Category Archives: series

Silicon Valley (s.05, 2018)

The 5th season of Silicon Valley is built around Richard and Pied Piper building the New Internet – a decentralized network that supposedly cannot be taken down or controlled by any one entity. On that path they constantly encounter various obstacles that originate from one of three source: Gavin and Hooli; the issues of growth under limited financing; and, later, the Chinese trying to hi-jack the technology. Jian-Yang in the absence of Erlich Bachman tries to take over his house and other belonging, in which he succeeds at first, but later, due to his inability to be civil, gets defeated by Richard via Big Head, and is forced to come back to China, where he founds a number of copycat companies, including the New Pied Piper. It then gets bought out by one of Gavin’s local partners to offer a serious competition to the actual Pied Piper, albeit based primarily on theft. With help from Monica, who leaves her partnership with Laurie, they go blockchain and announce ICO, also successfully avoiding an expensive law suit from the manufacturing company whose fridges they used earlier on the show. Dinesh’s competition with Gilfoyle takes a new development after he buys a Tesla, and both of them become senior software executives. Gavin suffers a complete debacle. Erlich does not show up. Richard takes on an assistant named Holden. Jared makes COO.

I really loved it. First off, the story is very well thought-out in terms of structure and consistency; plus, as far as I can judge, it is incredibly authentic with all the software development lingo, concepts and day-to-day realities. Although, some of the stuff the writers use is pretty old – like the tale about a guy who had a zillion bitcoins on an off-line wallet that was stored on a hard-drive that was tossed away and so he’s dug up a whole dumpster in search of it, but still failed – other concepts are relatively new and fresh, like the Rocco Basilisk, which, truth be told, is kinda spooky.

I love the way the endeavour of the heroes is developing, and how the characters remain themselves in that evolution, while at the same time also progressing to new states. What I love even more, however, is that the show is incredibly funny – even more so than before. By all accounts, this is one of the finest comedies this year – so far, anyway.

All in all, the show remains very strong and potent; and there is hope that it would stay this way in the future as well.

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Sense8 (Amor Vincit Omnia, 2018)

Amor Vincit Omnia is Sense8‘s long awaited finale. It was announced after the fans of the show made a lot of noise on account of its cancellation, and came out approximately 8 month after the initial season 2 was over. As the story goes, the gang of sensates hold Whispers and Jonas prisoners in Paris, while the BPO keeps Wolfgang. In order to rescue Wolfgang and keep Whispers at the same time the gang devises an operation of exchange, but they only manage to accomplish the first task but no the second – because of the interference of the malignant sensates, who decide to keep Whispers for themselves as a bargaining chip in the future negotiations with the ominous Chairman. With the help of other sensate groups, as well as a number of non-sensates including Kala’s husband and Sun’s now boyfriend policeman, the gang locates Whispers and undertakes an almost military operation to capture him, during which Kala gets shot. With the help from Jonas, who decided to atone for his past betrayal, and modern weapon the sensates manage to put an end to the BPO, and then live happily ever after.

Not that I regret the issue of this additional episode, but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed. On the one hand, the show preserved many of its past qualities, such as colorfulness, vivacity, complexity of the concept, top-notch execution on all possible levels, with special regards to acting and special effects. On the other, however, the story is like a straight line and offers no surprises, nor any true emotional challenges. Basically, it got reduced to a bunch of good guys defeating the bad ones; at that there is very little doubt about what the outcome would be; on three occasions the writers offered the audience a chance to stir their emotions – when Wolfgang was still in captivity, when Sun was suddenly surrounded, and when Kala got shot – but all three of them got resolved in a definitively positive way very-very quickly (plus, the second was actually a rather contrived coincidence).

There is pretty much no conflict except that between the BPO and the good sensates, and that one takes the form of an open battle, so that’s not very interesting. Otherwise there is no acuteness, no intensity. The finale is the embodiment of a ‘happy end’ notion – the heroes celebrate their victory surrounded by their friends and family, all of whom support and love them unconditionally, even Naomi’s mother, who came to her senses thanks to a pot brownie. There is a lot of emotion floating around, but there is nothing negative to fetch out the good things, and so they all feel a bit too sugary.

Still, it’s nice that the story received this ending that suggests no possibility of continuation. Even though the finale could have been more poignant – a closure is a closure. I hope the Watchowkis would now move on to something new and exciting.

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Monk (s.07, 2008-09)

In the 7th season of Monk Adrian is bound to look for a new therapist after dr. Kroger suddenly dies – eventually he settles with dr. Neven Bell. He passes a fitness test, a new requirement for working with police. He overcomes his fear of enclosed space when he has to solve a murder on a submarine. He meets a girl he really likes, by the name of Zlata, but after he puts away her mother, she moves away. He celebrates his 100th case by solving 101st one. He briefly attends a hypnotist and tries out his methods, which works at first, but later backfires. He meets his second brother, Jack Jr., and helps him out. He gets shot in both his legs. He meets a woman named Marge, who almost becomes his friend, but everything gets spoiled by Monk’s learned suspicion. He helps out a man, who bullied him in school. And he says good buy to the place where Trudy was killed. The captain almost won lottery, and got almost spiritually reborn on a different occasion. Natalie briefly worked as a lotto girl.

No progress was made in the Trudy case. The possibility of Monk’s reinstatement as a police officer was mentioned a couple of times, but nothing was contemplated seriously and nothing was done. Other than certain minor movements as to Adrian’s psychological condition this season is pretty much business as usual – separate cases, some of them interesting and well conceived, others – not so much.

In particular, the 2nd episode can serve as an example of a weak writing, because the case was solved solely because the authors introduced additional circumstances without which even Monk would’ve been at a loss. Quite a number of episodes of the show in general are of that type, which is one of the primary reasons why it never has been great.

On the other hand, episode #7, the one about the 100th case, is curious in form if not the content. It is one of those episodes that are entertaining and captivating, and are the main reason why it’s far from being bad.

All in all, this is an average season of the show – just as warm and cozy as the rest of them.

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Black-ish (s.03, 2016-17)

In the 3rd season of Black-ish the family visits a Disney World with VIP pass; throws a gender-reveal party; then throws a baby shower. Andre leaves Microsoft account on Charlie; gets scared of a little girl in a lift; goes to the Home Owners Association meeting; runs from the cops; goes to therapy; decides to name the new baby Devonte; reunites with his old crew after the death of one of them; performs his jury duty; develops a campaign for golden standard of shipping; decides not to take a paternity leave; hires Richard Yongster; puts some UVO on it; learns that his mother is no saint; and creates an ultimate slide-show. Bow gets needy because of the pregnancy; deals with mixed race issue; gets internship for Zoe and ends up doing everything herself; helps Gigi with her newborn; proves that she can cook snaks too; permits everybody to swear as they please; fights for black dolls everywhere; competes for partnership at work and looses to the Holiday Hanna; receives her sister Santamonica and gets to know her better; and has baby prematurely because of her age. Bow’s brother Johan joins the family and lives with them through-out the season; he’s a self-proclaimed poet known as ‘They call me Johan’; and earns by life-coaching people, including the kids. Zoe realizes that she might not believe in god; arranges new room for the twins; goes for internship in a fashion magazine and nails it; gets busted by cops on a party; breaks up with her father; decides which college she wants to go to and chooses CalU of Liberal Arts; befriends a girl named Miriam and falls in love. Junior runs for student body president and wins; competes with his father and outpranks him; gets a white girlfriend Megan; goes to work for a pizza company Possum pizza; delivers ‘I have a dream’ speech; receives courtesies from Shelly, Zoe’s friend; trains to be a counselor; and gets high on a party by accident. Ruby declares the Purge night on Halloween; reconciles with her old-time friend, Earl’s sister Avy; takes Junior as her Spades partner; and cooks a single dinner for the whole family. The twins get career tested. Diane sees porn for the first time; and has to wear a pootato costume. Pops spends a lot of time with his daughter; and has to give up his condo money. Dre’s work crew gets reinforced with Leslie Stevens’s son Connor; Lucie also comes back due to a lawsuit outcome; everybody go through a post-election depression. Charlie turns out to be an adjunct professor at a university.

