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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Lots of TV this week but not much that is great

 

New Shows:

I was excited about a couple of new shows premiering this week. Unfortunately, I was disappointed for the most part. Real critics have a big advantage here – they can watch several episodes at a time to see whether a show is worth sticking with. For me, I’m stuck with the normal schedule – usually once a week. The first show (or pilot) is generally not the best so, I’m going to give these shows a few episodes as I saw some potential in them but I’m not convinced it will ultimately pay off.

The exception to the above and the one show I really liked was London Spy (BBC America). It starts out with a couple of guys (Danny and Alex) who meet in London and one isn’t who he says he is. They “get together” and then Alex disappears. Ben starts looking for him and discovers Alex’s secret life. The premier was just setting the stage for what promises to be a good British spy yarn with mystery, intrigue and a series of really great performances by Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and apparently a couple by this year’s Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling. I am really excited about this and can’t wait for episode 2.

The other new shows weren’t as good. The first is mini-series Mercy Street (PBS). This Civil War medical drama premiered this past Sunday.   It takes place in a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War. Not a lot happened in this first episode and I did nod off a couple of times but there seem to be several story lines developing including one about free people of color that I could potentially wrap my head around. I’ll give it another week or two and update you. Some critics have warned that the medical part of the show is pretty gruesome but I haven’t seen that yet.

The second show that premiered last Sunday was Billions (Showtime). Now my experience with Showtime is that they produce shows that are just dynamite the first season and drop off significantly after that (Homeland, the Affair). So far, Billions doesn’t even do that but it is interesting enough to watch a few more shows – at least until my Sunday nights get so packed that I have to drop off shows. After recently watching the “Big Short” – a movie about rich white guys making millions on wall street, sitting back and watching a TV series about rich white guys making millions on wall street isn’t that appealing – especially since the “Big Short” was so much better. However, Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis are pretty great so maybe they will make this show “talk” to me, as I get further into it. I get that Wall Street is full of white guys but there are some women and people of color there and it would have been nice if the show reflected that.

The third new show I watched was “Legends of Tomorrow (CW). I only watched this show because I love Victor Garber and it is a spin off of the Flash. In short, I think it is a kind of a hot mess. I started to get concerned when a few days before the show premiered, there were any number of articles popping up explaining who all the characters were and how the time travel works – guess the CW figured out the show was confusing and they had to help get explanations out.   There was a lot going on in this pilot – trying to introduce the large cast, the villains and all the time travel.  I still love Victor Garber and I’ll give it another few shows to see if the story gets more focused and interesting.

Returning Shows:

The 100 (CW) returned for it’s 4th season this week. The first 3 seasons of this CW Sci Fy show were compelling with the character depth, moral dilemmas and interesting twists to the various plot lines. The 100 isn’t for everyone especially if you don’t like Sci Fi and/or the typical CW focus on very attractive and very young actors but it has been a staple on the critics best TV shows. The first show back is good although I have forgotten what happened at the end of last season. Sometimes it is better to binge these shows so you don’t loose track of the plot with some much time between seasons.  I have seen comments by some of the critics who have been able to preview several shows so there may be troubled waters ahead. As a result, I’m moving forward cautiously on this one.

Agent Carter (ABC) returned for it’s 2nd season this week. As I have mentioned previously, I’m not a comic book person and sometimes struggle with the story lines and numerous characters in this Marvel world. I thought Agent Carter had some really interesting moments last season and it is rare we see a female lead in these Marvel shows so I tuned in this week for the new season. This season premiered with a 2-hour show that moved the characters to California for a fresh start. I enjoyed the premier, thought the characters were engaging and look forward to the new season.

The Flash (CW) returned from winter break this week. The reason I love this show is that while it is set in the Marvel universe, it is really about families, friends and relationships between characters that you really care about. You don’t have to be a comic book nerd to enjoy it. The bad guys that show up each week are plot devices that probably mean more to those who read the comics – for me, they just give the Flash something to do.  I love every actor and character on this show and it is just a nice light, fun hour each week, which I appreciate given the heavy drama of most of the shows, I watch.

Updates:

Making a Murder (Netflix) I have now completed all of the 10 shows. I don’t think it is as good as either Season 1 of the “Serial” podcast or HBO’s the Jinx both of which are very similar in nature. I’m not sure why this show is one of the most talked about shows on social media. The real life characters depicted in it are particularly unsavory and 10 hours of them is more than enough. I found the first 2 episodes the best – the ones where we find out how Steven Avery was unjustly jailed for 18 years for a rape he did not commit. These episodes set the tone for what we know are serious flaws in the judicial system. When he is then accused of a murder in his town, there is a great deal of suggestion that he is being set up by the law enforcement agencies that were responsible for his original arrest. It doesn’t take 10 shows to hammer in to the audience that the American justice has problems and the rich tend to get better treatment than the poor in our society. I really don’t care whether Stephen Avery is guilty or not – I think he probably is – and there are rumors of a Season 2 which I’m sure I won’t be watching because I can’t imagine sticking with this story for more than 10 hours! Watch it if you want to see what everyone is talking about but half way through, you might want to just skip to the end and find out what happened. 

Shows Completed

Heroes Reborn ended. Thank god and hopefully there will be no more reboots.

American Horror Story ended and so does my viewing of the show – no matter how great the reviews might be in the future.

 

 

 

 

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