Four Second Seasons and a Miniseries

There’ve been a few things over the last few months (or half a year – oops) that I have ailed to get round to reviewing. So in order to tidy them off the to-do list I’ve just quickly grouped them together and gathered some rather fuzzy recollections.

Dirk Gently: Season 2
If you liked the first season you’ll like the second, but if you didn’t like the first season you’ll probably like the second season even less. The storyline was even more wacky than the first, but I think it still made sense within itself if you really think about it, although to be honest I just let the whole thing wash over me. The overall effect is to leave you kind of numb and stunned, but in a good way. I think.

Preacher: Season 2
The first season had a momentum of insanity to it that really carried it through. The second season had almost the opposite. All I recall of it now is a lot of time spent in a rundown house with characters growling at each other. Oh, and an entirely separate thread involving Eugene and Hitler in hell, which seemingly had no interaction with the main storyline at all. I plodded through it because the actors are good, but I was completely disinterested in the story.

Jessica Jones: Season 2
I loved the first season of Jessica Jones. It had so many levels to it that I still think about the characters and the ethics of it now. So it’s particularly disappointing that about three months after watching season 2 I have absolutely zero idea what happened in it. After a bit of wikipedia-ing, some of it is now ringing bells, but none of them prompt any particular fondness or enthusiasm; it’s just fairly generic superhero story stuff, nothing particularly original or innovative.

Stranger Things: Season 2
I wasn’t nearly as blown away by the first season as most people seemed to be, and the same is true of the second season. It did at least go somewhere with the plot and commit to some of the ideas rather than endlessly hedging its bets, but I also found myself zoning out of the plot. For some reason I don’t really connect with the characters either, although the young actors are doing good jobs, I just don’t really like any of them enough to be really emotionally invested. It’s a solid series, but to me, it’s nothing particularly special.

Godless
It’s getting on for 6 months since I watched this miniseries on Netflix, but unlike some of the things listed above, it’s really stuck with me. I like TV based westerns a lot more than I like films, because I think they really benefit from getting more time with the characters and the feel of the town itself and that is particularly well done in Godless. The setting, characters and story all feel original, but also familiar enough to be comfortable; and the cast is absolutely superb. My only disappointment was that it was so short.

Advertisements

The Rain

The Rain is effectively a Danish, post-apocalyptic young adult novel, there was really no way I wasn’t going to watch it. It ticked all of the boxes for the type of things I gravitate towards, but then have no idea why I’m really watching it. I guess Britain and America can make any amount of shows that are fairly mediocre and yet still get audiences, why shouldn’t Denmark.

Don’t go in expecting a plot that really makes any sense. The setup is that the rain makes people get sick, one drop and you’re a foaming gibbering dead person walking. Simone and Rasmus are just children when they find themselves all alone in a bunker as the world outside disappears. 6 years later they emerge, join a passing group of other young adults and set off on a slightly incoherent quest.

The eight episodes play out pretty much as you’d expect, hitting as many tropes as they can along the way. Most of the characters get little flashbacks to show you who they were before the disaster, and there are some glimpses of interesting ideas there, but none of them go anywhere. How any of them survived any length of time is a bit of a mystery as their decision making is dubious at best and they are very easily distracted by a whole network of love triangles and secret crushes. The acting is all solid and Alba August as Simone is particularly interesting to watch doing a really good job portraying someone who is still a child, but also has to be the adult for everyone. Netflix offers an option of a dubbed version, but you lose too much of the characters and I lasted less than 5 minutes before it drove me to distraction and I reverted to subtitles.

The setting is at least something different from the usual America, and some of the scenery and even rundown city settings are really stunning, definitely making a change from the usual filming locations of warehouses in Vancouver. At eight episodes long, it’s a short sharp burst that doesn’t really set the world alight, but it is passingly entertaining. N

Books in May

Edgar Cantero – Meddling Kids
A group of kids (and a dog) solve local mysteries while on their summer holidays, they set off in search of supernatural and invariably find a guy in a costume. But 15 years later where are the kids, and what if one of the mysteries still haunts them? It’s a great idea for a story, with lots of fun opportunities to play with the ideas of Scooby Doo, Enid Blyton. Nancy Drew and who knows how many other things that almost everyone grew up with, whatever their age now. It’s a really great idea and Cantero develops it very well. The only problem I had was that I really didn’t get on with his writing style. The writing just didn’t seem to flow, I kept getting bounced out of sections because I’d lost track of who was speaking, or where they were, and for some reason he chooses to drift into script format occasionally, like he got bored with writing it out in full. Slightly disappointing, but overall I think it’s still worth reading for the ideas.

