Fortitude Season 1 TV Review

Fortitude Season 1 is beautiful but terrible

From Fortitude is the most northerly town in the world, and the most peaceful – until a prominent member of the community is found eviscerated in his own home, and suddenly the town’s sheriff has his first ever murder to investigate.


The pure white snow means when something bleeds, that blood becomes really stark and obvious. True to most horror flicks, there are epic amounts of blood. In a surprise twist that I saw coming a mile away, the source of the horror comes from the thawing mammoth discovered under the ice.

That’s right, it came from the ice, thawed, and wreaked havoc on the small population it encountered, as though the purity of the landscape was disrupted by something unclean and dangerous. The horrible parasite thawed out of the mammoths, laid eggs in human hosts, and ate them alive. Gross!

Compare and contrast with these other snowy horror movies and tv.

See it for the pristine beauty of the Icelandic setting

It was filmed in Iceland, which means it’s cold, white, and gorgeous.

The Good Place Season 1 TV Review


The Good Place (American TV series, 2016) is hilarious.

The Good Place stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who wakes up in the afterlife and is sent by Michael (played by Ted Danson) to “The Good Place”, a utopian neighborhood he designed to reward a select group of people for the extraordinarily good lives they led on earth. Eleanor realizes she was sent there by mistake, and must earn her place in “The Good Place”. Does she reveal her secret? Does she become a better person? Will she create a Category 55 Doomsday Crisis? Hilarity ensues.

Ted Danson is goofy and brilliant, and his quirky outbursts and slapstick as the fretful Architect are perfectly timed. Kristen Bell is good, but not great. Her “bad past” selves are a little predictable and overacted. Manny Jacinto’s Jianyu Li was a little mean-spirited. D’Arcy Carden steals the show as Janet, an artificial helper being that chirpily appears the second someone utters her name. Her combination of robot-like affect and know-it-all-ism make the perfect deadpan to everyone else’s antics. William Jackson Harper is also fantastic as Chidi, the uptight, indecisive ethics professor trying to help Eleanor become a better person. I particularly enjoyed the train sequences to “The Bad Place” and “The Medium Place”. The unsavory characters from “The Bad Place” are also hilarious.


The first season goes astray a bit in episodes 9 and 10. All the business about soulmates feels antithetical to the core of the story. It recovers brilliantly in episode 12, with the introduction of “The Medium Place,” and the mediocre coke fiend who lives there. In the final episode we are treated to a straight-up reference to Sarte’s Huis Clos (No Exit). L’enfer c’est les autres; hell is the others. It’s revealed that the characters have been in “The Bad Place” the entire time; the whole thing was an elaborate ruse designed to have them torture each other endlessly by just being themselves.

Best scene in the series

The demon from “The Bad Place” clips his toenails in “The Good Plates” restaurant.

See it for the madcap hilarity and quirky depiction of the afterlife

Compare it to more somber depiction of the afterlife in The Bothersome Man.

Paranoid TV Review


See it if you can suspend serious amounts of disbelief

I like the fact that Netflix is showing original content. On paper, Paranoid sounds pretty good: it’s a cop show and it has a spunky female lead played by Indira Varma, of both Game of Thrones and Luther fame.


So, what went wrong? Several things:

  1. Crazy levels of stereotyping. The senior detective, Nina, played by Indira, is a hot, babbling mess. You are either going to think she’s cute as hell, or she’ll grate. For me, she starts off being cute, then she grates. Okay sure, she just got dumped, she’s unexpectedly pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, she’s got some issues. But her boyfriend, whose mother is a pathological liar, holds it together 100,000 times better than she does, and he has every reason to be a hot mess. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it were believable, but not all late-thirties women are in the throes of baby lust.
  2. Ridiculous anti-psychiatry vibe. There’s an all-kinds-of-wrong Jesus statue full of pills. Detective Bobby is a sweaty, paranoid mess, supposedly due to the antipsychotic pills he takes (hint: that’s the opposite of how they work). His beatific girlfriend solves all her problems with sunshine, tea and flowers; no psychiatry for her! And look how well she’s doing. One of the primary bad guys is a psychiatrist who abuses every rule of the profession. And if that weren’t enough, finally, yes, the spoiler: terrible things are happening to innocent people — a busload of children drives off a cliff — because of pills. Which leads me to point three…
  3. Way too aggressive a message. Even if the message weren’t “psychiatry is bad” — let’s say the message is “donuts are bad”, or perhaps less controversially, “murder is bad” — do we really need it to be shoved so aggressively down our throats? A little subtlety would go a long way.
  4. Plot holes galore. Lack of fingerprinting and gloves, shoddy police work, no repercussions when Bobby knocks over the Jesus statue, etc.
  5. Believability issues. Nina dumps her lovely new boyfriend to go back to her snarky, not-nearly-as-cute ex? I’m not buying it. And if she is so willing to have a pregnancy without the benefit of a partner, why not do it ages ago? Why does she act like this one ex-bf is her only hope of getting pregnant?

