What I Watched This Week: 29 Oct 2017

NEW SHOWS
Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Thank You for Your Service” (B+)
Other than the Salman Rushdie episode (which has only gotten better in the weeks since it aired), nothing from this season of Curb has stood with the best. This episode could have gotten there, but it’s a little too overstuffed, with his aborted romance with a sexy mail carrier (Katie Aselton, more than holding her own) seemingly transported into this episode from the story scrap heap. It should have had more time (in its own episode) or not been in this one at all.

The Mindy Project – “Doctors Without Boundaries” (B)
None of the three storylines were bad, per se, but it feels like they’re really rushing things along to wrap up everything with the few episodes they have left. But I appreciate Guy Branum’s personal touches, like calling Mindy and Morgan “Priyanka Nope-ra and Uggo Mortensen.”

This Is Us – “The 20’s” (A)
The best episode of the season thus far, with nary a scene taking place in the present. While the show does bring forth the happy tears when its characters succeed, it’s even better when it’s exploring how they handle failure. That’s where the actors shine the brightest.

The Good Place – “Derek” (B+)
Explores love and glitches with its usual warmth, and Jason Mantzoukas is a delight as Derek. I just wish NBC weren’t idiots when it came to programming, since replacing this show with crappy NFL games until January just proves we’re in the Bad Place.

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Netflix Picks: November 2017

TOP PICK – FILM
Mudbound – 11/17
Dee Rees goes for Oscar glory in this heavy historical drama about two soldiers – one white, one black – struggling to re-adjust to their lives in rural Mississippi after World War II. The film was one of the most acclaimed entries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

TOP PICK – TV
Godless – 11/22
Scott Frank and Steven Soderbergh. They could have made a miniseries about paint drying and I’d still watch it. Luckily, this Netflix series looks far more interesting than that. But this is a desolate Western featuring gentlemanly outlaws, shady lawmen and a town haunted by loss.

TOP PICK – COMEDY
Brian Regan: Nunchucks and Flamethrowers – 11/21
Brian Regan, like his contemporary Jim Gaffigan, is one of the best clean comedians in the business. His latest special might sound a little more off-beat than usual, but he’ll find a way to tie it all in.

NETFLIX ORIGINALS
Ten Percent (Season 2) – 11/2
Alias Grace – 11/3
The Big Family Cooking Showdown (Season 1) – 11/3
Fate/Apocrypha (Part 1) – 11/7
Project MC2 (Part 6) – 11/7
Blazing Transfer Students (Season 1) – 11/10
Dinotrux Supercharged (Season 1) – 11/10
Glitter Force Doki Doki (Season 2) – 11/10
Lady Dynamite (Season 2) – 11/10
Mea Culpa – 11/10
The Killer – 11/10
DeRay Davis: How to Act Black – 11/14
A Christmas Prince – 11/17
Longmire (Season 6) – 11/17
Luna Petunia (Season 3) – 11/17
The Punisher (Season 1) – 11/17
Shot in the Dark (Season 1) – 11/17
Spirit: Riding Free (Season 3) – 11/17
Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters (Season 1) – 11/17
Beat Bugs: All Together Now – 11/21
Saving Capitalism – 11/21
She’s Gotta Have It (Season 1) – 11/23
Cuba and the Cameraman – 11/24
Frontier (Season 2) – 11/24
The Many Faces of Ito (Season 1) – 11/24
Trailer Park Boys: Out of the Park USA (Season 1) – 11/24
Glitch (Season 2) – 11/28
Good Morning Call (Season 2) – 11/28

CATALOG SHOWS
Stranger (Season 1) – 11/1
Under Arrest (Season 1) – 11/1
King Duckling (Season 1) – 11/7
Broadchurch (Season 3) – 11/27
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (Season 7, Part 2) – 11/27
Guerra de Idolos (Season 1) – 11/29

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What I Watched This Week: 22 Oct 2017

NEW SHOWS & SPECIALS
Too Funny to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Dana Carvey Show (B+)
Funny and insightful, though probably would have been a smidgen better had Louis C.K. participated in this.

