Sunday, February 26, 2017

MTVP So Cal Summer 2016: The LA Complex 1.05: "Home"

“The first step to fake recovery is admitting you have a fake problem.”

Let’s start this post off by addressing the elephant in the room. It’s not Summer 2016 anymore. Heck, it’s not even 2016 anymore! I am determined, however, to finish out our So Cal Summer series before we roll out what we have in store for you for Summer 2017. So enjoy some more recaps from sunny Southern California during this abnormally warm winter (thanks, climate change!). And now on with the actual post! In the penultimate first season episode of “The LA Complex,” many of the characters seem to reach rock bottom. Some seem to have new beginnings, although the prospect of those new beginnings working out long-term currently seems dubious. And somehow two women decide to have sex with Nick on one day. How does this happen?! I mean, Nick is kind of adorably doofy, but really? Two women in one day? Seems a little unrealistic to me. On a related note, Joe Dinicol, who played Nick, recently had a somewhat interesting run as Rory on “Arrow.” I was kind of disappointed it (presumably) ended as quickly as it did.

Early episode, Alicia shows up for her first day of work as Vivid. I feel like the creative team kind of went a little too far trying to counteract the “this is a porn studio” thing with “they’re a big, happy family that all eat lunch together in a cafeteria and have a chipper lady named Mandi in charge of spirit like a bunch of high schoolers.” Alicia was enthusiastic about the new job up to the point where it started to become real. She had bought herself a shiny new car and everything. When she is introduced to the person she’s supposed to be working with in her first video, she balks. It has all become too real, and she wants out of her contract. The director says she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to, but she wants to give Alicia a tour of the facility first. In the aforementioned cafeteria, the director hands Alicia off to Mandi, who takes Alicia to a storage closet filled with candy for some girl talk. Mandi offers to be Alicia’s first video partner, and Alicia eventually agrees to the idea. After the shoot, a famous director (or something like that) brings Mandi a birthday cake, and Alicia turns the connection into an audition for a music video.

Meanwhile, Tariq arranges for Abby to sing vocals on the track he’s been producing for Kal. Everyone is really impressed with Abby’s work, and at first it seems like the moment could be a real career breakthrough for her. Then Kal enters the scene, and things take a downward turn quickly. The guys tell Kal that Abby is Tariq’s girl, and Abby plays along with it. Kal can put the pieces together that Abby probably knows Tariq well enough to know Tariq is gay, and there’s a non-zero chance that Tariq has told her about their relationship. Kal decides that the right solution to this problem is to physically threaten Abby. Abbey gets really freaked out and leaves. This also leads to a confrontation between Tariq and Kal out in the parking lot, where Tariq screams asking if Kal loves him. Tariq ends up leaving, too.

Raquel is super psyched that Gary has agreed to back her movie, and she buys some champagne to share with the two doofy Luxe guys who wrote the movie. As you do in Hollywood, the three of them end up enjoying their champagne in the Luxe pool, and Gary catches them at it. I don’t think his brain immediately goes to Raquel duping him or anything, but he does think that Raquel has fallen off the wagon and is a danger to his sobriety. He rushes off, ending things with Raquel. Raquel, naturally, turns to drinking even more, and she may potentially have had the realization that she has hit rock bottom. She shows up at an AA meeting (one where Gary happens to be, naturally) and gives a big speech about how losing someone she loves is worse than losing the chance at a movie. She very carefully plans walking out and allowing Gary to catch up to her. By the end of the episode, they’re having sex and telling each other they love each other, and Raquel is texting the movie doofuses and telling them Gary is back in. It’s hard to get a read on Raquel’s motivation. Is she in it just for business, or does she have legitimate feelings for Gary? My guess is that it’s some of both.

Connor spends this episode an absolute mess. He’s been drinking too much, and he’s obnoxious to everyone at work. He’s still having a lot of trouble getting his lines right, and he keeps begging for another chance. Eventually, the production team forcibly takes him home. Only he doesn’t have the driver take him to his mansion. He goes to the Luxe and tries to get his old room back. Eddie says they’re all booked up though, and again suggests he go home. He runs into Abby, who is sympathetic to him at first, because she can see he’s not in a good place, but then he tries to put the moves on her and she kicks him out too. He ends up at a bar, where again he gets told to go “home,” but instead he ends up provoking a fight. Relief washes over his face when he realizes he’s bleeding. I guess he feels he finally got what he deserved?

Nick goes on quite the journey (that’s half-sarcasm) in this episode. Early in the episode, Abby tells him that she wants to “keep it casual,” and naturally, Nick spends much of the episode obsessing over what that could possibly mean. The thought continues to haunt him as he goes to an improv class. He’s not exactly a spontaneous person, so he bombs until another actor named Sabrina helps him along. Nick tries to kiss her in a scene, she slaps him, and everyone thinks it’s hilarious. Nick and Sabrina banter after class, and she invites him back to her place. He thinks he’s there to watch a comedy special she likes, she’s there to have sex. And have sex they do, with plenty of post-coital banter, mostly about how if Abby really wanted to keep it casual, she wouldn’t have said keep it casual. Nick returns home to find a very upset Abby (she’s had a bit of a day, after all), and when she makes the moves on him, he doesn’t say no. Which could be a problem considering her current emotional state. And that, friends, is how the unlikely event of Nick having sex with two different women in one day came to be.

Friday, February 24, 2017

No Tomorrow 1.12: “No Time Like the Present”

“I was wrong!”
- Xavier

We are in the home stretch, the penultimate episode of the season and things are getting kind of dire for everyone. More time has passed obviously and we are less than 4 months from the world ending and Xavier has gotten really pulled into his research. He’s trying to find a way to avert the asteroid because he’s realized he wants to have a future with Evie. he thinks he’s finally found something but it’s going to take some scientific help. Luckily, Evie may have a suggestion.

The head of Cyber Mart shows up and announces that he’s shutting down the branch and everyone is being shuffled around to different locations. I’m not sure that’s entirely legal without a union but it happens and our core four (I still think it’s weird that Deirdre has managed to end up with the other three as friends but maybe that’s just me) are being split up. Deirdre is literally being sent to Siberia which clearly puts a kink (and as Kareema would say not the fun kind) in her relationship with Hank. So Evie has the bright idea to go to the Tacoma location (where she’s being shipped to) and find a way to eliminate the three people in Hank, Deirdre and Kareema’s spots so there are openings for them to move to.

Evie devises a plan to get them into the Tacoma branch without revealing who they are (a quality assurance team). Once there, Evie sets her friends off to try and figure out what it is that their counterparts would rather be doing than working at Cyber Mart. I have to admit I did enjoy this part of the episode. It was kind of quirky and fun to see the team work together (even Kareema) to find a way to stay together. First up is Hank’s counterpart. Hank thinks he can bribe the guy with jerky but its’ really candle making that is his passion. Too bad the candle scent he’s come up with is horrible. But this gives Kareem and Evie an idea ot market the candles for weight loss. Their plan works and he goes off to make his gross candles in peace. Deirdre’s replacement is also pretty easy to get rid of. Despite Deirdre not understanding why her counterpart is so happy to help everyone, they realize that she just likes it and thanks to some connections in Hank’s family (he really is pretty integral to this whole thing) they get her a position working on a cruise ship. Kareema’s counterpart, however, is almost impossible to figure out. It seems she has no hobbies until they follow her to an underground magic show. They think that she’s into magic so Deirdre agrees to set he rup with David Copperfield (one of her nexes naturally) but the woman say she hates magic and thinks its lame. She’s only doing it because she wants to be with the guy who is her partner in the show (and her boss at work). So, romance is in the air and they head off into the sunset together. And our team is able to stay together at the new store! Kareema even gets a little emotional which is totally not in character for her. Helping people may not agree with her tear ducts but I suspect it agreed with her soul. She can be hard but really, she’s a softy on the inside!

With a little help from Jesse, Xavier manages to become the guy’s limo driver with the hopes of being able to share his theory so the guy (who is moving into space travel stuff) to help him find a way to stop the asteroid. At first the guy is totally not interested in even acknowledging that Xavier is a person. But as time goes on and Xavier picks up on the guy feeling like his success cost him the woman he loved. But Xavier does some digging and even reunites the couple. It’s enough to get the Cyber Mart guy to agree to set up a meeting with the head of NASA in Houston for Xavier.

Over at the blog, Timothy gets a new editor and he’s pretty hot for her right off the bat. She also wants to run the store on Xavier, even though his previous boss had promised it would never be published. He at least gets her to agree to have someone check Xavier’s science which leads to the scientist (with the name similar to Neil Degrasse Tyson) who had previously just tossed Xavier’s work without even looking at it. Timothy gets the letter back saying that the science was wrong and the asteroid isn’t hitting the Earth which gets passed to Xavier.

Xavier is clearly ecstatic that he was wrong because he can be with Evie but she’s already at the airport going to Iceland to see the Northern Lights like they’d planned. She kind of gave him an ultimatum: stick to freaking out about the science and burying himself in it or go to iceland with her and just enjoy the time. She had a point. I mean they’d been planning the trip and it was on both of their lists but he was so engrossed in his work that he wasn’t living his own mantra. I suppose when he finally realized he wanted to have a future with Evie, averting the apocalypse could be a bit all consuming. Unfortunately, even though Jesse agrees to drive Xavier to the airport, his devious cousin drugs him with horse tranquilizers and heads off somewhere else. And that’s not the worst of it! Timothy gets home to find the scientist and some government goons standing in his living room. The science was right and we are all doomed! Oh, and he can’t tell anyone! Poor Timothy. Just when things were looking up for him he gets slapped with a gag order. That’s not going to sit well with him. The final episode is going to be quite the doozy for our cast of characters!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

No Tomorrow 1.11: "No Woman No Cry"

“But for now, if you’ll excuse me, Jesse’s a free man again. So, we’re gonna go to the bottom of Lake Washington and fish for golf balls.”

I’m going to call this episode “Chekhov’s Love Triangle.” The creative team set us up with a Timothy/Evie/Xavier love triangle right from the beginning of the series, so I suppose they felt they had to pay it off, even if it doesn’t make a ton of sense given how the story has moved. It’s pretty clear that Timothy is Evie’s past and Xavier is her future (for however long the future lasts, since, asteroid and all). In fact, the idea of a future was a big theme in this episode. The shine has begun to wear off of Xavier’s “seize the day” personality for Evie. She wants to know, if the asteroid didn’t hit, what would Xavier want to do with his future. Unsurprisingly, he has a lot of trouble answering that question, since his believe that the end of neigh is so central to his ethos. The major relationship drama for all our main characters seems to be on its way to resolution with this episode, which was nice. Since there are only two episodes left after this one (the show hasn’t been renewed yet, which, given the CW has already renewed many of its other shows, makes renewal unlikely), it’s nice that (I hope) we’ll be able to focus more on the threat of the asteroid and Evie and Xavier’s love story from here on out.

