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, The Royals, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Archer!
Max Robinson is watching…
Season 1, Episode 15: “Out of Time”
Tuesdays, 8/7c on The CW
After taking yet another month-long break, The Flash returned with a really fantastic episode, so fantastic and so full of stuff that it weirdly felt like a season finale, despite the fact we’ve got like eight more episodes before this season wraps.
“Out of Time” really nails the things that make this show such a joy to watch. It wisely puts heavy focus on Joe West, here targeted for revenge by Mark Mardon, the brother of pilot episode bad guy Clyde Mardon. This means that this is the second “Weather Wizard” to show up on The Flash, a very bizarre sentence to watch myself type in 2015. Mardon, apparently surviving the plane crash shown in the pilot, terrorizes Joe for putting his brother in the ground. Jesse L. Martin is the real heart of The Flash, and the way he plays Joe’s fear for the lives of his (natural and surrogate) children hits hard. Liam McIntyre’s performance here as Mark Mardon is pretty by the numbers, but his anger over his brother’s death is played pretty well here.
But the real feat of this episode is that the B-plot is infinitely more interesting than The Flash fighting a guy who can summon killer hail and lightning. Cisco discovering that Harrison Wells is The Reverse Flash (which we’ve known since December), the reveal of Wells’ real name (Eobard Thawne! EOBARD!) and (Highlight for spoilers: Cisco’s gruesome murder) is pretty handily The Flash’s best scene to date. Tom Cavanagh really doesn’t get enough credit for the almost charmingly slick menace he plays Wells/Thawne with. When he tells a terrified Cisco that he thinks of him like a son, you know in his own very fucked up way he’s telling the truth.
Full stop, The Flash is currently the most successful stab at an out and out live action, capital-S Superhero series there is, and “Out of Time” is a great demonstration of why that is.
Episode Highlight: Barry and Iris go full Wuthering Heights and confess their love for each other. A big moment for sure, but then Barry having to, on top of that, reveal that he’s The Flash so he can fight a tsunami AND ACCIDENTALLY TRAVEL BACK IN TIME? Hot damn, what a show.
Mike Pfeiffer is watching…
Season 1, Episode 1: “Stand and Unfold Yourself”
Sundays at 10/9c on E!
So this is it. E!’s first scripted drama. After AMC busted out two genuine blue ribbon babies (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) and one ratings darling that I will be sentenced to hear Chris Hardwick screech about in Hell, forever (The Walking Dead), I guess it was only a matter of time before other networks diversified their output to get that sweet, sweet grist for the thinkpiece mill on the air. Make no mistake, this is as obvious a stab at “I am a big boy now” relevance as Justin Bieber whispering about his ideal fondue, fireplace, and fingerbang date when he tried to pivot into respectability and ate shit so hard that his Comedy Central Roast ended with a skin graft from a groveling Vanilla Ice. Of course, Mad Men and Breaking Bad were designed to fit in with the network theme of “American Movie Classics,” whereas “E!” is an onomatopoeia for that sound you make when somebody breaks a wine glass on any one of its 80 reality shows, because that’s when you know it’s going to get good. So really I was wondering, can E! consciously craft a fictional reality so trashy and delicious that it belongs on E!?
The Royals is about a fictional British royal family in the modern day, and the death of the oldest prince that pushes a teetering crown over the edge and makes the King of England declare that he is going to abolish the monarchy. There’s soft spoken King Simon (Vincent Regan), Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley), the hard partying Prince and Princess (William Moseley and Alexandra Park) whose names were mumbled the entire damn show but I believe are Liam and Eleanor, and of course the tall glass of boring American skim milk with a quiet wide-on for the prince, Ophelia (Merritt Patterson). In a lot of ways, the show delivers what you want from E!: a cosmopolitan that’s heavy on the vodka and made with grenadine instead of cranberry juice and it’s so stupid and syrupy thick that if you finish the first you may have too much of a headache for another but it’s worth the ride anyway.
