Ash vs. Evil Dead

A ridiculous number of years ago, I and a group of friends went to see Army of Darkness opening night in the theaters. The movie was part two or part three, depending on your point of view, of the cult classic Evil Dead. The movie was such an over-the-top, ostensibly, horror film. I loved it and when we went back the next week to see it again it was unfortunately gone from theaters (apparently, we did not have our fingers on the public pulse). Enter the television show, that apparently skips the existence of that film and reintroduces us to Ash, the far too reluctant hero who survived the Evil Dead (2) events and is now much older if not too much wiser. Due to his own stupidity he manages to awaken the forces of darkness who want revenge (and to destroy all life etc. etc.). Still incredibly over-the-top with more of a horror and blood and gore feel of Evil Dead than Army of Darkness, this comedy/horror show is a delight. Granted, I've only seen the first episode but I can't wait for more.

Outlander: season 2

My first response to the show is posted here, but that didn't stop me from hate watching more of it. The show does some very disturbing things such as suddenly declare that a rapist is actually a homosexual (and apparently just rapes woman for the hell of it?), has rape victims only emotionally--but not physically--damaged by brutal sodomy, has most of its nude scenes directly related to rape and/or torture (this is a fiction show and the nudity is obviously for eroticism), continue to ignore the idea that if our main character's husband's ancestor looks exactly like him then she is never going to be able to truely see him the same way again (not that that matters much, this season seems to have her forgetting all about her actual husband), has her forget all about her friends that get killed, ignore the very obvious fact that telling people she's from the future is a good way to get burnt as a witch, and the list goes on. Honestly, I can't give a better reason for why I'm watching it than that I'm curious as to how much more ridiculous each episode will be despite that it always ends on a cliffhanger that is incredibly easily resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode.

Another Period

The sitcom is a spoof on reality shows about the rich and famous, the wrinkle is that this one takes place at the start of the 1900s, so a lot of the jokes point out the appalling situations for workers, minorities, women, and, well, everyone who's not rich (so a real stretch from today's society). While the show is often amusing, the comedic timing isn't quite there, and the shaky camera footage just annoys the hell out of me. I think it can get better and hope it does.

Flight of the Conchords

This two season show from HBO about two rather awkward musicians from New Zealand (yes, THE New Zealand!) attempting to make it big in NYC is dead pan hilarity! The musical numbers are great fun that often have me rolling with laughter and the absurdity of the characters and their mundane situations are absolute delights. I was really disappointed to realize that it only lasted two seasons, and don't understand why, despite its success, it didn't continue.

Avengers Assemble & Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H

I’m putting both these Marvel cartoons under one heading which I normally don't normally do except they don't deserve their own entry. There isn't much to say about these cartoons of comic superheroes as the plots are very cut and dry, the art rather mediocre, the characters are 100% archetypes, and at the end of every episode somebody learns a nice lesson. Is there something going on that's making comic book inspired cartoons so very bland? It doesn't feel like that long ago that there were amazing, well-written, action-packed, interestingly animated, and nuanced cartoons involving superheroes, but on reflection I guess that was almost a generation ago. Sorry, kids, comic cartoons are just for kids; I wish we could given you more.  

Ultimate Spider-Man

Sadly, this cartoon about the nerd who gained superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider is nothing special. Lip service is made to being multicultural and tries to play to the generation that loves video games, knows nothing of the 4th wall, and may be willing to buy the toys that are set up on the show, although I don’t know if they actually materialized. Plots are thin, with occasional zingers and lessons to be learned but little to make you feel that you have been presented with quality entertainment. At least give us a theme song!  

Agent Carter

Peggy Carter, if you recall, was the love interest of Captain America before he disappeared at the end of WWII, now it's 1946 and she is trying to make it on her own in the American spy agency the SSR. This first season has the future father of Iron Man accused of treason with only her (and his butler) to prove his innocence, but can she both unravel the mystery and fight the stereotypes against women? I can't say I'm particularly moved by the show. It's trying not to get too wrapped up in the world of Marvel and be just a good spy show that also deals with women's inequality issues, but I can't say it is very good at that, so why not give us a little more in terms of Marvel hints (don't tell me you can't due to the time distance)?

