Saturday, January 19, 2019

Pilot Review: Deadly Class

Deadly Class (Syfy)
Premiered January 16 at 10pm

There are some shows that are just so unappealing, it’s hard to imagine how they came to be in the first place. I don’t have a problem with dark shows that create uninviting and deeply disturbing worlds in which their characters exist. Such series can often be extremely powerful and compelling, and then there are others that are far from it. One recent example is “The Purge,” though I honestly found that more palatable than this pilot. This episode featured extremely off-putting moments like Henry Rollins’ teacher instructing his students in poison lab to kill their animals and main character Marcus Lopez watching his parents get killed by someone jumping off a roof to their death. Training teenagers to become killers hardly seems like the kind of thing that needs to be featured on television right now, and there’s no hope of any sort of hero here, with Marcus still intent on killing Ronald Reagan even if he’s not quite as eager to get rid of anyone else who crosses his path along the way, which he is. The only actor aside from Rollins who I recognized in this pilot was Benedict Wong, who plays Master Lin, mainly from his role in “Doctor Strange” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” One hour was more than enough of this show for me, and I have no interest whatsoever in seeing how these budding killers grow and take out what they see as the scourge of society during their training.

How will it work as a series? Marcus knows that he can either be a part of this society or go on the run from it, but it seems like he’s more than happy to stick around and learn from them. There should be lots of murder and mayhem to come, something that might for some reason be enticing to viewers.
How long will it last? This pilot has been available to watch online since December 20th, and Syfy has proudly touted large audiences. The actual viewership numbers aren’t nearly as exciting, though somehow the reviews seem to be much better than I would expect given how abysmal I found this to be. I don’t think this will end up being renewed, but there’s always a chance if this kind of off-putting fare is what people want to watch.

Pilot grade: F-

What I’m Watching: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 2, Episode 7 “Look, She Made a Hat” (B+)

I’m very impressed with the talent that this show has enlisted this season, and I’m hopeful that it’s going to earn plenty of Emmy love for all of its players, not that anyone feels that it’s underrewarded. I’ve been watching Rufus Sewell as a powerful Nazi commander on “The Man in the High Castle” for the past few months, and it was a nice treat to see him with a more natural accent and a bit less control over his faculties as the painter Declan Howell. He was immediately fascinated with Midge, who got to step out of both of her lives to spend some time with him in the secret room that contained his truly personal painting. Benjamin was entertaining getting excited about art and revenge, and he pegged Midge just right as a “great date to bring to something you know nothing about and have no interest in.” I enjoyed the focus on Joel and his building purchase announcement, with the best line during that celebration being “Is this an official meeting, the ten o’clock rendezvous with the woman without the pants?” Seeing Susie’s home life helps explain her attitude, and I was thrilled to see Emily Bergl from “Desperate Housewives” and “Shameless” as her sympathetic sister-in-law Tessie. I’m not always especially fond of the Judaism scenes this show depicts, but it was fun to see the family bickering at the end of Yom Kippur. Midge coming out as a comic at Abe’s insistence at the break-fast dinner went particularly poorly, with her mother stuck on Susie’s fake identity as a plumber and then making matters much worse by bringing up Benjamin, something that both Susie and Joel could agree was not good for business. Her jokes fell flat, but at least she used it all for material at the gig, and I’m eager to see each of her family members start showing up to see her in action.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Pilot Review: Roswell, New Mexico

Roswell, New Mexico (CW)
Premiered January 15 at 9pm

The CW isn’t a terribly old network, but it’s still managed to bring back and resurrect a whole bunch of shows. While there have been new takes on established superheroes and remakes of shows only a few decades old, this is the second time just this season that the CW is actually making a new show based on a series that used to air on UPN and the WB, the two networks that essentially combined to form this one, after “Charmed.” While I think that the original “Roswell” might have appealed to me at the time that it aired, I wasn’t so into television until around the time that it aired its third and final season, and have never seen it as a result. The formula here is pretty familiar, something that I’ve seen used in a handful of programs the CW has debuted over the past decade. The aliens crash-landed in Roswell as the stories go, but they’re not little green men, and can easily pass as human. There are definitely themes of the alien as a stand-in for the “other” in society, but this is hardly the most potent symbolism. The fact that Max left a physical hand imprint on Liz’s wound when he healed her after she got shot feels like something that would have gotten them caught a whole lot earlier, and it’s hard to ignore those kind of things when trying to take this show seriously. This is very typical CW fare that feels hopelessly dated, which is probably exactly what viewers of the non-superhero shows the network airs want to see.

How will it work as a series? Both Liz and Kyle just got read in on the biggest secret that Roswell has to keep, and they’re theoretically going to be approaching it from opposite sides. Teen drama and sci-fi antics are sure to follow, and there’s nothing especially creative about this show that seems to distinguish it from all of the other thematic fare that the CW has tried to launch over the past few years.
How long will it last? The reviews don’t seem to be too great, though most CW shows aren’t huge hits with critics. The ratings, which also don’t always register given how CW compares to the other broadcasters, were more optimistic, demonstrating that this show does pretty well next to the more established hits that have a greater automatic audience appeal. I’d give this show the edge to earn a renewal at this point, though it’s unclear if that’s definitely going to happen.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 10 “The Last Seven Weeks” (B+)

I’ll admit, there is something clever about having an episode with this title that actually serves to summarize the amount of time that this show has been off the air for its winter hiatus. I’m not usually fond of the structure of this show, starting from an endpoint and then working backwards to explain the big shocks, but doing it all in one episode is actually more appealing. It was affirming to see that, for once, everything is actually looking pretty good right now, even if there are some loose ends that need to be tied up as a result of the latest developments. Kevin telling Zoe that he’s supposed to be giving her space and seeing how the congressman she broke up with over e-mail reacted to seeing her again were the ultimate red herrings, leading to the heartwarming decision that Zoe was going to give this relationship a shot after all. The same was true of Randall and Beth, who appeared to be on the outs but ended up doing fine after the reverend convinced Randall to spend more time with his family, before essentially endorsing him in front of his entire church. His victory is going to be a challenge, but it should provide some interesting direction for his very driven character. Toby labeling his box of valuable Star Wars action figures with letters that could easily be mistaken for the word “donations” was his fault, but Kate showed just how committed to getting them back she was before they both got to enjoy the opportunity to make new memories with their family even if they can’t pass along lost elements of their childhood. The news that Jack knew that his brother was alive is puzzling, and I’m wondering how Rebecca is going to take that when she finds out.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 10 “The Flash and the Furious” (B+)

We’re almost halfway into this season, and I’m glad at least to see that we’re not dealing with a villain like DeVoe who just gets more and more unstoppable every episode. Instead, Caitlin and Cisco believe they’ve come up with a way to defeat Cicada, though it has larger implications for what it means to have powers. That, to me, is one of the most appealing aspects of this aging show, having all of its characters reflect on what their powers do for and to them. Caitlin and Killer Frost are open to exploring Cisco being able to get rid of his abilities, but only in a certain way. Nora and Barry, meanwhile, are exploring the definition of a hero and the need to believe that people can change. It was Nora not buying Jocelyn’s story about not being a villain like her father that allowed her to be corrupted by Silver Ghost, but when she changed her mind and opened up, she was able to get through and convince Jocelyn to come back to the good side. That self-realization was an important step for the continually bratty Nora, who always thinks she knows best. As usual, it’s members of the team not talking to each other that’s going to be their undoing, as Sherloque is starting to put together the fact that Nora is keeping something big from everyone else. The confirmation at the start of the episode that the Wells Nora was talking to in the future is Eobard Thawne is intriguing, and I’m curious to learn how he came to be in this more penitent position.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 1, Episode 10 “Don’t Shoot the Piano Teacher” (B+)

Darlene is an extremely sarcastic person, and it makes a lot of sense that both of her children would have inherited some of that. Harris displays it in a relatively unfriendly way, grilling her about having slept with other men they didn’t meet, while Mark was evidently corrupted to pretend to have a tantrum just to mess with his mother. Ben went over well with Dan, even though he caught on right away that Darlene was trying to test him by agreeing to Ben’s suggestion of giving her son piano lessons. Making Mark cry seemed like an unproductive development for their relationship, especially given the way Ben responded when Darlene confronted him, but she’s trying something new by dating someone who is going to challenge her rather than just take what she says, which led to a humorous attempt to have Mark get Ben to come back without implicating her actions in the situation. Ben inviting Darlene and the kids to move in with him was a surprise, and I’m sure there’s going to be some drama if that actually happens. Becky having a baby shower just for the gifts after Blue suggested it was funny, though Jackie got her more upset by inviting Emilio to show his own contribution for the baby. Dan hiring Emilio to do work for him was a sweet gesture, one that hopefully won’t backfire either if he fails to live up to his expectations of a hard worker or, worse, proves less than sincere in his desire to be a part of his future child’s life.

