Friday, August 31, 2018

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 3 “Something Beautiful” (B+)

I haven’t always liked it in the past when this series references the one that spawned it, but I’ll admit that I was so happy to see a familiar face who definitely doesn’t survive future events. I’ve been accustomed to seeing actor David Costabile as the depraved Wags on “Billions,” and it was wonderful to see a brief glimpse of Gale Boetticher singing the Elements song by Tom Lehrer. I’m not sure if I was happier to hear him singing it or to learn that Gus also knew it. That’s certainly a gentler side of the man who made sure that Nacho got beaten to within an inch of his life so that his survival could look real without indicating his newly changed allegiances. This is hardly the right time for Jimmy’s con, and Mike smartly turned it down without much consideration at all. The lack of emotion Jimmy displayed while reading Chuck’s surprisingly kind farewell letter demonstrated how detached he is, as opposed to Kim, who is focused on taking care of him and taking care of business at the same time. Her visit to Mesa Verde and her interaction with Kevin showed that maybe this isn’t the right place for her to be, though the way in which she responds to a work environment that doesn’t exactly gel with her is totally different from how Jimmy does, and the way in which he self-sabotages at every turn. Something tells me we’re getting very close to Jimmy having a direct involvement in Gus’ business, and I’m eager to get to that point.

What I’m Watching: Insecure

Insecure: Season 3, Episode 2 “Familiar-like” (B+)

It’s nice to see Issa score a win for once. In fact, this episode gave her a few things to be happy about and ready to bounce back from some recent lows. Though I, and I’m sure everyone else watching, would have been thrilled to see Issa give everyone a piece of her mind for finally bothering to ask for her opinion after sidelining her for so long, it’s good to see her playing it smart. She also made a good point that she doesn’t want to have to be the go-to representative for all black people, and it was great to see her give that suggestion to a very defensive, if kinder than usual, Joanne. Issa isn’t close to financial stability in any way, but she’s making some small strides, like bringing lunch and snacks from home and cleaning the apartment she can’t afford to move out of right now. It’s wonderful to see that, in the absence of a romantic relationship, she’s building a sincere, authentic friendship with Daniel borne out of an empathy towards him that doesn’t relate to anything sexual. Offering to go with him to be there when he needed someone was sweet, and trying to get him a free drink from the guy flirting with her was nice too. Going over to sit next to him at the end of the episode and be with him in his music space was a great way to end, far better than them having sex would have been. And she even managed to get a call back about the new job she wanted – things really are looking up!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Affair (Season Finale)

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 10 (B+)

As far as I can remember, this is the first time that we’ve seen three separate perspectives in just one (extended) hour, each taking place almost entirely separately in stark contrast to the conflicting views of the same event we saw last week. It’s strange in a sense that things have spun out so much, though it’s understandable given that new people are brought into the web every time an affair begins. I’d love to see Janel Moloney take on a more substantial role than just as a would-be flame from Noah’s past, and Anton skewering Noah in front of the class because he thought it’s what they wanted from him was hardly believable given what we’ve seen of him thus far. What’s going on in Noah’s life feels almost irrelevant, especially compared to the intensity of what’s happening with Cole and Helen. Luisa has it together in a very impressive way considering that she’s seeing more and more that her husband was in love with his ex-wife in a way that he’s never been with her, and at least she will get her citizenship and to be a mother to Joanie even if Cole is never going to recover. Vic saw the light a bit too late, and Helen having Sierra go in to tell him that he’s going to leave something behind was actually kind and selfless. The fact that her having slept with Sierra also was a punchline indicates how absurd some of the drama on this show has gotten, but I think everything is coming back to a better place now. I’m more than happy not to see Whitney again since she’s gotten even more unbearable, and I’m still curious to see what the focus of the show’s fifth and final season will be when it returns. I’m willing to stick it out through the end.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Ruth Wilson as Alison

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

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

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 10 and 11 “The Beginning, Parts 1 and 2”

It’s been a long road to get here. I say that mainly because of all the time-jumping this show has done which has often been mind-boggling and impossible to follow, and it’s still not clear to me exactly when – or if – Cole and Cassie’s time in that house where Athan was conceived happened. While the fight to destroy time has become a bit much over the past season or two, I was still excitedly following this show to see how it was all going to play out. I like that this double-decker finale was able to rescue two deceased characters from the past, Ramse and Deacon, and have them help in the ultimate battle to take down the Witness for good and save time. As if Ramse and Cole driving into the frightening red forest with “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” playing wasn’t cool enough, we also nearly got everything they worked so hard to do reversed by Cassie feeling the allure of the red forest and its timeless ability to preserve whatever you want for eternity. Cole, as always, talked her back off the ledge, and Olivia experienced a pretty brutal and irreversible death. Jones taking her last smoke and sending everyone back to their respective timelines was a fittingly melancholy way to send off this show, having saved the world but sentencing those responsible to a far less worthwhile and exciting fate. It was great to see, in the final moments of the episode, that Jones had decided to save Cole and send this last version of him back to Cassie, who was living in that house, experiencing her own version of happiness, albeit without him. It’s as fitting an end as any, and I liked seeing the red leaf as an “Inception”-style hint that maybe this could be the red forest, and time was actually destroyed, though it’s likely that didn’t happen. I’m still happy that the terrific 1995 film, which I really should watch again, was turned into a show, and though I got lost a bunch of times along the way, I’m still pretty pleased with the overall product.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: B
Season MVP: Aaron Stanford as Cole
Season grade: B
Series MVP: Emily Hampshire as Jennifer
Best Season: Season 1
Best Episodes: “Thief” and “Witness

