Recaps/Reviews

Homeland Season 6

Showtime’s Homeland Season 6 premieres with an American-set story and a female president

Last season, Homeland‘s fifth season dried up and fell off my must-watch list. I carried the season with me for nearly 8 months before finally deciding to completely abandon it. Solid buzz surrounded it, but none of its competent direction and solid performances really drove me to return. It’s not Homeland‘s fault. We just grew apart. So, Homeland Season 6 returns, offering the promise of the strong Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards) as a recently elected female president. That immediately piqued my interest. Unfortunately, nothing else in the pilot did.

The pilot, “Fair Game,” divides its time as Carrie (Claire Danes) oversees the reluctant rehabilitation of Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), damaged from the events of Season 5. Or so the previews to me. Quinn lives in a VA hospital but refuses physical therapy. Instead, his recreational habits include hanging out with prostitutes, smoking crack, and getting the shit beat out of him. Aside from that, Carrie, now working at a legal outreach organization for Muslims in New York, rebuffs Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) frequent requests to return to her former life.

Homeland Season 6
(Photo: Showtime)

Another subplot introduces a Muslim-American man who runs a website documenting atrocities against Muslims in America. His eventual arrest brings Carrie to his defense. Undoubtedly, this will all intertwine with President-elect Elizabeth Keane (Marvel) who intends to hold an iron fist over Saul and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). Her son was killed in Afghanistan, and she apparently harbors resentment against the American military.

Final Verdict

Homeland Season 6 offers a lot of plot up front, which isn’t unusual for the series. The show exists as perhaps the most solidly written, exquisitely directed (particularly by the great Lesli Linka Glatter), and professionally acted television show on TV that almost bores me completely to tears. After the four seasons I’ve absorbed, I’ve lost all interest in Carrie Mathison and her persistent drama. Marvel’s addition should have brought some much-needed fire to the cast. The only problem is that she plays nearly the same character as Heather Dunbar from House of CardsHomeland Season 6 will undoubtedly offer excitement and thrills for those still invested in the series. It has none of the hallmarks of a flagging season. Still, I just can’t drag myself to watch another minute. Let me know how it ends, OK?

Homeland Season 6 premieres Sunday at 10pm ET. It is also streaming on Showtime’s on demand outlets.

Schitt's Creek Season 3

Catherine O’Hara and Dan Levy remain the stand-outs of Schitt’s Creek Season 3

Canadian import Schitt’s Creek never reached the heights it fully deserved. After two years on the Pop network (I’ll wait right here while you figure out what that is), the show has achieved minor cult status, but it deserves so much more. It does feel, at this point, that awards attention is sadly outside of its grasp. You watch the show thinking, if it only had a sexier streaming platform behind it, stars Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Dan Levy, and Annie Murphy would all reap Emmy attention. And even though the Schitt’s Creek Season 3 season premiere doesn’t match the brilliance of the Season 2 birth, the half-hour feel like a welcome return to cable’s looniest small town.

Up the Creek with confidence

The half-hour flies by with the breezy confidence of a fine-tuned series. Season 2 gifted us with a family somewhat embracing and integrating into their fish-out-of-water surroundings. That shift felt like a refreshing turn. Season 3 runs with that theme as each Rose family member deepens their connections. It opens with an amusing sequence in which Dan Levy’s David becomes interrupted post-coitus by all family members. Giving David a local love interest (no matter how bisexual his lover is) is an important part of the series. He’s no longer just the comically effete son. He gets to play too.

The great Catherine O’Hara’s Moira launches into her career in local politics with all the theatricality we’d expect. Moira wears elaborate costumes. She launches into political monologues. She puts on a show for the yokels This subplot is something I desperately need them to continue, and Moira exploring the theatricality of politics feels like something we need right now. Eugene Levy’s Johnny and Annie Murphy’s Alexis remain consistently funny, even if their character growth feels slightly stunted. Still, this fantastic foursome’s interactions are the stuff of which dreams are made.

