Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pilot Review: Liar

Liar (Sundance)
Premiered September 27 at 10pm

It’s a bit strange to see Joanne Froggatt, the Golden Globe-winning star of “Downton Abbey” best known for playing the impossibly nice Anna, in a contemporary drama talking about driving a car. That’s mainly because Froggatt isn’t known for too much else in the United States, and now another British production is going to earn her more exposure. This series has one hell of a loaded title, implying that at least one of its characters is lying about something, the specifics of which become somewhat clear shortly into this episode. Froggatt’s Laura and Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew seem like a perfect match, her a schoolteacher who has finally ended an unnecessary long if not particularly toxic relationship and him a widowed surgeon who seems effortlessly charming. And everything we actually saw happen – presented I suppose as the objective truth – indicates that they had a great night, but the way that Laura reacts the next morning shows that something is seriously wrong. This show could have been one of those that relies way too much on keeping the audience around to find out what actually happened, but fortunately there’s more to it that enhances it considerably. Laura has some sort of medical history that calls into question her mental state, and, regardless of what happened, she wasn’t ready to be told that she was lying and instead posted very publicly that he is a rapist, something that is sure to cause her problems in her life as a teacher and to damage his reputation irreversibly. The fact that Andrew could come talk to her at school because she sent his son to the principal’s office is a sign of just how intimate this show can be as it deals with a truly grave and serious subject.

How will it work as a series? I’m not sure of that just yet, but I’m interested in returning for episode two just to see where it heads and whether it’s all about the aftermath of a response or if it deals with the alleged act itself. Six episodes seems like a solid amount of time to cover this plot, so I feel like it can’t hurt to stick around.
How long will it last? This show premiered two weeks earlier on ITV in the UK, where it did pretty well in the ratings and has since remained steady, besting another show from the same creators that airs at the same time. The reviews seem to be pretty good, and while I don’t think that it’s meant to go beyond the six-episode order it got, I think it could well prove to be an appealing concept that could net a second season of some sort.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 4, Episode 4 “Fog of War, Bro” (B+)

I’m not sure that there is currently a character on TV quite as unhinged – in the most deliberate way – as Gretchen. I’m not sure why Jimmy and Edgar bothered to go down and tell her that she shouldn’t come upstairs when they knew that would just pique her interest, when she otherwise would likely just have stayed in her room. She’s been acting very weird to Jimmy, but it is crucial to remember that she didn’t do anything wrong, and he was the one who proposed to her then abruptly left her there. Jimmy threatening to expose her to her clients was a bad move, and it was his own stupidity that led him to accidentally send the text after they agreed to make peace. He handled his unexpected guests well and even dealt with Gretchen coming over to break the news that technically they’re still engaged, and then she invited Boone over just to show Jimmy that she really was messing with him. It’s hard to know where they’ll go from here, but at least she managed to retain her clients while messing with Jimmy. Working through the night didn’t do good things for Lindsay, whose brain was never all that focused when she was doing nothing with her time, but at least she was up for an endearing duet with Edgar that would have won Jimmy over if things were actually going well and wasn’t even heard by Gretchen due to her preoccupation with her guest at the moment. My favorite line of the episode came from Merrin Dungey’s Candace in reference to Edgar: “We can CGI him into a floor lamp, right?”

Pilot Review: Seal Team

Seal Team (CBS)
Premiered September 27 at 9pm

Didn’t I just watch a new show about a group of covert American operatives executing dangerous missions on the other side of the world? It’s an unfortunate symptom of pilot season that certain series premiere at the same time as others with similar premises, and it’s hard to distinguish between them, especially when neither is particularly good. This show serves as theoretically anticipated return to television for David Boreanaz, who, after a successful stint on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” anchored “Bones” for twelve years. This show seems more serious, which means that Boreanaz is considerably less emotive. It has all the trappings of a traditional action drama that focuses on the excitement of being in the middle of the fighting and enemy territory and leaves legitimate character development behind. That’s not to suggest that it doesn’t try, resulting in a handful of unmemorable supporting players and family members. There’s a rebel up-and-comer who has family connections and some sincere bravery, but he’s held back by his overconfidence and distaste to authority, hardly something new for this type of show. I knew I recognized Mandy’s voice, and before I could figure out who was playing her, I saw Jessica Paré’s names in the credits. It’s a shame that this is what she’s doing as a follow-up to “Mad Men” considering her talents. I don’t see much in the way of originality or appeal here, and I’d say this was probably the least engaging pilot I’ve screened so far this fall.

How will it work as a series? There wasn’t the same kind of shock ending that “The Brave” delivered, so the only reason to come back is if you want to see these characters again. This show is pretty honest about what it wants to be, so I assume those who have watched “The Unit” and other series in the past will be more than happy with where it goes.
How long will it last? The reviews are decent if not great, which is to be expected, and the much bigger factor is the ratings. CBS is all about viewership, and even though this debut didn’t appear to attract the younger, more coveted audience, it did do well overall, and therefore I think it’s likely to become a staple for the procedural-heavy network.

Pilot grade: C-

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pilot Review: Law and Order: True Crime

Law and Order: True Crime (NBC)
Premiered September 26 at 10pm

Dick Wolf’s “Law and Order” brand is a successful one that I don’t think will ever die, even if the flagship show went off the air in 2010. “SVU” just started season nineteen and shows no signs of slowing down. It could only have been expected that, with the success of “American Crime Story” and “True Detective,” this franchise would attempt to venture into the anthology format, recreating a famous historical trial. I do think that the association is a bit of a misnomer since, aside from the signature clinking whenever a setting is identified on screen, this show doesn’t have many traits of the other shows, notably lacking an opening credits scene and any other identifying characteristics. I’m not familiar with this particular crime since I was born just before it occurred, and therefore I can’t speak to the accuracy of what’s being presented. As a series, I think that its most interesting asset is the actress being billed as its lead, Emmy winner Edie Falco, who plays attorney Leslie Abramson, who immediately identifies the sons as the killers and apparently will later represent them. Falco is a great fit for this role, and she’s already having fun with it. A few familiar faces like Elizabeth Reaser of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Sam Jaeger of “Parenthood,” and Josh Charles of “The Good Wife” appear wasted in supporting roles that either minimize their talents or make mockeries of them. Representing recent times on television has its appeal, but at a certain point things feel unnecessarily exaggerated and often just plain corny. This show lacks any sort of true gravitas, ending with an intense music-enhanced guilt montage that doesn’t really track with anything that comes before it, and the investigation is honestly very dull. Seeing what other shows have done in dramatizing criminal investigations, this is a real disappointment.

How will it work as a series? There are real events on which this is based, and so it can’t diverge all that much without claiming to portray them on screen. Keeping things in the courtroom is the best idea since events can be relayed through witnesses rather than through flashbacks, which are sure to be less engaging.
How long will it last? Putting this after “This Is Us” doesn’t make that much sense since the audiences aren’t really the same, and the ratings were decent as a result. The reviews aren’t terrific, but given that this show will focus on a different trial in season two, I think NBC will opt to give it a shot to prove itself again.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: This Is Us (Season Premiere)

This Is Us: Season 2, Episode 1 “A Father’s Advice” (B)

I think it’s fair to say that this was one of the most beloved new shows on television last season, and many are celebrating its return. I watched the entire first season mainly because my wife likes it, and I’m glad I stuck with it if only for the awards attention eventually heaped upon it. I don’t think that the quality has changed given the content and format of this premiere, and I’ll keep watching if only for the reasons listed above. Starting again by celebrating all of its main characters’ birthdays doesn’t feel all too gimmicky, and it’s useful to check in with all of them to see where they are in life now. With Toby’s health scares behind him, at least for now, it’s just boyfriend-brother Kevin who’s in the way of his happy relationship with Kate, who stood up for herself when the two men in her life were arguing over her like she wasn’t there and then scored a personal win by getting turned down for a music gig because she lacked talent rather than a thin frame. Kevin’s acting seems to be going great, and he’s still with Sophie, with the great distance between them as their likeliest downfall. Randall made a big mistake when he tried to force his adoption desires on Beth, telling her that she needed to get with the program, but fortunately they worked with that, and a teenage adoptee is sure to come around soon to complicate matters. It’s heartwarming to see that Rebecca went over to vow to stay with Jack when they were on the brink of separation, but then this show went into heartstrings mode to give yet another unclear hint of Jack’s eventual means of death: a shelled-out house destroyed by a fire. This show could be much better if it didn’t insist on shocking its audience and making them cry at the same time.

