Television

All Rise (2019) s01e12 – What the Constitution Greens to Me

This episode of “All Rise”—the first after hiatus—seems like a return to form. At least as much form as “All Rise” has ever had; in terms of guest stars, it means the pilot. “All Rise”’s guest star caliber has dropped since then. Not anymore. This episode doesn’t just have Peter MacNicol as a “I know racism is real, but unconscious racism… not sure about that business” judge colleague of Simone Missick’s who’s presiding over Wilson Bethel’s case. Missick’s got a “bonding with the other judges” subplot she’s going to be doing post-hiatus, with MacNicol her first new pal. He’s good at it and able to navigate the character’s inherent queasiness well. The part leverages MacNicol’s likability, which CBS no doubt remembers from when he was on “Numb3rs” for years.

Speaking of “Numb3rs,” Alimi Ballard shows up this episode too. He’s a Black dad whose wife died because of doctor John Billingsley’s obviously racially motivated neglect. There’s no reuniting with MacNicol—I can’t even remember if they share a shot together, probably not given episode director Steve Robin’s penchant for close-ups—which is fine. Ballard’s… not great. He’s okay. But they could’ve casted the part better.

“All Rise” has never reminded me of “Numb3rs,” instead I always think of it as taking place in the “Major Crimes” universe where cops and DAs aren’t bigots and racists, and also because Tony Denison pops up from time to time as Bethel’s dad. Denison’s back for a scene and not a great one, but then they also bring on “Major Crimes” vet Graham Patrick Martin as an annoying young white guy (Martin’s only note) who wants to commit environmental terrorism to get back at Republican senator mom Kathleen York. Their case is in Missick’s courtroom—she has to consult MacNicol because she’s now worried Marg Helgenberger might be corrupt—and… well, Martin hasn’t improved since “Crimes” ended. He’s got less to do so he’s less annoying. The case only really stands out because Patrick Duffy plays Martin’s ecoterrorism mentor and Duffy is freaking awesome. It’s an exaggerated cameo but who knew we got to the point where Patrick Duffy was going to be one of the best actors on a nighttime drama.

The show does all right with its buzzy topics—unconscious bias, corrupt politicians—at least until Bethel lets Billingsley’s doctor spout a bunch of stereotypes about Black women’s medical conditions without a rebuttal witness. “All Rise” is very fast and loose with its courtroom stuff. We get to see Bethel’s closing argument but not the defense’s. It’s kind of annoying but also okay because the show shouldn’t aim too high. It still doesn’t have good banter between best buds Missick and Bethel, even though they’re good together.

Lots of beach scenes this episode. The show’s also going to be playing up its L.A. setting now?

Much like “Major Crimes” (and “Numb3rs” for that matter), you wish the better actors were in better productions but it’s nice to see Missick and Bethel have a steady gig. I enjoyed watching this episode a lot more than the last… I don’t know, five or six of them. Jessica Camacho and J. Alex Brinson are back to being cute, which gets cloying but at least they don’t have bad arcs.

It’s fine. Hopefully they maintain this better balance through the rest of the season.

Watchmen (2019) s01e08 – A God Walks into Abar

This episode of “Watchmen” gets, quite nicely, to the heart of the matter. As the episode goes through its meme-ification of Dr. Manhattan (albeit prestige HBO series starring recent Academy Award-winner Regina King memes), where King and Dr. Manhattan—who’s always visibly obscured when he’s not assuming the appearance of his surprise reveal identity—sit and talk (he walks into a bar to find her, her name’s Abar, it’s… really dumb writing) and there’s not just no chemistry between King and the disembodied voice in the performances, there’s none in the direction or the script. More on Nicole Kassell’s direction in a bit.

But in general, the episode reveals that great conundrum of Watchmen, i.e., what the hell do people who like terrible things like “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” like about Watchmen the comic book and is it the same thing as people who don’t have terrible taste and, if so, where’s the disconnect. I get the show is mimicking Alan Moore’s narrative devices for Dr. Manhattan only doing them shitty and nonsensically on television but so what. Damon Lindelof’s story for the show is basically the same as what they did in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; you, fanboy turned show runner, can’t imagine what comes next so you just regurgitate the source material and package it in a new shiny, then stir the vomit for nine episodes.

