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. 

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