TV Diary

a) "Billions" 
Showtime has a track record of assembling impressive actors for shows that are so half-assed and poorly conceived that I end up feeling sorry for the overqualified cast. So I didn't get my hopes up for this, but the first episode was really good, there's some potential here. The show was created by the guy who wrote Too Big To Fail, and feels kind of based in the reality of the financial world instead of being an over-the-top fantasy, but the pilot set up some nice scenery-chewing conflict for Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. My favorite part was that Giamatti started to speak in folksy metaphors like Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards" but one of the other characters started mocking how he speaks "in nonsense riddles like a kung fu instructor from the movies." Maggie Siff, who I thought had one of the best roles any female lead's ever had in prestige cable drama history on "Sons of Anarchy," looks like she's got another good meaty role on "Billions," which is really promising.

b) "Angie Tribeca" 
I've been pretty annoyed at the way streaming services like Netflix and Amazon dump an entire season of a show out to the public at once to encourage 'binge-watching' because I really don't like watching television that way, and prefer having episodes spaced out once a week. So I'm not thrilled that TBS has gotten in on it with a 25-hour marathon in which they debuted all 10 episodes of "Angie Tribeca," although it's at least a pretty breezy half hour show, so I've already gotten through 3 of them and probably will get through the rest soon. Steve and Nancy Carell created the show, and it has a very Zucker brothers "Police Squad!" joke-a-minute feel, which is a genre of comedy I love when it's done well, but I have mixed feelings about this so far. Rashida Jones was only ever funny on "Parks And Recreation" when she was a straight man to Rob Lowe or one of the other bigger, sillier personalities on the show, but that actually means she has a good poker face to deliver some of the ridiculous lines on this show. But it also feels a bit like a lot of Adult Swim's genre parody shows, especially "NTSF:SD:SUV::," which had a very similar opening title sequence. And those shows are like 11 minutes long, so sometimes "Angie Tribeca" feels a little overlong trying to draw out a normal 3-act story arc while remaining completely silly.

c) "Idiotsitter"
Back when "Broad City" was starting out, one of the oversimplified pitches for the show was that it was a female "Workaholics." But "Idiotsitter" is much more overtly going for that -- directed and edited in the same style with similar music cues, same basic style of humor, with Jillian Bell from "Workaholics" starring. Bell was the best thing about 22 Jump Street and I was excited when I saw that she was getting her own show, but this is pretty stale and underwhelming so far.

d) "Second Chance"
This was called "The Frankenstein Project" and then "Lookinglass" before they settled on the most generic possible title, and basically takes place in a future world where a couple of tech billionaires experiment with bringing a dying old guy back to life in a young man's body. The pilot features the wonderful Philip Baker Hall, and briefly features lead actor Robert Kazinsky doing a Philip Baker Hall impression, but then he kind of drops the mannerisms of his old life, which is a shame, I'd love a goofier version of this show where the guy keeps talking like Philip Baker Hall.

e) "Teachers" 
A barbed warts-and-all look at elementary school from the perspective of the teachers is a pretty good premise for a comedy. As the father of a kindergartener, though, there were definitely a couple times when I had to set aside how aghast I'd be if that was my kid's school and just appreciate what they were going for humor-wise.

f) "Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments" 
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones was kind of the runt of the litter of YA book adaptations, and since the movie didn't make enough money to justify a sequel, they're just doing the series now on Freeform, the network formerly known as ABC Family. The first episode didn't seem any better or worse than what I saw of the movie, just lower budget, maybe a better cast.

g) "Shades Of Blue" 
I kinda feel like there might be a good TV project for J.Lo somewhere out there in the ether. But the lead in a cop drama? She just can't carry a show like this. Maybe if it was a little less gloomy and she was part of an ensemble instead of having to emote in every scene it could work, but this is just a drag, even with weird-looking old Ray Liotta.

