Oh my word it’s been a while since I last wrote, and there’s so much to discuss! I’m also going to talk a bit about movies, because there’s a lot there. So buckle up – I got words!
First, can we please talk about season 2 of Jessica Jones? Because holy crap it was fantastic! Season 1 was, of course, quite strong, but this one was so much better in so many ways. If you haven’t seen this show – and there are some good reasons not to, depending on your tolerance for grittiness and difficult subject matter – I would seriously urge you to reconsider, because it really is phenomenal what they’ve done with the second season.
Next, two foreign shows that I’ve mentioned previously also made good on their sophomore years – 3% (a Netflix original produced in Brazil) and Occupied (a Norwegian original) improved on what they did in their premiers, but took their characters in very interesting directions, rather than just giving us more of the same. Both are very much worth looking into, if you haven’t yet.
Rounding out the list of returning shows that I just had to mention, we have Legion (because c’mon – its first season was great, its second season was great, it’s going to continue being great); GLOW (which is just such a gem of a show, and I am really looking forward to where they go next. Plus season 2 had an entire episode that was just absolutely batshit absurd, and apparently a spot-on homage to episodes of the real-life version); and Luke Cage (which continues being Netflix’s third-strongest Marvel show, but definitely has story and characters to offer). All three (possibly except Luke Cage) are worthy of the time investment, and just, ya know, watch them already!
Now, on to shows that I HAVEN’T discussed before.
Starting with another Netflix original, Altered Carbon. Set in a far future where human personalities are stored in alien technology that allows them to transfer in and out of physical bodies as often as they have money to do so, it’s a noir murder mystery. And that’s where it breaks down for me – it’s really well-made, well-acted, well-written, and so on, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty much a standard noir story. Despite the future setting and tech, there’s not a lot that’s done with that framework to really set it apart from other, similar stories. Moreover, the main character is the revived consciousness of a character we see in flashbacks as Asian, but in the present, he’s been put into the body of a white man. Here especially is a setting where the race of a character matters less than any other – there’s a much-reduced sense of race, and even gender, in this world where anyone can look like anything – and yet they literally took the consciousness of an Asian guy and put it into a white body. Given the various discussions that have been going on around this issue (including the fantastic garbage that was Netflix’s Iron Fist), they might have had some better sensibilities about it. But alas. Still, all around, it’s a solid, strong, interesting show, and you could do worse with your time.
On the other hand, my must-watch pick from this roundup is, hands down, the HBO black comedy Barry. Starring Bill Hader (and with Stephen Root and Henry Winkler – the Fonz himself! – in the ensemble), it explores the life of a hitman who finds himself disillusioned with his job, when he follows one of his targets into an acting class and he ends up being absolutely taken by it. From there, the rest is the tension between these two worlds, and is just delightful. Especially the character NoHo Hank, who is quite possibly the best henchman ever written – it’s hard to explain without ruining things, but he might be the best part of the show, and the whole thing is just so wonderful. Do keep in mind that it’s about a hitman, so there’s more than a little violence, but I really can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Other good picks for new shows include Siren, a very interesting take on the concept of mermaids; The Terror, a fantastical horrific reimagining of a real-life British expedition that disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage; and The Looming Tower, a fairly accurate (to my knowledge) dramatization of events leading up to 9/11. It’s not a documentary by any means, but more in the same vein as Band of Brothers, in that it closely follows historic events and people, and tells parts of that story that I, for one, was too young to pay any attention to.
The last one in the “Good” column this time around is Cobra Kai, a sort of rebooted, updated retelling of The Karate Kid that is also a continuation of where the first three movies left off. It brings back all the stars of the originals, looking at their lives in the decades since Danny won the karate championship, but it takes a much deeper look at Johnny’s side of things, including occasional flashbacks to events from the first movie from his point of view. It’s really well-done, really funny, and just generally worth watching for anyone who enjoyed those movies growing up, which really should be everyone, because they’re just delightful.
Bridging the gap between the good and the not-quite-as-good is LA to Vegas, a sitcom following the lives of the flight crew and passengers who frequent the titular flight leg. It’s just silly, fun, though it was also cancelled after the first season, sadly. It wasn’t good, in the classic sense, but it definitely had its charms.
Another that I’d put on the bubble for now is Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, a story about a couple of teens in New Orleans coming to terms with their shared past as they discover and learn to control super powers. On the whole, it’s got a lot of the right ingredients to be good; my main issue is that some of the actors aren’t quite there, in a big enough way to detract from the show. Hopefully, it will find its feet pretty soon, but that has yet to happen for me.
On the list of really just okay, nothing-special shows, we have Deception and Instinct, both about special consultants to police forces that bring unusual personalities and areas of expertise (I like the use of magic in Deception, but Instinct stars Alan Cumming, so take your pick, really; plus, Deception was already cancelled, so there’s that part to consider, too); 9-1-1 and Station 19, both following the exploits of emergency responders in their daily lives (I thought 9-1-1 to be the stronger show, but it was also much more brazenly emotionally manipulative); and Carter and Take Two, both of which are about actors struggling with their fame who end up working as consultants, one for the police (Carter), and one for a PI (Take Two) (I would recommend Take Two, between them but neither is really anything special, honestly). Naturally, in both cases, they are able to use their experience playing cops to find solutions that the professionals overlook, because that’s totally how those things would go in real life. Mainly, however, I find it interesting how often shows with similar premises are released at around the same time as each other. Some other examples from the past 5 or 7 years include Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Lost Girl, and Killjoys, Dark Matter, and The Expanse, each group of which aired relatively close in time to each other, and were about very similar ideas. I don’t know if it’s too do with intentional competition or it’s just coincidence, but it seems to happen pretty often.
Lastly, on the Not Good list, the only one I’m going to mention is The Outpost, a fantasy story about an elf rip-off going on a journey of revenge after her village is destroyed for unknown reasons. It’s only a couple episodes in so far, but has a long way to go before I’m willing to recommend it. Then again, that’s what I also would have said about Wynonna Earp at this same point in its run, and I was thrilled that season 3 of that one just aired, so The Outpost might yet surprise.
Okay. That’s a lot of TV. Let’s turn to movies!
There’s just one that I want to discuss, because enough of it bothered me sufficiently – the recent Tom Cruise Mummy remake. I’m going to set aside the generally uninspired plot and writing, but my problems with it really start with their attempt to mix the horror of the original mummy movie with the humor of the Brendan Fraser remakes. Tom Cruise seems to be trying to bring his version of that character to this movie, but he just doesn’t land it, in large part because the rest of the movie doesn’t commit to it. They try to do a horror version, which would be fine, and does have some genuinely good horror moments; but with an attempt at a comedic lead, it just contrasts too much.
The other problem I had with it – and I feel the need to provide a spoiler warning here, in case any of you plan on watching it at some point – is that they included characters that had no real place other than to try to build a larger universe, which raises the question – why does it need a universe, and why does a shared universe automatically mean the characters have crossover between stories? I understand the marketing drives for an expanded, shared universe, but those must be, first and foremost, rooted in complimentary characters that feel like they have a place in each other’s stories. In this case, the placements were jarring and incongruous with the rest of the story, so it ended up feeling like a bit of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen remake, which just served to worsen the problems of the tone discussed above. Bottom line, storytelling needs to come before a larger universe, because no one will care about an expanded universe if the movies aren’t good in the first place.
Okay, that’s it. I’m done.
