Feelin’ TV: September 25-October 1

I don’t really care about the Emmy’s. Every year the Oscar’s give me a few movies to add to my watchlist, but the Emmy’s very rarely move the needle for me as far as my viewing habits. I could be wrong, but it always seems to me like once a show or an actor gets honored with the award, they’re continuously honored in perpetuity until the show ends its run while other deserving shows are ignored. And if I’m being honest, I’m a little bitter that Parks & Recreation went 0-16 at the Emmys during its seven seasons. But this year, as I was hearing all of the buzz after the ceremony for Big Little Lies, I looked at the dynamite cast and the well-regarded show runner and decided to give it a try. In doing so, I may have started to care about the Emmy’s.

Big Little Lies, the adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel of the same name, tells the story about a death at an elementary school fundraiser in Monterey, California. The story is presented on two fronts. The primary way is through the main narrative that follows Madeline, Jane, Celeste and Renata (Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern, respectively) from student orientation day at Pirriwee Public School all the way up to the fateful night of the murder. The secondary narrative is what we hear from ancillary characters describing the escalating tension between our four main characters over the time periods in their statements to the police. What makes Big Little Lies stand out from other murder mysteries is that not only is the audience unaware who the killer is, we’re also kept in the dark as to who the victim is. It’s great storytelling technique pulled off with near perfection by one of the most impressive casts I’ve seen in a television series. The four leads are fantastic. They’re confident, catty and delightfully willing to speak their minds to each other. The drama between the women always feels like the kind of actual real-world problems that mothers deal with every day. Make no mistake, these are women who are well-off living in paradise, but their issues are abuse, bullying and work life balance. As a parent, this helped me buy in immediately because I’ve dealt with the pain of a child being hurt in a manner that leaves those in charge of keeping him/her safe without any clue as to who caused the harm. I’ve gone the wrong way in the drop-off line and felt the condemning stares. I’ve seen little issues between parents become big issues because of the wrong thing said at the wrong time. Now no one is getting murdered at the fundraisers I attend, but I get the stakes. This isn’t your average network TV drama where every conflict could be solved if the characters involved took the time to have a 2-minute conversation.

The main cast, as you’d expect with names like Witherspoon, Kidman and Dern, is spectacular. Witherspoon’s Madeline stands out and reminds me of a grown-up Tracy Flick. She’s smart, dedicated, and she’ll play dirty if you cross her. Dern shines as Renata who is put in the unenviable position of being the villain of the story, at least where the interpersonal relationships are concerned. The men in the cast are great as well with stand-out performances by Adam Scott and Alexander Skarsgard. It’s also important to point out how solid Zoe Kravitz performs in a small but vital role as Bonnie, the young wife to Madeline’s ex-husband.

I don’t want to get into too many spoilers in this space because I’d rather you just watch the show. But my favorite thing about the series is the way shines a light on the strength of women. From little hiccups to giant problems, these are women who are more than capable to handle what life puts in their way. When the men in their lives attempt to fix these delicate issues like a man does, they serve to escalate things further. The men suffer from the classic dilemma of treating every problem like a nail because their only tool is a hammer. This show celebrates strong women and their ability to protect each other and get stuff done. It’s a phenomenal series that deserves every bit of praise it has received. Big Little Lies is currently streaming on the HBO GO and HBO NOW apps.

Channel Surfing:

  • Halt and Catch Fire had a devastating episode this week that absolutely wrecked me. No matter how much time is left in a series (H&CF has only 3 episodes left until its series finale) it takes some guts to make a move that totally changes the direction of your show and that’s what creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers did this week. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,  is the best show that you’re not watching. These next three weeks promise to be can’t miss TV. Past seasons of Halt and Catch Fire can be seen on Netflix and the current season can be streamed on the AMC app.
  • Speaking of shows that are unafraid to throw a wrench into the machine that totally changes the show, The Good Place did just that for the third time in its last three episodes. My favorite new show from last season is quickly becoming my favorite show on TV. If you haven’t watched it yet, I can’t express how much you’re missing out. Catch up on season one on Netflix and season two is streaming on Hulu and NBC.com.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine has occasionally ended their season by upsetting the apple cart, but typically they get everything back to the status quo by the end of the next season’s premiere. This season though, it appears that they’re willing to play with the Peralta and Diaz in prison storyline for a little while. And the show is the better for it. The season five premiere was among the best episodes the show has ever produced. Look, Jake and Rosa aren’t guilty and they’re not going to stay there forever, but with the amount of fun that Dan Goor and his writers were able to have with those scenes in particular, I hope it ends later rather than sooner. Brooklyn Nine-Nine can be seen on Hulu or at FOX.com
  • For all you Trekkies out there, we’d be remiss not to mention that Star Trek: Discovery launched last week with a two-part premiere. In the opening episodes we are introduced to Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), First Office Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the crew of the  USS Shenzhou. Life in the Federation is pretty chill until the Klingons show back up and chaos ensues. These first two episodes serve as a great primer to the world we will be seeing in Discovery, and though I didn’t particularly love them, they made me curious enough to stick around for episode #3. In this week’s episode the show begins to reveal more of what the episodic storytelling nature may be going forward. This is an intense Star Trek, with a mysterious Captain in Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), horror-like moments reminiscent of the video game Doom 3, and an intriguing crew with vastly different personalities. It was great to finally be aboard the USS Discovery, as well, and see some of the interesting technology of this universe. I came away from the third episode fully onboard with the show and am now quite excited about where it goes from here. – Aaron  Star Trek: Discovery can be streamed through CBS All-Access

As always, if there’s anything you’d like to see covered that we’re not yet covering, let me know in the comments or on the Feelin’ Film discussion group. Thanks for reading!

Feelin’ TV: May 15-21

Let me lay this premise on you. What if 24 and West Wing had a baby and on that show, Jack Bauer was played by Maggie Q and President Bartlett was played by Jack Bauer? Does that sound like a show you’d like to watch? Of course it does! I was looking forward to checking out Designated Survivor from the first time I saw a commercial for its premiere. I did not expect the show to be good but I thought it would probably be fun. My expectation was that it would be predictable with a high cheese factor but worth watching because, you know, Kiefer Sutherland. Predictably, it won’t ever be mistaken for prestige TV drama. It has been cheesy, overly preachy, President Kirkman’s (Sutherland) chief rival has been a little too much of a mustache twirler for my liking and one of our main characters is really only alive because the plot needs them to be. Furthermore, the first half of the season was quite a bit stronger than the second, due to, in my opinion, the premature disposal of the show’s chief adversary which left it with a bit of a villain problem. When your antagonist is a large group of anonymous people, the truth is, you really don’t have an antagonist. That isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed it. On the contrary, it has been what I thought it would be and at times, a whole lot more. At its best, the show has been intriguing, exciting, funny and full of heart. The performances are great all around. Maggie Q is someone whose presence I always welcome on my TV. Kiefer Sutherland has been solid in a much different role than we’ve seen him in recently. Kal Penn and Virgina Madsen have stood out in their supporting roles. Although I’m not sure the high point that this week’s finale ends on is entirely earned, I’m excited to see where the show goes next season, especially now that it seems to have put a face on its bad guy heading into the fall.

Designated Survivor stands in stark contrast to other current shows that use a fictional White House as their setting. HBO’s Veep may just be the funniest show on TV. Unfortunately, the fact that the culture the show portrays of conviction-less and image obsessed men and women in power represents the “most realistic show about politics” on TV tends to bum me out. Netflix’s House of Cards shows a much darker and more nihilistic view of American politics. President Frank Underwood shows us what a man consumed by a lust for power looks like within the confines of our system of government. While I find these shows to be entertaining for different reasons, I very much enjoy the outlook of Designated Survivor. President Kirkman’s politics can seem naive and Pollyannaish to my cynical side, but there currently aren’t many other places in entertainment that express a general sense of optimism about the people who make our laws. Sure, there’s a good chance that pessimism is more than earned, but it has been nice to escape from it for an hour a week during Designated Survivor.

  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine is quietly having one of its best seasons. The show has a nice combination of workplace comedy mixed and case of the week situations that add depth to relationships while also being funny send ups of common cop show and movie tropes. This week’s episodes were delightful as we got to see Boyle, Terry and Diaz tap into their love for remodeling shows as they overhaul the break room while Perralta got to solve a mystery that involved Holt’s mom. Fox didn’t do the show many favors this season as it only aired two episodes between December 13 and April 11. The airing of the show has been so disjointed that I’m planning to watch it all over again over the summer because I think it very well could be the best season the show has put together. But I can’t really remember the first half at all other than that I recall enjoying them quite a bit. The last two episodes air this Tuesday.

