Thursday, April 30, 2020

Pilot Review: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Killing Eve

Killing Eve: Season 3, Episode 3 “Meetings Have Biscuits” (B+)

Villanelle is working a lot lately, and she’s enjoying the many ways in which she can creatively kill her targets, choosing fanciful methods of execution since she doesn’t currently have much of an audience. Her delight at watching the maid wince every time she held the knife in the direction of the baby was entertaining, and Dasha was awfully casual about placing the baby in the trash can (fortunately, that story had a happy ending for the baby and his surviving parent). One of the most fascinating elements of this show that’s been building it first started is the relationship between its two protagonists, and I loved that Villanelle went from initially recording “I should have shot you in the head and watched you die” to “I can’t stop thinking about you” on the toy bear. Her encounter with Eve on the bus was intense, with a surprising kiss from Eve merely a distraction so that she could headbutt her and, but that final scene with Eve replaying the “Admit it, Eve, you wish I was here” suggests that there was indeed some part of her that was glad to see the woman who ruined her life. It was a harrowing time for Carolyn as she nearly got executed and instead had a bullet graze her that killed someone else, but she has her own way of dealing with things, including thinking in the bath with other people present. I like that Villanelle just crawled into Konstantin’s bed now that she’s back in town, and I’m curious what he’s going to do now that she’s returned.

What I'm Watching: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Season 1, Episode 11 "Zoey's Extraordinary Mother" (B)

This show is consistent if nothing else. Its workplace antics feel so deliberately staged in some ways, and it's a real shame because there's a depth that exists both on the show as a whole and in its relationships specifically that's reduced as a result. Leif getting transferred so easily to the sixth floor because Joan approved it without consulting Zoey didn't make all that much sense, and then Leif was almost immediately sneaking code to Tobin, which seems like it might have been noticed by someone. Their communications certainly weren’t all that secretive, permitting Joan to find out almost right away. Calling a truce of sorts with Ava was a bit of a surprise, but there were finally real consequences in the form of Max being fired. The way she said it made it seem like Joan and Zoey won’t just be able to hire him back even if they wanted to, and this big career move is looking more and more like a career ender right now. Zoey and David bringing Maggie to a funeral home to pick out a casket for Mitch was quite a big step, and she handled it pretty well considering the intensity of that process. It was a fun opportunity to feature guest star Bernadette Peters and give her some singing to do, even if it wasn’t incorporated into the story all that subtly. I’m not terribly interested in Mo’s love life, though it makes sense that Zoey’s number one confidante would be deserving of a supporting plotline.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 3, Episode 7 “Passed Pawn” (B+)

It’s a relief to know, going into the final episode of this season, that this show has already been renewed for a fourth iteration. At least a year and a half have passed between each of this show’s seasons so far, and so I always worry that the enthusiasm has decreased once the episodes finally air and that HBO might decide that, similar to the excellent “Watchmen,” what’s been produced so far is enough and no more is needed. This season has been so interesting and high-octane, and I’m definitely invested in its future. We’ve seen just enough snippets of what Caleb does and doesn’t remember to wonder what actually happened while he was at war, and this episode helped to break down the fact that he wasn’t just a random stranger who happened upon Dolores but instead someone she very deliberately sought out because he’s going to be the one who either saves or destroys humanity, depending on what choice he makes. I was pretty sure I recognized the supposedly Russian captive as very American actor Enrico Colantoni, who helped to open Caleb’s eyes to his partner’s imminent betrayal and get himself shot too for the trouble. I like that Dolores told Solomon that they were like each other because they’ve both outlived their original purpose, something he refuted outright. Dolores and Maeve’s technology-assisted hand-to-hand combat was intense, and it’s not clear that either of them will survive what’s about to happen. I wrote William off when Charlotte had him committed, but he made a promise that he was going to destroy every host, and he just regained the upper hand with Bernard and Ashley, so maybe humanity still has a fighting chance in this angry, vindictive man.

What I’m Watching: Bad Education

Bad Education (B+)

It's not too often that I sit down to watch a TV movie, and I've actually only seen two of the nominees for the top corresponding Emmy category in the past five years - "The Tale," which was screened its TV premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and "Hello Ladies: The Movie," which was the conclusion of a show I very much enjoyed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both of those landed at HBO, and that network is the same one that aired this TV movie, which itself debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. I was excited to see that Cory Finley, who I got to interview for his work on the excellent film "Thoroughbreds," directed this engaging and entertaining look at a real-life scandal in Long Island. I enjoyed the frequent references to top competitor Syosset, where my dad was born and my grandfather still lives. The construction of the narrative was effective, with the reporter played by Geraldine Viswanathan from "Miracle Workers" slowly uncovering things that were hidden in plain sight while Hugh Jackman's Frank shook hands and made people smile to keep them distracted. There's no denying the strength of the performances here, particularly Jackman, who had what seemed like a great role in "The Front Runner" in 2018 that proved disappointing, and Allison Janney, a seven-time Emmy winner and recent Oscar winner who may well have to compete against herself if her turn in Amazon's "Troop Zero" nets her a second nomination. They're both strong Emmy contenders, and I also appreciated the supporting turns from Ray Romano, Rafael Casal from "Blindspotting" as Kyle, and Annaleigh Ashford from "Masters of Sex" as Jenny. I like that this was sort of a comedy even though what happened was very problematic, and I think the way it was portrayed here made for great fun. I'll be perfectly happy to see this show pick up a number of trophies for its performers and maybe even its production or writing.

Round Two: #blackAF

#blackAF: Season 1, Episode 2 “because of slavery too” (B)

This second episode was fun enough, making me perfectly happy continuing with this show but also not feeling like I need to if there wasn’t enough time. Drugs on television can often be portrayed in an overly silly fashion, and that was definitely a concern here as Kenya and Joya went to a concert where they were eager to try something they hadn’t done for many years. What ended up working well was that it presented an opportunity for Kenya to bond with his daughter when they ran into each other and may or may not both have been on drugs. Like in the pilot, the MVP on this show is indisputably Rashida Jones, who didn’t have the chance to take someone down because of their inherent white gaze, but she did get pretty excited about the night she was going to have away from the kids. She got way too into it, of course, resulting in her being wheeled out on a stretcher while vastly overestimating her capacity. The mockumentary format here isn’t entirely consistent, but I did like that Kenya noticed Drea there filming with her cell phone rather than doing anything to help the family members she was clearly spying on. Seeing each of the family members, namely the wildest and the most gullible children, interact at home in the morning before they somehow all make it to school (or not, depending on how alive their teachers are) is entertaining, and those brief moments are satisfying so far and will surely be revisited more in the future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Take Three: Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob: Season 1, Episode 3 “Poker Faces” (B+)

As expected, Joanna did take the case, which is a good thing since Cherry Jones always plays intense, determined characters and she’s not going to back down in her pursuit of justice for her client. She knew exactly what to say to each of them, particularly to Laurie, who had only been tangentially exposed to these kind of proceedings, and Andy, who was on the other side of it for the first time. It was a relief that the judge categorically denied Neal’s absurdly high request for bail, which assures that Jacob can at least be with his parents while this all happens instead of sitting in prison. Andy’s role is what’s complicating matters so much, as evidenced by Lynn explaining that she would usually ask Andy’s advice on what statement to make, which she of course can’t do now since he’s the subject of that very statement. Requesting files from Paula on another suspect wasn’t a smart move, and it was even worse that Paula opted to give them to him since that will surely come back to haunt both of them later. Andy’s family history revelation hit both his wife and son the wrong way, and it’s only going to serve as additional ammunition to make Jacob seem guilty. The fact that he’s spending his time playing shooting games online seems irresponsible and highly suspicious. Laurie and Andy obviously feel very differently about Jacob’s childhood, and they’re both unraveling as a result of the increased shunning they’re experiencing from their friends and colleagues.

Round Two: Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob: Season 1, Episode 2 “Everything Is Cool” (B+)

Things intensified quickly in this second hour, which felt just as engaging and worthwhile as the first. I’m glad that we aren’t seeing too many flashes to the present since this story is interesting enough in its own without having to keep us guessing about how we get to a certain point. Framing Andy as the main character is effective since he’s someone who traffics in this world of conflicts of interest and suspects all the time, and the growing sense of dread he felt as first Dan Rifkin and then Lynn told him he was being taken off the case fueled this episode. Finding out that Neal, who already despises him, would be prosecuting the case was a particularly crippling blow, though presumably he’ll end up hiring Cherry Jones’ Joanna Klein, who we can presume has her own reputation of being tough. Andy getting rid of the knife is an unfortunate development, one that will surely make him look like he covered for Jacob down the road, and Jacob claiming that he did find the body and just didn’t tell anyone may not be his best defense even if it’s true. Jacob having to spend the night in jail before getting the bail his father foolishly promised him they’d get in the morning is unnerving, and their lives aren’t likely to ever go back to normal, whether he’s guilty or not. We are seeing another person framed as the primary suspect, whose damning deleted photos that were likely backed up might just be the only thing that ends up exonerating Jacob.