So, this season turned out to be pretty great. It has all the great qualities of the previous ones, and at the same time nothing that stands out negatively, such as 2nd season’s finale with a contrived 1970s parody. The overall development of all the characters seems to be natural, as well as the main theme of the season – Bow’s pregnancy, which was turned around in the finale to give the audience a little scare (not a new move, but quite effective nonetheless).

What I really like about modern comedies, of which Black-ish is one of the finest examples, is that children are actually growing and developing as personalities: this particular peculiarity was underlined by including tiny bits from season 1 that contrasted with the 3rd season rather distinctively.

All in all, the show keeps up with the level established in the very beginning – the quality of the story as well as that of the humor remains very high.

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Eternal Call / Vechniy zov (s.02, 1983)

The 2nd season of Vechniy zov that came out 5 years after the 1st one continues the story of the Saveliev brothers during the times of World War II and in the following decade or so. Anton dies rather quickly in an electricity related accident on the ammunition factory. Ivan and Fyodor both go to the war. Ivan, together with Fyodor’s son Semyon become members of the same tank crew, accomplish a number of assignments successfully destroying a good deal of enemy tanks and manpower before loosing their own machine and getting separated. Ivan and the rest of the crew then become an artillery unit; later her joins a partisan party. Semyon, pronounced dead at first, gets imprisoned and sent to a concentration camp. Fyodor also gets captured quite soon, but unlike his son he switches to the enemy side and becomes a castigator. Ivan later kills him in self-defence after trying to bring him to justice. The dwellers of the Shanatara district in the meantime try their very best to procure the front with food and supplies. Polipov works as a military journalist; Lakhnovskiy, who joined the nazi forces, makes contact with him, but Polipov manages to keep it secret. Kiryan, who went to the war as well, looses both his legs, and becomes a beggar before reuniting with his wife Anfisa, who changed her mind about him entirely. Subbotin dies of a heart failure, same as Anna, who accuses Polipov of treachery to his now ex-wife Polina before departing. The final, post-war, episodes of the show are dedicated mainly to the conflict between Polipov, now head of the regional party organization, and Ivan Saveliev with Polikarp Kruzhilin, who insist on their way of doing agricultural stuff, because they claim to know the local peculiarities of the land. The conflict rankles slowly; eventually the spirit of wisdom prevails and Polipov gets a reprimand. A few years later the truth about him collaborating with the tsarist secret sevrice comes out.

The second part of the show is worse than the first one: basically it’s the same, only more propaganda, more melodrama, and more highly questionable story solutions. During the times of war all the good guys are heroic heroes who fight the holy battle against the forces of evil. Everybody who fights for the other side are either a dirtbag or a complete low-life; even the nazi officers, including Lakhnovskiy, agree that they deal with human garbage. The information about the course of the war, as well as about its day-to-day realities, are distorted quite significantly – to be fair, the resulting picture is internally consistent and may even seem realistic to people with no knowledge of real history.

The after-war events are the same kind of bullshit, only in different scenery. It is primarily about Polipov the evil doer, who sneaked into the ranks of the party (which is pure and honest otherwise) and now is spoiling everything he touches for the sake of personal safety and prosperity and with no regard for the long-term consequences of his actions. His opponents are presented as honest people not really interested in appearances, who manage to achieve justice anyway by appealing to higher ranked officials, for most of them have the interests of the people at heart. The finale of the Polipov storyline, besides being very rudely designed, is intended to inspire people with the idea that wrong-doers would eventually be punished (even though a lot of time could pass before it’d happen), and the honest workers would eventually be rewarded.

All in all, it’s a much sadder sight than season one – mostly because its events are closer to the current time and there’s much more information about them, so the crap tends to stand out. There also wasn’t any improvement as to the quality of the execution: the acting still has a distinct theatrical odour to it, perhaps even more so, because it makes the narrative seem like a cheap soap at times; and the technical side of implementation remained pretty much on the same level – I suppose, the make-up is quite alright, but the rest is good enough at best.

P.S.: In episode 6, there is a song from which the title of the show is taken: the eternal call is that “of the good and the light”. No more, no less.

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Roseanne (s.10, 2018)

In 2018 Roseanne was resurrected after 20 years of sleep. Some of the later developments were rolled back (such as Dan’s death of heart attack), but the essence remained the same: Roseanne’s family is still a big, loud, poor and, in a way, insane one. Darlene and her two kids (Mark and Harris) has to move back with her parents after having failed in life. She is long separated from her husband David, who only occasionally shows up for kids’ sake. Later on Darlene has to settle for a job that aunt Crystal retired from, which is a waitress in a casino. Becky also works as a waitress; she has barely survived Mark’s death a few years ago, and now continues to struggle with nearly no hope of success of any sort. Even though she knows her age does not really allows it, she still steps into an endeavour of becoming a surrogate for money, which later fails for obvious reasons. Roseanne and Dan have lost all the gaining they ever had through-out their lives and now are poor again. In his respectable age Dan still does drywalling, which becomes harder and harder to do with illegal immigrant offering very low prices for their work. Roseanne works as a Uber driver. DJ served in the army; his wife Gina still does, and so he raises their daughter Mary by himself – of course, with the help from the big family. He wants to go back to the army, but they wouldn’t take him, and so he and Dan later decide to give the bike shop business another try. Jackie still lives alone; after Beverly gets kicked off from the elderly house, she invites her to live together. She also gets a dog. Darlene’s son Mark is a weird but strong kid, who likes to wear skirts and dresses. Harris is teen-age girl who goes through a typical phase of rejecting the authority of the adults.

The show was initially prolonged for a few more seasons, but later Roseanne Barr posted some really stupid twits (which she blamed on Ambien), and the executives cancelled it. And that’s too bad, because the result, even though depressing as fuck, turned out much more fun than I expected. Admittedly, I was pessimistic about the project from the start – for one thing, too much time has passed, and a lot has changed on television, – but they actually managed to gather almost everybody from the original cast (with appearances from many important characters), and the scripts for the show were pretty good, so in the end it all worked out just fine. Or would’ve worked out, should Roseanne be a tiny bit smarter.

Of course, this is a comedy and it’s not really depressing – only in the after-analysis, when you realize what the Connors had and managed to fuck up. But while watching the show, these thoughts do not turn up, for it is mainly concentrated on day-to-day activities, which have a lot of funny in them. Further more, Roseanne, being a Trump supporter, messes with the stereotype for that political stratum offering a picture more complex than an average individual would want to imagine. The show embraces the new times with heart open to possibilities and understanding, albeit tensed because of the characters’ poverty and insecurity arising from it.

All in all, this was really interesting – definitely an achievement of sorts; – the cancellation was a frustrating moment for me. Roseanne once again confirmed that it is worthy of a place on a pedestal, and should remain in people’s memory.

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Monk (s.06, 2007-08)

In the 6th season of Monk Adrian gets bought on an action by his biggest fan; works for a rapper; remembers his own birth; gives Julie the talk; helps out doctor Kroger’s kid; proves that DNA evidence may be less reliable than his judgement by confirming his verdict in a 14-years old case; suffers from insomnia and sees Trudy’s eyes; shoots Santa Clause; joins the cult; poses as a guard in a bank; paints; finds the 6-fingered guy but fails to make it into a break-through; and gets set up for a murder by Dale the Whale. Captain looses his girlfriend when she kills her partner. Nothing really interesting happens to Natalie.

The only curious movement in the Trudy case was in the last couple of episodes, when Monk got set up and was forced to run off to prove his innocence: the 6-fingers guy (Frank Nun) was involved in the matter, but died before giving up any valuable information, so that led nowhere. On top of that, the way this unfolded contradicts previous circumstances: before Nun was the boss who hired a bomb-maker to blow up Trudy; here he turned into executor himself. The arrangement of the case makes it reasonable to suggest that Dale the Whale had intimate knowledge of the details of Trudy’s murder, and yet Monk never thought to question him about that.

There was also another detail concerning the Trudy case: it seems that Adrian has a Christmas gift from her that he never opened; something tells me there might be a clue hidden inside. I don’t know if it would be used or not, but it seems to be planted deliberately, to give the writers some freedom of movement.

