Thursday, June 22, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1, Episode 8 “Jezebels” (B+)

I’m glad that we’re getting so many origin stories, with precious few details but enough information for the characters to make more sense, as current events play out that add even more depth and clarity. Nick doesn’t have much of a personality, and therefore it tracks that, before everything, he was just a guy looking for a good job who couldn’t hold anything, and working for the head of one of the chapters of the Sons of Jacob was absolutely the right fit. That he met Fred when he chose not to speak up after hearing the crass, casual discussion about handmaids and why wives shouldn’t matter is also logical, though it’s intriguing to find out that his main job as an Eye is to report on his commander, not on everyone else in the household and what they’re doing. Offred’s predecessor having committed suicide and Serena indicating that she knew what the Commander was doing with her calls into question whether she knows what’s going on between her husband and Offred. That underground club was a weird place, and it was bittersweet for Offred to run into Moira, since it means that she didn’t end up dead or back as a handmaid but that she’s found something that’s only mildly better. Serena giving Offred the gift of a girl trapped in a box who only dances when someone else opens the lid was a moving metaphor on which to end the episode, and I’m eager to see how Offred delivers on her promise not to let herself be trapped and not to give up.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 3, Episode 11 “Conspiracy Weary” (B+)

Well, that whole situation resolved itself pretty quickly with Don E being held captive and Ravi nearly being executed thanks to the raving brute force displayed by the amped-up duo of Blaine and Liv. The helpful assist from Fillmore Graves was a little late and permitted the escape of two hostiles who did their own form of damage later, but at least the zombies got out okay. There have been a couple of times that we’ve seen Liv and Major eating the same brains, but this was the first time that a very, very hungry trio, consisting of Liv, Blaine, and Don E, went nuts on the brains of a conspiracy theorist, causing them to have some pretty hilarious conversations about some urban myths and unsolved mysteries. Major, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly paranoid enough, dating someone who publicized their entire private relationship, sex forts all over the house and all, and even created “Killer Abs” t-shirts that made Major the victim of a whole lot of mockery. I think her enthusiasm is relatively innocent and misplaced, if still more than a bit strange, unlike the kind ear of Ravi’s new friend Rachel, who turns out to be a journalist that put Liv’s zombie face on the front cover of the paper. Seattle may have just elected a zombie that happens to be a murderer as its new mayor, but the fact that zombies have just been somewhat incontrovertibly outed well ahead of schedule is cause for grave (pardon the pun) concern.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 3 “Chapter 55” (B+)

In an age where everything electronic and social media-related is instantly perceived by the American public, it’s extremely interesting to see the bold gamble of a presidential candidate hosting a question-and-answer question over live video chat where both he and those posing the questions can be seen. That’s part of what has defined Conway in the time that we’ve known him – he wants to face his accusers head-on and combat their allegations rather than let Frank, who ominously enough decided to call in and “allow” Conway to ask him a question, hurl libelous insults at him. Ultimately, it was his non-American wife Hannah who helped to truly humanize him when he got clearly agitated by the captain’s brother’s call. If that’s one way to handle the night before an election, Frank and Claire acting out lines from an old movie was something completely unexpected and actually quite endearing. Frank’s sore throat and cough was ill-timed, ready to make him look weak at a time that he couldn’t afford it, and even though Claire is exactly the partner that he needs, he still thinks that she isn’t supportive if she even thinks to bring up the possibility of losing the election. I’m not sure who voter turnout being lower than expected is bad for, but it sounds like it’s not great for everything that Frank expected to happen. Doug standing behind the commander-in-chief’s desk and carving his initials into it was a strange symbol of power, one that represents how much this particular position has meant to him.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 4 “The Sprout” (B+)

Alex really isn’t a great landlord or renter or whatever you’d call him, managing not only to consistently eat all of the food purchased by his tenants but also to cause them to have some marital troubles by bringing up something that happened in his personal life that they had no business needing to know. Only on this show could Alex see a picture of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, invite her over, and have her immediately come with no hesitation about it being uncomfortable or inappropriate. The truth is, they still get along well and haven’t lost any of their chemistry. Yet that was never their problem, and Emmy’s feelings on monogamy haven’t changed. Laura didn’t put much effort into trying to get her petition signed, but she did make a great new friend who even let her stay over due to their quick bond. Her stupid choice to do something reckless, taking something that didn’t belong to her just for the hell of it, cost her what could have been a nice relationship, and I think that’s going to stick with her and sting. Valerie, on the other hand, got decimated by her classmates before bonding with them in a better way after the class. She even got to set her own rules by sleeping with someone and then leaving his apartment when she wanted to, indicating at the very least to herself that she’s not fully in the middle of some crisis and is ready, for the moment, to face the world head-on.

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 3, Episode 9 “Fall” (B+)

Watching Jimmy work is always mesmerizing, as I’ve said before, though usually it seems like his crimes are victimless. In this case, he engineered things so that he could pull out the right size sneaker from his trunk to give to a poor old lady to manipulate events so that she would be hated enough by her friends to be highly motivated to sign the deal and bring the class-action to a close far ahead of schedule. As usual, Jimmy is operating completely all out on his own, and therefore when he burst in to celebrate with Kim, she wasn’t in the headspace to hear it because she was heading out to close another deal, not content to wait for a lucky windfall on which to rest her laurels. After a smooth recovery from a near-disaster, she was way too overworked and seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel, causing an accident that banged her up a little but symbolically sent all her carefully-organized papers blowing in the mind, leaving her no real way to pick up the pieces. Lydia hiring Mike as a security consultant was an interesting scene, and it’s cool to see them meet in this way knowing how things ended up turning out for them in the show where we first met them both. Chuck really has willed himself back to health, casually cooking in his kitchen and holding a mixer while it’s on, and he’s done that in part as an act of defiance to Howard’s attempt to push him to retirement, something he’s obviously not going to take sitting down.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pilot Review: Claws

Claws (TNT)
Premiered June 11 at 9pm

I think I knew from the first moment that this show wasn’t for me. It’s on a network that isn’t always known for its top-notch quality but has been able to deliver some decent entertainment in the past few years with a couple of reliable shows. This one is certainly loud and empathic, and its energetic opening scene set the tone for the whole episode. It was obvious from the start that the horribly obnoxious two-timing dealer, who was audacious enough to broadcast it unapologetically, was going to get killed, and while Desna strangling him would have been a bit more satisfying, the way that it transpired did the trick. I recognized a handful of performers in this pilot, all from their previous TV work. It would make more sense to me for Niecy Nash to earn an Emmy nomination for this showy turn than for her mild and unmemorable performance on “Getting On.” Emmy winner Carrie Preston is just the right person to play the recently released Polly, who’s pretty much the same as all of the other characters she’s played but with a tiny bit more of an edge. Judy Reyes is playing the polar opposite of Carla from “Scrubs,” and Harold Perrineau from “Lost” also has the chance to try a different kind of part. And then there’s Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad,” who plays a character named Uncle Daddy, whose very moniker pretty much sums up my feelings about this show and why this opening hour is more than enough for me for a lifetime.

How will it work as a series? Well, these women are already in over their heads and now they’ve got a murder to cover up, and something tells me this is just the tip of the iceberg. These are some loud, colorful characters, and they’re going to have a lot of opportunity to make some noise as they try to keep their activities on the down-low.
How long will it last? I can’t understand how this show actually managed to net mostly positive reviews since I couldn’t stand a minute of it. It seems like the ratings were solid, so maybe this show will have a future after all. I wouldn’t count on it just now, but I wouldn’t be too shocked if TNT orders more of this trash.

