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*TV REVIEW* The Deuce finds that seeing is believing in “Show and Prove” 

*TV REVIEW* The Deuce finds that seeing is believing in “Show and Prove” 

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             SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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So, contrary to what we were led to believe in the pilot, Vincent’s deep dive into the dirty intricacies of the mob business is far from over. After slick-haired, sharp-dressed mob capo Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) cordially invites him into a profitable business venture requiring the efforts of brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer), the fair-mannered Martino brother starts to see the bigger picture behind his recent success story down by the “wrong side of the river”. Rudy wins him over by metaphorically splashing said big picture right in his face during a walk down The Deuce. “Human garbage”, as Rudy so plainly calls it, is everywhere, along with a dreary lack of progress and livelihood; their walk about town manifests into a grand tour of all these things, thanks to Ernest Dickerson’s carefully structured, widely-framed directing. With some time and an increased assortment of resources, Vinnie could very well be on the cusp of something greater than pulling $700 a week at a restaurant he doesn’t even own.

That sort of broad sell is the driving force behind what keeps the cast of The Deucestanding afloat amidst the intangible, stagnant pool of water that pollutes its crowded setting; it’s also the thesis to this week’s episode. In “Show and Prove” the exposition means nothing if the sell carries no weight. Vincent’s won over because Rudy’s artificial sentiment jives with the feeling of stagnation and scumminess he’s just recently escaped from (which, in a way, is one half logical and one half ironic, considering the new set of circumstances he finds himself in). Although we as viewers can already dissect the illegitimacy of Rudy’s stern remarks on West 42nd, Vinnie’s trending upward as a manager seeking opportunities to garner a position worthy of his capabilities. Eventually, you’d imagine that he’ll come to his senses, but for right now he’s got Bobby working the construction chain like a fiddle, and the money’s good.

Others like Ashley are literally selling their bodies to achieve their own desired levels of personal gain. A somewhat heartbreaking arc in the pilot episode, her ambitious attempts to satisfy both herself and C.C. spills over into a network of multiple storylines here. After bearing it all for potential film suitors to see in a provocative photoshoot (one that Shay suggests she shouldn’t have paid for in the first place), she returns to both Shay and Darlene about it, which prompts Darlene to confront Fat Mooney at his bookshop over rightful compensation. Right in line with that sense of worth she was looking for with Louis last week, she (literally) gets her money‘s worth at Fat Mooney’s, confiscating the remaining tapes of her video “sex”capade and later reporting them to Larry.

Ashley’s preferred solution is so simple it’s not even glanced at for the remainder of the episode; those chomping at the bit to find out if Bernie Wolf’s underground film producers are interested in her will have to wait patiently until at least next weekend. Darlene’s situation, however, goes beyond what Larry wants and what Darlene needs to keep him happy. Their exchange at the diner once again highlights the leverage and the power represented in the pimps that run The Deuce, and unfortunately for Darlene Larry’s vigorous clutch on her self-worth means her frustration-fueled search for satisfaction won’t get any answers anytime soon.

There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel for her in “Show and Prove”, when she ventures off to the library to read and check out books. Later on, we see her distance herself from the busy trappings of the bar she’s in, taking a break from whetting the sexual appetites of empty suits with every flip of the page from whatever novel she picked out. Obviously, Larry could give less of a shit, and it’s difficult to imagine that his aggressiveness towards Darlene has ceased to intensify. We continue to watch her try to learn and grow for her own benefit, but what sucks for her so far is that she’s trapped in a relationship designed to dumb her down to a dispensable commodity.

Eileen’s self-worth is also without question, but unlike Darlene it’s also without restraint; far be it for any one of those pimps down at the diner to try and scoop her up. As a result, her arc goes in a completely different direction. Eager to demonstrate a progressive display of independence, she considers Fat Mooney’s monetary exploitation on a trip to the Bronx, filling in for a fellow prostitute on the set of a homemade porno. Her fascination at the shrewd set design and film antics (the Campbell’s soup trick at the end of the production is as interesting as it is hilarious) prompts her to steal some of the pornographers’ work – she’s on to something here.

Before we get there, though, we are once again reminded of the family dynamic she’s involved with back home: an honest one that paints an arresting picture of the type of relationship a woman in her position would have with an exuberant, miss-informed son and a loving – albeit disapproving – mother. And again, Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible throughout. As the daughter seeking a stable source of contribution for her family, she exhibits an enthusiastic drive that makes me root for her even despite the knowledge that she’s simply going back out to fuck for cash. At the porno scene up in the Bronx, she gives us a calculating, analytic version of Eileen that practically transports us into her thoughts. Without saying a word, she tells us everything she’s thinking when she glances away to the side after being showered with fake jizz; an instance that transitions into a healthy dose of inquisitiveness when Naomi provides her with a clearer understanding of all the materials on set.

The most enthralling half of “Show and Prove”, however, is the one that illustrates the day-to-day workings of the average escort. Police officers Flanagan and Alston from the pilot return to inject more of that nonchalant communal interaction from last week, cheating a street-cleaning system within their precinct by shuttling prostitutes and raiding bookshops with hidden porn tapes. While the latter is relatively straightforward, the true nuance of their excursions this week lie within the former. By treating the ladies they rack up on street corners to Chinese food and harmless conversation (and then later sending them right back out when the coast is clear from fellow lieutenants), they collect a better understanding of the personnel they’re exploiting – while also covering the fact that homicides are occurring at a rapid rate elsewhere. I liked that we got to see Alston sympathize for them and even try to talk some sense into Loretta, and the overall procedure of it all is intriguing in the sense that the police back then seem to have exerted their creativity in all the wrong places.

