Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

This is the story of the original discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave by a group of Bedouin boys in Qumran in 1947, and how technology is being used to either debunk or verify the discovery of different fragments of the scrolls. 

Some viewers have no interest in archeology, some viewers may not care whether antiquities are real or being faked.  Some viewers may not care for religion of any kind, some viewers may be technology averse.  Put aside all those biases, because this episode raises some intriguing questions.  Who are the people buying the newer fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls?  Are these new fragments authentic or not?  Can new technology, not available in 1947 determine the authenticity of newer fragments, or uncover previously undecipherable fragments.  The answers to these questions are fascinating, like a detective story or mystery novel.  The real miracle, for those who believe in miracles, is how the original Dead Sea Scrolls survived for thousands of years before being discovered in 1947. 

Even if the questions above are not interesting, there’s a rogue’s gallery of antiquities salesmen, both current and past that are something like characters out of a movie.  And the people trying to verify the age of the antiquities in 1947 were worth a documentary of their own.  There is a cast of characters here both sincere and phony that make this episode off Nova worth watching.  If this still doesn’t pique your curiosity, think of Raiders of the Lost Ark.     This is the real-life Raiders. 

The direction is good because it packs a lot of information in a tiny amount of time.  The experts gathered really add a lot to the subject being discussed, And the viewers get to see the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and where new explorers are looking for new fragments today. 

Dead Sea Scroll Detectives:  Dig In. 

Elizabeth Smith did not like her surname, it was too plain. She did not like the fact that her mother had so many children, she felt her mother had lost her own identity in the process of childbearing, and child-rearing. She had to battle her father to attend college, he made her pay back the loan with interest. Elizabeth tried being a teacher, but found it not engaging enough for her active mind, it was her love of Shakespeare and pure serendipity that led to the adventure of a lifetime, her life as a codebreaker, when codebreaking wasn’t even a concept.

There are so many intriguing aspects to Elizabeth Smith Friedman’s life. She was a woman who refused to live an ordinary life, and this documentary does a pretty good job of illustrating her many accomplishments. Society kept pushing her down, saying she couldn’t do what she had great skill in doing, but her talent would always win out, and the government would call on her time and again during World War I, Prohibition and World War II.

The documentary does an excellent job of explaining the difference between a code and a cipher, and if that’s too technical for some viewers, the documentary goes into how Elizabeth got into the field, which sounds like something out of a Hollywood script, and the difficulties that cryptography put on her husband and their marriage. The documentary also highlights the difficulty of being a woman at a time and in a field where women were not expected to excel, the Codebreaker also documents the final bitter ironies of her life and achievements.

There are drawbacks to this documentary. As rich and varied as Elizabeth Friedman’s life experiences were, this documentary was incredibly short, clocking in at only 52 minutes. The writers could have delved into any of her experiences during World War 1, Prohibition, World War 2, or even her marriage and personal life and given the viewer a fuller picture of this very consequential woman. Still, it is gratifying to see a documentary about a woman using her superior intellect to become a pioneer in a field where not many women even participate.

The Codebreaker: Ground breaking for women

Episode 1 Sundown:
After returning home from the Korean War, to search for his missing father, Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) receives a letter saying that his father is in Ardham Massachusetts. Tic, as his friends know him, takes his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Leti Lewis. (Jurnee Smolett) Leti is a down on her luck singer who needs a place to stay and as a rocky relationship with her half-sister, Ruby. (Wunmi Mosaku) Tic, Leti, and Uncle George encounter family drama and racism as they enter Ardham County, where the racism doesn’t end. Ardham is what’s known as a sundown county, meaning black people aren’t welcome after sundown. The sheriff and his deputies threaten to shoot Tic, Leti and Uncle George unless they leave Ardham County in minutes. What happens to Tic, Leti and George?

This is a very good opening episode of what looks to be a promising series. There is an undercurrent of paranormal or supernatural events going on, on top of the overt racism against three African American protagonists, and it’s an open debate as to which is more frightening to the main characters, the racism or the paranormal elements. The series comes in the wake of Watchman in featuring a story with black characters in the forefront at a time of overt racism. Each of the main characters, and even the ancillary characters are so well-written and acted that it makes the whole episode so much fun to watch. All the characters are multi-dimensional, well-rounded people. It’s a pleasure to see such intricate writing on television.

The acting is superb. Courtney is the steady, calm, reassuring figure of the three, Vance exudes all these qualities and adds some humor to the role. Johnathan Majors is the quiet, contemplative, bookish Tic, but he’s fresh from the Army, and has muscles, but prefers not to use them in case of trouble. Jurnee Smolett stands out as the take no prisoners Letti. She’s willing to fight anyone, friend or foe, who crosses her. Smolett brings a lot of passion to this character and carries this episode for as long as she;s on screen. Even smaller roles like Leti’s sister are well-acted. Wunmi Mosaku adds a lot of fire as Ruby, giving Leti an earful on responsibility. Mosaku also has a great singing voice.

The direction melds the fear of racism with the fear of paranormal activity into one cohesive narrative. The pacing is brisk, The special effects enhance the story, not overwhelm it. Great performances, all packed in a little over an hour.

Episode 2 Whitey’s On The Moon:

Tic, Leti, and George wake up in a lodge owned by the Braithwaite family in Ardham county. Leti and George have no memory of what happened the night before. Tic remembers the night before all too vividly, and remembers the blonde who saved his life on the road to Ardham. She is Christina Braithwaite (Abby Lee) daughter of the patriarch of the Braithwaite family, Samuel. (Tony Goldwyn) Samuel has a plan of his own, it involves Tic, but what is the plan, and how is Tic involved?

Unfortunately, both the story and the characters receded a bit since the first episode, one of the big mysteries from episode one is resolved, which makes this episode immediately less interesting, and the character of Leti, who was so string-minded in the first episode becomes a more conventional female architype. Whitey’s On The Moon was disappointing in as many ways as the opening episode was exciting. The story seemed to put forth mixed messages throughput, and was therefore not as compelling as the first episode. Hopefully, the next episode will be better

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Episode 3 Holy Ghost:
Leti buys an old mansion on the North Side of Chicago, with the intention of fixing up the house and turning it into a boarding house, and also bonding with her half-sister, Ruby. But she faces resistance to moving in, from her neighbors, and from some spirits that are restless in the house. Tic feels guilty about not telling Hipppolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) about what happened to George in Ardham.

The problem with the last two episodes is definitely the writing. The haunted house is standard issue haunted house lore with some Tuskegee type experimentation thrown in for good measure. But it’s odd that Misha Green gives the perpetrator of these experiments a Jewish surname, given the Jews own horrific experience with similar experiments during the Holocaust. The character of Leti is inconsistently written, sometimes strong and daring, sometimes overwhelmingly needy. Finally, all the exposition tying the haunted house story to the central story is saved until the final few minutes and sounds rushed and forced.

Episode 4 A History of Violence:
Leti Tic, Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) Hippolyta go to a museum. Tic Leti and Montrose want to find missing pages from a book. William (Jordan Patrick Smith) makes promises to Ruby after she loses a job opportunity, can he keep those promises?

This episode feels like one of the Night at The Museum movies or maybe one of the Mummy movies, and of course black people have free run of the museum in the 1950’s, nobody’s asking questions, right? The Ruby/William storyline makes even less sense. But the central question is why would Leti, Tic and Montrose want to help Christina Braithwaite? And why do Tic, Leti, and Montrose seem to succeed where so many others have failed?

Courtney B. Vance is a much better actor than Michael Kenneth Williams. Both his overacting and the character in general are grating. Jurnee Smolett is also chewing the scenery quite a bit in these past three episodes. Yelling is not acting.

Episode 5 Strange Case:
Ruby wakes up a whole new woman after spending the night with William, but there’s a price she has to pay for her newfound status, is she willing to pay it? Tic and Leti research the clues the found in the depths of the museum. Montrose continues to prevent Tic and Leti from finding more about the lodge and their members.
This episode tries to discuss race, gender and orientation issues using the guise of science fiction or horror as a genre. When done well, like the Watchmen series, science fiction can be the perfect vehicle to discuss thorny social issues. When done badly, like this episode, and sadly, most of this show, the writing begins to bludgeon the viewer over the head with its point of view and the episode and the show becomes unwatchable.
The producers cast an older actress to play Wummi Mosaku’s alter ego, why is that? Is it that any actress will do? That speaks more to Hollywood’s racism than racism in society. Ironic isn’t it?

Episode 6 Meet Me In Daegu:
In 1950, during the Korean War, Tic did a lot of unconscionable things, including shooting and killing a nurse, Young Ja (Prisca Kim) suspected of being a Communist spy. Tic is wounded and meets another nurse named Ji-Ah, (Jamie Chung) the two fall in love, despite Ji Ah knowing that Tic killed her friend. Ji-Ah has a secret of her own, will she tell Tic? What about her visions of Tic’s future? Do they come true?

