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

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

“The Age of Umbrage”

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

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

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

 

Score: 9.3

 

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“The Photoshoot” 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Score: 9.7

 

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

 

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

Cassie speaks for no-nonsense mothers across the world.

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

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

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

“People watched Kobe play for years.”

Well said, Cam.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Score: 8.5

 

 

“The Thank You Note”

 

Survivor’s Remorse Season 3 2016

 

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

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

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

 

Survivor’s Remorse Season 3 2016

 

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

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

 

 

Score: 9.2

 

 

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

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

Sad, but true.

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

“To me? Yes. To the funeral? No.”

Gotta love Da Chen Bao.

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

“Where?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Flash: “Escape From Earth-2” Review **SPOILERS**

The Flash: “Escape From Earth-2” Review **SPOILERS**

Last week’s “Welcome to Earth-2” did everything right by both The Flash and the intrigue swirling around this season’s biggest story arcs, and “Escape From Earth-2” wraps up Barry and the gang’s latest space-bending adventure by feeding off of the momentum of that previous installment. Zoom continued to build traction as the season’s primary villain, and the high stakes of this week’s second half helped elevate the episode well above a good portion of anything else the show has produced lately.

Such high stakes were firmly established by Zoom, himself, who’s recent spurts of brutality have helped remind us as viewers why he’s been perceived as such a dangerous presence in the first place. One standout scene in particular involved him and Barry, as he beat the Scarlet Speedster senseless just to clarify the costs of simply communicating with the other prisoners in his “lair” (Side note: Cisco declaring Zoom’s living quarters a “lair” was as awesome and as Cisco as it sounds). His declaration to Jessie that he was only keeping her alive so that Wells could watch her die was effective enough to feel immensely threatening, and the brief showdown at the precipice of the episode almost brought his promise back around full circle in a heartbreaking way.  Up until the aforementioned showdown, I had a legitimate feeling that Zoom was going to guarantee at least one character fatality, and while that may not have been the case (or it very well could be, as I’m suspecting that he murdered Killer Frost for betraying him and he stabbed Jay before pulling him back into Earth-2), his heightened maliciousness these last couple of weeks kept the pendulum swinging.

However, his intentions continue to appear a bit vague, and after he determined that Barry’s role in his plan is simply to grant him more speed I can’t help but wonder what will make of Zoom if everything works out for him. We know how he used Jessie to get to Wells both psychologically and resourcefully, which in it’s own twisted way is pretty fucked up – but what else is he planning on doing with Barry’s speedforce? He’s already faster than Barry at this point without it – is there a time limit to his own speed or something? It appears The Flash would probably be better off leaving Zoom’s motivations under interpretation, because as far as I’m concerned his endgame is losing my interest the more it’s unraveled.

 

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“Escape From Earth-2” had the benefit of last week’s episode fleshing out this alternate universe and drawing stark contrasts between the inhabitants of both worlds. We are aware that there’s a deep enough correlation between the two for us to feel emotionally invested in Earth-2’s Barry, or Iris, or Caitlin independent of their Earth-1 counterparts. Therefore, last night’s narrowed focus on those three particular characters paid off splendidly. The quirkier, geekier Barry of Earth-2 proved that he’s no Bruce Wayne without the suit, and The Flash spared no expense in labeling his attempts of heroism as a sort of comedic, “Are you serious?” parody to our Barry’s more experienced comportment. But the same level of effort to save the day is present, and when Earth-1 Barry needs a big enough lift to phase his way out of Zoom’s cage that same nerdy doppleganger is there for ample support. Mind you, the show still had plenty of fun with Earth-2 Barry last night, but it really ran away with the character by having him culminate with our Barry in a more heartfelt fashion.