After this week, C.C. and Lori’s relationship easily springs forward as the most engaging dynamic thus far. The bedroom scene, shown in two separate shots, portrays a gripping accrual of affection as C.C. prides Lori over her appearance before he opens up about his personal insecurities. I can’t help but feel like his “lonely pimp” monologue is straight bullshit – particularly because, you know, he is still a pimp – but the show has already established his work philosophy so it succeeds as a sort of dramatic irony. The man’s sell is so convincing that Lori practically feeds off his rage when she refers to her former pimps back in Minnesota (“I hear you, Daddy”). That level of dominance has her eating up his every word in the movie theater, and later when she’s rescued from an escort gone (horribly) bad.

But even still: what’s Lori really thinking after C.C. stabbed that fake cop? There’s a certain level of shock there that keeps her quiet when she passes by Ruby and Shay; as if the fantasy and the dreams her pimp provided are fading. She had a rough night, a night that could’ve reached a fatal conclusion, but the man who expects to bred a family with her simply shrugs it off as procedure and trots her back out into the street. Unlike Vincent’s involvement with Rudy, Lori is clearly struggling with the lifestyle presented to her. Sometimes, drinking the kool-aid isn’t as easy as experiencing an educational night around the town.

Before I conclude, here are some extra notes from this week’s episode:

  • Predictably, Abbey dropped out of college this week and moved into a new living space with a bunch of unidentified individuals. Drugs and booze (and possibly some sex) will probably be slung around like candy in the weeks ahead.
  • I highly doubt that Bobby’s role in the construction business is coincidental, considering Chris Bauer played Frank Sobotka in The Wire and that character wrestled with managing the docks and handling the mob that he conspired with.
  • Unfortunately for detective Grossman, his argument for Mike Epstein and his remarkable 1969 season doesn’t quite hold up in retrospect. Despite his culturally-driven impact being compared to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays here, Epstein managed to only play five more seasons in the Major Leagues, amassing just 78 homeruns in that span (although he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004).
  • “Careful with those meat hooks. I’m delicate like a teacup.”
  • Who else got serious The Wire vibes by the roundups that bookended the episode, and Rizzi’s roll-call?
  • I forgot to also mention that Vinnie is Rudy’s latest tenant, and that Rudy has already offered him a dried up gay bar called “Penny Lane”. Besides the lightning-fast rate at which Vinnie’s character arc is moving, I found the fact that I picked up the Beatles reference at the same time Tommy Longo did to be the most standout part of this episode.
  • Sandra, the anthropologist who acknowledges Darlene at the bar, is most likely going to expose the sex trade in Times Square someway, somehow. I just don’t know when or how she’ll manage to do so yet.
  • Also, screw Larry for breaking Sandra down to tears. Man, these pimps are assholes.
  • The shot at the movie theater where C.C. and Lori are centered and the man in the far right corner is openly receiving oral just about sums up the directional quality of the entire installment (which is a very good thing, in case you were wondering).
  • I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more of Paul very soon; I guarantee it.


THE VERDICT:

“Show and Prove” wasn’t as much about moving the needle as it was about digging deeper and deeper into the constructs of its setting and character themes, but it definitely proved that the show’s glacial storytelling pace could be much more engaging than you’d think. Between C.C. showing Lori the ins and outs of daily prostitution, to Rudy and Vincent coming up with a promising business agreement, The Deuce picked up right where its pilot left off with a flurry of strong scenes, great performances, and brilliant direction.RATING: 9

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The Deuce Leaves 1970s New York Wide Open to Rich Character Study

The Deuce Leaves 1970s New York Wide Open to Rich Character Study

Hey guys! As an avid fan of The Wire and some of David Simon’s other work, I can’t begin to describe how much of a thrill it is to finally be at the forefront of one of Simon’s new television series. I hope that school and work won’t keep me from staying on top of this show on a weekly basis, so I will do what I can to cover The Deuce after the conclusion of each new episode. Hopefully, this will be a fun and exciting venture for both me as a writer and all of you guys as readers!

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                                                            SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!!!!!

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Here in America, sex sells. It’s everywhere, from television sets and mobile devices to click bait ads and highway billboards. We, as human beings, are so prone to it as an avenue of enjoyment that for some it has emerged as a profitable lifestyle, an essential element of survival and steady income. In The Deuce, David Simon’s latest look at the Dickensian Aspect of human society, that avenue has only just begun to consume the masses.

Set in the unrestrained trappings of 1971 Times Square, The Deuce opens its telling story with a corpulent cast of characters who are all working to stay afloat with the changing times. For some, like James Franco’s double-take in the form of twin brothers Frankie and Vincent Martino, that involves dodging lifelong debts with shady individuals and making an honest living amidst the descent of a family in shambles. For others, like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Eileen “Candy” Merrell and Dominique Fishback’s Darlene, they’re faced with making enough cash to provide for one’s kindred son or searching for purpose behind the tint of a Jack Conway movie.

The Deuce‘s bread and butter is its power to speak volumes in its character moments.”

