Tuesday’s Best Reviewed: Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce

The worst of possible days leads to one of the best episodes on the up-and-coming Bravo series Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. The show sets up its second season finale with Abby celebrating a wedding that goes seven-ways awry. Other wins for the night include Marvel’s Agent Carter, which amped up its intrigue (and its villainy) in a double-episode, and American Crime Story, as it set up the trial pieces for O.J.’s appearance in front of the honorable (and memorable) Lance Ito. On the other end of the spectrum, The Muppets thuds with a wisp of an episode, evaporating the good will Miss Piggy’s tail-feminism had stirred last week, while New Girl‘s new girl Megan Fox falls a bit flat in her second viewing.

Tuesday, February 16th’s Best: Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (9.5/10)

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Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce‘s second season penultimate is titled “Everything Does NOT Happen for a Reason” as Abby’s friend Delia’s wedding disintegrates majestically; indeed as AV Club notes in its sub-headline, it is an “excellent no good, very bad day.” Gwen Ihnat praises the pacing into the finale, as”a lesser show would have ended the season with this wedding cliffhanger, but Girlfriends’ has shown to be complex and unexpected enough that next week there’s likely to be something even crazier in store.” Carissa Pavlica gives even further into its wiles in her TV Fanatic appraisal, admitting to unabashed weeping, comparing it to Pretty in Pink, and lauds how it “culminated in one of the best, most awesome displays of hot guy RomCom behavior ever shown on a primetime series” (sorry again, Duckie).

The Rest of the Night:

Marvel’s Agent Carter – 8.6

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. – 8.1

iZombie – 7.7

Limitless – 7.7

The Flash – 7.5

Fresh Off the Boat – 7.5

New Girl – 6.2

The Grinder – 6.0

Pretty Little Liar – 6.0

The Muppets – 5.7

The Shannara Chronicles – 3.5

 

What We’re Streaming: Happy Endings

I started 2015 with the best binge possible, a seemingly endless stream of love and laughter via the cancelled-too-soon Happy Endings. Committing to the dozen or so shows I resolved to finish this year has been difficult now that I finished three joyful seasons in Chicago with Brad, Jane, Max, Penny, Alex, and Dave.

The show is all highs and no lows, even though the 2011 pilot begins with Alex (hilariously) leaving Dave at the altar. If it sounds like Friends, that’s fair: Alex wasn’t ready to marry Dave, and they needed to find themselves before they could find each other, just as Rachel needed to find herself and a job before she could waffle around with the worst guy in Manhattan.

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Yep, Happy Endings, tragically unappreciatedis better than Friends. Of course it is. Happy Endings is legitimately funny, and never plays to the lowest common denominator. You can start at any time and never feel like you missed out, yet it rewards longtime fans with snappy callbacks, long cons, and cheery recurring foibles.

The characters of Happy Endings are fully-realized (and will never self-actualize) from the start but are given opportunities to break free from their tropes (this happens most often with Brad, who is black, and Max, who is gay). Everyone is at their absolute worst and usually taken to task for it (like that time Penny initiated a Pile On with her boyfriend’s friends, or the time Max ruined his roommate’s life).

Since I threw down the gauntlet: The problems with Friends is that it’s sexist, too white, homophobic, transphobic, boring, and not funny. Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey are bad people in a bad way. The very worst part about Friends is Rachel: She abandons her life of privilege (but not really, not ever) and goes from rejected at 12 interviews to a dream job in Paris. Rachel should have said to Ross what she said to Gunther: “I love you too, probably not in the same way.”

I’ll let Lisa Love take it from here:

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Life Pro Tip: Always go to Paris. If you don’t like it, come home. Maybe Mr. Big will buy the ticket for you. Maybe Mr. Big will say, “I love you and you love Paris, let’s live here.” (We can see why I’m not bound for a writer’s room.)

What set Happy Endings apart from NBC’s Friends replacements (Endings premiered the same year as the similar and swiftly cancelled Better With YouMad LovePerfect CouplesTraffic Light, and Friends With Benefits) was its big heart, its gleefulness, and its frank acknowledgement that it was about bad people having a good time. ABC missed an opportunity when it canceled Happy Endings in 2013 (and mistakenly picked up Marry Me, which shares creator David Caspe in 2014), but thanks to Hulu, we can pretend (both?) never happened.

Watch it on Hulu.

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What to Watch: 02/16/2016

In the aftermath of all of America — or was it half of your Facebook relatives — losing their collective poop over Beyonce expressing an opinion in between large men giving each other concussions, PBS’ look at the Black Panthers is a good chance for people to earn some perspective. At the very least, it’s a good source for us liberals to make sure we have our facts straight, particularly in light of bizarre comparisons to the KKK. Two out of three editors agree — actually the third editor also agrees, but since it’s a busy day, went elsewhere, and as the palest of the trio, chose the night’s zombie show.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
Independent Lens [PBS, 9p]
Tonight’s Independent Lens features last year’s incredible, underrated The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. The documentary follows the rise of the Black Panthers, beginning with Huey P. Newton in Oakland in 1966. Following Beyonce’s nod at the Super Bowl last week, it’s more than fair to say that the allure and fascination continues (as it should) today.

