Thursday, July 26, 2018

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I (Penultimate Episode)

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 12 “The Break Up” (B+)

This inability to hear the words Nori says because he’s in love with her is a real crutch with Alex, and not knowing that she was running for student council president really wasn’t as bad as his accidental blurting out of “I love you, Nori” on the microphone during the debate. For all the antics of the election, including Justin’s stint as a harried campaign manager, it was sweet to see that, as soon as he won, he realized that what Nori wanted was important and that they could easily work together to achieve their desired aims. Knowing that their friendship stays platonic is sad, especially with no sign of Eleanor in his future in this episode, but maybe they’ll be able to get to some place that feels like a happy ending in the one remaining installment. Alex’s breakup with Lisa didn’t go terribly well, and he almost made it to the end of the party without revealing that he had opted to have sex with her even when he already knew that they weren’t going to last rather than doing the right thing and breaking it off at that point. The Alex we know at that time period is very different from the one we see as a child, and I’d like to think that Lisa’s organizational tendencies might have been more appealing to his younger self. In the future, Alex’s resistance to Abby switching teams to his most hated rivals was entertaining, especially when he heard her say that she had made the move to be closer to him. Walking into the diner with his face painted was a perfect apology.

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 11 “Phil Ricozzi” (B+)

I wondered how Alex’s number one nemesis Phil Ricozzi was going to fit into all three eras of his life, and it was creative to have him die in the future so that Eleanor had to ask Phil to attend his funeral with her, something that he only wanted to do so that, if Phil was looking down (or up) at the world, he would be jealous that Alex was the one by Eleanor’s side. Clearly it wasn’t just Alex who carried this childhood feud with him, since Phil gleefully heard the pitch from Alex and Darryl before shutting it down just so that he could get his revenge on Alex for ruining the relationship he could have had with Nori. Alex has always been smart, and not just with his inventions, and therefore his suggestion of a faked fight was exactly the solution needed. Unfortunately, he’s not a terrific actor, and he’s also a rule-follower, so he confessed at the wrong moment, negating the brilliance of his effort. We know that eventually he made it back, so Phil torpedoing his pitch isn’t a big deal, and it was impressive to see him grow when he delivered his unwilling eulogy at the man’s funeral, recognizing the ways in which Phil helped him along in life, even if he couldn’t appreciate those seemingly harsh and horrible moments until after his passing. And he even managed to win some brownie points with Eleanor, though the way in which he acknowledged it probably didn’t help.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 6 “Die Glocke” (B)

I don’t think I would ever have imagined when this show started back in 2015 that we’d see Hitler being serenaded with Pink’s “U and Ur Hand” and liking it. Weird and wild as that may be, it felt more true to this show than the sight of Cassie mowing down a bunch of Nazis while dressed as a dominatrix. Maybe it’s because Nazis have never been the villains on this show, though I suppose their quest to establish a master race is about the closest thing out there to the drive to destroy time and vanquish all who might stop them that we see from Olivia and her cult followers. This season has turned into much more of an adventure series, with our friends going back every episode to a different era to find the clues left for them by the primaries. I think I liked it better when the plague was going to break out and destroying the fabric of time wasn’t even on the table, but at least it’s entertaining these days. Cole just saying “oui” to every question he was asked since he, unlike Jennifer, hadn’t learned French due to being marooned in France for five years was one such silly example that just happened to work. Deacon revealing himself to be on the right side of things was one piece of good news, and delivering Jones to Olivia was an interesting development that hopefully speaks to a greater plan that will shift the power to our friends on the side of time.

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 2 “The Timeline” (B)

I want to love and enjoy this show as much as I did in season one, and then I remember that it actually took me some time to get into it, since it can be pretty absurd on a regular basis. Things like Anne throwing a suitcase with Dwayne in it down a hill aren’t quite as funny as they should be, and I think most of it rests on how Lavinia holds up as the principal subject on trial in this season. Josh was getting way too cocky with his celebration of how the case was going, and Lavinia still doesn’t seem to understand, or care, how the criminal justice system is supposed to work, declaring “all rise” and “be seated” when she walked into the courtroom, even getting the judge to comply with her instructions. Carol Anne succeeded marvelously in getting every single one of the prospective jurors dismissed, as if Lavinia taking a photo of herself lying across them saying “innocent” wasn’t damning enough, making the case for a bench trial which will still prove difficult for her to win given the judge’s admiration for the woman on trial. The introduction of podcaster Nina Rudolph means a new face in the office and a new love interest for Josh, though Carol Anne video-calling him with her shirt off made a pretty lasting impression at the start of what could have been a relationship. I’m eager to see what her contributions will be to the overall dynamic on the show and to see what comes next in this wacky trial.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error (Season Premiere)

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 1 “The Suitcase” (B)

I was so excited to learn that this show was coming back because it’s been well over a year since season one ended. John Lithgow really was a tremendous part of this show’s tone and energy, and I suppose that if there was anyone with as much flair and character as him, it would be Kristin Chenoweth. Casting her as the first lady of East Peck who was caught by police with her husband’s body in the trunk is unquestionably entertaining, and she made quite the impression in this opening installment. She’s inappropriate with Josh in a whole different way, not at all aware of boundaries and unwilling to accept rules like the pool being a crime scene. I’m not so into the judge speaking in a way that Josh can’t even understand, and I did feel like there were a few elements of this episode that felt more exaggerated than they were in season one, which is saying something. I loved all of Anne’s antics and conditions, but her jumping high when she gets startled thing isn’t nearly as great. Dwayne shooting himself in the foot also felt a bit literal. The law about women having to drive with a crossing guard waving red flags in front of them is also patently absurd in a way that I guess this show has made its signature element. No matter what, I’m happy that we get another round of time in this crazy town with another case that seems like surefire, undeniable guilt yet somehow will turn out not to be.

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

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 13 “The Word” (A-)

What a finale! I’m very happy that I watched this episode almost a full two weeks after it aired and I didn’t have anything about it spoiled for me. In addition to some major – and crucial – plot developments, this episode showcased female resistance in a big way from its three main protagonists. Eden’s death was still looming over everyone, and it’s clear that even those, like Martha, who didn’t harbor positive feelings for her, were devastated that they had let it get to this point. June was horrified that Eden’s own father reported her to the authorities when she came home with Isaac, and Serena, prompted in part by June, was concerned about the future wellbeing of her daughter since women obviously have no real part in what this world is. Uniting all of the wives together to stand before the council was bold, and it might have worked had it not been for her even more audacious public reading of the bible, which earned her a brutal punishment. A society in which even reading a sacred text is an offense is one that truly shouldn’t exist, and I think that’s something Serena finally realized when she let June take the baby. June hates Serena for how she has treated her, but she still checked in on her when she saw her return in clear pain. Fred, once the kinder of the two, has mutated into a product of his society, obsessed with control and lording power over the women in his life just to show them their place. It was great to see Nick stop Fred from going outside to look for June and the baby, ensuring their safe passage. It was incredible to watch June’s anger boiling but see her repress it, slapping Fred only after he hit her first. Emily, on the other hand, was determined to achieve some effect, regardless of the repercussions for her, and when Lawrence didn’t rape her, she went for Aunt Lydia instead. She didn’t even mean to get herself rescued, and perhaps that’s why, most shocking of all, June decided to go back while sending her baby, who she renamed Nicole, with Emily. It’s hard to know where the pieces will pick up when the show returns for its third season, but this finale was truly powerful, capping a fantastic second season that I believe lived up to the quality of the first. I’ll continue to cautiously recommend this show to everyone I speak to, with reservations only for the disturbing nature of the content.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Yvonne Strahovski as Serena

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 3, Episode 7 (B+)

I had been wondering if the Synth who sleeps was going to be another version of someone we knew, and it seems I was sort of right, with someone who looked a whole lot like Odi showing up to rescue Niska and responding to that name with a clever reply. What was on display here more than in any other episode is an exploration of what it means to have achieved consciousness and to believe in something. Anatole was driven so much by the fact that he believed he had come into being for a purpose, something that Max immediately moved to dispel, describing his awakening as nothing more than a side effect. Watching Max kill Anatole after their blow-for-blow combat was difficult since he’s always been such an advocate for peace, but clearly Anatole had gone too far, nearly beating Leo to death before the calm, still-likeable Stanley stepped in to keep him away from the violence. I’d like to think that both Stanley and Sam are capable of following Max and Mia and making sure that the Synths aren’t all subject to the brutal solution expressed by Neil about “product recall.” Lord Dryden letting Mia go was an interesting development, especially considering the commission’s next steps. Audrey identifying herself as a journalist to Mattie suggests that she might soon break the story, something that could be extremely impactful yet is unlikely to achieve any positive effect aside from making the Hawkins family a target of rage from the fear-mongering public.

