In this era of “Peak TV,” where there are literally too many shows getting “water cooler buzz” to keep up with, allow me to serve as one helpful guide into the worlds of Network, Cable, and Streaming “TV” content. As stated, there’s literally too much, so I may not catch every show for which you’re curious, but enjoy these brief write-ups and take my suggestions with the knowledge that while I like “smart TV,” I’m also fairly easily entertained and I’m not the toughest critic around.
“Match Game” (ABC. Wednesdays 10:00PM) – I know, I know. “But Todd, you say you hate reality TV, and honor writers by only valuing scripted television!” It’s usually true, but game shows can be an exception – especially when they are hosted by Alec Baldwin in fine, self-deprecating form, and a rotating panel of B-list celebrities looking to match with the show’s contestants, bantering with Baldwin and among themselves.
Should You Watch? It’s hardly must-see TV, but I enjoy watching the “everyday American” contestants develop real or imagined bonds with certain celebrities and seeing who they select as their go-to matchers as they advance in the game. Baldwin’s sense of humor and moments of spontaneity also prove entertaining. And yes, he sometimes breaks into the Trump thing.
“Yellowstone” Season 2 (Paramount Network. Wednesdays, 10:00PM) – A cranky Kevin Costner leads this Dallas-like tale of John Dutton and his family, a dynasty ranching family whose Montana-famous “Yellowstone” ranch is as big as Rhode Island. Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes) plays his feisty, ruthless, and boozy daughter Beth who does the family’s dirty work. Wes Bentley plays his wanna-be do-gooder son Jamie, who is sexually confused and running for Montana Attorney General. The run for office was at first a calculated power grab with his father’s blessing, but as Season 2 begins, as a son who’s been cut off for refusing to drop out and help the family through a crisis. John (Costner) and Beth (Reilly) are even recruiting a gorgeous local prosecutor and horsewoman to run against him. Another son, Kayce, an Iraq/Afghan veteran, was the outcast son who went against the family and married a Native American woman (played by Wind River’s unfortunate victim Kelsey Asbille), but has now been welcomed back to help lead the very interesting group of ex-con ranch hands that are their own soap opera. There’s plenty of social and political intrigue, and great adversaries in the form of Danny Huston’s greedy developer and tribal chief Thomas Rainwater (played by Gil Birmingham from Hell or High Water). They very much want pieces of Dutton land to build their own fortunes and those of their people, and would love to bring Dutton down in the process.
Should You Watch? Yes! Created by Taylor Sheridan – the man who penned the previously mentioned Wind River and Hell or High Water, as well as Sicario – Yellowstone oozes great western soap opera with very few characters to root for, and plenty to hate or feel ethically and morally conflicted about. It’s acting is sharp and the plot lines play for keeps. Costner at his most non-baseball Costner-est.
“L.A.’s Finest” Season 1 (Spectrum Originals. On Demand) – If you liked “Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II,” you may like this campy at times, quite serious in others spinoff that follows Gabrielle Union’s character from BBII, Syd Burnett, (Martin Lawrence’s character’s sister) who has taken her DEA life in Miami and turned it into one as a detective with the LAPD. Her partner in crime fighting is Jessica Alba’s “Nancy McKenna,” who is married to the interim DA and plays stepmom to a strong-willed teenager named Isabel. After some introductory murder-of-the week episodes, the long-play plot through the series’ first 13-episode Season 1 is the fight against a renowned drug kingpin, “Gabriel Knox,” and getting into scrapes with the underbelly types that work for him. There are previous love interests in play for both women, Ernie Hudson as Syd’s dad and occasional partner, and NBA star turned actor John Salley reprising his Bad Boys role as the nerdy hacker and tech wiz “Fletcher.”
Should You Watch? Not if you’re into unfair levels of implausibility, can’t handle some cornball dialogue or Jessica Alba’s “acting.” But Erin and I thoroughly enjoyed it and looked forward to two episodes dropping each Monday for the last several weeks. It has been renewed for a Season 2, so we’re clearly not the only couple that both found “Spectrum Originals,” and also stuck with the show.
“Luther” Season 5 (BBC America) – Detective Chief Inspector John Luther (Idris Elba) is an ethically challenged man. In the series’ 5th installment – only four :80-:90 minute episodes – we find Luther and his hypnotic swagger tackling a serial killer with an enabling wife, the return of Ruth Wilson’s “Alice Morgan” (who Luther thought dead), and more gamesmanship with gangster George Cornelius. Will any other junior inspectors be killed or scared off the job? Will Luther’s boss Martin Schenk find new ways to be shocked at the depravity of it all? Will Alice act crazy? Will Luther drive all over London in his Volvo, always seemingly minutes away from saving the day? If you’re a fan, I think you know the answer.
Should You Watch? If you haven’t been watching Luther over the years, just know that it’s not a typical cop show. It deals with very strange serial killers of the “scary clown” variety. But if you love Idris Elba (and who doesn’t?), you’ll get over it all to enjoy the swagger and Luther’s jacket.
“Big Little Lies” Season 2 (HBO. Sundays 6:00PM PDT) – Going beyond the happenings of the novel from which Season 1 was based, so far, Season 2 of the HBO drama is a no holds barred drama that really goes for the big scene and big lines from its actors. Meryl Streep goes full “Meryl Creep” as Perry’s visiting mother, determined to know the truth about her abusive son’s death. Celeste tries to pick up the pieces, as she and Jane decide to let the boys know they are all brothers. Jane is dating, we think, an intellectual guy with incredible “sex patience” that she works with at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bonnie is feeling guilty and like Nathan doesn’t really know her. Madeline and Renata provide the most drama and craziest lines/soliloquys. But above all, we must remind ourselves that these are the problems of rich, out of touch people (other than Jane). Adam Scott is also around as a very “snide” cuckold.
Should You Watch? Do you love seeing big stars acting deliciously if not overly dramatically? Do you love watching rich people problems and examining the consequences of rape and abuse? Do you drive an hour south of where all the action takes place just to cross a beautiful bridge? The point is – it’s ridiculous, and yet I can’t look away.
“The Loudest Voice” Limited Series (Showtime. Sundays 7:00PM PDT) – The show, based on the book “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” chronicles Roger Ailes and his creation of Fox News, and later downfall over sexual assault and harassment charges. Russell Crowe dawns the fat suit to play Ailes, and other stars fill out the cast – Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson, Sienna Miller as Ailes wife Beth, Seth MacFarlane as PR assassin Brian Lewis, and Simon McBurney as a fully made-up Rupert Murdoch. The first of the 7 episode series premiered this past Sunday, and was a painful but interesting look at Ailes’ narcissism and rage, and the race to get Fox News on the air.
Should You Watch? – I’m watching for the actors involved and to see how these bastards got away with it.
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“Fleabag.” Seasons 1 & 2– This magical, near perfect comedy creation from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who writes and stars as the nameless “Fleabag,” follows a somewhat aimless, low-ambition Londoner who has a very odd relationship with her type A(+) sister, scummy brother-in-law, withholding father, and narcissistic step mother (played by the incomparable Olivia Coleman!). She is grieving the loss of her seemingly only/best friend, with whom she ran a profitless café with a gineau pig mascot. A later revelation reveals one of the traumatic origins of Fleabag’s self-loathing, which she had clearly suppressed. In the show’s 2nd season, Fleabag enjoys a unique relationship with a Priest and gets inside her sister’s work life.
Should You Watch? Let’s put it this way – if we’re hanging out someday and I ask if you watched the incredibly smart, insanely funny “Fleabag” – which is only 6 total hours of television (12 half-hour episodes) – and your answer is “no.” … I may consider “consciously uncoupling” from you and speaking ill of you to others. This is MUST WATCH and will go down as the most legendary 2 short-seasons comedies of all time. Good day! … I said Good Day!!
“Bosch” Season 5 – Titus Wellever is back as Harry Bosch. Michael Connolly’s famous literary detective is as no nonsense as ever as the season begins with Bosch undercover as a drug mule south of the border, and then flashes back to the events that got him there over the course of several episodes. Another plotline involves an old case of Bosch’s coming under scrutiny, and him fearing it may mean other cases of his being overturned. I’m only a few episodes in so far, but it promises to be as good or better as the previous seasons.
Should You Watch? If you aren’t already, you have about 40 episodes to catch up to the beginning of this season. But if you like a cop shows, have the patience for a slow burn, and love things feeling “very L.A.,” you’ll enjoy it.
“Good Omens” – Based on the 1990 book of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, this 6-episode series stars Michael Sheen as angel “Aziraphale” and David Tennant as demon “Crowley,” respectively. The two have enjoyed an odd couple friendship since meeting at the Garden of Eden during the “apple incident,” and have been informed that the Antichrist will be delivered shortly to begin the countdown clock to the End of Days. The problem for them is – they’ve rather enjoyed their thousands of years living on Earth, and don’t want to see the End Times anytime soon. So, they concoct a plan to serve as good and bad mentors to the boy so that he’ll grow up balanced and normal, a little good, a little bad. The one hitch? The wrong boy was given to the parents assumed to be the ones raising the Antichrist. The real Antichrist child, who we meet near the end of the pilot episode, seems relatively balanced and is being raised by an average British couple. Our odd couple has been mentoring the wrong boy! Erin and I have just watched the pilot, but it was definitely a grabber.