Hurley straight up stares into the camera and says “I’m the Queen of England,” within the first ten seconds of the show, and then again about every ten seconds after that. After the partygirl princess takes a tumble and her fanny (in the British sense) is spread on the cover of every tabloid, Hurley’s rapidfire reading of the headlines nearly sent me into cardiac arrest. It was too delicious to be true. That photo up there of the Princess asleep with the champagne that you’re racing to tweet with the caption “ME RN TBH” under it? She’s in a damn helicopter! Sure, every single genuine emotional beat regarding the death of the unseen prince is completely undercut by this Harry-Potter-on-‘luudes vision of aristocracy, and love interest Ophelia is so amazingly bland that she makes Gotham’s hated Barbara seem like a manic pixie dream girl, but we get to enjoy stuff like the Villainous Uncle (Jake Maskall) staring out the window at the filthy commoners and blatantly threatening to kill everyone. I swear he almost says “Mudbloods” at one point.
That’s a Hamlet quote as the title of the pilot, but as far as Shakespearean soaps of 2015 go, the late-debuting Royals is stuck in the unfortunate position of being compared with Fox’s juggernaut Empire, and it really highlights Royals’ weaknesses. Hurley’s badass Queen talks a mean game, but fails to be a credible Cersei Lannister threat or a multifaceted mogul with a heart like Empire’s Cookie. King Simon is one of the few characters not spitting out chunks of scenery into a gold bucket, but moments like him holding a child after losing his son are totally washed away when you cut right to Elizabeth Hurley wrestling with a funeral veil and yelling in the back of a limousine. There are also two totally grody and unearned sex crime subplots right here in the first episode just sort of sprinkled on with the glitter and intrigue that really rubbed me the wrong way, but it’s possible the consequences and handling of these incidents will somehow redeem the sleazy and unacceptable events. It seems out of character for the show’s Gilded Gossip Girl feel, and totally blindsided me, so a trigger warning is definitely necessary.
Pilots are rarely the best episode of a show but this one was especially rocky. There’s definitely some good meat to the idea of a fully scripted series with the feel of a reality show, but I don’t know if that will ever be Royals.
Episode Highlight: “Mum can piss off,” – Princess Eleanor but also me rn tbh.
Kayleigh Hearn is watching…
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Season 7 Episode 3: “ShakesQueer”
Mondays at 9/8c on LOGO
“There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you,” says Gina Gershon in Showgirls, a film in the Drag Race canon alongside Paris is Burning and Heathers. It’s a line that could also double as the theme of this episode. No one gets pushed down the stairs, but the conflict between young and old drag queens is getting ugly. “Bitter Old Lady Brigade” Ginger Minj and Jasmine Masters shame the younger queens for their inexperience and focus on “aesthetics” (don’t they know that drag can change lives?!), and it’s hard to feel sympathy for either side in this manufactured conflict. Miss Fame and Violet Chachki may seem like impetuous brats, but the Bitter Old Lady Brigade seem out-of-date and, obviously, bitter.
The main challenge of the episode is to perform Shakespeare parodies Romy + Juliet and Macbitch, a callback to the fact that female roles were played by men in Shakespeare’s day. The scripts are hammy and littered with so many Drag Race catchphrases that new viewers may wish they had CliffNotes, but they lead to a few spectacular meltdowns. First Jaidynn Diore Fierce cracks after missing her lines, but a pep talk from team leader Max gets her back on track. Team Macbitch crashes and burns after leader Kennedy Davenport switches Jasmine and Violet’s roles at the last minute. Nearly everyone in Macbitch comes off as unprepared or indifferent, and their weak excuses don’t impress the judges. RuPaul cultivates the image of a kindly den mother to her “girls” (onscreen, at least), so when she finally snaps “I don’t want to hear any goddamn excuses!” it’s a big thing: her “We were all rooting for you!” clip of the season.