This is perhaps the best episode since the first episode. Each of the characters are compromised and conflicted in very complex ways. Tic has killed without remorse, Young-Ja is unapologetically in love with a Communist from North Korea, and Ji Ah loves Judy Garland movies, but hides a dark secret, and knows about Tic’s horrific deeds. The story even adds some Asian horror elements, so even though its only tangentially related to the main story, this episode stands out for depicting the horrors of war simultaneously with a love story.
The acting is excellent Johnathan Majors turns in an emotionally gripping performance as a soldier trying to forget the horrors of war and let himself fall in love. Jamie Chung stands out as a tortured soul, needing to find love. She really pours all her emotion into this role and it’s a very complex performance. Prisca Kim is also very good as the nurse with Communist sympathies.

Episode 7 I Am:

Hippolyta finally finds out what happens to George in Ardham. She also has a crucial piece of the lodge’s hardware in her possession, and she’s learned how to use it. Christina tries to explain William’s fascination with Ruby to Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t seem convinced. Tic finds out something about his father, and it drives them further apart.

This is Hippolyta’s journey of self-discovery, but the writers get it wrong, they try to raise Hippolyta up by tearing others down. There seems to be a lot of repressed anger in Hippolyta’s character, and that plays into a pernicious stereotype about black women. So instead of being an uplifting journey, the narrative gets loaded down by the baggage of anger, and even self-loathing. The anger may even be justifiable, but her actions and the lessons she learns are the wrong ones. More racism is not the way to end racism, more racism only perpetuates racism. The writers also do the same with Christina storyline trying to justify the chip on her shoulder in different ways This is another tangentially related episode, but unlike Meet Me In Daegu, the writing is weak, and so is the character development.

Episode 8 Jig-a-Bobo:
Diana is upset by the death of her friend Bobo. If that isn’t bad enough, Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) puts a curse on Diana. Ji-Ah finds Tic and once again tells him about her vision. Tic asks for a favor from Christina, which she grants to Leti? Tic and Montrose bond after Tic tells Montrose something about his future.
The use of historical fiction in this episode is sloppily written, and doesn’t fit the story. If the writers used a historical figure as a plot device, that’s inappropriate. And where did Ji-Ah come from? The last time the viewer saw of Ji-Ah, she was a nurse in Korea, now she’s in Mississippi? Why is no adult helping Diana when she is clearly terrorized, and why did the writers steal a concept and a visual from Jordan Peele’s Us? Since he’s one of the executive producers of this show, the use of those scenes wasn’t a problem. Even with all these shortcomings, this episode is more like what the series should have been about fear of racism coupled with fear of the unknown. The interpersonal relations between the characters is the stuff of soap operas and seems like filler at times, finally the writers got to the heart of the theme of this show, they took a lot of detours to get here, let’s hope that the remaining episodes use the theme again.

It was nice to see Ji Ah again, but this time Jamie Chung sounds more like a Californian, which she is instead of a recent immigrant to the U.S. That detracted a little from the role, which she played very well in the Meet Me In Daegu episode. It’s nice to see that Michael K. Williams finally shows some subtlety in his acting. Montrose was becoming a one-note character. Speaking of Montrose, it was not necessary to make him dyslexic, he’s got enough on his plate.

The use of “Cruel Cruel Summer” by Bananarama seemed like an odd choice to lead this episode, it’s a pop song, it’s not about anything in particular, to give it the weight that this episode gives it is unnecessary.

Episode 9 Rewind 1921:

Tic makes a pledge to Christina that Leti doesn’t want him to keep to try to save Diana’s life. Hippolyta comes back from her journey of self-actualization just in time to send Leti, Tic, and Montrose on a mission to try to save Diana. Does it work?

This was stone cold plagiarism by the writers of Lovecraft Country, who took a script right out of Watchmen, and didn’t even blink. Well, Watchman did it first and did it better. Rewind 1921 seemed like leftovers compared to the Watchman episode, which was moving and powerful. This episode was another misuse of historical fact, and why decide on this time and place when it was already done so exquisitely before? The writers never mentioned where Montrose or George were born, so this episode has no real resonance.

Episode 10 Full Circle:


Christina has a spell, but she needs Tic’s blood to make it operational. Tic has a spell to cure Diana, but he needs Christina’s blood to make it work. Ruby’s stuck in the middle and has divided loyalties. Whose spell will work, and what does it mean for Christina and Tic?

This was the finale, so it was supposed to resolve a lot of issues, and it seemed to have resolved a lot of issues, but because magic is involved, nothing is really final. The resolution of Ji Ah’s issues with Tic was written badly, and still she’s expected to help Tic with his grand plan. The resolution of Chritina’s plot line was most disappointing, because she was made a one-dimensional character with no opportunity to evolve or grow. How she met her final fate is equally disappointing, because of who was involved. This show is marred by episode after episode of sloppy, undisciplined writing and the finale is no exception, anyone expecting an uplifting episode to cap matters will be left wanting.

My Impressions of Season One:

After getting off to a truly splendid start with the Sundown episode, the writing went slowly careening down a cliff. Sundown was a wonderful mix of mystery, elements of horror and the horrors of racism in Jim Cow America. But then, as soon as the second episode, the focus of the story changed, one of the main characters changed, and the sole focus became racism. The black characters had this seething underbelly of anger within them, which was unappealing, and the white characters were so one-dimensional that they don’t even deserve mentioning. That does a disservice to the way progress was made in America in the eras of slavery and civil rights. For every Fredrick Douglass, there is a John Brown, for every John Lewis, there is a Michael Schwerner. That’s what Lovecraft Country misses, for there to be real and lasting change in any era in America, there has to be buy-in from all races, the writers missed an opportunity to make at least one of their white characters learn and grow and evolve.

After the Sundown episode, Lovecraft Country almost seemed like an anthology series, there was no cental theme holding it together, so one episode would be centered on Leti, and her new house, or the museum or Hippolyta, or Ji-Ah, and there was there was the thinnest of threads tying them to the writers alleged theme, but often the narrative became obscured, and the Lovecraftian elements are almost nonexistent in some episodes. The characters vacillate between strong and brave and weak and weepy, and some episodes focus almost exclusively on who’s sleeping with whom. And by the way rape is never acceptable, whether it is a male or female being raped, and anti-Semitism is never acceptable, no matter how it’s dressed up.
There were a few standout episodes after, like Meet Me In Daegu, which is a love story with many conflicted characters, but again this story was barely tangentially related to the central character, Jig a Bobo, with its many flaws, finally gets around to what this show should have been a mixture of supernatural horror and the all-too-common horror of racism. The show that it will be compared to is Watchmen, but Watchmen was much better written, and once Watchmen came together, it was a marvel to watch. Lovecraft Country even ‘appropriated’ the Tulsa Massacre from Watchmen, which was first masterfully captured on screen in Watchmen’s first episode. It is the height of irony to use H.P. Lovecraft’s themes as a palate because Lovecraft was a virulent racist. Misha Green and her co-writers could have done a much better job of it, by not telegraphing her verbal punches, and toning down the anger of the black characters, and by not making the white characters so uniformly hive-minded.

The acting varies greatly. The good performances are very good, the not so good performances are pretty scenery-chewing bad. Johnathan Majors is excellent as Atticus Freeman, he really showed all of his emotions, but he knew how to modulate his emotions, when Tic got angry, it was through clenched teeth, when he felt sadness, the viewer felt his pain, it was a difficult role, but a wonderfully well-rounded performance. He should have a bright future in Hollywood, he’s already making a name for himself with a solid perfrmance in The Last Black Man In San Francisco. Courtney B. Vance was wonderful as the gentle, kind caring, uncle George. He was woefully underused, the writers brought him back, only to lay a guilt trip on him. Bad writing abounds with respect George’s character. The show needed more of the understated grace and charm of Vance’s performance. Michael K. Williams tried to pick up\ the slack for Courtney Vance’s absence, but he overdid his angst. It was a 10,000-decibel performance that required some subtlety.

Jurnee Smolett was terrific in the first episode, and then her character changed from stong and confident to weak and weepy, and she was not able to modulate her performance as Leti, as well as Majors did as Atticus, so she was either screaming in anger, or screaming in terror, and generally overacting. Wunmi Mosaku is a multitalented singer, actress and force to be reckoned with as Ruby, she’s not afraid to step on some toes and give half-sister Leti advice about Leti’s place in the family It’s the bold performance that this show needed. The remainder of her storyline was written badly, but she made the most of it. Abby Lee had a very difficult role, making someone like Christina Braithwaite a likeable character, and she almost succeeded, until the writers torpedoed her best efforts. Every series needs an antagonist, and Christina is this series main antagonist, but Lee does her best to make her somewhat sympathetic. Jamie Chung gave the performance of her life in three or four episodes, she ran the emotional gamut from kind innocence to anger and hatred. It was an illuminating performance and should show Hollywood that they shouldn’t typecast actors, especially female actors. The depth of emotion in her performance in Meet Me in Daegu was incredible. Again, the character’s role in the last episode was poorly written, but that’s not Chung’s fault.