 

  • New to stream this week on Netflix is season three of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt from the minds of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. For fans of the show who loved the first season and were somewhat underwhelmed by season two, I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised upon viewing season 3. While it never reaches the heights of its freshman season, it strikes a great balance between the innocent naivete of Ellie Kemper’s titular Kimmy and biting humor about the world she inhabits. Because Kemper plays Kimmy with such earnestness and irresistible charm, the edgier social commentary never comes off as preachy. Episode six, “Kimmy is a Feminist,” stands out in my mind as one that highlights both Kemper’s performance and the writer’s critique of the current social climate.  Co-stars Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski are a lot of fun. I’ve heard complaints that Krakowski’s Jacqueline is a bit too derivative of her 30 Rock character, Jenna Maroney, and I couldn’t argue with that assertion. But I love me some Jenna Maroney so I don’t really mind. Titus Burress gets a chance to shine in episode two in what will be a special treat for fans of Beyonce’s Lemonade.  If you’ve never seen the show, I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of Fey’s 30 Rock.

 

  • Next week, I plan to talk a bit about HBO’s The Leftovers which turned out one of its best episodes ever on Sunday, only a week after airing its most bizarre. This doesn’t get the publicity of other HBO dramas, but it deserves to. There are only two episodes left and there are only 28 episodes altogether. If you haven’t started, you still have the time to get it all watched by the time the finale airs!

 

  • And this week in the Arrowverse:
    Arrow
    had a few fun guest appearances, but this week’s episode is the epitome of a table setter to get things in place for this week’s finale. Malcolm Merlyn! Nyssa! Slade Wilson! They’re all back! Can they stop Vigilante? I have a guess! Arrow is going to go through a bit of a transition between this week’s finale and next season’s premiere. The flashbacks that have been a large part of the story, at their best they’ve added depth but at their worst they’ve been dead weight, will finally catch up with where the series began. I’m interested to see how the show adjusts without these context adding vignettes.


    The Flash
    surprised me by quickly running (Ha! Pun!) through plot that I thought would be saved for this week. I have some crazy, spoiler-filled theories on what is going to happen during this week’s finale that a few of us have discussed in the Facebook group. Head over there if you’re caught up or don’t mind being (possibly) spoiled.

     

    The best Arrowverse episode of the week no doubt belonged to Supergirl. While it’s a testament to the ability of the writers and an expanded cast that the show has continued to produce high quality episodes despite the departure of last season’s MVP, Calista Flockhart, it feels really good to have Cat Grant back in National City for the last two episodes of the season. When you add other seasoned TV veterans Teri Hatcher and Linda Carter into the mix, there’s a serious amount of girl power on display this week. The title of next week’s episode is “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” which gives me goosebumps on its own. I can’t wait for the finale.

Feelin’ TV: May 15-21

Let me lay this premise on you. What if 24 and West Wing had a baby and on that show, Jack Bauer was played by Maggie Q and President Bartlett was played by Jack Bauer? Does that sound like a show you’d like to watch? Of course it does! I was looking forward to checking out Designated Survivor from the first time I saw a commercial for its premiere. I did not expect the show to be good but I thought it would probably be fun. My expectation was that it would be predictable with a high cheese factor but worth watching because, you know, Kiefer Sutherland. Predictably, it won’t ever be mistaken for prestige TV drama. It has been cheesy, overly preachy, President Kirkman’s (Sutherland) chief rival has been a little too much of a mustache twirler for my liking and one of our main characters is really only alive because the plot needs them to be. Furthermore, the first half of the season was quite a bit stronger than the second, due to, in my opinion, the premature disposal of the show’s chief adversary which left it with a bit of a villain problem. When your antagonist is a large group of anonymous people, the truth is, you really don’t have an antagonist. That isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed it. On the contrary, it has been what I thought it would be and at times, a whole lot more. At its best, the show has been intriguing, exciting, funny and full of heart. The performances are great all around. Maggie Q is someone whose presence I always welcome on my TV. Kiefer Sutherland has been solid in a much different role than we’ve seen him in recently. Kal Penn and Virgina Madsen have stood out in their supporting roles. Although I’m not sure the high point that this week’s finale ends on is entirely earned, I’m excited to see where the show goes next season, especially now that it seems to have put a face on its bad guy heading into the fall.