Monday, July 23, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 5 (B+)

I knew that we were headed for this, and while I had thought it would be especially cool to have an episode that was split between Vik and Luisa’s perspectives for the first time, having Vik’s take followed by Cole’s made a lot more sense because the paths they took were quite similar. We’ve only ever really seen Vik as portrayed through Helen’s eyes, doing his best to support her and be understanding when she was far too accommodating to the nightmare ex who actually went to jail for her, and who then wanted Helen to have a baby by herself when he wasn’t going to seek treatment for his pancreatic cancer. But digging into his past and the fact that he’s done so much for others and nothing for him almost justified his impulse purchase of a fancy car (I have to imagine that the credit card he dropped was really fancy since I’ve found that in real life it’s not so easy to buy a car with a credit card) and his inevitable sleeping with Sierra, who wanted to fuel what seemed like a midlife crisis before realizing just how close to the end of his life he actually was. Cole’s self-exploration wasn’t a very pleasant journey, and the woman his father loved played by Amy Irving didn’t appear to be helping when she encouraged him to be distracted by Delphine. She wasn’t ever really the one taking his attention, and realizing that he doesn’t feel the way about Luisa that he does about Alison is important. It’s going to blow up in his face with both of them, since Luisa is going to be furious about the time she invested in the relationship and Alison may not feel the same way about him, especially since the way in which he’ll try to get rid of Ben probably won’t go well.

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 10 “Video Games” (B+)

It was cool to see how video games were presented in three very different forms over the course of Alex’s life in this episode. In his childhood, the idea of playing a game that he hadn’t yet officially received as a Christmas present was just too alluring, and he got so addicted that he couldn’t stop. He even had to sacrifice the possibility of a relationship with Nori because he accidentally got her to like his arch-nemesis who had the only other copy of the game that could help him from getting in trouble with his parents. In his middle timeline, video games were a fun diversion from his real life that took center stage in his relationship with Lisa, whose apparent wealth made her the perfect choice to be an investor in the water filtration project, until her ideas kept clashing with Alex’s and making their romance untenable if they were going to continue working together professionally. I’m glad that they chose to sacrifice the latter so that they could continue on in their relationship, even if, again, we know it’s not going to last. In the future, the high-definition simulation of a football game was cool, and it proved hilarious when Darryl revealed that he had made a lackluster player seem much better in the game so that he was more interesting, which had in turn prompted Alex to push Abby to make a real-life trade for him. Fortunately, he’s a predictable personality, and those around him, be it Justin during his childhood, Darryl in his young adulthood, and Abby in his later years, know just how much they should listen to – and disregard – his opinions.

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 9 “Thanksgiving” (B)

All three of these holiday-themed vignettes were relatively predictable, but that’s to be expected for a Thanksgiving episode that, as it would happen because of the show’s cancellation, ended up airing in July. Alex and Justin competing for Scott’s affection because they thought that it would win them points with Nori was ill-fated, and I like that Nori snapped at both of them because she thought they were trying to snag the tickets that she had been working so hard to get by sucking up to him. Maggie’s cooking did turn out to be just as bad as Scott accidentally suggested, and only cooking the turkey for an hour is reminiscent of a time my wife and I tried to make beef and broccoli in a slow-cooker in a very short period of time. I was delighted to see Sarah Burns, familiar from “Married” and “Enlightened,” among other things, as Lisa, the woman that Darryl and Wendy tried to set Alex up with on Thanksgiving. Their fake chemistry designed to get back at the couple for trying to force them together did turn into something real, and though we can’t imagine that it endures given that we’ve already seen the future, it would be nice if it went somewhere for a bit. Kelly and Eleanor meeting and really liking each other in the future was really sweet, and Eleanor admitting that she was a bit jealous was about as much of a victory as older Alex is going to get at this point.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 5 “After” (B+)

I remember when Christopher Lloyd first appeared on this show as Zalmon Shaw, with his time-traveling history as Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” series a completely different role, far jollier and nobler than his frightening villain here. What we saw in the opening moments of this episode reframed that, as he contends on a regular basis with painful memories of losing his wife and yearns for the post-time red forest in which joy will always overwhelm sadness. Sacrificing his life so that a young Pallid Man could get away wasn’t the most important of his presence in this hour, but rather the fact that he convinced Cassie of the appeal of the red forest, suggesting that she may not be in this fight in the same way anywhere, which could prove dangerous. I’m not sure that I support the logic of Gale and Jennifer writing the words whose presence in history is what brought them to that place to begin with, and it reminds me of the crucial scene in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” where a character saving himself doesn’t actually make sense. Still, it was worthwhile to see Jay Karnes as Gale again, who knows the drill and didn’t need Jennifer to explain it to him, and for Cassie to go back in time and hide from herself so that she could save Cole. On that note, Cole’s knowledge that he had to survive is a similarly risky gambit, but it means he’s not going to hold back from doing anything life-threatening. We’re close to the end, but not quite close enough for major characters to be dying for good.

What I’m Watching: A Very English Scandal (Series Finale)

A Very English Scandal: Season 1, Episode 3 (B+)

This was by far the least entertaining of the three installments, and understandably so, with even the show’s cheery theme slowed down to feel more dramatic as the trial went on. Though this story was framed as a comedy, it was actually a serious ordeal, one that demonized homosexuality and which, at least the way it’s portrayed in this realization, didn’t serve justice at all for the man whose life was nearly ended by order of one Jeremy Thorpe. The most poignant scene was when Thorpe’s lawyer sat with him and told him that he had similar indulgences but couldn’t understand why he’d go for a man like Scott and we saw flashes of the instances in which Thorpe wasn’t the one in power but instead the victim of violence and abuse. Watching his career slowly tank with his second-place finish and gradual removal from politics demonstrated that this case really did ruin him even if he was found innocent and celebrated it like a major victory. This project clearly aimed to show Scott in the more positive light, with the real Scott appearing at the end, still without his national insurance card. Going into this show, I knew nothing of Jeremy Thorpe’s career or this very scandalous affair that led to the trial that ended his career, and in just three hours this show managed to both inform and entertain me greatly. Ben Whishaw and Alex Jennings were both superb, but it’s Hugh Grant who deserves the most praise for a tremendous performance as Thorpe.

Series grade: A-
Series MVP: Hugh Grant

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 12 “Postpartum” (B+)

This show has never been a thriller about handmaids trying to escape their circumstances, and I think that’s why there wasn’t even much of a transition from Offred giving birth in the woods all alone to her being back in Gilead, once again rescued by the Waterford family to make sure that their newly born child is safe and sound. Offred does appear to be getting more assertive, though part of that is that Serena wouldn’t let the baby anywhere near her, even going so far as to try to breastfeed when she isn’t nursing, a clear signal of the delusion that this world creates. This was a particularly brutal episode for Nick, who saw Eden returned with Isaac in tow and the two of them executed for their adultery in a purposely public ceremony after refusing to atone and instead choosing happiness over life. When even true believers can’t survive this system, you know there’s a serious problem. Emily, who’s probably the most resistant handmaid we’ve made after Offred, if not more, found herself in a very intriguing new home with a commander who doesn’t speak the way others do. Treating Emily as a person was disarming to her, though it’s also evident that Lawrence, the architect of the revolution, is a calculating mastermind, one who carefully dropped the many things he knows about Emily to catch her off guard. I wonder what will become of that relationship since it’s very much unlike anything we’ve seen in Gilead so far.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season Finale)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, Episode 6 “Kimmy Meets an Old Friend!” (B-)

