What I Watched This Week: 6 Oct 2019

Saturday Night Live – “Phoebe Waller-Bridge/Taylor Swift” (B+)
A mostly successful episode thanks to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s deft maneuvering in playing all different types of characters. “Mid-Day News” was probably the best non-political/non-game show sketch they’ve done in a very long time.

The Righteous Gemstones – “But the Righteous Will See Their Fall” (A-)
My favorite episode since the big reveal at the end of Episode 2. Gideon chooses not to implicate his dad in the robbery, leaving Jesse to confess on his own, which sets off a whole string of chaos. Judy goes apeshit after B.J. refuses to reconcile, and Kelvin sinks into a drunken state of depression. It’s a bad time for everyone, but makes for a great episode.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Dee Day” (B)
One of the grosser episodes the show has done, leaning hard into offensive stereotypes (on purpose). But it’s all worth it for the last five minutes, when Dee reveals herself as a mastermind.

South Park – “Shots!” (A-)
One of the show’s best episode in a while, this one takes on anti-vaxxers in its typical absurdist way. That ending is absolutely perfect.

The Good Place – “Chillaxing” (B+)
The Soul Squad has to adjust on the fly, as their tactics fail to work on the new foursome. Tahani has to have genuine connection with her earthly archnemesis, and Eleanor has to put Chidi in an uncomfortable position despite her affection for him. But those decisions put half the new group on the path to becoming a better person.

South Park – “Band in China” (B+)
The best part of South Park has been its ability to instantly react to the news of the day. But in a rare turn of events, an episode ends up anticipating the news of the day. Airing just before Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong protestors ended up costing the NBA millions of dollars, this feels like an extremely savvy take

Schitt’s Creek – Season 3 (A- average)
The show grew even more delightful and heartfelt in its final stretch, as Alexis finally graduates high school and David finally opens his store, and kisses Patrick.

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Too Early for This: Oscar Picks – 13 Oct 2019

The Farewell
Ford v. Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Just Mercy
Marriage Story
Once upon a Time in Hollywood
Queen and Slim

Falling off: The Goldfinch, The Laundromat, Little Women
Rising star: The Two Popes
The skinny: The Goldfinch famously flopped. The Laundromat got mixed reviews and some mild controversy for a scene in which Meryl Streep dons brownface. And then there’s Little Women. It’s only problem seems to be premiering too late in the game. It won’t premiere at any festivals, and its Christmas Day opening might be a death sentence as far as awards are concerned, unless they get some early critics screenings going. It’s a problem that may also befall Queen and Slim, which will premiere at AFI Fest in November, only a couple weeks before its wide release. I’m leaving it as a major contender for now, but a month could really change things.

Sam Mendes, 1917
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a Time in Hollywood
Melina Matsoukas, Queen and Slim

Falling off: Lulu Wang
Rising star: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite
The skinny: This seems like a mostly concrete lineup. If Queen and Slim doesn’t hit like I’ve been predicting, Bong Joon-ho could certainly take Matsoukas’s spot, even if Parasite doesn’t have any other major nominations. It’s certainly past time for Bong to get serious stateside recognition.

Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once upon a Time in Hollywood
Daniel Kaluuya, Queen and Slim
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Falling off: Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks (moved to supporting)
Rising star: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
The skinny: Another line-up I’m feeling strong in, despite a long list of guys just below this initial five. And while Uncut Gems has gotten mostly raves, it still feels super weird to talk about Academy Award nominee Adam Sandler. While this certainly has a higher profile than Good Time, that got a whopping zero nods. The Safdies are an acquired taste, and I don’t think it’s one voters will acquire any time soon. A24 will have to campaign hard for this to happen.

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o, Us
Jodie Turner-Smith, Queen and Slim
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Falling off: Brie Larson (moved to supporting)
Rising star: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
The skinny: Feeling like an oddly thin year for lead actress performances, so I’m not expecting much movement here. Saoirse could still get in if the film gets more momentum. She’s clearly well-liked, as she’s already gotten three nods before the age of 25.