What I’m Watching: People of Earth (Season Finale)

People of Earth: Season 2, Episode 10 “Game Night” (B+)

They may be a different species that purports superintelligence over their human subjects, but these aliens really aren’t all that smart. Even Eric didn’t realize that all it would take to stop Gerry from being triggered by the fives becoming twos, a humorously simple way of describing both dice showing the same number, would be someone showing up and tackling him to the ground so that it would sound like he was glitching. The game was pretty intense and cool, though of course its aim was to have Gerry kill everyone in the group, which wasn’t great. Fortunately, Walsh showed up at just the right moment and Yvonne hadn’t gotten rid of all – or any – of her weapons, so Gerry posed no threat. Alex wasted no time in arresting Walsh in front of her very proud newfound twin sister, and it’s a good thing that Walsh quickly proved both that the FBI was lying and that he was an alien so that he and the two sisters can fight to get their friends back. Jeff already failed to kill the bee, and he, Don, and Kurt didn’t realize that Eric was able to shrink his box size down, enabling him to escape their bigger box and then fly up Don’s nose to take control of his body. The sight of all of our friends, including Doug, strapped to beds onboard the ship with a possessed Don marching back and forth and telling them not to be weird was an unsettling ending, especially since the only way they survive, I’d imagine, is if their memories get wiped, but I suppose we’ll see when the show returns for what I know will be a great season three.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Ken Hall as Jeff

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pilot Review: The Brave

The Brave (NBC)
Premiered September 25 at 10pm

Every season, it feels like there’s a new show about some military response or criminal investigation team that’s indistinguishable from the rest, identified only by a slight modifier regarding who it features and where it’s set. I can understand why TV producers and networks would think that this is exactly the time to make a show about America as a policing force keeping the world safe from terror, though I do wonder if the heavily liberal-leaning Hollywood is quite as gung ho about that kind of idea. Regardless, audiences aren’t only liberal or conservative, and therefore this show is definitely premiering at the right time, a less intelligent but more action-centric companion to “Homeland.” It’s important to have an attention-grabbing plotline in the first episode, and the abduction of an American participating in the Doctors Without Borders program so that she can save a terrorist the US thought was already did was undeniably that. I question this show’s frivolous desire to kill those that either seem like they have it coming or are deemed too villainous to leave, since certain moments, like the headshot received by the terrorist in the passenger seat and the detonation of the bomb in the terrorist’s wife’s hands, felt over-the-top in their emphatic nature. The most notable name here is Anne Heche, whose most recent show, “Aftermath,” was cancelled after just one season, and she’s playing a pretty typical role for her. Tate Ellington from “Quantico” is also in the cast, which his hardly reassuring given the quickly deteriorating quality of his last government agent show. This show wasn’t terrible and did manage to be mildly engaging, but if you ask me to tell you what it was called a year from now, I can’t imagine I’ll remember.

How will it work as a series? One element of a memorable series premiere is its ability to get you to come back for a second outing. This episode’s end is certainly game-changing, but to me all it suggests is that the area of the world they’re operating in is unsafe, which we know, and anyone who didn’t survive this hour is going to be replaced by other characters we don’t know yet in the next. That’s not enough of a reason for me to stick around after this relatively uninspired start.
How long will it last? The reviews, expectedly, aren’t great, but more crucially, the ratings weren’t much to write home about. NBC hasn’t been the ratings leader for a while, but given that this show premiered after “The Voice,” a strange pairing of sorts, I think that the network though it would perform better. I’d imagine that this will be cancelled pretty soon.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor (ABC)
Premiered September 25 at 10pm

There have been a number of shows over the past few decades about eccentric doctors, and you’d think that the well would have dried up by now. Fortunately, some fresh idea still exist, especially when they’re executed properly. When it comes to shows almost designed explicitly to draw a loyal, devoted audience regardless of its size and the general reviews, this is it. A young, autistic doctor is a clear endearing protagonist, and it’s impossible not to root for him to succeed. This pilot did a good job of filling in the traumatic past that Shaun had, including being bullied on the soccer field, physically abused by his father, and losing his brother at a young age. Being autistic, he processes information and emotions differently than others, something that presented a huge problem when Dr. Glassman argued for his hiring. More than anything, it helped make for an extraordinarily memorable life-saving scene in an airport, which involved Shaun speaking up when he saw a more experienced doctor about to do the wrong thing and, most unforgettably, him going up to a TSA agent to ask to borrow one of the confiscated knives which did seem to be left out for anyone to grab in a pretty public place. His skill is undeniable and his honesty is endearing, including his desire to help people and to make a lot of money and his point that Dr. Melendez, who was ready to keep him down by refusing to let him do anything but suction, could teach him a lot and was also very arrogant. Fresh off a five-season stint as Norman Bates on “Bates Motel,” Freddie Highmore, who, at age twenty-five, still looks incredibly young, is perfectly primed for this part. In the supporting cast, it’s good to see Richard Schiff as his most loyal defender and Hill Harper as a typically dubious force who will take a while to be convinced of Shaun’s validity. This show is a typical medical show with an atypical twist, and I think that it should work pretty well being what it wants to be.

How will it work as a series? The focus here will be two-pronged, since part of it has to do with Shaun overcoming past struggles to make superb medical decisions in the present, which requires hot-button cases with completely unexplained circumstances. Medical shows seem to have an almost unlimited vault of ideas to pull from on that front, so I’m sure this show can chug along for as long as it needs to with fresh medical mysteries.
How long will it last? This show is sure to be an audience favorite, though for some reason it doesn’t seem to have attracted very strong reviews. Fortunately, the ratings speak a lot louder than critics do, and this show got off to a strong start that bested many other series on ABC for several decades, so I think this is a safe bet to continue for a while.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I (CBS)
Premiered September 25 at 9:30pm

I’ll admit that when I heard about this show and its premise, I wasn’t very impressed. This seems like a premise that’s both been tried before and is overly gimmicky, meaning that the content would be too reliant on the format and suffer as a result. I was pleasantly surprised by this premiere, since I think that it works on the formative moments in Alex Riley’s life and uses smart dialogue to connect each of the events in the three time periods. It’s most interesting to me since I think that “This Is Us” far too frequently does this and leans on it, while the half-hour comedy framing here actually makes it work. The trajectory of this pilot was indicative of its cleverness, starting with a table wedge as a helpful life hack and a prop he opted not to bring to school turning into the revival of his career in the present day, and his chance run-in with the would-be love of his life whose mouth he accidentally spit a mint into many years later. This show isn’t trying to be the best, most inventive show ever, but it manages to be a pretty endearing and enjoyable experience. Young Jack Dylan Grazer is a great fourteen-year-old version of Alex, while Bobby Moynihan of “Saturday Night Live” fame does pretty well as a more comedic iteration, and John Larroquette commands a certain authority as his older, more reserved businessman nearing the end of his career. I was happy to see Allison Tolman from “Fargo” as Alex’s ex-wife and Kelen Coleman from “The Newsroom” as his adult daughter, both well-cast in strong roles. I don’t think I’ll watch more of this show, but I liked this a lot more than I thought I would.

How will work as a series? That’s the question! Will this show’s creative genes wear off in episode two and make its format seem more like a gimmick than anything else? I may just have to check it out to see how it does since I think this concept could actually be decent if its continues to play out like this.
How long will it last? I think my review is a bit more favorable than most, and this show paled in both critical reception and viewership compared to the other big CBS show to launch Monday night, “Young Sheldon.” Whether this show being like another CBS series, “Life in Pieces,” will be a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen, but I think that this show will just get one full season.

