AnTV: Legion/Review Season Reviews + March 25-March 31 Recap
March 25-March 31
For the column this week, I decided to change up the format a bit because two of the best shows on television ended their seasons in the last seven days. Unfortunately, in Review's case, the entire series ended. These series honestly could not be more different from one another; Legion was a hit eight-episode psychological thriller set in the X-Men universe and just wrapping its inaugural season, whereas Review was a critically-beloved but under-watched comedy series given an abbreviated third and final season to wrap its plot up in a satisfying manner. Really, the only thing linking the shows was their quality, as they stand out as shining examples of why the current era of television truly is incredible. I'll still save some time at the end for a brief re-cap of the week's other highlights.
**Warning: These reviews will contain some spoilers, which will be preceded by "SPOILER:" and followed by "/SPOILER." Anything not between the spoiler tags will be spoiler-free.***
Legion (FX, Wednesday @ 10:00 p.m.)
Episode Grade: A
Season Grade: A
Seven weeks ago I wrote a review of the Legion pilot for the Awesome Sunday Show blog, and in it I said, "It really isn't possible to overstate how wholly unique and shockingly well-executed Legion's pilot is. If the rest of the season is this incredible, FX and Hawley will have conquered another beloved property and made it their own." After viewing the remainder of the show's first season, I can see how I may, in fact, have undersold its greatness. I stand by my statement that the pilot was one of the most unique hours of television I had seen potentially ever, and yet the best was still to come.
Over the course of these eight episodes, the show's cast (anchored by Dan Stevens as David Haller and Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett) gelled almost immediately, inhabiting the world that Noah Hawley created so thoroughly that it felt as thought these actors had been playing these roles for years. Eight episodes may seem, to many, as not nearly enough time to establish a world, develop a cast of around ten major characters, and create a lasting impact on the audience, and yet the series manages to accomplish in around 8 hours what most shows can't do in full 22-episode seasons. Part of that is, of course, due to the writing, but a huge chunk of the credit has to go to both the cast themselves and the show's casting director. The relationship between David and Syd, which begins in the pilot and becomes deeper as the series goes on, is the most pivotal relationship in the show (well, aside from maybe one other one I'll discuss later) and the actors have such incredible chemistry that the viewer can't help but believe that they have an immediate and palpable connection. Aside from that, huge credit has to go out to Jean Smart (Melanie Bird), Jemaine Clement (Oliver Bird), Katie Asleton (Amy Haller), Bill Irwin (Cary Loudermilk), Amber Midthunder (Kerry Loudermilk), and Jeremie Harris (Ptonomy Wallace) for helping in fleshing out this show's world but also in imbuing their characters with soul and backstory that didn't always require dialogue to convey effectively.
Special mention also has to go to Aubrey Plaza's performance as Lenny Busker. Originally written to be a middle-aged man, the character of Lenny evolved a bit from the way Hawley initially envisioned it in order to accommodate bringing Plaza on to the show. And what an inspired, insanely brilliant decision that was. SPOILER: Plaza initially appeared to be a minor character on the series; accidentally killed in the pilot when Syd and David briefly switched bodies, it looked as though Plaza's role on the show would be a manifestation of David's subconscious, essentially a split personality inhabiting David's mind and speaking to him about what was going on in his life. As the series evolved, however, Lenny's true nature became abundantly clear, and the sinister, often terrifying performance Plaza turned in was something I never expected from her. Known chiefly for comedic work, especially her excellent star-making role on Parks and Recreation, Plaza goes full-on evil in Legion, and the juxtaposition between what I had previously seen her do with what she was doing here created a sense of cognitive dissonance that only increased her performance's effectiveness. I could gush over her work here for the entire column, but I'll put it on hold for now./SPOILER.
