What I Watched This Week: 7 May 2017

Veep – “Justice” (B+)
A classic show misunderstand, with Mike panicking to the press and saying Selina’s being considered to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, which would be an interesting direction but I’m glad the show squashed that by the end of the episode. Even funnier is Dan acting as the world’s douchiest sperm donor and kiss-ass.

Silicon Valley – “Intellectual Property” (B+)
The show has spent a lot of time this season letting the screwers become the screwees, and this episode really takes it to another level as Gavin Bellsom gets dumped by Hooli and Monica gets saddled with the bad deal she tried to hang around Ed’s neck. But it’s the super-dark lines that will stick with me the most:

|| Doctor to Richard: “You know, after Alan Turing was chemically castrated, he became much less annoying.”

|| Gilfoyle to Dinesh: “I think you might be the first Pakistani man killed by a drone inside the United States.”

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Faithful” (B+)
Here is my first tiny bit of panic that this show didn’t need to be multiple seasons, as it slows way down and introduces a problematic romance. But I will say that the way the first scenes of consensual sex in the show are incredibly hot, because they’re supposed to be.

The Handmaid’s Tale
“Birth Day” (A-)
“Late” (A)
“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” (A-)
More spectacular world-building, with probably the best use of flashback and voiceover in television.

Silicon Valley – “Terms of Service” (A-)
One of the most plot-dense episodes the show has ever done, but it’s done such a good job of making Gavin Bellsom such an asshole, that I was practically giddy once he realized how screwed he was after completing a hostile takeover of PiperChat. It was delicious. Plus, that focus group scene was incredible.

Veep – “Georgia” (A-)
“They’re both crooks, so what’s the difference?” Not going to draw any parallels here, other than to say how funny this episode was, and sets up a bunch of potentially hilarious ramifications down the road. Plus, Richard and Jonah accidentally going to a Nazi punk club was *Italian chef’s kiss*.

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What I Watched This Week: 30 Apr 2017

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Moo Moo” (A)
The first time I can remember this show tackling the “very special episode,” and it pulled it off in the best possible way, as Terry suffers racial discrimination at the hands of a fellow cop, then encounters resistance from Holt when he tries to file a formal complaint. That this manages to be thoughtful and hilarious is pretty miraculous.

The Americans – “IHOP” (A)
The most intense episode of the season, even though every scene is just an extended conversation. Another example of this show’s brilliance.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Last Ride” (A)
Seemingly written as a series finale, this is one of the show’s greatest episodes, both touching and uproarious. If somehow it’s not renewed for a fifth season, we’ve had a great run.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Offred” (A) / series premiere
A harrowing pilot that grabs you from the first frame and never lets up. Maybe the last thing we need is a horrifying dystopian drama, but maybe it’s exactly the thing we need. The acting, editing and directing are all tremendous.

The West Wing – Season Five (A-)
Oh, so you heard this season was pretty bad? That it had a major drop-off when Aaron Sorkin left? FAKE NEWS. This season maybe had a little more inconsistency and some episodes didn’t quite have that perfect musicality, but it was still just as engrossing and engaging as the first four seasons.

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Netflix Picks: May 2017

War Machine – 5/26
Netflix’s biggest acquisition to date: A $60 million satire about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan starring Brad Pitt from the director of Animal Kingdom. It’s going to be really tricky to pull off, but these are some talented folks involved.

Master of None (Season 2) – 5/12
The first season was one of my favorite shows of 2015: not only insightful into modern relationships and being the children of immigrants, but also frequently hilarious. Season Two takes us to Italy. Woooooooooo!

Norm Macdonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery – 5/9
Since Netflix has promised a minimum of one new stand-up special a week for the rest of the year, I’m going to highlight one each month. Norm Macdonald’s talent has only been elevated in the year’s since he left his controversial run at SNL. With memorable appearances on late night shows, as well an insightful Twitter account and a brilliant faux-memoir, he’s one of the best around. I don’t know where a joke about Hitler’s dog is going to come from, but I’m here to listen to Norm tell it.

