Tuesday, September 26, 2017

This Is Us 2.01: “A Father’s Advice”

“Sometimes in marriage someone has to be the one to push to make the big moves. And oftentimes in our marriage it was your father. Our marriage wasn’t perfect, it’s true. But none are. And your father wasn’t perfect either. But he was pretty damn close. As close as they come.”
- Rebecca

It’s been a long summer, Pearson clan but we are finally back for season 2 of “This Is Us” and I cannot wait to see what the writers have in store for us this year. When last we left the family, everyone was in a bit of a state of transition. In the present, Kate and Toby were moving in together in LA, Kevin had gone back to LA to shoot a film while Sophie stayed in New York (they are still together at this point) and Randall had quit his job and told Beth he wanted to adopt a baby. In the past, Jack and Rebecca have had their epic fight and Jack has left to go stay with Miguel and the teenage Big Three don’t know what’s going on just yet.

In the past, we see Rebecca pick up the kids the next morning and she and Jack try to explain about their separation. Kate immediately tries to side with her dad, saying she’ll go stay with him and Miguel but Jack shuts that down. The boys don’t take it much better and when Jack insists they will be fine, Rebecca isn’t ready for even hand holding. As she puts it, she needs to feel something else other than disappointment first. I have to say, this show always makes me teary eyed and this week was no different. But what did it for me is that we hear old William narrating a poem from his book that he left for Randall and it’s beautiful, as one would expect. A little later, Jack is at Miguel’s, relaying what happened and all he wants is for his friend to tell him everything will be okay. Miguel comes through eventually but Jack just looks so sad, sitting on the couch waiting for the phone the ring. Rebecca isn’t really handling things much better as she drags the kids to a movie despite there being zero interest. And as the family sits and watches the movie, we see that Randall had left the party and gone back home, catching part of his parents’ fight so he’s got information the other kids don’t. And as we know, Kate likely feel responsible because she urged her father to go be with her mother. And man, Jack is trying to find ways to win Rebecca back and it’s just not working. He goes to one of the clubs she sang at and tries to convince the owner to book Rebecca as a solo act but he refuses. The look on his face just makes your heart break. And then the big reveal comes. When Rebecca tries to get him to go home—they have things to work on but that’s okay—he tells her that he’s been drunk for weeks and he can’t go home until he’s got a handle on it. She convinces him to get in the car and then we cut to sometime in the future (it’s unclear although we know that the Big Three were seventeen at the time) to find the house a gutted mess by a fire and Jack’s wedding ring in the dash of Rebecca’s car.

In the present, the Big Three are celebrating their 37th birthdays. And while things may look good on the outside, there are chips to be found. Beth is kind of giving Randall a bit of a cold shoulder. Whether it’s the fact she had to go back to work to support the family while Randall stayed home with the girls or the whole baby fever/adoption thing, it’s unclear. But she’s just not thrilled with him. Kevin seems to be having some success with filming the movie but Sophie is stuck in New York taking care of her MS-stricken mother. Which means the double date with Toby and Kate is now an awkward trio grouping. And boy, is Toby not happy. Not having siblings, I don’t quite understand the bond that they can sometimes have but I know enough about twins to know they share a certain extra connection which is evidenced by their shorthand when Kevin just bursts into Kate and Toby’s place while they are in the middle of getting sexy. As Kate sits waiting to audition for a band, she sees all the pretty, skinny girls and flashes back to that awful day at the pool in her care bear bikini and she walks out. That night, she and Kevin are doing their twin thing again and when Toby makes a toast to tell Kate how proud is of her, she admits she bailed on the audition. He’s even more angry when he finds out that she told Kevin first. Toby is really having a tough time with Kate and Kevin’s relationship. I think them being back in the same city in LA they are sort of falling back into old habits of their codependence. Toby and Kevin get into it and Kate overhears. She decides that she doesn’t need anyone to coddle her or push her. She’s going back to the audition to wipe the floor with the competition. And damn girl can sing! She doesn’t get the part but it’s not due to her age or her weight and it’s something she can work on so she’s happy. We also get a heart to heart with Kevin and Toby where Kevin admits he kind of sucks at life but he didn’t have to try to be Kate’s brother. Hell, she told him that Jack had died.

At the adoption meeting, Beth finally gets to let some of her feelings out. She rants that Randall wants to adopt a little boy to honor his fathers’ sacrifices and commitment. Randall makes things worse by telling her that his longing isn’t going to go away so she needs to get her head around things. OH boy, he should not have said that. He goes to see Rebecca and she tells him that she didn’t want to take home another baby at first. But Jack kept pushing her, determined that baby Randall was meant to be theirs and now, obviously, she’s grateful he pushed. That may have worked with their marriage but Beth is too strong-willed to let Randall just push his desires onto her if she really doesn’t agree with them. In brief flashback, we see Beth rant to William a little about how Randall pushes people on her and how it frustrates her. Randall eventually comes to the realization that he doesn’t want to be his parents so he needs to adjust his plan. Beth might have a thought or two on that front. She takes him to William’s favorite spot (sort of in the hood) and says that if they’re going to go the adoption route, they should take in an older child that no one else would want. I like Beth’s idea and I suspect Randall will quickly come around to it, too.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Game of Thrones 6.06: "Blood of My Blood"

“I’m not angry at you. I’m angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it.”

