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The Best TV Shows of 2019 (So Far…)

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Best TV Shows 2019

The Best Shows of 2019 Part One

As the dawn of the Second Streaming Wars between Disney+, Netflix, and the hundreds of other streaming services, networks, and cable channels approaches, television finds itself in a strange place, an increasingly influential – and overcrowded – medium of art, one facing the end of an era with the conclusion of cultural touchstones like Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.

It’s still been a wonderful time for television, though – a time for wildly creative auteurs, some memorable performances – and of course, the final season of HBO’s iconic tale of dragons & boobs. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites from the strange, weird half year it’s been – here are Goomba Stomp’s Best TV shows of 2019 (So Far).

Editor’s Note: As of now, this list is in alphabetical order. We will be updating the list one last time on December 22, 2019.

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Best TV Shows 2019 - Barry

Barry (HBO)

Barry‘s first season felt like a well-contained story; like many shows in the current era of television, it felt like less might be more for Bill Hader and Alex Berg’s black comedy about a lonely hitman trying to convince himself to live a clean life. Boy, did they prove me wrong: Barry‘s second season quietly transformed itself into one of the best, most devastating character studies on television, catapulting itself into the highest echelon of television with episodes like “rony/lilly” and “berkman > block” (both directed by Hader, who firmly establishes himself as one of the best directors working in the medium).

After an uneven premiere, it appeared Barry was going bigger in its second season: while it certainly has that feel in an external sense (at least, in the show’s wandering first few hours), Barry‘s second and third acts doubles down on its central theme of honesty, and just how it easy it is for people to lie to themselves. The fallout of this self-deception plays out in a number of powerful ways, from Barry’s attempts to extricate himself from Fuches and his bullshit, to Sally’s beautifully layered arc of trying to capture her truth as an artist (the show’s most marked improvement of the season).  With it, Barry found a way to refine its mix of violent comedy, industry satire, and deep character study into something much sharper, and wildly more satisfying. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies (HBO)

Adapted from the book of the same name from Liane Moriarty by David E. Kelley and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Sharp Objects), the first season of Big Little Lies was a huge hit for HBO. It received 16 Emmy Award nominations and won eight, including Outstanding Limited Series and acting awards for Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgård, and Laura Dern. The trio also won Golden Globe Awards in addition to a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film win for the series. Kidman and Skarsgård also received Screen Actors Guild Awards for their performances. So, of course, there was going to be another season of a closed-ended story starring one of the most talented ensemble casts on television ever. And this time around, gifted filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) has taken over direction from Vallée, with Meryl Streep joining the cast as Mary Louise Wright, the grieving mother in pursuit of the killer(s) of her beloved son. After the critically acclaimed first season, the biggest question going into this new installment was can it live up to the tension of the first season? The answer is yes!

This time around, the central question commanding the series isn’t who murdered who, but rather how the Monterey Five deal with the aftermath of Perry’s death. Season two raises the stakes for all five women at the center of the show and it doubles down on the dark humor while also giving its cast even more juicy drama to chew on. Needless to say, if you like season one, you’ll love season two but if there is one reason to watch, it is for the performance from Laura Dern who breathes dragon fire into Renata Klein — she’s by far the most fascinating character on television this year. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019 Black Mirror

Black Mirror (Netflix)

For years Black Mirror has been turning our latest technological advances into our newest fears and anxieties. From social media to smartphones, Black Mirror has found surprisingly inventive ways to turn our modern conveniences into nightmare fodder.

The fifth season continues this trend with three new tales about online gaming, social media addiction and holographic performers. While it may not be the best season of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series, Black Mirror still packs a punch in its latest effort. The middle episode, “Smithereens” (focusing on the kidnapping of an intern for a social media conglomerate, and the international incident which follows) is particularly involving.

With Nine Inch Nails, Miley Cyrus, and other talented performers behind the fifth season of Black Mirror, the show still succeeds in being entertaining, even when it’s not at its best. (Mike Worby)

Best TV Shows 2019

Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

Bojack Horseman carried on the strong trajectory of seasons 4 and 5 as it headed into the first part of its 6th and final season. As Bojack finally got clean and sober, he was forced to take a good long look at his life and his choices. Other characters like Diane and Princess Caroline found themselves at similar crossroads of their lives, and while things seem to be on the upswing by the end of the season, there is a clear darkness from the past that threatens to swallow Bojack for good as the second part of season 6 looms.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. This 8 episode stretch still has the same top tier satire and stupid animal puns you’ve likely come to know and love after 5 seasons with Bojack Horseman. And with the last bit of episodes just around the corner in January, we’ll soon have the the final verdict on one of Netflix’s best shows. (Mike Worby)

Best TV Shows 2019 Broad City

Broad City (Comedy Central)

The end of Broad City feels like the end of a specific generation of late-millennial comedy, a quarter-life-crisis series grounded in one of the most nuanced, unabashedly honest portrayals of female friendship (and New York City, in all its disgusting, adventurous glory). And after a couple of seasons of resting on its comedic laurels, Broad City‘s final ten episodes are a surprisingly emotional ride, prying the two protagonists away from each other as they contemplate the next personal, and professional, steps in their lives.

