Bobby Axelrod, Master Of Puppets

Last week, Bobby Axelrod wore a Metallica shirt. This week, in ‘Short Squeeze’, we get the real thing. He takes three childhood friends to see James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo play live. His phone, however, hardly ever leaves his hand.

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Deer Hunter
The fourth episode of Billions opens with Axe Capital employee Mick Danzig (Nathan Darrow, House of Cards), walking across his lawn in the middle of the night, drunk, carrying a gun. Not just any gun. A big automatic machine gun, if I had to guess. Those annoying deers, that just eat, shit, repeat, they have to go. So he fires away like that’s the thing you do in a situation like that. He misses. Underneath the scene, Andrew Bird’s nice mellow song ‘Oh No’ is playing. One of the lines that keeps repeating is: ‘Oh, arm in arm, we are the harmless sociopaths’. It’s not long before the police moves in, puts him down. Not long after that, Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) gets a call, who calls Hal (Terry Kinney), who’s got some sort of leverage with the police; Mick’s free to go. Bobby tells him to go to work like nothing happened.

The Trouble With Wendy
That’s it for Mick this week. Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) gets even less screen time. For some reason, she drives Chuck (Paul Giamatti) to work. She coincidentally spots Pete Decker (Scott Cohen) walking by, and asks her husband about him. She must know these kind of things are off limits in their marriage; that’s one of their rules, to avoid any conflict of interest and displaced loyalties. So why does she ask anyway? To include her in the episode? It sure seems like it. At the end of ‘Short Squeeze’, Chuck apologizes for pretending not to know what Decker was doing there, and Wendy apologizes for asking. To me, these two meaningless scenes prove my point. Wendy’s got the role of an outsider. She’s not pivotal to the story, so until she does become part of Chuck and Bobby’s cat and mouse game – and she will, at some point – it’s hard to find ways to include her in the episodes (other than putting her high heels on her husband in the bedroom).

Everything But The Girl
Bobby’s out with his longtime friends, one of which is Noah Emmerich (The Americans, White Collar, The Truman Show). And when I say out, I mean out. They’re on a private jet on their way to a Metallica concert. Wow. They’re still together? Apparently so. Most series would just incorporate some live footage, but it looks like they shot the band themselves and the characters were actually there. That’s very cool.
Inside the stadium, a girl (Kerry Bishé, Halt and Catch Fire, Scrubs, Public Morals) starts hitting on Bobby, before and after the show. He respectfully declines. He’s married, and it’s actually ‘a real thing’. A real gentleman he is. I couldn’t help wondering if it was all a setup. Putting him in bed with another woman, in order to blackmail him later. There’s no evidence of that, though (yet), but that’s what this series does. It makes you wonder and anticipate. That’s what good drama is all about.

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Glitch
Meanwhile, Chuck and Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore, Daredevil, The Pacific) are grilling Decker. The man doesn’t know much. He’s never been part of Bobby’s inner circle. He explains the day-to-day business of Bobby Axelrod, which is something other shows would’ve done right away. In the pilot. With a voiceover, if need be. Not Billions. Time to give detailed information about the inner workings of Axe Capital comes when it’s the appropriate time in the story. People say this series doesn’t know what it’s doing, but it knows exactly what it’s doing.

I’m sorry about that. It seems like we suffered a minor Marco Rubio Glitch right there.

Decker shares what he knows, but it’s even less than Chuck was hoping for. He does give up one name: Bill Stearn. A tiny lead to push the case forward. I thought it’d be a long term thing, but the mole inside Chuck’s office – Tara Mohr (Annapurna Sriram, South of Hell) – is discovered. Another great move by Kate Sacher (Condola Rashad). Tara confesses and Chuck makes a play, trying to flush out Mr. Blackmail, but Hal’s smart enough not to bite. Bobby’s feeling the heat, coming from all sides – Chuck’s father (Jeffrey DeMunn) is also actively going after him – and tells his right hand man Mike Wagner (David Costabile) to subtly ‘sell everything’. Everything? Everything. This way, everybody will think he’s out of the game. I’m sure he’ll remain master of puppets.

A Slick Cat And Mouse Game Of Insider Trading

Showtime’s newest drama Billions will be one of those shows people talk about in a few years time, saying they were there at the very beginning. They knew, as far back as January 2016, this series about Wall Street was going to be awesome. It’s considered important, in Geek Land, to discover something, stick with it, tell people to watch it and when it becomes a worldwide phenomenon, claim you knew it was brilliant before anybody else did.