The episode begins with a contrast of two morning’s in Evie’s life. The first is waking up with Timothy during her senior year in college. It appears to have been the first night they spent together, and they decide to make it “Facepage Official” when Timothy says he dreamed about the future and their kids. In the present day, Evie wakes up alone after having made out with Timothy the night before. Xavier is at her door, and when she invites him in, he tells her all about his adventures with his family. Evie says that she’s proud of him, but she also confesses to having made out with Timothy. Xavier doesn’t take this well, and he leaves right away. When he gets home, he finds a pot boiling on the stove and feet sticking out from under the covers. It’s his cousin Jesse, who has been released from prison. They talk about the Evie situation, and Xavier ends up telling Evie that he’s bowing out because he doesn’t want to be in love triangle. Instead, he and Jesse are going to continue to have Apocalist adventures like fishing for golf balls at the bottom of Lake Washington.

Meanwhile, Evie has to make brunch for her grandparents, who have come over to visit. Evie’s grandfather isn’t in a great mood, and her grandmother reveals that he failed a driving test recently. He used to work on Indy Car engines, so not being able to drive is a real loss of identity. Evie promises to harass the DMV until they let him redo his test. Repeated phone calls and sending chocolates doesn’t work, but baking a bunch of cupcakes with the word “please” written in icing on the top does. Unfortunately for Evie’s grandfather, he fails his redo with flying colors. He can’t even get out of the parking spot without hitting all four poles. The whole family is devastated, although if he’s that bad of a driver, it’s a good thing he’s off the road.

In B-team relationship news, Hank is still moping about the Deirdre situation. He went bunker shopping, and the place he’s looking at only has room for one other person. He wanted that person to be Deirdre, but obviously that’s not going to happen now. He’s stuck trying to choose between Timothy and Evie. He probably rightfully guesses that Evie would be way too peppy and Timothy would spend the whole time wondering about Evie. Kareema’s not much help, because she’s nervous about getting married. Evie’s super psyched (as you’d expect) to hear the news, though. Kareema and Sofia go to the Justice of the Peace, but Kareema backs out at the last minute. She still wants to marry Sofia, but she can’t imagine getting married without her brother there. She really wants to make things right with Rohan, but she only has a limited amount of time to do so before Sofia needs to leave the country. Meanwhile, Deirdre is still wedding planning in earnest. Pete offers to plan the whole thing for her, but then he actually pawns the job off on her assistant. Hank can’t help eavesdropping Pete telling the assistant to make arrangements Deirdre will hate, so he intervenes and starts giving the assistant advice on things Deirdre will like, even though it’s painful.

Timothy makes Evie a lovely octopus dinner (kind of weird, but it actually looked good), and they have a great time until Timothy gets called away to work. This is clearly meant as a red flag for their relationship. Meanwhile, the bro-ing out with Jesse isn’t going how Xavier planned it. Jesse gets back together with his pre-prison girlfriend, Amber, and that’s taking up most of his time. He does manage to convince Xavier that he’s being stupid for bowing out of the love triangle. He makes the point that Xavier had all those awesome globetrotting adventures, but he came home because something was still missing. That something was Evie. Timothy and Evie go to the piano bar where they had their first date, but the date is interrupted by Xavier playing on the piano. Xavier and Timothy get into a rather hilarious piano duel that results in all three of them being thrown out of the bar. Evie admonishes the boys to act like adults. She says that she and Xavier can go on a date tomorrow, and then Timothy will go with her to Deirdre’s wedding the next day. The boys agree.

While at a store helping Jesse find a suit for a job interview, Xavier runs into Pete, who confesses his life-long dream of going to Ireland to study step dancing with Michael Flatley, being his usual self, Xavier tells Pete to go for it, since life is short. When it comes to his date with Evie, Xavier has quite the day planned. They go flying in a sea plane since Xavier just got his license, and Evie even gets to take the controls for a little bit. At a bar afterwards, though, things go south. Evie asks Xavier to think hypothetically about the future, and he just can’t do it. He says it’s “too painful.” Evie says that while she’s not sure she has a future with Timothy, Xavier being unable to conceive of a future for himself is just as bad or worse.

Kareema decides to go old-school to solve her problem with Rohan. When they were kids, they would work out their disagreements via pillow fight, so why can’t that still work when they’re adults. She gets Rohan to come to the warehouse, and they have an epic pillow fight. Afterwards, Rohan will finally talk to Kareema. She explains that being in love scares her, but she’s never felt this way about someone before. Rohan says then she should go for it, and she and Sofia have his blessing. He can’t bring himself to attend the wedding, and he wants some space for a little while, but that’s enough for Kareema. In other news, Hank finally makes his bunker decision – it’s going to be Evie. Timothy’s not too upset about losing that honor. He’s too busy trying to make a deadline typing with just one good hand, since he injured the other hand in his fight with Xavier.

Timothy shows up at Evie’s place and basically says he’s bowing out now too, for now at least. He thinks their lives are out of synch right now, but he still believes in their future, and if the asteroid actually doesn’t come in the next six months, they should talk, because maybe then Evie will have some clarity. Evie ends up going to Deirdre’s wedding alone. The wedding doesn’t go off as planned, though. Right before the ceremony, Pete asks Deirdre if her heart is really in it. Because if it’s not, he’d rather spend the money he would have spent on a third divorce traveling to Ireland to study with the Lord of the Dance. A relieved Deirdre gives Pete his ring back, and Hank is a little too celebratory when he hears the wedding is off. Instead, Kareema and Sofia use all the trappings to get married. Mikhail is the officiant, which is quite possibly the best thing ever. Certainly the best thing this show has ever done. When Evie gets home, Xavier is waiting on her stoop. Thanks to Jesse calling him a coward, he’s finally ready to tell Evie what he wants from the future. He always saw himself with five kids living on a farm and making goat cheese. When he asks Evie what she wants, she takes him go-cart racing with her grandparents. The racing really cheers up her grandfather, and she gets to show Xavier the kind of relationship she wants. By the end of the episode, Xavier is looking for another astrophysicist to check his work again. This time, though, it’s not to prove it. It’s to disprove it. He actually wants a future now. Oh and Hank gives Deirdre his bunker key after all.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This Is Us 1.16: “Memphis”

“I haven’t had a happy life. Bad breaks, bad choices. A life of almosts and could haves. Some would call it sad but I don’t, because the two best things in my life were the person at the very beginning and the person at the very end and that’s a pretty good thing to be able to say, I think.”
- William

Okay, I knew in a way that this episode’s conclusion as coming but I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d lose William before we officially lost Jack. I’m not sure why I felt that way but I did. I guess given where we left Randall at the end of episode 15, I didn’t want him to have to go through that again. But, Randall (and we) have to come to terms with the loss of another father figure.

Randall was hospitalized for a week and Beth is not happy that he wants to go off on a road trip with William to Memphis. But the doctor greenlights it and Randall and William are excited. Knowing Randall, he’s got things planned (sure he won’t use modern navigation but he’s bought a bunch of maps). William promptly tosses the maps out the window and instructs his son to just drive. They’ll get there. After Randall puts off seeing some ducks that William wanted to see (they apparently hung out at a hotel where his uncle used to be a bell hop), they do take a detour to see where some of Jack’s ashes are buried. I found it so touching that William was able to in a way bond with Jack. He pays his respects, especially after Randall reveals that Jack was always the one who could calm him down (cue a quick flash of Jack putting his hands on little Randall’s face and reminding him to breathe) and he has a laugh that always surprised him.

Once the guys finally make it to Memphis, we see where William came from and what led him to be where he was when Randall was born. We see his father going off to war and then his mother getting the news that he’d died. We see a young William seeing his mother off to Pittsburgh to take care of his grandma. And we also see that William is not only a poet but a song-writer. He’s playing with his cousin’s band (they’ve been doing covers for years) when William finally writes a song worth playing. And I have to tell you, it’s a great blues number about his mom and man their band is good. But then William gets a call that his mother is sick and he goes up north to be with her.

As William takes Randall to his childhood home to retrieve his treasure (some quarters and a few toys), we also see them taking in the sights and sounds and food of the city. They eat some barbeque and get trimmed at the barbershop. And then we see them head to his cousin’s club. Things are not as they were left forty years ago. His cousin, Ricky, is bitter that William never came back like he promised. Through flashbacks we see why William didn’t’ return. At first, it was to care for his terminally ill mother (it seems cancer may run in the family). And then as he was doing so, William met Laurel, Randall’s mother. And as William tried to cope with the loss of his mother, he spiraled down into drugs and alcohol. It was not pretty. But in the present, he’s trying to make amends with his family. And it leads to a great night. Randall gets to meet a bunch of cousins (and get drunk) and William plays the keys with Ricky for old time’s sake. It was a beautiful scene and I’m sure it was a lot of fun to shoot, too.

But, as we should have expected, this wasn’t just a trip to show Randall his roots. This was William coming home to die. The next morning, Randall wakes up to find William in dire straits. He rushes him to the hospital and at first he doesn’t want to hear the doctor’s prognosis. But it isn’t good. William’s organs are rapidly shutting down and he has hours at best. Randall wants to get Beth and the girls down to say goodbye but William says no. He said his goodbyes to the girls before they left and he doesn’t want their last memories of him to be looking down at him like he had to do with his mother. And then we get the scene I was waiting for since we learned Jack’s calming trick with Randall. William is a little scared to let go and so Randall places his hands on either side of his father’s face and tells him to just breathe. And then, just like that, William is gone. Randall is on his way back to his family to deal with the grief of losing another father (but hey, he’s got the book of poems William wrote for him). I hope that Randall is actually able to properly grieve for William. I’m still not convinced any of the Pearson kids actually went through the stages of grief over Jack.

As I said at the start, I knew this episode had to be coming but still I wasn’t’ ready for it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to officially lose Jack either! I thought it was a very well-done episode and I didn’t even miss the rest of the Pearson clan this episode. This was really about Randall and his father and it was a beautiful goodbye to a man who had a hard life but was trying to make amends for it. I just hope that Randall allows himself to be vulnerable and lean on all of his family in his time of need. Yes, I’m looking at you Kevin and Kate. I know they have their own stuff going on, but Randall really needs them now.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fresh off the Boat 3.09: "How to Be an American"

“Tell us the story of how you guys met again. It’s my favorite love story. After ‘My Girl,’ of course.”