Final Verdict

Schitt’s Creek Season 3 does lack the inspired hilarity of the Season 2 opener. Nothing here matches the sight of Season 2’s David going full Cries and Whispers in a cornfield. But the cast sells the material with the panache of seasoned pros. Schitt’s Creek is one of my very favorite comedies on television, and, even if I’m not breathless with laughter, it’s still great to be back in the company of the Rose family. Just wish the Television Academy felt that way.

Unfortunate Events Netflix

Megan looks at the Unfortunate Events Netflix reboot starring Neil Patrick Harris

In 2004, Jim Carrey starred in the film A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the children’s novel by the same name written by Daniel Handler (under the pen name Lemony Snicket, of course). Now, 12 years later, Netflix is rebooting the film as a television series, with all eight episodes dropping Friday, January 13.

This time around, Neil Patrick Harris is playing Count Olaf, a role originally made famous by Carrey. And while Carrey brought a bit of zaniness to the character, similar to the way he portrayed The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge, Harris brings a bit more darkness to him. He’s intimidating and scary. But if you’re going to do a TV series based on Unfortunate Events, Harris is the perfect man for the job.

The title isn’t kidding. The unfortunate events that take place are pretty dire, opening with the three Baudelaire children learning from Arthur Poe (K. Todd Freeman) that their parents have died in a fire. The children’s next of kin and “closest” relative (literally within a three-mile radius) is Count Olaf, who soon becomes the children’s guardian, something the actor extraordinaire finagled on his own in order to secure money from the children’s wills.

Unfortunate Events Netflix
(Photo: Joe Lederer/Netflix)

There are some seriously dark jokes in this series, that almost make you wince. Like when Count Olaf says of the Baudelaire children’s mother: “Remarkable woman. Flammable.” But that’s what makes this kids show unique, that it’s addressing truly devastating issues with a macabre sense of humor. (After all, these future Tim Burton fans have to start somewhere, right?)

The way this series is filmed is more Pushing Daisies, less Edward Scissorhands, which makes sense considering that Barry Sonnenfield is the executive producer (and he also was E.P. of the ABC cult classic that aired form 2007 to 2009).

The cast includes Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire, Louis Hynes as Klaus Baudelaire, and Joan Cusack as Justice Strauss, plus some surprise appearances that shouldn’t be ruined (especially at the end of the first episode).

One casting mishap, though, is Patrick Warburton as narrator Lemony Snicket. In the film series, Jude Law embodied this role, with his British accent and flowery delivery. Warburton, who most television audiences may know as David Puddy from Seinfeld, feels out of place. While he does a fine job narrating, he almost seems like he’s in a Farmers Insurance commercial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Taboo

Tom Hardy stars in FX’s newest prestige supernatural drama Taboo

My fellow AwardsDaily TV critic Joey Moser took one look at FX’s new supernatural drama Taboo and said, “I feel like I’m not going to like Taboo because I’m going to want everyone to shave.” There’s certainly something to that. The pilot, directed by Kristoffer Nyholm (The Enfield Haunting) and written by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), certainly wallows in period grime and decay. It’s the kind of series where unkempt men in dark cloaks and tall hats stomp about with threatening import. Star Tom Hardy seems to be working on his FitBit steps during the pilot. Violently stomping around appears all he intends to do.

But his James Delaney is a man on a mission. Once presumed dead, Delaney returns from Africa to attend the funeral and subsequent estate matters of his father. He inherits a plot of American land which is critical in the war between American and Great Britain. Sir Stuart Strange (Johnathan Pryce, Game of Thrones) represents the East India Company. He intends to purchase the land and perhaps had a hand in Delaney’s father’s death. On a side note, Delaney seems to have some supernatural dealings of his own and perhaps returned from or cheated death.

Taboo looks fantastic and expensive. It adopts the look and feel of all Very Important Series in the pervasive Golden Age of Television. Having only seen the pilot, however, I can’t swear to you that there’s anything of substance within the series. I do like the combination of historic drama with the threat of the supernatural, and I was also intrigued when Delaney professed love to his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) while attending their father’s funeral. Color me corrupted by Game of Thrones I suppose. But Taboo feels like it could go either way based on just the pilot. The performances from the talented British cast deliver the material in an efficient and effective manner. The production values, as mentioned, all shine.

