Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What I’m Watching: El Camino

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (B-)

Aside from a recently-concluded epic HBO fantasy series, it’s hard to find a show quite as beloved as “Breaking Bad.” While “Better Call Saul” has been an immensely worthwhile show in its own right, it doesn’t fill the same niche that the original series did. The idea to have a TV movie that brings back one of the most popular characters makes a lot of sense, if only for the viewership numbers that Netflix is sure to get as a result. That said, it’s hardly necessary, and I don’t think much is gleaned from it. Aaron Paul was always great, though I do think he ended up taking a few trophies that should have gone instead to the likes of Giancarlo Esposito, and maybe even Jonathan Banks or Dean Norris. Because of the state in which we found Jesse in the series finale, he didn’t really come alive throughout this movie until he got the cops called on him and had to spring into action to take cover while he thought he was calling Ed’s bluff. It was admittedly fun to see some of the old characters, like Saul, and Walt, and Krysten Ritter’s Jane. I’d argue that the strongest performances in this movie came from Jesse Plemons as Todd, believing deep down that he was treating Jesse kindly when he was keeping him captive, and the late Robert Forster, who died the day this was released, reprising his role from the penultimate episode. I also recognized Larry Hankin, who I know best as Mr. Heckles from “Friends,” as Old Joe, and Scott MacArthur as Neil, a character who bore some resemblance to the part he plays on “The Righteous Gemstones.” This felt like an extension of the show because so much of it featured emotional and nostalgic returns to what he lost, ultimately revealing that, besides those two friends he saw near the start, he doesn’t have anyone in his life anymore after all he’s endured (and done to himself, in part). This was a fine and moderately engaging return to that world, but there’s no real reason that it needed to be made.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Take Three: Carol’s Second Act

Carol’s Second Act: Season 1, Episode 3 “The Zebra” (C)

Color me unimpressed and officially ready to move on from this show. It’s a wonder that this show lasted two full episodes before getting to the idea of the zebra, a patient with an unknown diagnosis that each of the interns wanted to have the honor of assisting. Raise your hand if you knew that Carol would be the one to determine that it was actually her patient, the one who seemed to be in the hospital with nothing other than normal symptoms, who was the zebra. This show follows a very traditional and predictable sitcom setup, and it’s getting tiresome. Daniel is arrogant and it always ends up being detrimental for him, like in this case where he had to try to find the perfect blueberry muffin for Dr. Jacobs to replace the one he accidentally ate. Caleb is an idiot, but that won’t stop Dr. Frost from acknowledging him first at every turn and allowing their lifelong relationship to turn into clear favoritism. Lexie will be subverted by that favoritism and manage to guilt him into giving her some credit and opportunity, but not enough for Dr. Frost to truly recognize her existence. And Carol is going to be peppy as ever, unflappable until she realizes that her friends aren’t actually looking out for her best interests. It’s a lot to take, and there isn’t enough in the way of funny lines or substantial scenarios to make this show worth watching. If Patricia Heaton earns an Emmy nomination, I might check back into it for an episode or two, but I’m good otherwise.

What I’m Watching: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 4, Episode 3 “Chillaxing” (B+)

I’ve never doubted this show before, and even though it seems like our friends aren’t anywhere near the goal of reforming all of their charges, it’s sure to work itself out in its own unique way by the end of the season (and series). The realization that Chidi wasn’t delivering because he wasn’t being tortured and therefore felt no guilt to be a better person was helpful, and I love that Jason was able to contribute in exactly the way he could: by being himself. Michael attempting to turn his eagerness to open a peanut butter jar into a metaphor had me cracking up, getting me closer to my season one affinity for Jason as my favorite character. The exploding motorcycle and the extremely helpful ants were humorous subplots related to the Chidi antics. I like that Tahani is taking on a more prominent role as she tries to get John to realize that there’s more to life – and the afterlife – than just being vain and obsessed with fancy things, and she now seems to think that she’s finally getting somewhere with him after some lackluster initial efforts. Janet dying her hair because it’s one of the ways that she read people cope with breakups is an entertaining development, and it’s good to see every member of this team contributing. Eleanor has become a much better person, but she’s still skilled at making her ex-boyfriends’ lives miserable. That grim reaper on the train doesn’t feel like a good sign, and I can only hope that it’s another illegal visitor from the Bad Place.

Take Three: The Unicorn

The Unicorn: Season 1, Episode 3 “Widow’s Group” (B-)

Watching this show, there are moments where I feel it really has potential and others where it doesn’t deliver nearly as much. This third installment didn’t feature the same kind of emotionally transformative moment as the second, with Wade yelling out his anger far less compelling than bonding with his daughter. Joining a support group for other widows and widowers made a lot of sense, but naturally he’d be the only male in keeping with this show’s premise that all the good men get snatched up right away. It’s almost as if I expected Betsy Brandt to appear in this episode after her previous very different roles in “Breaking Bad” and “Life in Pieces,” with this one skewing much more towards the latter as she divulged quite a bit about how no one else could possibly (and literally) measure up to her late husband. All of Wade’s friends were very pushy in trying to get him to go to the group, and asking if there were any other men involved would probably have been a smart idea. Getting drunk to the point that he wasn’t able to keep up certain commitments that he had made wasn’t superb, but at least he got to bond with people who are uniquely equipped to understand what he’s going through. I’m not sure yet if I’ll give this show a fourth chance – it’s not wowing me. I like Walton Goggins and Michaela Watkins, and I want to see them do something great, which this just doesn’t seem to be.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

What I’m Watching: Why Women Kill

Why Women Kill: Season 1, Episode 9 “I Was Just Wondering What Makes Dames Like You So Deadly” (B+)