h) "The Shannara Chronicles" 
When I was kid and reading a lot of sci-fi, I vaguely remember briefly jumping over to fantasy and reading some Terry Brooks, although I don't remember if I got very far into the Shannara stuff. I guess the story isn't edgy enough to be a "Game Of Thrones" kind of show, but I kind of feel bad for the books that they're finally being filmed and it's on MTV all retrofitted to a Young Adult novel-style adaptation with cute teens smooching each other.

i) "Zoe Ever After" 
I never really watched "Moesha" so I don't know what Brandy's comedy chops are, really, but I was surprised that this show is a pretty enjoyably quippy, fast-paced sitcom. There's a running joke where her bum ex-husband has a Jadakiss ringtone.

j) "Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life" 
I know it's largely because of the name of the show, but even though it's about college grads and not high school students, this feels very reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." That is to say, it's got a smug white guy breaking the 4th wall to tell the viewer about his wacky carefree life (also, apparently Alan Ruck is going to be on a future episode as Cooper's father). The show is kind of fun and the cast is likable enough (I'm quite fond of Meaghan Rath from "Being Human"), but it also feels doomed to swift cancellation, especially in a FOX sitcom lineup where everything except "Grandfathered" is pretty great.

k) "Bordertown"
I never watched "The Cleveland Show," but all my experience with any kind of humor about race on Seth MacFarlane's shows has led me to the conclusion that him doing a show about anything but white people in Rhode Island is probably a bad idea. And a show about the U.S.-Mexico border, in an election year where immigration is a big issue? Fuck. No. Basically the only time I felt some relief regarding this show is when I confirmed that Hank Azaria only voices a white character on this show -- that guy is hugely talented, but he's really spent way too much of his career playing or voicing ethnic stereotypes. But really, just about everything about this show is awful, even when it's voicing ignorant views as satire it's just aggressively dumb and unfunny.

l) "Growing Up Hip Hop"
This is WE tv's perhaps inevitable new series about the offspring of hip hop celebrities (and one of the DeBarge guys, I guess) like Angela Simmons and Lil Romeo. I dunno, it's pretty boring, and the way all these people who have nothing to do with each other have to act like they know each other to tie the storylines together is really awkward and forced.

m) "The Rap Game" 
This is Lifetime's perhaps inevitable new series about kid rappers competing for a record deal. And even though it's hosted by Jermaine Dupri, who's gotten more platinum plaques for rapping minors than anyone in history, the whole thing is just depressing as hell, combing "Making The Band 2" with "Dance Moms" as you watch horrible parents give their kids awful rapper names like Lil Poopy and Miss Mulatto and try to push them into the spotlight.

n) "Superstore" 
This is easily the most promising sitcom NBC has put on the air in a while. I've always loved workplace comedies, and situating one in a Walmart-type big box store feels like a good timely choice. The ensemble is really good, particularly Lauren Ash just throwing caution to the wind with a really fearless ridiculous performance, and Mark McKinney doing the kind of hapless loser he perfected in his "Kids In The Hall" days.

o) "Telenovela"
I'm a big fan of backstage shows about television, not so much for the meta humor or the show business inside jokes but because the best of them tend to kind of echo the tone and content of the genre of show being parodied -- this is true of "30 Rock," of "Sports Night," of "UnREAL." Those are all great shows, and I don't know if "Telenovela" ever will be, but it's off to a decent start, I'm enjoying the way it kind of makes fun of the breathless camp of telenovela while letting that manic pacing seep into its comedic style.

p) "F Is For Family" 
Bill Burr's standup has always been kind of frank and aggressive, he's just one of those pissed off Boston comics, and it works for him. But grafting that sensibility onto an animated show is just too much, this is just hacky and annoying.

q) "Making A Murderer" 
All I hear about this show is that it's addictive and once you start it you have to devour every episode. But honestly once I finished the second episode, I felt like I had the gist of what's happened, and have picked up some other stuff from subsequent news coverage of the show, and it's all just so bleak that I don't really want to return to it for another 8 hours. I guess I'm glad they made this but I dunno, I don't think I need to experience it all firsthand.

