TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Further random thoughts from my couch.

Check it out — my 2nd TV-related post in two days!

I wouldn’t say I’ve been watching more TV than usual lately, but I thought I’d mention a few shows that were highlights for me this past week:

The Big Bang Theory. Is it too obvious to say that this show when out with a bang? After 12 seasons, the series finale of The Big Bang Theory aired this past week. I’ve had my moments of absolutely loving this show, although I think the last few seasons have been kind of spotty and the jokes a little too predictable. Still, twelve seasons with characters we care about is a pretty big accomplishment. For the most part, I was happy with the finale. (Spoilers ahoy!)

  • Sheldon and Amy won a Nobel prize!
  • Raj got to go the award ceremony with Sarah Michelle Gellar — not too shabby for a guy who didn’t used to be able to speak in front of women.
  • We finally got to see the Wolowitz children. (Adorable, of course).

Okay, but here’s where I get a little stuck: Penny is pregnant. After making very clear that she had no desire to have children, ever, and Leonard asserting that he accepted her choice, the show left Penny with a surprise, unplanned pregnancy, and she and Leonard seem perfectly happy about it. What happened? Why did the show feel the need to tack this on at the very end? If Penny had been ambivalent, or had said she didn’t want kids YET, it might feel more okay. But no, suddenly she’s totally into it, with no on-screen discussion whatsoever.

Look, I get that these are fictional characters on a sit-com and that the series finale is not the place for a serious conversation. But then why include it at all? It’s as if the show is saying that a marriage can’t be truly happy without children, that a couple needs a baby to be complete. And I think this sucks. Why not respect Penny’s very clear choice? Or at the very least, deal with it earlier in the season so Penny and Leonard could talk about it in a meaningful way? Choosing to be childless is a valid choice, and the show should have respected it, rather than forcing Penny and Leonard — a couple who don’t follow the usual path in their marriage — into a happily-ever-after formula that doesn’t suit them. Grrr.

Dead To Me. Who else is watching/has watched Dead To Me on Netflix? I just binged it this weekend, and loved it. With a terrific cast and a pretty dark sense of humor, the show zips through 10 30-minute episodes. Never boring, often deeply emotional, with plots twists and craziness and ridiculous situations galor, Dead To Me is hard to describe without giving away key plot elements. Let’s just say: It’s the story of a recently widowed mother of two who befriends a somewhat kooky woman through a grief support group, but really nothing is as simple as it seems. There’s a powerhouse ending — I want more!

Check out the trailer:

Awesome, right?

Santa Clarita Diet: Oh, I’m so sad to have come to the end of this zombies-in-suburbia series! What a pity that Netflix has chosen not to renew it for a 4th season. Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant are spot-on hilarious as realtors Sheila and Joel, who sell houses, raise their daughter, and find bad guys for Sheila to kill and eat in order to quench her cravings for flesh. Sheila is undead, you see, and that’s kind of hard on a marriage. This show is amazing, really — crazy developments, terrific cast and guest stars, and buckets and buckets of blood (which means that if you’re at all squeamish, you probably shouldn’t watch).

The show ended with a cliffhanger, which makes it all the more awful that there won’t be more. C’mon, Netflix, give it another chance!

Game of Thrones: For anyone talking about TV today, this is the elephant (dragon?) in the room. But I’m just not going to get into it right now. There are thousands and thousands of opinion pieces out there related to the season so far — no one needs mine on top of that! As I write this, we’re about 4.5 hours away from the series finale, and I can barely breathe through all my anxiety over the ending. Will I be satisfied? Will the show do the remaining characters justice? AAAAAAGH. So hard to wait.

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Are you watching any of these? Please share your thoughts!

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TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Thoughts on a disappointing season of Survivor.

Oh, Survivor. What did you do to my show this season?

I can’t call myself a superfan. There were bunches of seasons that I just didn’t watch. But I’ve been back in for the last 8 – 10 seasons, and it’s been a blast. There’s just something about Survivor. The personalities, the scheming, the strategizing, the challenges — it’s a suprisingly entertaining little social experiment, with stakes of $1 million dollars each time a batch of new players hits the beach.

The 38th season of Survivor wrapped up this past week, and geez — what a letdown. In some ways, the season was doomed from the start due to a weird and dull-but-infuriating theme. Here are some thoughts on the highs and lows, and where I think the season really went wrong.

The full cast competes on SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 38th season, Wednesday, Feb. 20 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

New and returning players. This season, we had 14 new players and 4 returning players. Why, Survivor, why? The four returnees are all relatively recent players, all very popular with fans despite never winning the game. And I mean, it’s nice to see them again — but who decided it would be a good idea to mix new and returning this way? The new players, while some quite starstruck, nevertheless pretty immediately banded together to decide to get rid of the returnees. They were seen as big threats, and the general feeling seemed to be, “they had their shot already — this is OUR time.” Two returnees were placed on each of the two tribes, making them outnumbered from the start, and despite some good alliance-building, they never really seemed to have a shot at making it to the end.

