Saturday, January 13, 2018

REVIEW: FOX's 'The Last Man on Earth,' 'LA to Vegas,' 'The X-Files' and '9-1-1' (January 7-13)

Various FOX reviews for January 7-13, 2018:

The Last Man on Earth - Episode 4.09 "Karl"
LA to Vegas - Episode 1.02 "The Yips and the Dead"
FOX's The X-Files - Episode 11.02 "This"
FOX's 9-1-1 - Episode 1.02 "Let Go"

In 2018, it's impossible to watch every scripted show out there. There are over 450 of them. It's even more impossible to even provide adequate coverage of some of them. Great shows slip through the cracks. Some shows take awhile to figure themselves out. So as a way for me to provide more coverage, I'll just be writing some paragraph reviews of the various shows that aired new episodes on FOX from January 2-6, 2018. Enjoy!

The Last Man on Earth - "Karl"
Tandy and Todd stumble upon a new survivor, Karl (Fred Armisen), who has been trapped in a high-security prison in Mexico ever since the virus hit. Written by Kassia Miller and directed by Jason Woliner

For the third season in a row, the show returns from its midseason hiatus with an episode that centers completely on a new survivor in this world. In Season 2, it was Jason Sudeikis' Mike. In Season 3, it was Kristen Wiig's Pamela. And now, it's Fred Armisen's Karl. These have always been very effective episodes because they can just be more experimental and specific than the ongoing narrative. This show pushes the boundaries of tone in some really amusing and bold ways. But now, it seems like this season is just highlighting the many major threats to the group that they are completely oblivious to. Sure, they know about the pending nuclear meltdowns and hope they are far away from all of that. But the audience also now knows about the bomb in the Rubix cube and that Karl is actually a cannibalistic serial killer. The tone needs to be just right in order to laugh about Karl killing and eating people in this episode. It is for the most part because of Armisen's performance. But it's also significantly harder to connect with this newcomer because he appears solely to be a new threat to the group. Of course, there are a lot of parallels to his journey in this episode and Tandy's at the start of the series. Just like Tandy, Karl is ready to kill himself and doesn't because he can hear a car off in the distance. Carol saved Tandy and helped him become a better person. Now, the debate seems to start over again with Karl. We've seen him at his worst and that he hasn't changed. He's still killing. Will that just produce more cheap thrills in future episodes? Or will it be a story about change and becoming better because of the people in his new life? B

LA to Vegas - "The Yips and the Dead"
The flight crew must manage the passengers' unease after they realize they have a corpse onboard. Captain Dave struggles to land the plane. Written by Lon Zimmet and directed by Steven Levitan

This does feel like the latest example of a new show simply repeating the same basic plot beats of its first episode in its second. And it was inevitably better the first time around. It also just feels like there is a lot of crazy and zany plot shenanigans happening on this show without a whole lot of actual character development. Right now, Nichole and Artem are already one-joke characters who have grown tiresome. The dynamic between Ronnie and Colin is something audiences have seen so many times already. It's the latest example of the two of them going back-and-forth on who loves the other and who doesn't. It's spastic and doesn't feel like a dynamic that can sustain a healthy relationship. Meanwhile, the twist that a passenger has died doesn't suddenly turn the show into a more serious mode. That story only really works if you found Bernard hitting people with the instruction manual or Ronnie and Colin moving the body actually funny. The Bernard stuff was more effective largely because it was a running joke from someone who wasn't the main focus in that story. And once again, it's largely up to Captain Dave to be the saving grace of the episode. He's funny even though his story is completely ridiculous. He feels the pressure after being named a rising star. Ronnie coaching him through the landing is great. There just needs to be more specificity in these relationships. C+

The X-Files - "This"
An old friend reaches out to Mulder and Scully in a seemingly impossible way, revealing a chilling secret. Written by Glen Morgan and directed by Glen Morgan

The season premiere of this season was so aggressive awful. It showed zero awareness in knowing how to create tension for the audience and tell a coherent and interesting story. But the pivot to an actually fun and successful version of The X-Files happens immediately here. This hour forces Mulder and Scully into action right away. It's genuinely exciting watching them arm themselves in the face of this new threat and go on the run together. Sure, the two of them not knowing if they can trust Skinner is an annoying plot development that the show has done so many times already. But it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of this episode. It's also clear that the creative team wishes that they hadn't killed off The Lone Gunmen. They want to bring those characters back so much but don't want to risk rewriting the mythology of the show too much. But the way the show features Langly this time is so much better than how Season 10 brought that trio back. Sure, there are some significant plot holes to this main story. It's also strange that Langly apparently had a girlfriend that no one else knew about. It's weird just how easily Mulder and Scully can get access to the underground tunnel. But it's all incredibly exciting. The audience can tell that David Duchovny is actually invested this time around. That can make all the difference in the world on this show. Plus, the connection to the new mythology through the case-of-the-week is a significant change-up from this show's normal operating procedure that was very effective and chilling too. B+

9-1-1 - "Let Go"
A night at an amusement park takes a deadly turn when a rollercoaster malfunction leaves lives hanging in the balance. Abby is relieved after getting some help taking care of her mother and tentatively reaches out to Buck, who is struggling with the "life or death" nature of being a firefighter. Athena and Hen respond to an unusual home invasion and a couple's dispute leads to a dramatic rescue for Bobby. Written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk & Tim Minear and directed by Gwyneth Holder-Payton

Through two episodes, it's clear that this show is aggressively and purposefully broad and ridiculous. It's highlighting the craziest situations that first responders encounter on the job. It shows the craziness at work and then the more personal and emotional stories at home. It's a unique blend that needs to be calibrated just right. "Let Go" starts on a high with the roller coaster disaster. It's a sequence defined entirely about Buck being unable to save a life. After that the show doesn't feature any more of that daring rescue. That's odd. It's choosing which details of these accidents are important and which can just be addressed offscreen. It's weird and only wants to paint a specific picture of what will ultimately be important for the main characters later on. Right now, it's lame that the show is spending so much time on Buck. That comes at the expense of Peter Krause more than anyone else. But it's also clear that the show is setting up some kind of romantic dynamic between Buck and Abby - even though Connie Britton deserves so much better than that. Meanwhile, the cliffhanger with Athena's daughter attempting suicide is a little cheap. It's the action that will define her in this story because she certainly wasn't important leading up to that point. But it's also so jarring and forced that takes the audience aback to question just how absurd but genuine this show is trying to be. B-