Superstore (2015) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ve been wanting to watch “Superstore” on a recommendation and, starting it, I realized it’s very much my bag. It takes place in a very confined setting—a big box store, which is also very much my bag as I’ve always been intrigued at the idea of the department store and its descendants. I blame Mannequin. Also, highly recommend Robert Hendrickson’s The Grand Emporiums.

Anyway, “Superstore.” What a great cast. I’ve never seen anything with America Ferrera, except her guest spots on “Good Wife,” which I don’t remember but she’s fantastic. She’s a floor manager, ten years in at the store, serious but good-hearted. She’s got a goofus store manager (Mark McKinney, broad but likable in that Mark McKinney way) and a way too gung ho supervisor (Lauren Ash, who appears to be the “Dwight” of the show and is the only thing I’m not onboard with after this episode), but she does her job and cares about her coworkers.

The episode—and, as its the pilot, the show—is framed around Ben Feldman joining the team. He’s good looking and smart and conceited about the latter; he doesn’t seem aware of the former, which helps with his likability. He almost immediately starts crushing on Ferrera and most of his screwups in the episode are to impress her. Burgeoning subplot. But also Ash is mad crushing on him and seems primed to make a fool of herself in her pursuit, hence not being onboard with the character yet.

Also in the main cast are Colton Dunn, the only Black guy, who’s appropriately aware of it, and Nichole Bloom, as the good-hearted, pregnant, and too ditzy for the pregnancy to be a great idea pretty girl. The show gives Dunn all the great observation lines and Bloom gives it the uncomplicated heart. Ferrera is the layered heart.

Also Nico Santos starts at the same day as Feldman and sees it as a competition to be the better new person.

The cast is incredibly likable, the situations the sitcom gins up are funny, Ferrera’s great (she’s also a producer)… it’s one of those sitcoms you could easily marathon without paying attention to the clock.

I only stopped after the first episode because it was after midnight.

Last thing—Ruben Fleischer directs (and executive produces). Fleischer’s a lot better at sitcom directing than Venom directing. A lot better.

Supergirl (2015) s05e07 – Tremors

In an incredible turn of events Mitch Pileggi as the big bad—Leviathan—is actually kind of fun. Pileggi’s a millions of years old alien (he was around to see the dinosaurs get it) who for some reason has hung out on Earth and run a secret society. It’s not clear why. It’s also not clear why his army of regular people followers include humans who can’t outsmart Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). Lena’s smart and all, but shouldn’t a millions of years old secret society have better tech than her?

So, Leviathan. Doesn’t exactly pay off and Pileggi doesn’t look quite Rock-like in his Black Adam-esque outfit (and he reminds a lot of Vandal Savage on “Legends”), but it’s actually all right.

Shame the rest of the episode digs deeper into the established pit.

Lena’s also on Team Supergirl for a scene; just enough to remind how good McGrath is with the rest of the cast. She and Jesse Rath’s two or three line banter is more personality than the show’s had in ages. But then her arc is all about her telling Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) they’re now sworn enemies. It’s an awful scene, hinging entirely on Lena having iced Lex for her friends and then it turns out the friends all lied to her. How the show has ruined Lena is one of its many significant faults (ditto not just having McGrath and Benoist get together romantically instead of queer-baiting for, what, three seasons now). It’s not like McGrath is good in the villain reveal (because she’s not exactly a villain, just a pissed off gal pal). Benoist’s a little better but not very concerned why Lena wants a weapon capable of killing everyone on the planet.

If the writing were better, who knows, it might be a good scene.

Speaking of bad scenes, Alex (Chyler Leigh) blathering on to girlfriend Azie Tesfai in an unending declaration of devotion ought to, really, get someone a pink slip. It’s so bad. So bad. Leigh’s not strong enough to carry the scenes and Tesfai isn’t ready for such a big role. Though, again, might just be the terrible writing.

Meanwhile J’onn (David Harewood) has a ludicrous scene with Ghost Dad Carl Lumbly, who I’m glad is getting a check and all, but the Martian family trouble subplot is, well, the pits. It’s perplexing why anyone thinks the scenes are a) a good idea or b) effective. It’s terrible stuff.

Though I guess Phil LaMarr is a little better as Harewood’s brother this episode, though it’s not a high bar.

I figured this episode would be bad but it’s even worse than imagined. The Lena payoff is a complete fail for the show, the characters, and McGrath.