Pilot Review: The Passage

The Passage (FOX)
Premiered January 14 at 9pm

I’ve been seeing the billboard advertisement for this show around Los Angeles for a while now, and something about that and the title made me think this really wasn’t going to be any good. It turns out, it’s much worse than I could have imagined. I’ll always remember actor Jamie McShane from his role on “Sons of Anarchy,” but now I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forget his cringe-worthy “I don’t know, but I feel amaaaaaazing” when he first discovered the effects of his turning into a vampire or zombie or whatever it is that this show wants us to believe is happening. Starting with Amy declaring that this is the way the world ends doesn’t provide much hope, and I can’t decide if the show’s overarching premise or the dialogue and characters that filled this hour are worse. It always takes me a few minutes to recognize Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who I last watched regularly for a bit on “Franklin and Bash” and then encountered in the first few episodes of “Pitch.” He’s certainly not good here, with “If you touch her again, I’ll shoot you in the face” being one of his more regrettable lines. If an agent lost a child, they should never be assigned to unsubtly abduct a child who lost her parent to bring her in for an illicit government experiment. That’s far from the most glaring plot hole on this show, which also traps Henry Ian Cusick from “Lost” and Emmanuelle Chriqui from “Entourage” in lackluster roles. I’m very happy to try to forget all about it.

How will it work as a series? Amy is narrating from an unknown point, declaring the end of the world when obviously she goes on to survive in some form or another. High-concept shows like this often get bogged down with unending scenes of characters running from their fates, and every indication is that this one will follow suit and not get very far as it continues to drag on.
How long will it last? I can’t comprehend how this show boasts a 63 average on Metacritic since this truly was one of the worst pilots I’ve seen in a long time. I guess this is what a lot of people want to watch though, with its ratings proving to be pretty decent. I think it’s too early to suggest a second season, with viewership likely dropping off in the coming weeks, but this one will likely stay on the air much longer than it should.

Pilot grade: F-

What I’m Watching: True Detective (Season Premiere)

True Detective: Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2 “The Great War and Modern Memory” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (B-)

This is a show that’s had a rocky road. Its first season premiered to critical acclaim and earned many awards. Its second was reviled and barely merited any mentions. Now, three and a half years after its previous season, it’s back with an all-new cast and new premise. Unfortunately, its issues aren’t resolved, and, to me, this feels like the more of the mopey, moody misery that often overwhelmed the first season and certainly dominated the second. It’s appropriate that Mahershala Ali is making his return to television just as he’s headed towards his second Oscar win, following his first trophy that was awarded to him just after he got an Emmy nomination for “House of Cards” and starred in the first season of “Luke Cage.” He’s a good actor, and this is a decent role for him, but it’s nowhere near anything else he’s done before, and not as compelling as the wearied performances delivered by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in season one. There are many familiar faces in the cast, like Stephen Dorff as his partner, Mamie Gummer as the abducted kids’ mother, Sarah Gadon as the documentarian, Carmen Ejogo as Wayne’s wife, and Scoot McNairy as the grieving father. There’s also Josh Hopkins of “Cougar Town” and Jon Tenney of “The Closer” as the investigators interrogating Wayne in one of the many time periods focused here. Showcasing him as a white-haired man reflecting back on his testimony from twenty-five years earlier of events that happened ten years before that seems like too much, and these episodes came off as very dense as a result. The police brutality is nothing new, but it’s still unsettling, and there isn’t really anything here that makes this show stand out. With only eight episodes that are likely to earn some sort of awards attention, I’m considering continuing, but I think I know what I’m in for, and I’m already not into it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan (Season Finale)


Ray Donovan: Season 6, Episode 12 “The Dead” (B-)

I’ve been wondering a lot this season about how best to define this show, since, in its early days, it was a drama that had style and intrigue, often driven by its rhythm more than anything. Lately, it’s been prone to cyclical repetitiveness and musical interludes, both played in the background to accompany montages or actually sung by characters, as was the case in this closing hour. Some of what’s happening, at face value, is just absurd. Bridget was walking around delivering sandwiches to her family members as Sandy casually sawed off a dead cop’s dead, and then nonchalantly agreed to take over for Sandy while Smitty was vomiting nearby. Somehow that romantic setup encouraged Smitty to decide that they should get married right away, and no one was bothered by the fact that only Terry was invited to the courthouse ceremony. After a season of playing so many sides, Ray managed to get Lena back on his good side by allowing her to kill Sam’s right-hand man, and possibly Sam herself, while he made a deal with Feratti that enabled him to get Bunchy out. Ray working for Feratti would be more of the same, but he’s going to be a new person now that he’s acknowledged that he needs some help, calling Alan Alda’s doctor to take the next step. I wish I was more excited that this show, which I used to really like, was continuing, but I’m hoping for some serious reinvention in the season eight premiere since this year just didn’t really cut it for me.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Eddie Marsan as Terry

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 1, Episode 13 “Miracle on 123rd St” (B-)

I though this episode was going to have Miles and Cara running around New York City like crazy after that flurry of seventy-six simultaneous friend requests from the God account, but it only took a minute for them to realize that all of them lived in the same apartment building. As is usually the case, it wasn’t too difficult to predict exactly what was going to happen as the landlord arrived to announce that the building was being sold and torn down in thirty days, but the specifics of how it happened were mildly more interesting. I was happy to see James Martinez, who I always recognize from his terrific role on the short-lived “Gravity” so many years ago, as William, who championed the cause of the residents, and while I wasn’t sure where I knew his onscreen sister from, I think it’s from Anabelle Acosta’s former role on the miserable “Quantico.” What proved most worthwhile about the designation of the building as a historical landmark due to the presence of a notable writer was Miles being inspired to give Cara a first-edition book as a celebratory gift, hopefully indicating to her that they’re ready to move past their fake relationship into something actual that will benefit them both. We haven’t spent too much time with Ali just yet, but it seems like she’ll become a bit more prominently featured now that she’s moving on from her relationship. Arthur appeared doubtful about the prospects of continuing his romance with Trish, but her willingness to jump in and give church a try is a ringing endorsement for its longevity.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 9 “I Need Some Balance” (B-)

