TV: Better Call Saul, the Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, Genius, House of Cards and SYTYCD

 

Season Finales:

Better Call Saul (AMC)

I actually like Better Call Saul better than Breaking Bad.  Saul at least has some with redeeming qualities – particularly Kim and Jimmy McGill before he becomes Saul.  This season was great as we ease closer to the world of Breaking Bad and see some of the characters making choices that will forever doom them.  But the reason I love Better Call Saul is that the characters of Kim, Chuck and Jimmy are complex, interesting and the actors are fantastic.  Michael McKean is brilliant as Chuck who we never completely have a handle on.  Is he mentally ill?  A fake?  The only person who sees through Jimmy and tries to protect the world from him?  Just a jealous brother who makes poor Jimmy’s life miserable or all the above.  Although the finale helps with answer several of these questions,, we will never know all due to the final scene of the season.

What is keeping me going now is wanting to know what happens ultimately to Kim who is not in Breaking Bad.  I can only hope that she finds happiness and moves far away from New Mexico but that would not exactly be in the DNA of a Vince Gilligan show.  Jimmy started down the path towards Saul this year although he still showed he had a heart in the last two episodes.  That will be gone soon.  Mike has made the permanent turn to crime signing on with Gus and Nacho remains an intriguing character.  A good deal of progress was made this season toward where these people are in the Breaking Bad universe so I’m not sure how much of a story is left but I’m totally in until the end.  This was a great season of a great show.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent.  Elizabeth Moss was riveting as was Ann Dowd and even Alexis Bleddel had fine moments (and I’m glad she will be back for Season 2).  The TV series deviated from the book (as can be expected) particularly at the end as it has been renewed for season 2 which must go beyond the book’s story.  Next season, we will be in unchartered territory for the adapted screenplay of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel which provides for some interesting plotlines given the open-ended conclusion to the book.

Handmaid offers a look into what could be a near term world for us all.  It has eerie correlations to our current political environment to the point of being uncomfortable but it is really good and marks Hulu’s entry into well constructed original TV dramas.  Don’t be scared off by getting a Hulu subscription.  It is easy to subscribe and unsubscribe from and it is worth getting a month’s subscription to watch this show.

Fargo (FX)

This third season certainly was filled with death and destruction as only Fargo can provide.  It was good but didn’t grab me the way the first two seasons did although the addition of Carrie Coon was a really good one.  With Leftovers showing at the same time as Fargo, my Carrie Coon fix was certainly satisfied this spring.  The whole Ewen McGregor playing two brothers (Ray and Emmit Stussy) thing I found somewhat tedious but Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ray’s girlfriend was this season’s star.  She was amazing and I felt that her character was the only one that was fully developed.  None of the others seemed to have the completeness she had which made for a less than optimal viewing experience.  It also took me the entire season to realize the evil V.M. Varga was played by none other than David Thewlis who played the loveable Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series which I have seen more times than I care to admit.  The make-up and vocal changes were excellent for this villain.

I find Fargo hard to watch week in and week out and keeping a handle on everything that is going on due to the fact there are so many other TV shows competing for my time.   I think that this might be better watched all at once to stay on top of the subtleties and nuances in the plot lines. Nonetheless, Fargo has turned out to be a very good series and hasn’t lost its excellence despite changing stories, actors, Directors etc.  each season which I assume is because the Creator, Noah Hawley, is the glue that holds it all together keeping it true to its Coen brother roots. While this was its weakest season, I would still recommend the show.

Genius (National Geographic)

I didn’t love Genius.  I felt there were too many episodes and the story dragged.  This show which premiered for the first time in the spring dedicated its first season to the story of Albert Einstein.  Einstein’s biography is interesting (although every time it discussed the Theory of Relativity in depth, I had panic attacks remembering a college physics course) as I don’t think many people know that much about his personal life.  The show spends a great deal of time on Einstein’s marriage to his first wife along with the affair that led to his divorce and second marriage to his cousin played very well by Emily Watson.  The great Geoffrey Rush plays Einstein in his later years and he was fine but I liked Johnny Flynn even better as young Einstein.

Genius had barely enough going on with action and character development to keep me going and I wish it had been about 6 or 7 episodes instead of 10.  Had it premiered earlier in the year when there was more competition, I doubt I would have stayed with it.  Next year’s “Genius” season will be about Pablo Picasso.  I don’t honestly know if I’ll tune in.

Finished Streaming:

House of Cards (Netflix)

I think I might be done with House of Cards unless all the critics next year exclaim that Season 6 is brilliant.  First of all, 13 episodes was about 3 to many for Season 5.  Most of the episodes dragged and it wasn’t until the last couple that I engaged.   It’s not just that Frank Underwood and his administration have several things in common with the current one that made the drama humdrum, it is that the same old plotlines seem to just keep remerging.  Frank does dastardly things but doesn’t seem to have competent enemies like he used to call him out; Will had potential but disappeared in an airplane meltdown; the Congressman who was going to bring him down is convinced to withdraw his opposition and no other contenders emerge (although the Patricia Clarkson character has some potential).  Then there is Doug.  Why is he back?  Same old, same old and what’s with all the guys named Tom?  Well I guess there is one less of them at the end of the season.

