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: Legends of Tomorrow, Agent Carter, Chelsea Does and Grease Live!
Haley Winters is watching…
Sunday, January 31st, Fox
For a little over two years, NBC has been the sole runner in the the live-musical-television-event race, with its three consecutive offerings—The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz—achieving varying degrees of milky non-success. But with this past Sunday’s Grease: Live!, Fox grabbed that ambitious torch, ran an extra lap around the track with it, and then put out the smoldering ashes on its predecessor’s face. Fox’s single production outdoes NBC’s three on almost every level, including the ones that don’t even work. We sing, Rydell, to thee.
The difference between Fox and NBC’s approaches to their respective extravaganzas ultimately comes down to the same age-old turf war that has always rifted the American entertainment industry: that of East Coast versus West, the civility of Broadway theater against the spectacle of Hollywood cinema. While Peter Pan et. al. were filmed quietly on an insular Long Island soundstage, Grease was shot across Warner Bros’ expansive studio lots, gleefully casting Burbank itself as the star of the show. We follow the actors on and off stage, hopping onto the occasional golf cart as they are shuttled between sets. Directors Thomas Kail and Alex Rudzinski are a dream team, the former using his Hamilton pedigree to orchestrate dynamic, complex stagework, and the latter applying the sweeping, seamless live camera choreo of Dancing with the Stars to tie it all together.
Broadway star Aaron Tveit is an unmistakably talented (if slightly Ace Ventura-reminiscent) Danny; Julianne Hough, whose career has been built on high-stakes live television, is even better as Sandy. Her obvious ease with the material—yes, even the singing—grounds the show nicely, as a good Sandy ought to. Vanessa Hudgens (a lithe Rizzo) displays not only superhuman fortitude less than a day after her father’s passing, but the honed skill and power of a true professional. Keke Palmer also showed off some muscular vocals as the man-eating Marty Maraschino, although her acting was leadened with a seeming inability to tone down the thea-taaah. Carly Rae Jepsen, bless her perfect pop heart, trailed as Frankie in an ill-advised new number (quickly forgotten, as it led directly into “Beauty School Dropout,” sung, in a brilliant conceptual move, by Boyz II Men). The requisite breakout performance of the night belonged to 21-year-old Jordan Fisher, adorable beyond adorable as the oft-forgotten Doody, who stole his scenes with an easy charisma.
But even more than the seasoned cast and deft directing (not to mention wonderful choreography by Glee maverick Zachary Woodlee), it’s the sheer, shameless balls-to-the-wallness of it all that makes this live show so buoyantly and aggressively fabulous. The Sound of Music Live may have founded the city, but Grease Live brings the circus to town.
Highlight: There are many (as there are lowlights, but this is a short review, so we must focus on what’s important), but Master of Ceremonies Jessie J delivered an opening “Grease is the Word” that set the tone – and the bar- for the rest of the night.
You’ll never recapture the excitement of seeing Grease: Live! live on television, but you can watch it on demand on fox.com.
Max Robinson is watching…
Legends of Tomorrow
“Pilot, Part 1 & Part 2”
Thursdays at 8/7c on The CW
The CW’s small screen-imatic DC Universe has come a long way from the first season of “ashamed to even call him Green” Arrow. It took a little while but, thanks to the tonal kickstart provided by its “swinging for the fences” efforts with The Flash, we’ve gotten to the point where these shows really do feel like live action comic books. And, boy, does Legends of Tomorrow absolutely revel in this fact. Do you know those Claremont X-Men comics where they like play baseball or have heartfelt one-on-ones right before a big battle? This is that exact shit, but as a primetime TV show featuring Firestorm, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, The Atom, White Canary, Captain Cold, and Heatwave battling Vandal Savage
on a soundstage in Vancouver across time and space.
There’s a kind of hilarious brazenness to how The CW channels its references with these characters. Viewers already know how Brandon Routh’s The Atom armor JUST HAPPENS to make the same noise as Iron Man’s repulsor blasts; here we get Arthur Darvill playing cockney time
lord master Rip Hunter as a “not even removing the shopping tag” knockoff of The Doctor. These may sound like complaints, but honestly there’s something kind of charming about all this; it’s like watching giant human action figures move. It’s the television equivalent of the greatest game of HeroClix ever played.
Story-wise, Legends of Tomorrow wisely moves briskly and never seems to take itself too seriously. Straight up, DC Comics seriously signed off on a show where Firestorm smokes a joint before a supervillain showdown, and it’s played as a wacky gag. Despite boasting a sizeable cast (with one member dead by the end of the two-part pilot), Legends never feels bloated by its bench or hampered by mindless obligation to canon. There’s a Breakfast Club sort of chemistry to the lineup of B-listers and supporting players that make up Legends of Tomorrow’s temporal Justice League of Losers. Darvill’s Diet Doctor Who never overstays his welcome, and every minute that Wentworth Miller or Victor Garber is on screen is gold. Guardians of the Galaxy and WB’s upcoming Suicide Squad suggest a distinct tonal shift within live action superhero fare, and it’s great to see The CW really lean into that with Legends of Tomorrow, delivering a show that’s so far just full-blown cornball cosmic comic book craziness.
