Tag Archives: TV Series

TV Review- Better Call Saul: Season 1 (2015)

 

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Rating: A/ I was skeptical about watching Better Call Saul as soon as I did because I never actually finished Breaking Bad (I know, I’m probably the one person in the entire world that didn’t watch the series from beginning to end ages ago.) Breaking Bad is an excellent show, but I kept getting distracted by something or the other and never got past a certain point, although I’ve intended for months to watch the rest. Fortunately for me, you don’t need to have extensive knowledge of the Breaking Bad universe to dive headfirst into Better Call Saul, and everybody’s favorite hilariously crooked lawyer is more than capable of carrying a television show on his shoulders. Continue reading TV Review- Better Call Saul: Season 1 (2015)

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TV Review: Stranger Things (2016)

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Rating: A/ Y’know, my dad actually had a point when he said that Netflix streaming service has been doing way better than cable TV lately. With a few big failures (I’m looking at you, Adam Sandler,) Netflix has been coming up with a number of good original TV shows and movies, and Stranger Things, a send up of 80’s sci-fi adventure movies that manages to be both disturbing and whimsical, is no exception. Containing only two weak points on it’s cast (the overacted Winona Ryder and the flat Natalia Dyer,) Stranger Things is a treat for Science Fiction nerds and Science Fiction newbies alike, offering a pastiche of references to movies from a bygone era. government conspiracies, parallel dimensions, and gooey alien attacks that will make you squeal with geekdom. Continue reading TV Review: Stranger Things (2016)

Firefly: The Complete Series (2002-2003)

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 Gorram it! How that gosa television station “Fox” could cancel the best show in the ‘verse after one season but keep mediocre drivel like “Family Guy” is beyond me. As someone who’s running the risk of sounding like a major nerd right now, I will say that “Firefly” may not quite be the best show ever (there are definitely runners-up, FX’s “Fargo” among them) but no TV series can compete with “Firefly” in terms of pure rewatchability value and making me care about it’s cast of characters.

In Joss Whedon’s cult space western, the gun-toting action crackles and so does the dialogue as rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) commandeers a ship packed with rapscallions who will take any kind of work, legal or otherwise. The crews’ lives are complicated when they take convict siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau) under their wing.

River is a victim of experimentation by the corrupt government; she knows too much, sees things that others cannot, and that makes her dangerous. Simon defied his parents’ wishes and went on a hunch to rescue River and smuggle her into the far reaches of space. The show is focused on the relationships and witty pitter-patter of banter that having a group of people, vastly different and not all easy to get along with, would come along with.

Joss Whedon creates a vivid world that is both futuristic and a throwback to the old Spaghetti Western films of the yesteryears. The entire cast performs their parts admirably, and the character development and backstory building are unparalleled. It’s hard to pick a favorite character (for me, it’s a tie between the cheerful mechanic Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite ) and the smart aleck pilot Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne (Alan Tudyk)) because all the characters are so well done and saddled with great one-liners.

I really like the mix elements of the different cultures featured on each planet. I personally am not vouching for a relaunch of the series at this point (things have changed, including the deaths of two major characters in the movie spin-off, “Serenity,” and the cast has aged considerably) but I am seriously fangirling for the graphic novel follow-up, “Leaves on the Wind,” written by Joss Whedon’s brother Zack. I just hope it is consistent with the quality of the series.

I am not a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s stuff in general (“Dr. Horrible” has it’s moments, “The Avengers” and what I’ve seen of “Buffy” are just okay.) The nerds seem to love him (not that I’m in a position to be calling people nerds, I just got a Wash quote pin at a sci-fi convention not a week ago.) But “Firefly” is enough to make me love him at his best and appreciate his fertile imagination.

I’ve seen “Firefly” all the way through like six times and I never fail to catch little details I might not have been aware of before that increase my appreciation of the show as a whole. I am consistently wowed by the thought put into the depth and psychological nuance combined with the action and humor. The characters are just so well done, from the rough-hewn, wise-cracking grunt of the group (Adam Baldwin) to the very classy call girl (Morena Baccarin) that Mal refuses to admit he has feelings for (in “Firefly”‘s world, courtesans are called ‘companions’ and held in the highest regard.)

