Thursday, February 28, 2019

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 7 “Zero Eggplants” (B+)

It’s fun when this show brings in guest stars, and even more worthwhile to me when they get to interact with the main characters instead of following their own separate narrative. In this case, I was pleased to recognize both of the actors involved. Janina Gavankar, who previously appeared on “True Blood” and more recently in “Blindspotting,” played Rachel, and Timm Sharp, from “Enlightened” and “The New Romantic” was Quinn. I was worried for a while that they were going to be pulling a con of some sorts, but you have to remember that this show is about Gretchen and Jimmy being terrible people. Jimmy’s suggestion of an act that could put their relationship back on equal footing didn’t bode well for him at all when Gretchen latched on to the idea and seemed utterly uninterested in talking about anything else until he made good on his offer. It seemed inevitable that he was going to choose Quinn as the man to help him fulfill the deed, and it was decently entertaining to watch him squirm along the way. Gretchen opened up to Rachel in a big way, and therefore it was both troubling and expected to see her tank the relationship in a finite way by reframing what had happened and causing some serious drama. We’re not too far from the series finale at this point, and I’m all for other episodes like this that allow our characters to discover more about themselves by meeting others that reflect their best and, more likely, worst traits.

Round Two: Miracle Workers

Miracle Workers: Season 1, Episode 2 “13 Days” (B+)

This second installment was a strong follow-up to the first, showing just how bored and easily distracted God is while Eliza tries hard to achieve what she’s confident she’ll be able to in order to save Earth. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched an episode of Bill Maher’s show, but I did see his documentary “Religulous” exposing and mocking extremists across all religions about a decade ago, and so I can understand why God would hate him. I like that, in this vision of the way “upstairs” works, the genitals department can’t actually achieve something like exploding a human’s penis but instead just try to enforce puberty. Accidentally making it bigger and then having it kill him was a moderately amusing chain of events, and it seems that Sanjay has a rather miserable job which in this case ended up with him forced to eat much more food than he even could have wanted without the use of his arms. Eliza and Craig weren’t completely on the same page with the love story they were trying to guide along, and I enjoyed the footage proving that people never pick up on signs with Lincoln seeing crows and black cats yet still opting to enjoy his night at the theater. The matching pollen allergies of their two would-be lovebirds were endearing, and I love that they helped them to notice each other. Spilled coffee and another meet-cute are definitely going to complicate things, but it would be too easy if everything was resolved by the end of episode two, right?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 13 “Our Little Island Girl” (B)

I’ve always felt that Beth was one of the strongest characters on this show and that Susan Kelechi Watson was an unsung MVP. I didn’t feel that as much in an episode where she took center stage, focused almost entirely on flashbacks and only featuring one Pearson (Randall) at two points during the episode, when she first met Randall at college and then when we expressed total support for her career change idea. There were three notable guest stars in this hour, all playing influential figures from Beth’s past. Phylicia Rashad is probably going to earn her fourth career Emmy nomination after previous bids for “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Cosby Show” for portraying Beth’s mom, who always stressed the importance of achievement even if those goals had little in common with her daughter’s desires in life. This is the second recent role that “Alias” alum Carl Lumbly has been given with a heavy accent after “Supergirl” earlier this season, and he definitely got to pull the heartstrings by playing Beth’s wonderful father who succumbed to an early death. And then there was “Timeless” star Goran Visnjic as the ballet instructor who pushed here and ultimately told her she wasn’t cut out for it. The notion of her returning to a career she actually liked is probably the most Randall move she could pull, and I’m excited to see how that goes for her even though it’s sure to be difficult given her mom’s general lack of support for foolish ambitions.

What I’m Watching: SMILF

SMILF: Season 2, Episode 4 “So Maybe I Look Feminine” (C+)

I’m starting to become disillusioned with this show, wondering what the point is when we can’t ever get a straight narrative that actually happened, prone instead to extended fantasy sequences and focusing on characters who aren’t actually members of the main cast. This episode was interesting, though that’s probably because it was so far out of the realm of reality that it enlivened what I’d describe right now as an otherwise unspectacular series. It’s always good to see Ari Graynor, fresh off the recently-cancelled “I’m Dying Up Here,” returning to Showtime to play Bridgette’s friend Emma, who was preparing for her wedding before getting hit in the face in a scene stolen right out of “Meet the Parents.” The far more notable guest star was Kevin Bacon, an actor whose career is somewhat puzzling to me after his earlier Golden Globe-nominated role on the short-lived “I Love Dick,” as himself. I guess it’s possible that he and Frankie Shaw know each other but, no matter what, his appearance as himself in a barn scene that could easily have taken place in a porn movie was downright bizarre. I’d prefer that Bridgette actually spoke to Nelson about her issues with her shushing Rafi, but instead she just stayed home and imagined all this. I’m going to give this show another episode to see if it manages to keep me interested or if I’m more than ready to give it up, especially since it runs ten episodes this season instead of last year’s eight.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What I’m Watching: Black Monday

Black Monday: Season 1, Episode 4 “295” (B-)

This episode was considerably more focused than the previous three were, clearly following one narrative with a few separate threads for the course of the half-hour and not stopping to indulge too much in the wild behavior of any character. The transformation of Blair into a mini-Mo was quickly conveyed early on, and both Mo and Dawn seemed to be a bit less horrible while they were cozying up to him, competing over whose strategy to win Tiff back would actually work. I’m glad to see that there was an unintended consequence of all this, which is that both Dawn and Blair have apparently developed feelings for each other, which may have been conceived of under false pretenses but are nonetheless quite real. Something tells me that the one thing which might actually bother the rather deplorable Tiff is the thought of Blair actually having sex with another woman, so let’s hope that the kiss that Mo witnessed was the extent of it. Mo came closer to having to deal with a plan with gone wrong than he ever has before when he almost had to amputate one of his fingers in front of the Yakuza, and that digit was saved just in time by his hapless underlings who didn’t bother to take his orders seriously when he first gave them, a mistake they’re not likely to make again given the punishment he’s going to dole out to them. If there’s one thing he doesn’t do, it’s forget the people who have caused him any sort of misfortune or mild discomfort.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 9, Episode 11 “The Hobo Games” (B+)

This episode’s title doesn’t quite do justice to the masterfully layered nature of this show and how this episode ended as a number of installments have before on an entirely dramatic and devastating note, highlighted by the absence of a mid-credits scene. Tami being pregnant was far from the most significant development for Lip in this hour, and the immediate torrential failure of the site inspection from DCFS didn’t even seem like a death knell for his fostering of Xan since he might still be able to talk his way out of it and figure out a solution. Fiona showing up at the shop looking for him with a bottle of vodka to throw his sponsee off the wagon was the last straw, and though he doesn’t have any more right than her to dictate who lives in the Gallagher house, him asking her to leave speaks loudly enough to make her understand the gravity of where her life is now. On the subject of changing the direction of one’s life, it wasn’t Frank’s failure to win the Hobo Games and the prized Hobo Loco Man check that sent Ingrid packing, but rather his unwillingness to listen to her fabricated story about having lost a few of the babies. She didn’t seem too broken up about leaving when he quickly upped his severance package to $10,000 for signing away his paternal rights. Kev panicking during his vasectomy didn’t help him all that much, and he’s likely going to have to continue to pay for the lie he told which earned him some undue relaxation and special treatment. I like that Debs’ response to Carl expressing his jealousy about her spending too much time with his girlfriend was to basically start a competition, and while I’m sure it will be entertaining to watch, I can’t imagine it will work out too well for either Gallagher.

Monday, February 25, 2019

What I’m Watching: Counterpart (Series Finale)

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 10 “Better Angels”

I’m still so upset that this show was cancelled by Starz with what I assume is little hope of it being picked up by another network or streaming service, but at least the fact that this finale provided some closure makes its demise somewhat more palatable. This final hour was extremely action-packed, with all of the characters we’ve come to know colliding in unexpected ways and, interestingly, most of them making it out unscathed. Having both Howards come face-to-face so long after their first meeting and after ours has gone through so much was particularly poignant, and ours was even so pushed to the brink that he was ready to execute his other for his involvement in the events leading up to Emily’s death. She demonstrated extraordinary bravery and grace under pressure when she walked right into an extremely volatile situation and managed to almost defuse it before the wire got tripped. Clare and Peter getting to a place of friendship is endearing, and arguing about what to rename Spencer was sweet. The most memorable moment of the hour, for me, was watching Roland and his counterpart from their side bartering for token items like a flash drive and saying goodbye to each other for the last time. Their Howard was just as brutal and exacting in his systematic execution of all of the Indigo carriers, and their Emily, with a helpful start from Ian, made sure to dispose of Mira in a way that guaranteed her success. Yanek collapsing after being exposed to the virus and spending time with his grandchildren in our world was a haunting ending, one that leaves the door open for more of this show if it were to be miraculously renewed but just as fittingly closes it satisfactorily. I do think that this show has been the best I’ve seen this season, and I’ll continue to highly recommend it to anyone I know. And please give everyone involved new jobs and roles just as good as the ones they had here.