Broad City‘s final season is basically a breakup story disguised as a Linklater-esque coming of age comedy: it’s equally nostalgic and hopeful, packed with callbacks to earlier seasons, but with the haunting realizations that things for Abby and Ilana are changing, and the adventures of their mid-20’s are far behind them. Neatly divided into two distinctly individual arcs, Broad City finds its genius in the earnest growth it offers both its leading ladies, culminating in the show’s impressive final four episodes, perhaps the most emotionally satisfying arc of the series.

Yes, there’s still drug-addled adventures, plenty of Jewish jokes, and failed romances for both Abbi and Ilana – this is still Broad City we’re talking about, after all. But there’s a different tenor to the show’s unwavering honesty, isolating Abbi and Ilana as they fumble to figure out who they are going to be, in a marked shift from the show’s previous, often lighthearted approach to life’s most pressing questions. Equally sentimental and unforgiving, Broad City‘s ruminations on friendship and identity makes for surprisingly powerful material, cementing the show’s legacy as one of this generation’s defining comedies. (Randy Dankievitch)

Chernobyl Best TV Shows 2019

Chernobyl (HBO)

It’s been a quiet year for horror series during the first half of 2019 – until Chernobyl arrived in the spring, with the terrifying reminder that nobody is safe from the unseen terror of radiation, the toxic, silent killer at the heart of HBO’s harrowing, moving (and most terrifyingly, historical) account of the Soviet nuclear disaster. Centered around the doctors, scientists, and politicians ensnared by the government to “fix” the un-fixable, Chernobyl is a moving account of the mistakes, guesses, and half-truths that, over time, transformed bad calculus into an international disaster with an immeasurable human cost.

Perhaps the most cogent terror of Chernobyl is not the big explosions and uncertainty of early episodes: it is the creeping realization of how close we are to this happening a (third) time, and how unprepared the bureaucracies of the civilized world are prepared to handle it. Chernobyl is a powerful reflection on human persistence, and what a dangerous double-edged sword it is for the world, and particularly its most powerful men, to wield.

Led by a trio of powerful performances from Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, and Emily Watson, Chernobyl is an intoxicating mix of terrifying images and anxiety-inducing foreshadowing, a damning account of the lives lost at the expense of playing politics (or in the case of a young military recruit, a damning loss of innocence). Even without the horrifying images of seeing what happened to the unsuspecting first responders to the disaster (and the creeping realization of its main players of their own fates), Chernobyl‘s depiction of a government’s ineptitude to deal with the fallout of its own ambition makes it the most frightening show of 2019. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019 Creepshow

Creepshow (Shudder)

In the late 1970s, horror maestros George Romero and Stephen King teamed up to create Creepshow, a horror anthology that doubled as an homage to the old EC comics the pair grew up reading as kids. In its opening weekend, Creepshow took the top spot at the box office, grossing an impressive $5,870,889 stateside and eventually went on to become a cult classic spawning two sequels and even a comic of its own. Now decades later, horror streaming service Shudder has revived the concept, bringing back everyone’s favorite creep in the form of a weekly series that promised to capture the legacy of both the age-old comics and that 1982 movie.

Much like the 1982 movie — which spawned a pair of sequels — Greg Nicotero’s anthology series is equally frightening and funny. And like the original, not every segment is a winner but of the twelve segments crammed into six episodes, more than half deliver good, old-fashioned horror that treats its inspirations with infectious admiration. Reviving the franchise that Stephen King and George A. Romero began forty years ago isn’t an easy task, but Greg Nicotero along with his incredibly talented team pulled it off. (Ricky D)

Dark Crystal Netflix

Dark Crystal (Netflix)

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an utter feast for the eyes, pulses, and minds and it will more than exceed the expectations of fans of Jim Henson’s original. This is one of the most ambitious and immersive TV events of the year – a series that builds on the wonderment of the 1982 film and delivers a smarter, creepier, more whimsical, and more narratively thrilling adventure. Age of Resistance is made with such intelligence, imagination, passion, and skill, that you can feel the filmmaker’s passion oozing out of every frame. Anyone else looking to make a fantasy TV series should take notes since this is a prime example of how to do it right.