Final Verdict

This nagging voice in the back of my head tells me that, in about three episodes, this may drop to the bottom of my DVR list. For now, I like what it’s giving me, and I’ll come back for seconds. Don’t blame me, though, if Taboo becomes a supernatural bore in the end.

FX’s Taboo starts tonight at 10pm ET. 

Bright Lights

Bright Lights is a stirring tribute to one of Hollywood’s great mother/daughter love affairs

The grieving process is different for everyone. That’s also true when it comes to mourning the death of a celebrity we’ve come to know and love. I admit that it took me a few days to get through HBO’s Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  The unintentional delay materialized mainly because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. HBO originally scheduled the documentary for early March, but the programmer clearly wanted to use this glimpse into their lives to help us achieve closure with the two icons.

The relationship between Fisher and Reynolds received heavy publicity for years. This familial saga featured hilariously in Fisher’s book (and eventual stage version), Wishful Drinking, but Bright Lights takes us into their homes as they prepare for several events. They talk to us about their legacy and how they got started in show business, and they constantly talk about each other. It’s sort of like a sanitized version of Grey Gardens with a respectable Hollywood gloss. The timeline bounces around as if we were looking at different photo albums on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Even though it mainly focuses on the relationship that Fisher and Reynolds shared in their final years, the doc doesn’t shy away from the events that got them there. Carrie (as always) is very open about her introduction to drugs. Brother Todd Fisher details that they started smoking pot together, but she moved on to harder stuff. “I went too fast. I was too much,” Fisher says as video of her younger self plays.

Bright Lights is, ultimately, a tough watch. Christmas trees loom in the background of certain moments, reminding us of the yuletide time of year when both women lost their lives. There are many mentions of death and letting go. Towards the end, the documentary features a shot of Reynolds blowing a kiss to the camera as the sound in the back fades to almost silence. It’s eerie and sad and heartbreaking. As a whole, Bright Lights manages to pay homage to both of its subjects. It doesn’t hide painful memories or complicated moments. It revels in these two women. They are two halves of each other that are now at peace.

Divorce

Divorce wraps up its freshman season finale tonight and Joey has the season review

The bleak and tangled ending of HBO’s Divorce is oddly satisfying. Even though divorces are messy and complicated, the comedy has kept the edges relatively light throughout its freshman outing. Thanks to its skilled cast and layered tone, Divorce finds its stride and delivers a strong finale to its first season.

In the back end of the episodes, Frances and Robert become more comfortable navigating away from each other. He becomes more ambitious with his business venture, and she finally opens her gallery. She’s been so busy with lawyers and proceedings that the opening comes a bit out of nowhere, but that’s a minor quibble. They begin to settle into a routine, and it allows both characters to loosen up a bit. Divorce began with everyone so bottled up and emotional, but these last few weeks have been better since everyone can breathe in their scenes.

When Divorce initially premiered, it felt like people didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve personally mentioned the mixed tone every time I’ve talked about the show, but it’s actually one of the best things about the series. It slides in and out of comedy and drama, but it never feels broad or not grounded. The chemistry between Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church feels dulled from time spent with one another. Parker can have chemistry with almost anyone, but hers with Church aches and is never absent. Look at Parker any time Church leaves her in a scene. You can see the history of their relationship on her face.

The other actors explore juicier topics and contribute more than just providing commentary on the leads’ lives. Molly Shannon and Tracy Letts get to be lighter in a few scenes as they rekindle the heat in their marriage, and Talia Balsam has a fling with Robert’s lawyer. I want more of her Dallas. Hear that, Sharon Horgan? Give me more Talia Balsam!

Divorce has never been a bad show, but it might have just had the wrong starting off point. I’ve personally always thought the show was enjoyable, and detailing the marriage between Frances and Robert earlier might have led to the show being slow paced and boring. It succeeds because we know who some of these people are, or maybe we are them. Life feels messy and complicated. Comedies shouldn’t be penalized for trying to showcase that.