I found all the circuitous storylines swirling around the first 2/3s of the season to be dull and confusing at the same time.  Claire is the only truly intriguing character at this point.  The rest are just blah.  There is too much great TV out there to continue with this series.  I didn’t watch season 3 and came back in season 4 and didn’t miss a beat so maybe I’ll try that again.

Season Premiers

SYTYCD

It’s back, I love it and I’m dumping World of Dance as a result.  Once again, we have great adult dancers, a judge’s panel where at least 2 out of 3 know what they are doing and for that, I can easily ignore Mary Murphy’s screaming.  Hopefully we will once again see some of the great choreographers that provided Emmy winning performances in the early years.  The fact that Mandy Moore (La La Land) was helping out during the auditions gives me a great deal of hope.  I’ll ignore Vanessa Hudgens for the time being and hope my summer go- to -show goes back to its roots after I had to walk away from it the last two years.

 

 

TV: Orphan Black, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and World of Dance

TV premiers and finales have wound down but we still have a few.

Seasons Premiers: 

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black premiered this past week for its fifth and final season and the fate of all our favorites clones is up in the air.  Sarah is wounded and crawling around an island trying to find Cosima.  There is some sort of weird monster lurking on said island in addition to the crazy cult which is holding Cosima hostage. The potential cure for her resperatory disease needs to be injected in her uterine wall so she escapes her cabin to go find it.   Alison and Helena are still camping although Art, with his super dangerous new partner,  captures Alison while Donnie escapes without helping her.  Despite the fact they didn’t get Donnie or Helena, the latter is speared by a piece of wood into her uterus as she tries to escape.  We can’t lose Helena’s babies!  Rachel is now apparently second in command in the bizarre group that runs the commune and offers to inject Cosima saying they need to stay on the island and find a cure for all the clones.

Orphan Black has certainly had its ups and downs over the past 5 seasons and I totally lost the ability to understand what was going on during the season that had the male clone army but now that we are winding down, I hope we get some answers and happy resolutions for the best of the clones.  Tatiana Maslany is so amazing and what she has done with these many characters is groundbreaking.  This show is probably a good summer binge if you haven’t seen it.  I think being able to watch it all at once will make for a better understanding of the crazier plotlines. 

House of Cards (Netflix)

I don’t watch every season of House of Cards all the way through but I thought last years was good so I tuned in this season.  As usual, I didn’t remember what happened 12 months ago but one doesn’t have to in order to get the basic gist of what is going on.  I’m about one-half way through this season and with a crazy sequence of events, Claire is Interim President and she and her husband are manipulating everything in sight in order to make that permanent.  Joel Kinnaman is an effective “villain” trying to prevent that from happening .  Doug Stamper is back with unclear motives – is he the newest bad guy?  If he is, that could make for a most interesting plot-line.

I can see that although the Showrunners of House of Cards wrote and filmed this season well before the 2016 US Presidential election, the stories are eerily similar.  House of Cards is so out there and our real White House is like a dystopian novel.  These two together create an environment where reality and fiction are indistinct from each other.   I’m not sure how long viewers will stay tuned in when entertainment inadvertently becomes a reality show.  The show, with all its fine acting, just isn’t strong enough, in my opinion, to transcend this issue.  Perhaps if it was the best series on TV, people might find this exaggerated dose of reality intriguing but that’s just not the case.  I’ll do a final report when I get through the entire season and hoping for stronger episodes in the second half. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Ouch, the reviews are in for this season and they are not good.  The entire season takes place over the course of a 3-day prison riot and apparently, nothing works well with this new format. I have watched the first episode and I’m not sure I buy into any of the reactions of the various inmates to their circumstances.  The character development so carefully crafted over the last several years seems to have been abandoned for many of them during this time of crisis at the prison.  Samira Wiley’s Poussey is sorely missed as a character both within the show and for the viewer.  I have always enjoyed OITNB so I will give it at least half of a season but if it is as bad as the reviewers have said, I’m not sure even I can get through that.  More to come on this one. 

World of Dance

I’m not a big reality show person.  I watch the Voice from time to time and I watched So You Think You Can Dance for years until it deteriorated to the point where I just couldn’t watch a couple of summers ago.  I will try it again this summer to see if has gone back to its roots but in the meantime, a new dance show premiered that I thought might have some potential.  World of Dance has Derek Hough, Jay Lo and Ne-Yo as the judges along with Channing Tatum’s wife Jenna as some sort of backstage cheerleader.  I’m not sure what her role is.  At any rate, the show brings dance acts from across the world doing all kinds of dances and divides them into age groups.

