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Welcome back!  We’re about to enter the TOP TEN of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.

And now, onward…!

10. Silicon Valley: “Terms of Service” (season four, episode two, aired on 4/30/17) — A comedic highlight of the fourth season of Silicon Valley, and the show as a whole, was this brief, beautiful moment in which Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) ascended to CEO of PiperChat … and then flamed out spectacularly.  Mr. Nanjiani has been a secret weapon on the show since the beginning, and he killed it in this spotlight episode.  I loved watching the arrogant, drunk-with-power Dinesh, but the brilliant comedic beauty of the moment in which Dinesh realized how badly he had bungled things and just how far over his head he was, was astonishing.  It was one of the funniest moments in any TV show all year long.  (The continual pinging sound effect throughout the scene, as more and more under-age users sign up for PiperChat and Dinesh finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble, took a great scene and made it amazing.  It’s a piece of comedic genius.)  The entire ensemble was on fire in this episode.  Throw in the welcome return of Matt McCoy’s sad-sack lawyer (“My shame will linger long after my voting rights are restored”) and a great final moment with series villain Gavin Belson as his triumph turns to ash (when he realizes the truth about PiperChat) and you have a winner of an episode.  (Click here for my full review of Silicon Valley season four.)

9. Sherlock: “The Final Problem” (season four, episode three, aired on 1/15/17) — What just might be the final episode of Sherlock that we ever see (though I hope that’s not the case!) was one of the series’ darkest and most nail-bitingly intense.  After a lot of teasing, this episode confirmed that the big bad villain of the season was the never-before-seen third Holmes sibling.  Sian Brooke was terrific as the dangerous and insane Eurus Holmes.  For the first time in the series, both Sherlock and Mycroft seemed truly outmatched.  This episode wrought tremendous tension out of Eurus’ torturing of her brothers and John Watson, as she presented them with a series of increasingly impossible challenges.  This was as grim as the show has ever gotten, as time and again our three heroes were powerless to stop innocent people from being murdered by Eurus all around them.  I could hardly believe what I was watching.  The show has never looked better — every aspect of the production seemed to be firing … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Two!

I loved the first season of Better Call Saul I was blown away by Bob Odenkirk’s performance in the lead role, and by the extraordinary groups of actors with whom he was surrounded, most notably fellow Breaking Bad alum Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, along with new faces Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Michael McKean as Charles McGill.  I found that first season to be tense and gripping while also being a huge amount of fun.  This is an incredibly impressive balance of tone.  I wrote in my review that I enjoyed that first season of Better Call Saul more than any season of Breaking Bad except for Bad’s final run of episodes.  Soon after finishing Saul season one I eagerly dove into season two.

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While perhaps not quite as perfect as season one (and without the thrill of discovery of this new show), Better Call Saul season two remains a master class in television craftsmanship, hugely enjoyable and gripping, fun and also heartbreaking.  I loved it.  I tore through it at a rapid pace and am left eagerly counting the days until season three.

Season one began with a wonderful black-and-white vignette, a peek at the fate of Saul Goodman following the events of Breaking Bad.  I didn’t think we’d ever see any more of that time-period until the end of Better Call Saul’s run, but I was delighted to have been proven wrong as the first moments of season two gave us another look at the sad, lonely life being lived by Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman after his life had been torn apart by his relationship with Walter White.  It was fascinating to note that in the tiny, desperate bit of graffiti left behind by Jimmy/Saul, he identified himself not as Jimmy, but as Saul.  Watching the first season of Better Call Saul, I was stunned by how much I grew to love Jimmy McGill.  Rather than being impatient for the show to hurry up and get to Jimmy’s transformation into Saul — the fun, fast-talking, morals-free dude we’d gotten to know and love in Breaking Bad — I was dreading the day when the sweet, good-hearted Jimmy would be replaced by Saul.  And yet, while I as a viewer might lament the coming loss of Jimmy, it was fascinating to see in this intro vignette that, even after arriving at the sad lonely end of Saul Goodman’s road, this man considers himself Saul rather than Jimmy.  It’s heartbreaking and also a tantalizing glimpse of where this show is going.  Two seasons in, I am still not sure how the Jimmy who I have grown to love so much will eventually be crushed and … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season One!