That said, I did binge-watch the entire series.

Early Breaking Bad Influences


Breaking Bad: See it if you can handle the violence

Years before Breaking Bad came on the air, there were two shows that were influential in its formation: the Homicide: Life on the Street Subway episode, and the X-Files Drive episode. All three shows are interconnected. Vince Gilligan wrote the X-Files episode of Drive as well as Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan borrowed heavily from Subway to make the X-Files episode Drive, and that in turn was a huge influence on Breaking Bad.

Drive and Subway:

  • The majority of the episode focuses on intense dialogue between one man trying to save another.
  • Lange/Crump are trapped in dire, near-death circumstance.
  • Changing their circumstances puts them in worse danger.
  • Lange/Crump are angry, distrustful and out of control at first.
  • Lange/Crump seem doomed.
  • There is a grotesque element to the plot: exploding head, man pinned under subway.
  • There is a flare of hope right before the tragic end.
  • This is not Lange/Crump’s fault.
  • Police initially aren’t sure who was responsible for the crime.
  • Mulder/Pembleton walk away deeply saddened.

Drive and Breaking Bad:

  • Same intense writing by Vince Gilligan.
  • Crump/White are dying (at least initially, in White’s case).
  • Crump/White are in a race against time.
  • Crump/White are in dire circumstances to save themselves or their families.
  • Crump/White make morally questionable judgments.
  • Crump/White will kill in desperation.
  • Crump/White have an unstoppable energy.

Dead Like Me TV Review


Dead Like Me is good watching: quirky, fun, black humor that’s not overly morbid. Like The Good Place and The Bothersome Man, it’s a unique take on the afterlife. Mandy Patinkin is super fun to watch! I enjoy his non-serious roles much better than his serious roles (i.e. Criminal Minds). It’s a shame the series was cancelled. You should still watch the two seasons.

See it for clever fun.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine TV review

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: don’t bother watching.

I started watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu. I really like Andre Braugher, as usual. He’s serious and well-spoken and has a huge presence. The rest of the characters are goofy and comedic. The show has a cartoonish “hilarity ensues” feeling to it that is completely at odds with Braugher’s presence. I get that there is supposed to be a contrast, but it’s too much contrast. The other characters are manic and unlikable and I really have no interest in their story arcs. I want characters around him that can balance him out. You wouldn’t eat a twinkie with your filet mignon. I give some points for funny jokes, but funny jokes don’t make great character arcs or even plots. The show just grates.

X-Files Drive TV Review

Vince Gilligan wrote the X-Files Drive episode as well as Breaking Bad. In Drive, Bryan Cranston plays a man named Crump who is forced to drive west at ever higher speeds lest a vibration in his inner ear cause his head to explode. Mulder had just seen this happen to Crump’s wife, so he is inclined to believe something unusual is going on. However before he can investigate further, Crump takes Mulder hostage and forces him to drive west. It’s a morally questionable judgment that we see echoed in Breaking Bad.

As the Drive episode unfolds we see elements of typical X-Files government conspiracy. A government-based radio transmitter had recently issued a noise near Crump’s home that is likely the cause of the infection. Although Scully was getting closer to a cure, the majority of the episode focused on Mulder’s stressful drive west with Crump. Mulder is sympathetic to the Crump, but Crump starts out extremely distrustful and dangerous. Crump accuses Mulder of being part of the Jewish conspiracy as well as the evil government. Crump is a racist gun-wielding jerk, insisting on being called “Mr” Crump.