Pilot grade: D-

Round Two: I’m Dying Up Here

I’m Dying Up Here: Season 1, Episode 2 “Midnight Special” (C+)

I think I’d like to get into this show, ideally, but I just don’t have the patience for it right now. Its dated feel is matched by its glacial pacing, and it’s hard to watch at certain points due to the extremely uncomfortable tone of just about every scene. There are some innocent enough things, like Goldie having Adam come to her house to do handywork because he knows when not to say anything and he happens to know how to fix things too. And then there’s the rampant chauvinism best represented by Bill’s visiting father, played by a surprisingly enthusiastic Glenn Morshower, compared to his dry portrayal of Agent Aaron Pierce on “24,” who couldn’t believe that Cassie would could both have a job and be his son’s girlfriend. Bill’s set in which he shouted down the group of laid-off women in the front row was truly painful. I’m not sure if it’s thought-provoking or just mundane to hear the comics make the same jokes again and again, since the laughter serves as an endearing comfort. Eddie and Ron’s time on “Let’s Make a Deal” was pretty ridiculous – apparently, it’s not that hard to get picked – and oly they could celebrate winning Rice-a-Roni for a year, literally putting food on their table and nothing more. Ralph and Edgar’s feud was more than just a little petty. I think this is enough of this show for me now – it’s been mildly interesting and I’m more than okay parting ways with it.

What I’m Watching: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks: Season 3, Episode 6 “The Return – Part 6” (B-)

It’s difficult to get into this show and the plot elements that are actually moving forward when it introduces so many random tangents that I can’t imagine are ever to going to make any sense or even matter to the grander picture at all. A handful of stabbings were plenty disturbing, and after a trippy magic show from Balthazar Getty, an innocent kid got killed thanks to some dangerous driving on the part of one reckless bad egg. It’s still not completely clear to me – nor is it to anyone else I imagine – what exactly is going on with Cooper and why he still can’t function as a human being, though something tells me that there’s not going to be some big “aha moment” in which he suddenly bursts free from Dougie’s body and asks for a nice slice of pie. It was intriguing to see Janey-E, upon receiving an incriminating photo of her husband, bring a wad of cash containing $25,000 to the men who Dougie owed, ready to confidently offer them half of what he owed to be done with it. I think they were more floored than anything, and while it might have done the trick, I wouldn’t mind if we got another chance to spend time with the eternally crazy-eyed Jeremy Davies, who looks just like he did in his Emmy-winning “Justified” role. Now let’s see if Albert is able to learn anything from Laura Dern’s Denise and if anyone inches closer to figuring out what’s going on with the two Coopers.

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 6, Episode 8 “Judge” (B+)

I don’t often pay much attention to the “previously on” segments on this show, but this one was crucial since it reminded us that, right after his heart attack, Selina did promise Gary that she’d come down to Alabama for his fortieth birthday party. What a backwards sight it was, with the very kind mother played by Jean Smart of “Fargo,” “Legion,” and so much else and his harsh closeted father played by Stephen Root of “True Blood,” “Office Space,” and so much else. Selina was quick to notice how Gary’s father spoke to her, but she’s guilty of the same and plenty more, as evidenced by her appropriating a personal story he had just told her as her won when she upstaged him during his own party. Inviting Jaffar and some other political people wasn’t a surprise, and I far more enjoyed Marjorie catching Catherine eating two plates of pork ribs. Amy running around Birmingham and back to Dulles with Mike to track down his diary – and apparently his house keys – was fun, and what a find in Leon West’s diary, which I’m sure will allow them the upper hand that I’d hope they would choose to exercise properly and most efficiently. Jonah forcing Dan to hang out with him wasn’t quite as sweet as bringing Jane back to do his interview, completely screwing Dan over, but the joke was, as usual, on Jonah when the government shutdown ended just before his interview was scheduled to begin. I loved the way that Andrea Savage’s President Montes reacted to everything Jonah said, which somehow sounded even stupider than usual.

Monday, June 19, 2017

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Keenan Vortex” (B+)

It’s almost dizzying to keep up with the rate at which fortunes keep changing on this show and with who has intellectual and actual ownership of Pied Piper at any given time. At the start of this episode, Richard was not at all impressed with Haley Joel Osment’s Keenan Feldspar, and then all of a sudden both Dinesh and Gilfoyle were equally obsessed with him, encouraging Richard to strike a deal to be bought in the wake of the unfortunate realization that their contract with Dan Melcher was a bad idea due to its ignorance of overages, which were killing them during this cold front. Richard made a counteroffer meant to scare Keenan away, but then he took it, and then Monica pointed out just how much of a no-nothing showman he was, having minions work hard on making the demo look great because he was hiding the fact that there was nothing bigger and better, or even nearly as functional, behind the curtain. Screwing Erlich over clearly had a very detrimental effect, and fortunately no one was hurt in the fire he started by not bringing his bong outside with him. Jack is all about the flashy tech, and so it’s no wonder that he signed a deal with Keenan, and I’m eager to see how Richard and the boys bounce back in the season’s final two episodes as they go head-to-head with them in preparation for HooliCon, their next big chance to upstage the competition and score an underdog victory against a former ally.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black (Season Premiere)

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 1 “The Few Who Dare” (B)

Here we are, arrived sadly at the final season of this extremely unique and appealing show. I’ll admit that I’m not quite clear on where things are at this point and where they’re headed, but I do know that we have Delphine back, which is great, and all of our clones hard at work doing whatever it is they’re doing, mainly trying to stay alive and out of harm’s way from those who would pursue them. Art finally got himself a new partner, one who’s well aware of the existence of the clones and, despite orders not to hurt any of the clones, had no problem threatening his life so that she could compel one of them to answer her questions. Donnie’s decision not to be spotted when Allison got taken was far nobler than it appeared in the moment, though she’s also not in as much danger as he thinks. Sarah is in bad shape and can use all the help she can get right now. Rachel has clearly become an evil mastermind and this season is going to focus on taking her down because she’s worse than all of the others who supervised and monitored the creation of the clones, acting apart from them despite her really being of the same fabric (if I understand correctly, which I’m not 100% sure I do). As long as we’re treated to a good deal of Helena eating and showing up to kick ass when she’s needed most, I think that we and all of the sestras are going to be in pretty good shape.

