What I Watched This Week: 27 Nov 2016

NEW SHOWS
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Skyfire Cycle” (B+)
Another consistently funny episode, though nothing will be as funny as Holt shouting “BONE?!” at the top of his lungs during a 40-minute rant.

This Is Us – “The Trip” (A)
The show has its first great episode as Randall takes a shroom-aided trip to reconcile with his parents. It’s powerful stuff.

Designated Survivor – “The Results” (C)
After airing its best episode just before Thanksgiving, the show returns with a messy, overstuffed episode. If it keeps trying to spin this many plates, I’m likely to bail at mid-season.

CURRENT SHOWS
Triumph’s Election Watch 2016 – “The Finale” (A-)
A great ending for one of 2016’s most bizarre but most needed specials. It manages to make plenty of solid jokes at both Hillary and Trump’s expense, while still reveling in the WTF of it all.

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Netflix Picks: December 2016

BEST BET – FILM
Blue Jay – 12/6
I thought this had already made its way to Netflix, but if you haven’t seen this powerful two-hander yet, get on it as soon as it makes it to the servers. Mark Duplass has never been better as the ex-boyfriend of Sarah Paulson, who have a chance reunion at the grocery store. It’s light and lovely, except for when it gets intense at the emotional climax. A must see for fans of great acting.

BEST BET – TV
Trollhunters (Season 1) – 12/23
The late Anton Yelchin’s final project was this animated series created by Guillermo del Toro. So don’t be surprised if you tear up a little bit at a supernatural kids’ show.

NETFLIX ORIGINALS
Merli (Season 1) – 12/1
Fauda (Season 1) – 12/2
Hip-Hop Evolution (Season 1) – 12/2
Pacific Heat (Season 1) – 12/2
Lost & Found Music Studios (Season 2) – 12/3
Reggie Watts: Spatial – 12/6
The Cuba Libre Story (Season 1) – 12/8
Captive (Season 1) – 12/9
Cirque du Soleil Junior: Luna Petunia (Season 1) – 12/9
Club de Cuervos (Season 1) – 12/9
Fuller House (Season 2) – 12/9
Medici: Masters of Florence (Season 1) – 12/9
Spectral – 12/9
White Rabbit Project (Season 1) – 12/9
Ricardo O’Farrill: Christmas Special – 12/12
Nobel (Season 1) – 12/13
The Adventures of Puss in Boots (Season 4) – 12/16
Barry – 12/16
Call Me Francis (Season 1) – 12/16
Crazyhead (Season 1) – 12/16
No Second Chance (Season 1) – 12/16
Gabriel Iglesias: Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry – 12/20
Ten Percent (Season 1) – 12/20
The Break (Season 1) – 12/20
Travelers (Season 1) – 12/23
AJIN (Season 2) – 12/27
Chasing Cameron (Season 1) – 12/27

CATALOG SHOWS
Colony (Season 1) – 12/13
Versailles (Season 1) – 12/14
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (Season 6) – 12/20
Comedy Bang! Bang! (Season 5) – 12/28
The Eighties (Season 1) – 12/29

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What I Watched This Week: 20 Nov 2016

NEW SHOWS
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Mr. Santiago” (B+)
The “trying to impress the dad of the girlfriend and reinforce his delusion that his daughter is still a virgin” is one of the oldest sitcom plots. Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t necessarily do anything new with it, but Jimmy Smits is game as the “kind of dad who organizes the bills in his wallet by serial number.” Even better is the pairing of Holt and Pimento, which is one of the most joyous things I’ve seen all season.

This Is Us – “Pilgrim Rick” (B+)
This is not a knock, but I am as surprised to be writing these words as you must be to hear them: Milo Ventimiglia is the strongest actor on the show right now. The ensemble cast is great, but I am most impressed by his performance as the patriarch, struggling to make the best of every setback life throws at him. This Thanksgiving episode is no different, though I would appreciate if the show would sometimes go small instead of big with its devastating monologues.

