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The Monthly Binge - Reviews

9 Apr 2020

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Welcome to the Monthly Binge. The craziness that is 2020 probably has you in one of two categories: either you have no time for TV or you’ve got way too much time that needs to be filled. As a teacher with over 500 students, I am currently in category one but things appear to be slowing down somewhat. I hope to be able to binge my incredibly long to-watch list in the evenings soon. In this column, I will attempt to broaden my TV horizons and I invite you to join along. At the end, I’ve included a form you can fill out to tell me what you are binging. I’ll add 2 or 3 to the next month’s column.

Show: The Americans
Episodes: 1.01 - 1.05
Type: New to me
Rating: 4+ = I will definitely continue watching.

Summary: A seemingly normal couple with 2 kids are actually highly trained Russian spies, who will do almost anything to help Russia win the Cold War.
Best Reason to Watch: The acting, although the way they create tension in the storytelling is high up there too.
Best Character: Philip, mostly because he seems to have more empathy

Best Episode: 1.04 - In Control - Many episodes were excellent but In Control made me look at my own history in a new light. I was in elementary school when Reagan got shot, so much of that day is mere history to me. I never questioned why Hinckley shot Reagan. I never thought of it within the context of the Cold War. To see it through a historical lens gave the assassination attempt more heft and urgency. This episode also highlighted the core differences between Philip and Elizabeth, much in the same way that the pilot did, giving them plenty of intense scenes together.

Worst Episode: 1.03 - Gregory - This episode reminded me of a sad truth, even great shows can be brought low by a love triangle. This was one episodic mess of relationship issues and angst, so much so that it suffocated the conspiracy of the week. It didn’t help that it was evident that the wife wasn’t going to make it through the end, no matter how many Cuban dreams they talked about with her.

Best Scene - Philip and Elizabeth arguing over what to tell Moscow when Reagan is shot / Philip kills Timoshev for Elizabeth
Best Moment - the first time Philip and Elizabeth feel air conditioning
Best Later Addition - Claudia
Best Character Interaction - Philip and Elizabeth
Best Quotes:
1. Philip: “All these years, walking these streets, living with these people, you still really don’t understand this place. Haig could have 10 nuclear footballs, this still wouldn’t be a coup.”
2. Claudia: “I won’t say this job is twice as hard for women, but it’s something close to that.” Elizabeth: “I can handle it.” Claudia: “I know you can. Have you been following the sad progress of this country’s Equal Rights Amendment. Honestly, it makes me chuckle. These women here need to learn what you and I have known forever. You can’t wait for the laws to give you your rights. You have to take them, claim them, every second of every day of every year.”
3. Philip, after they literally miss the boat: “Why is everyone so punctual in this business?”
4. Defector: “I know you’re not supposed to kill me.” Philip: “I don’t think you understand how unpopular you are. I could deliver you in 100 pieces. They’d give me a separate medal for each one.”

Overview: The Americans is another very well-acted show, but it hits on a lot of other factors too. The directing is a masterpiece, with shots cropping closely to wring every ounce of emotion from the actors even when there is no dialogue, especially when there is no dialogue. Another standout is how they create tension throughout an episode. There are the action scenes, but many times it is when things should be at their most banal that the tension is the highest. For example, a neighbor asking to borrow jumper cables is not a big deal...until you are a Russian spy and that neighbor is FBI, plus you have the kidnapped defector the government is on high alert for in your trunk. Watching Philip or Elizabeth navigate those situations had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for disaster to strike. The show is not perfect. There are some pacing problems, especially in the pilot, which seemed to go on forever with a lot of pointless subplots (did we really need the pedophile guy?), but overall this show is everything the people who sing its praises say it is. There’s a definite continuation in my future.

Show: Galavant
Episodes: 1.01 - 1.08 (season 1)
Type: rewatch
Rating: 5+ = Go watch it. Now.

Summary: A knight, a princess, and a squire head off on an adventure to save the kingdom of Valencia. Yeah, that doesn’t cover it. Listen to the songs. They are the life of the show and a good summary.
Best Reason to Watch: The lyrics of the music, especially the fourth wall recapping Jester with his quips like “Will all this singing kill our Nielsen ratings?”
Best Character: This is so hard. In season 2, it is definitely King Richard but the main trio all have their moments in season 1. In the end, I am going with Galavant because, despite all his foibles, he is the one who grows the most in season 1.

