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: Allegiance, Shark Tank, Shameless, and Forever!
Dominic Griffin is watching…
Season 1, Episode 1
Thursdays at 9/10 on NBC
With this latest one-hour drama, NBC continues their troubling but fascinating identity crisis. Grasping at straws for a sense of reinvention, we have yet another spy drama in the vein of their sole hit The Blacklist (and its spiritual pairing State of Affairs) with Allegiance, a family drama masquerading as a post-Cold War action thriller. While it lacks the undeniable oomph of James Spader’s star power, it makes up for it with several legitimately interesting performances and a closer adherence to narrative cohesion.
The show follows somewhat bland lead Gavin Stenhouse (who looks like a Hitler Youth version of Tobey Maguire) as Alex O’Connor, a supernaturally smart CIA analyst who blends Jack Ryan’s knack for ending up the center of unbelievable intrigue with Moffat Sherlock’s cloying tendency to Know Everything Ever during an investigation. While we watch Alex aid in the vetting of an SVR (what the KGB became) agent who wants to defect, we find out that Alex’s parents (Hope Davis and Scott Cohen) are SVR sleeper agents. This sets up a (forgive the pun) Russian nesting doll of twists, turns, and reveals, eventually settling on a status quo for the series wherein Alex’s entire family (his older sister is also an agent, his little sister is not) is spying on him spying on Russians.
While a few of the cast members are too boring and rote for words (Alex himself feels like he belongs on a milquetoast USA Network series, and Morgan Spector is so reliably slimy as the evil SVR handler), much of the show’s success rests on the shoulders of Hope Davis doing the Lord’s work as a matriarch trying to keep her family together through any means necessary. Yes, the show, ideally, is trying to raise questions about patriotism and, of course, the very nature of allegiances, but it functions best as a spy thriller that’s tearing a familial unit asunder.
It’s nearly undone by a truly awful score and a messy car chase that climaxes with Hope Davis and Scott Cohen literally pitching the show to the audience in their expository dialogue, but the pacing is smart, and the emotions are vivid and naturalistic. Both Margarita Levieva (Alex’s older sister) and Annie Ilonzeh (as an FBI agent) shine with little screen time, so hopefully their roles are expanded as the series progresses. Kenneth Choi, of Captain America: The First Avenger fame, is also a delight as CIA Section Chief Sam Luttrel, so much so that I will stop watching if something untoward happens to his character. There’s the vast potential for this promising pilot to lead to a series of diminishing returns and unnecessary paradigm shifts, but for now, it’s a welcome addition to NBC’s starving line-up.
Episode Highlight: There’s a moment while Alex is going on this long-winded tangent about what temperature steel melts at or whatever, and it feels like a cut scene from some other shittier procedural, but we cut to his parents surreptitiously listening in on the investigation. Hope Davis makes this face eavesdropping on her supergenius son that is equal parts pride in how he turned out and “oh, honey, no…” I hope she gets an Emmy based on the pilot alone.
David Lebovitz is watching…
Season 6, Episode 18
Friday at 9/8c on ABC
What’s this? David watches a “reality show?” Yes. Yes I do. Just this one. I can’t even call it a guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s because I was never that good at math, but I’ve always found intense business shows like this fascinating. (Well, not always, it’s pretty much this and the first few seasons of The Apprentice like the rest of you.)
This episode’s inventions included:
- Himalayan Dog Chew: yak milk dog treats
- Lip Bar: organic, unusually colored lipstick
- BeverageBoy: a beverage holder designed to float in water without tipping over
- Funbites: a device that cuts food into fun shapes so kids will (scientifically) be more likely to eat them
Two of these got deals, one turned down their offers, and one got thrown the hell out of the tank.
There were times it looked like nobody from this episode was going home with an investment. I wouldn’t call it a bloodbath, but it got brutal and times, and at least two of the entrepreneurs dug themselves into a hole. (Who in the world thought that a lipstick delivery van was a good idea?!) Himalayan Dog Chew also learned the lesson “never leave the tank to talk something over, you’ll get screwed by the sharks” the hard way—a shame, because they had a good product, even if they couldn’t agree on terms with the sharks.
There were also pleasant surprises. I came in with cynical expectations regarding Funbites, but the more I heard the more I liked, especially because the woman pitching the product worked for three years to get on the tank. Also, shoutout to Lori for absolutely fleecing Mark Cuban before he could even make an offer. Gotta love a product so good that the sharks will screw each other over to get a piece of it.
