AnTV: March 11-March 17

AnTV: March 11-March 17

                  As an avid consumer of television, I could not refuse when Pat asked me to write a weekly column covering everything I’ve watched that week, some thoughts on each episode, and a grade as well. The idea of weekly television reviews is not a novel one, but I’ve always felt that having a plethora of options online for thoughts on what TV is worth committing precious time to is never a bad thing. That is especially true in this era of excellent television, where the overwhelming number of choices can create a painful strain on the average person’s daily schedule. My hope is that, by reading my thoughts on what I’m currently enjoying, that decision can be a little easier for others to make.

In terms of format, my plan is to cover television ranging from the previous Saturday up through the following Saturday, when this will be posted. Nothing really ever airs on Fridays, and Saturday Night Live is really the only thing that airs on Saturdays, so in truth this will mainly cover the standard TV nights of Sunday-Thursday. And now, on to the list…

Saturday Night Live (NBC, Saturday @ 11:29 p.m.)

“Scarlett Johansson/Lorde”

Grade: C-

                  I’m opening this column with some quick thoughts on Saturday Night Live because I feel like this is a show that simultaneously gets too much hate but also not enough. It gets too much hate for many things that are out of its control; often, the show can be described as toothless or “playing it safe,” which is a valid criticism but is also a function of the show airing live on NBC. It doesn’t get nearly enough hate for the awful decisions it makes in terms of who it turns over the spotlight to. Further, the show’s tradition of playing certain subjects, such as politics, straight down the middle has caused it to waste incredibly ripe opportunities for great satire. When the show is working as it should, it still has the energy and vitality it did in the 70s, or even in the late 90s-early 00s. When it isn’t working as it should, well, you get episodes like the one that aired last weekend.

                  Hosted by Scarlett Johansson, with musical guest Lorde, the show had the potential to be very good. Johansson is highly underrated as an SNL host (even I was shocked to learn she was joining the dubiously venerated “5-timers Club” with this appearance) and has been very good on the show in the past. Something about this episode just felt a little off. There were some great sketches in there, including a pointed dig at Ivanka Trump with the “Complicity” ad parody, a sketch where a scientist is horrified to learn that her dog is a Trump supporter after inventing a device that allows the dog to talk, and the brilliant “Day Without Women” Sketch penned by Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney. The rest of the show seemed to just drag along, though. The cold open, with Alec Baldwin’s Trump epically bungling his attempt to psyche up the military before an alien invasion, was funny but nowhere near as funny as he has been in the past. Weekend Update has been far better this season as well, with Colin Jost and Michael Che really coming into their own during the election season; this installment was utterly forgettable. And the show also provided its absolute worst bit of product placement (excuse me, “Branded Content”) ever with a overlong and unfunny sketch about an Olive Garden commercial shoot where the director makes the actors do silly things. In all, I’ve expected better from SNL this season and usually gotten it. That wasn’t the case with this one.

Bob’s Burgers (Fox @ 7:30 p.m.)

“Like Gene for Chocolate”

Grade: A-

                  I’ll come out and say it right at the front: Bob’s Burgers is in contention for greatest animated sitcom of all time. Capturing the endearing family dynamic of the earliest Simpsons episodes while simultaneously weaving in the exact kind of quirky, weird, specific humor that I am a huge fan of, I find myself delighting over every episode that airs. One of my biggest television pet peeves is how the show is always getting bumped out of its timeslot in the fall when NFL games run too long. I love football, but I love Bob’s Burgers way, way more.

                  This week’s episode was typically great. In the A-story, the candy company that makes Gene’s favorite chocolate snack decides to abruptly change the formula (and packaging), causing Gene to attempt to break free from his notoriously short attention span and actually commit to seeing something through for once in his life. The show has explored similar themes with Gene in the past, most notably in one of my personal favorite episodes, Season 5’s “Best Burger,” but here an entirely new wrinkle is thrown into the mix in the form of Ferdie (voiced by Judah Friedlander), the grandson of the candy company’s founder and something of a look into Gene’s noncommittal future. Gene’s attempts to get the formula for Chunky Blast Offs changed back brush up against Ferdie’s desire to just give up at the first sign of resistance in highly funny ways, culminating in a laugh-out-loud finale that is so incredibly appropriate for this show. In the B-story, Bob gets roped into Teddy’s nighttime side-business of diving into the water trap at the local golf course, fishing out golf balls, washing them, and then re-selling them. If that sounds oddball and hysterical, then just know that it is.

