Happy Friday! And welcome to the new version of our weekly Best TV Shows on TV feature. It’s been a few years and we’re going to try switching it up a little. See, there are a lot of good shows right now, but it’s a little overwhelming to try and list everything. And let’s face it, some of our favorites are ridiculously consistent. We love Bob’s Burgers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but they’re good every week and we’re running out of ways to tell you that an individual episode was enjoyable. “B99 is funny!” is not exactly breaking news, you know? So we’re going to focus on a smaller number of shows every week but say more about them. Premieres, finales, exceptional episodes, and maybe just checking in with a show we haven’t talked about in a while.
We’ll give it a try and see how the new Friday Spotlight pans out. It’ll probably take some time to hit the right balance, but we’ll figure it out. This time, we’re looking at a couple of brand new shows and another that returned after a six-year hiatus.
Marvel’s Inhumans – Inhumans is a weird bird. It’s an old and never that popular Marvel concept that started getting hit really hard in the last few years because Marvel Studios doesn’t have the movie rights to the X-Men or mutants in general. A little tweak to the Inhumans idea could have them filling in for the Children of the Atom. At one point, there was even an Inhumans movie on Marvel’s schedule for 2019 but it was cancelled and never spoken of again. Putting aside the X-Men knockoff idea, there’s also the more traditional take on the Inhumans, which has a royal family and could make for a superhero Game of Thrones.
But then the TV show tried to split the difference and merge both superhero GoT and dollar-store X-Men, which satisfies nobody. And the thing is, it isn’t bad. It’s markedly better than, say, Iron Fist. But man is it ever half-assed. It’s an eight-episode miniseries that doesn’t even bother to introduce the status quo before upending it. It takes all the characters out of their comfort zone before we know what that even is.
Here’s the basic thing – Black Bolt is the immensely powerful King of the Inhumans, an offshoot of humanity that live on the moon. His voice can shatter mountains, so he has to remain mute. In their society, everybody is exposed to the Terrigen Mists (a plot device that shows up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. every so often). Some people get powers and some of those powers are accompanied by a possibly not welcome body transformation. But sometimes nothing happens, as in the case of Bolt’s jealous younger brother, Maximus. (Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon) In the first episode, Maximus leads a rebellion and most of the characters we only just met end up stranded on earth and separated. (They escape Maximus with the help of Lockjaw, a one-ton teleporting bulldog who is a very good boy and clearly ate up the entire effects budget.)
In last week’s third episode, which is the first real new episode since the previous two aired in IMAX theaters prior to the show’s premiere (which is weird because it barely looks good on a TV-sized screen), the most effective moments involve Medusa and Karnak. But those moments are about what they’ve lost and how they don’t have their powers anymore. If you’re not familiar with the characters from comics, you barely know what their powers are and it’s all blunted. The problem is that Inhumans is the “fetch” of the Marvel Universe and they’ve been desperately trying to make it happen. Unlike fellow C-listers Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man this TV show didn’t come from a place of inspiration and affection – it exists because Marvel wants the Inhumans to replace the X-Men and it feels like the whole creative team was just brought in to get it done. It’s cynical and glum and these characters deserve better. There’s a way to make a great Inhumans show, but there’s no attempt to make this anything more than just an Inhumans show.
And moments are clever – how does Medusa find her husband when he can’t respond to her calls on the bracelet walkie-talkie? The way they use Karnak’s powers, which are inherently non visual, is pretty neat. Black Bolt letting out a grunt after getting tazed and blowing up a police car is cool. But unless you’ve read Inhumans comics, none of it makes sense and there’s not much reason to care. Medusa losing her hair should be a huge moment, but it happens right away and at that point we’ve only seen her use her prehensile follicles to pick up a bracelet and cover her butt during a sex scene. And there’s the fact that this is the royal family of a society where the lower caste is exiled to a slum. It’s going to take more work than this show is willing to put in to make them sympathetic. It just looks like it was put together at the last minute and shot on the cheap. It’s interesting enough that we’ll keep watching, but it’s shaky.
But all that said, it’s definitely better than Iron Fist.
Ghosted – This new FOX comedy seemed like a sure thing from the beginning. Craig Robinson and Adam Scott? Sold. We don’t need to hear the premise. We’re good. But since apparently they didn’t just want to do a show where they reminisce about the making of Hot Tub Time Machine 2, we have Ghosted, a paranormal comedy. It’s a sitcom version of X-Files.
In fact, a lot of X-Files tropes are in place. We have a mysterious organization (the Bureau Underground) set up during the Truman Administration to investigate anything that can’t be explained by normal science. Yes, this is a world where ghosts and aliens exist and they don’t really put too fine of a point on it. Like the best X-Files, the unexplained phenomena remain unexplained. The headless man in the pilot, the cat with a zombie bite in the second episode – there’s no attempt to come up with a justification. Stuff like this exists and you accept that it exists because there’s an organization that’s set up to deal with it. And there’s the idea that this is serious – BU leader Ava Lafrey (Ally Walker, who could play the same character on the serious version of this show) handles a lot of agents and we see just enough of her to see that most of what she’s dealing with is more dangerous than what this show covers. It’s a neat approach that feels like it would be a whole different genre if they just pointed the cameras in another direction.
