Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: Gotham, Empire, and Archer.
Max Robinson is watching…
Episode 11: “Rogues’ Gallery”
Mondays at 8pm
GOTHAM’S BACK BABY YEAH!!!! *hunches over, out of breath* Woo, okay. Alright. Gotham came back last week with what has to be the most inspired mid-season “premiere” I’ve ever seen. Before the break, “The Man Who Would Be Commissioner” Jim Gordon got demoted by the mayor to a lowly security detail at the newly reopened Arkham Asylum. This episode finds Gordon still stuck there, away from his beloved slob-chan Bullock, and also, I guess, his perpetually bedridden ex-fiancée, Barbara. The opening of this episode is no joke. It’s brilliantly put together, cutting between a resigned Gordon overseeing an all-patient production of The Tempest and brief shots of the series’ cast as a storm rages outside (Harvey_Bullock_wistfully_drinking_from_flask.gif). It’s a great establishing shot and a reminder that Gotham is actually one of the slickest looking shows on TV.
Busting Gordon down the totem pole, complete with a temporary new supporting cast, is a really clever idea and the show gets to tweak its usual formula a bit to much success (we even get a montage of Gordon interrogating perps, in this case a bunch of “wacky” inmates). While Gordon defies the orders of his boss (special guest star Isiah Whitlock, Jr., here basically playing a low-rent version of Clay Davis from The Wire) to investigate a series of weird killings/mutilations within the asylum, Fish Mooney’s Andy Richter-looking top lieutenant Butch is forced to question his own loyalties. Despite being pretty heavily featured on the show since the pilot, we haven’t gotten to know much about Butch. His plotline in this episode and what it ultimately reveals about his values was really intriguing, and opens up some potentially interesting wrinkles once Gotham gets to the inevitable mob war.
As usual, the weakest link on Gotham is the character of Barbara Kean. Despite Barbara leaving Jim for old flame Renee Montoya, she remains a passive iceberg of a character in a show filled with amazing character actors. This is remedied somewhat by the introduction of Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Firefly’s Morena Baccarin, who is a lot of fun despite her so-far limited screen time), but Barbara is still the show’s biggest problem.
“Rogues’ Gallery” is by far the best episode of the series to date and a really promising indicator that the show’s weirdo brilliance will continue unabated. Did I mention we get our first out and out super-criminal in this episode? Gotham rules.
Episode Highlight: I’m really trying not to be too hard on Barbara here because, you know what? At the end of the day, it’s a thankless part. THAT SAID, the scene where young Poison Ivy/”Ivy Pepper” deliberately fucks with her over the phone? To the point that a grown adult screams “GO TO HELL!” to a twelve-year-old and hangs up? That gave me life.
Dominic Griffin is watching…
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Wednesdays at 9pm
If you were initially excited about Fox’s new hip hop soap opera Empire because you thought it was a sequel to Hustle & Flow, I apologize in advance for the disappointment the show’s 44-minute run time has in store for you. If, instead, you always wanted to see Sean Combs play King Lear, this show has you covered. There’s nothing wrong with modernizing Lear in the world of the record industry (even if your wildly inconsistent script finds it acceptable to OPENLY REFERENCE HOW MUCH LIKE KING LEAR THE NARRATIVE IS), but there is something to be said for doing it in such a tone deaf manner. Owing equally to A Lion In Winter and John Ridley’s short lived UPN series Platinum, Empire is exactly the type of trashy but lovable prime time soap people write condescending thinkpieces about, despite continuing to DVR every subsequent episode. Co-created by middling director Lee Daniels (Precious, Based on The Novel Push By Sapphire) and passable writer Danny Strong (Jonathan from Buffy‘s controversial sixth season), Empire’s showrunner is Ilene Chaiken, the scribe from The L Word who also wrote the 1996 Pamela Anderson vehicle Barb Wire. The pedigree should be enough to give you an idea of how strangely idiosyncratic the show ends up being.
