Television

Superstore (2015) s01e04 – Mannequin

“Superstore” significantly ups its game this episode. The cold open has Jonah (Ben Feldman) trying to show off how well he’s bonded with his coworkers by unintentionally insulting most of them. The sequence ends in a great banter showdown between manager Mark McKinney and assistant manager Lauren Ash (foreshadowing their subplot this episode) but also does some exposition on Amy (America Ferrera), revealing not just a nine year-old daughter but also a husband, which was sort of hinted at the end of the first episode. No wonder they slowed down Feldman’s romantic interest in her.

Ferrera and Feldman get one of the plot lines, with Ferrera teasing Feldman with a mannequin, which resembles him, as the store becomes more and more chaotic with Ferrera not paying attention. Lots of funny mannequin scenes, even when it’s getting old, it’s still funny stuff. Especially after Feldman starts flipping out over it, after having promised Ferrera she won’t be able to bait him. The culmination… well, it’s too good to spoil. But it’s amazing.

Ash and McKinney, instead of noticing Ferrera and Feldman aren’t doing any work and Nico Santos has got all the people he doesn’t like (almost everyone) working punishment duty in the freezer, are trying to each convince pregnant teens Nichole Bloom and Johnny Pemberton to give their baby up for adoption. McKinney and his (offscreen) wife have had foster kids but would love one “without the dings” and Ash just wants a baby. Lots of funny stuff between McKinney and Ash together, but also lots of laughs with them and Bloom separately. And the show’s figured out what I said before—putting Bloom and Pemberton together and playing them off other people is the best use of the characters. So funny.

As usual, Colton Dunn gets a bunch of great lines.

It’s only the fourth episode and “Superstore” is much funnier than the pilot ever suggested, while making its cast a lot more likable. McKinney in particular. He started out the obnoxious boss laugh target but now he’s solidly funny on his own.

So funny.

Supergirl (2015) s05e08 – The Wrath of Rama Khan

The episode opens with Supergirl flying to Lena’s secret base to try to reason with her but Lena ignores her because Lena’s already got the bestest friend she could ever have in Andrea Brooks, who used to be Ms. Teschmacher but is now the AI Lena created to keep her company when she planned on beating up former best friend Supergirl. Brooks was an Easter egg turned into a plot device drug out, which is kind of a metaphor for most of “Supergirl” at this point.

For a bit it seems like it’s going to be Superman III with Katie McGrath and Brooks shooting rockets at Melissa Benoist, but no, Benoist quickly heads back to the DEO to check in with sister Chyler Leigh and start their butting heads subplot. Benoist doesn’t want to give up on McGrath, Leigh wants to nuke the entire site from orbit.

McGrath’s plan doesn’t really matter, suffice to say it’ll involve David Harewood bringing in formerly genocidal brother Phil LaMarr to help. LaMarr’s astoundingly bad. Harewood’s lost most of his goodwill too, mostly because all of his dialogue makes him sound like the writers get his deep thoughts off an online fake inspirational quote generator. There’s even a whole “do better” thing where LaMarr maybe was responsible for getting millions of Martians killed but he’s grown since then, so you obviously can forgive your (formerly) racist uncle? But there’s still a limit. Notice Dean Cain’s heinous ass has gone missing and forgotten from the show.

Anyway, there’s really nothing to the McGrath and Benoist stuff because there’s no scene between the two of them. “Supergirl” cops out before the Crisis crossover, which finally gets introduced in the last few scenes during the terrible (and long) song montage.

But then there’s the whole other subplot about millions years old alien Mitch Pileggi, who’s still chomping the hell out of the scenery, trying to eradicate humanity only to get foiled, natch, by Supergirl and friends.

Besides being incredibly silly, the Pileggi plot line is totally disconnected from the main cast except truly godawful new cast member Julie Gonzalo, who’s probably the worst actor ever on the show, which is something. Especially since they moved to Canada in season two.

Basically it’s “what if the Cylons got here earlier and just liked messing with humans as they evolve because the Cylons are board.” Or something. Doesn’t matter. It’s shit.

The possibly worst part of the ending is it resets almost everything the show’s done this season. Sure, McGrath still hates Benoist, but she gets a do-over as far as being a planetary menace. The hurt friendship storyline seems more appropriate for “Muppet Tweens” than “Supergirl,” but really bad, really cowardly writing doesn’t help things.