Pilot grade: B+

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pilot Review: Young Sheldon

Young Sheldon (CBS)
Premiered September 25 at 9:30pm

I’m not a regular watcher of “The Big Bang Theory,” but I’ve sampled many episodes over the years due to its frequent Emmy nominations. I’m in the camp of those who thought that this show wasn’t a good idea simply because it was unnecessary, and I found it hard to believe that anyone was clamoring for a flashback to what the incredibly precocious Sheldon was like as a child. Yet here this show is, and the good news is that it isn’t nearly as ill—fated as I had expected. What surprised me most is that it doesn’t have a laugh track, a signature both of CBS sitcoms and creator Chuck Lorre, whose new Netflix series “Disjointed” even has one. The effect of its absence is that this show is framed in a more dramatic way, showing one bright young boy whose own nature compels him to get ahead of himself on a regular basis. I’m not familiar enough with the original series to know about Sheldon’s past and if he has any relationship with his siblings or his father, but I do know that Laurie Metcalf has been Emmy-nominated multiple times in the past for her portrayal of Sheldon’s mother. I think that Zoe Perry, who plays Mary here, is the strongest part of this show, aside of course from Iain Armitage, who recently appeared on the Emmy-lauded “Big Little Lies.” This show could be fun, I’m sure, though like the one that spawned it, I don’t feel at all compelled to add it to my viewing roster.

How will it work as a series? This pilot took an expected course, and I’m not sure what else would come next. Sheldon doesn’t fit in – we know that – and so I don’t know how many people can embrace him before it feels like he’s having too easy a time navigating life. I do enjoy his repeated offers to become the leader for those around him, so there’s certainly entertainment to come regardless of quality or believability.
How long will it last? The reviews are pretty good, though of course that doesn’t mean all that much to the ratings-dependent CBS, which constantly depends high viewership. Fortunately, the ratings were extremely good, retaining almost everyone who watched the original show’s premiere Monday night. I expect a season two renewal soon – this seems like a great way to expand a very successful brand. And earlier today, it already got picked up for a full season. Talk about a fast and fantastic response!

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals

Vice Principals: Season 2, Episode 2 “Slaughter” (B+)

One of the best things about this show has been the unexpected transformation of Neal into a good person. In this episode, he demonstrated a few positive traits, starting with his realization that he had caused damage to Robin’s life. Offering him readmission to school following his expulsion was a very nice thing to do, and giving Dayshaun a real gift was nice too. He even wanted to protect Amanda from Lee’s wrath, though that may all have changed when he got triggered at the end of the episode by the sight of her new boyfriend. With Neal’s world outlook softening, Lee is coming into focus as the malicious one, motivated by his own hatred for others and desire above all to be liked. Listening in to the teachers’ gossip was a bad idea, and it didn’t even matter that he was bugging them when he called them all into the woods to demand their IDs before burning them and telling them they would be shot if found on school property. Lee has some truly evil impulses, like referencing making execution videos when talking about his hatred for Mrs. LeBlanc. It’s hard to tell whether the things that he and Neal do actually stick since they’re so wild and unbelievable, but Lee’s act is unquestionably a declaration of war against all those who oppose him. Lee’s wife is on his side, telling him that kindness is power, but we saw how that sushi offer went from a decent idea to a terrible one in mere moments.

What I’m Watching: Episodes

Episodes: Season 5, Episode 5 “Episode 505” (B+)

This show took a very long break between this show’s fourth season and its current final year, and this episode served as a way to pay tribute to actor Alex Rocco, who played Matt’s dad and passed away in July of 2015 during the show’s hiatus. There was also plenty of comedy in this episode due to the nature of Matt hearing about his father’s death, his reaction, and the incessant conversations that followed as a result. Linda calling Matt to complain about being left at Target without keys or a wallet gave no weight to her boyfriend’s death, and the two of them really weren’t nice to each other. Beverly’s inability to be understood because of her accent was funny, and she and Sean are just hopeless to resist getting into situations that drive them insane. Matt’s ultimate solution to get two prop urns with ashes was pretty smart, and watching him accidentally shower himself with the ashes while he was trying to scatter them at the beach was predictably miserable. Beverly and Sean were right to seize on Matt’s story about his father and pitch him a show that could actually work. With only two episodes left in this series, I’m not sure how much ground we’ll cover, but it does seem like a positive idea. After Carol’s expectedly terrible response to Beverly giving her the bad news about Merc, she did exactly the right thing, calling Carol in to catch Merc in a lie which he pretty pathetically just let go without offering up any legitimate human defense.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pilot Review: Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Premiered September 24 at 8:30pm on CBS

This premiere is a pretty big deal for a lot of reasons. On the heels of the first streaming series winning a top Emmy prize, this is the flagship show of a major broadcast network’s premium subscription service, which could become a new model for television in the coming months and years. Though “The Good Fight” beat it to air, this was the first show conceived for the network, and the first “Star Trek” series in twelve years following the successful relaunch of the brand with three films in the past decade. In a lot of ways, this feels like classic fare, with a few important differences. Sonequa Martin-Green, of “The Walking Dead” fame, is an actress of color in the leading role, and she even has a male name, knocking out racial and gender stereotypes in one fell swoop, charging ahead by venturing into unknown space, knocking out the captain, and getting a computer to accept her ethical protocols in order to give her a fighting chance at survival. She’s a huge asset to her crew, using her learned Vulcan knowledge to her advantage at every turn. The all caps subtitles for the Klingon make them less accessible, seeming like a truly alien species, and going back in time yet again to a Cold War point makes them the natural enemies for the less war-oriented Federation. Unlike “Enterprise,” this show doesn’t address the novelty of space travel, but rather hones in on the adventurous exploration of deep space. I’m not sure that, if that wasn’t part of this universe, I would be compelled to keep watching, but I’m eager to meet Jason Isaacs’ captain following Michelle Yeoh’s memorable start and see where this show and its protagonist go, at least for a few more episodes.

How will it work as a series? This brand has never had a problem filling its episodes, and as long as it doesn’t stay too focused on the Klingon threat, there should be more than enough space to cover to keep it engaging for years. The characters are well-written and there’s a lot to be gleaned from this crew.
How long will it last? The reviews are very good, which is a positive. I think everyone would have expected that the buzz for this show would produce strong viewership numbers for the two-hour premiere, and the question is how many of those viewers will subscribe to CBS All Access, a statistic that will matter more than how many people are actually watching it. I suspect this will be a resounding success and wouldn’t be surprised if a renewal was announced very soon.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 5, Episode 7 “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” (B+)

There was a moment in this episode where things could have turned out very differently. In these racially-charged times, it was interesting to see Daryll stand up for the first time to his father’s casual comment about each ethnic group and what their roles should be, stopping the car to throw Mickey out when he laughed off Daryll’s accusation of racism. But then it all dissipated, since ultimately he’s still Daryll’s father, and the news that another one of his sons was in danger was enough to get him to move on right away. Ray made sure in his deal with Frank that Daryll wouldn’t go down for any of the crimes Mickey would be arrested for, but then, when he thought his father’s life was at risk, he showed up to shoot Frank in the head. That was a pretty startling and bloody death, considerably more intense than the fabricated video showcasing a similar scene with Avi. Frank has always been more of an ally than an enemy, while Avi has been a true friend who both Lena and Ray couldn’t imagine killing despite his sincere fall from grace. Bunchy’s stint in prison didn’t last long, and gave him just enough time to determine that he needs to go after someone else for the money that he kept from his own newly-incarcerated partner whose name Bunchy is sure to forgot how to spell. Terry’s confession to Ray was an important one since he didn’t try to help Abby survive at someone else’s expense but rather helped end her suffering. Natalie and Ray’s relationship is just what he needs right now, something full of passion that feels dreamlike and is sure to fizzle out soon.

