Archive for the ‘ Reviews ’ Category

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Season 5

There are shows that I love the big stories but get a little bored in the actual watching, and then there are shows like Agents of SHIELD where I adore the little moments and am bored by the big stuff. There are few shows out there at the moment that I find charming, where I love the characters and their interactions and genuinely want to spend time with them. I would cheerfully watch these characters build IKEA furniture together. In fact a lot of the time I’d rather watch them undertake a simple task like that than watch them get bogged down in clumsy attempts to save the world.

This season had some big STUFF going on – time travel, the destruction of the world, aliens and complicated theories about the nature of time and destiny. The problem is that I’m not sure any of it actually hung together. Every time I tried to work it out, it felt like it was heading in an incoherent direction so I stopped. Maybe if I’d kept trying to work it out, I would have got through it to something that made sense, but I couldn’t be bothered. I always thought it was a shame that the series tried to do these big stories, thereby trying and failing to compete with the Marvel movies it spun off from, or the various other hero shows. I wanted it to be about the more day-to-day, the daily grind of the agents behind the heroes, tidying up their mess or dealing with the stuff it wasn’t worth calling them for. I like stories about the little people, heroes are all well and good, but the little people deserve some love too.

The writing for the characters and the performances remain superb. The dialogue isn’t quite up there with Joss Whedon’s best, even after 5 seasons it still feels a little like Whedon-lite, but it still has that underlying sparkle. Characters snip and snark, make pop culture references, and most importantly have strong senses of self and their own history. They all remember how ridiculous their lives are, how they’ve all made mistakes and all lost things. They talk like normal people, and when one of them occasionally slips into hero speak, the others aren’t afraid to call them on it. It’s laugh out loud funny, and heartbreakingly emotional.

It’s a long wait to the next season which is only set to be 13 episodes long and doesn’t start until next year. I think there’s a good chance it will be the last season as the ratings have never been very good, but I will miss these characters.

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Station 19: Season 1

Despite my unashamed love for Grey’s Anatomy (with the exception of a few plot lines that I try to forget about) I’ve never found the same level of joy for the rest of Shonda Rhime’s work. I stuck with Scandal for a few years but it just got too ridiculous, I barely made it through the pilot for How to Get Away with Murder and even the direct spinoff from Grey’s, Private Practice, didn’t really land with me. As I’ve made it through the full season of Station 19 that makes it the most successful of the bunch, but this isn’t exactly going to be a glowing review.

The first problem is that I’ve never really understood the American emergency services structure which seems to merge paramedics and the fire service into one shared skill set (although this may be an affectation of TV/films based on the way things work in LA and may not be representative of the country as a whole). Station 19 adopts this, meaning that all the firefighters also act as medical first responders and it left me constantly bemused at the different skills and roles that the characters fell into, making them slightly hard to differentiate.

Sometimes the characters seemed to be able to do everything, but other times they were startling inept with storylines being driven by characters making mistakes. Grey’s Anatomy started with, and tries to maintain, a tiered approach to its characters with people at all stages of their careers. The new people understandably make mistakes for drama or entertainment, while the more senior staff can teach both audience and characters while picking up the pieces. Station 19 seems to lack that hierarchy as the only person treated as having significant experience is quickly sidelined.

The rest of the season is structured around a leadership contest between two people who are clearly completely unsuited to lead. Neither has the required experience, neither can put aside stupid quarrels even in literal life and death situations, and neither gives or receives sufficient respect to inspire confidence. Too many of the stories were driven by the mistakes of the characters rather than the inherent challenge of battling fires and disasters. People died because of their pettiness and ineptness and we were supposed to feel sorry for those that made the mistakes.

The personal elements have flashes of the Grey’s strengths, but only flashes. There are some interesting and well delivered relationships (both romantic and otherwise) and some hints at rich backstories that could be developed. Sadly the voiceover doesn’t work, Herrera just doesn’t have as strong a voice as Meredith Grey and everything she says comes across as trite. I also wasn’t a big fan of the flashes of future moments that top and tail each advert break, they just felt like padding and a cheap way to build drama. As a whole, it just doesn’t reach the standards that Grey’s has set and I’m not sure it’s adding anything to a TV landscape that already has Chicago Fire (and its siblings).

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 14

I stopped watching last season because of the Alex storyline. I’ve always had a soft spot for Alex as one of the less perfect characters who has actually had impressive character development over the years. But the final moments of season ???? set up a storyline that ran through the following season that I just didn’t want to watch. Fundamentally he seriously assaulted a colleague and then he, his colleagues and the writers seemed to look for excuses for why it happened. I could follow the logic that he lost his temper (his anger being a central character element) but not the machinations everyone went through to excuse it. He should have gone to jail. I didn’t want to watch that happen, and I can’t quite forgive the other characters and writers for forgiving him. So I’m pretending that whole season didn’t happen, that they characters didn’t take sides against each other. The writers seem to have done the same, which is equally offensive really, but I guess we all just pretend the season didn’t happen.

