What I Watched This Week: 4 June 2017

Twin Peaks – “The Return, Part 5” (A-)
Dale Cooper’s turn as Dougie feels a bit tragic, even though he avoided a much bigger tragedy back at the Rancho Rosa estates. I’m sure the little drips of info – like Shelly’s coked-up daughter – will eventually pay off, but, um, why haven’t we seen Matthew Lillard since the first episode?

Silicon Valley – “The Patent Troll” (B)
Another plot-heavy, tech-heavy episode that ends in ironic, pyrrhic victory. So, just another average episode of this show. But Ehrlich thinking Steph Curry is a woman is hilarious and in-character for him.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “The Bridge” (B)
Not particularly fond of the Jezebels storyline, and Moira’s cynicism is almost too much to handle. But the show always knows how to close powerfully, and Elizabeth Moss has the most expressive face on TV, so it’s hard not to also light up when she gets that unexpected package.

The West Wing – Season 6 (B+)
The least effective season thus far, but it’s hard to argue with dynamic candidates and guest stars like the ones that will be the nominees in Season 7.

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What I Watched This Week: 28 May 2017

Veep – “Blurb” (A)
Also known as Timothy Simons’ Emmy submission episode. Jonah shuts down the government over not getting invited to Selina’s portrait unveiling, which in turn she shuts down since it’s no longer a glitzy affair, and doesn’t get President Montez’s fawning words or Tom James’ dick.

Silicon Valley – “Customer Service” (B+)
A somewhat shaky episode, mainly because I will never buy Richard as a romantic leading man and especially not as a sexual interloper. Yet Ehrlich poaches a huge client (a bearded, Hawaiian shirt-clad Haley Joel Osment) for Monica in a desperate attempt to prove his worth. That I’m excited to see even though I know T.J. Miller won’t be on the show next season.

Twin Peaks
“The Return, Part 3” (A)
“The Return, Part 4” (A)
Whatever reservations I had in the two-part premiere are basically gone. We didn’t get any new details about the murders in South Dakota, instead spending nearly the full two hours with Coop in his various forms, with images both frightening (his scenes in those locked rooms after getting ejected from the box) and hilarious (basically everything after he emerges and takes over Dougie’s body). Even when things grind to a halt to meet Wally Brando Brennan (Michael Cera), there’s still plenty of humor and oddity to enjoy. Never change, David Lynch.

The Americans – “The Soviet Division” (A) / season finale
This season has of course been slower than in seasons past – and yes, it was already a slow show – but anyone who thinks this represents a significant downgrade is out of their mind.  The show marks a major decision: Philip and Elizabeth are going home, or are they? It sets up the shortened final season as one fraught with making one damaging choice or another. I can’t wait.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Jezebels” (B)
A bizarre episode that finds Commander Waterford sneaking Offred out to a sex club, where she reunites with Moira, only both of them are worse off. Flashbacks for Nick reveal he’s been a spy this whole time, which creates some interesting angles, since snitching on his Commander could mean death for Offred.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “The Other Side” (B+)
This exploration of Luke’s survival is almost as compelling as what’s happening in Gilead. Some would argue it’s unnecessary, but given how much this show will need to expand on the novel to keep the show going, this story is well done.

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Netflix Picks: June 2017

Okja – 6/28
God bless Netflix. No, really. Who else would bankroll an environmental satire/kid-creature buddy movie from Bong Joon Ho? While booed at Cannes – mostly for its “They’re killing the theatrical experience!” B.S. – its fans are very passionate. Given how great The Host and Snowpiercer were, I’m certain I will be, too.

Orange Is the New Black (Season 5) – 6/9
Though critics and fans were divided on last season – its shocking last two episodes in particular – I’m very intrigued to see how the show deals with the aftermath of pushing the entire prison to its breaking point. Allegedly, this entire season takes place over the course of one weekend when the prisoners overtake Litchfield. It could be interesting or a bit of a stretch, but certainly gives them plenty of room down the road.

Oh, Hello on Broadway – 6/13
If you missed Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s tour of this show – basically a real-life Statler & Waldorf – you’re in luck, because Netflix is proving to be the premiere destination for your typical comedy specials, as well as more theatrical events like this and Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King.

