Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Reviews Archive

Monday

17

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

Jessica Jones’ Third Season Is a Boring End to the Netflix Marvel Experiment

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The television landscape has changed quite a bit since Daredevil and Jessica Jones premiered in 2015, promising an ambitious crossover between four separate Netflix series interconnected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With seemingly every major company looking for a bigger slice of the streaming pie, the relationship between Disney and Netflix was bound to sour, though the idea of rival networks producing content for each other is far from uncommon. The Netflix MCU experiment is ending not by any narrative mandate, but because two companies didn’t have the will to coexist.

Season three doesn’t feel like a final season. With news of its cancellation announced back in February, there’s a bit of disconnect between expectations and reality. Episodes that weren’t necessarily filmed as the concluding arc are delivered to fans as such, unsurprisingly landing with a bit of a thud. This wasn’t supposed to be the end, but we all knew it was ahead of time.

With that in mind, it’s hard to accept the glacier-slow pacing of Jessica Jones’ character development. She’s still a moody detective who seems to care more about bourbon than being a superhero. Much of this is a product of Jones’ personality as a character, but so much has happened to her over the past two seasons with shockingly little growth to show for it on screen.

Krysten Ritter often looks quite bored delivering her lines this season, even after putting aside the deadpan nature of her character. Gone are the powerful zingers that endeared Jones to the audience in past seasons. She looks tired, disinterested, and ready for the end. Her lines are spoken frequently without a hint of enunciation, like she’s reading them off the page for the first time.

Exacerbating this dilemma is the strong character development from the supporting cast. Trish, Malcolm, and Hogarth are all in drastically different positions than season one. Their characters have clearly drawn out arcs that are easy to follow and even easier to get behind. Meanwhile, Jessica is still the same old Jessica. The contrast rarely works to her advantage.

It rarely helps matters that Jessica is often paired with the anemic Erik Gelden, played by newcomer Benjamin Walker. For all the intriguing characters Jessica has shared screentime with, Gelden is very bland and boring. Like the burger Gelden can’t stop ranting about, he’s never as interesting as the show wants him to be.

Like every single season of Netflix’s Marvel series, the pacing problems are a persistent issue. Jones feels a bit sidelined in the early episodes, an issue again exacerbated by the fast-paced plotlines from her supporting players. While serialized TV has become the norm, Jessica Jones is a series that would have benefited immensely from giving its title character a couple of self-contained detective stories each season.

Season three does win plenty of points on the inclusivity front. While the MCU movies have been painfully behind the times on LGBTQ representation, Jessica Jones brings a nuanced approach to queer themes. Hogarth’s sexuality is explored extensively throughout the season. Transgender actresss Aneesh Sheth plays Jessica’s assistant Gillian without any scenes that explore the nature of her gender identity, a radical sense of normalcy that’s often sorely missing from on screen representations of the trans community.

TV shows in the streaming era rarely run more than five or six seasons, with shorter runs increasingly becoming the norm. Three seasons in, the show never has any sense of urgency to make the most of its time. Even if this wasn’t the end, season three meanders far too often to leave any kind of lasting impression. Netflix’s Marvel experiment has had its fair share of misfires, but these characters deserved better than an unceremonious ending.

 

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Saturday

8

June 2019

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COMMENTS

Pose’s Second Season Is a Triumph of Inclusivity

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For all the accolades that Pose received for its groundbreaking first season, a Peabody Award and Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama among others, the series’ greatest triumph has been its portrayal of transgender life as more than the “trapped in the wrong body” trope. Too many other narratives surrounding our community, often spearheaded by cisgender men, struggle to wrap their figurative heads around the idea that many trans people have much bigger things to worry about on a daily basis than our individual histories with gender dysphoria. Our collective history possesses so many rich stories that still need to be told.

Season two takes a three-year time jump to the year 1990. The balls are still the centerpiece of the community and the characters are still struggling to stay afloat in a New York City that’s still very far away from even beginning to reckon with its various injustices. The AIDS epidemic continues to wreak havoc, making funeral parlor visits a necessary aspect of everyday life. The glamour of the balls stands in stark contrast to the ever-present sense of fear looming in the air.

Blanca remains the emotional core of the series, raising up the House of Evangelista with her tireless drive to better herself and her family. Mj Rodriguez gives an Emmy-worthy performance, exploring the nuances of Blanca’s vibrant contrarian personality while retaining a motherly sense of devotion toward her community. Refusing to succumb to her HIV, she serves as an example to all of us to never settle for a reality beneath one’s value as a human being.