As you might expect from the episode’s title, this episode really was all about family. In fact, the episode really fit with a theme better than most. Family influenced pretty much everything that happened, which I guess isn’t all that unusual for “Game of Thrones,” but the title especially made it stand out to me. Families were fighting and characters were remembering families lost. There’s also quite a family reunion at the end. When “Game of Thrones” can be very fragmented what with the many characters and the diverse plots in which they are involved, it was nice to see an episode that seemed to really be crafted well around a theme and hold up as a piece of the whole. The developments in this episode seemed to really move the plot forward in new ways, too. I think the show is stronger for having an end point to work towards now. It’s also stronger for not having to be quite as beholden to the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, although I have a feeling both the books and the TV show will end up in roughly the same place.

We begin this episode just about where the last one left off. Meera is still trying to drag a catatonic Bran through the forest, and the white walkers are catching up. Bran now appears to have a bunch of history downloaded into his brain, and we experience him having visions of many events that occurred earlier in the series. Meera can’t outrun the walkers, though. Just as they are about to overtake Bran and Meera, a mysterious figure on horseback arrives on the scene and helps fight off the walkers with this pretty cool flailing fire weapon thingy. Later, as the trio are gathered around a fire, recovering from a fight, the mysterious man reveals himself to be none other than Benjen Stark, Bran’s uncle who was lost north of the Wall while serving as a Ranger in the Night’s Watch. Bran, understandably, wants to know what happened to Uncle Benjen. He says that he was indeed stabbed by a White Walker while ranging, but the Children of the Trees saved him, and he wasn’t turned.

Next up, it’s time for a Tarly Meet-the-Parents session. Sam’s plan is to drop Gilly and Little Sam off with his (pretty terrible) family while he goes off to study to be a Maester. Lady Tarly, Sam’s mom, is very friendly to Gilly and Little Sam. She’s extremely happy to meet her “grandson” (of course none of the Tarlys know that Little Sam isn’t actually Sam’s biological son). Sam’s sister also seems happy to see everyone. She instantly takes Gilly under her wing and tries to find a fancy dress for her among her wardrobe. She’s got to be dressed up for family dinner, after all. When it is dinner time, Papa Tarly just wants to talk about “manly” things like hunting. He’s disappointed that Sam is still “soft” and cares the most about books. Gilly tries to defend him, talking about creatures Sam had to kill in the North, but she ends up revealing she’s a Wildling. Papa Tarly hates Wildlings, so he is not happy with this news, and dinner ends abruptly after a big family argument. Privately, Sam apologizes to Gilly for how awful his family is. He’s about to just leave, but then he changes his mind. He leaves all right, but he takes Gilly, Little Sam, and his father’s prized sword with him.

We next head for King’s Landing, where the High Sparrow is still really in charge. He lets Tommen see Margaery. Which is kind of ridiculous considering Margaery is Tommen’s wife and all. In their interaction, Margaery seems super religious now, but she’s sneaky and power-hungry like her mother-in-law, so I’m not buying it. Meanwhile, Jaime lets the Tyrell family army into King’s Landing and accompanies them to the Sept where the High Sparrow and his minions have been hanging out. Unfortunately, Jaime’s gambit fails. Margaery has convinced Tommen to work with the Church now, and Tommen, who is King after all, is totally cool with the High Sparrow controlling his capital city. He kicks Jaime out of the Kingsguard and assigns him to head up the army that is going to help Walder Frey take back Riverrun.

We see Walder Frey, played by the always entertaining David Bradley (yay replacement First Doctor!) for the first time in a while in this episode. He is very pissed off at his sons for losing Riverrun to the Blackfish. He’s holding Edmure Tully (the Blackfish’s brother) hostage, however, and he is not going to hesitate to use him to get Riverrun back. That’s also where Jaime and his supposed new army come into play. In King’s Landing, Jaime tells Cersei about his fate. Instead of attacking Riverrun, he wants to kill the High Sparrow. Cersei doesn’t think this is the best course of action, and she tells Jaime he should be at the head of an army where he belongs. And then they make out. Because twincest never dies, apparently.

Across the sea in Braavos, Arya is still working up to killing Lady Crane. She watches the players again, this time a scene that recreates that beautiful time when Joffrey died of poisoned wine at his wedding. After the show, Lady Crane catches Arya snooping around backstage, and they have a pleasant conversation. Lady Crane tells Arya about how she ran off to join the players at a young age. Arya likes Lady Crane, so when Lady Crane is about to drink the poisoned wine, Arya knocks it out of her hand and saves her. The Waif sees this and reports back to Jaqen, who is not happy. He basically gives the Waif permission to kill Arya. Arya knows her time with the Faceless Men is over, and she goes and retrieves Needle for the fight to come.

Meanwhile, in Dothraki territory, Dany and Daario argue about what to do next. He is skeptical about her plan to rule the Seven Kingdoms, because he thinks she’s a conquerer more than a ruler. Dany, meanwhile, senses something on the wind, and she goes ahead, telling Daario to stay behind with the Khalessar. Daario is about to betray his orders and follow her when Dany comes back riding a dragon – it’s Drogon, no less. She gives a huge speech, reminiscent of one Khal Drogo would give the Khalessar, about how they’re going to cross the sea in wooden horses and fulfill Khal Drogo’s promise to her. Of course, the crowd goes wild.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Good Place 2.01: “Everything Is Great!”