This is an episode that I think I might have appreciated more if I was at all familiar with “Cats” beyond possibly (?) having seen the musical when I was much, much younger. This show has always been unapologetic in its weirdness, so why should it stop now? Of course Rebecca would try to relax with feminist porn that surely doesn’t exist in reality, but that introduction did help her to get serious about what she needed in order to move on from her exes, only one of who is truly over her. Trying to carry on a relationship with Jason was easy enough even with illnesses of different sorts on both of their parts, and I think the fact that Jason was accepting of any of that made his immediate departure upon finding both Nathaniel and Greg on her porch all the more indicative to Rebecca that she’s not the problem – it’s her baggage. White Josh tried his best to stop Nathaniel and Greg from becoming best friends at the gym (and failed), and I hope that their realization of their connection doesn’t mean the end of their newfound relationship. Valencia did announce that she’d be back for the rest of the season, and I guess that means she’ll be playing a role in Rebecca’s life that would never have seemed possible when they first met. Everybody has come far, including Josh, who has found some happiness for himself as Rebecca’s platonic roommate. I wasn’t terribly fond of the waste of time that was Darryl and Burt warring for the affection of their employees, and hopefully now we can just move on to the two similar and similar-looking men getting along as good friends.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pilot Review: Informer

Informer (Amazon)
Premiered January 11

It’s only two weeks into 2019, and already we have a British import making its American streaming debut after an initial broadcast back on BBC1 in October and November. This one isn’t quite as short as some of the limited series concepts seen recently, producing six episodes instead of four. It feels closest to an HBO production, “The Night Of,” one that finds a young man from a family of immigrants implicated in a simple crime that makes his life much more complicated and dangerous. Actor Nabhaan Rizwan appears to be new to movies and television, but he does a superb job as Raza, who understands the situation he’s in and tried to do as much as he could to avoid this fate. I remember Paddy Considine from “In America” and “Red Riding: 1980” a number of years ago, and he’s well-cast as a hardened agent helping the intrepid newcomer played by Bel Powley, who stood out to me from the cast of the lackluster “Mary Shelley” last year. Holly seems to be the most interesting character next to Raza, creative in how she manipulated circumstances to compel him to be an informant and able to conceal any emotions or tells that might give her away. It’s not clear how the events that we see playing out will ultimately lead to the opening shooting after the phone was left on the train, but this is just the latest mildly intriguing premise that, were there fewer compelling shows to watch and more time, I might stick with to watch unfold.

How will it work as a series? Six episodes seems like the perfect amount of time to track Raza’s immersion into this dual life as he becomes an informant to whatever attack ultimately occurs that he helps to uncover through his work. There are enough dimensions of the story that it’s sure to be enaging throughout the process.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be pretty good, and the timing of this show just a few months after “Bodyguard” got everyone interested in this kind of series should help it greatly. I’m not sure that it’s as accessible, but it’s always possible that it could earn a second season. I’m betting that this will be it, likelier for creative reasons rather than monetary or viewership figures.

Pilot grade: B+

Pilot Review: Sex Education

Sex Education (Netflix)
Premiered January 11

Here we have a British show that’s premiering on Netflix, but, unlike almost all foreign imports, it’s new to audiences everywhere at the same time, airing first-run episodes in the United States. This show reminds me a whole lot of another British show distributed internationally by Netflix that premiered a few months ago, “Wanderlust,” which I enjoyed but ultimately didn’t end up picking up. This one is interesting because, in any ways, it’s a teen comedy, but one that includes plenty of foul language and adult concepts, based in no small part on the fact that its protagonist’s mother is a sex therapist who has no concept of what kind of boundaries she should use with her son and his friends. I was almost positive that Gillian Anderson, longtime star of “The X-Files,” was American, but it seems that living in London for many years has both helped her perfect an English accent and end up headlining one of her country’s shows. She wasn’t actually featured all that much in this opening hour, though it’s fair to say that she chews as much scenery as possible. Asa Butterfield, who is only twenty-one, has already amassed an impressive resumĂ©, and this part is a great one for him. Emma Mackey, who reminds me of a British Jane Levy, seems like a great choice to portray Maeve, who sees an incredible opportunity for sex therapy for students with Otis’ vast knowledge of his mother’s work. Adam is the most intriguing character, desperate to broadcast the size of his penis and distance himself from his headmaster father. This concept isn’t entirely new but it is fun, though I’m not sure this is a show I need to be watching even if I might enjoy it.

How will it work as a series? No one has been entirely subtle up to this point, which makes me think that Otis and Maeve’s operation will be hard to launch without it going public right away. This is one pilot that is expository before getting to the big idea that serves as the focal point for the show, and so to really understand where it’s headed, a second viewing is probably necessary. I imagine many will tune back in and stream the rest of it.
How long will it last? The reviews are pretty good, and premiering so early in the year on Netflix gives this show an easy advantage to be considered one of the best right out of the gate. While it’s sure to be disparaged by whatever ultra-conservative groups still exist to dismiss forward-thinking, uncensored media, this show seems like a perfectly inviting product of the times, and I’d guess it has a promising future ahead of it.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 3, Episode 11 “The Book of Dougs” (B+)

Every time this show returns, it’s bittersweet since it means it’s closer to going off the air, with its season finale slated to air before the end of January. A fourth season renewal means that we’ll have more of this show to enjoy in the future, but I wish that this show didn’t feel so sparse as compared with so many other series. More than anything else I’m watching at the moment, this show is guided by its plot developments, turning into something completely different each episode. I couldn’t figure out where I knew the extremely friendly and trusting mailroom employee Gwendolyn from, and it all clicks now that I see that it was Nicole Byer, who hosts the Netflix baking show “Nailed It,” which I recently watched for the first time and enjoyed (though I have no plans to review it). As usual, Michael was smooth and creative under pressure, and after he found out that it would literally take millennia for the committee to even start investigating what he had found, now he’s headed straight to the judge with his findings, which is very exciting. Tahani meddling to help Jason and Janet was sweet, even if none of them were really on the same page. Chidi trying to cheer Eleanor up by putting on a mailman’s uniform was really great, and their budding relationship is one of the most heartwarming elements of this show at the moment. I love how the real good place is defined by the smell of what makes people happiest, which meant very different things for our four protagonists. Absolute moral truth/warm pretzels and the divider between first class and coach were my favorite choices.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pilot Review: Fam

Fam (CBS)
Premiered January 10 at 9:30pm

In an age where most comedies don’t have laugh tracks anymore, CBS continues to churn them out. There have been so many series about families being brought together as the result of an engagement, and usually they couldn’t be any different before slowly and heartwarmingly finding common ground. In the case of this show, the bride-to-be told her recently-promoted fiancĂ© that her father was dead because she found him to be such a terrible influence. Setup-wise, this show is extremely familiar, but it does have a rhythm, one that feels closest to “Will and Grace” but with the style of “How I Met Your Mother,” where lines sometimes feel choreographed to lead in to the next joke. I thought that I recognized the lead actress from something, but I wouldn’t have imagined that it was Nina Dobrev from “The Vampire Diaries,” a show that I didn’t watch past the pilot. This is certainly a different role for her, and she seems to do fine in it opposite Tone Bell, who I remember from “Bad Judge” and a handful of other short-lived series. I also thought I knew Clem’s sister Shannon, though maybe that’s from the family resemblance between Pamela Adlon and her daughter Odessa, who plays this role. I’m always happy to see Gary Cole in anything, including the upcoming final season of “Veep,” and this is a great part for him as the world’s worst father, who also happens to be a police officer. I don’t have any plans to watch this show, but it’s not the worst or least amusing way to spend half an hour.