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What I Watched This Week: 13 Nov 2016

NEW SHOWS
The Simpsons – “Havana Wild Weekend” (B+)
Another solid travel episode, though it gets way too real in its opening minutes. Grampa heads to the VA hospital since the nursing home can’t help him. Lisa asks, “Aren’t those America’s shame?” Homer responds: “A lot of things are America’s shame, honey.” So the family hightails to Cuba (for the second time in the show’s history… they’ve officially run out of places to set episodes) for their free medical care, vibrant jazz scene and abundant horse meat.

The Mindy Project – “Revenge of the Nurse” (B+)
Despite name-dropping Janet Maslin, this episode’s not necessarily a cut above any of the others. I’m kind of resigned to the fact that this show will never take a leap. It’s consistently funny, which is certainly something, but it never grows deeper and Mindy still seems way too flighty and impatient when it comes to relationship stuff. You’d think she’d have matured a little bit by now.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Monster in the Closet” (A-)
Wedding episodes are usually trash, unless they seriously subvert expectations (see Everybody Loves Raymond‘s flashback ep or any Happy Endings season finale). So I was glad that this turned into a non-wedding between Rosa and Adrian, but still found time to get half the squad drunk and show Hitchcock & Scully actually succeed at something. It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve had a new episode, so I’m glad it returned on solid footing.

This Is Us – “The Best Washing Machine in the World” (B+)
The greatness of the show lies in knowing that things eventually getting resolved, but flashing back to see how resentments began to fester. It’s sharp writing and terrific acting. It may never become one of the best shows on television, but it’s still consistent and winning.

Designated Survivor – “The Traitor” (A-)
The show’s best episode yet, even as it’s started juggling a few more balls than it might be able to handle. (Kidnapping! Double agents! Mercenaries posing as prison guards!)

CURRENT SHOWS
Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60 (C)
His impression-heavy first half is a drag, but when he gets into more stories about his life in the second half, the show takes off. As the Church Lady would almost say, “Well, isn’t that only sorta special?”

Saturday Night Live – “Dave Chappelle/A Tribe Called Quest” (A)
The best episode of the season by far, and I’m certain nothing will top it. I’m still conflicted about that cold open – it’s hard to buy the show being legitimately terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency when they had him host just last year – but Kate McKinnon’s performance is straight and true. Luckily, Chappelle was on his A game, anchoring even the most absurd sketches.

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Oscar Picks: 15 Nov 2016

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences
BEST PICTURE
Fences
Jackie
La La Land
Live by Night
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Silence
Sully

Falling off: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, The Birth of a Nation
Rising star: Hidden Figures
The skinny: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk now seems like a noble failure. It has divided critics and audiences haven’t turned out. Years from now, it may be studied for its groundbreaking camerawork, but for now it’s a footnote. That’s too bad. The Birth of a Nation sank like a stone at the box office, which makes it unlikely to get any nominations at all. But there’s still plenty of African-American talent to recognize, with Fences, Loving and Moonlight leading the way. They’ll be well-represented in the acting categories too.

Denzel Washington in Fences
BEST DIRECTOR
Denzel Washington, Fences
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Martin Scorsese, Silence

Falling off: Ang Lee
Rising star: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
The skinny: The last time two African-Americans were nominated in this category in the same year? Never. That changes with Barry Jenkins facing off against Denzel. Though, just as in the Best Picture categories, Damien Chazelle’s little ray of sunshine La La Land might be voters want: an antidote to more challenging films.

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

Falling off: None
Rising star: Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge or Silence
The skinny: No change here, and barring a major surge, I don’t see anyone moving in. Andrew Garfield, in two big, showy performances from major directors (Mel Gibson and Martin Scorsese) might be the only opportunity.

Natalie Portman in Jackie
BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Arrival
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

Falling off: Viola Davis (moved to supporting)
Rising star: Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
The skinny: With Viola Davis now going to supporting (which doesn’t feel like category fraud, given the play’s division of time), it’s slightly less of a bloodbath. It’s still Portman in the lead, with Emma Stone close behind. But history may play a factor here. This will be Annette Bening’s fifth nomination without a win, and Amy Adams’ sixth. Isn’t it time for them? And what a crazy year that right now it seems that Meryl Streep is on the outside looking in.

