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: 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: A slew of finales

In no particular order, below are my thoughts on a number of finales I watched over the past week.

Bates Motel (A&E): Mommy dearest

I really like Bates Motel. The acting is top notch. Where are those Emmy nominations for Freddy Highmore and Vera Farmiga anyway? They certainly deserve them. Both are amazing in this show. Olivia Cooke (Me Earl and the Dying Girl) and Nestor Carbonell (Lost) are excellent as well. The writing is crisp and the storylines hang together. The characters have depth and we can empathize with all them despite some rather sketchy activities. Who would ever have imagined that they could have gotten four really good seasons (and a fifth and final one coming next year) out of a story that we know the ending to. A lot of credit has to go to Exec. Producer Carlton Cuse (Lost), the writers and the actors for making us care about these characters and what happens to them.

So we knew Norma had to die but I’m not sure anyone was thinking it would be this season. The finale set the stage for how we are going to see Vera Farmiga next season as “alive” in Norman’s mind.   Meanwhile, Norman starts his descent into total madness digging up his mother and setting her body in the living room. Things are not good for the Sheriff either as he is arrested by the DEA. Norman has not told his brother that their mother is dead and I really hope he and Emma stay the heck away in another state but having Norman sitting with his dead mother and murdering motel guests would be a pretty narrow storyline next season so I’m thinking that they will head back to town. Good season and good finale.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC) – this time Grant Ward is really dead.

S.H.I.E.L.D has ups and downs and gets confusing at times but I have stuck with it for two years, more to help me understand the broader Marvel universe than because it was any good. The show never really found it’s groove and the whole “Hive” infestation this season to keep the “Grant “character in the show was just a little over the top – even for a show like this. I’m on the fence about staying with the show. Whether I do or not will likely be influenced by whether there are any better network shows in the fall. In a world of peak TV, it is hard to stick with mediocre shows. The new top gun at ABC just cancelled Agent Carter and a new S.H.I.EL.D spinoff so the commitment to Marvel on this network seems dubious. Netflix does a better job with their Marvel shows and the CW is doing a better job with the DC universe so I’m just not sure that watching a Marvel show on ABC is the best use of my time.

One of the issues with the show is that unlike the Flash or Netflix’s Jessica Jones or Daredevil, it is hard to bond with most of these characters. Of the entire team, only Fitz and Simmons have any real appeal. May is pretty good but not exactly loveable and the rest are hard to relate to. That being said, the finale did a nice job with the deaths of Lincoln and Hive so there is some hope. The scene between Daisy and Lincoln was surprisingly emotional as were the last moments between Lincoln and Hive. A quick look six months down the line gives us an idea where the show is going next season and a “Goth” Daisy has gone rogue while Colson is no longer the S.H.I.E.L.D. Director. I’d like this show to be good….I really would.

The Catch (ABC) isn’t catching my interest

The Catch is a new spring show with 3 of my favorite actors (Peter Krause, Mireille Enos and Sonya Walger (Penny from Lost). It is so fun to see these actors play characters that are completely opposite from the ones they played on the Killing, Parenthood and Lost respectively.  Despite the lousy ratings, it has been renewed. I assume because it is a Shonda show and she seems to own ABC programming right now. Even though it has several of my favorite actors, the show is going to have to get a lot better next year for me to continue on with it.

The two-hour finale was surprisingly ok and brought in “Mrs. Padmore” (Downton Abbey) to be Margo’s mother. That was a treat – she looks pretty good in make-up with her hair styled and she was a baddie at that! Complete opposite from her other role at least until she donned a chef outfit and cap, which was such a great tribute to Mrs. Padmore. That was pretty much the highlight of the episode. So we leave Allison in FBI custody with Ben confessing and begging for himself to be arrested in lieu of Allison.  Margo is in charge of the Kensington firm after outmaneuvering her mother,  and her brother hightailed it to Togo (I assume). This show is not clicking on all cylinders and the chemistry between Enos and Krause is lacking.  That’s a difficult problem for the show runner to solve. I’d rank it above HTGAWM in the Shonda shows but just barely and only because I find those students in the latter to be so obnoxious and irritating.

