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‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Blu-ray Box Set Review

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Batman: The Animated Series, which originally ran from 1992 to 1995, is arguably the single best adaptation of the world of Batman to have ever come into existence. Mixing 90s cartoon sensibilities with serious radio-style drama, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, as well as writers such as Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, managed to develop an intelligent show for kids that went beyond what was previously thought possible in children’s media.

Taking influence from the pages of comic books and the aesthetics of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, BTAS’s mood, tone, and often stellar storytelling not only stands the test of time, but it could be argued that it’s stronger today than it was back in the early 90s. Perhaps most importantly, the show features the voices of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker), Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn), Paul Williams (The Penguin), Bob Hastings (Commissioner Gordan) and more, many of whom have become iconic standards for Batman-related media.

Batman The Animated Series

“Batman: The Animated Series”, Warner Bros

The success of Batman: The Animated Series led to two feature-length film releases, two sequel shows — The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond — and the DCAU continuity in general, including shows such as Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited.

And now, after years of an out-of-print DVD box set being the only physical media option, Batman: The Animated Series has been remastered/restored in 1080p on Blu-ray, available as a “Deluxe Limited Edtion” set. Not only that, but the new BD box set also includes the films Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, the 22 episodes of The New Batman Adventures, and a ton of special features.

Bat-clarity

Having grown up seeing the show broadcast or via VHS on CRTs, and then on DVD for years after, the boost in 1080p clarity this remaster brings is mind-boggling.

If you’re like me, it may take some getting used to, as the lack of clarity might have become part of the aesthetic in your mind. BTAS is a mostly dark show, with things coming to form within the shadows, so it played well with its original low-resolution presentation. As is expected with the additional clarity, you’ll see some irregularities with some frames of animation, pieces of dust, stroke-marks, and fluctuations in backdrops and so on — things you were perhaps never meant to see.

Batman The Animated Series

“Batman: The Animated Series”, Warner Bros

The jump to high definition un-obscures the mystery; the virtue (or lack thereof) of this is dependent on each person’s preference, but it’s great to see that unlike restorations by companies like Disney, the effort here is to make the show true to its original format while increasing clarity — with no funny business otherwise. You won’t find the show looking like a weird digitized hack-job, but rather something that intends to preserve the history of this remarkable piece of art.

If you respect Batman: The Animated Series like I do, then you’ll find that this remaster is as good as it gets. With commentary tracks and featurettes returning from the DVD alongside new ones made for this release, it’s a lot of awesome content for fans of the series.

Not-so-Deluxe Packaging

Unfortunately, this Deluxe Edition is a bit drab for the price. Housed in a cheap, flimsy cardboard box that’s sure to get bent, ripped, or otherwise bumped whenever you handle it, the quality seems more appropriate for a disposable display at a store than something you’d buy.

There also seems to be a manufacturing error with this Deluxe Edition, as it comes with three ugly mini Funko Pop figures (Batman, Harley and Joker) that do not evoke a single characteristic of the characters they’re meant to portray nor the art style of BTAS. One can only assume they were placed here as a result of a mix up while on their way to their actual, appropriate destination at the garbage dump.

You also get some neat lenticular cards featuring scenes from various episodes, but these extras are hardly worth the overall $112.95 asking price. You’ll find the discs in a hard-cased “book” that’s much like a miniaturized version of the old DVD release of the show, and you’re sure to have a lot of fun trying not to damage the shiny side of the discs as you awkwardly slide them out of their tight slip “pages.”

Batman The Animated Seires

“Batman: The Animated Series”, Warner Bros

Within this “book” — and the menus of the Blu-ray as well — Warner Bros. still insists on calling The New Batman Adventures the third season of Batman: The Animated Series. While The New Batman Adventures is a continuation of the original series, it’s a separate show with different character designs, direction, and overall tone, so this inaccuracy for the sake of corporate cohesion remains annoying. At this rate, pretty soon Batman Beyond will be referred to as seasons 4 and 5.

Unless you like collecting for the sake of it or simply can’t wait, I’d recommend steering clear of this Deluxe Edition, and instead just get the standard release once it’s out.

(Additional note: the digital version of the box set’s contents, included in the purchase, are actually stuck at 480p. This is apparently an error that WB is working to resolve.)

25 Years Later, and On

Despite a low-effort presentation of the product’s packaging which cheapens the experience of physical media into a checklist of generic, soulless marketing tropes, the content within is cared for with a lot of love and affection.

Batman The Animated Series

“Batman: The Animated Series”, Warner Bros


Batman: The Animated Series
was a once-in-a-lifetime event, a collection of the right people coming together at the right place and right time to make something amazing. The magic that took life twenty-five years ago has never looked so good, and is ensured to be properly viewable for a wide audience for the rest of time.

Another twenty-five years later I’m sure the series will be revered even more than it is today. This box set helps ensure just that.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nightstarx

    November 3, 2018 at 6:59 am

    I think the packaging is fantastic. I did not have ANY problems with shipping, I think the Funko pops are very great looking, and nice, I like everything about the packaging and I think you are complaining about nothing.