This show used yet another device to introduce this episode, with dead characters narrating each of the three storylines. I’m not sure quite what to make of that, though it is important to frame exactly how the villains in each of the time periods were created. As if Rob wasn’t terrible enough already, we found out just what a manipulative, controlling person he is, fully aware that the secretary he was having an affair with left the door open which allowed his daughter to run out and get hit by a car yet happy to let Beth Ann think that she was responsible. She’s already planted the seeds of doubt in April by warning her that Rob isn’t the kind of man who would let his wife have a career, and now she’s going to make him suffer in some unknown way. This would be the time for her to apologize to Sheila and beg for her help in exacting revenge on her truly awful husband. For a couple planning to get divorced, Karl and Simone are remarkably in sync, storming out of the club with a disdainful flair, and it’s really a shame that Karl is the one being penalized for Simone’s affair with Tommy. I have a feeling that, vindictive as she is, Naomi won’t succeed in killing Simone, with Tommy likely jumping in the way to save the love of his life. In the present, Eli is lucky that Lamar was willing to help Taylor try to talk some sense into him, and him going to rehab is good news, with the threat of a homicidal scorned Jade only mildly concerning. Now why hasn’t this show been renewed for a second season yet?

Round Two: Almost Family

Almost Family: Season 1, Episode 2 “Related AF” (C)

Episode two of this show felt a lot like the first one, entertaining to a degree but really not very good. I haven’t ever seen this story play out yet all of it seems hopelessly predictable. It’s also hard to take seriously, namely because of how overt much of the developments are. I’m speaking mostly about Edie, who is clearly being selected to take Amanda out because everyone at the firm knows that she’s a lesbian. Their relationship is intensifying in a way that’s meant to be extremely scandalous, but all it’s doing is showing how careless the two lawyers are being, with Tim very suspicious already and Julia actually spotting them making out after she already walked in on Tim and Edie having sex earlier in the hour. Leon is also quite manipulative, getting Roxy to like him while plotting with Isaac to put him in charge rather than the daughter he actually raised, who somehow gets to be in charge even after his incapacitation for wrongdoing, which I’d think would make some of the clauses up for debate. Roxy’s ankle bracelet hack was particularly poor and definitely didn’t work, yet somehow all four of them made it back to the apartment before the parole officers and Edie used the situation to get the bracelet removed altogether. I really don’t think there’s much potential for this show going forward, but, especially since it’s a show that my wife Arielle seems to like and enjoys watching together, I’m willing to give it one more shot and see if week three shows any signs of improvement.

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 4, Episode 3 “Unhinged” (B+)

I found this episode to be more compelling than usual, demonstrating that a show often known for its excessive sentimentality still has some very interesting and worthwhile material left to cover. The least enticing, though still decent, plotline was Jack making a big mistake at work and Miguel stepping in to save his job, showing the true power of their friendship, which extended much further than Jack could ever have possibly imagined. I like how Jennifer Morrison’s Cassidy is being incorporated, initially angry at Kevin for bonding in the waiting room with her son and then eager to laugh at the stupidity of what he was saying along with Nicky so that the three of them could get booted from an AA meeting for being disruptive. It was also sweet to see Deja and Tess bond after Malik stopped by to tell her about his baby, and we saw a similar friendship emerge between siblings when Kevin stepped in to calm Randall down after he panicked because his first black teacher wrote him up for not complying with the dress code. Randall’s open-door policy did create some issues, but, like his friend and chief of staff Jae-Weon said, they’re not in this to become career politicians but instead to effect actual change, which is why the risky decision to fire Bernice for constantly subverting him feels like the only Randall thing to do. It didn’t take Kate long to realize that Toby was working out, and after the argument they had, it’s nice that she found a kindred spirit to take walks around the neighborhood with in her recovering neighbor, played by Timothy Omundson from “Psych” and “Jericho.”

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Flash (Season Premiere)

The Flash: Season 6, Episode 1 “Into the Void” (B+)

This show feels considerably edgier and different than it has in the past, namely because it’s diving into all-new territory with its characters and plotlines, and both Barry and Iris are deeply in mourning for a daughter that is now never going to exist, something they’re both having trouble admitting. Starting out with Godspeed clones who can’t communicate and a barbecue which found Team Flash all hanging out casually felt like they had gotten back into a sort of rhythm, waiting for the next big bad and just going through the motions until that point. That all changed with the introduction of Dr. Rosso, played by Sendhil Ramamurthy from “Heroes” and “Covert Affairs,” as yet another brilliant mind so driven by his ambition to change the world that he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. It didn’t take long for him to reveal his true nature as he got angry at Caitlin for not seeing eye-to-eye with him, and he’s definitely going to be back to create problems just as big as those giant black holes for all of Team Flash. Caitlin making a deal to put Killer Frost in the driver’s seat should prove interesting, and it’s helpful with Cisco officially out as a powered member of the team. The Monitor showing up to tell Barry that the Flash has to die in order for the world not to end is indeed a weighty message, one that is likely to drive Barry and Iris to do whatever they can to prevent that inevitability.

