A Late Summer Surge of Great TV – Part 2, HBO / Showtime / Cable

In part two, we continue with a look at what I’m watching on HBO, Showtime, and Premium Cable Channels

Succession (HBO): Seasons 1 & 2

Erin and I finally gave in to the recommendation of several friends that we check out the HBO drama (I personally think it’s so ridiculous that it may qualify as a comedy), and true to their collective word, this story of a family in the upper 1% of the 1% that run a media empire is as intoxicating as it is infuriating. The characters are all detestable, though the casting of each is almost the work of perfect science. This mashup of the Murdoch’s, Redstones and the Trumps (if the Trumps were actually filthy rich) is led by Brian Cox’s selfish and heartless game-player Logan Roy, the father of 4 by two wives and married to a third. Born in Scotland but making his billions in American media running “ATN” (sub for Fox News), a series of theme parks, cruise lines, and other properties.

We’re all Rotten Rich People

The show is largely character driven along some plotlines involving Logan’s children. They are: 1) Connor, an aging well Alan Ruck who does nothing but live wealthy and harbor plans to run for president on a Tea Party-like anti-tax agenda. 2) Kendall, the suffering visionary who begins the series in recovery from addiction but pays dearly for his ambitions at the hands of his father. He is played brilliantly by “The Big Shorts” Jeremy Strong, who could slightly resemble Nick Kroll’s serious brother; 3) Siobhan or “Shiv,” clearly the smartest child, a beautiful redhead who isn’t so into monogamy and may very well be named Logan’s successor, played by Australian actress Sarah Snook, and 4) Roman, the youngest, played like a fiddle by Kieran Culkin, for whom the most hysterical and naughty dialogue is written. Roman endures the least rigor and fortifies the dirtiest mind – and doesn’t seem loyal to a single person in his family. Succession is good fun and a train wreck one can’t stop watching, though don’t ever get your hopes up that some semblance of integrity will arise. Lavish real estate and other excesses abound. New York as played by (we think) Toronto. Enjoy.

The Righteous Gemstones (HBO): Season 1

The Gemstone men

The latest creation of enlightened but cranky hillbilly Danny McBride, The Righteous Gemstones follows a father and son and other son family of evangelical/conservative Bible belt mega-church ministers and their definitely not equal sister. Two episodes in, we know that the Gemstones are out to grow their very Southern ministry to areas far and wide, regardless of the cost to other area ministers and their flock. We know that McBride’s own Jesse Gemstone is a hypocrite who solicits drugs and prostitution. He’s lost one grown son to Hollywood (supposedly) and is near to losing another – a borderline nonbeliever who sees through the hypocrisy. Jesse is also subject to blackmail, as some group of ruffians has obtained video of him using said drugs and partying with prostitutes, and a good deal of episodes 1 and 2 concern the Gemstones and their brainless henchmen trying to deal with the blackmailers.

Knowing McBride, the show is bound to have some uncomfortable laughs, a cultural edge, and I’m guessing even a bit of a dark side as other plotlines are revealed and the blackmail story unfolds. A much-thinned John Goodman plays the family patriarch and church founder, and Adam Devine as the youngest son who lacks a full sense of self but definitely wants the hip up the congregation. Coming over with McBride from HBO’s “Vice Principals” are veteran bad boy Walton Goggins as an eccentric preacher and Groundling’s veteran Edi Patterson as underrated sister Judy Gemstone. Not worth watching if you don’t appreciate McBride’s Off-Goth Southern Song of entertaining dipshittery. But definitely worth it if you do.

Ballers (HBO): Season 5 (Final)

“So, this is really it, Dwayne?”

The 5th and final season of HBO’s “Entourage for Football,” the often unfair and overly simplistic shorthand for the sports comedy, finds Dwayne Johnson’s “Spencer Strasmore” enjoying retirement while outside forces try to bring him back into the sports business. In this version of current events, the Chiefs ownership is apparently so destroyed by the Tyreek Hill situation that the NFL is forcing a minority owner (no, literally) to join the team as majority owner (if you can follow).

