Category Archives: TV Review

SurrealEstate

[3 stars]

If you’d passed me a description of this show (which is essentially Ghostbusters meets any of a dozen house-flippers shows) I’d have laughed it off as a joke. As it turns out, George Olson’s creation for SyFy actually has some solid legs. It isn’t perfect, but there are interesting characters, some longer arcs, and snappy writing.

Like most good shows, a lot of the success comes down to the chemistry of the actors. From the outset, the cast feels like they belong together. And even when Sarah Levy (Schitt’s Creek) joins them in the first episode, providing us a way into their world, she fits in with the energy and style perfectly.

The stories are often rushed, but rarely entirely straight-forward. Tim Rozon (Wynonna Earp), at the agency’s helm, manages a massive transformation from his Schitt’s Creek days. But, more importantly, he makes sullen and broken work. He carries a real sense of history with him about his life and his agency.  And that agency is filled out with a bevy of odd misfits. From Savannah Basley (Wynonna Earp) on the front desk to Maurice Dean Wint (Hedvig and the Angry Inch, Cube) and Adam Korson (Female Brain) working the tech and research. Each carrying their own baggage. With Tennille Read (and yes, she also did Schitt’s) providing an ongoing relationship and anchor for Rozon, the gang tackle (house)monsters-of-the-week that all add up to a larger truth.

You may have noticed some crossover in background in the cast (also true on the writing and directing). I’d love to find out who brought who in from where at some point, but it definitely illustrates the size of the Canadian acting community.

You may have passed on this show initially based on its odd description. If you have, go back to it. It has humor and horror, and, most importantly, characters worth investing in. Hopefully they can secure and pull off a second series, but that decision hasn’t been made yet.

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Reservation Dogs

[4 stars]

As a Kiwi, co-creator and writer Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) is both the most unlikely match for this new series about Oklahoma reservation life, and the perfect choice. If you’ve ever seen his first film, Boy, or even his more recent Hunt for the Wilderpeople, you can see how the same experiences and sensibilities inform this new series. (And if you haven’t seen these earlier films, you should.) Along with Sterlin Harjo the two have created a devastatingly funny and honest look at reservation life. That there should be that much commonality across the globe for indigenous populations is a sad matter for a much longer discussion. Though, to be fair, Waititi’s name is how this show probably got done and most of this show is from Harjo’s experience. But Waititi’s influence is hard to miss.

The story of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous peoples is starting to get more screen time in varying forms. Where Rutherford Falls tries to provide a somewhat split view of life both on and off a reservation, Reservation Dogs dives deep on the reservation side. So deep it barely comes up for air. And unlike Mohawk Girls it’s all a bit more serious, though neither show shies away from some of the deeper truths. And Reservation Dogs tackles growing up on the res rather than the result of that as an adult, giving it a very different viewpoint.

At the core of the series is a collection of young actors, all of whom manage to grab you and make you care. Devery Jacobs(Rutherford Falls), D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, and Paulina Alexis are an unlikely group thrown together by circumstance, but devoted to one another until an event starts to fracture their friendship. Entry into their world is difficult to watch at times, but as the series continues it becomes less bleak. And there are plenty of more seasoned faces throughout the series as well helping buoy it along.

Another wonderful aspect of the series is how it incorporates the culture both in storyline and on screen. It isn’t all strictly mundane, but the magical/mythical aspects aren’t seen as anything but part of the world. Part of the series’ real success is how deeply it drops you into this culture and dark realities (and inferred causes). This is a series really worth investing in and it’s already been renewed, so it won’t be a lost investment either.

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Godzilla: Singular Point

[3 stars]

Who would have thought they could find a new Godzilla tale to tell rather than remake after remake (however clever)? Singular Point is an amusingly complex tale of hyperspace, quantum physics, cryptology…and Kaiju. What more can you want in an entertaining anime? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it does have fun getting there and trying to explain it. And it has the one of the best weapon names every put forth in this genre.

I will admit that I watched the first episode and walked away for several weeks. There was something intriguing there, but I was worried it was going to just devolve into silly, overdone tropes. After I came back, they proved those assumptions very wrong. This is a very different tale of Godzilla, and a very different sort of battle for the planet.

This first series is fairly self-contained. If you watch through the final credits, there is a coda that opens it up for a follow-on story. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but given this last round, I’d give them a chance to pull me back in again.

