manner suggests that, however qualified she may be for the assistant manager position, it’s clear already from one disgruntled coworker’s reaction that giving her that job wouldn’t be a great idea. Lip getting jealous and beating up Helene’s son was a big mistake that might cost him that relationship, and there was no more awkward moment than when his airheaded overnight guest eagerly said hello to her professor. I look forward to seeing him do more teaching. Ian’s actually in mildly good shape, and he’s even going to prison to visit Mickey, who is being commissioned by his loving wife to stab people in the eye. Debs telling Fiona that she wasn’t pregnant after confirming that she was backfired very quickly when the father’s parents showed up at her house, and this pregnancy is definitely going to be a wild process. Carl’s post-jail status is quite absurd and entertaining, and I’m eager and a little frightened to see what the troublemaker who used to heat up marbles to see what would happen will do now that he’s a hardened ex-con. The bar is doing pretty well with its hipsters enjoying paying a lot and being mistreated, and they’re surviving even with their number one customer down to one 6-oz drink a day when he’s not pretending to be with the love of his life in an inappropriate way at her graveside.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What I’m Watching: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 2 (B+)

Sometimes this show feels incredibly cyclical, and that’s because the same things do happen over and over again. The biggest example is Mrs. Drewe being attached to Marigold and showing too much affection towards her, which in turn makes people question why Edith adopted her in the first place. Fortunately, the Drewe family has now moved away, and so that shouldn’t be much of a problem anymore, though the truth surely must eventually come out. Violet and Isobel disagreeing about what to do with the hospital is far from the most exciting storyline, but it’s good to see them both asserting themselves. Not that she’s ever had any trouble with that, but Mary also isn’t backing down, making sure that it’s known that she has taken over for Tom and not letting anyone intimidate her. She would do well to tone down her approach to Carson’s wedding being held in the estate, since Mrs. Hughes rightfully argues that their wedding should be about them and not about the family that they have served for the majority of their lives. Now that she’s a free woman for sure, Anna working on getting pregnant is a worthwhile development, and it’s nice that Mary is helping her to do that, though Bates is sure to figure out something is afoot and push too much to find out what it is. Thomas has appeared very dejected lately and for good reason, since it feels as if he’s being pushed out. Carson not objecting to him asking to go on a job interview didn’t feel great, and realizing immediately that he wasn’t even going to be considered for a post that he felt demanded far too much of him hurt even more. The times really are changing, and Thomas and Carson are surprisingly alike in their appreciation of the way the system has conventionally worked.

What I’m Watching: Galavant

Galavant: Season 2, Episode 3 and 4 “Aw, Hell, the King” and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Belittled” (B-/B)

These are silly episodes, to be sure, but what else can you expect from this show? The visual joke about Richard’s castle being dismantled was a bit more entertaining than all that came after it, since the framework of the base of the castle was still very visible on the ground. Attempting to enlist Richard’s army to help rescue Isabella was a poor effort from the outset, and even Galavant’s gleaming teeth couldn’t help muster up more than one supporter. The typically clueless Richard can’t tell that his old best friend is actually very interested in a romantic relationship with him, which should only complicate things as they continue their trek and encounter more and more devious people along the way. Back at the castle, Gareth is experiencing some serious guilt about betraying Richard, and I so look forward to their eventual reunion. Madalena is not doing particularly well, unable to sleep because of Gareth’s screams and set up by the girls who used to torment her when she was young for an epic and hurtful roast that showed her that she doesn’t have it all. Gareth’s romantic gesture of bringing her the earrings still attached to their severed ears was both disgusting and surprisingly sweet. I enjoyed the opening song to the second episode with Chef and Gwynne celebrating their rise from dirt poor to mediocrity. Wormwood’s control over Isabella has turned her into someone wholly different, and it appears she may just fall back in love with Galavant in the process since that’s what truly makes her happy.

