TV Diary

a) "The Arrangement"
E!'s recent move into scripted programming has been interesting in that they've found dramas that keep within the channel's overall theme of celebrity and glamour. "The Royals" was a soap about an alternative universe British royal family that didn't hold my interest much, but "The Arrangement" is pretty promising. It's basically a thinly veiled fictionalization of the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes marriage, with a young actress basically signing a contract for a relationship and eventual marriage to a big name actor who's involved in some kind of weird secretive organization called The Institute of the Higher Mind. So far the show has been more about the relationship than the self help cult, doling out ominous revelations little by little, and it's worked pretty well, partly because Christine Evangelista is really great at showing little flashes of charisma that indicate her character could be a huge star if she plays along with this weird charade, and she really has to kind of play all the interior conflicts of the character close to the vest. I'm also happy to see Katharine Isabelle in a supporting role, I've really liked her in a few things, most recently probably the best "Rosewood" episode of the season.

b) "13 Reasons Why"
My wife and I started watching this and got a little hooked and watched half the season, but we haven't finished it yet. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. It feels a little emotionally manipulative, and at times questionable in its handling of the very sensitive subject of teen suicide, and it can be a little overwhelming for the show to make you really care about and like Katherine Langford's character while telling you over and over that she's dead and never coming back. But I still enjoy it, it kind of takes me back emotionally to all the good and back stuff of being in high school in a similar way that The Edge of Seventeen did.

c) "Five Came Back" 
This is a documentary miniseries, based on a book, about the major Hollywood directors who made films for the U.S. government in WWII. It's a really fascinating aspect of that point in history, but it's also an interesting time to think about this stuff since it's basically celebrating an American propaganda effort, and being able to do that comfortably knowing that we were on the right side of history, which we may not be on in the next war, frankly. "Five Came Back" is driven by Meryl Streep narration and interviews with current big name directors like Spielberg, which is cool, but I feel like it suffers from a lack of firsthand sources since, well, everyone directly involved is dead now, but I guess there's not much to be done about that.

d) "Harlots"
This show about an 18th century London brothel kind of revels in how debauched and trashy it all is instead of going for historical accuracy. But it's also created by women, so it feels kind of refreshing in that it's really not about the male gaze and looks at both how women were exploited and how they took control of their destinies in the situation.

e) "Nobodies"
This TV Land show is about 3 writer/comedians who are old friends of Melissa McCarthy, playing themselves in a wacky showbiz satire where they try to get McCarthy to star in their movie. So it's kind of clever in a meta way in that it allows these hangers on to be on TV and have cameos with their famous friend while making fun of it all, but it's hard to get around the fact that these people are not really very funny or fun to watch, and the comedy is all awkward misunderstandings you've seen a hundred times before.

f) "Shots Fired"
This show feels so deliberately engineered to comment on current events, sometimes clumsily so, with the story of a black cop who shoots a white person, and then turns up in a camera phone video saying he has "a license to shoot these crackers." But the execution of the show is pretty impressive, just in terms of how artfully the story has been framed and how complex Sanaa Lathan's character is and how much the show plays both sides of the debate and lets you think for yourself.

g) "Rebel"
"Rebel" is somewhat similar to "Shots Fired," in that it centers on a black woman investigating a cop-involved shooting, and it feels similarly ambitious in how it's tackling the issues at its center. But it also feels a lot more melodramatic and light on plot to me, so I haven't really felt hooked by the early episodes.

h) "Iron Fist"
This show had such horrible buzz beforehand that it was really hard to give it much of a chance, especially because I haven't really been that happy with Marvel's Netflix series in general lately given "Luke Cage" and the second season of "Daredevil." But the episode I watched was pretty whatever. I had such a crush on Jessica Stroup when she had an arc on "Reaper" that it was nice to see her again, though.

i) "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
Amazon Studios has been really spotty with its original series, but one thing they do that I really like is a 'pilot season' where they make all their new pilots available to viewers, and use surveys and public response to help decide which ones to make into series. All three of the pilots I watched last fall were picked up, and they put up five new ones in March. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is by far my favorite of the bunch, about a 1950s housewife who becomes a standup comic after her aspiring standup husband leaves her. I've never really gotten into any of Amy Sherman-Palladino's previous stuff, I think primarily because I find the leads on "Gilmore Girls" to be kind of insufferable. But Rachel Brosnahan is pretty wonderful in this, hope it becomes a series.

j) "Oasis"
Amazon's ambitious sci-fi pilot. I like the production values and the premise but it can be hard to really dip a toe into a world like this in one episode satisfyingly, so I didn't love the pilot but I hope they get a chance to do the series.

k) "The Legend Of Master Legend"
This Amazon pilot stars John Hawkes as a guy who dresses up like a superhero and walks the streets of Las Vegas trying to help people and getting into trouble. The pilot was well done but also just felt kind of too much like a one off, like it indicated all the themes and stories that the series would explore but didn't really make me want to see it continue, I had my fill.