As they used to say on MTV’s “Diary” back in the day (so sue me, I was a total MTV teen in the early 2000’s!)– you think you know the Huangs, but you have no idea. “How to Be an American” centered around Jessica’s citizenship interview, and in the course of the interview, secrets that both she and Louis have been keeping for years all come out into the open. At first, this seems like it’s going to be a disaster, but by the end, all is well, Louis and Jessica are on solid footing, and Jessica becomes a citizen. The final scene of the episode straight up made me cry, for reasons that will be obvious once we get to talking about it. There’s a much less weighty plot back home involving the three boys and Grandma Huang. The bit of satisfaction I got out of that plot was that Evan decides to solve the problematic situation in which the boys find themselves in the exact way I in which I had been screaming at the television (AAA is your friend, kids, and I don’t mean that as some sort of paid endorsement at all…as a single lady with back problems, I would never drive without it).

This episode makes use of an in media res structure. We start with Jessica and Louis at Jessica’s citizenship interview. The INS officer is just about to approve Jessica’s application when another officer comes in and hands him a folder. The officer says he’s going to have to ask some questions about Jessica’s criminal record. Backtracking to earlier that morning, Jessica and Louis are getting ready to leave for the interview. Louis is all sentimental, while Jessica just wants to get the whole thing over with and fill up the Accord with the “cheap, cheap gas” on the bad side of town where the immigration office is located. We’re also treated to a rehash of how Jessica and Louis first met. They both got sick from an octopus special at a restaurant near where they went to college, and they were next to each other in the bathroom line.

The boys have off school for a teacher training day, which really irritates Jessica. She thinks teachers should do their training during the summer. She kind of hates teachers in general, and we’ll soon find out why. Grandma offers to let the boys help her organize her perfume collection, but they aren’t interested. Emery and Evan decide to try and guess what their homework for the next week is going to be and do the work ahead of time, but Eddie thinks that’s lame. I have to say I’m on Team Eddie with this one. Eddie wants to have an epic brothers’ road trip for their day off. At first Emery and Evan are dubious, but Eddie convinces them he’ll be able to drive because he’s so good at Mario Kart. Evan is the last hold out, but when Edie says he can use his AAA card for discounts along the way, he’s in too. They have a whole list of activities, and they want to finish up the day at the local water park.

Meanwhile, at the immigration office, the INS officer starts by asking Jessica some routine questions about her student visa, which was how she first entered the country. She says she was a business major, which surprises the INS officer since her first job was as a teacher. This is new to Louis, who only knew that Jessica hates teachers. It turns out that Jessica took a teaching job (which turns out to have been teaching drama, not advanced calculus like Jessica said at first) to switch over from a student visa to a specialty occupation visa. She didn’t last a day, though, because she was horrified at how corrupt the other teachers were, using their maximum 20 minute grace period to get to class and getting high at the end of the day. The running joke that Jessica thinks all white people look the same is in full force, as characters we know like Honey, Deirdre, and Marvin play the teachers.

We then flash to Jessica discussing her immigration problem with her roommate (played by Honey) at the restaurant where she and Louis would meet. Louis mentions that his ex, Olivia Yang, had just broken up with him earlier that day, which comes as a surprise to Jessica. She thought Louis had dated Olivia back in Taiwan. Louis assures Jessica that he wouldn’t have proposed to her five times if she was just a rebound. In another flashback, we learn that Jessica decided to try for an extraordinary ability visa next, but it was denied, because you can’t just go into the immigration office and sing (badly) to get the visa. You have to have proof that the extraordinary ability is your profession. When Jessica returns to her apartment, Louis is waiting with his fifth proposal, and this time Jessica accepts. Louis is horrified to learn that Jessica basically accepted his proposal so she could get a green card.

Meanwhile, the boys’ adventure in the minivan goes about as well as you’d expect. They load the van up with a hibachi, boom box, and other assorted supplies, Eddie switches all the radio presets to his favorite hip hop station, Emery turns the front passenger seat into a “nap zone,” and they finalize the itinerary. There’s just one problem. They forgot their swim suits. As they rush back inside to get them, the van rolls down the driveway and into the middle of the cul-de-sac. Thankfully it doesn’t hit anything, but Eddie does realize that the doors to the van are locked. At first the boys panic (Evan does his “Home Alone” scream), but then they remember that Evan has AAA, and they can just place a phone call to have someone come and unlock the van.

The AAA guy unlocks the van with no problem, and he also, on the sly, warns the boys to set everything in the car back to how it was before so they don’t get caught. They heed his advice, and they’re pretty proud of themselves for their work. There’s just one problem they weren’t anticipating. Grandma. She saw what happened and took a picture of it. Apparently she’s got a ton of incriminating Polaroids on the inside of her closet door. She calls it her “Wall of Leverage.” The boys get stuck organizing her perfumes after all.

At the immigration office, we’re finally to the point where Jessica has to explain her criminal record. It turns out that while it seemed like she didn’t write Louis’ phone number down when he first gave it to her, she actually did. With permanent marker on a canoe at the restaurant. The restaurant owner wasn’t happy about the property damage and pressed charges. Jessica admits that she did fall in love with Louis at first sight after all, but she’s been keeping it a secret because she didn’t want to seem like a romantic. She also turned down the proposals so many times because she didn’t want it to look like a green card marriage. When the extraordinary ability visa fell though, however, she felt like she didn’t have a choice. She didn’t want to go back to Taiwan and be without Louis. The INS officer is touched by the story and approves the application. We end the episode with Jessica’s naturalization ceremony, which is what made me cry. I’m sure it was included as a political statement, and I hate that this country has gotten to the point where showing a naturalization ceremony in a positive light is pretty clearly a political statement.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Good Place 1.12-1.13: “Mindy St. Clair” and “Michael’s Gambit”

“We can’t let Chidi and Tahani go to the Bad Place, they’re our friends. We literally owe it to them.”
- Eleanor

It’s the finale, folks. We’ve finally made it! And so, it appears have Eleanor, Jason and Janet. Or at least they’ve shown up in a desert where Mindy St. Clair lives. Once they find her (gardening naked), they learn that she was kind of a terrible person most of her life but did one great thing before she died so the Good Place and the Bad Place compromised and put her in a neighborhood of one. She and Eleanor chat about what happened to Mindy and we see Eleanor kind of flashing back to the day she died and being kind of retched to her co-workers. I have to admit I don’t particularly like Mindy. She tries to make Eleanor forget about Chidi and her other friends in the Good Place (she even brought photos and an ethics book Chidi gave her). Jason is pretty much just focused on trying to find a way to have sex with Janet.

Elsewhere, Michael, other Eleanor, Chidi and Tahani are trying to convince the judge to let Eleanor stay. Which is all well and good except every time someone gets emotional, the judge closes up in a cocoon. Very weird, indeed. Next up, they review Eleanor’s memories from when she was alive. Yes, she was a pretty horrible person back then but as we’ve seen, she’s changed and become somewhat better. She’s by no means perfect but none of the people in the Good Place really are. They’ve all got their faults and flaws. But the judge ultimately decides that both Eleanor and Jason belong in the Bad Place and he uses Bad Janet to reach Good Janet and deliver a message: return to the neighborhood so they can be sent off to the Bad Place, or Chidi and Tahani will be sent in their stead!

It takes Eleanor telling Jason about her crappy parents and how she used their bad parenting as an excuse to be a crappy person all her life to convince him to go back. They arrive just after the timer has ended, though. The judge decides that our group of four will decide which two get to go to the Bad Place. Michael is kind of freaking out about everything falling apart (we see him flash back to when he was told he got to design his first neighborhood on his own) so he goes off and hides in Eleanor’s room. We also see him coming up with a “Bold New Plan” for the Good Place (which is also in quotes hmm). After some deliberation (including Chidi being vexed by who he actually has feelings for), Eleanor and Jason agree to go to the Bad Place … until the other Eleanor comes in and says she’s taking one of the spots. Her rationale is that she’s already been there and she recognizes that Chidi doesn’t love her so this will never really be her Good Place. Now that just leaves them with the decision of which other person is taking the second spot.

This all devolves into a giant argument about who is going to go to the Bad Place until Eleanor comes to a very strange revelation that I’m still not sure how she figured out. All the fighting she says is like torture and so they aren’t going to take anyone to the Bad Place because they are already in it. Michael then turns into kind of a creeper. Seriously, what the hell? Hell, indeed. There is still a Good Place but Michael isn’t an architect for it. He’s one for the Bad Place. We see him pitching the idea to purposely make Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason torture each other. He bets he can do it for 1,000 years, although the judge says it will only work for 6 months. As we’ve seen it only worked for a few months at most. The other Eleanor was actually just another being like Michael. Everyone but Janet in the neighborhood actually was. And Jason and Janet’s feelings were real.

Michael decides to try again and erase all of their memories and spread them out because as Eleanor points out, they figured it out because they were all together and worked as team. So, Michael is going to give them different soul mates and spread them out. Eleanor tries to rouse the gang into action but they are all sitting there dumbfounded. We did learn that Chidi pushed everyone he cared about away with his constant indecision. And Tahani’s charity wasn’t very charitable in the end. She just wanted to stick it to her family. See, I knew they all had faults and flaws. In the end, Eleanor writes a note to herself and puts it in Janet’s mouth. Just as Eleanor is telling Michael to fork himself, he snaps his fingers and resets everything and everyone. We get a rehash of her finding out she’s dead and going through orientation. She meets her hot new soul mate but before she can admit she’s not supposed to be there, he takes off for the gym and Janet shows up with the note (which reads “Eleanor, find Chidi”). Janet disappears before Eleanor can ask what (or the proper question of who) is “Chidi”.

Okay, I was honestly expecting the gang to head to the Medium Place together to escape Michael’s dastardly plan but this was an interesting way to end the season, I’ll admit. I’m not sure I like where it’s going. It feels almost like our gang has lost their character growth and any season 2 will just be a rehash of what’s already been done. I don’t want to retread old ground. I want to see our quartet find each other, remember what happened and live and hang out together. And maybe find a way to take Michael down.

The Good Place 1.11: “What’s My Motivation”

“You have a tendency to overthink things. Turn off that giant brain and just say you love her, too This is your soulmate. She’s universe approved.”
- Eleanor

We are almost at the end of the first season of “The Good Place” and I’m honestly hoping this episode is a little less bizarre than last week. The love rhombus was very confusing last week. I’d love to say a little of the relationship drama has burned off at this point (I mean okay, so Chidi is pretty sure he’s in love with new Eleanor so that’s a step). But there is a lot going on in this episode.