Joanna Cannon – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
I found this book irritating. Having a 10 year old as one of the primary narrators is just plain annoying. I’ve not had much to do with kids of that age, but I don’t think I’d like to spend a lot of time inside their heads, and this one seems particularly obnoxious and bad company. There are a lot of characters and I found them incredibly hard to keep track of, even with the stereotypes they all fall into, keeping the names straight was hard. It also has the problem that it’s hard to maintain a mystery when you’re doing first person point of view of people who know some of the answers. They had to keep referring to everything cryptically, even when they were only thinking things to themselves. It just made it incredibly artificial. Mind you, the mystery itself was rather poor, and frankly even when it was explained there were so many questions left unanswered that it was very unsatisfying.

Spencer Johnson – Who Moved my Cheese?
This is a very short book (circa 100 pages of large print) which I had recommended to me via a couple of change management courses and experts. It’s an odd structure, in the middle is a children’s style story of creatures dealing with change (the eponymous moving cheese), wrapped around that is another story of a group of friends that are telling the story and reacting to it, and then around THAT is a bit of blather telling us how amazingly transformative the story can be. After all that setup it’s hard not to be underwhelmed and I was. I actually read the core story a second time a couple of weeks later just to try and get the key point of the book without all the Americanised sales waffle. There is a lot of good change management stuff in the story, illustrating different attitudes and actions. But the delivery is so bad that’s it’s a real effort to get to the points. I would have much preferred a proper, grown up book about change management with the key story surrounded by actual psychology and sociology instead of salesmanship. The ideas are excellent, the delivery is terrible.

Films in May

New releases
Avengers: Infinity War
I would generally say that I’m a big fan of the Marvel cinematic universe. I’ve always been impressed with how they can make each character completely real, and each film completely its own style, and yet then blend them together to make one coherent whole. The Avengers films have always been the biggest challenge in that regard, and Infinity War sets a new level of insanity on that front having to bring about 2 dozen characters together, crossing genres and personalities to bring all the individual stars together without losing their individuality. Just like the previous films, I think it’s an almost impossible challenge and yet somehow, it works. The gradual coalescence of the groups supports both characters and audience through the transition, personalities can still shine through and relationships can be established before it turns into a giant scrum.

There are casualties. Many characters get little more than a cameo, very few get anything resembling character development and some previous characters didn’t make the cut at all. There’s also not much depth to the plot, it’s a fairly straightforward quest story and it is a little rushed, even in the longer run time. But I was never bored, never confused and always entertained by the dialogue and the visuals.

My personal problem was that knowing the overall runtime of the film, knowing it was the first of two parts, and knowing the rumours of major character deaths (the trailer lays it on pretty thick), I had expectations. So early moments that seem to solve the problem were obviously not going to work, I knew there wouldn’t be a tidy ending (although I was impressed with the way they did close out the film).

I didn’t love this film as much as previous ones, but that’s possibly almost all down to the fact it’s not the end, so it’s hard to come out feeling complete. I did enjoy it a lot, and was certainly impressed that they managed to make it work. I think though I won’t be able to judge it completely until part two next year.

Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2 is unfortunately two films mushed together and it doesn’t work. On the plus side, there’s the Deadpool bits. The hilariously inappropriate violence, language and crudeness that you’d expect alongside the breaking of the 4th wall and in jokes. So many elements of the film work so well together and feel fresh and original, everything from the music choices to the brilliantly directed and choreographed action sequences that were genuinely interesting to watch for a change.
But you know there’s a but coming, and it’s a big one. There’s just too much emotion at the forefront of the story. From the ‘unfortunate event’ and the theme of parenthood that runs through the film it just didn’t feel like Deadpool. There were a lot of scenes that I was waiting for the punch line and was left with just a pure emotional moment that didn’t feel at all in the right film. It wasn’t even done very well, it was utterly lacking in subtlety and the kind of story that we’ve seen play out hundreds of times before.
There were plenty of scenes and moments that were brilliant, but there were a number of places that I was bored and the film dragged and overall I came away feeling rather disappointed.

