Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

TV Reviews Archive

Thursday

26

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

Titans’ Second Season Raises the Bar

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Season one of Titans covered quite a bit of ground in just eleven episodes. The first live-action adaption of the wildly popular DC superhero team carved out a niche that set it apart from both from the animated adaptations as well as the broader DCEU. The show managed to establish its core team plus a number of supporting characters who were promoted to the main cast for the second season. While many streaming shows drag their feet through inaugural seasons, Titans spent its time investing in a pretty cast of characters alongside plenty of action sequences to hold the audience’s interest.

For fans of Teen Titans Go!, the large cast of Titans might be a bit intimidating. There’s not one, but two Titans teams, with original members Wonder Girl (Conor Leslie), Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dove (Minka Kelly) still in the fray as Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) attempts to train a new generation. The presence of Jason Todd (Curran Walters) gives the show two Robins, an interesting sibling-esque dynamic that explores the nature of what it means to be the Boy Wonder.

Titans is a show as much concerned with the past as the present. After finally arriving to the famed Titans Tower, the narrative hints at earlier strife while gradually explaining what broke up the original group. The pacing is a little frantic at times, a product of the show’s rather short episodes for a drama on a streaming service, but there’s never the sense that the narrative is kicking its feet.

Few shows feel as connected to their parent network as Titans, the television embodiment of the DC Universe service. It’s not inaccessible to casual fans by any means, but the show offers plenty of nods to longtime DC fans. Dick Grayson made his live-action debut in 1943, a lifetime before Jason Todd made his in Titans’ first season. Todd himself is quite an interesting figure in Batman lore, but the character also reveals aspects of Grayson as well as Bruce Wayne that no prior adaptation had sought to explore.

So far this season has exercised restraint with the Dark Knight, finally depicted in a speaking capacity after cameo appearances last season. Iain Glen plays a competent Bruce, suave and paternal, while keeping the spotlight on his sidekicks. It’s not Batman’s show, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be apart of it, a line that other superhero franchises have struggled to walk.

Fans wishing for the sense of comradery enjoyed in past Teen Titans adaptations might be a bit disappointed in Titans’ take of the group dynamic, but the familial bond remains. Rachel (Teagan Croft) remains the emotional core of the series, a girl trying to find her place in a world that doesn’t quite understand her. Anna Diop and Ryan Potter give nuanced takes on Starfire and Beast Boy respectively, taking their characters in new directions that build off their arcs in season one.

Season two builds upon the foundation of Titans’ impressive inaugural effort, a show that uses DC’s rich lore to offer a fresh take on the beloved franchise. With Teen Titans arch-nemesis Deathstroke (Esai Morales) in the fray, the show is quite poised to dive into territory that other adaptations have shied away from. It’s definitely not the Titans many expected, but the show is one of the more interesting superhero offerings currently on TV.

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Wednesday

11

September 2019

17

COMMENTS

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger Struggles To Get Past Its Flimsy #MeToo Commentary

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Analysis of the #MeToo movement and subsequent “outrage culture” has become popular fodder for comedy specials. Bill Burr: Paper Tiger dedicates its first act to commentary on the nuances of feminism, intersectionality, and the nature of sexual harassment accusations. Burr clearly feels obliged to comment on this point in American culture, but he’s not very good at mining the humor out of this complicated minefield.

The presence of Dave Becky as an executive producer, who was caught up in Louis C.K.’s masturbation scandal, feels a bit out of place considering Becky’s conciliatory tone after the backlash. Burr suggests the importance of “due process” in a segment with little humor, his candor conveniently leaving out the situations where such efforts to combat sexual harassment were met with institutional pushback.

The theme of Paper Tiger is quite simple. Burr doesn’t want to hear about how life might be hard for anyone else. This dynamic is best illustrated through a bit where he talks about how a #MeToo accuser described a man “vigorously” masturbating. Burr describes this approach as the only way to achieve self-pleasure as far as he knows, comparing the alternative to something that Sting might practice. If he spent more time listening to women, he’d know that masturbation as an activity enjoyed by people of all genders can, in fact, have a rhythm described as something other than vigorous.

Sure that might sound like nitpicking, but the whole segment highlights a broader issue for the special. For all the talk of Burr wanting to “trigger” people, his most outrageous bits never feel edgy enough to pack the desired punch. He talks about wanting to drive by a woman’s rally yelling outrageous things in an effort to see people flail around in agony, struggling to contain his laughter at the imagery. Sure, “owning the libs” has become an internet meme, but the whole segment plays out like Burr actually believes he can inspire such terror with his words.