Episode #9 was particularly interesting – perhaps, the only one that truly stood out. In addition to usual Monk stuff it had drama (with a nice twist) as well as suspense and mystery. It is definitely one of the finest Monk episodes ever.

Other than that it’s business as usual. A comfortable detective-fiction haven that is nice to turn to in order to get some rest from the turbulent waters of real life, and where even death is just a circumstance that happens to random people we don’t know.

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Black-ish (s.02, 2015-16)

In the 2nd season of Black-ish Jack uses the n-word in his school performance and gets temporarily expelled; goes to play basketball in a bigger league; and learns all the truths. Junior becomes eco-hero; prepares for the cyber attack; switches to a new barber; does not get catfished via a dating site by a girl named Kirsten; and hangs out with much richer friends. Andre starts to think about protection of the family and buys a gun;  comes up with a new holiday – Daddy’s Day; is afraid of flying; leaves the children with Charlie; gets a bad haircut; receives his best friend Sha in the house; has to deal with the new boss lady Dafny; cannot learn how to swim; marries off his sister Rhonda; and imagines his family in the 1970s, in the Good-ish Times. Charlie leaves for another job and comes back, when his new firm merges with the old one. Zoey takes self-defence (karate) lessons from Pops; takes offence at her dad for not making her the face of his new campaign; goes on a college tour with her folks and visits Brown University; crowdfunds new things for herself; and gets a car. Pops gets an angioplasty; and takes over Christmas and turns it into one-present-each type of holiday. Rainbow gets a little jealous of GeeGee, Dre’s closest female friend; learns the difference between psychology and psychiatry; does not want to take Dre’s last name; prepares the school auction; investigates the case of the broken glass; and gets pregnant. Ruby almost ruins the family photo; gets a lover named Davis; gets sick and contaminates everybody else. The twins explore the Home Alone anti-burglary techniques; get baptized in the pool by Ruby; switch gender-specific activities; break apart and get back together. Diane sings; makes a documentary about Jack and sports; runs for class president and looses. Andre and Rainbow learn to say ‘yes’ more often; deal with money troubles; and try to decide who should be their children’s legal guardian in case anything happens to them. The family attends different churches; attends a neighbour’s pool party; opens a dialog about police brutality and idealism; and watches the Lion King – again. The children have a rivalry with their cousins; learn the pleasure of insider trading; and get a nanny named Vivian.

For the most part the season is almost as good as the first one. A lot of major issues are touched upon, including police violence in relation to race, money, guns, and gay marriages, not to mention many exclusively black schticks, such as the barber thing. Relations within the family develop in orderly manner, same as the relationships between (and within) the factions. Episodes became less motley and more one-two subjects-based.

The execution is on the level with season one, there’s very little change in how things are done on the show.  At the same time, due to several setbacks I consider this season to be less interesting that the show was before – it should be noted, at that, that although the quality did get a little lower, it still remains way above average. In particular, I didn’t like the finale, with the ’70s sitcom parody, – it just seemed a bit laborious to me.

All in all, though, the show is a great entertainment, and I have high hopes for its future seasons.

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Eternal Call / Vechniy zov (s.01, 1976-78)

Vechniy zov is the main soviet epic TV show. It tells the story of three brothers – Anton, Fyodor and Ivan Saveliev – starting with 1905, when all of them were still kids living in a Siberian village, and spanning, for the 1st season, over almost 40 years. The turbulent story of the country is shown through the prism of several families, mostly living in and outside of Shantara city, as well as few other people, all related in this way or another to the revolutionary movement (and later – local and state administration). The older brother, Anton, was the first to join the bolsheviks party back when it was still in its infancy; for the most of his life he stayed out of Shantara, participating in the party-related activities and being in prison at first, and later – building industial complexes all over the country. Fyodor and Ivan remained where they were born and raised; both their fates came to be tangled with those of local merchant Kaftanov and his daughter Anna. In addition Fyodor seduced a local girl Anfisa thus betraying the trust of his friend Kiryan. These two romantic lines intertwine with each other, as well as with multiple other storylines, forming a complex, intricate picture. The series elucidate the history of the Bolsheviks’ movement in pre-revolutionary Russia and state management after the October overturn, involving such characters as Subbotin (one of the organization’s leaders), Yakov Kruzhilin (party activist, later chekist) and Polikarp Oleynikov (party activists, later statehood personality), Petr Polipov (party activist and secret agent of Okhranka, later statehood personality), and Arnold Lakhnovskiy (a military commander from the side of the White movement; later a gang leader). Te life of village is another major subject of the show – before and after the revolution – with many peasant personalities involved, including Saveliev senior – Silantiy and his wife; merchant Kaftanov, his daughter Anna and son Makar, all three Saveliev brothers, their wives and children; Kyrian and his wife Anfisa, etc. Over the course of the first season the series touches upon collectivization, industrialization, purges, war-related devastation of the land, formation of the kolkhoz system, and other matter of early soviet history. The last several episodes are dedicated to the Soviet Union entering the WWII after being attacked by nazi Germany, and collective effort of the people to overcome the disaster, including the roll-out of a military plant in Shantara region within extremely limited timeframe.

It is actually quite hard to comprehensively describe what this show is about – there’s just too much. Suffice it to say, the authors tried to tell the history of the country as completely as they could, but also attaching some drama and romance to the people’s stories in order to make them more relatable with.

There are certainly some quite powerful things about the show. The life of a village is shown rather convincingly – for lack of actual knowledge it’s hard to judge the authenticity, but it surely seems plausible enough – apart from obvious ideology-driven distortions, such as demonization of the local powers that be (Kaftanov). Another strong trait is overall coherence and internal consistency of the story – if I didn’t know any better, I could’ve easily bought it, just like many people did when it first came out, and some still do.

With some exceptions the acting is pretty great, as well as the execution in general – for the times, that is, because the art of cinema came a long way since 1976, increasing, among other things, in subtlety.

Now, as for the drawbacks, I have two major issues with the show and a range of smaller ones. First of all, it’s terrible historic inaccuracy that was motivated by the general ideological bias of the soviet culture. Most of it is incorporated into the fabric of the story almost seamlessly: for one example, the district of Shantara experiences economic troubles not because the kolkhoz sistem is a still-born perversion, but because it is being managed by a social climber, a hidden enemy; for another, Ivan was sent to prison not because of the state-wide tendency of purges, but because of the so-called ‘local overreaches’ – a term coined by Stalinists (if not Stalin himself) to explain and justify the arrests when they cannot be hidden any more by shifting the blame on the local executives, honest and sincere, but overly enthusiastic at times. This is not to mention the sin of omission – be that about the great industrial dash, the role of the americans in which came completely ignored, or about the friendship of the USSR with the Hitler’s regime and the division of Poland, among other things.  All these things are basically ingrained into the story, so that they cannot exist without each other – if one would to correct all this stuff, the show would’ve simply fallen apart.

The second thing I didn’t like is the acting style of some of the performers, which was very theatrical – mostly, for some reason, this concerns actresses, for they more than men tend to wring their hands when overcame by emotions and so on. The third thing is that motivation of some of the characters is quite dubious – while in some cases the distortion came from ideological underpinnings (like Kaftanov’s act ot give his daughter Anna to be raped), others are not so clear – for example, I still do not quite understand why Fyodor hated Ivan SO much.

I also was a bit irritated by lack of clear separators between the periods – the authors could switch from one time period to another within an episode several times without clearly indicating it, which is quite confusing. And, surely enough, the overall style of the production feels outdated – should this story be adapted for the screen now, it would’ve looked very differently.

All in all, Vechniy zov is definitely a monument, although not so much of the art of cinema, but rather of the ideology-driven distortions in the craft and their devastating effect on the final product. Still, even in such capacity this is an interesting spectacle – not completely unenjoyable, and definitely educative.

