Friday, March 30, 2018

REVIEW: NBC's 'Rise,' 'Superstore,' 'Will & Grace,' 'Champions' and 'Chicago Fire' (March 26-30)

Various NBC reviews for March 26-30, 2018:

Rise - Episode 1.03 "What Flowers May Bloom"
Superstore - Episode 3.17 "District Manager"
Will & Grace - Episode 9.15 "One Job"
Champions - Episode 1.03 "Lumps"
Chicago Fire - Episode 6.16 "The One That Matters the Most"

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 NBC from March 26-30, 2018. Enjoy!

Rise - "What Flowers May Bloom"
Written by Michelle Latimer & Shelley Maclean and directed by Michelle Latimer

The show desperately wants Lou Mazzu to be seen as inspirational. He can solve any problem that comes his way simply by delivering an inspirational speech that connects to the true emotions going on in this town and the community. And yet, he is aggressively coming across as a bully and a jerk who lashes out, yells and demeans whenever he doesn't get what he wants. It's horrendously off-putting whenever he attempts to do something noble because he doesn't see how his actions could be perceived as bad or condescending. He has a specific vision for his production of Spring Awakening. He wants everything to be done a certain way and doesn't want to compromise. It's infuriating because it feels like he isn't living in reality. It's okay to dream big. But he's not even putting in the effort to truly connect and engage with the people around him who are engaged with the same process. He just needs to be right all of the time. It's insufferable. Plus, he hasn't done a strong job in articulating his vision. He basically just says he wants the production to be a cross between "Victorian" and "contemporary." But when he uses those words, it just seems like an attempt to make him seem smart by tossing around vague concepts. It's not working at all. Here, he tries to bully Simon's family into letting him stay at Stanton and perform in this play. He doesn't respect their concerns to have a meaningful conversation. Of course, they don't take the time to actively listen to him either. In the end, it seems like resolution is reached because Simon's mother comes to Lou needing to know what he believes in. But that's such a lackluster ending because it doesn't seem like it fixes anything. Plus, it lands with a thud because Lou doesn't actually believe in the kids. He keeps talking on and on about encouraging their artistic talents and getting them to express their true emotions through this musical. But he hasn't had any conversations with any of his students that connect on an emotional level that will have repercussions in their personal lives and in this play. He mostly avoids those conversations whenever he can. And the show allows him to do so while still ensuring that every story is told with the same specific tone. No one can be happy for a brief second. There always needs to be some trauma that creeps in even when it's completely unnecessary and counterintuitive to the narrative. C

Superstore - "District Manager"
Written by John Kazlauskas and directed by Alex Reid

It seemed inevitable that the show would bring someone new in to replace Jeff as district manager. That was a position the show added during the second season that became a part of the ensemble. Yes, Jeff is only a recurring character. But it was also just nice having someone as a voice for corporate. It put a face on the company that doesn't always set out to understand its employees and their concerns. As such, it was fascinating to see who his replacement would be. Here, it's Laurie. She visits the store and immediately wants to find ways to save money. It's an amusing story because she believes the simplest way to cut costs is to fire the costly employee who doesn't do much. In this case, that's Myrtle. She's been at the store forever but she doesn't do anything well. Nor has she been a reliably funny side character - like Sandra or Marcus. As such, it's easy for the show to write her off here while also giving her one very amusing story of Glenn not knowing how to fire her so he gives her the perfect final day. But it's also a very pointed statement that Amy and Jonah believe they can save Myrtle's job if they can cut costs elsewhere. They do exactly what they promised but it falls on deaf ears. Laurie didn't believe they would actually come up with a solution that would be beneficial to the store. Nor does she want to implement those changes. Again, it's just simpler to fire Myrtle. And so, that's what occurs. It shows that no matter what there isn't a reasonable way to engage with corporate and get them to change their mind on something - although it does mean the break room gets to keep its coffee maker. The various subplots are all mostly reacting to Laurie's presence as she's evaluating people's jobs. They are mostly minor moments that are okay but not great. Dina doesn't want to be judged as the pregnant woman who will suddenly demand better working conditions and health care. And Mateo doesn't want to be fired because he sucks at running the cash register. Both stories have amusing moments but aren't all that special in the end. B

Will & Grace - "One Job"
Written by Suzanne Martin & Alex Herschlag and directed by James Burrows