All Rise (2019) s01e08 – Maricela and the Desert

There’s a road trip to Vegas this episode, which feels like a trope. It’s not a particularly engaging Vegas road trip, possibly because Wilson Bethel and J. Alex Brinson don’t have any chemistry together, possibly because the whole thing hinges on Brinson having to talk to a sheriff’s deputy Black man to Black man after Bethel’s just too white for it. Brinson and the deputy’s talk then gets into this whole Black men in law enforcement arena where “All Rise” revs up its performative centrism. It’s particularly eh because it’s the only thing Brinson does on the road trip. He’s just there to be a Black guy. Oh, and to talk about Brinson’s brewing romance with public defender Jessica Camacho.

Meanwhile Camacho is defending a murder suspect in Simone Missick’s courtroom and “All Rise” just doesn’t seem very serious with the murder trial. It’s unbelievable defendant Sebastian Sozzi is going to turn out guilty because his kid, Eva Ariel Binder, loves him so much. And he loves the kid too. How could he have possibly murdered the mom. Is it going to turn out White ADA Kelly Frye and Black detective Eugene Byrd maybe railroaded the Hispanic guy? Through… cultural ignorance no less.

It’s a weird episode with the murder trial. Missick’s all about protecting Binder from the system, which is cute and all but the mom’s dead or missing (Camacho’s already been busted bragging about how it’ll be a slam dunk because there’s no body in front of the kid), and it just doesn’t seem like “All Rise” is serious enough to be taken seriously when it asks to be. It’s not even clear it wants to be taken seriously, kind of like defendant Sozzi, who’s uncontrollable when Binder’s around. I don’t think Missick ever puts him in contempt because of course he’s going to be uncontrollably emotional given his pleas of innocence.

The episode ends with Bethel and Missick hanging out, which used to be one of the things the show got right. Now they seem like strangers, which might just be the writing, but… the show’s bland in all the wrong places. Camacho’s nearing annoying, the guest stars aren’t of the pilot’s caliber, and the writing is just way too flat. Instead of improving, “All Rise” is floundering, wasting both Missick and Bethel’s time. Especially Bethel’s this episode.

Evil (2019) s01e08 – 2 Fathers

So this episode has—you guessed it—two dads in it. Well, it’s probably got more than two dads in it, but only two where it’s important they’re dads.

The first dad is Vondie Curtis-Hall as Mike Colter’s dad. They estranged because it’s TV and there’s no way a guy’s not estranged with his dad if he’s on TV. The show doesn’t really get into the big stuff of the estrangement, but it appears to be over Colter’s religiosity. Not about Curtis-Hall running a hippie commune with his two wives (I was going to name the actors but there’s no point, they’re immaterial to the episode—the actors’ performances, not the characters… though sort of the characters).

Curtis-Hall is… sort of a guest star. Sort of. I mean, I like Vondie Curtis-Hall but it’s a nothing part; he looks great for seventy too, like they had to make him up to appear older. Colter and Katja Herbers head to the farm to see him because Colter sees Curtis-Hall is using the “Evil” demon sigils in his art. They drop acid, it’s a whole thing. Colter and Curtis-Hall bond over being Black men (sort of); what’s most interesting about that part is it’s more important they bond over being Black men in America than actual demons overrunning the planet.

Herbers just gets messed up and horny for Colter, which is particularly bad because her husband—the other dad in the title—is back.

Patrick Brammall plays the dad. It’s good the show found someone who sucks as bad as the kids to play the father. They really choked on the casting. Also Christine Lahti is tripled down on being the devil’s willing concubine. Kind of hoping she just goes all in on the bad by the end of the season, maybe kill one of the grandkids, who knows. It’d be something.

No Michael Emerson, which is fine. Aasif Mandvi has a romance subplot with returning guest star Nicole Shalhoub, where she reveals she has a really silly woo secret. Kind of hope she’s never back again because “Evil” will just waste her.

“Evil” wastes everyone.

Becker s01e12 – Love! Lies! Bleeding!

Either I made the comment you knew “Becker” was troubled when not even a solid sitcom director like Andy Ackerman could make an episode work or I meant to make that comment. This episode has Ackerman back and, this time, he’s able to compensate for some of writer Michael Markowitz’s stumbles. Not the misogynist stuff with Alex Désert but there are only so many miracles one can work. So, this episode’s the Valentine’s Day episode and Ted Danson hates Valentine’s Day. He has a rant about its suspect history, which doesn’t seem—based on a Wikipedia glance—to be accurate. If Danson’s going to rant about something, he’s got to be right. Otherwise he’s just a blowhard. The point is he’s right, not he’s a blowhard. Or at least when it works.

But it doesn’t work with Désert or Terry Farrell this episode. Danson implies Désert’s girlfriend is ugly and Désert freaks out, the unspoken joke (for a while) Désert’s blind so what does he care. He cares because he’s a misogynist and so’s Danson. Joy. When Danson later comforts a female patient, it takes a moment before he’s obviously sincere. For a second, you’re expecting him to dig in and humiliate her because… it’s a laugh somehow? At least in Markowitz’s mind.

