Deep In the Dial: Imitation of Life (1939)

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Welcome to Deep In the Dial, where we highlight films and television that satisfies, surprises, and wasn’t developed in a writer’s room this year. Tonight I heartily recommend Imitation of Life, with a side of flapjacks (I’m serious).

TCM airs the first adaptation of Fanny Hurst’s weepy story of mothers and daughters tonight at 8 p.m. (The best known adaptation, the Lana Turner-starring 1959 film by Douglas Sirk is absolutely worth your time.)

Claudette Colbert is single, white widow Bea, who befriends and takes in black widow Delilah as a boarder. They become fast friends and find success on the Atlantic City boardwalk thanks to Delilah’s pancakes. Many years later Bea’s spoiled daughter falls in love with her mother’s boyfriend, a plot conflict I only understand thanks to Jane to Virgin (because Xo’s love for Jane is communicated so gracefully, not because Jane is after Xo’s boyfriend).

But more significant is the story of Delilah and her daughter Peola, who struggles to navigate a racist world while passing and denying her parentage. I hope you’re ready for a good cry, because the film’s finale will destroy you.

What to Watch: 02/11/2016

It’s a busy night of Winter Premieres and gearing up for said returns (and we also recommend a love story that transcends time and rain and charmingly humorous movie psas), so let’s get right into the action:

NAVANI’S PICK(S):
Scandal/How to Get Away with Murder (or Shondaland) [ABC,10p]
Shondaland returns with midseason premieres for both Scandal and HTAWM which means tons of drama. It’s been six months seen Olicia and Fitz called it quits, let’s see how she is adjusting and if it will stick this time. On HTGAWM, everyone is trying to deal after the events of that awful night Annalise was shot.

JASON’S PICK:
Inside the Actors Studio [Bravo, 8p]
As if Talking Dead weren’t enough, Chris Hardwick dons a mustache and beard and breathes life into his classic character “James Lipton” as he invites Robert Kirkman and a most of the main Walking Dead cast into his teaching studio to see what word(s) Kirkman or Steven Yuen associates with “audience punking.”

KATHERINE’S PICK:
The Notebook [ABC Fam, 7:45p]
Follow Allie and Noah’s love affair in the ‘40s. Is it kind of messed up and abusive? Yeah! But Happy Valentine’s Day, you’ll never have a love like that, suckers!

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • Project Runway returns, sort of. It’s that lite version of it, Project Runway: All Stars, where Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum are replaced by Zanna Roberts Rassi and Alyssa Milano, and designers get a second chance to impress. While the winners are less celebrated, it’s fun to see new fashion from old favorites and the competition is usually (stress on usually) more amicable. Personally, we’re excited to see the deft tailorship and effervescent cheer of Season 13 finalist Kini.
  • FX’s Baskets, along with being one of the most original (and confidently paced) shows of the last few years, exhibits a refreshing brand of kindness in its nihilism. That may be tested tonight as a family dinner should bring together Chip Baskets, timid friend(?) Martha, mom Louie Anderson, and successful brother Dale (with Zach Gaifiniakis as both Chip & Dale…ah, ha, Chip & Dale…just got that).
  • What better day to start a four-narratives-weaved-into-one narrative than on its Valentine’s Day episode. The delightfully low-key Life in Pieces is that fabled rarity: a CBS sitcom worth remembering.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a fan of latching onto a show a day or two after its cancellation, you’re probably safe with Angel From Hell (CBS again). Despite a promising cast (Jane Lynch, Kevin Pollak) and potentially rich premise, the forces behind the show decided to play broad instead of edgy and wound up mostly flat (and often confusing).
  • Taut puzzle for Losties, Colony, continues its dystopian thrillride with episode five on USA tonight.
  • Workaholics and Idiotsitter continue to be their reliable quirky one-two punch on Comedy Central.
  • Finally if the cutesy cutaways to Kardashian Babies on American Crime Story have you longing for the reality series chronicling their adult days…well, first, you’re a different person than us. Also, you’re in luck as Keeping Up the Kardashians returns (in a sense) on E! with a sneak preview tonight.