What I’m Watching: Transparent (Season Premiere)

Transparent: Season 4, Episode 1 “Standing Order” (B+)

Last year, it took me a whole lot longer to finish season two, so very little time passed between when I wrapped it up and when season three started. This year, I’ve had more time off after reaching the end of season three in early December. This show notably missed out on an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Series for the first time this past season, but it continues to go strong in terms of charging ahead in the exploration of its complicated family dynamic. This premiere shows just how chaotic things are in getting back to the original characters, especially as perceived by Ali, whose mental state has already been called into question in previous circumstances where she didn’t seem to experiencing the world around her in the way the audiences does. Renting out the house on Airbnb doesn’t seem to be going too well, and the renter’s initial reaction to her being there wasn’t very polite, nor were his follow-up questions. Shelly’s presence in Josh’s house is more than a little much, and I can’t imagine he’ll be able to take that for much longer. Sarah testing her siblings for sex addiction was a weird activity in itself, and the three of them attending a support group meeting together was even more peculiar. I’m excited by the addition of Alia Shawkat, recently great in “Search Party,” as a former teacher of Sarah’s children and a member of the group, and I hope we’ll get to see more of her. And popular professor Maura is headed to Israel! I’m intrigued to see where that goes and how this show handles its continued Jewish self-exploration, previewed through video footage in the opening credits.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 3, Episode 4 “Checkmate” (B+)

Anyone who thinks that this show has gone downhill since Pablo Escobar was killed should watch this episode immediately. There exists such complexity in the way that law enforcement works in Colombia and the manner in which the drug lords have become ingrained within it, exercising an extraordinary and frightening level of control over what should be an ethical and moral police organization. Pena has been through this before, however, and as a result he wasn’t leaving any of it to chance. Bringing Cali’s only honest cop, Calderon, with him on an epic raid of a completely irrelevant house only to then take him to the place where he well knew that Gilberto was required masterful execution, and the only problem is that they let him get away so that he could call in all of his people to follow the wrong truck before Gilberto was safely flown out of Cali. Colonel Martinez’s ability to talk down the cops who met them at the airfield was also impressive, though he appears to have lost his badge for that feat of honor. Gilberto didn’t realize how serious his apprehension was, and unfortunately this is probably just going to cause more bloodshed than anything else. I’m curious if Jorge could have helped to stop it had he been within range and not abducting someone’s child, and the calls being made by those who remain at the top of the food chain show that everyone is panicking now, and intense and dangerous times are coming.

What I’m Watching: The Defenders

The Defenders: Season 1, Episode 6 “Ashes, Ashes” (B+)

Listen, I agree that this show and its universe would be better off without Danny Rand – he’s a weak link who doesn’t compare to the other three members of this team. Yet I have to say that I’m disappointed in the others for their failure to see that deciding to imprison or even kill one of their own is just what the Hand wants and hardly the way to proceed. There’s a lot more going on, of course, and Matt provided a wealth of previously withheld information in this episode by briefing everyone about the hole and about his relationship with Elektra. Jessica and Matt do seem to actually get along pretty well as partners now that they’ve gotten through the initial unfriendly banter, with Jessica telling him that she doesn’t read heartbeats but she reads people, and 92% confidence is still a lot. Matt playing the piano to discover that there was something in there was pretty cool too. Elektra did come in handy when she showed up to stop Stick from killing Danny, but then she went and killed him, which shows that she remembers some of her past but not enough to put her on the good side of things. Alexandra was ready to control the dissent on her side, getting back to K’un-Lun and having the Defenders killed before then, but Elektra showed up to ruin that party too and take the reins of this evil group, presenting a more formidable enemy than they were facing before.

What I’m Watching: Atypical

Atypical: Season 1, Episode 7 “I Lost My Poor Meatball” (B+)

This show has caught me by surprise a bit since I’m not sure I expected there to be as much drama not related to Sam and his particular approach to life, and this episode dove deeper than any of the previous ones into the way that those connected to him deal with important realizations and revelations. That’s not to suggest that Sam was in the background for this episode, since he got a rather quick challenge from Paige to determine whether or not he loves her by the time he goes out with her parents to Olive Garden. I enjoyed his visit to the restaurant ahead of time so that he could rattle off all of his questions to the hostess and become more comfortable with his surroundings. Connecting the dots when he wanted to tell Paige something as soon as he heard it seemed like a step in the right direction towards pure scientific love, but dancing in the parking garage with Julia was a far surer sign that he’s still head over heels for his therapist. She did seem to be crossing a bit of a line after showing up looking disheveled to get a new TV, and so some of this is on her too. Elsa just wants to use her relationship for the thrill of it, and after she didn’t want to be there for a more serious moment, she couldn’t disconnect in the way that she really should. Casey had quite the response to seeing her mother kissing another man, which was to jump into bed with Evan, a decision that she doesn’t look to be too happy about. At least this show has been renewed for a second season, which is comforting news ahead of my reaching the season finale.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What I’m Watching: Better Things

Better Things: Season 2, Episode 2 “Rising” (B+)

IF you didn’t know Sam before watching this episode, I don’t think you’d get a terribly good impression of her from it. That’s because this involved two pretty epic takedowns of the way society sometimes functions in relation to women, and Sam wasn’t about to stand for any of it. The opening piece, starting with Sam engaging in an unsatisfying sexual session before demanding that they leave just seconds after it was complete, primed her for the chance to respond to a simple, seemingly innocent question from the guy and then deliver a very public and harsh skewering of the role women often occupy in relationships. I’m pretty sure that her non-boyfriend was played by John Ales, a recent cast member on the sadly-cancelled “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” also from FX. Going away with Sunny and her friends to her rich boyfriend’s home started off a bit rocky with Frankie’s resistance to just being dumped somewhere, with excuses that were at first believable and then outlandish, like that she wouldn’t be fed since they were fasting all weekend. Sunny taking the phone and telling her that she couldn’t bother her mother anymore was a bit extreme, and things seemed fine even after Macy bailed because she was scared of flying. When they got there, however, it took Sam mere moments to decide that this was not somewhere she wanted to be because she had no desire to be set up. Even though she calls them names and isn’t always so fond of them in the moment, it’s all about her daughters, and her little dream sequence about bringing them all to the beach in a fancy car spoke volumes about her true priorities.

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 4, Episode 3 “This Is Just Marketing” (B+)

It’s even to forget that Jimmy actually does something productive with his life, and that people – albeit a select few – enjoy his writing. Returning to that in this episode was helpful, since Jimmy assumed it would only be good news that someone wanted to publish his book. That cover, however, and the notion that his hifalutin literature would be marketed as erotica struck a huge blow to his ego, one that it seemed he wasn’t going to recover from. Yet he opted to go in disguise with his mustache, only to be recognized immediately, and he got into it during his very well-received reading, which started with, “Take off your pants!” It’s hardly the intellectual level he wants to be on, but I think he’ll take some perverted comfort in being able to get women off with his writing. I knew it was Merrin Dungey, best known for playing Syd’s best friend on “Alias,” playing Candace, who had the hard job of convincing Jimmy that he should buy into this new sales ploy. It was sweet to see Edgar and Lindsay realize that they really do like each other, even if Edgar was just using a move on her to prove that it works. The whole idea of Vernon and Becca’s podcast is absurd, and Vernon wasn’t into his good friend Jimmy being defamed repeatedly on air. Gretchen did make an important realization, one that now has her keeping Jimmy out of her bedroom, content to stand her ground regardless of whether her would-be fiancé is actually the owner of the home.

What I’m Watching: The Good Place (Season Premiere)

The Good Place: Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 “Everything Is Great!” (B+)

It’s wonderful to have this show back! Season two represents a cool sort of reboot since we know what’s going on and our main characters don’t, though it’s also becoming clear that, even in this bad place, those creating the illusion of a good place aren’t in control of everything and can’t truly create the environment they want since they have to put effort in too. They prefer good old-fashioned torture methods, and therefore they get distracted by fire, take suggestions about going to the gym too literally, and are desperate to have a character that’s meaty rather than just playing an uninteresting pizza place owner. I love that Real Eleanor, better known as Denise, has a big part, and that Amy Okuda, recently seen on “Atypical,” has been added to the cast as what seems to be the most intelligent of Michael’s minions. Watching this all play out was fun since Michael was trying so hard to make it work, and the attempts to torment the humans weren’t subtle enough, so Jason and Tahani, in particular, cracked right away rather than suppressing their agony for a bit. The biggest question is whether Michael is just going to keep snapping his fingers and resetting things, especially as Sean checks in with him for reports that he’s making up, since that could become tiresome. It’s also worth noting that, though Michael stuck his hand all the way down Janet’s throat, Eleanor put the note in her own mouth this time. Obviously Michael should check for that, but I am most curious to see how things carry over from one iteration to another. I was most impressed by Chidi realizing how far they must have gotten in his book by the chapter while Eleanor confessed that she would likely have just ripped a random page out. I’m really excited for this season and look forward to more!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Comedy Series

This is the twenty-first category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Casual, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Orange is the New Black, Shameless, You, Me, Her

Emmy nominees: Atlanta, Black-ish, Master of None, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep

Semi-finalists: Atlanta, Better Things, Brockmire, Casual, Divorce, Girls, Grace and Frankie, Insecure, Jane the Virgin, Making History, Master of None, Powerless, Santa Clarita Diet, Search Party, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Silicon Valley, The Detour, The Great Indoors, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, You, Me, Her

Finalists: Orange is the New Black delved even deeper with its characters in preparation for a transformative prison-wide arc. iZombie reinvented itself and reframed its universe in a very involving and always entertaining way. Vice Principals could have been extremely stupid and forgettable, but thanks to witty writing and superb stars, it really worked. You're the Worst started anew with its characters on new adventures that were doomed to failure. Fleabag was a welcome addition to the TV landscape with a wondrous talent both in front of the camera and behind it.