There were 10 episodes mostly directed by different directors, so it’s easier to select two episodes and talk about each director’s work. Episode One was the best episode of the bunch so Yann Damange gets some of the credit for that. He perfectly blended traditional horror themes with elements of mystery and the real-life horrors of racism. He manages to balance the three elements and not let one overpower the other two. The pacing was good, and the special effects were perfectly used especially in the opening dream sequence. He gets great performances from everyone, and even stages a musical duet between Smolett and Moskau.
Episode 6 was the second-best episode, and that was directed by ex-actress Helen Shaver, who had a lot of roles in horror movies like the Amityville Horror, Poltergeist The Legacy and the Craft. Shaver uses those roles in horror well, as she blends elements of Asian horror with war movie and believe it or not Hollywood musical, and comes up with a great narrative, the special effects aren’t overpowering, the interspersing of clips from Judy Garland movies and horrible acts of war create a roller coaster of visuals that leaves the viewer as conflicted as the characters in the episode.

Lovecraft Country: Not crafted as well as it should have been.

Episode 1: O Brave New World
Luella Shakespeare (Jo Joyner) is getting married in three days to Clive Benton. (Nigel Whitmey) Outwardly Luella seems happy, but she suspects Clive is having an affair with his secretary. So she calls in Frank Hathaway, (Mark Benton) a former policeman who is struggling to keep his detective agency open. Before Frank can dig into Clive’s background, Clive convinces Luella to marry him, but a few hours after they do get married, Clive ends up stabbed with a hairstylist’s scissors. Luella owned a hair solon, and lost 250,000 pounds after selling the salon and investing in Clive’s front of a company. Is infidelity and fraud enough to cause Luella to commit murder?

This is a very good show, Shakespeare and Hathaway is one of the few murder mysteries that uses humor effectively during the narrative. Only Columbo, from the 1970’s use humor so expertly to enliven the story and dialogue. Jo Joyner and Mark Benton work perfectly together, as people the viewer would never think could solve a murder, but real detective work happens. It’s not as highbrow as Sherlock Holmes or Poirot, and that’s part of the fun. Patrick Walshe McBride is good as Shakespeare & Hathaway’s sidekick, Sebastian.

Episode 2: The Chimes At Midnight
Sebastian goes undercover as an aid after there are reports of sabotage at the Shady Nook nursing home. Things get more serious when the wife of the proprietor, Penelope Pincott (Vicky Pepperdine) is murdered. Lu and Frank have three suspects, Orwain Poncott,(Ian Hughes) Penelope’s husband, Soozie Honeywell, (Sarah Ridegway) who seems to have a crush on Orwain, or is it the angry cook Ian McClurgy (Gray O’Brien) who’s just been hired after many code violations in the kitchen. They all have motive, but they were all in the dining room when the murder happened, so who had the opportunity to kill Penelope, and how was it done?

This episode wasn’t as funny as the first one, there were some odd ducks at the nursing home for sure, but the humor seemed forced in this episode. The part that was well-written was how the murder was committed, the how done-it of the murder was better than the who-done-it. The acting is good by the three main actors, they play the semi-professional detectives mostly for laughs, but Mark Benton does some actual detective work.

Episode 3: This Promised End
A mortician named Peter Quintas (Richard Lumsden) is being pursued by two hitmen, Mr. R. (Chris Brazier) and Mr.G. (Jason Nwoga) Peter hires Lu and Frank to find out who hired the hitmen. Could it be Peter’s jealous ex-wife, Brenda (Elizabeth Barrington) or a neighbor, Melvin Pipkin (Andrew Buckley) who seems interested in Peter’s second wife, Anne. (Vicky Hall) Fran reaches tout to DI Marlowe (Amber Aga) for help, but won’t give her any details of the case. Sebastian tries to question Brenda, but gets propositioned instead.

This Promised End is a much better episode than the last one. There is a lot of suspense, some comedy, but this is a much more dramatic, tense episode, and the dramatic tension worked. There is a twist in the ending, which also works to up the tension. The hitmen being given letter names is reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs. There are constant references to Shakespeare in all the episodes, which makes a good mental exercise of trying to find all the Shakespeare references in one episode. The relationship between Frank and Marlowe is interesting, but the writers only hint at it, at this point. Unfortunately, there is a lot of overacting in this episode, but the direction is notable for the first time giving the viewer a sense of disorientation in the final minutes of the episode.

Episode 4: This Rough Magic
A magician named Lawrence Pross (Daniel Cerqueira) is charged with manslaughter after a trick goes horribly wrong and kills Jill Shiplake (Katherine Carmichael) a volunteer from the audience. Pross hires Lu and Frank and Pross immediately suspects rival magician Anton Dukes. (Will Thorp) Dukes protests his innocence and hires rival investigator Chester Patterson (Ace Bhatti) to defend him. Lu and Frank also suspect Jill’s husband, Steffan (Nick Moran) did he have a hand in his wife’s murder?

This is a good episode, until the ending. Shakespeare references, the rivalry between Frank and fellow private investigator Chester Patterson, the misogynistic rival magician, and of course, the whole subject of magic is an interesting area to explore as a way to hide a murder. But the ending ruins a pretty good setup, because it reaches for the suspect, and this time the twist ending doesn’t work. The motive for the murder seemed rushed, and that ruined the ending.

Episode 5: Toil and Trouble
Mayor Rexler is murdered, DI Marlowe immediately suspects Billy “The Brick” Porter (Ciaran Griffiths) notorious criminal, but Billy proclaims his innocence and wants Frank to protect him from arrest. Billy has a history with Frank, which Frank won’t discuss, but Frank takes his case, and Sebastian takes in Billy as a border, which he may regret. There are other suspects in the murder, Victoria Cathness (Polly Maberly) a land developer eager to get her hands on a parcel of undeveloped land. Deputy Mayor Moses Aboila (Simon Many became Mayor after Rexler’s death, and wants to push the land development through, and there are the HAG’s an environmental group that wants to protect the newts that the development would destroy. Who murdered the Mayor, and can Frank prove it wasn’t Billy?

This is the best episode yet, lots of humor, some political intrigue, and no last-minute surprises. The murder makes sense, the motive, and the writers gave themselves plenty of time to flesh out the murderer’s character. Ciaran Griffiths is very funny as Billy the Brick. Good acting by the other supporting actors, and the four leads, who are consistently solid.

Episode 6: Exit, Pursued By A Bear
Lu and Frank are hired by a soap-opera star, Sally Balthasar (Morgana Robinson) who’s getting death threats for re-writing Romeo and Juliet. As Sally embarks on her first performance, she is poisoned, but not enough to kill her. Sebastian, the actor is asked to go undercover with the troupe to report gossip back to Lu and Frank. Lu and Frank question the main suspects, the director of the play, Roman Randall (Ramon Tikaram) his mistress, Belle (Gemma Lawrence) and a Shakespeare superfan, named Doug Lambie. (Patrick Brennan) Who poisoned Sally?

This was another great episode, named after a famous Shakespearian stage direction. Morgana Robinson is hilarious as the diva soap star who overacts her way through her version of Romeo and Juliet. Patrick Walshe McBride is also funny as the starving artist actor, desperate for any part. The suspect makes sense, and the motive is well-explained. Jo Joyner and Mark Benton add to the fun, as they watch old episodes of Sally’s soap between questioning the suspects. The writers do a great job of satirizing daytime dramas.

Episode 7: The Fairest Show Means The Most Deceit
Frank and Lu are hired by shopkeepers Leon (Karl Davies) and Diana Tarsich. (Diana Bermudez) They are trying to find out if an employee named Lola (Jade Matthew) is faking an injury to collect a worker’s compensation claim. But then Diana is murdered. Frank and Lu immediately suspect Leon, but there are other suspects, as well. Complicating matters, an American named Martin Mariner (Mac McDonald shows up claiming to be Frank’s uncle. Is he really Frank’s uncle or a grifter?

This seems like a rather mundane case with some rather bizarre twists. It wasn’t very funny. Mac McDonald plays the stereotypical overly gregarious American, at least he is an American actor. This was probably the least enjoyable episode so far. The crime wasn’t interesting, the characters weren’t interesting, the story was reminiscent of a low-budget Rear Window. Usually there’s an over the top character or performance, but not this time.

