Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

TV Reviews Archive

Wednesday

12

February 2020

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The L Word: Generation Q Is a Slight Improvement on Its Shallow Predecessor

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The L Word will always be regarded as groundbreaking television series by nature of its premise. Public opinion toward LGBTQ people has undergone a massive transformation since 2004. Despite its status as a pioneer of queer representation in popular culture, The L Word has aged quite poorly as a narrative. Obsessed with melodrama and the superficial lives of its upper-class lesbians, it’s pretty embarrassing to think that this show served as many people’s point of entry to engaging with LGBTQ issues.

Popular culture has changed quite a bit since then. The L Word: Generation Q finds itself in a climate that’s far more unforgiving toward poorly crafted gay narratives. It’s not enough to feature lesbians on television, now you have to find something interesting for them to do. In this regard, Generation Q demonstrates that The L Word really hasn’t learned all that much.

The show was smart to keep the returning characters to a minimum. Bette (Jennifer Beals), Shane (Katherine Moennig), and Alice (Leisha Hailey) are the sole members of The L Word’s large ensemble cast to come back as regulars. The absence of Jenny Schecter, a strong contender for worst LGBTQ character ever depicted on screen, is refreshing, but Generation Q falls to put forth a strong case for why the audience should want to spend more time with Bette, Shane, and Alice.

Shane is still pretty cool. Alice is still annoying and obsessed with serving as a standard bearer for the community. Bette has more first world problems, this time running for mayor without any clear sense of conviction. The show is more than willing to forgive its characters’ shortcomings, shallow people living shallow lives, but it’s not very interested in demonstrating how any of these people have grown.

The new characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Sarah, better known by her last name Finley (Jacqueline Toboni), is the standout of the bunch, an executive assistant on Alice’s TV show who squats in Shane’s house. Micah Lee (Leo Sheng) helps correct the sins of the past in the trans masculine department, an adjunct professor with lots of depth in the romantic realm. Dani (Arienne Mandi) and Sophie (Rosanny Zayas) are less successful, an engaged couple with family melodrama that feels better suited for the climate of the original show.

The L Word was pretty horrifically terrible in the realm of transgender representation, repeatedly demonizing its trans male character Max in cringey depressing manners. In addition to Micah, recurring characters Pierce (Brian Michael Smith) and Tess (Jamie Clayton) are given substantive plots that don’t hinge on their transness.  The show is spread pretty thin with its ensemble cast, but manages to blend the new characters in with the holdouts pretty well.

The biggest problem for Generation Q is the writing. The superficial storytelling isn’t very interesting in a world with far better LGBTQ representation. Eight episodes isn’t a lot of time to craft compelling plotlines for such a large cast, but the show doesn’t really try. For the most part, it’s far too content to revisit tired tropes explored by its predecessor.

It’s not really quite clear who Generation Q is trying to please. It’s not really a “greatest-hits” style revival like many other reboots of the past few years. The legacy characters aren’t simply there to pass the baton either. Trouble is, they’re not really there to do anything interesting. Alice has already been on television and Bette spent the entire previous series jumping around from various high-status professions. Are we supposed to care about seeing this again?

For some, that answer might be yes. Generation Q is hardly unwatchable, unlike the later seasons of its predecessor. It’s hardly a satisfying experience. The LGBTQ community deserved better than the shallow storytelling of The L Word. The past few years have given the community just that. There isn’t much need for The L Word anymore. Generation Q doesn’t do much to change that sentiment.

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Tuesday

31

December 2019

1

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Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up Is a Shallow Series That Fails to Shed Light on Its Star

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The Kevin Hart Oscars scandal was an unfortunate train wreck. It’s easy to understand Hart’s position of not wanting to apologize for statements he’d already addressed several times in his past. There’s also little humor to be found in so-called “jokes” about threatening a child with violence for playing with girl’s toys. Too many members of the LGBTQ community, myself included, have been threatened for simply being who we are.

With that in mind, it’s hard to muster up too much sympathy for Hart’s predicament. As the new Netflix series Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up shows, Kevin Hart is living the dream. Hart is an immensely talented individual, parlaying his success as a comedian into a broader portfolio that includes a production company, HartBeat Productions.

Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up starts off with the Oscars controversy, though much of the series was filmed in 2018, well before the scandal. This fundamental disconnect creates some narrative issues for the six-part series as a whole, which mostly divides its time between three broader storylines. The show mainly focuses on Hart’s family life, his brand, and the fallout from his scandals.