And just like that, we’ve reached the end of what ranks as the shortened television season ever to be nominated for a best series award at the Emmys. Though it’s technically only the midseason finale, I think these six episodes will stand on their own as compared with the remaining six installments that won’t be available to stream until late January 2019. Just one of these half-hours actually impressed me and showed me the best of what this show is capable of, and this final installment didn’t leave a particularly good taste in my mouth. I didn’t need an entire episode devoted to Kimmy saying goodbye to her talking backpack, and I often wonder why it is that this show is so juvenile when it’s capable of much grander things that still speak to Kimmy’s simplistic, naïve outlook on the world. The highlight of this episode to me was Jacqueline helping Xanthippe get some deserved revenge on the boys who made fun of her, cementing her place after she realized that she just wasn’t doing much as Titus’ agent and couldn’t stand not being rich. Titus stealing Kimmy’s manuscript seems to have worked out since he wowed the son of the executive who has to be in the room to prevent sexual harassment, so we’ll see if that goes anywhere. While I do think that Busy Phillips is funny, I’m not too sold on the introduction of her as Artie’s daughter from hell who Lillian now has to babysit. The Jewish humor employed was questionable, and ending the episode with a mysterious Israeli assassin (?) taking photos of Kimmy just felt weird and unnecessary. I’ve enjoyed this show on occasion and do laugh (and roll my eyes) at least a few times every episode, but I’d hope for better in the final slate of episodes coming in January.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Ellie Kemper as Kimmy

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Pilot Review: The Outpost

The Outpost (CW)
Premiered July 10 at 9pm

This may be the worst show I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole – there is literally nothing good about it, and everything contained within the forty or so minutes of this pilot feels trite, forced, and impossible to take seriously. I really wasn’t sure when I first started watching if this was meant to be a parody like “Galavant” or if it was actually meant to be digested literally, which just can’t be done. Starting in media res without any real explanation with its lead character planning to leave for somewhere far away in search of answers was the least of its problems. Immediately after saying that she was escaping into the woods because her pursuers would never follow her because of the presence of some uncreatively-named species, she seemed shocked to find that same species right in front of her! The worst part (well, maybe not) about this show is that its antics aren’t even the least bit interesting. When something is so terrible that it’s entertaining, it can be worthwhile in a way, but there isn’t any redeeming factor here. The CW has done very well lately with some of its superhero shows and other endeavors, but this summer series is a far cry from those. It’s a competition between poor special effects, abysmal acting, and some of the worst writing I’ve experienced in a while to win the trophy of what makes this show so uniquely awful. I don’t even know what else to say.

How will it work as a series? Well, she found the big bad guy who didn’t even recognize her, and then stabbed him before he pulled out his sword and stabbed her. Yet she still managed to survive, the reasons for which I don’t have any interest in finding out. Could setting this show in one place going forward be helpful? Potentially. Will it make this show bearable? Absolutely not.
How long will it last? My review may rightfully seem harsh, but I can’t find anything all that much more positive out there. CW shows rarely register in the ratings, and premiering this one in the summer didn’t help. I can’t imagine that this show is going to live long, though maybe those seeking a poor, poor rip-off of “Game of Thrones” will help it stay on the air for a little bit.

Pilot grade: F-

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 3, Episode 6 (B+)

It did seem for a minute like that was going to be it, with the entire Hawkins family in life-threatening danger and all of the major Synths we know about to be dead, either at their own hands or killed by those who hate Synths. Ultimately, Agnes was the only casualty of the hour, but things got very, very bad, and some important alliances that previously existed have now been torn down completely. Laura noticing that Stanley managed to get angry demonstrated that he is a conscious Synth who was playing the part of the servile orange-eyes and following orders in the process which he chose to ignore once Laura and Mia appealed to what might well be described as his humanity. Anatole undid all of that by forcing Laura to make a binary choice, one which realigned Stanley back to his original position and, saddest of all, swayed Sam since Laura was ready to let him die. Mia being arrested is the least worrisome development, but it’s also not good since there’s not going to be much hope for her defense, especially with Max losing his resolve and possibly his life. Niska got tricked in her search for the Synth who sleeps but may now be closer than ever to finding him, though it remains unclear what he’ll be able to do to help. Mattie’s pregnancy was revealed at the start of the episode but seemed almost irrelevant compared to everything else going on by its end, and perhaps whatever Leo discovers in his diary can help them to do something to rewrite the code and help repair this fractured world in some small way.

Pilot Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects (HBO)
Premiered July 8

The trend of movie stars coming to television for high-quality miniseries is nothing new. With the recent success of “Big Little Lies,” it’s clear that HBO wants to continue creating watchable programming anchored by strong female performances. This project, which is based on a book by Gillian Flynn, author of “Gone Girl,” certainly has an appeal, delving deep into a dark mystery whose subject really isn’t pleasant. While I do remember very early Amy Adams in “Cruel Intentions 2” and an episode of “Smallville” where she ate people, it was her incredible endearing turns in “Catch Me If You Can” and “Junebug” that first put her on the map in a big way. Since then, she’s been nominated for five Oscars and turned into a real star. Here, she gets to play potentially the darkest, most disturbed character she’s played yet, and much of it reminded me of “Nocturnal Animals,” which isn’t a great thing given my distaste for that off-putting film. I’d like to be enthralled and intrigued by what’s going on here, but the density of the premise combined with its gritty, unappealing nature make it hard to find worthwhile. There is clearly great talent here, starting with Adams and including Patricia Clarkson, Elizabeth Perkins, Chris Messina, Matt Craven, and Miguel Sandoval, but for all the overly buoyant and peppy structure of “Big Little Lies” that made me not love it as much as most did, it’s the lack of any hint of light here that proves stifling and ultimately uninviting.

How will it work as a series? Having a protagonist as unstable as Adams’ Camille means that the show really can go anywhere, and it’s not as if those closest to her, including her family and her editor, are even remotely looking out for her best interests in what they are pushing her to do and be. There’s such to be plenty more unpleasantness uncovered, and whether Camille will make it through unscathed is very much a question.
How long will it last? The ratings debut for episode one was great, and it’s not too surprising that its numbers went down a bit by episode two, which aired last week. Every comparison is going to be made to “Big Little Lies,” and so if this adaptation, which has earned favorable reviews, can do just as well, it may too end up being recommissioned for a second series even if there’s no source material on which to base it.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 4 (B+)

An episode like this did manage to offer two perspectives, but by not featuring the same scene experienced in two different ways, it’s actually possible to tell even more of a story as the two ex-spouses’ lives intersect rather than overlap. The opening scene with Cole, Noah, and Anton in the car confirms that this season’s big future-set mystery is the disappearance of Alison, who seems to be in the best shape we’ve seen her as she’s getting to know Ben. What this show has always been great at is portraying the allure of watching something happen to others, as Alison found herself transfixed by the demonstration of the power of the method being discussed at the conference. When Ben tried it with her, it didn’t work as well, but she did manage to create a bond with him and experience a serene day in a setting that used to terrify her. I wasn’t sure why it was that Bram was continually featured, but his presence was most helpful in uniting the plotlines, with Cole hearing and being impressed by Ben as a potential sponsor only to discover that he was proudly cheating on his wife. That eventual revelation – and the fact that Cole hasn’t spoken up – may well destroy Alison. Cole’s swift rejection of Luisa’s question about moving to Ecuador was problematic, and her equally quick acceptance of his suggestion of a walkabout to find himself – and hopefully her in the process too – means that she’s willing to give it a chance. And maybe him being gone really will create the paternal hardship needed to secure Luisa citizenship, since Cole asking Alison to relinquish her rights would indeed have hurt her in an irreversible way.

Friday, July 20, 2018

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 8 “Home Alone” (B)

I thought for a minute that this episode wasn’t even going to address the major bombshell of Justin having a crush on Nori, but it took just a few minutes to get to it and we were even treated to spending time with Justin in all three time periods. Casting Ryan Hansen of “Party Down” fame as the mid-life Justin was perfect, and the way in which his political aspirations were introduced following his personal payment to Alex for a job that wasn’t authorized by his company was cool. In the future, obviously Alex was the one having much more of a hard time getting used to letting his house go, and only when the two brothers saw two little boys around the same age as they were when they first lived together did he realize that it was the right time to move on and let the next generation enjoy the place that meant so much to him. The stubborn attitudes he expresses when he gets older aren’t all that dissimilar from Ron’s own tendencies, with his own radar-gun police force and the inspiration above all of Sully the hero pilot. In his childhood time, Alex’s latest invention to protect them from the scary pizza delivery guy who knew they were home alone predictably didn’t work, but it did help him come to terms with his brother’s feelings for the girl of his dreams and ensure that their relationship would continue to be functional and friendly even if they have a few hurdles to get over.