Series finale: A-
Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Harry Lloyd as Peter
Series grade: A-
Series MVP: J.K. Simmons as Howard
Best Episode: “Twin Cities

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 1, Episode 14 “The Trouble with the Curve” (B-)

As if Miles and Cara haven’t been pushy enough in the past, Miles wasn’t about to leave anything alone with his old friend Cal, who made it very clear that Derrick’s future was none of his business. It makes some sense that Miles would have been very involved in something like baseball as a kid, and that his being a bit too honest and unfiltered with someone who didn’t want to hear it led to the end of a friendship. It was obvious to me as soon as they encountered Derrick in the bar that it was the agent who got him into the club and paid for the drinks, but I didn’t guess that Cal was trying to get his own second shot at glory by attaching himself to his protégé. It ended up being therapeutic for Cal to confess what he never had about not being injured and messing up his future. Their stadium experience at the end of the episode was a nice boost for Miles after reevaluating his potential with his podcast. Rakesh managed to win over his team by showing them that he was indeed competent, and it’s a good thing that he didn’t let his main competitor walk out the door and quiet as he seemed ready to do. Arthur got an unexpected signal that he was going to be pushed out in the form of Gaius Charles’ Reverend Andrew Carver, and though the idealistic young assistant was happy to defer to his new mentor and wasn’t trying to push him out, it seems like that’s exactly what’s being planned by more powerful forces. At least Arthur seems to be somewhat ready for it.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 4, Episode 12 “Menagerie” (B)

While I’m never a big fan of holiday-themed episodes that aren’t sitcoms, at least this hour was creative in the way that it incorporated Valentine’s Day with an alien killer who literally eats hearts. I felt at some points like I was watching “CSI” with the way that the lines were written, and this episode was so overwhelmed with Kara being miserable that Alex didn’t remember that she was Supergirl. Being the vulnerable one in the relationship definitely changes the dynamic, and Kara showing up as an eager reporter to every crime scene doesn’t exactly seem like a plan that can last all that long. I’d be interesting in following Alex as she enters a new romantic relationship, and maybe Becca, who she ran into at the party, will prove memorable enough to get her back into the dating scene. Having a jewel thief merge with a snake-like alien showed how some villains do embrace the ability to be more powerful and get revenge on those they previously felt had taken advantage of them. Having the Children of Liberty, egged on by Ben Lockwood’s ambitious son, show up to try to kill her while the DEO was always there adds another dimension of how justice should be enforced and executed, a clear and disturbing parallel to white nationalists in today’s America. I don’t think was ever any doubt that Lena was going to work with Haley, and it’s immensely unsettling to see the President act in such an overreaching and discriminatory way. Brainy was hilariously awkward as always while researching Valentine’s Day gifts when Nia told him that him coming to the party was a date, and I love that she decided to don the costume and spring into action as Dreamer to save the day. Now why is Manchester Black back? Is that really what we need?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Pilot Review: Proven Innocent

Proven Innocent (FOX)
Premiered February 15 at 9pm

If there’s one thing the world doesn’t particularly need, it’s more law shows. When they do premiere, especially on broadcast network television, there’s usually an attempt to find a hook that hasn’t been found before to distinguish it from the 1,945 other law shows currently on the air and remembered from throughout the history of TV. This one takes that to the extreme, following its protagonists as they try to prove the innocence of the wrongfully convicted, with the added detail that star lawyer Madeline Scott was actually incarcerated for a murder she didn’t commit by the very prosecutor she constantly goes up against in court. I remember Rachelle Lefevre from the pilot of “Off the Map” and other projects over the years, and she’s certainly the most memorable player in this cast even if her performance is not particularly good. Though he’s starred in two other short-lived shows since, I’ll always lament the sight of Kelsey Grammer on any drama that isn’t “Boss,” the excellent two-season Starz series that cast him in a fully evil role, one that he isn’t really inhabiting here even if his motivations are rarely all that pure. Vincent Kartheiser made sure to distinguish this part from his much more buttoned-up suit-wearer on “Mad Men,” here appearing scruffy and far more willing to get his hands dirty even if he initially appeared lazy. Russell Hornsby, who has appeared on shows like “The Affair” and “In Treatment” in the past, is saddled with a lackluster role as the serious face of the firm that has to conform to the rules when some of his associates don’t always play by them. What’s most regrettable about this show is the dialogue, featuring such gems as “Can’t kill your way out of this one” from Madeline to someone who proved her very wrong and the judge talking down to her with “I’m not going to lie, I’ve heard better. What else you got?” The innocence of the people portrayed may be in question, but the quality of this show is not. I’m already ready to forget about it.

How will it work as a series? It seems that her brother’s role in the death of the woman they both went to jail for killing may not be as clear-cut as she initially thought, and that’s going to lead to her questioning all of her life choices and her mission. Gore reviewing all of his cases at the same time just means that all the hard work everyone is going to here will be for nothing since no one will be able to trust their judgment at any point.
How long will it last? The reviews aren’t great, predictably. The ratings were even worse, and though Friday night isn’t traditionally a fantastic night for television, it is where many crime procedurals get buried, and therefore this show needs to do a lot better if it’s going to hope to survive. I wouldn’t give it all that long, and it certainly won’t get another season.

Pilot grade: D+

Pilot Review: The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)
Premiered February 15

It was merely based on the alphabet that I decided to watch “Doom Patrol,” the DC Universe series also about a group of misfit superheroes that premiered last Frida, before this one. This show isn’t affiliated with either DC or Marvel, based instead on a Dark Horse Comics publication. So much of what happened in this first episode was familiar and expected, displaying a certain spunk that helps its ragtag band of siblings take down evil and make each other miserable when they have to spend any time together after some unfortunate formative events. The humor in this show mostly works, with its style defined most by the dance sequence set to “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Number Five taking out the huge team sent to bring him in to “Istanbul Not Constantinople.” I was surprised to see Ellen Page as the star of this show, taking on a TV role leading a much less-known cast, and she didn’t display all that much enthusiasm in this opening hour. Colm Feore, veteran of the likes of “24” and “House of Cards,” is hamming it up like crazy as patriarch The Monocle, and at least he’s having fun. The other two adult cast members whose names I recognized didn’t actually appear in this episode – Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton, Emmy nominee last year for his guest-starring role on “Mindhunter.” There are elements of this show that are appealing to me, but I still think I’d pick “Doom Patrol” over this if I decided to choose just one to start watching.

How will it work as a series? Number Five’s confession that he knew the world was going to end in eight days but he couldn’t figure out why does give this show a sense of purpose that it didn’t inherently have following their father’s death. It’s going to take some work to get the group back together, but, once they start, I imagine things will be entertaining as they take on an extinction event.
How long will it last? Ratings data isn’t something that Netflix usually releases, but premiering this show just days before cancelling all of its Marvel programming means that the streaming service will be looking for other superhero shows to fall back on. The reviews are decent, and, as long as production costs aren’t too overwhelming, I’d expect a second season renewal sometime soon.

Pilot grade: B

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Pilot Review: Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol (DC Universe)
Premiered February 15

I wasn’t expecting to like this show at all after a lackluster experience with the pilot of “Titans,” DC Universe’s first show that apparently spun this one off. Without having seen the episode of that show which launched this one, I didn’t feel lost at all, actually finding the exposition here to be terrific. I understand that the narration is meant to mock other superhero series that are all too familiar to viewers, but it managed to work wonders here, drawing me in and helping me to care about each of the four major protagonists whose lives went very, very awry to get them to the place they are now. I’m impressed with the cast, immediately recognizing Alan Tudyk from the likes of “Firefly” and the underrated “Powerless,” smirking as usual before appearing later in a far freakier form. Brendan Fraser had what turned out to be an underwhelming arc on “The Affair” a few years ago, and it’s good to see him as the tormented former racer now encased in a metal body that gives him strength and allows him to hide the demons inside him. Matt Bomer taking a part that keeps his face behind a mask demonstrates his commitment to the project, and it’s good to see the likeable former star of “White Collar” try something new like this. I couldn’t figure out where I knew Crazy Jane from, and I’m so happy to see that Diane Guerrero, a standout supporting player who was mysteriously absent from season six of “Orange is the New Black,” has found a role that allows her to display many antics and emotions. Though I’m convinced I’ve seen April Bowlby, who plays Elasti-Girl, somewhere before, it doesn’t appear that I have, and she’s winning me over as the former movie star whose uncontrollable transformation into the large blob was one of the best moments of this opening hour. And then of course there’s Timothy Dalton, many years removed from his James Bond career and fresher off “Penny Dreadful,” as the man seemingly pulling the strings who’s actually not in control of much. This pilot was one of the most engaging superhero starts I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m definitely in to see if episode two lives up to it.

