TV Diary

a) "You"
This Lifetime show is interesting because it feels like it's molding the dark/smart sensibility of their recent move into scripted dramas like "UnReal" but it's also kind of a deconstruction of tropes of all the Lifetime original movies about women in releationships with obsessive and abusive men. The entire show is narrated from the perspective of Penn Badgley's character, a book store clerk who has a meet cute encounter with a customer and starts cyber stalking her, and then starts actually stalking her, and by the end of the episode he's bludgeoned and imprisoned the girl's on-again-off-again boyfriend. There's a meta moment where a kid in the bookstore is reading Frankenstein and musing about how you get to read the story from the monster's perspective and they kind of wink to the audience and acknowledge the possibility that telling the story from the bad guy's POV, and giving him a sense of humor and some selective emotional intelligence is risky or irresponsible. I don't know, though, this show might turn out really clever but it's really on a tightrope where it could turn out awful or simply not sustain itself beyond one season.

b) "Kidding"
I've long been kind of a skeptic of Jim Carrey's serious roles -- it's not so much that I think he can't pull them off as that I think what he does in comedy takes as much skill as any drama and at a certain point he seemed to be chasing Oscar roles that didn't suit his abilities or his screen presence. But "Kidding" is an ideal vehicle for him at this point in his career, playing a Mr. Rogers-type veteran children's entertainer who's dealing with the death of his son and the end of his marriage and a kind of professional crisis. Unfortunately, it kind of feels like I'm marking off squares on a sad prestige cable dramedy bingo card when I talk about the plot of the show, even with Michel Gondry direction on the first couple episodes, it feels like something I've seen on TV many times before. I like the cast that includes Judy Greer and Frank Langello, though, it has potential.

c) "Sorry For Your Loss"
I can't deal with all these new 'portals' for TV shows, like even Facebook has scripted programming with famous actors now? But OK, this Facebook series is pretty good. I mostly know Elizabeth Olsen from the Marvel movies where she seems kind of dour and out of place, but she's got the acting chops for a show like this about a young woman a few minutes after her husband's death, this raw nerve performance with little unexpected moments of levity that keep it from being overwhelming.

d) "Forever"
I adore Maya Rudolph and am, frankly, a little tired of Fred Armisen, but they generally bring out the best in each other and in this show they both play kind of normal nice people for once to surprisingly good effect. It's a little funny that a couple years after the premiere of "The Good Place," we have another sitcom that takes place in a wacky imagining of the afterlife created by some other people who wrote and produced "Parks & Recreation." Not that it's otherwise too similar a show, "Forever" definitely has its own unique concept and comedic rhythm. One thing I found refreshing is how long "Forever" takes to basically reveal its premise -- the 3rd episode is essentially where a lot of people would've started the pilot episode at, and I kind of like that you got the slightly confusing first two episodes first setting the stage instead of getting that stuff as flashbacks later.  Noah Robbins could be the breakout star of this show, his character is so strange and funny.

e) "The First"
I can't stand Sean Penn so it pains me on some level how much I like this Hulu show about the first manned mission to Mars in the near future. I worried it would be too similar to The Martian but tonally and in terms of where in the story they are, it's plenty different. All the little issues of procedure and personnel and mishaps and tragedies that kind of undo one attempt at the mission and then set them on the course for another are kind of gripping. The last episode I watched, the 5th episode, was really kind of a drag and had a different director with a much slower, more portentous sensibility than the other episodes, though.

f) "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan"
The various Jack Ryan movies were ubiquitous pop culture wallpaper in the '90s and I don't really have any opinion on them or John Krasinski assuming the role. What I've seen seems like a decent enough spy show, though.

g) "Rel"
Lil Rel is part of the new generation of standups who have rapper names and you just kind of wonder if they fell into comedy because they couldn't rap. I liked him in small supporting roles in things lik e"The Carmichael Show" and Get Out but I was skeptical about him getting a starring vehicle and this is really not it. The premise of the pilot with his wife leaving him for his barber is funny on paper but they just run it into the ground, and it's a single camera show with a really loud laugh track, so it just feels like it's trying to force you to laugh along with every lame joke.