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 8 “Bad Instincts” (B)

I’m realizing just how close we are to the end here, with no news on the possibility of a third season yet and just two episodes left to conclude this storyline. It’s seeming more and more like Dwayne isn’t actually Lavinia’s son, but I think he still may be and she just doesn’t care if she manipulates him at all. His attempts to start acting smart since he was now a Peck weren’t nearly as successful as he hoped, but it was entertaining, and perceiving brunch as dipping bread into punch was one of his best pearls of wisdom. Planting a video camera in his tie clip was a shrewd move, and now she’ll be on to the fact that Dwayne has hear real passport, which may implicate her more than she thinks. I’ve had about enough of Jesse Ray Beaumont and his naked tackling of Josh, and I much prefer Josh spooning with Carol Anne in her mobile hospital bed. That was a clever way for her to stay involved and relevant, and at least she’s crushing one of her opponents in the polls. Josh and Carol Anne seem like a more likely couple than Josh and Nina, but she’s sticking around too and becoming very involved in the office chanting. Anne’s latest condition didn’t affect much other than her doing a lot of peculiar things like use a giant spoon to take what she thought was a very tiny sample. It’s understandable that it had variable effects on her relationship with her husband as well.

Monday, August 27, 2018

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 7 “A Family Affair” (B)

This show just went and solved a mystery we didn’t even know existed. Dwayne’s intelligence isn’t high, even for a resident of this town, and he’s never really talked about his mother that I can remember. Believing that she died two weeks before he was born shows that he doesn’t have a clue, but the worst thing he could ever have learned is that he’s a Peck. The age difference didn’t track for me, but apparently Kristin Chenoweth is indeed fifty years old in real life and actor Steven Boyer, who I had no idea was a past Tony nominee, is thirty-three. How that factors into the murder of Lavinia’s brother is unknown, since apparently she somehow still has her passport that shows that she was in Spain when she is alleged to have killed him. Josh’s luck is running out, and going through the photo of his colleagues who are all doing much, much better than him was his best way to cope with the bags of feces constantly being delivered to his office. Dwayne and Anne getting high to simulate Dr. Rock N’ Law’s frame of mind during the case was predictably unhelpful, and Carol Anne going into labor right after getting the endorsement from Lavinia was probably the worst timing she could have scheduled since it makes her look, more than anything, like a woman. The tidbits from the 1988 case are entertaining, particularly that Judge Kamiltow was going to end on his last case to become a baritone singer at Lincoln Center as long as nothing happened to his voice.

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 4, Episode 3 “Virtual Reality” (B+)

This show really is doing cool things with technology, exploring what the world of dating, its original concept based on Alex’s code, will look like a few years from now. Guest star Lindsay Burdge was completely captivating as the woman who seduced Alex in the sweetest way in this virtual reality room, which was so cleverly presented. Rita wasted no time in pointing out to the man who seemed uninterested in her that he had just answered a bunch of security questions so that she could rob him, and I like that on this show, it doesn’t mean he lost everything, just that he’s embarrassed and has to cancel his credit card and return his tuxedo. It’s interesting to think how that kind of thing would work, and I did wonder whether she would look different in real life or how that would end up panning out. Val really doesn’t have the first clue what direction she wants to go in with her wine store, but I like the casting of Timm Sharp from “Enlightened” and “The New Romantic” as the investor Laura knew who may end up both helping Val start her shop and date her. Laura’s romantic life is crashing and burning, and that montage of her former lovers was indeed moving. I’m curious where she’ll go next, and I assume the world of singledom calls. Leon getting lost in his headphones while editing his video isn’t a good sign, and I do hope that he and Leia are in good shape as he continues to express discontent with where his life is now.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 2 “Breathe” (B+)

I remember thinking when this show was first announced that I wouldn’t have much interest in a series based on the talkative, corrupt lawyer we got to know on “Breaking Bad,” but it turns out he’s one of the most magnetic characters on television today. The way in which he was able to sell himself as a qualified candidate for a job that he has absolutely no experience for by name-dropping copier details was impressive, but not nearly as much as his ability to self-sabotage by baiting them into hiring him on the spot. I’m not even sure what to make of that, since I do think that he desperately wants to get a job and this would have been an incredible one, especially for him to have attained mere minutes after he walked in the door. But I think he also knows that he’s been in places that have been the wrong fit before, and he was far more eager to expose the things that this company emphasizes over actual proper vetting. I’m ready for all of our plotlines to connect, with Jimmy calling Mike, Mike having his security measures defended to Lydia by Gus, and Nacho witnessing a display of force from Gus that won’t soon leave his memory. Kim also conducted herself formidably in standing up to Howard on Jimmy’s behalf, firmly taking his side and pointing out just how insensitive his behavior has been lately, even though I’d actually argue that he’s being the kindest and most authentic he’s been since we first met him.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What I’m Watching: Insecure (Season Premiere)

Insecure: Season 3, Episode 1 “Better-like” (B+)

