WIRED Pilot Program: Search Party

Search Party pull aside portraitsMacall Polay/TBS

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Search Party.

The Show: Search Party (TBS, two episodes a night starting November 21)

The Premise: When Chantal Witherbottom, a college acquaintance of Dory (Alia Shawkat), goes missing, Dory’s curiosity turns into an obsession. Not as strong an obsession, though, as the one she has for figuring out who she really is. Along with her spineless boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) and self-obsessed friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner), Dory decides to find out what happened to Chantal (Clare McNulty)—and, much more importantly, to find herself.

The Pilot Program Take: None of the characters in Search Partyt are very effective procedural detectives, since they don’t have much sympathy for what Chantal must be going through—they’re all too consumed with self-pity, up against the impossible task of discovering who they want to be when they grow up.

WIRED Pilot Program: Search Party

8/10

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Wired

Biting dark comedy

Tired

Entitled twentysomethings in Brooklyn

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

And that’s why the suspense thriller premise is so apt. Somewhere in Williamsburg, among the sunny brunch patios and dimly lit bars and marble-floored coffee shops, Dory and her friends are confronted with an impossible challenge—earnestly caring about the well-being of someone else. The dark comedy renders its callous characters in precise, spot-on detail, and it’s hard to tell who is the most narcissistic: Drew, the clingy, patronizing boyfriend; the endlessly self-promoting Elliott; the ditsy, needy Portia. The absurdity of their navel-gazing is drawn into sharp relief by opening and closing scenes of Chantal’s parents, panicked and scared and relatable, facing a tragedy that the indulgent hipster protagonists can’t step outside of themselves to see.

The show hinges on Shawkat’s performance, and she shines. Dory is (somewhat) aware of her ridiculous lifestyle, but she’s incapable of moving past it. Every event is a vehicle for her self-exploration—Chantal’s disappearance and presumed death, a nonprofit offering leadership skills to young girls, the domestic violence in the apartment next door—but she knows it. As she tells the counselor who rejects her from the nonprofit, “Everybody can tell me what I can’t do, but nobody can tell me what I can do.” Shawkat plays Dory as both absurd and genuinely lost, and it carries the show.

The Verdict: Search Party mercilessly pokes fun at a certain self-indulgent twentysomething Brooklyn stereotype (the characters could have gone to Oberlin with Girls’ Hannah and Marnie), and does it well. Beyond an occasional twinge for Dory, it’s tough to sympathize with any of the characters, none of whom see anything beyond themselves—which is why the premise of selflessly searching for a missing girl is so deliciously good. The thrift store overalls and floral rompers may not be dark, but the humor certainly is.

TL;DR: Watch it, especially if you’re ready to be smug about—or to recognize yourself in—some mid-twenties self-indulgence.

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26220_001_1285_R.jpgVincent Peters/TNT

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Good Behavior

The Show: Good Behavior (TNT, Tuesdays)

The Premise: Letty Dobesh (Michelle Dockery is an ex-con meth addict out on parole and struggling to stay clean in North Carolina. During a petty theft operation at a fancy hotel, she overhears a hitman named Javier (Juan Diego Botto) arranging to kill a man’s wife. She wrestles with whether to intervene with her overheard knowledge, and yearns to reunite with her young son, who lives in protective custody with her mother.

The Pilot Program Take: Good Behavior is based on a novella series by Blake Crouch, the author behind Fox’s Twin Peaks-esque mystery series Wayward Pines. But instead of going for cliffhanger mystery, this is a southern-fried blend of Breaking Bad and Jack Reacher.

WIRED Pilot Program: Good Behavior

4/10

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Wired

Michelle Dockery with a Southern accent.

Tired

Michelle Dockery with no co-star chemistry.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

Letty is a product of a criminal justice system that skimps on rehabilitation and doesn’t provide resources to help parolees succeed on the outside. In the pilot’s first scene, she endures misogyny from her boss at a diner, and from a lecherous customer who tries to assault her. But she’s also kind of like Jesse in the early seasons of Breaking Bad, prone to giving into her worst tendencies because she doesn’t believe she can do any better.