I’ve seen a few shows and I’m not very impressed.  Some of the acts are good but others seem picked just because they do something different, not because they are very good.  There is nothing new or particularly innovative here and it can’t compare with the quality we used to see on SYTYCD.  If the latter is even close to its original level when it premiers later this summer, I’ll dump the former in a heartbeat. In the meantime, there are only 10 episodes and hopefully we’ll be to the next level of competition soon and the acts will become stronger.

What I’m streaming this summer:

  • I have started in on a Game of Thrones rewatch but it is slow going and I’m sure I will not have made much progress before the new season premiers on July 16th. Nevertheless, it is fun to be back in Season One amidst the many characters who have long since been killed.
  • My big watch this summer will probably be the Wire. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

TV: Three Big Finales – The Leftovers, The Americans and Billions.

Series Finales:

 

The Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers ended it three season run with a moving and yes, satisfying ending universally heralded by critics as a masterful conclusion to a brilliant final season.  This makes me happy for Damon Lindeloft who was the major force behind the show as he was with “Lost”.  The man who I think is perhaps the best TV creator out there deserved a big win after years of controversy about the Lost finale and he got it.  The Leftovers evolved into perhaps the best TV show of this century and Lindeloft gets much of the credit.

This last season has been a roller coaster ride with Tasmanian sex boat, A sex crazed lion, a machine that can take humans into another dimension, death and resurrection, and parallel universes but in the end, it was a simple love story that prevailed.  As Lindeloft said at the beginning of the series, we will never know why 2% of the world disappeared one fine day – just that they did.  The story is not about them but those that were left behind and how they grappled with the loss while trying to put their lives back together.  The finale focused on one love story, that of Kevin and Nora, and what they had to do to be able to be together.  It also wrapped up several other storylines in a creative way via a short dialogue between Nora and Kevin about what had happened to the people in their lives in the intervening years that they were apart.

Now for the acting.  Carrie Coon is fantastic in this finale “The Book of Nora”.  Her eyes tell it all.  They should win an Emmy by themselves. Her scene with Christopher Eccleston (who also was great in this final season) as her brother Matt just as she is about to “leave this world” is gut wrenching.  Her final scenes with Kevin, played equally brilliantly by Justin Theroux, are some of the finest I have seen in years.  These actors should all win every award out there although I have scant hope that they will.

Every television critic in America has weighed in on the Leftover’s finale today and much more eloquently than I can hope to do so I won’t go into any more detail on it.  In addition, there are numerous interviews with Damon Lindeloft out there to further enhance the understanding and appreciation of this series and the finale.  I’ll just conclude with this.  If you haven’t seen the Leftovers, this summer would be a great time to watch it end to end.  You need to understand that the first season is dark and depressing.  It closely follows the Tom Perrotta book and is a tough slog but necessary to understand the depths of grief created by the departure of 2% of the world’s population.  The critics and audiences bailed from the show in droves after the first season but the critics at least returned when the second and third seasons stormed back in a massive way with creative and less depressing plotlines.  The writers could do this because they were freed from the constraints of the book having finished that story in Season one.  I am going to miss the Leftovers.  It has been a great ride and I can’t wait for Damon Lindeloft’s next series.

Season Finales:

The Americans (FX)

As readers of the blog know, the Americans has been my favorite show for several years (although the Leftovers surpassed it this year for me).  Next season is its last and so in this penultimate season we have been slowly winding down the story of the Jennings.  When I say slowly, I mean slowly and too slowly.  This was not my favorite season.  The show moved between two major story lines; Oleg’s in Russia and the Jennings in America. I didn’t care about what was happening in Russia except for my pure joy at seeing Martha again but the rest wasn’t compelling and took away from the story that I wanted to spend time with.  The new cases for the Jennings, that of the wheat shortage and the Evgheniya/Pasha/Tuan plot did not interest me in the slightest leaving just the plotline of the Jennings struggle with their way of life as the storyline that kept me coming back.

Then there were the teaser side stories.  The writers got me excited about Philip’s son Misha coming to America to find his father only to send him home before a meeting occurs.  Will Misha ever meet his father? Is Stan’s girlfriend a spy (I think so) and if so, who does she work for?  Will we ever know?  Why are we spending so much time on Henry and boarding school?  These plot twists remained unresolved and frustrating for many viewers.  I can only hope that some of them pay off in the final season.

The most compelling development, that of Philip and Elizabeth’s increasing disillusionment with their jobs, sets us up for next season with a twist in the finale.  The Jennings were set to return to Russia when one of Philip’s targets becomes head of a key Soviet department in the US government causing Elizabeth to say that they could not go back as long as they had access to this individual.  Philip clearly cannot continue at the same level he has been operating at and is crushed.  So, we are now 10 episodes from the series finale and I have no idea how it will end other than Stan must find out that his bestie neighbors are Russian spies.  It is difficult for me to believe that the Jennings are going to drag their children to Russia but I guess that could be an option.  I can only hope that the fast-paced spy stories of previous seasons will be part of the final journey.

Although this season of the Americans was one of its weakest, it was still better than 95% of the shows out there.  It is hard for me to contemplate what my TV world will be like with the Leftovers, the Americans and Game of Thrones all coming to an end.  I don’t see any great replacements lining up.

