Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I Saw This!! The TV land one-paragraph challenge

Piggybacking off the success of my  last entry in which I managed to plow through my backlog of films to "review" (or whatever you call this), I figured I'd do the same to just get through all this damn television I've been watching dammit.

I have to say I'm at television overload, almost at story consumption overload.  I'm almost ready to break from TV and stick with compacted storytelling of cinema for a while.  I read about 30 ongoing comic books a month, I have a couple dozen active TV shows that I watch (plus another dozen at least that I want to), I have about a dozen weekly (some daily) podcasts I enjoy listening to,  and I'm never going to be able to watch all the movies I want to see.  I'm overwhelmed, and I get distracted by how overwhelming my queue is.

Entertainment should be escape from the crushing weight of reality, not a contributing element to that crush.

Anyway, TV:

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The Muppets  - ABC
Supergirl - CBS/Global
Rick and Morty - Teletoon/Adult Swim
DC's Legends of Tomorrow - CW/CTV
Mr. Robot Season 1 - TNT/Showcase/Shomi
Black Mirror - (Redux) - BBC/Shomi
The X-Files (season 10) - Fox/CTV
The Colony - TNT/Bravo
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The Muppets return to TV was going to be awkward regardless of what it turned out to be.  I don't think any longtime fan would be wholly satisfied with it in any format.  The fact of the matter is Jim Henson is dead, Frank Oz is out of the picture, most of the original performers are long gone, and so anything Muppets, under the Disney banner instead of Jim Henson's, is going to feel like a pale imitation.  That they even managed to come up with something that was remotely entertaining in its own right (even if it's an ill fit for the brand) was a minor miracle.  The first half of this first (and probably last) season was a direct lift of The Larry Sanders Show, a behind the scenes look a late night talk show (in this case Miss Piggy's) and the cast of characters who keep it running.  In the muck of the Muppets legacy is the fact that they are "actors", almost always "playing themselves" in film and television.  But the show messes with the happily ever after love story of Kermit and Piggy by launching with them having had a terrible break up yet still contractually obligated to work together as producer and starlet.  Sure it may destroy countless childhood memories, but actually made for fairly amusing television.  Some just outright dismiss the more mature, occasionally innuendo-laden jokes and themes, but I warmed to it rather quickly.  Yes, I was disappointed it wasn't a family-friendly, corny Vaudevillian venture that I could watch with my six-year-old daughter, but so scarred by the Muppets Most Wanted was she that she's sworn off the Muppets for good, so, whatever.  Post-Christmas break The Muppets have come back softer, more diversified in focus, and unfortunately less entertaining for it.   I'm about ready to give up.

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On the other hand, Supergirl is the perfect show to watch with my six-year-old daughter.  Were I a single-dude comic book nerd dwelling in my parent's basement as I turned 40, it may not appeal to me so much, as it's heavy on the melodrama and even heavier on exploring themes of women's role in the workplace and society.  As I said, for a young girl, growing up in an age where the internet abuse of women is commonplace, a time when despite years of outrage, progress and change, the patriarchy that still governs much of the world and dictates what a woman should be like, Supergirl addresses these head on, and says, pretty much, own it.  Don't let society bring you down for who you are and don't let society build you up into something you're not.  It's a rather beautiful and persistent message.  The voice of this message, most often, is Calista Flockhart's media magnate Cat Grant, who serves as Supergirl's voice in the press, and mentor to Kara (Supergirl's alter-ego) as her boss.  The show brings Jimmy (James, please) Olsen over from Superman's world (that he's handsome, brawny, African-American, and bow tie-less is rather divergent cosmetic changes from the comic, but irrelevant) and gives Kara male bff who's totally stuck in the friend zone.  The show's weak link is Kara' adoptive sister, the perennially out-of-breath Alex, who is supposed to be a badass DEO (an alien watchdog government agency) agent but actress Chyler Leigh just can't pull it off.  The character isn't bad, the casting is just wrong and should be changed for a second season.  DEO boss Hank Henshaw (a tremendous David Harewood) pulled a masterful bait and switch by revealing him not to be Cyborg Superman as in the comics, but the Martian Manhunter.  The reveal was perhaps one of the best executed 5 minutes of nerd television ever.  The show juggles threats-of-the-week along with an ongoing threat from a gang of Kryptonian criminals, and for a weekly show handles its effects fairly well.  Melissa Benoist handles the role quite well, and is at her most effective when the show allows her to really let loose with her emotions (and what Cat Grant has to say about showing emotions is quite insightful).  Another weak point it's that the villains-of-the-week have a clunky, BBC, classic-Doctor Who quality (Red Tornado was particularly horrendously executed in translation).  Often there's too much going on in any one episode, but overall it's enjoyable and certainly a different perspective on fantasy heroes than we're getting from most places (Agent Carter and Jessica Jones excluded).

