Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Emmy Episodes: Getting On

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Getting On: Season 3, Episode 2 “Don’t Let It Get in You or on You” (C+)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Niecy Nash)

I don’t understand this show, and I was perplexed beyond belief that it got Niecy Nash nominated for an Emmy last year. Unfortunately, this year the show expanded to two nominations. This is the first chronological episode cited, one that focuses on a number of weird, depressing plotlines that are very, very occasionally funny and otherwise just off-putting. It’s hard to know when to laugh on this show, and that’s even truer of Nash’s scenes, since she’s so quiet and unenergetic in her delivery. In this installment, DiDi has to contend with her sister-in-law stopping by the hospital to confront her about things going on in her personal life, namely the deteriorating health of her mother-in-law, which is still a major plotline in Laurie Metcalf’s submitted episode. She gets the chance to assert herself a bit when she talks to her sister-in-law, but I still don’t quite understand the appeal of her performance. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s not particularly dramatic or particularly funny, and I can’t comprehend why she’s nominated with the likes of comediennes like Allison Janney and Kate McKinnon and strong dramatic performers like Judith Light and Gaby Hoffman. This is Nash’s second consecutive nomination, and being joined by Metcalf this year bodes well for her, but she also managed to achieve three separate nods for different projects this year, indicating that when it comes to her it’s all about the actress. If Nash won, I’d be floored, but the fact that she made it in twice a row is still making my head spin.

Emmy Episodes: The Last Man on Earth

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

The Last Man on Earth: Season 2, Episode 18 “30 Years of Science Down the Tubes” (D)
Nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy Series (Will Forte)

Color me very confused. When I last watched this show – the Emmy-nominated pilot “Alive in Tucson” – there was one man left on Earth, and he met and couldn’t stand the last woman left. Now, suddenly, he has a family, they drink together, and there’s plenty of people around for him to talk to. I don’t know what happened over the course of the first two seasons to change everything, but clearly a lot has happened. I gave the pilot a C+ and decided that it wasn’t for me, though I do sometimes like Forte, who earned a deserved Emmy nod for guest-starring on “30 Rock” three years ago. He’s got a certain way of speaking that makes him very entertaining, but I don’t think that needs to translate to an Emmy nomination. The title of this episode references Will’s character Phil’s frustration that the fart that he tried to bottle up for his brother to experience didn’t last. It’s highly unsophisticated and I get that it’s why it’s supposed to be funny, but it didn’t do it for me. This is a weird show and Forte’s chances are considerably lower this year since his show didn’t earn directing and writing bids like it did last year. I was intrigued by the always great Mary Steenburgen, though, and I spent a while trying to figure out if that really was January Jones as one of those inexplicably alive people. It turns out it was – who would have thought? Let’s hope I don’t have to watch this show next year.

Emmy Episodes: Saturday Night Live

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 15 “Ariana Grande” (B)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Kate McKinnon)

There are five nominees from “Saturday Night Live” for hosting gigs and just one this year for a regular performer on the series. For the third year in a row, that honor goes to Kate McKinnon, an actress who, like Kristen Wiig before her, is fully committed to the comedic craft and especially to physical comedy. There’s one scene in this episode that casts McKinnon as a blobfish who torments one poor guy who doesn’t have the fortune of being seduced by mermaids, who spend their time flirting with the other two guys. McKinnon is totally into the scene, and it’s clear that she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her – she’s going to give it her all. Her biggest role this entire season has been playing Hillary Clinton. She appeared in all five other episodes as the Democratic presidential frontrunner, and in this episode she gets to star in an ad in which she tries to be much more like Bernie Sanders to attract the votes of the young people who seem to hate her. She does a great job with it, and though it’s very much the same thing over and over again, she’s all about it and doesn’t let up. This is her third consecutive nomination, and she’s the fourth cast member, after Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader, to earn an Emmy nomination in the comedy races. None of them won, and I don’t see this year being the year that McKinnon triumphs. Maybe if Hillary wins and she gets to play the president next year!

Emmy Episodes: Saturday Night Live

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 13 “Melissa McCarthy / Kanye West” (B)
Nominated for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Melissa McCarthy)

McCarthy’s episode begins with her doing a celebration in honor of her fifth time hosting and her joining the five-timers club, only to realize that she’s only hosted four times since her fifth appearance was part of the fortieth anniversary special and doesn’t actually count. What I didn’t know offhand is that McCarthy has been nominated for an Emmy each and every time that she has hosted, making this her seventh bid in six years. She has been nominated three times for “Mike and Molly,” winning on her first try in 2011. She’s also a recent Oscar nominee for “Bridesmaids,” and she’s definitely one of America’s leading ladies of comedy at the moment. I’d say that the fact that she’s been nominated for every hosting gig and never won actually reduces her chances of winning this year since there’s nothing especially funny about this hour that finds McCarthy going outside her comfort zone. In nearly every sketch, she’s a loud, obnoxious person, overreacting and vomiting on people during a test screening or saying ignorant things about black people on a bus that turns into a “Speed” situation. I do like McCarthy and think that she can be funny, but this isn’t the best showcase for her. I think people just like her and that’s why they vote for her. This and Tracy Morgan’s hosting jobs are the least impressive of the five nominees this year. They’re both obviously respected comedians who enjoy playing the same kind of role over and over again, but I don’t think that needs to merit Emmy attention.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Emmy Episodes: Saturday Night Live

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 12 “Larry David / The 1975” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Larry David)

When I started watching Tracy Morgan’s episode, it opened with Larry David doing a spot-on impression of Bernie Sanders to thunderous applause, and I thought that it was his episode. Instead, he returned a few weeks later to host, and his opening speech is really pretty hilarious. He’s so fantastically dry, talking about how he’s not a host but more of a guest, living in a dipless house and not wanting to raise expectations. One of the greatest pleasures in life, he says, is leaving wherever he is. That ability to be disliked has worked well for him in the past, and it’s what makes his “Bern Your Enthusiasm” bit superb. The real Bernie appearing with David and doing a great impression of his “pretty, pretty, pretty” shtick was amazing, and it’s exactly that kind of thing that won Tina Fey an Emmy when she played Sarah Palin back in 2008. He doesn’t do much the rest of the episode but does end strong in a humorous over-the-top physical scene with Kate McKinnon. David has contended for over twenty Emmys since earning his first bids for writing “Seinfeld” twenty-five years ago. He has been nominated five times for acting, all for “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” so it’s a new thing for him to be contending for a guest gig like this. I think election season and his impeccable resemblance to Bernie gives him an edge, and he has a really great shot at winning an Emmy for the first time since his big year in 1993 when he wrote the episode “The Contest” and shared the Best Comedy Series trophy for producing “Seinfeld.”

Emmy Episodes: Saturday Night Live

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 9 “Tina Fey and Amy Poehler / Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler)

It’s hard to find a comedy duo as cool as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Both comediennes got their start as regular players on this show and then anchored their own comedy series on NBC for many years. They’ve both been nominated for Emmys every year since 2008 and their careers are only heating up. They hosted the Golden Globes together for three years in a row and now they’re contending for an Emmy together for a joint stint hosting SNL. This is the first time that two actresses have been nominated together in this category, though it has happened in the reality host race before. Both actresses are hot right now, and they’re so comfortable back on their old show that it’s hard not to love them. They start out singing a duet and then get to revisit the characters they’re best known for: Sarah Pain and Hillary Clinton. That scene with Kate McKinnon as a present-day Hillary could well win them this trophy. The chance to tell the final “Weekend Update” jokes of the year shows how respected they are, and their “Squad” segment with Amy Schumer is pretty funny too. Doing a sketch with another fan favorite and past Emmy nominee for hosting, Maya Rudolph, helps too. I’m not sure it was as funny as I was hoping it would be, but they’re having such a blast being back home, and their closing number with Bruce Springsteen demonstrates how beloved they are. I’ll look at the category as a whole soon, but I think they have a pretty great shot at winning just on their own joint merit.

Emmy Episodes: Saturday Night Live

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 3 “Tracy Morgan/Demi Lovato” (B)
Nominated for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Tracy Morgan)

This can be explained as one type of nomination, one that shouldn’t be underestimated: a hearty welcome back for an actor who many thought wouldn’t make it back to such a functional state. Tracy Morgan was injured in a very serious car accident in June 2014, and this nomination represents a recovery story more than anything. Prior to his accident, Morgan wasn’t a terribly reliable or consistent player, usually portraying wild and untethered characters. It’s worth noting that both of his past Emmy nominations were for “30 Rock,” a show that ran on NBC and which gets its own little reunion as his costars, in character, celebrate his unlikely return. As usual, he’s pretty crazy in just about every scene, always portraying an over-the-top caricature who’s hard to reign in. I would say that Morgan embodies the irreverence of this show that many often cite as a negative, and it’s on full display in each of his sketches, as he brings in animals for his childish show, spews inappropriate things during a historical reenactment, and wants to tango instead of fight with a man who has insulted him. I enjoyed the absurd “Where’s Jackie Chan” bit towards the end, but I think that if Morgan were to win, it would be simply be because people are happy that he’s okay. In this episode, both Larry David and Tina Fey, nominated for their own hosting gigs this year, appear, and they do a far better job of offer more sophisticated parody in just a scene or two. I’m happy that Morgan is okay too, but I wouldn’t give him an Emmy for this.

