TV: Three Big Finales – The Leftovers, The Americans and Billions.

Series Finales:

 

The Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers ended it three season run with a moving and yes, satisfying ending universally heralded by critics as a masterful conclusion to a brilliant final season.  This makes me happy for Damon Lindeloft who was the major force behind the show as he was with “Lost”.  The man who I think is perhaps the best TV creator out there deserved a big win after years of controversy about the Lost finale and he got it.  The Leftovers evolved into perhaps the best TV show of this century and Lindeloft gets much of the credit.

This last season has been a roller coaster ride with Tasmanian sex boat, A sex crazed lion, a machine that can take humans into another dimension, death and resurrection, and parallel universes but in the end, it was a simple love story that prevailed.  As Lindeloft said at the beginning of the series, we will never know why 2% of the world disappeared one fine day – just that they did.  The story is not about them but those that were left behind and how they grappled with the loss while trying to put their lives back together.  The finale focused on one love story, that of Kevin and Nora, and what they had to do to be able to be together.  It also wrapped up several other storylines in a creative way via a short dialogue between Nora and Kevin about what had happened to the people in their lives in the intervening years that they were apart.

Now for the acting.  Carrie Coon is fantastic in this finale “The Book of Nora”.  Her eyes tell it all.  They should win an Emmy by themselves. Her scene with Christopher Eccleston (who also was great in this final season) as her brother Matt just as she is about to “leave this world” is gut wrenching.  Her final scenes with Kevin, played equally brilliantly by Justin Theroux, are some of the finest I have seen in years.  These actors should all win every award out there although I have scant hope that they will.

Every television critic in America has weighed in on the Leftover’s finale today and much more eloquently than I can hope to do so I won’t go into any more detail on it.  In addition, there are numerous interviews with Damon Lindeloft out there to further enhance the understanding and appreciation of this series and the finale.  I’ll just conclude with this.  If you haven’t seen the Leftovers, this summer would be a great time to watch it end to end.  You need to understand that the first season is dark and depressing.  It closely follows the Tom Perrotta book and is a tough slog but necessary to understand the depths of grief created by the departure of 2% of the world’s population.  The critics and audiences bailed from the show in droves after the first season but the critics at least returned when the second and third seasons stormed back in a massive way with creative and less depressing plotlines.  The writers could do this because they were freed from the constraints of the book having finished that story in Season one.  I am going to miss the Leftovers.  It has been a great ride and I can’t wait for Damon Lindeloft’s next series.

Season Finales:

The Americans (FX)

As readers of the blog know, the Americans has been my favorite show for several years (although the Leftovers surpassed it this year for me).  Next season is its last and so in this penultimate season we have been slowly winding down the story of the Jennings.  When I say slowly, I mean slowly and too slowly.  This was not my favorite season.  The show moved between two major story lines; Oleg’s in Russia and the Jennings in America. I didn’t care about what was happening in Russia except for my pure joy at seeing Martha again but the rest wasn’t compelling and took away from the story that I wanted to spend time with.  The new cases for the Jennings, that of the wheat shortage and the Evgheniya/Pasha/Tuan plot did not interest me in the slightest leaving just the plotline of the Jennings struggle with their way of life as the storyline that kept me coming back.

Then there were the teaser side stories.  The writers got me excited about Philip’s son Misha coming to America to find his father only to send him home before a meeting occurs.  Will Misha ever meet his father? Is Stan’s girlfriend a spy (I think so) and if so, who does she work for?  Will we ever know?  Why are we spending so much time on Henry and boarding school?  These plot twists remained unresolved and frustrating for many viewers.  I can only hope that some of them pay off in the final season.

The most compelling development, that of Philip and Elizabeth’s increasing disillusionment with their jobs, sets us up for next season with a twist in the finale.  The Jennings were set to return to Russia when one of Philip’s targets becomes head of a key Soviet department in the US government causing Elizabeth to say that they could not go back as long as they had access to this individual.  Philip clearly cannot continue at the same level he has been operating at and is crushed.  So, we are now 10 episodes from the series finale and I have no idea how it will end other than Stan must find out that his bestie neighbors are Russian spies.  It is difficult for me to believe that the Jennings are going to drag their children to Russia but I guess that could be an option.  I can only hope that the fast-paced spy stories of previous seasons will be part of the final journey.

Although this season of the Americans was one of its weakest, it was still better than 95% of the shows out there.  It is hard for me to contemplate what my TV world will be like with the Leftovers, the Americans and Game of Thrones all coming to an end.  I don’t see any great replacements lining up.