What did I miss? What should I watch that I’m not? What’s on this list that shouldn’t be? How’s life with y’all?
Hello again, all! Happy New Year! I hope it finds you well.
To begin, my everlasting thanks to K and P, for suggesting The Good Place. It quickly became one of my ‘can’t wait!’s of the week, for sure. Ted Danson is a national treasure, unquestionably. Also, I’ve been getting caught up on The Orville, and it has been so much more than I expected it would be, and quite a bit better.
Okay. On to the new.
The Punisher. Duh. Violent (sorry, A!), but such a redemption for Netflix from Iron Fist. Personally, I enjoyed The Defenders, overall, though it was pretty unconscionable what they did to all of the sidekick-type characters (all those wonderful characters and you just throw them in a room and forget about them? Really, Netflix!?). But The Punisher brings them back to what made Daredevil so great; namely, excellent storytelling.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Duh. Even before the show won a couple of Golden Globes, I was recommending it to everyone. It’s on Amazon Prime, sadly, but is definitely worth finding a way to watch, if you can. It’s about a 1950s housewife-turned-standup-comic, and is just delightful in so many ways.
DuckTales. Nostalgia duh. I loved the original DuckTales as a kid, so them making the decision to reboot the series, especially with David Tennant as Scrooge, was a no-brainer for me. And, to my personal eye, they’ve held true to the original, which is great to see.
Mindhunter. Not exactly a ‘duh’, but definitely worth the time. It looks at the development of behavioral psychology as a discipline, specifically as applied by the FBI to identify and begin to understand serial killers. It’s not generally directly violent, but it’s got a lot of disturbing descriptions and images of gruesomeness, so do be warned. It’s also heavily based on real-life events, so, while it’s not a documentary per se, it’s nonetheless very much real, in many ways.
Finally, Shrink, which I somehow missed when it first came out (spring of 2017, I think), but have been very much enjoying. It’s a comedy about a guy in Chicago who went to med school but couldn’t become a doctor, so turns to psychiatry instead, despite being $500,000 in debt. To obtain his license regardless, he decides to see people for free. It’s been silly and definitely cringe-worthy, quite a bit, but overall, it’s been pretty great.
Okay, on to the things that are solid, but can be missed if you choose.
First on that list is a couple of cop shows – Tin Star and Absentia. Tin Star is about a sheriff in small-town Canada who suspects that a local gas company might be murdering locals and covering it up, to obtain their land for drilling. The opening is not exactly family-friendly, though, so do be warned if you go into this one. Absentia, on the other hand, is about an FBI agent who goes missing and is found after six years, and after being declared dead, and who needs to find a way to get back into her life while dealing with the aftermath and fallout of her kidnapping. Both are pretty much what you’d expect, but there are definitely worse things out there to watch (and believe me, I’m sure I’ve seen some of them).
Next, we have Valor. This one is about a couple of US Army helicopter pilots who, while on a mission that goes sideways, make a choice that leads them into a conspiracy they then try to unravel, while helping to bring back one of their compatriots. The show has its flaws, certainly, but one of the things I’ve appreciated about it is that it hasn’t been a “the military is always good, no matter what” kind of thing, like can happen sometimes. It does, in its way, challenge the notion of the inherent goodness of the government.
I’m going to include a trio of superhero picks here, though I suspect at least one of them will be controversial – Marvel’s Runaways, The Gifted and Inhumans. Each deals with superheros in their own way. Runaways is about a group of teens who begin to realize that their parents might in fact be pretty terrible people, while at the same time finding they have powers the didn’t know about before. The Gifted is another X-Men-verse show, set in a world where much of the populace has turned on mutants, about a family needing to come to grips with the notion that mutants are, on the whole, very much human, after the two children are revealed to themselves have powers. Inhumans is a completely different premise, about a race of superhuman beings who live on the moon, and who go through a mutation process to reveal their powers upon reaching a certain age. But there’s a giant teleporting bulldog, so it’s all cool. But seriously, I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I should add that it’s very much a show that bypasses any pretense of normal life, and as such, can get pretty damn absurd at times.
To round out this installment, here’s a show whose first episode was promising, and could be a pretty great comedy – LA to Vegas. I expected a dumb, unfunny sitcom, and instead found myself rather tickled by the dysfunction of the characters. It just started, so could certainly go south FAST, but for now, I’m remaining hopeful that it will continue to be enjoyable and entertaining.
I’m going to leave it there, as I figure this is long enough. There are several shows that I would NOT recommend, based on what I’ve seen so far (Ghost Wars, Superstition, and Knightfall), but I don’t see much point in discussing them beyond this mention, so I won’t.
As always, let me know what I got wrong, what’s missing, or your own thoughts on all of this, and I hope y’all are doin’ well! Stay warm!
Okay – six months later(ish). I’m sure we’ve all recovered from Legion, and everyone’s looking for something new, right? Right. Before we dive in, I’ve realized I’ll need to do a few things I haven’t done before, because these times we live in, they are unusual. So all that being said, hold on to your butts.
I don’t know if I’ve been exceptionally lucky this time around in the shows I’ve taken the time to watch, or if television is getting better recently, but I haven’t really found anything that I would describe as bad lately, nor anything that I’ve watched that I would actively caution against. Yes, there’s plenty of blah out there, to be sure. But this list is surprisingly – and refreshingly – light on the bad.
I’ll start with the worst, I think – Salvation, Will, and Midnight, Texas. None of these are irredeemable – Salvation is about obstinate geopolitics in the face of a world-ending catastrophe in the form of an asteroid. It’s more spy/conspiracy thriller than apocalyptic thriller (a note, not a criticism), and the main character is frequently rather insufferable (definitely a criticism), but aside from that, it’s entertaining, if rather silly.
Will answers the question I know we’ve ALL been wondering – what would Shakespeare be like if there was rock background music, and he was secretly a (reluctant) Catholic spy (and also pretty insufferable; so, so dumb….). It grew on me as the season went on, to be fair, and I like the idea of Shakespeare drawing inspiration from quotes and events around him, though that part is also hella contrived. The music was jarring, at first – “London Calling” playing against contemporary sets and costumes, for instance, and every now and again, they actually break into song and dance, which is really just absurd – but it was enjoyable. Colm Meaney’s always worth watching, I figure, and there were definitely clever aspects of the conceit. Feel free to skip it, if you want, but there are worse ways to spend your time, as well.
Along the same lines, Midnight, Texas is pretty much a standard, formulaic interpretation of “let’s put a whole bunch of paranormal people together in a small town in Texas” kind of thing. It’s fun; it’s what it promises to be; it doesn’t force you to think – at all – and the lead is slightly less dumb than in the others, though still pretty much an utter moron. I’m going to keep watching it, but as I think I’ve made clear, I’m pretty much trash when it comes to my TV viewing habits, so take that for what it is.
One show that I haven’t done much yet, and I’m not sure at all how far I’ll go with it, is Blood Drive. I watched the first episode – basically, it’s a dystopian police drama set in a futuristic 1990s when gasoline has run out and the wealth gap has grown so astronomically that poor people can’t really even afford water, which is rationed at ATM-type things, presumably because it’s so scarce. However, some people have found a way to make cars run on human blood, and they compete in a race across Arizona/Nevada/Desertville, for some prize of money, I think (it’s been a while since I watched the first episode, which is all I’ve seen so far), and our cop hero happens upon them at the beginning of one of their races, sees them feeding people into their car engines, and ultimately gets roped into joining the race or dying.