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 2, Episode 3 “The Preemie Monologues” (B)

This show does seem to be able to stretch a lot of its comedy from the notion of its characters not being able to afford much, something that comes up selectively and which often gets blamed on just one resident of the house. Darlene is the most frequently-accosted, in this case for them being out of toilet paper, which they apparently use for everything. The decision that she’s having trouble making about which man she’d like to keep romantically in her life wasn’t made any easier by the fact that Harris knows she’s sleeping with both David and Ben, and I like that Darlene tried to approach her “insane” daughter by talking right to her and being upfront after Harris told her that she knew. Becky being a mother hasn’t been smooth either, though I think she’s struggling most with Jackie driving her crazy, trying to have the baby start learning Mandarin from the nurses at the hospital and other absurd expectations that she’s somehow concocted. Going in to work and trying to guilt a customer into a huge tip because of what she’s going through went predictably poorly, though Louise did do a pretty great job of salvaging the situation by billing it as dinner theater in the early stages of development. It looks like Louise might become a more permanent fixture on the show after suggesting that Dan would want her there for important moments in his life, and he responded by eventually asking her out, which should provide some entertaining fodder for future episodes. I feel like we haven’t seen DJ do anything of substance in a while, and so having him do magic for the wrong baby felt oddly appropriate.

What I’m Watching: Our Boys (Series Finale)

Our Boys: Season 1, Episode 10 “Chapter 10: A Shaft into a Dark Tunnel” (B+)

I’ve contended since it started that this show is excellent, and is the case when I watch episodes of “The Crown,” I’m eager to do some research after it ends so that I can find out what’s real and what’s fictionalized. I appreciated how the conclusion of this episode answered many of those questions, noting that pretty much everything about the perpetrators and the victim’s family was true aside from the names of the minors, whereas both Simon and Dvora, two very compelling characters whose interaction in this episode was extremely powerful, were composites of several people, just like Jessica Chastain’s protagonist in “Zero Dark Thirty.” The framing of this episode, which includes a closing note about the search for the killers of the three Israeli boys and how their homes were demolished, provides one last supporting argument for the idea that this show doesn’t portray Israel in the best light, focusing instead on how this search for justice reveals more about how unjust the country is. I do think that most of what it brings up is indeed fascinating, like Suha’s desire to have the Israeli killers’ homes demolished, but I can understand why this could just be used as more ammunition against Israel by those who already detest it. My hope is that those who watch will see it for the layered, introspective portrait of a deeply upsetting situation that hit home for so many that it is. I’m not sure it will appeal to Emmy voters, but I’m pulling for it, especially for Jony Arbid (Hussein), Adam Gabay (Avishai), Or Ben Melech (Yoseif Haim), Shlomi Elkabetz (Simon), and Noa Koler (Dvora). This has been an enlightening, excellent experience, though far from an easy one.

Series grade: A-
Series MVP: Jony Arbid as Hussein

Friday, October 11, 2019

What I’m Watching: Mr. Robot (Season Premiere)

Mr. Robot: Season 4, Episode 1 “401 Unauthorized” (B+)

It’s been close to two years since this show finished airing its third season, which I found to be almost as magnetically intriguing as season one, even if awards bodies have opted to ignore this show after Rami Malek won an Emmy for its first year. The fact that this show is ending after only four seasons is a shame, but it’s rare that such a sendoff involves the longest run yet, with thirteen installments in this last stretch. I had forgotten both how mesmerizing and disturbing this show can be, with Angela’s execution serving as a stark and unsettling introduction to this opening hour. Her allegiances had shifted in the last season and then sprung back, and Darlene’s devastation about her fate demonstrates just how complicated this whole web of hackers and anti-establishment anarchism can be. Dom is clearly suffering from paranoia, and the only threat she didn’t spot was the real one, in the form of Janice, the boring taxidermist who turned out to be a cruel operative of the Dark Army sent to watch her. Jake Busey’s Freddie felt like just another hapless and eventually helpless guest used as a pawn by Elliot, and it was so cool to see Mr. Robot turn right into Elliot as Freddie boarded the train and the hacker took over. Their relationship is just as fascinating as ever, and Mr. Robot talking to his friend instead of Elliot shows that they’ve found a way to coexist, even if it suggests that Elliot is not doing well in the wake of Angela’s death. The final scene indicates that Elliot is gone too, but that’s obviously not how things are going to play out with twelve episodes left this season. I’m fully on board, just as confused and glued to the screen as ever.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Righteous Gemstones

The Righteous Gemstones: Season 1, Episode 8 “But the Righteous Will See Their Fall” (B+)

Nothing ever seems to go all that right on this show, and the consequences can be very intense. I knew something bad would come of Baby Billy’s desire for some excitement while he was behind the wheel, and naturally he’d end up crashing into Scotty’s van before killing him and taking all of the money that he knew had come straight out of the Gemstone vault. He did a very poor job of hiding the evidence, and it seems unlikely that anyone would believe that Scotty took his own life. He also managed to alienate Judy completely, and she had one hell of a breakdown after she went to go see BJ in his new ear-pierced life, going to town on that cart and the cell phone she just smacked right down onto the ground. Gideon deciding not to cite his father’s deplorable behavior as a reason for his actions was noble when he was getting all the flak for what he had done, and somehow Jesse was so moved by his son’s honesty that he decided coming clean on behalf of all his co-conspirators was the right thing to do. The video viewing party did not go well at all, with kids present and Jesse trying to explain away some of the more regrettable things they were clearly shown doing. I most appreciated this episode as a showcase for Cassidy Freeman as we saw Amber go full-throttle in her rage against her husband, complete with a carefully-calculated and executed gun grab and shot as her hapless spouse tried in vain to flee.