l) "Budding Prospects"
There are so many shows about people selling pot now that it kind of feels like this Amazon pilot is the inevitable pot period piece, about a trio of guys running a pot farm in the '80s. This pilot was, for some reason, the first thing Terry Zwigoff has directed in over a decade, so it feels significant in that respect, but honestly I could take it or leave it.

m) "The New V.I.P.'s"
This is definitely the 5th best of the 5 new Amazon pilots. Usually animated series improve with the quality of the visuals and production values after the pilot, but even with that in mind, this is one of the worst looking animated series I've ever seen. And it just feels like it's exploring the same Office Space disgruntled corporate drone themes that have been done a million times, with an unwelcome dose of gross out humor.

n) "Julie's Greenroom"
This is a Netflix show for kids starring Julie Andrews, and I decided to sample it on my own before deciding whether to show it to my own kids, and I don't think I'll bother them with it, to be honest. I don't feel like The Muppets should have any kind of monopoly on puppets in children's entertainment, but there's something really uncomfortable to me about shows like this that feel like they're doing offbrand faux "Sesame Street" puppets really badly. My toddler already has "Sesame Street," he doesn't need this too.

o) "Ingobernable"
I watched an episode of this Netflix show about a fictional First Lady of Mexico, I like the look of it, but I'm pretty lazy about watching foreign language shows with subtitles so I doubt I'll stick with it.

p) "Hotel Beau Sejour"
This Belgian series has the great creepy premise that a teenage girl wakes up and finds her own corpse in the bathtub, and is in this weird zone between life and death where some people can still see her. But again, I'm really lazy about shows with subtitles so I'm hoping that this gets an American remake at some point.

q) "Samurai Gourmet"
I tried watching this and came away just kind of confused about what it even is. Like, it's a food show, with a vaguely fictional structure, about a retired guy going to restaurants, and these odd little poignant or funny moments. I feel like if an American network did a show like this people would just praise it to the stars.

r) "Kicking & Screaming"
Wilderness survival shows are an enduring subgenre of reality TV that I've never really understood the appeal of. But this one at least has I think a good premise of having 2 person teams with one professional survivalist and one amateur. It's nice to see FOX have Hannah Simone host something, hopefully they're just gonna keep putting her on TV regardless of whether "New Girl" does another season.

s) "Imposters"
This has really emerged as one of my favorite new shows lately, the cast is just really charming and there's no clear formula for which way the plot is going to go so almost every episode has a couple of genuine surprises. It's been interesting to see Uma Thurman pop up in a handful of episodes as a villain, I don't really understand her strategy for doing TV and I'd expect to see her in a more substantial role with more prestige, but hey, at least this is a better show than "The Slap."

t) "Hap And Leonard: Mucho Mojo"
Sundance seems to be working through Joe R. Lansdale's Hap And Leonard novels in chronological order, which is admirable, since I feel like it's still pretty common for TV adaptations of novel series to just kind of throw the books in a blender (looking at you, "Dirk Gently" and "The Magicians"). That said, I haven't read the Lansdale books, so I only care about the show, and this season really feels a lot slower and more low key than the first, and I miss Christina Hendricks and Jimmi Simpson.

u) "The Breaks"
I raised an eyebrow at how one of the main characters from last year's backdoor pilot seemed way less prominent in the promo campaign for the series of "The Breaks" and the early episodes. So I wasn't too surprised when they ended up getting killed off in the 4th episode, but maybe a little disappointed, not sure why that character needed to be done away with so quickly. The show has been good, though, it's interesting to see them fill out the early '90s rap world and blend fact with fiction.

v) "The Get Down"
Since the historically expensive first season of "The Get Down" ran behind schedule, Netflix premiered the first half of the season last summer and just recently released the second half. And really, I'm kinda glad it turned out that way, since the show is really kind of big and overwhelming even when you take it one episode at a time. But it's nice to pick back up with everything. I'm really getting weary of the Nas intros on every episode, though, they don't really work that well for a TV format and feel like they're spoiling the story you're about to watch.

w) "Empire"
It's interesting to watch shows like "The Breaks" and "The Get Down" that really lovingly dramatize hip hop's past and then watch "Empire" turn present day hip hop into this ridiculous cartoon soap opera. But I'm glad there's room for all these shows right now. I'm very amused by Rumer Willis showing up and singing R&B in the recent episodes, given her father's musical past.

x) "Chewing Gum" 
Michaela Coel is really a force of nature on this show, it's always fun to see a performer throw themselves so wholly into doing anything for a laugh. That said, this show can be kind of an exhausting parade of embarrassing sexual humiliations, I can only take it in small doses.

y) "Grace And Frankie"
This show really has some of the best dialogue on TV, there's always so many sharp lines going back and forth that I feel like I missed a few. Kinda crazy that it's already on its 3rd season and renewed for a 4th.

z) "Review"
The few people that watched this show really adored it, and I always felt like I was in the minority who thought it was okay but kinda got the point early on and felt like it was just hammering away at that point over and over. So I'm happy that the third and final season was only three episodes, the other ones could've been three episodes too for all I care.
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