Welcome to Last Night on TV, our daily column that looks back at what happened on television the night before. If we’re going to stay up all night and watch TV, we might as well talk about it the next morning.
Last night on TV, Alisha Grauso declares that The X-Files is finally back; Kevin Kelly figures out how many episodes of The Magicians have aired; Neil Miller goes to camp with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, gets gay married with Superstore and then takes a nap.
Alisha Grauso: The third episode of the X-Files revival was by far the strongest one yet. Cheekily titled “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” it was a throwback to some of the more classic X-Files episodes full of absurd humor. Old school fans shouldn’t be surprised once they learn the writer and director of the episode: Darin Morgan, who was the mastermind behind what are considered some of the original series’ greatest episodes, including “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Humbug,” “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’,” and “War of the Coprophages.”
Some viewers were confused by the sudden tone shift from the first two episodes to this, but I welcomed it. It was the first time that both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson seemed fully invested in an episode, which went from silly to hilarious to existentially profound and moving. The episode opens with a morose and angry Mulder who has grown doubtful of the existence of monsters, his faith in the unbelievable at a low. Scully finds a case for them and coaxes the disillusioned Mulder into investigating. It made for an exceptionally fun role reversal, with Mulder offering reason after reason why the existence of the “were-monster” can be explained away rationally, and Scully, who knows how much Mulder’s passions mean to him, gamely countering with reasons why it very well could be a monster. Eventually, Mulder starts to come ‘round, and in a scene that truly showcased Duchovny’s comedic abilities, found him not only rambling to Scully about his theories, but also acting out her side of the argument. And she, like I, couldn’t help but grin. Sure, Mulder is “batcrap crazy,” but it’s the Mulder we know and love.
As the “were-monster” – or, in this case, were-lizard with a twist, Rhys Darby was perfectly cast, both hilarious and heartstring-tugging. It’s no surprise that the episode gave off a What We Do in the Shadows vibe – it should, considering the New Zealand-bred Darby was a part of that, as well as Flight of the Conchords.
And was Mulder’s faith in monsters restored? I’ll not spoil it for you if you haven’t yet seen it. But the grin on Mulder’s face at the end was the same grin all of us longtime fans had as we watched. Team Spooky may have been back for two episodes already, but this is the first episode they were truly back, and they reminded us of how groundbreaking they were the first time around.
Kevin Kelly: I’m an idiot. I was so excited for last week’s premiere of The Magicians on Syfy that I didn’t notice that they aired the first two episodes back to back. Actually, to really complicate things, the network offered up the first episode online as of December 16, and then “premiered” it on their channel along with the second episode last week. So what that comes down to is that I got to watch two episodes last night. Maybe I’m only half stupid.
First up: Episode 2, or “The Source of Magic”. As it turns out, the horrific event at the end of the premiere was a pretty bad thing. A creature known as “The Beast” with the body of a man and a face entirely swarmed by moths stepped into our reality, froze everyone in the lecture hall rock solid, and then yanked out the Dean’s eyes and chewed off his hands. Dumbledore may be dead (spoiler alert) but at least he kept his peepers.
Anyhow, the school is investigating, and whoever was involved will be expelled. This sends Quentin into a downward spiral, because he doesn’t want to go back to his previous existence as a “supernerd” where he doesn’t know magic is for real. However, he and Alice might not be as responsible as they think. On the flipside, Penny is a real douchebag as it turns out. The kind you love to hate. So, props to Arjun Gupta for playing him so well.
Meanwhile in the B-story, Julia is jumped into the underground school for magic with a test that isn’t quite what it seems to be. Although it makes Quentin’s entrance exam seem like a multiple choice walk in the park, because she has to confront walking corpses, freezing temperatures, and no one she can trust. But she’s extremely tough and meets everything head on, the yang to Quentin’s whiny yin.
Back at Brakebills, Quentin and Alice try to figure out exactly what happened. Quentin wonders if Fillory may indeed be a real place after all, and if the Beast is from there. Alice (rightly so) thinks that’s a big leap, but he tells her that the children in the novels, the Chatwins, were based on a real family who lived next door to the author, and that some of those children vanished in real life. So, the plot thickens. Especially since Quentin has been having dreams with Jane Chatwin in them.
As the school’s investigation continues, it turns out that Penny was actually responsible for the Beast’s crossing over. He’s decided to leave school on his own, but the sultry Kady convinces him to stay. In fact, she does such a good job convincing him that he drops the dime on Quentin, framing him entirely for the Beast. Quentin later attacks Penny with battle magic, but a charm Penny is carrying protects him and injures Quentin instead. Two big strikes on his academic record.
But, as he steels himself to get mind wiped and dropped from the school, the Specialist they send to deal with him turns out to be the paramedic from the first episode who dealt with the dead body he and Julia found. She’s more than she appears to be, and she convinces the school to give Q one more chance. Just before the credits roll, Julia is starting to take a shine to her magic “school,” while Quentin has narrowly missed getting tossed out of his. Fin.
