What I Watched This Week: 14 Aug 2016

The Night Of – “Samson and Delilah” (B+)
The show slides into its comfort zone as a more artful courtroom drama/prison horror show as the trial begins. And after last week letting the audience question if maybe Nas did kill Andrea, it shifts our attention to her stepdad, who might not have done it, but has all the reasons to do so. If that means more Paul Sparks, I’m all in.

Casual – “40” (B+)
Valerie is now the worst, and her ill-advised return to Drew is interrupted by her dad’s arrival at home, which should set up an interesting finale. Also, I’m impressed with how the Sebastian-Laura relationship is giving me the feels.

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore – “August 18, 2016” (B) / series finale
Mostly highlights from a show I didn’t watch, but am sorry it’s gone. As Jon Stewart indicated, Larry “started a conversation that wasn’t happening before” he started the show. I hope late-night pushes for more diversity going forward.

I Love Dick (B+)
Finally, a leading role for Kathryn Hahn. She of course rises to the occasion because she is wonderful. But this is also the best thing Kevin Bacon has done in years. He plays Dick as all mystery, bluster but supreme intelligence. No wonder she loves Dick.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson (A-)
Exceedingly clever and entertaining. The most fun of the pilots.

The Tick (B)
Didn’t make me laugh as much as the animated series or the Fox live-action series, but it has a ton of potential and some actual stakes.

The Office (Series 2)
“Party” (A-)
“Motivation” (B+)
I’ve noticed the second series of The Office is noticeably dirtier than the first (“As the actress said to the bishop”). But I’ve also noticed that it’s hard to know if Gervais and Merchant want us to laugh at or with mostly terrible characters like David and Gareth. There’s also a ton of casual sexism, but I can tell that it’s meant to be negative. Still, it’s wildly funny, and David’s motivational class is a top moment of the show for sure. Yet I can’t help shake the feeling that there’s something keeping from absolutely loving the show.

The Wire (Season 5) – “React Quotes” (B+)
Until the final 20 minutes, this is just a plot-mover. But then it gets crazy intense. Bubbles being disappointed at his HIV-negative status is heartbreaking. He still wants to be punished for his boy’s death. He might not be behind bars, but he’s still in prison. And there’s Omar’s miscalculation which might lead to his own untimely end.

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Too Early for This: Oscar Picks — 15 August 2016

Armie Hammer, Nate Parker and Jayson Werner Smith in The Birth of a Nation
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The Birth of a Nation
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Patriots Day

The skinny: A total shot in the dark, since exactly zero of these movies have opened yet, and only a handful have played at festivals. But it’s your usual mix: war movies, compelling dramas, true-life stories and the oddball choice. As usual, there are a few questions of timing (LBJ and Silence are finished but not scheduled, and Patriots Day is still filming), but this early The Birth of a Nation seems like the one to beat.

Nate Parker, director of The Birth of a Nation
Robert Zemeckis, Allied
Ang Lee, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Martin Scorsese, Silence

The skinny: Just like above, it depends on how it all shakes out, considering many of these only have a trailer to go off. But Nate Parker’s labor of love has the most momentum up front.

Woody Harrelson in LBJ
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Michael Fassbender, The Light Between Oceans
Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation
Woody Harrelson, LBJ

The skinny: Not a winner among the group, but several also-rans. Woody Harrelson seems due, but if his LBJ is more quirks than honest-to-God performance, he may not get nominated. (Plus, he may be overshadowed by Bryan Cranston’s performance in HBO’s All the Way.)

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in Loving
Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train
Viola Davis, Fences
Rebecca Hall, Christine
Ruth Negga, Loving
Alicia Vikander, The Light Between Oceans

The skinny: Viola Davis is beyond due for this, but we’ll see if Fences gets lost in the shuffle. There seems to be an even bigger glut of heart-wrenching dramas premiering in late December. But if any race seems locked up, it’s probably Ruth Negga in this category. (Though don’t be surprised if they push her to supporting for no real reason.)

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What I Watched This Week: 7 Aug 2016

The Night Of – “Season of the Witch” (A)
Just an incredible episode of television. Intense, funny and impressively stylish, this seals its place as the best show on TV right now.

Casual – “Death and Taxes” (A-)
Miraculously, the show got out of the corner it painted itself in, turning in its best episode of the season. Its melancholy Leon montage was incredible, and the characters were forced to get real. And this time, only once did I shout at the screen, “No! What are you doing?!”