Now, you might think this show sounds like exactly the kind of thing I’d want to watch – I certainly did. It’s absolutely campy enough – there’s never a moment where it doesn’t recognize what it is. But I also realized, while watching the first episode, that to me, it doesn’t really feel like it adds anything, either. Obviously, it’s heavily influenced by the grindhouse exploitation movies of the ’60s and ’70s, and in many ways, is absolutely a fitting homage to that style, and does quite a good job of it. But I couldn’t help but feel that that wasn’t enough.
For example, they made a point of going over the top in all aspects, even showing people having sex with black censor bars across the screen. To me, at that point, you may as well just show it, rather than censor it. Like, I get that it’s on Syfy, and I get that that’s probably a part of the genre, too, but the classic exploitation films were, to some extent, aimed at pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable, and they challenged the notion of what we, as a society, are willing to create and consume. With Blood Drive, I essentially felt as though it was needlessly and senselessly derivative, without adding anything of value to the genre. Maybe that will change when I watch more of it, but I’m not terribly optimistic about that, nor do I have any idea of when I might continue the series.
Moving on now to better TV shows.
There are two in my ever-favorite category of “surprisingly good”. I always enjoy finding shows that I expect will be awful that turn out to be not-awful. This time around, first and foremost, we have Imaginary Mary, which is about a woman (Alice, played by Jenna Elfman) who finds herself conjuring up her imaginary friend Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch) to help deal with her insecurities as she finds herself falling in love with a divorced father of three. The show was cancelled after the first season, and I’m clearly in the minority opinion, but I found it to be entertaining, I thought the Mary character was fun, and like I said – it was better than I thought it would be, which always raises its esteem in my eyes. So check it out if you want. Or not. Whatever.
Second is a drama, Famous in Love, about a small-town girl who essentially stumbles into a career as a movie star, and looks at the tangle of love- and professional-interest conflicts that she finds herself in. It’s pretty much a soap opera about a twenty-something fantasy of what it’s like to be the star of a teen drama mega-popular movie franchise, but I found it oddly compelling, if not terribly well-written. Escapism has an appeal though, right?
Now, before we move on to the good, I need to do the first of the things that I don’t normally do, which is revisit something I discussed previously. A while back, I brought up Wynonna Earp (“what if Wyatt Earp was cursed so that his descendants had to constantly kill his victims?”), and I mentioned at the time that it was surprisingly good, despite some flaws. I’m upgrading that to a “you probably really should watch it, if you’re interested in Weird West-style stories”; as it’s gone through its second season, I found myself constantly surprised and impressed with where the story has gone, not at all being the predictable “woman-fights-growing-evil” story I had expected (though there’s plenty of that, as well, of course).
Okay, on to the good. There’s a bunch. American Gods was great; if there’s one thing on this list you start watching, watch that one. Dear White People was great. If there are two things on this you start watching, watch American Gods and Dear White People. (To make sure we’re all caught up – American Gods is adapted from a Neil Gaiman book, and essentially follows a recently-released convict as he gets caught up in a brewing war between petty and petulant gods, who are very much real, and all on their way to Wisconsin, for some reason. Dear White People, on the other hand, is a mostly-comedy about a college radio-show host who takes up issues of race and how they affect people’s behavior, while working to find her own identity as a black feminist dating a white guy. Strong female characters abound.)
Likewise, for more on strong, if flawed, female characters, you could always turn to GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling), based on the pro wrestling league of the same name started up in the ’80s. Alison Brie plays a struggling actress who finds herself in a new project as a wrestler; she’s also something of an awful person, at least in the beginning, and ultimately finds a new power and voice for herself, along with the other women. It’s somewhat predictable in execution, but don’t let that stop you.
Also high on the list is Girlboss, a loose (“real loose”) retelling of the founding and story behind Nasty Gal. This one was also cancelled after one season (that happens a lot to shows that I like, by the by, so either I’m a really bad judge of quality TV, or everyone else is, and I’ve never been able to figure which, though almost certainly the former). Regardless – I thought the show was great, on the whole, and the main character didn’t try to be particularly likable, which I found to be rather refreshing and good to see, given how often that’s not the case.
Along those lines, we also have The Bold Type, about 3 twenty-somethings working at a fashion magazine in New York, and all the crazy shenanigans they get up to as they navigate a professional life, dating, and so on. It’s been good; it’s been fun; but I can’t help but be distracted by how often their boss – the editor of this major magazine – seems to be sucked into their personal lives and issues, which just strikes me as, like, “how does she have time to care that much?”, basically. But yeah, it’s good.
I’ll briefly mention I’m Dying Up Here, about comics trying to make names for themselves in Los Angeles in the ’70s. It’s definitely a drama, which is nice – it’s not just a comedy about comics, but rather about the pain and difficulty and so on that many of them have. Because of all that, of course, it can also get pretty heavy. But on the whole, it’s been good.
Finally, another deviation from normal, accompanied by a spoiler alert – The Gong Show. As some of you may be aware, back in the ’70s and ’80s, there was a game show called The Gong Show, where people would come up and perform rather eccentric and unusual acts; things that, while possibly displaying real talent, they couldn’t easily find a stage for elsewhere. The main gimmick, of course, was that if the judges didn’t like their performances, the judges would ring a giant gong, and the performer would be eliminated. Well, they brought it back, in all its weirdness, this year. First, I would say that it’s definitely been entertaining. It’s an amateur-ish variety show, with some very, very strange acts, which is just pretty hilarious all around. But second, you might be wondering “a spoiler alert, for a game show?” Well, yes; because arguably the most impressive thing about this show, for me, has been the host, Tommy Maitland. And here’s the spoiler – most people agree that it is, in fact, Mike Myers playing the part of Tommy Maitland, which I could not possibly have guessed, based on his look and more importantly, his performance. I’ve always associated Mike Myers with Austin Powers, and Austin Powers with atrocious, but funny, overacting. Seeing him in this role, where his tendency to go over the top fits in perfectly with what he needs to do, has given me such a greater appreciation for his skill. The quirkiness of the acts that they get would have been enough for me, of course – this kind of game show is exactly the kind of thing I would enjoy – but seeing him so perfect in this role has really cemented it for me. It’s goofy; it’s absurd; it’s got some actual real talent periodically; it’s kind of great.
So yeah, that’s most of what I’ve been watching lately. As always, your thoughts on my terrible choices are welcome, and I look forward to writing the next novel, probably towards the end of the year.
Okay, so it’s been a while. I’m the worst. Yadda yadda yadda. I get it. And I’m sorry for it. But nonetheless, here we are, so let’s just move on to the good stuff, and let bygones be bygones.
I’ve been watching a lot of shows since I last wrote, and I am surprised, and pleased, to say that so very many of them are excellent programming. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten lucky this time around, or if there really are that many great shows out there these days, but either way, things are looking good for us television watchers these days, though we may be experiencing something of a glut of good TV. Regardless.
*Exhales* Okay. I’ll try this again.
Westworld, though I am not current on it, is fantastic all the same. Anyone out there looking for both a sci-fi drama and an Old Western period piece will be hard-pressed to find a better one. And anything that gives me more Anthony Hopkins (yes, that Anthony Hopkins) can’t possibly be bad. And Westworld isn’t; it’s the opposite of bad. It’s actually quite good.
