Posts Tagged ‘TV’

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “A New Man”

October 19, 2017

Well, that was fast. As predicted, Suburra: Blood on Rome’s relatively placid seventh episode was just the calm before the storm. “A New Man,” its eighth installment, ends the breather by piling up the betrayals, revelations, and patricide so high that you practically need to blackmail the Vatican for a building permit. We’re getting close to the end now, and it shows.

I reviewed episode eight of Suburra: Blood on Rome for Decider. This show fuckin’ rules.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four

October 19, 2017

Twitter is a portal straight into hell, but every so often a li’l angel of insight manages to spread its wings and fly out of its maw. So I offer a sincere thank you to the twitter userwho put into words something I might not have been able to put my finger on otherwise: The more like a procedural Mindhunter becomes, the better it gets. Sure enough, the show’s fourth episode spends nearly all of its time watching Holden Ford, Bill Tench, and their new partner Wendy Carr at work, and it’s the best episode yet.

I reviewed episode 4 of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s like VH1 Classic Albums, but about the concept of serial killers.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Last Customer”

October 17, 2017

Episode seven in fact marks a significant slowdown in the heretofore breakneck speed of the story. A calm before the storm? Perhaps. Whatever the case, it’s more about consolidating the status quo than shaking things up….That’s not to say that it’s boring. Come on, this is Suburra—it doesn’t do boring.

Not a ton to say about episode seven of Suburra: Blood on Rome, which I reviewed for Decider. But the review contains some gifs that’ll show you what I mean about how the show’s visual component makes it feel alive even in a breather of an episode like this one.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three

October 17, 2017

Kemper [is] back for another round of interviews so thick with gallows humor you can almost see the nooses. “Big Ed” had a sick sense of humor during his murders, one he can’t help but chuckle about to himself as he recounts the details to Bill and Holden—like how he shoved his mother’s severed vocal cords into the garbage disposal to shut her up permanently, or how he buried the decaptiated heads of his victims face up near her window, because “Mom always liked people to look up to her.”

These exchanges say a lot about both the killer and his questioners. Ed thinks he’s winning them over with his gruesome gags, but he’s really revealing the depths of his disregard for other people: The women he killed meant nothing more to him than becoming potential punchlines for sick jokes played at his hated mother’s expense. Bill and Holden, meanwhile, react with the reluctant but irrepressible exclamations you might hear from the crowd at comedy club where the stand-up said something particularly off-color—until they get to their car afterwards and simply stare at each other in disbelief. They’re good enough at their jobs to instinctively transform their shock and disgust into reactions that will keep them on Ed’s good side, so they can keep getting what they want from him in turn.

Bill spells all this out to Holden on the flight home, in one of the show’s best conversations yet about the nature of their job. “There’s nothing behind Kemper’s eyes,” he says. “It’s like standing near a black hole. And he thinks we’re his friends!” He pauses. “Well, he thinks you’re his friend.” Then he leans in to Holden for the conclusion: “Which makes you a pretty great FBI agent.” These guys are uniquely equipped to gaze into the abyss without its returning gaze getting the better of them, for now at least.

I reviewed episode three of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s improving for sure, but the conversations that don’t include serial killers still sound like they were written by aliens.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episodes Nine and Ten: “Search” and “Ten of Swords”

October 16, 2017

Halt and Catch Fire is one of the best shows ever made. Judging from the reaction to its two-part series finale this weekend, that’s uncontroversial now, which is an amazing thing to contemplate. From its rough start in Season One to its skin-of-the-teeth renewals for each subsequent year to its status as a critics’ darling that far too few people other than critics were talking about (and even critics let down the side a bit at the beginning of this season), it felt like the Little Engine That Almost Could. But there’s never been a show like it: generous of spirit toward its characters, yet always ruthless about their shortcomings and never sappy in its optimism that they might overcome them. Rooted in genuine moral dilemmas—not black and white choices, not even the shades of gray “I know it’s not the right thing but kinda I want to” stuff of the best antihero shows, but legitimately difficult choices between two strong options, neither of which is a sure thing. The sense that for all its focus on transformative technological advances and for all its temporal and geographical sweep (its four short seasons began in Texas 1981 and ended in California 1994), it all could have taken place in a single room between five characters. Co-creators Christopher Cantwell & Christopher C. Rogers and actors Kerry Bishé, Mackenzie Davis, Toby Huss, Scoot McNairy, and Lee Pace did what their characters could never quite do but never stopped dreaming of doing: They built something that will last.