For starters, we finally learn what Tahani’s’ great idea is to try and keep our Eleanor in the Good Place. Michael first shows the assembled group (minus Jason) their point totals from their lives and then shows the average of the people in the neighborhood (about 1.2 million positive points). Unfortunately, Eleanor has 4,003 negative points. Tahani thinks that if they count all of the things Eleanor’s done since she died, then maybe they can prove she deserves to stay. This venture, however, is far easier said than done. She starts by holding the door and waving (a la Wal-Mart greeter) at the Frozen Yogurt place. Tahani reasons that holding the door counts for 3 points so doing it for everyone in the neighborhood is like 1,000 points and that would at least get Eleanor closer to being in the green. But all it does is annoy Eleanor and give her some negative points instead. Their next plan is to have a small focus group to see why everyone hates Eleanor so much. The reasons vary: cafés crushed by giant frogs and sink holes, people falling into turkey carcasses. Eleanor realizes that everyone was most happy at Tahani’s welcome party before all the craziness started.

So, Eleanor and Tahani devise to hold a party to cheer everyone up. Meanwhile, new Eleanor and Chidi are sharing morning boiled eggs. Elanor slipped Chidi an “I love you” note in the top of one of his and he can’t seem to say the words back. As our Eleanor is getting ready for the party, trying to memorize whom she slighted how, he frets about if he’s saying the words back because she’s his soulmate and he’s supposed to love her or if his motivation is off. Our Eleanor just tells him to shut his brain off and tell her that he loves his soulmate, too. She’s universe approved after all. That actually earns her some positive points. At the party, she tries to apologize to people and say “nobody’s perfect” but it comes out garbled and everyone starts laughing. It also makes her realize their attempt is going to be futile because even if she’s doing nice things, she is doing it for the wrong reasons. But this seems to be a light bulb moment for her. She handwrites “I’m sorry” notes to each member of the neighborhood—with personalization no less—and gives Chidi, new Eleanor and Tahani instructions to deliver them all with T-shirts with her garbled saying on it.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Michael finds out about Jason (that he isn’t a monk) and Janet (that they’re married). This is so clearly not what the Architect needed right now. Not with the Eleanor drama and the fact that the judge (Sean) is on his way to make a final decision on what to do with our Eleanor. Jason is happy to be out in the open but Michael wants to kill Janet and reboot her again. Janet, who now has the capacity to feel both love and hate (yay for hating genocide), decides she doesn’t want to lose Jason and suggests they run away. We also learn how Jason died and how he got mixed up as the monk. The monk stopped learning and speaking at age 7 or 8 and so his IQ is about the same as Jason’s. And he went into such a deep meditative state that the universe thought he’d died and got Jason’s’ soul mixed up. We also learn that Jason died by suffocating in a safe while he and his friend tried to rob a restaurant so they could reach their dreams of DJ-ing in Miami. Jason actually realizes what an idiot he is and tells Janet she should leave him. But as we mentioned before, she’s not willing to give him up.

After delivering all the notes and T-shirts, Chidi, new Eleanor and Tahani wonder where our Eleanor has gone. Chidi starts to explain to new Eleanor about his motivation problem when a light bulb goes off in his head, too. Eleanor can’t get enough points by staying, so she’s got to leave. And her decision to do that has gotten her way up into the green. She’s waiting at the train station and runs into Janet and Jason. It turns out there is a woman who exists in a neutral space and that’s where the married couple is headed. Eleanor agrees to tag along (she’s been looking for a medium place the whole time). They have to steal Sean’s train though. Luckily, Janet is able to make it go where they want. Unfortunately, as they are doing this, Michael is trying to tell Sean they have a great case for why Eleanor should stay. Her stealing a train isn’t the best way to showcase their talking points but hey, at least she’s trying to give the people around her some peace.

I have to say, I’m kind of glad Jason isn’t quite as stupid as he used to be. The fact he realized why locking himself in a safe with no air holes was dumb and that he was willing to let Janet go. That’s kind of a big step for him. I’m interested to see what this neutral place is and why it exists. I also can’t wait to find out Eleanor’s fate!

The Good Place 1.10: "Chidi's Choice"

“Catch you later, silly billy. Ugh, love has made me a nerd!”

I have mixed feelings about “Chidi’s Choice.” On the one hand, it was a nice way to ease back into the show after the winter hiatus, as it really focused on the characters. It provided a good re-introduction to everybody, for sure. On the other hand, not much actually happened. When we last left our friends in the afterlife, there was a serious question as to whether or not Eleanor would be able to stay with her new friends and continue on her journey towards becoming a better person. There is a real threat that Eleanor, who we’ve gotten to know for nine episodes already, could face eternal damnation. She’s never been a great person, but it’s not like she’s a murderer either, and she has genuinely been trying to improve herself, so I think the creative team wants us to root for her. The stakes are big, and an episode that mostly focused on the characters sitting around and thinking, with not much changing by the end, wasn’t exactly what I expected.

You may recall that when we last left the Good Place, Tahani had discovered the “Bud Hole” and Jason’s true identity. She’s pretty disgusted by Jason, and she’s furious that she’s been deprived of her “true” soulmate. Jason even admits that Chidi painted the ballerina painting that Jason gave her and that his own idea was to give her a photo of a comedian who does impressions. This makes a lightbulb go off in Tahani’s mind. Could Chidi be her true soulmate? She rushes off, leaving Jason to mope in the Bud Hole. Janet keeps bringing him things to try and make him happy, like wings from the new restaurant that the owner of his favorite restaurant (that closed) just opened. Jason really appreciates Janet catering to his every whim (it’s what she’s programmed to do, after all), and he tells her that he thinks he loves her.

The big plot happening right now is, of course, that the gang is all awaiting the arrival of Shawn (Michael’s boss), who is going to decide whether or not Eleanor can stay in the Good Place. “Real Eleanor” (aka the Eleanor who was supposed to go to the Good Place instead of our Eleanor) and this kind of adorably chill lawyer named Bambajan are working on Eleanor’s legal case, which Michael and Chidi are supposed to work on the ethical argument for letting Eleanor stay. Poor Chidi is indecisive as always. He can’t even decide if he wants to work on a white board of with pen and paper – the stakes are just too high. We’re treated to flashbacks of Chidi’s indecisiveness throughout the episode. First we see him as a child in Senegal wasting an entire school recess trying to pick another kid for his soccer team.

Real Eleanor and Bambajan are interviewing Eleanor to try and get as much information as they can to help her case. The conversation moves in a productive direction when Eleanor starts talking about how she has been taking ethics lessons with Chidi. She mentions Chidi repeatedly throughout the interview, in fact. Due to this, Real Eleanor suspects that Eleanor is actually in love with Chidi, and Eleanor eventually comes around to the idea and admits that she may indeed love Chidi. She rushes home and declares herself to Chidi, but Chidi doesn’t have time to respond before Tahani busts in and does the same thing, only she does a “Notting Hill” style “I’m just a girl” declaration. Eleanor has to admit that Tahani did it better. Chidi, however, since he can’t make decisions and all, runs away as quickly as he can.

Upon discovering their mutual affection for Chidi, Tahani and Eleanor argue at first. Eleanor, however, eventually says that she doesn’t want to give up on their friendship over a guy. Who would have thought Eleanor would have such maturity? I guess Chidi is having a positive influence after all! They decide to do a girls’ day of bonding activities – they each get one choice. Tahani decides she wanst to watch a Britcom called “Deirdre and Maude,” which is about two friends, one refined and one not. It’s pretty clear that Tahani sees herself as Deirdre. For Eleanor’s activity, she puts cheap hair extensions in Tahani’s hair, and the two seem to actually have fun with that. As they chat, Eleanor starts to wonder if Jason is actually her soulmate, since they’re both the misfits and have a lot of other characteristics in common. Janet stops that line of thought, however, when she arrives and announces that she and Jason are getting married.

Chidi runs right to Michael and asks him about the accuracy of the Good Place soulmate algorithm. What does the fact that he was paired up with “Fake Eleanor” really mean. Was he supposed to be with her? Real Eleanor? Somebody else (read: Tahani)? Chidi’s indecisiveness rubs off on Michael, who gets frustrated and can’t give Chidi a good answer. The two go out for frozen yogurt (of course), and Michael tries to get Chidi to choose one of the women by just going with his gut. This really isn’t natural to Chidi, and Michael points out how much pain his indecisiveness caused Chidi in his life. We see flashbacks to his best friend getting engaged. He doesn’t want Chidi to be Best Man because he thinks it will be too stressful on Chidi. Chidi eventually convinces him, though, and the whole thing is a disaster, with no bachelor party planned and countless other details still pending. As the two men stand outside talking through the latest decision point, an air conditioner falls on Chidi, killing him.

Jason and Janet do indeed get married, and the wedding is rather awesomely tacky and absolutely perfect for the bride and groom. Eleanor calls Jason “Tragic Mike,” which I found amusing. As Jason and Janet dance together at the “reception,” Tahani and Eleanor sit at the bar and mull on the nature of true love and soulmates. Real Eleanor stops by to check on them, and Chidi arrives soon after, bemused that he has run into his three “favorite yogurts” all at once. Before Chidi can make a choice, Eleanor and Tahani both turn him down. I found Eleanor’s reasoning especially interesting. She thinks she loves him in a best friend and savior kind of way, not in a romantic way. I’m not so sure, really. Anyway, the three women all leave before Chidi can say anything, and understandably, Chidi is a bit incredulous.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

No Tomorrow 1.10: "No Soup for You"

“Strap in, fire it up, and tackle this Xavier thing with some cold, hard Evie logic.”

Shocker of shockers, “No Soup for You” was not at all a good episode for Evie and Xavier (the worst, really) . . . or should I say Hamish, but I didn’t hate it. I actually kind of liked it. All of the characters went from low points at the beginning of the episode to having important realizations or getting some real wins. In several cases, the characters’ personalities let them solve their problems in a way that was unique to them. It was an entertaining show to watch, once the tension of the Evie and Xavier breakup in the beginning of the episode was past. We also learn quite a lot about Xavier’s past – more than we ever had a clue about before. We now know what happened to both of his parents and why he is estranged from his father. Even though this information hasn’t (yet) resulted in Evie and Xavier getting back together, I think it is all good stuff to know.

