Tag Archives: Netflix

Binge Watching Between the Deluge and the Floods

In California the idea of “average annual rainfall” is complete garbage.  We either have way too much rain or a drought.  In that situation the average is like the guy with his feet in the oven and his head in the freezer: On the average he is the right temperature.

This year was a rainy year.  The initial floods have subsided for now, but the snow pack up in the mountains will soon be melting and the next round of flooding will begin.  We’re on a patch of high ground, so we’re safe, but others will be in trouble when the rivers rise and the levees break.

My new TV graphic… AI generated

All of which has nothing to do with this post, but sometimes I feel like adding some color to the opening of these.  I suppose I could just jump in with “Here are some mini-reviews of shows we’re watched so far this year.”

A Spy Among Friends – MGM+

I am probably alone in being tired of the Cambridge Five, but not only have I read all about them, my great uncle was friends with Kim Philby and used to pal around with him in Beirut when we wasn’t helping overthrow local governments. (My uncle, that is, not Philby.)  I even have a letter from Moscow from Philby to my uncle.  But my wife wanted to watch it, which also meant we had to subscribe to MGM+, yet another streaming service, in order to watch it.

It covers the details of Philby’s defection in 1963 and the subsequent investigations and events.  It was okay, but not exactly action packed.  I was, however, able to pause the show when my wife had questions and give brief bios of most of the main characters, which at least made me feel engaged.  The acting is fine, it looks good, and I’ll take any indictment of the the old boys network I can get, but overall it felt like style over substance.  Also, I was a bit salty about having to subscribe to MGM+ for this.

War of the Worlds – MGM+

What if they had an end of the world apocalypse show that was set in Europe for once and half the cast spoke French?

Given the past versions of H.G. Well’s 1898 story, I was pretty sure I could guess how it was going to go.  But I was wrong.  I will give the series that.  It starts off as expected, though the aliens are more like Daleks in robo-dog suits.  Then you think it is going Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  And then it veers of into time travel and paradoxes and parallel timelines.  It wraps up and feels done after three seasons, and it did keep me guessing most of the way… though I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t all mapped out that way in advance.  The whole thing was a bit of a slow burn, so if you’re expecting giant three legged machines striding over the earth and destroying cities, be advised.

The Last of Us – HBO Max

What if The Madalorian met The Walking Dead, but everybody he and Grogu ran into ended up dead?  What if we had plant based soy zombies that were really scary… and as scarce as zombies in later seasons of The Walking Dead? What if they made a TV series based on a video game you never played?

It was okay.  Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey work well together.  But I was not invested in the story, its message (hint: people are the real bad guys again], or its fidelity to the video game, and I got to the end of the season and wasn’t really sure where they could take the story from there or if I really cared.

The Night Agent – Netflix

On the rocks FBI agent, who is the son of a disgraced FBI agent, is relegated to answering the night phone in the basement of the White House, a phone that “night agents,” who are off the book operatives, has the phone ring finally, only to get a message from an agent being attacked. For not good reason they send him out to take custody of a survivor of the attack and it turns into a thing and there is a conspiracy to kill them and a plot within the White House including an attempt to kill the president and it all works out, leading to promotions and a new career and a new love.

Also, every plot twist is telegraphed well in advance and the whole thing ends like it is the prequel for a completely different show.  I don’t know.  It was okay, but my wife and I had fun shouting out what will happen next at the TV, but it isn’t like The Wire or anything.  I couldn’t see myself re-watching it.

The Recruit – Netflix

A young, smart ass CIA lawyer gets mixed up in affairs outside of his usual scope, ends up in the field chasing down a lead while goes hilariously bad on multiple occasions.  Funny, wry, silly, it is one of those stories where a simple goal is presented to the main character who finds himself constantly thwarted by complications, office politics, and unreliable rental cars.  It is just eight episodes and a lot lighter and more enjoyable than The Night Agent.

The Diplomat – Netflix

And unlikely premise and an absolutely ridiculous series of events as Kate Wyler is appointed to be the US ambassador to the UK because the president wants to try her out as a possible replacement vice president, but she is a Middle-east expert and doesn’t really want that job and her husband is a former ambassador who put her up for the job and their marriage is strained in part because he can’t take a back seat in any of this and Alfredo from Elementary is her deputy chief of mission trying to get her up to speed for a job she doesn’t want and he is sleeping with the CIA head of station and the UK Prime Minister is a egocentric half-wit, so at least they got something true to life in the whole thing.  Rory Kinnear plays the prime minister, something he has done in the past, in that Black Mirror episode where he has to fuck a pig.

The performances are good, the whole thing is a setup for a second season, and it has been popular enough to spawn a bunch of “that’s not how any of this works” articles in the press, save for the deputy chief of mission, whose role was apparently portrayed somewhat accurately.  Fun, if you like that sort of thing.

Beef – Netflix

The lesson here is to be judicious in the use of your car horn.  A road rage incident entangles the lives of two people who just can’t fucking let it go, and tracks their obsession and how it impacts the rest of their lives and relationships.  Also, it is something of a comedy I think.  I don’t know.  It comes across to me as the gold/blue dress sort of situation, where you’re either going to become invested in the two main characters and hope they get their acts together or you’re going to be like me and spend 10 episodes wondering at the time and dedication the two main characters invest in self-sabotage.

The Mandalorian Season 3 – Disney+

After 2.5 seasons of The Mandalorian… because we got about a half of season of it in the middle of The Book of Boba Fett… this season felt mostly like an unsuccessful attempt to recapture some of the early magic.  It has some “problem of the week” episodes about pirates and helping Jack Black and Lizzo maintain their droid oppressing regime.  It had some “I don’t really care” episodes about New Republic re-education camps for Imperials.  And then there was a whole “retaking our home planet” thing with the different Mandalorian factions coming together after bickering about helmet etiquette for an episode.

There were some good points, but the through line of the season was kind of choppy.  I will say that the last scene of the last episode was about perfect and that they can just leave it right there and call it done.  But they won’t.  Disney will need to beat the life out of this.  Maybe that will slow them down in their desire to do a remake of the original trilogy.

Perry Mason Season 2 – HBO Max

I was reading the Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe series when this dropped, and it was kind of nice in that this too was set in 1930s LA.  Perry, having won last season’s big case tries to stay with just civil rather than criminal law… but a new case and a need to see justice done drags him back in.  Racial tensions, immigration issues, blackmail, prosecutorial misconduct, and baseball all pile up to make Perry’s job impossible.  But do you think he loses the case in the end?  Overall it was okay.  It looks a lot better than it plays.

Shrinking – Apple TV

Harrison Ford plays himself as a grumpy old therapist of some sort… they never really go into details… at a practice where he is something of a mentor to his two younger colleagues, one of whom lost his wife in a car accident a while back and has never recovered and his life is spinning out of control, but in entirely humorous ways appropriate to a sitcom.  Well, maybe a sitcom on streaming, since blow and hookers enter into it.  Anyway, that guy is the center of the story.  For all the absurdities, it is solid, well written, and funny with a solid cast that turns in good performances.  What else are you going to ask for?