Emmy Episodes: Saturday Night Live

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 2 “Amy Schumer / The Weeknd” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Amy Schumer)

Amy Schumer is on a roll. The comedienne is experiencing a great period of success, starting with her variety sketch series on Comedy Central, now in its fourth year, and expanding over to the world of film with the Golden Globe-nominated “Trainwreck.” Last year, she contended in four different categories for “Inside Amy Schumer” and accepted the award for Best Variety Sketch Series. This year, Schumer is again nominated in four categories, but she adds to the list a bid for hosting “Saturday Night Live.” This is Schumer’s first time hosting the forty-year-old NBC variety series, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that she earned an Emmy nomination. Her introductory monologue is great, showing her ease with telling jokes in front of a crowd and emphasizing that she excels at stand-up comedy. The humor is sophisticated and as raunchy as it can be on broadcast television, and she’s very comfortable with her audience. As the show progresses, it gets more into the physical comedy that she’s known for on her own show, which I’ll watch and review soon. She’s fully committed to the absurdity of a Delta flight attendant dance sketch and a hot teacher sketch, and she has a lot of fun continually ruining what’s supposed to be a dramatic reenactment of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Inserting a feminine perspective into everything isn’t meant to be totally serious, but she does a superb job of sticking with the joke throughout the episode. She has stiff competition from other SNL hosts, but this is a pretty ideal submission.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Emmy Episodes: The Americans

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

The Americans: Season 4, Episode 4 “Chloramphenicol” (C+)
The Americans: Season 4, Episode 7 “Travel Agents” (B)
The Americans: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” (B)
The Americans: Season 4, Episode 9 “The Day After” (B-)
The Americans: Season 4, Episode 12 “A Roy Rogers in Franconia” (B-)
The Americans: Season 4, Episode 13 “Persona Non Grata” (B-)

All six episodes submitted for consideration for Best Drama Series
Episode 8 nominated for Best Actor (Matthew Rhys), Best Actress (Keri Russell), and Best Guest Actress (Margo Martindale) in a Drama Series
Episode 13 nominated for Best Writing for a Drama Series

I know that there are many people celebrating that this show finally hit it big and earned major Emmy nominations, and I wish that I felt the same way. It’s similar in a lot of ways to “Friday Night Lights,” which earned only minor nominations up until its fourth season, when it finally broke through with a Best Drama Series bid as well as citations for both its lead performers. I’ve read lots of praise for Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, and they’ve finally been nominated, along with Margo Martindale, who contends for the fourth time in the guest actress category after winning last year. Since the show is nominated for Best Drama Series, six episodes were submitted, which led to me watching more of this series this year than I have in the past three years combined. I don’t hate it, but it still hasn’t won me over. As a result, the grades for each episode don’t mean much. I’ve decided to tackle all the episodes, which I watched in succession, in one post.

Episode four is the only standalone episode of this bunch, introducing the season with Frank Langella’s handler Gabriel recuperating from an attack and Elizabeth and Philip away with him since things were going south. The season-long thread of Paige knowing what’s going on and having trouble reporting on the priest to her parents was kicking off here, and it’s clear that it was wearing on her parents. This is definitely the weakest of all the submitted episodes, only because it required a lot of familiarity with the show, especially for any of the Russian-speaking moments to seem relevant, which they didn’t. I’m not sure this will win over a lot of voters if they see this and don’t watch the show on a weekly basis.

Episode seven, on the other hand, is a much stronger showcase of what this show is about in an episode that is focused solely on one thing: Martha. In episode three she talked about how she was seeing a married man but it wasn’t a bad thing, and here we got to the astounding realization from the head of FBI counterintillegence that a KGB operative married his secretary. That truth weighed on the whole episode, which was framed with slow-burn suspense and, fortunately for those sympathetic to the protagonists, Elizabeth being one step ahead of the FBI in finding Martha and bringing her in. Martha taking in the fact that Philip is never going to come to Russia was a dramatic moment, compounded even more by Elizabeth telling Philip that she’d understand if he wanted to leave with her. As a one-off episode, this works very well since there are virtually no subplots.

Episode eight is notable because it’s the submission for all three acting nominees, and I’ll admit that it’s a very good one for the two leads. Screaming matches are certainly helpful, and this gives Keri Russell an enormous boost in a very competitive lead actress category that I’ll analyze in detail soon – every time I watch another nominee’s submission I think she’s going to win. Not only did Elizabeth get to chastise Philip, she also yelled at her daughter for thinking that she could decide how she wanted to do things. Philip coping with having Martha leave provides a positive showcase for Rhys, but I also think he’s not nearly as revered as Russell and not nearly as good an actor. I’m perplexed once again by Martindale, who appeared in just one scene with Langella, but she won last year based on that, so I feel like she could easily repeat given that Emmy voters love her in general. As an episode, the David Copperfield trick frames it in a nice and effective way.

Episode nine was a dark installment whose two main plot points were contrasted sharply by Philip teaching Paige how to drive, which was by far the most pleasant interaction between father and daughter in any of these six episodes. Each family unit and individual watching the TV program about the aftermath of nuclear bombs was haunting and horribly depressing, and that kept the mood of the episode down. The rare occurrence in this hour was Elizabeth having doubts about going through with her latest operation, harming the reputation of a man she knew to be good and making it seem like they had slept together.

Episode twelve picked up a while later with the aftermath of Elizabeth and Paige getting mugged and Paige witnessing her mother kill the man who tried to rob them. That was helpful since it got Elizabeth to open up for the first time about her past in Russia, in a way that even seemed to surprise Philip. Paige asking both Elizabeth and Stan’s son Matthew about the nature of dangerous work was interesting, and it all got to an explosive point when Paige essentially told her parents that she was going to date Matthew to spy on him. When she’s just as involved in malicious deception as them, their operation has turned into a true family problem.

Episode thirteen, the season finale, picked up a nomination for writing, the show’s second in a row in that race. William getting cornered in the park seemed like it was going to expose everything, but then he went ahead and poisoned himself, keeping him alive long enough to share a few thought-provoking words of wisdom about actions and regrets to a seemingly sympathetic Stan and his partner. That Stan came home from watching William die and his first instinct was to tell Philip that their kids might start dating is extremely intriguing since it represents just how close he is to everything without having any clue. Philip speaking up at Est about not liking being a travel agent and being told that he should quit led to the surprising news from Gabriel that Elizabeth and Philip are indeed in imminent danger and need to pack up and leave right away. If I was a regular viewer of this show, I would be crazed that I had to wait until next season to find out what happens with them.

It wasn’t as miserable or boring an experience as I had expected watching six episodes of this show, and I can see why some people like it. I’ve started singing along to the music of the opening credits, but maybe that’s because I’m just watching too much TV straight for many hours. I don’t see this show winning since it broke into the race but didn’t earn any nominations aside from the five mentioned above, hardly a serious competitor to the likes of “Game of Thrones.” But it’s in the race now, and I think that’s a solid achievement. It’s not my choice, but I might put it ahead of “Homeland” at this point, which says something.

Emmy Episodes: Horace and Pete

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Horace and Pete: Season 1, Episode 3 (B-)
Nominated for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Laurie Metcalf)

I’ll be honest – I think we have our Emmy winner right here. I cited Metcalf’s record in my post reviewing her comedy guest actress nomination – three trophies for “Roseanne” and a total of ten nominations, including three separate bids this year. I think her chances here are best, and with this submission, she should garner plenty of votes. She just starts talking at the beginning and I checked how long she went without any interruption – a full nine minutes. After we saw Horace and he interjected for a moment, she just kept going. That’s the most prominent showcase I think I’ve ever seen for a guest performer, given the platform of an entire episode to tell one long story to the series star. As with the first two episodes of this show, much of what Metcalf’s Sarah talks about has to do with sex, and it’s quite explicit. I’m glad that I didn’t just watch this episode since I might have thought that every hour is like this, with no context as to who Alan Alda’s character was in the final frame and some confusion about the existence of a very absent second-generation Pete. As usual, the content is pretty disturbing, with Horace suggesting that he secretly hoped that he would die on September 11th rather than have his infidelity revealed. His sage advice of “That doesn’t make you a bad person, just don’t be married” was relatively decent, and that was about the most normal and absorbing part of the whole conversation. Metcalf can certainly talk, and there’s a refreshing rawness to her performance, but the content of this episode had me less engaged than either of the first two episodes and more than content not to revisit this show again. As an Emmy showcase, it’s a knockout, but that’s enough for me.