Episode 8: The Chameleon’s Dish
College student Hamish Kingly (Chance Perdomo) has a premonition that someone close to him is going to die. His mother, Sandra, (Chizzy Acodulu) runs a retreat, with new husband Rex Olsen. (Paul Thornly) Hamish hires Lu and Frank to prevent a murder, so they go to the retreat undercover. Polly Rattle, (Jo-Anne Knowles) Hamish’s therapist, wants him to go back to therapy, but Sandra and Rex disagree. Polly is also there to pick up her daughter, Lilly, (Fern Deacon) who used to date Hamish. Lilly refuses to go home with Polly, and is murdered while sitting in her car. DI Marlowe arrests Hamish for Polly’s murder, but did he do it? Frank an Lu try to clear his name.


The problem with this episode was there are too many characters, and too many plot threads, some of them lead nowhere, and that leads to a confusing story overall. There is some good satire about the New Age-y retreat that Sandra and Rex run, but not enough humor to carry the day. Chance Perdomo overdramatizes the illness that his character suffers from, to the point that the illness was not clear at all. The rest of the cast was fine.

Episode 9: That Rascal Cook
Lu and Frank are hired by a chef Len Tekler (Michael McKell) who runs a trendy and expensive restaurant. Someone put a dead rat in a meal intended for a customer, and Tekler wants to find out who is trying to sabotage his restaurant, but before Lu and Frank can even start investigating, diners get sick from a meal at Tekler’s restaurant. And then Tekler himself dies, who killed him? Was it restaurant critic, Paulina Stanton, who wrote scathing reviews of Tekler’s restaurant? Was it ex-business partner, Trevor Cordiss,(Nocholas Asbury) who was cut out of the new business? DI Marlowe arrests Cordiss and Tekler’s wife, but Frank has a hunch they didn’t do it, can he find evidence of who committed the murder?

This episode is something of a satire of Gordon Ramsey persona angry celebrity chef, taking out his frustrations on family and staff alike, and that part is well done, but the structure is too similar to The Chimes At Midnight, the nursing home episode, where there was sabotage and murder. This episode also reaches a bit for the murderer, the motive for murder is a bit far afield. There is a very funny scene of Lu and Frank peddling a swan boat, so the writers deserve credit for some physical humor, but too many elements were unsatisfying.

Episode 10: Ill Met By Midnight
Frank and Lu are hired by Lady Tania Bede, (Anna Wilson Jones) whose daughter, Mia (Scarlett Murphy) has disappeared, and taken a family heirloom with her. Lady Tania will pay Frank and Lu 10,000 pounds if they find the necklace in 24 hours. Things, suddenly get more dangerous, Mia’s bloody hoodie is found and a hostage note asking for 50,000 pounds is delivered. Who is behind the kidnapping?

This is not much of a way to end a season. This season started off with a bang and ended with a whimper. There’s not even a satire of royalty or the monarchy, no DI Marlowe as a foil, the writers hint at Hathaway being interested in Shakespeare, but it’s done in such a half-hearted way, and even if there was a romantic subplot, it won’t help the show, because that’s not what this show is about. It’s about two opposite types, and their friendly banter.

My Impressions of Season One
This is a good show, it could be a great show, but the writing is inconsistent. At its best it was funny and satirical, with a sharp eye for detail. The aspect of the show that worked best was the mixture of comedy and mystery, in a manner that hasn’t been part of American television since Columbo in the 1970’s. That is the aspect of the show that the writers should have emphasized more. Unfortunately, the not so good episodes are redundant, not so funny, and take a long time to explain the suspect or the motive. The Shakespeare references in each episode and in each title are fun, the story is set in Stratford on Avon, Lu’s maiden mane is Shakespeare, and there’s always dialogue or plot lines that reference Shakespeare’s works. The origins of how the two met and how they formed a detective agency is also fun to see.

Continuing to accentuate the positive, the chemistry between the three or four regular or recurring characters is very good. Mark Benton and Jo Joyner seem not only like they’ve been acting together for years, but also like they’ve been friends for years. Their easy rapport, their constant needling of each other makes the show fun to watch. If their onscreen relationship got serious that would ruin the chemistry they have because the romance would be forced. Adding to the fun is the deadpan delivery of Patrick Walshe McBride, as Sebastian, the perpetually out of work actor, and sometime fashion plate. The writers get a lot of laughs from McBride being an out of work actor and dress him up in a lot of outlandish outfits. The other recurring actor in this show is Amber Aga, her character DI Marlowe, is another foil for Frank to take on, they are more like rivals than friends, and they definitely have some history going on. The writers should have done at least one flashback episode, to dig into that backstory, but they left it a mystery for other seasons to look into.

The direction wasn’t that noteworthy, visually, other than a couple of episode, The Promised End, and perhaps the staging of the updated Romeo and Juliet, the budget probably didn’t allow for a lot of visual flair, but the pacing of each episode is brisk, and the acting by the leads is consistantly good.

Shakespeare and Hathaway: Stratford Upon Avon calling.

Episode 1:
A Mandalorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) is given his next assignment by a somewhat shady Client. (Werner Herzog) The Mandalorean easily picks up his first fugitive, Mythriol (Horatio Sanz) and disposes of him just as easily. The bounty hunter then goes after the client’s target, in a heavily guarded sector, he meets a moisture famer named Kulli (Nick Nolte) who just wants the warring to end. The Mandalorean also meets a droid, IGII, (Taka Waititi) to help him fight the people guarding the bounty. Does the Mandalorean defeat the people guarding the bounty? Does he take the bounty dead or alive?

This is a good introductory episode to a Star Wars series. It’s set five years after Return of The Jedi. Yes, there are a lot of redundancies. There’s a barroom scene, the Mandalorian is a bounty hunter, of course, because Jango and Boba Fett aren’t enough to quell the Star Wars fan appetite for stories about bounty hunters. But what writer Jon Favreau does well is make this more like a serialized Western from the beginning of movies. This episode has a reveal, and what a reveal. For a Star Wars fan, any Star Wars fan, this leaves fans wanting more. This episode is reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven, with one fighter protecting the townspeople instead of seven. The acting is good Pedro Pascal plays an understated anti-hero very well, and Nick Nolte also underplays his role as a member of the output who just wants to return to a quiet life.

Episode 2: The Child
The Mandalorian is stuck on the same sector with Kulli and many Jawa. The Mandalorian’s ship has been stripped by the Jawa, and they want a trade in order to give the Mandalorian the components of the ship. What do the Jawa want in return for the Mandalorian’s ship components? What about the bounty? What does the Mandalorean do with the Bounty?

This episode is not a filler, more like a bridge between one segment of the story. The viewer learns more about the bounty, there is more to him than just being a price on a head or a reward, and delving into the bounty’s character makes it interesting. The writing by Jon Favreau is better than most movies, it’s better that most Star Wars movies. The Mandalorian character is essentially a blank slate, as is the bounty, and the viewer gets to fill in the blanks with each episode. It’s sci-fi but it really has the feel of a Western. The Mandelorian character is part sheriff part gun for hire.

Episode 3: The Sin
The Mandalorian returns the Bounty to the Client and repairs his armor with the payment for the Bounty. But then, he does something to draw the ire of Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) head of a bounty hunters guild. What does he do?

This is where the conflict begins. The Mandalorian is expected to do something, and does something completely different. So now he’s going against the grain, and he becomes a wanted man in a sense, so it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Carl Weathers brings less to his role than he did as Apollo Creed in Rocky.

Episode 4: Sanctuary
Looking for a place to rest, the Mandalorian finds an isolated, densely forested planet named Sorgan, and decides to rest for a while with his bounty in tow. His restful retreat doesn’t last long as the Mandalorian lands in the middle of a skirmish, between village farmers and raiders. The raiders have a small armored walker, which the plan to unleash on the villagers, but the Mandalorian may have the help of a shady mercenary, named Cara Dune. (Gina Carano) The Mandalorean has also attracted the interest of a widowed mother, named Omera (Julia Jones) who seems ready to train to fight under the Mandalorian’s tutelage. What are the Mandelorian’s plans? Does he plan to stay with Omera after the battle? Will he leave? Does Cara Dune help the villagers? What does he do with his bounty?

The similarities between this episode and the American invasion of Vietnam is unmistakable, a technologically superior species attacks a village of Asian-looking villagers, but this time the good guys are on the side of the villagers and not fighting them. Gina Carano handled the action scenes well, as she should, being a former MMA star, but she also handled the dialogue relatively well, and that was a nice surprise. Julia Jones does a nice job as a potential love interest and eager warrior; she was good enough for a recurring role.

The episode was directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, and there is nothing notable about it, the pacing is rather slow, nothing visually arresting about it, just further proof that nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood. Hopefully she can make the most of her opportunity.