In today’s current television landscape, comedies aren’t always as funny as they used to be, with shows like “Atlanta” and “Transparent” that assert their humor through social commentary rather than one-liners. It’s very welcome, therefore, to have a show like this, which is genuinely funny while also managing to be genuine along the way. Issa Rae is up for an Emmy for the second season of this show, which is great, and, from this start, it looks like season three will be just as strong a showcase. I love the idea that she’s a Lyft driver who brings her best friend with her in the car and advertises it as a “Party Lyft” with Capri Suns for the passengers, and of course she would be subjected to the misery of people throwing up in the back of her car and two guys, one hot and one completely disrespectful, getting into a fight into the back of her car when one of them started smoking. Issa’s main work life has reached a nadir, and I imagine she’ll leave, whether of her own volition or not, if things don’t change and she continues to be punished for past mistakes while the company is so clearly being held back by its lack of diversity. With Lawrence gone, we get to see more of Daniel, who’s not a bad guy and who is trying his best to be gracious to his live-in ex-girlfriend and find a happy place for them to exist in that makes them both comfortable. Molly is in a totally different place when it comes to her relationship with Dro, and he’s just trying to be sweet when all she wants is him not to feel any emotions at all.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 9 (B)

I have mixed feelings about this episode, which casts things more into doubt than they’ve ever been on this show. I liked how, as far back as the first-ever episode, there were differing portrayals of the same situation, with the perception of Noah’s initial meeting with Allison always standing out in my mind. What this episode did that no other has done before is to show the same event twice from the same character’s perspective, with two remarkably different outcomes and the knowledge that this is the last we’ll ever see from Allison. I read one recap from Vox as soon as I finished the episode to try to make sense of it, and I think part of the idea is that we’re not supposed to know what really happened. Everything else we’ve seen of Ben suggests that it was the first account, since even Noah doesn’t have an idyllic perception of himself when we see things from his point of view. It’s possible that their romantic and wonderful interaction did happen, but, playing it over in her head, Allison imagined it the other way, causing her to doubt her own purpose and sanity, finding it hard to believe that she had finally met someone who could be right for her. I don’t think that Ben has become an important enough part of the show to be central in the fifth season that will proceed without Allison, and she’s likelier to be remembered and present weighing on the consciences of her ex-husbands. Her final line, “I didn’t seduce you, but even if I did, I’m allowed to change my mind,” is a haunting goodbye, one that will memorialize the way that her life hasn’t gone anywhere near the way she’s wanted it to. Ruth Wilson has been uniquely terrific on this show, and though she asked to leave the series, I think she’s been a tremendous and crucial part of it being what it’s been, and was always a cut above the material when it went through some rough points.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys (Penultimate Episode)

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 9 “One Minute More” (B+)

As this episode started and our friends were talking about going back to JFK Airport to when the virus first broke out, I was thinking how crazy it would be if this show ended the same way that the movie did with a scene at airport security. It’s not looking that way, but we did get a few very interesting revelations, namely that Cassie was the one to unleash the virus because that’s what the primaries always wanted her to do, and that we didn’t quite know who Cole’s mother actually was. Emma still subverted the purpose that Olivia always intended for, but she died too soon to become Cole’s mother, something that Hannah stepped in to do when she fell in love with his father. Sacrificing her life so that Cole could live at the airport was a perfect end to her cycle, one that demonstrates immense loyalty both to her son and to the mission that she seemed to know she was on all along. Whether or not Cole has to die remains a question, and the very ominous “To be concluded” end title was extremely exciting. It’s been a long run with this show and a wild ride with all of this time-destroying business, and I do think that it’s been worthwhile, getting back to causality, time travel, and a true nail-biter of a conclusion to figure out just how this wacky show is going to wrap all of its many ever-changing threads and characters up once and for all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Pilot Review: Ordeal by Innocence

Ordeal by Innocence (Amazon)
Premiered August 10

Here’s the latest three-part BBC drama to be put out by Amazon for American audiences, and considering my affinity for the last one, “A Very English Scandal,” I was definitely intrigued. What I will say about this show, which is adapted from an Agatha Christie novel, is that it manages to convey mystery and dread better than anything else I’ve ever seen, mostly thanks to its score by Stuart Earl. The flashes of events, both real and concocted by those seeking alibis and to blame others, are extremely effective in creating a chaotic sense of confusion, one in which truly any of the characters we met could be guilty of killing the vicious, hated matriarch or had some villainous role in her demise even if they didn’t land the final and fatal blow. It’s great to see a few familiar faces leading this cast, starting with Bill Nighy, whose favorite performance of mine remains “Love Actually.” Matthew Goode, who recurred on both “Downton Abbey” and “The Good Wife” towards the end of their runs, is Emmy-nominated this year for “The Crown,” and plays a very intense role here. I’m also fond of Alice Eve, who gets to play a juicy part of the young woman who’s marrying the widower and has almost as few fans as the late monster wife she’s replacing. If I wasn’t so behind on all my TV, I might pick this show up, but at this point I’ll settle for just this one involving and suspenseful hour of television.

