What I Watched This Week: 2 Dec 2018

The Good Place – “Janet(s)” (A)
Season 3 saved it best and biggest twist for its fall finale, taking huge storytelling risks along the way. It’s built to this all season long, and it absolutely stuck the landing. Stephen Merchant is perfect as the Accountant, but D’Arcy Carden proves once again she should be an Emmy nominee. This is her highlight reel.

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What I Watched This Week: 25 Nov 2018

This Is Us – “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning” (B+)
Takes a lot of big swings with a few misses. The reveal that Nicky is still alive seems more obvious in retrospect, but holds a lot of potential. Not excited for the possibility that Beth and Randall will split up (that’s hinted at but not explicitly stated), because it might mean love is dead? And how is Kate not aware that you need a college degree to be a teacher?

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Streaming Picks: December 2018

Top Picks
Blue Velvet – Hulu 12/1
Roma – Netflix 12/14
Hereditary – Prime 12/27
Netflix and Prime are getting two of the best movies of the year, while Hulu has what’s probably my favorite David Lynch movie. Roma is Alfonso Cuarón’s latest masterwork: a personal portrait of growing up in Mexico City in the early ’70s. Shot in lush black-and-white, it’s one of the most beautiful and devastating films of 2018. Hereditary is the harrowing debut of Ari Aster, though it’s proven to be divisive among both horror fans and cinephiles. I consider myself an unabashed fan of its carefully composed shots and unhinged performance from Toni Collette. To say anything more would be to give its best twists away. And if you still want some more disturbing domestic horror, check out Blue Velvet, featuring peak work from Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini.

Recent Selections
Urban Country – Hulu 12/3
Before I Fall – Prime 12/8
Collide – Prime 12/8
Say You Will – Hulu 12/11
NASA: Above and Beyond – Hulu 12/13
Nico, 1988 – Hulu 12/13
Along Came the Devil – Hulu 12/15
Damsel – Hulu 12/17
The Gardener – Hulu 12/18
Winter Ridge – Hulu 12/18
Skate Kitchen – Hulu 12/20
Life Itself – Prime 12/21
The Devil’s Doorway – Hulu 12/22
An American in Texas – Hulu 12/25
Avengers: Infinity War – Netflix 12/25
Eating Animals – Hulu 12/29
Far from the Tree – Hulu 12/29
The Autopsy of Jane Doe – Netflix 12/30
The Crooked Somebody – Hulu 12/31

Battle – Netflix 12/1
Crossroads: One Two Jaga – Netflix 12/1
5 Star Christmas – Netflix 12/7
Dumplin’ – Netflix 12/7
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle – Netflix 12/7
Bad Seeds – Netflix 12/21
Bird Box – Netflix 12/21
Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski – Netflix 12/21
La noche de 12 años – Netflix 12/28
When Angels Sleep – Netflix 12/28
Watership Down – Netflix 12/25

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What I Watched This Week: 18 Nov 2018

Saturday Night Live – “Steve Carell/Ella Mai” (B+)
None of the sketches were truly great, but all none of them made me wish for a quick death, which counts as an improvement. Carell is a pro, but I’m not sure if any of these sketches truly spotlighted his gifts. Yet I was thoroughly amused the entire time.

This Is Us – “Six Thanksgivings” (B)
Well, it’s right there in the title. With six stories, it all feels too disjointed to really work. Three would have been a bit better, but none are actually bad.

This Is Us – “Sometimes” (A-)
A strong contender for the best episode of the season, as a lot gets revealed without going too far over-the-top.

The Good Place – “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” (B+)
Still not sure how I feel about that fight sequence, but Michael McKean is excellent as an older version of the wise prophet Doug Forcett. And the show leaps into yet another mysterious place after spending much of the season on earth. Can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Bodyguard – Season 1 (A- average)
It was a hit because it was so thrilling for six straight episodes. But it’s one of the best shows of the year because it’s deeply cynical, yet holds onto just a shred of optimism that people can be honest and trustworthy. Exceptional television.

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Oscar Picks: 15 Nov 2018

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
The Favourite
First Man
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Falling off: None
Rising star: Black Panther
The skinny: Though Green Book will come on strong after its Thanksgiving opening, right now it’s A Star Is Born that’s firmly in the lead. (Though to be fair, only it and First Man have opened.) With close to $200 million in domestic gross, strong critical support and the added benefit of being “the kind of movie they don’t make anymore,” it’s the one to beat. I’m still skeptical on Black Panther‘s chances. Yes, the demographics are changing. Yes, Logan got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination last year. But that and more than a billion dollars in box office don’t mean it’s a sure thing.