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

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2 “It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This” and “Being Better is So Much Harder” (B+)

This to me is one of the most underrated and least talked-about shows on television, and it’s really a very good show. After season one presented a shocking death that turned out to very permanent, we got another loss – Nyx – in the season two finale – that’s already had a serious effect on things since Two and the rest of the crew now want to kill Four. Well, of course he’s not really Four anymore, even though he refers to his former crew members by their numeric names and remembers enough about Nyx that he was furious when he found out that she had been killed. That he wasn’t the one who did it will probably prove inconsequential to Two and Three, since they’re set on killing him anyway since he’s being too much of a menace to continue to exist and terrorize everyone. That anomaly or whatever it was created by the use of the blink drive was intense, eating away everything in its path and absorbing it all into white nothingness. With that one issue resolved, we still have the much more problematic development that Five is continually susceptible to flashing back to these memories, which are very informative but also uncontrollable in their nature, leading her state of consciousness to be highly unpredictable. At least the family is back together for the most part, missing just two of their original ranks but with the addition of a seventh, the android, who makes creative vegetable casseroles and fishes for compliments from her fellow crew members who have to be aware that she’s still evolving.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black (Season Premiere)

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 1 “Riot FOMO” (B+)

This show doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Sure, awards shows may not be able to decide whether it’s a comedy or a drama, but there’s no debating its quality. After one very memorable previous finale in which everyone ran out and took a dip in the lake, we’re coming off a very chaotic and powerful finish to season four in which a full-scale riot erupted. In the aftermath, what we have is chaos, with inmates who really aren’t quite as prove to cruel violence as some of the guards, but nonetheless seek to punish those that they feel have mistreated them both for revenge purposes and simply because it’s fun. Piper and Alex aren’t looking to do any of that, and in fact, as comparatively tame offenders to most of their fellow inmates, they’re trying to find a way to ensure that their would-be hostage doesn’t get hurt. Taystee and her crew are on a mission, and the PR hostage they have with Caputo was all about helping them get their message out since it still serves as a PR win for them. It’s hard to imagine how this is all going to get resolved and things are going to go back to normal, especially with how viral some of it has already gone, reaching those outside the prison including Piscatella, and evidently there’s someone in the prison with the upper hand who just knocked out a very stressed-out Dayonara. I’m looking forward to what is sure to be an engaging and enticing season to come.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 4 “Kimmy Goes to College!” (B+)

If there’s a job that I think would be perfect for Kimmy, it’s the idea of being a taskrabbit – not what she thought the term originally meant – because she doesn’t mind doing things that might irk others and attaining the satisfaction of accomplishing them efficiently and fully. That one of her first clients would end up being Xanthippe’s college roommates was fateful, and it was fun to see Kimmy completely misinterpret her former nemesis’ social situation and then make it worse when she accidentally bought Mike’s Hard Lemonade to a party that was supposed to be dry. Xanthippe’s act of rebellion ended up earning her praise rather than expulsion because of an extremely liberal and forgiving reading of her actions that wasn’t even close to accurate, and then Kimmy earned herself a full scholarship thanks to her experience churning the crank in the bunker and the coach’s bullying of the dean. Titus having to sing the worst possible conspiracy theorist, racist, anti-Semitic lyrics for a chance at stardom didn’t seem to bother him all that much, especially if the flash-forward to three weeks later is any indication. I enjoyed Lillian’s hopeless attempt to filibuster, and Peter Riegert’s grocery chain owner indulged her quite a bit. Appointing her as the liaison for his project was a smart decision that is sure to give him a headache, but I’m glad that it turned out this way since it should give her some sense of purpose that will allow her to focus her efforts on something slightly more productive than usual, even though she’ll actually spend most of her time making sure that nothing is produced.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 4 “Brothers” (B-)

To describe this show as lost in time might not be all that accurate, but it seems fitting given that this show’s frequent flitting around the timestream as of late has made it almost impossible to follow and not all that enticing anymore either. Tracking down Cassandra before Cole ever met her to the point that he could go and give her a heartfelt speech after having not seen her for so long gave this show a very dated feel, though of course it also added incredible poignancy to the surprising return at the end of the episode to the exact place from which she so fatefully disappeared at the close of last season. I for one am very glad she’s back, since now it’s clear what the mission is and that, tragically and fatefully enough, it was Cole and Cassandra themselves who created the witness, who has become the bane of both of their existences. Killing Ramse so that he wouldn’t take her out before she had a chance to give birth to the witness was an important act for him to do, and given that this is the now the thirteenth or fourteenth time that Ramse has betrayed Cole and he’s had to decide whether or not to forgive him, it’s about time. I far prepared the season opener that showed Cole making the choice to forgive Ramse, but at this point I’ll settle for Cole and Cassandra being reunited, ready to sit down and work with Jones and Jennifer to figure out how best to stop the witness once and for all. Not that they’ll stay put for long, I’m sure.

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 5 “The Dinner Party” (B)

This show is certainly great, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I was at the beginning of season one, but it’s also easy to identify the truly strong episodes from the much less engaging ones. In this episode we got the return of not one but two alluring women that we met earlier this season. Francesca was an important draw for Dev in Italy, and obviously coming to New York to see him with her boyfriend conveniently not in tow could have meant an open opportunity for him, as others tried to convince him it was. Yet the eager cupcake show host didn’t go for it, and instead ended up with quite the solitary ride home which served as the closing extended shot for the episode. He also had a date with Priya that didn’t go nearly as well as the first time and instead felt a whole lot like the end of their date when they ran into her ex who had just gotten back from Syria and Dev tried to one-up him with a story from his cupcake show. I’m glad that the series isn’t featured so prominently and that Dev just considers it a job. I liked the casting of the reliable Bobby Cannavale, who won an Emmy for chewing scenery as a pasta-loving Italian gangster on “Boardwalk Empire,” as a chef who had not one but four dinners in the first night we saw him and represented a certain kind of celebrity who lives a life of luxury and doesn’t gloat but instead just keeps on going and indulging, never stopping for even a second just to slow down a bit.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 2, Episode 7 “I Have No Room in My Heart for Hate” (B+)

One of my favorite TV tropes is when characters who rarely interact do so. Thus far we’ve seen a few clear pairings on this show, with Riley and Will as the most obvious examples, followed by Wolfgang and Kala who have only do so in extremely intimate imagined ways. Therefore, it was a treat to see Sun matched with a blubbering Lito for whom she had absolutely no patience. Kala showed up to ask Will advice about what to tell her husband, who it turns out hasn’t been nearly as honest with her as he has claimed to be. After suffering from some serious depression, Lito came in very handy when he turned out to be an extremely skilled flair bartender. It was cool seeing Riley video-chat with Amanita and realizing that, even though we’ve seen them right next to each other a number of times, they don’t actually know what the other looks like and it must be quite the feeling to experience that. Capheus is becoming quite the folk hero in his non-quest for office, and I’m eager to see where that takes him. I loved seeing both sensate clans show up like entourages when Wolfgang decided to go to war, and the music that preceded that was this show at its classic, most consistent best. It’s clear that Wolfgang was being played and now seems like the dangerous one who is guilty of killing everyone in the restaurant, and I’m not sure exactly what that means for everyone going forward. Maybe the surprisingly still alive Jonas can provide some much-needed guidance.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 3, Episode 12 “The Musical” (B+)

This was a rather dramatic penultimate installment, with Robert’s play going on despite a number of interruptions and Frankie recovering fine from her incident but facing the future with a much more trepidatious attitude. Steve’s many attempts to derail Robert and to offer to take over for him didn’t have any effect, partially because Peter believed in him, and Sol leaving along with the rest of the family during the play didn’t even affect his performance. The problem is that they approach the way that they have chosen to live their lives and how other people don’t always welcome that extremely differently, and it’s causing serious issues in their relationship. Frankie’s discovery that she had a stroke ten years earlier was enlightening, and there was a good deal of comedy to be found in her family members and friends trying to isolate the moment that it happened and separate it out from the many times Frankie was just being Frankie. It’s easy to forget that Jacob is in the picture given how close Frankie and Grace have gotten, and I suspect that, though she might have been totally up for going with him to New Mexico, this is what’s going to keep her where she is. I like that the crazy Allison is remaining a constant in Bud’s life as he’s realizing that maybe she’s exactly what he wants even though no one else appreciates or likes her. I’d be happy to see a major development in their relationship that would send everyone reeling as they realized just how permanent Allison really was going to be in their lives.