Family Guy (Fox, Sunday @ 9:00 p.m.)

“Cop and a Half Wit”

Grade: C

                  Yeah, I’m probably the only person in the world who still watches Family Guy and admits it. Yearning for the show’s glory days has kept me invested, however, even though it’s been way past its prime for several years now. Every once in a while, the show is able to turn out a surprisingly good episode, but most of the time it’s content to wallow in mediocrity instead. Such was the case with this week’s episode, wherein the A-story finds Peter becoming Joe’s unofficial police partner, kicking down doors, making arrests, and violating several Constitutional rights in the process. When Joe takes credit for Peter’s actions, winning respect at the precinct, Peter isn’t too happy about it. In the B-story, Stewie gets mistaken for a girl at the supermarket, causing him to overcompensate and attempt to join a youth football league to increase his masculinity. Things go away when Brian pushes him into playing in a game he is nowhere near ready for. All in all, as with many episodes of Family Guy these days, there was some decent meta-humor and a few funny cutaway gags, but mostly a resounding “meh.”

The Walking Dead (AMC @ 9 p.m.)

“Bury Me Here”

Grade: B

                  The Walking Dead has had perhaps the most wildly uneven run of any successful television series ever. The first 6-episode season was and remains one of the greatest pieces of zombie-related media ever produced. It was fresh, gritty, populated by interesting characters and performed by an able cast of good-to-great actors. The first half of the second season saw AMC cut the show’s budget severely, leading to a number of near-zombieless episodes set on a farm in the backwoods of Georgia. From that midseason break of season 2, the show improved before plateauing during season three and the first half of season four. Getting stuck in one place again, this time an abandoned prison, and dealing with the cartoon villainy of the evil Governor, caused the show to once more stagnate. Once the Governor was dispatched midway through season 4, and the core group scattered, the show went on one of its best runs yet with a number of slow-paced, contemplative episodes focusing on solid character interaction and a central mystery surrounding a place called Terminus, where all the railroad tracks met and to which every character was independently heading. Season 5, despite rushing through the Terminus plot in a single episode, was a huge improvement from seasons 2-4, and season six was even better. At least, it was until the finale, where the show opted to mess with its fans over a lame and pointless cliffhanger wherein a major character was killed but the audience didn’t know who it was. Rather than lead to months of excited speculation, as was the intention, an intense and justified backlash kicked off all summer long, with AMC and the show’s producers taking huge amounts of flak for the boneheaded decision not to end the season by showing who died. Once season seven finally started, the moment which should have served as an emotional climax at the end of a season was used to start one off instead, to a severely diminished reaction than it would have gotten months earlier. The show then proceeded to spend the first half of its seventh season focusing on different groups of characters every episode, to the exclusion of all the others. It made pinning down a timeline very difficult, as the show didn’t seem too concerned with making sure its events flowed from one episode to the next. It made the first half of the season, with Rick and his group under the thumb of Negan and the Saviors, feel disjointed and messy, rather than tense and focused.