h) "The Purge"
I've only watched the original Purge movie but generally I don't much care for the franchise. The idea of doing it as a series is not a bad one, since you get a little more time to set the scene and get to know some characters before they're plunged into danger, but so far the series hasn't really hooked me.

i) "Mayans M.C."
Given the sketchy racial politics of "Sons of Anarchy" and a lot of its characters, there's something pretty cool about FX doing a big spinoff series with pretty much an entirely latino cast. That said, I'm not chomping at the bit for more of this world after 7 seasons of "Sons," and without any of the characters I liked from that show I haven't really latched onto any of the stories here so far. I do like that it seems like Kurt Sutter is running out of obvious rustic Americana for the soundtrack and set a biker brawl to a Devo song, though.

j) "The Innocents"
I watched a couple episodes of this but I feel like it's already just blended in with my vague memories of every other dreary European supernatural drama on Netflix.

k) "Rob Riggle's Ski Master Academy"
Sony's streaming service Crackle seems more pointless than ever now that they've lost their one well known show, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," to Netflix. But just as "SuperMansion" was an animated series that gave them an attempt at grabbing the Adult Swim demographic, they seem to be emulating Adult Swim's wacky loud live action sitcoms with "Rob Riggle's Ski Master Academy" (originally developed under the title "Rob Riggle's Jet Ski Academy," because what an important difference). I think Rob Riggle is still Rob Riggle the actor in this show, but he's also known for jet skis? I don't know. There's a lot of funny people in the show like Eliza Coupe and Samm Levine and it's enjoyable enough but it's all just so self-consciously ridiculous and forgettable.

l) "The Miniaturist"
This BBC adaptation of a 2014 novel about 1680s Amsterdam aired on PBS in America as part of "Masterpiece" (formerly "Masterpiece Theatre"), I only got through the first episode, I guess "Masterpiece Theatre" things are still a little too stuffy for my tastes.

m) "America To Me"
This Showtime docuseries from Hoop Dreams director Steve James is really interesting, they took cameras into a very 'progressive' and 'integrated' public school in a Chicago suburb and looks at the problems with race and inequality that exist in that environment. But what I really like is how they don't tackle these issues in a dry clinical way, they let the cameras roll so much that eventually people stop being self-conscious about being on TV and they get these great slice of life moments of teenagers being teenagers and that's when you really start to see some of the truth of the situation.

n) "Norm MacDonald Has A Show"
Norm MacDonald's unique comedic voice has kind of been in need of a good stable venue for 2 decades since his "Saturday Night Live" tenure was cut short. Getting his own show on the famously hands-off Netflix seemed promising, and then he managed to give an interview that stirred up the biggest backlash of his entire career a couple days before the show premiered. The most positive thing I can say about this situation is that "Norm MacDonald Has A Show" is not the vehicle that MacDonald's fans have been waiting for, so if it becomes a casualty of the controversy, it's really okay. It's such a totally half-assed attempt at a talk show that it makes most no-name podcasts seem polished by comparison. I'm so used to seeing MacDonald go on talk shows and kind of flummox the hosts with his odd digressions that's disorienting to see MacDonald play the host while his guests try to hold the show together.

o) "State Of The Culture"
Joe Budden ending up with a better career as a professional talker than he ever had as a rapper is a weird little media narrative that people love to talk about. But at the end of the day he's just a moderately polished bullshitter who people love to watch yell and rant, he doesn't really have anything of value to say. And his show on Revolt is especially awkward because he seems to have decided he needs to reign in the persona that got him there on the podcast and "Everyday Struggle" and be more of a proper host, so the other people on his panel, particularly Remy Ma, kind of get to lead the discussion and actually

p) "The Shop"
Beyond his incredible athletic career, LeBron James has been so disciplined in how he's navigated his life as a public figure, always choosing his words carefully and sidestepping or capably addressing every controversy that pops up. So it's very interesting to see him take these progressively bigger steps towards really embracing his celebrity and doing more film and TV projects, especially this HBO show where he kind of holds court in a freewheeling barbershop conversation with other celebrities. The one episode they've aired so far was pretty enjoyable, with some predictably awkward moments centered around Jon Stewart being the group's token white guy. It was better than I expected, honestly.