How will it work as a series? Three episodes doesn’t seem like it will be sufficiently long enough to fully sort out what happened with this murder and its many players. Given how fast the last three-part saga I watched moved, I think the exposition in this opening episode will be replaced by clarification and complications in episode two, and then swift resolution in episode three.
How long will it last? Reviews were mostly good, and Amazon is a good platform the for the show. There isn’t more of a story than what’s contained in these three episodes, I’d imagine, but adapting more of Christie’s seventy-plus works, even without the participation of the BBC, could be a good move for Amazon if this proves a real success.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Insatiable

Insatiable (Netflix)
Premiered August 10

I’m not even sure what to say about this show. It’s absurd, odd, sensational, over-the-top, and maybe a tiny bit compelling after all those other things. It reminds me most of Netflix’s two-season comedy “Haters Back Off” and AMC’s recent “Dietland,” though it feels a bit more like “Desperate Housewives.” I first got to know Dallas Roberts as a low-key cast member of “The L Word,” and then enjoyed his recurring role on “The Good Wife” as Alicia’s gay brother. Here, he’s considerably wilder as a lawyer obsessed with beauty pageants, in an extremely platonic marriage with Alyssa Milano, who dials everything up as much as possible. I always like Christopher Gorham, though it's funny to see him in the role of the attractive stud here after his dorkier roles on "Jake 2.0" and "Covert Affairs." I don’t know Debby Ryan, though apparently she got her start on two Disney shows, helping her reframe her image to something very different here. The problem is that Patty's transformation from bullied outcast to suddenly fit pageant star doesn't seem realistic at all, and that's just the start of this show's problems. Punching a homeless guy in the face wasn't nearly as unbelievable as deciding to lose her virginity to him to make him jealous and then opt to set him on fire instead because he was such a pig. This show means to be cutting-edge and soapy, but it's an excessive, out-of-control mess, one that is mildly intriguing but infinitely more oft-putting.

How will it work as a series? Honestly, I have no idea. The dedicated private investigator tailing Bob already has more than enough dirt to put him out of business for good, yet there are so many secrets at play here that it’s hard to know what could possibly come next. My slight curiosity isn’t nearly strong enough for me to want to find out.
How long will it last? I think the twelve-episode season released on August 10th will be all this show gets. Its Metacritic score is a dismal 23 and an even worse 10 on Rotten Tomatoes. Critiques about fat-shaming won’t help either, and I think Netflix can officially check this one off as a short-lived misfire.

Pilot grade: D-

Monday, August 20, 2018

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 6 “New Case, Old Murder” (B)

This show just got very dark, transforming Lavinia from someone who got away with murder to a powerful heiress with her aims set very squarely on Josh. Calling him “lawyer” makes him seem less like a person and more like a target. Larry always called him Josh, and we also found out eventually that he didn’t do it, while the question now is who Lavinia killed, not if she killed someone. Getting caught on the hot mic in the bathroom congratulating herself on getting away with murder wasn’t helpful since she can’t be retried for the same case, and Carol Anne seems much more concerned with restoring her good name and winning a retrial than helping her number one foot masseur to convict Lavinia for something everyone is aware that she did. It was good to see Jaleel White, best known as Steve Urkel from “Family Matters” and more recently seen on the short-lived “Me, Myself, and I,” as Atticus Ditto, Jr., Carol Anne’s key rival who kept trying to make his campaign pitch every time he spoke, only to be followed up by Carol Anne’s own efforts to curry favor with her voters. Dwayne deputizing Ann was downright scary, and this place is just getting more and more ridiculous. I’m not sure what was more awkward – Josh’s frequent diarrhea or the way he acted when both Carol Anne and Nina were around him at the same time. I particularly enjoyed their reactions to seeing each other on the boards that def definitely didn’t have to do with murder.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 5 “A Change in the Team” (B)

I was a bit surprised that things seemed to be wrapping up midseason, and I wondered what case might next fall to Josh and his one-person team. I had expected that this case was going to turn out the same way as the first one, with no one really having murdered the dead man, but instead, we got something different: Josh was on top of the world, ready to have the night of his life with Nina and enjoy eternal admiration from Lavinia, but now he has a much more arduous task in front of him. He knows that Lavinia killed Freda, which makes whether she killed Edgar somewhat irrelevant since that’s still a murder, but he’s had the case tossed in his favor after Carol Anne totally lost her cool and went berserk in front of the judge. Having Dwayne back on the team is a good thing, especially since he admitted in court that he thought Lavinia had done it, but I’m not sure he and Anne will believe Josh when he shares what he knows with them. Something tells me that Lavinia is going to be held in even higher esteem now that she’s been exonerated, and getting some sort of justice, which is what Josh is going to try hard to do, is going to prove exceptionally difficult if not impossible. Anne’s comments about getting Josh in Secret Santa and office parties being weird were a little much for me since there’s only so much suspension of disbelief possible when tuning in to this show.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Pilot Review: Carter

Carter (WGN)
Premiered August 7 at 10pm

We’ve never seen a show about someone who either writes about or plays a detective on television and then starts consulting about it in real life, have we? In fact, ABC premiered a series about just the same thing called “Take Two” less than two months ago. Technically, Bravo in Canada beat that one to the bunch with this series, which originally debuted back in May. There’s a reason that so many procedurals continue to exist, because they’re evidently popular with audiences and they do tend to be entertaining. This show was immediately very Canadian in its opening moments, with Harley explaining that he went to Canada after fleeing Hollywood following his red carpet blowout, and of course he’s from a small town where everyone knows each other and where the mayor would offer him a police consulting job. Jerry O’Connell has starred in a number of television series over the years, and at least this one doesn’t ask him to take himself seriously, employing his talents in the best way possible. The only other actor I recognize is Kristian Bruun, who was the much-tormented Donnie on “Orphan Black,” and his fortunes as Dave here don’t seem to be all that much better. Sam’s flirtation with Harley seems a bit too obvious and forward given how different their lives are, but it’s a foregone conclusion that something will happen eventually. For decent fun, this show is fine, but, given its lack of any true originality or creativity, it’s hardly must-watch television.