NAVANI’S CONCURRING OPINION:
Independent Lens [PBS, 9p]
After Beyonce’s Super Bowl show paying homage to the Black Panthers caused such a visceral response including a protest, it proves the group is still relevant as ever. Director Stanley Nelson tells the story of the Black Panther Party’s history and their pivotal role in the fight for civil  rights and American culture.

JASON’S PICK:
iZombie [CW, 9p]
Liv eats pathological liar brain, then tries to solve the crime, while taking on the characteristics of the victim (as is the underlying premise of the show).

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • ABC’s reboot of The Muppets finally got it right last week, and this week they are doubling down by focusing on Miss Piggy, while Rizzo, Pepe, and Gonzo go off on their own adventure.
  • On Fresh Off the Boat, remaining on ABC, Louis and Jessica react to a bad restaurant review, which sounds just marvelous.
  • Not sure if FOX’s New Girl‘s new temporary “new girl” Megan Fox’s Reagan works, but the Jess-less episodes leading up to it were refreshing and among the show’s most inventive.
  • On the same FOXy network, this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine pair-offs are Jake with Hitchcock & Scully, Amy and Gina with Rose, and Holt and Boyle.
  • It’s the getting-the-gang-together episode of American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. as each side officially puts together their lawyer teams, to face off in the last millennium’s final Crime of the Century[TM]

Deep In The Dial: The Littlest Rebel (1935)

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Film lovers can count on MOVIES! to show classic movies. On Sunday night MOVIES! graced us with the honor of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra. For reasons that we may never discern, MOVIES! is airing a dark mark on Shirley Temple’s career with The Littlest Rebel.

The film will air tomorrow at 6:20 a.m. and again on Saturday, February 27, at 1:15 p.m.

Released in 1935, Temple stars as 6-year-old Virginie, the daughter of a Confederate spy jailed for treason. Virginie and her slave, Uncle Billy (Bill Robinson), dance through the streets to earn money so she can visit with President Lincoln and convince him to pardon her sack-of-crap father.

“My daddy couldn’t have done anything bad,” she promises Lincoln. Yeah, well, you own another human being, and your daddy owns a plantation, so I find your assertion hard to believe, kid. Your daddy fought for the Confederates so he could keep his Union plantation and all its slaves, so actually, your daddy doesn’t deserve the pardon a fictional Lincoln grants you at the end of this film.

In colorized clips posted on YouTube, the acting is over-the-top. Temple is disappointingly more akin to cardboard than the engaging child star she is remembered as so fondly.

If a viewing leaves you thirsty for vengeance, Django Unchained is streaming on Netflix and Nate Parker’s historical drama Birth of A Nation is likely to see an Oscars-season release at the end of the year.

Monday’s Best Reviewed: Better Call Saul

Ok, it’s zero surprise that the return of a critically acclaimed show birthed from another beloved program would win a relatively slow night. However, that Better Call Saul pretty much won by default is a bit disappointing. But, hey, Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Slippin’ Jimmy/Gene the Cinnabon Salesman and Mike Ehrmentraut are back, and everyone (including me) is glad for that. Similarly, a rather odd episode, even by The X-Files quirky standards, and a busy and hopeful, but ultimately inconsequential serving of The Magicians, weren’t particularly panned, but reviewers didn’t crow either.

Monday, February 15th’s Best: Better Call Saul (7.6/10)

0216yesbessaulReviews for the second season opener of darkly endearing Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul were far from bad, but “Switch” was received as what it was, a transitionary episode — the chameleonic con-man between identities. Terri Schwartz of IGN labels it a “solid return” while Vulture‘s Kenny Herzog sums it up thusly: “This was very much a season premiere. I look forward to things heating up.” My favorite moment from the morning recaps is when TV Fanatic*’s Miranda Wicker defends our anti-heroes moral compass to her curious mother: “He’s a man who happens to be a lawyer who just loves the rush of a good con.” Yeah, that pretty much nails it. My one cent and a ha’penny: he’s a compelling enough protagonist that watching him seal his fate with clearly enamored Kim is heartbreaking.

The Rest of the Night:

The X-Files – 7.4

Mulder & Scully awkwardly battle terrorism, and while reviewers don’t hate it, they also don’t exactly ride along. Zach Handlen at AV Club calls it a “little weird” and a “messy, conflicted episode, one full of ambition and inspired strangeness, and not all the pieces fit together neatly.” Vulture‘s Keith Uhlich concurs, opening with “here’s a weird one,” while adding “you’ll either laugh, or stare at the screen in goggle-eyed disbelief.”