What I’m Watching: Iron Fist (Season Finale)

Iron Fist: Season 1, Episode 13 “Dragon Plays with Fire” (C-)

All I could think throughout this entire episode was that I really hope we don’t get a season two. I wasted so many hours of my life watching this show both under the pretense that it was going to get good and that I needed to be up to date for when “The Defenders” finally premieres and hopefully proves to have been worth the wait. Despite the fact that star Finn Jones, who is truly terrible on this show, has suggested that the show’s renewal is soon to be announced, there’s no confirmation anywhere that this show will join the ranks of the other Marvel series to earn a second season pickup. Bakuto’s death in the previous episode means that the stakes weren’t all that high in this hour, and instead it was just a matter of who was going to kill Harold, who got to go full-on evil in his latest incarnation and almost beg for his death by trying to become all-powerful. I hesitate to say that there was an intriguing moment towards the end of the episode where Davos and Joy were sitting down for coffee with Gao at the next table, three crucial players in the show all with very different motivations who you wouldn’t expect to see in the same place as the others. Colleen was ecstatic to be invited by Danny to come to K’un-Lun, and as Danny childishly got excited about arriving just in time for afternoon kung fu practice, we got to see that it’s all destroyed. I don’t want to find out more, and I sincerely hope that no other viewers do either.

Season grade: C-
Season MVP: David Wenham as Harold

Friday, June 16, 2017

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 3, Episode 8 “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” (C+)

I think this show has really lost sense of where it wants to go and what it wants to be. I’m feeling that it’s more of a repeat of season one and its themes, even exploring the same events and consequences. I’d rather see new territory covered, but with this season nearly completed, that doesn’t seem likely. We did get a face that was a prominent player in season one, Russell Harvard’s Mr. Wrench, who ended up in a tight situation with Nikki but was able to readily communicate despite his inability to hear. I’m surprised that Nikki has survived this long, and she even had a metaphor-filled encounter with Ray Wise’s Paul Marrane, who seems to exist only to give the excellent Wise an opportunity to appear and wax philosophic, even referencing Rebbe Nachman. I’m having a bit of hard time following what’s going on with Emmit, who definitely thinks that his very dead brother might still be alive. V.M. isn’t helping much, continuing to intimidate Sy, a nice guy who’s just trying to stay ahead in this increasingly miserable world, and making bold business strides without fully informing his new partners. Despite being told that they’re supposed to lay off, Gloria and Winnie are continuing their investigation, fully aware that there’s mischief afoot and pretty darn close to knowing the truth about what happened even though they’re not permitted to prove it. I’m not sure how this season could find a satisfying resolution, but I’d be happy to see a meager return to form with some dramatic poignancy to it.

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Other Side” (B)

For some reason, I expected that this show was only going to show things from Offred’s perspective, though I guess we’ve already seen a good deal of Ofglen’s life away from her. After an episode that showed us some of Serena’s life before the rise of Gilead, here we had an installment that barely featured June. We got to know Luke a few episodes back when we saw his love story with June, and up until the Mexican ambassador’s assistant shocked Offred with the news that her husband is still alive, I think everyone watching presumed that he was dead. It turns out that the world outside the confines of a tranquil home with a handmaid is relatively chaotic and disorderly, and therefore it’s not all that much of a surprise that he didn’t get killed by the first people who found him and that he survived for so long. There was a quick flash-forward towards the end of the episode to a place in Canada that was a safe haven of sorts, and I’m still interested in how we got there and seeing what happened during the transition from a normal world into a terrifying religious dictatorship. This show seems to be more interested in highlighting the vast differences between the way things were and the way they are, presenting haunting flashbacks that fade away in an instant when the harsh reality of how far things have come kicks in again. If Luke comes to rescue Offred, I’d be pumped, but something tells me it won’t be nearly that simple.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 3, Episode 10 “Return of the Dead Guy” (B+)

I like that Peyton is playing a bigger role this season and isn’t just relegated to being a mismatched love interest for Blaine, who all of a sudden may now be a good guy once again. It was only fair that she had to play a part and tease out some information from Liv in a very sexual way after pushing her to eat the brain so that she could prove her accused’s innocence, and after some brief foreplay, they came much closer to an unexpected answer than they thought they would. I enjoy how easily bored Peyton is, with her now rivaling Clive for the best reactions to everything that happens in this zombieverse. We’ve also started seeing Liv’s visions from the other side, with her wearing a blank expression on her face for a good long period of time. I don’t think anything’s lost because of that since it’s more fun to see things from a different perspective. Hallucinating Drake wasn’t as enticing, but it was impressive that Liv owned up to it and didn’t even try to hide it from her new boyfriend, even when she was making out with him. The return of Stacey Boss didn’t take the direction I expected it to, and now Blaine has turned a problematic situation into a very lucrative partnership that the dubious mob boss was more than happy to accept in exchange for his life. Ravi did his best to get himself and Don E out of their predicament, and it’s just a shame that he couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number. Liv and Blaine both amping up before going in to save Ravi’s life was an exciting cliffhanger that’s sure to pay off in the next episode.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 2 “Chapter 54” (B+)

There are only a few people who can sit in a room with Frank and not blink, let alone eat an apple because they’re so far from intimidated. Frank took down a lot of people on his way up to the top, and I’ll be honest, I can’t really recall the details of what happened with Matthews. But it’s obvious that the former vice-president isn’t scared of him, and therefore he’s just another obstacle – or card, if you will – for Frank to knock over on his quest for continued world domination. He’s the definition of a fear-mongering leader, gathering politicians together for the explicit purpose of manipulating them into supportive actions, and he even masterminded a cyberattack that he blamed on terrorists to get those holdouts on board. It may have convinced one particular governor, but Aidan is not a stable ally, if his preemptive fix is any indication. The level of direct access he has to Frank should be cause for extreme concern, especially in light of the very public trial that’s about to be brought against him (with similar parallels in the real world seeming to begin). Dissent doesn’t seem possible, because even those like Karen who wanted to suggest to Donald that they resign out of protest found that he didn’t care enough since he was comfortable where he was. Seth trading info on Doug is a bad idea, and there’s no way he comes out of this in anything close to a positive way. Claire running into an old friend of Frank’s had a very personal feel to it, and one that demonstrated just how much she was willing to do to suppress the potentially troubling story. Her moment with Tom was more than a bit uncomfortable, and I get the feeling that he’s starting to wear out his welcome.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 3 “The Table” (B)

This season is off to a seriously slow start, and while this episode was an improvement on the truly lackluster second installment, it’s still not back to the quality this show once used to have. Leon has been the go-to punching bag for both adult siblings almost since the show began, and naturally his accepting the thankless job of waiting around for a table to be delivered would be ruined by his acting on the impulse to do something else nice for Valerie. It’s good that Valerie appears to be taking Leia’s advice to start sharing her knowledge with others, since she seems to be close to the edge in terms of snapping at her patients and recommending that no one ever go into the business of therapy. I enjoyed the iPhone/Samsung issue, and this episode was rich with technology thanks to Alex’s brand name-heavy pitch, which was extremely well-delivered but very tepidly received due to its lack of originality and newness. I’m not sure why there’s such a strong focus on Laura wanting to get her tattoo removed and that being the only motivation for her to make some money. It is interesting to see Laura’s eagerness to make up stories because she thinks they’re more enticing, prompting an unamused interviewer to let her know that she gets paid even if she tells the truth. I’m curious what will come of this new method of making money, since at the very least it will allow her to do some introspection of her relationship with her mother. Quote of the episode: There’s no such thing as a Luke Hemsworth.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What I'm Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 3, Episode 8 “Slip” (B+)

