TV Diary

a) "The Magicians"
This is, along with "The Expanse," one of the more impressive-looking new shows that SyFy has debuted in the last couple months as part of an attempt to revamp their original programming and get some cool cable drama buzz. And like "The Expanse," the pilot featured a gravity-defying scene of people having sex in midair. But otherwise, they're both pretty enjoyable, smart shows that don't lean too heavily on cheap titillation like that. "The Magicians" is based on a book series about a secret college for people with magical powers, and it kind of sidesteps too much of a Harry-Potter-with-adults vibe, the first few episodes have set some interesting stories in motion.

b) "American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson"
After last fall's wearying one-two punch of "Scream Queens" and "American Horror Story: Hotel," I was ready to just stop even trying to give Ryan Murphy's goofy, incoherent shows a chance. But I'm glad I checked this out -- since it actually has an inherently fascinating real life story to draw from, a lot of the things that put me off of his other shows aren't very present. And his eye for casting and lurid mix of comedy and melodrama suits this subject pretty well. The O.J. saga unfolded when I was 12-13 years old and was a really surreal formative experience, and while there was a point where I would've been happy to never hear about it again, 20 years feels like enough time to revisit it in this way. The first episode had an interesting mix of reenactments of moments we've heard about a hundred times and some unexpected touches, like Darden and Cochran's relationship before the trial, which I never really knew about.

c) "Grease: Live!"
It's been interesting to see NBC experiment with live musicals over the past 3 years, and I guess it's officially a successful idea, since another network, FOX, has finally copied it. I've never been able to sit through any of these 3-hour monstrosities all the way through, but I watched more of this one than the others, mainly because I have something of a soft spot for Grease, it's such a ridiculous smutty retro exercise and there are some really good songs. And I thought that aside from kind of a bland Danny Zuko, the casting was pretty good in this, Vanessa Hudgens was a great Rizzo, and it was great to see my boo Kether Donahue from "You're The Worst" get some shine.

d) "You, Me And The Apocalypse"
Even though this show has a lot of American cast members and takes place partly in the U.S., it still feels very much like a British production with a British creator, and I wonder if maybe the British farce vibe just doesn't match my comedic sensibility. Like, the episodes are an hour long, and I don't think I laughed once in the first two. It's just treading the same territory as a lot of other recent satires about the end of the world, and the more unique touches just make it feel more loud and unfunny.

e) "Lucifer"
This is apparently based on a comic book, where the devil gets bored in Hell and decides to go to Los Angeles for kicks. The whole thing feels like such a goofy one trick pony, but at least it's put together pretty entertainingly and the actor playing Lucifer, Tom Ellis, is having a lot of fun with the role.

f) "Recovery Road"
This show on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) is based on a Young Adult novel and threatens to veer into afterschool special territory, but so far it feels like a pretty smart, empathetic look at addiction. The lead, played by Jessica Sula, is a really smart, well written protagonist, but you also get to see her in denial and losing control and see her situation from the perspective of the people around her.

g) "Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands"
The production values on this show are kinda cool, I like the way the monsters look. But the idea of turning an epic poem into 13 episodes of television and creating a bunch of new stories and characters seems fraught with bad ideas, and there's a lot of stuff in here with people with modern-looking Macklemore haircuts,

h) "Baskets"
It's time that we admit, as a nation, that most of the ideas that Louis C.K. has that don't come in the form of jokes he tells onstage are pretty bad ideas. I don't really know what to make of this show yet, I'm still trying to give it a chance. But I've never really liked Zach Galifianakis's bit in standup specials where he has an effeminate twin brother, and I'm not wild about that concept being carried into this show. Louie Anderson playing his mother, like just playing a woman straight up like Divine in Hairspray, is interesting and probably the most successful aspect of the show but I'm still kind of ambivalent about it.

i) "The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth" 
Television news has basically played into the worst aspects of the modern presidential campaign and is completely unwatchable for me at this point, so I generally only follow this stuff online and in print. So it's pretty great to see Showtime attempt this ambitious weekly docuseries, with three journalists following around the candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire and so on. There's a little bit of big picture stuff about the emerging narratives of the election cycle but it's mostly a lot of interesting little revealing moments and surreal scenes at rallies and on campaign buses and quiet little private interviews with Cruz and Sanders and Rubio and others.

j) "The Greatest Party Story Ever" 
This MTV show, where a bunch of high school and college kids narrate animate animated depictions of their personal anecdotes, remind me of Comedy Central's many '90s and '00s-era attempts to meld animation with standup comedy. It's an interesting format, but they don't do it very well here, it's more "Shorties Watchin' Shorties" than "Dr. Katz."

k) "Angel From Hell" 
Jane Lynch's role in "Angel From Hell" strongly resembles her character from Role Models, which is in my opinion one of the funniest things she ever did, so it's on the right track in that respect. But the premise of the show, where she might be a woman's guardian angel or just a delusional drunk, is just so strange. I think they actually balance the dark, bawdy humor with the magical, sentimental undertones pretty well, I just have a hard time picturing this show as a long-running success.

l) "The Lion Guard"
After all the direct-to-video sequels and the "Timon And Pumbaa" show, Disney is still milking the Lion King cash cow with a new series, which my 6-year-old is predictably very excited about. It's okay for what it is, but I'm irrationally irritated about how the new comic relief sidekick is a honey badger -- even if there are honey badgers in Africa, that just feels like an unnecessary hat tip to an internet meme.

m) "Killing Fields"
This is a documentary series on the Discovery Channel about Louisiana detectives trying to solve a cold case from the '90s, which of course brings to mind the first season of "True Detective." But it's exec produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, and has a very cinematic "Homocide: Life On The Street" feel, was a lot more interesting to me than, say, "Making A Murderer," although I don't know if I'll be able to stomach watching every episode.

n) "Almost Genius" 
TruTV has made some encouraging inroads into comedic original programming lately with stuff like "Adam Ruins Everything," but wow, this show is just one of the worst things I've ever seen, it's just viral videos with annoying sketch comedy players inserting themselves into the videos with greenscreen.

o) "The Venture Bros."
"The Venture Bros." debuted over 12 years ago and only just began its 6th season. But the increasingly long breaks between seasons have always been worth the wait, and I'm so glad these guys are still taking the time to make hilarious, densely written episodes of one of my favorite shows on television. The first episode of the new season felt more like a reboot than anything the show's done before, with the main characters collecting a big inheritance and moving to New York, which is the kind of thing that would make most other shows terrible but really just opens up a lot of narrative and comedic possibilities here. But mostly I'm just glad that they finally seem to be putting Brock Sampson back at home with the Ventures, which they've really avoided too much in recent seasons.

p) "The X-Files" 
I have fond memories of watching the early seasons of "The X-Files" on Friday nights with my dad and my brother, but I never really kept up with it in those later years or even saw the movies. And I have very mixed feelings about all the old cult shows that are being brought back these days. So far, the first 3 of these 6 new episodes have felt like a weird mixed bag, where they're trying to run through the whole variety of 'mytharc' and 'monster of the week' episodes as quickly as possible. And while I enjoyed Joel McHale's whole ridiculous Infowars-type character, the straight up comedy of the 3rd episode was maybe a little too wacky and on-the-nose. But again, I don't think I have enough of a sentimental attachment to "X-Files" anymore to be upset about it, I'm just kind of along for the ride until it gets boring, just like the first time.
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