Billions (Showtime)

I finally got through all my remaining episodes of Season 2 of Billions and it was well worth it.  Billions might be the only Showtime series that improved in its second season.  The testosterone battle between Chuck and Axe is not enough to sustain me through an entire season and it took the introduction of Taylor, played by a Gender Non-Binary individual both in real-life and as a character to add depth and complexity to life at Axe Capital.  Maybe a show about a bunch of rich white guys making millions at the expense of everyday investors is appealing to the Wall Street crowd but it doesn’t keep me engaged and the addition of Taylor was great.  Not only was the introduction of this character historical in terms of TV but also to the environment of all the high-end investment firms filled with Ivy-League educated white guys.  Having a brilliant non-binary character trying to find their way in this environment added a lot to the story-line this season.

Another improvement was that the female characters of Lara and Wendy were given more to work with in Season 2.  Although I might quibble with the act that finally drove Lara to question her marriage and start looking out for her own self-interest, she did do just that.  We are reminded of the bad-ass that was initially introduced to us early in Season 1 but who had faded into a more subservient wife role since that time.  Wendy’s motives are less obvious and her character is certainly evolving and I wonder just how the whole Dominatrix thing will play out in the war between the alpha males.  We did get a potentially strong third female character at the end of the season with Mary Louise Parker’s George and I hope she’ll be back as a major force next season.  I think we are going to have to rely on these three women to be the most interesting as those in the Federal prosecutor’s department leave me cold.

I’m not sure how long I can watch this battle of deplorable males continue but during the few moments when Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti are in the same room speaking to each other, it is television at its finest.  This season’s second to last episode with the Ice Juice play was amazing and perhaps the best episode of TV I have seen all season up until the Leftover’s finale.   I’ll be back for the next season of Billions but I hope Showtime and the Billion’s show runners have a plan to wrap it up without dragging it out well beyond its expiration date.  The overall plotline seems to me somewhat limited and as the two lead characters become more disgusting with each episode, it is hard to imagine where the viewer will find charters that keep them involved with the show.

TV: Did You Think I Stopped Watching? Network Finale Wrap-Up

TV:

May sweeps came fast and furiously with most shows wrapping up their seasons.  Instead of going over each one in detail, I’m just going to provide some random thoughts on this season for many of the shows I watch: 

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC):  Wow, a huge explosion and fire at Seattle Grace (or whatever its not- so- new name is) and no one died.  It’s a first for the show that is known for its disaster finales that always entail big deaths.  We did have one doctor leave the show because of the fire but I didn’t care for that character so no big deal.  I am amazed at how this show just keeps chugging along.  I’m in for the long haul as well as the love triangle that the season finale set up for next year.

Scandal (ABC):  It’s a good thing Scandal is ending next year.  It has gotten to be so far-fetched that it spends most of its time in the world of the absurd.  Nellie as President – really? Not in our lifetime.  Olivia as a power-hungry manipulator in the white house?  I’m afraid the foundation for that plotline was loosely laid.  Fitz off to a quiet life in NH?  If true, he’d certainly be in the best place of any of them but I doubt it will last.  Olivia’s mother is back….pleez…don’t they have any new ideas?  Certainly, not for Quinn who is pregnant with who knows whose kid.  Ugh…. a show that started off so fantastically is well beyond its prime.  Wrap it up!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC):  Somehow, this show actually got renewed for a 5th season.  I didn’t love this year with the AIDA killing everyone and the alternate universe where Fitz is a baddie and his relationship with Simmons on the rocks.  I can’t say as I followed who exactly were the bad guys and how next season was set up but I suppose I might eek one more year, maybe, out of this show.  I don’t think it will last for more.

The Blacklist (NBC):  Another show where I have invested years and they aren’t exactly paying off.  To have to wait 4 years to confirm what everyone had pretty much figured out from the beginning (that Reddington is Liz’s father) was so anti-climactic as to be a “who the heck cares any more” moment.  I was sorry to see Mr. Kaplan go but am intrigued enough by the “bones” headed toward Liz to tune in next year.  If they drag out that mystery too long, however, I’m out of there!

Mary Kills People (Lifetime):  This is not the most intellectually compelling show you’ll ever see but it is well done and I hope it will be around next year.  If you missed it on Lifetime, catch up this summer.  Not only is it shot beautifully, the acting is good (particularly Caroline Dhavernas as Mary) and it is written and directed mostly by women.  Each episode moves quickly with the requisite amount of suspense and the subject matter is compelling.  And, despite its compelling subject matter, there is humor which is needed to break up the death scenes.  Hopefully there will be a Season 2 because the show deserves it.

