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Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 TV Weekly Recap (June 1 - June 7)


Sunday June 1

Game of Thrones (HBO), Episode 8 "The Mountain and The Viper"

Brief Description: I am a firm believer that the ending does not make or break a season or an episode. A bad episode with a great ending is still a bad show. That's what "The Mountain and the Viper" was. Now that's not to say that you completely disregard the ending entirely, as it is still a part of the episode, but the excellent fight sequence at the very end does not excuse how mediocre the lead up to it was. Instead, the fight between The Mountain and The Viper (as well as Tyrion's monologue about his dim witted cousin smashing beetles) added a "+" to what was, overall, a "B" episode. I could care less about anything that happened to the Bolton clan/Theon and that goes double for Gilly. Maybe this was all a set up for the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, which have historically been shit-in-your-pants incredible episodes, but as a stand alone episode, "The Mountain and The Viper" was just all right. 

Silicon Valley (HBO), Episode 8 "Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency"

Brief Description: Richard is such a meek character that he gets shit on constantly. It's ideally used for humor, but more often than not, it's just frustrating to watch him on screen. I guess that's what makes the end of "Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency" that much more rewarding (and it is rewarding to an extent), but I don't know if the winding journey we had to watch justifies the destination. It's certainly better than if Richard had lost the TechCrunch Disrupt, as all of Richard's hard work finally paid off, but so much of Season 1 was Richard being Richard, which made for unpleasant viewing. I wrote two weeks ago, after Silicon Valley's penultimate episode, that even if the finale was great, there was nothing that was going to get me to start watching Season 2. This finale was far from great, and if anything, the ending of "Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency" only made it seem as if Season 2 was going to be more of the same. 

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC), Episode 1 "I/O"

Brief Description: AMC does not have a good track record with new dramas within the past five years. This is especially surprising considering AMC is responsible for two of the greatest television shows in the history of mankind (Breaking Bad and Mad Men). Mad Men has the best pilot I've probably every seen from a drama series and Breaking Bad is not far behind it. Halt and Catch Fire's pilot isn't even remotely close to any of AMC's greats, as it's just riddled with cliches. Every scene I saw in H&CF I've seen in every other drama before, yet I was captivated by it here. The show definitely passed The Smart Phone Test- where I was more focused on the TV show than I was with my smart phone, and I will absolutely be looking forward to episode 2. However, I do hope this show gets better, as it can't remain on this same level as the pilot and also remain successful.

Tuesday June 3

Fargo (FX), Episode 8 "The Heap"

Brief Description: Very similar to Fargo's second episode, "The Rooster Prince", "The Heap" was necessary for the season as a whole, but didn't work as a stand alone episode. Frankly, if the FX mini-series ended after Tuesday's episode, then all would be fine in the world. Fargo would still be considered a really good show, and the experiment would be considered a success. However, the good guy has to win, and therefore there's still more story to be told. Similar to the movie the mini-series is based off of, the bad guys need to get their comeuppance. Molly Solverson, who is now overtly Marge Gunderson from the movie considering she's now pregnant, is going to be the one to make everything right in the world. As much as I love Key & Peele as actors, their addition as new characters when the season was over halfway done was a bit odd, but after Tuesday's episode, it looks like the bumbling FBI agents will help Molly (because no way in hell was Gus going to do anything) bring down Molvo and Lester. I'm extremely excited to see the last two episodes to see how this series will end, and the "The Heap" was the first step towards the end.


Orange Is The New Black (Netflix), Episode 1 "Thirsty Bird"

Brief Description: "Thirsty Bird" was a ballsy, ballsy episode for OITNB. We spent season 1 (mainly) following around Piper Chapman as she spends most of her time feeling like a fish out of water. However, by the end of the season, she's fully engrained within this prison culture. She may not be fully accepted, but she's engrained. Season 2 changes the status quo again by doing THE EXACT SAME THING as they transfer Piper to Chicago so she can testify at the trial of the kingpin who is (in some tenuous way) responsible for Piper's lock up. It's my understanding this scenario happened in the book took risk. And it paid off. Just because it was in Piper Kerman's book doesn't mean it had to be included into the show considering the vast majority of Season 1 came from the mind of Jenji Kohan and her writers, but the decision to move Piper not only allows us to spend time in Lynchfield without Piper's uppity attitude, but also expands our view of this world. While Piper is probably the least interesting character Lynchfield, Taylor Schilling is such a great actress that when you get scenes like when she's finally able to express what she (thinks she) did to Pennsatucky, that it all seems worth it. The ambiguity of whether Pennsatucky lived or died was ruined because Taryn Manning's name is in the opening credits (therefore she was paid to be in all 13 episodes); however, because Piper herself didn't know, it made her character interesting to watch. That was necessary as we spend the entire episode with just her and away from some of the characters  we grew to love in Season 1. Speaking of which, Danielle Brooks (Taystee), Uzo Adubo (Crazy Eyes), Natasha Lyonne (Nichols), and Tayrn Manning (Pennsatucky) all get promoted into the opening credits. Unfortunately, Pablo Schrieber (Pornstache) did not, which means my worst fears have come true.