Meanwhile, somewhere between Dogtown and Playa Vista, Spencer’s old pal Joe is trying to keep the world of extreme sports stardom going for clients, somewhat blowing off the ambitious Reggie (London Brown) in favor of trying to convince Russell Brand’s “Lance” that real estate is where the real money is when he sees how much their rent is costing them. Reggie’s main interest, Vernon, is seriously considering giving up his place on the Cowboys for video gamer stardom, and TTD read’s Ricky’s mail from the NFL stating he’s tested positive for a banned substance. No sooner does this news break to Ricky’s agent, Troy Garity’s no-nonsense “Jason,” than Jason quickly calls Ram’s GM “Charles Green” (human Teddy Bear Omar Miller, Jr.) to quickly try and negotiate a low-ball punishment. … not too shabby for just a half-hour of television. I look forward to the weeks ahead and a happy ending for all parties as Ballers winds down… though I’m not sure any of it will involve wedded bliss for Spencer and the deservedly ambitious sports journalist “Tracy,” played by Hallmark Channel and overall darling Arielle Kebbel. She may love the beach, but Bristol, CT is her ultimate prize.

On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime): Season 1

As far as I’m concerned, Kirsten Dunst can do it all. And nothing convinces me more of what I already know than this creative new white trash-adjacent offering from the executive producer super team of Grant Heslov and George Clooney. Dunst plays Krystal Stubbs, a former strip mall beauty queen and new mom, who isn’t all that keen on her husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgard) spending so much time away from his day job hocking “AIM,” a wide range of household products sold via a multi-channel marketing scheme. AIM is the invention of Obie Garbeau, played beautifully by Ted Levine, who has become a billionaire through his Amway like business. What Krystal doesn’t know is Travis has left his job and gone to 100% commitment to AIM, much to the delight of his “line up” rep, Cody. But on one unfortunate day, Travis carelessly plows his car into a lake where crocodiles are waiting to eat him.

Here’s some walking around $, but you have to work for me!

Krystal, with a baby to raise and no real income, at first faces property repossessions at the hands of Rhonda, the almost too nice and sympathetic repo-lady, and later tries a yard sale and beauty queen coaching to make ends meet. But by the end of the second episode, we see Cody has successfully convinced Krystal that she pretty much has to pick up Travis’ line of the business and keep selling AIM. There’s a great secondary cast that includes “Last Man on Earth” alum Mel Rodriguez as Ernie, Krystal’s neighbor and we assume soon-to-be AIM operative, as well as house favorite Julie Benz as “Carole,” who is an AIM enthusiast who relies on everyone under Cody’s management (including Krystal) to produce and keep up her lifestyle (Benz was last on Showtime as Dexter’s wife Rita… welcome back to Florida, Julie!). Southern born women Sharon Lawrence and Mary Steenburgen will also get involved in episodes to come.

Lodge 49 (AMC Network): Season 2
My favorite show of 2018 was this unexpected gem from AMC that stars Wyatt Russell as Sean Dudley, or “Dud,” as he’s known, an unambitious surfer from Long Beach who works with his dad in a modest pool cleaning business. We learn that his dad has recently passed away, and Dud is unsure where to go from here. He also has a bum ankle that prevents him from surfing, and he’s not cleaning too many pools. One day, Dud finds a membership ring that he’s able to trace back to be a membership ring for “The Benevolent Order of the Lynx,” an international co-ed order whose Long Beach headquarters is Lodge 49. Hijinks ensues, and a wonderful slow burn of a Season 1 takes Dud and his newfound friends through the light drama of keeping a struggling lodge going. We also meet Dud’s attractive sister, Liz, who goes from a Bennigans-style chain waitress to almost getting sucked into an executive training fiasco, only to go quite literally overboard. This show is more of a “feeling” than a whole lot of plotted action, but is filled with tons of terrific B list actors who you’ve seen here and there that play fun and quirky characters.