The early part of the episode is mostly devoted to Evie trying to figure out what to do about the Xavier situation. She confronts him with the information Timothy gave her, including the fact that his name isn’t Xavier – it’s actually Hamish. Which I kind of like better, actually. She feels betrayed because Xavier so thoroughly lied to her, although Xavier doesn’t seem to think it’s all that big a deal. He’s committed to being Xavier now. Hamish is in the past. He also doesn’t think Hamish’s criminal record (public disturbance type stuff) is all that big a deal. Evie, however, needs some time to think. Hank encourages Evie to apply her logic to the situation, and she is finally able to reach a conclusion. She breaks up with Xavier, not specifically because of the lying, but because she thinks he really needs to confront his past, and he won’t let her in on what actually happened. Even a White Snake cover band called Albino Cobra (which cracked me up!) wasn’t enough to get her to stay.

Evie isn’t the only one with relationship issues in the episode. There are relationship issues all around! Kareema is freaking out because INS is going to be asking her a lot of questions as part of their investigation of Sophia. Timothy and Hank are also both just coming off of breakups with Fern and Deirdre respectively. Kareema decides to deal with her problem by trying to be the best CyberMart employee she can possibly be, in hopes that the company will give INS a glowing report about her. She’s super friendly and helpful to everyone she speaks to on the customer service line. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect to what she expected. She gets counseled that her work habits have really slipped. Apparently management liked that she kept her call times short and rarely allowed returns. This throws Kareema into a bit of a tizzy, as she’s worried about what management will say to INS.

Meanwhile, Deirdre is very sick with a cold or the flu or something, and instead of her new (for the third time) fiancé, she calls Hank. Hank is reluctant to be taken advantage of like this, but Deirdre explains that she asked for his help because he has taken so few sick days. She figures he must have a trick up his sleeve for warding off nasty viruses. He does indeed have a secret family formula cold remedy (they call it Vitamin B13), and he offers to cook up a batch for Deirdre. The result is disgusting, however, and even worse, it contains kumquats, and Deirdre has an allergy. She’s even worse off after taking it. The most strict fire inspector, Archie Fieri, is scheduled to visit the warehouse, and Deirdre is the only one who knows all his tricks. Hank offers to Cyrano it (meaning Deirdre would communicate the proper answers to him via earpiece.

Timothy sees the current situation as a great opportunity to get back in Evie’s good graces. He secretly sends her an invitation to an adventure, and Evie of course immediately assumes it’s from Xavier. She’s pissed off about that because she told Xavier she needed some space. It’s Timothy though, and she’s happy when she finds out that he has arranged for them to be contestants on Grocer’s Blowout, their favorite television show. They both compete fiercely, but Timothy ultimately wins by answering a question with “legumes” instead of “beans.” This means that Evie gets a vat of soup poured on her head. Evie’s pretty happy in the moment because she got to be a contestant on her favorite show, but the incident lands her in trouble at work. She’s been tasked with bringing a splashy new charity into CyberHugs in time for a visit from corporate, but the soup kitchen she was going to partner with is offended by the waste of soup during her Grover’s Blowout appearance.

Simalarly, Hank’s attempt to get through the fire inspection starts off on a positive foot. Deirdre is able to feed him all the correct answers to Archie’s questions. Deirdre’s voice is extra husky because she’s sick, though, and it’s very distracting to Hank. Eventually, he decides he needs to just try to make it through the inspection on his own. At first, he fails miserably and manages to rack up several thousand dollars in fines. Then, however, Hank just tries to be his usual personable self. He manages to bond with Archie, who has alopecia, by telling him about his own cousin with alopecia. Eventually, Archie feels bad about the idea of fining a nice guy like Hank, so he waives all the fines. This was the first example of the crew solving problems by being themselves. Evie solves her charity problem in her typically chipper way. She comes up with a better idea. On the fly, she pitches to the representative from corporate the idea of having customers use CyberMart boxes to send in donations of things. He loves it, naturally.

Meanwhile, after a little prodding by his buddy at the coffee shop, Xavier seems to take Evie’s instructions to deal with his issues around his parents seriously. He finally crosses off that bucket list item and calls his dad. Their first in-person meeting doesn’t go well. We learned what caused the estrangement. Apparently Xavier’s father had been having an affair with a woman named Rose while his mother was dying of a terminal illness, and they later got married. It’s actually Rose who helps them make some progress, though. She stops by to see Xavier, and she explains how she and his father met at a support group for people with loved ones’ with terminal illnesses. She says that what she and Xavier’s dad have is special, but his mother was the real light of his life. This makes Xavier feel a bit better. Xavier ends up hanging out with both his father and Rose a bit more, and eventually he says that while he’s not ready to bury the hatchet, he’s ready to start digging the whole. He tries to give Evie the good news, but she’s otherwise occupied making out with Timothy. That can’t possibly end well for any of them.

This Is Us 1.15: “Jack Pearson’s Son”

“We’re talking about getting married this summer and there’s still so much we don’t know about each other.”
- Toby

This week’s episode of “This Is Us” not only fell on Valentine’s Day but we find Jack and Rebeca in the past on Valentine’s Day. She’s about to go on tour the following week and she’s frantically trying to get everything ready so the household can function. Jack insists that he can handle everything while she’s away. But, deep down he doesn’t want her to go. Still, he’s a good husband and he wants his wife to be happy so he stays quiet. But slowly, things start to unravel for the Pearsons. Rebecca gets home to hear the kids talking. Randall is freaking out about a Hamlet essay (we see the beginnings of his anxiety and panic attacks as far back as 16) and Kate outs Kevin for having sex with Sophie. Rebecca and Jack are not happy about this (the talk was super awkward) and Rebecca doesn’t think she can go. But, after a little needling from Miguel (who is trying to move on from his wife), Jack ends up talking to Ben (the lead singer in the band) and finds out that he and Rebecca are exes. Jack cancels their Valentine’s Day dinner and kind of loses his mind. Rebecca says she didn’t tell him because it was a 2-month relationship when she was 19 and she knew Jack would lose his mind. He ends up going out to their dinner spot and has a drink for the first time in probably 16 years. I have to admit, I’m not disappointed in Jack very often but that scene broke my heart a little.

What also broke my heart was adult Randall’s continued descent into madness. He’s so stressed with work and William that he’s not sleeping again. He’s rambling to himself at home about work stuff and then when Beth’s mother falls and breaks her hip, prompting Beth to leave town unexpectedly, Randall really starts to fall apart. William is also declining rather quickly and while you can see Randall wants to be there, he can’t miss work stuff. But even when he’s at work, he can’t handle it and the new guy has to step in. I really worry about Randall’s job prospects moving forward. The boss seems kind of uninterested in Randall’s issues. Randall really does need to just take some family leave to deal with everything going on at home. But we know he’s too driven to do that and accept help.

On a slightly less stressful note, we see Kate go to Duke’s cabin. She ends up telling him and reminding herself that while she’s got her issues, she’s awesome deep down and she’s not going to let him tell her otherwise. This is all well and good until he reveals that he can be such a dick because his parents own the place and Kate gets kicked out. So she ends up at Toby’s hotel room, apologizing and agreeing that they should really get to know each other before they walk down the aisle. It is going to be a deep dive. It starts out simple and innocent enough as Toby is shopping for some new clothes for Kevin’s play opening. But then Kate asks about Toby contemplating suicide. He gets real with her in a coffee shop, saying he struggled with depression in his teens when his parents got divorced and then when he divorced from his wife, he really thought about harming himself. He didn’t go out and buy a gun or anything like but he would get drunk and count up all the extra painkillers he had lying around wonder if it was enough to do the job. But he got into therapy and he’s in a much better place these days. In return, he asks her why she doesn’t talk about Jack’s death so much. She starts to shut down but then admits she wants to share it with him but it’s been a huge block for so long and she’s not quite there yet to being able to talk about it. I think once Kate is able to actually deal with Jack’s death, she will be able to move forward in not only her weight loss journey but her life in general. And as they get ready to head in for Kevin’s show, they agree to have a longer engagement so that when they do tie the knot, they are able to talk about everything.

And in and amongst all of this is Kevin. He’s freaking out about the opening of the play. He has a recurring dream about being interviewed by Katie Couric and it goes horribly. He gets a call from Sophie saying she can’t make the opening but that’s probably not the worst. He’s not ready to tell his family he’s sort of cautiously dating his ex-wife. But as he tries to reach out to various family members to help him calm his nerves (first Kate and then Randall) he really starts to doubt himself and spiral. He goes to try and talk to Rebecca but she’s not home. So he actually gets a decent speech and some encouragement from Miguel. Miguel tells Kevin that he reminds Miguel of Jack a lot. And when he’s nervous or freaking out, Kevin just needs to remember that he is Jack Pearson’s son and think about what his dad would do. Oh and for the record, Kevin doesn’t not like Miguel. I still distrust the guy but it was a decent speech. He really puts it to good use when he’s about to go out on stage for the first act of the play, but then we see him leave Sloane standing on the stage alone. It isn’t nerves this time. He got a very weird call from Randall and he knows something is not right with his brother. So we see Kevin running through the city to Randal’s office to find his brother sitting basically catatonic on his office floor. For once, Kevin finally did the right thing!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fresh off the Boat 3.08: "Where Are the Giggles?"

“I should be saying ‘Stop tickling Elmo!’”

“Where Are the Giggles” was this year’s Christmas episode of “Fresh off the Boat.” It delved some more into character relationships that began to be really explored earlier this season: Louis and Marvin and Jessica and Evan. Louis and Marvin’s friendship is tested after a slip and fall at the Huang house, and Jessica and Evan’s bond is tested when Evan is forgotten at home, “Home Alone” style, when the family goes to see a movie. There are two great Christmas homages in this episode: to “Home Alone,” of course, and also to “A Christmas Carol,” with Marvin as Scrooge and various Huangs as the ghosts. Maybe the homages were a little on the nose, but they were homages to two of my favorite Christmas stories, so I was good with it. In fact, we had a “Home Alone” movie night at a friend’s house this past December, and most of the group was laughing at some of the sillier lines and snarking on hos cruel some of Kevin’s traps were. I was just enjoying the whole thing because it reminded me of the tradition my cousin and I had when we were kids. Every Thanksgiving, when Home Alone came on TV, the boys would have to stop watching football and we would watch our movie and mock the Sears commercials that invaded every commercial break. Anyway, on with talking about this episode!