“You gotta trust me buddy, I would never put you in a painful situation.”
- Michael

This double episode premiere of season 2 of “The Good Place” did a lot and not very much plot wise all at the same time. I wasn’t a huge fan of the reveal at the end of the first season about them being in the Bad Place so maybe I’m just biased. We start the season off with Eleanor having met her soul mate who keeps running off to the gym whenever she tries to talk to him about well…anything. It’s very odd. She also finds the note and can’t figure it out. Slowly, Eleanor almost runs into the core four. Out on a walk with Michael, she runs into Jason and he gives her a piece of a bicycle that she thinks is a talisman of some sort and then at the neighborhood welcome party, she finds Chidi.

As we see Eleanor start to wonder what is going on, we also get some insight into Michael and the rest of the people in the “good place”—aka all the other demons. I will admit seeing him try to rally the troops is kind of amusing. He also gets tongue-lashed by his boss who is obviously not meant to be a nice guy. Michael has one more try to really show that his vision can work or else he’s going to be recycled. It also appears that a lot of people aren’t happy about their role changes. The woman who played “real Eleanor” last time, is now a pizza shop lady named Denise. And one of the gay guys asks repeatedly if he can bite our core four. Michael instructs his people to ensure that Eleanor gets wasted at the party because he’s going to make her give a long speech and he’s planning to pull from her speech for the chaos the next morning (it seems they are sticking with some of the same things from last season).

Unfortunately for them, Eleanor is more interested in figuring out who Chidi is and why he’s important to her. We also see some of the torture the rest of the core four is put through and I will admit it was clever and built on their individual insecurities and issues. Chidi was made to choose between two soul mates and when he was going to choose the one he really felt like he almost had a connection with (this is Chidi after all and he can’t commit to much of anything), Micheal bursts in and says that the woman Chidi didn’t connect with is his soul mate. Bummer man but it definitely fits with his character flaws. I mean, he hated to have to choose and would have preferred someone else make the decision but he clearly wasn’t happy with the decision that was made. And Tahani is paired with a short guy in a small house (with a rather hideous self-portrait of her sister) who prefers comfort to style. Michael even gets rid of the second floor of the small house when Tahani’s soul mate says they don’t need all the space. It was fun to see her squirm. And Jason, he’s paired with another Buddhist monk who will never leave his side (hence the bike sabotage). I will admit it was funny to see him mirroring the other guy because he had no idea what he was doing. It really was a good punishment and personal torture for Jason. Not being able to have his space and not being able to talk.

Tahani in particular is having a bad go of it, especially when she agrees to go ‘comfy” and ends up in an oversized denim top and cargo pants with Crocs. Seriously, no one thinks that’s a good look ever! So when Eleanor is pouring herself some shots (she abandons them when she hears Chidi’s name), Tahani takes them and gets really drunk. When it’s time for Eleanor’s big speech, Tahani busts in all drunk and ends up knocking something over and starting a fire. Eleanor and Chidi manage to slip away and Jason wanders off and bonds a bit with Janet while the rest of the neighborhood regroups. Michael is furious that things didn’t go according to plan. And he’s even madder when he realizes all of the humans are missing!

Of course, everyone ends up at Eleanor’s house. Chidi is trying to wrap his brain around the fact they’d clearly met before in the ‘good place” and that she doesn’t belong there. He then comes to the realization that he doesn’t belong there either. Enter Michael and a bunch of soul mates that are “worried sick” about their human halves. This keys Eleanor in to the deception and she calls Michael’s bluff far sooner than he expected. He didn’t know about the note Eleanor hid in Janet’s mouth the last time. So he takes action faster this time and we start back up again. Michael hasn’t told his boss about the third try (for obvious reasons).

I’m concerned that we basically moved through all of season one in about 40 minutes and that we’re already on our third reset of the plot and characters. How long can this really go on without being repetitive and boring? And what happens ultimately when they come to the realization yet again and Michael runs out of chances with his boss to try this out? I mean, do they get sent to the real version of the Bad Place? Do they show that they’ve improved themselves enough to legitimately score a spot in the Good Place? It isn’t clear at all from what we’ve seen in the premiere and I’m a little annoyed we don’t have a clear direction this season. The show was so fun and creative the first season. I don’t want to see it fall into the sophomore slump! The acting caliber is too good for that to be the case.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

MTVP Emmys Coverage 2017: The Aftermath

“I thought you loved morally compromised anti-heroes!”
-Stephen Colbert

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards telecast is in the books, and to say it was a memorable telecast would be an understatement. With our current national turmoil and Stephen Colbert as host, politics was front and center. There was a rather controversial politico cameo in the show’s opener, which I’ll get to in just a minute. The winners of the night were, for the most part, satisfying. Many of my picks from Sunday’s “The Players” post won their awards. Donald Glover actually won two awards. How exciting is that! The slate of winners was satisfyingly diverse, representing many unique perspectives. The show also moved at a good clip, finishing just a few minutes after 11:00. Overall, with the exception of the misstep that was the political cameo I alluded to, I would say that Stephen Colbert’s turn as host was a success.

Colbert opened the show with a partly pre-taped, partly live song and dance number about how television is a great distraction from the state of the world right now. He entered the stage with backup dancers dressed as Handmaids in red robes and white hats. Colbert pointed out how upset Donald Trump has been over the years with the fact that his shows never won an Emmy, so he half-jokingly blamed Trump’s current Presidential reign of terror on the Emmy voters. The crescendo of the Trump-ified opener was none other than Sean Spicer himself appearing on a rolling podium to declare the Emmy audience the biggest ever. At first I laughed out of the shock of it, but as I thought about it more, the Spicer appearance didn’t seem that funny. Up until very recently, he was enabling the destruction of our country and blatantly lying to the American people. It’s soon for that to be funny. If Melissa McCarthy as Spicer had rolled up, that might have been funny. The real Spicer, though? Not as much.