How will it work as a series? They’ve decided to stay and defend the town because they don’t think that anything could be worse than what they’ve become, and they got some pretty quick confirmation that’s not the case at all. The powers here are truly interesting and dark, and I’m so curious to see how they use them to defeat more nefarious threats.
How long will it last? The original series “Titans” has already been renewed for a second season, and this one has better reviews across the board. Ratings data isn’t something that the relatively new streaming service is likely to release, but given that Netflix is rapidly pulling out of the Marvel superhero game, I think that DC is going to want to invest big-time here and give this show a ringing endorsement.

Pilot grade: B+

Counterpart: The Best Show You’re Not Watching

I'm still not over the fact that Starz has decided not to renew "Counterpart" for a third season after two completely terrific first years, and I'll have a review of what will now be the series finale later this week. Check out my take on the show as a whole for Criminal Element by heading over to their site to read the piece.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 10, Episode 11 “The Scales of Justice” (B+)

Much of this episode was over-the-top, but it still worked thanks to the dedication of all five primary cast members. I liked the pairing of Jack and Grace in their efforts to critique each other’s bodies and lose weight after they both ripped their pants, and their physical comedy was at its peak as they dove onto the floor to race for the last crouton that had fallen out of the trash (or something of the sort). Realizing that they can be happy-ish while being in shape-ish was a nice way to end it, though I do hope they’re prone to similar antics in the future as they do tend to be quite entertaining. I recognized Aya Cash right away as one of Will’s students, and if the “You’re the Worst” star had to play any part on this far less risqué comedy (a humorous sentiment given how much this show does push the envelope), I’m glad it’s as Karen’s former stepdaughter, who, during her childhood, got grounded by Karen for not drinking enough. I enjoyed that their rift over the necklace turned into the dramatic case at the center of Will’s happening classroom, resulting in Will’s very judicial conclusion that they just wanted to be in each other’s lives again. While I’d much rather watch Cash as Gretchen on the FXX show that’s ending in just a few weeks, I’d be very happy to learn that she was becoming a recurring player on this show much in the way that Michael Angarano once was as Jack’s son.

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 2, Episode 6 “The Small of My Back” (B+)

Andrea was on fire in this episode, expressing plenty of passion in every conversation she had, whether it was chastising her father for having sex in the house when Amelia was sleeping over, telling Mike about the sex dream she had about Mr. Castellotti, or recounting both of those unfortunate happenings to her friend Brian, who was all too eager to both digest the information and then tell all the other parents about it. It could have been a lot worse than Amelia telling Andrea in front of Brian that she just wanted to “do it for fun” when she grew up, and it did seem that Andrea left things awfully unresolved when she failed to truly emphasize the adult nature of sex and that it probably wasn’t something she should reference on the playground. I was very excited to see Rose McIver’s name in the credits since I’m a huge fan of the “iZombie” star, whose show returns for its final season in May. I wish that she would have had a bigger role, but at least she got to play it completely straight with Andrea before she finally acted on the information she had all too subtly alluded to and then remained just as emotionless in her response after confirming the affair. In the way that this show has always resembled “Curb Your Enthusiasm” a bit, I enjoyed Martin’s eagerness to let the waiter go through his whole speech about what to order at the restaurant when he had indeed been there before and Andrea seemed totally ready to put in her order before he opened his mouth.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 6 “This Brief Fermata” (B+)

Gretchen was way too excited when Jimmy proposed the idea of a free sex week, but he was really the one who had something to feel guilty about and tried to cover it up with the “margin of error.” Just confessing and apologizing for his act of what would likely have been considered minor infidelity would surely have gone over better than tricking Gretchen into thinking he was having sex all week just so that she would go out and force herself to have sex with a “random” to be on the same playing field. Scenes like the one that ended this episode with Gretchen very purposely putting emphasis on certain words as Jimmy’s smile slowly faded from his face are the main dramatic appeal of a show that, up until recently, has been mostly focused on its comedy for a while. Gretchen being extremely devoted to work for the first time ever was indeed a change, and she managed to come up with just the right way to solve two problems, linking the very particular Nock Nock up with Sam, which also got him to finally sign the papers so they could turn it into a done deal. We haven’t seen Sam enough lately, and I’m glad that he showed up a few times this episode, at one point to destroy Jimmy in video games and then remind him that Gretchen is the ultimate liar. Jimmy’s going to have to find some way to atone for what he’s done since she is not going to be quick to forgive him this time.

Pilot Review: Miracle Workers

Miracle Workers (TBS)
Premiered February 12 at 10:30pm

I watch every pilot, and it’s a rare pleasure that one is truly enjoyable enough that I know I’m going to continue watching it. After enjoying a clever vision of the afterlife on “The Good Place” for three years, it’s fun to encounter a different version of the world above with none other than Steve Buscemi as God, who has become complacent and outright bored, to the point that he’s willing to trade not destroying Earth to watch someone eat a worm in public. I was always a fan of “Bruce Almighty” and thought that having Jim Carrey acquire God’s powers was a blast, and this show is a much grimmer but equally funny look at how things might function and explain the state of the world today. I enjoyed Buscemi’s God rewinding the video interview of a deceased racer saying “Praise God” so that he could hear it over and over again, and then complaining that people didn’t sacrifice rams to him anymore even though it grossed him out. The departments are an entertaining premise, and I like that Daniel Radcliffe’s Craig has gone stir-crazy trying to very, very slowly answer some people’s prayers. Though spunky do-gooder Eliza has convinced Craig that he can do more with his time than just small natural phenomena, it’s good to see things grounded by the unfortunate inevitabilities like the man they helped find his second glove turning out to be the Shotgun Killer. I’m very pleased with this start and eager to see where the next six episodes go.

How will it work as a series? The bet is on, and I assume we’ll follow events slowly through their little television screens as Eliza and Craig try to find clever ways to intervene and shape events in the way they need to go to save Earth. I’m looking forward to seeing how God starts to care about the people that he’s been ignoring for so many years.
How long will it last? It’s possible that it’s intended only to be a one-season show running seven episodes, and though reviews weren’t quite as formidable as mine, I think that it’s been well-received enough that it could continue beyond that. TBS has made some questionable programming decisions lately, but I’d bet that this one can go for two seasons.

Pilot grade: B+

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pilot Review: Boomerang

Boomerang (BET)
Premiered February 12 at 10pm

It’s hard to find any truly original programming these days, with a whole bunch of previously popular films and television series being repurposed and continued in the present day, hoping to find an audience. In this case, it’s the 1992 film “Boomerang” starring Eddie Murphy, which this reviewer hasn’t seen. Given that the film was released nearly thirty years ago, it makes sense that the next generation would be the focus in what has been described as a straight continuation of its plot happening many years later. There’s a clear dynamic at play here, one in which Simone, the daughter of Murphy’s character from the film, lives in a privileged position because of her father’s success and often exerts undue influence as a result, yet all she wants is to be able to make her own, individual mark on the world, evident in her excitement at seeing a check that didn’t have her father’s name on it. On the other side of things is Bryson, who knows that he needs to work hard and should really listen to his instincts rather than let Simone reshape a winning pitch that he had made into something with her fingerprints all over it that was not what was ordered. This show is reminiscent of “Insecure,” though its protagonists come from very different backgrounds. The only performer I recognized immediately was Paula Newsome, who I first encountered on “Women’s Murder Club” and appeared much more recently on “Barry,” as Victoria, Bryson’s unforgiving boss. This show is fun for what it is, but it doesn’t appeal particularly to me.