                  When the show returned from midseason break, however, it had seemed to finally take a page out of the Game of Thrones handbook, focusing on each location within the show’s expanding world and spending at least a little bit of time with them all. This has made the show once again feel as big as its creative team clearly wants it to feel. It is surprising, then, how this episode here focused on one location – the Kingdom, ruled by benevolent leader King Ezekiel – and yet still mostly worked. The episode placed its spotlight squarely on Morgan, the first man that Rick Grimes met upon waking up from his coma at the beginning of the series, and who had since become a pacifist completely against the killing of any living human, for any reason. This stance had caused numerous problems for the group during season 6, and caused Morgan’s relationship with fan-favorite character Carol, who has evolved into a ruthless pragmatist, to be strained. That all changed at the end of season 6/beginning of season 7, when Carol renounced her increasingly violent ways in favor of living an isolated life in a cottage on the outskirts of the Kingdom. Morgan, also having taken up residence in the Kingdom, aids King Ezekiel and his men in providing their periodic tributes to the Saviors, which keeps the peace between the two groups. But certain individuals in the Kingdom hope to incite violence between the two groups so that the Kingdom will be drawn into the rebellion against the Saviors being planned by Rick. The episode does a great job of developing Morgan’s character, illustrating to the audience the turmoil he is facing trying to be an honorable man who respects life in a world gone mad. By the time the episode ends, and Morgan has made a choice that he can never return from, it feels mostly earned, which is just about as much as one can hope for from this show in its seventh season. I’m actually looking to forward to seeing what happens next, which isn’t always the case with The Walking Dead.

The Last Man on Earth (Fox, Sunday @ 9:00 p.m.)

“The Spirit of St. Lewis”

Grade: A-

                  The Last Man on Earth is one of the most unique shows on television. A high-concept comedy series about a virus that decimates 99% of the Earth’s population (that we know of, at least) and leaves only a handful of people left who have no choice but to stay together, despite not really totally liking each other, seems like a hard sell on a major network. And yet, the show has lasted through three seasons, with at least one more season all but guaranteed so that the show can reach syndication. It’s been a great run for Will Forte, one of the all-time great Saturday Night Live cast members, who co-created and stars in the show as Phil “Tandy” Miller, the titular last man on Earth who discovers he isn’t quite as alone as he thought. The cast of the show has been superb thus far, especially Kristen Schaal, the former Daily Show correspondent and standup who has become a network comedy heavyweight based on this role and her role as Louise on Bob’s Burgers. The show even found a way to use January Jones properly. Plus, it’s incredibly funny in the kind of weird, offbeat way that I most enjoy.

                  This episode sees the culmination of one of the show’s running plot threads in season 3, namely Lewis’ desire to learn to fly an airplane so that he can go across the sea to Japan and try to look for his husband, who was travelling there at the onset of the outbreak. All the while, the group remains oblivious to the fact that Gail is dying stuck in an elevator shaft in a nearby building. Tandy spends the episode trying to psyche Lewis up and get him mentally ready to make the flight, based on the fact that Lewis has spent a sufficient number of hours in a test simulator to take his first stab at a short flight. Meanwhile, Todd and the rest of the group are still trying to figure out what to do with Melissa, who suffered a clear nervous breakdown after shooting and killing a man in the season premiere. I’m not totally sure where the Melissa story is going, which is what brings this episode’s grade down a bit, because I’m nervous they’re going to, in Tandy’s terms, beef it. As of now, however, the show is still as darkly hilarious as ever, especially the way this episode ends. And at the very end, the cliffhanger for next week might be a bit corny but it was also effective. Hopefully we finally see a resolution to the Gail plot next Sunday night.

Feud: Bette and Joan (FX, Sunday @ 10:00 p.m.)

“The Other Woman”

Grade: A

                  When I first heard the concept for Feud, I was a bit skeptical. An anthology series focusing on a different feud every season, starting with the well-publicized and documented feud between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford sounded unique, but not necessarily like compelling television. The fact that it was being headed up by American Horror Story and American Crime Story creator Ryan Murphy kept me interested in the project, but nothing could have prepared me for the announcement that Susan Sarandon would be playing Bette Davis and perennial Ryan Murphy collaborator Jessica Lange would be playing Joan Crawford. I was instantly anticipating the show greatly. When it premiered last week, I was not disappointed. This is an incredibly well-made series about the famous fraught battle the two stars had on the set of the only film they made together, 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The rest of the cast, rounded out by Alfred Molina as philandering director Robert Aldrich and Stanley Tucci as the slimy Jack Warner, is superb but the focus here is on the two titans in the lead roles. Both women are Academy Award-winners playing Academy Award-winners, and the show uses the challenges they faced as actresses in the mid-twentieth century to comment on gender issues, the cruelty of Hollywood, and celebrity culture in ways that, while not exactly original, are nonetheless insightful and affecting.