Pilot Review: Defending Jacob

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Monday, April 27, 2020

What I’m Watching: Better Things

Better Things: Season 4, Episode 9 “Batceañera” (B+)

This show really is so unique, featuring an event that’s already been acknowledged as a relatively appropriate form of cultural appropriation in a way that feels just as surreal as so much of this season has. Starting with what seemed like an imagined scene and was in fact something she was filming was a great way to open this installment that largely didn’t feature big speeches or major moments, but instead memorable snippets from the evening. Xander showing up changed the mood considerably, and it was great to see Rich respond to being called the wrong name by telling him how proud he is when people so often mistake him for the girls’ father. Jeff was able to say all the right things to Sam in that moment, which makes the notion of their flirtation being discovered by Sunny very worrisome. Xander making a speech was awfully bold, and Sam was right to invite him to join them for dinner even though it’s highly likely that he won’t show up for it. Duke expressing such displeasure at the idea of doing what Sam wanted towards the end of the episode was indeed a confirmation that her nicest daughter has officially turned into just another seemingly ungrateful and totally uncooperative child. It wasn’t the focus of this episode, but I enjoyed the brief exchange between Marion, Caroline, and Phyl that featured biting comments about cheese, pronunciation, and other things they just couldn’t agree on since it’s more fun for them to argue all the time.

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace (Series Finale)

Will and Grace: Season 11, Episode 18 “It’s Time”

I remember sitting down to watch the original finale of this show fourteen years ago and thinking that it was really time for it to end, since it had for a while been featuring big-name guest stars to try to attract attention for its lackluster laugh track. I wasn’t sure about it coming back as a result, but these last three years have actually been decent. What I experienced watching the unexpectedly sentimental retrospective special was a yearning to go back and watch some of the early episodes where the cast was so young and this show was truly influential. I think I probably started watching regularly around season four, and so it’s nice to know that I can still go back someday and watch what are widely regarded as the best years (including the second, which won Best Comedy Series). I actually found this farewell episode to be very strong, and I like that it didn’t offer definitive answers on Will’s future with McCoy or feature Grace giving birth. Instead, they took a taxi ride through New York City, which was nice to see, and we only had to endure one high-profile guest spot from Minnie Driver, which wasn’t so bad. I was sort of hoping that we’d get to finally see Stan, but him arriving not like King Kong but in a helicopter to invite Karen back into his life was actually perfectly fitting. My favorite part was not Jack finally getting to be on Broadway without being able to take his big bow but instead his asking himself whether he still had all these different jobs we hadn’t seen him at in a while. It’s a humorous nod to how shows, including this one, tend to forget certain plotlines just because they’re no longer convenient or relevant. This is a great high note to go out on for a show that’s been perfectly fine in its three-season return if not entirely necessary. Since I haven’t seen (and certainly don't remember) every episode, I’m omitting my traditional “best season” and “best episodes” accolades below.

Series finale: B+
Series grade: B+
Season MVP: Sean Hayes as Jack
Season grade: B
Series MVP: Sean Hayes

What I’m Watching: Liar

Liar: Season 2, Episode 3 (B+)

It would have been too much to expect that Laura could go about her daily life right now, but being told that she needs to take a leave of absence from work while the police are at the school interrogating people was still a big blow. DI Renton is pushing harder than ever, not willing to forgive whatever horrific circumstances might have pushed Laura to the act she’s so certain she committed. Katy didn’t help matters too much, creating further complications, and now Laura has one more person she’s mad at who then can’t be a support system for her. It seemed rather cut-and-dry that Winnie calling Laura about Carl’s disappearance and the suspected arson that he was on the run because he killed Andrew, and it turns out that’s what he thought too. Laura and Winnie were convinced that Jennifer was lying when they spoke to her, and we now have such an interconnected web of deceit that it would be hard to imagine some of these non-murderers not getting implicated in some way when the real killer is finally caught. The flashback showing Carl throwing Andrew off the boat was damning, but his terrifying confrontation with Laura just a short time later proved that he, while guilty of attempted murder, was not in fact that one who ended his life. I’m not sure how many suspects there are left, but it is true that he hurt a lot of people, making a case for whoever killed him to be viewed more favorably than most murderers.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What I’m Watching: Brockmire

Brockmire: Season 4, Episode 6 “The Hall” (B+)

Well, I suppose it’s too much to hope for that we’d be able to see Amanda Peet and Reina Hardesty sharing the screen in more than just one episode as Jules and Beth after last week’s installment. We first met Beth as a precocious young woman who learned all the best things from her father, saw her evolve in not entirely fantastic ways over the years thanks to other influences, and then return seemingly fine in the previous episode only to get blackout drunk thanks to Jules’ alcohol training. Beth came at him very angry, sporting his least favorite hairstyle just to throw him off, ready to take him down by listing the many things he had done wrong over the course of his life. He’s improved as a person, and therefore he wanted to win her over, and saying that he cared more about being with her than getting an honor he had waited his entire life for was a sweet sentiment that ultimately helped him to succeed in convincing her that he deserved some degree of forgiveness. Joe Buck being present and preparing to introduce him while pointing out that he was Brockmire’s best friend at this point (but not the other way around) was a blow that threatened to make him revert to his old self, but he mostly resisted the temptation. Knowing Janet’s name the entire name and the whole thing with Limon sending people to deliver hugs and other comforting physical content made for entertaining moments as well.

What I’m Watching: Little Fires Everywhere (Series Finale)

Little Fires Everywhere: Season 1, Episode 8 “Find a Way” (B+)

This was an emotional finale, one that ended in a surprising way. Due in part to the sensational nature of the events, it seems obvious that this isn’t based on real events, but that doesn’t make it any less of a powerful and very worthwhile endeavor. Everything escalated quickly when Elena tried to wield the information she thought she had about Pearl’s abortion as a weapon against Mia, and her eviction notice was swiftly changed to the next morning as a result. This episode, more than any other, highlighted the Richardson children as Elena blurted out that she never wanted Izzy, prompting Lexi to confess what happened and argue that she wasn’t the perfect child Elena always needed her to be. The kids setting the fire Izzy was going to start showed an acknowledgment on their part of their privileged circumstances and the dangerous cycles the mentality they were raised in creates and enables. No one got a particularly happy ending, with Elena taking responsibility for the fire, Izzy daydreaming about riding away with Mia while she was just on a bus headed somewhere, and Bebe perpetually on the run with her daughter. That last plot point was the most unsettling, though it does show that things have a way of working themselves out even if they’re far from permanent. Pearl forgiving her mother and choosing not to go to New York City but instead to meet her grandparents was sweet, and the best possible result they could have achieved. This has been one hell of a ride, and I’m hoping for lots of Emmy love, particularly for the younger talent involved.

Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Kerry Washington as Mia and Lexi Underwood as Pearl

What I’m Watching: Little Fires Everywhere (Penultimate Episode)

Little Fires Everywhere: Season 1, Episode 7 “Picture Perfect” (B+)

This was an intense ordeal of an episode, one that returned to a present that found every member of the Richardson and Warren families grappling with unpleasant revelations and realities. The one flashback was highly informative of much of what we’ve been seeing play out in the background over the course of this entire show, explaining that Izzy was indeed involved in a relationship with another girl at school that came to a crushing end when she panicked and shunned her after it was nearly revealed at a party. Seeing her disown and embarrass Izzy once again after her stunt at school was harsh, but nothing compared to the hurt caused by Elena taking the time to cut Izzy out of every photo because she wouldn’t wear the shoes she wanted. Telling Pearl what Mia did was also unforgivable, and that look in Mia’s eyes at the end of the episode indicates that she won’t just let this go. Testifying on Bebe’s behalf even after Elena threatened her was brave, and Elena was furious that her husband didn’t drop the bombshell he had. His comment that people like Bebe don’t win was cruel, and he’s also undergoing his own metamorphosis as he starts to see what Elena hasn’t been telling him. Lexie’s breakup was an inevitability, and she doesn’t seem to be learning much from each intolerant remark she continues to make. Trip not telling Moody about his relationship with Pearl is surely a mistake, and that parting shot of the four children sitting angrily on the couch was haunting. I really hope some of these young performers, particularly Lexi Underwood, who plays Pearl, can earn awards attention.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

What I’m Watching: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Uncanny” (B+)

It’s always a risky decision for shows to feature younger versions of their characters since they can come off as unconvincing or hokey, particularly if they’re played by the same performers. In this case, finding younger actresses to play Mia and Elena was absolutely a success. I’ve been impressed with AnnaSophia Robb since her lead role in “Sleepwalking,” and in addition to the truly uncanny physical similarity between her and Reese Witherspoon, she captured her essence perfectly. Tiffany Boone from “The Following” and “Hunters” was equally excellent as Mia, whose experience in New York during college was quite transformative in ways she didn’t at all expect. This episode was especially thought-provoking because it was Mia who elected to get pregnant so that she could make some desperately-needed money, while Elena felt stifled by another pregnancy she hadn’t planned which was going to set her career aspirations back considerably. It’s always hard to be taken out of the present since we didn’t see any of the other regular characters aside from Bill and Linda, but this background was highly informative and worthwhile. Mia returning home to be told by her mother that she couldn’t even attend her brother’s funeral because her parents didn’t want to have to explain why she was pregnant was heartbreaking, and the transition to the present with Pearl riding first in the backseat and then next to her was powerful. This hour definitely made Elena more sympathetic, and we’ll see how much that remains true when this show returns to the present for its final two installments.