Earth-2 Caitlin/Killer Frost didn’t have the benefit of being emotionally uplifted by her opposite half, but leave it up to Cisco to re-imagine who she really was behind the rough exterior. Having him be the voice of reason for her was as perfect a writing decision as could be, specifically because of how strong their friendship has become over on Earth-1 – and also because of how long we’ve seen them play off of one another’s goofiness. Without a doubt, no one else knows Caitlin better than Cisco, and seeing him step up to the plate and help Frost turn the corner that she did in the wake of Deathstorm’s demise felt very true to the character. And just like the two Barry’s, Frost’s turnaround agrees with the type of person our Caitlin has learned to become – while Cisco continued to provide his signature zaniness (“You would be very disappointed in you right now!”).

 

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I’m glad that the show decided to cap off the Earth-2 adventure this week and bring everyone – Wells and Jessie included – back home, and that’s mostly because Jay’s character arc never took off down in Earth-1. Despite Caitlin’s increasing fondness in him and the brief moment of victory he experienced from saving all those lives from that falling building – I’m still hardly convinced that this is a man worth caring about. Maybe if The Flash didn’t try and cram his failing health on us so abruptly, or carefully developed him as something more than a one-dimensional speedster, my stance would be different. But the episode tries too hard to brush him and Caitlin up together instead, which is only for the sake of us feeling sorry for Caitlin when Zoom drags him back into Earth-2 (seriously, though: Why did he stand right in front of the dimensional portal for so long, even after everyone had already returned?) To sum it all up: I’d rather the show make Jay’s struggle to be a true hero for Central City in his world a top priority over all this extra stuff.

This week also had an ongoing issue sparking any fascination out of Geomancer or the intriguing idea of a city temporarily without a savior. Practically every attempt to inject some life in this subplot fell flat, from Iris’s new boss haggling her for fresh leads on the Flash, to the blandness of both Geomancer’s intentions and his personality. Considering how much ground the West-centric story arc has covered beforehand, coupled with a severe lack of motion in any other Earth-1-related plot – this half of the episode was begging for the S.T.A.R. Labs team to return to 100% capacity.

 

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Also: Does anyone else suspect that masked guy in Zoom’s other cage to be Barry’s father? I’m under the belief that he’s Earth-1 Harry, and Barry’s incessant hankering to rescue him along with Jessie was the show subtly trying to callback the father/son dynamic of last season. Let’s not also forget that Zoom has physically overcome the Flash, yet is insistent on keeping him alive at least until he’s siphoned his speedforce. Harry hasn’t been seen or heard from in a while, either – so there’s that, too.

 

 

The Verdict:

“Escape from Earth-2” had no answer for Barry’s absence back home, but did an excellent job ratcheting up the stakes on the other side of the dimensional coin. Zoom’s very presence this week added to the extremities of the rescue mission at hand, while similar character beats from last week were explored with interesting depth. The emotional link between the two worlds also helped carry the proceedings, providing a compelling outlet for meaningful dialogue that demonstrated the flaws these characters have lived with their whole lives – regardless what world they’re from.

 

 

 

 

RATING: 8.7

+ Emotional link between Earth-1 and Earth-2

+ Cisco reaching out to Killer Frost

+ Zoom continuing to make his presence felt…

– While also losing some scary points for revealing his plan

– Jay’s still very underwritten

– Earth-1 material was bland and momentum-killing

 

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Shameless: “Going Once, Going Twice” Review **SPOILERS**

Shameless: “Going Once, Going Twice” Review **SPOILERS**

The Gallaghers are notorious for mounting extraneous adversity and overcoming impossible odds, and for six seasons now Shameless has almost painted them as this family with enough bark-back to appear impenetrable to whatever society throws at them. However, there are strings that needed to be pulled and measures that needed to be reached in order for them to survive for so long. As hard as the real world has hit first, they’ve always had the resources and dexterity to hit back harder – until now. Shameless finally decided to lift the curtains from under them this week, as America’s scheme-iest family lost to the inevitable advances of the real world for the first time. In a huge way.

It’s a decidedly daring move for the show because the togetherness of the cast has been what’s carried its success from the start, and now it has to find the flexibility to carefully course correct into a more separate family dynamic. Despite the season planting the seeds for some form of divide amongst the Gallagher clan, last night’s big move requires the show’s writers to “change the game”, so to speak, as these characters are bound to be further apart than ever. We’re are now definitely witnessing a season with the potential to be dramatically awe-inspiring, especially if Shameless is up for the task and willing to tackle it’s latest development head-on.

