Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Saturday

7

December 2019

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 5

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Part of what made last week’s Chapter 4 such a great episode was the simple fact that the show had finally left its initial planet, which we now know is called Navarro. Plenty of recaps, including this one, wondered if that planet was Tatooine, owing to the desert climate and presence of Jawas. “Chapter 5” features the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda arriving on Star Wars’ most iconic planet, a moment that felt weirdly robbed of its potential impact.

There’s a running joke in the Star Trek fandom that revolves around how there’s seemingly endless planets in the universe, but they all look like the same pile of rocks. Obviously there’s a reason for this. Sets are expensive and deserts are easy to create. The Mandalorian is an expensive show, with episodes costing upwards of 15 million dollars apiece to make.

From an audience perspective, cost is a difficult thing to gauge. Shows like Game of Thrones and The Crown clearly look expensive due to their lavish sets and costumes, something that certainly holds true for The Mandalorian. With episode runtimes that barely go beyond a half hour and a palette of monotonous desert landscapes, it can be sometimes hard to be all that impressed with the scale of this show.

Chapter 5 – The Gunslinger further solidifies The Mandalorian as “The Baby Yoda Show.” Each episode feels fairly self-contained in nature, focusing on either protecting the adorable baby or fixing Mando’s ship. For now, that formula has generally produced satisfying television.

This episode felt fairly small in nature. Perhaps some of that has to do with the empty Mos Eisely Cantina, which now allows droids. We see a cute R5 unit inside, along with a bartender who looks like EV-9D9, who worked in Jabba’s palace overseeing the torture of other droids.

The pit droids that worked for Peli Motto were a nice throwback to The Phantom Menace, though it’s unclear why The Mandalorian wouldn’t let them work on his ship. Similarly implausible is the idea that he’d leave Baby Yoda on the ship alone.

There had to be some level of trust toward Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto in order to leave him there in her general vicinity, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense. This situation does lead to Peli asking her droids to fetch Baby Yoda something to eat, an adorable sequence. A spinoff where Peli simply babysits Baby Yoda would totally work.

Toro Calican is a strong contender for worst character of the season. Jake Cannavale does a decent job with the arrogant wannabe bounty hunter, but he’s an annoying character. That might explain why Mando decided to toss over his binoculars to the Tusken Raiders instead of simply shooting them, an approach he took with the Jawas back in Chapter 2. Thankfully we won’t have to see any more of Toro moving forward.

Fennec Shand is a character who will likely be quite important to The Mandalorian moving forward. For now, this was a fairly weak introduction. Mando and she clearly have a lot of history, but Toro’s presence in the narrative hindered any exploration of this dynamic. Ming-Na Wen was fun to watch, but this episode didn’t really give her any time to shine.

Does anybody on Tatooine need water? It’s a desert planet with two suns, yet Mando and Toro were all too content to sit outside all day in the sun with no shade, and no Camelback. Maybe Mando’s helmet has air conditioning.

This episode had a lot of fan service. From the mention of Coreillian-quality ships to Mando’s “no good to us dead” line, a throwback to Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back, some were quite easy to pick up on. Most impressive was when Toro remarked, “Who wouldn’t want to be a legend?” to Shand, quite likely a reference to Ming-Na Wen’s status as a Disney Legend.

Chapter 5 was easily the weakest of the show, an episode mostly salvaged by Amy Sedaris’ lively performance. Her relationship with Mando felt oddly organic for the small amount of time they’d spent together, and her affection for Baby Yoda was palpable. It’s too bad she couldn’t join Mando for the rest of the season.

The end of the episode hinted at what’s in store for the remaining three episodes, with an unknown figure approaching Shand out in the desert. It seems likely that this person is Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon, who was announced for the season but hasn’t appeared yet. After a collection of mostly self-contained episodes, hopefully we’ll see a villain who sticks around for a while. This show can’t rest on Baby Yoda’s laurels forever.

 

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Friday

6

December 2019

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Dollface Is a Charming Comedy Hindered by a Bland Premise

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The premise for a show like Dollface is certainly one to earn a lot of eye-rolls. The world hardly needs another narrative of affluent millennials being sad in Los Angeles. This situation is perhaps slightly exacerbated by the presence of Esther Povitsky, whose own show about being affluent and sad in Los Angeles, the hilarious Alone Together, was tragically cancelled last year. Despite the familiar territory, Dollface works largely because Kat Dennings and the core cast are such a joy to watch.