1923 – Paramount+

Harrison Ford plays himself as a grumpy old rancher in this Yellowstone prequel.  If you watched Yellowstone, then you know the drill.  Good, honest cattle ranchers are beset by land speculators, city slickers, and sheep herders and have to defend themselves by gunning them down or stringing them up from the nearest tree.  Everything that makes the show what it is, but it is in 1923, so they have to ride horses into town rather than big pickups.

There are also side stories about the abuse that Native American children received at the hands of Catholic missionaries sent to teach them the ways of the modern world (when your boarding school has a graveyard for students, it might be a sign you’re not doing this right), the unlawfulness of marriage between the races at that time, and the difficulties of international travel in the age of steam.

Succession Season Whatever – HBO Max

I am not even sure this is done yet.  There might be once more episode or horrible rich people being horrible to each other and those around them.  It was a bit of a spectacle in the first season, and kept me interested in the second, but I am not sure I even finished last season, and this season I am done with.  I mean, which character in this whole show would you want to pal around with?

The strange thing is that this is the show that people keep talking about on Twitter, but Yellowstone gets something like 5x the viewers per episode.  Facebook is where the Yellowstone memes are to be found.  Maybe the last episode will be a cross-over and the Roys will try to buy Montana then Kevin Costner and the Duttons will ride up into New York City and string the lot of them up on Wall Street.  A man can dream, can’t he?

Changes at Netflix, HBO, and MTV

I am still catching up on notes I took almost two weeks ago, but there were some video related topics I wanted not note involving three different video services that have had something of an impact on me.

  • Netflix ends DVD Service

I haven’t subscribed to the Netflix DVDs by mail service in a good six or seven years.  I haven’t felt the need.  But I was always happy it was there as a fall back because, while the Netflix vision was always to stream video, we have learned that streaming services are, at best, fickle stewards of our video culture.  And then the announcement came that their DVD service was going to be shut down.

A Netflix Company

For openers, that is bad because if you REALLY wanted to watch something specific, some movie or TV series, the Netflix DVD service had you covered in a way that a dozen streaming service subscriptions will absolutely fail to do.  You couldn’t do it that night, on demand, but with a little bit of planning that red envelope would show up in the mail and you would have the disk set to watch.

For years we got those red envelopes in the mail regularly… though it helped that we’re very close to their distribution hub.  Netflix is still just up the road from us.

Moving away from DVDs to streaming only is a blow due to the attrition that always comes to pass when we change formats.  There were a lot of titles on VHS that never made it to DVD.  And from DVDs to BluRay more titles fell by the wayside… though at least players supported both formats.  Likewise, there are a lot of titles on DVD or BluRay that nobody has bothered to factor for streaming.

DVDs aren’t going away.  You can still find them and watch them if you have a player or an optical drive in your computer. (I do still!)  But Netflix was by far the easiest way to access the vast library of titles on DVD and, come September, it will be no more.

  • HBO becomes Max

For whatever reason HBOs owners, Warner Discovery, have decided to throw away a reputation 50 years in the making and rename HBO’s streaming service to Max.

Everybody to the Max or something

I mean, it was already HBO Max… after having been HBO on Demand, HBO Go, and HBO Now… but to finally ditch the anchor name that has been around since late 1972 seems like a dumb marketing move.

Yes, the plan is to merge it with Discovery+ content, so maybe the two streaming services combined deserve a new name… but did nobody consider HBO Discovery?  I mean, that maintains the continuity of the services in people’s heads because, because in the case of HBO people think of those three letters for shows like The Wire, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and Westworld.

Okay, maybe not Westworld, which has been part of the original content purge at HBO so they don’t have to pay the talent in order to save money.  This is another reason Netflix DVD services going away is bad, because you cannot stream some titles now.

But it feels to me like people who don’t pay close attention aren’t going to make the leap to Max.

Also, and this is what leaped into my brain first, HBO’s has a sister service on cable called Cinemax (or Skinemax, as we used to call it for its propensity to show soft core porn back in the day) that has been branded on and off again as just Max.

Is that the association they want?  We’ll see this Tuesday, as May 23rd is the cut over.

Anyway, it seems dumb, but I guess they have already trashed the HBO brand by this point.  I got a deal last year to subscribe to HBO Max for a year at a low price.  I did that, then they started the purge and doing dumb things.  I think we’ll be able to live without Max when that subscription lapses.

  • I miss my MTV

Finally, there is the demise of MTV.  It was announced that MTV News, the last bastion of the once influential network, would be integrated into Showtime as Paramount engaged in cost cutting measure that include slashing 25% of its overall staff.

The idea that MTV would be finally gone for good as something of an independent channel did stir something in me.

Yes, I know, it hasn’t been what I think of as MTV for a couple of decades at this point.  But back in the day it was something.

If you’re like me, seeing this image triggers music in your brain

MTV feels very much like a milestone for my generation.  I first saw it when we were going to move back in May 1982.  The people buying our house wanted cable, something we didn’t have, so it got wired up while we were still moving out.  My sister and I found MTV on the channel options and wouldn’t turn it off.  Our parents hated it… boomers… but we wouldn’t let it go.

It lost its edge a bit with time… there was a lot of Rod Stewart in the early rotation… but it remained a channel you would just throw on with people around, and we all knew the VJs… who didn’t have a crush on Martha Quinn or just want to hang out with her… and they did crazy things.  They had a contest with Madonna that encouraged viewers to make a music video for her song True Blue in 1986.

And then they showed the entries, one after another, so that song was stuck in my head for years.

Eventually interest in just music videos waned and other content began pushing that off the schedule.  Then there was MTV2, the joke being that they need some place for the music videos to go.  Then VH1.  My wife and I would turn on the VH1 video count down on Saturday mornings in the late 90s and early 2000s to watch music videos.

MTV broke gound with shows as well, with Liquid Television, which saw things like Æon Flux emerge, as well as Beavis and Butt-head.  (Beavis and Butt-head also sat around watching music videos and commenting on them.  This is the clip that always comes to mind for them.) Then there was MTV’s Real World, the start of reality television, which I won’t thank them for, but which was certainly influential.

The final bits of MTV being subsumed into Showtime has very little meaning to me and my actual viewing habits today.  I haven’t watch the channel in over a decade and if I want music videos, then there is always YouTube.  I have no idea what directions it has gone in since the days when I used to watch it.  But the mention of its name will always bring up the moon landing channel ID clip they used to play back in the day.

That is my MTV, part of the bygone era that was my late adolescence and early adulthood.

All Quiet on the Western Front

A book and two movies already lay in the past for this tale, but it is a classic so I suspect that we are not out of remakes yet.  And so I found myself on Netflix watching the latest version of All Quiet on the Western Front.