The episode opens with Jessica and Louis getting ready for Christmas. You may recall that Christmas is Jessica’s favorite holiday, so she is unusually chipper. Louis is excited because he bought fancy personalized pajamas for himself and Marvin that say “Chili Boys” on the back. They have big plans to cook goose chili out in the yard on Christmas Day (it’s Florida, so I guess they can do that). Before the real Christmas festivities, however, it’s time to go to the movies. The Huangs have procured some free movie passes, so they’re going to see “Jingle all the Way.” Jessica wants to make sure they get to the theater in plenty of time, so she has the family rush around to make all the preparations. Evan in particular is told to prep the popcorn (to be hidden in his cargo shorts). The family, minus Evan, scrambles into the van and heads to the theater. Evan realizes he’s been left behind, so of course we get a big hands-on-face scream.

The family is happily seated and enjoying the movie when Jessica wants popcorn and realizes Evan isn’t there. Constance Wu channels Catherine O’Hara and does a great “Evan!” scream. Jessica and Louis call Marvin, who assures them Evan is fine because he can see Evan sitting at the kitchen table taking to one of his Beanie Babies (that doesn’t really look like a Beanie Baby to me…I was 12 years old for most of 1996 and there’s still a tub of the things in my parents’ attic, so I think I can qualify as an expert in such things). Marvin offers to check on Evan and tells the Huangs they should just go watch the rest of the movie because it’s fantastic. When Marvin goes over to the Huangs’ house, though, he falls on a Home Alone-style trap that Evan set by the front door. The family returns to see Evan and Marvin hanging out while Marvin is still laying in the front hallway. Evan is extremely pissed at Jessica for leaving him behind, and since he’s her favorite, Jessica tries to think of a way to appease him. She says she’ll get him the hottest toy of the year (usually she buys the hottest toy right after Christmas and gives it to the kids the next year). Of course this means Evan wants Tickle Me Elmo.

Jessica and Louis try to find a Tickle Me Elmo, and they’re basically laughed right out of the store. The cashier does clue them into a rare toy website, though. A mysterious guy tries to convince Louis that he is carrying a Tickle Me Elmo that he’s willing to sell, but it turns out he’s actually a process server. Louis gets served, and it turns out Marvin is the one doing the suing. He’s filed a personal injury lawsuit for the slip and fall. His back still hasn’t completely recovered, apparently. Marvin stops by the house later trying to act all normal, and Louis calls him on it. Marvin says he just wants to cash in on the insurance money, but Louis, understandably, still isn’t cool with the lawsuit. He thinks friends shoudn’t sue each other, even if it’s the insurance company that would ultimately have to pay.

Jessica begins the next phase of her mission to get Evan a Tickle Me Elmo at the Gateway Store (I really can’t remember if there was such a thing – all of our family computers in the 90s were Gateways, but I think we ordered them and they came in the mail). She uses a demonstration computer to look up the rare toy website, and she sees that none other than Deirdre, the annoying HOA Queen, has several of them. Jessica goes to Deirdre’s house and negotiates a deal. Jessica will find a Santa Claus for a party being thrown in Deirdre’s goddaughter’s honor, and in exchange Deirdre will give Jessica the Tickle Me Elmo that would have otherwise gone in her toy “vault.” Jessica dresses up as Santa herself, but her version scares all the kids at the party. Deirdre kicks Jessica out and says she’s not giving her the Tickle Me Elmo. Deirdre’s husband, who has a vision condition that Jessica accidentally caused to flare up because she wouldn’t let him have a middle seat at the movie theater, ends up being the hero of the story. He feels bad for Jessica and risks Deirdre’s wrath to give her the toy.

Marvin’s back is still bothering him, and the combo of muscle relaxers and beer starts making him hallucinate, “A Christmas Carol”-style. He is first visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who looks suspiciously like Emery. Emery takes Marvin to a scene that took place in the Huangs’ house before the family ever moved in. The previous owner was a Latin dance teacher named Ronaldo, and everything about him is what you would expect based on that description. Honey liked to go over to the house for dance lessons, and naturally that didn’t thrill Marvin. Emery reminds Marvin how happy he was when Ronaldo moved out and the Huangs moved in. Next up is Eddie as the Ghost of Kwanzaa Present (he’s decided to celebrate Kwanzaa because he doesn’t want to feed the White capitalist machine anymore). He shows Marvin a scene where at Christmas dinner, Louis admits that Marvin is suing the family. Jessica is surprisingly okay with this, even though she says their homeowners’ insurance premium will go up by $4 a month. Marvin is surprised that there really will be an adverse effect on the Huangs from his plan, although he’s still not completely apologetic.

The Ghost of Christmas Future, of course, is Grandma Huang. She shows Marvin that after their friendship ended over the lawsuit, Louis went into a deep depression that led him to close Cattleman’s Ranch. Marvin also dies, and Grandma shows him Honey and Ronaldo literally dancing on his grave for good measure. On Christmas morning, Emery gives Eddie a present but says he can’t open it until the seventh night of Kwanzaa, because that’s how you’re supposed to celebrate the holiday. Eddie, of course, is impatient and opens it right away. It’s a Kwanzaa book, which was a great play by Emery. Marvin stops by, all Scrooge on Christmas, and says he’s dropping lawsuit, and he and Louis reconcile. Jessica checks on Evan and sees he’s not playing with Tickle Me Elmo. She also notices all the past Christmas presents the has gotten Evan are unopened in a trunk. Evan says he doesn’t have space in heart for toys beyond Beanie Babies. He just likes that Jessica getting him presents makes her happy. She says he’s favorite. To celebrate everyone being happy, the family decides to go and see Jingle All the Way again. Together, this time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

This Is Us 1.14: “I Call Marriage”

“You have changed the way I think about love.”
- Jack

If you’ve ever wondered how Jack and Rebecca got married, this is your episode (hence the episode title). Well, we only really get a glimpse of them coming out of city hall. We then cut to Miguel giving actually a rather sweet Best Man speech. It was emotional and the words actually seemed to reflect Jack and Rebecca. But all is not well with the Pearsons and their best friends. We cut to when the Big Three are fifteen (or at least teenagers) and Miguel and his wife announce to Jack and Rebecca are getting divorced. They’ve just drifted apart. It appears Jack and Rebecca are questioning if they’ve started to drift themselves. She’s out a lot playing gigs with the jazz band and he’s working crazy hours at his job, too. But when Rebecca’s ex (and keyboard player) tells her that they have been offered a five state tour, she defends Jack’s love quite vigorously. She sees that he still cares at least. On Jack’s side of things, he confronts Miguel, asking if the reason for the divorce has anything to do with the pretty blond that’s always flirting with them both in their office. Miguel insists that no, it was just them drifting and forgetting to notice each other. This prompts Jack to go all out and when Rebecca gets home, he takes her back to their first apartment as newlyweds (pre-Big Three). He’s strung up white lights all over the place (probably safer than a bunch of candles). It turns into a really sweet moment where they have sex in the shower (like they used to) and Jack reads his vows to Rebecca again. God, he’s such a romantic man and while we know he struggled with some drinking when the kids were babies, he’s just such a great guy.

The Pearson children in the present are having various issues of their own. Kate has mixed feelings when Toby shows up unannounced at camp. She’s finally getting into her rhythm with the classes and finding what works for her to focus on herself and he throws that all out of whack. He’s gotten a hotel room for them because his doctor cleared him for some low impact physical exertion but she declines. He then meets Duke (and agrees with every fan everywhere that he’s a dick). This prompts Toby to get a day pass but being his goofy self just pisses Kate off until he gets real with her about his needs. He wants to support her but he needs her support, too. His surgical scars aren’t healing as fast as the doctor expected and he wakes up every morning with his chest so tight he worries he’s going to have another heart attack. She does take his grandmother’s ring before he leaves. But that’s not enough to keep her from venturing out at 3am toward Duke’s cabin. Seriously, he’s staff there. Report him for sexual harassment. That’s wholly inappropriate girl! She may not be sabotaging herself with food anymore but she’s definitely finding ways to sabotage other parts of her life that are going well. I really think she needs more help than the camp can give her. I really hope she and Toby make it but I don’t want them to rush into marriage. She needs to get herself sorted out first.

Randall isn’t having it much better. Things at work are continuing to be complicated by the new guy taking over aspects of his job. I can definitely feel Randall’s anxiety over being replaced on top of dealing with losing yet another father (because as we know, Randall was young when Jack passed away). I suspect he never really dealt with his father’s passing, much like his siblings have locked it all away where it can’t hurt them (or at least they think it can’t). He isn’t happy about having to give up landing a big client to go see Tess play chess (I don’t blame Beth for being bored out of her mind). But he’s happy that his litter girl wins. But he fears that it was a mistake bringing a dying man into his girls’ lives. I found it really interesting how he reacted whenever Beth talked about William as passing away or dying or being dead. In the end, his boss tells him that his accounts are being split (and it’s probably the employment law attorney in me going what possible claims might he have?). Also he appears to have some issues with his hands shaking. It could just be emotion or maybe there’s something in William’s family that gives him a predisposition for other medical conditions.

Kevin is possibly the least stressed of his siblings this week. Now that he’s realized what he’s been missing in his life for the last twelve years, he’s dead set on winning Sophie back. He goes to the diner that they always ate at and convinces an older couple to move to the next booth so he can sit there (despite his moving words about the important moments he and Sophie shared in the booth, it’s an autograph from the Man-ny that gets him what he wants). Sophie isn’t thrilled to be there but Kevin isn’t giving up. She’s a Nurse Manager now so she’s doing well for herself but she wasn’t always. We learn what led to their divorce (he went to LA and she stayed on the East Coast and then he cheated on her). She moved back home with her parents and had a string of bad relationships. But she’s with a nice guy now. Kevin also admits that he’s been following her life as a made up Facebook profile (so he knew about her mom’s MS diagnosis). As sweet as I’m sure Kevin meant it to be, it was still super creepy and stalker behavior. Come on, Kev, get it together man and stop messing up! But hey, he might end up getting her to go out with him again (and maybe break up with her boyfriend).

Monday, February 6, 2017

MTVP Binges Out: "Good Behavior" Season One

I decided to try watching “Good Behavior” thanks to an excellent article Willa Paskin wrote for Slate (I called her out in a negative way several years ago, so it’s only fair I give praise when it’s due, too) following the tragedy of a Presidential election. In her article, she profiled two television shows that were helping her temporarily escape from the bleakness of the post-election world: “Lovesick” (a British show available here on Netflix) and “Good Behavior,” which airs on TNT. Here’s a link to Paskin’s article if you’re so inclined. Ignore the commenters accusing us liberals of being soft if we need escape television. We all need a little self-care now and then if we’re going to keep up this Resistance for the next four years. It’s only been two weeks and it’s already exhausting (which to be honest, is probably kind of the idea). Anyway, Paskin found that the chemistry between lead characters Letty and Javier made for a great escape, and I have to say I agree, even if they are, respectively, a kleptomaniac thief and a hit man. Interested yet?

