TV this Week: The Good Place, Riverdale, the Magicians, and Scandal

Winter TV Season coming on strong with lots of premiers and finales.  Here are a few:

Season Finale

The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Place ended its first season with a big twist that should serve it well in the future. SPOILER ALERT: Turns out the Good Place is really the Bad Place and some things that seemed strange all season finally make sense – particularly why two clearly flawed individuals landed up in the Good Place. Their soul mates were not quite the embodiment of perfection either which seemed to indicate a fatal flaw with the selection process. The other big twist is that there is a reset button. This often can be a bit cheesy but I can see how it might enable the show runners to get more seasons if they can keep erasing memories and start over. I suspect the major story arc will now be how these four people can remember as much as possible before their memories are erased.

I enjoyed this first season of the Good Place. It was light entertainment and provided some relief from all the craziness of the real life events for the last few months. Kristin Bell was very enjoyable as was Ted Danson and I’m looking forward to next year.

Series Premier

Riverdale (CW)

A revival of the Archie comic books with a dark side is not going to be for everyone but it is surprisingly  good. It definitely has the normal CW feel with a lot of very good-looking young people (in this case supposedly sophomores in high school which is a huge stretch) and will appeal to the teenage audience. Archie comic books have been around forever and this show keeps the characters honest  with the books but adds darkness and mysteries to life in Riverdale.

The show is well done and will absolutely appeal to the younger demo. If you aren’t in to teenage angst with a Twin Peaks touch, feel free to skip it. I am impressed that the CW has another solid show in its repertoire. Just 3 years ago, I had never watched a CW show and now I view quite a few.

Season Premier

The Magicians (SY FY)

If you read this blog with any regularity, you will know that the biggest TV disappointment for me last year was the Magicians. As a lover of the books, I was distraught over how bad the TV series was and the choices the show runners made to deviate significantly from the trilogy. The characters weren’t well developed and lesser characters in the book took more prominence. One major character had a name change for no good reason. At year-end I placed it on my “Worst Shows of 2016” list and swore I would never return.

Well, I returned. I so want this series to work and hoped that over the summer, somehow the writers might have course corrected. What is killing me is that the source material is so good and this could be a really great show.  Season 2 premiered Wednesday night and it gave me no reason for optimism. Julia’s story line goes in and out of the other character’s story arc with no rhyme or reason – gave me whiplash. The plot was confusing and I have read the books twice. The transitions were shaky and the writing as well. In short, there is no good reason to watch this show. If you haven’t read the books, run, don’t walk to your nearest library and forget the show.

P.s. I do have to call out Summer Bishil, my nieces’ future sister-in-law for a fine job as Margo (Janet in the books). She does a very solid job despite not so great writing and character development.

Scandal

Scandal is finally back after Kerry Washington’s childcare leave and it starts out with a literal bang and a murder. Olivia and crew are off to the races trying to figure out how to prove who the murderer is. Suffice it to say that the election results are somewhat muddled and everything seems to be in play, which is totally in sync with the show that Scandal is.  Could life be worse in DC with Cyrus potentially becoming the next President of the United States?  Does life imitate art?

Scandal has had less than satisfactory plot lines the last couple of years and I’m beginning to wonder if there is really much more story to tell. It will be interesting to see how the writers deal with a shortened season and whether they can get this show back on track and Olivia back in her grove. It hasn’t had the staying power of Grey’s Anatomy and the plots have gotten so outrageous that it isn’t really satisfying to keep watching yet for some reason, it is hard to walk away from Ms. Pope. Here’s to hoping that Olivia Pope can “fix” this!

 

TV: Winter TV is Back: Sneaky Pete, the Young Pope, Victoria, Taboo, Colony and Bright Lights

 

The winter TV season has begun and it is coming fast and furiously! Here are some of the new arrivals with more coming in the next few weeks.

Series Premiers:

Sneaky Pete (Amazon)

Sneaky Pete is the story of a hustler (Marius) who gets out of prison and needs to hide from some gangsters led by Bryan Cranston out to get him. Marius takes on the identity of a man still in prison (Pete) and hides out in upstate NY at Pete’s grandparent’s house claiming to be their long lost grandson. They haven’t seen him for 20 years so are excited that he has come back into their lives although Grandma (played marvelously by Margo Martindale) is suspicious. Pete takes mysterious trips to NYC to try and settle some of his business scores while maintaining his secret life as Pete and helping out in the family’s bail bond business.