What I’m Watching: Mrs. America

Mrs. America: Season 1, Episode 4 “Betty” (B+)

Of the women portrayed on this show, Betty Friedan is definitely close to a loose cannon, but this episode featuring her most prominently was perfectly focused. The debate was with Phyllis, but her rivalry with Gloria was also spotlighted, resulting in an olive branch from Gloria at the end in the form of a phone call acknowledging how much of a mentor and inspiration Gloria considered her to be. Phyllis training with her husband for the debate was very informative, and I love how Betty accidentally met Fred when she bumped into him on her way out of the bathroom. Betty established an early lead on the stage when she attacked Phyllis for referring to the audience as girls rather than women, but things got out of control when she lost her temper and told Phyllis that she’d love to burn her at the stake. Many attendees still felt that she performed well and wanted autographs, but it’s understandable that she just needed to retreat. One of the most compelling elements of this show continues to be its examination of the intersection of many sub-movements within both the feminist and anti-feminist causes, with lesbians inside the black power movement and white supremacists with the Stop ERA group popping up in this episode. Gloria and everyone else in the office getting sexually harassed by phone was an unfortunate development, but not all efforts to derail their cause have to be in the form of serious arguments or protests, as such behavior can be both alienating and dispiriting.

What I’m Watching: Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 5, Episode 9 “Zari, Not Zari” (B)

This show is most fun because of how much its characters tend to screw up the timeline and then try to clean up their messes, but we don’t so often see them going back in time to bring someone back to life. Charlie’s sister Atropos was quite the terror, murdering all of her bandmates and then trying to kill everyone close to her. Sara saw her true form and survived, which was impressive, while Constantine’s ability to hang on makes some sense since he’s always been around the undead and all that. But Behrad, who was offered the opportunity to live since Atropos promised him she was going to take what she wanted and it was his choice if he wanted to die. Ripping him out of existence was particularly brutal, and Zari, after talking to the version of herself that we initially knew, is determined to get him back, if such a thing is even possible. I’d love to see the original Zari somehow emerge from inside the totem so that she can help them, but I suspect it’s just going to be the new Zari having to learn how to use her powers and channel some serious energy. Sara was resourceful in having Ava take off so that she could jettison Atrapos out into the timestream, and we’ll have to hope that Atrapos was the most vicious of Charlie’s siblings. I loved Ava’s idea to insert Mick into so many formative moments of Lita’s life, though of course dropping in for only a short spurt at a time apparently left her with a similar feeling of resentment towards her only occasionally-present father.

Friday, April 24, 2020

What I’m Watching: The Flash

The Flash: Season 6, Episode 16 “So Long and Goodnight” (B-)

Rag Doll is not anywhere close to my favorite villain on this show, and so another hour spent with him being incredibly creepy and bendy wasn’t all that great. I didn’t guess that it was him who cut Joe’s brakes since there are so many different metahumans who could have done it, or even someone technical who could have hacked into the mechanics of the car to try to kill him. What’s most important is that Carver was the one who wanted him dead, and he was perfectly happy to admit it to Joe, who would have been much smarter to have someone else on the other end of a phone call recording Carver’s confession than to show him that he had taped it so that he could erase it with his laser EMP on the spot. Joe preparing to sacrifice himself to save Cecile was noble, but I do question the effectiveness of him going into witness protection on his own since Cecile being kidnapped by Rag Doll demonstrates that those he cares about can be frequently targeted to get to him. Fake Iris kicking Barry out for not telling her about Joe seems like a puzzling move for her getting closer to him, but maybe that’s not the endgame, especially since we saw Eva confront Carver and can understand the hateful animosity that they hold toward each other. Ralph and Sue might be getting back to a good place, and it would be good if they can show up just in time to help Barry as he continues to lose more and more of his speed.

What I’m Watching: Breeders

Breeders: Season 1, Episode 9 “No Cure – Part 1” (B+)

This episode ended on a surprisingly serious note, one that I didn’t expect at all and which firmly establishes this show as a dramedy, even more so than when Michael suddenly died. Paul wasn’t exactly having a blast when Ally was coming and going so often, but the two of them were up to their usual antics of trying to get by with minimal effort rather than necessarily going the full distance to address a problem. Putting frozen peas on Luke’s head so that he wouldn’t register a higher temperature was clever but obviously a bad idea, and by the time Luke threw up while Paul was in a meeting about a prospective job, he was sick enough that he would later need to go to the hospital. Paul being told to come in without knowing anything before the camera faded to black was such a haunting way to end, and I really do hope everything turns out okay. Jim trying to explain to Ava why he’s never offered a hug to Paul was interesting, and I like that the nature of his relationship with his son continues to come up after Paul alluded to what it was that he needed from his father as he was about to propose. Ally was doing well work-wise on her frequent trips, but it was taking a clear toll on her mental health to be away so much and to know how influential her presence and absence were. This show has yet to be renewed for a second season, but based on what we’ve seen so far, I really hope it gets brought back for more.

What I’m Watching: Dispatches from Elsewhere (Penultimate Episode)

Dispatches from Elsewhere: Season 1, Episode 9 “The Creator” (B)

Our series of shifting narrators continues with Fredwynn as the one telling the story now, focusing on Peter for a bit before moving on to the rest of the team. Peter was awfully combative in therapy even though he realized right after that he was just mad at himself, and I like that he decided that he liked cake and pie equally. The passage of time felt almost dreamlike as we saw Simone get into dance exercise and then run into Peter when he was treating himself to many indulgences, including the hats he liked but didn’t like wearing as he was preparing to graduate from magic school. While he did nearly drown during his big performance, he made up for it with his romantic list of things he likes that all happened to be things Simone did. Seeing them spend time together and celebrate their game-aversary with an unexpected gift from her to him was sweet, and it put them in the right frame of mind to get back into the game at the moment they needed. Janice was having a tough time coping with Lev’s death and her loneliness, leading to more fascinating conversations with her younger self, but she was in a good place when she came to pull Fredwynn out of the catatonic state he had worked himself into by obsessing so much. Watching the flashback with Lee assuming Clara’s identity to present her big idea was heartbreaking, and I’m so curious about what’s to come in the conclusion.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Round Two: The Baker and the Beauty

The Baker and the Beauty: Season 1, Episode 2 “Ruin My Life” (B)

This show is proving to be a perfectly enjoyable escape from reality, predictable enough but still entertaining thanks to its pacing and performances. There wasn’t much hope for Daniel to leave that party in time, but it literally went from light out to completely dark in the time he was waiting for his truck to be pulled up by the valet! Such silliness can be ignored because this show is meant to be over-the-top, just as Noa’s birthday party was. I’m not sure what Daniel thought was going to happen when he showed up, but ending up naked in the ocean making out with Noa and getting invited to join her on a trip out of the country definitely makes it seem like things are moving very fast. Vanessa isn’t going to giving up just yet, and I enjoyed the awkwardness of her being in the dressing room right next to a horrified Natalie, which was followed up by her even more uncomfortable question to her ex-boyfriend’s sister about what she thought he would like. Apparently Natalie isn’t out to her family – even her brothers – and the budding romance that might have started when Mateo didn’t show up to pick her up might raise some interesting questions. It’s a relief that the big specialty order placed by the food critic went okay despite the oven breaking multiple times while Rafael was cooking. This bakery is blowing up in popularity, and sustaining that kind of demand is going to require some serious upgrades, especially with Daniel distracted so much lately.

