What I Watched This Week: 9 Jun 2019

NEW SHOWS
Big Little Lies – “What Have They Done?” (B+) / season premiere
It has been two years, so I suppose some re-introductions are necessary. But the show will only get better and deeper as the season goes along. Meryl Streep of course kills it, but I was more impressed by Adam Scott, finally doing more than being a cuckold.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “God Bless the Child” (B)
Most of this episode is the best the show has been all season. But for some reasons all the scenes with Alexis Bledel and Clea DuVall fell extremely flat, holding it back from greatness.

A.P. Bio
“Ride the Ram” (B+)
“Kinda Sorta” (A-) / series finale
While the show never quite became something great, this was the most purely enjoyable watch of 2019. This pair of episodes is a fitting end, as Jack realizes the error of his ways and embraces Toledo, and especially his friendship with Durbin and relationship with Lynette. But his shift never feels out of character. I wish this could have lasted longer, but I’m glad we got these 26 delightful episodes.

OLD SHOWS
King of the Hill (Season 9) – “Ms. Wakefield” (A-)
A rare episode I’d never seen, this is an extremely dark but ultimately heartwarming Christmas episode. An elderly woman (guest star Marion Ross) comes to visit the Hill house. She used to live there, at least until her sister died. And now she refuses to leave until she does the same. It’s a pretty morbid premise, and shockingly everyone is against Hank, who finds the whole thing extremely disturbing. It’s still impressive how excellent this show remained to the end.

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What I Watched This Week: 2 Jun 2019

NEW SHOWS
The Handmaid’s Tale
“Night” (B+) / season premiere
“Mary and Martha” (B)
“Useful” (B)

If you were out after last season – which I thought improved upon Season 1 in many ways, frustrating finale notwithstanding – it’s doubtful these first three episodes will pull you back in. But the performances and cinematography are still excellent, even when the writing’s not as powerful as it used to be. Plus, it’s not like this show is in any way relevant to the real world.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 May 2019

NEW SHOWS
Killing Eve – “You’re Mine” (A-) / season finale
A controversial episode to be sure, but I think all the choices make sense for the characters. It had to end this way, making perfect symmetry with the first season finale, only now Eve’s gone to the dark side, as much as she wishes she could take it back.

A.P. Bio
“Handcuffed” (B+)
“Spectacle” (B)
The former was a delightful, teacher-centric episode, as Jack tries to keep Mary from getting back with her gross substitute boyfriend. Eddie Leavy also gets a chance to shine, filling in for Principal Durbin to deliver the worst news. The latter is a fun look at the annual talent show, but its emotional crux is a student we’ve hardly ever seen, so it’s not as touching. But it is quite funny.

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Streaming Picks: June 2019

FILMS
Top Picks
True Grit (2010) – Hulu and Prime 6/29
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Netflix 6/26
The Coen Brothers’ take on the John Wayne Western is one of the best remakes of all time, featuring phenomenal performances from Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. The film infamously went 0-10 at the Oscars, which is a real shame. At least it was the brothers’ biggest box office hit, earning more than $250 million worldwide. It of course features gorgeous cinematography from Roger Deakins.

But at least the Academy got 2018’s Animated Feature Oscar right, bestowing the usually Disney-reserved award upon Sony’s breathtaking and surprisingly moving journey through the many Spider-Men (and women) of the multi-verse. You’ll be dazzled, but you may want to bring some tissues.

Recent Selections
Vox Lux – Hulu 6/3
Alles ist gut – Netflix 6/6
Home Again – Prime 6/7
Vice – Hulu 6/10
I Still See You – Hulu 6/11
Ralph Breaks the Internet – Netflix 6/11
Out of the Blue – Hulu 6/21
Hurley – Hulu 6/24
Juliet, Naked – Hulu and Prime 6/24
Diane – Hulu 6/28
20th Century Women – Netflix 6/28
The Spy Who Dumped Me – Hulu and Prime 6/29

