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.

 

TV: The Americans, Billions, The Catch, Feud, Big Little Lies, 13 Reasons Why and Colony

 

I am so behind on TV for several reasons and April TV which is an entire season in and of itself is beginning which means even more premiers so I’m just going to jump in and hit some of the highlights for shows that I’m watching which have recently started or ended.

Season Premiers:

The Americans (FX)

My favorite TV show is back for its fifth (and next to last) season and seems even more relevant given the current “Russia” headlines.  At the end of last season, Philip (Mathew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) were on the verge of being discovered and seriously contemplated taking their family back to Russia.  Their daughter Paige is aware of her parent’s profession and struggles to come to grips with it as she pursues a relationship with the next-door son of an FBI counter intelligence officer.

The season opens with the immediate crisis passing and a new mission involving a recently settled Russian family.  The father is very anti-Russia and the son Pasha is having difficulty adapting to American life.  There are connections to the real Russian wheat shortage of the time.  Also in transit, presumably on his way to America is Philip’s son Misha.  The premier has the longest grave digging episode in the history of television but we do get past that albeit without a surprise death.  Thankfully, Margo Martindale (Claudia) and Frank Langella (Gabriel)are back in their handler roles.  As the season progresses, things get more complicated as Philip struggles with the morality of his work; Paige has no idea how to deal with having a boyfriend whose FBI father could destroy their lives and Claudia and Gabriel are losing some confidence in their star spy family.

Note:  If you haven’t seen the Peabody award winning “The Americans”, you can see the first 4 seasons on Amazon Prime.  There isn’t anything better on Television and each season gets better and better.  This is a great show.

Billions (Showtime)

I missed Billions last year because my Sunday nights were filled with TV shows that I was watching so I caught up on Season 1 and am have watched about half of Season 2.  I like Billions.  The interplay between the lead character Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) and his arch enemy Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) is fantastic and there has rarely been a more despicable character than Rhodes.  Even though Bobby, a billionaire hedge fund magnate has obtained his money through shrewd insider trader schemes and taken advantage of 9/11 victim’s families, you still want him to win against the Feds (headed by Rhodes) who are on his trail.

Season 2 again pits the two main characters with a laser- like focus on eliminating each other.  Bobby is consumed by a desire to destroy Chuck and this single-minded focus seems certain to wreak havoc on both his personal and business life.  Chuck, who was hit hard both personally and professionally at the end of last season is still out to get Bobby but seemingly in more devious and creative ways.  There are a couple of new faces at Axe Capital which so far are very intriguing.  One is the performance coach (replacing Chuck’s wife) and the other is a transgender whiz kid whom Axe is immediately ready to take advantage of.  Billions may be the first Showtime drama that hasn’t crashed and burned its second season.  I’m in for the ride. 

The Catch

The Catch, Shonda’s Thursday night replacement for HTGAWM, premiered its second season a few weeks ago.  I gave up on HTGAWM a long time ago.  Viola Davis couldn’t make up for all the obnoxious 20 something year olds that were on the show along with their ridiculous storylines.  The Catch isn’t going to win any awards but it has much better leads (Peter Krause, Mireille Enos, Sonya Walger) and supporting characters (Gina Torres for one).  I love to watch all of them at work – even with the crazy over the top plots.

In my opinion, the thing that worked best last year with this show was the Pink Panther-like escapades that Ben (Krause) was engaged in during his various heists.  Season 2 quickly gets him out of jail and sets him up to do undercover work for the FBI doing the same type of work.  This is a fun show and after all those seasons of the Killing where Enos never smiled or changed her clothes, it is great to see her do both.  There is a freshness to this Shonda show that makes for a good, light-hearted crime series that hopefully will continue to grow and get better.  

New Series:

Feud (FX)

Feud is the story of Joan Crawford (played by Susan Sarandon) and Bette Davis’s (played by Jessica Lange) relationship.  This should have been a great series given the actresses involved but I have found it boring and hard to stay awake for.  It is worth it, however to stick with it (or just skip directly to episode 5) to watch the epic Oscar dual that that pits a vengeful Crawford against Davis who is nominated for Best Actress.  If you love movies and the Oscars, episode 5 gives great insight into the political side of the Oscars. of the past. Sarah Paulson is fantastic in a brief appearance as Geraldine Page.  Feud can be skipped but you may want to check out the last couple of episodes. 

Big Little Lies (HBO)

Big Little Lies is based on the book by Liane Moriarty which is a total beach read.  I didn’t care for the novel so wasn’t going to watch the miniseries produced by Reese Witherspoon (and others) as a vehicle for great women parts.  It stars Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley along with Alexander Skarsgard.

Even knowing how the mystery ends, I found this mini-series so well done that I couldn’t miss it each Sunday.  The acting is phenomenal, the writing (David E Kelly) great and I enjoyed the show so much more than the book.  If you have HBO and somehow missed this series, go watch it.  It is great.

Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix)

 13 Reasons Why dropped on Netflix last week.  At first I was hesitant to watch a show about a teenager who commits suicide but it hooked me from the get go.  Hannah (Katherine Langford) commits suicide and leaves 13 cassette tapes about the people in her life who impacted her decision to kill herself.  Langford is riveting as the lead in her first major role as is Clay (Dylan Minnette) her (questionably?) best friend.