Dennings portrays Jules, a woman dumped by her longtime boyfriend Jeremy (Connor Hines) for seemingly no reason. With Jeremy at the center of her social life, Jules gets back into contact with her old college friends Madison (Brenda Song) and Stella (Shay Mitchell) who begrudgingly take her back into their circle. Povitsky rounds out the main cast as Izzy, a socially awkward coworker of Jules who often provides most of the episode’s laughs.

Dollface includes many surrealist sequences, usually involving Jules talking with an anthropomorphic cat. The writing for the show is a bit of a mixed bag, superb when it comes to writing jokes but far less effective at plot progression. Most of the gems in the ten-episode season can be found in the middle, with fewer obligations to deal with Jules’ broader narrative.

At times, the narrative is pretty frustrating. There’s a few episodes that focus on plots that have been beaten to death by too many other shows this decade, providing superficial commentary on the nature of adult friendship. The show doesn’t quite realize that it doesn’t really have to return to the premise of its pilot.

To some extent, it’s natural that a show like Dollface would try and exist as something more than a comedy. Trouble is, the show is mostly just good for its jokes. Not every series needs to exist in the realm of “dramedy.” It’s okay to just to be funny.

For a show about adult friendships, the show misses a key aspect of these kinds of relationships. Sure, there’s support involved, but these group dynamics are inherently fleeting in nature. You’re not supposed to build your adult life around your friend group, because sooner or later, people start to move on. Life is fleeting. Enjoy the fun while it lasts.

Weekly sitcoms that produce upwards of twenty episodes a year tend to understand this dichotomy a lot better. These shows exist to supply moments of enjoyment for small portions of our overall lives. Like adult friendships, they’re not supposed to be the center of anyone’s universe, and it is pretty sad when they do.

Dollface is a show that launched 10 episodes on a single day out of the year. Much like old college friends you see once or twice a year, it’s not supposed be a big part of your life. Instead of trying to offer life lessons or superficial comedy, Dollface should stick to the laughs. Not everything needs to be more than a couple hours of lighthearted fun.

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Wednesday

4

December 2019

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Let It Snow Is a Fun Teen Christmas Movie

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The challenge facing a Christmas film like Let It Snow with an ensemble cast stems from the need to endear a bunch of characters to an audience within a ninety-minute runtime. This dynamic differs from that of its source material, a novel with significantly more opportunities to flesh out the personalities the audience is supposed to care about. Fortunately, the film proves up to the task, delivering a satisfying holiday narrative.

Let It Snow follows a few high schoolers as they spend Christmas Eve doing just about anything other than spending time with their families. Julie (Isabela Moner) struggles with her acceptance into Colombia University, feeling a need to care for her sick mother. A chance encounter with a pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore) provides the kind of clichéd drama that tends to dominate Christmas narratives.

Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is roped in to helping his childhood best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka), better known as the Duke, court a college boy JP (Matthew Noszka), despite his obvious feelings for her. A similar dynamic is on display at the local waffle diner, where Dorie (Liv Henson) tries to court a closeted cheerleader (Anna Akana), who won’t show her the time of day in public. Dorie’s life is made complicated by her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush), who harbors unhealthy feelings toward her boyfriend. Rounding out the primary cast is Keon (Jacob Batalon), just about the only person in the country who thinks it’s a good idea to throw a party on Christmas Eve.

Let It Snow is a very silly movie with a lot of heart, nailing the holiday formula with strong production values and an impressive young cast. The characters have a lot of backstory that doesn’t always translate well to the film, but the young actors do a great job conveying their emotions. The film probably bites off more than it can chew from a plot perspective, but it juggles its many storylines well.

Perpetually present is the notion that this film represents a minute sliver of these characters’ potentials. You could almost see the plotlines of Let It Snow serving as a television series’ Christmas episode, a slice of life narrative that was undoubtedly better fleshed out in print. The themes will undoubtedly resonate with high school audiences, who aren’t always well-represented in Christmas narratives.

