Have I mentioned before that I watch enough television to give the average person reasonable doubt that I ever sleep? It’s true – and this isn’t even counting the sports I watch. So, without a long lead-in, here’s the latest report on what I’m into on the Streaming Services, as well as new traditional Network shows I’m giving a shot this fall.
- “The First”
It’s 2031 when the show opens. Sean Penn’s “Tom Hagerty” WAS the flight Commander for what was the first manned trip to Mars. We learn through flashbacks and various timing devices that he was replaced when his personal life became too demanding and he fell behind in training. His wife had disappeared and is presumed dead, and since her passing, their daughter became a drug addict in need of constant monitoring. We meet her slowly coming into recovery, but in Episode 5 we see the whole trauma/drama as it unfolded prior to 2031. In episode 1, we see the FIRST crew take off, but the ship goes the way of the Challenger (at about the same point in the sky) and the world is stunned.
The next launch window is 2033, and the first season jumps through these years, this time with Hagerty back in the Commander’s chair, alongside Lisa Gay Hamilton’s “Kayla Price,” who he somewhat bumps by being asked back by “Vista” Founder and CEO “Laz Ingram,” played by Natasha McElhone. Laz and her Scientists and CEOs must fight hard for Congressional and Presidential support to make a second try feasible. In the seasons early episodes, they squeeze through a skeptical Congress and an unimpressed President.
Laz is a semi-socially awkward genius with a photographic memory who experienced a rise much like Elon Musk. “Vista” is very much SpaceX, a private space company that works WITH NASA. For some reason it’s based in New Orleans. Laz’s story is interesting and the script hints that there’s plenty more we need to learn about her. She has children but isn’t married. The product of workaholism, or something else? By Season 1’s end, Hagerty’s crew has successfully launched, and now we’ll have to see how their multi-year journey to Mars goes… and whether they’ve calculated all of their vehicles and technology correctly for a successful return.
Should You Watch? Yes. But know what you’re getting. What sets “The First” apart is that it isn’t a space show. It’s a people show rich in character trials and tragedy. Oh, and there’s a mission to Mars. It will need to become more of a space show in Season 2 given the replacement crew has taken flight, but something about the focus on characters tells me we’ll see plenty of drama both in space and back home.
- “I Love You, America”
I really love Sarah Silverman, so I was pre-ordained to enjoy her ½ hour variety show-like attempt to bridge America’s bitter political divide. The show mixes some stand up, a visit with a guest either in the field or in studio, and some sort of field trip. Some examples: She goes to stay with a Trump-voting family in Louisiana and finds out that they like “the Affordable Care Act,” they just didn’t know it. She goes on a date with a never-Trump Republican that works in Tobacco. She goes to a training session of Anti-Choice activists. Each time, she ably bonds with them despite their differences. He guests are also an interesting mix of less-famous activists who we all SHOULD get to know.
Should You Watch? That depends – do you love America!? Yes. The show is very funny, but I come away from each episode having learned a little something or gained a new perspective without sacrificing my own values.
- “Iron Fist”
The 4th character introduced in Netflix’s subset of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Fist, Season 2 already seems stronger than its 1st Season and I’m only ½ way through. Finn Jones seems less corny and more confident as Danny Rand his season. Danny is the rich heir to Rand Enterprises who was thought dead as a child, when traveling with his parents and crashing in small aircraft somewhere in Nepal or Tibet. Raised thereafter by super-Monks in a hidden kingdom called Kun-Dun, Danny rises to be such a martial arts expert, he wins the role of the Eternal Iron Fist. His right hand literally lights up and REALLY punishes anything he hits.
The sibling rivalries are deeper, the villains even more menacing than Season 1, especially a dangerous multi-personality character played by the lovely Brit Alice Eve.
Should You Watch? Only if you’ve already been watching Netflix’s other MCU properties, “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and “The Defenders,” (where the aforementioned characters and Danny all team up to save New York from an evil Sigourney Weaver).
My apologies for not yet getting to this Jonah Hill / Emma Stone vehicle about a trippy mental health clinical trial. … but I will!