Best Episode: It’s All in the Executions (1.08) - the finale is packed with all kinds of action and 2 of my favorite songs. There’s a little something for everyone in it whether it’s movement on the love story, action, humor, heartwarming moments, or a heroine/villain who saves herself. All in all, it delivers in a big way on everything that Galavant became in season 1.

Worst Episode: tie - Comedy Gold (1.04) - everything in the castle / Dungeons and Dragon Lady (1.06) - everything Xanax. Let’s just say that some side plots work better than others for me.

Best Character Interaction - Richard and Gareth
Best Songs (another tough category):
1. Good Night, My Friend
2. Maybe You’re Not the Worst Thing Ever
3. Secret Mission
4. Lords of the Sea
5. Togetherness

Best Quotes: ***For the record, the best quotes are in the lyrics of the songs, but since I already listed my favorite songs, I’ve chosen not to include them here.

1. Richard: “I never pollinated her flower.” Galavant: “What? Are we talking about the same Madalena?” Richard: “Yes!” Galavant: “But you were married. You didn’t insist?” Richard: “I’m not an animal. I mean sure, I’ll kidnap a woman and force her to marry me, but after that, I'm all about a woman’s rights. I’m a modern 13th century man.”
2. Gareth: “I might be a dog. At least I’m a loyal one, love. Now I serve the King so I only follow his orders.” Richard: “That is so nice to hear. You have always been my most loyal friend, Gareth. I know you’re not a hugger but if you were, I would wrap myself around you like a leather jacket made of love.” Gareth: “Hmm, Xanax?” Chef: “So much Xanax.”
3. Galavant, to Sid: “Look, I’ll play any part you want me to play here, but you should be proud of the man you are. I know I certainly am.” Isabella: “What was that?” Galavant: “That, my lady, was a knight getting off his high horse.”
4. Isabella: “Well, how’s that for timing. Our stars are finally aligning on the same day I’m gonna die.” Galavant, pointing around: “No, you’re not gonna die today. And you’re not gonna die today. And you’re not gonna die today. You...might already be dead.”

Overview: If you are looking for a fun and quick binge to chase away the isolation doldrums, look no further. The clever lyrics, archetypes, and fast plot make this a binger’s dream. More importantly, there are characters that become a piece of you and watching them develop is fascinating. Characters you think you are supposed to hate become sympathetic and soon you find yourself cheering for them. Even the villains get their fun songs. Galavant is unlike anything else you’ll watch and it deserves a chance to get you singing along too. “Way back in days of old….”

Show: Battle Creek
Episodes: 1.01 - 1.08
Type: Under the radar
Addiction Rating: 2 = I don’t think I will finish the rewatch.

Summary: A gruff, disgruntled, and underappreciated police detective gets paired with a handsome, positive, and charming FBI agent begrudgingly and chaos, quips, and criminal catching ensue. Think the Odd Couple in a cop show.
Best Reason to Watch: The tongue-in-cheek humor goes from outright bizarre to split a gut funny, often in the same scene.
Best Character: Milt - One of the first things I noticed in this show was how the character of Milt broke all stereotypes. You would expect this handsome charmer of a character to be the complete jerk of the pair, but instead, he is the sympathetic, sweet one.

Best Episode: It comes down to 3 episodes: Old Flames (1.05), Mama’s Boy (1.07), and Old Wounds (1.08). Mama’s Boy is all about Candace Bergen guest starring as Russ’ mom in a delightfully wacky role. For comedy, that is the winner. However, I like heart with my comedy and the biggest heart comes from the troubled relationship between Commander Guziewicz and her son. Both Old Flames and Old Wounds are focused around that.

Old Flames has the best quote of the entire series, but in the end, it’s the stab at peace and honesty at the end of Old Wounds that grabs me most. In it, the Commander finally shares her childhood demons with her drug addict son, and it bridges part of the gap between them. They aren’t perfect but they can be there for each other.