This episode proceeded along pretty slowly, as some of this show’s hours this season have thus far, but there’s an undeniable intentionality to it that resounds well. It’s easy to forget that Jimmy is a con artist, and that even though the music store owners were being rude and unfriendly to him, they’re the ones being scammed. Jimmy basically forced them into agreeing to a free commercial and now he wants to charge them $6500 for follow-up work that they don’t really need since they’ve already aired a successful commercial. The quickness with which he plopped himself on the floor to extort them by making them think that he was injured was incredible, and he did that again later when he destroyed the community service supervisor and enjoyed a satisfactory moment of relaxation after his big victory. Jimmy is isolating himself more and more as he lets his cons take over, and he even tried to distance himself from Kim, who is more than happy to be associated with him even though it’s never done her much good. We saw the beginnings of Chuck, newly inspired to get better, ready to suffer another major defeat thanks to Jimmy’s latest slanderous effort, and I’m not eager to see that play out. As Nacho made a big move against Hector, we saw a quiet deal being bartered between Gus and Mike, one that’s sure to take center stage as the series progresses. Gus refusing to take anything from Mike was dignified, and I can see how the two will work well together.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pilot Review: I’m Dying Up Here

I’m Dying Up Here (Showtime)
Premiered June 4 at 10pm

It’s a good bet that most actors who end up starring in comedies have roots somewhere in standup. The history of the standup scene is also ripe to be dramatized, and that’s the obvious reason that this show got picked up by a network known for edgy comedy programming. I wouldn’t exactly call this show a comedy since it’s mired in a melancholy presentation of how unfulfilling life spent living in a closet trying to slowly climb an increasingly long ladder up to success. I’m not usually all that fond of shows set in the 1970s since they’re often inundated with a drugged-out vibe and don’t usually move all that quickly. That’s certainly true here, though I can see the appeal. The most enticing part of it is the fact that it features some rising talent that may well rocket to stardom with these great starring roles. The most notable face is that of Ari Graynor, who has been a memorable part in the ensemble of a few films and short-lived TV shows, and rivals Rachel Brosnahan for best monologue of the year in a series debt. I remember Michael Angarano from “Will and Grace” and Clark Duke from “The Office,” and they seem like a fun pair transplanted to Los Angeles from Boston to a whole that’s way over their heads. The one who’s really a fish out of water is RJ Cyler, one of my favorite parts of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and it seems like he’ll play a fun part. I’m not sure that this show’s energy level is high enough for me, but I’m willing to give it another shot to see if it livens up a bit.

How will it work as a series? There’s a big cast, led of course by Oscar winner Melissa Leo, and so that’s sure to provide more than enough fodder for dramatic exploration of comedy. It also means that characters might be rarely featured and underdeveloped, but this show seems to have a decent handle on what it wants to be.
How long will it last? I can’t find much ratings data for the pilot episode (or the second, which has already aired), but it does appear that the reviews are pretty solid if not entirely enthusiastic. This could go either way, since Showtime hasn’t embraced all of its programming recently, and my bet is that this one won’t last past this season.

Pilot grade: B-

Friday, June 9, 2017

What I’m Watching: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks: Season 3, Episode 5 “The Return – Part 5” (B-)

At least things are getting a little more focused now and not nearly as much time and attention are being devoted to the usual disorienting and infuriating tangents this show tends to feature. As has been the case with every episode thus far, we’re introduced to new characters played by familiar TV faces, led here by Robert Knepper of “Prison Break” and “iZombie” and Jim Belushi as two very intimidating men who were none too happy with Brett Gelman’s hapless casino manager, who has now been beaten and replaced by someone with considerably less personality. The man everyone thinks is Dougie continues to walk around not being a human being, and I like that he drank and loved the coffee, then taken from someone else, and that the blurted out that a man in the room was lying – to his face. He also knows exactly what to do when he needs to pee, look panicked and grab his crotch, but he hasn’t figured out the routine of actually going into the bathroom just yet. I guess it’s not in the cards on this show for anyone to point out that he’s not functioning at full capacity, or really any capacity. I’m not fresh enough on who the characters I’m supposed to recognize are, especially now that they’re twenty-five years older, but I did see a throwback to unfortunate themes of abuse in an unsettling scene in this hour. This show has lost its signature soapy nature, but at least we’re also getting away from the excessively supernatural and completely unexplainable elements as well.

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 4, Episode 7 “The Patent Troll” (B+)

It’s hard enough doing things right all the time in tech, and when you didn’t even do anything wrong but you’re being targeted anyway, it doesn’t feel fair. Being laughed at by his doctor when he asked for an STD test and then told that he was shrinking because of his unhealthy lifestyle was a miserable start, and then being told that cracking into the top 500 apps of a very specific type was only a brief high when it then turned out to be the reason that they were targeted by the patent troll. I love that Richard tried to band together a group of likely targets and that, partially because of his unfortunate mentions of multiple untoward sexual traditions, they ended up going to the troll directly to preemptively negotiate with him, screwing Richard over. Using his copyright search engine, the first version of Pied Piper, to pull one over on the troll was brilliant, and it’s just a shame that their hapless lawyer still billed them more than he would have owed in the first place. Jared inventing Ed Chambers was funny, though it seems we’ve seen the last of him now that Jared killed him. Gilfoyle using his new secure modem to devote unnecessary attention to hacking Jian-Yang’s new smart fridge was pretty hilarious, and I like that he spent so much time on it rather than doing the work he actually had to do. Erlich negotiating his finder’s fee in half to become an associate is an interesting and sure-to-implode development, and his attempt to mansplain mansplaining was a poor start. Falling off the roof and injuring himself so that he wouldn’t have to show how terrible he is at basketball didn’t help him all that much since he still doesn’t have a clue about the game.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers (Series Finale)

The Leftovers: Season 3, Episode 8 “The Book of Nora”

I wasn’t happy at the start of this episode. I didn’t like the fact that events seem to be playing out in an only half-imagined world where things didn’t quite make sense. It also addressed what we had seen at the start of the season with a woman who looked just like Nora named Sarah in Australia as a complete lie since obviously this person does know exactly who Kevin is. After Kevin spun a story about barely knowing who Nora was, claiming that they never actually met, they did have a good moment together while dancing at the wedding that Kevin tricked Nora into coming to. When he showed up, completely out of character and back as the Kevin we know, swearing and all, to yell at her for abandoning him, everything became much clearer in a way that tied it all together. It’s brave for a series finale to feature only two characters, but this show has always made tremendous use of its music and of intimate, immensely meaningful conversations to truly drive its points home. The idea that Nora traveled to a world where everyone who disappeared remained and everyone else wasn’t there is incredibly interesting, and her discovery that they were so much happier with so much less says a lot about what satisfaction and fulfillment mean in a world where bad things do happen. Her decision to come back and isolate herself from anything as a punishment of sort was moving, and I love that Kevin used his two weeks of vacation every year to trek through Australia showing Nora’s picture to everyone he saw in the hopes of finding her. We didn’t get any answers about how or why this happened, but this was a truly powerful and compelling note on which to end. I still contend that season one was awe-inspiring and leagues better than both seasons two and three, but this show will still leave a mark as a whole for truly capturing the art of devastation.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: B+
Season MVP: Amy Brenneman as Laurie
Season grade: B
Series MVP: Carrie Coon as Nora
Best Season: Season 1
Best Episode: “The Garveys at Their Best

