Wednesday, September 26, 2018

This Is Us 3.01: “Nine Bucks”

“I don’t like talking about the war or my brother. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. But, I like talking to you a lot. You make me feel like I’m home.”
- Jack

It feels like it’s been forever since we last shared time with the Pearsons. But, we are finally back and it feels great! And as has become customary, we join the Big Three on their birthday! In case you forgot, we ended last season with Kate and Toby’s wedding along with some quick flashes to the future with Kevin and Zoe (Beth’s cousin) heading to Vietnam, Kate and Toby dealing with what appears to be a resurgence of Toby’s depression and in the far future, a grown-up Tess and Randall were going off to see “her”.

We get glimpses of the direct aftermath of Kate and Toby’s wedding: Randall and Beth finding Deja has smashed the car, Kevin and Zoe hooking up for the first time and Toby ad Kate deciding to try for another baby. Out of the three, I’d say Randall and Beth have best outcome as of the ending of this episode. Deja has been in therapy but it doesn’t seem to be helping much. She’s still hurt that Shauna gave up her rights. But, Randall thinks he’s got an idea to fix things so he brings Deja to the building he and Beth bought and shares the fact that adoption shaped and influenced his life in a lot of ways. This is a long-winded way of telling her that the Pearsons want to adopt her but only if she chooses. It appears that Deja isn’t keen on the idea but after she visits her father (whose never been in her life and may or may not even know of her existence), her attitude changes. She realizes that she’s found a family that loves her and wants to support her. I’m looking forward to seeing this storyline develop.

Tangentially related is Kevin and Zoe. They both know that Beth would freak out if she found out about them. We assume Beth just doesn’t trust Kevin with a member of her family. But after she and Zoe get into a yelling match, Beth eventually reveals to Kevin that she really does love him a lot. She doesn’t show it but she does and she cares about him which is why she’s worried about him and Zoe. She fears her cousin is going to break Kevin and Beth doesn’t want to see that happen to her brother-in-law. To be honest, that’s not the reaction and reveal I was expecting out of Beth. I know we are getting more of Beth’s backstory so I hope that we get to see more of Zoe’s past, too. Hopefully it will enlighten us more about her character and what is going to unfold with her and Kevin as they eventually take that trip to Vietnam.

And then there was Kate and Toby. Since the wedding they’ve been trying to conceive and it hasn’t happened. Kate eventually gets diagnosed with PCOS and it turns out Toby’s sperm count is low, likely due to the antidepressants he’s on. Immediately I knew this wasn’t going to end well. They go to see a fertility specialist who declines to take them on as patients because of Kate’s weight and age and the likelihood of a successful pregnancy being so low. Kate mopes through her birthday party and she and Toby are in agreed to ‘screw IVF” when the doctor calls back and changes her mind. She wants to give then hope and do the impossible. This is going to be an interesting storyline. I like that they are focusing on issues that aren’t talked about a lot in the media. I’m less thrilled about the fact Toby has flushed his meds down the toilet and not told Kate about it. We also get another clue to the far future storyline when Randall calls Toby and asks him to join them. Now I’m thinking it might be Kate they’re talking about.

In the past, we get to witness Jack and Rebecca’s first date. If you thought it was going to be all sunshine and puppies, you’d be wrong. In typical Jack Person fashion, he wants to show Rebecca a great time but he’s only got nine bucks (thanks Miguel) in his pocket when they head to a nearby carnival. He blows all but two of it on entrance a snack for Rebecca. When it starts raining, he can’t afford the umbrella (if he got one, they couldn’t do any games) and so the date kind of takes a bad turn. They’re standing under an awning as the rain comes down. And it appears at first blush they have nothing in common. He’s a dog person. She’s into cats. He likes pepperoni on his pizza, she’s more of a mushroom girl. He can’t even share much about himself because he doesn’t want to talk about the war or the fact he lost his brother overseas (I’m really hoping that Kevin and Zoe’s trip reveals that Nick is somehow still alive). As Jack goes to drop Rebecca off at home, he admits the truth of why the date was such a disaster. She agrees it was a bad date but she can’t help liking the way he looks at her. And then she does something she’s never done on a first date: she kisses him. She also leaves an item in the car so he has to return it the next day (apparently that’s a thing girls did back in the 70s). But again, this isn’t a smooth road. As Jack shows up the next day, the other guy that Rebecca went on a date with shows up with a bigger bouquet of flowers than what Jack could afford. And so, as he seems them together, he drives off. Don’t stop fighting for her, Jack!

