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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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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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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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The Flash: “The New Rogues” & “Monster” Dual Review

The Flash: “The New Rogues” & “Monster” Dual Review

I will be very busy these next couple of months, so my TV reviews will wind up being more sporadic than I had anticipated. I’ll be making an effort to compensate for the lack of time I currently have to dedicated myself to these posts by trying new things, like an end-of-the-week TV episode review catalogue, express (I.E. shortened) reviews, and dual reviews of episodes aired within a two-week span. I cannot guarantee that I’ll cover every show I tasked myself with each week, but I will at least aim to discuss them to some degree.

 

“The New Rogues”

 

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The Flash — “The New Rouges” — Image FLA304a_0078b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Grey Damon as Sam Scudder and Ashley Rickards as Rosalind Rosa Dillion — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

“The New Rogues” is an episode I couldn’t bear to live without reviewing. It’s so hilarious, so ambitious, and so much fun that not formally honoring it with the praise and accolades it deserves would be an immensely inconsiderate disservice to the work The Flash managed to construct here.  This truly was a brilliant hour of television, and for the first time in a long time The Flash truly felt like that magical show that graced our silver screens two years ago.

I could honestly start at any specific story arc or plot point and be talking about something golden, but for now I’d like to give my two cents on the most exciting aspect of the episode: Mirror Master. First off: what an amazing flashback sequence to introduce him to the live-action DC Universe. Captain Cold’s bone-chilling (pun intended) appearance mixed with the Bonnie and Clyde dynamic between Sam Scudder/Mirror Master and Rosalind Dillon/Top (both respectively played by Grey Damon and Ashley Richards) made for a thriller of an opening, with the origin story behind this episode’s main baddies blissfully explained through traded blows to the face and an untimely particle accelerator explosion. The revenge plot that follows for the villainous couple relies entirely on a silver-age tone that not only perfectly characterizes their relationship, but sets the mood for the rest of the episode. Their encounters with Barry and Jesse feed off the exhilaration of viewers seeing a pair of new rogues, with impressive CGI that validates the threat they could bring to the city, while the residual effects of the havoc they wrought are presented in amusing, tongue-in-cheek fashion. Mirror Master and Top are relentlessly hunted down for the entirety of “The New Rogues”, but The Flash fully realizes the potential in having some fun with their arrival: Cisco and Wells (almost literally) fight over nicknaming them, and Barry, trapped in a mirror himself, is temporarily relegated to staring at Iris’s behind before Cisco saves the day via a Twin Peaks reference. Hell, even the climax is great, with the show masterfully showcasing Team Flash’s uniform intelligence in apprehending non-speedsters: Barry going all Droste effect on Scudder, in particular, was amazing.

Besides perception-bending fiends and scarlet speedsters, love was also in the air in this episode, with Wally and Jesse surrendering to their feelings for each other while Barry and Iris hilariously struggled to take the next step in their relationship. These are two things I certainly admire The Flash for addressing; particularly the former arc, with the writing being on the wall for quite some time. Thankfully, they’re both written into the proceedings rather seamlessly. With Jesse returning to her original Earth with Wells, Wally needed to make his move, and I love how upfront and aware both of them are about their affections. On the other hand, Iris encouraging Barry to tell Joe that they’ll be openly expressing their feelings for each other allowed for some genuinely amusing moments, while eventually moving them past a relationship hurdle I honestly believed The Flash would settle in for a bit longer.

The team’s search for a new Wells to supplant Harry while he’s gone led to perhaps the most entertaining couple of minutes in this series yet. It’s no secret that Tom Cavanagh carries a distinct proficiency in his performance that caters wonderfully to the various personalities found in other Earths, but watching him play cowboy Wells, “nerd” Wells and Mime Wells (my personal favorite) reinforces the importance in retaining a man of his talent level. This particular scene is laugh-out-loud funny, no doubt, but Cavanagh is so darn passionate here it’s impossible not to also find it ridiculously endearing; an acting element this show needs to have in its holster when it flashes around its lighter tendencies.

 

 

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The Flash — “The New Rouges” — Image FLA304a_0004b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Grey Damon as Sam Scudder and Ashley Rickards as Rosalind Rosa Dillion — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

RATING: 9.5 

 

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“Monster”

 

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Another reason why I felt it appropriate to review “The New Rogues” and “Monster” together is that the latter episode feels like such a surefire extension of the former one. Whether you consider the extended looks at Earth-19’s Wells or Caitlin’s new powers, “Monster” wastes no time digging into the latest of last week’s surprises, and that’s the episode’s biggest strength.

