"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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2019 TV Round Up

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes 14 seconds

Once again the Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again no one cares. But since this Sunday night is supposed to be a celebration of the best of the best in tv, I thought I would briefly share my thoughts on the 2019 television fare I was able to catch.

I rarely write about television only because there is so much of it and I am so behind in watching everything that comes out. An example of which is that I literally just started watching 30 Rock for the first time a few months ago and that show went off the air in 2013.

The advent of binge watching, thank you Netflix, has changed the tv viewing experience so that audiences no longer simultaneously digest new material, but rather do it on their own time. I prefer this method of tv viewing, but it makes writing on the topic difficult and rather useless.

So, since I rarely if ever review television, I have decided to just throw together a cheat sheet of mini-reviews for the relevant shows I have watched this year. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated for Emmy Awards because I, like every other normal human being on the planet, do not care about the Emmys, in fact my indifference is so great I refuse to even do a google search to see the list of nominees.

So with my laziness established, let’s begin our review of 2019 television!

GAME OF THRONES - HBO: 4 Stars

I watched Game of Thrones from the beginning and as a testament to my limited intellectual abilities I readily admit I didn’t what the hell was going on 90% of the time and had no clue who half the characters were, but the show had an above average amount of nudity and violence, my two favorite things, so I was on board.

Game of Thrones was one of the very few, in fact I think only, tv show I wrote about this year. As previously stated the show’s final season was a definite mixed bag and was not nearly as good as the seasons that preceded it. That said, watching King’s Landing get obliterated was as exhilarating a visual sequence as we have seen in the history of the medium.

The cast of Game of Thrones have always done solid, if not spectacular work. I think Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage were among those who were the most spectacular.

THE BOYS - AMAZON: 4.5 stars

The Boys is an absolute gem of a show that is the best kept secret on tv. I seem to be the only person who has ever watched the program and have become a sort of evangelist in favor of it. I have told countless friends that they have to check this thing out.

The Boys beautifully deconstructs the corporate superhero mythology that is the dominant myth of our time. If you are sick of Marvel and Disney’s dominance of the superhero space…then watch The Boys. The show is an insightful and piercing commentary on the American corporatocracy, and it pulls no punches. It eviscerates the empty headed corporate flag waving of the media, Disney in particular, and tells more truth in its fiction than the establishment news has ever done in its reporting.

There is a sequence in the show, and I won’t give it away, but it deals with the Hegelian dialectic (problem - reaction - solution) and it is the absolute truth of our time and is brilliant.

The show stars Jack Quaid, who is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quad. This is obvious but still kind of weird to see, but Jack is the perfect amalgam of his two famous parents. At times he looks exactly like his dad, and other times just like his mom…it is like he has his own weird famous parent morphing super power.

The rest of the cast, which includes Karl Urban, Antony Starr, Elisabeth Shue and Erin Moriarty, is top-notch and play their roles with aplomb.

The Boys is not perfect but it really is a fantastic show and a bolt of anarchist rebellious energy into the very stagnant super hero genre. This show actually made me yell in joy at one point at how subversive it is…I kid you not. Anyway, if you love super hero stuff, or are sick of superhero stuff…this is definitely the show for you.


MINDHUNTER - NETFLIX: 4.25 stars

Mindhunter is produced, and sometimes directed, by filmmaker David Fincher. One of my favorite Fincher films, and one of my favorite films period, is Zodiac. Zodiac is a rare Fincher film in that it sort of flew under the radar, in fact I didn’t even see it in the theatre. But after discovering the film a bunch of years ago, I cannot get enough of it…and even use scenes from it when I work with clients. I watch Zodiac so often it has become a running joke in my house…and probably with the FBI agents who are surveilling me.

Mindhunter is like an extended and expanded version of Zodiac, as it is set in relatively the same time frame, and shares the same visual and artistic aesthetic. Mindhunter is, not surprisingly since it is a Fincher project, beautifully shot and lit and looks great.

The acting in the show is solid and subtle, as the main cast maintain a tight lid on things. The guest stars, who play a panoply of serial killers, are creepily fantastic in bringing their famous killers to life.