In the Shadow of Iris – 5/1
Maria Bamford: Old Baby – 5/2
Chelsea (Season 2) – 5/5
Handsome – 5/5
Kazoops! (Season 3) – 5/5
Sense8 (Season 2) – 5/5
Simplemente Manu Nna – 5/5
Spirit: Riding Free (Season 1) – 5/5
The Last Kingdom (Season 2) – 5/5
The Mars Generation – 5/5
All Hail King Julien: Exiled (Season 1) – 5/12
Anne with an E (Season 1) – 5/12
Get Me Roger Stone – 5/12
Mindhorn – 5/12
Sahara – 5/12
Tracy Morgan: Staying Alive – 5/16
BLAME! – 5/19
Laerte-se – 5/19
The Keepers (Season 1) – 5/19
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3) – 5/19
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King – 5/23
Bloodline (Season 3) – 5/26
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower – 5/26
Bunk’d (Season 2) – 5/28
F Is for Family (Season 2) – 5/30
House of Cards (Season 5) – 5/30
Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust – 5/30

Under Arrest (Season 5) – 5/1
Switched at Birth (Season 5) – 5/11
The Fosters (Season 4) – 5/11
Sherlock (Series 4) – 5/15
Royal Pains (Season 8) – 5/18
Riverdale (Season 1) – 5/18

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What I Watched This Week: 23 Apr 2017

Veep – “Library” (A-)
Selina at her best/worst, constantly flip-flopping on issues to get what she wants, even resorting to using her sexuality to keep her name on people’s lips. But even funnier are Gary and Richard reacting to Andrew’s infidelity with perfectly timed, perfectly in-character responses.

Silicon Valley – “Success Failure” (A-) / season premiere
Another reset, which will split our time between Richard and the rest of the group. Richard, who can often be a selfish jerk, is back to his idealistic self, which should make for a warmer show.

The Americans – “Immersion” (B+)
Another solid, if slow episode that’s a real acting showcase for Matthew Rhys, who for once isn’t in complete control of his undercover romantic situation like he was with Martha.

Saturday Night Live – “Jimmy Fallon/Harry Styles” (B+)
Not as consistent as some of Fallon’s other times as host, but it is quite a bit of fun, with several stand-out filmed sketches.

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The Optimist’s Summer Movie Preview 2017

The real world has given us plenty of reasons to be cynical, so I’m going to try to keep that from creeping into my take on the summer movies we’re getting. As always, it’s dominated by sequels and comic book movies, but these look to be the best of what’s on deck.

Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
(May 5)
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell
Screenplay by James Gunn
Directed by James Gunn

Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite MCU movie that doesn’t begin with Captain America. So why am I slightly worried, even though nearly everyone involved with the original is back? Maybe it’s just superhero fatigue, but the best I’m hoping for is just that it’s fun, even though I know it’s just going to be a springboard into the next six movies. At least the soundtrack rules.

The xenomorph in Alien: Covenant
Alien: Covenant
(May 19)
Starring Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender
Screen story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green
Screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper
Directed by Ridley Scott

As a Prometheus defender, I am probably more excited about this sequel than I should be. The cast is phenomenal (including Demián Bichir, James Franco and Noomi Rapace) and might end up being the scariest film in the series, which is almost 40 years old now.

Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick
The Big Sick
(June 23)
Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Directed by Michael Showalter

The biggest film out of Sundance is this comedy based on the real (and complicated) courtship of the writers, whom I both love and would just want to hang out with. Plus, it’s given Ray Romano the best reviews of his career.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming
(July 7)
Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei
Screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers
Directed by Jon Watts

The fact that this film – the first co-production between Sony and Marvel Studios – has six(!) credited writers gives me pause, but I appreciate that it’s dispensing with the origin story, has a young, diverse cast, and features Michael Keaton as a villain we haven’t seen on-screen yet. I was an apologist for both Amazing Spider-Man films (especially the first, which I think is almost as good as Sam Raimi’s take), but this may finally be the definitive Spider-Man.

Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes
(July 14)
Starring Woody Harrelson, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn
Screenplay by Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Directed by Matt Reeves

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of the most pleasant surprises in the ho-hum summer of 2014, a brutal, thought-provoking blockbuster. Matt Reeves is back to direct this sequel, which might actually close out an honest-to-God trilogy, instead of an endlessly sprawling franchise.

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What I Watched This Week: 16 Apr 2017

Veep – “Omaha” (A-) / season premiere
Covers a lot of ground in just 30 minutes, as pretty much everyone is much worse off since Selina lost her bid for re-election. My favorite catch-up was Bill (and his casual racism) trying to navigate a millennial-heavy company like Uber, and a newly bald Jonah received my favorite nickname: Congressman Powder.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Serve & Protect” (B+)
A consistently funny episode, mostly thanks to Nathan Fillion’s ego-centric actor. Still wishing this back half of the season would provide more belly laughs like the first half did.

The Americans – “The Committee on Human Rights” (B+)
We say farewell to Gabriel (whom I’m really going to miss) and Matthew (not so much). Just kind of wondering when we’re going to get to the fireworks factory. I need a kidnapping or something to give this show a jolt of electricity.

The West Wing – Season 4 (A-)
Another terrific season, with an astonishing finale. The transition from Rob Lowe to Joshua Malina was almost seamless. I just wonder how obvious the drop-off from Sorkin to the other writers is going to be in the next season.

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The List: 10 More Great ‘Simpsons’ Episodes

With today marking the 30th anniversary of the Simpsons’ first appearance on The Tracey Ullman Show, a lot of sites are revising (or releasing for the first time) their lists of the best episodes of all time. The Ringer’s list was exhaustive, but dismissive of anything past Season Nine. Consequence of Sound was a little more lenient. And I’ve already published a list. While I thought about re-doing mine from a few years ago, I was struck by a couple of things: 1. This doesn’t really feel like that momentous of an anniversary. 2. It was actually way too hard to revise my list to include some episodes that have grown on me since I did that initial list. So my solution was just to make a list of 10 more amazing episodes that didn’t make the cut last time. Thus, there’s no point in ranking these, so I’ll just present them in chronological order.

“Lisa’s Substitute” – Season 2

The show’s saddest episode, give or take a “Mother Simpson.” Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Mr. Bergstrom (aka Mr. Nerdstrom aka Mr. Boogerstrom) is one of the greatest guest spots the show has ever produced. He’s the substitute – and the only one at Springfield Elementary – to really understand not only how gifted Lisa is but also how lonely. His farewell is both crushing and uplifting at the same time.

Homer: “Hey, just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand!”

“Homer the Heretic” – Season 4

The sharpest of the show’s many digs at organized religion, Homer’s one-man church – which allows him to indulge in any number of luxuries – is a fantasy come true. But he does learn (learning being a fluid concept on this show) that despite religion’s faults, needing people to carry your burdens is universal, no matter what god you pray to.

Ned: “Homer, God didn’t set your house on fire.”
Rev. Lovejoy: “No, but He was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbors when they went to your aid. Be they Christian, Jew or… miscellaneous.”
Apu: “Hindu! There are 700 million of us.”
Rev. Lovejoy: “Aww, that’s super.”

“I Love Lisa” – Season 4

The most depth the show has ever given Ralph Wiggum (who’s mostly used as an easy laugh, as he’s even dumber than Homer). “You can actually pinpoint the moment his heart breaks,” Bart tells Lisa upon video replay of her very public rejection of him. It’s exemplary of the show in its prime: gut-busting but also touching. This episode also features my third-favorite original tune (after Stop the Planet of the Apes! I Want to Get Off! and “The Monorail Song”): “The Lesser-Known Presidents.”