I think it’s finally safe not to come back after Crisis. Leigh’s obnoxious with the new girlfriend, Benoist’s got nothing to do, McGrath ought to get out of her contract, Harewood’s a random quote generator, and on and on. It’s been hard to give up on the show because when it used to hit heights, it hit them hard. But… this season’s been hopeless.

Superstore (2015) s01e03 – Shots and Salsa

This episode is one of those sitcom episodes where you’re laughing so loud and so constantly, there’s a chance you’re going to miss something. If it weren’t paced well. And it’s paced extremely well, between Ruben Fleischer’s direction and Justin Spitzer’s writing, there’s always the right amount of time to get the giggles out.

It starts immediately with the laughs—store manager Mark McKinney getting everyone to do the pre-opening chant. It’s absurd and inappropriate (McKinney’s Christian religiosity is a very reliable punchline).

From the second scene, the show splits off its two storylines, one for America Ferrera, one for Ben Feldman, with Colton Dunn providing something of a bridge as he advises still new Feldman on how not to fall into the “quicksand” of helping customers and coworkers. Dunn’s fantastic. His deadpan deliveries are probably the best on the show, though Lauren Ash—who I’m warming to, even if she’s still the subject of laughs versus the situations she finds herself in—is getting to be a reliable second.

Ferrera’s plot line is about the store’s new house brand salsa promotion. McKinney wants someone Hispanic to sell it, which Ferrera finds gross. Her coworker, Grace Parra, doesn’t see it that way, neither does Filipino Nico Santos, who doesn’t mind McKinney can’t see the difference. Lots of funny stuff as Ferrera tries to have some morals in the face of capitalism.

“Superstore” also goes in hard on how awful Americans are going to get when it comes to racializing their consumerism. It’s shocking, accurate, and hilarious.

Meanwhile Feldman makes the mistake of helping jackass pharmacist Josh Lawson with some boxes and ends up an assistant pharmacist for the day.

Ferrera, Feldman, and Dunn are all varying comedic straight men, though Feldman a little less as he’s got some quirks more similar to the absurdist coworkers; with Feldman and Ferrera, it’s all about their facial reactions foreshadowing their eventual lines, while Dunn’s got a much shorter lead time before he makes his sardonic response.

It’s a really, really funny episode.

Really funny.

Oh, and the corporate anti-racism video… wow. So funny. And way too realistic, which is the point.

Superstore (2015) s01e02 – Magazine Profile

Two months have passed since the previous episode—based on how long new guy Ben Feldman has been at the store and he’s gotten a settled in. During those two months he’s apparently chilled on the America Ferrera romantic interest, or—more likely—the writers realized they were rushing that plot line. Assistant manager Lauren Ash is still making googly eyes at a mostly unaware, occasionally confused Feldman however, because it gets laughs.

And letting Ferrera and Feldman actually develop chemistry is a good move; it doesn’t come up much in the episode, which has Feldman getting involved with “reporter” Eliza Coupe during her trip to the store. Quotation marks because Coupe writes for the chain’s corporate magazine, which has some hilariously odious practices.

Of course, Coupe shouldn’t be focusing on Feldman but store manager Mark McKinney, who’s a lot more sympathetic this episode than in the pilot—and no longer has gray hair, so something else happened during the two month window.

Ferrera’s time is mostly spent trying to get McKinney ready for reporter Coupe; her visit frames the episode, leading up to Ash discovering Coupe and Feldman locking lips, which leads to a really funny emergency staff meeting—though it’s unclear who gets to go to staff meetings (regular cast and supporting actors with lines) during the middle of business hours—where Ash has to have a hard talk with everyone about inappropriate sexual workplace behaviors.

The episode’s got two subplots. The first is for Colton Dunn, who doesn’t want to end up on the magazine cover… seeing as how he’s both in a wheelchair and Black, it’s not like photographer Josh Fadem (who’s wonderfully slimy) will be able to resist exploiting the combination. It’s really funny. Dunn’s great.

The other subplot is about pregnant teenager Nichole Bloom (who doesn’t look like she’s in still in high school) trying to get jackass, dimwit white boy rapper baby daddy Johnny Pemberton to record a jingle for the store. It turns out in the end, when they present the jingle to Coupe, they’re a lot better playing off people as a couple than playing off each other. It’s fine but it’s not on par with the rest of the episode, which solidly juggles laughs and heart.

Becker (1998) s01e14 – Larry Spoke

This episode of “Becker” has Steven Wright guest starring, so even though it’s not the best writing for Steven Wright, it’s still at least great whenever Wright is on screen.