I’m still waiting for the day that a contestant tells Kevin to piss up a rope, especially after some of the things he said to the Lip Bar ladies. Until then, I’ll be drinking soda out of my BeverageBoy, loving the great pitches almost as much as the dumb ones.
Episode Highlight: The businessman making the BevBoy pitch was named Kevin, and O’Leary disliked the product so much he revoked the guy’s name. “You do not deserve the name Kevin. You are now called Zonk.” Kevin (O’Leary) proceeded to call the guy “Zonk” for the rest of the segment with a completely straight face until he made a deal.
Madie Coe is watching…
Season Five, Episode Five ”Rite of Passage”
Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime
Drama reigned heavy over comedy in this Sunday’s episode, but Shameless has never been one to flaunt style over substance. To avoid personal conflict, Frank moves into another middle class home now that Sheila is gone; the home of the couple whose deceased son was the donator of Frank’s new liver. He gets cozy with David’s father, but cozier still with his mother. Debbie finally gets revenge on the friends who have given her the cold shoulder when she wrecks their faces with her new boxing skills. Mickey gets fed up with Ian’s manic behavior, while Kevin and Vee seem more likely now to end their marriage fighting over their infant twins. Fiona’s coworker ODs after six months of being clean, but on the bright side, Fiona might have actually met a loving match in her husband Gus. That is, until she finally comes face to face with her past love life.
The “Rite of Passage” in the title is faced by Sammi when Frank breaks his first big promise to her, having spent all of his insurance money in last week’s bender instead of buying her a new trailer. Lip also grows up a little, finally able to let go of his stubborn Southside loyalty after a near arrest for shooting up a new coffee shop. He decides to go back to college early, distancing himself from his low class neighborhood.
The fight of the locals versus the gentrification has been a theme throughout the season so far, and I have no doubt it will lead to a big showdown.
Episode Highlight: (Highlight for Spoiler) Jimmy/Steve is back after his proxy reports back on Fiona’s sudden marriage!
Haley Winters is watching…
Season 1, Episode 14: “Hitler on the Half Shell”
Tuesdays 10/9c on ABC
So there are guilty pleasures, and then there are guilty pleasures. I’ve been defending Forever since, well, forever, or at least since the series kicked off this fall. Sure, it’s a ridiculous premise awkwardly shoehorned into a hardboiled NYC procedural, but c’mon, this show’s got it all: A handsome Holmesian protagonist! A plot unlimited by the laws of time and space! Murder! Mystery! Judd Hirsch! But it’s about time I admitted it, more for myself than for any of you readers: this show is pretty godawful. I still adore it, mind you. But I have finally become self-aware. Forever, unfortunately, has yet to get there.
This week’s episode, “Hitler on the Half Shell,” features a murder-of-the-week that is an amalgamation of some of the most clichéd and overwrought “grandpa was a Nazi” plotlines ever lifted from Law and Order. The story itself is hardly worth getting into, but needless to say it involves stolen German art and Detective Martinez breathily exclaiming, “Wow! These paintings must be worth millions!” two separate but alarmingly identical times. It’s painfully unoriginal, but the Word War II stuff does allow us to segue into some nice character development for Henry’s son (you know, his 75-year-old baby son Judd Hirsch), whose biological parents were killed during the Holocaust.
This week’s historical flashbacks finally answer the needling question, “Why isn’t 200-year-old Henry Morgan a total racist?” Well, we sort of get an answer: Henry is just morally superior and has remained loftily unconcerned with racial issues despite personally experiencing two centuries of the stuff. We watch a young, pre-immortal Henry learn of his father’s involvement with the slave trade, and witness his horror at the very idea. He confronts his father and everything about it! Slavery is bad, didn’t you know! Sigh. I guess when your target audience is retired old white ladies, there’s only so much you can do. Forever cops out of the hard (read: interesting) stuff at every turn, and it’s a blooming shame.
Episode Highlight: I rolled my eyes at a particularly clichéd moment when Henry closes his dead father’s eyes with one hand, and I was about to embark on a rage rant about why every single dead guy on TV has to have his eyes closed that way, when it turned out to be THE ACTUAL KEY TO THE WHOLE DARN MYSTERY! Something about fingerprints on the eyelids. Had to commend the writers for that one.