Triumph’s Summer Election Special 2016 (B+)
Not quite as funny as his earlier special, mainly because there are only two candidates to make fun of. But yet again, his funniest moments come not from his pranks or jokes about the nominees, but from his sorta-terrifying encounters with real people who might actually be voting in November.

The Office (Series 2)
“Merger” (B+)
“Appraisals” (A-)
I imagine if anyone had any complaints about the first season of this show, it would be how unlikable David Brent is. So instead of softening up his edges to make a second season more popular, it doubles down on his worst tendencies. It’s amazing how this show holds up, not only because it’s still so funny, but also because how much it comments on sexism and political correctness. And not in an eye-rolling way either.

The Wire (Season 5) – “Transitions” (A-)
Baltimore continues to be ruthless as the commissioner is pushed out, the cuts continue at the paper and Marlowe has Prop Joe executed.

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What I Watched This Week: 31 July 2016

The Night Of – “The Art of War” (A-)
For the first time, Naz gets to speak for himself. And the consequences could be dire. Cut, burned and possibly tying his own noose, he finally gets the chance to explain exactly what happened that night. But it might not matter, and that’s what makes this show so invigorating and depressing.

Casual – “Reunion” (B+)
Everyone’s ugly pettiness gets tossed out in the open and the show’s all the better for it. Feels like a season finale though. Curious to see what these next three episodes will reveal.

Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule
“Stevie!” (A)
Layers upon layers of brilliance as Steve takes a break from checking it out to hosting a disastrous morning talk show. Just an abundance of riches.

“Crime” (B+) / season finale
The jailhouse scenes are the best, especially with things that couldn’t be faked, like the warden sweating his ass off.

The Office (Series 1)
“New Girl” (B+)
“Judgment” (A)
In the American series, I bailed once the show pivoted to the Jim-Pam-Karen love triangle. But the British series knows how to make the unrequited love between Tim and Dawn blend into the larger narrative. Both of them are stuck, even if they don’t quite realize it. But the MVP of these episodes, at least comedically, is definitely Gareth.

The Wire (Season 5) – “Not for Attribution” (A)
A jam-packed episode, as McNulty continues to cover his tracks and slides further into addiction. It’s tough to watch. But as a former(?) journalist, the hardest thing to watch is the newsroom buyout announcement. But wait! There’s more tragedy! Marlowe’s henchmen kill Butchie! And it’s all to lure Omar out of hiding, which won’t end well for anyone.

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What I Watched This Week: 24 July 2016

The Night Of – “A Dark Crate” (B+)
The specter of Michael K. Williams’ King looms large over Rikers Island, just as a prestige-chasing lawyer (Glenne Headley) swoops in to take over for Stone. All that, plus gross close-ups of Stone’s feet.

Casual – “The Lake” (B)
Valerie finally learns to let go and Alex does the right thing for once. But it will be interesting to see if that actually makes things worse for them.

The Night Of – “Subtle Beast” (A-)
Let’s take a minute to praise Bill Camp. This tremendous character actor is finally getting a lead role (as Detective Box) and he’s sinking his teeth into it. There aren’t really any tics or prejudices to lean into, but the character’s brilliance is in how he keeps subtly pushing people to get the answers he wants. This is just the tip of the iceberg in what an embarrassment of riches this show is.

The Office (Series 1)
“The Quiz” (B+)
“Training” (A-)
I don’t know how one’s favorite character could be anyone besides Tim. Martin Freeman is just so effortlessly above the corporate B.S., he’s marvelous. And his unrequited love for Dawn always feels genuine and not pathetic. But really, I could just listen to David sing inappropriate songs act work all day.

The Wire (Season 5) – “Unconfirmed Reports” (A-)
And here’s the moment where McNulty, whom I missed so much in Season Four, crosses the line, and I can’t support him anymore. You could chalk up his previous screw-ups to laziness or selfishness or sometimes even nobility. But what he does at the end of this episode is pretty reprehensible. That means Gus is now my favorite character, especially since he sees right through Scott’s façade.

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Netflix Picks: August 2015

Sleepy Hollow (1999) – 8/1
Rarely has material and director been so suited as Tim Burton and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Yet, Burton throws any attempt at fidelity right out the window in favor of a mesmerizing color palette and a transfixing black humor. If only he hadn’t lost that magic.

The Get Down (Part 1) – 8/12
One of my most anticipated shows from the moment it was announced, this is Baz Luhrmann’s big, colorful look at the birth of the New York’s DIY music scene in the late ’70s (punk, disco, hip-hop, all of it). It’s allegedly what Vinyl wanted to be but was too serious to pull off.