Whether you’re watching for fulfilled nostalgia or simple curiosity, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will more than keep you enthralled with its craftsmanship and pure artistry. It’s extraordinary work, grandly conceived, brilliantly executed and one of the best fantasy tales since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What Louis Leterrier and company have accomplished here is amazing on every level. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a technical marvel and an achievement in the art form of puppetry. Every scene is teeming with life and every episode is blessed with a good script, fantastic performances, and stunning visuals. Age of Resistance is crammed with so much adventure, so many spectacular effects, so much derring-do, and so much visual wonder, it will keep some viewers coming back for more. More importantly, it’s clear the entire team went out of their way to stay true to Jim Henson’s vision and retain the spirit of the original film. Netflix deserves credit for taking a gamble on such an ambitious project and judging by how it ends, we will hopefully see a second season in the near future. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019 Euphoria

Euphoria (HBO)

HBO’s button-pushing new drama Euphoria zeroes in on the lives of several high school students living in California and how they navigate a world filled with violence, profanity, drug use, overt bullying, and sexual abuse. The show has been billed as a parent’s nightmare, no thanks to the explicit sex scenes, nonconsensual-sex tapes and child pornography but beneath the show’s explicit exterior is a compassionate examination of adolescent longing. Told from the perspective of a 17-year-old drug addict named Rue, who is desperately trying to self-medicate her severe depression with whatever drugs she can get her hands on, Euphoria is both an exploitive and a surprisingly tender look at the overwhelming anxieties faced by teens today including neglect, anxiety, and loneliness. Some scenes contain powerful messaging while others seem designed simply to shock, but more often than not, Euphoria will have viewers thinking long and hard about the current modern challenges facing youth today.

Euphoria channels the spirit of movies like Kids and Gummo, and like those films, it’s best to view the series as a mood piece rather than a guide to Gen Z behaviors. If the series can slow down and stop trying so hard to shock adult viewers, it could become a worthy addition to the HBO pantheon. There’s a lot of potential here, but like the characters it follows, Euphoria is sometimes lost and trying to find its voice. That said, despite its shortcomings, it is still one of the better shows of 2019. (Ricky D)

Fleabag Best TV Shows 2019

Fleabag (BBC One, BBC Two)

Nearly three years after its genius debut, Fleabag finally returned for a second go-round in April – and somehow lived up to its gigantic expectations, delivering a second series even more darkly poignant and emotionally devastating than the first. Through the conduit of the meme-ified Hot Priest, Fleabag‘s second offering picks up the first season’s observations about human connection and gives it a properly epic feel, turning the audience into Fleabag’s only friend, and God of her world.

It’s stunning how effortless it all feels: from Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ little glances towards the camera to the layers of nuance in each of the season’s scripts, Fleabag is a work of art all to itself, lacking in the prestige pretention so many other notable series of the era get tied up in. It is undoubtedly one of this decade’s most important, reflective series on the human condition – but it never ever feels that weight, especially as it tells its tragic, comical love story of Fleabag and the aforementioned Hot Priest (who at one point, looks right through Fleabag and towards the audience, as shocking a moment as anything on television in 2019).

There are few shows as rewarding or as rewatchable as Fleabag, in all its twitchy, horny, awkward glory. It is a story of loss and discovery, of failure and retribution – and most importantly, of life’s continuous disappointments and occasional joys. Fleabag reminds us just how hard it is to latch onto the latter; but in the few moments we can, the peace and clarity we’re offered can energize an entire lifetime of beautiful misery. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019 Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Like Black MirrorGame of Thrones’ latest (and final) season has been incredibly divisive. With many fans lamenting the pacing issues and plot revelations behind the endgame of George R.R. Martin’s dark fantasy series, Game of Thrones may not have another Emmy in the bag, but it does leave a lasting legacy nonetheless.

The settling of some of the show’s most long-simmering and important plotlines may not have pleased all viewers, but the fact that Game of Thrones managed to tell the entire story of a seven book fantasy saga on television at all is wildly impressive.

Even with the polarizing reactions to season 8, Game of Thrones still offered the bombastic story-telling, intricate characterization, top-notch production values, and fantastic performances for which it has come to be known. These factors alone make it stand out among the best television of 2019, even if it couldn’t live up to the sky-high expectations of some of its fans. (Mike Worby)

GLOW (Netflix)

You would have thought a series that revolves around characters and gimmicks of a low-budget 1980s syndicated women’s professional wrestling circuit would be a hit? Sure enough, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (or GLOW) created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch has garnered rave reviews and gathered a cult following since it premiered on Netflix in the summer of 2017. With incredibly accurate 1980s period detail, a superb ensemble cast and great writing, GLOW returned for its third season and delivered exactly what the fans want.

