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Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

The real world is always a fascinating canvas for a television series, and with the right mix of precision and imagination any show in that particular light could be depicted as more than the sum of its parts while retaining a striking authenticity. But in order for that kind of show to work, it needs to embrace its nuances – which doesn’t necessarily mean following a typical TV show format. For the typical viewer, the greatest challenge in experiencing Atlanta is acknowledging that it doesn’t follow a typical TV show format: anything can happen, and you have to just accept that as Gospel. However, those who quickly come around to this approach and simply go along for the ride will realize that FX’s latest life-chronicling comedy relies on its inherent unpredictability to broaden its thematic flexibility, which lends to its relatively grounded trappings. There is a living, breathing world in this new series that feels just as real as yours or mine, but it’s not confined to a specific tone or a method of storytelling. Atlanta portrays the subtleties of everyday life by playing by its own rules, allowing the viewer to interpret the proceedings however he or she interprets them; that alone is enough to warrant its freshman season a resounding success.

Following the earnest exploits of – ahem – Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover), his cousin and sort-of client Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), and shockingly enlightening realist Darius (Keith Stanfield), Atlanta presents the daily happenings of everyday life under the perspectives of three ambitious African-American males (and one African-American female who I will delve into later) struggling to thrive amidst their surroundings. About three or four episodes in, after their dynamic together is cemented, we get a surreal sense of the world they live in and the hurdles it leaves in their wake. For Earn, his hurdles include making ends meet: he’s a child-caring father with little money to his name, carrying a disposition that appears even smaller than his pockets. Alfred does a particularly better job gathering cash, but his “Paper Boi” hip-hop persona generates an entirely different wave of trouble he combats throughout most of the season. Darius, however, is more or less just there – but in the best possible way imaginable. From his insights to his incredible relatability, he quickly justifies his presence by being far and away more likeable and down-to-earth than anyone else I’ve seen on television in quite some time (a good portion of that is the result of Stanfield’s performance, but the character himself is fantastic all the same).

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand these characters, particularly because a large portion of the season revolves around their perceptions of the real world. For example: “Streets on Lock”, the worthy extension to a rather fantastic pilot offering, is largely a showcase of Earn’s many different deadpan reactions to the endless array of personalities he either bumps into, or, in this particular episode’s case, is confined to a police precinct room with. Despite virtually saying a few lines and resorting to facial expressions, Glover’s performance opens us up to the realization that his character simply does not fit in with the environment from which he’s been brought forth – but the real magic in “Streets” is how it perpetuates this notion through setting. The police precinct plays as much of a character as Earn or Alfred, and through the drag queen, the mentally unstable jailbird, the abrupt police brutality and the number of masterfully-written conversations in-between, we are given an incredibly vivid sense of Atlanta the city through Earn’s eyes.

 

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Through AlfredAtlanta not only gives way to the rest of Atlanta’s underpinnings, but exercises a media outlet that offers some considerably strong social commentary. One of today’s biggest stereotypes in the music industry is the belief that the typical rapper is little more than a tunnel-visioned gang-banger with minuscule disregard for the influence his or her work may have on society; Atlanta both counters and slightly bends towards this through the gradual upswing of “Paper Boi”. In order for Alfred’s hip-hop lifestyle to seem plausibly adjacent to the personality of his everyday ego, the show needs to properly establish that dynamic and “The Big Bang” and “Go for Broke” both expertly parlay the musical talent (Alfred’s mixtape rightfully making waves on the radio in the former episode) and the hustle (Alfred’s drug-dealing shenanigans in the latter) necessary to do so. As a result, his ability to stay afloat financially while his music career continues to ascend doesn’t counteract with the credibility found elsewhere in Atlanta. However, these factors alert Alfred of his surroundings to the same extent that up-selling, exasperating waitresses and evasive club owners remind Earn of the significance surrounding his own monetary progression. The way he reluctantly obliges to take photos with the police officer in “Streets on Lock”, as well as his subsequent attempts to clarify his stance on violence to influential children, are prime examples of the plight he must undergo as a byproduct of his career path. When he’s tussling with a Black Justin Bieber in a celebrity basketball game, or facing a Twitter war with a multi-cultural personality who’s true roots of nationality are undefined,  Alfred also has to fight for and/or defend his reputation in an uphill battle with the media.

Even though this season plays off as more of a collection of individual episodes than a serial story arc, it gives characters like Alfred ample room to develop, with life experiences like these quietly molding into a game-changing moment later on. This is where installments like “The Club” come in. A breathtaking portrayal of the Atlanta club life scene, this particular episode finds Alfred losing his shit, as the frustration of playing second-fiddle to a more popular public figure leads to an act of pure “gangsta” instinct that redeems Earn and rejuvenates the ideal that “Paper Boi” deserves his due. The actual scene that perpetuates all of this is as fascinating as it is hilarious, but that could be said of a couple dozen other brilliant moments throughout season one that help define everyone else. In “Juneteenth” Earn dishes out his own comeuppance to a married couple who’s devoid of any emotional attachment to the culture they label themselves under, and that comes after his inability to handle the situation that sparks Alfred’s “oh shit” moment from “The Club”. For Earn, this scene appears to be his own coming out party, with the unflinching awareness of his personality finally catching up to the heaping load of bullshit he’s taken from society. By confidently speaking his mind to Monique and Craig over quietly filtering his thoughts, he’s proving to the viewers at home that he’s tired of playing a pre-determined role (I.E. showing up to the Allen’s Juneteenth in a pseudo-happy guise with Van just to maintain a certain appearance) and, as with the fast-food clerk in “Go For Broke” and the aforementioned, evasive club owner, being short-changed by others.

Atlanta was certainly in no shortage of wonderful characters this season, but none of which were as brilliantly-conceived as Van. Subverting nearly every trope in the “cranky spouse/budding love interest” comedy book, this woman faced the toughest of obstacles among the four leads (living with Earn, taking care of her daughter with Earn, bailing Earn out of prison, losing her teacher’s job over an admittedly failed drug test), and never before have I seen someone so honestly tackle the lows and continue marching on. Given the unusual living situation between her, Earn and their child, she’s constantly living a life filled with regret and crushed ambitions – but none of that deters from her own personal pride and determination. Van also keeps it real, and the dinner scenes in “Go for Broke” and “Value” are surefire indications that she doesn’t believe in compromise. Zazie Beetz does excellent work here, exhibiting Van’s wide range of emotions with a startling pragmatism – but, again, Van keeps it real, and when the script’s calls for Beetz to react to the absurdity of others we see her at her absolute best. Furthermore, the dynamic portrayed by both Zazie Beetz and Donald Glover is given exceptional nuance through Van’s soft spot for Earn; a negligible character arc centered around the structural fortitude of parenthood that gets a pair of perfect payoffs at the tail end of the season’s final two episodes.

 

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As I mentioned earlier, Atlanta is a very non-linear television show, and with that approach the show doubles down on enveloping viewers with its unique take on the real world. Whether it’s a casual afternoon stroll through Atlanta’s shady underground markets, or an actual guest appearance from Migos, there’s an innate sense of realism in each scene that’s extremely arresting; every opportunity Glover and company get to characterize this city through scenery or one-off encounters with other civilians is proudly taken. Like most other shows with the TV-MA label, Atlanta‘s also prone to violence, but even those brief instances of death and belligerence are handled carefully enough to feel tangible and immersive. These things come together outside of the main action to not only perpetuate Glover’s view of Atlanta, but to also let us know that this city is as essential as the characters who live in it.