Billions (Showtime)

I finally got through all my remaining episodes of Season 2 of Billions and it was well worth it.  Billions might be the only Showtime series that improved in its second season.  The testosterone battle between Chuck and Axe is not enough to sustain me through an entire season and it took the introduction of Taylor, played by a Gender Non-Binary individual both in real-life and as a character to add depth and complexity to life at Axe Capital.  Maybe a show about a bunch of rich white guys making millions at the expense of everyday investors is appealing to the Wall Street crowd but it doesn’t keep me engaged and the addition of Taylor was great.  Not only was the introduction of this character historical in terms of TV but also to the environment of all the high-end investment firms filled with Ivy-League educated white guys.  Having a brilliant non-binary character trying to find their way in this environment added a lot to the story-line this season.

Another improvement was that the female characters of Lara and Wendy were given more to work with in Season 2.  Although I might quibble with the act that finally drove Lara to question her marriage and start looking out for her own self-interest, she did do just that.  We are reminded of the bad-ass that was initially introduced to us early in Season 1 but who had faded into a more subservient wife role since that time.  Wendy’s motives are less obvious and her character is certainly evolving and I wonder just how the whole Dominatrix thing will play out in the war between the alpha males.  We did get a potentially strong third female character at the end of the season with Mary Louise Parker’s George and I hope she’ll be back as a major force next season.  I think we are going to have to rely on these three women to be the most interesting as those in the Federal prosecutor’s department leave me cold.

I’m not sure how long I can watch this battle of deplorable males continue but during the few moments when Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti are in the same room speaking to each other, it is television at its finest.  This season’s second to last episode with the Ice Juice play was amazing and perhaps the best episode of TV I have seen all season up until the Leftover’s finale.   I’ll be back for the next season of Billions but I hope Showtime and the Billion’s show runners have a plan to wrap it up without dragging it out well beyond its expiration date.  The overall plotline seems to me somewhat limited and as the two lead characters become more disgusting with each episode, it is hard to imagine where the viewer will find charters that keep them involved with the show.

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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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TV: Year End Thoughts as well as the Westworld and Rectify Finales.

 

I have been a little remiss as of late in reporting on TV but with the fall TV shows either ending or going on winter breaks there hasn’t been much to discuss. That being said, there are a there are a few that must be covered!

Season Finale: Westworld (HBO)

I spent a lot of time on Westworld. In addition to the show each week, I followed up with at least one long recap and two podcasts discussing what had happened. This is not the first time I have utilized social media to enhance my experience with a show. I first did it with Lost and loved every minute of every podcast, blog and recap that I delved into each week, along with so many other viewers, trying to unlock the many mysteries of the that show. To this day, watching Lost in this manner was the best TV experience I have ever had and it changed the way so many of us now experience this medium.

With Westworld, these extra efforts just seemed like work. I can’t completely put my finger on why this show isn’t that enjoyable for me but at least part of it is that I’m really not invested in the characters so no matter how many mysteries there are to solve, I’m not truly engaged. There are aspects of Westworld that I like. The acting is quite good – specifically Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris and in his villain role, Anthony Hopkins is perfect. The problem is that acting alone can’t sustain a show. I’m not sure whether it is the fact that the show is about robots and it’s hard to empathize with AI characters or the show just never recovered completely from its troubled production history. Maybe it is a combination of both but the end result is that there are just too many inconsistencies in the plot line creating  too much confusion.

I’m not saying that I dislike this show. There were always enough interesting elements to keep me going but it isn’t a Sunday show that I looked forward to all week like Game of Thrones. I hold out hope that it will become that show for me because there are some positive signs. One reason that I am optimistic is that last year they halted production for 6 months or so in order for the show writers, producers etc. to figure out exactly where they were going both in Season 1 and the overall story arc. They are now taking over a year between seasons to better flush out Season 2. I think there is a real commitment by the industry heavyweights involved to make this show great and I think it could be. So for now, I’m willing to keep working hard to appreciate the show in hopes that it will become my Sunday night “go to”.

Series Finale Rectify (Sundance)

I consider Rectify not only one of my top one or two shows for the past 4 years but certainly one of the best shows of this century. While only a handful of people watched it, it will stand the test of time and hopefully many more people will discover this gem along the way. Rectify concluded it’s fourth and final season last week with a finale that I savored for each one of its 107 minutes. It is rare to find a show where the characters are so deep and complex, the casting for each individual so perfect and the acting so emotionally impactful as this one.

If you haven’t seen Rectify, the first three seasons are on Netflix and I’m sure the fourth season will be soon. My guess is that if you watch the first three seasons you won’t be able to wait for that to happen and will buy it on ITunes or Amazon – it is that good. Rectify is the story of Daniel Holden (played absolutely brilliantly by Aden Young) who at age 18 is convicted of the rape and murder of his high school girl friend. After spending 18 years on death row, he is released based on DNA evidence. The resulting struggle of trying to reintegrate into his family and society at large is the main plot of the series.