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I'm a season or two behind on Rick and Morty because it has not aired on Canadian television until now and I've been a little to spendthrift to buy it on DVD.  Having watched the first half dozen episodes of the first season, I'm wishing I splurged on those DVDs long ago.  I shouldn't have expected anything less than genius from Dan Harmon. Given how obvious his influence was on Community (as witnessed by the atrocious 4th season after he was fired), I should have suspected that his storytelling style, pop culture influences, and tumultuous emotions would find a good home in an animated environment, particularly one with a science fiction conceit.  Rick hijack's Morty's life to escort him on adventures through space, time, and dimensions, exposing his just-developing teenaged grandson to the untold horrors and just as horrific pleasures of the universe.  Why, exactly, it's Morty that needs to accompany him is never clearly actualized (despite being broached head on when Morty's sister, Summer, forces her way into one of Rick's adventures).  In a medium with no-holds-barred storytelling, Harman and co-creator Justin Roiland do exactly that, breaking any storytelling convention they wish.  It leads to tremendously ingenious comedy, but also to moments of heavy introspection or devastating emotional weight (softened only by the fact that it's a cartoon).  Rick and Morty pushes at its audience to accept it from moment one, with Rick being a rather salacious character, a perpetual slather of drool under his lip, and uncontrollable burping interrupting his speech... yet he grows on you rather quickly with a weird ability to twist logic into lies and vice versa.  The show  keeps pushing boundaries with ideas that may be in bad taste in concept but get explored with an actual emotional stake for the character that the offense dissolves.  I'm beyond impressed, to the point that if they've managed to do such amazing work with their first batch of episodes that it can only get better as they settle into their characters and storytelling/animation style.  One of the best shows going!

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It's amazing to me that DC's Legends of Tomorrow exists.  The crew of the CW's Arrow and The Flash collected an amazing roster of guest players on those respective shows that they decided to see if they could build a comic book-style team-up series around them.  As a result we get half-season of a series where Brandon Routh, Victor Garber, Caity Lotz, Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell play superheroes and supervillians bonded together by a time traveller from the future (Doctor Who's Arthur Darville) in an effort to stop history's greatest monster, the immortal Vandal Savage, from taking over the world.  The Atom, Firestorm, Hawkman, Hawkgirl), White Canary, Captain Cold, Heat Wave...few are actual household names, but it's irrelevant, for this is a show where personality, not powers, rule the day.  The fun of the show is not the time travelling, or the fighting, or visual effects, but rather who can scenery chew the best.  So far the experienced of the bunch (aforementioned Garber, Miller, Purcell, Lotz, and Routh) all go toe to toe on screen masticating everything around them.  Poor Darville, Ciara Renee (Hawkgirl) and Attack the Block's Franz Drameh just don't have time on Flash or Arrow under their belt to punch up that high.  Main baddy Casper Crump gets it though...his demonic grin under that beard his greatest asset.  Oh, it's by no means a great show... it's clunky and the characters (including at least two qualified geniuses, a criminal mastermind, a time master and a master assassin) far too often miss the logical way forward in any given situation, but it is fun as hell.  Miller's poker-faced, gravelly Captain Cold is the utter highlight while Routh just seeps charm.  Lotz delivers nice emotional weight through pursed lips while also seeming to have a tremendous amount of fun playing dress-up in multi-era wardrobes.  Hopefully Drame, Renee and Darvill can get into the spirit (hints from both Darville and Drame in the most recent episode, but Renee just seems lost.  It doesn't help that they're completely mishandling Hawkgirl from moment one).  I'm hoping for a second season with a cast juggle that can include Matt Ryan's John Constantine and Megalyn Echikunwoke Vixen.