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Catch Up
It happened with Breaking Bad, Homeland, House of Cards and most recently with Mr. Robot. Shows that kind of fly under the radar for a while, until suddenly newspapers and news programs start reporting on them. It’s like the world, over the course of just a couple of weeks time, opens its eyes. It’s actually a beautiful thing. Well, ‘world’, I can save you the embarrassment of having to catch up on another television drama next year, because you can join the geeks as of today. All you need to do is check out the pilot episode of Billions and you’re fully up to speed.

Grey Area
This is a show about two guys trying to bury each other. A ‘pissing contest’ is another description. It is not, however, a show about right and wrong, good guy versus bad guy. The story takes place in the biggest grey area of our time: Wall Street. Real estate. Insider trading. Sleaze campaigns. Press manipulation. Algorithms. And ‘fuck you money’. U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti, Straight Outta Compton, The Ides of March, Sideways, The Negotiator) puts criminals behind bars. No matter if they’re wearing pinstriped suits or three striped sneakers. He’s just and fair, whether it’s bankers or drug dealers. He does sound like one of the good guys, but nobody’s perfect. He can be quite rigid. Rancorous. Manipulative.

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The Axe
Chuck has got a banker – or ‘bankster’ – in his sights: very sharp, smooth, hedge fund strategist Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis, Homeland, Wolf Hall, Band of Brothers) and his company Axe Capital in particular. There’s something fishy going on with his investment behaviour, or should I say the behaviour of small companies Century Capital, Old Oaks Investment and Quaker Ridge, who are all, one way or another, linked to Axe Capital. It looks like Bobby might have insider information, which is illegal, but it’s hard to prove. Ari Spyros (Stephen Kunken, The Affair, Bridge of Spies) from SEC tries to persuade Chuck to build a case, but he knows better. The evidence is way too thin at this point.

Bobby’s Achilles’ Heel
Spyros has brought in the head of Century Capital, Dan Margolis (Daniel Cosgrove, Dirty Sexy Money, Days of Our Lives). The fact that Margolis comes by Bobby’s office is too much of a coincidence. He’s probably made a deal with the SEC, promised to help them flush Bobby out by proposing a shady deal, to see if he bites. Bobby’s too smart of a man to fall into his obvious trap. There is one thing, however, which could prove to be Bobby’s Achilles’ heel: Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy), who works for Axe Capital as an in-house psychologist. She’s good. Very good. Bobby wants to keep her on, and even though Wendy and Chuck don’t discuss their jobs, it might be a risky thing to have one of the Rhoades walking around, who knows everything that goes on, having doctor-patient confidentiality and all that.

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Bedroom Activities
So are we going to address the sadomasochistic bedroom activities of the Rhoades family? Why not. The opening shot of the pilot doesn’t leave us much choice. Chuck likes to get tied up, have burning cigarettes being put out on his skin and his wife ease the pain by the healing powers of the golden shower. Like in Mr. Robot and House of Cards, the sexual games between couples don’t do much for the plot. It’s nothing more than a detail, really.

Sublime
Chuck and Bobby meet each other once in the pilot, and it’s like watching two wolves trying to decide who’s the alpha male. It’s probably because there’s only one scene in which they interact, but there’s definitely great chemistry between Giamatti and Lewis. Two great actors, playing off on each other, none of them backing down; the matter of who’s the bigger alpha is still undecided. One more thing: the look of the pilot is amazing. Production (Marcus Viscidi, Rendition), cinematography (Eric Steelberg, Lone Star, Up in the Air), direction (Neil Burger, Divergent, Limitless), it’s all sublime. As slick as its subject matter, in fact.

2016 Q1 Watchlist

It’s the first day of the rest of your lives – happy new year, everyone – and it’s only a matter of time before the media starts calling it Official (Inter)National Hangover Day. Sit back and relax, get yourself a clean water drip, some spicy tomatoes and fried eggs (in that exact order; trust me, that’ll help). You don’t have to do anything today, except get excited about the new TV season. We’ve taken a look at the schedule and there’s some good stuff on it. Potentially, of course. In chronological order, you don’t want to miss the following shows.

