Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Looking at sophomore shows in 2016

Most Improved:

Schitt's Creek (Pop TV)
My freshman year assessment: A decent and somewhat broad show with a few problematic characters but has its moments.
Choice Quote:
"An effeminate brat who’s likely gay but is restricted to asexuality at the moment (possibly because sex would get in the way of his daily sulking rituals), Dave is the weakest character on the show in that we know only what he doesn’t like (being around his sister, the town, daylight) and not what drives him. He would be more at home in the bratty teen comedies of the late 90s than he would in Doc Hollywood."

Sophomore year:
This year, I saw Schitt's Creek in a whole night. The three members of the Rose family not named Johnny are still all bratty and entitled but giving the kids jobs enabled their rough edges to be sanded off every so slightly while Moira went in the opposite direction. She became more overtly aloof which drew more out-loud laughter from me. The TV landscape is shifting more towards soft-laugh   dramedy and Moira's absurdist demeanor keeps "Schitt's Creek" out of that trap. It's partially my comfort with the show and partially a concerted effort for the show to deepen its bench that I started to really appreciate the entire populance of the town. In season one, the taming of the  David  through the power of Stevie's sarcasm was just about the only memorable character interaction the show had. In Season 2, I enjoyed the sweetness of David-Stevie's evolution but I also found myself suddenly becoming enamored with Twyla's tangential  blabbing, Jocelyn's eternal reservoir of patience and  Bob's creepy intrusions into  Johnny's space.

Another Period (Comedy Central)
My freshman year assessment: The period angles are generally pretty clever, jokes are too dense and haphazard to really get a solid tone going, there are two solid characters, but the protagonists in the middle are too mean-spirited and awful to really enjoy their company.

Choice Quote:
"The main drawing point of the show (and what keeps it watchable) is that it's a fun period piece and it's very rare to see "fun" and "period piece" in the same sentence of a synopsis....The show is too sloppy to be taken as much of a satire and its characters are too cruel to be taken sympathetically or even seriously. The bloated ensemble also leads to episodes that are overly crammed for the thirty-minute running time. Despite these flaws, the show is still watchable and worthy of a laugh here and there."

Sophomore Year: This show  is easily one of my favorite things on TV
A general evening out of karma certainly helped here. The girls were exiled then upstaged by Harriet Tubman and Hortense, the servants had a semi-successful strike, and even Blanche got a good 6 or 7 minutes of maternity leave. Of course it's just a silly comedy, but it's preferable to see characters get their due than to watch the same well-meaning people get beaten up. This is especially true of TV because of the week-to-week repetition.  The oscillating balance of power between Dido and Chair (I'm Team Chair for the record) for control of the house, the possibility that the Commodore might lose his fortune, and the secret reveal of the Commodore's secret brother all moved the show closer to the source material it was meant to parody in "Downtown Abbey." Like "Schitt's Creek," my love for this show also had to do with my greater familiarity with the character beats over time which made the multi-layered character jokes hit that much harder.

Slight Improvement:

Real O'Neals (ABC)
My freshman assessment: I found this show to be passable but hampered by some over-dramatic tendencies by the protagonist. This extends on a meta-level as the show thinking it's more socially significant than it is: Divorces, gay teenage children, and whatever was inflicting the two other children (which were clearly gimmicks) are not really taboo in 2015 or 2016.
Choice Quote: I've never written about this show before.

Sophomore Year: The first season can best be seen as overly prolonged exposition with many of the plots revolving around the O'Neal family restating their problems as if they were wearing character-defining name tags. With the new season, the O'Neals are moving past realization to dealing with life under these new identities. Eileen, for example, is now dating a guy but her baggage lingers as subtext so the establishing premise of the show is existent at a less blaring level. Additionally, Kenny gets served up enough doses of humility to keep him from coming off as too egotistical. At the same time, the show's level of humor isn't as solid as it could be and the show could use a little more definition for Kenny's older brother (younger sister Shannon has been relegated to comic relief which I'm fine with).

Fresh off the Boat (ABC)
My Freshman Year Assessment: Ranked in my top 10 last year.
Choice Quote: "The show is simultaneously a throwback to TGIF family-style sitcoms of the '90s with a modern edginess to it in the vein of "Everybody Hates Chris" or "Malcolm in the Middle." More than those two shows, however, the show approaches 90's sitcoms with an ironic self-consciousness without omitting that genuine sweetness that those sitcoms were known for. More often than not, 11-year-old protagonist Eddie Huang learns a lesson in a round about way."

