TV Review: The Good Place

A week ago, The Good Place concluded after a 5 season run. My wife had discovered this show a couple of years ago, and much like Parks & Rec (another show by the same creator), this one really worked for me.

I’m going to keep this review spoiler free, because it’s really a show that you need to experience the way it’s presented. However, in brief, this is a show about the afterlife, and how a group of people deal with their situation in the afterlife. There are lots of twists and turns, but that’s the basic premise that begins the show.

When dealing with comedy shows about the afterlife, it’s way to easy to move into campy territory. Making fun of sitting on clouds with harps, or representations of heaven as all-inclusive resorts, only work for very brief moments in time. The Good Place doesn’t go in that direction, and instead uses a solid base of humor to ask questions about the human condition, and the very fundamental meanings of life.

The show is an ensemble cast, and despite the fact that Kristin Bell and Ted Danson are obviously the stars, the entire group works. They’re a bunch of misfits that all end up together, despite having almost nothing to do with one another. Their individual flaws accentuate the good parts of each other, and create a wonderful dynamic that builds a true “group”. I’m probably going to have a hard time watching any of these actors in other settings because of how strongly they are now tied to this world.

Suffice it to say, The Good Place was an amazing piece of television for me. It’s profound, honest, funny, and heartwarming. It’s a wonderful show, and worth the investment to see it through to the end.

TV Review: The Boys

A couple of months ago my wife suggested we watch through the new Amazon series, The Boys. Last month we finally sat down and did just that. This series is based on a comic book series that run in the early 2000’s to a lot of critical acclaim. I had never read the books, but was familiar with the basic premise, that superheros existed, but that they often were corrupt, serving their corporate overlords. The show stars Karl Urban as the leader of a rag-tag group of misfits who are trying to take the supers down.

First off, this show is dark and gritty. There are no punches pulled and you will see blood, gore, and full frontal nudity. It’s about desperate people doing whatever they can to accomplish their goals. When I say this is a comic book series, it’s more akin to Walking Dead than Captain America. Despite this bluntness everything still works. The violence fits with the narrative and never feels gratuitous. If someone were hit with heat vision rays from a superhero’s eyes, they would slice in half with blood and gore. This isn’t hidden, but at the same time it’s not celebrated.

Along with a dark and gritty tone, the story follows suit. This isn’t a happy-endings type of story. All of the characters, even the good guys (especially the good guys?) are morally questionable. The ethics rule book goes out the window for almost every character. That means you sometimes feel weird rooting for the “good guys”, but in the end they’re not as bad as the bad guys.

I won’t get into spoiler territory, and so I’ll wrap up my review saying that this is a really well done show, despite its gritty nature and questionable ethics. It’s easier to write a story where the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and winning is black and white. That isn’t this story. This is a much more difficult tale, and it’s told well.

I’m happy that season 2 is in the works, though it’ll probably be quite a bit before it’s released. I know the story is going to get darker before the end, but as long as it continues to be well told, I’ll keep tuning in.

Review: Good Omens (Amazon Mini-series)

This weekend the wife and I finished up watching the new Amazon Prime mini-series Good Omens. This is a series based on a book written by (the late) Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Due to Pratchett’s passing, Gaiman took the helm in writing this adaptation of the book. In doing so, he created a work that very closely aligns with the book, which is a rare thing in entertainment.

I’ll keep this review spoiler free, but the basic premise of the series is that armageddon is coming soon, and an angel and a demon, who have been stationed on Earth for 6000 years, decide they don’t like the idea of humanity getting wiped out. The pair end up in the middle of a cosmic fight that is bigger than the two of them, yet seems to completely center on their unlikely (and unsanctioned) friendship.

One of the absolute biggest strengths of the series is David Tennant and Michael Sheen who pay the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale respectively. Whenever these two are on screen the chemistry is magic, and the banter is as witty as it gets from authors like Pratchett and Gaiman. Between Tennant’s swagger, as he channel’s his inner Bill Nighy, and Sheen’s soft-spoken demeanor, we get an odd couple pairing for the ages. The series thankfully delves into the backstory of their relationship, and you get to see how they became truly great friends.

This strength is also the one weakness that I found with the series. Other reviews have noted that the supporting cast wasn’t as good as it could be, and I would tend to agree. In general, the secondary characters are just that… secondary. They are brought in to the story to fulfill a specific purpose, but we get very little beyond their caricature. This should be a familiar paradigm for fans of this genre of books. Characters are often introduced in the pages of these comedies, given an important role to play, and then disappear. Many of the supporting cast simply are there to do one or two things, and they’re not really meant to have depth. That’s not typical for most modern TV, and so it can throw people off who aren’t expecting it.

Beyond this little nitpick, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. It’s a wonderful story, and Tennant and Sheen tell is beautifully. The fact that it’s only 6 episodes long is great as well. It makes it easily digest-able for folks who have a lot of other TV vying for their eyes. It’s well work the investment in Good Omens.

Quick Review: The Expanse

A few weeks ago the wife decided to start watching a new series. At first I wasn’t interested, but eventually I decided I wanted to check it out. The Expanse is a sci-fi series that originally launched on the SyFy network, but after three seasons was cancelled. Amazon has agreed to pick up Season 4, and so all the previous seasons are not available on Prime.

The premise is that in the future, humanity has colonized the solar system, and there is an uneasy truce between Mars and Earth. Caught in the middle of this struggle are the Belters, who inhabit the moons and asteroid belt of the outer planets. These Belters are often seen as commodity labor, working to provide resources to the two giant warring factions.

The story begins with a rebellious daughter of a corporate CEO going missing. Through the entire first season we follow the journey of two different groups that are trying to find her, that eventually come together. Throughout the story you learn more about the world that these people inhabit, and a large portion of the show is about the political dealings of the major factions. Although there are action scenes, this is really a noir-style sci-fi show, that deals with the gritty reality of a solar system on the brink of war.

We’re part way through the second season, and so far I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen. On the positive side, there are a lot of great storylines that are woven together throughout, and I loved how they come together. The political drama is pretty typical, but Shohreh Aghdashloo delivers the goods when it comes to playing the high-stakes game of brinksmanship. For me, she is the absolute best part of the show. She presents a visage of dignity and calm, but can get her hands dirty with the best of them.

On the negative side, some of the acting is a bit wooden, which is often typical for shows of this caliber. Similar to shows like Arrow, once you invest in a main character, you’re pretty much stuck with them, even if they don’t grow as an actor as much as you hope. I am still optimistic that the main character, James Holden (played by Steven Strait), will eventually develop more depth beyond righteous do-gooder with family issues.

I’m looking forward to finishing out the first three seasons, and then see what Amazon will do with it going forward. If you’re in the mood for something sci-fi, that’s not just guns and ship battles, The Expanse is a worthwhile watch.

Black Mirror: USS Callister

Black Mirror is a science fiction show on Netflix that explores the darker side of technology and science. Many of the plot lines are dark and disturbing, with unsettling endings. One recent episode has been called out for being a fun homage to Star Trek, and so last night we sat down and watched it.

** SPOILERS BELOW **

Continue reading “Black Mirror: USS Callister”