#TheBlacklist Season 5 Premier: Back In A New York Groove

Just when we thought the male anti-hero had run its course, Raymond Reddington came along. James Spader’s awesome portrayal of someone equal parts charismatic and cunning kept the show alive as other characters found their way. Reddington is a flamboyant version of the international criminal mastermind, and you could feel how much fun Spader had bringing him to life.

Then season four happened. Red made the out-of-character decision to shoot his fixer, Mr. Kaplan, in the head and leave her (not a typo) in the woods to die. It was an overreaction to her perceived betrayal in season three, so much so that it was transparently forced into the show as a way to open up a new storyline. A metal plate no one knew was in her head saved Mr. Kaplan. Obviously pissed off, she used her complete knowledge of Raymond’s criminal organization to dismantle it from afar.

Losing his contacts, his connections and his money put Raymond Reddington on the defensive. Without his confidence he had no cockiness. Without either he was left being the one scrambling instead of the one stirring the drink. It made him uninteresting. Other storylines helped push the season along, but they weren’t strong enough to overcome the lack of fun Reddington.

The season five premiere brought back the fun.

The Blacklist has always been great with music, this year being no exception. The episode started with Reddington conning his way through a valet stand and into a classic sports car, which he promptly outran the police with – all set to “Back In A New York Groove.” He zipped his way to his new home: A motel where he holds court by the pool, giving the show a chance to let Spader’s charm explode onto every scene.

This is the new Raymond. He’s got no network and no money. Immaculate suits are out. He’s gotta hustle for his rent. So naturally he comes to the aid of a bail bondsman who’s about to lose $80,000 if a fugitive doesn’t make his court date. Perfect work for a former criminal entrepreneur.

All of this let’s the show give us the old Red back. The fun Red.

Here’s what season five shapes up to cover, based on the premiere…

Red rebuilds his empire
Season one began with Reddington already on top of the criminal world. Now that Kaplan knocked him off, season five should be heavy on him putting the pieces in place to start over. The premiere had him scheme to bring in a money launderer and a logistics man. He’ll need more, including a new fixer. And speaking of fixers…

Ressler’s in trouble
The Ressler character has been pretty stiff for most of this series. His only purpose seems to be rushing to crime scenes and reminding us of the ethical problems the FBI faces working with Reddington. Nevertheless, I like him. But now he’s got problems. Stupid ones.

At the end of season four, Agent Ressler accidentally killed the National Security Advisor. I mean, oops. Then, in a moment of extreme idiocy, he called the fixer who just betrayed said advisor and asked him to take care of it. Well guess what. The fixer is now gonna blackmail the shit out of him. It’ll cause problems for Ressler, big ones. I can’t stand inevitable storylines and this one is going to drive me nuts.

Elizabeth’s mom’s bones
Like every good fixer (see above), Mr. Kaplan kept an insurance policy against her employer. Hers? The decayed bones of Elizabeth’s mom. Big. She left them for Tom (“Hey, Tom. I got your dead mother-in-law’s bones here.”) who now has them in a brown suitcase that he keeps in the family living room.

Raymond doesn’t know all of this. He knows Kaplan left the bones for someone, but not who. He’s got Dembe on the job, so it’ll get done. It won’t be easy, but we know how it ends because…

That flash forward
At first I thought this was Tom having a flashback, then I realized this isn’t something we’ve seen. To lay the marker for how serious Reddington takes these bones, the premiere ended with a flash forward to Red and Dembe bursting into the Keane’s apartment guns out and, possibly, shooting Tom in the process. That part wasn’t clear. But it wouldn’t be surprising. Tom and Raymond have been at odds for most of the series.

How we get to that scene will be the biggest story for season five to unravel.

Advertisements

#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings

#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings

This is not a rant against television critics. I love television critics. They understand television better than I do and explain it better than I can. I’d be lost (pun…not intended) watching the shows I like without their recaps and insight.

But with expertise and analysis comes the danger of over-thinking, and I think we’re at that point with reaction to the season two premiere of This Is Us.

If you’re not a fan (you should be), This Is Us spent the better part of season one teasing the death of the Pearson family patriarch, Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia. We know he does die, but the show is drawing out the reveal for exactly how. It seemed like we’d get the answer in the season one finale, but no. Like a lot of critics and fans, I was even upset they didn’t reveal it after such a heavy buildup.

