What I Watched This Week: 15 Nov 2020

NEW SHOWS
The Mandalorian – “The Siege” (A-)
Couldn’t ask for much more. Yes, there was another mission and another gun battle, but it was exceptionally thrilling, and featured Baby Yoda eating blue macarons. I’m not immune to that.

BINGEING
Succession – Season 1 (A- average)
I was already in after the first episode, but it really did pick up mid-season as the corporate subterfuge took over. And I could not have foreseen the way that finale ended.

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Too Early for This: Oscar Picks – 15 Nov 2020

BEST PICTURE
Da 5 Bloods
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
The Trial of the Chicago 7

The skinny: We already have our first victim of bad reviews: Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy. Netflix’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s controversial memoir has already been thoroughly pilloried in the weeks leading up to its release. I’m leaving Amy Adams and Glenn Close in my predictions for now though.

What seems most shocking at the moment is Netflix could have four Best Picture nominees, each potentially turning on each other like the end of Reservoir Dogs.

BEST DIRECTOR
Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Regina King, One Night in Miami

The skinny: It would be absolutely wild if for the first time ever, the directing line-up featured just one white guy (and an extraordinary one at that), so don’t expect this to pan out. That this would also mean two Black filmmakers and two Asian-American filmmakers and two women – all of them extremely talented – would be truly astonishing.

BEST ACTOR
Tom Hanks, News of the World
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

The skinny: Tom Hanks getting nominated is something we take for granted. Last year was his first nod in nearly two decades. So don’t be surprised if he falls out in favor of the late Chadwick Boseman, who’s going lead for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but may have a better chance of getting a posthumous nomination in the supporting category.

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland

The skinny: The big question mark here is Day, whose movie won’t be coming out until February, just before the new eligibility deadline. Will it make that release date, or will the studio move it to further into 2021, just like the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect? McDormand feels like the frontrunner, but having just won for Three Billboards, it seems unlikely she’d win again so soon.

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What I Watched This Week: 8 Nov 2020

NEW SHOWS
Saturday Night Live – “Dave Chappelle/Foo Fighters” (B+)
The cold open wasn’t a complete atrocity, like Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton singing “Hallelujah,” but it wasn’t anything special either. Chappelle’s blistering monologue was excellent, as was the Aunt Jemima/Uncle Ben sketch. But aside from an incredible digital short, the show seemed to just peter out, though it was nice to see Michael Che take off his clip-on tie and have a drink now that Trump’s going to be a one-term president.

The Mandalorian – “The Heiress” (B+)
Another thrilling episode, though almost of the significant plot seems to be only relevant to those obsessed with the wider mythology/canon of Star Wars, which is definitely not me.  

BINGEING
The Queen’s Gambit (A- average)
Its first episode is kind of a drag, but it’s brimming with life once Anya Taylor-Joy takes over the lead role: an orphan, an addict and a genius. Even if you’re not into chess, this is an often thrilling, well-acted, perfectly controlled show. One of the year’s best surprises.


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What I Watched This Week: 1 Nov 2020

NEW SHOWS
Saturday Night Live – “John Mulaney/The Strokes” (B)
The weakest of Mulaney’s turns hosting, but still plenty of inspired silliness. He also had a great monologue, taking what was surely a note about enthusiastically going to the polls Tuesday and turning it into a wonderfully specific bit about how things will still be awful, no matter who wins the “Elderly Man Contest.”

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXXI” (C+)
Another ho-hum entry. The Toy Story parody is fine, mostly notable for its animation style, which the show has used before. The middle section, featuring Homers from the multi-verse is a particular low point and shockingly laugh-free. At least the third part, a parody of Russian Doll (nearly two years after the show debuted), is clever, and could have supported a full-length episode.

The Mandalorian – “The Passenger” (A)
My favorite episode of the show to date: a thrilling, funny, at times creepy 45 minutes that represents what this show can do at its best, when it’s not all fan service all the time.

BINGEING
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law – Season 1 (A- average)
I had seen a few episodes of this over the years, but now that it’s on HBO MAX, I plan on watching the whole thing. Though the animation and writing aren’t quite as good in this initial season, the highs are among the hardest laughs I’ve ever had.

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What I Watched This Week: 25 Oct 2020

NEW SHOWS
The Mandalorian – “The Marshal” (B+) / season premiere
I’m not sure exactly why I’m complaining. That cold open is one of the best things the show has done, and the ultra-widescreen climax is tremendous action TV. But a lot of the show still feels like fan service, and I guess I’m going to have to get used to that.