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXVIII” (B+)
The most consistent Halloween special in years, with some of the best animation the show has ever had. The final segment is also the most disturbing thing they’ve ever come up with, even more so than that vomiting frog in the 12th installment.

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Running with the Bulls” (B)
Larry’s problems seem a little too ridiculous in this episode, but the laughs are still there.

The Mindy Project – “Girl Gone Wild” (A-)
Might be the strongest episode of the season. Annoyed by everyone in her life being coupled up, she takes her would-be honeymoon as a voyage of self-discovery. When she runs into an old flame, thankfully she gives him good advice instead of trying to hook up with him. It’s a sign of Mindy’s (and the show’s) maturity. Of course, there’s still a cameo from Reese Witherspoon as herself, as an apparition, helping Mindy free herself from her selfishness and her 127 Hours-style predicament.

This Is Us – “Brothers” (B)
Would be the strongest episode of the season thus far were the show not back on its bullshit about Kevin’s pill addiction, which has slid into full-blown alcoholism somehow. Justin Hartley’s skill is his charm. And yes, there’s some depth you can add about how that’s a cover for his insecurity. But my god, he simply is not a strong enough actor to make this not feel phony.

The Good Place – “Janet and Michael” (A)
The sweetest episode the show has ever done. This bottle episode manages to still be visually inventive, giving the four humans minimal screen time so the show can explore the surprisingly complex emotions between a demon and an android(?) that works because of the excellent writing and the knockout performances from Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden. And the show still found a new wrinkle to throw the show into chaos.

BINGEING
American Vandal – Season 1 (A-)
A genius mockery/homage to the true crime docs and podcasts that became sensations. It’s surprisingly well-acted and brilliantly constructed. The joke should have gotten tedious by Episode 2, but it kept finding ways to expand its conspiracy, with more twists and turns every time. Certain to make my top 10 of the year.

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What I Watched This Week: 15 Oct 2017

NEW SHOWS
Curb Your Enthusiasm – “A Disturbance in the Kitchen” (B+)
More classic Curb. We haven’t had anything legendary this season, but this is the perfect Curb archetype, with an annoying situation coming full circle. There’s also a beautifully deployed Salman Rushdie cameo, who extols upon Larry the joys of fatwa sex.

The Mindy Project – “The Midwife’s Tale” (B+)
So swift and lovely, as Morgan and Tamra finally get back together. This show has a sneaky way of making characters you used to find annoying endearing again.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “HalloVeen” (A)
The most clever iteration of their annual Halloween heists, with a truly moving twist. If this ends up being the last season of the show (entirely possible, given its cratering ratings), it seems they’ll end it on a lovely note.

This Is Us – “Still There” (B+)
Blows right past Kevin’s potential pill addiction, and focuses on something more psychological: his dangerous desire to keep pushing ahead, to be a tough guy. Plus, Elizabeth Perkins is spot-on as the kids’ critical, racist grandmother.

The Good Place – “The Trolley Problem” (A)
Brilliantly brings to life one of philosophy’s major thought problems, but also gives D’Arcy Carden the spotlight as Tahani and Jason’s counselor. One of the most darkly funny episodes the show has ever done.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Good Place – “Existential Crisis” (B)
Not nearly as bad as I had been led to believe, mainly because Ted Danson kicks it up a notch as Michael, suffering from major ennui, which he counteracts with full-blown douchebaggery.