Jane the Virgin (CW):  I love, love, love this show and it never disappoints.  The characters are amazing and have so much heart that the viewer is emotionally attached to each and every one.  This season has primarily revolved around the central theme of love or in Jane’s case, her re-entry back into the world of dating after coming to terms with Michael’s death. Her parent’s relationship deepens and ends in marriage and even her grandmother finds love.  The finale introduces us to Jane’s probable new love interest for next season and I can only count the days until this show comes back in September.  Jane is a tough show to catch up on as there are approximately 23 one-hour shows per year and there have been several seasons but if you have missed it, and have “binge” time this summer, try it out.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Flash (CW):  I thought the Flash this season was a bit too morose and dragged out Iris’s death interminably.  Barry’s disappearance at the end of the season should be short-lived next season and I assume we will be back to the creature of the week with an overall super villain story-arch.  I like what they did with the Killer Frost character in the finale by not having Kaitlin go back to normal with no ramifications.  It keeps that character complex and interesting.  Hopefully next season will recapture some of the “lightness” the first two seasons had as this one was just a little too dark for me.

Supergirl (CW):  Supergirl is destined never to have a lasting love interest and this season was heartbreaking for her as her Daxamite boyfriend Mon-El can no longer exist on earth and is sucked into a black hole in space.  On the plus side, Supergirl kicked Superman’s ass and Cat Grant (Callista Flockheart) was in the last two episodes and yes, she does know who Kara is!  Bring this woman back full-time!  We were introduced at the end to next season’s villain – a blood sucking kryptonite who was also launched from the planet as it was exploding to what I only assume will be a landing on earth.  Supergirl and Flash are my antidote to watching Rachel Maddow in the hour before them.  They take me away from it all!

Premiers:

So, with all those finales, you must be wondering whether I saw any new shows and unfortunately, I did.

Bloodline (Netflix):  The first season of Bloodline was “bloody” fantastic.  One of the main reasons was Ben Mendelsohn who was just plain spectacular.  Unfortunately, he died at the end.  Season two had Mendelsohn in flashbacks but it just wasn’t the same and the show was not good.  Season three (the final) dropped last week on Netflix and because I am a glutton for punishment, and a perverse side of me wants to see all the Rayburns rot in hell, I watched the first episode.  The whole thing took place in the dark and I couldn’t even see the characters.  It was extremely irritating.  The most obnoxious thing, however, is that I am going to have to watch it again to have any understanding of what happened.  It seems like a high price to pay to have to watch an entire season of this just to see them all get their just rewards but I can be a masochist especially during the summer when there isn’t much happening elsewhere on TV.  If you haven’t seen this show, don’t get involved with it!!!!!!

Note:  I still haven’t caught up on DVR with Billions, Genius and Legion but now that things are calming down, I intend to do some catching up!

 

TV: Help! It’s Sweeps Month and I can’t keep up! “Anne with an E”, “Riverdale” and “The Catch”

TV:

With all the Season Finales coming at me fast and furiously and my DVR piling up with episode after episode of Billions, Guerrilla, and Legion, I took a break to binge a new Netflix series that you should watch and as for the rest, it will come as soon as I can get to it!

Season Premiers:

Anne with an E – Netflix

I read all the Anne of Green Gables books as well as seeing the brilliant 1985 PBS series with Megan Fellows rather late in life.  It is difficult for me to believe that any remake of this remarkable children’s story could top what is already out there so I went into Netflix’s new “Anne with an E” with some skepticism.  The new Netflix version which dropped its first season this past Friday is a much darker rendition of the orphan girl who settles with a new family on Prince Edward Island.

Netflix’s “Anne” played almost perfectly by Amybeth McNulty hides many scars from her past as she navigates her new environment.  This adds a richness to her character that was missing in the simpler versions of her story as she struggles with acceptance in a family, and a community that initially doesn’t accept her.  McNulty successfully captures the upbeat personality of a child that has survived using her vivid imagination as well as books to take her out of the world that has treated her so cruelly.

There are changes to the original in this version of Anne including a love interest for Mathew, a much nicer best friend for Marilla, the premature death of Gilbert Blythe’s father and two thugs who are going to move in to Green Gables at the end of Season 1. However, we still have the broach incident, the dress with the puffed sleeves and the saving of Diana Barry’s young sister to keep us linked to the original.  I enjoyed this version of “Anne with an E” despite the writers adding additional drama and darkness to make the story more reflective of what current TV audiences look for.  This drop has only 7 episodes and given the positive critical reception, I expect there will be many more seasons.   Lovers of this charismatic young red headed girl should check it out as well as those who have never experience this classic.

Season Finales:

Riverdale – CW

Speaking of red hair, there is an abundance of it in Riverdale.  I got through this spring’s new take on the Archie comic books and it was quite good.  I’m not sure that I’ll return to it in the fall as a show about a bunch of beautiful teenage sleuths is not generally my thing but that is not to say the show isn’t well written and acted.  Riverdale, like “Anne with an E” is a much darker version of the comic books we loved as kids.  The town has become a home to gangs, murderers and drug traffickers and there are even a couple of gays in this more modern version.  The season’s plot revolved around the murder of a star athlete Jason Blossom who was the boyfriend of Betty’s sister and son of the wealthiest person in Riverdale.  His twin sister is, of course, captain of the cheerleading squad and out to find her brother’s murderer.  Betty, Veronica (who is now a good person) and Jughead (a more complex nerd) try to solve the murder as well.

