TV: Better Call Saul, the Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, Genius, House of Cards and SYTYCD

 

Season Finales:

Better Call Saul (AMC)

I actually like Better Call Saul better than Breaking Bad.  Saul at least has some with redeeming qualities – particularly Kim and Jimmy McGill before he becomes Saul.  This season was great as we ease closer to the world of Breaking Bad and see some of the characters making choices that will forever doom them.  But the reason I love Better Call Saul is that the characters of Kim, Chuck and Jimmy are complex, interesting and the actors are fantastic.  Michael McKean is brilliant as Chuck who we never completely have a handle on.  Is he mentally ill?  A fake?  The only person who sees through Jimmy and tries to protect the world from him?  Just a jealous brother who makes poor Jimmy’s life miserable or all the above.  Although the finale helps with answer several of these questions,, we will never know all due to the final scene of the season.

What is keeping me going now is wanting to know what happens ultimately to Kim who is not in Breaking Bad.  I can only hope that she finds happiness and moves far away from New Mexico but that would not exactly be in the DNA of a Vince Gilligan show.  Jimmy started down the path towards Saul this year although he still showed he had a heart in the last two episodes.  That will be gone soon.  Mike has made the permanent turn to crime signing on with Gus and Nacho remains an intriguing character.  A good deal of progress was made this season toward where these people are in the Breaking Bad universe so I’m not sure how much of a story is left but I’m totally in until the end.  This was a great season of a great show.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent.  Elizabeth Moss was riveting as was Ann Dowd and even Alexis Bleddel had fine moments (and I’m glad she will be back for Season 2).  The TV series deviated from the book (as can be expected) particularly at the end as it has been renewed for season 2 which must go beyond the book’s story.  Next season, we will be in unchartered territory for the adapted screenplay of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel which provides for some interesting plotlines given the open-ended conclusion to the book.

Handmaid offers a look into what could be a near term world for us all.  It has eerie correlations to our current political environment to the point of being uncomfortable but it is really good and marks Hulu’s entry into well constructed original TV dramas.  Don’t be scared off by getting a Hulu subscription.  It is easy to subscribe and unsubscribe from and it is worth getting a month’s subscription to watch this show.

Fargo (FX)

This third season certainly was filled with death and destruction as only Fargo can provide.  It was good but didn’t grab me the way the first two seasons did although the addition of Carrie Coon was a really good one.  With Leftovers showing at the same time as Fargo, my Carrie Coon fix was certainly satisfied this spring.  The whole Ewen McGregor playing two brothers (Ray and Emmit Stussy) thing I found somewhat tedious but Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ray’s girlfriend was this season’s star.  She was amazing and I felt that her character was the only one that was fully developed.  None of the others seemed to have the completeness she had which made for a less than optimal viewing experience.  It also took me the entire season to realize the evil V.M. Varga was played by none other than David Thewlis who played the loveable Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series which I have seen more times than I care to admit.  The make-up and vocal changes were excellent for this villain.

I find Fargo hard to watch week in and week out and keeping a handle on everything that is going on due to the fact there are so many other TV shows competing for my time.   I think that this might be better watched all at once to stay on top of the subtleties and nuances in the plot lines. Nonetheless, Fargo has turned out to be a very good series and hasn’t lost its excellence despite changing stories, actors, Directors etc.  each season which I assume is because the Creator, Noah Hawley, is the glue that holds it all together keeping it true to its Coen brother roots. While this was its weakest season, I would still recommend the show.

Genius (National Geographic)

I didn’t love Genius.  I felt there were too many episodes and the story dragged.  This show which premiered for the first time in the spring dedicated its first season to the story of Albert Einstein.  Einstein’s biography is interesting (although every time it discussed the Theory of Relativity in depth, I had panic attacks remembering a college physics course) as I don’t think many people know that much about his personal life.  The show spends a great deal of time on Einstein’s marriage to his first wife along with the affair that led to his divorce and second marriage to his cousin played very well by Emily Watson.  The great Geoffrey Rush plays Einstein in his later years and he was fine but I liked Johnny Flynn even better as young Einstein.

Genius had barely enough going on with action and character development to keep me going and I wish it had been about 6 or 7 episodes instead of 10.  Had it premiered earlier in the year when there was more competition, I doubt I would have stayed with it.  Next year’s “Genius” season will be about Pablo Picasso.  I don’t honestly know if I’ll tune in.

Finished Streaming:

House of Cards (Netflix)

I think I might be done with House of Cards unless all the critics next year exclaim that Season 6 is brilliant.  First of all, 13 episodes was about 3 to many for Season 5.  Most of the episodes dragged and it wasn’t until the last couple that I engaged.   It’s not just that Frank Underwood and his administration have several things in common with the current one that made the drama humdrum, it is that the same old plotlines seem to just keep remerging.  Frank does dastardly things but doesn’t seem to have competent enemies like he used to call him out; Will had potential but disappeared in an airplane meltdown; the Congressman who was going to bring him down is convinced to withdraw his opposition and no other contenders emerge (although the Patricia Clarkson character has some potential).  Then there is Doug.  Why is he back?  Same old, same old and what’s with all the guys named Tom?  Well I guess there is one less of them at the end of the season.