In the third season of GLOW, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling adjust to their new casino-based lives in Las Vegas. They’re no longer starring in an ongoing serialized wrestling promotion; instead, the ladies take to the stage several nights a week at the fictitious Fan-Tan Casino where they perform in front of a live audience, often improvising both in necessity and in boredom from the usual routine. But no matter how hard they try to shake things up, the nightly attraction is just that— a routine. The season makes so many unexpected pivots as the cast of GLOW struggle with their careers and insecurities. Feeling trapped in a never-ending loop, the ladies (and men) are forced to either live a superficial life in the most superficial place on Earth and succumb to boredom— or carve a new path and find happiness in something (or someone) new. Turns out, Las Vegas makes for a refreshing change of pace as it provides new opportunities and perhaps a step up for their careers.

The third season of GLOW is nowhere near as good as its predecessors, but it remains a complex show nonetheless, calling attention to culturally relevant issues while maintaining a dark sense of humor. As hard as it tries to give everyone in the cast a story, there just isn’t enough time and so a good number of important story beats fall flat. Yet despite its flaws and odd tonal shifts, GLOW is still one of the best shows of 2019.

I Think You Should Leave (Netflix)

As Netflix continues to diversify its eclectic brand of offerings, the streaming service is catering to more markets than ever. One of its latest successes is the no-holds-barred sketch comedy I Think You Should Leave.

Created by and starring SNL alum Tim Robinson, I Think You Should Leave goes all in on each of its increasingly outlandish scenarios, including a cringe-inducing job interview, a man trying to get revenge on a baby, an awkward Instagram lunch date, and bikers from outer space. Yes, I Think You Should Leave is as silly and out there as it sounds, but with guest stars like Will Forte, Michelle Ortiz, Steven Yeun, and a host of others to sell the insanity, the comedy rarely falters.

With the first season coming in at only 90 minutes, and a second season already on the way, there’s no excuse not to give this brilliant Netflix sketch series a chance. (Mike Worby)

Love, Death + Robots Best TV Shows 2019

Love, Death + Robots (Netflix)

In case Black Mirror wasn’t enough to satisfy your appetite for a sci-fi anthology series,  Love, Death + Robots offers 18 bite-sized slices of mind-bending, futuristic goodness on Netflix as well.

Originally conceived as a new version of Heavy Metal, Love, Death + Robots eventually evolved into its own creation altogether. Focusing partly on adapting classic science fiction tales and partly on creating new stories, the series travels all across the space-time continuum, weaving tales of future farmers battling interdimensional insects and cryogenic sleeping astronauts awakening to their worst nightmares.

With tones and themes as eclectic as its settings and stories, there’s something for everyone to love in this gorgeously animated, lovingly rendered anthology series. (Mike Worby)

Mindhunter Season 2

Mindhunter (Netflix)

With fans having waited with great anticipation for two years, David Fincher’s revolutionary Netflix series returned this year for its sophomore season, giving fans an even deeper dive into the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit.

Ultimately, the second season of Mindhunter did not disappoint— it’s hands down one of the best shows of 2019, a meticulous, well written and darkly evocative re-creation of a time and a place that captures the complexity and inherent difficulties of old-fashioned detective work. The attention to detail applied here must be applauded. Mindhunter captures every feeling and nuance of an entire era and through its brilliant commentary, it will make you want to dig through Wikipedia posts while binging several true crime podcasts just to learn more about its subjects. It’s a story about the incomprehensible nature of evil and reminds us that in the end, no matter how hard we try, we won’t learn every detail and understand every motive. (Ricky D)

PART TWO

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My So-Called Life: “So-Called Angels” is a Timeless Classic

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My So-Called Life: “So-Called Angels”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at My So-Called Life.

What’s it About?

In 1994 Winnie Holzman introduced to the world her critically acclaimed TV series My So-Called Life, a realistic mid-nineties teen drama that takes a look at a 15-year-old girl and her trials and tribulations. From the instant, Angela Chase (Claire Danes) dyed her blonde locks a bright red, this teen angst series earned its place in the annals of television. Audiences were captivated by the rising star’s performance, and teenage girls swooned over the school’s gorgeous rebel-without-a-cause Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto). The show gave a voice to millions of young women who otherwise had none on network television, but unfortunately, due to low ratings (and several parental complaints about being too realistic), the series was canceled after one season. My So-Called Life has since been referred to as one of the ten best “one season” TV shows of all time and still lives in the collective minds of its fans.