BINGEING
The Morning Show – Season 1 (B+ average)
It started off a little screamy, and it eventually ran out of ways for Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) to cycle through trust and distrust, but its strong ensemble cast and intricate plotting made for damn good TV, especially in its home stretch.

REWATCH
The Simpsons – Season 7 (A- average)
Another terrific season, featuring two of its all-time best episodes: the Troy McClure showcase “A Fish Called Selma” and the sadly-still-relevant immigration episode “Much Apu About Nothing.”

OLD SHOWS & SPECIALS
Bill Burr: Paper Tiger (A-)
Only Burr can pull off the tricky tonal tightrope of decrying the extreme nature of a constantly outraged culture without looking like an aggrieved white man upset he can’t make unfunny jokes about LGBTQ people anymore. The trick is making himself the butt of the joke and not a martyr or the Last Truth Teller. His bits about anger management, blow-up dolls and Elvis Presley are particularly inspired and amusing.

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What I Watched This Week: 18 Oct 2020

NEW SHOWS
Saturday Night Live – “Issa Rae/Justin Bieber” (B-)
A bit of a mixed bag. Nothing was outright terrible, and it did feature the best cold open of the season so far. Weekend Update has been on fire, too. Kyle Mooney’s digital short was a shrug of a piece of filler, but I will always appreciate someone who apparently has deep affection for Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” video.

REWATCH
The Good Place – Season 4 (A- average)
Taken all together, it doesn’t seem nearly as “just OK” as it did when it aired last fall (and part of January), but it’s still not as magical as the first three seasons, at least until the back half of the season, when it’s absolutely transcendent, with a finale that moved me to tears once again.

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What I Watched This Week: 11 Oct 2020

NEW SHOWS & SPECIALS
Saturday Night Live – “Bill Burr/Jack White” (B+)
The best episode the show’s had in 2020, if not a little before. Its cold open went on far too long with a parody of The Fly that doesn’t work. But Burr being antagonistic in his monologue and some truly dark jokes during Weekend Update made this show feel bold in a way it hasn’t in a very long time.

A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote (B+)
A charming reunion and a strong reminder that if your vote wasn’t worth anything, people wouldn’t be trying so hard to take it away from you.

CURRENT SHOWS & SPECIALS
Beth Stelling: Girl Daddy (B+)
A funny, freewheeling hour that interweaves vital #MeToo points and a surprising number of bestiality jokes.

BINGEING
Ted Lasso – Season 1 (A- average)
Everything you heard about this show is true. It’s a warm and worthy successor to Schitt’s Creek, with an added underdog sports plot. Jason Sudeikis is stupendous, as is the ensemble cast.

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What I Watched This Week: 4 Oct 2020

NEW SHOWS
The Boys – “What I Know” (A) / season finale
A jam-packed finale that could serve as a fitting series closer. Its emotional beats are earned and its “girl power” moment is a million times more effective (and violent) than the one in Avengers: Endgame. Thankfully, there will be more pitch-black satire to come, just as soon as this pandemic calms down.

CURRENT SHOWS
South Park – “Pandemic Special” (A-)
I shouldn’t have been surprised that the only scripted show on TV with this quick a turnaround would have been able to come up with something this savvy – hitting everything from economic downturn to Trump’s inaction to police shootings – but I wasn’t expecting it to be moving. But Stan’s storyline about being extremely anxious that we’ll never know when and if we’ll go back to normal hit very close to home.

BINGEING
Luther – Season 2 (B+ average)
Realism goes far out the window, but Elba helps keep it grounded. It’s captivating, but nowhere near as resonant as the first season.

Defending Jacob – Season 1 (B average)
By turns predictable and preposterous, the acting is consistently good but the writing is often weak, relying on twists instead of true character development. But its finale still packs a wallop.

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What I Watched This Week: 27 Sep 2020

NEW SHOWS
The Boys – “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” (B+)
Felt a bit too on-the-nose, but it’s not the show’s fault the real world is run by white supremacists trying to start a race war.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Boys – “The Bloody Doors Off” (A-)
One of the show’s darkest and most violent hours yet, with half of the Boys trapped in a hospital for mentally ill patients injected with Compound V. The casting of Shawn Ashmore as an ex-Supe who kills the patients whose bodies reject the superpowers is inspired.

REWATCH
The Simpsons – Season 6 (A average)
Perhaps the show’s second-best season (after Season 4), with a particularly inspired stretch in the back half. And that finale, in which Mr. Burns’ behavior “crossed the line between everyday villainy and cartoonish supervillainy” doesn’t feel so cartoonish anymore.

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