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Modern Family (s.9, 2017-18)

In the 9th season of Modern Family Alex continues dating Ben for some time, but later breaks it off with him; paints her passion; capitalizes on foot fetish together with Luke; rejects an internship at MIT; and dates a firefighter. Jay thinks about his legacy; reconnects with Shorty, who feels like a failure; renovates Mitch and Cam’s kitchen; bugs Terry Bradshaw while on jury duty; tries to cheer up Stella, who’s depressed; competes with Henry’s parents; and visits his sister in a hospital after she has a stroke. Lily can’t get horseback riding lessons. Haley works in a golf club under Luke; almost becomes an assistant for the future version of herself; discovers the beauty of the world when temporarily deprived of her phone; fails the audition for back-up singer on a cruise; starts dating Alex’s professor, a genius physicist from Great Britain; goes to work for a moronic celebrity; tests dangerous stickers and passes out on the street. Manny goes off to college majoring in theater arts; brings home a girlfriend teacher; and makes a horror short. Mitch burns down the kitchen – twice; fakes a break-in; Cam performs on Gloria’s anniversary party with Mitch; runs a detention class; briefly works for a billionaire; can’t decide whether or not to take the job as a prosecutor; and discovers that his mother was secretly influencing his every decision. Mitch and Cam receive a guest from Europe named Max; go to a retreat and experience sensory deprivation; go on a ride-along in a police car; and have their hugging nephew living with them. Cam performs on Gloria’s anniversary party with Mitch; runs a detention class; and takes a hip-hop class with Phil. Gloria gets into yet another car accident; celebrate her 10th anniversary with Jay; ruins a famous playwrite for being mean to Manny; gets mad on Valentine’s day; gets into spanking with Jay; goes to the Oprah party with Mitch; and pulls a real dad prank on Manny. Phil believes in the underwear routine; performs a Normandy phone booth escape trick; almost sells a house to Coldplay’s lead singer; goes on a trip by himself; leaves his firm and goes to work for himself; gets to the hospital; gets bullied by Stephanie, a next-door shop owner; celebrates their anniversary with Clair; and spoils a show’s finale for a lot of fans. Claire buys a magic shop for Phil; runs 10k; joins book club; drives a truck; wants a she-shad; makes a nemesis out of Jay’s nemesis’ daughter; fights for LA Woman magazine cover; gets her portrait painted; and decides to merge with a closets tech startup. Joe plays golf; courts Clair; and graduates from kindergarten. Luke disappears after a party; ruins Valentine’s day for Mitch and Cam; and decides to go to college after all. The family takes a lake vacation to see a solar eclipse; and goes on a wine weekend to the country.

One of the main peculiarities of this show is unusually high number of main cast characters – there are 12 of them. From the writers’ point of view it should be rather difficult to juggle all these people, trying to allocate enough screen time for each; on the other hand, it makes it easy to conceal a temporary absence or low engagement of some of them. From the outsider’s point of view, I cannot be express my admiration at how masterfully they manage – it has been 9 years now, and the show still remains no only wonderfully balanced, but also ingenious and funny.

Characters’ storylines develop steadily and in a logical fashion. Stories, although based on pretty much the same essential points every time, always seem fresh and new and interesting. The humor continues to please with its subtlety and inventiveness; its quality is still quite high. There was no falsity during this season, nor unpleasant stiffness.

The execution has not changed from all the previous seasons – it’s pretty amazing. The acting is very good, although I feel like Aubrey Anderson-Emmons (Lily) is not as good as she used to be; but there isn’t much of her in the show anymore, so that’s quite alright.

All in all, this was and is a great comedy – enjoyable, funny and engaging. Recommended.

Names and figures

Monk (s.05, 2006-07)

In the 5th season of Monk the storyline with investigation of Trudy’s death receives no development whatsoever, not even false one, like previous season. Instead, some insight into the story of Adrian’s relationship with the love of his life is given through flashbacks. On a different subject, he reconnects with his father, who returns to his life (but not Abrose’s) after getting in trouble; finds out that he has yet another brother; attends school reunion (class of ’81); survives a garbage strike; becomes temporarily blind; opens an office at the instigation from Natalie; coaches a basketball team; almost gains a friend; becomes a butler; gets exempt from the hiring freeze, but does not get hired; makes jokes on the radio; and visits a farm. A movie about last year’s astronaut case almost gets made; Natalie dates but none of the followers stick; captain tries on-line dating and finds a realtor girlfriend; Randy gets tired and quits but comes back almost immediately.

This season is even more stale than the previous. The only episode that stands out is the 2nd – about the garbage strike – which was rather well done. The rest of them vary in quality – some are better and more interesting than others – but quite mediocre on the average. Episode #15, the one with fake serial killer, is particularly unsatisfying, for it exploits a theme easy to set anyone’s teeth on edge – old school vs. the technology in crime solving – and does it in the most trivial way possible.

Thanks to the successful episode about garbage the beginning of the season was somewhat uplifting, but the absence of similar achievements in the subsequent course of the season gradually made it dull and uninspiring. I really hope it will get better than this.

Names and figures

Black-ish (s.01, 2014-15)

Black-ish is a family sitcom about Andre Johnson, his wife Rainbow, and their four children – Andre Jr., Zoey, and twins Diane and Jack. Andre is working in advertising, and has been recently promoted to SVP of a major company; Rainbow is an accomplished medical doctor; their successful careers is what brought them to the higher stratum of the middle class, and made them black-ish instead of simply black. They all live as one happy family with Andre’s father, whom everybody calls Pops, and occasionally visited by Andre’s mother Ruby, and Bow’s parents Alicia and Paul. In the office Andre becomes sort of close with a new co-worker Charlie Telphy. Over the course of the 1st season Andre gets promoted to SVP of the urban division; talks to the children about sex; ruins Harriet Tubman experience; brings the family to the Beef Plantation, the taste of his childhood; learns to keep his wife and his mother separate but equal; competes to be Santa; strains his ankle; turns 40; comes clean about vasectomy; tries to get back to his roots (hunnit); comes up with 10,000 commandments; and talks to his sister Rhonda about her homosexuality. Andre Jr. joins the field hockey team; gets a bro-mitzvah; plays both Romeo and Juliet; gets bullied by Cody and figures out how to withstand it; films reality-tv show about his mother and her friends (‘old people eating cheese’); looks for loopholes in the rules; and almost joins the young republicans club because of a girl. Rainbow promotes her profession for a career day and to Diane; uncovers Ruby’s secret about Christmas dinner; gets disappointed when her husband fails to show caveman qualities; reads ‘Hoodfellas’; competes with Ruby about what to give Dre for a birthday present; gets late; and parties with her college friends. Jack plays hide-and-seek but no one’s amused; watches The Shining; and arranges a living costume together with Zoey. Diane learns to be nice; doesn’t want night-light to go; arranges a living costume together with Junior; fights for her nickname of Gurkel; and composes family tree together with Jack from Pops’s story about 1923. Zoey starts vlog ‘Makeup by Zo-Zo’; gets her brother a date with Kyra, a super chick; gets her first boyfriend – a french guy named Andre, and then second – black guy named Derrick; learns that she was born before her parents actually got married; falls for a boy named Daylen; and starts wearing glasses. The family dresses up as Jackson Five on Halloween and re-establishes the pranking tradition; perform the elves song on Christmas; go the black ski weekend on Martin Luther King jr. day; and goes through the vows renewal ceremony / new wedding.

The genre of a family sitcom (and it seems to have had developed into its own genre) is not new, and yet people still find ways to come up with fresh and funny stuff. Black-ish is one of the most recent example of this phenomenon – it is now in its 4th season; and while I don’t know yet about the later ones, the 1st is pretty amazing. It is funny, ingenious, full of vitality and joy.

The secret is simple, of course, – it’s all about the characters. In this case we have 6 primary ones, plus a several more recurring, and each of them is a bright and unforgettable personality, even those presented as dull. The stories, which is an equally important component of any comedy show, derive from the characters, and are conditioned first and foremost by their originality and internal consistency. The Johnson family is a bunch of rather crazy people, each crazy in his or her own way, with different brands of functional insanity blending together into a wild and cheerful cocktail. It is incredibly uplifting and funny.

Through the various stories the view of the modern state of race relations is presented, with somewhat reduced level of realism (for this is comedy, after all), as it is perceived by three different generations of black people in the US. Even though the subject matter is far from the reality of my everyday life, it is still interesting to follow, because, lack of racial diversity notwithstanding, I can still relate to most of the stuff Johnsons and their companions are going through – people around the globe are not that different all in all.