At the very end of the season two premiere, they made the reveal. Sorta. They showed Kate and Randall in tears, with Kate getting a line that called back to a future-Kate line earlier in the episode. They showed Rebecca pulling up to the Pearson house and letting out a scream that’s even more impressive when you learn Mandy Moore nailed it in one take.

But they didn’t actually show Jack dying. In answering the question of what killed him, they opened more questions about what led up to it.

Some critics, it’s fair to say, aren’t happy.

Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter (who you should read regularly) called it “emotional ghoulishness” and said:

I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to get invested at this point in the premiere’s shocking revelations that Jack died when the kids were 17, which I guess means 20 years ago, which I guess means 1997? And that apparently he died in a fire in the Pearson house? You could have told me that in the second episode of the first season and literally nothing I enjoy about the show would have been negatively impacted.
Nothing.

James Poniewozik at the New York Times might have cried a little but then his damn brain took over:

I barely had time to register the emotion of the moment before my rational mind went to work gnawing on this newest kernel. No one confirmed that the fire killed Jack, after all. Rebecca appeared to have his personal effects in the car — would they have survived his immolation? Maybe Kate (Chrissy Metz) — who holds herself responsible for Jack’s death — caused the fire?

And maybe that fire led to a different action that killed him. Maybe it was a drunk-driving accident. Maybe he took a long walk, lost in his thoughts, not noticing the grand piano teetering out of a fourth-floor window above him. Maybe he was forced to take a second job, at the old match factory next to the fireworks warehouse.

This is a problem. Here we’d just seen the raw moment where Jack’s wife and teenage children are first grieving his loss. But instead of processing it, the show’s teasing narrative had me constructing an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of death.

Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall (who you should also read regularly) thinks it’s time for the teasing to end:

But we’ve reached a point where this one puzzle has now started to overwhelm the many things This Is Us is good (and, at times, great) at, and to turn into the exact kind of Reddit bait that Fogelman said he doesn’t want it to be.

I get all that.

Here’s my thing: We don’t have to treat every show like it’s in the running for greatest show of all time. Let’s leave the magnifying glass in the desk drawer and enjoy This Is Us for what it is – A remarkably real television show.

I love This Is Us because it’s nice to not be mind-f*cked at the end of every episode. When Game of Thrones is over my mind is whirring with how all the new information fits in with what we already know and what I forgot from past seasons. When This Is Us is over, my mind is silent, but I’m heart-f*cked. I’m replaying the moments in the show – and there’s at least one in every episode – that struck a chord with something from my life. That’s so cool.

I also love This Is Us for the way it’s characters almost always seem to do the thing you hope they’ll do. Your heart was screaming for Rebecca to knock on the door, wasn’t it? It was, because Rebecca knocking on the door was the most emotional, heart-warming thing she could possibly do. It was what any of us would do if we were that desperately in love with someone, which we all want to be. So she did it, and it was amazing.

Let’s just enjoy that. Enjoy a show that isn’t about people who literally never smile (House of Cards) or half as great as it used to be (The Blacklist) or built in a fictional universe with a 12,000-year history (looking at you, George R.R.).

It’s okay to sit back for an hour a week and let your heart takeover.

 

Game of Thrones, Season 7 Premier: Snap Reaction

Winter is here, and it’s about damn time. Daenerys sailed west, and it’s about damn time. Game of Thrones has always been thrilling and intriguing, but after six seasons it was time for the over-arching story to pick up speed. The time for pissing matches was over, the time for war had come.

The season six finale brought that speed and put the three characters in place who will fight to keep, hold and entrench power during seasons seven and eight. Jon Snow is King of the North, Cersei sits on the iron throne and Daenerys is about to make land in Dragonstone.

Good. It’s time for what we’ve been waiting to arrive and for the wait to pay off.

And now, thoughts.

Arya Stark is a serious bad ass. “When people ask you what happened to you, tell them the north remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.” Well alright! Arya’s mask is going to make her ultimately powerful, and I like the addition of more magic. But I hope the writers use it sparingly. A character with the ability to be any character is easily abused. I don’t want to sit her wondering if I’m looking at Arya or the real character.