Better Call Saul

I didn't think I’d care much for the spinoff of Breaking Bad, which takes place after that series ends but is a prequel giving the story of the shady attorney, Saul, (best line in Breaking Bad “you don't need a criminal attorney, you need a criminal attorney”), and yet even though I've only seen a couple of episodes, I am greatly enjoying seeing how Saul became the man he is (or “was”? it's tough with the time flow). Strange, considering the lack of suspense that prequels have, I suppose that is a credit to the writing and acting.  

Marco Polo

This Netflix original series it is often very pretty to look at and has quite a degree of action and naked breasts, but for a story about the historical explorer, it has much to be desired, such as historical accuracy.  

Parks and Recreations

While I have vaguely known about this show for a while, it wasn't until I was at a Popular Culture Association panel, wherein its comedically anti-librarian stance was discussed, that I first really learned about it. Since then it was espoused by both CEJ and Katie, so I finally decided to give it a try (and I was desperate for 20 minutes breaks in-between phD study). The first season, which is a paltry six episodes as opposed to the 20+ of subsequent seasons, introduces us to Leslie and the parks department, run by an Antigovernment libertarian/tea party-ist, but quite the manly outdoorsman, and an array of various incompetent but lovable government employees. Leslie is the deputy director, has energy, motivation, and upbeat personality of the perfect government employee, basically allowing her to single-handedly run the entire department. The show is quite enjoyable, filled with zany moments of a government overwhelmed by absurdist citizens and foolish employees with plenty of moments for laughter, character development, romance, and all the stuff that makes for fun lighthearted television. I especially enjoy where they subtly but not so subtly but too subtly for my own taste interject real world government nightmares to illustrate a point or make a political commentary. If I had to lodge a complaint (and which department would I lodge that with, please?) It would be the typical one of all successful shows: budgets increase and therefore secondary cast members get replaced with better looking versions (for a town that is supposed to be the fourth fattest in America, there's a lot of hot people there) and the once goofy absurdist bad luck that happens to various characters gets replaced into upbeat happy ending stories. Why? Because we come to love the characters and we want them to be happy as opposed to our original feelings which were that we enjoyed their buffoonery and the floundering around that is typical of life (although I guess Jeff is exception to this change). I am impressed that I managed to keep up-to-date somewhat on my PhD work as well as watch six seasons (now in its final 7th) of the show within the semester. The show has shifted a little too much from its roots (the original plot was to build a park), which, again, I guess is to be expected, yet season six was really all over the place and none of those places were very good (there is always a problem when you shuffle cast members and bring in babies). Give it a try.

Samurai Jack

Stylishly drawn and beautifully painted, this cartoon by Genndy Tartakovsky who points out that cartoons people like us grew up with (I'm looking at you Super Friends) actually had very little action, so he wished to make one with plenty of it, but at the same time not being a spastic mess. He definitely succeeded. This is a story of a samurai with a magic sword dedicated to destroying a great evil named Aku (Japanese for evil). When originally fighting the creature, the shape changing alien Aku used his magic to send the young samurai into the future, thereby ensuring there was nothing to stop him from world domination. Now the samurai, who goes by the name Jack, travels the world righting wrongs, fighting the forces of Aku, and seeking a means to return to him own time and defeat Aku, thus undoing all his evil. Here are the huge problems I have with the cartoon: Jack often sacrifices himself to do good deeds at the expense of accessing time portals, but the whole point is that if he can return home the future he is in will not exist, making the sacrifices meaningless. But hey, it's a cartoon. That's what brings my second problem and I don't remember seeing this now common trope before this point. Just about all the bad guys on the show are robots and Jack chops them up relentlessly. All that's fine, after all, they are just robots and so violence against them doesn't really mean anything. The trouble is that these same robots have personalities and survival instincts much like anyone else (and often look more human than the life forms now running around our planet), so doesn't that make them "real"? I wonder if seeing constant violence done again others under the excuse that they aren't "real" as it's just a cartoon might have negative consequences. It reminds me of the Star Wars' prequels wherein robots and clones die en mass but they all have distinct traits just like any individual. Anyway, it is a fine cartoon and I wonder why it ended.