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Revisiting The Sopranos Christmas Special

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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To Save Us All from Satan’s Power

The Sopranos Season 3

Episode 10: “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa.

Note: It’s difficult to really encapsulate the events that take place in this episode without spoiling it since so much of it’s impact relies on the events that take place during the three seasons prior. I won’t be going into any specifics about the episode to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t watched the entire third season. With that said, if you haven’t seen an episode of The Sopranos, I highly recommend you start since it is one of the greatest TV series of all time. Apart from that, I hope my review will simply serve as a reminder for fans of the show.

What’s it About?

The annual pork-store holiday party is fast approaching, but Tony Soprano isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. A visit with the ghosts of Christmas past lands Tony back on his psychiatrist’s couch. Meanwhile, the gang needs to find someone to replace Pussy and don the Santa suit. While the memories of Tony’s friend continues to haunt him, he tries to find time to balance his work with his family life.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Review

Every year around Christmas, there are two stories guaranteed to pop up on television: A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both have inspired countless adaptations, spoofs, homages and so on – but who would have ever guessed Frank Capra’s classic would have somehow inspired an episode of The Sopranos?

The Christmas episode, nicely titled “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power,” sees Tony Soprano dealing with the death of a good friend. As always, Tony is our focus. Tony may be a mobster but he’s just as human as any of us, and the holidays have him looking back at the important events that unfolded in his life that year. Much of season three sees his friend’s death snake around the edges of the stories. This episode is all about Tony dealing with his guilt, betrayal, paranoia – and his doubt concerning a decision he recently made. The challenge for Tony is to overcome these obstacles so that he can hopefully look ahead and start his new year fresh.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Unlike George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), who overcomes his depression by remembering all the people who love him and all the ways that he’s helped others, Tony instead realizes just how much he has lost. Using very clever flash-forwards and flashbacks, the nonlinear structure of the episode presents his deceased friend as both a literal and figurative ghost. Nearly every scene of “Satan’s Power,” is haunted by this ghost in one way or another, even if he’s not physically (or spiritually) present.

For an episode this late in a Sopranos season, there’s not a lot happening, plot-wise. “Satan’s Power” is a fairly insignificant episode in advancing the season-spanning story arc, but while the mob business is barely present (outside of a few flashbacks), what’s really important is the emotions and the memories Tony’s dead friend brings. Combine the characters, the story, the message, and the acting, and it’s easy to see why this is a holiday favourite to revisit every year during the holidays.

Big-Mouth Billy Bass closes off the episode. Tony’s torn expression dissolves into the rolling waves as gospel music gradually kicks in, drowning out Billy’s voice. Tony’s friend may be gone, but his memory will forever live on. “Satan’s Power” carries a powerful emotional punch and is a necessary pause in a season-long storyline.

Sopranos Christmas Special

How Christmassy is it?

Unless you’re a mobster or a family member of one, you won’t be able to relate to the character’s inner turmoil, but it still has one hell of a Christmas feel. It may not be very cheerful, but it does revolve entirely around the holiday and features a scene from A Wonderful Life. It also features a ton of Christmas classics, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Little Drummer Boy”, The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” and “Santa Baby,” among others.

Who’s it for?

Since it doesn’t really work as a stand-alone episode, I’d recommend it to fans of the series who may have forgotten about the episode.

Other observations:

The best line comes from Paulie Walnuts: “In the end, fuck Santa Claus.”

Ricky D

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Best TV Shows of 2019 (So Far…)

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Best TV Shows of 2019

The Best Shows of 2019 Part Two

Trying to decide the best television series of 2019 is no easy task since there’s way too much to choose from. It’s hard sometimes to know where to draw the line and how many shows we want to include. For example, should we consider game shows or talk shows or the 6:00 evening news? Why is it that only prestige dramas and sitcoms usually make the cut? What’s even harder is trying to rank these shows in order of our favourite to least favourite. How, for example, do you compare a comedy/drama about an anthropomorphized, talking horse with an in-depth documentary series about the Central Park Five? As I said, it isn’t an easy task and when deciding what to add to the list this year, we considered every sort of television programming you can imagine, from Jeopardy to AEW Wrestling to the NBA Finals and everything in between. With that in mind, we’ve narrowed down our personal favourites and have listed these shows in alphabetical order. Here is the second half of our list of the best TV shows of 2019. You can find the first part here.

Mom Best TV Shows 2019

Mom

Entering its sixths season with 110 episodes under its belt, one might surmise Mom‘s latest offering is a rather safe endeavor, settling into the established rhythms of the series with the lower stakes that often come from a group of characters well-settled into their lives. As it always does, though, Mom continues to buck tradition and expectation with perhaps its best season yet, refusing to ever let its main characters – and their larger group of friends and fellow AA attendees – get comfortable, even for a second.

