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: Big Little Lies, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Riverdale!
Andrew Niemann is watching…
Big Little Lies
Season 1, Episode 1 “Somebody’s Dead”
Late winter usually brings a dearth of entertaining TV shows on HBO (unless you’re a fan of Girls, I guess). Thankfully, HBO appears to have stepped up its game with this month’s intriguing murder-mystery Big Little Lies, based off the book of the same name. The show reads like The Real Housewives meets Mildred Pierce and plants it in the lives of rich white moms.
The first episode, “Somebody’s Dead,” begins in media res with, well, somebody dead…and then flashes back to introduces the colorful cast of characters. The plucky protagonist, Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline M. Mackenzie (a hardboiled name if I ever saw one), is a divorced mother of two children who she only loosely has a handle on. On her kid’s first day of school, she runs into newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), whose stone sour attitude is perfect casting. There’s a host of other moms we meet, including an incredibly villainous Laura Dern, who monologues about how the other moms hate her by holding a glass of wine under a sunset. The first episode is competently directed by Oscar-nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee who uses the beautiful Monterey landscape to great effect. A few of the edits are bit too quick, but a lot of info has to be dispensed within 53 minutes so I get it. The first episode has an interesting narrative format, as we hear the characters described by police interrogations from background characters.
Speaking of the background characters, I especially dig how the husbands are treated in this show. The husbands (and ex-husbands) really exist only as foils for the moms, instead of being main characters themselves. Adam Scott in particular shines through as Madeline’s put-upon second husband. There’s also something off about Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her husband (Alexander Skarsgaard), which I’m sure will get revealed in the coming weeks. Big Little Lies isn’t for everyone but if you’re a fan of Gone Girl style suburban murder stories it might be up your alley.
Episode highlight: There’s an incredibly tense moment at the school where Renata’s (Dern) daughter accuses Jane’s son of attacking her. Dern’s subtle vitriol towards the boy is absolutely infuriating to watch and sets the tone for the whole series.
Joe Stando is watching…
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Season 12, Episode 7, “PTSDee”
Always Sunny is constantly pushing the envelope. Musical episodes, long single take sequences, baroquely intricate parodies, the show has it all. But sometimes it’s best to run with the classics, which in the case of “PTSDee” means a bunch of storylines of the gang being awful to one another and the world at large.
“PTSDee” is a Magic Mike homage, but it’s mostly an excuse to give everyone the kind of bits they thrive on. Mac gets to play straight man and conscience to Frank’s unhinged obsession with a VR game. Dennis immediately pulls Charlie into a scheme involving being a male stripper, one which goes predictably off the rails. Dee’s insecurity and narcissism leads her to interfere with and ruin the life of a fundamentally decent man. It’s not too outside the expected box of an episode from, say, three seasons ago, but it’s also the most purely funny episode of Sunny this season. I loved “The Gang Turns Black” and “Hero or Hate Crime?” but sometimes you just want to hear the hits.
Episode Highlight: Dennis and Charlie as “Daddy and the Boy” just kept paying off, from Charlie’s initial misunderstanding to his suspenders and propeller hat, ending with their incredible, awkward attempt at a striptease to “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
Chuck Winters is watching…
Season 1, Episode 4, “Chapter Four: The Last Picture Show”
So we all agree that the whole “Miss Grundy is now a hot cougar and she’s banging Archie Andrews” thing is weird, right?
I’m glad that plotline seems to be mostly resolved. Not a lot of people I know are feeling KJ Apa as Archie, but I think he does a good job as a kid who tends to roll with life’s punches and tries to do the right thing. So watching him navigate this secret relationship with Miss Grundy, trying to defend it…look, we’re in Archie’s POV, and we have to sympathize with Miss Grundy to a certain extent in order to understand why he keeps chasing her. But if you don’t write something like that very carefully, it can seem like you’re trying to drum up sympathy for an inherently predatory relationship, and I think Riverdale fell into that trap a few times.
But in ending this relationship—by having Alice Cooper find Betty’s diary after she wrote all about it, forcing a confrontation that ended with Grundy agreeing to leave town—the show did something very interesting that I think is worth calling out. Alice drags Betty and Fred Andrews out to confront Archie and Miss Grundy, just as Archie has decided to break up with her and is giving her a farewell gift. Again, because it’s evil, nosy Alice calling Miss Grundy a predator and threatening to go to Sheriff Keller, it only serves to legitimize something that shouldn’t feel legitimate, even as Archie’s decent father is there to affirm just how wrong this is. But then Alice starts in with why she brought Betty along to see this. “I want you to see what kind of person Archie truly is!” she yells out, going as far as to shove him with her finger.
Yep. Alice kinda slut-shamed Archie.
In a certain sense, this show’s playing fair about what a male victim of statutory rape-by-teacher might go through in a consensual “best case scenario;” he’s still too young to really understand how different sex is from love. He understands there’s a difference, and deep down he probably knows this thing with Miss Grundy can’t be real, but that only serves to make him more confused because his hormones are all in on whatever it is, and that confusion causes him to be down on himself because why else would he insist on constantly doing the wrong thing, and that is pretty much why teachers shouldn’t be fucking their underage students.
So despite the trouble they had walking that fine line, it seems like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and his crew ultimately may have known what they were doing by hooking Archie up with a teacher. I’m even more convinced when I consider that final little scene of Grundy eyeing two other kids on her way out of town (over the rims of her Lolita sunglasses, no less), suggesting that Grundy may be more predatory than Archie wants to believe. I’m not quite convinced the show is done with her; this is Miss Grundy, after all. If she does come back, we’ll see how things unfold. But for the moment, this is some curiously subtle work for an absurd teen soap. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was accidental, but I’m going to assume intent because I’m enjoying the holy crap out of everything else about this show so far.
Episode Highlight: The rest of the episode, which was about the Riverdale Drive-In closing over Jughead’s objections, was strong. I thought the reveal that Jughead was living in the projection building was a real gut punch, but to then reveal that the leader of The Snakes (Skeet Ulrich)—who was paid to drive down the property value so Hiram Lodge could buy it for nothing—was Jughead’s dad? God damn.
That’s what we’ve been watching this week. What are you tuned into? Let us know in the comments, post on our Facebook page, or tweet us @DeadshirtDotNet!