TV Diary

a) "Succession"
The most amusing description I've seen of this show is "Arrested Development" as a prestige drama but I've also seen it compared to "Billions," and it's kind of an unfortunate uphill battle for a new show to be compared with one that just finished a great 3rd season more popular than ever (kind of fitting, though, since "Succession" is produced by The Big Short director Adam McKay and "Billions" is made by people behind another 2008 financial crisis movie, Too Big To Fail). But it certainly is interesting to see multiple shows on TV right now about petty vindictive NYC billionaires while one is running the world, and I can see how that might rub some people the wrong way. I really really enjoyed the first two episodes of "Succession," though, a lot of shows, even good ones, take time for the characters to feel like people and not just archetypes, but everyone feels really fully formed already and often really funny. I particularly like the way the show gets at how adults interacting with their siblings and parents can often kind of revert to acting like children, and Kieran Culkin has this perfect bratty little brother energy ingrained in him. Sarah Snook's character, Shiv, might be the only somewhat likable character so far, but I feel like nobody's going to get through this season unscathed.

b) "Pose"
The recent New Yorker profile of Ryan Murphy helped me see him in a bit of a new light and appreciate what he's trying to do with his newest show, "Pose," and what he tried to do in some of his other shows that I had mixed feelings about. "Pose" is in some ways really ambitious and gorgeous and does an admirable job of making an era and a subculture accessible as a big lavish cable drama. But some of the dialogue has such an afterschool special blandness to it, like they're so consumed with sending the right message to teens who might really need a show like this to speak with them, that they're using the broadest strokes possible. Also it seems like kind of a sad compromise that the white cis cast members (Evan Peters, Kate Mara and James Van Der Beek) get top billing even though you can often go like a half hour without seeing any of them and the show is clearly not really about them.

c) "American Woman"
It's funny how period pieces can kind of shift actors into an era you wouldn't expect to see them in; Alicia Silverstone and Mena Sevari will probably always be primarily remembered as iconic '90s teenagers, so it feels weird to see them not just grown up but playing '70s housewives in "American Woman." It's good to see them again, particularly Silverstone, who certainly is overdue for a meaty adult role like this just based on the perfection of her performance in Clueless. The first episode of "American Woman" sets the stage well, although I'm not sure if it's going to lean more in the direction of a dramedy or the kind of half hour dramas I was recently praising Starz for excelling at.

d) "C.B. Strike"
Apparently J.K. Rowling has been regularly publishing mystery novels about a detective named Cormoran Strike for the past 5 years, and this is the BBC series based on them. It kind of feels like the 'eccentric detective and their normal even-tempered assistant trying to keep up with them' trope is so hoary that I don't know how much they can put their own stamp on it, although I like Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger in those roles, the first episode was promising enough.

e) "The Break with Michelle Wolf"
I was a huge fan of Michelle Wolf from her first appearance on "The Daily Show" (although that was barely a year and a half ago, which gives you an idea of how hungry networks are to give "TDS" alumni their own weekly topical shows). And I thought she handled the White House Correspondents Dinner and its attendant controversy really well, so I've been very excited to see this show. Its format feels a little stiff compared to Wolf's proudly brash sense of humor and delivery, but I think they're finding their footing quickly, the second episode was markedly funnier than the first and the third held onto those improvements.

f) "Reverie"
This show has an interesting premise, where people get 'lost' in an immersive virtual reality program and a former hostage negotiator takes a job where she goes into the program to get them out. The idea has a bit of "Westworld" to it, a bit of The Cell, a bit of my beloved canceled Freeform show "Stitchers." But it's not as good as any of those things, it just ends up feeling like any other slow, portentous NBC procedural. Sarah Shahi, as always, deserves a better vehicle.

g) "Picnic At Hanging Rock"
An Amazon miniseries about a group of Australian schoolgirls who mysteriously disappear circa 1900. I like the hazy dreamlike aesthetic of the show but it's also probably served to kind of distance me from really having much of an interest in the story or the characters, it feels very much like an aesthetic statement more than a story for a show based on a novel.

h) "Joe Pera Talks With You"
Joe Pera is a 30ish comic whose act revolves around him talking in a very slow, folksy way, like a grandpa. His Adult Swim show kind of puts his onstage persona into the context of him being a midwestern schoolteacher who hosts some kind of nature program, but the show frequently breaks format like it's being 'interrupted' by his day-to-day life that we get increasingly prolonged glimpses of. I spent a lot of the first few episodes trying to sort out whether Pera was supposed to be as old as he looks or as old as he sounds, especially since he hangs out with a bunch of middle-aged guys. But then there's a romantic subplot with another young teacher that kind of resolved that question. It's an amusing, creative little show but I'm glad the episodes are only 13 minutes long, it's very less-is-more.