All Quiet on the Western Front

It is a German production, available dubbed in Netflix, and I will say that they did a very good job on that aspect, though English dubbed over German does seem to work pretty well in many cases due to at least some similarity in words… and you’re spared that who need to wait the verb trailing at the end of anything beyond simple sentences.

I will also say that post-war German cinema has the visual imagery of the waste and despair of war down pat.  Anything from The Bridge to Downfall to Stalingrad, they get the point across that war is not a glorious adventure but simple trauma and misery and death inflicted on ourselves, and hardly worth the effort in what we gain from it.

A particular recurring theme of German cinema is the betrayal of the common soldier by an out of touch, self-obsessed high command willing to sacrifice others… in the films I noted above, the young boys sent to guard the bridge for no reason, the German nation, or the whole of the Sixth Army… in the name of their own honor and the honor of the nation.  And this production of the story is no different.

As in other productions, it follows the tale of Paul Baumer, who comes of age as the war is already under way.  Having been fed a non-stop stream of tales of glory, honor, and service by his teachers… something so aptly torn apart by Paul Verhoeven in Starship Troopers… he and his circle of friends are excited to join the army, eager to get into the fight before it is too late and they miss out on the great adventure.

The theme of the film is broadcast in the first few minutes where we see a crew of soldiers behind the lines stripping their own dead of uniforms, boots, and equipment.  That is piled onto trains and sent back to Germany where it is soaked, cleaned, repaired, and supplied to the new recruits joining the army.  And there is Paul, the new recruit on his first day, receiving his uniform and kit, only to find a name tag already sewn into the collar of his tunic.  He goes back to the supply sergeant to point out he has somebody else’s stuff.  The sergeant says something bland about uniforms sometimes being issues in the wrong size, rips the name tag out, and says the uniform is Paul’s.  We know what happened to the man whose name was casually discarded, but Paul is set to find out.

So we follow Paul into training and up to the front and his baptism in fire, where death and blood and chaos and eternal mud and terror await him.  Death finds his friend group almost immediately.  But Paul survives and adapts, learns from the veteran Kat how to survive, where to find small comforts and a bit more food as they slaughter French attacks wholesale, only to have to rise up out of their own trenches and attempt to move forward only to face a similar slaughter as they are driven back in turn.  His friends fall and new recruits show up, only to fall in their turn, but somehow Paul and Kat persist through the horror, growing calloused to the slaughter, burying their trauma in order to survive, only to have it well up unexpectedly at times.

The visual are what sell this film.  The mud of the trenches, the dirty re-used uniforms, the machine guns and soldiers trying to advance across no man’s land, the thump of bullets hitting corpses and dirt as each side seeks to bring down their attackers.  And mud.  Always mud.  The earth, churned up, the shell holes full or water, the trenches filling up in the rain, always making for more and more mud to squelch through.

The film, however, does depart from the book and the previous movie versions in its flow.  Here Paul spends very little time in training, and we miss the sadistic training corporal who resents the fresh faced youth of Paul and his friends and makes their lives a misery… though hardly so in light of what they will soon face at the front… so there is no moment of satisfaction when the corporal finds himself at the front later on and his tough talk is laid bare.

In fact, the film seems very much in a rush to get to the end of the war.  Paul’s school, training, and early experiences in the trenches are rushed through because the script really wants to be about events in November 1918.

The film, while happy to display the spectacle of war for us, the filth and the blood and the quiet moments in between, it really wants to go after the army command.  So we have the field commander in his immaculate uniform on the balcony of a ruined chateau ordering his tired and despairing troops into one final push, days before the Armistice of Compiegne and the end of the war that they might secure a peace with honor.

Paul and Kat and their comrades go over the top once more in a final push.  French machine guns cut down many of the attackers, but they make it into the French trench and engage in brutal bout of close range combat, eventually wresting control of the line.  In the momentary respite as the French flee, the attackers pounce on the food left behind.  Their own rations have been so meager that hunger overtakes them.

And then the French return, supported by a line of Saint-Chamond tanks, which advance slowly on the Germans, cutting down any who expose themselves.  Not exactly historically accurate… either having tanks readily to hand for a local counter-attack or those models being used that late in the war… but it is a dramatic scene and the Germans rejoice as they manage to defeat one of the metal monsters.  But that does not slow the French down, and the tanks are backed up by French flame thrower teams, lending a lurid light to the grim spectacle.  Also, probably not exactly accurate, but nice cinema.

The Germans are thrown into flight while negotiations are going on in the railway car in the Compiegne forest.  We get the scene of Paul in the shell hole with the wounded French soldier, though it isn’t as moving as past versions and feels like it was tossed in as more of a need to align somewhat with the source material than to show Paul realizing how the war has warped his humanity.  The movie ends with peace and tragedy, though the wrap up gives lie to the meaning of the title of the book.  At least it does to me.

Here we get into the baggage I bring with me causing problems.  In the book and the two previous films, the final death comes a month before the end of the war, in a peaceful moment between fights, when the troops can feel the end is near.  The death is overlayed with the status dispatch from the sector, which reports “Im Westen nichts Neues” or “Nothing new in the West,” which was translated to “All quiet on the Western Front” for the English speaking audience.

Yes, in both scenarios, the final death is senseless.  But in the original a sniper’s bullet takes the final life in a moment of peace and hope, when the end seems so near, while in this new version the death is very much the end result of violent action.  They are both lives thrown away, but it feels like a bit of a message shift for me.

But, as I noted above, post war German cinema has often been keen to focus on the betrayal of the troops by their commanders who were willing to sacrifice them while they lived well, and this is another entry in that category.

Still, without my baggage, the film stands alone pretty well.  The battle scenes and life in the trenches are gritty and real.  It lacks the raw attempt at getting the sense of battle in the 1930s version of the film, or the focus on Paul’s humanity in the 1979 version, but it brings its own strengths to the table; the sense futility and random death and the processing of soldiers through the military machine like the reused uniforms they wear.  It wants very much to be an anti-war film like its predecessors, and gets its points across, if somewhat less deftly than the previous entries.

Of course, there is an argument that there is no such thing as an anti-war film.  Any film that shows battle will seem like fun and glory to somebody.  That brings me back around to Starship Troopers again, which was very much a poke in the eye of militarism and meaningless patriotism and where that leads.  And yet, at the time and even now, there are many who watch it and don’t get the elevate satire of the film, seeing it literal glorification of war and embracing that as the message.

But if it wants to find more of an anti-authoritarian niche for its message… that those in power who talk about duty and honor only when used to elicit sacrifices in others… well there is certainly room for that.  Won’t get fooled again and so on.

Binge Watching Too Many Mysteries

The TV stays on and we keep watching most evenings.  Mysteries seem to be the neutral ground for my wife and I, a genre we enjoy together.  The problem starts when you watch too many and you start to unravel how they work and so we’re constantly calling out what will happen next, and rare is the program that fools us without cheating. (Looking at you Click Bait and Broadchurch. )

But the other shared ground for us, science fiction, doesn’t have as many options popping up.  I am going to guess that the effects and props budget for mysteries are a lot smaller.