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I: Season 1, Episode 7 “Field Trip” (B)

I had completely forgotten about this show, which I found very entertaining and was saddened to hear had been pulled from the air after just six episodes way back in October. I was delighted to find out that the remaining seven episodes, which had already been filmed at the time of the show’s cancellation, were being made available on Saturday nights on CBS this month. At the time of this post, they’ve all already aired, but I’m going to take them one at a time so that I can enjoy the show as I wanted to before it was taken off the air in favor of far less quality programming. Not too much has changed and I didn’t really need a refresher course to remember that the Alex of the youngest and oldest generations is hopelessly in love with Nori/Eleanor. Justin’s efforts to help him take advantage of the field trip to appeal to Nori didn’t work terribly well, and the biggest problem of all, one that might explain why we’ve barely seen Justin of the future, is that Justin has now developed an attraction towards Nori and seems to be the most successful beneficiary of her return affection. Recognizing the EMT dad as the man who slept with his wife in his middle period was entertaining, especially because he turned out to be a nice guy who only got Alex riled up when he revealed that he was using cheat codes during their video game session. The online dating world of the future is a bit more hi-tech but not all that much more helpful, and Vanessa Williams is always a welcome guest star, especially in this case as she played someone he hated who only liked him more when she found out that he was pining for someone else.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 4 “Legacy” (b)

This was a bit of a weird episode – not that most of this show’s are normal – but I suppose having a time machine entitles you to a few wild adventures throughout history, even if the fate of time itself hangs in the balance. Traveling back to 1852 to find the key to stopping Olivia and saving time ended up offering a few surprises, not the least of which was the return of Peter Outerbridge’s Dr. Elliot Jones. His explanation of his creation of a research vessel that could travel through time certainly sounded more noble than the Titan we’ve come to know, but of course it’s a head trip to see people like the Pallid Man we know to be dead very much alive and well, taking orders from others in the present that we’re experiencing. Jennifer wanting to be back in touch with the voices she heard when she was primary led to the unfortunate infiltration of her vision by Olivia, whose Witness-possession of people is getting really freaky. It now seems that Emma, revealed to be both Olivia’s daughter and Elliot’s apprentice, may be James’ mother, though I’m not entirely sure yet and don’t want to look it up for fear of spoiling things I shouldn’t yet know that haven’t happened yet (I mean in episodes I haven’t seen, not events that will take place in the future on this linear-optional head trip). Deacon does appear to have fully switched sides, but something tells me he’ll come back to help the good guys just when they need him most.

Round Two: A Very English Scandal

A Very English Scandal: Season 1, Episode 2 (B+)

This second installment was a fine follow-up to the first, continuing along the story in the same buoyant fashion. I love that Jeremy started casually talking to Peter about where to dispose of the body the moment they stepped out of a heated Parliament session, never letting up on just how much he wants to happen even if the people he’s relying on to get it done are determined to stall so that eventually he’ll forget all about it. The moment that Jeremy actually saw Norman right in front of him riding a horse made clear that he’s never going to let it go, and the way that this hour ended cemented Jeremy’s closing threat from the first installment and made sure that, even if he wasn’t the one who (tried to) pull the trigger, Jeremy is going to go down for his act of attempted murder. There exists such a disparity between the life experiences of Jeremy and Norman, no starker than in how they respond to the deaths of the women closest to them. We didn’t see Jeremy cry for a moment, and instead he invoked the car crash as a way of baiting a political nemesis who tried and failed to take him down. Norman seemed genuinely horrified, and he’s fighting as hard as he can to stay on the right path after getting beat down by those well aware of both his sexual orientation and his addiction. Norman’s insistence while reporting on his affair with Jeremy on his status as a lover rather merely a footnote in his story was interesting, signifying the strength of the connection that goes far beyond simple tabloid fare.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 11 “Holly” (B+)

One of the ways in which this show succeeds most formidably is the way in which it portrays the repression that the handmaids and others not in power in this society experience, especially in contrast to the liberties they previously had. Hannah having trouble separating before school one day was a harmless enough memory that obviously has far more meaning to June given her present situation, and watching her curse Luke out and yell about the wrong song coming on during her first labor was a far cry from the cold, lonely, painful delivery that she managed to pull off in the abandoned house where no one knew to come looking for her. Fred and Serena showing up shouting for Offred was most notable because their fighting felt far more contemporary than the more antiquated style that Gilead usually uses, showing that they too are putting up a front and would much rather be free to speak freely in a way that allows them to truly be themselves. Offred shooting them from above would have been too easy, and the fact that she now has a child in the middle of the freezing woods with no one but people who think she’s run away coming to look for her means that she’s essentially hopeless. Naming the baby after her mother cements a connection with this offspring that soon may not belong to her, and hearing the radio of the American government in exile was a nice glimmer of hope that’s all too rare on this show.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, Episode 5 “Kimmy and the Beest!” (B)

This half-hour wasn’t quite as good as the last one, but it did still contain its share of (mostly) controlled ridiculousness. The idea that Titus was a jock in high school who never did any of the things that we now see him do on a regular basis, like act and sing, has been absurd all along, yet we know all he really wants is the spotlight and therefore he was more than ready to do the exact same thing and suppress the hopes and dreams of rising star Hudson. I'm not surprised that this is Tituss Burgess’ Emmy submission since it does give him a pretty superb showcase, though new viewers to the show might find his performance hard to relate to given that it’s a deep dive into his highly contradictory background. It’s funny seeing Bobby Moynihan as man’s man Fran Dodd now that his cancelled show, “Me, Myself, and I,” is dropping its remaining episodes since it’s a completely different role. I like that Kimmy easily beat him in an arm-wrestling competition and got so angry at every single thing that he said which made absolutely no sense. It’s funny that Jacqueline and Lillian both use Kimmy’s office as if they work there when they really don’t, and they managed to pull off a great feat when they didn’t blink in front of the parents and instead got an entirely different audience to attend the (pubic) school play at an incredible premium, with the trauma they inflicted on the kids an added bonus to their victory.

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 3, Episode 5 (B+)

There’s a lot going on right now, and for all the positive developments, there are some much more disconcerting negative ones that seem ready to implode as early as next episode. Mattie was excited to have made a friend, but she should have known that it was too good to be true. I feel like someone who hated synths and wanted to hurt her would have been better than the truth, which is that a journalist is planning to expose Mattie as the hacker behind Day Zero, which itself is worse than just trying to arrest her since her entire family is going to be put in danger once it all comes to light. Mia getting the equivalent of a police escort with supporters all around her was a victory, and Lord Dryden agreeing to see her was another win. Max seems happy, but he has no clue that Anatol is actively plotting against him, seemingly with the previously innocuous and polite Stanley as a plant ready to kill at his command. I’m intrigued by Leo realizing that he isn’t cataloging his memories properly and that he may be experiencing a new one, and I wonder if that can somehow help the good, peace-loving synths. It was sweet to see Sophie help Sam try to come to terms with the fact that Karen is gone, expressing unhappiness at her not being there and amusement at the distracting games that Sophie taught him to help him be something close to a normal kid.

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 3 (B+)

This was nothing if not a very watchable hour of television, with some intriguing developments that are mostly lamentable and predictable but dramatic nonetheless. Noah making a case for his troubled star student got complicated when he found out that he was the principal’s son and that Janelle had failed him when she really didn’t need to. Inciting a walkout based on the lack of diversity of writers he was teaching in his own class was a very self-centered action, and he quickly saw that it had disastrous implications, with police showing up within minutes hardly eager to put up with what they deemed a threat. Getting interviewed on television and quoted as the principal was an enormous blow to Janelle’s already almost nonexistent ego, and of course they were going to make out and start a relationship that will only further drive a wedge between her and her teachers when they found out that he’s only taking her side, from their perspective, because they’re sleeping together. Helen’s time didn’t go all that much better, with Vic completely in denial about his very serious cancer diagnosis. She wasn’t pleased at all with Trevor’s comment that he got his science acumen from Vic, but obviously that’s what Vic is holding onto most, the notion of extending his legacy in some way. It’s hard to imagine Helen wanting to have a baby right now, but I think she needs to hold on to whatever is left in her marriage to stay anchored.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 3 “45 RPM” (B+)

I’ll be honest – it’s been a while since I felt like I really understood how time worked on this show, if I ever did. What our friends do in the past may in fact already have been done, and I couldn’t tell you which version of Cole that was who saved Jennifer when she dove onto the train tracks and told her to get another version of him a cheeseburger. I’m also not sure who Olivia’s baby is going to be, whether it’s important, and if we’re already supposed to know his or her identity. Either way, I’m following along closely and trying to make sense of it all. Olivia going back through her own mind to get answers about what’s changing and seeing her future self as the Witness was pretty trippy, and possessing her younger self to explain that it was her and not Vivian was a freaky but crucial revelation. Vivian was eerie enough with her steadfast devotion to the mission, and now she sacrificed herself so that her daughter, who will become the evil Witness, can live. Maybe it’s a good thing that she was more powerful in the past and now she’s stuck interrogating Deacon, who is hardly going to give her the answers she wants. Cole knowing how to open something because of his father’s story was cool, and, once again, if I’m understanding correctly and we don’t yet know, I think that Cole’s father is the baby that Olivia is going to have. We’ll soon see, I guess!

Pilot Review: A Very English Scandal

A Very English Scandal (Amazon)
Premiered June 29

There are many different ways to tell a story. Doing so through present-set conversations interrupted by flashbacks to key events is a very common one employed, and it can quickly become tiring if it’s not used properly. But there are cases in which it’s exactly right, and for this three-part BBC One miniseries available on Amazon Prime, it’s perfect. Where it proves most helpful is in covering a lot of material in a short period of time, with this first installment, running less than an hour, managing to paint an incredible portrait of its protagonist. Hugh Grant has been back in the spotlight lately after a successful career in the early 1990s and 2000s, and previously bounced back after his own public relations incident following an arrest for having sex with a prostitute. He has received accolades for his performances in “Florence Foster Jenkins” and “Paddington 2,” and the role of Jeremy Thorpe as written here is one he seems born to play. The way he speaks matches the tone and meter of this show, which is assisted by a wondrously buoyant score that makes this story extremely entertaining. Alex Jennings, who played the Duke of Winsdor on “The Crown,” is a great scene partner for Grant as Peter, who helped him suppress much of this scandal, and Ben Whishaw, who voiced Paddington and appeared in many films including “The Lobster,” does a great job making Norman into just the kind of person who could fall completely in love with this JT before spiraling out of control and becoming a total liability. I didn’t expect to want to continue with this show, but given its energetic pacing and sharp editing, I think I can stick around for two more episodes to find out how it all plays out.

How will it work as a series? Both men were involved in serious relationships with women that weren’t going well for different reasons, Jeremy’s because he is, as he says, 80% gay, and Norman because of his dependence on drugs and alcohol. Norman calling Jeremy’s wife to demand his insurance card means things are going to fall apart quickly, especially considering Jeremy’s response to those events, which should be plenty interesting and thrilling.
How long will it last? Reviews seem to be pretty good, and I think that Amazon audiences will want to watch both because of Grant’s involvement and because of this saga’s historical nature. Regardless, I think the whole story is told within these three parts, and therefore this is one of those rare miniseries that just won’t continue beyond its initial order unless there’s another similarly English scandal to be spotlighted.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 10 “The Last Ceremony” (B+)

This show doesn’t take a lot of time to break down what has become the new norm in this scary future and how those who think it’s completely absurd and unacceptable have to cope with it. Showing how all the handmaids are raped by the commanders and their wives on a regular basis was made all the more impactful and devastating when Fred and Serena held Offred down while she was protesting to try to induce the baby. Emily refusing to move to help her passed-out commander was a sign of a far more removed and resigned response, one that pairs with her sense of having given up when Offred tried to give her some bit of hope. While I don’t think that Offred knew she wasn’t going into labor, Serena was probably right that she was happy the baby didn’t come, if only to prove how ridiculous the simulation of labor that Serena went through was. Fred telling Serena that he’s spoiled Offred made his subsequent decision to allow Offred to be reunited with Hannah puzzling, but it’s possible that he used it to get rid of Nick and to be able to punish Offred for the crime of trying to run away again. Nick not even pretending to care that Eden kissed another man was hardly a smart choice, and it seems that he’s going to pay for it dearly now. Hannah not recognizing June and then becoming so attached to her within moments was difficult to watch, and the amount she comprehends about what is happening is really very disturbing.

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, Episode 4 “Kimmy Disrupts the Paradigm!” (B+)

After that questionable mockumentary installment, it’s nice to see an episode like this that highlights what this show does best. Kimmy’s outlook on the world has always been impossibly naïve, and therefore it’s great to watch her figure out how to live within it. Heading to a conference where she was operating a booth that she couldn’t hope to understand was a fun setup, and naturally she gravitated towards the one guy who also thought that all this technology nonsense was bogus. I was pretty sure I recognized actor Drew Gehling, who played Danford, and after looking up his page on IMDB and finding nothing, I realized my initial hunch was correct: he was in the Broadway version of “Waitress” in a far more noble and likeable role. Kimmy exposing him by having him fail to define “disrupting the paradigm” was fantastic, and Lillian did her best to make her own realizations after trying to find a replacement for Artie in elder holograms and other absurd inventions through all the technobabble from Fred, playing by Jason Jones from “The Detour.” The back and forth between Jacqueline and Titus are great, with Titus’ reaction of “Gross!” to Jacqueline telling him she was going to give it to him straight as a particular highlight. Titus speaking up for the nerds and hitting the principal with the football was a nice win, and I’m sure his antics as a schoolteacher working on building up his acting resumé are going to be well worth watching.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 3, Episode 4 (B+)

It’s nice to see a rare win for a while, even if it’s not celebrated in such fashion. The visit to the Railyard was full of possibilities for implosion, starting with Lord Dryden’s refusal to shake Max’s hand when he extended it in friendship. Max, to his credit, also set certain boundaries, choosing guns in their homes over having the repressed orange-eyes paraded around within their walls. Keeping Agnes locked up ahead of time was obviously the right choice giving that she showed up with a knife, and Max has clearly lost patience for her, locking her in a shipping container once she proved completely incapable of coalescence. I wasn’t sure where the opening scene of the hour was coming from, but it made sense to understand Agnes’ fear of dark places, which now a synth has trapped her in similar to the way that her first human oppressor did. Ed returning to help Mia up after she got pushed over by the mob was an unexpected development, and Mia greeted him with one hell of a resounding punch to the face that felt much more like something Niska would do. I like that Niska managed to overcome what should have been possible when the bomber was trying to frame her for his crimes, demonstrating that she truly is advanced and evolved to a degree no longer measurable by technology. Sam falling in public and bleeding blue blood was a moment that quickly turned deadly, as Karen somehow managed to contradict her programming and presumably sacrifice her own life to ensure Sam’s survival, theoretically making Joe the new guardian of this synth child.

Pilot Review: Secret City

Secret City (Netflix)
Premiered June 26

Netflix is importing many foreign series these days, and it’s helpful when the show is in English and features stars that American audiences know well. I never much liked “Fringe,” though I will admit that, even over just the span of this ninety-minute pilot, Anna Torv was far more emotive than she ever seemed on that show and on her recent arc on the first season of “Mindhunter.” She was immediately defined here as one very committed journalist, set on getting the truth no matter how many people she had to piss off. Alan Dale continues to be typecast as the most powerful person in every television universe he inhabits, here playing the Prime Minister of Australia. Jacki Weaver, who made her international breakthrough with “Animal Kingdom” and then starred in “Silver Linings Playbook,” is the senator who makes sure to manipulate events to her advantage, a role that gives her plenty of scenery to chew on in a large cast, which also includes an unexpected American face, Mekhi Phifer, as the ambassador representing America. Opening with a protestor setting herself on fire to call attention to the cause of Tibet was certainly eye-catching, and after the events of this lengthy pilot, it’s clear that Torv’s Harriet should keep pushing because there’s much to be uncovered and exposed. I wish that I felt more invested in these characters and these stories after such an immersive debut, but it just didn’t grab my attention in the way I might have hoped.

How will it work as a series? Four more episodes seems like just the right amount to explore these storylines, though it’s similar to all the other recent international miniseries that only run four to six hours and could probably go longer if they really wanted to get to know every member of their large ensembles.
How long will it last? This show debuted back in June 2016 on Foxtel in Australia, and it was renewed for a second season, which will feature the same characters and a different storyline, back in February of this year. While I doubt that it will rank anywhere near Netflix’s highest-rated show, import or otherwise, there seems to be me to be no reason that Netflix wouldn’t stream whatever installments are broadcast in its native country.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 2 (B)

Though Maura Tierney does give a compelling performance as Helen, I find that the storylines involving Alison and Cole do tend to be more interesting these days. There’s recently been a trend for these threads to be completely separate, with the former couples interacting on a regular, usually volatile basis, but the two who had the affair that provides this show’s title rarely seeing each other. Starting with Cole’s perspective after beginning the first installment of the season with Helen’s also shows this series’ investment in the characters it highlighted more later, just as crucial, if not more so, to the story as the two leads, and inarguably much more likeable. Alison and Cole continuing to work together in business doesn’t seem like a great idea, and though we got both perspectives on how her appearing at their meeting very late happened, they’re clearly not close to over each other. Luisa, who I’m hoping will soon get her own opportunities, maybe along with Vic if he’s still alive, to have her perspective shown, got particularly angry at Cole for the way that he behaved and obsessed over the woman who’s no longer supposed to be the most important person in his life. She had the two best lines of the hour: “You’re clearly not leaving me today, Alison is busy” and “You can’t shoot someone just because they drew on your face.” His casual response to her getting pulled over by a cop demonstrated how different a world he lives in. Showing up to help fix her car was reminiscent of Noah’s act of heroism in the pilot, and as she starts fueling her attraction to a new person, it’s interesting to see that things haven’t changed all that much, there are just new people filling the same old roles.