The finale has several big cliffhangers with the shooting of Archie’s father; Jugheads apparent assimilation into a criminal gang; his father’s continued incarceration for Jason’s murder although he is innocent and Veronica’s criminal father about to be released from jail.  Note:  he will be played next season by Mark Consuelos (Kelly Rippa’s husband) now that Pitch has been cancelled.  Meanwhile Jason’s sister burns down their family estate and Betty’s sister is pregnant with Jason’s baby.  Well, maybe I will turn back in to see what happens next season!

Series Finales:

The Catch – ABC

This was not supposed to be a Series Finale but The Catch was cancelled the day before the final episode aired.  Thus, it is left to our imaginations as to what will happen to Ben and Alice and whether they will ever be reunited.  The 2-part season finale was probably the best show in the series and Shonda at her finest.  It wrapped up the season-long arc that identified Rhys as the criminal mastermind “Mockingbird” rather than the easy going reformed thief that the audience believed him to be throughout the season.

The Catch struggled to find its niche in Shondaland and retooled this season to make it more of a Rom Com than a hardcore PI/Cop show and it worked for me.  The acting was always great with Peter Krause, Mireille Enos, Sonya Walger and John Simon.  This year we got more Gina Torres and the introduction of Philippa Coulthard as the long-lost daughter of Ben and Margo.  I could watch these actors all day no matter how ridiculous the plot is and I did.  So, the show fades into the sunset but I had some fun with it before it did.  It won’t be one I’ll miss terribly but it wasn’t bad and I look forward to seeing Krause and Enos in something new.

 

 

TV: Mary Kills People, Catastrophe, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, Genius, Feud and Bates Motel

 

Premiers:

Mary kills People (Lifetime)

I never thought I would watch a Lifetime show but this one received reasonably good reviews so I gave it a go.  After all, how much worse could a show about Assisted Suicide be after just getting through “13 Reasons Why”?  Mary is a divorced doctor who with the help of another M.D. provides terminally ill patients with a cocktail of lethal drugs to end their misery.  She and her partner get the names at the hospital they work at and believe they are providing a humanitarian service.

The first episode was a quick 45 minutes and covered a botched suicide and the back stories of the two doctors who perform the assists.  There is plenty of action as Mary’s lesbian teenage daughter discovers her hidden stash of drugs and the doctors don’t realize they are in a potential race to escape from the authorities who are on to her activities. It all moved with pace and  good performances by the lead characters and I’m looking forward to the remaining five episodes.

Catastrophe (Amazon)

Amazon dropped the third season (6 thirty-minute shows) this past Friday and I immediately sat down and watched them all.  Catastrophe is a one of the new style comedies often referred to as a “dramedy” because they delve into some pretty difficult topics (e.g. depression, alcoholism, bi-polar, and breast cancer. are just some of the plot lines in shows of this genre that I watch) and Catastrophe is not an exception.  The third season, however, is much darker than the first two.

This series is about a couple, Sharon and Rob, who had a one night stand when Rob was on a business trip to London.  Sharon gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby and Rob moves to London to give marriage and fatherhood a shot.  The second season brings another pregnancy and highlights the difficulties of keeping a family together while utilizing humor to provide relief.  The third season adds more complexity and deeper problems to this goal of family unity.

I love Catastrophe but this was a tough season.  To top it off, Carrie Fisher had a minor role in the show (Rob’s mother) that she has just finished filming when she returned by plane to the US and had her heart attack.  The last episode reminds us just how great a comedian she was.  The show isn’t for everyone but if you like this genre and have missed it, check it out.  Because each season is only 3 hours, it is easy to catch up with, (or bag along the way) with little investment of your time.

The Handmaid’s Tale (HULU)

The first three episodes of the Handmaid’s tale dropped on Hulu last week and the remainder of the 10 episodes will appear on a weekly basis.  Unfortunately for me, that means a couple of months having to subscribe to Hulu although it is very easy to switch this service on and off.  The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel which I quickly read before I began the TV series.  It takes place in the not too distant future (since it was written in 1985 think “now” for more reasons than one) when all rights have been taken away from women who are no longer able to have jobs or bank accounts.  It is a world that the women never saw coming and has an eerie correlation to the current climate.

The women are confined to roles which are defined by the color of their dress.  The red dresses are for the Handmaids, those who are assigned to upper class men to be impregnated by them only to turn over the children to the men’s spouses.  There are also the women in the green dresses, the Marthas who are infertile and comprise the servant class.  The “gender traitors” (gays and lesbians) are sentenced to death as are the Unwomen who are slaves sent to the “colonies” (nuclear wastelands) to help out until they die. Of course, like in any dystopian tale, there are armed men everywhere keeping everyone in their appropriate place.