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Holy shit, Mr. Robot!  There's a lot of great TV happening these days.  "They" (who?) are calling it a golden age.  I can't disagree.  It seems a few times a year I watch something that just hits every button correctly, a Fargo or Rick and Morty or Mad Men Season 7... Mr. Robot is decidedly of that ilk.  Eliot (Rami Malek) An on-the-spectrum computer wizard working for a corporate systems security company is enlisted by a mysterious figure (Christian Slater, as the titular Mr. Robot, in his best performance in 20 years) to help his small band of hackers take down the colloquially dubbed "Evil Corp", creating internationPerson of Interest in some ways).  But Eliot has his vices.  He's addicted to morphine and is equally addicted to virtually invading the lives of everyone around him.  His memory leads him to sometimes see things from a skewed perspective (which, given that he's our narrator, leads us, the viewer to have a skewed perspective to what is actually happening).  The show does an amazing job of investing us in Eliot's life and the intense and uncomfortable situations he's involved in while also keeping us at just enough of an arm's distance away as to always be wary of what Eliot is telling us and why.  The show negotiates its side characters as skillfully as its main character, bringing us into their lives as sympathetic bystanders to Eliot's chaos in some respects and manipulative participants in others.  The whole show is built up on a very 1980's aesthetic that recalls Michael Mann's films/Miami Vice era, with a killer soundtrack of mostly modern tunes that likewise are built on an 80's aesthetic.  It's incredibly cinematic and each episode feels blazingly propulsive but the intensity makes it hard to binge watch.  I could get max two episodes in one sitting before I had to have a break (but by the latter stretch I was on it every day). I was unaware in advance that there was a "twist reveal" but it's not the crux of the show.  It's a huge facet to understanding Eliot's character, sort of a "secret origin", but it's not what the show builds towards.  It actually builds towards its logical conclusion, where we wind up with a world within the program that no longer resembles our own reality.  The writers have almost hamstrung themselves for season two, but with an excellent coda, have managed to keep the intrigue going. 
al market chaos and debt revolution around the world (sort of an action-less

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I did a review of the first episode of Black Mirror a while back, which, to summarize, traumatized me a little.  The first episode, that is, not the review.  So it took me awhile to get back to the show.  That type of psychosomatic juggling was not something I was eager to repeat, and yet, the goodwill this show has engendered among the SF community was enough to keep my interest piqued.  Breaking my one paragraph challenge, here's an episode by episode breakdown (since each ep of Black Mirror is like a mini-movie).

"Fifteen Million Merits" takes us into a world where what we see of humanity is largely confined to drudgery and base level distraction.  Humans in this story live in tiny cubicles that are wall-to-wall screens, thrusting advertising at them at all hours demanding they pay attention to dismiss them.  Their entertainment consists of an "American Idol"-style competition show, pornography, and first person shooter video games.  Their work lives take them to another station in the same building where they ride stationary bicycles to power the grid, again facing a screen.  When our protagonist, Bing, backs the girl he has a crush on to go on the reality show with two lifetimes worth of credits, it's in the optimistic hope she can escape this reality.  But the judges don't see her as the next pop star, instead as another beautiful face to be broken in porn.  Bing rebels, and takes the screen hostage with a heartfelt screed against the way they live.  The episode is a potent and damning extension of the way we live, more and more sinking into our screens to escape reality, only to qualify that we would take any opportunity to rise above it by being the adored, not the adorer.  If not the best episode, then at least the show's most effectively delivered message.