“Good Behavior” stars Michelle Dockery is a role very different from Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey,” the role for which she is most known. Letty Raines is a meth-addicted, alcoholic, kleptomaniac thief who has been in and out of jail and desperately wants her son back. She comes across Javier, a mysterious hit man played by Juan Diego Botto (a rather ridiculously beautiful man, for the record), while she is on a stealing spree at a fancy hotel. She tries to steal from him, he finds out, and their lives begin to be intertwined. A crucial moment happens near the end of the pilot. Letty spends the money she stole on drugs and booze, and she is pretty much about to kill herself with an overdose in a cheap motel room when Javier barges in and demands that she sober up and work for him to pay back the money she stole. I kind of have a problem with the blackmail/rapey elements of Letty and Javier’s early interactions, but at the end of the third episode, Javier forgives Letty her debt, and everything that happens from there on out is consensual. There’s a moment that happens in the uncensored version of the finale that also kind of made me uneasy, but there’s an element of consent to that moment too.

While Javier tries to insist in the later episodes of the season that he and Letty are actually bad for each other (in my mind, I kept hearing the song “It Was a Shit Show” from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playing), I have to agree with Paskin that they are actually perfect for each other in their own, kind of twisted way. Letty doesn’t like killing. When she’s “working” for Javier, she tries to get him to resolve things without murder (although he usually doesn’t listen), and later, she tries to encourage him to use his cooking skills to be a professional chef instead of a hit man (he hasn’t listened to her yet on that one, either). Javier, for his part, is pretty much a teetotaler, and he really tries to keep Letty clean (or at least limit her to drinking only wine). He also tries to discourage her stealing, sometimes insisting on buying her things that she was going to steal. They’re both trying to bring out each other’s better natures most of the time, but when you have a pair of criminals, there’s going to be outside forces upping the tension on their relationship. They’re for the most part very supportive of each other when the chips are down. Letty’s reaction to Javier’s family basically disowning him was one of my favorite moments of the season.

What I thing is especially genius about “Good Behavior” is that it really humanizes two characters who don’t, on the surface, seem like they could possibly be likeable. Javier may be a killer for hire, but he also has his own moral code. Other than the whole killing people thing, he’s actually a nice, caring guy. In the episode “The Ballad of Little Santino,” we get to meet his family, and they’re kind of horrifying. We learn Javier’s darkest secret and the reason why his father kicked him out and disowned him at the age of sixteen. Javier’s father is basically a manipulative, evil bastard who was behind a lot of the killings in the Dirty War, and his whole family basically does whatever he says. He also makes Javier feel an inordinate amount of guilt (to this day) over an unfortunate series of events that led to the death of Javier’s little brother, Santino. Because of what happened to Santino, Javier was called a killer by his father, and he’s been living up to that expectation ever since.

On Letty’s side, we get to meet quite a few people who are important to her. We meet her mom, Estelle, who is raising Letty’s son, Jacob. Jacob’s father, Sean, is a violent asshole former drug dealer and porn producer who got Letty hooked on meth. We also meet Letty’s childhood best friend Tiffany (a successful Realtor) and her bi-curious, also meth-addicted husband Kyle. Of all these relationships, I enjoy the relationship between Letty and Estelle the most. Being mother and daughter, they know exactly how to hurt the other. But they are also there for each other when the chips are down. There’s a scene in the season finale where Estelle explains to Letty exactly how to care for Jacob that is just so heartbreaking and perfectly acted.

I’m a fan of the Southern Gothic tradition (one of my favorite writing professors in college was really into Faulkner and O’Connor), so my favorite episode of the first season is the very creepy third episode, “From Terrible Me.” In that episode, Letty and Javier are desperately trying to drive to Charleston to dispose of a body while driving a Tesla that is rapidly losing charge. Best not to be relying on a Tesla getting you someplace quickly on small rural roads. The threat of losing charge provided a ticking clock throughout the episode that really upped the dramatic tension. There’s also a scene where Letty explains to a guy who is supposed to be driving her to someplace where she can get a tow truck exactly what would happen to him if he tried to rape her. Letty doesn’t play, and it was cool to see her save herself in that situation. The growing sense of dread that built throughout the episode as the Tesla gradually ran out of charge on a deserted rural road was most definitely in the Southern Gothic tradition.

The events of the season finale left me a little nervous about where the creative team is going with season two. Regardless of that, however, I’m all in. As long as I have my Letty and Javier chemistry and Juan Diego Botto is on my television screen, I’ll keep watching. I can forgive much plot-wise because Letty and Javier just draw you in. I really want to see them have more crazy adventures and bring out each other’s better natures. I hope that, now we have a good base understanding of Letty and Javier’s backgrounds, the next season will be less focused on their families and more focused on how they are going to live their lives going forward. Who would have thought a romance between a thief and a hit man would be so addictive and have so much depth?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fresh off the Boat 3.07: "The Taming of the Dads"

“If I’m going to be stuck on a jury, I want to be in charge.”

“The Taming of the Dads” was, overall, a pretty entertaining episode of “Fresh off the Boat.” There was a lot of great mid-90’s nostalgia, and the fact that there was a legal aspect to this episode didn’t ultimately bug me too much because the biggest plot hole was called out at the very end. Jessica, who is still a legal permanent resident, is called to jury duty, and somehow she ends up seated on a jury even though she’s not a citizen (because she didn’t realize she could use that as a reason to get out of it). A former co-worker of mine used to talk about how she kept getting jury summonses even though she was a legal permanent resident, so she’d have to keep explaining her status. Then she became a citizen and actually had to go to jury duty! So I picked up on that issue right away. It was fun to see Jessica try to take over the jury, though. For the most part, I was able to look at the episode as entertainment, which is pretty rare when I watch anything law-related on television. Usually I just get too hung up on the inaccuracies to enjoy it.

The ‘90s nostalgia hits you right from the beginning of the episode. Louis is distributing that day’s mail to the family, and it was all pretty much right out of my child/tween-hood. Grandma gets a Zoobook, and it looks exactly like the Zoobooks I would get as a kid. I had them all stored in binders and everything. I wonder if my mom ever got rid of them? There were many. Emery and Evan get a package from Cousin Hennessy in Taiwan. It’s a Tamagotchi! I had both a Tamagotchi and a similar knock off when I was a tween, and I loved them. Managed to sneak them into school and everything. Emery and Evan start looking at the instructions, and they realize that caring for their critter is going to be a lot of work. They resolve to be the best Tamagotchi moms they can be, though, and they’re going to take great care of “Jerry,” who is named after that icon of the American legal system, Jerry Orbach.

Jessica’s mail delivery is a jury summons. She really doesn’t want to go, and Grandma thinks she should just throw it out, but Louis disagrees. He thinks that jury duty is something every American should experience (even if Jessica isn’t technically a citizen yet). She does go to jury duty, and she has to watch the poorly produced introduction video that reminds me of the video I had to watch the one time I’ve been to jury duty. I probably could have gotten out of serving on a jury if I was called thanks to being a lawyer and all (lawyers don’t always like to have lawyers on a jury because we know all their tricks!), but it turns out nobody requested a jury trial that day, so I got to go home around lunch time. Anyway, while she’s sitting there, one of the other potential jurors suggests that Jessica say she likes LA Law as a way to get out of serving. Jessica tries that, and it backfires. The lawyers and the judge all love the show, and she is chosen for the jury.

In other news, it’s Eddie and Allison’s first anniversary. She gives him an awesome gift (a Flava’ Flav clock necklace with their picture inside), but Eddie didn’t get her anything. Eddie tries giving her a Too $hort CD that he has in his bag, but Allison sees right through that (although she still takes the CD). She wants Eddie to take her to see the new Romeo + Juliet movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. I remember when this movie came out, although I never did see it. Eddie isn’t thrilled with the idea – he’d rather see Space Jam. Louis, however, convinces him that sometimes being in a relationship means sacrifices, and he encourages Eddie to go to the movie. Plus, Louis is a big Shakespeare geek, apparently, and he starts quoting the play constantly. Eddie his horrified by this, naturally.

The Tagotchi-ing goes well at first. Emery and Evan take Jerry for a walk in their wagon, and the neighborhood power walking ladies fuss over him. Jerry quickly becomes very demanding, though. The boys are trying to do their homework, and Jerry keeps constantly beeping. They decide to start caring for him in 30 minute shifts so that they can actually concentrate. The situation continues to deteriorate, though. He even beeps in the middle of the night, and poor Evan keeps hitting the buttons on his calculator instead of the Tamagotchi. Meanwhile, Jessica has her first day of jury service, and she finds out that the jury needs to pick a foreperson. If she’s going to be on a jury, she wants to be the boss, but the rest of the jury immediately picks a guy named Harvey instead. Jessica tries to bribe the rest of the jury to ditch Harvey with notes and oranges, but she gets found out. The judge says the whole jury will be found in contempt if something like that happens again. She doesn’t want to waste taxpayer money to seat a new jury if she doesn’t have to, though.

Eddie and Allison’s date is pretty much a disaster. Louis meets Allison’s dad, and the two really hit it off, to the point where they both decide to go to the movie, too. They’re laughing it up and sharing candy while Eddie and Allison just sit there miserable. The next day, Eddie and Allison are doing their homework, and Allison asks Eddie if he is getting bored with their relationship. Before they can have a real conversation, though, Allison’s dad shows up early wanting to have a guitar jam session with Louis. They play “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors in a totally dorky dad way, which amused me greatly for reasons. Later that night, Allison calls Eddie and says she thinks they should take a break. Their relationship isn’t fun anymore. She thinks they should be super enthusiastic about spending time together like their dads now are.

The Tamagotchi situation eventually comes to a head. Emery and Evan are arguing over how Jerry should be taken care of (all Evan does is feed it and all Emery does is play with it), and while they’re arguing, Jerry’s beeping becomes more intense. By the time the boys look at the Tamagotchi, it’s dead. Meanwhile, the trial is over and the jury is ready to deliberate. The jury is all in agreement that the defendant is clearly guilty (there’s video of him celebratory dancing after one of his arsons), but Jessica is determined to hold up the process until she is elected foreperson. Eventually Harvey gives in and says he’ll step down if Jessica will just vote already. She does so, but then she causes a mistrial by giving extra commentary about how shady the defendant is while delivering the verdict.