How will it work as a series? He said he’s not going to take the job, but that doesn’t mean he won’t still tag along on cases out of sheer boredom, and there’s apparently more of a mystery regarding his own life that he’ll have to solve, a process that’s sure not to be conducted too privately or discretely.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be decent, but it’s the ratings that really matter. The show did so well in Canada that it got a second airing on another network, CTV, and now it’s playing on WGN, which is yet another platform that should be easy enough to attract another audience. I’d expect to see more of this show in the future.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Casual

Casual: Season 4, Episode 2 “The Missing Piece” (B+)

In my review of the season premiere, I neglected to address any of the future things that were subtly featured as part of the regular plot. Val taking a driverless Uber home was a particularly relevant occurrence in this episode since she was hopeless to redirect it and then opted instead to redirect her interest and start a surprising new business. The more advanced version of Alexa that Alex was speaking to was entertaining, especially when Alex cursed at her and she responded that his remark was hurtful. As usual, Alex is fighting hard against something harmless that he’s hopeless to stop, trying to get Jeff to back off when all he’s trying to do is help and Rae is all about him being involved in her life. He tried to throw his relationship with Annie into overdrive, something she really didn’t want, and he needs to take a step back to realize what’s happening around him. I knew there was something up with Laura’s relationship but did not comprehend that she had essentially moved in with her new girlfriend without being invited to do so, creating some tremendous awkwardness and instability. Living with Val probably isn’t a bad thing for either of them, but we’ll have to see how it goes. Leia seemed like she was freaking out when she found out she was pregnant, but Leon warmly accepted the news as positive, and I think it should be good for the two of them, especially considering Leon’s recent frustration with everything going on around him.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pilot Review: Lodge 49

Lodge 49 (AMC)
Premiered August 6 at 10pm

Sometimes it’s just not clear where a pilot is headed, and this show made me truly wonder what the pitch was and why exactly anyone opted to turn it into a full-fledged series. I knew I recognized star Wyatt Russell, who appeared in “Ingrid Goes West” and played a far less likeable, ethical character in another underrated Sundance film, “Cold in July.” Here, he’s an aimless former surfer who doesn’t seem to understand how the world works, holding on to pieces of property that no longer belong to him and readily spending money without actually having a way to make any himself. Contrasting him with Brent Jennings’ Ernie, who has worked hard all his life without much to show for it, sets up expectations for I’m not exactly sure what. The final scene of this episode was considerably more poignant and purposeful than anything else in the opening hour, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dud is still a dud and that he’s not going to be any more worthwhile as a character now that he’s paid Ernie the $2000 fee he didn’t have to pay. Following characters who don’t know what they want to do with their lives and are in no rush to find out is a gamble, and this journey feels a whole lot like other cable efforts such as “John from Cincinnati” that just didn’t pan out, regardless of how they may have sounded in the initial meeting. This show might eventually find itself, but it doesn’t seem to have any clue where it’s going.

How will it work as a series? It’s billed as both a comedy and a drama, but I still can’t figure out if it’s supposed to have supernatural content, like Dud being destined to run out of gas right in front of the lodge, or if it’s just a straightforward show with an annoying lead character.
How long will it last? Puzzlingly, it’s received mostly positive reviews, which I can’t understand. Its ratings aren’t great, though AMC has never been a network that puts as much stock into viewership numbers as others do. Still, I think this might go the way of “Feed the Beast,” a high-concept series that just didn’t stick.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul (Season Premiere)

Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 1 “Smoke” (B+)

This show took an unusually long break since season three, returning in late summer instead of midwinter or early spring, and it’s really great to have it back. I didn’t find the third season, while still good, to be quite as consistently excellent as the first two, and I’m pleased to say that this seems to be a very positive start to the fourth cycle. It’s incredible how much Chuck, in his untimely death, is still one-upping his brother and making him feel like he hasn’t amounted to anything. Jimmy couldn’t even stay on the phone to listen as Howard rattled off his many accomplishments, and he responded heartlessly when Howard expressed that he blamed himself for Jimmy’s death, when Jimmy should be well aware that he is the one responsible. Seeing Jimmy have a heart attack of sorts while working at Cinnabon demonstrates the loneliness he’ll eventually experience as he pushes away those who continue to give him a chance, namely Kim and Howard. The storyline involving Nacho and Gus isn’t all that enthralling just yet, but I was thrilled to see Mike take on his new job with a surprising gusto, appearing to enjoy riding around on the cart and gleefully detailing the many security issues he’s already noticed in his first day on the job. I’m ready to see things start to connect and to have Jimmy officially get into the illegal business, a move that is sure to irk Kim and make her leave Jimmy behind for good after giving him so many second chances.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 8 (B)

Well, I didn’t see that coming. Killing off one of this show’s two leads in the middle of an episode is a bold move, one that makes considerably more sense with the information that Ruth Wilson wanted to leave the show. A few weeks ago, this show was renewed for a fifth and final season, so it doesn’t appear that there would have been all that much more for her to stick around and experience, but I suppose there comes a time for everyone to move on. Having her death confirmed by Noah is made all the more powerful by the fact that we’re still going to have the chance to see her again, with one of the final two episodes of the season sure to feature her descent into despair. I wasn’t ready for the irreversibility and seriousness of that moment after an episode featuring comedy about Cole and Noah being mistaken for a gay couple and Anton getting himself into trouble before taking the best shower of his life. I do applaud the way that things came together and Cole ended up in Milwaukee with flowers and then could so easily drive to O’Hare to pick Noah and Anton up when they happened to get stuck there. While Cole is devastated, I can only imagine how Luisa will feel knowing that she’s still alive but was his second choice, and I’m curious to see what role both of them will play in the final season without Alison as a connection anymore.