How will it work as a series? Shannon living with Clem and Jay is sure to be a disaster, and now that Jay’s parents know that Cole’s Freddy is alive, there are sure to be plenty of opportunities for them to interact and learn about each other. This premise is all about setting up situations in which they can speak and realize their differences, which should work pretty well.
How long will it last? Its ratings debut was trumpeted by Cinema Blend as an improvement on “Murphy Brown” in the same timeslot earlier this season, and that’s probably the best thing for the show since it can be marketed as a success. Its reviews are less enthusiastic, but that’s never stopped a CBS sitcom from living a long and healthy life. I say this one gets another few seasons.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry (Season Premiere)

I’m Sorry: Season 2, Episode 1 “Quietly Bleeding” (B+)

It’s been almost a year and a half since this show went on hiatus after the end of its first season, and I’m very happy to have it back on the air. This is primarily a vehicle for Andrea Savage to make jokes, and it succeeds very well in that in its first installment of the year. There are the problems that she encounters in her daily life as a parent, like having to talk to her daughter about pubic hair and deal with other adults and teenagers telling her things that start conversations she might have liked to delay for a few years. The physical appearance and dress of Amelia’s kindergarten teacher and what he said to her when she reported what Amelia had told her didn’t help matters at all, and making assumptions has rarely served Andrea well in the long run. Her sudden obsession with how much she might make as a prostitute was an entertaining subplot, one that put Mike in an amusing position to do research. Jason Mantzoukas continues to be a great supporting player as Andrea’s writing partner, and though I had seen it already in advertisements for the return of this show, I laughed when Andrea reached over his computer to hit random keys and suggested that it was better than anything Kyle had ever written. I’m curious to see if Lennon Parham, former star of “Playing House,” who portrayed potentially friendly mom Beth, will have a bigger role opposite Andrea that will allow her to utilize her comic talents.

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst (Season Premiere)

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 1 “The Intransigence of Love” (B)

I got really excited for the return of this show for its final season when I saw billboards all across Los Angeles, and it’s great to have it back. That said, most of this episode was taken up by other actors, and I was feeling that it was unfortunate that we had to focus on different characters rather than the ones we know and love to hate. I spent most of the episode trying to figure out where I knew the actors from, and, looking at the IMDB pages for Caitlin McGee, who played Gemma, and Morgan Krantz, who played Jake, I’m still not sure. Their saga was pretty absurd, especially with going into the Internet with the virtual-reality goggles to steal a tape. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening when, two-thirds of the way through the half-hour, Gretchen interrupted to correct the course of the narrative. After their Y2K plotline and Gemma’s press conference, the first truly great and funny moment of the episode explained it all, as Jimmy got excited that he was the reporter who asked the question. Of course they would be spinning crazy stories to wedding planners rather than actually talking to them about what they wanted, and that’s just the kind of thing that’s great about this show. I guess having other actors play the parts made it more of a surprise, which was ultimately a productive way to do it. I’m looking forward to more episodes with our friendly – or rather, very unfriendly – characters and actors at the center.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Pilot Review: Schooled

Schooled (ABC)
Premiered January 9 at 8:30pm

When I go through the TV listings on TheFutonCritic.com and just flag the pilots I need to watch, I often don’t know a thing about them until I actually sit down to start watching, especially if the channel they’re on isn’t one that I tune in to often. That was absolutely the case with this show, which I had no idea was a spin-off of a series that I hated so much when it debuted five years ago that I gave it an F-. That was probably too harsh, in retrospect, and this one wasn’t nearly as grating, even if it was hopelessly familiar. From what I can tell, AJ Michalka’s Lainey Lewis was a supporting player on “The Goldbergs,” and both Tim Meadows’ Principal Glascott and Bryan Callen’s Coach Rick Mellor were at least recurring and likely even more featured than that. Why this needed to be a show I’m not sure, especially since we’ve seen people going back to teach when they didn’t want to so many times, with “Bad Teacher” and “A.P. Bio” being two recent examples. The fact that it’s the 90s only makes the premise feel hokier, since of course Lainey would relate to the principal’s niece because she was that girl in high school. Now, while both Michalka and Rachel Crow, who plays Felicia, seem to be suited to their roles, it’s a bit ridiculous that, in real life, the former is only seven years older than the latter, but casting older actors as teens on television is nothing new. I nearly laughed once in this episode, when Lainey first tried to kick Felicia out of class, and a half-chuckle is hardly enough to keep me watching a show that just seems like more recycled sitcom fare.

How will it work as a series? The focus on the coach felt odd to me, and the end-of-episode reveal that Coach Mellor is a real person and that the basketball star he tried to teach how to be a team player is indeed an NFL quarterback now adds an interesting dimension to this weekly comedy series. I don’t think it helps since that just provides another expectation of where things end up, but I suppose it could help make it appeal to a broader audience.
How long will it last? The ratings look to be pretty close to those of the original series, which airs as its lead-in. The reviews aren’t all that bad, and though the original has turned into a hit, it wasn’t all that well-received at first. Reports of retooling this pilot and its premise may ultimately be its downfall, but, for now, this comedy seems to be well-primed to do well in ABC’s successful Wednesday night lineup.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 2, Episode 6 “Let’s Face the Music and Talk” (B+)

It’s strange to see Midge so skittish, since only her father is truly capable of making her act that way. Telling her “You’re already you” made some sense, but then he wanted her to wait until after Hanukkah so that she didn’t ruin it for her mother, who I’d imagine would be far more open to the idea than he’s being thus far. Focusing all of a sudden on Midge’s brother Noah gave Abe a distraction to be able to propel the child he thought he could control to a bright future, only to discover that his son actually has a far higher security clearance than him and shouldn’t even be discussed around his employees. That betrayal was a helpful pathway for Abe to, in his own way, acknowledge Midge’s side career, asking her if she’s as funny as the comedian on stage. The best moment of the hour was Rose assuring Abe that he did know Noah’s name since they were the ones who named him. I like that Midge went straight to Joel to tell him that her father knew, and his first response was to buy her an ice cream. Noah hating Joel was an entertaining subplot, and I wasn’t quite as fond as lonely Esther being the only observant Jew desperately fasting on Tisha B’av in all of the Catskills, whose food-starved mental state Rose was able to take advantage of to get information about Noah. Susie’s return being celebrated as if she was missing was funny, and she really has managed to make the most of her unplanned trip to the Catskills. I like that Benjamin claimed to have come back to the Catskills because he couldn’t get a refund on his hair salon appointment, and that, great as their banter has been, he wasn’t willing to have Midge walk away without giving him her address or number since it wasn’t like the movies where she could just say that. Their future is looking bright.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Pilot Review: Project Blue Book

Project Blue Book (History)
Premiered January 8 at 10pm

There are a lot of shows that live strictly in the realm of facts and proven reality, and others that exist wholly within the sphere of science fiction and the supernatural. This is a rare hybrid, one that deals directly with the unknown, tasking its central characters with the burden of demonstrating that the unexplainable does in fact have a way of being rationalized. To me, it’s incredibly reminiscent of “Manhattan,” the WGN America show from a few years ago that dealt with the New Mexico-based nuclear bomb testing site, where it felt like all of the characters were living in their own purposely-created bubble that was different from the rest of the world. Here, we have a scientist who is clearly well ahead of anyone in the military in terms of his research, casually coining the term UFO when others would use more clunky and less accurate language. Calling the San Diego radio station to confirm that they were in fact playing the song that he heard at that time helped to mystify the situation, showing him that there had to be some truth to what he experienced, and maybe reading him in will help clarify what actually happened. Aiden Gillen, best known for playing the duplicitous Petyr Baelish on “Game of Thrones,” does a decent job as Dr. Hynek, and while Neal McDonough is always terrific in anything he’s in, this is hardly the kind of part worthy of his talents. I also recognized Robert John Burke from “Rescue Me” and Michael J. Harney from “Orange is the New Black” in small roles in the supporting cast, and Laura Mennell from “The Man in the High Castle” as Dr. Hynek’s wife. If I wanted something like a less sci-fi-oriented version of “The X-Files,” I might keep watching, but this predictable pilot didn’t really lure me in.