Continue reading

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What I Watched This Week: 6 Nov 2016

NEW SHOWS
The Mindy Project – “Concord” (B)
An opportunity to get away from Danny’s wedding (which I am only disappointed we’re missing because it means no Chris Messina or Greta Gerwig) leads to a very Three’s Company plot. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this episode, I just wanted it to be a lot funnier, especially because Sakina Jeffrey kills it on the reg.

Designated Survivor – “The Interrogation” (B-)
Kind of clumsy and very talky, but the cast is still doing their best to keep it believable. In light of the election results in the real world, this is going to be very interesting to see if it reacts in any way to a Trump administration.

South Park – “Oh, Jeez” (B-)
Even Trey Parker and Matt Stone were shocked that Trump won, and they had to change a lot of stuff last minute. That stuff is quite funny, but this episode doesn’t make a ton of sense if you haven’t been keeping up with this season’s espionage arc, which I have not. Still, gathering all the trolls in Copenhagen, then Rickrolling them instead of killing them, was hilarious.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Good Place
“The Eternal Shriek” (A-)
“Most Improved Player” (A)
“Someone Like Me as a Member” (A)
Cemented its status as one of the best shows of the year. We’re now grappling with heavy ethics and morality and philosophy, along with playing by the rules of this ever-expanding world and providing more laughs than ever before. I would give Emmys to Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden and Adam Scott (guest starring as a Bad Place architect) and the writing staff. I’m only disappointed we won’t get any new episodes until 2017.

OLD SHOWS
Community (Season 3) – “Remedial Chaos Theory” (A+)
Had to pull out this episode, which I initially was watching because this reality, where Donald Trump is going to be president, seems like “the darkest timeline.” I already thought this was probably the best episode the show ever did, but I was struck even more because in the “right timeline,” it’s not like everything is perfect. But they all get together to put aside their pettiness and dance and eat pizza. We still have work to do, but we can at least do that while we figure it out. Because it’s really only the darkest timeline if we turn on each other.

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What I Watched This Week: 30 Oct 2016

NEW SHOWS
The Mindy Project – “Leland Breakfast Is the Miracle Worker” (A-)
The best episode of Season Five yet, even though it’s utterly ridiculous. Jack Davenport (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) is stupendous as the egotistical British thespian who hits on Mindy, berates Jeremy and generally acts like an asshole. This is the show in its groove and even if I’m not thrilled about where the show’s heading romance-wise, it’s the most laugh-packed episode in a long time.

This Is Us – “Career Days” (B+)
Randall’s Career Day performance is one of the most cringe-worthy moments I’ve seen on TV outside of The Office. But this is another sweet episode of the show. It’s consistently good, but hasn’t been great yet. But I think it’s getting there.

Atlanta – “The Jacket” (A-) / season finale
The season ends with an episode that’s both fitting and also has almost nothing to do with the “plot” of the first season. It’s just another misadventure for Earn, and while he has finally earned some money by managing Paper Boi, he’s still living in a storage unit. This season has been one of the most confident debuts I’ve ever seen. The show can truly go anywhere, which is thrilling.

Triumph’s Election Special 2016 – “The Home Stretch” (B)
Not nearly as sharp as his other installments, but it’s still shocking to hear real Trump supporters excuse a fake Trump asking the real O.J. Simpson to kill his wife.

CURRENT SHOWS
Modern Family – “Halloween 4: The Revenge of Rod Skyhook” (A)
Halloween brings out the best in this show. Its multiple storylines don’t feel disjointed here. It’s just all goofy costumes, sight gags and way too many puns.

OLD SHOWS
Chappelle’s Show (Season 2) – “Episode 13” (A-)
That Lil Jon sketch has not aged well. But the first black man to use a white man’s toilet? Both provocative and juvenile, which was Dave’s specialty. And the Black Bush segment excels at every type of humor.

Happy Endings (Season 2) – “Spooky Endings” (A)
Still the gold standard for modern day Halloween episodes. It doesn’t get better than this, folks.