Emmy Episodes: Horace and Pete

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Horace and Pete: Season 1, Episode 2 (C+)
Episode 3 is Emmy-nominated – I’m watching up until then

This show is quite the trip. It’s not like anything else I’ve seen but it’s also not the resounding dramatic tragedy that I think it’s supposed to be. Instead, it’s indefensibly depressing, with moments of humor throughout that don’t always feel like they fit. There was plenty of existential wisdom at the start of the episode, with Pete talking about how he’s planning to sleep less in the second half of his life and then suggesting napping at every chance that he got. Horace being described by his sister as a reliable pair of ears was hardly a compliment, and her casual revelation of her breast cancer seemed hurled like a weapon more than anything. Horace blaming his break-up with his girlfriend on wanting to give his daughter freer access to his life was forced at best ,and she wasn’t buying it at all. Horace’s sex fantasy involving Jessica Lange’s Marsha was odd at best, and it certainly does seem that C.K. just writes whatever he thinks and then shoots it as a scene on this show. The conversation about the Holocaust and Bambi was pretty sick and twisted, and I wasn’t at all impressed with the date between the overeager, talkative woman and the unenthusiastic, unfriendly guy. Alan Alda’s Uncle Pete is so hateful and detestable, and of course he would only like someone interested in Pete because her Tourette’s syndrome caused her to say terrible things. I recognized Tricia from Maria Dizzia’s role as Polly on “Orange is the New Black,” and she definitely added a dimension of weird decency to the show. Let’s hope Laurie Metcalf’s guest spot in episode three is worth it – this show is not what I was hoping it would be.

Emmy Episodes: Empire

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Empire: Season 2, Episode 17 “Rise by Sin” (C+)
Nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series (Taraji P. Henson)

Now this is an Emmy episode. I’m not a fan of this show, and clearly Emmy voters aren’t all that much either since they only nominated Henson this year. That may actually work in her favor since she stands out as the true star of this soap-filled show. She took home the Golden Globe on her first try earlier this year since the show premiered in January 2015, and now I think she’s headed on the path towards a very possible Emmy win. The fact that this episode centers around an awards show doesn’t hurt, though let’s hope that the event won’t be nearly as dramatic. It’s clear from everything that happened in this episode that Lucious is a terrible human being, lying about his mother having killed herself, cruelly telling Jamal that he’ll celebrate the day he dies from AIDS, and that’s only the stuff we witnessed in this hour. You’d think that Oscar nominee Terrence Howard might be the one worth watching, but the look that Henson shoots at him when they lose the award encapsulated the fantastic nature of her performance. She walks all over this show and everyone on it, yelling at her friend that she doesn’t care about her and boldly declaring “We ain’t the Partridges! We ain’t the Brady Bunch!” She also demonstrates a range of emotions, confessing about snitching to get out of prison and then going into full-on motherly mode when Jamal got shot. It’s great to see that Henson found a role worthy of her talents after being the blandest part of a show I enjoyed much more, “Person of Interest.” I’d be more than happy if she won given her level of commitment to this performance even though I’m obviously rooting for some of her competition.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Emmy Episodes: How to Get Away with Murder

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

How to Get Away with Murder: Season 2, Episode 14 “There’s My Baby” (D+)
Nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series (Viola Davis)

Viola Davis really is a respected actress – it’s hard to imagine anyone else winning an Emmy for a show as terrible as this one. I found myself confused at the start since I didn’t see Joshua Malina, and then I realized I was thinking about the wrong Shonda Rhimes show, “Scandal,” which no longer earns Emmy nominations for its lead actress. Instead, Davis is the defending champ in this category and back again with a pretty terrific submission considering the material she’s given. Playing a younger version of herself who was pregnant and then had a stillbirth after a car accident provides a strong showcase for her, and drinking and yelling at people in the present doesn’t hurt much either. She could easily triumph again. It’s hard to take this show seriously, and I balanced my time between recognizing familiar faces and cringing at the worst lines. I’m a big fan of Benito Martinez from “The Shield” and sad to see him stuck in such a thankless role. I liked Matt McGorry better on “Orange is the New Black” where he wasn’t as whiny, and Liza Weil’s presence only contributes to my “Scandal” confusion. I was trying to peg Famke Janssen’s accent and figure out if she always sounds like that, and was impressed by yet another quietly villainous Adam Arkin role. On the subject of terrible lines, the top two for me were “Don’t tell me you two are boning!” and “My boyfriend’s missing!” / “He’ll turn up” before a very predictable sex scene. The one thing about the show that I’ll praise is its music and its beat, which were fun to listen to during an otherwise unbearable hour.

Emmy Episodes: Bloodline

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Bloodline: Season 2, Episode 10 “Part 23” (C+)
Nominated for Best Actor (Kyle Chandler) and Best Supporting (Ben Mendelsohn) in a Drama Series

I thought I had stuck with this show through its third episode, but a look back at my reviews indicates that I didn’t make it past episode two. I watched the season finale which both nominated actors submitted last year, and now, once again, the two of them are back as the lone representatives of their show. I’ll make the important note that as a non-regular viewer, it’s very hard to get into this episode since Netflix doesn’t include “previously on” segments. I’m not sure if Emmy screeners do, but there’s a lot of the plot that is complicated to decipher. What’s interesting about Mendelsohn’s nomination is that he died in the season one finale, so in this case he appears only as a hallucination tormenting his brother John. This is a good showcase for talented Aussie Mendelsohn, showing him in a sympathetic lens dealing with his father’s viciousness and trying to support his son, with the added plus of his flashback scenes being nostalgic due to his death. We don’t see any of the bad behavior that we hear about from his siblings, and that actually makes John seem like the villain. It’s hard to find any sympathy for John, who comes off as very unlikeable. Chandler managed to win an Emmy back in 2011 for the final season of “Friday Night Lights,” but that was a much more beloved role, so I don’t see him having a good shot at winning this year. I’d argue that this is a stronger showcase for either Norbert Leo Butz, who plays Kevin, or Jamie McShane, an unsung supporting player from “Sons of Anarchy,” as Eric O’Bannon. I suspect I’ll tune in to another episode of this show come Emmy time next year, but it just doesn’t appeal. It’s far too dense and uninviting.

Emmy Episodes: UnREAL

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

UnREAL: Season 1, Episode 3 “Mother” (C+)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Constance Zimmer)

I’m more than happy to be officially done with this show, at least for the season, now that I’ve gotten to Zimmer’s submitted hour. This absolutely is not my kind of show, and usually I’m at least a little bit interested in where the plot is going to go and what’s going to happen, but I really don’t care much here. The title of the episode has a lot more to do with Rachel than it does with Quinn, and what a monster of a mother she has, so determined to control her life that she withholds financial support if her daughter refuses to engage in therapy with her, which is totally unethical in every way. It’s true that Rachel is good at her job because of how twisted her brain is, and that her natural impulse is to stir up the drama in a way that her hapless colleague Shia just doesn’t have. But back to the Emmy nominee at hand – this is definitely a smart submission for Zimmer. Giving Chet another chance seemed like a step backward, but I don’t think she expected him to have a heart attack while they were having sex. Getting talked down to by his wife was a harrowing moment, and one that Zimmer handled very well in her portrayal of Quinn. It’s the meatiest role on a soapy show, and therefore I think Zimmer might have a decent shot at taking home the Emmy for her performance. I’ve enjoyed her better in other projects, but I suspect that she’ll be a returning nominee given the positive reception to season two of the show.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 9 “Going Out Fighting” (B+)

They may have started out as criminals, but each member of the crew of the Raza is firmly loyal to the rest, especially when it’s Two whose life is in danger. They didn’t waste any time in preparing to go up against another despicable corporate boss – Rook in this case, played by none other than “Star Trek: The Next Generation” star Wil Wheaton – to get what was needed to save her life. They chose well in selecting Eric Waver as the man to go to in order to gain access to Dwarf Star Technologies, because even before she got her memories wiped, Portia Lin chose to spare him when she killed everyone else who poked and prodded her during her escape. It’s too bad that Eric had to pay with his life for going along with the plan, but at least the crew arrived in time to get rid of the prototype of the new version of Two, who was a formidable foe who nearly killed her. Six is doing of a good job of ingratiating himself with the crew, earning back the trust and respect of Three and Four, the least trusting members of the crew who had a long way to go to forgive him. I’m glad all that business with Three’s eyes and him hulking out is gone – that was a bit creepy for my tastes. I enjoyed the Android acting as more of a friend to Two and Five, eagerly tasting Five’s hot chocolate, and I’m very curious to learn how she ended up in someone’s bed after what looks like an eventful night.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 11 “People Persons” (B+)

It’s really disturbing to see how things went from Caputo urging calm and treating people with dignity to Piscatella ordering a lockdown and interrogations with no one but Donuts of all people to point out that it was counter to his instructions. He’s turning out to be one of the more sympathetic characters, scared out of his mind sitting outside all night but far more dedicated to his job than the likes of Gerber and Luschek. And then you have those like Stratman and Humphrey, who gain twisted pleasure in tormenting the inmates and forcing them to submit to their will. Even Dixon was cruel in stepping on Taystee’s watch just to show force. Maureen wanting to fight Crazy Eyes because she didn’t consider them even after their closet encounter was a poor idea, and this is now the second time that we’ve seen Crazy Eyes hulk out on someone. It was heartbreaking to see her backstory in which she brought a kid over to her house and then didn’t want to let him go home or call the police since she couldn’t comprehend what was going on. Lolly taking the fall for the guard’s murder and getting escorted to psych by Healy onto to learn that she hadn’t in fact traveled back through time was also very sad. Hopefully Caputo can stop being distracted by the clueless Linda who has never been to a prison and get back to his job to see what a horrible mess has been made of everything and right some of those wrongs.