“Watchmen” goes the extra mile of adding the racial subtext so it can claim some indisputable seriousness but… no. Really no.

This episode reveals not just the inevitable creative bankruptcy of the project, which—frankly—has already been laid bare (so I guess this episode just revels in that shiny bucket of puke), but also how little scope Lindelof had for it. Less, arguably, than any other Watchmen spin-off. Insert eye-roll emoji.

Oh, right, Kassell. So besides the not great direction between King and Dr. Manhattan on their various encounters, there’s also the Regina King with an automatic weapon taking out white supremacists action sequence, which the show sets up—in dialogue—to be some spectacular action sequence.

It is not. It’s not incompetent, but it’s also not any good. It’s long enough to get boring, boring enough to wonder why it isn’t better directed, better choreographed, better written. “Watchmen” manages to stay out of the incompetent—the actor playing Dr. Manhattan does way better than he should, all things considered (his scene with Jeremy Irons presents the first sympathetic Irons in a while, because the show reveals the bad Irons ideas aren’t Irons’s), even if it comes at the expense of King, who just got the show taken away from her permanently (she’s now an entirely unreliable narrator)—but it’s always in the inept.

At least since the third episode or whatever.

I’m so glad no one listened to me when I said watch the show after the first episode. I’d be so embarrassed.

Watchmen (2019) s01e07 – An Almost Religious Awe

Seriously, they couldn’t come up with anything better? This episode has a bunch of reveals and every time it’s… really, this reveal is the best thing presumably well-paid writers could come up with. Worse, it starts like it’s going to be a Regina King episode and therefore safe but… no. King doesn’t get her own memory flashback episode to herself, she has to share it with the regular cast because… it’s unclear. I don’t think I’ve used this many ellipses for effect in the same paragraph in a long time. Because, I suppose, nothing’s deserved it. But “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series?” Seriously… they couldn’t come up with anything better?

Why even bother.

King doesn’t even get the biggest shaft it turns out. Jean Smart’s experienced vigilante turned experienced FBI agent is a numbskull who walks into very obvious traps. It was already a pointlessly thin part in a vanity series but it gets even worse this episode. Pretty much everyone gets worse this episode.

Like Hong Chau; she’s not good this episode, partially because it all hinges on a mystery involving Lou Gossett Jr. but also because she’s being super-secretive with impromptu patient King. See, even though Gossett was helping Chau bring about whatever end of the world type thing she’s planning on, he didn’t have a timeline for King taking his memory pills so they were unprepared for her to need medical help.

“Watchmen” is full of logic holes, narrative shortcuts, and all sorts of storytelling laziness. It’s exactly what it appears to be.

The best part of the episode is how Jeremy Irons, now on trial by his clones, only gets a line. He doesn’t deliver it well—Irons’s gruff American thing is a wee tiring after thirty years of it—but at least it’s only one line.

The episode ends on what could be considered a big cliffhanger but only if there were any reason to be invested in the show other than morbid curiosity or intellectual self-loathing.

It’s nowhere near as offensive as last episode—though the scene of older white women Smart and Francis Fisher sitting around and talking about being a Black man who has to become a white superhero to find justice is a little ick, especially with how poorly the scene’s executed—but it’s still pretty bad. The waste of King, the waste of Faithe Herman as young King… at least the show’s almost over. Soon it’ll just be a remembered viewing regret.

Really good performances in the supporting cast—Valeri Ross, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jolie Hoang-Rappaport—just make you sorry for them, not happy they got screen time.

Though I’m finally curious why Jessica Camacho is in so little of the series. Did her part get cut before or after they shot it….

Watchmen (2019) s01e06 – This Extraordinary Being

If it were my choice, I’d stop watching Watchmen: The HBO Event Series with this episode. Unfortunately I’m watching it as a social thing so I can’t get out of it. I suppose I could sleep through the rest, but then I wouldn’t be able to shit on it in a post. Because this episode is where Watchmen earns a real “shit on it” response. The show finally gets around to revealing more information from the first episode—we find out about Don Johnson too, and Lou Gossett Jr., even though the way Regina King finds out about Gossett is by taking the memory pills he had made in Strange Days, which means he had some more made after the first episode and after she held him captive because he’s got a really weird selection of memories to share with her.