The general climate of the show is light, joyful, merry. The humor is of very high quality. So far there hasn’t been anything fake or forced, or even unnecessarily half-way, which is kind of refreshing. The execution is quite flawless. The acting is totally amazing – all the primary parts are played at 100% and more; the cast selection is absolutely perfect (especially the twins); and multiple secondary roles and guest stars are just as awesome as the show in principle.

It’s a great comedy, and I highly recommend it.

Names and figures

American Crime Story (s.02 – The Assassination of Gianni Versace, 2018)

The 2nd installment of the American Crime Story tells about the assassination of Gianni Versace by the serial killer Andrew Cunanan; it is based on the Maureen Orth’s book “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U. S. History.” It has pretty much nothing to do with the 1st season of the show, up to the fact that it was written and produces by different people, not to mention the cast. The story focuses mostly on Cunanan, to whom around 65% of the screen time is dedicated; Versace takes up the remaining 35%. The structure of the story is non-linear, presenting various pieces of it scattered across times and geographies in a generally backward movement, but coming back to the present (i.e. the day of Versace’s murder and weeks immediately following it) all the time. In relation to Versace the story is concentrated on his death and all things related to it, even remotely, which means tracing his life back up to the childhood, but also – leaving out major parts from his life, like the process of building the company, the discovery of his sexuality, etc. When it comes to Cunanan, however, the writer puts under scrutiny his whole life investigating all the turning points there were. As it follows, homosexuality, the perception of it in the 1980s and 1990s, is one of the core subjects of the story.

Just like the first season of the show, this one is blessed with a power-cast, albeit consisting of different personalities. All of them, however, are absolutely amazing, starting with the leads – Édgar Ramírez as Versace and Darren Criss as Cunanan – and proceeding to the rest of them, including Ricky Martin as Versace’s life partner Antonio, Penelope Cruz as Donatella, Finn Wittrock as Jeff, Cody Fern as David, and so on.

The story is a mix of large pieces of the story arranged in a backwards fashion, which structure allows to really dig the tragedy of Cunanan’s life, as well as the tragedy of Versace’s death. While the story of the couturiere is attractive because it is one of a good person who built himself up, a creator whose best years were taken from him, the Cunanan story appeals to the part in the viewers’ souls that finds thrill and excitement in the evolution of darkness. The picture of Andrew’s development seems to be psychologically correct, even though the complexity of it makes it hard to figure out what exactly damaged him bad enough for him to eventually go frantic. The writer has a theory, of course, but instead of forcing it onto the audience he implies it, which works much better (and also allows him to leave some parts ambiguous).

The execution is top-notch, absolutely flawless, same as with season 1. The show is a total delight all in all – clear, powerful, full of action and deeply rooted drama. Still very much recommended.

Names and figures

Another Period (s.03, 2018)

Third season of Another Period is very much like the 2nd: a semblance of a continuous story that really isn’t consistent at all and has a lot of downright random stuff. In the beginning Dodo retakes the house and drives Commodore away – during the season he is pretty much absent, although always lurks nearby, and attempts a comeback closer to the finale. Dodo remains with the priest at first, but after he becomes too impudent, forces him out. The sisters – Lilian and Beatrice – remain with Dodo, so nothing changes there; although they do try to hijack Hortense’s fame as a suffragist in order to come back on top, but then Hortense turns out not dead, so that fails. (By the way, nobody remembers that Hortense is supposed to be an heiress to her late husband’s fortune; also by the way, she is played by yet another actress – third or fourth.) Beatrice becomes famous at some point when her movie from season 1 gets leaked. She later becomes a claimant to the image on the new nickel, but overdoes with beautification procedures. Lilian tries to stage a surgery, looses a fortune gambling, gets into an asylum, where she looses memory after electroshock therapy and, after getting released, becomes the wife of an Irish policeman. Frederick gets prepared by his wife to run for president; she almost convinces him that Beatrice is not his real sister, but notwithstanding all her efforts, their love for each other only gets reinforced. Blanche has hard time working and looking after a baby at the same time, so she replaces the newborn Bellacourt with her own daughter, which backfires, when Victor and Albert decide that they want a child and then let her fall into a well. Peepers suffers from his love for Dodo, which comes unshared. Garfield decides to find his parents, and does so.

The further it goes, the less it looks like a uniform story and the more – like a collection of sketches. I can’t say, however, that the show got any worse that it was in season 2 – rather, it stayed on more or less the same level, which, admittedly, is not very high, but it’s still not a degradation.

On the other hand, this is supposed to be comedy, but this season is significantly less funny than even the previous, – all the moments when I laughed could be counted with fingers of just one hand; there were many amusing spots, of course, but that’s not what would want to see, so I’m not counting them.

The technical execution and the acting is also more or less the level of 2nd season.

Is it worth watching? I don’t think so. It seems highly unlikely that the show would regain the quality level of the 1st season, so it would much more humane to just shoot it in the head – in fact, it should have been done after season 2; there’s just no point in dragging it any further, – it could only get worse from here.

Names and figures

Monk (s.04, 2005-06)

The 4th season of Monk is a stale one – there is pretty much no progress on any of the pressing issues of the show. The investigation of Trudy Monk’s death does not move one inch – on 2 occasions the storyline seemed to had been developed, but the 1st one turned out to be a hoax, and the 2nd was only used as a premise for a detached story and did not contribute to the development. Monk’s reinstatement did not happen also – as is already a custom, he was close a couple of times, but for reasons known only to the writers, was rejected. His psychological state almost improved: in one episode he progressed enough with his symptoms to overcome some of them, but then a hoax Trudy story happened, and everything went back to the way it always was. He got a chance to socialize twice: one time he worked in an office undercover, and another time he had a jury duty. Natalie turned out to be from a wealthy family, even though she doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. Captain Stottlemeyer ran into some trouble with his wife, and will be getting a divorce. The rest is a collection of unconnected, vertical stories, as usual.

Some of those stories are more interesting than the others – also as usual. The humor is rather good – I smiled and even laughed quite often, which on the one hand is nice, but on the other – kind of negates the substance and significance of death.

The execution is more or less the same level as before. All in all, except for aforementioned advances (all of them either tiny or conditional), the show remains as if frozen in time.

Names and figures

Atlanta (s.02: Robbin’ Season, 2018)

Atlanta‘s 2nd season is subtitled ‘Robbin’ Season’ because it is set in the time of the year when it is especially hard for the people of Georgia to survive, which is why some of them turn to downright criminal activity – over the course of the season the show’s heroes get robbed several times. Earn’s relationship with Alfred (aka Paper Boi) deteriorate because he cannot manage him in a way to secure the level of respect and gain Al thinks he deserves; additionally, a guy named Tracy comes out of prison and comes to stay with Al, and serves as an agent of chaos in their tiny environment, often ruining Earn’s already insufficient efforts to make things happen for Paper Boi. Earn is no better with Vanessa, who eventually limits his presence in her life to support of Lottie, their daughter. He doesn’t have a place to live and roams from one place to another. Whatever money he comes by, he usually looses. Alfred’s career is taking off, albeit not as quickly as they all hoped it would; but he still gains recognition and fame, and by the end of the season gets invited to the tour over Europe. As before, some of the episodes are dedicated to separate stories involving the primary characters, the most brilliant of which are the one with Al and Bibby the hairdresser (#5), the one with Darius and Teddy Perkins (#6), the one with Al getting lost in the woods (#7), the one with Van going to the Drake’s party (#6), and, of course, the flashback episode about Alfred’s and Earn’s childhood.

The beginning of the season was somewhat difficult in a sense that everything developed downwards, approaching the fields of hopelessness, which mood prevailed over the narrative – there weren’t any bad or poorly thought-out storylines, nothing like that, but it was surely tense and slightly uncomfortable. Starting with the middle of the season, however, things became much more interesting as there began the streak of deep and beautiful stories, the most powerful of which was the story of Teddy Perkins and his brother Benny Hope. By the way, the role of Teddy was performed by Donald Glover himself, who wore whiteface makeup for it. Other episodes mentioned above are pretty much just as good – maybe a little less exciting, but definitely just as good.