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 9 “Rolling in the Deep” (B+)

Right before I watched this episode, I was deciding a few of my AFT Awards categories to be posted soon and (spoiler alert) Callie Thorne is my winner for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, and therefore it’s a real treat to have her back again to help close out this season of the show. She and Johnny sure are feeling cozy, and they’re not mincing any words when it comes to filling their daughter in on all their sexual interactions. She hasn’t set a great precedent of boundaries with Ava, but walking in on her mom pretending to be looking for something on the floor by her dad’s feet was undeniably awkward. Like on “Rescue Me,” Thorne’s character is a whole lot of crazy, proclaiming that she’s in love with Johnny when he very vocally denies that it’s anything serious like that. Ava and Flash were rightly suspicious of her motives, but having someone to throw money at a problem and sponsor a recording session when every member of the band is at everyone else’s throats may actually be the most productive thing right now. In the latest “Feast” drama, it turns out that Campbell isn’t the principled artist he claimed to be, and now Rehab is back on top with a creator credit and plenty of liberty to pursue his photography. Bam Bam breaking his camera was an unfortunate development that wasn’t entirely unwarranted, and it was just one of the many humorous infantile interactions that took place at the end of the episode, paving the way for a tempestuous and surely entertaining season finale.

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 8 “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12” (B+)

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this show could pull off an episode that doesn’t feature its eccentric protagonist, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a gamble. I remember that “Better Call Saul” had an episode last season that barely had Jimmy in it, and it too worked marvelously in part because of its focus on a strong female character. We have two of those here who really got to shine as they made bold decisions about where they wanted to go with irreversible power plays. Angela got started on the wrong foot after she encountered one of her father’s friends at the bar and he insulted her after pretending to greet her warmly. Ripping apart his life choices was cruel but hardly unwarranted. I wonder if we’ll see Mark Moses’ grandfather again soon since he’s a solid actor who was likely contracted for more than just a one-scene appearance. Mobley and Trenton weren’t pleased to see Darlene instead of Elliot when they met and traded OS barbs, and it’s great to see her in action at the head of things since she’s far more aware of what she’s doing and infinitely more calculating. Shocking Susan into the pool after she told her about what she wanted to do to her was very deliberate, and it shows just how far she’s willing to go to protect herself and Fsociety. Coming at Cisco with a bat when she realized that he had exposed her was intense, and she’s likely going to be on her own going forward. Mobley getting picked up and interrogated by Dom was not good since he was so uncooperative in the room with her and then so panicked after the fact.

Friday, August 26, 2016

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 2, Episode 12 “The Party” (B+)

This episode was full of a lot of righteous indignation directed by Frankie at Grace and then a shared realization that they don’t have unlimited time on this earth thanks to Babe’s planned departure. It was good to see Frankie airing her anger at Grace and refusing to back down, which of course led to some comedy when she pettily pretended not to be aware of Grace’s presence and wouldn’t address her in conversation. Babe was a natural peacemaker because she wanted these two very different ladies at her side while she went out with a bang thanks to a helpful assistant from some strong pudding. We’ve barely known Babe, so it’s not a huge loss for us as an audience, but the subject of euthanasia, even in such a peaceful, casual context as this, is still loaded and intense. The other main plotline of the hour started out on a much lighter note, with Robert and Sol both equally shocked about the language Robert’s granddaughter used to refer to Sol and Mallory adamant that they must have misheard her. Mallory revealing that she too used that phrase was a rare moment for her to stand her ground and also offer her own righteous indignation at men who cheat. I’m not sure that Mallory’s husband having an affair is too directly relevant to what we see, but maybe it means Coyote might finally have his shot. There’s a romance I wouldn’t find seeing heat up again. We’ll see what happens in the finale, and it’s nice to know that this enjoyable show has already been renewed for a third season, which should air sometime next year.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 2, Episode 12 “Kimmy Sees a Sunset!” (B+)

It’s a nice thing that Kimmy cares so much about other people that she’s willing to spend an entire day handcuffed to her therapist on a roof just to prove to her that she can get through a day without drinking. She seemed to be doing a pretty great job, but then Andrea had to go ahead and reveal that she had actually been drunk all day. That said, the fact that she put up with Kimmy’s antics for the whole day says something, even if it was just to triumphantly declare her disobedience. It’s fun to see Tina Fey clearly having a good time, and playing both day Andrea and night Andrea offers her the opportunity to really go wild. I’m glad we finally got to see Jacqueline again. Apparently, she’s been off trying to get David Cross’ Russ to get off the phone long enough to notice her and help return her to a high social status. There really are so many things not to like about Russ, and though he claims to be a defender of the common man, he goes about it in the most unlikeable way possible. Even a knockout punch (I didn’t realize those were still happening) couldn’t fell him, it just made him even more miserable. Jacqueline falling in love with him is a stretch, but what isn’t on this show? On a much sweeter note, how wonderful that Titus and Mikey have found such happiness together inspired by Titus being sick. Now maybe Titus will go on a cruise for a few months, a development sure to complicate their rather idyllic relationship in absurd ways that could only be conceived of on this show.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What I’m Watching: Casual (Season Finale)

Casual: Season 2, Episode 13 “The Great Unknown” (B+)

In a lot of ways, this was a strange finale, because it involved a character who played little to no role in this season taking up a major part of its storyline. But Charles showing up and announcing his intention to euthanize himself helped to ground events going on for his two children and his granddaughter, putting them in a more optimistic and productive perspective. Of course Laura was completely cool with the idea of him ending his life, and that prompted her to lash out at Spencer for not dying after her frustrating experience picking up Charles’ prescription as a minor and his nonchalant attitude about everything. Sending Spencer a movie with a request for their next marathon suggests that they might have a shot if he’s willing to give her another chance, but like her uncle, she connects strongly to someone and then ditches them at the first sign of impending permanence. Alex trying to find another venue for his father’s death so that it wouldn’t kill the resale value of his house was funny, and he stepped up to help him even though he really wasn’t feeling like it. Calling Jennifer to complain seemed like a step backward, but their scheduled therapy session at the end of the episode implies that they’ve found a healthier professional arrangement. Leon driving Valerie to get her car at Chili’s was a nice way to check in with this show’s thankless hero, who said that he’s amused by Alex and entranced by Valerie. And he carries a checkbook! Valerie not going back to Drew is probably for the best, and who would have thought that she’d finally move out! This season was a very strong follow-up to the first, and it’s great to know that a third season was ordered way back in June. Now, what can we do to get this show some awards love?

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Tara Lynne Barr as Laura

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals

Vice Principals: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Foundation of Learning” (B+)

This was a really great episode. Our home openings continued with Amanda, who got a major hickey from Bill and then found herself broken up with because she no longer had the same free period available. Like Neal, Amanda thinks about simple solutions – if she can keep that free period, they will be able to continue their relationship. Going straight to Neal once she meant his attractive TA was a smart move, and who knew that she had all this motocross expertise? I enjoyed their back-and-forth quips, namely “I feel like I look pretty cool” / “No you do not.” Amanda was pretty awesome and coached him well, and it was refreshing to see her get turned down by Bill and then immediately take Neal up on his offer to be his backup. It’s a shame that Neal’s stunt didn’t work and that his daughter said he ruins everything, but at least Amanda held his hand on the car ride back. After Dr. Brown asked Neal if there was anyone at the school that he did like, it became very clear that, regardless of her role in stealing books, Ms. LeBlanc was indeed quite detestable. Dr. Brown did a formidable job taking her down in front of the board, and she got understandably reamed by the superintendent when the books turned out to be in the warehouse after all. Lee had her just where he wanted her, but he couldn’t resist the urge to spit in her coffee, an act she saw and which has now completely turned things upside down since she’s well aware that he’s up to no good.