How will it work as a series? Even though it cost him what could have been a great gig, Bryson does seem to value Simone’s input, and their futures are going to be interwoven, both professionally and personally. This is a setup that we’ve seen before many times, and though it’s formulaic to a degree, these characters should help it stand apart.
How long will it last? Reviews seem to be pretty good, which is a major get for a remake of a movie so many years after its initial release. It already lost some of its viewers going from episode one to two, and they’re not as impressive as other series on BET. The network feels like a good fit, and I suspect this one will get a shot to prove itself in a second season.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 12 “Songbird Road: Part Two” (B)

It sure seems like Rebecca knew a lot about the parental figures absent from her children’s lives and didn’t tell them, always sitting down to talk about the secret goings-on she doesn’t want to discuss in front of them. Nicky was not particularly kind to Rebecca in his takedown of Kevin as a movie star who wanted to have a great story to tell by saving his uncle, and it’s clear that so many years away from society and being shunned as an embarrassment by his brother have made it difficult for him to function around other people. The most regrettable part of the entire affair is seeing what Kevin failing to pull off the incredible feat that his father could have did to him, prompting him to drink again and sink back into the depression he was experiencing before this hopeful reunion took over his every thought. Let’s hope Rebecca notices and tries to help him before he ends up completely isolated like Nicky, with Zoe already apparently not returning his calls. It was sweet to see Kate and Randall have some time to bond as they reminisced about their sequin fight with Jack, both remembering it in vastly different ways that spoke to Jack’s mental state and his ability to put on a good face in front of his children. Getting let in to their childhood home helped them to realize that it didn’t look at all the same, and it was nice to see Kate return home with ideas of a backyard for her family while Randall is going to have to be more present at home while Beth goes out of town to help her mom.

Friday, February 15, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 14 “Cause and XS” (B-)

I find that time loops are very often used in TV shows these days, and I just watched one a couple of weeks ago when I screened the pilot episode of “Russian Doll,” a show with a definite comedic slant centered on one character reliving the night she died over and over again. Nora experiencing that phenomenon was slightly more grating because she continues to be so bratty, and somehow she tried fifty-two times to fix things before realizing that her move – the first thing anyone stuck in a time loop should do – was to read them all in so that they could work together to figure out how to close it. I liked that not much time was wasted on the specifics of the hostage situation and Cicada throwing his deadly spear, almost routine even by the second time that it happened with Sherloque as his captive. This did feel a lot like previous seasons where villains just show up ready to kill in one episode and then disappear for weeks on end after that, and it was unfortunate that they knew exactly how to make sure that Cicada hit himself rather than any of them but then he was able to get away so easily without any of them even trying to stop him. The one-month waiting period wasn’t even a problem anymore, but now they’re going to need to track him down again. It was a relief to see that Cisco’s date with Kamilla finally went well after he mistakenly followed Ralph’s advice and tried to put on a different persona, and while I’d love to see Gypsy return, I’m all for some member on the team being involved in an outside relationship.

What I’m Watching: SMILF

SMILF: Season 2, Episode 3 “Surrogate Mothers Inspire Loving Families” (B)

I feel like this show wants to be so much more than it is, and this episode was indicative of that lofty aim. We barely saw Bridget, which wasn’t necessarily a problem, and instead got to spend time with Ally and the people in her circle. I didn’t think that Connie Britton would be sticking around this show anymore, especially with other commitments like “Dirty John,” but this episode demonstrated that she’s exceptionally skilled for this role. The selfishness that Ally exhibits is truly incredible, making everyone around her feel guilty for thinking that they could do whatever they wanted with their lives and not succumb to her every whim. Connecting that with the story of the woman who she met while working at the store whose birthday it also happened to be was cleverly-done, and Ally managed to make a quick friend before she realized that the news she had for her wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Getting to call her and tell her that the bag was indeed available provided the only real gratification for Ally in this half-hour, a win that was immediately grounded by the reminder of the $23,000 price tag she was completely ready to pay. Rivers certainly wasn’t amenable to doing what his mother wanted, demanding a gun from Target if he went with her and proclaiming that he hated Judge Judy because she’s always right and it’s so predictable. The best line of the episode came from Ally when she donated her old fridge, with so much subtext behind it: “I love gifting gifts on my birthday.”

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Take Three: Black Monday

Black Monday: Season 1, Episode 3 “339” (B)

This show prides itself on being an equal-opportunity offender, sparing no people or religion in its characters’ pursuit of financial success. Dawn was very explicit about them having to offload their shares so that they could implicate people in a felony, and it says something about their relationships that they’re willing to throw people they supposedly care about to the wolves if anything goes wrong. The spotlight on Keith as he balanced his relationship with Mike and his son’s Bar Mitzvah showed that he is just trying to get ahead in some way, stealing Mike’s Nintendo after professing his love for him while trying to get his wife Shira, played by Melissa Rauch from “The Big Bang Theory,” to sign for the shares. She knew what was up and refused to do so, while Mike volunteered to take them, which seemed to truly delight Keith even though he knows how much of a risk it poses. Mo giving his shares to Brad as a Bar Mitzvah gift was both genius and terrible, and he spent the entirety of the half-hour cozying up as a father figure to Blair only to find out that he had decided to break up with Tiff, the whole reason that Mo had been working so hard to get him exactly where he wanted. That’s unlikely to last, but damage control is going to be necessary right away to get things back on track. Spence and Dawn’s parents both hoped that she was announcing she was pregnant, and it seems like they’re all much more into that relationship than Dawn is.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 9, Episode 10 “Los Diablos!” (B+)

Well, Fiona finally encountered an irreversible implication of her worsening state, getting fired after making way too many mistakes at the diner. She didn’t even get a warning, but that’s because she’s been told by so many others that she’s in bad shape and didn’t want to do anything about it. Responding by going right home to fish the alcohol out of the trash could have been a truly regrettable step, but instead she found another cause right away in the form of the discrimination against Liam’s lemonade stand by the new neighbor. Throwing a traditional block party to “welcome” her to the neighborhood was a typical Gallagher move, though she did take it one step further by hopping the fence and punching her out. I doubt she’ll actually serve time, but this will be a big wake-up call to her that something has to change. Lip and Tami are getting very cozy, and the way that she responded when Xan showed up makes it seem like they really could last. Carl’s past career is getting in the way of his current sign-twirling, but leave it to him to somehow succeed even with a job meant to be the lowest on the totem pole. Debs taking such an active role in trying to repair the house is entertaining, and I wonder if her pantsless rescue by Kelly is going to cause friction in Carl’s relationship. Randy showing up with Dr. Kwan to go “all North Korean” on Ingrid suggests that this sextuplet birth is going to be derailed in a whole lot of ways. I love the casting of Luis Guzman’s as Frank’s primary rival for the Hobo Loco competition, a hilarious and increasingly disturbing process that’s so right for this show.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 9 “You to You” (B+)

I’m absolutely devastated by the news from yesterday that Starz isn’t picking this show up for a third season, just the latest casualty of an initial two-season order which couldn’t possibly deliver in the way that the network wanted it to before anyone had ever seen it. I’m not going to dwell on that right now since I’m hopeful a streaming service will pick it up and that this coming Sunday’s episode won’t be the last we’ll see of what I currently consider to be the best show on television. This episode was full of somewhat expected and equally dreaded developments that played out in much different ways than I had thought they would. When Ian brought Emily and Howard in, he got cut out in a big way as their Emily came face-to-face with ours, who apparently wields enough power even after her memory loss that she was able to pull the strings and get her Howard home. Their interaction was pretty mesmerizing, and that’s one of the best assets of this show, having two people look at each other’s lives and try to see the similarities and differences. I was thrilled with the casting of Paterson Joseph from “Babylon” and “Timeless” as Naya’s husband, who related to Clare and Peter in a very friendly way, before Clare went right in to get information from Spencer, bailing as quickly as possible after he realized she was wired. Baldwin and Howard showing up to the rescue was an exciting way for that to go, and I’m curious to see how all it plays out. Janek meeting with all of Management in person showed how far apart their worldviews have now diverged, and Mira wasn’t even willing to talk to any of them, arriving after forcing Ian’s hand to shoot them all in the head and preparing to close the crossing forever. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the season (and hopefully not series) finale.

Pilot Review: Pen15

Pen15 (Hulu)
Premiered February 8

Now here’s a show that isn’t even trying to be mature, starting from the point of having its title serve as an infantile reference to genitalia. There have been many shows recently that have tried to approach the teenage years from a novel angle, including “Sex Education” and “Big Mouth,” two very different interpretations of oversexed young people and the outlets they find for their fantasies and real-life issues. The notion of having two thirty-year-olds play versions of themselves going through middle school is mildly appealing for the visual humor it provides, but that’s about it. This show makes its protagonists seem like bullies because they’re so much bigger and evidently older than everyone else, and not in the way that many high school-set shows and movies often feature clearly older actors. I didn’t think I knew either Maya Erskine or Anna Konkle, who serve as co-creators along with Sam Zvibleman and star as Maya and Anna, respectively. A quick look on IMDB shows that Erskine played Rae on “Casual,” a role I enjoyed greatly. Little of this opening half-hour reminded me of the actress’ spark there, and it’s hard to find much to applaud on this show that delivers exactly what it promises: efforts to be inappropriate and crude at every juncture in a way that’s supposed to be made funnier by the physical presentation of adults reflecting back on their childhood while surrounded by actual kids. It’s a gimmick, and one that doesn’t end up being nearly as transformative or revelatory as its star-creators seem to think it is.