Regardless, Mulder goes all out to help this guy. Either because he knows this is Crump’s dying hour, or because he does not want Crump to be the victim of an giant goverment conspiracy, Mulder is nice to him. Mulder does not want this unpleasant man to die. He finds ways of driving west despite several obstacles.

Well, on behalf of the International Jewish Conspiracy I just need to inform you that we’re almost out of gas. Mulder says this gently, as though speaking with a friend. Unable to fill up at the pump quickly enough, Mulder steals a car and continues west with Crump in tow.

One might think there is nothing to like about Crump. However over the course of his dialogue with Mulder, Crump warms up. Crump shares a story of his morning breakfast with his wife. Crump reveals his very human fear of losing his life. We begin to empathize. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, he’s definitely got some good and bad in him.

See it if you don’t mind a little hokey atmosphere

Subtract a few points for predictable government conspiracy

Homicide: Life on the Street Subway TV Review


Homicide: Life on the Street was a gritty police procedural that ran from 1993-1999. If you only ever watch one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, make it “Subway“. The Subway episode well deserved its Peabody award and two Emmy nominations.

The episode, which aired in 1997 and was written by James Yoshimura, features Vincent D’Onofrio of Law and Order: Criminal Intent fame as John Lange, a man trapped between the subway and the platform either by accident or wrongdoing. Andre Braugher, a regular on the show, plays Detective Pembleton, who simultaneously comforts the victim while investigating the case. Their dialogue is moody and tense. The conclusion is all but foregone. We can’t imagine that Lange will survive. Nevertheless, everyone is still feverishly working to save him. Other detectives are looking for his girlfriend, jogging in the neighborhood.

See it. Flawless.

D’Onofrio is mesmerizing. He is at turns unlikable, empathetic, angry, calm, and manic. His character flips between demanding a burger to begging that they not remove his legs. The flare of hope he exhibits at the end is heartbreaking. The effect it has on Braugher’s character is also extremely convincing. They force and turbulance of D’Onofrio’s character is perfectly balanced with the calm of Andre Braugher’s character. Despite this episode being largely based on dialogue, it is extremely intense. An entire hour of just talking, a constrained, almost claustrophobic space, where the conclusion is all but foregone — sounds grim doesn’t it? Just watch it.

American Horror Story TV Review

My new favorite show, American Horror Story, has all the elements I enjoy in both television and movies:

  • Great actors
  • Great writing
  • Great story arcs
  • Variety from one season to the next

The premise is brilliant. Although there’s one core idea (“horror”), each season focuses on a variant of the theme (ghosts, mental asylum, witches). The primary actors play different roles in each season. Jessica Lange is absolutely delicious in every role she plays. There are some fairly well-known names: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett.

I’m keeping up with the episodes, so I am in season three (“Coven”). I found the first season the scariest, but I thought the second one was the best-written (so far). As per usual, I am binge-watching the show. I kinda want to see Fiona get her everlasting vitality, beat cancer, and remain supreme forever. I empathize with her desire for one last big fling. As much as I feel bad for the Marie LaVeau, I want to see her people lose the war. The voodoo people are kind of annoying. Enough already with their zombies. It’s like they never let go of a grudge. The voodoo people and the witches should join forces, they’d have more to gain that way. There is no reason for them to fight with each other.

See it. Most excellent.

Andre Braugher and the curse of the cancelled show

I’m a big fan of Andre Braugher. I’m disappointed that his better shows don’t last more than a couple of seasons. Aside from Homicide: Life on the Street (great) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (terrible), many shows he was in did not last. He deserves longer-lasting vehicles for his talent.

There is something about a show with subtlety/intelligence/magic/challenge that the mass public isn’t interested in. When the public isn’t interested, there’s no money in it, and executives pull the plug. Here’s a short list of the Andre Braugher shows that got cancelled too soon:

I binge-watch TV

I binge-watch tv. As mentioned in a previous post, I recommend that you consume your television as you do your food. Pair up your television choices to maximize your emotional well-being at the end of the experience. I like to pair up a bitter edgy drama with a nice calming popcorn comedy. I like to end the evening on a calm note.