Holding the Man – 8/1
Masha and the Bear (Season 2) – 8/1
David Cross: Making America Great Again – 8/5
Ever After High: Epic Winter – 8/5
The Little Prince – 8/5
Fearless (Season 1) – 8/19
Steve Aoki: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – 8/19
Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy: We’ve Been Thinking… – 8/26
XOXO – 8/26

NCIS (Season 13) – 8/1
Real Husbands of Hollywood (Season 4) – 8/9
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Season 17) – 8/22

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What I Watched This Week: 17 July 2016

Casual – “The Magpie” (B-)
Despite some stylish presentation (thanks to director Lynn Shelton), the aftermath of Sarah and Jordan’s break-up isn’t making as much of an impact as it thinks it is. “I’m going to destroy you” might have made sense if Vincent Kartheiser said it on Mad Men, but on a show with this kind of a flippant tone, it doesn’t work.

Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule – “Music” (B)
Steve trying to play the trumpet is hilarious, but the rest feels perfunctory.

The Night Of – “The Beach” (A) / series premiere
One of the best pilots I’ve ever seen, filled to the brim with incredible “that guys.” This is a show that takes its time, and it’ll be interesting to see how it sustains the tension of this premiere throughout the rest of the series.

The Office (Series 1)
“Downsize” (A)
“Work Experience” (A)
My first time going through this show completely, three years after I said I would. I’d seen the premiere before, and it’s a brilliant template for 2000s cringe comedy. It sets up the show without feeling like a drag. But the second episode may be even better, as we see how little control David has over the office. There’s a lot of blatant sexism, but it feels like all of it is intentionally displayed for the purposes of calling it out.

The Wire (Season 5) – “More with Less” (A-)
Even though a good chunk of time has passed since the events of Season Four, this show never lets us forget that even if a decision was made for the right reasons or with good intentions, it will still come back to bite you in the ass. Mayor Carcetti refused money from the governor for the public schools because it would have made him look weak and incompetent. But now he’s got a police force he can’t pay overtime for, and tensions are flaring. This means the Major Crimes Unit is up a creek again because there’s no money to keep it running. And the Sun is on the verge of buyouts and layoffs, but still doing the noble work of the Fourth Estate.

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What I Watched This Week: 10 July 2016

Casual – “Threesomes” (B)
Not sure if I like the direction Laura and Aubrey are going, possibly because it’s so ill-defined. Their decision to have a threesome with Spencer feels like shock for shock’s sake. But the dinner party scenes with Alex & Fallon and Valerie’s wave of regret save this episode from itself.

“Bicycle Thieves” (A-)
“100 Cows” (B+)
So, I said up above about Laura and Aubrey’s relationship being ill-defined, but doggone it if some of their moments aren’t the most exhilarating of the show. Like last season, all three characters are falling into a pattern of reckless behavior that might have serious emotional consequences, even though they don’t realize it yet.

Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule
“Eggs” (A-)
“Words” (B+)
The eggs episode was both legitimately heartbreaking and absolutely stomach-churning, which I don’t think any show other than Hannibal has been able to pull off. The words episode felt a little more aggressive, but had some beautifully awkward moments.

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What I Watched This Week: 3 July 2016

The Mindy Project – “Homewrecker” (B+) / season finale
This finale is more of a TBD than a B-plus. This will only work if Chris Messina returns as a regular cast member next season. All these plates spinning, this romance quadrangle(?) will only pay off, regardless of Mindy’s choice, if Danny’s back. This season has been the show’s best in some ways, but it’s still got a lot of things to work out, and that depends on Chris Messina.

The Golden Girls – “All Bets Are Off” (B+)
Even 25 years later, this show still slays, a paragon of multi-cam comedy.

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Film Report Card: Second Quarter 2016

We’re now halfway through 2016. I’ve been keeping track of every movie I’ve seen on Letterboxd so far this year. Here are all the new releases I’ve seen, along with links to reviews where applicable.

Weiner (A-)
Tower (A-)
Five Nights in Maine (C+)
High-Rise (A-)
Miss Sharon Jones! (B+)
The Meddler (A-)
Keanu (B+)
Captain America: Civil War (A)
Money Monster (B+)
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (B)
The Nice Guys (A-)
X-Men: Apocalypse (A-)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (A-)
Me Before You (B-)
Finding Dory (A-)
De Palma (A-)
Free State of Jones (B+)
The BFG (C-)

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