I had another TV dream. They don’t happen frequently, but when they do they’re usually about a show that’s got me on the edge of my seat with anticipation for its next episode—a season finale, say, or the next installment in a particularly momentous stretch of the story. When they happen, my brain will conjure up an entire imaginary episode from the ether and play it for me, start to finish, as I “watch.” This has happened to me with shows I loved: The Sopranos, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, Lost. It’s happened with shows I didn’t love, too: True DetectiveSeason One was never one of my favorites, but I dreamed not one but two separate terrifying season finales in a single night, so it must have done something right.

But this one was unlike the others. It happened after I’d watched “Search” and “Ten of Swords,” the two-part series finale of Halt and Catch Fire. I went to bed late that night—early that morning, really—and dreamed I was at a cafeteria in midtown Manhattan. I was getting lunch with old friends, beloved coworkers from a job I had ten years ago, who were in town for a convention. Our awful old boss was there too, I guess because we couldn’t think of a way to get rid of him.

Suddenly I feel a tap on the shoulder and hear a cheerful greeting, I turn to my left and see Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace from Halt and Catch Fire sitting down to join me. It’s after the finale aired, and they’re all smiles. They just wanted to thank me for my writing about the show over the years. I turn to hug Scoot and congratulate him on the work they’d all done, then reach across him to shake Lee’s hand; the handshake gets weirdly botched and we joke about it as we try again. Turning to my coworkers (and studiously avoiding my old awful boss) I gesture to the two actors. “These are my friends,” I say.

Then I woke up.

I reviewed the series finale of Halt and Catch Fire, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, for Decider. Writing about this show for the past four years has been one of the great pleasures of my career. I’m so grateful to everyone who made it possible.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome,” Season One, Episode Six: “Garlic, Oil, and Chili Pepper”

October 16, 2017

You’re not watching Suburra to find out who comes out on top of this particular dirty deal; let’s face it, the show only gives you rooting interest in the young guns….Rather, you’re watching Suburra just to watch it — to see three incredibly handsome dudes try to pull one over on the world in a series of striking shot compositions across the length and breadth of the Eternal City.

I reviewed the sixth episode of Suburra: Blood on Rome, which you should probably be watching instead of whatever other Netflix show you’re watching, for Decider.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Why Me?”

October 16, 2017

Last week, The Deuce staged a war of words that saw its combatants, Candy and Rodney, criss-cross their stretch of 42nd Street. This week’s episode (“Why Me?”) tries a different but equally effective tactic: From the big-picture meta-plot to the individual storylines, everything seems headed the same way all at once. It’s the first installment of David Simon and George Pelecanos’s period piece that doesn’t feel like bits and pieces stitched together, but a cohesive whole.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Deuce, basically the first one I enjoyed, for Rolling Stone.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two

October 15, 2017

Edmund Kemper is not your average pop-culture serial killer. That’s the point. Mindhunter’s second episode may be dogged by many of the same problems as its premiere—we’ll get to that later—but its decision to cast “The Co-Ed Killer” at the Hannibal Lecter to restless FBI Agent Holden Ford’s Clarice Starling is as smart and sinister as the man himself. Played by actor Cameron Britton, whose performance is already one of the most chilling of its type, Kemper is the embodiment of Ford’s argument that this new breed of killer is too crazily complex for the existing rulebook to cover.

The “we’ll get to that later” is doing a lot of work in the above paragraph, but nevertheless I enjoyed the Ed Kemper material in episode two of Mindhunter, which I reviewed for the A.V. Club, a great deal. Just be prepared for my very different thoughts on the music cues and the female lead.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode One

October 14, 2017

“It’s not like there’s some magical machine that makes identical copies of things.” To its eternal credit, Mad Men got the single worst line of dialogue in the entire series out of the way in its pilot episode. Don Draper’s brief aside about the state of the art in office equipment functions as a gag only from the perspective of its 2007 audience, at the expense of its 1960 characters. What we know, and what Don doesn’t, is that of course there are magical machines that make identical copies of things, or that there will be eventually. The poor sap has the temerity not to have journeyed via time machine to an era where photocopiers are a thing. Joke’s on you, buddy!

I thought of this line a lot while watching Mindhunter, Netflix’s new serial-killer procedural from writer-creator Joe Penhall and producer-director David Fincher. The difference is that while Mad Men relegated its “look at these troglodytes who haven’t even heard of Xerox yet” hindsight to one brief, bad joke, it’s Mindhunter’s entire premise.