From a interpretive standpoint, this season carries a whole lot more meat than you’d think, and part of that is because of the directional approach allowing for a number of moments that ignite the variable responses viewers probably have while watching Atlanta. Sometimes, we get strange little occurrences like the man in “The Streisand Effect” who’s pleading on the phone before a herd of baby goats, and the white-faced student in “Value” who exudes one of the creepiest smiles a child could ever exude. The rest is either filled with rewarding levity (who can ever forget the “lightsaber”-wielding valet from “Go for Broke”?) or woeful reality (the police shooting in “The Jacket”). Even with repeated viewings, these instances appear to only exist as singular events or images: the show doesn’t even bother giving them much context, and when they do have context the intention comes off as open-ended. (The mysterious outcome of the shooting in the pilot episode is a prime example of this, and I’m absolutely certain that it will be a talking point for years to come.) Ultimately, they simulate the immediate, unorthodox and inexplicable nature of real life, giving Atlanta an added depth that gives it a distinct edge over other offerings in the genre.

 

If there’s any true concern that certain viewers may or should have with Atlanta, it’s most likely its loose narrative structure. Because it relies on a boundless form of storytelling, we never get a crystal clear idea of what the show is building up towards, and I could see that rubbing off on some folks the wrong way. Sometimes, it’s good to just know exactly where things are going, but Atlanta is far more content with expressing its characters and its talking points. The BET spoof “B.A.N.” is loaded with keen pop culture references and sight gags that not only poke fun at the network the show is directly insulting, but provide a strong argument base for some of America’s most undervalued political issues. Alfred may have not gotten paid for his time on “Montague”, but at least he participated in a heated exchange that has him saying things stored in the back of many people’s minds (like, for example, how little some individuals actually care about Caitlyn Jenner, and how laughably insulting they find cross-racial identity crisis). This is also an uproariously hilarious half-hour of television, maximizing the potential of telling many different stories about race, gender, equality and pure common sense through a variety of meta-heavy commercials. Where “B.A.N.” polarizes the Atlanta fanbase is in its lack of narrative progression; you’re either on board with this one-off approach and enjoy it for what it is (like I did), or become innately frustrated with its level of stagnation.

 

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ATLANTA — “The Streisand Effect” — Episode 104 (Airs Tuesday, September 20, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, Keith Standfield as Darius. CR: Guy D’Alema/FX

 

Everything this season eventually circles back around to Earn, whose personal plight throughout the season culminates in the reassurance of his “outsider” persona. The reveal that his personal home is a storage room tells us he’s slowly figuring out how to survive on his own, while the slight bit of cash to his name represents a promising start for better things. All season long, he’s had to overcome the adversities society has laid in his path, and the heartwarming catharsis he gets from both Alfred and Van in “The Jacket” bring the character arcs of those three individuals together beautifully. Suffix to say, season two will most likely handle the task of showing us whether or not the new status quo – Earn’s “house”, Paper Boi on tour, Van’s job search – will lead to better things for these folks. Even if it somehow doesn’t, and the entire concept of a narrative is thrown out the window, we’d get to continue exploring their socially conscious misadventures in Atlanta – and still be all the better for it.

 

 

 

 

The Verdict:

Atlanta, if nothing else, is a confirmation of Donald Glover’s expertise and versatility as an entertainer. His vision here proudly exudes social commentary with a raw accuracy, tackling the nuances of race, gender and social stature in remarkably refreshing ways. In addition, the trials and tribulations of life in Atlanta is captured with an authenticity that breathes life and character into both the show’s setting and its character beats. It also helps that the cast is outstanding, with Glover and Beetz in particular giving us honest portrayals of human beings who are constantly navigating their way towards a promising future together. The lack of a true defined narrative may be a bit off-putting for certain viewers, but given the amount of creative freedom as a result it’s hard to argue with the unusual approach this show decides to take.

Personally, I loved just about every minute of Atlanta this season. The show is such a breezy watch, but it doesn’t overindulge in its distinguishing qualities. Every episode offers something substantial the writers have to say, but never did I get the sense that I was being forced to agree with the perspective. Above all else, it’s so darn striking in its execution – regardless of whether the mood is comedic, tragic, or enlightening – that it truly feels like an enthralling escape from an actual real world to one seen through someone else’s eyes. 2016 has been a great year for television in general, but it’s television series like these that transcend our expectations – and prove that shows don’t always need to follow a set structure in order to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9.7

+ Casting, script, and performances

+ Realistic portrayal of Atlanta

+ Loose, non-linear episodic structure makes each episode feel fresh and unique

+ Unexpectedly weird, violent, cathartic moments

+ “B.A.N.” 

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Shameless: “Hiraeth” Review **SPOILERS**

Shameless: “Hiraeth” Review **SPOILERS**

If I didn’t know any better, Shameless peaked quite a long time ago – about around the end of season four, to be exact. For a series just now approaching its seventh season, it’s gotten much too comfortable with the basic traits of its central cast, allowing the Gallagher clan to fall down, pick themselves up and repeat over and over again – all without much in the way of tangible character development. It’s a sad reality because, at the conclusion of season four, we saw this family gear up and strive for great change in their lives; it just never materialized at all these last couple of years.

“Hiraeth” finds the new season at just about the same place every other season has started at, and for better or worse that very tone is what sets up Shameless‘s latest tabling of episodes. As expected, we see the Gallaghers moving on with what they have (Debbie and her baby, Franny; Carl’s latest relationship with Dominique; Ian and his own relationship with Caleb) and what they have lost (Fiona after her wedding fiasco; Lip after his ordeal with Helene, Frank after being Frank for another season). And as expected, we spend the entire hour catching up with where they’re at, with the results varying on the show’s ability to expunge compelling story arcs for upcoming installments, and the average viewer’s remaining interest in the characters themselves.

Where this premiere episode succeeds is in giving us a whiff of what keeping the promise this series made three years ago looks like in practice: that great change season four’s conclusion hinted at. Lip’s experiencing his change through rehab, and the habits he’s picked up since returning home leave his future as a pertinent topic of discussion. Like last season, his excess drinking and screwing around left many (myself included) with the impression that he is heading down the same road as Frank, and despite moderating his alcohol intake with rehab chips and physically testing himself on the street, he’s still micro-managing in the same sort of ways his dirtbag father did not so long ago. Lip’s post-rehab plan is obviously going to spiral out of control, but the significance of that potentially colossal forest fire is ever-present. On top of that, his unusually calm demeanor and eagerness to make a living without a college education speaks to the years of settling for less that he’s been content with; an especially sad truth that the character has expressed since the show’s very first episode. With all this put into consideration, is it truly possible for Lip to find true happiness for the rest of his life? He seems certain of it, but all we see as viewers is pure regression: the already planted seeds growing modestly into something far less than expected.