Jon Snow as mining industrial dictator is going to cause problems, as is Jon Snow the king of equality. If his decision to not exact homestead revenge on the Karstarks and Umbers doesn’t cause unrest that undermines his kingery, these two acts will.

I look forward to watching Littlefinger (my favourite character on the entire show) try to fan the flames of a divide between Sansa and Jon. He enjoyed seeing her combat Jon over the traitorous Karstarks, and the look on her face after Jon declared that yesterday’s wars don’t matter betrayed more disagreement than their one-on-one conversations let on.

That’s Petyr’s influence, but don’t count on Sansa to knuckle under to his manipulation. She’s strong as ice, as evidenced by the way she told him off in front of Brienne.

Speaking of Sansa, I’m curious to learn more about the things she learned from watching Cersei. Sansa’s tough and Cersei’s cunning would be a formidable combination. I look forward to seeing that play out. Perhaps this “murdering whore” will get to confront Cersei and take vengeance on the evil queen.

The death of Jamie’s children falls almost entirely at Cersei’s feet. I’d love to see her relationship with Jamie broken and Jamie turn against her. The Lannisters are fiercely loyal to each other…well all except for one and Jamie hasn’t turned his back on Tyrion the way his sister has. Their conversation about dynasty shows he feels their deaths more than she does. It’s almost the reverse of the stereotypical war-mongering father and emotional mother.

Poor Tarly. All he wants to do is read but here he is cleaning shit pans. What’s his role here? How does book boy fit into the bigger battle? Does he figure out some historic secret to defeating the white walkers? He will bring the one who begins the memories to the war. Or find a mountain of dragon glass. That’ll do.

God I hate celebrity cameos. We all know that was Ed Sheeran. And it ruined everything.

What’s the legal drinking age in Westeros anyway?

Arya says she is going to Kings Landing and kill the queen. The boy soldiers laugh, but the audience believes her.

Oh yeah, the Mother of Dragons.

Big Little Lies Review: Wow does this show suck

HBO’s Big Little Lies starts with a view of the Bixby Bridge, so I’m thinking it can’t be that bad. I’m a sucker for anything set in California, it’s true. Bosch, 24, Goliath. I’ll like anything that’s set in LA. Except for NCSI: Los Angeles. I have standards.

This show doesn’t meet them. It’s garbage. Hot, hot, there must be an empty package of chicken in there and I should have emptied it before I left for work, garbage.

Did you see that movie Passengers? With Jennifer Lawrence and some beautiful guy? Remember how bad that was? How it was like, “Let’s make a movie about two beautiful people acting out some lines. Doesn’t matter what lines. Any lines. Add a space ship.” That’s Big Little Lies. But they swapped out the space ship for California and its Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Plus a Laura Dern character that is so stereotypical it makes, nah. Let’s not go there.

My theory is that Reese Witherspoon has never played a character with a personality that exists in the real world.Then again, you meet people in California who make you think, “Wow. That personality does exist. Hollywood didn’t just make it up.” Still, her character’s dialogue is so inauthentic that I can’t get past it to even care about her rolled ankle and her—get this—kid that is way smarter and more aware than a kid would normally be. Groundbreaking concept.

The first two episodes have this thing where they jump from the show to these interviews with the peripheral characters. We learn in the big reveal that they’re police interviews. Yeah, that’s the big reveal. They talk about someone who died but they don’t actually show you who died.

That’s supposed to be the thing? I’m supposed to wonder who died?

Did I mention someone choked a kid, and it might be another kid who’s psycho.

No, this show is terrible. The characters aren’t likable, hateable or interesting, which means they’re boring and you don’t care about them or the story they’re involved in. Which isn’t even really a story.

The only good thing about Big Little Lies is that the terrible character played by Laura Dern lives in the same house Nolan Ross lived in during season on of Revenge.

Oh, so this husband randomly loses his temper when talking about a kid losing his temper. That’s out of nowhere and there’s more of it in the second episode. It’s so forced. I can’t even write about this show anymore because it’s so bad. Life is too short.