The nominees:

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was a stirringly creative and unique vision, with a style truly all its own. The Good Place turned something simple into an engaging, complex, and funny look at what comes after life. Trial and Error was spectacularly irreverent and really found its own voice in the absurd as it progressed. Shameless never fails to showcase rich, extremely flamed characters as they engage in depravity.

The winner:

People of Earth managed to turn a simple punchline into a winning, workable concept, with endearing experiencers supporting each other on Earth and equally awesome aliens up in space trying to figure out how to invade and control them.

Next up: That’s a wrap! Get ready for fall pilot reviews aplenty!

AFT Awards: Best Drama Series

This is the twentieth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: The Affair, Better Call Saul, Jessica Jones, Narcos, Ray Donovan

Emmy nominees: Better Call Saul, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, House of Cards, Stranger Things, This Is Us, Westworld

Semi-finalists: Better Call Saul, Billions, Dark Matter, Legends of Tomorrow, Longmire, Luke Cage, Masters of Sex, National Treasure, Rectify, Sense8, Stranger Things, Supergirl, The Crown, The Flash, The Man in the High Castle, This Is Us, Timeless,

Finalists: Narcos followed up on a spectacular first season with a gripping look at life on the run for one of history’s biggest drug lords. Ray Donovan took its extended family in new directions with just as many bumps along the road. Good Behavior hatched a strong premise and let its plot and its fascinating characters take it wherever it needed to go from there. Mr. Robot got even murkier in season two but remained one of the most fascinating series on television. Humans explored new ideas and came to new conclusions in its ever-enthralling exploration of artificial intelligence.

The nominees:

The Handmaid's Tale presented a terrifying vision of what contemporary society could look like, featuring endlessly disturbing content in the most mesmerizing way. Westworld explored a vast world with boundaries that were nearly impossible to see, layering depth within all of its mysteries. Sneaky Pete and Goliath both took relatively familiar concepts and helped make them completely fresh due to on-point writing and tremendous ensembles.

The winner:

Legion was a visually astounding feat that matched its look with its content, separating itself far from its X-Men roots and creating something that was impossible to forget and totally captivating to experience.

Next up: Best Comedy Series

AFT Awards: The “Threshold” Award for Best Cancelled Series

This is the nineteenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. This category is a special one, given out four times in the past six years, honoring those shows which died this past season. "Threshold", for those who do not know, was a fantastic science fiction drama that premiered in 2005 on CBS and was axed after only nine episodes (the DVD release contains four additional unaired episodes). Led by the great Carla Gugino and featuring a fun cast, the show began with an electrifying pilot surrounding an interesting type of alien invasion strategy. Unfortunately, the show premiered around the same time as two similar sci-fi series, the dreadful "Surface" and the impressive "Invasion." Both those shows outlived "Threshold" but ultimately did not make the cut for a renewal order. "Threshold" was the victim of a bad timeslot, and just to make it worse, CBS decided to renew a staggering six series from the 2005-2006 season. This category was suggested by a friend several years to be titled the "Firefly" award, but I hadn’t yet seen that show, which has a large enough fan base, thus, I would like to honor the memory of "Threshold" with this award.

The “Threshold” Award for Best Cancelled Series

Dark Matter (Syfy) ran for three seasons, so in a sense I can’t complain that much, but I’m citing my frustration for three reasons. One is that it ended on a game-changing cliffhanger, which showed that it was able to reinvent itself regularly. Secondly, it’s much better than “Killjoys,” which Syfy opted to renew for two more seasons, which also means it knows when it’s ending, and, thirdly, like “Alphas,” this is exactly the type of show that should be airing on a network like Syfy, and I can’t understand why no one appreciates it. It worked very well despite a questionable premise. Let’s hope Netflix or someone picks it up; otherwise, I’ll just have to keep recommending it to people.

The Great Indoors (CBS) wasn’t a show I ever expected to watch or like, but something about the relatively basic millennial-centric comedy won me over. The cast was fun and I laughed a lot, and you’d think that CBS of all networks would be up for another show like this which serves a slightly different population than all of its other shows. I recognize that this one doesn’t rank as high as the others in terms of quality, but I’ll miss it.

Making History (FOX) was one of my favorite shows to watch this past season, making a relatively unsophisticated concept into an enjoyable show with a lot of laughs. I was particularly fond of Leighton Meester’s Deborah Revere and her excited pronunciation of “ice cream.” I’m not sure how long this show ever had it in, but I think that it could have gone on a bit longer, even if some of its plotlines towards the end weren’t superb.

Powerless (NBC) is a show that really should have succeeded, and I’m sad that I forgot about it until this point, meaning that I didn’t get to recognize it properly in other categories (I may have to go back and do that). Vanessa Hudgens was terrific in the lead role as an overly excited do-gooder working with unmotivated people played by the likes of Alan Tudyk and Danny Pudi to combat collateral damage from supervillains. I don’t know why it didn’t catch on, and I really hope to see the episodes that didn’t make it to air.

Sense8 (Netflix) doesn’t technically belong here since it was un-cancelled, but it was only revived for a two-hour special and therefore has still been officially axed. This season demonstrated that this show has longevity, and its awesome finale showed that it’s finally ramping up its action to head somewhere great. Unfortunately, all we’ll have is two hours to wrap that up, which should hopefully be able to condense what could have been played out over several seasons.

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (FX) is one of those shows that I feel like no one else was watching, and I was very sad to see that it was cancelled. “Rescue Me” lived on a whole lot longer than this half-hour comedy, and I would have loved to see more of this truly wild and singularly argumentative group. I get that it was a bit unfocused and messy at times, but I would call those things assets rather than limitations.

Keep these shows alive by checking them out and getting into them!

Next up: Best Drama Series

Friday, September 22, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

This is the eighteenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Orange is the New Black, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Shameless, Veep, You, Me, Her

Semi-finalists: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Divorce, Girls, Grace and Frankie, Life in Pieces, Making History, Santa Clarita Diet, Search Party, The Catch, The Detour, The Great Indoors, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, Vice Principals, You, Me, Her, You're the Worst

Finalists: Silicon Valley achieved new highs thanks to the hilarity of its cast. Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll was just as wild in season two, with its ensemble players getting even more hyped up than before. iZombie tackled new dramatic territory with just the right amount of comedy infused from its stars. Shameless was as depraved as ever, with its committed cast continuing to perform beyond expectations. Jane the Virgin encountered new challenges that its more than capable cast was perfectly ready to take on.

The nominees:

People of Earth turned those obsessed with alien abduction into sweet, wonderful people thanks to a great set of actors. The Good Place made a place not quite like heaven very palatable thanks to its assembly of talent. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency wouldn’t have worked as marvelously as it did without all of its eccentric cast members. Orange is the New Black has one of the best ensembles on television and shows no signs of letting up as it humanizes the complicated inmates of Litchfield.

The winner:

Trial and Error made a town full of ridiculous people feel totally real and completely hilarious, with exceptional performances all around.

Next up: Best Cancelled Series

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

This is the seventeenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: The Affair, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Jessica Jones, Narcos

Semi-finalists: 12 Monkeys, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Billions, Dark Matter, Good Behavior, House of Cards, Legends of Tomorrow, Longmire, Narcos, National Treasure, Rectify, The Affair, The Crown, The Flash, The Leftovers, The OA, This Is Us

Finalists: Stranger Things smartly showcased its children, full of such energy and wonder, and paired them with adults who definitely didn’t have a handle on their lives. Ray Donovan utilized its talented cast to typically excellent effect in its strong fourth season. Sense8 grew into itself largely by letting its actors take the spotlight and show off their abilities. Humans charted new territory with extremely interesting characters portrayed by an exceptional cast. Better Call Saul was more people-focused than ever, honing in on its small ensemble to tremendous effect.

