Monday, July 31, 2017

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episode 2 “Stormborn” (B+)

Who says you need action and violence when you can have great conversation? Seriously, I found this episode, which up until the last ten minutes didn’t include a single battle-oriented visual effect, to be extremely informative, easily to follow, and genuinely interesting. As Cersei plans her next step and unironically talks about how someone else is cruel and inhumane, she has a legion of enemies uniting against her. Seeing Yara, Olenna, and Ellaria in the same room as Daenerys as they discuss reaching out to Jon Snow as “his queen” invites him to come to meet with her was cool, and I appreciated the honesty that Varys and Daenerys expressed towards each other. Jon was brave to decide to go meet Daenerys despite all the risks involved, and leaving Sansa in charge was another smart idea. Things seemed like they were going so well, especially as Yara and Ellaria had time to start enjoying themselves on the boat, and then Euron arrived to score a decisive and brutal victory against the good guys, with Theon unable to do anything but jump off the boat into the water. At least Arya, who was generally unfriendly and short when her old friend recognized her, was able to be reunited with a friendly wolf and Sam once again showed courage no one expected him to have by taking action to save Jorah despite Marwyn’s insistence that it was too late and there was nothing he could do. Maybe this isn’t the last we’ll see of a fully there Jorah after all.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 7 “Gag or Throttle” (B+)

So close to the end of this show, the battle lines are finally being drawn and not everyone is on the side that you’d expect. The flashbacks to Rachel as a child acknowledging her status as a clone well aware of her experiment to a shocked crowd of wealthy Dyad supporters were informative, explaining her coldness and general apathy towards the others. The fact that she killed another clone so that she could conduct an autopsy demonstrates how little she seems to value human life, especially that which has been created rather than born. But evidently the bubble being burst about Westmoreland’s deception was too much for her, and some clever staging and the application of an eye patch helped her to spirit Kira to safety before gouging out her own eye in a pretty bloody scene that proved difficult to watch. Cosima made it out too, which is a relief, and Scott was extremely happy to see her. It’s good to have the team back together again, and even Alison returned from her time away, now with new hair and a desire to get rid of her arts and crafts past. Virginia using Mark is a bad omen, and though he doesn’t seem inherently evil, he does appear to know exactly what he is and what purpose he can serve as the war continues. With just three episodes to go, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of our friends on the run, and I don’t know where that’s going to leave Rachel.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 8 “Hot Chocolate” (B+)

This crew just can’t catch a break. Whether it’s something wrong with a member of the crew or with the ship itself, they’re constantly encountering anomalies that present tremendous problems and put them all in danger. Fighting evil alternate versions of themselves had to be put on the backburner as another, even more familiar threat returned, with Four sending a clone body to lead an invading army whose infiltration was made possible by hacking the Android. I’m glad to see that, in her new programming-only form, Sarah is quite a force to be reckoned with, looking out for the crew, helping Five to take back control of the Android from inside her little simulated reality, and locking the man who dared to try to infiltrate her systems deep in his own mind. I like that Five was able to say “Hot Chocolate” to shut down the Android and reboot her. Two got to take out some aggression in hand-to-hand combat with Four on the ship, and his departure at the end of the episode was ominous as he promised not to stop hunting them. This show loves to have major things happen in its closing moments as its end credits appear on screen, and this episode was no exception. The blink drive seems to be much more trouble than it’s worth, as indicated by the latest development, the electronic pulse that went through the ship and knocked everyone on board out. Whether or not someone is coming for them, this can’t be good.

Pilot Review: Ozark

Ozark (Netflix)
Premiered July 21

Jason Bateman is an established straight man in comedy. He’s probably best known for his work on “Arrested Development,” and he’s appeared in a handful of notable films like “Horrible Bosses” and played a similar part. I never saw “The Gift,” which came out a few years ago, but I did notice a distinctly dark turn with the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival entry “The Family Fang,” which started off from a comedic place but had a foreboding feel for the entirety of its runtime. I saw billboards for this show all around Los Angeles and didn’t know if it was a movie or a series, and, despite the severe expressions on both Bateman’s face and Linney’s, I didn’t expect something quite so dreary. To me, this show doesn’t have much to recommend itself in the way of originality. Shows about the mob are immensely commonplace, and what makes this show stand apart is that Bateman’s Marty is not an even remotely likeable character, his wife Wendy was ready to take their money and divorce him when they tried to run, and now they’re in the middle of nowhere with a tall order to clean millions of dollars in just a few days to prove their undying loyalty to a cartel kingpin who tells way too many stories about his father. It’s strange to see Bateman in this kind of role because he too often sounds sarcastic, and I much preferred Linney in her last regular TV role on “The Big C.” I don’t see a particular hook to this one, and there’s just nothing remotely inviting about it.

How will it work as a series? They made it to the Ozarks pretty quickly, and now it’s a matter of finding local talent who can help with the cleaning operation. With the law well aware of Marty’s identity and Del’s role in the business, it can’t be long before Marty gets himself into even more trouble and has everyone around him executed for the second time. That doesn’t seem too promising.
How long will it last? It seems like the reviews are pretty good – more favorable than fine, at least. The question is whether this one will stand out from the pack and feel like a true original for Netflix. I think its stars are big gets and that might propel it to a second season, but I wouldn’t count on that at this point.

Pilot grade: C

Round Two: Friends from College

Friends from College: Season 1, Episode 2 “Connecticut House” (C)

Well, I think I’m officially done with this show. I had heard that some didn’t like this show because the characters were all unappealing, and, despite my eagerness to give it a second chance, I find that I’m in total agreement. If there’s one thing this show didn’t need, it was Ike Barinholtz. He was grating and overly present on “The Mindy Project” for the whole time that I watched, and while he’s somehow slightly more subdued here, the extent to which Lisa’s new firm insisted on showing her what disgusting, sexist pigs they were on her first day felt wholly unnecessary and way over the top. While I’d hope that things aren’t like that in real life, you’d at least people would be a tiny bit more mature and intelligent in the way that they participate in important phone clalls, bothering to actually listen for a second rather than just made crude movements and jeer while those on the other end of the call are speaking. Nick proved to be an effective drinking partner for Lisa, and as a result the two of them were wholly unaware that the idiotic cheating duo, who managed to set off a house alarm, break some glass for no reason, and not even kill a rabbit properly before getting mail citations for having sex in public, are a mess. I’m not too fond of this show’s brand of humor, involving things like Ethan giving Marianne a thumbs-up during a rape scene in the play, and I’m more than happy to bid it farewell.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 7 “Full Bush, Half Snickers” (B+)

After the Emmy nominations were announced and this show earned a mere two mentions – nominations for Uzo Aduba as Crazy Eyes and Laverne Cox as Sophia for season four, hardly the most deserving picks for anyone who bothered to actually watch the full season – I was reading about how mental illness wasn’t probably represented since Suzanne’s specific diagnosis has never been precisely defined, therefore leaving the door open to her seeming crazy in whatever way when it’s most convenient. That’s definitely true now, since it’s a simple way for the guards to be moved from their state of captivity to a different type of prison. I think it works out okay since it’s going to turn the tide from disturbing physical and psychological abuse to highlighting the banality of everyday prison life. Prison-wide libraries and coffee shows with skinheads and Hispanic inmates brewing lattes side by side are temporary fixes that can only serve to briefly prolong the inevitable return to violence that came at the end of the episode. The same is true of Floritza’s makeovers, which made Alex and Nicky feel better about themselves but are only surface changes. Lorna thinking she was pregnant may not be all in her head, but boy did it make Vinnie run fast. Red and Flores trying to mess with Piscatella by pretending to be Humphreys should be interesting, though it’s not clear whether opening themselves up to him – even under the guise of deception – is going to end up impacting them negatively instead.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 10 “Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist!” (B+)

Of course Titus would be someone who refuses to poop at home yet has no problem going into a public bathroom for free. Ray Liotta was the perfect person to cast as Paulie, the gas station owner who chastised Titus for only having one rule and who insisted on making him buy something if he wanted to use the bathroom. I enjoyed Kimmy’s attempts to act cool when she was actually just providing a distraction for him to sneak in to do his business, and this show is never at a loss for absurd concepts (Eli Manning clones, anyone?). Titus running into Mikey in the back of the store just as he was trying to rush past Paulie while Kimmy provided the ultimate distraction was fortuitous and also didn’t seem to go anywhere, since the very gullible Mikey is sure to now think that Titus isn’t interested in him since he’s happy with his sandwich. I love how everyone at the meeting had to stand when they heard the national anthem, in whatever inappropriate form, and that the lone woman in the room had to open up her shirt so that they could see her star-spangled bra. Jacqueline’s idea, made possible to present thanks to Titus’ eagerness to croon the national anthem, was a brilliant one: naming teams after things people hate so they’ll buy merchandise just to burn it. The Washington Gun Takers was clever, but I much preferred the Seattle Raisins You Think Are Chocolate Chips. Oh, and I guess we won’t be seeing much of Duke anymore since he got framed as a terrorist so that he would no longer present a problem for his family.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys (Season Finale)

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 10 “Witness” (B+)

