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: Homeland, the Magicians, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Guerrilla, 13 Reasons Why

There is so much happening with TV in April, I haven’t been able to get to all of it.  Fargo for example, must wait until next week.  Here is what I could catch up with this week! 

Finales:

Homeland (Showtime)

RIP Peter Quinn – again.  Homeland has gotten progressively better after a few rough years but has yet to reach the greatness of the first two seasons.  It was a big gamble to bring Peter Quinn back from the dead this season and like with Brody, I felt the show runners kept a character on for a year beyond where they should have.  Not that I didn’t love this character,  but watching Rupert Friend’s Quinn struggle with the combined effects of PTSD and a stroke all season was tough and didn’t move the plot forward in a way that was worth the pain.

In an “Art imitates Life” season of Homeland, we have a female President with the characteristics of Trump.  There was a “Fake News” plot line as well as a war between the intelligence community and the new elected President.  Franny is removed from her mother and it would be nice if that child could just go live a normal life with her aunt rather than going back to Carrie who is clearly someone who shouldn’t be raising a child.

We end season 6 with Saul in jail as President Keene expands the Patriot Act in a dangerous fashion and the government in a precarious place.  Will Carrie move back to DC (seems inevitable)?  What will happen to Saul?  Will the writer’s parallel life in the 7th Season?  Devoted Homeland viewers will turn in next winter to find out.

The Magicians (Syfy)

You may recall that I thought last year’s first season was horrible.  As a real fan of the books, I had so many issues with how the translation from book to TV took place that I couldn’t enjoy the show at all.  Still, I tuned in for Season 2, deciding that it couldn’t get any worse and wanting to see if it could align any better with the books.  Rather, the season went AWOL from the books and as a result, was much better and at times, was very good and engaging.  The characters and plot lines were far stronger in this coming of age story of millennials struggling with the demands of adulthood.

Season 2 has a much better developed Margo character (although the writers still have a way to go with her) working with Elliot to rule Fillory and having to make decisions with devastating consequences.  Quentin brings back Alice to a human form with mixed results but his killing of Ember sets in motion the elimination of magic in all worlds.  Although Season 2 is better than 1, it was still irritating in the way it cuts between characters and plot lines to keep Julia (the series best character/actress) in the main story.  It made my head spin at times.  The show has been renewed for a third year and if it can continue with what made Season 2 so much stronger, it will be worth watching.   I think the Magicians will appeal mostly to the younger demographic who have not actually read the books, grown up with Harry Potter and love fantasy.  For the rest of you, it won’t likely resonate.

Premiers

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul came back recently for Season 3 and it didn’t take long to meet back up with Gus Fring, the evil protagonist from Breaking Bad.  The first two episodes have long periods without dialog (first with Mike trying to find a listening device in his car and then with Jimmy in the restaurant watching for a package exchange) and these sequences are brilliant.  This show isn’t my normal genre but scenes like that keep me coming back.

I don’t know how long it will take for Jimmy McGill to become Saul Goodman but early on in this season, with Mike alerted to Los Pollos Hermanos and sending Jimmy in to interact with Gus, we have commenced the transition.  We also have the beginnings of the inevitable split between Kim who does everything above board and Jimmy who cuts all the corners.  Saul’s assistant in Breaking Bad is also introduced and hired by Jimmy as the show creeps slowly toward its Breaking Bad roots.

Better Call Saul is very well done and Bob Odenkirk is showing great dramatic acting chops in this series.  When Better Call Saul is over and done, it will be fun to binge it along with Breaking Bad all at once to appreciate the many connections between the two.  Breaking Bad seems like a long time ago and my memory is fuzzy.

Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers, one of my top five shows on television, commenced its third and final season with a super weird premier that had me reading multiple recaps and listening to podcasts to try and figure out what happened.  It started out with a religious sect in 1844 believing in the rapture which doesn’t come although some members of the cult become the precursors of he Guilty Remnant.  As is typical of the show, there is another big time jump, this time to the 7th anniversary of the Departure.  We catch up with most of our key characters in the premier but there are two key ones missing.  Carrie Coon is just fantastic in this show which is not to be missed.

The mysteries keep on coming.  Kevin, puts his head in a plastic bag and appears to die and then marches out of the house in perfect health.  Where are the missing characters?  And then the final scene where one of the key characters is shown about 10 years later on a different continent not seeming to know about her former life is a jump the shark moment.  There are also a lot of birds at the beginning and the end of the episode which mean something although who knows what and a few other crazy things.  So, the Leftovers is back in its full glory, the viewer is totally confused and this rather brilliant TV show will unfold over the next 7 episodes as only a Damon Lindelof show can.  I can’t wait.

Guerrilla (Showtime)

Guerrilla a 6-episode mini-series that premiered on Showtime last week is the story of how a mixed-race couple become revolutionaries in 1971 London.  Although Patty Hearst and Angela Davis come immediately to mind in watching two bohemian characters turn violent, there are certainly parallels with today’s world.  Marcus (Babou Ceesay) and Jas (Freida Pinto) start out as the quiet couple who quickly become emerged in a revolutionary world when their friends are imprisoned and killed by the police.

I can’t think of anything more relevant now than how peaceful people become violent revolutionaries and I will tune in for the next 5 weeks to gain whatever insight I can into this phenomenon.  Pinto is great so far and I want to see more of her lighting up the screen.