Fiona’s change revolves squarely around independence, and it’ll be very interesting to see just how long she could go about her business without the influence of sex or intimate relationships with men. Like Lip (somewhat), I’m both very glad and very heartbroken to see her settle for the cards she’s recently been dealt with. As much as she hates managing the diner in the wake of Sean’s falling out, she lacks the experience or the knowledge to appeal for either a better position or a wage that’s higher than an extra dollar an hour. Fiona prefers to return to setting up tables and serving the customers, but doesn’t think to consider how that would only stump her career path even more than it has been. Even still, I like her new “warrior” mentality, if only because it could make her more focused on achieving her own happiness going forward. It would have been nice to have gotten a clearer understanding of what kind of hold she has on the house and the rest of the Gallaghers, however.

 

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Debbie and Carl’s respective story arcs are already off to better starts this season than they were a year ago, and there’s a fair bit of social commentary to collect from them as well. Debbie’s illegal money-making activities and spending habits vividly remind us of the expansive intelligence she has that was missing throughout most of season six, while also poking fun at the recklessness in decision-making that comes with underaged individuals who carry large sums of money (or, in this case, credit cards) in hostile living environments. Of all the Gallaghers, Debbie is definitely making the most of her new lifestyle – but that’s mostly because she’s literally profiting off of it. Carl, on the other hand, is blinded by love – and instant gratification, and he’s making the least out of his new lifestyle by needlessly investing in his sex drive. (The social commentary here is firmer and more necessary, since plenty of minors in this day and age are more susceptible to – and aware of – the vices of lust and intimacy than those of previous generations.) It appears as though Carl still has plenty to learn about growing up, but what I like so much about his situation here is that it’s a way more plausible storyline for him than his drug/gangster phase from last season; Carl’s social background shamelessly invites and promotes sex, and he’s at a stage in his life where he should be overly curious about his body.

Ian’s suspicions over Caleb and Frank’s return from the dead mark the low points of “Hiraeth”, as both storylines might as well live and die on a different show entirely. Ian has been done such a terrible disservice since Mickey was written off that any indication of a future breakup with his new boyfriend would be a victory for fans of the character – so, in a sense, Caleb cheating on him (with a woman, no less) might lead to better things for him later on in the season. Unfortunately, this is probably going to drag for a few more episodes; just like Frank barging back into his children’s lives. I think it’s amusing how every Gallagher (including little Liam!) walks over him and pays him no mind at all, but that’s just about the most enjoyment I collect out of his presence nowadays. I honestly wished the show would’ve let him drown in that ocean of water they dumped him in last season.

 

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Here are some extra notes from this week’s season premiere:

 

  • Don’t think for a second that I forgot about the “throuple” of Kev, Veronica, and Svetlana. I still love how insanely efficient their joint marriage is, on top of Kev’s heightened enthusiasm (“Family Meeting? What, is that what we’re calling sex now?”). It’s also no surprise that Svetlana opened Kev and V’s eyes to the long list financial shortcomings they’ve accrued over the years.
  • Things we need to see more of: dialogue between Lip and Fiona, Fiona throwing Frank out of the house, and Kev complaining about breastfeeding the babies.
  • Professor Youens is a class act for staying by Lip’s side through thick and thin, and I continue to enjoy their father/son dynamic. It’s heartbreaking, though, that Lip still views him as nothing more than an enabler of jobs.
  • Fiona fixing Debbie’s room just to leave it the same way she saw it is one of my proudest moments as a longtime fan of this series. I love that it reassures us of how much Fiona still remains in disgust over Debbie going through with the pregnancy.

 

 

 

The Verdict:

More setup than anything else, “Hiraeth” is a promising start to Shameless‘s seventh season, as we see the Gallaghers be more like themselves for the first time in quite a while. It’s also a refreshing look into the future of this family, with everyone branching out into different paths that are thematically tied in ways that speak more to who they are as individuals, and less to what the writers want them to become. This absolutely needs to be the year that the change these Gallaghers yearn for come into fruition, and for the moment Shamless‘s heart (and direction) is firmly in the right place.

 

 

 

RATING: 8

+ Lip post-rehab

+ Fiona post-men

+ Debbie and Carl given much stronger, true-to-character material

– Frank just existing at this point

– Ian/Caleb story arc

 

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Survivor’s Remorse: Season 3 Review (Part 2)

Survivor’s Remorse: Season 3 Review (Part 2)

“The Age of Umbrage”

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We live in a world that is very easily manipulated by whatever the media has to say, and in Cam Calloway’s case this harsh reality (almost) came back to bite him in the rear. In an attempt to promote a foundation in Julius’s memory – and help a “close friend” make waves with his new radio talk show – Cam says a few things that are technically taken out of context in a one-on-one interview and finds himself on the sharp edge of the typically misconstrued media backlash. He faces a bit of a fall from grace, where a world-renowned sports outlet labels him the “Scumbag of the Week” (then, later on, “Scumbag of the Month” and a frontrunner for the annual SportsScummy Award), and a particular mother of a child who was diagnosed with the “fucked up nose syndrome” creates a strong enough case to guide the anger and disgust towards him.

“The Age of Umbrage”, however, doesn’t simply resort to a trial of denial and an eventual apology; Cam’s not even sorry for what he said or the manner in which he said it. As the episode rolls along, we are awoken to the alarming degree of media exploitation that actually occurs far more often in real life than we realize – all the while Cam bands together with both his family and his under-qualified “fixer” to craft a verbal solution that could save his image while clearing up his initial spewing of words.

For the most part, everything plays out like a sensible tug-of-war, with both sides struggling to reach an amenable center surrounded by an audience none too keen to the intricacies of the affliction Cam was discussing in his interview. That latter half is where most of the episode’s satire molds from, and I’m very impressed with how bluntly and aggressively it exposes the underlining negligence of pop culture figures. Cam’s big podium speech at the conclusion, for example, exercises the sum of the parts that got us to the episode’s big finish in hilarious fashion – but does one better by making us question those six-figure personalities and the causes they truly stand/care for. It’s an incredibly risky moment for Cam: by taking the initiative and formulating a proper apology for the whole world to acknowledge, he’s burning potentially crucial bridges with popular individuals by backing them into a corner and making them take a financial endeavor they never planned on pursuing in the first place. However, it correlates with his line of thinking from the beginning of the episode and the level of maturity he’s reached as a multi-million dollar basketball superstar; I cannot imagine a similar scenario where he wouldn’t use his current population and reputation to further a cause he truly believed in.

 

Score: 9.3

 

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“The Photoshoot” 

 

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Not to speak ill of the fascinating line of work that the show has presented up until this point, but I just don’t see Survivor’s Remorse topping itself anytime soon after watching “The Photoshoot”. Clearly my personal favorite/highlight of the season, this episode rides along a wave of social commentary with a fierceness and confidence that the series has never expunged, and elsewhere it’s naturally tying these very real concerns to the characters in play without the disadvantage of feeling one-off or outside the realm of their respective arcs.

There are three sides to this rather linear storyline: Missy, Cam’s latest PR consultant after her all-too important guidance with the media fiasco in the previous episode, has arranged a photoshoot in the interest of marketing Cam, with Reggie quietly lingering in the background and holding everything together. With that comes varying perspectives that manifest throughout the course of said photoshoot. We discover that Missy’s search for a dark-skinned model to complement Cam and his photos is her way of using her newfound power to promote a sort of influx of other dark-skinned talents; a much-too-real problem that has plagued most of the entertainment business throughout history. Cam, on the other hand, simply wants to innocently indulge in a couple hours in front of the camera, hoping that he won’t have to beg for the respect of his auxiliaries in regards to such things as decision-making or any sudden change of plans. Reggie’s role in all of this is the enabler: by quietly lingering in Missy’s shadow (which is primarily meant to allot her full control of the photoshoot), he indirectly forfeits any and all respect he normally has for Cam in regards to such things as decision-making or any sudden change of plans.