Synopsis: Christmas arrives in Three Rivers, and it finds Rickie (Wilson Cruz) out on the street running away from his abusive uncle. The family Chases’ Christmas gets complicated when Angela’s anxious search for Rickie, aided by a mysterious homeless girl (Juliana Hatfield), leads her into the seedy underground warehouse inhabited by runaway kids.

mysocalledlifericky

Review

My So-Called Life often took a comic plot and subverted it by playing it for realistic drama, rather than just for laughs, but of all the 19 episodes of this short-lived teen drama, “So-Called Angels” is without a doubt the biggest tear-jerker. The episode opens with a whispery voice-over prayer, as Rickie Vasquez stumbles and falls along the cold winter snow – blood dripping from lips, his face battered and bruised. From Rickie, beaten, and alone, it quickly shifts to Juliana Hatfield, a homeless teen hipster with a guitar and the voice of, well, an angel. We’re just over a minute in, and the tone has been set for the upcoming 44 minutes – downright sentimental. The scene fades to white as a guitar plays the single notes of “Silent Night.” Gradually, the single notes of the guitar become the solitary keys of a piano. The camera pans downward and we fade into the Chase home.

If there was ever any evidence that the series played out like an After School Special, “So-Called Angels” would be the ultimate case study, complete with an actual PSA at the end, voiced by Wilson Cruz, for an organization which helps locate missing kids. Aside from existing as a solid stand-alone episode, it also kicked off one of the best subplots of the series: Rickie and his attempts to find a family. The show was notable for dealing with hot topics with relatively little melodrama. Some episodes often involve guns, drugs, sex and so on, but with the fifteenth entry, came the topic of child abuse and runaway teens. The episode remains both strong and current even today due to the then-and-still controversial subject matter and story elements. From the trials and tribulations of an openly gay character to the problems of child abuse and homeless youth, Winnie Holzman’s series doesn’t always paint a bright picture but it does present a truthful view of young America.

While the emotional force of this episode lies with Angela helping Rickie, there’s also a subplot about her two best friends: Rayanne (aiding a Holiday teen helpline) and Brian (dealing with his Holiday loneliness), who accidentally reach out to each other via a 1-800 number. Amidst the depressing, dark subject matter at the core of this sequence, come flashes of unexpected comedy (MSCL-style), culminating in one of the most awkward phone sex exchanges ever.

mscl-so-called-angels

Note: Fans of the show will notice that a scene that somberly recalls Brian and Rayanne’s Halloween night in the school basement, wherein Rayanne revealed a secret to Brian. Here, Brian unknowingly reveals his feelings to her.

The moral weight of So-Called Angels rests on Patty, Angela’s mother, who struggles to come to terms with her newfound knowledge of Rickie’s situation and then do “the right thing.” Her struggle is made clear by their transformation into one of the most loved Christmas icons, Ebenezer Scrooge. And let’s not forget Juliana Hatfield (the ghost of Christmas Eve), disappearing, reappearing and in general hammering home the message that any teen can end up a runaway, including Angela herself. It’s a heavy-handed focus on the issue no doubt, but somehow the execution works well against the backdrop of the Patty-Dickens storyline.

Note: Fans of the series will remember Angela already bumping into other class holiday-related characters (see the Halloween episode).

Back to Patty’s Christmas transformation: The first challenge comes from Angela, when she asks why the family doesn’t go to church, and whether her parents believe in God. It’s an interesting way to examine how a religious holiday has become a consumer event, even within the household of two self-described spiritual parents. The second test Patty endures comes when she shows little concern that the Krakow family left Brian home alone on Christmas while taking off on a holiday vacation. The third confrontation comes when Rickie arrives at their house looking for comfort and shelter and Patty outright refuses Angela’s request to let him stay the night. Graham then challenges her by asking if it would be any different if it were Brian instead of Rickie. Just as Scrooge is visited by three spirits which challenged his understanding of the world, so has Angela’s mom.

mysocalledlife-socalledangels

The multi-layered characters in My So-Called Life were easily the highlight of each episode, but the show also offered top of the line production values. Keep in mind the pilot, as well as this episode, was directed by Scott Winant, who would go on to helm episodes of Breaking Bad  The direction is disciplined, and the sharp editing deserves special mention, as transitions often appear seamless. Juliana Hatfield’s ghostly sequences drift freely in most cases, creating a dreamlike pace and a smooth story flow. Charlie Lieberman’s photography here tops any of the other series’ entries and composer W.G.  Walden crafts a number of organic, poignant music cues that work well with the Holiday spirit. From the percussion-driven moments of heightened drama to quieter, more reflective sequences, the music sets the episode’s tone incredibly well.

Mushy and sentimental, perhaps, but one can’t diminish the overall effect this heartwarming tribute to the true Christmas spirit has. This holiday classic is worth an annual viewing – a truly classic, timeless episode, and one of the few that never grows old.

“Remember, folks: no man is a failure who has friends.”