                  This second episode focuses on the budding respect between Bette and Joan, and how Jack Warner conspired with Bob Aldrich to drive the women apart. Warner has a grudge against Bette Davis for her role in bringing about the end of the studio system, where studios essentially owned their actors and paid them very little, and so he was reluctant to work with her on Baby Jane at all. Aldrich persuaded him to let the women work together because of the publicity it would generate, but now Warner wants them to be constantly at each other’s throats. This leads Aldrich, up to this point a likable enough character, to descend into the depths of Hollywood mudslinging that modern America knows all too well. Leaking salacious (and untrue) stories to famous failed actress-turned Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper is only the beginning of Aldrich’s treachery in this episode and beyond, which begins to take a toll not just on the film shoot but on Aldrich’s marriage as well. And of course, Sarandon and Lange are excellent in the episode, from Sarandon’s heartbreaking fight with her daughter to Lange breaking down to Hedda Hopper and appealing to her decency. It’s top-rate acting, and the fact that it will be on air for weeks to come still is a great thing.

The Flash (The CW, Tuesday @ 8:00 p.m.)

“Into the Speed Force”

Grade: B-

                  The Flash was, at one time, the bright and cheery cousin of The CW’s flagship DC superhero series, Arrow. The first season captured the tone of Silver Age comics, only updated to a contemporary setting and starring a cast of truly excellent actors. Jesse Martin as Joe West, Tom Cavanuagh as Harrison Wells, Candice Patton as Iris West, and especially Grant Gustin as Barry Allen were all perfect for their roles, in addition to the rest of the supporting cast, and the show was generally striving for a lighter tone than its predecessor. That all gradually changed over the course of an increasingly dark second season, which then spilled over into a third season that is also much darker than the first. The show hasn’t necessarily dropped in quality, it has just become more and more like Arrow than it initially seemed to want to be. This third season, focusing on the ramifications of Barry interfering with the timeline one too many times, has been exciting and entertaining enough to be enjoyable throughout, however in this episode the show seems to be falling into one of the traps that plagued Arrow in its much-maligned fourth season.

                  First, Barry’s relationship with Iris appears to be hitting an all-time low just a week after they decided to finally get engaged. The Barry-Iris relationship has been one of the highlights of the series, and having it break down for pointless, contrived reasons is disheartening to see. This echoes the pointless torpedoing of the relationship between Oliver and Felicity in season 4 of Arrow, a change that made Felicity, a former fan-favorite, into the most unlikable character on that show. Hopefully this change doesn’t have as much of a monumental effect on the character dynamics of The Flash as well. Other than that jarring decision, the rest of the episode is good, with Barry venturing into the Speed Force to resuce Wally, who was trapped inside it last week by big bad Savitar. Inside, the Speed Force takes the form of numerous figures from Barry’s past in an attempt to make him realize an important lesson about himself and his duty as a superhero.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW, Tuesday @ 9:00 p.m.)

“Moonshot”

Grade: B+

                  Legends of Tomorrow, the third series in the CW’s DC superhero universe, was always something of an anomaly from the day it was announced.  Pitched as an ensemble series starring a group of the heroes, antiheroes, and villains of the DC universe, the show emerged as a time-traveling sci-fi action series that resembled a more action-heavy Star Trek or Doctor Who. The first season of the show was shaky at best, as a weak villain and some truly baffling writing bogged the show down in sustained mediocrity for much of its run. There were a few good episodes in that first season (specifically a trip to the Old West where the Legends met DC antihero Jonah Hex) but by and large it was flashy, substance-free entertainment. In the second season, the cast shuffled a bit, jettisoning some characters that didn’t work (Hawk Girl and Hawkman) but also losing one that very much did (Wentworth Miller’s always-outstanding Captain Cold). The show added a few new characters, changed the group’s mission after the events of the first season, and emerged a much more fun series that knew when and when not to take itself seriously. The new cast members gelled almost instantly, even going so far as to improve the dynamics between the returning cast members as well. Opening the season by scattering the Legends across time was a smart idea, allowing the show to almost rediscover itself as the group reassembled and became acquainted with the new Big Bad(s): The Legion of Doom, comprised of Malcolm Merlyn, Damien Dahrk, and Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. Reverse-Flash. Having all three heavy hitter villains from Flash and Arrow make the move over to Legends of Tomorrow was a smart choice as well, because all three actors are excellent and seeing them play off one another has only made this series better.

