Television

The Flash (2014) s06e08 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2

So unlike previous seasons, the CW “Arrowverse” showrunners—at least on “Flash,” “Supergirl,” and to some extent “Batwoman”—are doing a pre-Crisis arc and a post-Crisis arc, which might end up making a lot of sense depending on how Crisis goes… so this episode is the big finale to the comically godawful Sendhil Ramamurthy arc. He gets to turn into a big skull-faced Venom CG monster at the end, but the monster still has his voice so even if the CG is bad, Ramamurthy is able to make it even worse with his performance.

Also with the end of the arc thing there are big action set pieces, except they’re not big. They’re fake big. There’s a zombie apocalypse as Ramamurthy infects people in Central City with brainwashed “Dark Flash”’s help. We don’t get to see the apocalypse because budget; instead it’s Candice Patton and Carlos Valdes arguing about what to do next. As Grant Gustin left Valdes in charge (for after Gustin dies in Crisis), Valdes thinks he’s got the best plan. Meanwhile Patton has a different plan, one where Gustin’s not acceptable collateral damage.

Both plans are stupid because the script’s stupid but Valdes’s performance is so lousy, it’s impossible to side with him. He and Danielle Panabaker desperately need to get off this show, both for the show and for themselves. Panabaker at least has some okay moments as (don’t call me Killer anymore) Frost, but when she reverts back to regular Caitlin she’s bad. Not sure why. It’s obvious why she doesn’t use her powers against the zombies when she and Jesse L. Martin go out to the street to fight them. Because budget. But why’s Panabaker so thin playing her regular role? Maybe because she’s so bored with it they had to make her a different character to keep her on the show?

As for Gustin, who last episode went over to the dark side, possibly willingly, he doesn’t get anything to do until the end of the episode when they’re all sitting around moping about Crisis. It’s a terrible scene, though possibly better than the previous episode where he frets about his mortality. I foolishly thought the show might have some good “Road to Crisis” stuff but it’s all crap. It’s not exactly disappointing but it’s surprisingly poorly executed.

The one technically good thing in the episode is when Cecile (Danielle Nicolet, who’s all the show’s got going on anymore) and Victoria Park have to escape from a building overrun with zombies. Nicolet uses her psychic abilities to sneak them out in a long “continuous” shot sequence, which is technically proficient but still bad.

Because budget.

It’s probably not a good idea the show set its whole season up as a jumping off point for after the crossover, but unless they clean house on the cast and get some better writing, “The Flash” has run out of steam.

Tom Cavanagh sucking the season certainly doesn’t help things.

The Flash (2014) s06e07 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1

“The Flash” seems to be in a race—no pun intended—to see how bad it can get before the Crisis crossover. This episode gives Grant Gustin his first showcase all season and instead of giving him scenes opposite the regular cast, like his wife, dad, friends, sticks him in a battle of the wills. On one side is Sendhil Ramamurthy, who—against all odds—is actually worse than usual. He’s Ultimate Venom. On the other side is Michelle Harrison, who sometimes plays Gustin’s dead mom, sometimes the Speed Force. Harrison’s always been a weak casting choice. She did a little better in the stunt as Earth-Three not-Barry’s mom earlier this season and it’s hard to fault her with anything this episode. The personified Speed Force is a really stupid idea. Not Harrison’s fault.

So while Ramamurthy tries to convince Gustin to embrace the Venom so Gustin doesn’t have to die in Crisis, Harrison tries to convince Gustin he needs to sacrifice himself because he’s Jesus.

Only he’s not Jesus. When “The Flash” introduced the idea of Gustin disappearing in the Crisis first season, it was an Easter egg. The way they’ve turned it into a plot point this season has been godawful but not surprisingly so. The “Arrowverse” Crisis for Gustin doesn’t have the traditional gravitas from the actual comic. It’s got the “Flash” gravitas, which is pretty slim stuff.

The episode opens with a lousy cliffhanger resolve—Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) versus Ramamurthy, but really just an excuse to get Sawyer out of the episode to… film crossover scenes? Because dramatically it’s crap. Though everything related to Ultimate Venom is crap.

Meanwhile, Candice Patton gets a big reporter arc. But not really. She’s just avoiding writing her obit of The Flash, which is that season one Crisis Easter egg, which makes sense because she has no idea how he’s going to die. Dumb.

Though Kayla Compton is working out all right, despite being somewhat pointless except to prod Patton into various actions.

It’d be nice if it were at least a good performance from Gustin, but Gustin’s either in dream sequences or possessed by Venom. It’s all so pointless, protracted, cheap, melodramatic, silly, and dumb, it really doesn’t work out.

Kind of like the show at this point. I keep catching myself thinking Crisis might fix the show’s problems but unless they’re replacing the writers are the crossover, I can’t see how it could.