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January
It’s probably due to the massive workload on the desks of Martin Freeman (Fargo, The Hobbit, The Office UK) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Doctor Strange, The Hobbit), that Sherlock has been taking its sweet time. At least we’re getting one episode this year – airing tonight, in fact – called ‘The Abominable Bride’. If you prefer lighter work, I’d suggest the start of the second season of Galavant, on January 3. It’s such a fish out of water, being a medieval musical comedy series, which never should’ve made it to episode 2, let alone season 2, but maybe that’s exactly its strength; going against the grain and beating the odds. The more conventional (and currently best) comedy series return two days later: The Grinder and Brooklyn Nine Nine.

Idol XV
It’s been a given, for the past 174 years: American Idol. But we’ll have to say goodbye to the singing competition. J-Lo, K.U., Harry ‘Nae Nae’ Jay Jay and Cresto will be desk-judging one last time. After weeks and weeks, pick a superstar. And then push that same superstar into anonymity again before the night is through. It’s been a music biz tradition, and now it ends. It took 14 seasons to realize you can’t manufacture an idol. Its 15th starts on January 6.

Shades of Blue
Jennifer Lopez has had more success being a judge than playing somebody else. I’m not sure exactly where she turned right where she should’ve gone straight ahead (Gigli? The Cell? The Wedding Planner?), but her acting days seemed to be dead and buried. On January 7, on NBC (right after Idol on FOX, I suppose), and produced by a company called ‘Ryan Seacrest Productions’, she stars in new police drama Shades of Blue, together with Ray Liotta and Drea de Matteo.

How to Out-Netflix Netflix
On January 10, we take a breath with Ricky Gervais and the Golden Globes. On January 13, FOX rolls out Second Chance (which once has gone by the names of The Frankenstein Code and Lookinglass). The next day, it’s Colony time on USA. Gordon Ramsay returns on January 15 with a new bunch of hopefuls (and two or three contestants who can actually cook) on Hell’s Kitchen. After burning down the house, it’s time to get political. Real time, with Bill Maher over on HBO. That same weekend, the complete first season of Angie Tribeca, created by Steve and Nancy Carrell, will be released by TBS. The next week, its second season already starts, on a weekly basis, so you’d better catch up fast. Man, they’re sure trying to out-Netflix Netflix on this one.

Ninja Warrior Duo-Play Edition
I know it will bring a smile on your face when I tell you that Damian Lewis is back on Showtime (January 17). Not as an ambivalent veteran this time, though. He and Paul Giamatti star in Billions. Expect shady business in the corporate world. Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we, is what PBS must’ve thought. Mercy Street is their first drama in over a decade. On January 19, it’s a whole other ballgame, when the American Ninja Warrior spin-off Team Ninja Warrior comes out of the cage.

High Anticipation
Amazon finally releases its first season of Shawn Ryan’s Mad Dogs, on January 22. The pilot was amazing and we’ve been losing our patience ever since. Two days after that, another highly anticipated premiere: the 10th season of The X-Files. Stubbled Mulder and Scully gone blonde go ‘out there’ again, for a mere 6 episodes. On January 25, FOX unleashes the super-antihero Lucifer, starring Tom Ellis. The following day, Outsiders premieres on WGN. A series about a mountain community, deliberately cut off from the rest of the world, starring David Morse. January 27 is a work day, at least at Pearson Specter Litt, when Suits returns.

Travolta vs. The Muppets
It’s no secret the reinvention of The Muppets hasn’t been a critical success. Or success, period. They’ve been busy retooling the show, so on February 2, we might get pleasantly surprised. I say: more Pepe! The furry animals have steep competition, though, because American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson premieres on the same night. John Travolta is in it; need I say more?

11/22/63
February 3, there’s an interesting mini-series, called Madoff, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Erin Cummings and Lewis Black. While everything’s up and running, we take a short break, until HBO brings out Vinyl on February 14. The trailers didn’t exactly grab me, but you never know; maybe it’s one of those typical HBO slow suck-in shows. Hulu starts to step onto the plate more and more, and you want to look out for 11.22.63 on February 15. Time travel, J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot and Stephen King; what more do you want? I tell you what I don’t want: James Franco. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

Tuxedos
February 15 is also the date of the continuation of Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman. On February 26, Netflix not only launches the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but also – one of the biggest bets they’ve ever placed, in my opinion – the Full House revival show Fuller House. I mean, really, who’s going to watch that? February 28, it’s the night of tuxedos and commercials: The Academy Awards.