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Netflix Picks: November 2016

BEST BET – FILM
Boyhood (2014) – 11/25
Richard Linklater’s magnum opus finally got the Criterion treatment earlier this year. But if you need to save some money, you can revisit his coming-of-age epic here.

BEST BET – TV
The Crown (Season 1) – 11/4
Oh, you thought I’d pick the Gilmore Girls revival, didn’t you. Not on your life. I’m more intrigued by this UK co-production, in which each season will take a look at a decade in the life of Queen Elizabeth II. As someone who never got on the Downton Abbey train, my enthusiasm might surprise you. But I am all about the complicated history of the British royal family.

NETFLIX ORIGINALS
Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60 – 11/4
The Ivory Game – 11/4
World of Winx (Season 1) – 11/4
Danger Mouse (Season 2) – 11/9
All Hail King Julien (Season 4) – 11/11
Case (Season 1) – 11/11
Estocolmo (Season 1) – 11/11
Roman Empire: Reign of Blood (Season 1) – 11/11
Tales by Light (Season 1) – 11/11
True Memoirs of an International Assassin – 11/11
Dieter Nuhr: Nuhr in Berlin – 11/11
Lovesick (Season 2) – 11/17
Paranoid (Season 1) – 11/17
Beat Bugs (Season 2) – 11/18
Colin Quinn: The New York Story – 11/18
Divines – 11/18
Mercy – 11/22
3% (Season 1) – 11/25
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life – 11/25
Michael Che: Michael Che Matters – 11/25

CATALOG SHOWS
K-POP Extreme Survival (Season 1) – 11/15
The 100 (Season 3) – 11/16
Penguins: Spy in the Huddle – 11/23

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What I Watched This Week: 23 Oct 2016

NEW SHOWS
The Mindy Project – “Mindy Lahiri Is a Misogynist”
Is Mindy truly a misogynist? Maybe not, but there is something to be said for intra-office female rivalries. The bigger question is why the show decided to casually reveal that Ben has an African-American daughter, then abandons her for the rest of the show. Will we see more of her? I kind of hope so, since she parries well with Mindy.

This Is Us – “The Game Plan” (B)
The show hasn’t taken the leap yet, but I’m still impressed by its emotional depths and representation.

Atlanta – “Juneteenth” (A-)
Maybe (just maybe) the best straightforward episode of the show, and even this one’s not that straightforward, since Paper Boi and Darius aren’t even in this one. Van and Earn go to the stuffiest house party of all time, complete with “Juneteenth cocktails,” a men’s chorus singing Negro spirituals and a white optometrist doing slam poetry about Jim Crow laws. This is a funny, bold episode and proof that this show can swing for the fences and get at least a triple any time it wants.

Designated Survivor – “The Mission” (A-)
The series’ best episode yet, even if they make zero attempt to make Canada pass for Algeria. The titular mission is well-executed (in narrative terms at least) and the conspiracy part finally has enough details to make it seem like a real threat and not just a red herring.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Good Place
“Everything Is Fine” (A-)
“Flying” (A-)
“Tahani Al-Jamini” (B+)
“Jason Mendoza” (A-)
“Category 55 Doomsday Crisis” (B+)
“What We Owe to Each Other” (A-)
Finally got around to it and I’m glad I did. I can’t recall another network sitcom that was this serialized, this interested in higher-minded topics and this diverse. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny like Michael Schur’s other shows, but it sure does have the human decency at its core, even though its protagonist is decidedly indecent.

Saturday Night Live – “Tom Hanks/Lady Gaga” (A-)
Tom Hanks, hosting for the eighth time, commits to every sketch, no matter how ridiculous. That pays off big time in “Black Jeopardy,” the best live sketch the show has done since Bill Hader played a ventriloquist with ‘Nam flashbacks. There’s also “100 Floors of Frights,” which is the most bonkers thing the show has done that wasn’t in the 10-to-1 slot. It also gave us our new favorite Halloween meme: David S. Pumpkins. That more than makes up for some of the weaker sketches.

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What I Watched This Week: 16 Oct 2016

NEW SHOWS
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.

CURRENT SHOWS
Atlanta
“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.

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