The Flash (2014) s06e06 – License to Elongate

So Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) gets his own episode and it’s, for some reason, a James Bond send-up. He and Grant Gustin are in tuxedos trying to stop Bond villain wannabe (literally, the guy wants to be a Bond villain, it’s part of the narrative) Carlo Rota from selling a doomsday laser to some one percenters. It’s really dumb, but slightly charming just because Sawyer’s charming. Gustin can be charming too but not here. He just wants to Flash-up and take out the villains but after six seasons of fighting superpowered adversaries, he can’t take on a bunch of Eurotrash. It’s kind of humiliating, actually.

Meanwhile, Tom Cavanagh has a subplot about convincing Kayla Compton to use her superpowers to prevent the upcoming Crisis and maybe give the regular cast time to film their Crisis crossover appearances. It’s a lousy subplot mostly because it meanders and seems pointless. No one was missing Compton since her last appearance and Cavanagh’s “Nash Wells” adventurer character somehow manages to be even slighter than his Quebecois trash Sherlock Holmes riff last season.

Then Danielle Nicolet gets a subplot with Brandon McKnight about him waking up from a black hole-induced coma and trying to ask out the barista he likes. It’s not well-written—nothing in the episode is well-written—but Nicolet’s good and McKnight’s fine. Nicolet’s psychic powers are off because she feels lost in her career or something—doesn’t matter—but it works out thanks to the actors.

In fact, the episode ends on solid enough ground if it weren’t for big bad and terrible actor Sendhil Ramamurthy showing up to set up the cliffhanger, it might even be a success. Or as close as season six “Flash” is going to get to a successful episode. It’s really too bad for Sawyer, who props up the show quite a bit these days. Maybe he’s a big James Bond fan?

McKnight’s a whole lot less annoying than regular cast member Carlos Valdes these days… maybe the show’s prepping for Valdes and Danielle Panabaker (who directed the episode and does a fine job) to depart.

Fingers crossed anyway.

Batwoman (2019) s01e08 – A Mad Tea-Party

This episode has Sam Littlefield’s character—just the character, not Littlefield himself, which is great because Littlefield’s awful—but Littlefield’s character is impersonating Dougray Scott, who’s also terrible. Only when Scott’s pretending to be Littlefield pretending to be Scott, Scott’s almost all right. Scott has some regular scenes too. Big weepy scenes where a better actor would be able to get a lot of mileage out of the emotion but Scott’s just terrible. Some of it’s the writing of course; Scott’s a brutal mercenary the show wants us to “like.” Similarly his wife Elizabeth Anweis is an arms manufacturer—one of the subplots involves Anweis making chemical weapons—so it’s difficult to find the characters sympathetic. Without realizing it (because the show, a true CW show, is all about gaping at ostentatious displays of wealth), the only humanizing thing in the show is Nicole Kang.

Kang’s great this episode, even though there’s plenty of nonsense for her to act through. While she’s got drama with “dad” Scott and mom Anweis, Ruby Rose is busying trying to contain psychotic villain and her twin sister Alice (Rachel Skarsten, who’s still good but not as good as usual). The way things shake out Rose doesn’t just play second or third fiddle, she ends up fifth—behind Kang, Skarsten, Meagan Tandy (who doesn’t do much this episode but is in it a lot because she and husband Greyston Holt need to fight about Tandy’s relationship with Rose), and then Rose’s fight double. There’s a great Batwoman action sequence where it’s very obviously not Rose. But great Batwoman action. Pretty much makes the episode.

Then there’s some tragedy and protracted final dramatics, along with a bad scene between Scott and Rose. Some of the writing—from Nancy Kiu—is really strong, but then most of it’s not. And the plotting is silly and manipulative, especially the cliffhanger. Of course, then there’s the added cliffhanger setting up Crisis, which takes over the show next episode at the worst time. This episode irrevocably changes the ground situation, next week’s a crossover, then it’s basically on hiatus for a month.

Also weird is how last episode established a new normal for Rose and the supporting players and this episode flips that switch in a third direction.

But, hey, the Batwoman action sequence was awesome.

Superstore (2015) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ve been wanting to watch “Superstore” on a recommendation and, starting it, I realized it’s very much my bag. It takes place in a very confined setting—a big box store, which is also very much my bag as I’ve always been intrigued at the idea of the department store and its descendants. I blame Mannequin. Also, highly recommend Robert Hendrickson’s The Grand Emporiums.

Anyway, “Superstore.” What a great cast. I’ve never seen anything with America Ferrera, except her guest spots on “Good Wife,” which I don’t remember but she’s fantastic. She’s a floor manager, ten years in at the store, serious but good-hearted. She’s got a goofus store manager (Mark McKinney, broad but likable in that Mark McKinney way) and a way too gung ho supervisor (Lauren Ash, who appears to be the “Dwight” of the show and is the only thing I’m not onboard with after this episode), but she does her job and cares about her coworkers.

