What I Watched This Week: 3 Dec 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Fatwa!” (A) / season finale
Finally, one of this season’s episodes earns its length. The show features three of my favorite people (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan and Nick Offerman) AND F. Murray Abraham playing paintball AND recreates the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel and features a distractingly busty ASL interpreter. It’s everything that works about Curb in a deluxe package. I hope that we don’t have to wait six more years for another season.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “99” (A)
It’s becoming increasingly clear that we’ll be saying goodbye to the Nine-Nine in 2018. This became yet another beautiful episode that could have served as a series finale (just like Season Four’s “The Last Ride”), with a cross-country road trip and a touching revelation from one of the show’s most emotionally closed-off characters. Bless this show.

Patton Oswalt: Annihilation (A)
A hilarious and loving exploration of the fuck-it-all bewilderment we’re subjected to every day under the Trump administration, as well as Oswalt’s grief over the sudden loss of his wife. “Life’s chaos; be kind.” What a beautiful motto.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Nov 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “The Shucker” (B+)
Forty-five minutes is way too long for any sitcom, especially one that meanders as much as this one. While the quarrel with the former owner of his house is amusing, it could have easily been cut out and this episode could have shaved 10-15 minutes off its runtime. Everything else is aces, especially his fights with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Steven Weber’s dynamite performance as the titular oyster shucker.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Return to Skyfire” (B)
A sequel that’s nowhere near as good as their Halloween episodes or the ongoing saga of Doug Judy. Still, there are plenty of laughs to be had.

This Is Us – “Number Three” (A-)
I expected Randall’s story to be the best of the three, and while it was compelling, it wasn’t as perfectly executed as Kate’s. But this trilogy represents the show at its very best.

Godless (A- average)
Though it indulges in some clichés, Scott Frank’s Western wisely sidesteps some others. He takes a little too much advantage of Netflix’s leniency with regard to runtimes (some episodes are an hour and 20 minutes, others only 40) but this is one of the year’s most satisfying shows, with plenty of excitement and character development. I’ll definitely be writing more about Merritt Wever and Jeff Daniels’ performances in my year-end wrap-up.

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Netflix Picks: December 2017

A programming note: This will be the final appearance of this column, as I plan to focus on a wider variety of streaming options beginning in 2018.

Bright – 12/22
David Ayer has been hit or miss with his projects as of late (for every success like Fury, there’s a glaring disaster like Suicide Squad), so this nearly $100 million sci-fi thriller has even more riding on it than usual. But I’ll put my faith in the star power and acting chops of Will Smith (playing a grizzled cop) and Joel Edgerton (playing his orc partner) to succeed.

The Crown (Season 2) – 12/8
The first season of this British drama barely missed my top 10, but it’s full of glamour, quietly devastating moments and powerhouse acting. This season follows Queen Elizabeth II in the years after Churchill’s death, while still dealing with scandals and international turmoil.

Dave Chappelle: Equanimity – 12/31
His twin specials from this spring gave us a lot to talk about. His Hollywood special was him back on top, but his Austin special had the more problematic material. Hopefully this special, dropping New Year’s Eve, will be more of the former.

All Hail King Julien (Season 5) – 12/1
A StoryBots Christmas – 12/1
Chef & My Fridge: 2017 Dark (Season 1) – 12/1
Home: For the Holidays – 12/1
Easy (Season 2) – 12/1
My Happy Family – 12/1
Voyeur – 12/1
Craig Ferguson: Tickle Fight – 12/5
El Camino Christmas – 12/8
Judd Apatow: The Return – 12/12
Christmas Inheritance – 12/15
Erased (Season 1) – 12/15
The Ranch (Part 4) – 12/15
Trollhunters (Part 2) – 12/15
Ultimate Beastmaster – 12/15
Wormwood – 12/15
Hello, My Twenties! (Season 2) – 12/18
Russell Howard: Recalibrate – 12/19
The Indian Detective (Season 1) – 12/19
La Casa de Papel (Season 1) – 12/20
Peaky Blinders (Season 4) – 12/21
72 Dangerous Animals: Latin America (Season 1) – 12/22
Dope (Season 1) – 12/22
Fuller House (Season 3, Part 2) – 12/22
The Toys That Made Us (Season 1) – 12/22
Cable Girls (Season 2) – 12/25
Todd Barry: Spicy Honey – 12/26
Travelers (Season 2) – 12/26
Bill Nye Saves the World (Season 2, Part 1) – 12/29
La Mante (Season 1) – 12/29
The Climb – 12/29