Episode 5: The Gunslinger
After a dogfight with an unidentified fighter, the Mandalorian stops off on Tatooine to get some urgent repairs for the ship. The female mechanic Pelli Motto, (Amy Sedaris) takes quite an interest in the Mandalorian’s bounty, and looks after it, while the Mandalorian looks for another bounty to pay for his ship’s repairs. Luckily for him, there js another bounty out there for him to hunt down, a woman named Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) a fugitive, who has a price on her head. But this time there is competition for this fugitive, a man by the name of Toro Calican (Jake Cannivale) who wants to be part of the Bounty Hunters Guild, and sees capturing Fennec as his ticket to the guild. He actually teams up with the Mandalorian, but with Mando is away, Fennec tries to entice Toro with some information. Does Pelli Motto get her credits? Who gets the fugitive? Does anyone?

This is a fantastic episode, the story is simple, but also tense and exciting, there are twists and turns, a little comedy thrown in and the resolution to the story is not revealed until the very end. There’s even some nostalgia in this episode, because he lands on Tatooine, the home planet of Luke Skywalker.

The acting is very good as usual, Amy Sederis provides the comic relief as the ship’s mechanic. Jake Cannavale displays a laid-back quality on the outside, but he has a burning intensity to be part of the Guild, and he shows that intensity later on. Ming Na-Wen is also very good as the duplicitous fugitive Fennec Shand, she plays mind games with Cannavalle’s character, and that gives her character a devious edge. Ming-Na started out in the soap-opera As The World Turns. And finally, there’s an uncredited surprise as the voice of one of the droids, he does a lot of voice work, so it’s not really a surprise, it just adds to the nostalgic feeling of this episode.
The direction, by Dave Filoni, who also wrote the episode is excellent, the dogfight scene is action packed the pacing is good, the acting is great, and Filoni is steeped in Star Wars lore.

Episode Six:: The Prisoner
The Mandalorian transports mercenaries, Mayfield (Bill Burr) Xian (Natalia Tena) and Berg (Clancy Bown) to break out a prisoner named Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova) from a maximum-security prison guarded by driods.
This is probably the worst episode of The Mandalorian to date, the mercenaries are derivative, one look will give away who they’re based on.

The action is forced, the writers and directors shouldn’t try to make The Mandalorian an action series, at its best, it’s a character driven and plot-driven drama. There is alsso a deliberate attempt to make the Mandalorian less squeaky clean, and more edgy and dangerous. All of these non-so subtle shifts seemed very transparent and painfully obvious.

Episode 7: The Reckoning
Greef Karga has a proposal for the Mandalorian. Mando agrees, but brings backup, on the form of Cara Dune, and Kuill, along with the bounty Greef has his own team to back him up, what happens when the Mandalorian meets Karga? Does Karga double-cross the Mandalorian or does he keep his word?

The series went from one of the worst episodes to one of the best, this was a character and plot driven episode with some action elements thrown in. The characters behave largely as expected, but there are lots of surprises and the last few seconds of the episode are the most exciting. Gina Carano is not the best actress, but performs her role well, and Nick Nolte returning is a welcome reprisal of his role.

The direction, by Debrorah Chow is excellent, not especially flashy, but the pacing is good, and she saves the best scenes for last, and the way she presents the last few seconds of the episode is very well-done. The finale should be great!

Episode 8: Redemption
The bounty has disappeared, one of the Mandalorian’s allies is dead, Greef Carga, Cara Dune and the reprogrammed IG-11 are trapped in a cave. A new enemy, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) has emerged and he means to kill The Mandalorian, does he succeed?

A finale episode has two purposes, resolve a cliffhanger, and set the stage for the next season. this episode achieves both goals and then some. There is also an engrossing backstory about the Mandalorian that clarifies his mindset in caring for the Bounty. Add great character acting by Giancarlo Esposito and Taika Waititi to the compelling storyline, and the end result is a very satisfying finale. This episode was written by Jon Favreau who wrote many of the episodes in season one, and wrote the captivating movie Chef.
The direction, by Waititi is a good blend of action and storytelling, the pacing is good and the final seconds of the episode leaves the audience thirsting for a second season. This series shows how good Star Wars can be when executed almost flawlessly.

My Impressions of Season One:
The writing is very good, for the most part, instead of making it a big epic story, like the movies, they concentrated on small stories, which work better on the small screen and work better in the episodic genre. The stories remind me of early serialized American Western radio and tv shows and movies like The Magnificent Seven, and the Seven Samurai, where an outsider comes in and solves the problems of the townspeople. Many of the episodes follow this format, but the better ones incorporate the Mandalorian’s bounty, and the best episode, Redemption, does an exceptional job of blending in a backstory, and blending it in with the narrative, and incorporating elements like the Bounty. Jon Favreau writes many of the episode and keeps the themes constant and the main characters intriguing

The Mandalorian is basically a good guy, trying to settle wrongs on different planets between the local populace and outside forces. He sometimes does morally questionable things, but in the end, he fights for decency. The supporting characters were less nuanced, they’re either good guys and with Mando or they’re bad guys and they fight Mando. It would have been preferrable to have supporting characters with more gray area, and less black and white. The recurring characters were not the most interesting characters, either.

The acting on the Mandalorian, depending who’s doing the acting. Pedro Pascal is a good actor, apparently from the Clint Eastwood minimalist school of acting, he uses an economy of words to convey a lot. His understated delivery fits the Western motif perfectly.
There are actors in recurring roles, and some of those performances are good. Nick Nolte is surprisingly good as Kuill, a character sympathetic to the Mandalorian, Nolte shows his empathetic, sensitive, side. All the recurring roles were not as good Carl Weathers is average as Greef Karga, and his casting seems to be a case of nostalgia casting, not a case where Weathers deserving the role. His delivery is wooden, even missing the life he had as Apollo Creed. Gina Carano is slightly better as Cara Dune, she handles the action sequences well, and has a more natural delivery than Weathers. But if these were recurring roles the writers and producers should have put more thought into the casting.

There were good guest performances too. Ming Na Wen was good as a shady fugitive, Amy Sedaris was also good in a small comedic role in the same episode, as was Jake Cannavale as a wannabe bounty hunter. That whole episode was made better by the acting. Giancarlo Esposito is very good as Moff Gideon, and will be returning for season 2.

The direction also varied greatly, because there were many directors for these eight episodes. The best episodes were directed by Dave Filoni (The Gunslinger) and Deborah Chow (The Reckoning). There were no really fancy visuals in either episode, other than an early dogfight sequence in the Gunslinger episode. The emphasis was on the story and the characters, as it should be.

Director Rick Famuyiwa’s episode (The Prisoner) is somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. It tries to force action where it doesn’t belong, and really uses stock characters that bear no resemblance to Star Wars characters.
Hopefully, season two of The Mandalorian will continue to be a story-driven character-driven series, and doesn’t get carried away with the Mandalorian vs Moff Gideon storyline.

unladylike2020

This documentary features little known, little publicized women who changed the course of American history. The documentary highlights the lives and work of five women.

Martha Hughes Cannon: The first female state legislator, at first a doctor, her religion, and marriage complicated her political career.

Mary Church Terrell: A mixed race African American woman whose life was forever changed by the lynching of a black man.

Jovita Idar: A Mexican American journalist who wrote about women’s rights, and civil rights for Mexican Americans, again a lynching spurred her to organize The League of Mexican Women. She put her life on the line to protect a free press.

Jeanette Rankin: The first elected female in the House of Representatives. She began as a social worker, and became a trailblazer for women’s suffrage. Her voting record led to her ouster in her first election, but was re-elected later. She was a peace activist until the 1960’s.

Zitkala Sa: A Native American woman who resented her boarding school experience, she was an accomplished musician who fought for the rights of Native Americans as their culture and practices were being erased.

This is an important documentary, because every few people know about the lives and work of these women, and more amazingly, the work of these women was done in the late 19th and early 20th century when almost no one was fighting for these rights. They were not only fighting for their rights as women, but also as members of their ethnicity.

The only criticism that rings true of this documentary is that it’s too short. These are complex women, with complex lives, and 12 minutes per women is not enough of a tribute to these women. The historians who represent the accomplishments of these women are enthusiastic, and that only whet my appetite to learn more about these women. There are more short films of other women documented online, but the shortness of the films, and not the subjects, are the problem.

The documentary should have been two hours, and that would have given the proper amount of time and respect to these women, because issues of race, gender and ethnicity still abound in 2020. Mexican Americans are seen as second class citizens, African Americans are still fighting for voting rights, and there is still no woman President in the U.S.

Criticisms of political correctness or identity politics fall flat, because if these women didn’t push for their gender or ethnicity no one else would. Everyone hopes for racial and gender unity, but in the late 19th and early 20th century. There were very few people fighting across racial and gender rights. These women started out fighting for themselves and created large organizations in their wake.

There is artwork and animation in an effort to jazz up the production, but these little flourishes add little value to the overall documentary.