Mindhunter is, at its core, an extremely well made “cop” show that is decidedly smart and mature. This show is Fincher at his best….moody, unnerving, menacing, unsafe. The show is so well- made I think it would be impossible to watch it and not end up double checking the locks own your windows and doors before going to bed at night and also not looking at the nearly invisible normal people who populate our surroundings and thinking, at least for a moment, that they might be, or are at least capable of being, super predators.

FLEABAG - Amazon: 4.5 stars

Fleabag is what feminist tv/film should be. It is not whiney and self serving with an axe to grind but aggressively funny and deeply reflective. Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and stars in the show and her performance is remarkable and her writing, scintillating.

The rest of the cast, which include Sian Clifford, Andrew Scott and the glorious Olivia Colman, give superb performances across the board.

What makes this show such an intrepid piece of feminist comedy is that the female lead has absolute agency, she is not a victim but an active participant in the mess that is her life. The plot of Fleabag is fueled by Waller-Bridge’s character’s actions, not by her responding to other people’s actions. If she is a victim it is of her own bad decisions, not of other people’s.

BLACK MIRROR - NETFLIX: 4 stars

Black Mirror really is a Twilight Zone for the 21st century. The show never fails to be unique, original, challenging and insightful and also never fails to surprise. Black Mirror boasts terrific writing, top notch direction and stellar casts.

What is great about Black Mirror is that all of the episodes are stand alone so you can watch them at your leisure. This season there are, at least so far, only three episodes and they are fantastic. The best of the bunch is “Striking Vipers” which is both shocking and funny.

I can’t remember being underwhelmed by any episodes of Black Mirror, but I can recall being completely freaked out by more than a few of them. (The one with the dog like hunting drones is stellar!)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE - HULU: 1.5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season was an electric piece of television. The fact that the show was in production prior to Trump’s election but spoke so eloquently about women’s anxiety after he won, is a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that went into making it. The problem though is that the show, which was so compelling in season 1, quickly jumped the shark in season 2, and in season 3 has gone full Evel Knevel on a tricycle over Jaws in a kiddie pool.

It is difficult to overstate what a heinous piece of crap this show has become. The only equivalent I can think of is the precipitous fall of House of Cards which was like a speeding train falling off a cliff after its first few seasons.

Just like House of Cards downfall, what saps The Handmaid’s Tale of drama is that there is no longer any genuine threat to the main character June. June has become an avatar for the girl power people in her audience and thus is given no genuine obstacles to overcome, just manufactured ones, by the fan servicing producers.

At one point while watching one of the episodes in season 3 I said out loud to no one in particular…”I hate this show”…and I really have grown to hate it, which is frustrating because the show in the first season, and Elizabeth Moss’ acting in that season, were just mesmerizing. But now the show really has devolved into a pointless, rambling, dramatically incoherent, self-reverential mess and Moss’ acting little more than her not blinking in order to cry and acting faux tough. The bottom line is this, if Gilead were as awful and authoritarian as it is supposed to be, then June would have been swinging from the wall a long time ago. At this point I watch the show praying she gets hung and puts us all out of our misery.

The show is just so…stupid and frustrating…and the characters equally stupid and frustrating. In season’s 2 and 3 The Handmaid’s Tale has abandoned any semblance of a coherent internal logic and now just seems to be winging it. It is safe to say I will not be returning to Gilead for season 4.

WHEN THEY SEE US - NETFLIX: 1 Star

This show, which is about the very relevant and important story of the Central Park Five, is produced by Oprah and directed by Ava DuVernay….and it shows. That is not a compliment. This mini-series is just God awful. It is embarrassingly maudlin, shmaltzy and unconscionably ham handed.

This show will no doubt win a bunch of Emmys, but that is only because it is the sort of anti-Trump, anti-racist screed that Hollywood dipshits gobble up like Xanax. But do not be deceived, this show is atrociously poorly made. The cast, most notably Jharrel Jerome, are abysmal. Jerome sets the craft of acting back decades, if not millennia, with his corny performance as Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five.

What frustrated me so much about this mini-series was that it is based on what should be a dramatically potent true story, and a story that is so vital and relevant to our times. But in the hands of DuVernay, this story is sapped of any meaning, and instead turns out to be an emotionally manipulative piece of garbage better suited to the Lifetime channel than Netflix.

Sadly, this story of the Central Park Five is as true to life as the Central Perk Five of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. Yikes.