The episode is Danson running into different kinds of Valentine’s Day goings on, but not specific to the holiday, just romance in general. There’s the girlfriend who stabs the cheating boyfriend, there’s the teenager who wants a vasectomy so he can have unsafe sex, there’s the female patient, who’s allergic to roses. Curmudgeon Danson just can’t get away from signs of love, not even at the office where Shawnee Smith has a whole relationship in one day over the phone (minus the consummating, which might be for the best but also maybe not) and Hattie Winston gets to… talk about her offscreen plans and shake her head at Smith and Danson. Not a great episode for Winston. Or Smith. But Smith at least gets material.

The episode’s got some successful moments, including the return of Saverio Guerra, whose every moment is fantastic. He’s back to torment Farrell and probably a little worse of a guy than Danson and Désert, but not much.

The show’s bottom is higher than before, which is good.

Watchmen s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Batwoman s01e07 – Tell Me the Truth

Oh, good, just what “Batwoman” needs, a whole episode dedicated to the acting stylings of Meagan Tandy.

Sadly, I’m being facetious.

This episode gets into Tandy’s knowledge of Batwoman’s identity and her not entirely forthcoming marriage to Greyston Holt (she neglected to every tell him she had a three year romantic relationship with a woman). As a sniper takes out the creators of a gun able to kill Batman (or Batwoman), Ruby Rose tries to deal with the Tandy knowing her secret identity thing while Tandy finally decides to tell Holt what’s up.

But there’s still one more secret from Tandy, whose relationship with Dougray Scott is a little more complicated than previously revealed. In fact, when away on a mission Scott leaves a message for his “kid,” you can’t believe he’s talking so warmly or openly to Rose. Though maybe it’s Nicole Kang. Even though Kang and Scott haven’t had many (any?) scenes together, she’s broken up about the impending family dissolution. Scott’s divorcing Kang’s mom, Elizabeth Anweis, because Anweis lied to him about his daughter being dead so he’d stop looking and marry her, something Rose and King never discuss in the episode because addressing big family problems isn’t “Batwoman”’s thing.

The sniper stuff gets resolved too quick—without any solid Batwoman action scenes either—but guest star Christina Wolfe brings some life to it as Alfred the butler’s secret agent daughter. She’s got a history with both Camrus Johnson (they’re pals) and Rose (back when Rose got drummed out of military school for coming out of the closet, Batman sent Wolfe to keep tabs on Rose; Wolfe ended up seducing her, then telling her she was a babysitter).

Rose’s getting better, but every time she’s got a scene with Tandy it throws the progress back. But at least the end of the episode implies they’ve got an idea of where to take Rose without that tedious subplot. Unless it’s yet another two episode arc for her, like the last girlfriend.

Rachel Skarsten has a few scenes and she’s good as always. Sam Littlefield shows up in at least one of them. He’s bad as always.

Seven episodes in and “Batwoman” still feels way too unsure.

Evil s01e07 – Vatican III

This week’s “Evil” is a sixty-forty split between “why Catholics don’t get the mental health care they need” and “how to make an incel.” There’s more to both, obviously. The main plot is about possessed Annaleigh Ashford (who should sue her agent for malpractice) confessing to a triple homicide of Hispanic tween boys. She gives the Scooby Gang (clinical psychiatrist and lapsed Catholic Katja Herbers, true believer, priest-in-training, and hallucinogen abuser Mike Colter, and lapsed Muslim professional skeptic Aasif Mandvi) the location of the bodies and so they sit on that information instead of investigating for themselves, despite having the full power of the Catholic Church at their disposal.

I mean, they can hack into ICE and get surveillance camera footage, which might be international espionage given Vatican City and all, but they can’t take the time to go see if maybe Ashford buried the bodies where she said.

Meanwhile, nebbish Kevin Spacey impersonator and apparent sex god Michael Emerson recruits another disillusioned young white man, this time—through implication—a young white Jewish man—to the incel lifestyle. Noah Robbins goes from getting turned down by his barista to giving her a dead animal to plotting to mass murder women in the span of forty minutes, with a couple “therapy” sessions from Emerson to egg him on.

Now, we’re also finding out Emerson thinks he’s a demon and it’s his job to inspire… incels, basically. And to be a sex god who—unbeknownst to Herbers because, thankfully, her family is off-screen this episode—can make women do whatever he wants. I really hope Christine Lahti gets to play the sex-positive grandma with an appropriately attractive partner after this show. She deserves it. She’s not even in the episode and she’s one of the show’s biggest regrets. Though most of the show is just wishing Herbers, Colter, and Mandvi were on an actually good show and not this “deplorable Catholic men are in the control of wannabe demons” thing.