Whether Daniel is guilty or not of the murder is never really central to the plot. Instead we focus on his relationship with each member of his family and their struggle to incorporate this very damaged individual back into their lives. The final season does provide some closure as to Daniel’s guilt/innocence as well as the reasons for his difficulty in being able to function in the outside world. All of this is laid out slowly and deliberately throughout the 8-episode season culminating in one of the most satisfying series finales that I have ever seen.

There is a hole in my heart now that this show is finished and it is going to be hard to find a replacement that will be as fulfilling. I’m going to desperately miss the Holden clan and hope beyond hope that there will be a reunion some years in the future.

Season Premier: Man in the High Castle (Amazon)

I was going to report out on Man in the High Castle Season 2, which dropped on Amazon this past Friday. I watched the first episode and was totally confused as I remembered so little from the first season. I have concluded that I need to go back and watch the first season again, which will definitely delay my viewing and reporting out on the new season. I enjoyed the first season although it did drag a bit in the middle so I’m anxious to see if it moves along more consistently in Season 2. More to come on this show. 

Best TV of 2016

With 2016 closing down fast and publications/critics everywhere doing their top 10, 20 or 30 lists, I wanted to just put a few thoughts down regarding what for me were the best shows of the year. In the world of peak TV, there is obviously more good TV out there than any one person can possibly watch. I do my best to see a lot of TV (as proved by my Cable, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu bills) but in a world of over 400 hour-long dramas alone, it is impossible to see everything good! One hour scripted (rather than procedural) dramas are my specialty but as you may have noticed, 30 minute “dramadies” have come on strong with me this year and I’m finding some of the best work in television is being done on these shows. So here, in no particular order are the shows that I think stand above all others this year and you shouldn’t miss as well as some that I think did a great job this year and I never miss:

Must Watch for Everyone:

The Americans (FX)

Rectify (Sundance)

One Mississippi (Amazon)

Jane the Virgin (CW)

OJ Made in American (ESPN documentary)

Catastrophe (Amazon)

The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

The Crown (Netflix)

Must Watch for Me and You Might like Some of Them:

This Week with John Oliver (HBO)

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Transparent (Amazon)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Better Things (FX)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

So 2016 TV has basically closed down and 2017 TV will begin soon and the new show I’m most excited about is the HBO miniseries “The Young Pope” starring Jude Law. Bring it on!

 

 

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.

TV: A Brilliant Week for UnREAL, the Americans and ESPN’s OJ Simpson Documentary

This time of the year there isn’t a lot on TV but I had been able to enjoy some great television this past week as I turn my viewing to Soccer Tournaments for about 12 hours a day over the next few weeks.

Premiers:

UnREAL – Season 2 (Lifetime)

Last week I mentioned that I had started Season 1 of UnREAL based on critical acclaim. This very dark satire on the world of reality TV started it’s 2nd Season this week and I didn’t want to miss getting on board if it turned out to be as great as the critics are saying. I binged all of Season 1 in two days – it’s like crack –I couldn’t stop watching. I thought it had it all in Season 1, including murder, depression, drugs, sex and manipulation of human beings as well as and the truth and this season adds race to the list.

I saw the first episode of Season 2 and with a “Bachelor” who is an African American NFL quarterback and a contestant who wears a confederate flag bikini, I can’t wait to see how a show like this handles the Race issue. The complex relationship between Rachael, the co-producer of the Bachelor-like show “Everlasting” and Quinn her boss so multi-layered and complex that I can’t even imagine where it is going to go this season.In addition, Chet has come back after a 6 month stint in a Paleo diet retreat that has made him ready to go to war with Quinn to recapture the power he gave away to her last season. Rachel is still a total mess and the scene in the first episode where she tries to come to grips with her new job by getting her newly promoted co-producer to manipulate one of the contestants is absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait for this week.

Last summer I was able to binge a couple of great shows, “Rectify” and the “Revenant” and they made my summer. I’m so glad I was able to find UnREAL this summer. It is great TV and it’s going to be tough to find something as good to watch on my next binge.

OJ Simpson: Made in America (ESPN/ ABC)

As good as this spring’s “The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story was, the critics are saying ESPN’s new OJ Simpson: Made in America is even better and may be the best work ever produced by the sports network .  This nearly 8-hour documentary premiered last night on ABC and will be on ESPN next week for the rest of its episodes. It covers not only the trial but also OJ’s life with Nicole Brown Simpson prior to the murder, the environment in LA leading up to the murder and OJ’s life after the acquittal. This documentary is getting Emmy and Oscar buzz.