Not even a title card, but this image makes sense if you watch the series

The full title is actually The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, but it was supposed to be just The Woman in the House early on in production.  Also, that fits more easily on the page as a bullet point without wrapping.

Why the change to the long, silly name?  My guess is that was a flag to ensure people got that the series was trying to parody such mystery thrillers.  That it needed to raise such a flag probably says more about the genre than the attempt to parody it.  A good parody immerses itself in the material it is poking fun at, but the genre has been a bit off the rails, so it can be tough to tell if something was supposed to be funny or just trying to one up something else.

Anyway, it is fine as a parody, and better than some serious mysteries we’ve watched of late.  Kristen Bell is solid and the show hangs on her.  It was worth the eight episode investment.

The Stranger is such a common title they had to specify

A strange woman in a hoodie, the “stranger” of the title, tells a married man that he needs to look into something about his wife.  When he finds the information, she asks him for more time before she explains, then disappears.  Meanwhile, the woman is also blackmailing some people with information she has found, and the man, who is a lawyer, is trying to keep some old neighbors house from being knocked down, and the company trying to knock the place down turns out to be run by the mans estranged father.  Also, Jennifer Saunders is in it, briefly.  That sounds like trivia, but it was the selling point for us to start watching it.  Anyway, several people end up murdered, then it turns out key people are related and everybody tries to just forget it all happened.  In the end, it was society or middle-class values to blame.

This was a few steps from being a parody of the mystery genre itself.  It did get us hooked with the first episode, but by about the half way point we were mostly watching just to see which next twist would get thrown into the mix.  I will give it credit for keeping us from guessing what was going on too early on in the show.

Stay Close to what now?

  1. Stay Close – Netflix

Also a Harlan Coben novel made into a series, and probably the leading indicator that we have been watching too many mysteries.  It was only eight episodes, but my wife kept saying, “Oh, we’ve seen this one already.” through the first three, because… well, because there wasn’t a lot to set it apart.

And I almost forgot to add it to this post because I keep forgetting the title and what it was about.  Seriously, in my notes I wrote “the one I keep forgetting” because I couldn’t remember it.  Eddie Izzard is in it, if briefly, as is the lead actor from The Stranger (same author but not the same character or story… I think…), and an English actor who kept pulling faces that reminded me of Titus Welliver in Bosch.  Too dull to be a parody I think… but I really cannot recall it well enough to be sure.

Post-Wallander Wallander

I enjoyed the moody, introspective, and empathetic Kurt Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh, which came to the states over a decade back via the usual BBC ratline to the Americas, US public television.  The moody bleakness of Sweden makes such a good background for murder.

That show was a success and when you can’t make more of them, you make a prequel!  It worked for Lucas!  Right?  RIGHT?

So now on Netflix we have two seasons of Young Wallander which, in an odd twist that most people won’t care about, takes place in the present day, which means technically Young Wallander happens after Wallander.  How can old Wallander be hopeless with tech while his younger, future self seems comfortable with it?  Also, insert Benjamin Button joke here.

The show works hard at laying the groundwork for the the Branagh version of the character, perhaps too hard and too obviously, but then doesn’t do much to make the young one very interesting.  It was good enough to get a second season, no doubt based on the popularity of the original, but it could have been much tighter if it had used the old show’s shorter format.  Like a lot of shows, it seems to spend time looking for ways to fill out all the episodes it was contracted to provide.  Very much not a parody.  Also, how can you set a show in Sweden and have nobody in the main cast with blonde hair?  One of the detectives actually dies her hair blonde in the second season, and I think it was just to get past this obvious error.

The good title cards were all in portrait mode

The series opens up with an Irish tourist in Australia being chased by a truck, a turn of events that ends up with him in the hospital with amnesia.

“Oh no, the amnesia trope!” I hear you say, and would tend to agree that it is a bit cheesy.  However, the show sticks with it firmly, even while half the characters seem incredulous about it.  But it does allow you to go on a voyage of discovery with the tourist, who is trying to piece together who he is and what happened to him… and why somebody was trying to kill him… which, of course, he doesn’t remember so has to find out about afresh.

The whole thing is very improbable, and close to parody itself at times.  Or maybe it was parody.  Parody is generally cast as comedy, and there is comedy in this show.  But sometimes comedy is just comedy.  It is one of those shows where the little details can be quite amusing.  Overall a fun ride.  If you watch through some of his dream sequences, make sure to pause the video and read all the signage.  Unusual for an HBO Max series as they dropped all the episodes at once.  But it was a series they bought, so maybe they don’t bother with those.

Finally, a decent title card

Raised by WolvesHBO Max

And, finally, a science fiction show and not a current day mystery!  Or a parody!

Earth is wracked by a war between religious zealots, the worshipers of Sol, and the unbelievers, and all life on the planet seems likely to be wiped out shortly.  An unbeliever scientist reprograms a combat android and a utility android and sends them off to Kepler 22b, a potentially Earth-like planet (which was also mentioned in a show we started watching), with a supply of embryos in order to ensure the survival of the human race.

But both sides in the war know about the planet and soon both sides are there and seem intent on finished the work started on Earth.  The first season starts strong… hey, Ridley Scott directed the first two episodes… but then it meanders for a few episodes.  The second season, which is two episodes shorter, stays more on point.  The second season wrapped up last week, so it is available for full binge.  Strange but compelling.

Binge Watching into the New Year

There was a lot of free time over the holidays, which meant lots of time for TV.  We managed to get through three new series.  We were a bit late to the party for the first two… though that was fine, because it meant we didn’t have to wait week-to-week for new episodes.

The wheel weaves yadda yadda yadda

I was probably the ideal audience for this show.  I am familiar with the material, having read… or at least listened to in audio book form, which at least means I know how to pronounced things, sort of… the whole series.

But that was more than a decade ago for most of the series, and I didn’t come away as a huge fan of the tale, so I am not wed to the idea that every word is sacred and must be reproduced on screen as the late Robert Jordan intended.

I know the basic tale, am hazy on the details, and happy enough to see them bypass huge tracts of text to winnow the story down to something that can be told in less than a thousand one hour episodes.  So I enjoyed it, remembered enough so I was never really lost, and felt they got through first book just fine.  Just a dozen more to go!

The casting might have been the weak part of the show, not that I don’t love Rosamund Pike, and having Sophie Okonedo, who we last saw as the boss in Flack, as the Amyrlin Seat sparked some amusement, but the kids from the Two Rivers were all kind of bland.  We’ll see how they develop over time I suppose, but I’d like to get some more of the cast of Flack into the Aes Sedai.