"The Entire History Of You" pokes at our perpetual need to document our lives with videos and photographs and extends it to the next level, where we are constantly recording our lives, storing them in a hard drive in our brain, allowing for untainted access to our past at all times.  It allows us to scrutinize and analyze the events of our lives with a terrifying amount of clarity and detail.  Nothing is forgotten.  The ability to obsess over the past takes one couple down a heart-wrenching path as a husband suspects his wife of cheating, and goes to extreme ends, sacrificing his happiness, his family and to some extent his sanity in proving it.  The reality painted here feels so real... where the preceding episodes felt surreal, or even fantastical to a small degree, this feels like a peek into the near future where new technology has changed the way we live and relate...like cel phones or computers have in such a short time.  It's naturalistic storytelling but painful in the exploration of some of the darker side effects.  Are our memories best kept as faulty as they are?


The most star-powered episode, "Be Right Back" was lucky to have Haley Atwell and Domnhall Gleeson before they became much more recognizable faces.  The episode finds Atwell left mourning Gleeson's death just after they moved to isolated countryside.  A friend signs Atwell up for an experimental program from a Google like company which has developed the ability to extract the personality and memories of the deceased from online videos, email and social media.  At first it starts as text based chat, venturing into voice calls, and ultimately an artificial life form acting as host.  Unlike, say, Her, this isn't a story about an AI achieving sentience but rather an AI being a close-but-not-quite replacement for humanity.  It would be a rather silly episode if it didn't negotiate the emotional toll so amazingly.  The coda, which steps forward a few years ahead, is so filled with nuance that it can't be simply parsed as to what it means, emotionally.  Quite brilliant this one.

I remember being petrified by The Twilight Zone as a child, the imagery at times were just so foreign to young eyes.  "White Bear" sent me into flashbacks early on, absolutely terrifying me throughout much of its run time.  It's an intense, white knuckle run, as a woman wakes up tied to a chair, a static image of a stark black and white logo emblazoned on the screen.  She steps outside to find no one will talk to her, instead just standing there, trance-like holding up their mobiles, recording.  The new world becomes more terrifying as she encounters raving, masked murderers and survivors who try to explain what has happened (involving an alien signal messing with people's brains).  There's a twist ending here which itself is the crux of the episode.  As effective as it is at being scary, the twist is almost too far fetched or ridiculous and the episode does suffer for it.  And yet the point comes across, at what point does the punishment, the public damnation, shaming and trauma, become worse than the crime?  If you haven't seen the episode, that last sentence may seem incongruous or spoilery, and it is both, as I'm being vague for spoilery reasons.  But as much as it doesn't stick the landing "White Bear" ramps up the intensity again in the closing credits crawl as it unpacks the events of the episode from another perspective.  Distasteful and potent.

"The Waldo Moment" is by far the weakest episode of the show, with no less an important message that screams its relevance more and more with each passing day as Trump seeks the Republican Nomination.  In the show an annoying, foul mouthed, blue troll-like animated character named Waldo is voiced and controlled by an otherwise unsuccessful comedian.  But during a well-received failed interview with a political official (think Ali G, only dumber) Waldo finds himself a voice of the people, spewing out lame platitudes and ignorance to a section of the populace who find him a refreshing voice amid the dry dialogue of the established politicians.  With the power of media and promotion behind him, Waldo actually begins to gain viable political traction running in a by-election, creating a mockery of the establishment, mostly for the worse.  Waldo is unfortunately uncharismatic and annoying with nothing really to say, so it makes his sudden popularity surge a conceit forced upon the audience rather than one the audience believes.  The journey feels forced and overall it's a bit tedious to watch, with nary a likeable character on screen.  The coda is an absurd extension of the episode's idea pushed to paranoid conclusions.  And yet, one can 100% see the parallels between Waldo's stab at politics and what Trump is doing today.  Hopefully history proves Black Mirror wrong, but it's eerily prescient.

There's a feature-length "Christmas" episode starring John Hamm, but I don't have access to this episode.  I'm keen for the Netflix season of Black Mirror to come, though I worry if it will be too American, or too much at once (if they do a 10 or 12 episode season).