Wednesday’s Best Reviewed: Younger

While you could argue TV Land began as something of a trail blazer, it forged forward in a backward-facing manner — as a showcase for television’s past aimed to appeal to Baby Boomers’ penchant for lapping up nostalgia. When the fledgling network moved to add original programming, it (rather rightfully) earned a reputation for unchallenging fare — at its best, the charming-enough Betty White one-liner fest Hot in Cleveland, worst case scenario, it’s “tired sitcom” (per NewsdayRetired at 35. However, the still relatively young network has recently been aces at renovating its image with sharp, well-received series such as The Jim Gaffigan Show and Younger — both of which have been wisely renewed despite less-than-stellar ratings.

Younger is an inspired show featuring Sutton Foster as 40-something divorcee Liza who, to combat age discrimination as she re-enters the workplace, gets herself made over to pass for 26. It triumphs in last night’s critic wars with an episode where Liza and her pals face a final battle with a ruthless social media-savvy foe. Otherwise, it’s a somewhat quiet night as few shows even garner write-ups from multiple logged sites.

Wednesday, February 10th’s Best: Younger (8.7/10)

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Younger juggled many plotlines this week while maintaining beaucoup drama. AV Club‘s Alexa Plane acknowledged some lack of development in the busy week, but contended the episode “has its fair share of quality laughs, character moments, and narrative propulsion.” Carissa Pavlica at TV Fanatic summed it up simply and sweetly in her 4-word opening paragraph: “Well that was fun!”

The Rest of the Night:

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – 8.0

While good ol’ Dennis Perkins at AV Club dreaded last night’s Frank-centric episode, observing that Danny DeVito’s character “is the grunting, rutting, sexist, gluttonous old bigot whose schtick works best in small doses,” he was surprised to find the episode “works.” IGN‘s Matt Fowler came from the other direction, exhorting “being inside nutso Frank Reynolds’ head for a day certainly sounds like a grand idea. Ultimately, he feels it “didn’t really land well” but he “applaud[s] the idea of changing the blueprint.”

American Crime – 7.5

A little discord between grade and review at AV Club, where a “trend of brilliant but brutal episodes” apparently only warrants a “B” grade from Pilot Viruet. Since in my mind, she’s arguably the premiere TV re-capper on the planet, I’ll take her word for it. Samantha McAllister at TV Fanatic distinctly connects with an episode where “things are really starting to heat up!”

Arrow – 7.2

After winning the night last week, taut comic-book serial Arrow falls back a bit on an episode which in many ways functions as a bridge towards the season’s end. It’s best assessment comes from TV Fanatic‘s Carissa Pavlica, who affirms “there were certainly some surprises,” but “unless we’re being fooled, it seems as though we have been given a pretty good indication of where the remainder of the season is heading” (mind you, not a bad thing). IGN’s Jesse Schedeen dipped it into its “Okay” category, but acknowledges that while the episode was “fairly uneven … it certainly set the stage for huge things to come.” In any case “certainly” seems to be the adverb of the day where Arrow is concerned.

Black-ish – 7.0

The Anthony Anderson-fronted sitcom tackles its primary subject stereotypes, in this case the focus is swimming, and the reception is not particularly bad. AV Club‘s LaToya Ferguson enjoys how “everyone goes into full Johnson mode,” while Vulture‘s Nichole Perkins had misgivings but was relieved by the “boatload of assumptions that lead to some much-needed laughs.” Both reviewers, however, agreed on playfully including buckets full of watery puns.

Supernatural – 6.7

Matt Fowler of IGN expertly referenced the episode title’s musical source(s), but was not overly impressed by much else — despite narrowly placing the episode in the “Good” category — labeling the hour “a middling-yet-apropos monster hunt that incorporated this week’s Valentine’s Day theme with a touch of It Follows.”