Elizabeth Moss is excellent in the starring role of Offred (of Fred) as is Alexis Bledel as Ofglen in what is possibly the best performance of her career.  Ann Dowd is marvelous as “Aunt Lily” who “trained” Offred to be a Handmaiden.  I loved the first three episodes and am looking forward to the rest.  So far, it is a real winner.  This is one worth checking out.

Fargo (FX)

Fargo Season 3 premiered recently and after two very good seasons, I was anxious to see what creator Noah Hawley has in store for us this year. Ewan McGregor plays two brothers (Emmitt and Ray), the first a big financial success and the other one a flop.   I didn’t love McGregor but did find the supporting characters played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ray’s girlfriend) and the terrific Carrie Coon as this season’s very competent police officer most engaging.

Fargo is not for everyone and the first two episodes of this season didn’t grab me in the same way as prior seasons so I’m not sure how I’ll find the rest of the series.  Maybe I’m just tired of the endless snow and the Minnesota accents but I’ll stick with it long enough to find out.  Fargo’s first two seasons left too much good will not to give the third a full run through.  Let’s hope that it isn’t another True Detective in that regard.

Genius (National Geographic)

I was disappointed by the first episode of Genius, the story of Albert Einstein’s life played by Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn (as the young Einstein) and directed by Ron Howard.  It jumped around a great deal and the dialogue was not particularly noteworthy or up to the level of the actors speaking the lines.  I didn’t come away with a real feel for Einstein’s motives and role in either the political or scientific world he existed in.  It was almost as if the writers were just trying to provide an Emmy winning role for Rush.  Maybe I expected too much from one episode so I’ll see how the next few episodes go in hopes that the show gets better.

Finales:

Feud (FX)

I found Feud to be hugely inconsistent in its portrayal of the “feud” between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.  The first few episodes put me to sleep – literally – but the last few, beginning with the Oscar show were riveting.  Feud is Ryan Murphy’s one season follow-up anthology to last year’s brilliant “The People v OJ Simpson, American Crime Story” but isn’t at the same overall level.  Next year, Murphy will be doing Charles and Diana which could be fascinating.

In Feud, Jessica Lange stars as Joan Crawford and I think she pulls off the character better than Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis although both will likely get Emmy nominations.  Crawford comes off as the more tragic figure here and the story ends with her death.  Shortly before, there is a great dream sequence where Joan dreams that she and Davis reunite and become best friends.  It provides the series with a great “What if” to contemplate.  Feud is worthwhile TV but it just doesn’t have the overall quality that O.J. did.

Bates Motel (A&E)

I’m sorry to see Bates Motel go.  This was a very good show the last two seasons and a pretty good one for the first three seasons.  How Carlton Cuse and team could eek a 5-season prequel to Psycho is quite impressive as we all knew the endgame.  Freddie Highmore reached new acting heights as he played not only Norman but Norman playing Norma and Norman playing Norma playing Norman.  This show delivered to its audience and far exceeded what meager expectations were initially set for it.

As Norman descended into his deepest insanity over the last few episodes, there were glimmers at the end that he knew what reality he existed in and that carting the decomposing corpse of his mother around would not continue to be a viable option.  When Dylan shows up to help, it becomes clear to both that the only way out for Norman is death.  Leading up to that point, Dylan and his wife (played superbly by Olivia Cooke) have several emotional moments.  Vera Farmiga was wonderful for the entire five seasons as was Nestor Carbonell.

If you missed Bates the first go around, it’s worth checking out understanding that the first couple of seasons have some fits and starts as the creators work their way through how to make this story work most effectively given where Norma and her son end up.

TV: Homeland, the Magicians, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Guerrilla, 13 Reasons Why

There is so much happening with TV in April, I haven’t been able to get to all of it.  Fargo for example, must wait until next week.  Here is what I could catch up with this week! 

Finales:

Homeland (Showtime)

RIP Peter Quinn – again.  Homeland has gotten progressively better after a few rough years but has yet to reach the greatness of the first two seasons.  It was a big gamble to bring Peter Quinn back from the dead this season and like with Brody, I felt the show runners kept a character on for a year beyond where they should have.  Not that I didn’t love this character,  but watching Rupert Friend’s Quinn struggle with the combined effects of PTSD and a stroke all season was tough and didn’t move the plot forward in a way that was worth the pain.

In an “Art imitates Life” season of Homeland, we have a female President with the characteristics of Trump.  There was a “Fake News” plot line as well as a war between the intelligence community and the new elected President.  Franny is removed from her mother and it would be nice if that child could just go live a normal life with her aunt rather than going back to Carrie who is clearly someone who shouldn’t be raising a child.

We end season 6 with Saul in jail as President Keene expands the Patriot Act in a dangerous fashion and the government in a precarious place.  Will Carrie move back to DC (seems inevitable)?  What will happen to Saul?  Will the writer’s parallel life in the 7th Season?  Devoted Homeland viewers will turn in next winter to find out.