I’m not in love with this show but given my admiration of Bryan Cranston and Margo Martingale, I’ll give it a few more episodes to make me a fan.

The Young Pope (HBO)

I’ll watch Jude Law in anything and he is indeed excellent in this new HBO series about a young American Pope who mysteriously lands up in charge of the Catholic Church. His wry expressions, subtle humor and general shiftiness keep the audience guessing at to what his motivations and without an actor of Law’s caliber, I’m not sure this show would work. The series also stars Diane Keaton and James Cromwell although we don’t see them much in the first episode. This first episode is pretty strange including an opening scene where Law emerges from a pile of dead babies in a dream sequence. I’m not exactly what to make of this new mini-series as it jumps all around with moments of sarcastic humor but it makes for compelling television.

Perhaps living in Trumpland, I’m sensitive to how those in power use that power to lead and this show topping off a night in which I watched Homeland and Victoria seemed like entertainment became reality. I am anxious to see the next few episodes where James Cromwell apparently becomes focused on bringing down the new pope. Here’s to Coke Cherry Zero and the brilliance Law brings to the role. This may be the weirdest show I’m watching but I’m in for the ride.

Victoria (PBS)

Masterpiece Theater premiered a two-hour opening episode in its new series on Queen Victoria in the time slot formerly allocated to Downton Abby. I don’t think this will be as good as the Crown (or Downton Abby for that matter) but if you like history, British royalty, the Crown Jewels and lavish costumes, you should enjoy this new show. Rufus Sewell is engaging as Victoria’s mentor Lord Melbourne and Jenna Coleman in the lead role is fine but can’t compare to Claire Foy in the Crown. I’ll be watching in order to learn more about Victoria’s long reign. 

Taboo (FX)

FX is delivering some of the finest TV around (The American, OJ etc.) and getting the award nominations/wins to prove it. Taboo is the network’s latest project and premiered this past week with Tom Hardy playing a mysterious man named James Delaney. Delaney appears in early 1800’s London after the death of his father in order to claim a piece of land in the Pacific Northwest. The land apparently has some sort of mysterious power. There is also a sister who is married to a not very pleasant husband who needs the inheritance from their father. The tone is dark and sinister and reminds me of Peaky Blinders which I couldn’t get in to. There are clearly any number of secrets we aren’t privy to and I’m not sure how much of the supernatural is involved. The show is very weird, confusing and I’m not ready to commit to it yet but I’ll try another couple of episodes to see if there is anything to engage me.

Season Premiers:

Colony (SyFy)

To begin Season 2, Colony chose an interesting tactic. Instead of picking up where things ended last season with Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) escaping the “block” to try and find his son, we flashback to when the aliens first came and put up the wall around LA. We see life as it was before the invasion with the Bowman family. While interesting, it was not nearly as intriguing as Alan Snyder’s toiling away as a purchasing manager while embezzling money when representatives of the aliens (knowing all about him) come to recruit him for a job in the new order.  Turns out Snyder was not a provost at Stanford after all. Peter Jacobsen nails it as a rather shifty individual faced with a difficult choice.

We have a new character, Devon, who is introduced in Season 2 as Will’s possibly “dirty” FBI partner pre-arrival. She escaped the “block” as the wall comes down and is apparently the key to finding Charlie in the present. We also get a glimpse into why Katie joined the Resistance but we don’t make progress in the first episode towards an understanding of what the Factory is or other dangling plot points from last season. I like Colony and even though it isn’t the best show on TV by any means, the combination of Carleton Cuse and Josh Holloway from Lost gives me  hope that the show will continue to grow and get better.

Movies for TV: 

Bright Lights (HBO)

This documentary on Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher is everything you’d want it to be given their recent passing. No one could have predicted the tragic deaths within a day of each other after having shared so much of their lives together. It is Karma that their fans have access to the wonderful HBO documentary “Bright Lights” which depicts their lives together and apart in the last two to three years of their lives. The film, which was to be released later this year, was moved to January 7th and provides a fitting tribute to their amazing lives.