Based on the influential true-crime book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas, and featuring analogues for Douglas and his fellow Fed Robert K. Ressler, it chronicles the birth of criminal profiling and the concept of the serial killer as we know them, during an era when law enforcement’s skepticism of such notions—and of psychology in general—was ingrained and endemic. In other words, it’s a war story written from the perspective of the winners, one which enlists its audience as recruits for the retrospectively inevitable victory. That’s the problem, really: It’s a tale of bone-deep uncertainty in uncharted territory, told with the quiet confidence of a sure thing.

I’m covering the first season of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club, where believe it or not I’ve never written about television before! Here’s my review of the premiere, which helped me realize there’s basically a whole subgenre of “based on a true story” that I don’t care for: the origin of something everyone thought was wrong but which we in the audience know turned out to be right. Also, you gotta hear the dialogue in this thing. It’s like an alien wrote it.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “eps3.0_power-saver-mode”

October 14, 2017

That’s why I insist to this day Mr. Robot Season Two was a tremendous creative success. With the possible exception of Game of Thrones and its allegorical brutality, no show on television last year had the courage to be so honestly discouraged by human nature. That pessimism proved prophetic just a few months later, when Donald Trump’s installation as president ushered in a wave of corporate rapaciousness and white-nationalist belligerence by which we all continue to be battered day after day. Trump and the forces he represents didn’t come out of nowhere, though. While the rest of TV culture was consumed by a dozen different adorkable sitcoms and the Reaganite nostalgia of Stranger ThingsMr. Robot blazed a bleaker, truer path.

In this relatively low-key premiere, that’s the path it continues to tread.

I reviewed this week’s season premiere of Mr. Robot for Decider. I know I said it’s low-key, but there’s one major exception. Let’s put it this way: Here’s how I started the review…

Did…did Mr. Robot just do what I think it did?

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “She Wolf”

October 14, 2017

At the risk of constructing an inelegant metaphor, what do you do when you it a pothole in your plot? Here’s one strategy: Put the pedal to the metal and just drive right the hell on. That’s the approach adopted by Suburra: Blood on Rome.

I reviewed episode 5 of Suburra: Blood on Rome for Decider. My concerns about the previous episode evaporated almost instantly.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Rabid Dogs”

October 14, 2017

I believe it Chekhov who said that if you introduce a dog in the first episode, you have to shoot it by the third.

I reviewed episode three of Suburra, which is a lot of fun, for Decider.

‘Mr. Robot’: What to Remember Before Watching Season 3

October 9, 2017

Stylish cyberthriller. Anticapitalist agitprop. Cassandra-esque prophecy of doom. Experimental canvas for the auteurist creator-writer-director Sam Esmail. Surprise-twist generator. Think of “Mr. Robot” as a gadget capable of running all these programs and more simultaneously, making it one of television’s most engrossing shows.

It can also be one of its most complex and confusing. Esmail and company weave conspiracies into conspiracies, shift points of view and bury them beneath elaborate hallucinations, and rely on tricky hacker plots for their action sequences. Season 2, which aired in summer 2016, spent more than half of its running time immersed in a reality that only existed in the head of its main character.

Worried you won’t be able to follow when Season 3 debuts Oct. 11 on USA? (You can watch the new season on the network’s app and digital on-demand platforms.) Here’s a quick refresher on the main players.

The Mystery Men: Elliot Alderson, Mr. Robot and Tyrell Wellick

Technically, Elliot Alderson is Mr. Robot. Played by Christian Slater, the title character exists only in Elliot’s head — a mental projection of the hacker’s dead father, embodying all the rage Elliot feels against the colossal conglomerate E Corp for its role in his dad’s untimely death from environmental toxins. As a separate personality existing within Elliot’s head, Mr. Robot can hijack their shared body to advance his militant agenda, leaving Elliot himself in the dark about the plans everyone else believes he, not his imaginary alter ego, devised.

Season 2 embroiled them both in two main mysteries. The first involved Elliot’s short stint in prison after copping to a minor charge following the 5/9 hack — which the show kept secret for seven full episodes, depicting a false reality Elliot constructed to protect himself from the truth.