Marvel has been hitting big again and again – this time around, Luke Cage and Iron Fist deserve mention (and Legion, but that really demands attention all its own). Luke Cage is pretty great, though I’m not sure where I would place it relative to Daredevil or Jessica Jones. All three of them have been fantastic, in their own ways. Which brings us to Iron Fist. I’ve only recently begun that one, and I’m well aware of the issues surrounding this character and property; for where I am in the series so far, I haven’t yet encountered those issues, as far as I can tell, though maybe I’m too white to know it (I’m certainly very, very white), but I would also say, regardless of that, it’s weaker than the other titles, at least to this point (two episodes in, for those keeping score). I plan to continue it, of course, so it may yet improve, but that calls for speculation on my part, so here we are.
There were a couple of fantastic foreign titles that require mention this time – Occupied, a Norwegian show set in the near-ish future (Okkupert, if you have trouble finding info using the English title), and 3%, a Brazilian endeavor taking place in the indeterminate future. Both are excellent. Occupied explores Norway as it experiences a quiet Russian takeover of the government, with Europe looking on in apathy. It was really quite well done all around, but what has continued to stick with me is the opening credits, which just might do the absolute best job of both setting the tone and conveying the backstory of any show I have ever watched (which, in case I haven’t been clear, is quite a few). Aside from the credits, of course, the acting, writing, story, etc, are all well worth the subtitles. I’m eagerly awaiting a second season on this one, though I don’t know when that might be.
3%, on the other hand, is something of a cross between The Hunger Games and pure originality (since I can’t find a better comparison offhand). It follows a group of 20-ish-year-olds as they go through “The Process”, a series of tests designed to select out the best 3% of every generation. One of the best things about this show is the relatable-ness of the villain – not only does he pretty much exude arrogance, over-self-confidence, and sadistic intellect, but you also can’t help coming away from the show feeling some amount of sympathy and respect for the man. It’s really well-done, in all regards. The subtitles are very much worth it.
Next on the “good” list are Embeds, about political reporters following a third- or fourth-rate Presidential campaign, and Shut Eye, about a con-man psychic who starts having actual visions. Embeds is nothing revolutionary, to be sure, but it’s relatively short (only 6 half-hour episodes), and still manages to do some good work with the time it has. Given its length, it’s definitely worth a consideration. Shut Eye, on the other hand, requires a larger time commitment, but is still worth the investment (perhaps if you’ve already seen much of what I’ve already mentioned, at least). It was, on the whole, well-written, well-acted, and so on, though there was, for me, a pretty glaring inconsistency in the story which was annoying. But on the whole, I would have to recommend it.
Finally, MTV has done it again – first they created a really faithful television adaptation of the Scream franchise (Scream: The TV Series), now they’ve come out with Sweet/Vicious, a series about a couple of college women who exact vigilante justice on accused rapists let off too easily by the system. Obviously, it deals directly with issues of sexual violence (since that is the prime motivator of the series), but I would argue that, on the whole, it is respectful and relatively honest in its depictions and descriptions, and beyond that, it’s just generally entertaining to watch a pint-sized sorority girl kick the shit out of guys who really, by any estimation, deserve it. Beyond all that, Sweet/Vicious does a great job writing characters you care about, giving each a lot more depth than many other shows. Again, it’s very much worth a watch, more so than either Embeds or Shut Eye.
Finally finally, an animated fantasy-adventure from Guillermo del Toro – Trollhunters. This one follows the story of a teen-aged human who gets chosen by a mystical amulet to defend Trollhome from evil trolls (all the non-human characters are trolls, but not all of them are evil). It’s the right mix of fun, light, dark, creepy, and horror, and is just an all-around good time. (It also features the voice-work of Kelsey Grammer, for all you Frasier fans out there.)
So that’s the good (except for Legion, which really just deserves its own email, but will be handled at the end of this one instead). Watch anything on this list, and you probably won’t be disappointed, with an asterisk next to Iron Fist mainly because I’m only two episodes in so far.
On to the bad.
I am so happy to report that there is so little bad to report this time! Based on what I’ve watched, at least. There’s only two that are worth a mention – Aftermath, about the end of…. well, everything, really; and Van Helsing, about a great-great-something-or-other descendant of the classic Van Helsing who finds herself the focal point of a vampire conquest of the western United States after the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts and coats the sky in ash and darkness. Honestly, the premise sounds a lot more interesting than the first 6 or 7 episodes proved to be; I would say don’t waste your time, given how much greatness there is elsewhere (just re-read the earlier paragraphs here, if you doubt!).
Aftermath, on the other hand, suffered from weak characters, weak writing, and just generally too much risk. Basically, it follows the struggle of one family to survive the apocalypse, both natural and supernatural, as everything that you can possibly imagine going wrong goes wrong, with some extra unimaginable wrong-going thrown in for…. good measure? I guess? Aside from its overall weaknesses, which could maybe be forgiven or corrected given enough time, my biggest problem with this show is that, from the start, the stakes are too high. There are hurricanes staying inland over the west coast; the power can’t stay on for too long; a mysterious virus is infecting people more or less at random and turning them into irrational berserkers; fish are falling from the sky during storms (presumably from the hurricanes); meteors are hurtling towards Earth; long-dormant spirit-walkers are awakening and possessing people; and I think I saw some preview somewhere that showed dragons? I don’t really know. The point is this – when the stakes are raised so much that survival is impossible, but you make a show about people whose survival is guaranteed, you find yourself in a predicament that’s really hard to get out of. You can’t back off on the disasters without weakening your premise, and you can’t kill off your characters while still having characters left over, so your only choices are great writing, or really compelling characters. Unfortunately, Aftermath fails on both those points.
I’m also going to skim though a number of shows that weren’t bad, but weren’t great. These are worth watching, I’d say, if their premises interest you, or if you’re looking for something more mindless to use to pass the time without becoming super invested. So here goes – Pitch. Timeless. Lethal Weapon. MacGyver. Designated Survivor. The Blacklist: Redemption. Powerless. Each of these has merits in its own right – Pitch and Designated Survivor are probably the best of this bunch, all around, being about the first woman called up to the major leagues in baseball, and about the HUD secretary assuming the presidency after the rest of government is blown up in a terrorist attack during the State of the Union speech, respectively. They’re each solid shows, on the whole, and you could watch a lot worse than these.
Lethal Weapon and MacGyver are reboots of their respective properties; both are generally entertaining, reasonably solid shows, but to my knowledge, neither adds anything revolutionary or ground-breaking, and can be skipped without missing anything more than mindless entertainment.
Timeless is about a trio of people recruited by the government to track down a terrorist through time; he’s bent on changing history, they’re bent on saving it. It’s silly; it’s fun; it’s not-awful; you could do worse. The Blacklist: Redemption probably isn’t worth watching unless you’re a fan of The Blacklist, in which case you’re probably already watching it. But it’s basically an extension of the original; it’s generally solidly-written and solidly-acted, but I can’t say I’d suggest starting this one up without having some investment or interest in The Blacklist in the first place. It’s intriguing so far, but not must-see TV, by any means (unlike Legion; see below).
Powerless answers the question all DC Comics fans have been wondering for ages – what about the people in a superhero universe who don’t have powers? It’s fun, and it’s got some really fun actors – Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk will always have a special place in my heart – but so far, it’s not exceptional, or groundbreaking, or etc etc etc. But fun, all the same.
To end (most) of this entry, a new category(!) – shows I expected would suck, but surprisingly didn’t. These are shows I didn’t know much about, beyond the premise, and didn’t expect would amount to much, but definitely did. First up – The Mick, about a non-affluent woman whose affluent sister and brother-in-law get arrested for tax fraud, and who finds herself the unexpected custodian of her sister’s absolutely atrocious children. It’s more or less a fish-out-of-water story, except the fish is no great saint herself, and is just generally a lot of absurd fun, with just the right amount of emotion to make me care.
Likewise, we have Mary Kills People, a show with an ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS name, that is nevertheless much better than you’d expect. Surprisingly, it’s about a doctor, named Mary, who moonlights by helping people commit suicide. It’s a Canadian show, which kind of destroys the premise (since Canada legalized assisted suicide back in June of 2016), but regardless of that, the writing, acting, and story are all much more engaging than I had expected. I would probably recommend this one above the “okay’s” or “so-so’s” that I’ve already discussed.
Finally (for this section), the breakout star, from SyFy Channel (oh my God, why did they do that to themselves?) – Wynonna Earp. Like Van Helsing, mentioned above, this one follows the great-to-whatever-degree granddaughter of another classic figure, in this case, Wyatt Earp (duh), as she finds herself back in her hometown fighting the resurrected demon souls of the men her whatever-degree-grandfather killed in the first place. There’s no doubt that the premise is absurd, and the acting/writing/storytelling are far from perfect. But watching it through to the end of its first season, not only did I find myself surprised and excited by the twists and turns it took throughout, but I also found myself really hoping for a second season (apparently announced in 2016, so yay for that!). This isn’t one that demands attention, obviously, but it’s a supernatural woman-vs-demon Old-Western-style show that was, for me, a lot of fun, and a good deal better than I expected. It’s not great, by any standards, but if you looked at it and scoffed, maybe give it a second look if you find yourself with some time.
So, I think that’s about it for now. I don’t know what else to say, except…. what? What’s that? I didn’t mention Legion? I committed such a sin against the TV-watching public? Well, I guess I need to make up for that, don’t I….
Legion. Watch it. Watch it now. It’s amazing; it’s weird; it’s gorgeous; it’s crazy; it’s amazing. It’s about an (apparently) obscure X-Men character (Legion), about whom I knew nothing, prior to this show, but holy Hell is it fantastically done. The filming, acting, writing, and story are all, to this point in the season, superb. The show airs on FX (not necessarily known for its television muscle, though certainly no slouch, I suppose), and they could not have done a better job with it. The season is only 6 or 7 episodes in, at this point, and I am not caught up on Westworld just yet (I know, I know; parade me naked through the streets beating a drum and chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”. Except please don’t do that, for my sake and yours), but Legion might just be the best show on TV right now. Plus, it’s got Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) absolutely killing it in possibly the most sinister role I’ve seen on TV in a long time. Do yourself a favor – do us all a favor – and watch Legion, if you haven’t yet. This is my new Utopia (another show that you should probably drop everything and watch right-the-f-now, by the way, if you haven’t yet). Legion demands to be seen. Just…. expect weirdness, because hoo-boy!, does it deliver!
Okay, for real this time, that’s all I’ve got. What am I not watching that I should be? Did I leave out your favorite new show? Is there something full of buzz that I didn’t mention here? Let me know! I’m always looking for new shows to consume.
P.S. I’m aware of, but haven’t started watching yet, a number of new and relatively new shows, including Incorporated and Falling Water (the first episode of which was so very different from any other USA show that I don’t know why I haven’t watched more just yet, but I haven’t), so if I didn’t mention something here, it might just be that I haven’t given it a try just yet. But let me know about it anyway, just in case! AND GO WATCH LEGION! NOW!
First, an apology to A and P for taking so long to write this; things got busy for me through much of the first half of this year. But I figured, summer’s a good time, right?…. right?……
Next, a welcome to A and K; I was told you were interested in reading my random, rambling thoughts on new TV shows, so here you are. Let me know if I was mistaken, obviously.
Now, on to the good stuff.
I know I normally don’t do this, but season 2 of Mr. Robot just aired, and I’m oh-so-excited to see where it goes. I think we can all agree that season 1 was pretty spectacular, and from the first couple episodes, the new one won’t disappoint.
But I digress. New shows are what this is all about, and given my delay between this writing and my previous one, there are quite a few I want to talk about. Let’s start with the horror(ish) shows.
Ash vs. Evil Dead was everything I had wanted it to be – Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash, the eternally demon-beset, trying to figure out how to just be left alone. It’s got gore, it’s got comedy, it’s got a chainsaw for a hand – basically, it had everything, plus Lucy Lawless! It was like a serialized version of the movies, and it was amazing.
A bit more recently (like, a few weeks ago), an interesting series called Outcast. This one centers on a man with a pretty terrible childhood whose demons have returned to possess the townsfolk. It’s something like a mystery version of The Exorcist; I’m not quite sure what I think of it yet, having only seen a few episodes so far, but it’s definitely been intriguing, and could end up one to watch.
The final horror(ish) show that I must DEFINITELY recommend, to everyone, right away, now, is BrainDead. This one, first and foremost, is perhaps the timeliest piece of television I have ever had the good fortune to find, given our current election cycle and the show’s focus on political entrenchment. In short, alien bugs land in DC and start changing people’s behavior. It’s part alien horror/mystery, part – really dark – comedy. Plus intro recap songs by Jonathan Coulton, and, as a bonus, exploding heads. Really, it’s definitely worth a watch; just be ready for some gross.
Next up, a trio of sci-fi shows to talk about. Into the Badlands is a post-apocalyptic ninja/western hybrid, with supernatural overtones. The acting was a little weak, to be sure, but the concept was intriguing, and it was a solid show, all around. Again, on the violent side, but with some really cool sword fights. Plus it’s short – only 6 1-hour episodes – so it’s not much of a time investment. I’d recommend it, if “post-apocalyptic ninja/western hybrid” sounds interesting to you.
The second sci-fi show – The Expanse. This is very much a mystery show, following along several different story lines in a far-future solar system where humans have colonized Mars and the asteroid belt (in addition to still living on Earth), and begun evolving away from each other both culturally and physically. It’s based on a book series, and relative to the other sci-fi shows I talked about from last year (Dark Matter and Killjoys), this one is definitely the best, though all three are solidly entertaining. But the way that the stories are all intertwined and connected is really well-done, and there’s space Mormons. So.
Finally (in sci-fi), Colony. Aliens have conquered Earth and set up essentially occupation zones for the surviving populace. It’s essentially a resistance story, looking at how the parents in a family are drawn in different directions to do what they think is right. I’m a big fan of the whole “resistance” or “rebellion” theme, so this one works for me, though it’s nothing special in terms of television shows, at least not yet. I mean, it’s no exploding heads, after all.
Okay. Almost done.
There are three fantasy shows that made the cut (i.e. that I want to talk about). First up is The Magicians, another one based on a book series. In essence, it’s Harry Potter for grown-ups, and so it’s much more serious and bloody in its portrayal of magic. Basically, a grad student gets accepted to a school for magicians and wackiness (read: terror and badness) ensues. The lead character pretty much is a pissant, and I spent basically the whole season wanting to slap him upside the head, or just kick him in the shins repeatedly, I’m not really sure; but physical pain was called for. HOWEVER. Most of the rest of the characters are really great, and since they didn’t shy away from some really intense story lines and events, it ended up being pretty engaging.