I didn’t cry as much in this episode as I usually do, which hopefully means the writers were telling the truth when they said this season would be lighter and funnier. There were some adorable moments throughout the episode (pieces of Jack and Rebecca’s date, Randall’s excitement over the new shoes Deja got him, Kevin chatting with Tess and Annie) and I’m excited to see what’s next for this wonderful family. It’s good to be home.

Friday, September 21, 2018

MTVP Emmys Coverage 2018: The Aftermath

“If you haven’t been watching tv lately, a comedy is just a drama that’s 30 minutes long.”
-Colin Jost

If there is one word to describe the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards telecast, I think it would be forgettable. Most of the bits didn’t work, because the were making light of things that shouldn’t be made light of right now (there is way too much at stake). I loved that “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won so many awards, because it’s a fantastic show, but most of the other winners left me unexcited. I found myself frequently internet surfing or otherwise getting distracted instead of watching the telecast.

“Saturday Night Live” actors Colin Jost and Michael Che had hosting duties this year (each network typically taps its own talent when it’s their year to broadcast the telecast. I like awards show hosts who have range. I’ve especially enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris’ song and dance numbers during awards shows over the years. Jost and Che didn’t do song and dance numbers. They mostly did forgettable banter. Michael Che did get in a few one-liners. He also did a segment called “Reparation Emmys,” where he gave after-the-fact Emmys to groundbreaking Black TV actors (including Jaleel White!). I’m still not sure how I feel about that segment. I appreciated the sentiment, at least, and I’m not really in a position to pass judgment on it.

Jost and Che might not have done the song and dance thing, but there was an opening musical number featuring other NBC talent, including Keenan Thompson (all the 90s kids rejoiced!) and Kristen Bell, called “We Solved It.” The number was meant to satirize the idea that by hiring one woman or person of color, the entertainment industry has “solved” its lack of diversity problem. There’s even a moment where Andy Samberg appears and is quickly told to leave because he’s a white man. And there was a “One of Each” dance troupe. This was another instance where I appreciated the sentiment, but I didn’t think the number quite worked. It was too on the nose, I think. There were also repeat bits with “Emmy experts Fred (Armisten) and Maya (Rudolph),” where it turned out they didn’t actually know anything about the Emmys at all. As a bit of an Emmy aficionado myself, I didn’t find it especially funny.

The format of the show was changed up a bit in an interesting way. For each award, the nominees would be announced by an offstage announcer before the presenters entered the stage. Then the presenters would just banter real quick and announce the winner. Sometimes there were other presenters to announce the category. I guess maybe it was a way to include more presenters? Regardless, there weren’t any presentations that were especially memorable. Except maybe John Legend and Chrissy Teigen presenting together – they’re always cool.

There were two other highlights that everyone seems to be talking about today. The first was Oscars director Glenn Weiss proposing to his girlfriend (weeks after his mother’s death) during his acceptance speech. It was sweet, although I would kill anyone who did that to me. I am not a make a fuss in public kind of person. Matthew Rhys, when he gave his own acceptance speech later for his work on “The Americans” mentioned that his girlfriend, fellow “The Americans” actor Kerri Russell, felt the exact same way. The other highlight was Betty White receiving a “Legends” award and giving a brief speech. Some of her words were a bit hesitant, but she still has the fiery spirit we all know.

The winners were hit and miss with me. Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz) won for his work on “Barry,” which is a show I didn’t even know existed. The commentariat seems excited about this win, but it didn’t do much for me, because I’ve never watched “Barry.” The “Black Mirror” episode “USS Callister, “ which features a Star Trek-like virtual reality scenario and the talents of Cristin Milioti and Jesse Plemmons, won for Outstanding Television Movie, which I appreciated. “USS Callister” is the only episode of “Black Mirror” I’ve ever watched, mostly because it was very hyped, and it lived up to the hype. It’s super creepy, but also has those nostalgic Star Trek vibes. The ending was a little too all tied up in a bow, but overall I thought it was solid. I was also happy to see Claire Foy win for her work on “The Crown,” because as I wrote on Sunday, she portrayed Her Majesty with a lot of grace, strength, and intelligence. “Game of Thrones” won for Outstanding Drama Series which, while I like the show, was a little “meh” as an award winner for me. I haven’t watched the most recent season, but I’ve heard it doesn’t quite measure up.