Mom‘s sixth season is as impressive as its first, because of its ability to continue challenging its characters, masterfully walking the thin line between nuanced character study and broad network comedy. Never pandering or exploitative, Mom never forgets it is a show about a group of addicts: but it also recognizes itself as a show about white women of some level of privilege, constantly challenging and humbling Christy, Bonnie, and the gang (which now includes the legendary William Fitchner) as they try to navigate their complicated lives (and remain sober doing it).

Though I do wish the arcs of Tammy and Nora through the season a bit more defined, Mom remains the most rewarding show to watch about a community of women (sorry, Big Little Lies). For a sitcom on CBS, Mom remains surprisingly limber in its advanced age, able to be funny, poignant, and emotionally devastating in the same breath: few shows on television are able to balance so many emotional tenors, even fewer with the same poignancy and effortlessness Mom pulls off every week. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019

Mr. Robot

When Mr. Robot hit the scene five years ago, it was one of the breakout critical sensations of that year. It was a series that was legit must-watch television thanks to its tremendous zeitgeist appeal and Rami Malek’s performance as the disaffected hacker protagonist Elliot Alderson. Mr. Robot put its network, USA, on the map and made Malek a bona fide star. It revived the career of former Hollywood bad boy Christian Slater and it made creator-writer-director Sam Esmail one of TV’s most talked-about new auteurs. There was a time when Mr. Robot was considered the best show on television, but all the plaudits Mr. Robot received for its first season died quickly with its meandering second, as fans grew tired of Esmail continually toying with viewer perceptions. The third season was an improvement, but despite some truly outstanding episodes (most notably “eps3.4_runtime-error.r00”), it still felt like it was trying too hard to outsmart the audience. By the time season three ended, the conversation had moved on and Mr. Robot felt stuck in the past.

Thankfully, Mr. Robot returned with a satisfying, thrilling final season that surprised its fanbase and kept them at the edge of their seats. The stakes in season four are higher than they’ve ever been—opening with a major character death and making it clear that Elliot’s mission to take down Whiterose and the Dark Army was going to come at a high cost. What’s more, is that Mr. Robot’s fourth and final season has taken its stylistic ambitions to new heights. Mr. Robot has always been fond of experimental filmmaking in the television landscape—  in season three, Sam Esmail constructed a brilliant hour that was filmed and edited to seem as if it all done in one long, continuous single shot— but this season’s direction is truly special. For the most part, Esmail has maintained his undeniably unique aesthetic, taking full advantage of negative space, vertigo-inducing God’s-eye perspectives, Dutch angles, shadowy faces and of course, using a wide lens in tight spaces. The blocking of scenes involving each actor is the sharpest it’s ever been, and the art direction still feels somewhat revolutionary. There’s no denying Mr. Robot is one of TV’s most stylistically and creatively adventurous and season four brings even more to the table.

Writer and director Sam Esmail (the show’s creator and showrunner) has once again directed every single episode of the season and with each season, he becomes better and better at his craft. Episode four titled “Not Found” is one of the strangest (and best) Christmas episodes ever— as Darlene, Dom, Elliot, and Tyrell face their demons on Christmas Eve. The season’s fifth episode — “405 Method Not Allowed” is one of the most inventive entries to date and features just two lines of spoken dialogue as Elliot and Darlene undertake an ambitious heist. If that isn’t enough, halfway through Mr. Robot’s final season, Sam Esmail puts together a gripping bottle episode structured as a play in five acts, which focuses exclusively on Vera’s kidnapping and subsequent emotional manipulation of Elliot. “Proxy Authentication Required” is a riveting hour, relying heavily on extended conversations and superb performances by Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Elliot Villar and Gloria Reuben to reveal a pivotal moment in Elliot’s tragic past. With “Proxy Authentication Required,” Esmail comes across as a modern-day Hitchcock— the episode is exhilarating, horrifying, and thrilling, despite never leaving the New York apartment.

Much as been said about how the show critiques consumerism, the internet, capitalism, and the use of technology to oversee and control our daily lives—but Mr. Robot is and has always been foremost, a story about mental illness. At the center of this show is Rami Malek whose emotional range as an actor has helped carry the series through both the highs and lows. Season four is a testament to his incredible talent and that of Sam Esmail who’s given us one of the decade’s signature prestige dramas. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019 Now Apocalypse

Now Apocalypse

Once considered the angriest, most unconventional, and relentlessly intriguing voices in independent cinema, Gregg Araki first made his name as a filmmaker in the 90s, emerging as part of the new queer cinema movement when his third feature, The Living End— a controversial road movie about two HIV-positive runaways who go on a violent cross-country spree. From there, Araki went on to make several more features including Totally Fucked UpThe Doom Generation and Nowhere (which would become known as the Teen-Age Apocalypse Trilogy) and his most famous film, Mysterious Skin: the coming of age drama about a small-town rent boy played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

If you’ve seen any of the Gregg Araki’s films, you should know what to expect from Now Apocalypse, his surreal, coming-of-age comedy series that … wait for it … explores identity, sexuality, and artistry while navigating the strange, dangerous and oftentimes bewildering city of Los Angeles while the main protagonist Ulysses, is having premonitions about the end of the world. Sound familiar?