The episode—and, as its the pilot, the show—is framed around Ben Feldman joining the team. He’s good looking and smart and conceited about the latter; he doesn’t seem aware of the former, which helps with his likability. He almost immediately starts crushing on Ferrera and most of his screwups in the episode are to impress her. Burgeoning subplot. But also Ash is mad crushing on him and seems primed to make a fool of herself in her pursuit, hence not being onboard with the character yet.

Also in the main cast are Colton Dunn, the only Black guy, who’s appropriately aware of it, and Nichole Bloom, as the good-hearted, pregnant, and too ditzy for the pregnancy to be a great idea pretty girl. The show gives Dunn all the great observation lines and Bloom gives it the uncomplicated heart. Ferrera is the layered heart.

Also Nico Santos starts at the same day as Feldman and sees it as a competition to be the better new person.

The cast is incredibly likable, the situations the sitcom gins up are funny, Ferrera’s great (she’s also a producer)… it’s one of those sitcoms you could easily marathon without paying attention to the clock.

I only stopped after the first episode because it was after midnight.

Last thing—Ruben Fleischer directs (and executive produces). Fleischer’s a lot better at sitcom directing than Venom directing. A lot better.

Supergirl (2015) s05e07 – Tremors

In an incredible turn of events Mitch Pileggi as the big bad—Leviathan—is actually kind of fun. Pileggi’s a millions of years old alien (he was around to see the dinosaurs get it) who for some reason has hung out on Earth and run a secret society. It’s not clear why. It’s also not clear why his army of regular people followers include humans who can’t outsmart Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). Lena’s smart and all, but shouldn’t a millions of years old secret society have better tech than her?

So, Leviathan. Doesn’t exactly pay off and Pileggi doesn’t look quite Rock-like in his Black Adam-esque outfit (and he reminds a lot of Vandal Savage on “Legends”), but it’s actually all right.

Shame the rest of the episode digs deeper into the established pit.

Lena’s also on Team Supergirl for a scene; just enough to remind how good McGrath is with the rest of the cast. She and Jesse Rath’s two or three line banter is more personality than the show’s had in ages. But then her arc is all about her telling Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) they’re now sworn enemies. It’s an awful scene, hinging entirely on Lena having iced Lex for her friends and then it turns out the friends all lied to her. How the show has ruined Lena is one of its many significant faults (ditto not just having McGrath and Benoist get together romantically instead of queer-baiting for, what, three seasons now). It’s not like McGrath is good in the villain reveal (because she’s not exactly a villain, just a pissed off gal pal). Benoist’s a little better but not very concerned why Lena wants a weapon capable of killing everyone on the planet.

If the writing were better, who knows, it might be a good scene.

Speaking of bad scenes, Alex (Chyler Leigh) blathering on to girlfriend Azie Tesfai in an unending declaration of devotion ought to, really, get someone a pink slip. It’s so bad. So bad. Leigh’s not strong enough to carry the scenes and Tesfai isn’t ready for such a big role. Though, again, might just be the terrible writing.

Meanwhile J’onn (David Harewood) has a ludicrous scene with Ghost Dad Carl Lumbly, who I’m glad is getting a check and all, but the Martian family trouble subplot is, well, the pits. It’s perplexing why anyone thinks the scenes are a) a good idea or b) effective. It’s terrible stuff.

Though I guess Phil LaMarr is a little better as Harewood’s brother this episode, though it’s not a high bar.

I figured this episode would be bad but it’s even worse than imagined. The Lena payoff is a complete fail for the show, the characters, and McGrath.

All Rise (2019) s01e08 – Maricela and the Desert

There’s a road trip to Vegas this episode, which feels like a trope. It’s not a particularly engaging Vegas road trip, possibly because Wilson Bethel and J. Alex Brinson don’t have any chemistry together, possibly because the whole thing hinges on Brinson having to talk to a sheriff’s deputy Black man to Black man after Bethel’s just too white for it. Brinson and the deputy’s talk then gets into this whole Black men in law enforcement arena where “All Rise” revs up its performative centrism. It’s particularly eh because it’s the only thing Brinson does on the road trip. He’s just there to be a Black guy. Oh, and to talk about Brinson’s brewing romance with public defender Jessica Camacho.

Meanwhile Camacho is defending a murder suspect in Simone Missick’s courtroom and “All Rise” just doesn’t seem very serious with the murder trial. It’s unbelievable defendant Sebastian Sozzi is going to turn out guilty because his kid, Eva Ariel Binder, loves him so much. And he loves the kid too. How could he have possibly murdered the mom. Is it going to turn out White ADA Kelly Frye and Black detective Eugene Byrd maybe railroaded the Hispanic guy? Through… cultural ignorance no less.

