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 Night Manager, Confirmation,Vinyl, Supergirl and Better Call Saul

 

Premiers

The Night Manager (AMC)

The Night Manager premiered this week staring Hugh Laurie (House), Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki from the Avengers). The pilot starts out with a slick, James Bond type of intro which speaks volumes to the budget for this show!   Laurie plays an evil billionaire arms dealer and Hiddleston plays the night manager of a hotel who inadvertently becomes involved with some of the arms dealers in Cairo. Coleman who plays a British investigator to help bring down Hugh Laurie’s character enlists Hiddleston just a little too easily but I’m willing to go with the flow.

The mini-series is adapted from a John Le Carre’ novel and has the potential for  a nifty spy series. I enjoyed the pilot although from the critics I have read, it is the weakest episode. If this is the case, I’m going to really like the rest. Laurie is amazing as a super scary villain and I love Olivia Coleman who plays a very similar character to her role in Broadchurch. Tom Hiddleston is sexy and fun as a junior James Bond. This show is a nice surprise in a month that I was only focused on the return of Game of Thrones and wasn’t expecting anything else particularly noteworthy.

Confirmation (HBO)

It’s hard not to compare Confirmation with the recent American Crime the OJ Simpson story. Both take place around the same time; both events captivated the American audience and divided it at the same time. The OJ production was great. Confirmation was fine. What made the difference? Confirmation was a less than 2-hour movie of the Clarence Thomas hearing where Anita Hill (played adequately by Keri Washington) accused him of sexual harassment. It was a straightforward timeline of the events surrounding the nomination. Never do we really understand the motivations and impact on either Hill or Thomas. This could be because of the brevity of the movie – I don’t know whether it would have been better had it been a short mini-series. It also could be that these two individuals have never put themselves out there in the public eye like all the participants of the OJ story. I don’t think the writers and actors had enough meat for Confirmation to enable us to really empathize and relate with the characters.

That being said,  Confirmation is fine. It is not great like the OJ series. It may appeal to those who have an interest in history, the Supreme Court, politics and/or women as victims of sexual harassment in the work place. It is an important film for young people who weren’t old enough to remember the hearings who should be reminded of the ugliness of certain aspects of our political system and the treatment of victims. Unfortunately, for those of us who do, there is really nothing new to what we remember other than a reminder of Joe Biden’s wishy-washiness. If you are of an age where you remember these events, I don’t think there is any compelling reason to see Confirmation. You’ll be much better entertained seeing the OJ series.

Finales:

Vinyl (HBO)

Thank god it’s over. I will never go back for season 2. They could fire every actor; every writer, every producer, Director and show runner and I still wouldn’t come back. It was awful. Even the finale was really boring and the final scene just ridiculous. When Vinyl and Billions both premiered at the same time, I made the choice to watch Vinyl and DVR Billions based on the preliminary reviews. Based on more recent reviews, I made a BIG mistake. People actually like Billions. Now I have to go and binge like 10 hours of a bunch of rich white guys making a lot of money through questionable tactics!

Back to Vinyl. The characters are awful and I’m so tired of the cocaine and alcohol. The writers should really watch Mad Men again which takes place around the same time and is much more effective in incorporating the impact of drinking all day into the story. I really watched Vinyl to hear music from one of my favorite periods but have been disappointed in how little of it there is. At the end of the season, I could care less if the record company folds, if all their relationships crumble or if they all die from overdoses. There is just nothing to warrant interest about for any of these people or what they are doing.

I think HBO is in big trouble when it comes to the hour drama.  The crown jewel, Game of Thrones, is coming to and end.  The critically acclaimed “the Leftovers” has only one more season to go and it hasn’t had large audiences.  The few dramatic series they have in pre-production all have serious problems and the new shows like Vinyl are not good. I guess it just goes to show that a network can pour more money into series than any other network and still come up with garbage.

Better Call Saul

I liked Better Call Saul’s first season but think the second was even better.  I’m not sure how long this show can keep going as a prequel to Breaking Bad but I’m in it for the ride. Each show this season has been fun to watch while Kim and Jimmy struggle in their corporate life and finally leave the law firm to start their own practices. Kim has been a really great character in Season 2 and I hope she stays for the duration. Mike’s story has centered on his relationship with the drug cartel and is equally entertaining as we watch his story progress while former Breaking Bad “Baddies” show up along the way. Although the two storylines don’t intersect much, there is a lot of substance to them both.

The finale had a huge cliffhanger, as brilliant Chuck is able to hoodwink Jimmy into confessing to his crimes. It is due to the power of the writing and acting that despite the fact that Chuck is the more honorable brother, we still are rooting for Jimmy to get away with his crimes. Although he is a crook, he is likeable and has a lot of heart. He genuinely tries to help his brother, which makes us like him even more. If you haven’t seen Better Call Saul and are a fan of Breaking Bad, it’s worth catching up on over the summer

Supergirl

This is just a really nice little show. The star, Melissa Benoist is infectious as Supergirl and Calista Flockheart is absolutely fantastic as Cat Grant. I could watch her all day and night. The rest of the cast, much like the Flash are engaging and interesting. Who really cares about the weekly alien attack; what we care about (again, like the Flash) are the relationships between these immensely likeable characters. We want to know their stories and relate to them.