Mike Tyson’s Mysteries

Yes, you read that right. It's a 60s style cartoon about a gay ghost, a human in a pigeon’s body, an adopted Chinese girl, and of course Mike Tyson himself, who all go around and solve mysteries (sort of). Yes, it is ridiculous, and not particularly great, but do I laugh out loud during this 12 minutes show? Yeah, and that's what makes it worth it. Take a look at the show here.

Outlander

This cable show is about Claire, a married British nurse who, after WWII, is transported in time to 1743, while visiting Scotland. So this is very much a live action romance novel. In the first episode her husband casually mentioned that if she did cheat on him during the war it was ok because they were worlds away, so that's the hint that she's going to hook up with the young stud from the past (presumably, I've only seen a couple of episodes). While I love the idea of Scots trying to kill the English and the scenery is beautiful, the plot is always the same as Claire thinks X about the people/time, which is bad, only to realize that it is Y, which is good, and there is horrible monotone narration of her thoughts that sound like they just handed her the novel to read from without any prep. PS After Scotland voted "no" on independence, I'm pretty sick of any story that whines about how hard the Scots had it under English rule.

Black Jesus

Jesus is back--and black--and selling drugs with a group is idiot followers. Seriously? Is this why The Boondocks has become a lame show because you've been working on this?

Garfunkel and Oates

Honestly, I love Garfunkel and Oates’ standup comedy, or rather should I say musical comedy that happens to be done while standing up? However, just because a comedic duo has great material does not mean they can translate this material into a television sitcom. Yes, I know it worked for the musical duo of Flight of the Conchords (which I swear I reviewed here but can't seem to find the link--who is eating my reviews?!) which also featured a pair of not too savvy musicians.  Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci are both gorgeous and talented comedians, but this show about them going to gigs and dealing with relationships just doesn't have a lot of power behind it. And by power I suppose I mean enough zaniness and plot to make it a sure winner.  

Houdini

What a great idea to give a bio of the amazing Jewish kid who became the greatest magician ever and a debunker of frauds who prey on those who long to contact the dead, etc. (too bad we still have such frauds today). What a horrible idea to have Adrien Brody give monotone voice overs and give away so many of the secrets on how Houdini did his magic.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

This is a one off from the main BSG storyline (happening before season four), and as such it doesn't need to be watched to understand the larger plot; however if you don't watch this you are doing yourself a disservice as it has much of the emotional angst, PTS, and feelings of futility that made BSG great when dealing with a show about a mere handful of survivors attempting to survive/gain vengeance on the robots that they once made, enslaved, and who rose up against them in order to commit genocide against humanity. The movie length episode focuses on an officer Shaw  of BS: Pegasus and what she did during the war and its aftermath and how she is dealing with the choices she made--and didn't make. Nice plot and great F/X (with a real shout out to us original BSG TV show fans), this is just another reminder how shocking it is that such an amazing show, capable of producing stories like this, can eventual end so poorly. 

The World Wars

Another miniseries on the History channel that doesn't suck (I wish that wasn't a surprising statement). The show discusses specific figures that were incredibly prominent on the world stage in the second world war, but the wrinkle is that the show starts by discussing their roles--sometimes rather minor--in the first world war. In this way you get a better sense on how the experiences in one event shaped actions in another and that the two world wars should, for all practical purposes, be considered one continuous conflict. It makes perfect sense, men like Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Patton, etc. didn't just come into being fully formed. My only problem with the show is that in addition to professional historians who give insight into the events and people, they have interviews with some of the stupidest, most cowardly, politicians of the far right: Dick, Don, and John are hardly the people who can add anything substantive.

The Pillars of the Earth

I wasn't too impressed with this TV/movie version of the Ken Follett book--not that I've read it. It deals with the many years of making a (fictitious) magnifcient cathedral during England's tumultuous "anarchy" times in the 12th century. I like that it integrated the history of England, its relationship to religion (both corrupt and holy), and details of the elaborateness of construction for that time; however, I just wasn't too moved by it as a whole. Perhaps I would feel differently if I read it, except that I, like many of the time period discussed, am illiterate.