What I’m Watching: The Night Of (Penultimate Episode)

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 7 “Ordinary Death” (B+)

I think this was the best episode this show has produced yet, and it’s about time given that the season finale, and likely the final installment of the show, airs next week. What proved most interesting was seeing the trial in action. At first, it didn’t appear that Chandra was up to the task of cross-examining the witnesses, and it looked like things wouldn’t go her way at all. Then she managed to do a terrific job of utilizing her witness to show that there definitely are questions, and even Helen couldn’t turn it around well enough to make it seem like he wasn’t credible. I think he played well with the jury, and following that up with Chandra’s questioning of Detective Box was exactly what the defense needed to give Naz a fighting chance. Safar walking out of the courtroom while the really graphic stuff was being presented was not a helpful development, and Salim learning that he’s going to have to sell his medallion for a fraction of what it’s worth was yet another miserable ripple effect of Salim’s arrest. Stone’s investigation into Don seemed to be going well until the cougar-catching personal trainer let him know that he was on to him in a very threatening manner. Naz has hung in there in jail so far, unlike a friend of his, and he may just be able to get a happy ending considering the circumstances if the jury finds in his favor, which I wouldn’t say is too realistic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 9 “Goodbye Beautiful” (B+)

You know Ray is a changed man when his two henchmen have to convince him that his fist instinct should be to kill everyone and make sure that he and his family are safe. Ivan’s body being discovered wasn’t good for anyone, and Sonia bringing her daughter to Ray’s house so that he could secure new identities for them and safe passage out of the country was quite the about-face, and Abby greeting them at the door was horrendously awkward. Lena executed her job with precision but unfortunately Avi didn’t do so well, getting himself into serious trouble and is now in the hands of Sonia’s uncle, whose request to see his niece may be difficult given that she just took off in the plane Ray arranged for her. Raymond J. Barry is definitely not Russian but is a strong choice to play the new villain on this show, having honed his vicious family member skills on “Justified” as Raylan’s father. Mickey’s job didn’t go so great either, resulting in the tragic death of his beloved Silvie, who really shouldn’t have gotten killed but whose death made Bill a whole lot less brave. It was the most melancholy moment we’ve seen in a while for Mickey, and great Emmy bait for another nomination next year. It’s good to see Teresa back, and also nice to see Terry making a move and entering the dating pool again after Marisol nearly burned down the gym. That family is really nothing but trouble.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 8 “Stuff to Steal, People to Kill” (B+)

If there’s one thing I love more than time travel, it’s alternate universes. I was pretty sure as soon as we learned that there was a war going on that the Raza had accidentally jumped into the future, but of course that didn’t make total sense because they would have had to return to their time to go around shooting up other ships. Instead, they jumped into another universe, which was dryly explained by the Android, and encountered some other versions of themselves, notably missing Five and only seeing Six in a video before he got his head blown off by a far less forgiving Portia Lin. I like that the crew was just different enough, with a few familiar faces including Jace Corso. Marc Bendavid is no longer a series regular, but he’s sure up for stopping by every once in a while. Letting the crew of this other Raza go was a sign that our crew has turned into good people and that they’re not going to stop to anyone else’s level despite the positive effects getting rid of that murderous scum would have on this universe that they left behind. Four getting to play Emperor was cool, and I liked the fact that One decided to use the other Android to help take back the ship after their Android got taken offline. I would have thought that the modifications the Android used could have enabled her to pretend to shut down and then come back with a vengeance, but I guess for now we need to depend upon the fully human members of the crew to be conscious to save the day. The other slightly non-human member of the crew isn’t looking too good either, and her status as leader of the crew is going to be severely compromised when they find her out of commission in her bunk.

Pilot Review: The Tick

The Tick (Amazon)
Premiered August 19

In a way, this is the strangest of Amazon’s new slate of pilots, but that’s hardly a fair statement given that one is a comedy starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the other is called “I Love Dick.” This ranks as just the latest reboot of a popular series that was cancelled too soon, one that I never watched since it aired right before I really got into TV in the way I am now. To think that it debuted the same season as “24” is strange, and how this one got brought back before “Firefly” or “Jericho” is a mystery to me. I’m all for comedic interpretations about superheroes, but I’m not sure exactly what this merits being revisited by a juggernaut like Amazon. It’s most odd to me that there are two protagonists, the Tick and Arthur, and there’s a hero and a villain to boot along with it, which just feels crowded. I knew I recognized Peter Serafinowicz’s voice from his stint as Andy’s British pal on “Parks and Recreation,” though I didn’t know that his first screen credit was voicing Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace.” I totally didn’t recognize Valorie Curry from “House of Lies” and “The Following” as Arthur’s sister Dot and I couldn’t place Yara Martinez from “Jane the Virgin” as the villain we saw at the end of the pilot. What we’ve seen so far of this show is too unfocused and all over the place for my tastes, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t watch it and try to get into it if it got picked up.

How would it work as a series? The original show in 2001 ran for nine episodes, following a successful three-season animated version back in 1996. There seems to be a vast universe of heroes and villains for the show to use as fodder for its storylines, so coming up with material for episodes shouldn’t be a problem at all if the show can work on getting focused.
Will it live on to be a series? Probably. Given the bizarre enthusiasm for the original series, I think this show can straddle its odd comedy nature and the more dramatic tendency of Amazon’s programming to create a workable hybrid that can do well for Amazon. It’s not a sure thing, but I’d bet on it.

Pilot grade: C+

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pilot Review: I Love Dick

I Love Dick (Amazon)
Premiered August 19

The second of Amazon’s offerings for its latest pilot season is definitely its most notable one because it comes from the creator of the network’s most highly-acclaimed series to date, “Transparent,” which is soon going to premiere its third season and has already been renewed for a fourth. While that show was a resounding hit from the start, I’m not nearly as impressed by this one. Part of the problem is that it’s not entirely clear what’s going on, with two intellectual New Yorkers struggling to adjust to life in rural Texas with one poorly-named professor at the center of their thoughts. To me, that doesn’t have the same appeal as someone who has spent his entire life as a man coming out as transgender to his adult children. What I do like is seeing Kathryn Hahn back with director Jill Soloway after their teamwork on Sundance hit “Afternoon Delight.” I’m a big fan of Hahn’s from a number of projects, including her recurring role on “Parks and Recreation” and her recent stint on Showtime’s short-lived “Happyish.” This does seem like a better part, and she’s cast opposite Griffin Dunne, a background player in the likes of “House of Lies,” who seems more than well-equipped to portray a self-obsessed husband with little interest in his wife. And then there’s Kevin Bacon, who is doing something much, much better with his time than “The Following” and playing a man capable of entrancing Hahn’s Chris and shattering her whole worldview with one conversation. I’d be up for seeing more but wouldn’t be too devastated if this show didn’t get picked up.

How would it work as a series? Chris seems to have found unique inspiration following her dinner with Dick, and the obsession she has with him is only going to build. There’s more going on with their neighbor and of course the subplots of her unfortunately-scored film and Sylvere’s professional relationship with Dick. It has the potential to be weird and spirited, certainly, and I imagine could get really interesting.
Will it live on to be a series? I imagine so. It’s based on a popular book and comes from Soloway, who has made herself a valuable commodity with Amazon. I think its title could just as easily appeal as it could detract, and while this pilot isn’t a knockout like “Transparent” was, this seems like the best bet of the three to earn a pickup.

Pilot grade: B-

Pilot Review: Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Jean-Claude Van Johnson (Amazon)
Premiered August 19

It’s that time again - Amazon pilot season! This cycle, it’s just three half-hour comedies, the first of which I watched was this predictably disappointing attempt to revive or revisit - not sure which - the career of one of the most popular action film stars in recent film history. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any of his movies, which is part of the reason that I totally forgot until I sat down to write this review that he’s already had a chance to reflect back on his career in the relatively well-received “JCVD” film in which he played himself back in 2008. I don’t know who thought this show would be a good idea, and it’s always strange to me to see relatively unsophisticated humor like an old man unable to do splits coupled with foul language throughout, though this show doesn’t feel like it really tries to go for unfiltered in either arena. Jean-Claude Van Damme is not known for his acting abilities, and therefore casting him in a comedy designed to poke fun at himself is only going to be so effective. Far more productive choices are Kat Foster from “Weeds” and Phylicia Rashad of “The Cosby Show,” who have more experience in this genre and are fully equipped for the challenge. The action on this show isn’t good enough to merit its existence, and it’s not too funny either. I will admit that I chuckled at the notion of an action-style P.F. Chang’s origin story with Jackie Chan playing General Tso, but jokes like that can only go so far.