The hard core Wheel of Time fans though, there are some very unhappy people in that group.  And I get it.  I like about 1.5 movies out of the six that make up The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  But I also try to remember that bringing something to a different medium makes it a different story almost by default.  Of course, that is easy to say when I’m not invested in the tale.

My wife was on the other end of the spectrum and knew nothing about the story and just had to go with what was on screen and the bits of clarification I could provide.  But even with that, she was on board.  We’re looking forward to next season.

Beautiful and pretentious

Another one where I might theoretically be a prime candidate.  When I grew up the science fiction club in middle school had drawn a line between those who worshiped Asimov and those true to Heinlein, and the weirdos like me who were off reading Niven or Burroughs learned to keep clear of the holy war between the two factions.  And while I warmed to Asimov later, the Foundation series has always been ill considered pretentious schlock in my book. So color me happy to see somebody re-interpreting it, because it always felt like it needed another pass to make it worth reading.  And the series looks so good.  Production values worthy of the tale.

A pity it is both pretentious and as dull as dishwater, though I suppose in that they have captured the original.  We plodded through, though I will probably need a serious “previously” recap when the next season drops… because it was good enough to get renewed for a second season.

Those opening credits

And a third series for which I was well primed, this time because I had never seen the original so I was not going to rend my garments every time something varied from the expected.  Overall the show had great casting, great music, tons of style, and really worked for me for the first eight episodes.  I very much enjoyed the practical set dressing, the retro-futuristic kitsch theme, the music, and the way the story kicked off.  I liked the opening credits so much that I didn’t even skip them after the first couple of episodes.

I was all into this.

The biggest chore was watching it with our daughter, who had seen the original, though she seemed mostly okay with this live action remake.  The problem was that she only wanted to watch one episode a night, and what kind of binge watching is that?

As it turned out, that managed to expand my enjoyment over more than a week.  On New Years Eve we watched the final two episodes and… well, we’ll always have the initial eight.  If they had stopped at eight and teased a bit of what was to come, we might have had a season two in the works.

They ran into what I think of as the Burn Notice problem, where there is a story arc for the season, but a lot of time is spent on quirky, fun side adventures that let you get to know the characters, but don’t always advance the main story.  And then in the last two episodes they went all in on the main story arc, with a whole episode of flashback and then a final conflict episode… and I really missed the quirky, fun side adventures.

We had also just watched The Last Duel, and there were some odd parallels between that and the final episode.  Anyway, the end wasn’t as satisfying… so much so that there will be no second season.


Somewhere in season four the series kind of lost us.  But, the books also lost me at about the same point, so I guess that all adds up.

The cast is still good, the sets and effects remain top notch, and there are occasionally things going on that I follow and understand, but we were pausing and asking each other, “So what is going on here?” a little too often.  I think there is an argument here for waiting for a show to be done and binging the whole arc in succession so as to not lose the threads of the plot.  The wheel weaves erratically at times, such that even having to go a week between episodes left us a bit lost.

I don’t know why Amazon insists on weekly episodes.  If there is one streaming service we’re never going to cancel, it is Prime, because we use the subscription for other things as well.

Anyway, we muddled though, saw Holden as the reluctant hero once more, and saw some state of accord come to the solar system for a bit.  I’m just not sure what the scenes on the planet through the gateway were about and, honestly, I kind of missed the simplicity of “whose got the proto-molecule?”  But this was the final season, so I guess we’re done with that.

Binge Watching into Another Autumn

The pandemic isn’t over and we’re still staying home rather than going out as much as we used to, so I’m back again with another post about what we have been watching on TV.

This was one we were going to give a pass to, then we heard some good things, watched a couple of episodes, stopped watching, and then several people told us we had to finish it because there was a huge surprise twist involved or some such.

And I guess, technically, if I let you watch episode one and told you how it ended up, you would indeed be surprised.  But each episode is designed to pull the viewer’s attention in a different direction, so whatever you thought was going on in episode one will be superseded by episode two and so on.  There isn’t a big surprise twist at the end because you don’t even get the information to know it was possible until the next to last episode, at which point you’ve been yanked around so much that your reaction is likely to be just, “are we there yet?”

The biggest deal about this show for me was that according to IMDB, it was mostly filmed in Australia, but it takes place in Oakland California, so I spent a lot of time looking for details that were wrong.  They did a pretty good job on that front. (I can’t really ding them for making up a fictional University of Oakland to give the story setting I suppose.)  Still, didn’t really do much for me as a show overall.

Billy Bob Thorton is back for the final season of the series and it takes place in San Fransisco.  Or is sort of takes place there.  There are a lot of exterior shots that are clearly from the city by the bay, but Billy McBride lives in a strange side street in Chinatown where it is always either raining or has just stopped… it feels like a set from Blade Runner at times… and I want to know where in the Bay Area it rains that much, because the weatherman isn’t telling us.

Anyway, Billy is up in SF for an opioids case, because the TV and movie production pipeline has finally caught up with the opioids epidemic.  A really sold and strange performance with J. K. Simmons and Bruce Dern in the mix.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.

A dead body is found by a US Marine Fisheries agent near Provincetown, MA.  The case is picked up by the state police task force as the victim was involved in an investigation into a local drug ring, and also the opioid epidemic is in there somewhere.  The agent is also a drug users and turns out to be connected to the murder indirectly and tries to get clean and interferes with the investigation and we spend a lot of time with their problems, which keep bringing them back to the whole crime, while the lead from the state police task force sleeps with the stripper wife or the imprisoned drug kingpin who… oh, I don’t know, it is kind of a mess.  It was okay, and was popular enough to get a second season, which is out now, but I was fine with stopping at the end of season one.

Jeff Daniels as a small town police chief taking on the scourge of the… wait for it… opioid epidemic.  Jeff Daniels gives a solid performance and I quite like him, but the whole thing felt like it had been done with Mare of Easttown already. (About which I wrote here.)  Small town, murder, drugs, woods, relationships, something about a union, and opioids.  It isn’t bad, but it felt like ground already covered a lot of late, small town America, poverty, and opioids.  Also, it ends somewhat abruptly.  At the end of episode nine I assumed there was another episode to be seen, as there was enough left unresolved to fill out another hour.  But no, that was it.

Ten final episodes to wrap up the series, though there really felt like the writers only had about five episodes of content to work with, so there is a lot of what feels like filler as Lucifer has to solve a time traveling mystery that involves his daughter, Chloe, and whether or not he wants to take up dad’s position and run the universe.  You could probably just watch episode 10 if you needed closure on the series.  Otherwise is suffers from what I call Castle-syndrome, where once the Lucifer and Chloe love connection gets resolved, the show has to fish around for a reason to continue.

We watched the first episode of this back when the first season landed, didn’t like it, and stopped watching.  Then, two years later, with a second season available and it still lingering in my “continue watching” queue, we picked up with episode two and watched both seasons.  So maybe episode one is optional?