Turn (Season 4) – 12/1
When Calls the Heart (Season 4) – 12/1
The Magicians (Season 2) – 12/11
Ainsley Eats the Streets (Season 1) – 12/14
Halt and Catch Fire (Season 4) – 12/14
Myths & Monsters (Season 1) – 12/23

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What I Watched This Week: 19 Nov 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Never Wait for Seconds!” (B+)
The “flip the tip” subplot is another case of having too much going on in a single episode, but the fatwa resolution and the disintegration of another one of Larry’s relationships is basically perfect.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Two Turkeys” (B+)
A truly delightful Thanksgiving episode that allows Holt to use his actual detective skills to solve a personal offense. But even better is the mini-West Wing reunion that sees Jake’s dad (Bradley Whitford) square off with Amy’s dad (Jimmy Smits).

This Is Us – “Number Two” (A)
The show wisely chooses not to show (or at least linger on) the moment of Kate’s miscarriage, instead focusing on the swirl of emotions for her and Toby in the immediate aftermath. This is TV melodrama at its absolute best.

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What I Watched This Week: 12 Nov 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Namaste” (B)
Properly calls Larry out on his B.S., though like many episodes this season would have been even better had it been, say, 27 minutes instead of 35. This episode also ends up on the wrong side of the offensive line, with Larry claiming to be autistic to excuse his douchey behavior.

The Mindy Project – “It Had to Be You” (B+) / series finale
A satisfying finale for a very uneven series, one that lived up to its original title: It’s Messy. But it was a big deal for representation, as the show celebrated ethnicities and body types that often aren’t seen on TV, and did so unapologetically.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Venue” (A-)
The Vulture (Dean Winters) returns to wreak havoc on Jake and Amy, as he books their perfect venue just to spite them, and they in turn break up his impending marriage to a saintly heiress (Maria Thayer). A relentlessly funny episode that also features Boyle getting dragged by a horse and Terry accidentally sexually harassing another officer named Terri.

This Is Us – “Number One” (A-)
Certainly Justin Hartley’s strongest performance to date as Kevin. He’s often the most frustrating character, but this episode reveals a lot of the pain underneath the arrogance, never taking time to appreciate what he has, and the desire to brush off any adversity and keep going, never taking time to grieve what he’s lost.

Seinfeld (Season 4) – “The Contest” (A)
It’s been 25 years, and this once taboo episode hasn’t lost a single step. It’s as sharp and dirty as ever.

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Oscar Picks: 15 Nov 2017

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Falling off: The Greatest Showman, Last Flag Flying, Murder on the Orient Express, Wonderstruck
Rising star: The Shape of Water

The skinny: This has been such a wacky year for film, and with so many unknowns going into the last couple months, I’m ready to admit my mistake and declare Get Out as a likely nominee in several categories. No other movie has captured the critical and audience attention it’s garnered this year. So even though horror movies rarely get nominated, even though first-time directors (who aren’t already widely acclaimed actors) rarely get nominated, it’s sustained its conversational momentum this long, and Universal has already been pushing hard for it. At this point, it will be a real shock if it doesn’t get multiple nods. But the big surprise has been Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, which has flown past the decades of coming-of-age films to wide acclaim and stellar box office. It now looks to be a lock for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. And people are still beating the drum for The Shape of Water, but if it’s as bizarre as people say, there is no way the Academy at large is going to cotton to it.

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Falling off: Joe Wright
Rising star: Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name

The skinny: Jordan Peele steps up, making him one of still a sad handful of black men nominated for this award. He bumps longtime also-ran Joe Wright. But if Phantom Thread isn’t as tight-knit (pun intended) as his past efforts, PTA could find himself on the outside, replaced by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, who already has several acclaimed films under his belt.