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

Better Call Saul: Season 5, Episode 10 “Something Unforgivable” (B+)

The last few episodes of this season have been very intense, and this one was no different thanks to the planned assassination at the end of the episode that did not go at all as planned. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lalo, who exuded calm and comfort while joking with those he employed, would have an escape plan all ready in the case that people showed up to kill him. He was smart to force the last would-be assassin he left alive to radio that the job was done, since now Gus won’t see him coming when he shows back up on the other side of the border. Nacho needs to be careful too since his treachery will likely be obvious to Lalo, who knows very much where to find him. After her formidable performance that Mike acknowledged had saved Jimmy’s life, Kim didn’t seem all too concerned at all about their safety, while Jimmy was the one who wanted to put them in a fancy hotel where they didn’t have to go out and do anything. This show utilized one of its best recurring characters, Howard, to prompt Kim to give in to her inner yearning for chaos that attracts her most to Jimmy. He was right to remind her that she wouldn’t be okay with the things she was suggesting, but it seems that more than enough time watching Jimmy bend and break the rules has caused a change in heart in her. I’m eager to see what happens in this show’s final season, and I so hope that Rhea Seehorn finally earns the Emmy recognition she deserves this year. I think Bob Odenkirk could actually win this time too.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Rhea Seehorn as Kim

What I’m Watching: The Plot Against America (Series Finale)

The Plot Against America: Season 1, Episode 6 “Part 6” (B+)

This extended hour was legitimately terrifying, showcasing an America that quickly turned into a nightmare as everything spiraled out of control thanks to the increasing government-approved xenophobia spreading throughout the nation. The reports of Winchell’s injuries sustained in New Jersey and the wave of anti-Semitic incidents were just the tip of the iceberg, and the circumstances under which Beth found out about Winchell’s assassination in Kentucky heightened the anxiety she and anyone watching felt from that moment on. The dialogue in this episode was strong, present particularly in the conversation between Bess and Herman where she said that Lindbergh was teaching them what it means to be Jews and he responded that “they call us others, but they’re the others.” I won’t even touch the remark about the man being unfit to be president since there’s so much here that can be compared to our present situation. Bess calling Seldon to check in made it obvious something was very wrong, and Herman’s drive to Kentucky was highly treacherous. Seeing Klansmen dressed in full uniform and interacting pleasantly with law enforcement was scary, and Sandy had to grow up fast and distract Seldon when they drove past the burned-out shell of his mother’s car. Rabbi Bengelsdorf quickly became the public voice for the first lady, something that found him speaking out against any critics of the president, and he had a rude awakening when he was arrested for allegedly being part of the title conspiracy that those who compared him to a Jewish Rasputin. I will say that the conclusion of this longer episode felt a bit rushed, with a surprise finish finding the first lady released from confinement and calling on the government to remove the corrupt vice-president, but this wasn’t a happy ending. After all of his revolutionary activities, Alvin was furious with what he felt was Herman’s lack of action, and that was an explosive debate between two people who actually feel quite similarly. Bess turning Evelyn away when she came running to her for help was the most powerful statement, along with the “America to Me” song that played as voters were turned away from the polls and ballots were burned during the new election. Based on how much this show improved as it went on, I would have liked to see more than just a six-episode limited series, but I’m still satisfied with the firm and effectively unsettling reminder of the dangers of hateful rhetoric going unchecked that this run did manage to provide. I hope it earns some Emmy love for its important message and strong narrative.

Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Morgan Spector as Herman

Round Two: Run

Run: Season 1, Episode 2 “Kiss” (B+)

This show is fascinating and unique in that it’s so propelled by its characters’ whims, and as a result it’s wildly unpredictable. The chemistry that Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson have is incredible, and that was on full display as Ruby tried to seduce Billy without any buildup in the roomette. This rule about not being able to ask questions should have been voided when he saw the background on her phone which clearly showed a husband and two kids, and instead of just confronting her about it, he instead Googled both her and her husband to get a better sense of her life. Her determination to have sex with the next person who exited the bathroom rather than him led to a surprisingly effective sexy talk-only tryst with Derek, who then was more than up for playing drinking games with them. While Laurence has no idea where Ruby is, Fiona obviously suspects that Billy is on a train, though we haven’t really heard much of her side of the conversation, other than to know that he invited her to come see him right before he bailed to run when Ruby responded to his text. Their arrival in Chicago should have been the next step in a grand adventure, and instead they angrily parted ways. But, like at the end of the first episode where Ruby’s family was revealed, she got an ever bigger shock when her cards were declined and her husband changed the home voicemail message to broadcast that she ran away and left her family. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for whatever comes next.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What I’m Watching: Good Girls

Good Girls: Season 3, Episode 9 “Incentive” (C)

This episode wasn’t any better than the ones that came before it, and I’m only sticking around since the shortened season will now be ending after just two more episodes, which I should be able to slug through even if they’re truly terrible. I am glad that Lauren Lapkus Agent Donnegan is taking on a more prominent role, though I’m not sure why the character has to be some comical in nature, unconcerned about personal hygiene but smart enough to cut off the nail polish color supply to force Beth and company to get creative. The solution Ruby came up with didn’t manage to fool Rio, which was hardly a surprise, and it’s baffling that he accepted yet another failure to be honest and adhere to directions without providing any consequences. The writing on this show is just not good, as evidenced by the entirety of the conversation with the cousin with fewer arms than expected, and everything about Andrew McCarthy’s assassin was hard to watch and take seriously. Focusing on Dean and his big work prize was of absolutely no interest, and I just wish that Dean would cheat on Beth without telling her instead of declaring his love for her after asking her to wear the dress she wore for Rio only to have her cancel at the last minute because something came up for her work. I don’t know what’s going to come from Sara wanting to help the family of her kidney donor, but it just seems like a distraction she doesn’t need. Lila was not smart to reveal so much about her relationship to Annie, and she put that information to excellent use to get Josh quite hot and bothered in a way he’s not soon likely to forget.

What I’m Watching: Insecure

Insecure: Season 4, Episode 2 “Lowkey Distant” (B+)

I’m glad to see that Issa and Condola found a way to move past the awkwardness of them both having dated the same man, though that opened up a whole new can of worms with Issa sharing information about Lawrence that Condola hadn’t yet learned. Showing up at her house to talk to her and ask her to not have him be the subject of conversation was a bit of a surprise, and her calling him to ask if she should mention that they spoke means that they now have this secret relationship that might ultimately come back to haunt them. I like that Lawrence’s friend chastised him for not picking up the caterer at a baby shower since he could have seen this coming. As great as Issa and Condola’s dynamic is now, Molly isn’t at all happy about it since she doesn’t approve of their friendship and it means that she’s spending less solo time with her very busy friend. She also found that her efforts to get Andrew to open up rather than just having sex or going out all the time backfired, with him leaving because she made everything into an issue. Issa’s arrangement is much more casual, but it does seem like it’s not particularly working for her. I enjoyed her analysis of how what they were doing was uncomfortable, but good uncomfortable, and her skill in finding the condom with a mirror. Needing to press his “booty button” was definitely a bit much, and that’s just not what she needs or wants right now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

What I’m Watching: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist: Season 1, Episode 10 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Outburst” (B)

It was strange to have a week off in the middle of what, since this show’s second episode, has been an otherwise completely uninterrupted run. This episode followed in the trend of three consecutive hours dealing with something even more unusual than just Zoey hearing the people in her life perform songs all the time, allowing her to truly express herself with pent-up anger boiling over for the first time. Max siding with his sixth floor team over his old group was a huge blow, and it did seem like Zoey was making it much more about her than about the fact that he really hadn’t been valued and appreciated. The face-off musical number was a good use of a lot of talent and choreography, and certainly felt more natural than Mo’s forced dance party designed to get Zoey and Simon to release the energy that they were using to scream at each other and wake up the entire neighborhood. Simon understandably didn’t want to get hot and heavy after Zoey had run off the night before, and I actually think their relationship could stand a chance if she tries to check the hurtful things she wants to say and instead try to productively help and relate to him. It was sweet that Zoey worked hard with her family to provide a romantic dinner for her parents on their anniversary, especially given that this may be one of the last memories they’ll be able to make together. Joan is definitely going to regret so callously dumping Leif, though his jumping ship is much more complicated now that they’ve had a romantic relationship.

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 3, Episode 6 “Decoherence” (B+)

It’s so fascinating how different each hour of this show can be, bringing back characters only every couple episodes as the massively interesting narrative of this season continues to play itself out. I’m glad that Maeve is not in fact dead and that her body has now been reconstructed thanks to Serac, though it’s hard to know who’s winning the war right now. Controlling all the soldiers and making them put their guns down before challenging them to come at her showed that she was ready for a fight, and getting Serac to bring Hector back for her demonstrated that she knows how to win. Unfortunately, this all happened while Charlotte was in the middle of her last act as the mole before Serac told her that he had known it was her the whole time. The notion that this created Charlotte gave herself away because she cared more about her family than the real Charlotte would have is incredible. She went into full host mode when she needed to make her escape, and just a moment after I thought how unnecessarily stylish she was trying to be, she used her coat to her advantage in hand-to-hand combat. With the assistance of that giant robot, Charlotte made her escape, but she couldn’t deliver on her promise to keep her family safe, emerging completely burnt from the car wreck. William’s group therapy in which he beat his past selves to death was pretty terrifying, and I’m intrigued to see what Bernard and Ashley are going to do now that they’ve found someone who absolutely wants to see Dolores stopped.

