The Good Place Season 3

The third season of The Good Place finally landed on Netflix, and my wife and I devoured it in a few evenings. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the magic of this show and cast as I had with the first two seasons. Kristen Bell is still a delight, but I’m not sure if she had far less screentime or what, because by the season finale I barely cared about her and Chidi. Make no mistake, the few times when the goofy and over-bearing jokes were set aside and the focus returned to Eleanor and Chidi, with genuine emotion from those characters, we do get a glimpse at something that I really wanted more of. Whether it was the short number of episodes and/or the crowded cast, this season has put this show in a precarious position for me. I think far too much time was spent on Jason and his dumb Floridian family, along with Tahani’s relationship with her sister. I just. Didn’t. Care. Get rid of them, and even Janet, at this point. I only care about what happens to Eleanor and Chidi. I also tip my hat to Ted Danson, who along with Kristen Bell absolutely carries this show. His character coasted a little bit too much this season, but I honestly do want to see what happens to him, and if he’ll be redeemed or is forever trapped in a demonic, and if going by this show moronic, hell.

Black Mirror Season 5

Note: as always there be spoilers ahead!

Since the release of Bandersnatch I’ve been clamoring for more Black Mirror, and in June Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones, and Netflix granted my wish true. So, with a break since season 4 and the quite-different Bandersnatch, how does this season compare?

Striking Vipers

Like any Black Mirror episode, this one touches on many current and near-future technologies, including VR and immersive gaming. It also, with a predominantly black cast, touches upon something else: the sub-culture of Down-low. Now, in this day and age, especially on a “network” (ie streaming platform in this case), it’s not outlandish to address a non-heterosexual fetish/idea/culture, but even in a show with an episode focused on a lesbian relationship (San Junipero, in my opinion still the best episode of this series), a male minority homosexual relationship is still quite a leap, at least in my eyes.

In this episode, college friends Danny and Karl reunite at a birthday party for Danny. The two are almost complete opposites now: Danny the family man and respectable career, and Karl still the bachelor. Karl gives Danny a birthday gift, the VR fighting game Striking Vipers. When Danny begins to play, Karl sends a play request and the two begin to spar, enjoying the competition and re-kindling friendship. However (this is Black Mirror, you were waiting for the “however” right?) the realism goes too far when one of them plays a female character, and while fighting the two begin kissing and become romantic. While odd at first, neither can deny how real (and good) it feels, and before long both are addicted to this unforeseen side of the game. Their relationship with each other, along with each relationship’s with women, is the heart of this episode. It think it handled it in a mature and interesting manner, and overall this is a strong episode.

Smithereens

In this episode we get what I feel to be “true” Black Mirror, with a plot and feel very similar to Shut Up and Dance. A cab driver, Chris, takes his passenger hostage and demands to speak to the CEO of the company, the Twitter-like Smithereen. Blaming him and the company for the death of his wife, this episode focuses on the dynamic between Chris and Billy over the phone. Chris is stuck in a field surrounded by police ready to end the hostage situation, while Billy is off on a technology-free retreat and only through his employees’ phone and laptop does he access Chris’ info and social media history. The dialogue is prime Black Mirror, never letting the viewer have relief and keeps him or her interested all the way until the very end. Overall this may not be an exciting episode, but it’s exactly what Black Mirror is, and for a newcomer to the show it would make a perfect first episode to watch.

Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too

While Striking Vipers might be the most divisive episode of this season, this episode has probably garnered the most negative criticism and outspoken reviews. In my opinion it’s not terrible per-se, but it’s certainly the weakest episode of this season, and one of the weakest Black Mirror episodes period. The writing, acting, and overall plot just isn’t interesting and didn’t get me to emotionally invest like pretty much every other episode has done.

Conclusion

I am very happy we got a few additional Black Mirror episodes, as varied in quality and re-watchability as they are. As someone who really enjoyed season 4 and Bandersnatch, I had pretty high expectations for this new season, and I can’t say that much of it was met. But, I do hope the viewership and overall reception will indicate to Netflix to let Charlie, Annabel, and crew to continue making new episodes, tackling new and otherwise evolving issues in our technologically-advancing world.

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!