What We’re Streaming: Dope

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One of 2015’s best films, out for rent since December, is finally available to stream on Netflix. Malcolm, obsessed with 90s culture, and desperate to go to Harvard, is inexplicably stuck with a bag of dope in this charming, funny, and uplifting comedy.

It has humor, heart, and adult situations only a Harvard-bound teenager can survive.

Pairs well with House Party and Dear White People (available at Hulu).

Watch it at Netflix.

 

What to Watch: 02/10/2016

It’s a fairly normal Wednesday, outside of the return of the ABC comedies after a few weeks away. Our editors’ suggestions range from right in the middle to totally off the wall, even supernatural (see what we did there…ugh). More importantly, Brick and Sam above are giving exactly the right amount of awe for early-80s era MJ.

NAVANI’S PICK:

Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall [Showtime W, 11:15p]

Spike Lee’s touching documentary follows the rise of the King of Pop using rarely seen archival footage and interviews with family and friends. A must see for any fan of Michael Jackson and music history.

JASON’S PICK:
The Middle [ABC, 8p]
While there are three plots, as per the ushe (which is apparently the proper spelling of this), the only one that matters — the one to set your alarm or DVR for — is Brick directing a movie and turning despot.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
Supernatural [CW, 9p]
The brothers investigate an ancient Valentine’s Day curse in a plot that feels similar to an episode of Buffy.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • The Middle‘s return also means that the most distinctly hit-or-miss comedy on TV is also back on ABC. Modern Family has a Mitchell/Gloria match-up, so that augurs well.
  • Later on ABC, we’ll see if American Crime‘s second season can keep up its torrid and psychologically grueling pace.
  • Over on NBC, a V-Day serial killer sounds as good a time as any to give another chance to Debra Messing’s resilient and kooky Mysteries of Laura.
  • As we’ve mentioned before, CBS’ Criminal Minds has been on something of a roll for shockingly well-written and tense episodes for the last few weeks. This week, an escaped captive teen girl tries to help the BAU gang find the two hostages she left behind.
  • Duck Dynasty has an episode called “Pie Hard” tonight, so I presume the Louisiana Family Robertson will try to take over the Mrs. Smithsatomi Building as a ruse to distract authorities and gourmands alike, while they empty the vaults below of all their Apple, Cherry, and Pumpkin sweets. Or they’ll just shoot some stuff. Yippi-ki-yum!

Tuesday’s Best Reviewed: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Last night’s shows run the review gamut from our highest score ever — including our first perfect 10 going out to the brilliant ensemble police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine — to our most poorly received show in the long-running teen angst puzzler Pretty Little Liars. The former is buoyed by the glorious guest turn by Damon Wayans, Jr., as a cop from a rival precinct. Alternative dimension episodes are often critical gold, and The Flash‘s dip into Earth-2 is no exception as this week’s offering is the second highest rated program in this feature’s short history. Meanwhile, retooled or rebooted, the new Muppets gets its best call-outs of the year. New Girl‘s unveiling of the Megan Fox arc is less welcomed.

Tuesday, February 9th’s Best: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (10.0/10)

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Fresh off regular runs on Happy Endings and New Girl, Damon Wayans, Jr., shines on Brooklyn Nine-Nine as his presence tests the bro-buddyhood of Andy Samberg’s Peralta and Joe Lo Truglio’s Boyle. LaToya Ferguson at the AV Club poetically notes the “entire episode is like a pressure cooker waiting to do whatever pressure cookers do, and once it does, it’s beautifully chaotic.” Vulture‘s Allie Pape marvels that “it’s frankly impressive how much ground this episode covers in just 22 minutes, and how many strong jokes it’s able to get in.”