Hairspray Live

Joey Moser looks at NBC’s latest live musical Hairspray Live! and its Emmy potential

Hairspray Live! is just the type of musical we need right now. It’s bright, colorful, and fun. If you can’t get up and dance to the finale anthem, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” then you’re truly dead inside. NBC stepped up the production value for their latest musical theater outing, and there were some truly entertaining moments.

The musical adaptation (you know, the second movie version) of the John Waters’ cult comedy came out less than 10 years ago, so when it was originally announced as the latest outing, I was curious. It was obviously chosen because it boasts a large, diverse cast with a winning and rambunctious score, but I’m not sure any of the executives could have predicted how vital a show like Hairspray really is at the moment. With Donald Trump’s inauguration looming, we all need something to smile and dance to. A message of inclusion and acceptance definitely doesn’t hurt either.

In case you missed the original…or the stage musical…or the movie version of the stage musical, Hairspray Live! follows plump Tracy Turnblad as she gains popularity on a dance show in 1960’s Baltimore. What starts as a dream to become famous turns into an opportunity to create social change and end segregation and bigotry. Tracy is a dream role for any young actress, and the show has a tendency to cast an unknown in the role. This time around, they selected Maddie Baillio, and she’s a charming discovery.

You can almost imagine the NBC executives watching the mega-successful (and Emmy-winning) production of Grease Live! on FOX and thinking they need to step up their game. The sets are massive and the costumes are top-notch. They could easily find themselves in the awards conversation when Emmy season kicks back into high gear. There are golf carts on hand to zoom the cast members from set to set all the while Glee star Darren Criss comments at the commercial breaks. Commentary during the breaks is unnecessary by the way. Buck this trend, I beg you.

When the Broadway veterans are on stage, they take control of every scene. Harvey Fierstein, reprising his role as the gravelly voiced, curvaceous matron Edna, is a joy to watch, and there is a shot of him riding on a hot dog cart in “Welcome to the 60’s” that made me howl with gleeful laughter. Kristin Chenoweth, as the racist Velma Von Tussle, is the performance we don’t deserve. She belts those high notes with such an assured force that would make any skeptical audience member stand up and cheer. Jennifer Hudson, as expected, blows the roof off of the entire downtown Baltimore strip. Shout out to the directors for making sure “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” remained in this version.

Is it perfect? Not entirely. The staging feels less assured than the performances with the camera continually moving back and forth out of the performers’ way. Garrett Clayton is also woefully miscast as Tracy’s love interest, Link Larkin. Note to the casual viewer: don’t watch crime saga King Cobra, with Clayton as gay porn star Brent Corrigan, before tuning into this feel good musical spectacular—every seductive teenage look will take an entirely different feeling. Sorry, bud. You make Zac Efron look like Brando.

But, hey, who am I to judge something so feel good and eager to reassure you that change is possible? The production succeeds because its heart is in the right place. It’s breezy material performed with exhuberance.

Does the production have a shot during awards season? It could follow in Grease Live!’s footsteps considering the sheer size of the show. The period nature of the musical doesn’t hurt either. Grease Live! had the advantage of coming out after the holidays (it debuted in late January), and its ratings definitely had the industry talking for months.

Guaranteed Nominations
Costume Design
Production Design

Possible Nominations
Special Class Program/TV Movie
Direction
Harvey Fierstein, Limited Series/Movie Supporting Actor
Kristin Chenoweth, Limited Series/Movie Supporting Actress

gilmore girls revival

The Weakest Scene in the Gilmore Girls Revival Touches on Key Difference Between Lorelai & Rory

Like the original series as a whole, the Netflix Gilmore Girls revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, mostly succeeds in everything it does, like some sort of prep-school upstart.

The idea that Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Luke (Scott Patterson) never get married, but stay in a committed relationship following the series finale, feels like the next logical steps that relationship would take, especially considering all the drama the duo endured. Kirk (Sean Gunn) trying to capitalize on the success of Uber with his own ride-service business around Stars Hollow also feels like a natural, modern-day progression. Hell, even Michel (Yanic Truesdale) being in a same-sex marriage and dreading parenthood was a welcome and logical plot development (like many Stars Hollow residents, my bet was always on Taylor Doose as the first to come out!).