Indya Moore was perhaps the breakout star of season one. Angel’s arc this season benefits immensely from the absence of Evan Peters’ Stan, allowing her to pursue her dreams as a model without a loathsome empty suit toying with her emotions. With the world of 1990 setting its eyes on Madonna’s “Vogue,” which finds its origins in ball culture, Angel harnesses her talents to reclaim some of what had been appropriated from their community.

Pose has always been a show with a two-pronged track to its narrative. The personal lives of its characters intertwine with the broader historical context of the era. Sometimes this approach comes across a little clunky, as the scripts often dump large helpings of exposition all at once in a manner that wouldn’t score too many points at the ball. This method does enhance Pose’s ability to deliver teachable moments to an audience that may not be very familiar with the history of the LGBTQ community, but it would definitely benefit at times from a softer hand.

While many period dramas in this current age of TV can meander a bit through their seasons, Pose tends to make each episode count. Often times, the show casts a more natural plot progression aside for grandiose deliverables at the end of its episodes. With a large ensemble cast and a desire to capture cultural moments of the 90s, the show doesn’t have enough time in ten episodes to take things slow. Knowing that prestige dramas these days rarely last beyond four or five seasons, it’s understandable to see them cut a few corners in service to a larger cause, even if some scenes come across as unrealistic or rushed.

The balls remain as fabulous as ever, even if you’re left wondering at times if all the money spent on costumes and trophies might find a better use for an impoverished community. The score is absolutely spectacular this year, enhancing the emotional impact of many of the scenes. The show nails the 90s aesthetic quite well without ever letting it be a distraction.

Pose remains the strongest LGBTQ narrative on television with a second season that lets its heroes shine without ever dimming the lights on the bleak realities of the era. Each episode is filled with laughter, tears, and a whole lot of heart. The plot progression might not always be as graceful as its characters are on the runway, but the show knows better than most that time is limited. Pose makes each moment count.

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Monday

27

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones’ Final Season Was a Frantic Mess

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The image of Daenerys Targaryen’s massive armada sailing to Westeros at the end of season six ended up being the high point of her time on the series. After spending years building her up as the apex player destined to “break the wheel,” seasons seven and eight largely focused on tearing her back down, slowly eating away at her army until her opposition established a believable sense of equal footing. Dany may have taken King’s Landing with brute force, but her cause was lost with waiting, heeding Tyrion’s advice not to sack the capital at the expense of most of her original Westerosi allies.

Season eight sought out to complete Dany’s downward spiral, along with defeating the White Walkers and providing satisfactory conclusions for many of the show’s large ensemble. All in six episodes, a choice made by creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. To call this season rushed would be an understatement.

The first two episodes largely concerned themselves with table-setting for “The Long Night.” Episode two, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” stands out as one of the best of the series for its focus on the complex relationships between the many characters, an immensely satisfying episode that functioned as a bit of a finale in its own right. The calm pace of the first two episodes contrasts with the frantic nature of the final two, which barely took a moment to breathe, more than understandable given how much needed to be done before the end.

A six-episode season was never going to be enough to wrap up such a complex series, but a bigger issue was the fact that the show dedicated half its final run to an underwhelming villain who didn’t even factor into the endgame. The White Walkers may have been a presence in the show since the first episode, but the underwhelming battle of Winterfell failed to reflect the Night King’s billing as an arch villain. Considering how rushed the final three episodes felt, it’s clear that the Night King should have been disposed of last season, giving the show a bit more wiggle room to focus on its endgame.

The first four episodes all built up a feud between Daenerys and Sansa that ended up pretty much going nowhere. You could argue that Sansa’s feelings toward Dany helped turn Jon, Tyrion, and Varys against her, but the Northern territorial disputes were hardly needed in that regard. Dany’s burning of King’s Landing superseded any of the peripheral politics.

The show struggled to portray Jon and Dany’s relationship, complicated by a few reasons. Putting aside the incest, Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke didn’t have much natural chemistry, exacerbated by the show’s reluctance to give them scenes alone together. Jon’s stabbing of Dany made for beautiful cinematography, but the gravity of the moment failed to accurately reflect the underdeveloped nature of their relationship.