Alfonso Cuarón on the set of Roma
Damien Chazelle, First Man
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Steve McQueen, Widows

Falling off: None
Rising star: Peter Farrelly, Green Book
The skinny: Bradley Cooper’s name is already etched on the DGA’s Best First Feature Award, but winning Best Director might be a bigger challenge, at least against these heavyweights. Though Jenkins and McQueen have yet to win, right now I think it’s Cuarón who has the edge, since Roma is a labor of love, in which he served as his own DP. You’re going to hear that detail a lot. But if Green Book is as big a hit as expected, a Farrelly brother might be nominated for multiple Oscars. Did a shiver just go down your spine?

Christian Bale in Vice
Christian Bale, Vice
Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Ryan Gosling, First Man
Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased

Falling off: Timothée Chalamet (moved to supporting), Willem Dafoe
Rising star: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
The skinny: Christian Bale has completed another transformation. He and Cooper are locks, but no one else is guaranteed. This is the most competitive Best Actor race in a long time, so who knows who the other three will be. It could even be Rami Malek. He’s already an Emmy winner for Mr. Robot, and could be the lone Oscar nomination for Bohemian Rhapsody, a successful but disrespected biopic.

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Viola Davis, Widows
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Falling off: None
Rising star: Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place or Mary Poppins Returns
The skinny: I feel pretty confident in this slate, even though Paramount will make a pretty big push for A Quiet Place, which is a bit insane to me. If Emily Blunt can’t get nominated for Sicario, I don’t think she’ll get nominated for her other works this year, even if there are corollaries (Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins).

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What I Watched This Week: 4 Nov 2018

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Mac Finds His Pride” (B+) / season finale
It’s hard to know exactly how to grade this episode. Until its last act, it’s an odd mix of heartfelt character development and gross sight gags that don’t serve any purpose (and aren’t that funny). But its finale – a gorgeous, totally serious five-minute dance with Mac and an actual ballerina – is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on TV, and not just this year. It’s a finale as jaw-dropping in its sudden left turn to the profound as Blackadder‘s last-ever episode.

The Good Place – “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” (B+)
Ah, the fake clip show. Clever comedies know how to pull this off, because actual clip shows are the worst. Eleanor learns about her and Chidi’s romance during one of the reboots, which she brushes off as being pre-determined by Michael’s control of the Good Place. But it’s really to dismiss her feelings of vulnerability. It’s another emotional episode, getting to the core of why these characters are the way they are, and it’s something the show can only pull off having done so much great work leading up to this point. Plus, a new garbage state to mock: Arizona!

Homecoming – Season 1 (A- average)
Sam Esmail brings all his directorial tricks to a more complex and emotionally involving story. Julia Roberts makes her TV-star debut in an excellent drama that takes a couple episodes to get you used to its rhythms and style. But once it does, it’s an engrossing thriller that often intentionally messes with your head, leading to something familiar but totally different. (It also helped that I never listened to the podcast on which its based. I genuinely had no idea where it was headed.)

House of Cards – Season 6 (B average)
Thanks to Kevin Spacey being a horrible person, we’re denied the proper ending for this show. This delayed, abbreviated season tries to make the most of it, but even with Claire at the forefront, it dies as it lived: absurd, addictive, and never living up to its full potential.

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What I Watched This Week: 28 Oct 2018

This Is Us – “Kamsahamnida” (A-)
The sneaky great thing about this show is when it feels the most like traditional TV, where plot points occur just to fill time in an episode, is that there’s always a larger emotional point that’s they’re trying to make. And now that they’ve gotten more graceful in their metaphors, and the Big Three have more confidence, they almost all land now.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Wins the Big Game” (B-)
As comedy, this is a disappointing episode. “The World Series Defense” this is not. But as a tribute to the other dirtbags of Philadelphia, finally getting a big win, it’s almost touching.

The Good Place – “A Fractured Inheritance” (A-)
Some have called this episode disjointed, but I’ll be damned if this episode didn’t get me choked up. I really wasn’t expecting this season to reckon with the ways we’re our parents’ children – or how much our flaws are a mix of their raising and our failure to fix them.

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Streaming Picks: November 2018

Top Picks
The Adventures of Tintin – Prime 11/1
eXistenZ – Hulu 11/1
The Other Side of the Wind/They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead – Netflix 11/2
The first two are underrated gems from the well-regarded careers of Steven Spielberg and David Cronenberg, respectively. The Adventures of Tintin is sadly the only chapter in what was to be a motion-capture trilogy based on Tintin serials. It’s visually stunning, a grand adventure movie and avoids a lot of uncanny valley problems. eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s prescient dark comedy about the dangers of virtual reality and gaming, featuring great work from Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But the big deal is of course The Other Side of the Wind, an unfinished film from Orson Welles. Now it’s been restored and “finished,” or at least assembled. A new work, even a minor one, from one of the greatest directors ever is cause for celebration. Its companion documentary (They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead) is a behind-the-scenes look at the troubled production.

