What I Watched This Week: 16 Oct 2016

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” (B+)
Not a weak segment in the bunch, which is extremely rare for any of their Halloween specials, let alone one this late in the game. The Hunger Games/Mad Max: Fury Road parody was definitely my favorite, but the other segments had their high points too (setting a fight scene to a mellow Steely Dan track is just the kind of cognitive dissonance I can appreciate).

The Mindy Project – “Margaret Thatcher” (B+)
The most consistent start the show has ever had. The nurses’ strike ends and Mindy finds a new love interest and I didn’t roll my eyes at any of it. Well done.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Halloween IV” (A)
Several critics have said it’s time to retire this tradition, but I hope they never do. This is the show at its zaniest, and I love the byzantine plot it has to take to get to the end result.

This Is Us – “The Pool” (B)
A few clumsy scenes about racism, but this show still has its heart in the right place.

Atlanta – “Club” (B+)
After lots of experimenting (see below), this episode reminded me of nothing so much as Seinfeld, albeit with trap doors and a drive-by shooting.

“The Streisand Effect” (B+)
“Nobody Beats the Biebs” (B+)
“Value” (A)
“B.A.N.” (A)
This show’s greatest asset is its elasticity. It can be anything it wants, which you can’t say about any other show on TV right now. “Value,” focusing on Van, is fantastic, especially that first conversation. It’s amazing that one scene of an episode can convey so much about underlying resentment and disapproval. That’s a testament to the writing staff as much as the actors. “B.A.N.” felt like an episode of Chappelle’s Show, which some found disarming, but I found genius, especially the spot-on fake ads.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 9 Oct 2016

The Mindy Project – “Nurses’ Strike” (B+)
Even though it introduces a new love interest, which I’m kind of dreading, this is another consistently funny episode. Mindy is MVP of her own show again, with killer lines about donating to the Trump campaign and avoiding SeaWorld.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Night Shift” (B-)
A surprisingly weak episode, with lots of forced humor, and that’s even before we get to Zooey Deschanel’s brief cameo. The cast is game, but this is a weird step down from its brilliant three-part opener.

New Girl – “Homecoming” (C)
Now I remember why I don’t watch this show. Disciples claimed the strength is its ensemble, but most of that’s broken up for a majority of the episode. And the scenes with the cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine are filler cameos that go nowhere.

This Is Us – “Kyle” (B+)
I didn’t see either of the first two episodes, but I watched this one with my wife and this is exactly the kind of nakedly emotional but well-acted show that Jason Katims used to excel at. The cast is uniformly great and the dialogue is much better than most network dramas. I’m in.

Designated Survivor – “The Enemy” (B+)
The best episode yet as Kirkman finally acts decisively, kicking the foxes out of the henhouse. It may not be subtle, but I love that some viewers are probably expecting some action and get an Islamophobic Republican governor and overeager general as the bad guys.

Designated Survivor – “The Confession” (B-)
Nothing much happens, though now there’s another enemy: Virginia Madsen. But the big “betrayal” means nothing: Why would the president’s son, who hates his dad’s guts, want to honor the final thing he did as president? But it’s not actively awful, and the plot keeps moving along. Hoping for some big reveals soon. And the sooner Kirkman’s awful son gets killed off/shipped to boarding school, the better.

O.J.: Made in America – “Part 5” (A)
Explores the sad aftermath of the acquittal. He may not have been in prison, but he found himself shunned from the Brentwood elite he cozied up to at the expense of the African-American community and got deeper and deeper into weirder, crazier stuff, partly because his ego was so big, he would spend time with anyone who liked him, no matter how shady those people were. It culminated in an absurd 33-year prison sentence for an armed robbery that should really have been a couple years at most. But if it was worth his acquittal to send a message to the world, so is his current jail time.

Saturday Night Live – “Lin-Manuel Miranda/Twenty One Pilots” (B)
Still a bit uneven, but the sketches never go on too long and when they sing, they really sing (no pun intended). Lin-Manuel Miranda is certainly the most game, most clever host the show has had in a very long time. And the short “Diego Calls His Mom” is the most wonderfully melancholy short the show has done since “Love Is a Dream.”

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Too Early for This: Oscar Picks — 15 October 2016

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The Birth of a Nation
La La Land
Live by Night
Manchester by the Sea

Falling off: Allied, Arrival, LBJ, Patriots Day
Rising star: Jackie
The skinny: With a disastrous press tour now over, it’s safe to say the monumental buzz that greeted The Birth of a Nation at Sundance has all but dissipated. I’m leaving it in since I believe there will be a pretty good faction of voters who will want to reward the film on its artistic merits, as well as its historical importance, while giving Nate Parker himself the cold shoulder. But with its People’s Choice Award win at Toronto, there’s little doubt La La Land is the clear front-runner at this point. Only one musical (Les Misérables) has been nominated since Chicago won in 2003. But while other nominations may be in doubt, a Best Picture nomination is a lock.

Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone of La La Land
Ang Lee, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Martin Scorsese, Silence

Falling off: Nate Parker, Robert Zemeckis
Rising star: Denzel Washington, Fences
The skinny: See above. This is a tough category to crack, given the Academy’s bent toward nominating directors of smaller indie films in recent years. That’s good news for Chazelle, Jenkins and Nichols. But it’s hard to know if former winners like Lee and Scorsese will make it in, given their films’ unconventional approaches.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Tom Hanks, Sully
Denzel Washington, Fences

Falling off: Michael Fassbender, Woody Harrelson, Nate Parker
Rising star: Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The skinny: Not as jam-packed in recent years. Hanks seems on shakiest ground here. Don’t believe me? The last time he played a real-life no-nonsense captain thrust into a harrowing situation, he came up short, even though the film was nominated for Best Picture.

Natalie Portman in Jackie
Amy Adams, Arrival
Viola Davis, Fences
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

Falling off: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Hall, Alicia Vikander
Rising star: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
The skinny: All hail Natalie Portman, doing her highest-profile work since winning her Oscar for Black Swan in 2011. Her performance as Jackie Onassis Kennedy in the week after her husband is killed in Dallas has Oscar written all over it. But perhaps the Academy will see fit to finally honor frequent Oscar bridesmaids like Amy Adams and Viola Davis.

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Film, Oscars, Previews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 2 Oct 2016

Poldark – “Episode 1” (B) / season premiere
Watched this with my wife and in-laws. While it’s not exactly my cup of tea, it’s extremely well-executed. The wife really liked this one, but I imagine it will get lost in the shuffle.

The Mindy Project – “Decision 2016” (B+) / season premiere
I was prepared to be frustrated by this season, as trailers seem to be hinting at yet another love interest for Mindy. But her decision to turn down both Danny and Jody feels right for the character. It’s at least executed in such a way that works and doesn’t feel like a cop-out. And Jody suddenly turning into a petty child after playing the gentleman for so long works even better.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Coral Palms, Part 3” (A-)
Though I didn’t particularly care for the Terry vs. Boyle dad-off, this was a fantastic, hilarious wrap-up to this witness protection arc. Eric Roberts was the perfect casting choice to play Figgis, and Holt stitching himself up while Jake looked off in horror was the perfect distillation of Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg’s incredible chemistry. “Let the Nicholas Sparks fly!”

Designated Survivor – “The First Day” (B+)
Even though some scenes really just feel like placeholders regurgitating plotlines from the pilot (“I’m the bad guy, remember!” or “Listen! I don’t think we know who’s responsible for the bombing yet!”), the show is starting to develop a rhythm. Kiefer Sutherland is aces in this role, even though we’re all just waiting for him to go badass on us. I particularly liked this week’s fire to put out: the governor of Michigan is indiscriminately rounding up Muslim citizens out of fear and refuses the President’s order to have the police stand down. “Glasses” gets out of it in a clever way, showing his gumption that wraps up that story without it getting too preachy or cartoonish along the way. I’m anticipating being frustrated with this show for being stupid (which seems unavoidable on a network drama) but for now it’s working.

“Episode 3” (B+)
“Episode 4” (A)
“Episode 5” (A)
“Episode 6” (A-)
The fourth and fifth episodes is the series at its peak. The finale is devastating if, like the premiere, is a bit overstuffed. Still, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is still a distinct, wonderful voice and its hers that shines throughout the show. This is such a beautiful journey that I would be happy if a second series is commissioned or if this is the end of the story. Not many shows you can say that about.

Saturday Night Live – “Margot Robbie/The Weeknd” (B)
Its first 30 minutes are the strongest, with the debate parody and a genius news report gone awry (even without good ol’ Herb Welch). The rest is hit-or-miss as usual and Robbie is used fairly well.

The Simpsons (Season 20) – “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words” (B+)
A standout latter-day episode, even if treads well-worn tense Homer-Lisa moments. There’s a fourth-wall breaking non-sequitur/segue about a “San Francisco people mover” that absolutely slayed me.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 25 Sept 2016

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Coral Palms, Part 2” (A)
The show at its absolute best. The entire cast is phenomenal, including guest stars Ken Marino as the new laissez-faire captain, Maya Rudolph as a horny U.S. marshal and Jim O’Heir as an adorable but incompetent (and bigoted) sheriff. All the jokes at Florida’s expense are just icing on the cake.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Coral Palms, Part 1” (A-) / season premiere
The strength of the writing and the chemistry between the actors shows how elastic this show can be. This episode features none of the working 9-9, as Holt and Peralta are stuck in Witness Protection in Florida, riding ATVs and power-walking. Even without the winning ensemble, this is still an insanely funny episode that gets in digs at trashy Southern people, terrible bosses and even Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Designated Survivor – Pilot episode (B) / series premiere
A sturdy pilot with a killer premise: a well-educated but un-elected Secretary of Housing and Urban Development becomes president when a terrorist blows up Congress during the State of the Union address. Unfortunately, this is still a network drama, so the acting’s not as good, the effects aren’t as good and the writing spells out every single thing. But hopefully there’s more intrigue and tighter scripts as the show goes on.