The narrative works best when it focuses on his family. Hart passionately describes the influence of his mother, who imposes a strict routine to keep him away from trouble. The series includes a few touching interactions with his father, whose history with drugs supplied material for some of Hart’s early routines. Hart’s wife Eniko Parrish is also a compelling figure in the show, serving as a steadying force in his life.

Prominently featured in the show are Hart’s “Plastic Cup Boyz,” his entourage of friends and fellow comedians. The series presents the Plastic Cup Boyz as committed to keeping Kevin out of harm’s way. In some ways, it’s endearing to see Hart’s obvious affection for his friends, as well as his desire to share his good fortune with those who have stood by him.

Trouble is, the emphasis on the Plastic Cup Boyz imposes a broader problem with Don’t F**k This Up as a narrative. The show, produced by Hart, essentially exists as an infomercial showcasing the greatness of Kevin Hart. The broader theme is clear throughout every episode: Kevin Hart works very hard.

Hart’s hustle is obvious, but his efforts to showcase how hard he works exposes many flaws in this whole approach. For all his hard work, he’s still a grown man who requires a full entourage as a security blanket. He’s seemingly incapable of doing much of anything without three or four of his buddies to help. The show fails to paint Hart as particularly inspiring because it would be practically impossible for anyone to follow his lifestyle.

This dynamic is most apparent when Hart talks about his Las Vegas affair, a low point in his life. Hart takes full responsibility, but Don’t F**k This Up repeatedly implies that if more of the Plastic Cup Boyz had been around, they might have been able to prevent the affair from happening. Herein lies the problem with producing a docu-series about yourself. Hart lacks the perspective to see when he’s hurting his own case.

The episode that focuses on the Oscar fallout is a peculiar mixed bag. Don’t F**k This Up deserves credit for wholeheartedly portraying Hart’s reaction as wrong. Seemingly everyone in his orbit tells him he handled the situation poorly, jeopardizing dozens of livelihoods in the process. He owns up to his faults, namely his efforts to portrays himself as a victim instead of choosing to condone violence against the gay community.

As refreshingly honest as the episode is regarding the precise nature of how Hart screwed up, the whole presentation feels pretty hollow and manufactured. Hart says he’s sorry, but repeatedly refuses to go on an “apology tour” to express contrition. The docu-series says that Hart spoke with gay friends who told him where he went wrong, but we don’t see any of those interactions, only ones with his own employees.

One of his executives summarizes this situation best in the closing minutes of the series. Carli Haney, a gay woman, mentions how the production company will now include gay characters in series moving forward. The moral of the whole Oscars saga isn’t about how Kevin can make amends, but rather how he can profit off the scandal. Plenty may feel that additional apologies aren’t necessary, but the whole series feels shallow in the absence of demonstrable remorse.

Don’t F**k This Up is a self-indulgent vanity project designed to sell Kevin Hart as a brand, a superficial six-episode commercial with little depth. Fans of Hart may appreciate the backstage look at his life, but there’s little of substance here. An outside production company might have been able to shine a better light on this situation, but Hart is too close to the action to pull anything meaningful from his mistakes.

 

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Saturday

28

December 2019

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The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8 came with plenty of high expectations, even if there probably isn’t a single soul out there who thought that Disney would kill off Baby Yoda after his capture at the end of last week’s episode. Director Taika Waititi, who also voices nurse droid IG-11, is one of the most imaginative filmmakers currently working, a perfect choice for the finale. Unsurprisingly, he delivered a spectacular episode of television.

The opening scene with the Scout Troopers was an emotional roller coaster. Jason Sudekis and Adam Pally were pretty funny, mocking their profession’s well-known reputation for being horrible marksman. They also repeatedly hit one of the cutest characters in television history. Hard to laugh when such an adorable baby is in pain.

For a show with relatively few characters, The Mandalorian managed to deliver satisfying arcs for practically everyone who appeared in more than one scene. IG-11 is not exactly a character who needed to return after chapter one, but the show gave the reformed assassin a redemptive narrative that ended up working quite well. The scene where he rode into town guns-blazing was an absolute treat.

Does Moff Gideon seem like the kind of guy to give people until nightfall, presumably several hours away, to turn themselves in? The whole sequence felt a little arbitrary, especially with the blaster-resistant sewer grate. The revelation of Mando’s name, Din Djarin, was almost as exciting as the sight of his face after all these episodes.