Fantasy show number 2 – Lucifer. This is essentially your basic lady-cop-pairs-up-with-charismatic-but-eccentric-male-partner show, except here, the partner is Lucifer, as in Satan, taking a break from ruling over hell by escaping to Los Angeles (because duh). I believe this one is adapted from a graphic novel, but P would be better able to address that. Either way, although it’s formulaic and more or less predictable, and doesn’t really add anything new to the genre, I really enjoyed their version of Lucifer, as a guy who wanted to escape from a job he really didn’t like. On the whole, it was pretty entertaining and fun, if not especially original.
Finally, Shadowhunters. Adapted from teen novels (I believe), this one was basically a bunch of really attractive people killing vampires and fighting demons in New York City. Everyone is after a chalice to have power over the demons, and they have to stop it, and so on. It wasn’t terribly well-acted, nor well-written, and I wouldn’t have finished the season, I don’t think, except that one of the students I was working with knew the books, so we would discuss differences between the show and books occasionally. Worth your time if you want to watch pretty people fight evil with swords made of light (or something like that).
Two more (I know, this is loooooong). Also, these last two are rather out of character for me – they’re neither science fiction, nor horror, nor fantasy, nor do they feature exploding heads, mysteries, anything supernatural, or really fit with any of the shows I’ve discussed, in this summary or any of my previous ones; yet here we are.
I never expected to say this, but I have to recommend Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s a musical comedy about a slightly-obsessed woman who follows her ex-boyfriend (from years ago) out to California. I was expecting to watch a few episodes, see just how much they played up the various “crazy female” tropes, and then move on to something better. But then I realized that this show was that something better. Despite all the expectations, it really wasn’t about any of that, at all, for which the writers and creators deserve major kudos. Instead, although it’s framed as being about her attempts to win back her ex, really, the show explores much more about being okay on one’s own, and developing as an individual. The songs are hit-or-miss, but generally made me laugh, and with the surprising depth to the writing, if you overlooked this one, I would suggest you take a second look at it; it was surprisingly good.
Finally – finally – another completely out of character show – UnREAL. This one follows the drama behind the camera on the set of a (fictional) Bachelor-style reality show. It is, in many ways, a psychological drama, as we watch the characters manipulate and coerce the contestants into all kinds of questionable (at best) behavior for the sake of getting good ratings. It’s a really well-done show all around, and again, I was surprised at what they did with it, given the premise seems pretty superficial and bland. This too would be worth checking out, I’d say.
So that’s it. I’m sure I left a bunch out; I already edited my own list to include just the good ones (mostly), since it was running so long. But I’m sure I left out some that deserve mention, so with that in mind, and as always, any thoughts? Did I overlook something that should have been included, or give too-high praise to something that wasn’t worth the trouble it took to make it? Feel free to share your thoughts with the group; that always makes these reviews more fun.
P.S. Everyone should watch Utopia, from 2013. It’s basically the best thing ever (and super, crazy violent, but still, so very, very worth it).
Alright, here’s the deal – I know that this show first aired last year, but – Jane the Virgin is frickin’ PHENOMENAL, yo! Like, holy sh*t hilarious and good. Like, if you’re not yet watching it…… So yeah, basically, you should definitely watch this show. (In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a waitress who gets artificially inseminated by her OB-GYN, and her story in dealing with the resulting pregnancy. If that sounds way too soap-opera-esque, it’s because it is; this show is amazingly self-aware and self-mocking, and you should really, really watch it, if you aren’t already. Plus, who doesn’t like a 1-hour comedy?)
Now, on to more recent airings.
Blindspot, Limitless, and Minority Report all bear mention – I haven’t seen too many episodes of Minority Report just yet, but still. I can’t say that all three are “the best television out there”, but I can say that they’re enjoyable and hold promise. Each is a sci-fi-ish cop drama, so depending on where your preferences lie, one or two or three could be enjoyable – Blindspot is about a female amnesiac discovered in Times Square covered in tattoos predicting future crimes; Limitless is based off the movie with Bradley Cooper, and centers on an everyday slacker hero who stumbles upon a drug that allows him to essentially become the smartest man alive, who then goes to work for the FBI; and Minority Report (also inspired by the movie of the same name) essentially picks up where the movie left off, looking at how one of the precogs is attempting to fit in with the rest of society. As I said, I haven’t seen much of that last one, but if you enjoyed the movie, and like sci-fi police dramas, it could definitely be worth checking out.
The other shows worth mentioning are The Muppets (because duh) – basically, The Office meets the Muppets, and I have a soft spot for Kermit, so; The Player, an interesting idea wherein Wesley Snipes plays a mysterious man running a gambling ring in Vegas where wagers are placed on crimes either happening or being thwarted, and wherein our titular Player is tasked with stopping them (I’ve only seen a few episodes of this one, so I’m not yet sure how it will develop); and finally, Public Morals – I believe I’ve mentioned my penchant for mobster movies/TV shows/media in general, but if not, this fits in with those – a period piece set in NYC in the ’60s, centered on a police task force created to enforce morality laws, and being corrupt as hell about it. Good times, or something….
There have been some other recent airings that I have yet to begin (The Bastard Executioner and Wayward Pines come to mind), and others that have only just started (Supergirl, for example), but those mentioned above are the ones that have caught my eye. Is there anything I’ve missed that I should look into? Anything that you like, or have been meaning to watch? As always, suggestions are appreciated!
So as you both probably know, the summer television season is in full swing, and there are several that I wanted to mention, all of which are dramas, for some reason; I’m unaware of any new comedies that have aired recently, but if I’m missing out, do, please, let me know.
The first one I’d mention is Mr. Robot, which you may or may not know is about a cybersecurity-expert-by-day/hacker-vigilante-by-night who finds himself involved with a hacker collective bent on….. a lot of stuff, really. But it’s been very good so far, to me, and, given the darkness/grittiness/bleakness of the world, I was very surprised to see it airing on USA (so yes, P, we can add this to the list of USA shows I watch…..). Not Utopia levels of good, but hey; what is?
Next up, two that fit more into the horror side than the thriller side – Zoo and Scream: The TV Series. Zoo (apparently based on a book) deals with a series of deadly animal attacks around the world, and a team of people gathered to help investigate. It’s still pretty young, and so could definitely go off the rails, but one of the things that I’ve enjoyed, especially, is that many of the questions I’ve had, as a biologist, have been addressed, either through answers, or at least by people mentioning how strange this or that is, which is something I feel like many shows just pretty much ignore. It also has a pretty solid cast, though nothing outstanding.
Scream, on the other hand, is a televised version of the movie series. Also pretty new (and on MTV, for some strange reason), the main reason it bears mention here is how well it has represented the movies, so far; they have done a surprisingly good job of preserving the tension styles of the movies, and have definitely kept the underlying feeling/question of “who’s next” that always supports good slasher fare. The acting and writing aren’t the best, but they suffice for the genre.
Finally, a couple of sci-fi shows – Killjoys and Dark Matter, both airing on Canadian TV, if I’m not mistaken. Dark Matter is more of a mystery/thriller, centered on six people who wake up on a spaceship with no memory of who they are or how they got there. It’s set in a far-future universe, and the episodes have often been based around the “we’re almost broke and need work” trope, similar to in Firefly, but the lack of concrete knowledge of the history of each character has already led to several well-done reinterpretations of their personalities as more and more of their history has come to light.