Wright’s a new patient of Ted Danson’s who hears God. God’s name is Larry and Larry tells Steven Wright to repaint his apartment all the time. Not the funniest situation, but Wright makes it great. It’s actually sort of strange to see some middling plot device so perfectly executed as Wright doesn’t seem very CBS sitcom at all. He’s in jarring contrast to the rest of the show, even when the rest of the show is totally serviceable.

In addition to Wright, Danson’s dealing with a slowly dying patient, Nathan Davis, and the patient’s impatient yuppie daughter, Mary-Joan Negro. It’s not a funny subplot, but a depressing one and it’s borderline unpleasant. Especially juxtaposed against the absurdity of Wright on this show.

The episode also has Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith stopping in at Terry Farrell’s diner for the first time. Almost more interesting—they all just talk about how obnoxious it is to deal with Danson—it also implies something about Winston and Smith’s life outside the workplace. They walk to the train together, at least on this day, which is kind of nice. Especially since Winston and Smith are in the middle of this C plot about Smith keeping a nice jacket her dry cleaner gave to her by accident.

Though the end of the episode is a little too much; all of a sudden wants to comment on Danson’s apparent atheism versus everyone else’s religiosity. Sure, Wright’s plot brings in the discussion of God… but it’s not like it’s a great concept or anything. It’s great because it’s Steven Wright doing a sitcom guest spot playing Steven Wright. His comebacks are consistently hilarious throughout the episode. The holier than thou finale really misses Wright, who doesn’t get to participate. He’s already had his big finale. The rest is regular cast wrap-up.

Still, there are a lot of solid laughs throughout. Thanks to Wright, yes, but also some with Winston and Smith.

Maybe if Danson were more enthusiastic about the hard drama stuff with Negro, but he’s still sitcom star here.

Uneven or not, it’s nice to have the laughs.

Becker (1998) s01e13 – Becker the Elder

Whenever an episode of “Becker” starts, I hold my breath until the writing credit comes up. This one’s from series creator Dave Hackel, who likes doing the Ted Danson is a master doctor and basically right bastard; the episode opens with him ranting about little people. And even though it’s 1998 or whatever, they know it’s wrong because Alex Désert comments on it. Little bit later Danson’s making fun of how his Hispanic patient talks. So when “Becker” is being icky just to be icky, it’s in Hackel’s line. Andy Ackerman does do a solid directing job, however, because it’s Andy Ackerman.

The episode’s about Becker’s dad, Dick Van Dyke, coming through town. Van Dyke ran out on the family when Danson was eleven and Danson’s never forgiven him. Van Dyke’s never really asked for forgiveness either—until this very special episode, which isn’t even trying to be funny unless you count Hackel punching down (no blind or Black jokes about Désert so apparently someone said there were limits)—but since Hackel writes Becker like a complete Dick, who cares if Van Dyke had a reason to run out or whatever. It’s a waste of Van Dyke as a guest star and rather concerning the show creator hasn’t figured out when the show works.

There’s actually some decent stuff with Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith, with Smith making Winston laugh, which is at least something pleasant. Because despite Van Dyke being a lovable career salesman, the show positions him as a deceptive dick (no pun) and then walks it back, then forward, then back, then shrugs it off and goes out on a character building moment for Danson.

Of course, Danson is an asshole so who cares. It’s okay he’s an asshole, however, because he treats a guy living on the street—apparently for free—but whatever. Sitcom is an abbreviation for a situation comedy. This episode is a very light, very thin situational drama. I watched the show because I wanted to laugh.

Nope, not this time.

All Rise (2019) s01e09 – How to Succeed in Law Without Really Re-Trying

Okay, when I said “All Rise” reminded me of “Major Crimes,” maybe I shouldn’t have cursed the show with an Ever Carradine guest star. Carradine plays an old defense lawyer nemesis of Simone Missick’s, who’s got an appeal—she wants to get alt-righter, white supremacist Ben Leasure out of jail—and Carradine’s confident because she’s up against Wilson Bethel not Missick. I mean, Missick’s only got the bionic arm, Bethel never misses. Wait, wrong shows.

Better shows.

Good shows.

Anyway, Missick wants to help Bethel but not too much. Meanwhile she’s pissing off a prosecutor (Suzanne Cryer), who’s trying to railroad some defendant in an unmemorable case but has it out for Missick and it doesn’t at all seem like Cryer doesn’t like Missick because Missick’s a Black woman. Oh… wait… it does. As it seems Cryer will be back to report Missick to her manager… maybe Cryer ought to fire her agent.