The plot of the series, such as it was, dealt with David coming to live with Melanie Bird and her group of mutants at their secluded forest compound, Summerland, so that he could learn to control his powers. The group also has to deal with the encroaching forces of the mysterious Division 3, a covert military force seemingly dedicated to anti-mutant operations. As if that were not enough, the group learns early on that David's problems might not be as straightforward as they initially thought. SPOILER: The reveal of the show's true villain honestly could not have been more perfectly done. All season long, the show builds up, through flashbacks, dream sequences, and scenes set in the Astral Plane (a dream-like realm accessible by powerful telepaths) that David's unreliable memories may actually be unreliable for a reason, most likely having to do with the so-called "Devil With Yellow Eyes" alluded to in the pilot. David and the group eventually realize that the Devil is actually a psychically powerful entity that lodged itself inside of David's mind while he was a baby and spent David's entire life feeding off of David's power and tampering with his mind. Late in the season, Cary Loudermilk realizes that the Devil is actually the Shadow King, a classic villain from the X-Men comics who acts as a mental parasite, latching onto telepaths and eventually taking over their physical bodies before moving on to the next host. Turns out that the Lenny in David's head is just the Shadow King in disguise, taking the form of David's trusted friend in order to manipulate David without revealing his true nature. Once the Shadow King's ruse starts to fall apart, Aubrey Plaza is able to unleash her inner darkness, and the results were truly unsettling. Particularly, a standout sequence in "Chapter 7," done in the style of old silent films, comes to mind as one of the best examples of Plaza relishing her role as the show's villain, stalking Syd and Kerry down a hallway and acting entirely through facial expressions and body language. The sequence was simply unreal./SPOILER.
The show's visual aesthetic, musical choices, and cinematography were consistently some of the best on television as well. Mind-bending and trippy imagery abounded, set to both a fantastic score and many great classic rock songs, all shot in such a way as to put the audience as off-balance as David himself was. In fact, the show was able to meld its form with its themes, allowing each to compliment and enhance the other, better than almost anything else on television right now. As the season went on, and David gained more and more knowledge about what was actually happening, the show itself seemed to become more clear-headed and less off-kilter. This isn't to say that the show became less interesting as it went along, it felt instead as if the fog was lifting from both David's mind and the audiences. The show's exploration of mental illness, an important topic that is not handled in media nearly as much as it should be, was also excellent. Leave it to a basic cable comic book series to explore mental health issues in-depth and come out on the other side with something important to say in a manner that was empathetic and considerate to those actually suffering from mental health issues in the real world. Bravo.
Ultimately, the thanks for Legion must go to Noah Hawley himself. Quickly becoming one of the hardest working people in entertainment (in addition to creating and running Legion, he is also the creator/showrunner for FX's Fargo series, a bestselling novelist, and is working on at least two other yet-to-air series at the moment), Hawley has once again proven himself adept at getting to the heart of what makes a given property so compelling, and then turning it on its head to look it it from a new angle. Legion stands hand and shoulders above every other comic-book related series currently on television, and the competition isn't even really close at all. FX announced a couple weeks ago that Legion would be returning for a second season, which Hawley has said should premiere next year, and the wait is already excruciating. Anyone on the fence about jumping into this series should have no further hesitation. Legion did not disappoint.
Review (Comedy Central, Thursday @ 10:00 p.m.)
"Cryogenics, Lightning, Last Review"
Episode Grade: A+
Season Grade: A
Series Grade: A+
The current metrics for a successful television series are, frankly, broken. Basing the success or failure of a series on extrapolated "ratings" taken from a sample of people who volunteer to have their televisions monitored is an antiquated system that has led to the deaths of many incredible shows far before their time. Firefly, Arrested Development, Hannibal, etc. all were ended too early thanks to lack of viewership, despite being critically adored and beloved by ever-expanding cults of fans. Certain stations have, in recent years, begun disregarding declining ratings in favor of promoting shows with artistic merit (credit to AMC for continually taking chances on extending the runs of shows like Turn and Halt and Catch Fire despite their flagging ratings, seriously), but in general most shows still live and die by the ratings sword. Comedy Central has at times been incredibly kind to great shows with low ratings, but then at others it has not been Unfortunately for Review, Comedy Central must not have been feeling very generous following the end of its brilliant second season.
Based on the Australian television series Review with Myles Barlow, Review stars comedian Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil, the host of a show-within-the-show (also called Review), whose job it is to review life experiences on a five-star scale based on viewer suggestions sent in. The show is entirely scripted, including the "viewers" requesting things for Forrest to review, and the show began in season 1 as, ostensibly, a sort-of sketch show where Forrest would receive review requests ranging from the outlandish (get addicted to drugs) to the seemingly mundane (going to prom). Forrest's endlessly awkward and bumbling nature, hidden behind a veneer of chipper professionalism and misguided dedication to his "very important work," leads him to dive full-on into each task, whether misinterpreting what his viewers are asking him to do, blowing ostensibly simple tasks way out of proportion, or throwing caution to the wind and engaging in highly self-destructive behavior. SPOILER: It all came to a head in the series third episode, wherein a viewer asks Forrest to review getting divorced, and, well, Forrest divorces his wife of many years with whom he is still very much in love./SPOILER From then on, the show almost follows a serialized narrative told through Forrest's review segments and the spaces in between, meaning the show really needs to be viewed from the beginning to fully appreciate.