Co-written by Araki with sex columnist Karley Sciortino, the new half-hour sci-fi comedy from Starz is bound to confuse viewers who have little-to-no previous exposure to Araki’s body of work – which is fine by me because despite its utterly ridiculous plot, Now Apocalypse features everything you’d want from a Gregg Araki series. Now Apocalypse is unapologetically queer, quirky, mysterious and fun. And while it is admittedly a huge mess, it is also never once boring and quite frankly, refreshingly different from everything else on TV.  (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019

Primal

One of the biggest surprises of the year came from Adult Swim and Genndy Tartakovsky with Primal. Set in a fantastical version of prehistoric times, Primal sees its two speechless protagonists travelling together across a brutal and unforgiving wilderness after a series of tragedies bonds them together. 

Though the tale of this unlikely duo and their journey is compelling enough, it’s the jaw-dropping animation that will keep you coming back for more. Tartakovsky is best known for sillier fare like Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory but his work here is some of the most stunning artistry you’ll see in the entire industry. 

At a mere 22 minutes an episode, Primal is absolutely worth a look for anyone with even a passing interest in animated entertainment, and with the season being broken into two parts (with the second part coming in 2020) there’s plenty of time to get caught up before we see how this intense, bloody tale comes to a close. (Mike Worby)

The Righteous Gemstones Now the Sons of Eli Were Worthless Men

The Righteous Gemstones

Though Danny McBride’s HBO work is often remembered for its audacious humor, it’s the fascination with modern Americana that truly makes Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals memorable series – which in a way, makes him an unnatural fit for a series as big and loaded as televangelism. And yet, The Righteous Gemstones hits the ground running, a comedy about the intersection of religion, business, and family, in one of 2019’s more interesting shows about inter-generational conflict – and more prudently, honesty and forgiveness.

Led by Edi Patterson’s mesmerizing performance as forgotten Gemstone sibling Judy (who surprisingly outshines John Goodman, an unhinged Walton Goggins, and Danny McBride), The Righteous Gemstones is the rare comedy that is as reflective as it is funny: even in the age of Peak TV’s hybridization of traditional genres, Gemstones is one of few series able to nimbly jump between identities.

Perhaps most importantly, it is as confident a comedy as there is on television, a conviction of theme and character that only grows stronger as the season builds its dramatic crescendo, resulting in one of the most satisfying season finales of the year. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019 Russian Doll

Russian Doll

Russian Doll may very well be the very best TV series Netflix has produced to date. Co-created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, the series stars Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov, a New York woman celebrating her 36th birthday, who is doomed to repeat the same endless time loop before she dies at the end of the night each time — only to awaken the next day having to start all over. Every time she thinks she might make it past the reset point, she dies again and again. The stakes are eventually raised when Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett), a fellow wanderer who is also stuck in his own depressive loop. What starts out feeling like a zany homage to Groundhog Day unravels to becomes something darker,  deeper and far more complex. With so much bubbling under the surface, one could say, it’s a show carefully constructed like, well, a Russian doll.

One of the most straightforward threads of Russian Doll considers addiction which makes sense considering Lyonne has spoken about how parts of the story were inspired by her own history with drugs. A more popular reading is that the curse placed on Nadia and Alan could stand in as a metaphor for mental illness as they struggle to find a way to end the loop, only starting to realize that they need to first seek the emotional closure in order to overcome their own personal struggles before moving on. Meanwhile, Russian Doll has also drawn comparisons to video games such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in which Nadia, who just so happens to be a video game designer, must race against the clock in order to avoid death, and avoid starting all over again. Along with themes of trauma and existential questions about the construction of the universe and the importance of human connection, one’s interpretation of what the show is all about may vary from person to person. Somehow, though, Russian Doll manages to address all of these subjects and more, weaving countless themes and cultural references into a tight three-and-a-half-hour running time in which not a second is wasted. (Ricky D)

Netfxlix The OA Part 2 Best TV Shows 2019

The OA: Part II

There’s nothing on television like The OA, a show about trauma, companionship, love… and traveling through parallel universes by doing an interpretive dance. Nearly two and a half years after its strange, hauntingly beautiful debut, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s ridiculous, heartfelt series returned a completely different animal, trading in its poignant, quiet reflections of season one into a loud, vibrant kaleidoscope of utterly ridiculous stories.

There are deadly online mobile games, a telepathic (and horny) octopus, and mini-robots who dance the movements: these are but a few of the ridiculous twists and turns offered in The OA: Part II, which is somehow a more ostentatiously opaque, thoroughly challenging offering than its predecessor. Unlike anything else on television, The OA: Part II demands audiences to trust it, to believe in the utter bullshit it portrays as plot development on screen – a challenge it most certainly meets, with a welcome earnestness and disregard for formula, or at times, even basic coherency.