The scene where Gossett sits around and picks the memories is far more interesting than anything in the episode.

So this episode recons the original comic and makes Hooded Justice, who never got unmasked in the comic and was the sullen top in a relationship with Captain Metropolis (played here by Jake McDorman), is actually a Black man (Jovan Adepo, who’d be better if he weren’t always turning into Regina King for what they must think is effect) and wearing white makeup around his eyes, fooling the world (but not McDorman) as he fights crime. He’s fighting crime because he’s got a lot of anger built up from surviving the bombing of Black Wall Street in Tulsa. His wife Danielle Deadwyler, who starts as Lois Lane and ends up emotionally abused housewife #2, is the baby girl he rescued. So… lots to unpack and the episode doesn’t do any of it. Instead, it’s all about how McDorman doesn’t care about Adepo fighting the Klan, who use mind control to incite race riots in New York City, instead wanting to fight made up villains like Moloch the Mystic and fool around with Adepo. Though they’ve got zero chemistry with each other. Another opportunity dashed. Because it’s a bullshit show. There’s even a thing where Adepo realizes he’s basically Superman as Hooded Justice (dying world—Black Wall Street—loving parents, one survivor). Only he’s Superman if Superman then married Supergirl. Knowing she’s his cousin. Though Deadwyler’s not his blood relation. But it seems close. He like, found her again after whatever happened to them after Tulsa. There’s a significant age difference and if they reunite later… why not show it instead of turn them into caricatures.

I can deal with Watchmen being craven. The whole venture’s craven and obvious. But it at least needs to be committed to its own bullshit. It needs to be high on its own supply.

It’s another shitty Watchmen sequel, though it’s really fallen apart. It’s gotten worse. It’s disappointed. It’s wasted its cast and whatnot. The first couple episodes were solid, intriguing even. Especially the first one. But this one? With the flashbacks all done in black and white… it doesn’t just not know how to make a comic book adaptation of Watchmen, it doesn’t even seem to know how to make a TV show. It doesn’t even have overconfident enthusiasm. It’s like it just drags.

But I don’t think there’s a Jeremy Irons appearance, which really helps things just from an acting standpoint. It’s embarrassing watching Irons hack it at this point.

All Rise (2019) s01e11 – The Joy From Oz

Does the Los Angeles court really have a bring your kids to work day? I’m less engaged with the dramatics of “All Rise,” which has Wilson Bethel hemming and hawing over whether or not to help dad Tony Denison with his upcoming trial or just abandon him and Simone Missick having to defend herself as a judge to her current and former peers, whose problem with her is basically she’s a Black woman but “All Rise” doesn’t have the stones to say it, than with the incidentals of the courthouse they’re creating. Chief Justice Marg Helgenberger deciding her most important duty is to make sure visiting kids have the best time on their trip is… very weird. And very silly (they stage a mock trial based around Wizard of Oz, sadly it’s for the kids and not smartly written). But Helgenberger’s awesome at being silly. She’s been fine on the show before, good even, but never so much fun.

But while she’s being fun in a C plot, Missick and Bethel are just trying to get through the episode. It starts with everyone going crazy for the cookies at the District Attorney’s holiday party, which seems like utter nonsense. A bunch of harried adults geeked out a couple cookies (because they’re not irresponsibly snacking of course). “All Rise” dares the viewer to take it too seriously.

Anyway, Bethel’s arc is all about how some crook rats out his boss and it turns out to be because of a family thing and so it inspires Bethel not to abandon Tony Denison, even though at the end of last episode Bethel was ready to quit his job and become a defense attorney. There’s also a white guy redemption thing to it. Meanwhile, Missick’s got to defend herself against asinine allegations—she apparently embarrasses attorneys in her courtroom when they’re shady or incompetent—while Rocket Romano (or whatever Paul McCrane’s conservative white judge but not racist conservative TV nonsense conservative) shoots her withering looks. It’s got a predictable end.

Missick gets a big speech about how she’s going to judge the way she’s going to judge and it’s… fine. It’s not well-written, it’s certainly not well-directed (Claudia Yarmy’s direction is best described as annoying), but Missick gets through it. See, she’s got the hashtag woke courtroom and everyone—except the white prosecutors (save Bethel of course)—thinks there finally needs to be a hashtag woke courtroom. Not sure why no one else could do it but whatever. It’s just sad Missick’s stuck on such an obvious, middling network drama instead of actually getting to act on something.

