AnTV: March 18-March 24
March 18-March 24
A lot has happened in the TV world since my last column. The new Marvel Netflix series Iron Fist premiered to . . . less than stellar reviews. Netflix premiered the first new standup comedy specials from Dave Chappelle in 13 years – two at the same time – this past Tuesday. The Flash and Supergirl had their much-hyped musical crossover. And Arrow aired what might be an all-time great episode for the series. In all, it was a pretty solid week and provided much to discuss. As I mentioned last week, I’m going to go in-depth on fewer shows, but to make up for it I’ll also include a brief round-up at the end of everything else I saw.
Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix)
Getting the obvious out of the way first, Iron Fist begins with perhaps the worst hour of television out of any Marvel series that has aired thus far (including all the Netflix shows, Agents of SHIELD, and Agent Carter). The writing is uninspired, the performance from Finn Jones as Danny Rand is wooden, and the action looks like the crew filmed a half-speed rehearsal and then left it in the show. The second episode, which finds Danny Rand imprisoned in a mental institution for the entire hour, is better than the first but not by much. From that inauspicious beginning, however, the show eventually morphs into a solid (but by no means amazing) watch, as Danny comes to understand that his sworn enemies, the Hand, have gained a foothold in his family’s corporation and are using it as a front to smuggle synthetic heroin in to New York City. Meanwhile, Danny must deal with his guilt over leaving the mystical city of K’un L’un, where he was raised after a deadly plane crash that killed his parents, and a budding relationship with Colleen Wing, a local martial arts instructor. The supporting case of Iron Fist is uniformly good-to-great, especially the welcome return of Rosario Dawson as Claire Tremple, the only character to appear in all four Netflix Marvel series thus far. The plot, likewise, gets more compelling as the season goes on, actually managing to do the Hand justice as an enemy faction in a way that Daredevil’s second season could not. Ultimately, of the five Marvel seasons currently streaming on Netflix, Iron Fist is probably the worst overall, but it is by no means bad. The incredibly poor reviews the show has gotten from critics, based only on the early episodes, do not fairly represent the entire 13-episode season as a whole. Any fan of Marvel’s Netflix shows should give this a watch, especially because Danny Rand is the fourth and final member of the Defenders group; The Defenders, a season that will see Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up to take down the Hand once and for all, will be premiering later this year.
Feud: Bette and Joan (FX, Sunday @ 10:00 p.m.)
Week in and week out, Ryan Murphy’s latest project at FX makes a case for why top tier actors and actresses should spend more time doing prestige television drama. Essentially an hour-long acting clinic being put on by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, their performances as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford continue to dazzle. This week, a number of issues related to the film shoot escalate tensions between Bette and Joan in such a way that the outside influence from Bob Aldritch and Jack Warner on display last week wasn’t even necessary. First, Bette’s daughter B.D. gets cast in the role of the young neighbor in the movie, which causes consternation among the cast and crew when it is discovered that the young girl is not a talented actress. Next, a number of pivotal scenes being shot for the film provide both Bette and Joan with opportunities to make the other miserable. A scene that requires Bette to carry Joan turns into a painful marathon shooting session after Joan continually ruins the takes on purpose by laughing and breaking character; it isn’t until after the shoot concludes that she reveals she was wearing a weighted belt to make the scene extra hard on Bette. Later, in a scene where Bette’s character is kicking Joan’s character, a crucial shot that required Joan to actually be on the floor gives Bette cover to actually kick Joan in the head on purpose. And finally, in perhaps the biggest strain on the women’s working relationship yet, Joan’s they film Joan’s big monologue at the end of the film; Bette realizes that Joan has set her up, in that even though Bette is playing the title role, the flashier performance (and therefore the best chance at an Oscar nomination) went to Joan instead. That fact that these events all actually happened (weighted belt and kicking included) only adds to the already tense atmosphere the show has managed to create. In all, this was another excellent episode for the series.
Supergirl (The CW, Monday @ 8:00 p.m.)
Supergirl debuted on CBS last year as a CW transplant to a major network. Disconnected from it’s cousins on The CW, the story of Kara Zor-El, the Last Daughter of Krypton and the cousin of Superman, felt incredibly isolated during most of its first season. A late-season crossover with The Flash, something that initially seemed impossible, showed just how much potential the should could have had had it been picked up by The CW instead. Luckily, when CBS decided not to renew the show for season 2, The CW swooped in and saved the day. Now, on The CW where she always belonged, Supergirl was able to participate in the four-part crossover event last December and has also managed to step up its game from the already-fun first season. Star Melissa Benoist is perfect in the title role, providing the perfect cross between energetic optimism and determined strength that such an iconic role demands. She carries the weight of this series on her shoulders and does an incredible job every week. Her cast of supporting characters, including such comics standbys as Jimmy Olsen and original characters as well, flesh out the world and Team Supergirl in much the same way that Arrow and The Flash’s supporting players do; even though these CW superhero shows seem to be following a sort of “house style,” the formula works and the differences in the heroes’ characters, and their teams’ characters as well, keeps it from feeling too formulaic and stale. I enjoy this series.