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Motherland: Fort Salem (series 2)

[ 3 stars]

I can’t say the first series of this show did more than intrigue me. The ideas were interesting, if illogically constructed at times, and the writing spotty, at best. But they had gathered a good bunch of talent and there was an inkling of complexity that brought me back for series 2.

Fortunately they upped their game in this second round and reworked some of their logic (without apology) to create a topical and suspenseful story. The writing still isn’t perfect, but the character development expanded considerably and several mysteries are explained. However, to be honest, the writing still has some real problems, including a “surprise ending” that is anything but. However, there is also plenty to chomp on and commit to.

When the usual offerings on the use of magic are something more soapy like Discovery of Witches, this more action-and-suspense oriented storyline is welcome. Like Warrior Nun it also puts women at the center of power and story. Of course, like that it’s also referencing a clear threat of patriarchy, but that’s unavoidable. And, fortunately, it is all subtext rather than direct.

If you haven’t tried the show out yet, give a crack. The improvements in the second series give me hope for the upcoming third, which promises to be full of even more action and intrigue.

Brand New Cherry Flavor

[3 stars]

It’s hard to turn away from this unexpectedly magical, dark, and twisted Hollywood-meta horror ride. It not only echoes so much of what has come before (and current affairs), but builds its own mythos and little corner of hell. And Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) and Catherine Keener (Incredibles 2) are wonderfully matched as they share and spar.

It’s also easy to see why both of these women took on their roles. Salazar gets to grow up and command the screen. Keener (Incredibles 2) took the challenge of trying to make the truly weird and fantastical into something accessible and believable. And she rides that line beautifully.

There are a few men playing in their world. Jeff Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as a naif pulled into the maelstrom and Eric Lange (Wind River) as the catalyst and Weinstein stand-in. But one of the more unexpected, though his role is rather small, was Manny Jacinto (The Good Place, Nine Perfect Strangers). Jacinto proves again what a chameleon he is; every role his sense of age, even of height, seem malleable.

If you like the weird and dark, The ride of Cherry Flavor is worth every minute you get to spend with it. It’s sense of dread and magic, power and control as it all shifts and is explained is compelling. The ending…well, let’s just say they wimped out. Yes, it sort of completes, but they left it wide open for a sequel. Honestly, I would have preferred a solid ending. But that is only the last few minutes of an 8 episode dark epic that grabbed me and pulled me along, even against my will at times. It isn’t for everyone, but it is very well crafted and wonderfully acted.

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Missions (series 2)

[3 stars]

After the first round of this French sci-fi, my teeth were gnashing. Not because it wasn’t intriguing or even good, but because it was so incomplete and left on such a cliffhanger that it was frustrating. However, it also laid out several mysteries that even 3 years later were still fresh in my head and still demanded to be solved.

Fortunately, this second series of the high-concept show answers most of the open questions. It certainly does so while exposing some more, but it is definitely more complete. There are also no truly standout performances. Everyone is fine and no one is uncredible, unlike the first series. But the newest face in the saga, Barbara Probst, comes close to delivering something a cut above the others.

The third, and final, season of 5 episodes has wrapped filming and may (I stress may) show up before the end of the year. So this particular tale shouldn’t be left hanging like so many other stories of its ilk. It is definitely worth your time if you want something with a bit more meta to it and with some serious philosophical questions.

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Baptiste (series 2)

[3 stars]

The first round of this spin-off mystery was satisfying but left our title character in a dark place. Tchéky Karyo returns in a second round to wrap-up his story in this evil and bitter little confection to more properly send off his weary detective. Which isn’t to say that the way isn’t open for more stories at the end, but it rounds out his arc very nicely and wouldn’t be harmed by being left alone from here on out.

But, that said, he has at least one more missing person to find. And Fiona Shaw (Ammonite) joins Karyo to drive the story as an immensely flawed and broken human. Her missteps are often frustrating, but they are at least consistent. The story itself is both timely and profoundly disturbing. Told primarily in French, English, and Hungarian, we navigate the rising tide of the far right in Hungary as the backdrop to this case.

Joining the main duo, the Hungarian actors Dorka Gryllus, Gabriella Hámori, Miklós Béres and the well-known English character actor Ace Bhatti provide background and side plots.

Baptiste lives in a world of trafficking, hate, drugs, and loss. If it weren’t that challenging, anyone could do what he does. But at what cost? And that is the crux of this second series. What has he sacrificed and what can he recover of his life with Anastasia Hille (Pembrokeshire Murders) after the last case and because of this current? This is the focus of the latest six episodes and, with some minorly frustrating choices, it navigates it all quite well.