The thing about the episode is it’s directed by Cheryl Dunye, who’s an excellent indie filmmaker; usually “All Rise” is just wasting Missick and Bethel’s time, not the director’s. This episode, though, it’s well-directed but with that same tepid “All Rise” writing. At least it’s engaging to watch to see the direction. I couldn’t help wishing it’d lead to Dunye, Missick, and Bethel teaming up on something worth their talent.

Back to Carradine. She’s playing this neuroatypical (but self-aware) defense attorney who’s seemingly convinced Leasure is innocent even though he’s obviously guilty. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter if she thinks he’s innocent. It’s unclear. The show’s not smart enough to delve into the defense attorney of the guilty client thing, even as third lead Jessica Camacho is defending obviously guilty John Ales and doesn’t want to defend him because he’s a pain in the ass. I guess Ales is good? Maybe. He’s at least not unwelcome when he’s in a scene. Carradine hovers around like a threat. The scene where she has a showdown with Missick is patently absurd as Missick starts seeing herself from Carradine’s warped perspective, which has its own optics the show doesn’t seem to recognize.

Also good is Audrey Corsa, as the new law clerk in the district attorney’s office who teams up with Bethel on the Leasure case.

In addition to actually being good, Corsa also reveals J. Alex Brinson isn’t so much interested in Camacho as he is a hot to trot capital D dog, which is fine. I resent liking Brinson given he’s still the murderous spousal abusing cop from “Travellers,” also a much better show. And good.

Last thing—the episode’s weird with the other white people in the alt-right case. Michael Graziadei is a reformed alt-righter who might be a co-conspirator but gets a pass because Christian and no one talks about how “resister” Tamara Clatterbuck, sister of defendant Leasure, is actually a perjuring monster with half-Asian kids her brother wants to kill and she picks the brother.

“CBS woke” is not woke at all.

Though it’s nice to great to see a Dunye credit and pretty please, universe, let her make something else—something actually good—with Missick or Bethel.

The Flash (2014) s06e08 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2

So unlike previous seasons, the CW “Arrowverse” showrunners—at least on “Flash,” “Supergirl,” and to some extent “Batwoman”—are doing a pre-Crisis arc and a post-Crisis arc, which might end up making a lot of sense depending on how Crisis goes… so this episode is the big finale to the comically godawful Sendhil Ramamurthy arc. He gets to turn into a big skull-faced Venom CG monster at the end, but the monster still has his voice so even if the CG is bad, Ramamurthy is able to make it even worse with his performance.

Also with the end of the arc thing there are big action set pieces, except they’re not big. They’re fake big. There’s a zombie apocalypse as Ramamurthy infects people in Central City with brainwashed “Dark Flash”’s help. We don’t get to see the apocalypse because budget; instead it’s Candice Patton and Carlos Valdes arguing about what to do next. As Grant Gustin left Valdes in charge (for after Gustin dies in Crisis), Valdes thinks he’s got the best plan. Meanwhile Patton has a different plan, one where Gustin’s not acceptable collateral damage.

Both plans are stupid because the script’s stupid but Valdes’s performance is so lousy, it’s impossible to side with him. He and Danielle Panabaker desperately need to get off this show, both for the show and for themselves. Panabaker at least has some okay moments as (don’t call me Killer anymore) Frost, but when she reverts back to regular Caitlin she’s bad. Not sure why. It’s obvious why she doesn’t use her powers against the zombies when she and Jesse L. Martin go out to the street to fight them. Because budget. But why’s Panabaker so thin playing her regular role? Maybe because she’s so bored with it they had to make her a different character to keep her on the show?

As for Gustin, who last episode went over to the dark side, possibly willingly, he doesn’t get anything to do until the end of the episode when they’re all sitting around moping about Crisis. It’s a terrible scene, though possibly better than the previous episode where he frets about his mortality. I foolishly thought the show might have some good “Road to Crisis” stuff but it’s all crap. It’s not exactly disappointing but it’s surprisingly poorly executed.

The one technically good thing in the episode is when Cecile (Danielle Nicolet, who’s all the show’s got going on anymore) and Victoria Park have to escape from a building overrun with zombies. Nicolet uses her psychic abilities to sneak them out in a long “continuous” shot sequence, which is technically proficient but still bad.