It’s unsurprising that Max, who walked into the workroom in episode one dressed like the Queen of England with an affected English accent to match, wins the Shakespeare challenge. But it’s a deserved win, not only for the strength of her performance but also because of her competency as a leader. Season 7 may prove to be the most suspenseful season in years because there’s no clear frontrunner yet. As talented as many of the drag queens are, no one is dominating the competition like, say, Bianca del Rio did. This could be anybody’s game, but for now it feels appropriate that Max, a young queen with a love of old Hollywood glamour (and a fantastic Madonna-meets-Salvador-Dali costume) wins the day. Your move, Bitter Old Lady Brigade.
Episode Highlight: 23-year-old Pearl doesn’t know what Macbeth is, and the editors make her pay for it by capturing all of her missed cues and flubs, like walking into an on-set tree. Says Pearl’s talking head: “Someone bring me a puppy, I want to die.”
Adam Pelta-Pauls is Watching…
Season 6, Episode 11: “Achub Y Morfilod”
Thursdays at 10pm on FX
The setting of this week’s Archer is a place near and dear to my heart: Wales. For those who don’t know, I’ve lived in Wales for almost three years now, and it’s the best place on earth. It’s a small country that makes up a chunk of the west coast of the island of Great Britain, filled with incredible countryside, friendly, beautiful people, and, as superspies Sterling Archer and Lana Kane discover in this episode, more than a couple sheep.
Archer and Kane wind up in Wales after the events of the previous episode. In order to calm Lana down after she discovered Archer’s ex-fiancée’s vagina in his sink, Sterling hits her with a tranq needle and Shanghais her to the fake Welsh country town of Llanflwnyddwndllwnmawr. (The best thing about that joke is that it is, in fact, pronounceable in Welsh.) It is there that they have a run-in with operatives of the Free Wales Army (the “work component” of this romantic getaway), as well as the MI5 agent hot on their tail. What follows is some classic Sterling Archer mishigas, with some great Welsh flair.
This episode shines brightest when it actually plays with the setting. Guest star and real-life Welsh person Matthew Rhys (The Americans) apparently inspired the plot, and while he does a phenomenal job as a spy for the Russians in his other FX show, he is absolutely brilliant as Lloyd Llwellyn (bonus points for correct pronunciation of the Welsh double-L), bumbling-yet-dashing freedom fighter for the Free Wales Army. If you’ve ever been curious as to what a Welsh accent sounds like, listen to him do his natural accent in this episode. It’s awesome. Lloyd and his massive brother, Dafydd, are the real stars of the episode. Dafydd spends much of the episode wounded, but adds a funny interjection here and there. Chatty Lloyd is the George to Dafydd’s Lennie, a comparison that neither Archer nor Lana overlook in the episode.
Unfortunately, this episode mostly spun its wheels, plot-wise. Archer and Lana are fighting again, Slater’s sent them on yet another mission against a supposedly allied country, Mallory is once again a terrible mother, and the rest of the cast, as they have been for most of the season, are placed in a big B-story amongst themselves. I’d had high hopes for the season, especially after the last episode was such a return to form, a true spy farce. As much as I loved the Welsh jokes (the first joke about the Welsh language lacking sufficient vowels comes literally 12 seconds into the episode), this episode felt a little empty, probably because it’s mostly set-up for next week’s two-parter. It’s interesting to note, though, that the animation budget for the show must have gone up recently, as a lot more complex action is now depicted onscreen. But I do wonder if having these bits offscreen, as was done in previous seasons, actually serves the humor of the show better. It’s certainly a question worth asking.
Episode Highlight: A bunch of really killer lines in this episode, including, but not limited to coining the phrase “NSFWales” (I will be using this), and a wonderful exchange about how many fairy tale heroines were roofied into their storylines. But the real stand-out performance is Rhys. At one point, Lloyd fakes an American accent as he attempts to regurgitate Archer’s far-too-specific cover story to the MI5 agent. The result had me in tears. Definitely a high watermark for the writing this season. Also, in case you were wondering, the name of the episode? “Save the Whales” in Welsh.