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Intergalactic (series 1)

[3 stars]

You might have missed this bit of British scifi that dropped recently. It would have been easy to as it only appears to be on Peacock at the moment. And having seen it I can say that I so wanted to like this more than I did. There are some great ideas in Intergalactic, but it is also more than a little forced and generic and just a bit cliché. Though, honestly, it got better as it went along. You really just have to grit your teeth through the first episode and go along for the ride.

What helps is that the actors really give it their all, committing to the world and the relationships, which helps carry it through. There is no sense of a nod-and-a-wink about the genre. Savannah Steyn (The Tunnel) is our connection into the story, and while everyone has a plot to follow, hers is the core. Among the motely crew, Eleanor Tomlinson (War of the Worlds, The Nevers) is the real standout. However, the brutal and brutalized Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Years and Years, Sex Education) certainly throws down and has an unexpected arc. New comers Diany Samba-Bandza and Imogen Daines add in quite a bit as well, especially as they bounce Thomas Turgoose (Terminal). Wild cards in the crew are Natasha O’Keeffe (Misfits) and Oliver Coopersmith who are both tacked onto the gang in uncomfortable ways.

Running things from the home planet are Parminder Nagra (Five Feet Apart) and Craig Parkinson (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). Both recognizable and capable, but not really with much to do here beyond gnawing furniture. I will say that Nagra gets to play a rather deeply cold security head, however.

The production, sadly, is so intensely claustrophobic and Doctor Who-quarry level design at times that it gets a bit wearying. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some nice effects as well. But everywhere other than the ruling class is filthy to the point of absurdity in a high tech universe. And the elements driving the plot are just a little too buried and take a while to come into focus. All that said, should they get another round I’d like to see where they could take it now that they’ve laid the foundation and the bigger tensions bare. However, that doesn’t appear likely anymore. A shame they didn’t have better writers to help launch this potentially rich universe.

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Home Before Dark (series 1 & 2)

[3.5 stars]

Though based on a real story, this is the Nancy Drew update that we really needed and deserved, as opposed to the silly supernatural weirdness the CW served up. And Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) is the perfect embodiment of that literary staple. She balances a truly adult drive with the inexperience and naiveté of a young tween who sees the world as the simple place we all wish it were. And through that, and despite her struggles, comes away with a resolve that provides an example for all those around her.

There are some wonderful supporting roles around Prince. And without them, she could not have succeeded, but this is her show through and through, despite the subplots and deep personal tragedies that unfold over the first two seasons.

Among those adding the scaffolding, Michael Greyeyes (Rutherford Falls), Jim Sturgess (Hard Sun), Reed Birney, Abby Miller, Aziza Scott, and particularly her young, fellow detectives Deric McCabe (A Wrinkle in Time) and Jibrail Nantambu stand out over the 20 episodes as her drivers and supporters.

Series creator Dara Resnik never loses sight of the core of what makes this series work: it’s unending optimism in the face of opposition and complacency. Which isn’t to say it’s Pollyannaish, it most certainly is not. Though some of the plot jumps along a bit too easily and quickly, it does so in service to the wide audience it is aimed at and to be able to cover as much ground as possible in each 10 episode series.

The first two seasons are a nicely interlaced diptych. And, at the end of it all, there is an indication of the way forward. I went into this show with a huge dollop of uncertainty, but it won me over almost instantly and carried me with it through to the end of this most recent season. I definitely recommended it for older kids, but there is plenty in there for adults, especially parents, who have many plotlines of their own running in parallel.

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Schmigadoon

[4 stars]

This wonderful anti-musical is a riot of satire and wry humor. The more you know classic musicals the funnier it is, but knowing is not required. Not since Galavant has anyone really tried to tackle this vein of humor and production. And even those who hate musicals have found joy in the show, because it makes fun of the format as much as committing to it fully. And at only 30 minutes each, no episode is too long to support the joke.

It also doesn’t hurt that the cast of this crazy production is a glorious collection of singing powerhouses. Giving any of them away sort of spoils the surprises. But it’s all held together by the love story of Keegan Michael-Key (The Prom) and Cecily Strong (The Female Brain), an unlikely power couple from NYC trying to save their relationship.

Go for the fun and absurdity of it all, but stay for the very real sense of emotion it leaves you with. Barry Sonnenfeld (Nine Lives) gave us six episodes that traverse a landmine of clichés without a single miss-step. Go visit Schmigadoon and embrace its silly wonderfulness and biting wit.

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