Death in Paradise

Note: spoilers ahead!

I was surprised to see I haven’t written about this show until now. With another re-watch just started, I checked to make sure I hadn’t already covered this show, as it’s become one of my favorite mystery series, despite a few small flaws.

The premise for Death in Paradise is a London DI has come to St. Marie to be DI for the island’s police department, which also has one DS and two officers. Despite such a small police force on the island, like any other mystery show this place is murder central, and each week they must solve the crime, often involving tourists and other outsiders to the island. There’s a wide variety of the type of people, careers, etc. involved and it greatly helps keeping the show interesting.

The cast has revolved throughout the years, with Officer Dwayne Myers lasting the longest (though he left last year). The biggest change was when original series DI Richard Poole was murdered at the beginning of series 3. Incoming DI Humphrey Goodman was pretty much the complete opposite, and it took quite awhile for me to get used to and like him. What I didn’t like was the forced romance (or at least attempted on his part) with DS Camille Bordey, who was already beginning to get involved with DI Poole. With DS Bordey replaced with DS Florence Cassell, it is now a friendship between the two, and it’s much more natural and fun to watch. More recently DI Goodman was replaced with DI Jack Mooney, who is a mix of both previous DI’s, and I have quickly come to like him the best. Rounding out the wonderful cast are the long-running parts of Catherine Bordey (restaurateur, mom of DS Bordey, and recently-elected mayor of St. Marie) and Commissioner Selwyn Patterson.

Of the few mystery shows I’ve watched over the years, Death in Paradise has become at least one of my top 3 favorites. I’ve enjoyed pretty much episode, and even with all of the cast choices I’m still keeping up with their lives, quirks, etc. I look forward to what comes next, and if the series comes to an end sooner than later I hope it’s a well-written and received one!

The Umbrella Academy

It’s pretty rare for me to check out a new series or movie on Netflix, let alone something comic-related. I’m pretty burned out on the latter (seriously, give me a superheroes-meets-GoT deaths please!) and for the former I just don’t have much free time when I can happily re-watch something I know will be at least moderately entertaining. Well, I did finally give in to my wife’s requests to watch The Umbrella Academy, and I must admit I liked it for the most part.

The series begins showing 43 women spontaneously giving birth. Seven of these (did the rest survive?) are adopted by an eccentric billionaire and raised together at the Umbrella Academy. While six of them grow up to be superheroes and lead varying lives, one of them (Vanya) doesn’t have any apparent powers and instead spends her time trying to play the violin well enough to join a local symphony. The show starts to pick up at the death of their adoptive father, and throughout the episodes we see how each live and cope with various situations as well as the overall plot, which is that the world will supposedly end in the near future.

With a large cast it’s nice to have enough episodes to give focus to each one along with moving the plot forward. There were several of the heroes that I really liked and could identify with, while some of the others were either boring or I didn’t like and was tired of the increasing screen-time they would get. The best has to be Ellen Paige’s Vanya and her story, and it becomes central to the plot by the last episode. The season ends on quite the cliffhanger, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.!

The Good Place

Holy forkin’ shirtballs!

As mentioned in my Black Mirror post, we’ve been watching a little bit more TV on Netflix. One show that we recently binged was The Good Place. I had seen its icon several times, but it was only after learning it was created by Michael Schur, co-creator of Parks & Recreation, that I finally wanted to see what this show was about.

Before we could blink, my wife and I had binged both seasons on Netflix, and are itching for more! We loved the cliffhanger ending of season 1, and likewise the season 2 ending is leaving us wondering just what will happen next.

The casting of this show is perfect. We’ll start with the obvious, Kristen Bell as Eleanor. She reminds me of a younger Amy Poehler; her wit and facial expressions are always just perfect! Ted Danson is wonderful, and as a fan of his from films such as Body Heat I’m happy to see him just as sprightly on his feet, both literally with his body movement/posturing as well as his deliveries, especially in reaction to Kristen. Rounding out the lead actors is William Jackson Harper. Playing Kristen’s friend and supposed soul-mate Chidi, William’s deadpan delivery and over-reactions are great contrasts to both Kristen and Ted.

The rest of the cast are also great, each one with at least one unique trait and outlook on life. Even when everyone’s on screen it never feels too crowded or suffocating; the viewer can easily follow along with each thread of dialogue and reaction to what others do and say. The first two seasons on Netflix are easy to burn through, and have definitely left me wanting more and seeing what ultimately happens to Eleanor!

Black Mirror

Introduction

I had heard of Black Mirror quite a few times over the years, but despite having access to it via Netflix I never thought to check it out before. That changed awhile back when I decided to watch the San Junipero episode from Season 3. I had heard Black Mirror was an anthology, and while some episodes have connecting elements it could be watched in any order. Hearing just how good San Junipero was, I figured I could start there and if I liked it could then go back and start at the beginning.

Well, needless to say San Junipero was amazing! But, it was quite awhile before I actually sat down to begin watching the other episodes. In fact, it wasn’t until the release of Bandersnatch that finally gave me the needed kick in the butt. As there are quite a few episodes in total, I wanted to give my quick impression of each one. I’m also careful NOT to spoiler anything, because you REALLY need to go into this and experience it with no previous knowledge!

