Better Call Saul – “Nacho”

February 18, 2015

Season One, Episode Three

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Grade: A-

This is the episode of Better Call Saul that I’ve been waiting for! While the pilot did a lot of setting up and the second episode established exactly where Jimmy was at in his life, “Nacho” finally puts things into gear and it runs with it. As you remember, we left off last episode with Nacho’s proposal for Jimmy to point in the direction where the stolen money is and he’ll get 10 percent. Jimmy is trying to keep his conscious clean and not take the offer, though he did just complete a botched plan to scam Mrs. Kettleman. During a late night at the nail salon, Jimmy calls Kim, an attorney for Hamlin Hamlin & McGill. Was it a booty call? Probably, but through his possibly drunken rant he slips that the Kettleman family are probably in danger. After that call, he drives to a phone booth and calls the Kettlemans that they’re being targeted.

The following day, it’s reported that the Kettlemans have been kidnapped and Nacho has been brought in to the police station for questioning when his car was spotted on the street the night they went missing. This is where Better Call Saul really struts its stuff. Sure, in long-term story arcs there are little surprises that can be thrown our way since this is a prequel, but when the show concentrates on specific situations, such as this, then it can be incredibly exciting. Nacho calls in Jimmy as his lawyer and flat out tells him that he didn’t take the family. Jimmy believes him but how is he going to convince the police? Also, if Nacho gets the blame for this, Jimmy’s dead. Even though we know that’s not going to happen, it’s still an added urgency to hype up the situation.

My favorite part of the episode was after Jimmy thought of the idea that the Kettlemans kidnapped themselves and are hiding. It makes perfect sense, but the cops don’t believe him. Jimmy believes that his call spooked the family, and if they really are guilty then they’re going to have every reason to stage a kidnapping so they can get away without anyone suspecting them near. Jimmy looked like he dug himself a hole with his altercation with Mike, but when Mike backs him up I couldn’t help myself but to fist pump. Mike and Saul baby! Oh, and Mike’s little advice to Jimmy from when he was on the force in Philly was call Jimmy needed to find the family in the woods, hiding out in a tent.

Jimmy has a fake sense of confidence to him. When he has to, he lawyers up and acts confident with charm as he throws his hands in the air and pleads his case. But inside, Jimmy’s a broken guy who’s just trying to make a pretty dime to survive another day. His work as a public defender hasn’t gone the way he anticipated. His relationship with his brother is lukewarm at best as they rarely see eye to eye on anything. No one is taking him seriously except for maybe Nacho, but he’s a dangerous guy that Jimmy doesn’t want to mess around with. In the end, Jimmy discovers a bag full of cash in the Kettleman tent. What’s he to do now? Turn them in? Make a settlement? Give the tip to Nacho? Exactly how pure is Jimmy and how long will it take for him to go over to the dark side?


New Girl – “The Crawl”

February 13, 2015

Season Four, Episode Fifteen

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Grade: B-

It’s Valentine’s Day for New Girl and everyone is happy, except for poor Nick Miller who has been recently dumped. Naturally, he’s not taking it well at all and hides his feelings by engaging in a bar crawl that will form an image of a smily face on a map. You don’t have to twist my arm for a plot that involves a bar crawl! Like the friends that they are, everyone decides to either postpone or cancel their Valentine’s plans to go on Nick’s bar crawl is attendance is mandatory.

It’s no surprise that New Girl is best when all of its characters are together, but here they run into an obstacle that even though they’re all in the same place, they all have different plots going on at the same time. In retrospect, Nick’s story-line is just the background to the more important things happening. Starting with Jess and Ryan, initially their plan is to pretend to drink during the crawl until they can leave and make their dinner reservation. During a conversation at the first bar Ryan asks Jess to move in with her, which caused her to freak out. At this point, we can just always assume Jess is going to freak out when things get into the “serious” stage of a relationship (almost as bad as Coach). She still gets away with it because she does it in such a cute way, but as a 30-something Vice Principal, when is she going to be a grown up?