Plenty of holiday movies use ensemble approaches, a difficult dynamic to balance considering the audience will likely only spend 90 minutes with these characters. As with any film, there’s obviously more to these people’s stories, but most successful narratives manage to put that idea out of the audience’s minds. The characters in Let It Snow could probably make for a fun follow-up series, albeit one we’re unlikely to see.

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Sunday

1

December 2019

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Captures the Essence of Fred Rogers

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t’s not very complicated to understand the continued appeal of Fred Rogers in the year 2019, close to two decades after his death. In an era defined by noise and distraction, the quiet nature of Mister Rogers’ show offers a calming presence to ease one’s anxiety. My partner and I have a Sunday morning tradition of watching an episode Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood each week, which are still offered on the show’s website, finding that the morals he preaches still resonate even in adulthood. His method of directly addressing the audience still carries the feel that he’s speaking to old friends, his millions of television neighbors.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood focuses more on the idea of Fred Rogers than the man himself. The narrative is centered around Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in his efforts to profile Mister Rogers. Vogel, a new parent, harbors immense resentment for his own father (Chris Cooper). Vogel is fairly disliked at work, mainly by the subjects of his pieces, and his dedication to his career is putting a strain on his marriage.

Tom Hanks is a decent Fred Rogers, capturing the essence of the man’s message though falling a bit short on his intonations. He sounds less like Fred Rogers than Tom Hanks doing a Fred Rogers imitation. This dynamic is most apparent when the film tries to recreate the actual Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show.

The Neighborhood sets are beautifully reconstructed, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a bit sloppy on the actors’ delivery. Hanks speaks far too fast for Fred Rogers, who used a softer, contemplative tone when addressing his television neighbors. There’s also a scene where Lady Aberlin moves right past the trolley in the Neighborhood of Make Believe without saying hello, something that never would have happened on the actual show. Of the three actors used in Neighborhood recreations, only Daniel Krell’s Mr. McFeely truly nails the character.

Granted, most of the adult audience watching the film will not sit down in the theatre with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fresh in the minds. Hanks is far more effective as Rogers when communicating with Vogel. His expressions and quiet responses to Vogel’s intrusive lines of questioning give the audience the Rogers they came for, a patient man ready to make the world a little less scary.

The choice of narrative may seem a bit puzzling for people who simply want a movie full of Fred Rogers, but the film demonstrates why Mister Rogers is hardly suited for the role of film protagonist. Main characters in movies have conflict. Fred Rogers enjoys one of the most spotless reputations of any American Icon, a living saint, as the movie itself admits. No one wants to see an angry Fred Rogers.

Matthew Rhys does a great job in the lead role, unsurprisingly shining most in scenes without Hanks. Susan Kelechi Watson works well opposite Rhys as Vogel’s wife Andrea, and Cooper plays a compelling yet mostly detestable father. The film presents enough conflict to carry the movie narrative while deploying Hanks in a manner bound to keep audiences satisfied.

There are moments where the narrative feels almost too neatly constructed. Though based on a true story, the very fact that original Esquire journalist Tom Junod’s name was changed suggests the film takes plenty of dramatic liberties. That’s mostly okay when you consider that the film doesn’t really exist to provide a new perspective about Fred Rogers, but rather to present a bunch of feel-good moments.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a movie that understands what it’s supposed to do. Hanks is warm and engaging in the title role. The film gives plenty of good feelings, true to Mister Rogers’ message. While many biopics dramatize the past, this film succeeds through its devotion to the essence of its subject.

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Saturday

30

November 2019

0

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The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 4

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Note: This review contains spoilers

For a show with very little established narrative, it makes perfect sense that The Mandalorian would look to an established Western trope for its first episode on a new planet. The plotline of “gunslinger comes to rescue peaceful town from rogue bandits” has been played out time and time again, but there’s a good reason for that. It’s a very easy story to get behind.

Baby Yoda did a lot of walking this episode. It’s also clear from the use of “he” pronouns that the adorable creature is a male, or masculine identifying, character. It’s a little absurd that he walked around so much considering he’d been confined to his basinet for the other episodes, but that’s okay. The sight of Baby Yoda casually drinking soup while watching a brawl demonstrates the show’s keen understanding of its best asset.

Baby Yoda is the heart and soul of the show. He can provide great comedy as well as heart stopping moments, like when he was briefly in a bounty hunter’s cross hairs. Few television character can demonstrate such powerful emotion with only a few expressions.