I like seeing returning players (well, some of them, at any rate), but not in such a weird ratio to new. I’d much rather watch an all-returnees season, or a fans vs favorite set-up, where at the least the numbers are even going into the game. I couldn’t really figure out the rationale here, and it ended up seeming like a waste of good, exciting players to put them in this no-win situation.

The returning players

Edge of Extinction was a disaster. The concept here is a new one for Survivor. Instead of being out of the game once voted out, as expected, each player who’s voted out has a choice: Go home (to Ponderosa) and kick back until the game is over, or grab a torch and get in the boat to the Edge of Extinction. All of the players voted out chose the torch, naturally, and then they just sat around on a bare island, waiting… and waiting… and waiting. The voted-out players had a chance to compete to get back in the game mid-way through, and then again toward the end, when only a handful of players remain. And lo and behold, the guy who ended up winning the game spent 28 out of 39 days on the Edge of Extinction. So how did he win the game, and was it fair?

In my view, no, it wasn’t fair. Chris, the winner, was the 3rd person voted out of the game. He then had all those weeks to hang out with all of the other voted-out players, all of whom ended up being the Survivor jury. So he had a chance to make friends, resolve any hurt feelings, not compete, and basically just lay low, meanwhile scooping up all sorts of intel that ended up giving him an edge when he did win his way back in.

No disrespect to Chris — he’s not the one who created the concept. But it does seem like a bizarre twist, and one that gives an edge to someone who actually played much less than the other remaining contestants. And by playing less, he didn’t piss people off, have to compete, deal with alliances or betrayals, or any of the other key elements of game play. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

The final three

On top of the fairness question, Edge of Extinction had a strangely diluting impact on the TV show itself. Most episodes featured some amount of check-in time with the voted-off players, who really weren’t doing anything of note, which ended up taking time away from the action amongst the players who were actually still in the game. At first, the twist seemed kind of cool… but once it became clear that there was nothing actually happening at Edge of Extinction, it became more and more clear that something was off about the entire concept.

They need to fix the final four elimination. A couple of seasons ago, the Survivor powers-that-be added a fire-making competition to determine the final three. At the very last immunity challenge, when there are four players left, the winner automatically goes to final three. He/she then gets to pick who also goes to final three, and the remaining two have to compete to make fire, with the winner getting the 3rd spot in the finals.

The problem is, it’s a dumb way to figure out the finalists. In seasons where there’s someone who’s a clear favorite to win, unless that person wins that last immunity challenge, there’s no way anyone (with an eye on winning a million dollars) will bring that person to the end. And fire-making is a crapshoot. Someone could be a great fire maker, but just have an off day or maybe the wind is blowing wrong. It’s just so disappointing to see someone play a truly great game and get knocked out right before the end.

That’s what happened here. Chris, returned from Edge of Extinction, won the final immunity. The other three contestants included Rick Devens, the clear favorite to win, and two others, Gavin and Julie, who made almost no impression on me with their gameplay. Chris made the risky decision to give his immunity to Gavin and go up against Rick in the fire-making, knowing that (a) if he won, it would be a big move for his Survivor resume and increase his odds of winning the ultimate prize, and (b) if he lost, well, he would have lost to Rick in the final anyway, so why not chance it?

The player most likely to win… until he got knocked out in the fire-making competition.

Chris made a smart move — but I still hate it. At four, it feels like too much power in the hands of the person who won the last immunity challenge. And if that particular challenge happens to be one that the best overall player isn’t suited to, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be eliminated. Look what happened to Malcolm the first time he played — if he’d made it past that last challenge, he’d have won the game.

My suggestions? Try a different approach. Maybe make the remaining three battle it out three ways, with the top two finishers moving to the finals. Or maybe allow hidden immunity idols to still be played at final four, offering one more reward to a person who hustled to find it. I just can’t stand seeing finals where the strongest player has been pushed out, so we end up with lackluster players who made it to the end because no one saw them as dangerous enough to vote out.

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Will I keep watching Survivor? You betcha. But I hope the show runners take steps to fix some of the problems from this season.

For anyone who watched, what did you think of this season? Did you think the right person won? Hit me up in the comments!

The delights of summer TV: Sparkling nails, warring brothels, and a severed leg

It’s summer! Whatcha watching?

I’m having oodles of fun binge-watching TV… and I’m totally in love with three shows that are ridiculously fun.

First up: Claws on TNT

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the glory of Desna, the nail salon owner turned money launderer turned Dixie Mafia kingpin (queenpin)… who always looks completely fabulous, whether sitting poolside or driving her Maserati or breaking into a drug-smuggling warehouse. The show’s true heart is the nail salon and the friendship of the women who work there with Desna. They’re hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous, over the top, and also, surprisingly moving.