How will it work as a series? I can’t imagine that much more of it, since most of the bases of seventh grade have already been covered, from dolls to drugs to kissing. Their friendship will no doubt be put to the test time and time again, and I suspect that, true to form to the people it presents, they’ll manage to get over each hurdle even if considerable drama occurs until each eventual moment of forgiveness.
How long will it last? The reviews are surprisingly good, which baffles me but probably shouldn’t since I know that I’m not in the target demographic for this show. Hulu is trying to build up its brand as it goes up against competitors Netflix and Amazon, and having fare like this will help it diversify the type of content it airs and keep it relevant. I don’t see why a second season wouldn’t be commissioned.

Pilot grade: C

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pilot Review: White Dragon

White Dragon (Amazon)
Premiered February 8

I saw a poster for this show and was excited that Martin Freeman was starring in another project, only to realize that it was actually John Simm, an actor who looks somewhat like the recent star of “Fargo” and “Cargo.” Simm was a great supporting player on ABC’s short-lived “The Catch” and would surely have had a more substantial role in the third season that didn’t end up happening. Here, he plays someone who’s much more out of his element, confident in his classroom but completely railroaded not only by his wife’s death but the news that she had an entirely separate life in Hong Kong as someone else’s wife and mother. I didn’t know what the premise was going to be here and enjoyed the opportunity to watch it play out, as Simm’s Jonah tried desperately to find a phone charger so that he could listen to the last message his wife left for him, which hinted at the double life that she knew he’d soon discover. I’m not sure how much of this show will be occupied by Jonah trying to tail people who knows he’s following them and struggling to speak Chinese, though I like the fact that David didn’t seem to detest Jonah at all and might even work with him, while Lau is all about protesting and will want to get to the mystery of whatever it was her mother was doing that got her killed in what almost certainly was not an accident. I’m not intrigued enough by this start to feel like I really need to know where it’s headed.

How will it work as a series? There’s a lot that’s not clear at this point, and the question will be if Jonah’s search for it, accompanied or not by David and Lau, will be sufficiently exciting, and if the payoff will be substantial in terms of why Megan was lying to both of her husbands. I think it could be, but it may take a while to get there.
How long will it last? I knew that this couldn’t be an original Amazon production, but I was having trouble finding out more about it since it was titled “Strangers” when it first aired on ITV back in September. All I can find in terms of review data are audience complaints about problematic minor plot points, and I think this is also likely a closed-loop narrative, which suggests to me that these eight episodes will be all that we get of this show.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 13 “I Have to Get Out” (B-)

This episode took some very far-fetched turns as it went on, and I much preferred the early musical number that was extremely reminiscent of “La La Land” as Rebecca embraced the benefits of medication as sung to her by Dr. Akopian and a number of other patients who could only say generic names for legal reasons. I thought that the twin brother doctors were actually the same person, and it seems very clear that the one who has a sense of humor doesn’t actually comprehend what’s funny. Paula not getting signed out by the doctor in time to take the bar was a predictable development that didn’t need to lead to a jailbreak operation that somehow resulted in her getting to the test and returning without anyone noticing or her putting her health at risk. Rebecca’s drug-induced sleepiness was also awfully convenient, and I’m glad that she just took her visit to the morgue as symbolic rather than spend too much time down there. The boy with the extremely contagious cough really managed to run amok, and his energy level was helpful only for the two girls who previously hated each other when they realized that they wanted to set their parents up. I knew I recognized actress Maribeth Monroe, who plays April, from somewhere, and I’m glad to see that the portrayer of Mindy St. Clair from “The Good Place” will now be appearing on this show. Josh realizing that Greg had been back in town and not let him know led to a humorous awkward kung fu fighting montage, with Nathaniel just standing by without a clue what to do. If Greg and Rebecca aren’t going to be together, why can’t Josh end up with her? The only problem is that Nathaniel seems just as interested by that unexpected opening.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 10, Episode 10 “Dead Man Texting” (B)

This episode was certainly staged and set up in a very deliberate way for both of its plotlines, but, as this show tends to do, it made it work. Will did not make a good impression on Professor Rice at all, and him dropping dead in the apartment made it a whole lot easier for him to get the position he wanted. It’s much better that he didn’t actually die and that he instead realized exactly what they had done both with his finger and his eyelid. Will winning him over despite all of that was impressive, and it’s a testament to the fact that, after some definite hiccups in his attempts to win him over, he is passionate about what he’s doing and deeply wants to continue. Grace wasn’t especially helpful in the situation, but her strong facial reactions to each moment were humorous. Jack installing an app that would help him track the location of his fiancé and his best friend who hated each other was never going to go smoothly, and of course it turned into the physical comedy of him having to run between two tables so that he could dine with both of them. Having the waiter be a vengeful ex was an additional challenge that Jack wasn’t ready for, and they all ended up taking a dive into the pool before realizing that affection for Jack was the one thing that Estefan and Karen could agree on, even if there really wasn’t anything else for them to talk about or both like.

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 2, Episode 5 “Extra Boobs” (B+)

It’s no surprise that Andrea is an extremely awkward patient, though her doctor wasn’t exactly being the epitome of professional when she kept laughing at her underarm situation. She tried to throw Mike under the bus when he made a humorous but definitely inappropriate comment after her recovery, but he wasn’t having any of it and refused to admit to what he had said. Mike is usually much more subdued than Andrea and less prone to make jokes that would be deemed overly colorful, but he got his chance while she was still coming back after the procedure to be the more profane one, which was entertaining. He also refused to let Sharon off the hook when Andrea was piling on about the present nature of her relationship, affirming that he too found it strange. As tends to be the case with looking into your ancestry, Andrea found out some things about her parents’ roots that didn’t make her feel all that great, starting with her father’s casual mention of the fact that he wasn’t actually Greek. His switch to making jokes about being Polish didn’t go over well with her, and that’s before her mom essentially confirmed that her family have been Nazis. Andrea always has big reactions to just about anything, and so the fact that both of her parents were so nonchalant about destroying everything she had always believed made the impact of that news all the more startling. Letting Amelia still present herself as Greek was probably the smart and safe choice.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 5 “A Very Good Boy” (B+)

No one would argue that Jimmy is a good person, but all it took for him to need to prove that he’s awful was Gretchen telling him that he’s a very good boy. That sent him spiraling, no longer committed to being punished if he didn’t write his twenty pages per day and ready to steal the computer of the guy next to him who asked him to watch it while he went to the bathroom before returning it moments later out of shame. The last time I thought I recognized Hannah Marks from “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” it wasn’t her, but this time she did play the disinterested florist who brought Jimmy to a club that he wasn’t ready for at all. His insistence on seeming bad led to the one thing that might actually anger Gretchen, and he wasn’t doing nearly enough to stop it from happening. Gretchen trying to get food from a conference room made her actually have to do her job for once, and her suggestion of DJ Nock Nock somehow paid off. Yvette is watching her now, and maybe she’ll do a decent job and perform, even if she’s been trying so hard not to all these years. Lindsay and Edgar definitely don’t work in the real world, but at least they’re happy with what they have. It’s reassuring to know that Vernon and Becca are also terrible people, apparently conning Paul into paying them $5,000 a month after they throw his sperm out the window.