This 2nd season all in all is darker and not as funny as the 1st one – in fact, the show seems to be turning more and more towards drama rather than comedy, although there are still a lot of truly great findings, some of which are in the humor domain.

The execution is just as superb as it was before. The writing is strong and exquisite; the dialogs are natural and subtle; the acting is amazing. The technical side of things is also great.

Generally speaking, this season is just as enjoyable, but, because of the adjusted down mood, may seem less so.

Names and figures

American Crime Story (s.01 – The People v. O. J. Simpson, 2016)

The 1st season of American Crime Story is dedicated to the one of the most controversial cases in the US legal history, The People v. O. J. Simpson. It’s a screen adaptation of the Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life, which comprises the accounts of the events from various personalities, including OJ himself, prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, lawyers Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, Dershowitz and Johnny Cochran, OJ’s closes friend Robert Kardashian, as well as other people directly or indirectly involved with the case. The show tells about the events in question, starting with the night of the murder, through all the trial proceedings, and up to the verdict and its immediate consequences.

I’m not an american, so the events under scrutiny are not a part of my personal history; frankly, apart from the fact of such case and that OJ was probably guilty yet was acquitted, I didn’t know anything about it. To me the version presented by Alexander and Karaszewski looks extremely compelling. The narrative is internally consistent from beginning to end, and though some of the elements of it may seem implausible at first sight – like the fact that most african americans celebrated OJ’s acquittal, or that his lawyers chose to ignore or fight the actual facts of the case realizing full well their true value, – but in the set of circumstances drawn up by the writers of the show, including historical ones, they are, in fact, believable and probable enough.

Basically, the reason why the People lost the case against Simpson is a complex one, and includes mistakes made by the prosecution team, impudent yet effective tactics chosen by the defence, the unfortunate reputation of LAPD as a deeply racist organization, and the extreme length of the trial, which put the jurors under terrible pressure. All of these things, most of them in the dynamic process of evolution, as well as their mutual influence and overall entwinement are shown here with perfect clarity. We can see that it’s a complicated thing, but we also see why it is so.

The execution is truly amazing. All the characters, most of whom are still alive and well, are shown as living, breathing three-dimensional people with aptitude to make mistakes. All of them are wonderfully written and played; my personal favourite is, perhaps, Robert Kardashian played by David Schwimmer – in part because he managed to depict his hero’s growing doubts with perfect precision and skill, and in part – because it is implied that Robert’s misplaced trust might have been one of the reasons the horror of Kardashians has been inflicted upon the world a decade later. To be fair, though, all the major characters here are utterly amazing to watch and follow.

Naturally enough, the execution as such is totally flawless. There is literally nothing to haggle at – the overall result is so light and meaningful at the same time, taking it in is an absolute pleasure.

All in all, this was a powerful experience for me – emotional and aesthetic, and also educational. Highly recommended.

Names and figures

Another Period (s.02, 2016)

In the 2nd season of Another Period the Bellacourt family goes through troublesome times. As it turns out, most of the money earned by Commodore have been donated to various organizations by Dodo, and now nobody wants to do business with him. And so Commodore undertakes a mission to marry off Hortense, and when that doesn’t work out for obvious reasons, he brings back Lilian and Beatrice, annuls their marriages and tries to find new husbands for them, which fails miserably, for no one wants them anymore. Frederick becomes a Vice President to Teddy Roosevelt and, when blackmailed by Howard Taft, head the public campaign of incest repudiation. Chair gives birth to a boy while still unconscious from her fall; she remains paralyzed and without memory at first, but then recovers enough to force Dodo out of the house. Dodo makes a comeback, when served with the divorce papers, but manages to preserve only the abbey, where she has been living for the major part of the season. Hamish stands trial for the murder of the reporter, that was actually committed by Peepers; he turns out to be Commodore’s brother, and eventually gets acquitted thanks to his vagina defence. Blanche gets pregnant and then gets married to the doctor to cover up for him being a Canadian. New girl Flobelle joins the staff to replace Chair; she then urges everybody to go on strike for working too hard. Peepers brings in a boy called Jane, who turns out to be a thief; discovers the wisdom of self-pleasuring. Beatrice helps Albert overcome his hatchet phobia; discovers footbycicles and almost runs away with Albert Einstein; gets baptized and finds faith; and then tries to save the soul of her sister. Lilian tries to land Franklin Roosevelt, but fails; learns about condoms; goes to the bar and hits her head in an accident. The sisters compete with each other for a prince, and repeatedly try to become famous – first by jumping off the Niagara Falls in a barrel, then by hiring a music producer Joplin to write a hit song for them, – all of which fails.

Already in the second season the show starts coming apart. A lot of great qualities initially characteristic to it are still preserved here – for one, the hit stars Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome are both awesome – but the signs of decay are obvious. There is pretty much no consistency – a story that was an organic whole before turns into weakly connected set of sketches the further the more. Admittedly, a good share of them is very funny, but still. The characters that played a huge part previously, now can disappear for several episodes in a row; the most obvious example here would be Dodo, who was present in 4 episodes tops, but her absence was actually addressed and used in the story, which is more than I can say about Chair, whose vanishing was not explained at all. The actress playing Hortense was replaced – this blunder was addressed as well, but in a not very convincing way; the new girl is much worse, is not used in the plot development as much, and ultimately brings the show down.

I believe the writers faced a number of challenges when doing the season – one of them could have been the impossibility to coordinate the schedules of the cast members in a satisfying way; and all of them combined compelled them to overcompensate by offering even sharper and bolder humor than in the season 1. Unfortunately, that only pushed the writing in the direction of inventing stories that grew less and less plausible with time. Of course, it always was preposterous, but at least it was internally consistent; now most of the ideas simply seem ridiculous, and not at all in a good way.

I can probably understand why, despite the best efforts of the creative team, the show keeps on disintegrating, but what good could the reasons do? What matters is the result, and it ain’t pretty. What’s worse, it’s unlikely to get better. But I’m still very much interested in how exactly it would go down.

Names and figures

Monk (s.03, 2004-05)

In the 3rd season of Monk Adrian Monk continues investigating various cases, most of them involving murder, in the capacity of a private consultant. In the beginning of the season he travels to New York, where he follows the clue given to him by Dale the Whale, and manages to move one tiny step forward in the investigation of his wife’s murder: he finds out that the instigator of the hit on her has 6 fingers on his right hand. This is pretty much the whole progress of that case. Adrian meets a woman who shows genuine interest in him; almost gets his license revoked by the police commissioner, but manages to repair the situation; goes to the interview for a different kind of job – as a fact checker for a newspaper, – and gets it; helps a local mafia family with a mass murder case; helps reinstate his ex-partner Joe Christi as a police officer; reconnects with his father-in-law; tries out anti-psychotic drugs, but decides not to pursue that line of therapy; goes into witness protection; meets the band Korn; goes to Vegas and gambles a little; and temporarily adopts a foster child named Tommy. In the mid-season Sherona abruptly leaves, which was explained by her re-marrying her ex-husband and moving with him to New Jersey. Monk eventually manages to replace her with a brand new nurse by the name of Natalie Teeger – after some adjustments they seem to be getting along fine. Over the course of the season he shows some progress in his perception of his late wife’s image – he finally starts letting go.

Except for two moments that I find significant the season is better than the previous ones in that everything that has to do with Monk, his personality peculiarities etc is better written. In general it’s more funny and, correspondingly, more enjoyable. Certain ideas prove to be real catches – such as the similar antagonist (played by Tim Bagley), Monk dealing with his emotions about Trudy, or the foster kid thing. The documentary story was pretty cute, although the only reason why it was used only to get back the license and not reinstate Monk as a police officer, I could think of is the arbitrary will of the writers that contradicts the natural flow of events. Natalie, the new assistant \ nurse seems to be a very good choice. Most of the vertical stories are better designed and more interesting, while the rest is at least not any worse than before.

Apart from certain hiccups related to the rigidity of the show structure (like the aforementioned Monk’s failure to get back into police), there were couple of things I didn’t quite like, – but I do find them interesting. First is about the medication that Monk tried and decided not to proceed with. On the one hand, it does show some side-effects of some drugs correctly, I believe it fails to give the objective picture of prescribed medication and its consequences: there are dozens of different anti-psychotic drugs, which was also the case in 2005, so if one of them produces undesirable effects, the most reasonable thing to do is to try another and/or adjust the dosage, until the working combination would be found – which is more than possible. Not to mention that the 3 years gap, when Monk was basically incapacitated, he most likely wouldn’t have survived without medication. The depiction of the issue in the show is oversimplification and should be perceived with caution.

