Tag Archives: Showtime

Binge Watching in a Dusty Shade of Yellow

Are we still watching television?  Yes we are!  So it is time for a few recaps once more.

In Montana, not Wyoming

Some friends kept recommending this, calling it the “Cowboy Sopranos,” but I think it is more like “Cowboy Succession.”

The first problem was finding a way to watch it without paying $1.99 an episode, because there is no TV series on earth that is worth that kind of money.

We found that the NBC streaming channel, Peacock, had the first two seasons of the show and that we didn’t even have to pay to see it.  It was one of those things that if your local cable service had the channel, you could use the streaming app.  You have to watch some ads, but not nearly as many as you would on live TV.  The only jarring bit is that the show is cut into acts so ad breaks can be inserted between them and the Peacock ads DO NOT get injected into those transitions.  Dumb, but what can you do?

Anyway, the show is about the Dutton family, headed by John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, who is as Kevin Costner as he always is.  Some actors can become characters, other actors have the roles become them… he and Tom Cruise are in the latter category.  The Duttons own a giant ranch in Montana called Yellowstone, which is close by the boarder of the national park of the same name.  The park figures into none of this save for a tangential mention now and then, and a sly reference to the “zone of death” related to the park.

John Dutton has four children all in various states of relation to him, either rejecting him, trying to please him, doing his bidding, or working against him, depending on the situation.  He manipulates them all with disappointment or praise as suits his plans.

The ranch is threatened by various real estate developers as well as the adjacent Indian reservation, the residents of which can’t go half a dozen sentences without reminding everybody with ear shot that the ranch used to be their land.  The Duttons and their ranch hands handle problems in the cowboy way, which generally involves violence when the law won’t suffice.  They beat people, threaten them, and murder now and then.  They pretty much had to bring in a worse group in season 3 because the Duttons were very much shaping up to be the bad guys until then.  They look more sympathetic against straight up kidnappers and murderers.

Meanwhile, their dysfunctional family and complicated relationships, as I noted above, remind me of Succession.  And since somebody said Succession is pretty much a billionaire version of Arrested Development, I guess they are really the “Cowboy Bluths,” though missing the mediating presence of Michael.  Like the Roys, I am not really sure who to root for because they’re all problematic in their own ways.  But the show is still entertaining in a way that Succession has fallen away from.  Lots of daily antics and arguments to amuse.  Also, it has normalized drinking Coors beer, which is my old man brew of choice.

And then came season four, which is NOT on Peacock, but on the Paramount Network, which has its own app with the same deal about your local cable service and ads.  However, our local cable service doesn’t carry the right channel, so we’re locked out until the season comes to Peacock or something else we can watch.  But the first three seasons were worth the time, so we’ll wait for the fourth to come around.

It is the school mascot, nobody gets stung

We picked up Showtime for a month to watch something else.  Then, with the time left on the clock, we hunted for something else to watch, landing on Yellowjackets, which had just wrapped up its first season.  We got hooked immediately.

The story revolves around a girls high school soccer team in mid-90s New Jersey that goes to the national championships, which are being held in Washington state.  They board a chartered flight, but crash somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, where they have to survive for a year and a half before finally being rescued.

The story splits between modern day and the events on the ground after the crash, weaving the two parts of the story together very successfully.  A lot of shows do this, but I haven’t watched one do it this well in a long time.

At the crash site, most of the team survives, though only one adult makes it through the crash, and they are badly injured.  The team has to figure out how to survive as it becomes more and more obvious that immediate rescue isn’t in the cards.  The radio beacon on the black box is on the fritz and it is 1996 and nobody has cell phones with a GPS in their pockets. (Also, nobody watched Gilligan’s Island, because there were at least half a dozen things they would have picked up from that show about getting rescued.)

Then there is modern day, where it is quickly obvious that there are a lot fewer survivors who made it back than who were alive after the crash.  The baggage of those events weighs on the adults we see.  They agreed on a basic “we survived” story and have otherwise remained quiet about events in the woods, though they remain local celebrities.  But somebody is suddenly interested in what happened.