I started watching Breaking Bad on DVD right as the show was ending.  There was so much critical love for that show, particularly in the months leading up to its finale, and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about!  I thoroughly enjoyed Breaking Bad as I made my way through the series, but somewhat to my surprise I never found myself as head-over-heels in love with the show as so many others seemed to be.  I respected the show enormously for what a quality piece of work it was, with incredible writing and performances (by Bryan Cranston in particular but also by all of the show’s wonderful ensemble) and extraordinarily top-notch production values.  But I never found myself in LOVE with the show.  I think this was because the show was so successful at being emotionally wrenching that I found it difficult to watch. Usually with shows I love, I tear through the episodes at a rapid clip.  But Breaking Bad was a show I needed to take my time with.  Even though many seasons ended on cliffhanger, I often found that I needed to wait weeks if not months before I was ready to move on to the next season.

And so, even though by the time I had completed watching the final season of Breaking Bad, the first season of the spin-off show Better Call Saul was already available, I hesitated to dive in. It wasn’t until last month that my wife and I finally sat down to watch Better Call Saul season one.  I am sorry I waited so long, because this first season of Better Call Saul was magnificent!  I think I enjoyed this season more than any season of Breaking Bad!  (Save perhaps for Breaking Bad’s riveting final run of episodes.)

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The show begins with a wonderful tease, a black-and-white sequence of Bob Odenkirk’s Saul living a solitary life working at a Cinnabun in a mall.  This little mini-movie is a gloriously brilliant way to open the show, as the audience is forced to look carefully for clues to determine when in the timeline of Saul’s life that sequence takes place.  The answer is perfect, and a perfect way to set the tone for this prequel series.

Bob Odenkirk’s Saul was a lot of fun on Breaking Bad, a bright splash of color in the dark world of Walter White.  I’d imagine that a perfectly entertaining show could have been made just watching the goofy, fast-talking Saul’s adventures as a “criminal” lawyer before he got mixed up with Walt and Jesse.  And yet, thankfully, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have set out to do something more difficult, something … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews the Final Season of Breaking Bad!

I am certainly late to the Breaking Bad party, having only begun watching the show’s first season on DVD in the days following the airing of the season finale.  All of the hub-bub over the show’s final season finally got me to try the show, and I’ve been slowly watching it on DVD ever since.

Watching Breaking Bad, there is no question that this is one of the best-made television shows in recent memory.  Every aspect of the production of the show is spectacular, though at the top of the list is the writing, spearheaded by creator and show-runner Vince Gilligan.  This show has been a creative triumph in terms of its perfect pacing, and the way it was able to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, chronicling an every-man’s transformation from timid, emasculated science teacher into a ruthless criminal.  Breaking Bad is a perfectly serialized show, with each episode telling a complete story in and of itself, while also flowing seamlessly into the next episode.  It’s been staggeringly, jaw-droppingly dark and grim.  I cannot believe the places this show has gone.  I truly can’t think of another TV show that has explored such darkness so unflinchingly, and been so ruthless with regards to the terrible fates that have befallen so many of its minor and major characters.

This is what makes Breaking Bad amazing, although it’s also what’s made me often keep the show somewhat at arm’s length, emotionally, as a viewer.  Most of the television shows I have truly loved have always left me desperately eager for the next episode.  And yet Breaking Bad was never like that for me (at least, not until this magnificent final season — more on that in a moment).  As I have written before in my reviews (click here for my thoughts on season one, here for my thoughts on season two, here for my thoughts on season three, and here for my thoughts on season four), there has been so much unrelenting unpleasantness depicted in this show that I often felt I needed a short break after watching each episode before moving on to the next.  And similarly, after completing each of the show’s seasons, I’ve paused for a while to watch other things before diving back into the next season.  As a result, it’s taken me two years to watch this show in its entirety, even though the whole series was available to me almost right from the beginning.