How will it work as a series? Focusing on the concurrent history, like Hollywood producing films about how alien invasions might look, is a compelling way to anchor this show, and the notion that it’s based on true events that might still not be totally comprehensible could also help give it an appeal to viewers both familiar and new to the network formerly known as the History Channel.
How long will it last? Both reviews and ratings seemed to be fine, though neither was particularly strong. The question is whether people want to watch this kind of fare and if this is what History, a network that has long produced both unscripted and scripted programming, wants to be showing going forward that isn’t as tethered to its earlier period origins and more to this kind of genre-bending mystery. I imagine it can last a few seasons.

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 1, Episode 9 “Rage Against the Machine” (B+)

This show has done a great job of realizing what it should be, and this episode was extremely entertaining. Leave it to Dan to have a vending machine fall on him and then not want to put in much effort to fight the system to get what he deserves. Despite DJ’s job, Darlene was all for pushing as hard as possible to get their bills covered, and as soon as she said the word “lawyer,” the conversation was over and the snacks were taken away. I was very excited to see the always great Peter Gallagher as the lawyer that Darlene decided to hire after seeing his face advertised at a gas station, and though he didn’t have all that much to do, he did have a great line in response to Dan saying he wasn’t hurt as bad as six figures: “Never say that again.” Naturally, the settlement that he ultimately got wasn’t anything to write home about, though Darlene’s persistence and humor helped them conclude that they ended up with $600 extra to spend on a trip to Europe, or, as Dan decided, thirty mail-order steaks. Jackie had a winning half-hour, making jokes that amused even herself, starting with the nickel-and-dime vending machine crack. Serving as a life coach for the very directionless Becky was a fun idea, and I like that Becky went to her competition because she had never actually seen her aunt with a client. Having a flirtatious customer’s girlfriend come in and chew her out was a more serious moment than we’re used to, but, as with how the Conners deal with problems, it all resulted in more comedy.

Friday, January 11, 2019

What I’m Watching: Manifest

Manifest: Season 1, Episode 10 “Crosswinds” (C-)

This is going to be my last episode of this show. I was only really watching because it was an opportunity to watch along with my mother-in-law, who loves it, but we still haven’t found a chance to actually see an episode at the same time. What this series’ early return from hiatus demonstrates is that what’s happening here just isn’t interesting. While Ben did grow by acknowledging that he hadn’t given any thought to the loss that his family had experienced as an indirect result of his return, everything else is related to convoluted and cumbersome plot developments. Ben befriending a podcaster is about the worst thing that could have happened because now he has a place to fuel his conspiracy theories, most of which, of course, are correct. Conveniently, the way that Michaela gets her secret signals is evolving again, just as all the passengers who are seated in chairs facing the window move with the same choreography while only a secret spy, who has decided not to continue spying, monitoring them. Ben is the least subtle, least effective detective I have ever seen, and the only person on this show more obvious than him is his sister, who got quite the shock when Jared uttered the contractually-required sappy line “It’s always been you” despite the fact that he married another woman and is only now professing his feelings. Let’s hope that the “holy grail” is indeed a code word and not this show’s leap to the mystical supernatural, but finding one general isn’t going to help address the many plot holes on this messy show.

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 5 “Shadow Puppets” (B+)

Everyone seems to have secrets on this show, and now we have Ian being forced to help try to some their Emily while she’s closest to something that may provide extremely enlightening answers to many of the questions raised this season. Yanek told Howard that he was there at the beginning, when this rift occurred to split the world into two, which is very interesting but still pretty murky in my mind. This was one hell of a showcase for Harry Lloyd as both Peters, as theirs started a prison riot that turned into a massacre when the tape he watched every day to analyze how he affected its outcome was missing and ours got found out by Naya and nearly took his own life before being saved by a newly-activated mole. Peter’s role in the divergence of the worlds may be great, but we’ve gotten very far away from him working secretly with Clare, since she’s indulging unapproved satisfactions while disobeying orders to get rid of anyone close to her. The other Howard did a poor job of playing his part when he snapped at the wheelchair-bound clerk who was evidently close with our Howard, and it’s about time that Naya at least realized that he’s not the same Howard, especially if she were to talk to him in front of Emily. It did seem like he had quickly taken out Lambert and the guards, but Indigo seems to have more than a few operatives lying in wait. Yanek leaving the prison with Mira doesn’t make too much sense to me, but, as usual, I’m extraordinarily compelled by plot developments I really didn’t see coming.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What I’m Watching: Ray Donovan


Ray Donovan: Season 6, Episode 11 “Never Gonna Give You Up” (B-)

This episode wasn’t bad, but this show is starting to get hopelessly repetitive. It felt like a revolving door of dead bodies after Mickey and Daryll brought over their latest victim, just as Smitty and Sandy had to deal with the accidental stabbing of their nearly-escaped captive. Considering the influence that Ferrati is purported to have, you’d think they would need to cover their tracks just a bit more carefully after taking out two of his lieutenants. The whole system didn’t seem to be working too efficiently after Ferrati seemed unaware when Ray called him that they even had his daughter, and then he opted to meet with the judge he had told Ray to kill, hardly a smart idea given the very public recording that was released. Mac rescuing Bridget and meeting Ray was noble, and it didn’t seem like there was any other way out for him than to end in his life, especially given that his former colleagues were now threatening his family. He was a solid character, among this season’s best features, and hopefully his death will make Ray reconsider what he’s doing with his life. Of all the Donovans, somehow it’s Bunchy who’s looking at a thirty-year jail sentence, determined not to cooperate and give anything up about his father, and hopefully Terry can provide the information he needs and set his brother straight so that he doesn’t go down for a crime that wasn’t willfully committed on his own. I don’t know what the finale will bring, and I’ll have to reconsider whether I really need to watch season seven.

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 1, Episode 12 “Ready Player Two” (B-)

Since this show has been on hiatus, I had a chance to see the film spoofed by this episode’s title, and the minimum coding and hacking featured in this hour didn’t compare to the onslaught of technology and pop culture references that made that film what it is. Rakesh managed to get completely played by Pria when she pretended not to really understand how to read code and then disappeared with the flash drive. Though it all worked out as it always does, this time it was Cara who got to overstep even more than Miles, taking Heidi’s information and plugging it in to find out who were birth parents were when she made very clear that wasn’t what she wanted. Them having died just two months earlier was the predictable mid-episode setback that led to the revelation that, not only does Heidi have a sister, but she also has a niece. Arthur having been there when she was dropped off was most likely included to help ease his transition to fully believing that his son is doing God’s work. Somehow, Cara’s mom telling Miles to plan a birthday party for her didn’t go badly, but it did help to end Miles’ relationship with a woman he obviously doesn’t want to spend as much time with as he does with Cara. Simon Hayes buying the company that Miles and Rakesh work at to demonstrate his omnipotence is a twist that tries to ground this show far too much in its plot that isn’t anywhere near as compelling as its overarching idea that relies on supernatural influence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Kominsky Method

The Kominsky Method: Season 1, Episode 6 “Chapter 6: A Daughter Detoxes” (B+)

Sandy has been spending so much time thinking about his prostate that it appears he’s gotten a bit behind on a few other important facets of his life. Not paying taxes for three fiscal years, which he tried to argue weren’t the same as real years, is now certain to bankrupt him with almost $300,000 owed. He went to great lengths to make his relationship with his daughter seem like it was going fine, which actually seemed a little disrespectful considering the way things were going between Norman and Phoebe. Sandy was pretty jovial when he called Lisa to check in, and apparently him not bothering to call her for a week after they slept together was enough to piss her off, likely dooming their relationship going forward. At least Sandy survived the episode after Norman made more than a few allusions to thinking about suicide and Sandy’s own nightmares got the best of him. Norman evoking the last scene of “Thelma and Louise” was entertaining, and I think that he’s trying to keep himself amused by freaking Sandy out since the two of them really are in this together now, alone and trying to stay healthy in their old age. Phoebe’s many previous rehab stints appear to have been quite unsuccessful, and though it didn’t seem terribly nice for Norman to tell Sandy to keep on driving when she ran out of the latest rehab place to beg them to take her with them, she could probably use all the help she can get.