What I’m Watching: Killing Eve

Killing Eve: Season 3, Episode 2 “Management Sucks” (B+)

This show certainly has its own style, and you could never fault it for being uncreative. One of the things I like most about it is the relationship between Konstantin and Carolyn, who have been friends for so long even though they’re not always on the same side of the law and work for different organizations. I was excited to recognize Gemma Whelan from “Game of Thrones” as Geradline, Kenny’s sister, who was delighted when she realized who Konstantin was, first at the funeral and then again when she ran into him on the street. Carolyn wanted to present a polished front, even while she was mourning, and her early return to work didn’t go so smoothly. Eve was a mess, showing up drunk to the funeral and then making a scene when Carolyn just wanted to talk. Trying to guess Kenny’s phone password led to an unexpected invitation from Kenny’s colleague Bear and his boss Jamie, which in turn led to her showing up to Carolyn’s home, where the bugged magnet made it so that their conversation was not at all private. I wasn’t so sure about the idea of Villanelle being a handler and evaluator, but her quick takedown of nineteen-year-old Felix and her recommendation that he sustain his eagerness for travel by demanding first class tickets upfront was actually quite sympathetic. Their clown operation didn’t go as planned, however, and she likely failed her first big management test by executing her trainee. After Konstantin humorously remarked that having a new handler every time is like needing to explain all the same information to a new doctor before each check-up, his casual revelation to an unhappy Villanelle that Eve was still alive is sure to shake up whatever minor calm has existed so far this season.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Take Three: Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark: Season 1, Episode 3 “Sting Like a Bee” (B)

This was a perfectly adequate episode, but also the last one I’ll be watching right now since this show just isn’t at the top of my watchlist right now. I still think that Brooklynn Prince is excellent and that this is absolutely the right role for her, and the narrative is also becoming more interesting as we learn more about the dark past of this town. Michael Weston is an actor who often plays affable characters but is also very well-known for his portrayal of the kidnapper who traumatized and terrorized Michael C. Hall’s David on “Six Feet Under.” Frank seemed friendly enough as he took care of Matt’s father, but pulling them over after they got turned away from the prison revealed his much darker side. Matt got more drunk than he’s apparently ever been after confronting him at the bar, and when Matt realized that he had proof that Frank had lied, things turned violent as the episode closed out. Bridget may have a better understanding of her husband’s mindset now, but she doesn’t know the people the way he does. Hilde circumventing the rules to videochat with the inmate who wanted to speak with her was clever if a bit far-fetched, and him calling Kim by name as she rushed over to turn the call off was another reminder of just how small this town is. Izzy stood up for herself when her not-so-brave deserter tried to apologize, but she seemed okay with his admittedly embarrassing story about having been bitten by a poodle.

Pilot Review: #blackAF

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Better Things

Better Things: Season 4, Episode 8 “Father’s Day” (B+)

We see some of Sam’s friends every once and a while on this show, and rarely do we get to see them interact all together. This Father’s Day gathering was an interesting one, which saw them all writing out their emotions based on their experiences with problematic, if not all uniformly terrible, marriages. Chaya was a fun addition to the group as Sam’s most Jewish friend, who was upset with the inability of the others to pronounce her name. Tressa also felt like a bit of an outlier, usually seen only on the other end of a phone call giving Sam bad news that she was somehow trying to couch as something half-decent instead. Tom was not happy when he stopped by and Sam gave him the cold shoulder and he wanted to defend himself since he didn’t believe she truly had the whole story. As usual, we just saw a quick flash of Xander that was enough to indicate that he always managed to disappoint Sam. I appreciated that Frankie wanted to preserve a good image of her father while her grandmother, who freaked out at the Persian waiter after being nice to him a second earlier, just wanted to remind her of the likelihood that he wouldn’t show up for her big multicultural birthday celebration. The three sisters spending time together and telling Sam that they didn’t need her anymore prompted a humorous response from her, one which her daughters chose to ignore as just the latest of her self-deprecating antics.

What I’m Watching: Indebted (Series Finale)

Indebted: Season 1, Episode 12 “Everybody’s Talking About The Shiva” (C+)

It’s perhaps a bit too on the nose that the episode that I’m one hundred percent certain will be the last one ever produced by this show deals with death. I saw the title ahead of time and wasn’t sure if a character we had met would be the one being mourned, but in just short of a dozen episodes, this show hasn’t actually introduced many recurring players. The one it did is perhaps the most obnoxious, Richard Kind’s Doctor Uncle Artie, and his return was not very welcome at all. The focus on shiva as a social event was entertaining if not entirely accurate, though there certainly are some pressures involved in hosting and feeding those visiting during a vulnerable time. Deb passing the torch to Rebecca felt unrealistic since she always loves being the center of attention, and evidently the newfangled ideas she and Dave like to come up with have rubbed Deb, Stew, and Artie the wrong way multiple times in the past. Kugel empanadas and shiva selfies were particularly wild notions Rebecca was excited to introduce, and it’s no wonder a rival shiva started in the extremely decked-out basement we got to see for the first time. Artie offering Deb and Stew the Florida house only to be convinced by Rebecca to keep it was pretty much just a way of keeping the door open for a second season, one which I’m still sure will never come. Joanna, who had a list of qualifications for her future girlfriend, went hard at the bartender, who naturally turned out to be a cousin that for some reason she had never met or didn’t recognize. I was amused because I knew actress Kate Berlant from her scene-stealing performance in the film “Safe Spaces” as Fran Drescher’s daughter, a fact that ended up being funnier when the two characters ended up once again being related here. This show started out fine and plummeted fast, a sign of the times that old-fashioned sitcoms need to be a little more creative if they’re going to be worthwhile.

Season grade: C+
Season MVP: Adam Pally as Dave and Abby Elliott as Rebecca

Sunday, April 19, 2020

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace (Penultimate Episode)

Will and Grace: Season 11, Episode 17 “New Crib” (B-)

This episode was moderately entertaining, but it was very obviously a setup for all of the characters to move out of New York City and be able to move to a small town that now happens to be named after one of them. I do totally believe that Grace would be well-versed in showing up to open houses for the free food and, now that she’s pregnant, to be able to use the bathroom. I’d think that Will would be used to it by now, and that he wouldn’t have to resort to theater games to keep things interesting. Yvette Nicole Brown from “Community” had fun with her part of the realtor who knew exactly what they were up to and managed to get herself an offer for the house from two people who weren’t actually looking. Jack getting his hands stuck in the mold after being recognized was funny if predictable, and while I was happy to recognize actress Sarah Baker from “Louie” and “The Kominsky Method,” the guest spot was hardly worthy of her talents. It’s always a treat to see Patton Oswalt, and he milked the Danley role for all he could. Karen renaming the town after herself was the greatest tribute she could get, and having all four of them relocate there isn’t such a terrible ending. These three extra years have been fine, and I’d love to see a finale that ties them all together and sends this show back into history in a great way.

What I'm Watching: Liar

Liar: Season 2, Episode 2 (B+)

As if her behavior in the first episode wasn’t callous and invasive enough in the opening hour of this season, DI Renton demonstrated the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to manipulate Laura into feeling completely off and spiraling towards what she expects will be a full confession. Making sure to show her the photo of Ian was heartless, and keeping her overnight in jail and then leaking her arrest to the press so that they’d be waiting outside and wouldn’t permit her to escape surveillance was just unkind. Ian being arrested for helping Laura to dispose of Andrew’s body was a disconcerting development, and the fact that he was exonerated doesn’t help since the way Laura started to feel about him was enough to convince him that they needed to take a break. She’s losing all of her allies and being driven insane by all these things, and she’s not the only one. Winnie is not doing well, and, once again, Andrew continues to affect those he has traumatized long after his death. Watching him freak out and go to the hospital to see his son in the flashback was disturbing, mainly because he expressed such anger at Laura for ruining his life as he constructed a narrative where destroying the tapes would somehow absolve him of all his crimes. She barely had a role, but I was excited to recognize Sian Clifford from “Fleabag” as Laura’s lawyer! I’d hope she’ll be back, though obviously this is a completely different kind of part for her that can’t possibly use her talents the same way.