Originals
Ask Dr. Ruth – Hulu 6/1
Oh, Ramona! – Netflix 6/1
Chasing Happiness – Prime 6/4
The Black Godfather – Netflix 6/7
Elisa & Marcela – Netflix 6/7
I Am Mother – Netflix 6/7
Rock My Heart – Netflix 6/7
Rolling Thunder Revue – Netflix 6/12
The 3rd Eye 2 – Netflix 6/13
Cinderella Pop – Netflix 6/14
Yardie – Prime 6/17
Beats – Netflix 6/19
The Edge of Democracy – Netflix 6/19
Le Chant du Loup – Netflix 6/20
Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil – Netflix 6/21
La misma sangre – Netflix 6/21

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What I Watched This Week: 19 May 2019

NEW SHOWS
Game of Thrones – “The Iron Throne” (B) / series finale
For a casual fan, it was mostly satisfying. Though it’s clear this season was too rushed for all the emotional beats to have their maximum impact. Sansa may have been the most “deserving,” but Bran as the King is the best compromise. There never would have been peace with Sansa as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. She still gets her throne, but her land is a bit smaller. That works better for everyone, I think. Jon ends up exiled for doing the right thing, which seems about right. Really, the only character shortchanged by this finale is Brienne, who prints the legend on Jaime, leaving out his complete lack of backbone. But the idea that everyone would get what he/she wants or deserves was always foolishness for a show like this. I’m glad I never got truly invested, because I don’t see how a devoted viewer can walk away from this finale happy. But for me, it was just fine.

Barry – “berkman > block” (A) / season finale
Like Robert De Niro in Heat, Barry could have made a clean getaway. But his rage at someone who had wronged him overtook him, and it could be his downfall. In his desperate hunt for Fuches, he goes back to what he knows best: killing people. A lot of “innocent” (if you can use such a word for underworld types) people die at his hand, including his own students. He’s almost honest with himself, but he still couldn’t confess to Janice’s murder, pinning it on the Chechens. Sally couldn’t be real either, turning her honest showcase into a crowd-pleasing bit of overacting. She could have had success on her terms, but chose the easy way out. Barry and Gene may both be free, but now they both know the truth, and it may lead to their mutual destruction.

Killing Eve – “Wide Awake” (B+)
The show moves in a disturbing psychosexual direction, as Villanelle’s mark likes to watch… everything. The finale should be explosive, as Eve’s colleague in the psychology department and her ex-teammate both warn her not to go to Rome for her own safety, and she ignores them both, because of her insatiable desire to be closer to Villanelle. But the latter’s bloodlust has claimed a victim close to Eve, though not one she necessarily will miss.

The Lonely Island Presents the Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience (B)
This surprise release isn’t quite on par with their best work, but it’s frequently hilarious. The accompanying album is actually better. Only some of the visual gags improve upon the genius songs.

BINGEING
Fleabag – Season 2 (A average)
I thought Barry had it in the bag to be my No. 1 show again. But then Phoebe Waller-Bridge came along and broke my heart. The show’s writing is truly next level, and so is her performance. Like Barry, it’s also grappling with whether people can truly change. Unlike it, I think the show, while ending in a bittersweet place, believes it’s possible.

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What I Watched This Week: 12 May 2019

NEW SHOWS
Game of Thrones – “The Bells” (A)
The show hit its season high, as Dany did exactly what most feared she would do, logic be damned. It’s amazing how much clearer and devastating the impact is when you shoot the battle in broad daylight. A lot of people are going to say Dany’s “turn” came out of nowhere, but she’s always demanded unwavering loyalty, and if she didn’t get it, she’d kill you. She briefly held back on that this season because she loved Jon, but that’s over now. She’s getting revenge, yes, but also preventing future betrayal. And it’s also because she’s incredibly vain. As bad a queen as Cersei was (which we never really saw, because this season was only six episodes), the residents of Kings’ Landing weren’t just going to bend the knee immediately. And in her mind, that’s disloyalty. So the cycle of abuse continues, and there will have to be yet another coup.

Barry – “The Audition” (A)
Pairing Barry – which many people didn’t think even needed a second season – with this last season of Game of Thrones has proven the Bill Hader comedy is the superior show. Higher stakes, better acting, better direction, more intense fight scenes. The cliffhanger this ends on is the most on-edge I’ve been since the Season Two finale of Silicon ValleyBarry has it all, and so far it’s going to be my No. 1 show again.