Designated Survivor stands in stark contrast to other current shows that use a fictional White House as their setting. HBO’s Veep may just be the funniest show on TV. Unfortunately, the fact that the culture the show portrays of conviction-less and image obsessed men and women in power represents the “most realistic show about politics” on TV tends to bum me out. Netflix’s House of Cards shows a much darker and more nihilistic view of American politics. President Frank Underwood shows us what a man consumed by a lust for power looks like within the confines of our system of government. While I find these shows to be entertaining for different reasons, I very much enjoy the outlook of Designated Survivor. President Kirkman’s politics can seem naive and Pollyannaish to my cynical side, but there currently aren’t many other places in entertainment that express a general sense of optimism about the people who make our laws. Sure, there’s a good chance that pessimism is more than earned, but it has been nice to escape from it for an hour a week during Designated Survivor.

  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine is quietly having one of its best seasons. The show has a nice combination of workplace comedy mixed and case of the week situations that add depth to relationships while also being funny send ups of common cop show and movie tropes. This week’s episodes were delightful as we got to see Boyle, Terry and Diaz tap into their love for remodeling shows as they overhaul the break room while Perralta got to solve a mystery that involved Holt’s mom. Fox didn’t do the show many favors this season as it only aired two episodes between December 13 and April 11. The airing of the show has been so disjointed that I’m planning to watch it all over again over the summer because I think it very well could be the best season the show has put together. But I can’t really remember the first half at all other than that I recall enjoying them quite a bit. The last two episodes air this Tuesday.

 

  • New to stream this week on Netflix is season three of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt from the minds of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. For fans of the show who loved the first season and were somewhat underwhelmed by season two, I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised upon viewing season 3. While it never reaches the heights of its freshman season, it strikes a great balance between the innocent naivete of Ellie Kemper’s titular Kimmy and biting humor about the world she inhabits. Because Kemper plays Kimmy with such earnestness and irresistible charm, the edgier social commentary never comes off as preachy. Episode six, “Kimmy is a Feminist,” stands out in my mind as one that highlights both Kemper’s performance and the writer’s critique of the current social climate.  Co-stars Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski are a lot of fun. I’ve heard complaints that Krakowski’s Jacqueline is a bit too derivative of her 30 Rock character, Jenna Maroney, and I couldn’t argue with that assertion. But I love me some Jenna Maroney so I don’t really mind. Titus Burress gets a chance to shine in episode two in what will be a special treat for fans of Beyonce’s Lemonade.  If you’ve never seen the show, I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of Fey’s 30 Rock.

 

  • Next week, I plan to talk a bit about HBO’s The Leftovers which turned out one of its best episodes ever on Sunday, only a week after airing its most bizarre. This doesn’t get the publicity of other HBO dramas, but it deserves to. There are only two episodes left and there are only 28 episodes altogether. If you haven’t started, you still have the time to get it all watched by the time the finale airs!

 

  • And this week in the Arrowverse:


    Arrow
    had a few fun guest appearances, but this week’s episode is the epitome of a table setter to get things in place for this week’s finale. Malcolm Merlyn! Nyssa! Slade Wilson! They’re all back! Can they stop Vigilante? I have a guess! Arrow is going to go through a bit of a transition between this week’s finale and next season’s premiere. The flashbacks that have been a large part of the story, at their best they’ve added depth but at their worst they’ve been dead weight, will finally catch up with where the series began. I’m interested to see how the show adjusts without these context adding vignettes.


    The Flash
    surprised me by quickly running (Ha! Pun!) through plot that I thought would be saved for this week. I have some crazy, spoiler-filled theories on what is going to happen during this week’s finale that a few of us have discussed in the Facebook group. Head over there if you’re caught up or don’t mind being (possibly) spoiled.

    The best Arrowverse episode of the week no doubt belonged to Supergirl. While it’s a testament to the ability of the writers and an expanded cast that the show has continued to produce high quality episodes despite the departure of last season’s MVP, Calista Flockhart, it feels really good to have Cat Grant back in National City for the last two episodes of the season. When you add other seasoned TV veterans Teri Hatcher and Linda Carter into the mix, there’s a serious amount of girl power on display this week. The title of next week’s episode is “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” which gives me goosebumps on its own. I can’t wait for the finale.