Pilot Review: Press

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Supergirl (Season Premiere)

Supergirl: Season 5, Episode 1 “Event Horizon” (B+)

After a long season of building up Lex Luthor and Agent Liberty as the big villains, this season is all about rebooting and presenting many new hurdles for Supergirl and her increasingly impressive team of superpowered friends. The most important development is Lena’s turn to the dark side, so intent on getting revenge on Kara for not sharing her deepest secret with her and even more focused on that aim after Kara came clean with her right before the big speech she gave introducing her for the prize. Selling the company to Andrea changes things in a big way, and trying to monetize their journalism is the least of her sins since she forcefully rewrote everyone’s contacts to force them to stay. It’s the definition of a hostile takeover, one that’s going to reverberate as Kara trying to continue to fight the good journalistic fight and James pursues a new career, perhaps as Guardian full-time? Kelly is in a complicated position, working for Andrea and getting very close to Alex. Hank’s brother showing up isn’t good news for anyone, though at least he’s not in the form of a creepy young girl with the power to animate dinosaurs anymore. I’m enjoying the romance between Brainy and Nia and seeing how she realizes what she needs to coach him on while he makes a considerable effort to show just how sorry he is for the way that he treated her when he got reset. I’m back on board for this season, hopeful that these many different plotlines will prove engrossing and satisfying.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 5, Episode 7 (C+)

There was a moment during this episode where I thought that all of this was for something – when Whitney asked her father about his affair with Allison and why he did it. Their visit back to Montauk was saddled with other unnecessary drama, like their unfortunate visit to shop for a wedding dress where they were made to feel like terrible people for not being able to afford the absurd price tags, enabling Whitney to have a therapeutic moment of rage directed towards one of the employees. Helen not being present for any of this and then Whitney trying on her wedding dress felt wrong in a lot of ways, and the run-in with Luisa suddenly got him thinking about Joanie, the daughter he hadn’t bothered to check in with for years until the day that she and her father happened to be moving to Vermont. That was the obvious moment to transition to half an episode devoted to the adult Joanie, who naturally would take the information she learned about Ben’s apparent role in her mother’s death and go full undercover to learn more about him. Tony Plana, best known for supporting roles on “Ugly Betty” and “The Punisher,” was a good fit to play the older Ben, who initially seemed innocent enough until he revealed that he knew she was Joanie. Confessing to having killed Allison seemed rather blunt and unrealistic, but things took a turn for the much less believable when Joanie did return to have the police arrest him, only to have him concoct a crazy story about her being a patient of his. None of this needed to happen, and certainly not to demonstrate that Joanie’s response to being physically threatened would be to urge her assailant to hold her down even more forcefully. I’m not impressed.

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me

God Friended Me: Season 2, Episode 2 “The Lady” (C+)

This show really stretches the limits of believability, and its characters often can’t see just how absurd or egregious the things they say and do are. Miles was one to talk when he cautioned Joy about pushing the boundaries too far and making a bold move to assure that she could accomplish what they needed to. This week’s big guest star was Bryan Greenberg from “One Tree Hill” and “How to Make It in America,” who, despite the profession of his character, was actually rather understated and played a relatively background role in his own story. I also recognized Zach Grenier from “24” and “The Good Wife” as the grandfather who had absolutely no desire for the father of his grandson to meet him and was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent it from happening. Joy seems to be acclimating to the way the God account works pretty well, and though it seems that Miles is somehow bound for Paris at the drop of the hat with the money that he apparently has, he and Joy are making a good and functional team. Cara explaining that she doesn’t think that she loves Miles is indeed a hurdle, and while I’m not sure he’s really capable of hearing anything he doesn’t want to from anyone, no matter who says it, it’s going to be crushing if she’s somehow able to communicate her uncertainty to him. Simon and Annie managing to be in the same room and not explode at each other is a stretch, and all seems to be relatively forgiven in a way that hardly feels plausible given their very negative history.

Pilot Review: Batwoman

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Round Two: The Politician

The Politician: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Harrington Commode” (B+)

This second installment was a superb follow-up to the first, demonstrating that this show has a whole lot to offer on many different fronts. As tends to be the case with Ryan Murphy shows, the music is terrific, and helps to set the tone for all of the events portrayed on screen. In addition to multiple Murphy shows like “Pose” and “Scream Queens,” Mac Quayle also composes the music for “Mr. Robot.” Opening the episode with presidential election trivia was also a nice treat, and I hope that’s a regular move that continues as the series does. We met Bob Balaban as Georgina’s much older husband, and after he jumped off the roof because she told him she was in love with someone else, Payton’s plan to show his adoptive father that he was much more loyal to him than his elder brothers played out in a very entertaining manner. There is certainly a lot of direct communication in this show’s universe where people say what they mean in an explicit manner, like Payton responding to Dusty’s “What’s in it for us?” with a confirmation that she wanted to know if he’d pay for a Disney cruise. Similarly, Payton’s acceptance to Harvard was contingent on a generous donation, something he didn’t want to do since it felt wrong and inauthentic to him. Determining whether Infinity is in fact faking her cancer continues to be a complicated matter, and Payton is going to have to figure out how to confront her with what he believes is proof that she’s lying. One of the best aspects of the pilot was actor David Corenswet, who played River and looks like a cross between Tom Welling and Matt Bomer, and I’m glad that he’s still going to be appearing in a limited capacity in flashbacks. I’m excited to continue to watch this show one episode at a time!

What I’m Watching: Undone

Undone: Season 1, Episode 4 “Moving the Keys” (B+)

This episode’s title was fitting, as Jacob pushed Alma to concentrate and figure out how to move the keys, something that she eventually came to understand wasn’t about the keys themselves but more about her traveling through moments in time to when the keys were in a particular place. Her mom was predictably concerned about her and angry that she wasn’t communicating with her, and suggesting therapy led to surprising agreement from Alma, who didn’t really bother listening to the therapist’s reactions to the ideas she expressed. The more Alma becomes engrossed in what her father is telling and teaching her, the more she disconnects from the real world, resulting in events like her showing up naked in front of her students, something which she thinks was a dream but might not be. Managing to go back to her memories at the end brought her back to her breakup with Sam, leading to a haunting ending with her cutting her finger again because of the shock brought on by what she just learned. Sam jokingly suggesting that Becca slept with the bartender led to a much more serious moment in which Becca used what she knew Sam was keeping from Alma to blackmail him into keeping her secret from the very dopey Reed, whose exchange with Alma at the bar was very entertaining. Discovering Sam’s lie is likely going to send Alma to the one living person she thinks she can trust, but that’s just ultimately going to lead her to the fact that Becca kept the same crucial information from her.