Sophomore Year (technically, we are in the top half of the 3rd season): The show started out being anchored by an amiable protagonist (Hudson Yang as Eddie), a breakout character in his mother Jessica (Constance Wu), a scene stealer in Grandma Haung (Lucille Soong) and an occasional choice moment by one of Eddie's younger brothers. Perhaps, it was a plus that Eddie's brothers weren't particularly well-developed in the opening season (I often joked that they were interchangeable). It gave room to flesh them out so much more in the second and third seasons. Similarly, Louis Huang has been developed although he sometimes is pushed into cliched aloof dad territory, he's often a solid foil for Eddie and Jessica and his own subplots can often be the strongest of the show. For the most part, the show continues to impress through strongly written plots that find ways to evoke sentiment and twists even with fairly standard set-ups.

For a show that prides itself on being so thoroughly engrossed in the past, it helps that they are slowly moving through the 90s at the same rate the show moves through the 2010s. We had the Bob Dole-Clinton election, Biggie Smalls death, and Shaq's Orlando move. Viva 1996!

Also in this category: Documentary Now (IFC)

Relatively Even:

Casual (Hulu)
My Freshman Year Assessment: I ranked it 10th on my year-end ranking for being one of the few character-based dramedies that is able to be both meaningful and entertaining (looking at you "Togetherness" and "Louie").
Choice Quote:
"Shows centering around flawed people dating are generally problematic because
it's hard to empathize with the trials and tribulations of good-looking actors with active sex lives. Few shows have highlighted the emptiness of sex like this show....Jason Reitman directed the first two episodes of this show and his penchant for combining a light comedic (or as they say "dramedic") tone and truthful character work is in full form here. With Tara Lynn Barr's character pushing the envelope of the bratty teenage daughter trope; Eliza Coupe as a manic pixie sexual nightmare, and one of the most meaningful sibling relationships on TV, there's a lot of great character work being done here."

My Second Season Assessment: Pro: More entertaining, Con: Lost steam towards the end
Shows automatically lose their novelty element in the second season which gets more problematic when novelty is why I liked the show in the first place. "Casual" took a brave approach by having a dramedy template but trying to entertain the audience entirely without jokes (my apologies to the show's marketing department, but who do you think you're kidding calling this funny?) and during the second season it appeared to work even better. I was thoroughly invested by the characters largely lateral movements in life. This would be in the improved column, but the show ran out of steam after around ten episodes when Alex got the girl and the last three episodes were an awkward mix of denouement and half-hearted plot recycling (Judd Apatow films are often said to experience the same problem).

Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
My Freshman Year Assessment: I found the show refreshingly novel in its coverage of the elderly. The closest examples ("Hot in Cleveland" and "The Golden Girls") treat their characters like punchlines next to the nuance shown here.
Choice Quote:
"Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin can act circles around all the young guns on TV so their arrival to serialized TV this year was a welcome surprise. The show is one of the few examples that shows about older people don't have to be tailor made for the AARP crowd. The trials and tribulations of Grace and Frankie were transcendent for all generations."

My second season assessment: The novelty was gone so the show had to swim upstream, to an extent, to maintain my level of interest but when it succeeded, it gave me a renewed appreciation for what the show was trying to do.

The two central characters had a few dragging plotlines. Most notably, the tryst with Phil (Sam Elliott) would have been worth it if it went anywhere but it went out with a whimper. On the plus side, a professional dimension was added to Gracie and Frankie's trials and tribulations. The kids have largely been phased out (wisely so) with the juiciest dynamic on the show being Brianna and Frankie. The tension resulting from personality differences between Robert and Saul finally erupted and the resulting scenes finally earned Robert and Saul the screen time they've been clamoring for.

Also in this category: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) (2nd season assessment here), Blind Spot (NBC),The Awesomes (Hulu)

Gone Downhill

Last Man on Earth (Fox)
My Freshman Year Assessment: I ranked it 2nd on my year-end ranking 
Choice Quote: "The novelty of the premise allowed the show to switch gears with new cast additions and subtractions which leant itself to one of the most unpredictable rides on television backed by one hell of a comic performance in Will Forte as the ever-evolving post-apocalyptic schlub Phil Miller 1.0 ."

My Second Season (although technically this is the 3rd season) Assessment: Blah
I don't blame this show for taking some dive in quality. It was a very high premise show whose high aims resulted in a brilliant one and a half seasons. It was with that same sense of ambition that the show made some gambles that didn't result in a show I still wanted to see. The show's first season was mainly Phil Tandy verse his worst instincts whereas the second season flipped the script to show the shortcomings of the group in not yet accepting a reformed Tandy before escalating into a situation where the other Phil became the group's number one villain. Unfortunately, the show couldn't sustain the tension when it substituted the militaristic grit of other Phil with the playful sibling rivalry of Jason Sudeikis. I like Sudeikis as much as any casual SNL fan but does he merit this much good will? The show needs a palpable sense of danger and "Last Man on Earth"'s unofficial rule of seven is starting to make things predictable.