Superstore (2015) s01e06 – Secret Shopper

This episode very nicely balances the sitcom potential of corporate sending a secret shopper to spy on the cast as they work with some character development on leads America Ferrera and Ben Feldman. Feldman has just aced a store policy exam, which he can’t stop bragging about, aggravating supervisor Ferrera. It comes up in relation to the secret shopper (i.e. Feldman wanting to do things by the book, Ferrera wanting to do things customer-focused) but otherwise their eventual arc is separate from the episode’s shenanigans.

Because while manager Mark McKinney is freaking out about the secret shopper, at least he’s not doing anything absurd about it. Some of the staff are going overboard, well, mostly it’s Lauren Ash, who’s harassing every customer she suspects of being the secret shopper. But she’s also picking her targets based on various biases. Her whole subplot is discomforting and fantastic.

Nico Santos is also flipping out about the secret shopper, trying to climb over his coworkers to get the possible raise, which just gives Colton Dunn the chance to prank him. There’s also some stuff with McKinney (and Santos) getting the wrong idea about a coworker being a plant, which the show nicely resolves by the end.

Ferrera and Feldman get a lot of interplay, including a bickering match over the store’s intercoms—which also gives Dunn at least one of his excellent rejoinders—before ending up banished to the stock room. They argue some more, they wreck havoc, they bond. It works out rather well, with Feldman showing a little more grit than usual as he’s unaware of why he’s grating on Ferrera so much. Once they get it worked out, it leads to a rather nice resolution for them. Before the punchline to the secret shopper arc, which comes in two phases. A shock laugh, then a series of little shock laughs.

Really nice episode. It gives Ferrera and Feldman a great showcase while still keeping the laughs coming in.

All Rise (2019) s01e10 – Dripsy

Lots of guest stars this episode—Tony Denison, Ileana Douglas (who brings so much energy to the show she ought to be added as a regular), familiar-faced Brian Howe, and then Dina Meyer for a scene. The episode’s about Simone Missick having to switch courtrooms due to a leak and then protect the defendant in a case from her incompetent lawyer (Howe). Oh, and Wilson Bethel’s got a sleepwalking burglary case—Douglas is the consulting psychiatric examiner—but mostly he’s dealing with dad Denison getting arrested.

The episode then ends with Marg Helgenberger very calmly and disinterestedly informing Missick she’s under review. Missick’s old buddies in the prosecutors office have filed complaints (not Bethel, obviously). The episode ends on a semi-solid cliffhanger between Missick’s review and Bethel debating whether or not to quit his job to defend Denison and there’s this possibility the show could be about both of them quitting to become defense attorneys and it’s the most potential the show’s had in maybe ever.

Shame it’s not going to happen.

It’s also moving day for Jessica Camacho, who ends up in Missick’s courtroom by the end of the episode but doesn’t really do anything there. Camacho is moving in with court reporter Lindsay Mendez who’s a regular but doesn’t get story arcs. J. Alex Brinson and Camacho go out on a date, which gets bumpy but also doesn’t, and he’s apparently forgotten all about new prosecutors office clerk Audrey Corsa. She’s in it for a literal shot, reminding everyone she exists but having nothing to do. Kind of weird to introduce her just to drop her but whatever.

The cliffhangers for Missick and Bethel, which are all of a sudden instead of building over multiple episodes (especially Bethel’s), reek of middling plotting and give the actors very little to work with. Though having Denison back—he’s barely in the episode though, with Bethel’s time mostly spent trying to find him lost in the system—does mean having Denison’s fantastic hair helmet back. It’s awesome.

Not sure it’s worth watching the show just for it but it’s awesome.

Evil (2019) s01e10 – 7 Swans a Singin’

This episode of “Evil” has a particular creative pedigree. Nineties neo-noir wunderkind (albeit flash in the pan) director John Dahl. Eighties and nineties sci-fi guy Rockne S. O'Bannon scripts. Seeing either of their names in the credits for “Evil” just tells of careers gone wrong; seeing both of them in the same episode, well… it feels like “Evil” is a pasture to be put out to. Though O’Bannon feels like he gets how to do an “Evil,” he knows just what contemporary middle class fears to exploit. Kids, obviously. The episode’s about a Catholic girls school where everyone spontaneously starts humming the same song from an inappropriately crude Christmas cartoon on YouTube.