The nominees:

Westworld created synthetic people incapable of controlling their own actions, and watching the actors on all sides portray that was nothing short of incredible. The Handmaid's Tale made its many personalities in a world supposedly devoid of individuality work superbly thanks to its featured talent. Sneaky Pete was enhanced greatly by actors utilized in very fitting roles. Goliath had more great performers that it knew what to do with, making nearly every scene and character interaction above-average.

The winner:

Legion never let up for a second, thanks in no small part to its astonishing cast, led by Dan Stevens but featuring so many important supporting members.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Writing in a Comedy Series

This is the sixteenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Writing in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Bottles (Casual), Pilot (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), The Other Man (Master of None), The Morning After (You, Me, Her), Pilot (You, Me, Her)

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

Semi-finalists: A Woman First (Veep), Amarsi Un Po (Master of None), Chadwick's Angels (Making History), Chapter 10: A Hostile Jury (Trial and Error), Chapter 12: The Defense Rests (Trial and Error), Chapter 13: The Verdict (Trial and Error), Everything Is Fine (The Good Place), Georgia (Veep), Hooli-Con (Silicon Valley), Insecure as F*ck (Insecure), Kimmy Bites an Onion! (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Kimmy is a Feminist! (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Kimmy Learns about the Weather (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Pilot (People of Earth), Racist as F*ck (Insecure), Rebel Rebel (Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll), Run for the Money (Vice Principals), Server Error (Silicon Valley), Terms of Service (Silicon Valley), The Floor (Grace and Frankie), The Gun (Grace and Frankie), The Heat (The Detour), The Principal (Vice Principals), The Tub (The Detour), Toast Can't Never Be Bread Again (Orange is the New Black), Weaponized Soul (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency)

Finalists: Michael's Gambit (The Good Place), Kimmy Googles the Internet! (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), The Boyfriend Experience (Making History), Justice (Veep), Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 2 (iZombie)

The nominees:

Episode 1 (Fleabag)
First Date (Master of None)
Last Day on Earth (People of Earth)
Chapter 9: Opening Statements (Trial and Error)

The first episode of Amazon’s superb and biting comedy, an exemplary installment of Netflix’s exploration of life and culture, an inspiring piece of alien engagement from TBS, and a standout absurd half-hour of NBC’s new mockumentary series were all very well-penned.

The winner:

Horizons (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) constructed a formidable and unparalleled premise and brought it to magnificent, marvelously entertaining life in its debut episode.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

Thursday, September 21, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Directing in a Comedy Series

This is the fifteenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Directing in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Pilot (Casual), Pilot (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Japan (Girls), The Panic in Central Park (Girls), Nashville (Master of None)

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

Semi-finalists: All I Ever Wanted (Girls), Bang Bang (Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll), Buona Notte (Master of None), Chapter 10: A Hostile Jury (Trial and Error), Chapter 12: The Defense Rests (Trial and Error), Chapter 13: The Verdict (Trial and Error), Chapter 9: Opening Statements (Trial and Error), Episode 6 (Fleabag), First Date (Master of None), Fix Everything (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency), Georgia (Veep), Groundbreaking (Veep), Hooli-Con (Silicon Valley), Insecure as F*ck (Insecure), Justice (Veep), Kimmy and the Trolley Problem (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Kimmy Bites an Onion! (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Looking for Mr. Goodbrain, Part 2 (iZombie), Michael's Gambit (The Good Place), Pilot (Brockmire), Pilot (People of Earth), Remember, Ruby, Remember (You, Me, Her), Server Error (Silicon Valley), The Cleaner (The Catch), The Foundation of Learning (Vice Principals), The House of Uncanny Truths (Search Party), The Job (The Detour), The Seventh Layer (You're the Worst), The Shot Heard Round the World (Making History)

Finalists: The Mysterious Disappearance of the Girl No One Knew (Search Party), Terms of Service (Silicon Valley), Kimmy is a Feminist! (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), No Longer Just Us (You're the Worst), Episode 1 (Fleabag)

The nominees:

Weaponized Soul (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency)
Last Day on Earth (People of Earth)
Toast Can't Never Be Bread Again (Orange is the New Black)
The Principal (Vice Principals)

These four episodes couldn’t have been more different. An informative, action-packed hour brought together all of the mystery from a truly puzzling season on BBC America, an enlightening episode showed the best of what TBS’ alien comedy, an intense and powerful season finale of Netflix’s drama masquerading as a comedy, and the opening installment of a fantastically depraved new HBO show were all superbly steered by their directors.

The winner:

Amarsi Un Po (Master of None) was a wondrous, impossibly romantic portrayal of dreamlike love that truly captured the spirit of what could be on Netflix’s above-average comedy.

Next up: Best Writing in a Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Writing for a Drama Series

This is the fourteenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Writing for a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones), AKA Ladies Night (Jessica Jones), (Mr. Robot), Descensos (Narcos), The Same Boat (The Walking Dead)

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

Semi-finalists: Episode 8 (The Affair), Stuff to Steal, People to Kill (Dark Matter)

Finalists: Of Mice and Men (Goliath), Faithful (The Handmaid's Tale), The Bicameral Mind (Westworld), Thief (12 Monkeys), Chicanery (Better Call Saul)

The nominees:

Offred (The Handmaid's Tale)
Pilot (Sneaky Pete)
Chapter 1 (Legion)
What If… (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Three of this year’s pilots were completely different but equally appealing: a dark vision of an oppressive contemporary society, a lighter tale of a creative con man, and an extremely complex, mesmerizing mix of mental illness and science fiction. ABC’s long-running action series got a much-needed and superb reboot with the immersion into a new universe that could have been.

The winner:

Trompe L'Oeil (Westworld) demonstrated, more than anything, the idea that its writers had a grand plan for their show and its layered worlds, culminating in a twist that many fans may have seen coming but was nonetheless extraordinary.

Next up: Best Directing in a Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Directing for a Drama Series

This is the thirteenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Directing for a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones), AKA Sin Bin (Jessica Jones), AKA WWJD (Jessica Jones), (Mr. Robot), Descensos (Narcos)

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

Semi-finalists: Chapter 7 (Legion), Citizens United (Goliath), Episode 8 (Humans), Episode 8 (The Affair), Masks (12 Monkeys), No Regrets (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Offred (The Handmaid's Tale)

Finalists: All the Madame's Men (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother) (The Leftovers), The Bicameral Mind (Westworld), All the Things (Good Behavior), Pure Peckinpah (Longmire)

The nominees:

Faithful (The Handmaid's Tale)
Late (The Handmaid's Tale)
You Want a War? (Sense8)
Thief (12 Monkeys)

Two particularly influential episodes of Hulu’s new dystopian drama stood out for the way that their searing content was framed. What was almost the series finale of Netflix’s trippy sci-fi show was also its most exciting installment yet. And one eye-opening hour of Syfy’s time-traveling show presented everything in an entirely new and adventure-centric light.

The winner:

Chapter 1 (Legion) was immensely captivating and incredibly designed, showcasing a visual story just as fascinating as its narrative one.