Also in this category: Narcos (Netflix), Daredevil (Netflix)


Friday, November 18, 2016

Capsule Reviews: Braindead, Night Manager, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Braindead (CBS)-"Braindead" has a strong enough premise has enough thunder out of the gate to get you past the slow expositional burn of the first few episodes that typically sees viewers drop out when their attention spans are tested the most. After that, the show fails to maintain a sense of escalating tension. Still it's watchable enough that I made it to the end with a sense of relative satisfaction.
The premise is that aliens, in the form of ants, have invaded the brains of several power players on Capitol Hill with an as-yet-to-be-determined agenda that is up for the protagonist. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Laurel, the sister of a senator who is forced to resign to a Capitol Hill job after failing to make it as a documentarian. As such, she brings a jaded sense of been-there-done-that to her jobs that turns out to be one of the series' best features: As opposed to the usual intensity of policy wonks we see on TV, Laurel brings a sense of irony and detachment.
Laurel is given a love interest in the form of a senatorial aide from across the aisle (Les Miserables' Aaron Tveit) that does a decent job of padding the running time along (markedly better than Laurel's daddy issues). Her chemistry with brother Danny Pino also works pretty well.
I started this review by saying the show isn't lovable but would have trouble pinpointing specifically where the show fails. The political commentary is decent but not particularly engaging. The pace at which Laurel discovers the truth is a bit slow to hold our attention. Characters such as Gustav add a lot to the plot but others (like the woman Gustav is hitting on) are somewhat and forgettable and Tony Shaloub's villainous senator is amicable but not worth the hype.
The Night Manager (AMC)- A continental spy thriller that has the advantage of not being particularly convoluted in plot and having a sleak look. The exterior shots remind me visually of of Michel Hazanvicius's "OSS 117," "The Brothers Bloom" or "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." It's a spy thriller that feels much more like real espionage than even the more realistic James Bond films. The six-episode series contains its fair share of heart-pumping action but is also filled with a lot of bureaucracy and characters who sit and wait until the right moment. 
Tom Hiddleston (not to be confused with Tom Holland, Tom Hollander, or Tom Hardy) plays a concierge who is seduced by a mysterious woman one night who then gets maimed. She turns out to be a flash in a pan en route to a much larger story involving his recruitment to full-on spyhood with Olivia Coleman as his handler and David "I'm in literally every procedural on TV" Harewood as Coleman's American counterpart. Reminiscent of "Argo," there's a lot of split-screen action between Hiddleston's actions on the ground and the political and bureaucratic hoops the handlers have to jump through to give him any means of support when he gets there.

As far as I can remember, there's little detail as to why this hotel manager is so insanely good at every facet of espionage other than that he used to be in the army. He's just really good and that's pretty much all you need to know.

Hugh Laurie plays a Bond-like villain named Richard Roper who was on TV for nearly a decade as Roger Ebert's TV partner. Lines like "Richard Roeper is the worst, most ruthless, soulless man in the world. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants" sounds like the screenwriter has a vendetta against the guy for giving his last project a thumbs down (ed. note: I have recently learned that the book was written in 1993). 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 (Netflix)-The first season of this unusually quirky (in relation to Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's past work) show was defined by Kimmy's arc from impulsively freeing herself from her past to formally resolved. In contrast, the second season went out of its way to avoid any such grand movements in Kimmy's development. The Dong storyline -- a wonderfully racially unbiased romance -- zigged enough for one episode's filler (Dong can't see Kimmy), zagged back (Dong now can and will stop at nothing to see Kimmy) enough to fill another episode and resolved with a nice little bow. Consumation? check. Dong's put on a bus to his come country? 
Kimmy's main development this season was dealing with her inner demons through therapy. When a PTSD-related story arc is resolved through the victim resolving to ride the roller coasters, it's hard to take it as a serious treatment of the issue. 
At the same time, we have false expectations as viewers in TV's Golden Age (trademark) that all good TV must up the stakes every season and there's nothing inherently wrong with lateral development which is what can best be described here. The problem with "30 Rock" employing of such a strategy was that it kept going to the same well: Tracy's crazy, Jack's genuinely in love, Liz has one last chance for happiness before her ladyparts wither and it's with Matt Damon/James Marsden/Michael Sheen/whoever played the beeper guy. 
Fortunately, I have confidence that "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" can find new angles because it's about so much more than the typical workplace sitcom and gives room for the writers to find new beats and definitions of happiness for their characters.  
Elsewhere this season, there were a number of developments with the side characters. In particular, Titus found a boyfriend and it was a very refreshing portrayal of a homosexual relationship between two opposites. It was two guys awkwardly making their way through something they had never experienced before and had no road map for). 