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Falling off: Chadwick Boseman
Rising star: Tom Hanks, The Post

The skinny: Now that Marshall has all but evaporated from memory, Timothée Chalamet has claimed that spot. I’m still a little skeptical that it’s a lock, even if CMBYN is a hit with the Academy. For starters, kids usually don’t get nominated for lead. They have a much better shot in the supporting categories. But he is unequivocally the lead and there’s no way the studio can finagle that. But given a less strong year than usual for the lead actor, he’s got a much better shot. Given that, though, might Tom Hanks get a long overdue nomination for The Post? He should have won for Captain Phillips, but hasn’t been nominated since Cast Away (for which he also should have won). He’s playing a role that someone else (Jason Robards) won an Oscar for, which could help or hurt him. But since so many men in Hollywood have been outed as pigs, could his legendary niceness carry him over the edge? We’ll see.

Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

Falling off: Nicole Kidman
Rising star: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

The skinny: Sorry, Nicole. After a year packed with four movies and two mini-series (including a win for Big Little Lies), it just won’t be your year, unless The Beguiled has an unexpected resurgence. That opens up a slot for Saoirse Ronan, in what will likely be her final performance as a teenager. But Margot Robbie is coming in hot as the lead in I, Tonya, which means Jessica Chastain should watch her back.

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What I Watched This Week: 5 Nov 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “The Accidental Text on Purpose” (A-)
The best episode of the season thus far, with everything finally coming together in glorious, terrible fashion. Larry ruins not one but two relationships of friends whose girlfriends gave them ultimatums, one by complaining about inferior tap water, the other by getting an unexpected boner in the dressing room. Only Larry can get away with that kind of stuff.

The Mindy Project – “Danny in Real Life” (C)
Wow. It’s almost as if this show got a shortened final season and they did absolutely nothing to appropriately plot the arc of it out and now they’re rushing to give all the perfunctory goodbye hugs before the finale.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Bad Beat” (B)
A solid story about Holt’s secret gambling addiction is aces, especially because of the Terry-Holt-Peralta trio, who bounce off each other flawlessly. But clearly the writers are running out of subplots, because Amy and Charles’ food truck story is over before it even begins and Rosa bonding with Hitchcock and Scully is completely pointless. But yes, it’s still funny and warm, and that cold open is an all-timer.

This Is Us – “The Most Disappointed Man” (A-)
Delroy Lindo pops by as a prejudiced judge in a flashback, as the episode’s throughline is clearly: What’s the best home for an adopted kid? Meanwhile, Kevin hits rock bottom as he realizes a surprise proposal to Sophie is the absolute wrong move to get his relationship back on track. I’m really hoping Kevin gets help soon, because this storyline is working my last nerve. At least I can be excited about Toby and Kate’s baby.

Stranger Things – Season 2 (B+)
A bit off from the first season, partly because the novelty is gone, partly because the budget is bigger with a little bit of focus removed from the characters, and partly because of two dud episodes (the premiere, which feels like an unnecessary catch-up for our old friends and an introduction to the new characters, and the infamous episode 7, which isn’t bad so much as it is unnecessary). But still, this is an enchanting series filled with great scenes and episodes. If the Duffer Brothers sharpen their skills for Season 3, it’ll be even better.

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What I Watched This Week: 29 Oct 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Thank You for Your Service” (B+)
Other than the Salman Rushdie episode (which has only gotten better in the weeks since it aired), nothing from this season of Curb has stood with the best. This episode could have gotten there, but it’s a little too overstuffed, with his aborted romance with a sexy mail carrier (Katie Aselton, more than holding her own) seemingly transported into this episode from the story scrap heap. It should have had more time (in its own episode) or not been in this one at all.

The Mindy Project – “Doctors Without Boundaries” (B)
None of the three storylines were bad, per se, but it feels like they’re really rushing things along to wrap up everything with the few episodes they have left. But I appreciate Guy Branum’s personal touches, like calling Mindy and Morgan “Priyanka Nope-ra and Uggo Mortensen.”

This Is Us – “The 20’s” (A)
The best episode of the season thus far, with nary a scene taking place in the present. While the show does bring forth the happy tears when its characters succeed, it’s even better when it’s exploring how they handle failure. That’s where the actors shine the brightest.

The Good Place – “Derek” (B+)
Explores love and glitches with its usual warmth, and Jason Mantzoukas is a delight as Derek. I just wish NBC weren’t idiots when it came to programming, since replacing this show with crappy NFL games until January just proves we’re in the Bad Place.