Here we are, over two months after this show wrapped up its weekend run. I think that watching it all in one binge might have helped the first half of the season go quicker and feel more exciting since there wouldn’t be any sort of wait for things to actually happen and get more coherent, but it was nice to experience the creative resurgence with the final three episodes of the season, which were really great and helped to close a loop of sorts. This was a transformative episode for Athan, who we only really met as an adult an episode ago, and to see him go from destroying his mother’s vest so her father would have to choose between saving her or coming after him to realizing that, thanks to Jennifer nursing him back to help, he was supposed to sacrifice himself to save his parents was pretty incredible. I loved how Jennifer suggested to Athan that, since they both see time the same way, they should fast-forward through everything to get to the important part. We’ve seen two false witnesses now, which seems just about right for many religions. Olivia makes far more sense as the true witness, since she has an ambition to see the dark destruction of time fulfilled. I liked Athan’s clarifying point: “I have witnessed.” I’m excited to see what Jennifer’s new role will be, and equally intrigued by the seeming revelation that she is Cole’s mother. I eagerly await season four, whenever it’s slated to be released. The end of this season has left me on a high.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Emily Hampshire as Jennifer

Round Two: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 1, Episode 3 “Ass Cubes” (B+)

I think the title of this episode says it all. Andrea was actually pretty mean to Kyle when he started talking about wanting to meet someone to settle down with, and while that does involve the use of some tap water in an unfortunate place, that’s what makes him happy, and technically she is the one who made the match. I was trying to figure out where I knew Miss Shelly from, and I think it’s because Lyndon Smith played Natalie on “Parenthood.” I love that she was a perfect fit for Kyle, which made the idea of her teaching Amelia horrifying to Mike. I wasn’t sure how Mike would fit into this show, but his reactions to Kyle and Andrea are pretty great, and I like that he tried to make his own joke, prompting Andrea to doubt her comedic abilities. That it would be her lack of desire to have kids that ruined the relationship seems like a rather adult resolution to the whole situation. Andrea didn’t know how to react to her father’s attempts to woo her mother while her father-in-law is still very much healthy and alive, and I liked all the jokes about Leon being close to death’s door. Casting Martin Mull, recently Emmy-nominated for his role as Bob on “Veep,” as Andrea’s father makes a lot of sense, and I suspect that the occasional motorcycle-rider and frequent flirter will be back again to try to get with Kathy Baker’s Sharon and drive his daughter crazy in the process.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 8 “Chapter 60” (B)

I don’t love episodes like this as much since they don’t feature the bigger picture, once again submerging our two main protagonists in mostly isolated situations where they interact with a choice few instead of the general public. This season’s election plotline has been fascinating, and I’d love to see what’s going on out in the country rather than hijinks at a college club and mysterious submarine secrets in the middle of the ocean. The opening was deliberately over-the-top, in a way that still ranks as outrageous even for this show, with Frank wearing a hood talking about the cultish nature of high-powered politicians. It contrasted greatly with the very free dialogue he had with Brockhart and then with the casual passage of damning information on Conway – who I wish that we’d see again in person – from a good friend of his. Usher is becoming a crucial part of the Underwood campaign, fully aware of who they are and undisturbed by the ethics of what they do. Back at the White House, Claire was a tour de force, making incredible demands and negotiating aggressively to save the people aboard while slyly ensuring that Petrov wouldn’t feel betrayed, though he’s not becoming nearly forthcoming enough for her linking. Both Doug and Tom were open and honest with Claire when confronted about their loyalties, and I’m starting to think that she’s going to stay in this job longer than anyone expects. Conway’s chances are certainly looking very poor since there’s no way to spin the recording of him freaking out at the pilots – it actually happened just like that.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 9 “Fresno” (B+)

Well, Val’s meeting with her half-brother was decidedly awkward on all levels. It was certainly weird that he spent a majority of the time talking about X-Men, something that I’d assume Jack would know much more about but he left just out there for Val to grimace at while she was trying to find any way to connect with him. She definitely judged him calling himself a butcher because he worked at a supermarket, and though he didn’t seem at all interested in getting to know her, I’d think that she would admire her new nephew’s commitment to sustainable farming gained from his father’s passion for meat. It’s hard to describe what didn’t click, but Val wasn’t present at all in her time there, and I don’t think she actually wanted to find a new family even though it was ready with arms wide open for her. Having sex with Jack at the motel after hardly seems like the most productive solution, especially considering the fact that his addiction hasn’t just magically gone away. It was sweet to see Leia ask Leon to move in with her – temporarily – after they spent a perfect day together, a reality to which Val remains oblivious. After a frustrating day of his house being ruined, Alex’s night ended well too with a quick kiss from Judy, a relationship that’s doomed to fail because of their work situation. Laura got hit hard by Casey nonchalantly dropping the news that she’s leaving, and the fact that she called her mom after only to get voicemail was a sign that she’s really hurting since the latest object of her obsession has pretty much up and disappeared in an instant.

Emmy Show: The Crown

The Crown: Season 1, Episode 1 “Wolferton Splash” (B-)

So I actually tried watching this show when it first started, and something about the first five minutes felt so uninteresting to me that I just turned it off. Obviously that was a mistake since it caught on like crazy and won a handful of awards, and is set to likely do so again come Emmy time. I think part of it is that this isn’t my kind of show, mainly because of its regal focus. That isn’t meant to make me sound uneducated or unsophisticated, but rather that I don’t often find that to be the most enticing environment or setting for a show. Clearly it’s very rooted in the history, with Winston Churchill returning to the peak of his career just as a young Elizabeth begins her ascent to the throne. This opening episode was very much about character development, painting King George as a sickly man completely out of touch with the severity of his condition, Churchill as an opinionated, stubborn politician, Philip as an affable, excitable young man who’s far more selfish and unprepared for his royal duties than initially meets the eye, and Elizabeth as a personality who won’t be easily stifled. The cinematography is certainly admirable, and this show has a style that works well, even if I found the time jumps to be a little unexpected since this first hour covered a good deal and fast-forwarded through some major life events. I’ll continue watching this show since it receives such widespread acclaim, but I am hoping to get into it more in the process.

Emmy Show: Stranger Things

Stranger Things: Season 1, Episode 1 “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers” (B)

I know I’m a little late to the party here, finally watching this pilot a full year after it was first released by Netflix. Then, it wasn’t because I was so busy but because I had heard that this show could be classified as horror, something that really doesn’t appeal to me. In part because this show and another that I’m also starting but failed to watch at the start ended up being two of the most highly-acclaimed new shows of the year, I’m more committed to watching literally everything when it starts, even if it’s just for one episode. I definitely felt in this show’s two opening scenes that it resembled horror quite a bit, without the things seen jumping out at you being shown but still inflicting a good deal of fear on the viewer. After that, it wasn’t so much the case, but I’m still a bit nervous about charging forward since I think I intend on watching the whole series now whether I like it or not. I wasn’t overly wowed by this opener, though I can understand why many found it intriguing. I’m not sure what’s going on with Will Byers and if I want to find out, and I’m much more into Emmy nominee Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven and what her story is since her telekinetic powers are pretty awesome and convenient, not to mention dangerous and apparently deadly. We all know how this show was received, and so I’m getting on the bandwagon and trying to get myself into it to see what all the fuss is about. More to come as I watch an episode a week!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pilot Review: Loaded

Loaded (AMC)
Premiered July 17

AMC is a network that, about a decade ago, established itself as more than just a movie channel, and one capable of producing terrific television. In those ten years, some of its hottest shows have come and gone, and now it’s time for a new generation. While its original programming is inarguably strong, it’s also worth noting that the scripted dramas the network has bothered to acquire have also been great. The first was “Humans,” from Channel 4 in the UK, and I’ve written at length about how good that show is. Now, another show from Channel 4 is joining the lineup, and it’s also worthy of praise. Friends making a lot of money is hardly a new concept, though at least it’s from something they did or made and not just winning the lottery. This isn’t “Silicon Valley,” where fortunes change by the minute and every episode is a rollercoaster of incomparable success and devastating failure. Instead, it’s about a few guys who made something and netted a whole lot of cash as a result, and now they’re trying to keep it all together. Aside from a generally entertaining vibe, I particularly liked the scene in which Leon was bold – or stupid – enough to actually use the lighter to show that he wasn’t bluffing, ending one major hiccup but leading instead to the impending arrival of Mary McCormack’s foul-mouthed, no-nonsense American head honcho, which seems as appealing as any a reason to stick around. I haven’t decided yet if I will, but I could definitely enjoy more of this show.

