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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The List: Top 10 ‘Community’ Episodes

Dan Harmon’s Community is easily one of the best ensemble sitcoms of all time, despite a forgotten season where he was replaced as showrunner and a final season on a streaming service that doesn’t even exist anymore. It somehow endured, despite being perpetually on the verge of cancellation. But its characters (and school) were indefatigable, and I love them more with each rewatch. In honor of its 10th anniversary, here are my 10 favorite episodes, which was exceedingly difficult, especially since Season 2 is one of the greatest seasons of television ever produced.

10. “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” (Season 6, Episode 13)
In its fifth season finale, Abed (Danny Pudi) basically taunted NBC to cancel it right to the camera. And then they did, and no one stepped in until Yahoo! emerged at the 11th hour to prop its nascent streaming service Yahoo! Screen. This made the sixth season a little bit scrappier, having lost to Chevy Chase, Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown. To replace them, the extremely game Paget Brewster and Keith David more than rose to the challenge and fit right into Greendale’s collection of lovable weirdos. The finale indulges in some meta fantasies, as the main cast imagines the perfect ending for the show. But just the study group hanging out and cracking jokes was perfect enough.

Community - Season 4
9. “Herstory of Dance” (Season 4, Episode 8)
Easily the best episode from the misbegotten fourth season (which I was a lot more forgiving of at the time), Abed gets a love interest in the form of Rachel (a pre-Oscar winning, pre-MCU Brie Larson) in one of the show’s sweetest subplots. But its the big overarching pop culture gag that I’ll always remember: Britta thinking the Sadie Hawkins dance is a Sophie B. Hawkins dance, then over-committing to the bit. Hawkins herself shows up to sing “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover,” even as multiple characters comment that they prefer “As I Lay Me Down.” The show always found a way to take a joke, take it further than reality would allow, and make it all tie into how much the group supports each other.

8. “Paradigms of Human Memory” (Season 2, Episode 21)
I could pick any number of episodes from Season 2 here. Other than a still-baffling Apollo 13 homage/KFC tie-in, there was a period of about 10 weeks where Community was the best thing on TV (bookended by Abed-centric episodes”Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”). But this brilliant deconstruction of the clip show – in which all the clips are wholly invented – is the show at its most daring. It’s an episode strictly for hardcore fans. I’m sure anyone who tuned in at the time would have been alienated, but for me it’s one of the best, because it’s doing something only it could pull off.

7. “Modern Warfare” (Season 1, Episode 23)
This is the episode where the show went from a scrappy pop culture-heavy hangout show to something that would eventually run for more than 100 episodes. An action-packed half-hour directed by Fast & Furious franchise veteran Justin Lin, this is the show fully embracing parody. It might have gone to that well a few too many times in the future, but if you pulled it off so successfully your first go-round, you’d probably want to see if you could do it again and again.

The cast of Community
6. “Cooperative Polygraphy” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Easily the best post-peak episode the show ever did. Incorporating the notoriously difficult Chevy Chase’s departure into a moving exploration of what his death does to the group was tricky to pull off (and still ends on a big joke that lands a dig at Chase), let alone weave into Donald Glover’s own impending departure. But they made it work in this gut-busting episode, featuring guest star Walton Goggins as the administer of Pierce’s estate, who requires the study group to undergo a polygraph test as part of Pierce’s last wishes. It’s the most rapid-fire the show’s ever been, yet still keeping its heart intact.

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Things I Wrote: Summer 2019

I have somehow gone this far into 2019 without doing a round-up post on things I’ve written for respectable publications thus far. This is Part Three. (Find Part One here and Part Two here.)

REVIEWS (for College Movie Review)
Dark Phoenix
Once upon a Time in Hollywood
The Kitchen
Good Boys
Angel Has Fallen

ARTICLES (for Central Track)
Coming Attractions – June 2019
Coming Attractions – July 2019
Coming Attractions – August 2019

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