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 13 “Goldfaced” (B)

It was hard to take this episode seriously because I just watched “Threat Level Midnight,” the episode of “The Office” where, in Michael’s movie, Agent Michael Scarn faces off against Jim’s villain Goldenface. Therefore, the idea of a bad guy called Goldface who, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a meta who could turn into solid gold, wasn’t all that impressive, nor was the scenario in which Ralph had to act bad and Barry got to pretend to be a supervillain named The Chemist to impress the criminals whose operation they were trying to infiltrate. As if setting the printable guns meant to kill police officers to stun wasn’t enough of a signal of making the best of bad situations, Barry and Ralph having to take down a powered meta without the use of their powers was an affirming reminder that it’s their brainpower and teamwork that’s most useful, not just their speed and elasticity, respectively. Iris was the one who got the most accomplished in this hour, talking to Sicada before he realized that she was there for illicit purposes. Keeping him still for a minute so that his powers can be removed won’t be easy, and I can’t imagine it will work the first time. As Nora tried to get Sherloque off her scent, her staged setup with the woman of his dreams went extremely smoothly until he creeped her out by telling her way too many things about herself. I was sure it was Erica Durance from “Smallville” playing Renée, but it turns out it was Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who appeared in five different forms as the face of seven of Sherloque’s ex-wives. Determining that she’s a meta will likely have consequences, but it seems the most it’s done now is to get Sherloque back to work on defeating Sicada so that she won’t become his next victim.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 8 “In from the Cold” (B+)

It’s extraordinary to think about all the layers embedded within this episode, all of which come to unspool by the end of the hour. Their Howard was talking to our Emily, and his face gave away plenty when she started remembering that she had traveled to the other world and spent time with the daughter she didn’t know, along with the bit she doesn’t remember about her relationship with this very Howard, who had to pretend that he was shocked by everything she was saying. He seemed to love helping her work through the decoding process, but the magic ended the moment that he brutally stopped an assassin from getting inside, demonstrating instantly that he was not the Howard that she had loved for so many years. On the other side, Emily chose to read her daughter in so that they could save our Howard, and her reaction was one of wonder and satisfaction, somewhat delighted to know that she had been right all along about them being heroes. It’s hard to know what will come of the multiple plans that both Emilys and Howards have for contacting Management, but let’s hope it’s not too late for the most surprising change of heart to come in handy. After Peter helped Clare to realize that she had been radicalized and lied to, bringing her to Nia and introducing her as Shadow was pretty much the clearest display of transparency he could have made. Let’s just hope it’s not too late to stop the crossing from being destroyed before Howard can make it home.

Pilot Review: Hanna

Hanna (Amazon)
Premiered February 3

If you asked me to list twenty-five or even one hundred movies from the past two decades that I thought might be worth making into TV series, “Hanna” would not be anywhere on that list. As I wrote in my review then, Saoirse Ronan, who has been nominated for two Oscars since its release in 2011, is a fantastic actress capable of many difficult roles, but the story of a girl who grows up in the woods trained by her father to be a killer just doesn’t work nearly as well in execution as it does in concept. Without Ronan, the appeal is diminished considerably. I haven’t seen British actress Esme Creed-Miles, who has just four film credits to her name aside from this show, in anything before, and she didn’t display all that much personality in this opening hour. What’s more enticing is the reunion of “The Killing” stars Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos, who I initially thought were playing Hanna’s parents but quickly realized were actually on opposing teams, with Kinnaman portraying her father and Enos playing the CIA agent set on hunting her down. Kinnaman achieved success for himself with roles on “House of Cards” and the renewed Netflix sci-fi series “Altered Carbon,” while I enjoyed Enos in a much more approachable and light role on “The Catch,” which ABC cancelled after two seasons. This seems like Kinnaman’s gruffest part yet, while Enos is going dark as well for her cutthroat and determined operative. Putting the two of them together, however, isn’t nearly enough to make this lifeless show come alive.

How will it work as a series? In the movie, Hanna bonded with a family and became a part of their dynamic, and this much more long-form journey seems destined to take an infinitely longer time to rev up its plot and get somewhere. Hanna and her father can only run through the woods so many times before it feels like the same recycled shot over and over.
How long will it last? This episode premiered this past Sunday for just twenty-four hours, and all eight episodes will be available in March, an interesting strategy that isn’t usually employed anymore by Amazon, which used to release their pilots well ahead of the rest of the show. There don’t seem to be many reviews available, but I suspect that this show is only going to last a season if its adult stars’ previous show had so much trouble getting renewed each year.

Pilot grade: C-

Friday, February 8, 2019

Pilot Review: Russian Doll

Russian Doll (Netflix)
Premiered February 3

I imagine most people tuned I to watch this show because they figured Natasha Lyonne staring in anything sounded like a superb idea. I certainly did, and it’s true – the “Orange is the New Black” star and Emmy nominee is extremely charismatic. She has a way with words, with the way that she pronounces every sentence adding tremendous depth and hilarity. I think I read a description of this show’s premise some time before sitting down to watch the opening installment, but I had forgotten it by the time I actually started. If there was anyone who was going to be stuck in a time loop, Lyonne is likely one of the funnier choices, and it’s a bit strange to see it in a setting that’s so distinctly set apart from science fiction, though I guess “Groundhog Day” is one of the most classic examples which is certainly more rooted in comedy than it is in genre tropes. There have been other shows with this premise before, though they’re rarely comedies, and “Daybreak” was one particularly lamentable one that went downhill immediately. It shouldn’t take too long for Lyonne’s Nadia to start saying the words she’s heard those around her utter before or while they say them, and for now, she’s making connections to the people who seem most important to her to determine how they can help her get through the night or at least stop living it over and over. It’s appealing, but this opening half-hour didn’t entice me enough to watch Lyonne do it again and again before maybe figuring out how to escape this cycle.

How will it work as a series? Lyonne has always had a way of expressing things literally when no one around her seems to understand them, and that skill should prove enormously useful here in pointing out the absurdity of her situation that no one else is able to see. Is that enough to fill eight episodes? I’m not sure, but it should at least prove entertaining.
How long will it last? The reviews are very good, and it’s just a question of what happens at the end of episode eight, whether Nadia is dead for good or if she has a new chance either to live life or rope someone else into experiencing this repeating night with over countless times. Given Lyonne’s popularity and appeal, I predict this one gets another round in some form.

Pilot grade: B

Pilot Review: The ABC Murders

The ABC Murders (Amazon)
Premiered February 1

I’m always ready to take notice of a project that involves John Malkovich, most recently seen in a surprising role as the judge in Ted Bundy’s case in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” at Sundance and as a powerful Russian gangster in the third season of “Billions.” I remember some of his best work in films like “In the Line of Fire” and “Con Air,” and the TV show I best remember him in, “Crossbones,” was almost instantly forgettable. This series has a considerably stronger literary connection, adapting Agatha Christie’s famous novel, but, unfortunately, it’s just about as involving. It’s a dense premise predicated on a relationship between two people, the mysterious killer and the retired and disgraced inspector who tries to share what he’s been receiving with active authorities who won’t give him the time of day. This concept feels like it’s been done many times before, though it’s worth noting that the source material predates any cinematic adaptation of a mystery story that I would have seen. The cat-and-mouse game has been portrayed in many better ways since then, of course, and even if the book on which this is based was exciting, this presentation isn’t. Malkovich seems less than enthusiastic, and his energy level translates to the entire project. I didn’t even recognize Rupert Grint as Inspector Crome, and the only supporting player who I knew was Shirley Henderson from “Stan and Ollie” as Rose. I’m generally somewhat fond of crime mysteries, but this one just didn’t grab me.

How will it work as a series? Like so many British productions recently, this one runs just three episodes. I didn’t know that until after I had finished the opening installment, and I’m not sure whether that’s far too little time or already feels like too much. I suppose there’s some symmetry to be found in all three letters in the title earning an hour each?
How long will it last? Reviews are decent here in the United States, and the show seems to have gone over well during its initial airing on BBC One back in late December. The material should be completely covered, and therefore it’s just a question not only of similar fare being produced but more specifically Christie works being adapted in this form, which I imagine will be likely to happen.

Pilot grade: C

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 12 “I Need a Break” (B)

After a few episodes that weren’t focused so centrally just on our protagonist, this hour dove right in to both Rebecca and Paula going through harrowing circumstances that are going to make them rethink how they reckon with the world going forward. This show is great at emphasizing just how much something has been said before even if viewers never noticed, first with Heather eternally being a student and now with Rebecca always wanting to go to a waterpark with whoever it is that is the subject of her romantic obsession. The impact here wasn’t nearly as detrimental as the ultimate reveal of what the lyrics for the season two opening credits song actually meant, but Greg singing his laundry list of things that he hated made Rebecca realize that the perfect relationship she had concocted in her head wasn’t actually that. Her descent was quick and spectacular, and good for both Nathaniel and Josh for resisting her advances because they’ve reached a point where they care about her more than they want to be with her. Resisting medication so intensely wasn’t healthy, and what she needs is a support system from her friends which, incidentally, is also what Paula needs, after she seemed like she was starting menopause but was actually experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. They’re both headed in a better direction now, but this episode showed just how easily they were able to regress when they stopped to paying attention to taking care of each other for even just a short time.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 10, Episode 9 “Family, Trip” (B)

I’m not overly fond of episodes in which characters find themselves debilitated after unknowingly taking drugs, but this show managed to work it into its particular rhythm in a way that was mostly tolerable. I was curious what it was about the chocolate milk, which I do love, that was quite so appealing to Will, Jack, and Karen that would make them so eager to drink it when they usually don’t, and that became clear just as soon as we saw the butterflies all over the door when Karen walked out of the apartment. Her singing in a laundromat performing her final act as Mrs. Stanley Walker had considerably more dramatic oomph to it that I would have expected, and as a result we saw the show as she imagined it more than we saw her actually being watched by the other people in the laundromat. Jack convincing himself that he and Will were soulmates because they apparently finished each other’s penises was a predictably absurd proclamation, one that faded as soon as they started coming down even though they did acknowledge the important role they play in each other’s lives. I’m always happy to see Mary McCormack, who played Grace’s sister Janet for the second time, and I enjoyed her sharing that her last boyfriend’s anxiety rat may have gone missing when she last saw Grace. I did not recognize Chelsea Handler as Donna, Grace’s client who wasted no time in wooing Janet and threatening to throw Grace’s work-life balance completely into chaos.