How will it work as a series? I think this format is a sure thing, since it’s full of comedy and very flawed characters who are guaranteed to make many missteps as they attempt to navigate this new world of success and financial fortune. Hopefully they won’t all be as severe as handing out thousands of pounds in bonuses to every employee just to make your name known to one person.
How long will it last? Reviews are decent, though not entirely favorable, and it looks like the ratings on Channel 4 were actually pretty poor. It didn’t make much of a splash in the ratings compared to other AMC shows in the past, so I think that this is probably all we’ll get unless some find it enjoyable enough to commission a second season either in the UK or here in the US.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Game of Thrones (Season Premiere)

Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episode 1 “Dragonstone” (B+)

I’ve been so busy this summer and so behind on my TV that it took me a whole nine days past when the premiere actually aired to finally watch it. Remarkably – and somewhat miraculously – I didn’t have a single thing spoiled for me, though to be honest there wasn’t much in the way of shocking developments that could have since this was more of a restart episode which helpfully refreshed viewers’ memories of what’s going on and what’s set to come next. This was a more straightforward, dialogue-oriented hour than most, something I didn’t mind at all. Sansa interrupting Jon and giving her own opinions about how to govern was interesting since we’ve rarely seen here do anything productive or intelligent, and she was quick to rescind her accidental comparison of him to Joffrey since the deceased dictator never let anyone question his decisions. Cersei is now all alone except for her brother, who is far more aware of the reality of things, rejecting her assertion that she is the queen of the seven kingdoms, deeming her the regent of at best three. Tyrion is up to far more positive things in his role in Daenerys’ court, and I think this is a season where her victories will only continue to occur. Arya’s opening deception was a supreme act of revenge, and it’s clear that she’s not messing around, even if her new companions in the woods are far from the most gallant or serious men this show has seen.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 6 “Manacled Slim Wrists” (B+)

Now we’re getting somewhere. This has an impactful episode on a number of fronts, with developments moving the plotline forward considerably. It was fun to open the episode with Krystal, who I’d say is probably this show’s most entertaining clone, even more so than Helena and all her insatiable hunger. The show seemed like it was going fine until Krystal’s friend was horrified to find her hair coming out, and of course she’d come to Art and Scott because they thought that they were being poisoned by big cosmetics. It turns out that she wasn’t all that far off, and even though her style was so different from how Sarah would have done it and was about to, it actually worked out okay. I also like that she had her friend distract Scott by flirting with him and then they managed to come up with a productive conclusion without much realization that Krystal had left. Cosima managed to get the message out about Westmoreland’s deception to the people in the camp, though it was a close call since they nearly jumped her and took out their anger towards him on her, unaware that she’s been the bastion of resistance against him. Susan and Ira tried to make their move against Virginia and Westmoreland, but unfortunately it seems that, even though public opinion has turned, they didn’t manage to have such success. At least Kira is great at faking being sick, even if that didn’t manage to fool Rachel for long.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 7 “Wish I Could Believe You” (B+)

Well, Six didn’t stay away for too long, and though his return comes at the expense of a number of innocent lives, we never really got to know any of those characters, so it’s not much of a loss for us viewers. I thought at first that Six was stuck in a time loop of his own, which seemed like a strange thing for the show to repeat so early on, but it turns out that it was much more like the endless simulations that Shaw had to undergo on “Person of Interest.” There were evidently some notable glitches in the interrogation process being used by Six’s captors, and I liked watching him realize multiple times that what was happening around him wasn’t real. Seeing him turn the tables on his captors by putting one of them under so that he would reveal his coordinates instead was cool, and it was a clever solution to everything. Six going to see his family only to find that his son had a new father was sad, but again, it’s best for viewers if he remains undistracted aboard the ship. Three noting the loneliness of Sarah’s existence and Two stopping by to visit her suggest that we have plenty more to experience in that semi-real part of the show, though it’s much more worrisome to see the Android act out some strange routine which ended with her pointing a gun at Three. That can’t be good news, and the fact that none of the crew has any idea is especially bad.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pilot Review: Friends from College

Friends from College (Netflix)
Premiered July 14

Before I watched this show, which I heard about a few months ago, I remember reading that this was like “Friends” but with much less likeable characters. That’s true to an extent, but I think it goes deeper than that. This is supposed to be a comedy, in many ways, and there are funny moments, but it’s also much darker and more serious than I think most would expect looking at the poster and the cast. And what a cast it is – assembled from familiar TV faces, most of whom had supporting or even lead roles on other shows throughout the years but may not be known by name to audiences. Out of the six main players, there’s just one I don’t know, and that’s Jae Suh Park, who plays Marianne, who had little to do other than be upset that her convertible top was opened despite her saying not to do it. Competing for the most attention are Keegan Michael-Key, fresh off “Key and Peele,” and Cobie Smulders from “How I Met Your Mother,” as a very argumentative, opinionated pair. Fred Savage, most recently seen on “The Grinder,” and Nat Faxon, who I really liked on “Ben and Kate,” have less showy roles, and I’m especially happy to see Annie Parisse, an actress I first encountered on “Person of Interest” and “The Following,” in a role that makes great use of her talents. Greg Germann, originally from “In Case of Emergency,” is another good choice to play Parisse’s onscreen husband who does not gel at all with her Harvard friends. Aside from recognizing actors, I’m not sure what to make of this show just yet, but given that each episode is only half an hour and I like the cast, I’m up for at least another sampling.

How will it work as a series? Ending the pilot with the shot of Ethan and Sam making out upstairs with everyone else downstairs outside suggests that we’re just getting started here with all the incestuous relationships on this show. It could be fun and interesting, but it could also become tiresome and grating quickly.
How long will it last? Reviews haven’t been great, and ratings data is very difficult to come by for Netflix shows. The streaming service has a lot of shows these days, so I’m not sure it will deem it necessary to continue a show it considers lackluster. It’s impossible to predict, though, and so this show could just as easily return.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 6 “Flaming Hot Cheetos, Literally” (B+)

There are some moments in this season that seem a bit too playful and insincere, done for comedy’s sake rather than anything else, but I think overall it all works well. Big Boo playing the “Law and Order” opening before defending Pennsatucky by proving that Angie hadn’t actually watched a specific TV show episode was fully comical, but it led into Pennsatucky owning up to what she did and explaining why humanity was important. Her reference to how no one in the room took the stand at their own hearings was especially powerful, and her comment to Big Boo pre-judgment about how this was all going to be over and go back to how it was soon was indicative of just how little the inmates know what to make of their situation, since things definitely can’t go back to normal ever, at least not the way they used to be. Piper joining Taystee and her crew in collecting all the Cheetos and burning them with Piscatella and the governor’s emissary watching was a cool twist, and it’s good to see some purposeful resistance brewing that has actual intelligence behind it. Aleida’s TV appearance was mostly done for laughs, so we’ll see if anything comes of it. Janae and Soso bonding was a nice subplot, as was Frieda inviting her friends to her hideout. It was reassuring to see Poussey again, as the first positive influence in Taystee’s life in a long time during an effective flashback to support her assertion that prison is her home and she needs to make it as good as it can be.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 9 “Kimmy Goes to Church!” (B+)

Every once in a while, this show actually makes a decent point about humanity without being quite as ridiculous as it usually is. Kimmy being open to the idea of church after reacting poorly to the news of her would-be boyfriend’s impending reverend career made sense since she’s insatiably curious, yet also prone to linking normal things in the present with bad associations from her past. Titus reliving his own church-related anxieties was far from serious, but it was nice to know that the gossipy Clara was actually trying to set him up with her gay nephew, who just happened to be the choir director. Watching Kimmy learn that the church isn’t all it was cracked up to be, and that even a female churchgoer didn’t like the idea of a woman reverend, was tough, and thankfully her passionate attempt at a moral takedown of Clara, timed poorly after she confiscated her phone, which had Titus’ clarifying text on it, managed to impact the then overly-honest members of the congregation in a positive way even if its specific message was far from accurate. Lillian coming to Jacqueline for help trying to seem fancy made some sense, and while it all ended predictably for Lillian, I’m sad that we didn’t get to see how it actually played out on her end. Jacqueline, on the other hand, mustered up some courage and managed to take down Deirdre, played to perfection as always by the incomparable Anna Camp, owning up to her shortcomings while inadvertently disclosing a good deal of information about Buckley’s medical diagnoses.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 9 “Thief” (B+)

I couldn’t have imagined how well-suited for this role James Callis would be, and what an episode this was, explaining who the witness is in the most humanizing way possible. The opening scene painted the witness as an eager time traveler who saw so much and was almost bored by its impermanence, and painted this all as much lighter than anything else on the show up to this point has indicated. His vast fortunes helped him to woo Eliza, the woman who quickly became the love of his life, thanks to a showy stunt in a fancy establishment. The flashes to visions of the red forest and to the people in his life dying weren’t nearly as notable as the passion he felt for her, but then when she was killed, everything changed. Watching him travel back in time again and again trying to save her only to see time take her some way or another was a furious chronicle of a descent into darkness. His meetings with both of his parents earlier in their lives were intriguing, yet he never said enough to indicate just who they would become or who he was. Having them find him at the end of the episode as he declared that they were there at the end was ominous, and I’m cautiously curious to see what happens next. After a bit of a messy season, it’s great to see things take on a fascinating new direction. I’m not quite sure what’s going on with Jennifer and her past and future selves giving her advice, but I hope that we see her again in a less oppressive environment.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 10 “Buona Notte” (B+)

After last week’s terrific episode, this was a fitting finale, one that doesn’t provide the same closure a lot of other series do, especially since it’s unlikely that this show will return anytime soon given Aziz Ansari’s ambivalence towards continuing the show. Dev’s hot new show was all set to take off and be a huge hit, and then all of a sudden there were allegations from all over the place that Jeff was a womanizer with quite a history. Dev’s attempts to distance himself from a man purporting to be his best friend were horrendously awkward, and his exit from Raven’s talk show managed to be even worse than Jeff scoffing as he walked out in the middle. Jeff also took Dev’s acceptance of the allegations poorly, leaving him back at square one in terms of his career, probably at a disadvantage given the negative press and the fact that the show won’t even make it to air. All this led to Dev reacting very harshly to Francesca’s attempt to let him down easily, and, very unexpectedly, it was Arnold who was the voice of reason to tell Dev that things couldn’t have worked out the way he had imagined they would since life isn’t that uncomplicated. I was ecstatic when he ran into Rachel of all people on the street, but he didn’t even process that, ending up in bed instead with a very conflicted, though obviously not all that conflicted, Francesca. I’d love to see what happens next, and something tells me that we will since this show is very highly-regarded. While I didn’t love every single thing about this season, it did have some superb moments and definitely ranks as a highly recommendable show for me.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Ansari

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pilot Review: Hooten and the Lady

Hooten and the Lady (CW)
Premiered July 13 at 9pm

If there’s one network I really haven’t been watching this summer, it’s the CW, which I do find myself tuning into quite a bit during the regular TV season. I didn’t have expectations of any kind for this Sky One import that aired almost a year ago, and I actually found myself quite entertained. I recognized lead actress Ophelia Lovibond right away from her role as Kitty on “Elementary,” a show that I stopped watching three years ago at a time when she had just joined and was infusing it with a fresh energy. There’s no denying that she’s charismatic and loudly endearing as a lead here, and she’s complemented well by the self-assured swagger of her new partner Hooten, who seems to have a knack for getting himself into trouble and ending up in sticky situations. I enjoyed the dynamic that they quickly built, with him making her apologize while she’s hanging on to a branch because she knows he won’t do it later, only to then have both of them fall quite a distance when he finally did reach his hand out. Her anger at his presumption that she was puckering when they were in the water below was equally entertaining, and though it’s going to be an uphill battle for the two of them to work together well, I think it’s sure to be plenty of fun. This is a winning combination of adventure and comedy, and this opening hour served as an unexpectedly enthralling piece of television, one I won’t likely continue watching now but would be open to revisiting in the future.