What I’m Watching: Narcos: Mexico

Narcos: Mexico: Season 1, Episode 7 “Jefe de Jefes” (B+)

I keep wondering how long Rafa is going to be around before Miguel has to make the decision that he’s much more trouble than he’s worth, especially with his shifted focus into cocaine that no longer relies on Rafa’s skills to be profitable. This episode focused more, however, on Miguel becoming increasingly untouchable until he pissed off the wrong people by delegating responsibilities and assignments as he saw fit, while Rafa, in his paranoia and violent rage, took out those poor American writers who were wandering around for the course of the entire episode and got mistaken for DEA agents because they were watching the locals. Miguel got to express the anger that he’s been carrying for a while with others doubting him, and now he’s going to be even more of a boss that no one wants to mess with, lest they end up with their head smashed in. Kiki’s desire to have Miguel understand just how close he came to catching him resulted in a near-confrontation, but one that Miguel was able to simply drive away from and ignore. Mika looking for a house in San Diego and seriously expecting that they could pick up and leave was a classic instance akin to a detective in a movie staying on for one last case that will obviously alter their life forever. Don Neto has been a very worthwhile supporting character, and this episode saw him grieving in a way that we haven’t before, determined to do what he felt was just even after telling his son’s friend that he forgave him for accidentally killing him.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What I’m Watching: Homecoming

Homecoming: Season 1, Episode 8 “Protocol” (B+)

Now, this was an immersive episode, one that barely took place at the Homecoming we know and instead brought together the three main characters in the future as they stopped by that familiar but different-looking site. What we did see was Heidi’s breaking point, when she got stuck on this devastating news from Colin about preparing the soldiers she was treating to go back into combat, and how she snapped out of it into a forced smile when Craig stepped in to try to get her back onto the script that she herself had written. Stephan James, Julia Roberts, and Shea Whigham are the players who have earned awards recognition for their performances, but I continue to be equally hypnotized by Bobby Cannavale as Colin. He was stuck in the mode of trying to be casually supportive of Heidi’s expedition in this episode, and then he turned into something much more dangerous when she was triggered to remember exactly who he was. The bumbling Carrasco also saw them together and confronted them, prompting Colin to get in his face and demean all sense of purpose that he had, daring him to try to take him in and see if anyone cared. I don’t know where they go from here, as we likely see Heidi tell Cruz what happened, which might be what sets him off to attack her (or some other scenario that gets framed that way). A second season was already commissioned even before this one started, and I’m very interested to know what’s next.

What I’m Watching: House of Cards (Series Finale)

House of Cards: Season 6, Episode 8 “Chapter 73”

This episode did not me make happy at all, and my opinion of the series as a whole is now permanently soured. Teasing voice recordings from Frank was disappointing since, as we know, there was no way that we were going to hear Kevin Spacey’s Southern drawl again. Everything in this final episode was as over-the-top as this show has ever been, with some lines proving particularly irritating. Claire saying “Oh, you guys” to the audience before she invoked her terrorist threat to distract from what she was doing felt entirely out of character for her, and the belly-grabbing scene between Claire and Annette about children was also hard to take seriously. Claire talking to her younger self about eating people felt like it came from out of nowhere, and there’s already been too much of a spotlight on Claire’s flashbacks introduced as a device this season. Invoking Freddy’s legacy when Seth got hungry and ate the ribs that he had brought for Seth felt like the only real throwback to this show’s enduring elements, aside from Petrov describing his lunch in detail to Claire over the phone. Doug’s direct address at the start of the episode got me very annoyed, and I’m oh so glad that we got helpful parting tips from him like “Never button the bottom.” Doug confessing that he killed Frank is hardly satisfying, and political assassination would have been more than enough than Claire actually stabbing Doug in the Oval Office. But, of course, she had to suffocate him slowly, putting this show out of its miserable existence after a true downturn it experienced in the latter half of this season. This show was truly interesting and exciting when it premiered as Netflix’s first original series just six years ago, and it’s a shame that it had to end this way. Based on the results, I’d say letting go after season five would probably have been the better option.

Series finale: D-
Series grade: B
Season MVP: No one
Season grade: C+
Series MVP: Kevin Spacey
Best Season: Season 2
Best Episode: Chapter 49

Monday, January 7, 2019

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 6, Episode 11 “Well This Took a Dark Turn” (B)

There are pieces of this episode that I liked and others that I didn’t find to be nearly as compelling. Crazy Eyes and Pennsatucky playing detective was one of the former, and I think this show is spending a bit too much time in Florida for its own good. Frieda managed to identify her very obviously newly-rich assassin and find a way to get herself out of harm’s way, which is fine but far from the most engaging plot of this season. Badison continues to be one of the show’s least appealing elements, putting gum in Piper’s hair and stuffing drugs in her shoe because she was trying to take over kickball, and I’m wondering if Piper’s newfound confidence is actually going to work in her favor or get her into serious trouble instead. Nicky getting involved in the salon hit and trying to warn Red felt far too unsubtle, and it’s no wonder she got found out, with only Barb believing her story that she didn’t act to stop it. Linda stepped in to quash Caputo’s efforts, but I would have thought that part of Sophia agreeing to take the $300,000 she was offered would have at least precluded her from sharing the amount with Caputo and his hired lawyer. Cindy’s back pain isn’t going to go anywhere after she failed to change her testimony, and hopefully there will be enough working in Taystee’s favor to save her. Carol and Barb getting moved into the same cell after years apart seems like a strange and very dangerous move, and it’s not clear who’s behind it. Hopper came in furious at Aleida, but she got into his head in exactly the right way, and now the operation is going to pick up in an incredible way that isn’t likely to go under the radar for long.

What I’m Watching: Luke Cage

Luke Cage: Season 2, Episode 11 “The Creator” (B+)

One of this show’s best skills is humanizing its villains, which it does masterfully and on many occasions. Mariah has crossed a line, and it seemed like Shades was going to kill her after she baited him with references to his relationship with Comanche. Instead, he left and went straight to Misty, turning himself in so that he could help take her down. Shades has always been somewhat sympathetic even if he does end up killing a lot of people, and I’ll be very interested to see what his fate is. The biggest shift in this episode was the way in which Bushmaster was portrayed, with flashbacks to the mid-80s in Jamaica helping to explain how his family was cruelly suppressed by Mariah’s, and the young Mariah spoke down to him in a way that makes it much clearer just why he hates her so much. Framing this episode in the context of mourning Anansi’s death showed a time in which even Bushmaster respected some sort of boundary, going so far as to thank both Tilda and, more surprisingly, Luke for their kindness and sensitivity. Misty doing PR felt almost as strange, and now Luke is going to work with another former lieutenant of Mariah’s, Luke, to help rid the streets of her after now feeling that he should have let her die. He offered Bushmaster a way out too, but there’s no way that he’s going to take him up on that, instead preparing for a final battle that I can’t imagine is going to go in his favor but isn’t likely to leave Luke without any lasting scars either.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Final Golden Globe Predictions


The Golden Globes air tonight! Last year, there was only one freshman drama series contending, and now we’re back to having four out of five as new shows like in 2015 and 2016. “The Handmaid’s Tale” didn’t have much trouble triumphing last year, but now it’s not even nominated, and the only non-freshman is departing series “The Americans,” also honored for the first time. Having no frontrunner is sort of cool, and though I’m predicting “Homecoming,” I’m rooting for “Bodyguard,” which would be a cool choice. On the comedy side, will “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” repeat as expected, or another show end up winning? Regarding the limited series categories, I’d love to see “A Very English Scandal” win the top prize, but I don’t think it’s likely. Like I championed Thandie Newton to no effect two years ago, I’m hoping that Yvonne Strahovski can win this year in that same category. I’m paying much more attention to the film categories, where I’ve seen everything, but I’ll enjoy these races too. Predicted winners are below – click on category headings for full analysis, and leave your thoughts in the comments! Head over to MoviesWithAbe.com for film predictions.