For a show ostensibly about the mechanics of power, the idea of having Bran end up on the show is complicated to say the least. His abilities helped turn the tide of the Battle of Winterfell, but the three-eyed raven stayed out of the conflict in King’s Landing. We don’t know if he made the decision based on the knowledge that he’d become king, but we don’t necessarily need to in order to recognize that a monarch shouldn’t possess that kind of absolute power.

The finale acknowledged Tyrion’s mistakes, suggesting he’d spend the rest of his life fixing them, but such a “punishment” perhaps fails to truly acknowledge his role in Dany’s decline. It’s hard to find a single moment in his time as Dany’s Hand where he offered good advice. Why would he be rewarded for such incompetence?

Cersei felt weirdly irrelevant for too much of the season. For all the excellent villains we’ve seen on the show over the years, Cersei has always been the best. The show made the right move placing her as the final big bad over the Night King, but it didn’t give her many opportunities to shine. Instead, she mostly stood around giving orders and not doing much else with her time. The show’s finest manipulator of politics sat on the sidelines for its final stretch, perhaps the strongest encapsulation of the issues with season eight.

The show did offer satisfactory conclusions for many of its key characters, including Arya, Sansa, Brienne, and Jaime. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” worked so well for its focus on characters and not on moving the plot forward a mile a minute. We spent almost a decade with these people. The final season had its share of payoff for that investment, but it was constantly undercut by the rapid nature of the plot.

Finales are difficult to pull off under any circumstance. TV is generally much better at maintaining the status quo than concluding it. With so many loose strands heading into season eight, it seems unlikely that four more episodes would have been able to wrap things up much better than six did. That doesn’t really change the fact that this season spent much of its time poorly, a product of needing to do too many things at once.

Season eight made the regrettable mistake of giving half its time to an underwhelming villain at the expense of the characters who made the show special in the first place. For all the ways this series has felt larger than life over the years, becoming a worldwide phenomenon, its conclusion constantly felt unnecessarily rushed. These characters deserved better.

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Monday

20

May 2019

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 6

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The difficulty in pulling off a successful television finale largely boils down to the struggle to present a conclusion that fits in line with the show’s original ethos as well as its natural evolution along the way. Game of Thrones is in the extremely rare position of having been based off source material that itself hasn’t concluded yet, plotting its own course for the past few years. Somehow, a conclusion needed to honor George R.R. Martin’s original vision while still providing a sense of narrative closure for all the ways its deviated from the books. On both fronts, it sort of succeeds.

Bran is king. Does that make sense? Sort of, if you try not to think about it. Philosophers have long grappled with the idea of a philosopher king, a ruler who draws his/her effectiveness through a lack of desire to actually possess power. Trouble is, it’s exceedingly difficult to find one of those people. Bran himself hardly fits the bill.

I’ve tried long and hard throughout these recaps not to excessively pontificate on Bran’s powers. We know he knows a lot of things, but he’s been quite selective in what he chooses to reveal to the others. He helped planned the strategy against the Night King, but did absolutely nothing to warn anyone that Daenerys was planning to burn King’s Landing. Only one of those events posed a true existential threat to his power.

Now, maybe he didn’t bother to look at King’s Landing. We don’t know, but that’s because the show decided not to tell us. It’s fair to wonder what Bran’s motives are. For the entire season, it didn’t seem all that clear. Maybe he’s just as corrupt as the worst of them.

Daenerys’ death makes sense from the perspective of needing to wrap up the series. Trouble is, the show spent parts of the first four episodes building up a fight between Dany and Sansa that never really mattered. Jon killed her. Maybe Sansa’s feud with her played a part in that, but it definitely didn’t need to, what with the whole burning innocents situation and Jon’s chat with Tyrion.

The show treated Dany as a protagonist for all these years, only to pivot toward the idea that she was a narrative nuisance that needed to be dealt with before things could be wrapped up two episodes before the show ended. Two episodes are hardly enough time to present a compelling case that such a major part of the story was now suddenly a horrible monster that should be stabbed before she even got a chance to sit in that chair she’d coveted for most of her life.

Kudos to Drogon for understanding all the symbolism in the Iron Throne enough to see the importance in burning it down.

Why did the other kingdoms accept Bran as ruler while the North kept its independence? Why did we need a king? Obviously wheels can’t be broken overnight, but the show never really sold its audience on the idea that the realm needed to stay together. Dorne, which treasured its independence perhaps more so than any other region, doesn’t have any reason to accept Bran.