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 8 “Demons” (B)

This show came up in conversation with another TV fan who didn’t know that it was anything more than a movie, and it would be hard to believe that things would end up in 1491 with characters being beheaded when you look at the very different 1995 film and the 1962 French short on which that’s based. It does make some sense that the fight to save time would be taken back to a crucial era in our history where stakes seemed much higher and more weight was put on beliefs that were deemed either heretical or prophetical. It’s a good thing that Jennifer wasn’t burned at the stake as a witch, and of course we had some anachronistic weaponry from Cole and Cassie to save her at just the right moment. Olivia found herself a great right-hand man in the primary who didn’t want to listen to the voices. It’s always a shame to watch things play out where the good guys almost get the upper hand before it all turns and the weapon is completely destroyed with Titan on the move to who knows where. At least Adler got the suit working in time for Cole to make his escape and save everyone except Deacon, who honestly went out the way he probably would have wanted. Now that 1491 is a thing of the past, I’d hope the last three episodes won’t feature as many beheadings and people being burned alive. Cole is the one emphasized as the savior, but I think that the women on this show – particularly Emma and Hannah – may be the ones to save the day and save time itself.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What I’m Watching: Casual (Season Premiere)

Casual: Season 4, Episode 1 “Carrie” (B+)

I had almost completely forgotten about this show, one that I always found to be underappreciated. Even though its third season wasn’t quite as good as the first two, I still see that I wrote that I wouldn’t want things to have ended at this point, and so, fortunately, we have eight episodes left to finish out everything. They all premiered on July 31st, and in addition to playing catch-up, I’m still going to watch one per week to make it last as long as possible. Flashing forward a few years is a helpful device, because we’re able to see how things are completely the same for Valerie in a way that isn’t helpful for her and is giving her nightmares, while the way that both Alex and Laura is completely different, though they’re fated to fall back into old habits. Valerie doing a therapy session with Leia showed how much she hasn’t progressed while her onetime assistant is now married to a much angrier, unhappier, and gradually anti-American Leon. Finding her neighbor dead and alone is going to serve as a serious wake-up call to make some changes in her life. Alex hasn’t just lost his facial hair, he’s also now an overprotective dad who thinks that his idyllic relationship with Rae and their daughter might last while she clearly has different expectations. I knew I recognized his potentially Republican love interest, and she was played by Dorian Brown Pham, best known as Kirsten on “Wilfred.” Laura has settled into what appears to be a healthy relationship with her new girlfriend, although not wanting to go out at the end of the episode might have deeper implications for the stability of her new life. I’m eager to see where all this goes and happy to report that this is a positive start to this show’s final year.

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 7 (B)

It’s definitely true that out of all the characters on this show, Helen is pretty much the most interesting. Maura Tierney is also the only performer to earn any Emmy attention during the show’s run, and she often gets the best material. I did feel for the first ten or fifteen minutes of this episode, as I have for some of this season thus far, that she was just around to be angry about everything and judgmental towards everyone. Fortunately, that changed as the episode went on and she got to gawk at Sierra’s complete lack of self-awareness, talking about Helen’s perfect life and revealing rather unsubtly that she had slept with a married man whose wife she really liked. Arriving into hippie territory took a more dramatic turn when Helen became the guru after she started talking about having had four kids and demonstrating that she had more life experience than anyone else in the room. Sleeping with Sierra was almost a footnote, since her experience in the sensory deprivation tank, one which was sure to go poorly, sent her rushing home and into Vic’s arms, hardly the ending I would have expected. Noah also found himself in a parental role after a terrible driving session with Trevor, helping to set Anton on the right path and away from enlistment by offering to take him to see the school he wanted to attend. With just three episodes left in this season, it makes sense that we’re getting to the point where the season-long mystery, albeit the one that’s been most in the background as compared with previous plot points, is becoming current, as Cole showed up in Chicago to drive Noah and Anton around in frantic search of the missing Alison.

Monday, August 13, 2018

What I’m Watching: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Season 4, Episode 7 “Daughters” (B+)

This episode reframed how we look at this show in a really cool way, showing how Hannah and Emma have experienced events and how they look at the world, in a welcome return to the type of time travel familiar to this show. Both have essentially been living for the sake of their mothers, but they’ve been appreciated in remarkably different ways. I’m so pleased to have been correct in my suspicion that Emma is indeed Cole’s mother, though how she got there doesn’t make entirely as much sense to me. From what I can understand, Olivia tormented Jones by making her think that she was killing Hannah over and over again, and somehow Emma was able to watch this happen as Jones was experiencing it. Seeing how little Olivia valued Jones’ offspring compelled Emma to realize that she’s been living a life for all the wrong reasons, and Olivia confirmed that by calling her an extension of herself, and hardly an ideal one at that. While it seemed that she had jumped to her death from Titan, it appears that she actually went back in time to, for the first time in her life, become her own person. I like the idea that Hannah and Emma, two daughters who haven’t really experienced time in the same way as anyone else, are now together creating the future that they’ve both come to know. Jennifer’s quick return after her ill-fated trip back to the past was a harsh reminder that we’re close to the end now, and the light-hearted nature of some recent episodes shouldn’t be considered an appropriate sample for what’s to come, especially not for poor Deacon.