Meanwhile, back in the woods in 1996, you can see a Lord of the Flies scenario starting to emerge as the very competitive and athletic girls work out how to survive.  There is something strange in the woods as well.  But we only get glimpses of it before the season wraps up, leaving lots of questions and angry looks at the calendar knowing it will probably be a year before we get any more details.  It was a good show, with a tight story and good acting, leaving you hungry for more even after ten episodes.

Another brother Ray

Three items in and I have already fallen off the color theme.  Whatever.  And I am not here to endorse this item really, but figured I would bring it up as this was the reason we picked up Showtime for a month and ended up watching Yellowjackets.  Backstory.  You like backstory right?

I wrote about the six seasons of Ray Donovan previously, a mixed bag of a show.  But we went the distance with it, so the finale, the movie wrap up of the series seemed to be a must.

It wasn’t, really.

The series spends a lot of energy hinting at what happened back in Boston when Ray was a kid and why he and his father Mickey are at odds so often.  If you were paying attention, they pretty much laid out all the key points about their past, so I wasn’t really worried about it.  I wanted to see the current day resolved in some way.

But the people making the show really felt we needed a ride back to the 70s to go through, in detail, what happened back then, all as a flashback from the current day.  Unlike Yellowjackets, this isn’t two stories being twisted together in parallel, this is more like a “remember when…” clip show, only the clips are brand new.

So, if you wanted to see the family history played out, how Ray got where he ended up, why Mickey went to jail, the story of Ray’s sister, and a pack of other details, you are set.  I was there for the 70s cars and styles, but didn’t walk away thinking, “Now that is how you end a series.”  It was fine fan service, and filled in some details, but didn’t thrill me.

Let the Star Wars spin-off multiply and conqueror

If there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.

-Luke Skywalker, wrong as usual

I am going to have to do an inventory of how many of the Star Wars films and shows spend at least some time on Tattooine.  If as much stuff went down there as I recall, either the empire or the republic should have a much more serious presence close to hand.  And it is sandy, and sand is yellow, so back on the color theme, right?

Anyway, the last season of the Mandalorian introduced a bevy of characters set for spin-off shows, and the first of those to land was The Book of Boba Fett.

Of the seven episodes, the first four are basically setting the scene for the post-Mandalorian era events, telling parallel tales of how Boba got out of the sarlacc pit and where he went and what happened after he ran into Mando and him setting up shop on Tattooine.

Again, in comparison to Yellowjackets, this was an attempt to twist to timelines together.  The problem here is that I just didn’t care.  I was never a fan of the Fett,  I wanted to be Han Solo, not some background bounty hunter whose costume looked like low rent cosplay.  But he was popular beyond the extent of his roles in the original trilogy, and Han Solo shouted his name Return of the Jedi, so he has a fan base.  I’m just not in that crowd.

As such, I wasn’t really invested in what he did before or after his appearance in The Manalorian, and the show plodded along with the assumption that anybody watching would think this was key to the Star Wars universe.  Four episodes of that was too much.

Then for episodes five and six we left Boba Fett behind and the show became The Madalorian again, and was much more interesting to me.  I really liked Mando on the ring habitat.  I was having Ringworld flashbacks.  Good times.

But Mando has to find his way to Tatooine, because of course he does, it is the literal bright sandy center of the Star Wars universe, drawing all plot lines to it, and hooks up with Boba to help solve his gang lord turf battle, with the final fight playing out in very predictable fashion.  I don’t mind playing to the western theme, but when I know something mentioned in a previous episode has to come up in the final fight to turn the tide before it happens, then they might not be working hard enough.

Anyway, it was fine.  So not great, nor as enjoyable as the first two seasons of The Mandalorian, but it was probably better than the last three films.  Jon Favreau is probably channeling the best post-Lucas look into Star Wars we could reasonably hope for.  Meanwhile, Amy Sedaris channeled many fan thoughts when she told Baby Yoda… because of course he shows up again… that Grogu is a horrible name and we’re not calling him that.  #TeamBabyYoda

This being a Star Wars series, there are some other opinions on the series out there if you prefer:

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 Ray Donovan

Seven seasons and a movie.  That does Community one better than its goal.

We started watching Ray Donovan and I swear to you we were not two episodes into the show before I started referring to it as Showtime Sopranos.