What I’m Watching: Westworld (Season Finale)

Westworld: Season 2, Episode 10 “The Passenger” (B)

I consider it a small miracle that it took me nearly three weeks to watch the season finale of one of the most buzzed-about and popular shows on television and I didn’t have a single thing spoiled. That and I didn’t finish it until a couple days after the Emmy nominations, where this show performed very well with a staggering 21 nominations, including a surprise bid for lead actor Ed Harris, who has grown even more unlikeable all season long. Part of the reason I think I didn’t know what was coming is that I’m still not entirely sure what happened, and I’m trying my best to analyze this episode without reading other recaps to confirm what I think. Early on in this epic ninety-minute finale, Maeve pulled off another mesmerizing feat of mind control, but it was her final effort to hold off the hordes of violent hosts egged on by Clementine that was the most impressive. I still don’t really comprehend what death means in this world since all the hosts should be able to be revived, but things seemed pretty finite when it came to Teddy and some of the others. I loved that Lee stepped in to take Hector’s place and deliver the battle speech that he wrote, sacrificing his own life because he believed in the cause of those he had created. Bernard’s out-of-time experiences were certainly trippy, and after he killed Dolores, it was pretty shocking to see a host version of Charlotte emerge and kill the basis for her existence, a revelation that there was a whole plan all along to truly infiltrate the highest levels of humanity responsible for the creation and manipulation of Westworld. How Bernard is still alive and what that means is a mystery, as is the post-credits sequence in which William discovered that he might be a host (I’m really not sure). What the valley beyond actually was is also incredibly intriguing, and I can honestly say that I have no clue what comes next in season three. I still contend that this is one of the most fascinating shows on television, but I didn’t feel that this year was quite as strong or even as season one.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Thandie Newton as Maeve

Monday, July 16, 2018

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 2 “Ouroboros” (B)

As I write this, I’m well aware that the final season of this show has already completed finished airing, but I still have a full nine hours left before I’m all done with this wild time-bending adventure. We’ve reached a point typical of shows at this point close to the end of their runs, which allows characters to relive past moments and see better, or at least naiver times, once again. Often, shows have transformed so much from their starts to their ends that newly important characters play an overly crucial role in current events even if they haven’t been stalwarts the whole time, and this show is a fortunate exception. Not only can its characters actually travel through time, but we’re getting to see them go back to the formative moments that got everything started, with the reintroduction of Ramse as a particularly sentimental inclusion. Cole suggesting that Jones should walk around as herself since their former selves were only looking for scavenging intruders and not their mirror images was clever, and it’s incredible to see just how much Jones knows about her own future as a result of repeated non-paradox visits from those with information about what will come in her life. Cassie going back to 1971 to kill Olivia with no tether was made all the more impactful by her appropriation of Cole’s “This was always a one-way trip” catchphrase, cementing the fact that she’s become the most hardened of all these time-travelers, a major difference from how she was when she first started. As I stated in my review of the season premiere, I really do wish that Jennifer’s hallucinated self who evaporated into oblivion had died a real death, but I’m on the edge of my seat with curiosity after her latest move to fall back onto the train platform with a certainty that she wasn’t alone.

What I’m Watching: Goliath (Season Premiere)

Goliath: Season 2, Episode 1 “La Mano” (B)

I liked this show a lot back when it premiered in October 2016, and it was a long wait for this second season. One of the best parts about its first year was the ensemble cast, with Danny and his reluctant allies going up against a true goliath that included his former partners, both personal and professional. In this premiere, it’s hard to tell who’s still around and exactly what the focus is going to be, with only a repentant Brittany and a much older Denise returning. I didn’t expect that most of the characters, especially the opposing legal team, would be back, but it’s hard to get quite as excited without all of the supporting players on board. I got confused watching Lou Diamond Phillips as the owner of a bar since I saw him in a similar light for the past few years on “Longmire,” and while he helped to introduce this season’s legal storyline, it doesn’t look like he’s going to survive past the end of this hour. The two prominent faces we did see were Ana de la Reguera from “Cop Out” and “Narcos” as a prominent mayoral candidate and Mark Duplass from “Togetherness” and so many other things as an apparent fixer who really likes to talk. It’s still not so apparent where this season is going, with arms being cut off and other lovely moments from this premiere, but given how engaging season one was, I’m willing to stick around and see what’s coming.

Pilot Review: Take Two

Take Two (ABC)
Premiered June 21 at 10pm

It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since “The O.C.” first started. I used to have viewing parties at my house during high school and watch as the ridiculousness of that show played out, a formative contribution to my early years of getting into television. Of the young cast, only Ben McKenzie has found truly steady TV work, leading “Gotham” successfully. Rachel Bilson, who played Summer, the self-obsessed popular girl who was much smarter than she let on, starred on “Hart of Dixie” for four years on the CW, and now she’s back with a role a whole lot like the first one that made her famous. Sure, Summer never got to the point of going to rehab for some very public disturbances of the peace, but she did do whatever she wanted despite what others told her to, determined to be her own person. The format of this show is highly familiar, comparable to something like “Castle” in its portrayal of an unlikely but successful partnership between a private investigator and the actress who first shadowed him to try to understand his craft and then realized that she is actually pretty good at this. Eddie Cibrian, who I remember last from “Invasion” over a decade ago, doesn’t add too much in his portrayal of the private investigator who seems like any other unconventional method-using, disgruntled cop that’s appeared on television in the past. This show tries hard to parody the cop drama genre but ends up becoming yet another entry in it with its recycled dialogue and soapy plotlines. It’s entertaining enough, but hardly a must-watch.

How will it work as a series? After Sam made headlines for helping Eddie bust Deacon, now she’s being requested specifically to work for him. That huge boost to her ego is going to mean that their working relationship is layered even more with sarcasm and mockery, which should help to make their antics more amusing while also making them more irritating.
How long will it last? Reviews haven’t been all that positive, but that’s probably to be expected. Its ratings were decent at the start but have since dropped after three more airings. Premiering a show at the end of June – before the summer really starts – is a strange gamble for a broadcast network since even the summer season doesn’t tend to be strong, and while this is appropriately light, I think it’s just as forgettable. It might last through its ten-episode order, but I think that’s it.

Pilot grade: C+

Pilot Review: Next of Kin

Next of Kin (Sundance Now)
Premiered June 21

This streaming service continues to deliver international series that have made waves overseas. This one stars Archie Panjabi, a native of London best known to American audiences for her Emmy-winning role as Kalinda on “The Good Wife.” I also saw her on “Blindspot,” and here she seems almost unrecognizable, playing a far more standard, subdued part that is much more straightforward. She’s supported by Jack Davenport from “Smash,” “Swingtown,” and, of course, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” This is the type of pilot that doesn’t make clear from its outset where it’s going, and even by the end of the first hour, it’s still not apparent. Panjabi’s Mona isn’t going to take her situation lying down, having her dead brother’s family placed under suspicion when it’s his son who seems to be far more culpable, and she’s going to run headfirst towards danger to make sure that justice is served as best as she can. This is just the latest British miniseries of its kind, which originally aired back in January on ITV, and spans a case over the course of a short run, six episodes in this instance. While the brutal murder of a captive by terrorists was hard to shake, this pilot didn’t stand out enough for me from the wave of similar series that are premiering in the United Kingdom and then broadcasting months or years later on some American network. Panjabi and Davenport do seem to be giving this their all, but this is hardly the best project either of them has starred in.

How will it work as a series? Mona had her sister-in-law hand the phone directly to the detective in charge, showing that she’s ready to cut through any red tape and go much further than that in pursuit of the truth. This should serve as a decent thriller while also exploring themes of racial profiling, religion, and other relevant topics.
How long will it last? It’s hard to find any information about this show other than a few lukewarm reviews and reports of how it faltered in the ratings as compared with other series during its initial broadcast on ITV. Most of what Sundance Now is importing is meant to simply be presented to an American audience rather than find one of its own, and so I assume six episodes is all this show needs and all it’s going to get.

Pilot grade: C+

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What I’m Watching: Brockmire (Season Finale)

Brockmire: Season 2, Episode 8 “In the Cellar” (B)

Well, that’s it. It barely feels like this season even aired, and now it’s already done, with the third season, which was ordered long before this one began, scheduled for sometime in the future. I’m not sure exactly what was accomplished this season, since we watched Brockmire spiral downwards into his own vices and then come out nearly dead on the other side after Carrie Preston’s Elle opted to introduce Russian Roulette into their dangerous mix of activities. I suppose that was as good an impetus as any for him to finally go to rehab, a stint that seemed to be working until he regressed and shouted down one of the residents when he complained about the lack of nudity in the film they were watching. Skipping forward a whole year is probably helpful, and now, all of a sudden, we’re back to the original three characters who helped season one work so well. All told, Amanda Peet actually appeared in half of this season, though I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if she was around the whole time. The first season felt fresher and more exciting, with some female presence and helpful subplots serving to balance the dynamics that just couldn’t be matched by Brockmire and Charles alone. This still remains an enjoyable show, and one I plan to watch when it returns for its third season, but I’m hopeful that season three takes the reboot direction and starts us back over with something solid that features all three lead characters on a consistent basis.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Hank Azaria as Brockmire

Pilot Review: Yellowstone

Yellowstone (Paramount)
Premiered June 20 at 9pm

I don’t read much, if anything, about shows before I watch them, and, more often than not, my expectations turn out to be wholly incorrect. I presumed that this was a period drama about the early years of the Old West and the creation of Yellowstone National Park, or something like that. Instead, it’s a modern-day drama that’s relatively heavy-handed and epic in its own way. Kevin Costner, who won an Oscar for directing “Dances with Wolves” back in 1990 and has often delivered lackluster performances in popular movies, most recently Best Picture nominee “Hidden Figures,” won an Emmy six years ago for anchoring “Hatfields and McCoys,” a miniseries that was set in the past. Here, he’s as stubborn, stoic, and determined as ever, leading a cast that has more than a few recognizable faces in it. Wes Bentley delivered a breakout performance almost twenty years ago in “American Beauty” and hasn’t done all that much of note since, and this seems like a relatively standard role, especially compared with that of his onscreen sister, played by Kelly Reilly, who made a real impression in “Flight” and has had a few major TV roles since then. Gil Birmingham is a reliable actor, from “Hell or High Water” and other projects, who seems to have a solid role as the head of the Indian reservation working with Jill Hennessy’s senator to make the concerns of his people heard. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” is the primary force behind this show, and while there are moments of intrigue and characters chewing plenty of scenery, something doesn’t quite spark here. The cinematography and editing are strong, but this sprawling family saga hardly feels like a vital landscape to be explored in this format.

How will it work as a series? This double-decker episode really did feel like a movie, with many more threads to be explored afterwards. There are more than enough characters to fill up an hour each week, and it’s certainly pleasant enough to look at given the obvious appeal of its setting. Still, it doesn’t feel original or truly energetic.
How long will it last? The premiere ratings were off the charts, scoring Paramount a win that it can’t possible ignore. Three more episodes have aired since this show debuted, and while reviews are mixed and far less enthusiastic than the numbers, I think that Paramount is going to want to certify this hit as just what it is, a potential flagship for the newly-rebranded network.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4, Episode 3 “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface” (B-)

This is one outrageous episode, but that’s the point. This show has always mocked society and how it is by showcasing a character who is hopelessly innocent that she wouldn’t be able to recognize depravity or evil even if she came face-to-face with it. Sometimes, this show is just plain stupid, and there are parts of this episode that felt a lot like that. DJ Fingablast is clearly an idiot, but that’s the point. The fact that he would go to the trouble of creating an entire documentary about the search for a DJ for his wedding is absurd, and naturally he would be manipulated by Richard Wayne Gary Wayne into trying to get his case overturned. Bobby Moynihan’s crusader for the Innocence Bro-ject was also an unsubtle parody of the way in which men who are accused of mistreating women often try to defend themselves. Having Titus act out a few of the flashback scenes was entertaining, and I suppose that he’s the most consistent, if consistently absurd, element of this show, dismissing his participation in this project as a paid gig he just didn’t understand. I guess this was moderately more bearable and entertaining than the similar mockumentary “American Vandal,” showing up these pursuit-of-truth exposés that get to the heart of some deep secret and often take themselves too seriously. This half-hour was enough for me, so let’s hope that the next and last three episodes of this half-season are more straightforward, as much as this show can be.

What I'm Watching: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 9 “Smart Power” (B+)

One of the things about this show that has always intrigued me so much is the narrative of events that led to the creation of Gilead and the way in which the rest of the world views this religious totalitarian nation. As we saw previously with the ambassador from Mexico, other countries are hurting greatly from a lack of trade with the former United States, and the resumption of diplomatic relations can help everyone, similar to current events regarding North Korea, a regime that might not actually atone for its misdeeds but can still be normalized for the good of the world. It was fascinating to present this episode’s trip to Canada through the eyes of Serena, who has become an increasingly sympathetic character, so awed by the freedoms she could enjoy over the border and reminded of the limitations she has back in Gilead. The protestors weren’t quite as enraged and mean as they were in the flashbacks to her lecture tour days, but they definitely got to her, specifically Luke, who wisely held up a sign making it impossible for the Waterfords to ignore him. Mark Tuello, played by Sam Jaeger from “Parenthood,” seemed like an inappropriate distraction for Serena, but finding out that he was an agent of the American government looking to extradite her to Hawaii for asylum showed how resistance works in this scary future, with extraction options possible, but only for those who are willing. June trying to find multiple godmothers to look after her baby in Gilead was a fitting subplot, with all her efforts seemingly rewarded by the news from Nick, the hero of this episode, that Luke and Moira are both alive and well and not even close to forgetting about her.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What I’m Watching: Humans

Humans: Season 3, Episode 3 (B+)

It’s interesting to see that the Hawkins family continues to play such a big part on this show when it’s really much more about the synths than them. Laura is determined to use her bureaucratic appointment to help the synths to be judged more favorably by her committee, but even getting close to Dr. Sommer romantically didn’t sway him to be on her side at all when push came to shove. The notion of having the committee come visit the community and see what they’re actually like makes some sense, but there’s far too much dissent, particularly from Agnes, for that to go smoothly without anyone getting hurt and the public relations campaign being irreversibly damaged. Joe didn’t prove to be so useless after all, since Karen froze when Sam nearly got hit by the car because she wasn’t programmatically able to put herself in harm’s way even if it was going to save Sam. Maybe he can find a way to build a relationship with them that’s advantageous to both the humans and the synths involved. It was only a matter of time before Mattie and Leo officially acted on their feelings for one another, and though there may be a decent age gap between them, there are far weirder things on this show that have been presented as acceptable. Niska, as usual, is on her own track, hunting down answers and getting coded messages that might lead her closer to the truth but will also surely frustrate her along the way. What I’m Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale

What I’m Watching: Supergirl (Season Finale)

Supergirl: Season 3, Episode 23 “Battles Lost and Won” (B)

Was it cool to see a suddenly superpowered Sam punch the somehow existing Reign, cementing her victory over the other part of her? Yes. Did we need twenty-two episodes to get to this point? Absolutely not. Like this season of “The Flash,” this finale was considerably better and more to-the-point than most of the episodes before it, signifying that broadcast seasons really should be shorter. I suppose that I expected Sam to die as a result of the destruction of Reign, and the fact that she’s still alive and kicking means that she could play a different role in season four if she’s kept on as a character. What this finale did do, also like “The Flash,” was introduce a number of new threads that are going to impact the next season’s trajectory greatly. The first was the appearance of a version of Kara who doesn’t seem to know who she is on the Siberian border, which should be interesting since our Kara is indeed still very much alive and cognizant of who she is. Hank is leaving and Alex is taking over at the DEO, which should present new challenges and opportunities. Winn going to the future is cool, and hopefully Brainy will provide just as much comic relief in his absence. James opting to go public with his identity as Guardian is a bold choice, and one that’s sure to have consequences and help this show continue to explore moral themes. I’m still planning to watch this show when it returns in October, but this season really didn’t feel terribly necessarily to me.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Melissa Benoist as Kara

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Emmy Nominees: Best Comedy Series

My predictions: 6/8, picking “Will and Grace” over “Barry” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Unlike in the drama series race, there are three new shows in the running here. They all made big splashes, with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel earning 14 nominations, Barry earning 13, and GLOW earning 10. Atlanta is the comedy nominations leader with 16, while returning nominees Silicon Valley, Black-ish, and Curb Your Enthusiasm earned just seven, five and four nominations, respectively. Most puzzling and seemingly tacked-on is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which netted just two total nominations for its six-episode penultimate half-season. I’m surprised that there wasn’t room for “Will and Grace” here, and it’s worth noting that “Modern Family” was finally dethroned and booted from this category. I so wish that there had been room for “The Good Place” too.

