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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The Optimist’s Summer Movie Preview 2019

In a shocking turn of events, there are actually a ton of movies I’m excited for this summer. In years past, I’ve struggled to round out to an even 10. This year, however, I’m expanding to 15 titles that have a lot of potential, even if most of them are recycled IP.

Jeremy Renner in Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame
(April 26)
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson
Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
I’m not concerned with them whiffing the ending of this 22-film deep saga. I’m more concerned with them not cheapening the already cheapened experience of Infinity War, which undercut its gutsy cliffhanger by offing characters we know will be back for future movies (including one that opens later this summer). By limiting the footage we’ve seen in the trailers and ads (including curiously few shots of Mark Ruffalo), they’re doing a good job of keeping the mystery up. Now they just have to solve it. Well, that and the mystery of Jeremy Renner’s hairstyles.

Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen in Long Shot
Long Shot
(May 3)
Starring Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Screenplay by Liz Hannah, Dan Sterling
Directed by Jonathan Levine
I was a bit skeptical of this rom-com – about the Secretary of State (Theron) falling for her speechwriter (Rogen) – until the glowing reviews came in from SXSW. Granted, some of those opinions may have been influenced by alcohol and a free concert by Boyz II Men. Still, their chemistry seems genuine and Jonathan Levine needs a win after his last few projects were a bit compromised.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
(May 17)
Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Jason Mantzoukas, Ian McShane
Screenplay by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Chad Stahelski
By far the sequel I’m most excited for this summer. Keanu Reeves’ re-emergence as an action star has been exciting to see. Plus, they’ve figured out how to top the incredible stunts of the first two films: Put Keanu on a damn horse.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein in Booksmart
Booksmart
(May 24)
Starring Caitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudeikis
Screenplay by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman
Directed by Olivia Wilde
The reductive view is that is just Superbad for ladies. But even if it is that? That means it’s going to be an amazing comedy. Dever and Feldstein have been stealing scenes for years. Now they get to strut their stuff and carry their own film.

Millie Bobby Brown in Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
(May 31)
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford
Story by Max Borenstein and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Directed by Michael Dougherty
I was underwhelmed with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot, despite its impressive cinematography. A clear example of the “awesome trailer, OK movie.” Somehow, I’m all in on this sequel, which introduces all of Godzilla’s foes at once, and features a murderer’s row of TV all-stars, including Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and CCH Pounder (The Shield).

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What I Watched This Week: 14 Apr 2019

NEW SHOWS
Saturday Night Live – “Emma Stone/BTS” (C-)
Though mostly apolitical, the show felt even more slapdash than usual, with lots of so-so celebrity impressions trotted out, especially in the weak cold open. Only occasionally was Emma allowed to show the super-weird brilliance she’s brought to the show many times before. Case in point: the excellent short “The Actress.”

Game of Thrones – “Winterfell” (B) / season premiere
An hour of table-setting doesn’t exactly make for exciting TV. At least Jon knows what we’ve all been yelling at the TV for the last few episodes. (“That is your aunt! Stop that!”) But of course the production still looks like a million bucks, with an excellent shot nighttime scene with the show’s best jump scare ever.

Barry – “Past = Present x Future over Yesterday” (A-)
A dramatic push forward, even if it feels a little overstuffed. Forced to confront his past, Barry really is trying to a better person, but it’s negatively affecting all his relationships. The reappearance of Sally’s ex Sam is sure to bring Barry’s violent tendencies out in horrible fashion, but it’s also possible he just runs away from the hard work of confronting his enemies without hurting them.

Veep – “Pledge” (A)
The nastiest, funniest episode of the season, and a strong contender for the show’s top 5. The abortion clinic scene and Jonah’s disastrous attempt at sensitivity training had me laughing harder than I’ve laughed at anything all year.

Killing Eve – “Nice and Neat” (B+)
Basically an homage to Misery, with even more incredible acting from Jodie Comer and a new killer for Eve to hunt.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Bimbo” (B)
A deeply silly episode, with a ridiculous A-plot and an even more preposterous sub-plot. It’s all consistently funny, but nothing truly special. Marc Evan Jackson really shines, though.

A.P. Bio – “Personal Everest” (B+)
Tim Heidecker continues his incredible year, playing an asshole who never shuts up about how he climbed Mount Everest. Once again, it’s the kids who learn more than Jack, but that’s not a bad thing.

CURRENT SHOWS
Killing Eve – “Do You Know How to Dispose of a Body?” (B+)
When an opening title card can make me laugh, I know I’m in good hands. Picking up “30 seconds later” after the finale, the show is really just Eve and Villanelle doing whatever they can to get out of their bloody situations. While Eve is racked with guilt, Villanelle has no problem murdering (mercy-killing?) a car accident survivor. The constant punctuation of dark humor makes me glad the show hasn’t lost a step.

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What I Watched This Week: 7 Apr 2019

NEW SHOWS
Barry – “The Power of No” (B+)
Barry is trapped in a prison of his own making. After making the right choice not to kill the head of the Burmese crime family, he’s made his own situation that much worse, because now they know there’s a hit out. And with Fuchs back in town, the tension is that much higher, while Gene is forcing him to confront his dark past. But wait! This show is still hilarious, especially in the many acting class scenes this week. One particular standout moment: Gene asks the class if they wish they could have been “in the shit” with Barry, with two white students enthusiastically nodding and two black students shaking their heads. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, right after last week’s DNA swab gag.