CHERNOBYL- HBO: 4 stars

This mini-series which recounts the 1989 nuclear disaster, starts out great but loses some dramatic momentum late as it staggers to the finish line. Chernobyl looks great from start to finish and is elevated by some great acting, most notably from Jared Harris.

The weak link with the show is the script, as it falls into the tired Boris and Natasha evil Soviet caricature too often. The historical accuracy of the show has been called into question as well, but that is somewhat excusable, but the tired cliches of Soviet inhumanity are not.

The first few episodes of the mini-series were as good as anything on television this year, but the finale was decidedly disappointing and underwhelming. That said, I enjoyed it for the great cast and for how well it was shot.

ESCAPE AT DONNEMARA - SHOWTIME: 2.5 stars

Escape At Donnemara, which was directed by Ben Stiller, is a wholly uneven enterprise. Just like Chernobyl it starts off strong, then there’s a lull and then a significant dramatic and artistic spike in the second to last episode…but then it finishes with a whimper.

Stiller certainly puts some artistic bows on the show, using music and sound and fading to black to nice effect, but ultimately the show only stays on the surface of things and there is never a sense that we are getting at any semblance of the truth.

One of the odd things about the show is that it can feel incredible slow, bordering on dull, and yet that leisurely pace pays no dramatic benefits because the narrative ultimately seems so rushed at the end of the day.

That said, I thought Paul Dano’s performance as Sweat was really phenomenal. Dano makes Sweat a real person, not some caricature. Dano’s Sweat is conflicted, with a vivid and pulsating inner life that is compelling to watch. The show would have been better served with more Paul Dano and not less.

Patricia Arquette’s performance is all show. Arquette’s Tilly is nothing more than a monotonous and endless droning on, and the acting never once reveals anything of use or honesty about Tilly.

Benicia del Toro gives what I would deem a rather lazy del Toro performance…we’ve seen this act before and it has grown tired.

Ultimately, this mini-series has its moments but ended up being unsatisfying.

VEEP - HBO: 4 Stars

Veep was good this season but not great. Of course, Veep had set the bar ridiculously high with its first six seasons, so topping it in the finale was always going to be a tough job.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the wonders of the world, and her performance as Selena Meyer was so great as to be iconic. The rest of the cast were their usual stellar selves as well.

That said, season 7 felt like the show had definitely run its course and in the age of Trump, where reality is much stranger than fiction, seemed a bit, dare I say it…tame.

I liked season 7, but I think it was the weakest of all the Veep seasons.

BARRY - HBO: 4.5 Stars

Barry is awesome. This show perfectly captures the absurdity of the Hollywood experience for any actor trying to scratch out an existence and chase a dream. The acting class scenes are spot on and poignantly painful for their depiction of the shit show that is acting class in Hollywood.

What is so great about Barry is that it wonderfully mixes shocking violence with exquisitely subtle comedy. Few shows are ever able to do one or the other, but Barry is able to do both and do them extraordinarily well.

The straw that stirs the drink of Barry, is Bill Hader, who is a god send as assassin turned wannabe actor, Barry. Hader’s comedic timing and energy are exquisite, but it is his transformation into the ruthless assassin that makes the show real enough to be worthwhile. Hader is not just a funny man, he is a genuinely gifted dramatic actor, and his versatility is a rare trait indeed.

The rest of the cast, particularly Henry Winkler, are gloriously good. Winkler’s scene stealing work as Gene Cousineau is a stake through the heart of the ghost of Fonzie (hey, second Fonzie reference of this article!). Winkler perfectly captures the insincerity, dishonesty and desperation of those unfortunate souls who become acting teachers…I would know.

Barry is appointment viewing in my household.

Thus concludes my brief foray into television criticism, I hope you found it useful. My top picks this year are The Boys, Mindhunter, Fleabag, Black Mirror and Barry. None of those shows are for the feint of heart, so know that going in. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated or will win at The Emmys on Sunday night…and more importantly, I don’t care…and neither should you.

©2019

Suicide Squad : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating : 0.75 STARS OUT OF 5

My Recommendation : Skip it.

Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer, is the third film in the recent DC comics cinematic universe (Man of Steel 2013, Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice 2016) which tells the story of a ragtag group of super-villains and anti-heroes who are thrown together to use their evil talents for good. The film stars Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto and Viola Davis to name just a few.