Next up: Best Writing for a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: People of Earth

People of Earth: Season 2, Episode 9 “Truth or Dare” (B+)

It’s sad that there’s just one episode left this season, but I’m very comforted by the fact that this show will be back for a third season. I’m a bit puzzled about the speed with which Walsh is planning to bring back Ozzie, but apparently it’s a big ship, so I guess we just don’t know what’s going on in this episode, which didn’t even feature Don at all. I think that Jeff has officially become my favorite character this season, trying hard in this episode to work up the courage to tell Kurt how he feels about him, egged on by Walsh, and then ultimately relegated to pretending that he loves scrubbing every surface of the ship with a toothbrush. Discovering that Eric charges every night is important, and could help with the mutiny, but Gerry appears to have finished his project, which is bad news for everyone. I enjoyed Richard’s mediation and the fact that he was able to achieve a victory for the believers, which he followed up by taking the settlement money he got and quitting his job so that he could find something he actually likes. Everyone bringing him pajamas was especially sweet. Alex showing up at Gina’s door for some free therapy was funny, and her rambling voicemail was a pretty big disaster, culminating in her saying “I love you.” My favorite part was her realization that her last name was Foster because she lived in a lot of foster homes. It seems that her connection has been a positive one, and I can’t wait until she finds out that her birth mother was abducted by aliens while giving birth.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What I’m Watching: Vice Principals (Season Premiere)

Vice Principals: Season 2, Episode 1 “Tiger Town” (B+)

I actually just rewatched this show’s pilot a few weeks ago with my wife and some friends, none of whom were quite as enchanted with it as I found myself. It’s great to see how much this show has grown in season two, opening from a similarly dramatic standpoint of Neal recovering from his gunshot wound and laced with just as much infantile behavior from its two main adults. Neal has come full-circle in regards to Ray, who he now likes, while he’s not so into his ex-wife, who has hated him for a while. Lee has gotten himself very comfortable at school, turning it into exactly the operation he’s always wanted it to be, but he’s missing something crucial, which is Neal’s presence. The triumphant return of Mr. Gamby the disciplinarian at the very end of the episode was fantastic, and I like how the new vice principal, Dayshaun, and Amanda were all excited about it. Neal’s reaction to the celebrations in his honor was typical, and even though he’s become mellowed by his injury, he’s the same man he’s always been. Tracking down Belinda and accidentally throwing the gun across the floor made for a magnificent moment that I assume will be the last we’ll see of her, featuring her proudly revealing the tattoo of Neal and Lee that she got on her back so that she can literally put the shit behind her. Only on this show would that fly, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the next six episodes of this show play out since, sadly, that’s all we’re going to get of it.

What I’m Watching: Episodes

Episodes: Season 5, Episode 4 “Episode 504” (B+)

We learned at the end of the last episode that Merc was actually with Morning despite telling Carol that he wanted to start over with her and do things right this time, and it was absolutely worth it to learn it all over again when our three protagonists found out. As usual, Matt was cold to his former costar, and I love that Morning accidentally let slip that she used to have a thing with Merc based in the 70s, an always amusing reference made funnier by the fact that actress Mircea Monroe wasn’t born until 1982. Beverly seemed very upset and concerned about her friend while the boys could do nothing but talk about her breasts, and of course that translated to her being very awkward on the phone when she should have used her token bluntness to tell Carol what’s going on, since their friendship will surely be in trouble once Carol finds out that Beverly knew and didn’t tell her. Everything has changed now, and Kathleen Rose Perkins once again deserves the awards attention she never gets just for the physical comedy involved with accidentally putting the pregnancy test in her mouth when she went to answer the phone. The getaway at the ranch house was most worthwhile for Matt’s complete inability to concentrate and his insistence on writing on the board and then ordering lunch. The shooting scenario wasn’t as exciting, and watching them lift a pig up to rush it to the vet only to abandon it when they found out how much it would cost was far from the most worthwhile plot point of the episode.

Round Two: The Deuce

The Deuce: Season 1, Episode 2 “Show and Prove” (C+)

Well, a second shot at this show didn’t turn out to be enlightening at all, with more of a foray into the porn industry proving to be less than engaging. Sure, this show has its moments, like Candy’s naïve guess that the movie they were filming would be nine hours long instead of eight minutes, and Darlene’s realization that a movie she thought she filmed for a private audience of one was actually being sold in a store, which was promptly raided by some amused policemen looking to give the owner a really hard time. Overall, however, this show is still hopelessly dense, and its access points aren’t appealing. James Franco is an undeniably charismatic actor, who handed in a career-best performance in “127 Hours,” but he’s just too casual here in his dual roles, which are becoming much more clearly intertwined with the mob, especially as Vincent got an offer he couldn’t refuse to own his own business with only a minor monthly debt to his investor-realtors. I knew I recognized Rudy from somewhere, and I mistakenly thought he might be Adam Ferrara from “Rescue Me.” It turns out that he’s one of the more influential if infrequently-seen figures from “The Sopranos,” Jackie Aprile portrayer Michael Rispoli. This show isn’t afraid to be violent, as evidenced by the stabbing of the fake cop by one quick-thinking pimp. I don’t think there’s much more to be gleaned from watching this show, which has already been renewed for a second season, and while I’m sure I’ll regret it if it ends up being an awards juggernaut, something tells me this show will go the way of his predecessors “Treme” and “The Wire” and earn precious little Emmy attention.

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan: Season 5, Episode 6 “Shelley Duvall” (B+)

Ray’s in better shape than he was at the end of the last episode, but he still doesn’t have a good handle on what’s going on around him. He went to Winslow to ask for payment for unexpected consequences of his work like having a gun pointed at his head, and in the process saw that she had the Oscar that should have been in the hands of the dead man found hanging in a motel room. Lena is a loyal right-hand woman for Ray, but she seems to be growing tired of hiding in car trunks and helping to stash away beautiful women in Ray’s apartment. Doug was not at all pleased when he found out via the news that Natalie was holed up there, and Ray’s attempt to deny it failed almost instantaneously. It was haunting to see him return from that first initial dalliance with his neighbor to Bridget, unimpressed that he had somewhere else to be, as Abby decided that she didn’t want treatment, much to the misery of those around her. Bridget was pretty thrilled when her uncle Terry showed up to see her, and we got to see him loosen up much more than he usually does, smoking and laughing with Bridget and Smitty in an effort to cope with the unforgivable deed he helped to commit. Bunchy’s stint in jail seems to be getting more serious than expected, though it has also provided the opportunity for him to come face-to-face with one of the men who ruined his life, a circumstance I imagine he’ll find a way to turn to his advantage.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pilot Review: American Vandal

American Vandal (Netflix)
Premiered September 15

I couldn’t tell at first if this was meant to be a documentary or something scripted, but it didn’t take more than a few seconds of watching to realize that this was a satire of hugely childish proportions. I actually just listened to the first episode of “Serial” a few weeks ago during a long drive, and while I know I’m late to the party (and not hooked only because I don’t drive regularly and prefer to watch TV when I can), I think it was perfect timing so that I could fully appreciate what this show is trying to do in parodying it. Appreciating it and liking it are two different things, however, since I can respect it without thinking there’s actually all that much to it. I don’t think anyone is pretending that this is supposed to be taken seriously, and instead it’s taking a lot of jabs at the excessive drama portrayed in this kind of long-form exposé. That the subject, Dylan, is on trial for drawing many, many penises on staff cars, says it all. Naturally, that’s part of the investigation, since, while Dylan was a known penis-drawer, his style and form is considerably different from what was found all over the cars, which means that maybe he’s…innocent? It is possible that this show could have been a bit more sophisticated, but I suppose then the comedy factor would have been impacted and the absurdity of it all would be lessened. Still, this isn’t something I can bear to watch for even another episode, and I’m surprised that it seems to have been so widely well-received.

How will it work as a series? I can’t imagine what’s going to take place over the next seven episodes, since that seems like an awfully long time to spend on these characters and this silly crime. At least each installment is only half an hour rather than a full hour, but that’s only some consolation.
How long will it last? The reviews appear to be pretty good, and ratings data isn’t something that Netflix tends to release. I’d hedge my bets on this show getting renewed, albeit for a second and totally different anthology chapter with something equally immature and ridiculous meant to send up pop culture and the excitement of this type of series.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Narcos

Narcos: Season 3, Episode 3 “Follow the Money” (B+)

This season really is revving up, with Pena doing his best to really make some progress in taking down the Cali cartel while his American comrades are actively working against him to ensure a continuation of the status quo. To think that such violence is permitted is especially disturbing considering the real-life news that a location manager for the show’s fourth season was recently killed in Mexico. The two senators who came down to find out where their money is going were familiar TV faces, Glenn Morshower, best known as Agent Aaron Pierce on “24,” and Louis Herthum, who played Dolores’ father on “Westworld.” Pena didn’t need much information to realize the scene of destruction he was seeing was staged, but it doesn’t matter, since he’s not receiving any kind of support. His agents are indeed smarter than they look, as Feistl and Van Ness toured around with a man who definitely isn’t the most honest cop in Medellin and then surprised him with a warrant. It was pretty intense to see Jorge, who is the definition of calm under pressure, get out of his car and bolt inside the building after Guillermo repeatedly refused to heed his warnings to then literally hold the dirty money in his hands behind the door so that the agents wouldn’t find it. Hearing his accent was a big win, but not as incredible as being led to the very hiding place where Gilberto was. Pena’s already on to his own leads, following Miguel Angel Silvestre’s cleaner Jurado and his wife American wife Kerry Bishé, whose passport is like gold. I’m eager to see what happens next.

