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! 


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.


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.


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 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 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!


TV: Catastrophe, Orphan Black, Jackie Robinson,Togetherness, the Magicians, The Last Panthers


Several series are wrapping up and we got a couple of great new ones while I count down the days until the April 24th debut of Game of Thrones.


Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)

If you missed Season 1 of Catastrophe on Amazon Prime, go watch it now. It’s only 6 one-half hour shows so it is easy to catch up with. It is about an American businessman who has a one-week fling in London with a girl he meets in a bar. She becomes pregnant and the two of them work through what they are going to do. Catastrophe is that new genre of “dramady” (like You’re the Worst, Togetherness, and Master of None), which I’m thoroughly enjoying. Several of them are about millennials moving in to adulthood but this one has more comedy and a little less drama than others. The two lead actors playing Rob and Sharon, write, direct and produce the series and they are so good. There is such a great relationship between them as they blunder their way through life with perfect dialogue.

Season 2 dropped April 8 on Amazon Prime. I watched all 6 episodes and they were terrific. This show may have a bit too much crude language and sex for some but the pluses far outweigh the negatives for me. We return to Rob and Sharon a couple of years later fully entrenched in a house in London with a toddler and newborn. Rob is still in his horrific job (although a new sexy co-worker is introduced) and Sharon is struggling with being a stay-at-home mom. Each episode is crisp with unbelievably pithy dialogue and deals with a main event that moves the plot along nicely. The trip to Paris episode turns out to be a disaster (as you can imagine) and the episode where they invite all their friends to meet the baby is equally as bad. The supporting cast, including Carrie Fisher at her best, is more prominent in this season and adds depth to the story. Unfortunately, the Season is over in less than 3 hours and we are going to have to wait a year for the next one. I’m sure I’ll go back during the summer and re-watch both season 1 and 2, as they are so great.

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black returned this week. Season 1 was extraordinary – there had never been a show on television quite like it. Tatiana Maslany was brilliant playing a number of clones with completely different looks and personalities. This Canadian actress came out of nowhere to deliver the best performance of the year. The next couple of seasons slipped dramatically in terms of writing and story telling. They introduced male clones, new villains etc. and it was extremely difficult to figure out what the heck was going on. Nonetheless, despite not understanding the plot, watching Maslany as Alison, Sarah, Cosima, Helena, Rachel etc. Is just magical. I can watch her all day long.

The reviews for Season 4 have been encouraging. The writers are going back to some of the elements that made it great in Season 1. The premier did not disappoint. We flashed back to Beth’s backstory (she committed suicide in the first episode of season 1) and met a new clone , MK who I’ll just refer to as “Sheepgirl” given the mask she wears. We saw what happened with the murder Beth was being investigated for and introduced new mysteries. There was also a a surprising reveal about Beth and her partner’s Art relationship. It was a great start to Season 4.

Jackie Robinson (PBS)

As a student of history, there is nothing better than a Ken Burn’s documentary and Jackie Robinson does not disappoint. I was a bit skeptical as I really dislike baseball but there is plenty of meat here that has nothing to do with the sport, which helped immensely. It is a perfect balance of Jackie Robinson’s story amidst the history of the period. The narration is great as are the historians and other commentators used by Burns who even got President Obama to participate. We all think we know the story of Jackie Robinson but Burns provides so much insight into the years after his life in baseball which is pretty much ½ of this documentary. This is an important story and the 4 hours fly by. PBS usually repeats these documentaries many times over so if you missed it, just hit that cable “On Demand” button and see it.


Togetherness (HBO)

Togetherness ended its 2nd and last season (was not renewed) this week. This is really a great show and I’m sorry to see it end. I don’t think the creators knew they were going to be cancelled when they wrote what turned out to be the final episode but it still was a satisfying conclusion to the series. The right people got together and the interaction between each of the couples was perfect. I wasn’t a huge fan of the charter school plot line this season – it was too much like Parenthood – but even that resolved itself satisfactorily. The acting is just great in this show and hopefully we will be seeing the actors again soon.