q) "Warriors Of Liberty City"
Another recent LeBron James production, this Showtime documentary series follows a youth football program that produces a lot of NFL recruits. It's not especially interesting subject matter to me, but I like how they're telling the story and looking at these kids as people and not just as athletes and potential NFL stars.

r) "Unspeakable Crime: The Killing Of Jessica Chambers"
I don't remember ever hearing about the 2014 murder case this Oxygen miniseries is about, a white teenager who was burned to death in Mississippi, but it's a pretty crazy story with a lot of layers to it, I'm kind of over the 'true crime documentary' genre but it was pretty interesting.

s) "American Vandal"
Probably my favorite thing to come out of the whole true crime doc trend was the satire of it in the first season of "American Vandal," so I was delighted to hear they were coming back for another season. I like that they kept Peter and Sam as the documentarians and had them go to someone else's school to solve a different crime, so they kept a foot in the first season with a mostly new cast. I've only watched a couple episodes but I like it so far, it's hard to top Jimmy Tatro's performance in the first season but the prime suspect in this season played by Travis Tope is really great so far.

t) "Transformers: Cyberverse"
I've been watching Transformers cartoons since I was a kid and they keep making new ones every couple years that my kids watch now. I don't think they like "Cyberverse" as much as "Robots In Disguise" or "Rescue Bots," but it's been getting some play in my house, I think from an animation standpoint it's one of the best-looking Transformers shows to date.

u) "Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"
Likewise, I've been watching Ninja Turtles stuff since I was a kid, and they keep making new versions. The last "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" that ran on Nickelodeon from 2012 to 2017 was by far the best incarnation of TMNT to date, so I was skeptical about it being succeeded by anything. "Rise" is a lot more cartoony and while it has some funny moments and there are some changes I like about it (April O'Neil is black for the first time since the original Mirage comics), the animation style is just too weird. Also Raph and Donny have masks that go over the top of their heads like durags, it's weird.

v) "Total DramaRama"
Apparently "Total Drama" is a Canadian cartoon that has been running with various spinoffs for the past decade, but I never heard of it before "Total DramaRama," which turns the characters from the original show into toddlers and puts them in a daycare. So it's kinda confusing, like watching "Muppet Babies" without ever having seen the Muppets in any other context. But my kids love it and quote it constantly, go figure.

w) "The Deuce"
The first season of "The Deuece" took place in 1971/72 and the new season jumps forward to 77/78, which is interesting because I kind of assumed it was always gonna be a show about the '70s when it might end up eventually having half or most of its run in the '80s. Mostly it just means you get to see everybody a few years down the line and also get some perfunctory punk rock era cultural context, which is kind of tired to see at this point, but I like that they made Elvis Costello's "This Year's Girl" the new theme song of the show. There's a loose theme of the female characters having more agency in this season, which is cool to see, but, as with the later seasons of "Halt And Catch Fire," I wonder if there's a historical basis for that or if it's kind of like a wishful thinking take on a male-dominated industry.

x) "Atypical"
I came away from the first season of "Atypical" with very mixed feelings about it, but coming back for a second season, I do like these characters, it's kind of nice to see them again.

y) "Killjoys"
My wife has always loved this show but she was saying the other night that she kind of misses the early seasons. I kind of get it, they did more goofy space bounty hunter adventures early on. Maybe next year they'll get back to that for the final season.

z) "Shameless"
I always thought it was ridiculous that William H. Macy consistently gets Emmy nominations for his one-note top billing role in "Shameless" why Emmy Rossum thanklessly carries the show. But now Rossum is officially leaving the show after this season so I'm sure I'll never get my wish that they kill off Frank and let Macy go back to his superior film work. It's funny though, for such a bawdy unsentimental show, it's kind of sweet to watch all these kids on the show grow up over the last 8 or so years.
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