What I’m Watching: Transparent

Transparent: Season 2, Episode 4 “Cherry Blossoms” (B+)

Some of the problems that started to come up in the previous episode didn’t present as fully and immediately here, but there were other issues to take their place. Josh reacting poorly to Raquel’s proposal wasn’t mentioned, but his desire to bond with Colton and continue developing that relationship led to his seemingly innocent and casual inviting over of Colton’s mother. I like that, even before Rita showed up, Sarah coming to Raquel for rabbinic counseling turned into Raquel asking questions about her own relationship dynamic. The pizza meal was extremely awkward, which was completely Rita’s fault, and it was clear that Josh was just as uncomfortable as Raquel was. Sarah’s exploits at the gala were pretty horrendous, and trying to refuse one of the many raffle prizes that she won was a particular lowlight. Tammy is everywhere, and she’s not even close to over Sarah, in a way that’s still very intense and blunt and doesn’t make it seem like she’s going to get over her anytime soon. Ali’s visit to her grandmother was intriguing, and she’s going back to being in a good place about herself and starting to look into what else is wrong around her. It’s not pleasant to watch Maura push Shelly away in such a rude manner, however unintentional it is, and I think Shelly is going to get very hurt as Maura continues to try to move into her own new life which doesn’t resemble the best parts of their heterosexual marriage from many years earlier.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What I’m Watching: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: Season 1, Episode 8 “AKA WWJD?” (A-)

I didn’t know what was going to happen when Jessica agreed to move in to her childhood home with Kilgrave, but I did not expect the best episode this show has produced so far. Jessica is still her usual prickly self, and Kilgrave is mediating how much he is controlling those around them to make sure that the experience really is authentic. That means plenty of sarcasm and insults from Jessica, but he’s also not content to let her roam so free that he won’t force the helpless cook and maid to keep their eyes open all night or get ready to peel each other’s faces off if she doesn’t return. Lashing out at Kilgrave for raping her repeatedly when he was claiming that his ability was hard to control and he never knew whether people were doing things because he told them to was a commendable and intense moment, and his defense was rather weak, even after seeing that video of him being poked and prodded as a young boy. Daring Kilgrave to be a hero was a great idea, and it actually worked pretty well even if he didn’t care that he had done something good until he thought that it would allow them to team up together. The most shocking development came at the end of the episode when things seemed like they were going great and all of a sudden both of Kilgrave’s hypnotized servants passed out and Jessica made her move to sedate and abduct Kilgrave. If that wasn’t forceful and daring enough, Kilgrave sent Jessica’s chatty neighbor to blow Will up and may have succeeded in taking him out. This show is really great, and this episode was considerably more thrilling than usual.

What I’m Watching: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle: Season 1, Episode 8 “End of the World” (B)

Everything that’s happening with Juliana and Frank is feeling very muddled, and I’m losing interest pretty quickly. After her horrifying visit last episode, Juliana has now shared with her family the fact of her sister’s demise, and it makes it feel increasingly like she has nothing left at home for her. Frakn, on the other hand, is fully committed to fraudulently making her money with his custom antique guns. His reluctant partner Robert got a whole lot more into the idea after he was humiliated by being told to use the tradesmen’s entrance when he came back to visit those who had just recently hosted him for an intimate dinner as a social experiment. Lem showing up was a bit of a surprise, but there’s plenty of trouble afoot with the whole film thing, and no one’s coming away from that clean. Back on the East Coast, the best character on this show, John, was much more sympathetic than ever before as he got the heartbreaking news that his son is sick, which, in this messed-up totalitarian world means that he’s doomed for untimely death to ensure that no weakness can be allowed to survive. Rufus Sewell is the powerhouse standout of every episode, but he was especially terrific in this hour as the conflict was visible on his face. Following that up with a visit to his old friend Rudolph only amplified his emotional side, demonstrating that he is capable of caring about some things, even if his life is reigned mostly by brutal efficiency.

What I’m Watching: Master of None (Season Finale)

Master of None: Season 1, Episode 10 “Finale” (B+)

And just like that, this show is over, though I’m hopeful that it will be brought back for a second season. I feel like because it took me a few episodes to get into it, I didn’t fully appreciate it, but there were definitely some great installments along the way. This was a good closing episode, one that brought back the supporting characters just enough and focused primarily on Dev and Rachel and how their relationship panned out. I would have liked for things to work out between the two of them, and it was sad to see them part ways. Dev imagining how they would say their vows in the most unromantic and matter-of-fact way was helpful in illustrating how he felt and how he thought she felt about the institution of marriage and what it means to take a relationship to the next step, and that was crucial for eliciting her negative reaction to his unfortunate percentage exercise. Seeing her with different hair and a sudden desire to move to Japan because she didn’t want to feel like she had missed out on the opportunity was strange, but the best part was that it caused Dev to take the plunge and fly to Italy to go to culinary school, which is seriously cool. This show didn’t have a specific focus but it managed to get at a lot of what happens in society these days, with a fantastic central performance from Aziz Ansari and a great turn from the wonderful Noel Wells, who I hope we’ll see again in season two. On that note, let’s hope for a season two!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells

Monday, January 11, 2016

Pilot Review: Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue (NBC)
Premiered January 7 at 10pm

Sometimes, it makes perfect sense to give someone their own show. Comedic talents like Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey come to mind, and casting other notable actors in dramatic series, like Michael C. Hall or Liev Schrieber, is also understandable. But find me the person who was clamoring for a cop show starring Jennifer Lopez and I’ll be truly impressed. This is Lopez’s first time on television in more than just a one-shot guest spot in over twenty years, and she’s not exactly known for her acting abilities, having been nominated for one Golden Globe and, more significantly, nine Razzie Awards for poor achievement in cinema. This show also assembles a handful of other actors, most of them familiar from television, for run-of-the-mill cop roles. Drea De Matteo, onetime Emmy winner for “The Sopranos” is one of Detective Harlee Santos’ colleagues, as is Vincent Laresca, who I immediately recognized from his role as Hector Salazar in season three of “24.” Warren Kole, who recently starred in “Common Law,” is the FBI agent handling Harlee, and a more prominent cinematic actor, Ray Liotta, gets to play the intense, intimidating lieutenant who really runs the show. This pilot earns some points for not wasting any time, having a cop kill an unarmed man playing video games in its opening moments and then watching Harlee walk right into a trap and end up in an impossible situation. The rest, however, is rather familiar, and I don’t think that NBC needed a new cop show, regardless of what celebrity singer has her face on the poster.

How will it work as a series? Promos that I saw during the Golden Globes last night confirmed (and gave away) that it is likely to go in a very predictable and tread direction, with Harlee doing her best to stay one step ahead of her lies as they catch up to her and she’s forced to implicate her colleagues. It won’t be surprising, but it could be enthralling.
How long will it last? This may actually be one that sticks around given its performance on Thursday night on NBC at a time when the network used to have high ratings with shows like “ER” and hasn’t in a while. I wouldn’t bet on it just yet, but it’s looking better than I had expected.

Pilot grade: C

Pilot in Review: Angel from Hell

Angel from Hell (CBS)
Premiered January 7 at 9:30pm

I’ve been a big fan of Maggie Lawson since before her career-making role on “Psych” as the most sensible character around, Jules, who had a soft spot for fake psychic Shawn. In 2006, Lawson starred on “Crumbs” with Fred Savage and William Devane, who are both currently starring together once again as son and father on “The Grinder.” Since “Psych” ended, Lawson appeared on “Justified” in a killer guest spot, and tried her hand at network comedy with “Back in the Game” on ABC opposite James Caan. Now, she’s back on TV again with another small screen legend, Jane Lynch, who won an Emmy for “Glee” and is surely searching for a role that allows her to be just as crazy. She’s found it as a guardian angel who dresses sloppily and loves practical jokes, intent on meddling in the life of the person she is charged with protecting even though she’s absolutely forbidden to do so. The premise of this show leaves much to be desired, but theoretically Lynch and Lawson are both capable and should play well off each other. Lynch’s Amy breaking the news to Lawson’s Allison that her boyfriend was cheating on her with her best friend was a crucial first step, and finding Amy in a picture from her childhood confirmed to Allison that something strange is going on. I like having Kevin Pollak and Kyle Bornheimer in the supporting cast as Allison’s father and brother, respectively, and I wonder if we’ll see former “Traffic Light” costars David Denman and Liza Lapira again now that their romance has been busted. I’m determined to give this show at least another chance because I saw so many ads for the pilot and think that it has the potential to grow into something different with time. I’m not going to commit anything just yet, but I want to see where it goes in the short term.

How will it work as a series? That’s the big question. Can this show evolve from being a sappy, dumb story about a woman with no prospects at happiness bonding with her one friend, her foul-mouthed guardian angel? I’m not sure it can, but it’s possible that it can become something altogether different.
How long will it last? It’s hard to tell. The premiere numbers were okay but CBS is notoriously strict and demanding when it comes to the performance of its shows. I think poor reviews and so-so ratings will lead to this being pulled from the air before we get too far into the spring.

Pilot grade: C-