Best Television Series - Drama
Homecoming

Best Television Series - Comedy or Musical
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama
Richard Madden (Bodyguard)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Julia Roberts (Homecoming)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical
Bill Hader (Barry)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical
Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Hugh Grant (A Very English Scandal)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Amy Adams (Sharp Objects)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Henry Winkler (Barry)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale)

What I’m Watching: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 2, Episode 5 “Midnight at the Concord” (B+)

I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of spending another episode in the Catskills since it seemed like it should have been a one-shot field trip from the city, but this was yet another hilarious and entertaining hour. I should really stop doubting this show since it has yet to let me down, faltering only slightly in the second episode before rebounding strongly with the third. Moishe and Shirley’s arrival in the Catskills caused quite a ruckus, and Abe wasn’t at all happy to see them there, especially when Moishe was swearing into two phones while he was trying to concentrate on his carefully-calibrated gameplay. Joel was quite the ladies’ man, though the bowling skills on the young woman most attracted to him were truly heinous. Susie getting spotted by a fellow impostor nearly blew her cover, and she got pretty frustrated over the course of the hour with the telephone operator who started charging her more just because she didn’t like her. I was very happy to see Zachary Levi return as Benjamin, and I still can’t believe I had no idea he was on this show (and I’m being careful not to look him up on IMDB so that I won’t spoil whether he sticks around through the end of the season). He finally warmed to Midge during their car ride when she woke up and started doing fake news broadcasts, and inviting her to a show was a great next step. Telling her he didn’t know if he liked her and her responding that she didn’t know if she could stay quiet was funny, and they seemed to get along well deciding that they didn’t like trials and opting to leave before the second act of the Lizzie Borden play. He wasn’t even floored by her comedian confession, though, unfortunately, he’s not the one she needed to impress. She did spectacularly with her Catskills gig, even after she spotted her father in the audience, but his newfound knowledge of her side job is going to prove extremely problematic given his reaction.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Kominsky Method

The Kominsky Method: Season 1, Episode 5 “Chapter 5: An Agent Crowns” (B+)

We didn’t spend as much time in the bathroom with Sandy as in previous episodes, but he did get a relatively alarming if still hilarious call from Dr. Wexler telling that something else would kill him before his prostate. Going to a park and getting looked at like he was a pedophile didn’t do much to up his confidence, but he followed that up with a far more successful visit to Lisa’s home in which he managed to make a great case for a relationship and have some apparently decent sex. Even listing the many, many medications that he was taking didn’t kill the mood. Doing a reverse mortgage commercial wasn’t ever going to go well, and Norman calling to tell him the news about Phoebe was just a helpful way to get him out of there after his ethical objections to the copy were handily rejected. I liked getting to see what Norman is like at work, pretty much just as sarcastic as he is with Sandy but considered to be very important even if people think that he’s ready to be pushed out. Whispering to the woman next to him that she’d fill him in later was an entertaining dynamic, and everyone groaning when he asked for a part for Sandy was indicative that perhaps Norman really has been doing his best to get Sandy work even if he hasn’t been successful. I’m always happy to see Elliott Gould, and his “One Foot in the Grave” script about a character suffering from dementia who forgets everything except justice sounded like a disaster. Seeing him take over for Sandy in the commercial was a fitting sendoff. Not much came of it, but watching Mindy do her one-woman show with alcohol in hand when she was subbing for Sandy helps to explain just what kind of parent he was.

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

The Bisexual: Season 1, Episode 6 (B+)

It doesn’t appear that this show has been renewed for a second season yet, which is a shame since I really would like to see more of it. A very nice morning with Sadie and Leila turned much more complicated when Sadie revealed that she was trying to get pregnant. Ultimately, it seems that having a baby with Sadie is something that she wants. Gabe searching for the identity of her donor was awfully easy, and I think Leila took her selection of an Iranian man as a compliment even if it hit her as a shock at first. Having Ruby get a call that her blog was bought by Vice in the middle of their launch party was pretty obnoxious timing, and now Sadie and Leila are going to have to do just as much professional rebuilding as they do in their personal relationship. Gabe proposing to Francisca when she was packing up because her visa was expiring was far from romantic, as was her “sure” reply. He got so mad at his sister and reamed her out for trying to set him up with other women, but then Francisca shrugged off his concerns to remind him that it’s not a real marriage and they didn’t even have to tell anyone, which was obviously not what he had planned. Leila gave Gabe a hard time by joking that his struggle was exactly like that of a Middle Eastern lesbian, but then they had a truly sentimental moment at the end with him putting his head in her lap. Their dynamic is just as compelling as Leila and Sadie are. Bring on more of this show!

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Desiree Akhavan as Leila

Friday, January 4, 2019

What I’m Watching: Narcos: Mexico

Narcos: Mexico: Season 1, Episode 6 “La Ultima Frontera” (B+)

Just as the DEA almost managed to get Miguel into American custody, the war is heating up on multiple fronts between each of the varying elements. I had seen Jackie Earle Haley, who I previously enjoyed on the show “Human Target,” in the list of credited actors for this season, and now he’s making his first performance as the relatively excitable and seemingly zany Jim Ferguson, perfectly ready to drive a car into a plane to prevent it from taking off. They started off at a great vantage point to compel Miguel to come into the United States, and Kiki watching him get handed a phone as his passport was being checked and told to turn around seemed to be the last straw for him. Things weren’t looking good for Miguel at the start of the hour with his lackluster golf course visit, but by the end, he was in much better shape with the official start of the cocaine trafficking. Falcon was a threat who showed up to nearly take out Don Neto and Rafa, but then, just as Isabella was negotiating terms on Miguel’s behalf, he was executed right in front of her. Having his marital indiscretions exposed via the purchase of expensive paintings is the least of his worries now that he’s comfortably back ahead of both the competition and the DEA. If Kiki really does go home, it’s going to be a huge step backwards for the DEA, and Miguel’s operation is only going to get bigger and more powerful.

What I’m Watching: Homecoming

Homecoming: Season 1, Episode 7 “Test” (B+)

Julia Roberts and Stephan James may be nominated for Golden Globes, but supporting actor Shea Whigham also picked up a mention at the Critics’ Choice Awards. He’s a terrific actor who has stood out in smaller parts like that of Nucky Thompson’s brother on “Boardwalk Empire,” and this is a good, subtle spotlight for him. Falling down after he approached Gloria and complaining that everyone thinks he’s a cog demonstrated his vulnerability, and he was able to get Gloria to warm up to him once he showed her that he didn’t think Cruz did anything wrong. Heidi was not at all happy to find him back at her house helping to fix her mother’s record player, and his persistence just got both of them very upset. It seemed like there was a moment where Heidi might have been able to connect the dots and realize that the man she believes to be Hunter is in fact her former boss Colin, but now she’s in a car headed to find him without getting that she’s already with him. The most unsettling moment of the episode came when Heidi casually referenced the Titanic sequel and Cruz responded without any knowledge of the invented film. Colin seemed so thrilled to hear that he had completely lost that memory, and this seems like the divergent point when Heidi might start to think she’s in the wrong line of work and Colin, or someone higher up than him, begins dosing her as well so that she won’t prove to be a threat.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What I’m Watching: House of Cards (Penultimate Episode)

House of Cards: Season 6, Episode 7 “Chapter 72” (C-)

It’s strange to watch this episode at this point, just a few days after Kevin Spacey released his very strange video that had him speaking as Frank Underwood and alluding to the fact that no one ever saw his body to confirm that his character was in fact dead. That felt more like the ravings of a madman who thinks this might be a sly way to revive his career, but I can’t imagine it has anything to do with the show that wrote him out of the final season. What’s going on here is just as unfortunate, creatively, at least. The notion that Annette Shepherd would convene a business meeting to unsubtly and directly approve an assassination of the president, with the vice-president sitting there nodding along, is the rare preposterous concept that still seems absurd even compared to what’s going on in the country today. Claire’s pregnancy has progressed considerably since its reveal at the end of the previous episode, and now she’s wielding it as a weapon while already hating the fact that the baby might be slowing her down. What sent this episode over the edge, making me incredibly unexcited about the series finale, is when Doug got out his scissors to dramatically cut his beard before declaring that he’s coming for Claire, to the audience, no less. Adding him as a direct-address figure now feels manipulative since it was such a standard device for Frank and therefore so impactful for Claire to start it when she was coming into power. I’m less than optimistic about this finale leaving me with any positive feelings towards this show.