There are moments in "One Job" where it seems like certain stories are culminating for the entire season. There are then additional moments that seem like pure setup for whatever will happen in next week's season finale. But the best moments come when this episode is just a simple and sweet tribute to Debbie Reynolds' performance as Grace's mother. This season has sprinkled a number of tributes to the iconic performer. This is the most substantial one to date because she is the focus of the main story. It's moving to listen to Grace adamantly refuse to sell her childhood home. She just wants to celebrate her mother's life on her birthday. She wants to laugh listening to the note that she left behind. She wants Will to eagerly support her no matter what. And yet, that's incredibly difficult for him to do because she's desperately holding onto the past. She cherishes all the memories of her life and family in this house. But the story ultimately points out that she needs to move on. Even though she may not be in that specific house ever again, the memories will still survive because they mean something to her. It's such a sweet and tender moment. Will and Grace having that conversation is what gets her father to accept it as well - while also setting up the amusing tease that he'll be moving in with them in New York. Elsewhere, it's understandable why Jack and Drew's relationship ends. It's a huge step for Jack to be willing to commit to a monogamous relationship with someone. And yet, it's also okay for Drew to want to explore more relationships after coming out later in life. Sure, it's a disappointing conclusion for Jack. He has his heart broken. But he is still able to have an over-the-top and absurd reaction to all of it. Plus, he is able to vent to Karen while realizing her marriage isn't so perfect after all. That's not all that surprising. Karen's story is the one that mostly feels like filler and set up for the finale. Alec Baldwin returns as her lover, Malcolm, who wants more of a commitment from her. She has a choice to make. That could be exciting if you were engaged by this relationship in the past. But here, it mostly feels empty. A-

Champions - "Lumps"
Written by Chris Schleicher and directed by Alex Reid

The show is still figuring out the right balance of workplace ensemble and family stories. It seems like there is always one of each in every episode with the lines blurring because Michael wants to be involved in every aspect of his family's business. The show realistically has to suggest that he's going to school. That's the reason he came to New York in the first place. And yet, the show hasn't put any work into fleshing out that world yet. Here, it's suggested that he's not a great student because he just plans on making it as an actor. He doesn't want to focus on math. It's a really over-the-top story about parenting. Michael is very sly in getting his family and tutor to avoid actually teaching him. He would much rather hear all of the gossip of their personal lives. And yet, his ideas are the ones that help Champions turn around and be desirable to women again. The main story attempts to be timely by showing that this industry needs to make adjustments for women. This is a business operated by men. Vince doesn't believe he has to change because that would then lead to the downfall of the business his father created. He suddenly cares about honoring his father's legacy despite just wanting to sell it a little while ago. And it's basically a story where Vince wants appreciation for doing the bare minimum in making this space accommodating for women. Of course, that's also pointed out to him. It's a criticism of his behavior. The show also treats having episodes of Law & Order: SVU playing on one television all day long is the perfect solution for this problem. It's not. It's a much more systemic issue than that trying to be crammed down to an episodic story. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. It just feels like the resolution happens too easily with the audience still wanting to like Vince because he's going the extreme length to help his son with math. It is nice to spend some extra time with Dana and Ruby this week though - even though they are still dysfunctional messes as well. B-

Chicago Fire - "The One that Matters the Most"
Written by Michael Gilvary and directed by Bill Johnson

As expected, the show is doing an entire story about Otis being injured and attempting to recover with his status as a firefighter being in permanent limbo. The show tries to get as much emotion as possible out of the firehouse waiting around for updates on his condition. It was teased that he was paralyzed. And now, the situation is no longer quite that dire. He has the potential of making a full recovery. It just requires another surgery and months of physical therapy. It's enough for him to become depressed and alienating to the people who love him. That's not all that appealing of a note to play. As such, it's great that the show calls him out for his poor behavior with his friends knowing they have to push to be there for him. It's just much more natural for Cruz and Brett. It's more of a labored plot point for Herrmann and Lily which is incredibly annoying. In fact, Herrmann is a huge jerk throughout this entire episode. The show introduces Otis' replacement on truck: Jake Cordova. It immediately wants to antagonize him for wanting to replace Otis in the firehouse. And yet, it's incredibly easy to relate to Cordova's perspective on the situation instead of Herrmann's. Hermann is lashing out at the world while also avoiding showing any real emotion with Otis. That's awkward and comes across in a very forced way. Cordova is right to point out that it will take more than a few shifts for Otis to get up on his feet again. He just wants to prove himself as a good firefighter. But everyone wants to antagonist him and view him as the opposition to this family being fully united. It's weird and not all that effective. The show believes it as well with the final twist that he and Gabby share some scandalous history that he is asking her to keep secret from Casey for a little while longer. Gabby ran into problems earlier this year when she wasn't honest with Casey. She shouldn't repeat the same patterns. As such, this feels like a melodramatic story that is bound to explode in some awkward way. Meanwhile, it's interesting to think of the prospect of Boden being promoted and Casey replacing him as the chief at 51. It's the story the show has clearly been building towards since the moment Casey was promoted to captain. And now, it's something that Boden has to seriously considered because of the impact it could have on his family. A shakeup like that could be very exciting and interesting. But it's unknown if the show will actually go through with it. C+