Seeing Edmure Tully and Robin Arryn again was fun. I liked how the show attempted to portray the Seven Kingdoms again after years of only focusing on a few of the Great Houses, but their meeting felt a bit too condensed for the scope it was aiming for.

Sansa has probably never met Edmure. The scene where she told him to sit down was fun, but they definitely don’t have any sense of familial relationship. Oddly enough, she never even spoke to cousin Robin, who she spent a bit of time with back in season five.

Jon gets sent back to the Wall, a throwback to what almost happened to Jaime when he killed a Targaryen monarch in the throne room. A fitting end for a boring character, even if we have no idea who controls the Wall, or why they even need one in a post-White Walkers world. Glad he got to finally pet Ghost.

Brienne becoming Lord Commander was a pretty great moment, though I don’t envy a life spent listening to Bran’s nonsense. The scene where she writes Jaime’s name in the White Book, which records all members of the Kingsguard, was sort of touching, except for the fact that Jaime hasn’t been Lord Commander for a while. The show never really invested in him caring about the Kingsguard in the way that the books did, especially in A Feast for Crows.

Eye roll for Bronn as Master of Coin. Why would the Reach accept him as ruler of Highgarden?

Sam is a maester now I guess. Why does he get to leave the Night’s Watch? Does anyone care?

Sansa gets to be the ruler we all knew she was capable of becoming. I just wish she could have been ruler of Westeros, not just the North. Would have made a much better queen than her odious brother.

I hope Bran wrote a nice thank you note to Meera Reed for being by his side all those years, only to be cast aside right at the end of season seven. The way that all played out has me wondering if D&D knew what would happen to Bran. Between that and taking over Hodor’s body all those times, he really doesn’t look all sympathetic.

Arya’s journey would make for a great spinoff. I found her ending to be the most satisfying of all the characters, a great callback to the season four finale where she set sail for Essos. She didn’t get a ton to do this season, but the final moment between the Stark children and their Targaryen cousin Aegon was very touching.

Finales are tough. Few are great, many are terrible, plenty are polarizing, and more than a few fall flat. In terms of being divisive, the Game of Thrones finale seems to occupy the space between Lost and The Sopranos, not quite in the realm of outlandish but certainly not fully satisfying either. Definitely one of those finales that will take some time to sink in. I didn’t love it, but I’m open to the idea of that changing down the road.

That’s it for this week, but there’s still some Thrones content to come. I’ll have my full season review next week, along with the recap podcast tomorrow. To all of you who have read these recaps over the years, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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Tuesday

14

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

What We Left Behind Is a Heartfelt Tribute to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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The raw beauty of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stems from the ways in which it changed the very definition of what it meant to be Star Trek. The primary form of exploration came not from visiting planets, but the characters who inhabited an isolated space station out in the Gamma Quadrant. The show pioneered serialized narratives well before the “golden age of television” ushered in the era of long-form storytelling. As with many trailblazers, the initial reaction proved divisive, but recent years have been kind to DS9, with the ease of streaming paving the way for future generations of fans to experience the show.

What We Left Behind is a documentary crafted to celebrate the legacy of Star Trek’s “middle child.” Co-directed by Ira Steven Behr, who served as the showrunner on DS9, the film takes a thorough approach to exploring all the various elements that went into making such a complex show. The extensive interviews, which feature the entire principal cast, practically every recurring actor, and plenty of members of the production crew and writing staff, highlight the profound impact that the show made on all of their lives.

It’s clear from the very first moments of the film that Deep Space Nine changed the lives of practically everyone involved. Behr does an excellent job not only capturing that energy, but also sustaining it throughout the course of the documentary. Building on that strong connection, Behr brought back a few of the writers to plot what season eight might have looked like. Complete with numerous animated graphics, the prospective episode is featured throughout the documentary, perhaps serving as the best example of the show’s staying power after all these years.

While the Deep Space Nine’s streaming and DVD releases haven’t had the same complete HD makeover that its two predecessor series received, most of the footage from the show included in What We Left Behind has been beautifully modernized. The show looks absolutely spectacular in HD. The chance to see one of the series’ many space battles up on the big screen with that kind of careful restoration is well worth the price of admission itself.