Since anything Missy says goes, the entire evening is ruined: the photoshoot is abruptly delayed, the model, who was replacing the darker-skinned female Missy originally demanded, is replaced with another darker-skinned female, and the photgrapher, Family Matters icon Jaleel White (who does splendid work here, might I add), has to scramble in a search for someone who fits Missy’s description. The snowball effect here is cerebral, primarily because she altered an already-occurring event after making a rather tardy arrival to said proceedings (root canal or no root canal), but mostly because she did a good thing far too late. And what I love the most about this is that the episode shows us exactly where, how badly, and why Missy was in the wrong. Her initial planning could’ve stuck had she just been at the studio set in time, but instead her presence exceeds itself while she overlooks the consideration she should’ve had for the original model out of a lifelong frustration against light-skinned women “winning”. The message her photoshoot aims to convey is plausible – the perception that athletes only date light-skinned women is very true – but under this light it becomes counter-intuitive because what’s done is done and since the matter was pushed too far a poor mother simply striving to make ends meet was denied the opportunity over an unfair labeling. All of this is also why I think having her be confronted by the original model was an important way to drive home the problem at the core.

 

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Like I said before, Reggie’s handling of the photoshoot does Cam no favors, but worse yet is how inconsiderate it makes him out to be after the fact. Yes, he eventually faces Missy’s wrath in the wake of sitting idly by – but like Cam alluded to, Missy’s actions bear much greater consequences on his reputation. Perhaps Reggie failed to acknowledge that for himself on account of giving his wife a chance to demonstrate her skills in a field she’s always dreamed of conquering. Unfortunately, this is a three-way work engagement, and Cam’s going to have to answer to most of what transpired here. Hearing it from Cam doesn’t over-perpetuate that, either, because he has every right to express his disappointment; he feels that his saying power means nothing in these sort of executive decisions, and going forward that only stems to disrupt the relationship these two gentlemen share.

Even the B and C storylines in “The Photoshoot” shined, particularly M-Chuck’s college arrangement and Jimmy’s assistance in the matter. Not only are we treated to a delightfully down-to-earth dynamic that’s spurned from humble beginnings (learning the reasoning behind Jimmy’s particular tastes in food was particularly compelling), but, like with the differing perspectives in the photoshoot, are reminded of the character growth both individuals have experienced throughout the series. It would have been enough to watch them converse about school and homemade cuisine, but realizing Jimmy’ genuine warmth and M-Chuck’s yearning for a self-preserved future let us connect with them on a similar – albeit less tangible – way. Very few installments at this point in the series have ever been as enthralling on a personal level.

 

Score: 9.7

 

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Here are a few extra things I’d like to point out about these couple of episodes:

 

  • M-Chuck and Jimmy bear-hugging each other just might be the highlight of this entire season.
  • Cassie and Da Chen Bao’s relationship took its next big step in “The Photoshoot”, and I thought having those sex dolls represent the different mindsets they’ve had over their long-distance troubles was a weirdly effective way to table their problems.
  • Bao is as lovestruck and confused as they come; of course his initial solution would be to compensate sexually with a robot via webcam.
  • Squeeze has never seen Seinfeld before, and after Reggie explains the show to him he winds up thinking the Soup Nazi made noodles out of Jews. Squeeze has: 1) licked too many envelopes, and 2) needs to reset his priorities and familiarize himself with Seinfeld.
  • “There are ten bathrooms in this house. Don’t spit in my sink.”

Cassie speaks for no-nonsense mothers across the world.

  • Cam and Reggie’s dynamic in both episodes is very intriguing. in “The Age of Umbrage”, Cam doesn’t mind considering certain people he knew back in school or in Boston as close friends, even if his association with them was only vague. Meanwhile, Reggie’s just trying to steer the ship from money or attention-hungry fiends who use their prior association with Cam as a way in. As a result, Reggie rejects an interview from an old college friend that Cam quietly accepts. In “The Photoshoot”, however, Cam understands the parameters of his situation and is at peace with it, whereas Reggie goes behind his cousin’s back and flips the script for the advancement of his wife’s wishes. Bottom line is there appears to be a silver lining between them where any thread of trust is closed off, yet considering their pasts and their separate personalities it’s hard not to be surprised by this kind of repeated disagreement.
  • “The ignorant are the last people you want to upset.”

There’s definitely a college student out there somewhere who’s seen this episode all the way through and will be using this quote as a thesis statement for a given essay.

  • “People will not pay to watch an asshole play basketball.”

“People watched Kobe play for years.”

Well said, Cam.

 

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Survivor’s Remorse: Season 3 Review (Part 1)

Survivor’s Remorse: Season 3 Review (Part 1)

“The Night of the Crash” & “The Ritual”

 

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There’s no denying2 the potential staying power of a comedic force as dynamic as Mike Epps, but when Survivor’s Remorse took its darkest, deepest turn a year ago the famed funnyman’s most engaging TV persona yet lost out to an eventual disagreement between star talent and a plea for a pay raise. If you happened to be in the camp that found the emergence of ABC’s latest (but most certainly not its last) single-camera family sitcom Uncle Buck as the straw that broke the camel’s back: sorry to disappoint. Nevertheless, demands were made, and amidst the turmoil that concluded the series’ most recent slate of summertime episodes we were all very much keen to the results of whatever behind-closed-doors affairs amassed when the cameras weren’t rolling.

Clearly Epps and his former superiors have moved on; the former well engaged with his latest television project as the lead role, and the latter saying goodbye in a two-part celebration of a fictional life gone too soon. And in a sense, season three of Survivor’s Remorse will probably always have that big “what if?” lingering in the backburner, because season two looked like it had bigger, better and happier plans for its main cast looming on the horizon. In the series’s one-hour premiere, seeing how much the landscape has changed isn’t difficult – and in a way that drags the proceedings a bit. First of all, there’s little to no tonal consistency within the first fifteen minutes of “The Night of the Crash”. Plenty of little quips and a few sight gags are thrown in to lighten the mood, but besides maybe a couple lines and the flashbacks between Cam and Julius they ultimately fall flat – but even worse is how awkwardly they interrupt the initial grieving. Survivor’s Remorse always kind of tip-toed into its darker reaches, but with season three’s premiere truly embracing them the awkwardness of both the script and the overall feel of Julius’s death’s aftermath suggests that the series works better as a grounded satire of sorts.

 

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Luckily, the episode – and the show itself – is carried sternly by its flavorful, razor-sharp cast. From Jesse T. Usher evoking the unshakable guilt and anguish of Julius’s death as Cam, all the way to Chris Bauer’s absolutely fantastic family consoling as Jimmy, the emotional girth of the Calloway’s latest tragedy is ever-present. Also, the cerebral impact of it is felt in the performances, with some of these individuals’ greatest efforts in this series yet. Perhaps the most impressive feat in “The Night of the Crash” is how it manages to use said performances in non-linear ways – like how Cassie clinging to the perception that Julius became a firm believer in religion eventually molds into a reveal that Julius was anything but (and, in a way, somewhat worse).

