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: You’re the Worst, Lucifer and The Strain!
Chuck Winters is watching…
You’re the Worst
Season 3, Episode 3, “Bad News: Dude’s Dead”
Wednesday at 10/9c on FXX
Gretchen loves Jimmy. The great conundrum at the heart of this show is that, despite being two people who are widely considered to be “the worst” by their friends, what Gretchen and Jimmy have with each other may be more real and healthy than whatever Becca and Vernon or Lindsay and Paul have with each other. Barring a drastic—though certainly not unprecedented—turn of the plot, that’s not going away.
But as she said in the season premiere, “Try Real Hard,” Gretchen can only bring herself to commit Jimmy if she keeps telling herself that she can walk away at any time. She can’t jump in with both feet and imagine herself with the same guy until she’s 90, that’s just not her. And that’s okay because Jimmy’s the same way, and he intrinsically gets it.
The problem is, now that Gretchen knows that Jimmy’s dad is dead, the onus—as Justina tells her— is on her to tell him. On one hand, Gretchen knows she’s being terrible by keeping this from Jimmy. (The pained looks on Aya Cash’s face as she explains getting caught up in looking at cute animals on Instagram tell the whole story.) On the other hand, it represents a level of intimacy that Gretchen can’t handle. Lindsey, often the devil on Gretchen’s shoulder, finds an artful way to articulate those fears: “The second those words come out of your mouth, you are no longer Jimmy’s fun sex hole! You’re the guys at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan who make the moms fall down.”
As usual, it’s heavy territory to explore, but the show acquits itself like a pro, springboarding into the inherently absurd and oh-so-Gretchen idea to bring Edgar, Lindsey, Paul, Becca, Vernon, and Killian together for a surprise “congratulations” party that’s really a surprise “your dad’s dead” party. Naturally, there are issues here, starting with Gretchen delaying the actual reveal after she finds out that Jimmy wants to take her on a “Famous Pets of Instagram” cruise (her reaction to which is incredible). Edgar’s unchecked PTSD conspires with the secretive atmosphere to turn him into a trainwreck, while Lindsey keeps trying to “incept [her]self” into loving Paul. Jimmy freaks out, accuses the party of trying to sabotage him, and abruptly retires to his room. Edgar follows, but being Edgar, his attempt to break the news backfires and instead inspires Jimmy to call his (still unbeknownst to him) dead father to heckle him.
It’s a comedy of errors servicing a heartrending punchline, and by God does it work. When Gretchen finally confronts Jimmy, it’s after he chickens out on his father’s voicemail, simply telling him with tempered pride that he sold a book. Once Jimmy sees his father’s obit, he shuts down—and it’s here that I get the feeling that this is gonna be Chris Geere’s year the way last season was Aya Cash’s year. His reaction is crushing, and completely perfect for a guy who hated everything about his father but was still desperate for his approval.
Almost as perfect, though, was Gretchen’s counter-reaction: Going down on Jimmy, at the strangest and most horrible moment of his life, because she doesn’t have a clue what else she’s supposed to do. It’s the best of You’re the Worst in a nutshell: Heartbreaking, beautiful, strange, and darkly hilarious.
Episode Highlight: Gun to my head, game ball goes to Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) for Man on Wire-ing his way across a previously unheard of line between “soulful” and “douchey” with his musings about what it means to report a death. That said, this whole goddamn episode was a highlight reel.
Season 2, Episode 1, “Everything’s Coming Up Lucifer”
Mondays at 9/8c on FOX
For those of you tired of episodic mystery shows, move on. If you can keep an open mind, consider this.
The natural inclination toward a premise such as “The Devil lives on Earth and helps the plucky female detective he’s attracted to solve murder cases” might cause your hand to make an involuntary jerk-off motion; those odds improve if you know that the show is a loose adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman spinoff, repurposed as yet another light-hearted network murder mystery hour. Head writer/showrunner Joe Henderson (who wrote this season’s premiere, natch) mitigates these poor conceptions by going all in on his main character. In many ways, it’s more spiritually akin to NBC’s brilliant-but-cancelled Life than FOX’s similarly themed still-running-but-godawful Sleepy Hollow.