How would it work as a series? Bringing a script to practice lines while in the middle of an undercover job doesn’t recommend JCVD’s ability to think and perform under pressure, and that kind of juvenile humor doesn’t allow this show to be terribly sophisticated. It’s also not a very fresh idea since dual identities on television with a protagonist living one life at home and another undercover are actually pretty common. I wouldn’t watch this show.
Will it live on to be a series? Don’t count on it. While it does appear that most reviewers enjoyed this show more than I did, I don’t see this as the same type of sustainable quality programming that Amazon has offered so far. The newly popular streaming service isn’t quite as adventurous as Netflix with all its offerings, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it’s more discerning, and I think that will lead to this show not being picked up.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 4, Episode 10 “Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull” (B+)

It’s very disturbing to see how the behavior of the guards is changing, and that the only reason Caputo came down to deal with anything himself was because Sister Ingalls got caught with a cell phone. Leaking pictures of Sophia to Danny won’t do much good in actually changing the treatment of prisoners in Litchfield and will instead only serve the still righteous purpose of getting her out of a terrible situation. Piper’s attempt to go to Piscatella failed miserably, and her solidarity got her put in the same position as Flores, standing on that table until someone finally realizes that it’s an inhumane way to punish people for not doing what they’re told. Perhaps that shared sense of mistreatment can help quash some of the racial tensions brewing, spurred on by Taystee’s unpopular selection of “The Wiz” as the choice for movie night. There’s more than enough going on to distract that, namely the unfortunate discovery of a human hand in the garden which is going to shed plenty of light on its most frequent gardeners. Aleida getting out was remarkably unceremonious, and ending up with a brand new dress but nowhere to stay definitely made her realize that living life on the outside is going to be very hard. It’s a shame to see Dayanara getting in with the wrong crowd despite Gloria’s hard work to steer her in the right direction. Crazy Eyes getting another shot with the girl that got away could have been sweet if her partner wasn’t feeling so vindictive.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What I’m Watching: Daredevil (Season Finale)

Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 13 “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen” (B)

This season ender was definitely dark, underscoring Daredevil as the hero who has to exist but does so in the shadows because of the evil that exists in his city. I’ve mentioned over and over this season that I’m so much less interested in everything involving the Hand, but fortunately most of that was put to rest in this hour, save for the lamentable coda that shows that Elektra isn’t going to stay dead for long and has still fallen into enemy hands. I do like Elektra, and I think she was a strong asset for this season, particularly as she interacted with Matt and tried to draw out his dark side. His offer to come with her when she was facing certain death was generous, and it complicates his feelings for Karen. That said, it was great to see him show Karen the Daredevil mask without any prompting, deciding that he’s lied to her for too long and needs to be honest with her going forward. She held it together well when she got captured along with everyone else Daredevil had saved, and she was the reason that he was able to find them. She remains this show’s best overall character, with Frank Castle the standout of this season. I’m also glad to see that Foggy took a positive turn, earning himself a very competitive offer from one Jeryn Hogarth, who spends most of her time on the fantastic “Jessica Jones.” Matt got to a good place with Stick, and maybe we’ll see a whole new storyline going into season three with Matt spending most of his time as Daredevil, Foggy living the corporate life, and Karen working as a reporter. I’m still set to stick around for this show, which likely won’t be back until 2018, and I’m eager to see how this universe lives on in “The Defenders” and in the spinoff commissioned to focus on none other than the Punisher.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle

What I’m Watching: House of Cards (Season Finale)

House of Cards: Season 4, Episode 13 “Chapter 52” (B+)

I wasn’t so taken with this show at various points towards the start of this season, and man did it rally to a truly awesome ending point. It’s able to multitask in a strong way that showcases supporting and guest characters as if they were the center of the universe, and the way that the Conway family has become such a big part of the story is a testament to that. The introduction of this terror threat guard me off guard, and I couldn’t have expected the way that it went down. Getting the mother and daughter released was a definite win, and it’s very possible that the father could have been spared as well. Instead, Frank and Claire made a decision that they were going to use this a distraction tactic to make sure that Tom’s article couldn’t hurt them. Announcing that they wouldn’t negotiate and that they were at war was a bold and assertive thing to do, but it would be foolish to expect anything less of Frank Underwood. The huge surprise that came at the end of this episode was Claire turning to look directly at the camera and address us when Frank said “We make the terror,” making it abundantly clear that Claire and Frank are now on the same page, back as a united front after so much time spent at each other’s throats. Going to war is going to change things, but that doesn’t mean that Tom won’t stop trying to hit them. Doug is coming apart but seems to have found a new source of comfort, and the other Tom was upset that Claire started lying to him but likely won’t go anywhere. Remy and Jackie chose their path, and I wonder if we’ll see them again (their Emmy-nominated portrayers likely hope so). And Conway hasn’t lost the election yet, but it’s going to be a challenge to defeat a sitting commander-in-chief. This was a very smart Emmy submission for Kevin Spacey, and he might finally win for it. I look forward to season five - this season really did come around in its second half.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Joel Kinnaman as Conway

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

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll: Season 2, Episode 8 “Ghosts of Skibbereen” (B+)

Johnny managed to take the high road for a good portion of this episode, but the moment that he saw Ava and Flash together, he lost all sense of composure and reverted completely to the selfish and immature child that he is inside. Gigi also did her best to move on, pursuing her relationship with Davvy in a more serious way, and the idea to set Johnny up with a 26-year-old probably wasn’t too well thought-out from the start. The biggest issue wasn’t her age or her physical features but rather her embodiment of everything that Johnny is against, namely antique instruments and recreations of music scenes from the 1800s, but also her immediate identification of his hairstyle. That Davvy and his date ended up together was ironic and also inevitable, showing that Gigi and Johnny can try to act as if they’ve moved on when it’s very clear that their newfound romances are just shams, while Ava’s appreciation of Flash’s property might be more substantial and enduring. I love that Campbell, seconds from going on stage to perform, proudly recognized Johnny as Willem Dafoe and wouldn’t stand for Johnny’s insistence that he wasn’t actually Willem. “Feast” was quite the production, and eating tree bark and elderberries for weeks to mimic food availability during the time in which the play was set seemed like a miserable ordeal. Bam Bam’s casual reveal of his flavored pretzels was pretty entertaining. This may be the last we see of “Feast” but something tells me that Bam Bam will remain a changed man and his future, coupled with Rehab’s, is far from set.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 7 “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme” (B+)

I almost can’t handle the constant feeling of having the rug pulled out from under me that I get from watching this show. Lately, I had noticed that the style of storytelling was changing a bit, with Dom’s discovery of Fsociety’s headquarters and the emphatic transition from laugh-track sitcom to Elliot waking up after being beaten up. The end of this episode offered the starkest revelation since the confirmation that Elliot was talking to his dead father with a line reminiscent of Darlene’s frustrated reminder to her brother of their being related. Krista asking Elliot if he knew where he was led to an astonishing background transformation, with Elliot pleading with his friend, better known as the audience, not to be mad at him for building a wall and constructing a new reality to mask the time he has spent in prison. Thus far, we’ve only seen a few characters interact with Elliot this season, and with the exception of Angela and Darlene, they’ve all been new faces like Ray and Leon. I’m not even sure how long he’s supposed to have been in prison, but I know that this changes everything. The more important discovery is that he’s come to a good place with Mr. Robot where they’re mutually looking out for each other. On the outside, Angela got out of her interrogation with Dom but managed to get herself found out right away when she got a new role thanks to her help in settling the class-action lawsuit. Joanna preparing divorce papers has no practical value aside from keeping her thirty-year-old beau on the hook, and maybe this latest news means that Tyrell is still alive since the reason Elliot couldn’t find him might be because he’s on the run and not behind bars.

Emmy Adjacent-Episodes: UnREAL

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

UnREAL: Season 1, Episode 2 “Relapse” (C+)
Sandwiched between Emmy-nominated episodes one and three

I only watched this episode for some context getting to the next installment, which is Constance Zimmer’s submission for Best Supporting Actress. In this undeniably dramatic hour, this show underscored its mirroring of its subject matter by underlining its soapy and sensational in nature. That does not appeal to me, and I’m honestly pretty bored by this show. I’m also distracted by the focus on Johanna Braddy’s Anna, who I naturally reference as already having plenty of parent issues from her role as Shelby on “Quantico,” an unfair predisposition given that this episode aired months before the ABC FBI drama even premiered. The notion that contestants would miss out on major life events like the near-death of a parent seems ridiculous, and while it may actually happen in real life, it’s still hard to watch. It’s also incredible just how much of the scenes edited into “Everlasting” are taken from members of the producing team planting questions and then reframing the interactions to make it seem like they’re crazy. For Rachel to attend Anna’s father’s funeral seems more than disrespectful, and I find it hard to believe that Adam so willingly led along with being forced to keep Anna waiting and thinking that she might not be chosen to stay on the show with him. Zimmer’s Quinn is showing no signs of calming down as the season is intensifying, and she was not at all pleased to learn that Chet’s wife was pregnant and that he was planning to build her a house to live in all by herself. I don’t plan to watch this show past episode three, and we’ll see how that installment goes.