                  In tonight’s installment, the Legends continue their hunt for the final piece of the Spear of Destiny, which brings them to NASA in 1970, at the time of the ill-fated Apollo 13 space mission. Rip Hunter had left the last shard of the Spear with Henry Heywood (a.k.a. Commander Steel of the Justice Society of America and grandfather to Legends member Nate Heywood), and the Legends find themselves in a race with Eobard Thawne to recover the shard first. And getting into a race with a speedster is typically not the best idea. I felt that this episode was relatively strong, although some of the visual effects work really looked like it was straining the show’s budget. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say that there is a scene in particular that is entirely comprise of CGI, which definitely did not need to be, and would have looked better for it. In addition, the writers decided to go back to the well of “seasoned time traveller forgets that messing with the past is never a good idea under any circumstances” in this episode, which is especially odd considering the entire purpose of the Legends this season was supposedly preventing Time Aberrations. For a character to be so willing to cause one here is just baffling. In all, though, the episode was genuinely exciting throughout, had some great character moments (especially between Ray Palmer and Thawne) and generally continued the season’s winning streak.

Detroiters (Comedy Central, Tuesday @ 10:30 p.m.)

“Third Floor”

Grade: A-

                  Perhaps the most underrated new comedy series of the year, in that I feel like I may be the only person watching it, Detroiters also happens to be tied with The Good Place for funniest new series of the 2016-2017 television season. Starring and co-created by Tim Robinson (formerly a writer/actor on Saturday Night Live) and Sam Richardson (known for playing Richard Splett on Veep), Detroiters focuses on Sam and Tim, two best friends who run Tim’s family advertising agency in Detroit, Michigan. Much like The Last Man on Earth, Detroiters is apparently a series that was created when someone looked into my head and pulled out a series that perfectly fits my sense of humor. Robinson and Richardson have crafted an silly, often absurdist series where their characters bumble their way through such outlandish scenarios as persuading a former Motown star to sing a jingle for a wig company commercial, spend the money they were going to use for a company van on a pocket rocket motorcycle, or attend Sam’s father’s 60th birthday party where all the guests are forced to give speeches. The show that I would most compare Detroiters to in terms of tone and sense of humor would probably be the short-lived but classic series Stella, starring Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain (one of my favorites of all time).

                  “Third Floor” finds the guys dealing with the devastating loss of the bathroom on the vacant third floor of their building after a tech startup moves in from Denver. The guys had been using the third floor bathroom for crapping purposes and the loss of their private space infuriates them, at least at first. Robinson and Richardson are, already, so keyed into their characters that they make the ensuing chaos work incredibly well, with Sam attempting to spend time hanging out with the techies and Tim preferring to fume before, after learning of Sam’s betrayal, attempting revenge. Much of the humor in this show is verbal, housed in the way the characters deliver their lines and react to each new plot development, so describing the actual funny situations in print is a rather difficult exercise. This episode is simply the most recent example of a show that knows exactly what it is and what it is trying to accomplish, then going out and accomplishing it. I won’t stop talking about it until everyone starts watching it.

Arrow.jpg

Arrow (The CW, Wednesday @ 8: p.m.)

“Checkmate”