Overall, “So-Called Angels” is without a doubt one of the all-time great Christmas specials, from what might be considered one of the “best shows ever”.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

Combine the story, the message, and the take on A Christmas Carol, and it’s easy to see that this is 100% Chrismassy.

Who’s it for

Everyone.

Other observations:

As Patty and Graham converse in their bedroom, the television silently runs It’s a Wonderful Life. Their faces are framed alongside the TV set in such a way that Jimmy Stewart is practically standing in the room with them. The scene from the classic Holiday film is the sequence in which George Bailey out of desperation, prays for help. By setting up this shot, director Scott Winant foreshadows the presence of Angela’s guardian angel – Hatfield. She is to Angela what Clarence is to George Bailey. These juxtapositions continue throughout the episode. A second example comes later in the Chase home when the television is showing the scene from Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol where the philanthropists have come to solicit donations from Scrooge. We don’t get to hear Scrooge’s response, but Patty’s reaction speaks volumes when she outright rejects Angela’s invitation to have Rickie and the mysterious girl, over for Christmas dinner. The scene establishes the complete transformation of Patty into Scrooge.

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The Expanse Season Four Episode 2 Review: “Jetsam”

The Expanse’s fourth season inches forward in another captivating episode.

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The Expanse Jetsam

“So what do we got here?”

Miller’s inquisitiveness isn’t just a reminder of the show’s noir-ish roots; it’s an important framing device for “Jetsam,” an hour of The Expanse‘s characters and governments sizing each other up, poking at the edges to see what holds and what bends. And like the ancient structures Holden ends up unleashing at the end of the episode, it’s clear there is just something a little off, an unexpected wrinkle that keeps two sides of every conflict just out of arm’s reach.

Like Naomi, The Expanse is gaining density quickly; whether it will be quick enough is yet to be seen, though these first two hours leave me quite confident in both to pull through.

The ancient, towering structures sitting on Ilus prove to be a powerful metaphorical device, along with being a fascinating mystery to unlock: centered around the idea of unexpected wrinkles, everything in “Jetsam” is not exactly what it appears on first glance. Bobbie’s invitation to Avasarala’s peace-making dinner, Naomi’s slow adjustment to a new atmosphere, and Multry’s demeanor are but a few examples of the subtle shifts and turns “Jemsat” holds under its surface.

The Expanse Jetsam

But perhaps this episode’s approach to storytelling is best exemplified by Avasarala; when we first see her sitting and holding a conversation, it is assumed she’s still on Earth somewhere. But then she stands up, grabs a pen out of mid-air, and smiles as she thinks about Amos teaching her about using mag-boots; the wrinkles are simple, and disposed of quickly, but they’re nonetheless effective narrative devices to unify its universe-traversing plot.

The disparate parts of “Jetsam” follow this basic blueprint: Klaes guiding Camina to understand their purpose outside the ring, Bobbie being dismissed by her Martian counterparts as a disgrace, Miller’s curiosity about a root obstructing the mysterious function of the ancient alien tower… everything in “Jetsam” flows through this idea of subversion, and it makes for a rewarding – if meticulously slow-paced – episode spring to life in its few truly dramatic moments.

But “Jetsam” is not just narrative winks and literary masturbation; with characters like Naomi and Bobbie, it is more than capable enough of delivering powerful personal stories among the larger ideas and stories it hints towards. Naomi and Bobbie form a strong foundation for the episode, two women whose sacrifices aren’t being rewarded by the powers that be; Bobbie is basically condoned as a traitor on Mars, while Naomi’s cardiovascular system can’t keep up with her ambitions of experiencing a terrestrial’s life.

Like Naomi, Bobbie is able to stay focused on the horizon in front of her, driven by her inherent nobility (and ability to effectively beat the shit out of anyone, physically or verbally) – but both are being rejected by the places they’re trying to settle in, abstracting The Expanse‘s everlasting fascination with the various sociopolitical and biological forces that drive us as a species.

The Expanse Jetsam

The rest of “Jetsam” is no slouch, an hour particularly focused on the women of The Expanse, only occasionally wandering to let its audience marinate in the Miller/Holden dynamic, moments of supernatural noir that coalesce with the episode’s smaller moments in brilliant ways. Another great parallel can be found in Camina and Avasarala’s attempts to forge forward in their respective duties, struggling to find positive ways to assess the dire situations in front of them.

With ships of refugee belters stranded around the ring, violent pirates are having their way picking through the easy targets waiting on the intergalactic shores; the UNN, as it is often want to do, stagnates on making a decision on what to do with both the refugees, their own disillusioned society – and now, the settlers of Ilus, claiming a planet as their own right under the government’s noses.