The whole ebb and flow results in Ryan receiving an unbelievable job offer at his Alma mater back in England. This all just seems to move way too quickly, like the writers were tired of this healthy relationship and rather deal with break-ups and heartache. Jess and Ryan decide they’re going to try their part at the long-distance relationship thing, but we all know that’s not going to last. This is kind of a shame because what the show had between Jess and Ryan was the show’s only legitimate relationship. I saw this as growth for the characters and for the show to stray from its cartoon-ish portrayal of friendship and relationships, but it doesn’t seem like the writers want to go anywhere near something real. Too bad.

Meanwhile, we get more of the roller-coaster ride that is Schmidt and Cece. Schmidt finally gets Fawn to publicly declare her relationship with him, which happens right after Winston realizes Cece still has feelings for Schmidt. The timing just isn’t there for those two, but you have to assume that Fawn and Schmidt aren’t going to last very long. Also, Coach keeps running into an attractive girl who he feels is “relationship material” instead of the hook-up material he was looking for on Valentine’s Day. Winston was just putting out fires all over this episode with that gigantic book-bag as he slaps some sense into Coach.

In the end, Nick confronts his empty feeling without Kai, but with the help from his friends he’s able to pick up the pieces of his heart and move forward. So the show’s pointing to another round of Schmidt-Cece and even Jess-Nick. Are we prepared to go through that again? I’m not sure if I am, but I don’t think I have a choice. If there’s one thing I took from this episode, it’s that the crawl is for all! This show always makes me so thirsty for a beer.


The Americans – “Open House”

February 12, 2015

Season Three, Episode Three

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Grade: A

According to Gabriel, Elizabeth looks at Philip differently now. The married couple has gone down a very difficult and trying road as spies living in America. They’ve lost and found their trust in one another throughout the years, but now they face the direct conflict with having their own daughter involved with the KGB. Would Paige make a good spy? With the genes from her parents I can’t imagine she wouldn’t, but like Philip keeps pressing on, he wants her to make her own decisions. Her situation is much different than when Elizabeth and Philip agreed to join. She’s grown up in America, has a life there, and has parents (or at least Philip) who want to protect her. I’m not sure how this will end, but I’m sure it’s not going to be resolved by this season’s end.

Despite their differences or whether or not they’re still in love with each other, Philip and Elizabeth do care for each other an awful lot, shown with the nervous tick inside of Philip as he waits for his wife to escape being followed by the CIA for hours. This was an excellent series of scenes from The Americans, especially after the Russians get involved to rescue Elizabeth. The cinematography was particularly great, shifting focus through cars to show us just when we think we know who’s tracking who, there’s always someone else with the upper hand. And as Stan puts it, those Russians are awfully tough to catch.

Another brilliant scene follows the hug when Elizabeth finally walks through the door. There isn’t a word said during these moments. They look at each other and are glad everyone’s okay. They share a soft yet meaningful hug, when Elizabeth flinches with pain from the tooth that was damaged from the first scene of the season. And after a subtle nod, they both walk down to the basement to extract the tooth. Not only are these Russians difficult to catch, but they’re as tough as they come. This wasn’t as graphic as the suitcase scene, but it wasn’t that much easier to watch.

Meanwhile, Philip bugs Paaswell’s open house and the result is something incredibly enticing for the Russians: there is a teenage girl doing her rebellious teenage thing who just happens to be the Afghan group leader’s daughter. I can just sense the Jennings foaming at the mouth with this opportunity. Also, Oleg stays in America despite his father’s orders for him to return back to Russia; and Martha keeps nagging Clark for kids. We’ve gotten away with the other story-lines for the most part of this season so far. Martha and Clark was such a big part with the ongoing tension that she’s going to do something to reveal Philip’s identity. That tension isn’t really there anymore, though I can’t imagine it doesn’t still exist.

What this season is doing is putting a lot of focus on the Jennings, which is a good thing. They’re the most interesting characters on the show and with the dilemma they’re faced with, everything is turning upside-down. How can they possibly be the spies they are knowing that one day they might have their children taken away from them? And what happened to Paige snooping around the house? I kind of miss that, but at least she’s questioning why they work so late all the time. I have to assume that Paige is going to find out sooner or later what her parents are, the question is what is her reaction going to be?


Better Call Saul – “Uno” / “Mijo”

February 10, 2015

Season One, Episode One/Two

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Grade: B

We’re back in Albuquerque! How great was the opening scene in black and white showing our favorite crooked lawyer, Saul Goodman, working at Cinnabon when a big, tough looking man stares him down. You can feel the beads of sweat creeping down Saul’s face as he approaches him. Who is this guy? How did Saul piss him off? But the guy walked right past Saul and hugs a woman that he knew. This is a flash-forward from the last time we saw Saul in Breaking Bad and while it seems like he’s doing pretty well laying low, he’s still followed with great paranoia from the line of work he was involved in with Walter White for all of those years.

So how did he get there? Turn back the calendar and Saul is using his real name, Jimmy McGill. He’s defending three dumbass teenagers who are on a trial for having sex with a corpse from a funeral home, and while he does hold his own in his charismatic way that made Saul Goodman so intriguing, it was a case he simply couldn’t win. This is the man before Saul Goodman. This is Jimmy McGill, public defender driving a crappy car with a miniature office in the back of a beauty salon. He’s a sad man with barely enough money to live off of, but with the knowledge we have of this character there’s enough to intrigue me about how he turns into Saul.

There’s an important story arc between Jimmy and his older brother, Chuck, who is a partner at Hamlin Hamlin & McGill, one of Albuquerque’s most prestigious law firms. The problem here is that the firm is acting like Chuck is on the payroll while Jimmy is demanding they buy his shares out to the cost of $17 million. Chuck hasn’t been at work for a while because of some kind of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, apparent when Jimmy visits him. He has to ground himself before entering, discard his keys and cell phone outside, and dumps Chuck’s groceries in a large cooler of ice instead of a refrigerator. While it seems like Jimmy has a good point that Chuck should be paid for his share of the firm, Chuck is pure at heart and always believes in doing the right thing. He knows that for the firm to raise that much money to buy him out, they would have to liquidate, which would result in a lot of lay-offs and he’s not willing to do that.

That’s most of the back-story that takes up the first half of the episode. There is also Craig Kettleman, the county treasurer, who has been accused of embezzling $1.6 million. Craig is about to sign off on Jimmy as his attorney when his wife, Betsy, convinces him that they should sleep on it, or more accurately take their case to Hamlin Hamlin & McGill. This is when we first see Jimmy act like Slippin’ Jimmy, by convincing two skateboarding punks to stage a car accident on Betsy as Jimmy comes to the rescue. The plan backfires and the kids run into the wrong car. Not only is it not Betsy’s car, but it winds up being the grandmother of Tuco. Yes, that insane, violent Tuco from Breaking Bad.

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“Mijo” immediately gives us insight to what exactly happens inside of Tuco’s house after the skateboarding kids follow his grandmother. As a viewer, we know what Tuco is capable of and while those kids are so annoying I couldn’t wait for them to get beat up, but in the kids’ perspective it was cringe-worthy that they had no idea who they were talking to. That’s one of the things the writers are going to have to concentrate on during this prequel spin-off. It’s neat seeing how characters from Breaking Bad are slowly showing up as we see how they’re all connected, but there’s a fine line that can take away from certain scenes. For instance, when Tuco and his buddies take Jimmy and the skateboard kids to the desert, I’m not worried because we all know that Jimmy lives. Every ounce of suspense is taken away from that scene, while when it was Breaking Bad we had no idea who was going to be killed, making every scene full of tension.

And that’s exactly what happens. Jimmy escapes a near-death encounter with Tuco, the skateboard kids have their legs broken, and Jimmy goes back to being a public defender during a pretty snappy montage showing him working his ass off so he doesn’t starve to death. But then an interesting proposition gets dumped at Jimmy’s little office. Nacho walks in and tells him to find out where to find the money that Kettleman embezzled. Nacho will then steal the money from them and give Jimmy ten percent. Nacho wants him to think of this as a business proposition, but there are two things that are holding Jimmy back. First, he’s still influenced by his brother and wants to do the right thing and become a respectable lawyer. And second, he’s deathly afraid of Nacho. But it seems like he’ll eventually take this offer once his luck runs out.

So far, so good with Better Call Saul. Bob Odenkirk is more than capable of continuing this witty and talky character that we loved during Breaking Bad. We can’t watch this series and constantly compare it to Breaking Bad, though it’s near impossible in the same setting and characters. This is a completely different show without the character development of Walter White turning from a dying teacher and family man to a ruthless drug king and killer. Jimmy McGill is a weasel, though it’s nice to see that he once had a conscious and tried to do the right thing. But we all know sooner or later he’s going to fall back into his Slippin’ Jimmy habits. Is that interesting enough to keep watching? You bet it is.


The Walking Dead – “What Happened and What’s Going On”

February 9, 2015

Season Five, Episode Nine

walking-dead-what-happened

Grade: B

I think it’s safe to say that last night’s episode was probably the most artistic episode of the series. Opening with what seemed like random images of photographs, dirt being shoveled, and a pool of blood collecting on a painting of a house, all of these things become clearer as the episode goes on. We pick up still mourning the loss of Beth as our group heads towards where Noah lived, a community in Richmond that he and Beth planned to travel to when they both got out. To no one’s surprise, there was no community left.

As Rick, Michonne, and Glen go to sweep the houses in the community, they express their recent sorrow for Beth’s death, debating whether it was right or wrong to kill in revenge. Rick did it, but Glen points out that anyone would’ve done it if Rick didn’t pull the trigger. Basically, the trio express their hopelessness following the recent events of Beth’s death and how the cure at Washington D.C. was a lie. So once again, The Walking Dead addresses the dilemma of these characters fighting to survive. Why, in such a bleak and hopeless world, are these characters continuing? In this world, isn’t being dead a heck of a lot better? Unless this is going to be spun as some kind of Lost twist where this is everyone’s hell.

The bulk of the episode deals with what happens to Tyreese. Poor Tyreese. Just as he’s getting sentimental looking at old photographs of Noah and his brother, a zombie bites his arm! And then there’s another zombie that bites the same arm! But what Tyreese goes through as he’s bleeding out is what gives this episode so much power. He has an inner dialogue with people he’s confronted in the past who are now all dead. We see Bob, Beth, and the two girls he looked after telling him that things are better and to not be afraid to let go. But then you have the Governor and one of the cannibals reminding him he’s got a debt to pay, and how he’s the reason why Bob and Beth are dead.

The death scenes on The Walking Dead are fairly straight-forward, and usually done pretty quickly, but it was really engaging seeing Tyreese struggle with fighting to stay alive or to let go. I thought the direction of the episode was great and really liked the scenes where the figures in his mind were replaced with the reality of the moment, such as when the girls were holding his hand, but in reality Rick and Glen were chopping off his arm. In the end, even though Tyreese bites the dust it was good seeing the group fight so hard for their friend.

Because of the mid-season hiatus, the episode worked pretty well, but for those who binge-watch this season they’re going to be awfully disgusted by the fact that Beth and Tyreese die in back-to-back episodes. Sure, The Walking Dead needs to have a constant flow of characters dying to keep you on your toes, but even that aspect of the show is becoming monotonous. I understand that in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s supposed to be bleak, but that doesn’t always make for the best television hours. Everyone should ask themselves the question, “Why am I watching this?” for every show they watch. For me, the reasons why I’m watching The Walking Dead are becoming thin. Do I ever care what happens to these characters anymore? Or can I just skip to the last handful of episodes and enjoy it just as much as anyone else?


Togetherness – “Houston, We Have a Problem”

February 9, 2015

Season One, Episode Four

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Grade: A

From the get-go, Togetherness has been about the struggling marriage between Brett and Michelle. They’re both good parents who are raising young children successfully, but there is a lot more involved that isn’t all fine and dandy as it may seem. In the bedroom, they’re not having sex and that’s a fear that everyone has when they get married. Sure, everyone thinks, “that won’t be us,” but as the tale as old as time goes, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Every episode, Brett and Michelle are trying to break out of their cold spell and do new, exciting, different things for each other to arouse them. Michelle tried to take control and spank Brett while he was on all fours, but that backfired. She then went out to a bar trying to see if she still had that magic touch she once had when she was younger. But up to this point, it was Michelle who seemed to be fighting with herself trying to work up the strength to have sex with Brett once again. In this episode, we see a bit more inside with how Brett’s feeling.

Keeping up with their spontaneous attempts to excite each other, Brett and Michelle go out to a fancy dinner and he even surprises her with a hotel room for the evening. Sure, it’s not very spontaneous to plan the entire evening, but it’s a great gesture that Michelle can appreciate, except for the fact that once this all begins to happen, she starts dreading the fact that they’re going to have sex. She dreads it to the point where she calls her sister from the bathroom to maybe brainstorm a way out of it, but Tina advises her to get in the bedroom and screw her husband. Michelle finally forces herself back to the bedroom. She’s walking on egg shells, fearing what’s going to happen next, but Brett senses her tension and assures her that it’s fine if they don’t have sex and just watch television all night long. Michelle’s reaction absolutely killed me while watching it. It was like a huge boulder was thrown off of her shoulders as she sighed in relief, with remarks of how amazing an idea that was. How could you not feel for Brett at this moment?

But to Michelle’s credit, she does attempt to have sex with him because she feels it’s important. And we know it is, so they try their best but it was like watching a couple have sex for the first time. Everything was awkward, there was no rhythm, and Brett was so nervous that he couldn’t finish the deed and jumped out of bed in a rage. To his defense, Brett has every right to be frustrated and angry. His wife isn’t attracted to him anymore, they haven’t had sex in however long, and he knows that it’s more of a chore than a desire for her at this point. But then Brett drops the bomb on Michelle that he’s not even into her anymore either, and how he just wants to get it done because it’s what should happen. He admits it’s not easy having sex with the same person for ten years. It’s a lot to take in and it’s a seriously painful discussion for any married couple to have, but at the end of the day they’re going to do everything in their power to avoid divorce.

I very much like Brett and Michelle a lot. They’re good people and it’s clear they’re both trying their best to keep their marriage afloat, but they’ve hit such a speed bump that it’s going to take a lot for them to get past this obstacle. Can a sexless marriage succeed? Up to this point, they haven’t really addressed the problem head on, but now it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with it. Are they going to seek therapy? Some self-help books? Will they be open to the idea of change or are they going to be stubborn and hope things get better without much attempts. I feel like they’ll give it a legitimate shot to seek therapy, but this might be a lot tougher to solve than they suspect.

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Meanwhile, Alex and Tina travel to Texas to pack up her things, which means they get to spend a night in her hometown where they hang out with some of her friends. Alex is still going through the phase of getting over his crush for Tina, and the best thing possible happens to Alex: he immediately hits it off with Tina’s friend Pam. And the friends were right, they made a really cute couple together while they danced on the floor and held each other close enough to show their affection, but stuff enough to show how they were both a bit nervous. What they had seemed genuine, but Tina’s not the kind of girl to have her thunder stolen. As Alex put it, she performed the biggest cock-block in history as she tried to out-dance them on the floor with a stranger, and then got so drunk she dragged Alex to drive her home instead of spending the evening with Pam.

At this point of the series, Tina is the least likeable of all the characters. She’s selfish and she uses people for her own gain without thinking of the consequences. She brings about chaos wherever she goes, but she always gets bailed out by her sister or by the goodwill of people, like Alex. But the end of the episode was sweet when in her own way, Tina apologizes to Alex for ruining his chances with Pam. Tina’s not the kind of person who has a lot of friends because of her personality and the way she’s able to burn bridges based off of her bad decisions. Does she realize that Alex might be the best person in her life? Probably not, but for the time being she does realize she was wrong to hurt a friend. This is growth in baby steps.