And that development is the loss of the Gallagher household; sold in an auction where the bids are too high to match, and gentrification is breathing down the family’s necks without them even noticing it. Defeat of this caliber was imminent for years: Fiona never owned the house because of Patrick’s stake on the mortgage, and once a large wad of quick cash could force him out of the picture – like it did here – it would only be a matter of time before the Gallaghers would have to truly fend for themselves. My immediate surprise is that it actually happened. The house itself is such a crux to the entire series, the mere thought of it being ceased away hardly ever crossed my mind as a probable event. The breakfast table conversations; the congested living room birthday celebrations; the constantly occupied bathrooms – all of them gave the home a resounding voice, an all-important personality of its own. But its most defining feature is its comforting presence: the ideal that no matter how shitty life as a Gallagher can get, there was always that one place any one of the clan members can turn to and be thankful for having still.

The swirling animosity between the siblings themselves stands as the only logical excuse for the show to even consider this move, but I like this decision. It’s time the Gallaghers open their eyes a little for a change and rely more on being honest, responsible citizens (although, in fairness, they’ve generally been doing a better job in that regard lately). And something big had to go down that would encourage them to finally look at and embrace the world from a different, more common point of view: one that actually sees them paying their debts to society. If anything, they are much older than they were when we first met them, so it’s sort-of about time for them to grow up and play by the rules.

 

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Fiona’s fight to win over the mortgage was fascinating in its realism, and another reason why the failed auction route resonated with me so well. There were things about her I never would’ve guessed were true – like the fact that she’s lived her whole life without ever investing in a credit card – that rung true to the character and opened up more opportunities for hope to swoop in and save the day. On top of that, her calm yet wildly uncertain approach to the situation heightened the suspense of her failing to come through. It makes perfect sense for Fiona to pawn off Gus’s grandmother’s ring and deny Carl’s illegally-allocated funds, but you can see that those decisions affect her spiritually because of the overwhelming volatility of the house’s current standing. There’s that sense where it appears Fiona is acknowledging her upbringings through a deeper lens, realizing how her family’s more cunning tactics are only poised to take them so far these days. If she’s to win this house, she feels it necessary to do it the right way, or else the greater consequences at hand – like, say, she gets the house with a $130,000 bid and can only loan $100,000 from the bank – won’t prove it worth the effort. Therefore, when we see the universal disappointment in the Gallaghers’ eyes after seeing the winning bid fall to another suitor, Fiona’s wind up being the ones that say the most.

And, sure, maybe she has had too much of a say in many of the family’s judgments; who’s to go out and defend such a belief, anyway? End of the day, though, those judgments are what’s best. Just like how she rejected Debbie’s insistence to bear a child of her own, letting the house go could possibly mean Fiona’s tired of keeping this family together just so they can live off of pulling the same – or maybe even worse – shit they’ve pulled from conception. Like us, the fans, perhaps she wants more forward progress. Or maybe she simply doesn’t want to rage another battle with society, where everyone’s reaching back into the dark corners of extortion, risking education and future careers just for immediate perseverance. It’s not like she doesn’t love her siblings or doesn’t care enough to keep the house; she made it clear that she was fighting to keep a roof over everyone’s heads, but she’s also more willing to make the tough calls than before. For that, I must say I’m impressed with Shameless‘s work with Fiona over the last couple of episodes. It has made an example of character development out of her, as she has absolutely flourished into a truly consenting, self-aware adult over these crucial circumstances.