We see childhood pictures and home movies of Carrie and her brother with their parents. They seemed very happy although Carrie suggests otherwise in the film. Carrie is on stage singing early in life with an eerily foreshadowing of the future when she sings “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. The main focus of Bright Lights however, is the recent story of Debbie and Carrie living next to each other in Beverley Hills where they have a daily routine of visiting each other. The documentary begins in 2014 when Carrie is hysterically working with a trainer to get in shape for Star Wars. We also see Debbie Reynolds going strong in her late eighties by still appearing on stage. She is wonderful.

Bright Lights turns out to be a lasting homage to two wonderful and talented women who are gone too soon. It chronicles two fighters who bound themselves to each other after a period of estrangement and one can’t help but be sad about these two “Bright Lights” who have been snuffed out and what their family and friends have lost.

TV: Year End Thoughts as well as the Westworld and Rectify Finales.

 

I have been a little remiss as of late in reporting on TV but with the fall TV shows either ending or going on winter breaks there hasn’t been much to discuss. That being said, there are a there are a few that must be covered!

Season Finale: Westworld (HBO)

I spent a lot of time on Westworld. In addition to the show each week, I followed up with at least one long recap and two podcasts discussing what had happened. This is not the first time I have utilized social media to enhance my experience with a show. I first did it with Lost and loved every minute of every podcast, blog and recap that I delved into each week, along with so many other viewers, trying to unlock the many mysteries of the that show. To this day, watching Lost in this manner was the best TV experience I have ever had and it changed the way so many of us now experience this medium.

With Westworld, these extra efforts just seemed like work. I can’t completely put my finger on why this show isn’t that enjoyable for me but at least part of it is that I’m really not invested in the characters so no matter how many mysteries there are to solve, I’m not truly engaged. There are aspects of Westworld that I like. The acting is quite good – specifically Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris and in his villain role, Anthony Hopkins is perfect. The problem is that acting alone can’t sustain a show. I’m not sure whether it is the fact that the show is about robots and it’s hard to empathize with AI characters or the show just never recovered completely from its troubled production history. Maybe it is a combination of both but the end result is that there are just too many inconsistencies in the plot line creating  too much confusion.

I’m not saying that I dislike this show. There were always enough interesting elements to keep me going but it isn’t a Sunday show that I looked forward to all week like Game of Thrones. I hold out hope that it will become that show for me because there are some positive signs. One reason that I am optimistic is that last year they halted production for 6 months or so in order for the show writers, producers etc. to figure out exactly where they were going both in Season 1 and the overall story arc. They are now taking over a year between seasons to better flush out Season 2. I think there is a real commitment by the industry heavyweights involved to make this show great and I think it could be. So for now, I’m willing to keep working hard to appreciate the show in hopes that it will become my Sunday night “go to”.

Series Finale Rectify (Sundance)

I consider Rectify not only one of my top one or two shows for the past 4 years but certainly one of the best shows of this century. While only a handful of people watched it, it will stand the test of time and hopefully many more people will discover this gem along the way. Rectify concluded it’s fourth and final season last week with a finale that I savored for each one of its 107 minutes. It is rare to find a show where the characters are so deep and complex, the casting for each individual so perfect and the acting so emotionally impactful as this one.

If you haven’t seen Rectify, the first three seasons are on Netflix and I’m sure the fourth season will be soon. My guess is that if you watch the first three seasons you won’t be able to wait for that to happen and will buy it on ITunes or Amazon – it is that good. Rectify is the story of Daniel Holden (played absolutely brilliantly by Aden Young) who at age 18 is convicted of the rape and murder of his high school girl friend. After spending 18 years on death row, he is released based on DNA evidence. The resulting struggle of trying to reintegrate into his family and society at large is the main plot of the series.

Whether Daniel is guilty or not of the murder is never really central to the plot. Instead we focus on his relationship with each member of his family and their struggle to incorporate this very damaged individual back into their lives. The final season does provide some closure as to Daniel’s guilt/innocence as well as the reasons for his difficulty in being able to function in the outside world. All of this is laid out slowly and deliberately throughout the 8-episode season culminating in one of the most satisfying series finales that I have ever seen.