Furthermore: along with boosting the importance of the life Julius lived, the character beats at play have a good portion of the main cast reflecting on their own days on Earth.  At the very least, having Cam and M-Chuck evaluate the extent of their contributions makes for some compelling one-off television, especially since we know all about their upbringing and their vastly different levels of success. But what “The Ritual” does – and does exceptionally well – is lingers on the topic and lets it fester, opening up the door for some much-needed character growth. M-Chuck just might fail miserably in her return to college, and Cam may never fully realize how caring and ungrudging he’s been since his basketball dreams came true – but at the very least they’re now both willing to acknowledge the mutual influence surrounding their relationship and use it to benefit themselves.

Lastly: “The Ritual” is simply a demonstration of what this show is like when it hits its sweet spot. Where “The Night of the Crash” largely fails to find a solid balance between brooding drama and dark comedy, part-two floats along as smoothly as a baby’s bottom, furthering the dejection spurn from last season’s finale episode while figuring out clever, amusing ways to lighten the mood. Whether you consider the subtle uplift in tone, or an airtight script that plays to the strengths of its cast far more than the oh-too-common trappings of the usual single-camera family comedy, the “dramedy” that Survivor’s Remorse has yearned to evolve into is in full effect here, and it shines throughout the installment.

 

Score: 8.5

 

 

“The Thank You Note”

 

Survivor’s Remorse Season 3 2016

 

At this stage of  the game, it’s pretty clear that Survivor’s Remorse doesn’t care too much about basketball or the actual theme of surviving in a brand-new environment with lavish material riches. The night following Julius’s death, Cam dropped fifty-one points and his team won by four; you wouldn’t know it weren’t for that brief press conference afterward. Three seasons into the series, and not a single member of the Calloway family has wallowed in debt,  regressed into a high-stakes incident involving civil authorities, or stumbled upon an overwhelming political circumstance that would eventually chase them out of Dodge; They’re smart, self-aware people who’d rather grow their riches together than excessively indulge in what they have now.

In “The Thank You Note”, we see exactly where the show’s ambitions truly lie: getting us enthralled in the characters. For the most part, the central cast has been fleshed out rather comprehensively – yet there are still plenty of skeletons left in the closet, and character arcs to explore. This is where the episode flexes its muscles, and despite another round of impeccably strong performances it’s actually the underlining themes surrounding the episode’s separate story arcs that most impressed me. M-Chuck’s repeated trips to her therapist, for example, table a fantastic diatribe by Erica Ash, but beneath her pent up rage and ever-increasing frustrations is a longing for moral support from Cassie and some form of closure in regards to her absent father; whether it be the discovery of his whereabouts, or the reasoning behind his withdrawal. Judging by the podcast gone wrong and Cassie’s eventual giving in to attending a session with her, this season’s only scratching the surface of what it aims to uncover for M-Chuck.

Reggie and Missy’s mailbox-hopping crusade that inherits the title of this episode also shines for its self-awareness and amazing character beats. I’m truly surprised with the sheer amount of depth behind this B-story, particularly in regards to the actual act of writing the thank-you letter. Seeing this supposed power couple butt heads never gets old, but for the show to expose Reggie’s lack of professional courtesy towards the letter as a character flaw wound up becoming a powerful bit of social commentary. And since we’re keen on Reggie doing what he can to jettison his opportunity to work alongside Cam as a means to expand his business and market his skills, I’m glad that the principle – and the reverence surrounding – the act of writing back to the Freemans is never overlooked.

 

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Even though he only dips in and out of the majority of the episode, Cam’s presence is still felt in a big way here. Between M-Chuck’s yearning for substantive counseling and Cassie’s best efforts to honor her late brother, Cam is the wedge that brings the two Calloway women together. Without his insistence, it’s very likely Cassie would continue to heckle her daughter over the frequent therapist sessions instead of swallowing her pride and attending one with her for a change – which becomes even more necessary for the family as a whole once we learn that Cassie birthed both children from separate fathers. Through Cam,  we see things from both Cassie and M-Chuck’s respective perspectives (say that five times fast) a bit clearer – but most important is how he uses their pasts and their struggles to find an emotional center: a small window that allows the two women to connect and air out without the usual verbal conflict.

And sure, it was just therapy – but Cam actually got his mother there, and convincing Cassie to welcome anyone’s form of premium counseling is a remarkable achievement all its own.

 

 

Score: 9.2

 

 

Here are some extra notes and lines I’d like to cover from these first three episodes of the new season:

  • I couldn’t respect Jimmy more after he gave that inexperienced doctor and her mentor/fellow colleague a piece of his mind. That announcement of Julius’s death to the Calloways was absolutely horrible, and I was quite stunned that it wasn’t Cassie who verbally ripped them apart. Not only did that scene invite us to the fantastic level of self-awareness this series has developed, but it also went far and above at cementing Jimmy as an invaluable piece to both Cam and his family.
  • The morgue scene was another perfect instant in “The Night of the Crash”, although that mostly stemmed from Reggie’s immensely frustrated reaction. It should be impossible to even dream of a hospital staff member considering the possibility of getting a photo with an admired athlete in mourning – let alone act on it.
  • I think it’s safe to say that Robert Wu honorably replaces the void left by Mike Epps – at least in this half of the season. His comedic timing is great, and he carries plenty of endearment as Cassie’s latest lover. Even more surprising is how easily he gels with the rest of the Calloway clan (it does help that Da Chen Bao dishes out his own bit of pop culture insults along with them).
  • “If you make promises you plan on breaking while having sex with people who are not your spouse, you run the risk of bullets entering your skull.”

Sad, but true.

  • Reggie and Cassie’s feud over the arrangements for Julius’s funeral was perhaps the most entertaining aspect of “The Ritual”. What makes it work so well is that it’s incredibly easy to see things from both characters’ points of view, and seeing RonReaco Lee and Tichina Arnold cross swords through dialogue is as visceral and stern as you can imagine.
  • Clay warning Reggie about his wife’s lasagna being veggie lasagna is the funniest thing that no one will remember from “The Ritual”.
  • “So I shouldn’t show any part of my titties?”

“To me? Yes. To the funeral? No.”

Gotta love Da Chen Bao.

  • So, we got to meet a couple of Julius’ old friends from Boston at the funeral, and my reaction was generally lukewarm. Cakebread (Owen H.M. Smith) is just another creepy uncle trope, but Squeeze (Catfish Jean) is the one who’s apparently here to stay for the rest of the season (I’ve seen episodes four and five to confirm such), and I could see him being fun to have around over time. The only thing about the latter character that I’m concerned about is whether or not Julius’s prior relationship with his mother will resurface in conversation.
  • “Duck, please?”

“Where?”

“Nope, as in your head. I do not wish to Dick Cheney you.”

  • “People who say I’m Cam’s sister, when they really should be saying that he’s my brother because I’m older.”

As both an older brother and younger brother in my family, this has actually been a glaring problem that may never find a concrete solution.

  • “They name their kid Diane and they say, ‘You know what, we gotta rich this up. Let’s add a H to it.'”
  • Allison continues to look and feel two steps behind of the entire cast whenever she’s on-screen. Some of this is Meagan Tandy’s fault as an actress (frankly, she lacks chemistry with everyone else), but the show has made no effort to assimilate her; she sort of just floats around in the background most of the time. I’d bet a million internet dollars that she gets written off by the end of the season.
  • “Anyone ever told you ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’?”