“Going Once, Going Twice” is an easy episode to review, particularly because Fiona’s plight to keep the house thematically rubs off on everyone else and allows the proceedings to remain both tonally grounded and consistent. Carl’s subplot wins out in that regard, as he continues to grow into accelerated adulthood with Nick – who finally speaks words this week! – while learning how to be a proper gentleman around Dominique. While I’m still not convinced that a girl like Dominique would ever give a guy like Carl the time of day, I loved how Nick’s dialogue of his past led to Carl gifting her with a bike to ride home with (as he creepily lingers behind). In addition, his rapport with Nick is really something, and the connections between childhood and adulthood that they individually complement provides the weight and sadness it hinted at in the season premiere. Kev and Veronica losing their Alibi Room audience (and Svetlana – nooooooo!!!) to the South Side’s latest new speakeasy was the type of pay off I was hoping for from the gentrification angle, and this C-story works in its own share of pathos by glossing over the overwhelming ignorance this troubled neighborhood has become known for. Even Lip’s nonsense trip with Helena paints their relationship in a new light, as Helena finally came to her senses and now seems prepared to cut ties with this affair. I still don’t give much of a damn about this affair, and I feel like Helena’s presentation being rudely interrupted by that asshole attending the conference was a terrible way to show her vulnerabilities, but I enjoyed the way her highly-intoxicated state told Lip everything he wanted to hear before her usually sober self shut him down the next morning. I’ve always personally felt that Lip’s had that coming since he selfishly dumped Amanda, and it felt great seeing karma come back around.

 

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Debbie and Frank’s subplot hit a dead end this week, and the simple fact that Shameless is treading right back into both the “Frank finds a new home with a family that’s just lost or will lose a loved one” and “Debbie falls for older guy who’s not sexually attracted to her” bits comes off as incredibly lazy in the least sense. I’m already losing interest in – and respect for – Debbie as she pushes on with this pregnancy, so the show having her loop around the same dilemmas she miserably broke out of before is the last thing I’d want to see here. As for Frank, it’s better that he’s included in Debbie’s shenanigans instead of going off on his own, but the allure of this budding relationship quickly dries up before the episode concludes. Both characters appear content with moving in with that new family, so it seems like we’ll have no other choice but to accept these developments and hope that they come to an abrupt close.

One last thing: Thank GOD Yanis is dead! I personally found his being burned alive on that electric wheelchair to be only slightly amusing, but I’m just glad that Shameless has gotten rid of this racist, infuriatingly obnoxious, P.O.S. character.

 

The Verdict: 

By reverberating the same themes of dwindling hope and glaring disappointment throughout every character arc, “Going One, Going Twice” becomes both easy to swallow tonally, but hard to digest when it goes for the kill. Thanks to the central issue surrounding the Gallagher home, we got to see Fiona continue to mature into her responsibilities, while the others either learned from or paid for their usual ways. Not all of it was interesting, and there were definitely a few occasions where the episode absolutely fell flat in its approach, but all of that was offset by some solid fantastic ending that must have certainly shocked the entire Shameless fanbase – but rightfully pushes the season forward into some potentially powerful material.

 

 

Rating: 8

+ Fiona’s fight to keep the house

+ Carl and Nick

+ Gentrification influence

– Debbie and Frank falling into the same old nonsense again

– Lip’s trip with Helena was largely a waste of time 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

“Great credit and an eel hookup.”

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

 

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

 

The Verdict:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 10

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

+ Judy’s impact on Jake/Amy relationship

+ Holt and Debbie’s brother-sister drama

+ Boyle and Rosa’s “suck-off”

+ Literally laughed out loud all throughout the episode

 

 

 

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Shameless: “The F Word” Review **SPOILERS**

Shameless: “The F Word” Review **SPOILERS**

Episode three of Shamless‘s latest season is where the show finally figures out how to work its many new story arcs into something special – and all it took for us to get to this point was to have a few Gallaghers link together in various scenarios. Fiona’s feud with Debbie continued, Ian’s new job at Lip’s school gave them an opportunity to bond again, and Frank’s more accommodating look at life pulls him away from his own nonsense and into the family’s central issue at hand. All of these plots work around similar themes like change and acceptance, and the substance behind each one easily carries the episode past some eye-rolling frustrations.