The Blacklist (NBC) – Thank god they didn’t really kill off another female lead in the spring of our discontent

I’ll watch Blacklist each week just to see James Spader. The plots are all over the place but he is such a joy that it doesn’t matter. Before the final, it was announced that the Tom Keene character would be in a spinoff next year. With that news, I had to assume that Megan Boone was not really dead and she would be back on Blacklist next season and indeed that is the case. The explanation of how she survived was really weak but I was very surprised that Kaplan and not Red was the one responsible.  At any rate, Tom, Elizabeth and Agness are reunited in Cuba to live out a long and happy live on the beach.

They had about 5 minutes of happiness before Elizabeth and the baby were kidnapped and Tom beaten to a pulp.  Because of the spinoff, I’m assuming this is the last we see them together which is a bummer. The finale did confirm one long standing mystery.  We now know who Elizabeth’s father is (and it isn’t Red) but where are Tom and Agnes and what will Red do with Kaplan? I’m not sure how all this is going to work next fall but I will be tuning in to see.

Greys Anatomy (ABC) – A Grey’s finale with no disasters or death? What????

I haven’t watched all 12 seasons of Greys – fell off it for a few years in the middle – but there is a reason that it has lasted 12 seasons and that is because it has a formula that really works. There is the weekly medical case(s) that is usually interesting along with multiple longer-term story arcs about characters that we really care about.   Throw in Shondra killing off actors on a regular basis and some fresh writing and it’s generally a pretty good hour of TV.  This year has been a little less interesting. I have not been thrilled with the way Calle has been written off the show – the judge’s custody ruling was ridiculous (and they fixed that in the finale) but I am glad to see her girlfriend go – did not care for that actress at all. Hopefully Calle will be back after taking a year off.

Greys was the only Shonda show that didn’t rate a two-hour finale this week so for once, there was no airplane crash, ferryboat crash, maniac shooter or other kind of disaster. Owen and Emilia were married, April had the baby with some drama and we potentially have a new love triangle. This almost seemed like a series finale with a few loose ends – none of them compelling enough to carry next season. Karev’s storyline is not particularly good – the once homeless doctor he proposed to won’t marry him because she doesn’t want her abusive ex to find her. Not the strongest of story lines but I guess the show hasn’t tackled domestic abuse for a while. Bailey is back with her husband – never good for a drama.  Jackson and April seem to be well on the road back to marriage although I’m sure there will be some bumps along the way and Meredith’s love live isn’t enough to carry 22 episodes. I am concerned that none of these plotlines are good enough to carry us through an entire season. Could Grey’s have run out of good material after 12 years?

Legends of Tomorrow (CW) is not a legendary TV show

I gave Legends of Tomorrow a good run because I am a huge fan of Victor Garber but have to say, I doubt I’ll be back next season. The plot was confusing and towards the end just ridiculous. This group of time travelers spends an entire season tracking a not so great villain (Randal Savage) through time in order to kill him and prevent him from performing the horrific acts he inflicted on mankind only to find that the Time Masters were keeping him alive for other reasons. The “Legends” were able to eliminate Savage in the end and the show got set up for a new season with a couple of interesting propositions. Who is this guy from the Justice League anyway? I don’t think I’ll tune in but if the critics like what they see at the beginning of the year, I might give it another whirl. They will have to have a better villain; stop making up rules about time travel every episode that contradict each other and give the remaining characters much more depth – more like Flash – to get be on board.

The 100 (CW) probably should be renamed the “50” after all those deaths

The 100 was very good in seasons 1 and 2 but it got a bit off track this season as the A.I. Storyline took over everything and the best relationship of the show between Clark and Lexa ended when the show runners controversially killed off the strong female Lesbian character. There was also the ridiculous plot line of some guy just taking over the Sky people and killing Grounders but thankfully he was offed in the last scene of the finale. There have been fits and starts all season and the show just really needs to get back to its roots and delve into the characters that through the first two seasons made decisions that always had difficult and sometimes deadly outcomes.  The finale made a good start in that direction. The characters made were back having to make choices where there were no good alternatives and sacrificed themselves to overcome the A.I..  Lexa reappeared and got the exit she deserved. I’m hopeful the writers heard the feedback and next year will be better. I already like the new storyline of the Earth dying better than this year.

 

TV this week: House of Cards, Bates Motel, Quantico, Downton, the Americans

Some shows came back and some left us as we begin to close out TV’s winter season and head into the spring premiers.