Anyway, aliens show up on Earth at some future date where we also have a spaceship with faster than light travel tech, so Katee “Starbuck” Sackhoff flies off to find the source of the aliens while her husband leads the research team that is trying to figure out what is going on with the monument the aliens dumped on Earth.  Also, they have a daughter who, in any sane world, would have been picked up by child protective services half way through the show.

The show kind of builds roughly, as the FTL ship runs into trouble and they have to hang out on a couple of planets to find food and on both somebody in the crew takes their helmet off and you just know that is going to end badly… and it does.  While the show veers off course now and then and gets caught up in some crew drama, we did watch it all the way through and were eager to see how they wrapped up season 2.

Binge Watching in the New Normal

Pandemic restrictions have been lifted, but just last week I was buying some KN-95 masks because I live in California where things are just on fire for months at a stretch.  There was a brief conspiracy theory about why we all had masks on hand when Covid hit, and then we reminded people it was literally raining ash over most of the state during the summer of 2019 so we needed them to breath.

All of which is just another reason to stay inside and watch TV.

The show is about an aging stand up comedian, Deborah Vance, who was an early female presence in the genre (think Joan Rivers) and who has been doing a Las Vegas show for many years running on the same material.  Her agent sends out a 25 year old female comedy write who was just fired from her last gig for being too controversial on Twitter in an effort to get Deborah’s act to appeal to a younger demographic.  The two meet, don’t like each other, and the usual generational sniping begins which ends with grudging acceptance than a genuine relationship.

This could have been a very predictable show.  In fact, it often is very predictable.  I am not spoiling anything in my description above because you’ll see it coming a mile away.  But Jean Smart’s performance as Deborah Vance manages to make it rise above what could have been another throw away series about show business and the generation gap.  I don’t want to sell the rest of the cast short.  There are plenty of good performances, but Jean Smart is the anchor that sells it.

In the air flight 828 experiences some severe turbulence.  When they land in New York the passengers and crew find that five years have passed since their flight departed.  They have been missing, presumed dead for most of that time.  The government wants to know what is going on, a shadowy defense contractor is very interested in the passengers, a scientists fringe theories seem to be born out by the event, and a semi-religious following starts obsessed with the people who disappeared and were returned with flight 828.

Meanwhile, the lives of the passengers all moved on while they were away.  Kids grew up, spouses found new partners, jobs and technology and science went along without them.  And some of the passengers start hearing voices in their heads, giving them vague instructions or showing them visions.

There is a lot of possible content there to mine to drive a story.  But the writers try to have it all, and in trying to cover all the possible angles, end up with a show that feels like it doesn’t deliver fully on any front.  The episodes jump around, dealing with relationship issues, the NSA investigation of the passengers, the defense contractor’s odd motives and experiments, seeded with plenty of Walking Dead-like flash backs to make sure we know everybody’s store.  The whole thing just didn’t jell for us and we stopped after the first season.

The show follows the aging Sandy Kominsky (Micheal Douglas), a one time aspiring actor from New York who ended up in LA and never quite made the cut.  So he became an acting coach and opened his own school of acting, which he runs with his daughter.  He has still lived the LA lifestyle, has been married three times, has slept with numerous stars, and tends to favor much younger women.

The show begins by contrasting him with his best friend, Norman Newlander, who came out from New York with Sandy and who found great success as an agent and runs a major talent agency in LA.  He is also Sandy’s agent, but never finds Sandy any work.  Norman is played by Alan Arkin in that very typical cranky, cynical character that has worked for him for so much of his career.

The show is very good and we burned through all three seasons pretty quickly.  It does remind me a bit of Brockmire in form, if not in content, as it starts off as a pretty light show about two cranky old guys complaining about their prostates and Norman chiding Sandy about who he is sleeping with, and then develops into a much more serious show about death, children, and one’s legacy.  But it remains funny and and not too heavy.

This has been floating around in my periphery for a while.  Netflix kept pushing it at me as a recommendation for years, and it has a reputation as a show with a cult following, but the show’s description on the service did not spark any interest, nor did the title card featuring Ken Jeong dressed as Napoleon.  Not that I dislike him, but a little bit of Ken Jeong can go a long way.

And then I found out that Rick & Morty season five wasn’t going to be on any of my streaming services until the season was complete… looking at you HBO Max after you made a big deal about how you now have the show… you can get first run movies but can’t get an Adult Swim cartoon until it has been aired elsewhere I guess… and started looking up Dan Harmon to see what his problem was and made the connection with Community, which is basically the show he did before Rick & Morty.  So I started to watch it.

The basic, first episode premise, is that now ex-lawyer Jeff Winger, having be caught out lying about having a bachelor’s degree, enrolls at Greendale Community College in an effort to find the shortest path between him and a degree so he can get back to what he is good at.  His plan involves finding a study group that he can use to help him along.  He lies to them about being a professional tutor to get them to join him, but they somehow become a solid group.

While Jeff is the main character and the de facto leader of the group, it is TV and movie obsessed Abed who is their soul as well as being the wink towards breaking the 4th wall as he describes their situations in movie and TV tropes and cliches which the show often then embraces.

Anyway, I am through season two and am hooked.  It is a show that I laugh out loud at regularly, as my daughter can attest.  My main problem is that I started watching it on my own, and now I wonder if I should go back and rewatch the first two seasons with my wife, get her to just pick up in season three, or simply keep the show to myself.

Still Pandemic Binge Watching Like it was 2020

The CDC dropped the surprise “Masks while vaccinated? LOL no way!” guidance on us about a month back leaving state and local officials scrambling to come up with a coherent plan to transition into what we all hope will be the post-pandemic era.  My state this week then said, “whatever” and masks and the pandemic were ruled over I guess.  But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped watching way too much TV.

I thought I had read a couple years back that Archer was going to end with season 10.  I certainly had that in my brain somewhere, so dismissed the thought even when Hulu kept putting it up in front of me on login.  Then I went to go watch an old episode and discovered there was a whole season I had missed and that season 12 was coming at the end of this summer.

We left off at the end of season 10 with Archer waking up from his coma, there having been three seasons of coma induced dreams that puts Dallas to shame, so season 11 starts with Archer returning to work to find it running like a well oiled machine.  Competence abounds and nobody is using “phrasing” any more, all seemingly due to Archer not being there to drive everybody crazy.  So the season is essentially Archer returning to form and getting the agency back to its old levels of dysfunction.

The problem is that it feels kind of flat.  A return to form after three outrageous, yet unsatisfying, dream sequence seasons should be a cure but instead seems to remind me why we got the triple season experiment in the first place.  I watched it all, and will no doubt watch season 12 too, based on H. Jon Benjamin delivery of the character… I watched most of Archer while mixing in episodes of Bob’s Burgers, where HJB is also the main voice, which was an oddly satisfying pairing… but it feels like the show isn’t really stretching… though, neither does Bob’s Burgers of late, so maybe you can only ride on delivery for so long.  Or maybe I just miss that “phrasing” is no longer a thing.