Streaming:

13 Reasons Why (Netflix)

I went through the last half of this very well done mini-series on teen suicide quickly.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much packed into the final four episodes.  I have one word of warning.  Do not finish the last couple of these late at night or you’ll likely have nightmares as the suicide and rape scenes are graphic.

I would recommend this series to everyone.  It is so well done and the leads (Hannah played by Catherine Langford and Clay played by Dylan Minnette) are wonderful.  Many critics found the middle episodes to drag and the sub plot with Jeff completely unnecessary so I was expecting that but didn’t find it to be the case.  I did not binge the series except for the last 4 episodes as they were tough and though provoking enough to need to be spaced out.

I guess the big question is whether the rapes and suicide should have been so realistically portrayed and my thought would be that yes, they needed to be done this way.  The show would have lost its credibility had Hannah’s end been glossed over.  It was extremely difficult to watch but an important moment in her story.   Hopefully those loose ends at the conclusion don’t mean the producers are thinking about a second season.  That would be a travesty.  Hannah’s story is finished and it should remain that way.  Watch this show.

 

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.

Best TV of 2015

January 4, 2016 – TV Shows

Before I launch into thoughts about the books, movies and TV shows that I’m currently involved with, you might like a glimpse into my tastes so I’ll do a “Top” list of 2015 for movies and TV shows as well as a list of interesting books I read last year so you can get a feel for the types of things that I like. I will mention again up front on the Movies and TV shows that I’m not a comedy person so unless there is a “dramedy”, you won’t see comedies on my lists. I’ll do these in separate posts, as they are a bit lengthy.

Top TV Shows of 2015

Let me just say that these are shows that I had to watch live each week as opposed to catching up later on DVR. It represents only a fraction of what I actually watch. You won’t see much in the way of Network offerings here. This list has some overlap with the top critics but certainly has shows on it that didn’t make any “Best of” iists.

  1. Rectify (Netflix and Sundance) – one of the best shows that I have ever seen it delves into the lives of a Georgia family after their son/brother is released from Death Row. Amazing acting, deep characterization and lots of Heart. How the lead character handles being in civilization after spending half of his life on Death Row is fascinating as is how his family adapts to him being back.
  1. The Americans. (FX) This show just gets stronger every season and last year was able to build a very compelling story line around a teenage daughter – something that few shows have been able to pull off. The acting is suburb; the episodes filled with tension and the plot moves forward with speed and agility. While the Emmys have ignored this show completely, it did win the Peabody award for best TV show of the year. Unfortunately, the first two seasons are not generally available except on ITunes (maybe Amazon Prime?) but seasons 3 and 4 are on Hulu.
  1. The Leftovers (HBO) Season 2 was brilliant. This show lost many viewers after the totally depressing (but still good) Season 1, which told the story of the book. Season 2 was all Damon Lindeloft and for lovers of Lost and other Lindeloft writing, you won’t be disappointed. The acting was great and the new characters really upped the level. There will be one final season and I hope it’s as great as this one.
  1. Castrophe (Amazon) and You’re the Worst (FXX) are exceptions to my “comedy” rule but they are much more “dramedy”. They are “rom coms” at their heart but with a drama element. YTW in particular dealt with depression expertly and Aya Cash’s acting will tear your heart out. You won’t be disappointed by either of these shows and they are my only ½ hour entries!
  1. Game of Thrones. (HBO)Ok – maybe it wasn’t the best season but I still love it. Hardhome was one of the best episodes not only in the history of Game of Thrones but also in the last 10 years of TV. The first half of the season dragged but the last few episodes (except for what they did with Jon Snow of course) were excellent.
  1. Wolf Hall (PBS) This short mini-series covered 2/3 of Thomas Cromwell’s life as depicted in the books Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel. Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell was brilliant and gives Cromwell so much character and dimension. Damian Lewis was a fun Henry VIII. This is a lot easier to get through than the books so try and find it especially if you couldn’t get through the books.
  1. Mad Men. I never watched Mad Men until I binged all 7 seasons this summer and it was worth it. The end was deeply satisfying and Jon Hamm deserves all the awards he can possibly get. I didn’t even mind January Jones.
  1. Robot. (USA) Who knew when I tuned on an obscure summer cable series about hacking it would be a tour de force. Newcomer Rami Malek was just suburb as the druggie, crazy lead and for several episodes, you have no clue as to what is real and what isn’t. Christian Slater is great as well. Not for everyone but really the surprise of the year. Given that the Golden Globes like “newcomers”, I am predicting a win for either the show or Malek this Sunday.
  1. Show Me a Hero (HBO) This short 6 hour mini series on the Yonker’s City Council’s fight to keep low-income housing out of the “good” part of town is fascinating. Oscar Issacs is a marvel in the lead and makes what, on the surface, seems like the most boring topic imaginable a story with immense tension and relevance for today. Don’t do what I did and google the story while you are watching it. There is an unexpected ending.
  1. The Affair and Homeland (Showtime)Not as good as the first (s) but I’ll watch Joshua Jackson and Claire Danes do anything and these were my fall Sunday night “go to” shows. Homeland is much better than it was during the “middle years” and the Affair while dropping off a bit from Season 1 still fascinates with the different viewpoints of the same situation. Not sure how long either can sustain their respective stories but I’m in for the duration.
  1. The Flash and the 100. Two years ago, I had never seen a CW show. Now I watch several and my favorites are the Flash and the 100. Both have good acting, great story lines and deep characterization. Yes, in typical CW fashion they are filled with very good-looking young people but what those young actors do is magic. Even if you don’t love Sci Fi or Marvel comics, there is something there for you.