The second thing is Sherona’s sudden departure. In terms of effect on the show, the writers/producer chose the least beneficial way to handle it – for them it  was a heavy blow which damage had to be controlled; to be fair, they carried out the transition in a way that it seemed almost imperceptible, even in the binge-watching mode. But a truly advantageous treatment of such situation would be embracement – like The Good Wife‘s writers handled the departure of Will, for example. The true story behind the event, by the way, is that Bitty Schram overplayed her significance for the show – she tried to re-negotiate her pay, and, probably, somehow enraged the producers, so they cut her out entirely. Her character was there one episode, and was gone the next. There is definitely a lesson somewhere in that story.

The execution is approximately the same level it was before, maybe a little bit better. All in all, it feels more or less the same. Thanks to the nice humor, the good acting, and decent stories (even though they could have been better) the show is interesting enough to watch.

Names and figures

Superstore (s.03, 2017-18)

In the 3rd season of Superstore the Cloud 9 store gets rebuilt after the tornado, and things pretty much get back to normal in just a few months. Amy and her husband decide to get a divorce; she experiences some trouble in her relationship with her daughter Emma; more importantly, she tries to deal with her feelings for Jonah, but notwithstanding her attempts at dating they only keep brewing. Jonah starts dating a newcomer, Kelly, while at the same time trying to figure out his thing for Amy. In the second half of the season their mutual attraction finally comes out into the open. Glenn realizes that he wants to have a child of his own, but his wife turns out barren, and so they decide to get a surrogate; after a few unsuccessful variants, Dina agrees to carry their baby. Marcus finds out that it’s possible to make cheese out of human milk and starts a business based on that idea. Mateo gets slight injured on the job and is offered a significant sum of money, but is forced to reject it due to his legal status; eventually he tells Jeff everything, which forces him to quit his job and restore their relationship. Jonah briefly moves in with Garrett, because his house was destroyed by the tornado; Dina stops a robber; Amy tries a dating app; Glenn gets a mole on his private parts; Mateo gets an ear infection; Jonah tries to establish a health fund and fails miserably; Cramy gets born; social media issue gets tackled; Mateo gets baptized; Amy throws a Golden Globe party; Kelly believes in angels; Amy almost kills a groundhog and goes on a date with Tate the pharmacist; Jonah and Amy find a stash with recalled merch; Amy is forced to go through safety training; Myrtle gets fired; Amy gets pregnant; CEO visits the store; Amy rediscovers her latin background; a body gets found in the wall; the story almost becomes Quadro A; everybody gets a one-day amnesty; new regional manager Laurie comes instead of Jeff; the unbecoming policy of agism almost gets uncovered.

So, the season is rather good. The show demonstrates a steady, albeit slow progress – the humor became richer and more diverse; all the episodes are now stitched together quite tightly with several continuous storylines presenting altogether a solid, integral whole.

The execution also becomes better: while the technical side of it remains on more or less the same level of professionalism, the show becomes bolder, especially with destroying stuff, and therefore – brighter. The acting is pretty good – the drama gradually becomes deeper over the course of this season, and the actors proved quite convincingly that they are up for the task. Jonah, Amy, Dina and Mateo are, perhaps, the most interesting characters of the cast.

All in all I enjoyed the show quite a bit – it’s interesting enough, and much funnier than it used to be. It may be incapable of reaching the stars, but it’s quite good in flying just below the sky level.

Names and figures

Homeland (s.07, 2018)

The 7th season of Homeland revolves primarily around the russian interference into the domestic politics of the US. [spoiler alert] First several episodes are dedicated to the possibility of newly elected president Keane turning into a dictator due to her resorting to not exactly constitutional methods of investigating the attempt on her life undertook by a small group of military officers in the previous season’s finale. But after a little while she releases those arrested and makes Saul Berenson her advisor on the matters of national security. At first Saul is forced to deal with the O’Keefe’s issue: the journalist has been on the run for two months until he settled in a community of his supporters, that was soon sieged by the FBI forces. Because of a viral video, later linked to the russian spy network in USA, things went south and people died. Saul starts looking into the events and assembles an off-campus team specifically for that purpose. In the meantime Carry, who is struggling on the one hand with her medication not being effective enough, and on the other – with contradiction between her desire to be with her daughter and her calling, stumbles upon the same problem from a different angle: trying to prove that the president is becoming usurper, she became convinced that it’s not the case, and, having connected certain dots, came to the same conclusion Saul did. Eventually Carry rejoins Saul’s team, and they try to counter the russian threat together – up to visiting Moscow to retrieve an important asset of the russian GRU service.

As far as I can tell the show keeps the mark. The story is very well thought-out and is based on enough realpolitik circumstances of the actual reality to seem plausible. Carry’s internal conflict is just as acute as it was before, only this time she manages to resolve it by ceding some of the things she desires, because she comes to understand that it would be the shortest path and takes hold of her still powerful emotions. Her relationship with Saul gets slowly repaired over time after the fracture, which process is gradual enough to be believable.

And same goes to the president Keane lightening her grip on the assassination attempt investigation – we can see how hard it was for her to let go, which is why it seems credible, even though her tendency to overreact kinda got pushed to the sidelines of the story. It was, however, later absorbed by her personal growth that resulted in the grandiose gesture in the season’s finale, so in a way the issue was addressed – I suppose, in a satisfactory way.

As for the most interesting thing about the season – the involvement of the russians – it was really beautiful. For one thing, the split between the old-school spies and those who started to believe their own propaganda seems very real, because there are in fact many people who do believe all that crap the russian government is constantly cooking up, including some presumably smart people, so why not spies? Also, the way the americans managed to use contradictions between different power groups within the state structure (by hitting the sore spot – the money) is exceptionally realistic – after all, Russian Federation now is a kleptocracy. Admittedly, the writers of the show give the russian spies a little too much credit – the operation they pulled on the american soil with the murder of the general and all is quite elegant, and only failed because the americans were a tiny bit better (at that things trembled in the balance more than once); in reality russians operate much more crudely – just think about the poisonings of Skripal or Litvinenko, or their actions related to the presidential election in the US, – but all in all the image of the enemy is drawn in a realistic fashion.

Generally speaking, the 7th season of the show is just as good as all the previous ones, and at the same time is quite unique. It’s filled with action and high quality drama; the elements composing the story are very well-implemented and coexist with each other in perfect harmony. Recommended, as always.

Names and figures

Another Period (s.01, 2015)

Another Period is a period comedy set in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1902. It follows the story of the insanely rich Bellacourt family, that is at the bottom of the 1% of the 1%. The head of the family, Commodore has a lover, an ex-prostitute Celine, who joins the working staff of the house as a new maid while already pregnant with the Commodore’s baby. Commodore’s wife, lady Dodo is a heroin-addict; his eldest daughter Hortense is a suffragist and an old maid with no hope of marrying anybody; his next daughter Lilian is married to a Bavarian gay man named Victor; his youngest daughter Beatrice is married to Albert (who is in relationship with Victor), while having an incest connection with her twin brother Frederick. The working staff includes Blanche, the maid who dream of working on factory; Peepers, the butler, who is secretly of indian ancestry; Garfield, the underbutler; Hamish, the groundskeeper, and the most disgusting of the servants; and, as a new addition, Celine/Chair. Over the course of the 1st season the sisters Lilian and Beatrice repeatedly try to make their way into the highest society of Newport, always unsuccessfully. Hortense takes the issue of the women’s rights close to heart. Beatrice and Frederick is in love with each other, and fail to be subtle about it. Celine plots to overtake the house as the new mistress. The stories feature multiple real-life characters, including Hellen Keller, Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Ponzi, Thomas Edison and others.

Frankly, I haven’t seen a comedy so audacious in a very long time, or maybe never at all. It is so impudent it crosses a line of good taste quite often, which, on the other hand, is well compensated by the degree of self-irony, ingenuity, and the quality of humor. It can be slapstick sometimes – especially in the first episodes, – but this quality actually fades away over time.