Episode Highlight: ALL OF IT? LIKE, SERIOUSLY, TAKE YOUR PICK. This is a show where a time-tossed White Canary, Captain Cold, and Heatwave get hammered to Captain and Tenille at a ’70s dive before getting into a bar brawl. Literally imagine trying to explain to someone ten years ago that this show FUCKING EXISTS.
Andrew Niemann is watching…
Marvel’s Agent Carter
Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC
Peggy is back, baby! Marvel’s already stellar ABC show makes the case for being elevated to the ranks of its Netflix cousins in the long-awaited Season 2. When we last saw Peggy Carter, she was still in mourning for Captain Steve “America” Rogers, and helping Big Papa Stark and his trusty butler Edwin “Not a Robot” Jarvis unravel a mystery tied to a HYDRA-esque Soviet cell named Leviathan, all under the auspices of an early ancestor of SHIELD called the SSR. This season, she travels to sunny Los Angeles to investigate mob-like dealings with more strange, wonderful artifacts and experiments gone wrong.
The change of atmosphere offers a much more humorous tone, balanced with the Raymond Chandler noir vibe that made the first season such a success. In the third episode, entitled “Better Angels,” Peggy enlists the help of inventor-turned-Hollywood-film director Howard Stark (making a Kid Colt film!) to help gain access to an exclusive club so she can investigate a politician’s shady dealings and possible connection to a bizarre murder. She also squares off against the politican’s wife, Whitney Frost, who is possibly turning into this universe’s Madam Masque.
Frost (Wynn Everett) is the missing element Peggy Carter lacked: a sympathetic and interesting villain. Everett is playing the role as Hedy Lamarr by way of Joan Crawford, and it’s pretty spectacular to witness. A moment when she discovers what she can do with her newfound powers is particularly horrific, but also makes you feel bad for the character. The chemistry between Atwell, D’Arcy, and Cooper (Peggy, Jarvis, and Stark, respectively) continues to be completely on point and rivals even the dialogue and dynamics in the Avengers films. If there’s a gripe to be had, it’s that the continued presence of agents Sousa and Thompson don’t really quite click as well. The characters are uninteresting anchors to the first season, when the second clearly wants to introduce new characters and new scenarios.
Episode Highlight: Whitney Frost absorbing a sexist director Shang-Tsung style into her body is definitely a highlight. However, I think I enjoyed Howard Stark’s interactions on the set of Kid Colt, including Peggy’s assertion that films based off of comic books would never work.
Joe Stando is watching…
Episode 3, “Racism”
Chelsea Does, the Netflix original documentary series from comedian and late-night personality Chelsea Handler, is both engaging and aggravating in equal measures. In this episode, Handler discusses racism in a broad range of contexts, from driving around Los Angeles with Loni Love and joking with store owners about stereotypes to sitting down with Shimon Peres and Al Sharpton to talk history and policy. It’s an interesting piece with a wide variety of tones, and Handler herself is complicated and entertaining. Early on, she discusses racist jokes with comedians like Aasif Mandvi and Margaret Cho, in a bit reminiscent of comedians playing poker in Louie. Handler’s take is that engaging racism head-on is the best way to deal with it in comedy (yeah!) and that political correctness is the real racism (noooo).
Her investigation transitions from social taboos and jokes to interviews with Confederate history buffs, white supremacists, and the family of a victim of fatal police brutality. As it becomes increasingly serious, Handler is empathetic and unfazed as she confronts bigotry. There’s a pretty deep level of honesty here, as we see Handler both defending vulgar stereotypes from her late-night show and confronting Southern groups who try to whitewash the history of slavery and segregation. On some level, everyone thinks of themselves as the balanced centerpoint in any given discussion, with vile bigots to their right and overly sensitive folks to their left. Watching her play both roles is refreshing in its own way, and the show doesn’t go out of its way to make her critics look bad. It’s an interesting project for Handler, and I like what I’ve seen so far of it.
Episode Highlight: The highlight for me is probably Handler herself, who manages to be both snarky and empathetic in her interactions with friends and interviewees. I wasn’t a fan of her as a late-night host or a comedian, but she has a nice sense of conversational humor and doesn’t back down from both defending her views and exploring criticisms of them. Her discussion of the Holocaust, specifically, was interesting, as she talked about the fear of it happening again in the context of Israel, but then immediately discussed the occupation of Palestinian land and the treatment of refugees. I’m not a fan of Handler’s “equal opportunity” take in comedy, but a willingness to discuss all sides of an issue is essential in journalism, and she uses it well.