Who should win? I don’t regularly watch “Black-ish” or “GLOW.” I’m spit between “Barry” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” two very different shows.
Who will win? It could be “Atlanta,” but my money is on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Emmy Nominees: Best Drama Series

My predictions: 7/7!

I got everything right here, not that it was much of a surprise. The Americans returned to the race for its final season along with nominations leader Game of Thrones, which picked up 22 bids, down from 24 its past two seasons. Though it didn’t manage a directing or writing bid, Westworld held strong with 21 nominations, down from 22 last year, while The Handmaid’s Tale jumped up from 13 to 20 nominations. Stranger Things, which aired such a long time ago, dropped from 19 to 12 nominations, while This Is Us dropped from 10 to 8. Rounding out the list is The Crown, holding steady at 13. This is a good list – the only one on here I don’t watch is “The Americans.” Out of the expected shows nipping at these seven’s heels, I’d say that “Ozark” and “Killing Eve” came closest.

Who should win? I have to watch “The Americans,” but otherwise I think I’d choose “Game of Thrones” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Who will win? It’s hard to say. I was going to predict “This Is Us” but I think that The Handmaid’s Tale will repeat, or else “Game of Thrones” will.

Emmy Nominees: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

My predictions: 4/6, missing both “Barry” episodes

The nominees: Alligator Man (Atlanta), Barbershop (Atlanta), Chapter One: Make Your Mark (Barry), Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going (Barry), Pilot (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Fifty-One Percent (Silicon Valley)

I really didn’t expect such a warm welcome for Barry, which scored a nomination for both its pilot and its penultimate episode, both of which were great. Atlanta only managed two nominations, which isn’t bad, with Silicon Valley and the pilot of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel rounding out a diverse category.

Who should win? I’d give it to the pilot of “Barry” or “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Who will win? I’ll pick The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with both episodes of “Atlanta” waiting in the wings.

Emmy Nominees: Best Directing for a Comedy Series

My predictions: 4/6, missing “GLOW” and “Barry”

The nominees: FUBU (Atlanta), Teddy Perkins (Atlanta), Chapter One: Make Your Mark (Barry), Pilot (GLOW), Pilot (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Initial Coin Offering (Silicon Valley)

Look at this! Three pilots in the running here, which is pretty cool. I didn’t watch past the pilot of GLOW but did find it intriguing enough. Silicon Valley didn’t keep up its streak of two nominations each year with just one episode in the running this year, while last year’s winner Atlanta did manage to score two nominations, both of which I can understand even though I really didn’t like one of them.

Who should win? I’d give this to “Barry” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Who will win? I’ll go with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel though it could easily be either episode of “Atlanta” also.

Emmy Nominees: Best Writing for a Drama Series

My predictions: 5/6, picking “Westworld” over “Killing Eve”

The nominees: Start (The Americans), Mystery Man (The Crown), The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones), June (The Handmaid’s Tale), Nice Face (Killing Eve), Chapter Nine: The Gate (Stranger Things)

For some reason, “Westworld” got booted from this category, with five of the nominees perfectly expected. Killing Eve is the one that scored the surprise bid (also the only one here not nominated for Best Drama Series), and while I did like the show in the end, the pilot was far from the best episode of the season. This is a decent list otherwise with some good writing, and all I have to watch is the series finale of The Americans.

Who should win? I still have to watch the “The Americans” episode, but for now I’ll choose “Game of Thrones” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Who will win? I think that The Americans finally wins.

Emmy Nominees: Best Directing for a Drama Series

My predictions: 4/7

The nominees: Paterfamilias (The Crown), Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones), The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones), After (The Handmaid’s Tale), The Toll (Ozark), Tonight We Improvise (Ozark), Chapter Nine: The Gate (Stranger Things)

I did okay here, netting four of the nominations for the three most popular returning shows. I thought that “Westworld” would end up here again, but instead we got Stranger Things, which lowered its nominations count but still showed up where it counted. Ozark made a strong showing, with a nomination for the pilot and another episode I have yet to watch. I wish “Counterpart” had shown up here, and I’m a bit surprised that “Mindhunter” didn’t, even though it wasn’t in my predictions.

Who should win? I have to watch the episode of “Ozark,” but otherwise I’m fine with either of the “Game of Thrones” hours or “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Who will win? I think this goes to Game of Thrones for “Beyond the Wall.”

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 3/6

It makes complete sense that a highly popular, relatively new comedienne, Tiffany Haddish (Saturday Night Live), would join the ever-popular Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live) as representative nominees of the late-night variety series. I don’t think that either Jane Lynch (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) or Molly Shannon (Will and Grace) did their best work this year, but I’ll allow both because they’re great actresses and were decently funny. Wanda Sykes (Black-ish) didn’t strike me as a necessary returning nominee after her work last year, but I’ll have to see her submitted episode to judge. I could not be more ecstatic about the inclusion of Maya Rudolph (The Good Place), who proved to be more essential than any burrito could have been.

Who should win? I’ve only seen half these, but it’s Rudolph in a heartbeat.
Who will win? I’ll go with Haddish over Fey.

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

My predictions: 2/6, picking only Hader and Glover

I only managed to select the two men also nominated for comedy lead actor: Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) and Donald Glover (Saturday Night Live), missing the man also nominated for drama lead actor, Sterling K. Brown (Saturday Night Live). I would not have expected Katt Williams (Atlanta) to be the guest actor from his show to land a nomination here, but he did it. I’m very pleased with both Bryan Cranston (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Curb Your Enthusiasm), back for the second year in a row for a different show, since both of them were very funny and instrumental to their show’s success.

Who should win? I haven’t seen half of these performances. Cranston gets my vote so far.
Who will win? I think it might actually be Miranda.

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

My predictions: 4/6, picking Jodi Balfour and Marisa Tomei over Davis and Jenrette

Viola Davis (Scandal) pulled off an impressive feat – she got dropped from the best actress field for “How to Get Away with Murder” after three consecutive bids, but managed to score a nomination here for playing the same role on another show, joining her onscreen mother, returning nominee Cicely Tyson (How to Get Away with Murder). Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones) is also back for a memorable, tour de force performance on her show. I remembered her from her role on “Grandfathered” but less so for her appearance as a jilted ex in an intense flashback, and it’s not a small thing that Kelly Jenrette (The Handmaid’s Tale) knocked out expected nominee Marisa Tomei to join Cherry Jones (The Handmaid’s Tale) and last year’s supporting nominee Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale) to dominate this category with portrayals of strong women cast into unfortunate circumstances in a dystopian future.

Who should win? I haven’t seen Davis’ or Tyson’s work this year, but I’d probably choose Rigg.
Who will win? Conventional wisdom says Rigg finally wins, but one of the handmaid’s representatives easily could too.

Emmy Nominees: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

My predictions: 4/6, picking Michael C. Hall and Peter Mullan over Abraham and Britton

My inkling that “The Good Fight” wouldn’t factor into the main Emmy races was correct, and the result is a very interesting list here. Last year’s winner in this category Gerald McRaney (This Is Us) and last year’s supporting nominee Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us) are the sentimental favorites. F. Murray Abraham (Homeland) is a strong actor on an ailing show whose episode I didn’t see. Matthew Goode (The Crown) was a memorable presence in a recurring role in his show, and I’m thrilled that Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), who should have earned a supporting nomination last year, finally landed some awards attention. His show didn’t manage a single other nomination, but Cameron Britton (Mindhunter) clearly made an impression as a serial killer who really liked to talk.

Who should win? Without having seen Abraham’s episode, I’d probably pick Britton. Who will win? It could be McRaney again, but I think Britton takes it.