There is a hole in my heart now that this show is finished and it is going to be hard to find a replacement that will be as fulfilling. I’m going to desperately miss the Holden clan and hope beyond hope that there will be a reunion some years in the future.

Season Premier: Man in the High Castle (Amazon)

I was going to report out on Man in the High Castle Season 2, which dropped on Amazon this past Friday. I watched the first episode and was totally confused as I remembered so little from the first season. I have concluded that I need to go back and watch the first season again, which will definitely delay my viewing and reporting out on the new season. I enjoyed the first season although it did drag a bit in the middle so I’m anxious to see if it moves along more consistently in Season 2. More to come on this show. 

Best TV of 2016

With 2016 closing down fast and publications/critics everywhere doing their top 10, 20 or 30 lists, I wanted to just put a few thoughts down regarding what for me were the best shows of the year. In the world of peak TV, there is obviously more good TV out there than any one person can possibly watch. I do my best to see a lot of TV (as proved by my Cable, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu bills) but in a world of over 400 hour-long dramas alone, it is impossible to see everything good! One hour scripted (rather than procedural) dramas are my specialty but as you may have noticed, 30 minute “dramadies” have come on strong with me this year and I’m finding some of the best work in television is being done on these shows. So here, in no particular order are the shows that I think stand above all others this year and you shouldn’t miss as well as some that I think did a great job this year and I never miss:

Must Watch for Everyone:

The Americans (FX)

Rectify (Sundance)

One Mississippi (Amazon)

Jane the Virgin (CW)

OJ Made in American (ESPN documentary)

Catastrophe (Amazon)

The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

The Crown (Netflix)

Must Watch for Me and You Might like Some of Them:

This Week with John Oliver (HBO)

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Transparent (Amazon)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Better Things (FX)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

So 2016 TV has basically closed down and 2017 TV will begin soon and the new show I’m most excited about is the HBO miniseries “The Young Pope” starring Jude Law. Bring it on!

 

 

TV: Fall TV slowing down: The Durrells in Corfu, The Affair and the Fall.

Just a few shows finishing up and beginning as we wind down the fall season and wait for things to start back up in January.

Finales:

The Durrells in Corfu (PBS)

The Durrells in Corfu ended it’s first season with Louisa realizing her finance Swen is gay and instead of having a wedding, chose to have all of their friends just come anyway and party away. This season saw the family survive their move to Corfu encamped in a house with no electricity and thousands of miles away from friends and family. Corfu is a light series that was fun to watch for 6 weeks amidst the craziness of the Presidential campaign. The scenery is stunning and the family interesting enough to keep coming back each week. I’ll definitely check in with them next year assuming the show returns.

Premiers:

The Affair (Showtime)

Let’s just say I was not enthralled with this season’s premier of the Affair. The entire hour was about Noah (Dominic West) with a couple of brief interactions with Helen (Maura Tierney). No Joshua Jackson, and no Ruth Wilson although a new love interest (Juliette) for Noah was introduced played by Irene Jacob. Noah is the most despised character in this series and having to watch him for an hour was tough. His story takes place 3 years after the he was convicted of manslaughter in last season’s finale. He has completed his prison sentence, moved in with his sister and is teaching a course at a N.J. university.

Noah is clearly estranged from Alison and although Helen attempts to reconcile with him, he isn’t interested. His oldest son ignores him and Noah doesn’t really seem to care. He meets Juliette and she doesn’t seem to pass judgment on him which attracts him to her. There are some very uncomfortable moments with Noah and one of his students that was just creepy and unnecessary. There is also a mysterious character stalking Noah and some flashbacks to some violent moments in prison. All of this should help provide some tension to this season while giving us some good flashbacks.

I’m going to stick with “The Affair” for the time being. I understand next week’s show is a Helen/Alison split which covers what each of them were doing during the time Noah was in prison which is much more interesting to me. Apparently the rest of the shows this season are split between characters, which is good news. Above all, what I really want to know is who Alison’s Baby Daddy is! I would really like the Affair to return to the excellence of the first season but I’d settle for just a better year than last. 