But the actual fear is of YouTube influencers, particularly the make-up ones. Taylor Louderman plays the influencer, who ties into the Michael Emerson plot, natch, and she’s terrible. Also the show using Emerson as the occasional bad guy in his office sending out evil into the world isn’t working. It’s not like Emerson ever wasn’t silly, but he’s even more silly in his crappy little office engineering the downfall of western civilization. Or talking dirty with girlfriend Christine Lahti on the phone.

Lahti’s going to be all “Evil” at some point, as she starts manipulating her granddaughters this episode. While wearing red!

While Mike Colter, Katja Herbers, and Aasif Mandvi investigate the school and the humming, Colter has also got to deal with someone sending him pictures of his transgression with dead fiancée’s sister Renée Elise Goldsberry (who went from being featured guest star to third tier subplot) and Herbers has her home nonsense going on with the daughters and husband Patrick Brammall. Though Brammall’s growing on me. His performance isn’t getting worse. New Church boss Peter Scolari is just getting worse. And Lahti’s not fun anymore because she’s now just around to act as a constant threat to her granddaughters, who are obnoxious but still kids and the grandmother betrayal thing is really harsh.

Wait, forgot—the Christmas cartoon also tells kids to get stoned, because you should fear YouTube and counter it by… well, it’s unclear. “Evil” tries to terrify its audience with fear of tech but, other than calling the Catholic Church to investigate, has no opinion on alternatives.

There’s an okay cliffhanger? Or at least a surprise one. The episode woefully underuses Mandvi.

Watchmen (2019) s01e05 – Little Fear of Lightning

Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted a Tim Blake Nelson “Watchmen” episode. And for my sins, they gave me one.

Turns out Nelson was in New York for the giant squid attack; as a youth he looked like a cheaper, slightly nerdier Tom Holland and was a Jehovah’s Witness out to preach last minute Jesus to the sinners in New Jersey. He’s in a funhouse when the squid teleports in, covering him in mirrors… which contributed to his origin story because “Watchmen” origin stories are really, really obvious. Though maybe we’ve just gone past where origin stories are going to be any good. “Seeing” the squid attack is all right, for a moment I wondered if Watchmen: The Movie would play any better with it cut in but no because the movie’s still shit and it’s just a faked CG shot pulling back from screaming teen Nelson in Jersey to New York City and the squid.

Turns out the squid attack becomes the subject matter for a 1993 Steven Spielberg film shot in black and white with a girl in a red coat being the only color element because, sure, fuck Schindler’s List, let’s just assume Spielberg’s actually as craven as Damon Lindelof. The Schindler’s List thing will be probably be “Watchmen”’s cheapest moment just because it’s not an Easter egg, they go in hard on explaining it because Lindelof doesn’t do subtle. Even when it seems like he’s going to do subtle, he turns it around and does obvious. In this episode too, at the end, when I was regretting saying nice things about the first couple episodes in particular how well they were directed, because this episode is terribly directed. Steph Green takes the obvious script and somehow makes it even more obvious, which is particularly bad since there are a handful of elements feigning subtly and she really doesn’t want to do anything subtle.

Nelson’s got a life changing experience as he uncovers some of the conspiracy… the pedestrian, contrived conspiracy (again, talking to Lindelof about comic books and what’s good about them must be a mind-numbing experience, doubtlessly even worse than reading one of his terrible comic books) so it ought to—theoretically—give Nelson some fodder as for his performance. Only it doesn’t because it’s so poorly handled. They do the thing where they refer to the opening flashback as one of Nelson’s memories, because the target audience is too stupid to remember forty minutes ago. It’s not condescending though; “Watchmen” isn’t technically superlative enough (anymore) to condescend.