Desna got into a life of crime reluctantly, needing a way to support her autistic brother and working toward her dream of establishing a more upscale salon. Pill-pushing clinics, gun-toting criminals, and plain bad luck have gotten in her way, but I keep rooting for Desna to free herself from all the crazy criminal shenanigans and get back to that amazing nail art.

I absolutely did not expect that this would be a show for me, but after much prodding from a couple of co-workers, I gave it a try, and I was hooked. You can’t take it seriously, but if you want escapist summer fun, Claws is top of the list.

 

And then there’s my more recent discovery: Harlots on Hulu

Yes, it’s about harlots. 18th century London prostitutes, two competing madams bitterly at war with one another, the “culls” (customers) who frequent the brothels, and the overall rotten condition of being a woman at a time when women had no power over their own lives. The show is written, directed, and produced by women, and it shows: The emphasis is not on bodies and sex, but on the women characters’ minds, desires, frustrations, and yearnings. It shows the limited options women had to control their own lives, and paints a pretty grim picture of what sex workers experience each day.

And yet, it’s a remarkably fun and entertaining show! Visually, Harlots is a treat. We alternate between seeing the mucky streets and filthy dress hems with ogling the gowns and wigs of the upper class (and the brothels that cater to the rich and noble). Oh, those wigs! Can we talk about the wigs for a minute? Powdered, sky-high, utterly glorious… between the wigs and the costumes, this show is just a feast for the eyes. Add in a compelling plot and terrific acting, and you’ve got some idea of why I’m obsessing over this show right now.

 

Finally, I’m loving the hell out of C B Strike on Cinemax:

And this is where the severed leg comes in.

C B Strike is a TV show that crept in while I wasn’t looking! I’d heard that a TV adaptation of the J. K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith) detective series was in the works, but had no idea it had been completed and released already! Three seasons are all available on Cinemax, each season covering the plot of one of the three books in the series. Season 1 is The Cuckoo’s Calling (murdered model), shown in 3 episodes. Seasons 2 and 3 are two episodes each, covering The Silkworm (murdered writer) and Career of Evil (body parts by special delivery). All are excellent, in large part because of the two excellent actors in the lead roles of Cormoran and Robin. They have great chemistry, and Cormoran especially is just what I imagined from the books.

The plots of the books are really dense and packed with detail, so the pacing of the TV series took a bit of getting used to. They manage to squeeze in enough to make the storie make sense without getting bogged down. It actually amazes me that they were able to condense the plot threads and clues enough to work in so few episodes — but the show is definitely a success.

Added bonus: It has been a while since I read Career of Evil, but now I’m back up to speed and completely ready to continue reading about Cormoran and Robin when book #4, Lethal White, comes out this fall!

 

Those are my top three… but I’m also really excited about the new season of Killjoys, and plan to dive into Castle Rock this week too.

What are you watching this summer?

TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Some random thoughts on a season of Survivor.

And that’s a wrap on another season of Survivor!

I first watched Survivor way back when, season 1, when it was something new and really different. I stuck with it for a season or two, then moved on to other things. A few years ago, it occurred to me that it might be a fun show to watch with my preteen boy — I figured he’d like the challenges, the physical hardship around food and shelter, and the strategizing among players to — as the saying goes — outwit, outplay, and outlast.

We first tuned in together for Survivor: One World back in 2012, which was season 24 of the show. And here we are, five years later, and we’re still watching! Season 35 just aired its finale this week, and while we thought the season had a pretty lackluster start, by the end we were glued to the TV. There may have been some jumping up and down at  certain points. Maybe even a hug or two. The kiddo and I will never tell

I’m not going to write a recap of the season — you can find plenty of those out there all over the internet. I just thought I’d share some thoughts and reactions… which probably won’t mean much to people who don’t watch the show, but here goes anyway.

I’m not into the “themed” seasons very much. The Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers gimmick is just that — a gimmick. It’s a way to divide people into tribes, but had no real bearing on people’s game play or strategies. So the Heroes included a marine vet and a firefighter, the healers had a urologist (whom everyone refered to as the Sex Doctor) and… well, I honestly couldn’t tell you. There was a lifeguard or two — were they healers? heroes? hustlers? No clue. The team distinctions are pretty blurry, and later in the game when the players talk about needing to take out the remaining members of the Healer tribe, my mind was blank — who are they talking about again? Unless the show constantly shows subtitles identifying people by tribe, it’s just confusing.

The cast of season 35

Personalities matter. For the first half of the season or so, my son and I consistently felt that there weren’t enough stand-out personalities to make things interesting. The interactions among tribe members were rather bland, and no one seemed to really have a great grasp on strategy or gameplay. It wasn’t until mid-season that some players started really coming out of their shells and becoming people to cheer for. I feel like Survivor tries too hard to fit “types” — we need a nerdy guy, so insert Ryan. We need an assertive, brainy woman — insert Chrissy. We need a surfer bro — insert Devon. We need an unpredictable tough guy — insert Joe. I’m not saying that’s all there is to these people, but just that casting likes to play up certain stories, and based on the edited show, that tends to be what we get.