Unladylike 2020: Suffering without suffrage no more.

 

30 Rock: A One-Time Special - Season 2020

Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBreyer) once an NBC page, is now in charge of NBC Universal, and he wants a reboot of TGS, the show whose cast he grew very fond of.  Jack Donaghy (Alex Baldwin) really misses being a television executive, and would even work for Kenneth if it meant getting back into television.  Jack calls TGS head writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and proposes a TGS reunion.  Liz is initially hesitant, but gets the writers on board, but the stars of TGS might be more difficult to corral.  Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is living in Canada, and not doing movies anymore. Jenna Molroney (Jane Krakowski) is in celebrity hell after defecating in Mandy Moore’s thermos, and Liz is actively interviewing replacements. Will the reboot happen?  Can Liz get her Prima Donna stars to do TGS one last time?

30 Rock was a reliably funny show in the mid-2000’s, it was a satire of tv, comedy, the star culture, the corporate culture, politics, at its best, it was easily the funniest show on television, so there  was some anticipation when this special was announced, and now that it’s over, there is disappointment.  This special had a few laughs, especially around the characters of Jenna, and Tracy, who are reliable laugh getters.  It also tried to be topical doing the show with a Covid 19 backdrop, it even threw in an anti-mask joke.

But unfortunately this special felt more like an infomercial for NBC’s new streaming channel, Peacock, than it did an actual comedy.  More on the channel later.  There were actual plugs written into this show for the steaming channel. It was hard to tell sometimes where the show ended and the commercials began.  A show that would regularly lampoon celebrity excesses, was now sadly fawning over recent celebrities or internet stars in order to seem relevant, and hip.  What they did to Kenneth’s character, giving him an “assistant” was perhaps more embarrassing  than the constant plugs for new NBC shows, or were they fake shows, it was hard to tell.  Liz Lemon was reduced to a one joke character.  Tina Fey should hide her head in shame for this sad excuse for comedy, hope she was well compensated.

The acting was good, all the actors were playing their characters well.   Tracy Morgan is always funny playing Tracy Jordan, he could literally say anything and get a laugh, and it’s good to see him fully recovered from his accident.  Jane Krakowski was probably the funniest part of this special as Jenna, who wants her fifteen minutes of fame extended to 20 or 30, and her interludes of singing were as funny this time as ever.  Alec Baldwin gave the same deadpan delivery as always, but the character which was a satire of corporate culture, was missing being an authority figure and so the character wasn’t nearly as funny.  Poor Jack McBreyer, were people laughing with him or at him in this special? And Tiny Fey didn’t write any stinging retorts for her character, too bad.

The channel, Peacock is a good idea, a free streaming channel, with lots of good content, The Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Cheers, but this channel so shamelessly marketed on this 30 Rock special, suffers from awful execution.  I tried to sigh in with my desktop, no go, my older Ipad, no go, a newer Ipad I got as a birthday present, no again.  So all those commercials, and this 30 Rock infomercial, doesn’t mean didly squat unless people can log in and enjoy all that good free content. Right now I can’t and that is a huge executional error, so a big NO to the channel for now.  I watched this special on CNBC first and then online on NBC.com, because Peacock was grounded on whatever device I tried.  This was truly a weird viewing experience for a weird special.
30 Rock:  A One Time Special:  Fans were stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 

 

Upload_100_00433.jpg

Episode 1:  Welcome To Upload

Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is a programmer in the year 2033.  He has a gorgeous girlfriend, Ingrid Kammerman  (Allegra Edwards) and a fast self-driving car.  Nathan seemingly has it all, until his self-driving car malfunctions and runs into a truck.  Near death in the hospital, Nathan is pressured by Ingrid to sign up for a digital afterlife program.  He goes to the digital afterworld, aided by his customer service representative, Nora. (Andy Allo)  Is Nathan happy in the afterworld?  Is Nora happy in the real world?

First impressions are difficult to erase.  Nathan seems like a shallow self-absorbed, entitled guy, who obsesses about a hair being out of place in his avatar.  Nora seems like she’s way too needy for someone with her looks.  The show seems to be headed for romantic comedy hell, and what’s worse , writer Greg Daniels tries to create a mystery surrounding Nathan’s digital files.  Daniels had a big hit with The Office, a smaller hit with Parks and Recreation, but he chooses to disguise product placement as satire, and this episode wasn’t very funny.  Daniels obviously knows nothing about tech, nobody stays logged in, and leaves for the day.

The acting is just ok.  Robbie Amell tries mightily to portray the sensitive side of a jerk, but he fails, his acting skills are not up to the task.  Andy Allo is better in her role, but is again shoehorned by a script that forces her to say silly things, like how handsome Nathan is.

The direction is just ok, the pacing is slow for a sitcom, and it’s bogged down by special effects that don’t really add anything to the story or the humor.  The running time is a bit long, hope that’s just for the pilot.

Episode 2: Five Stars

Nora’s feeling down after a bad dating app experience and pressure to up her customer service score.  Nathan gets a service pet as therapy for his post death depression, do Nathan and Nora help each other out of their relative funks?  The mystery of Nathan’s memory lapses deepens, and Nora is digging into the answer.

The idea of having  a ratings driven existence has already been explored in Black Mirror, season 3 episode 1 Nosedive, so the core idea of this episode has been plagiarized   the other issue with the writing is that Nora is made especially needy, at work and in her personal life.  And guess who fills that need, the answer is obvious and clichéd.  There is a poor attempt at political commentary that fails and a mystery that only Daniels seems to care about.

Luckily, this episode is only 30 minutes long.

Episode 3:  The Funeral

Nathan is looking forward to his funeral, and gets his hopes up when a man’s consciousness is downloaded into a printed body.  It doesn’t go well.  At the funeral, Luke (Kevin Bigley) pretends to be Nathan’s best friend.  Nathan’s friend Derek (Aidan Kahn) hits on Ingrid.  Nathan’s cousin, Fran (Elizabeth Bowen) is investigating Nathan’s car accident, and Ingrid doesn’t even eulogize Nathan.  Meanwhile Nora meets Nathan’s man exes, and also investigates the car accident from a different angle.

Another bland episode where Nathan and Ingrid fight, and Nora is made to feel like she doesn’t measure up to Nathan’s ex-girlfriends, and again, made to say how handsome Nathan is.  Nathan still sounds superficial and self-absorbed, he’s whining about how no one talked about him at his funeral.  Funerals are for the mourners, not the deceased. The mystery takes up more room in the episode because the humor isn’t working.  This was a depressing funeral.  For a funny funeral see Chuckles the Clown’s funeral on The Mary Tyler Moore show.

Episode 4:  The Sex Suit

Ingrid is ready to try a sex suit with Nathan, while Nora shows Nathan the lower floors of Upload, where the poor people live .Fran is still trying to get evidence about Nathan’s car accident, when she lands some post-accident video footage from the grocery store across the street.  What does she see? Does the sex suit work?

The tone about sex and relationships is very cynical, and clichéd at the same time.  Again, it’s obvious where this is going.  The scenes from the lower floors of the Upload facility are manipulative in the way they try to tug at emotions, like a low-budget Titanic steerage scene.  The only glimmer of comedy is provided by the Fran character.   Other than that, this is a comedy that thinks it’s saying something bold about the future or the afterlife, when it’s not saying much of anything at all.

Episode 5:  The Grey Market

Nathan and Ingrid go to couples therapy, and it doesn’t go well. Nora needs to attend to her dad, Dave, (Chris Williams) whose health is getting worse, so she asks Nathan to take care of Dylan (Rhys Slack) a teenager with a pre-pubescent avatar.  Luke and Dylan talk Nathan into going to the Grey Market, a version of the dark web.  Luke wants to date a live woman, and Dylan wants a tattoo, that will make his avatar match his consciousness.  Fran gets closer to finding out what happened to Nathan during the accident, and Nora is still puzzled about Nathan’s missing memory files.

There’s not much to like about this episode, the Grey Market looks about as dangerous as a pillow factory.  And there’s nothing quite as atrocious as a precocious little 10 year old who uses adult language,  Daniels even makes Luke a semi likeable character jerkier than he was,  There’s the cloyingly sweet moments with Nora and her dad, and the point where Nora and Nathan have a fight, to show they’re really mad at each other, but they’re not.  This is like Rom-Com for Dummies.

Episode 6:  The Sleepover

After talking to her dad, Nora decides to go on a real date with Byron (Matt Ward) her booty call for the last few weeks, leaving Nathan alone to ponder his afterlife.  Ingrid invites Nathan’s niece , Neveah (Chloe Coleman) to a sleepover after  dinner with Ingrid’s snooty upper crust family.   How does the sleepover turn out?