Suicide Squad was released last week on the heels of last March's much maligned Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I was one of those rare breed of people who, thanks to very low expectations, actually liked Batman v. Superman. Granted, I didn't think it was Citizen Kane, but I did think it was better than the horrible press it had received. Within that context, I was tentatively excited to see Suicide Squad when it came out. After having seen the film, I must report that my excitement was terribly, terribly misguided.

To put it as succinctly as possible, Suicide Squad made me want to kill myself…or someone else, namely the people who made it. If writer/director David Ayer or any studio executives from Warner Brothers are found in a shallow grave out in the desert, or wash ashore on Venice beach, or are discovered crucified to a Suicide Squad billboard, you'll know who's behind it. I am not worried about openly admitting my future crime as I am sure I can O.J. my way out of a conviction simply by showing Suicide Squad to the jury. No doubt a "justifiable homicide" determination would quickly follow.

From its marketing and trailers, Suicide Squad appears to be an anarchy and mayhem fueled, wild-ride rebellion of a film, which is right up my twisted alley. Sadly, in reality it is a relentlessly conventional, dull and formulaic film. Watching Suicide Squad is like watching someone else play a video game for two hours. The film is so vacuous it is little more than a commercial for itself and the films that will no doubt follow it. It is so sluggish as to be suffocating and is totally devoid of any intrigue, originality or life. 

Even though the stars of this film are villains (Harley Quin, Joker, Deadshot et al), the film suffers from the lack of a credible and interesting foil to oppose these superstar anti-heroes. The enemy that the Suicide Squad faces is the "Enchantress", who is an ancient mystical being from deep in South America who has possessed the soul of a young archeologist named June Moon, remarkably poorly played by the wooden Cara Delevingne. The Enchantress' minions are the people she has taken control over and turned into what look like faceless asphalt people who have zero self preservation instincts. Doing battle with endless tidal waves of amorphous asphalt people is a good way to make a film feel like a video game, of which I am sure there will be one on the market in no time. In keeping with the rest of the film, the fight scenes are terribly monotonous, predictable and asinine. 

The film is so shallow and thoughtless that it repeats itself numerous times over with recurring shots, lines and sequences. If I had to see the asphalt people attack Special Forces soldier Rick Flag one more time, and the Suicide Squad want to let him die and then decide to save him with the line, "if he dies, WE die!" I was going to die…and take every poor bastard in the theatre with me. 

The script and story are absolutely incoherent and absurd. There are character changes of heart that come out of nowhere, such as the whole El Diablo character arc, and illogical and repetitive narrative choices that drive the story from one ditch to another. The feeling I get is that the original script was awful, then they brought in other writers to punch it up who made it even more awful, and then the studio heads put their two cents in and completed the mountain of poop for which they had just paid hundreds of millions of dollars. In the end it is just a giant stew of human, horse and dog shit haphazardly slapped together.

Were there any bright spots? Well…you have to look very very hard, but the unconscionably beautiful Margot Robbie does a great, if flawed job as Harley Quinn. Her accent comes and goes a bit, but she does develop an actual and intriguingly genuine character of depth. Jared Leto does an admirable job as the Joker even though he is terribly underused. Leto is following in the footsteps of the late Heath ledger's iconic performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, so he has big, crazy shoes to fill. Leto's Joker is not a continuation of Ledger's (which is a mistake by the studio, but that is a story for another day), they are two totally separate entities from different DC universes, but Leto does the best he can with the very little what he's given. Leto's Joker is more ghetto gangster than Ledger's genius anarchist sociopath, but it works well enough. Truth is I think The Joker and Harley Quinn's story should have been it's own film. It is a pretty fascinating tale and both Robbie and Leto have the skill, talent and charisma to carry a film like that…especially if it is just a B story in a Batman v. Joker film, but obviously I am not as brilliant as the numb nuts running Warner Brothers so feel free to ignore my suggestions.

Another "good" part of Suicide Squad is actually very telling as to why the movie is so appalling, namely that Will Smith is one of the best things in it. I loathe Will Smith as an actor ( or 'rapper" for that matter). He is as contrived and manufactured as it gets. There is not a genuine bone or performance lurking anywhere in Will Smith's body. He does well in Suicide Squad though because he can pose and preen with just enough star power to make him seem at home on the big screen, which isn't always the case with all of the other actors, Robbie and Leto being the notable exceptions. Smith being a bright spot is a black spot for the film as it highlights the film's stultifying conventionalism. 