“Has anyone ever told you, ‘Go fuck yourself’? Oh, I just did.”

 

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Shameless: “Paradise Lost” Review **SPOILERS**

Shameless: “Paradise Lost” Review **SPOILERS**

There are many moving gears this season, and Shameless has been through quite an uphill climb in its attempts to keep viewers invested in these divided story arcs. Thankfully, things have begun to pick up steam, and a lot of season six’s earlier concerns are quickly being ironed out – all of which is to say that “Paradise Lost” suggests that last week’s gem was anything but a one-off outlier from a quality standpoint.

And what’s awesome news, because now we’re starting to see the potential of these subplots materializing. Carl’s developing relationship with Dominique took some fresh, interesting routes, Ian and Lip continue to wrestle with their pasts and their vices in tangible ways, and Debbie and the elder Gallaghers are gearing up for a future far more interesting than the endeavors they’ve recently experienced.

Carl’s turnaround in particular has been fantastic (or for the most part at least), and “Paradise Lost” brilliantly demonstrates that with an expertly written meet-the-father ride-along. I liked Dominique’s dad being brutally honest in his evaluations of Carl, and his hard-nosed attitude towards Carl was a great outlet for some visceral dialogue between the two. The pair of memorable standout scenes prior to and during the ride-along – Dominique’s father proudly reassuring Carl that he hates his guts after dropping his daughter home and Carl returning the favor later by calling him an asshole – wonderfully characterize the mutual animosity, while displaying a profound realism that prevents this dynamic from getting sitcom-y or carried away. Even better is the character development that follows, with Carl acknowledging how much of an influence his new girlfriend could be and his sudden interest in police work – which is actually plenty plausible, considering how willing he’s been to be a provider for the Gallagher household lately.

Thanks in large part to Queenie and her little commune, Debbie’s maturation process has been much easier to swallow, but the episode makes a good call in wrapping up her time there in the midst of a monumental moment in her life. It was a smart idea for the show to drop her here and test both her fortitude with nature (if you can even call it that) and maternity because it provides her with a raw perspective on child birth – and the writers are keen enough of these surroundings that they show Debbie gradually dispelling her enthusiasm. (Side note: that midwife with the shitty bathtub as a sort of maternity bed was incredibly disgusting, yet shockingly effective for a sight gag.)

 

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Given the otherworldly maternal practices and daily absurdities that go on in this tiny little community, you can’t really blame Debbie for eventually wanting to bail – and the timing couldn’t have been better, as her water broke moments before Frank’s own personal dilemma suddenly coincided. This week had some fun with Frank embracing the “intricacies” of living within the commune – albeit too much fun at times – and I was surprised to see him actually playing father to Debbie and fulfilling her wish to return home for child delivery. If there’s anything Shameless has consistently nailed, it’s familiar dynamics; seeing Frank voluntarily tend to his youngest daughter’s needs felt nostalgic, and it’s just about as true to the character as the show’s been in a long time. And, in a relieved sort of way, I’m kind of happy his brief time delivering drugs clashed with his knowledge of the opium farm in the commune, since that shootout between Jupiter and Carl’s former employers suggests that perhaps Frank’s investment in both is over and done with.

(Side note #2: Yes, I know I expressed my enthusiasm over Frank’s discovery of Queenie’s opium farm last week, but this episode went nowhere with it which had me wondering if it was just a one-off setting to be blown up or scavenged in an episode or two. I’m still waiting to find out how that shootout went, but I’m guessing I was right.)

The rest of “Paradise Lost” was also pretty solid. Fiona’s eagerness to enjoy a true-to-form marriage process (with a strip club party to boot) was a neat way of bringing Kev and Veronica into the mix – especially since we got to see Kev, Kermit and Tommy all get together for a hilarious guest strip dance. (Poor Kermit for thinking the rest of the guys were going Full Monty with him.)

Lip got kicked out of the sorority home after his matron helped him recall the details of his behavior at a party R. Kelly would’ve been proud to have witnessed, then found himself in a position of firm denial over a potential alcohol problem when he learned he’s now required to attend AA meetings. The downward spiral that has been his life this season has taken some rightfully dark turns lately (with the drinking-centric ones drawing a faint connection to one Frank Gallagher), and this episode perfectly documented it from a tonal perspective. The scene where he gets fired from his matron is one of the series’ finest bouts with dark humor, while that heated verbal confrontation between him and Professor Youens speaks as much to the struggles he’s had adjusting to college life as it does to the lowlife his mentor/now-former employer truly is. Luckily for Lip, there’s light at the end of the tunnel with him nailing that internship interview (seriously, how cool and relatable was that interviewer!?!?), but no shot at redemption or advancement in these more proper surroundings is ever a sure thing with this guy.

 

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Ian has got to be hiding his true HIV results from Caleb, and it’ll be interesting to see if him lying about his mental illness in that EMT application will carry any future implications. I’m still waiting to see a lot of things happen in this story arc – Ian take some form of pills to justify his less-bipolar tendencies lately, Caleb be anything other than a walking plot device, etc. – but I’m currently enjoying Ian piece his life back together, and very few characters in this show deserve a chance at a meaningful career more than he does.

Last, but not least: the birth of little girl Francis. Debbie is officially a mother – but for how long? Did she make the decision to go to the hospital post-delivery by herself just so she can offer her child away (which would be incredibly dark, but very much believable, in my opinion ), or just so she could have a moment belonging only to her and the new baby girl? We shall see, but for now it’s going to be wickedly interesting seeing how this affects her relationship with Fiona, since they’re both under the same roof still and Fiona once again admitted to wishing against Debbie keeping the baby.

 

 

Here are a few more things I’d like to point out over this week’s episode:

  • There was plenty of tradition going around in this episode. Frank telling Debbie that her child birth needed to happen inside the Gallagher house because everyone else was born there was surprisingly touching, and a very telling reminder of the role this house has in this family. Fiona’s apparent tradition was both amusing and credible, since it basically came off as the show being self-aware of the sex montage between her and Gus last season that led to their short-lived marriage.
  • Caleb being in the room with Ian while he was taking the HIV test was flat out ridiculous; how in the world did the doctor allow him to stay at all before asking any questions? And even though it is kinda true that mental health is “none of their business” as far as employers and applications go, Ian’s issue is a special case. And he did spend time at a mental institution, like he said so himself – you can’t just shrug that over!!
  • I’ve read a few comment threads after watching this episode, and apparently Lip shouldn’t have been chomping at the bit for credit over Youen’s paper on complex wave functions; professors ripping off graduate/undergraduate students’ theories for personal gain is a rather common occurrence in college. But just imagine if Lip ever took his anger out on a pen:

“You’re taking a shit in my mouth, and saying you bought me dinner!”

  •  Whether he believes that a social security number has ten digits instead of nine, or fails to recognize the accent in a name like “Fatima”, Kev’s underlying ignorance was absolutely hilarious this week.
  • Chuckie took on some form of mountain lion and wound up with just a few scratch marks on his forehead? Yeah, sure Shameless. Suuuuuuurrreee.

