Z Nation – Season 2

Z Nation

The first season of Z Nation took me by surprise. The show really had no right to be good, and on a technical level, it wasn’t. But it was fun in a silly, campy way and wasn’t afraid to take risks with the zombie genre that the competition (The Walking Dead) has been afraid of in recent years. That’s still true for Z Nation’s second season, but the show, unfortunately, has doubled down on the ridiculousness to the point where I’m not sure if I’ll tune in next time. In a universe where zombies are real, I guess I should be more open to things like Murphy’s ability to mind-control the dead and the fact that his blood and bite have supernatural properties. It can go overboard at times, though, and fluctuates between being unique and just being outright dumb.

But what’s strange about this show is that when it wants to hit an emotional beat, it hits it hard. This is what I like about Z Nation over The Walking Dead. Major character deaths are actually sad. They’re not cheap shots; characters die for believable reasons. And some of the situations they’re put in, like being forced to steal medicine from a peaceful community, are a somber reminder of what a real apocalypse could be like. Season 2 doesn’t have as many great ideas as Season 1 did, though. The only standout episode was number 6, “The Collector,” where Murphy stumbles across a crazy loner hellbent on documenting zombie culture. While the group did cover a lot of ground this season, most of the other storylines were either them dealing with one-off communities or running away from bounty hunters.

That said, there were some decent action sequences, but most of them had to do with humans fighting humans. Yeah, in a zombie apocalypse, it’s probably true that other people would be your main concern. Still, as a zombie show, I was expecting more… well, zombies. Maybe the money they saved on zombie make-up went towards everything else. Season 2 does feel like a slightly bigger and better production overall. Don’t take that to mean Season 2 is leaps and bounds above Season 1, though. It’s not. This show still has a long ways to go if it’s ever going to be taken seriously. Granted, the show doesn’t take itself seriously, which is kind of the point, but it could benefit from fewer zombie babies and mad scientists without sacrificing the humor.

Real Rob – Season 1

Real Rob

This kind of felt like Curb Your Enthusiasm but with Rob Schneider, and… well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how it ultimately turned out. After the first episode, I was still optimistic he’d pull this off, though. Schneider is a good actor. He just needs someone to write better material for him. But if Real Rob is as “real” as it suggests, then Schneider just comes across as a rich asshole. He quickly devolves into an unlikable character on the show, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Real Rob was merely a chance for him to trot out his family. It stars his real life wife and daughter, the latter getting her name in the opening credits despite not being able to talk (and not appearing in every episode). His wife’s performance wasn’t very convincing, either. It was obvious this was her first time on screen. Yet I can almost hear Schneider saying, “You may not find me funny, but at least my wife is hot.”

Real Rob doesn’t paint a flattering picture of Schneider’s personal life. Granted, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm could be a jerk, too, but it felt more justified there and was actually funny. I stopped laughing at Real Rob in Episode 2. That’s when they busted out the cliched vasectomy storyline. I mean, seriously… if you’re already doing a vasectomy story in the second episode, your show’s never going to last. And the delivery is so scattered. Episodes are randomly interrupted by scenes of Schneider doing stand-up. Is he still performing stand-up in real life? The show doesn’t ever acknowledge this. It feels out of place. But not as out of place as the cutaway talking head interviews. Then suddenly, it’s like we’re watching a reality TV show. But nothing else about the presentation suggests it’s supposed to be taken that way.

Don’t worry, if those segments bother you, the show abandons them near the end, anyway. But that late in the game, Real Rob has already resorted to cringe-worthy impressions and scenes of having diarrhea on the toilet, so who knows what they were going for. Any sympathy the show may have tried to convey in the beginning is completely lost, and what we’re left with is basically an Adam Sandler movie without the Sandler. What’s funny is that one of Real Rob’s storylines is about Schneider getting upset over the changes a TV network wants to make to a show he wrote. But if Real Rob is what happens when Schneider gets his way, then he should really go back to listening to the network.

The League – Season 7

The League

I’m ashamed to admit that The League was once one of my favorite shows. Season 4 in particular was great, when they actually started surpassing It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as far as mean-spirited comedies are concerned. But then Season 5 happened, and the show has sucked ever since. Like, so much suck. At this point, I’m just glad the series is finally dead. I stopped liking most of these characters a long time ago. Pete had become an insufferable douchebag, and Taco’s EBDB shtick was relentlessly obnoxious. Season 7 also brought another set of Ruxin-less episodes and didn’t use Rafi that much, either. Those two were pretty much carrying the show lately, so leaving them both out kind of stung.

Ah, but then there’s the obligatory “Rafi and Dirty Randy episode,” and Season 7’s was, by far, the worst they’ve ever done. It actually started out promising with Sophia’s death and the possibility that Ruxin made it all up, but then we got a terrible animated short that confirmed Sophia was, in fact, dead, and that chupacabras are real, and that Rafi only works as a real person in a real world and not as an over-the-top cartoon. It’s like The League completely forgot how to use Rafi’s character correctly. At least Season 7 had the balls to finally knock Pete down a few pegs and give Andre a few wins. Having Andre (happily) date Pete’s ex-wife made for some nice comeuppance.

Of course, this being The League and all, and considering how much the writers have been in love with Pete, he still came out on top in the end. Which really irked me, because the season/series finale was doing so many other things right. I laughed more times during the finale than I laughed over the course of the rest of the season. We got to see Ruxin’s hilarious son again, and I’m glad Shiva came back one last time, but it was Larry David’s cameo that really brought a smile to my face. Seeing him on The League made me wish this show had stayed good. But Season 7 (like the two seasons before it) felt like nobody cared anymore. The stories were lazy, the jokes unoriginal, and the characters grating. So good riddance, I guess, and rest in peace.