In-between the various bits of pertinent character exposition such as these are the sprawling moments of dialogue where The Deuce assures that the disco-laden background is little more than window-dressing. Don’t get me wrong, here: there is much, much personality injected into both the direction and cinematography in the pilot episode.The Deuce’s bread and butter, however, is its power to speak volumes in its character moments.

Following the funky, colorful intro (a huge “Yes!” moment for fans of The Wire‘s classic minute-long opening sequences, I’m sure), we are instantly treated to an abundance of them. For example: Gary Carr’s C.C. steals the show right away with his pinstriped suit and womanizing inducement. That power he holds over unsuspecting Minnesotan Lori (Emily Leade) segues into a potent diner scene where we are introduced to the rest of C.C.’s “employees”. Both scenes are practically an endowment of the show’s current sex climate, from the immediate stripping of Lori’s innocence, to the whisked away passion illustrated deep within the pupils of Ashley’s eyes. The firm grasp that a man in C.C.’s position over the pliable hearts of his ladies of the night is ever-present, and is a shadowy feeling that carries over into the work presented by his other colleagues like Gbenga Akinnagbe’s Larry Brown and Method Man’s Rodney.

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It helps that The Deuce is so well-casted and acted – I’ve seen this pilot twice, and could not for the life of me pick out a single negative exception – but the show’s marriage of actor and script help transcend its dizzying array of character beats. The pimps run their half of Times Square not only because they’re resourceful and good with singling out women with daddy issues; they have a necessary rapport with the beat cops, which is decorated beautifully in one of the episode’s most grounded, “1970s era New York” moments. Maggie Gyllenhaal predictably runs away with her material, dishing out tough love to a lucky teen on his birthday in one scene and looking worn out over voice messages and excursions from the night before in another; she’s easily the most compelling individual to watch here.

Other well done interactions and dynamics involve Abigail’s (Margarita Levieva) brief run-in with Officer Flanagan, and Vincent’s withdrawal from his disloyal wife and her mob-ridden family. Both their arcs take off as the episode thrusts them into separate bursts of enlightenment, and it’s impossible not to assume that a major seed has been planted with Abby shoo-ing off Flanagan to chat it up with Vincent a little while longer. That scene in particular is one of the few instances in The Deuce where the wheels are spinning towards something bigger – the origins of Times Square’s porn industry boon, perhaps? – but the human interaction is so nuanced that the viewer could easily acknowledge that without the writing being on the wall.

“The show’s marriage of actor and script help transcend its dizzying array of character beats.”

The Deuce also seems confident that, in time, its community approach will become a discernible factor that helps it stand out amongst its peers, and the pilot does right by this level of ambition. There’s so much to consider when C.C. passes by Vincent in a quiet apartment hallway and acknowledges him by name, or when a cautiously eager Lori learns the tools of the sex business trade from Eileen on one of her first nights working corners. Worlds are bound to collide as the season goes on, and that’s made an exciting prospect by just how profound and matter-of-fact the show projects these engagements.

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1970s Times Square has probably never looked or sounded both so beautiful and so ugly in a television series. Shot with the same level of gritty filtering that easily separated The Wire from just about everything else at the time, The Deuce is a cacophony of authentic atmosphere, careful lighting, immersive audio cues, and subtle visuals. This episode is one of the most faithful re-imaginings of any time period I’ve seen in a TV show, from C.C.’s tricked out Cadillac and the voluptuous outfits of the city’s prostitutes, to the lines of garbage on street corners and trails of marquees darting down for city blocks. Even the drowning state of blaring horns raging down Times Square is edited with a grin-inducing practicality. This elevates some scenes in ways that are difficult to describe, but I was consistently blown away by the level of accuracy on display here.

 

The Verdict:

Some of the greatest stories ever told take time before they truly take off, and although The Deuce still needs to prove itself in the coming weeks, I’m already sold after its markedly impressive debut. Covering dozens of characters, a multitude of story arcs and only a portion of a city that appears larger than life, The Deuce finds an immediate strength in being a character study heavily reliant on realism and careful observation from the viewer. Like its spirited, critically-acclaimed predecessor, it prefers to put its puzzle pieces together methodically, but understands the need to give enough substance and meaning to them for the experience to be worth revisiting. If Simon’s previous works are any indication, it’s going to take a while before we see the porn industry make a notable presence here – but if the build up is this good, this flavorful, I’m more than willing to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

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THE DEUCE – TV REVIEW: “PILOT”

RATING: 9.4

+ Performances

+ Script

+ Absolutely nails the time period from an aesthetic standpoint

+ Dripping with various themes, memorable interactions, and character development

 

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Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

I had acknowledged in my review of “The Six Thatchers” that Mary’s death could be good for Sherlock in the sense that Holmes and Watson’s relationship could once again become the focal point. It’s a shared character arc with a relevant history; one that we, as fans, have greatly appreciated since the moment they took on their first case together. Considering the separate instabilities of both gentlemen (Holmes and his drug problem, Watson and the loss of his beloved wife), it’s only appropriate that the show hone in on their woes, and “The Lying Detective” does that with impeccable craftsmanship.