The Re-Election, Maybe, of Frank Underwood
Blindspot returns on leap day February 29, but the real event of that week is, of course, the 4th season of House of Cards, on March 4. Quantico’s back on March 6, and ABC has re-written, re-shot, re-directed and re-cast their Thrones wannabe Of Kings and Prophets, which will premiere on March 8. Speaking of Game of Thrones, the 6th season is set to begin on April 24, but that’s yet to be officially confirmed.

Perry Passion
March 9, it’s WGN again, with Underground, which reads as a mashup of 12 Years a Slave and The Great Escape. On March 24, Peter Krause, Sonya Walger and Mireille Enos star in The Catch on ABC. Hulu brings The Path on March 30, starring Aaron ‘bitch’ Paul and Rockmond Dunbar, and last but not least, FOX will air a live broadcast of The Passion on March 20. Tyler Perry will narrate the last hours of Jesus Christ, while a huge white cross will be carried through the streets of New Orleans.

The Golden Globes 2016 Nominees

Sunday January 10, 2016. The day the Earth stands still again. Why? Because that’s the date Ricky Gervais will once again land on holy ground. And unholy the hell out of it, I’m sure. O, and there’s an award ceremony happening at the same time, too. The Golden Globes. Those are like the Modern Oscars, since they include acting on smaller screens as well. We’ll only take a look at the TV and streaming dramas, comedies and limited-series, but best picture should be Mad Max: Fury Road. As Larry King would say: my two cents. It’s so much the ultimate favorite to win that it’s actually become the underdog. Don’t ask me how. Anyway, here are the nominees and who we think should win.

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Best TV Series
I don’t know why, but the Golden Globe committee always divides this category into separate ones. That’s three balls for the price of one. There’s an award for best drama, comedy and TV Movie or limited-series. Best drama being the most important one. That committee, by the way, is called the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It consists of a little over 90 members, from all parts of the world – obviously. That’s how small that group is, especially compared to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has close to 6000 voting members.

Best Drama
Best drama could go to Empire (FOX), Narcos (Netflix), Outlander (Starz), Mr. Robot (USA) or Game of Thrones (HBO). It’s nice that USA is finally recognized (Suits has been snubbed so many times I lost count), but unfortunately the mental health of Elliot (or Mr. Robot, for that matter) never grabbed me. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, because there’s only one drama that’s upped every ante in the drama division this year, and that is, of course, Game of Thrones.
Honorable mention: Hand of God (Amazon). It looks like its subject matter flew over the heads of the foreign press, as well as American newspaper critics, but it was an incredibly strong first season, starring Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Garret Dillahunt and many, many more. All award worthy performances. It’s a shame those 90 people didn’t bother to see it.

Best Comedy
Best comedy could go to Casual (Hulu), Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon), Silicon Valley (HBO), Transparent (Amazon), Orange is the New Black (Netflix) and Veep (HBO). The first three of these don’t stand a chance, with Transparent crushing everything in its path, and OITNB and especially Veep being very popular amongst critics. For that reason alone, it’d be nice to see Casual win.

Best TV Movie or Limited-series
This category has got snooze written all over it (American Crime, American Horror Story: Hotel, Wolf Hall), with two exceptions: Fargo and Flesh and Bone. The latter being a nice surprise this year, the former being absolutely destined to win. Some critics admitted to never gotten into Fargo, which makes them totally unqualified for the job, in my opinion. On rare occasions, brilliance supersedes taste; this is one of those moments.

The Rules
It’s a Golden Globe tradition to debate the particular categories certain shows are in. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether something’s more like a drama or comedy. They’re non-exclusive, of course, but where do you draw the line? The ‘Hollywood Foreign Press Association Golden Globe Award Consideration Rules’ don’t offer much help. About what’s considered a ‘television series’, they say: ‘A recurring series with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes aired during the qualifying year.’
That’s clear. But what about being a drama, comedy or musical? Well: ‘The majority of the running time of at least 150 program minutes aired during the qualifying year must be primarily musical, comedic or dramatic.’
This means, that at least 51% of a show needs to be funny to qualify as a comedy. How do you calculate such a thing? Do you measure the smile on your face while you’re watching it, or just count the jokes? Awkward situations? Funny looks on characters’ faces?