The finale was great. All the characters we care about survived to see another day as Supergirl saved the world. Things progressed with Jimmy, Cat seems to know who Kara is and there is a big mystery for Season 2 assuming the show is renewed. It’s all good.

 

TV: Lots new but not noteworthy

 

New Shows:

Vinyl (HBO)

Vinyl premiered this week on HBO with an almost 2 hour pilot. There isn’t much I can say about it except that there is lots of cocaine, some decent music from the 70s (but not as much as I had hoped for) and reasonably good acting. The show takes place in the 70s and captures the drug and crime scene in NYC very effectively but I’m not sure that and a some decent music is enough to draw people in.   I’m not sure how a show created by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger dealing with early 70s music with I love could be a bust but I’m concerned that it is.  The plot goes all over the place and there is no compelling reason to stay tuned in. I keep telling myself that pilots aren’t usually very good but this one was way too long and not so great. I’ll stick with it for a while and hope it improves but I’m not particularly optimistic.

11.22.63 (Hulu)

11.22.63 is adapted from a Stephen King novel and stars James Franco as someone who travels back in time to the Kennedy assassination (hence the title).   Rather than drop an entire season at once, Hulu is releasing one episode a week (on Mondays). This week was the first. I haven’t read the book but many critics who had access to all the episodes have and several had issues with the book to show translation. Critics who have not read the book seem to like it better. I have never read a Stephen King novel but I have to say I was mesmerized by the first episode of 11.22.63. I couldn’t break away from it between the plot line, the supernatural, the acting – all kept me glued to the TV. Now I know that the concept is far fetched but if the rest of the episodes are this intense, I’ll be a happy camper!  If you are interested in this time period and or like James Franco, you will likely enjoy this.

Love (Netflix)

Netflix dropped a new show Love this week. Judd Apatow is Executive Producer and has writing credits. I have seen the first few and it is a binge-worthy show along the lines of “You’re the Worst” except not as good.   I know I’ve said I don’t watch “comedies” but these “dramedies” about dysfunctional people in even more dysfunctional relationships seem to draw me in. In this one, Gus, a very nerdy Midwestern transplant to LA meets Mickey, a drug loving radio program manager. Both are coming off long-term relationships and they slowly start to hang together. The first 15 or 20 minutes of episode 1 were horrible but it picked up some in episodes 2 and 3 so I’ll watch a couple of more.  I wouldn’t race to this one.

 

If you love 50s/70s/ music, don’t miss this:

This week’s PBS American Master’s has a 1 hour profile on Carole King entitled “Carol King Natural Woman” that you should be able to get via On Demand or in reruns. The documentary looks back on this amazing artist’s career with footage spanning much of her early life. The music is great and this trip back to the 60s/70s was fun.   Carol and her first husband Gerry Goffin wrote so many hit songs that are shown here and even if you think you know her works, I believe you will be surprised at just how many  hits were written and composed by this team.   I tend to remember Carole from the Tapestry and James Taylor period so seeing her early years and all the songs she wrote is fascinating.   She truly is so gifted.  I reveled in the music  and the film footage for the entire hour.

Returning shows:

Better Call Saul (AMC) returned for Season 2.   While this is no Breaking Bad, last season was pretty good so I am sticking with it.  The Season 2 premier has “Saul” first in a flash-forward to his Cinnabon job in a short black and white sequence. This is followed by Saul going back and forth on whether to join the law firm that he spurned at the end of last season and working a scam with Kim whom he later has sex with. The show featured Mike for one very short scene, which was unfortunate as he is the best part of the show. I’m not sure how Saul’s descent to the Breaking Bad character is going to progress this season and this episode wasn’t the best but the show is still worth watching for now.

Finales:

London Spy (BBC America) had its finale this week even though it seemed like it just began. I liked this show despite some confusing plotlines and more mysteries than could possibly be solved in one season. The finale delivered some of those answers and one of the only upbeat moments in the entire season in the last scene. The main reason to watch the finale (besides getting a little closure)  is the acting by Charlotte Rampling. She was just brilliant as Alex’s “mother”. In addition to Rampling, Jim Broadbent was wonderful in the episodes he was in and was probably the best -developed character of all. Ben Whishaw as Danny had many terrific moments as well. This isn’t a show I’m highly recommending but if a well-acted story about gay lovers who get caught up in a horrific spy nightmare appeals to you, it’s worth checking out. I have no idea if it is coming back for another season but I can see where they could go with it.