Emmy Episodes: Mom

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Mom: Season 3, Episode 1 “Terrorists and Gingerbread” (C+)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Allison Janney)

I’m not terribly fond of this show, and watching it each year is far from the highlight of Emmy season. It’s not terrible, sure, but it’s also not particularly funny. It does star Allison Janney, however, who is the reigning champ in this category with back-to-back wins. She also has four Emmys for “The West Wing” and one for “Masters of Sex,” which she’s also nominated for the third time in a row for this year. I think it says something about this show that she’s the only element of it that contends for awards, though this is also not her best work. She’s having a blast, to be sure, but this is not difficult acting or anything of the sort. This is a formidable submission given Emmy voters’ tendencies to appreciate drama when it shows up in the comedy categories, and grappling with meeting the mother that abandoned her is classic Emmy bait. I’m not sure her submission really matters given how well-regarded she is, but this is a good one technically speaking. I wouldn’t vote for her, but that’s also because I’d probably throw my weight behind June Squibb for this episode, since she humorously played the wonderful woman who should have been Christy’s grandmother and took the brunt of Bonnie’s fury when she wanted to let loose on the woman who gave her up. I’m also surprised that Ellen Burstyn didn’t score a nod to go along with her Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series bid for playing Bonnie’s real mother. That just goes to show you - it’s all about Janney.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Emmy Episodes: The Big Bang Theory

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 9, Episode 24 “The Convergence Convergence” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Christine Baranski and Laurie Metcalf)

The second of the nominated “Big Bang Theory” episodes from this year is notable for a number of reasons. First, it’s the season finale, leading into a tenth season that apparently might end up being the last one, but I don’t think its fate is sealed just yet. It’s also a submission for two different nominated actresses, something that actually happens more than you might think. Two years ago, Uzo Aduba defeated Laverne Cox when they both submitted the same episode of “Orange is the New Black.” The two actresses nominated for this episode, both of whom play mothers to the main characters, are Emmy legends. This is Baranski’s fifteenth career Emmy nomination and her fourth for this role. She won once on her first try way back in 1995. Metcalf, who has appeared in a handful of “Big Bang Theory” episodes, marks her first nomination for this part but earns her tenth overall nomination. She won three times in a row for “Roseanne” and has been nominated for four other comedy guest spots in the past twenty years. More impressively, she collected three individual acting nominations this year, the other two of which will be profiled again in this series when I watch them. This is hardly the meatiest showcase for Baranski and especially for Metcalf, both of whom are a handful of snappy one-liners mostly directed at each other. I think Baranski has had better appearances, and Metcalf wouldn’t quite rank in my list, though she’s obviously beloved by Emmy voters. I don’t see either of them winning for a generally fun episode that represents the consistent humor that this show is all about. I imagine it will be nominated again next year, especially if it’s the swan song, and I look forward to returning to it then.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Emmy Episodes: The Big Bang Theory

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 9, Episode 11 “The Opening Night Excitation” (B+)
Nominated for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Bob Newhart)

I always enjoyed watching this show most of all come Emmy time, and it’s a sad fact that only two episodes are contending this year. Sure, I know that I could go back and just start watching the whole show again or just watch selected episodes, but all hope of that died when I got put off by negative references to blogs and “Battlestar Galactica” back when the pilot first aired in 2007. I’m not sure how much the quality of the show has really changed, but none of the series regulars are nominated for the first time since the show’s first season. This episode is the submission of Emmy veteran Bob Newhart, marking his eighth nomination and his third for this role. He won in 2013 for his first appearance, and now he’s back as a hallucination who bears a striking resemblance to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Tying this episode in with the premiere of the new “Star Wars” movie, an event that coincides with Amy’s birthday, is very fun, and there’s no denying that Newhart is an entertaining part of it, grumbling about how Sheldon has brought him back to life to give him counsel and listen to his shocking lack of self-awareness when it comes to what his priorities in his relationship should be. It’s probably on par with his previous appearances, but it doesn’t strike me as an Emmy-worthy performance. The episode as a whole is a blast, and Wil Wheaton defiantly walking in to boos in full “Star Trek” garb was one particular highlight.

Emmy Episodes: Catastrophe

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Catastrophe: Season 1, Episode 1 (B+)
Nominated for Best Writing for a Comedy Series

I can’t pinpoint when I heard about this show, but it was definitely long enough after its premiere for me to feel like there was an urgency for me to catch up on it. I’ve heard only good things, though, and the Emmy writing nomination for this show’s pilot was just the impetus I needed to finally sit down and watch it. I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far. There’s a remarkable simplicity to this show that allows it to take relatively ordinary events, at least as far as television tropes are concerned, and just roll with them. Sharon casually calling Rob to tell him that he’s pregnant because they had sex a hundred times in one weekend could have been met with some sort of shock, denial, or resistance, but instead Rob just flew out there to essentially move in with her and start their lives together. Their interactions are very entertaining, and I especially enjoyed their dinner party adventure which was filled with Rob making awkward comments about the food being so delicious. Both stars are great, and the way that they play off each other is very fun, with Rob seemingly unfazed by Sharon’s constant biting sarcasm. I love that her last name is Morris and his is Norris, and it’s just that kind of humor that should make this show great. I recognize that I have plenty to catch up on, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen right now, but it surely will soon, particularly in light of the recent news that this show has been picked up through season four.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Emmy-Adjacent Episodes: Horace and Pete

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Horace and Pete: Season 1, Episode 1 (B)
Episode 3 is Emmy-nominated – I’m watching up until then

I’ll admit that I was very intrigued by this show when I heard about it, though obviously not enough to have watched it until now. I’ve been intrigued by “Louie” whenever I watch it each year when it gets nominated for Emmys, and I’ve always found its dramatic content to be even more intriguing than its comedy moments. That’s what made the notion of Louis C.K. creating a “dramatic tragedy” extremely appealing. That doesn’t even begin to address the assemblage of talent here, all carefully chosen for the roles that they’re supposed to play. Pairing Buscemi with C.K. makes total sense, and he’s pretty great as a man not quite in touch with reality who, when he’s lucid, presents himself as a genuine, caring person handicapped by his circumstances. Alan Alda contributed an impressively negative, grumpy performance as Uncle Pete, and he managed to drag things down even when they were looking up. And Edie Falco was dependably strong as their disapproving sister who realizes that the bar can’t continue to exist and function as it currently is. I was thinking as the episode was going on that it wasn’t really headed anywhere, but some of its most interesting moments are when its characters are just talking to each other. I had thought that this show was set decades ago but it turns out it takes place in the present, and therefore cell phones and Donald Trump are fodder for conversation and debate. I’m not hooked by any measure, but I will give it another two shots as I continue through the third episode, which features Laurie Metcalf’s Emmy-nominated guest spot.

Emmy Episodes: UnREAL

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

UnREAL: Season 1, Episode 1 “Return” (B-)
Nominated for Best Writing for a Drama Series

Once upon a time, I really was able to watch every single pilot each season. It’s hard to catch all the streaming premieres, but there are also a few networks whose new shows I don’t seek out, like Hallmark, ABC Family (now Freeform), and Lifetime. That leads to be missing the few shows from those channels that do become big, like this buzzed-about hit which premiered in June 2015 and wrapped its second season earlier this month. I wasn’t too interested in this show because it’s about a reality series, something that I don’t watch in any capacity and therefore wouldn’t appreciate seeing parodied as much as many other people. There is still plenty of that, with a decent focus on the content of the show that I found to be rather boring, but there’s a much darker, more intriguing story going on in this drama that’s set up as a mystery. I recognize Shiri Appleby from her “Roswell” days, though I don’t think I ever really watched that show, and Craig Bierko from his role on “Nip/Tuck” as a repeat customer who kept coming back for plastic surgery after enjoying being physically scarred, among others. I’m a big fan of Constance Zimmer from her recurring roles on “Entourage,” “The Newsroom,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” and “House of Cards,” and it’s great to see her finally earn an Emmy nomination for this role. Also in the cast as bachelorette contestants are Ashley Scott from “Jericho,” Johanna Braddy from “Quantico,” and, most exciting of all, breakout star Breeda Wool from “AWOL,” which I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival. Appleby’s Rachel seems pretty damn crazy, and Zimmer’s Quinn is more than happy to use that to her advantage in the most conniving way, which should at least make for soapy television. I can’t say I’m hooked at all, but I’ll watch the next two episodes to make it to number three, which is the hour that Zimmer submitted for Emmy consideration, to see if my opinion changes.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 2, Episode 11 “The Bender” (B+)

This is a fitting title for this episode, since Grace’s behavior can only be described accurately by the word “bender.” It was jarring to have such a serious plotline emerge when paired with Bud and Coyote meeting Jacob, who Bud seemed determined not to like at every turn in the most comedic of ways. It turns out that Jacob actually is a good guy, and he treats Frankie well, and after Coyote was in awe right away, Bud came around to that line of thinking when he saw Jacob carry Grace out of the room when her deplorable behavior started. Getting sloshed and having a blast with the other drunk people at Billie’s bar verged on the border between harmless and problematic, and refusing to listen to reason when she realized who the other people there were made it clear that there was something bad going on. Driving to the liquor store to buy them out of their tiny alcohol bottle supply was a reckless decision, and leaving her keys in her car was the last straw. Frankie’s refusal to pick her up was understandable, and Babe preparing for her last hurrah is hardly going to be the most devastating thing to happen in this show’s near future. Robert and Sol getting back together and leaving Sol’s dreary apartment behind was a far more promising development, and I think selling the house and finding a place of their own with no bad memories is a great idea, provided it doesn’t send Grace spiraling any further.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 2, Episode 11 “Kimmy Meets a Celebrity!” (B+)