Veep – “Veep” (A-) / series finale
About as satisfying a finale as one could hope for, with Selina compromising literally every last shred of dignity and decency in her bid for the White House. It works, of course, because no show was ever so cynical about U.S. politics. But it’s lonely at the top, and 24 years later, the only one to actually mourn her is Gary, whom she made the fall guy for the Meyers’ financial misdeeds. And of course, Selina has to suffer one last indignity, as the honor guard has to keep shoving her casket into a vaginal-shaped final resting place (“They can’t find the crypt!”), and then gets swept right out of news coverage with the death of someone America actually loves.

Killing Eve – “I Hope You Like Missionary!” (B+)
Jodie Comer does some of her best acting to date in the group therapy session, but the show is walking a tightrope, daring to tip Villanelle into fully unlikable territory, what with the unnecessary murder and implied double murder. But the show’s chaotic energy fuels it even in the darkest moments.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“Sicko” (A-)
“Suicide Squad” (A) / season finale
The only thing that sucks about this show is it’s so good, and we won’t get any new episodes until 2020. “Sicko” was another solid case-of-the-week, with a great reprise from Tim Meadows. But they went all-out for the complicated heist/revenge plot for the season finale, which features double-crosses, triple-crosses (and possibly quadruple-crosses?) in an incredible team-up featuring the show’s most aggressively annoying (in a good way) enemies of the past.

BINGEING
The ABC Murders (B average)
The BBC’s Agatha Christie adaptation is solid, but never excellent. John Malkovich is terrific as an aging Poirot with a dark past – though not as much as spent on this as it should have been to make it as impactful as it’s hoping. The alleged killer (Eamon Farren) is suitably creepy, and its second episode is absolutely disgusting, in a good way. But Rupert Grint is woefully miscast as a grizzled detective. Win some, lose some.

OLD SHOWS
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (Season 1) – “The Law of the Land” (A)
My wife has started watching this on Prime, and despite being pretty dated, it’s shockingly relevant in some places. This episode, guest starring Johnny Cash as the new sheriff in town, could easily air today without a single change. When Swedish immigrants are out of work because the mines are closed, they resort to stealing food and garbage. When one kills a cow to feed his family, the townsfolk immediately want to hang him without a trial, and want to kick out all immigrants, even though they’re immigrants themselves. “Well, that’s just the law,” they say. Pretty depressing how nothing has changed in 25 years, nor in the 150 since the show was set.

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What I Watched This Week: 5 May 2019

NEW SHOWS
Game of Thrones – “The Last of the Starks” (B)
A lengthy breather, with a lot of clandestine meetings and secrets revealed, and then a rush through a shit-ton of plot in a short amount of time, dispatching a character for almost no apparent reason. The theme was about characters continuing to make the same mistakes over and over, but with so many murky intentions, that didn’t come across as clear as it should have.

Barry – “The Truth Has a Ring to It” (B+)
The acting showcase is the best in-class scene the show has ever done. But I’m a little worried that Fuches’ discovery is solely there to complicate the plot. His character arc is done, as great as Stephen Root has been. Keeping him on feels unnecessary, but we’ll see.

Veep – “Oslo” (A-)
The show blasts through so much plot, it can be a little whiplash-inducing. But it might be the funniest episode of the season, with one-liner after one-liner, and Anna Chlumsky doing some of her very best acting during her encounter with Dan and his new girlfriend: the doctor who performed her abortion.

Killing Eve – “Smell Ya Later” (A-)
It seems at first that the show is chickening out a bit by refusing to not make Eve as bad as Villanelle, but it doesn’t shy away from making her complicit in Villanelle’s crimes. While that climax isn’t as violent as one might expect, it doesn’t make it any less severe.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Cinco de Mayo” (A-)
Even when the show is directly commenting on how the heist concept is played out, they continue to find another way to top themselves, with another extremely convoluted episode paying off in extremely satisfying fashion.