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 4 “A Hole in the Case” (B)

The latest of Anne’s conditions didn’t have the disastrous effect I had expected – which was her owing a whole lot of money for the auction item she accidentally raised her hand to bid on – but it did present a major breakthrough in the case for the prosecution that explained how Lavinia could indeed have killed her husband and transported him a far distance without actually moving herself. Of course the town of East Peck would have a guy named E-bay known for having and selling things but who had no connection to the famed website of the same name. The revelation of the unnamed houseboy as a potential suspect didn’t go too far, and Lavinia’s double identity as her childhood friend wasn’t all that relevant either. It was fun to see Jim O’Heir, best known as Jerry from “Parks and Recreation,” as handwriting expert Michael Poisson, who complimented Anne’s style and then tore apart Josh’s less-than-masculine writing when Carol Anne presented it in court to bait Josh into getting worked up. Carol Anne’s campaign is an entertaining subplot, distracting voters from the fact that she’s pregnant and that she’s a woman, two things that aren’t usually this exaggerated but might unfortunately deter some less evolved members of society. This show always goes over the top, especially with its “lady driver” device that’s referenced at least once an episode this season, but under it all there are definitely some echoes of truth that go over best when presented in such a mocking format.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What I’m Watching: Trial and Error

Trial and Error: Season 2, Episode 3 “The Murder Clock” (B)

This show continues to get sillier and sillier, which I realize is the idea, though at least it’s still quite entertaining. Lavinia is even more skilled than Larry at making herself look guilty, getting caught in disguise shoplifting and then carrying a plate to throw at Josh to the courtroom while claiming that she couldn’t even be bothered to bring her wallet. As if the court wasn’t already prejudiced against Carol Anne, we learned that her youthful flair was part of the reason that Judge Kamiltow’s voice ascended so many octaves that he’s now impossible to understand. Carol Anne’s emotions are all over the place in this exaggerated portrayal of pregnancy, and stopping by Josh’s house in a fragile moment only to see him shielding Nina from the cannonball that nearly took her out despite assurances from his realtor that he was out of range won’t make their professional or personal relationship any easier. Josh was plenty awkward whenever he realized that Nina had showed up right behind him while he was talking to the camera, and as if always the case on mockumentary shows like this, he would probably be better served not to talk quite as freely about secretive things while on camera and in public. While there were some shocking developments, we’re not really any closer to figuring out how might be guilty in a case that I imagine will resolve itself in a way similar to last year’s, with the late husband likely being felled by a falling clock pushed by no one.

Pilot Review: Burden of Truth

Burden of Truth (CW)
Premiered July 25 at 8pm

Kristen Kreuk has been keeping her TV work loyal to the two networks that started off her career – CBC and the CW. The Canadian network aired “Edgemont,” and the US broadcaster that emerged from the ruins of the WB and UPN continued “Smallville” and then her follow-up show, “Beauty and the Beast,” which ended in 2016. Now, her latest series began on CBC back in January and is now airing on the CW. What I can say about this series is that it doesn’t feel like so many other pilots because of the angle it presents, framing its protagonist as highly committed to her work, which itself feels far from noble. At one point, she’s actually told that she’s not the good person in this story, and it’s only once she sees someone experience the effects that were allegedly caused by the vaccines that she starts to flip sides. Having her return to her hometown where no one likes her even before she explains why she’s there definitely suggests much more to the story which can be explored later, and being a pariah is also going to make her attempt to become a do-gooder all the more challenging. Though Kreuk isn’t always the most emotive performer, she does seem well-cast here. I don’t feel that this kind of show, which is a procedural despite the story-specific modifications, is one I need to be watching, but when it comes to pilots I might otherwise forget, this one was considerably more engaging than I had expected.

How will it work as a series? The last scene of the episode dropped a big bombshell, which was that Joanna finally gave in to ethical pressure and decided to show up to do something about this epidemic, regardless of whether her client was indeed responsible for it. Whether she’s going to quit immediately and just volunteer to help remains a question, but she’s definitely going to burn bridges in pursuit of her new altruistic aims.
How long will it last? This show premiered almost three weeks ago (I’m a little late on my review, of course) to decent reviews. In Canada, it was already renewed for a second season back in April following the conclusion of its first run. While its ratings are not much to write home about, even for the CW, I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to keep showing episodes of this series if they’ve already been commissioned and developed by another network.