Veep – “Discovery Weekend” (B+)
As always, Selina is her own worst enemy. But throwing a wrench even further into her plans are fellow candidates who know her playbook and how to use it against her. I loved the Rhea Seahorn/Anna Chlumsky visual joke, but the real MVP was William Fichtner as a self-absorbed, closeted billionaire/major donor.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Casecation” (A-)
How did Brooklyn Nine-Nine deliver a better episode about the having-kids-or-not debate than This Is Us? Part of it is feeling like the exact right stakes for these characters and this episode, instead of another emotional obstacle to overcome. But This Is Us also didn’t have Julia Sweeney as colostomy patient/would-be bomber.

A.P. Bio – “Melvin” (A-)
Christopher Lloyd is great in his brief turn as Jack’s feuding neighbor. This episode was just non-stop laughs – from Durbin’s terrible photoshoots to an all-timer classroom scene – and terrific friendship/relationship storytelling with Jack and Lynette.

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What I Watched This Week: 31 Mar 2019

NEW SHOWS
Barry – “The Show Must Go On, Probably?” (A-) / season premiere
There was the fear that this season wouldn’t know where to go next, since it ended on such a perfectly dark note. But it’s clear Bill Hader and his creative team haven’t lost a step. They still know how to balance tension and humor, even when it seems like the show’s on separate tracks.

Veep – “Iowa” (A-) / season premiere
After two years off, there was the potential for this show to just kind of spin its wheels for its last episodes. It’s almost as if the writers knew this, turning that subtext into text as Selina’s campaign tries to avoid the same mistakes of the past, as documented in an enormous bound guide. It’s already funny stuff, but punctuated with extremely dark jokes about abortion and mass shootings that only a show this ballsy could pull off.

This Is Us – “Her” (B) / season finale
A somewhat satisfying finale, or course correction, depending on your point of view. Randall and Beth figure out a way to make it work, but it’s also wrapped up in such a way that I don’t necessarily care what happens in future seasons. Mostly, the show has just made me shout “Tell them what you’re feeling!” to various characters, which is a bit frustrating.

A.P. Bio – “J’accuse” (A-)
Jack finally wins over Lynette, but his cynicism and ambition may kill their relationship before it even gets off the ground. Sarika finally gets to cut loose a bit, letting her be a kid again.

CURRENT SHOWS
This Is Us – “R&B” (A-)
Another excellently cut episode showing the progress and cyclical mistakes characters have made over the years, as Randall and Beth have both failed to express their true feelings until the emotions and resentment are too much to bear. Their issues aren’t petty, but the impasse might not last forever.

OLD SHOWS
The Twilight Zone (Season 1)
“Walking Distance” (A-)
“Mirror Image” (A)
While I won’t be subscribing to CBS All Access for the fourth version of The Twilight Zone, I’m using its premiere as an opportunity to catch up on some original episodes that I’ve never seen. These episodes prove the show peaked in its first season, with simple-but-haunting stories that would be often imitated but never duplicated. (“Mirror Image” in particular was a major influence on Us.)

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Streaming Picks: April 2019

Sorry for the delay. March was a crazy month that involved a lot of travel. The Criterion Channel launches on my birthday (April 8) and I’m hoping that’s one of my gifts. Might eventually add that to the list of services I include in this guide.

FILMS
Top Picks
The Addams Family and Addams Family Values – Prime and Hulu 4/1
Bonnie and Clyde – Netflix 4/1
The Hateful Eight – Netflix 4/25
Burning – Netflix 4/29
While Prime and Hulu have the very enjoyable TV adaptations of The Addams Family (featuring the late great Raul Julia), Netflix is where it’s at for movies this month (a rare thing to say). They’ve added Bonnie and Clyde to capitalize on their new film The Highwaymen. They’ve also got Burning, the South Korean mystery that was one of 2018’s best films. And while The Hateful Eight is no one’s favorite Tarantino, they’re streaming the extended roadshow version, which has never been available on home video before. I saw this version in 70mm in 2015, and it does add a little bit of substance to the version most people have seen.

Recent Selections
A Quiet Place – Prime and Hulu 4/2 (Academy Award nominee)
Tyrel – Hulu 4/11
Pledge – Hulu 4/12
We Are Columbine – Hulu 4/16
Overboard – Prime and Hulu 4/17
Mid90s – Prime 4/18
The Quake – Hulu 4/18
I, Daniel Blake – Netflix 4/19
Book Club – Hulu 4/21
The Sisters Brothers – Hulu 4/22
Arcadia – Hulu 4/23
Beast of the Water – Hulu 4/23
Border – Hulu 4/23 (Academy Award nominee)
Don’t Go – Hulu 4/24

Originals
Suzzanna: Buried Alive – Netflix 4/3
Unicorn Store – Netflix 4/5
A Land Imagined – Netflix 4/12
The Perfect Date – Netflix 4/12
The Silence – Netflix 4/12
Who Would You Take to a Deserted Island? – Netflix 4/12
A Fortunate Man – Netflix 4/19
Music Teacher – Netflix 4/19
Someone Great – Netflix 4/19

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