Thursday, March 29, 2018

REVIEW: ABC's 'Roseanne,' 'Black-ish,' 'Splitting Up Together,' 'Alex, Inc.,' 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Station 19' (March 26-30)

Various ABC reviews for March 26-30, 2018:

Roseanne - Episode 10.01 "Twenty Years to Life"
Roseanne - Episode 10.02 "Dress to Impress"
Black-ish - Episode 4.17 "North Star"
Splitting Up Together - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"
Alex, Inc. - Episode 1.01 "The Unfair Advantage"
Grey's Anatomy - Episode 14.17 "One Day Like This"
Station 19 - Episode 1.03 "Contain the Flame"

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 ABC from March 26-30, 2018. Enjoy!

Roseanne - "Twenty Years to Life"
Written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by John Pasquin

The revival trend is booming like crazy at the moment. The most successful shows that come back for new episodes after 10-20 years are often the ones that are able to adapt their stories so that they are relevant to 2018 audiences. A lot has already been written about what Roseanne the show says in the modern-age and how to best interrupt the huge ratings it got on Tuesday night. It's quick to assume that that is the conservative audience in middle America watching content they've been craving for. But the show itself is much more complicated than that. The show has evolved in order to be relevant in the modern world. A lot of this premiere does have to pay homage to the way the original series finale played out. Everyone can agree that the original final season of Roseanne was pretty terrible. And here, it needs to be established that Dan did not die and Roseanne never did anything with the novel she was writing. It also needs to be established that Darlene and her two kids, Harris and Mark, are now living with Roseanne and Dan. But this premiere also sets out to show the audience just how it plans on talking about politics. It's a show where executive producer Roseanne Barr has a significant voice and her views on real-life politics can at times be quite extreme. This show runs the risk of normalizing that in a world that is growing crazier and crazier. It's definitely a subject worth talking about. It's okay if people can't watch the show because of her real-life beliefs. But the truth of this premiere is fundamentally about Darlene getting Roseanne and Jackie to talk to each other again. They have been estranged since the election. The show does play things broadly with this conflict. It's the show hitting the broad strokes without really having a perspective on what this type of family is like in 2018. As such, it could be a lot of noise without a whole lot of substance. And yet, the performers are great. One would expect Barr, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert to be excellent. And they are. That means this is a watchable premiere even when it hits some awkward story beats. B-

Roseanne - "Dress to Impress"
Written by Darlene Hunt and directed by John Pasquin

As noted above, the premiere was a little wonky and expositional. As such, ABC was very smart for airing "Dress to Impress" the same night as it. This is a strong episode that proves that this revival does have something important and meaningful it wants to say. It's a bold statement for Roseanne to have a gender non-conforming grandson. Darlene and Mark are new to this household and school. That means there is a new learning curve of acceptance. Roseanne and Dan worry for Mark's safety. They don't want him to be bullied at school. They don't see this as anything more than a phase. And yet, it's also a phase that they are ashamed of. They make the argument that everyone always pretends to be someone else when they leave their own home. Darlene counters that the world has changed and the younger generation is more open and tolerate than ever before. Mark has never had any problems before. But Roseanne still scares the entire class when dropping Mark off and Dan gives him a pocket knife to protect himself. It's a story that takes quite a serious turn. But it starts a wonderful conversation about what this family can accept. They just have to understand and respect that this is something really important to Mark. It's a part of his identity. That should be empowered and cherished simply because he's a part of this family. It's a strong main story. Of course, I'm also eagerly waiting for this show to give Emma Kenney something notable to do. After eight seasons on Shameless, I know she's a strong actress. She could easily be the fifth great performer on the show. That role right now is largely going to Lecy Goranson as Becky. And yet, that entire running story is such a non-starter for me. It's filled with too many jokes comparing Goranson to Sarah Chalke because they both played Becky on the original show. Plus, it's clear that it's still taking a minute for Goranson to readjust to the multi-camera sitcom format. But the idea of Becky at age 43 trying to be a surrogate is just so weird and random. Yes, it has a genuine moment when she talks about not wanting to worry about money all of the time. But the rest of it is just comic relief. B+

Black-ish - "North Star"
Written by Laura Gutin Peterson and directed by Eva Longoria