As I’ve said in past reviews, part of this dynamic reflects the fact that the Mandalorian is a difficult protagonist to connect with. We don’t see his face and he doesn’t have a ton of conversations in the first three episodes. Chapter 4 explained a lot more about his backstory, mainly that he was adopted by the Mandalorians.

Mandalorian code forbids the removal of helmets. While that’s canon from a historical Star Wars perspective, it’s limiting from a character perspective. I imagine we’ll eventually see Pedro Pascal’s face, since there’s only so many times people can ask the character about this strange situation.

Cara Dune is a very fun character. Gina Carano did great work endearing herself to the audience in such a short amount of time, possessing a natural chemistry with the Mandalorian. Hopefully we get to see more of the shock trooper turned Rebellion fighter turned mercenary in the future.

Are we supposed be scared of a AT-ST? The bigger AT-AT walkers can certainly maintain their menacing nature since Empire Strikes Back, but the smaller AT-ST’s were pummeled by the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Why would the Mandalorian be afraid of something that can be destroyed with a sinkhole or a bunch of logs?

The whole training of the village was quite clichéd. The scenes didn’t really take away from anything else, though. At 41 minutes, the episode was the longest of the four. A couple more conversations with Cara and The Mandalorian probably would’ve been a smart move, since he’s had so few meaningful interactions with characters who can talk.

It’s unclear why the Mandalorian landed on Sorgan, which apparently has plenty of bad stuff going on. Not the greatest spot to lay low with Baby Yoda. He spent time wondering if Cara Dune was tracking him, but that shouldn’t necessarily matter. The fact that he ran into a mercenary buddy at a small forest café alone should be a good sign that it’s time to move on.

This episode presented compelling drama for the Mandalorian’s conflicted nature toward parenting Baby Yoda. Yes, the child would probably be better off safe somewhere in a village. No, the show is probably not going to take that route. It’d be pretty easy for the Mandalorian to ask someone like Cara about a safe family within the New Republic, even if he isn’t a fan of them in general. That would take Baby Yoda out the equation though, something that would cause the Internet to riot.

Chapter Four – Sanctuary was a very enjoyable episode. We’re still not 100% sure where the show is going in terms of a larger episode, but this installment delivered plenty of action and character development. As Baby Yoda has proved, a few key expressions can carry a whole episode, but the show isn’t simply riding off his cuteness.

We’re halfway through the season now. It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see some bigger narrative start to unfold until closer to the end, if ever. The Mandalorian has done a great job keeping the focus fairly episodic. The show doesn’t necessarily need a broader arc, but it’ll be interesting to see how Werner Herzog’s Client comes back into the picture. Until that happens, the weekly adventures of a single parent and his child are pretty fun.

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Tuesday

26

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

Frozen 2 Is an Entertaining Return Trip to Arendelle

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The massive global popularity of 2013’s Frozen made the idea of a sequel inevitable. As with most follow-ups, the question of whether or not the magic could be recaptured loomed heavily over the prospects for Frozen 2. The sheer number of memorable songs from the first trip to Arendelle set a fairly high bar that seemed almost impossible to top.

Frozen 2 never really feels like a movie trying to one-up its predecessor. Set against the backdrop of an autumn palette, aging is a predominant theme of the narrative. In this regard, the film wields the six year gap between installments to its advantage, using the timeless anxiety that many feel toward the passage of time to fuel a number of its songs.

The actual plot is a bit convoluted. Elsa and Anna’s grandfather was involved in a conflict with the tribe of Northuldra, which angered the elemental spirits who encased a forest with a mist that trapped everyone inside. In the present day, the spirits have a strange connection to Elsa, the only person able to hear them, leading the sisters, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven on an adventure to get to the bottom of the seemingly existential threat to Arendelle.

As complicated as that sounds, the story largely plays second fiddle to a number of other considerations, namely character development and musical numbers. The plot is largely obligatory, existing to provide a reason to spend more time with these characters. The core group is charming enough to carry the film on their own, aided by several interesting new characters.

The animation is unsurprisingly superb. The color scheme is absolutely beautiful, capturing the essence of autumn in a breathtakingly authentic manner. The animation is so powerful that it helps buoy the narrative through some of its lackluster sequences.