Though I don’t expect Kaels to walk off the job like Avasarala’s Home Secretary did, there is definitely a shared uncertainty between them, the gnawing sensation that their pessimistic instincts are leading them in the right direction; a direction ripe with moral conflict, that may find them both fighting against their own people to keep the stalemate going long enough to figure out what’s really going on.

The Expanse Jetsam

So what is really going on? Besides Amos immediately… well, settling in with an Ilus local, “Jetsam” continues to keep the larger picture a bit fuzzy. A few things are made clear: Murtry’s landing was a work of sabotage, and the ancient tower’s inoperable state was due to nature playing the saboteur; in short, everything in Ilus already appears to be pretty fucked, and Earth and Mars haven’t even started claiming their space rights on it yet (how many episodes until someone utters the phrase “manifest destiny”?).

Another way to look at “Jetsam” through its strange opening sequence is where “Miller” frustratingly details its attempt to “see if something clicks”; outside of the crew of the Rocinante, most characters are just running around trying to shove squares into circular pegs to see if something sparks. The aptly-named Sojourner, after spending 13 weeks waiting patiently in space, falls victim to these ambitious attempts to find connection: they make it through the ring, but as corpses floating through the core of the ring, reduced to a byproduct of UNN’s attempts to establish space domination in a place it doesn’t understand, and is too afraid to actually explore.

The Expanse Jetsam

Given that it’s a ten episode season, it’s not surprising to see The Expanse already linking together its many strands of story and character spread across its vast universe; it is an impressive balancing act, one that’s able to ebb and flow between the personal and political – and at times, even veer sharply into violence, whether it be Murtry’s murder of an aggressive belter or Naomi’s body rejecting her attempts to speedily acclimate to living on a planet, instead of a rock spinning through space. Like Naomi, The Expanse is gaining density quickly; whether it will be quick enough is yet to be seen, though these first two hours leave me quite confident in both to pull through.

Other thoughts/observations:

a few other ‘unexpected wrinkles’ in “Jetsam” I enjoyed: Amos letting someone take his drink, Alex’s crush turning out to be married, and Avasarala’s job offer to Bobbie (the Get Bobbie Back in Fuckin’ Space campaign is looking strong this week, folks!).

Even though the black feather shuireken weapons were made of proto-molecule material, the infection didn’t spread to anyone injured by then. Important – maybe?

I’m willing to bet we see Avasarala’s former colleague show up somewhere this season.

Fred Johnson? Fred Johnson? Fred Johnson??!!

Bobbie fucking up a bunch of drug dealers reminds me of season one adventures with Miller, getting into fights wherever he went.

The different aspect ratios for Ilus and everything else is jarring, though it does give the Ilus scenes a particular cinematic flair I can’t help but enjoy.

Avasarala remembering Amos teaching her how to use mag boots is a great little moment.

“I like the things you see, better than the ones I do.”

Where the hell is the Reverend Doctor? Did I miss that detail somewhere?

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The Mandalorian “Chapter Six: The Prisoner” Confronts Old Villainy and New Rebellion

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode Six Review: “Chapter Six: The Prisoner”

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Very minor spoilers ahead!

If this episode did not ooze of Dave Filoni’s earliest Clone Wars and late Rebels bounty hunting and pirate-infested heydays, then this is only the beginning of what’s to come. While it is not an episode that skyrockets the plot a whole lot further in the grand scheme of things, The Mandalorian “Chapter Six: The Prisoner” certainly delves deeper into the background of the title character as we see how he was previously involved with as Obi-Wan Kenobi would have put it “a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” before his more civilized days began.

While not exactly getting entirely back to what many people have been hoping to see after last week’s uninspired fillerish episode, “Chapter Six: The Prisoner”- directed by Rick Famuyiwa and co-written by Christopher Yost- heads for a clearer direction to what everyone wants to see and still holds on to all the reasons as to why The Mandalorian might just be one of the best shows of the year; tight and well-directed action, interesting characters, and gorgeous set-pieces that are on par with the Star Wars movies. This group of bounty hunters’ latest heist just might be one of the best episodes in the series so far.

“Chapter Six: The Prisoner” endures the path of both a standard and outlier episode as it proves that a strong focus on plot might not always be the most necessary aspect for some stories to walk away with a strong character narrative.

In pursuit of more work outside of the empire’s grasp, the Mandalorian finds himself arriving at the feet of his old criminal dealing ally Manzar “Ran” Ralk who is in need of a fifth person to run a newly assigned job. In desperation to earn whatever funds he can gather, Mando signs on to an unfair breakout rescue operation where to his surprise a team of his old partners and he have to infiltrate and free a former fellow bounty hunter by the name of Qin from a New Republic prison ship guarded by only defense droids. The human sharpshooter Mayfield, the untrustful droid Zero, a Devaronian named Burg, Xi’an the Twi’lek female, and of course Mando set off on his junk ship the Razor Crest to find Qin.