Grade: B

                  Arrow is the show that started it all for the CW’s DC superhero universe. It’s first season was a strange-yet-compelling mixture of standard CW soap opera tropes with a dark, violent, vigilante superhero story. Think Batman Begins-meets-Dawson’s Creek and you really wouldn’t be too far off. In season 2, however, the show blew away all expectations by delivering a consistently gripping and mature narrative focused around Oliver Queen’s biggest failure coming back to haunt him in the worst way possible. The Deathstroke narrative in season 2 was so good that it would have been hard for any series to live up to it. Season 3 of Arrow really dropped the ball in a number of ways, somehow managing to make Ra’s al Ghul into a weak character and indulging in some of the laziest storytelling techniques imaginable. Season 4 started with a ton of promise, however a weak season-long tease of a major character death (culminating in the incredibly wrongheaded decision to kill off Laurel Lance at the end of the season) and the complete destruction of Felicity Smoak as a character contributed to the season being only marginally better than the one before it. Which brings the show to season 5, originally planned to be the show’s final season, which began with Oliver Queen as mayor of Star City and in need of a new team. John Diggle was back in the military, Oliver’s sister Thea decided to take a break from the vigilante life, and the only one still standing by Oliver was Felicity. Up to this point, the show had mainly been focusing on Oliver building a new “Team Arrow,” dealing with the newfound problems of leading a double-life as mayor and as the Green Arrow, and investigating a new masked archer with a grudge in the form of Prometheus. Season 5 has introduced a number of new characters, and while some of them started off looking like they would bring the show down even further (looking at you, Wild Dog), from where the show stands at present they have all been solid additions to the roster. The show is also currently at the point in every Arrow season where the episodic structure gives way to a final stretch of serialized stories dealing with the season’s main villain, which means the show has begun shifting toward the season’s endgame.

                  In “Checkmate,” nearly all of the season’s cards are placed on the table, for better or worse. The “worse” mainly comes in the form of the way the show reveals to Oliver the true identity of Prometheus. Not only did the CW spoil the fact that Oliver finds out Prometheus’ identity during promos aired all week, the information is just handed to Oliver at the very start of the episode by Talia al Ghul. The underwhelming way that the show handled this reveal was undoubtedly the biggest missed opportunity so far this season. The reveal could have been a momentous moment, for both Oliver and the audience, to whom the information was actually revealed at the end of last week’s episode in a similarly underwhelming way. The other less-than-stellar element of this episode would have to be Felicity’s continued involvement with the hacker group Helix. The show has been using this storyline to slowly resume its total assassination of Felicity’s character, after taking a break from doing it following the end of season 4, and it is not appreciated. Felicity is far too smart and capable of a person to be so blind to the obvious danger that she is placing herself in, but I still have some glimmer of hope that the show won’t bungle the landing. Those disappointments aside, the rest of the episode was fairly solid. I generally appreciate that it seems like Oliver is finally starting to listen to people around him like Diggle when they tell him to stop retreating from others when things get grim. At least by the end of the episode, it seems like Oliver is finally ready to rely on others, specifically his team, to help him in times of need. The Russia flashbacks this season have also been good, not amazing but also not obtrusive or momentum-killing as in the past two seasons. I still think the show can wrap up this season well, and even this episode’s missteps haven’t completely detracted from that.

Workaholics (Comedy Central, Wednesday @ 10:00 p.m.)

“Party Gawds”

Grade:  A-

It’s kind of an odd week to include Workaholics in a recap blog like this, considering this episode is actually the show’s series finale, but I would like to take this opportunity to write a bit about the show’s run in general. Workaholics came essentially out of nowhere, an offbeat, often gross-out sitcom from a group of online sketch comics about three wannabe dudebros who work at a telemarketing company and are nowhere near as cool as they project themselves to be. The sheer talent and chemistry between its three main stars, Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, and Adam Devine (plus co-creator and main director of the show Kyle Newachek) was apparent from the very first episode. The longtime friends wasted no time in establishing a dynamic and then stuck to it over the course of seven seasons. It seems normal now, but at the time plucking young unknown comedians off of YouTube and giving them their own series was still a novel concept; for that show to then last for seven years is nothing short of incredible. Even though the show had admittedly been decreasing in quality during the last two seasons, the guys apparently scraped together everything they had left in the tank for this planned final season, and it showed. Not only was season 7, in general, better than season 6 and much of season 5, it felt like the looming finality gave the guys a better-defined target to aim at. The show felt closer to its earlier seasons than it had in years, to the point that it’s even more sad to see it go, but the time is definitely right for it to bow out gracefully, especially after a solid final year.