The songs are definitely not as catchy. To some extent, that’s to be expected. “Let It Go” is without a doubt Disney’s biggest musical success of the new millennium. Frozen 2 could be forgiven for failing to top that, but the songs are too narrative orientated in nature, making them much harder to remember.

Frozen 2 is an enjoyable film, though Elsa’s lack of romantic plotline would be more admirable if all of her songs didn’t make her sound like she was trying to come out of the closet. Part of this can be blamed on the vague nature of her conflict, leaving songs like “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” to present meaning in the absence of clarity. Children, particularly young girls, certainly need narratives that aren’t explicitly linked to their ability to find love.

Queerbaiting is an easy charge to levy at a company like Disney, which has hardly been leading the pack with regard to inclusivity. For the franchise that first introduced “Love is an Open Door” seemingly destined to become an LGBTQ anthem, Elsa’s sexuality is something that the film feels oddly comfortable playing footsie with. The situation is hardly helped by the fact that so much of Anna’s plotline is tied to her future with Kristoff. Young children likely won’t pick up on this dynamic, but as an adult it’s hard to ignore.

Frozen 2 isn’t as good as its predecessor, but it’s still a fun movie. The characters are endearing and the action sequences are quite well choreographed. Parents may rejoice at the idea that the songs aren’t likely to receive as much endless airtime.

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Tuesday

26

November 2019

0

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Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator Is a Lesson in the Dangers of Hero-Worshipping

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I first learned of Bikram Choudhury’s less than stellar reputation while I was doing yoga teacher training in 2012. Much of the general disdain for Bikram as a person stemmed from his efforts to copyright his signature sequence of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises, which is always taught in the exact same order. Bikram didn’t actually create any of the poses, and accounts from India suggest that the sequence wasn’t of his making either. Beyond that, his reputation for sexual harassment and climbing on his students, as well as his company’s stranglehold on studios that wish to teach Bikram yoga, led my teachers to recommend that we avoid any affiliation with his name.

The new documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator sheds light on the most egregious behavior from the founder of the craze that helped popularize yoga in America. The film includes many accounts from students and teachers with first-hand experience with Bikram, as well as many of his accusers. Through the narrative, a simple pattern emerges. Bikram is a grifter and a creep, a very talented one at that.

Though Bikram himself unsurprisingly does not appear in the documentary, archival footage from past interviews paints a compelling portrait of his character. Bikram chased wealth, and believed himself to be above any notion of consequence. He made his fortune through expensive teacher trainings and licensing his name to studios who wished to teach his practice.

Where the documentary is less effective is in explaining the simple fact that association with Bikram is a choice for yoga teachers, not a requirement with which one’s livelihood hangs in the balance. This puzzling dynamic is repeatedly on display throughout the documentary, particularly with interviewees who don’t have harassment allegations against Bikram. Many knew he was a bad guy and chose to remain affiliated with him anyway, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

These people could have opened up studios of their own, teaching practically any other style of yoga, incorporating all the poses that Bikram teaches, just as countless other studios do. Much of the narrative centers around why all the people stayed in this destructive clique, victims or otherwise. To some extent, it’s refreshing to see people unafraid to be openly conflicted about a man they’d put on a pedestal for so long.

There’s a certain urge to call the nature of the Bikram yoga circle messy, people who came together ostensibly to improve their own lives and their health. The documentary isn’t interested in differentiating sinners from saints, presenting the conflicted feelings of Bikram’s victims alongside those who remain devoted fans. For those who don’t want any part of that, there is, and always has been, alternative ways to practice yoga.

Bikram is a destructive force in the yoga world, but the documentary makes a compelling case that many of his followers aren’t particularly faithful to Krishnamacharya either. Plenty of people practice yoga to improve their lives. There are many who go to the studio simply to show off their beautiful bodies encased in expensive leggings. Viewers will undoubtedly be turned off to Bikram yoga as a style, but the broader takeaway should be to be cautious of those who practice yoga not out of mindfulness, but self-interest and greed.

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Saturday

23

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 3

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Note: this review contains spoilers

The breakout sensation that is Baby Yoda does not need much of an explanation. The audience knows absolutely nothing about this character, no name, no species, and certainly no backstory. None of that really matters since the character is one of the most adorable creatures in Star Wars history. There is perhaps another reason why this character has won over the hearts of so many in such a short period of time.