Best Actress in a Drama
Moving on. Best actress in a drama: Caitriona Balfe (Outlander), Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder), Eva Green (Penny Dreadful), Taraji P. Henson (Empire) and Robin Wright (House of Cards).
Davis will probably get it, Green deserves it – being tucked away in the darkest corner of the week on Showtime – but Wright might deserve it a little more. I don’t know why House of Cards isn’t nominated for best drama (Outlander, foreign press? Really?), even though it’s not been its best season, there was still a lot of good stuff in there. Not to mention having its finger perfectly placed on the pulse of the times we live in.

Best Actress in a Comedy
Best actress in a comedy: Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Jamie Lee Curtis (Scream Queens), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie). I’d say Lily or Gina.

Best Actress in a limited-series or TV movie
Best actress in a limited-series or TV movie: Kirsten Dunst (Fargo), Lady Gaga (American Horror Story: Hotel), Sarah Hay (Flesh and Bone), Felicity Huffman (American Crime) and Queen Latifah (Bessie).
I have a feeling, if Hay doesn’t get it now, she won’t get it at all. And I would like her to win. However, Dunst has completely won me over this year, with whipped cream and sugar on top, as Peggy Blumquist.

Best Supporting Actress in a series, limited-series or TV Movie
Best supporting actress in a series, limited-series or TV movie: Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Regina King (American Crime), Judith Light (Transparent) and Maura Tierney (The Affair).
I’d pick Tierney, but I just hope John Travolta is going to present this award; there are a few names in this category that could easily go wrong.

Best Actor in a Drama
Best actor in a drama: Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), Wagner Maura (Narcos), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan).
The more time passes since the series finale of Mad Men, the more ridiculous it becomes. That doesn’t take anything away from Hamm’s performance, but maybe it does a little bit. I would’ve much rather have seen Gabriel Macht here as well, and Peter Dinklage. Ron Perlman. Kevin Spacey. Timothy Olyphant. Titus Welliver. But if I had to choose, I’d go with – even though Narcos was a bit too mellow, and was totally overusing the voiceover – Wagner Maura.

Best Actor in a Comedy
Best actor in a comedy: Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), Rob Lowe (The Grinder), Patrick Stewart (Blunt Talk) and Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent).
Good to see Lowe on the list. Ansari’s sauntering a bit too much, Stewart’s brought overacting to a whole new level (but is that a good thing?) and Tambor, well, I think his name’s already being engraved. I have my doubts about how long The Grinder can continue – how long before the show The Grinder turns into the fake show The Grinder? – but Lowe is absolutely hilarious.

Best Actor in a series, limited-series or TV Movie
Best actor in a series, limited-series or TV movie: Idris Elba (Luther), Oscar Isaac (Show Me a Hero), David Oyelowo (Nightingale), Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) and Patrick Wilson (Fargo).
This category could easily have been Fargo across the board. Wilson was great, but greater than Jesse Plemons? Or better yet: Jeffrey Donovan?

Best Supporting Actor in a Limited-Series or TV Movie
Best supporting actor in a limited-series or TV movie: Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Damian Lewis (Wolf Hall), Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Tobias Menzes (Outlander) and Christian Slater (Mr. Robot).
Of all the supporting actors, they came up with this list? I think that says enough.

Agent X: Pilot

I’d say putting the letter X in the title of your show is an exclusive right for anything either X-Files or X-Men related, but after the Canadian World World II spy show X Company earlier this year, here it is again. This time, TNT thought it’d be cool. Fine. Just don’t expect any flying saucers, mutants or German soldiers in Agent X.

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How About That Fireman
What if we made a TV series about a special agent? He’d have to be cool, of course, a Jack Bauer-type. What’s Sullivan Stapleton up to? Blindspot, you say? What about that other one – Philip Winchester? The Player? Okay. Kiefer Sutherland’s a bit too obvious, besides, the TNT budget would never cover his salary. Jake McDorman, then. He looks scruffy enough. Limitless? Didn’t Bradley Cooper do that one? He’s in the show as well? Wow. Well, how about that fireman, what’s his name? Jeff, yes. Grey around the edges? You mean literately? As long as it doesn’t make him look old, I suppose. Jeff Hephner (Chicago Fire, Boss, Interstellar), that’s his name. He’s got the physique. The smirk. Could work.