Terrence Howard plays Terrence Howard Lucious Lyon, an ex-drug dealer, current hip hop mogul who secretly suffers from ALS. Given three years to live (three seasons?) and working to take his record company public, Lucious becomes obsessed with grooming one of his three sons to take over his empire. There’s Andre (Trai Byers), the eldest, who is the only one legitimately qualified for the position and has spent his whole life vying for the honor. Lucious respects his son but doesn’t have a strong connection to him, as he’s the only non-musician of his progeny. Then there’s Jamal (Jussie Smollet), who’s extremely talented but uninterested in the politics of the corporate world. Also, he’s gay, and Lucious hates him. Lastly, we have Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), the youngest and most spoiled. He’s a rapper and easily Lucious’ fave, despite being a total fuck-up. If I had to watch Howard glare at his sons every week while dressed anachronistically like Morris Day, I’d have checked out during the cold open, but mercifully, the boys’ mother, Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) explodes onto the scene, fresh out of prison and coming for her half of the company. Her presence, a mixture of matronly warmth and predatory scenery-chewing, elevates even the most lackluster of dramatic pretenses, bringing out the best in every cast member she interacts with.
The machinations of Lucious and Cookie (and every other character on the show) are fascinating, and operate with a sudsy sense of intrigue, but one can only hope the show attracts more competent helmers than Daniels, whose arbitrary and distracting camera positioning holds the show back from coherence, emotional resonance, and watchability. Strong’s writing, too, hits too hard on the nose, impeding the lofty ambitions of the show’s handling of serious issues. Honestly, you can’t have a show where Terrence Howard puts his gay son in a trash can for wearing high heels. I shouldn’t have to say this, guys. Tommy Wiseau wouldn’t even write that.
Stick around for Taraji, and for the show’s surprisingly cogent musical sequences courtesy of superproducer Timbaland. Begrudgingly tolerate everything else.
Episode Highlight: I could say “anything Taraji does” but that’d be unfair to:
1) The tender moments between Hakeem and Jamal, the two brothers who genuinely love each other amid the pervasive din of duplicity.
2) Jamal’s musical number about his dad’s acceptance that note for note homages the episode of Jem where Riot sings about his dad putting him out.
3) Malik Yoba caring less than he has ever cared about anything in the world as Lucious’ confidante, Vernon. Seriously, it’s the least an actor has done for a check since Marlon Wayans DIDN’T play Robin in Batman Returns.
David is watching…
Season 6, Episode 1 “The Holdout”
Thursdays at 10PM
Meet the new Archer, same as the old Archer.
If one thing was definitively established in the season premiere, it’s that everything old is new again. There are a few changes—the spy agency is no longer called ISIS (because the name’s been tainted), and there’s a new Archer Baby—but after a season of something Different with a capital D, things are back to normal. “The Holdout” is an episode specifically crafted to tell its viewers “We know last season was divisive, so here’s what you’re used to because we’re all afraid of change.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as FX shows tend to thrive on a degree of predictability, but it’s hard not to see a little bit of “hmph” in there.
“The Holdout” follows Archer on his first CIA mission: parachute into the jungle, find a downed plane, take the onboard computer, and blow the plane up. During the mission, Archer encounters an elderly Japanese holdout who isn’t aware WWII ended. Meanwhile, Cheryl and Pam take Mallory and crew on tour of the new offices, which have barely changed, much to the joyous chagrin of Mallory.
Overall, this was a middling episode, but there were some solid moments. Archer’s interactions with the Japanese soldier show that Sterling has softened up a bit. He’s still a self-centered asshole, but there are a few shining moments when he’s genuinely trying to soften the blow to the soldier about how the war ended and what might have happened to his family. The new Archer Baby adds a new dynamic to the crew’s relationship, especially as Archer himself navigates how to be a moderately decent father while still being…well…Archer. Few of the jokes fell flat, but it felt like they could have been better. Let’s hope this was just a reestablishing episode, because this season has a ton of promise, especially with Allison Tolman as Pam’s sister waiting in the wings.
Episode Highlight: The simple fact that Cheryl and Pam spend a ton of money simply to make Mallory cry should be enough.