There were many defining moments in “The Lying Detective” that convinced me of Sherlock‘s return to glory, but those mean nothing without the episode’s mesmerizing first thirty minutes. The way Sherlock mentally undresses the state of his latest client, “Faith”, and then quickly becomes keen of her suicidal disposition is wonderfully presented with the visual of his heroin usage hindering his thinking process. The casual stroll down the streets of London is book-ended with a pair of fantastic scenes where Sherlock continues to peel off more underlying factors in his client’s life while she acknowledges his growing empathy for her. Sherlock visually deciphering the dimensions of her apartment in-between all that is a marvel for the eyes to behold, especially when considering the heightened presence his drugs have started to take. The twist at the conclusion of this act, with Mrs. Hudson apprehending Mr. Holmes and interrupting Watson’s therapy session, brings every element the episode initially touches on together. From this point on, I was virtually at the edge of my seat in a way Sherlock hasn’t demanded in quite some time.

For pretty much the entirety of this week’s episode, everything seemed to just…click. Even if you took out the discovery that “Faith” the client was actually Sherlock’s secret sister, Eurus, I’d still love the way she quietly encouraged Sherlock’s explicit curiosities and suppositions. Seeing Sherlock both remain on the Mount Olympus of deductive reasoning and establish his genuine care for her well-being, even in his relatively unstable state, was remarkably effective. Ditto for Holmes’s elaborate scheme revolved around Watson, which would have been pretty darn enthralling even without the exposition of Mary’s “Miss Me?” DVD. His uncanny ability to both surmise Culverton Smith as a serial killer and manufacture a proud display of media-crazed contempt against him perfectly aligns with the fractured condition of his friendship to John.

The brilliance in this specific series of events was hiding in plain sight, but Sherlock makes it work in cohesive bliss by playing off of tired tropes. Toby Jones’s gradual descent into revolting maliciousness makes it far too easy to bet on Smith’s wicked turn against Sherlock at the end – yet that’s the point all along. Holmes drags John up, down and around Culverton’s hospital to milk every ounce of festering vile the foul-toothed gentlemen possesses, knowing that his immense wealth and social stature will retract all of the detective’s hostile accusations. Watson is little more than a witness to the increasingly intense animosity between Holmes and Smith, yet that’s exactly what Sherlock wants.

 

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The drug-infused disposition coupled with the publicized baffling Sherlock generally experiences during this sequence is the perfect fuel for John’s eventual lashing out, and the show gets there at the height of his anger. The residual effects of watching Culverton do stuff like proudly advocate a discussion about serial killers in front of innocent, young children still lingers with Watson. However, the moment where he punches his longtime partner in the face is produced from an exclusive outlet of emotions; this couldn’t be more personal. Here, Watson truly realizes what it’s like to be in a position to make a difference, and decides to act on that impulse. Mary is dead in part because he didn’t do enough to protect her, but Sherlock – regardless of his efforts – shares some of that responsibility, yet here he stands wasting his genius and making a mockery of himself. For Sherlock, that feeling, that perception, is the expectation of weeks’ worth of planning; for John, that’s the reality. (Side note: Having re-watched this episode, it’s really impressive how layered [and how much more enjoyable the second time around] Sherlock’s plan is.)

Mary’s overall involvement in all of this is very polarizing, but I can’t help but be amongst the minority who are neither pleased nor bothered by her hallucinogenic appearance. I kinda see what Sherlock was after by giving Watson a voice in his head that he could see, but this is such an overused technique that it became frustrating to have at all. Personally, I don’t think Mary was around long enough to be a convincing figure in this light, and I felt that both the therapy sessions and the reluctant team-up with Holmes carried enough emotional ties to Watson’s plight; there’s not much else we could’ve possibly gotten from seeing him mentally wrestle with a ghost. This is a complaint that’s pretty much cancelled out, however, by Watson’s reveal that he merely cheated on Mary by simply texting the girl on the bus, and that he is prepared to be the man Mary “thought he was”; a gripping little instance that hits home thanks to Martin Freeman’s touching delivery.

That and Benedict Cumberbatch’s predictably brilliant performance headline an extraordinary tabling of acting in “The Lying Detective” that elevates the rest of the episode’s shifting plates. Sian Brooke faces no easy task as the secret Holmes sister, but she champions the role with a gravitating, deceptively commanding approach to the script. Whether she’s parading around glaring vulnerabilities to Sherlock as Faith, or slowly taking over an innocent-turned-tense therapy session right before Watson’s eyes, Brooke quickly leads us to determine that Eurus is quite the compelling individual.  The aforementioned Toby Jones comes off a bit stale at first, but once the script grants him more flexibility later on he absolutely takes off with the character’s malevolence. We even got Una Stubbs stepping out of the Baker Street residence and into an Aston Martin(!), showing us a more refined side to Mrs. Hudson (“You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes!”) and flaunting that endearing chemistry she’s always shared with the main cast.

 

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Few episodes in this entire series could top the highs displayed here, and part of that has to do with the excellent way it closes out. Sherlock and Watson’s hug not only resurfaces their relationship back on solid ground, but gives it an added depth: by seeing the worst in each other, they’ve emerged more enlightened than they once were, and are more emotionally entangled. To snatch that away so suddenly with Eurus murdering Watson would be a stretch – even for a show of this caliber – but I love the volatility behind the cliffhanger. We have to question the note and the tiny living space in which it presided, as well as the former lover Eurus once had – all of which could factor in the season finale in a huge way. There’s an open-endedness to those final seconds that should have many heads spinning, because if nothing else Eurus could be synonymous with far more variables than we could imagine.