What I’m Watching: Unbelievable

Unbelievable: Season 1, Episode 4 (B+)

I’m glad that, finally, Colleen had the TV on and realized that maybe Marie’s story sounded a bit like what someone else had said. Marie is understandably terrified after getting a notice and finding out that there’s a warrant out for her arrest because the summons was sent to a different address, and the fact that her being charged is unusual doesn’t matter since she’s still being charged. I think that she’s come to a point where she doesn’t even know whether what she remembers happened or not, and hopefully the right people, namely Karen and Grace, can help extract the important information to validate her claim and put her life back on track as much as they can. Their investigation without Marie’s story continues to be fruitful, though they have different notions of how they should proceed, like opting not to trust FBI Special Agent Taggart with their theory that the perpetrator is an employee of law enforcement. They came close to finding what they thought might be their targets, but alibis and tattoos showed that they were coming up empty. Fortunately, the two of them don’t care much about following expected protocol and aren’t interested in their investigation being sidelined, which of course results in some very angry interviewees and other victims and family members who can’t see that they’re actually the only ones who are truly invested in helping them. Luckily, they should be more than capable of talking to Marie and showing her that they are fully behind her, something that the police officers she previously talked to didn’t do at all.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Pilot Review: Raising Dion

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Round Two: Carol’s Second Act

Carol’s Second Act: Season 1, Episode 2 “You Give Me Fever” (C+)

I had wanted to like this show, since Patricia Heaton’s very likeable and unusually positive performance surprised me a lot during the pilot. This second outing, however, indicates that there’s not much creativity to be found here, with lots of recycled humor, expected plotlines, and absurd situations that would never actually be able to take place in a hospital. “Grey’s Anatomy” popularized the idea of supervised surgeries akin to film screenings, and in this episode, we actually got that, with doctors and nurses sitting down to enjoy laughing at a colleague who never learned how to do a blood draw, something that should probably be more cause for serious concern than just mockery. Carol also seems to get infinite chances to disregard instructions, though Dr. Jacobs should probably yield a bit more to her instincts since discharging this patient without properly addressing the red flags she raised would have been deeply irresponsible. Lines like “she has an irreversible case of old” seem particularly flippant and unrealistic, but I guess I don’t watch sitcoms to find real life mirrored back at me. This episode was big on the milk metaphors, with the very timid Caleb eager to be like almond milk, not nearly as hot as oat or anything else but ready to survive at the back of the fridge. That might work, though he’s sure to be taken advantage of, something Carol was more than happy to do when she got assigned a bunch of punishment work. I’m not optimistic about this show but might give it one more shot.

What I’m Watching: The Good Place

The Good Place: Season 4, Episode 2 “A Girl from Arizona Part 2” (B+)

While there isn’t quite as much intrigue about what’s going on anymore on this show, now the question is whether our friends will actually be able to succeed in turning these very difficult dead people into moderately reformed decent humans. I think the only thing that I’ve seen actor Benjamin Koldyke in previously was the horrific 2012 ABC pilot “Work It,” and he’s much better as Brent, the jerk so obsessed with himself that he thinks that he belongs in the best place rather than just the good place. I like that Eleanor opted to use a technique that had worked on her to help her realize that she wasn’t a good person, which backfired entirely with the hapless Brent who is almost more terrible than the demons from the bad place. Eleanor’s leadership being questioned was hardly surprising, and it’s good that it managed to pump up her ego in the end as she realized that Michael had faked his freakout so that she would take charge. She achieved their first bit of success in a while with Chidi opening Simone’s mind to the possibility that maybe he’s not just a projection of her subconscious and that it wouldn’t hurt her to be nice to those around her even if they’re not actually real. Janet breaking up with Jason was a low point of the episode, and hopefully watching him wallow will make him just as entertaining as he’s always been, ready to give a necessary high-five to Eleanor because he can’t not even though he’s feeling crushed.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Round Two: Perfect Harmony

Perfect Harmony: Season 1, Episode 2 “Fork Fest” (C+)

I had hoped that this show might demonstrate dramatic improvement in its second outing, but it really didn’t. Bradley Whitford definitely has an appeal as an actor, but lately he’s been doing this bit where he’s just too annoyed to be anywhere, and that only works to a certain degree. In the case of his Emmy-winning turn on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” it’s perfect, because he’s dealing with a dystopia that he helped to create and existing as one of the only non-fanatics with a considerable amount of power. Here, he’s not responsible for any of it, and he couldn’t seem more irritated at every turn. Evidently, he’s going to have to grow each week, and after his simple conversational charm was negated by his immediate use of hand sanitizer to cleanse himself of his meeting with the hog farmer, he had to get down and dirty in the literal mud to prove that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. It was growth, but also quite predictable. Everyone believing that Ginny was the one who cheated on Wayne because she didn’t want to badmouth him in front of their son felt more than a little ridiculous, though not quite as much as the widespread rumor, discussed even by Ginny herself, that Adams had killed her late husband. Exaggerating and making fun of Southern culture is only so funny, and I think I preferred the setting and characters on “Trial and Error” to this. I won’t be checking back in again, unless I hear news of a crossover with that cancelled series!