My favorites tend not to last. Two big blows for me in terms of enjoyment watching the game were the eliminations of Lauren and Joe. Lauren, a fisherman according to the show, is a tough, laconic woman who isn’t flashy, but who slowly started showing more and more smarts and ability. I liked her gameplay approach, her practicality, and her down-to earth-ness. Joe is just a hoot, a parole officer whose gameplay seems modeled on winner Tony from a few seasons back. Joe is funny and out there and not afraid to be a little crazy. He sure was fun to watch, and when he got voted off, the show lost a lot of its entertainment value.

There are too many puzzle challenges. The puzzles have bugged me for a while now. No matter the challenge’s physical components — swimming, running, balancing, shoving big heavy objects through small spaces — too many of these end with a puzzle, and it’s always the puzzle that decides the outcome. It doesn’t end up mattering how far behind someone is on the physical part — they can always catch up on the puzzle. The problem here is that by the back half of the season when the competitions are individual rather than team-based, one person skilled at puzzle-solving can dominate every challenge. That certainly happened this season. Chrissy was the only one left in the final 8 or so who had an eye for puzzles, and there was just no real shot for anyone else. It becomes a foregone conclusion before the challenge even starts: There’s a puzzle at the end, so Chrissy will win. And she did.

Here’s a suggestion for the Survivor powers-that-be: Only include puzzles in challenges prior to the merge, when the challenges are all team efforts. That way, it’s up to the team to assign puzzle solvers, and the win is more dependent on teamwork and strategy that on one person’s particular talents. I mean, come on — for this one, not a single person other than Chrissy had the slightest clue, and it was ridiculous.

People who don’t look for idols have only themselves to blame. Ben was on the bottom for the last several weeks of episodes. His alliance was gone. He was seen as a huge threat by everyone else left in the game. He was the #1 target for elimination, and no one wanted to work with him. So Ben did what he needed to do to save himself — he hunted for hidden immunity idols night and day, and he found them. And everyone else kept saying, well, there’s no way he’ll find another one. But he did. And they all just sat around camp and talked about needing to get Ben out, or else just had a good night’s sleep. Meanwhile, Ben found an idol every time he needed to. That, to me, is excellent Survivor. He had no shot at an alliance or talking people into saving him, so he saved himself, time and time again. Kudos to Ben. For the others, it’s your own damned fault for not following him around or finding idols yourselves!

It’s a game; it’s not personal. I get sick of hearing about “bitter jury syndrome”, and I have no respect for players who make decisions based on emotion. And this is why I wasn’t rooting for Chrissy to win. Too many times, she pushed a play on her team because she felt personally betrayed by someone, rather than for strategic reasons. I have news for y’all — the game is about betrayal. People who don’t ever go against their alliances or switch sides don’t win. Blindsides are what move people ahead in the game, and to pull off a blindside, there’s betrayal involved. Alliances are crucial to keeping yourself safe, but knowing when to break from the crowd and make your own moves is what wins the million dollars. People who base their votes on personal likes or dislikes are not the best players. I hate hearing players saying that they need to get rid of so-and-so next because they’re too annoying or they can’t stand having them around camp anymore. That’s not strategy, and it often leads to illogical moves. And as for the bitter jury thing — people who are voted out should be able to leave their grudges at Tribal, and cast their votes based on good game play, even if that game play is what led to their own ousters.

Now THIS is a challenge. Watching people cling to poles just never gets old.

Personal history is important, but shouldn’t affect the votes. This is a tough one. When someone waits until Tribal to pull out the sob story, as touching as it may be, it always feels like a cheap play for sympathy votes to me. And sympathy votes should have nothing to do with determining the winner of Survivor. It’s a fine line, though. If someone is truly dealing with something emotional or difficult back home, and it affects their game play, then yes, it is relevant to an extent. I guess I just don’t like it when a player keeps the big news a secret all season and then drops a truth-bomb at Tribal for maximum impact. And this is yet another reason why I support Ben as this season’s winner. All along, he was upfront about his PTSD stemming from his combat service. He clearly was carrying an emotional burden with him that affected him day in and day out, including during all his days playing Survivor. Ben’s PTSD had a real impact on how he played the game and his ability to connect with his teammates. He was criticized for his social game, but I think he did a great job of overcoming his own obstacles. So in this case, the “sob story” at Tribal was real and relevant, and should (and probably did) have an impact on how the jury assessed his overall game play.

Social game is kind of a myth. Look, some people are smooth talkers, and some aren’t. What does a social game mean? Is it about forming real friendships? Is it about getting others to trust you? Is it about being able to talk people into doing what you want? Chrissy was praised for having a good social game, and maybe that’s true. But let’s pause for a moment and remember that she works in the corporate world as a financial analyst. She has to be able to think on her feet, to give presentations, to be persuasive. How does that compare to people who don’t work in that environment? Yes, she was much more articulate and polished in her speech at the final Tribal, but I don’t necessarily give her points for that. Ben is coming from a really different set of circumstances, and I think he did great… just differently.

