We’re at the start of the fall TV season right now. In the age of cable TV, summer series, and streaming services, that’s not really the event that it used to be — You can watch new television episodes year round these days. But I figure it’s still as a good a time as any to take stock of the shows I’ve been watching (or trying to watch) this year and figure out where they stand with me. I’ll try to keep things as spoiler-free as I can. (I’m also including Amazon links in Bold throughout, so if you click on them & buy something, the AJS will get a small chunk of the sale.)
The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continues to be one of my favorite shows on TV. Rachel Bloom stars as Rebecca Bunch, a high-powered lawyer who irrationally moves across the country to West Covina, CA to pursue her childhood theatre camp crush, Josh Chang. I was already a fan of Bloom’s from her YouTube videos, but she’s just incredible on this show – hilarious, touching, screwed up, and sexy all at once. Oh, and did I mention the show’s a musical, to boot? Rebecca’s perceptions of reality are skewed, and one of the way the show expresses that is in big splashy musical numbers.
Here’s a sultry Bloom giving Marilyn Monroe a run for her money in “The Math of Love Triangles,” where Rebecca gets off on the ego boost of juggling two guys:
Here’s the downside of that same love triangle, as Rebecca finds that she can’t escape the ghosts of her past relationships with Josh and his best friend Greg:
And in “It Was a Shit Show,” Greg gives Rebecca a brutal assessment of their romance in a Frank Sinatra-style goodbye number:
I talked more about CEG and shared some other favorite musical numbers from it in this column. I can hardly wait for the third season premiere this Friday night, where Rebecca becomes a Crazy and Vengeful Ex-Girlfriend. I really hope that Santino Fontana’s Greg comes back some time this year, though. I miss him.
NBC’s Timeless was one of the pleasant surprises of last season. I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, and this show has consistently delivered fun, original stories. I can’t say much more than Greg Hatcher already did in his columns about the show, so just go ahead and read those. I second everything he said. It’s a terrific show. I’m usually hard to surprise, but I was shocked by one of the twists they had in the season finale. I didn’t see it coming at all.
But the really amazing thing about Timeless is that the show came back from the dead. It was cancelled on May 10th, and then uncancelled a mere three days later, on May 13th. I’ve NEVER seen a TV network reverse itself so quickly, putting right what once went wrong.
Let’s hope that when Timeless returns it starts getting the audience it deserves.
Ever since an absolutely stellar first season, The Flash has steadily declined in quality. The second season, while still fun (Parallel Earths! The Jay Garrick Flash!), was a step down from season one, and season three was several steps down from that. On a show where the stories should move as fast as the title character, The Flash has gotten bogged down with plodding subplots. I’m sick of Caitlin agonizing about becoming Killer Frost, Barry revealing his secret identity at the drop of a hat, and yet another super-speedster master villain with a mystery identity. Here’s hoping that tomorrow’s 4th season premiere improves quickly and gets back to basics. The producers have already confirmed that the S4 Big Bad will not be another speedster, so that’s a start. I’m also glad that they’re starting to pare down the ridiculous number of characters of Team Flash and that Julian Desmond will not be returning this year. My nominees for further cuts: Wally/Kid Flash, Joe’s DA girlfriend, and the beyond-tiresome H.R. Give the wonderful Tom Cavanagh another, less obnoxious character to play, please.
I gave up on both Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow early last season. While Melissa Benoist absolutely NAILS her role as the Girl of Steel, none of the other characters on Supergirl grab me. I also found the writing lackluster week after week. Same with Legends, despite my loving Brandon Routh and Victor Garber (It certainly didn’t help that the wonderful Wentworth Miller was downgraded to an occasional guest star). I’ve become very tired of the CW superhero formula where every hero needs a support team of at least a half-dozen other people to do anything. I’ll watch Supergirl, Legends and Arrow when they crossover with The Flash, but only then.
Last fall, I mentioned that I was enjoying ABC’s Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland as a low-level Cabinet member who suddenly becomes President of the United States when a terrorist attack takes out the President, the Vice-President, and most of Congress during the State of the Union address. It was an interesting mix between 24 and The West Wing, as Sutherland’s character adjusted to being the leader of the free world as federal agents tried to uncover the perpetrators of the attack.
But after really enjoying the first dozen or so episodes, I have to admit that my interest quickly waned. I’m not really sure why. It could be that it’s a premise that can only sustain itself for a short amount of time (I’m frankly wondering if it might have been better as a limited series). Maybe the arc lost momentum after their mid-season break. Maybe our real-world political situation suddenly made the show look less absurd than real life. Maybe it’s some combination of all three. I don’t know. I was originally planning to finish out the first season, but when I found myself checking my phone halfway through an episode, I figured it was time to check out. Reading that the great Virginia Madsen wasn’t coming back as a regular for season two just confirmed that I’d made the right decision.
Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a fun sitcom, and that’s pretty much all it aspires to be. On the rare occasions it deals with serious subjects, though, it does so very well. I was very impressed with “Moo Moo,” season four’s 16th episode, where Terry Crews’ character, Sergeant Terry Jeffords, was hassled by a prejudiced patrolman in his own neighborhood. But most of the time, the show is just a romp. The cast is stellar, without a weak link in the bunch. And hey, how can any Homicide fan not love Andre Braugher playing a cop again? I’m glad that B99 is back for a fifth season without missing a beat.
