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

What to Watch: 02/14/2016

Haaaaappy Valentine’s Day to all you Valentines out in ValentineLand. Tonight, we suggest celebrating this loving day with the stirringly soulful voice of a youthful chanteuse, followed by the surely both rocky and triumphant return of an empowered female lawyer to her most familiar stomping ground, and perhaps ending the evening with a dose of righteous intellectual takedown of a few social wrongs by a sharp British tongue. There’s also roses, zombies, record execs, zombies, basketballs, zombies, aristocrats, zombies, Kardashians, Jimmy Fallon, and zombies.

NAVANI’S PICK:
Adele Live in London [BBC America, 10p]
Spend Valentine’s Day in with Adele serenading you and your loved one. Or just you, and your bons bons. Which on second thought might turn out to be a cryfest instead, oops.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
The Good Wife [CBS, 9p]
In The Good Wife’s seventh-to-last episode, Alicia returns to the firm, with Lucca in tow, and the partners are not particularly welcoming.

JASON’S PICK:
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver [HBO, 11:30p]
Now, more than ever, America needs the wit and wisdom of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The British comedian returns with his hilarious and eye-opening long takes on the absurdities which plague society.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • AMC’s (and, lo, all of cable’s) most successful show, The Walking Dead returns as the core gang, along with the oft-hapless Alexandrians face danger from outside. Whoever doesn’t make it, gets to gab with eternally giddy Chris Hardwick afterwards on Talking Dead. Points!
  • HBO’s Vinyl, the long-awaited Martin Scorsese-Mick Jagger collaboration, opens tonight, with a lot of drugs and some sex to go with the central rock’n’roll. The buzz is a-crackle like sparks flying from an old 45rpm record (i.e. about as loud as that metaphor).
  • The penultimate Downton Abbey airs tonight on PBS. Most wonder what will become of the too-opulent-for-these-changing-times Granthams, the newlywed and ever more snippy Carsons, the sulking Thomas the Evil Footman, or maybe even the bland Bateses. However, we’re more thrust to the edge of our seats by the will-they-or-won’t-they of Miss Patmore and Mr. Mason.
  • TNT carries the NBA All-Star Game. While the actual event pales in comparison to the hoopla and the skills competitions (slam-dunk, et al), it’s still fun to watch Steph Curry launch 3s in a game whose outcome is actually in doubt, right?
  • After over a quarter-century of seasons on FOX, The Simpsons offer, for the first time, a Professor Frink-centric episode, with the science and the laughing and the hovercrafts that don’t quite work with the…person. Glaven!

Your Essential Streaming Valentine’s Day Episodes

It’s cold out there, if you’re on the East Coast. People are begging Netflix to release House of Cards early. But if House of Cards isn’t for you (it’s definitely not for me!) and you want to honor the weekend’s holiday, you can’t go wrong with these themed episodes from your favorite shows. (That only one is still airing is incidental.)

I Love Lucy

Episode: “Lucy Plays Cupid” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Watch at: Hulu or CBS.com

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Lucy schemes to set up her older neighbor with the grocer. An awkward love triangle ensues, made worse when Ricky (oh, brother) tries to teach Lucy a lesson. Ricky’s a bad husband, but the match works out in the end.

Parks & Recreation

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Episode: “Operation Ann” (Season 4, Episode 14)
Watch At: Netflix

The show that invented a pre-holiday can’t be left out. While Leslie obsesses over finding a mate for Ann, Ben, Andy, and Ron struggle to solve a series of clues. Ann rightly finds Leslie’s second-hand desperation insulting, though it’s a joy to take in Pawnee’s community-thrown couples dance (poorly DJ’d by a very sad Chris). Ron and Ben revel in Ben’s challenge, which is way more fun than the dance, as they interrupt dates at JJ’s Diner and Pawnee’s odd attractions (including the snow globe museum, which is staffed by a disgruntled Martin Starr). It’s too bad that Manentine’s Day is already a thing of its own.

The Simpsons

Episode: “I Love Lisa” (Season 4, Episode 15)
Watch At: Simpsons World via FX Now

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There’s more than one Valentine’s Day episodes in The Simpsons oeuvre, but Ralph Wiggum’s declaration of love for Lisa, who pitied him like we pity Charlie Brown, is easily the best of the series. Ralph’s stirring speech during the President’s Day pageant is more moving than a speech from a fictional second-grader has any right to be.

30 Rock

Episodes: “St. Valentine’s Day”/”Anna Howard Shaw Day” (Season 3, Episode 11/Season 4, Episode 13)
Watch At: Netflix (1/2)

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In “St. Valentine’s Day,” Liz is foiled on a first date with Jon Hamm’s perfect (and stupid) doctor Drew on Valentine’s Day, while Jack reconciles with Selma Hayek’s Elisa over McFlurries. (“Don’t tell me you’re one of those convenient Catholics who goes to church every Sunday.”) In “Anna Howard Shaw Day” Liz rebels against the holiday, insisting she can do anything a couple can, including getting herself home from a root canal, which she deliberately scheduled for the holiday. Jack, on a date with Avery Jessup, has to carry a very out-of-it Liz home. It’s a balm for anyone rolling their eyes at friends shaking their fist at Valentine’s Day.

Arrested Development

Episode: “Marta Complex” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Watch at: Netflix

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Michael’s speech about love causes Marta, G.O.B.’s girlfriend, to fall in love with him and inspires Lindsay to seek a divorce. Good job, Michael.