As a franchise, Star Wars evokes a lot of emotion from its fans. People passionately dissect every new minute of content entered into this canon for a very simple reason. They care.

The Mandalorian doesn’t give its viewers many outlets to channel that intense emotion. Its title character has yet to show his face. This isn’t a particularly dialogue-heavy show, dispensing character development in incredibly small doses. Baby Yoda captures the audience’s attention through its sheer cuteness, but also because there hasn’t been anything else presented to care about.

Chapter 3: The Sin was a very effective episode, delivering subtle nodes of character development while also establishing the clear arc of the narrative. Wisely, the show is doubling down on Baby Yoda, who won over the Mandalorian while playfully tampering with his ship’s controls. Every scene featuring Baby Yoda is like an instant endorphin rush.

The whole Mandalorian guild is a little silly, a bit too reminiscent of the Jedi Order. Why do all of these people wear their masks at all times? Don’t the insides start to smell?

At least we finally got a female character with a speaking role. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the first Star Wars live action installment directed by a woman. Deborah Chow did a great job with the episode, particularly with the framing of the action sequences.

Similarly silly was the idea that asking about the bounty is against the Mandalorian “code,” something that was brought up by both The Client and Greef Karga. It’s hardly outside the norm for a bounty hunter to be expected not to care about what happens after payday. There isn’t really a need to mythologize the taboo nature of his line of questioning.

There’s still five more episodes for the Mandalorian to show his face, but it would be a misstep for the show to go the whole season without this reveal. Boba Fett may not have taken off his helmet in the original trilogy, but his father did in Attack of the Clones. The difference between those two roles is that Boba Fett was barely even a character in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, on screen for barely more than five minutes. Here, the Mandalorian is a lead character.

This episode featured a couple fun Star Wars throwbacks. A super battle droid appeared in a flashback sequence from the Mandalorian’s childhood. Best of all was when a patron of the cantina uttered “echuta” at the Mandalorian in response to his success with the bounty, a line first spoken to C-3PO by a fellow protocol droid in Empire Strikes Back. “Echuta” is probably the closest we’ll ever get to Star Wars profanity.

Thankfully, the show looks poised to head to a new planet. The dynamic on the planet that’s probably Tatooine was getting a little old, exacerbated by the lack of compelling characters for the Mandalorian to interact with. Carl Weathers is perfectly serviceable as Karga, but the character simply isn’t that interesting.

The action sequences were a lot of fun. We finally got to see a Mandalorian with a jet pack. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Mandalorian mythology comes into play now that the show is heading off planet, but there’s certainly a lot of unfinished business with regard to the fallout of the Baby Yoda jailbreak. Is the credibility of their whole group shot? Who knows, but the mystery is quite compelling.

This episode was hands down the best of the three so far. A lot of the cast has yet to be introduced, leaving plenty of plot for the remaining five episodes. This episode also put the previous one in context as a standalone adventure rather than simply stalling. As long as there’s plenty of Baby Yoda, it seems safe to say this show will continue to be a hit.

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Thursday

21

November 2019

2

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Season Three of The Crown Lacks Purpose

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Cast changes are a predicament that practically every television show faces. The idea of The Crown switching up its entire principal cast every two seasons is pretty much without precedent, though the name recognition of the subject matter makes this proposition a bit less daunting. It’s not as if the Royal Family needs much of an introduction.

To its credit, the new cast barely need to be reintroduced either. Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter all pick up their roles seamlessly, playing the aged Royals with grace consistent with the characters’ trajectories thus far. Pictures of the first generation cast, as well as an early cameo from John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill, serve more as treats for the fans than needed continuity bridges.

While the actors pick up where their predecessor left off, season three often feels unsure of where it’s supposed to go as a story. The previous two seasons of The Crown managed to blend larger historical plots with an intimate family narrative quite effectively. That sense of cohesiveness is completely missing here, the show’s attention scattershot over a spread of plots that share little in common with each other.