The big winner of the night, which was perfectly fine by me, was Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The show won Outstanding Comedy Series, co-creator Amy Sherman-Palladino also won for Outstanding Writing and Directing in a Comedy Series, and Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein also won acting awards. It got to the point where I started wondering what sort of marketing Amazon had done to make this happen. “Mrs. Maisel” is a great show, where 1950s housewife Midge Maisel reluctantly turns to stand up comedy when her marriage starts to crumble. It was created by “Gilmore Girls” and “Bunheads” creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, and it features plenty of their trademark rapid-fire dialogue. I also love how heightened the reality of their version of 1950s New York is. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking show. I do wonder if all the awards were a bit overkill, but at least it was for a show I enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

MTVP Emmys Coverage 2018: The Players

Hello there! It’s been a while, I know. Working a demanding job with a 60 mile commute while managing a couple chronic health issues didn’t leave much time or energy for blogging. I now live in the same city where I work again (Hello, Charm City, I’m back!), so I’m going to try easing back into this blogging thing. What better way to get back into this than talking about one of my favorite events on the TV calendar, the Primetime Emmy Awards! The telecast will be tomorrow night on NBC, and "Saturday Night Live" stars Colin Jost and Michael Che will have hosting duties. Late Night talk show hosts are your typical Emmy host, so I’m interested to see how Jost and Che handle the telecast. I’m sure their improvisation skills will serve them well, and I hope they use their Weekend Update sensibility to bring a political bent to the telecast. Yes, I know everything seems to be politicized right now, but we’re in such a dire situation that everything needs to be politicized. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. As I do every year here, I’m going to go through a few categories and tell you who I would like to see win. It’s not a prognostication, just wishful thinking on my part.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Bill Hader (Barry)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Ted Danson (The Good Place)

My Pick: Donald Glover

My pick this year is the same as last year: Donald Glover for his portrayal of Earnest “Earn” Marks on FX’s “Atlanta.” I’ll admit I’m only one episode in to Atlanta Season 2 (aka “Robbin’ Season), but I think it still holds up. “Atlanta” feels like nothing else on television to me, and I think that Glover’s vision is a big part of that. I look forward to watching the continued adventures of Earn and his family and acquaintances, and I’m happy to see Glover continue to get recognition for doing innovative work and showing us all something we don’t usually see on television.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
Issa Rae (Insecure)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)

My Pick: Rachel Brosnahan

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was pretty much the deciding factor to make me finally subscribe to Amazon Prime. I really enjoyed the pilot and wanted to see what was next as Midge Maisel pursued stand-up comedy in the 1950’s. Brosnahan’s winning personality really makes the show work. You can see Midge desperately trying to be the perfect 1950’s housewife, especially as her marriage falls apart, but at the same time she has a raunchy side that comes out when she gets in front of a microphone. Brosnahan makes both parts of Midge’s personality come to life, and it is really a joy to watch.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

The Nominees:

Sandra Oh (Killing Eve)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Claire Foy (The Crown)
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld)

My Pick: Claire Foy

This one was tough. I had to decide between Tatiana Maslany, who did incredible work playing more characters than I can name on Orphan Black, and Claire Foy, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth II with such grace on “The Crown.” In the end, since Maslany has won an Emmy for her work on Orphan Black already, I went with Foy. Foy played the Queen on the first two seasons of The Crown – the role will be portrayed by “Broadchurch’s” Olivia Coleman. While “The Crown” has tended to go a bit too much in the direction of being all about poor, put-upon Prince Philip, I think Foy has done extraordinary work infusing the role with the dignity of the real QEII. I am still only part-way through season 2 of “The Crown,” but I still think Foy deserves to be recognized.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

The Nominees:

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
David Harbour (Stranger Things)
Matt Smith (The Crown)
Joseph Fiennes (The Handmaid’s Tale)

My Pick: David Harbour

The second season of “Stranger Things” was a great showcase for David Harbour, as his character, Sheriff Jim Hopper, tried to be a father figure to recently-released-science-experiment and teenage girl Eleven. Hopper and Eleven’s relationship could be tumultuous, but they really do care about each other. As Hopper lost his own daughter to cancer before the series started, the relationship he builds with Eleven is especially poignant. Harbour shows a range of emotion throughout the season as he tries and fails to keep Eleven safe. Their fights and their eventual reunion were all pretty epic.

Outstanding Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Silicon Valley
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

My Pick: GLOW

This was yet another tough one. “Atlanta,” “GLOW,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are all shows I really enjoy. I’ve given props to actors from two out of those three shows already, though, so I’d like to give the series nod to “GLOW.” “GLOW,” which chronicles the production of a 1980 all-female wrestling show, really celebrates women. With just a couple exceptions, most of the characters are women, and the show is written by women as well. This is something we don’t commonly see on television. The relationships between the GLOW ladies, particularly stars Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Allison Brie), director Sam (Marc Maron, whose podcast helped keep me going during those 60 mile a day commutes I mentioned earlier), and producer Bash (Chris Lowell, of “Veronica Mars” fame) are complex. In the second season, Debbie and Ruth’s relationship is especially tested, and Gilpin and Brie both offer up fantastic performances.