Pitch Hits The Zone

I don’t have many expectations for Pitch. FOX has been buying ads during MLB.tv inning breaks that feature its baseball broadcasting talent. That makes me immediately suspicious that it simply made up a show to draw eyes to remind that it has the MLB post season.

Given the way ratings suffered the past several seasons, that might not be a bad strategy. Any new TV show has a pretty good chance of failing miserably, so why not spend your pilot money on something that could boost your (very, very expensive) live sports programming?

Okay, let’s see how this goes.

(The Exorcist is a new show? I’m concerned that TV is spiraling down the movie industry’s rat hole of recycled ideas. Let’s not.)

Of course the show about the first female player in baseball history starts with a shot of her legs getting out of bed. Come on, try a little bit here.

Greeting cards from Ellen and Hillary Clinton, product placement from Callaway and Nike. Headphones that don’t say beats but sure look like them. Maybe I was too narrow in what I thought FOX wanted to promote.

Hey it’s Colin Cowherd with a hot take.

It took three minutes for the main character to speak.

You know who would have been great in this dad role? My guy Shemar Moore. He might not be old enough though.

The Padres GM has made an appearance. In real life he is on a one-month suspension for hiding injury records.

If we get the same stereotypical crap here that we got from the military guy in Designated Survivor. Whether it’s players or this dreadful agent/publicist character or whatever it’s gonna get old. Fast.

The number 43 is a great touch.

While we’re here, can we talk about the Padres uniforms?

Actually, Kim Kardashian is very talented. I will go to bat on this.

Hey they’re gonna play the Dodgers! This is great!

What is this live video thing? Is it part of the show or a commercial? Oh god it’s a Kohls commercial. This is hot garbage. And it might be the future of TV.

One thing to think about here is the main character is an athlete, so she’s going to act like an athlete. The public version of most athletes would make a terrible TV character, so that’s something to keep in mind. We’ll have to draw a distinction between how the character is written when she’s in “athlete mode” and when she’s not.

But one thing that doesn’t have to be acting is the TV broadcast characters. They should just be able to do their thing, right? That’s what FOX hired them for! I don’t think Joe Buck did. Reminder: I love Joe Buck.

Couldn’t they have cast a southpaw? 🙂

Where have I seen this kid actress? I she the one in Mistresses? I’ll have to look it up. I looked it up. She is. She’s outstanding on Mistresses – well-written and well acted.

Let’s get back to the product placement issue. That’s what we’re used to in sports now. You can’t look anywhere without a logo. So I guess it adds some realism. And this George Clooney commercial about a coffee maker? That was filmed at the Warner Bros. lot.

Oh come on you can’t use real Dodgers? Actually I bet FOX would have gotten way more promotion if it had been able to get Vin Scully. Not only would it be awesome, but Vin was friends with Jackie Robinson so it would be fitting.

Hey this is like watching the Twins pitch! Sorry that was uncalled for. The Twins are worse.

About the decision to have her get off to a dreadful start. From a story perspective, it’s good emotion. It makes me identify with the character. It’s also realistic. Not every debut is Rob Segedin. Wait wasn’t she a starter? You don’t take your starter out that quick. Hey this is a TV show not real life, Watterson.

Remember Matt Fox? Not the actor, Matt Fox the guy the Twins called up in September during a pennant race.

This scene in the hotel is what we should judge the Ginny character by, not the athlete stuff. And it’s good.

He’s right about her being this catcher’s legacy. On and off the field.

Joe Buck can be sarcastic at times, but he is way too professional to ever make a joke like that.

If she beats the Giants you know Pitch is committed to realism.

OMG I just realized the catcher is Zach Morris. WTF. I feel like my life has come full circle. I’m blogging about a show where Zach Morris is a baseball player.

As with every Hollywood production about sports, they managed to find actors with next to no actual athletic ability.

Have you ever held a sparkling white official Rawlings baseball? It’s a beautiful thing. From a pitching perspective, if her fastball tops out in the upper 80s isn’t she basically a screwball version of a knuckleballer.

If this were real life and the manager slapped her butt we’d have a national controversy the likes of which would drive us all off social media forever.

We can add the owner to the list of stereotypical characters.

This better get over, it’s almost time for Dodger baseball.

Hey wait. I approve of what has happened here.