Streaming:

The Fall (Netflix)

I completed the third and likely the final season of the Fall on Netflix and it was a satisfactory conclusion to the three-year Belfast Strangler arc. This dark story of misogyny, rape and murder is complex and nuanced. On one hand, it is one of the few shows with violence against women that also focuses on the victims. It is also different from other crime procedurals in that we know the murderer from the beginning and it is the detective played by Gillian Anderson that must find out who is behind the rape and murder of all of these Belfast women.

The final season moved slowly, but with deliberate pace. Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) recovered from his injuries in the Season 2 finale without any memory of the last six years. It is unclear whether he was lying or not, but the memory loss presents legal issues related to his prior confession and whether it will hold up. Despite Spector having been caught, he still presents a threat to anyone around him thus maintaining the fear factor in this psychological thriller.

I’m really tired of the whole violence against women thing as a plot device in so many shows so I have mixed feelings about the Fall. On the plus side, it is very well done and both Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan are excellent. The Spector character never is positioned to elicit any sort of sympathy from the audience which is also good. There are no redeeming or sympathetic aspects of his personality. He is to be hated and feared at all times.  Yet there is a lot of violence in the first two seasons and it is a lot to take in.

Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson are great in this show. Dornan’s arc is done but I could see bringing back Anderson as Stella Gibson for another investigation. She is a complex and flawed character and could easily generate storylines for several additional seasons. I recommend this show to those who are interested in seeing a well-done British crime series unless they are not interested in another show focused on violence towards women.

TV: Fall TV winds down – Masters of Sex, Better Things, You’re the Worst, The Blacklist and the Crown

 

Season Finales:

Masters of Sex (Showtime) – (Series Finale?

Masters of Sex wrapped up it’s fourth season with Masters and Johnson tying the knot; Bill’s ex-wife Libby off to California with their kids in a quintessential 60s VW bus to start law school at Berkeley and his childhood sweetheart leaving her husband and coming back to town. Bill’s look of concern in the final moments of the episode as he marries Virginia foreshadows a marriage that will ultimately fail.

Masters of Sex had a brilliant first season and then a couple of rough years. This season had its ups and more downs. There was a plot with a “Swing” couple getting jobs in the clinic that was just bizarre and not well developed at all; some hints at a gay conversion plot line that was not effectively flushed out; Virginia’s parent’s faltering marriage and more weak storylines.  Libby’s growth on the other hand was one of the highlights of the show and vindicates the show runners who kept the character despite all the critics who questioned her ongoing role.  Bill and Virginia’s relationship was non-existent most of the season and the side story using Niecy Nash, as his AA leader was a throwaway, which added little to the drama.

Masters of Sex hasn’t been renewed and I can’t help but think that this finale could easily serve as the series finale. I’m not sure how much more  story there is to tell here – two more decades of Bill and Virginia working in their clinic as their relationship goes downhill? Not much to get excited about there. Hopefully this is the end – I think it is a good place to put this baby to rest. Next week the Affair goes into this timeslot. Another Showtime drama that had a fantastic first season and then dropped off – I’ll be optimistic and tune in to see Joshua Jackson if nothing else.

Better Things (FX)

Better Things wrapped up a very fine first season with a strong episode that finally addresses what we have been thinking all along – Frankie is transgender. If you have missed this little gem of a show, it is about Sam, an actress, who is raising three girls on her own, Max, Duke and Frankie. It deals with the stresses and difficulty of being a single parent in addition to being a middle age woman in Hollywood trying to get work. Throughout the season, we wonder if Sam’s middle child is trans but there is nothing that makes Sam even question her child’s identity until the finale where her eldest daughter Max comes right out and tells her mother “Frankie is a boy”.

There is a lot of heart in this show along with laughs and tears and non-stop life events that we can all emphasize with. I’d recommend this show to anyone who has ever parented. You will be able to relate to it.

You’re The Worst (FXX)

You’re the Worst concluded Season 3 this week and while this season seemed more uneven than the first two, the finale made it all worthwhile. Over the course of the season, the show dealt with PTSD (in a fine episode solely focused on Paul), abortion and Gretchen’s attempt at therapy. In between some of the episodes we had were good and some were weak plotlines that didn’t hold up against the pretty much perfect first two seasons.