Feelin’ TV: May 7-14

I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of high-concept movies. For the uninitiated, a high-concept movie is one that can be pitched in one sentence. The most famous semi-recent example is the doesn’t-even-need-a-sentence-to-be-pitched-just-listen-to-the-title movie from 2006, Snakes on a Plane. While some, if not most, films that fit into this subset are easily forgotten or are memorable only for the name and a few lines of dialogue, others like Jurassic Park (“What if dinosaurs were real…TODAY!”) find the legs to transcend the conceit and achieve staying-power. High-concept TV is trickier. While an interesting hook can get people to the pilot, it is character and story that will keep people coming back week after week. Eventually the show has to transcend the concept to survive. The way this has been done well in the past is by using the high concept as a hook and then over time turning the show into a low-concept vehicle that concentrates on character and story. Breaking Bad immediately comes to mind as a recent example (“What if a high school chemistry teacher got cancer and had to start selling meth to pay for his treatment!”) of a show that did just that. Recently, NBC premiered the sitcom Powerless (“What if there was a show about the people in the comics who don’t have powers and who are getting saved all the time!”) that failed to move past the original hook and thus, was quickly canceled. When people don’t have something to grab on to after you grab their attention, even the comedy stylings of people like Alan Tudyk, Danny Pudi and Ron Funchess can’t keep mediocrity at bay.

This brings me to my current favorite comedy on television, Last Man on Earth on Fox. You don’t have to be super creative to have an idea of what the pitch meeting for the show looked like. “Picture this: everyone on earth is dead except for one idiot played by Will Forte!” I don’t say that disparagingly. That’s all I knew about the show when I tuned in for the first episode in 2015. It was a good hook. But over the past 3 seasons, it has consistently risen above its concept and become a really solid look at what it means to be a survivor, forge community (Spoiler: while Forte’s Phil Miller is the titular “last man on earth,” he wasn’t actually the last man on earth) and rebuild after tragedy. The show could have been just a funny look at what it would be like to be able to do whatever you wanted simply because no one else was around, but instead it’s been tragic yet joyful, dark yet silly and always very funny. It has somehow found the perfect combination of lowest common denominator laughs, biting humor, subtle character development and heart. Season three wrapped this week with a bang as we saw a complication filled child birth, a nuclear meltdown, a change of location, a fire, the death of an old character and the introduction of a new character all in two 20 minute episodes. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it. If you quit watching because it didn’t transcend it’s high-concept conceit soon enough for your liking, I’d suggest you give it another try. All three seasons are currently streaming on Hulu.

  • Do you like high-concept shows that go deeper than their concept like LMoE? Does “Ok, Kristen Bell goes to heaven; only she’s not supposed to be there” sound funny to you? Give The Good Place a try. I can’t think of many shows I’ve watched that had a stronger first season than this comedy from one of the creators of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn 99. You can catch up over the summer on Hulu.
  • New to stream this week on Netflix is season two of Aziz Ansari’s show Master of None. It picks up where season 2 left off with Ansari’s Dev pursuing culinary training in Italy. While the story arc of the season is nice, the stand out episodes take a detour into the lives of other friends of Dev and, in one stand out episode, the lives of random New Yorkers. The thing that makes Master of None stand out to me is that Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang could have simply created a standard sitcom based around Ansari’s comic persona, but instead they went deeper to create a show that, while funny, takes the time to examine tough issues about being an adult, falling in love, relating to your parents, etc. Season two wasn’t quite as strong for me as season one, but there are some stand-out episodes, including a season premiere that’s an amusing homage to the 1948 film Bicycle Thieves.
  • Did you binge Master of None, get sad and end up wanting to watch something similar? Does Master of None sound intriguing but you don’t like it’s TV-MA rating? I’d suggest giving TV Land’s Jim Gaffigan Show a try, also on Netflix. Like Master of None, it would have been really easy for Jim and his wife and co-creator Jeanne Gaffigan to create a standard sitcom about a husband and father of 5 who is a slob and eats all the time. Fortunately, they dive deeper and offer thoughtful reflection on celebrity, religion, fatherhood, friendship and being a husband in 2 seasons of great television. Sadly, the Gaffigan’s decided they didn’t have the time to put into making more TV, but instead of being sad that it’s over, I’d suggest being thankful that it happened by watching the show that they did have time to make.
  • This week in the Arrowverse: While Arrow and Supergirl focused mainly on table setting and moving the pieces into place for the last couple of the episodes of the season, The Flash pulled out one of its best episodes of the season. By using the old super hero standby of amnesia, the show was able to help us remember the earlier days of Barry Allen’s story where he was light-hearted and fun instead of the brooding hero we now see every week. Doing so allowed them to add some meta-commentary about why things have become so dour in Central City as opposed to the way things used to be. It was a lot of good fun.