Oh. And Jeremy Irons. So richest man in the world Jeremy Irons used shitty half-inch VHS to record his monologues to the future back in the eighties, making him the eighties equivalent of, you guessed it, a Republic serial villain. Also, for the flashback, they do light makeup on Irons, so he like a fit sixty year-old instead of his usual fit seventy year-old. Because… no de-aging budget? Unless it was a creative decision, which would make sense as there aren’t any good ones this episode.

Also what is the point in making Jean Smart such a useless character. It was always going to waste the character but it also wastes Smart. Though I suppose the only person who manages not to be wasted is Regina King, because she’s able to act past the writing and direction.

Though her writing is really bad this episode.

The Flash (2014) s06e09 – Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Three

Crisis: Part Three is a scant handful of okay moments surrounded by truly godawful dialogue, sometimes so bad it’s impressive the actors are keeping it together—points to Grant Gustin, Elizabeth Tulloch, Cress Williams, and Candice Patton—one inventive plotting point, a couple big nostalgia deep-dives (they really felt the need to validate “Birds of Prey” fans, which I’m not sure I believe is a thing), and a lot of nonsense. Along with plot points from other DC Comics crossover events, including one of the silliest ones.

There are a lot of obvious budgetary shortcuts, like how Brandon Routh’s Superman returned never gets a shot actually going through the teleportation effect because apparently there’s only so much CGI budget. But also the lack of exterior shots (they don’t even recycle footage from the last time they showed Crisis hitting Earth on “The Flash,” which might threaten some kind of extended cut?).

The three big plots this episode—almost called it issue, but no, if it were an issue of Crisis it’d look better, George Perez and all (seriously, how they didn’t get a uniform good score for the crossover instead of just dropping in the old superhero themes…)—anyway, it’s Gustin, Carlos Valdes, and Danielle Panabaker trying to save the world from the speed cannon, which is an utterly crappy sequence. Especially compared to the comic, but even compared to when Gustin disintegrated in his nightmares earlier this season. Like they spent more money on that effects shot from a regular episode than the money shot in this one. It’s a bummer. Even if it’s got a good nostalgia hook but also an exceptional missed opportunity. The crossover asks for a whole bunch of slack and doesn’t deserve any of it.

Oh, wait, there are four big plots. I forgot about Matt Ryan leading David Ramsey (whose acting has gotten worse the longer he’s been on “Arrow,” and not just because he has a very forced Malcolm X quote to show he’s a Black man, which might be the most questionable creative decision in a series of very questionable creative decisions), Stephen Amell, and Katherine McNamara on a cameo-filled field trip through the Arrowverse purgatory. Even though it’s unclear how the infinite Earths work with purgatory, because it seems to be unified between realities but… whatever. Anyway, it’s just for cameos and to give Ramsey some crossover time. McNamara’s got almost nothing to do so she’s nowhere near as bad as last episode.

Then Ruby Rose and Melissa Benoist are bickering about Benoist wanting to use the Book of Destiny or whatever it’s called to save the lost universes and acting like they’re in a Frank Miller rip-off until they get girl power. Rose is bad, Benoist’s not good but also not bad; it’s neither of their faults. It’s the script, it’s the direction. Their plot’s a pointless, terribly written one.

Finally, Patton is tasked with introducing Osric Chau to the Arrowverse. I’m sure he’ll have a job after the crossover as Atom II. He’s actually okay, even though the scenes are atrociously written. Because of course they are.

The big cliffhanger—it’s five weeks until the last two entries—lacks in grandeur and execution, also not a surprise. It’s almost like they don’t have the budget for the guest stars and special effects and so went with the former. Or maybe it really is just a terribly produced crossover. It’s not like the last one was any good either.

There is a pleasant surprise at the finish, but only because it promises to amuse when they get back. Amusement would help. This episode’s not amusing. Or entertaining. And Audrey Marie Anderson and LaMonica Garrett are still terrible. Oh, and they managed to get an even worse performance out of Tom Cavanagh than he’s been giving the rest of the season (he should quit after this disservice to his filmography, just for the godawful costuming alone).

Is it as bad as the first episode of Crisis? No. Is it as middling as the second one? Nope. But whatever’s coming in five weeks, it’s pretty clear even if it’s entertaining or amusing or manages some decent moments from the actors… it’s not going to be good. And it’ll probably be bad. It’ll definitely be tedious. The cliffhanger would have been the end of the first installment if this Crisis were any good.

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