                  Which brings me to the finale. “Party Gawds” is both a perfect encapsulation of so much about what makes this series funny, and a reminder of so many of the show’s late-season shortcomings. Aside from a brief scene toward the end of the episode, none of it takes place within the TelAmeriCorp offices. So much of this season seemed like the guys had taken to heart the criticisms that not enough of the previous two seasons was set there that excluding the TAC crew from the finale seemed like an odd choice. Another odd choice was not featuring Kyle Newachek’s character Karl, the guys’ drug dealer, at all in the episode. The lack of these beloved faces (Montez, Jillian, Alice, Karl, etc.) from the show’s final half hour definitely stung, but the episode itself was so funny, and featured so many great guest stars, that it almost made up for it. Featuring great turns from Jason Mantzoukis, Paul Scheer, Craig Kilborn, and even, surprisingly, Tony Revolori. It also sported a ton of great meta humor commenting on the success of the show, the pervasiveness of its many catchphrases and its imagery in pop culture, and the way three central dudes have reacted to it. The send-up of Adam as the famous one, Blake as the one nobody takes seriously because of his on-screen stoner persona, and Ders seems to be the forgotten one who wishes people realized his true glory seemed rather personal in this episode, and it was all the better for it. The actual plot, involving the guys and their house being co-opted by an energy drink company into a perpetual party/billboard for the energy drink was funny enough on its own, but seeing the guys in this scenario and how they handled it was what made it truly funny. As the Workaholics spent one last scene drinking on the roof of their house, talking about their friendship and what they’d been through, it felt like a fitting end, even if it didn’t quite fit perfectly. I for one am definitely going to miss this series, even if I know the guys themselves will go on to have more success in their careers because of it.

Legion (FX, Wednesday @ 10:00 p.m.)

“Chapter 6”

Grade: A-

                  Legion is the best show currently airing episodes on television. I provide that caveat because, as of now, I still don’t know how it stacks up with the other three shows I would put in contention for best show on television, period (Mr. Robot, Better Call Saul, and Fargo). Once the season is complete I’ll reassess, but for now I have to say that I am in awe of this show. Readers of this blog will know that I penned a review of Legion’s pilot a few weeks back, when the show had first premiered and the initial shock of how incredible it was hadn’t yet worn off. Six weeks later I think it still might not have. As I said in my earlier review, Noah Hawley has crafted something totally unlike anything else on television. It’s a superhero series without the action tropes. It’s a high-minded art show without a hint of pretension. It’s a show about mental illness that doesn’t cast judgment or point fingers. It consistently provides more questions than answers but isn’t frustrating in the slightest. It’s a show with a love story that mainly focuses on love beyond the physical. It has a superlative cast and it is shot beautifully and it almost makes me angry just how good it truly is. I love it.

                  “Chapter 6” is a doozy of an episode, as well. Taking up the plot from the end of last week’s episode, where in a moment of psychically-magnified panic David Haller traps his friends from Summerland in a version of the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital contained entirely within his head. Unfortunately for them, the Devil With Yellow Eyes is there as well. The episode further develops the show’s mental health angle while also further exploring the extent of the damage being wrought on David’s mind by the Devil With Yellow Eyes, and how that evil presence has decided to creatively protect its own self-interest. It also features a hypnotizing dance number from Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement in an old-timey diver’s suit. If that doesn’t sound like appointment television, I don’t know what does.

Review (Comedy Central, Thursday @ 10:00 p.m.)

“Locorito/Pet Euthanasia/Dream”

Grade: A-

If Detroiters is the most underrated comedy series of the 2016-2017 television season, then Review is the most underrated comedy series of the last several seasons. And I don’t mean critically underrated; Review is one of the most critically acclaimed comedies in recent memory. I mean underrated by audiences, as the show’s less-than stellar ratings have caused Comedy Central to cancel the show after one final season. Luckily, star Andy Daly and crew knew that this would be the final season going into it, allowing the end the show on their own terms. Adapted from the Australian television series Review with Myles Barlow, Review stars Daly as Forrest MacNeil, the host of the titular show-within-the-show and a self-described reviewer of life experiences. In each episode, Forrest is given tasks to review, which have ranged from eating an unhealthy number of pancakes to becoming a full-on drug addict. The brilliance of the show is in Daly’s performance, but also in the way it takes this seemingly episodic premise and builds a serialized narrative behind it dealing with the continuing destruction of Forrest’s personal life due to his frankly insane devotion to the show.