But how often should you watch television? In this age of endless choices, we can watch an entire series in a weekend. In a day, even. I often do. Is this good for me? What do I miss out on when I do? Is it healthy to forgo the art I might have been making, the social contact? Or is tv a welcome intellectual and emotional adventure, albeit 10 episodes at a time? How much is too much?

To give you an idea, I’m a serious binge-watcher. When I had a bad breakup, I watched all episodes of Arrested Development in a row. I never laughed so hard in my life. Good laughter. I am forever grateful for those stupid shows. I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but it was a very accelerated period. I watched all episodes of House of Cards in one evening. There was no way I was going to let my eyes turn away from Kevin Spacey‘s creepy mug. I mean, eesh. Here are other shows that I have watched through one episode after another:

In some cases I watched television while doing something else (art, writing emails, paying bills, exercise). It’s only for the highest quality shows that I pay strict attention. In some cases the series spanned such a long time that I binged sections of it at a time in between “life”.

I believe I am making active, intelligent choices about what I watch. One of my favorite activities is mulling over the movie or television descriptions on Hulu or Netflix, reading reviews, and reading about directors. I have rated almost 3000 items on Netflix, so its recommendation algorithm is uncanny. If Netflix and OKCupid combined forces, they’d form one hell of a dating company. Netflix has me all figured out. Also, binge-watching is the only way I can really follow story arc, character development, plot. If I watch episodes separated by too much time, I lose all that. My interest would also wane. I have a short attention span. It’s like picking up some long-lost thing and having to thread the needle again before the story can get going. It just doesn’t work for me.

But still, I am a little conflicted. In my metaphor of television as food, I wouldn’t eat ten meals in a row. I’d have some problems. And am I missing out on art? Exercise? Friends?

Soooo. Hm! Jury is out. I’m probably going to continue binge-watching, but I don’t have a great justification for why it is better than getting off your butt other than “I like it.”

What do you think?

Watch your television like you eat your food

I like scary and edgy shows. A lot of people do. Breaking Bad is a runaway success. The Aliens franchise spanned decades. Why would we continue to watch a show that is so intense that it makes us uncomfortable? There are a number of possible explanations. They validate our feelings of good and bad. We experience endorphins and serotonin after all those stress hormones have finally played out. We get to be the good guy. We get to see justice played out.

However, there’s only so much I can take. I don’t enjoy “torture porn”. I don’t enjoy shows like Saw that showcase inescapable acts of extreme pain. I especially don’t like seeing children or women being hurt in real time. I don’t like animal rescue shows that show the hurt animals – I’d rather they wait until the animals have had treatment. Shows that I used to enjoy when I was younger are too visceral for me now: Wire in the Blood, or Se7en. I have joked with my friends that I’d love Law and Order: SVU if they took out all the raping and child-crime. Maybe they can have Law and Order: Forensic Tax Crime? If only crime shows didn’t have to be so violent!

Compare that to Bones. Oh Bones, with your light-hearted banter and cutesy-pie chemistry. The crime is pretty much incidental to the character chemistry. Alright, so there’s a lot of suspension of disbelief and a good dose of silliness in order to make this show work. Well…

Here’s what I came up with: treat your television like you treat your food. Get your serious, intense course of television first, a show like Breaking Bad, and wash it down afterwards with a light bouquet of The Daily Show or even perhaps That 70s Show. Pair up a bitter edgy drama with a nice calming popcorn comedy. You should be left relaxed, not amped up, at the end of the evening. Get a little adrenalin with your first television experience, and chill out with your second. Example:

1. The Fall:

  • Gillian Anderson.*
  • Extremely well written.
  • Fast paced.
  • Edgy.
  • Violent.
  • Adult sexual content.
  • Scary!

Balance that out with…

2. Bones:

  • Popcorn.
  • Pretty innocent stuff.
  • Gross but not scary.
  • Soft and corny humor.
  • Good chemistry.

To me, television should exist to modulate your moods and enhance your experience. TV is food. Consume it wisely! I apply the same techniques to movie-watching. Requiem for a Dream was followed straight-up with some Spongebob Squarepants. For this reason I do prefer watching movies at home.

*Gillian Anderson demands an instant “must watch” for me, so I’ll bend my rules to watch her shows even if they are violent.