What I’m Watching: Brockmire

Brockmire: Season 4, Episode 5 “Double Header” (B+)

This episode presented a chance for two of this show’s best characters to spend a lot of time together and wreak some serious havoc on the now far more calm and presentable Jim Brockmire. I was disappointed that we hadn’t seen Beth since her second appearance in episode two, and she stormed onto the scene here happy to see Lucy, who she’s developed a great relationship with over the years thanks to her father’s lack of awareness about the female body, and not even remotely interested in getting to know Jules. Brockmire telling Jules that she needed to get Beth’s sign-off on their relationship led to Jules trying pretty hard to win her over, something that went extremely poorly. Beth calling her a washed-up alcoholic who blew up a magician and Jules responding in kind actually came before a major breakthrough thanks to their shared love of drinking alcohol on the toilet. Jules got the whole thing going in a big way when she harshly judged Beth for her drink choices, which of course resulted in her getting way too drunk. Brockmire taught her many things about life but was most concerned with her potential alcoholism, and he wasn’t happy at all when she came home wearing fake breasts over her shirt. He and Jules aren’t necessarily meant for an easy and simple relationship, but they’ve each somehow managed to survive this long somehow. I hope we get to see more of both Jules and Beth over the course of the final three episodes.

Pilot Review: Outer Banks

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Take Three: Mrs. America

Mrs. America: Season 1, Episode 3 “Shirley” (B+)

Casting is key to this show, and we saw yet another instance of that with the latest prominently featured character in this episode. Uzo Aduba is most famous for playing Suzanne Warren, better known on Crazy Eyes, a role that won her two Emmy Awards, on “Orange is the New Black.” Her voice is distinct and recognizable, but she definitely manages to become a different person here as the trail-blazing Shirley Chisholm. Her presence was important in highlighting yet another divisive issue of the feminist movement, which is the intersection of gender and race, with black men feeling like she’s more interested in women’s issues and white women trying to make too many concessions to the mainstream. She held on for a while in her fight to remain on the ballot and in the race against McGovern, and she was clearly disheartened by the waning support she felt from those around her. Gloria had an opportunity to completely lose it when her carefully-arranged compromise felt apart at the last minute, an unsurprising if still agonizing development. Jill Ruckelshaus isn’t the only outlier on this show, as Phyllis and Alice discovered that the sentiments of racism and white supremacy spewed by one of their allies threatened to take their entire cause far too much to the right. Alice wasn’t willing to let it go, and Phyllis masterfully came up with a clever fix that may not change minds but at least makes it so that their platform isn’t subject to personal tweaking by any of its representatives.

Round Two: Mrs. America

Mrs. America: Season 1, Episode 2 “Gloria” (B+)

I’m making an effort to watch all three of the first episodes of this show right away, since I always find it overwhelming to stay up-to-date with Hulu’s offerings when they launch with three episodes at once and then pale down to one a week. This episode was a strong follow-up to the first, retaining the focus on Phyllis and her conservative world while spending a good deal of time with its new protagonist, Gloria Steinem. My issue with the first episode was less prominent here since Phyllis didn’t encounter as much sexism from her own peers, and instead got confronted both by a journalist and by some of her ideological rivals about whether she understood constitutional law and could back up what she was saying, namely her claim that the ERA would lead to unisex bathrooms and women being drafted to the military. Her husband’s advice was appropriate, that she never wanted to present an argument that was objectively and verifiably false, and that’s led to a modern-day sentiment of making statements with no supporting evidence that nonetheless can’t be outright refuted. Elizabeth Banks’ Jill Ruckelshaus is another intriguing figure, representing a subset of the women’s rights movement that doesn’t share the majority’s overly liberal sensibilities. The spotlight on Gloria was interesting, though I experienced much of what happened here in a film that premiered at Sundance, “The Glorias,” which had four different actresses playing the famed icon. I like the casting of Rose Byrne in the role here, and was also happy to see Jay Ellis from “Insecure” as her boyfriend Franklin Thomas. I’m pleased with the storytelling style here and will continue watching this historical narrative.

Pilot Review: Mrs. America

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere: Season 1, Episode 5 “Duo” (B+)

I was completely right about Lexie being pregnant, but I didn’t see things going down like this. Calling Pearl to ask her to come be with her for the abortion felt like a perfectly acceptable thing to do, until Pearl heard her own name called so that Lexie could protect her reputation and sacrifice that of someone she felt mattered less. Lexie collapsed into Mia’s arms when she arrived at her house, but she got a stern life lesson handed to her when Mia chipped away at her entitled behavior. Lexie walking out of the Warren house came at the worst possible time since the unexplained event served to alienate another member of the Richardson family who was actually interested in the Warrens for who they were, and that’s budding pyromaniac Izzy, who we know will end up hating her own family more than she hates anyone else. The custody case has gotten intense, and Linda was understandably furious at Elena for not sharing the crucial information that Mia was connected to Bebe. Elena driving to New York to learn more about Mia’s past and reconnect with an old flame was a real escape from reality, and it ended much in the same way that her daughter’s stay at Mia’s home did, with a brutal takedown from Jamie about how highly she thought of herself. Getting awoken while asleep in her car and told by the police officer that she wasn’t parked in a very safe area was an emphatic way to once again highlight the difference in how people are treated simply by the color of their skin.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What I’m Watching: Breeders

Breeders: Season 1, Episode 8 “No Honeymoon” (B+)

There was no reason to expect that the wedding planning process for this couple would be a normal festive affair. Ally was particularly checked out while they were visiting a wedding venue, and her assertion that Paul should go look at one she had already found by himself because she already knew she liked it didn’t go over too well with him. It’s not as if Leah was very helpful by constantly reminding Paul of her affinity for Ally’s first wedding and first husband, and Paul’s parents didn’t do much good either. Ally being offered a crazy bonus to take on a new project that would have her spending most of the week away from home was an alluring but problematic notion, one that Paul came around to after realizing that it was a crucial step in their relationship even if it meant the wedding wasn’t going to be anything all that glamorous or special. The parenting antics that continue to plague them are entertaining, and the fact that a kid named Bear was having an eco-friendly party where Paul had to be guilted into pretending to have walked there was funny enough on its own. Luke confessing that he had taken to pinching the slowest of his bullies when they all ran away from him had Paul giving him a bit too much credit with creativity. Spitting because it didn’t involve touching was a humorous follow-up, but Paul put that to rest by threatening to burn all of Luke’s toys if he kept upsetting other kids.

What I’m Watching: Dispatches from Elsewhere

Dispatches from Elsewhere: Season 1, Episode 8 “Lee” (B)

Enough though we now know that Octavio isn’t actually who he purported to be and doesn’t have that accent, a new narrator feels considerably less enticing. Seeing the various twins interviewing for the roles was a fun flashback, and I did enjoy hearing his reaction to noticing Fredwynn climb into the trunk, something Lee was much more prepared to deal with as she changed the script for the big show. Analyzing whether she’s the villain is an intriguing narrative, but when Octavio was no longer the one updating us on what everyone was doing at the end of the episode, I felt like some of the original excitement and mystery had been lost. The waitress telling them that it’s been a trip eavesdropping on them and that she’ll miss them both delighted and spooked Peter, since he wasn’t ready to let this adventure be done just yet. It was wonderful seeing Peter and Simone both dressed so nicely and attempting to enjoy their first date, and Peter’s comment about not having had to talk about himself in a long time reminded me once again that he’s a fascinating character who deserves to be explored more. Simone sharing her unending burden of worrying about being mocked or attacked because she’s trans didn’t faze Peter, but he still can’t relate to her experience, which is going to be an obstacle in their budding relationship. Despite choosing questionable conversation topics like subliminal advertising, Fredwynn was sweet to rush to the hospital to help Janice care for Lev. I also liked how he noted that he “enjoyed the event” that was his funeral and chose an abrupt moment to share the files rather than waiting for an organic segue to present itself. Apparently he’s closer to figuring out the truth than ever before as we head back down the rabbit hole for the final two episodes of this limited series.