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

This is the twelfth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Sasha Alexander, Eliza Coupe, Claire Danes, Regina Hall, Callie Thorne

Emmy nominees: Becky Ann Baker, Angela Bassett, Carrie Fisher, Melissa McCarthy, Wanda Sykes, Kristen Wiig

Semi-finalists: Adrienne C. Moore (Orange is the New Black), Amanda Stephen (Orange is the New Black), Amy Landecker (People of Earth), Anna Camp (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Becky Ann Baker (Girls), Condola Rashad (Master of None), Gabrielle Ruiz (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Katie Aselton (Casual), Leisha Hailey (Silicon Valley), Lesley Nicol (The Catch), Lindsey Kraft (Grace and Frankie), Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black), Maggie Lawson (The Great Indoors), Marceline Hugot (The Detour), Maya Rudolph (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Natalie Morales (Santa Clarita Diet), Olivia Colman (Fleabag), Samara Wiley (You're the Worst), Tina Fey (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Tiya Sircar (Master of None)

Finalists: June Squibb (Shameless) was endearing and entertaining as an aging woman without too much memory recall or much in the way of social skills. Collette Wolfe (You're the Worst) was a shining star on her show, never meant to stay long due to her kindness and genuine excitement. Tiya Sircar (The Good Place) did a marvelous job representing what it means to be good, sticking out among a group of terrible people. Katie Finneran (Brockmire) went head-to-head with Hank Azaria for command of their scenes and left quite an impression with her formidable appearances. Blair Brown (Orange is the New Black) brought some celebrity Southern charm to a place where it definitely didn’t belong.

The nominees:

Britt Robertson (Casual) presented herself initially as a professional colleague and then became something altogether more unforgettable very quickly. Rebecca Naomi Jones (Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll) jived well with Gigi right away and helped to liven up the energy of her show in an unexpected way. Portia de Rossi (Santa Clarita Diet) used her signature style of speaking to tremendous effect in a memorable, matter-of-fact role. Jane Adams (Atlanta) was hard to forget as an agent who definitely didn’t remember the person she was talking to correctly.

The winner:

Laura Benanti (The Detour) was relentless and excessively exuberant in all the right ways, taking her role as a member of the mail police so incredibly seriously. “Mail, mail, we will not fail” is still stuck in my head.

Next up: Best Directing for a Drama Series

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

This is the eleventh category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Peter Gallagher, Jake Lacy, Dermot Mulroney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Steven Weber

Emmy nominees: Riz Ahmed, Dave Chappelle, Tom Hanks, Hugh Laurie, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Matthew Rhys

Semi-finalists: Andrew Leeds (The Great Indoors), Billy Magnussen (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Bobby Cannavale (Master of None), Brett Dier (Jane the Virgin), Brett Gelman (Making History), Chris Williams (Silicon Valley), Erik King (The Detour), Fred Melamed (Casual), Graham Rogers (Silicon Valley), Haley Joel Osment (Silicon Valley), James Cromwell (The Detour), Jason Dohring (iZombie), Julian McMahon (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency), Matt Oberg (Veep), Michael Torpey (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Michal Hogan (You, Me, Her), Ricardo Chavira (Santa Clarita Diet), Scott Adsit (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Thomas Lennon (Santa Clarita Diet)

Finalists: Adam Scott (The Good Place) definitely had a great time playing the embodiment of hellish obnoxiousness. Brad William Henke (Orange is the New Black) committed strongly to being a vigilant enforcer with no sympathy for anyone who got in his way. Mamoudou Athie (The Detour) was the quieter of two investigating agents, always at the ready to take the next leap. Riz Ahmed (Girls) was at ease and very peaceful in his affable portrayal of a surfing instructor. Josh Charles (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) got to be as immature and revolting as he could be, taking his place in his absurdist universe.

The nominees:

Peter Gallagher (Grace and Frankie) was suave and charming in the most aggressive way, making him a fantastic fit for Grace. Jemaine Clement (Divorce) was very hilariously not French, a somewhat dim-witted player in a game he didn’t know all that much about. Allan McLeod (You're the Worst) and Todd Robert Anderson (You're the Worst) have spent most of their time on their show in the background and had a great chance to shine when the hapless husbands were featured.

The winner:

Tim Robinson (Making History) was a superb Al Capone, a mobster who was very into his jokes and being included in plans, probably the most definitive aspect of how his short-lived show worked well.

Next up: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Monday, September 18, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

This is the tenth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Lauren Ambrose, Kerry Bishe, Judy Greer, Merritt Wever, Alicia Witt

Emmy nominees: Alexis Bledel, Laverne Cox, Ann Dowd, Shannon Purser, Cicely Tyson, Alison Wright

Semi-finalists: Lisa Bonet (Ray Donovan), Sarah Baker (Goliath)

Finalists: Judy Greer (Masters of Sex) left an impression as a previously scorned wife who found just the right way to gloat about the ultimate state of her marriage. Jacqueline Byers (Timeless) infused Bonnie Parker with a sense of authenticity and youthful passion. Christina Brucato (Legends of Tomorrow) made a great case for existence, not to blame for the circumstances of her creation. Anne Dudek (The Flash) was a wonderful fit for her show’s universe, a woman of such consequence without any notion that she would ever be recognized. Calista Flockhart (Supergirl) made a magnificent return to her show that was better than her entire first season gig, swooping in to save the day at exactly the right moment.

The nominees:

Jennifer Esposito (The Affair) wasn’t seen nearly enough, but in every one of her scenes she was loyal, passionate, and relentless. Caitlin FitzGerald (Rectify) felt like she was created just for Daniel, ready to see the world through an entirely different lens without the traditional confines of society keeping her down. Catalina Sandino Moreno (The Affair) moved into a new role and wasn’t about to give it up when it looked like her dominance might be threatened. Ann Dowd (The Leftovers) was back for one final time playing a different character, seamlessly moving with the tone and pace of her memorable episode.

The winner:

Alexis Bledel (The Handmaid's Tale) wasn’t the title character of her show, but her rebellious spirit was emblematic of any semblance of resistance in her dark world, shown both in unbridled joy and in utter devastation.

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

This is the ninth category of the 11th Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television during the 2016-2017 season. Finalists and semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Josh Charles, John Carroll Lynch, Ian McShane, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce

Emmy nominees: Hank Azaria, Gerald McRaney, Brian Tyree Henry, Ben Mendelsohn, Denis O’Hare, BD Wong

Semi-finalists: Brett Cullen (Narcos), Bruno Bichir (Narcos), Eric Lange (Narcos), Gregg Henry (Supergirl), Hank Azaria (Ray Donovan), Jeff Kober (Timeless), Lonnie Chavis (Supergirl), Michael Gaston (The Leftovers), Stacy Keach (Ray Donovan), Ted Levine (Ray Donovan)

Finalists: Sam Strike (Timeless) and Colman Domingo (Timeless) made two historical figures on opposite sides of the law - Clyde Barrow and Bass Reeves - memorable and endearing. Dylan Walsh (Longmire) struck a villainous chord as an enemy without any fear of the stoic sheriff. Rich Sommer (Masters of Sex) wore his discomfort with the public nature of his condition on his face, making one patient very relatable. Danny Strong (Billions) showed what it looks like to celebrate excessively and prematurely and then be completely crushed by defeat only seconds later.

The nominees:

Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) made a welcome return as a far purer version of the man he once was, an eager hero without an ounce of evil in him. Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Sneaky Pete) was a formidable element of the law who wasn’t about to messed with, and a fierce match for the title character. Sean Maguire (Timeless) made Ian Fleming into a real-life James Bond. Hamish Linklater (Legion) was a mysterious figure throughout his appearances with an intense determination to understand the incomprehensible.

The winner:

James Callis (12 Monkeys) was born to play the man who may have witnessed it all but was also quite bored with the mundane and repetitive nature of time travel, something that only the charismatic Callis could convey.

Next up: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series