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What I Watched This Week: 29 Sep 2019

Saturday Night Live – “Woody Harrelson/Billie Eilish” (C+) / season premiere
All my hopes of new cast members and Alec Baldwin’s public threats to quit the show were dashed in the cold open, which was just a bunch of pathetic impersonations, plus references to Ray Donovan and the “Wasssssupppppppp” ads from 20 years ago. At least the Democratic debate was better, and a couple goofy sketches worked for me. But it seems like we’re in for a long season. At least Phoebe Waller-Bridge is up next week.

The Righteous Gemstones – “And Yet One of You Is a Devil” (B+)
The emotions are more pronounced this week, and the show wimps out on the heist, instead giving us an intense armed robbery. Yet I can’t help but wondering how much better the show would be if there were 20 percent more jokes.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool” (B-)
Goes back to the Thunder Gun well one too many times, as they try to “fix” the reboot of the film. A few funny lines, but it can’t help but feel like “been there, done that.”

The Good Place – “A Girl from Arizona, Part 2” (B+)
Eleanor has a crisis of confidence, as her attempts to snap Brent out of his extreme entitlement fail. But even after telling off her pals (“Stick your fat grumps up your snorkbox!”), she’s persuaded to continue by Michael. He doesn’t understand humans; she does. They’ll all have to learn to persevere this season.

Breaking Bad – Season 5
“Ozymandias” (A+)
“Granite State” (A)
“Felina” (A)
Rewatched the final three episodes of the series in preparation for El Camino. Even though I hadn’t seen them since their original broadcast, I still remembered a ton of details about each episode. “Ozymandias” is probably the greatest single hour of television this decade, and the finale was still extremely satisfying. But I was completely turned around on “Granite State,” which I found a bit boring at the time. But it’s absolutely brilliant in its depiction of a broken man, who has more money than he could ever spend, and absolutely no way to spend it on something he actually wants. In the end, so thin his wedding ring has fallen off his finger, he’s paying his fixer $10,000 just to spend one hour with him and play cards. “I guess I got what I deserved” indeed.

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Streaming Picks: October 2019

It’s an extremely jam-packed month, so let’s dive in.

Top Picks
High Life – Prime 10/3
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie – Netflix 10/11
The Laundromat – Netflix 10/18
Dolemite Is My Name – Netflix 10/25
Amazing Grace – Hulu 10/2
Little Monsters – Hulu 10/11
Wounds – Hulu 10/18

With such an insanely large selection this month, I’m choosing to write only about 2019 movies. All the services are adding plenty of spooky selections for Halloween, but I don’t know when you’ll have time to watch all of those when there’s this much primo content from the last few months.

High Life is Claire Denis’ English-language debut, a disturbing psychological thriller about the bright idea to stick a bunch of violent felons and an obsessive scientist (Juliette Binoche) on space mission.

Netflix is coming for all the awards (well, Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys) with a sequel to Breaking Bad and two tongue-in-cheek true stories. The Laundromat is the latest from Steven Soderbergh, about the Panama Papers, while Dolemite Is My Name is the crowd-pleasing festival favorite featuring a plugged-in Eddie Murphy as comedian and filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore.

Amazing Grace instantly vaulted itself into the upper echelon of concert docs, as the previously unseen footage was finally restored and synced with the audio of Aretha Franklin’s legendary gospel album. And Hulu also picked up two horror flicks from Sundance and SXSW: Little Monsters is a dark comedy about a teacher trying to save her students on a field trip from a zombie apocalypse. Wounds features Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson and shit-ton of creepy crawlies.