 

 

Here are a few extra notes I’d like to cover before I conclude:

 

  • “And you know why they dropped you, dear? Because they know you.”
  • The scene where Smallwood leaves her private number with Mycroft is obviously an invitation for something more than a few drinks, but I can’t help but think that there’s a deeper intention at play. I have terrible memory with secondary characters, and I haven’t seen “His Last Vow” since the night it originally aired, so I have very little to tack on my suspicions – but surely this potential fling Smallwood is pursuing is for non-intimate reasons, right??
  • I’m still bothered by the severe lack of supervision over Sherlock on Myrcroft’s part. At one point, he says that Sherlock going rogue is a legitimate security concern, yet his little brother is roaming the streets high off of heroin with a roommate who supplies him behind closed doors. I get that Sherlock purposefully used as a part of his grand scheme, but I would think big brother would be on top of keeping him clean above all else.
  • Mrs. Hudson reaches unforeseen levels of badassery this week, and it really doesn’t stop with the car. The way she effortlessly figured out where Sherlock laid out his latest “unsolved problem” was just awesome, and she even had a chance to embarrass Mycroft (“He has no idea what an idiot you are!”)
  • Watson now knows that Irene Adler is still alive, and the first thing he tells Sherlock to do is text her back. This was a proud moment for me, seeing as how John uses the tragedy of his own marriage to give his close friend solid insight. He wants what’s best for Sherlock, and realizes that he may be missing out on the kind of special relationship he had just lost with Mary. If Sherlock could also have that, John would rather he did; stubbornly brushing it aside with occasional texts seems insulting to Watson.

 

 

The Verdict:

 

Sherlock came back in full form this week, placing its attention back on its central dynamic in a dark, riveting ninety minutes of expertly-written entertainment. The use of this week’s latest bad guy lent to the growing conflict between Holmes and Watson in the best possible way, while the eventual resolve was met with a brilliant character reveal and a (potentially) devastating cliffhanger. “The Lying Detective” still consists of a few ill-advised decisions, but I can’t remember the last time I watched Sherlock and was as immersed in what was currently unfolding and excited for what’s to come afterward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9

+ Toby Jones as Culverton Smith

+ Sherlock’s grand scheme to get Watson to his boiling point

+ Faith, and then that Eurus reveal!

+ Basically every scene with Mrs. Hudson

– While not a terrible idea, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost Mary

– Would like to see Mycroft watch over Sherlock more intently, drugs or no drugs

 

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Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

 

I’ll get right to it here: I did not really like “The Six Thatchers” or the big death at the conclusion of the episode. It’s not that it wasn’t thrilling or mysterious enough, or that it was covering non-compelling material; I was just simply frustrated, confused, and rather bored with everything that was going on.

Sherlock‘s been around for about six years now, spending most of its time on the air establishing its main character and the personal relationships he shares – often to remarkably impressive degree. But here, in an attempt to shift the narrative stylings in the form of a “Skyfall meets Cowboy Bebop” conundrum of spy hijinks and secondary emotional ties, the show follows its newfound ambitions all over the world (and quite literally here, I might add) but leaves its heart somewhere at the conclusion of season three’s “His Last Vow”.

The biggest slip up amongst all of this was the decision to put John on the sidelines, and put Mary at the center of the main plot. By fast-cutting through Mary’s pregnancy, we practically lose out on the underpinnings of her relationship to Watson (why she refers this safer lifestyle, how far her love for him stretches out, etc.) and give way to a montage of self-indulging comedy that, while funny, undercuts the potential emotional weight that the new baby could’ve had. Baby Watson exists in “The Six Thatchers” for no other reason than to be cute and assume the responsibility of irritating Sherlock  for once. Moreover, this new shift in dynamic convinces Mary to brush back her new family when one of her old “A.G.R.A.” squadmates resurfaces and seeks revenge. Although the flashbacks do a serviceable job of acquainting us with Mary’s past, it’s one lacking of interest and any defining bit of substance. Once  the episode ended, I couldn’t help but think of how inconsequential Ajay’s drive would have been had Sherlock decided to leave the missing Thatcher statue alone and just focused on solving the bland murdering that led him into Mary’s mess in the first place.

And yes, I say this having acknowledged the role that Mycroft’s deceitful secretary wound up playing: another plot point in “The Six Thatchers” that falls terribly flat. Her grand reveal comes without suspense, doesn’t expose enough interesting information about either A.G.R.A. or the “Ammo” acronym that’s whispered across the episode’s running time, and leads to the fatal shooting and killing of Mary conveniently right before Watson shows up to the scene.

Speaking of Watson, he spends a good portion of the episode simply reacting to what’s going on without playing an integral enough role. He begins to pursue a puzzling affair with a lady he meets on a train, but that boils down to little more than another mystery for the show to tackle later on. (Side Note: why John neglected to dish this out to Mary after discovering her ties to A.G.R.A. is beyond me.) Elsewhere, he’s either noticeably distanced from Sherlock’s detective work, or the last person of importance to stumble upon the big reveals. It’s too convenient to have him project his anger at Sherlock, having arrived to the Aquarium moments after Mary leaps in front of his partner and takes a bullet for him; Sherlock’s vow to protect John’s wife may be broken, but it’s not his fault that Mary sacrificed herself. Had the episode spent more time with John acclimating himself with childbirth and the effects his marriage may have been having with his investigative partnership, I’d actually care quite a bit more about Mary’s passing and how it may drag him down going forward. Unfortunately, his woeful hatred over Sherlock is splashed on us in the blink of an eye, and a central dynamic developed over years of solid writing becomes shifted in utter contrivance.