What I’m Watching: I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry: Season 2, Episode 4 “Couple’s Massage” (B+)

This season feels like it’s had a lot more to say about parenting than the first year, and I’m all for it. Amelia asking Santa for an iPad help start them on a productive course towards teaching her what money means which was completely undone by Sharon giving Amelia her used iPad so that she could get a new one. Andrea always seems to have the worst luck of running into people when she’s with a newly educated Amelia, who in this case suggested that they didn’t have $3 to spend on socks when Andrea was recognized by a Sony exec. Starting chores to earn her allowance is a good idea, though her concept of how much five weeks’ worth will end up getting her is considerably skewed. Going for a couple’s massage with her mother was probably never a smart plan, and her mom moaning loudly during it wasn’t even the worst part, after she had already been a bit too receptive to Santa’s flirtation. I keep wondering where we’ll see Lennon Parham’s Beth again, and having her show up when both she and Andrea were topless was just the right level of uncomfortable for Andrea, who had no choice but to lean into the topless hug so generously offered. Wishing the number of people she had slept with was higher than it was felt very in character, and the final scene with her running into the former neighbor who she thought she had hooked up with but actually hadn’t was predictably embarrassing.

What I’m Watching: You’re the Worst

You’re the Worst: Season 5, Episode 4 “What Money?” (B+)

This show truly has no filter, presenting its opening scene with no hint of subtlety or insinuation. Gretchen’s eagerness to have Jimmy try something for her sake wasn’t nearly as strong as his apparent taste for it, which was entertaining to see and still feels weird to be writing about so bluntly here. It barely took any time for anyone who got a sense of the money that Jimmy had been paid to show up trying to ask him for things, and I cherished the opportunity to see Becca and Vernon again, neither of whom made a particularly good pitch and ended up with Jimmy holding something over them instead. Paul wasn’t trying to milk him for anything but did instead warn him about telling Gretchen since she had previously tried to open multiple credit cards in his name. I like that she ultimately didn’t care about the money but was so thrilled about the ribbon on her new car, right before we got that dismal closing shot theoretically set in the future of Jimmy showing up to the house being in escrow. I don’t have much to say about Edgar’s boss tracking down his grandmother to prove she wasn’t sick, but he’s obviously very stuck in an increasingly problematic situation. I enjoyed seeing Sam’s dejected reaction to Gretchen throwing them a carnival to break the news that she was no longer representing them, and who would have thought that Lindsay, who confused the words paleontologist and publicist, would actually be much better than Gretchen ever has been at her job because she has no shame? In my favorite TV trope of characters who never interact having the opportunity to do so, I love that Sam wanted to hear more from Vernon about his idea to convert a Korean meatball truck into a roving medical unit. Let’s hope that’s the basis for the spinoff of this show that we won’t get.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 5, Episode 12 “Memorabilia” (B)

I’m not overly fond of episodes that find people artificially inserted into memories, especially when they’re not going to be remembered anyway. The latter was not the case here, since Grace revealed an unexpected power that had allowed her to hear what was going on around her and empathize with her uncle’s hatred for metas. Most problematically, despite everything Nora tried to do to connect with her, Grace felt betrayed, and now she’s going to come from her, which is pretty much the opposite of what was supposed to happen in all this. Nora going in headfirst so that her memories wouldn’t be exposed to Barry didn’t work out at all, mainly due to their immediate decision to go in after her as soon as they learned what she had done. Iris watching herself yell at a young Nora in the Flash Museum was painful, and discovering that the memory wasn’t real didn’t make it much better, as events do look like they’re still headed that way. Barry noted that the figure watching them in her memory was the Reverse-Flash, putting the team one step closer to deducing her relationship with Eobard Thawne, but the secret seems safe for now. Barry suggesting that they use the cure on Sicada is an enticing option, though one that’s not likely to be simple to execute. Cisco was furious with Ralph for daring to take him out drinking, but he revealed his hidden cleverness by introducing him to a set of twins whose genetic meta-makeup provided him with exactly the test subjects he needs.

Pilot Review: I Am the Night

I Am the Night (TNT)
Premiered January 28 at 9pm

I very distinctly remember seeing the film “The Black Dahlia” during my freshman year of college, and despite high expectations, I found it to be brutally insufferable. When done well, thrillers about serial killers can be excellent, but that’s often not the case. I didn’t know much about this limited series other than it had something to do with those murders, and, after watching this first hour, I’m still not too sure what I’m in for other than one of the most slow-burn series I’ve seen in a long time. As Pat experiences racism at school and out with her boyfriend which itself is complicated by the light color of her skin, she manages to discover that her parents aren’t who she thinks they are at all, leading to her departing for Los Angeles in search of the enigmatic grandfather she doesn’t know. Chris Pine’s paparazzo is so dedicated to his seedy job that he’s willing to impersonate a doctor and then hide in a morgue drawer so that he can smuggle a few photos out. Naturally, these two plotlines will come together as Jay looks into the suspicious role of Dr. Hodel in past events, though this opening hour doesn’t indicate much promise or future cohesiveness. “Some stories don’t want to be told – some stories will eat you alive” is meant to be the tagline here to describe what we’re seeing, but, thus far, this seems like a story that’s going to swallow viewers up in boredom. I saw endless trailers for this series, advertised on television and on flights I took, and nothing about actually watching it made it more appealing. Pine is much more charismatic than this and deserves better.

How will it work as a series? It’s only slated to run for six episodes, so theoretically things have to get moving soon. The way in which Pat was lured to Los Angeles is definitely suspect, and it’s happening at the same time that Jay is starting to peel back the layers of what’s going on. It might end up getting interesting eventually, but, thus far, there’s no clear signal of a direction or purpose to this story.
How long will it last? The reviews seem to be decent if unspectacular, and TNT has enjoyed some success recently with limited series like this, including “The Alienist,” which ended up netting a sequel. I think six episodes should be more than enough to spin this tale, and its performance is going to make the network question whether these short-form crime series are actually worthwhile to produce.

Pilot grade: C-

What I’m Watching: SMILF

SMILF: Season 2, Episode 2 “Sorry Mary, I’m Losing Faith” (B)

This episode felt a bit more all over the place than the introductory installment of this season, though I suppose it’s representative of how everything is falling apart in Bridgette’s life. It wasn’t at all surprising that she missed her date because Ally felt like she could use her time however she wanted, though it was particularly crushing for her to casually fire Bridgette after forcing her to confess her husband’s infidelity and slapping her. The worst part is that this likely isn’t the end, since Ally has never been known to be consistent or reliable, and she’ll probably continue to use Bridgette under the guise of being her friend. Running into a church to shout “abortion” before stealing the statue of the Virgin Mary was hardly indicative of Bridgette doing well with that news, but then she actually made a productive suggestion to Rafi after she woke him up to come pick her up. A schedule for Larry is a great idea, and it will help her establish some much-needed stability, even if it gives her less ammunition to guilt Rafi into doing her a favor because he owes her millions in child support. Tutu talking to Jackie didn’t help her much, and bashing in the car that blocked her driveway in the middle of the night seemed far more therapeutic as a way of coping with her recent loss. The way that mother and daughter take out their frustration isn’t exactly the same, but there is a whole lot of passion and destruction that tends to result from it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Round Two: Black Monday

Black Monday: Season 1, Episode 2 “364” (B)

In its second outing, this show wasn’t quite as visually affronting as the first half-hour, but its content was still highly excessive. Mo having the man he wants to make a movie about him follow him around to get background details about his life shows just how big his ego is, if that wasn’t readily apparent already. Mo wasn’t too subtle about his master plan with Blair, though he’s not likely to catch on anytime soon, even if he did figure out a clever way to deal with the problem that came from Keith trying to prank him. It was Keith’s own fault for doing it, but this was just a demonstration that Blair is the only good person working in this industry at all, with Tyler somehow seeming worse than Keith, who responded to criticism of his joke about the Holocaust with another joke. The rest of the episode was much more devoted to Mo and Dawn, whose relationship is obviously close, to the point of a long-standing affair that now got revealed in a way that she didn’t want. Dawn clearly puts up with a lot from Mo, and she wasn’t about to do that in this installment, quitting before he tried to fire her and then making a whole bunch of demands in order to be rehired. They both pulled dirty tricks when it was clear that her counsel would be treated as gospel by the client, with Mo having all of the clothes she had bought that day delivered at the most in opportune moment and Dawn suggesting that the man call his deceased wife so that he would react very badly to anything he said after that. Pretending to call her right as she walked in was the funniest moment, and it’s scary to think what the two of them can accomplish when they’re both aiming for the same goal.