Recent Selections
Miami Group Murder – Hulu 10/1
The Killer Next Door – Hulu 10/1
Pegasus: Pony with a Broken Wing – Hulu 10/4
Missing Link – Hulu 10/7
After – Netflix 10/9
Megan Leavey – Hulu 10/9
Trespassers – Hulu 10/11
The Last Face – Hulu 10/13
Little Woods – Hulu 10/14
Dark Crimes – Netflix 10/15
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am – Hulu 10/17
Kill Chain – Prime 10/18
The Ladybug – Hulu 10/20
Echo in the Canyon – Netflix 10/21
Benjamin – Hulu 10/22
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy – Netflix 10/22
Revenge of the Pontianak – Netflix 10/24
Assimilate – Netflix 10/25
Nobody’s Fool – Prime 10/28
In Search of Greatness – Prime 10/30

Ready to Mingle – Netflix 10/2
In the Tall Grass – Netflix 10/4
The Forest of Love – Netflix 10/11
Fractured – Netflix 10/11
La influencia – Netflix 10/11
The Awakenings of Motti Wolenbruch – Netflix 10/11
Banlieusards – Netflix 10/12
Eli – Netflix 10/18
Seventeen – Netflix 10/18
Upstarts – Netflix 10/18
Rattlesnake – Netflix 10/25
A 3 Minute Hug – Netflix 10/28

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What I Watched This Week: 22 Sep 2019

71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (B-)
Not sure if this was as successful a hostless endeavor as the Oscars, but it didn’t drag and they ended on time, so that has to count for something.

The Righteous Gemstones – “Now the Sons of Eli Were Worthless Men” (B)
Now that the show seemingly has no more tricks up its sleeve, it’s settled into a groove. Edi Patterson is on fire this episode, but everything around her is strangely muted.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Gets Romantic” (B) / season premiere
A predictable but full-bore demented meta commentary on romantic comedies. I knew where it was going immediately, but how can you not enjoy Mac calling Dee “a diversionary subplot at best” or Charlie and Frank running to the bus depot to reunite with their Airbnb guests set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden”?

The Good Place – “A Girl from Arizona, Part 1” (B+) / season premiere
A strong return for the show, as the new fake Good Place is almost immediately thrown into chaos with the absolute worst humans (and Simone, who refuses to accept that she’s dead). We also learn the Bad Place theme song is the 1-877-Kars4Kids jingle, an incredible bit.

Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound & Fury (A-)
I am not now, nor have I ever been an “anime guy.” But this “visual album” is a 41-minute trip. Extremely unsubtle but extremely effective, and also extremely violent. The album’s even better, but I’ll probably fire this up every now and again when I need to just throw something on.

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The List: Top 10 ‘The West Wing’ Episodes

Aaron Sorkin’s seminal White House drama premiered 20 years ago today. I had never watched it until Trump began his clumsy reign of terror, so seeing an extremely intelligent fictional president was even more jarring, especially as he actually compromised with his political opponents and even admitted when he was wrong. So here are my top 10 episodes, with even some latter seasons represented.

10. “In God We Trust” (Season 6, Episode 20)
Could America have a non-Christian president, or even a non-religious one? Technically we do now, but he had to convince the Evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party that he was, even though he’s about as far away from Christ as you can get. But if the candidate was a decent person, just not into going to church? We certainly could, but both parties would have a hard time nominating that person. Arnold Vinick is a rare “good Republican” that Aaron Sorkin, Joe Biden and some others still believe exists. But as he has to navigate the treacherous waters of a party that demands not only just religious fealty, but also rabid anti-abortion views, he feigns duty, but swipes back at the end, telling reporters he’ll answer any question they have honestly, as long as it’s not about his faith or lack thereof. That should be the gold standard for any politician.

9. “The Debate” (Season 7, Episode 7)
An hour-long debate that Parks and Recreation lifted wholesale for its fourth season, this was a riveting subversion of format (see also: “Access”) that was more than a gimmick. It revealed nearly everything each character believes. What’s made it age so well (in an upsetting way) is how many topics brought up in this episode we’re still debating, nearly 15 years later.

8. “An Khe” (Season 5, Episode 14)
The very best episode from a transitional Season Five finds Leo in the midst of a personal crisis. His best friend (Jeffrey DeMunn), who saved his life in Vietnam, is in hot water with Congress after low-balling a bid for a defense contract. Leo rushes to his defense, but then has to deal with the immense betrayal when he realizes it’s not partisan politics that’s caused the scandal, but simple greed. Meanwhile, Bartlett has to activate a covert rescue mission to recover five pilots from North Korea, and C.J. beats down a “gotcha” journalist (played by Jay Mohr).