When she makes the ridiculous decision to get involved in Javier’s business by seducing him, she inserts herself into a life of crime far beyond what landed her in jail. She’s doing it for a rush, to feel what she used to feel as an addict. But once she attempts to rescue a woman she’s never met—and steals Javier’s money in the process—the terror becomes too much, causing her to throw it all away on meth after a failed attempt to see her son. Once Javier wriggles out of his predicament and comes to collect, it’s clear the series will continue by pairing Letty and Javier together, with Letty working off her debt by using her larceny and seduction skills to help Javier.

There are a few scenes—one centered on an eavesdropping scenario that seems impossible to escape—which display a knack for building tension. But there’s sadly little chemistry between Dockery and Botto. Considering that’s the most important character relationship on the show, it’s not a good sign. Nor is the rather sparse budget, which significantly limits the number of major characters in the pilot. If Letty and Javier only interact with a handful of other people each week, and there’s no attempt to build out any community around them because they’re criminals and need to stay under the radar, then it will be difficult to get invested in anyone.

The Verdict: This show feels like an ebook series that somehow made it to television instead of Amazon Kindles first.

TL;DR: Michelle Dockery deserves better than this cut-rate antihero melodrama.

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1Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: The Crown

The Show: The Crown (Netflix, all episodes available November 4)

The Premise: Beginning in 1947, just before the wedding of Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (Claire Foy) to Prince Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), The Crown depicts the reign of soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth II, currently the world’s oldest living monarch and the longest reining monarch in British history. Her father, King George VI (Jared Harris) is in ill health, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) has just been made Prime Minister a second time, and the world is still recovering from World War II. As with many previous stories focused on the time of Elizabeth II, the series is written entirely by Peter Morgan (The Queen), with at least the first episode directed by Stephen Daldry (The Audience).

WIRED Pilot Program: The Crown

8/10

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Wired

Compelling female leader finding her footing amongst mostly male politicians.

Tired

Not enough Elizabeth; lots of men pissed off they don’t have a woman’s power.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

The Pilot Program Take: Netflix is playing the long game with The Crown, which will eventually span six seasons. That means the first episode feels a lot like a prologue to the actual story it means to tell. There’s a much bigger emphasis on the end of George VI’s life, his fears for his daughter, and the political unrest at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s. But there are hints of the initial difficulties Elizabeth II will face once she wears the crown. Philip seems stifled by his stunted career as a naval officer, and somewhat unable to cope with making renovation decisions in the family home and taking care of the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

But two scenes near the end of the first chapter help solidify Morgan’s typically steady hand when peeling back layers of privacy to give a glimpse at Elizabeth’s life. The first is the best in the entire episode, with George and Elizabeth in the king’s office, just spending time together. George knows his advisors place the news they don’t want him to read at the bottom of a giant stack of files, so he swiftly advises her to immediately flip a pile over to get to the important stuff—you know, just in case she ever needs to contend with skilled political veterans trying to take advantage of her at the beginning of her reign.

The second is slightly more disappointing, since it’s about two men negotiating the boundaries of their powers. George and Philip go out hunting together, and the king impresses upon his son-in-law that his career and ambitions are all superfluous to being Elizabeth’s husband. (“She is the job. She is the essence of your duty.”) It encapsulates the nationalism of this entire series and its celebration of an unelected, impossibly wealthy figure. Yet it’s still removed from Elizabeth herself, and for a show named after the object that will give the future queen her title and power, it’d be nice to see more of the person who has to bear its weight.

The Verdict: In a welcome twist, The Crown is less of a bombastic, sweeping romance and more of a clear-eyed depiction of Elizabeth’s rise from young monarch to fiercely respected popular figure. To do that, however, the show needs to cover large swaths of time from installment to installment, which doesn’t leave much time to linger on any one particular character, Elizabeth included. And since there’s such a wide-ranging cast, from the royal family to political leaders to the lower-ranking officials surrounding them, it’s hard not to feel shortchanged in the early goings.

