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: The Flash, Modern Family, South Park.
Max Robinson is watching…
The Flash, The CW
Season 1, Episode 2, “Fastest Man Alive”
Of DC Entertainment’s eclectic batch of TV series cross-pollinating network TV, The Flash is the most out-and-out comic booky and that comes with its own pros and cons. This week’s episode, “Fastest Man Alive,” balances perfunctory CW brand melodrama with a fun From-The-Comics bad guy of the week (the self-replicating Multiplex, here just called Danton Black). The crux of this episode is Our Hero Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) unresolved daddy issues, both with his wrongfully imprisoned father (John Wesley Shipp, star of the original short-lived 90s Flash series of which this show is practically a remake) and his surrogate father, Joe West (Law & Order mainstay Jesse L. Martin). There’s a Hallmark Channel Original Film/7th Heaven kind of wholesome corniness to these scenes but, in large part thanks to Martin’s weary charm and Grant Gustin’s aw-gosh humility, it hangs together pretty well.
The episode’s incorporation of comics continuity (industrialist/Metamorpho bad guy Simon Stagg is a secondary villain, Firestorm’s alter-ego Ronnie Raymond is name-dropped) is pulled off pretty well, largely because it trusts the show’s intended audience to figure out the references as they go along. (The opposite of what Gotham does, essentially.) The closest existing counterpart to this show is really the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, in that it is a live action superhero soap opera with no pretensions about being a soap opera. Really, my biggest gripe with this episode is the deadweight romance subplot between Barry and his pseudo-sister Iris that’s starting to border on Flowers in the Attic levels of weirdness.
Episode Highlight: Intentional: a mob of Danton Blacks rushing at The Flash in the climax was a surprising and effective action beat. Unintentional: Barry explaining stem cells with “Those only come from babies though.”
Joe Stando is watching…
Modern Family, ABC
Season 6 Episode 4, “Marco Polo”
Modern Family isn’t the newest show on TV, and outside of long-form stories like marriages, pregnancies etc, the show has visited most of the standard sitcom plots by now. So the scenarios of this week’s episode (the Dunphys end up crammed together and on each other’s nerves, Mitchell belittles Cam’s interests, and Gloria is nosy and overprotective of Manny) don’t chart a lot of new territory for any characters involved. What this episode does do is play to everyone’s strengths, and Ty Burrell, Sofia Vergara, and Eric Stonestreet all put in solid work. The hotel setting in which the Dunphys are trapped is suitably depressing (the keycard-based boxed wine dispenser was a great touch), and Sam Lloyd and Rory Scovel were great as the sad divorced dads. It was also nice to revisit Cam’s athleticism and interest in sports, a background that helps keep him balanced as the jokes push him towards caricature. Modern Family is very good at writing tight, hilarious episodes for Emmy submission, and while this wasn’t one of those, it was still a pretty solid outing.
Episode Highlight: The final scene between Manny, Jay and Gloria was actually quite a bit more touching than I expected, so I wanted to mention it. But like most episodes, the standout here was Aubrey Anderson-Emmons as Lily. At only seven years old, she already has some of the best comedic timing and delivery of not only the show, but network comedy altogether. She only had one scene this week, unfortunately, but with lines like “Eggplant jelly. What do they send you if they don’t like you???” she made the most of it.
Dominic Griffin is watching…
South Park, Comedy Central
Season 18, Episode 4, “Handicar”
As much as I love The Simpsons (which is a lot), South Park has held a very special place in my heart for years. Not unlike FX’s The Shield (bear with me here), once Trey and Matt got past pushing the censors and trying to shock everyone with what they were capable of on television, the show settled into a groove of biting social commentary and reliable laughs, forever cementing itself as my problematic fave. This season has tripped up some, with their inability to refrain from a certain brand of ableist gags, but the cohesion of actually connecting each episode’s plots together, however tangentially, has reaped serious dividends, adding layers to humor that would otherwise feel throwaway. This episode’s only piece of connective tissue, the admittedly stretched Lorde bit, is a stumbling block, but skewering the ride share wars and the constant battles between taxi drivers and Uber with the endlessly friendly and loving face of Timmy as a chauffeur works more often that it should.
Episode Highlight: The reveal that this episode’s plot machinations would climax in an extended sequence homaging Wacky Races was hilarious, especially with the hushed, horrified apprehension voiced in the news update scenes, rightfully reminding us how frightening and grotesque Wacky Races would be in real life if it were a thing we made NASCAR drivers do. Also, while the voice acting behind the Matthew McConnaughey appearance was a little subpar, them dangling a potential future Interstellar parody in front of us was nice foreshadowing.