Individual quick reviews

  • The National Anthem – An obscene and over-the-top premise quickly sets the tone of what to expect from this show. But, a great ending does set things up…
  • Fifteen Million Merits – An interesting premise, but felt very claustrophobic and under-developed regarding the technology and plot relating to it. But I do have to give a shout-out to Daniel Kaluuya‘s performance, especially his monologue at the climax.
  • The Entire History of You – The first episode to wisely use futuristic technology, along with fantastic acting and realistic portrayals of relationships. This is the first episode to make me REALLY want more!
  • Be Right Back – The first of the more emotional episodes, this one isn’t quite as well-developed. I think the introduction of the android(?) was too soon and her adjustment too easy.
  • White Bear – One of the best episodes, the premise and ending will make you think and grimace simultaneously.
  • The Waldo Moment – Ugh. Definitely the weakest episode, and honestly shouldn’t have made the cut. Unfortunately nothing warrants mention.
  • White Christmas – A great “anthology within an anthology” episode, and the ending is fantastic. Also, Jon Hamm was incredible!
  • Nosedive – Another episode with an almost strange implementation of technology, I think it’s only because of Bryce Dallas Howards’ acting that this episode works as well as it does.
  • Playtest – This episode is my guilty pleasure pick. Taking technology and video games into account, there are some genuinely scary moments and a great setting! Also, Wyatt Russell shows an incredible range of emotions and behavior.
  • Shut Up and Dance – One of the least tech-featured episodes ends up being one of the most dramatic and intense of the series. Hard to watch, especially the ending, but it’s undeniably Black Mirror at its best.
  • San Junipero – Absolutely one of my best picks! A great story, unique way of showing the technology in a delayed manner, and both heartbreaking and uplifting acting.
  • Men Against Fire – This episode had an interesting premise and technology, but I don’t feel it was fully developed and was left underwhelmed.
  • Hated in the Nation – Basically a full movie, this had an outstanding story and technology! It takes a bit to get going, but thankfully due to various run-lengths of each episode this one was allowed space to breathe and grow organically.
  • USS Callister – A very ambitious episode with a stellar cast. Definitely one of my top picks!
  • Arkangel – This episode was too slow and I didn’t really care about the characters, as interesting as the technology was.
  • Crocodile – Wow! Very grim and dark. A great opening/beginning, and continues to spiral out of control from there. A stunning shooting location helps set the tone.
  • Hang the DJ – A very sweet episode, perhaps with a better ending than San Junipero. You can’t help but smile!
  • Metalhead – It was very interesting to see an episode entirely in black-and-white, I would love more in this style! A grim post-apocalyptic setting and shorter runtime made this one of the most intense episodes.
  • Black Museum – A very interesting “anthology within an anthology” episode, like Metalhead I would love to see more like this. Fantastic ending!
  • Bandersnatch – While not technically part of Season 5, Bandersnatch is labelled as a Black Mirror-related release. Not a normal episode or film, instead it’s characterized as a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s hard not to like the retro-inspired setting and tone, while the acting and pace of the story are both excellent. Your first viewing may take a long or short amount of time, but either way I guarantee you’ll go back at least once to try other things.

Conclusion

I’ve never really watched that much TV, past or present, cable or not. We’ve had Netflix for a number of years now, but the rare times it was used for TV shows were for old favorites. However, in the past few years Netflix has (co-)funded numerous series, usually modeled after the British style of fewer but longer-running episodes. We’ve slowly started to check these out, and Black Mirror certainly stands high in favor!

BBC’s And Then There Were None

I’ve already written about the fact that And Then There Were None is my favorite mystery, and probably novel, of all time. It’s a perfect mystery without the added ending, and the amount of suspense and terror coming up to the end is almost too much. Recently I was browsing on Amazon and was surprised to discover that the BBC had adapted the novel to a 3-episode miniseries. While my expectations were sky-high, I went ahead and ordered it since the reviews all seemed to be pretty good (I didn’t read them, as I didn’t want to be spoilered by what changes may have been made in the adaptation).

The first impression when I started to watch this is the incredible music by Stuart Earl; the cello and other instruments engulf the viewer and like the mansion on the island seem to be an inescapable trap, in turns caressed and pummeled like the the waves of water as the weather worsens. Unlike the book, in the miniseries the backgrounds of the characters are brought up throughout the show in a more prominent manner. It’s an interesting change and I don’t mind it, but it does cause the beginning of the miniseries to be a bit confusing as to what’s actually happening at the present time.

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the caretakers, also share some screen-time, and unlike the book their relationship is shown to be much more precarious, culminating in Mr. Jones even striking his wife. The rest of the characters follow their book counterpoints for the most part. Some of the characters, notably Dr. Armstrong, are a bit over-dramatic and amped up for the screen, but I guess that’s not really surprising these days. I also pictured Justice Wargrave as being shorter and heavier. The house itself is a wonderful feature, and pretty close to what I had always pictured. I did always envision a full wrap-around balcony both on the ground and second floor.

While I mention that I pictured Justice Wargrave differently, I must say the casting of Charles Dance was perfect (if you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, he’s fantastic as Tywin Lannister!), especially in the last scene of the third episode here. His reasoning and underlying sinister behavior just makes everything that much more unsettling. The other actors are also excellent, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Sam Neill as General MacArthur.

Overall while I was happy to see a miniseries from the BBC, I do wish it was a little bit longer. I have no doubt this 3-episode miniseries handled the source material better than a movie could, but there’s no doubt the book spends more time between each murder; that helps the suspense and unease grow, as well as prolonging the mystery of what’s going on inside the house and on the island. I do remember reading the book that more time was also spent with several pairs or groups searching the island, as well as taking time to talk at either the dining table or in the lounge room; almost all of that is skipped in the miniseries. I think going to 5 or 6 episodes could have easily been done, even if more time was also used for the characters’ backstories and such.