The final 5.

Okay, by now it’s clear that I was rooting for Ben, so it’ll come as no surprise that I loved the final twist. Instead of having the person from the final four who wins the last immunity challenge have all the power in determining who makes the final three, the producers threw in a twist: The immunity winner picks one person to go to final three, and the remaining two have a fire-making challenge, with the winner moving on to the final three. Awesome. It gets frustrating as a viewer to see great players eliminated right before the finals because the other players know they’d never beat them. I like the element of chance, and that the determination of the final three doesn’t rest in one person’s hands. This is causing a lot of controversy, and I’m seeing a lot of complaints out there that the producers “rigged” the game so Ben would make it to the finals… but they announced the twist in advance, and Devon had just as much of a shot as Ben. It kept things exciting, and ultimately, I do believe that the best player won the game. So there!

Other random thoughts:

  • I think the players’ facial expressions whenever Jeff tells them about food rewards is hilarious. Are they coached? Do they all really get that ecstatic over the idea of chicken or pizza or cookies? I know they’re hungry, but it’s always so over the top. We crack up every time.
  • There’s a lot of talk about people getting a “winner’s edit”, and it’s really true. The production team films 24/7, and I know they need to craft the footage into one-hour episodes, but it gets so obvious after a while from the edits who the likely winner and contenders are going to be. Maybe vague it up a bit going forward?
  • Also, it makes us laugh every time a contestant says “I’m in control of the game” or “There’s no way I’m going home today”. Sure sign that that person is going home!
  • Why do all the women wear bikinis? Are they required to? Why do guys walk around in their underwear? No one wants to see that!
  • In earlier seasons, they used to talk about luxury items. Do players still get luxury items? Are there set grooming items they’re allowed to have? Inquiring minds want to know.
  • What was up with the bandage on Ben’s shoulder all season? Was it to cover up a tattoo? Was it an injury? See above re inquiring minds.
  • Why don’t all players know how to make fire? Should be basic preparation before going on the show, right? Practice making fire, using a machete, making sure you can swim… maybe do puzzles every day?

That’s it for my random Survivor thoughts! Despite my initial doubts about this season, by the end, it was really a good time. An added bonus for me is the time spent with my 15-year-old watching the show and discussing strategy the day after each episode. Entertainment and family bonding all in one!

For anyone who watches, what did you think of this season? Did you think the right person won? Hit me up in the comments!

TV Time: What’s Lisa watching?

It’s fall TV season! So much goodness. So much to watch. So few hours in the day.

I thought I’d do a quick round-up of what I’m loving right now:

Outlander. Obviously. In case you couldn’t guess from my approximately 5 billion previous mentions, I’m a fan, and I’m in heaven now that we’re “in season”. Except for the fact that there’s no new episode this week, but that will make next week’s super-sized episode even sweeter, right?

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is back! Season 3 started this past Friday night. If you ever need something to make you giggle in all sorts of slightly inappropriate ways, here’s a show for you. Here’s one of the two new musical numbers from this week’s episode:

 

In sadder news, one of the hidden gems of cable TV is saying good-bye this weekend after four hilarious, touching, and on-point seasons. Farewell, Survivor’s Remorse! A show that’s been consistently funny, often uncomfortable, with a mix of humor and food for thought that’s never lazy, and certainly never fails to entertain.

 

And then we have a show all about people riding horses fast along seaside cliffs. Kidding, kind of. Poldark! It’s season 3, and the story is still totally engrossing, and the scenery and people are as gorgeous as ever.

 

Can’t forget about my most recent obsession, the show that has me counting the days until season 8 premieres on October 22nd. The Walking Dead returns… and it’s time for All Out War.

 

And finally, there’s The Good Place, which is just consistently funny and surprising and utterly enjoyable. The 2nd season is off to a great start!

 

Yes, there are a bunch of other shows I have a more casual relationship with — I watch, I enjoy, but they don’t rule my waking thoughts the way my favorites do. Other stuff I’m enjoying right now:

  • Speechless
  • Will & Grace (kind of — fun so far, but verging on feeling a little tired)
  • Adam Ruins Everything — something to enjoy with my son (I wrote about it last year, here)
  • Blackish — I haven’t watched consistently from the beginning, so I’m working on catching up
  • Grace & Frankie — in my free moments, I’ve been trying to pick up episodes here and there. I like! Just haven’t had time to truly binge.

**Updated to add: As soon as I hit “publish”, I realized that I left out This Is Us, which I love and which continues to be excellent. My bad.**

What are you watching this fall? What are you most excited for?

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TV Time: What I’m watching this fall

It’s fall TV time, and the pickings are great! I swore I wasn’t going to get involved with more than one or two new series this season, but I found myself unable to resist adding just a few more.