Cargo (Netflix)
Zombies are a crowded genre, so it’s hard to find a new take on them, particularly once The Walking Dead has covered so much ground. But this Australian, Netflix film somehow manages to feel original, while not really being terribly original at all. As with most zombie films, there’s no pre-amble, we’re thrown straight into the post apocalypse with a couple of survivors and almost immediately their just-about-stable existence is thrown out again. The only truly original thing is the Australian outback setting which is used to very good effect (although levels of population density don’t necessarily play to any rules except dramatic necessity). The other thing that holds the whole thing together is the incomparable Martin Freeman who brings not just the expected humour, but absolutely heart-breaking emotion too.

New for me
God’s Own Country (Netflix) – Really good. It’s a slow burn and there were times early on that just left me a bit bored and rolling my eyes. After 10 minutes I thought I was going to hate it, but after 30 minutes I was utterly engrossed, getting used to the different characters and seeing the depth in them. The intensity of the relationships combined with the visceral work of farming create something incredibly powerful, and works incredibly well with the beautiful but unforgiving landscape. Although not one to watch while eating dinner or with the grandparents!

Plan 9 from Outer Space (Amazon) – Just as awful as everyone says it is. I wondered briefly whether it was just the terrible directing and acting that was making it bad and whether the story would have been salvageable with a bit more money for effects and talent. But I think the story was doomed as well, certainly by the time the aliens finished the interminable explanation of the plot towards the end I was wishing I’d never bothered finding out what the fuss was about. It wasn’t even entertainingly bad, just boring.

Gnomeo and Juliet (Amazon) – I put this on because I needed something relatively short and un-intensive to watch while eating lunch and couldn’t be bothered to browse too far on Amazon. I’m not sure why I feel the need to justify watching it, as actually it was pretty good. It managed to do something fresh with the tired Romeo and Juliet structure with an incredible number of Shakespeare references spread throughout. It’s bright and colourful, the voice acting is charismatic and it really did make me smile.

House on Haunted Hill (Amazon) – I’ve seen plenty of references and even spoofs of this over the year and although I’m not really a horror fan, figured I should probably see the original. Particularly given that it’s only 75 minutes long. It did feel a little like an episode of the Twilight Zone or something rather than a film, and to be honest, not a particularly outstanding episode at that. The viciousness of the husband and wife was possibly the most interesting thing going on, the horror itself just a bit cheesy and the plot was sadly riddled with things that made no sense at all. Still, with that runtime, it’s worth a watch.

The Intern (Netflix) – I’d completely blanked this film thinking it was going to be cheesy at best, and insulting at worst. A friend recommended it and I am delighted I listened to her. It was utterly charming. At every point that they could have made a character annoying, or made fun of them, they stepped to the side and made every character well rounded, believable and the star of their own story. It would have been so easy to make the female manager a bitch, or the loud intern a sleaze, or the senior returning to work dismissive and bitter. But they didn’t and it made the film an absolute joy to watch.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (Amazon) – I enjoy the opportunity to catch up on classics like this, particularly ones where I have managed to avoid being spoiled on the plot and ending. All I knew about it was a bit of the background on the making of the film from the TV series Feud about the relationship between the two lead actresses, but as I’d never got to the end of the series I didn’t know more than the set up really, which added to the nuance of the film nicely I thought. Crawford and Davis are superb and the back and forth, twists and turns between the sister are fascinating, even if the various motives for how the car accident happened never made any sense.

Soylent Green (Amazon) – Even being spoiled on the ending, it’s still very possible to enjoy the film. Watching the characters work their way towards the answer is just as satisfying, and frankly I’m not sure how much of a surprise the ending actually is. Charlton Heston is reliable as ever, but it’s Edward G Robinson’s final performance that is absolutely heart-breaking. The grit and haze of the world is visceral and still very relevant today, although the complete avoidance of discussion of the use of women as ‘furniture’ passed from owner to owner of a building is pretty depressing.

The Conjuring (Amazon) – A perfectly fine horror film, but it didn’t really stand out for me. The cast is full of actors from TV that are very good, but made it feel a little televisual, I think also due to the constrained location and the 70s setting as well the whole thing just felt a little on the cheap side. There were a lot of bits that made me jump, and some really creepy stuff, but by the end it felt like it was just throwing everything together and I rather disconnected.