The principal method here is simple enough: it’s a mix of Downton Abbey and reality TV (represented, relying on Wikipedia, by some Kardashians show) – i.e. the blend of two solutions completely opposite by their qualities, so much so, in fact, nobody before even though about mixing them. Yet, it turns out, that the approach works perfectly – that is, creates a unique and original new form filled by the creators (and other writers on the crew) by fresh and bold material.

The execution is flawless – the harmony between the design and the result is absolutely perfect; professionalism of the technical implementation is beyond doubt; and the acting is superb, for lack of a better word. The humor is really strong; the show is truly hilarious at times; some of its capacity comes, naturally, from the mocking of real historical figures. Perhaps, the essence of the show is such that it can easily offend a lot of people. I, however, enjoyed every second of it.

For the show is astonishingly refreshing in its disregard of everyone and everything that today’s traditional culture urges us to respect. This thing alone is a reason enough to watch it at least once, and it’s also really funny.

Names and figures

Monk (s.02, 2003-04)

In the 2nd season of Monk Adrian continues investigating various cases as a private consultant, often helping the police department. He attempts to get reinstated once more, this time using ADA as the legal grounds, but fails due to extreme anxiety that wouldn’t let him to go past the 1st question of the test. Sherona continues helping him with everything, regularly participating in the investigations as a partner and not merely an assistant. She gets a visit from her ex-husband, the father of her child, who claimed that he returned to snatch them both away but proved to be a liar. Adrian reconnects with his brother Ambrose, who has severe agoraphobia and clings to the idea of their father returning. Monk continues mourning his late wife; some additional details about her death get disclosed, including (in the final episode) a new lead, when Dale the Whale, now an inmate, sends him to New York with a name.

Overall, it’s the same deal: mostly vertical stories with very little horizontal development. On the average the quality of the stories grew a little bit – at least one of them (the one with the theater) was really great. Although, I have to say, I prefer the outline with some mystery apart from “how the hell did he killed her”, which this particular show lacks. The chemistry of the Monk-Sherona relationship remains, by far, the most interesting thing about the show; both their personal stories get to evolve, even though only a tiny bit. I am not sure why Monk chose not to pass the test for the 2nd time, but all in all it’s within the scope of plausible. And the mystery of the dead wife finally got a development, which is what I’ve been waiting for; hopefully, 3rd season would offer some more.

Obviously, Monk was one of the shows that gave rise to later detective series, such as The Mentalist and Castle – at least it was a significant influence that affected both the shows’ format and the essence of the primary character.

The show is still only mildly interesting, but it doesn’t get worse, and actually gets a little better. Plus, there were some very interesting guest stars, including John Turturro and Sarah Silverman.

Names and figures

Suits (s.07, 2017-18)

In the 7th season of Suits Mike returns to lawyering for the firm now headed by Harvey Specter, with whom he makes a deal in order to dedicate part of his time to pro-bono cases (both for the legal clinic and for the firm). Over the course of the season he is constantly torn between his principles and desire to help people on the one hand, and his obligations before Harvey and the firm on the other. His relationship with Rachel remains normal; in the closing episodes they move their wedding date up and decide to move to another city and dedicated their time to running a firm, whose sole business would be class action cases against Fortune 500 companies. Harvey starts seeing his former therapist, which relationship evolves steadily until it hits the Donna rock and sinks. Donna becomes first a partner in the company and then COO. Harvey brings his friend to the firm, Alex, who becomes one of the major players in the company. Luis recovers after the breakup with his fiance and later reinstates his relationship with Sheila, which bothers him at first, because she is engaged to another man, but eventually leads to her breakup with the fiance and an open stage in her relationship with Luis. Jessica leads private practice in another city, and later gets sacrificed to save the firm. First half of the season revolves around the private prison institution, where the administration colluded with the guards to prolong sentences of certain inmates by forceful and illegal actions. The second half is dedicated to the war between the Harvey’s firm and the group of former partners, who used Mike’s history to force their way back into the company in order to destroy it; a lot of attention is also given to the lead poisoned children case that becomes another Mike’s passion.

Suits never were a good show – middling at best, and it only gets worse with time. Over the course of its 7th season the series finally turned into a cheap melodrama it always strived to become. Everything about it rotten, but most of all – characters. All the primary ones are so goody-good, it sickens me: they sometimes act unreasonably, but always come to their senses eventually; they value the good relationships they have and would never do anything truly hurtful to them, for their hearts are always pure; the only conflict (besides the external warring) they experience is that between standing by a given word and doing the right thing. The right thing aspirations pierce every second of their time and every fiber of their personalities. They are all wise and understanding.

The enemy characters are all small and petty people with slithery methods and pathetic excuses. Sometimes they can temporarily prevail in strongarming the good characters, but the latter would always find out a way to win in the end, leaving them battered and humiliated.

To me the events of the show became completely uninteresting already after 3 or 4 episodes, for the outcomes are always predictable – generally, that is, – while the details are overly complicated and all in all unnecessary. After all, who cares what were the particulars of the cases and what exactly precedents have been used to rebuff the attacks if the finale is always the same?

The writing is pretty terrible. I didn’t care much for the stories – some of them were alright, but hardly more than that; most, as was mentioned above, were about doing the right thing, which is okay in theory but insufferably boring on practice, not to mention fake. Honestly, this show makes me hate and despise the lawyers – on the subconscious level, because it is clear as day that such lawyers as are depicted in the show do no exist in real life.

The dialogs are awful – too smooth to sound real, repetitious and, once again, fake. The acting matches them perfectly.

The technical execution is fine, but nothing special – it’s professional, but with everything else so shitty, who really cares?

I would highly recommend to never watch it – the show is a complete waste of time. Unless you’re a bored housewife with no taste whatsoever, of course.

Names and figures

Master of None (s.02, 2017)

The 2nd season of Master of None is dedicated to Dev’s trip to Italy and its consequences. [spoiler alert] After breaking up with Rachel Dev spent some time in Modena, a small italian town, learning to make pasta in a small local shop. There he met Francesca, as well as bunch of other people. After his apprenticeship was over he decided to come back to New York. Almost immediately after his return he got a gig hosting a culinary show called “Clash of the Cupcakes”; he met chef Jeff, celebrity producer of the show and befriended him; in due time he got an offer of 7-years long contract, but rejected it and came up with a different idea instead. That’s how the BFF – Best Food Friends, a travel culinary show – was born. While this was happening Francesca showed up in New York, being already engaged to her long-time boyfriend. She came for a short-term at first, and then came back to spend a whole month. Because her fiance was mostly busy with his business, she spent all that time with Dev, which eventually brought them both to realization of their true feelings. Just a few days before the BFF show was supposed to launch the ugly truth about chef Jeff came to the surface, which effectively ruined the project, but by that time Dev didn’t really care anymore.

For the most part the season does follow the line recounted above, but it’s actually much more than that. There is a range of episodes not related directly to the plot that offer glances of various kind – into the Dev’s childhood (the one with the Thanksgiving at Denise’s, #8), into the life of the greatest city in the world (#6), into the world of on-line dating (#4), into the difference of perception of religion by different generations (#3). The first episode is a beautiful homage to Vittoria de Sika’s Bicycle Thief; episode #9 is an amazingly powerful picture of growing attraction.

By all accounts, the depiction of the appearance of love is absolutely perfect here. It’s subtle (there is not even a hint on it in the beginning; and subsequent development is gradual and smooth, but also accelerating up to the explosion-like culmination), and it is very well devised and written.

I totally adore the boldness, the freedom and the strength that pierce every single minute of this 2nd season; Aziz Ansari is definitely a power figure in the world of cinema – (I’m hesitant about using word genius here, but I don’t really know how else to put it.)

The execution if flawless. I would like to especially single out camerawork and the lighting – the image was at times insanely beautiful. And also the music – the selection of melodies here are diverse and specific, and appropriate in every case. Of course, the direction is absolute, as well as the acting.

While the 1st season was pretty good, this one is completely fantastic. My second strongest impression this year. Highly recommended.

Names and figures

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