Because budget.

It’s probably not a good idea the show set its whole season up as a jumping off point for after the crossover, but unless they clean house on the cast and get some better writing, “The Flash” has run out of steam.

Tom Cavanagh sucking the season certainly doesn’t help things.

The Flash (2014) s06e07 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1

“The Flash” seems to be in a race—no pun intended—to see how bad it can get before the Crisis crossover. This episode gives Grant Gustin his first showcase all season and instead of giving him scenes opposite the regular cast, like his wife, dad, friends, sticks him in a battle of the wills. On one side is Sendhil Ramamurthy, who—against all odds—is actually worse than usual. He’s Ultimate Venom. On the other side is Michelle Harrison, who sometimes plays Gustin’s dead mom, sometimes the Speed Force. Harrison’s always been a weak casting choice. She did a little better in the stunt as Earth-Three not-Barry’s mom earlier this season and it’s hard to fault her with anything this episode. The personified Speed Force is a really stupid idea. Not Harrison’s fault.

So while Ramamurthy tries to convince Gustin to embrace the Venom so Gustin doesn’t have to die in Crisis, Harrison tries to convince Gustin he needs to sacrifice himself because he’s Jesus.

Only he’s not Jesus. When “The Flash” introduced the idea of Gustin disappearing in the Crisis first season, it was an Easter egg. The way they’ve turned it into a plot point this season has been godawful but not surprisingly so. The “Arrowverse” Crisis for Gustin doesn’t have the traditional gravitas from the actual comic. It’s got the “Flash” gravitas, which is pretty slim stuff.

The episode opens with a lousy cliffhanger resolve—Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) versus Ramamurthy, but really just an excuse to get Sawyer out of the episode to… film crossover scenes? Because dramatically it’s crap. Though everything related to Ultimate Venom is crap.

Meanwhile, Candice Patton gets a big reporter arc. But not really. She’s just avoiding writing her obit of The Flash, which is that season one Crisis Easter egg, which makes sense because she has no idea how he’s going to die. Dumb.

Though Kayla Compton is working out all right, despite being somewhat pointless except to prod Patton into various actions.

It’d be nice if it were at least a good performance from Gustin, but Gustin’s either in dream sequences or possessed by Venom. It’s all so pointless, protracted, cheap, melodramatic, silly, and dumb, it really doesn’t work out.

Kind of like the show at this point. I keep catching myself thinking Crisis might fix the show’s problems but unless they’re replacing the writers are the crossover, I can’t see how it could.

The Flash (2014) s06e06 – License to Elongate

So Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) gets his own episode and it’s, for some reason, a James Bond send-up. He and Grant Gustin are in tuxedos trying to stop Bond villain wannabe (literally, the guy wants to be a Bond villain, it’s part of the narrative) Carlo Rota from selling a doomsday laser to some one percenters. It’s really dumb, but slightly charming just because Sawyer’s charming. Gustin can be charming too but not here. He just wants to Flash-up and take out the villains but after six seasons of fighting superpowered adversaries, he can’t take on a bunch of Eurotrash. It’s kind of humiliating, actually.

Meanwhile, Tom Cavanagh has a subplot about convincing Kayla Compton to use her superpowers to prevent the upcoming Crisis and maybe give the regular cast time to film their Crisis crossover appearances. It’s a lousy subplot mostly because it meanders and seems pointless. No one was missing Compton since her last appearance and Cavanagh’s “Nash Wells” adventurer character somehow manages to be even slighter than his Quebecois trash Sherlock Holmes riff last season.

Then Danielle Nicolet gets a subplot with Brandon McKnight about him waking up from a black hole-induced coma and trying to ask out the barista he likes. It’s not well-written—nothing in the episode is well-written—but Nicolet’s good and McKnight’s fine. Nicolet’s psychic powers are off because she feels lost in her career or something—doesn’t matter—but it works out thanks to the actors.

In fact, the episode ends on solid enough ground if it weren’t for big bad and terrible actor Sendhil Ramamurthy showing up to set up the cliffhanger, it might even be a success. Or as close as season six “Flash” is going to get to a successful episode. It’s really too bad for Sawyer, who props up the show quite a bit these days. Maybe he’s a big James Bond fan?

McKnight’s a whole lot less annoying than regular cast member Carlos Valdes these days… maybe the show’s prepping for Valdes and Danielle Panabaker (who directed the episode and does a fine job) to depart.

Fingers crossed anyway.

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