It is an utterly confounding, beautiful work of art: The OA: Part II is unforgiving and bold, one of the rare television series that is truly “like nothing else on television.” In 2019, that is a harder and harder thing to claim, but there is nothing like The OA‘s exploration of identity, destiny, and even reality. It is something you must truly see to believe – especially its ending, one of the most purely bat shit crazy plot twists I’ve seen in the Peak TV era. (Randy Dankievitch)

Succession

The first season of Succession didn’t get the attention it deserved when it premiered in 2018 but fast forward one year, and HBO’s darkly funny drama about the Roy family (the dysfunctional owners of a global media and hospitality empire who are fighting for control of the company) became one of the most talked-about shows of 2019.

It’s easy to see why it took so long for viewers to warm up to Succession given that the characters in Succession are despicable creatures and will do everything in their power to get their share of the family media empire. This is a show about rich people— there’s no way around it— but Succession does not glamourize their wealth nor does it makes no apologies for it. The truth is, the characters in Succession are some of the worst people you’ll see on television with each episode steadily and surely raising its characters up to new levels of horrors. The Roys are destructive people and they and their organization cause other people to suffer and sometimes self-destruct in front of them, but they are so far removed from reality that they cannot see the harm it inflicts on others. Or maybe, they just don’t care. Whatever the case, Succession finds pleasure in awful people trying—and failing in doing awful things to one another. After each episode, it becomes clear that despite having wonderfully written characters, there’s nobody to root for. What makes the second season of Succession an improvement, however, is how it examines what happens when that power and privilege are stripped away.

The word “Shakespearean” is often mistakenly used to describe high-prestige dramas but in the case of Succession, it feels like the best descriptor for the series. Succession isn’t what you’d call a very cinematic series. Its strength lies in its theatrical quality, sharp writing and exceptional performances that bring a new level of sympathy for some of television’s least likable characters. In fact, several episodes don’t do much other than place the central characters in a confining space and allow the selfish one-percenters to try and outdo each other’s depravity. It is an act of torture, and yet, you can’t help but watch the drama unfold. And the reason we enjoy watching them plot, bicker, argue and backstab each other is that despite its deplorable characters, Succession is extremely funny.

The season finale itself, is one of the best hours of television this year, as we watch nearly all the members of the Roy family and their business colleagues attempt to decide who among them should be sacrificed in order to save the rest. Without giving away any spoilers, the final shocking twist nearly broke the internet and left viewers clamoring for more (Ricky D)

Superstore Best TV Shows 2019

Superstore

Perhaps the last great remaining workplace comedy on network television, Superstore‘s fourth season slowly shifts itself away from the melodramatics of its predecessor… and in the process, establishes itself as one of the more heartfelt and progressive shows on TV. More importantly, it does so without pretension, even though just about every major narrative arc of the season hinges on relevant social movements (like immigration, unionization, corporate capitalism), Superstore never lets these moments overwhelm its eclectic, lovable cast of characters, one of the most hilarious (and diverse) on television.

There are too many satisfying arcs to list here (though Amy’s ascension to store manager is a personal favorite) – but it’s the final four episodes of the season, culminating in “Employee Appreciation Day,” that firmly cement Superstore‘s legacy as one of the decade’s great ensemble comedies (and in a roundabout way, everything Aaron Sorkin wishes The Newsroom could’ve been). It’s striking to see a show (a network comedy, no less) take such strong stances on unions, immigration, and corporate discrimination – to do so while also remaining a deeply rewarding comedy about a cast of blue-collar misfits is something truly special. (Randy Dankievitch)

Stranger Things Season 4

Stranger Things

Stranger Things is so popular that we sometimes forget this once unknown property came out of nowhere in 2016 and surprised the world by becoming the most popular series on Netflix due to word-of-mouth. It was the first original streaming series that quickly became a water-cooler topic and three seasons later, Stranger Things shows no signs of slowing down.

Except for a few missteps, the third season of Stranger Things surpasses the creative heights of the second season if only because it raises the stakes. Not only does season two’s Big Bad, the Mind Flayer return to prey on the residents of Hawkins, Indiana but having Billy as the Mind Flayer’s surrogate villain makes the threat to Hawkins a little more tangible. As awful as Billy was in the second season, it pales in comparison to what the Mind Flayer forces him to do this time around. And thanks to great writing and a superb performance by Dacre Montgomery, we end up caring about Billy once Eleven delves into his memories and we learn why Billy is the way he is. In season two, Billy was the bully but in season three, it’s the bully who becomes the victim and he’s desperately in need of saving. Along with Russian spies, Cold War paranoia, and the arrival of a new shopping mall that puts everyone out of business, the third season of Stranger Things is packed with enough mysterysuspense, and nail-biting tension to keep viewers at the edge of their seats.