The Rest of the Night:

The Flash – 9.6

Raves all around for The Flash‘s reveal of its alternate universe and Earth-2. Angelica Jade Bastien over at Vulture calls it “undoubtedly the best episode of the season,” complimenting how it “marries incredible action sequences, amazing direction by Millicent Shelton, some of the cast’s best acting (particularly from Candice Patton and Grant Gustin), lots of heart, and just the right number of nods to the comics.” She pretty much speaks for every reviewer.

iZombie – 8.3

While Liv eating the brain of a Millennial sounds a bit trite and vague, Meg Bonney at TV Fanatic makes the strong point: “if we can trust anyone with complex plot weaving, it’s [show creator] Rob Thomas.”

The Muppets – 8.3

Jenny Jaffe of Vulture sums up both the disappointment up to yesterday with the 2015-16 iteration of our collective cherished nostalgic puppets, and the reception of last night’s turnaround episode by leading off with “Whoa. I think … I actually liked this episode.” AV Club‘s Dan Caffrey dug the feminist message — bolstered by a Joan Jett cameo — coming to the conclusion: “Miss Piggy’s still very much a pig. And very much a woman.”

American Crime Story – 8.2

The second episode of American Crime Story (a.k.a. the O.J. mini-series) is all about the Bronco chase. While it is a historic, dramatic moment that is pretty universally one of the everyone-knows-where-they-were moments of anyone currently over 25’s life, reviewers tend to agree that as part of the mini-series, it’s a transitionary episode. Quoth AV Club‘s incomparable Pilot Viruet: “O.J. stopped running, but the series is just getting started.”

Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce – 7.8

The Shannara Chronicles – 7.3

Marvel’s Agent Carter – 6.9

New Girl – 6.7

Fresh Off the Boat – 6.0

Pretty Little Liars – 5.0

What We’re Streaming: Chelsea Does

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You either love Chelsea or hate her but one thing is for sure – what you see is what you get. That remains true in her latest venture, Chelsea Does, now streaming on Netflix. In the four episode docu-series an unapologetically Chelsea Handler delves into topics of marriage, racism, drugs and technology.

Highlights include seeing Chelsea squirm in uncomfortable moments where she is in way over her head and can’t really manipulate the conversation – like anytime she is speaking to children or attempting computer programming. In “Marriage” Handler approaches an untapped source for relationship advice, a group of kids under 10. They assure her that she is not too old to get married although “sometimes you don’t get married if you have too much work to do.” These are the times where she is most vulnerable and human. That and when she is attempting to engage her 80-plus-year-old dad in a dialogue about marriage. As Handler openly shares she is 40 and wants to settle down with someone, he calmly spews out to her brother how Chelsea is simply “not marriage material.” OOF. You leave with a whole new level of sympathy for her surviving her dad.

Thankfully, levity resumes in “Silicon Valley” where she takes on the tycoons of tech to learn how to use her cell phone and pitch an idea for an app. The beta version of her app “Gotta Go” is completed and it actually works! She tests it when she wants to get out of a children’s computer programming class she is failing miserably at. Who hasn’t been there.  Toodles, programming, let’s leave it to the kiddies.

Things get super intense when Chelsea takes on racism. She interviews Al Sharpton to get some ideas on how to break down barriers at an individual level. He offers some really sage ideas and super useful takeaways. Then Chelsea travels down south and interviews some pro-confederate groups who offer up their take on slavery, including the assertion that slaves were loved and cared for and didn’t have it so bad. Chelsea’s quick-witted sarcasm and blunt sassiness are extremely appreciated at this point.

In the end, traditional Chelsea Lately fans will be thrilled with the series. It’s not too far off comedically from her on-the-street stints done on her earlier show, while continuing the spirit of the panel discussion — only now it’s composed of her bffs and family. True documentary buffs and non-Chelsea fans might have a harder time taking the series seriously, but there are some real gems if you watch closely enough, and the levity Chelsea brings to touchy and sometimes upsetting topics is at times a gem in itself. She challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously at the end of the day, even when discussing super serious subjects. I urge everyone to take her up on the challenge.