This episode, however, was not the show’s finest hour. A lot of times with these CW series, the writers contrive problems between the show’s characters both at inopportune or perplexing times. Tonight, the show’s worst-kept secret (that Mon-El, the supposed palace guard to the royal family of Daxam who escaped the planet when it was caught in the blast from the destruction of Krypton, is actually Prince Mon-El, heir to the throne of Daxam) is “revealed.” When Mon-El’s parents, who also managed to escape the planet in the destruction, track him down on Earth, they attempt to bring him home with them to rebuild their civilization. Mon-El is now in love with Kara, however, and refuses to go with them. The problem arises when Kara learns of Mon-El’s true identity and becomes angry with him for not telling her. Mon-El chose not to tell Kara about his true identity because of Krypton and Daxam’s centuries-long feud with one another; he feared she would hate him if she knew he was Daxamite royalty. The reason why this development was so odd to bring to light tonight was mainly because the pair literally just got together official last week. The show didn’t even let them have a few weeks of being happy together before deciding to blow up the relationship. The CW’s constant reliance on characters not telling important information to other characters as a tool to create drama has gotten tiring (especially on The Flash), so to see this tool being used like this on Supergirl was disappointing. The end of the episode, which teased the aforementioned crossover between Supergirl and The Flash, was probably the best part of it.
The Flash (The CW, Tuesday @ 8:00 p.m.)
Both Melissa Benoist (Supergirl) and Grant Gustin (The Flash) were cast members on Fox’s high school musical series Glee, and both have amazing singing voices. In addition, a shocking number of cast members of both series have serious pipes as well, especially Jesse Martin (Joe West), Carlos Valdes (Cisco Ramon), Jeremy Jordan (Winn Schott), and even John Barrowman (Malcolm Merlyn). In order to take advantage of these accomplished vocalists, the show concocted a fun premise wherein DC villain Music Meister puts both Kara and Barry into comas wherein they are sharing a dream that they are singers in a 1940s-set musical. And to play the Music Meister, the producers made the inspired decision to cast fellow Glee alum Darren Criss. Music Meister instructs Kara and Barry that they have to “follow the script” of the musical in order to wake up from their comas, while the rest of the cast in the real world tries to figure out a way to wake them up on their own. The songs and musical numbers in the episode are so well done, with Gustin and Benoist’s boundless enthusiasm infecting the viewer from the very beginning. I had a dopey smile on my face for the entire hour, honestly. And the episode even managed to resolve both the trouble with Kara/Mon-El relationship and the Barry/Iris relationship by the end of the runtime. This was just a delightful viewing experience all around; some might think the grade is too high, but honestly for what I was looking for in this crossover, I got exactly what I wanted out of it. It was a true highlight for both series, easily.
Dave Chappelle: Deep In the Heart of Texas & The Age of Spin (Netflix)
Dave Chappelle is back. When news broke of Netflix’s $60 million deal with Chappelle for the rights to two previously recorded, unreleased standup comedy specials (and a third to be recorded and released in the future), it felt totally surreal. Chappelle hadn’t released a standup special in 13 years, and now we were being graced with two new ones. But after the initial excitement faded, I began to have reservations about the idea of Chappelle returning to the standup stage after so long. While Chappelle had continued performing live for years, despite being off of televisions and movie screens, reports on those performances had ranged from good to bizarre to even horrendous (Chappelle even tells the story behind his now-infamous performance where he was high on stage and spent the whole time smoking cigarettes, babbling, and getting booed by the audience). How would Chappelle fare in these new specials? Would they be able to recapture the feel of his classic specials from the early 00’s, “Killin’ Them Softly” and “For What It’s Worth?” Or would the specials only show that years of being out of the spotlight have dulled Chappelle’s abilities? Luckily, both “Deep In the Heart of Texas” (recorded in 2015) and “The Age of Spin” (recorded in 2016) are absolutely hilarious. Despite the specials being record a year apart, Netflix chose to list them together, almost like episodes in a television season, and after watching both it is honestly incredible how they feel almost like one, two-hour marathon set as opposed to two distinct entities. This is likely because of Chappelle’s unique style being on full display in each, and the fact that the specials generally stay away from events that were current at the time they were filmed makes them avoid feeling dated as well. And Chappelle’s ability to tackle hot-button, controversial issues in a way that is intelligent and insightful only enhances the humor on display. Any fan of standup comedy should check these specials out.