Vice
But let’s face it, Jeff’s not going to draw people in. He’s not famous enough. We need a star, preferably a movie star. An actor looking for an opportunity to break into the television drama business. Who’s that you got on the line? Sharon Stone? Perfect. No, we don’t have that kind of cash lying around, this is TNT, man. We could offer her a credit as executive producer – how does that sound? Sounds good, she says? Great. So she’s in? Who’s she’s going to play, though? Any ideas? She wants to play President? You know, let’s make her the Vice. That way, she can grow with the show, have a campaign and such, that’ll be cool. It worked for Kevin Spacey, didn’t it? Agreed? Agreed.

John
Now, how are we going to tie everything together, without looking like we’re plagiarising 24? You know what, let’s put a little National Treasure into it. Everybody loves secret caves, historic artefacts and the Founding Fathers. So let’s put Sharon in charge of secret operations. One man operations, because really, who needs an elite team of highly trained professionals? One man’s usually enough to get the job done, no matter if it’s television-logic or not. Let’s call Jeff’s character John; ‘Jack’ would be pushing it, don’t you think?

Ninja-esque Operative
What do we have so far? John, special agent, doing all this dangerous stuff for the vice-president. We still need a villain. Somebody John goes after, but always just misses him. The big bad guy has got somebody equally skilled on his payroll. That’s going to be John’s nemesis. Let’s make her a woman. That way, we get a nice The Spy Who Loved Me dynamic going. Who’s that girl from The Vampire Diaries? Olga Fonda, yes. She could pass off as an ninja-esque operative.

We’d Better Get an Albert
Who do we have to direct this ridiculous throw-together? Peter O’Fallon? Great thinking, I love it. He’s got a ton of experience. There’s no one better to balance on the edge of far-fetched and not caring it’s far fetched, because it’s so entertaining. Wait, we still need to cast the President, don’t we? Let’s get John Shea (Mutant X, Gossip Girl, Lois & Clark). And because we have a sort of Batcave, we’d better get an Albert, too. Someone to show Sharon the ropes, and get all the exposition out in a nice tone. I have just the guy for the part: Gerald McRaney (Longmire, House of Cards, Justified, Southland, Jericho, Deadwood). What do you say? James Earl Jones wants in? Okay, well, let’s give him an unnecessary scene, somewhere halfway the episode. I’m sorry, but we just don’t have much room left.
Now all we need is TNT to sign off on it, but that’s not going to be a problem. Have you seen their scripted shows? The Librarians, The Last Ship, Falling Skies, Franklin & Bash? This one will easily get greenlit.

Fargo: Before the Law

Is the second season of Fargo superior to the first? It sure seems like it, although it’s a bit apples/oranges. New stories, new characters, just the scenery, accents (for the most part) and type of humor are the same. So no more comparing the two. But what’s not to love about this show, especially this year? Let’s, instead of explaining the plot (which is secondary), list all the enjoyable moments of episode two, ‘Before the Law’.

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Sam Malone
I love the way they’re consistently creatively putting the main titles together. The ‘true story’ – even though it’s obviously ridiculous – and the ‘telling it exactly like it occurred’ part, as well as the letters F A R G O in uncompromising widescreen.
I love the scenes in which a character whispers something in someone’s ear and we don’t hear it.
I love to see Jean Smart in a great show again (don’t love her hairdo, though, it makes her look quite old. I prefer the seasoned femme fatale look she had as Martha Logan on 24).
I love the line ‘Tell these bastards to go to hell in the fast lane’.
I love the voice of Brad Garrett (The Crazy Ones, Everybody Loves Raymond) who plays Joe Bulo.
I love the downplaying of Ted Danson. He must’ve worn a straitjacket underneath his winter coat during filming, to suppress his inner Sam Malone.

Snow
I love the off-beat, quirky stories the characters tell each other.
I love how these stories don’t necessarily have a clue.
I love the cello music.
I love the garage door tennis ball.
I love snow. Specifically snow on camera. There should be more shows shot in beautiful snow covered landscapes.
I love the fact it takes place in 1979.
I love Kirsten Dunst.
I love a really unrecognizable Jeffrey Donovan.
I love the wardrobe of Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine, Southland, Saving Grace).