How will it work as a series? This first episode was a nice modern-day companion piece to the New York Film Festival closing film “The Lost City of Z,” and my assumption is that more exploits of a similarly daring note will follow. They might not all be the same quality of excitement, but as long as the dynamic between the main duo is there, this show should work well.
How long will it last? The show has earned positive reviews, and airing on two different networks is usually a plus since it means that one could decide to continue it even if the other does not. Given that there’s been no renewal notice since the show premiered on Sky One, I think this might just be left as a miniseries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did earn a pickup.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry (TruTV)
Premiered July 12 at 10pm

I was really excited when I saw posters for this show in the New York City subway. I’m a big fan of Andrea Savage, an actress I’ve only recently come to know over the past few years. She was a recurring player on “Episodes,” “iZombie,” and “Veep,” and I enjoyed watching her most in a small but very memorable role in “Sleeping with Other People.” I read somewhere that this is yet another show about a comedian’s life, but I think that it’s a pretty strong one, and one at this point which I’m looking forward to coming back to and experiencing throughout the summer. The storylines – a former porn star who’s a kid’s mom, a daughter who doesn’t like the color of her black friend’s skin, and having to pee on jalapeno hands – range from legitimately funny to uncomfortably awkward, and this show handles it all pretty well. Savage is terrific, and it’s great to see her anchoring a show. I particularly like all the people she’s surrounded hersef with, including Judy Greer and her “Sleeping with Other People” scene partner Jason Mantzoukas. Episode one was fun because it had Gillian Vigman and June Squibb, both of whom contributed well. The dynamic that Andrea has with her not-as-funny husband is great too, and I like how certain tropes, like her waiting to hear from a doctor on a Saturday, are returned to over and over. This show seem like it could definitely be a lot of fun, and I’m ready for more.

How will it work as a series? This is a familiar setup in a lot of ways, one that is present on a number of shows at the moment, and it’s going to be up to Savage to make it work both in the scripts and on camera. I think she’s up for the task, and while this won’t all be gold, most of it is sure to be very funny and entertaining.
How long will it last? Reviews have been pretty decent from what I can tell, and I’m not too skilled at interpreting cable ratings, especially for a network like TruTV. This is one of its first original scripted comedies, and so I’m not sure there’s much to compare it to, and therefore I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that its quality will make up for low numbers, leading to a second season renewal sometime in the near future.

Season grade: B+

Pilot Review: Salvation

Salvation (CBS)
Premiered July 12 at 9pm

The world is coming to an end, apparently, but it’s got nothing to do with politics or global warming. Instead, it’s a huge asteroid headed toward the earth, which is set to collide in a short number of days. That might all be good as a slightly sci-fi-oriented premise, but of course that’s not all that’s needed here, with the quick seizure and execution of anyone who dares to know what’s going on lest the public find on and panic grip the world. Unfortunately, little of this adds up, mainly because three highly influential people – an inventor, a grad student, and a press secretary – all know exactly what’s happening yet they’re left alone while a professor and a lowly tech who were shown the same information by those people get whacked so that they won’t spill the beans. Basing a show around an apocalyptic event where, if it happens, there’s nothing left to film, is decidedly short-sighted, but this show has more problems than that. Darius Tanz is too cocky and casual about what he can do, Grace Barrows asks way too many questions, and Liam Cole isn’t nearly as subtle as he thinks, getting completely trashed and then asking his conveniently-cast sci-fi writer girlfriend whether he should save the world or pursue his one true love. I can barely recognize Santiago Cabrera from his far less impressive days as Isaac Mendez on “Heroes,” and Jennifer Finnigan is a familiar TV face, most recently appearing on “Tyrant.” Though this show isn’t so terrible, Ian Anthony Dale should know better than to join a show with a concept like this after spending one short season on the gradually less logical “The Event.” This show doesn’t have nearly the hook that one did, but maybe that will mean it’s just dry and uninvolving rather than actually all that bad.

How it will work as a series? In theory, our three protagonists should be dead, but it seems that they’re immune due to their series regular status. Instead, it’s a race between the asteroid, the government, and the unlikely trio to figure out a way to save the earth and try to rescue more than just 160 people. That could be decent to watch, but it also won’t be all that exciting until the asteroid is actually on the horizon.
How long will it last? Reviews for the show weren’t great, though it’s hard to expect them to be given this concept. In a relatively slow summer season, this show did okay in its debut airing and then maintained those numbers the next week, so it’s possible that it could live on beyond its initial prognosis. I think just this summer will be all it will get in the end.

Pilot grade: C-

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 7 “Chapter 59” (B)

This was an interesting episode, but didn’t manage to continue the very compelling narrative involving disputed election results that I think has made this season very strong so far. Opening with Frank chastising Claire for thinking that the position she currently holds actually means anything and reminding her that it’s all part of an effort to get him back where he rightfully belongs was disconcerting, and he’s just doing more and more to push Frank out since this is her moment to be in the spotlight. He didn’t waste any time starting an inquisition to figure out why he was left out of a meeting, and he swiftly discovered just what was going on and who was scheming to make sure that he and Claire were out of the picture enough to swing the election back to Conway. Usher experienced a serious fall from grace when Frank played the recording of Brockhart saying that the president would need to be put out of his misery, so that’s one player who’s out of the game, at least in the way he was up until now. I like the increasing closeness between Doug and Leann, two volatile, driven characters who are sure to destroy each other. I’m also very intrigued by the addition of the dependably great Patricia Clarkson as the mysterious Jane Davis, who got herself a front-row seat to time in the bunker with the current and former – and likely future – leader of the country, with unknown motivations but a very memorable personality.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 8 “Venus” (B+)

So the pair least likely to be a couple did end up hooking up, a decision they both clearly expressed regret and disgust for the next morning, though Rae’s reaction was a bit harsher than Alex’s. I don’t think too much will come of that, save for some increased awkwardness at just the wrong time since Alex is lacking on family members to talk to about what’s going on in his life. He does seem to be developing a nice relationship with Judy at work, thanks in large part to the absence of every single other employee. His interactions with Judy’s testy son were entertaining, and I’m all for having as much Judy Greer as possible on the show. I knew I recognized Elena from somewhere, and I realized as soon as I saw her name that it’s from a very, very different place, since Jessica Camacho plays Gypsy on “The Flash.” The way she corrected Laura referring to her as Casey’s girlfriend was definitive, and she very blatantly detests what she perceives as a significant threat to her marriage, something that already seems shaky since Casey failed to call Elena her wife. The notion of entering a sex-free relationship with Jack really didn’t sit well with Val, who couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to engage in some crazy passion right there at the museum. She was angry enough at Alex for looking into her newfound half-brother on his own that it seems like she may be willing to indulge a romance that doesn’t have a physical component, even though I’m sure that will soon follow.

Pilot Review: Will

Will (TNT)
Premiered July 10 at 9pm

There are some people who really like Shakespeare, and others who really don’t. And then there are those who fall somewhere in the middle, indifferent to the Bard but not necessarily eager to experience hours and hours of Elizabethan English either in written or cinematic form. I fall into the center camp, and I prefer the use of our modern-day dialect, which made my experience watching “Coriolanus” an only mildly fulfilling one. I personally haven’t wondered what Shakespeare’s life was like prior to the prolific part of his career, content instead to consider “Something Rotten,” a musical I saw in its final performance on Broadway, to be a far more entertaining and sufficient interpretation. This show begins like so many other similar stories do, finding an author will one day be great and known by all as an anonymous failure struggling to put his life together. A chance need for a play when one did not exist catapulted him almost instantly to some level of prominence, and now we’ll have to see how he begins the man everyone knows he eventually will. This show isn’t short on its depiction of brutal execution and torture of Catholics, treating viewers to miserably disturbing shots, and it looks like that will only continue to be a theme as the show goes forward. From among the cast, the only recognizable standout is Colm Meaney, who recently wrapped a series-long arc on “Hell on Wheels,” and whose voice was instantly recognizable to me even if his face wasn’t under his makeup and costumes. Shakespeare lovers might delight at this show being on; I couldn’t care less, especially after this uninviting and boring opening hour (I didn’t even bother to check out episode two which aired immediately following).