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What I Watched This Week: 28 Apr 2019

NEW SHOWS
Game of Thrones – “The Long Night” (B+)
One of the most epic, awe-inspiring things ever made for television is a bit undercut by its horrendous editing during the first siege. I’m sure the creative team think they’re conveying the chaos of a battle like this, but it’s hard to see and harder to comprehend. Everything after Melisandre lights the trench is much better, even as characters make some absolutely stupid mistakes. Still, that last scene is damned impressive and satisfying.

Barry – “ronny/lily” (A-)
Like Atlanta‘s “Teddy Perkins” last year, this is an astonishing one-off that ultimately doesn’t do that much for the narrative thrust of the season (that one character’s death notwithstanding). But wow, what an episode. Brilliantly directed by Hader, this is a marvel of cinematography, staging and production design. It’s going to make my best episodes of the year list for sure.

Veep – “Super Tuesday” (A-)
While I’m not sure I buy that character’s death (a fake-out seems most plausible), this is a bounce back from last week, with Selina’s cynicism blocking out every last possible emotion. I’m not sure how I didn’t see the reveal of Jonah and his ex-step-sister being actual half-siblings coming, but it was no less stomach-churning (literally) and hilarious when it arrived. But my biggest laugh came from Richard telling Dan that, now that they’re moving to Des Moines, his ancient secretary is now “fair game” and “DTF” (diverticulitis flare-up).

Killing Eve – “Desperate Times” (A)
The most stylish episode yet, with the extreme violence, incredible set design and cinematography, and queer subtext reminding me of Hannibal at its best. The show has found its groove again and it’s magnificent.

Anthony Jeselnik: Fire in the Maternity Ward (B+)
As usual, Jeselnik bulldozes through the most sensitive of topics with a smile on his face. His two centerpiece bits – a crafty section on racism and a 15-minute closer on a trip to an abortion clinic – had me laughing uncontrollably. I think the reason I love Jeselnik so much, besides his fearlessness, is that while he’s smirking the entire time, he never once mocks you for feeling uncomfortable. He knows it, you know it, it’s kind of the point. But he’s doing this to make you laugh, not to make some point about “P.C. culture.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Return of the King” (B-)
Gina’s grand return is a bit of a dud, as her shtick goes global but isn’t very funny. Her strained relationship with Jake makes for some solid stakes, but this is overall a very meh episode, a real rarity for this show.

A.P. Bio – “Dr. Whoopsie” (B+)
Any show can do a Law & Order parody. (My beloved Community already did it.) But only this show would also weave in a parody of Doubt, and have a kid where an Ernest Goes to Syria T-shirt.

BINGEING
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson – Season 1 (B+ average)
Like any sketch comedy, it’s hit or miss. But when it hits – often by going as weird as possible – it’s among the funniest things I’ve seen all year. My top 5 sketches:
1. “Hot Dog Car Crash”
2. “Plane Revenge” (aka “The Man”)
3. “Game Night”
4. “Gift Receipt”
5. “Honk If You’re Horny”

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Streaming Picks: May 2019

FILMS
Top Picks
Suspiria (2018) – Prime 5/3
Crash (2005) – Hulu and Prime 5/5
Moonlight – Netflix 5/21
While Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s classic horror flick (my all-time favorite, in fact) isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it takes his premise – an American ballet student discovers her school is actually a coven of witches – and goes in wildly different directions with it. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but it’s certainly an unsettling and unforgettable experience.

Now, I’m only trolling a little bit by recommending Paul Haggis’ much-maligned Best Picture winner here, but I’ve defended the film at length already. But give it another chance with an open mind, especially considering how much better it is than our most recent Best Picture winner.

Of course none of these compare to Moonlight, the rare Best Picture winner that actually deserved it. Barry Jenkins’ breakthrough film is one of the best of the decade: a heartbreaking triptych about a boy growing up poor, black and queer in South Florida.