The politics of the show are still a little hard to discern—the Catholic Church isn’t portrayed bad, just behind the times. Also grossly incompetent (their secret manuscript from 500 years ago somehow has had all its iconography scanned and added to a wikipedia Demonology page. Yet they can hack ICE. Or maybe only because they have lapsed Muslin Mandvi on the payroll, which has optics of its own.

Hey, it’s a CBS show. You just wish it were a better one.

Batwoman s01e06 – I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury

“Batwoman” has a Dougray Scott problem. The show keeps giving him material he can’t do or does poorly (versus Ruby Rose, who sometimes doesn’t even try when the material isn’t working with her). It’s getting particularly annoying as Rose is getting better and Scott’s going to screw up her character development.

Some of Rose’s improvement has to do with more Batwoman screen time. Rose’s better at Batwoman than Kate Kane because Kate Kane is still badly written. She just looks at evidence at her dad’s, goes off to cowl-up, bickers a little with Camrus Johnson who ends up with the incredibly odd optics of being the Black man defending white police and prosecutors who get busted falsifying evidence to falsely convict other Black men. She’s got no relationship with anyone besides Scott this episode, which doesn’t go well because Scott’s profoundly not good. He tries really hard and it’s such a fail. Rose doesn’t show any personality until she’s in the cowl, which is great because she’s got to show personality while costumed up, it’s more important to the show’s success given it’s a flipping superhero show. But making it about a mercenary finding his heart and then casting Scott in that role… big fail.

Other big fail this episode? Saddling Nicole Kang once again with Meagan Tandy; Tandy’s so bad she drags Kang down this episode. It’s a real bummer. Kang’s the highlight of “Batwoman,” Tandy’s one of its thorns. Though the script doesn’t help Tandy any. She’s just playing the thin catty villain part as written.

As for series villain Rachel Skarsten… she’s great. Unfortunately her newly revealed sidekick, Sam Littlefield, is not great. In fact, he’s fairly bad. It’s not an easy part, I get it; son of child-murdering and child-kidnapping evil plastic surgeon who revolts to save “sister” Skarsten—not easy stuff. But Skarsten manages to do it well and Littlefield doesn’t. “Batwoman”’s got a lot of casting issues. Yes, filming in Chicago means it looks like Dark Knight and not like Vancouver, but in Vancouver maybe you could’ve afforded better actors.

Or at least actors who patently cannot do the roles they’re in.

Supergirl s05e06 – Confidence Women

Okay, so Steven Bauer is Julie Gonzalo’s dad, who’s been mentioned since the first episode of the season but never seen. It doesn’t appear to be a great part for Bauer but whatever, he’s fine. Though he does act to launder a bit of Gonzalo’s performance. He’s able to make it at least seem legit for a scene. Almost. Because it’s not a good performance—Gonzalo’s—in fact, it’s really, really bad. Because she’s not just the evil new boss at CatCo, she’s also a literal super-assassin who works for a mega-secret evil society, Leviathan (which I thought was from a Grant Morrison Batman but I don’t care enough to look). And she was a bad best friend to Lena (Katie McGrath), even though she and Lena had totally awesome early 2000s adventures together when they went drinking underage and bonded over Titanic. Really. Lots of Titanic remarks. Including one about how Lex Luthor responded to it.

Though, technically, most of Gonzalo and McGrath’s conversations do pass Bechdel, which is more a curiosity than anything else. Because what they’re talking about is dumb. They have this Hardy Girls adventure where they go to South America—because they’re rich—in search of magical treasure. They find it but Gonzalo takes it instead of giving it to McGrath, who wants to use it to save the world from her evil brother. The show’s done in flashbacks set in different eras, which is a terrible idea because Gonzalo is godawful in all the eras and McGrath can’t do anything with her abbreviated flashbacks.

There’s a little in the present day at the end, but really it’s just Lena turning into a porto-supervillain. She’s just going to need a push.

It’s another Arrowverse show where the main cast has very little to do… possibly because they’re shooting something else (Jon Cryer cameos as Lex for a flashback and not for another one of them and he’s in the Crisis). But maybe McGrath isn’t, which seems like a major slight as she’s the one getting all the lousy material. Except the flashback to when she chats with Melissa Benoist and all of a sudden you remember enjoying the characters interact. Seasons ago.

Gonzalo’s indicative of a larger problem with the show and the main female supporting players it introduces. Or the show’s casting. Or both. She drains positive energy from the show, which is runny super-low already.

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