Season three feels determined to shine the spotlight on anyone other than Elizabeth, squandering Olivia Colman by reducing her character to a reactionary role. It’s hard to parse what exactly her plotline is supposed to be, as she’s rarely the main focus of any episode. Colman is superb, but she’s simply given nothing to work with, no time to shine. Claire Foy’s Elizabeth received many storylines with which she could advance her character. By comparison, Colman gets almost nothing.

The Crown has always been an ensemble drama, but the Queen isn’t supposed to be reduced to mere supporting character. Philip and Margaret both enjoy several episodes worth of extended focus. The show has always found plenty of time for Margaret, but season three doesn’t really have anything new to say about her as a person. The themes present in her focus episodes retread familiar ground.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the show now also focuses on the younger generation of royals, particularly Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty). The whole point of switching up the cast was to move the ball forward and tell new stories about this family. Too often, the show seems perfectly content to roll around in well-trodden grass, which often comes at the expense of the Queen herself. By the time the show carved out time for the rest of the family, old characters and new, there’s little space left for Elizabeth to have a substantive arc for herself.

There are a few standout elements worth noting. The Queen’s relationship with Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) receives a fair amount of attention, a peculiar friendship given Wilson’s Labour roots. Menzies’ Prince Philip is the real standout of the season, building off Matt Smith’s early interpretation while leaving his own mark on a man eager to find purpose as age changes his perspective on life.

The Crown is rarely bad television, but it is often quite boring. The events covered feel quaint compared to magnitude of earlier arcs. This show is designed to portray 60 individual chapters in the life of this family. Season three feels like a big waste of time when you consider how much history lies within the walls of this family’s time in Buckingham Palace.

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Saturday

16

November 2019

0

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The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter Two

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Note: This review contains spoilers

The phenomenon known as “peak TV” can create a certain aura of expectation around certain shows, or the way they’re supposed to be presented. The Mandalorian is Disney+’s premiere offering, carrying certain natural connotations that this show is supposed to rival other flagship series. Star Wars is a bigger franchise than Game of Thrones, but the two shows don’t need to be of similar scales.

With a runtime of a little under half an hour, “Chapter Two” is an anomaly among dramas on streaming services. These shows can be as short or as long as they want, but the latter approach has almost always been favored, particularly on Netflix. The Mandalorian isn’t playing by the same set of rules.

Baby Yoda is one of the cutest creatures to come out of Star Wars, impressive for a franchise that includes Ewoks, Porgs, and R2-D2. You could probably make the case that this episode didn’t need to do more than simply show Baby Yoda’s face to be a success. He certainly makes an interesting traveling companion for the Mandalorian, who isn’t very talkative himself.

This episode also stands out for its self-contained nature. The conflict was introduced and resolved all within thirty minutes. We learn a little more about Baby Yoda and the titular hero, but this episode does look a little out of place for a show with a serialized narrative, especially one only on its second episode.

The presence of the Jawas seems to confirm that this show has been taking place on Tatooine. That would certainly make the most sense, especially after The Force Awakens introduced a Tatooine clone in Jakku. Any more desert planets than that and Star Wars will start to look a little too much like Star Trek in recycling the same set designs.

Why doesn’t a bounty hunter’s ship have any kind of anti-theft protection? Sure, the Jawas are expert scavengers, but it seems odd that the Mandalorian doesn’t even have an app on his cell phone that lets him know someone is fooling around on his ride. At least he didn’t kill them all like the Stormtroopers in A New Hope.

Kuiil, the Mandalorian’s Ugnaught farmer, is kind of a mixed bag. His affection for the bounty hunter isn’t really all that believable, unless he too is caught up in Baby Yoda love. In many ways, he feels like a character who’s simply there to give the Mandalorian someone to interact with. He’s not terrible in that role, but it’s not a particularly sustainable dynamic moving forward.

Baby Yoda uses the Force to stun the beast so that the Mandalorian can kill it and give the Jawas an egg that looks a lot like a pot of hunny right out of Winnie the Pooh. Weird climax for a weird episode. Not sure that the Jawas would want the creature dead since they seem to love those eggs.

It doesn’t feel entirely fair to call Chapter Two filler, a fun self-contained narrative full of action and cuteness, but this show has yet to establish its broader purpose. Will we figure that out before the season finale? I’m becoming increasingly skeptical. Chapter Two worked as a light-hearted adventure, but the effectiveness of this approach will likely diminish with repetition.

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