Amazon Prime Video
- “Jack Ryan”
John Krasinski shines as the famous Analyst turned CIA “enlightened tough guy,” and Wendell Pierce (who seems to be EVERYWHERE) is pitch perfect as his mentor Jim Greer. When this iteration begins, prequel style, Ryan and Greer don’t know each other, and Greer has been assigned to Ryan’s division of forensic accounting as a demotion from something viewers aren’t informed of that happened in the field. He’s not happy to be there, and he isn’t at first a big fan of his eager, know-it-all analyst. But the two end up leading an effort to catch a Lebanese terrorist they only know as “Suleiman” (and no, he’s not a Lord of the Rings character). Suleiman is brilliantly played by Ali Suliman, who we last saw as the Yemeni general in Hulu’s “Looming Tower.” They track Suliman to Syria, by way of transactions in Yemen, and the chase is on.
Meanwhile, when stateside, we see the early courtship of Jack Ryan and Dr. Cathy Mueller, who in this iteration is an expert in pandemic threats. And overseas, a very strong storyline developing the character of Hanin, Suleiman’s wife, and her doubts about what her husband is up to. She subsequently takes her daughters and flees to a Syran refugee camp, eventually making it to the U.S. with CIA help. But her son… is still with Suleiman. Her journey becomes a very cool sidebar to the season.
Should You Watch? Yes. It’s espionage. It’s JOHN KRASINSKI as Jack Ryan, and frickin’ Wendell Pierce as Greer. It’s very well done.
A dark comedy. Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph are a fairly staid, (she) bored married couple in Riverside. He dies on a ski slope. A year later, she dies choking on something in first class on an airplane. They are both relocated and reunited in a very domestic, middle-class Heaven in Riverside with 70s-esque neighborhoods (but theirs has shuffleboard). Their life now is a boring mix of taking walks, playing shuffleboard, cooking, and nosing in on their neighbors and their little dramas. The biggest mystery is their new neighbor, “Kase,” played by an as usual kinda-quirky and weird Catherine Keener. She was previously CIA or something close to it, and they are a bit obsessed with her early aloofness. She later takes an interest in Maya’s character, and there are adventures that ensue. I’m a few episodes to go. But the key is – slow moving dark comedy.
Should You Watch? ONLY if you are fans enough of Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen to patiently overcome a VERY SLOW SHOW.
- “The Man in the High Castle”
A much-delayed Season 3 is finally here for the alternate-reality drama where the Japanese and Nazis won World War II, and have divided America into the German Reich in the Midwest and East Coast and the “Pacific States” are controlled by Japan. A series of old-fashioned film recordings show the alternate reality that we all know – the Allies win and the Empire of Japan and Nazi Reich suffer – but evidence of the tapes is hard to find, being held by “The Man in the High Castle.” I recently learned that Season 4 of the franchise has already been approved, and it shows. Because even through I’m only through the first half of Episode 1, Season 3, and I can already tell that they have invested in stretching the story beyond the source material of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel to a well-orchestrated tale that stretches the stories of the 3 main characters – 1) (S)hero Juliana Crane – Our Heroine, who passively lived in the Pacific States until the (supposed) murder of her sister activated her to an anti-Japanese activist and character who befriends the “man in the high castle”…2) Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith – the once U.S. Army Captain turned Nazi high commander of the East Coast, we see elevated this season to someone who is not only the household-name leader of the U.S.-Reich, but a leader with influence over Berlin. And yet, Smith, grieving over the death of his son – who suffered a debilitating illness that Smith tried to shield from the Reich, yet his son turned himself in for execution – has clear doubts about Nazi-ism in America. 3) Joe Blake – I hate this character. He first comes off as the American boy next door in Season 1, but is exposed as a Nazi plant in the U.S. In Season 2, we learn his father is a member of the powerful inner circle of the Nazi Reich in Berlin, and Joe spends much of Season 2 there cultivating Nazi relationships, only to learn toward the end of Season 2 that his father was conspiring against a Himmler takeover after the Fuhrer’s death. Now, the show asks us to give Joe yet another chance as he makes his way back to the U.S. at the request of Obergruppenfurher Smith for a special assignment. I say to Hell with these fascist fuckers. Juliana, if you’re listening, you and your resistance allies must annihilate the Axix Powers where they sit in North America and make the “Man in the High Castle” films a true reality.
