TV this Week: The Good Place, Riverdale, the Magicians, and Scandal

Winter TV Season coming on strong with lots of premiers and finales.  Here are a few:

Season Finale

The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Place ended its first season with a big twist that should serve it well in the future. SPOILER ALERT: Turns out the Good Place is really the Bad Place and some things that seemed strange all season finally make sense – particularly why two clearly flawed individuals landed up in the Good Place. Their soul mates were not quite the embodiment of perfection either which seemed to indicate a fatal flaw with the selection process. The other big twist is that there is a reset button. This often can be a bit cheesy but I can see how it might enable the show runners to get more seasons if they can keep erasing memories and start over. I suspect the major story arc will now be how these four people can remember as much as possible before their memories are erased.

I enjoyed this first season of the Good Place. It was light entertainment and provided some relief from all the craziness of the real life events for the last few months. Kristin Bell was very enjoyable as was Ted Danson and I’m looking forward to next year.

Series Premier

Riverdale (CW)

A revival of the Archie comic books with a dark side is not going to be for everyone but it is surprisingly  good. It definitely has the normal CW feel with a lot of very good-looking young people (in this case supposedly sophomores in high school which is a huge stretch) and will appeal to the teenage audience. Archie comic books have been around forever and this show keeps the characters honest  with the books but adds darkness and mysteries to life in Riverdale.

The show is well done and will absolutely appeal to the younger demo. If you aren’t in to teenage angst with a Twin Peaks touch, feel free to skip it. I am impressed that the CW has another solid show in its repertoire. Just 3 years ago, I had never watched a CW show and now I view quite a few.

Season Premier

The Magicians (SY FY)

If you read this blog with any regularity, you will know that the biggest TV disappointment for me last year was the Magicians. As a lover of the books, I was distraught over how bad the TV series was and the choices the show runners made to deviate significantly from the trilogy. The characters weren’t well developed and lesser characters in the book took more prominence. One major character had a name change for no good reason. At year-end I placed it on my “Worst Shows of 2016” list and swore I would never return.

Well, I returned. I so want this series to work and hoped that over the summer, somehow the writers might have course corrected. What is killing me is that the source material is so good and this could be a really great show.  Season 2 premiered Wednesday night and it gave me no reason for optimism. Julia’s story line goes in and out of the other character’s story arc with no rhyme or reason – gave me whiplash. The plot was confusing and I have read the books twice. The transitions were shaky and the writing as well. In short, there is no good reason to watch this show. If you haven’t read the books, run, don’t walk to your nearest library and forget the show.

P.s. I do have to call out Summer Bishil, my nieces’ future sister-in-law for a fine job as Margo (Janet in the books). She does a very solid job despite not so great writing and character development.

Scandal

Scandal is finally back after Kerry Washington’s childcare leave and it starts out with a literal bang and a murder. Olivia and crew are off to the races trying to figure out how to prove who the murderer is. Suffice it to say that the election results are somewhat muddled and everything seems to be in play, which is totally in sync with the show that Scandal is.  Could life be worse in DC with Cyrus potentially becoming the next President of the United States?  Does life imitate art?

Scandal has had less than satisfactory plot lines the last couple of years and I’m beginning to wonder if there is really much more story to tell. It will be interesting to see how the writers deal with a shortened season and whether they can get this show back on track and Olivia back in her grove. It hasn’t had the staying power of Grey’s Anatomy and the plots have gotten so outrageous that it isn’t really satisfying to keep watching yet for some reason, it is hard to walk away from Ms. Pope. Here’s to hoping that Olivia Pope can “fix” this!

 

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TV: Halt and Catch Fire, Gotham, The Good Place and what I will and won’t be watching this Fall

Fall TV:

The premiers have started and there are so many of them that I’m going to have to do several posts. In this one, I’ll cover a couple of premiers as well as identify which shows I’ll be tuning in for this fall, those I’m dumping and the ones on the bubble for me. 

Premiers (including a binge).

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

This actually premiered near the end of August but I had to watch the first two seasons on Netflix before I could see Season 3, so that being done, I am now completely caught up. Each season on Netflix has 10 shows that are about 43 minutes so it wasn’t too tough to get through.   I can say the show is good and if the subject matter (the explosion of the tech industry in the 190s) is of interest, you should watch it. I’ll admit that the first season was very inconsistent and I was tempted to bag it but given that the last couple of weeks were pretty dead on TV, I didn’t. I’m glad I hung in there because Season 2 was really, really good and Season 3 has been great so far.

Critic Alan Sepinwall says that you can really skip Season 1 with the exception of the pilot, the finale and an episode named “Giant” and watch all of Season 2 to be ready for Season 3. Season 1 tells the story of building an IBM clone PC called Giant (in reality Compaq); Season 2 retooled and had the original founders of Giant split up into different ventures and Season 3 is retooling again and having all of them move to San Francisco in 1986 for the computer revolution.