Recent Selections
Boo 2! A Madea Halloween – Hulu 11/1
Fair Game (Director’s Cut) – Netflix 11/1
Wonder – Hulu 11/2
Larger Than Life – Hulu 11/3
An Ordinary Man – Hulu 11/3
Under the Tree – Hulu 11/8
The Children Act – Prime 11/10
Bigfoot – Hulu 11/13
Keepers of the Magic – Hulu 11/13
Killer Bees – Hulu 11/13
The Christmas Calendar – Hulu 11/15
Dust 2 Glory – Hulu 11/15
Gotti – Prime 11/15
Luis & the Aliens – Hulu 11/15
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams – Prime 11/16
McQueen – Prime 11/17
Siberia – Prime 11/17
Aliens and Agenda 21 – Hulu 11/20
Damascus Cover – Hulu 11/21
Loving Pablo – Prime 11/21
Downsizing – Prime and Hulu 11/24
Sleepless – Prime 11/30

Angela’s Christmas – Netflix 11/1
The Holiday Calendar – Netflix 11/2
Outlaw King – Netflix 11/9
Loudon Wainwright III: Surviving Twin – Netflix 11/13
Oh My Ghost – Netflix 11/13
The Crew – Netflix 11/15
May the Devil Take You – Netflix 11/15
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Netflix 11/16
Cam – Netflix 11/16
The Princess Switch – Netflix 11/16
Sabrina – Netflix 11/20
The Christmas Chronicles – Netflix 11/22
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding – Netflix 11/30
Happy as Lazzaro – Netflix 11/30
Rajma Chawal – Netflix 11/30
The World Is Yours – Netflix 11/30
Tiempo Compartido – Netflix 11/30

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What I Watched This Week: 21 Oct 2018

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXIX” (B+)
Follows the typical set up – two mildly amusing stories and one dud – yet I found myself a lot more weak to its charms. It’s not great, but very funny. All three shorts parody popular movies, plus the weird and wonderful opening bit, where Homer defeats Cthulu in an eating contest.

This Is Us – “Toby” (B+)
An episode called “Toby” should probably focus more on him and less on the other two subplots, plus an extended flashback. Still, it featured typically exceptional work from Chris Sullivan (my pick for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series last year), and all the Pearson kids seemed to be reasonable for once!

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Charlie’s Home Alone” (B)
Funnier in its first half, which is almost beat-for-beat Home Alone. Though its second half, which comes close to parodying The Revenant, earns more points for being unrelentingly gross.

The Good Place – “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” (B+)
The perfect combination of stupid and sweet. Donkey Doug (aka Jason’s dad) sacrificing himself so Jason can escape the cops is so beautiful, especially for a show that walks such a fine line between smart and stupid.

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What I Watched This Week: 14 Oct 2018

Harvey Birdman, Attorney General (B+)
Its parody is a little too on-the-nose, yet it’s also more equipped to mock our current absurd situation than more political shows. If they want to do one of these every year or so, I’m on board.

This Is Us – “Vietnam” (A-)
A really great episode, though the fact that the confrontation doesn’t happen, and it’s just a set-up for a subplot for the rest of the season is a little frustrating. Even so, Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Angarano are doing great work, and I’m looking forward to seeing them the rest of the season.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Does a Clip Show” (B)
I’m generally against clip shows as a rule, but at least this episode does some very clever things with it. It’s not Community’s Paradigms of Human Memory (what is?), it does a lot of fun, occasionally twisted, often brilliant things with it, at least in its back half.

South Park – “Tegridy Farms” (A-)
Not the show’s sharpest satire, but easily one of the funniest episodes I’ve seen in years, up there with “Sarcastiball” and “Butters’ Bottom Bitch,” where it takes an absurd situation at the school and keeps ratcheting up the insanity until it becomes something so silly it’s sublime.

The Good Place – “Jeremy Bearimy” (A-)
The first great episode of the season, with Michael explaining what’s really going on to all of them, leading our quartet to their own breakdowns/regressions, then the realization that being good and kind and encouraging other to do act the same way *does* matter, even if it doesn’t seem like it. It’s yet another new direction for the show. Let’s see if they can pull it off.

Flight of the Conchords: Live in London (B+)
The new songs are great, and of course I loved the old songs. Wish they would have done “A Kiss Is Not a Contract,” which would have been perfect for this era we’re in, but you can’t get everything you want. Best addition: the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (aka one cellist with an afro and a surprisingly angelic voice).

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