Should You Watch? If you haven’t been watching … yes, you need to catch up. A very pertinent show in the Age of Trumpism.
- “Magnum, P.I.”
The show SCREAMS CBS action procedural, and seems basically set up for an annual sweeps week 2-part crossover episode with Hawaii Five-O. This week, Five-O’s restaurant-scheming Kamekona even makes a cameo. Jay Hernandez is serviceable as Thomas Magnum, but doesn’t have the charm Selleck did in his prime. We’ll see how he handles the “haunted by war” episodes that get more serious if they follow the tradition of the ’80s show and air those. Zachary Knighton (“Happy Ending’s” Dave) seems well cast as Rick, but the TC character is completely underdeveloped and they are going to have to try harder to get the TC we know and love back — you know, complaining that Thomas is getting him in trouble and can’t believe he’s giving up time to fly him around.
The show sticks with Zeus and Apollo as Dobermans even though no one has seen a Doberman in years, but flips the script by casting Higgins as an attractive, female former MI6 agent who at some point was Valerie Plamed and can no longer serve. Look forward to 5–6 seasons of sexual tension with Magnum there. … Oh, and there’s no “Mac” character as of yet, but there’s clearly going to be a “Michelle” story line. Fans of the old show will understand those references.
Continue Watching? Not sure. Maybe for the Five-O crossover episodes. Otherwise, it’s just way too CBS for me.
- “A Million Little Things”
I’m definitely into this drama that many are calling ABC’s answer to “This is Us.” Some are saying it’s too heavy and wonder if it will wear out viewers, but This is Us doesn’t seem to have done so. Also, I’m confident that James Roday (a.k.a. Psychic Detective Shawn Spencer) will keep things light enough at times to keep us going. And while I didn’t like her defense of the school district in 13 Reasons Why S2, Allison Miller’s “Maggie” makes for a good foil/romantic interest for Roday, and as we learned in E2, being new to Boston, she has some hometown mystery of her own. It’s likely they’ll be on again, off again as she tries to navigate Boston and Roday tries to figure out who the hell he is beyond honorary uncle.
My biggest concern is for Grace Park’s agent, who should, after 2 episodes, be getting seething phone calls from her complaining that she’s not even really a part of this show, and that the plot looks ripe for her to barely survive Season 1 let alone multiple seasons.
And I guess I’m just going to have to adjust to Romany Malco as a dramatic actor, despite never being able to get the image of he, Seth Rogan, Steve Carrell and company dancing to the Age of Aquarius at the end of 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Continue Watching? Yes. I’m enjoying the sympathetic characters and am dying for answers to questions like, why did Ron Livingston’s character “John” kill himself, and what was his relationship to his assistant, Ashley? Will Roman get the therapy he needs, and – again – will James Roday’s “Gary” figure out who the hell he is? It’s a good drama, and very ABC.
A plane takes off, experiences some rough turbulence for a few minutes, and then lands. But when it does, the pilots and passengers are informed their plane had disappeared 5 years ago and is just now landing. Whaaaaaat?!! Most have compared the premise to a derivative of “Lost,” but there are differences. For one, the 191 survivors are all hearing voices, and the voices lead them to moments of heroism. The youngest survivor, a 5-year-old Leukemia patient named Cal, seems to experience the most “powers” upon return, and there seems to be a “Christ-like” inference about him on behalf of the writing. Some relationships have moved on to new lovers, which hurts for some survivors who have returned home. But the main storyline seems to be the government vs. the survivors and a sense of who is guilty of this strange flight.
Continue Watching? You bet your ass. I’m hooked, much like I was for “Lost” seasons 1 and 2. Let’s just hope NBC doesn’t fuck us with weird, aimless tangents that the Lost creators gave us on subsequent seasons and didn’t know how to wrap up… like, AT ALL!!
Enjoy viewing, friends!!