7. “Celestial Navigation” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Told in a flashback structure favored by Sorkin, Josh reveals a day at the White House in which everything goes wrong. It all starts when C.J. has to have an emergency “woot kuh-now,” causing Josh to fill in at the press briefing, where he jokes about the President’s “secret plan to fight inflation.” But the heart of the story is Josh and Toby heading to Connecticut to bail out their Supreme Court nominee after he’s pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving. It features an exceptional performance of quiet dignity from guest star Edward James Olmos, touching on systemic racism in our nation’s police forces.

6. “Take This Sabbath Day” (Season 1, Episode 14)
One of the best aspects of the show, especially in its Sorkin-led years, is how deftly it blended humor with deeply serious topics. Smelly, hungover Josh constantly running into people at work (on a Saturday, no less) is comedy gold. But the show’s debate over the death penalty (even when it’s for a guilty person) brings out the best in many of its characters. And then the show really brings it home in its final scene, featuring Karl Malden as a priest (in what I have to assume is a nod to On the Waterfront), to whom Bartlett confesses his sins.

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What I Watched This Week: 15 Sep 2019

The Righteous Gemstones – “Interlude” (A-)
A crazy ’80s fever dream of an episode, one that doesn’t have many laughs. But it contextualizes every character and relationship effectively. I’m no Sugarland fan, but Jennifer Nettles is extraordinary as Aimee-Leigh. And I’ll have “Misbehavin'” stuck in my head the rest of the year.

The Righteous Gemstones – “Wicked Lips” (B+)
The show’s going to have to clarify the relationship between Kelvin and the Nancies’ wayward daughter, or else it’s going to get icky, but for now it’s a sweet subplot in a crass show. Keefe is rapidly becoming my favorite character, one of the few people on the show actively trying to become a better person.

The Boys – Season 1 (A- average)
A deeply cynical superhero satire that found its black heart along the way. Antony Starr’s performance as Homelander is one of the best of the year. The show hit on everything: terrorism, corporate greed, hypocritical churches, government corruption, drug addictions, racism, sexual assault and environmentalism, and more, and still managed to be hilarious and thrilling. And by gradually revealing its cheeky co-protagonist (a terrific Karl Urban) as a bottomless well of rage and nothing else, constantly flipped our expectations.

Schitt’s Creek – Season 2 (B+ average)
Even sweeter as it adjusts to a more typical sitcom from the fish-out-of-water first season. Just a total delight.

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Emmy Guide 2019: Drama

The Night King on Game of Thrones
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Bodyguard (Netflix)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Killing Eve (BBC America)
Ozark (Netflix)
Pose (FX)
Succession (HBO)
This Is Us (NBC)

Could win: Succession
Should win: Bodyguard
Will win: Game of Thrones 
Should have been nominated: Homecoming (Prime)

The skinny: There are  more deserving and more diverse shows among these nominees, but none of them have a chance. As disappointed as almost everyone was in the final season, Game of Thrones has this locked down.

Jason Bateman in Ozark
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Kit Harington, Game of Thrones
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Billy Porter, Pose
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Could win: Kit Harington
Should win: Bob Odenkirk
Will win: Jason Bateman
Should have been nominated: Richard Madden, Bodyguard

The skinny: Bob Odenkirk should have won by now, but it’s extremely unlikely he’ll win. I think even voters would immediately regret giving it to Kit Harington, but a Thrones sweep can’t be ruled out. That’s why I think it’s Bateman’s to lose, though not having Ozark‘s third season out yet hurts him.

Sandra Oh in Killing Eve
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Laura Linney, Ozark
Mandy Moore, This Is Us
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Could win: Emilia Clarke
Should and will win: Sandra Oh
Should have been nominated: Julia Roberts, Homecoming

The skinny: I’m still shocked Sandra Oh didn’t win last year, but it was voters’ only chance to honor Claire Foy’s excellent work on The Crown. I don’t think they’d be that foolish this time, but of course Emilia Clarke could win. Is that a good idea?