It’s a weird episode with the murder trial. Missick’s all about protecting Binder from the system, which is cute and all but the mom’s dead or missing (Camacho’s already been busted bragging about how it’ll be a slam dunk because there’s no body in front of the kid), and it just doesn’t seem like “All Rise” is serious enough to be taken seriously when it asks to be. It’s not even clear it wants to be taken seriously, kind of like defendant Sozzi, who’s uncontrollable when Binder’s around. I don’t think Missick ever puts him in contempt because of course he’s going to be uncontrollably emotional given his pleas of innocence.

The episode ends with Bethel and Missick hanging out, which used to be one of the things the show got right. Now they seem like strangers, which might just be the writing, but… the show’s bland in all the wrong places. Camacho’s nearing annoying, the guest stars aren’t of the pilot’s caliber, and the writing is just way too flat. Instead of improving, “All Rise” is floundering, wasting both Missick and Bethel’s time. Especially Bethel’s this episode.

Evil (2019) s01e08 – 2 Fathers

So this episode has—you guessed it—two dads in it. Well, it’s probably got more than two dads in it, but only two where it’s important they’re dads.

The first dad is Vondie Curtis-Hall as Mike Colter’s dad. They estranged because it’s TV and there’s no way a guy’s not estranged with his dad if he’s on TV. The show doesn’t really get into the big stuff of the estrangement, but it appears to be over Colter’s religiosity. Not about Curtis-Hall running a hippie commune with his two wives (I was going to name the actors but there’s no point, they’re immaterial to the episode—the actors’ performances, not the characters… though sort of the characters).

Curtis-Hall is… sort of a guest star. Sort of. I mean, I like Vondie Curtis-Hall but it’s a nothing part; he looks great for seventy too, like they had to make him up to appear older. Colter and Katja Herbers head to the farm to see him because Colter sees Curtis-Hall is using the “Evil” demon sigils in his art. They drop acid, it’s a whole thing. Colter and Curtis-Hall bond over being Black men (sort of); what’s most interesting about that part is it’s more important they bond over being Black men in America than actual demons overrunning the planet.

Herbers just gets messed up and horny for Colter, which is particularly bad because her husband—the other dad in the title—is back.

Patrick Brammall plays the dad. It’s good the show found someone who sucks as bad as the kids to play the father. They really choked on the casting. Also Christine Lahti is tripled down on being the devil’s willing concubine. Kind of hoping she just goes all in on the bad by the end of the season, maybe kill one of the grandkids, who knows. It’d be something.

No Michael Emerson, which is fine. Aasif Mandvi has a romance subplot with returning guest star Nicole Shalhoub, where she reveals she has a really silly woo secret. Kind of hope she’s never back again because “Evil” will just waste her.

“Evil” wastes everyone.

Becker (1998) s01e12 – Love! Lies! Bleeding!

Either I made the comment you knew “Becker” was troubled when not even a solid sitcom director like Andy Ackerman could make an episode work or I meant to make that comment. This episode has Ackerman back and, this time, he’s able to compensate for some of writer Michael Markowitz’s stumbles. Not the misogynist stuff with Alex Désert but there are only so many miracles one can work. So, this episode’s the Valentine’s Day episode and Ted Danson hates Valentine’s Day. He has a rant about its suspect history, which doesn’t seem—based on a Wikipedia glance—to be accurate. If Danson’s going to rant about something, he’s got to be right. Otherwise he’s just a blowhard. The point is he’s right, not he’s a blowhard. Or at least when it works.

But it doesn’t work with Désert or Terry Farrell this episode. Danson implies Désert’s girlfriend is ugly and Désert freaks out, the unspoken joke (for a while) Désert’s blind so what does he care. He cares because he’s a misogynist and so’s Danson. Joy. When Danson later comforts a female patient, it takes a moment before he’s obviously sincere. For a second, you’re expecting him to dig in and humiliate her because… it’s a laugh somehow? At least in Markowitz’s mind.

The episode is Danson running into different kinds of Valentine’s Day goings on, but not specific to the holiday, just romance in general. There’s the girlfriend who stabs the cheating boyfriend, there’s the teenager who wants a vasectomy so he can have unsafe sex, there’s the female patient, who’s allergic to roses. Curmudgeon Danson just can’t get away from signs of love, not even at the office where Shawnee Smith has a whole relationship in one day over the phone (minus the consummating, which might be for the best but also maybe not) and Hattie Winston gets to… talk about her offscreen plans and shake her head at Smith and Danson. Not a great episode for Winston. Or Smith. But Smith at least gets material.

The episode’s got some successful moments, including the return of Saverio Guerra, whose every moment is fantastic. He’s back to torment Farrell and probably a little worse of a guy than Danson and Désert, but not much.

The show’s bottom is higher than before, which is good.

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

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