What I’m Watching: The Man in the High Castle (Season Finale)

The Man in the High Castle: Season 3, Episode 10 “Jahr Null” (B)

I feel like this most recent season has felt especially long, elapsing over the course of two and a half months for me, which is about the same amount of time a ten-episode season airing on standard television would last. Once again, I don’t feel that the time I’ve invested has been worth it, and it’s hard to know what’s going to happen next given some of the events we saw at the very end. I’ve been waiting for Smith to soften and turn at some point, and somehow, it hasn’t happened yet. Hawthorne had the perfect opportunity to spell out for him that he could be reunited with his son in another world, but instead he toed the party line and even went in to shoot Juliana as she about to travel, striking her just as she disappeared so that she’s likely going to perish wherever she’s managed to arrive. What was clear is that Wyatt is a good ally, one who’s going to carry on the cause by hopefully exposing the films to the masses, a likely far more effective strategy than the subtle image messaging that Robert assisted Ed with in this hour. He also sent Himmler to the hospital, theoretically elevating Smith even closer to being in charge of the Reich, though not before he made clear that no “perversion” of any sort will be tolerated in his regime, sending Nicole back to Berlin for reeducation. I feel like, this far in, I’m not going to give up on this show, but I do hope season four is stronger.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Jason O’Mara as Wyatt

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What I’m Watching: Maniac (Series Finale)

Maniac: Season 1, Episode 10 “Option C” (B+)

Well, that’s it. While I did like the way that this episode ended, I’m not sure it necessitated everything that’s happened up until now. James and Azumi seemed so genuinely relieved to see everyone wake up, demonstrating just how little control they had over what was going on. It’s definitely for the best that they won’t be conducting more experiments going forward, and they seem to give each other what they need, which is helpful given their oddball personalities. Greta proudly telling James that she was going on a book tour on all seven continents was preposterously over-the-top (Antarctica hardly seems like a stop for that). I preferred the endings that we got for our two protagonists, who took unexpected steps that they likely would not have before their participation in the trial. I was curious if we would see Annie’s father after she started yelling at him to get out of the pod in the backyard, and there was Hank Azaria in a far more subdued role than I’ve seen him in recently on “Brockmire,” comforting her in the best way he could when she claimed that she was the daughter who shouldn’t have lived. Hiring a Friend Proxy Owen to go with her on a road trip didn’t end up working out, but it did inspire her to go rescue the friend who very much needed her. Owen turning his brother in on the stand was a bold move that showed his true bravery, and his family rewarded him for it by committing him. Playing through the options of what could happen if he looked Annie up was interesting, delving into what’s real and what’s not, and it was great to see her show up and insist that they make a run for it. It’s possible I’d be up for more of these characters, though I think the format would have to change. I don’t think a renewal is likely though, given the mixed reactions. I’m happy that I made it through and perfectly happy to say goodbye.

Series grade: B
Series MVP: Emma Stone

What I’m Watching: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: Season 6, Episode 10 “Chocolate Chip Nookie” (B+)

I read an article recently about the best and worst of 2018, noting Badison as the worst new addition to a series. I agree with that since her plotlines are both tiresome and unsettling, and nothing good can come of Piper being democratically elected as the new captain of the kickball team. Piper’s idea has been so horribly corrupted, and things are going to get violent very soon, much more problematic than even the most depraved participants in the fantasy inmate game can likely imagine. Fortunately, Badison isn’t the only new character this season, and while Daddy is decent, I’m far more interested in the two featured in this episode. Recently, we haven’t actually seen the crimes committed by the inmates during their flashbacks, and we didn’t know before this what it was that Barb and Carol had done to get themselves locked up for so many years. Finding out that they’re sisters who coldly pushed their other sister into an icy pond because they were jealous of her makes them infinitely more intriguing – and horrifying – and it was particularly chilling to see Barb feign regret at the last moment before eagerly helping Carol to push the car in. Nicky has done a decent job of tempering Barb’s angry energy, but it seems that the feud lives on so many years later, and Frieda might be safe for the moment with the negative energy concentrated between the two sisters. I liked seeing Dixon and Pennsatucky connect sentimentally in Florida, interacting almost on the same level they did when they were touring theme parks with Donuts. Aleida’s smuggling operation was going so smoothly until Hopper looked at what was going in the trash, and I don’t think he’s going to take out his anger about that betrayal too well. My favorite part of this episode was definitely Fig coaching Caputo on how he could use his position as former warden to his advantage to help Taystee.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What I’m Watching: Luke Cage

Luke Cage: Season 2, Episode 10 “The Main Ingredient” (B+)

I never thought that I’d be happy to see Danny Rand. Part of it, I think, is that he feels different on this show, contrasting so perfectly with Luke. The bulletproof hero could use a friend right now after Harlem has turned on him, which stings more because it’s an emotional action rather than a physical one, with everyone on the streets expressing disappointment. Danny showing up to help make his dragon-free life feel a bit more realistic was helpful, even if Luke can stand the meditation but isn’t as into the notion of having centered his qi. I liked the move they did together which managed to take out everyone who was about to clobber them, so effortlessly and quickly executed by the unlikely pair. Misty arresting Nandi showed exactly why she was chosen to take over the precinct, though it’s going to be hard for her to command authority given the way she balks it and the number of corrupt cops she’s taken down. Nandi’s reason for working with Bushmaster had some slight traces of merit, especially given what we saw of Mariah in this episode. Even Shades took objection to the way in which they killed everyone in the bar and then torched Anansi. Mariah’s reasons for killing her cousin in the first season may not have been pure, but I have a feeling that she’s going to end up being the victim of a similar offing by someone who thinks that she’s completely corrupted the notion of what they’re trying to do.

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 4 “Point of Departure” (B+)

I’ll admit that I’m having trouble following who is who, or rather which version of each person we’re seeing. Their Emily, flashing back to memories of her mother trying on new identities, is conducting her own investigations, but ours is also immersing herself in the field in a way that’s extraordinarily detrimental to the man she believes to be her husband. Clare was able to swiftly determine that Lambert wasn’t going to expose her, but they still thought taking care of him was best, and Baldwin had her own plans for both him and all of Howard’s crew. That turn of events coinciding with Emily going to the library to meet with the other Lambert was almost dizzying, and made for a formidable ending when Peter was brought in by Naya to see Lambert grinning at him, telling him that he looked like he’d seen a ghost. One of the best and subtlest moments in this episode was Clare asking Peter not to smoke in the car because their daughter rides in it, a reminder that, whatever she has done, Clare remains the mother of their child who theoretically loves her much more than anyone else. Howard isn’t having much luck appealing to the others of people that he knows in prison, but Yanek seems to be warming to him. Seeing a much meeker, far chattier version of Peter is truly disorienting, and the explanation that he’s so submissive and compliant because they grabbed him so young is extremely interesting.