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And so, at last, I have arrived at the final season.  (This production season of 16 episodes — the show’s longest — was aired in two batches of eight episodes each, … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Breaking Bad Season Four

I started watching Breaking Bad a few weeks after its series finale aired, and I’ve been slowly catching up ever since.  Click here for my review of season one, here for my review of season two, and here for my review of season three.

I found season four to be very strong, building nicely on the narrative momentum set up in season three.  It’s fun to see a show at the top of its creative game.  And, because creator and show-runner Vince Gilligan was given the luxury of ending the show at the time and place of his choosing, watching these middle seasons unfold it’s a delight to relax and know that the story is heading somewhere, that it’s all heading towards what I expect to be a mighty crescendo in the show’s final season.  This is a rare privilege for a show-runner, to be able to craft one’s final seasons to build to an ending that comes when you want it to come, and watching season four I could see the creative confidence in every frame of the show.

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(Please beware some spoilers as I dig into my thoughts on season four, friends.  If you haven’t yet watched this season of this show, you probably want to stop reading here.)

Season four picks up right from the terrific cliffhanger that ended season three, with Gus and Mike ready to terminate Walt and Jesse with extreme prejudice, a pickle the boys only wriggle out of with Jesse’s murder of chemist Gale so that Gus once again needs them to cook their product for him.  The season premiere, “Box Cutter,” is a hell of an episode, tense and twisty, and a great way to kick off the season.  I’d commented in my review of season three that I enjoyed that the show seemed to be taking its time with the development of new villain Gus Fring, and I was glad to see that continue throughout season four, which is basically structured as one long duel of wits between Walt and Gus.  Gus, played so memorably by Giancarlo Esposito, is an incredible character, one of the most iconic TV villains of all time.  He’s a phenomenal foil for Walt, just as fierce and intelligent as Walt is.  As the season progresses, it’s fascinating to see just how similar Walt is to Gus, as our hero slides further into anti-hero.  (I was stunned to learn at the end of the season that it was Walt, not Gus, who was responsible for the poisoning of young Brock.  Can I still root at all for Walt after that?  We’ll see when I move on to season five…!)  I was very happy that … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Breaking Bad Season 3

I am slowly, slowly getting caught up with Breaking Bad!  Click here for my review of season one and here for my review of season two.

Much has been written about the way the Breaking Bad burns through story-lines, taking plot-lines that other shows would drag out for years and dispensing with them in just a few episodes.  In watching season three I was struck by how much less that was the case than in the first two seasons.  I found season three to be far more leisurely paced than I was used to the show being.  I like this adjustment!   Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT of plot and circumstance crammed into season three, but I was pleased that the show took a little more time than before to explore these characters and situations.

Prime example: the finale of season one introduced a new big bad drug-lord, Tuco.  But he was dispensed with by the end of season two’s second episode.  In similar fashion, at the end of season two we met Gus the Chicken Man.  But rather than knocking him off quickly, I was pleased that the show kept this character around throughout all of season three and, presumably, now into season four.  Season three was a little more of a slow burn than previous seasons.

I disliked the plane crash ending of season two, and was eager for that to be forgotten about and for the show to move on.  And while I was pleased that, with the season three premiere, the show was indeed moving on, in hindsight I am glad they didn’t just totally ignore such a major event and that there were some references made to the plane crash and to the tragic fates of Jane and Donald (John DeLancie).  (I was thrilled to see that Walt’s involvement in Jane’s death wasn’t ignored, and that it became such an important plot point in the episode “Fly.”  I really thought Walt was going to spill the beans to Jesse in that episode!!!  I suspect this isn’t over…)

The show takes its sweet time in bringing Walt and Jesse back together at the beginning of season three.  While I was a little impatient for that inevitable event to happen, keeping them apart for a while makes sense following the events at the end of season two.  I am glad the show didn’t rush the two back together in the premiere, and I thought the exploration of Jesse’s grief and guilt following the death of his girlfriend Jane at the end of season two was the most compelling story-line we had seen for the character thus far.