“Episode 1” (A-) / series premiere
“Episode 2” (B+)
A daring, hilarious and brutal new series, Fleabag takes the tropes of prestige TV (antihero protagonist, fourth-wall breaks) and deploys them effectively. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a force to be reckoned with as she makes your sides hurt and your heart ache.

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Netflix Picks: October 2016

Mascots (2016) – 10/13
A new film from Christopher Guest is cause for celebration. Director of the most consistently, uproariously funny films in modern history, his mockumentaries are always side-splitting and endlessly rewatchable.

Black Mirror (Season 3, Part 1) – 10/21
Netflix produced this follow-up to this eerie anthology series, which ran for two series in the UK. The new season features entries from directors like Joe Wright (Atonement) and Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane).

Oriented – 10/1
The 13th – 10/7
The Ranch (Season 1, Part 2) – 10/7
Russell Peters: Almost Famous – 10/7
The Siege of Jadotville – 10/7
Kuromukuro (Season 2) – 10/10
Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids – 10/12
Haters Back Off (Season 1) – 10/14
Project Mc2 (Season 3) – 10/14
Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai GuoQiang – 10/14
Glitch (Season 1) – 10/15
Asperger’s Are Us – 10/21
Joe Rogan: Triggered – 10/21
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories – 10/21
The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show (Season 3) – 10/21
Word Party (Season 2) – 10/21
7 años – 10/28
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House – 10/28
Into the Inferno – 10/28
Skylanders Academy (Season 1) – 10/28
Trailer Park Boys: Out of the Park Europe – 10/28
The Fall (Season 3) – 10/29
Chewing Gum (Season 1) – 10/31

American Horror Story (Season 5) – 10/4
The Flash (Season 1) – 10/4
The Grinder (Season 1) – 10/4
Arrow (Season 5) – 10/5
iZombie (Season 2) – 10/6
Supernatural (Season 11) – 10/7
The Originals (Season 3) – 10/8
The Vampire Diaries (Season 7) – 10/8
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1) – 10/13
Dark Matter (Season 2) – 10/16
Containment (Season 1) – 10/21
Doctor Foster (Season 1) – 10/24

Posted in Previews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Watched This Week: 18 Sept 2016

Documentary Now! (Season 1)
“Kunuk Uncovered” (A)
“The Eye Doesn’t Lie” (A-)
“A Town, a Gangster, a Festival” (B-)
“Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” (A)
Other than the muted “A Town, a Gangster, a Festival,” which features no Hader and almost no Armisen and it doesn’t quite work. All the rest is genius, especially “Gentle and Soft.”

Posted in Reviews, Television | Tagged | Leave a comment

2016 Emmy Predictions: Limited Series and Specials

Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Courtney B. Vance in The People v. O.J. Simpson
American Crime (ABC)
Fargo (FX)
The Night Manager (AMC)
The People v. O.J. Simpson (FX)
Roots (History)

Should and will win: The People v. O.J. Simpson
Could win: Fargo
Should have been nominated: Show Me a Hero (HBO)

Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock
All the Way (HBO)
Confirmation (HBO)
Luther (BBC America)
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (PBS)
A Very Murray Christmas (Netflix)

Should win: Confirmation
Could win: All the Way
Will win: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Should have been nominated: N/A

Courtney B. Vance in The People v. O.J. Simpson
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Idris Elba, Luther
Cuba Gooding Jr, The People v. O.J. Simpson
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager
Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson

Should and will win: Courtney B. Vance
Could win: Bryan Cranston
Should have been nominated: Oscar Isaac, Show Me a Hero

Sarah Paulson in The People v. O.J. Simpson
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson
Lili Taylor, American Crime
Kerry Washington, Confirmation

Should and will win: Sarah Paulson
Could win: Kerry Washington
Should have been nominated: Catherine Keener, Show Me a Hero

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Previews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Emmy Predictions: Drama

Jonathan Pryce in Game of Thrones
The Americans (FX)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Homeland (Showtime)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mr. Robot (USA)

Should win: The Americans
Could win: Mr. Robot
Will win: Game of Thrones
Should have been nominated: Hannibal (NBC)

Liev Schreiber in Ray Donovan
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Should win: Matthew Rhys
Could win: Rami Malek
Will win: Liev Schreiber
Should have been nominated: N/A

Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder
Claire Danes, Homeland
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Keri Russell, The Americans
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Should win: Keri Russell
Could win: Robin Wright
Will win: Viola Davis
Should have been nominated: Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Previews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Emmy Predictions: Comedy

Tony Hale, Kevin Dunn and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep
Black-ish (ABC)
Master of None (Netflix)
Modern Family (ABC)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Transparent (Amazon)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Veep (HBO)

Should and will win: Veep
Could win: Black-ish
Should have been nominated: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth
William H. Macy, Shameless
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Should win: Aziz Ansari
Could win: Anthony Anderson
Will win: Jeffrey Tambor
Should have been nominated: Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Tony Hale and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Laurie Metcalf, Getting On
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Should and will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Could win: Tracee Ellis Ross
Should have been nominated: Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project

Continue reading

Posted in Awards, Previews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment