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: 3 Very Good Premiers and Emmy Thoughts

 

Premiers:

Mr. Robot (USA) – Season 2

Mr. Robot premiered last year and it was the shock hit of the summer winning a Golden Globe as best drama and for Christian Slater in a supporting role. Rami Malek the star has just been nominated for an Emmy, as has the show for best drama. This cyber-hacking drama follows Elliot (Malek) who is a brilliant but disturbed computer wiz who falls in with a group of hackers intent on bringing down an “Evil” corporation and disrupting the infrastructure of the country. There are many twists and turns during season 1 but for those who haven’t seen it, I’ll leave it at that. I can’t say as I ever quite knew what was going on and some of the technical hacking sequences are out of my league but the story is intriguing and the acting very good.

Season two premiered this week with a 90 minute show that picked up somewhere after the massive season ending hack that brought down the economy.  Elliot has left his computer world and is struggling with himself and “Mr. Robot” as he tries for some normalcy in his life.  His former buddies, fsociety, is moving forward with more hacks and coming to grips with what they have achieved.  We aren’t really sure what Wellick and his wife are up to nor what role Wellick played in the hack but they are probably not up to anything good.  Several new characters have been introduced which should provide some interesting plotlines. I can’t say as I completely understood everything in the premier but that was partly because I was very tired and kept falling asleep, waking up and rewinding. Looks like a good season again and I’m totally in. I’ll do an interim update after getting through more episodes.

Stranger Things (Netflix)

Stranger Things starring Winona Rider dropped on Netflix Friday the 15th. Normally stories about the paranormal aren’t really my thing but this has very good reviews so I thought I would check it out. I believe it is meant to be homage to all things Spielberg. It has the feel of E.T., Poltergeist, a little Star Wars and Super 8. I’ve seen the first 2 of 15 episodes and there is some sort of electrical force/monster that has kidnapped a young boy and potentially killed others. This “force” is connected to the Department of Energy facility  in a small Indiana town in the early 1980s where a bunch of employees are clearly quite knowledgeable about what is going on.

There are several intersecting plots that are introduced in the initial episodes.  The first is the search by 3 young nerdy boys for their kidnapped friend Will. They enlist the help of an almost mute young girl who they are hiding from their parents. We don’t know much about her except that her name “11” is tattooed on her arm and that several nefarious men are tracking her down. The second storyline involves Will’s older brother and one of the boy’s older sisters. We also have a romance between Winona Rider’s character and the police chief who isn’t exactly on top of his job. Finally we have Will trying to communicate with his mother (Ryder) through the electrical light system. So far it is interesting but they are going to have to give me a little more in the way of answers before I say that this is the next E.T.  Ryder is great, however, and it is nice to have her back in a leading role.

The Night Of (HBO)

I covered this last week so just a reminder that it has started, it is great and I can’t wait for Episode 2.

Thought on the Emmys

Just some random musings:

  • The Americans finally got nominated for Best Drama, Best Actor and Best Actress. These are LONG overdue for what is arguably the best show on television. I doubt the show will win anything but at least it is finally being recognized. This is a real stunner in that shows that have been overlooked for years by the Academy almost never are rewarded later in their run.
  • HBO’s wonderful mini-series “Show Me a Hero” with such an amazing performance by Oscar Isaacs was inexplicably left out of the nominations.
  • The Leftovers had a brilliant 2nd season, won a Peabody for it’s excellence and yet wasn’t nominated for an Emmy? All the actors in this show do a great job but Carrie Coon in particular should have gotten a nomination. This is more typical of what I expect from the Academy.
  • Rectify is another great show that missed out
  • Loved the nominations for Mr. Robot and Rami Malek but where was Christian Slater’s Golden Globe winning performance!
  • The OJ Simpson mini-series walked away with a gazillion nominations – most of which were well deserved although I thought Cuba Gooding Jr.’s and John Travolta’s nominations could have been given to more worthy performances.
  • The academy nominated a wide variety of some of the great newer comedies but wish “You’re the Worst” and Aya Cash’s work was recognized.
  • Loved the Constance Zimmer nomination for UnREAL but no Sheri Appleby?
  • I’m ok with no Orange is the New Black nominations because Season 3 was not that great but I hope this year’s  much better Season 4 results in some nominations next year
  • Game of Thrones is one of my favorite shows and I’m happy it walked away with nominations but it seems overly generous for a season that was up and down.
  • Samantha Bee deserves a nod – her show is great.
  • Unlike the Oscars, the Emmys nominated a very diverse slate of actors and actresses, showing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science how it should be done.
  • While some old tired shows like Modern Family, Downton Abby and Homeland (although last season was a bit better) keep getting nominations, the Emmys are making progress in recognizing some newer shows that are really good.  I doubt the voters actually watch even a small portion of all the shows out there so we’ll see what actually wins but I am encouraged.  Usually on Emmy nomination day I just throw things at the TV – this year I’m in a much happier place!
  • It might be time for the TV Academy to rethink how they can reward these performances when there are over 450 scripted dramas a year in addition to comedies, mini-series, movies etc. Even I can’t watch 450 drama let alone the academy voters who are passing judgment on these shows.

Binging Update:

Jane the Virgin (the CW; Season 1 on Netflix)

When Jane the Virgin premiered a few years ago, I watched the pilot and decided it wasn’t really for me. After on-going critical acclaim, I decided I would try it again this summer. It is always difficult getting through an hour-long show with 22 episodes a season but I’m several episodes in and it is pretty good. The show has a lot of heart and strong performances by the actors.  The writing is great and I’m enjoying the world of the “Telenovela”.  With several new shows starting and vacation looming, I’m not sure how much more I’ll get through but I’m going to give it a go.