The only thing that truly worked in “The Six Thatchers” was Sherlock himself, but even his own personal arc is mishandled. I appreciated the valiant effort he took to look after John’s wife in the advancements of keeping his vow, and Sherlock’s newfound empathy resonated all throughout the show’s cast of characters. Compared to the arrogant brainchild that commanded the screen in Sherlock’s pilot episode, this version of the famed detective speaks volumes of the level of maturity he’s collected since he first teamed up with Watson.

Unfortunately, the rest of what makes Mr. Holmes so fascinating – his incessant obsession with Moriarty, the drug influences that were hinted at last season and in the Victorian-era special – either takes a curious backseat, or is used in an ill-advised attempt to further Mary’s plight in the episode. I wish there was a deeper element in play that surfaced from Mary’s death – even if it didn’t directly consist of an impending return for Moriarty – but there isn’t, and even when the show briefly focuses on Sherlock’s psychological standing, it glosses over it and covers his tracks. Why exactly does Mycroft find it fair to ignore the fact that his brother killed a man in cold blood and nip the whole Magnussen affair in the bud? What kind of approach will he or someone else take in ensuring that Sherlock’s not actually losing his mind? I don’t know myself, and the show makes no attempt at acknowledging it here. Absolutely ridiculous.

 

 

The Verdict:

“The Six Thatchers” is a mess of an episode that fails to succeed in a shifted narrative. By ditching the more investigative aspects of the series, we are denied of the key elements that make the show so great, while being treated to an avalanche of flashbacks and exposition that hardly resonate on any level. Yet even on its worst day, Sherlock manages to be passively entertaining. Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of this amazing cast do splendid work as always, and there are a few visual sights to behold in “The Six Thatchers” (specifically Sherlock’s one-on-one fisticuffs with Ajay) that keep the whole thing from becoming a total loss. Mary’s death also suggests that both the Holmes-Watson dynamic may once again become the center of attention, and that Holmes’s obsession with (posthumous?) Moriarty may finally lead to something worth waiting three whole years for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 6

+ Sherlock’s determined efforts to protect Mary shown true character growth

+ Some fun moments, including that crazy fight scene between Sherlock and Ajay

– Watson’s severely underused, and his emotional ties to Sherlock and Mary are barely explored

– Focus on Mary’s past generally uninteresting

– (Very) weak reveal at the end

– Events from “His Last Vow” are glossed over like nothing

 

 

 

 

 

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Westworld: Series Premiere Review **SPOILERS**

Westworld: Series Premiere Review **SPOILERS**

Disclaimer: I have never seen the original Westworld film from 1973, and neither do I intend to draw many conclusions from or references to it in my reviews of the television series on HBO. In other words, expect my Westworld reviews to exclusively cover the material in the television series – whether I decide to eventually watch Michael Cricthon’s original film or not. 

 

Westworld is a thinking man’s television show: the kind of sixty-minute endeavor that’s recommended to be seen with one’s attention fixated in every line of dialogue, every thought-provoking facial expression, and every course of on-screen action. You simply can’t watch or enjoy it any other way, because its cast, its world and its message are impressively sprawling. Game of Thrones currently holds the reputation of being the king of “every moment counts” kind of TV over on HBO (which is quite amusing considering how Westworld‘s Sunday premiere already has people drawing comparisons to it), but with only two more seasons under its belt the network appears desperate for a successor. With its heavy science-fiction trappings and cerebral character themes, Westworld very well could be the light at the end of its “predecessor’s” dragon-clad tunnel.

But in order for this new series to help HBO succeed in its goal, it can’t just be entertaining; it needs to be relentlessly engrossing. It must be large in scope, yet ripe in detail; firm in the rules of its world, yet unceasing in its level of ethics and morals; deep in strong casting, and rich in Emmy-worthy performances. Suffix to say – and I’m proud to say this myself, as an avid Game of Thrones fan – that Westworld is all of these things, and more.

Set in a western-infused, Jurrasic Park-style theme park, Westworld questions the limits and nuances of artificial intelligence, peeling off philosophies and curiosities for the viewer to ponder through the stories of “Westworld”‘s hosts: the technologically-advanced robots that inhabit this fictional amusement world. Of which we are first introduced to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a scripted”daddy’s little girl”/damsel-in-distress that also holds the label as the theme park’s longest-running host. Her Westworld story parlays with Teddy’s (James Marsden), the cowboy with a heart of gold whose role is to fall in love with Dolores, leave town (either on his own accord or “by blood”), return, and do it all over again. We see one of their stories be violently interrupted by “The Man in Black” (Ed Harris) right around the same time the park’s science department decides to update a portion of its hosts, which calls into question the sudden off-script tendencies that they’ve recently been addressing.

 

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It’s initially hidden and eventually proven that Dolores’s presence, being the oldest robot in the park, stands for practically every theme and story thread the show wishes to pursue, as her sanctioned conversations with the host creators bookend the episode, filling us in on the roles these hosts play while giving us a sense of Dolores’s own understanding. Through Teddy, she questions the viability of her existence, as she witnesses his murder at the hands of the same guest who drags her into her family barn shortly before raping her. That moment is played off as a nightmare: a bad dream that is actually an erased memory that enables Dolores to continue playing her everyday role. But Dolores lingers on her recollections, and regardless of what her programmers tell her she’s past the point of blind complacence. If there is one instance that goes beyond proving my point here, it would have to be her conversation with Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), where she basically lies about always telling the truth just to save face. Another reason why I consider Dolores as such a focal point in Westworld is because we see how these little outliers in her stories have affected her throughout the episode, and considering her pedigree with the programmers it’s only fitting that she’d be the one thing standing in between a revolution and a never-ending theme park atmosphere.