A telling moment in the special came when a heckler shouted about consent as Burr lamented the plight of women who enjoyed rough sex in the #MeToo era. Understandably, Burr was annoyed at having his rhythm disrupted, but he also reacted with indignation at the idea that people were questioning his very understanding of consent. His reaction exists in stark contrast to his opening segments, a man who doesn’t want you to think he’s a sexist pig while telling jokes that depict him as such.

He’s provocative for sure, taking aim at Stephen Hawking and Michelle Obama, occasionally earning a chuckle in the process. The jokes themselves don’t really dive deeper than surface-level humor about living with a debilitating disease like ALS or being a First Lady with ambitions beyond mere photo ops. The shock value is there for those who laugh at things they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in public.

A good barometer for whether or not you find Paper Tiger funny is whether or not you laugh at the mere thought of a person taking offense to something you said. Such amusement can be had without a person actually running around screaming in terror at said words. An abstract “snowflake” can certainly substitute for the real thing.

Is Burr actually offensive? At times, sure, but more of in the eye-rolling “offensive uncle at Thanksgiving” vein than something people might actually be outraged by. Comedians often claim they’re on the verge of “cancellation,” as Burr himself suggests, a point instantly disproven by the very existence of the special. He says, “This is going to be my last show ever,” something that only feels edgy or amusing to people who preface every offensive thing they say with that ominous foreshadowing.

As someone who belongs to a group that Burr took aim at, there isn’t much to be offended by in the notion of being told transgender women “discard” their penises. It’s a joke that’s been told a million times that lacks any basis in the fundamental process of bottom surgery. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of a gender-neutral bathroom on a plane when literally every bathroom aboard every plane is fitted that way?

Burr is much stronger when he turns his humor inward. He talks about his temper and his desire to deal with that anger for the sake of his child. Similarly, his bits about his wife are fairly funny, even though much of it is similarly laced in the denial of any semblance of advantage afforded to him as a straight white man.

At one point early on, Burr suggests that the #MeToo movement “had to happen.” He does seem like a fairly likable man throughout the special, an Archie Bunker-like figure trying to be a good father while struggling to process the ever-changing world around him. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people out there in similar boats, resistant to change that might come at a cost to their own standing in the world.

Burr best illustrates the problem with Paper Tiger when he remarks that the #MeToo movement appears to be winding down, having seemingly handled the most egregious cases. If that’s the case, maybe so too should standup comedians find something else to talk about. Maybe soon, we’ll see a special dedicated to outrage for the people who are outraged about outrage culture. Hopefully it’ll be funnier than this lopsided routine.

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Wednesday

4

September 2019

141

COMMENTS

Sticks & Stones Isn’t Very Funny

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Five Netflix specials into his career resurgence, Dave Chappelle has a lot of problems with the way his jokes are being received in the #MeToo era. In the old days, comedians could punch down and tell tired jokes about the LGBTQ community, “alphabet people,” and nobody cared. Similarly, if you were a successful older man, there was a time when you could get away with making a younger woman watch you pleasure yourself.

Hearing Chappelle lament the dawning of the #MeToo era, you might get the impression that life is pretty hard for him. Sticks & Stones is largely centered around the reasons why he feels this way. Trouble is, the whole foundation of his routine is centered around faulty logic.

Chappelle is upset that people can’t make gay jokes anymore, seeming to forget that he can in fact, make those jokes. Sticks & Stones is full of humor directed at the LGBTQ community. He’s afraid of being “cancelled” while ignoring the fact that he’s currently being paid tens of millions of dollars to perform for one of the biggest outlets in show business. Paranoia aside, Dave Chappelle is far from canceled.

There is a fair amount of revisionist history about gay jokes present in Chappelle’s routine. He’s still upset about a time when Comedy Central objected to the use of a well-known anti-gay slur, wondering why he as a straight man wasn’t allowed to use it on television. Chappelle goes on to suggest that you can’t offend the “alphabet people” at all, putting aside the decades where it was considered taboo on television to portray an LGBTQ individual in a positive light. It’s kind of odd to see a comedian who’s been around as long as Chappelle try and act like gay jokes weren’t mainstream for a very long time.

Chappelle does seem to understand that there’s a reason why the transgender community isn’t collectively a huge fan of his. He’s also right that there is a fair degree in humor in the basic plight of the transgender identity. As a transgender woman, I laugh about the various ironies of transition all the time.

There are plenty of funny jokes to be told about the transgender community. Dave Chappelle just isn’t very good at that kind of humor. It’s not particularly original to compare transgender people to figures like Rachel Dolezal. The joke is certainly not all that funny in the year 2019.

Chappelle is hardly alone as a cisgender man in not really understanding the transgender identity. He takes that a step further in deciding that things he can’t understand must not be real, or the same as a person wanting to go around shouting racist Asian stereotypes. The theme of Sticks & Stones seems to be that Dave Chappelle doesn’t care about things that don’t directly affect him.

Lacking empathy can certainly be amusing, but Sticks & Stones is a tired routine by a man who forgot to layer jokes into his act, too often sounding like a pundit on Fox News. Chappelle used to be a master at making people laugh at inherently uncomfortable topics. He’s still willing to wade into controversial territory like pedophilia, but his bits just aren’t that funny. Chappelle allows the very notion that he shouldn’t be saying things to serve as the humor instead of actual jokes.

There are bits and pieces that prove Chappelle is still capable of understanding nuance. He uses a fairly amusing allegory about LGBTQ people riding in a car to describe the differences among the various groups within our community. Listening to him describe the ways that gay white men live have better opportunities transgender people sends a very different message than the special’s broader out of touch opinions of this changing world.

Dave Chappelle hasn’t lost anything because women now feel more comfortable speaking out against sexual harassment. Gay jokes aren’t as mainstream as they used to be, but Chappelle isn’t going to have his career ruined because he still thinks certain slurs are funny to say out loud. Dave Chappelle is doing fine.

The only potential hindrance to Dave Chappelle’s career is the fact that his edgy humor isn’t as funny as it used to be. The jokes in Sticks & Stones lack the complexity of his earlier work, sounding less contrarian than simply out of touch. Dave Chappelle shouldn’t worry about being “cancelled.” The far bigger threat to his career is the fact that he’s becoming quite a bore.

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Monday

26

August 2019

0

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13 Reasons Why Returns to Form in a Messy, Entertaining Third Season

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For all the narrative issues surrounding 13 Reasons Why’s lackluster second season, two stood out as the most damaging. Without the tapes to anchor the narrative, the show turned to the Baker’s ill-advised trial against the school to serve as a plot device for each episode. The absence of Hannah’s voice as the narrator was filled with her presence as a ghost haunting Clay (Dylan Minnette). News of Katherine Langford’s departure from the cast allowed 13 Reasons Why to move on from the story it existed to serve, leaving behind a strong group of compelling characters to center the third season around.

A large amount of season three is dedicated to a new character serving as the show’s narrator, a person barely aware of Hannah Baker’s story. Amorowat “Ani” Anysia (Grace Saif), a transfer student to Liberty High finds community among Clay’s friends, who have rallied together in the wake of a narrowly avoided mass shooting. Ani’s home life is a little complicated to say the least, living in the same house as Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) as her mother cares for his grandfather.

Ani’s presence at the heart of the narrative is way too convenient for the show’s own good. The main plot of season three is the murder mystery surrounding Bryce’s death, with Ani serving as the link between the disgraced rapist and his former life back at Liberty. The connection makes some sense for the sake of the story, but it’s a decision that’s hard to square with what is ostensibly the broader point of this show, to show how the characters are moving on after all they’ve been through. Instead, for whatever reason, much of the post-Hannah era is defined by a brand new character who seems to find herself in practically every scene. That’s bound to be polarizing, even under the best of circumstances.

Season three remains enamored with controversy, presenting a three-dimensional portrait of Bryce Walker via the same types of flashbacks the show used for Hannah’s backstory. The decision to reveal Bryce’s death in the trailers gave the show some leeway to explore his story without appearing completely tasteless, but the narrative has an uncomfortable determination to humanize him. Morality isn’t black and white, but time spent exploring the grey of Bryce comes at the expense of other characters who haven’t spent the show committing brutal rape.

With Ani taking up a large chunk of the screentime, the show was wise to dispense with many of the tertiary tape characters who no longer had a place in the new dynamic, some of whom aren’t even mentioned at all. A big strength of season one was that it started as Clay & Hannah’s narrative, in keeping with the book, but grew to encompass all the characters who stood out over the course of the narrative, namely Jessica, Justin, Tony, Alex, Zach, and Tyler. Once upon a time, the supporting cast had a reason to play second fiddle to Clay’s journey.

The completion of Hannah’s arc left a void, not only at the top of the cast but also for Clay’s sense of plot progression. Ani was brought in to address the first issue, but the show took a puzzling direction for Clay. In the wake of whatever sense of closure he felt after Hannah’s funeral, Clay has developed quite the savior complex. Generally speaking, trained professionals are supposed to be the ones dealing with drug addicts, rape survivors, and potential mass shooters. In the world of 13 Reasons Why, Clay and his band of friends try to save everything, a group dynamic not all that dissimilar from that of Stranger Things.

Season three returns the show to top form, a narrative as delectable as it is irresponsible. Worldbuilding has always been 13 Reasons Why’s strongest asset, crafting a deep lore within its unique interpretation of high school life. These characters have grown to mean so much to each other over the past three seasons, a depth reflected in its immensely talented cast.

The murder mystery works well for the format, giving the show new life through fresh corpses. Regrettably, 13 Reasons Why hasn’t figured out yet that it doesn’t need plot devices for each episode, or thirteen episodes at all, but the investigation into Bryce’s death flows a lot better than last season’s trial. The writing is strong, constantly finding new elements of its characters’ personalities to explore.

There are plenty of frustrating moments to cringe at, especially for a show so painfully aware of the negative attention it has received. The victims heal, while still sharing screen time with their perpetrators in a dynamic that’s bound to make anyone uncomfortable. This season doesn’t do a lot to shed its controversial image besides shedding some of the more viscerally upsetting imagery.

13 Reasons Why isn’t for everyone, but even with its many hiccups, the show remains immensely well-crafted television. The acting is superb, compelling enough to carry the show through some of its weaker moments. The narrative has a habit of stumbling over itself, somehow managing to retain its power. Season three doesn’t correct every wrong of its lackluster sophomore effort, but the show remains one of the most intriguing programs in this crowded TV landscape.

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Tuesday

20

August 2019

0

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The Boys Flips the Script on Superhero Ethics

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There are more superhero-themed movies and television shows being produced than most of us have time to watch, even diehard fans of the genre. The idea of a show where the costumed characters are actually bad guys isn’t particularly unique in a landscape rife with antiheroes. Despite the glut, The Boys stands out for its first-class production values and a stellar cast.

Plenty of comic books take a fairly black and white approach to the concept of good guys and bad guys. The Boys largely ignores this strategy, instead basing its world-building on America’s own approach to good vs. evil. The show features a superhero group called The Seven, controlled by the powerful Vought International, a corporation best described as a defense contractor similar to Blackwater or Raytheon. The military-industrial complex is the true villain of The Boys.

Which isn’t to say that the good guys are particularly all that decent themselves. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is a man powered by a hatred of people with superpowers. He blames Homelander (Anthony Starr), the leader of The Seven, for the death of his wife, joining forces with Hugh Campbell (Jack Quaid), who similarly lost his girlfriend due to an accidental collision with The Seven’s A-Train (Jessie T. Usher). Complicating the dynamic is Hugh’s relationship with Seven newcomer Starlight (Erin Moriarty), perhaps the only member of the team concerned with actually helping people.

Part of what makes The Boys such compelling television is that it manages to be subversive without being reactionary. Anyone watching could see parallels between Homelander and Superman, or the resemblance between Vought International and the kind of superhero oversight that powered the narratives of Watchmen or Captain America: Civil War. The show doesn’t quite turn these concepts upside down so much as it challenges its audience to rethink the way we engage with this material at all.

Practically every mainstream superhero has a backstory and a private life, things they do when they’re not saving the world. These plotlines help humanize these characters as people, making them relatable to a general audience. The Boys seeks a similar approach, but it differs in choosing to highlight plenty of the unsavory aspects of human behavior that we generally don’t like to admit.

The real villain of The Boys is capitalism, a particularly formidable foe. The greed of Vought International transforms the concept of altruism into a circus. This dynamic is a challenging one to counter, as Butcher, Hugh, and the Boys find themselves similarly living under the frameworks of society. Who is good? Who is bad? Does that answer exist for any one of us to say?

The eight-episode first season gives the show plenty of time to give its large cast time to shine while establishing the broader world that The Boys inhabits. Some of the subplots hint at real-world themes, from the #MeToo movement to America’s obsession with productivity. There’s very little filler in a narrative that clearly wishes to extend beyond its initial run.

The Boys is one of the most impressive new shows of 2019. Amazon clearly spent a lot of money ensuring that the show’s budget reflected its ambitions. It can be at times a bit uncomfortable to watch, but that’s kind of the point. Traditionally, superheroes are supposed to offer hope and optimism, but The Boys reminds us that humanity is far more complex than that.

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Sunday

18

August 2019

2

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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South Side Is the Funniest New Show of 2019

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

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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