Black-ish has told many stories over the seasons being critical of Bow's family and upbringing. She came from a non-traditional household where her parents were basically hippies. Her parents don't appear as frequently as Dre's do. They live on their own elsewhere in this world. But it's still amusing when they show up and make a point that expertly contradicts the argument that Dre or his family are trying to win for selfish reasons. It's a fun concept to have an Easter celebration at the house where Dre and Bow's extended family are forced to coexist. It brings in a lot of cousins whom the show has never featured before. Of course, it's also notable which members of this family are absent from the celebration. Pops appears for a brief second before just completely disappearing. Raven-Symoné doesn't show up as Dre's sister. Daveed Diggs and Rashida Jones don't pop up as Bow's siblings. Instead, most of the story comes from Bow's parents and white cousins showing up for this dinner. Of course, this episode always ran the risk of featuring too many guest stars and not being able to adequately incorporate all of them. And yes, things are overwhelming to an extent. Beau Bridges basically just has a few lines of dialogue here. That's surprising. He's not all that central to the plot at all. Marla Gibbs appears as well. She has more to do here than in her first episode of the show. But it's not all that better either. Instead, it's mostly a conflict of Dre not being able to stand Bow's family because they always seem to be critical of him and his roots. He can always speak passionately about how any minor detail can ultimately connect back to slavery. But it's also a whole lot of fun when he is put in his place with an equally compelling story about this beet recipe surviving the Holocaust. Yes, awkwardness does fall over this meal. And yes, the comic relief from Ruby does help break up the tension. But this mostly feels like an episode that was a solid idea that faltered a little bit in the execution because it had to introduce characters the audience weren't already familiar with. B

Splitting Up Together - "Pilot"
Written by Emily Kapnek and directed by Dean Holland

Emily Kapnek's previous two ABC comedies - Suburgatory and Selfie - were known for their snappy dialogue and original humor. That sensibility seems to be missing here upfront. It feels like a more traditional spin on the family sitcom. Of course, ABC's brand is famous for these types of shows. It's always in the market for spotlighting a new twist on the family sitcom. This one occurs via the parents' new divorce and attempt to co-parent while also living in the same house. It's basically the same setup as The Real O'Neals without the gay subplot. As such, it feels a little less original for the network. But there's still potential because of the charisma of Jenna Fischer and her chemistry with Oliver Hudson. There is already precious little patience with Martin as he slowly realizes how he has been disappointing his wife ever since their wedding. There just happens to be a videotape showing just how miserable she looks while having to dance with someone else instead. That's a really forced plot beat. As such, his story doesn't really seem all that fleshed out in the beginning. It also hurts that he doesn't seem to have any genuine friends. Arthur is just married to one of Lena's friends. Meanwhile, the show is overly amused by the idea of Lena having no idea what to do upon realizing that her son needs to start masturbating. It's such a random story for the premiere. It shows that the comedy is unafraid to tackle some important stories in blunt ways. But the way the show amps up the ridiculousness is just a little creepy and silly. Lena wants to find a way to view women as both empowering and sexualized. Martin swoops in with a solution in the end. But it still feels pretty creepy in a way that the show doesn't fully understand or accept. It's much more engaged with the potential of Martin and Lena possibly being able to fix things in their marriage. But that back and forth will only be able to fuel the story for so long. B-

Alex, Inc. - "The Unfair Advantage"
Written by Matt Tarses and directed by Zach Braff

This is a rough premiere. There are just too many inconsistencies to try and take it seriously and be engaged by this family. Zach Braff's Alex Schuman is billed as this expert storyteller with great ideas for how to revolutionize the world of podcasts. And yes, there is one impressive moment when he takes his family on a journey through the sound of his voice - even if it may be an inappropriate tale for his children. And yet, this entire premiere is defined by him not being able to articulate his point well to anyone. That's a huge issue if the audience is suppose to believe in the genius of this guy. He doesn't trust his wife enough to have an honest conversation about needing to dip into their retirement funds to pay for this new business of his. He can't talk to his son about his worries about him being picked on at school if he moves ahead with this magic act. Plus, he's perfectly fine working alongside his smooth talking cousin with no money to his name and a producer who is obvious obsessed with him (in an incredibly creepy and off-putting way). But the most damaging part of all of this may be the show's unwillingness to explore what creating a podcast is actually like. It feels like it should be set a couple of years ago with the amount of time Alex spends talking about podcasts being the next big thing to break out in pop culture. He wants to be on the forefront of that even though the world of 2018 has already seen that boom in that industry. Meanwhile, he decides to run this company in a shared space where other potential business ideas are being developed. It's a space with no walls or separation between the companies. That will be so complicated to record sound in. How does Alex plan on running an effective business when so much of his audio could be corrupted by the environment he is in? These seem like concerns that the show didn't really think through because they could just rely on the charisma and star power of Zach Braff. And yes, he is a very capable leading man. But here, it's a pretty one-note performance that doesn't get the audience to root for him at all. C