But the weakest scene in an otherwise entertaining and satisfying reboot comes in “Fall,” the final 90-minute installment. Rory (Alexis Bledel) discovers little messages leading her to believe something is coming (Petals the Pig runs by with a sign that says “Kick Up a Rumpus”). Who wants to kick it up with her? Why it’s The Life & Death Brigade, Logan Huntzberger’s group of buddies from Yale, who somehow travel all the way to Stars Hollow to cheer up an estranged classmate.

This scene rang surreal, almost like one of Lorelai’s weird Paul Anka-not-the-dog dreams. Gilmore Girls has never had a musical montage (this one is set to “With a Little Help From My Friends” from Across the Universe). How does the Life & Death gang know where everything is in Stars Hollow? How are they able to leave clues somewhere they’ve never been? Maybe GG creator Amy Sherman-Palladino wanted to up the grandness a notch since it’s a 90-minute Netflix finale, but the logistics of this musical number didn’t quite work, even if the montage was beautiful. I’m just not quite up for the suspension of disbelief that these dudes wouldn’t have something better to do that day.

But even though this scene was unnecessarily grand, it also highlights a huge difference between Rory and Lorelai. For most of the series, these two have been compared to each other, and even in the final scene, we can all agree that history repeats itself in a way. But one thing Rory has been attracted to that Lorelai hasn’t is money, and this scene perfectly encapsulates that notion.

Again, how are Colin, Finn, and Robert able to leave their lives for a day to escape to small-town America? Because they are all affluent, throwing around money and even purchasing a bar on a whim by the end of the night. Rory, unlike her mother, has always been a sucker for wealth, like her grandmother and grandfather. It impresses her.

And in a way, the scene is filmed with the intent to impress audiences with its beauty and carefree whimsy, which is why it’s almost disturbing to watch. The Life & Death Brigade represents everything that Stars Hollow isn’t: Wealthy, cosmopolitan, and ill-intentioned. During Rory’s graduating speech in Season 3, she mentions living in two worlds: one of books and one of reality. For the second half of the series, the true clash became the world of wealth versus the one Lorelai helped raise Rory in. This reboot scene, a blemish in the Netflix revival, is actually a perfect demonstration of that.

I whole-heartedly enjoyed the Gilmore Girls revival and am interested to see if the series will continue in some capacity. Even though the final four words opened a door to the past, Rory is certainly not Lorelai, which could make for fresh storylines and struggle. And we’ll see if she’ll get a little help from her friends then.

TBS Search Party

In the most recent Water Cooler Podcast, I remarked that one of the things I’m most thankful for this year is TBS, for finally stepping up its programming game (remember Ground Floor? If you don’t, consider yourself lucky).

Angie Tribeca kicked off the year with a marathon stunt that worked, and soon TBS brought us summer guilty pleasures like Wrecked and thoughtful political discussions with Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

tbs search partyTBS’s latest series, Search Party, may be the creme de la creme of network potential. It stars Alia Shawkat, who hipster audiences may know as Maeby Funke from Arrested Development (and of course, if they’re truly hipsters, they loved AD before general audiences discovered it). Shawkat plays Brooklynite Dory, who in the opening scene, discovers a missing-persons flier featuring her college classmate Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty). When Dory tells her friends about her discovery, they are glib, making fun of the former classmate before tweeting about the story for attention.

This is where Search Party especially excels. What could be a witless satire of Millennials ends up being savvy commentary on this younger generation. The vapid and beautiful Portia (Meredith Hagner) claims Chantal was insanely jealous of her in college, and whether or not this was true, her “me! me! me” plea induces eye rolls. But when she pays a lunch visit to her mother (Christine Ebersole), we discover why she’s always clamoring for attention. Her mother dismisses her daughter’s recent success in acting before forcing a work colleague to attend lunch with them so they’ll have something to talk about. Ouch.