Behr’s greatest strength as a director is his ability to maintain an introspective lens. Like any show, mistakes were made along the way. An interview with the former chairman of Paramount Television Group Kerry McCluggage in particular took a hard look at the decision to forbid Avery Brooks from shaving his head or wearing a goatee. For all of Deep Space Nine’s progressive values, the show fell short on the subject of LGBTQ inclusion, a misfire that Behr acknowledges head-on in a way that brought me to tears as a gay Star Trek fan. That kind of raw honesty is quite rare for a documentary crafted by people personally involved with their subject.

While the documentary goes to great lengths to avoid being just a “talking heads” retrospective, it is rather powerful when it examines pivotal moments in the show’s production history. There are times when the cast and crew get pretty emotional with each other, understandable given the immense stress of working on a television show that puts out twenty-six episodes a year. Though Behr acknowledges the narrative confines of a single documentary, his film provides an immensely satisfying look at all the elements that went into making the show.

What We Left Behind is a beautiful celebration of Deep Space Nine, crafted with love by the people who poured their hearts into the show. Fans of the series couldn’t hope for a better examination of the show that changed Star Trek. It’s the kind of documentary that makes you want to put on an episode right when you get home, a powerful tribute to a show that lives on in the hearts of so many.

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Tuesday

7

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Hot Zone Is a Brilliant Thriller That Kicks the Summer TV Season off with a Bang

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A series like The Hot Zone possesses a kind of natural antagonist that crawls under the skin of its audience through its simple realism. Based off Richard Preston’s 1994 bestseller of the same name, the series depicts the Ebola virus in two separate time periods, from its 1976 outbreak in the central African rainforest to its 1989 discovery in a primate quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia. National Geographic’s upcoming limited event supplies a sense of terror that few series can wield in such an effective manner.

At the heart of The Hot Zone is Dr. Nancy Jaax, an Army colonel working as a veterinary pathologist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, dealing with some of the most dangerous viruses on the planet. Played by Juliana Margulies, Jaax leads the effort to diagnose and later contain the facility in Reston that potentially possesses an existential threat to America. While dealing with the occasional sexist remark, Marguiles plays Jaax as a force of nature on the base, a careful professional working diligently to get to the bottom of what they discovered on U.S. soil.

Aiding her efforts are Dr. Peter Jahrling (Topher Grace), a civilian working in the USAMRIID, who initially discovers that the virus plaguing the monkeys is more than a simple case of Simian hemorrhagic fever, and Wade Carter (Liam Cunningham), her mentor who was on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in 1976. Carter is also the focus of the series’ numerous flashbacks as he tries to figure out how to deal with the virus tearing apart central Africa. Jaax’s husband Lt. Colonel Jerry Jaax (Noah Emmerich) works alongside her at the base, often acting as a go-between with the higher-ups, cautious to prevent the outbreak from becoming a nationwide panic.

The Hot Zone does an excellent job of breaking down the science behind the virus for a general audience. The show takes a thorough approach to the Reston disaster, exceptionally well-paced over the course of its six episodes. The Africa flashbacks provide an additional broader perspective on Ebola, showing the devastating effects of the virus that continue to this day.

Part of what makes The Hot Zone so compelling is its grasp on the nature of suspense. The series hones in on the basic fundamental fear that Ebola invokes, an incurable plague that one can become infected by with a simple breath of air, brutally tearing one’s insides apart as it wreaks its carnage. Several scenes look like they could have been part of an installment in the Resident Evil franchise, with disaster lurking at every corner. Like the characters in their hazmat suits, there’s a natural sense of claustrophobia that reverberates back to the audience.

Character development can be a tricky subject for limited series, especially ones as plot heavy as The Hot Zone. The series takes the time to emotionally invest in its subjects, enhancing its narrative by giving the audience more to care about than just the virus. Jaax is more than a scientist fighting a deadly virus, she’s a mother, wife, and daughter who cares deeply about the people she works with and the nation she’s trying to protect. There’s real tangible growth in this journey for many of the characters, a rarity for a show that almost certainly won’t see another season.

Bolstered by a stellar cast, The Hot Zone is a brilliant thriller that kicks the summer TV season off with a bang. The three-night format is a great way to experience the show, giving the audience two episodes of this delectably bingeable suspense ride at a time. One of the best limited series of the year so far, National Geographic’s adaptation of Richard Preston’s bestseller is a joy to watch from start to finish.