The second mystery centered on “Stage 2,” the mysterious next step in the war against E Corp that Elliot’s Mr. Robot personality helped organize in collusion with the sinister cyberterrorism organization the Dark Army. He discovers the truth from an previously hidden co-conspirator: Tyrell Wellick, the disgraced and unstable E Corp executive who was blamed for the 5/9 hack, and who had been missing ever since. (Elliot assumed he’d murdered the man and disposed of his body during a three-day period of amnesia following the hack itself.)

Wellick informs Elliot that they plan to hack into the secret storehouse where E Corp’s paper backup records are kept, blowing it up and destroying the company once and for all — but also killing everyone in the building. When Elliot balks and tries to shut down the program, convinced Wellick is just a figment of his imagination, Wellick shoots him, following the by-any-means-necessary instructions that Elliot had issued himself while under Mr. Robot’s control.

I wrote a quick-and-dirty refresher course for Mr. Robot in anticipation of Wednesday’s season premiere for the mighty New York Times.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight: “Goodwill”

October 9, 2017


Halt and Catch Fire is, or was, a drama about the tech industry. Not this week, though. “Goodwill,” one of the most important and best episodes of the entire series, goes by with no tech talk whatsoever. The various enterprises that meant so much to the characters, that consumed so much of their lives, are mentioned, in passing, a grand total of three times. The Symphonic, the Giant, Comet — they each get a line or two, all of them vague allusions to something that once happened in the past or might happen in the future. In the end they were just a platform on which something much more important was built: life, and the connections the series’ main characters made during its course. For Gordon Clark, that life has run its course. That’s all his family, his friends, and the show that brought them to us care about anymore.

In that light, this epochal episode is a stunt on the order of one of Game of Thrones’ big battle setpieces or Breaking Bad’s action and suspense thrillers. Written by Zack Whedon and directed by series co-creator Christopher Cantwell, it’s a confident, courageous demonstration of the show’s strengths, which from around the end of Season One onward have been on display like a product at a computer-industry convention. The tech stuff served as the series’ hook, its anchor, and, in the sense that the characters had to navigate the same Scylla-and-Charybdis passage between creativity and commerce as its creators, its allegory. Now, at Halt’s deepest and darkest moment, it takes a back seat to the thing at which the show has always proven most adept: depicting the relationships between people who have no more of a straightforward story arc, and no greater supply of easy answers, than any of us watching it do.

I reviewed this week’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire, a major achievement and perhaps the show’s best, for Decider.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “What Kind of Bad?”

October 9, 2017

You don’t need to be a perfect show to produce a perfect scene – and tonight episode of The Deuce (titled “What Kind of Bad?”) proved it.


It’s the kind of scene where you can feel the filmmakers realizing exactly what they can do with the ingredients at their disposal, liked winning Chopped contestants. Take one tablespoon of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sad-eyed glamour, with a pinch of the unpredictability inherent in her low-key acting style. Add in Method Man’s mellifluous voice, and the way he always looks and sounds like he’s sizing up everyone in the room for strengths and weaknesses. Sprinkle in the unending ebb and flow of people and cars on the street, providing a dynamic background perfect for a clash between two titans.

But by showing how strong this show could be, it serves to highlight how weak it currently is otherwise.

I loved the duel between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Method Man’s characters on this week’s episode of The Deuce, which I reviewed for Rolling Stone. The big question now is whether this is the show finally getting its sea legs (which has happened many, many times in recent history—cf. The Leftovers and Halt and Catch Fire) or if it’s just an anomaly.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Plebes and Patricians”

October 9, 2017

When I reviewed the series premiere of Suburra: Blood on Rome the other day I made a big deal about how its complicated organized-crime narrative’s many moving parts would probably crowd out the show’s potential with the need to burn through as much plot per episode as possible. There’s a professional reason for that. When you review TV shows for a living you’re not just reviewing the show in question, no matter how hard you try to make that happen — you’re reviewing it against other shows of its kind, and other shows not of its kind, and your overall understanding of how shows work generally. The Netflix release model, which basically opens up a spigot and blasts “Because you watched…” algorithms directly into your piehole, makes dealing with this all the more difficult. If the network is shoving shows down your gullet based on what it thinks you think about other shows, how can you not think about them yourself?

Folks, I goofed. But hey, it happens! I’ll try not to beat myself up about it.

As far as I can tell from its second installment, “Plebes and Patricians,” Suburra rules. When Netflix crime shows from Ozark Season One to Narcos Season Two dutifully but unimaginatively hit genre notes in their first few episodes, keeping you wishing and hoping for a payoff down the line, this fuckin’ thing delivers straight out the gate.