There were a lot of winners that made me happy, were groundbreaking, or both. John Lithgow won for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Crown,” and while his win wasn’t groundbreaking, I thought it was much deserved, as Lithgow brought gravitas to the role. Even Lithgow couldn’t escape the political climate, however, as he thanked the real Winston Churchill for demonstrating what government service should look like. Kate McKinnon also won for her work on “Saturday Night Live” for a second year in a row, including her work as Hillary Clinton. McKinnon thanked the First Lady for her example of grace. One of the presenters of that particular Emmy, however, was Gina Rodriguez, and I wondered to myself why she has never won. Gina Rodriguez is a fabulous actress who brings such heart to the title character of “Jane the Virgin,” and she deserves all the awards.

Donald Glover won not just one, but two Emmys. Both for his creation, “Atlanta.” He won Outstanding Director of a Comedy Series for directing the episode “B.A.N.” which was an experimental episode that took the form of a show on a BET-like network, complete with commercials. He also won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his portrayal of Earn Marks on “Atlanta.” It was great to see someone who has worked so hard in the industry get some recognition. He had the distinction of being only the second Black man to ever win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Another favorite actor of mine (he played Eric Northman on TrueBlood…enough said), Alexander Skarsgard, won for his work on “Big Little Lies.” I haven’t seen all of “Big Little Lies” yet – I have only watched the premiere so far, but Alexander Skarsgard is a beautiful man, so I admit being shallow. I mostly just enjoyed watching him give his speech.

There were also a few random moments throughout the telecast that struck me as especially entertaining. I knew ahead of time that Rachel Bloom, of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” fame, would be doing some sort of song-and-dance number. Her song-and-dance ended up being a bit to introduce the accountants of all people. It was a fun little number that was vintage Rachel Bloom. Though I think they could have had more fun with an “our accountants are better than the Oscars’ accountants” angle. There was also a bit where Stephen Colbert interviewed “Emmy” herself, played by Ru Paul dressed up as the Emmy statuette and sassy as ever. The In Memoriam segment was also rather memorable. Chris Jackson of “Hamilton” fame killed it with his song (I’m not sure what the actual song was). While I was watching it, I realized that many people had died since last year’s Emmys that I had completely forgotten about, like Mary Tyler Moore. Then I remembered that oh yeah, 2016 was basically shit (and yes, I know Mary Tyler Moore actually died in January 2017, but this past winter in general, there were just so many celebrity deaths).

As for the big two awards, Outstanding Comedy Series was won by “Veep.” As you know from my post on Sunday, I was rooting for “Atlanta,” but I can’t be too upset about the Armando Iannucci-created political comedy winning. I’ve liked the few episodes of it that I’ve seen. “The Handmaid’s Tale” won for Outstanding Drama Series, and while it wasn’t my top choice, I was okay with that, too. Between that and “Big Little Lies” winning for Outstanding Limited Series, it was a night to celebrate and fight for women. I haven’t been able to stomach the idea of watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” yet. I read the book the weekend the travel ban first started and everyone was rushing to the airports to protest, and it was just a little too real. It continues to be a little too real. I am glad, however, that such important work has been recognized.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

MTVP Emmys Coverage 2017: The Players

It’s that time of year again – the “end of summer” in my TV watching world. Tonight the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will air on CBS. Stephen Colbert is hosting, which I’m hoping will mean we’re in for a good time. Colbert is certainly a capable host, and I find him to be an intelligent and funny comedian. I’m not usually a fan of CBS for much of anything (although Sunday Morning is cool to watch sometimes – I always learn something), but they do tend to put on decent quality Emmy telecasts. Perhaps that’s because, much like CBS itself, awards telecasts in general are kind of retro. With Colbert at host, I would expect that politics could play something of a role in the telecast, which I think could be interesting. All that being said, it’s time for my usual disclaimer. What I do in this blog post is basically just highlight a few categories where I have an opinion about who I would like to see win. This isn’t meant to be any sort of prognostication (there are lots of people who get paid to do that) about the awards – I’m just a TV fan letting you know who/what she’ll be rooting for. I’ve been a hardcore Emmy fan for quite a while, so I do come at this with some knowledge, but this is basically just stuff I like.

Outstanding Drama Series

The Nominees:

Better Call Saul
The Crown
The Handmaid’s Tale
House of Cards
This is Us
Stranger Things

My Pick: Stranger Things

I’ll admit, I was torn between “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.” Both were excellent, high quality shows that I enjoyed watching this year and that really held my attention. In the end, though, “Stranger Things” just has my Dungeons and Dragon’s-playing, early-80’s-baby heart. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show that incorporated so many child actors so well. The kids really are the show. Their sense of adventure and innocence about the world creates both excitement and tension throughout the show’s first season. I also think there was some pretty fantastic world building in the first season. Hawkins, Indiana and its “Upside Down” counterpart feel like a real, lived-in, kinda creepy place, and I love it. I also won’t cry if “The Crown” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” win (haven’t seen the show, but I have read the book), but “Stranger Things” was just plain fun to watch, so it gets my vote.

Outstanding Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Master of None
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

My Pick: Atlanta

As much as I always love the zainyness (with occasional real moments) of “Kimmy Schmidt” and the all too real these days political humor of “Veep,” “Atlanta” is the comedy that really stuck in my brain this year, for lack of a better way of putting it. “Atlanta” is the brainchild of the very talented Donald Glover, who you’ll read more about in just a bit. The show follows Earn and his cousin Paper Boi as Paper Boi has a hit as a rapper. There’s a lot of very insightful commentary. An episode where Earn is in jail and an episode where Earn goes to a Juneteeth party with his baby mama/on-agan-off-again girlfriend especially stand out to me. The show is also not afraid to get experimental. The episode “B.A.N.” is entirely Paper Boi giving an interview to a BET-like network, complete with parody commercials. I’ll admit, I didn’t get most of the cultural references in that particular episode, but I could appreciate what the creative team was trying to do. The creative team in general is unafraid to take risks, and they succeed in showing us a slice of life that doesn’t always make it into popular culture.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Anthony Anderson (Black-ish)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
Zach Galifianakis (Baskets)
Donald Glover (Atlanta)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)

My Pick: Donald Glover

I’ve been a fan of Donald Glover since his “Community” days. I always appreciated how he was able to humanize school jock Troy. I also enjoyed his turn as disheveled aerospace engineer Rich Purnell in “The Martian.” ‘Atlanta” is truly Glover’s baby. He wanted to create a show about what it was like to be Black and living in Atlanta, and by all accounts, he succeeded. Glover stars as Earnest “Earn” Marks, a college drop-out who sees an opportunity to finally help support his daughter when his cousin, Paper Boi, makes it big as a rapper. Earn, Paper Boi, and their crew go through all sorts of wacky hijinks, always grounded in a sense of place. Glover brings a (pun not intended) earnestness to the character of Earn, while at the same time we can see that he is also worn down by striving so much and never succeeding.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

The Nominees:

Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
David Harbour (Stranger Things)
Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
John Lithgow (The Crown)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Jeffrey Wright (Westworld)

My Pick: John Lithgow

This one was another tough call for me. David Harbour was memorable in his role as Chief Jim Hopper on “Stranger Things.” I like that, even up until the end of the season, I couldn’t figure out what side he was truly on. I’ve got to give this one, however, to John Lithgow for his turn as Winston Churchill on “The Crown.” I primarily know Lithgow from his comedic roles, like the iconic professor/alien Dick Solomon on “3rd Rock from the Son,” so I enjoyed getting to see him take a dramatic turn in this role. I’ve heard it said that comedic actors often have an easier time switching to dramatic roles than vice versa, and I think Lithgow would be a point in favor of that theory. He had a very commanding presence as Churchill, and it was plain to see how conflicted he was. He wanted to continue his career in spite of his health issues. He wanted to guide Elizabeth on the ways of British politics even if he found her a little annoying at first. He always liked a good publicity opportunity. Lithgow made all of this apparent and more.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Vanessa Bayer (Saturday Night Live)
Anna Chulmsky (Veep)
Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Kathryn Hahn (Transparent)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)

My Pick: Kate McKinnon

I tend to like to spread Emmy love around a bit, and I enjoy seeing new people win. But last year’s winner in this category, Kate McKinnon, is my pick this year. As Hillary Clinton, she was the MVP of this season of Saturday Night Live, a season that was more relevant than it has been in decades. SNL thrives in times of political turmoil, and the past year has had political turmoil in spades. As the actress tapped to play Hillary Clinton, McKinnon was in the center of it all, playing gamely opposite Alec Baldwin’s all-too-accurate Donald Trump. And who can forget her turn as the overworked Kellyanne Conway in the Lin-Manuel Miranda hosted episode from last fall. I’m still laughing over that one. (Or I would laugh, if the whole state of our country didn’t make me want to cry right now).

And that’s it from me, fellow TV Junkies. See you again after the telecast!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Summer TV Rewind: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 2.02: "When Will Josh See How Cool I Am?"

“No, I don’t remember that at all, but I will take your French fry apology and apply it to other stuff.”

I am most definitely in a better place than I was last summer when I watched the first season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” but damn can this show get to me. I am so pissed at Rebecca right now for how she is treating Greg. She’s gone and decided she might want him back now just because he was willing to say he loved her when Josh wasn’t. Rebecca at one point tells Josh that she deserves someone who actually pays attention to her, but I think it’s Greg who actually deserves better. Especially after this episode, where he turned in a stellar performance, I am going to miss having Santino Fontana on the show dearly (yeah, I know what happens in episode four, and I’ve already preemptively been upset about it for months), but for the character of Greg, clearly getting away from West Covina, and away from Rebecca in particular, is the best thing for him. I’m hoping this shows personal growth on my part that I can recognize that. Last fall, I would have wanted them together at all costs, but now I can clearly see that Greg needs to be allowed to come into his own away from Rebecca’s toxic influence. Paula and Rebecca squealing made dog bark in apartment below.

Early in this episode, Greg and Rebecca both make commitments where they eventually end up letting people down. Greg tells his sponsor, “Guardrail,” that he’ll bring the doughnuts to the next meeting. One of the other guys seems skeptical, but Guardrail wants to give Greg this chance. Rebecca, meanwhile, is super psyched to hear about Paula’s plans to apply to law school. She’s so psyched that her and Paula’s squealing over it made the dog in the apartment below mine start barking. Seriously. I contemplated maybe watching the rest of the episode using headphones. Anyway, Paula asks Rebecca to write her a letter of recommendation, and Rebecca says she’d be happy to. Darryl, who hears about this, also decides to write a letter, since he considers himself Paula’s “best friend” and all. Paula, however, wants nothing to do with Darryl’s letter, because she thinks her “bestie” Rebecca can do a better job. We all know, of course, however, that Darryl is going to be the much more reliable letter writer/friend.