Masters of Sex (Showtime), Episodes 4-5 of Season 2

Brief Description: After feeling very tepid on "Masters of Sex" after the first three episodes, I'm starting to like the show more and more. However, I'm still not 100% sold on the show, despite the fact that critics seemingly universally ranked it as one of the 10 best shows of 2013. Then I came across The A.V. Club's Sonia Saraiya piece reviewing the show's fifth episode. The opening of her article perfectly encapsulated how I feel about the show. Instead of mumbling and bumbling for a few paragraphs trying to get my point across, I'm just going to directly quote Ms. Saraiya:

I am enjoying Masters Of Sex, and tonight’s episode “Catherine” is another excellent episode that explores these characters as their lives slowly unfold. But I would be enjoying it more if I could understand where the show is trying to take us, or what it is trying to say. As much as I admire the mechanics of this show and the marvelous performances contained within, I don’t have a sense of any of the broad arcs this show is trying to build. Or, to be exact, I don’t have a sense of any of the broad arcs apart from the attraction between Masters and Johnson, and it seems the clear that the show is taking its time with that one, probably with a multi-season arc.
Masters Of Sex is suffering from lack of a clear direction. The stakes of the season are not entirely clear to me, and now that Libby has lost her baby, it seems even that driving action has been stopped. I feel like I keep waiting for the show to tell me what is important—what matters. But aside from pointing repeatedly to the modernity of Virginia’s character and the repression of Masters’, it’s not saying much at all. 
I’m a little worried that Masters Of Sex might only exist to spotlight sex scenes with wires trailing from the characters’ foreheads. It’s fine to showcase sex, but it’s odd when sex is the only thing a show can find worth exploring. There are plenty of sex scenes in this episode—two in the study, one in Dr. Ethan Haas’ bedroom, and one masturbation scene. All the couples’ scenes are lovingly filmed, with much attention paid to butts and breasts of both genders. But aside from the thrill of showing nudity and physical intimacy, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose in showing them, except to play up the show’s reputation as being a show about sex, and sexiness, and sexytimes. We’re not watching Masters and Johnson have sex with each other—so what’s the point? 
I get that we’re watching Masters slowly lose his many layers of armor, and that we’re watching a show based on real people, but the pacing is flawed. I don’t feel that I know enough about the study to feel that there’s some sort of desired outcome that our characters are struggling for; in fact, right now, I do not know any desired or feared outcomes whatsoever. No matter how good the rest of the show is, that’s a problem. There are no stakes right now...

Band of Brothers (HBO), "Currahee" & "Day of Days"
Service Available to Stream: Amazon Prime

Brief Description: Considering D-Day happened this past week, and because I need an HBO show I actually enjoy to watch, I have decided to embark on the WWII mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Both men are responsible for one of the greatest war movies ever made, Saving Private Ryan, and 'Band of Brothers' certainly feels like an extension of the film- just taking place in another part of the world/war. "Currahee" introduces us to Easy Company, a group of paratroopers that the army has to mold into an elite fighting unit. The man responsible for this task is played by Friends' alum David Schwimmer. In a show that purposefully doesn't introduce you to the specific characters within Easy Company, Schwimmer's presence seemed like stunt casting versus hiring an actor to truly play the part. Schwimmer plays a piss poor drill sergeant, and for the first half of the episode, I wished I was watching R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket instead. But then Schwimmer's character is put in charge to lead Easy Company, and when that vulnerability that Schwimmer is forced to play shines through, that's the moment you realize why he was cast in this role to begin with. "Currahee" ends with Easy Company about to fight in D-Day which leads us directly into "Day of Days" where Damien Lewis (who would later go on to play and win an Emmy as Sgt. Nicholas Brody on Homeland) and his crew come in and actually do some fighting. Easy Company, or what's left of them, basically spend the entire episode shooting Nazi's and taking control of four machine guns. It's a great adrenaline rush that's so gorgeously shot, that it's shocking to learn Spielberg himself wasn't behind the camera. Overall, 'Band of Brothers' was a super risky experiment considering you have absolutely no idea who anyone in Easy Company, outside of its leaders, are. It's a war story where you just learn about the war and not about any of the characters within it. If actors in Easy Company didn't later go on to become famous (a la Boardwalk Empire's Stephen Graham), I would have absolutely no idea who anyone was. But you don't need to know who anyone is considering this is about the war itself. It's this daring choice that led many critics to pan 'Band of Brothers' at the time, but I really enjoy this show.



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