TV: Help! It’s Sweeps Month and I can’t keep up! “Anne with an E”, “Riverdale” and “The Catch”

TV:

With all the Season Finales coming at me fast and furiously and my DVR piling up with episode after episode of Billions, Guerrilla, and Legion, I took a break to binge a new Netflix series that you should watch and as for the rest, it will come as soon as I can get to it!

Season Premiers:

Anne with an E – Netflix

I read all the Anne of Green Gables books as well as seeing the brilliant 1985 PBS series with Megan Fellows rather late in life.  It is difficult for me to believe that any remake of this remarkable children’s story could top what is already out there so I went into Netflix’s new “Anne with an E” with some skepticism.  The new Netflix version which dropped its first season this past Friday is a much darker rendition of the orphan girl who settles with a new family on Prince Edward Island.

Netflix’s “Anne” played almost perfectly by Amybeth McNulty hides many scars from her past as she navigates her new environment.  This adds a richness to her character that was missing in the simpler versions of her story as she struggles with acceptance in a family, and a community that initially doesn’t accept her.  McNulty successfully captures the upbeat personality of a child that has survived using her vivid imagination as well as books to take her out of the world that has treated her so cruelly.

There are changes to the original in this version of Anne including a love interest for Mathew, a much nicer best friend for Marilla, the premature death of Gilbert Blythe’s father and two thugs who are going to move in to Green Gables at the end of Season 1. However, we still have the broach incident, the dress with the puffed sleeves and the saving of Diana Barry’s young sister to keep us linked to the original.  I enjoyed this version of “Anne with an E” despite the writers adding additional drama and darkness to make the story more reflective of what current TV audiences look for.  This drop has only 7 episodes and given the positive critical reception, I expect there will be many more seasons.   Lovers of this charismatic young red headed girl should check it out as well as those who have never experience this classic.

Season Finales:

Riverdale – CW

Speaking of red hair, there is an abundance of it in Riverdale.  I got through this spring’s new take on the Archie comic books and it was quite good.  I’m not sure that I’ll return to it in the fall as a show about a bunch of beautiful teenage sleuths is not generally my thing but that is not to say the show isn’t well written and acted.  Riverdale, like “Anne with an E” is a much darker version of the comic books we loved as kids.  The town has become a home to gangs, murderers and drug traffickers and there are even a couple of gays in this more modern version.  The season’s plot revolved around the murder of a star athlete Jason Blossom who was the boyfriend of Betty’s sister and son of the wealthiest person in Riverdale.  His twin sister is, of course, captain of the cheerleading squad and out to find her brother’s murderer.  Betty, Veronica (who is now a good person) and Jughead (a more complex nerd) try to solve the murder as well.

The finale has several big cliffhangers with the shooting of Archie’s father; Jugheads apparent assimilation into a criminal gang; his father’s continued incarceration for Jason’s murder although he is innocent and Veronica’s criminal father about to be released from jail.  Note:  he will be played next season by Mark Consuelos (Kelly Rippa’s husband) now that Pitch has been cancelled.  Meanwhile Jason’s sister burns down their family estate and Betty’s sister is pregnant with Jason’s baby.  Well, maybe I will turn back in to see what happens next season!

Series Finales:

The Catch – ABC

This was not supposed to be a Series Finale but The Catch was cancelled the day before the final episode aired.  Thus, it is left to our imaginations as to what will happen to Ben and Alice and whether they will ever be reunited.  The 2-part season finale was probably the best show in the series and Shonda at her finest.  It wrapped up the season-long arc that identified Rhys as the criminal mastermind “Mockingbird” rather than the easy going reformed thief that the audience believed him to be throughout the season.

The Catch struggled to find its niche in Shondaland and retooled this season to make it more of a Rom Com than a hardcore PI/Cop show and it worked for me.  The acting was always great with Peter Krause, Mireille Enos, Sonya Walger and John Simon.  This year we got more Gina Torres and the introduction of Philippa Coulthard as the long-lost daughter of Ben and Margo.  I could watch these actors all day no matter how ridiculous the plot is and I did.  So, the show fades into the sunset but I had some fun with it before it did.  It won’t be one I’ll miss terribly but it wasn’t bad and I look forward to seeing Krause and Enos in something new.

 

 

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TV: More Fall Shows: Easy, Westworld, Pitch, Timeless, Transparent, and the Flash

 

New Premiers:

Easy (Netflix)

Easy is a series of eight one-half -hour mini films that recently premiered on Netflix. A few of the more minor characters appear in multiple episodes but the two biggest stars (Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman) are only in one episode. The stories are primarily about couples and love and range fairly significantly in quality. Several are quite good and a couple are not so great. The good news is that even the worst of them only last 30 minutes.