Grey's Anatomy - "One Day Like This"
Written by Elisabeth R. Finch and directed by Kevin McKidd

Across the years, the show has told many stories of the doctors falling in love with their patients. There was Izzie and Denny, Alex and Rebecca/Ava, Teddy and Henry, and Stephanie and Kyle. It's a story the show likes to go to frequently. It's been quite effective each time too. Meredith has largely avoided the story. But she's incapable of avoiding it here. There is just so much palpable chemistry between Ellen Pompeo and Scott Speedman. It's such a charming story between the two doctors. He is a world-class transplant surgeon who needs her help when it seems like he is rejecting his new kidney. In the process, Meredith feels a spark that she hasn't felt since Derek. The show makes that connection obvious and allows everyone to get swept up in the emotion. It's moving and fun to watch. The show leaves it up-in-the-air if anything will come from it. This may just be a one time appearance from Speedman. His character doesn't live in Seattle. And yet, it wouldn't be surprising if he returned and has a grand love story with Meredith. That would actually be pretty great based on this first interaction. This episode is fundamentally about love stories as well. It's the episode that finally moves April to a place where she is willing to accept God again despite their estrangement. That story is told beautifully as well through her interactions with a rabbi. They come from different faiths. And yet, they can have a meaningful conversation about God and the world being unfair. He rightfully points out that she is acting childishly. He is able to refocus her attention on needing to fix the world up because of the problems and hardships it has. It's a really moving and poignant story that should put April back on the path towards redemption. And finally, Owen travels to Germany to be with Teddy. He is ready to commit fully to their relationship. He is ready to uproot his entire life to be with her. She has built something for herself in Germany. It's sweet to see these two finally explore the connection between them. It has been a long time coming. The start of the season proved that they would probably be better off together. But the story is also aware of how deeply damaged and complicated Owen still is. He had to be told to go be with Teddy and explore these feelings because he was incapable of giving himself fully to another woman. And now, he has to be told that it's destructive to use Teddy as his ultimate second choice to run to whenever things don't work out intimately with someone else. It's a brutal story. But one that has to necessarily push Owen to a place where he realizes he still has problems. A-

Station 19 - "Contain the Flame"
Written by Wendy Calhoun and directed by Mary Lou Belli

The two-hour premiere made the audience engaged with Andy Herrera and made us want to root for her. It's easy to want to see her get promoted to chief of this station. She fought hard for her promotion and handled herself well during a very intense situation with the chemical spill. And now, this episode sets out to prove it's going to be more of a competition for her. It doesn't do a great job in bringing more complexity to Jack Gibson. It just proves that their managing styles are completely different. They get into trouble while dealing with the roof fire that was teased at the end of the previous episode. Andy follows protocol and ignores Jack's expertise. Later on, Jack establishes himself as the more carefree potential captain. He still gets all of the paperwork and official responsibilities in order. He just doesn't want to dictate when his firefighters need to do what around the house. He trusts that they are responsible adults able to handle things accordingly. Andy loves the rules and sees this as a way for him to rile her up. He gets to be the hero during the big call as well. He swims into poisonous water just to save a girl. Meanwhile, Ben is struggling with how to be content not knowing how these emergencies end. He promises a girl that she'll be okay. He's sending her to Bailey. But he never gets that update. He has to find a way to cope with that. Miller's advice is to compartmentalize his emotions. And yet, that advice doesn't work that well because it hits him when JJ shows up with the news that her hook up friend/neighbor died from smoke inhalation. It's a crappy and emotional shift for many at the firehouse. But mostly, it's a story about Andy being upset when she learns that Chief Frankel doesn't believe she earned her promotion. The show is being very smart in telling a story about the inherent sexism in this profession. It is able to have a number of progressive and rousing moments with the three women bonding on and off shift. But it also notes just how much of a struggle it was for Frankel and how she earned respect on the job. She doesn't believe Andy has had to go through the same thing because of her father being the captain of the house. Jack stands up for Andy in that moment. It's meant to show that this firehouse supports and understands Andy better than their battalion chief does. But it's also much more interesting to spend time in Andy's reaction and her questioning her own qualifications for the job before getting the confidence to do it well once more. B