We’re not really zombie aficionados, but in looking for something to watch we do end up finding more and more entries in the genre.  Black Summer is the anti-Walking Dead.  To start with, the dead are truly terrifying as they run, full speed, after people all the time.  It also isn’t clear if the whole “kill the brain” tactic works on them, mostly because they don’t shamble slowly and let you hack them with whatever object you have to hand.  They aren’t exactly the ninja-zombies of Army of the Dead, but they will go straight for you.

Also, the storytelling is very much a break from The Walking Dead.  You can go for episodes and learn almost nothing about the people that have been thrown together to face the apocalypse.  The series starts with a retelling of the same day from multiple perspectives… a burning Jaguar became an anchor point for me… and then goes on following several people as they move from place to place just trying to survive.  It cannot maintain tension and action constantly, but it tries to make every moment an experience in a way that The Walking Dead never did.  That said, as a viewer, I do kind of want a “what the hell is going on?” answer at some point.  I don’t need a flashback, backstory episode for every primary and secondary character, but seriously, what is going on?

Atlanta follows Earnest “Earn” Marks, who is from a poorer, African American part of the city, and his struggles with both the system being stacked against black men and his own community’s seeming acceptance of the way things are.  Earn is smart, got good grades, and got into Princeton, but then dropped out and ended up back in Atlanta and a cycle low pay, dead end jobs and trying to make ends meet.

He becomes the manager for his rapper cousin “Paper Boi” and they navigate the Atlanta rap scene where, as with the life in general, Earn is endlessly frustrated with how things are.  He knows they should be better, but cannot change the system or the people around him who also buy into and support the system that also hold them back.  Early on in the series Earn and his cousin are arrested and Earn is punished for being outside the system.  His cousin, having been arrested before, is released almost right away, but Earn has never been arrested so he has to stay over night in a limbo-like waiting room, neither in jail nor free, while he is added to that particular aspect of the system.  Played as comedy at times, and tragically hilarious at times, it is very much social commentary.

As we’re noticing that the zombie genre just keeps going, the same goes for the superhero graphic novel adaptions.  And so it is with Jupiter’s Legacy.  Superhero shows and movies tend to be either origin stories… how many times must I witness the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents… or into the action and central issue, allowing a bit of back story to creep in when needed.  JL tries to have it both ways, with each episode split between the modern day, when the Union of Justice faces problems with a new generation of super heroes coming into the fold… or rejecting it… and 1929, when the events around the stock market crash set a group of people on a journey that ends up with them obtaining super powers and forming the Union of Justice.

The problem is that neither story really grabbed me.  The origin story, since it needs to be told in parallel with the current tale, drags along unnecessarily, waiting for the modern times side of things to get somewhere.  Meanwhile, the current timeline stuff is mostly The Utopian, head of the Union of Justice, being disappointed with kids these days and their not being down with the “no killing, no politics” rules of the union, though even he wonders whether sitting out WWII to catch bank robbers and such was the right call.  Basically, some times a slow burn isn’t a burn at all.  Sometimes it is just slow, so slow that when you get to the big reveal in the final episode of the season you don’t even care.

My wife wanted to watch this, though I was less than enthusiastic. My wife and I watched Friends and Seinfeld pretty regularly when we moved in together, but I didn’t watch either before that, mostly because I didn’t have live TV or cable for a chunk of the mid 90s.  So I am good for the last 6 or so season of Friends, and I’ve never had the urge to go watch it in re-runs.

The special itself tries to find something for everybody, which meant that there were bits I liked… mostly about the history of the show, how casting decisions were made, and the sort of behind the scenes trivia I generally like to read about… and bits that I could have skipped.  The obviously staged and rehearsed opening felt… obviously staged and rehearsed I guess.

But it was less than two hours and it had some heft to it at points.  I didn’t complain while watching it though, as with the series, I have no urge to go back and watch it again either.

The show follows Mare Sheehan, played by Kate Winslet, a police detective in the city of Easttown Pennsylvania.  It is a smallish place and she has lived there her whole life so nearly everybody she runs into who isn’t a friend of colleague is a friend of a friend or somebody’s cousin.  It is run down and the sort of town you get away from if you have any grand aspirations in life.

Mare, in her 40s, divorced, with a daughter at home, a son who killed himself, her mother living with her, and still in the town where she grew up, starts investigating the murder of a young woman.  In a way, the show reminds me a bit of Broadchurch, in that various suspects get thrown in her path and we have to dig through everybody’s story to get to where we need to go.  Fortunately, it does this better than Broadchurch, which felt like it had been jerking me around for seven episodes before suddenly saying, “Hah, the killer was right here the whole time!”  Mare of Easttown keeps you going, “Ah, it must be him/her!” only to find that flimsy theories don’t stand up to the facts, but then never letting go of those suspects because their tales help build to the final outcome.  I enjoyed the whole thing.

Zombies Eleven

When I saw trailer for the Netflix movie Army of the Dead I knew we had to watch it… and not just as revenge for my wife making us watch all of season six of Fear the Walking Dead.  This looked like what I refer to as a “Friday night movie,” which in another era might have been a drive-in movie special, a title you watch expecting it to bad and silly and are ready to embrace it as such.  This is Job Bob Briggs territory, not Siskel and Ebert.

Army of the Dead

I’ve seen a number of people online complaining about this movie, saying it is bad, confused, lacks a coherent plot, among other things.  And, to me, that just means they came in with the wrong set of expectations.  I am more than willing to allow for a lot of unforced errors in pursuit of a great goal.

Which isn’t to say the film lacks for problems.  It is a Zack Snyder movie, which means that it probably spends way too much time building back story and character motivation than it really needs to.  Being a Snyder cut, the film weighs in at 148 minutes in a genre where two hours generally pushes a story well beyond anybody’s ability to care.

I will say that, were Warner Bros. left alone with the print, they could (and probably would) trim out a good 45 minutes of the run time and end up with something arguably as good, if less coherent, but the run time didn’t really weigh on me all that much.

The premise, which plays out in the intro scene and opening credits, if that a zombie being transported by the military in a secure container escapes just outside of Vegas.  It immediately heads to the Las Vegas strip, biting as it goes, turning people into zombies.  The military, which includes Dave Bautista and some companions, including his wife, manage to contain the zombie outbreak, walling in Las Vegas with shipping containers.

The George Romero rules of zombies apply.  If you get bit, you get the zombie fever, die, and become a zombie.  Bautista’s wife gets bit and turns after they get out and he has to kill her.

Then we skip forward a bit and Bautista is working at a fry cook at a roadside greasy spoon where he is approached by a casino owner who wants him to go in and retrieve $200 million that is still in the vault.  The US government is going to nuke Vegas to “solve” the zombie problem due to public pressure, so the idea is that Bautista and team can slip in, steal the money, get out, and any evidence will be vaporized.  For this Bautista and his team will get 25% of the take.