Do the writers of this show actually make their characters have more than one dimension?  Almost, but not quite.  It was refreshing to see at least one character show more than one side of him/herself, but alas, other characters regressed and became even more immature, forward one step, backwards two steps, how about writing the characters as people, and then trying to make the people say funny things?  Is that asking for too much?

Episode 7:  Take Your Dad To Work Day

Nathan takes Nora’s dad on a virtual tour of the Upload facilities, and Nora is nervous that dad won’t like Nathan.  Ingrid becomes part of an Upload support group for wives and girlfriends of Uploads.  Nora finds some disturbing news about one of Nathan’s contacts on the day of Nathan’s memory loss.

One of the main characters returns to her pre episode six form, and that is not good news.  The plot and storyline returns to its original doldrums, Silly predictable clichéd rom-com from a show that had so much promise.  Jim and Pam didn’t start their romance until season 3 of the Office.  This romance is starting in Season 1, where do the writers go from here?  They’ve left themselves no wiggle room.  Most importantly, it’s not funny, the satire is cheap and obvious the romance is painfully obvious too, and has been done better by 1000 different movies and tv shows.

Episode 8:  Shopping Other Digital Afterlives

Nathan pours his heart out to Nora, but is it Nora he’s speaking to?  Nathan abruptly begins afterlife shopping with his mother, Viv. (Jessica Tuck)  Both Ingrid and Nora try to stop him. Do they succeed?  Nora’s still digging into Nathan’s memory loss, what does she find?

Ingrid is such a cartoonishly exaggerated character that she is actually beginning to appear sympathetic, while Nathan and Nora’s storyline is achingly predictable, to the point of annoyance.  Please end this unimaginative look at the future , and romance.

Episode 9:  Update Eve

Luke is excited for the afterlife software update, but Nathan wants to find a way to stay in the Lakeview afterlife experience to stay with Nora, and break up with Ingrid at the same time.  How does that work out?  Nathan finally talks to Jamie (Jordan Johnson-Hinds) who tells Nathan why he’s been avoiding Nathan all this time.  Nora comes up with a plan to help Nathan restore his lost memories, what is it?

This episode is filled with more cringey romance and not much of a cliffhanger, at this point why does anyone care about Nathan’s memory loss?

Episode 10: Freeyond

Nora and Nathan are waiting for the results of the software upgrade, does Nathan remember his old memories, does he remember Nora?  Nora is being chased by a killer who wants to kill her.  Nathan is trying to help Nora escape but only has a 2 gig data plan. Does Nora escape the killer?

The finale doesn’t really add much to the story, there’s a big reveal, and a few plot twists, but tepid love story turned into tepid murder mystery, and the murder mystery wasn’t very exciting to begin with, it didn’t even help that Greg Daniels wrote the finale, because it went in the same direction as the other episodes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Impression of Season 1 of Upload

Upload is a show with a great premise, what would the afterlife be if we could upload our consciousness into avatars that looked just like us?  That is a great premise.  But it doesn’t take long for the premise to fall into a series of clichés satire that is not that funny, and a bunch of unlikable characters.  It’s not a good sign when one of the main characters is a selfish, sophomoric, self-absorbed person, and that impression doesn’t fade after one or two episodes.

Sometimes, a romantic comedy can get away with a story where the audience knows what going to happen from the very beginning.  The Sure Thing is an example of a romantic comedy where everyone knows who’s going to end up with whom, but the road trip format made it fun to watch.  Upload could have been a funny look at the near future, except the future doesn’t look much different than now, and the jokes just look like product placement.

The acting is not that great.  Robbie Amell plays the aforementioned self-absorbed sophomoric shallow, Nathan character, and it’s not that hard to see why they picked him to play this role, he’s good-looking and could very easily be a self-absorbed jerk.  But Amell is not a good enough actor to go from self–absorbed jerk to sensitive, needy guy.  Andy Allo is a really good actress, she’s better known as a singer.  She might be the closest thing to a breakout star in this show, too bad she is forced to say mushy things like how handsome Nathan is or how excited she is to touch Nathan for the first time.  Allegra Edwards may be the best actress in the cast but she is forced to play the spoiled little rich girl, who thinks she can buy everyone’s happiness with her daddy’s money, but when she’s allowed to give the character some dimensions, like being nice to Nathan’s niece, or standing up to her rich daddy, she does so quite believably.

The direction is hardly worth noting, except that the pacing is really slow in the 45 minute pilot episode.  There are some cheesy special effects, Bezos is busy marking up prices on EVERYTHING to care about the quality of shows on Amazon Prime.

Upload:  Dead on Arrival.

hunters

Episode 1:  In The Belly of The Whale

In 1977, In Maryland, Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker) holds a BBQ, with unexpected results. In New York, Jonah Heidelbaum’s (Logan Lehrman) savta Ruth (Jeanie Berlin) is ruthlessly murdered while Jonah is in the house. Jonah enlists Ruth’s friend, Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) to solve the murder, when police drag their feet.  Frustrated FBI agent Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton) gets assigned to the murder of a female NASA scientist, what does Millie find?  Do Jonah and Meyer find Ruth’s murderer?  Who is Biff Simpson?

Hunters is part police procedural, part vigilantism.  People will use the shorthand and say it’s part The Boys, and Part Man on The High Castle, with a conspiracy theory, instead of an alternate history.  There are problems with this episode, it’s ultra-violent, with sadistic scenes of torture, the conspiracy theory is hard to swallow, and Al Pacino just doesn’t cut it, he’s been in a lot of projects lately, and he’s been bad in a lot of projects lately.  Conversely, Logan Lehrman and the rest of the cast is appealing, and Lehrman plays a complicated character well.

But the genre, with all its variations, is relentlessly irresistible in tv and movie formats, for good reason, historically, events like this should never be forgotten, and revenge against villains like these, always feels sweet.

Jordan Peele did not direct any of the episodes, but he hired the director of one of my favorite movies, Me Earl, and The Dead Girl, Alphonso Gomez-Rajon, and he delivers some great visuals.  The first scene is shocking and gripping, the chess board scene is an incredible visual metaphor, and sets the stage for the rest of the show.

Episode 2:  The Mourner’s Kaddish

Meyer Offerman reluctantly introduces Jonah to his team of Nazi hunters, including a radical nun, Sister Harriet, (Kate Mulvany) and a female Black Militant, Roxy Jones .(Tiffany Boone)  Jonah deduces from a coded message that Karl Holstedder, (Jon Hans Tester) the Pied Piper of Buchenwald, is the team’s next target.  The Colonel (Lena Olin) and her allies use blackmail to achieve their ends.  Millie continues to dig into the death of the NASA scientist, which seems to have taken a turn. Do the hunters find Holstedder?  Does Millie find out who killed the NASA scientist?

The episode is entertaining, the lines are drawn, it’s not entirely plausible that a member of the Catholic Church or the Black Power movement would care about hunting Nazis, but this is fiction, it’s not supposed to be historically accurate.  This episode is interesting, because the killing of the NASA scientist may not be what the viewer thinks it is in episode 1.  The other aspect of this episode that is interesting is the seed of doubt that is planted in Jonah’s head.  Let’s see where that goes, if it goes anywhere.

The direction was too flashy, and these flourishes made this episode seem less like reality and more like something made in a soundstage.  The scene introducing Mayer’s team was exceedingly silly and made to look like the introduction of a wrestling match, instead of a serious drama about capturing Nazis, this was a serious misstep.  The director of this episode is Wayne Yip, who’s done a lot of episodic television directing.

Episode 3:  While Visions of Savta Danced In His Head

Jonah’s still having doubts about joining the fight, but when something happens to Bootyhole (Caleb Emery) does Jonah change his mind?  Millie continues to dig into her case, and shares her findings with Agent Ron Davis. (Sam Daly) Will more agents from the FBI get involved?  Mindy Markowitz (Carol Kane) and her husband Murray (Saul Rubinek) decode a secret message what does it say?  Is there more to Sister Harriet than meets the eye?

This is an interesting episode on many levels,  the writers are continuing to center the story on Jonah, and whether he should be part of Meyer’s team.  He is conflicted, and that makes for interesting viewing.  The message decoded by Mindy is intriguing for its own reasons, there’s a whole new layer to the Sister Harriet character, and a romance between Carol and Jonah may be blooming. Good acting by Carol Kane and Logan Lehrman, but again some of the scenes seem more comedic or light hearted than they should.

Episode 4:  The Pious Thieves

The hunters find some keys to safe deposit box 630 in a bank.  They try to break into the bank to find out who owns box 630, and the contents therein, what do they find?  Millie’s investigation leads to Jonah and Mayer, do they tell her anything? Biff Simpson flip flops on a political project, why?