Seriously.  While I have absolutely no insight into the development of the show, it felt like somebody at Showtime was jealous of HBO and how popular The Sopranos were and figured they could play mix and match with the formula… we’ll make the family Irish, not Italian, and they’ll be from Boston rather than Jersey, and Ray won’t be in the mafia, he’ll be a fixer for the rich and famous… and come up with a winner.

Of course, by the time they got everything together and going The Sopranos was over and HBO was winning again with Game of Thrones, but whatever.  At least Ray didn’t have to go head to head with Tony.

Anyway, Ray is this big time fixer in LA, where most of his family has ended up, having migrated from Boston to the west coast to be together I guess.  The set is made complete when Ray’s father Mickey gets out of prison, where he had served 20 years for murder, and comes to LA to be with his family… and get in trouble.

The series is best summed up as a series of plans that all go wrong, but Mickey is the king of the disasters.  An old school drug dealer and bank robber, he has an endless series of plans to get rich, usually dragging in one of his sons to help, which inevitable go badly off the rails, often landing his partners in jail and causing no end of headaches for Ray.

But Ray’s services are so much in demand by the rich and the powerful that he somehow manages to make things right, getting people out of prison or out of trouble with gangsters, before the next scheme gets everybody back into trouble again.

The series is seven seasons of plans gone bad, dead bodies being hidden, disappearing Boston accents (except for Abby, who is on always on point), and plot lines left unresolved.  I mean, I swear there is at least one thing every season that, when the next season rolls, I ask aloud, “So what happened to… the Russians or the White Supremacist prison gang or the FBI investigation or whatever” because they clearly want to just “Yadda Yadda Yadda” themselves past a few things.

And then there are seasons six and seven, when the whole family relocates to New York.  All the key players magically end up in the Big Apple.  Not Boston, where they are from, but New York City where, if the show is to be believed, you can find parking right across the street from where ever you are headed.  Apparently Liev Schreiber, who plays Ray, got divorced during season five and his ex-wife (Naomi Watts, who will always be Jet Girl to me, and who I always confuse with Rachel Griffiths for no good reason… Australians I guess…) and kids moved to New York so he wanted to move shooting there so he could be close to his sons.  Maybe dysfunctional families do move across country together.

Still, there is a train wreck like fascination that grows on you as you watch the show because literally every plan, every aspiration, even the most simple of intentions, manages to fall through into some sort of disaster.  I stopped with references to The Sopranos and started calling the show Mickey Wrecks it All.  Also, there is an easy drinking game built into the show.  Every time Ray says, “Sure” in that curt, unconvincing way he has, take a drink.  You’ll be plastered before the end of most episodes.

The series was cancelled after the seventh season, which was almost a relief because I am not sure how much more Ray could take without straining even willing suspension of disbelief beyond all possible limits.

However, Showtime relented, and there is now a movie in the works to tie everything together.  I wonder if it will be complete fan service, like the Downton Abby film, allowing Ray to finally have a plan come together, or if it will just be Mickey finally bringing the whole family down with another of his bad ideas.  We’ll see when it comes out.

But Abed from Community would be proud.  His measure for success in television was six seasons and a movie.

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Shows

The pandemic is still here… and it has been getting worse rather than better of late… so we’re still spending a lot of time at home in front of the TV consuming huge servings of streamed shows.  You can look at the Binge Watching tag to see this and other posts on the topic.

We started watching this because it had a bit of the same vibe in the ads as Succession, the HBO series that we both enjoyed.

It features the ongoing struggle between the CEO of an investment firm, played by Damien Lewis, and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, played by Paul Giamatti.

Unlike Succession, which was about a rich and powerful family being horrible to each other, and fully deserving it most of the time, Billions tends to be more about the rich (Lewis) and powerful (Giamatti) abusing their power for their own agendas, which is less fun, being closer to the reality where the everyday person just gets crushed if they get in the way.

Also, the show doesn’t really go anywhere.  There are four and a half seasons available on Showtime and when we got to the end of season four I commented to my wife that after 48 episodes everything was pretty much back where it started.  A lot of details changed, but the essential conflict remained practically as it began.

The redeeming grace of the show is the supporting cast, who are often more fun an interesting than either of the two primary characters.