Recent Selections
Welcome to Mercy – Hulu 5/1
Painkillers – Hulu 5/4
The Clovehitch Killer – Hulu 5/4
Unicorn – Hulu 5/5
Hillbilly – Hulu 5/8
Action Point – Hulu and Prime 5/9
Above Majestic – Hulu 5/11
Driver X – Hulu 5/11
Funny Cow – Hulu 5/11
One Million American Dreams – Hulu 5/11
Swimming with Men – Hulu 5/11
A Breath Away – Hulu 5/15
Astral – Hulu 5/15
Egg – Hulu 5/15
Getting Grace – Hulu 5/15
Bernie the Dolphin – Hulu 5/21
Backtrace – Hulu 5/23
Against the Clock – Hulu 5/23
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Netflix 5/24

Originals
Knock Down the House – Netflix 5/1
Manifik 2 – Netflix 5/1
A pesar de todo – Netflix 5/3
Dead to Me – Netflix 5/3
Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage – Netflix 5/3
The Last Summer – Netflix 5/3
Dry Martina – Netflix 5/10
Gente que viene y bah – Netflix 5/10
Shéhérazade – Netflix 5/10
Wine Country – Netflix 5/10
Malibu Rescue – Netflix 5/13
Yardie – Prime 5/15
Good Sam – Netflix 5/16
Morir para contar – Netflix 5/17
See You Yesterday – Netflix 5/17
Joy – Netflix 5/24
The Perfection – Netflix 5/24
Rim of the World – Netflix 5/24
Chopsticks – Netflix 5/30
Svaha: The Sixth Finger – Netflix 5/30
Always Be My Maybe – Netflix 5/31

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What I Watched This Week: 21 Apr 2019

NEW SHOWS
Game of Thrones – “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (A-)
A lot more talking and catching up, but this time there’s real emotion there. There are far too many overconfident characters making plans for “afterwards,” when there’s no guarantee there will be an afterwards. This is a threat unlike what they’ve faced before, so making it out alive in past battles doesn’t mean all these folks are going to make it. In fact, I think many won’t, including beloved characters like Tyrion and Brienne. His overconfidence and her knighting seem like dead giveaways, along with all the talk of “the crypts are safe.” No one’s safe. At least Arya found her moment and seized it.

Barry – “What?!” (A)
The best episode of the season, with powerhouse performances from both Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg. Barry’s attempts at being a better person might be upended by the big twist at the end, that prompts him to say the episode’s title. What had seemed like a major obstacle is revealed to be petty revenge. It’s even more shocking than it appears on the surface.

Veep – “South Carolina” (B)
Perhaps the show’s most cynical episode to date, which is really saying something. It’s also extremely plot-heavy. Selina, in an effort to woo South Carolina’s black voters while also dog-whistling to racist white voters, realizes her best path to victory is ignoring both and getting money (and nefarious help) from the Chinese government.

Killing Eve – “The Hungry Caterpillar” (A-)
Old habits die hard, as Eve and Villanelle toy with each other right up until the breaking point. While I enjoyed the first two episodes, this one finally felt like it was back to the best of Season 1. The reveal that Konstantin is still alive shifts the power back to Villanelle’s favor, now that she’s free to be as garish as she wants to be.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Ticking Clocks” (A-)
A real-time episode, with the 99 facing crises ranging from getting garlic bread in time for lunch to dealing with a devastating break-up to finding a hacker looking to destroy evidence. That the episode gives each situation the right amount of stakes, while also being hilarious and well-directed, make this a high-concept experiment that works, even if I called the twist early on.

A.P. Bio – “Sweet Low Road” (A-)
The show’s revenge missions get both personal and almost realistic, as Jack, his fellow teachers, Durbin & Helen, and his class band together to save his job and keep the administration from imposing draconian budget cuts. This is probably just another episode, but if the show wants to morph into a heightened take on the daily challenges teachers face, that’s definitely not dorky.

OLD SHOWS
Community (Season 2) – “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” (A-)
I’ve often rewatched the show’s many Christmas episodes around the holidays, but I think this oft-overlooked episode – in which Shirley enlists Abed to make a movie about Jesus, and the power of being the director goes to his head – will become a new Easter tradition.

Dean: “Abed, are you making a religious film?”
Abed: “Is RoboCop? Is The Matrix? Is Superman Returns? All films are about death and resurrection.”
Dean: “What about Wrath of Khan. That was a good one. And how compelling was Ricardo Montalban? I mean, seriously.”

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