So I returned nervously but soon settled in to the same drama of both a medical and a personal fronts, inducing the usual array of emotions from laughing out loud to sobbing incoherently, occasionally at the same time. What I love about the show (and hence why last season drove me away) is the depth of the characters. The relationships between all the characters all make sense, those that have known and worked together for decades, those that are brand new and trying to find their places, and those in the middle who know some of the stories but not all of them. The friendships and respect are inspiring, but everyone still gets on each others nerves occasionally, knowing exactly how to push people’s buttons. Watching makes me feel like part of the family.

I can’t really remember much about the stories themselves to be honest. Poor April had a miserable season, and although she’s never been my favourite character she’s always been interesting, her evolution has been wonderful to watch and Sarah Drew’s performance was never anything other than breathtaking and I’ll miss her on the show. I’m less bothered by the departure of Arizona who I always felt was one of the less well written characters with less consistency and less of her own agency. The ‘fix’ for Amelia was a bit tacky but served a purpose as it turned her back from the caricature she’d become and re-embedded her into the same level of ridiculousness that the others were in. The stories that tried to get a little more current (me too, immigration) were a little bit clumsy, but I can’t fault them for their intent.

I’m glad I could come back to Grey’s, it’s been with me so long that I did feel like I’d lost a friend for a while. While I can understand why it doesn’t get to compete for awards in the current TV landscape full of ground breaking shows, I think many underestimate the skill it takes to bring it to the screen. The usually spot on mixture of drama and comedy the writers script and the subtle but powerful delivery of the actors is unparalleled. Few things on TV bring me such joy.

The Americans: Season 6

I came into the final season of The Americans with a sense of dread which gradually built up to almost unbearable levels for the last couple of episodes. I was determined not to look up spoilers, but I came very close a couple of times to googling “does the Americans have a happy ending?”. I won’t give away the spoilers here, because I do think this show is more about the journey than the destination, I’ll just say that it has an ending that felt right, felt satisfying and most importantly made me feel an awful lot of emotions.

If you’ve enjoyed the rest of the series, then you will enjoy this final season and in fact, I think it’s probably one of the better seasons. While there have been some dead ends and long meanders in previous seasons, this is what it’s all been building and navigating its way towards, and everything is brought together. The characters and relationships have grown and evolved over the years, but really not fundamentally changed. The stories being told haven’t changed much either, there’s still a lot of complex politics going on that I didn’t entirely follow, but most of the missions can be understood in simple terms – get the thing, convince someone to tell you something, deliver a message, kill someone, keep someone alive. All with a combination of wigs, confidence games, tricks and gadgets.

The final season is the culmination of everything that has gone before and I found it incredibly tense, the secrets all feel very precarious and there were shouting at the screen for characters to look out, or to not dig themselves into a trap. The close shaves make everyone aware of how easy it would be for the characters to lose everything. That does mean though that the less tense moments could feel quite dull. Expositions of politics (particularly when in Russian with subtitles) were easy to drift off in.

The Jennings family is one of the richest, most interesting set of characters television has produced in recent years. The way the stories and plots provide opportunities for them to react and evolve was masterfully set up by the writers, and delivered with skill, nuance and emotional impact by the actors. All the feelings and all the twists and turns held together impeccably. Although I don’t think it’s had a huge audience watching it season by season, I hope that people will find it and box set it, I think it would work well watched reasonably intensely. I’ll miss checking in with the Jennings family each year, but it went out absolutely perfectly.

Marvel’s Runaways: Season 1

I don’t know how to write this review. I watched this series last week, I’d let them build up on my Sky box until they were all there then worked my way through the 10 episodes in a few days. I know I enjoyed watching it enough to watch 2 or 3 back to back, but a week later and I can’t really explain why, because all the things I can think to talk about are more on the complaint end of the spectrum.

Even just describing it makes it sound pretty poor. A group of privileged teenagers see their parents go into a secret basement room, don red robes and seemingly murder a girl. Some of the kids then seem to reveal super powers, there’s a scientology-esque church, a magic staff, advanced technology and a dinosaur. Yup, a dinosaur. I really can’t explain it any way that doesn’t make it sound ridiculous. Oh, and of course because it’s teenagers there’s also a complex array of relationship statuses between the teenagers which they seem more than happy to pursue while also dealing with the discovery that their parents are murderers. It’s a mess.

But, it does sort of work. You have to go with it and let it wash over you a bit, but if you engage at just the right level, it’s entertaining. It’s not going to be for everyone because if you want too much from it (ie coherence) then you’re going to be very frustrated. The young actors are pretty good, feeling like teenagers and responding appropriately to the craziness. The adults aren’t quite so well balanced, some playing it for laughs a bit more, others trying to take it seriously and failing.

A brief read of wikipedia and it seems that it’s reasonably close substantively to the comic strip and maybe this kind of chaos just feels a bit more acceptable in comic form. The series feels a bit like they’ve thrown everything together desperately hoping someone interesting will come from it. I’m not entirely sure that it succeeds, but there’s enough there to keep me watching for the 10 episodes of the first season. The season sets up for a somewhat different second season that has me intrigued enough that I’ll be back.

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

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.

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