There’s also a definite emphasis on female power and badasserie. The lack of alien lifeforms featured and a lowish budget should not deter you from enjoying this great science fiction series. Just realize it’s more about the characters and their relationships than big-time gun and knife fights (though there is some of that, too.) Highly enjoyable entertainment with plenty of humor and verve to spare.

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Fargo: Season 1 (2014)

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What is up with the people inhabiting “Fargo”‘s universe? Are they as obtuse as they seem? Why do they sporadically speak in riddles? And why is their police force utter bollocks? These questions, and more, befuddled me as I watched the terrific spin-off of the Coen Brothers’ also brilliant 1996 crime thriller.

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Psychotic hitman and sometimes-drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton, who seems born for this role) is bad news- and as he enters the eponymous Midwestern town of “Fargo,” he invades the life of wimpy salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, who’s never been better,) and disrupts the location’s quiet proceedings. Shortly after Lorne’s arrival, Lester commits a shocking crime but is initially let off by lax police work on the part of freshly appointed Sheriff Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk.)

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Like the Marge Gunderson of her time, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is on the case. Meanwhile, Malvo casts a sinister shadow over the lives of ‘Supermarket King’ Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt) and his slow-witted son Dmitri (Gordon S. Miller,) assassins Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers (Russell Harvard and Adam Goldberg) swoop in on Lester and Molly romances a widower (Colin Hanks) with a spirited adolescent daughter (Joey King.)

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Despite initial qualms about basing a TV series off the film, I soon found “Fargo” to be a captivating show with a terrific cast. Love him or hate him, Lester’s got to be one of the most interesting characters on TV. As for me, I felt bad for him, and even when I came to the realization what a sorry sack of shit he was, there was something fascinating about him- the depths of his cowardice and the refusal to own up to his actions was kind of hypnotic, I guess.

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Molly is a strong female character that shows that women don’t have to be a size zero or wear tight leather outfits to be modern-day television heroines. To my utter shock, I think I like this show a teeny bit better than it’s movie counterpart. There’s mordant humor (Thornton’s Godly alter ego, for one,) tragedy (the fate of Milos’ son comes to mind,) and downright weirdness and wordplay that seems faithful to the Coens.

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Also, Lorne Malvo seems to be a improvement upon the film’s villain Gear Grimsrud. Whereas Gear was loutish, coarse, and stupid, Malvo is smart, expertly cruel, and so fond of fucking with people that it’s a pleasure to see him work. Although I admit most killers are dim bulbs more often than not in real-life crime scenarios, Malvo was too great to pass up.

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The 1st Season of “Fargo” was a fantastic watch and I recommend it to just about anyone. I love the parallels between the film and the show (i.e. the money in the snow,) but you do not need to watch the movie to enjoy the TV series, and vice versa. I think between this, “The Bridge” and “American Horror Story,” FX is becoming my favorite TV channel.

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Broadchurch (2013)

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In a sleepy close-knit coastal town, 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) is found murdered, his body dumped on the beach. At first, it seems like the crime nobody could have committed- the people of Broadchurch are like friends and family to each other, and even the black sheep seem more or less harmless. But as surly outsider DI Alec Hardy (a worn-down, sunken-cheeked post-“Who” David Tennant) and D.S. Ellie Miller (the wonderful Olivia Colman,) who has ties to the victim investigate, they find that everyone in this town’s got secrets. And some of them are worth killing for.

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There are only eight episodes here, so you don’t have as much of a commitment as a viewer than a lot of TV shows. All the actors in this series are wonderful, and the show keeps you  on the edge of your seat. It’s nice to see that David Tennant is expanding his horizons beyond being the ‘cute funny foreign guy with the crazy hair.’ He’s genuinely good here as a disgraced detective with an serious heart condition that’s interfering with his work. What’s not nice is the fact that he will be duplicating the role in the pointless American remake “Gracepoint.” But I’ll explain my feelings about the superfluous “Broadchurch” carbon copy later.

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I’ve thought Olivia Colman was a tremendous talent since I saw her play the abused Christian charity shop worker in Paddy Considine’s wrenching “Tyrannosaur.” She does the great work we expect of her after her powerful portrayal of that character. Lots of the supporting players do great jobs too. I always thought of David Bradley as ‘that nasty greasy old dude’ as a faithful watcher of the Harry Potter movies. Here he shows range and depth playing a lonely man who may or may not be a sex offender.