Legion (FX, Wednesday @ 10:00 p.m.)
As near-perfect a hour of television as I’ve seen this year, Legion finally pulls back the curtain on the season-long mystery of the Devil With Yellow Eyes’ identity (although comics fans in the know likely guessed the reveal weeks ago) while also featuring the most visually striking and inventive sequences the show has done yet. As for the plot, David and the rest of the heroes are still trapped in David’s mental recreation of the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, only now the settings has begun severely deteriorating as the Devil With Yellow Eyes begins preparing to kill everyone except for David and take over David’s body. David, essentially buried alive in his own mind, creates a mental projection of himself to talk to and work out how he plans to reclaim his sanity and save his friends. The climax of the episode, however, is a stunning sequence in which there is no spoken dialogue, the music builds to a heart-pounding crescendo as the camera cuts between the hospital (where Syd and Kerry are running from the Devil With Yellow Eyes, shot in black and white and complete with silent-film era title cards for dialogue), and David’s childhood room (where Melanie, Cary, and Oliver attempt to save David from being shot after time is unfrozen). Aubrey Plaza, as the villain here, is truly terrifying; the silent film sequence, where she stalks Syd and Kerry down a hallway, is unsettling and truly tense. The episode also ends on a huge cliffhanger that sets up next week’s season finale to be an explosive end to the season.
Review (Comedy Central, Thursday @ 10:00 p.m.)
“Co-Host, Ass Slap, Helen Keller, Forgiveness”
The final season of Forrest MacNeil’s continued process of prolonged self-immolation continued this week, with Forrest first having to switch places with his show-within-the-show’s chipper co-host, A.J. Gibbs. Watching her completely botch the process of reviewing life experiences that Forrest has established for the show, star Andy Daly truly sells the frustration that Forrest feels in both getting sidelined and having his “very important work” handled in the way that A.J. does it. Her non-review of slapping a stranger on the ass does not go the way Forrest would have done it himself, a fact that he spends the rest of the episode passive-aggressively reminding her of to great effect. The episode also sees Forrest blocking out his sense of sight and hearing to experience life as Helen Keller lived it, which causes a great many problems for him, not the least of which occurs when Forrest has to testify in his murder trial (from when he reviewed killing a person in season 2) while the review is still going on. And when Forrest is asked to review forgiveness, his typical misunderstanding of the premise leads to one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the show, as Forrest’s ex-wife Suzanne takes him to task for his insane behavior over the last two seasons all at once. This remains one of the funniest, most uncomfortable shows on television and shows no signs of slowing down as it ends its run.
“What Else Was On???”
This week also saw new episodes from Arrow (Grade: A-), Legends of Tomorrow (Grade: B-), Detroiters (Grade: A), Baskets (Grade: B+), The Walking Dead (Grade: B-), Family Guy (Grade: C), and Bob’s Burgers (Grade: B+). On Arrow, the episode spent about 75% of its run time in flashback, showing how Oliver took down villain Konstantine Kovar (Dolph Lundgren) five years earlier. The rest of the episode dealt with Oliver in Adrian Chase’s captivity, as Adrian tortures him into admitting a truth about himself that he would have rather not have acknowledged. Bob’s Burgers focused the episode on Linda and Tina, as they attended a women’s empowerment conference and Linda couldn’t help but embarrass her daughter. Detroiters focused on Tim and Sam losing two of their favorite clients at the ad agency, a local furniture store, and to get revenge they attempt to make a commercial for the former clients’ biggest competitor (played to comedic perfection by Keegan Michael-Key). Legends of Tomorrow turned in a less-than-stellar episode after a strong over the last couple weeks, as the Legends journey to WWI in search of the Blood of Christ, which is the only thing that can destroy the Spear of Destiny. On Baskets, Christine attempts to decide how best to spend the money she inherited from her late mother, and how she could best use it to help her children better themselves in life. On Family Guy, Peter defies Lois’ wish that he eat healthier by opening a food truck exclusively dealing in disgusting junk food. And on The Walking Dead, Sasha and Rosita put their plan to kill Negan into motion; the episode was largely table-setting for action to come and was a bit boring on the whole.
And that’s it for this week. What’d you all think of these shows this week? What thoughts do you have on shows I didn’t watch? Leave a comment below.