Jessica Jones – Season 1

Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones will undoubtedly be compared to Netflix’s other Marvel show, Daredevil, but it actually reminds me of Heroes more than anything (or at least, those brief moments when Heroes was sorta kinda good). It doesn’t pack the same gritty gut punch that Daredevil did. Its pace is slower, its tone brooding, and its story full of detours. I mean, seriously, Jessica’s quest to find the villain, Kilgrave, is frequently derailed by other people’s desires, to the point where you start to wonder if this Kilgrave guy is even much of a threat.

When Kilgrave is used correctly, however, he is a scary bad guy. But like Sylar from Heroes, Kilgrave works better as an offscreen threat. The first few episodes where we only see Kilgrave’s brainwashed victims are terrifying. Jessica Jones shows the dangers of mind control better than anything else I’ve seen, and some of the things Kilgrave makes people do are absolutely horrific. Alas, once we get to know the man and his motives, the show almost grinds to a halt. Fortunately, things pick up again in later episodes, and the show ends on a strong note. I just feel like the journey there could have been condensed.

One theme that was particularly interesting, though, was the exploration of the show’s secondary characters and how they were affected by the actions of the heroes and villains. Any other show would have simply shrugged off the death of a non-important character, but Jessica Jones continues to follow the consequences of this “collateral damage.” Hell, there’s even a support group for Kilgrave survivors! Things like that help keep the superhero stuff grounded. And I guess that’s ultimately what this show is: the realistic comic book story that Heroes failed to be.

Master of None – Season 1

Master of None

I guess the fad now is to give a stand-up comedian a television show where they play an alternate version of themselves wandering around LA or New York, trying to be more poignant than their stand-up act lets on. Master of None definitely feels like Louie and, to a lesser extent, Maron and Legit. I’m already liking Master of None more, though. While I don’t really care for Aziz Ansari’s stand-up routine, I do like him as an actor and, considering we’re almost the same age, find him more relatable. But even if he was ten years older, I would hope that Ansari’s enthusiastic personality would still be a thing. It’s much more enjoyable watching him react to a bad situation, because his delivery, even when he’s “sad,” is energetic and fun.

For instance, one of my favorite exchanges is when Ansari tells a story to H. Jon Benjamin’s character, whose response is, “That’s a pretty boring story. I wouldn’t tell that to anyone else.” And Ansari replies, “Yeah, I could feel it going south as I was saying it.” I feel like every other show would have turned that into a big argument or sticking point for the characters, but Ansari’s Dev self-deprecatingly shrugs it off and moves on. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of other laugh-out-loud moments in the series. Sure, most of it is at least amusing, but Ansari and team are clearly striving to wax philosophical and fight social injustices with this project. Which is fine. It doesn’t have to be hilarious. I just hope future seasons don’t turn into an all-out drama like Louie has become.

Can I back up for a minute, though, and say how great it is that H. Jon Benjamin has a recurring role? It’s always fun to see him outside of cartoon voice-overs. But the rest of Dev’s friends and co-workers aren’t nearly as endearing. His main band of friends in particular didn’t work for me. It wasn’t that they were dumb characters but that the actors’ performances felt forced, like every one of them had been miscast and was now stuck trying to make the best of it. I’m not sure it was a good idea to use Ansari’s real life parents as Dev’s parents, either. His father seemed to enjoy the role, but his mother always looked like she was reading cue cards. Regardless, despite the overall weak cast, it’s a fun show, and I really hope we see a second season next year.

Jane the Virgin – Season 1

Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin is notable in that it has the first love triangle that I’ve actually been able to tolerate. This isn’t just about a girl trying to choose between a vampire and a werewolf. The circumstances (being accidentally artificially inseminated) create an environment where… yeah, I could see how it would be difficult to know who you’re meant to be with. And so I don’t mind the back-and-forth there. I just hope it doesn’t drag out for the entire lifespan of the series. But it’s not like that’s the only plot going on. Jane the Virgin is full of drama—occasionally overdoing it at times—so the pregnancy is often in the background of everything else going on.

The best way to describe this show is that it’s a Spanish telenovela made for American audiences. The situations are ridiculous, sure, but the characters are believable and likable. And while there are many attempts to tug at the viewer’s emotions, the overall tone is fairly lighthearted. In fact, it kind of reminds me of Arrested Development. The narrator is jokey and meta, there are many cutaway gags, and the writers obviously delight in coming up with clever ways to transition between scenes. Plus, the ensemble is great. Gina Rodriguez is an extremely talented actress, though my favorite character is Rogelio, whose Hollywood-like buffoonery helps balance out the constant cry sessions from the Villanueva family.

The grandmother character kind of bugged me, though. While her somewhat judgmental religious beliefs are probably true to many Latina families, it doesn’t always make for good TV. At least Jane felt more like Charlie Brown in that, despite her best efforts to be a good person, things didn’t always go her way. It’s easier to root for a preachy underdog than a preachy overdog. But my bigger complaint with the grandma is how she only spoke Spanish while every other character only spoke English with her. The creators clearly weren’t afraid to include Spanish dialogue, so why water it down? Why treat it like a Star Wars cantina? The show embraces so much culture already, they didn’t need to stop at 90%. But then I don’t mind reading subtitles, so I’m sure I’m the exception here.