Month: April 2016

What to Watch: 04/29/2016

Ok, we’ll admit, it’s a lean day that challenged even us, but we got a couple flecks of gold amid the ruins.

NAVANI’S PICK:
W. Kamau Bell: Semi-Prominent Negro [Showtime, 10p]
W. Kamau Bell is one of the best to ever discuss race and politics. If you felt a void left from his show going off the air like I did, you are in for a treat. Watch him give his hilarious insight and twist to everything from gentrification to doing his children’s hair in his first ever stand up comedy special directed by Morgan Spurlock.

JASON’S PICK:
Grimm [NBC, 8p]
Wu has had the worst luck in the Wesen universe (at least he now knows what the hell is going on in Portland #TellWuTheTruth), and now he may be some sort of werewolf (#WereWu?) due to a brush with one brutal Wesen from about five episodes hence. One last hashbrown — #GiveWuABreak

Thursday’s Best Reviewed: Archer

It’s clowns over clones, dark satire besting earnest intrigue, as Archer takes the night in the first installment of a two-parter featuring killer clowns at a fundraiser — and pokes fun at its own characters’ lack of empathy. The remainder of the night hovers around a “B” grade, with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow‘s time-traveling superheroes at the bottom rung for a second week in a row. Notably, recent critical whipping-show Scandal bounces back with an episode Vulture‘s Phoebe Robinson — who’s also a wonderful comedian, TV writer, and co-host of the excellent 2 Dope Queens podcast with the incomparable Jessica Williams — calls “a vast improvement over last week’s boo-boo episode.”

Thursday, April 28th’s Best: Archer (9.0/10)

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While from the outside, Archer may seem a silly spy spoof, but anyone who’s watched the show knows its charm lies in its love of language — well, along with its embrace of its goofiness, love of the genre, and its penchant for making the vulgar delightful. Vulture‘s Charles Bramesco highlights Archer‘s linguistic acrobatics in his review of “Bel Panto, Part 1”: “The dialogue nests phrases within phrases, ideas within ideas, mimicking the informal patterns of actual human speech.” William Hughes at AV Club initially has trouble pinning down what’s so special about this episode, but ultimately divines its that the show achieves its apex when “they transplant the show’s entire cast into a foreign, confined setting, a configuration that gives them a), new people to use in their ongoing efforts to destroy each other, and b), the opportunity for everyone to get intimately involved in the caper of the week.”

The Rest of the Week:

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Orphan Black – 7.8

The 100 – 7.6

Scandal – 7.3

The Big Bang Theory – 7.3

Grey’s Anatomy – 6.8

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – 6.8

What to Watch: 04/28/2016

If you are an football fanatic, you will be locked to ESPN or NFL Network (or frantically clicking between the two, if you’re the writer of this parenthetical) tonight to watch the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. If not, there’s a ton of wonderful stuff to watch — both new and old.

NAVANI’S PICK:
Huang’s World [Viceland, 10p]
Get a taste of the world traveling with Eddie Huang who believes the “politics is in the plate”. Looks like it will be a cultural adventure complete with cameos of his mom and dad. I’m most excited about seeing Eddie and his parents IRL vs the TV Show version.

JASON’S PICK:
Orphan Black [BBCA, 10p]
Truthfully, I’ll be watching this tomorrow morning through the hungover haze of tonight’s draft, but I’m probably gonna keep rec’ing this as it’s the most satisfyingly challenging show on TV. Worth it just to marvel at Tatiana Maslany.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
Legally Blonde [Nickelodeon, 8p]
Nickelodeon doesn’t seem like an appropriate network, but if the PG set learns the two valuable lessons (never wash a perm, don’t let your boyfriend dictate your life), I’m fine with that. Bend and snap!

