This Week in TV: Sep.11-17

This Week: Queen Sugar continues to be spectacular; Better Things gets a bit, well, better; and HBO’s first of two web-to-TV series gets off to a dope start.

First Impressions

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all the new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. There will be very little focus on story or plot points, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT completely. Same goes for the other sections, continue at your own risk!

High Maintenance (HBO) 10/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

We live in the age of peak TV; in 2015 alone there were over 400 scripted programs flooding our screens. It’s nice to know there’s at least one show out there for everyone to enjoy, but I do sometimes wonder about whether we’re inevitably going to hit a point where every show feels like something that’s already been done. Of course, a handful of new shows every year – Stranger Things and Queen Sugar come to mind for 2016 – continue to prove that it’s still very possible to create fresh and original scripted programming, despite the saturated landscape. High Maintenance, at least based off of its premiere, is now another example of the shows that keep me hopeful.

As a fan of the web series, I tried to remain only cautiously optimistic when I learned High Maintenance would be making the jump to TV. (Though I was grateful to know it would be on HBO and not something like, say, CBS. What a disaster that would have been.) I was mainly concerned that it might be “repackaged” for television and transformed into something that bore little resemblance to, and lacked all the charm of the original series. Thankfully my concern quickly dissipated as I came to realize they were staying true to the source material. Now I’m no longer cautious; I’m genuinely excited.

High Maintenance feels as though it’s blazing the trail for a different kind of TV experience. In a world of serialized dramas, it’s kind of fun to step into a space for 35 minutes and then leave it all behind forever. This is made possible here because the only aspect that remains constant in the show is the drug dealer – sometimes known as The Guy – and he mostly plays a peripheral, if not ancillary role in each episode. The Guy and his weed are the only serialized part of High Maintenance. Every episode allows us the opportunity to explore an entirely new set of characters, his clients, – who, by the way, aren’t just throw away one-notes or tropes, though that would have been easy to do – and it feels somewhat liberating. As much as my heart belongs to ongoing, serialized TV – I love the character growth and story payoff that can only be gained after watching multiple seasons of a show – bringing something different to the table in the aforementioned saturated landscape is not only tricky, it’s important to the progress of TV as an art form.

This next thought may wind up relating to no one, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. This, essentially self-contained, form fits kind of perfectly, too, with what the show is about on its most superficial level: smoking weed. I’ve found that when I, ahem, partake in such activities, I have a series of fleeting, random thoughts. Many of which I will likely never think of again. It’s almost as if, each episode represents one of those random thoughts, just explored in a little more depth. I don’t know, maybe I’m just trippin’?

Second Chances 

Better Things

Well, this was certainly an improvement. There was a much tighter story structure in the second episode, and I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud a handful of times. A deeper, yet still fairly shallow, dive was taken into Sam’s character. Particularly concerning the suggested tension between her and her ex, and the toll that takes on the relationship between Sam and her kids. Sam’s mother was an absolute delight, and arguably the most interesting character thus far. What struck me specifically about the mother was how quickly her character developed and became identifiable, and how I still don’t feel that sense with the main character.

Similarly, I feel zero connection to the daughters. In fact, they irritate me to the point that I’m not even bothered by the lack of it. The scenes this week between Sam and Max, and Sam and Frankie were utterly grating. (I don’t understand how these children aren’t being punished at all for what they did.) By the end of the argument between Sam and Max, I was completely pulled out of the show because of how annoyed I was, and that’s not exactly encouraging. I’m so tired of pre-teens and teenagers being given one-note characters, who are forced to just do their best with the annoying and bratty dialogue thrown at them. It’s trope-y and it’s lazy. Give these children some nuance – they are people, too!

I have a feeling this show is really resonating with some folks, though. I’m sure there are plenty of mothers, single or otherwise, who can easily relate to Sam or at least some aspects of her character. And it’s great to see this kind of story being told from this particular perspective. For me, however, it’s just not doing it. I’m going to keep watching – though probably not live, and mainly because I want FX to know that women-run shows are important. It’s just not the kind of show I’m longing to talk about each week. So, maybe I’ll check in if anything really remarkable happens. For now though, I have to make room in This Week in TV for all the amazing stuff that’s still to come this season.

Returning Favourites

Atlanta

So, I’m a little infuriated with how Van’s character is being written. She’s not wrong to want Earn to find a job and be responsible for their daughter. She’s clearly a very patient and forgiving person to allow Earn so many chances. And yet, because Earn is essentially in the “hero” role, all of Van’s virtues aren’t seen as such. Instead, she’s the wet blanket, the nagging girlfriend, and I’m sure many are finding it difficult to root for her. I fear Van’s character is headed down the same path as Skyler White, and that’s a damn shame.

Though Earn and Van’s date did provide a few laughs and some significant exchanges between the two, Paper Boi and Darius’ adventure into the woods was by far the more interesting storyline. The way these two actors play off of one another is great, and though there’s still plenty of room for character development, I’ve become pretty invested pretty quickly in these men. Was it immediately predictable that Darius would forget the key to his handcuffs? Yes. It didn’t matter, though, because it heightened the tension of their situation while also creating the opportunity for some very funny physical comedy from Darius. In fact, all of the amusing moments during their drug deal managed to deliver laughs while never lessening the severity of the situation at hand.

Queen Sugar

Part of me wishes this show were on Netflix or some other streaming service, because at the end of every episode I just want more. That said, I would have undoubtedly finished Queen Sugar in a day or two and then the experience of seeing it for the first time would be over. So, I’m mostly glad I have to wait every week for more greatness. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again if necessary: the only valid reason for not watching this show is because you don’t get the channel and you haven’t yet figured out another way to watch it. So, go on, figure it out, I promise you won’t regret it.

As with last week’s episodes, “Thy Will be Done” was absolutely breathtaking. Here are my two favourite moments from episode 3.

Blue

This beautiful little boy stole my heart this week. The way he said, “c’mon pop” while trying to persuade Ralph Angel to drop the gun, was equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. In a lesser show, Blue’s character would merely have existed in the scene, looking worried for his father. Not only did Ethan Hutchison nail his dialogue, he managed to layer it with a tone that informed a great deal about his relationship with his father. Blue really understands Ralph Angel, and in this small yet powerful scene, he was able to reinforce the genuine dynamic these two characters possess. Well done, casting directors, well done.

Aunt Vi’s Shade

Blue may have stolen my heart, but Vi made me chuckle and fist pump the air. This small injection of humor was a much-welcomed break from the heavy material of the first two episodes. Her attitude towards Davis was so perfect, and I’m actually surprised Hollywood and Ralph Angel had the nerve to act any differently. (If I were savvy enough, I would have made a gif of Vi letting the door shut on Davis. Let’s just pretend it’s here.) The best part about Vi’s shade is how it’s only an aspect of who she is; she’s not defined by it. TV has given us enough female characters that only play this one note – she’s feisty, that’s it, that’s all. Since the show is technically centered on the Bordelon siblings, Vi didn’t necessarily need any nuance. But by balancing her character and allowing us to see the different sides of her – the loving, the grieving, the smart, and the loyal sides – it makes her shade throwing even more delicious. We can understand her motivation for it, and it’s not just played for laughs.

Honorable Mention

When Charley and Nova tell Ralph Angel they’re going to keep the farm, my heart melted. I’m fairly certain this is the first instance where we’ve seen them happy and smiling with one another, and it was a beautiful way to end the episode.

 

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