There’s a fascinating backstory from WWII that ties in to the main story.  The characters of Lonny Flash and Biff Simpson, are oddballs for sure, but the series apparently feels the need to break the tension with some comedy, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Episode 5:  At Night All Birds Are Black

In Paraguay in 1976, Katrina Low (Megan Channell ) is carrying out experiments.  Mayer’s team splits up, Joe (Louis Ozawa) Sister Harrriet, and Jonah go to Alabama to interrogate Dieter Zweigelt, (Rafael Sbarge)  while Meyer, Roxy, and Lonny (Josh Radnor) interrogate Tilda Sauer, (Barbara Sukowa) all in hopes of finding Oscar Hauptman, a Nazi doctor, who allegedly died shortly after the war.  Millie interviews New York Times reporter Danny Rohr (Miles G Jackson) who did some interviews with Meyer and was subsequently fired.  What does she find out?

This episode is full of curveballs, by the end of the episode, the story any characters zig and zag in so many different directions that the viewer wonders who is who, and what their motivations are.  The doubt is a good tool to propel the story forward and keep viewers watching and guessing.  Just when Al Pacino’s acting seemed to be settling into a nice groove, he overacts the hell out of his character in this episode and ruins the understated portrait of Meyer that he was building.

 

Episode 6:  Ruth 1:16

Jonah goes to Murray and Mindy’s daughter’s wedding, and delivers a prayer from his grandmother, Ruth.  Millie gets kicked off the case she’s investigating, and she ended her relationship.  Sister Harriet gives a wedding present to Murray and Mindy. Biff Simpson battles Juanita Kreps (Becky Ann Baker) on South American trade sanctions in front of President Carter.  (Ben Livingston) Travis Leich (Greg Austin) breaks into Meyer’s office, what does he do there?

This show may not be historically accurate, or it may even upset Jews for the portrayal of hunting down Nazis, but as a historical drama, Hunters works.  This episode features Sister Harriet’s origin story which feeds into a Mindy and Murray story, and it’s all engrossing television. Dylan Baker is great as the smarmy psychopath Biff Simpson.  Baker’s comedic timing is superb, he’s having fun with this character, who is unforgivably dark.

Episode 7:  Shalom Motherf*****

Murray and Mindy have a guest in their basement, what do they do with him?  President Carter signs the bill to lift sanctions on South America, leading Juanita to send a Washington Post reporter Josie Parker  (Angela Oh) after him.  The hunters hunt down The Ghost and Jonah decodes a vital clue from a music box.  Millie gets a search warrant to search Meyer’s office and arrests him.

There is a really exciting climax to this episode, that is something out of a Jack Ryan thriller.  On the other end of the spectrum there is some great acting by Sauk Rubinek in this episode.  This episode runs the gamut from exciting to heartbreaking.  This is a really satisfying series so far, both dramatically and in comedic terms, screw the critics.

Episode 8:  The Jewish Question

Millie gives Meyer one day to prove his hypothesis.  The hunters mourn one of their own.  Mayer meets with Simon Wiesenthal (Judd Hirsch) to try to find a high priced target, thought to be dead.  With nowhere left to go, Biff turns up at a surprising person’s door. Who is it?  Travis gets sick of Tobias, what does he do about it?  What does the Schidler Corporation have to do with the plan the hunters are trying to stop.

This was an emotional episode for many reasons.  The dialogue between Meyer and Simon Wiesenthal  underscores the dichotomy between Mayer’s approach and Simon’s approach.  The Jonah character is moving in a less contemplative direction , it may not be the best use of that character.  Millie’s mom is a little too accepting of Millie’s life choices, being an older woman in the 1970’s, but that’s a small flaw in a largely flawless Episode.  Judd Hirsch’s performance is small but meaningful, and gives the show balance.  The fantasy sequence is a little darker than the other fantasy sequences in the show and matches the intensity of the episode.

 

 

Episode 9:  The Great Nazi Barbeque of ‘77

Sister Harriet talks to her friend, Patricia Collins (Francesca Faridany) to find out what’s going on at Scchidler Corp. Millie storms in on Biff and his friend and takes Biff away.  Carol (Ebony Obsidian) and Cheeks ( Henry Hunter Hall) try to find Jonah.  Jonah, Joe, Sister Harriet, Lonny, Roxy and Mindy stake out Schidler corporation.  What do they find there?

This is another great episode, because it draws on what Lonny and Joe do best,, and there’s still a little mystery in the Sister Harriet and Roxy character.  Who are they and why are they with the Hunters?  Of course there’s a cl iffhanger, and the nagging question that hangs over the show like the Sword of Damocles , is revenge the right thing to do?

Episode 10 Eilu v’ Eilu

Jonah goes hunting for Wilhelm Zuchs, (Christian Oliver) the Wolf, after being chided by Mayer. Millie tries to convince Travis to accept a reduced sentence and fails.   Later Travis asks for a Jewish lawyer, why does he do this?  A congresswoman (Zoe Winters) asks Millie for her help.  Does she accept?  Joe is kidnapped, where do they take him, and Sister Harriet has new leads for the Hunters.

This episode starts out great, Jonah is conflicted again, Millie is trying her best to use the system to achieve her goals.  Sister Harriet is sly and keeping her cards close to the vestment. Travis is EVIL, but then there are TWO twists, both of which were completely nonsensical and unnecessary.  The second one especially was downright silly, and negated all the good drama that came before that last scene.  A terrible way to end a very good series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Impressions Of Season 1.

The story was good.  Critics missed the point of the story.  The main dramatic arc the story is how do different people to respond to evil.  By centering the story on Jonah, whose morality is not fully formed, it’s an interesting character study.  He is being pulled in two directions, one principally by his Grandmother Ruth, and the other principally by Mayer Offerman.   The first twist ruins the dialectic, but the show still has a strong theme, throughout.

Some of the characters like the Colonel, are badly written.  Roxy Jones is an Angela Davis black power stereotype, with not much to do, or not much reason to be there.  Millie’s personal life was a bit too edgy for the late 70‘s, and Jonah’s friends, Booty, Cheeks and Carol were woefully underwritten. On the other hand characters like Travis and Biff Simpson were well written and intriguing.

The acting was good overall, Al Pacino did some prodigious scenery chewing at times, but mostly, he reigned in his acting most of the time. Logan Lehrman did a great job as Jonah, he made the character both sensitive and street smart.  Sual Rubinek was outstanding as Murray, his performance was both comedic and dramatic.  Carol Kane gave a strong performance as Mindy, both comedic and dramatic. Greg Austin was evil incarnate, under a cool exterior as Travis, and Dylan Baker was outstanding as Biff Simpson, a backslapping politician, with anger seething not too far under the surface.

The direction was a bit overwrought at times, and the comedy and drama did not blend well, at times but considering there were 7 or 8 directors in 10 episodes, they all managed to tell a pretty cohesive story.

grinch

The Grinch (Boris Karloff) plans to ruin Christmas for the Whos in Whoville.  He’s sick of all the food, merriment and singing, and he’s got a plan to end it.  Does it succeed?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a Christmas classic.  The writing by Dr. Seuss  is fantastic, poetic, and it really finds the true meaning of Christmas while using an economy of words. Boris Karloff, star of many horror flicks adds the right amount of gleeful menace to the Grinch’s voice, and the right gravity to the book’s words with his classy British accent.  Animation voice veteran June Foray, voice of Jerry Mouse, adds the necessary sweetness to Cindy Lou Who, the two year old citizen of Whoville, most looking forward to Christmas.

The direction by Chuck Jones is key to the success of this animated classic.  Chuck Jones animation focusses on the character’s faces. Anyone who’s seen Wile E. Coyote’s face while he’s chasing the Roadrunner, the combination of haughtiness, exasperation, frustration, is all conveyed without saying a word.  Jones really emphasizes the faces of the main characters.  The viewers see the Grinch contorting his face when he hatches his evil plan, the Grinch slithers around like a snake, when he puts his plan into action, and the viewer sees a change in the Grinch’s face when  it matters.  The angelic face of Cindy Lou Who personifies the spirit of Christmas.  Don’t look for elaborate hand-painted Disney-style backgrounds in a Chuck Jones cartoon, the characters matter to him.

The songs are also fantastic, especially “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” sung dripping with contempt by Thurl Ravenscroft, his bass voice is perfect for this song.  This song is one of my favorite moments from this special.  Ravenscroft is best known for voicing cereal spokesman Tony the Tiger for many years.

There have been a few versions of this classic children’s book, most notably a version with Jim Carrey.  Even Carrey’s rubber face wasn’t nearly as expressive as the animated Grinch’s face, and no version carries the emotion that the 1966 version carries.  It’s simple, it’s short, and it gets the message across effectively.

The only gripe I have with this version is that NBC edits it, to cram in more useless commercials pleading with people to buy more stuff, which counters the message of Dr. Seuss’ book perfectly.  Thank you soulless corporate network, and commercials, you’ve managed to ruin the perfect Christmas special.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas:  Yule Be Glad You Saw This Christmas Special.