i) "Just Another Immigrant"
"Just Another Immigrant" is about a comic who's popular in the U.K., Romesh Ranganathan, booking a show at the Greek Theater in L.A. despite being relatively unknown in the U.S. and then setting about trying to figure out how to sell tickets. In a weird way it's like an inverted version of the plot of Get Him To The Greek. Ranganathan is entertainingly deadpan and the concept of the show is charming, but it's also one of those 'reality' shows where a lot of the scenes and conflicts feel very plainly staged and to some degree scripted, which I tend to find a little grating.

j) "The Fourth Estate"
Showtime's 4-part miniseries about the New York Times embeds a camera crew in the newsroom for crucial moments during the first year of the Trump administration. And it's interesting to watch since a lot of NYT reporters have basically become celebrities in that time period without being on TV that much and now you kind of get to see them do their job. In the first 3 episodes you frequently see Glenn Thrush, just depicted as a good reporter doing his job, but you kinda know what's coming in the 4th episode when sexual harassment allegations against him come out and he gets reassigned (although of course he never lost his job and the show kind of lets NYT off the hook). I kinda hope Showtime keeps this going with more episodes in the future like "The Circus" and it's not just a one-off.

k) "Wrong Man"
This Showtime series follows a team of civil rights attorneys and experts who are investigating possible wrongful convictions and figuring out if someone is really innocent. A lot of the true crime docs and podcasts these days are about stories like this, purporting to get to the real truth beneath the law's version of events, but I find myself concerned about the journalistic rigor or lack thereof in a lot of them. This show seems to be doing its due diligence and letting experts and the evidence they find take the lead, though.

l) "The Who Was? Show"
This Netflix show is basically a cast of teens doing sketch comedy as historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. I watched it kind of trying to sort out if it's something that might entertain and/or educate my older son, but I don't know, I don't think it would appeal to him anymore than it did to me.

m) "The Rain"
This Danish sci-fi series about an apocalyptic virus carried in the rain is of the better foreign language Netflix series I've watched, although I'm still kind of a lazy ugly American who doesn't like to watch stuff with subtitles that much and probably won't finish the season.

n) "The Four: Battle For Stardom"
The first season of "The Four" concluded in February a little chaotically, with one of the show's judges Charlie Walk abruptly leaving the show amidst sexual assault allegations, and we haven't really heard much from the season's winner yet. Nonetheless, the show got good ratings, so it's back for a 2nd season four months later, so they can keep cranking out TV whether or not they crank out pop stars, just like "The Voice." Last week's season premiere included Rebecca Black of "Friday" fame trying to redeem herself and become a real singer, and she's pretty good now,
The first challenger who knocked out one of the starting four this season, Majeste, was really impressive, one of the most engaging performers I've seen on the show so far. But last season, nobody who was in the first episode was in the finale, so I feel like it's kind of bad odds if you get in there early.

o) "Ghosted"
FOX has had a strong lineup of live action comedies for the last few years, but that seemed to abruptly change this spring, with "New Girl" airing its final season and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" surprisingly getting canceled by FOX and picked up by NBC. That leaves "Ghosted" as the only non-animated FOX comedy that's been renewed for the 2018-2019 season, but even that show hasn't been treated terribly well -- it premiered last October and ran 8 episodes through November, then one more in January, and now in June they have finally begun burning off the last 7 episodes of the first season in the summer. I like the show fine, but it's been a bit hard to really get attached to it with such a sporadic schedule. The two episodes that have run recently were really good, though, kind of ramped up the spy mystery aspect of the show in a clever way.

p) "I'm Dying Up Here"
The first season of "I'm Dying Up Here" was good but flawed, and I was interested to hear that the network wanted to retool it a little for the second season. The season premiere revealed that both of the female leads, Melissa Leo and Ari Graynor, both have children they're estranged from, which wasn't even hinted at in the first season, so that felt like kind of a forced way to give those characters more complexity. But those storylines have been handled pretty well. so it's alright. I think my favorite change from the first season is the addition of Xosha Roquemore from "The Mindy Project" to the cast, it took me a few scenes to recognize her in the '70s attire and hair.

q) "Westworld"
The season ain't over yet, but I feel like it's only really been grabbing me with interesting sort of standalone stories every second or third episode, the more the show zooms out for you to see the whole big chessboard of interlocking stories, the less interesting I find it. The show is full of great actors, just give them a bunch of juicy scenes in a row and let them fill the figurative and literal space of these big huge sets and long episodes.

r) "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
In my futile regular objections to the Netflix model of releasing whole seasons of shows at once, let me praise Netflix for breaking the 4th and final season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" into 2 batches, with the first 6 episodes out now and the rest due later this year. I wish all their shows were rolled out like that. The new episodes are great as usual, Carol Kane or Titus Burgess line of dialogue is gold. But the episode that was a parody of true crime docs kinda felt like too little too late after "American Vandal."
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