                  Tonight’s premiere felt, in a lot of ways, like the calm before the storm. Knowing what this show has done in its previous two season, and knowing that this is the final one, I as a viewer was constantly on edge, waiting to see what the show would reveal about its ultimate endgame. While no such answers were necessarily provided on that front yet, the episode itself was incredibly funny anyway. After surviving the fall off the bridge with his producer Grant at the end of season 2, Forrest is simply back on stage at the taping of the show with almost no explanation other than that he feels his survival was a miracle Jumping right back into his calling in life, Forrest is asked to review the new burrito at a local tex-mex restaurant (only to find out that it’s been shut down in the six months Forrest was missing in the woods), the experience of putting a pet to sleep, and the experience of “making his dream come true” (which does not go as one would expect). And again, even though this episode did not serve the overarching plot of the show/season much, it was still a great half-hour filled with tons of laughs and is surely a good omen for the rest of the season.

Baskets (FX, Thursday @ 10:00 p.m.)

“Yard Sale”

Grade: A

                  My final show this week, Baskets, is one of the many dramedies currently dominating the television landscape (and awards season comedy categories). The show is very much in the vein of Transparent, Atlanta, and Louie; Louis C.K. is even an executive producer on the series. Created by and starring Zach Galifianakis, Baskets is the offbeat story of Chip Baskets, who drops out of clown school in Paris, France and returns home to his disappointing former life in Bakersfield, California. Getting a job as a rodeo clown, Chip also has to deal with his family, including his twin brother Dale (also played by Galifianakis) and his mother Christine (brilliantly portrayed by Louis Anderson). The show strikes a delicate balance between dark humor, outright farce, and serious drama; it works so well that it honestly shocks me, with Galifiankis’ mostly understated performance anchoring a great cast given life through perfect writing. Those who only know Galfiainkis from The Hangover films may be disappointed at the type of humor on display in this series; it much more closely resembles the style of humor Galifiankis employed back when he was just another standup comic putting in his dues and known only to the most devoted of standup nerds. As for the plot, much has happened in the series since the pilot last year, with Chip eventually quitting the rodeo, briefly working at Arby’s and then ending season 1 by hopping aboard a train out of town and into the unknown. Season 2 opened with Chip living life as a hobo, however as the show currently stands, he has returned home and his grandmother has died.

                  This week’s episode brought viewers back to the aftermath of the funeral, with Christine organizing a yard sale to sell off her mother’s belongings, but is distracted when her asshole brother brings a realtor to survey their mother’s house. Dale’s daughter, meanwhile, has fallen in with a bad group of kids and left, causing Dale to leave the yard sale as well attempting to retrieve her. Chip also leaves the yard sale when Trinity, a woman Chip met during his time as a hobo, turns up at the house and Chip tries to set her up with a job at the local Arby’s. Martha, Chip’s sort-of friend who works as an insurance adjuster at the local Costco, is left to man the yard sale and contend with the numerous shoppers trying to haggle down the price of the goods on sale. Just based on this plot description, it definitely must be hard to see how the show deserves all of the praise that I’ve heaped upon it, much less how it deserves an “A” grade, but truly to appreciate this show’s greatness one must actually sit down and watch it. The show is incredibly good at endearing these broken, strange people to viewers, even the worst of them like Dale, and drawing us into their world. Honestly, with this penultimate episode of the season, I’m almost surprised myself at how much I’ve come to love this series. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.

 

       And that’s it for this week. Next week I may scale this column back a bit, only focusing on one show a night or just the very best of the best. I wanted to, with this initial piece, give a sense of where I come from as a television viewer, what speaks to me about the shows that I watch, and how I evaluate them in terms of quality. Hopefully this interests you enough to give some of these shows a look.

      What shows are you all enjoying most these days? How do you feel about the shows I’ve written about here? Let me know in the comments below!