How will it work as a series? Will has already gone from nobody to somebody, even if he and those he interacts with haven’t realized just what he has become yet. There are sure to be many theatrics as well as lots of sex and persecution from oppressive authorities, all of which should mix together to be a pale imitation of the kind of comedy-drama that the future Will ultimately wrote.
How long will it last? Despite decent reviews, this show got off to a very uninspired ratings start, coming in below other TNT series that just squeaked by and barely registering compared to the network’s new mega-hit, “Claws,” that has already been renewed for a second season. I think this is all we’ll get of this show.

Pilot grade: D+

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 5 “Ease for Idle Millionaires” (B)

I recognize fully that getting five seasons of this show has been an incredible gift, hardly guaranteed due to its unique genre, and I won’t lament an early cancellation or anything like that since the creative forces behind it are clearly aware of just how long they have. Yet I still get the feeling that this final season is proceeding along a bit too slowly, digging deep into the mythology and therefore ignoring the forward-moving plot. We only got to see two of the clones in this episode (three if you count Rachel, I guess), and instead were treated to a lengthy dinner party during which Cosima was made very aware of just what’s going on and why Kira is of such interest. It was affirming to see Cosima defy the unnecessary charade she was told to contribute to and don a tuxedo as Delphine’s guest, but that was all the humor to be found in this episode, which ended on a miserable note as Cosima stepped in front of the poor “monster” to save his life only to have Westmoreland shoot him with her sitting right there. It’s good to know that Delphine is working with Mrs. S and that all the other allies they’ve amassed along the way, with the possible exception of Art, who’s in a precarious position of his own, are working together to ensure that the clones are able to win whatever this war really is and survive and endure. I’d like to fast-forward past some of the slow exposition as we enter the second half of this final season.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pilot Review: Pure

Pure (Hulu)
Premiered July 7

It’s hard to keep up with all the new shows launching on networks like Netflix and Amazon these days, and now Hulu is firmly inserting itself into the game, with a handful of brand-new originals and international imports like this one. This Canadian drama originally aired on CBC back in January and February, and now it’s arrived to accompany some of the streaming service’s hotter programs. I had hoped when I read what this show was about and saw the opening scene that it would serve as a fitting follow-up to “Banshee,” a fantastic underrated series that featured a villain with Amish roots and regularly involved that community in its plotline. Instead, this Mennonite-centric show feels more like a slower version of the Oscar-winning 1985 film “Witness.” There’s a local police investigation that overlaps with a federal one into the cross-border activities of the community and their drug involvement, but it’s hardly as engaging or enticing as it should be. The primary pastor is presented as a pure, noble figure, but he’s actually a very dry character in a sea of unappealing, unethical people, none of whom prove sympathetic or intriguing enough to sustain this show. The opening scene made this show seem like it might be an effectively dark and mysterious offering, and the rest of the hour confirmed that it doesn’t have much to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. I don’t think I’ll remember anything about this short after a short time has passed, and that’s hardly a positive takeaway.

How will it work as a series? This show doesn’t move very quickly, and it seems that everyone pretty much knows what’s going on but no one wants to speak up or confirm it. I don’t see that being all that interesting, and I think it’s going to prove hard to latch on to anything here.
How long will it last? Hulu has been renewing most of its shows as of late, but this isn’t an original network production. In fact, it wasn’t on the fall schedule for Canadian broadcaster CBC, suggesting that it’s already been cancelled back home. I don’t think this is going to be one of the ones Hulu is going to bother to save, leaving it at just its initial six-episode order.

Pilot grade: C-

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 6 “One More Card to Play” (B+)

I like just how frequently we have the opportunity to see interdimensional interlopers like the bad versions of Portia and Boone show up, though I’ll admit it gets very, very confusing, especially since the alternate doubles don’t have distinguishing features like, say, a goatee that Mirror Universe Spock wore that help viewers tell him apart. It’s also hard to remember and keep track of who’s still alive where and all that. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out where I remembered Wexler from since I was convinced it was more than just this show, and it turns out that Ennis Esmer also stars as neighbor Dave on “You, Me, Her.” He’s certainly among the more sympathetic slimy characters aboard the other version of the Raza, whose crew had no problem spacing a bunch of prisoners to advance their evil aims. Capturing Three and switching him out for their Boone was a smart play, but fortunately Five saw through it and then did her very best to negotiate with Tash. Their android deciding to shoot Tash and talk to Five herself was great, and I enjoyed the very logical discussion between the two androids when they were doing their prisoner exchange. They’re back in Commander Truffault’s good graces, which is a positive, and they’ve lost Adrian and Solara, which means their numbers are down. More problematically, the other Portia has made a new ally in Commander Nieman, a development that can’t be good for the crew of our Raza.

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 5 “Sing It, White Effie” (B+)

I’d hope that Emmy voters wise up to the fact that, not only is this show deserving of more than two total Emmy nominations, but Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox, while both great, are no longer the standout performers on this show. In fact, I’d argue that Taylor Schilling shouldn’t be considered a lead since she plays such a minor part these days. This season so far belongs to Danielle Brooks as Taystee, though others deserve mention too, and there’s no denying the powerful nature of her speech at the end of this episode, refusing to let a white woman like Judy King who hadn’t actually experienced any true hardship in prison speak for her. It was a powerful moment for Janae too, making her flashback, highlighted by her reaction to watching white women play the pivotal “Dreamgirls” roles in a school play, all the more meaningful. The fact that Angie had the gun on her belt the whole time and that Pennsatucky opted to give it to Donuts so that he could make his escape was probably for the best given that the gun hasn’t done anyone any good so far. While Luschek trying to hum at a certain pitch to get Stratman to be able to go the bathroom was undeniably funny, it’s disturbing to see that he too ended up trapped inside a sealed porter potty outside the prison in the full heat just two units down from a similarly stranded Caputo. Maria’s discovery that she hadn’t actually had time added to her sentence is an important indicator of how different life inside can be since it’s impossible to know what’s actually going on from the outside, and I think that Aleida’s forthcoming TV appearance is sure to be enlightening in a different way than she expects.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 8 “Kimmy Does a Puzzle!” (B+)

This episode was decidedly more absurd than even this show usually is. I think we can all agree that no one aside from Titus thought that he had actually eaten Dionne Warwick, played to excess by Maya Rudolph, clearly having fun hamming it up and going way beyond any sort of impersonation is meant to. The real story turned out to be far more believable if still inspired by this show’s totally ridiculous nature, and made to seem all the more extravagant and dramatic thanks to the style of Titus’ telling. If there’s one thing that he’s easily susceptible to – and there are many – it’s the allure of fame, and therefore his first thought upon finding out that Dionne had recovered from exposure to hot tub water was to get some more and make sure that she got sick right away again. Poisoning literally everyone on the ship but him so that they all threw up on stage during the performance was quite a powerful accident, and I think it’s safe to say that Warwick turned out to be fine, unlike those who live between exits 1-82 in New Jersey. My favorite part of this episode was actually Peter Riegert’s Artie, who was more than willing to accept Titus’ argument that a shell could be pasta and has just generally done a superb job of acclimating to this show’s distinctive style, helping to make this episode about a funker truly entertaining despite its insanity and token detachment from anyone’s sense of reality.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 8 “Masks” (B+)

Now, this is more like it. After a season that’s felt all over the place, here’s an hour that actually is but still manages to seem much more coherent and compelling. Cole and Cassandra definitely have some cool new tricks as they fight their pursuers and use their time suits to jump around and gain the upper hand, though there’s also some artistry going on, like Cassandra having to improvise after getting her hands tied behind her back mid-fight. I enjoyed watching Cole teaching Cassandra how to pickpocket followed by her showing him how to dance, and they needed all the preparation they could given that Jones herself deemed it worthwhile to travel back in time to express just how furious she was that Cole had betrayed her. Fortunately, Jennifer used her turtle to cause a paradox so that a perfectly willing Dr. Lasky could send her back in time to dress up in the witness mask and shoot fireworks off as a distraction. Jennifer really is endearing, and it’s a shame that she helped them get away and now she’s the one in a cage, something that’s going to continue to drive her crazy. It’s still intriguing to see how the witness has gone down his path, and I didn’t recognize the superb casting choice of James Callis, best known as Gaius Baltar from “Battlestar Galactica,” as the man to play this mythical being who we’ve previously only seen in a mask or as a ghost of sorts writing stuff on the wall in a very creepy way.

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 9 “Amarsi Un Po” (A-)

Now here’s another fantastic episode of this show, an extremely romantic extended installment with so many wonderful moments. Starting with Dev having to get into the sub for a photo shoot so that Jeff could take a bite highlighted the still banal nature of his work even though he was moving on from “Clash of the Cupcakes” to something more substantial, and it helped transition things to a much more poignant love story. Things got off to a superb start with someone on the street congratulating Dev for being an Indian who landed such a hot woman, and I like that it wasn’t a one-sided affair, with Francesca showing her unexpected love for big, variety-filled American pharmacies. Watching them yell at people to finish their food and pretend to be in a huge fight were some great snippets from the episode, as was their discussion of terms like “curry person” and “soy sauce people.” When she texted him while they were sitting with her fiancĂ© and Arnold, that was a big sign that this was all in Dev’s head, despite his nightmare of having her literally rip his heart out. Her getting stranded at his house when the power was out and sleeping over – in the same bed – was another lost opportunity, especially because she noticed that a lot of the women on his celebrity list were Italian. Going for it at the club and then in the helicopter – on a non-private channel – were perfect instances of how even when things seem like they might work out, it’s not always so glamorous or easy. This episode is definitely one of the season’s best, and a sign that Ansari, who wrote and directed this episode, really knows what he’s doing and should be producing a whole lot more TV.