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Too Early for This: Oscar Picks – 15 Oct 2017

BEST PICTURE
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Greatest Showman
Last Flag Flying
Murder on the Orient Express
Phantom Thread
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Wonderstruck

Falling off: Detroit; Downsizing; Goodbye, Christopher Robin
Rising star: Call Me by Your Name

The skinny: With Toronto and Telluride out of the way, the murky picture looks a little bit clearer. It’s hard to no for sure when old-school crowd-pleasers like The Greatest Showman and Murder on the Orient Express might not be deemed worthy and two of the most anticipated films (Phantom Thread and The Post) aren’t done yet and don’t even have a trailer. And then there’s the curious case of Call Me by Your Name. Early buzz pegged it as dominant in most categories, but it’s gotten a somewhat muted reception, especially by gay critics, some of whom view this very sensual story as too tame.

BEST DIRECTOR
Joe Wright, Darkest Hour
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Steven Spielberg, The Post
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Falling off: Kathryn Bigelow, Alexander Payne
Rising star: Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049

The skinny: With Three Billboards taking the People’s Choice Award at Toronto (often a key indicator of Best Picture nominees and winners), it’s likely to become a more significant player (especially if it picks up some critics’ groups awards). And if they hold up, I’m still betting on Joe Wright and Christopher Nolan to finally get directing nods. Denis Villeneuve has been ascendant for several years, but he’s only getting in if Blade Runner 2049 is also a Best Picture nominee, which is a big ask.

BEST ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman, Marshall
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Falling off: Denzel Washington
Rising star: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

The skinny: Muted reception for Roman J. Israel, Esq. means Denzel’s out (for now). But Marshall‘s launch has been odd to say the least, so Chadwick Boseman is in the most danger of losing his spot. Does that mean they’d opt for something super-weird, like James Franco’s portrayal of Tommy Wiseau? Probably not, but he is a former nominee and host (which we don’t talk about).

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul
Nicole Kidman, The Beguiled
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post

Falling off: Rooney Mara
Rising star: Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

The skinny: Mary Magdalene has been sent off to 2018, so Judi Dench is now definitely getting nominated for Victoria and Abdul, which has been the sleeper hit of the fall. If Annette Bening couldn’t get nominated for her stellar work in 20th Century Women last year (which managed an Original Screenplay nod), I don’t know how she can do it as the film’s only big aspect, but she’s consistently great, so if Academy voters forget about The Beguiled above the line, she’s got a shot.

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What I Watched This Week: 8 Oct 2017

NEW SHOWS
The Simpsons – “Springfield Splendor” (B+)
A truly delightful episode, as Lisa’s art therapy becomes a best-selling graphic novel and then a truly disastrous musical. There’s plenty of great gags about amateur psychiatry, comic book fandom and overblown Broadway productions. But more importantly, it’s sweet and gives Marge a chance to shine. “You could say it’s writ Marge!” “Yeah, but you shouldn’t.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “The Pickle Gambit” (B+)
Another ep that’s longer than a half-hour, but earns its runtime. Larry inadvertently injures Funkhauser’s nephew, gets kicked out of a hotel by Jim Rash and offends the consul of Iran. Pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay good.

The Mindy Project – “Jeremy and Anna’s Meryl Streep Costume Party” (B+)
An episode greater than the sum of its parts. The centerpiece party is among the best things the show has ever done. And though I’m a little skeptical of Jody having a Grinch’s-heart-growing-three-sizes-and-breaking-the-heart-measuring-device moment by giving women without insurance free healthcare, his banter with Morgan was priceless. And Beth Grant’s good enough to pull off a sub-plot about an abandoned kid, even if Mindy lusting after him doesn’t quite work.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Kicks” (B+)
A sharp reset episode that has everything you could want: Jake and Boyle solving a case, Holt being both supportive and stoic, and Rosa and Adrien being gross. Though I’m curious if their break-up is actually good for the show, or just means that Jason Mantzoukas is busy.

This Is Us – “Déjà Vu” (B-)
Some strong scenes, but I worry about what this means for the direction of the show. Telegraphing the weakest character’s (and weakest actor’s) upcoming painkiller addiction is certainly timely, but I don’t think they’re up to the task. And the Pearsons fostering could be good for commenting on privileged kids, but will probably just serve for lots of scenes of their foster daughter throwing things and then crying while a parent hugs them. This show could easily be stretched to the limits and start to fray, so I hope they can rise to the challenge their making for themselves.