To demonstrate her excitement for this potential new chapter in her life, Paula sings a true (but raunchy in CXG style) Disney Princess-type song called “Maybe this Dream.” A couple of the Whitefeather attorneys even play birdie backup singers, too. Donna Lynne Champlin has a beautiful voice, so even though the whole thing was a little on-the-nose, it was enjoyable. Rebecca, as you’d expect, lets Paula down, though. She keeps forgetting about the letter of recommendation because of all the boy drama she has going on (more on that in a bit). Darryl, meanwhile, very earnestly keeps trying to get Paula to use his letter instead. Eventually, Paula has no choice, since Darryl actually turned his letter in on time, while Rebecca (who did eventually write a very nice letter), did not. Darryl I think struggles with the fact that while Paula is his best friend, it’s not mutual (which is something I’ve definitely experienced before), and when Rebecca tells him she has started watching “Game of Thrones,” he comes up with the best burn ever. He tells her that Ned dies, and she shouldn’t get too attached to Robb either. Since I also was told (by an internet commenter who was a holier than thou book reader) not to get too attached to Robb and thus had the Red Wedding spoiled for me, I couldn’t stop laughing at this. I didn’t laugh about it when I was first spoiled, but I have some distance from it now!

Meanwhile, Rebecca is obsessed with the fact that Josh isn’t paying enough attention to her. As we saw in the season premiere also, she’s desperate for any sign of affection or validation. Josh, for his part, can’t commit to making plans with Rebecca even though they de facto live together now. At one point, he tells Rebecca he can’t hang out with her on a particular night because he’s playing ping pong with the guys. This leads Rebecca to come up with a tall tale about how she was a ping pong champion back in the day. Josh says that if that’s the case, she can join them, so Rebecca has to get her ping pong skills up to speed quickly. She ends up hiring the kid from “Trophy Wife” (can’t remember the name of the character off the top of my head, but you remember the precocious son of Bradley Whitford’s character and his second, kinda hippie wife…that kid). Rebecca starts practicing her ping pong, and naturally, she’s not writing Paula’s letter.

This leads to my favorite song of the season thus far, and frankly, it will probably be my favorite song of the entire season. It’s called “Ping Pong Girl,” and it’s basically a beautifully rendered late 90s/ early 2000s pop rock pastiche. Think Blink 182 or Good Charlotte, or in other words, the sounds of my teen-hood. I am sure most of the credit for the catchiness goes to Adam Schlessinger, who I have no doubt can whip up a tune like this in his sleep, having been the frontman behind Fountains of Wayne and all. The lyrics of the song spoke to me, too. Josh is basically singing about how this aloof “ping pong girl” is so sexy and good at sports (but not uber-manly sports) that he wants to marry her and share a Costco card with her. I think all of us who have taken on a hobby in the hopes of impressing a guy can relate to this, even if we haven’t taken it to the extremes that Rebecca does.

Meanwhile, though, Greg runs into Josh and Father Brah at the boba stand. Josh and Father Brah had been discussing whether or not Josh should tell Greg that he’s been sleeping with Rebecca, and they had both come to the conclusion that in Greg’s current emotionally vulnerable state, it was probably best not to share. Admitting it would only make Josh feel better, not Greg. Josh, though, of course has to let it slip as soon as Greg approaches them. At first, Greg’s not terribly upset, thinking Josh was only talking about the night of the wedding. When Josh clarifies that it’s actually been ongoing, and he and Rebecca kind of live together now, Greg becomes a little more upset. He still tries to play it off as everything’s fine, though. Then he goes back to Home Base, and while singing a reprise of “I Could If I Wanted To,” he punches a wall in the stock room. Interestingly, we also see Greg try to apologize to Heather in this episode. It’s not for what you think, though (leading her on when he was actually in love with Rebecca). It’s for taking some of her French fires one time. Heather isn’t quite sure what to do with this apology. It’s also worth noting that Greg tells his buddies about his alcoholism in this episode, and they’re not really shocked, even when Greg illustrates how bad the problem is with the Irish-sounding “Greg’s Drinking Song.”

Most of the crew, including Rebecca, shows up to play ping pong. Greg, however, is noticeably absent. As soon as the other guys realize Greg knows about Josh and Rebecca, they immediately become worried. They’re pretty sure he’s fallen off the wagon again. He does, actually, miss a meeting, particularly the meeting where he was supposed to bring the doughnuts, but he tries to make up for that later with super fancy doughnuts. But anyway, I digress. Rebecca thinks she knows where to potentially find Greg, and she is successful, finding him camped out on a park bench, surprisingly sober. They have quite the heart to heart, where Greg admits that he got the DUI while driving to Rebecca’s to tell her he loves her. Rebecca’s love starved heart just eats this up, and when she goes home, she snuggles with Greg’s Emory sweatshirt. And this is when I fully started to support the idea of Greg moving on from Rebecca. She doesn’t love him for him. She loves him because he’ll freely give her attention.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Doctor Who 2016 Christmas Special: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

“There have been many attempts to conquer the Earth, I’ve lost count. Not one of them has succeeded. Not a single one. They all lost, and burn and ran. That’s who I am.”
- The Doctor

I know this is horribly late but things kind of got away from me. But then again, considering the 2017 Christmas Special is shortly upon us and we don’t yet have a release date for Series 11 (with first female Doctor Jodie Whittaker) maybe having this episode a little late isn’t such a bad thing. We will do our best to get this year’s special blogged in a more timely fashion.