Happy Endings

Episode: “The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” (Season 2, Episode 23)
Watch at: Hulu

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Penny wants to dump her boyfriend, but wants to wait until after the fancy dinner (“for him,” she swears), and convinces Dave that he’s being strung along too, and his foolishness costs him a threesome and his relationship. It’s great to see an acknowledgment of what seventh grade boys and girls have been manipulating for decades: The Break Up Window.

The Twilight Zone

Episode: “From Agnes—With Love” (Season 5, Episode 20)
Watch at: Netflix

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A computer programmer trying to use his work machine for offsite tasks (wooing a woman) finds himself foiled when the computer falls in love with him.

What to Watch: 02/12/2016

It’s the usual Friday line-up with one special addition as this weekend is Love Day‘s weaker cousin, Valentine’s Day, so with hearts aflame and nothing to lose, here’s tonight’s Screen Scholars Picks…

KATHERINE’S PICK:

Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Valentine [ABC, 8p]

Charlie Brown spends his Valentine’s Day in 1975, hoping someone, anyone, will CH-CH-CHOOSE him. By 2002 Charlie Brown still pines for the little red-headed girl, while the rest of the gang scrambles for love as well.

NAVANI’S PICK:

The Rap Game [Lifetime, 10:02p]

It’s down to five contestants and an assignment from special guest Usher will have everyone in a frenzy, even the kids’ managers.

JASON’S PICK:

Grimm [NBC, 9p]

While this is a bit of a default choice, admittedly Grimm is heating up and it seems to be all hands on deck, even Wu & Bud, for a serial killer case to solve concurrent to battling the Wesen uprising which could signal the end of the human race as we know it. Oh my!

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • While the writer of this round-up is definitively not a fan of CBS proceduralBlue Bloods, tonight’s episode sounds very special as one of the cop family may be a criminal.
  • Earlier on CBS, the Hawaii Five-O crew are exchanging valentines.
  • Girl Meets World returns on Disney after a few weeks off. This week, Boy’s daughter will be meeting “Commonism.”
  • A&E is previewing the bejeezus out of the Robertson clan’s antics. More look ahead to the 9th{?!?} season of Duck Dynasty tonight.

 

Thursday’s Best Reviewed: Baskets

The idiosyncratic-as-fudgesicles (that dessert treat beats its own drumstick) Baskets wins the night with an early Easter episode. The victory is unsurprising for the introspective show which feasts on absurdity and the awkwardness of human interaction, and what’s more neurotically dicey than holidays with the family. The undercard winner — the highest score from Shondaland — goes to her old faithful, Grey’s Anatomy, while her two younger programs, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, get mixed but mostly positive reviews. Nerds of different stripes dwell at the bottom of last night’s review-fest, as The Big Bang Theory (why does everyone review this show?) and DC Legends of Tomorrow swim with the sixes.

Thursday, February 11th’s Best: Baskets [9.0/10]

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A despondent and dreamy, yet sweet (not to mention oddly timed), Easter episode that begins with an epiphany achieved through a karaoke cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls” brought yet more positive reviews to the young series. Vulture‘s Andrew Lapin declares it “not only the best episode of Baskets to date, but also a piercing and ingenious study of melancholy.” Vikram Murthi of AV Club agrees “Easter in Bakersfield” is the best episode to date with similar reasoning, observing “the storytelling in Baskets may be flexible, and the humor can range from broad slapstick to strange dialogue delivery, but its tone is set, and arguably the one thing the series asks of its viewers is to lock into it.”

The Rest of the Night:

Grey’s Anatomy – 8.7

The 100 – 7.7

How to Get Away with Murder – 7.5

Scandal – 7.3

You, Me, and the Apocalypse – 7.0

Elementary – 7.0

The Big Bang Theory – 6.6

DC Legends of Tomorrow – 6.4

 

For Galentine’s Day, Consider ‘The To Do List’

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Galentine’s Day, the Leslie Knope-created pre-Valentine’s Day celebration of Female Friendship, is Saturday. While the Bouqs, Travelocity, PureWow, and GrubHub wring their hands over your Valentine’s Day plans, I’ll wring mine over your Saturday night.

If going out with your Gal Pals isn’t your thing, may I humble suggest The To-Do List? (If hitting the town is your thing, by all means, get hand-crafted cocktails at a speakeasy and hit the theatre for How to Be Single.) Grab a bag of chocolate hearts from Duane Reade honey, and chill the rose, because this two-hour ode to feminism and female sexuality can’t be beat. (The double entendre stays!)

It’s 1993 and high school valedictorian Brandy Clark is bound for Georgetown University. Socially awkward Brandy is a virgin with a crush on hunky Rusty Waters (Scott Porter!) and feeling like she could be more well-rounded as an incoming freshman, Brandy vows to become sexually experienced.

She does that the only way she knows how: treating her sexuality as a homework assignment.

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This is a pretty good idea, actually. Brandy is a smart and thorough student, and this way she is able to approach her goals in a way she can handle and understand. (Ultimately, the boys in her life can’t handle her self-actualization, but she can!)

Brandy is aided by the women in her life. Her promiscuous sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) provides advice and guidance, her best friends Wendy and Fiona are not initially supportive (Sarah Steele and Alia Shawkat in perfect casting), but mistakes and apologies are made. Because Wendy and Fiona will always be more important than Rusty Waters.

In a review I wrote in 2013 for Blast-O-Rama, where I am an erstwhile staff writer, I called it “a funny, honest, charming film that showcases Aubrey Plaza while trumping teen film stereotypes and boosting feminism in cinema.” I believe that now; if anything, the jokes are sharper and more prescient two years later.

Ladies and their gal pals will appreciate the themes and humor of The To Do List, I guarantee it.

Available for rent through Vudu and purchase through Amazon and iTunes.