Round Two: The Unicorn

The Unicorn: Season 1, Episode 2 “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” (B)

I thought that this show had the most promise out of all the freshmen pilots that have premiered so far, and it did a decent job of living up to that in its second outing even if it’s still not superb. What does work is Walton Goggins, whose previous television gigs have been tinged with humor on serious shows and movies like “Justified” and “The Hateful Eight” and full-on involved in more comedic fare like “Sons of Anarchy,” “Vice Principals” and “The Righteous Gemstones.” I remember him originally from his more stoic but still superb turn as Shane on “The Shield,” and now he’s playing a milder character who is just starting to realize what the world around him now looks like. I wasn’t sure where I recognized Christina Moore, who played Lizzie, from, potentially “That 70s Show” or “True Blood,” but she did a great job in her short scenes as a new romantic interest for Wade who just wasn’t all that appealing. He did fail quite spectacularly in his efforts not to get overly involved. The sweet moment he shared with his daughter when they were taking Instagram pictures for each other at the end of the episode was nice, and I’m glad that this show doesn’t have a laugh track to make that kind of scene feel forced. What I didn’t love as much were the antics of Wade’s friends, notably the guest appearance by Nicole Byer from “Nailed It” as Michelle’s very overeager sister. I’ll give it another shot – so far this remains my top new broadcast show.

What I’m Watching: Why Women Kill

Why Women Kill: Season 1, Episode 8 “Marriages Don't Break Up on Account of Murder – It's Just a Symptom That Something Else Is Wrong” (B+)

This episode’s introduction featured three regular players, all of whom are taking on much stronger roles in the destruction of the marriages they’ve entered through affairs. Of the three, Jade seems the most malicious, hearing worthwhile warnings from Taylor about what Eli does when he’s on drugs and using that information to purposely manipulate Eli into cutting Taylor completely out of his life, accepting his gift of a car and then blocking Taylor from his phone. Speaking to her ex-boyfriend and paying his bail was a smart move, but she’s likely going to regret the consequences his return wreaks. Tommy getting drunk and crashing his car after finding out that Simone isn’t coming with him to Paris so that she can stay and take care of her sick husband was bad enough on its own, but Naomi finding out about the affair is going to be really problematic since she’s sure to exact the same kind of revenge Simone would if the tables were turned. Beth Ann talking April out of an abortion so that she could raise the baby with Rob was indeed twisted, but her intentions were good, and losing Sheila as a friend and confidante won’t be good. This show’s true villain has been revealed, and that’s Rob, who proposed to April upon learning of her pregnancy because he said his marriage would be over in six months. That’s truly cruel and unfeeling, adding villainy to the already perplexing performance from actor Sam Jaeger. I suspect that he’s going to be the first to die.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Pilot Review: Almost Family

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Four Weddings and a Funeral (Series Finale)

Four Weddings and a Funeral: Season 1, Episode 10 “New Jersey” (B-)

This show has definitely been entertaining, and I’d like to emphasize that I have greatly enjoyed watching it even if it’s not the highest quality storytelling. The number of people on this show who got over past relationships with considerable ease after earlier expressing bitter hatred for their exes and then attended their weddings with smiles on their face is absolutely incredible, and this episode was full of that. I’m not entirely clear why Andrew and Tony traveled across the pond to attend Duffy and Gemma’s wedding, which was an unusual affair that felt a lot more like him than her, and them being there wasn’t quite as shocking as Tabby making it possible for some of Duffy’s students to be there. Maya’s poster scene taken right out of “Love Actually” didn’t have the desired effect on Ainsley, but Bryce saving all her letters did, resulting in a complete shift in her thinking, forgiving both Maya and Kash for their betrayal. Tricking Kash into thinking that Maya was marrying Duffy so that he’d rush over on a flight to declare his love for her was a fun if relatively unbelievable move, and Duffy begging him to sit down so that he wouldn’t ruin any more weddings was amusing. At least everyone ended up together, which was nice, and even Craig got happiness with his expanded family as he was painted as even dumber than Zara, hardly the show’s most memorable character. I’d be happy to revisit these characters in the future, though I think given the critical reception for this miniseries, it’s unlikely that anyone would be up for continuing these stories.

Season grade: B
Season MVP: Nathalie Emmanuel as Maya

What I’m Watching: This Is Us

This Is Us: Season 4, Episode 2 “The Pool: Part Two” (B+)

This was a strong follow-up to a premiere that barely featured any of the characters we know, honing in on the regulars we’ve come to care about without too much focus on the new people introduced in last week’s episode. I didn’t remember much about the first episode set at the pool, which was the fourth installment of season one, which my review reminds me had all three kids dealing with similar issues. Kate choosing to make the best of being tricked into expecting a different boy to come kiss her felt like a true moment of growth, while Kevin was surprisingly introspective and wanted to know if his father thought he was a good person, something Jack didn’t know if he handled the right way. In the present, all attention is being paid to baby Jack and his path forward in the world, which we know ends with him finding success in music and a wonderful woman to love, but that seems so far away as the house is baby-proofed for a kid who isn’t going to be able to see. Toby getting all those comments about losing weight were suspicious, and the fact that he’s turned to working out hard to deal with his anxiety while Kate has returned to overeating is certainly going to create problems for their relationship soon. Kevin choosing to go check on his uncle after getting a great new part and finishing work with M. Night Shyamalan shows that he’s finally prioritizing the right things. Everything related to Randall and his family was very sweet and charming, particularly his protective banter with Deja and Tess choosing to get a bold new haircut that will hopefully help her feel more comfortable in her own skin. After all the fighting last season, it’s good to see this Pearson clan in better shape with only good things on the horizon.