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Emmy Guide 2019: Comedy and Variety

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Barry (HBO)
Fleabag (Prime)
The Good Place (NBC)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime)
Russian Doll (Netflix)
Schitt’s Creek (Pop)
Veep (HBO)

Could win: Barry
Should win: Fleabag
Will win: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 
Should have been nominated: American Vandal (Netflix)

The skinny: Having not seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I can accept that it’s a well-made, funny show. But I cannot conceive of a world in which it is the best of these nominees. Barry one-upped its tremendous first season, The Good Place expanded its world to get to the very heart of why it’s so hard to be a good person in 2019, Russian Doll burst onto the scene with extreme creativity and a lot on its mind, Schitt’s Creek just wrapped another delightful season and Veep closed out with its most cynical season yet. And then there’s Fleabag, the absolute best thing on TV this year. There’s just no fucking way Maisel is better than all of those shows, but here we are.

Bill Hader in Barry
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Don Cheadle, Black Monday
Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Bill Hader, Barry
Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek

Could win: Eugene Levy
Should and will win: Bill Hader
Should have been nominated: Pete Holmes, Crashing

It’s possible sentiment will carry Eugene Levy to his first acting Emmy, and I’d be perfectly happy with that. But Hader is clearly the strongest of the nominees, turning in another incredible turn as Barry.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep
Christina Applegate, Dead to Me
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll
Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

Could win: Catherine O’Hara
Should win: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Should have been nominated: Maya Rudolph, Forever

The skinny: An extremely strong slate. I would love if Lyonne or Waller-Bridge won for their winning performances, but that seems highly unlikely. (If Fleabag wins anywhere, it will be for writing.) So I’m going to assume voters stick with tradition and give Julia Louis-Dreyfus her record seventh(!) Emmy for playing Selina Meyer.

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Emmy Guide 2019: Limited Series and TV Movies

Jherrel Jerome in When They See Us
Chernobyl (HBO)
Escape at Dannemora (Showtime)
Fosse/Verdon (FX)
Sharp Objects (HBO)
When They See Us (Netflix)

Could win and should win: Chernobyl
Will win: When They See Us
Should have been nominated: True Detective (HBO)

The skinny: Almost every category comes down to Chernobyl or When They See Us. Both were about real-life tragedies and both were quite educational. The former was a ratings juggernaut and water-cooler topic for weeks on the old guard. When They See Us was a devastating critical darling that dropped all at once on the new guard. I could see it going either way, but When They See Us has the edge, given its urgency.

Fionn Whitehead in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Netflix)
Brexit (HBO)
Deadwood (HBO)
King Lear (Prime)
My Dinner with Hervé (HBO)

Could win: Brexit
Should win: Deadwood
Will win: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Should have been nominated: N/A

The skinny: Deadwood should have something to show besides Walter Hill’s award for directing the pilot. This would be a consolation prize, but at least it would be something. But Black Mirror is going to win again.

Jherrel Jerome in When They See Us
Mahershala Ali, True Detective
Benicio del Toro, Escape at Dannemora
Hugh Grant, A Very English Scandal
Jared Harris, Chernobyl
Jharrel Jerome, When They See Us
Sam Rockwell, Fosse/Verdon

Could win: Jared Harris
Should win: Mahershala Ali
Will win: Jharrel Jerome
Should have been nominated: Ian McShane or Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood

The skinny: Newcomer Jharrel Jerome will ride the momentum of the show he anchored, beating out more seasoned veterans.

Patricia Arquette in Escape at Dannemora
Amy Adams, Sharp Objects
Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora
Aunjanue Ellis, When They See Us
Joey King, The Act
Niecy Nash, When They See Us
Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Could win: Michelle Williams
Should win: Amy Adams
Will win: Patricia Arquette
Should have been nominated: Paula Malcolmson or Molly Parker, Deadwood

The skinny: Yet another award Amy Adams will lose. This is a race between her, Michelle Williams and Patricia Arquette, but I think the latter will walk away with it.

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