TV Diary

a) "Sweetbitter"
I'm a big fan of workplace shows, things that bring you into the world of a particular professions and all the jargon and rituals. And "Sweetbitter," based on an autobiographical novel about a woman's experiences waiting tables in an upscale NYC restaurant in the mid-2000s, really excels at that. I spent a lot of my high school/college years working in kitchens in less fancy joints so it brings me back a little bit to the rhythms and the hours of that work. And they made a point to set it in 2006 partly to maintain the pre-smartphone era, which in a weird way really is kind of a crucial distinction, especially when you're telling the story of a young single city dweller.

b) "Vida"
I've long been skeptical of the burgeoning 'half hour drama' trend in TV, but Starz is really doing good things with the format, first with "The Girlfriend Experience" and now with both "Sweetbitter" and "Vida." This show is about two latina sisters dealing with the fallout from the death of their mother, and even though the show is largely about queer and gender fluid characters and gentrification in east L.A. and a whole lot of other big subjects I don't necessarily have any personal experience of, I relate a lot to the aspect of two siblings grappling with losing a parent. And it's really just impressive how many things are going on in a fairly 'small' story with a handful of characters, it's really dense. But also, like, there's been at least one oral sex scene in every episode so far. The pilot was directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios and I wish he'd done more episodes for the first season because there were some novel shots and camera movements that made for really memorable scenes.

c) "Patrick Melrose"
This 5-part miniseries is based on Edward St. Aubyn's five autobiographical novels about a character, Patrick Melrose, who struggles with heroin addiction in the '60s after the death of the abusive father who made him such a screwed up person. Benedict Cumberbath plays the character as manic and verbose, always joking too much and trying to talk his way out of his ridiculous situations. I feel like the odd combination of tones probably works well in a novel but the TV version, I don't know, it falls a little flat for me, like the dialogue just isn't as dazzling as it thinks it is.

d) "Killing Eve"
Phoebe Waller-Bridge created and starred in two of my favorite British comedies of the last few years, "Fleabag" and "Crashing" (and is also, like, the voice of a robot in the new Star Wars flick?). So I was very curious to see this spy thriller that she created and writes for but doesn't appear in, and it's really fantastic, maintaining her comic voice in this drama that has lots of violence and clever plot twists and some surprising emotional moments, really one of the most exciting and unique new shows of 2018 so far.

e) "Safe"
I don't think there's anything wrong with Michael C. Hall or his acting, but I've just about never enjoyed anything with him him it. Maybe he just consistently picks projects I'm not interested in, I don't know. But he has a British accent that I don't find very convincing in this Netflix thriller, so that's a strike against him personally, I guess. I got so disinterested in this show from the jump that I started washing dishes in the other room during the first episode, which is never a good sign.

f) "The Crossing"
This show's very intriguing premise is that hundreds of refugees wash up on shore at a small coastal town who are actually from America 200 years in the future, and some of them have superpowers. The execution isn't that great, though; ABC has already cancelled it, although I might curious enough to keep watching the show through the episodes they've produced.

g) "Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist"
The Duplass brothers have produced so many shows in the past few years, none of which I've loved: mumblecore dramedy ("Togetherness"), low budget animation ("Animals"), anthology horror ("Room 104"), and most recently true crime doc series for Netflix ("Wild Wild Country," which I skipped, and now "Evil Genius"). I think the worst thing about "Evil Genius" is the title, because that's a weirdly congratulatory thing to call an IRL murderer. But the 'pizza bomber' story has long been a source of morbid fascination and it's interesting to find out just how complex the backstory really is.

h) "It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards"
The newly minted  Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV)'s contribution to the burgeoning 'true crime' genre is this show where a retired detective John Cameron makes the case that one deceased convicted killer, Ed Edwards, is actually also responsible for the Zodiac murders as well as famous murder victims ranging from JonBenet Ramsey to Laci Peterson and even the 'Black Dahlia,' who died when he was 13 years old. It's such a blatantly impossible theory that it seems irresponsible, if not downright cruel, for Paramount to give this guy a show and drag Edwards' grandson around the country trying to 'prove' this nonsense. The show is well produced and from moment to moment you can let yourself get caught up in how reasonable Cameron makes it all sound, which I think really underlines the danger of true crime shows, that the audience is very susceptible to whatever narrative the producers want to advocate for, whether or not it's right.

i) "Splitting Up Together"
This ABC sitcom looks to find humor in the premise of a couple deciding to continue raising their kids in the same house after their marriage is over, which mostly makes me bitter that ABC canceled a better show that dealt with some of the same issues last year, "The Real O'Neals." I'm a weirdo who never really watched or liked the U.S. version of "The Office" but I always thought Jenna Fischer was cute. I'm beginning to suspect she's just not funny at all, though, there's something really bland about her screen presence.

j) "The Terror"
In this AMC show, and the novel it's based on, the true story of a failed Arctic expedition is embellished with the presence of a monster who killed some of the crew members. But you don't actually see the creature until like the 5th of 10 episodes, and I got as far as 3 episodes where I just got impatient and googled to see what it looks like and stopped watching the show. So that mystery and delayed gratification didn't really work for me. Maybe it would work in a movie where it's not revealed for the first hour, but 5 hours is a long time to wait.

k) "Siren"
A Freeform show about mermaids, could be alright but I feel like it takes itself a little too seriously. I'm still mad that Freeform cancelled "Stitchers," that was a show that balanced the high concept stuff with a sense of humor.