Through “H.R.” we get an enormously welcoming continuation of Tom Cavanagh’s fantastic, diverse acting chops, as he shows off a quirky, eccentric approach to a man initially portrayed as mysterious and brooding. H.R. is curiously happy-go-lucky, and his use of incessant charm to win over the favor of his new teammates is a clever way of building an air of uncertainty between him and Team Flash. Hardly anyone is buying his act (if you can even call it that), and once Barry and Cisco’s suspicions reach their boiling points the two gentlemen decide to go through his stuff to verify those suspicions. Although his message recording got me thinking otherwise as well, I was honestly shocked to find out H.R. was entirely innocent, and even somewhat amused that he was basically masking his glaring ignorance behind everyone else. It’d be fair to have the gang express their frustrations and overall disappointment considering how important it is for them to be guided along by a Wells-type of intelligence, but I really liked the emotional plight centered around H.R.’s trickery; besides, how can you possibly hate a bubbly personality who just wants to write a novel?

Elsewhere: Caitlin’s trip to her negligent mother’s lab made for some decent, albeit eye-rolling material. More often than not, you’re likely to scratch your head over a number of remarks said and decisions made in the Caitlin arc this week. By slinking away from S.T.A.R. Labs to tend to her powers going all out of whack, Caitlin basically chooses secrecy with the group instead of simply revealing her situation, which, although understandable given the context of Earth-2’s Killer Frost from last season, feels extremely bone-headed. Barry has consoled villains overwhelmed by their powers before; the rest of Team Flash finds Caitlin an essential member and a close friend (although, in fairness, you wouldn’t know the former half based on how inconsequential she’s been as a character lately). Why not just tell everyone what’s up and figure out a solution? We don’t get anything valuable from the verbal animosity expressed between her and Carla besides the realization that Caitlin being the opposite of her mother has indirectly led to tragedy all her life. There’s not even any sort of mentioning over when exactly Caitlin gained her powers (Was it the result of Flashpoint? Was she hit with the particle accelerator, too?) In addition, that assistant who laughably attempts to capture and contain Caitlin plays off as a cheap excuse to create stakes in a B-story that should be laser-focused on the dynamic of the characters involved. It wasn’t all a total loss, what with Carla and Caitlin “on the road to recovery” and Caitlin’s powers seeming to get a hold of her instead of the other way around. Given what Wells told Cisco before he left with Jesse, it’ll be interesting to see if he or someone else catches on to what their stiletto-clad scientist is hiding.

 

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“Monster” also spent some time finally fleshing out Julian in one of the most forgettable villains-of-the-week in recent memory. His backstory could’ve been laid out more extensively than a simple, wordy exposition of how rich he was back home – but it works for a number of reasons. For one, his decision to come to the ‘States and make a name for himself in the field of science is threatened by the entire state of the CCPD. With The Flash hanging around, the cops literally do nothing, and guys like Barry get away with breaking certain office rules without severe punishment (a fantastic bit of self-awareness on the show’s end, by the way). Julian expected to discover a humbling environment where hard work was prioritized and his skills mattered, and he sees that’s simply not the case with this job. For him to try and take matters into his own hands by nearly shooting that teenage kid was rightfully tense, and the conversation Barry has with him after reveals a pathos to the character we were not previously shown.  I’m beyond relieved that the asshole who couldn’t stand the sight of Barry breathing is dead and gone; this new, more – I don’t know, “approachable”? – Julian could actually be fun to watch in the coming weeks.

Quite frankly, the teenage-kid-driven hologram that gives the episode its name just sucked. All it did was prove the insane level of stupidity the CCPD incorporates into their work, while destroying transformers in its wake – and I’m not talking Optimus Prime and Megatron. For someone, even that kid’s age, to resort to terrorism over bullying is awful, and had The Flash went all afterschool special on us the writers’ intentions would’ve felt even more cruel; could you imagine Grant Gustin staring at your television screen about bullying in America after this? And he didn’t deserve the talk that Joe gave; I’m mostly saying that because the episode gave us no reason to care for him and his problems.

 

 

RATING: 7.8

 

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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.

 

shameless_701_2338-r

 

 

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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