Pilot Review: Snowfall

Snowfall (FX)
Premiered July 5 at 10pm

I’ve been seeing posters for this show for months in the subway, boldly declaring, “This is how crack began.” FX has really risen in quality over the past decade, starting with a few incredible standouts like “The Shield” and “Rescue Me,” and now home to almost a dozen highly-acclaimed series, including three immensely popular anthology series that are going to continue to dominate awards races for years to come for each new iteration. This show has a more specific focus, traveling back to 1983 Los Angeles to chart the lives of a handful of influential individuals in the rise of crack as an American institution. This pilot reminded me a lot of a mix between two popular Netflix shows, “The Get Down” and “Narcos.” It’s styled very much like the former, with popping colors and purposeful backgrounds to ground itself in the time and culture in which it’s meant to take place, and it features an in-depth look at the machinations of the operation involving the CIA’s very direct involvement in and knowledge of international drug trade. I didn’t find it nearly as gripping or involving as either of those, though Damson Idris’ Franklin Saint is an endearing protagonist who seems way too good for this world and who very quickly transformed himself into someone ready to become LA’s top drug dealer just because someone thought he couldn’t do it. I didn’t recognize him when I watched the episode, but I will commend this show on actually casting an Israeli actor, Alon Aboutboul, who starred last year in “Harmonia,” as an Israeli, since so many other series have fabricated accents by people from different places. It’s not a great showcase of the Israeli people, but there’s no denying that this show is multicultural in its portrayal of what went into an epidemic that struck the nation. I don’t feel the need to watch more of this show, but I can understand why some like it.

How will it work as a series? Having four protagonists whose lives are all separate but destined to come together should allow this show to have more than enough material from which to draw and plot out its course, and I have no doubt that there is an interesting web to be spun here that should draw committed viewers in over time.
How long will it last? The reviews are pretty good and the marketing campaign was definitely strong, but the ratings don’t seem to be keeping up with that, starting out okay and then falling in the second week, a usual trend but not one that demands a renewal. I think this show will still end up being picked up for more, but it’s not a guarantee.

Pilot grade: B-

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 6 “Chapter 58” (B+)

Okay, so maybe that final scene in the previous episode shouldn’t have made me speculate that Claire might become president but instead confirm that she had been chosen to serve as acting president. It’s a crazy thing to see her sitting next to Frank and having people unsure of who to address as the president since, technically speaking, no one actually chose him to be president while she was temporarily placed in the role. Watching her debate whether to give him security clearance was a tense moment since he surely would have destroyed her for it, but it’s hard to blame her for thinking about going all in on her own since she had to fight him tooth and nail to get where she is now. Tom is engineering his own little mini-rebellion by having sex with a tour guide in the press room, and I’m sure Claire will be furious once she finds out that he’s actually daring to live his own life. The Russians holding an American responsible for hacking to affect election results feels a bit close to him, and I do wonder how much of this plotline was planned in advance and how much was a middle finger to the current political administration. Watching this episode, I’m puzzled that Emmy voters once again chose Michael Kelly, who is good but mostly stagnant, over Joel Kinnaman, who is doing a tremendous job showcasing Conway’s descent into anger and full-on aggression, demanding to pilot the plane he’s flying and lashing out at everyone around him. It appears that Usher is powerful if nothing else, and things aren’t looking up for Conway given the level of familiarity he showed with the Underwoods.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 7 “The Rat King” (B+)

An episode like this is helpful every once in a while since it brings everyone together from their separate lives to interact in one isolated space. I think it’s very important to note the relationships people had going into everything, and the helpful nature of having everyone couple up. The only truly platonic pair, who I imagine will remain that way, is Alex and Rae. She’s bold and obnoxious, but also starting to turn into more of a human being, allowing them to fight about things like her having allegedly brought a rat from her beloved New York City and his unwillingness to tell his sister the truth despite her nearly spilling the beans more than a few times. The most important revelation, perhaps something that was hinted at before or even fully confirmed when I just wasn’t paying attention, is that Leon and Leia are dating, something that she has totally kept from Val and is sure to be a miserable revelation when it finally comes out. Val is completely unaware, preoccupied with flirting with Jack instead. Leon’s attempts to be humane to the rat were funny, especially since everyone shot him down. And then there’s Laura, who brings over a boss who wants to bring down capitalism and other things like that and has no problem walking around naked in front of her. It doesn’t appear that’s headed anywhere fast enough for Laura to stay interested, but Val sure made an impression going head-to-head with her about her beliefs.

What I’m Watching: Orphan Black

Orphan Black: Season 5, Episode 4 “Let the Children and Childbearers Toil” (B)

I’ll admit that sometimes this show loses me a bit as it begins to drown in its mythology that involves 170-year old men and creatures of the night. Yet there is something very intriguing to me, and logical, about the notion that an imperfect Castor clone with murderous impulses isn’t the worst experiment that those who worked on copying genomes could have created. While an ogre or a monster who runs off in the middle of the woods at night feels a bit cartoonish for this show, Cosima is living on a compound removed from civilization in an environment that feels removed from time. I’m not sure what comes from this since I don’t believe that Cosima is meant to be learning all of this, but Sarah and Mrs. S were also told the same information by Virginia when they snuck in to interrogate her. It was fun to see Sarah play dress up – still an incredible feat by Tatiana Maslany for us to feel that she’s doing that since literally that’s all the actress does – and pretend to the hapless assistant to Mrs. S’s doctor, and luckily they had a distraction from Virginia to allow them to escape before being questioned for just exactly who they were. Adele’s return was far more welcome than her first appearance, and it’s good to see that she’s a firm and dependable ally now. It’s also a relief to see Helena so at peace and aware of where she’s supposed to be, a sign that maybe the good guys will win this thing after all if there’s even still a battle to be fought.

What I’m Watching: Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Season 3, Episode 5 “Give It Up, Princess” (B+)

The Android has always been my favorite character on this show, and every episode that deals with her enhancements is incredibly interesting to me. Obviously the big moment in this episode was seeing her in a red dress setting up a punchline where she told a guy that she never slept with anyone whose ass she had to kick. Yet the bigger thing to me is that she’s so easily able to get these enhancements and that, when she’s using them, she’s not eager to return to her normal mode, since there’s something about feeling real that truly connects with her. She also managed to use the power of the enhancements to their advantage when the team ended up trapped in a sticky situation where the android loyal to Tabor was ready to hold everyone hostage until his master returned, something no one expects to happen at any point soon, if ever. Adrian and Solara are doing well adjusting to being part of the crew, though there are obviously still some bumps. Sending Five in undercover was a risky move given that she’s not really field-trained, but apparently she knows more than her new trainer thought when they started out. Six may be off the job, but his appearance at the end of the episode, both in conversation with Five and on a screen as a secret weapon for Four, proves that he’s not done with the Raza just yet, even if he thinks that he’s left that life behind for more important aims.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pilot Review: Gypsy

Gypsy (Netflix)
Premiered June 30

As should be obvious to anyone following this blog on a regular or infrequent basis, I’m quite behind on my TV, and I’m even further behind on writing reviews of things I’ve already watched. I actually saw the first episode of this show just a few days after it initially premiered, meaning that I’m reviewing it more than two weeks after watching it, which can’t be a good thing. While I was in the middle of watching – I took a break and returned to it the next night – I read a headline that described this show as the hottest new show of 2007, meant as an insult since the kind of things that are showcased as edgy on this show are in fact well behind the times and dated compared to what counts for innovative and worthwhile these days. I’m not sure that I would agree, though I do think that this show lacks focus and clear direction. After sitting through an hour of it, I’m not sure where it’s meant to go and what its premise really is. Naomi Watts is a strong actress with multiple Oscar nominations who hasn’t done TV in twenty years, and therefore you’d think that a project that would pull her to a weekly series would have a lot to offer, especially considering her work with directors like David Lynch and Michael Haneke. Yet I still don’t comprehend where this show wants to be or what it wants to be, and while I’m mildly intrigued, it’s been two weeks and I just don’t care that much. With so many other shows to watch, this indistinguishable series about a therapist spending way too much time investing in and inserting herself into the lives of her patients just doesn’t rate.