So it is really a heist movie.  A Vegas, zombie apocalypse, casino heist movie.  You have to respect that.  Also, that explains the title of the post, if you didn’t make that leap already.

So Bautista has to go assemble a team, make a plan, get the access codes from the casino owner, reconcile with his estranged daughter, and deal with the “totally not the Carter Burke role from Aliens” observer the casino owner sends along as a technical advisor (who is played by the same actor who played John Dorie in Fear the Walking Dead), get into Vegas, grab the money, and get out.

Bonds are forged, betrayals are acted out, dear friends die, guns are fired at full auto, things explode, a father daughter relationship is restored, zombies bite people, and a nuclear weapons destroys Las Vegas.

I will say that I kind of like the Army of the Dead zombies better than The Walking Dead zombies.  They have more depth, they dry out in the sun, come back in the rain, hibernate when bored, can zombify animals, and have a zombie hierarchy.  Yes, a shot to the brain kills them, but these zombies would own the zombies from TWD.  These zombies are also more contained, there being no “everybody who dies for any reason becomes a zombie” virus going around.

In the end, the cast and the special effects sell a movie like this.

The cast was very solid.  Dave Bautista, and I say this in the most respectful way possible, is where you go when you can’t get Dwayne Johnson, does not disappoint.  He is the anchor, and the rest of the ensemble falls into some of the heist movie roles, from flamboyant to world weary to suspicious to the clearly going to die in the first big fight.  And you barely even notice that Tig Notaro was digitally injected in post production to replace Chris D’Elia, which probably made the whole thing just a bit better on all fronts.  She is much better at being world weary and cynical.

And the special effects worked well.  There were a couple of things I expected to see that didn’t come to pass including on that was technically not real “Checkov’s pistol” error because they ended up using it, but when you show a daydream sequence of somebody churning a zombie with a big power tool, you kind of expect it to happen, so a spiritual violation of the rule at least.  If you show a pistol on the wall in the first act I don’t think you’re excused if somebody uses it to open a beer in the third act.

Overall, I had a good time.  It is a dumb movie and easily could have been a bit stronger or a bit tighter or maybe had a good memorable catch phrase of three.  But, as I said above, I came in with my expectations set correctly and was thus not disappointed.  That, as far as I can tell, is the secret of life.  This is a silly, dumb, Vegas, zombie, heist movie.  If you’re expecting zombie Casino or some other Scorsese level effort, pick up the remote down and press “stop.”

I probably wouldn’t watch it again outside of a group drinking movie night, but it was still more fun and excitement than any four TWD or FTWD episodes.

Of course, if you’re not keep to spend the time… and I can’t really blame you… then Honest Trailers has you covered on the picking the movie apart front.

Also, Screen Rant’s Pitch Meeting is on the job as well.

Pandemic Binge Watching as We are All Still at Home

Back again for more shows we have binged through as we stay home, waiting for the vaccine queue to finally get down to reasonably healthy non-essential workers in their 50s.  It seems like forever-ago that we were watching Tiger King.  ?Anyway, there is still likely time for a lot more TV before we’re going out again.  But on to what we’ve seen.

The tale of Assane Diop, a Frenchman of Senegalese descent who models himself on the Lupin books of Maurice Leblanc, which makes him a one-man Ocean’s Eleven at times, and his search to find evidence to exonerate his father who was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Fun, stylish, compelling, and the dub into English over the French was very well done.  A bad dub can be a distraction, but I barely notice this one.

However, there was one huge problem with the series… we only got half of it.  We went in not knowing that we were getting five episodes now and five at some point in the future.  So now we wait.  Merde!

Cynical, biting, and funny by turns, this look at public relations focuses on Robyn as US born PR exec living in London trying to balance her love life, family, friends, addiction, and self with a job that doesn’t want to allow time for any of that.  And then there are the clients, as she spends times spinning stories to bail them out of their own self-made messes.  Probably the most compelling episode takes place with her sitting on a trans-Atlantic flight next to a client who tells her about a problem after take off that she needs to solve before they land.  Quite enjoyed the whole thing.

What?  A lawyer show from David E. Kelly?  Crazy, right?

This time around we have Billy Bob Thorton playing cynical, brunt out, alcoholic lawyer Billy McBride who lives/works out of a motel by the beach near the Santa Monica pier.  When he isn’t in his room/office, he is drinking at the bar next door, only occasionally heading down to the court house to find clients like “Slippin’ Jimmy” McGill.  And then a case he doesn’t want to take gets under his skin and we’re off to the races as he comes out of his daily routine to fight against his old partner.  Billy Bob Thorton excels in the part.

There are three seasons, and the first two don’t have much to do with each other, but then we get to the third season where the past comes back on Billy in unexpected ways.  Good, in a strange way, and season 3 involves irrigation rights in the California central valley, which is always an issue when we have a drought… and we’re pretty much permanently in a drought at this point.

My desires for The Expanse at this point are pretty simple.  I want some spaceships, some Earth/Mars/Belter politics, a few dramatic visuals, an existential threat, Amos being Amos, and an elegantly dressed Chrisjen Avasarala swearing at inappropriate moments.  Give me that and I am set.

Which is why season 4 was kind of a let down for me.  We spent most of the season with Holden and his crew on a planet on the far side of the ring, away from our solar system, trying to remake Prometheus.  Or maybe it was Defiance.  I don’t know, but it wasn’t all that satisfying.

Season 5 though was back in the black, with spaceships and Belter plots and and Holden trying to get the band back together and what was hiding under Fred Johnson’s bed this whole time.  Good stuff… only now we have the long wait until season 6.  I hate that part.

Billed as a documentary about Elizabeth Carmichael and her attempt to create a lightweight, fuel efficient car in the 70s, if that was all it was about it wouldn’t have needed four hour long episodes.  I am pretty sure John Oliver could have given us all the relevant facts, made it funny, and still had time to review the new and have two “and now this…” segments without going over his usual 30 minutes.  But this is also the history of a con man with ten kids, trans gender acceptance, and where all those guys selling flowers on the side of the road in Texas came from.  Strange stuff, and oddly illustrated, but after seeing Tucker Carlson’s dad one can at least say that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the asshole tree.

A detective in Japan, his dead brother, a murder in London, a missing family sword, and a bunch of actors that might wife and I kept identifying from other shows from which we knew them.  The whole thing doesn’t quite fit together into a story that I was willing to believe in.  Too many complications that worked themselves out, too many “no person in position x would do that right?” moments, too many people suddenly willing to work against interest.  It was kind of forgettable… proven by the fact that I forgot all about it until Netflix reminded me about it under the “watch it again” header and I suddenly went, “Oh, right, the one with the woman from Boardwalk Empire, the acolyte from The Fifth Element, and the “I’m a Mac” guy!”

That said, we did watch the whole thing.  So there was enough there for that.  And that makes me wonder if I should do a post about the shows where we watched an episode or three and said, “Nope!”