This is a fascinating look into the ’80s tech revolution with strong writing and acting by the key characters. Lee Pace plays Joe McMillian a former IBM marketing guy who has a checkered career but plenty of vision. Let’s just say he doesn’t go for the moral high ground but is good eye candy (he played one of the vampires in Twilight – need I say more?). His former lover Cameron played by Mackenzie Davies is a brilliant programmer who breaks off from Joe and starts her own company of programmers (just as you would imagine them) called Mutiny. Mutiny is a combination game and chat room venture on the leading edge of software development for the time. Cameron teams with Donna who is a Berkeley educated engineer married to Scott who is Joe’s former partner and been screwed over by him on multiple occasions. Scott has a debilitating brain disorder and in Season 3 leaves his garage-based laboratory behind and joins Mutiny. They are all interconnected on multiple levels and the interactions are really well scripted.

As far as this current season, I really like the Silicon Valley retool and Joe becoming increasingly evil. These characters are complex and continue to evolve (the biggest evolution was Donna in Season 2) and it the show just keeps getting better.  For all the Nerds and Geeks out there, this is a show made for you and it’s really nice that in the male dominated tech world, this show has successful women entrepreneurs.

Gotham (Fox)

Gotham is on my “bubble” list and I tuned in to the season premier on Monday. James Gordon has left the Gotham police force and has become a bounty hunter bringing in criminals and crazies in order to make a living.  Jada Pinkett Smith is back as Fish Mooney and leading a bunch of characters brought back from the dead and genetically altered. Bruce Wayne has some sort of evil clone and is closing in on a group of villains in control of Wayne Enterprises.

I think that the show has evolved into a good guy vs. bad guy action show, which showcases the origin stories of a number of characters in the DC world. There isn’t a lot of character development and despite some pretty good acting here and there, I’m not sure there is enough to keep me coming back. It’s been pretty much three years of the same thing with just the villains changing. I do like the fact that the writers have made James Gordon a bit of a bad ass this year, which changes it up enough to make it more  interesting.  I’ll just have to see where I am in a few weeks with my TV load to determine whether I stick with it.

The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Place premiered after the Voice and stars Ted Danson and Kristin Bell. Bell plays a woman who gets sent to the “Good Place” after a rather embarrassing death and Ted Danson is in charge of the “neighborhood” she has been assigned to. It becomes clear quickly that Bell is mistakenly placed in the “Good Place” when she clearly should have been in the “Bad Place” and she enlists her assigned soul mate “Chidi” (played by William Jackson Harper) who was a professor of Ethics and Morality before his death to teach her how to be a better person so she won’t be sent to the Bad Place.

The premier lasted and hour and I was happy to hear that the shows after this will be only 30 minutes, which is about all I can take of a comedy. Danson is great and it’s good to see him back in a comedic role. Bell is also wonderful and Harper’s character is a good foil for her’s. If this show stays above the laugh-out-loud typical sit com and becomes more of a “Defending Your Life” (one of my favorite movies of all time) in a serialized format, I might stick with it.   I’ll definitely come back for a few more episodes at the very least.

What I will and won’t be covering:

Fall used to be the main television premier season but it has almost been eclipsed by spring and certainly there are many options throughout the rest of year. Nonetheless, there are lots of new shows and it’s time to dump some in order to make room for a packed viewing schedule so here are the shows I’ll be watching, dumping and checking out:

Shows I’m going to try

  • Timeless (NBC)
  • The Exorcist (Fox) (don’t laugh, it is getting some of the best reviews of the fall and what the heck else is on Friday nights?)
  • Westworld (HBO) – Can’t wait
  • Insecure (HBO) – Another potentially very good “dramedy”
  • Marvel’s Luke Cage (Netflix)
  • The Crown (Netflix)
  • Fleabag (Amazon)
  • This is Us (NBC)
  • The Good Place (NBC)
  • One Mississippi (Amazon) I binged all episodes and it was great – Give me more! 

Returning shows I can’t wait for this fall:

  • Rectify (Sundance) – The only show I’ll purchase on an iTunes Season Pass and it’s tied with the Americans for me as the best TV show on the air
  • Transparent (Netflix) – Always great

Tried and True and I’m still in:

  • The Middle
  • The Blacklist
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Scandal
  • Jane the Virgin (CW) (binged the 1st two seasons this summer so I’m ready!)
  • The Flash (CW) – my favorite comic book show because it has so much heart

Shows I watched last season that I have given up on and won’t watch again:

  • American Horror Story (FX): I have watched the last 3 seasons (apparently the two before them were much better – such is life) and I just don’t enjoy it. Gone.
  • Quantico (ABC): I watched it for a season but the FBI would never put up with such antics and I’m done
  • Blindspot (NBC): Marginally better than Quantico but not enough and I’m over the tats.
  • DC Legends of Tomorrow (CW): Too convoluted for this non-comic person despite my love for Victor Garber

Shows on the bubble but I’ll try a few episodes:

  • Masters of Sex (Showtime): Can it come back from last year’s debacle?
  • Gotham (FOX): It is only ok for me but we’ll see where it goes
  • Modern Family (ABC): It’s just tired and not as funny these days
  • Marvel’s Agents of Shield (ABC): It’s not easy to hang with the ups and downs of this
  • Supergirl (was CBS now CW): I’m concerned about Calista Flockheart only signing up for a few shows – she was the best part of the show last year.
  • The Affair (Showtime): Brilliant first season and not so great last season. Typical Showtime drama. Can it come back? It should be noted that I’m not going to give up on Joshua Jackson easily.

When I look at this list, there is a larger number of in-coming shows to my schedule than out-going so I may have to reassess the “bubble” list much more quickly then I anticipated!