I am less than half way through but I understand from those who have watched the entire 13 episodes that it drags in the middle. Also, you will be very frustrated by Clay’s slowness in listening to the tapes.  It is irritating.  Apparently the 13 people who had tapes about them, don’t necessarily deserve an entire episode devoted to their character.  It would have been much better to do some doubling up and have maybe 9 or 10 episodes.  I also understand that the last few episodes are great so it is well worth sticking with.  I’ll let you know when I finish it up if that is the case. 

Season/Series Finales:

Colony

Colony ended its second season with what we are led to believe is LA being blown to bits by the aliens as the Bowman family and Snyder escape the city.  Madeline and Broussard’s fates are unknown.  We also get a glimpse at an Alien in a closing segment that ties to the season’s opener.  Colony was renewed for season 3 a few days before the finale and it has been announced that the show is being moved from LA to Vancouver.  Colony isn’t the best show out there but it fills my Sy Fy needs and I will always hold on to a Carlton Cuse/Josh Holloway show.

 

 

 

 

 

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TV: The Young Pope, Legion, Planet Earth II, Bates Motel

I have been remiss in my TV updates but there have been a few interesting finales and premiers over the last couple of weeks with even more coming over March and April as spring TV ramps up.

Season Finales:

The Young Pope (HBO)

I watched the entire mini-series of the young pope and I’m not sure I could explain it to anyone.  Jude Law was fantastic; the costumes magnificent and I loved it every time Dianne Keaton opened her mouth (and even when she was speechless).  Law, plays Lenny Belardo who becomes Pope Pius XIII under questionable circumstances, begins his reign as a smug, condescending outsider who spies on his enemies and generates a high level of arrogance (remind you of anyone?).  Along the line, he questions his belief in God and has multiple strange visions.  Almost every day is spent trying to come to terms with the parents who abandoned him as a child and wondering about their whereabouts.

We wind our way through the season there are probably more bad moments than good but even the bad ones are so weirdly strange and beautifully shot that I was reeled in.  We don’t know what Lenny’s actual beliefs are as they change constantly while becoming one of the world’s greatest tyrants.  The biggest issue I had with the show is that there was a real lack of character development that prevented us from understanding anyone’s motivations.  If there is a second season, I’ll give it a try as Law is mesmerizing. 

Series Premier

Legion (FX)

Legion recently premiered as the latest in a series of Marvel comics coming to life on the small screen.  Apparently, this character (David Haller) is a very minor character in the Marvel world and he is clearly disturbed, teetering between schizophrenia and some type of specialized mental power.  The premier was 1 ½ hours and most of it was like a 1960s-acid trip.  The weirdest thing I have ever seen.

The second episode was not quite so trippy but a lot is happening.   Dan Stevens (Downton Abby) plays David Haller, a diagnosed schizophrenic since he was a child.  The government thinks that he is perhaps the most powerful mutant ever so interrogates him until he is rescued by a couple of women that were in the psych hospital (“Clockworks” don’t you love it) with him.  They bring David to Dr. Bird (Jean Smart) who tries to make him healthy and happy again so that he can be used in the war against the government.  In the interim, there are lots of flashbacks, evil stuff, powers moving from one person to the next and general craziness but if you like the Marvel Universe, this kind of pulls you in.  I’ll try to stick with it until I’m so confused I must give up which is what usually happens with my forays into the Marvel universe.

Planet Earth II (BBC America)

What is not to love about this magnificent look at Nature with the inspiring new score by Hans Zimmer and perfect narration by the marvelous David Attenborough.  I have seen Mountains and Islands and can’t wait for more.  Spectacularly done with the most amazing technical advances that put the series in a difference orbit than even the original Planet Earth, you can only wonder if this is the last we will see of many of the species shown.  With only a handful (7) of episodes there is absolutely no excuse not to see this and anyone who doesn’t believe that man is destroying this world should watch the show.  It is extraordinary.

Bates Motel (A&E)

I love this series and particularly the acting.  It stars Vera Fermiga and Freddie Highmore and is a prequel to Pschyo.  Last year’s finale found Norman murdering his mother and finally, we have him in full “psycho” mode.  I wasn’t sure how Vera Fermiga would be able to continue in this final season that recently started but Carleton Cuse and the Bates team have brought her back to life in a creative way.  It is harder to integrate Norman’s brother (Dylan) and Olivia Cooke into the story as they moved away and have no relationship with Norman but the writers are trying.  While one part of me wants them back in the action, the other part knows that this would be a very bad thing for their survival and after all they have been through, I don’t want them killed by Mr. Psycho.  Also back is Norma’s sexual predator brother who comes back to town.  Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is in jail and again, trying to keep him connected to Norman is difficult but I love every scene he is in.

I’m enjoying every minute of the last season of Bates Motel and wish Fermiga and Hightower would get the Emmy recognition they deserve for this little gem of a show.

When We Rise (ABC miniseries)

When We Rise is the history of the Gay Rights movement and teams together again the powerful combination of Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black who respectively directed and wrote Milk.  It follows several real-life people (particularly Cleve Jones who also was an important figure in the movement and has a major role in the movie Milk) who converged on San Francisco in the 1970s and continued the Gay Rights movement up through DOMA.  The series is playing all this week and while the last few hours might not be that interesting to people, I find that the first couple of episodes covering the 1970s and 80s are particularly good.

 

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.