Returning:

House of Cards (Netflix) – Spoiler Free

Before I launch into Season 4, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I’m not a big House of Cards fan. I loved Season 1, thought Season 2 was marginal and bagged Season 3 after 4 episodes. The only reason I picked it up again is because a friend wanted to binge it and thought it would be a good idea if I did as well so we could discuss it. It hasn’t had bad reviews and TV is winding down a bit so I thought what the heck – I’d watch a few shows. I got through 7 of 13 episodes and so far it is great. A few thoughts:

  • I could watch Cicely Tyson, Neve Campbell and Ellen Burstyn all day and all night – they are brilliant
  • I love Robin Wright’s performance as she starts giving the President the treatment he has inflicted on so many others. This is her year and she deserves the Emmy for this extraordinary acting job
  • The plots are so far out there to be comical (one of the reasons I bagged it last season) except that in this political year, they don’t seem to be quite as crazy as they once were which is a scary thing.
  • There is a lot drama and action to the point where it is actually hard to stop watching. In other words, this is a very binge-worthy season.
  • I don’t think you have to see Season 3 to watch Season 4 but then again, I couldn’t remember all the characters and plots given that it is basically 2 years since I watched it.

Bates Motel

Bates Motel (A&E) opened season 4 with Norman continuing the deep dive into total insanity. It has been announced that Season 5 will be the last so we should get a structured, coherent story arc for these last two seasons although I’m not sure now that Norman is murdering people with regularity, how they will fill the remaining two seasons. I’m assuming that Norman will spend it killing everyone in sight. I can only hope that Emma (with a successful lung transplant) can escape town before the bloodletting takes her down! The acting of Vera Farmiga and Freddy Highmore is outstanding in this show supported by fine work from Olivia Cook as Emma (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) and Nestor Carbonell (Lost) as the mysterious sheriff. I have always enjoyed this Psycho prequel created by Lost’s Carleton Cuse. It can get gory but is filled with mysteries and fun plot lines and I’m going to relish these last two seasons. In the meantime, someone please give Freddie the awards he deserves.

Quantico (ABC)

Quantico returned this Sunday from its winter hiatus. The problem with these scripted dramas taking breaks is that I watch so much TV that I don’t remember just about anything that previously happened. At any rate it returned in search of the terrorist(s) and Alex trying to convince everyone there is that there is a second terrorist besides the known classmate who bombed Grand Central. You know she is right and everyone else is wrong (again – gag) because this is how the show rolls. Then, in the Quantico test for the week, our class goes up against a class that has been there a few weeks longer. Of course this new class becomes part of their class, which give the show a bunch, more people to use. This is important as they have after killed or fired many of the originals. Like Blindspot, this show started out ok last fall (in a season where just about all the new shows were awful) but not sure how long I’m going to stick with it. I want to be able to watch some Network scripted dramas but it is getting increasingly hard to find any that can compete with the cable offerings.

Finales:

Downton Abbey (PBS) – Series Finale

It’s hard to say goodbye to Downton. For 6 years, it has been a Sunday night winter staple as we follow the ups and downs of the Crawley household. The final episode does not disappoint and as had been predicted by many, there were happy endings for everyone. I won’t spoil it incase there are those who haven’t yet seen it but the finale was a suitable culmination of the Crawley family saga. There is lots of room for sequels, prequels and/or movies to update us on their lives.

Downton was never great TV. The plots were fairly predictable and a bit contrite. It did, however, give us a glorious glimpse into early 1900s English aristocracy as the modern world pressed down upon it. So, no, Downton won’t be on any critics top 10 lists this year but I’m sad to see it go. 

DVR Alert:

The Americans (FX) Season 5 premiers on Wednesday 3/16. In my opinion, this is the best show on Television. I’m not sure if FX will run any marathons to catch people up prior to the premier as it is so hard to find the earlier seasons anywhere (and they are a must see before jumping in) but it is worth it to check it out. Last I looked, this 2015 Peabody Award winning best TV drams has a couple of seasons available on Amazon Prime and a couple on Hulu. I haven’t checked ITunes but you’d think that such a great show with such horrible ratings would try and make its prior seasons available on as widespread of a basis as possible.