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.

 

 

 

 

 

.

Advertisements

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: Mr Selfridge, Daredevil, and the Catch premier; Colony ends.

 

It is a slow period in TV right now. We are between February and May “sweeps”; Most of the current shows are mid-cycle in their runs and we are waiting for some blockbusters to start in April. That being said, there are some premiers and finales to discuss.

Premiers:

Mr. Selfridge (PBS)

Mr. Selfridge returned for it’s final season. This is a story without a happy ending. Harry Selfridge, founder of one of the most successful department stores in history has been descending into a dark place over the last couple of seasons and it continues this season. You just have to check it out on Wiki to see how it all ends but apparently the Dolly sisters who are introduced in the premier have a big part in Harry’s financial downfall. This isn’t one of the greatest series in Masterpiece Theater’s history but it is solid. I really like Jeremey Piven and am invested in the series so I’ll be there until the bitter end.

Daredevil (Netflix)

Daredevil returned for Season 2 this week. I enjoyed Season 1 although it was pretty dark. The new season is even darker and more violent. I’m only a couple of episodes in but I’m concerned about the show. I have read that the latter episodes have a kick-ass Wonder Woman and are better so I’ll see if I can get through until then. In the meantime, I guess I will just try to look away during all of the “Punisher’s” (new villain) brutal attacks. Violence doesn’t usually get to me but it has to move the plot forward. So far I’m not seeing much of that but we’ll see where this goes. In the meantime, it is a good thing that Charlie Cox is easy on the eye and engaging as Daredevil. If they turn him into a bad guy (I’ve seen some theories on this), I won’t be happy! I’ll keep you posted on this one as I get through more episodes.

The Catch (ABC)

Pilots are generally not strong and the premier of Catch is no exception. Still, it is worth it just to see Mireille Enos smile and appear sexy after several years of “the Killing”. In that series, she wore the same Fair Isle sweater throughout each and every episodes while grimacing for the entire duration. I also like that Peter Krause is in something very different from Parenthood and I’m always happy to see Sonya Walger (Penny from Lost). In this show, Enos plays a private investigator that falls for Krause. When he disappears taking all of her money, her PI firm’s reputation is at stake and she sets out to find him. There is just enough here to keep me coming back for a few more episodes. I’ll update on this one after a few shows to see if it gets stronger.

Finales:

Colony (USA)

When Colony premiered, it was expected to be a solid Sci Fy show. It started slowly with a lot of questions and not many answers, which wasn’t a shock given that Lost’s Carleton Cuse produces it. Some questions began to be answered as the show progressed  and the plot started a slow build toward the season finale providing moral dilemmas and good characterization along the way. The last show set up a lot of different threads for Season 2 including an introduction to Will and Katie’s son Charlie on the other side of the LA wall. I assume next season will explore Will’s search for Charlie in the Santa Monica underworld; Katie’s life without her family; explore who or what is watching Katie and Will’s house as well as Snyder and Nolan’s respective changes in status. The resistance is damaged but they will clearly be a factor. Hopefully next season, we’ll continue with the stronger character development and plot lines while continuing to answer questions. This could be a very good show but is still on the fringes looking in.