 

 

The Verdict: 

Shameless hardly skipped a beat with “Paradise Lost”, as the darker, more grounded storytelling approach in last week’s episode shone throughout here as well. Even though parts of this week’s events included some unnecessary uses of the TV-MA rating, plenty of other bits and pieces took advantage of the show’s signature adult identity – resulting in an hour of television that was consistently enjoyable without cutting the important drama short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 8.6

+ Carl’s ride-along

+ Debbie gives birth

+ Lip’s falling out (and potential glimmer of hope)

+ Lots of funny material sprinkled in

– Some of the more “mature” instances ( I.E. Commune sex) were a bit unnecessary 

 

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Shameless: “Pimp’s Paradise” Review **SPOILERS**

Shameless: “Pimp’s Paradise” Review **SPOILERS**

Like many of you, I enjoy seeking out the first healthy discussion board I could find after watching the latest episode of a particular television series. There’s a certain closure that comes with knowing my voice was heard before thousands of other dedicated viewers who either agree or disagree with my opinions, particularly because the episode I had watched aggressively fueled my critical instincts. In the case of Shameless, this has become a normality – and recently, those same instincts that encourage me to discuss it with countless strangers on the internet have also been enough drive for me to review it every week, despite my schedule restraints.

I’m saying all of this because Shameless is my favorite television show and I have no problems restructuring my priorities around getting that one hour necessary to check up on the Gallaghers and her mischievousness. I’m also saying all of this because, as a life-long fan of the series, it’s utterly upsetting seeing it collapse on top of itself. For almost an entire season’s worth of episodes now, I’ve been fighting with the possibility that the show is becoming incapable of sustaining an adequate level of quality. The strength of the writing has fallen off considerably since its fantastic fourth season, and a lot of the characters are being spun around in the same predicaments with little commitment in fleshing them out any further. It’s a sad day when these traits start to frequent in a long-running franchise, and “Pimp’s Paradise” suggests that Shameless is definitely plummeting.

That’s the nice way of putting things, though. In actuality, “Pimp’s Paradise” is a shit-show of poor writing, extreme corner-cutting, and infuriatingly offensive humor. Besides the one element of the entire episode that stands a chance at resonating with us as viewers, the entire hour spanning this week’s proceedings is nothing but a grand demonstration of distasteful, dishonorable, and disappointing television.

If you’ve been pulling for the Gallaghers to band together after winning the house back; keep dreaming. Ian and Lip are still off on their own accord, while everyone else besides Frank and Debbie continue to hold up fences begging to be mended. This show has not figured out a way to make this work, which is gravely worrisome considering how sloppily each individual story arc is advancing. But that’s not even the worst part in all of this: Shameless is feeding us this shit without even properly covering up its tracks anymore. I’m over the ridiculousness of the Gallaghers being back home so easily, but what’s to make of other sudden developments like Debbie moving back in as well? Despite Carl dropping his own investment in the re-purchasing, this is still Fiona’s house, and she refuses to allow Debbie passage so long as she persists on keeping her incoming child. So why is Fiona giving up on all of that so abruptly? We only get a couple of scenes where she converses with the family and realizes that her hold over them has relinquished, but that shouldn’t be nearly enough pull for her to move back in with Sean – didn’t she just fight tirelessly for this house in the first place? What’s stopping her from making her presence felt and taking things over like she’s supposed to? I’m here wondering why the show even bothered taking this place away from the Gallaghers to begin with; all of this conveniently-resolved turmoil just for some pre-conceived solution that goes entirely against these characters. Unbelievable.

 

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Debbie’s living status with Erica is another huge misstep this week – but the exception here is that I never gave a damn about this development in the first place. Shameless continued its downward spiral for Debbie, as she went to extreme measures in her efforts to have Erica retain a bed for her to sleep in – only for those same extreme measures to go absolutely nowhere thematically. Frank’s ridiculous notion for his daughter to offer lesbian sex is as revolting as it sounded, but the show chickens out at the last second when he shoots her a text declaring that she once again has a room of her own back home. In summary: We spent three-four weeks awkwardly watching a pregnant, under-aged teen resort to seduction in the hopes of keeping a roof over her head for no reason. Did I mention yet that none of this agreed with the type of character Debbie’s been written as this entire series!?

Ditto for Lip, who’s fallout following his tasteless fling with Helene has secluded him to the bottom floor of a sorority house. Instead of sleeping around with the women who occupy these living quarters (which would have at least been the most plausible thing he’s done this season), he spent a good portion of this episode wallowing in despair, and crying out for help in a drunken stupor outside his former professor’s home. Oh, and let’s not forget how contrived his current living situation has become. Am I really supposed to believe that not one single authoritative figure knew that Lip painted the walls in his dorm room? No one checked that before? Seriously? And why not give the poor guy some notice before evicting him the same day you bring it to his attention?

Ian’s subplot with Caleb is trash, and this week confirmed that. Their relationship is so paint-by-numbers at this point, it’s like playing a video game tutorial on surviving the relationship gauntlet: first dates, meeting the family, proudly expressing yourself in public around your spouse. It’s like Caleb’s telling Ian, “Hey, look, I wanna go out with you, but first you’ve gotta prove yourself to me by doing X, Y, and Z. Then we’ll be together, and you’ll be a better man for it.” And then Ian gets fed all this talk about how he stood up to Caleb’s family at that wedding, yet all he did was get mildly intoxicated and dance passionately to some crappy music; I’m almost certain that the next encounter between them and Caleb’s parents – his father specifically – would be just as bitter and homophobic as the first.

 

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The one sole aspect of this entire episode that worked was Carl’s plight to find happiness amid the loss of his trusted pal, Nick. Behind all the ill-supervised underage parties and extravagant household items lies a young man with conflicted emotions, unsure of how to properly react to an unspeakable crime he avidly tried to prevent. Just like a week ago, Ethan Cutkosky is more convincing in this relatively vulnerable guise, and there are plenty of small, impactful character moments that rightfully put him in the spotlight. Sean budding in and having a heart-to-heart with Carl was an excellent way of bridging the gap between them, as the theme of coping that represented last week’s episode came back around rather nicely. This episode definitely could’ve used more time molding stories like these, so it’s unfortunate that the show decides to be so preoccupied elsewhere.

 

Here are some more notes from this week’s episode:

  • Kev and Veronica’s one-off vacation was extraordinarily inconsequential, which was really no surprise given how little they’ve had to do this season. I’m not sure if it was even earned, despite how insistent Kev was about getting a break from the Alibi and the kids. Since it’s so harmless, I find this part of the episode impossible to criticize.
  •  Sherilyn Fenn isn’t given much else to do as Queen besides sleep around with Frank, but that could not have come as a shocker considering how her character was introduced last week. By the way: what was with all that eco-friendly nonsense, and why were Debbie and Liam so smitten by it?
  • Chuckie has no business being on this show anymore. He’s nothing but a mentally disabled punching bag throw into certain scenes for cheap, offensive amusement – and there was no greater example of that than his in-class presentation of Mien Kampf (Come on, Shameless. You’re better than that.)

 

The Verdict:

Every week, I tune in to watch Shameless and expect to at least be moderately entertained, but “Pimp’s Paradise” is such a colossal waste of time and effort I regret ever having lost time out of my life over it. It continues the season’s ill-advised structure and perpetuates in it for 50+ minutes, making fools out of us by resetting bland story arcs with plot twists coming left and right, and up and down. Elsewhere, the episode is either forcing the cast into acting entirely out of character, or crafting challenges or solutions that are too contrived or too banal. Shameless absolutely needed to course-correct, but sadly, it’s still coasting in the wrong direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 4.7

+ Carl learning to cope with Nick’s arrest

– So, what was the point of Debbie babysitting Erica’s children?