My favorites were:

  • “Brewery Brothers” (Episode 3) starring Aya Cash, Dave Franco, Evan Jonigkeit and Zazie Beetz. This is a story about two brothers reconnecting and starting an illegal brewery business. It concludes in an almost as good “Hop Dreams” (Episode 8) with the same cast and explores what it means to be in a family and how that impacts a relationship when there is a different agenda.
  • Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman star in “Utopia” (Episode 6) as a loving couple with a baby who realize they missed out on the “Tinder” era and decide to explore what it would be like to have a ménage et trois.  Instead of it culminating with some stranger from Tinder, they explore with a close female friend. This is one of the most upbeat of the episodes and it is hard to take your eyes off of the genetically perfect Bloom and Ackerman.
  • “Chemistry Read” (Episode 7) is a heart-wrenching story about a relationship that is ending as the two individuals explore whether it is better to be single and free or together and wanting something better.
  • The others are just ok except “Art and Life” (Episode 5), which I just found very boring and paid little attention to it.

Overall, I’d rate the series at about a B-. By all means, go in and watch Episodes 3,6,7 and 8 and if they intrigue you, check out the others if you have the time/interest. You won’t miss anything if you don’t. 

Westworld (HBO)

I was so looking forward to Westworld and then the reviews started coming in – they are definitely mixed. On one point however, almost every critic agrees; the pilot is hard to follow. For 75 minutes, we are introduced to a multitude of characters and the overall workings or the park. It is unclear which beings are human and which are artificial intelligence (Hosts). There were groundhog-like reboots which were confusing until you realize the character being killed multiple times isn’t who you thought he was. I am definitely going to have to go back and watch the 75 minutes again to try and figure out everything which is a bummer because the pilot wasn’t all that great.

Westworld utilizes a lot of violence including rape in this first episode to a degree that is beyond necessary to move the plot forward. It is disturbing just how many shows of late are using this plot technique and I’m not convinced that this show needs to do it. Westworld has an impressive cast of producers/executive producers and a troubled history getting to the premier. It isn’t amazing like the Leftovers or Game of Thrones and the question in my mind is whether it can get to that level. There are some seeds that could bear fruit and some intriguing notions of where it could go that give me some hope. No show should be judged on its pilot so I’ll give it some more episodes before I decide one way or the other. As of now, I’m afraid it is going down the path of Vinyl rather than the Leftovers. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the great cinematography which is the best thing going for it at the moment (excluding James Marsden of course!). 

Pitch (Fox)

It took me an extra week or so to catch up to Pitch, a new show on Fox that is about a female African American pitcher who is the first woman in major league baseball. I hesitated at first to check out the show as I really dislike baseball but the reviews have been so positive I reconsidered. Pitch is good. It uses a little plot twist in the first episode which is unnecessary but overall, the acting and writing are well done and the characters interesting. Kylie Bunbury is quite good in the lead and apparently has had to learn how to throw a ball which can’t be easy. I have very little knowledge of Baseball but even I realized that the San Diego Padres (her team) are in the National League and pitchers have to hit in that league. The show entirely skipped this little fact in the episode and it’s hard for me to believe that a female in the major leagues is going to be able to hit the ball decently. The show runners might have been smarter to put her in the American League.  I have seen two episodes and the show has promise although I wonder if the plot can be sustained through a full season of episodes.

Timeless (NBC)

Timeless premiered this week and I tuned in as I’m a bit of a sucker for time-travelling shows even if though I’m not always great at following the timelines. This one was pretty good. I actually understood what was happening  – it wasn’t a Donnie Darko which fries my brain. I love Abigail Spencer in Rectify and she does a nice job on this show. I hope that if Timeless is successful, she will still have time for her 6 episodes of Rectify a year. The other leads are also good and there is some diversity in the cast, which is always welcome. Again, it is hard to make a determination about a show based only on the pilot but I’m hopeful that this show will be a keeper. 

Returning Series Premiers:

Transparent (Amazon)

The Pfeffermans are back for a third season and they are as dysfunctional as ever. This is the only family that will make even the blackest sheep in your family look pretty good. There were some lovely moments like the flashback to Shelly and Maura’s childhood showing how they got together and the finale where Shelly sings Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” in one of the most moving sequences in the history of the show. Judith Light shines in this moment of self-actualization.