If there's one beef to be had with the show, it's on the humor level which had a lot fewer home runs. Tina Fey and Co. are generally go-big-or-go-home with their jokes so that you might remember something funny from "30 Rock" years from now. The first season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" had the court trial, the dinner party and the GED quest which were brilliantly escalating comic plots that enveloped entire episodes. This season, we had a mentos gag which didn't dig as deep and Kimmy working as an elf which didn't lead to a single funny moment. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Reference List: Major Oscar Nominees of the 21st Century by Nationality

For this reference, I generally followed the John McCain/Ted Cruz rule of nationality where if you were born outside of your country to expat parents of a different nationality and moved back and grew up in the country (Lupita, Soisre Ronan, Roman Polanski) then your place of birth is not what I listed you as. I also split up the UK into its four member nations. The star connotes where the winner came from
Director: Mexico*, Ireland, Australia, USA X 2
Actor: USA X 3*, England, Germany
Actress: USA X 2*, England, Ireland, Australia
S. Actor: USA X 2, England X 2*, Wales
S. Actress: USA X 3, Sweden*, England
Director: Mexico*, USA X 3, Norway
Actor: USA X 3, England* X 2
Actress: USA* X 2, England X 2, France
Supporting Actor: USA X 5
Supporting Actress: USA* X 4, England
Directing: Mexico*, USA X 3, England
Actor: England, USA* X 3, Wales
Actress: USA X 3, Australia*, England
Supporting Actor: USA* X 3, Somalia, Germany
Supporting Actress: USA X 3, England, Kenya*
Directing: USA X 3, Taiwan*, Germany
Best Actor: USA X 3, England*, Australia
Best Actress: USA* X 3, England, France
Best Supporting Actor: USA X 4, Austria*
Best Supporting Actress: USA* X 4, Australia
Directing: USA X 4, France*
Best Actor: USA X 2, England, France*, Mexico
Best Actress: USA X 5
Best Supporting Actor: USA X 2, England, Canada*, Sweden
Best Supporting Actress: USA* X 3, England, Argentina
Directing: USA X 3, Australia, England*
Actor: USA X 3, England*, Spain
Actress: USA X 3, Israel*, Australia
Supporting Actor: USA X 3, Australia, Wales*
Supporting Actress: USA* X 3, Australia, England
Directing: USA X 5
Actor: USA* X 4, England
Actress: USA* X 3, England X 2
Supporting Actor: USA X 3, Canada, Austria*
Supporting Actress: USA* X 4, Spain
Directing: USA X 3, England* X 2
Actor: USA X 5
Actress: USA X 4, England*
Supporting Actor: USA X 4, Australia*
Supporting Actress: USA X 4, Spain*
Directing: USA X 5
Actor: USA X 4, England*
Actress: USA, France*, Australia, Canada, India
Supporting Actor: USA X 3, England, Spain*
Supporting Actress: USA X 2, England*, Ireland, Australia
Directing: USA* X 2, Mexico, England X2
Actor: USA* X 3, Ireland, Canada
Actress: England* X 3, USA, Spain
Supporting Actor: USA* X 4, Benin
Supporting Actress: USA* X 2, Mexico, Japan, Australia
Directing: USA X 4, Taiwan*
Actor: USA* X 3, Australia, England
Actress: England X 2, USA* X 2, South Africa
Supporting Actor: USA X 5
Supporting Actress: USA X 4, England*
Directing: USA* X 4, England
Actor: USA X 5
Actress: England X 2, USA* X 2, Colombia
Supporting Actor: USA* X4, England
Supporting Actress: USA X 2, Australia*, England, Israel
Director: USA X 3, Australia, New Zealand*
Actor: USA* X 3, England X 2
Actress: USA, England X2, South Africa*, New Zealand
Supporting Actor: USA* X 2, Japan, Mexico, Benin
Supporting Actress: USA* X 4, Iran
Director: USA X 2, England, Poland*, Spain
Actor: USA* x 3, England X 2
Actress: USA X 3, Mexico, Australia*
Supporting Actor: USA X 5
Supporting Actress: USA X 4, Wales*
Director: USA* X 3, England, New Zealand
Actor: USA* X 3, Australia, England
Actress: USA* X 3, Australia, England
Supporting Actor: USA X 3, England* X 2
Supporting Actress: USA* X 2, England X 3
Director: England X 2, USA*, Taiwan
Actor: USA X 2, Australia* X 2, Spain
Actress: USA* X 4, France
Supporting Actor: USA X 3, England, Mexico*
Supporting Actress: USA* X 3, England X 2