But this is the show we’re watching. Scott plays Max Jennifer, a disgraced astrophysicist who believes his wife was abducted by aliens. Robinson is Leroy Walker, a former cop who left the force after getting his partner killed. And Ghosted plays to their strengths in a big way. Robinson’s quiet contempt and Scott’s nervous chatter make a wonderful combination. It’s Ben from Parks and Rec trying to get Darryl from The Office to be his friend and not having any luck. And also fighting monsters.
There’s already an ongoing plot involving what may or may not be aliens, an abducted agent, and Max’s wife who is, in fact, not abducted but is being monitored by the Bureau. She lets out an inhuman shriek the first time we see her, so something’s up there. And then there’s the question of just why a m agent waAnd why exactly did a missing agent name these two guys in his last transmission? These are good questions that linger but aren’t super important yet.
Because it’s funny. Kids turned into zombies and that’s an excuse for Leroy to cajole Max into punching a child. Their terrible improv act to create a distraction at a nuclear power plant is genuinely hilarious. The throwaway bits like the possibility of Alex Trebek hosting a hidden camera show or how we probably have the best Kevin Spacey of all the Kevin Spaceys in the multiverse are so good. Even when their lives are in danger, we get funny reactions. These aren’t people who’ve been trained for this, so there’s a lot of screaming and panicking.
We’ve got just enough backstory to get some nice emotional moments already. The second episode put the son of Leroy’s former partner in danger and seeing him open up for just a moment did a lot to win us over.
The supporting cast is strong, even if Max’s flirting with weapon designer Annie seemed to come on a little quickly (you just found out your wife is alive and on Earth). They’re an appealing bunch and we’re looking forward to getting to know Barry, Annie, and Lafrey. It’s off to a strong start and we’re on board.
Curb Your Enthusiasm – After a six year break, Larry David is back on HBO and it’s pretty good. No, we’re not going to do that bit. You know the one we mean. As Season Nine opens, Larry has just finished his script for Fatwa!: The Musical (real Larry David actually did write a stage musical over the hiatus) and his life is otherwise much like it was. Sure, he has a new assistant he can’t figure out how to fire, but he’s still got the same people around him. Jeff, Suzie, Richard Lewis, Funkhouser, Ted Danson, Leon’s even still living in the guest house and lampin’. That’s new slang – it’s like chillin’, but you don’t have to be walking around.
The first episode hit all the Curb beats you’d expect. Larry butts in, ruins a lesbian relationship by questioning their selected bride and groom roles, gripes about the price of a haircut, and foists his assistant off on Susie. It’s fine and it all works, but it maybe feels a little dated. And we’ve had our gripes with Curb seasons before only to find that they turn out to hold up really well. Six years of anticipation maybe sets the bar a little high. But even still, there are moments of real inspiration. Leon talking about the things he’s done while constipated, including shooting a porno and winning a hot dog eating contest, is the kind of crazy aside that makes this show sing. And by the end, Larry makes fun of the Ayatollah on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and find himself the target of his own Fatwa.
And that’s a big swing for a new season, but it works. The second episode has a hilariously disguised Larry hiding at a hotel under the name “Buck Dancer” and things pick up considerably. He gives a prostitute advice on her wardrobe, runs afoul of a hotel clerk (Community’s Jim Rash in a very funny performance), breaks a pitching sensation’s arm, and fails to get a date with Mary Steenburgen. And it’s great. The bit about creating a diversion with a pickle jar barely makes real world sense, but it’s such a perfect joke for this show.
Yes, it’s well-worn ground, but there’s a reason that ground has been worn. It’s good ground. It may not be as innovative as it once was, but Larry is still good at what he does and it’s still fun to watch. It’s familiar, but as the song has it, not too familiar. But not too not familiar. Bottom line is, if you like Curb, you’re going to have a lot of fun. And when you get gold like “Crudités? Cruditake” or the perfectly designed incompetence of the Buck Dancer disguise, the show is as good as it ever was.
That’s it for this week! We’ll have more to talk about next week. And in the meantime, let us know what you’re watching so we can check it out and be TV friends.
“You want something. A video game, perhaps? A fidget spinner?” — Holt to Jake, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
JAKE: “So now I’m just supposed to do anything Rosa does? What if she jumped off a cliff?”
HOLT: “If Rosa were to jump off a cliff, she would have done her due diligence regarding the height of the cliff, the depth of the water, the angle of entry… So, yes. I’d you see Rosa jump off a cliff, by all means, jump off a cliff.”
JAKE: “You jump off a cliff.”
HOLT: “Gladly. Provided Rosa did first.” – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“Nothing there, Lafrey. No creature, no mummy, no ghost, no Dracula. And I’d keep going, but that’s all the monsters I know.” — Leroy Walker, Ghosted
“Puberty doesn’t make you kick the door off the car. It gives you pimples, makes you get a boner in front of your aunt.” — Max Jennifer, Ghosted
LARRY: “Are you expecting somebody?”
LEON: “I’m always expecting somebody. If they show the f*ck up, they show the f*ck up.” — Curb Your Enthusiasm