Killjoys is much closer in tone to Firefly, dealing with a trio of bounty hunters and their various hi-jinks. It’s been nothing too special just yet, but I still have hopes that it will come into it’s own as more of a Firefly-esque space opera, and so wanted to mention it here. It’s certainly been more upbeat and “fun” than the others on this list, but it could fall into staleness if it’s not careful, so we’ll need to see how it goes.
So that’s what I’ve been watching recently, along with the second season of Murder in the First (which has remained surprisingly strong, to my mind). I’ve also started Aquarius, and have Humans on my “pending” list, but I have nothing to say about either of those just yet. Any suggestions from either of you, or something that I’m missing that I really shouldn’t be?
I figured, it’s been a while; time to pass on my impressions of TV shows to P! Also, A had asked to be included, and I’ve kept her waiting long enough. Keep in mind, I certainly haven’t seen everything out there – I watch a lot, but even I don’t have time for that much; so it’s certainly possible I’ve missed something worth seeing. But here goes.
Comedies have, for me, definitely won the recent television seasons. The first one that comes to mind is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which, if you haven’t yet seen it, please, please do so; it’s pretty fantastic, and with Tina Fey at the helm, it’s way too easy and fulfilling to imagine it taking place in the same world as 30 Rock, so that’s what I choose to do with it. Second, You’re the Worst – funny without being too overly fake, plus a character named Shitstain, about people (roughly our age) trying to figure life out. Along the same lines, Man Seeking Woman has been rather on-point, if very strange at times; produced by SNL‘s Lorne Michaels and starring Jay Baruchel from Undeclared, you just need to accept that everything that happens actually happens, rather than being strange fantasy, and you’ll be good. Also, one of the early episodes is eerily similar to one of your YouTube videos, which I found to be neat. To round out the comedies, I have to mention Galavant, if only because it was a medieval/fantasy musical parodying all the classic tropes from fairy tale stories, and was pretty much the best. (Also, if you still haven’t watched Episodes, we need to have a long and serious discussion, because….. yeah….. it’s still fantastic.)
Dramas, on the other hand, have been rather disappointing for me, by which I mean, few have seemed interesting and hence worth my time. I have been watching the various superhero-themed shows (Gotham, The Flash, Marvel’s Agent Carter – I have a soft spot for pre-60s America), but none have really caught my attention. Rob Thomas has a Veronica Mars homage that just launched recently, iZombie, and while I’ve only seen the first couple episodes, I have hope for it, since I love Veronica Mars and enjoy all things zombie, more or less; but otherwise, there’s not much on the drama front that I’ve found to be enthralling or even engaging, though I certainly may have missed something. To go along with the recent theme of 1910s-1930s British period pieces (joining Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge), Indian Summers has been interesting, but I’m not sure I’d recommend going out of my way for it, unless you like the colonial India era. There was, of course, season 2 of Utopia (which OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT YES!); but I’m sure you’ve already watched that….. 🙂
Other than that, nothing really comes to mind that’s worth suggesting. Fresh Off the Boat has been amusing, but nothing special; How to Get Away with Murder has been interesting, but again, I haven’t been hooked on it; and I haven’t yet seen enough of 12 Monkeys to really speak on it, but I guess it has promise, after watching the first episode.
So I guess I’ll leave it there – nothing that really screams “Everyone needs to watch this NOW!!!”, except, of course, for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And season 6 of Community, but that’s just because six seasons and a movie (also, it’s been pretty funny so far, to me).
Anything that you’d recommend I pick up?
In addition to the movies, I have a tendency to keep up with quite a few TV shows. On occasion, I have been moved to write about them, and send the summaries to friends as emails. This series of posts is an adaptation of those emails, dated when they were originally written. Enjoy!
So; as you know, I tend to pretty much watch everything that airs (at least, I watch a lot of shows, both new and old); and whether you really consider my opinions or not, every now and again, I feel a need to pass them along. So while I’m not sure what shows you might be following, or might have thought about beginning, I figured I’d send my thoughts your way:
The Crazy Ones – Robin Williams NOT overacting, Sarah Michelle Gellar showing much more maturity than anything else I’ve seen her in (i.e. Buffy), and an entire leading cast that I recognize (Bob from Mad Men, Jerry Dantana from The Newsroom, and Shauna from The Mindy Project) overall make for a show that is much more subdued, and funnier, than anything I had expected from them. I’ve only seen the first four or five episodes, but this is one you should at the least look into.
Back in the Game – I have no love of baseball (or sports) whatsoever, but there’s something about this one that gives it a place of honor in my list; a combination of middle school and adult hijinks, combined with the fact that it’s got the father of Hawaii Five-0‘s Danny (aka James Caan), mean that I’ll keep up with it, at least through season 1.
Mom – I really appreciated the retro-ish sitcom feel, as well as well-balanced between crazy sitcom situations and entirely serious life situations; however, much though I love all things West Wing (in this case, Allison Janney), I found I couldn’t keep interest in it after three or four episodes, and would suggest/recommend you don’t waste your time here.
Trophy Wife – another on the West Wing comeback tour (seriously; there’s this with Bradley Whitford and Mom, and it’s kinda freakin’ me out this season), this one definitely struck a chord, if only because of the ridiculousness of the characters. The acting is pretty much spot-on, as well.
Sleepy Hollow – the idea of a dashing, highly intelligent male consultant assisting a female police detective has essentially become its own genre at this point (see Castle, Perception, or The Mentalist for other examples), almost to the point of cliche; and yet, the infusion of Christian mythology, couple with a definite commitment to the horror/creepy side of things, makes this one worth keeping looking into, in my estimation. To be completely honest, they do a pretty bang-up job at doing horror right.
Dracula – I’ve only seen the first (of two) episodes so far, but it has a lot of promise; we’ll have to see how it develops, but it could definitely make my list of recommended viewing.
Peaky Blinders – again, I haven’t kept up (I’ve watched episode 1, but no more just yet), but I’ve gotta say, this strikes me as Boardwalk Empire meets Copper, and even if I’m wrong, it is probably one of the strongest shows airing this fall. Plus, it’s got Cillian Murphy, a creepy-ass mo-fo if ever there was one.
Low Winter Sun – I’ve only seen the first episode, but I’ve gotta say, don’t waste your time; from what I’ve seen so far, it adds nothing to the genre, and it stars a white guy as the hero in Detroit, of all places; there are better shows that I’m listing here, even if it picks up in later episodes.
Ray Donovan – not exactly on the fall lineup, but airing not too much before the fall season began; definitely quality, definitely compelling, but, in my opinion, very heavy. It’s good, so long as you’re prepared for intensity without much reprieve. Worth watching, but it might be better to wait ’til it’s done, or at least until more of it’s aired, to be paced as you see fit.
Hello Ladies – you like awkward, excruciatingly uncomfortable humor, right? Then watch this show, right now. It’s only half-hour episodes, and each one makes me cringe at the assholeishness of the main character which, as far as I can tell, is essentially the point of the show. It’s well-done, kind of make you hate Hollywood a little bit more, and has Kevin Weisman (from Alias) as a supporting actor, which basically should, by itself, convince you to watch this show. If you don’t have time (I know you’re busy) it can wait – it’s definitely no Utopia – but, especially if it’s on your radar, you should move it up on the list to just below the shows you need to watch immediately; it is probably better watched in a chunk (though I wouldn’t know, as I’ve been keeping up with it per week).
The Blacklist – definitely fun, definitely an interesting take on the standard idea of criminal helping police, and definitely nothing special. If you’re looking for a fairly mindless but entertaining police procedural, then stop looking and watch this; if you want engaging characters and plot, it might be better to look elsewhere, as this one is pretty much par for the course.