OLD SHOWS
Good Behavior (Season 1) – “So You’re Not an English Teacher” (A-)
An outstanding pilot, though I’m very curious how they’ll sustain this week-to-week. It will almost certainly be a con-of-the-week/hit-of-the-week set-up, which means the intensity probably won’t be as strong. But the acting and cinematography are likely good enough to keep me interested.

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What I Watched This Week: 1 Oct 2017

NEW SHOWS
Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Foisted!” (B+) / season premiere
Could have been a little tighter, but don’t listen to the haters, because it doesn’t feel like Curb has lost a step.

The Mindy Project – “Leo’s Girlfriend” (B+)
Julie Bowen is perfect as the showy, condescending, over-involved school mom. Chris Messina re-integrates into the cast perfectly. All that was expected, but I was not expecting the twist of Morgan being the father of Tamra’s baby. I was not expecting to be emotionally involved in either of those characters at all.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Big House, Part 2” (A-)
Not quite as gut-busting as the premiere, but still frequently hilarious thanks to Tim Meadows’ scene-stealing work. It also sets up a potential season-long corruption arc for Captain Holt, which should let him flex his Emmy-winning dramatic chops again.

This Is Us – “A Manny-Splendored Thing” (B+)
A consistent episode that shows just how important it is to have just one other person to put their hands on your face and tell you, “It’s OK. We’re going to get through this.”

The Good Place – “Team Cockroach” (A-)
Confines most of the action to Eleanor’s house, but explores the nature of the characters, the office politics of the Bad Place and exposes Michael’s vulnerability. Plus, some more solid Florida jokes.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Good Place – “Dance Dance Resolution” (A)
A sharp, smartly constructed episode that upends everything yet again.

OLD SHOWS
Boy Meets World (Season 5) – “And Then There Was Shawn” (A)
Ah, the ’90s, when a show could air its Halloween episode right after Valentine’s Day instead of October, reference Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and South Park, and also be somewhat moving and scary, but still be funny after all these years.

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Netflix Picks: October 2017

TOP PICK – FILM
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – 10/13
I’ll trash Greenberg till the day I die, but Noah Baumbach has been on an upswing lately with Frances Ha, While We’re Young and Mistress America. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the challenging project that will get Adam Sandler back to the types of roles that require more of him than just showing up at some vacation destination and making fart jokes. Even if it’s not, this dramedy has a hell of a cast, including Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson high as a kite.

TOP PICK – TV
Stranger Things (Season 2) – 10/27
*looks side to side, motions you to come closer, whispers*
This is better than the movie It, even though it was clearly influenced by the book. Season 2 hopefully is even more thematically rich, fitfully scary and downright awesome than the first season.

TOP PICK – COMEDY
Patton Oswalt: Annihilation – 10/17
Patton can do no wrong. His comedy is always brilliant and insightful. This episode should be even more resonant since it’s the first one he wrote since the death of his beloved wife.

NETFLIX ORIGINALS
Rodney Carrington: Here Comes the Truth – 10/3
ID-0 (Season 1) – 10/6
Skylanders Academy (Season 2) – 10/6
Suburra (Season 1) – 10/6
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson – 10/6
Word Party (Season 3) – 10/6
Christina P: Mother Inferior – 10/10
Fe De Eterras – 10/12
El Especial de Alex Fernández, el Especial – 10/13
Kingdom of Us – 10/13
Mindhunter (Season 1) – 10/13
Super Monsters (Season 1) – 10/13
The Babysitter – 10/13
Voltron: Legendary Defender (Season 4) – 10/13
Slasher: Guilty Party – 10/17
1922 – 10/20
Haters Back Off (Season 2) – 10/20
One of Us – 10/20
The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate Del Castillo Story – 10/20
Wheelman – 10/20
Wanted (Seasons 1 & 2) – 10/12
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold – 10/27
Judah Friedlander: America Is the Greatest Country in the United States – 10/30
Zumbo’s Just Desserts (Season 1) – 10/31