Anyone who enjoyed the first two seasons of Strangers Things should no doubt enjoy the third season. The character-based humor, funny quips, excellent cast, period-specific detail, pop culture references, science fiction horror, and moments of fan-satisfying gratification are all present and accounted for. Season Three has everything a fan could want— it’s exciting, funny, suspenseful and features arguably the two best episodes of the series so far. More importantly, the season explores the idea of friends drifting apart. In Season Three, the children have grown into young teens with new interests and shifting priorities and now they must find a way to put aside their differences and work together. Season Three ends with perhaps the most satisfying conclusion yet and features moments that could make even the most jaded viewer teary-eyed. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019 True Detective

True Detective

After a rocky second season and a four-year hiatus, True Detective has returned at last with what may be its finest noir tale yet.

Focusing on the disappearance of two young siblings, and spanning the course of four decades, True Detective‘s third season enlists the talents of Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as troubled detectives trying to solve a mysterious case over the course of three different time periods. Moody, atmospheric and haunting, True Detective goes utterly for broke in its latest effort, and is all the better for it.

With tons of twists and turns along the way, a jaw-dropping cast, and a fantastic soundtrack, Nic Pizzolato’s third run at the classic film-noir detective story has reinvigorated the love for this series, and offers plenty of hope for an equally excellent fourth season. (Mike Worby)

Best TV Shows 2019 Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy

This 10-episode Netflix series, which is adapted from the comic book created and written by My Chemical Romance’s frontman, Gerard Way, might have its share of flaws and excesses, but it, for the most part, feels fresh in what is an oversaturated genre. The basic premise revolves around seven kids with superpowers born to different mothers on the same day and brought together as young children by a wealthy inventor and philanthropist Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) who adopts all seven of these miracle babies, and creates an academy in order to teach them how to hone their powers.

Best described as a particularly bleak X-Men story with the musical and visual flourishes of WatchmenThe Umbrella Academy is as stylish as they come – featuring gorgeous costume design, stunning cinematography, dazzling visual effects, colorful sets, and thrilling action scenes. The production design is simply incredible as is the soundtrack which plays a prominent role in bringing several key sequences to life. Take for instance a split-screen shoot-out in a department store as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” provides the high-tempo backdrop as the action unfolds – or a scene in which the team listens to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” as the camera glides through the mansion capturing each sibling dancing in separate rooms. And underneath all the razzle and dazzle is a brutal portrait of a damaged, unhappy, dysfunctional family that has drifted apart for various reasons and must now band together in order to help each other while also saving the world. The combination of family drama and superheroics is nothing new but The Umbrella Academy shows enough moments of genius, albeit brief, to warrant a spot on this list. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019

Veronica Mars

While plenty of shows have tried to do the reboot/comeback thing over the last few years, not many have managed to do so as successfully as Veronica Mars. The Hulu revival somehow manages to bring the core characters we loved into a compelling new mystery after a 12 year hiatus. Still in tact are the whip smart writing, red herrings aplenty, and the battle against corruption at every turn.

The crown jewel comes in the form of the strong cast and their chemistry though. Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni shine every time they’re on screen together and the new additions to the cast, including Patton Oswalt, all make a strong case for their characters, even as they’re shelving old fan favorites. Still, nearly every character gets a chance in the limelight during this 8 episode return, and the fact that it never feels like overwrought fan service makes it an absolute joy to see them again. (Mike Worby)

Watchmen It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice

Watchmen

In an age of adaptations, sequels, reboots, prequels, trilogies, and shared universes, Damon Lindelof’s stylish, driven Watchmen series stands out – in fact, it may be the single most affecting dystopian fiction of 2019. It is undeniably the most fascinating; set 37 years after the events of the seminal graphic novel, Lindelof (along with a writing staff that includes Carly Wray, Cord Jefferson, and Nick Cuse) creates an allegorically rich world of masked police, Rorschach-quoting white supremacists, and a couple essential familiar faces.

Watchmen may be the biggest surprise of the year; not in its quality, because the creative talent on both sides of the camera (the cast boasts Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, Jeremy Irons, and Lou Gossett Jr. among its regulars) is quite obvious. What makes Watchmen so unexpected is its fearlessness; in both continuing the legacy of a particularly pernicious, critical piece of American literature, and as a timely series about race in America.