The Last Witch – I’ve only managed to catch the first episode, but it has a lot of promise (for some reason, the British seem to do things right); I’ll need to reserve judgement until I have seen more, however.
The Psychopath Next Door – another British show I’ve only seen the first episode of, I would recommend watching this now; seeing the sadism of the titular psychopath is almost exquisite, and the overall analysis definitely puts it in the “well done” category.
Hostages – it’s got an interesting premise, and so far, I’ve only seen the first episode; on the other hand, I’ve only seen the first episode (i.e., the first wasn’t enough to convince me to watch the rest as they air). It’s an interesting idea, and there’s a lot of potential, but I didn’t see much in the way of results in the premiere, and there’s a good chance it will fall into the pit of mediocrity.
By Any Means – the last of the British shows, this one is entertaining, but not engaging. I saw the first three or so episodes, and would be fine leaving it at that (though I’ll watch the rest, because I’m me); it doesn’t seem to add much to the genre, and I can’t really suggest you spend your time here, especially in light of the rest of the list.
Serangoon Road – first, let me just say that this show takes place in Singapore, but stars an incredibly white Australian. If that isn’t bad enough, the character (or, I suppose, potentially the actor) has essentially no engagement with the audience (or at least not with me), instead being fairly subdued and difficult to enthuse about. However, the fact that it’s a period piece set in the 1960s definitely lends it an interesting and enticing cache. On the other hand, the main reason I have for continuing to watch it is the “next episode” teasers, which, for whatever reason, continue to draw me in.
I think that pretty much covers what I’ve started or kept up with for the fall; obviously, I’ve watched a lot, but I’ve also only seen the first or first two or three episodes of several of these shows. Let me know if any of them stand out as things you think you will watch, or if you have any other questions. And obviously, I don’t know how I’ll feel as some of these shows continue; but it should be a good place to begin.
And I know that you’re busy, making your incredible movies (rating the carpet at each of the comic stands was, in my opinion, genius), but I wanted to pass this along for your fleeting spare time; as always, let me know if you have any questions, about this email or any others.
Part 2 of Alice picks up right where part 1 left off, naturally – with Alice (Caterina Scorsone, Edge of Darkness; 1-800-Missing) imprisoned in a crumbling house while Doctor Dee and Doctor Dum (Eugene Lipinski, Rollerball; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) interrogate her to learn where she hid the Stone of Wonderland, a ring with the ability to open up a portal between the real world and Wonderland via the looking glass. Meanwhile, Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts, Return to House on Haunted Hill; Warrior Queen) and the White Knight (Matt Frewer, 50/50; Dawn of the Dead) break into the casino in order to rescue her from the Queen and King of Hearts (Kathy Bates, Midnight in Paris; Titanic and Colm Meaney, Get Him to the Greek; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, respectively). Once free of the Hearts, Hatter and the White Knight take Alice to the ancient Kingdom of the Knights (once again), where Hatter sends word to the resistance movement that Alice needs to meet with their leader, Caterpillar (Harry Dean Stanton, Rango; Alien). The resistance sends an emissary in the form of Jack Heart (Philip Winchester, In My Sleep; Thunderbirds), son of the Queen and King of Hearts and former boyfriend to Alice. Despite Hatter’s misgivings, Alice decides to leave with Jack after he tells her that the resistance knows where her father is and could get him out of Wonderland with her. One thing leads to another, Alice and Hatter set everyone free, the White Knight helps bring down the casino and with it the reign of the Queen of Hearts, and Alice leaves Wonderland to live happily ever after.
Top left – Alice; top right – Doctors Dee and Dum and Alice; middle left – the White Knight and Hatter; middle right – the Queen and King of Hearts; bottom left – Caterpillar; bottom right – Jack Heart, Alice, and Caterpillar
Before I go on, I feel this needs to be said, and it cannot be stressed enough – they left out the Cheshire Cat, and for that, there can be no forgiveness.
Anyway. One big thing worth noting is that in this second part, Alice, a black belt karate instructor, finally starts fighting back against the Hearts, quite literally at times. One thing you’ll notice if you watch enough horror or SyFy Original movies is that women characters often serve only to run around screaming or give the men characters something to fight for or after. I’m not sure at all why this is the case, but it does seem to be widely true. Thus, when you find a movie (or in this case a miniseries) with a strong female lead, it’s often refreshing. Sadly, the first half of this miniseries completely missed that point, portraying her as weak, timid, and scared. Still, it was good to see her take more control of her fate in the second half of the miniseries.
“I’m going with him, and there’s nothing you or King Skellington can do to stop me!”
While the first half managed to avoid too many terrible effects, either CGI or sets, the second half fell well behind. While there was no increase in the CGI (always a boon), the use of green screen backgrounds became way too common, and in general, they were not done well. I found myself remarking on how bad they were numerous times throughout the second half, especially during the two flamingo chase scenes. But hey, who doesn’t want to watch guys in suits fire shotguns while riding flamingos altogether too quickly?
The second part of the miniseries continued the social allegories and commentaries begun in the first, as expected. For example, in order to thwart the plans of the Hearts and start a revolution, Alice and Hatter free the kidnapped Oysters (see the review of part 1) in the casino by telling them to wake up and realize what was done to them, conveying the not-so-subtle undertones of individuality and disbelieving the story told by power; basically, the idea that blind complacency is the best friend of a dictatorial leader. Likewise, when their actions cause the emotion collection vats to overheat and be destroyed, the entire casino comes crashing down to the ground, a direct visual showing the Queen’s loss of power and authority. After the collapse of the casino, the Queen orders her henchmen to arrest Alice, but of course, they refuse, instead forcing her to hand over the Stone in order to reopen the looking glass and return the Oysters to the real world.
“The Stone or my finger? Off with your head! Please?”
The other big theme in the second part of the miniseries is the idea of reuniting with a lost parent, in this case a father. It turns out that the lead scientist for the Queen, and the one in charge of collecting the emotional essence from the Oysters, Carpenter (Timothy Webber, Cypher; The Grey Fox), is in fact Alice’s missing father, who finally manages to wake up with the other Oysters when Alice and Hatter set them free, only to die in Alice’s arms before the casino collapses in an all-too-common scene wherein he apologizes for everything and urges her to save herself before the building comes down (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, anyone?).
“I can’t be her father. I do science!”
“Go, Alice. Return to your mother and your life.”
One of the concepts I’ve always enjoyed in movies like this, or like Labyrinth, or MirrorMask, or any of those movies where the hero travels from our mundane world to a fantastical one and back, is the melancholy at the end where the character (and the viewer) struggles with the question of whether any of it actually happened. It creates a very unique poignancy and sense of loss, while at the same time maintaining a shred of hope that that other world is still out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Of course, this melancholy is completely destroyed if one of the characters from that other world follows the hero back into his or her world, as happens here. To me, probably the biggest point of these things is the idea that it might have all been a dream, and when that uncertainty gets removed, the piece also loses a big part of its impact and significance.
“Is this real or a dream?”
“Real. Definitely real.”
“Oh. Okay then.”
So that’s it for Alice, and this installment of Miniseries Week. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you’ll join me in a thorough scathing of SyFy Channel for cutting out the Cheshire Cat. Because honestly, he’s just plain awesome. ’til next time!
“That’s for leaving out the Cheshire cat!”