How will it work as a series? That’s what anyone who gets past episode one is sure to find out, or maybe not if it continues to be all about delving deep into the tangential experiences of those she hears talking to her about their lives. Telling the difference between what’s real and what’s not is also crucial for a show to maintain interest from viewers, and I’m not sure this show can do that.
How long will it last? As usual, Netflix ratings don’t count for much even if they are released, though it’s worth noting that the streaming service has axed a few series recently, which it hadn’t done all that much in the past. Reviews have been pretty poor across the board, so I wouldn’t count on Netflix bringing this one back for more.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 5, Episode 4 “Litchfield’s Got Talent” (B+)

It’s been fascinating watching how different people try to use their power when they’re in charge. What seemed like equally irritating and harmless pantsing led to the gun falling off of Gloria’s waist, which was probably the safest place for it to be, and ending up in the hands of someone with far less noble aims. Having the guards be the contestants in a talent show was an entertaining diversion that didn’t turn out all that bad for all those involved, and the striptease, which went way farther than just a tease, was certainly the most memorable of all the acts. That the demands only reached a governor who was very drunk and high isn’t an affirming development, and I’m not sure what comes next for the inmates. I’d assume that the camera that took photos of Judy and the others on the roof belonged to paparazzi, and that’s not going to bode well for anyone. Judy’s luck has turned very sour, with both former friends and skinheads united against her and ready to take out their aggression towards the “man” on one rich woman. I like that a very sleep-deprived Red was thinking about getting senior discounts and learning how to paddleboard, and it’s also interesting to see life on the outside with those not keen on participating in the riot inside, with Alex emerging as an unwilling leader. Brief flashbacks to Alison’s life before she was in prison were intriguing, but I would have liked to see a bit more of what got her to where she is.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 3, Episode 7 “Kimmy Learns about the Weather!” (B+)

This show is weird enough on a regular basis, and the sight of a purple cartoon that talked exactly like Titus didn’t feel any more abnormal than most of the other stuff that happens on this show. Casting Scott Adsit, a dependable “30 Rock” player, as the man who stole his voice, was a great move, and I enjoyed his reactions to being intimidated by Titus and being physically attacked by an overeager Kimmy. I like that everyone on this show knows each other’s roles and their strengths, with Titus ready to get Kimmy to rush immediately to his side when he knew he could use her help. Titus was never going to get the credit or back pay for his likeness that he deserved, both because he didn’t actually put much work into it and because that’s not how things work on this show. The other notable guest star of the episode, one that we haven’t seen in other episodes like Peter Riegert or Jon Hamm, was Michael Torpey, better known as the sadistic, evil guard Humphreys on “Orange is the New Black,” as the appropriately-named Drench Thunderman, who I imagine must have met Nathan Fillion’s Rainer Shane from “Modern Family” in the television weatherman universe. Kimmy rightly wasn’t okay with someone telling her to seek shelter in a bunker when it wasn’t necessary, since she’s been through that once before and had her life ruined for over a decade as a result. Lillian was a fitting ally to get Kimmy pumped up in her aggression towards a lying weatherman.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 3, Episode 7 “Nurture” (B)

I’m starting to feel as if I’ve become detached from time, not quite sure exactly what’s going on here anymore and where our characters have gone. Cassandra going back to visit her mother felt especially strange, partially because we’ve never really heard much about her and because it happened so casually. What’s much more interesting to me is the way that the young witness is being portrayed, not eager to harm innocent people and still just a normal young boy in a few ways while he’s being prepared for a life of grand omniscience. I can’t help but feel that we’re in a bit of a “Looper” situation here, where witnessing the stonefaced executions of those around him like Deacon are going to transform him into the ruthless being that he becomes. Or maybe Cole got through to him, in the moment that he decided to spare him, teaching him about the value of life? Jennifer and the witness boding about being primary was an interesting moment, and it’s at least good that they share a connection. Hannah getting hit was an unfortunate casualty of the mission, and I’m sure that’s going to drive Jones and her new partner Deacon to rage in their quest for revenge. Cole and Cassandra have now officially picked a side, and that closing shot of them sporting the fancy futuristic time suits and coordinating their time travel means that things are changing in a completely irreversible way. I have no idea what – or when – comes next, but I’m definitely intrigued.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What I’m Watching: Master of None

Master of None: Season 2, Episode 8 “Thanksgiving” (B+)

Between when I watched this episode and when I sat down to write this review, this episode earned two Emmy nominations, one for guest actress Angela Bassett and the other for writing duo Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, who plays Denise. I’ve never found Denise to be one of the strongest characters on this show, though I did enjoy her “Stop what you’re doing, this is a citizen’s arrest” moment with Dev from season one. This episode was a very expository installment, one that started from a point in the past where Dev and Denise were just figuring out who they were. Casting Bassett as Denise’s mother was a strong choice, and it seems like it was a fun role to play. For however inappropriate Catherine was in how she reacted to her daughter’s sexuality, there was nothing more horrendously awkward than Nikki. Saying that she watched the news was a bad start, and Dev just made it even more unbearable by repeatedly asking her to say her Twitter handle over and over. Michelle was a much better fit, and it was sweet to see her offer to help with the cooking during Thanksgiving 2017, finally giving Catherine a sense of what it’s like to have her daughter find a great significant other. I didn’t love this episode as much as previous similar format installments, but it was still cleverly-done and a good showcase for the two writer-actors to pen their own lives and have a great time bringing it all to life.

What I’m Watching: Sense8 (Season Finale)

Sense8: Season 2, Episode 10 “You Want a War?” (B+)

So, I was a bit confused here. Somehow when I was watching the episodes I thought that there was still one more to go, but I think that’s because the Christmas special technically counted as episode one and the two-hour special that’s yet to come is technically episode eleven, and so somewhere in the course of things I skipped an episode. I don’t know what that says about this show – that I could miss an entire hour and not even notice since things aren’t always so coherent or linear anyway. I’m very glad that I waited until now to watch this episode since it had such a terrific ending that I would have been devastated to learn that it was all we were ever going to get. Seeing all the sensates together was something I wasn’t sure was ever going to happen, and therefore it was immensely satisfying, particularly because it happened all at once without much warning, with Will being in the same room as Whispers rather than in his head as the first indicator that they had come up with a master plan. Opening with them all running behind Sun as she was chasing her brother and then using their specific skills to hunt him down was cool, and rallying together to grab Whispers and Jonas after Wolfgang got captured was an amazing and exciting show of solidarity. I do really like this unique and bizarre show, and I’m honestly surprised it lasted this long, so I’ll take the two-hour finale reprieve and say thank you, eagerly awaiting what’s sure to be a strange and possibly satisfying blowout end to this incomparable saga.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Jamie Clayton as Nomi

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale (Season Finale)

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1, Episode 10 “Night” (B+)

Since I watched this episode, I was very pleased to find out that Emmy voters responded to this show favorably, rewarding it with a whopping thirteen nominations. One of the honored nominees, Samira Wiley, played a big part in this episode, with Moira making it to Canada and being completely overwhelmed by the refugee-immigration process. Reuniting with Luke was a big deal not just emotionally but also practically since she knows so much about what’s really going on with the handmaids, and can theoretically lead both Luke and sympathetic elements of the Canadian government to June’s aid. She could really use it, given the horrifying revelation that, all this time, Serena has known where her daughter was and revealed it to her only so that she could show her how much power she actually had over June, who started swearing and holding nothing back, to which Serena just coldly responded by telling her to calm down. If all Serena wants is for the baby she’ll claim as hers to be safe, June could probably comply, but someone has apparently rescued her, though it’s not clear if it’s Luke or Nick or someone else entirely. Serena asking Fred to play Scrabble only to be reminded that it’s apparently against the law was an intriguing moment I hope is revisited in season two, since there’s still so much we don’t know about how this world came into being. Ofglen and Offred (it’s confusing to keep switching back and forth, I know) leading the crowd in refusing to stone Janine made for a very powerful scene emblematic of what resistance means in this new world, and I’m looking forward to more of the same in what’s sure to be an equally excellent season two.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Elisabeth Moss as Offred/June

What I’m Watching: iZombie (Season Finale)

iZombie: Season 3, Episode 13 “Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 2” (B+)

Three years in a row, this show has used its season finale as a fantastic jumping-off point to completely reshift its focus and frame everything in a whole new way. This season was all about the zombie outbreak being on the verge of going public, and what people were doing to combat it. The suicide bombing of the Fillmore Graves party turned out to be somewhat inconsequential since everything progressed in a much grander way that made keeping anything secret in this world form here on out totally impossible. Through it all, Blaine just wanted to be a businessman, and that got his offer rejected by Chase, who turned out to be a much better person/zombie than anyone expected. The discovery of an employee with different ideals who engineered a mutiny made clear that his priorities were for the betterment of Seattle and society in general, and he did that very well with a clearly-marketed plan to assure that zombies being a thing didn’t turn the world inside out. Liv was already on it, making sure that everyone’s favorite newly-zombified TV reporter said on air that the zombie outbreak was happening, and Chase was there to provide a reassuring plan that took a lot into consideration. Unfortunately, humans wanting to kill the good zombies means that a peaceful coexistence is far from guaranteed, but I’m very excited to see what comes next. Will Ravi be a zombie or will he finally be able to cure Liv, which would be really weird to see our favorite zombie back as a human in a world now dominated by zombies?

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Rose McIver as Liv

Saturday, July 15, 2017

What I’m Watching: House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 5 “Chapter 57” (B+)

It’s truly eerie to see crowds gathered outside the White House chanting “Not my president!” with signs that read “Never Underwood” because such things are commonplace now in real life and happened in this most recent election. Yet Underwood, unlike Trump, was the president, and he’s just waiting to find out if he’s going to continue in that role. Also unlike Trump, he was never actually elected, and therefore I can understand why people are rallying against the idea of him staying in power. His opening history lesson on election laws was both informative and entertainingly-done, and the thought that it could come down to the toss of a coin is a seriously ridiculous revelation about democracy. Claire didn’t even want to hear that there was a possibility that she would be the vice-president with Conway as the president, and I actually think it might be just as likely that she’ll somehow end up being president. Frank questioning Doug’s loyalty was a mistake that he immediately realized and retracted, and none of it compared to the cruelty that Claire exhibited towards Donald when he dared to choose this moment to grow a spine. Aidan being missing is definitely a problem since he could ruin everything for the Underwoods at any moment, and Lisa showing up to talk to Tom about Doug and Rachel is also an instance of especially bad timing. That one can’t hurt Frank nearly as much, but it does put Doug at risk of being very distracted at a time when he can’t afford anything like that.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 3, Episode 6 “Troubleshooting” (B+)

This episode was fun because it saw each of our protagonists encounter familiar situations, go down the usual roads, and then end up taking a different approach that served as a better choice. Alex did not do well on his first day at his new job, though the fact that he got reported to HR and the Oahu native didn’t for the way she spoke to him is absolutely ridiculous. I like that he didn’t give up right away and that he managed to make a new friend in Judy Greer’s Judy, who is the only person who doesn’t think Eric is the greatest thing on earth. It would be an HR nightmare if something happened between him and the woman who’s in charge of HR, but maybe they can just be friends. I loved Val’s response to the woman who accosted her in the bar because the bartender turned out to be her boyfriend, not apologetic and very defendable in her explanation that there’s no way she could have known that he was dating someone. Rekindling her friendship slash relationship with Jack seems like a positive step so far, even if it did come at the expense of Jennifer’s trust in her, something that I imagine can be earned back pretty quickly. Laura fell into the same old trap when she slept with her supervisor on day one and then quit because he got fired for it, but good for her for walking out the moment that he refused to listen to her when she asked him to consider her comfort for a moment. Coming back to work is a positive step – maybe this will actually be good for her!