The finale consisted of the last two episodes shown back to back and both were excellent. The first half hour focused primarily on the disintegration of the three main couples and while Gretchen and Jimmy got back on track for awhile, it was clear that Lindsey and Paul and Dorothy and Edgar were not going to make it. The second half hour completed the breakups and in the most heartbreaking scene of the entire series, Jimmy proposes to Gretchen on Mulholland Drive only to react to her statement about them now “being a family” by freaking out.  As he drives off, leaving her behind, Gretchen’s expression says it all. Aya Cash was brilliant.

These characters are so dysfunctional that we have known from the beginning that even if Gretchen and Jimmy stay together, there won’t be a happy ending. Nonetheless, this was an emotionally packed ending to this season. I don’t know if there will be another one but I hope so because while I know just how awful these people are, I still hope they can find some measure of happiness together. 

Fall Finale:

The Blacklist (NBC) 

The Blacklist ended its fall season with possibly explaining Red’s relationship with Elizabeth. I say possibly because Red admitted that he was Lizzy’s father to Kirk (who turns out not to be Elizabeth’s father) while being tortured by Kirk so the confession is questionable. So what happened this season? Kirk, the master Russian criminal who purported to be Lizzy’s father, kidnapped Elizabeth and her baby and after many rescue attempts, the baby was released as was Lizzy when Red switched places with her.

I really didn’t care for where the storyline went at the end of last season and into this season. Lizzie’s return from death, the kidnapping of her child and the endless rescue attempts were all a stretch. The show worked most effectively in my opinion, when Lizzy was in the FBI and Red gave them a case of the week with the overshadowing mystery of why Red is so protective of Elizabeth. Now, Elizabeth is banished from the FBI with no real way back in and she is in a happy relationship with Tom and a new baby. We are tired of not having the relationship with Red explained and it just seems as the writers are at a loss for where to go next.  I really think the show has run its course and if the show runner had the latitude to end it this spring, I think he/she would.

Streaming:

The Crown (Netflix)

Who knew that an entire season about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign would be so fascinating – but it is. Claire Foy in the lead role is compelling as the young monarch and the supporting cast is fine as well. Over the course of 10 episodes we see the Queen come in to her own despite being lied to and mislead by many in power. She also had to deal with her lack of education as well as a husband who feels emasculated.  She is entirely unprepared for the Crown that was put on her head at 25. Yet, despite all of this, she learns to hold her own with the most powerful people in the world.

We get an in-depth view of the strain Margaret’s relationship with Peter Townsend and her heartbreak at Elizabeth’s refusal to allow the marriage. We also get a glimpse into the exile of King Edward VIII and the ramifications of his abdication on the family. All of this is probably not very familiar to the American audience so should be of interest to those with an interest in the British Royal family. Watching how history changes over the course of her reign is going to be one of the great benefits of this series.

In addition to great acting, we also see amazing jewels, killer fashion and beautiful scenery. The only real issues I had with the show were the slowness of the pace (at times glacial) and the fact that it seemed to be filmed in very dark rooms all the time. Count me as a fan of this woman who has had such an amazing life and never seems to have put a wrong foot forward. I am looking forward to Season 2 and beyond.

 

TV: A slow week with only two premiers: Jane the Virgin and the Durrells in Corfu.

 

Premiers:

Jane the Virgin (CW)

Jane the Virgin returned this week picking up from last season’s cliffhanger that left Michael in critical condition after Rose shot him. This of course happened just minutes before he and Jane were going to consummate their marriage and the title of the show would have to be changed. We are kept in suspense throughout the premier as to Michael’s fate but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the other plots. Will Petra overcome her paralysis and do something to her evil twin who has taken her place? What will Jane’s mother do about being pregnant after a one-night stand? Will Jane and Rafael have a new dynamic and continue to more away from their love triangle? Where did Rose take Louisa?  Although I have never seen a real Telenovela, this one seems to have all the drama and plot twists of the best of them.

It is wonderful to have Jane and company back in my life after spending all summer binging Seasons 1 and 2. Given the ratings, I’m not optimistic for another year so I’m just going to sit back and enjoy this weekly escapist hour of fun with all of it’s heart, great characters and plot twists.

The Durrells in Corfu (PBS – Masterpiece Theater)

The Durrells in Corfu premiered last weekend as a new 6 episode series on Masterpiece. It won’t stretch your intellect but it is a wonderful little show about a widow and her four children who relocate from England to the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s. Her children range in age from the oldest boy 21 (an aspiring writer), to the youngest boy of about 10 who his mother calls “different” and who cares mostly about animals. In between are Leslie and Margo who don’t do much of anything. The family is destitute and have heard that life is cheap on the island so make the trek and land up with a house that is falling apart, has no electricity but is situated on the ocean with magnificent views.

I’m going to enjoy following this quirky family for the next 5 weeks. The scenery is lovely, the humor engaging and the relationships enjoyable. The show will lift your spirits and make you want to book passage on the next ship to Greece.

Shows I bagged this week because I’m watching too much TV and these either are going to get cancelled anyway (No Tomorrow); I’ve lost interest in (Gotham) or the show is fine but it’s just not engaging me (Insecure and Pitch). 

Gotham (Fox)

No Tomorrow (CW)

Insecure (HBO)

Pitch (FOX)

TV: More Fall Shows: Easy, Westworld, Pitch, Timeless, Transparent, and the Flash

 

New Premiers:

Easy (Netflix)

Easy is a series of eight one-half -hour mini films that recently premiered on Netflix. A few of the more minor characters appear in multiple episodes but the two biggest stars (Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman) are only in one episode. The stories are primarily about couples and love and range fairly significantly in quality. Several are quite good and a couple are not so great. The good news is that even the worst of them only last 30 minutes.

My favorites were:

  • “Brewery Brothers” (Episode 3) starring Aya Cash, Dave Franco, Evan Jonigkeit and Zazie Beetz. This is a story about two brothers reconnecting and starting an illegal brewery business. It concludes in an almost as good “Hop Dreams” (Episode 8) with the same cast and explores what it means to be in a family and how that impacts a relationship when there is a different agenda.
  • Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman star in “Utopia” (Episode 6) as a loving couple with a baby who realize they missed out on the “Tinder” era and decide to explore what it would be like to have a ménage et trois.  Instead of it culminating with some stranger from Tinder, they explore with a close female friend. This is one of the most upbeat of the episodes and it is hard to take your eyes off of the genetically perfect Bloom and Ackerman.
  • “Chemistry Read” (Episode 7) is a heart-wrenching story about a relationship that is ending as the two individuals explore whether it is better to be single and free or together and wanting something better.
  • The others are just ok except “Art and Life” (Episode 5), which I just found very boring and paid little attention to it.

Overall, I’d rate the series at about a B-. By all means, go in and watch Episodes 3,6,7 and 8 and if they intrigue you, check out the others if you have the time/interest. You won’t miss anything if you don’t. 

Westworld (HBO)

I was so looking forward to Westworld and then the reviews started coming in – they are definitely mixed. On one point however, almost every critic agrees; the pilot is hard to follow. For 75 minutes, we are introduced to a multitude of characters and the overall workings or the park. It is unclear which beings are human and which are artificial intelligence (Hosts). There were groundhog-like reboots which were confusing until you realize the character being killed multiple times isn’t who you thought he was. I am definitely going to have to go back and watch the 75 minutes again to try and figure out everything which is a bummer because the pilot wasn’t all that great.

Westworld utilizes a lot of violence including rape in this first episode to a degree that is beyond necessary to move the plot forward. It is disturbing just how many shows of late are using this plot technique and I’m not convinced that this show needs to do it. Westworld has an impressive cast of producers/executive producers and a troubled history getting to the premier. It isn’t amazing like the Leftovers or Game of Thrones and the question in my mind is whether it can get to that level. There are some seeds that could bear fruit and some intriguing notions of where it could go that give me some hope. No show should be judged on its pilot so I’ll give it some more episodes before I decide one way or the other. As of now, I’m afraid it is going down the path of Vinyl rather than the Leftovers. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the great cinematography which is the best thing going for it at the moment (excluding James Marsden of course!). 