And yeah, I see the contradiction here. After admitting that comparing Suburra to other shows clouded my judgment after the pilot, I’m changing my tune based on…comparing Suburra to other shows. Oh well! As a critic, I’m in the liking-things business — that’s honestly how I see it, which is what makes middling work such a bummer for me. (Though it can be fun to write about.) If I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of enthusiasm. Not the kind of enthusiasm that inflates everything into a masterpiece or a life-lesson dispenser — that’s a problem of its own — but the “wheeeeeee, this is fun!” kind. Suburra serves that up by the bucketload.

The thing about roller-coaster rides is that if everything feels weightless, there’s no ride worth taking. You need to feel the weight of the car as you take the plunge, and the sturdiness of the track as it shakes beneath you. I think that’s where Suburra is distinguishing itself most.

Enjoying the hell out of Suburra at the moment. Here’s my review of the second episode for Decider.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “21 Days”

October 6, 2017

The first thing you notice about Suburra: Blood on RomeNetflix’s new Italian crime drama, is…well, let’s be frank here. It’s the gigantic coke-fueled priest orgy.

The second thing you notice is that the men on the show are incredibly handsome.

I’m covering Suburra for Decider, starting with this review of the series premiere. The cast is stunning and the score, by Loscil, is lush like little else on TV right now. Worth a look!

‘The Punisher’: Everything You Need to Know About Marvel’s Vigilante Antihero

October 4, 2017

Punisher comics have gotten pretty weird over the years
We know what you’re thinking: Gun-toting combat veteran goes kill-crazy against criminals after they murder his family – this concept is pure meat-and-potatoes street-level stuff, right? But we’re talking about superhero comics, folks. After a few decades of near-continuous publication, pretty much every character gets pushed out of his or her comfort zone, and our the Punisher is no exception.

Among his strangest adventures? The Punisher: Purgatory (1998-99), in which the then-dead vigilante was revived to serve as an angelic demon-slayer. The similarly supernatural FrankenCastle arrived a decade later; this knowingly screwball storyline saw the antihero, who had been killed once again, brought back as a Frankenstein-like monster, fighting alongside horror-tinged characters like Morbius the Living Vampire and Man-Thing. (In a word: No.) In 2012, the character got a sci-fi makeover in Space: Punisher – which featured, yes, the Punisher in space, punishing aliens and whatnot.

Years before his character-defining run on the character, Garth Ennis wrote the one-shot Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. The 1995 special chronicles a short, bloody alternate timeline in which Castle’s family gets killed in the crossfire of an X-Men/Avengers battle, leading him to slaughter every single superhero and supervillain in the company’s catalog. He eventually turns the gun on himself. But for sheer WTF-itude, nothing beats 1994’s Archie Meets the Punisher, a crossover between Marvel’s bloodiest antihero and Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the Riverdale gang. Sure, it’s just a footnote in Punisherology, but crazy stunts like this are exactly what brought Archie back to pop-culture prominence over two decades later. A crossover between the Netflix Punisher show and Riverdale doesn’t sound completely out of the question now, does it?

In anticipation of the upcoming Netflix/Jon Bernthal series, I wrote a guide to the Punisher’s many multimedia incarnations for Rolling Stone. One thing this reminded me is that the showrunner is Steve Lightfoot, who was the Ed Burns to Bryan Fuller’s David Simon on Hannibal. That bodes well.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “Who Needs a Guy”

October 2, 2017


Extraordinary even by the series’ own elevated standards, “Who Needs a Guy” provided the crushing payoff for four years of Halt and Catch Fire. It’s not the first time the show has tugged on its many strings until they all either knotted or came apart in a single scene; the conference-room battle between Cameron and Donna last year comes to mind just for starters. Nor is it the first time the show has handled a character’s death with sensitivity but without sentimentality; again, it did so last season with the suicide of Joe’s apprentice Ryan. But it is the first time these two strengths have been combined, and the effect is stunning, like getting hit with a feather and, somehow, being knocked clear across the room. Written by Lisa Albert and directed by Tricia Brock — both of whom effectively abdicate the episode’s awful final minutes to the show’s surviving core cast, about the smartest thing a writer and director could do — it’s one of the hours we’ll turn to when we want to make the case that Halt and Catch Fire is one of the finest dramas of the prestige-TV era. It left me a wreck for hours. I’m still gutted. I loved it.

I reviewed this weekend’s absolutely stunning episode of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider.