Television Roundup 3/5 – 3/19

The last two weeks of television were a veritable rollercoaster of content. Netflix continues to come in clutch with its groundbreaking efforts in representation and binge-worthy docuseries, while legal dramas and cop shows continue to deflate like AMERICAN IDOL’s +7 ratings. Whatever genre you fancy, you definitely had something to watch! Here are our takes on the latest in TV.

television roundup American Idol

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AMERICAN IDOL (NBC)

For a show with humor that has always been rooted in bullying, this season’s kick-off was pretty sweet—maybe too sweet, if you ask me. AMERICAN IDOL puts on a new face with fresh judges and lighter criticism; however, these changes will not catapult it off of the “background noise at a party” level. Though more amiable, the judges’ new attitudes seem fearful to send people away for point-blank bad singing. The first episode is riddled with “it just isn’t your time” and “you need to find who you are,” always ending with “but come back in a few years,” as if that will teach a fish to climb a tree. Additionally, the kindness comes with its own caveats. As a replacement for entertaining banter over mean banter the judges make raunchy jokes or egotistical comments between segments, or worse, while the contestant is talking. Particularly one judge: Katy Perry. You don’t have to be an AMERICAN IDOL superfan to have heard the news of Perry nonconsensually taking a contestant’s first kiss during the show. I won’t go into this much, as I think it speaks for itself, besides saying it is a good reflection of the judge’s higher-than-thou mentalities. Of course, I can’t expect to watch a competition show without a few of these ridiculous and otherwise socially unacceptable moments, but this forgiven, it still doesn’t have much to it. All-in-all it’s fun to watch for a few moments, maybe something to play while you bake or clean (as you’ll be walking in and out of the TV room without missing anything), and nothing more or less. [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Sh**

AMERICAN IDOL airs on Sundays on NBC

television roundup Deception

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DECEPTION (ABC)

Every once in a while, I ask myself, “Gosh, I wonder what overly elaborate pilot the broadcast networks will come up with next?” The answer this week lies with DECEPTION, ABC’s latest attempt at a cop drama. Guided by a surprisingly entertaining performance by lead Jack Cutmore-Scott (COOPER BARRETT’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING LIFE), the show follows a famous magician who, after his twin/partner is exposed in a hit-and-run, helps the FBI solve crimes by performing magic tricks. For some reason, this is just accepted! It’s a rule of the world that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has to defer to a Las Vegas magician! Magicians around the globe can sleep now, knowing that one of them is kicking ass and taking names as a cop. This unbelievable premise is followed by sloppy dialogue and even worse CGI, with one notable moment in the pilot coming when Cutmore-Scott kicks a hangar door open and it falls down around him. The effects are so bad, you can almost see the green screen on the soundstage wall behind him. The show’s premise, while serving as the main hook, will ultimately ring the death knell on this series—it is absolutely unsustainable, and audiences that aren’t bored midway through the pilot will gradually tune out. I’ll set the over/under at 10.5 episodes. [Derek Daniels]

Verdict: Sh**

DECEPTION airs on Sundays on ABC

television roundup for the people

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FOR THE PEOPLE (ABC)

If you like HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER then you’ll love FOR THE PEOPLE . . . only when HTGAWM is in-between seasons, that is. The show is a watered-down Walmart in comparison—low-quality but convenient. The music cues are very dramatic and the script is written as though it was derived from a “show about lawyers” formula. That being said, the formula was obviously written for a reason, because if something’s good, sell and resell, and to that basic extent the show is entertaining. It follows several young lawyers who’ve all started work at a new courthouse, working with and against each other in their varying cases without allowing their outside relationships, and sexual tension, to interfere. It has the potential to be great, as the roots are all stable and mildly original, but the show doesn’t quite see its potential through because it doesn’t answer the question marking all cinema lasting the trials of time: why do I care? The characters need more drive, more story! The cases, though somewhat relevant to our times, could go deeper—there are so many opportunities for statements in this day and age! For a show about confident and thoughtful characters, it certainly didn’t take the risks they would’ve. Just like I learned in math class years ago: if you study and study and it just doesn’t stick, then maybe the formula isn’t the best, because sometimes you’ve just gotta find your own way to the solution, form your own thoughts, and eureka! [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Sh**

FOR THE PEOPLE airs on Tuesdays on ABC

television roundup Good Girls

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GOOD GIRLS (NBC)

Just when you imagined that Desperate Housewives was a thing of the past, we are reminded again that old trends never die, or so you think. GOOD GIRLS follows Beth Boland, a desperate housewife who has just discovered that her husband of 20 years has been cheating and lying to her. We are also introduced to Ruby Hill, one of Beth’s best friends and a waitress who is struggling to help her daughter with her critical kidney condition, in addition to Beth’s sister, Annie, who is also trying to figure out what to do when her ex sues her for custody over their genderfluid daughter. Together, they embark in a supermarket robbery and ultimately get more than what they bargained for. The pilot follows the women and their lives leading up to the heist; when an employee of the supermarket recognizes one of them, it leaves the girls in much more trouble than they could’ve ever saw coming. In a sense, GOOD GIRLS is a modern re-incarnation of Desperate Housewives, with creator Jenna Bans being an alum of the long-gone show. Instead of a complete cast of women entangled in drama surrounding men, we are given strong female leads that are doing everything they can to regain charge of their own lives, with a happily married Ruby included. But what really makes this pilot soar is the undoubted trust between the three main women, who are willing to support each other to help realize all of their goals. It is with these characters, witty dialogue, and beautiful shots that the pilot sets up a great story that leaves the audience desperate for more. [Michelle Vera]

Verdict: Hit

GOOD GIRLS airs on Mondays on NBC

television roundup Hard Sun

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HARD SUN (Hulu)

Ever heard of LUTHER? It’s a solid show, having been nominated for 11 Emmy Awards over the course of its four series run. Turns out that Neil Cross, who created LUTHER, also created HARD SUN, a BBC/Hulu co-production that will bore you within 20 minutes of the beginning of the pilot. At its core, this is a cop show—you see a crime, the detectives solve the mystery by the end of the episode—but the twist is that the detectives know that the world is ending in five years! Woah! Sarcasm aside, the pre-apocalyptic premise should be enough to hook you in, but the execution just falls flat. While there are fleeting moments of brilliance in some of the chase scenes and suspenseful plot beats, the rest of the episodes are filled up with CSI-esque fodder that doesn’t hold a candle to the investigative work done on LUTHER or SHERLOCK. The performances are pretty overdone, capped off by the over-the-top method work of co-lead Jim Sturgess. HARD SUN also makes a point of doing a total reset on the foundation laid at the end of the pilot: one of the detectives takes the secret file detailing the end of the world to a big news company, but in the next episode it’s dismissed as a hoax. It was one of many moments that took me out of the show, and why I would advise any viewer to save their time for any number of better shows. [Derek Daniels]

Verdict: Sh**

The entire first series of HARD SUN is available to stream on Hulu in the United States

television roundup Life Sentence

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LIFE SENTENCE (The CW)

The main reasons to watch the CW are A) to see young hot people and B) to get your weekly dose of cheesiness. A good CW show will quickly become your guilty pleasure, one you can binge watch now and pretend to regret later. But with the new CW dramedy LIFE SENTENCE, the people may be young and hot, but the comedy is not. The show starts where most stories about cancer end—Stella (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS’ Lucy Hale), a young woman with terminal cancer and a couple months to live, has now been miraculously cured (we are in a universe where the cure for cancer has been found, mind you). The pilot has us watching Stella whining for 45 minutes about how hard it is to not be dead: it turns out her whole family has been lying to her about how miserable they are to ensure that the last moments of her life would be as special as possible. So Stella must deal with the fact that her mom is bisexual, her brother is a deadbeat, and the husband she married after five seconds isn’t really who he said he was. These are all caricatures of human beings, and it’s hard to tell if it’s supposed to feel original or if it’s a genuine parody of what Stella calls the “sappy cancer movie.” The humor is contrived and the emotional core of the show is pretty much non-existent. This is a show that prioritizes goofiness but ends up feeling cold and hollow, even though we’re supposed to be laughing. For example, there are a surprising number of dated lesbian jokes that were likely recycled from a bad ‘90s sitcom. Perhaps this was supposed to be an edgy show, but it just doesn’t come across that way. This is not the dark comedy about terminal cancer that America needs right now. [Nadia Hayford]

Verdict: Sh**

LIFE SENTENCE airs on Wednesdays on The CW

television roundup The Looming Tower

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THE LOOMING TOWER (Hulu)

The best word to describe the new Hulu miniseries THE LOOMING TOWER: Frustrating. Based on the the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the 10-episode season is designed to tell the story of the rise of Al-Qaeda and the events leading up to the September 11 attacks. In a vacuum, the show is good—it has strong, powerful plot beats, phenomenal acting (namely from Peter Sarsgaard, Jeff Daniels, and Bill Camp), and some great cinematography. Yet the thing I can’t help but think about while watching the show (and, admittedly, enjoying it) is the lack of female representation. Each female character in the show seemingly serves only to read lines opposite their more successful male counterparts, and there are no women-centric plot lines. Granted, there may not have been a lot of women in power in intelligence agencies in the late ‘90s, but there were some, and the show totally glosses over them. Additionally, while the writing on the whole is pretty good, there are some lines in the script that make you wonder if it was written by a recent film school admit trying to be cool. (Two of my personal favorites are, “Is that a gun, or are you just happy to see me?” and, “And now it begins.” Incredibly original!) There have only been four episodes released so far, so I can’t pass full judgment on the show yet, but for now I’ll recommend it. [Derek Daniels]

VERDICT: Hit

New episodes of THE LOOMING TOWER are released every Wednesday on Hulu.

television roundup McMafia

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MCMAFIA (AMC)

2018 will be the year I no longer recommend you television that is fine-to-good, dear reader, and as such, I’m afraid AMC’s MCMAFIA is another candidate for the chopping block. Based on the 2008 book of a slightly longer name, MCMAFIA tells the story of Alex Godman (James Norton), the British-raised son of a Russian mob boss, and his futile efforts to resist being pulled into the family business as his father tries to put his past behind him. To its credit, it hits most of the marks. There’s backstabbing, money tossed around like it’s candy, lots of vodka, caviar, and iffy Russian accents, shady deals in neon-soaked clubs, and an unexpected murder scene that’s a highlight of the pilot. Even if these are all stereotyped and tired marks to hit, doing so at least catapults MCMAFIA into the vast realm of functionality, even if that’s looking like a bit of a wasteland these days. But as discussed just last week with ABSENTIA, I am much more ready to explore a hot mess than something that feels rote. That being said, if we can separate the average Russian schmuck from the political leadership, I’ve long said that I think Russia’s gotten the short end of the stick in terms of its portrayals in Western media. While trafficking in the exhausted mobster stereotype, there’s still something to be said for MCMAFIA featuring a wide cast of Russian characters that are portrayed as something more than a clandestine spy or a unabashed supervillain. On the other end of that stick is the fact that the female characters are aggressively flat and AMC itself has two crime shows that MCMAFIA will forever negatively stack up against. So unless you’re still hanging on to that subscription of BETTER CALL SAUL and need something to fill the void, you can sleep easy at night knowing it’s fine-to-good and nothing more. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Sh**

MCMAFIA airs on Mondays on AMC

television roundup On My Block

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ON MY BLOCK (Netflix)

ON MY BLOCK is what many have been waiting for. For years, TV programs have been treated as more of a business than an art, one rooted in racial prejudice favoring wealthy or middle-class Caucasians as the ideal audience to cater to. ON MY BLOCK follows the lives of four teenagers living in South Central Los Angeles and the struggles they face in their neighborhood, their friend group, and their families. Its existence is so important as a microphone to under-represented lifestyles which allows children from these backgrounds to feel normal and informs those from other backgrounds of the multi-layered world around them. I have no experience with half the things these children go through, but still feel as though I’ve known them for a long time. The immersion into their world, from the typical high school pressures we all feel to the stresses that are limited to a very specific area, goes to show how everyone’s worlds are neither alike nor different—just all one big jumble of the human experience. The children’s attitudes display what we all need to hear in times as high-pressured as these: we may be different, and there are certainly unfair and unjust cards dealt in this life, but we are all one group and should be sticking together—being loyal, patient, and understanding of one another—in the pursuit for happiness for all. [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Hit

ON MY BLOCK is available to watch in its entirety on Netflix

television roundup Rise

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RISE (NBC)

As a theatre kid from a high school that treated football like religion—RISE speaks to me. The show follows an English teacher that wants to make a difference in kids’ lives, but doesn’t have the proper platform for change. When the theatre director retires, he finds a new opportunity to shake up the school, but realizes that with improper funding and high censorship he might have to make this splash one ripple at a time. Throughout the program we learn a lot about each student involved in the theatre program. This is one of my favorite aspects of this masterpiece. Not only is it inclusive—representing different races, genders, and socio-economic standings—but it is real. RISE displays their multi-layered lives, highlighting what Hollywood often misses whenever they try to touch on this—minorities are not always defined by the cards they were dealt. They are allowed to have more to them. Each scene of this pilot has a tight purpose and gives a sense of the reality we need mixed with the fun whimsical spirit we want. The program captures the sense of community and creativity an arts program gives its members, and displays perfectly why it shouldn’t be pushed to the backburner of our school system—which, for most non-speciality schools, is where it is right now. Regardless of your experiences in high school, it is a must watch all around. [Jade Michaels]

Verdict: Hit

RISE airs on Tuesdays on NBC

television roundup Wild Wild Country

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WILD WILD COUNTRY (Netflix)

The latest entry in Netflix’s docu-series collection, WILD WILD COUNTRY tells the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), an Indian spiritual guru who established a town for him and his followers near Antelope, Oregon. A production of the Duplass brothers (THE SKELETON TWINS, TANGERINE), it follows the movement from its origins in India in the late ‘60s all the way through the abandonment of the ranch in the ‘80s. The series approaches documentary filmmaking the right way—no distracting reenactments, but rather just found footage and talking head interviews with some of his followers, officials, and neighbors of the town. While the series’s primary focus is on Osho and the experiences of his followers, the show also focuses on the racially-intensified conflict between the guru and Oregon residents, and thus carries themes that are still relevant today. Directed by Chapman and Maclain Way (THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL), WILD WILD COUNTRY is a fascinating series that will consume an entire Saturday in the best way possible. Expect an Emmy nomination to be thrown its way soon. [Derek Daniels]

Verdict: Hit

WILD WILD COUNTRY is available to watch in its entirety on Netflix

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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