Pitch (Fox)

It took me an extra week or so to catch up to Pitch, a new show on Fox that is about a female African American pitcher who is the first woman in major league baseball. I hesitated at first to check out the show as I really dislike baseball but the reviews have been so positive I reconsidered. Pitch is good. It uses a little plot twist in the first episode which is unnecessary but overall, the acting and writing are well done and the characters interesting. Kylie Bunbury is quite good in the lead and apparently has had to learn how to throw a ball which can’t be easy. I have very little knowledge of Baseball but even I realized that the San Diego Padres (her team) are in the National League and pitchers have to hit in that league. The show entirely skipped this little fact in the episode and it’s hard for me to believe that a female in the major leagues is going to be able to hit the ball decently. The show runners might have been smarter to put her in the American League.  I have seen two episodes and the show has promise although I wonder if the plot can be sustained through a full season of episodes.

Timeless (NBC)

Timeless premiered this week and I tuned in as I’m a bit of a sucker for time-travelling shows even if though I’m not always great at following the timelines. This one was pretty good. I actually understood what was happening  – it wasn’t a Donnie Darko which fries my brain. I love Abigail Spencer in Rectify and she does a nice job on this show. I hope that if Timeless is successful, she will still have time for her 6 episodes of Rectify a year. The other leads are also good and there is some diversity in the cast, which is always welcome. Again, it is hard to make a determination about a show based only on the pilot but I’m hopeful that this show will be a keeper. 

Returning Series Premiers:

Transparent (Amazon)

The Pfeffermans are back for a third season and they are as dysfunctional as ever. This is the only family that will make even the blackest sheep in your family look pretty good. There were some lovely moments like the flashback to Shelly and Maura’s childhood showing how they got together and the finale where Shelly sings Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” in one of the most moving sequences in the history of the show. Judith Light shines in this moment of self-actualization.

As for Maura, she decides to continue her transformation through surgery only to find out her heart is not strong enough for the various operations and she is faced with living the rest of her life in her male body. Jeffery Tambour is just brilliant in how he conveys the range of emotions Maura faces as she deals with this obstacle. Maura also ends her relationship with Vicki and I’m sad to see Anjelica Huston leave the show. As is typical with completely dysfunctional people, by the end of the season, all the Pfeffermans are single except for Ali (Gabby Hoffman) who is in a very tenuous relationship.

There is also a crisis of faith theme as Rachel struggles with still being in love with Josh while she attempts to hook up with a guy she went to seminary school with. This does not end well and she visits a mikvah (ritual bath) to restore her purity. It doesn’t help that Sarah attempts to enlist Rachel to help her become an active participant in the Synagogue’s hierarchy as she attempts to find meaning in her life through religion. Unsurprisingly, there is not a successful outcome for either one of them.

In addition to religion, finding one’s true identity and meaning in life, there is also a death theme this season as Rita, the woman who sexually abused Josh, committed suicide and Josh has difficulty coming to grips with it. In the end, he spreads her ashes in a moving finale that finds the Pfeffermans on a cruise ship as the journey from life to death is explored through symbolism, which includes the boat.

If all of this makes you wonder why Transparent is classified as a comedy, you have every right to question this assignment! This year’s comic relief comes by way of a pet turtle that escaped when the children were small and which hides safely behind the walls of the Pfefferman ‘s home for 30 years. His discovery by the family puts its existence in peril, which solidifies its position as a true Pfefferman. I binged through this season in two days and now am ready to take a break for a year but I’ll be back next fall for more.

The Flash (CW)

We revisit Barry after he has kept his mother from being killed by Thwane and reset history in an alternative timeline. At first life is good, Barry is living at home with his mother and father and keeping Thwane as a prisoner. However, there are some changes in this universe and Thwane warns Barry that he has “birthed a fiction that will end us all”.

The new world has Cisco as the richest man in the world; Barry has to court Iris who doesn’t know him; Joe is a drunk detective; Kidflash is Iris’s brother Wally and Barry begins to have painful flashes every time he thinks of the past. In addition, every time he uses his speed, his memory erases some and   the alternate timeline is becoming more “set”. A reversal to the original timeline ensues but with additional issues.

The Flash is back and it’s wonderful. It has heart, great characters and humor. The superhero stuff is secondary to the characters and unlike many of the other shows out there, you don’t have to know the comics to understand and enjoy it. Can’t wait to see where it goes this season because Barry is in deep trouble right now!