I’m honestly so-so on Justice League Action. Sometimes I absolutely love it, sometimes I’m not too keen on it, but it’s certainly got enough creativity to keep me watching. Overall, it’s just good goofy fun. Each episode averages about 10 minutes, perfect for today’s short attention spans. Bottom line: It’s tough for me to entirely dislike a show that casts Carl Reiner as the Wizard Shazam, Hannibal Buress as Mr. Terrific, and Patton Oswalt as Space Cabby.
Speaking of Patton Oswalt, I haven’t been able to sample much of Netflix’s new Mystery Science Theater 3000 yet. It’s been sitting on my queue since it debuted, but it’s a lot harder for me to find the time to watch two-hour episodes than it used to be. So we’ll just put a pin in this one until I can give it a proper viewing.
I enjoy Rick and Morty, but I’m not as fanatical about it as most of its fanbase is. The Dan Harmon show that really captured my heart was Community, and that one was never the same after Harmon got fired at the end of season three, so I guess I’m a bit gun shy. But Rick and Morty is consistently funny, and uses its science fiction concepts to tell interesting stories and illuminate its characters. You can’t ask for much more than that.
It’s already been more than a year since season six of The Venture Bros. wrapped up, and we’re still more than a year away from when it returns in 2018, but that’s fine. I love this show unreservedly, and it’s always, always worth the wait. So take your time, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick. I’ll still be watching whenever you return.
I officially gave up on South Park this year. I tapered off during season 20 due a combination of the show’s heavily serialized storylines and just general election burnout. I gave their season premiere a try in September to see if I wanted to come back to the fold, but I just wasn’t feeling it. And that’s okay. I watched it consistently for 19 years, and that’s a pretty great run for any television show. But I think I’m done.
Netflix’s Master of None had a pretty stellar second season. Aziz Ansari has proven to be a thoughtful, charismatic leading man, as he delves into issues both universal and personal. The show had great material about struggling with with life, love, and career issues in New York City. I won’t say more as the show should really be seen rather than talked about. My favorite episode of the season was “First Date,” which captures the absurdities and frustrations of modern dating better than any other show I’ve seen. If you like this episode too, I also highly recommend Aziz’s book Modern Romance.
I enjoyed Netflix’s GLOW quite a bit. Community‘s Alison Brie plays against type as the at times very unsympathetic Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress in 1985 who gets a job with the brand-new Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. One of her new coworkers/opponents is her former best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), whose marriage Ruth was responsible for breaking up. Marc Maron of WTF podcast fame also stars as writer-producer Sam Sylvia. It’s a nice mix of comedy and drama, and I’ll definitely be back for season two.
Love, another Netflix show, isn’t perfect, but it’s generally entertaining. I checked it out because it’s produced by Judd Apatow and it stars another Community alumna, Gillian Jacobs. Jacobs is wonderful as the severely flawed Mickey. Her performance alone makes Love worth watching. I just wish the show would realize that Paul Rust’s character of Gus is rather insufferable and not nearly as sympathetic and attractive as they seem to think he is. But since Rust is the co-creator and executive producer of the show, I’m not holding my breath.
Fargo is another one I’ll have to put a pin into for a later time. While I absolutely LOVED the first two seasons, I still haven’t watched the third yet. I caught the first episode of season three when it premiered back in April, but I didn’t feel like I followed it as well as I could have. I was planning to rewatch it before I moved on to the rest of the season and, before I knew it, I had all 10 episodes built up on my DVR. That’s fine, though. It’s probably better for me to save these heavily-serialized shows for a binge watch, as all the plot points stay fresh in my mind that way.
I am absolutely loving AMC’s Better Call Saul. I was late to the party on Breaking Bad (I binged the entire series on Netflix streaming a couple of years ago), so it’s been fun tuning in to this show from Day One. It deftly avoids the traps of most spinoffs and prequels, and is no less compelling a narrative than its parent show.
And like its predecessor series, Better Call Saul is a slow-motion tragedy. We know from Breaking Bad how many of these characters will end up, and its both thrilling and harrowing to see them taking the steps that seal their fates. This last season, we not only saw Giancarlo Esposito return as Gus Fring, but Jimmy McGill use the alias “Saul Goodman” for the very first time. “It’s just a name,” he shrugs to Kim at the end of one episode. But we know it’s not just a name. Bit by bit, the corruption of Saul Goodman will take him over, until by the time of Breaking Bad, there’s nothing of Jimmy McGill left. Rhea Seehorn and Michael McKean are also doing absolutely stellar work on the show. My highest possible recommendation.
…And that’s pretty much it. I covered Series Four of Sherlock episode by episode when it aired back in January, and despite my absolutely hating the finale, I’m still looking forward to the show’s return. And I talked about Star Trek Discovery and The Orville here a couple of weeks ago.
I’d like to talk about all the Marvel Netflix shows, but well… I still haven’t finished the first season of Daredevil. Great show, but life just got in the way. So I’m WAY behind there. I’ll catch up eventually, I hope. I haven’t sampled The Inhumans yet, either. The reviews have been horrible, but I’ve got a morbid curiosity about it. And now that I’ve finally signed up for Amazon Prime, I really need to watch the new Tick series, and…
…Remember when TV didn’t feel like a homework assignment that you were constantly behind on? Good times.
Blatant Self-Promotion Department: I’ve peppered this entire column with Amazon links to the shows discussed. If you click on them and buy something, the AJS will get a chunk of the sale, even if you’re not buying the thing I linked to. So help us out.
Thanks & see you next week!