Friday, October 4, 2019

What I’m Watching: The Conners

The Conners: Season 2, Episode 2 “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss” (B)

This episode focused in on just one plotline more than usual, looking at Darlene as the center of the universe and the multitude of problems that came at her at the same time. She’s doing a very poor job of balancing the two relationships she’s found herself in, and something tells me that Ben isn’t going to be happy at all when he finds out that she’s been carrying on an affair with her ex. Jackie isn’t exactly subtle, physically blockading the stairwell when David was up there so that Ben wouldn’t get any ideas of looking around and finding him after his surprise stop-by. Ben’s suggestion of therapy was hilariously mirrored by Darlene when David tried to get serious about their relationship, and those delay tactics aren’t going to work too well given that David was ready to run in and tell the kids that they were getting back together when Darlene is definitely nowhere close to that point. Mark being in violation of the no-PDA rule and then having his boyfriend deny that there was ever anything between them led to a great opportunity for Darlene and even David to show their support, to “parent the crap out of that kid,” as David put it. I personally enjoyed Dan giving Mark some endearing relationship advice, and it’s good to see the young character featured in a way that isn’t just tangential, like say Harris or DJ, who really don’t get much to do other than show up in a scene for half a second.

What I’m Watching: Our Boys (Penultimate Episode)

Our Boys: Season 1, Episode 9 “Chapter 9: The Perfumer and the Tanner” (B+)

As this show nears its end, it’s continuing down a very intriguing route that asks many moral questions about the outcome of this trial. What Dvora heard about the potentially negative implications of Jews being convicted for murder in terms of worldwide perceptions of Jews and Israel is definitely cause for concern, and it’s actually something I worried about with this show in general since what it portrays could certainly be damaging. It’s continually incredible to see just how each action taken by any person involved in any aspect of the case is interpreted as an affront, like Mohammed’s name being added to the list of the victims of terror. The harassment of Simon that has begun and will surely continue shows how protective institutions can be, even if it’s clear in this case that the actions of these three people were indeed horrendous and should be fully decried, with those responsible to be held accountable. Having to find an American psychiatrist who would fly in to Israel so that he could assess Yosef Haim shows that there is a certain toxicity to any association with what’s perceived as a rarity rather than the norm. Simon’s definition of modern terrorism was powerful and entirely applicable to the spate of mass shootings in the United States. Avishai felt betrayed by what Simon said since he still believes that he never intended to kill, and getting encouraged by Simon’s past informant isn’t going to help his mental state. I’ll also now hear the song he sang upon his release, which I’ve listened to many times in the past, in an entirely different way.

What I’m Watching: The Righteous Gemstones

The Righteous Gemstones: Season 1, Episode 7 “And Yet One of You is a Devil” (B+)

It was fitting that everything would fall apart for the Gemstones on the biggest day of the year, one that had very different outcomes for each of the adult children. After expressing such support for his niece in the previous episode, Baby Billy almost immediately revealed his true colors when he refused to even acknowledge Judy’s excitement at what her father had chosen for her to do. The whole situation even managed to get BJ to stand up for himself, threatening the one support system Judy actually has in her life. Kelvin didn’t figure much into this installment, with his recent accomplishment resulting in nothing other than the status quo assignment. Jesse, on the other hand, got a big promotion to deliver the major sermon, and he even found himself at a great place with his eldest son when he thought he had brilliantly deduced Gideon’s sexual orientation. Scotty put on quite the act at the start of the episode when he showed up all dressed up to impress the family and kept up his semi-professional act on the boat. Showing up to grab Jesse and then take the keycard from Eli left this episode on a very desolate note, with Jesse likely past being mad at his son for his betrayal because there’s nothing left to do about it aside from work together to get out of the vault, keep the Gemstone name from being tainted forever, and get revenge on the man who just took a whole lot of money from them without all that much effort.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Pilot Review: Godfather of Harlem

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: The Affair

The Affair: Season 5, Episode 6 (B-)

After meeting Anna Paquin’s adult Joanie for just a few minutes at a time over the course of the last few episodes, now we get an entire hour focused on her, without a single other perspective to perceive the situation differently. It certainly seems like she’s self-destructive enough on her own without anyone having to judge her, and while it does make some sense given what’s happened in her life, it’s not all that inviting to watch. Joanie isn’t a particularly nice person, treating EJ horribly before finally starting to spend time with him and then having sex with him, assuring him that he wasn’t actually good in bed even though he claimed to be. I also realized that I erred a few weeks ago in noting that Noah would be dead in the future since Cole was actually her father, but she did mention Noah, who I can’t imagine survived long enough without someone trying to kill him but may well still be alive in this future. Joanie looking into the idea of her mother having been killed by Ben seems like an unnecessary avenue, one that isn’t going to tell us any more about the characters like Noah and Helen we do still know in the past since Noah’s obsessions have shifted entirely from his second wife back to his first. Seeing an older Luisa wasn’t overly informative, and I continue to question why this future exploration was needed or helpful in any way to this show’s overall arc.