Homer: “Six simple words: I’m not gay, but I’ll learn.”

“Last Exit to Springfield” – Season 4

I’ll call this the OK Computer of The Simpsons canon. It had been held up as the greatest episode for so long, but was never my favorite, so I always bumped it down. But while I still wouldn’t put it at No. 1, and it’s not my all-time favorite, I can now see just how utterly brilliant it is, and don’t begrudge anyone who would put it at the very top. I mean, where else are you going to get a Grinch parody, a Yellow Submarine montage and a scene that calls back to a very specific scene of 1989’s Batman film AND have it all make sense in context?

Mr. Burns: “This is a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters. Soon they’ll have written the greatest novel known to man. Let’s see. ‘It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times!’ You stupid monkey!”

“And Maggie Makes Three” – Season 6

That last shot is the most touching thing the show has ever done, but the whole episode is filled with laughter and something… in… my… eye… It’s also pretty damn relevant, especially to my generation, given that it’s about the sacrifices you have to make to take care of your family. “Hmm… well I can do something I love but not have enough to make ends meet, or I can take a soul-crushing job to keep us float?” This episode perfect encapsulates that struggle.

Carl: “Homer, you should see a doctor. I don’t think a healthy man can make that kind of smell.”

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What I Watched This Week: 9 Apr 2017

Crashing – “Baptism” (B+) / season finale
A fitting finale to a season all about finding yourself. I honestly think Leif never should have been seen again after “The Yard Sale,” because he’s so annoying, and I hope they don’t have Pete and him become roommates next season. But this was a solid first season that I hope gets better next year.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Audit” (B)
It’s been a long three months without this show, and while it’s good to have it back, this episode’s just not as strong as some of the earlier stuff in Season Four. The Jake & Amy vs. her ex plot worked, but the office shenanigans felt a little tired.

The Americans – “Crossbreed” (B+)
The first episode where I really noticed how slow this season is, and that’s not necessarily a knock. This is a show that will devote a full minute to an undercover Elizabeth doing tai chi with her mark. This is a show that will follow Oleg systematically, cathartically destroying evidence that might blackmail him, and set it to a Peter Gabriel deep cut.

The Americans – “Lotus 1-2-3” (A)
The best episode of the season thus far, filled with sex, regret and one of the most genuinely moving scenes of the whole show.

Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas – Live at Austin City Limits (B)
Not nearly as sharp as his first special, and slightly more problematic. Still, it’s uproarious.

Saturday Night Live – “Louis CK/The Chainsmokers” (A-)
The best episode since Dave Chappelle hosted, thanks to CK’s commitment to every bit, no matter how absurd, and for just how dark it got so frequently.

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What I Watched This Week: 2 Apr 2017

Crashing – “Julie” (B+)
My least favorite episode, but still quite good, as everything hits the reset button. But Pete is still so likable, even as he’s talking to Rachael Ray’s mom about blowjobs.

The Mindy Project – “A Decent Proposal” (B+) / season finale
They got rid of the least useful character on the show and set up the last season of the show wonderfully. Can’t really top that for a finale on a middling show.

The West Wing – Season 3 (A)
Probably the best season yet, with its most devastating finale, and a use of “Hallelujah” that’s not annoying since this was 15 years ago before it got used to death.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Mar 2017

Crashing – “Warm-up” (A)
The most joyous episode of the most joyous show. I’ve really enjoyed Crashing, but this is where Pete Holmes’ relentless optimism has truly paid off.

The Americans – “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” (A-)
The show hasn’t turned any truly great episodes so far this season, but this came the closest, with Noah Emmerich’s best acting since Season 3.

Legion – “Chapter 8” (A-) / season finale
I don’t know how excited I am for that last little bit, but this is a satisfying full-tilt finale that explores a lot of big ideas, and also gives that character a fleshed-out backstory in a matter of minutes. This is my favorite show of 2017, and while there’s a lot of year left, I don’t know if anything can top this.

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