r) "The Expanse" 
I've enjoyed a fair number of shows on the SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) Channel, but it always feels like after they got all that acclaim for the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot that they're underachieving and not even trying to make a show with that kind of prestige cable drama acclaim. And "The Expanse" feels like the most serious stab they've made at a show that could break out of the usual SyFy viewership in a good while. The pilot looked amazing, effects-wise, and the whole premise is pretty strong. I haven't been totally on the edge of my seat for the first few episodes, but I like what they're doing.

s) "Childhood's End"
Childhood's End was an Arthur C. Clarke novel that SyFy adapted into a 6-hour miniseries, and I'm glad I hadn't read the book just for the shock of the reveal of what the alien looks like. On the whole, though, it wasn't really very interesting, although I could see how the novel probably was pretty exciting at the time.

t) "Colony"
There's no reason Josh Holloway can't headline a good sci-fi series post-"Lost," but that one a couple years ago where he had a microchip implanted in his brain wasn't it, and this alien invasion show could go either way. I kind of like the premise and how it's more about military occupation and rebellion than weird-looking aliens, but the pilot didn't really grab me, and since I had just seen "Childhood's End" recently it felt kinda derivative of that.

u) "Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter"
Live action Adult Swim shows are all relentlessly faithful to a particular style of comedy, usually in the form of genre parody, and I've only ever really enjoyed a couple of them, so this just felt like more of the same, even though I usually like horror comedy. They ran 5 episodes in a row in December and I would be fine with it just staying a miniseries and never coming back, the character got old quick.

v) "Lip Sync Battle"
This show seemed like a goofy little cable distraction last summer, but now that it's returned for a second season it seems to be cemented as a real ratings hit. And I guess I can't hate, you can't deny the silly spectacle of Channing Tatum dressing up like Beyonce and then the real Beyonce showing up onstage next to him. But they still work really hard to stretch what was a 10-minute segment on Jimmy Fallon's show into a full 30-minute program.

w) "SuperMansion" 
Crackle's nascent original program slate continues to expand with this, a stop-motion cartoon from the "Robot Chicken" guys with Bryan Cranston as the voice of an aging superhero. I was never a big fan of "Robot Chicken" but at least its breakneck pace didn't allow you to get bored like this show so often does.

x) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" 
Crackle's one hit soldiers on, getting looser than ever with the premise of the show with an episode featuring Barack Obama. It was a pretty entertaining episode, though, Seinfeld and Obama are both pretty good conversationalists and it was surreal seeing them bounce off of each other. And the Steve Martin episode was really one of the best yet, just in terms of letting a comedy icon speak a little more frankly about his process than he usually does.

y) "Love & Hip Hop" 
This is really one of the worst things on television, and every week I'm mildly horrified when my Twitter timeline lights up with people who are suddenly interested in the personal lives of rap has-beens like Peter Gunz. But I've tried to watch this season a bit, both because of the actually intriguing real life drama of Remy Ma coming home from prison, and because of the hilarious Instagram celebrity Cardi B. But they both still have to walk through the awkward scripted paces of this show and the annoying segments where they talk to the camera in front of blurry backgrounds and most of the entertainment value is slowly strangled out of their scenes. I feel bad for people like Cardi, or Desus and Mero, who've recently kind of proven that the big reward for being a social media superstar is to get thrown on the absolute worst shows on TV.

z) "Sesame Street"
Our 6-year-old grew out of "Sesame Street" a while ago and our 8-month-old isn't really ready for it, but he will be soon enough, so I've been curious to see the retooled "Sesame Street" that just debuted on HBO. Breaking it down to a half hour and getting rid of the awful Elmo's World segment is mostly an improvement, but it's still awfully heavy on Elmo, and they've lost a lot of the little animated segments and shorts that used to give the show it's particular rhythm. But obviously the show has been changing for decades since I watched it as a kid, there's not much use in getting mad about it, and it's still one of the best things you can let your kids watch.
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