It succeeds wildly at both: led by King’s performance as Sister Night (along with a stunning Jovan Adepo as young Will Reeves), Watchmen is the expected tour-de-force of dramatic prowess, a show capable of beautifully crafted character moments and genuine moments of awe and surprise. But more important is its bracing honesty, a dystopian sci-fi series that is willing to be strange, funny, and strikingly critical all in a single breath. Though we all expected Lindelof’s take on Watchmen to be a gorgeously crafted, wonderous fun house of weirdness, the unexpected sociopolitical weight of his ruminations on the nature of gods and men firmly establishes Watchmen as one of 2019’s great series. Also, the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score fuckin’ slaps. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019 When They See Us

When They See Us

Ava DuVernay pulls no punches in When They See Us, a dramatized account of how thirty years ago, five young boys came to be arrested, convicted and sentenced for raping and beating a white female jogger in Central Park, and leaving her left for dead. It is one of the most famous cases of young boys wrongfully accused of a crime they did not commit. The case made headlines around the world and the five teenagers, all of color, would ultimately become known as the Central Park Five. The story of the Central Park Five has been covered extensively by media since, including in the incredible 2012 documentary The Central Park Five, co-directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. But this scripted miniseries is different and it feels more personal due to DuVernay’s approach in closely examining the five individuals whose lives were turned upside down before they’d even had the chance to finish high school. And in many ways, When They See Us is the perfect companion piece to that famous documentary. Instead of reinvestigating this case, or delving into the circumstances that led up to it, When They See Us focuses more on the suffering the boys endured both when they were forced to do time and when they were released from prison.

The first episode shows how the police department, detectives and lawyers tricked these young boys into confessing to a crime they were not guilty of. The second episode captures the trial and the media hype surrounding the case while the penultimate episode (which brings in four older actors to play the characters as adults), tracks the experiences of Kevin, Antron, Yusef, and Raymond, the four men who emerge from their juvenile sentences and are faced with various obstacles when restarting their lives as registered sex offenders. The final episode which is the most heartbreaking runs nearly 90 minutes long, and focuses on the particular suffering of 16-year-old Korey, the only one of the five sentenced as an adult and winds up spending his time behind bars in various adult prisons. When They See Us is not an easy show to watch but it is essential viewing if you care at all about how unjust the justice system is. It’s a powerful, dense, series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement. It is profoundly rich, urgent, unflinching, and DuVernay’s strongest work to date. It might also just be the best series of 2019. (Ricky D)

You're the Worst Pancakes Best TV Shows 2019

You’re the Worst

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece bidding adieu to You’re the Worst, one of the best comedies of the generation. In it, I said:

When the Sunday Funday crew take their final bow, You’re the Worst’s audience will say farewell to an honest portrayal about the pursuit of happiness, and why the “good” emotions of life can often be the most unsatisfying.

The entire final season of You’re the Worst tackles this idea head-on, particularly in the professional lives of its main characters. As Jimmy and Gretchen hurtled towards a wedding neither of them actually wanted, You’re the Worst cemented its legacy as one of the defining romantic comedy of this generation, nimbly moving between stories of professional anxieties and personal battles as it built towards “Pancakes,” the beautiful, bittersweet farewell to Gretchen, Jimmy, Edgar, and Lindsay’s story. Though not quite as potent as it was in its earliest, most revelatory seasons, the continued misadventures of Jimmy’s writing career and Gretchen’s mental health struggles proved to be fertile emotional ground for the show’s final batch of episodes.  Of the many shows to end in 2019, this will be the one I miss the most. (Randy Dankievitch)

PART ONE

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The Mandalorian “Chapter Five: the Gunslinger” Has One Small Oasis in a Desert of Dullness

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode Five Review: “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger”

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Mild spoilers ensue

This is probably going to be a relatively short review, because The Mandalorian “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger” has so little to talk about. Nearly everything about this episode feels off-key, which is a shame, because it doubles as a return to Tatooine—where both Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s Star Wars adventures kicked off many years ago. This episode genuflects to that hallowed history, with a quick tour of Mos Eisley Cantina’s patrons, but in line with the rest of the episode, the bar is pretty empty. There is a kernel of good story in “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger”, but time constraints and irrelevant dilly-dallying strangle it in infancy (don’t worry, the baby Yodaling is fine!). Ultimately, the dullness is distressing.

The problems endemic to the episode start before the rendezvous with Tatooine, however. The Mandalorian “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger” opens on a space dogfight, with Mando tailed by some other bounty hunter. It felt weightless, which is not something I expected to say about a Star Wars mid-space ship battle. Even the lesser Star Wars films have managed to create engaging battles, as has animated television, even when their function is simply to create an inciting incident. In trying to deduce why this one felt pointless, I went and rewatched a few of the more notable battles in franchise.

The Mandalorian is tailed by another bounty hunter.

The brevity of The Mandalorian’s battle (all of a minute) isn’t really the problem, nor is its style, which follows the effective cross-cutting between combatant ships and their cockpits that is typical to Star Wars. Rather, there are no clear destinations or obstacles to direct the focus of the action and the audience, unlike almost every other battle Star Wars has shown. Obviously the audience knows Mando is being pursued and is trying to avoid being killed, but in desolate space, it’s simply two ships whirling around one another. There’s emotional detachment stemming from the lack of the physically orientating stakes in the scene. For the first time in The Mandalorian, the lack of an expositional opening crawl or some narrator (like in The Clone Wars) also hampers the show. Without an explicit goal other than the vague notion of survival, the battle would need more time to breathe so that the audience can settle in. For this reason alone, it’s all too quick.