There are two other perspectives to follow in Westworld, with one of them being behind the scenes. Jeffery Wright’s Bernard Lowe is the lead host programmer, and because of his enthusiastic direction we are provided with an internal conflict that falls sternly into a matter of interpretation. Unlike his colleagues, Lowe is intrigued with the possibility of advanced hosts with heightened emotions and expressions; others, like Simon Quarterman’s Lee Sizemore, prefer to leave things as is for the benefit of the guests. Bernard is enamored in the upward trajectory these robots could take, while everyone else besides Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Ford is content with make an easy buck off the rich and eliminating any potential risk the hosts may carry going forward. In turn, the internal contrast between Lowe and his workmates ignites debate amongst the viewers at home. Knowing what we know about Dolores and The Man in Black, should Lowe be given the keys to furthering the evolution of his hosts? Or is allowing the guests to roam freely within the park alongside the hosts currently on display a more feasible move?

This argument undoubtedly carries over to the third perspective: the relationship between the guests and the hosts. Already firmly established here in “The Original”, the actual living human beings who visit the park feed off of their Western fetishes, but like The Man in Black helps prove a number of times in the episode, their behavior could be counter-intuitive to the hosts remaining emotionally tied to the roles and stories they were assigned to. Of course, this will eventually lead to the hosts garnering enough influence to act on their own free will, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing just yet? Peter’s conversation with Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Ford teases the idea that the robots were created under more than a simple pre-determined image, and hints that there are supposed skeletons in the closet that we don’t know about right now. And on top of that, any host that was forced to go off-script at any point in the episode did so in a humane matter without contentiousness. Whether the hosts’ reactions vary depending on the robot remains to be seen, but the uncertainty sparks intrigue for future episodes.

 

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Lastly, the performances all around are absolutely fantastic, but there are still some noteworthy standouts. Evan Rachel Wood juggles the circus act of a humanized robot with pathos, while Wright and Hopkins truly draw you into the human side of the story as Bernard and Dr. Robert. Wright is especially impressive, but for those who’ve seen him in other works like Boardwalk Empire his brilliance here shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Other standouts include Sidse Babbett Knudsen, who’s refreshingly sharp-tongued as the realist Theresa Cullen, and Louis Herthum as Peter. Unfortunately for the latter, his shelf life on Westworld is woefully limited after the events in this episode, but at least we got that one chilling scene between him and Ford over that picture.

 

The Verdict:

It’s only been this one episode so far, but Westworld has already got me hooked. There’s appeal dripping from its pores, and once the allure of its cinematography wears off we’re left with a swarm of theories, twists and individual instances to write home and talk about. So much that this series initially has to offer is working like clockwork, and even with just a 10-episode season order I feel like it has only scratched the surface of what it has in store for those who choose to follow along. Whether you view it as the Sci-Fi drama that it is, or the multi-layered study into the ethics of artificial intelligence that’s underlined by the western standoffs and the brief spurts of prostitution – you owe it to yourself to hop on the bandwagon and see where this imaginative piece of television could take you.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9.2

 

+ The hosts, and the ethics and emotions they’re programmed with/slowly learning

+ The programmers and the argument behind advancing the hosts

+ Guest/host integration, theme park atmosphere, and The Man in Black

+ Standout scenes (Dolores’s “dream”, Peter’s freakout against Ford, etc.) that constantly question the viewer, encourage philosophical analysis

 

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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.

 

Episode 701

 

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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Pitch: “The Interim” Review **SPOILERS**

Pitch: “The Interim” Review **SPOILERS**

What concerned me in the pilot for Pitch is that the series appeared limited in scope. We can follow Ginny around all season long and watch her ascent to fame and stardom, but there didn’t seem to be much else to keep most viewers invested. The clubhouse struggles and the now-inevitable firing of Al are decent enough story arcs to have co-exist with the meteoric impact the team’s new female teammate was having throughout the sports world, but a large portion of the cast just seems to be along for the ride, playing their roles without the allure of any compelling characteristics or personalities. Thankfully, “The Interim” addresses this problem head-on, relying heavily on backstory, interlocking episode themes and strong character moments to flesh out the cast. The result is a much better sophomore outing that instantly becomes a more gravitating watch than the pilot.

Ginny’s backstory continues to shed light on her family history, as we got to spend some quality time between her and big brother Will (B.J. Britt). Their feel-good flashback scenes together were a welcome change of pace from the intensifying media and clubhouse atmospheres, but they also did a solid job showing us exactly how Amelia convinced Ginny to market herself. Through Will, Ginny sees the importance and the disadvantage of working with family: he’s a great brother who looks out for her and guides her down the right path, but as a college dropout with minimal agent expertise he’s incapable of opening new doors.

