The Mandalorian: Season 1 and 2

I held off on subscribing to Disney+ until there was a bit of a critical mass of stuff to make it worth while, and all along The Mandalorian had been the thing I was most keen to see. I powered through all of season 1 and most of season 2 in just a couple of days and then had to wait for the weekly releases for the last couple of episodes. I don’t actually think the series is helped by the weekly releases, there’s not quite enough substance in each episode by itself to make it worth the wait.

The Mandalorian is presented as a fairly classic western – the quiet but deadly bounty hunter out at the edges of civilisation, preferring to not really have much to do with anyone and yet forced to engage with a range of characters just to complete his missions… and then getting dragged into a quest. Everything from the dusty landscapes to the music and the framing of shots play to the western theme. The good news/bad news is that The Mandalorian is a good western, which is bad news because I’m not a big western fan. I find them (and this) a little too slow and needlessly melodramatic, and I struggle to keep engaged. That’s a big problem for The Mandalorian when it’s episodes are often only 1/2 hour long, and if you’re waiting a week between each of them. I’d definitely suggest box setting to maintain some semblance of momentum.

The Mandalorian just about kept my attention, because while the pace is slow, the moments of activity are carefully distributed and really good. Whether that’s the action sequences, character development or the gloriously dry sense of humour. And of course you’ve got the adorable little… whatever he is. The relationship between The Mandalorian and The Child is beautifully done considering one half is an expressionless helmet, and the other an animatronic that doesn’t talk. It is cute, but it’s also dark and a bit sarcastic – which I for one love.

There are clearly a lot of connections to the rest of the Star Wars cannon, and I’m a long way from being a big enough Star Wars geek to get all of them, but even for me there were plenty of moments that made me sit up and give a little cheer. The Star Wars universe is so huge, with so many untold stories that there’s always going to be plenty of material and it’s nice to see new series being slotted into the gaps. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by the series, but I was impressed and I certainly enjoyed it enough to justify a month of subscription to Disney+ all by itself.

The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Hill House really hit the spot for me, it was a well put together horror series, perfect for box setting on a dreary and low enthusiasm weekend. So I was quite excited when the next entry in the anthology series popped up on Netflix.

Unfortunately alarm bells started going off as soon as the characters opened their mouths.

I can understand the allure of setting a horror series in England – the glamour of a large manor house, the stiff-upper lip and ridiculous traditions of the nobility, inherent creepiness of servants beavering away while also being invisible, and the long history that gives plenty of time for gruesome deaths to leave behind supernatural ripples. However if you’re going to do it, you need to make sure that your cast can actually deliver the accents! If you’ve constrained yourself with using the same ensemble cast for multiple settings they either need to be flexible or you need to work your stories around their capabilities. There were several truly terrible accents on offer here, and the worst offender was the narrator who interjected with an accent that drifted all over the western hemisphere in the span of every sentence. Even the American actress playing an American character seemed to have picked up the problem and was also massively distracting.

In fact almost everything in the series was distracting, making it impossible to lose yourself in the characters, stories and settings. It was often hard to tell whether characters were supposed to be unsettling, or if it was just over the top acting. I’m afraid particular examples of this were the two children, who were I’m sure doing their absolute best, but playing “are they possessed, weird, or just upper class English?” is a hard balancing act that the adult actors were struggling with, so the children really had no chance.

The nuts and bolts of the plot were fine, and the horror elements were a nice combination of creepiness, action, jump scares, tension and the sort of horror that just gets worse the more you think about how it. For all that the English setting gave problems to the actors, it was a gift to the cinematography, and the Bly Manor of the title was a characterful setting used to very good effect. If not for the ever present issue of the accents, I think it would have been almost as enjoyable as the Haunting of Hill House.