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Netflix Picks: November 2017

Mudbound – 11/17
Dee Rees goes for Oscar glory in this heavy historical drama about two soldiers – one white, one black – struggling to re-adjust to their lives in rural Mississippi after World War II. The film was one of the most acclaimed entries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Godless – 11/22
Scott Frank and Steven Soderbergh. They could have made a miniseries about paint drying and I’d still watch it. Luckily, this Netflix series looks far more interesting than that. But this is a desolate Western featuring gentlemanly outlaws, shady lawmen and a town haunted by loss.

Brian Regan: Nunchucks and Flamethrowers – 11/21
Brian Regan, like his contemporary Jim Gaffigan, is one of the best clean comedians in the business. His latest special might sound a little more off-beat than usual, but he’ll find a way to tie it all in.

Ten Percent (Season 2) – 11/2
Alias Grace – 11/3
The Big Family Cooking Showdown (Season 1) – 11/3
Fate/Apocrypha (Part 1) – 11/7
Project MC2 (Part 6) – 11/7
Blazing Transfer Students (Season 1) – 11/10
Dinotrux Supercharged (Season 1) – 11/10
Glitter Force Doki Doki (Season 2) – 11/10
Lady Dynamite (Season 2) – 11/10
Mea Culpa – 11/10
The Killer – 11/10
DeRay Davis: How to Act Black – 11/14
A Christmas Prince – 11/17
Longmire (Season 6) – 11/17
Luna Petunia (Season 3) – 11/17
The Punisher (Season 1) – 11/17
Shot in the Dark (Season 1) – 11/17
Spirit: Riding Free (Season 3) – 11/17
Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters (Season 1) – 11/17
Beat Bugs: All Together Now – 11/21
Saving Capitalism – 11/21
She’s Gotta Have It (Season 1) – 11/23
Cuba and the Cameraman – 11/24
Frontier (Season 2) – 11/24
The Many Faces of Ito (Season 1) – 11/24
Trailer Park Boys: Out of the Park USA (Season 1) – 11/24
Glitch (Season 2) – 11/28
Good Morning Call (Season 2) – 11/28

Stranger (Season 1) – 11/1
Under Arrest (Season 1) – 11/1
King Duckling (Season 1) – 11/7
Broadchurch (Season 3) – 11/27
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (Season 7, Part 2) – 11/27
Guerra de Idolos (Season 1) – 11/29

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What I Watched This Week: 22 Oct 2017

Too Funny to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Dana Carvey Show (B+)
Funny and insightful, though probably would have been a smidgen better had Louis C.K. participated in this.

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXVIII” (B+)
The most consistent Halloween special in years, with some of the best animation the show has ever had. The final segment is also the most disturbing thing they’ve ever come up with, even more so than that vomiting frog in the 12th installment.

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Running with the Bulls” (B)
Larry’s problems seem a little too ridiculous in this episode, but the laughs are still there.

The Mindy Project – “Girl Gone Wild” (A-)
Might be the strongest episode of the season. Annoyed by everyone in her life being coupled up, she takes her would-be honeymoon as a voyage of self-discovery. When she runs into an old flame, thankfully she gives him good advice instead of trying to hook up with him. It’s a sign of Mindy’s (and the show’s) maturity. Of course, there’s still a cameo from Reese Witherspoon as herself, as an apparition, helping Mindy free herself from her selfishness and her 127 Hours-style predicament.

This Is Us – “Brothers” (B)
Would be the strongest episode of the season thus far were the show not back on its bullshit about Kevin’s pill addiction, which has slid into full-blown alcoholism somehow. Justin Hartley’s skill is his charm. And yes, there’s some depth you can add about how that’s a cover for his insecurity. But my god, he simply is not a strong enough actor to make this not feel phony.

The Good Place – “Janet and Michael” (A)
The sweetest episode the show has ever done. This bottle episode manages to still be visually inventive, giving the four humans minimal screen time so the show can explore the surprisingly complex emotions between a demon and an android(?) that works because of the excellent writing and the knockout performances from Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden. And the show still found a new wrinkle to throw the show into chaos.

American Vandal – Season 1 (A-)
A genius mockery/homage to the true crime docs and podcasts that became sensations. It’s surprisingly well-acted and brilliantly constructed. The joke should have gotten tedious by Episode 2, but it kept finding ways to expand its conspiracy, with more twists and turns every time. Certain to make my top 10 of the year.

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