TV Diary

a) "Stitchers"
My favorite new show of the summer so far, "UnREAL," is surprisingly on Lifetime, and it's equally surprising that one of my other favorite new shows, "Stitchers," is on ABC Family. The premise is this weird sci-fi crime procedural hybrid -- there's a government agency comprised of people who lay in a pool, Minority Report-style, and access the memories of the deceased to solve crimes (which is also a little like another recent favorite, "iZombie"). But what I really like about the show is that the dialogue is sharp and they came right out of the gate with strong personalities for the leads played by Emma Ishta and Allison Scagliotti (who I loved on "Warehouse 13" and am really glad to see end up in such a promising new show).

b) "Why? With Hannibal Buress"
Everybody loves Hannibal Buress, I love him, he's by far the coolest famous person who for some reason follows me on Twitter. And it feels really overdue for him to have his own show, it's just a question of whether it's the right vehicle for him. He's great in a supporting role on "Broad City" but you get the sense he doesn't really wanna act a whole lot in his own show, and it makes sense that this is more of a current event standup thing with the occasional pre-taped segment. The first episode didn't blow me away but I could see this becoming really awesome once he gets in a groove.

c) "Zoo"
Different species of animals all suddenly becoming murderous towards humans is a good premise and all. But this show just doesn't have the budget to make it look cool, the first season just had some lame lion CGI.

d) "Humans"
There is, obviously, a lot of potential in a sci-fi show about a world with realistically human-looking service robots that may be developing sentience. And the way this one is going about it, with things very gradually getting ominous instead of going full on Terminator, is interesting. The first episode was a little slow, but the second one ramped things up nicely. Also it kind of feels like some kind of dark, unfortunate joke about stereotypes that one of the only shows on TV starring an Asian actress literally has her playing a robot.

e) "Scream"
By the time the last Scream sequel staggered into theaters four years ago, it seemed like the world had decided that the franchise's smug '90s meta had not aged well and that horror audiences had moved on. So it's a little strange that MTV still thinks it can get some blood out of this stone as a series. It even steps up the meta a little bit ("You can't do a slasher movie as a TV series," someone says in the first episode, and goes on to name ways this show shouldn't work). It's not terrible, but I feel like every semi-interesting character or storyline they sneak in is just kind of wasted on the staggering corpse of the Scream franchise.

f) "Ballers"
Dwayne "Isn't The Rock Anymore, Or At Least Don't Put It On The Poster, Thanks" Johnson is on such a roll right now as a movie star that it seems kind of gratuitous and almost deflating to make him the Adrian Grenier of HBO's latest bland bro dramedy. But the really damning thing about this show is that his charisma doesn't even carry the show like it often carries his movies, he's just given so little to do. There were a couple scenes in the pilot that made it seem like his character might get some pathos that you can actually feel, but it hasn't quite happened yet. And Lil Wayne and Drake's "Right Above It" might be the worst TV theme song choice in recent memory, that song has not aged well.

g) "The Brink"
I feel like this show is doing some kind of light, deadpan take on geopolitical warfare that worked well enough in stuff like Wag The Dog and Charlie Wilson's War but is maybe kind of outdated now and doesn't play as well. There are broader satirical elements, too, but I dunno, it's hard to say exactly where this show is headed or if it really has a point, or if it's just blithely playing around with this heavy subject matter. All the wacky Jack Black and Tim Robbins stuff kinda makes me wish they made Aasif Mandvi's straight man a little more of the show's central POV to ground it a little.

h) "Another Period"
A "Real Housewives"-type show about aristocrats from a century ago would be a slam dunk premise for a sketch, but stretching it out into an actual series is riskier. So far, though, they've gotten a lot of mileage out of the idea in the first couple episodes, and the cast is great.

i) "The Astronaut Wives Club"
As a period drama this is pretty light and frothy -- doesn't feel like they're trying too hard with the sets and costumes. and the presence of modern music in the soundtrack is sometimes really distracting. But, like "Mad Men" or "Masters Of Sex" or other recent shows about that era, it doesn't shy away from all the ways the world was much worse for women back then, and sometimes it makes those points through solid storytelling rather than heavyhanded irony.

j) "Boom!"
I feel like every time someone tries to parody how ridiculous game shows are now, they make another real one that's too insane to parody. This is just a usual quiz show with easy multiple choice questions, but if a contestant gets one wrong, a big goofy plastic bomb full of some manner of food substance will explode all over them. The audience wears raincoats like it's a Gallagher concert.

k) "Poldark"
This show is based on some old-timey novels about a British soldier returning home from the Revolutionary War after his fiancee thought he was dead and decided to marry his cousin instead. It's a pretty well made show but pretty slow moving and sometimes feels like a cheesy romance novel.

l) A Deadly Adoption
This is the Lifetime Original Movie that starred Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, and I have to admire their commitment to actually just taking what was probably just a preexisting straightforward script for a Lifetime movie and playing it straight. It speaks the weird effortless, maybe Pavlovian way you can just put two comic actors of their caliber in something like this and it just makes something that would've already been a little campy feel straight up comedic. It's kind of the same principle behind the movie The Informant! now that I think of it. Will Ferrell's beard alone was funnier than a couple of his last few movies.

m) "Killjoys"
I guess it's really easy to do a sci-fi show in Canada because it always seems like SyFy is picking up Canadian shows or shooting their shows there. This one has already done three seasons in Canada but just premiered here. I was kind of preemptively bored with the outer space bounty hunter premise, but it's gotten more interesting with each episode, and Hannah John-Kamen is a totally badass heroine.