One of the things I found interesting bout this special was because we didn’t have any new episodes between 2015 and 2016 airings, we got to see what the Doctor was doing after 2015’s “The Husbands of River Song”. And in case you forgot, we last saw him and River sharing their last night (read: 24 years) together before she made her fateful trip to the Library. In flashbacks, we see the Doctor meet a little boy named Grant on Christmas morning in New York. The Doctor is doing something ridiculously doctor-y and entrusts Grant to hold a gemstone while he’s fiddling. Grant—lover of superheroes—swallows it (he claims it looked like medicine) now has superpowers that the Doctor makes him promise not to use. As puberty hits, the Doctor checks in on Grant who has now bonded with the gem and has x-ray vision. Because of course he does.

In the present, we find Grant again playing nanny to the child of his best friend and the woman he loves (but doesn’t know he’s got feelings for her). Oh, and he’s also a superhero called The Ghost (the gem he swallowed had a similar name). The love interest, Lucy Fletcher (Lombard) is a reporter (because of course she is) and she’s investigating a weird research institute with a lot of backers. She sticks around late one night to find one of the researchers lure another man into a giant vault. She encounters the Doctor and Nardole (who the Doctor has pieced back together since last we saw him) and she eventually gets rescued by The Ghost. The Doctor clearly knows who Grant is and shows up at the apartment to chastise him. Things get weird when Lucy comes home. Grant flies off to do some more saving while Lucy grills the Doctor on who he really is and what’s going on. She gets some information out of him but when it comes to The Ghost, he’s more than a little tight lipped. That’s okay, though, because Grant calls her on the phone and they set up a dinner interview for the next evening.

That would be all well and good if brains in jars weren’t trying to blow up the world! The Doctor and Nardole do a bit of sleuthing and discover a spaceship-turned-bomb in low orbit. And while the Doctor is messing about with said bomb, the aliens are plotting to unzip Grant’s head (well the Ghost but whatever). Because this is basically Superman playing out in real life, Lucy realizes she’s in love with Grant and then when he’s unmasked, she realizes just how amazing he is. Just in time for him to save the world as the Doctor launches a bomb at New York City. This gets UNIT involved and Grant and Lucy get to have their happy ending. All the while the Doctor is a bit morose (especially when he hears that Grant has known Lucy for 24 years). In the end, the Doctor glumly prattles on about things ending and being sad but that new things come along. Nardole fills in the bits about River and then they head off to try and save the universe some more. The way Nardole put it was kind of sweet and also totally fit the Doctor and River’s relationship. What with them spending all that time together and her dying a long time ago. I have to think Nardole was right when he said that the Doctor put him back together because he didn’t want to be lonely after River left. We’ve seen what he can become when left alone and unchecked by someone (anyone really). He needs that human (or close to it) touch to keep him grounded and not totally running off the rails. I do hope we get to see River and Thirteen meet at some point. It would be highly unlikely and totally not fit in canon but it would make this River fan pleased as punch to see it (and I know at least Alex Kingston is up for it).

Overall, I thought this episode was decent. I liked that they acknowledged the lack of episodes between the Christmas episodes but that it also gave continuity. The superhero plotline was predictable and not overly clever but it gave the Doctor a nice way to ease back into being Earth’s champion and it also introduced us to Nardole as a companion of sorts. He really did grow on me during series 10. It was a bit like Aliens of London from series 1 with the Slitheen but then again, series 10 as a whole felt a lot like rehashing old plotlines. The aliens themselves (at least when they were in human form) seemed a lot like some of the aliens the Doctor and River encountered in last Christmas’s episode. I suppose they could have been the same species and they were just setting us up for this season. But then again, that feels a tad too forward thinking and foreshadowing for Moffatt to have done a year in advance. There is a lot that has frustrated me of late with Doctor Who and part of it being the Christmas specials in particular but this wasn’t the worst Christmas special we’ve had under Moffatt’s reign so cheers for that.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Game of Thrones 6.05: "The Door"

“What do you think he did to me?”

“The Door” was a bit more Stark-focused than many preceding episodes of “Game of Thrones” have been, and I appreciated that. I am a Stark family fan first and foremost when it comes to this series. Sure, I enjoy Tyrion’s scheming and appreciate that he survives using brains over brawn. I also enjoy that Daenerys is a badass Mother of Dragons. What first drew me into the show, and the Song of Ice and Fire world in general, however, was the Starks. That scene in the pilot episode where they’re just playing around at swordfighting in the yard, oblivious to the fact that their lives were about to be destroyed, is still burned into my brain all these years later. Like Sansa, I desperately want to see the Starks reclaim what was theirs, because they were the first “window” characters through which I saw Westeros. And they have been through so, so much. Speaking of the Stark household, we also learn more of Hodor in this episode, although that learning has tragic consequences. This was the infamous “Hold the door!” episode, and the scene in question was brutal.