The Magicians (SY FY)

I’ve written about the Magicians a couple of times. It is the biggest disappointment for me of this Television season. I had such high hopes but by the end of Season 1, I was just screaming at the TV and trying to gauge out my eyes. How writers (with input from the author) could butcher the books so completely is beyond my comprehension. The plots changed, the characters changed, the worlds changed and none for the better. I watched each and every week for it to start to turn around and instead, it just got worse.

The finale was no different. A fat, ugly guy with a ram’s hat? Really? I realize that the budget is limited but Ember and Reginald the Fox were major disappointments.   Ember may not be truly god-like but he certainly wasn’t that! Why is Alice not a Niffin? It’s not like the actress is so great that they need to keep her around. Much of book 2 of the magicians was incorporated into season 1 so I’m really not sure where they are going to go with this. There can’t be enough material to sustain more than one more season of the show. I guess they could go the route of the backstory of the gods but given the kindergarten-like costumes of the finale, I don’t think that would be a good idea.  Unless the showrunner, writers and producers are fired and there is a major restructure for season 2, I won’t be back.

DVR Alert:

I don’t have access to the Sundance Channel but a new show on that network is getting a lot of good buzz. The title is “The Last Panthers” and if you get this channel, it is worth checking out. It is a 6-part miniseries that traces crime across Europe (primarily London, Marseilles and Belgrade) and really explores how international crime syndicates work and the fine line between legal and illegal. For me, I’ll have to wait until it hits Netflix or one of the other services.

Books: The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

“The Magicians”, “The Magician King” and “The Magician’s Land” by Lev Grossman

In anticipation of the TV show “The Magicians”, I decided to reread the young adult trilogy by Lev Grossman. For those who are unfamiliar with the books and/or the young adult (YA) genre, they follow Quentin Coldwater as he navigates a world filled with magic. A well-known critic refers to the first book as “The Secret History crossed with Harry Potter”; the second as the “descendant of the Chronicles of Narnia” (lots of Voyage of the Dawn Treader in this one) and he isn’t wrong in that description.  The third book, however, pulls everything together in a satisfying conclusion to the series. For me, the books held up the second time around which is a credit to the author who not only delves into various adventures but deeply into self identity, mental illness and the complex journey from youth to adult.  These books are not your typical simple, straight forward YA novels.

The first book, “The Magicians” spends most of the time at Brakebills, which is a college for magic. Quentin is a brilliant but very unhappy and dysfunctional guy. He falls in with a small but rather bizarre (albeit brilliant) crowd consisting of other magicians with similar skills; Elliot, Alice (his love interest), Janet and Josh. They visit the magical land of Fillory which had been written about in books that Quentin loved as a child and turns out to be real. Also introduced is Julia, Quentin’s high-school crush who fails the test to get in to Brakebills and is absent for most of the book.

The second book, “The Magician King” follows the Quentin, Julia, Janet and Elliot as they travel to Fillory where they save Fillory twice with serious losses each time including ultimate expulsion for Quentin from the land where he is a King.   We also learn  Julia’s back story and how she spent years learning magic in a non-traditional way. By the end of the book, Alice is gone – becoming a Niffin and Julia’s path has led her to a non-human form in a new world and Josh is back along with a new character “Poppy”. In the process, we have been led down so many complicated paths that not much stayed with me between my first readings of the books and this second read several years later.

The third book is the “Magician’s Land” in which we find Quentin trying to establish a presence back in the real world. He manages to get a faculty job at Brakebills and no reader of the books is remotely surprised when he gets into trouble and is banished from the magical school. The incident involves a new character, Plum, a descendent of the first English children who visited Fillory. Her future becomes entwined with Quentin’s. Suffice it to say that through magic, Quentin finds himself after much soul searching and a new set of adventures.