n) "Complications"
This show is pretty weird, on one hand it has kind of a "Breaking Bad" vibe where a noble educated white man makes a choice and falls into this crazy violent life, and on the other there's just all this ridiculous stuff going on that never really makes sense as a TV show. It might work better with a different lead actor, but Ireland's Jason O'Mara is one of those actors who fakes an American accent really well but it seems to take so much of his concentration that he can only give an annoying one-note bug-eyed performance as an actor.

o) "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell"
I know this was a popular book, but I never read it and have found the show pretty hard to follow or care about. I'm curious if readers find it to be a good adaptation.

p) "Deutschland 83"
This show is pretty interesting, it's an '80s period piece espionage thriller like "The Americans," except it takes place in Germany. But, and I'm going to sound like such a moronic philistine, but the whole thing is actually in German and I find it wearying to watch a whole series with subtitles. I can deal with subtitles in movies now and again, but I dunno, it's not my favorite way of watching anything.

q) "Proof" 
This is kind of an interesting show because basically a dying billionaire hires a doctor to try and find scientific answers to questions about life after death and what happens to people in near-death experiences. And the show seems pretty committed to actually exploring that question in as many ways as it can, if in the framework of a weekly procedural. It's not terribly compelling TV but it feels like it could get pretty weird if it keeps going for a while.

r) "Wayward Pines"
I mocked this show as a totally doomed unwatched failure when it premiered a few weeks ago. But the joke's on me: it's steadily climbed in ratings and FOX is actually pursuing the possibility of bringing the 'event series' back for a second season in some form. I guess this means people liked the big twist that was revealed a few episodes in, but the whole thing felt like such a predictable M. Night Shyamalan move that really just handwaved all the wacky bullshit that had happened in the show up to that point instead of explaining it in any narratively satisfying way.

s) "The Comedians"
This show maintained such an odd balance of wanting to have its cake and eat it too. They wanted to do a behind-the-scenes show about clusterfucks in making a sketch comedy show, but unlike "30 Rock," they put work into making the sketches reasonably funny and showing you enough of them that they tend to be some of the best parts of the show. They make a point of having the two stars play unflattering versions of themselves, but neither of them really goes for anything gutsy and dark, they just have misunderstandings or make bad jokes mostly. But I generally liked the show, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad have pretty good chemistry when pretending to not have chemistry.

t) "True Detective"
There's been such a salty arms-folded attitude from a lot of people about "True Detective," basically from whatever point in the first season when it didn't turn into the exact show they wanted or expected to be, up through the casting news for the second season. But I enjoyed all of the first season and wanted to give this one the benefit of the doubt, and I'm gonna see where this goes. I have to admit, though, the first three episodes have been rough going. I always thought Vince Vaughn was naturally suited for comedy and that the years between Swingers and Old School that he did mostly dramas were a big waste, but I kinda wanted to see him step up and be the McConaughey of this season. Instead the dialogue just never sounds right coming out of his mouth, like he doesn't know what syllable to emphasize and they just kept the lousy first take. Rachel McAdams might still be the MVP of this season, if just by virtue of the guys mostly being sweaty awkward hams.

u) "Tyrant" 
I barely made it to the end of the first season of this hoping something compelling would happen, and I'm not sure why I've even bothered with this season. The most interesting thing in this season is that the bearded brother is now clean shaven and the clean shaven brother has grown a beard. That's it.

v) "The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail"
I appreciate that Comedy Central keeps trying to breathe new life into the standup comedy showcase with these offbeat variations on the format. But this show just feel like it's a lot more fun to be in the room than to watch the filmed footage of it, a lot of it is kind of insular half-assed schtick. There's been some good standup, though, it was my first time seeing Carmen Esposito and I thought she was hilarious.

w) "Silicon Valley"
I sometimes feel like I'm watching a completely different show from the one people are so excited about. But this season was good, they found a groove. Zach Woods and T.J. Miller are so funny than I kinda wonder sometimes why I have to wait through so much Thomas Middleditch to see them.

x) "Suits"
At this point "Suits" is clearly one of those shows that USA is going to milk for like 8 seasons, so now that we're into the 5th season we're kind of over the hump. And I have to say, they've kept the show pretty lively this long, it's not as good as it was the first couple years, but it's strong. Constantly finding new ways to make Louis Litt a loathesome but somehow sympathetic foil/villain/frenemy is maybe not the most creative thing in the world for the show to focus on, but he's a great character, I like how they've maintained that balance.

y) "Unsung"
I'm fond of joking that this show has covered so many hugely successful acts now that they should just call it "Sung," and the narration and production values sometimes make me miss the slightly more polished "Behind The Music." But I'm still so glad a show like this exists, and there've been some good episodes this season, particularly the ones about DJ Quik and Chuck Brown. Getting to watch an hour of television about the Godfather of Go-Go, and then seeing Trouble Funk perform to a full arena a week later, was really marvelous feeling.

z) "Last Call With Carson Daly"
I'm amazed this show has hung on, through all the changes in late night. It's like NBC is committed to staying on the air until 2am every night, but they can't think of anything better to do than what they've done for the past 13 years. I can remember a time when they seemed to enjoy being this low budget no pressure show and be kind of freeform, but whenever I see the show now it's kind of hilarious how half-assed it all is. Usually half the show is interviews where some producer sits off-camera and fires questions at an actor, Carson isn't even there, and then put a camera in a club where a band is playing, and show them doing a couple songs. It doesn't even remotely seem like anybody cares what goes on the air, it's completely on autopilot.
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