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Thursday

2

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Knock Down the House Is a Powerful Showcase of Democracy in Action

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A documentary like Knock Down the House faces two narrative challenges that can be difficult to overcome in a ninety-minute runtime. Showcasing four separate women putting up primary campaigns against incumbent Democrats, the film has to not only tell multiple stories, but ones with widely known outcomes. It should hardly be a surprise to anyone that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on to beat incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley.

One of the appeals of political documentaries is the behind the scenes perspective they provide, a chance to know the candidates beyond their cable news appearances. The grassroots nature of the four campaigns highlighted in Knock Down the House gave the documentary a much more intimate feel than films focused on larger efforts by established candidates. Without massive staffs or even office buildings, the film spotlights each of the candidates’ best assets, namely being themselves.

Amy Viela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin came up short in their efforts to unseat their Democrat incumbents. Bush and Swearengin both managed to pull in over 30% of the primary vote, very impressive totals for unknown grassroots campaigns running against established politicians with all the benefits that entail. The documentary showcases their individual motivations for getting in the race, women with deep emotional stakes at play to change a system that isn’t working for too many Americans.

Knock Down the House does a great job explaining the many roadblocks put into place to impede primary challengers, a system that makes it about as a difficult as possible to even get on the ballot. There are a few scenes highlighting the work of groups like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, grassroots organizations seeking to recruit and support candidates for office. All the stereotypical notions of polished politicians are thrown out the window in favor of real people seeking to create real change.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary spends much of its time on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose successful campaign has captivated the nation for much of the past year. The footage from her campaign presents a stunning contrast between grassroots efforts and the establishment, frequently painting Crowley as out of touch, representing a district he no longer even called home. AOC fans might have enjoyed a documentary completely dedicated to her meteoric rise, but the film makes great use of all its subjects to present Washington as out of touch with the nation at large.

Refreshingly absent from the bulk of the narrative is the man in the White House. For all the media attention that Trump gets, much of America simply doesn’t care about his Twitter feed. Even in deep red West Virginia, Swearengin’s campaign focuses on the bread and butter issues affecting her state and not as a referendum on his every move. AOC also goes out of her way to criticize Crowley’s Trump-heavy campaign literature, reframing the “us vs. them” debate in a context better suited to her community.

Knock Down the House is an uplifting documentary that highlights the power of democracy in action. Only one of the film’s four subjects managed to win her race, but their efforts offer more than just inspiration to future candidates. Democracy isn’t always fair, but it’s always worth fighting for.

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Thursday

2

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Bonding Is a Succinct New Comedy With a Ton of Heart

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One of the beautiful things about the streaming era is that no show has to look like any other, at least in theory. Without weekly timeslot obligations, programs can air for as long or as little as they want. Many streaming comedies take the former approach, with episode runtimes that occasionally double their commercial TV counterparts.

Netflix’s new comedy Bonding is a fascinating case study in “less is more.” With episode runtimes that never go past seventeen minutes, the show is a complete anomaly on the major streaming networks, one of the few series that doesn’t seek to pad out its inaugural season. The seven-episode first season does fly by, but it carries itself with such purpose that you can’t help but feel good about wanting more.

Bonding has a fairly simple premise. Tiffany is a grad student who works as a dominatrix under the alias of Mistress May to pay the bills. Pete, her gay best friend, serves as her initially reluctant assistant. Most of the episodes center around their work in Tiffany’s dungeon, though we do learn a lot about their personal lives over the course of the season.

The show is largely carried on the chemistry of leads Zoe Levin and Brendan Scannell. The angsty millennial trope is well played out in comedy, but Levin and Scannell are charming enough in their interactions to put aside the clichés. The show has a heavy helping of absurdist humor, often leaving the audience cringing as the credits start to roll.

Fifteen-minute episodes don’t leave a lot of time for character growth, but Bonding does a fairly good job of giving its leads something to build toward over the course of the season. The individual episode plots are generally pretty entertaining, a strong blend of absurdist and cringe comedy. The narrative occasionally stumbles over its own ambition, but it doesn’t really have any filler either.

Those looking for an accurate portrayal of BDSM should definitely look elsewhere, a point perhaps best illustrated through Mistress May’s ill-fitting corset. Mistress May’s own understanding of BDSM doesn’t come across as particularly professional either, something that will undoubtedly turn off a lot of viewers. The show does often look like it would benefit immensely from additional perspectives from those in the sex worker community to give it a sense of realism.