Take this week’s premiere, which picks up on the daunting cliffhanger from last season: Lucifer’s mother has escaped from hell, and he and his brother Amenadiel have to find her. A murder mystery involving the stand in of a teenybopper actress takes center stage, but the story avoids the trap of ignoring the Big Important Plot in favor of The Dumb Little Plot That Won’t Matter In A Week by making it plausible the murder may be tied to his mother’s reappearance. When it turns out not to be, the emotional spine of the mystery allows Lucifer to confront his own conflicting feelings about his mother’s banishment and their relationship. What pushes it over the top is Tom Ellis’ performance as Lucifer, who brings a mischievous charm to a very wounded and immature character. It doesn’t hurt that Ellis is laugh-out-loud funny, with a Gregory House-like taste for sarcasm and a very un-House-like knack for making a complete ass of himself. When he’s asked to carry heavier material, though, he does a great job of currying sympathy, illustrating his character’s emotional shortfalls without making you wish he’d stop whining. Ellis is the reason why this show works.
Which isn’t to shortchange the cleverness of the writing staff, who originally inverted the secret identity trope by having Lucifer continually proclaim who he is only for nobody to believe him because L.A. is weird. “Everything’s Coming Up Lucifer” sets the rest of the cast up in good positions for the season: Maze’s search for self identity and her developing friendship with Dr. Martin, Amenadiel’s powers beginning to fade, a humbled Espinoza in the doghouse with Chloe and the department in general for his role in last season’s finale. Jury’s out on how long they can play those threads: Chloe’s continued ignorance about Lucifer’s true nature is starting to get as annoying to me as it is to him. But they all seem promising to various degrees.
Anyway, they’ve still got a knack for inverting expectations. When it was announced that Tricia Helfer would be playing Lucifer’s mother, Charlotte, those who knew her from Battlestar Galactica likely got an immediate sense of what the show was going for. After half the show passed with no reveal, it seemed obvious they were saving Charlotte for a dramatic end-of-episode reveal, possibly as the new friend Maze was making (who turned out to be Dr. Martin). Sure enough, once the final montage started running over Lucifer shredding “All Along the Watchtower” on his piano, you could almost hear the smug voice and dramatic musical sting that punctuated Charlotte’s dramatic arrival…
Episode Highlight: …and Joe Henderson, that crazy bastard, counted on it. Instead, Charlotte’s big entrance was her, apparently wounded, stumbling out of Lucifer’s penthouse elevator and begging him for help. Bam, end of episode. I know there’s some dramatic reversal coming that assures us that she’s going to be a pain in the ass, but it’s still a surprising, invigorating way to go out, befitting of the show as a whole.
Joe Stando is watching…
Season 3, Episode 3, “First Born”
Sundays at 10/9c on FX
The Strain has a fondness for Lost-style flashbacks, presumably due to having Lost alum Carlton Cuse as showrunner. Although they’ve been deployed clumsily in the past, they turned this week from a decent moving-pieces episode into something actually compelling, by filling us in on Quinlan’s (Rupert Penry-Jones) history and motivations.
Quinlan is an odd character, since everything about him from day one flies in the face of vampires as the show presents them. The Strain wants us to believe, at least thus far, that vampires are primarily a physiological plague, with abilities as powerful as telepathy chalked up to insectoid hive mind. Along comes Quinlan, with a half-vampire origin lifted straight out of Blade and vague murmurings of “prophecy” from soothsayers in ancient Rome. It’s campy and weird, but in a way that adds some much-needed intrigue and guidance to the series. I’m all for it.
Other than that, this episode was more of the same: doublecrosses, double-doublecrosses and some good fights and setpieces here and there. Seeing the vampire SEALs in action was fun, even if they were dispatched quickly and easily. Also, the Master’s head got chopped off and he went full Resident Evil 4, with a big worm crawling out of him! It wasn’t the biggest episode of the season, but in a show as uneven as The Strain, it was a solid outing.
Episode Highlight: I mentioned before how into the flashback scenes I was, and that’s pretty much totally due to Penry-Jones’ performance. It’s not the deepest stuff in the world, and on an initial casting level, it feels like someone shouted down a hallway for “a Paul Bettany type.” Nevertheless, he sells the style and lethality of the character well, and it’s a nice reprieve from the bleak, if well-acted, Eph alcoholism arc.