Pilot grade: B-

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Pilot Review: Castle Rock

Castle Rock (Hulu)
Premiered July 25

I wasn’t too thrilled about watching this pilot because it was billed as horror, something that I make sure to avoid since I’m just not cut out for the genre. Fortunately, the opening hour had only one jump scene in which a face suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and while it was certainly creepy, to me it felt more like a thriller. There was a very clear attempt to link this show in its early scenes to the classic, beloved film “The Shawshank Redemption,” also adapted from a Stephen King story, by referencing a previous warden and his unfortunate fate. This show definitely feels different from that one, with something clearly not right at play, starting with the mysterious young man found down the cellar who was apparently told by the late warden to ask for the lawyer with his own controversial ties to the town. I recognized a lot of faces in this episode, including Noel Fisher from “Shameless” as the prison guard who felt compelled to advocate for a client, Andre Holland from “Moonlight” as Henry Deaver, Oscar winner Sissy Spacek as his mother, Scott Glenn from “The Silence of the Lambs” and much more as his would-be stepfather, Jeffrey Pierce from another enhanced prison thriller, “Alcatraz,” as his younger self, Melanie Lynskey from “Two and a Half Men” in a role that much more resembles her recent turn in “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” Ann Cusack as the new warden, Josh Cooke from “Better With You” and “Longmire” as her right-hand man, and, of course Emmy winner Terry O’Quinn of “Lost” fame as the late warden, with Frances Conroy from “Six Feet Under” as his wife. There’s a lot of talent here, and while this opening hour managed to be dark and decently enthralling, it didn’t captivate me in the way I needed it to in order to keep watching.

How will it work as a series? There was evidently more to the warden’s violent suicide than just his fear of retirement, and seeing him tell the young prisoner to ask specifically for Henry Deaver demonstrates that there’s something much deeper and more elaborate at play here. Nothing all too supernatural aside from the young Henry’s survival has been referenced just that, but I’d expect a turn towards the spooky, with some potential ghost reappearances of characters we presume to be dead, down the road.
How long will it last? Three episodes premiered all together on July 25th and an additional two have already been released since then. Reviews seem to be pretty good and Stephen King has a lot of fans out there, so I’d expect that this show will keep going for a while, even if it there aren’t any stories left on which to base new episodes and seasons.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Humans (Season Finale)

Humans: Season 3, Episode 8 (B+)

This show has gotten darker since it started, and this episode really brought everything together in a way that does suggest that it could continue for a while, at the same time providing an emphatic ending that could serve as the series finale if for some reason if it wasn’t renewed for a fourth season. Mia becoming the face of the synth movement, reaching out and repeating the word “peace” as she was beaten to death, was extremely significant, and now the far more powerful Niska must take her place to become the true leader of her people. Odi being a god-like synth named V presents a more fantastical, supernatural side to this whole thing that isn’t just based on code, or maybe it’s so advanced that he’s able to appear to be controlling events around him and the future by instantly analyzing probabilities and all that. It was reassuring to see Neil ultimately decide to switch sides, first giving Laura the important information she needed to blow the whistle on the commission’s spreading of fake reports of synth violence and then allowing himself to be identified as the one who gave it to her. It may not have worked, and she may be headed to jail, unless Mattie really can manage to get her mother released, though Niska’s appearance could complicate that. The notion that Mattie is going to create a new species of sorts by giving birth to a human-synth hybrid is immensely interesting, and I for one would love to see this show keep going since I think it remains great.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Emily Berrington as Niska

Friday, August 10, 2018

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 4, Episode 6 (B+)

It was only a matter of time before Noah and Janelle got caught together by Anton, but having his father, played by Russell Hornsby from “Fences,” show up made things much worse. It wasn’t even his role in Janelle’s romantic life that was problematic to him but rather the interest he was expressing in Anton’s, since apparently going to Princeton and succeeding would be an affront to his legacy, which may explain why he sabotaged his efforts to get into the school in the first place. While what’s happening in Janelle’s home may be more severe than what’s going on at the school, where Noah once again tried to swoop in and take charge of the situation, things in Noah’s house really aren’t that great either, with Trevor exploding with rage at his father’s sudden interest in being in his life. Alison was having such a good streak before everything imploded, starting with the sudden introduction of her father, played by Tim Matheson, who needed something from her and, according to Athena, was hardly the saint he portrayed himself to be. We didn’t see Ben tell Alison that he was married, but obviously that went poorly, and her flight, in which she somehow got ziptied and then arrested for resisting an unwelcome advance from her seatmate, was certainly hellish. Having the panic attack in the car with Noah led to a very enlightening conversation with Helen, in which I was shocked to hear Alison ask why men see her the way they do, even though her original infidelity was with none other than Helen’s husband.

What I’m Watching: Me, Myself, and I (Series Finale)

Me, Myself and I: Season 1, Episode 13 “There She Goes” (B+)

I think I expected a bit more closure from this episode, which wasn’t realistic given that this was just the final installment of the thirteen that were originally prepared and were supposed to lead into something more before the show was pulled from the air way back in October. What I will commend this show on is that it didn’t get bogged down by its multiple time periods and a need to make them all feel equivalent. I forgot that Allison Tolman’s ex-wife was named Sara and thought for a while that maybe young Julia would turn out to be the woman that Alex would marry, only to learn that she was just another memory from Alex’s life in which he invested in a big way to impress someone with an invention and a whole lot of heart. Vanessa Williams’ Kelly wasn’t the one for him, as she realized just how upset he was by Eleanor’s announcement that she was moving away, and so we got that pretty fantastic kiss in the future to end their relationship forever. Closing out the episode – and the show – with Alex moving on somewhere new with his daughter was fitting since Riley is a constant in the way that his romantic companions aren’t. I would have loved to see more of this show and certainly found it much better than something like “9JKL,” which lasted three more episodes and a few more months. I’m sure it will be quickly forgotten, but I was a fan!

Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Jack Dylan Grazer as Young Alex