For the second week in a row, the world continued to test Fiona to her emotional limits. By spilling her guts out to Debbie about her pregnancy, and taking the high road with her failed marriage with Gus, it almost seemed as though the Gallagher matriarch would finally be able to see some shade of sun amidst the flurry of bad news and emotional struggles. But then the exact opposite occurred, and in a matter of minutes in-between we saw Debbie labeling Fiona as a hypocrite (which I firmly predicted), and upon visiting one of his local gigs we heard Gus’s viscerally spiteful song “The F Word” proudly labeling her as a slut. So much about who she is and has grown up to be are highlighted in these terrifically judgmental instances. Despite appearing more distraught than ever before, Debbie’s absolutely right for calling out her older sister, in a reaction that sort of speaks to the type of irresponsible behavior Fiona has occasionally presented in years prior. Gus’s song defines the pain of blindly falling in love and seeing it wither away as abruptly as it did; the root cause of Fiona’s lack of mutual respect under intimate pretenses. In addition – he’s got a right to shit on Fiona here. He’s not the perfect guy, but he never did anything to deserve her walking out on him so selfishly.

It sucks to see Fiona have to put up with such callousness, but at the end of the day she deserves a whole lot of it. Who is she to go out and tell someone else what to do with their body when she herself is incapable of properly protecting her own? And how did she not expect even a smidgen of abhorrence from Gus, especially when she was really just popping up to give back his grandmother’s ring? Despite how easy or difficult it is to forgive Fiona’s recent decision-making, these scenes perfectly make an example of how badly she’s fucked up.

 

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Amazingly enough, the best part about this half of “The F Word” (the episode, not the song), is how Fiona responds to all the hatred. She puts her foot down on aborting her baby (or, as Liam now sees it: “Getting some cells vacuumed out”), and threatens to condemn Debbie should she choose to have hers. The series’s latest season-defining kitchen moment happens here, with Emily Rossum and Emma Kenney absolutely perpetuating the animosity swirling around their respective characters’ points of view. It’s a scene I could watch ten times over and feel a million different ways about, because it completely opens these sisters up to the reality of their individual plights. Debbie now has a better idea of just how wrong this pregnancy is for her right now (thanks to Fiona pointing out how Frank is her main source of support). On the other hand, Fiona seems perfectly content with breaking off all ties with her younger sibling, refusing to allow her to make an example of teen pregnancy under her roof. This comes as a shock to me since Fiona’s practically been the mother of this rambunctious family, and considering the week she has had you would expect her to crack and accept the potential chaos coming around the corner; she has preserved through worse. It’s tough for one to put his or her foot down in this scenario, but it’s definitely the right move; all signs leading up to where we are suggests that Debbie will fail miserably as a mother right now.

Furthermore, this sternness shows how Fiona’s willing to bark back at animosity, and affirm her position at the head of the Gallagher household. The episode has her prove these traits in tons of different ways, whether it’s through her denouncing Debbie, or shutting down any opportunity for Sean to criticize her decision to have an abortion. She’s realizing how important it is to stand her ground and toughen up when it matters most, while at the same time facing the emotional consequences that come with this demeanor. There’s no easy answer for Fiona right now – there never is – but she doesn’t lead an easy life, and there’s still a family that depends on her steering the metaphorical ship from crashing asunder. She has to move on from her past mistakes, look out for her own well-being, and do what’s best for everyone as a whole. It would be difficult to conjure up these opinions without the level of depth Rossum brings to the table: her delicate balance of authoritative, moody (Fiona’s hormonal streak a fitting excuse for the varying emotions on tap this week), and defeated – those crying cues are just perfect – coming together to form one of the greatest individual efforts I’ve ever seen on television.

 

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I was over the moon when I found out that Ian’s new job landed him on Lip’s college campus; the new development finally gives him an interesting story of his own. Their reunion at Lip’s dorm room was the most exciting instance of the season for me thus far, and I couldn’t help but circle back all the memories of them fucking shit up back at home. Unfortunately for these two brothers, things aren’t as simple as they were back then, and this week beautifully places them on opposite sides of the social spectrum. Ian’s current situation involving his education is brought to the forefront, as both his dropping out of high school and time spent in the military are both notably referenced. Lip’s evolution into a more mature, focused human being has been a welcome change the series has excelled at, and you can easily spot the disconnect between the two brothers as their circumstances have severed their relationship.