The Magicians – 6.7

The Magicians takes a bit of a step back, although the low aggregate grades belie mostly decent write-ups. TV Fanatic‘s Elena Zhang speaks for many when assessing the current stature of the program: “show continues to improve, there are still major flaws that hinder this show from becoming a hallmark of fantasy.”

What to Watch: 02/15/2016

Haaaaaaaaappy Presidents’ Day to all you presidents out in PresidentLand. Tonight’s recommendations have pretty much nothing to do with the leaders of the free world, although one could argue ambulance-chasing lawyers, Lifetime movies, and celebrities receiving awards are three pillars of America.

NAVANI’S PICK: 
58th Annual Grammy Awards [CBS, 8p]
LL Cool J returns as the host on a new night with performances by Adele, Miguel, The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and more. Highlights include the first ever Broadway musical performance from the nominated cast of Hamilton and a special tribute to Celia Cruz.

JASON’S PICK:
Better Call Saul [AMC, 10p]
In the first season finale, all of Jimmy McGill’s good intentions turned to dust, his heroes failed him, and he took his first steps in his transition to morphing into Breaking Bad’s iconic slippery lawyer Saul Goodman. He returns tonight a changed man, and kind colleague/passing love interest Kim will assuredly not care for it. Also, there’s more Mike!

KATHERINE’S PICK:
A Date to Die For [LMN, 8p]
A woman going through a divorce wakes up the morning after a first date to find her date in bed (and fully clothed) with a knife in her chest. Framed–she thinks–for the murder, she must prove that someone else (totally her husband, obvs) did it.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • Syfy’s adaptation of beloved fantasy series The Magicians scored its most critically satisfying episode last week. Looks like there’s some hope for the supernatural show.
  • Major Crimes returns after a two-month layoff with a gang-related five-parter called “Hindsight,” tonight on TNT. We’re deep into the fourth season of the show which formed from the ruins of The Closer.
  • It’s a particularly funny art-themed episode of TBS’ Angie Tribeca — the painter whose stolen work drives the initial plot is named MacGuffin. That is all!
  • Lucifer may not be a classic show, but it’s a lark, and Tom Ellis is a devilishly appealing lead. It’s on FOX.
  • We’ve lost most of our interest in the once-promising NBC sitcom one-two punch of Superstore/Telenovela. However, both boast will-they-are-won’t-they storylines coming to a head, so maybe this is the night they turn the corner.

Weekend’s Best Reviewed: The Walking Dead

It’s not a particular surprise that the midseason return of The Walking Dead, one of cable’s titans, would bring mostly raves. In an episode that had Talking Dead host (and America’s Nerd) Chris Hardwick even giddier than usual, “No Way Out” brought the premier zombie program back with a flashbang episode featuring gore, shocks, tragedies, triumphs, Darryl Dixon with a rocket launcher, and hints of the TV debut of comic book legend Negan and all the impending doom he entails.

Around the clicker, the anticipated arrival of Scorsese’s 1970s music industry drama Vinyl, starring Bobby Cannavale, opened with about as consistent reviews as possible (every review we recorded translated to an “8” in our secret system). ABC’s Friday night fantasy-heavy line-up earned positive press this week. Two revered shows counting down the days to their series finales — The Good Wife and Downton Abbey — had solid outings. On the other side of the ledger, Shameless tailed off from last week’s hyper-dramatic home-leaving episode, while SNL suffered a similar drop-off from curmudgeonly, but acceptable Larry David to always game Melissa McCarthy.

Weekend of February 13th’s Best: The Walking Dead (8.7/10)

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“No Way Out,” the suffocating return of AMC’s current centerpiece, The Walking Dead, certainly connected with its aura of constant terror anchored by the resonant theme of a loosely connected group coalescing around one defined goal — survival — as they herd the undead towards a cinematically spectacular lake of fire. Richard Rys of Vulture asserts that the creators of The Walking Dead knew they “had something to prove after Glenngate stalled the first half of this season.” And prove they did: “No Way Out” isn’t just a much-needed shot of adrenaline — it’s one of the most exciting episodes of the entire series.” IGN‘s Matt Fowler dubbed it “defiantly hostile. In a great way.” Sean McKenna at TV Fanatic proclaimed the episode a “major step up from [its] lackluster” predecessor. The closest thing to a pan comes from AV Club‘s Zach Handlen, who, while questioning his own expectations, faults the show’s “lack of narrative philosophy,” and hammers its consistency. “For every nicely handled character moment here (the rise of the Alexandrians, and Rick finally accepting that he can make these people into bad-ass murder machines was decent), there’s some weird plot flailing that’s so clumsy that it borders on camp.

The Rest of the Night:

Downton Abbey – 8.2

Vinyl – 8.0

Sleepy Hollow – 8.0

Grimm – 7.7

The Good Wife – 7.7

Billions – 7.0

Shameless – 6.8

Saturday Night Live – 6.5

The Vampire Diaries – 6.5