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 3 “Kimmy Can’t Help You!” (B-)

This show is taking irreverent to a whole new level this season, though I’m sure I’m projecting that since this show has always been pretty zany. I liked the casting of the always terrific Laura Dern, last seen in a far more stable if equally intense role on HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” as Wendy, the woman who was ready to commit and get married to none other than the Reverend. Kimmy has a complicated enough relationship with the Reverend and what happened with him that she’s not really in a place to give advice to someone else who has fallen under his spell. Titus, who actually got along somewhat well with her and gave her the guidance she needed, was smart to try to trigger a bunker flashback, which helped to set her on the right track. I enjoyed Wendy’s reading of the Reverend’s poetry, which alternated between requests for him to bring her stuff and just lashing out at Kimmy with petty insults. Russ’ devotion to Jacqueline was strong, but unfortunately he managed to be so pathetic that he got slowly run over by a smart car whose driver didn’t even realize that he had gone over him. Getting married to a mostly non-communicative, completely cast-covered Russ was probably a poor idea, and almost immediately her new status has managed to make her an unwilling endorser of the Redskins’ negative name. Something tells me that, as much as it may bother her, she’ll prefer a return to the limelight and a life of luxury to standing up for her morals.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 3 “Enemy” (C+)

I’m really not sure what to make of this episode. I thought that I might have missed an episode since I’m watching only once a week and I couldn’t for the life of me remember where we left Deacon, who still makes me think every time he appears on screen of Todd Stashwick’s detestable role on “The Riches.” After what felt like an eternity of being tormented by what I guess must have been his own mind, Deacon broke free and showed us that there is still hope for Cassandra to make it out of all this okay, and that maybe she’ll be reunited with Cole sooner rather than later. Olivia being in captivity demonstrated a fiery anger and cruelty from both Jones and Cole that we haven’t really seen before, and I wouldn’t have imagined that time travel could be used as a torture tactic. It sure looked painful, and though it didn’t quite do the trick, there’s no denying that there is an incredible brutality in it. I’m really foggy on a lot of the details that got us here, which I blame on the show’s confusing nature and the fact that I don’t really believe that it’s all plotted out ahead of time and not merely directed by whatever tangent seems the most appealing in the moment. Ramse having turned evil might have been a simple explanation, but the fact that he does indeed want to kill the witness isn’t actually good news since the only way he and Olivia have concluded that they can really rid the world of him is to kill Cassandra, a sobering solution indeed.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 4 “First Date” (A-)

This episode was terrific, returning to a format that worked very well in the season one episode “Mornings.” The only thing that could make up for the absence of Rachel is an endless parade of other women who may or may not be interested in Dev. I’ve never personally used a dating app, but I do think this was a hilarious and probably realistic portrait of what it’s like to do that. The opening with someone’s friend choosing Dev for her and Dev responding with excitement that someone matched with him was great, and it only got better from there. I think my favorite date was definitely Priya, played by Tiya Sircar, who I immediately recognized as Real Eleanor from “The Good Place.” Running into an ex who just got back from doing war photography in Syria was an unfortunate follow-up, but maybe they can make it work even if she wants to take it slow. I also liked seeing Condola Rashad from “Billions” as Dev’s friend Diana who was having a great time celebrating the afterglow of what I thought was a moment he had set up and staged but then shot down his attempt to turn it into a backseat makeout session. The ramen blogger who had a boyfriend and just wanted to make friends was a bizarre but entertaining addition, and I love that Dev decided to just go for it and help his clueless date pick out new matches on the app during their date. Pointing out the racist jar after still sleeping with his latest date wasn’t a very noble move, but it was a terrific way to end a fantastic episode.

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Sense8: Season 2, Episode 6 “Isolated Above, Connected Below” (B+)

This is the first episode I’ve watched since I learned of this show’s cancellation, a rare move for Netflix but hardly a surprise given that this strange show must have a very niche audience. I’m not devastated by the news, but it is a shame that it came only after this season concluded, since presumably things weren’t tied up neatly (not that they could be given its layered and complex nature) and I can’t imagine any other sensates besides Will and Riley will actually meet up in person. The sex scene between Kala and Wolfgang was quite passionate, supplemented by an amusing kiss on the mouth for Wolfgang meant for Kala, and their energy is nearly as intense as that of lovers who really are standing in the same room. I like that Riley is now communicating frequently with sensates from other clusters, taking the burden off of Will, and she’s learning a lot, thanks in part to her demonstration of trust that encouraged him to open up and let her in to his relatively serene world. It’s nice to see both Capheus and Lito score major victories that helped them escape briefly from the confines of their world, with an embarrassment of riches and technology, and a warm embrace of a previously forbidden and hidden lifestyle, respectively. Those positive moments were helpful considering the dark ending of this episode featuring a flashback to Angelic and the turn of events that led to the first death in that cluster beginning its descent, something that Riley seems on track to start too if she travels to Chicago.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie: Season 3, Episode 11 “The Other Vibrator” (B)

This was an interesting episode, but also one that felt a little bit strange. It’s fair to assume that Robert and Sol have gone through more trying experiences with the world reacting to their being gay than just their wives being distraught by the shocking revelation, but we haven’t seen much of that on this show. In fact, everything is very casual and the stakes really aren’t high at all. Therefore, seeing Sol stand up to hatred outside the theater where Robert is going to make his big debut was startling, and turning it into a comic moment where Robert ended up throwing water on a kid felt inappropriately comical. Robert spotting his husband engaged in a petty battle with a bigot might have been meant to suggest something about Sol’s maturity and his need to hog the moment, but I’m not really buying it. I was much more fond of the introduction of a nemesis for Grace and Frankie as they dealt with a competitor who was trying to steal their idea, in the form of a fantastically sassy Peter Gallagher, who was ready to flirt with Grace and then promptly lost interest when Frankie got in the way. Frankie’s apparent stroke at the end of the episode was troubling, and the only comfort is knowing that this show has already been renewed for a fourth season and its title isn’t changing. I was also happy to see Bud stand up for himself and lash out at Coyote for the family’s constant mockery of the woman that he actually likes and can see himself marrying someday.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What I’m Watching: Iron Fist

Iron Fist: Season 1, Episode 12 “Bar the Big Boss” (C)

Just one episode left! I’m so glad, though I’ll have to spend more time with Danny Rand when “The Defenders” premieres. Apparently star Finn Jones is talking like this show is going to be renewed because a lot of people watched it thinking it would be good, and somehow the terrible reviews it got won’t outweigh the initial hype. I contend that, as I was discussing with a friend, any Marvel show is much better without the Hand, and while I know the express purpose of the Iron Fist is to destroy the Hand, I do wish that he would get on with it. I don’t know how many times we have to debate whether it’s worth putting an all-powerful mega-villain behind bars rather than just killing him, and considering that he was ready to cut off Harold’s head in front of his daughter, who he had just shot for no real reason, he and Joy should have been far more decisive about getting rid of the man who’s clearly become evil over the course of just two episodes. Colleen is firmly on the good side of things, and that leaves just Joy as the remaining pure ally (not counting an absent Claire, of course). Ward was all too willing to make a deal with the devil, and Harold even expressly said that he has no use for Danny anymore and that he might have disposed of Bakuto or the other hand, both of which would satisfy him. Maybe everyone on this show will take each other out in the finale and we won’t have to deal with the completely unexpected introduction of the DEA as a new threat to Danny’s livelihood.