Here are the new shows I’m loving so far:

this-is-usThis Is Us: This is probably the most hyped new show — it even made the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s newest issue (which proclaims it the best new show of fall after only 2 episodes.). Hype is usually such a turn-off for me, so I held back… but finally had a slow night and gave episode 1 a try.

Boom. Hooked. Man, what an episode. Great characters. Amazing twist. So well done. I watched the 2nd episode as well, and will absolutely be sticking with this one.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Speechless: You know what? This little sitcom about the hyperprotective, activist mom of a teen with cerebral palsy and the way this plays out in the larger family is charming and funny and really quite clever. Minnie Driver kills it as the mother, who means well even though her execution is pretty much 100% over the top. The rest of the family is pretty great too (I love that the husband is played by the guy who plays Kripke on Big Bang Theory!), and the school principal is hilariously nervous and eager to please.

 

The Good Place: I expected to love this comedy, solely based on it starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, and I was not disappointed. Quirkiness rules. The story follows a recently deceased woman who makes it to heaven (the “good place” of the title) by mistake, and who now must frantically try to impersonate a good person to make sure she doesn’t get expelled. I’m a little worried that the quirk and cute might get to be a bit much eventually, but for now, it’s quite good. And has introduced me to the excellent heavenly versions of swearwords, especially “bullshirt”.

 

Westworld: Oh, HBO. This looks like it will be intense. The Western-robot drama is full of mystery and conspiracies and, let’s face it, really disturbing robot scenes. I’ve only seen one episode, but I’ve just gotta know more.

 

No Tomorrow: Only one episode has aired as of now, but it was pretty darn cute. A story of an unfulfilled young woman who meets a free-wheeling guy who’s convinced that the world will end in eight months — the characters are funny and likeable, and the plot is quirky enough to be different without being annoying. It’s hard to judge based only on the first episode, but I’m willing to stick with it, at least for a little while.

 

What else?

Those are my top five. I wasn’t going to include returning shows, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that the 2nd season of Poldark promises to be just as great, if not better, than the first. In just a couple of episodes, we’ve had plenty of dramatic horseback rides along the Cornish coast, plus a shirtless Ross scene, so based on visuals alone, the show is delivering.

 

Almost forgot:

My son and I have been watching Son of Zorn, which is ridiculous and absurd… but also kind of hilarious. Check it out:


The ones I’ve missed:

There are a few others I considered checking out, but I just haven’t had time. Top of the haven’t-gotten-to list are:

  • Designated Survivor
  • Timeless
  • Conviction (which I doubt I’ll actually bother with — I love Hayley Atwell, can’t stand procedurals, and the reviews have been pretty dismal)

 

How about you?

What are your favorite new shows this fall? Are you watching any of mine? Let me know what you think!

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TV Time: Adam Ruins Everything

Think you know all there is to know about such topics as true love, the weekend, purebred dogs, and airport security? Think again… or maybe check out Adam Ruins Everything.

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Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour show on the TruTV channel (new to you? it was to me), hosted by and starring “investigative comedian” Adam Conover. The show first aired in 2015, and is now 17 episodes (and counting) into its first season.

Each episode, Adam… well, he ruins things. As in, he — okay, this graphic explains it better than I ever could:

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Adam takes a topic, and then subjects his “friends” (i.e., the other actors in the show) to a series of explanations and vignettes showing the truth behind the misconceptions and misdirections.

Adam is a goofy fast-talker with unusual hair, and the other actors pose as so-called normal people who just want to enjoy their restaurant dining, trips to the mall, or weddings without Adam screwing it all up by pointing out what’s wrong with each scenario.

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Did I mention it’s funny? It’s hilarious.

And even better, it’s fact-based. As Adam rattles off his intricate explanations, sources pop up on the screen, naming the articles and research from which he pull his facts. Likewise, the show’s website includes a list of sources for each episode, with links to the original material — so skeptics can go right to the source and fact-check Adam’s fact-checking.

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Also, adorably, he features real-life authorities throughout, sometimes appearing as themselves, sometimes in cartoon form, to explain the various truths behind the lies and misdirections and set the record straight.

Here’s a little clip from a recent episode (Adam Ruins Shopping Malls):

Full episodes are available on the TruTV website, here.

My 14-year-old son was the first in our household to discover Adam Ruins Everything, and insisted that I watch it with him. It’s now among our top must-see viewing each week. I’m having a blast sharing it with the kiddo. It’s smart as well as funny, so even when we giggle incessantly, we also come away from each episode with something new to think and talk about. And if we cast a skeptical eye at the world based on Adam’s ruining of what we thought we knew… well, so much the better.

TV Time: The Girlfriend Experience

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Well, that was weird.

But in a pretty good kind of way.

I just binge-watched the new Starz series (I think “anthology” is the term they’re using). Thirteen episodes in 3 days is a lot to take in, even though — fortunately — each episode is only 30 minutes.

So what’s it all about?