I loved the continued involvement, throughout the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Breaking Bad: Season Two

Yes, I know I am hugely late to the party on Breaking Bad.  Just as everyone was getting excited about the finale of the show, my wife and I were just starting to watch it from the beginning.  I enjoyed season one, though I found the show hard to watch at times because of how unhappy so many of the characters were.  Still, I recognized it as very well-made television, and I was eager to move on to season two.  (Click here for my review of season one.)

I enjoyed season two just as I had season one, though it took me far longer to get through the thirteen-episode season than I had expected.  There is no question that it’s a unique, bold show, one that is the product of a team of extraordinarily talented people.  But man I found it hard to watch.  So much so that after watching the first few episodes of the season I stopped, and it took me a while to get back into it to finish out the season.

I am sure this is not news to anybody, but Breaking Bad is a very bleak show.  That is part of what makes it so compelling and bold, but it also for me makes the show tough to get through.  I watched many of the episodes with my stomach twisted all in knots as  terrible thing after terrible thing happens to (and by) the main characters in the show.  It is rough.

I am definitely not someone who things that all good TV should be simple and happy.  Quite the opposite!  I already love and respect Breaking Bad for its incredible quality and its breath-taking freshness.  I am just being honest that I have a tough time watching it!!  (As I noted in my review of season one, I felt this way, to a much lesser degree, about the early seasons of Mad Men, but I eventually grew to fall totally in love with that show and its characters.  I am curious to see if the same thing winds up happening to me with Breaking Bad.)

One thing that immediately impressed me about the show is the way it never let’ the views off the hook by skipping over anything in a way that would let the audience say, OK, well, they did such-and-such and I don’t need to think about why or how, they just did it.  No, instead the show always digs deeply into the details.  For instance, season one ended with Walter and Jesse making a deal with the drugs-dealer Tucco.  I had expected season two to pick up the story weeks or months later, with the boys … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Breaking Bad Season One

I’ve been wanting to start watching Breaking Bad since it first started.  I never watched Malcolm in the Middle, but it seemed clearly to me that Bryan Cranston was a great actor, and seeing him in a dramatic role was appealing.  And as a die-hard X-Files fan, I of course knew the name of Breaking Bad show-runner Vince Gilligan as one of the best writers from that show.  But for whatever reason, I just never got around to watching Breaking Bad, and as the seasons went on I knew that starting from the beginning would require an ever-increasing time commitment.  It’s sort of funny, then, that I finally took the plunge and watched season one just as all the hoopla was happening around the broadcast of the show’s final episodes.

In case anyone doesn’t know, Breaking Bad tells the story of high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who has been living a sad, fairly pathetic life.  His discovery that he has lung cancer, which might only allow him a few years more to live, sets about a profound internal crisis in Walt that eventually leads to his pairing up with a young druggie named Jessie, to together cook and sell crystal meth.  Walt, at first, knows nothing about the drug world or the criminal element, but he knows everything about chemistry, making him an extraordinarily skilled cook of crystal.  As the seven episode first season progresses, we see the timid Walt take his first steps into the “dark side” and, in so doing, suddenly develop a spine and a courage he never knew he had.  So what if it is illegal and his brother-in-law heads up the local DEA?

The first seven-episode season of Breaking Bad is terrific, everything I had hoped it would be.  The pilot episode is tremendous, a strong statement as to what sort of show this was going to be, something intense and dark and original.  Sometimes plots can be wobbly, with the filmmakers unsure of exactly what show they are making, and/or burdened by a lot of boring character exposition.  But the pilot episode of Breaking Bad is magnificent, focusing right in on the character of Walter White and taking its time in introducing us to all the misery in his life BEFORE he learns of his cancer diagnosis.  That’s a smart storytelling choice.  Walt’s main problem isn’t his cancer — it’s everything else that has gone wrong in his life.  The pilot is intense and gripping, and of course it gives us the the now-iconic image of Walt with no pants, in just a shirt, boots, and his tighty-whiteys, holding a gun.

The next two episodes, “Cat’s in the Bag…” and “… And the … [continued]