TL;DR Keep watching past the first episode. You’ll get to see more of Claire Foy’s performance as Queen Elizabeth—and you’ll get to see if you’re enough of an Anglophile to commit to the full series.

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PEOPLE OF EARTHJan Thijs

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: People Of Earth

The Show: People Of Earth (Mondays, TBS)

The Premise: After a car accident, reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) travels to the rural town of Beacon, New York to write an article on a support group for victims of alien abduction. (They prefer the term “experiencers,” since it provides more agency.) His reporting leads him to realize that his memory of his accident may not be accurate—but instead a cover-up for his own experience with extra-terrestrial species.

The Pilot Program Take: Wyatt Cenac is a fantastic comedian who hasn’t had a comfortable landing spot since he left The Daily Show in 2012. But he’s got acting chops—he was great in Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ 2008 movie Medicine For Melancholy—and nabbing the lead in a show with executive producers Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels (The Office) is the perfect opportunity for more national exposure. He can convey the laid-back but serious vibe of an investigative journalist taken off his regular beat, while also being empathetic to the people in an alien abduction support group, and even freaking out a little bit when he finds out what’s been going on with his own memories.

WIRED Pilot Program: People Of Earth

6/10

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Wired

Wyatt Cenac, deadpan and vulgar aliens

Tired

Slow-moving, low joke density for a show with only 10 episodes

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

People Of Earth is a 10-episode single-camera comedy that clearly has some more story to tease out about the intentions of the various aliens—Reptilians, Grays, and Whites—so it doesn’t reveal too much during the pilot. But the supporting cast around Ozzie is worthy of further exploration over the course of the entire season. Ozzie’s hazily successful media boss Jonathan (Michael Cassidy) drives an elaborate standing desk and acts way too weird about keeping Ozzie on the alien story. Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer) and Gerry Johnson (Luka Jones) prompt Ozzie to reveal his experience with aliens. Father Doug (Oscar Nunez), a the priest whose church provides a meeting space for the support group, bristles at the possibility of blowback from the rest of the community. Richard Shenk (Brian Huskey) searches for his missing wife and is a little patronizing about his theories of alien hierarchies.

The Verdict While the pilot doesn’t accomplish much with the story except revealing Ozzie’s hidden experience and the existence of hidden aliens, it does sketch out a way for him to stay in Beacon, get to know the rest of the support group, and open up more possibilities for science-fiction comedy. There’s a second episode airing right after the first on Halloween night, and it gives a better picture of how the show will progress incrementally while indulging talented comedic performers.

TL;DR Come for Wyatt Cenac, stay for the tight-knit, small-town bickering over the existence of aliens.

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Jennifer Clasen

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Good Girls Revolt.

The Show: Good Girls Revolt (Streaming now on Amazon)

The Premise: It’s December 1969, and the staffers at News of the Week—a big-audience, big-credibility, big-money national magazine—are scrambling to cover Altamont, one of the last major headline-grabbing events of the decade. But an even bigger story seems to be unfolding in the magazine’s offices, where the Week‘s underappreciated female researchers are learning that the male colleagues who take their work for granted (while also often taking all the credit) could be guilty of more than just sexism—they might also be breaking the law.

The Pilot Program Take: Normally, Pilot Program adheres to a strict guideline of only reviewing a new series’ first installment. But since the pilot of Good Girls Revolt technically debuted last fall—when it was part of Amazon’s you-rate-it, we-make-it voting program—we decided to check out the first two installments, just to get a better sense of where the show was headed. And it’s a good thing we did, because Revolt makes some much-needed improvements between episodes one and two, turning a crucial corner from a sixties-slavish reference-o-‘rama to a noticeably more invigorated workplace drama.