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

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  • Last week’s Inside Amy Schumer was a bit tepid, but this week she’s taking on a big ticket item in guns, and she proved in season three (and earlier) that uncomfortable topics can be her comfort zone.
  • Reviews on The CW’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow week-to-week have been hit-or-miss, but it’s one of the seasons more promising new shows due to its time-intrepid sense of adventure. Tonight, the heroes are in 2166 to try to prevent a team member’s parents’ murder.
  • CBS’ The Blacklist finds Redd Reddington and the rest battling a highly coordinated team, while Redd himself confronts an old acquaintance.
  • Baddies attack a fundraiser while the titular character does what he do on tonight’s first segment of a two-parter on FX’s Archer.
  • It’s hard to believe the Bones titling construct with almost eleven seasons in the can, have not used “The Monster in the Closet” yet. That Bones observation was brought to you by Hotels.com — thanks Captain Obvious.

Wednesday’s Best Reviewed: The Americans

Three weeks ago, The Americans scored 0.6 higher than this week and finished second — albeit to possibly the best TV episode of 2016 when all is done. This is actually (rather surprisingly) the first Wednesday win for one of the consistently best reviewed programs on television. This one focuses on one of the most compelling characters on the screen, the inimitable Martha, so it would have been a good bet that it would wind up here. Blackish is a close second with an episode tackling how the dissonance between TV families and real families (aw, the Johnsons don’t know we’re watching) can affect one’s self-esteem. Most shows have solid showings with two clunkers. Empire “continues its slide into critical irrelevance” says AV Club‘s Joshua Alston in a less than kind review for “More Than Kin.” An uncharacteristically mean-spirited episode of The Middle drops it to the bottom with one of the lower scores we’ve seen.

Wednesday April 27th’s Best: The Americans (9.2/10)

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Poor, poor Martha! She gets a sort of revenge as she leads the FBI & KGB on a wild informant chase on one of the best reviewed episodes of the spy show’s season. The AV Club‘s Erik Adams is “enjoying season four’s glimpses at other lives within Directorate S.” This week its the switchboard operator: “The switchboard operator’s isolation is implied whenever she contacts the Jennings, but she appears downright starved for company here.” Genevieve Koski at Vulture suspects “Tanya Barfield’s script almost seems to be taunting us with a lack of actual forward momentum,” but contends that’s “not a bad thing. Martha’s panicked odyssey through the streets and parks of D.C. provokes the sort of cat-and-mouse (or in this case, cats-and-mouse) chase that The Americans excels at constructing.”

The Rest of the Night:

Blackish – 9.0

The Path – 8.5

The Last Panthers – 7.5

Arrow – 7.0

Empire – 4.7

The Middle – 4.5

Our Wednesday Reviews

The Middle – C

0428middleboxThe Middle has never been anything groundbreaking — sitcoms with quirkily imperfect families struggling to get by weren’t even new when Roseanne came out the the 1980s. What has elevated the relatively simple program to must-DVR has to do with its consistent, relatable characters and a charmingly sweet nature. The Heck Family have a cynical eye and can be scathing, but there’s a genuine air of love and affection that drives the clan. “The Lanai” contains scattered great moments — silent Kenny’s words of wisdom, Frankie telling her neighbor “your kids get so much exercise, would it kill you to give them a large cookie just once” then tossing cookies over a hedge — but its four storylines (yes, this one even has a D-Plot) put the Hecks in unnaturally mean-spirited situations.

While Brick can be unemotional and blunt, nothing in his history would have him exposing the fact that his father’s friends only hang out with him because he’s their boss. There’s no joy in Sue and roommate Lexie mistakenly taunting a CFS sufferer after they see her twin on the quad playing volleyball — a “twist” so predictable even a Shamalayan would run away. Axl and Hutch’s accidental foray into the food truck world builds up Axl somewhat as a savvy businessman, but mostly the two just seem greedy and awful as they feed their fellow students mouthwash and rancid jelly. The only semi-redeemed story features a frustrated Frankie and her battle with her newly arrived — and very loud neighbors — which starts with her passive-aggressive moves like pamphlets for summer camp. When Frankie ultimately loses it on the well-meaning mother, the latter’s honest reaction is a bit of comeuppance as its mix of apologies as she is truly grateful that her kids have their first backyard (they moved from an apartment). Frankie comes to terms and that quarter of the show highlights what makes The Middle a special sitcom — which only makes the episode on the whole so damn frustrating and nasty.
– Jason Thurston

 

What to Watch: 04/27/2016

Tonight’s schedule is mostly either silly or deadly serious — with Blackish somewhere in between, so let’s get started:

NAVANI’S PICK:
Underground [WGNA, 10p]
This is the little show that could. Just officially renewed for a second season this historical drama continues the story of a group of slaves who escape their plantation and make their way north via the underground railroad. It’s just so poignantly researched and the characters are so well developed that the intricate nuances of all the types of relationships involved will keep you emotionally attached and on the edge of your seat. In this ep the runners are surrounded and their only move may be a suicidal one.