– And why is Fiona NOT taking over the house she fought for!?

– Lip, PLEASE GET OVER HELENE!!

– Ian and Caleb material is relentlessly cliché, boring together

– Frank, Queen, and Mein Kampf

 

 

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “The Cruise” Review **SPOILERS**

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “The Cruise” Review **SPOILERS**

“The Cruise” is by far the funniest episode Brooklyn Nine-Nine has dished out yet. Constructed under fantastic setup – laminated cruise activity itineraries, a boisterous little sister complaining about cab rides and stolen hairbrushes, and a beautiful, affordable apartment arousing both amazement and skepticism – this week’s installment features the sharp writing necessary to run away with every A, B, C-D-E-F-G story on tap. Furthermore, the grounded, more realistic nature of the proceedings elevates the hilarity of the gang’s character beats – proving that this show has attained a rare range of raunchy, silly, subtle and grounded comedy that can seamlessly work together on any given night.

Craig Robinson is so good as Doug Judy/Pontiac Bandit, the fact that he’s been scattered throughout the series as a guest star is a crime all it’s own – so you can probably imagine my elation when I saw him performing smush-centric show tunes at the cruise ship’s all-ages piano lounge. It appeared I had a good reason to be happy about that: his return wound up becoming the indisputable anchor of the episode. The circumstances of his situation – speculation that his old boss from back when he actually stole Pontiacs has hired a hit on him, thus forcing him to lay low on a boat where 40% of the ship’s labor force is rife with criminal records of their own (because, according to the captain, no normal person would want to live on a boat) – and the pull that he uses to swing Peralta into his predicament – the free “tix” courtesy of a made-up sweepstakes – are both hilarious, strangely plausible, and perfectly true to the characters. Once these two butt heads again, the action ensues at a breakneck pace, with loads of amazing slapstick swiftly guiding us along – from the running gag of Craig Robinson’s surprisingly adequate notching of high-pitched singing notes, to Peralta and Doug’s setting-appropriate love for Speed 2: Cruise Control. And because Peralta and Judy share a lowkey chemistry that vibes with the playfulness of both their personalities, their interactions appear naturally effortless; the comedic nature of it all consistently in form, with enough underlining realism for us to care that they secretly care for one another. Boyle warned Jake not to make any new best friends, but that’s a mighty difficult promise to keep when Jake’s long-time nemesis is so darn endearing.

Even Amy shared some sweet moments with Doug – of course they’d both know that “boat jail” is commonly referred to as a brig! – in a brand-new dynamic that worked its way into the Peralta/Santiago relationship in heartwarming fashion. I loved how easy it was for Doug to gel with her, and how her overall charm drove him into becoming the voice of reason for Jake – who was too busy going after his archnemesis to acknowledge his girlfriend’s merriment during the cruise. The payoff couldn’t have been sweeter, as Jake finally drags his ego aside to tend to Amy’s wants and needs (those 76 cruise activities had to be completed sometime), while they both release the big “L” word from their tongues. Was it a little too easy for Amy to brush aside the fact that the majority of her mini-vacation with her hubby took a back seat to saving a fleeing criminal from a relentless hitman? Yes – and no, considering how immensely fetching Robinson was this week – but at least there’s enough context to justify the couple’s kiss, make-up, and love-declaring. I’m glad that the show continues to subvert sitcom relationship expectations, and allow these two to grow as a couple without allowing these small bumps in the road to play a bigger part than they should.

 

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Holt’s younger sister, Debbie (Niecy Nash) was a hoot, with her constant gossiping and indifference to personal events in her life making her the exact opposite of the captain’s more straight-faced demeanor. She’s instantly an annoyance for him – and rightfully so – but her appearance runs deeper than simply having her older brother hear her whine and complain. Brooklyn Nine-Nine crafts some of its best B-story work here, subtly including Terry and Gina into the mix as the links to Holt’s “humanizing” side – the very same character development we’ve been watching progress all season – and hitting us with the sadness of Debbie’s formerly undisclosed separation. I laughed – a lot – over the Captain’s sudden craving for seltzer water (especially his need to hide in the file room while drinking it), and the made-up instances Gina and Terry wailed out over to fuel his own brand of bickering towards Debbie – but I also felt bad for the two siblings, seeing that this is a time where they need each other’s accompaniment more than ever. Holt bringing the joys of their childhood back with that tent in his office was the perfect way for this subplot to end: It shows the ever-increasing liveliness Holt is beginning to express towards others, and is an expressive callback to a past we never saw, but are now emotionally attached to.

We got another dose of the Boyle/Diaz dynamic at play this week, and the apartment subplot paid off by remaining rooted in realism and credibility. The overall astonishment of the home where that old lady died felt like a natural reaction for two modestly-paid police detectives to have (especially when it has as much closet space as it did), and the “old-fashioned suck-off” that followed featured some of the series’ funniest phrases and cutaways. The fact that they both lost the apartment to another suitor was predictable as all hell, but it sprung their deductive skills into action in a believable way. Having them fall immediately suspicious to the landlord ignoring their advances and figuring out he did so to cover up his murdering of the old resident rings true to the hard, honest work they’ve displayed during most cases – and the apartment being left up for grabs still gives this C-story a chance to return in the future. I didn’t mention in-depth how much fun it was seeing Charles and Rosa honorably fight over residency here, but I don’t feel like I have to – their typically zany collaborations always make for a winning break from the main plot.

 

 

On that note, here are some of my favorite lines from the week:

  • “Say ‘I Love Carousel Cruises International Ltd.'”
  • “We got songs about smushing, songs for smushing to, songs for the kids.”
  • “The drama queen of the Holt family? What, did she laugh out loud one time?”
  • “Once I used an exclamation point in an email. You called me Diana Ross.”
  • “I mean, the game of contacting next of kin.”
  • “I smiled at you…for what!?”
  •  “That’s the man you’re looking for, a little bit to the left”
  • “Why wouldn’t you want cops with great credit living in your apartment?”

“Great credit and an eel hookup.”

  • “Now, turn to your partner and tell them how your spouse died!”

 

One more thing: I will definitely be re-watching that “Rosa” rendition, if only to see Doug hilariously attempt to direct Jake to the hitman in the lounge a couple hundred more times.

 

The Verdict:

“The Cruise” is the prime definition of a good thing gone perfectly right, taking various scenarios and working all of them into the workplace theme of Brooklyn Nine-Nine with astonishing finesse. It’s a comedic masterpiece, making you laugh just as hard as the slight instances where you might even cry – yet swirling around all of this incredible work is the honest truth that the show stays true to itself throughout. I could watch this episode again, and again – and again – but even multitude viewings can’t diminish the magic of cerebral storytelling graced with this particular stroke of genius. Job well done, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 10

+ Craig Robinson, smushing, hitmen, and navigational love songs

+ Judy’s impact on Jake/Amy relationship

+ Holt and Debbie’s brother-sister drama

+ Boyle and Rosa’s “suck-off”

+ Literally laughed out loud all throughout the episode

 

 

 

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