Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

TV Reviews Archive

Sunday

18

August 2019

1

COMMENTS

BH90210 Is a Bland Lifeless Reboot

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The question of whether there are too many reboots can be a bit misleading in the streaming era. The notion that there are more television revivals than any one of us could possibly care about certainly exists, but the same holds true for the broader landscape as a whole. Considering the lack of restraints that traditional broadcast primetime once presented, as was the case when Beverly Hills, 90210 first debuted, the only pressing question for reboots is whether or not they have anything interesting to say.

BH90210 aims to be a different kind of reboot, a scripted series that focuses not on the characters, but the actors who played them. Instead of checking in on Brenda Walsh and Kelly Taylor, we see what’s up with Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth. Such an approach carries some novelty appeal, but the concept finds itself in a tricky position, needing the execution to be more interesting than a conventional reboot. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The show utilizes a “reboot within a reboot” approach, using Garth and Tori Spelling to reunite the cast for a 90210 revival. The writing isn’t very good, but the bigger issue is the fact that the audience is expected to believe there is a world where these actors would have expressed even an iota of reluctance to come back. Time hasn’t been too horrible to Jason Priestly, Ian Ziering, or any of the others, but it’s not as if any of them went on to any fame greater than what they enjoyed during the show’s original run.

Even assuming that there’s an audience that would rather see the actors playing themselves instead of their characters, BH90210 is too short on substance. The show wastes an easy opportunity to provide some semblance of commentary on reboot culture, or why audiences long to return to the past. It’s predictable at every turn, full of clichés and jokes that fall flat.

The actors themselves often look shielded, unable to allow themselves enough vulnerability to create compelling storylines. There are strands of plot here and there, including financial difficulties, infidelity, and queer experimentation, but it’s all layered underneath a bland surface of success. The show rarely allows its stars to be viewed as the has-beens they appear to be, protecting their sense of fame at the cost of the narrative.

The acting itself is decent enough. There’s some entertainment value in watching the cast enjoy each other’s company. Trouble is, it’s hard not to view the whole exercise as a wasted opportunity, a product of security rather than necessity.

Beverly Hills, 90210 was a genre-defining hit. Every teen soap that follows owes it a debt of gratitude. With ten seasons and several spin-offs in the books, BH90210 struggles to justify itself as a worthy alternative to those seeking to relive the past. The actors themselves constantly feel too rooted in nostalgia to bring anything new to the table. For an audience craving more of the old gang, simply watching the old episodes remains a more satisfying experience.

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Tuesday

23

July 2019

0

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Big Little Lies’ Second Season Doesn’t Know What to Do with Its Characters

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Much of the drama over the first season of Big Little Lies centered around who bit Amabella, hardly the kind of mystery that inspires legions of true crime fans. The show has always been at its best not when it’s focused on plot, but on the interactions between its all-star cast. Even in these crowded television landscapes, the idea of being able to watch Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern every week is still a novelty worthy of appointment viewing. Throwing Meryl Streep into the mix was just about the only way the show could have upped the ante for a totally unnecessary second season.

As the finale notes, the very notion of a “Monterey Five” was always kind of a spectacle. Big Little Lies isn’t really a show about murder. The plot is by and large an excuse to get these A-list actresses together, with the one primary exception being the abuse that Kidman’s Celeste suffered at the hands of her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). It makes sense that season two would center its primary plot around the fallout of Perry’s death, the result of being pushed down the stairs by Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), prompting a cover-up by the other women.

Season two is only sort of about Perry’s death. The primary drama of the season is driven by Mary-Louise (Streep), who wages a two-pronged war on Celeste powered by skepticism over the cause of her son’s death and a belief that her daughter-in-law is an irresponsible mother. The second half of the season is almost entirely driven by the custody battle, always a highly unrealistic proposition considering how rare it is for a grandmother to triumph over a parent.

The narrative struggles can be best illustrated through Amabella’s disco-themed birthday party in episode four, an outlet that seems far more designed for the grownups than the children. It’s a sequence that makes little sense given the Klein family’s financial trouble, but Big Little Lies has always been a show about moments, rarely the bigger picture.

The finale, “I Want to Know,” includes plenty of powerful acting from Kidman and Streep, but it’s all in service to an outcome everyone knows is coming. The show never really tried to sell this custody battle as anything more than filler, a plotline created to give its leads something to do.

Season two’s biggest shortcoming is the way it prioritized Mary-Louise at the expense of Bonnie. The show doesn’t completely ignore the guilt she feels over killing Perry, but it’s rarely given much focus either. Bonnie isn’t particularly close to the other leads, but the show is far too content to keep the character at arm’s length.

Just as season one wasn’t really about a murder, season two isn’t really about the aftermath of Perry’s death. Both seasons have plenty of subplots that don’t factor into the show’s overall arc, largely because it only sort of needs one. Madeline’s entire season two plot could be erased from the show and little would change.

Big Little Lies didn’t need a second season, but a lack of purpose isn’t really a problem for the show. Season two’s biggest shortcoming was that it injected a predictable custody battle into the heart of its narrative. Mary-Louise’s efforts to get the police to reopen the case ended up largely being a feint, something to pass the time rather than a predominant storyline. The show treats the biggest moment of its first season as a weird afterthought.

Above all else, season two isn’t much fun. While that might have been understandable considering the way the last season ended, the show minimizes that event in a way that draws too much attention to the gaping hole at the center of the plot. There’s joy to be had watching Meryl Streep perform, but the show seems to have forgotten to give her a reason to be there.

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Tuesday

23

July 2019

0

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Veronica Mars Shows Its Story Can Look Forward While Its Characters Linger in the Past

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The television landscape has changed quite a bit since Veronica Mars made its debut in 2004. Its first network, UPN, hasn’t been around for more than a decade. Its current home, Hulu, didn’t exist yet, as cable networks were only just starting to focus on original programming, let alone streaming. The quirky high school detective show felt like a breath of fresh air, taking on the youthful territory of rival network The WB with an adult sense of maturity.

Like practically all high school dramas, Veronica Mars experienced some growing pains after graduation. The UPN/WB merger left plenty of shows fighting for space on The CW, which cancelled Mars after its third season, the first overall on the new network. The show’s cult fanbase has ensured that its legacy has lived on, first in a 2014 film of the same name, and now a fourth season of eight episodes.

The fourth season follows its predecessors’ lead in having one big mystery, but the shortened episode order leaves this case as the predominant narrative. The early years let the cases unfold over the course of a twenty-two-episode arc, allowing plenty of time for character development and other various subplots. This season manages the balance between mystery and character, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Plenty of Veronica Mars characters return over the course of the fourth season, but only Veronica (Kristen Bell), Keith (Enrico Colatoni), and Logan (Jason Dohring) remain at the heart of the narrative. Trouble is, the show doesn’t really have anything new to say about Veronica’s relationship with either man. There’s still plenty of witty banter between Veronica and Keith, but Logan mostly mopes around while on leave from the Navy.

The “will they/won’t they” relationship between Logan and Veronica existed at the heart of the show’s narrative for its entire run. Season four maintains the status quo to its own detriment, pursuing this well-trodden turf at the expense of any other kind of character development. For all the ways this season managed to put high school in the past, the melodrama between two grown adults feels like misplaced nostalgia.

The mystery at the heart of the season involves the bombing of several Spring Break destinations across Neptune. Patton Oswalt and J.K. Simmons stand out as newcomers Penn Epner, a pizza delivery guy and amateur sleuth solver, and Clyde Pickett, an ex-con serving as a fixer for Dick Casablancas Sr. The mystery has plenty of twists and turns, serving as the season’s primary focus without feeling overly drawn out.

To its credit, season four hardly lives in the shadows of what came before it. Old Veronica Mars characters return infrequently, almost always with purpose. Fan favorites such as series regulars Wallace (Percy Daggs III), Weevil (Francis Capra), and Dick (Ryan Hansen) aren’t around much, consistent with the passage of time since these characters would have played natural roles in each other’s lives. The show demonstrates a sense of maturity for not picking the low hanging fruit of forcing these people together to recapture the good old days.

Season four exists in a state of limbo, a revival that doesn’t cling to the past while not being overly committed to the idea of a future for Veronica Mars either. High school is over. The show knows that, but what comes next remains oddly up in the air. As a revival, this kind of makes sense since no one really knows what the future will hold for the series, but the narrative doesn’t face the same obligations.

Veronica Mars is still a fun show to watch. It’s decidedly less fun than it used to be. Thoughts of its theme song’s refrain, “we used to be friends,” remain ever-present. We all have memories of days gone by. Television possesses the ability to bring those dreams alive again, but some of the magic is lost when wishful thinking becomes reality.

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Wednesday

17

July 2019

0

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Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Showcases a Softer Side of the Fiery Chef

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The idea of Gordon Ramsay doing a travel show exploring the foods of different cultures around the world seems a bit ridiculous when you consider the personality attributes that made him popular in the first place. It’s one thing for Ramsay to unleash his signature temper on reality show contestants, but such behavior would hardly be fitting for guests eager to show him a bit of their local culture. Fortunately, Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted showcases another side of Ramsay than audiences might be used to.

Uncharted has a fairly simple premise across its first season. Ramsay travels to exotic locations to visit with chef friends and to explore their local foods while collecting ingredients for a feast that he prepares for his hosts. Destinations include the Sacred Valley of Peru, the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and the Hana Coast of Hawaii. Many of the ingredients he collects require a fair bit of physical activity, requiring Ramsay to swim, climb, and dive in order to acquire them.

The camera crews do an excellent job capturing the beautiful landscapes that Ramsay visits. The local experts are also great at giving the audience a crash course on their history, making it quite easy to follow along. Many of the foods depicted are exclusive to these specific locations, staples of the local diet that Ramsay himself is often trying for the first time.

Ramsay proves to be an excellent host, showcasing elements of his personality that general audiences might as unfamiliar with as the locations showcased. He engages with his local guests with such enthusiasm that you can’t help but smile as he bites into another exotic treat. There’s still a number of bleeped-out expletives, but it’s refreshing to see them directed at circumstances rather than people.

The highlight of each episode is almost always watching Ramsay prepare the food he’s collected, combining local methods with his own spin on each recipe. Ramsay does a great job explaining the new techniques to the audience, which often use the local landscape itself. After watching Ramsay slow cook food in a hole he’s recently dug, you might get the culinary urge to try to recreate some of the magic in your own backyard.

One area that Ramsay still needs to work on is his method of communicating the taste of the local foods to the audience. In almost every instance where he tries something he likes, Ramsay exclaims that the food is “delicious,” while often forgetting to expand on what exactly makes it good. He does occasionally provide a bit more insight into the flavor, but it can be hard to follow along. Ramsay meets with plenty of different people in each episode, perhaps explaining the repetition in his descriptors.

Uncharted showcases a lighter side of Ramsay’s personality, trading in his fiery temper for gleeful exuberance as he explores new cultures. It’s a delight to watch, the kind of show where you feel like you’re along on the adventure, learning alongside Ramsay. Culture and food often go hand in hand. Uncharted presents both with a ton of culinary insight, a perfect summer program to take you on vacation from your standard cooking practices.

 

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Monday

15

July 2019

0

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South Side Is the Funniest New Show of 2019

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Plenty of great sitcoms have made their settings feel like characters in their own narratives. It’s hard to think of Cheers or Seinfeld without the culture of Boston or New York coming to mind, putting aside the inconvenient fact that both shows were filmed in Los Angeles. With Comedy Central’s new show South Side, from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon alumni Bashir Salahuddin, Diallo Riddle and Michael Bliedenl, Chicago lies at the forefront of the narrative. Filmed entirely on location, using actors who grew up in the city, the show delivers laughs at a mile a minute against a backdrop that puts the audience at the heart of the narrative.

South Side features an ensemble cast of predominantly black actors, using the local appliance rental store Rent-T-Own as its primary setting. Salahuddin’s brother Sultan stars as Simon, a recent community college graduate looking for more upward mobility than life as a repo man. Kareme Young co-stars as Kareem, similarly looking for a better life, especially since his brother Quincy (played by Kareme’s real-life brother Quincy Young), serves as Rent-T-Own’s manager, constantly struggling to encourage a semblance of professionalism amongst his uninspired staff.

Chandra Russell is perhaps the show’s breakout star as Sergeant Turner, a police officer constantly unsure of whether to do good or take care of herself in the process. Alongside Bashir Salahuddin’s “Officer Goodnight” the two cops are absolutely hilarious to watch as they skirt ethical lines, taking sides on disputes over Xbox repossessions and Air Jordans that give plenty of food for thought well after you’re finished laughing.

The writing on South Side is absolutely superb. Salahuddin and Riddle have the rare ability to sneak nail-biting jokes into dialogue when you least expect it, the kind of comedic timing that’s intertwined into the plot rather than as a throwaway gag. They find humor in just about every subject, from child-support disputes to Coretta Scott King.

The narrative finds the sweet spot between episodic and serialized across its first season. You don’t necessarily need to watch every episode in order to follow along, but there’s plenty of references that reward those who do. Much of the plots are presented almost like vignettes, but there is a sense of character growth as the show progresses. These characters are here to make you laugh, but the actors engage with them in a way that brings out a level of authenticity you don’t necessarily expect from most sitcoms.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of South Side is the way it feels culturally relevant without being overly political. Police corruption, racial injustice, and income inequality are hardly conventional comedic topics, but the show presents them in a humorous fashion that never feels like it’s making light of the broader issues. National politics are left out entirely, instead focusing in on the struggles of Chicago that have existed for decades. This is a show about the South Side by people who grew up there, presented in a fashion that’s quite accessible for an audience that may not be very familiar with the local culture.

South Side is the funniest new show of 2019. Each episode has more laugh out loud moments than plenty of other comedies manage in an entire season. The writing and acting are spectacular. Salahuddin and Riddle’s love letter to their community is the must-watch show of the summer.

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Tuesday

9

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Kids Might Be Growing Up, but Stranger Things 3 Appreciates the Present

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For a show with such an extensive ensemble cast as Stranger Things, time itself functions as a character in its own right. The 80s aesthetics play a crucial role in the narrative, with the series serving as a love letter to the decade, as does the youth of the core performers. A few years have passed since the series debuted in 2016. Most of the cast look older, presenting a challenge for a show that uses childhood nostalgia as its bread and butter.

Season three neither ignores the fact that its characters aren’t the same adorable bunch who saved the world riding around on their bikes, nor tries too hard to force aging into its narrative. The kids are older, yes, but the summer setting allows the series to skirt by without injecting too much reality into a story that already requires a fair amount of disbelief. Stranger Things recognizes that nostalgia allows one to put aside the present, quickly acknowledging its aging characters before doing its best to pretend nothing’s changed.

As with the previous two seasons, the character dynamic is a bit different this time around. While last season kept Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) away from the boys for the bulk of its run, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) finds himself apart from the core group this year. The show uses Dustin’s natural chemistry with pretty boy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) to its advantage, pairing them with newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve’s coworker at a mall ice cream shop, and Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), in an elevated role. Erica is easily this season’s breakout character, providing a lot of much needed comedic relief.

Season three features the return of the Mind Flayer, wreaking havoc on Hawkins with its invasive body-snatching. The introduction of a Russian military base gives the season a bit of a Red Dawn feel, along with homages to The Terminator, The Thing, and Die Hard, among others. The nostalgia doesn’t weigh super heavily on the narrative, allowing those who don’t really understand the references to enjoy without missing much. Eggo waffles play a diminished role this year, but a couple of iconic 80s products get a bit of time in the spotlight.

There is a bit of disconnect between the various groups of characters this year, exacerbated by the series’ growing cast. The adults, particularly Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) feel a bit less essential, though they have plenty of memorable moments alongside Murray (Brett Gelman) and newcomer Alexei (Alec Utgoff), a Russian doctor with a love of Slurpee’s. The plot feels like it could have been streamlined with a smaller cast, but the characters have so much chemistry that it’s hard to complain.

Season three lives in the moment, a fun-filled summer adventure that does its best to ignore the passing of time. With season four expected to be the last, the characters won’t really have to worry about growing up too much longer, relieving any need for the show to be some treatise on aging. Stranger Things packs a lot of heart, a perfect getaway for this time of year.

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Monday

8

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

Euphoria’s High Lacks Substance

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America has changed quite a bit since John Hughes started crafting his iconic narratives about the struggles of teenage life. It’s hard to imagine a group like The Breakfast Club sitting around a circle talking with each other when the option to simply stare at one’s phone presents itself. Teenagers nowadays are exposed to a whole world beyond the classroom, not just the self-portraits of genitals that circulate over dating apps. The characters in HBO’s Euphoria would have little use for the now-legal pot with fentanyl offering a far more potent high.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Euphoria aims to provide a certain kind of visual high, with luscious color schemes that draw the audience into its elaborate sets. The desire to go beneath the surface, to understand the drive that makes these kids behave in such destructive ways, remains present through each episode. Trouble is, the show doesn’t really have anything to say.

Zendaya anchors the cast as Rue, a drug addict caught in the cycle of addiction. Rue also serves as the show’s narrator, often providing illuminating background on the show’s other characters. Zendaya’s performance suggests a level of depth to Rue that Euphoria seems all too content to leave unexplored. There remains the idea that there’s a hidden complexity lurking behind her detached demeanor, but much of that sentiment feels like undeserved mystique for a show that never bothered to fully flesh out its characters.

A similar kind of dynamic plays out with Hunter Schafer’s Jules, a trans girl with a warm heart and a penchant for picking unworthy men. Schafer is an excellent actress, bringing a sense of awe and wonder to a character desperate to belong in a world that had been previously closed off to her. Trouble is, she’s not really given much to work with.

Euphoria wastes much of Schafer’s talents with its lazy approach to transgender storytelling, far too preoccupied with surface level clichés to present anything original. Jules is less her own character than a vehicle for the trauma of others, a new chapter in the manic pixie dream girl trope. The show misses an easy opportunity to break new ground in the way transgender people are portrayed on screen, instead choosing to spend its time on what an attraction to Jules might mean for another character’s sexuality.

The cast is perhaps too big for its own good. None of the male characters are particularly interesting, to some extent an inevitable byproduct of its splintered focus. Barbie Ferreira gives the strongest performance of the bunch as Kat, a teen eager to explore her sexuality in a world primarily interested in objectifying her. The show would be vastly better off centering its attention around Rue, Jules, and Kat, allowing it to go a little deeper than the tropes it consistently centers itself around.

Euphoria relies too often on shock value as a substitute for substance. There are plenty of things to like about the show, from its strong cast to its stellar production value. The narrative struggles to stand out in a world where plenty of people can look elsewhere besides premium TV to see the kinds of visual once deemed edgy. Very few television shows put full frontal male nudity up on the screen, but like the dick pics it often features, there’s just something oddly uninteresting about that kind of imagery in the year 2019.

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Sunday

23

June 2019

0

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Legion Remains One of Television’s Greatest Visual Achievements

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Like its titular character, Legion is a very difficult show to describe. It’s a superhero show without heroes. The morality of David Haller isn’t so much grey as it is rainbow, impossible to decipher yet present in an unmistakable fashion. Legion is quite possibly the most beautiful show on television, with stunning visuals giving the eyes plenty to digest while leaving the mind dazzled and bewildered.

Season three continues the battle for control of David’s mind. The powerful mutant, played by Dan Stevens, seeks the help of a time-traveling mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) to help fix his mind after decades of abuse from Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban). David’s former friends have allied with Division 3 on board an airship, doing their best to manage a situation far beyond any of their control.

As always, Legion remains a difficult show to follow. David’s motives are as elusive as ever, a protagonist seemingly unconcerned with the notions of good and evil. The show offers a remarkable visual portrait of David’s mental health in a constant struggle to unpack the years of abuse from the Shadow King,

The visuals on Legion are out of this world, fitting for a show that often takes viewers outside reality. Stevens’ performance in the lead role often serves as a suitable counterbalance, bringing a sense of calm to all the chaos. For all the times the viewer is left staring at the screen wondering what just happened, David is there to crack a slight smile as he embraces the world around him.

Legion is much better at offering food for thought rather than any sense of concrete answers. The urge to simply sit back and enjoy the ride is contrasted with a narrative that gives you just enough to start to put the pieces together, even if you’re never really left with the idea that the show wants to let you in on its secrets. It’s a journey with an unclear destination, an indecipherable map, and a cast of characters who rarely seem to have any more of a clue than the audience. Simply put, it’s a singularly bizarre piece of television.

As the final chapter in David’s saga, season three does carry the sense that it is headed toward a conclusion. You never quite know what direction each episode will head in, or how many times it’ll alter course, but the power struggle between David and Farouk remains at the core of the series.

Legion is among the finest comic book adaptations in existence, portraying the wildly inaccessible David Haller as faithfully as could possibly be imagined. The show brings out emotions you wouldn’t expect after two years spent redefining all the norms of television. With Disney’s purchase of Fox set to usher in a new chapter of the X-Men, it’s perhaps fitting that the story belonging to one of the most eclectic characters in its universe would come to an end.

For a show that could, in theory, go on forever, having shattered all expectations of time and space, the narrative finds a way to leave its audience feeling satisfied with this three-season arc. David Haller’s world is one that seems impossible to grow tired of, though the confines of television often call for shows this wild to enjoy shorter runs. Legion is one the weirdest shows ever made. Season three concludes a beautifully strange journey that often exists outside the world of beginnings and ends. Few shows can pack in so many different emotions in a single hour.

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Monday

27

May 2019

2

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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Tuesday

7

May 2019

0

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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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