The flashback sequence was also well-executed, though hopefully we’ve seen the last of Mando’s droid bigotry. Baby Yoda’s use of the Force has been handled well, deployed sparingly in a believable manner. The way this episode handled IG-11’s death makes Kuiil’s quicker demise seem a little shortchanged by comparison.

The Armorer ended up being a more emotionally powerful character than I would have expected following her last appearance. Her support of Mando’s mission feels genuine, though the embrace of Baby Yoda by the Mandalorians in general makes you wonder why Mando didn’t just bring him to Mandalore in the first place. Her action sequence battling the Stormtroopers was well-handled. A death by those incompetent fools would have been a bummer.

Hopefully next season will feature more of the backstory behind what happened on Navarro after chapter 3. The Mandalorians paid a heavy price for helping Baby Yoda, especially when you consider how that whole mission went against The Guild, hurting their credibility as bounty hunters. We know little of their broader belief system, but they do seem like genuinely good people.

Carl Weathers did a fabulous job as Greef throughout the season. This episode saw the character deliver his best line, “Come on baby, do the magic hand thing!” His case for the planet of Navarro also felt quite genuine for something that was clearly intended to be comedic relief.

Moff Gideon was well-deployed this episode. The Tie Fighter sequence was great, and the Darksaber revelation was absolutely wild for fans of the Expanded Universe. I’m glad that he survived the season, as Giancarlo Esposito is too good of a villainous actor to only use in two episodes.

I do wonder why it seems that only important characters seem capable of surviving ship crashes in this saga. Luke took several shots to his X-Wing in the Battle of Yavin while practically everyone else not named Wedge Antilles saw their ships destroyed with a single blast. Maybe Moff Gideon had a great airbag.

As much sense as it makes that the group would go their separate ways at the end of the episode, part of me wishes that Cara Dune had stuck with Mando. That whole dynamic would have clashed with the show’s gunslinger vibe, but the episodes where Mando has an ally have worked better than the ones where he’s alone in taking care of Baby Yoda. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be back next season though.

This episode was easily the best of the season, one of the most exciting chapters in the entire Star Wars saga. The storylines came full circle in a very satisfying manner, while leaving plenty to be excited about for next year. The bar was set pretty high for Taika Waititi, who made the perfect case for why he should be given his own trilogy.

Quick programming note: my full season review will be posted later this week. Thank you to everyone who’s followed along with our recaps this season. I hope you had as much fun as we did.

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Saturday

28

December 2019

0

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Greta Gerwig’s Little Women Is an Absolute Delight

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The idea of adapting a beloved classic like Little Women presents certain unique advantages and challenges. There’s a natural fanbase built in, but one of the most popular books in American history also has plenty of great cinematic adaptations already. Fortunately, director Greta Gerwig found plenty of ways to put her own unique spin on the Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel.

Gerwig’s narrative plays with Alcott’s timeline quite a bit, largely splitting it into two distinct periods. Much of the story follows the first half of the book, set in 1861, jumping back and forth with the later events in 1868. This non-linear approach not only sets the adaptation apart from its predecessors, it also keeps the audience from explicitly knowing what’s going to come next.

There are plenty of deviations from the source material, but Gerwig keeps the core of Little Women intact. Several scenes feel more like a stageplay than a film, with the obvious glee of the actors aiding the sense that the book is being performed rather than embodied. The tone is often quite lighthearted, emphasizing fun over strict realism.

Unsurprisingly, the acting is top notch. The A-list cast delivers perfectly. As the titular “little women,” Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen have a natural chemistry, with a certain understated familial relationship. Barely any time is needed to endear them to the audience. The same holds true for Timothée Chalamet, who’s absolutely charming as Laurie.

The veteran performers in the cast, namely Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Chris Cooper, all put forth strong supporting efforts. Streep is one of those actresses who has a tendency to command any scene she’s in, but Gerwig deploys her Aunt March sparingly, heightening the dramatic impact Streep makes on the narrative.

The beauty of Gerwig’s interpretation stems from her strong grasp of emotion. Linear narratives often spend their runtimes building toward a payoff at the climax. Gerwig’s splintered timeline tosses plenty of powerful scenes at the audience throughout the film, opening the floodgates at moments where you least expect it.