Dory’s friend Elliott, played by John Early, is not as developed over the course of the first two episodes, but is hilarious nonetheless, with fresh comedic delivery (“I heard about a party I’m throwing tonight”). Dory’s boyfriend Drew, played by John Reynolds, looks like the evil love interest in every ’80s movie, which is in stark contrast to his actual demeanor as Mr. Too Nice Guy. When he suspects Dory is cheating on him with her ex Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall), he texts him a nonthreatening message to get together, maybe at a restaurant if he’s hungry. It’s a clear lampoon of this softy social-media generation, while flipping the switch on character stereotypes. For as much as you hate Drew, you can’t help but like him a little bit, too.

With Search Party, TBS has officially transformed from the network of Must See TV reruns to a standalone venue for must-see programming. Don’t be surprised if Search Party gets Critics’ Choice nominations before it lands any bigger awards attention. Although that’s just the way Dory’s friends would prefer it. Once everyone else discovers it, it’s over.

Affair Season 3

The Affair Season 3 kicks off with a Noah-focused episode three years after the shocking Season 2 finale.

Showtime’s relationship drama The Affair returns tonight for its third season. Famous for dedicating episodes to dual perspectives on the same material, the premiere focuses instead on Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and his latest tribulations. Noah’s shocking proclamation of guilt at the end of Season 2 resulted in a 3-year stint behind bars. It’s a cliche to say that the experience changed him, but the outside world seems to have changed far more. The Affair Season 3 premiere settles on reintroducing Noah and the audience to this vastly altered world, and, in some ways, The Affair feels like a completely different show.

The Affair Season 3 premiere opens at the funeral of Noah’s father. There, Noah botches his eulogy by distractedly admitting to the distance between the two men. Later, a casual funeral-goer caustically informs Noah that his prison stint caused his father’s death. Perhaps connecting the dots, Noah tries to reconnect with his children, particularly Martin who takes a hardline stance on his father’s incarceration. He also tries to pacify his sister’s family after receiving his father’s house in the inheritance. None of it works. Everyone carries some degree of grudge against Noah.

Underscoring this familial drama is the presence of a mysterious man in a baseball cap. The hidden figure lingers just out of reach in nearly every scene, exponentially escalating Noah’s anxiety. We later discover that the man (Brendan Fraser) appears to be a prison guard, but the connection between the two isn’t immediately drawn. Closing events in the episode potentially indicate that their relationship was not a good one.

Affair Season 3
(Photo: Phil Caruso/SHOWTIME)

As different at The Affair Season 3 premiere felt, you do fall back into the Solloway world fairly quickly. Credit the clear and engaging writing of writer/producer Sarah Treem. The series already demonstrated an ability to grow and evolve over its short run, so there’s little surprise that Season 3 feels even more different than those before it. Distancing itself from the obsessed-upon multiple perspectives seems like a wise choice as we orient ourselves to the apparent theme of Season 3 – the rehabilitation of Noah Solloway. However, moments exist – particularly its unexpectedly bloody close – that feel completely removed from the soul of the show.

The introduction of Noah’s colleague Juliette Le Gall (Irene Jacob) as a potential love interest also initially feels like a step in an awkward direction. Perhaps that’s due to the unresolved questions around his marriage to Allison. Perhaps that’s due to my personal disdain for academia. There is one scene in particular where academics discuss “courtly love” at a dinner party that felt like bamboo shoots up my fingernails. Is this satire? Is this heartfelt? I’m not quite sure.

Still, I will always trust the creative team behind the series. Noah Solloway never emerged as one of my favorite characters, so the team faces an uphill battle with me. I wanted more time with Helen (Maura Tierney). I wanted Alison’s (Ruth Wilson) perspective. All of these things will come obviously, so maybe I’m being impatient. A premiere focused on the martyr Noah Solloway wasn’t something I particularly needed, but I’m ultimately glad to return to the show’s world. Just don’t leave me stranded on Noah’s island too long please. It’s a sleazy place to be.

The Affair Season 3 premieres tonight at 10pm ET on Showtime.

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