Pilot Review: The Baker and the Beauty

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What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul: Season 5, Episode 9 “Bad Choice Road” (B+)

As if Jimmy’s ordeal in the desert wasn’t harrowing enough, the final extended scene of this episode was even more intense. We know that Jimmy survives long enough to appear in “Breaking Bad,” a time period that’s not all that far away now, but we don’t know anything about Kim’s fate, and it was looking like she might not survive this hour. If there’s any question that Rhea Seehorn has been Emmy-worthy in the past, this episode should put that rest. Lalo was so casual with Jimmy when he showed up extremely sunburnt with the $7 million in cash, and then when he was about to be out of the picture for good, he realized that something about Jimmy’s story didn’t add up. Mike calling him while driving fast to tell him to put the phone down somewhere it wouldn’t be seen made the stakes clear, and Kim standing up to Lalo when she knew that Jimmy hadn’t been truthful with her was incredibly bold and potentially foolish. Yet somehow she convinced him, which was astounding after she took charge of her life and quit her high-profile job while Jimmy, who made $100,000 for his traumatizing endeavor, wasn’t even as courageous as her. It’s going to be hard for Jimmy to get past this, especially since his Saul Goodman and Jimmy McGill lives have now come dangerously close together. It’s hard to know what the finale of this penultimate season will entail, but what an incredible and superb ride it’s been.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What I’m Watching: The Plot Against America (Penultimate Episode)

The Plot Against America: Season 1, Episode 5 “Part 5” (B+)

One of the reasons this show – and its underlying story – is so effective is that it portrays the subtle steps taken by the United States government on a mass scale and the characters we know on a more intimate one to relocate the Jewish population against their will. Herman getting a transfer order along with a number of other Jewish employees at his company demonstrated how that was happening, and it was much more worrisome to see Seldon and his mother shipping off to Kentucky also when Philip came to Evelyn asking why his friend couldn’t be sent there instead. Herman typifies the sentiment expressed by many Jews in Europe during the Holocaust who didn’t leave even when signs of Nazi invasion were imminent, and everyone around him, including Bess, believe they have to get to Canada before it’s too late. Rabbi Bengelsdorf still believed that he was doing the right thing, keeping Herman off the FBI watch list by sending him away, but he got a rude awakening to the value of his input when Secretary Ford scoffed at the idea of paying someone more to do the same job when they weren’t being given any choice in their relocation. The rabbi didn’t seem bothered at all when he was confronted by synagogue leadership at his own wedding about congregants leaving because of his political activism, and he was happy to get presidential candidate Walter Winchell fired when he spoke against him. After efforts with Josh Pais’ lawyer failed for Herman, his presence at the rally that turned violent was deeply disconcerting. As Evelyn believes even more strongly in the rightness of what she’s doing, Bess summed up a seemingly forgotten issue best with her sincere question about whether there was even a synagogue in Danville, Kentucky.

Pilot Review: Paradise Lost

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Pilot Review: Run

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

What I’m Watching: Black Monday (Mid-Season Finale)

Black Monday: Season 2, Episode 6 “Arthur Ponzarelli” (B+)

This is the last episode of this show we’ll see for a while since production hasn’t been completed on the final four episodes, and so Showtime decided to cut this show down from two episodes a week to just one and end it now until it can somehow resume filming. I had read in the press release that this would come at a natural break in the story, and that’s definitely true: the stage has been set as it would typically be at the end of a season for Mo and Keith to stage their own takedowns of Dawn and Blair with all four of them having different motivations and goals. After all of this and what she did to him, Mo still cares about Dawn and wants to make sure she’s protected, and he was genuinely disappointed that she took the money from Dulé Hill’s Marcus since it might implicate her in criminal activities down the road. He also followed Blair and either purposely or unintentionally misconstrued Blair’s affair with Roger as something much more illicit than it was, which he’ll use to pin all of the blame on him. Keith had no trouble getting his job back by blackmailing Blair, and he’s getting quite close to the man who got him out of prison, who may be felled by his jealous recovering brother. I did enjoy that both Blair and Mo stole successive cabs from a woman who thought they were helping her into the car, a feat Keith tried to pull off too but didn’t manage to execute. I’ve enjoyed this first half and a bit, and I look forward to this show’s return for the rest of the season, whenever that may be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

What I’m Watching: Insecure (Season Premiere)

Insecure: Season 4, Episode 1 “Lowkey Feelin’ Myself” (B+)

I’m thrilled that this show is back, especially since it’s been a while. Its last season ended way back in September 2018, and so it’s good to see it again, just as fresh and entertaining as ever. Opening with the news that Issa and Molly may not be talking anymore was jarring, and it didn’t take long to figure out why that was, with a thoughtless but loaded statement from Molly at the end likely leading to the fission of their relationship. The casual revelation from Tiffany that Condola and Lawrence were dating caught both Condola and Issa off-guard. Issa wasn’t doing so bad herself, enjoying an apparently pleasant and noncommittal romance with Calvin the TSA agent. She had enough to deal with as her tenants tried to rebel before and during her event, turning into a far less fancy affair than was needed to win over her prospective supporters. Fortunately, Issa did spectacularly when she took the event and made an honest appeal, and I loved the comment that Kelli made about finally knowing what Issa did. Molly was thrown by Andrew admitting that he was dating other people, and that got in her head in a huge way. She was extremely judgmental about Issa continuing to work with Condola, and she didn’t even realize how what she said came off. Condola, for her part, made her decision, one which shouldn’t actually cause as much friction between her and Issa as the initial news of this unfortunate turn of events did.

What I’m Watching: Killing Eve (Season Premiere)

Killing Eve: Season 3, Episode 1 “Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey” (B)

In the time since this show aired its second season and performed very well with Emmy nominations, leading to an extremely exciting surprise Emmy win for Jodie Comer over my prediction of Sandra Oh, I had forgotten that I’m still not completely into it. It has some great elements, namely Comer, but overall it’s still wildly irreverent. I’m not sure what we were supposed to make of Villanelle getting married at the start of the episode since that seemed like a highly public event which would surely leave many, many witnesses, even though it wasn’t even clear whether it was a long con for a purpose or just to entertain herself. I was pleased to see the addition of actress Harriet Walter, who is also starring in “Belgravia,” which happens to air the same exact time as this show, and her character seems like a very logical inspiration for the person Villanelle became. As we saw each of the main characters separately, this episode took a bit of time to get started and really explain what’s going on at the moment. Villanelle posing as a delivery woman and moving the ladder to kill her latest target kicked it into gear, but then it all came crashing down in a brutal way. Kenny is one of the only truly nice people we’ve come to know in this world, and to see him get thrown off a roof after he was there for Eve after she’s completely changed her life was devastating. Villanelle may not have been the one who killed him since she thinks Eve is dead, but it’s not going to lead to good things no matter who it was.

What I’m Watching: Westworld

Westworld: Season 3, Episode 5 “Genre” (B+)

I’m loving the very sleek version of the future that this season continues to feature, though it’s absolutely a departure from the more mechanical settings we saw in the first two seasons that served primarily to design worlds built to look like the past. I kept wondering whether we were going to discover that Serac’s brother was someone we had met before, but that’s not at all where this episode was headed. Instead, it was a parallel narrative to the one we know about what was happening with Westworld, which was the gradual collection of data to be able to analyze the human race. Serac was building something to predict the future, and this informative flashback-heavy hour was fascinating. Killing the elder Dempsey was something he knew he was going to do, and he’s just another casualty in the quest for more power on this show. Recognizing Bernard’s purpose just as Ashley arrived to save him, Martin sacrificed himself to weaken Serac at just the right moment when Dolores pressed the button to reveal to everyone what their destinies were as calculated by the machine. Ash being the one to kill Liam was significant because she may not have had a greater purpose, while Caleb is just as lost as any host desperately trying to figure out what’s real. Caleb’s genre trip was quite disorienting, and I don’t know if he has any idea what to make of Dolores stepping in front of him to take a few bullets and save his life. Serac is definitely a formidable foe for Dolores, complete with an extremely fancy watch and plane that, like Westworld, make him seem much more protected than he actually is.

Pilot Review: Belgravia

Check out my one-minute take on every new pilot, which is embedded below and you can also watch by subscribing to movieswithabe on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Round Two: Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark: Season 1, Episode 2 “Never Be the Same” (B)

I’m wary of picking up new shows simply because they’re an investment, and that’s doubly true of streaming series since they drop all their episodes at once, which makes me immediately way behind. But I found this pilot to be very strong, and I’m very happy that “The Florida Project” star Brooklynn Prince is doing something like this as the next step of her career. This show definitely has an air of very serious mystery to it that suggests it’s made for adults rather than an audience of preteens that might enjoy seeing their peers on screen. Much is played for laughs, like the principal falling asleep while supervising detention, but then it gets brought back to the real threat of adults coming after these kids and putting their lives in danger. And it’s not just Hilde – Izzy got up to her own misadventures in the woods and got to come home flaunting her parents’ concern for her safety. Unsurprisingly, Matt wasn’t entirely forthcoming with his family about why he left home, and Bridget got to experience the implications of that as she saw the entire town shut her out along with her youngest child. Kim showing up and being addressed by her first name by Matt eliminated one suspect, but I doubt she’ll be an ally just yet. I couldn’t peg who her portrayer was in the first episode, and now that I know that it’s Joelle Carter from “Justified,” I wish it was a slightly better role for her. I’ll continue watching this show for a bit, but I’m not sure I’ll stick with it through the end of the season.