Grossman has woven a beautiful tapestry of the human psyche and the search for self. As he engages us in this effort, he does a powerful job of making  his female characters the most developed and interesting of all.   They have a complexity and understanding of life that is much further along than their male counterparts. The third book brilliantly pulls all of the threads together so don’t give up after the first two thinking this is just a depressing tale of young adults trying to find themselves. Finish the work of art that is the third book.

In comparison to the books, the TV show is poor. Don’t bother to watch it. Go to the source material and lose yourself in this well constructed trilogy. You’ll be surprised at how complex this YA trio of novels is. There will certainly be people out there who don’t care for YA novels, or a world of magic/fantasy or a tale involving dark and depressing teens/young adults and I totally get it. This isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but if you are open to a different genre, take a chance.

TV: The Family, Gotham, Blindspot, Agent Carter, the Magicians, And Then There Were None


Family (ABC):

This show may have potential. It is the story of a 9-year-old boy who is presumed murdered and returns after 10 years. In the meantime, the family’s next-door neighbor was put in prison for the murder based on circumstantial evidence. We flash between the present and the past as the lead investigator in the case tries to unravel the mystery around the boys disappearance. The lead writer on this worked on a couple of Shonda shows and there is some of the crazy action  (and sex) those shows are known for. My closest comparison would be the first season of Broadchurch where the murder of a young boy and the mystery surrounding it changes a family and a town forever. Unfortunately, the first episode of the Family smacks more of a network drama (lots of action and mystery) than the well-done cable production of Broadchurch. That being said, there is enough here, including some fine acting by Joan Allen and others to stick with a few more episodes. 


Gotham (Fox)

I think Gotham is one of the best of the Comic-based TV series. It’s first season started out a bit shakily but grew stronger and season 2 has continued that momentum. After a winter break, it returned this week with “Mr. Freeze” and a potentially very evil looking prison Psychiatrist named Hugo. We get the backstory on Mr. Freeze who is trying to save his terminally ill wife by freezing her and find Cobblepot entrenched in prison for the murder that Gordon committed. What I like about Gotham is that you don’t have to have read the comic books to understand what is going on and the characters face moral dilemmas and choices that define whom they are. It’s not bad as far as network dramas go and the acting is really quite good. 

Blindspot (NBC)

Blindspot returned from its winter hiatus. This was never my favorite but it is one of only a couple of new fall shows that had promise so I stuck with it. The problem with these winter breaks for scripted dramas is that it is really hard to remember what the heck happened months ago. The return show had Jane saving the world (again), landing an airplane and somehow getting into a moving airplane through the wheel well. So we know that the plots are out there beyond reality but there is still enough to keep me engaged for the time being.  

The Voice (NBC) is back and I’m happy.  It is the one reality show I watch.


Agent Carter (ABC)

Agent Carter completed its short winter run with some of the lowest ratings on TV. This has prompted several critics to start a “Save Agent Carter” campaign. It is one of the best hours of  network TV on the air and one of the only Marvel shows to have a female lead. The acting is great, the story telling crisp and fun and the second season reboot in LA proved to be a big success. I doubt this show will be back given the firing of the ABC exec who has been behind it but it is possible one of the other outlets may pick it up which would be a good thing. I enjoyed this break from Marvel’s Agents of Shield, which returns next week. 


We are now 7 episodes in to The Magicians (SyFy) and it has consistently gone further away from the books.   Unfortunately the result is not good. Monday night’s episode could have been a major turning point for the show (as it was in the book) when the Brakebill’s students travel to Antarctica to further master their craft. In what should have been an episode completely devoted to Brakebill’s South, it was a fractured and disappointing 60 minutes moving between three different storylines. For some completely unknown reason, Elliot and Margo did not travel to Antarctica with Quentin, Alice, Penny and his girlfriend (I never remember her name as she wasn’t in the books) in another major departure from the books.