Powered by two strong lead performances from Zoe Levin and Brendan Scannell, Bonding is a succinct new comedy with a ton of heart. Each episode could be double its runtime and the seven-episode season might still not feel like enough. The whole flies by in the blink of an eye, a refreshing change from the sheer amount of shows that drag their feet with needless exposition. It’s better to leave viewers wanting more than to drain away any desire to continue by the time the final episode credits start rolling. Bonding has a few kinks of its own to work out in subsequent seasons, but its freshman effort was a very enjoyable one.

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Monday

22

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 2

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Ideally, final seasons of long-running series seek to achieve two objectives, to remind fans why they fell in love with the show in the first place and to provide a satisfactory conclusion for the narrative arcs of their characters. Game of Thrones has had its eye on fan service for a few seasons now, perhaps best illustrated through Gendry’s reintroduction last year, when Ser Davos acknowledged the long-running “still rowing” meme. Episode two, appropriately titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was an episode chock full of fan service.

Death is coming to Winterfell. Characters we’ve spent the last eight years with are going to die. As much as the show has emphasized the role of death with its high body count, Game of Thrones has usually done a good job emphasizing the larger narrative arcs of its key players. Season six serves as perhaps the one exception, where numerous characters were unceremoniously killed off in what looked like an effort to clear pieces off the board.

Episode two featured a lot of hanging out, waiting for the world to end. Like the premiere, reunions were in abundance. Moments that fans have wished for over the past decades finally came to fruition.

Ser Brienne has a nice ring to it. After all she’s been through, it was great to see Brienne finally get the recognition she’s long deserved. Women catch a lot of crap in Westeros, but it was great to see her receive the title that best suits her abilities. Gwendoline Christie handled the scene masterfully, letting the typically stoic Brienne take in her moment with plenty of emotion.

Ever since the first episode, fans have wondered what would happen to Jaime if he ever saw that boy he pushed out the window again. Turns out, not much, as was to be expected. I don’t love the idea that he still didn’t tell anyone about what happened, but such a revelation would’ve called for actions that the episode clearly didn’t care about. Bran’s not angry, might as well let that be that.

Bran also isn’t a very helpful battle strategist. I get that the show doesn’t want to fully deploy Bran ex machina, but this whole “use Bran as bait to lure the Night King” seems kind of ridiculous. We’re still not 100% sure what Bran knows about everything, but the idea of having Theon protect you seems fairly half baked.

Arya and Gendry. What a pair. No more “will they, won’t they.” They did it. Is there anything more to say? Probably not. For a girl who’s been as consumed with death as Arya has, it was great to see her have a moment like that with someone she cared about. Hopefully Bran wasn’t watching.

Davos cooked soup! Is there anything this man can’t do? Expert battle survivalist, master chef, all-around great guy. Hoping for the best for new Shireen.

Daenerys and Sansa are seemingly destined for conflict. Why? Because there’s time to fill, of course! Not the greatest conflict, two people fighting over a monarchy when the army of the dead is right at their doorstep, but the show does need a few conflicts to carry it to the end once that’s all finished.

The Dany/Tyrion conflict also seems quite born out of an interest to have something to argue about after next episode. Yes, Cersei lied to them. No, that’s not surprising to anyone. Does that make Tyrion a bad Hand? Sort of, but there isn’t really anyone else up for the job, a job that hasn’t really seemed all that important at all. His judgment isn’t really at fault here, other than the fact that he didn’t stop that idiotic quest beyond the Wall last season.

Ser Jorah got a few great moments. He got told off by Lyanna, received a fancy new toy from Sam, and had Dany tell him that Tyrion took his job. Hopefully this means he’ll die next episode! What else is there for him to do?

Beric Dondarrion sure looks like a goner. Great voice. What a man. He’ll be with Thoros soon.

We got to see Ghost again too! Direwolves haven’t been a big part of the show in recent years, likely a casualty of the CGI budget, but it’s great to see him around for the big battle. Somebody should give him a dragon glass retainer to bite white walkers with.

One of either Grey Worm or Missandei appears quite destined for death next episode. My money’s on Missandei, since I think Theon and Varys are also unlikely to survive the battle. Can’t kill all the eunuchs is one fell swoop!

R + L = J has been the definitive fan theory to rule all fan theories for the past twenty years. In the two episodes since its reveal in the season seven finale, we’ve seen it treated as essentially a footnote. Jon wasn’t in this episode much, but when he was, he sure wasn’t talking about his new parents. At least, not until he took Dany into the crypts of Winterfell.