As for Maura, she decides to continue her transformation through surgery only to find out her heart is not strong enough for the various operations and she is faced with living the rest of her life in her male body. Jeffery Tambour is just brilliant in how he conveys the range of emotions Maura faces as she deals with this obstacle. Maura also ends her relationship with Vicki and I’m sad to see Anjelica Huston leave the show. As is typical with completely dysfunctional people, by the end of the season, all the Pfeffermans are single except for Ali (Gabby Hoffman) who is in a very tenuous relationship.

There is also a crisis of faith theme as Rachel struggles with still being in love with Josh while she attempts to hook up with a guy she went to seminary school with. This does not end well and she visits a mikvah (ritual bath) to restore her purity. It doesn’t help that Sarah attempts to enlist Rachel to help her become an active participant in the Synagogue’s hierarchy as she attempts to find meaning in her life through religion. Unsurprisingly, there is not a successful outcome for either one of them.

In addition to religion, finding one’s true identity and meaning in life, there is also a death theme this season as Rita, the woman who sexually abused Josh, committed suicide and Josh has difficulty coming to grips with it. In the end, he spreads her ashes in a moving finale that finds the Pfeffermans on a cruise ship as the journey from life to death is explored through symbolism, which includes the boat.

If all of this makes you wonder why Transparent is classified as a comedy, you have every right to question this assignment! This year’s comic relief comes by way of a pet turtle that escaped when the children were small and which hides safely behind the walls of the Pfefferman ‘s home for 30 years. His discovery by the family puts its existence in peril, which solidifies its position as a true Pfefferman. I binged through this season in two days and now am ready to take a break for a year but I’ll be back next fall for more.

The Flash (CW)

We revisit Barry after he has kept his mother from being killed by Thwane and reset history in an alternative timeline. At first life is good, Barry is living at home with his mother and father and keeping Thwane as a prisoner. However, there are some changes in this universe and Thwane warns Barry that he has “birthed a fiction that will end us all”.

The new world has Cisco as the richest man in the world; Barry has to court Iris who doesn’t know him; Joe is a drunk detective; Kidflash is Iris’s brother Wally and Barry begins to have painful flashes every time he thinks of the past. In addition, every time he uses his speed, his memory erases some and   the alternate timeline is becoming more “set”. A reversal to the original timeline ensues but with additional issues.

The Flash is back and it’s wonderful. It has heart, great characters and humor. The superhero stuff is secondary to the characters and unlike many of the other shows out there, you don’t have to know the comics to understand and enjoy it. Can’t wait to see where it goes this season because Barry is in deep trouble right now!

 

 

 

TV – May Sweeps and lots of suspect finales and a couple of Netflix drops

 

Most of the network shows come to an end these middle two weeks of May so I’ll be doing a couple of posts this week. In looking at the series I watch, I was struck by how many ABC shows are on my schedule vs. any of the other networks. For the spring, I have 7 ABC; 1 CBS and 3 each on NBC and the CW. Some of these I won’t return to and some have been cancelled but I guess I like what is happening at ABC more than the other networks although all the really good stuff is on Cable/Streaming.

Finales:

The Good Wife (CBS) – A once great show goes out with a whimper (series finale)

I’m sad to see the Good Wife go even though it has had an uneven final season. Some seasons have certainly been better than others but the acting is always strong and the storylines for the most part, really good. The guest lawyers and judges have been great as well.  The Good Wife had some of the strongest female characters in Television and there is going to be a big hole left by its departure. I’m going to really miss Alicia, Cary and Diane and I hope that the Diane and Luca spin-off actually happens. This spinoff could be a bit problematic though given that in the finale Luca accuses Diane’s husband of having an affair while in open court.  This makes their relationship inextricably broken which is a pretty big hurdle if the writers want then to have a close relationship in the new show.

That wasn’t the only problem in the finale, which was very divisive.   I get that the final slap paid homage to the slap in the series premier but what lead up to it was really weak. Diane’s husband was having an affair with that girl from “Smash”? Not exactly a well developed plot line and how the heck did Luca and Alicia even know about it. I’m also not convinced that it is in Diane’s character to deliver such a slap – particularly when just a few minutes before she told Alicia that it is her responsibility to win her client’s case at all cost. And why would Luca even go there in court as it surely meant getting fired from the great job she finally got. None of this made much sense.

I guess the basic premise of this final season and show is that Alicia symbolically turns into Peter but it really was all over the place and nothing else got resolved. I can’t even tell you what Peter’s trial was about or why it took up so much time this spring. What a waste. Is Alicia now going to go into politics? Is she going to get together with Jason? Really, the only thing that we know for sure is that Alicia has left Peter and “saved” Grace’s future (guess Grace isn’t in the know on “Gap” years). It was time for the Good Wife to go and despite the finale, we have an amazing body of work to revisit. 