What I’m Watching: Better Things

Better Things: Season 4, Episode 7 “High Man. Bye Man.” (B+)

There are many plotlines this show only rarely addresses, and Sam’s family is one of them. We see her mother and daughters all the time, but we haven’t spent much time recently with her brother Marion. Greeting his sister as Samuel was actually the most natural and least awkward part of the whole encounter at their lavish LA home. Marion telling Caroline that her work didn’t actually bring her there and correcting the way she was tapping on the glass to call for a toast were signs of their fractured marriage, and Phyl made things infinitely worse by insulting her fancy international cheese and requesting a “blood” picture that meant that only Caroline had to get up and leave. Sam expressed genuine concern for her brother and he responded with a biting comment about how some people actually try to stay and make things work, to which she lobbed back an accusation that everything he said sounded like it was coming out of Caroline’s mouth. It was fitting that the rest of the episode would find Sam freaking out after a trip to the dispensary, forcing her daughters to all go to the bathroom together because she didn’t want to be apart from any of them. Aside from Duke calling her hypocritical and irresponsible, there was one sweet moment of seriousness in there with Frankie telling Sam – through a pillow – that she had lost her virginity just to get it over with, something that was properly transferred in the best way possible given Sam’s likely sober reaction.

What I’m Watching: Indebted (Penultimate Episode)

Indebted: Season 1, Episode 11 “Everybody's Talking About Kings And Queens” (C)

This show hasn’t been officially cancelled, but I’m presuming that, in an era where even successful and well-regarded shows now have uncertain futures, this one definitely won’t be back. This episode was indicative of why the show really isn’t worth keeping around, since the actors seem to be having fun but the plot is definitely lacking. I had a feeling that Susie Pollock hadn’t actually died, but the way in which Deb speaks is an incredible exaggeration of the real-life tendency of many people to start telling stories about someone in an accident or in the hospital without leading with the crucial disclaimer that they made it through okay. Deb’s decision to become a life coach after a forty-five-minute class was something that even she should have realized wouldn’t make any sense, and it’s hard to believe that both Dave and Rebecca opted to listen to her. She’s also perfectly capable of convincing people to do things they’re not sure they should, and hasn’t needed the assistance of alcohol in the past to do so. Stew’s antics at Joanna’s pet supplies store were equally far-fetched, in part because he was coming up with ideas for preexisting toys and gadgets that were literally on the walls in front of him and because it was already very recently established that Deb and Stew are very similar and would do better to just talk to each other when they’re feeling antsy about the future. There’s just one episode left – will it redeem the show?

What I’m Watching: Will and Grace

Will and Grace: Season 11, Episode 16 “We Love Lucy” (B+)

Overall, this tribute episode was funny, even if some of its execution and the framing device were relatively clunky. I watched this half-hour with my wife and her parents, who are diehard fans of “I Love Lucy” and were thrilled to see this humorous callback to some of the most entertaining moments from that series. My wife was sure that Debra Messing was just dubbing Lucille Ball’s in the vitameatavegamin scene, while my mother-in-law insisted that the other actors were taken from the original 1952 episode. Neither of those things were true, and that first effort was a solid shot-for-shot imitation, while having Karen and Jack be Lucy in the successive scenes were clearly played for more absurd comedy. I think Messing was the inarguable MVP of the episode, impressing first as Lucy, then as Fred, and finally as Sean Hayes’ scene partner in the chocolate conveyor belt sketch. Eric McCormack was also great as Ricky, though he basically just put on an accent and played the scene the same way three times in a row opposite different Lucys. Will’s summary of what parts of Lucy’s personality and her dynamic with Ricky that each of them fulfilled was sweet if expected, and this comedy tribute was a decent diversion right before the show signs off for good this time with just two episodes to go, plus a retrospective clip show special that will air right after the series finale on April 23rd. It’s been an enjoyable return, and let’s hope for a proper and sentimental sendoff.

Monday, April 13, 2020

What I’m Watching: Liar (Season Premiere)

Liar: Season 2, Episode 1 (B+)

It’s been two and a half years since this show last aired, which is a long time. Since the first season wrapped, I had the opportunity to meet lead actress Joanne Froggatt at an awards screening for the “Downton Abbey” movie in Los Angeles. I mentioned how great she was on this show, and I’m glad that it’s finally returned. The finale was a good episode but I remember being worried about what it would mean for this season, since this show has always been at its strongest investigating the truth of what actually happened rather than trying to keep us guessing with flash-forward teases. Andrew being dead at the start seemed like a strong jumping-off point, but instead this episode smartly opened with the first meeting between these two characters, long before they ever went on a date, and included a good deal of Andrew’s big escape that happened as soon as the police were officially on to him. Laura appeared to be happy in her new relationship, and after DI Harmon’s reporting and her arrest, she was right to describe Andrew as being dead and still playing games with her. DI Renton is quite the personality, and she isn’t interested in giving Laura any leeway even after what she’s been through and with DS Maxwell urging her not to take such an aggressive approach. The final scene with Andrew and Laura pleasantly going their separate ways was a fitting way to close, with each of them having no idea just how much they’ll be in each other’s lives.

What I’m Watching: Brockmire

Brockmire: Season 4, Episode 4 “Comeback Player of the Year” (B+)

Jules is back, and though she’s considerably more cocaine-dependent and crazed than usual, she knows exactly how to accomplish her goals. That was evidenced most not in her rehabilitation of baseball as something popular but in her stealing of the cake towards the end of the episode to facilitate the HR representative’s exit from her office. But her plan to con all of the baseball team owners into selling their teams was brilliant, and Chief Whitehorse announcing the renaming of the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Colonizers was just the tip of the iceberg. Though we only experienced it in quick flashback bursts, it was great to see Brockmire go full Brockmire for the first time in a while, detailing the extent of deplorable and illegal activities practiced by the owners before literally urinating on one of the owners to drive home his point. At first, I thought that the owner meeting was a bit excessive – which it inarguably was – but putting it all in the context of a not-so-unimaginable distant future made perfect sense. I love that Limone is such a source of intellectual aggravation for everyone, and that Jules got called out for choosing to wear a baseball cap while storming off to declare her love for Brockmire that Limone had helped her to realize had once again returned. Things could have been simple, but never on this show, which made Lucy opening the door to recognize what was happening and reveal that she had just had casual sex with her ex-husband all the more fantastic, even if it doesn’t mean great things for the future of the romance that’s almost as central to this show as baseball is.

What I’m Watching: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Spider Web” (B+)

This show just got a whole lot more intense. To date, Kerry Washington has been the one giving the most intense performance as Mia, but that scene where Elena showed up at the restaurant and saw Bebe was a formidable showcase for Reese Witherspoon, whose death stare was ferocious and piercing. The fact that Mia went back to the house that day and worked as if nothing was wrong was bold, and they both seemed to agree on only one thing, which was that their work arrangement was done. Mia got the money she needed and a lawyer who can actually make things happen, as evidenced by the news coverage that framed the situation in a way that is very sympathetic to Bebe, highlighting Linda and Mark’s trying to pay her off – at Elena’s suggestion – as highly deplorable. It’s complicated, and Pearl has come to a place where she doesn’t even agree with her mother anymore, prompting extraordinary conflict between them that will also surely manifest when Elena and Bill realize that their daughter has been spending almost all her free time working with Mia, whose latest project is quite unsettling. It was difficult to watch Pearl pursue Trip romantically rather than Moody, and he experienced his crisis of conscience a bit too late to be considered noble. No one in either of these families is going to be talking to each other soon, and that fire that opened the show is just going to be the largest manifestation of all this terrible tension.

What I’m Watching: Breeders

Breeders: Season 1, Episode 7 “No Exit” (B+)

I was going to start this review by noting that we’re past focusing on Ally mourning her father, but then I realized that his death did still pop up in two major ways. Giving Ally a ring that used to belong to him was very sentimental and far more touching than his disastrous environmentally-friendly first effort, and the arrival of sympathy flowers from Liam with an accompanying reference to a poem were the last straw in Paul’s miserable attempt to get his family to the park so that he could go through with his carefully-planned proposal. I appreciated the flashbacks to the first time he did it, which elicited a laugh and a lack of commitment from Ally. His father telling him he’d give him a hug if they were different people was his own form of lukewarm support, and his need to use the facilities prevented him from exercising any discretion with what Paul was trying to tell him. I enjoyed just how angry Paul got at Ally wanting to start the laundry before they left, and how she responded to his aggression by defiantly starting a second load. Showing up to the park with an umbrella to accept his proposal without actually saying the words was sweet, and I like that a moment like that could be so subtle and simple on this show. I know that awards attention is too much to hope for, but how cool and deserved would it be if these two stars or this show earned some accolades?