Saturday, March 25, 2017

COMEDY ROUNDUP: 'The Last Man on Earth,' 'Jane the Virgin,' 'Superior Donuts,' 'The Mindy Project' & 'Superstore' (March 19-23)

Some brief reviews for various comedies from March 19-23:

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 3.12 "Hair of the Dog"
The CW's Jane the Virgin - Episode 3.14 "Chapter Fifty-Eight"
CBS' Superior Donuts - Episode 1.08 "Man Without a Health Plan"
Hulu's The Mindy Project - Episode 5.13 "Mindy's Best Friend"
NBC's Superstore - Episode 2.17 "Mateo's Last Day"

Due to the demands of Peak TV, it is becoming more and more difficult for this website to devote the time to full length episodic reviews. And yet, there are still thoughts to be had about the ongoing adventures on a number of series. So I thought it would be good to still write down a couple of brief thoughts about each episode on a weekly basis. Of course, you can still probably expect full reviews for premieres and finales. If the networks should make screeners available, those episodes would get detailed analysis as well. But for now, this will be the way to continue to provide content for these shows while also being a lighter workload for me.

The Last Man on Earth - "Hair of the Dog"
Todd and Tandy dig deep into Melissa's pre-virus past, as they search for answers about her illness. Carol adopts a new outlook on life. Written by Edward Voccola and directed by Payman Benz

All of the characters lived vastly different lives before the virus. The end of the world is what brought them all together. It defines all of their relationships. They have changed so much because of these extreme circumstances. And yet, Todd and Tandy need to explore the past in order to understand what Melissa is going through. It's an inspired action to return to her hometown in search of answers. It reveals that she was talking prescription drugs for some reason. That's a solid lead that provides hope in a time when the characters desperately need it. Hopefully, this is the sign Todd has been looking for to get Melissa back to normal. Elsewhere, Gail's return shows how much the survivors need each other in order to keep on living. She's happy to be reunited with the group. She returns a changed women - both physically and mentally. Yes, her return sends Carol for a loop and makes her act weirder than normal. But it's also great to see Gail embrace those qualities more than before. It's because of that that Carol discovers that there is another survivor out there. It should be fascinating to see how the show approaches this familiar twist in a different way this time. B+

Jane the Virgin - "Chapter Fifty-Eight"
Jane feels guilty that she isn't around for Mateo as much as she would like, so she decides to run for Room Mom against Petra. With the help of Jane and Xo, Alba tries to impress her crush, but it doesn't go as smoothly as planned. Rafael tries to be there for Jane and Petra. Rogelio tries to slyly get information from Mateo about Xo and Bruce's relationship. Written by Merigan Mulhern and directed by Melanie Mayron

A lot of things on Jane the Virgin have changed because of the time jump. Character relationships are different while new dynamics have driven the story forward. And yet, "Chapter Fifty-Eight" succeeds because it relies on character pairings that have rich, nuanced and complicated histories. Jane and Petra have gone head-to-head a number of times. But it's still a compelling source for tension because they each bring out the other's insecurities about parenting in some phenomenal ways. Yes, it's great to see the show get so political through this story. It's great to see them campaigning for Room Mom. But it's also wonderful to see them realize they are running for selfish reasons that may not even mean a whole lot moving forward. It takes Rogelio and Rafael to point that out to them. Similarly, it's fascinating to see how much Rogelio has changed because of the time jump. His need for kids has been filled by Mateo. So, that throws a nice complication into Xo and Bruce's relationship. That's a fine exploration of how relationships change over time and how Xo and Rogelio's love still burns brightly despite the mature reasons why they aren't together. Meanwhile, it's triumphant to see Alba finally get that date with her boss. And then, it's surprising to see Rafael and Petra have sex again. Their chemistry is electric. It should just be fascinating to see if this is a genuine renewed connection between them or if it's a manipulative action. A-

Superior Donuts - "Man Without a Health Plan"
The group decides to take up a collection to pay for Franco's medical expenses when he's hurt at work and doesn't have insurance. Tush experiences unusual side effects when he participates in an experimental drug trial. Written by Hugh Moore and directed by Mark Cendrowski

Health care is a very timely issue. And yet, Superior Donuts doesn't really get into the complexities of real-life politics in this episode. Instead, it focuses on Arthur and Franco's different mentalities with seeing a doctor. It's less complex and nuanced but still pretty interesting. It also informs their characters in some amusing ways. It's understandable that Franco doesn't want to go to the doctor simply because he can't afford it and is too proud to accept money from his new friends. That's simply not the way he was raised. Meanwhile, Arthur is scared to go because he outlived his regular doctor and worries that it will just lead to a bunch of endless tests. Those fears are legitimate. And yet, it's amusing to see the escalation of events that ultimately force both of them to go. It shows that Randy has a solid understanding of both of them. She knows exactly how to get them to do what's in each other's best interests. She's good for more than a few quips in each episode. She's an effective police officer when she wants to be. Plus, this episode just highlights how alike Arthur and Franco are which is a welcome change of pace for the series. B

The Mindy Project - "Mindy's Best Friend"
Mindy's world is turned upside down when her cool friend from childhood moves to New York and starts dating Morgan. Ben has to cover his tracks after the nurses spot him in a provocative situation. Written by Guy Branum and directed by Geeta V. Patel

This season of The Mindy Project has felt pretty aimless. It's largely been either high-concept episodes or stories that are important for an episode or two then disappear. I guess you could say Mindy's relationship with Ben is the clear through-line. Ben is a fine character too. It just feels really contrived of the show to end this episode with the two of them disagreeing about marriage just to create some kind of suspense for next week's season finale. It's a conversation they should have. But it also feels manufactured in a way that isn't genuine. Similarly, it's hard to take the show seriously when it tries to say that Morgan is a real human being. The show has spent five seasons of him being essentially a punching bag for all of the characters. It's been very annoying and has hindered any stories that are told about him. It's something the show should have changed early in its series run. Since it didn't, it makes no sense to try to tell a story like this. Yes, it's understandable that Mindy is a selfish person who doesn't respect all that Morgan does for her. But this story was way too one-note to be all that effective. C

Superstore - "Mateo's Last Day"
When Mateo faces complications with his transfer to a Cloud 9 Signature store, he becomes desperate to resolve his undocumented status. Amy helps Glenn battle an Internet troll. Jonah and Cheyenne try to give Mateo legal counsel. Dina and Garrett take issue with corporate. Written by Jonathan Green and directed by America Ferrera

Sometimes when Superstore tries to tell three stories in an episode that don't really connect with each other, it doesn't work. There is just a feeling that if each one had an extra beat it would have felt like a full story. And yet, the three stories in this episode are all excellent and surprising. It seemed inevitable that Mateo would find a way to stay at the store. It's great that the show manages to work his illegal status into the narrative again too. But it's also just a nice blend of absurdity and heartfelt emotional. Both the fight between Jonah and Mateo as well as Mateo breaking up with Jeff work so well. Meanwhile, the internet troll story with Amy and Glenn could have been trite and stereotypical. But it manages to find the surprise in the familiarity as well. It's still so amusing to see Glenn be constantly confused about the world and how mean-spirited people are capable of being. And lastly, the Dina-Garrett story is probably the simplest of the episode. And yet, that final punchline with "other" is phenomenal. A-