Was the eve of a massive battle the right time to tell her? No. Obviously not.

The show has had close to a decade to figure out how to handle its biggest secret. The method it’s decided on appears to be to walk things as slowly as possible, something it’s done in tandem with all of Bran’s Three-eyed Raven powers. The result created this weird situation where Dany questions how Bran knows this stuff, putting aside the fact that no one appears to have told her what’s going on with the middle Stark child. The show just needs to pull the R + L = J band-aid off once and for all.

No scenes in King’s Landing this week, which I guess is fitting given that the next episode is going to be taken up mostly by the battle. Overall, this was a very enjoyable episode. We got to see many of our favorite characters interact for what could be the last time. Some of it was a little forced, but that’s okay. After all these years, a little fan service is not a bad way to spend an episode, especially since next week looks to be pretty brutal.

That’s it for this week. Tune in tomorrow to the Estradiol Illusions podcast to hear our roundtable analysis. See you next week!

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Star Trek: Discovery Season Two Uses Fan Favorites Without Letting Them Take Over the Show

Written by , Posted in Blog, Reviews

For a franchise that popularized the phrase, “where no man has gone before,” the past twenty years of Star Trek have seen a lot of familiar faces. The idea of Christopher Pike playing a prominent role both in the 2009 reboot film and season two of Discovery seems almost impossible to fathom after his unceremonious exit in the original series. While Captain Pike was intended to helm the Enterprise in the original pilot “The Cage,” which had its footage reused for the season one two-part episode “The Menagerie,” the character became a footnote in franchise lore for decades. That is, until Bruce Greenwood was called upon to play the character, now meant to be a mentor for a young James T. Kirk. Ten years later, Anson Mount has brought considerable depth to the man once intended to lead the franchise.

After a bumpy start, Star Trek: Discovery put together one of the strongest freshman seasons in the franchise. The serialized format played well to the cast’s strengths, allowing the characters to grow alongside the complex long-form storytelling full of twists and turns. The conclusion of the season-long Klingon War left the future for Discovery completely open, somewhat conflicted by the sight of the Enterprise in the finale. After a season building up a whole new cast, it seemed a little puzzling that the show would want to highlight characters who have been around for decades. Season two ran the risk of devolving into a literal TOS prequel rather than simply a show set before it.

Perhaps season two’s greatest achievement is the way it integrated Captain Pike onto the bridge of Discovery without taking away from the enjoyable dynamic already in place. He’s an asset to the crew, not a leader hell-bent on molding his subordinates in his own image. Pike feels like a natural part of the team and it’ll be sad to see him go, assuming the rumors about his departure at the end of the season are accurate.

Discovery is still very much Michael Burnham’s show. Sonequa Martin-Green has done a superb job this season in making sure Burnham still commands the stage in scenes opposite Starfleet higher-ups as well as her half-brother Spock, quite possibly the franchise’s most beloved character. As intriguing as the Red Queen is, the plotline is further accentuated by the personal weight it carries for the show’s leading character.

Season two makes use of the series’ talented guest cast, with characters like Admiral Cornwell and (Mirror) Captain Georgiou making extensive appearances, but the show is at its best when it focuses on its core cast. Episode four “An Obol for Charon,” showcased the relationship between Burnham and Saru, delivering an emotional payoff that was quite impressive for a show only in its second season. Characters like Ensign Tilly and Paul Stamets haven’t had as much time to shine this year, but actors Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp make the most of the time they’re given. The show has also gone out of its way to highlight background characters like Lieutenant Kayla Detmer and Airam, giving its bridge officers an additional sense of purpose.

Placing Spock at the heart of the narrative was a tricky proposition, but the show’s navigated the popular Vulcan quite well. Ethan Peck does a great job playing the character, putting his own spin on Spock while staying faithful to the spirit of Leonard Nimoy’s performance. The mood of the show is a bit different without the Klingon War, but the varying tone from episode to episode is refreshing from an audience standpoint, never quite sure what’s going to happen each week.

Season two uses fan favorite characters to bolster its strong cast without relying too heavily on the franchise’s existing lore. I don’t know how much Spock is too much Spock, but the show handles him with grace. Star Trek: Discovery has been consistently great at long-form storytelling. While I’d like a little more of the focus moving forward to be centered on Discovery-created characters, the show has proved adept at navigating whatever part of space it chooses to fly into.

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