It makes sense that Kimmy would have the chance to see her life played out on a celebrity talk show, and I think Jeff Goldblum was just the actor to play the devious Dr. Dave, who was much more concerned with making a good, watchable show than actually solving anyone’s problems. Naturally, all of the guests on his show came from extremely exaggerated circumstances, and the sound of applause frightening the woman eaten by the whale was probably the most outlandish and absurd one. Only on this show would there be a talk show that tapes so frequently that multiple days pass in mere hours. Kimmy breaking up the sham of a wedding that was about to happen was a sweet and twisted event that made the eternally sheep-like Cyndee happy and salvaged their friendship, which was nice to see since Kimmy can use all the friends she has, especially with Jacqueline being so absent lately. As Lilian remained chained to a fence with no one noticing her, Titus got the chance to be a father to someone in a way that initially seemed like it was going to work out great. The thrill of using another man’s credit card liberally couldn’t match Titus’ joy at getting to mold a young boy’s love life. He enjoyed plenty of popcorn but then got to see his surrogate son lash out at him and tell him he hated him, completing the brief cycle of parenthood that Titus got to experience as he tried to make a fifth horror movie sequel into a date to remember.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 2, Episode 12 “40” (B+)

Alex has never really had the ability to see what other people would want in a given situation as it doesn’t align with what he wants, and therefore Valerie’s assessment that the party he had thrown was really for him was harsh but fitting. You have to give him credit for being intrepid and dedicated in his last-ditch effort to plan a party, but it wasn’t what Valerie wanted at all. Instead, she was content to spend the day with Drew rehashing the good times and finding a better sense of stability than she had with Jack. That said, the news that his new partner is coming home didn’t elicit the reaction she thought it would, and instead inspired Drew, who rarely smiles, to say that he wants her back, which is hardly the positive direction in which she’s looking to head. Defiantly telling Alex that she was heading to Drew’s where she felt more comfortable was bold, and who knows whether she’ll make it now that she and Alex are once again united by a common dislike of their father crashing into their lives anew. I love that Jack and Alex bonded so well, and it even made Leon a little bit jealous, though maybe he’ll start up a romance with unlikely poet Leia. After their mutually destructive tattooing session, Laura’s reaction to the news that Spencer is likely going to get better was very disappointing and worrisome, since it looked a lot like the expression Alex wore for the entirety of the time that Sara lived with him.

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals

Vice Principals: Season 1, Episode 5 “Circles” (B+)

I like how each episode of this show has opened with a focus on the home life of a different character. Neal might have seemed like the antihero of this story, always concerned with himself above all others, but Lee, who is still actively married, doesn’t seem to be at all interested in spending any quality time with his wife. Instead, he insists that she put in earplugs and yells at her mother when their beast of a neighbor starts blasting music and working out with his garage door open in the middle of the night. It was great to see Neal stage a triumphant comeback at the end of the episode after Lee went crazy on Jackie only to be felled by one simple punch following his tempting of the property lines, and for Neal to be able to use something he took while punishing someone to productive one. Seychelles was never a good best friend for Lee, and while Dayshaun read the romantic subtext of the relationship all wrong, it is important for Neal to have a friend, especially when it comes to combating Dr. Brown’s attempts to deal with malice by utilizing serenity rather than discipline. It was nice to see the girls care for Neal when he started tearing up after throwing popcorn at them, and to know that there are those who respect and like him in gentler moments. I liked all the talk about haircuts in this episode since this show’s two protagonists both have pretty ridiculous hairstyles that their portrayers, especially Danny McBride, make work.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What I’m Watching: The Night Of

The Night Of: Season 1, Episode 6 “Samson and Delilah” (B)

One thing is becoming increasingly clear as Stone and Chandra prepare for the trial by tracking down leads and pursuing their own investigations - there is more than reasonable doubt to suggest that Naz may not have perpetrated the crime of which he is accused. Unfortunately, the new theories being floated won’t necessarily hold up, especially since we saw Paul Sparks’ Don’s response to the news of his stepdaughter’s death, and he seemed genuinely shocked. Now, all aspersions are cast upon him since he’s a personal trainer who tends to meet women twice his age and then con them out of their money. Naz isn’t doing much to make himself seem innocent, starting with letting Freddy dress him for his day in court and having to switch shirts with Stone of all people to not look as guilty. Hooray for Stone, who finally found a health professional who was able to resolve his foot problems enough for him to proudly wearing a shiny pair of dress shoes without any trouble. I’m glad to see that plotline appear to be resolved for now. He’s pretty distracted by that at the moment as Chandra seems to be sticking to the age-old argument that she is not burdened to prove anything about her client’s innocence, which to me hardly makes for the strongest case. Naz might look harmless enough, but he’s definitely getting accustomed to life on the inside in a way that is unlikely to help him win over the hearts of the jury.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Texan” (B+)

It’s incredible to see just how quickly Ray can flip from trying to let loose and enjoy a rare casual moment with his son back to his usual way of dealing with things by threatening people. Seeing him flail his arms to Connor’s dance video game was strange, and the arrival of their angry neighbor meant that he had his arms around Connor’s throat just moments later. Driving him to a bad part of town and leaving him there momentarily to fend for himself was an effective way of scaring him straight, and the fact that he was mad at his father for scaring him like that shows just how well it worked. Abby’s side trip to the firing range was unconventional but a helpful complement to Ray’s stern response. Seeing the Texan as a future version of himself was harrowing, and his inability to recover from his wounds definitely stung. She barely had any lines, but I knew that I recognized the Texan’s daughter from somewhere. Eve Harlow had a starring role as Taylor Kravid on the abysmal “Heroes Reborn,” and this mostly silent role was a major improvement on that. Marisol speaking publicly on television about her relationship with her brother should have tanked Hector’s career right away, but Ray was able to fix it very quickly with a helpful assist from his half-brother and careful manipulation of Stu Feldman and the only man more despicable than him, Patrick St. Esprit’s Randall Dyckman. It was touching to see Bunchy fight so hard for Teresa and to rally against her brother when he said they were done with her, something that would never fly in the Donovan family. Terry bonding with Hector was an interesting and unexpected dynamic also, and seeing the two of them fight was a refreshing focus on supporting players.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 2, Episode 7 “She’s One of Them Now” (B+)

I enjoyed this episode because it veered more towards science fiction than just ships in space with not one but two important focuses. The first is the return of the clone transport technology where users can remain safe from harm while projected clones run headfirst into dangerous situations but need to make sure that they choose their own exit to keep any of the memories of their clones. The second is the introduction of this drive with jump technology that makes fuel, distance, and time no object. That technology didn’t end up working too well, and I’m curious to see what has become of our crew and where they ended up. After Nyx and Devon started to bond following Devon’s confession of accidentally letting a little girl die while he was high, they were set to be looking out for each other, and it appears that Devon died for doing just that when Nyx’s predictor friends came looking for her. This show’s body count is rising, and given how easily series regular One was dismissed, I can’t imagine that Devon is going to survive being stabbed. On a lighter note, I enjoyed seeing Five take the lead on this particular mission, telling Three to make himself useful by passing her the conveniently-placed cookies that didn’t seem to have any adverse or malicious effects on her. The Android repeatedly commenting on the snugness of Three’s outfit was hilarious, as was Five’s reaction to Three being open to the idea of climbing into the pod naked.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pilot Review: The Get Down

The Get Down (Netflix)
Premiered August 12

It’s fair to expect that the new musical drama Netflix series from creator Baz Luhrmann would be an event. This flashy series chronicles the rise of hip-hop in the 1970s in a very volatile New York City, and it definitely feels like an epic. It reminded me at first of “A Most Violent Year,” a seemingly simple and personal story about people living in the city with foreboding drama surrounding them underscored by intense music. There are moments that this show encounters, aware of the vastness of the story that it is telling, particularly when the gangs arrive or a given member of its cast realizes their musical potential. Ezekiel was a magnetic protagonist from his first moment on screen, later reciting a superb poem about the black community and what’s going on and then busting into success when he reclaimed the microphone after a failed first attempt. Shaolin Fantastic is a visually astounding character, using New York City as his playground and undeterred by obstacles like having to leap from building to building. And Mylene is full of spirit, unwilling to give in to her father’s efforts to quash her spirit by telling her that church music is all that there is. The two recognizable faces on this show are playing brothers, and that’s Giancarlo Esposito as Pastor Cruz and Jimmy Smits as Papa Fuerte, who really runs the show. I see the appeal of this show and its dazzling style reminiscent of “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby.” I’m just not sure I could get into it on a regular basis, even to make it through six episodes. It’s more than a bit dense and distracted for my tastes.

How will it work as a series? There is inarguably a lot of material to cover, and these characters are rich and full of life. There is a schizophrenic quality to this show, constantly changing tone and focus, which I think will help it address a lot of issues and build layered storylines, but as a viewer, I think it’s going to be hard to engage with that.
How long will it last? The show was commissioned for twelve episodes, six of which premiered on Netflix last Friday. Reviews have been mixed and I know that this show is absurdly expensive, so I wouldn’t count on much more of it than making a second season, if that.

Pilot grade: B-