What I’m Watching: God Friended Me (Season Premiere)

God Friended Me: Season 2, Episode 1 “Joy” (B-)

I’m checking in to the second season of this show even though I still don’t think it’s terribly good, but rather because others in my life enjoy watching it and so I’ve decided to keep it up too. Its characters are in very different places than they were back in season one, and it’s going to have a modified rhythm as a result. I’m still pretty appalled by just how pushy Miles is in every single situation, and it’s a wonder that someone hasn’t either called the cops on him and his invasive crew or, in the case of one very dedicated member of the military, dealt with his unwelcome presence in a physical manner. Obviously, Joy was going to turn out to be a much better person than she let on, and Miles needs a partner with Cara over in Paris and Rakesh more focused on his actual work duties. Cara finding her mentor again only to be chewed out because she’s associated with Simon, who was indeed a terrible person back in the day, was a sentimental moment turned into yet another mystery, which suggests that the God account was responsible for bringing her to New York and not someone she knew sending her a message on Facebook. Arthur not being ready to move was understandable, and buying a house that he and Trish were supposed to look at together seemed like one hell of a dramatic overcorrection, at the very least that he and his son are both big on broad gestures that might be worthy of a second thought in hindsight.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Pilot Review: Bless the Harts

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Pilot Review: The Politician

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Take Three: Undone

Undone: Season 1, Episode 3 “Handheld Blackjack” (B+)

I’m continually astounded by this show, and so appreciate of the animated format that allows it to provide transcendent visuals to explain how Alma is experiencing time and reality. Opening and closing the episode with Alma having her hearing aids out adds another dimension to it, and the way that things around her are changing, like the photos on the wall or the placement of the couch, is appropriately haunting since she’s no longer able to stay grounded in her own life. Jacob giving her the electronic blackjack game to play continuously so that she’d be able to stay tethered to the physical plane is a fascinating notion, though the game, with its loud sounds, seems to be far too distracting to everyone else to feel like a legitimate option. Tunde is rightfully concerned about her being around kids, though calling her boyfriend to express concern about the state of her “emotional recovery” doesn’t feel like the right thing for him to have done. Asking her mother questions about her father’s death and his student Farnaz feels like the start of her going down a rabbit hole, and I’d hope that Jacob is able to warn her from becoming entirely disconnected from her world in a way that will trap her in the same state as him, unable to help because she can’t get back to where she was. Bringing her back to a class he was teaching about time travel adds a scientific element to it, one that makes this fantastical show and concept even more appealing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Take Three: Unbelievable

Unbelievable: Season 1, Episode 3 (B+)

I had heard great things about Toni Collette’s performance, and they weren’t wrong. Grace is extremely intense and not one to hold back any of what she’s feeling, and she clashes with Karen in an interesting way since they both feel they have to fight to be heard but Grace is more overtly intimidating to anyone she encounters, including the suspect played by Tate Ellington from “Quantico” that she interrogated at the start of the hour. The most memorable scene of the hour came from Merritt Wever as Karen berated one of her team members for not thinking to follow up on lab reports and being content with waiting to hear back from someone else rather than proactively following up. I also recognized Dale Dickey, who appeared in last week’s episode of “Why Women Kill” and who I’ll always remember from “Winter’s Bone,” as RoseMarie, the detective who sits next to Grace and seems to be tangentially involved in some of her cases. Connecting these two very similar cases is a great first step, and it appears to be taking a lot longer for anyone to realize that Marie is also a victim of the same law enforcement offender, and she’s spiraling as people continue to be horrible to her and now she’s received a criminal citation for filing a false report. Amber’s boyfriend was obsessed with the statistics about what happens if a rapist isn’t found in seven days, and the pressure is definitely on for Karen and Grace to pool their resources and get one step ahead of someone who takes extraordinary care not to be found and whose efforts towards perfection may just be what get him caught.

What I’m Watching: Transparent (Series Finale)

Transparent: Season 5, Episode 1 “Musicale Finale”

It’s been just over two full years since the fourth season of this show premiered on Amazon Prime and just two or so months less than that since I finished watching it. I interviewed Jay Duplass, who plays Josh, at SXSW this past March for his role in the film “Pink Wall,” and he said that this musical finale was “in the can” and would be released soon. Now, it’s out there, and this show’s wild, transformative journey is officially over. I’m not sure who thought that a musical finish to this story was the right way to go, and it definitely had its ups and downs. The first song reminded me of “La La Land” in its street-specific California geography lesson, but musically it got better from there. The most moving song was the one with the young Shelly and Maura as dancers, and, thematically, the song that contained the lyrics “your boundary is my trigger” was enormously effective. The duet between Raquel and Josh in the sanctuary was also strong, and far better than Raquel’s more inexplicably scandalous number earlier in the episode. Ari’s “Bart Mitzvah” was weird but somewhat fitting, but I wasn’t fond of the “Joyocaust” ending which sought to sum up the entire Jewish people with this progressive attitude that feels more than a bit flippant. I’d prefer the show stick to its strengths, like Ari’s religious and sexual identity and Shelly’s desperate efforts to fit in when her deceased former spouse has now effectively replaced her as the matriarch of the family. Comedy like the rabbi continually saying “Pefferman” worked well, and familiar faces like Lila, Colton, Leslie, and Tammy showing up were appropriately short and sentimental. Rainn Wilson and Richard Kind showed up for brief appearances, and Davina singing was another highlight, an enduring non-family presence on this show. The most obviously missing part of this show in this finale was Jeffrey Tambor, who contributed tremendously to what it was but evidently wasn’t all that it is. It’s nice that, especially given the allegations against him regarding his on-set conduct, it evolved beyond him. The concept of this send-off was indeed intriguing, and I’d say that the execution was mostly good even if it did overreach considerably at the end.

Series finale: B
Series grade: B+
Finale MVP: Alexandra Billings as Davina
Series MVP: Jeffrey Tambor as Maura
Best Season: Season 1
Best Episode: Pilot

Pilot Review: Evil

I'm trying something new with my pilot reviews, so from now on, check out video takes on each new series, which I'll embed below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.