So is there hope for our characters on Togetherness? Is George Harrison’s wife right when she said the trick to staying married is just not to get divorced? Can Alex and Tina find romance in the future? You have to assume her thing with Larry isn’t going to last and who’s going to be there for her when it all goes to hell? It’s going to be Alex. Right now, I say there’s more hope for those lost ducklings than for the Michelle and Brett.


Girls – “Cubbies”

February 9, 2015

Season Four, Episode Four

girls-cubbies

Grade: A-

During dinner, Hannah tells her dad about not fitting in and whether or not she should leave the writing workshop and move back to New York. She doesn’t know what’s the right choice, but Tad advises her that she’ll know what the right decision is. It’s something you hear all throughout growing up when you stare down two paths. “You’ll know it when it’s right.” But the truth is that you won’t. It’s impossible to actually know if you’re making the right or wrong decision. Only after you do make a decision, then you’ll figure out if it was the right or wrong one. And so Hannah does make the decision to leave Iowa and move back to New York, where she finds her stuff moved out of the apartment and Adam seemingly living with another girl, played by Gillian Jacobs.

But let’s rewind a bit to Hannah’s “apology” to the rest of the class in the form of a defensive letter. Hannah has always had a difficult time admitting she’s wrong and just because she typed “I’m sorry” a bunch of times in the letter doesn’t mean that she’s actually sorry for anything. Maybe she’s sorry for making her classmates feel bad, but she still stands by everything she said, which makes it a very shallow apology. It’s clear the class doesn’t want her there and it all stems from the criticism that Hannah couldn’t deal with about her writing. She tends to again and again fall into the area where she doesn’t treat her peers with the respect that she desires, but she doesn’t get how they go hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile back in New York, Shoshanna continues to fail job interviews after the one she aced, but never really wanted. Out of all the girls on the show, Shoshanna has the brains to figure things out on her own. She might be the youngest and might talk like a bimbo with no smarts, but she displays plenty of intelligence beyond the years of her friends. She stomps her feet after another failed interview, but is fairly quick to realize that there are things she needs to improve on herself to become the better person that can land the jobs she wants. Even though Shoshanna is probably the character we least see throughout the series, she has the most potential of growing up and not repeating the same mistakes. Her strength is apparent when she hangs out with her ex-boyfriend Ray and admits to him that she was the reason why they broke up. Hannah could take a note out of Shoshanna’s book on what a sincere apology sounds like.

Like Hannah, Marnie doesn’t seem to learn from anything. After she sticks up for herself and tells Desi that they can’t keep fooling around with each other while Desi continues to date Clementine. Desi reassures Marnie that he’s with Clementine and everything with her is strictly professional, but after an awkward practice session Desi knocks on Marnie’s door in the middle of the night to tell her that he broke up with Clementine. It takes every ounce of energy for Marnie to contain her excitement, but the whole story isn’t clear until Marnie asks him why did this happen now. Desi tells her that he’s pretty sure Clementine’s sleeping with another guy, which is the moment you would expect Marnie to realize the true reason of their break-up. But she sticks by his side, blind to all of the daggers aiming her way. Is it hypocritical that Desi was heart-broken when he thought Clementine was sleeping with another man after what he’s been doing with Marnie? Is it unclear to Marnie that he’s only running to her after things didn’t work out with Clementine? Does any of this matter to Marnie, as long as she has Desi to herself?

So Hannah is back in New York and can dish out all of the drama to her friends about Adam. But their relationship when she moved to Iowa was really up in the air, wasn’t it? But to Hannah, the world starts and stops with her so it’s easy to believe she truly thought she could come back whenever she was done in Iowa and Adam would still be there, waiting for her. What’s next for Hannah? Who knows. All of the girls are in-between things at the moment. Shoshanna is unemployed and is losing her mind that she hasn’t landed a job yet after seven interviews. Marnie sure will be flourishing with her newly acquired love with Desi, but we all know that’s not going to last. We don’t really get any updates on Jessa, but she’s always in limbo. But the question we’re left with is, who’s this girl in Adam’s apartment and what’s their deal? I’m sure Hannah will get to the bottom of that real quick.


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