WIRED Pilot Program: Good Girls Revolt

7/10

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Wired

The newsroom

Tired

The Newsroom

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

Not that Revolt‘s core elements needed too much tinkering. The set-up is irresistible: Based on Lynn Povich’s 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt, the series is a fictionalized account of a 1970 anti-discrimination suit filed against Newsweek by nearly 50 of its female employees—a crucial white-collar uprising, not to mention a timely one. And the cast’s central trio is swell: Patti (Genevieve Angelson), an aspiring rabble-rouser with flower-power leanings; Jane (Anna Camp), the well-heeled scoop-seeker; and Cindy (Erin Drake), a wannabe novelist who’s saddled with a dinky husband. Real-life lawyer-activist Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant) is only glimpsed briefly in the first two installments;  Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) also pops in sporadically, often with just enough time to steal the best lines.

So it’s a drag when the first episode of Revolt—which begins as news of the Altamont fiasco hits the East Coastsoon gets stuck in its own sixties daydream, as the talk in the News of the Week newsroom quickly becomes an over-chatty haze of pointlessly invoked Nixon-era flashpoints. Plaster Casters! Ken Kesey! Easy Rider! They’re all crammed into the conversations here, often with the graceless speed of a “We Didn’t Start the Fire” verse, and almost always at the expense of the characters, who deserve to be defined as a bit deeper than Cool Girl Who Really Digs Santana or Old Square Who Doesn’t Get Iron Butterfly. It’s impossible for a show set in the past to avoid referencing it, of course, but Revolt‘s pilot spends way too much energy rehashing the decade, and not enough time inhabiting it.

By the second episode, though, things are progressing, both in terms of history and narrative: The mystery of what went down at Altamont—which felt like a diversionary tactic in the pilot—is now in the rearview, allowing the women of Good Girls to focus instead on the crummy hierarchy that rules News of the Week: The female staffers are mere “researchers” who make the calls and do much of the heavy lifting, and yet are never granted the bylines so easily handed over to their male colleagues. It’s a backwards attitude that’s reflected in the relationships between Patti, Cindy, and Jane, all of whom are in romances with, or in awe of, men who are clinging to the the traditions of the past (thankfully, one of these dreary dudes gets dumped by the end of episode two—a wise choice not just for the dumper, but for the showrunners, too). When the three of them start taking steps, even small ones, to declare their independence, the juicy cultural conflicts at the heart of the show begin to rev up—and Good Girls starts to feel close-to-great.

The Verdict: Revolt has a worthy cast, a promising premise, and a unique vantage point with which to view the struggles of the ’00s through the lens of the past. It just needs to keep its nostalgia-tripping in check and make sure its characters—and its storytelling—maintain a forward momentum.

TL;DR: Hey, we didn’t mention Mad Men even once in our entire review!

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Eyewitness - Season 1Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Eyewitness.

The Show: Eyewitness (Sundays, USA)

The Premise: A hush-hush late-night tryst between two teenage boys in rural New York is interrupted by a brutal triple-homicide—leaving a killer on the loose, and convincing the two young eyewitnesses that, more than ever, they need to keep their relationship a secret. But if they want to keep a low profile, they’ll have to outwit Helen Torrance (Julianne Nicholson), a local sheriff who’s eager for a shot at redemption, and who just happens to be the foster mom of one of the kids.

The Pilot Program Take: Based on the hit Norwegian series Øyevitne, this stark bit of rural noir—are we pronouncing that right?—is trying to accomplish a lot in its first episode, shifting from family drama to detective thriller to high-school soap and back again. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight) moves briskly through each new set-up, but even she can’t distract from Eyewitness’ quicksand-like exposition, which overwhelms the story and overburdens the actors, who are forced to constantly drop small bits of backstory into even the most casual conversation. Slow your roll, Eyewitness! We’re in the boonies! Isn’t it supposed to be more mellow up here?

WIRED Pilot Program: Eyewitness

6/10

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Wired

She’s the sheriff.