Emmy Nominees: Best Comedy Series

My predictions: 6/7, picking “Transparent” over “Modern Family”

Well, in a year where Modern Family dropped down to just three nominations after earning fourteen in its first year and seventeen at its peak, you’d think it might finally be time to drop it from this category, just like I did from my weekly watchlist when it went on hiatus halfway through this season. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and instead the much more highly-regarded “Transparent” got off the list, something that I didn’t expect based on its three acting bids and the fact that it still managed seven nominations. Atlanta joined the pack with six nominations, translating its Golden Globe wins into Emmy love. The rest of the category is back from last year, with Master of None doubling its nomination count to eight, Black-ish inching up to four, Silicon Valley dropping one notch to ten, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt leveling out at five, and Veep scoring its biggest haul ever with seventeen. My comedy list will be completely different with just one or two of these shows on it, but this isn’t a bad lineup.

Who should win? “Silicon Valley”
Who will win? Unless it’s “Atlanta,” it will be Veep again.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmy Nominees: Best Drama Series

My predictions: 6/7, picking “The Americans” over “Better Call Saul”

It turns out that my prediction of five new shows to join this race came true after all, not that most others really thought any differently. I’m proud that I kept House of Cards in my predictions despite many thinking it would be snubbed. The show’s nomination count dropped this year due to a lack of nominated guest stars (it had five last year), but it still did decently. My worry that Better Call Saul would be left off was negated by the show achieving nine nominations compared to seven the past two years, though it’s a real shame that those writing and directing bids didn’t come with a nomination for Michael McKean, this season’s standout. It’s sad that “Mr. Robot” got left off but not surprising since being included last year was a pretty crazy feat in the first place. “The Americans” being omitted is a surprise since, usually, long-neglected shows get honored until the end once they’re finally recognized. I’m glad that “Homeland” was finally dismissed from this category. Now that they’ve been nominated for so much, I realize that I need to watch both The Crown and Stranger Things as soon as possible, and I’ll begin them both shortly. I can understand why people like This Is Us so much, and while I feel that it doesn’t deserve nearly the praise it gets, at least it wasn’t nominated in writing or directing at all. I’m beyond thrilled that The Handmaid’s Tale did as well as it did since that was one of my favorites this season. And it’s clear that Westworld, tying SNL for a whopping twenty-two nominations, was popular with voters, which I fully support given that, prior to “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Legion,” that was the most mind-bending, gripping show I was watching. This is a solid list that I hope to find even more solid after watching the two shows I haven’t yet experienced.

Who should win? Right now, I’d vote for “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “Westworld”
Who will win? With so many popular new shows, it’s impossible to know, but I think Westworld dominating means it may have the advantage.

Emmy Nominees: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

My predictions: 5/6, missing the second “Atlanta” episode

The nominees: B.A.N. (Atlanta), Streets on Lock (Atlanta), Thanksgiving (Master of None), Success Failure (Silicon Valley), Georgia (Veep), Groundbreaking (Veep)

Just like in the directing category, all submitted HBO content made the cut, which was good news for strong installments of Silicon Valley and Veep. One of two submitted episodes of Master of None was nominated, though I personally would have chosen two others altogether, not that the one selected, which I just watched, wasn’t quite good as well. I’m fond of one episode of Atlanta and not the other, but I suppose it’s good that it’s here. It does have a distinctive and notable style to it that comes across most in its writing.

Who should win? “Georgia,” maybe
Who will win? I think “Thanksgiving” will give Master of None a repeat win.

Emmy Nominees: Best Directing for a Comedy Series

My predictions: 5/6, missing only “Atlanta”

The nominees: B.A.N. (Atlanta), Intellectual Property (Silicon Valley), Server Error (Silicon Valley), Blurb (Veep), Groundbreaking (Veep), Justice (Veep)

It’s not too hard to do well predicting this category when, for the second year in a row, two HBO shows have all their submitted episodes nominated. I’m a big fan of Silicon Valley, which is always recognized here but should be elsewhere as well, and I’m rooting for it. These episodes of Veep were pretty good too – I’ll provide more analysis in my winner predictions. I liked Atlanta, but I wasn’t too fond of this episode in particular and the format in which it was presented.

Who should win? Probably “Server Error”
Who will win? I’m guessing Veep for “Groundbreaking.”

Emmy Nominees: Best Writing for a Drama Series

My predictions: 5/6, missing only “Better Call Saul”

The nominees: The Soviet Division (The Americans), Chicanery (Better Call Saul), Assassins (The Crown), Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale), Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers (Stranger Things), The Bicameral Mind (Westworld)

I did pretty well here, and I’m more than happy to see a show I don’t particularly like, “UnREAL,” snubbed in favor of a first-timer here, Better Call Saul. I didn’t know which episode this was based alone on its title, but this is a stellar hour that’s both well-written and well-acted. I’m going to watch Stranger Things and The Crown soon, and I’ll tune in to my annual The Americans viewing thanks to Emmy accolades. The pilot of The Handmaid’s Tale and the season finale of Westworld were easily two of the best hours of this past season, so you’ll hear no complains from me about them being recognized here.

Who should win? I’ve only seen half of these, and they’re all tremendous choices.
Who will win? I think The Handmaid’s Tale takes this.

Emmy Nominees: Best Directing for a Drama Series

My predictions: 4/7

The nominees: Witness (Better Call Saul), Hyde Park Corner (The Crown), Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale), The Bridge (The Handmaid’s Tale), America First (Homeland), Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers (Stranger Things), The Bicameral Mind (Westworld)

This is a cool category, with four new shows represented, one that hasn’t been recognized here before, and another that really doesn’t need to be here since it’s well past its prime (Homeland). I’m thrilled to see the season finale of Westworld and not one but two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale here. I still have to watch Stranger Things and The Crown. I’m shocked – and thrilled – to see Better Call Saul here for the first time, recognized for the second episode of the season, one of the most focused and intense hours.

Who should win? “Offred” or “The Bicameral Mind,” though I still have two episodes to watch
Who will win? I’ll say Westworld for now, but it could be any of them

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 3/6, missing Baker, Bassett, and Sykes

I did okay here, not expecting that “The Big Bang Theory” would, for the first time ever, earn just three technical bids and zero acting nominations. The sentimental nomination for the late Carrie Fisher (Catastrophe) was expected, as were mentions for past nominees Melissa McCarthy (Saturday Night Live) and Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live). I didn’t see Wanda Sykes (Black-ish) coming, but her inclusion makes sense, as does that of Angela Bassett (Master of None). I’m most pleased to see dependable veteran actress Becky Ann Baker (Girls) honored with her first-ever Emmy nomination, which is very deserved.

Who should win? I’ve only seen two of these, so I can’t really comment just yet.
Who will win? My bet is Fisher will take it.

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 2/6, picking just Hanks and Laurie

Here’s my worst category, where a few things happened. Two actors - Riz Ahmed (Girls) and Matthew Rhys (Girls) – picked up bids for memorable turns on the final season of a show no longer widely recognized in other categories mainly because they’re also nominated this year for more well-received productions, replacing the man who the Emmy last year for the same show, Peter Scolari. Hugh Laurie (Veep) missed out when he should have been nominated in the supporting race, so now he’s here, ousting expected nominee Peter MacNicol. And then we have three hosts from the ultra-popular late-night sketch series, all of whom aren’t quite in the spotlight as much as they used to be: Lin-Manuel Miranda (Saturday Night Live), Dave Chappelle (Saturday Night Live), and Tom Hanks (Saturday Night Live). All I know is that I have a lot of SNL to watch.

Who should win? I’ve only seen half of these. I’d probably choose Ahmed.
Who will win? My guess is Miranda, though who the hell knows?

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

My predictions: 4/6, picking Kim Dickens and Carrie Preston over Dowd and Purser

Well, this list is a little different, which is nice. We have the return of Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), one of just two nominations for a show that, in season one, earned twelve bids, and of Cicely Tyson (How to Get Away with Murder). Two nominees that have long been waiting in the wings are finally here, Alison Wright (The Americans) and Ann Dowd (The Leftovers), a double nominee this year whose inclusion is welcome but hardly fitting as literally the lone nomination her show received over the course of its three seasons. I haven’t seen Shannon Purser (Stranger Things), so more thoughts on that soon. And then there’s Alexis Bledel (The Handmaid’s Tale), who I had initially thought would be competing in the supporting category but so deserves a nomination wherever Emmy voters deem appropriate.

Who should win? I’m missing half this list, so for now I’ll say Bledel but likely need to revisit once I’ve watched the rest.
Who will win? I’ll pick Bledel optimistically for now.