The entire sequence only exists to damage the ship and force Mando to have an emergency landing on Tatooine for repairs. Arriving dilapidated in Mos Eisley repair bay 3-5, Mando’s ship grinds to a halt. And so does the episode’s momentum.

I don’t know why writer and director Dave Filoni prioritised spending so much time with Amy Sedaris’ Pelli Motto, but it’s honestly excruciating. Motto is styled after a mixture of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Alien and Dana Barrett from Ghostbusters, but Sedaris over-acts as if she stepped out of a far worse 80s comedy movie. Maybe it’s because she has to interact with CGI DUM Pit-droids and the Yodaling puppet, but it’s risible, and undermines the character chastising Mando, who has “a awful lot to learn about raising a young one”. Especially as the viewer knows that fact (it’s part of his character arc) and Mando’s been doing an okay job keeping the baby alive so far. Her role is pretty extraneous as well: the final confrontation doesn’t have to involve Motto in order to have the same character beats. Trapping the story in a Mos Eisley repair bay for nearly half the episode diverts the narrative away from its most interesting elements.

Toro Calican shows the Mandalorian the bounty in Mos Eisley Cantina.

It’s not all Pelli Motto’s fault though. Star Wars on television has one narrative penchant that never seems to work—the inexperienced rookie shadowing the experienced protagonist—and it’s true for “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger” too. Not even George Lucas’ protégé, Dave Filoni, can make it compelling. These types of episodes are usually underwhelming because the rookie, this time an aspiring bounty hunter by the name of Toro Calican, simply exists to be the exact opposite of the protagonist. Five episodes into The Mandalorian, we don’t need reminding that Mando is deliberate and cautious in his manoeuvres compared to everyone else. There’s nothing new to say.

The experience is further degraded by Jake Cannavale’s performance. While definitely having the right look for a cocksure amateur, Cannavale plays the arrogance and stumbling naiveté in a flat and fairly monotonous manner. Maybe there’s a point to it, because the reversal late in the episode is more shocking (though not that shocking) when Calican’s cunning comes to the fore. With slightly more to work with, Jake Cannavale shows brief flashes of his dad’s acting talent for dangerous gangsters, but for most of the episode, Toro Calican is a boring entity. It’s all the more evident when going toe to toe with Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand.

The short martial arts fight between Shand and Calican is the episode’s highlight, and I hope to see more of it. Furthermore, Wen alternating between hardened clipped tone and seductive whisper during her brief tempting of Calican to betray Mando is electric. Shand’s namesake is the fennec fox, and Wen absolutely evokes the slippery slyness as a long-time assassin. The former Mulan voice actress and current Agent of Shield is still wasted though.  I suppose the episode wants to only give a taste of the antagonist in order to make her seem more mysterious, but given how much more invigorated the episode becomes with her appearance, surely giving Wen a larger acting role in “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger” would only benefit proceedings.

Fennec Shand talks to Toro Calican.

Enjoying Ming-Na Wen’s presence is not the sole reason for wanting Fennec Shand around more. She’s an adversary whom Mando has to demonstrably outwit (outfox?). If there’s a positive to the draw from these recent disappointing episodes, it’s that Mando’s tactical awareness has been given a spotlight, and his plan to use flash charges to block Shand’s thermal-scoping sniper is a neat trick. Looking back on my favourite episode so far, “Chapter Two: The Child” as well, I can only conclude that The Mandalorian is at its best when Mando has to overcome enemies and problems with the barest of utensils at his disposal. The end of the episode makes Shand’s fate unclear, so I am remaining optimistic Ming-Na Wen’s enigmatic foe will potentially confound Mando in the future. Their dynamic is the one thing to salvage from this episode, but mainly because of its potential. Please don’t screw this up, The Mandalorian.

As we enter the Christmas season, The Mandalorian “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger” adorns itself in Star Wars decorations, but they’re hanging off the boughs of a withered tree. Apparently no amount of moisture farming can save it from parching in the Dune Sea desert on Tatooine. May The Mandalorian fair better on the next planet it ports at and be less barren.

Other Thoughts/Observations:

The swell of Ludwig Göransson’s Spanish guitars and maybe also electric guitars, as the speeder bikes crossed the Dune Sea was awesome, however.

In continuing this idea of problem-solving, I’d almost have preferred the episode to force Mando to repair his listless, drifting ship in space, rather than immediately reconfiguring the engines. Add a bit of hard sci-fi engine recalibration to the mix. Oh well, we’ll always have The Expanse.

As perhaps the review implies, nothing really happens in this episode to move the plot or character arcs forward. However, as my brother noted in a message, the episode mentioned the infamous “high ground” that is the secret to all of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s success, so The Mandalorian “Chapter Five: The Gunslinger” is a 10/10 episode (it’s not).

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