As the leaves begin to change and it starts to get darker earlier, fall feels nearer and nearer which means it’s prime television season. So we find ourselves once again looking back at the last several months of stuff I watched and stuff I might watch in the coming months. Looking back at my spring and summer lightning round, I’ve been putting off trying to wrap my head around what was evidently an extremely confusing second season of Westworld and even Jessica Jones can’t draw me back into the Marvel universe. Everything I did watch was mostly miserable or paranoia inducing.
It Sure is Tough Being a Lady: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 and Sharp Objects
After a promising and critically-acclaimed first season, The Handmaid’s Tale returned to Hulu at the end of April with enough piss and vinegar to fill three quarters of a fourteen episode bottle. Despite possibly proving to the rest of the streaming services that releasing all of your episodes at once might not be the best idea when you’re trying to keep a viewer’s head in the long-term buzz game, I’d say my biggest complaint with the second season was that it suffered from wheel-spinning endemic of a show with too many episodes ordered by the network. Plot threads went nowhere or consistently stalled and started, MacGuffins were abound, and while wishy-washy emotional decision making might let a show feel more “true-to-life”, it makes for infinitely frustrating television watching. While remaining almost oddly politically prescient from a writing perspective, it’s a show carried primarily by fantastic acting from the cast and was a great week-to-week watch I scheduled my Tuesday nights around. Generally, unless I thought about plot holes and character motivations for more than ten or fifteen minutes after it was over, it was riveting. With the longer season issues and a lack of real concrete “wins” for the oppressed women in a United States overtaken by right-wing religious fundamentalists, I fear unless some aspects of the plotting are changed, it will devolve into a feminist version of The Walking Dead: circular, aimless misery porn disguised as prestige TV. June and escaping Gillead is the new Sam and Diane. (Pam & Jim?) 7/10
Personal bias: watching Amy Adams drive around in a shitty Volvo, smoking Parliaments and drinking vodka out of a water bottle while listening to moodier, late-period Led Zeppelin is my idea of a good television show regardless of where it’s set or what the story is. Based on the debut novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Sharp Objects was about a St. Louis reporter returning to her small hometown to investigate a murder. Criticized for pacing issues, which I considered interesting scenery chewing and some creative if-at-times confusing editing tricks, it was a fairly straight-forward character study about toxic femininity, family dynamics, Southern manners, substance abuse and mental health issues. Like the first season of True Detective, the show kept you invested enough in the mystery’s red herrings as a procedural, but ultimately was anchored by wonderful performances from Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen. Mercifully, it’s been marketed as a miniseries, ensuring that it likely won’t return for a second season and suffer a loss in quality with no source material to draw from. Cough. 7.5/10
Laugh Until You’re Bummed Out: Barry and Who is America?
I’m not sure why I had low expectations for Barry, ultimately I think my favorite televisions offering of the year, but I did. A hit man gets taken by the acting bug seemed like kind of a thin premise, and although I’d seen Bill Hader in darker dramadies and generally trust HBO, something about either the marketing or initial presentation betrayed what a thoughtful, poignant, and compelling season of television it ended up being. Henry Winkler, who I love in just about anything these days, might have been a bit of the problem, even though he’s great in it. I stressed out all week about what was going to happen on Barry, whereas for contrast, The Handmaid’s Tale felt more like something I was watching for the watercooler. There isn’t a weak episode in the series and although a renewal was obvious, it came as a sweeping relief to me after a mind-boggling season cliffhanger. 9/10
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who is America?, despite dropping out of nowhere like an Eminem album, may have suffered from too much marketing hype. Advertised as the prankster’s “most dangerous effort yet,” it ended up periodically hilarious but ultimately a little hollow. Maybe major public figures are too coached for his “gotcha” brand of highlighting the stupidity of your average rube these days, but the funniest bits were often when Cohen has convinced frothing Trump fanatics or squishy liberals to participate in idiotic stunts. It might be a sign of ridiculous times that political figures saying things that used to be career-ending can be quickly cast to the wayside in favor of a “former British prison inmate” cooking high prison cuisine to a food critic that’s literally eating it all up. 7/10
I sure slacked off this summer, and it wasn’t because I spent a lot of time outdoors. I rewatched Parks & Recreation, The Office, and The Clone Wars. I also somehow got roped into watching the first season of British dating gameshow Love Island, so take that however you want to take it (I loved it).
Fall Television Lightning Round
-It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has returned for it’s 13th season and at this point if you don’t like this show go shit in your hat it’s a comedy institution. The first episode premiered this week and it was hilarious, Mindy Kaling was a great addition and I can’t wait to see what ridiculous shit the Gang gets up to this year.
–BoJack Horseman returns September 14th to Netflix and that means animal puns and things that emotionally resonate with broken people, as well as a penultimate episode that will punch you in the stomach and leave you reaching for plastic jug vodka you keep behind the couch.
–The Deuce is back for a second season September 9th. The David Simon-helmed series about sex work in 1970’s New York City had a strong opening last year, and with new bullshit SESTA laws, it’s only a matter of time before sex work is as dangerous and publicly visible as it was in the 70s again! Make America Dangerous for Poor Women Again!
–Kidding, Jim Carrey’s new show on Showtime premieres September 9th, but you can watch the first episode already on their streaming platform. I did, and whoa boy, as much as I like weirdo Carrey of late especially collaborating once again with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry, this is some seriously depressing subject matter. I was thankful it was only a half-hour long.
-Speaking of Showtime, Shameless also comes back September 9th for its 9th season, star Emmy Rossum’s last. This show has devolved into absolute middling crap after a few strong years, and I’ve been watching it primarily because Rossum is one of the most beautiful actresses working and I love her hair.
-Netflix’s American Vandal premieres its second season after a remarkably unexpected strong story about spraypainted dicks at a high school last year. This season evidently revolves around a mass shitting incident at a Catholic school, and the mockumentary crew will attempt to solve another scatological mystery. Count me in.
–Maniac sounds vaguely interesting and comes out September 21st on Netflix. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are medical test subjects in a trial for a pill that cures mental illness. Stone looks like my sister and I’ve volunteered for experimental drug testing before so I’ll probably give this a go.
–Murphy fucking Brown is coming back?
-Will I be tricked into watching Mayans M.C., the Sons of Anarchy spin-off that sees Kurt Sutter return to the world of motorcycle gangs? No.