Even though Amelia checked out as a legitimate sports and entertainment agent at the time, her hold on Ginny has never went beyond becoming a walking, talking brand. So, some of the episode’s strongest material comes from watching their dynamic materialize in the flashbacks, and be reinstated by Ginny in the present time. Amelia prefers being in control, yet Ginny still holds the power to speak her mind and lay down ground rules. Both factors play a big part in Ginny’s Jimmy Kimmel interview, where she decides to go completely off-script to protect her manager (more on him later) and speak out over a rape scandal that was wrongfully dropped on her conscious by a female news reporter. This particular instant speaks to the character we were introduced to in episode one, and it also perpetuates the kind of work relationship she and Amelia currently have.

 

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A whole lot went down internally with the Padres in “The Interim”, as the players continued to lose gracelessly while an inappropriate tabling of words from Al in an old interview resurfaced. Obviously, Ginny’s presence in the locker room remains the primary source of the players’ recent struggles, but Pitch finds a neat way of spinning the issue in a number of different directions. For one, Al simply cannot manage this team; it’s very apparent now. He definitely has no control over his players, and the comments he made about Ginny while she was in the Minors confirms that he’s also too old-school to acknowledge the rules of interviewing that today’s managers must abide by. (In other words, he should know better than to outright say she’s hot in front of a camera.) I think Dan Lauria deserves some serious credit here, because even despite the alarming lack of sensitivity regarding Al’s handling of his resurfaced interview, he still portrays the San Diego manager with a sort of nuance that makes it hard to condemn him for his behavior.

Another way the episode successfully turns the Padres’ woes away from Ginny is in the front office. Frank insisting that Oscar – who worked his way up to GM with Al’s help – find a replacement manager by the end of the season is more justified than it was a week ago, but by learning Oscar’s backstory there is a stark amount of emotional stakes at play now. Oscar feels he owes Al the chance to redeem himself because Al opened doors he never dreamed he had access to. He went from being a middling utility player to helping run an entire Major League franchise, so Oscar’s ties to his supposed mentor extend past the ballclub’s overall performance. In addition, I think it’s pretty impressive that Oscar’s current plight parallels with Ginny’s, as both individuals are in prime positions to speak their minds while harnessing the power to make an impact decision.

 

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PITCH: Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the all-new “The Interim” episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 29 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Ray Mickshaw / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

 

The twist where Rachel Patrick (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), the same reporter who cornered Ginny over the rape scandal, was revealed as Mike’s ex-wife manifested into the episode’s best use of backstory. Her presence in Mike’s life affects him even after marriage, as we see him fighting to discover a concrete reason as to why he still plays baseball at his relatively advanced age. She also represents the life – and the happiness – Mike now yearns for. Just by the way he’s carried himself around his teammates, you can tell he’s been hiding something behind his proud exterior – and Pitch boldly uses his damaged relationship as fuel for character development; whether that progression involves him rallying the troops in the clubhouse, or finding himself at a bar with Amelia, another broken heart who experienced her own divorce years ago.

 

 

Here are some extra notes regarding this week’s episode:

  • Although this was a great week for some backstory, the flashbacks weren’t very kind to Amelia. The breakup between her and her husband is an odd, poorly-written scene, and on top of that it does very little to explain exactly what she saw in Ginny that made her quit her old job. Her past remains very murky – so does her presence in Ginny’s life.
  • Ditto for Elliot, who’s still just floating around being awkward.
  • That C-story with Blip and Evelyn is much more necessary than you’d think. Real life baseball players truly believe in rituals of all kinds, so Blip freaking out over the absence of his Funkmaster Flex t-shirt is very believable.
  • Ginny makes a conscious effort to “be one of the guys”, and goes about it in some plausible ways this week. One of which, however, is not with her dance moves.
  • Mike calling Ginny out for shaking him off is the kind of self-awareness this show needs to remain grounded in its source material. First of all, it shows the importance of batteries in the Majors: the best pitcher/catcher duos are always on the same page. Furthermore, it raises questions about Ginny’s pitch arsenal that deserved to be pondered. She knows her fastball sucks, but it truly is up to Mike to convince her that it’s still just as crucial to being successful as any one of her other offerings. A great pitcher understands that each pitch can help the other, and the sooner Mike can get Ginny to mature into that mentality the better.
  • Having the contrasting viewpoints in Colin Cowherd and Katie Nolan’s talk shows overlap each other was the neatest of touches the show has had thus far.
  • The in-game content in this episode was condensed considerably, which sort of helped the transitioning feel more organic. Also, Kevin Burkhardt’s play-by-play commentary, while not revolutionary in any sense, still trumps whatever the hell Joe Buck and John Smoltz were spouting out a week ago.
  • Evelyn joked about Blip not making the All-Star game because of his recent hitless streak, so that gives us a clearer time frame than before. It also omits my belief that the Padres were completely out of the NL West race; they’re just playing shitty baseball right now.

 

 

The Verdict:

 

“The Interim” did no favors for Amelia or her backstory, but was otherwise a very strong follow-up to last week’s pilot. Ginny continues to come into her own as a ballplayer, a teammate, and an supposed ambassador for women in America. Elsewhere, most of the main and supporting cast were fleshed out plenty, with Mike and Oscar in particular facing emotional plights that are compelling enough to come back for in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

RATING: 8.5

+ Ginny’s flashbacks with Will, Amelia

+ A number of strong character moments for Ginny and Mike

+ Al’s handling of his comments felt very real 

– Flashbacks do little to flesh out Amelia or explain her move to baseball

 

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