JASON’S PICK:
The Middle [ABC, 8p]
First off, the episode’s title is “The Lenai.” Next, the action involves a patio (well, see title) and a food truck run by Axl and his college buddies. In.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
Murder U [Investigation Discovery, 9p]
A debate team is “ripped asunder” after a member is murdered.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

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  • If you like your deception and intrigue in cutthroat spy form, it’s The Americans night on FX.
  • If you go for deception and intrigue in hip-hop label mates and honchos form, it’s Empire night on FOX.
  • Did you know The Goldbergs takes place in the 80s? Tonight, ABC crews go behind-the-scenes to see just how they make it so gnarlily 80s. Followed by Dre Johnson worried about losing his job — and with it, his idealized TV family — on Blackish.

Tuesday’s Best Reviewed: New Girl

With a double-shot of bachelor(ette) party themed episodes, FOX’s long-running ensemble comedy returns to form after trolling near the bottom of these rankings much of its fifth season. All characters have moments in an expertly written dual narrative, but it’s High Jess and the growing awkward cop love affair between Winston and Aly who stand out. It’s a good night for comedy as Fresh Off the Boat earns high marks for a flashback episode examining how our names define us — especially as it applies to people from different cultures — while never losing sight of the funny.

Tuesday, April 26th’s Best: New Girl (9.2/10)

0427yesbesnew.jpgWhile New Girl has certainly hit some distinct high notes as the gang weathered Zooey’s prolonged absence and prepared for Schmidt & CeCe’s wedding. However, a paired duo of fast, furious party-themed episodes renews faith in the fifth season, finding the long-running program at its antic, manic, slapstick best. The episodes split up the guys and girls and Kathryn VanArendonk at Vulture notes the twosome “benefit(s) from actually feeling like a pair.” AV Club‘s Erik Adams loved the duo of connected episodes and adds “I hope it’s the kind of “crazy” that the next two week’s double features have in store. Some hysteric here enjoyed it too.

The Rest of the Night:

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Fresh Off the Boat – 9.0

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – 8.1

The Night Manager – 8.0

Limitless – 7.7

The Flash – 6.4

 

Our Tuesday Reviews

Fresh Off the Boat – A

0427freshbox.jpgAt its best, Fresh Off the Boat excels in effortlessly tying together the profound with the endearing without losing the funny, so a family flashback episode is pretty well in its wheelhouse. Fresh Off the Boat at its best excels in effortlessly tying together the profound with the endearing without losing the funny, so a family flashback episode is pretty well in its wheelhouse.An Evan-centric episode is always welcome, but this one gets right at the essence of the precocious youngest Huang as he questions the authenticity of his given name. Fresh Off the Boat at its best excels in effortlessly tying together the profound with the endearing without losing the funny, so a family flashback episode is pretty well in its wheelhouse. After Evan takes advantage of a broken toaster to coerce the family to the bank to open his first account (comes with a free toaster), he finds out his name was courtesy of chance, its alliteration with his siblings, and the last name of a nurse — not even the one who delivered him. This leads — as it does — to a series of memories (which of course every Huang can see), all of which illustrate how members of the clan relate to their own name (although Emory gets a bit glossed over) — a connection even more fraught for the parents, Chinese immigrants who had to adopt a new one to please lazy Americans. “Hi, My Name Is…” flows into flashbacks a bit haphazardly, but it adds some nature to a truly surreal episode, made all the more lovely by how it all connects to just how the names brought them together in the world’s grossest meet-cute. The punctuation is a brilliant coda featuring Grandma Jenny’s name origin story, Garfield books, and the perfect crime.
– Jason Thurston