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The X-Files is back!  It's not a nostalgic return, it's not just a self-congratulatory we-kinda-changed-television pat on the back either, it's the X-Files returning to forms.  Yes, forms.  The X-Files, like a shape-changing villain of the week (I'm not nearly nerdy enough to pull out the exact character in reference), took on many different storytelling styles and formats during it's initial 9-year run.  It excelled at monster-of-the-week storytelling and at the personal drama of its two leads (which it managed to get a good 5 years out of, and a not-so-good four years to follow).  It started off reliably strong in establishing its own "mythology", an ongoing narrative that the monster-of-the-week episodes sometimes frustratingly interrupted, and that really came to a head with the feature film, subtitled Fight The Future.  It was all downhill after that.  It became evident that show creator Chris Carter didn't have a plan for the story and after 5 seasons it just ambled along, unsure and aimless.  So yes, Season 10, in the guise of a 6-episode order, is a return to form, for better or worse.  The first and last episode act as the "mythology" episodes, putting a feather into the cap of the drudgingly  long-running alien and smoking man conspiracies in about the most ham-fisted and baffling way possible.  The season ends with an uncontrollable contagion outbreak and an eye-rolling cliffhanger that made me question whether I wanted more if this is what I was getting. The middle four episodes take the monster-of-the-week shape and excel, feeling 100% like vintage X-Files, going from direly serious to outrageously silly from one episode to the next, which the show has always, stragely, felt comfortable with.  The fifth episode is conflicting as it introduces young Mulder and Scully analogs and hilariously sends Mulder on a freaky LSD-style psychedelic trip (where he dances the Achy-Breaky Heart), but unfortunately opens with a young middle Eastern man in Texas who turns into the stereotypical terrorist threat, which is disturbingly cliche, and in many ways harmful.  By delivering 3 and 1/2 good or great episodes and a couple of clunkers, the new X-Files season pretty much matches its track record on its best seasons, so truly it's good to have it back.  Hopefully Vince Gilligan can make it back for Season 11.

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The Mrs. Kent and I (and Toasty too!) have quite the affection for the handsome and charismatic Josh Hollaway (aka Sawyer from Lost), and are quite sad that Mr. Hollaway is too old now to play young Han Solo in the planned young Han Solo movie since he's really the only actor besides Harrison Ford to truly embody that "Han Solo vibe".  He was the star of a short lived 6 Million Dollar Man knock-off a couple years ago (the poorly named and shoddily executed Intelligence should have be much more fun than it was), he had an all to brief role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (he should've been pegged to take over that franchise instead of Jeremy Renner) and otherwise hasn't been to visible.  The Colony reunites Hollaway with Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse, putting him in a V knock-off that, thankfully, manages to eschew its knock-off status rather easily.  I joined the show in progress, meaning I missed the first few episodes (looks like I came in on Episode 3) but was rapidly entranced by this world which takes place in the year after (suspected) aliens have come and divided various cities into different blocks, putting up gargantuan walls between them, blocking them off from communications with the outside world, and the "alien"-established government trying to maintain some sense of normalcy and order.  But this "Colony Transitional Authority" is tyrannical, controlling the populace with shows of force, violence and scare tactics.  Holloway is the show's primary focus, as a special operative of the CTA hunting down extremists.  And there is resistance, both organized and not, violent and vocal, of which Holloway's wife (the doe-eyed, perpetually stunned Sarah Wayne Callies) is an increasingly important part.  The show explores the politics, the violence, the blackmarket, the underground, the regular people and the middlemen all extremely well.  Toasty noted the pilot wasn't all that special in his first episode review, but having skipped that and jumped into the fray I've found it quite engrossing.  It's went from curiosity to must-watch, as I'm finding myself more and more intrigued by how this new world works, what happened to it in the past, and how it's all going to escalate.  Cuse and co-creator Ryan J. Condal are taking a different tactic than many genre shows in the wake of Lost.  They're truly world building and slow-burning, while still maintaining a sense of forward progression.  None of the episodes have yet felt like spinning wheels (though the sub-plot with Callies' sister working for an art reclaimer has taken its time paying off).  There's no sense of The Colony stagnating here, there's no status quo that it, nor the characters wish to maintain, and that they're all at odds on how to move forward, therein lies the drama.  It's also not enamored with sensationalism, special effects, or even the fantastical elements of its show.  It truly is focussed on the various human elements at play.  I can totally see season one being the launchpad for a much, much bigger season two, but I like how ground level it is.

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