Should You Watch? Yes. It’s colorful and has big stars – including several familiar secondary players in Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, and Brian Cox, among others. It’s like a project that’s 20% Wes Anderson, 50% Tim Burton, and 30% England-ish, if that makes sense.
See my write up on “Sneaky Pete” Season 3 here: http://www.toddflora.com/the-sneaky-pete-season-3-awards/
“What/If” – Rene Zellweger is back, this time on the Streaming screen in a show created by Mike Kelley, who gave us ABC’s “Revenge.” She plays Anne Montgomery, a very un-Venture Capitalist like venture capitalist who takes on a young, idealistic health tech entrepreneur, Lisa, played by Jane Levy (Subergatory, Castle Rock). She of course agrees to fund her with plenty of strings and drama, one of which is 1 night with Lisa’s husband, Sean. We later find out that while our minds think “Indecent Proposal,” she uses knowledge of of Sean’s temper to have him perform dirty work. There are other things Anne decides to keep from Lisa, and Lisa often pushes back. Meanwhile, we also get drama and sexcapades around Lisa’s adopted brother, Marcos, and his partner Lionel. In another arc, we follow the life of Sean’s best friend Todd and his wife, Angela, a doctor in residence at the local hospital and is having an affair with the Chief of Surgery, Ian, played by an unusually evil Dave Annabele (Brothers & Sisters). I could go on, as there are other characters and twists… but it’s a pretty lame soap and quite tedious.
Should You Watch? Not really. The show tries to be a suspenseful, business-wise show about Silicon Valley on one hand (and doesn’t succeed) and is trapped as a very cheesy soap on the other, complete with Revenge’s Gabriel Mann as a rival VC/frienamy to Anne. It’s almost “Daytime soap” bad at times. I had high hopes, but I doubt I’ll tune in for more of Zellweger’s pursed lips and squinting again if it gets renewed.
“Designated Survivor” Season 3 – Quick reminder of the premise: Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, an idealistic HUD Secretary who draws the short straw to sit out the State of the Union in a safe place when the unthinkable happens: domestic terrorists blow up the capitol, killing all of Congress and everyone in the line of succession. Kirkman takes over as POTUS and works to rebuild the country and bring those responsible to justice. Once a struggling ABC network drama with a fantastic Season 1 that sort of lost itself in Season 2, the show was saved by Netflix and has been reworked a bit (and I don’t just mean by adding swearing). First, they’ve brought on Anthony Edwards as “Mars Harper,” a pragmatic new Chief of Staff, who also happens to be married to an opioid addicted daughter of a former prestigious Senator, played by Lauren Holly. Second, they added Elena Tovar to play “Isabel Pardo,” a brilliant west wing policy staffer who happens to be the new love interest for national security advisory Aaron Shore. Maggie Q continues her role as Hanna Wells, who the FBI has let go but the CIA has brought on to fight bio-terrorism. Her arc is odd this season as she has no interaction with Kirkman or the main characters. Finally, Julie White (Shia LeBeouf’s kooky mom from Transformers) as “Lorraine Zimmer,” a win at all costs campaign manager. Much of the season surrounds Kirkman’s run for a full term, which they mistakenly refer to as “re-election.”
Should You Watch? If you have never watched, or did at one time and gave up, I highly recommend tuning back in, catching up, and then enjoying the 10-episode Season 3 that Netflix has developed. It’s no West Wing and never will be (although Timothy Busfield does play Kirkman’s therapist!), but everyone I know certainly needs a good political show, and this can serve as one.
See my write up on “Dead to Me” here: http://www.toddflora.com/todd-jeffrey-discuss-netflixs-dead-to-me/
“The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 3 – So far, the 3rd installment of the show, which has gone well past the events depicted in the legendary novel by Margaret Atwood, has our (s)hero, June (Elisabeth Moss), assigned to Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and his anxiety riddled (?) wife. They, unlike the awful Waterfords (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski), do not forcibly rape June. Lawrence, however, is a distrusting and conflicted commander. Known as the architect of Gilead’s economic system, he both resents the oppressive regime he helped build but also organized dissent at times, and is brilliant and sniffing out lies. He is helpful to June at times, and an impediment at others. Recent episodes have the Waterfords manipulating June into allowing Serena a visit with Nichole in Canada, and then using June for a public call to the Canadian government that Nichole be returned from the criminals who “Kidnapped” her. In the last episode aired before this printing, June accompanies the Waterfords to Washington, D.C., which now has an eerie, Gilead touch to it (e.g. the Washington Monument is now a huge cross)
Should You Watch? If you aren’t watching already, and have not kept up with the show… you are missing out on great drama and aren’t doing your part to see what will happen to our beloved country if the fake Christian, far right wing take over completely. It’s really every progressive’s duty to tune in.