Flaked (Season 2) – 6/2
Inspector Gadget (Season 3) – 6/2
Lucid Dream – 6/2
My Only Love Song (Season 1) – 6/9
Shimmer Lake – 6/9
Marco Luque: Tamo Junto – 6/15
Counterpunch – 6/16
The Ranch (Part 3) – 6/16
World of Winx (Season 2) – 6/16
Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time – 6/20
Free Rein (Season 1) – 6/23
GLOW (Season 1) – 6/23
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press – 6/23
You Get Me – 6/23
Chris D’Elia: Man on Fire – 6/27
Gypsy (Season 1) – 6/30
Little Witch Academia (Season 1) – 6/30

Intersection (Season 2) – 6/1
Off Camera with Sam Jones (Series 3) – 6/1
West Coast Customs (Season 3) – 6/1
Comedy Bang! Bang! (Season 5, Part 2) – 6/2
Turn (Season 3) – 6/4
Quantico (Season 2) – 6/14
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 4) – 6/15
Aquarius (Season 2) – 6/16
El Chapo (Season 1) – 6/16
Grey’s Anatomy (Season 13) – 6/17
Scandal (Season 6) – 6/17
Shooter (Season 1) – 6/18
Baby Daddy (Season 6) – 6/21
Young & Hungry (Season 5) – 6/21

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What I Watched This Week: 21 May 2017

Veep – “Qatar” (B+)
A darker, more cynical, geopolitical episode, with Selina trying to score points by going to war-torn Sudan, then going straight to a conference on human rights where she all but endorses female genital mutilation, just to be part of a deal on mineral rights involving China and Qatar. It’s Selina at her least human, but the show still manages to be hilarious, especially with Jonah (aka the Colossus of Choads) getting engaged.

Silicon Valley – “The Blood Boy” (B+)
The show resets once again, with Gavin signing over his patent to Richard, but leaving with his business acumen and funding after being humbled. This is the show at its most nakedly emotional (even if one character is totally faking it) and it’s an intriguing wrinkle to a show that knows how to hit its beats.

Twin Peaks
“The Return: Part 1” (A-) / limited series premiere
“The Return: Part 2” (A-)
Both exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. I just watched the original series for the first time this winter, and Fire Walk with Me soon after, and I still don’t think it helped me understand much of anything I saw. Yet even after 26 years, there’s so much awe. Even now, there’s absolutely nothing like this on TV. Sure, there are weird shows that march to the beat of their own drum, and shows that expose the seedy underbelly of idyllic small towns, but not like this, not with this level of visual storytelling, with a cast this big, with its unique vision.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“The Bank Job” (A)
“Crime and Punishment” (B) / season finale
Well, it certainly made sense to pair these episodes up, but I’m not sure how I feel about such a dramatic cliffhanger for this show on an arc that literally began the week before. The finale is funny – certainly with Jake unintentionally confessing to crimes right as the judge walks by, and with Terry’s glamorous past – but feels too clever for its own good. Perhaps the fifth season will justify such a huge upheaval.

The Americans – “The World Council of Churches” (A-)
Tough positions lead to a lot of bad decisions, just as things may have been looking up. Everyone’s in a bad place ahead of the season finale, which better resolve this cliffhanger right away.

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What I Watched This Week: 14 May 2017

Veep – “Chicklet” (A)
A rare emotional episode as Selina learns her dad died boning his secretary, not of a heart attack on a business trip to Cuba. A relentlessly funny episode from start to finish, with high points being Jonah eschewing a bowtie lest he look like “that old popcorn homo” and Richard talking his way through the mechanics of masturbation (aka “shaking hands with the devil”).

Silicon Valley – “Teambuilding Exercise” (B)
A weaker episode, but still features the show’s patented blend of insults, irony and a ton of dick jokes.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“Your Honor” (A-)
“The Slaughterhouse” (B+)
The first episode, with Holt’s humorless but horny mom is mostly gold, even if it’s a bit predictable. The latter, featuring invaluable guest star Gina Gershon (see also: Crashing), is a fun competition episode between Rosa and Jake, but also has stakes for next week’s season finale.

The Americans – “Dyatkovo” (A)
Part of the show’s terrific run late in the season. The tables have turned, and now it’s Elizabeth who’s ready to abandon the mission. The whole scene where she and Philip have to murder a WWII traitor they’ve tracked down is some of the most intense stuff the show has ever done.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “A Woman’s Place” (A)
Really goes deep into how misogynistic societies can brainwash women into being complicit in the oppression of other women, while still finding some margin of empathy for Serena Joy. Almost as fascinating is the show’s exploration of the logistics of evil (hiding the less attractive handmaids, long board meetings plotting out terrorism).

The Americans – “Darkroom” (A)
Things get super-personal as Philip and Elizabeth get married for real in a traditional Russian Orthodox ceremony that is the closest thing this show will ever get to romance. And Pastor Tim reveals how much damage he thinks they’ve done to Paige. While he’s not wrong, this sets up a big conflict for the rest of the season, and maybe the rest of the series.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“Cop-Con” (B)
“Chasing Amy” (B)
A pair of featherweight episodes that still provide some big laughs.

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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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