Christine Reade is a law student who’s just landed an internship with a prestigious law firm. She’s dedicated and ambitious, and scrimping by on limited funds. She is also, the opening episode makes clear, completely unemotional and uninhibited when it comes to sex. She picks up a guy in a bar, completely calls the shots when it comes to their sexual encounter, and then gets dressed and leaves, despite being asked to spend the night. She doesn’t need his number, and she doesn’t need chit-chat. She got what she wanted, and she’s out.

When Christine’s law school buddy Avery fills her in on how she acquires such fabulous clothes, jewelry, and toys (hint: rich man with lavish spending habits), Christine is cautiously interested in learning more.

And learn she does. Avery introduces her to the world of “girlfriend experience” escorting — basically, charging insane amounts of money to wealthy men who want more than just sex. For a price, they get a gorgeous woman dedicated to making them happy, willing to give them her undivided attention, listen to their hopes, dreams, and worries… and yes, indulge whatever sexual fantasies they have as well.

Christine assumes the name Chelsea, sets up a website, makes a deal with a broker/madam, and quickly starts raking in the cash. Her double life becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, as her escorting business is going so well that she misses class, and an ill-advised workplace sexual entanglement threatens to spiral out of control.

It’s interesting to watch Christine’s transformation, all the more so because it’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking or why she does what she does.

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Money appears to be an issue, but she’s not desperate or in especially bad straits. She seems to be devoted to her law career, and to have the single-minded dedication to succeed, but gives it all up fairly easily when it no longer suits her. Christine is adept at manipulating and maneuvering, turning seemingly catastrophic situations to her own advantage.

She seems to be all about control and pretense. Christine’s ability to adapt, find a way to give another what they want, and come out with what she wants is evident from the start. As we watch her interview for internships, we get a first glimpse of Christine’s innate talent for understanding the best way to please and present herself as the most desirable. This serves her well later on, of course, as she quickly becomes the perfect girlfriend for pay. She never says no. She’s never in a bad mood. When a client asks her if she’d like something, whether a particular sex act or to go on a trip with him or to spend a whole lot more time together, the answer isn’t just “yes” — it’s “I’d love that”.

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But is she actually enjoying any of this? What is she getting from her business that she needs? Is it just about financial security, glamor, admiration? Christine/Chelsea apparently enjoys sex A LOT, but is any of it genuine? She puts on a great act and is always enthusiastically responsive, but it also appears that perhaps the only sex acts she’s truly enjoying are the ones when she’s alone.

She appears to enjoy the company of the men she’s with, but does she? Most of them — the kind with the ability to spend $1,000 per hour for her companionship — seem like spoiled rich jerks who’d rather buy a relationship than work for one. The exception here is an older man, a widower who cares for Christine in a way that seems genuine — and I couldn’t help believing that he touched her heart in a way none of the others did.

Even when Christine’s worlds collide and it seems like she’ll be buried by catastrophic scandal, she manages to pull herself together and figure out exactly what she needs to come out of the disaster not just in one piece, but at a profit. There’s a tremendous piece of acting in here, as Christine is forced to do a walk of shame through the office, holding onto a wall of filing cabinets for support, before having a complete and utter meltdown at her desk. But does she really have a meltdown? Right before the walk, we see Christine first prep herself around the corner, taking deep breaths, before coming out all weak-kneed and devastated. Christine has learned never to show weakness, and if she appears weak here, it’s because she intends to.

By the end of the season, Christine is working independently, consulting financial advisers, living in a fabulous apartment, and in total control of her own life. Is she happy? No idea. But she is successful and seems to be completely calling her own shots.

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Christine is played by Riley Keough**, whose looks transform easily from conservative law intern to super-hot working girl. Her face is a picture of absolute stillness much of the time, and it’s impossible to tell what’s going on behind the surface beauty.

**Daughter of Lisa Marie, grand-daughter of Priscilla and Elvis Presley — and yes, the resemblance is mind-blowing and occasionally distracting.

The look of the show is cool, elegant, and clean-edged. The hotel rooms where the action takes place are all large and uncluttered, with huge windows. Seriously, this series has more rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows than I’ve ever seen. The colors are mostly muted and understated, and everything seems removed from real life and real messiness in a way that fits completely with Christina’s detached, controlled affect.

In the early episodes, we see Christine laughing unguardedly in a casual moment. I can’t remember seeing her laugh at all by the later episodes — but if she does, it’s because that’s what the situation calls for. Like her clothing and her apartment, everything is planned and delivered for maximum effect.

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It hardly seems necessary, but I suppose I should point that anyone thinking of trying this series should be aware that it includes adult content, language, nudity, and sexual situations. The sex scenes are explicit without being graphic — no genitalia on display or anything, but you pretty much see everything but.

I did wish that the show found a way to make plainer how much time had elapses between episodes. Because Starz released all 13 episodes right from the start, binge-watching seems like the way to go, but it wasn’t until I finally listened to one of the “behind the scenes” pieces at the end of an episode that I realized that months had supposedly gone by. Having a better understanding of the time frame of the events would help put Christine’s evolving self into better context.