CATALOG SHOWS
Lock-up: Disturbing the Peace (Vol. 1) – 10/1
PJ Masks (Season 1) – 10/1
Schitt’s Creek (Season 3) – 10/5
The Fosters (Season 5) – 10/5
LEGO City (Season 1) – 10/15
West Coast Customs (Season 6) – 10/15
La Querida Del Centauro (Season 2) – 10/25

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What I Watched This Week: 24 Sept 2017

NEW SHOWS
The Opposition with Jordan Klepper – “September 25, 2017” (B+) / series premiere
Has a lot to introduce in this premiere, but it has the right skeleton in place to basically be The Colbert Report 2.0, moving with the Republican party from the blow-hard elites of Bill O’Reilly-era Fox News to the more frightening Internet psychos of InfoWars.

The Mindy Project – “May Divorce Be with You” (A-)
A nearly stellar episode, with character growth, a ton of laughs, and one genuinely awful/adorable rendition of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Although the show’s final minute hints at something I’m sure every fan of the show wants (including me), it can’t help but feel a little forced.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Big House, Part 1” (A) / season premiere
Whatever reservations I had about last season’s finale, this premiere wiped them away, as the writers find an endless supply of great jokes from the situation of someone as clueless and cocky as Jake in federal prison. And if any show could land jokes about Epix and Lycos, it’s this one.

This Is Us – “A Father’s Advice” (B) / season premiere
Catches everyone up, but doesn’t really move anything forward. I wouldn’t call it a waste of time, since the performances are still so good and there’s a big reveal at the end. But, uh, guys, let’s get moving.

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What I Watched This Week: 17 Sept 2017

NEW SHOWS & SPECIALS
Jerry Before Seinfeld (A-)
It’s all material we’ve heard before, but Seinfeld’s delivery is so effortless that it doesn’t feel old hat. I could have easily watched another hour.

The Mindy Project – “A Romantical Decouplement” (B+)
A major improvement on the premiere in a joke-packed episode that finds no fewer than five characters realizing what they really want. Mindy isn’t growing, and that’s frustrating, but at least she’s not hurting Ben anymore. (What am I even saying? How did I get emotionally invested in this stupid show?)

The Good Place – “Everything Is Great!” (A-) / season premiere
The show resets (and then resets again) in an hour-long episode that can’t quite manage to be as engaging as that brilliant pilot, but still packs in a ton of jokes, some of which work because we know what makes the four tortured souls tick, and some because they reveal that Bad Place employees care just as much about a fun workplace and fulfilling roles as anyone else.

The Sinner – “Part VIII” (A-) / season finale
The show reaches is its end and finds about as much resolution as it can. Cora finally remembers what happened on that fateful night, and the horrifying months after. That mystery had a satisfying reveal. But as good as Bill Pullman was in this show, all his dark sexual proclivities and broken marriage still never cohered, so that all fell like filler. That means this won’t be a show that makes my top 10 this year.

OLD SHOWS
Black Mirror (Season 3) – “San Junipero” (A)
I still haven’t gotten around to all of Black Mirror, but I decided it was high time to watch the most acclaimed episode, which shocked everyone by winning the Emmy for Best Made-for-TV Movie. (Is this a made-for-TV movie? Absolutely not. But it was still better than the competition.) Yes, it is as good as everyone says it is and the rare example of an episode of this show that’s not quite a cautionary tale and one with a rare hopeful ending.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season 10) – “Charlie Work” (A)
A brilliant, madcap gem from one of the recent seasons I never got around to. I’ve long believed that Charlie Day is giving the best performance on the show, and this is yet another showcase for his laser-focused insanity.

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