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The side plot portraying the grief of Danny’s family- his mother, Beth (Jodie Whittaker,) his father, Mark (Andrew Buchan,) and his big sister Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont)- was heartbreaking. I had previously seen Jodie Whittaker in “Attack the Block,” which was a lot of fun, and she does a good job as a mother whose grief swallows up her life. And it was a laugh seeing Arthur Darvill (“Doctor Who”) as a vicar. I was glad they portrayed Rev. Paul Coates (Darvill) fairly instead of making him the babbling mindless hypocrite they usually portray religious authorities as. And I’m so glad they didn’t go the pedophile route with his character.

The mystery is really hard to figure out (at least for me, someone who doesn’t read or watch mysteries, but that might not be saying much.) At the end I had it narrowed down to a few characters, and one of the characters I picked turned out to be the killer, but I was still surprised. The scenery is beautiful, and the show shows that even in a idyllic town, there are still some people who are missing a few nuts and bolts. A murder can happen anywhere, but in my opinion, you shouldn’t surrender to fear and you should still let your kids live the freest life you can allow.

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This is a highly entertaining show, but it lacks the extra ‘umph’ to make me give it a higher rating than 4/5. My dad won’t watch it because he likes ‘fun’ shows and he thinks it will be depressing, but it is no more depressing than a murder mystery concerning a child has to be. And as far as sensitive viewers go there’s barely any violence whatsoever. I’m mad that the American remade it with the same damn actor (!) and as far as I can tell from the trailer, the show is exactly the same. Why the heck can’t Americans watch the original program instead of some cheap rip-off? But I digress. “Broadchurch” is a worthy watch carried on the shoulders of Colman and Tennant.

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The Returned (Les Revenants)- Season 1 (2012)

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Attention, horror fans! The zombie genre has been revived. I have always found dramatic/’realistic’ zombie films and shows to be inferior to the funny ones (I do not find “The Walking Dead” or “28 Days Later” to be better than “Shaun of the Dead,” for instance.) Okay, I still don’t think this measures up to “Shaun of the Dead,” but “Les Revenants” is kind of invigorating the way the tosses the zombie genre on it’s head. Gone are the zombies that go ‘brains-brains’ and limp along on broken legs and out of sight are the brainless, running, ravenous creepers from “28 Days Later” and countless survival-horror video games.

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What’s special about “Les Revenants” is the way it strikes at the emotional heart of the matter. You are forced to feel for the ‘zombies,’ who do not know they are dead at first, and who are often greeted by the living with apprehension and horror. In a small French town surrounded by a mountainous region, the citizens are coming back from the dead, fresh, and seemingly alive and well. Young Camille (Yara Pillartz) arrives home from a bus wreck that put her schoolmates to permanent rest, only to find that years have passed and her twin sister is now grown.

Lonely lesbian Julie (Céline Sallette, ) single and a survivor of a sadistic attack, takes in a mysterious little boy (Swann Nambotin.) But how innocent is he?  Meanwhile, happily married Adele (Cotilde Hesme) is visited by her dead fiance (Pierre Perrier) and hefty bartender Toni (Grégory Gadebois) tries to keep his unhinged brother’s body count under check.

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The approach here is quite different- the show is more artsy and laid-back than the more frenetic tales of it’s kind, but if there’s one thing for sure, it’s never boring. Mysterious plot-lines abound; secrets lurk in the souls of the most open-hearted characters.  Some details are puzzling and other’s don’t make sense at all (akin to the twists and turns of “Lost”) and I hope the show doesn’t get overloaded in it’s second season.  There’s certainly flashes of brilliance in this script.

The acting in the show is very powerful, and reinforces the ‘real’ approach to the premise. This is not the show for you if you want muscle men blasting away zombies with uzis, but PATIENT viewers will find a lot to love as the plot slowly unfurls.  My favorite character died in the last episode, but I’m convinced he’s not gone for good, and that I will see him in the 2nd season.

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If you like your zombie stories serious and pensive, with an emphasis on creepiness and mystery rather than guts ‘n gore, “Les Revenants” should quench your thirst for an alternative zombie thriller.  This and”The Walking Dead” are both great, and I love them in different ways, but this wins for me- by a hair. I for one can’t wait until Sundance Channel broadcasts the second season. One to watch as soon as possible.