Worst Episode: Technically, it’s Heirlooms (1.04) because the plot was paper thin, the killers were annoying, and every part of it was predictable. However, the real worst is whenever Russ acts like a child because he doesn’t feel appreciated enough. I’ve seen kindergarteners more grown up.

Best Character Interaction - Guziewicz and her son
Worst Character - Russ, by an eternity
Best Secondary Character - Teddy the CI
Best Cold Open - the detectives trying to do a sting with no resources
Best Twist - the criminal broke out of jail to attend his niece’s wedding
Biggest Laugh - maple syrup mafia
Best Guest Star - Candace Bergen
Best Quotes -
1. Guz to Danny: “I didn’t want to see you again until you were clean. I didn’t know how to help you, and it was a copout. Maybe I’m...maybe I give up on people too often. Maybe I’m screwed up like that, but I’m not giving up on you. I’m gonna keep coming by, every day. Just to...see how you’re doing. Let you know that somebody cares. See you tomorrow.”
2. Guziewicz: “I remember thinking, ‘This is insane. A drunk and a baby? A drunk cop and a baby? But after that...there have been so many times on this job when I have been tempted to pick up a bottle, but I never have because I always had you to get home to. You saved me and I would really like to return the favor.”
3. Danny, about his mom: “I wouldn’t do this. I don’t care about her. I don’t think about her. I’m just trying to live my life.” Russ: “Uh huh. I know you’re lying, Danny, because I’ve got a mom who’s not half as decent as yours, but I still care about what she thinks.”
4. Russ: "You got a credit card receipt?" Butcher: "Nope, I prefer not to support the loan sharking industry."
5. Guz: "So you want to arrest someone for NOT selling drugs." Fontanelle: "Yes, prescription drugs. This is no different than if somebody needed heart medication and the pharmacist gave then sugar pills or if…uh, a diabetic was given water instead of insulin." Guz: "Yep, I get it. You need your pot."

Overview: It’s funny how opinions can change. I was on Netflix when I saw Battle Creek and I thought this would be a great time to plug a little known gem. However, I didn’t like it as much this time around. Some things are still great, especially the quirky humor. I still love how they play with stereotypes, making Milt a stand-up guy. The secondary characters are also fantastic. In fact, I think I liked Guziewicz more this time around. Her troubled relationship with her son seemed more poignant and heart touching in the rewatch. So why was this less enjoyable the second time around? I think it was 2 things. First, I was no longer interested in the central mystery of why Milt was in Battle Creek. That, added to the Holly and Russ relationship nonsense, meant that much of the hour bored me. Mostly though, I could not stand Russ. In the original watch, I found him annoying but occasionally funny. This time it was all I could do not to fast forward through his whining and general distrust. I still think many people would like this show if they tried it, but I am sorry I rewatched it. I had forgotten the parts that made me cringe and remembered what I loved. Not so much anymore.

Note: The guy who plays Russ is currently the Mayhem guy in the Allstate commercials, which made for some delightfully distracting moments in the rewatch.

Show: 11/22/63
Episodes: 1.06 - 1.08 (rest of the show)
Type: continuation
Rating: 5 = You really should binge it. It’s well worth your time.

Summary: Jake continues in his mission to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy.
Best Reason to Watch: There are a lot of reasons to watch this show. It’s short and generally well-paced with great characters. I enjoyed it throughout. However, what really stood out was the ending. It’s not all sunshine and roses, but it is immensely satisfying. Sometimes a show leaves behind so many questions and a bad ending can ruin a whole series. This felt complete and hopeful. In fact, I’ll give this ending the best compliment of all. Finishing this series felt like finishing a good book, one where you’ve journeyed a lifetime with the characters and are the better for it.
Best Character: Sadie - I really liked Sadie in the first batch of episodes I watched, but she gets so much better in the last three. Having gone through what she did with her ex, no one would blame her for wallowing, but she picked herself up and became the stronger for her adversity. It gives her strength to help Jake through his later trials.