What I’m Watching: Fargo

Fargo: Season 3, Episode 7 “The Law of Inevitability” (B)

This was a strong episode in many ways, but I still don’t think it holds a candle to the show’s first season or even the second. I’m constantly waiting to find out what deeper meaning there’s going to be in any of the plotlines, and it’s just not there. There’s a theme in this show throughout all of its seasons, stemming from the original film, that once someone does something bad, it’s hard to do anything but continue to go down that road. Emmit is this season’s example of that, ready to go down the rabbit hole of continued lies, spinning one the moment he saw a police uniform. Sy’s loyalty to him is impressive, and of course the paranoid surviving twin thinks that there’s something strange about that and he’s starting to turn on him. I don’t know how the widow Goldfarb factors into this, but I also remember that Kate Walsh was relatively underused in season one after a very strong initial appearance. What’s irritating and continues to hold back this season from greatness is the incessant insistence on not listening to anything that the intrepid police duo led by Gloria has to say. Nikki nearly got herself killed by a man dressed as a police officer and Gloria got blamed for the whole thing even though she saved her life. Obviously she’s enough of a threat to take down an entire prison transport, and while her fate isn’t yet sealed, I do hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the terrific Mary Elizabeth Winstead on this show.

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1, Episode 6 “A Woman’s Place” (B+)

I was just saying to a friend of mine that I wish this show would tell us a bit more about what happened that allowed Gilead to rise up and take power. While that didn’t quite happen in this episode aside from Fred telling Serena that they were planning a three-tiered attack to topple the government, we got something even better: flashbacks to what Serena was like before everything. Learning that she was a conservative feminist author was extremely enlightening and surprising, and watching her transformation from enthusiastic participant in reactionary reform to a realization that women have no place in leadership in this new world was incredible. I’d love to see even more of that, and I hope that as the show progresses into season two we will. Offred being chosen to represent the handmaids to the Mexican delegation offered up the biggest surprise of all: the Mexican ambassador was a woman. Offred realizing that she presented a whitewashed front for the horrors of this new world was devastating, but even worse than getting caught and punished for speaking her mind when she next had the opportunity was the ambassador’s response, which was to disregard it since they were so desperate for new life that they were willing to forego human decency. And then we got a tremendously powerful and unexpected ending, with the man Offred initially thought was the ambassador proving himself to be an ally and sharing the shocking news that her husband is still alive, and that there’s good reason to have hope.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What I’m Watching: iZombie

iZombie: Season 3, Episode 9 “Twenty Sided, Die” (B+)

Continuing the very dark plotline from the end of last episode, it was an intriguing gamble for Ravi to speak up about knowing zombies exist and identify himself as a member of the police to a room full of angry zombie-haters. Things are looking grimmer by the moment as the humans who despise zombies are getting ready for a fight and the new man in charge at Fillmore Graves is captaining an army who will surely cause plenty of destruction and collateral damage when the world learns that zombies exist. Ravi announcing that he was working on a cure was a smart stall tactic, but unfortunately it didn’t take long for Don E to go a little out of his mind and get captured by the zombie-haters who presented him as proof that zombies very much do exist. The rest of the episode was considerably lighter, giving Liv yet another opportunity to indulge in something that the real Liv More, who we barely know at this point, would never be into at all. I liked that Peyton was bored out of her mind playing Dungeons and Dragons while Major got into it by being clever and choosing a first name that started with Sir. Clive’s excitement was the best, with a totally uncharacteristic request for Liv to save some of this brain so that they could play together again later. Major dating someone who seems to be more than okay with the fact that he was the Chaos Killer is an interesting development, and I’m sure there’s more there than meets the eye.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

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

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 1 “Chapter 53” (B+)

I wasn’t expecting this show back on a Tuesday, not that it really matters, and I’m happy now to add it to my weekly lineup on that night. After a weak start to season four, this show found itself as it wrapped up, and now I think it knows exactly what it wants to be. This has always been a sensationalized, overdramatized version of real life, and I’m sure that there will be endless comparisons to the current administration especially considering creator Beau Willimon’s tirade against Trump when he got elected. Frank is definitely facing a hostile government and citizen population, but unlike the guy currently in charge of policy in the United States, he knows exactly what he’s doing and is making moves to incite chaos just because he can. Going in to triumphantly address Congress when he wasn’t authorized to and demanding a declaration of war was a formidable play, and it was reminiscent of the way political courts from the olden days are portrayed in movies and on television with lots of ruckus and shouting. Opening with Claire appearing to address the audience and ending with Frank turning to the camera and telling us that we have nothing to be afraid of was enormously effective, and I now find this style appealing even though I didn’t like it all that much at first when the show began. Claire appearing on television opposite Tom was intriguing, and Doug learning that an investigation into Frank’s ethics is underway is a disconcerting development that’s sure to provide plenty of exciting drama. I’m glad to see that Conway is still an active part of the show, and I’m eager to see what comes next in the battle for the soul of America that Frank is determined to crush.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 2 “Things to Do in Burbank When You're Dead” (B-)

I like this show, but I feel like this season is off to a very slow start. The entirety of this episode was Alex and Val acting, as usual, like something other than brother and sister. Alex trying to make a wager so that he could win some guy’s shoes represented just how unseriously he takes the world, and the way that Val clings to him even though she knows it’s not good for her is somewhat annoyingly cyclical. We’ve seen them like this before, and just because they’re not living together anymore and they now know that they don’t have the same two parents, there’s nothing new to it. It is interesting to see Alex trying to be protective of his sister to his mother and learning new information that he probably won’t share with her since it will send her reeling. Imagine how codependent she would be on a new brother given how close she is to the one she already knows about. I don’t think that’s Alex’s primary motivation, however, since he craves the attention of someone else and is already miserable being alone by himself at home. I’m just waiting for a line to actually be crossed when they move into true incest, but I think this show will probably not go there. I was saddest not to see Laura at all for this entire hour since she’s actually my favorite character on the show lately, and I hope that she’ll be prominently featured in the next episode and after that.

Pilot Review: Still Star-Crossed

Still Star-Crossed (ABC)
Premiered May 29 at 9pm

I mentioned this show to a few people as a continuation of the story of Romeo and Juliet, to which they all sarcastically replied that it ends with them both dead and therefore can’t go anywhere else. A large chunk of this premiere episode was devoted to telling a tale that everyone knows the ending to, with Romeo dramatically uttering “Die I” and killing himself because he thought his beloved was dead, only to prompt her to do the same thing once she saw him no longer living. That famous story is epic enough without needing a sequel, yet this messy period piece desires to extend it anyway. This was never going to be my kind of show, so I’m not surprised that it didn’t entice me, but I do think that, even if I had been looking forward to it, I wouldn’t have been impressed. The characters are far from interesting, and there are too many interwoven love stories to keep track of or stay interested in. I only recognized two actors in the entire cast, both from their original appearances on “Lost,” Grant Bowler and Zuleikha Robison, as the heads of the warring families who are sure never to see eye-to-eye until they inevitably start sleeping together. This show’s title is an odd example of an in media res name, which assumes something that came before it and mistakenly presumes that its audience will be interested in what comes next. I really don’t think that will be the case, and this series should be short-lived.