Louis and Allison’s dad still have big plans. They want to take the kids to Shakespeare in the Park, but Louis puts the kibosh on this once Eddie informs him that he and Allison are on a break. Louis feels terrible about the role he has played in the breakup, so he goes to pay a visit to Allison’s dad. Allison’s dad wants to go to Medieval Times and order drumsticks in iambic pentameter, but Louis says no. If their friendship is tearing their kids’ relationship apart, it will have to go. Louis then encourages Eddie to be a bit more spontaneous with Allison, which Eddie does by planning yet another trip to see Romeo + Juliet. Even though she’s already seen it, Allison is happy that Eddie is putting in some effort, so she takes him back. As Louis drives them to the theater, “Two Princes” comes on the radio, a special request from Allison’s dad. To wrap everything up, the family holds a funeral for Jerry. That’s when Honey points out that Jessica could have used her lack of citizenship to get out of jury duty. As the group leaves the grave site, though, Jerry starts beeping again.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

MTVP Binges Out: "The Crown" Season One

Welcome to a new series where we will discuss our impressions of a show after binge watching it . . . guess the title was pretty self-explanatory after all!

Netflix’s “The Crown” has the distinction, at a cost of about $130 million for the first season, of being the most expensive television production ever, just barely edging out “Game of Thrones.” It is definitely money well spent, however, as the production details and scenery are truly exquisite. The show’s first season, available for watching on Netflix right now, depicts the final years of the reign of George VI and the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II. The show really revolves around the young Elizabeth, who has to find her own way with a burden she never asked for and never should have had to bear in the first place. The show does a good job of dramatizing historical events and also giving viewers insight to the personal drama within the royal family. All of this makes for ten episodes of extremely watchable, almost addictive television.

The creative team plays with several different tones throughout the series. Early episodes focus on George VI’s final years and the formative years of Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Elizabeth’s life is somewhat carefree at first, as she, Philip, and their two oldest children, Charles and Anne, live in Malta for Philp’s naval career. Always looming, however, is the knowledge that one day Elizabeth will be Queen. George VI’s health is failing (his family knows he is sick, but I don’t think they realize quite how bad it is), and he starts doing things like showing Elizabeth the red box of important correspondence, and how he always reads it back to front. Because the important stuff Parliament doesn’t actually want him to know about is always in the back. Several episodes in, the inevitable happens, and Elizabeth has to push through her grief to immediately be the stabilizing presence her country requires. Throughout the rest of the season, we see her grow into her new role.

There’s a healthy mix of historical and family drama throughout the season. We get to see the marriage of Elizabeth and Philip, the death of King George VI and the ascension of Elizabeth, several national security crises, and the political intrigue of Winston Churchill’s second term as Prime Minister. On the family side, we see King George VI’s final days play out, and we also see the strain that Elizabeth’s ascension put on her marriage with Philip. While most of what you read about Prince Philip emphasizes how he’s been such a major source of support for Elizabeth through the years, we learn from “The Crown” that growing into that role wasn’t easy. It was unusual at the time for a man to take such a secondary role to his wife. Philip bristled at always having to walk several paces behind Elizabeth, and he always desperately wanted to be given something to do of real substance. And of course there’s Princess Margaret, whose relationship with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend was tabloid fodder for the masses.

One thing I found really interesting was how Elizabeth felt her education had failed her. She was very schooled in British constitutional law, particularly the duties of the monarchy, but not much else. She had (and still has) a passion for dogs and horses, and she could talk to anyone about that, but once the conversation ranged a bit broader, she felt dreadfully inadequate. Here she was, with no traditional schooling (because it wasn’t considered necessary) trying to keep up with some of the most educated men in the UK. I’m not sure how close to historically accurate this is, but at least in the show, Elizabeth hires herself a tutor to try and make up for the education she was denied. I would bet, given the length of her reign, there is no one more schooled in politics than she is. She had a great teacher, after all. Winston Churchill was the first Prime Minister of her reign, and we see in the show how he tried to show her the ropes while still respecting her station. By the end of the season, he feels his own health failing, and he sees that Elizabeth is ready to fly on his own, and so he finally resigns.

I think my favorite episode of the season was the fourth, entitled “Act of God.” There’s a terrible smog that hangs over London for days and threatens the lives of people with respiratory problems. The way the episode is shot, you can just feel the claustrophobia the smog causes the residents of London. Churchill doesn’t act quickly enough and receives a (rightful) media flogging for it. The story is also made more personal as we follow one of the women who works in Churchill’s office as she tries to help her roommate, who is especially suffering from the smog. She gets hit by a bus (the driver of which presumably couldn’t see well thanks to the fog) and dies, and this is what makes Churchill finally wake up and start trying to do something about the situation (other than encouraging the continual burning of coal to help the economy, of course). Churchill survives this one politically, but there was plenty of intrigue before we get to that point, as members of the government who are concerned about the smog try to go rogue. How timely this episode feels now. Do we learn nothing from history?

There were some fantastic casting choices for the first season. My understanding is that the creative team will consider recasting all the roles for season three, but for depicting the early days of Elizabeth’s reign, I think they hit it out of the park. Matt Smith, AKA the Eleventh Doctor, plays Prince Philip. I’ve always been rather luke-warm on Smith’s Doctor, except for the odd episode where he was able to show more warmth like “The Lodger” or “The Doctor’s Wife,” but he inhabits the role of Prince Philip with distinction. I can feel his frustration at not being able to do more with his life (although as a woman trying to make a career in a good ole boys club, I don’t have a ton of sympathy). He also hits that mix of duty and goofiness that personifies the Philip we know today. I also quite enjoyed seeing John Lithgow as Churchill take on something so different from the comedic roles he is most known for. Claire Foy, while I had never heard of her before, also portrayed a very believable Elizabeth, torn by continually having to choose duty over family life.

Every bit of that record-setting budget can be seen on screen. The landscapes are absolutely beautiful (a plot where the Queen Mother goes to the coast of Scotland especially comes to mind), and the setting are ornate. Reading up on the British Royal Family is a bit of a hobby of mine, so this show overall was right up my alley. I feel like it kind of picks up where “The King’s Speech” leaves off. If you’ve seen that film, you will probably be familiar with many of the players, especially in the early episodes. The historical drama aspect kept my brain working as I watched, and the addictive family drama kept me coming back for more episodes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No Tomorrow 1.09: "No Truer Words"

“What if I told you the world was ending? What if I said an asteroid was headed directly for Earth in six months’ time? What would you change about your life?”
- Xavier

So this episode of “No Tomorrow” had its good points and bad points. Overall, the good did outweigh the bad. Let’s get the cringe-worthy stuff over with first. Having been kicked to the curb by Deirdre for his part in the strike (which is ridiculous in and of itself), Hank is freaking out about his romantic drama. He gets especially jealous when a guy shows up with flowers and is flirting with her. It turns out to be her ex husband (times two), Pete. He’s also her dance partner. Okay, so while most of this plotline irritated me, I did like we got to see a little backstory on Deirdre that gave her some much needed humanity. This guy is super obnoxious and while Deirdre isn’t the most likable person on planet Earth, the fact that she divorced him once should have given her a clue not to do it again. But, Hank enlists Kareema’s help to spy and they discover that Deirdre and Pete are into ballroom dancing. Hank and Kareem’s attempt to sabotage Deirdre and her ex’s big number fails and she agrees to marry the guy for a third time. Seriously, what the hell? I mean, Hank and Deirdre are a sort of weird combination but he’s miles ahead of Pete. Is she really that shallow that she would just accept his proposal because they had a good dance number? I mean yes apparently she would since she’s done it three times now.

On the less annoying front, Kareema is trying to muster up the courage to tell her brother about her and Sophia. So far, all he knows is that his fiancee left him and he doesn’t know why (especially since she needs that green card). She claims there are 5 stages of grief her brother needs to go through before she can tell him that she’s with Sophia. Let’s be clear, this is ridiculous and her brother is kind of extra pathetic going through them. But I suppose it made for a little bit of comedy. In the end, though, she tells him the truth and he does not take it well. I don’t blame him. His sister betrayed him, even if that was never her intention. That has to be a hard thing for him to hear.

Things with Timothy and Evie are kind weird, especially when Evie figures out that Fern has been embezzling from the company! She just kind of takes off on Timothy (who has been tasked to write a piece on Xavier to get a job at an up and coming blog site). Xavier tries to show Timothy his theory with a giant ball of exploding stuff (which in all honesty was pretty sweet! I mean, at first Timothy is trying to focus on the Xavier’s theory but the editor at the blog insists he dig into Xavier as a person which is not going to end well, especially since this episode is all about truth. I’m not sure i really liked the whole Timothy subplot of this episode. It kind of felt petty in a way, still pitting them against each other.

Speaking of the truth, Evie finally comes clean with Xavier about the scientist tossing his research. He’s pretty hurt by her keeping it a secret but she does try to help him out. She uses a little mailing program on the Cyber Mart website (suggesting the customers buy certain things based on their prior purchases) to get a lot of people to show up so Xavier can spread the word that way. I have to admit this was my favorite part of the episode. Where he’s usually focused on the scary part of the asteroid hitting the planet and obliterating everything, he instead focuses on asking people what they’d change about their lives if they had 6 months to live. He turns it into a positive and it was beautiful because he had everyone writing down what they’d do in chalk on the ground it was just a giant collage of words and colors. It really felt powerful to me and while they may not know that it’s true that the asteroid is coming, but it at least prompts one guy who works at Cyber Mart to quit his job and move on to something that makes him happy.

What’s not so great is what TImothy finds out having doing some serious digging into Xavier. For one thing, he finds out at the Xavier was kicked out of school for his crazy theories. And perhaps even more crazy, he has a different (and super ridiculous) name. Timothy doesn’t really want to hurt Evie with this information but he feels he has no choice but to tell her. I suppose he’s being a good friend, even if it does benefit him in an adverse way to Xavier. Xavier is riding high off his inspirational speech (I really have to say I kind of feel like if the show had focused more on that tone rather than the doom and gloom so much at the beginning it might have done a little better, it has a good message) so when Evie shows up at his trailer and confronts him, he’s caught totally off guard.

As I said at the start, I wasn’t a huge fan of at least one of the plots of this episode and I do feel like this show would benefit from being only a half hour. With the full hour, they have to kill a lot of time and I think this episode could have been better without the stupid Deirdre and Hank storyline (or maybe Kareema and her brother). It really was a lot of different threads to follow. But as I said, I loved Xavier’s speech to the crowd that gathered and I really liked how everyone reacted to it. Given the state of the world, we could all use a little hope.