I found all the circuitous storylines swirling around the first 2/3s of the season to be dull and confusing at the same time.  Claire is the only truly intriguing character at this point.  The rest are just blah.  There is too much great TV out there to continue with this series.  I didn’t watch season 3 and came back in season 4 and didn’t miss a beat so maybe I’ll try that again.

Season Premiers

SYTYCD

It’s back, I love it and I’m dumping World of Dance as a result.  Once again, we have great adult dancers, a judge’s panel where at least 2 out of 3 know what they are doing and for that, I can easily ignore Mary Murphy’s screaming.  Hopefully we will once again see some of the great choreographers that provided Emmy winning performances in the early years.  The fact that Mandy Moore (La La Land) was helping out during the auditions gives me a great deal of hope.  I’ll ignore Vanessa Hudgens for the time being and hope my summer go- to -show goes back to its roots after I had to walk away from it the last two years.

 

 

TV: Orphan Black, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and World of Dance

TV premiers and finales have wound down but we still have a few.

Seasons Premiers: 

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black premiered this past week for its fifth and final season and the fate of all our favorites clones is up in the air.  Sarah is wounded and crawling around an island trying to find Cosima.  There is some sort of weird monster lurking on said island in addition to the crazy cult which is holding Cosima hostage. The potential cure for her resperatory disease needs to be injected in her uterine wall so she escapes her cabin to go find it.   Alison and Helena are still camping although Art, with his super dangerous new partner,  captures Alison while Donnie escapes without helping her.  Despite the fact they didn’t get Donnie or Helena, the latter is speared by a piece of wood into her uterus as she tries to escape.  We can’t lose Helena’s babies!  Rachel is now apparently second in command in the bizarre group that runs the commune and offers to inject Cosima saying they need to stay on the island and find a cure for all the clones.

Orphan Black has certainly had its ups and downs over the past 5 seasons and I totally lost the ability to understand what was going on during the season that had the male clone army but now that we are winding down, I hope we get some answers and happy resolutions for the best of the clones.  Tatiana Maslany is so amazing and what she has done with these many characters is groundbreaking.  This show is probably a good summer binge if you haven’t seen it.  I think being able to watch it all at once will make for a better understanding of the crazier plotlines. 

House of Cards (Netflix)

I don’t watch every season of House of Cards all the way through but I thought last years was good so I tuned in this season.  As usual, I didn’t remember what happened 12 months ago but one doesn’t have to in order to get the basic gist of what is going on.  I’m about one-half way through this season and with a crazy sequence of events, Claire is Interim President and she and her husband are manipulating everything in sight in order to make that permanent.  Joel Kinnaman is an effective “villain” trying to prevent that from happening .  Doug Stamper is back with unclear motives – is he the newest bad guy?  If he is, that could make for a most interesting plot-line.

I can see that although the Showrunners of House of Cards wrote and filmed this season well before the 2016 US Presidential election, the stories are eerily similar.  House of Cards is so out there and our real White House is like a dystopian novel.  These two together create an environment where reality and fiction are indistinct from each other.   I’m not sure how long viewers will stay tuned in when entertainment inadvertently becomes a reality show.  The show, with all its fine acting, just isn’t strong enough, in my opinion, to transcend this issue.  Perhaps if it was the best series on TV, people might find this exaggerated dose of reality intriguing but that’s just not the case.  I’ll do a final report when I get through the entire season and hoping for stronger episodes in the second half. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Ouch, the reviews are in for this season and they are not good.  The entire season takes place over the course of a 3-day prison riot and apparently, nothing works well with this new format. I have watched the first episode and I’m not sure I buy into any of the reactions of the various inmates to their circumstances.  The character development so carefully crafted over the last several years seems to have been abandoned for many of them during this time of crisis at the prison.  Samira Wiley’s Poussey is sorely missed as a character both within the show and for the viewer.  I have always enjoyed OITNB so I will give it at least half of a season but if it is as bad as the reviewers have said, I’m not sure even I can get through that.  More to come on this one. 

World of Dance

I’m not a big reality show person.  I watch the Voice from time to time and I watched So You Think You Can Dance for years until it deteriorated to the point where I just couldn’t watch a couple of summers ago.  I will try it again this summer to see if has gone back to its roots but in the meantime, a new dance show premiered that I thought might have some potential.  World of Dance has Derek Hough, Jay Lo and Ne-Yo as the judges along with Channing Tatum’s wife Jenna as some sort of backstage cheerleader.  I’m not sure what her role is.  At any rate, the show brings dance acts from across the world doing all kinds of dances and divides them into age groups.

I’ve seen a few shows and I’m not very impressed.  Some of the acts are good but others seem picked just because they do something different, not because they are very good.  There is nothing new or particularly innovative here and it can’t compare with the quality we used to see on SYTYCD.  If the latter is even close to its original level when it premiers later this summer, I’ll dump the former in a heartbeat. In the meantime, there are only 10 episodes and hopefully we’ll be to the next level of competition soon and the acts will become stronger.

What I’m streaming this summer:

  • I have started in on a Game of Thrones rewatch but it is slow going and I’m sure I will not have made much progress before the new season premiers on July 16th. Nevertheless, it is fun to be back in Season One amidst the many characters who have long since been killed.
  • My big watch this summer will probably be the Wire. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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.