And now, Episode 3. Or “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting”
This episode is full of surprises. First, the Dean is back and he’s got a new set of hands. Or at least, maybe they’re hands. He’s wearing big steampunk gloves throughout so it’s hard to tell. They look like the electro-mitt Tony Stark built in Iron Man 3 when he was after the Mandarin, so who know what’s actually in there. He also has new eyes, but he apparently can’t see out of them. So why get new eyes at all?
The Dean tells the students that everyone will be subject to testing to determine their discipline. It’s sort of a mashup between choosing a major and putting on the Sorting Hat. Turns out Alice’s discipline is phosphormancy, or the ability to bend light, while Quentin is “undetermined.” Kinda like being undeclared. As a result, Alice is sent to the “physical kid’s” cottage (they do physical magic, hence… the physical kids) and so is Quentin, because they have extra space.
Meanwhile, Alice drops the bombshell on Quentin that she wants to try the spell that initially got them into hot water all over again. It’s to try and contact her dead brother Charlie, who was a student at Brakebills five years prior, anfd it’s the whole reason she’s at the school. Quentin is understandably reluctant, but it’s clear he likes Alice. And collegiate lust is a powerful thing.
On the flipside of this episode, Penny is initially told he’s a psychic and he displays some aptitude along those lines. Like confronting Quentin over the Taylor Swift songs he sings in his head. But after some exploration among other psychics, and accidentally transporting himself to China, it turns out that he’s a “traveler.” Which is a magician who can travel anywhere on Earth, or even to other worlds. He’ll get some special tutoring for that.
Julia continues her rise through the ranks of the hedge-witches, but when Quentin and Eliot come by to retrieve a stolen book (turns out Kady is a mule who fetches magical items for them) she confronts him. It turns out he never told Brakebills about her like she asks. His reason? He doesn’t like the fact that she strung him along as a friend when she knew his feeling about her. Whoops. Anyhow, he says some harsh things, and it looks like they’re donezo.
Julia continues to juggle James as her boyfriend and hides her magic from him, a fact that now means hiding tattoos that show her magical level. When he starts to become suspicious, she decided to lie on the spot and tells him that she’s addicted to adderall, and has joined NA. Remarkably, or maybe just because he wants to, he believes it.
Alice enlists the unlikely help of the gossiping Margo, and they discover how Charlie died. A fellow student tried to glamour herself in order to appear more beautiful to her professor, but she botched it and uglified herself. Charlie tried to counteract the spell, but he tried to do too much and the magic literally burned him up, turning him into a “niffin” – a being of pure, blue fire. Alice thinks she can bring Charlie back and save him, but once she summons him, it’s clear that he isn’t Charlie anymore.
Alice tries in vain to “fix” him, nearly niffin-ing herself in the process. Quentin saves her at the last moment by binding the niffin’s spirit to a block of wood, trapping it inside forever. Alice storms off, packs her things, and leaves Brakebills. It looks like she’ll never forgive him. But because this is television, and a work of fiction about magic, I’m pretty sure she will.
Neil Miller: What an expansive episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In an episode simply billed as “Rebecca and Josh go back to camp,” a lot was accomplished in a half-hour, especially with the B-stories. We learned that Greg is a hardcore commitment-phobe, but is also quite smitten with Heather the neighbor girl. We learned that Darryl and White Josh might be more than meets the eye. And we learned a little bit about empowerment, in a roundabout way.
In the second half of its first season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is beginning to show off its confidence. Early on, it was all about bringing Rachel Bloom front and center. Her charm alone was enough to engage the audience and keep people coming back for musical numbers. But now that we’ve moved on to the back half of the season, the rest of the cast is beginning to spread its wings. Which means more Hector, White Josh and even some Darryl subplots to go along with this fascinating sideshow that is Greg and Heather. Really, more of everything that doesn’t revolve around Rebecca’s Josh Chan-obsession. Which is another place where the show has made a bold move. Finally out of the closet about her love for Josh, we see Rebecca making some headway. Despite the fact that she’s still an incredibly intelligent, strong woman who is making completely irrational life decisions based on a crush, it’s nice to see her win sometimes.
Even though this was an episode short on musical numbers (I’m not sure we can really count whatever that was with Pete Gardner’s Darryl), the show is fleshing out its supporting players nicely. If it’s going to have lasting power beyond this electric first season, this will need to continue.
Neil Miller: This week, Superstore attempted to answer a question that has been brewing for a while: are Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom) and her human noise machine boyfriend Bo (Johnny Pemberton) funny and interesting characters?
The answer: not really.
The episode, which built an elaborate episode about weddings around both Cheyenne/Bo and the hyper-Christian homophobia of Glenn (Mark McKinney), still works to a certain extent. But it works because the show has an America Ferrera up its sleeve at all times. Her ability to play off of everyone else is Superstore’s secret sauce. Even in the episode’s potentially awkward, unnervingly casual sequence at a gun range, she makes it work for a few laughs.
Will America Ferrera “making it work” be a solution to keep Superstore above water for more than its 11-episode first season? That’s hard to say. Beyond the will-they-won’t-they of Amy and Jonah and the little bromance of Jonah and Garrett (not to mention the continued one-man-show that Colton Dunn is putting on as Garrett), this show seems to be running thing on material. They might need to go back to the People of Walmart interludes a little bit and stay away from chasing down homeless people who stole shopping carts.
What did you watch last night?