As for bad performances, there are many. Rick Flag is played by Joel Kinnaman and he is just atrociously dreadful. The only other thing I have seen him in is last seasons House of Cards, where he is equally dreadful, which makes me think Mr. Kinnaman is just a plain dreadful actor who has been the recipient of a charisma bypass. Did I mention how dreadfully dreadful his dreadful performance was? Speaking of dreadful, Viola Davis is unquestionably a great actress, she has been nominated for an Oscar and won an Emmy, this lady can act. But in Suicide Squad she is absolutely ghastly, just abominable. She is so wooden and lifeless I was worried she had suffered a major stroke during filming and was just being propped up in front of the camera and had special effects puppetry people moving her mouth for her. It was inconceivable to me prior to Suicide Squad that Viola Davis would be capable of being so appallingly bad in a role and so uncomfortable on screen, but sadly, Suicide Squad and director David Ayer brought Viola Davis to new lows.

The thing that I find so frustrating about Suicide Squad in particular, and the recent Warner Brothers - DC comics films in general, are that they really have the potential to be truly great. The source material is stellar, with the DC mythology being as psychologically rich and complex as any in modern storytelling. Yet Warner Brothers has stumbled all over itself on this recent spate of DC films. Why is that?

The biggest problem with the current crop of WB/DC films is that the studio has placed its trust in deeply flawed writers and directors like Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The earlier Dark Knight trilogy, which was so financially and critically successful, was directed by Christopher Nolan, an innovative and creative master. Snyder and Ayer are nowhere near the talent of a visionary like Christopher Nolan. In addition, the studio itself has meddled far too much with the films during every stage of production, creating a 'too many cooks in the kitchen' scenario. As limited as Snyder and Ayer are as filmmakers, and boy are they limited, it hamstrings them even more to have studio clowns sticking their fingers in every pie and adding salt to every soup. Nolan's films succeeded because they set out to tell a great story and make quality cinema. The recent DC films have failed because the studio has set out to make gobs of money while ignoring story, character and cinematic integrity.

What Suicide Squad and all the rest of the DC films need is a strong, ambitious and creative leader with a distinct visual and storytelling style at the helm to steer the ship. Watching Suicide Squad I couldn't help but think of David Fincher's iconic Fight Club, which is what Suicide Squad should have stylistically tried to emulate. Wrangling a top director like Fincher to sign on to direct or produce DC films would no doubt be a tough get, but something dramatic along those lines needs to be done in order to save this run of films, which is scheduled to go well into the next decade, from being a studio destroying debacle. Whoever the studio gets to try and right the ship, it is clear that Zack Snyder must go…and he needs to take David Ayer with him, but sadly, all signs point to Warner Brothers holding steady with Snyder and company running the show for the foreseeable future. 

The one positive that may come from this disastrous run of WB/DC films is that they may get so bad that a re-boot will be in order in our near future. Frankly, a re-boot is what they need. Get a top notch visionary to direct and/or produce the films and start over. Not all the errors of this Zack Snyder run can be corrected, such as the decision to not continue the story lines and universe of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and expanding from there, but many of them can be corrected. For instance, Suicide Squad should have been made much further down the road in the series of DC films Warner Brothers is making. You need to establish the characters who star in Suicide Squad as villains in other films before you lump them all together in a big group film. WB, not surprisingly, got all of that backwards, while the folks over at Disney/Marvel have done it perfectly. 

In the end, Suicide Squad is making a ton of money, but it is fools gold. The studio may think they have a golden goose in their DC properties, but audiences will only tolerate so much garbage before the whole house of cards collapses. Warner Brothers is headed for a harsh reckoning in regards to their DC films, and the corporate bloodbath that will unfold will be eminently more entertaining than the slop they are putting on screen to sell to the public now.

In conclusion, Suicide Squad is a terrible waste of a film. It is an incoherent, tedious and annoying mess of a movie. Don't waste your money by seeing it in the theaters, and don't waste your time seeing it anywhere else for free. You'd be better served, and more entertained sticking your head in an oven for two hours than sitting in front of this dog of a movie for single second. 

©2016