While “Chapter Six: The Prisoner” does not have a major overarching plot, this episode dives deeper into the past of the Mandalorian himself as we get to hear how he used to operate with groups of rag-tag scoundrel bounty hunters such as those present before his ethics and ideologies took a drastic turn down the line. It is by far one of the deepest character-driven episodes in a while and it never shies away from opening up Mando’s past through the other characters’ hatred and distaste towards him. Mando constantly remains silent like a protagonist in an old-western film, but he consistently establishes his higher status in the room as he looks down on everyone and repeatedly out-smarts them through both words and combat.

The bounty hunters are quite unorthodox compared to the batch that has been shown so far in the previous episodes. Without spoilers, each character in the group is uniquely developed in their own way as we see how they interact with Mando and even The Child. The members of the group clearly have it out for him as whenever he is in danger they choose not to help, disagree with the majority of his personal methods, and they even attempt to crack some humorous jokes at him every now and then as they take aim at Mandalorian religious practices such as never removing their helmets- you know your fate will not end well if you compare a Mandalorian to a Gungan! All four of them are deeply characterized and hit the sweet spots of showtime even if they may just be one-time appearances.

The tension between Mando and his former allies always remains at the roof throughout the episode which ultimately establishes and builds a more intriguing cast of characters that I’m sure no one would mind if they returned for another episode or two down the line in some form. Xi’an makes an effort to flirt with Mando, Zero proclaims himself above him due to his droid intelligence, Burg attempts to use his height to show dominance, and so on. This group of bounty hunters is without a doubt the most memorable cast of characters to show up in any episode so far. Compared to the last five chapters, “The Prisoner” takes a major leap in the right direction when it comes to satisfying build-up and delivery. You can clearly get a better idea of how the Mandalorian has developed as a character before the beginning events of “Chapter One” took place because of how the bounty hunters interact with him here.

Viewers prone to epilepsy should be warned for this episode that there is a ton of flashing lights, specifically within the last fifteen minutes of the episode. Cinematography and directorial wise, these sequences are incredibly well put together and are taken advantage of on several occasions when it comes to incorporating action, but I would not be honest if I did not admit it will be difficult for some viewers to watch for its entirety. If you easily attract headaches from these types of sequences or once again are prone to epilepsy, this is just a heads up but do not worry since this segment does not last for that long. Nonetheless, it results in one of the highlight sequences of the episode- dare I say the series.

Speaking of, the most notable part about this episode is by far the close centered action that never disappoints. The Mandalorian has always contained engaging action, but there is nothing sweeter then Star Wars close range firefight sequences. Due to the setpieces focusing on smaller corridors and tight spaces within the prisoner ship, the action sequences remain extremely compact and close up. While Mando gets to flash some flames, fire some blasters, and even use his satisfying wrist rocket tools, everyone this episode gets a shot to throw some punches and lasers. Even The Child- or better known as Baby Yoda- gets a hand in the action as he has a humorous cat and mouse chases with Zero inside the interior of the Razor Crest.

“Chapter Six: The Prisoner” is without question overall one of the least involved episodes in the overarching plot of the series so far for season one, but that does not automatically strike it down as an uninteresting narrative. It continually aims to provide more insight into the past of Pedro Pascal’s unnamed softy Mandalorian character who we truly do not know too much about- a subject that I’m sure the show will continue to delve deep into as it proceeds to find a stronger footing. As per usual, when it comes to action, design, and character development, this episode is The Mandalorian rightfully showing off at its absolute peak. The sheer amount of passion and high-quality production values are never shy out from making themselves outstanding. This episode will only make viewers even more excited for whatever comes next in the final two chapters of season one.

Other Thoughts/Observations

Composer Ludwig Goransson adds a new sci-fi remix to the western roots of The Mandalorian theme for the opening title and it comes off as nothing but welcoming. The phenomenal original score for this series keeps snowballing into Star Wars music that proves that it is in no need of John Williams- although it certainly would be incredible to have him guest star for a score down the line.

The New Republic should be noticing that they are in need of better defenses in the future as their defense droids were as useful as clanker cannon fodder from the days of the clone wars even though they were able to put up somewhat of a fight when the bounty hunters first dropped in.

By far one of the most admirable cameos in the series so far was not actually a reemerging veteran character in the episode but rather renowned Star Wars television writers and executive producers Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, and Deborah Chow who starred as the X-Wing pilots during the New Republic’s attack run. Matt Lantern, the voice of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, also plays the doomed rebel guard on the prisoner’s vessel at the halfway point of the episode.

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