Books have an easier time of delivering emotional payoffs, having far more time to endear the reader to the characters. Little Women has the luxury of having an audience that already loves the material, but Gerwig consistently finds new ways to use this relationship to her advantage. The film consistently celebrates the highs and lows of these sisters’ lives without feeling predictable or forced.

As with many adaptations, there’s sections of the source material that don’t get the attention that some would like. The strength of Watson and Pugh’s acting may leave many wanting to see more from Beth and Amy, but this is mostly Jo’s story. Gerwig at times lets Jo exist as a stand-in for Alcott herself, supplying timely commentary on the agency of women in an era often lacking in opportunity.

It is easy to say that the world didn’t “need” another Little Women adaptation, even after putting aside how much of today’s cinema is taken up by remakes, sequels, and franchise. Gerwig makes a strong case for why her version should be the definitive take on Alcott’s work. The film works on just about every level, a narrative that makes the book’s magic come alive consistently throughout its runtime.

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Tuesday

24

December 2019

17

COMMENTS

The Witcher Is Thoroughly Mediocre

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As a genre, fantasy can be challenging to present to an audience on television. There’s a lot of world-building that needs to take place, on top of all the other obligations expected of new narratives. As with many fantasy shows, The Witcher is based off a popular long-running book series. Unfortunately, the execution of its source material largely falls flat.

The Witcher might have the least effective world-building of any fantasy show in history, a remarkably bland palette that kills any desire to pay attention. The world of “The Continent” isn’t particularly complicated to understand. There are monster hunters, sorcerers, elves, and plenty of standard fare that is easy for an audience to digest. The first few episodes throw so much at the wall that practically nothing sticks.

The season adapts the introductory stories to The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski, a series with a complicated chronology. The show dumps a lot of characters and plotlines all at once, an approach that’s quite difficult to follow along with unless you’ve read the source material. It’s not that what’s presented is particularly complex, but the delivery just lands with a thud. It is so boring that it becomes practically unwatchable.

As the titular Witcher, Henry Cavill does the show no favors. It would be a bit unfair to blame him for the show’s failures, but his lifeless performance doesn’t help. Geralt of Rivia has almost no personality and little is done to endear him to the audience. He feels more like a reactionary figure than a lead character, making it especially hard to care about his journey.

The special effects are pretty decent, though any goodwill on that front is squandered by the sets. The color palette is as bland as the writing, moody villages that reek of grey. It’s actually kind of depressing to watch, but not in a way that enhances the narrative.

The show does occasionally try for humor, mostly through the traveling bard Jaskier (Joey Batey). Jaskier crafts a song in the second episode that’s probably the most memorable aspect of the show. That sadly represents a rather poor investment in anyone’s time.

Things do pick up a bit after the first few episodes when the show starts to pump the brakes on the exposition a bit. There isn’t some drastic improvement, but likely enough to please longtime fans of either the source material or the genre itself. The cast do seem to grow more comfortable with their roles as time goes on, though it might be too little for a general audience.

The Witcher isn’t an offensively terrible show, just one that manages to do almost nothing right. Fans of fantasy may find something redeemable in a binge, especially this time of the year. Sapkowski’s excellent source material deserved much better than this underwhelming slog.

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Thursday

19

December 2019

0

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The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 7

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After a few episodes that were mostly episodic in nature, The Mandalorian is back to serialized storytelling, fitting for the end of the season. Giancarlo Esposito, best known for playing Breaking Bad’s arch-villain Gus Fring, was announced as part of the cast before the season started. The question of when his Moff Gideon would appear remained a subject of intrigue, especially since the final scene of Chapter 5.

Chapter 7 brought the season full circle in many ways, featuring the return of several recurring characters. Kuill, the Ugnaught farmer, and Cara, the New Republic shock trooper turned bounty hunter, are the two closest things Mando has to friends, though Baby Yoda may not identify Cara as such just yet. Both characters work well with Mando, suggesting that the show might have been better off keeping one of them, or both, around for some of the middle episodes. Mando is far more compelling of a lead when he has someone to interact with besides a Force-wielding baby.

IG-11 has been reprogrammed as a butler/nursemaid! The whole “Mando hates droids” bit is getting kind of old, but it was nice to see that the assassin robot can have a nice second career. My second recap was critical of Kuill’s place in the story, but the character brings out a side of Mando that had been missing in previous episodes.