Scandal (ABC) – Art imitates Life (season finale)

Scandal struggled some this year and the ratings reflect it. I really enjoyed the first couple of seasons but the plots this year were so ridiculous – even for Scandal – that much of the enjoyment is gone. How Olivia’s father is still pulling every string in Washington is beyond me and the whole Susan plotline has been bizarre. Scandal worked best when Olivia was kicking ass running Pope Associates and Quinn and Huck were clearing out the bodies rather than Olivia struggling to find herself.  As much as I love “Nellie”, her quick rise to power has been ludicrous and Jake as the head of the intelligence agency and now VP candidate is equally absurd. I don’t know what the new guy in her firm does but he has been given no real job and follows the others around like a puppy.

The finale sets us up for the fall presidential campaign pitting Nellie and Jake against a Trump-like character. It remains to be seen if this is going to be something that the viewers are going to want to turn to for entertainment given the real life election that we are all going to have to somehow survive. It may be just a little too close to home. I suspect we will all be turning off Network TV and escaping to Netflix by this fall. I can’t imagine listening to Trump 24×7 and then watching his clone for entertainment. It will also be interesting to see how many episodes there will be of Scandal next year due to Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. Shonda has Greys, Scandal, HTGAWM, the Catch (surprisingly renewed) as well as a new show that was just announced. That show might share the season with Scandal. We have yet to see the schedule. I wonder if Shonda is spread too thin because most of these shows are loosing viewers. Currently, her most successful show is Greys and that is the one she has least involvement with.

The Family (ABC) – So long and good riddance (series finale)

This is another new ABC spring show that is struggling and it should be struggling – it just isn’t good. Joan Allen is captivating as always and Allison Pill is pretty good as her manipulative daughter but they are not given the material they deserve. We find out in the finale that Adam is alive so why the heck did Ben say he killed him and why the red herring on his illness.  Bizarrely, Doug the pedophile who kidnapped the real and fake sons made contact with “Ben” and is not only allowed him to live but has ongoing contact. Ben even tells the police that this guy is not his kidnapper. In addition, that police investigator is the worst one in the world. Then there  is the pedophile’s pregnant wife who is pretty clueless and seemingly very nice except that she is killing an FBI agent and sticking with her husband for years while she appeared to know what he was doing– well she did until the finale anyway. In the finale she just “sees the light”?  This show started out with an interesting premise, a good cast, and a decent pilot and then went to hell in a handbag. Good thing it was cancelled this week.

Quantico (ABC) – or should we rename it “Langley” for next season? (Season finale)

I watched Quantico because it was only one of two new network shows introduced in the fall that had any positive buzz at all (the other being Blindspot). I have stuck with it week in and week out throughout the year as it went from one confusing and ridiculous episode to the next. Alex should have been kicked out of the FBI 20 times over by now (and finally is in the finale). The stunts she pulls each week are just silly. I’m so tired of the “Alex is always right and everyone else is wrong” story of the week. The only thing that could save this show is just to have a massive explosion that kills all of these whiney people and start over with a new class.

Unfortunately this did not happen in the finale – they are all still around except for poor Simon. The rationale behind why the mole did what he did and his connection to the new Vice President of the USA was very sketchy. The whiney people are all still employed by the FBI, which has proved to be the most incompetent government agency ever, and Alex is fired only to be recruited by the CIA. Perhaps the show runners have figured out that they have destroyed the credibility of the FBI and are now going after the CIA? I can’t imagine I’ll be back for Season 2 of this show.

Premiers: 

Grace and Frankie (Netflix)

The 2nd season of Grace and Frankie dropped this past week and I saw 5 episodes. As much as I like the four major characters, each episode seems to play the same joke over and over again. With a cast like this, we should be laughing out loud throughout each show but that just doesn’t happen. The first season wasn’t great but this one so far is even more disappointing. I’m not sure how many episodes I will get through but we really need new writers for the already renewed Season Three.  

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

I never got to Kimmy Schmidt the first season so when the 2nd season dropped I decided to go back and start at the beginning. It is crisp, funny and terrific. This is what a half hour comedy should be. I love all the characters and each show captures Kimmy’s wonder as she discovers the modern world after having lived in a bunker for 15 years. Ellie Kemper is magnificent as Kimmy and the supporting cast is great.  I can’t wait to finish season 1 and get to the new season. More to come as I progress through both seasons.