I did find The Girlfriend Experience pretty fascinating on the whole, even though Christine’s inner life was intentionally concealed and enigmatic. Still, it’s mesmerizing to see a young woman taking such utter control by using her looks, sexuality, and ability to please to gain power in her life.

Meanwhile, I did a bit more Googling about the show, and it sounds as though the use of “anthology” here means that there will be another (or more) seasons of The Girlfriend Experience, but about a completely different set of characters. Um, okay? I got pretty hooked pretty fast on Christine’s weird life, but considering the quality and thought that went into this production, I’d be up for seeing whatever the next chapter ends up being about.

TV Time: Yippee for Spring!

2016 is here, and so much TV amazingness is on its way!

First of all, I was tickled pink and purple by the return of two very different shows last weekend. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Downton Abbey over the years, but there’s just no way I’ll miss the final season. Season 6 premiered in the US last Sunday:

 

Also last Sunday? On a completely different note, it was the ultra-silly return of Gallavant! If you enjoy random singing, surprising guest stars, and Python-esque humor, check it out!

 

But wait! There’s so much more exciting TV on the way. Here are my can’t-wait top 6 picks for spring:

January 19th: Agent Carter, season 2! Season 1 was so much better than I had expected, and the trailers for season 2 look like such fun:

 

January 23rd: The return of Black Sails (season 3):

 

In March, it’s season 4 of The Americans on FX:

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And then… oh boy… here comes April, with:

Game of Thrones, season 6 – premieres April 24:

 

Turn, season 3 – premieres April 25:

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And last, because last is best and amazing and awesome… no firm date yet other than April, but that’s good enough to keep me going for the next few months: The return of Outlander! Season 2 is on its way, and it looks gorgeous:

 

What shows are you most looking forward to in the next few months? Are any of my top picks on your list?

TV Time: TURN

Everyone once in a while I feel like writing about something other than books (shocking, I know!)… and one of my favorite non-reading activities is watching TV. The spring season has just wrapped up, and I find myself with only three ongoing series on my DVR queue. Which is a good thing, in a way — more reading time in the evenings! I’ve cut way back on my commitment TV, but there are some shows that I absolutely love, and some that have only recently joined the list of my TV favorites.

One of the newer-to-me shows is AMC’s TURN. Close to the end of its second season, Turn has grown on me steadily since the beginning, and at this point, I’m totally hooked.

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Turn‘s promos declare it “the untold story of America’s first spy ring”. Sounds pretty sensational, right?

Turn is the story of the legendary Culper Ring, George Washington’s network of spies whose intelligence gathering changed the course of the American Revolution.

Check out the season 2 preview trailer for a taste:

 

I’m seriously into this show. The development has been something of a slow burn, and it took me a few episodes of the first season to really get a handle on the players and the stakes. Ultimately, the characters are what make the show, and they’re terrific.

There are the biggies — George Washington and Benedict Arnold, among other well-known historical figures. Other people from the history books may be less immediately recognizable, but were in fact the key members of the Culper Ring: Abraham Woodhull, Benjamin Tallmadge, and Caleb Brewster, among others.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become a little unreasonably infatuated with British spymaster John André, who is portrayed on the show with oodles of swagger and sex appeal (and has an endearing side braid that fascinates me all by itself):

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If you need more convincing, how about this:

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Why do I love Turn?

The acting is terrific, the story is fast-paced and twisty-turny, and the stakes are incredibly high. We all know how it turns out… but do we really know why? The intrigues are fascinating, and while we may think of redcoats and muskets as quaint elements of the past, seeing them in action makes the danger feel real. The weaponry is from the 1700s, but the human lives on the line are as vulnerable as ever.

I was surprised by how much tension and suspense a show about historical events could deliver. After all, we do know so much about the time — but seeing how these events unfold is constantly a thrill, especially as we’ve come to know the characters and understand who they are and what they’re risking for their beliefs.

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The cast is superb (and okay, really good-looking). There are heroes and villains, some totally crazy-pants bad guys, dashes of romance, and even some rather funny bits mixed in… Hey, on the last episode, there was even a wooden mini-submarine. (It’s from HISTORY, yo. The Turtle — go look it up!)

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Captain Crazy-Pants

As a side note — because I never do seem to write many posts that don’t mention Outlander in one way or another — the time period ties in nicely with the events in books 7 and 8 in the Outlander series, An Echo in the Bone and Written In My Own Heart’s Blood. Fans of the book series will especially enjoy seeing some of the people, places, and occurrences familiar from the books from a new and different perspective. (No Jamie Fraser, but you can’t have everything.)

Want to know more about the history of the Culper Ring? Here are some good basics.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something intelligent and absorbing to occupy your vacant TV-watching hours, give Turn a try!

Do you watch Turn? What do you think of it so far? Share your thoughts in the comments!