The first episode gives a fascinating glimpse into OJ’s life as a football player at USC and the Buffalo bills. Original footage with interviews with people who were close to him during this period are fascinating as we see the personality traits develop which give us a a glimpse into the man who likely abused and murdered his wife along with an innocent friend.  This episode is as well done as any documentary I have ever seen and I can’t wait for the rest of the episodes to air. As polarizing as OJ is to most Americans, and as much as you may be saying, “I can’t stand to see any more TV about this man”, do yourself a favor and check this out.

Finales:

The Americans

This has been another absolutely brilliant season for the Americans – a show that started out great in Season 1 and miraculously got better every season thereafter. Even the best of shows have uneven seasons but not the Americans. As we moved into last week’s finale, the noose was closing in on our favorite Russian Spy family. In the finale, the FBI captured one of their fellow spies, William, and Paige was becoming frustrated by having to “manage” the relationship with Pastor Tim and his wife so they wouldn’t report them to the FBI. Elizabeth and Philip were becoming increasingly disenchanted with their jobs and questioning their chosen profession. Things are so intense that their “Handler”, Gabriel suggests that it is time for the Jennings family to return to mother Russia.

The show superbly depicts the struggle this presents for Elizabeth and Philip as they imagine what this transition would be like for their children in particular who are American to the core. Philip went to one of his EST meetings and talked about how he wakes up every morning feeling sick to his stomach. In the meantime, William provides the FBI with a broad description of the family and Paige’s relationship with Stan’s son Mathew deepens which further complicates this already difficult situation. We also see Philip’s Russian son Misha being released from a Soviet prison only to decide to come to the USA to find his father. None of this can end well.

With all of the above closing in on the Jennings, it is hard to imagine how the show runners are going to get 13 episodes next season and 10 the final season without dragging out what likely won’t be a happy ending. However, after 4 of the best seasons of TV ever made, I think they deserve our trust. If you don’t watch this show, you are missing out on one of the finest TV shows ever.

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.

 

 

 

TV: Nothing new this week but some shows returned etc.

Updates:

Deutschland 83 (Hulu) – a history lesson for the Millennials – for others, watch the Americans

If you are already a fan of the “Americans”, you will enjoy Deutschland 83. Although it doesn’t have the gravitas or depth of the Americans, this Cold War German drama has much to offer. Martin, a young East German soldier is sent to West Germany to be a spy without any training. He does it because his mother needs a kidney transplant and his aunt (a spy) tells him that if he goes, she will be able to move his mother up the transplant list. Martin bumbles his way through the “spy” game with multiple other side plots that can sometime be somewhat soap -operish.

Deutschland 83 show some interesting film clips of the Regan cold war era from the German perspective. We also see the beginnings of the AIDs epidemic and the death sentence it meant at the time. For those born after the Berlin Wall came down, it provides an insight into what it was like to be young in 1980s Germany. I won’t spoil the end but I’m not sure where they are going to go with this show next season. Deutschland never takes itself too seriously and if you have 8 hours to kill, you could do a lot worse. Be forewarned however that you have to read the subtitles so if you are a multi-tasker while watching TV, this may not be the show for you 

Returning Shows:

The ABC Thursday night Shonda shows returned from their winter hiatus this week. I have decided to not continue with How to Get Away with Murder, as even Viola Davis can’t save this show for me.   I just can’t stand those students and could care less if they all are put in prison for life – in fact, the sooner the better. I need to cut down on Thursday night shows anyway as I am watching 7 hours of scripted dramas (why all the good shows are put on Thursday night I just don’t understand).  I will stick with Greys and Scandal however.

Greys came back with a horrific attack on Meredith. Can’t that woman ever cut a break? I have watched Greys since it began although I did miss a few years in the middle but it has come back strong these past couple of years with the exception of killing McDreamy. For ¾ of this new hour, Meredith can’t speak and for about 15 minutes or so, she can’t hear which means the show moves forward through silence. It wears thin quickly. The previews for next week show Meredith with PTSD. I’m not sure what this episode did to move the plot forward as there wasn’t resolution for any of the subplots. While Ellen Pompano’s acting was quite good, I’m not sure audiences are ready for more terrible things to happen to Meredith. Leave her alone and spread the wealth – there are a ton of characters in this show that would be fine candidates for a tragic storyline.

Scandal came back as well with twists and turns that were a bit shocking so I won’t spoil Jake’s new job. Suffice it to say that Abby got her mojo and Daddy is back as the master puppeteer. The guy has a lot more than 9 lives. Olivia’s wardrobe has moved from white to red and her personal relationships remain dysfunctional. The case of the week was a bit boring but it did lead to the ultimate twisty ending. Shonda is at her best with Scandal. You never know where she is going to go but it certainly is a fun journey.

There are some new shows premiering next week along with some returning (thank god John Oliver is back – I need him never to take a break again!) so I’ll update accordingly.