Rewatches
Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo) (Film 4) – Studio Ghibli films are pretty weird at the best of times, but I think this one may have freaked me out the most. The weird fish with human faces really creeped me out for some reason. Other than that, it’s everything you’d expect from Studio Ghibli, very heavy handed environmental messaging combined with an imaginative and lovely story and charming characters. I watched the dubbed version and other than finding Liam Neeson irritating (as I always do) it was very well done.

The Blind Side (Amazon) – I first saw this a year after Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for it, and I was expecting one of those films that’s their only to support the lead actor/actresses in their quest to win an award, films with superb performances at their core, but surrounded by an aura of worthiness and angst that often doesn’t lead to a very interesting package. The Blind Side however was absolutely wonderful. As the opening speech started I literally stopped eating my dinner and became engrossed. Then I rewound it to watch it again. When I got to the end of the film, I rewound it again and could happily have watched the whole thing over again. It was a really lovely film, full of far more humour and excitement than angst or worthiness. The lead character is doing something wonderful for a kid, giving him a chance, but she doesn’t want to make a fuss about it, so the film doesn’t either – it’s just the way it is. I’m not sure anything about Sandra Bullock’s performance really deserved an Oscar, but she deserved it completely just for being able to play this kind of real world character in such an understated way that she just breaks your heart. A really, really, utterly wonderful film, that’s just as good on a second watch.

13 Reasons Why: Season 2

Could I ask that before you read this review, you go and have a look at my review of season 1? I normally try to make reviews of individual seasons stand alone, but there’s a lot of things from the first season review that I’d like to build on.

OK?

Some of the more problematic elements of the first season are not only still present in season two, but are even more problematic. I use the word ‘problematic’ quite pointedly, because this isn’t a show that can be taken lightly and evaluated just as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s talking about incredibly serious and delicate issues – harassment, assault, sexual violence, and suicide and it has to take responsibility for that. It can’t just be discussed as a ‘teen show’, that can sweep bad writing and story choices under the rug and shrug nonchalantly that it’s ‘only’ a silly high school drama. Glee just about got away with its wild lurches between cheesy insanity and punchy drama. A show who’s very title is referencing reasons why a teenage girl killed herself cannot get away with it.

The characters in the second season are asking who is responsible for Hannah’s suicide, and if anyone could have stopped it. Hannah’s mother is taking the school to court because they did not act to stop the bullying. The responses to that action are the fundamental flaw of the series which made me furious. After a student commits suicide and a second attempts it (and a host of other serious incidents such as a fatal car crash) how did anyone think it was appropriate to have all of these children testifying in open court with minimal support? I’m sorry, but how is it possibly acceptable for adults to be putting children on the stand when they know they will be talking about physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in front of their accusers? Then sending them back to the very place and people who are accused of failing to respond appropriately.

The issues of the first season come back again. None of the characters act or look like they’re high school students (16-18?). They’re all covered in tattoos, they drink and swear like proverbial sailors and seem to have complete freedom with hardly a glance or a word from their parents. Every now and then an adult makes a sudden declaration of responsibility, but it’s so little, so late that it’s just insulting. There is an interesting discussion to be had around who is responsible for a teenage suicide, but that’s not what happens. Everyone is covering up and playing stupid and unnecessary games, and the worst offenders are the adults who utterly utterly fail to even try to learn any lessons, instead compounding them further. Maybe this is a true reflection of the insanity that goes on in schools (in America), but if it is, then reality is unbelievable and this needs to be a documentary series not a drama. I spent the whole season in a complete sense of disbelief, angry at characters and writers alike.

Quite beyond all the above problems, the second season is considerably weaker because it lacks the structure of the first season. Each episode focusses on one person’s testimony, with their voice acting as a narrator. It’s good to hear their points of view (unreliable narrators that they of course are), but it feels fake. The narration does not actually sound like it’s their testimony, it jumps around in time and is just not believable. At first it looks like the polaroid’s will form a set of things, but that structure is even weaker and quickly falls aside. We find out there was a huge amount of additional relationships and stuff going on during the timeframes in season 1 that we’d never seen any indication of, and I really don’t think that it would hang together if you actually check people’s actions. Oh, and there’s a ghost, that’s never a good sign.