What I’m Watching: Counterpart

Counterpart: Season 2, Episode 7 “No Strings Attached” (B+)

This episode was a strong follow-up to the two revelatory moments that came before this: Peter shooting the stand-in mole and the way that the two worlds were created. Roland showed up at Peter and Clare’s home furious at his son-in-law for daring to tarnish his reputation, which might have angered him more than betraying Clare as her husband. What was particularly poignant about that tense exchange was Clare standing her ground and telling her father that she could speak for herself, getting Peter nervous because she wasn’t acting like the Clare that he knew and raised. Naya wasn’t about to let a man whose behavior was as suspicious as Peter’s sit in on their meeting to discuss the next operational procedures, and she pushed hard enough not to get Roland to admit that he was giving him an unfair second chance but to push Peter to resign, putting himself and his family in jeopardy. Maybe it was Clare being able to see her former classmates whose assignments didn’t require isolation, but, after a brief protest, she was ready to run with Peter, bringing him to the haunting abandoned shell of the place she was trained on the other side. As if there weren’t enough spies on the wrong side, we now have confirmation that Ian was living under an assumed identity in a world not. his own, and traveling in the company of those with nefarious intentions who nearly took out him, Emily, and our Howard. Though his role in all this has faded, Howard was right to note just how little he seemed to matter, and I’m eager to see what he does next after his gunshot wound is treated, determined to make a difference in the world he used to call home.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 9, Episode 9 “Boooooooooooone!” (B+)

Sometimes, this show brings all of its characters together and just tees them up with the perfect setup. Frank walking in with Ingrid and proudly announcing that they were going to have six new children let them each respond with snippets about their questionable life trajectories spurred on in part by the poor parenting given to them by their father. Ingrid insisting on keeping all six embryos when Dr. Kwan rather bluntly told her that she would lose her medical license if they didn’t terminate three of the pregnancies suggests that all of this isn’t really going to pan out, and that perhaps Ingrid’s perception of the world is much more warped at all times than it has appeared. Frank is obviously going to become the great hobo icon, chipping away at gentrification of Chicago while feeding directly into it so that he can make a whole lot of money. This show addressed another hot-button issue with typical absurdity, having the Spanish-speaking Liam team up with Santiago to earn quick cash by having Chicagoans built a wall to keep the illegal immigrants out, a scheme that went much better than Kev and Veronica’s attempt to find his uncle. It took sleeping with her sister for Lip and Tami to get serious, while Kelly gave a formidable speech to both her father and Carl that declared her fierce independence, including a pronouncement to have sex with Carl in her room rather than outside in a tent. While Fiona stumbled even more, screaming at customers and getting into a fight with an obnoxious guy on the train, Debs took charge of the house, locking out her siblings for not paying their share but showing compassion just when it was needed most. Ford showing up looking for his tool set was not a smart idea, and he should realize what an irreversibly awful effect he’s had on Fiona’s wellbeing. Liam’s scene with Fiona, however, was the sweetest and most heartwarming of the hour.

Monday, February 4, 2019

What I’m Watching: Supergirl

Supergirl: Season 4, Episode 11 “Blood Memory” (B)

We haven’t seen too much of Nia Nall since she was introduced, and, honestly, it’s impossible for me to remember who knows that Supergirl is really Kara given the many, many people in her extended friend and work circles. Going back to her hometown to meet her family reminded me of something that I had flagged but then let go as a potential plot hole, which is that Nia had mentioned to James that she was a trans woman, which made her inheritance of a female-only gene in the family that allowed her to dream the future potentially illogical. But leave it to this forward-thinking show to posit that true gender identity can be understood more deeply by alien races than human genetics, allowing her to dream the future as she would have if she had been born and identified as a girl. That did not sit well with her sister, of course, but she did get a firm stamp of approval from her dying mother, who I didn’t recognize as Kate Burton but should have figured would be cast in that maternal role. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Alex’s memory wipe is having side effects which are reframing her personality, and I actually think that she’s going to press so hard to figure out what’s wrong with her that she’ll end up relearning the information that she’s now no longer able to recall. James’ fact-checking into Lena’s work is a bit suspect, and he should realize that he’s in a difficult position that can’t simply be escaped by quashing investigations that could uncover things he doesn’t want to learn.

What I’m Watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 4, Episode 11 “I’m Almost Over You” (B-)

This show seems to be doing everything possible not to follow a normal narrative course as it approaches, ever so slowly, its final episode on April 5th. I’d prefer that we got to spend time with our characters instead, but this show has never gone exactly the way anyone expected to, impressing when it first started by going well beyond the promise conveyed by its title. Now, we’re at the point where characters that we’ve known for a long time and not usually liked are gradually achieving redemption, though in some cases it takes a romantic comedy daydream to get there. Nathaniel has been irritating almost since he first appeared on the show, and I’ve enjoyed him more recently, especially with his intense insistence that he’s nice now, which was often expressed with far too much force. Having him be the unlikely choice to win Rebecca back and paired with Maya trying to win her ex back at the same time was somewhat entertaining, and it suddenly got serious as this show does every once in a while when Nathaniel realized that he was actually talking to Rebecca, who told him to let her go. This was worthwhile most for the spotlight on Maya portrayer Esther Povitsky, who is mostly relegated to being whiny on the sidelines. I also laughed at the notion of horrible boss Burt, who sent a fiercely loyal Tim to Sweden to get the manuscript for the nonexistent sixth book in the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series.

Friday, February 1, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Kominsky Method (Season Finale)

The Kominsky Method: Season 1, Episode 8 “Chapter 8: A Widow Approaches” (B+)

That’s it for this show, a short run that nonetheless earned it plenty of praise, including Golden Globe wins for both the show and Michael Douglas’ performance. This was actually a much more fitting showcase for Alan Arkin, who started the episode off worried about having dinner with a widow who was after him because of Eileen, but of course he’s able to talk about it with her and get her approval, including a subsequent instruction to apologize to Diane for the way that he treated her. Things got bad fast when Norman lashed out at her for trying to monitor his drinking and, more generally, take the place of his late wife, but we learned that there’s much more to it than that. Running out of his house to get away from all the voices is a sign that the loneliness is getting to him, and calling Sandy from a random gas station indicates that he might need to spend more time around others who are looking after him. Sandy’s relationship with Lisa seemed to be proceeding okay despite his past missteps, but now he managed to go ahead and screw it up again by forcing her to choose between having him as an acting teacher or as a student, of which she humorously chose the latter. A second season hasn’t yet been commissioned, apparently because Douglas is wary of making more episodes than just eight, but I’m absolutely up for more of this story and getting to see these two friends navigate getting old together.

What I’m Watching: Narcos: Mexico

Narcos: Mexico: Season 1, Episode 9 “881 Lope de Vega” (B+)

I don’t want to read a summary of this episode to confirm what the last scene means because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, and with just one hour left in this season, I can wait to find out what happened to Kiki. This installment got us back to using archive footage and real-life news that helps this show to have even more of an impact, showing what actually happened and how close this series can (sometimes) be to that. Mika dreaming that Kiki had returned to her was an alarming way to start the hour, and he endured quite a bit of misery being tortured for the information that he wasn’t going to give up. Jaime, unlike all of the corrupt bureaucracy he’s encountered in Mexico, didn’t waste any time in taking his concerns to the highest authorities, making noise to try to get something accomplished in finding Kiki. Getting so close to Rafa only to see him misidentified as someone else and allowed to take off was a crippling blow, and it took much longer for the Costa Ricans to agree to help bring him in after the trip that was presumably given by Miguel, who had his parting phone call with his brother, well aware of the fate he was sentencing him to. Rafa’s downfall has been a long time coming, and he outlasted the eventuality of it by much longer than I had expected. It was good to see some familiar faces from the DEA back in Mexico to help with the search for Kiki, but, the fear still remains that their arrival was too late.