New Girl – A

0427newgirlbox.jpgOften when a show on the renewal bubble airs two episodes in a night, it’s burning them off. However, New Girl received its surprisingly late-arriving announcement of a sixth season a couple weeks ago, and this dual blast of New Girl would have lost impact if aired any other way. The two episodes weave together the tales of Schmidt and CeCe’s concurrent bachelor and bachelorette parties in a crazy double-narrative reminiscent of the underrated 1999 movie Go! (also homaged in a classic Simpsons episode) — and the foreshadowings are as rampant (and brilliant) in the first installment as the callbacks in the later airing. Once it all ties together, it’s clear you’ve witnessed a very special moment of sitcom gold.

When Schmidt and CeCe are accosted by Kid Rock-looking, road-raging madman Toby, Schmidt’s always comical manhood is challenged and he abruptly switches his bachelor party from Tokyo to Vegas. Their mission is stalled when Schmidt crashes his ill-advised moped and the motley groomsman including the male loftmates, CeCe’s pining ex (Nelson Franklin), Schmidt’s obnoxious ex-boss (Rob Riggle) and the vapidly erudite force of nature that is J. Cronkite Valley Forge (Fred Malamed, in his best role to date). Winston is still pining after Ally — extra stoked by Jess’ odd e-mail (whose incoherence is one of the mysteries solved in the next episode) — and when Schmidt picks a fight with a bar of L.A.-hating bikers, narrated hilariously by Nick, Winston’s aggressive and wholly-Winston dance-brawl moves are the highlight of the funniest screen donnybrook since Brick killed a guy in Anchorman. Yes, that’s quite the overpacked sentence there, but that’s part of the power of last night’s New Girl — a collection of farcical genius flashing by at a pace with which it’s hard to keep up.

Meanwhile, as seen in the second episode of the night, Jess and CeCe are settling in for a subdued bachelorette party of chilling in the loft when a wedding present arrives. It is a breadmaker which comes with a side-helping of passive-aggressive needling courtesy of Schmidt’s mom, sending CeCe into a destructive rage. By the time it becomes clear how important the gift is to her soon-to-be spouse, she and Jess are both way too high for the trip to exchange it that descends into a caper. It’s predictable, but oh so much fun, and high Jess, against all odds, is one of the rare TV representations of stoner antics that goes both broad and reverent — and what a fun trip it is. When the boys return, the revelations abound, everything connects, and it all wraps up together in an end worthy of Shakespeare. Ok, that’s an oversell, but in this up-and-down season of New Girl, the show has worked when tackling relationships changing as one pair gets married and when Winston lets his neurotic freak flag fly. This pair of episodes combines the two flawlessly into a cinematic blender of classic farce.
– Jason Thurston

What to Watch: 04/26/2016

It’s a relatively quiet Wednesday, but we’ve got some great comedies, the second part of a thrilling mini-series, cooking shows, and the going-away party for one of the critical surprises of 2015-16 season.

JASON’S PICK:
The Night Manager [AMC, 10p]
It’s last week’s top reviewed show. The dark war mini-series inspired by a 1993 John Le Carre novel set up the intrigue in its first episode, and boasts terrific lead performances by Hugh Laurie and Tom Middleston. Check that out here (no log-in required) to be ready for tonight.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
Fresh Off the Boat [ABC, 8p]
Evan wants to open a bank account but doesn’t know if he should use his American or Chinese name. Jessica and Louis chime in and their flashbacks include how they met!

NAVANI’S PICK:
Chopped Junior [Food, 8p]
Because watching little kids play nice in stressful cooking competitions give me hope about the world we live in.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

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  • It’s not THE most success story (outside of the A-lister from the original theatrical who occasionally drops in), but Limitless has received above average reviews for its quirky, clever sci-fi-infused action. Its finale airs tonight on CBS.
  • On The Real O’Neals, Kenny’s the lead in a musical, but it’s opposite the ex-girlfriend to whom he came out.
  • Another double-shot of New Girl goes all 80s comedy, featuring a road trip and a bachelor party
  • Finally, tonight on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, soulful crooner D’Angelo will pay tribute to Prince.