I’m being very critical of the series, but I can’t deny that I watched the whole thing the weekend it came out. The actors may not be teenagers and the material may not make any sense, but they deliver it incredibly powerfully. If the setting had been a small university, making the characters just that little bit older and more reasonably independent from their parents and teachers, that would have made it all a bit more believable. Instead there is a lot of talent going into something that’s fundamentally flawed, and more importantly the incredibly important stories of what teens are going through is undermined and left untold.

The Upfronts 2018 – NBC

Bye bye
The Brave and Rise both failed to survive their first seasons – I’d actually been looking forward to Rise (high school musical theatre starring Josh Radner, but it got terrible terrible reviews). Shades of Blue (the Jennifer Lopez vehicle) got three seasons, while Great News and Taken only got two seasons each. Timeless is still on the bubble, it got cancelled then renewed last season, I don’t think it’s likely to be saved again.

See you again soon
It’s weird that the only thing I watch from NBC is actually a half hour comedy, but The Good Place is SO good that it even gets past my tin ear for comedy, the third season can’t come soon enough. I also plan to watch This is Us whenever the 2nd season appears on Amazon, although I’m not certain how long the jumping timelines can be drawn out once so many reveals have been done. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been renewed for a 20th season which will tie it to the original Law & Order and Gunsmoke as longest running American scripted drama, it seems unlikely they’ll cancel it before it takes the record. All the Chicagos will be back (Fire, Med, PD), The Blacklist continues into season 6 and Blindspot into season 4. Good Girls is a new series that I’ve got my eye on (I’ll watch Christina Hendricks in almost anything) and now it’s been picked up for season 2 I’ll definitely seek it out, ditto for Midnight Texas.
Will & Grace had already been renewed for its 11th season (or 3rd season of the revival). Superstore goes into season 4, and A.P. Bio gets a second season.

NBC has also rescued the Fox series Brooklyn Nine-Nine after a massive fan outcry when Fox cancelled it. I’ve never watched it, but it’s just a nice feeling when that sort of thing happens (not that I’m still bitter about Firefly or anything).

Hello there

Manifest – a bit Lost, but this is the first trailer I’ve seen that actually made me really want to watch the show.


I Feel Bad – I’m starting to worry, I kind of liked this one too.


New Amsterdam – generic medical drama, but yup, that one got me too. I think they’ve officially broken me.

Also:
Abby’s – a group of people hanging out in a bar – sounds like Cheers
The Enemy Within – a former spy is brought out of prison to help solve present cases – sounds like the Blacklist
The Inbetween – a woman who can talk to the dead helps solve cases with the police – sounds like iZombie
The Village – a group of ‘characters’ who live in an apartment building – sounds like… well pretty much every other show out there.

The Upfronts 2018 – Fox

Bye bye
I’m a big fan of Lucifer so I’m sorry to see it cancelled after three seasons, although even I admit that the show as a whole doesn’t live up to the quality of some of its characters/actors. The X-Files is cancelled again which I’m not that sad about given watching the new series just reminded me about how bad the original series could be. The Exorcist was a show I meant to watch but never got round to and has been cancelled after its second season. Four comedies bit the dust – The New Girl finished as planned after a short seventh season, Last Man on Earth made it four seasons, The Mick made it two and LA to Vegas only got one.

See you again soon
I enjoy Lethal Weapon as mindless entertainment, and while it will be back for a third season it will be without the lead character of Riggs who is having to be replaced because the actor has been let go for what must be catastrophically bad behaviour to warrant jeopardising a successful show. Not sure if that one will work out. The animations continue with The Simpsons had already been renewed for its 30th season as part of a two year deal, and Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers were renewed for 17th and 9th seasons respectively. Empire and Gotham will both return for fifth seasons, but it will be the last one for Gotham. For some reason that utterly escapes me, Fox have also renewed Last Man Standing the Tim Allen comedy that was cancelled by ABC and has been off air for a year.

It was a pretty good year for new drama at fox, 9-1-1, The Gifted, The Orville, and The Resident will all return – I’ve watched none of them, although I think I’ve got a load of The Gifted and The Resident backed up on the Sky box.

Hello there

The Passage – I really didn’t understand what was happening, but the cast and production values look good.


Proven Innocent – very similar to Conviction, the Hayley Atwell show from a few years ago, except lacking the bite and with more sanctimonious speeches.


Rel – were those genuinely the best parts of the pilot that they could put together?


The Cool Kids – old people. Aren’t they funny.

Advertisements