As the episode opens, Sansa gets a letter sealed with Littlefinger’s mockingbird sigil. He wants to meet with her in Molestown, and she complies. When Littlefinger has the gall to say he’s glad Sansa is “unharmed,” Sansa is quick to correct him. She is rightfully pissed off that Petyr left her to Ramsay Bolton. Either he knew about Ramsay’s proclivities, which would be unforgiveable, or he didn’t know about them, which would be very uncharacteristic of someone who trades on information like Littlefinger does. Sansa makes him guess what Ramsay did to her, and she takes him through it all. She tells him she doesn’t want his help with the upcoming war – Jon’s army will be enough. Petyr tells Sansa that her uncle the Blackfish has reclaimed Riverrun, and it might be wise to get his support. He also plants a little seed of doubt about Jon, reminding Sansa that he’s only her “half” brother.

Littlefinger’s little dig sticks. Jon calls a meeting to figure out their next move. Davos is feeling nervous about their chances of turning a sufficient number of Northern families against the Boltons. Sansa insists that she knows the North, and they’re loyal, while Davos insists he knows how men in general act. Jon may have Stark blood, but he doesn’t have the Stark name to rally around. Sansa mentions that the Blackfish has retaken Riverrun, but when asked how she knows this, she just says that Ramsay got a raven saying so before she left. She’s not quite trusting Jon enough to reveal her meeting with Littlefinger. She gives Brienne the special mission to go enlist the Blackfish while the rest of the group starts South together. Before they leave, Sansa gives Jon a piece of clothing with a Stark direwolf sigil, and Jon is genuinely touched by the gesture.

Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya is still training with the Waif, and it’s not going especially well. Jaqen tells Aarya the history of the Faceless Men – how they freed themselves from slavery and founded Braavos. All the faces they are permitted to use are carved on the walls of their Hall. It’s pretty cool actually. Jaqen gives Arya a mission that is basically going to be her last chance to prove her worth to the Faceless Men. She must kill an actress named Lady Crane. Arya goes to see Lady Crane in a nearby performance of a rather farcical play about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of King Robert and her father. At first, she’s amused, but when “Ned” appears, it takes a turn and Arya is the only one not laughing. This particular scene made me want to book my ticket to the Maryland Renaissance Festival – it felt like that sort of performance! Arya heads backstage after the show, and she hears Lady Crane talking about how she likes to drink rum. Back at the Hall, she talks to Jaqen about the situation. She starts speculating about who might have asked the Faceless Men to kill Lady Crane – her prime suspect is the young actress who was playing Sansa. Jaqen tells Arya that it’s not her place to speculate. She needs to just do her job.

We next head to the Iron Islands, where the Kingsmoot has been convened to crown their next leader. Yara makes the first claim, and there are a lot of people who are supportive, but there are also, of course, some misogynists who don’t think the Iron Islands can have a queen. To his credit, Theon steps up for his sister and tells the crowd how qualified she is and that he’s forfeiting his claim to the throne for her. This gets a lot more support from the crowd. Everything is ruined, however, when Yara and Theon’s Uncle Euron, who actually killed the previous King in the first place, shows up. He gives a big speech about how he wants to strengthen the Iron Islands through an alliance with Daenerys, and since he’s got a penis, the crowd eats it up. Theon again stresses that Yara was there for the Iron Islands when nobody else was, and she has proven leadership skills, but the crowd isn’t having it. In that scene, Yara is all of us competent women who have been mansplained to. This scene hit a little too close to home, actually. Euron is crowned in a ritual that actually involves him drowning in tribute to the Drowned God, and while this is happening, Yara, Theon, and a bunch of their followers escape with the best shops. Once he comes to, Euron orders his supporters to build more ships to follow them.

Let’s head back across the Narrow Sea to check in with Dany and her crew. Her reunion with Jorah and Daario is kind of sweet. Dany doesn’t know what to do with Jorah, since she’s banished him twice, but he still keeps saving her. Jorah admits two things – that he loves Dany and that he has Grey Scale. Dany commands Jorah to find a cure for himself, then she rides off impressively with her entourage. In Meereen, Tyrion and Varys are still trying to make their political victory (the deal with the Masters) stick. Violence has decreased dramatically, but they want to make sure everybody knows that Dany is ultimately responsible for that decreased violence. Tyrion, surprisingly, enlists the help of a Red Priestess, who says her priests will say that Dany is the chosen one from their prophesy. Varys is skeptical, especially considering all the trouble Melisandre has caused. Eventually, however, the Priestess wins him over, and they come to an accord.

We wrap this post up in the far North, where Bran is plugged into the cave with the Three-Eyed Raven. Through a vision, we learn that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to protect themselves from humans, and then that plan backfired. Later, Bran has another vision on his own. This time he sees the White Walkers and the Night King. In the vision, the Night King grabs his arm. When he comes to, Bran is told that he’s not safe in the cave anymore because he’s been marked by the Night King, and the Three-Eyed Raven needs to download all his knowledge into Bran ASAP before the White Walkers attack the cave. The attack starts in the middle of this info dump, and it is brutal. As Hodor, Bran (still unconscious), and Meera near an exit to the cave, the White Walkers are closing in. Meera instructs Hodor to “hold the door” while she drags Bran away. At that moment, Bran is having a vision of a young Ned leaving Winterfell, and Hodor is in the background. As Hodor is holding the door and being overtaken by the White Walkers, Hodor in the vision suddenly has a seizure. As he’s convulsing, he starts saying “hold the door,” which as his brain is damaged, becomes “Hodor.”