Daly is the rock on which this series is built, and he is brilliant in it. Forrest MacNeil seems to be the role Daly was born to play, as his signature vocal delivery and excellent physical comedy skills turn Forrest into both a complete cringe-inducing fool and a pathetic, pitiable figure. The rest of the supporting cast mainly exists to react to Forrest's lunacy, although some (including James Urbaniak's Grant, the producer of the show-within-the-show) exist to encourage Forrest to throw his own life away in service of reviewing the experiences others tell him to. Over the course of the show's first two seasons, as Forrest makes more and more horrible decisions in service of the show, audiences watch as he causes irreparable damage to the lives of those around him, but also ruins everything good about his own life. It sounds like the kind of humor that can be uncomfortable to watch, and it often is, but it is always, always hilarious. I experienced more laugh-out-loud, genuine belly laughs from this show than I have from most other comedies I've seen in my life, despite often having to watch it through my fingers with my hands over my eyes.
The final season of the show continued its incredible streak of excellent content. After the numbers for season two were so poor, Comedy Central decided to renew the show only for an abbreviated third season of three episodes, the last of which aired this week. In the first segment, Forrest must figure out how to review being cryogenically frozen, while in the second, he must survive being struck by lightning. Between the two segments, Forrest again harasses his ex-wife Suzanne at her home, although what exactly happens as a result of those interactions in this episode culminates in what can only be described as a dark, yet completely poetic and fitting, ending to not only the episode and the season, but to the entire series as well. I seriously cannot recommend this show enough, and immediately want to binge a re-watch of all three seasons (only totaling 22 half-hour episodes) just to relive the greatness that this show has exhibited over the last three years. This show felt like it still had so much more to offer, and Andy Daly is a comedian who absolutely deserves a hit starring vehicle, so this cancellation definitely stings. But the ride was excellent as it went along. Big thanks to Andy Daly and the rest of the show's cast and crew for all the laughs.
"What Else Is On???"
As for the rest of the week, the usual assortment of shows turned in new episodes that I watched. The Walking Dead (Grade: B) focused its episode this week on Sasha, freshly captured by the Saviors, attempting to deal with her situation and her knowledge that Eugene has essentially joined the enemy for good. Bob's Burgers turned in two episodes this week: "Aquaticism" (Grade: A-) saw the kids attempting to save the dingy local aquarium through fraudulently getting it tax-exempt status as a place of worship, while "Ain't Miss Debatin'" (Grade: B+) saw Tina join the school debate team and get herself involved in a relationship with someone she didn't actually have serious feelings for. The Last Man on Earth (Grade: B+) featured the group attempting to make contact with another survivor, who they learn is actually a child who had been somehow living on his own in a cabin in the woods. Feud: Bette and Joan (Grade: A) again demonstrated its greatness as a commentary on Hollywood and as a showcase for two of the greatest actresses of all time (playing two of the greatest actresses of all time), this week dealing with the wrap on production of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the effects of the film's surprise success on their lives. Supergirl (Grade: B) aired an episode directed by Kevin Smith, wherein a bounty is placed on Kara's head by Mon-El's mother in order to coerce Mon-El into return to the planet Daxam. On The Flash (Grade: B-), Barry and co. battle Abra Kadabra, a villain from the future with technology so advanced it appears to be magic. Legends of Tomorrow (Grade: A) continued its excellent second season by focusing on the alternate universe created by the Legion of Doom after acquiring the Spear of Destiny in the previous episode. Detroiters (Grade: A-) had a ton of great guest stars (including SNL's Michael Che and Cecily Strong) in an episode that saw Sam and Tim attempt to make their health insurance payments by trying to call in their outstanding debts. On Arrow (Grade: B), Oliver decides to call in Anatoly and the bratva to help him kill Prometheus, a decision that earns him the disappointment of Diggle, who attempts to prevent Oliver from selling out Star City to the Russian mob over a personal vendetta.
What did you all think of this week in tv? Disagree with anything I wrote? Love Legion and Review as much as I do? Drop a comment below.