I tend to binge-watch a series across a few days. I watch whatever I can find on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu. If there are better streaming networks please let me know! I like dark and moody shows, police procedurals, horror, suspense, and character studies. Most recent show watched was Marcella. It was pretty good except for some plot believability issues. I will return to it sometime. The last really good show I watched was probably Hannibal. Below are reviews of TV series or episodes that I have seen.
From Amazon.com: 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!
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
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:
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.
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…
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.
Plot holes galore. Lack of fingerprinting and gloves, shoddy police work, no repercussions when Bobby knocks over the Jesus statue, etc.
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?
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.
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.
I knew Men of a Certain Age was doomed from the start. The topic of middle age male malaise wasn’t going to rock the popular demographic. So, I enjoyed it while it lasted. The acting was great, and it also won a Peabody award. Ray Romano was surprising.
Thief was a fairly classic heist series. It was very smartly written, tense and exciting. Braugher won another Emmy but it was cancelled after one season. I’m still puzzling over that one. Who doesn’t like a good heist series? Why wasn’t this one more popular? Six measly episodes! Each one was great.
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.
Vince Gilligan wrote the X-Files Drive episode as well as Breaking Bad. In Drive, Bryan Cranstonplays 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 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.
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.