How will it work as a series? Three-quarters of this pilot’s time was spent on Romeo and Juliet, and now with both of them dead we’ll have to focus on the surviving characters, who aren’t quite as idealistic or starry-eyed as their predecessors. Many will surely die, there will be lots of forbidden sex and love, and it’s all one big soap opera in the style of executive producer Shonda Rhimes.
How long will it last? Premiering this show on Memorial Day was a strange choice that didn’t make particular sense, and I’m sure that ABC is regretting that decision now considering its very poor ratings performance. The reviews haven’t been too great either, so I’m certain this won’t last beyond its initial episode order if it even goes that long.

Pilot grade: C-

Friday, June 2, 2017

What I’m Watching: Veep

Veep: Season 6, Episode 7 “Blurb” (B+)

Jonah has become such a big part of this show in a very unexpected way, and he really is creating chaos wherever he goes due to his lack of intelligence in every single sphere. I think that there’s been a concern of art imitating life a little too much with our current presidential situation, but I think that, with Selina out of the White House in any capacity, Jonah is standing in for her as a leader who lets his impulses direct him in every political move. His fight to get rid of Daylight Saving Time is continually hilarious, and his enthusiastic shutdown of the government might have had a couple of positive points in there that were undermined by his statement of Cancun and Mexico as two different places. I love that he’s converting to Judaism with absolutely no respect for the sanctity of the synagogue setting or anyone around him, and that he thinks that the word yarmulke means head and not the tiny hat that’s too small for his head. Selina revealing that she slept with Tom James presented a fun opportunity for her to show him that he appears to want her and even rile him up a tiny bit. Amy expressing that she really wants to work for Roger is great since she clearly has a type, and I’m enjoying Dan’s inability to have chemistry with his new cohost with whom he’s actually sleeping. Catherine and Marjorie may be progressive parents-to-be, but it does seem that the names that they’re thinking of for their future children are expressly matched to the opposite gender.

What I’m Watching: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: Season 4, Episode 6 “Customer Service” (B+)

Having Gavin Belson on board is an unpredictable thing, but having him leave a project seems to be even more poisonous. Richard has never been one to present things in the most effective manner, focused on the strength of the tech and unable to comprehend why anyone couldn’t comprehend the brilliance of the science. I like that Richard tried a baby metaphor with an angry Russ when he stopped by and saw it fail so miserably since that had actually happened in very literal terms with Russ. I was thrilled to immediately recognize the actress who played Dan Melcher’s fiancĂ©e as Leisha Hailey, who I haven’t seen since her standout role throughout all of “The L Word.” This part was somewhat fun for her, particularly when she described just how awful the sex with Richard was, and I hope that this is the start of a major career resurgence for her. I also spotted another famous face I haven’t seen in years, Haley Joel Osment, who looks a whole lot different than he used to and appears to be Erlich’s new business partner and a way for him to get in on the ground floor with Laurie and Monica’s new company. Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s phones accidentally being cloned and merged was a humorous subplot which nearly gave Dinesh the upper hand when Gilfoyle violently smacked him so that he could flush his phone, but, as usual, Gilfoyle came out on top by damning Dinesh to an eternal state of guessing and never knowing what dirt he could have discovered.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What I’m Watching: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks: Season 3, Episodes 3 and 4 “The Return – Parts 3 and 4” (C/B-)

I’m going against my usual rule here by tackling two episodes at a time since they’re airing that way (just for the first two weeks, of course) because I really couldn’t tolerate it any other way. I was actually ready to give up on this show altogether in the middle of episode three, which was a real struggle to get through, and then things started to get interesting at the end when a barely-functioning Cooper kept sitting down at each slot machine, yelling “Hellooooo!” and winning the mega-jackpot. It’s unbelievably irritating to me that no one realizes that Dougie is not a real person capable of doing anything other than mimicking what he sees or hears, yet life continues to proceed along around him. And somehow, the murderer that Kyle MacLachlan played in the first two episodes is simultaneously existing in a prison cell where he appears to be an undercover version of Cooper who also isn’t all there. It makes complete sense that Naomi Watts, an unforgettable part of David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” would show up on this show, and I’m far more impressed with her performance than Michael Cera’s. I’m mixed on Brett Gelman from “Married” as the casino supervisor. I’m also recognizing a handful of players previously featured on the original iteration of this show, like Dana Ashbrook’s Bobby Briggs, now a cop, the impossibly unintelligent Andy and Lucy, the late Miguel Ferrer as Albert, David Duchovny as Denise, and, of course, Lynch himself in a truly fitting role as Gordon, who was just the right person to communicate with his old friend Coop through the glass. I’m feeling more optimistic about and intrigued by this show, so I’ll tune back in for episode five.

What I’m Watching: The Leftovers (Penultimate Episode)

The Leftovers: Season 3, Episode 7 “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)” (B+)

Let’s be honest – we’re not going to get a lot of closure in the upcoming series finale. Even if a few questions are answered, this show will forever be shrouded in mystery. As a result, an installment like this, similar to and continuing the plotline of “International Assassin,” is about the best we’ll get, highlighting this show’s themes and the search for some kind of fulfillment in an uncertain world. I’m sure this was true last time too, but I found it very powerful that everyone within the world Kevin goes to when he dies briefly is dead. It was a welcome opportunity for a handful of former regulars and recurring guest stars to show up again, including Ann Dowd, Liv Tyler, and Michael Gaston. Casting Kevin as both the man hired to kill the president and the president himself was intriguing, leading to a very layered scene at the end where he literally cut himself open. Kevin’s president being a member of a more normalized Guilty Remnant was extremely interesting, and Evie showing up as a protester was meaningful. There were some funny moments, like Kevin asking which defcon they were at and whether it was worse and then reacting to the absurdity of the penis scan. Having to look in a reflective surface to switch places with himself also had plenty to say about what it means to really see yourself, and ending with Kevin joining his father on the roof, unsure of what will come next, made this a very poignant and effective hour. Let’s hope the series finale can return to the world of the living in just as strong a way.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 2 “Kimmy’s Roommate Lemonades!” (B-)

This show is really something, and I don’t always mean that as a compliment. Titus did a whole lot of singing in this episode, and it didn’t really compare to his previous performances. Obviously, he jumped to a lot of conclusions about what Mikey was up to after he saw him with another guy. It didn’t help that Mikey still doesn’t get a lot of what Titus is about, and that he’s completely clueless when it comes to just about everything, particularly the realization that he hadn’t actually told his good buddy that he was dating Titus. Showing up at the apartment with a microphone ready to sing off-key to show his devotion was a nice gesture, and even though it made Titus cringe, I think it did the trick to help get them back together and put them on the right track. Kimmy, meanwhile, took a test that showed her that she should become a crossing guard, which, honestly, is a perfect fit for her. The eagerness with which she went to explore college was wonderful, and the way that she latches on to ideas and modifies metaphors to replace them with pizza is really fun. Jacqueline and Lillian battling for her vote was an entertaining subplot, and Jacqueline’s reaction to Lillian protesting against her was enjoyable. Lillian won, sure, but she quickly found out that, in an instant, her input really didn’t matter all that much. I’m eager to see what Jacqueline will do and how politically involved she’ll get while Russ is still away.