From a narrative standpoint, it makes perfect sense that the Baby Yoda Squad would return to Navarro. It would have been a shame not to see The Client again, especially knowing how much Werner Herzog loves Baby Yoda. The logic behind such a move against a powerful figure makes a little less sense.

Greef Karga is probably right when he says that The Client will never stop hunting Baby Yoda. That said, it’s difficult to say that Mando has really tried all that hard to hide from him. The past few episodes have shown him putting Baby Yoda in harm’s way for the sake of jobs, unlike his past attempt to lay low on Sorgan. The galaxy is supposed to be big.

This whole dynamic grows more complicated when you think about how Obi-Wan decided to hide Luke. Anakin may not have known that Padme was pregnant, but Obi-Wan hardly came up with much of a plan in sending the baby to live with Darth Vader’s step-brother on his home planet, while only changing his first name. By this logic, Mando only needs to buy a remote house and start going by Ben-dalorian.

Baby Yoda showing off some healing powers to save Karga helps expose the obvious trap, leading to a change of heart that comes off as mostly sincere. The plan to deliver an empty bassinet to The Client came across as pretty ridiculous, but these sorts of scenarios are destined to go wrong. From the looks of it, The Client is dead, sadly gone before he could share another scene with Baby Yoda.

The Stormtrooper and Scout Trooper armor looks phenomenal. The sight of the Scout trooper’s on their speeder bikes was a nice throwback to Return of the Jedi, though sadly their aim has improved. Poor Kuill. His reluctance to go on the mission kind of pegged him for death. Too nice a person in this cold, cruel world.

Chapter 7 demonstrated this season’s grasp of episodic storytelling while still building toward the payoff of a serialized narrative. Moff Gideon looks to be an especially sinister bad guy, but the show doesn’t feel like it’s slow walked his introduction. The season seems destined to end on a cliffhanger, but that feels okay from where we stand now.

With only one more episode left of the season, it’s fairly safe to call The Mandalorian a great success. The action sequences have been spectacular, and the character development has been pretty strong for a show with one lead who never shows his face and another who doesn’t talk. Above all else, the show has made a strong case for shorter episode runtimes. Some of the episodes have been a bit lacking in exposition, but that’s certainly better than the drawn out filler approach used by far too many streaming shows these days.

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Tuesday

17

December 2019

0

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Season Three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Is Best Enjoyed with Low Expectations

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Seasons used to matter in television. That is, until the streaming era came along. Summer used to be a wasteland of reruns, making it fertile territory for offbeat shows like Six Feet Under to lay their roots. The idea of releasing prestige TV in the month of December was once unheard of, interfering with that holiday featuring Santa and the elves. Nowadays, plenty of shows, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, have staked their territory in the days leading up to Christmas.

In many ways, Mrs. Maisel is still a show best enjoyed through the lens of holiday fluff. True to creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s form, the period piece struts the line between comedy and drama. Season three showcases this dynamic in a bit of different sense than many “dramedies.”

Rather than presenting a blend of the two genre, episodes of Mrs. Maisel often squarely fit in one box. There’s comedy one episode and drama the next, even if the more serious episodes contain their fair share of laughs. This formula mostly works, even if it does leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed by the end of the season. Hence where the fluff comes in.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel doesn’t really have much to offer as it relates to feminism, equality, or the broader #MeToo movement. It’s not entirely fair to say that Midge Maisel isn’t empowering or a role model, but she is a thoroughly flawed character. There’s a strain of revisionism as it relates to the past that can permeate through contemporary period works, such as Downton Abbey’s strong progressive values, that reflects what we would like to have seen from that era versus what might have actually happened.

As was the case last season, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is hindered by the show’s insistence with keeping Joel as part of the core cast. There’s nothing wrong with Michael Zegen’s performance, but he’s simply not an interesting character. Time spent on him naturally comes at the expense of some other plotlines.

The show is anchored by the relationship between Midge and Susie. Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Bornstein are comedy gold together. Jane Lynch puts forth a solid effort as Sophie Lemon, Midge’s rival who takes up much of Susie’s managerial attention.

This season features Midge on the road for much of the narrative, traveling around opening for Shy Baldwin. The change of pace works well for the show’s entertainment value, but sputters a bit as a cohesive body of work. The road episodes function like a fun vacation, though the season stumbles when it comes time to try and make something of its broader narrative. Eight episodes aren’t enough to tell this story.

That doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem, especially when you take the time of the year into consideration. Season three is fun television. The sets are beautiful, the acting is top-notch, and the scripts are full of Sherman-Palladino’s signature humor. Some might say that’s the perfect recipe for this time of the year.

If you are someone who wants something more out of this story, you might feel a little underwhelmed. Of the principle characters, only Midge’s parents Abe and Rose feel like they’re actually trying to move forward instead of maintaining the status quo. This narrative rarely cares about the destination, leaving talk of Midge’s career destined to fall flat since it’s given such little attention.

Season three offers plenty of laughs, albeit with a sense of diminishing returns. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel used to be one of the best shows on TV. That’s not really the case anymore. The show is still fun to watch, especially this time of the year when comfort food is in abundance. Many of us may wish that Mrs. Maisel was a better show, but that shouldn’t get too much in the way of a mostly good experience.

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Saturday

14

December 2019

0

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The Mandalorian Season 1 Review: Chapter 6

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Note: This review contains spoilers

Six episodes in, it’s become fairly clear that The Mandalorian isn’t interested in the kind of serialized storytelling that’s dominated the streaming era. Back when shows like Kung Fu or Walker, Texas Ranger aired, the constraints of the pre-DVR era required many narratives to remain fairly episodic in nature, accounting for fans who wouldn’t necessarily tune in every week or might watch the shows years later in syndication. Disney+ does not possess these limitations as no one is obliged to watch the episodes out of order.

The episodic format presents many advantages. A show like The Mandalorian doesn’t necessarily need some big overarching narrative. There’s nothing stopping the show from adopting more of a serialized approach down the road, or even next week if it wanted to.

While the show borrows heavily from the Western genre, The Mandalorian often skimps on the kind of exposition that’s usually required to endear the audience to the situation presented. Western heroes, like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, are often stock characters without much backstory, but there’s usually a few scenes meant to explain who the person is and why an audience would care about them.

Chapter 6 exposed some of the broader flaws with the series, mainly its reluctance to explain any of the Mandalorian’s decisions. This show has almost no exposition. Mando travels to planets or starships, shoots his weapon, and Baby Yoda looks cute. That’s basically the whole show.

That kind of model has produced some good television thus far, but there’s a lingering problem facing Chapter 6 that it chooses not to address. Why would Mando bring Baby Yoda to a ship with very shady people that he clearly doesn’t trust? His old friend Ran is a slight exception, but he spars with the rest of the group almost immediately.

Two episode ago, Mando was trying to lay low with Baby Yoda. He even considered leaving the little guy on Sorgan to live a better life before realizing that there’s still plenty of danger out there. Since then, we’ve had two straight episodes where Baby Yoda has been put in harm’s way because Mando can’t find a solid babysitter.

Does he need money? We don’t know. The show decided not to tell us.

Did anyone really think it was possible to hide Baby Yoda on a small ship with that many people on board? We learn absolutely nothing about Mando’s thought process with regard to taking this job. This episode was longer than many at just over forty minutes, but again we’re presented with a situation where a few more scenes of basic narrative exposition would go a long way.

The fellow bounty hunters were perfectly fine. Bill Burr was engaging as the evil Mayfield, who had the audacity to drop Baby Yoda. The Gungan joke was hilarious. Xi’an fell a little flat, relying a bit too much of her past history with Mando that we the audience know nothing about. We’ve seen the Twi’lek species before, but these random characters are harder to care about when the show decides it doesn’t feel like telling us anything about them.

As for the job, the action was fine. The droids certainly looked cool. The whole New Republic emergency beacon thing was a little unnecessarily convoluted. The double crossing of the Mandalorian was quite predictable, underlying a broader concern with the narrative. It’s harder to feel sympathy for the plight of Mando when we’re not let in to his thought process at all. He even hates droids, yet is perfectly content to leave Baby Yoda alone on a ship with one.

Chapter 6 topped last week’s episode as the weakest of the season. In many ways, it’s great that there isn’t some big broad narrative underpinning the show. These episodic narratives have occasionally been a lot of fun.

Trouble is, we the the audience are following along each week. The Mando of last week needs to have something in common with the man we’re seeing in the next chapter. The same mistakes each and every week just isn’t going to cut it forever. As the season progresses, the returns are starting to diminish.

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Saturday

7

December 2019

0

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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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December 2019

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Dollface Is a Charming Comedy Hindered by a Bland Premise

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

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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