Instead, we flashed between Antarctica, Brakebills and Julia never stopping to take a breath to go in depth in any of the plots. At least we didn’t go to Fillory. The story at Brakebills with Elliot finding a new lover who might be connected to the Beast was just boring and didn’t move the plot forward at all. Had they gone to Antarctica we could have had a full episode with just this storyline. Instead, we got a very distracting and useless side story. I don’t even know what to say about the Julia plot as it is so far removed from the books to border on the bizarre. This episode screamed for 60 minutes in Antarctica but instead we got a few seconds of the “fox incident” (which I thought was well done) and not too much else as Quentin and Alice leave finally leave Antarctica as a couple.

I understand the need to keep Julia’s story alive in the TV series instead of just letting her disappear for most of the season but I don’t understand why the script writers can’t keep her story closer to the books rather than introducing all sorts of new characters and plots. None of them work for me. The deep bonds that Alice, Quentin, Elliot and Margo (Janet) and Josh (not even in the TV series) have from the books is missing from the TV show with the introduction of many new kids in the Physical House, the absence of Josh and the focus on Penny. In my opinion this is a big mistake, as the viewer can’t really bond with these characters. At least tonight, I found “Margo” to exhibit some of the characteristics of Janet for the first time.   This show is a hot mess and I am so sad that it is.

Set Your DVR:

A 2-night mini-series of Agatha Christies “And Then There Were None” is going to be on Sunday March 13th and Monday March 14th on Lifetime. It is a British production and it is getting rave reviews from the critics who have seen it. I don’t think I have ever watched anything on Lifetime so this will be new for me but I’m excited about it!

TV: The Magicians Disappoints

The Magicians (SY FY): 

I have been waiting for well over a year for Lev Grossman’s Young Adult trilogy to come to television. The books are among my favorite and I was really excited when SyFy aired the pilot last month. For those who are unfamiliar with the books, they are in essence the dark side of Harry Potter and Narnia combined. Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant introverted high school senior is spirited away to a magical university (Brakebills) while his friend Julia flunks the entrance exam and disappears for most of the first book while learning magic on her own. The books delve into themes of depression, death, sex, drugs and finding one’s place in the world. They are decidedly not “upbeat”.

When I saw the pilot in December, I was not blown away. They did some things that I thought make a lot of sense like aging the characters (Brakebills is now a graduate school) and keeping the Julia story-line paralleling Quentin’s so the actress doesn’t just do one show and disappear for a year or so. They also introduce the fictional land of Fillory (much like Narnia except it turns out to be real) into the story much earlier than in the books. The scariest moment of the book was introduced in the pilot and wasn’t scary at all – and what’s with the happy face with the eyeballs? Looked more like American Horror Story. It’s a lot to take in for people who haven’t read the book and I’ m not sure how those who don’t know the series could keep their heads from spinning but it is a pilot and pilots are notoriously just ok and try to do too much.

Fast forward to this week when I was able to re-watch the pilot and see the second episode. I had high hopes for the new episode even though I had some real concerns about the show after the pilot. Unfortunately, the problems just continued in the second episode including the plot being all over the place and reinforcing some serious miscasting .  Quentin and Alice are the biggest issues, which of course is a problem as they are the leads. It is a mess. I don’t know how people who haven’t read the books can figure out what is happening (or care) and those who have read the books are likely just shaking their heads. I honestly don’t know where the show runners are going with this and what the heck were they doing when they re-named “Janet” Margo? I guess Margo is supposed to be a more updated “modern” name?

I will continue to watch this show in hopes that they can figure out how to move forward but I’m not at all optimistic. In terms of the casting, while the actors playing Julia, Elliot and Penny are very good; I don’t know how you save a show when the two main actors just seem to be completely wrong for their respective parts. I’ll let you know if it improves but in the meantime, much as I hate to say it, you’d be better off to skip it and read the books.