A science fiction series originally aired on Starz, the premise is that in the late 80s in Berlin some scientists broke through a barrier and discovered a parallel, identical Earth.  Or maybe they created it, as everything was exactly the same there.  And everybody has a double on the other side that is an exact copy of them.  But then the two worlds began to diverge.

30 years down the road, the two worlds are very different, with research and technology having progressed differently.  The two worlds maintain embassies with each other and negotiate trades of information, but the relationship is tense.  Both sides distrust the other and spy while trying to keep their own secrets.  The whole thing has been kept under wraps from the general public and is run by a group referred to only as “Management.”

The show only ran for two seasons, which I suspect may have been due to a lack of “stars” to bring in an audience.  I mean, I like J. K. Simmons a lot, but stars maybe don’t do insurance commercials.  Or maybe the slow pace did it in.

But the two season thing turned out to be a bit of a benefit.  I think they knew going into the second season that they would have to wrap it up, so they did.  The first season brings you into the conflict between the two worlds and sets a plot in motion.  The second season resolved the plot, answers a bunch of questions, and tidies things up at the end, making it a 20 part story.  And it is all kind of fun because a lot of the actors get to play two versions of themselves.

Ewan McGregor is back with his childhood pal Charley Boorman for another motorcycle adventure.  It has been a long time since they did Long War Round and Long Way Down, but the two are back again for another adventure, and one I figured they would do eventually.

Sort of.

I figured Alaska to Tierra del Fuego would be a natural.  However, that is another “down” journey, so they decided to start in Tierra del Fuego and go north, thus the title.

The big twist, besides everybody being older, grayer, and less spry, is that they decided to do the ride on electric motorcycles.  They got two prototype electric motorcycles from Harley Davidson for the run.  And, to go with them, were two prototype electric trucks from Rivian. (An old friend works for them, so I’ll have to ask if he got to meet Obi-wan.)

That is kind of an interesting twist, but it also meant that the first three episodes were largely focused on battery life charging time, and whether or not they have the right plug adapter.  The vehicles all run down at some point, but they have a van and a generator truck on call at times.

After that it settles down into the usual routine from the earlier shows, where they alternate between cool local sights and culture and figuring out how they are going to overcome some obstacle or make it in time for a ferry.

Also, they don’t go all the way to Alaska, settling on LA to end the trip, which is where Ewan lives.  Driving up Interstate 5 to Canada and then the ALCAN Highway to Alaska is probably less exotic than they wanted.

Basically, if you like the first two shows, this is a bit more of the same.

I didn’t have any background on this one, but it had John Cusack in it, so we gave it a watch. Starting off it felt very much like a comic book adaptation, with the over the top graphic violence and crazy conspiracy theories… oh, and it revolves around a pair of comic books which a group of “enthusiasts” believe foretold and can foretell disease outbreaks in current times.

But it is actually a remake of a British show of the same name from seven years back.  I suppose the source material doesn’t matter, but it felt like what it felt like.

Anyway, conspiracies are true, diseases are planned, and an evil corporation has an evil plan to remake the world in a way that at least two Bond villains would approve.  The whole disease and vaccine and media influence aspect of it was very on the nose in 2020 I guess, but after a crazy and sometimes shocking start, the whole thing felt a little flat by the end.  It was only eight episodes, but it was no Umbrella Academy.

In the middle of the pandemic and the election and all of the rather tense shows we’ve been watching, it was nice of Netflix to import four seasons of silly sitcom for us.

The show feels straight from 70s/80s mold of family sitcoms.  It features the Kim family and centers around the convenience store they run.  The parents immigrated from Korea, but their two kids have grown up in Toronto and are much more Canadian than Korean in ways the second generation often are as part of the immigrant experience.

Light, airy, and easily digested in 22 minute doses, we ran through all four seasons pretty quickly.  It isn’t Derry Girls hilarious, but it is pretty funny.  You can get wrapped up in whether or not the ethnic humor aspect of it should be a thing, but at its core it is a family sitcom with many of the same setups as sitcoms from bygone days.

Also Mr. Kim, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, got his own sneak attack, appearing in last week’s episode of The Mandalorian.