Tired

She’s the Sheriff.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

Still, when Eyewitness finds time to relax, small rewards abound: The tortured dalliance between Lukas (James Paxton) and Philip (Tyler Young)—one’s comfortable with his sexuality, while the other fears what his father will think—is portrayed with the appropriate mix of teen-romance awkwardness and small-town paranoia. And Boardwalk Empire’s Nicholson plays her dedicated but clearly ready-for-some-excitement sheriff with a calibrated, flint-eyed coolness that makes her briefly glimpsed flashes of doubt all the more revealing. Alas, Helen spends a good portion of the pilot playing catch-up to a murderer whose identity we already know; if Eyewitness can move past its procedural aspects, and go deeper on the ripple effects of the crimes at hand, it could be something to behold.

The Verdict: The Eyewitness pilot has strong performances and a suitably mysterious small-town setting, but it’s often weighed down by unnaturally hand-holdy dialogue and an unwieldy amount of competing story-lines.

TL;DR: Eyewitness is worth a trip upstate–but we’re not quite sure we want to move in just yet.

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_DSC5277.NEFStephanie Kulbach/EPIX

Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Berlin Station.

The Show: Berlin Station (Sundays, Epix)

The Premise: When a series of embarrassing US secrets are revealed by a mysterious international hacker known only as Thomas Shaw—a name that truly Styx in your head—the CIA dispatches agent Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) to its Berlin outpost, where he’s tasked with tracking down the source of the leaks. But it turns out Miller’s new colleagues are keeping a few secrets of their own.

The Pilot Program Take: I have several weird wheelhouses, including—but not limited to—spy flicks, post-Cold War German culture, and pretty much anything starring Richard Jenkins. So I’m clearly the target audience for Berlin Station, whose pilot lacks the momentum-maxing oomph and intrigue of, say, The Americans, but makes up for it with an ace supporting cast, including Jenkins, Rhys Ifans, and Battlestar Galactica’s Michelle Forbes. They’re all part of the tense, troubled Berlin office that’s slowly coming undone—and not just because of Shaw’s illegally obtained CIA revelations: Jenkins’ character, a close-to-retirement lifer, is carrying on an affair with his secretary, while Ifans’ hard-partying field agent has gotten way too close to one of his sources. Even if Miller doesn’t succeed in finding the mole, there’s a good chance this crew will likely self-destruct.

WIRED Pilot Program: Berlin Station

6/10

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Wired

Spy stuff.

Tired

Needs more tinkering and tailoring.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

So why isn’t the first episode of Berlin Station more fun? Part of the problem is Miller, the show’s ostensible anchor; as played by Armitage, he’s so square-jawed and square-intentioned, he almost fades into the dark German night. And the show’s titular spook-center can feel overly crowded at times, full of interchangeably urgent-seeming employees—all of which makes it hard to tell which of them deserve our focus.

Thankfully, Berlin Station comes alive when it plunges into its namesake city, what with its dour safe-houses, rooftop-rendezvous spots, and stark interrogation rooms. The show’s best moments are the ones that get the agents out of the office and into the tempting world around them, whether it’s Ifans’ oily agent unwinding on a moonlit party boat, or Jenkins’ bureaucrat trying to tactfully, matter-of-factly negotiate with his German counterpart over a meal. Berlin Station has already found the perfect setting for its damaged characters; the real mystery is whether or not the show can corral and connect its’ players various moral crises into something bigger than just a bunch of run-of-the-mill spy-jinks.

The Verdict: Berlin Station has many of the pieces and performances it needs to be a solid thriller, but it could use a lot more tinkering and tailoring.

TL; DR: Gut enough for now.

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WIRED

Playing solitaire and tic-tac-toe is as easy as a Google search

A Google search is handy for acquiring information on nearly something, but now the firm is producing it simpler to play two timeless games on both mobile and the web. When you search for “solitaire” or “tic-tac-toe,” you are going to be in a position to play them each from the comforts of your browser on the desktop or inside the Google app on your phone or tablet. The firm has been keen on adding these bits of whimsy to its search tool for a even though now as these games comply with animal sounds and a coin flip. You know, in case you need to determine who’s choosing up the verify in today’s cashless society. There’s also those Google Doodles that have been a mainstay for years, most not too long ago offering Olympic-themed games.

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