l) "One Strange Rock"
Will Smith has been one of the more charming and engaging performers in the world for about 3 decades now, but there's something about him when he's just 'himself' on camera, not a character but still kind of performing the role of a folksy likable person, that I find kind of unnerving, particularly on his recently popular Instagram account. So parts of this NatGeo he hosts are annoying to me like that, but mostly it's a pretty cool look at Earth from the perspective of several NASA astronauts.

m) "Life Sentence"
The CW has already been canceled, but I'm still gonna watch the episodes they've made that air through June because it was one of my favorite new shows of the spring and I think it deserved better. It's kind of settled into a frothy family drama where the pilot was more pointedly satirical of the 'romantically tragic young cancer patient' genre of story, but it's still a pretty entertaining show with a good cast.

n) "A Little Help With Carol Burnett"
There's worse things an comedy legend like Burnett could do with her time than a cute family-friendly show where she and other celebrities elicit cute advice from little kids. But I think what really pushes this show from sweet to weird is co-host Russell Peters and how eager and ill-prepared he is to be on a show about kids and how he comes off kind of over-the-top and creepy, actually worse than Ricky Gervais on ABC's somewhat similar "Child Support."

o) "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman"
A better example of how an aging comedy institution can while away their twilight years on Netflix. I like that these episodes have been doled out once a month, that about fits with how much I want to see it, in a good way, it's a minor occasional pleasure. Every interview has been really good, particularly the Tina Fey one, although the way Letterman broached the subject of women in comedy and how few women writers he had on his shows really exposed his outdated thinking in that area. I'm kind of bummed that they're wrapping up the season soon with Howard Stern, what an anticlimactic finale.

p) "Billions"
I'm really glad that "Billions" finally seems to be catching on and getting the attention it deserves in the third season, it really feels like the show keeps managing to ramp things up and be more gripping when I thought it would be hard to top the first season without writing themselves into a corner. I also was amused by the what become of the show's Elon Musk-esque billionaire space explorer.

q) "The Handmaid's Tale"
This show is so much more bleak than anything else on TV that I always really hesitate to put it on and just be prepared for something emotionally wrenching. That feeling was okay for one season but going into the second season I wonder how long we'll be able to really keep up with it. The second episode was especially depressing, but in a way I like the episodes that are heavier on flashbacks that kind of show you how things were normalized and accepted as they were starting to get really bad.

r) "Legion"
When I dislike a widely acclaimed show, my habit is to stick it out through the whole first season just to see if it pays off or neutralizes some of my criticisms. And even if that doesn't happen, I'll usually at least start the 2nd season to see if there's more to it, or to diss it one more time before I give up. So here I am with season 2 of "Legion," still preposterously pretentious and overpraised. The latest episodes I've watched have been a little more tolerable, but I still watch an entertaining scene with Bill Irwin or Hamish Linklater or Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement and wish they were on a show that wasn't made by Noah Hawley.

s) "Imposters"
One of last year's most underrated new shows, I like how they kicked off the second season by showing how Richard's wife left him, it would've been redundant to show it in the first season that started with her leaving Ezra, but now it's interesting to see the parallels and differences in how it went down.

t) "Genius: Picasso"
This follows the format of "Genius"'s first season about Einstein in going back and forth between the subject's later years, when he's portrayed by a movie star (Geoffrey Rush as Einstein, Antonio Banderas as Picasso), and his younger years, when he's portrayed by a relative unknown. And in both cases I kinda feel like I just end up waiting through the flashbacks to get to the 'real' story with the big name stars, and I feel bad that maybe I'm not giving the younger actors a chance.

u) "Puppy Dog Pals"
It's been a couple decades since comic Harland Williams peaked in lowbrow comedies like Half Baked, and I hadn't really kept track of him much since then. Turns out he's been doing a lot of voice work in kids' cartoons, which I realized when my toddler wanted to watch this obnoxiously cutesy show about pugs that he created.

v) "Empire"
"Empire" still gets good enough ratings that it'll keep slumping forward for a few more seasons, but it's really clear that the cultural phenomenon around the show's first couple seasons is completely dead at this point, it's just another bad soap opera at this point. I think the weirdest thing about it this point is how much you're getting, like, Demi Moore and Xzibit getting more screentime than some of the main characters the show started out with.

w) "Quantico"
This show started off pretty strong but he third season kicked off with kind of a shrug and I'm not shocked that it's been canceled. Onto bigger and better things for Priyanka Chopra, I hope.

x) "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
This might be the most consistently high placing show on my year-end lists for the past 5 years that it's been on the air, so obviously I'm pretty pleased that NBC picked it up after FOX canceled it. A lot of my favorite shows never get up to 5 seasons so I usually think it's kind of greedy to want much more than that, but it really feels like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is still at its peak or just reaching it, there have been some really brilliant recent episodes, particularly the one where Andre Braugher got in the interrogation room and evoked his "Homicide: Life On The Street" days. It's a shame that FOX seems to be ditching live action comedy these days, with "New Girl" and this off the network, they don't have any sitcoms from before 2017 now.

y) "The Last Man On Earth"
"The Last Man On Earth" got canceled after 4 seasons on the same day "BK99" got canceled after 5 seasons, to none of the same outcry, which I think underlined just how long this show kind of trudged along after peaking very early. But I've been pleasantly surprised that the last season was a bit above par, I've enjoyed the recent episodes.

z) "Suits"
I think the weirdest part about Meghan Markle becoming one of the most famous women in the world and 29 million Americans watching her wedding on TV is that the character she's played for 7 years got married on her final episode of the show a few weeks earlier and barely 1 million people watched it. This season was pretty good, but with two of the main characters leaving, a third going off to star in the dubiously named spinoff "Suits: Second City," and Katherine Heigl joining the cast for next season, it really feels like the show is over and USA is just in denial.
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