The Flintstones
I love typewriters.
I kind of love ties stuck in them.
I love how scenes build up to an anti-climax.
I love that Jesse Plemons (the so-mellow-it’s-creepy Todd on Breaking Bad) gained serious weight for his role as Ed Blumquist. He did gain weight on purpose, right?
I love how everything’s always ‘not adding up’.
I love how characters walk into a place and it slowly dawns on them something bad has happened there, but it’s not quite clear what exactly.
I love cars that drive by in slow motion, with the people inside looking straight at you.
I love a good Flintstone reference. And that’s a hard thing to pull off. You don’t want to make it sound too goofy.
I love the way Ted Danson gives you a look when he puts on his glasses. It’s like a nanosecond, but it’s there. I suggest you rewind.

Until the Very End
I love it when Constance (Elizabeth Marvel, The District, Person of Interest and Heather Dunbar on House of Cards) discovers an unusually big supply of toilet paper underneath the sink.
I love how ‘positively fascinating’ is a way to describe scary and possibly dangerous people.
I love that the scripts of the episodes are sent to Joel and Ethan Coen, they just nod and you know you’ve pleased the masters.
I love that one loose finger, ending up in the one place it shouldn’t have gone.
I love how I find myself watching from the very first moment until the very last roll of the end credits.

Quantico: Cover

Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) was found in the middle of Times Square, tattooed all over, no, wait a minute. She’s the one who found the Pre-Cog, right? No. Lives in Berlin? Hit a guy who crashed headfirst through the windshield? No, and no. It does show Hollywood has finally put women front and center, and an even bigger surprise: the series they carry are actually quite good.

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Chapter 3
Chopra’s the FBI recruit who’s been framed, and the name of the show is Quantico. After ‘Run’ and ‘America’, the third episode is called ‘Cover’. Expect one word titles for the remainder of the series. It very much has a been there done that feel to it. A nice gimmick, maybe, twenty years ago. At least choose interesting words, if you desperately want to commit to it. They must surely think the viewer doesn’t care about titles anyway, but I for one do. It’s a (very, very small) disgrace (too hard to see with the naked eye) that, for example, Episodes and House of Cards don’t have titles at all. It’s just Chapter this, Chapter that. That’s lazy.

Squeeze Her
Anyway, Quantico. It has no intention of slowing down. It’s one quickly paced (sometimes helped by the editing, which occasionally just speeds things up when people take a second too long to walk from point A to B) scene after another. Most dialogues consist of a total of only four lines, until it’s on to the next one. It’s professionally done, don’t get me wrong, but you want a little breathing room sometimes. You also want time for tension to build up, like when the FBI brings in Parrish’ mother. When Liam (Josh Hopkins) promises the viewer to squeeze her like a wet towel, in order to get the information he wants, there needs to be suspense. What’s he going to do, how far is he willing to go? But because of the wham bam editing, that suspense never has a chance to grow. It’s not like the scenes fell flat – that’s how good this show is – but the whole interrogation was over before you knew it.

Startup
Parrish is still on the run, and if you were wondering what happened to all the other recruits in the present, the show gives you one answer. She shows up at Simon’s (Tate Ellington) doorstep. He’d been cut from the recruiting program and is working at a startup company. Their first conversation is a bit weird and not because Parrish is all over the news. She’s like: I’m sorry you were sent away, but I liked you. And he’s like: Look at me, I’m a loser, because I’m working for an app company. He’s living in quite a big, spacey, modern house, by the way. So she’s like: You’re doing alright for yourself. And he smiles – which means he agrees. So why be such an aggrieved dick at first? That doesn’t make much sense to me.

Thumb Scar
But he helps her, by scanning the stuff she took from her apartment, running her fingerprints, the usual. They figure out she was framed by one of the other recruits, and was probably handpicked right at the beginning of the program. During Quantico, she got a scar on her thumb. That scar must’ve been there on the fingerprints found on the planted evidence, but isn’t.

Always Go for the Blonde
The show clearly wants you to guess who the terrorist is. And it could be anyone, of course. Everybody’s acting strange. But I’d pick the blonde. The least predictable choice. Shelby (Johanna Braddy) is the lovely country girl, so therefor the ideal suspect. This week we’ve learnt her father died on 9/11. She didn’t say how, or on which side. Later, she’s making a wire transfer of a million dollars. That’s actually too suspicious. It’s almost like they want us to put our money on her, which makes me doubt my choice.

Jakob
And there’s a new boss on the block. Deputy director Clayton’s played by the actor who’ll always be known as Jakob: Mark Pellegrino. He’s working around Liam, and seems to be the one who secretly recruited Simon. Any other show would feel contrived, but Quantico is just great fun.