The Magicians (Syfy)

You may recall that I thought last year’s first season was horrible.  As a real fan of the books, I had so many issues with how the translation from book to TV took place that I couldn’t enjoy the show at all.  Still, I tuned in for Season 2, deciding that it couldn’t get any worse and wanting to see if it could align any better with the books.  Rather, the season went AWOL from the books and as a result, was much better and at times, was very good and engaging.  The characters and plot lines were far stronger in this coming of age story of millennials struggling with the demands of adulthood.

Season 2 has a much better developed Margo character (although the writers still have a way to go with her) working with Elliot to rule Fillory and having to make decisions with devastating consequences.  Quentin brings back Alice to a human form with mixed results but his killing of Ember sets in motion the elimination of magic in all worlds.  Although Season 2 is better than 1, it was still irritating in the way it cuts between characters and plot lines to keep Julia (the series best character/actress) in the main story.  It made my head spin at times.  The show has been renewed for a third year and if it can continue with what made Season 2 so much stronger, it will be worth watching.   I think the Magicians will appeal mostly to the younger demographic who have not actually read the books, grown up with Harry Potter and love fantasy.  For the rest of you, it won’t likely resonate.

Premiers

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul came back recently for Season 3 and it didn’t take long to meet back up with Gus Fring, the evil protagonist from Breaking Bad.  The first two episodes have long periods without dialog (first with Mike trying to find a listening device in his car and then with Jimmy in the restaurant watching for a package exchange) and these sequences are brilliant.  This show isn’t my normal genre but scenes like that keep me coming back.

I don’t know how long it will take for Jimmy McGill to become Saul Goodman but early on in this season, with Mike alerted to Los Pollos Hermanos and sending Jimmy in to interact with Gus, we have commenced the transition.  We also have the beginnings of the inevitable split between Kim who does everything above board and Jimmy who cuts all the corners.  Saul’s assistant in Breaking Bad is also introduced and hired by Jimmy as the show creeps slowly toward its Breaking Bad roots.

Better Call Saul is very well done and Bob Odenkirk is showing great dramatic acting chops in this series.  When Better Call Saul is over and done, it will be fun to binge it along with Breaking Bad all at once to appreciate the many connections between the two.  Breaking Bad seems like a long time ago and my memory is fuzzy.

Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers, one of my top five shows on television, commenced its third and final season with a super weird premier that had me reading multiple recaps and listening to podcasts to try and figure out what happened.  It started out with a religious sect in 1844 believing in the rapture which doesn’t come although some members of the cult become the precursors of he Guilty Remnant.  As is typical of the show, there is another big time jump, this time to the 7th anniversary of the Departure.  We catch up with most of our key characters in the premier but there are two key ones missing.  Carrie Coon is just fantastic in this show which is not to be missed.

The mysteries keep on coming.  Kevin, puts his head in a plastic bag and appears to die and then marches out of the house in perfect health.  Where are the missing characters?  And then the final scene where one of the key characters is shown about 10 years later on a different continent not seeming to know about her former life is a jump the shark moment.  There are also a lot of birds at the beginning and the end of the episode which mean something although who knows what and a few other crazy things.  So, the Leftovers is back in its full glory, the viewer is totally confused and this rather brilliant TV show will unfold over the next 7 episodes as only a Damon Lindelof show can.  I can’t wait.

Guerrilla (Showtime)

Guerrilla a 6-episode mini-series that premiered on Showtime last week is the story of how a mixed-race couple become revolutionaries in 1971 London.  Although Patty Hearst and Angela Davis come immediately to mind in watching two bohemian characters turn violent, there are certainly parallels with today’s world.  Marcus (Babou Ceesay) and Jas (Freida Pinto) start out as the quiet couple who quickly become emerged in a revolutionary world when their friends are imprisoned and killed by the police.

I can’t think of anything more relevant now than how peaceful people become violent revolutionaries and I will tune in for the next 5 weeks to gain whatever insight I can into this phenomenon.  Pinto is great so far and I want to see more of her lighting up the screen.

Streaming:

13 Reasons Why (Netflix)

I went through the last half of this very well done mini-series on teen suicide quickly.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much packed into the final four episodes.  I have one word of warning.  Do not finish the last couple of these late at night or you’ll likely have nightmares as the suicide and rape scenes are graphic.

I would recommend this series to everyone.  It is so well done and the leads (Hannah played by Catherine Langford and Clay played by Dylan Minnette) are wonderful.  Many critics found the middle episodes to drag and the sub plot with Jeff completely unnecessary so I was expecting that but didn’t find it to be the case.  I did not binge the series except for the last 4 episodes as they were tough and though provoking enough to need to be spaced out.

I guess the big question is whether the rapes and suicide should have been so realistically portrayed and my thought would be that yes, they needed to be done this way.  The show would have lost its credibility had Hannah’s end been glossed over.  It was extremely difficult to watch but an important moment in her story.   Hopefully those loose ends at the conclusion don’t mean the producers are thinking about a second season.  That would be a travesty.  Hannah’s story is finished and it should remain that way.  Watch this show.