Best Episode: It’s easy to pick the worst of the trio but not so easy to choose the best. The finale was predictable but so rewarding. Episode 6 brought me back into the world-building and had a great Bill storyline. The finale (The Day in Question) gets the nod because I really, really loved the last 10 minutes, which more than make up for the overall predictability. Plus, he made the right decision, as tough as it was.

Worst Episode: Soldier Boy (1.07) - If I were not binging the show, I might have found this episode frustrating. The constant countdown to the assassination increased my impatience, since there was no forward movement and time was running out. I did love the interactions between Sadie and Deke and then Sadie and Jake though.

Least Surprising - the world is not better after changing history
Best Character Interaction - Sadie and Jake
Best Supporting Character - Deke
Best Storyline - Bill’s because it opened up so many questions on the morality of things
Best Quotes-
1. Sadie: “I can deal with a lot of things, Jake, but I can’t abide a liar.” Jake: “Alright, I was lying. Yes, I was leaving but it was for your own good.” Sadie: “If I hear that from a man one more time, I’m gonna punch his teeth in.”
2. Sadie: “We did not ask for this room or this music, but because we are here, let us dance.”
3. Bill: “People don't’ come from the future. That’s all in comic books. I put all that away now. Healthy people don’t talk about things like that.” Jake: “You’re right, but a really bad thing is gonna happen and I want to stop it, and you’re the only person in the entire world who can help me. Just be my partner. You’re my friend, Bill.” Bill to Jake: “If I was your friend, why did you do this to me?”
4. Deke: “A man who’s lost his purpose is a man who’s scared to death.”

Overview: This show straddles my comfort zone. On one hand, it has all that great history. On the other, it’s time travel, which I tend to not like. It’s definitely a streaming show, which means it has a ton of unnecessary cursing but it wasn’t a continual stream of gratuitous violence and nudity like I feared. It does have a lot of violence and some of it’s super gory, but it didn’t go overboard as a whole, especially in these last 3 episodes. At its heart, 11.22.63 is equal parts romance, mystery, and action adventure and that is its strength. With only 8 episodes and 3 years to span, the show doesn’t stay still for long and yet it still allows its characters to breathe and grow. Very few subplots were dropped but few felt rushed either. In the end, I felt like I knew these characters and even though I was with them for such a short time, they made me care and they made an impact. Not bad for a little over 7 hours of time.

Reader Reviews:

Show: Travelers
Episodes: all 34
Best Reason to Watch - The characters and the dilemma they go through morally. Best Character - Marcy Warton, her arc during the series is one of the best I've seen.
Best Episode - Marcy (1.11), this episode is definitely the show's best. It shows us the consequences of the travelers living in the 21st Century and getting attached from Marcy's perspective, and MacKenzie Porter's performance is one to witness.
Worst Episode - Hall (1.04), this episode introduced one of my most hated storylines in a show, adultery, so just for that it's the worst episode of the series.
Overview - There are a lot of time travel shows out there, past and present, but Travelers really changed the formula on time travel. It's less about time travel and more about people and that's to be appreciated. They don't travel through time; they stay in the present and we see how they're affected by the lives they have to live and the choices they have to make, very gray choices. The characters themselves are very gray.

Show: 9-1-1: Lone Star
Episodes: 1.01 - 1.10
Best Reason to Watch - The characters! The acting may not always land, and the dialogue may be cringey at times, but the characters themselves are pretty interesting.
Best Character - TK, by far. Ronen is killing it in this role.
Best Episode - Awakening (1.09) - The more grating characters to me took a backseat and TK really got to shine in this one.
Worst Episode - Bum Steer (1.07) - The fight with Owen and Billy was contrived and the cases in this one were kind of annoying.
Overview - I definitely recommend watching this show. It walks a fine line between "so bad it's good/guilty pleasure/popcorn entertainment/turn your brain off and just enjoy" television and "this genuinely has potential to be amazing". As all episodes have just finished airing, now is an excellent time to binge this show. The characters are solid and there's a good foundation for the future. Also, TK is amazing -- seriously.

Your Turn:

If you would like to share your thoughts on what you’re binging, comment below or fill out this form. I will randomly choose 2-3 to share in next month’s column. Please make sure that you have watched 5 or more episodes and that it is not the current season of a show covered by SpoilerTV.