Even Ian’s bipolar behavior plays a part in all of this, as he misconceives Lip’s interactions with Joaquin and his denial to have him stay over for an extended period of time. I can’t blame Lip for not letting him get too comfortable; he’s been doing a whole lot better keeping his family at a distance, and the only way he can advance is if things stay that way. The problem – at least for Ian – is that Ian himself saw his new janitorial gig as an opportunity to relive the past with Lip, and that can’t happen if his older brother’s too busy trying to forge out an honest future. The little taste of the college life Lip shows Ian is the only time we get to see them bond like we were accustomed to seeing in the past – but, just like in the real world, you can only have so much fun before it’s back to reality. Lip sees this, which is why he rejects Ian’s insistence to live every day like a drunken frat party – Ian just assumes his older brother is simply patronizing him.

Having Ian’s current mental illness define the struggle between the brothers is an excellent choice because it gives us an idea of what Monica was like as a mother before she dipped and ran away – even worse is that we know, unlike his mother, he has the potential to succeed in life. Time will tell if Lip will ever forgive him for busting his lip (no pun intended, folks!) and bailing on the new line of work Professor Youens offered him, but even still Lip is concerned about where he’s headed because he’s seen Ian’s best days. Hopefully, that strange final scene where Ian rescues/gets rescued leads to a sort of wake-up call that keeps the juices in his story arc flowing.

 

I’m going to bookend the rest of this week’s proceedings by briefly noting them:

  • I don’t like the Carl subplot at all, whatsoever. It’s totally devoid of laughs, and the fact that every teacher in his school was fine with him selling (simply because he could supply them with a weapon of their choice for self-defense purposes) is beyond implausible. However, I did find the scene where everyone draws their guns at lunch a bit amusing for some reason.
  • Shameless is slowly ruining Debbie this season. Her contradictory behavior towards Fiona’s pregnancy scare came off far too cynical, and the crack she makes to that paraplegic in the bathroom is the most disgustingly ignorant thing I’ve seen this show pull off in a long time.
  • Speaking of disgustingly ignorant: Why is the show stuffing this Yanis guy down our throats so bad? I hate how much time we had to spend watching Kevin maneuver around the truth that he was responsible for Yanis’s injury, and I just wished he’d told him so that I didn’t have to hear all of that ridiculous bigotry. I’m glad Veronica called him an asshole.
  • Frank was thrust into the Fiona/Debbie quarrel, and…I was relatively pleased! He was really funny here, promoting “Inter-bortions” and passionately informing Debbie of the joys (Monica reluctantly experiences) of maternity and parenthood. He had a discernible impact on the main story arc this week, and despite how much of a scumbag he still is I like that he’s finally involved in situations I actually care about.
  • This was a sad – very sad – episode of Shameless for one reason and one reason only: no Svetlana. She’s such an awesome supporting character, and the Alibi such a great forum of ridiculousness, that it’s impossible to ignore the omission of both.

 

The Verdict:

“The F Word” doesn’t push the needle forward so much as it puts the Gallaghers’ lives into deeper perspective. Fiona and Lip’s story arcs were rightfully grounded this week, as we saw both of them come into terms with the plights of their younger counterparts, while Frank’s involvement in the “Great Gallagher pregnancy debate” opened Debbie’s eyes to the egregiousness of her recent actions. Thanks to some incredible material for Emmy Rossum, and a multi-faceted look at the differences between Lip and Ian, the episode soared with what it had to offer – getting the ball rolling for the rest of season six while providing a glimpse into a family that’s slowly falling apart.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 8.5

+ Fiona’s whole shitty week

+ Lip/Ian material thought-provoking, moving

+ Frank budding into the family woes again

– Debbie’s becoming way too cynical, unlikable

– No more Yanis, please

– Everything about Carl’s subplot

 

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