Dud and Ernie… classic hang.

We’re only a couple episodes into Season 2, but so far, that wonderful feeling the show gives you is back. Dud and Liz are still struggling, as is Lodge 49 – who has sent in help from their English H.Q. to straighten up shop – and our characters are still quirky. Meanwhile, Connie is actually at Lodge 1 in England trying to research some Lynx lore while she fights writer’s block. One thing causing a bit of commotion is a new family has set up a small chain of high-end pool product and pool cleaning shops and has taken the lease at the former “Dud and Son” pool cleaning business in the local strip mall. This creates some humor and sizzling fireworks, and motivates Dud to at least show some business initiative. We are also introduced to “Always Sunny in Philly’s” Mary Elizabeth Ellis as a “law provider” out to get Dud a huge settlement from “multiple jurisdictions” for last season’s shark bite. But we really should suspect that she’s in league with the mysterious “Avery” character to try and unearth the secrets to the “One True Lodge.” Just watch the show and you’ll understand ALL of this. Trust me – Lodge 49 is the sleeper you aren’t watching but should be.

They really do wear suits!

Suits (final season on USA): Season 9 (Final)
Guys, it’s Suits. If you are already familiar with the show, but maybe have missed the last few seasons, just know this going into the last one: Harvey is still out to kick everyone’s ass, he and Donna are now a couple (finally!), Louis is going to be a dad but is of course panicky and hysterical (in the show’s comic relief sense), Katherine Heigl is envelope-pushing “Samantha Wheeler,” who came over to the firm with Rachel’s father Robert Zane, who is now gone due to some legal Tom Foolery that the firm fucked up with last season, ruining Robert’s reputation (and, my guess, so “he’s everywhere!” actor Wendell Pierce could go off and film S2 of Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan”). There are cases, unhappy clients, other law firms that are repugnant and not as noble as our group of Suits favorites, and plenty of soap. There’s even an offensively stereotypical German-American therapist, and Dule Hill to take on all the unlucky cases and take plenty of dives. Come on in and enjoy riding this one into the sunset. … Oh, and Mike comes back in an episode, sues one of the firm’s clients, and makes Harvey and the gang look like fools.  

Pearson (Suits Spinoff on USA): Season 1

One thing that’s been missing from Suits is former Managing Partner Jessica Pearson (the tall, gorgeous, always sharply dressed Gina Torres), who, after being disbarred in yet other legal Tom Foolery, has moved to Chicago where she has family and an ex she still loves (DB Woodside reprising his Suits role of “Jeff Malone”). Upon learning the city plans on giving a rich but gritty, and definitely corrupt developer, Pat McGann, the rights to tear down her Aunt’s apartment building, Jessica speaks up to challenge Chicago’s Mayor Robert “Bobby” Novak, played to ever so “Rahm Emmanuel” perfection by English actor (and Rebecca Hall husband!) Morgan Spector. She both frustrates and impresses Novak to the degree that he offers her a job as a senior aide in the Mayor’s office if she backs off the complaints. Jessica, in need of a job that doesn’t require lawyering, accepts his offer feeling she can accomplish more inside that on the outside. While in the job, Jessica has so far shown a balance between keeping an eye on the mayor, and trying to protect him from McGann’s influence, and position him with “better people” to get reelected and do some good things that she honestly feels he has it in him to do.

Women rule Chicago!

Also on board the show and a great influence on both the plotlines and Mayor Novak is house favorite Bethany Joy Lenz (we’re a die-hard One Tree Hill house!) as City Attorney Keri Allen, who is very good at her job but is of course having an affair with the married Mayor about which she is predictably very conflicted. It’s really a great show, a bit more serious than Suits, and one I hope more viewers start watching, as the Hollywood Reporter informs us it isn’t getting great ratings. I hope it will be given the time to find its own audience by USA Network. We shall see.

I look forward to your comments. Let me know what YOU are watching that may not be on the list, and, as always, let me know if I’m overrating anything you think is pure crap.

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